Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The first I heard about Beasts of the Southern Wild was when I was watching the live stream of the awards at Cannes this year. When it won the Camera D'Or all of a sudden everyone who'd seen it at Sundance and Cannes started tweeting simultaneously about how it was the greatest thing, like, ever. Soon people were talking about it as the best American movie of the year and about Oscars and shit and then there was a subsequent wave of people sniffing that it was over-hyped and talking about everything from hipster racism to Trojan horse Tea Party subtext. Then the first people called the second people contrarian shitheads and the second people said fuck you to the first people and so on and so forth. Thus is (what passes for) discourse in these benighted times. On the other hand, one of my oldest bits of critical philosophy is “the sharper the divide in critical reaction, the more likely the movie is to be interesting.” Sure, it's a little simplistic, shush. Anyway, to the subject at hand: this past weekend I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it was . . . good. Like, I mean, I didn't fucking levitate like everyone at Sundance and Cannes, but it's a damn good movie.
“There was a girl named Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.” This line, repeated by the movie's protagonist, is a concise statement of its premise. Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her constantly drunk but well-meaning father in an isolated part of the Louisiana bayou on the wrong side of the levee. A massive storm leaves much of the community, which calls itself The Bathtub, under water. This gradually poses an existential threat, against which Hushpuppy gradually finds herself more alone.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is shot in handheld 16mm (which, in a sidenote because this isn't the movie's fault, looks mildly like ass blown up to 35; like I said, though, that's not the movie's fault, just be prepared for things to look really, really fucking grainy), in a style that evokes cinema verité, but the script (by director Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar, from her one-act play) openly embraces non-naturalistic elements. Hushpuppy converses with her absent mother, in the form of a talking red number 23 basketball jersey, and has recurring visions of giant, horned prehistoric creatures that (sort of) embody the terror of the unknown. The movie does an excellent job grounding the weird shit in a plausible reality, and of portraying Hushpuppy as a pretty extraordinary character while never losing sight of the fact that she's a little kid. Even in the heightened reality of aurochs and talking basketball jerseys, Hushpuppy comes across as an actual kid, not one possessed of any wisdom beyond that which a smart, resourceful kid would have, and yet very wise in important ways.
The one truly stop-the-presses outstanding thing in the movie is Quvenzhané Wallis' performance in the lead: it's the single greatest little kid performance there ever has been (not to mention, her 'fro is Hall of Fame level). She was five years old when she auditioned, and six when the picture was shot, and she's just out of this galaxy in it. A lot of the credit has to go to the text she has to work with (which she aces) and the direction. For the rest of his career, no matter what, Benh Zeitlin can always play the “I got an Oscar-caliber performance out of a six-year-old with no training” card. Which is legit, he should get to puff his chest out about that for as long as he likes. Still, without Quvenzhané being THAT awesome, it's all academic. (By the way, that “Oscar-caliber” comment notwithstanding, I think it'd be kind of awful to put her through the wringer of the awards season; not to be ageist or paternalistic or anything but she's eight years old, dude. And she's not in the business. Let her be a kid.)
On the whole, I didn't “OMG LOVE” Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I'm not going to fuck with anyone who did, because I can see what they see in it, especially the ending (which got a robust round of applause from the packed theater the night I saw it). The “it's hipster racism” stuff is knee-jerk bullshit (there's enough actual racism out there that we shouldn't invent fake racism out of whole cloth), and it's not an endorsement of the Tea Party at all; the world of Beasts of the Southern Wild is entirely apolitical. Projecting one's own political baggage onto everything is a particularly perilous trap, especially when you're on deadline and need pageviews, I guess. Beasts of the Southern Wild is “just” a good movie with a vivid sense of place and a great lead. There aren't enough of those, so being disappointed that it isn't better, and that it doesn't lend itself to political analysis, is just greedy.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Hooooooooooly smokes. Thanks in advance for the birthday present, Wachowski/Tykwer/Wachowski. (It releases on my birthday, is what that means.) This looks like something we're all gonna get in massive fights about, but I gotta say based on this I want to see this fuckin thing six ways from Sunday. Time will tell if I ever actually get around to finishing this book: been trying for six goddamn years now.
