Saturday, March 31, 2012

Rating my Geekdom

A person named Hal Hefner has come up with a list of twenty things every SF Nerd must have (physically or emotionally):

So you think you’re a NERD. Not the kind of nerd that would hang out with Lamar and Booger and the other Tri-Lams–BUT a REAL Sci-Fi NERD. Whell let’s just how how nerdy you really are. Below is a little checklist of 20 Things Every Sci-Fi Nerd Should Own To Earn, physically as well as emotionally. If you “own” at least twelve of these twenty things, you are entitled to your SCI-FI Nerd Badge.

So -- setting aside the fact that I personally prefer the term 'geek' to 'nerd' -- let's see how I stack up!

1) Conan The Barbarian Soundtrack

Yes. This is an interesting pick, and well-chosen: it's just obscure enough that it's not going to be a mainstream thing that anyone outside of Geek Culture will own, but it's good enough that one can reasonably say, "Yes, you should own this if you like film music/fantasy film music/cult classic stuff." Whatever flaws that movie may have had, the Basil Poledouris's wonderful score isn't one of them. (I only wish it had been recorded better. The string sound on the score is thin and treble-heavy.)

2) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Sigh. I own nothing by Phillip K. Dick. This is not good. I accept the demerit here.

3) The Twilight Zone Collection:

I don't own it. But I do have a number of options for watching TZ, both online and via my local library. So I'm counting it.

4) The Original Star Wars Trilogy – WITHOUT ANY ADDED CRAP

Yes, I own it. On VHS. Which I can't watch, because we don't have a VHS player anymore. And I likely wouldn't bother anyway. I'm just not that invested in the idea of preserving the 1977 Star Wars experience in amber. Lucas's additions in later years just don't add up to enough to offend me. (And at this point, I wouldn't care if Han had never shot at all and Greedo had died when he got struck by a blowdart fired by a Jawa who missed his target and hit Greedo instead. I'm so sick of the "Han shot first!" whining and the conceit that changing a single two-second event somehow alters his character at the molecular level.)

5) A Profound Hatred for Star Trek Enterprise

I don't have a profound hatred for Enterprise. I do, however, have a profound apathy about it. I don't plan to ever watch it. By the time Enterprise came along, I was Trekked out. I would like to rewatch all of TOS, TNG, and DS9. But that's about it.

6) The Lord of The Rings Extended Edition, The Soundtracks and all of the books

What is 'all of the books'? I own three copies of LOTR, two of The Hobbit (including the annotated edition), and two of The Silmarillion. Do I also have to own all of the "History of Middle Earth" books and the various Tolkien collections and every other piece of Tolkien arcana that's come out in the last twenty years? I don't, but I'm counting myself good on this one, anyway.

7) A Profound Sadness for the Way Battlestar Galactica Ended

I just started watching BSG last week! As I'm only ninety minutes (the first half of the pilot telemovie) in, I'll have to hold this one in abeyance.

8 ) A Passionately Favorite Version of the REAL Doctor Who

I'm not nearly educated enough on Doctor Who to have a solid opinion. But the first Doctor I ever watched was Peter Davison, whom I liked just fine. I need to watch more, though. Much more. (Also liked Tom Baker, as I saw some of him, too.)

9) A Fear That Will Smith Will Someday Star in The Movie Adaptation of Your Favorite Book

No, but I don't know how Smith could appear in a movie of The Lions of Al-Rassan. I don't recall any black people in that book. Maybe he could be a particularly dark-skinned Asharite. Hmmmm. Anyway, I don't hate Will Smith.

10) Toys from Your Childhood That You Refuse To Part With

I don't have anything from my childhood, save a nesting doll that's around here someplace. I do, though, have toys that I acquired in adulthood that I wanted as a kid. That counts!

11) The Belief that the Word Midichlorian Was Just from a Nightmare and NOT a real Star Wars Movie

I don't have a problem in principle with midichlorians; I reject the notion that midichlorians represent a shift from the Force as 'mystical magic' to something 'scientific'. What bothers me about them is that there's no real story reason for them.

12) The Original TRON Movie

Yup! Have it and love it. (I also seem to be in the minority of folks who loved TRON Legacy.)

13) An affection for the TV show Firefly

Oh, yes. I have this in spades. Firefly is just amazingly wonderful.

14) A Hatred for Chris O’Donnell

Meh. I didn't mind him in Batman Forever (the Val Kilmer one), and the problems with Batman and Robin went a lot deeper than casting. O'Donnell's just kind of there for me. I had a harder time with him as D'Artagnan than I did with him as Robin. (And even that didn't bother me too much.)

15) You Know Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:


16) You think Cheetara is HOT!

I never watched Thundercats. It fell, timewise, into an era for me when it was able to slip past me, completely unnoticed. I don't even recall hearing about it back then, and I couldn't even begin to tell you what channel I would have watched it on. It's even possible that it started airing before we even had cable when I was a kid. It always interests me to see cultural things that just pass right by without even making a mark upon me. I have friends who are just a couple years younger than me who tell me how awesome Thundercats was. Sometimes a couple years is all it takes to shift your attitudes for life.

17) You Believe Aliens are our REAL Gods

I'm not even sure what this means.

18) You Have a Favorite Animated Cult Sci-Fi Movie

Heavy Metal? I guess....

19) You Blame Hot Rod for Optimus Prime’s Death

Sorry, but I never cared one whit about the Transformers.

20) You DESPISE Michael Bay for Masturbating on your Childhood

When did he do this? Transformers? Don't care. I think Michael Bay is a terrible filmmaker, but that's about it. He hasn't yet sullied anything that was important to my childhood.

So, by my count, I only have eight of these. I'm close on some, but I miss out by virtue of the emotional qualifiers involved. So by this measure, at least, I appear to fall short of true Nerd- or Geekdom. But that doesn't matter, though! Geekdom is like Zen or cool: it's a state of mind.

I'm Climaxing!

No, not like that, you bunch of weirdos. In writing. Like this:


Yup, I've been pounding at the words in quantity, and to judge by the photo, I'm looking angry as I do it. Oh well. I've learned that for some reason, my neutral facial expression -- how I look when I'm not making any conscious effort to look any way at all -- is usually interpreted by outside observers as 'angry'. This annoys me, but there's naught that I can do about it save pasting a PlastiSmile on my face at all times, and I'm not about to do that. Harumph.

Where was I? Oh yeah...writing. As of yesterday morning's writing session, I had, at long last, finally reached the climax in Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title). It's amazing to me the various twists and turns I've had to take to get to this point. When I started the book, I had a very rough idea of the shape of the story, which means that I knew (a) where the story was starting and (b) where the story was supposed to end. It's my experience, though, that these things always change along the way. I started off just charging full-speed ahead, but then at some point I realized that I'd missed a left turn in Albuquerque. (Seriously, Albuquerque, you have got to upgrade your street signage. You can't have everybody missing their required left turns when they get there.) This required rolling back four chapters of work. Ugh!

That was the biggest setback, but there were others too, and soon I realized that I needed to bite the bullet and actually set down some plot notes in the rough form of an outline (which I hate doing). But now, after all that, I'm at the climax, which is very much turning the same way I envisioned it way back when. This is exciting stuff. At least, it is for me.

As for the actual progress in the book, by way of numbers, here is the up-to-the-minute word count (I haven't written a word in the book yet today):

Word Count

The current chapter is the Official Climactic Sequence; after that I'll have an Epilogue where some things are wrapped up and others are left there, in hopefully tantalizing fashion, for the Inevitable Sequels To Come. (Don't accuse me being unambitious: I can potentially envision a nine-book series with these characters. Space is a big place, bitches!) My oft-stated goal is for a first draft of no more than 180,000 words, and that still appears doable, as long as I don't get too wordy in these last two chapters. Then, during the editing process, I should be able to lose at least 20,000 words in tightening things up and rewrites. After that, it'll be time for...gasp...beta readers.

[Note that I have a single chapter at more than ten thousand words, which makes it rather an outlier in terms of chapter length. This bugs me, and I may try to split it in two at editing time.]

Here's another spreadsheet I made, in hopes of making it easier to hold my own feet to the writing fire. This one charts not the word count of the specific work-in-progress, but the number of words I write per day. (Only counting my fiction words here...not counting things like blog posts and Tweets and Facebook blatherings.) I started doing this almost two weeks ago, because I decided that I needed a better way of making sure that I was hitting my daily writing quota (which I have currently set at 500 words per day). Here it is:

Word Quota

Each column is one month's work, so that's the March column with the numbers in it. I didn't start doing this until March 20; the dates are in the left-most column and are repeated at left (so I'll still be able to see the dates when I get to the second half of the year, as twelve columns are too wide to appear on the screen at once). At the bottom I keep a running monthly total, and it calculates my average output per day. I've only come in under quota twice, and most days I've exceeded it by a nice margin, and on a couple of days I've blown my quota out of the water. I like seeing that, and I don't know why I didn't do this a long time ago. Goal-setting is great, but making the goals visible or tangible is really helpful. In the past I've checked the word count of the chapter I'm working on at the end of a session and just vaguely determined that I've increased it by at least 500 words. Now I can see it.

