Thursday, January 31, 2008
But I still don't like it. My reasons, let me show you them.
Myspace, for all its outward obnoxiousness, is actually the more harmless of the two. You know how in middle school, you had that one friend with the incredibly annoying kid brother or sister? The one who always wanted to play with you guys, and went crying to her mom when you kicked her out? Every so often she would come up with something cool, like when she found a lizard skeleton in the backyard and came to show you, but mostly she just wanted to play dress-up and horn in on your conversations about the boys in class you liked. It's not like she even knew any of them.
That kid? That kid is Myspace. Always trying desperately to win your approval, and shooting over the mark in an embarrassingly transparent attempt to be cool.
Facebook, now. Facebook is different. Where Myspace feels the need to constantly jump up and down on the couch while waving glittery shit around, Facebook is more laid back. That friend you had in middle school? Facebook is that friend's older brother, a high school senior or maybe a freshman at community college. He looks respectable enough, and he's super nice to you, but he's always kind of...there, and you can't help but feel a little weird about it.
Because here’s the thing: when you and your friend strip down to swimsuits so you can goof around in the hot tub, the older brother wants to come. Upon being rebuffed, he hangs out by the sliding glass door, watching you. Somehow, he knows all of your favorite movies and the kind of music you like, and on your sleepovers, when your friend eventually conks out in the living room, the older brother stays up watching "Welcome to the Dollhouse" with you. He keeps trying to get you to taste his beer. And he tells you that you're different from all the other girls he knows, that you're totally mature for your age. He thinks you're awesome.
So, to recap: Myspace is the annoying but harmless younger sibling of your middle-school best friend, and Facebook is her seemingly respectable, but secretly date-rapey older brother.
It's the whole "keeping tabs" thing that skeeves me out. I can guarantee that when GPS tags in clothing become standard issue, Facebook will be right there, announcing your exact latitude and longitude to your friends and, presumably, advertisers who would be interested in that sort of thing. It's not that I object to GPS tracking. To the contrary -- if I'm kidnapped or otherwise indisposed (horrific accidents involving locked brakes and bridges come to mind), I rather like the idea that my jeans could double as a homing device. But the thought of Facebook announcing my location 24/7 gives me pause.
I know, I know -- it hasn't come to that yet. But it will.
Because Facebook tracking is showing up in the weirdest places now! When I signed up with Epicurious about a week ago, a cheery little dialogue box popped up asking if I wanted to add the corresponding application to my Facebook page, which was a bit of a shock considering that I wasn't even aware I was signed into Facebook at the time. I hit NO. The fattening, deliciously unhealthy recipes I add to my recipe box are my goddamn business, not anyone else's, thank you. No, Facebook, I don’t want you to know what movie tickets I’m buying. NO, Facebook, I don’t want you to share my Amazon.com purchases with everyone. I don’t want to be a zombie, or a vampire, or figure out how hot I am compared to my friends. I DON’T WANT TO PLAY SCRABBLE, SO STOP FUCKING BOTHERING ME.
It’s possible I’m overreacting. After all, it’s not like Facebook ran over my dog. It just keeps touching my hair and telling me I’m pretty (“No thanks, Facebook -- I promised my friends I’d be driving, so...you can keep the drink”). Other people seem to like it just fine, so perhaps I’m just an antisocial freak of nature, forever doomed to wander the narrative wilds of Blogger and Livejournal.
Like Bigfoot, in a way.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I fail at typing.
I saw There Will Be Blood over the weekend with my folks, and I'm still trying to come up with something coherent and intelligent to say about it. You know. Something that doesn't devolve into awestruck, fangirly glee. Just. My god. The story, the cinematography, the acting, the music -- all incredible. Give me a week to collect my thoughts, and maybe then I'll be able to come up with something.
