Archive for July, 2006

vice vice vice vice vice… miami!

Another movie. Another set of previews:

The Black Dahlia — oh god, I want this not to suck. I want this to be awesome in the same way L.A. Confidential was. Oh god, Josh Hartnett is so not even Guy Pearce, much less Russell Crowe. Oh god, Brian DePalma’s last great film was almost twenty years ago. Oh god, Scarlett Johannsen is so not Kim Basinger. Oh god.

The Departed — Okay, a great trailer. Jack Nicholson being all… Nicholsony, in a non-self-parodying way he hasn’t been since… god, I can’t even remember. Probably before I was born. The use of “Gimme Shelter” immediately made me think: “Wow, someone’s really channelling Scorcese here…” and then, what do you know, “A Martin Scorcese film.” Leonardo… well, that’s normally not a good sign, but he sucked less in “The Aviator” than I expected him too, so I won’t scoff. But then… about a third of the way into this, my brain started tingling… I’ve seen this film before, haven’t I? Undercover cop, certain there’s a mole in his own department… shifting loyalties, secret codes… holy shit, it’s Infernal Affairs. Martin Scorcese is re-making Infernal Affairs?! Why yes, Martin Fucking Scorcese Is Re-Making Infernal Fucking Affairs, with Jack Fucking Nicholson, Mark Fucking Wahlberg, Martin Fucking Sheen, and Alec Fucking Baldwin. This will either be inhumanly awesome or the end of Scorcese’s career. (It will probably depend on whether he manages to discover the missing second act in the original’s unique “preface… preface… more preface… surprise, denouement!” story structure.) He’s got my $10 either way.

Children of Men — I swear to god, for the first half of this trailer, I thought I was seeing an ad for “Half-Life 2: The Movie”, starring Clive Owen as Gordon Freeman, Julianne Moore as Alyx Vance and Michael Caine as Dr. Eli Vance. And it looked great and I wanted to cheer: they’ve finally made a great movie out of a video game! Then just at the 50% mark, everything ran off the rails: it’s not Half-Life. Blah blah blah, lame SF scenario by obvious first-time SF writer. Blah blah blah, embarrassingly trite racial politics practically wafting off the screen. Blah blah blah, complete waste of Chiwetel Ejiofor. Also complete waste of Alfonso CuarĂ³n in additon to all aforementioned actors. Hope everyone got paid well, won’t be giving you my money, thanks.

Jet Li: Fearless — allegedly Li’s final martial arts film, His Most Utter Expressionlessness returns to save China from, of course, a large roundeye wrestler. It looks verrrrrrrry suspiciously like Drunken Master II with Crouching Tiger’s budget, but… you know, now that I think of it, Drunken Master II with Couching Tiger’s budget sounds like a great idea. Fine, sold.

Oh right, the actual movie:

Um, embarrassingly enough: kinda good. Occasionally even awesome. Probably the most well-crafted dumb testosterone movie since Ronin. It totally channeled the complete silliness, plot-wise, of any given episode of the old TV series into a perfectly formed jewel of lowbrow filmmaking. Fast cars, boats and planes zoomed around. Unfeasibly competent men and women killed each other with grim intensity. Hard-boiled dialog was doled out in bite-sized chunks. Large weapons went boom. Gong Li rocked an Armani women’s suit like it has not been rocked in a very, very long time. Jamie Foxx performed similar amounts of rocking merely with a goatee. The plot made not a lick of sense on close examination and you Did. Not. Care. At. All.

It’s not perfect in the way that Ronin was; there are a couple serious flaws. Foxx and Farrell were good on their own merits, but together never sold their rapport in the same way that Don Johnson and Philip Thomas did. For as little dialogue as the movie had, it had a lot of clunker lines, percentage-wise. Casting Domenick Lombardozzi as Switek was great on the one hand, but bad on the other because it kept reminding you of The Wire and hence (a) making me expect that the plot would make more sense, and (b) making me keep wondering where the heck Carver was. But all in all? A good use of $10.

…except it ended up being free, because some dipshit pulled the fire alarm at the Metreon mid-way through the movie, and we all got to shuffle outside the theater for 20 minutes midway through until the SFFD gave the all-clear. Which could have been a huge pain in the ass but intstead ended up being a perfectly timed intermission — more proof that they need to revive that particular tradition.

1-afternoon consulting gig in NYC

One of my former consulting clients in NYC is up the proverbial creek at the moment: the wireless hub that connects the 5 computers in their office died, and the person they called in to configure the replacement hub (geeksquad) was somehow unable to put it all together.