Now, there will be days when I'm either under quota or right around it, which you can see. Those days correspond to days when The Wife is off from work, and on those days, my focus tends to be more on doing things with The Family Unit than in producing words. I'm largely fine with this. My main writing sessions still come Monday through Friday, from 6:00 am to 7:00 am. On weekends I tend to produce later at night. And so it goes. I'm bracing for an entire week of reduced output next month (because I'm taking a vacation), but you know what? I might just have this book done -- in first draft form -- before then. That amazes me. Just as month ago, I was thinking that I'd have this draft done around Memorial Day.

So there's the navel-gazing for today. Onward and upward!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Local blogger to Buffalo: Drop Dead!

Chris Smith on the logical end of his years of Buffalo activism:

For the small percentage of people who don’t fit into the above, haven’t moved and aren’t currently planning an escape? You’re a special and unique little snowflake in this town. Try to remain sane as you swim upstream against the ferocious power of the status quo. But here’s a bit of unsolicited advice, stop trying to “save” Buffalo. It doesn’t want to be saved. This city is like an alcoholic, abusive boyfriend. The more you try to save him, the more he drags you down with him. I know, we don’t “know” how sweet he can be when you’re alone together, right? If you just try hard enough, he’ll change.

I wonder occasionally how the onward march of demographics might force change in Buffalo...but that's the long game, and I've never been much of an activist, anyway. Buffalo is where I live, because I have a job here and I'm generally happy already and...well, that's about it. I have zero interest in running for office, I have zero interest in working in politics in any real way, I don't plan to be an entrepreneur and start a local business. I think Buffalo will eventually change because nothing stays the way it is forever. That's not to say that it will change for the better, but other than that...I reached the same point Chris did a long time ago.

Something for Thursday

I read a news story yesterday that put me in the mood for this (and now I'll need to watch the movie one of these days): the launch scene from Apollo 13.

This is one of the most masterful sequences I've ever seen in a movie. It's very kinetic, but every shot seems to lead into the next, and the utter thrill of such an event as launching a Saturn V rocket on a mission to the moon is perfectly juxtaposed with the calm, professional precision with which all these people do their jobs. This particular video omits one tiny detail: we start with Flight Controller Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) asking the individual departments to check in. But immediately prior to that, which we don't see here, Kranz takes a calm sip of coffee from his coffee cup. That's it...but it's in the way Ed Harris plays it, as a guy at total command of his resources who basically says, "OK, one more sip of my coffee, and then, let's launch this rocket ship."

The news story I mention above? Apparently an expedition financed by Amazon's Jeff Bezos has located the engines of Apollo 11, the mission that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon, sitting at the bottom of the sea. Bezos hopes to raise all or part of the engines back to the surface, which would be an amazing feat. I don't know what shape they'd be in, but what an amazing artifact of our own technological past to recover!

Although...I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit saddened that we're excited to fine the used pieces of our old spaceships, when at the same time we don't seem all that interested in building new ones.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

United Britain? Great Kingdom? Engireland?

Even though I know better, I still tend to get this stuff wrong in normal conversation.

I'll try harder, England. I mean, Great Britain. I mean, UK. Dammit!

Answers, the final!

[Oops. I've had this sitting in draft for a week...and I thought I'd published it, when I'd saved it in Draft to finish adding the links. I hate when I do that. Sorry, folks! But here it is.]

Time, at long last, to wrap up Ask Me Anything! February 2012. Huzzah!

Roger, a consistent source of intriguing questions, has a multi-part query:

There's that woman from 2 Broke Girls that you and SamuraiFrog seem to...enjoy. I don't get it. I mean she's got big...she's well-endowed, but her face has a hardness I find singularly unappealing.

Oh, and do you think that beauty is tied to the role one plays. That woman from Castle you like was in an episode of The Closer four or five years ago as a young Russian woman, forced into prostitution. But in Castle, she's strong, which, I think, makes her WAY more attractive. Thoughts?

And where the heck is ROWR?

Well, there's a lot to dig into there. The 2 Broke Girls woman is Kat Dennings, who I do like a lot. I don't find a 'hardness' in her face at all; I like her full features, especially her lips, and...well, just in terms of physical attractiveness, she has gorgeous hair, her body curves, and her face has a '1940s movie star' quality to me, in some way. I also like her a lot on the show, even if the show itself isn't all that good. It's hard to argue logically about what I find attractive; I seem to recall Roger Ebert once writing that Gene Siskel's view on discussing erotica boiled down to "Try and talk a man out of an erection." So there's that. (My sample size on Ms. Dennings is pretty small -- Thor and 2 Broke Girls. I like her in both, but it's not really a large enough sample to have a good sense on her level of staying power.)

And from Castle we have Stana Katic, of whose work I also have a limited exposure – just Castle. But she's awfully, awfully good on that show, both strong and vulnerable; she gets a lot of the show's best lines (the writers do a really good job of spreading the wealth, dialog-wise); she shows a lot of good comic timing; and her chemistry with Nathan Fillion is fantastic. I find the character appealing in all those ways. The actress? Well, that she is able to embody all those qualities is pretty great.

But that's not the question asked – is strength more attractive, or appealing, than weakness? Probably. I've seen a lot of weak characters on all kinds of shows who were much less appealing than other, stronger characters, and there have been times when I've liked certain actors or actresses more in one role than another because of strength or lack thereof. Maura Tierney is a good example: I loved her in NewsRadio, where she was strong and intelligent and professional, but I liked her less – or I liked her character a lot less – in ER, when she seemed to fill the 'wallow in existential misery' portion of the show much of the time that I watched while she was on it.

I do try to really differentiate between characters and the people who portray them. I hated Izzie Stevens on Grey's Anatomy for a lot of reasons, but it was a while before I decided that I didn't like Katherine Heigl much, either, and that was to do with all kinds of stuff I read about how obnoxious she is as a person.

Finally: where is ROWR? For those newer to the blog, ROWR is an occasional series of posts where I highlight women whom I think are both very talented and very beautiful. The series started way back in the early days of the blog, when Britney Spears was still an object of fascination; it really bugged me that she tended to get enormous press and praise despite not being all that talented at all. I moved away from that focus as Ms. Spears started to suffer her own slings of outrageous fortune; it started to feel like I was kicking someone who was down, and that's never pleasant. (Not that she has the first idea who I am, nor should she. Nor should she care if she did.)

But even when I changed the name of the series, it sometimes felt to me like I was somehow engaging in objectification of women, which is something I really don't want to do. I don't tell me, readers! Was I really objectifying? Or can I resume that series as the harmless admiration of beauty and talent that I meant it to be?

Roger also asks:

What is something you often do without realizing that you’re doing it? (I'm a hummer.)

I hum as well...and I tend to sing, under my breath. I also 'write' in my head, playing scenes from my work on the movie screen in my brain, sometimes long before I write them. When I'm doing that, I can get pretty absorbed, and when I get absorbed, I can get a pretty intense facial expression going on, and that particular expression is apparently more "angry" looking than "thoughtful", because people will often say things like "Wow, you look pissed!" Oh well. Can't win 'em all.

But anyway, I find it spectacularly easy to daydream. And I'm not terribly repentant about daydreaming, either. It's an ability that has sustained me through any number of boring lectures, dull meetings, sleep sermons, and repetitive jobs in my life, and it's through daydreaming that I get a lot of the 'heavy lifting' of plotting done for my fiction. Just the other day I solved a structural problem with the climax of Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) whilst daydreaming.

Roger also asks about the current state of my 'faith journey'. If there really is a journey going on, I'm walking in circles. I refuse to discount science and rationalism, which may make me unwelcome in a lot of Christian circles. My current pastor has a favorite saying, wherein he holds up the Bible and says, "When my life ends, I want to be able to say that I got this right." My problem with that is that the Bible, while full of amazing and wonderful stuff, is also full of stuff that sets my teeth on edge, and I know too much about how the Bible came to be to really be willing to unreservedly endorse it as "God's Word". I just can't help but think that if God was going to issue a book that communicates His will, he wouldn't issue it in as messy a way as he did the Bible. There's just too much humanity in the history of the Bible.

And besides, even if the Bible is an expression of God, by its very nature it's a faulty one, with all the collation and translation issues abundant within it, coupled with the fact that it gathers writings that reflect understandings of things that were in play 2000+ years ago and over a very long time period. It seems to me that the world itself must also be seen as an expression of God, and that if careful study of the world tells us one thing and a literal reading of a book tells us another, then, well, the book loses. Simple as that.

Ultimately...I'm just not convinced. Too much of it just doesn't add up for me. "God hates sin", I'm told...but why did God create a world with sin in it, then? And if God isn't responsible for sin in the world, well, how did we manage to create something that He didn't? I think a lot of a question posed by Plato: Does God love what is moral because it is moral, or are things moral because God makes them moral? Put another way: can God rewrite arithmetic so 2+2=5? I don't know that He can...which automatically poses a logical limit on a God who is supposed to be beyond limits of any kind.

Ultimately, I think I'm attracted to Christianity because I love the stories. But I'm not sure I can ever cross the line to total commitment. And I'm also not sure that this is a bad thing.

