Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review of Hugo

Martin Scorcese is a master film maker by anybody's barometer, and I certainly enjoy his work. But I think he has achieved something transcendantly new in his most recent release of "Hugo." My initial impression of the movie, based on the whimsical but mysterious trailers leading up to it, was that it involved a train station and some kind of hidden world within the world that all revolved around a mechanical man that Hugo, an orphan living inside of the train station, was desperately trying to recreate.

I only got it partially right. And I do think that any attempt by the marketing department to mismarket a film will cause its demise. Anyone remember the fate of Kangaroo Jack or Hudson Hawk? Of course, I'm not exactly weeping over the fate of Kangaroo Jack, which I understand to be miserable, but Hudson Hawk was a whimsical fourth wall breaking 'crime drama' that did not at all take itself seriously, which was instead marketed by yet another Hollywood genius as something similar to Die Hard. Yeah, because lying to your audience is always a brilliant idea.

Then again, when one looks at the fare targeted to the audience in most network TV in recent years, this is no surprise. Then again, given my opinion of Slines after 2010, I'm not entirely convinced they're wrong. Then again again, the Slines do not appreciate being underestimated and most stupider shows have died horrible deaths this season. So I suppose the trick is to play for the lowest common denominator, but not to bid beneath the actual IQ of the critical mass of the mob thereof? Who knows. The price is wrong Bob.

Regardless, this film is both a heartwarming trip into whimsy, but also a celebration of the lost work of the early pioneers of cinema. To begin with, it formally attributes the creation of the motion picture camera to France instead of Edison (who was noted for stealing other people's ideas). The movie basically involves (spoilers follow) the discovery of the long lost works of Georges Méliès and how due to the bitterness and jaded hyperrealism demanded after the horrors of WWI, the fantasies of Georges Méliès were considered trite. Ruined, Melies retired into obscurity as a toy maker. The toy maker who happens to be in the very same shop in the very same subway station being run by the orphan Hugo. It is a whimsical tale in which everyone gets a happy ending. But what else do you expect from a movie set in France but made by Americans? Still, in this case it works, and not only does it work, it works fantastically so.

It is particularly ironic to me that this film is about the robbing of future generations from their cultural heritage as so many of Georges Méliès's works were destroyed that the major zaibatsu studios are destroying their 9mm collections because they find them difficult to maintain. And after all...digital copies exist right? I mean, it isn't like future generations will want to see them on film or anything...they'll want to see them on the latest ASTOUNDOVISION(tm) digital or hyperdigital or whatever made up format that the zaibatsu's dream up next.

I enjoyed this movie and highly recommend seeing it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I saw the car from the road and was intrigued. I pulled in and saw right in the middle of nowhere (Well...Flagler Colorado to be precise) a perfect 1950's replica Diner. The people were very nice, but the food was awesome. I liked the Hamburger Flights and LOVED the Pie (Cherry), Potato Soap, and most of all the small samplings of Chili I was given to show how awesome they were. The red chili was the best. These guys are trying to get on a TV show, and I agree they should be there. Nice little place, incredible food, with weird little wind up car out front.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: High Midnight by Rob Mosca

Full Disclosure: I know the author and he is a friend.

The book is an excellent read and masterfully crafted. For being his first novel, Rob Mosca seems to have harnessed magic in words. He has an intuitive sense of pacing, and makes an image in your mind of exactly what is going on without it being bogged down by excessive details. In truth, if there was a literary opposite to the works of Faulkner, High Midnight is such a work. Not that Faulkner is excessive in his details, rather, High Midnight hits the 'sweet spot' in my personal spectrum.

The genre I would call this would be 'Stew' in honor of a Passage in the 6th Dark Tower novel, "The Song of Susanna" in which the characters fret about the restrictions of genre in literature. Of course, at that point in the Dark Tower series it has begun to enter the bizarrely (but cool) metaficitonal stage. High Midnight blurs many genres but it does not break the 4th wall.