Although...it's been about a month since I've seen No Country For Old Men, and I still can't talk about it without going to the "incoherent and talking with my hands" place. Same thing goes for The Road, which I finished reading about a week and a half ago. Let's face it -- it's a hell of a lot easier to discuss/write about flawed work than stuff that's so goddamn good that it leaves you utterly dumbfounded. I don't know why, but it probably has a good deal to do with the whole "dumbfounded" issue. Plus, I suspect that the sublime operates on kind of a gestalt principle, where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts...which means it's harder to pick out exactly what makes it good, because everything has to work together just right to make it so. When a few things don't quite measure up, it's easier to examine critically.
Anyway. I'd give my right kidney to be able to write something as incredible as any of those three mentioned above (you can tell I'm serious, because my right kidney is my favorite). Unfortunately, no one has come forward with such a Faustian bargain, and I'm stuck going along as I always do. I crank out the words as best I can and -- like that little kid in The Incredibles who hangs around waiting for Mr. Incredible to bench-press his car or something -- I hope that something amazing will happen.
And when they don't? That's what Kingdom of Loathing is for. You people can keep your fancy MMORPGs -- I like me some clever puns and strange little stick figures, thank you.
It's this piling-up of skills and coincidences that I find frustrating, because it all feels too damn convenient. And it bugs the shit out of me that the leaders all immediately -- and correctly -- assume the worst about what's gone down, and their groups go along with their plans with virtually no disagreement. It's the sort of thing that makes me want to throw the book at the wall. A group under pressure is a stewing, bubbling vat of conflict, and looking at how and why people disagree with each other is a beautiful way to develop character. But Stirling just blows right past it. Everyone is ridiculously cooperative, and I'm having trouble keeping track of people because they've all blurred into a single crowd of "yes" men.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Netflix has this "watch online" feature that comes in handy every once in a while. I've never heard of the vast majority of the movies listed, but it's kind of a nifty little device for those lazy Sunday mornings when you want a movie to go along with your coffee and you're not too picky about what you end up with. The Darwin Awards popped up on the front page, I read the description, thought, "Eh, why not?" and went for it. And you know what? It's the perfect sort of movie to watch online -- it's the sort of film where it's not really worth wasting a rental, but it is worth knocking an hour and a half off your instant watch time. Or worth watching on tv, I guess, but the censors would have their work cut out for them when it comes to all the f-bombs.
Basically, it's the story of an incredibly uptight ex-forensic psychologist (Joseph Fiennes) who decides to try working insurance and gets paired with a cynical, world-weary claims investigator (Winona Ryder) as they look into "Darwin Award" claims. There are two major subplots -- a documentarian following Fiennes around for his senior thesis, and a "serial killer that got away" plot that threads through the whole movie -- but mostly it's the story of the Fiennes/Ryder odd couple, and the people they're investigating. Overall, it's a cute movie. There's nothing ground-breaking about it, and I had fun playing "spot the cameo" (there are a LOT!), but ultimately I think it's the forced quirkiness that does it in. It's trying way too hard.
I'm usually good at suspending disbelief. It's probably one of the reasons I love action movies so much -- yes, the chances of a well-timed bullet blowing up an entire car are slim to none, but dammit, it looks cool! And so I cheerfully and willingly suspend all my disbelief so I can settle in and enjoy the hell out of whatever I'm watching, because when you get right down to it, a movie is a movie and sometimes it's more about having a good time than being realistic.
But even I have my limits, and every once in a while something comes up that makes me go, "Oh, come on." For instance...a forensic psychologist who faints at the sight of blood? COME ON. I can buy that the guy would be a consultant, but no way in hell would any sane police force give a man who faints at the sight of blood a fucking gun. If he shoots someone, he'd faint! What the fuck?! Throw in some borderline OCD and a complete inability to relate to people, and you've got yourself a character who's quirky as hell...and totally unbelievable. I know there are people like that in real life, but as with so many things, what works in real life doesn't always work in fiction. It's too much.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing abounds in The Darwin Awards. Unless you really know what you're doing, zaniness works well only in small doses. I feel like the filmmakers here were shooting for Coen-style wackiness, but instead of allowing it to happen organically, it was like they made a list of all the quirky things they could think of and then checked them off as they went, which...doesn't work. At all. The Coens excel at this sort of thing because they respect their characters and play the whole thing totally straight -- as weird as their movies sometimes get, there are realistic consequences for a lot of the action, and for all their quirks and conceits, their characters still feel like real people with realistic, reasonable motives. Once you lose sight of that, though, once you just start piling on the wackiness in the hopes that it will work...fuck it. You've lost the movie.
