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My dad's reaction to movies is usually pretty noncommittal. In part this is because Mom often picks the movies they see, in part because he just isn't that big into them; it's something to do now that he's retired and has evenings to fill. (Possibly another part of it is that he occasionally dozes through parts of what he sees.) So while we don't always agree, we rarely strongly disagree. There is one review from him, though, that pretty much guarantees that I will love a film. That's when he and Mom see a movie and Dad later reports:

"That was the worst fucking movie I've ever seen."

So far he's said this about "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Pan's Labyrinth," and now "Black Swan." I guess I have to see that last, now.
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I have never read the Stieg Larsson books, but today I mainlined the first two Swedish film adaptations based on them--they're on Netflix streaming, in case anyone is wondering, and the third will be streaming as of January 25th. They are better than I was expecting, and I have no doubt that the American versions will be inferior. (Actually that last bit I was pretty sure of before I watched the film, but then I am still bitter about "Let the Right One In.") The main takeaway from these films is HOLY SHIT NOOMI RAPACE. She has to carry the films, and she does more than that; she fucking lifts them up over her head, runs a hundred miles under their weight, and hurls them into orbit.

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I think it's time that I admit to myself that I don't enjoy horror movies.

The problem with that statement, of course, is that "horror" is too imprecise a term. Is "Alien" horror? Is "Evil Dead 2," or "Scream"? Is "Silence of the Lambs," or even "The Talented Mr. Ripley"? I enjoy all of those films. But ED2 and "Scream" are really comedies, and the latter two lack the unpredictability of a supernatural or SF element. I'm not sure why "Alien" is an exception for me--maybe because I've seen it enough times now that I don't get tense watching it.

'Cause that's primarily the trouble. Scary movies make me tense and worried, and I don't enjoy that. That's more or less my default setting, anyway, and these films just make it worse. I like suspense, but I don't like going into a film knowing that people are going to get splattered and just waiting for it to happen. (And yet I'm not nearly as bothered by shoot-em-up flicks, so go figure.) There's also the fact that a lot of horror movies rely on slimy, oozy, dripping things, and I dislike those things enough that I'm always worried I'm going to puke. I haven't, to date--the closest I came was after the bit in "RoboCop" (not a horror movie) where the guy gets the barrel of toxic waste dumped over him and then splashes apart when the car hits him--but I'm always sitting there worrying that this is going to be the one that makes me hurl.

I watched "Slither" the other night, and it's a great movie, really funny, smart, excellent cast, really well done. But I didn't really enjoy it. I couldn't relax. Slugs, people. Ish. I spent the whole time clenched up on the edge of the couch. It was the same with "The Descent" (except for the slugs), which is objectively an incredible film, and one that I don't think I'd ever watch again. (The fact that I'm mildly claustrophobic may have something to do with this.) These are both good horror movies, I think, and I failed to get much enjoyment out of them. I think they're good, though, because they had me scared; the horror movies that don't scare me mostly feel like a waste of my time. That's how I felt about "The Ring" (the Japanese original), which I saw recently; I was intrigued, and mildly creeped out at the end, but ultimately felt like there wasn't much point to it. The only exception that's coming to mind right now is "Let the Right One In" (the original Swedish version), which was a well-made horror film that I really enjoyed and would definitely watch again. It's pretty up-front about what it is, though, and it's not gross (I guess movie blood doesn't bother me much). Again, I don't know how useful a term "horror" really is.

Maybe this is like Lovecraft; they say that if you read him at around age 14 you'll be a fan of his forever, and if you miss that window you'll never get it. I didn't read Lovecraft until my 20s, and I must have missed my window for horror flicks, too; I guess I was about 12 when I got too scared by "An American Werewolf in London" to watch the whole thing, and I kind of missed that whole '80s horror boom. I went back to watch some of them later--I sort of like "Halloween," because it's a really technically smart film--but most of them do nothing for me except wind me up and leave me wondering what the point is.

I guess the reason I care is that my experiences with "Slither" and "The Descent" are proof that there are really good horror movies of that type, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to enjoy them. Maybe if I got really drunk? That would seem to increase the danger of puking, though. Do y'all enjoy being scared by these things? Do I just need to medicate, or what?
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Books 1-10.
Books 11-20.
Books 21-30.
Books 31-40.
Books 41-50.
Books 51-60.
Books 61-70.
Books 71-80.
81. The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864 by Corinne L. Monjeau-Marz.
82. A Life on Paper: Selected Stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin.

83. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. The most annoying thing about seeing the film before you read the book is that sometimes you get the characters locked into those actors in your head. I saw the film adaptation of this some years ago; it was the first time I was ever impressed by Matt Damon, and it was difficult, particularly in the beginning, not to see him as Tom Ripley throughout. Jude Law, on the other hand, fell away pretty quickly, and I eventually managed to separate Marge from Gwyneth Paltrow. Freddie Miles, however, is stuck as Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that's not such a very bad thing, is it?

None of which has anything to do with the book itself, really, which I enjoyed. Highsmith is my new project, along with filling in the gaps in my Le Guin. I've never read her before; based on this book, I'd characterize as a very patient and focused writer--the reason she's able to keep the reader's sympathy with Tom is because of that focus, her manic adherence to the tight limited third POV. She's so creepily good that (SPOILER ALERT) when Tom came around to the point of murdering people, part of me completely bought into his logic and thought, "Well, of course. He has no other choice." This is an obvious parallel, perhaps, but the feeling was reminiscent to that of watching Dexter (which I am watching on DVDs, so please do not spoil me for the current season in the comments). It has that similar feel of a student of human nature--almost an alien being, at times--telling a story about another student of human nature (Dexter being the one telling the story about himself). Since I often feel a bit alienated myself, this resonates with me in a major way.


Sep. 1st, 2010 08:34 pm
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- I finally saw "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World." For about the first half I was gleeful; by the second half I was still gleeful, but I was also distracted by the things that had come out of the story in order to pack six volumes into one film that still felt a tad long. Good: The 8-Bit touches that they kept were great. Kim Pine was PERFECT. Also Wallace, and Gideon--pretty much all of the evil exes were great except the Katayanagi twins, who sucked. I'm sorry, but they did. This is related to the fact that my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE SCENE IN ALL OF THE COMICS was cut. That would be the one where Scott fights the Katayanagis' robot (which is of course named Robot-O1) at the Day of the Dead party but all of Scott's friends are so over his crap that the fight takes place almost entirely offstage while they bitch about him. I'm telling you, that should have been in the movie. I guess I'm sort of over Cera, too, which makes me a little sad because it seemed like I was the only person alive who still liked him. I still loved the movie and want to see it again; it's just that adaptations are always a horrible gloppy sad mess and it frustrates me. OH BUT I think I did figure out why I like the comics so much. It's because basically it's a story about my twenties, except that I was never Scott--maybe some amalgamation of Wallace and Young Neil, but playing lots of video games, reading lots of comics, mooning unproductively over various girls and hanging out at clubs listening to bands that seemed all that much better because almost nobody had ever heard of them. And I was hanging out with some people whom I was not exactly friends with, some of whom may have actually despised me, and yet we were all part of this Sphere of Tolerance that created a weird social cohesion. Which is an entirely idiosyncratic reason to enjoy something and I don't expect that most of you will relate to that at all. If you do, I sort of pity you. (Us.)

Today (Cont.):

- I went to the State Fair and saw robots, a gigantic knitted fish, a huge elephant made out of straw, an impressionist Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox that my friend Steve made out of tiny Post-Its, a bag of Tom Thumb mini-donuts for a brief time before they went into my face, Princess Kay of the Milky Way and a butter sculpture of same, my dad (who works at one of the admissions gates), a Native American drummer, a bottomless cup of chocolate milk WHICH I DRANK, an awesome Hmong-craft dragon WHICH I BOUGHT, sheep, chickens, ducks, horses, cows, pigs, and piglets--WHICH I HAVE DECIDED ARE THE MOST PERFECT FORM OF LIFE--at the Miracle of Birth building.

