bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

I saw three pretty good movies last week so I want to mention them here:

First up Your Name which is a very popular anime movie in Japan which has finally gotten a wide release here in the States. I enjoy anime a fair amount although it gets a bit same-y to me (and yes, I know about Yuri on Ice and Silver Spoon). The trailers for this said "teen body swaps followed by gendered hilarity" and I wasn't terribly impressed, but every review I saw raved about it so I decided to take the plunge.

It definitely started out with the teen body swapping and hi-jinks, but at the halfway point it becomes a very different movie and it really starts earning its accolades. It handles one of the trickier elements of magical/sci-fi movies pretty well and the ending has this delightful tension right up to the last frame.

It's really one of the better RomComs you'll see this year, in part because it has a deeper bite than RomCom would suggest.

Next I saw Free Fire. It's a 90-minute movie of which 85 minutes are a gunfight in a warehouse. It's big, dumb, stupid, and a great deal of fun. The movie takes place in Boston in the 70's. Some IRA members are here to buy a bunch of guns from a South African hustler and his crew. They meet up in an abandoned warehouse to make the switch. Both sides are snarky and insulting to each other and then a couple of low-level mooks on both sides try to settle some personal business and everything goes south in a hurry.

The movie keeps adding complications to prolong the gun fight. Plot-driven ammo counts, people keep getting shot but only badly enough to hobble their movement leaving them free to keep spouting quotes, that suitcase full of money, a working phone ringing in an upper floor office (did we mention everyone's been crippled by gunfire?), and a few other surprises keep things in the mix. Although there are times where the fight gets a little muddy, I think those are deliberate choices to mimic the confusion at that moment. In general, they do a good job of laying out the space and showing where folks are in relation to each other and goodies they want to get.

Again, it's just a gunfight movie and that's about it. Don't ask about the plot because it doesn't want to answer those questions (or at least, it never wants to explain it's answers). But it's violent, mindless fun and I rather liked it.

Finally, we have Colossal which...here's the exchange I had afterwards:

Me: "It's the best giant-monster movie America has ever made."
Her: "What about Pacific Rim?"
Me: "OK, fine, Colossal is the thinking man's Pacific Rim."

I think that's pretty accurate. Gloria is a young writer with a drinking problem who gets kicked out of her boyfriend's swanky New York apartment, so she goes back upstate to her hometown and moves into a house her family owns. She still does a lot of drinking and shuffles home with an early morning hangover. Meanwhile, Seoul, South Korea, a giant monster appears out of nowhere, smashes up some buildings and then disappears into thin air.

These things seem unconnected, until Gloria realizes that the monster only appears when she walks through a playground on her morning trudge back to her place. A little more experimentation reveals that not only does it appear when she walks through the playground, it copies her movements exactly. So...she is the monster.

The trailer makes the movie look like a comedy and it is funny in a lot of places, but this movie gets pretty dark in a hurry. Nothing overtly violent, just a lot of toxic relationship stuff slowly bubbling up and making things more and more uncomfortable. Luckily, the protagonist is a protagonist and even when things are dark, you can see her fighting. The movie touches on a lot of big themes and even though giant monsters are some of the least subtle metaphors you can use in a movie, this one adds some great nuanced touches to it all.

In short, not a fun, entertaining romp, but an entertaining, thoughtful film. Well worth checking out.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So I just got done watching Tickled, a documentary by two New Zealanders about competitive endurance tickling.

Does the idea of young, muscular guys tickling each other seem like someone's fetish? Well sure, of course it does, and frankly, as far as fetishes go it's relatively harmless and kind of adorable. Perhaps a bit embarrassing but nothing too dreadful, right?

The deal here is that a NZ journalist stumbles on one of these sites and is like "tickling...huh" and posts about it and it goes a bit viral and then the journalist starts getting threatening, harassing letters from the company that runs the tickling website telling him to back off.

So of course, he does a documentary. Turns out that when young men want to stop doing the videos, those videos start appearing all over the internet and harassing letters go out to the performer, his family, potential employers...everyone. The stick is pretty harsh, but the carrot is pretty good too -- there's serious money for these performers, but you've got the boss from hell breathing down your neck.