And the documentary issue...hoo boy. It's always risky introducing a documentarian into the works, because as awesome as it is when it works, it's really fucking obvious when it doesn't. Having the documentarian along pays off eventually, but it takes far too long to get there, and I found it incredibly distracting every time the movie broke from the documentary conceit to show things the camera never would've been able to catch. If the split was half and half, it would've been easier to swallow, but when the vast majority of the movie is being "filmed" by the everpresent guy with the camera, it's really noticeable when the film throws you out of that.
Even with all of its problems, though, there was still something weirdly charming about the whole thing. I'm sure this was partly because Joseph Fiennes looked like a depressed puppy for most of it, and the segments about the people who "Darwined" themselves were fairly entertaining. In fact, there was one about a man who tried to turn his Chevy into a rocket car that was astonishingly poignant, the sad portrait of a man who wanted to do something incredible for once in his life. In all honesty, I would've rather watched an entire movie about him. Perhaps directed by the Coen brothers. They would've done it right.
I'm not crazy about every aspect of living alone, of course. Killing my own spiders is a bit of a drag -- I'm terrified of them and know that someday, one of them is going to survive, and its hatred and burning desire for revenge is going to consume its soul, making it bigger, stronger, meaner, nastier, and one day I'm going to step outside and an angry spider the size of a Great Dane will be waiting there...and I'll never be seen or heard from again.
Um. I also dislike washing my own dishes, but that's just because I used to have a dishwasher and miss it sorely. The spider thing worries me far more.
Your Score: Modern, Cool Nerd
91 % Nerd, 65% Geek, 47% Dork
For The Record:
A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored better than half in Nerd and Geek, earning you the title of: Modern, Cool Nerd.
Nerds didn't use to be cool, but in the 90's that all changed. It used to be that, if you were a computer expert, you had to wear plaid or a pocket protector or suspenders or something that announced to the world that you couldn't quite fit in. Not anymore. Now, the intelligent and geeky have eked out for themselves a modicum of respect at the very least, and "geek is chic." The Modern, Cool Nerd is intelligent, knowledgable and always the person to call in a crisis (needing computer advice/an arcane bit of trivia knowledge). They are the one you want as your lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (or the one up there, winning the million bucks)!
THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST
Thursday, January 24, 2008
License to Wed - directed by Ken Kwapis (who we must never allow near a camera again)
Ohhhh, what to say about this movie. *sigh* I'd like to point out that I didn't chose to watch it -- I was over at someone's house and they wanted to watch it, and who am I to argue? Suffice to say, the movie was utterly abysmal. I don't think I could've enjoyed it more if I had a serious head injury.
It was just...fuck, it was insipid. Everyone involved seemed to be just going through the motions, like "hooray, we're getting a paycheck for this shit, why even bother?", and I'm so fucking SICK of movies that repeat the same tired gender roles over and over again. Shrewish girl who just needs to relax a bit? Check. Adorably scruffy man-child who just needs to grow up a bit? Check. Hen-pecked husband who lives vicariously through his bachelor friend? Check. Bitter, angry woman whose husband cheated on her and now she hates marriage and men? CHECK. For crying out loud, we're eight years into the 21st-century. I think we can afford to mix it up a little.