Roger also asked me to prognosticate on the Oscars, but I haven't seen any of the films that were nominated, even at this point, so I can't offer any thoughts at all. Sorry!

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous asks:

Do you like everything you read and see, or do you just write about the things you like?

Definitely the latter. I'm more likely to post about a movie I don't like than a book, because I'm much more likely to watch a movie I don't like all the way through than a book. If I'm not liking a book, I'll quit reading it and do something else. And if that happens, I'll rarely conclude that I don't like the book, but rather than I'm not in the mood for it or not attuned to it as of yet. I've had a lot of experiences where I started a book and just not connected with it (I call this "bouncing off the book"), but then returned to it years later and found myself liking it just fine, if not loving it outright. This happens with movies, too, but less frequently.

Ultimately, I'll post about something I dislike if I really really dislike it. A good example is Twilight, because I found my distaste for it kind of interesting, given that I really expected to like it a lot. I don't get as much enjoyment out of writing a good rant as I used to; I'd much rather steer someone toward something that they might like by virtue of my own enthusiasm. So no, I don't like everything. But I'm not a movie critic for a newspaper or something like that; I'm under no obligation to write about things I dislike.

Paul asks:

Corduroy overalls, yea, or nay?

Also, denim, deep blue, or faded?

I had a corduroy pair once, but they really fit weird, and corduroy tends to 'hang' differently, so I rarely wore them and eventually I put them on eBay. I like how corduroy looks, but in my experience, I don't like wearing it myself all that much. I own nothing corduroy now, in any article of clothing.

As for the denim: either/or! I like nice, dark denim when it's still fairly stiff (but not super stiff – you gotta wash them a few times). But well-broken in and faded is nice as well. I also like black denim, and I wish they were easier to find (aside from Carhartts, which are ubiquitous – I like Carhartts except for, oddly enough, the style of the shoulder-strap buckles, which always feel kind of weird to me).

Sticking with the overalls, Andy asks:

I have noticed when I wear my overalls that I get A LOT of people doing a 'double take' when they see me. Does this happen to you as well????

I don't notice...but then, I don't pay a whole lot of attention to other people when I'm out and about. It's part of the whole "daydreaming" thing I mention above...I'm really pretty good at divorcing myself from the world, which is a useful skill to have because the world can really suck. I've seen this kind of thing once or twice, but generally I don't care. One time I do remember that I thought was pretty funny – I was shopping, and some girl was snickering when I walked by, and when I glanced back a couple of times, each time she was looking in my direction. Funny thing was...well, not 'funny', but I'm not sure what the word is...she looked terrible. I hate to say this, but...well look, she wouldn't have looked too out of place in that "People Of Wal-Mart" website. So I just consider the source.

From the same anonymous reader above:

Why on Earth would you want to get a pie in the face?

Because it's fun and silly. Do I need a better reason than that? Nope! Hey, don't knock it until you try it!

And finally, from one more anonymous reader:

So what is the title to 'Princesses In SPACE!!!', anyway?

When I know it, I'll tell you!

And with that, thanks for playing, everyone! We'll do this again in August. (Not that you need permission to ask me anything, anytime!)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What's your favorite mountain? (You don't need to have actually SEEN the mountain...or stood upon it...heck, it can be a fictional mountain!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Page One: A Princess of Mars

Page One: A Princess of Mars

Here's Page One of one of my copies of A Princess of Mars. This copy is part of something called the "Library of Wonder". I bought it off the Bargain Books table at Barnes&Noble. Even though I already owned a copy (an omnibus I bought, in turn, back when I was a member of the SF Book of the Month Club), I couldn't resist this one. I read A Princess of Mars a while back, and I was surprised at how well the writing holds up after 100 years; I expected a pulpy work that would be difficult to read for its prolix writing, but Burroughs crafts a nice, spiffy, readable tale that doesn't have nearly as many anachronisms as one might expect. I haven't yet read any farther into the series, but I intend to. This volume contains the first three of Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Barsoom" novels, of which the first, A Princess of Mars, has just been adapted for the big-screen. Somewhat infamously, it turns out.

So, why did John Carter fail? I suspect for lots of reasons, not just one.

I've heard that there was a change in Disney management during the film's production, and William Goldman has pointed out in his books that often an incoming exec's first act of business is to make sure everything that the previous guy greenlit either gets ungreenlit or at least is just tossed out there without hype. I'm not sure about this; it's one thing to just put the brakes on developing projects, but quite another to purposely scuttle a movie that's already been made because the $200 million has already been spent. I've also heard that director Andrew Stanton was in charge of the marketing, and he made the decision to assume that audiences are more familiar with the John Carter character than they actually are. I'm not sure who was behind the decision to change the movie's title to simply John Carter, when John Carter of Mars would have been more evocative, and hell, A Princess of Mars would have been in keeping with the book on which the movie was based in the first place.

For my part? I wonder if this isn't the kind of movie that wouldn't have failed had it come out, say, twenty years ago, when movies could be allowed to be in theaters for a couple of months, when they weren't thrust into 18-screen multiplexes on as many screens as possible so as to guarantee massive opening weekends and then a couple more respectable weekends before the movie disappears from release entirely barely a month after its initial appearance. John Carter opened on a Friday, and I was reading about the movie's box office failure on the subsequent Tuesday. Four days later. That is insane.

Now, I'm not convinced that word-of-mouth can always change a movie from failure to success – remember, The Shawshank Redemption was a box office failure and word-of-mouth didn't elevate that movie to classic status that everyone's seen until it came out on video. But still, in this day and age when there are a bunch of movies coming out all the time, and when most folks in my experience only tend to go to movies once or twice a month at most (and many less than that, as the cost of moviegoing is getting to the point where it might well rival the cost of a nosebleed-section admission to an NHL game soon), they tend to only go see whatever the BIG new release is. And that, sadly, tends to be the sequel to the tentpole franchise, or the adaptation of the current favorite book, or whatever. Not a movie like John Carter, which is in turn marketed with ads that really aren't clear at all as to what the damn movie is about in the first place.

So anyway: I saw John Carter this past Saturday. For a reputed flop, there were a lot of people in the theater to see it. The place wasn't packed, but the auditorium was probably almost half-full. That's not bad, especially considering how packed the cinemas were for The Hunger Games. It's just not the case that no one wants to see this movie. It's just the case that, for whatever reason, this movie was set up to fail with unreasonable box office expectations that make the movies a sprinting horserace and an ad campaign that simply didn't get the job done.

My particular screening didn't start out so well. I attended a 2D showing, because I refuse to see 3D movies. I just can't do it. I had a headache years ago after sitting through a couple of fifteen-minute 3D flicks at DisneyWorld. And I'm certainly not paying extra for the privilege of having a headache. So 2D it was. But after the previews ended, a title card appears on the screen, accompanied by voiceover: "Please put on your 3D glasses, now!"


And yup, they started the 3D version, with the telltale doubling-up of the image that had me in mind of the Monty Python sketch with the double-vision guy planning an expedition to climb "both peaks" of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I wondered if I'd screwed up or ended up in a 3D showing by mistake, but suddenly there were a bunch of folks behind me saying "Wait, what?" and getting up and heading out to the hallway. A Cinema employee stepped in, saw the 3D movie on the screen, and said, "Uh, I gotta go upstairs." A minute or two later, the 3D version stopped, another minute or two passed, and the 2D version started. Huzzah! And they gave everyone there a free ticket to another movie, which was nice. So I get a free movie, for not that bad of an inconvenience.

(Oddly, when they restarted the movie, we had to sit through the previews again. Are they physically attached to the print of the movie you see?)

So anyway: about John Carter, the movie. Yeah, I loved it, and it depresses me that lost in all the discussion of the movie's terrible marketing and undeserved fate (which, unless the movie develops surprising legs and then goes on to a remarkable life on DVD, will rule out sequels) is the fact that John Carter is a kind of movie you don't see much anymore: a rollicking and entertaining adventure movie with high production values. The acting is good all the way around, especially the leads (Taylor Kitsch as John Carter, and Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris). The visuals are all well-done, with none of the odd muddiness that I've noticed in movies shot for 3D. The film is full of wonderful spectacles and set-pieces, and for the most part, the plot isn't hard to follow, once it gets going. There is a prologue that really doesn't have much need to be there, and I did find the final battle scene slightly hard to follow as it ended. Also, there are a few pacing problems in the first act, as we cut away from John Carter for a bit too long to learn about Dejah Thoris and her dilemma; in my view, in these kinds of "Fish out of water" stories, it's best to stay with the fish as long as possible. Those are fairly minor quibbles, though; once the movie settles into itself, about half an hour in, it's as absorbing an escapist movie as I've seen in a long time. Michael Giacchino turns in a typically professional score, sounding a lot like his score to Star Trek 2009, and just as ear-wormy as the earlier score – I've had the main theme stuck in my head ever since.

John Carter, and the books that inspired it, aren't really space opera, but its sister genre, planetary romance. There's no space here whatsoever. Carter is teleported to Mars – Barsoom, they call it – and there's an air of steampunk over the entire movie. It feels 'retro', and that retro feel is a large part of the movie's charm.