Today (Concluded):

- Is three weeks to the day until I turn 40. I do not normally get much worked up about birthdays--to the point where I often fail to celebrate them at all--but this one feels Big and has caused me some anxiety. Anyway I know that many of you will see it on Facebook when it comes around and leave the ritual wall posting, but I am telling you now because something. I dunno. You could get me something if you wanted, but I think it's more about wanting some sort of weird acknowledgment for being half dead. I don't know what that would be; I suppose you could stab me or something to remind me that I'm still alive. Or perhaps something more convenient for those of you who do not live nearby. If I figure it out I'll let you know.
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'Cause it's a movie report. My review of District 9 is up at Strange Horizons. (A bit belated, which is my fault.) Synopsis: This movie is not very good.
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My review of "Moon", the Duncan-Jones-don't-call-him-Zowie-Bowie-directed Sam Rockwell vehicle, is up at Strange Horizons. Guess what there are SPOILERS.
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I seem to have no capacity to write anything interesting or clever today, so I am stealing links from my f-list.

Via [ profile] warren_ellis: Scientists may have located the seat of free will in the human brain. I don't know about you, but I am getting ready to exercise that part of my brain in order to run and hide from the scientists who are currently making plans to remove it.

Via [ profile] glvalentine: Keanu Reeves to star in an adaptation of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." This will only be good if Alex Winter plays Hyde.

Via [ profile] matt_ruff: Artificial Owl, a blog of structures humans made and then abandoned. See also [ profile] urban_decay and [ profile] rural_ruin right here on LJ. (Also: They made a SERIES out of Life After People?!? And me having gotten rid of the History Channel, too. Sigh.)

Via [ profile] tanaise: The makers of the (extremely awesome) Samorost games are coming out with a full-length game called Machinarium.

Finally, because it makes me happy:

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1. [ profile] charlesatan interviewed me for the Nebula Awards website.

2. In case you were wondering, the Pope is still an asshole. I can't even comment beyond that, the whole thing makes me so angry.

3. GIANT FOSSIL NORWEGIAN SEA MONSTER!!! I don't understand why they named it "Predator X," though; no Public Enemy fans at the Natural History Museum of Oslo University?

4. In other dinosaur news, VICIOUS CHICKEN RAPTORS!!!

5. Last night I watched The Spirit of the Beehive, which was astounding. Did one of you tell me about this? The influence of Ana's character on Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth is obvious. Fernando Fernán Gómez is in it, too. I wish I could speak about it coherently, but it's one of those films I need to digest for a while and watch again before I can even figure out what I think. What I feel, though, is that this is a film you should all see if you haven't already.
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I am a total fanatic for the book, but the movie neither made me angry nor added anything to the experience of the story. Mostly it was OK, and good-looking, with periodic outbreaks of awful.

I thought it was an odd choice to have all of Malin Ackerman's dialogue overdubbed by Cameron Diaz.

Agree that Jackie Earle Haley was a great Rorschach. Sounded right. Sloppy and angry and entirely human.

"The Sound of Silence"? Really? I might have given you "All Along the Watchtower," but not both of these, sorry.

In comics, still pictures suggest action with a series of before-and-after pictures. The reader provides the actual action between the panels, in the gutters. Apparently when Zach Snyder reads the action scenes in Watchmen he sees a slow-motion ballet with multiple compound fractures. (Granted, I've always seen Ozymandias' scenes as graceful, but less so Laurie and Dan.) Also he fills in things that didn't happen, like sawing off a man's arms. Watchmen is a violent book and no mistake, but I don't think Snyder understands the difference between the sort that we should be confronted with (e.g. Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian in Vietnam, Rorschach's flashbacks) and gratuitous, almost pornographic violence like the scene in the alley or the fight in the prison.

I wish they'd kept "Did the costumes make it good?" It's worth hitting that point a little harder, I think.

It looked great. I mean, it was all storyboarded out over twenty years ago, so I'm not sure Snyder should get all the credit for that, but whatever.

I wish they hadn't ditched the squid. Maybe the squid doesn't make a lot of sense, but neither does what they replaced it with. One of the things I like about the squid is that it underlines Moore's assertion that humans are not, in fact, rational beings (see: Rorshach, Sally Jupiter, Nixon, etc.) and are more likely to buy an alien threat than to actually address the nuclear question. Dr. Manhattan was always a metaphor for the nuclear deterrent, so using him as a stand-in for nuclear armageddon creates a nested symbolism that doesn't work, in my opinion.

People really need to get over the blue penis. On a related note, I know what my Halloween costume's going to be!
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"Ma, sooner or later, there comes a point in a man's life when he's gotta face some facts. And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it."