(h/t The Playlist)
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Monday, July 23, 2012
It's about Bat-time for some Bat-links, y'all:
1) Here are my collected reviews of every Batman movie up to and including The Dark Knight at Tor.com.
2) My non-spoiler review of The Dark Knight Rises, which says pretty much all I've got to say; you want to fight about particular elements in it that “don't make sense,” I'm not your guy. Besides, I already ripped whiny bullshit fan reactions the other day.
3) My piece in The Atlantic about where both Christopher Nolan and Batman stand at present.
Happy Monday, kids!
Saturday, July 21, 2012
|The gentleman in question|
(Like a lot of bloggers, unencumbered by the professional obligation to churn out immediate responses to the brutal mass murder in Colorado Friday midnight, I'm prefacing this post by saying this was supposed to go up Friday morning. When I woke up and turned on my computer, I saw, yeah, maybe this isn't the best time to rant about Harry Knowles. It was a time for contemplation for many, and for me a full day of sitting around stunned at what that malignant little fuck—I'm not giving him the satisfaction of saying his name; he has no name—did. Anyway, I don't really have anything to contribute to that discussion beyond the anger and sadness so many others share, intensified in this particular case because movie theaters are a place I've felt safe and free my whole life, especially in times when I felt in danger or trapped. I basically co-sign everything my good friend Filmi Girl says in the introduction to this post, so check that out, then come back, and watch the below video to transition back into our completely unrelated regularly scheduled programming.)
So, earlier this week, before anyone other than critics and a few lucky bloggers (and people like me who aren't quite as fancy as the former just yet but still a little fancier than the latter) had had a chance to see The Dark Knight Rises, Harry Knowles, founder of Ain't It Cool News, and for better or worse the ur-Internet movie blogger, spoiled the sweet living fuck out of it. While that's a little shitty, Mr. Knowles did admittedly preface everything with a spoiler alert, so it's not as bad as it could be. What is, and what makes this more notable than just internecine nerd grumping, is the way in which Knowles registers his “[p]rofound disappointment.” It's a stunningly lousy piece of criticism, fodder for everyone who would join Kevin Smith's recent crusade against not only critics themselves, but the entire form.
Whether or not Knowles' piece was meant as a “formal” review or not is a bit beside the point. Ain't It Cool is, by virtue of having been around the Internet practically since before civilians even knew what computers were, an institution. Its editorial perspective is right there on its sleeve, with its heart: ain't movies cool? I'm hardly in a position to disagree. In principle I'm right there with them. I love movies with a fierce intensity. Movies can be about anything and everything, so to love movies is to love life itself, at a certain point. On the other hand, loving cinema does not mean one loves all movies. Some are better than others.
I would submit that if the way in which your love of movies manifests itself is in the desire to write about them, you owe it to yourself and other movie lovers to at least try to get at what a movie is, rather than focusing on your own personal reaction to it to the exclusion of all other things. Criticism is not a simple matter of “I liked it” or “I didn't like it.” A big part of it is considering factors outside the self; while ultimately purely objective observation is always going to be impossible because the observer is part of the observation, it's incumbent on the observer to do the best s/he can. The best parts of oneself—knowledge, wisdom, and empathy—are the best tools of observation.
Where Knowles fucks up in that Dark Knight Rises piece, and the entire experience of watching the movie itself, from the sound of things, is in that inability to step even an inch outside himself and the Dark Knight Rises screenplay he'd already written in his head. (He's no stranger to reading the wrong script, if you'll recall his embarrassing adventures with that fake Prometheus script back in April.) Reading his reaction to the movie (since calling it a “review” is a bit much), everything that pissed him off relates to a choice Christopher (and brother Jonathan) Nolan made either in transposing characters from the comics into the very different realm of cinema, or in the effects of those characters' action in a world they, the Nolan brothers, not Harry Knowles, created.
