Friday September 4, 2015

American Ultra

I saw American Ultra just one day after seeing Hitman: Agent 47, and the similarities between the two are misleading:
 
  • Super-agent(s) with amazing abilities
  • Physics-defying stunts
  • Protagonist who is unaware of their latent super-agent abilities
  • Mentor who helps them unlock those abilities
  • Everybody wants to kill the protagonist(s) because of who they are, rather than anything they've done
 
I say "misleading" because that list might make you think they're the same movie. They're not. American Ultra is far better. It didn't clear my Threshold of Awesome, but that's a different scale than the one I'm using when I say "better."
 
American Ultra says things—interesting and important things—about the human condition. It revels in gun play like any spy movie does, but it does so in ways that let us count the cost. Also,  it's funny. Not all the time, but at the right times.
 
The result is that this is not the sort of over-the-top spy movie that fans of spy movies sit down for, and that's where my other scale comes into play. This movie was better, and more fun, than Hitman: Agent 47, but came nowhere near being as much fun as Kingsmen: The Secret Service or Spy on my fun-o-meter.
 
Eisenberg and Stewart were perfect in their roles, and while I've seen Eisenberg shine before, this marks the first time I've felt that way about Kristen Stewart.
 
American Ultra enters my 2015 list at #16,  a spot from which it really was quite close to climbing the final steps across the Threshold of Awesome. Close, but not quite.
 
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Hitman: Agent 47

Hitman: Agent 47 does nothing to set itself apart from other action movies, and is kind of predictable from start to finish. Still, it didn't actually disappoint me, so it enters my list at #17, safely above the Threshold of Disappointment.
 
Rupert Friend's performance as the titular 47 is pretty good, but he wasn't given much to work with. Zachary Quinto was great, but under-utilized. Hannah Ware was awesome, and kept the movie fun and interesting. I enjoyed the way the story was told through her eyes, and I suspect that this same story with a less skillful actor in her place would have been unwatchably dull.
 
There are far too many things wrong with this film for me to catalog them. I had fun in spite of them. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.
 
UPDATED TO ADD: Armed with a pair of coupons, I saw this movie Monday morning, soda in one hand, and popcorn in the other, for $2.50. At that price it would have been difficult to disappoint me. Had I burnt $20 and a Friday night on it, this review might have had a completely different tone.
 
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Sasquan Report

I haven't attended a WorldCon without exhibiting since 2009 in Montreal. Sasquan, held in Spokane, Washington, would have been a fine show at which to exhibit, but I didn't really want to spend the whole weekend working. That's really haaaard.
 
So I only spent part of the weekend working. I wrote about 3600 Planet Mercenary words, and inked a week of comics. I recorded three episodes of Writing Excuses with Brandon and Dan, and I "networked" with dozens of peers in the genre fiction community.
 
That last bit doesn't really feel like work. All I was really doing was talking to people about stuff I would have talked about anyway, and introducing friends, new and old, to each other.
 
The greatest unpleasantness was the smoke from the disastrous forest fires in western and central Washington. I inhaled enough smoke on Friday that I got sick and had to lie down, and the newfound shallow-ness of my lungs stayed with me even after the air cleared a bit on Saturday and Sunday. Walking and talking at the same time usually left me short of breath, sometimes to the point that my head would hurt and my vision would begin to narrow.
 
And then there was the Hugo Award thing.
 
The Hugo Awards, whose concomitant controversy was something I was pleased to not be sitting on stage for, have been better discussed by other writers. I watched the awards from the lobby of the Davenport Grand with friends new and old, former Hugo winners among us. I was pleased with the results, but like every year it was bittersweet.
 
My heart goes out to those who did not win awards this year, especially those whose work missed being on the ballot because of the hijacked slate. Their work will stand independently of this, however, and needs neither my pity nor the validation of the short-list. As a former Hugo loser, I know that it stings, but I also know that you've got to keep making stuff regardless of what happens with awards. I kept making Schlock Mercenary for five years after it started not winning Hugo awards. It still hasn't won, and I'm still making it today.
 
Just as awards shouldn't validate your decision to create art, they shouldn't have any bearing on how you feel about the art you consume. Reading in particular is a deeply personal, intimate act. An award on a book is like a sticker on a banana: it might help you pick the banana, but if you eat the sticker you're doing it wrong.
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