No, John Carter is not a great movie. But it's a very good one, well made, a fine addition to its genre. It deserves to be seen and enjoyed, not dissected in some kind of half-assed postmortem on what Hollywood does wrong these days.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Space Battleship Yamato

It seems that, aside from the occasional Star Trek movie, we just don't do big-screen space opera much in this country anymore. That's a shame...but at least there's Japan, who was nice enough to come up with Space Battleship Yamato in 2010. And what a movie this is. This thing scratched nearly every space opera itch I have: war against nigh-unstoppable aliens, a hero who is a discipline case and who has a history, a love story, a crusty captain, a warship that is humanity's last hope, and so on. And the warship looks like a 20th-century seagoing destroyer...made into a spaceship. You can't beat this stuff!

Space Battleship Yamato is based on a popular anime series from the 1980s, that was dubbed into English for American audiences and called Star Blazers. I never saw this, so I have no idea how faithful the movie is to the anime, but taking the movie for what it's a grandly entertaining space opera epic. There's a massive alien threat to Earth, and the last-ditch effort to gain an edge featuring an enormous warship that is sent across the Galaxy; there are plucky heroes and skilled fighter pilots and talented officers with discipline problems. There's the old and grizzled captain with a history, and there's the hero who knows that things may eventually come down to him and him alone. We have desperate assaults on alien fortresses, and acts of noble self-sacrifice all the way around. And there's the warship of the title, the space battleship Yamato, which is built to look like...a seagoing battleship. Hey, why not?

In the year 2199, Earth is being ravaged under the attacks of the alien Gamilas. The last remaining battleship, the Yamato, is outfitted with a special new super-weapon and sent across the galaxy to the planet Iskandar, where they hope to learn how to counteract the lethal radiation with which the Gamilas have been rendering the surface of Earth uninhabitable. Along the way, secrets about the alien race are discovered, other secrets about the pasts of our characters are revealed, lots of space battles take place, and...well, if you think it should happen in a big-scale space opera movie, it happens here. This movie is almost the Platonic ideal of "Explodey Spaceshippy Goodness". It's well-acted, the characters are all pretty memorable, and there are only a few slow moments (and one moment that felt odd for me, as an American, when one of our Japanese heroes delivers a rousing address to the crew, citing the ship's namesake as inspirational figure). The effects are mostly quite good, and you rapidly get over any of the oddness of a starship that's built to look like a standard 20th-century battleship. I even loved the opening shot, which is an extreme closeup of someone's eyeball; the camera zooms back as the lights of blasterfire reflect from the eye, to reveal that the eye belongs to a fighter pilot who is in the midst of a major dogfight. Cool stuff.

I don't have much more to say about the film than that. But if you want to see a grand space opera movie, track this one down. It's very much worth the effort!

Sentential Links

Linkage...but first, Inkage!

How cool is that? The squid darts by the like Enterprise in the old Star Trek credits.

:: Seriously, you’re sitting in a theater wearing a pair of 3D glasses with a box of Jujubes in your hand watching a movie based on a pulp scifi novel written in 1912 about a guy in a loincloth sword fighting four-armed green-skinned Martians in order to save a half-naked red-skinned princess who’s also the chief scientist of the Ninth-Ray, and you’re all pissy that there isn’t some fancy dialog about the nihilistic pessimism of fate and circumstance described in narrative ellipses and playful points of view that explores the similarities and differences between Gods and Men, East and West, sin and virtue, good and evil?


I think you might have wandered into the wrong theater by accident.
(I've got my own post about John Carter on the way, but until then, here's a placeholder.)

:: Instead I sit, and mumble, and grumble, and wonder whether I am the only one annoyed that winter never really came to the northeastern United States this year. (No, you're not the only one. I hated this winter. What a steaming bowl of FAILy suck it was!)

:: I promise I didn't realize this ahead of time, but I'm thrilled that it came down to these two. Looking back at the list of contestants, it always had to. (Michael May has been doing a "March Madness" involving cinematic bad-asses. Check it out, and read back into his series! Fun stuff, even if I do think he sold Det. Martin Riggs a bit short.)

:: We need an It Gets Better campaign for America–except I’m not sure it actually will.

:: But overall I’m happy with my purchase and figure that this will get me through the next couple of years just fine, by which time I’m sure phones will have gained intelligence and launched our own nuclear missiles at us. Whatever, man. As long as I can read the Internet on the phone until the very last second, I’m good. (Geez. I can't even do that. I'm still a couple of years from even entering the smart-phone arena!)

:: I'm so tired of Paul Ryan I could scream. Every year we get a slightly different version of the same old thing, and every year we have to waste entire man-years of analysis in order to make the same exact points about it. And the biggest point is that his budget would force enormous, swinging cuts in virtually every domestic program, especially those for the poor. If this bothers Ryan, he's had plenty of time to revise his budget roadmap to address it.

But he hasn't. He knows perfectly well that his budget concentrates its cuts on the poorest Americans. It's been pointed out hundreds of times, after all. If he found that troublesome he'd change it. Since he hasn't, the only reasonable conclusion is that this is exactly what he intends. Let's stop pretending otherwise.
(All I need to know about Paul Ryan is that he requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. One can't hold up a brighter billboard for moral inadequacy than that.)

:: For the past couple of weeks, I've been reading Princess [A Princess of Mars - Ed.] out loud to The Girlfriend, one chapter per night, just before bed, and she observed very early on that the story is essentially a Western with giant, four-armed green men standing in for Native Americans. But of course that's what it is. Consider the book's history. It was originally published in serial form in 1912. Wyatt Earp was still alive in 1912, and I'm pretty Buffalo Bill's Wild West show was still touring then. The Old West occupied a tremendous amount of real estate in the popular imagination, Western stories dominated the pulp magazines that Burroughs was trying to break into, and science fiction as we now understand it did not really exist. (Indeed, Burroughs practically invented the sci-fi genre, or at least a certain subset of it.) Plot-wise, Princess actually starts off as a Western, with Carter fighting Apaches in the Arizona Territory just after the Civil War, before Burroughs unleashes his imagination. To complain that a movie based on this seminal, century-old story doesn't fit so neatly into our modern generic pigeonholes indicates to me that you're missing the point. (OK, one last John Carter link.)

More next week!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Here in Buffalo, the newest thing going are the food trucks: restaurants on wheels that set up camp on a street someplace downtown and sell food. The trucks are pretty popular, but being Buffalo, we have to endure a whole lot of annoying bickering first, with restaurants complaining that the trucks are too close and sucking off their customers and yada yada yada. So, while we bicker and complain and argue about the food trucks, we don't even realize that the next step in food delivery is on the way. Behold...the TacoCopter!

That, sadly, is about all I got for this week...but hey, I spent a good amount of time writing, so that's something! More next week!

Saturday Centus (Sunday edition)

Arrgghhh, I missed another one. Oh well. Naught to do but get back up on the horse...this week we're to have exactly 100 words. Looking at the other end of my "Humanity abandoning Earth" theme that shows up occasionally on these:

Larry cracked a beer as the light from the thrusters of the last ship to leave Earth faded in the sky. The other light, the one of the comet that was going to destroy everything, was getting brighter, but there was no way he was leavin’. Nosiree. He was 92 and he wasn’t like to see that spiffy new Mars they’d been buildin’ anyway, so he just sat back in his rocker, sipped his beer, and figured to enjoy the next nineteen days until the comet hit.

“Yessir,” he said to no one in particular. “I’m livin’ the dream, man.”

I always find something a bit fascinating about people who make the rational choice to accept the death they know is coming rather than keep going.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Copyright Math

I really need to watch TED talks more often. Here, science fiction author Robert Reid delves a little into the mathematical claims of the movie and music industries when they rail against piracy.

I always love when big numbers are thrown about, and no one questions them at all. I remember the Direct Marketing Association's fierce opposition to the Federal Do Not Call List, on the basis that it would cost the economy something like two million jobs. A job hit of that magnitude, at once, would be an economic calamity of historic proportions, but that number just sat out there. Weird, huh?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Birthday Mr. Shatner!

William Shatner's birthday is today. How old is he? Who cares? Here's one of my favorite scenes from all Star Trek, from the much-maligned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Trek V is what I consider to be a 'noble failure', in that it doesn't succeed, but even as it falls short it has some really nice moments, and it really tries to do something interesting, something that really involves sending the Enterprise crew into an unexplored place to confront an unknown. The above scene comes early in the film, while the crew is on shore leave, and Kirk, McCoy, and Spock have gone camping in Yosemite. If nothing else, this film understands that at the heart of the original Trek crew is the three-way friendship of Kirk-Spock-McCoy, a fact which the folks in charge of the current Trek original crew reboot seem to be missing completely.

Anyway, happy birthday to Mr. Shatner! May you row your boat gently down that stream for many years to come!

Cartoon Violence for Men

I'm thinking a lot about football lately, in light of the recent 'Bounty' scandal involving the New Orleans Saints, their coaches, and their players, who engaged in a system of paid incentives to players for injuring opposing players. Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended the entire season without pay; former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended 'indefinitely', which means he gets to sit out a good long time before the NFL -- commissioner Roger Goodell, specifically -- decides to entertain his prospects for a return to coaching. There are also fines and docking of draft picks, I assume.

