Monday, December 30, 2013

[Movie] The Wolf of Wall Street

The first paragraph of this review will be spoiler free.   I like this movie, a lot, and highly recommend it for anyone who isn't forbidden from seeing R rated movies.  It shows, better than any movie I have ever seen, the true behavior and mentality of those who run our economy and who play tiddlywinks with the life savings of Timmy the Muggle.  There is nudity, drugs, swearing and some violence but it is in the context of those who so arrogantly call themselves "The Masters of The Universe."

If you are familiar with Jordan Belfort, there are no spoilers.  If you are not, you should be, and this movie will educate you.  But I will give you the crib notes version.  The most important line of the movie is when the tiny tiny little FBI man who thinks he is doing justice goes after the admittedly semi sociopathic Belfort, and Belfort tries to bribe him by saying he knows where the bodies are on wall street and talks about unregulated commoditized real estate...and he is ignored.  Belfort is not a hero.  He is barely an anti hero.  You see the good things he does, Capone-like, in changing the lives of the people he helps.  At first, nothing he does is illegal, just immoral.  He shows the ethos of con men from Nigera to Colorado Spring, who take "suckers" who want to get rich with no effort, and then views his efforts around government rules like IPO's as justified.

Is he wrong?  The government in this movie is set to let Belfort go if he goes through a few theatrical motions of stepping down from power at his firm.  As Belfort himself complains, his crime as prosecuted is not that he cheated Timmy the Muggle, but that he went after Draco Malfoy the trust fund brat...and got him.  Tiny FBI Guy isn't getting anywhere until Belfort lets go of the deal offered by the SEC and is told,"he's back in the ocean, Happy Fishing."

The real lesson, well hidden but still there so even Timmy the Muggle can understand it, is not that this is some morality tale like Greed or most other movies that portray Wall Street, but a slice of life documentary drama that just happens to focus on the most hilarious aspect of our culture.  Some folks went to jail, but Belfort does only 18 months in a minimum security facility and ends the movie performing sales seminars to rooms full of Muggles.  Muggles who all want to be like Befort. 

Belfort's entire crew were Muggles taught by a master.  The fancy guys who dress up in suits and play tiddlywinks with Timmy's 401K call Timmy's money dumb money.  Why dumb?  Because Timmy thinks Tiny FBI Guy is going to protect Timmy's money. But at the end of the movie Tiny FBI Guy is just riding the subway home with the rest of the muggles. Tiny FBI Guy never GETS near the real Masters of the Universe because he is leashed and muzzled.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

[Book] Night of Revelations by Fiona Skye

This novella is pretty neat.  Ever want to be there when the big moment went down historically?  I mean, do you think the Turks knew the significance of the cannon when they used it on Constantinople?  I'm pretty sure they did.  The English certainly knew that the Longbow was a game changer at Agincourt.  Hell, we've experienced a few world changing moments in my life time...9/11...the fall of the Berlin Wall...the Space Shuttle Colombia.

But I think the Berlin Wall falling was a big one.  The biggest.  It isn't because it was the one of these big events that stay with me the most emotionally, though I did feel glad it happened; but because it changed everything.  There are some things you can only go so far with in imagination...and growing up under the Bomb, even in the 80' was always there in the back of your mind.  I mean, God knows they're still around, but not like the cold war.  A crazy with a suitcase isn't the same as knowing two guys in bunkers on opposite sides of the world have their thumb on the button waiting to kill each other....and everyone else.

I view Urban Fantasy worlds the same way.  We love Urban Fantasy because it turns our own beliefs into a fictional reality.  All but the most banal of us at some time or another wonder if there really are unknowable things out there in the shadows; Vampires, Werewolves and Witches are just the easiest.  Now, personally, while I am open minded about the supernatural; I'm very very very confident there aren't these critters out there; not like we portray them anyway.

Its one reason I also like Kim Harrison's Hallows books that just throws the whole idea out the years in the past. Its a whole alternate timeline.  There is no wondering, "Well why didn't they catch that with a cell phone?"  Or "Why didn't that show up on the internet?"  At some point, stuff starts to get in the way, and the little logical questions your mind starts asking make things too much for the imagination to overcome with comfortable ease of passage.

The neat thing about Fiona Skye's story is that you get to be there, as it happens.  So, first let me say that she hits the 'action/mayhem' style of the spectrum and does so right from the start.  Her fight scenes are well choreographed and her writing style is clear, vivid and full of evocative imagery.  There are lots of authors that do that, but the thing I like about her protagonist is that she isn't the strongest or the smartest or the fastest...but she is there for her friends.  In fact, when it comes to fighting she mostly sucks, but still manages to do well.

The thing that sets this story apart from other Urban Fantasy that I've read though is that...I believe it.  "The Moment" that is.  You see I've been around enough places that fall apart, when all things go to hell in a hand basket.  Her protagonist, on deciding to reveal herself, only does a tiny bit of soul searching but in the end does a "What the hell, why not" moment.  The great conspiracy is really just a culture of privacy that surrounds vampires, so it isn't formally enforced by some great hidden council or anything...and honestly? I find that more believable.  People are chaotic, disorganized and the like.  An impromptu press conference, a mess that has finally gotten to big to clean up thanks to some idiots...and they finally say, "You know what?  Let's just spill."

And it works beautifully.  It captures the moment, more importantly, it captures the moment well enough that you actually want to go, " what?"