I'm not going to say much more about this, it's opening June 17th and I'm hoping one of the local art houses will pick it up for a few screenings. It's well worth your time to check out. But until you get to see it, you should just know that all across the country, all across the world, there are "tickling cells" where young men are filmed being tickled in exchange for cash and prizes. That's a thing happening right now and when you see how it all works, you'll be dumbfounded.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hi,

Sooo...between the snow shoveling and rehearsals it’s been a while since I wrote anything. But I’ve seen and read a bunch of stuff so let’s talk about that!

Movies:

Inherent Vice -- an adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel about a hippie detective in the late 60’s who tries to find out what’s happened to the millionaire boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend. It’s a Pynchon novel so there’s a lot of low-level weirdness running around.

I thought the movie was pretty good. It was rather like what would happen if Hunter S. Thompson wrote a crime noir novel. I liked how the movie conveyed a sense of being stoned without resorting to any goofy special effects or being over the top. Confronted with the underlying reality of a Pynchon universe is rattling enough before you toss in regular dope smoking.

The movie has good acting, dialog, cinematography and music. The plot is more than happy to leave threads dangling all over the place, but you should’ve expected that going in.

What We Do In The Shadows: A mock-umentary from New Zealand about four vampires who live together in a run-down apartment in Wellington. It’s yet another Vampire LARP I’d love to play. After 300+ years the guys are rather out-of-touch and not well suited to living together. Then one of the vampires turns a bar-crawling dude bro who introduces them to modern living...although he himself can’t resist telling people he’s a vampire.

It’s a lot of fun. There’s also a side plot involving a group of werewolves. Imagine a sort of redneck AA group only it’s lycanthropy they’re trying to control and you’ll get the idea. It’s all a lot of fun and if none of it is terribly original, it’s put together well and the actors all relish their parts. I’m kind of hoping Vampire movies like this and Only Lovers Left Alive start to edge out zombie flicks.

Song of the Sea: An animated feature by the folks who did The Book of Kells so the artwork is very celtic and very distinctive. On an island lighthouse, a young boy, his father, sister and dog are living out their lives under the cloud of having lost their mom (yeah, it’s a “My Mom Is Dead” kinda picture). Turns out that Mom was a selkie and young Socha is just starting to come into her mystical inheritance.

Ben is mostly annoyed that his younger sister is weird and resentful that she causes his grandmother to come in and sweep the kids back to her stuffy place in the city. So Ben and Socha work to find their way home -- a task that takes on more importance as Socha is identified by the fey as a selkie and because she’s away from her magical coat.

It’s a sweet, charming movie every bit as much fun as its predecessor. The ending is clearly engineered to pull on your heartstrings, but I remained stony faced and impassionate.

Books:

Most of my reading in February was taken up with The Confluence Trilogy by Paul McAuley. Technically I read three books since this omnibus collects Child of the River, Ancient of Days and Shrine of Stars.

The setting is Confluence, a giant, artificial world sitting between the Milky Way and the Eye of the Preservers. The Preservers were the supremely advanced descendants of humanity who reshaped the galaxy into a configuration they prefered, built Confluence and seeded it with uplifted humanoid versions of tens of thousands of animal species from across the galaxy and then built the Eye, an artificial black hole, and plunged down into it never to be heard from again.

So, in the intervening millennia, Confluence has been rocked with various wars and troubles and much of its technology has been lost to the people who live on it. Then a baby boy is found floating down the Great River on a mysterious boat. A local magistrate takes him in and calls him Yama. Yama is from an unknown bloodline and he has a talent for making machines listen to him. Eventually Yama sets off to discover more about himself and his powers.

There’s a lot of interesting ideas and good description, but I was a little underwhelmed by the series as a whole. The pacing was very uneven with one book covering only a couple of weeks and the last book covering years. The last book also seemed rather rushed and the conclusion didn’t really work out for me. It tried to tack on an interesting theme, but just really shoehorned it in.

I probably should’ve dropped this one sooner, but I can be stubborn on these things and the ending could’ve had a better pay-off. Sadly, it didn’t so maybe skip this one.

After seeing the movie, I decided I wanted to read the book, so I whipped through Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon. Pretty much everything I said above about the movie applies here and I can now say that the movie was a very good adaptation of the book. I say that because the movie has to make choices about what to keep and what to chuck. The book winds it’s way all over the place and the movie has a schedule to keep. Still, the movie stuck to the themes of the book even when it had to stray from it.

