Saturday January 4, 2014
For all the promises of a paperless office that we've been hearing (and making!) for the last 20 years, paper calendars remain handy. So do lots of other paper things, like collections of comics, but here in January more people are likely to find themselves suddenly in need of a calendar.
We've got your back, folks. The calendars, they are still in stock. Order between now and Monday morning, and Sandra will ship them on Monday.
(Monday is January 6th. Oh, and today is Saturday, January 4th. These are things you might not know without the help of a calendar.)
On Thursday (which was January 2nd) I calculated the number of weeks required to do all of the things I need to do this year, including family vacations, convention travel, and a dozen or so projects. I came up with "57," which is a nice number for a sauce but not a realistic number for work-weeks spent during a calendar (do you have one yet?) year.
So I tweaked the project list a bit, got aggressive with some of the estimates, and dropped a couple of projects. The new number is 49.5. This would be perfectly acceptable but for the fact that roughly 75% of the projects need to be completed before July. Somehow I must stuff 37 work weeks into my calendar between now and late June. This is something the 2014 Schlock Mercenary Calendar cannot help much with. It can, however, help me document my failure. I'll be able to point to the exact day upon which I said "yes, this is impossible."
It might be Monday, January 6th.
Tuesday December 31, 2013
New Year's resolutions are a great tradition. That spirit of change, that desire to improve, it's a wonderful thing. Sure, most of us fall short of the lofty goals we set for ourselves, and manage to fail in our resolve, but that's no excuse to stop yearning to be better.
So, what do you want to change? What do you want to accomplish? What goals do you have for 2014?
Here are a few of mine:
Eat right, and excercise often. I did this in early 2013, and then got distracted, and then got very sick. Time to get back on that wagon. I know how it's done.
Write a novel. Oh, hey... I have a contract for something exactly like this.
Write a total of 150,000 words of fiction.
Rack up another year of uninterrupted daily Schlock Mercenary
Okay, that last one isn't a change, necessarily, but it's something I always have to resolve to do. Otherwise it doesn't get done. And maybe that's the key to all of these: don't make a resolution just once. Make it every day. And January 1st is a nice first day for this sort of habit.
Thursday December 26, 2013
47 Ronin was not what I expected. I sat down and braced myself for a completely plotless swords-and-sorcery romp with a bit of Asian flair. What I got was a retelling of the story of the Forty-seven Ronin.
I'm happy with that.
I'm also happy with the fact that Keanu Reeves is not our protagonist. That role is taken on by Hiroyuki Sanada, who totally delivers the goods.
This movie poster is weird. Not pictured:
The love interest
The faces of any of the 47 ronin
The antagonist's witch
The magical half-breed, who functions kind of like Merlin in a story about Arthur
The antagonist's metal-masked champion who doesn't actually do very much besides be taller than everyone else
A burning town made out of ships, but which we don't see burn in the film
A tattooed guy, from the town made out of ships, and who functions an a scary doorman
A silhouette which is probably Ôishi, our protagonist, but I'm not counting that as picturing him because honestly, you wouldn't know this until after you saw the film.
So the poster is misleading and the trailers are misleading but for me the film didn't suffer at all for that. The poster and the trailers put me in the seat, and then contrary to my expectations I was told a story that was far truer to Japanese culture than American audiences have any reason to expect right now.
It's a powerful story. It didn't need Keanu Reeves or the pirate town, or even the magical stuff to work, but it probably needed those things in order to get greenlit, so I'll take it. 47 Ronin comes in at #13 for me this year, crossing the Threshold of Awesome for good use of effects, not white-washing anything, and not flinching at the end.
Tuesday December 24, 2013
Merry Christmas, everyone!
One of my favorite recent Christmas songs (for "21st century" values of "recent") is Jonathon Coulton's "Chiron Beta Prime." It's a Christmas letter from a family imprisoned by robots, a cheerful message with dark undertones (or perhaps a dark message with cheerful undertones,) and there's one particular line of lyrics that resonates with me, but only when taken out of the original context.
"Not everybody's good, but everyone tries."
That's a great Christmas message right there. This is that time of year when, in a spirit of generosity and kindness, many of us excel for a few days at being the sort of people we'd like to be year-round. No, we're not all good people, at least not all the time, but we're trying.