Among those effects is something that relates to a larger discussion of fandom and sexism that's come to a bit of a boil this year. In the case of both this summer's previous mega-blockbuster superhero movies, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, women critics were subjected to shit like “Stick with rom-coms, bitch” for weighing in with anything other than adulation. In gaming there was the whole “getting the player to identify with Lara Croft by her getting almost-raped” crap and that woman's Kickstarter to fund a study of sexism in gaming that led to a deluge of threats of rape and a Flash game where the player could punch her in the face. Given this context, a discussion that has been unavoidable in fandom circles for months, it's a sign of great negligence that Knowles would register the following complaint (bolded emphasis mine, not his; shitty writing his, not mine):
“It is just at this stage that the film loses all sense of urgency. I mean, you have a city with a strange respirator men with an army of thugs and every hardened criminal in the city – and it doesn’t end up looking like Old Detroit from ROBOCOP? I mean – there’s 1000s armed bad guys and the city isn’t being raped and pillaged. Instead they set up courts to make people walk on ice?”
Yes, Harry, there are thousands of armed bad guys and the city isn't being raped and pillaged. Perhaps Christopher and Jonathan Nolan do not share your lazy conflation of rape and pillage with dramatic urgency. Perhaps they also share a frame of reference not entirely derived from other movies with no aesthetic, philosophical, or any other connection other than being movies. If anything, the absence of rape and pillage in this case could be interpreted as a) Bane not being an anarchist, because he's not an anarchist, and b) a sign to pay attention because (pardon the overly literal reading) something's happening, and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Knowles?
I should clarify that accusing Harry Knowles of rape advocacy based on the above quote would be inaccurate. But it's indicative of a fundamental lack of taking a moment to think about other people and how they might think or feel, which is the same fundamental problem with his entire reaction. The near-mantra which the repetitions of “bullshit” become is derived almost entirely from the movie's interpretation of the comics being different from Knowles'. There is, I hate to break it to him, no one set-in-stone interpretation of the comics, which are, as a writer I rather like pointed out in The Atlantic recently, the product of many different authors and the different perspectives each brought to the material. Then, there are things such as Bane being “no longer South American,” which is an assumption based on the absence of it being spelled out, and not something there's any evidentiary basis to state as anything other than an assumption. And, even if he's not, not to be mean or anything, but who gives a fuck? If Knowles had liked the movie (on whatever squishy inarticulately-conveyed basis) he certainly wouldn't have.
While we're in an interrogative mood, another “who gives a fuck?” subject is Harry Knowles himself, as in “why should we give a fuck what he has to say?” His is not an a priori irrelevant voice. However irritating he's become both online and in Austin (and holy shit, if you want to hear invective, just wind Austin critic types up with a question about the guy and watch them go), and however many writers have come along who are better at doing what he does than he is (Ain't It Cool is home to some fine ones, as well as some not so fine), online movie and fandom discourse is what it is to a significant degree due to Harry Knowles' influence. And a lot of people still read Ain't It Cool. So when he hops on his computer the day before one of the biggest geek movies of the year and writes something this stupid, it's irritating.
It's also bad for criticism in general. I haven't had much to say about Kevin Smith's ridiculous and weird anti-critic tirades (in keeping with the “it's not always about me” theme here, Scott Weinberg basically nails the whole thing in this piece), but Smith and Harry Knowles are essentially on the same page on this subject. Their (apparent) weird mix of unquantifiable emotion, dogmatic certitude, and the utter refusal to address either is one of the most annoying things about movie geekery. Asking why something is “awesome” or “sucks,” or having to explain, does not in any way cheapen the experience of a movie, and in a lot of cases enriches it. Getting deeper on a movie you liked and discovering that, in fact, there are some things wrong with it doesn't mean the subjective, emotional experience of liking it is any less valid. All it means is that the movie in question did some things well and other things not so well. One can like a “bad” movie and not enjoy a “good” movie. No matter what the case, understanding is a net good.