Sunday, August 4, 2013

[Toast] Kelly's Toast at our wedding

Text of the toast:  "For those of you familiar with the weird, wacky and often downright silly history that Julia and I share you might have been expecting a toast that was just that.

Julia can breathe a sigh of relief now however as I haven't brought a sock puppet with me, our "album" that we recorded back in our college dorm is at a safe distance back in North Carolina, and I promise to NOT serenade you with what would admittedly be a rousing rendition of "Smoke on the Water."

Julia and I have been friends for 13 years now.  (I find this particularly unbelievable as neither Julia nor I have aged a day since then!)

Though we were both technically adults when we first met it is definitely safe to say that we've done a lot of growing up together.  Through the lessons that we've learned together we've gone from roommates, to best friends, to sisters.

I am truly beyond fortunate to be able to call one in possession of such a beautiful heart and strong spirit, friend. I'm not telling Tom anything he doesn't already know.

I am excited to watch as you two now continue to grow together.  You both have a glow from the inside out and may that glow continue to grow as your life together goes forward.  You've both found hearts that are rare in their beauty and capacity to love.  It couldn't have happened to a better couple.

Congratulations! I love you, best friend.

Heartfelt.  Real.  Truthful.  I give it a 9.5 out of 10, with the only remission I would have added being a forced rendition of "Smoke on the Water" while forcing Julia to sing along.  I am moderately sure she disagrees with me. :D

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[Book] The Hydrogen Sonata by Ian Banks

This is the last of the Culture books by Ian Banks.  The Culture is a rarity in sci fi these days, a utopian future in which the good guys are not only powerful, but they kick ass as well.  The thumbnail version of what they are is anarchistic but also highly liberal, but governed by super ethical AI's infinitely more intelligent than humans.  Indeed, many criticize the Culture because they consider humans as little more than Pets.  If by 'pet's' you mean that biological and technological intelligences are both granted equal rights, and in a post scarcity society participation is governed by willingness but also ability, then I guess that makes biologicals 'pets'.

Except that in each of the Culture books, Banks manages to give the biological protagonist significant meaning.  It answers the question of what might happen when we truly do have AI's in the best of all possible worlds, but does so in a realistic format.  The AI's and the humans are believable, as are the villains.  Indeed, one of the things that sets Bank's works apart from...for example, militaristic technophile Sci Fi (which is a genre I still like) the bad guys are not parodies but extremely complex characters.  Granted, they're not usually "magneto" level anti-heroes but they have a certain depth to them.

I also greatly like the Ship Minds, the essentially rulers of the Culture, who spit in the eye of the Prime Directive and definitely meddle in the affairs of other species in a benevolent way, while doing so with both ethics and in a manner to allow them to evolve as meaningfully disparate.  These ships have names that are snarky jokes but their personalities also show compassion and intelligence far beyond that of all but a relatively small slice of humanity.  They're also really broadly speaking just 'cool' and Banks does what I might call a literary 'superman' by carving out a meaningful story despite a society that has technology more advanced than almost any sci fi setting I've read short of 'godlike' as in 'so advanced we don't even bother to explain it.'

The Hydrogen Sonata is about a culture that was nearly part of The Culture, but instead of joining the Culture is now choosing to exit the galactic scene by a dimensional retirement method known as 'Subliming.'  The Gzilt (the race in question) are unique in that their 'bible' is actually 100% compatible with science from their stone age through hyperspace bypasses.  However, a month before they are going to Sublime, the race that made their Book of Truth, is about to reveal that there are one or two things in it that were lies...and the leader of the Gzilt doesn't want this to get out. So they disintegrate the messenger.  The Culture decides that they want the truth protected at the least, and so the story involves a series of murders, chases and intrigues as the lost secrets are sought out across an interstellar stage.

I like these books and I liked this book in particular.  Bank's death is tragic on its own but doubly tragic in that there will be no more of these books, which are an excellent mirror of a future that 'might be' without resulting to an unrealistic 'polyanna' feeling that sometimes occurs in other tech heavy utopian futures.  Banks had an excellent writing style and his characters, both bio and techno are very interesting.

In short, I highly recommend reading this book.  The nice thing about the Culture books is that, like Terry Pratechet, one can read any of them independently without any particular order.  Get it as you can.

Friday, April 5, 2013

[Play] See Through at Push Push Theater

Push Push likes to explore the outer boundaries of art, and they have certainly done so with "See Through."  See Through starts with the conventional but rapidly explores experience in an interactive art exhibit that tells a story displaced in time.  A series of family dynamics is presented but you can explore as much or as little as you like.  They have done interdisciplinary media before but this incorporates all of it into the performance itself.  You start with music, and then go to visual and performance art and then end up with an interactive characterization.

It tells a story, but what makes it particularly fascinating is that it is an interactive story.  It isn't improve either; using a mix of pre scripted happenings with input from the audience.  What I find particularly interesting is that, while I do not know, I suspect that the results from the audience participation affect future performances.  There are numerous instances where they visual art asks questions and demands your particupation.

The performances are all quite interesting.  The lead, Jenny Rose, does a spectacular job staying in character and acting as a young child.  This can be deceptively hard to do, since children are far more aware of their world than we give them credit for.  This limited but deep scope helps us understand the serious consequences of lying and leaving to chance that which should be explained plainly.

Food and beverages are provided.  The door price is very reasonable and there are even a few puzzles (even if, to be honest, I never exactly found them.)  In short, I recommend seeing this while you can.  There are two performances left, one tonight and another tomorrow night.