This is probably an hour or two’s worth of work, tops. All the workstations are running Windows 2000 and have (with one exception) ancient Lucent/Avaya WaveLan cards installed, so some familiarity with both would be ideal, but really just having some Windows and WiFi networking clue should be more than sufficient.

Reward: my eternal gratitude and whatever recompense you negotiate with the client.

Drop me a line at the usual address.

coming soonish

Went to see “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” last night. Whether we liked it or not, there were previews. Mostly, “not”.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby — In theory, a satire on NASCAR culture with Will Farrell, Sacha Cohen and John C. Reilly should be something I’d get excited about. Then again, in theory I should have been the target market for “The Anchorman” and “Old School”, and damned if I could motivate myself to see either of those.

Transformers — I… I… er… what? On the plus side: John Rogers has a big fat script credit on it and he’s a nice guy who I like to see getting work. On the minus side: why, god, why?

The Guardian — Hey, it’s Kevin Costner in a big-bugdet action movie set mostly in the water! We all know that’s a sure thing, right? Right? Seriously, this looked awful: a lifeless mismash of “A Perfect Storm” and “Dead Poets Society”, starring the ever-pretty and ever-miscast Ashton Kutchner as Costner’s hot-shot protege in… blah blah blah, asleep already. Move on.

…and I think that was it, actually. Not exactly a bumper crop, but considering that Pirates is a Disney movie, I count myself lucky that we didn’t have to sit through half an hour of trailers for Disney’s latest straight-to-video animation releases. (Cinderella III: This Time, It’s War!)

Edit: Oops, I completely forgot about A Night at the Museum, which I guess is pretty indicative. A middling-cute concept (everything in the New York Museum of Natural History comes to life after dark), and a lot of decent talent, but it looks like it will probably try to Warm Your Heart This Christmas, which is a duty that sane people normally assign to bourbon.

Oh, and the movie?

Feh. Save your money. It’s not completely horrible, just…not very good. The first movie was a hair over 2 hours long and felt like it was 90 minutes. “Dead Man’s Chest” is two and a half hours long and feels like it lasts slightly longer than the Battle of Thermopylae… and at the end of the slog, it turns out to have been a 150-minute teaser for the third movie. There are some genuinely entertaining moments, but they’re all deeply buried inside a film that’s self-consciously trying to one-up its predecessor in every scene. Hey, if a two-way swordfight in a barn was fun in the first movie, we’d better have a three-way swordfight on a rolling water wheel in this one! That’ll be 50% more entertaining, right?

Also: remember how the first movie sorta skirted the edge of crappy racial stereotyping but mostly managed to avoid it, or at least give the impression that the director was trying to avoid it? Um, not so much here. Bring on the ooga-booga-ing cannibal natives! In fact, bring them on for half an hour, in a sequence that took the plot exactly nowhere. Sigh.

In short: it tried a little to haAARRRRRRRRRRd, and needed an editaRRRRRRRRRRR, badly.

You go?

That “How many Hugo winners have you read” meme, but with added snark!