Throwing stones at nerds, admittedly, will lead to a lot of shit getting broken in my glass house (which, because I'm a nerd, is a 1:1 scale replica of Dr. Manhattan's Martian palace in Watchmen). But, in terms of the discussion at hand, I find it particularly grating when unexamined feelings are presented as having any kind of relevance, and when the process of examination is dismissed as either boring or the occupation of sour-grapes killjoy assholes. I also think voices with large audiences of listeners should endeavor to say things of meaning and value.
Of, course, that might just be a by-product of my remembering that once upon a time, nerds were supposed to be smart.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Last night I watched what will probably be the last episode of The Newsroom that I ever watch, unless some rather extreme circumstances arise. I was considering ranting about why, except this piece by Awards Daily's Sasha Stone both perfectly sums it up, and is from the perspective of someone with a more legit gripe.
Peace, Sork. Hope this is just a blip.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
|Slave Leia cosplayers: There can only be more than one.|
As many of you may have noticed, Comic-Con is currently underway in San Diego, which, as film critic Scott Renshaw noted, is “a stupid place for an event where you're indoors the whole time.” (This documentary I reviewed over at Tor is an okay-ish primer.) It's the nerd Super Bowl, a massive event, a place where somebody detonated a claymore full of comic books, video games, science fiction, TV, board games, toys, fucked-up carpeting, and laminated badges. My only in-person Comic-Con experience is with the decidedly smaller and less crazy one in New York, and let me tell you, even that blew my fuckin mind. I got lost for half an hour trying to find the room where my roundtable interview with Joe Cornish was, then I got lost for another forty-five minutes trying to find someone to covertly hand my borrowed press credentials off to, eventually randomly stumbling across a colleague who was cosplaying with her girlfriend as the Eleventh Doctor and companion. Then I tried finding another friend's booth for another bewildering few minutes and eventually just had to check the fuck out from sensory overload and get in a goddamn cab.
The thing is, as fascinating as the whole thing is, and as much a nerd as I am, I still don't quite fit in at Comic-Con. While there isn't really a Con monoculture (much as it all may blur into one for outsiders), I don't really fit in with any of the tribes, either. I'm not a comic book guy (I like them, I just sometimes brainfart and think Steve Ditko coached the '85 Bears), I'm not really a hardcore gamer, for the same reason I don't really get down with swords and orcs and gelflings and questing and saying “thou” and shit, because it feels like all the big video games are The Quest of the Eldritch Dragon Lord, unless they're Tom Clancy's Call of Modern Warfare, and if I want to play that game I can watch Fox News while voguing with my PS3 controller. Movies, I do like (as you may have noticed), but I don't get automatic geek boners for superhero trailers (the squee-est I ever got over a trailer was for Bande a Part at Film Forum, because my superpower is being tweedy enough to fucking crush planets). Toys, hey, look. I don't want to be all “I'm in my fucking 30s” and stuff, but I'm in my fucking 30s. If you told me they were putting out an Alain Delon action figure from Le Samourai I'd be all up on that shit, but otherwise y'all can have 'em with no competition.
While Comic-Con is fine and dandy for the people who it's for—and I won't lie, even though I feel like I'm in a foreign country there, it's a reasonably hospitable foreign country—it's not for everyone. With that in mind, here are some alternate Cons (feel free to break with longstanding Movies By Bowes ™ tradition and actually use the comment section to propose Cons I might have overlooked):
The idea: This is something the Self-Styled Siren and I came up with a while back (I don't remember whose idea it was, and she doesn't even remember the conversation; such is the danger with goofy passing fancies): a whole Con based on Fritz Lang. Which would fucking rule. You got a solid forty years of awesome movies to choose from, even if you'd have to stick to the classics to appeal to civilians. Though, on second thought, the idea of any civilians voluntarily showing up to Fritz-Con is the funniest thing ever.