The writing is top-notch. Everything just flows and it reads real smooth and easy. It’s been mentioned that this is sort of Pynchon-lite, a more accessible piece of his writing, but I am reminded that I want to delve a little deeper so I’ll probably be reading a couple more of his novels over the coming year.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So a mixed-media review. One movie and one book.

First the movie. Last week I saw The Dance of Reality by Alejandro Jodorowsky. I'd never really heard of Jodorowsky until the recent release of Jodorwsky's Dune -- a documentary about his failed attempt to produce a movie based on Dune. Beyond that, all I knew was that the guy created some complex, arty movies. I like being challenged occasionally, so I figured I'd give this a shot.

First off -- I can only imagine that had Jodorwsky made Dune it would've been amazing and quite possibly better than the book.

Second off -- this movie again makes me wonder how you cast and direct child actors in movies with violent or sexual content.

Anyway, this movie is a fictionalized account of Jodorowsky's childhood. He appears as himself to talk to his younger self. Jodorowsky's son plays his father. There are surreal and magical things. Alchemical and shamanistic imagery appears throughout. The movie stops being about Jodorowsky and turns to his father and his complex plan to assassinate Chile's dictator (sort of involving a kangaroo dog). The mother in the film sings all her lines as if in an opera. It's...funny and sad and confusing and obvious and...

Oh man, I really want to find some of his other movies. If this is what he does when he's vaguely suggesting factual events his fiction must be completely gonzo.

Incidentally, this movie completely fails the Bechdel test, although the Mother is an amazing character. It's well worth seeing but be prepared to go "what the hell did I just watch?", but in a good way.

Now on to the book...which is a work book. My workplace bought me (and the rest of the development staff) a copy. It's Don't Make Me Think (3rd Edition) by Steve Krug. It's a book all about building usable web sites for people who aren't actually usability experts. The take-away is in the headline -- usable websites are ones in which you show up looking to do a thing and can immediately see how to do that thing. Google has been held up as a particularly good example of this. On the google homepage there's a text box and a search button and that's basically it. You go to search and you search. Other web sites have more complicated purposes and there's always pressure for space on the homepage, but the idea remains the same.

The book also talks about how to conduct a semi-formal, low-budget usability test. This is a slightly fancier version of my usability test which I call "hey, Mom, go to my website and try to do X". If she can do it, then it must be right. To be fair, my mom has gotten a lot more internet savvy over the years, but she's not exactly a power-user and the web is always a means to an end for her. The book talks about setting up a monthly study to run a couple of people though your site while dev team members watch on a separate screen in another room. It's something that would be great to have at our office, but even this low bar would probably run into some implementation issues.

Anyway, it was a fun fast read and if not a detailed treatment, it certainly gives a lot of food for thought.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So I saw the new Godzilla movie last night. It was pretty good and by default better than the Roland Emmerich Godzilla film from 1998. Still, I think Godzilla: Final Wars is the current champion of Godzilla films, but that's probably because it totally jibes with my inner 12 year-old's platonic ideal of a Godzilla movie.

This movie flirts with a more grim-n-gritty style and most of the time that works, but there are a few times where it gets just a little too heavy-handed and it starts to eat away at your suspension of disbelief. Look, for a giant monster fight I'm willing to believe a lot of dumb things, but if you want to posit a more real-world take on things then people have to start making some slightly better decisions. Yes, history is littered with bad decision makers but still.

Anyway. As much as I want ludicrous, rubber-suit, model city Godzilla movies, I want Godzilla movies more than that. This was a pretty good Godzilla move and a well worth your time if you want to see cities stomped flat by monsters.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

Last night I went to see Only Lovers Left Alive. A vampire love story starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as the vampiric couple. Try and imagine two better actors to be immortal, charismatic predators. The casting overall was pretty stellar actually. It's not a large cast, but everyone turns in a good performance.

So yeah...Tilda and Tom star as Eve and Adam, two vampires in love who reunite in Detroit to rekindle their love. It's...hard to describe the plot because it's very low-key and character-driven. It's not at all what you're expecting in a vampire flick -- the vampires raid blood banks and not necks most of the time and care about humnaity even if they're frustrated by them sometimes.