This whole business is deeply troubling for me as a football fan. I love the game and have for years; I love the strategies involved, and the beauty of well-executed plays and drives. I love how the game can elevate players to heroic status (although football is not unique in this). But here's an admission: one of the best things about football is its physical nature. And that, unfortunately, is just a nice way of saying, "Football is a violent game and we like our violence."

One thing that makes a football season so intense is that there are only 16 games. That's it: your team plays once a week, and one loss here or there can be calamitous for a team hoping to make the playoffs. In baseball, you have 162 games; the very best teams can still expect to walk off the field as losers at least 50 times in a year. But why does football only have 16 games? Because, obviously, the game is too physical -- too violent -- to be played more than that.

We love to see players hitting hard, and getting hit hard. We don't like to see players injured, which is why we applaud when they bounce back up, walk back to the sidelines, sit a minute or two, and then retake the field. It's why players who excel in a game despite being hurt -- say, Emmitt Smith in the 1993 regular season finale, when he had a huge game despite a separated shoulder -- can attain legendary status. We love quarterbacks who can stand in there and deliver a perfect pass despite the fact that they're about to get taken down by a hard-rushing defensive end. We adore it when a receiver comes across the middle of the field, leaps into the air, snags the ball, and holds onto it despite getting sandwiched between two defensive backs. We prize those moments when the running back charges full-speed into a cluster of bodies and, despite taking multiple hits from multiple players, still manages to churn forward enough to get the first down.

And on defense? That's when we love to see our boys dishing out the punishment. We love to see our defensive ends put the quarterback on his ear -- even moreso if the QB never sees him coming. We love to see an opposing receiver grab the ball, only to have one of our defensive backs slam him so hard that the ball pops out. And we think it's great when a linebacker comes flying in out of nowhere to knock a running back off his feet, backwards. We love the big hits, the ones so hard that the announcers go "Wow!", the ones so brutal that you can hear the fans in the stadium go "Ooohhhhh!", the ones where you can hear the actual impact of the hit captured in the parabolic microphones from the sidelines.

We know that these are violent hits, and we know that injuries are a part of the game, because they happen all the time. But some injuries are worse than others, and for most of them, we just hope the backup is ready to play. Even a bad injury -- say, a torn ACL -- doesn't seem as bad these days. It's a season-ender, but they'll be back next year. That particular injury is getting more and more treatable all the time; Wes Welker had one in a playoff game a few years ago, and time was then that would have seriously jeopardized the entire next season. Instead, he was back in time for the season opener.

Mostly, I think we view football violence as live-action cartoon violence. The crushing hits that football players dish out and endure are the equivalent of the disastrous things that happen to Wile E. Coyote whilst pursuing the Road Runner. For the most part, we expect our players to take monster hits, maybe get hurt a bit, but show up in the next scene. Maybe the next game. If it's bad, maybe after a few games or even next season. Once in a great while something very bad happens, a Mike Utley or a Kevin Everett, but I think that football fans, in their hearts-of-hearts, view that as the price of doing business, and for the most part, the thousands of guys who play football over the years take their hits and then retire and go on to live normal lives, free of football pain at last.

Except, thing is, now we increasingly know that they don't. Increasingly we must confront the fact that former football players have significantly shorter average lifespans, and we must confront the fact that football injuries, repeatedly endured over a period of years, take huge tolls in terms of quality of life after the game. We know that the brain is not nearly as able to bounce back from concussion as we used to think. We have to acknowledge that football is a game that takes a huge toll, and we have to acknowledge that all those hits we're cheering on Sunday afternoons have a price.

And just when we're acknowledging this, we learn that there are coaches and players out there who not only don't take this seriously, but see it as another way of gaining possible advantage on the field. That's what it's all about, and why it's so sickening. I've heard fans say that other football scandals -- SpyGate being the most famous -- are worse because that was actual cheating: doing something against the rules in order to gain competitive advantage. Well, by that definition, bounty programs are cheating too, and worse, they are cheating that involves the intentional infliction of physical injury. I don't think we hear this enough in this whole scandal. The Saints didn't just run a bounty program. They didn't just pay players to hurt their opponents. The Saints cheated, and so did anyone else in the NFL who has been doing this.

Football isn't cartoon violence. Football players aren't superhuman figures who can get run over by steamrollers and reinflate themselves; they're not beings who can escape pursuers by stopping to paint a train tunnel opening on a wall and then duck inside. They're human beings, as fragile as anyone else, and they are playing a game that works against that very fragility -- so much so that they have to wear body armor. That we still have problems with people taking this seriously is truly disheartening.

Something for Thursday

Here's some off-beat music by John Williams, underscoring one of the best main credits sequences I've seen, to Catch Me If You Can.

I need to watch this movie again....

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

I may have asked this one before...but anyway. You have a time machine which will allow you to see one, and only one, Broadway show in history, location and cast of your choice. Which one do you go see?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Visual Surveillance of Extremities

That phrase will be familiar to anyone who has read Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, a series which was an absolute favorite of mine when I was younger but which I haven't read in years. (I stared a re-read sometime in the early years of this blog, but never finished got beyond the first book, for no reason that I recall -- I still liked the first book.) Donaldson is presently writing the third Covenant series, this one a tetralogy, which I intend to read at some point. SF Signal has an interesting interview with Donaldson, which includes this bit about process:

First, I’m a person who has to concentrate-and concentrate exclusively-in order to accomplish anything. And second, I’m not a “facile” writer: I write slowly, with much sturm-und-drang. So I knew from the start that I can’t afford to just grab time when I can, or to wait for inspiration to strike. I have to make steady progress every day, or I’m doomed. (A music critic named Newman said of Beethoven, “Great composers do not compose because they are inspired. They become inspired because they are composing.” I don’t claim to be a great writer-how would I know?-but that’s one of my mottos.) And soon after I got going on Lord Foul’s Bane, I learned another crucial lesson: I have to pace myself. If I write as much as humanly possible one day, I’ll probably find myself too stunned to write anything the next. So I developed an approach which has served me well ever since: I’m in my office 8 to noon and 1 to 5 five days a week; I always quit at quitting time, no matter how I’m writing; and I never (well, almost never) work in the evenings, or on the weekends, or on holidays, or on vacation. This enables me to keep going day in and day out, week after week, month after month, until the first draft is complete. (Revision presents a different set of challenges, but I approach it in the same way.)

For some reason I'm always interested to read about writers' processes.


Well, I have a new weapon in my kitchen's Arsenal Of Condiments. It's this stuff:

I 'discovered' jalapeno jelly at a local Mexican restaurant (Arriba Tortilla in East Aurora, NY), where a ramekin of the stuff is served as a side condiment with some menu items. I fell in love with the stuff almost at once. It's not hot at all, but it tastes like peppers anyway...there's a tiny amount of hotness to offset the sweetness. It's a wonderfully bright and intriguing flavor. So I bought a jar, and the other night I tried it for the first time on something I made myself. Not a taco or anything like that...but on a burger. I cooked a nice, thick patty and melted three slices of pepperjack cheese on it. Then I served the burger on a bun with several large leaves of leaf lettuce, with the hot pepper jelly (this very brand) spread on the bun.

This made for an amazing burger. Just wonderful. I generally tend to be fairly minimalistic with my burgers these days; I don't like piling on tons of toppings and sauces. I've had burgers in restaurants that slather on cheddar cheese and bacon and lettuce and barbecue sauce and several full-sized onion much stuff piled onto the burger that the flavor of the beef itself all but disappears. My approach to a burger is only a few things other than the meat -- at most, I'll put lettuce, cheese, onion, and a tomato slice on there, with ketchup and mustard. But another favorite of mine is mayonnaise, black pepper (a liberal amount), and onions. But this combo? Yeah, this one's going into heavy rotation.

A Facebook friend suggests cream cheese instead of the pepperjack. That sounds intriguing...and frankly, I may try that on a bagel first. Like...tomorrow!

Hot pepper jelly -- oh how did I live without you!

Monday, March 19, 2012

"You know nothing, Jon Snow."

I have now completed A Storm of Swords, being the third book in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Perhaps undertaking this re-read in so short a time frame was not wise, because as I feared (and as I remember from when I read this book the first time), the feeling of the book stops being immersion in a big and fascinating world, and starts being a feeling of being worn down under a tremendous weight. And if that's what it's like to read it, I can only imagine what it's like for GRRM to write it. No wonder he's been having trouble.

My reaction to Storm is almost schizophrenic, so much so that I can barely determine where to begin. There is an awful lot of good stuff in this book, and there's some stuff that is indisputably great. There's also some stuff that's meh, and a bit of stuff that downright irritated me. But the overall impression is just unrelenting hugeness. Once again I am drawn to my soap opera metaphor for these books. Aside from a very few moments, I get almost no sense that there's a story that's being set up here. I get very little sense of forward momentum from the events of this book. What I get is just a series of events that affect all others, because everyone knows everyone else and lives have that pesky way of crossing. A good read? Absolutely. A fascinating world? Certainly. Interesting characters, both sympathetic and not? Indubitably. A story, though? Well...I'm just not sure.