I'm not even going to go into how fucking stupid the entire premise of the movie is. It's laughably ridiculous. Only without the "laughably," because I think I chuckled half-heartedly maybe once during the whole dumb thing. I tend to like Robin Williams in certain, very specific roles (One Hour Photo comes to mind) but when he plays in movies like this, he's ANNOYING AS FUCK. Ugh. I wanted to kick him in the head. Hard.
And John Krasinski...oh, John Krasinski. I love the guy, but either he's only good at playing one role, or he just wasn't trying. The movie might as well have been subtitled If Jim Halpert Was Engaged to a Shrew and Wacky Shit Happened Before They Could Tie the Knot. Seriously, even his facial expressions were the same. It was like watching Jim in some horrible alternate universe where Robin Williams made him carry creepy robot babies around. It was awful. The whole movie was just...awful. I could feel my brain cells shriveling up and dying the longer it went on.
And you know what? FUCK THOSE FUCKING ROBOT BABIES. GOD DAMMIT. Animatronic things are creepy enough, but the younger they are, the creepier and more wrong they become. Robot babies? God, they're like the spawn of Satan. They haunt my nightmares, with their wide, creepy mouths and their cold, dead eyes. When the robot apocalypse arrives, these little fuckers are going to be leading the charge. I wouldn't lie about something so horrible.
Bottom line? Unless you really have no use for your brain cells anymore, don't bother with this one. SRSLY.
I think I expected too much from this movie. I'd been wanting to see it for ages, since I remembered all the Oscar buzz about it and I loved 21 Grams, but...I don't know. I think I was hoping for something that would affect me the way 21 Grams did -- I was WRECKED after that movie -- but after the credits rolled I just sort of sat there and went, "Huh," and that was about it.
It was good, don't get me wrong. It was really, really good. The acting was wonderful, and a lot of the cinematography was breathtaking, just absolutely beautiful, but the emotional connection that I was looking for was absent, and I'm not sure why. I felt for all of the characters, and a few of the sequences were quite hard-hitting, but ultimately I think the structure that worked so well in 21 Grams actually failed this particular film, especially with the sequences in Japan. To make that sort of "connected through time and geography" setup work, you need to have strong, clear ties between the separate stories. And while the connection between the Japanese story and the one in Morocco was eventually explained (and fairly interesting, actually), I think we found out about it too late, which took away from the emotional impact of it.
What I usually like about movies like this is the sense of fate involved. One seemingly random choice made by one person sets off a whole chain of events that affects characters in ways they never would've imagined. There's a sense of inevitability involved -- even though no one could've predicted that one event, the way everything eventually turns out feels as though it could've gone no other way. The characters are caught up in a story that's completely out of their control, and whether it's a matter of fate or cruel cosmic chance, watching the characters struggle with their place in the inevitable river of time and circumstance is the stuff tragedy is made of.
There are a few moments like that in Babel. When Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are on the bus, and the viewer knows what's coming...it's excruciating. The scene with Amelia and the children out in the California desert had a similar feel. But there were also a lot of moments where the characters just seemed sort of lost, not in a grand, cosmic way, but more in a "the writer didn't exactly know what to do with this plotline" kind of way, and I think that's ultimately where I was disappointed. I wanted a sense of meaning -- even if that meaning was nothing more than "shit happens and we deal" -- but that meaning was nowhere to be found. It was a good movie, perhaps even a great one, but in the end I think it could've been a lot more amazing than what it was.
Here's what you need to know about The Five Fists of Science: it doesn't take itself seriously. At all. If you go in knowing that, then you'll be okay. I can't even count how many reviews I've read since I finished the book that said, "Well, it was okay...but Alan Moore does it better."
Dude. Of course Alan Moore does it better. But these guys aren't trying to be Alan Moore.
The book, basically, is a graphic novel about Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, Baroness Bertha von Suttner, and a totally fictional assistant named Timothy Boone teaming up against the forces of evil...in this case, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie, with a rather hapless Guglielmo Marconi along for the ride. The forces of evil are building Innsmouth Tower in New York, but they're running into some problems where mysteriously dying workers are concerned.