Frankly -- this is the Toreador Vampire LARP you've always wanted to play in. It's charming and delightful and surprisingly tender. I rather liked it and you should give it a look.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So in the new Captain America movie, Cap has this notebook where he jots down things he needs to see, read, hear, learn -- the man's been on ice for 50-60 years and there's so much he needs to learn.

This article shows that when the movie was released in foreign countries, some of the information in the notebook changed to be more relevant to the country the movie is showing in. So in Russia Cap needs to learn about Yuri Gagarin and in the UK it's the Beatles and Sean Connery.

Which shows an interesting level of awareness and consideration about the international market. But the best thing? The Very. Best. Thing?

One of the items Cap needs to bone up on when he's in Brazil is Xuxa!

You either know why that's the most awesome thing in the world or you too need to find out more about Xuxa. I'm just going to say she's an incredibly popular children's entertainer in Brazil and that Brazil has some fascinating ideas about children's entertainment.

Man...Derek would've loved this :(
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
...I did all those things in order to clear my name of that one murder which I totally didn't do. Yes, I may have recklessly endangered the lives of innocent civilians including a busload of school kids. Yes, I may have caused a great deal of property damage. Yes, I may have totaled several cop cars and the police officers inside of them. But movie physics means everyone walked away with, at most, minor cuts and bruises that would heal over by the next scene. And in the end, Your Honor, I totally proved I wasn't responsible for that one kid's death. Surely these minor inconveniences I am accused of causing pales in comparison to bringing the truth to light."

"You make a solid point, Mr. Marshall, however the public does have a compelling interest to stop these illegal street races. The court is prepared to offer clemency if you will testify against the organizers of this event."

"Your Honor, the event those people produced was a key component of my redemption/revenge arc. If I didn't have a chance to beat my rival in a race, it would've been a miscarriage of dramatic justice."

"I admire your integrity, Mr. Marshall, but we must maintain some semblance of authority. We hereby sentence you to a year in jail and your driver's license is permanently revoked."

"How about six months and I keep my license?"

"OK, fine."

In other news, Need for Speed is a terrible movie, but a lot of cars go very fast and do their own stunts.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So I've seen a couple of really good movies lately and I'd like to talk about them.

The first is called Marwecol, a documentary from 2010 I caught on Netflix. The movie is about Mark Hogancamp. In 2000, Mr. Hogancamp was viciously attacked by five guys outside a bar in Kingston NY and was beaten to the point of brain damage. Huge chunks of his memory were wiped out and he suffered a lot of physical and psychological trauma. If there was any silver lining it's that Mark was an alcoholic before the attack and he literally got the addiction beaten out of him, but he was a wreck and it took months of therapy to help him learn how to walk again and do everyday things.

Then the therapy ran out and Mark was left on his own. Unable to really hold down a job and needing some way to process what happened to him, Mark starting building elaborate dioramas using 1/6th scale dolls (Barbie dolls and large GI Joe guys). In the process, he started to tell a story about his alter-ego, a WWII pilot who gets shot down over Belgium and discovers this hidden town called Marwencol which is inhabited solely by women, the men having been rounded up by the SS long ago. So Mark's guy sets up a bar and the town becomes a sort of Shangri-la -- a free town with booze and women and no war and soldiers from all sides show up to escape (and fend off the occasional SS attack).

As Mark puts these dioramas together, he starts photographing scenes. Hundreds of thousands of pictures. Eventually, he comes to the notice of an art journal and then a gallery and then he's asked if he'd like to put his work on display. Mark wrestles with that decision, but eventually decides to open up his art.

That's a summary but I'm really just scratching the surface. The whole movie is fascinating and you're left pondering a number of questions and I'd be curious to know how Mark's life has changed since the movie came out. I do know that there's a gallery in Kingston that's selling his work so hopefully his efforts are being repaid.

So that was the small screen. On the big screen this past weekend I saw Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. So it's a Wes Anderson joint and it is super Wes Anderson-y. Luckily, the fictional East European country where the movie is set provides enough of a frame that Anderson's style can play out unhindered by common sense. As always, it's a gorgeous, detail-oriented film that strongly evokes every place it displays. There's a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, but the main tale is about a lobby boy who is taken under the wing of the hotel's concierge. Said concierge also has a way with the hotel's older guests and when one of them dies, she leaves a valuable painting to him, but then he gets framed for her murder and the lobby boy has to help free him and clear his name.