To give you an idea of how much I like the book, I'm adding it to my permanent library. Something only gets on that shelf if is something that I am going to read more than once. And I assure you, I will be reading this again. Some books are page turners, that you only get a proper sense of the second or third time that you read them.

Theme wise, the phrase, "High Midnight" is an excellent choice, since the original western upon which the name is based, "High Noon" is a good mirroring point. Though the townsfolk of Unity, Texas are not quite as craven as those in Hadleyville, the pattern still remains the same. A lone sheriff, defending what is right and good against impossible and deadly odds, despite the fact that he has strong personal interests not to. There is a strong sense of Good and Evil, properly shadowed by postmodern shades of gray. Evil is evil, but it is not cartoon evil. Good is good, but it is a slovenly harrowed good. Well, OK that Cartoon evil is not entirely correct, but for the most part it is.

I speak, of course, of Mooseburger, who I feel is the true protagonist. Now most people would regard Sheriff Laredo as the true hero of the story, and while it is true that he is definitely a figure that would feel right at home in any western you care to name (sans Mexican wrestling mask perhaps), no literary critique would be complete without a complete mangling of the original intent of the author. This is why I feel that this is really Mooseburger's story. A large, misunderstood man-child, who possesses extraordinary strength and physical resilience, it is his choices that make the difference in the story. It is his decision not to pick up a gun that gives the mayor enough courage to take on the gang, stalling for enough time for the sheriff. It is Mooseburger who chooses the brawling tactics in the dramatic fight scene between the Sheriff and the gang of clowns that ultimately allows Good to triumph over evil. Mooseburger keeps his word, when other, unnamed characters do not.

For despite the surface of schlock in Saturday afternoon action movies upon which, by declaration of the author that the story is based (Zombies, Psychopathic Clowns, Western Crptids of a menacing variety, Anthropomorphic Simians etc) deeper and more interesting themes manage to creep in none the less. There is a consistency of imagery and setting that only someone who's soul has gone to dwell in the town a while or for days and weeks at a time can truly manifest. To me, from a literary perspective, the billboard of the laughing cowboy, rotting away in all its mocking glory is no different than that found in the Great Gatsby with its accusatory menacity. (Yes that's a word, I just made it up.) Magic, the appropriateness of oaths, love, what love is, the physicality therein, tragedy, loss, sacrifice, honor, betrayal, friendship, bravery and even humanity itself are covered within its pages.

But it is also popcorn munching fun.

Just read the damn thing. Better yet, buy it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

[Band] The Sexual Side Effects

There are three things that every band must have in my opinion to be successful: Music, Magic and Mojo. The music is either there or it isn't. They have to have at least one song, preferably more that stick in your head. For me, the litmus test for this is, "Do I want to pay money to own this song or not?" For I am a cheap bastard and do not own much a music collection. Magic is something that sets the band apart from other bands. There is something between the members of the band that makes them greater than the sum of their parts, and there is an interaction between the band and the audience that makes the live concert experience a living thing. Mojo is an image, that something that you can fit on a cereal box or in a 15 second sound bite on MTV or whatever randomly stupid entertainment reality TV show, but something about the band that is different and also memorable that makes them stand out.

The Sexual Side Effects have all three in spades.

I have only heard them once, and I want to own the CD. I don't do that that often. In the last year I've only bought three. And they had three of the songs that I really enjoyed. "Dancing to the Radio." And...I don't remember what the other two are. The truth is that I'm not exactly an expert on music, I just know what I like and I liked what I heard.

Magic was the only way to describe the interaction between the band members and also the band and the audience. Everyone enjoyed the music. There was electricity in the air and it worked. Its just something you have to be there to feel.

