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Tag: Arrival

Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures

Hugo Awards Roundup: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures

Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone/Hopper Stone, SMPSP

The Hugo award deadline is right around the corner, so I’m running a series of posts about this year’s nominees in various categories. Today’s is Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.


Holy shit you guys, I have actually seen all of this year’s nominees. That’s a first, and that means there are two things to celebrate:

  1. Hollywood making decent SF/F movies in greater quantities, and
  2. My husband and I having enough disposable income to see said movies.

Yay for having money! So, let’s take a closer look at each nominee in turn.

Arrival

It is so satisfying to know that Hollywood didn’t bungle this adaptation of Ted Chiang’s mind-bending novella “Story of Your Life”. I reviewed Arrival back in November when it opened in theatres, and my opinion on it hasn’t changed that much. However, I also suspect I had such a strong reaction to the movie because of the heightened emotional state (fear, regret, exhaustion) I was in when I saw it. This movie would not have had the same impact on me if it had been released in 2015, I think.

The only thing I have to add is that while this adaptation made changes to the story that some people disagree with, I think those changes make sense. Let’s look at some comments by Abigail Nussbaum in particular:

To someone familiar with the story, there is a hint early on in Arrival of its shift in priorities and premise.  The film opens with a series of flashes to the relationship between linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and her daughter Hannah, culminating in Hannah’s death, in her early adulthood, from a disease.  In the story, Hannah dies in a climbing accident.  The change initially seems pointless–or perhaps yet another indication that Hollywood thinks cancer is inherently more dramatic than any other form of tragedy–and then troubling.  In the story, the point of Hannah’s death being accidental is that it is easily preventable.  Someone with knowledge of the future–as Louise will eventually become–could keep it from happening by saying a few words.  The point of “Story of Your Life” is to explain why Louise doesn’t do this.  Making Hannah’s death something that Louise can’t prevent seems, in the film’s early minutes, like an odd bit of point-missing.

I disagree with this. I think changing the way Hannah died was a practical decision by the moviemakers in order to achieve the desired narrative effect, rather than a ham-fisted attempt to inject the story with pathos.

To first-time viewers, the revelation is that all of the scenes involving Hannah are flash-forwards rather than flashbacks. To make that twist resonate to the audience, Louise (played by Amy Adams) must look the same in both the present-day narrative and the near future. If Hannah is an adult, then Louise needs to look visibly older on screen to avoid suspension of disbelief. But if the passage of time between the two periods is less than a decade, Louise looking substantively the same age is a lot more plausible – and thus it’s easier to set the audience off their guard.

Deadpool

Ladies and gentlemen, let us salute the first comic book movie to show pegging on-screen. Let us also salute the mental image of my Boomer-age aunt and uncle watching Deadpool in the theatre. Because I know that, had I watched it with them, being in their proximity during the on-screen sexytimes would have made me melt into my seat in embarrassment. I would probably have also had to explain everything to them afterwards because my aunt is the kind of person who didn’t understand The Matrix when she first saw it.

So yeah. Deadpool. Lotsa sex jokes. Lotsa gore. Lotsa fourth-wall breaking. Mucho potential inter-generational embarrassment that, thank god, was avoided.

Ghostbusters

You know what? I liked Ghostbusters, MRA-rage be damned. It wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, and I was never a big fan of the original 80s incarnation in the first place. But I am all for Kate MacKinnon’s performance. Let’s just fill the rest of this section up with Holtzmann GIFs, ok?



Hidden Figures

I reviewed Hidden Figures back in January. It’s a good movie with great performances. The only problem I have with it is that you can tell that the original story was altered to make it more Hollywood-friendly. I’ll just share the money quote here:

For example, when Mary is encouraged to become an engineer, she initially brushes her coworker’s words aside by saying that as a black woman, there’s no point in her trying. It’s impossible, she says. So what, he replies, I’m Jewish and my parents died in the Holocaust, yet we’re both here working on getting a man into space. Nothing is impossible! Considering that Mary’s interlocutor has less than a dozen more lines in the entire film after this, his dialogue is a bit on the nose; it’s clear that he’s here only to fulfill that particular beat of the script.

Other parts of the script are also predictable. Do we have a scene where Katherine gives rise to her frustration and in a cathartic burst of rage berates her boss because there’s no bathroom nearby she can use? Yes! Do we have a scene where said boss, chastened and enlightened, does something dramatic and symbolic by taking a crowbar to the “coloured ladies” bathroom sign as a way to desegregate the campus? Yes! Do we have a scene where Katherine has to prove her mathematical worth at the very last minute, with little time to spare, in order to make sure that John Glenn doesn’t die in space? Yes!

Rogue One

When I saw Rogue One in the theatre, I really wasn’t expecting the movie to go there. You know. The whole thing with “even though one of the major taglines of the movie is that rebellions need hope to survive, every single goddamned important character in this movie DIES.” I wasn’t expecting it to go there.

It’s not a perfect movie, and Max Gladstone wrote a really good piece about how they could have fixed Rogue One‘s script to make it better. But what I care about most is Chirrut and Baze. I also think that not casting Tatiana Maslany as the lead was a huge missed opportunity.

Stranger Things, Season One

I’ve mentioned previously how long series of things are overwhelming to me. So much stuff to catch up on. So the length of shows like Stranger Things is perfect. Eight episodes, one plot arc, mostly killer and very little filler.

