Friday March 15, 2013
The new Steve Carell/Jim Carrey joint, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, is a by-the-numbers, riches-to-rags-to-riches comedy with a rom-com sub-plot. If I've just demystified it by explaining the formula behind the trick, well, good magicians aren't supposed to do that.
Good magicians aren't supposed to do a lot of things, and the reason why The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has such a formulaic plot is that we need something semi-stable to frame gag after gag about magicians doing things they really shouldn't.
Is it funny? Well, yes. It earns the PG-13 rating to the point that my teenagers won't be comfortable with it (read: "will walk out of the room if I rent it") but the gags are pretty good. I'm not a Steve Carell fan, but I like Steve Buscemi, and love watching Olivia Wilde. Oh, and Alan Arkin is wonderful. In fact, if the movie has flaws... you know, let me re-start that sentence. The movie has flaws, lots of them, but if they were to remake it as something I'd truly love, it would be a daughter-father story featuring Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin, with Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey in the sidelines to add color, and maybe some noises.
In short, those three guys in the poster above? Sideshow.
Sadly, my least favorite part of the movie was the magic. There wasn't enough of it, and it was rarely presented in a way that evoked a sense of wonder. Perhaps that was the point? I don't know.
Did I have fun? Yes. And the audience around me was laughing a lot, which is either a good sign or a sign of the times. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone comes in at number 5 for me so far this year.
Thursday March 14, 2013
Jack the Giant Slayer got off to an exceedingly rough start during the obligatory (more on that in a moment) mythological infodump in the beginning. There's this boy, and his father is telling him the story of the giants who live in the clouds, and the beanstalks that let them come down, and the war and stuff, and this scene with the boy and his father is mirrored by a scene with a girl and her mother, same story, and these two bedtime stories are the same story, spliced together so we know that the boy and the girl are being told the same legend.
Which, as it turns out, isn't really all that important, but it connects these two people for us, the pauper and the princess, and that part IS important, but let me get back to the rough start.
See, story-time cuts not just back-and-forth between these two tale-tellings, but to an animation of the legend itself. We see the giants, the beanstalks, and the war, and it's not animated like a child's storybook might be animated. No, it's animated like one of those 2003 Barbie Princess movies were. As if, and I don't understand why they want me to think this, as if these medieval children dream in low polygon count CG.
So, yeah. Rough start.
And it's unnecessary! (We've reached the "more on that in a moment" moment.) These days the fantasy genre has enough wood behind its magic arrow to drive home the point that we are going to be asked to accept magic and physics and whatnot that don't fit in the world we're familiar with. We don't need to be told the whole back-story at the very beginning. This is called "infodumping" and it's bad enough in a book where pages are cheap. Putting it in a movie hobbles the filmmakers by denying them the ability to put other, better things in the movie.
But I'm ranting, and I haven't gotten past the first five minutes of film.
Once we got through that bit? Hey, this movie wasn't too bad. The action was fun, some of the dialog was pretty snappy (especially in scenes with Stanley Tucci) and the central conceit was actually kind of captivating. I got knocked out of the story just a little when I realized that this was all supposed to be taking place in an actual kingdom on our Earth, but by then I was having enough fun that I could just give that bit of ridiculousness a wide miss. I mean, if I'm going to believe in giants living in the clouds, I can't go straining at the abundance of polished metal in a medieval setting.
Jack was played by Nicholas Hoult, who played "R" in Warm Bodies. I hate to say this, but I liked him more as a dead guy. And I hate saying it because reads like a low-hanging-fruit flavor of weak joke, and I can do better than that, but seriously, Nicholas Hoult was far more entertaining, and far more believable as a zombie. That doesn't mean Jack was played badly, but R was so much more fun.
Okay, if it sounds like I'm being harsh on the film, let me come right out and admit that I had a great time at the show. I was never bored, and those Barbie Princess animations were only used in the beginning so I had almost forgotten that slap in the face by the end. The rest of the movie was spot on. Jack the Giant Slayer comes in at number 4 for me this year.
Tuesday March 12, 2013
I am new to the challenge coin tradition, and like most newbies to a discipline, I've taken to researching it in order to avoid stepping on toes.
I have never been issued a coin, I've never been present at a challenge, and I've only personally seen two such coins prior to launching this project, but now I'm approaching the level of "armchair expert." I know the history of the things, including some key points in which the practices have changed, and I've learned that saying "the challenge coin tradition" these days is wildly inaccurate -- there appear to be far more "traditions" here than there are branches of service.
This is fine. Your unit, your command, your secret society of coin-bearing mint-masons has its own set of traditions for everything else, why should challenge coins be any different?
More importantly, would you like to tell me about it? Would you like to tell everybody about it?
As part of the Schlock Mercenary Challenge Coin Kickstarter, Sandra and I have agreed to compile, edit, assemble, illustrate (my job!) and electronically publish a collection of anecdotes explaining the various challenge coin traditions. To do this, we need your story. Larry Correia has agreed to provide one (he used to carry a "cake-eating civilian" coin) and Myke Cole has already submitted a powerful piece explaining what the tradition has meant to him. We already have a number of other submissions in the mailbox.
If you carry a challenge coin, it has a story. If you've ever slapped coins on a bar, there's a story. If the "one step and arm's reach" rule has ever been applied to you (or by you) there's almost certainly a story. By telling these stories, and by framing them within the context of the history of challenge coins, we seek to elevate the tradition, and to bring an increased measure of respect to the collection of coins that people carry and display.