It's the most action-adventure Wes Anderson film I think I've seen and it's certainly the most gory (although it's a Wes Anderson film so it's not very bad and even the worst scene is kind of whimsical). I think I liked Moonrise Kingdom better, but this was a delightful little film and well worth checking out if you like Wes Anderson's stuff.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
...you too can paint a masterpiece. Last night I saw Tim's Vermeer, a documentary by Penn and Teller about a friend of theirs who worked out a possible method by which Vermeer painted his stunning works.

Like any good scientist, his theory required an experiment. So Tim re-creates Vermeer's studio and dresses it according to one of his paintings and then sets out to recreate it.

The film is a bit padded out, but it is fascinating to watch and he makes a very strong case that Vermeer could have used optical tools to help produce his paintings.

Well worth checking out if you're interested in art and eccentric millionaires.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
And you should go see it. It's very well done with an intelligent story and a lot of humor. I feel like the DVD release will be worth getting so you can freeze frames and check out funny stuff in the background.

Also, one of the best Batman portrayals in years.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hi,

I had a pretty busy Sunday...mostly spent sitting in theaters.

In the afternoon I went to a taping of Says You!, the panel game show centered (mostly) around words that airs on Public Radio. I've been listening to them for quite a few years and I was happy to get another chance to see them live. Interestingly, they were recording the show for air, but also taping it on video. Apparently they're going to try and float a TV pilot of the show. I'll be curious to see how that goes. The panelists are mostly Boston/New England locals and I don't know if they really have a national following (outside of being on Says You!). Even if they're going to try and sell the show to PBS stations, I'm not sure if it'll have enough sizzle for TV.

Still, it's fun to sit out there and watch the cast go through their paces. The other nice part about seeing them live is that they can get away with some slightly more risque material that will get edited out later so that's always fun. There were a lot of interesting questions and topics and the audience was quite lively (although some of them need to remember that if they get the answer they shouldn't shout it out).

Afterwards I went to see The Hobbit...or, as is becoming more self-evident, The Lord of the Rings: The Prequel. Am I disappointed about that? Not really. The Hobbit was a fine book. It'd be a perfectly good (longish) single movie. Still, I kind of like this punched up version of things even though it makes some serious departures from the book. My biggest worry about this rewrite is that Gandalf has a pretty clear idea that Sauron is coming back. In the book, Gandalf learns Bilbo has a magic ring and says "well, good for you, take care of that now". Under the present circumstances, if Gandalf ever figures out that Bilbo has a magic ring, it's next stop, Mt. Doom.

My only other nits are that dwarves take forever to get anywhere but wizards and orcs can flash all over the place. Also, Thorin was pretty lucky to have that giant mold placed precisely where it was. On the other hand, that whole scene smacked of A-Team antics and I love me some A-Team. "Hah, I've trapped the Dwarves in a massive forge! Surely they can't improvise their way out of my clutches!"

I also liked that Stephen Fry was in the movie in a part that perfectly suited him and which he clearly enjoyed playing. I do wish that Steven Colbert had gotten a slightly bigger part, but I think you'd just see Colbert and not the guy he was playing. As it was, when I saw him I thought "Ha-Ha! Eyepatch".

So yeah, an entertaining Sunday.
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So I saw American Hustle today. It was a really good film and I highly recommend it. It'll make you want to bring back the 70's.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

Damn...I don't know if Wes Aderson is making films I want to see or if I want to see films Wes Anderson makes.

Anyway, this looks awesome:





later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So here's what I've been up to:

Seen: Went to see The World's End a couple weeks ago. This is the third of the unconnected trilogy of movies by Edgar Wright starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. So this comes after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It's a pretty sharp British comedy and like it's predecessors is informed by American tastes but doesn't adhere to them. So it's a nice change of pace from what you normally get.

In a nutshell, Gary King (Pegg) was the King of the Roost in high school and on their final night, he and his 4 buddies went out on the town to try the golden mile -- a one-mile pub crawl through 12 different establishments ending at the titular "The World's End". But being teenagers with more bark than bite, they peter out about halfway through.

Now in his 40's Gary decides to get the band back together again for another run at the mile. He manages to dragoon all of his old cronies back to their small hometown and they set off for adventure. But a lot has changed and their hometown has a decidedly sinister new feel to it.