Part of my problem with Storm is that it's simply too long. I'm sorry, but it just is. I'm not sure what the remedy for that might be, since a strategy of cutting the book in two didn't seem to work out as well as GRRM thought it might for the book immediately following. I'm not sure where the thing should have been cut, but there's just so much that goes on. That sounds whiny, probably, but I can't deny it. Over the course of nearly a thousand pages, most of the characters only manage to move no more than, say, fifty miles. Some go in circles. Some are captured, escape, and are recaptured again. Some make fairly improbable acquaintances along the way. Some characters from the last two books simply drop off the radar screen entirely. And yes, some die.

I am starting to conclude that GRRM is creating a story that is simply too big, if he's even creating a story at all. At this point, it wouldn't surprise me much to eventually learn that there is no ending to the series, no climax we're building to, and that what GRRM simply intends is to just create a series of massive books set in a fantasy realm that just details some marches of some people's lives. Maybe I'm wrong...and on balance, I suspect I am, because there are a few precious hints of a larger story to emerge in Storm...but it wouldn't totally surprise me. If I'm correct, the actual main story is the threat that's taking shape in the North while everyone else is fighting for thrones. But then, what part in that story for each and every one of these characters? I just don't know.

I liked the book. Loved it, even. But I can't deny that there were times when reading it felt like a slog, and not because of any deficiency with the prose – never that, because GRRM can damn well put the words together – but because it's just so big. I'm trying to come up with a metaphor here...maybe trying to have a perfect vacation to Disney World when you know you're only going to be there one day? Nah, that doesn't work...I'm not sure, I guess. But I can't get over the feeling with this series that it's not unlike that third slice of cake, the one that's just as good as the first two, technically speaking, but just isn't satisfying because by now it's just too much.

More random spoiler-iffic thoughts after the break....

Sentential Links

Linkage...but first, a cartoon clown named Binky.

If you actually played that clip...yeah, I'm sorry.


:: But this movie... It's not great. I know everyone saw it when they were kids and loves it to pieces, but it is so long, and frequently so, so boring. (What movie is he talking about? Click through to find out...let's just say that I could not possibly disagree more.)

:: What is heartening about Persepolis, and challenging to western assumptions about the lives of women in places like Iran, is the level of accommodation and subversion with which the rules are approached. The veil, for example, does not guarantee meek feminine submission, although its enforcement on a state level clearly seeks that; nor are decisions about how and why it is worn remotely simple (or always coerced) on an individual or even a community level. (It's been several years since I read Persepolis; I should probably do so again. And watch the movie.)

:: My fantasy rider would include grapes, pistachios (natural, roasted & salted,) a gallon of spring water, camomile tea, a fresh pillow with a clean pillowcase, a Snuggie, flowers, and, why not, 4 new hand towels. And peanut m&ms, all colors included, especially the brown ones. Basically I would consume the food stuff, turn on my nature sounds, snuggie up and take a nap.

:: If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech. (Writing advice from John Steinbeck, which is always welcome. I don't follow this particular piece of advice, though. I just feel goofy reading my dialogue out loud. I do something kind of along the same line, though: I play the scene in my head, like a movie. I have no idea if this helps or not, but I just can't bring myself to say my own dialogue out loud. Even when I'm writing alone.)

:: Seeing this movie now, you'd never know this was such a big hit, because honestly, it is just terrible. Just... not offensively bad or something I hated, but just an aggressively mediocre movie full of misstep upon misstep. (What movie? Click to find out! I never liked it all that much to begin with, but it does have some kind of odd reverential status in geek circles for some reason. Or maybe it's not 'reverential' status, just...looked back upon with greater fondness than is warranted?)

:: Okay, now I’ll say it, I’ll dare to state the unthinkable… St. Patrick’s Day is the worst freaking day of the year. And I’m Irish!!! (I've always wondered what bartenders think of St. Paddy's Day.)

:: We stand fixated on the man who directed Star Wars.

Why? The reasons are beyond number and impossible to mention in geek company without causing a riot: the special editions, the prequels, the re-edits. The betrayal and heartache as thousands of fanboys and girls took up the cry “Han shot first!” We’re furious. We’re mourning. We’re hoping that the next generation doesn’t think that Anakin Skywalker is cooler than Han Solo.
(I only link this to highlight how sick I am of this whole mindset. Now we're trying to psychoanalyze George Lucas, in our quest to understand how it could possibly be that he made something that a bunch of people don't like that much. Seriously...give it up. And allow me to renew my objection to anyone who thinks that Han Solo's story is utterly, completely changed by Greedo getting off a shot in the cantina. All that does is neuter a big laugh in the movie, not a character. Stop, people. Just...stop.)

More next week!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!!!

:: I've seen this in a lot of places, but Jedediah gets the credit. A bunch of these videos have shown up in the last year or two, but this one's got amazing sound, so turn up the speakers. It's the ride you'd enjoy were you, say, a spider or something, clinging to the side of one of the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters, from launch to splash-down. These are just amazing.


:: Two links from one of my favorite comics blogs, Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep!. There were all kinds of weird ads in comics back in 'the day', and it always tickles me to see them reproduced, because I remember a lot of them, and I remember thinking when I was six or seven, "Hey, I want that!" I can say with a high degree of confidence that I never wanted the Nancy Nonsense doll, however.

:: The other link from Slay Monstrobot: I am increasingly of the belief that I need to read the original Howard the Duck comics one of these years. Sure, the infamous movie was dreck, but...this just seems like gonzo genius to me.

More next week!

Shea's Buffalo at night

Shea's Buffalo at night, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I took this while standing outside the theater, waiting for the doors to open for Les Miserables. I insisted on getting there good and early, which didn't go over well with The Family, as we ended up standing outside in the wind for fifteen minutes until the doors opened. Not sure why I did that...going to an event at Shea's isn't like going to the movies, where you pick your seats when you get there. Oh well...I just chalk it up to being over-excited for Les Miz.

I altered this shot a bit to make it brighter and changed it to B&W and all that...those weird shadow-features just kind of emerged as I did the altering, and I thought they looked kind of cool, so I made no effort to get rid of them.

There are times when I wish I wasn't a maintenance man by trade...I look at this photo, and the first thing I see is several dozen light bulbs that need changing!


I know, I know...I've said a bunch of times that I have little to no use for the Alien movies, which I suppose would rule me out of bothering to see the forthcoming Prometheus, which as I understand it isn't actually a direct prequel or anything of that nature, but is set in the same universe, so I suspect there'd be some overlap. This trailer for the film, though, is making me question that resolve.

This looks less like Attack of the Killer Space Vaginas, and more like a dark space opera, with ships exploring the unknown, massive alien artifacts, and so on and so forth. Who knows...and with trailers these days, you never know, because trailers can make the worst movies look like giant storehouses of Awesome, so we won't know until the movie comes out. But I am really intrigued by this trailer.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Luck o' the Irish!

It's St. Patrick's Day! Here's some stuff.

Wondering about the logistics of Darth Vader quaffing a beer? I assume he uses a straw through the grates of his mask. Or maybe he just has it in his meditation chamber, once he kicks back and takes his helmet off. Who knows...of course, I can't help thinking that maybe some of his problems in life might have been better dealt with by doing some drinking earlier on than by doing a lot of brooding and falling in with evil Chancellors and whatnot.

::  I know, I know, everybody says "St Patty's Day". But really, if you do this, please stop! It's St Paddy's Day, not Patty. Thank you.

::  "Danny Boy" is the cliche song for St. Patrick's Day and for any gathering of Irish or Irish-minded folk, so much so that it's nearly impossible to hear a fresh take on the song. For that, we need three incomprehensible Muppets.

:: You can never go wrong with John Williams. Here he is, teamed up with The Chieftains, for the End Credits of the Irish-emigration-to-America saga, Far and Away. It's a really kind of silly movie, but I like it because it's really earnest in its silliness.

:: And finally, I am absolutely tickled that this is on YouTube at long last. The great sitcom Cheers had a recurring storyline of sorts involving the battle of pranks and stunts between the gang at Cheers and the rival bar, Gary's Old Towne Taverne. These episodes were highlights of every season, right down to the final season, when the war was finally won. Just great stuff...and my favorite was the St. Patrick's Day episode, in which the gang arrives at the bar to find that the bar itself has been enclosed behind a cinder-block wall by Gary and his cohorts. (With Woody inside, by the way.) Still, Sam decides to keep calm and carry on, especially when the Irish band he's hired shows up to work its musical magic. And then...this happens.

This scene (which I consider one of the great all-time sitcom scenes) was actually written by Ken Levine and partner David Isaacs, so Levine provides the entire script of the scene here. Just great stuff. Also of interest is that the guy playing Sean, the lead singer, is actor Maurice Roeves, who also played Colonel Munroe in 1992's The Last of the Mohicans (the Daniel Day Lewis version), and a Romulan on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. According to Roeves's IMDb bio, he was born in Sunderland (in England) and considers himself a Scot!

:: Need a toast for tonight? Pick one from here.