Here are the submission guidelines:
Word count: 100 to 2,000 words.
No special text formatting -- fonts, colored text, etc will be stripped out.
This must be YOUR story. No "friend-of-a-friend" apocrypha.
Tell a story! Explaining the tradition as it was taught to you is okay, but have a story to tell that drives the point home. Even better? Have a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Your name goes on it. If somebody is referencing these traditions, they should know who to point at.
If, for operational security purposes, details need to be omitted, please omit those details prior to submission.
If, for the purposes of not getting your ticket punched by your friends, names need to be changed to protect others, change the names (but not YOUR name.)
We are accepting submissions right now. We'll probably stop in June.
All submissions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "STRETCH 9 SUBMISSION"
And here's what we agree to on our end:
The final document will be available for free, under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-ND-3.0*) in a variety of formats including PDF, ePub, and MOBI.
Nobody (not even us) is getting paid for this.
Submission is not a guarantee of publication. If you're rejected, we'll explain why.
Accepted pieces will get careful editing, and we'll involve you in this process.
If you have a byline, blog, or other "you" link, we will post it with your published piece if you want.
We are not taking print rights, or really any rights beyond the right to electronically publish. Your piece will remain your property.
Howard will add spot illustrations and/or comics where appropriate.
We will make this look good. Our names, your names, and some pretty big names are going into this piece. We want everybody to be proud to have been a part of it, and excited to share it.
Publication will be late 2013. This is going to be a lot of work.
Now, it wouldn't be right if the only contributors to this document were people who read my blog. If you know people who have stories to tell, please pass the call for papers along to them. Yes, it's possible we'll end up with hundreds of submissions, but the final project will be better for that breadth.
(*Note: We've selected the non-modification Creative Commons license in order to protect our contributors from having their stories altered outside of the agreed-upon editorial process. It may seem restrictive at first, especially for a project that seeks to contribute to culture in an important way, but the project will be stronger if the tales don't grow in the telling.)
Sunday March 10, 2013
As prequels go, Oz the Great and Powerful was better than all three Star Wars prequels put together, but you don't need a flying monkey to clear that particular bar.
This film committed two unpardonable sins: first, it was boring. Second, it hurt my eyes.
Let's start with number two. I saw this in 35mm, plain-old 2D, and I could tell that many of the scenes were shot to take advantage of 3D. Unfortunately, some of those scenes seemed out-of-focus, and I got a headache trying to lock in on the scene. This happened fairly early in the film, as our protagonist is staring about in wonder, so I couldn't help but ask myself whether he was being injured by the glorious brilliance and beauty of the land of Oz,and Sam Raimi wanted us to feel that too.
On to the boredom: The story is a pretty good one, but every scene seemed to go on too long, or too slowly. I loved the rich visuals, but this did not need to be a 130 minute movie. Ninety would have sufficed, and a hundred would have allowed a bit of luxuriating in the scenery.
Finally, while I'm sure James Franco has delivered the goods in films of his I haven't seen, to me he always looks like he's acting. I don't believe him. When he acts, I see "acting," not the character I'm supposed to see. In Oz the Great and Powerful he plays a carnival magician and con man, which means Sam Raimi told him "act like you're acting." So of course he acted like he was acting like he was acting, and I was unconvinced the whole way through.
Kids might like this film a lot. It's colorful, adventurous, and has just the right amount of scary in it. But I'm certainly not going to spend money going back and taking mine. They can wait for Redbox. Boredom is high crime in my rating system. Oz the Great and Powerful is at the bottom of my list so far for this year.
Friday March 8, 2013
Back in January I promised I'd give you a list of things I think are worthy of your consideration for the 2013 Hugo Awards ballot.
I'm going to break that promise.
I'm sorry! I got very busy. But you should know that the nomination period for the 2013 Hugo Awards is about to close. If you're a member of the 2012, 2013, or 2014 World Science Fiction Convention, you have until Sunday night to nominate things for the 2013 ballot. Details are here.
As I said in the beginning of January, the Hugo Awards are a reflection of what we, as science fiction fans, value in our entertainment. If something touched you this year, if you value it, then it's worthy of nomination. You're part of this community, and your voice should be heard. You don't need me to tell you what was awesome, because the awesome thing is that thing you remember, that thing that stuck with you, and which you recommended to others. And if you're thinking "Howard's just saying that to justify not making recommendations," then you've seen right through me, and are obviously brilliant enough to come up with your own nominations. And right now you're probably seeing through THAT ploy, too, but hey, there it is.
(Okay, fine. If you need suggestions, this thread on Scalzi's Whatever is full of 'em.)
In the joyous event that you're considering nominating any of my work, here is a list of everything I've been involved in which is eligible for nomination, and the categories under which they're eligible:
Writing Excuses Season Seven (note: to my knowledge, Writing Excuses doesn't actually qualify as a fancast for the "Best Fancast" category. If it doesn't fit anywhere else, it's a "related work.")
Regular Writing Excuses guest, New York Times bestselling author Larry Correia was kind enough to plug my work over on Monster Hunter Nation, and he also provided a list of titles from oft-overlooked Baen books. In the spirit of pointing you at something awesome (totally NOT in token reciprocation) you should know that his rousing adventure Monster Hunter Legion is eligible for Best Novel this year. As Larry has pointed out, that novel appearing on the ballot would result in heads exploding. If you've read it and enjoyed it, you can blow things up!
Regardless of whether anything of mine is nominated, and whether or not heads explode, I'll be at the awards ceremony doing my part to prop up my friends and fellow-speculators.