Mojo is...complicated, but I think the Sexual Side Effects have it. They each dress as a different icon of the 1970's or 1980's, which is also reflected in their music. There is something about their poster/image thingy that seems to work as well. And they are the 'it' band right now. I'm not exactly someone who has their thumb on the pulse of the Atlanta scene, but I know history and I know how to 'feel' society or a group very well, and you can see the band's trajectory going up, both in the gigs they're booking and their general attitude.

I think one reason the band has only recently begun to ascend, despite being around for about five years, is becaause Amber Taylor, the lead singer for the band has only recently completed a journey of her own, but it shows in everything she does. She practically drips sex appeal, and it echoes off the stage in waves. I am eagerly awaiting the purchase of the band's CD in December and seeing their next show on Oct 1.

Watch them. They're going places.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My review of Raiders of the Lost Ark

On ATL Retro. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Play: Body Awareness

This is a great play. Its a 93 minute comedy playing at the Seven Stages theater. It is about a couple that have a son with Asberger's (well, one of them does, his mother, the other is his step mother). The son is rather in denial of this fact. The mother is a high school teacher and the step mother is a psychologist at the extremely PC local university running Body Awareness Week. Frank, an artist who takes nude photos of women, shows up as the guest artist in their home and all hell breaks loose.

Without giving too many spoilers in the play I will say a) It is a comedy. b) It has some surprisingly insightful things to say about the human condition. c) It is an excellent opportunity to learn a lot about the dictionary and what not to say at McDonalds. The actors are all quite talented, and with just four characters, they are able to establish unusual and interesting chemistry between all four of them. Seeing the group dynamics is one of the more interesting elements of this play as it the slow descent into madness or apotheosis for three of the four characters involved.

It runs through the 28th.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Movie Review: The First 20 Minutes of Percy Jackson the Lightning Thief.

The Book is interesting and fun.

The movie is a joke.

The book spends the better part of the book building up who Percy's father is. It is no secret he's a demi god, but it spends a long time trying to make the reader guess.

The movie reveals it in the first 30 seconds.

The movie goes from scene to scene with adequate but mostly forgettable flare after that. Its not really good, but its not horrifically bad either; about on par with the average forgettable fantasy movie until they get to the scene with the minotaur right before they get to the camp.

First of all, this is a critical scene that defines Percy's character, and they do it in about 2 minutes 30 seconds....but even that is forgivable (if not a tragic loss.)

Then his mother dies.

He looks about as upset as if stepped in a pile of dogsh*t. He doesn't cry. Doesn't stoically swear revenge. He just goes, (essentially) 'bummer'. Then they proceed to show him the camp.

And that's when I stopped watching.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Voice Acting Class by September Day and Bob Carter

So, if you have the slightest interest in doing voice acting work, I can't recommend this class enough. They typically advertize by only advertizing on Craigslist, primarily because they really don't need the class to make a living but use it as a recruitment and filtering tool for their talent agency. And they both make an excellent point, about the fact that you really want to take a class from someone who has recent industry experience and someone who knows how to get more work.

In fact that is the first half of the class. The basic XYZ's of what you need to do to put together a home studio and how to put together a demo reel without coming across as a jackass. It is practical and it works.

The second half of the class involves how to network and basic studio etiquette. It also involves taking concrete steps and setting up a plan to put their counsel into concrete format. The last portion of the class involves an actual audition in the studio where you read for a commercial and then an anime character.

To be honest, the banter and chemistry between Bob and September was worth the price of admission alone. Their story is the kind of thing you can't make up, proof that reality is more interesting than fiction, and they make even the driest subject seem interesting. There is also a genuine honesty about them that makes them very fun to watch.

If you want to get into voice acting, contact them and take their class. You won't regret it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Play On Con 2011

This was a most excellent con. Play On con is a largely gaming based convention merged with party and other fan aspects. The entire thing takes place in a Birmingham Mariott this absolutely the right size for what it does. I don’t have precise attendance numbers but I’d estimate it between 300-400 people, which lets it have enough numbers to sustain the parties, the costuming and the gaming but still keeping an intimate feeling. By the time the con is done you’ve had a chance to get to know many of the people there though there are still strangers.