:: And later on, I shall be happy to raise a glass to each o' ye!

St Patrick's Day

May all your souls be in Heaven a full hour afore the Devil knows ye're dead!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Molto Mario!

Wow. What a surreal couple of days to be a Buffalo Bills fan, as they have signed the second-most coveted free agent player available this year. (He'd have been the most coveted, if not for Peyton Manning being available.) Williams is a former first-overall draft pick who has mostly lived up to his lofty potential thus far, except for an injury-shortened year last year, and he's only 27 years old, which means that as he enters what should be the best four or five years of his career...he's going to enjoy them here.

This is big. Stuff like this doesn't happen here. The Buffalo Bills don't usually grab any coveted free agents of any type; if they sign anybody at all, it's a week or two after the free agent signing period has started, and the guys they grab up are the NFL equivalent of leftovers.

Now, I don't think this is because the Bills are 'cheap'. I think it's because the last bunch of execs running things here, well, didn't really know what they were doing, so the Bills have been in this odd position for over a decade of not being good enough to attract free agents but not being bad enough to have top five draft picks to build with, either. But now they feel that the roster is looking up and it was time to add a big talent...which they did. Kudos to them.

Current GM Buddy Nix has been criticized in his first two years of basically standing pat at free agency, but I'm not sure what choice he had either year. The roster was in the worst shape of the entire sorry decade when he took over, so signing free agents would have generally made the Bills look like the Washington Redskins of recent years: a team with no clue trying to luck into a good team by throwing money around. Nix made clear that his intent was to build through the draft and then add some free agent talent. He's said all along that when he feels there's a player available who can significantly help this team now, then "we go and get him". Well, they did that!

Signing Mario Williams doesn't make the Bills an automatic contender, but it's a big piece to a puzzle that doesn't have as many remaining pieces as some believe. His presence will give the Bills something they haven't had in years: a guy on the defensive line whom offensive coordinators have to take into account. That's big in itself. If he can take on double-teams, it will free up the rest of the line to wreak some havoc. Basically, this move makes the Bills better at the all-important line of scrimmage.

What else do the Bills need, then? Another wide receiver, most of all. Another outside linebacker, possibly a better left tackle, and perhaps a cornerback (although the secondary should benefit greatly from the improved pass-rush that Williams's signing virtually guarantees). Williams's arrival gives the Bills a lot more flexibility when next month's draft arrives, as they are now no longer really beholden to drafting whoever the best pass rusher available when they pick happens to be. (They pick tenth overall.) Perhaps they might even consider themselves in a good enough position to trade down and add picks.

Williams's signing was not a quick process. He got here Tuesday and spent all of Wednesday here before finally signing on Thursday. Apparently he was doing quite a bit of touring the Buffalo area, which I suppose was necessary; teams that haven't been winning need to show off their cities to convince guys, and Buffalo's reputation, unfair as it is, is one that can be muted with some smart display of the good stuff around here. The best sign was when Williams showed up at the airport on Wednesday, not to fly to his next potential team, but to pick up his fiancee. That seemed to display that he was impressed and that he was giving this place serious thought. There's a school of thinking that says that Buffalo's poor reputation as a city is one factor that keeps free agents from signing here, but that has never made sense to me; if a player feels that a team is a winner, he'll go there. The Bills haven't been winners in twelve years, but for the first time there's a real sense that maybe they're about to be.

So anyway: Welcome to Western New York, Mario Williams! And may the Force be with you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Something for Thursday

Well, I missed this feature last week, and I'm late this week, but here we go. I just want to pay a small tribute to Robert B. Sherman, who passed away last week. Sherman was one half of the Sherman Brothers, a music-and-songwriting duo that was responsible for many of the extremely catchy songs in Disney (and other) films in the 1960s. Here are some of them.

Not a bad legacy to leave behind.

I hate casinos

Yeah, that's pretty blunt, but there it is: I can't stand casinos. I don't understand the appeal at all. I mean, I understand once I find myself inside one. It's hard to resist all those flashing lights and cheering people and the way the casinos make you go up and down and in and out in an effort to make you forget the existence of an outside world; all the better to put you in the mood to lose your money. But in general, I have no desire to spend time in a casino, I never consider going to one when I'm looking for something to do, and I'm totally baffled by people I know who love to spend entire weekends at "the casino". It's just something I don't get.

But casinos can be awesome settings for amazingly cool stories, can't they, and not just fictional stories. Check out this amazing tale of a guy who took three different Atlantic City casinos for $16,000,000. And he did it straight-up. No card-counting here (although to be honest, I'm not sure why card-counting is considered 'cheating', unless 'cheating' is defined as 'doing anything whatsoever to increase one's odds over the house's'): he beat them fair and square, and fascinatingly, the casinos practically invited him to do it.

As Johnson remembers it, the $800,000 hand started with him betting $100,000 and being dealt two eights. If a player is dealt two of a kind, he can choose to “split” the hand, which means he can play each of the cards as a separate hand and ask for two more cards, in effect doubling his bet. That’s what Johnson did. His next two cards, surprisingly, were also both eights, so he split each again. Getting four cards of the same number in a row doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Johnson says he was once dealt six consecutive aces at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He was now playing four hands, each consisting of a single eight-card, with $400,000 in the balance.

He was neither nervous nor excited. Johnson plays a long game, so the ups and downs of individual hands, even big swings like this one, don’t matter that much to him. He is a veteran player. Little interferes with his concentration. He doesn’t get rattled. With him, it’s all about the math, and he knows it cold. Whenever the racily clad cocktail waitress wandered in with a fresh whiskey and Diet Coke, he took it from the tray.

The house’s hand showed an upturned five. Arrayed on the table before him were the four eights. He was allowed to double down—to double his bet—on any hand, so when he was dealt a three on the first of his hands, he doubled his bet on that one, to $200,000. When his second hand was dealt a two, he doubled down on that, too. When he was dealt a three and a two on the next two hands, he says, he doubled down on those, for a total wager of $800,000.

It was the dealer’s turn. He drew a 10, so the two cards he was showing totaled 15. Johnson called the game—in essence, betting that the dealer’s down card was a seven or higher, which would push his hand over 21. This was a good bet: since all face cards are worth 10, the deck holds more high cards than low. When the dealer turned over the house’s down card, it was a 10, busting him. Johnson won all four hands.

Johnson didn’t celebrate. He didn’t even pause. As another skyscraper of chips was pushed into his skyline, he signaled for the next hand. He was just getting started.

Absolutely fascinating.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Answers, the fourth!

OK, I need to get going on these...last week's time-sucking did not do the blog any favors. So let's get going here!

A reader who prefers anonymity asks:

What "earworms" get stuck in your head?

"Hey Jude". That's a big one. Lots of Beatles songs, actually. Songs from Les Miz -- "Do You Hear the People Sing?" is a big one that I often find myself humming. Show tunes of all sorts! Generally, I often have some kind of music traveling through my head, and I'll often find myself humming it. I suppose it would be more useful to talk about earworms that don't get stuck in my head!

What's funny is how often I'll get earwormed with a song I can't stand. "Red Solo Cup" may be the single stupidest musical act ever committed by the hand of man, but damned if that horrible thing doesn't end up stuck in my ear for an hour after I inadvertently catch it on the radio.

Can you deliberately think of a piece of music and "play it" in your head? Can you bring to mind the music pieces you've played yourself?

I can do this with a lot of music that I know very, very well. I can sit back and listen, in my head, to the entirety of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony, for instance. Ditto Berlioz's Fantastique, Beethoven's Seventh and Ninth, and so on. Large sections of John Williams's filmscores, and large portions of The Lord of the Rings. I have a very good musical memory...with one exception. Lyrics don't tend to stick with me, or song titles. I hear a song and I can always say, "Yeah, I've heard that," but if you mention a song by title to me, odds are I won't know what you're talking about. And if I know a song by title, there's almost no chance I'll be able to cite any lyrics without having taken trouble to internalize them beforehand. I don't pick up lyrics from casual listening.

What little time-waster games do you play, if any? Any logic puzzles (minesweeper, say)? Solitaire?

I don't really do this, for some reason...I like the default Windows games like Minesweeper and Solitaire and Free Cell; my computer shipped with a chess game that I like but never use any more, and I dug the Mah Jong game too...but I haven't played that one in a long time, either.

The only real game playing thing I have right now is that accursed "Words With Friends" on Facebook. I love that thing...but I only check it twice a day. Otherwise I'll stare at it for hours. (Anyone wants to play, go ahead and drop me one of those challenges!)

More to come! I should be able to finish up next time out.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

So, back when you were eleven or twelve, what word for an icky bodily function or substance would invariably send you into hysterics when you heard it? Come on, we all had one!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Return to Kitai

Those who have have followed the career of Guy Gavriel Kay long enough know that, since his last book came out just about two years ago, this is roughly when drips and drabs of information about his next book should start showing up. And, right on cue, we get some details. GGK is returning to Kitai, the fantastical medieval China which was the setting of the brilliant Under Heaven!

