The Maze Runner movie

The Maze Runner: I have no idea what I’m in for

James Dashner’s The Maze Runner is, well, weird.

Basically, I have no idea whether the movie — which hits theaters this Friday — is going to be awesome or The Langoliers corny. Back when I was a kid, I thought that Stephen King film was the most frightening thing ever (I mean, come on, monsters that eat reality itself?!?!), but when I rewatched it as an adult, it was goofy as hell.

The monsters in The Maze Runner — an easy read of 300-some pages — remind me a lot of those bad CGI creatures. That is, I have no idea how they’re going to manage to look cool on the big screen when their descriptions in the book are so bizarre and … kind of stupid.

Let’s back up. The Maze Runner is sort of like The Langoliers meets The Lord of the Flies. A bunch of boys are thrown into a walled-in area they call the Glade — with no memories of who they were or how they got there — and forced to investigate a deadly, gigantic maze for a way out. The maze surrounds them on all sides, so while they have to form their own organized and civil society (they even have a council) just to survive, the braver few go out into the labyrinth during the day and try to learn its secrets.

The Langoliers movie

The Langoliers: Totally not scaring after the age of 12.

Not everyone gets along, though, and that’s made worse when the newest recruit, Thomas, arrives and weird things start happening. Including the appearance of a girl — the first ever in the Glade.

Cue awkward teenage sexual feelings and, erm, telepathy.

Yes, The Maze Runner is kind of a cheesy book, made weirder by the slang the boys throw around as their own primal island language. Words like “klunk” and “shank” and phrases like “good that” are totally normal conversation. They might as well be jumping from trees and sticking pig’s heads on stakes.

But the monsters are something else. Part slug, part death-metal-torture machine, the Grievers that patrol the maze are … totally ridiculous to imagine and maybe not as frightening to picture as Dashner thought. But then again, I’m not the target age group for this book.

I plan on seeing The Maze Runner in theaters later this month, mostly because I’m just damned curious — either it’s going to be the lamest young adult movie ever (maybe dumber than If I Stay seemed?) or it’s going to be somehow totally amazing, and Grievers will become the stuff of my nightmares. I mean, I dig mazes, so anything’s possible.

Can robotic slugs freak me out? Will I ever be able to take the words “shuck-face” and “Greenie” seriously? I have no idea.

Let’s find out.

If I Stay

Why I won’t be seeing the movie If I Stay

I want to talk about If I Stay, the young adult book by Gayle Forman. All 231 pages rest on one question: What would you do if you had to choose?

As in, if you found yourself looking down on your comatose body after surviving a terrible car crash that kills your parents and only brother, would you want to stick around for all the ensuing pain or hightail it out of there?

When I saw a commercial for If I Stay (out Aug. 22) and Chloë Grace Moretz’s (one of my favorite young actresses) character got all weepy saying, “He wrote me a song,” my heart didn’t flutter. I thought it looked dumb and badly acted:

Like, this scene looks boring:

But maybe the book is good, I thought. OK. Nope. Not any better.

If I Stay has the potential to be good, but it’s a hugely overrated book. While wandering the hospital all corporeal and watching her loved ones talk to her broken body, the character Mia debates whether she wants to stay (and live without her family) or let herself die. You figure the author isn’t going to write a book where the message is “life isn’t that worth living,” so you know she’ll probably choose to live — but the point is more to explore the decision and all its implications. After all, who really gets to choose? Probably doesn’t happen all that often.

So she does a lot of thinking, mostly about music and her boyfriend. Her parents were rockers in their day, and her boyfriend has his own band that’s gaining popularity, but she plays the cello. Lame — or at least she thinks so. Most of her recollections deal with her doubts, not about whether her boyfriend Adam loves her but why he loves her. She can’t believe someone so cool would care about someone as plain as her. She doesn’t feel like she even belongs in her own family.

Then Adam shows up at the hospital (back to real time now), and she’s a mess. Seeing him makes her want to live, and that complicates her decision to call it quits. Because romance.

If I Stay is a pretty easy read — and it ends so abruptly you’ll be disappointed (I didn’t realize the 100 pages at the end of my version was all authory, previewy stuff). I wanted Forman to dig deeper into the question of why someone would stay (and what it means not to), but she never did. She never ventured beyond the obvious or connected all the stuff Mia thought about — music, love, family belonging, friendship — back to her final decision in a way that felt like it actually meant something.

And what about the movie line where Moretz’s character cries and smiles and says, “He wrote me a song”? Yeah, that never even happens.

So I don’t know about you, but I’m chalking this one up as another overrated YA book and skipping the theaters.

Grade: D

In The Hunger Games, Peeta is Katniss’s ‘movie girlfriend’

Peeta Hunger GamesMy friend dug up an NPR article from back in November about how The Hunger Games movies are smart and valuable not just because Katniss’s character challenges the way we portray women in film but also because they ask us to rethink how we represent the opposite gender.

As a girl, Katniss is physically capable, so she doesn’t need rescuing as a damsel, and she’s not helpless. But she’s also emotionally insensitive and unavailable, which isn’t a feminine trait according to what Hollywood and society teach us.

Peeta works in a bakery while Katniss hunts and is the obviously more formidable player in the Games. She saves him with physical strength and prowess while he saves her through goodness and kindness and sacrifice. Their relationship is a reversal of gender roles:

She kisses him sometimes, but she keeps him on a need-to-know basis, and she decides what he needs to know.

He loves her as she is, while knowing he’ll never change her and parts of her will always be mysterious and out of reach.