One thing I’ve come to realize from these cons is that the costuming aspect is very important. Its kind of the glue that brings a lot of fandom subcultures together, and more importantly the costume contest is often the single largest gathering of a con. Especially of the medium sized ones. The effort that goes into building them ranges from the sublime (such as the winner of the contest who made a Steam Punk bordello owner who was able to give functional body shots on stage to the MC with an extremely elaborate hand piece) to the simplistic (such as the Liono costume the guy put together in two to three hours the night before which still looked pretty damn good.) Many of the secondary prizes seemed invented on the fly, but they were also appropriate such as ‘fan favorite’ for Judge Dread or ‘most creative’ etc etc. Each of the costumes that won an award definitely deserved something. One VERY nice thing about a medium sized cons is that there are no huge lines anywhere.

There were six panel/room locations sites which tended to be going for all of the prime hours and only seemed to have a few vacant spots. One of the more interesting to me was the ‘how to’ element which showed everything from how to make your house haunted, how to dance (anticipating national dance off week) to how to design your own world. It also included a whedon track, media track, anime and gaming. The Cheese Grinder from dragon con was also there and ran a marathon session from Friday through to 1pm Sunday. I made three characters, which lasted from 2-3 hours to 5 seconds. The rooms can be lethal but fun. I spent most of my time doing the alternate activities rather than the games, primarily since the rpg aspect of things focused mainly on Pathfinder. If I end up going next year I’ll probably run some Shadowrun missions. It could use a bit more variety in that department.

The parties were very fun. There were three parties I wasn’t able to go to Sunday night. Attendance dropped off a bit on Sunday afternoon and Evening but they also had an election and party congress. I also greatly enjoyed the casino on Friday night where I won enough chips to be able to become a party judge. The con suite was very well run as was the video game room. Basically the whole thing worked very well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

BOOK Review: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

I enjoyed this book. It provides an excellent view into the future, or at least one possible future. It is the best look on the potential ramifications of nanotech that I’ve read since Diamond Age. I admit I was far more interested in the implications of the ubiquity of drone technology than the nanotechnology, because I think robotics are finally starting to come of age, and this book reflects a potential path well on that vein. It also explores a lot of social questions in interesting ways.

The other thing I liked about this book was that it was set in Turkey in the 2020’s. I learned a lot about Turkey and it is quite clear McDonald did his homework. In fact I’d be rather shocked if he didn’t spend a good deal of time in Turkey conducting research.

The immerse quality certainly makes it feel like you’re there.
I do think that the book is definitely hard science fiction to me. The characters are interesting and engaging but the novel might be a bit too in depth for the casual reader to truly enjoy. Having said that it does provide a payoff for those who stick past the first 25 pages.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review of Feed - by Mira Grant

Book Review – Feed by Mira Grant
This novel is awesome. First of all, let me say that I’m not really a fan of Zombies. I mean, they’re fun. But I don’t go out of my way to see them or read about them like I do, say…Alternate Timelines (which is odd because I find that I actually LIKE a lot of zombies stories but rarely enjoy Alternate World fiction…sometimes the fill is not the same as the genre. Just like my taste towards Steampunk. Love the genre….less than impressed with almost anything this side of the original material.) Which is doubly particularly odd since my third book is “Grenademan vs the Zombies” (though admittedly that was written on a dare).
Now that we’ve gotten my tastes out of the way, let me say that one of the things I like about this book is the title. That’s because zombies are largely peripheral to the plot, even though they are not. See, this book is about a group of young bloggers that follow the presidential campaign in a post zombie world. Getting one scene element brilliantly right is an accomplishment, getting two is a work of genius, but Grant manages to do it quite well. She shows us a viable world after a zombie apocalypse that incorporates changes in as many areas as there actually would be, while still maintaining the level of normality that actually happens despite titanic changes in our own (such as 9/11). She also does an excellent job of showing one possible thread in the future of journalism.