YearBookAuthor Read it?Commentary
2005Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellSusanna Clarke No
2004Paladin of SoulsLois McMaster BujoldNo
2003HominidsRobert J. SawyerNo
2002American GodsNeil GaimanYes
2001Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireJ. K. RowlingYes The “oh, right, Harry Potter!” Hugo.
2000A Deepness in the SkyVernor VingeYes
1999To Say Nothing of the DogConnie WillisYes
1998Forever PeaceJoe HaldemanNo
1997Blue MarsKim Stanley RobinsonYes See “Green Mars” — a pair of sympathy Hugos was probably not unwarranted in this case, even if this one in specific dragged on a lot.
1996The Diamond AgeNeal StephensonYes It’s a good thing that endings are apparently not a requirement for a Hugo.
1995Mirror DanceLois McMaster BujoldNo
1994Green MarsKim Stanley RobinsonYes Kind of a sympathy Hugo for “Red Mars” losing out to Bujold in 92, really.
1993Doomsday BookConnie WillisYes How embarrassed am I that I never read any Connie Willis until a few years ago? Very.
1993A Fire Upon the DeepVernor VingeYes
1992BarrayarLois McMaster BujoldNo
1991The Vor GameLois McMaster BujoldNo
1990HyperionDan SimmonsYes See “The Diamond Age” (of course, Hyperion got an ending in a later book — on the other hand, it was crap)
1989CyteenC. J. CherryhYes Worst title for a brilliant book ever. I avoided it for years because I assumed it was about cybernetic and/or psychic teenagers. How embarrassing.
1988The Uplift WarDavid BrinYes See “Startide Rising”
1987Speaker for the DeadOrson Scott CardYes …actually Ender’s Game isn’t so much my “favorite” Card book as “the only one I didn’t actively loathe.” “Ender” was a lean and mean stab of brilliance. “Speaker” was three times as long and ten times more ponderous and boring. I gave up halfway through Xenocide, and I never do that. You have to give Card props for managing to make quite a bit of money off of a group of people he’d just as soon see thrown in jail, but his contempt for his audience shines through the cracks here.
1986Ender’s GameOrson Scott CardYes My favorite book by my favorite petit-fascist fundamentalist Mormon nutjob.
1985NeuromancerWilliam GibsonYes
1984Startide RisingDavid BrinYes I really, really liked this when I read it in high school. I’ve been completely underwhelmed by everything of Brin’s I’ve read as an adult. This suggests strongly that I should never, ever re-read this.
1983Foundation’s EdgeIsaac AsimovNo I suppose it’s possible that a late-period Asimov novel (and a Foundation book at that) might have been that good. Monkeys might also fly out my ass at ANY MOMENT.
1982Downbelow StationC. J. CherryhNo
1981The Snow QueenJoan D. VingeNo
1980The Fountains of ParadiseArthur C. ClarkeNo Must… not… make… pedophilia… jokes… resolve… failing…
1979DreamsnakeVonda N. McIntyreNo Who?
1978GatewayFrederik PohlNo
1977Where Late the Sweet Birds SangKate WilhelmNo
1976The Forever WarJoe HaldemanYes Really, there should be a constitutional amendment requiring anyone under the age of 25 to read this within 3 months of finishing “Starship Troopers”.
1975The DispossessedUrsula K. Le GuinYes
1974Rendezvous with RamaArthur C. ClarkeYes
1973The Gods ThemselvesIsaac AsimovNo
1972To Your Scattered Bodies GoPhilip Jos FarmerYes A Riverworld novel? Seriously? 1972 can’t have been that slow a year.
1971RingworldLarry NivenYes
1970The Left Hand of DarknessUrsula K. Le GuinYes If I had to pick one book out of this list to make required reading for the next generation, this would be it. (Canticle would be a close second.)
1969Stand on ZanzibarJohn BrunnerNo
1968Lord of LightRoger ZelaznyNo
1967The Moon Is a Harsh MistressRobert A. HeinleinYes
1966DuneFrank HerbertYes If only Frank had taught his son a useful trade.
1966…And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal)Roger ZelaznyNo
1965The WandererFritz LeiberNo
1964Here Gather the Stars (Way Station)Clifford D. SimakNo
1963The Man in the High CastlePhilip K. DickYes As yet not adapted into a big-budget action movie vehicle for an aging Hollywood action star, but give them time: I’m sure Vin Diesel would like to take a crack at it.
1962Stranger in a Strange LandRobert A. HeinleinYes
1961A Canticle for LeibowitzWalter M. Miller, JrYes There’s something to be said for writing one truly brilliant novel and then ceasing and desisting. (cf Orson Scott Card as counterexample)
1960Starship TroopersRobert A. HeinleinYes
1959A Case of ConscienceJames BlishNo
1958The Big TimeFritz LeiberNo
1956Double StarRobert A. HeinleinNo
1955They’d Rather Be Right (The Forever Machine)Mark Clifton & Frank RileyNo
1953The Demolished ManAlfred BesterYesReally, “The Stars My Destination” is much better, but at least he’s here.

Number that I’ve read: 29 out of 52

Number that I’ve read that I’d risk re-reading: 18 or so. (A couple borderline cases: Cyteen is probably worth re-reading, but I’d have to be in the right mood.)

Number that I’m sort of embarrassed I haven’t read: 5 (Jonathan Strange, Downbelow Station, The Snow Queen, Stand on Zanzibar, A Case of Conscience)

Number by authors who I full-stop have never heard of: 6 (Robert Sawyer, Vonda McIntyre, Kate Wilhelm, Clifford Simak, Mark Clifon, Frank Riley)

Number of actually decent books that I am unfairly trashing because their multitudinous awful sequels retroactively ruined for me: 4 (Dune, Ender’s Game, To Your Scattered Bodies Go and Hyperion)

Metacomment: boy oh boy does the Hugo committee love it some Lois McMaster Bujold. Four Hugos: that’s as many as Heinlein, twice as many as LeGuin or Asimov, and as much as Herbert, Bester, Dick and Brunner put together. Also exactly four more than Samuel Delaney, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Johnathan Lethem, Douglas Adams, Gene Wolfe, Thomas Disch or China Mieville, to name a few at random. What gives?