Cosplay opportunities: Many, and awesome. Dudes can cosplay as Dan Duryea in Scarlet Street and have everyone in a hundred-mile radius be like “Whattafuckindouchebag . . .”
Or fuck it, show up as Fritz himself if you want rule fucking balls:
For the ladies, you could cosplay as Thea von Harbou and get in a fight with one of the Fritz cosplayers, or if you're feeling less dramatic, you could be Sylvia Sidney in Fury—
—or Brigitte Helm—
—or Joan Bennett—
—I mean, you got tons of options here.
Must-see booths: You got your UFA booth, with a dude on stilts dressed as F.W. Murnau, that booth's got great lighting and is shaped so weird you wonder how it doesn't tip over. Then you got your noir booth, which is lit similarly but stuff looks more normal, though the booth babes have an unfortunate tendency to make men leave behind the lives they've known and unravel along Freudian psycho-sexual spirals, but hey, man, shit happens at Con, what can I say.
Potential for commercialism to swallow it whole: Nil, unless the Skrillex “In the Hall of the Mountain King” remix blows up.
The idea: A Con for the kind of people whose jokes are too complicated and “ironic.” The entire Con is spent explaining to people with increasing exasperation that the Con has nothing to do with Donkey Kong. No one really knows why it's called Donkey-Con, because the explanation is so long no one has ever managed to sit through the whole thing.
Cosplay opportunities: I was at a Halloween party a few years ago talking to a friend of mine and her roommate. My friend was wearing a big old ratty-looking beehive and smudged make-up, and her roommate was wearing nothing but a plastic bag, a white tube top and shorts, and a big straw sticking up out of her cleavage. They explained they were Amy Winehouse and her bag of cocaine. Which was awesome, because this is when Amy Winehouse was still alive. At Donkey-Con, the people would explain that they were cosplaying as my friend and her roommate . . . get it? (Ed. Note: Donkey-Con is fucking insufferable)
Must-see booths: There are a lot of them, but after the first one explains what it is to you, you leave and go to the bar.
Potential for commercialism to swallow it whole: Virtually guaranteed, because some evil white guy in a suit would be like “Hey, wouldn't it be ironic if we made a billion dollars off this bullshit?” And he'd proceed to do so, even while everyone at Donkey-Con would explain that that wasn't really ironic, but if a trip to Donkey-Con teaches you anything, it is that you do not listen to anything anyone at Donkey-Con says.
The idea: The world's finest con men and women “con”vene (ahh, being me fucking rules sometimes) to present the latest in flim-flam, misrepresentation for financial gain, and plain old bullshit. Paypal me a hundred bucks and I'll tell you what city it's in this year.
Cosplay opportunities: This one can be a little tough to pull off—
—which is why this one's the most popular among men:
For the ladies, there's always the classic Brigid O'Shaughnessy—
—or if you're feeling new school, Annette Bening in The Grifters (secretly one of the sexiest performances in cinema)—
—or you could go subtle and just try a variation on “eye-catching but relatively unassuming.” You know, because you want to build trust in your mark.
Must-see booths: Hard to say, but one thing's for sure, at least one of them's going to prey on your deepest unspoken desire.
Potential for commercialism to swallow it whole: Awesomely, all the corporate sponsors lose all their money, too, just like you. Though, I mean, it sucks that you got fleeced, but hey, the evil white guys in suits did too, fuck them, woo hooo!!!
The idea: Fuck yeah, that's right. A racially insensitive, commercialized-to-the-gills Indian cinema Con aimed squarely at NRI/American fans. Boosh.
Cosplay opportunities: Dude. Fucking unlimited. You can be bland and go the Shahrukh Khan NRI melodrama route—
—or more traditional, which in this case is less boring (here's Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai in a still from Devdas)—
—or straight-up 70s WTF—
—I could go on all day. We're talking the greatest cosplay like, ever.