I was surprised at how very, very good the fight scenes in this movie were. The action was exciting but coherent, you could follow what was happening and who was doing what to whom and where people were in relation to one another in any given shot. Although everyone fought with more skill than you would expect, it still felt "real". If you imagine an axis between "bar fight" and "wuxia martial arts films", the movie sits in between leaning towards the former. They were just nice fight scenes.

The rest of the movie was good too. Humor operating on several different levels, most of the characters got some real development time and a few moments of real emotional connection. The film barely passes the Bechdel test, but there's only one major female character and she wisely flees as soon as she can. I can't remember a single POC in the film.

If you are in or near your forties, the movie will sing to your soul. Or at least it did mine.

Also, this weekend I watched Her Master's Voice, a short film available over Netflix streaming. Nina Conti is a British ventriloquist and comedian. Her act is pretty killer. She got into ventriloquism while working with Ken Campbell who she was dating for a time. Nina is thinking of giving up on ventriloquism and then Ken dies. In his will, he gives her all his puppets and asks that she take one of them to Kentucky to be placed in Venthaven, a sort of museum/memorial for ventriloquist dolls and their owners. She's also encouraged to attend the annual Ventriloquism convention taking place in the same area.

Up-front the main problem is that Conti is self-documenting her trip and so she gets to control what you see and hear about. There are a lot of questions about her relationship to Campbell that never get asked or answered and you don't get a full sense of why she's struggling now. Still, it's a very moving and interesting slice-of-life piece made all the more fascinating by the fact that Conti carries on long dialogues with Monkey (the puppet she uses on stage) and the various puppets left to her by Campbell.

One of the issues Conti struggles with is the relevance or meaning of ventriloquism. She was encouraged by Campbell to rescue this art form, but she wonders how to move forward with it. In this film there's a lot of ventriloquism and none of it is Charlie McCarthy in nature.

Anyway, I rather liked it and it's a diverting little film.

Eaten: The other exotic fruit I've been meaning to try is the dragon fruit and I had it twice this past weekend. The dragon fruit is way easier to prepare than the mangosteen was. The edible part of the fruit is white, shot through with tiny, black, edible seeds.

It tasted like....well...nothing really. Kind of a very, very mild kiwi flavor. Supposedly, they're wildly nutritious but given the bold exterior, it's sad how unimpressive the actual fruit is. If you're thinking about serving them, I'd toss them into a fruit salad where their spotted appearance adds contrast, but let other fruit do the flavor work.

Reading: Last week I finished up Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss. This is the first book in the classic Helliconia series (Sping, Summer, Winter). Aldriss postulates a binary star system where the smaller star and it's solar system orbit the larger one in an orbit that takes some 2500 years to complete. This long orbit results in blistering hot summers and ice-age winters and as a result two groups of sentient beings have evolved to flourish in one season or the other. For the winte, the minotaur-like Phagor rule the glacial planet, but in the summer, humans (or rather, very human-like beings) take their place. This book covers the rise of humans and the initial change of seasons.

The book was a fun read, but I'm not sure I'm in a rush to pick up the following volumes. There are detailed notes at the back where Aldriss explains cosmology and biology and how it all interacts. It makes for fascinating reading and the grand sweep of the book is bracing. I'm not sure why I'm not rushing out to pick up the next volume, but I think I like the ideas it generates in me rather than reading out what Aldiss has in mind.

Still, worth a look if you like your fairly hard sci-fi world-building.


later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Where The American Way is to ignore the huge collateral damage which you did nothing to mitigate but still take plaudits for being a hero.

How it should've ended )

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

Oh LJ, I'm falling down on posting to you. Let's put that to rights, shall we? Herein I talk about the various media I've consumed over the last fortnight.

Movies


I've seen two. First was The Painting (their website is down at the moment). This is an animated French film dubbed into English. It's really quite good, sort of an artistic Toy Story. You have this painting done up in this colorful, slightly abstracted style wherein live the All-Dones, the Half-Dones and the Sketches. The Painter has been away for some time and the All-Dones figure he's never coming back and wouldn't now be a good time to rid themselves of the incomplete people in their picture. One of the All-Dones, Ramo, is in love with a Half-Done. He, along with Half-Done Lola and a Sketch named Plume find their way out of the painting and into the artist's studio where they move from painting to painting trying to track down their creator and get some help.