Granted, in the context of the song, everyone's trying to be good because the giant metal Santa Claus robots carry weapons, and they know if you've been naughty. For me that changes the message to a question regarding the value of good behavior in the absence of agency. The song doesn't explore that in any detail, but that's fine. It's a better song for subtly pointing at the issue and letting us answer the question ourselves.
Merry Christmas! Give the gift of trying to be good, because there might be robots watching. Watching, waiting, and learning.
Monday December 23, 2013
I saw the latest Hobbit installment on opening weekend, so this review is a bit late. That's okay. If it's a movie you planned to see, my review wasn't going to keep you home, and if it's a film you're just not interested in seeing, my review won't put you into a theater seat. Y'all don't need my help with this decision.
I loved it. Every minute. I loved the stuff that isn't in the book, I loved the stuff that is. I love the additions and the changes. I applaud the addition of an actual antagonist and I think the addition of a love triangle is brilliant, and risky, and I trust the Wingnut Films team to stick the landing on that.
There were some parts that stuck in my craw, but only a little. The Sauron reveal reminded me of a Jefferson Airplane music video (now that I've said that there are a few of you who will not be able to un-see it, I am so sorry) and the dwarves' finger prosthetics (chunky-finger gloves) were distracting at times.
If we are comparing books to movies, this movie feels like an epic fantasy novel from which a very short, condensed "The Hobbit" might eventually be made, causing people to complain about all the things that were cut. And if that comparison beats around the bush too much, try this one: I think this movie trilogy is what Tolkien's books could have been if his storytelling chops were on par with his worldbuilding.
Oh, snap, I went there. Light the torches...
Quick side-note: Erno Rubik, the guy who invented the Rubik's Cube, was not the guy who invented the fastest solution.
Lovers of epic fantasy, or of any genre fiction in which deep, consistent worldbuilding is featured, owe a great debt to Tolkien, and most of us have a special fondness for his work. But for all that, epic fantasy has come a long way since his pioneering voyage into Middle Earth. Few, if any, modern epics boast world building on the level of Tolkien's, but these days they all include more details about the characters. We follow plots not because the narrator tells us what is happening, but because characters experience what is happening. We are shown, not told.
The Hobbit trilogy? It's showing us Middle Earth, not telling us about it.
Tolkien's The Hobbit weighs in at 95,000 words, and places fifteen characters on an arduous, adventure-filled trek from The Shire to Erebor. But those 95,000 words only show us Bilbo in any real detail. Most of the dwarves are short, stocky, bearded cardboard cut-outs. The story is a travelogue during which our protagonist finds an artifact, finds his center, awakens a dragon, and then watches as the greatest armies in Middle Earth march onto the same plain. It's a fine story, to be sure, but it only scratches the surface of what's going on. Who is Bard? Who is Fili? Can the enmity between Thorin and Thranduil be demonstrated, rather than offered as a data-point? Why didn't Gandalf show up when he was supposed to? Was he doing something important?
That's what The Desolation of Smaug gives us -- character after character after character to delve into, identify with, pity, or despise. We are immersed in Middle Earth, and like Bilbo above Mirkwood's canopy, we can see the forest and see all the trees. It's delightful.
Some will argue that the film's departures from the text are heretical. You know what else was heretical? Galileo's heliocentrism. So yeah, I'm down with the occasional heresy. Besides, the film's writers (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo Del Toro) did not change Tolkien's book. That book is still there, text unchanged, a landmark piece of literature people will continue to enjoy and revere for generations to come. What the Wingnut Films team did was similar to what an author might do when an editor says "we love this short story you wrote. Turn it into a novel. No, wait... turn it into three novels."
Except it wasn't their story to begin with, so yeah, I can see why you've lit those torches and OW cut it out with the pitchfork already! You should be ashamed of yourself. Go home and read a book or something. I KNOW JUST THE ONE.
Back to the point: I loved this film. It's not perfect, but for sheer quantity of in-theater fun, it's my favorite of the year. Also, it's going to have more staying power than most of the rest of the list. I'm excited for the final installment next year, and yes, sometime in 2015 I'll be sitting down to nine hours of rich food and Blu-Ray.
Technical note: I saw the 3D HFR version first, and then the 2D version. I did not notice downsampling artifacts, though I did notice those when I watched the 2D version of An Unexpected Journey. If you're balking at the price or the headache of 3D, the 2D version will serve you just fine this time around.