The Transporter: Refueled

Let's get this out of the way.  The Transporter: Refueled, is 2002's The Transporter, rebooted. It's not really a refueling of the franchise, and I can't help but think "booting" as that thing with the wheel lock that allows parking enforcement to impound a car in place while they wait for a tow-truck.
There came a point in the movie when I had the feeling that it had been going on too long, because I was getting kind of bored. I checked my watch. That was the 68-minute mark. This is a good litmus test for a movie that is failing to entertain me.
We have a kitchen-sink arsenal of "stylish action movie" tropes here: mysterious femmes fatales, murderous Eastern European mobsters, career prostitutes who look like supermodels, a grizzled ex-spy, the French Riviera, impossible vehicle physics, and an amoral hero who is very good at everything he does.
In this stylish action movie the filmmakers fuse an underdog heist with the high-concept of  2002's The Transporter. Our overpaid, overdressed, over-trained automobile courier gets drawn into a scheme that runs contrary to his contractual code, and of which he is merely a player, not a planner.
How well does it work? There were some really cool moments in the film, like the hydrant scene from the trailers which is what got me to plunk down money for tickets. Ultimately it was too linear and predictable for a heist, and there were not enough car scenes for the Transporter franchise. The villains were cardboard cutouts, our female leads were presented in a way that made them unfortunately interchangeable, and the extremely skilled actor who was told to fill Jason Statham's shoes seemed to be doing everything right with the part, while not actually seeming right FOR the part.
A three-word summation of the film's failures is "style over substance." The Transporter: Rebooted falls below my Threshold of Disappointment, entering my 2015 list ranked at #23, a position that suggests it was not as much fun as Minions, but was more enjoyable than the numerical F-twins, Fantastic Four and Furious Seven.
(Note: Several of this year's films have played directly into the super-spy genre: Spy, The Man from Uncle, Kingsman: the Secret Service, Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation, American Ultra, Hitman: Agent 47, and now The Transporter: Refueled. They're not interchangeable, but if I wanted to ruin the genre for someone, I'd make them watch all of those during a movie-marathon weekend.)
(cross-posted from

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

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

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.

Shiny New Pins!

We took delivery of some fun new pins for Gen Con last month, and Sandra has them up in the Schlock Mercenary store now.

The bolt is my personal favorite:

The next two are pretty nice, too.

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