And Katniss’s choice between Peeta and Gale, the NPR writer argues, is essentially a decision between a movie girlfriend and a movie boyfriend:

Gale works in the mines, not in a bakery. He’s a hunter. He grabs her and kisses her because he simply must. He’s taller. (Real talk: HE’S THOR’S BROTHER.)There’s more to the unusual gender dynamics in these stories, in other words — particularly, I think, in the films — than the idea of a girl who fights. There’s also a rather delightful mishing and mashing of the ideas of what’s expected from young men in movies where everybody is running around shooting and bleeding.

Of course, referring to these characters as “movie boyfriend” and “movie girlfriend” sort of misses the point because the argument is that gender can mean anything, not just what we as a society say it does. But these terms do their job in helping the message hit home, and the whole idea is something I didn’t quite realize this fully until now.

Early Michael Crichton (that Jurassic Park guy) books coming out

jurassic-park-movie

If you’re a Michael Crichton fan, then you’ll be happy to know some of his earliest works are releasing as e-books soon. No need to travel to a secret island to find copies (you can grab them in print form, but many sell for hundreds of dollars).

Crichton wrote 10 novels under three different pen names at the start of his career, back when he was studying in medical school in the 1960s. Open Road Integrated Media is publishing the first digital editions of books like Odds On (his premiere novel) and even Dealing or The Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, which Crichton wrote with his brother Douglas.

Open Road referred to them as “The Med School Years.” *snicker*

The author used the pseudonyms John Lange, Jeffery Hudson, and Michael Douglas.

Here’s the full list:

Writing as John Lange:

  • Odds On
  • Scratch One
  • Easy Go
  • The Venom Business
  • Zero Cool
  • Drug of Choice
  • Grave Descend
  • Binary

Writing as Jeffery Hudson:

  • A Case of Need 

Writing as Michael Douglas:

  • Dealing or The Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues

Hello, Kill Screen! Celebrating Twin Peaks and Deadly Premonition

Today I’m happy to introduce my first piece for Kill Screen: “How Twin Peaks finds new life in the world of Deadly Premonition.”

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As you can guess from the headline, the story links the popular nineties’ television show Twin Peaks to the cult hit video game Deadly Premonition, which got reprinted today as a director’s cut for PlayStation 3.

I’m obsessed with both fictions, so I had a lot of fun writing the article. It was cool getting some answers from the game’s designer, “Swery.” Big thanks to everyone who helped make the article so awesome and polished in its final form.

I’ve written about Twin Peaks before. Click here for a fun rundown of the best and worst characters and all their drama.

My first contribution to PopMatters

This is Good News Part Two (more to come later). Here’s yesterday’s Part One.

I submitted a feature about gender in relation to artificial intelligence — specifically regarding HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and SHODAN from System Shock 2. You can read it on PopMatters.

I have no current plans to keep writing there although I might send them a pitch or two in the future. :)

Hope you enjoy the story! I would love to hear your thoughts on my analysis.

hal

Top 10 best and worst characters of Twin Peaks (and what they teach about writing)

Twin Peaks

OK, so I am obsessed with the TV drama Twin Peaks. If you’re not familiar with it, then you either weren’t old enough in 1990 or you haven’t discovered it on Netflix yet (get cracking). Part of it is because of how ridiculously similar designer Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro’s great game Deadly Premonition is to it, particularly the first season — seriously, I could compose a whole article about everything they share in common. But since this isn’t a video game blog, I wanted to tie it back to writing (duh).

The 10 best and worst characters change dramatically over the course of the show,* but they’re also extremely likeable or easily loathed. Some of them I’ve grouped into pairs. (Everyone knows Agent Cooper is awesome, so I’ve left him off this list.)

Here’s what we can learn from them, whether or not you watch the show.

Some slight spoilers ahead.

The five best

Ed Hurley and Norma Jennings

Twin Peaks Ed Norma

In a show filled with psychotic murderers, abusive husbands, rebellious teenagers, and good-clean cops (note: all stereotypes), you crave normal. The town of Twin Peaks is anything but. This is a drama, after all, so the sticky situations the characters constantly find themselves in are naturally overblown.

Ed and Norma — lifelong friends who love each other but could never be together — are the best example of the sense of stability that’s missing from most of the show. While characters like protagonist/FBI agent Dale Cooper are reliably moral and just, Ed and Norma aren’t perfect by most people’s standards. Like many on the show, they partake in adulterous behavior, but unlike the other characters, you don’t hate them for it. You might actually cheer them on.

Ben and Audrey Horne

Twin Peaks Ben Horne

I wanted to discuss businessman Ben Horne and his daughter Audrey together because of how their relationship grows. Ben’s not exactly a model guy — he’s kind of a scumbag — but I liked him more and more as the show went on. He has this vibe about him like he knows how incredibly weird and messed up the goings-on of Twin Peaks are even if he’s responsible for some of them. He might not be as a physically intimidating or calculating as some of the other characters (Hank and Catherine, for instance), but he always bounces back and adapts to fickle situations. When everyone else is super serious, you can count on Ben for some levity — and a reality check. A character doesn’t have to be a good guy for him to be likeable or relatable.

Twin Peaks Audrey

Audrey is just as admirable as her father, if in different ways. She starts out as this immature high schooler until her childish tricks almost get her killed. From then on, she’s no longer a little girl crying for daddy’s attention. She’s determined to grow up, learn the business, and earn her father’s (and everyone else’s) respect the hard way. I gotta love her for that. Believable growth is just as important for turning a unlikeable character into a favorite one.

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