Must-see booths: All of them. Good luck getting into the SRK panel, though, it's fuckin gonna be jammed. He'll be the only one of the Three Khans there (otherwise they'd just call it Three-Con): Aamir will not be there because it's not serious enough, and Salman won't be there because the Con isn't being held in his backyard.
Potential for commercialism to swallow it whole: Considering that this entire thing is a rancidly cynical marketing thing that would piss hardcore North American Bolly fans off to the point of murder (which is why the list of stars attending is always going to be weirdly selective), having it be consumed by commercialism would be a bit like dividing by zero. But seriously, it'll still be worth it for the mind-bending cosplay.
That, of course, is just the tip of the Con iceberg. To each your own subculture. May it never outgrow you.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
|Front: Bill Cooke (Sean Williams), his daughter Ronnie (Becky Byers). Back: "houseguest" Conor (Jason Howard)|
Both my parents were (and Mom still is) ardent fans of genre fiction: crime for Mom, SF for my late Da. Mom never had much use for SF and Dad constantly snarked about crime fiction—this disagreement is kind of a tip-of-the-iceberg signifier of their eventual divorce—and while it sucks to have people you love fighting with each other and all that, the reason I bring this up is that, by accident, I ended up having a zillion conversations about the characteristics of two different genres with two very intelligent, knowledgeable people.
All these deep thoughts on the nature of genre have led to me founding and becoming a firm believer in the Cat/Biscuit Principle (“you can put a cat in the oven but that don't make it a biscuit”) of Genre: the presence of familiar genre elements do not necessarily place a given work within that genre. For example, Michael Bay's Transformers pictures are not science fiction in spite of having robots, aliens and Shia LeBeouf fucking his way through the Victoria's Secret catalog. (Let's not dwell too long about my theory that the Transformers movies transcend genre due to Michael Bay's auteurism overwhelming any attempts to categorize them as anything but his; his authorial signature may be the vague feeling that his work is the product of a pair of quasi-sapient testicles dipped in cocaine, but it is a signature nonetheless.)
There is also another level of achievement for genre pieces, once they pass my standard to be allowed to even exist—oh, trust me, the best part of creating your own aesthetic theories is getting to be a total fucking prick, don't let anyone tell you any different—which is: being good. This sounds simple, but if it really was that simple, nothing would suck, and lots of things suck, so, y'know, QED and shit. So, how does something become good? To use an example from film, let's not fuck around at all, let's look at Citizen Kane. One key reason why it's so great is because, as the story of a bold, innovative man, it used bold and innovative techniques. It's a movie about trying to unearth secrets, and makes masterful use of shadow. Also, everybody turning the whole “Rosebud was his sled” thing into a joke can stick their dick in a boat propeller; having the dying thoughts of A Great Man™ be of the last link to his childhood innocence before he was taken away and had greatness thrust upon him is true, simple, and profound, and it's a final not-so-subtle “fuck your expectations” finger wag at the audience.
So what does Citizen Kane have to do with three independent theatre pieces in Queens seventy years later? Aside from being awesome, the only tangible link is in melding form with content so that neither exists (or at the very least, is as strong) without the other. The Honeycomb trilogy, consisting of the plays Advance Man, Blast Radius, and Sovereign, sprang forth from the mind of playwright Mac Rogers, and was brought to life by Gideon Productions, which aside from Mac consists of Sean and Jordana Williams (the latter of whom directed all three plays), Sandy Yaklin, and most recently Shaun B. Wilson. In the interests of full disclosure, I need to mention that these people are all friends of mine, but we should be perfectly clear about one thing: this is not me praising my friends because they're my friends. I've already told them in person how much they rule, on many occasions, some of which I wasn't even drunk. But here's the thing: all three shows and the totality they comprise considered as a whole are something uniquely great and about a hair away from being perfect.