It was a fun little movie. There was a fairly dense amount of story going on for an animated film and the style was a refreshing change of pace from Pixar-like precision. Sadly it's not playing locally anymore but it's worth hunting around for.

This past week I saw Furious 6, the latest installment in the Vin Diesel franchise. It's trying hard to draw the threads of it's previous movies together to create a sort of Fast and Furious-verse where punk street racers are the world's most successful thieves. It's not high art, but this movie knows exactly what it wants to be and it's exactly what it wants to be as hard as it can. So I call this a pretty good movie.

How good is this movie? Normally, if a film makes me go "wait a minute, how is X even possible?" that's the sign of a bad movie. I should be so engrossed in the film that the flaws don't hit me until afterward. In this movie, there is a huge problem with the final set piece of the film and I couldn't stop thinking about it...and I just didn't care. Fast cars, punch ups, heists, the movie just piles it all on like a Thanksgiving dinner of action movie. Oh, and the main bad guy doesn't rely on being captured by the good guys to show off how smart he is/complete his fiendish design. Sure, his plan has a lot of terrible flaws, but at least being captured isn't a vital part of it.

Video Games


I've been playing way too much Borderlands 2. I don't know why I like this stupid game so much. Kill things, take their stuff, level up so you can kill tougher things and take their better stuff -- ok, so maybe it's self-evident why I like this game so much. But exploring the different character types means I'm playing through the same content again and again....and then I'm playing through it again on super-hard mode to level up my guys and gain funky new powers.

There's been a bunch of DLC, but the new gameplay content gets blown through very quickly. There's one final DLC to drop and it involves one of my favorite NPCs so I'm back at the grind, but seriously.

Board Games


There was a game called Glory to Rome that had a reputation as a fantastic game with terrible artwork. There was a kickstarter to produce a new version with better art that I backed. This turned into a minor shit-storm as the guys running the kickstarter were swamped by their success and poor post-funding management. The kickstarter ended in August 2011, they announced a Christmas delivery and I think I got my copy in Oct/Nov of 2012. There were failures but I think it was compounded by backers who expected too much from a kickstarter and made the whole thing worse.

Anyway, I got my copy and I got to play it last week. Glory to Rome is a card game where you try score victory points through completing buildings, stashing away valuable materials and a few other ways. Each card can be used as a building, an action, a raw material, or victory points depending on when you play it and where you play it from. There's a lot to take in. My poor girlfriend was hopelessly confused (we were playing in a high-distraction zone).

Her trouble with the rules did not stop her from beating me. I came in dead last in a four player game. There are a lot of things you can do and many paths to victory. I got caught up in building buildings so I built buildings that gave me advantages to building more buildings. But I wasn't stocking my vault with VPs so by the time my build-all-the-buildings strategy started to kick in the game was over and I had nothing.

I'm totally ready to get in a few more rounds of this.

Books


My usual stomping ground.

I did not finish The Age of Scorpio by Gavin Smith. It had a lot of promise from the blurb and I ordered it from the UK and...it was a letdown. I was expecting sci-fi, but I got sci-fi, fantasy Celtic, modern-day occultish-si-fi in three interleaving stories that left me cold after a few chapters.

So then it was on to Love Among the Particles by Norman Lock. This is a collection of Mr. Lock's short stories and the first few were much stronger than the end. Early stories about an interview with Mr. Hyde or a mummy travelling to New York to consult on the film of his life are quite good. After that, the stories get kind of same-y. In particular, the titular story could replace several others since it all covers the same ground.

After that it was time for Hello America by J. G. Ballard. The novel is set in the future after the energy crisis of the 70's never got any better as world oil ran out. American's fled their country to re-settle in European enclaves. A dam built over the Bearing Strait changed ocean currents and turned everything east of the Rockies into desert and everything west into rainforest.

The book follows a small expedition that sets out to investigate unusual seismic and radiological signals coming from the continent. It's supposed to be a quick look around before returning home but the exploration team is made up of American descendants and all of them have their own dreams for the New World.

So yeah, the book has a lot of problems on a factual point of view, but it's not that kind of book and as the Great American Wastelands test the members of the team (in particular, a stowaway named Wayne), it's a look at what drove Americans in the past and even today (accounting for the fact that the book is almost 30-years old). A fun read.