I took a big break after episode 6, which finishes with Jonathan and Steve fighting, and Steve slut-shaming Nancy in public. The plot development there put a bad taste in my mouth. But episode 7 was amazing, because it’s the first time where everyone teams up. There are still some things I’m conflicted about – for some reason, I wasn’t a huge fan of the actress they chose to play Nancy – but other parts are great. My husband couldn’t stand Dustin, but he’s my favourite character because he’s so emotionally perceptive.

The movie poster for Arrival, an adaption of Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life"

30 Days of Reviews: Arrival

The movie poster for Arrival, an adaption of Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life"This isn’t a review of a book, short story, or variety of tea. And like yesterday’s post, it will be longer than 300 words. But also like yesterday, fuck it.

I saw Arrival during its opening weekend, and I have had THOUGHTS. Many of those thoughts were positive, but they commingled with my continuing fear and outrage over what’s happening in the States right now about the election, and because of that, it’s taken me a long time to feel ready to write this.

You ready? Fair warning, here be spoilers.

Remember a few days ago when I was talking about the source material, Story of Your Life, and how I wasn’t sure how exactly it would be translated to the screen? I needn’t have worried. It totally works.

Story of Your Life starts with the main character, a linguist, talking to “you”, her child, about the circumstances surrounding your birth. It starts out like a “how your parents met” story. But eventually, you, the reader, realize that this narrative makes no sense because she’s also talking about how “you” are dead. How can you be the audience if you’re not even alive?

The linguist then discusses her role in helping to make first contact with an alien species, and the difficulties posed in deciphering their written language and vocalizations. This difficulty arises from the fact that as humans, we possess mirror symmetry. Our physiology physically locks us in to seeing the world from only one fixed point, and because we as a species can see only what is in front of us, everything else about our mindset is linear – our forms of writing, our perception of time, everything.

The aliens, having radial symmetry, effectively see everything happening around them at once. And that bleeds over into their language, which isn’t linear at all, either physically or in terms of its perception of time.

The twist is this: by being exposed to the alien’s language, the linguist develops a similar non-linear perception of time, where things happen simultaneously. And thus, the heartbreak: “you”, as the audience of the story, haven’t even been born yet. The linguist, your mother, knows this when she starts talking to you, and knows that you will die, and that it will hurt her.

And yet she chooses to have “you” anyway.

The amazing thing about Arrival is that the movie is faithful to the plot, and non-linearity of the source material. It holds up!

Of course, having known what would happen, my ability to be blind-sided by Denis Villeneuve’s directorial sleight-of-hand was muted. I knew the twist. I knew that the daughter that Amy Adams’s character, Louise, was narrating to had yet to be born.

But I still felt shaken by the implications: what does it mean to have a child? Furthermore, what does it mean when you are painfully, uniquely aware that you will watch your child die, and you can’t do a damn thing about it? Is it bravery to have that child, to willingly expose yourself to the pain of their mortality in order to feel that brief flame of joy?

And so we come to my existential crisis.

I am married. I’m over 30. I have no children, yet I’m aware that both my mother and my husband would like them to arrive in the future. I’m not too old to have them yet.

When I look at the world, at the mass die-offs of animals and the climate change tipping point, I ask myself this: is having a child irresponsible? Am I doing them a disservice by bringing them into a world so close to the edge through no fault of their own? What if they grow up and hate me for having been alive now, when things were good, and for my complacency in not working hard enough to make things better for them?

In the shadow of the election of Trump, these questions have intensified. What if I have a kid, and then a huge war starts? How can I protect them?

In Arrival, the protagonist knows the awful truth about her unborn child’s impending death, yet soldiers on anyway because that pain is commingled with love. And that hope has absolutely floored me, because I wonder if I am that brave.

Update: I got the director’s name wrong. It’s Denis Villeneuve, not Jacques. Thanks to Jen C. for the catch!

The movie poster for Arrival, an adaption of Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life"

30 Days of Reviews: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!


The movie poster for Arrival, an adaption of Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life"I’m going to cheat here today because Ted Chiang’s novella “Story of Your Life” is not a new read for me. However, I want to talk about it because the movie adaptation, Arrival, will be released this coming weekend.

A few years ago, Lightspeed included “Story of Your Life” in an electronic issue for monthly subscribers. It was my introduction to Ted Chiang’s work. And oh man, I honestly think this story has ruined me for all his others, as almost none of them I’ve read have affected me as deeply.

“Story of Your Life” uses a combination of perspectives, including sections told in the second person, to tell the story of a woman whose knowledge of linguistics proves key to establishing and maintaining first contact with an alien species. She works in conjunction with a physicist, whose attempts to cross the linguistic divide are centred on math. However, not only are the aliens different from us in a linguistic sense, but also in their perception of the universe.

The key insight is that because these aliens have bodies with radial symmetry, their concept of time is not linear. They do not have a “front” or “back”, so they don’t have a “before” or “after”. This perception of the world also shapes their syntax and communication.

Chiang’s slow reveal is masterful. And when you realize who the narrator is talking to and how, and why, it’s heartbreaking.

When I first heard that “Story of Your Life” was being adapted into a movie, I was perplexed. I had no idea how something so intensely cerebral could be translated successfully onto the screen. Early reviews indicate that while Arrival is not exactly the same as its source material, it’s just as thoughtful, intelligent, and emotionally resonant. I’m overjoyed to hear this.

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