The Honeycomb trilogy is an alien invasion story, and one unlike any other I've ever seen or read. Your bog-standard alien invasion story has the aliens come to Earth, fuck some shit up, and eventually get defeated by the pluck of the spunky, outnumbered humans. While it may sound a little like hair-splitting, there's a difference between an alien invasion story and a story about aliens. The act of “invasion” reflexively gets most people's back up, and being people, we tend to side unambiguously with people. Fuck aliens, they come from other planets, that shit's fucked up. What Mac (sorry, it's weird to call him Rogers, and even weirder to call him Mr. Rogers, for obvious reasons) does with the Honeycomb plays that's so great is back up the moral nuance truck and just unload: the aliens—or, as they call themselves, “the people of the Honeycomb”—are a hivemind that remembers everything that has ever happened to any individual, where all are one and one is all. They are a peaceful race, enlightened in many ways humans are not, but they are not by any means perfect. Prior to the events of Advance Man, the Honeycomb finds itself stranded on Mars, its own planet long since fucked, where they're discovered by the first manned mission from Earth to Mars. Earth being pretty fucked up too, the astronauts let the Honeycomb talk them into coordinating a covert invasion, after which the re-vitalized Honeycomb will assume control of a “terraformed” Earth (or whatever the Latin is for the Honeycomb's home planet, since “terra” is Earth, making terraforming Earth sound a little like dividing by zero), with humans in a subordinate capacity. The trade-off for humanity, kind of a brutal one, is that we get to stave off ecological disaster . . . but a whole fuckload of us have to die. Considering that the Honeycomb, like any living entity, wants to stay alive at all costs, the existential quandary of having to kill a bunch of people is something they'll regret but will nonetheless totally do. Their human collaborators' existential quandary is similar: unless a bunch of pretty fundamental things change, humanity is going to fuck the Earth uninhabitable, so the only way for humanity to survive is for a bunch of us to die. Of course, not everyone's going to just happily accept that, which is why the astronauts have to plan the whole thing in secret.
This all happens before the first play, Advance Man, even starts. The play itself takes the form of a living-room drama, a staple of naturalist/realist theatre, and takes place entirely in the living room (natch) of the Cooke family. Bill, the patriarch, was the lead astronaut on the Mars mission and the covert invasion plans. Telling the story mostly from the perspective of Bill's teenage children, daughter Ronnie and son Abbie, and wife Amelia helps keep the parceling of information gradual and organic. Not to mention, having a range of characters provides a range of perspectives on the increasingly ominous behavior of Bill and his colleagues, especially the mentally damaged (or is he....?) Conor. The sensitive Abbie has a close bond with Conor and has been, unwittingly, drawing pictures that closely resemble the Honeycomb and its insectoid people for years. Ronnie is the stronger sibling, creating not only a neat reversal of typical gender expectations but someone to question the strange goings-on in the Cooke household, with that desire arising from character rather than simple plot expediency.
That, in a nutshell, is what makes the Honeycomb plays work as drama rather than an essay about the uneasy human relationship with The Other, be it terrestrial or extra-. It's also what lends such emotional weight to the climax of Advance Man where, the cat decidedly out of the bag (Ronnie's running around with a gun desperately trying to put a halt to the conspiracy), Abbie pushes The Button that's going to trigger the invasion just to see what happens. It's a moment that's true to the character as already established, and to the whimsical, stochastic nature of existence itself: the end of the world as we know it happens, in large part, because one guy said what the fuck.