Guy Gavriel Kay's new novel is once more inspired by Chinese history, this time during the Song Dynasty, almost four centuries after the story told in his bestselling Under Heaven. The dazzling elements of the Song - cultural brilliance, vicious political rivalries, warfare against nomadic peoples, court mandarins versus the military - are rich ground for Kay's unique blending of fantasy and themes of history. Vivid among a large cast, a young man with a dream of regaining the empire's lost 'rivers and mountains' and a brilliant woman trying to shape a space for herself outside the 'inner quarters', where women are expected to live out their lives, confront the challenges and dangers of a world in turmoil. The Song Dynasty's legacy is prominent in the way Westerners imagine Chinese history to this day and Kay weaves a story that captivates on both an epic scale and within the intimate lives of his characters.

Apparently this book is due in 2013. It'll be a long year! (But that will give me time to re-read the GGK books I have, as yet, not re-read: Last Light of the Sun, Ysabel, and Under Heaven.)

What if winter came, and nobody knew?

I find it kind of ironic that I'm re-reading George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire right now, given that one of the book's main plot points is that winter is coming to the world in the books, and in that world, each season lasts for years. This is ironic because this winter in Buffalo is the mildest I can remember -- we've had less than three feet of snowfall for the entire season, which is unheard of. We never made it sledding in Chestnut Ridge park because there simply was never enough snow up there to do it. There were, maybe, one or two storms that came through which dumped more than a few inches, and that was it. Ho hum.

What caused the mild winter? One hypothesis that interests me is the temporary effect of a volcano that erupted in Iceland last year. I think that the winter is too atypical to be chalked up to global warming, which may make winters such as this more common for Buffalo over the next century, but to have one winter like this suddenly appear seems too sudden to me to be blamed on a worldwide change in climate. However, I do once again notice that whenever we get a big snowstorm, I can count on hearing all kinds of people saying things like "Ha! It's snowing! Global warming, my ass!", but when an abnormally warm weather pattern comes along, I don't hear anybody saying things like, "Hey, that Al Gore must know what he's talking about!" That always amuses me.

Anyway, while I like winter, I do find myself a bit excited at the prospect of spring being actually pleasant around here, and maybe coming a bit early. Generally speaking, trees in Western New York aren't fully green until late May, and March and April are generally wet and muddy and pretty depressing, to be honest. Spring here sucks, and I think that's a big part of why winter around here gets such a bad rap: a hard season is followed by two months of yuck. Here's hoping!

As I write this, I have windows open at twenty minutes to midnight, and a nice cool breeze is sweeping through Casa Jaquandor. The first real airing-out of the homespace after several months of winter is always a nice feeling, isn't it?

All I have to say about Daylight Savings Time

That is all. Stupid DST!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fifty most hated movies???

SamuraiFrog posted this list of "Fifty Most Hated Movies", with comment, and damned if I'm not going to do the same. I'll only bold the ones that I've actually seen, though.

50. Daredevil

49. Superman Returns

I didn't hate this movie, but it deserves quite a bit of its bad press. I actually liked the cast, but the movie was a bit too open about its reverence for the first Superman movie, and yet, it somehow seemed to take place in an alternate universe, at the same time, by seeming to refer to the original without actually doing so, by giving us a Metropolis that was a generic cityscape instead of being clearly New York with the names filed off, and so on. I remember someone on Aint It Cool News or someplace like that writing, "This movie doesn't just pay homage to the original Superman -- it calls the older movie up and breathes heavily into the phone when it answers."

48. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

47. Terminator: Salvation

For me, the Terminator story begins with the first movie and ends with the second. Never saw this one.

46. Exorcist II: The Heretic

45. Halloween (2007)

44. Fantastic Four (2005)

Didn't bother, because the trailers looked awful. But then, I was never a FF fan even when I read comics regularly.

43. Resident Evil

42. Jersey Girl (2004)

One of these years I'll get myself caught up on Kevin Smith's movies.

41. Constantine

40. Swept Away (2002)

39. Epic Movie

38. Clash of the Titans (2010)

37. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

36. The Matrix Reloaded/The Matrix Revolutions

I know, I'm bolding it, but I've only seen the first half hour or forty minutes of Reloaded. I've mentioned it in the past, but the movie literally bored me to the point that I dosed off. So when I awoke I turned it off and never went back to the Matrix franchise. I loved the first one when I saw it, but each viewing after that made me like it a little bit less.

35. Godzilla (1998)

I thought this might be epically fun...and instead it was bad, bad, bad, with a Godzilla whose size seems to change from scene to scene, with making Jean Reno play second fiddle to Matthew F***ing Broderick (sorry, but I can't stand the guy), and the supreme idiocy of Devlin and Emmerich using this film to strike back at Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. This movie is terrible.

34. Van Helsing

33. The Spirit

32. Crash (2005)

I can't even imagine myself wanting to see this movie.

31. Sucker Punch

30. Alien Resurrection

Never bothered, having hated the first Alien movie (and still do -- sorry, fans, but the Freudian horror for me basically boils down to Attack of the Killer Space Vaginas), not much liking the second movie (slickly made, but predictable as hell), and loathing the third, from the opening moments of "Hey, remember all the crap those people went through to survive the last one? They all died anyway. Sorry." And now they're making Alien prequels or some such? Count me out. I hate this franchise.

29. Spider-Man 3

I do not hate this movie; in fact, I find it highly watchable and even entertaining, despite the fact that it makes one wrong turn after another and starts to commit the crime of betraying its source material. I hate that a much better movie was going to be made before some asshole exec stuck his nose in and forced changes that harmed the film, and I really hate that the result was so much a mishmash that it doomed the existing efforts and triggered a pointless reboot movie that, when I finally do see it (almost certainly on DVD), I'll watch it with an enormous chip on my shoulder because it's so unnecessary. Ugh. I don't hate Spidey 3, but I feel like I should.

28. Sex and the City 2

27. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

I love this movie and despite some of its meandering and plot holes, I think it's terribly underrated. I'm a big fan of the whole franchise.

26. Planet of the Apes (2001)

25. The Avengers

24. Pearl Harbor

I've seen parts of it. I don't hate it, but man, is it bad.

23. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

22. Battlefield Earth

21. The Wicker Man (2006)

20. X-Men: The Last Stand

I refuse to watch this.

19. Aliens vs Predator

Never bothered. See above: F*** Alien.

18. Highlander 2: The Quickening

Oddly, I did not hate this one, because I expected it to utterly, completely suck, so I cheerfully munched my popcorn and laughed at it. I'd already hated the first one -- one of the dumbest things I've ever seen, a movie whose popularity eternally mystifies me -- so I expected nothing from this one. And hey, Michael Ironside. I paid to see H2 in a theater and had a good time, which is a lot more than I can say for the original, which I watched for free and hated.

17. Love Actually

People who hate this movie are like people who hate kittens: I know they're out there, but they are almost certainly a mutation of some sort.

16. Hulk

15. Catwoman

14. Avatar

I love this one! No, I don't think it's got one original thing in it, but so what? I liked the cast, I loved the effects, I love the pace at which Cameron allows the story to unfold. It's beautiful and I found it fun.

13. Lady in the Water

12. The Happening

11. The Last Airbender

I haven't seen a Shyamalan movie since Signs, which I liked. From what I hear, I have missed nothing.

10. Die Another Day

This movie actually has an awful lot of good stuff in it, but that all ends with the arrival at the villain's Giant Ice Cave or whatever. Don't hate it...but on balance, it's pretty weak.

9. House of the Dead

8. Titanic (1997)

I still love this movie, and I find the backlash against it really reflective of a cultural mean-spiritedness that always saddens me when I see it in action.

7. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

I refuse to watch any of these.

6. Batman and Robin

It stinks, but I still found it fun to watch. Oh well.

5. Psycho (1998)

I can't imagine why this movie got made in the first place.

4. Twilight

I refuse to see this movie. I want nothing to do with this whole awful, stinking, fetid excuse for a story franchise. The book was so achingly bad that any notion that I should go see the movie makes me wretch. (And as to that, again let me raise my objection to anyone who tries telling me that well, I can't really understand the book since I was never a teenage girl with raging hormones. It's the writer's job to make me understand things I've never done. I'm not going to do the writer's homework for her. I have no idea what it was like to experience love and loss in the backdrop of the French Revolution, but Charles Dickens did the heavy lifting for me.)

3. Forrest Gump

I don't hate it. I've never hated it. In fact, I still like it. But I do find its messages confounding, even if I don't totally buy the usual criticism that it's "Right wing values good, counterculture bad".

2. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Yeah, right. Defending this movie, and its two follow-ups, may well be my main reason for living. I still love it, to this day. (All together now, class: F*** Red Letter Media!)

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Nope, don't hate this one, either...although it really could have used one more pass through the rewrite phase. I'm not bothered in the least by the "Aliens" thing. The first three were based on the serial adventure flicks of the 1930s; seems perfectly reasonable to me that if we're going to move Indy into the 1950s, then paranoid science fiction needs to be the order of the day. If anything, I don't think the movie played this angle up nearly as well as it should have.

Here are some movies that I genuinely cannot stand, that didn't make the list:

Live and Let Die
The Usual Suspects
City of Angels
Wedding Crashers