Think about that a second. Innsmouth Tower? That should be a clue right there that the story is going to veer off into totally giddy insanity.
And it does! There are giant robots! And Tesla's (entirely true!) obsessive-compulsive issues. And Mark Twain yelling, "SCIENCE!" at people a lot. It's awesome.
The story is about real historical figures, and does have some grounding in fact -- Twain and Tesla were apparently very close friends, Tesla did write about some war machine he'd thought of that could potentially bring about peace because no one would be stupid enough to really use it, Mark Twain had gone on record saying that the only real way to achieve world peace would be to equip the four major powers with enough weaponry that they could bully everyone else into being good, Marconi and Edison both were known for stealing other people's ideas (it wasn't until the 1940's that the Supreme Court finally acknowledged that Tesla was technically the person who should've held the patent for the radio), and Edison and Tesla had been at each other's throats for years. Fraction uses those historical facts as a jumping-off point for a story that's completely goofy, over-the-top, and fun, and I think quite a few reviewers were expecing something more along the lines of From Hell, where random (or not so random) historical facts are woven together into something that comments both on society then and now.
But there's no shame in not going that route, which is why I enjoyed the book so much. Sanders' artwork is perfect for the story -- all of the characters are easily recognizable as themselves, and the coloring is vivid and rich and beautiful. There's fun background business in quite a few of the panels, and the timing is glorious -- Sanders and Fraction complement each other, I think, and the neither the writing nor the artwork dominates. Some of the sight gags are utterly hilarious, and there are some moments where it's the juxtaposition of the text with the art that really hits the joke home.
Because that's the thing about this book. You're not supposed to take it seriously, and it's definitely not meant to be an explanation for things that actually happened. In some ways, it feels like a wonderfully written AU-fanfic. For the most part, we're already familiar with the characters involved, and so Fraction doesn't feel like he has to explain every little bit of context for us. Some people don't like that; I didn't mind it. I picked this up because I wanted to see Twain and Tesla fighting crime (WITH SCIENCE!), not because I wanted a serious expose on the nature of scientific discovery and invention at the end of the nineteenth century.
And boy howdy, does it deliver. It makes me sad that there's no sequel, because I'd buy it in a heartbeat.
The stuff in italics are the things I've seen/read for the first time.
The 2008 Book List:
- Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
- The Five Fists of Science, by Matt Fraction (art by Steven Sanders)
- Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, by Gregory S. Paul
- Tesla: Man Out of Time, by Margaret Cheney
- The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
- Sourcery, by Terry Pratchett
- Perfect Circle, by Sean Stewart
- From a Buick 8, by Stephen King
- 20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill
- Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett
- The Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury
- Gun, With Occasional Music, by Jonathan Lethem
- Skin Hunger, by Kathleen Duey
- Jennifer Government, by Max Barry
- Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem
- Society of the Mind, by Eric L. Harry
- The Areas of My Expertise, by John Hodgman
- How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker
- The Town That Forgot How To Breathe, by Kenneth J. Harvey
- A Companion to Wolves, by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
- Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre
Temporarily Abandoned (due to suck):
- Dies the Fire, by SM Stirling
The 2008 Movie List:
- The Big White
- Maxed Out
- The Call of Cthulhu
- License to Wed
- Quiz Show
- Raising Arizona
- South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
- The Rescuers Down Under
- Little Miss Sunshine
- Half Nelson
- Rescue Dawn
- Scotland, PA
- Sin City
- The Darwin Awards
- Sense and Sensibility
- There Will Be Blood
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Pride & Prejudice (BBC version)
- In Bruges
- Jar City
- Day Watch
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Now I have the best of both worlds! Why oh why didn't I do this sooner?
(What's sad is that I'll probably just end up using this as a place to geek out about things in essay form. Geeky essays soothe my sick, twisted little soul.)