Blast Radius picks up many years later, with the Honeycomb firmly in control of Earth, and humanity existing in a post-technological state in which a lot of people can barely remember The Time Before, Abbie is a big Vichy muckety-muck (and in a long-term romantic relationship with Conor, who as revealed in Advance Man is in fact a Honeycomb consciousness occupying Conor's human body; with the telekinetic link to the Honeycomb severed, “Conor” now finds himself developing a kind of hybrid consciousness deriving from the experience of the Honeycomb within the limitations of the human mind). Ronnie is a key figure in the human resistance, which is centered in houses devoted to caring for pregnant women, in part because the people of the Honeycomb—known colloquially by the epithet “bugs” by non-Vichy humans (note: the Vichy parallel is my own, not Mac's)—are icked out by human childbirth. The former Cooke household has become one such house, which is how Blast Radius is set in the same (albeit distressed by the apocalypse) room as Advance Man. And, in that room, we observe Ronnie and Abbie's conflict, Conor's increasing empathy for humanity, and even the resistance, which seizes on the discovery of a fatal Honeycomb weakness to launch a counter-attack. Of course, nothing being simple, that weakness consists of a chemical reaction whereby a Honeycomb byproduct the people call “bug water” (I'm not sure exactly what it is, though it doesn't matter; its semiotic value is the important thing, not exactly how it works), when ingested by a human being, causes that human being to explode. And so, Ronnie's counter-offensive consists of recruiting 51 human suicide bombers to blow up Honeycomb installations. In persuading them, she faces the obstacle of this being something she herself is not going to do (being pregnant), as she plans to lead the resistance in the aftermath. Of course, nothing being simple, the father of her unborn child ends up having to be one of the 51. As does Conor, leaving Abbie without the love of his life as well. Yeah, the end of Blast Radius is fucking intense.
The final installment of the trilogy is where we really get into unexplored (or extremely rarely explored) territory, in SF terms: what happens after the good guys win, not to mention the question of whether we, humans, are the good guys, and they, the aliens, are actually the bad guys. Sovereign picks up after the revolution, when humanity is back in control and the “bugs” almost completely eradicated. Ronnie is hard at work re-establishing a working government, and serving as regional governor, when her security forces capture Abbie, a wanted man for his service to the Honeycomb. With the bulk of the play consisting of Abbie's trial for whatever they can pin on him—as he points out, quite accurately, the stuff he did wasn't illegal until his side lost—Sovereign wraps up the trilogy by explicitly examining who was right and who was wrong, and because the whole trilogy has centered on Ronnie and Abbie (and Ronnie has appropriated the Cooke home as her headquarters and thus the action once again takes place in the same room, now featuring a memorial to “the 51” from Blast Radius), that question ends up boiling down to whether Ronnie and Abbie were/are right and/or wrong. Of course, nothing being simple, they're both right in some ways, and wrong in others and ultimately, there's no place for either of them in the world, and all they have is each other, bringing the trilogy which, for all the world-building and the dozens of other great characters that populate what we see of that world, has essentially been about them to the perfect emotional point of closure.
Taken as a whole, the Honeycomb trilogy is one of the finest and most singular works of science fiction that I've ever encountered. It's a story that can only be SF, and as currently constituted, a story that can only be told in the medium in which it was: the stage. Each play was written specifically as a particular kind of play: Advance Man, as above, was a living-room drama, Blast Radius quite Shakespearean in form if not language (which was colloquial modern), and Sovereign Greek in the same way. They each are in every way works of and celebrating the stage. It sounds redundant, but a work must be what it is before it can be great; by “be what it is” I mean it needs to be fundamentally of its medium. That's why Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made and that's why the Honeycomb trilogy is a—maybe the—masterpiece of science fiction theatre.
And it's one I don't really want to see turned into a movie or TV show. It'll cease to be what it is if it's “opened up” (a phrase describing a process that can be a mixed blessing for a play adapted to film; sometimes a play is too fundamentally a play to be “opened up”). This is not to say that I don't want to see Mac Rogers write for TV or film. I do. I think he'd be great at it, and eagerly look forward to the day when he does, and not even as a barnacle or anything, as a fan.
I know this piece has been primarily about the writing in the Honeycomb plays, and I don't want to slight any of the other artists whose work contributed to the productions. Here are the pages for Advance Man, Blast Radius, and Sovereign. Every single person listed on all three of those pages ruled at what they did. And they all should be damn proud. I know I get excited about stuff but nothing you've just read is an exaggeration.
Well, maybe the boat propeller thing.