In the world of Feed, Bloggers gain respect and prominence because the traditional media are lying to them about the Zombies. People, especially the younger generations simply do not trust the traditional media after their betrayal. (And who could blame them?) Such a trend is already kind of happening in the real world, though it is more of a jaded apathy rather than a religious following of stalwart independent journalists. Still, if we had a transformative event of a magnitude of what is happening Egypt or Syria in the United States, I could easily see this happening. Even if it does not, it is still a remarkably realistic future.

The characters are excellent as is the plot. Some elements are fairly predictable, but others are not. And even the ‘predictable’ elements leave just enough of an X factor that you’re never entirely sure, just mostly sure. And all of the characters are also interesting. I also really like her mirror image of the United States post apocalypse, since it is clever and I think realistic in the way people are reacting. She is quite clever in addressing elements that most people might not think of, such as Animal Rights when some of them might be zombies, the desire for some people to hunt said animals in massive numbers, and the fact that there is actually a slightly positive element that resulted from the zombie apocalypse in that people no longer get common colds or cancer.

I highly recommend reading this book.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BOOK Review of Cyroburn - By Lois Bjold Mcaster

This story is about an Imperial Auditor coming from a neofuedal planet that suspects someone is attempting to mess something up in Imperial space. His cover is to attend a corporate sales camp, but when the local ‘freedom fighters’ attack things go horribly wrong. He is given the wrong drug and ends up meeting the son of the one hope this world might have. It turns out that the entire planet is filled with Hibernation Coffins filled with people waiting to be reborn. These people have given their votes to the corporations that care for them until the sleeping dead and their proxy’s rule the planet.
This book is an excellent mix of old school Asimovian science fiction with modern expectations of plot and character. The auditor is very likable but also has flaws, as is the young child that he accidentally runs into. The story is very engaging and makes you want to read more. I would definitely recommend reading this book.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Book Review: Blackout

Blackout is a book by Connie Wills who has won a large number of hugo and nebula awards for her fiction. Blackout is basically about three time travelers who get stuck in WWII whilst documenting various elements of the bombing of London. The reader is left wondering if they have broken the timeline or not, thus leaving the suspense open and real for the planned second half of the book “All Clear” (which came out in the latter half of last year.)

Willis’s work with the historical accuracy of the book is uncanny, and it is clear that she has done an extensive amount of research. In fact, the characters who are not time travelers often show more depth and humanity than those that are. I am rather curious to know how much they were based on real people or not. Still while the book starts out somewhat slow, over time it draws you in more and more as the stakes are raised for each of the three, and their revelations that they are dealing with real people with real problems who face real consequences, even if it was (for them) more than a hundred years ago.

Blackout is an excellent lesson on the fact that the Past Is not Frontierland or a Pirates of the Caribean ride. Our ancestors had real hopes, dreams and fears and seeing them as people rather than as icons can help us understand ourselves a bit better. I greatly enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the second half of the story.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

This book is a brilliant fantasy. It explores themes in the real world but does so with sufficient subtlety that they are not easily noticed until long after you have read the book. It starts off incredibly strong with the rejected heir to an all powerful empire that controls the world, thrown into the proverbial lion's den where she must sink or swim. The world has been shattered between a war of the gods where the victor shackled the losers and turned them into weapons for the governing regime.

The thing that I love about this book is that the author takes the story to its natural conclusions. All of the characters behave for logical reasons and are dynamic. There is no attempt to create a formulaic status quo. Actions have consequences and in the case of this book, titanic consequences. The protagonist is also very very likable and yet not a caricature at the same time.

N.K. Jemisin is writing a sequel in a world where the ending would make (to me) a sequel somewhat more difficult for a less daring author. But in her case I'm confident she can handle it. And I look forward to reading it as I recommend reading this book.