Oh, and I also read through Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This is an autobiographical comic about Ms. Knisley and her relationship to food and her family. She was raised by foodies in a family of foodies and that has shaped a lot of her experiences. She's far from being snotty about her food (indeed she really loves junk food -- partially because it pissed off her parents and mostly because it's tasty) and covers a lot of ground through the lens of food.

She also includes wonderfully illustrated recipes for the foods she loves from pickles to fried mushrooms to sushi to shepherd's pie. Each recipe gets a 2-4 page spread and they're all very enticing. Indeed my girlfriend made the fried mushrooms and they came out astonishing well. I'd kind of like to see her do a whole cookbook this way.

So...yeah, that's what I've been consuming lately. The little dudes are coming along as well. Actually, it's the little buildings in this case. Hopefully there will be a post (sooner than a fortnight from now) where I can show off what I've been putting together.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So this weekend I went to see Zero Dark Thirty. There's been a fair amount of controversy over this film which is a fictionalized account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden (they had to re-do some of the movie once he was actually killed and the last 30-45 minutes is the actual compound assault). So here are the main points.

1.) Yes, there are a couple of scenes were US interrogators torture people. This was not nearly as bad as it could have been. I didn't feel they glorified the torture at all. Most importantly no real intelligence was gleaned through this process.

2.) The movie pretty much fails at being a good movie, but succeeds wildly at being a good movie to make you talk about the movie and its subject a lot afterwords (such as torture and it's use/non-use in these situations). The action sequence is pretty tame for the most part -- this is a story of mind-numbingly boring intelligence analysis, and probably the most exciting stuff in the actual hunt wouldn't be made available to the film makers for security reasons. So it's a procedural where you don't see most of the procedure. The case stretched on for 10 years so the movie skips forward in time. We don't find out too much about any of the characters. If this movie had been made before 9/11 it would've been a vague, incoherent mess. But if you've lived through the past 10 years you walk out of the theater and start talking about everything that happened and that's kind of awesome -- have supper after the show not before if you can.

3.) I felt like the unspoken catchphrase of the movie was "That girl's got a lot of moxie. Give her what she wants." The lead investigator, Maya, (played by Jessica Chastain) would be the lone wolf cop in most 70's action pictures. I half expected her superiors to demand that she turn in her badge several times. The fact that they didn't, the fact that a relatively junior analyst was sent to spearhead this investigation is one of those interesting facts that you'd like to find out more about but which the movie never addresses. Still, Maya gets what she wants and it's fun to see that play out.

4.) Speaking of which, if it's true the lead investigator in the actual hunt was a woman, that's kind of awesome. There are actually a couple of really great female roles in this (passes the Bechdel Test even).

So yeah. I think it's a movie worth seeing, but not for the film itself but for talking about it later.

Tom

The Hobbit

Dec. 21st, 2012 10:15 am
bluegargantua: (default)
Hey,

So I saw the Hobbit Wednesday night. I saw it in the same theater where I watched The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 (really? 2001? Cripes!). And other than Radagast the Brown being a bit too much of a twit (I had him pegged more as the reclusive/serious Druid type) I thought it was a pretty good movie.

There are, of course, way too many dwarves to keep track of and the movie really aims to be a prequel to The Lord of the Rings rather than the stand-alone children's story the Hobbit was. Still, Peter Jackson has earned the right to mess around with things because he generally does a good job of it. New Zealand continues to just be eye-wateringly beautiful.

I am also reminded that giant eagles are the biggest dicks in Middle Earth.

later
Tom
bluegargantua: (Default)
Hey,

So this weekend I went to see Samsara. A movie by the same folks who did Baraka. If you've seen Baraka you know what to expect so if you liked it, go back for seconds.

For everyone else: Samsara is just about the purest example of cinema you're ever going to see. That's because it's nothing but gorgeously shot images, one after another, set to some simple music and it spools out over 90 minutes. The shots may be connected thematically, but the film jumps around from Tibetan temples to the Middle East to LA and the Southwest. Even though the film has a slant, it encompasses a world of things both beautiful and horrible and takes the same care to linger on all of it and make you see the details and fill in the message for yourself.

I recognize this sort of free-association may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I really recommend it for the arresting visuals.

later
Tom

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