What a great movie.
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1. Dollhouse premieres tonight. I am warily giddy. I am also mindful that I watched BTVS the night it premiered, decided it wasn't worth my time, and only got hooked on it a year later. Also that Angel's first few episodes were rather shitty. Only Firefly hooked me from the start. So even though Dollhouse's premise has much more potential for skeeviness, I'm going to give it a few episodes to find its feet.

2. Periodic Table of the Elephants. (Via [ profile] jaylake.)

3. I don't think you heard me before: DEADWOOD VALENTINES!!! They are the best and probably most offensive thing you will see today.

4. I ended up seeing New In Town with my folks, because we Minnesotans like to see our local color reflected back at us. (Well, maybe like is the wrong word.) It was actually worse than you'd expect. It was like someone pitched Fargo meets Gung Ho, wrote the script over a weekend and hired a flagpole to do the cinematography. Oh, and filmed it in Canada. Plus Harry Connick, Jr. = Never Good. And was J.K. Simmons wearing a fatsuit, or what?

5. I have been thinking about [ profile] mrissa's One Year Closer to Balance thing. It's actually fairly apt for me right now, because until recently my life has been overbalanced in one big way, in that everything was pretty much weighted towards writing. And lately I've been thinking, there are other things. Which doesn't mean that writing won't be important, still, but that I have been realizing that my life is, in fact, unbalanced and that needs to change. I am in the process of figuring out how to do this. Which is a short and fairly lazy way of saying that I am thinking about this too.
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1. Haddayr pointed me to this story about animal communications in relation to natural disasters, particularly the tsunami, and focusing on elephants and infrasound. Good stuff.

2. I am in the midst of a renaissance of the album. For a long while I've mostly listened to my music on shuffle, because I liked to pretend I had my own radio station. This week I am enjoying settling in with one artist for a while. Lots of PJ Harvey, for some reason.

3. Have you heard about Titanoboa? Is it not the most awesome thing ever? (Yes. It is.)

4. I have a sudden need to re-watch The Wild Bunch, but I don't have it on DVD and I no longer have a VCR. I believe this is what is referred to as a TECHNOLOGY FAIL.

5. Fanboys opens in selected cities this weekend; I was going to tell all of you in those cities to go see it, but early indications from RottenTomatoes are that all the fucking around has made it into a shitty movie. Shame.
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You know how so many "Law and Order" episodes are about how young people are disrespectful and dangerous, and decent hardworking (older) people will never be safe until everyone under 25 is locked up? Gran Torino is like that, except without the cops. Yes, you get a cultural lesson about the Hmong, probably the first in a major motion picture, and that part of the film is at least interesting. But Eastwood's 70-something angry Korean War vet is predictable down to the way he bonds with his [insert unpleasant racial epithet here--the script gives you plenty to choose from] neighbors after they offer him a beer. Eastwood displays all the dimension of Dirty Harry, only crustier (sure, it's played for laughs, but he actually delivers the line "Get off of my lawn" THREE TIMES), and with the casting he's stuck with his recent folk-art ethos; while the young first-timers playing his young neighbors are charming, they fail to be intriguing. I'd give the film some points for not going with the traditional Eastwood ending, except that it's been replaced with a Christ-on-the-cross sacrifice, so in the end there's not a lot to like here.
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I wasn't expecting all that much from Revolutionary Road, frankly. Watching the trailer I felt like I knew exactly what the movie was going to be, thematically, and mostly that was the case. You know what I mean; it's a film about The Sacrifices We Make, for stability, for love, for children. There's also a bit of We Were Supposed to Be Different in there, and a dollop of Work Without Passion Will Kill Your Soul. We can argue about how valid any of those themes are, but the primary problem is that they are very, very familiar themes, one might almost say worn out. Note that I'm talking about the film, here, and not the novel by Richard Yates, which I have not read. I am perfectly willing to believe that the source material was deeper and more subtle. There are hints of this in DiCaprio and Winslet's performances, that really their disillusionment is not with the world but with themselves. This is the We Were Supposed to Be Different theme, the more interesting of the above, but the film itself is coy about confronting it, mostly leaving it up to the leads to bring it forth. Which they are perfectly able to do--Kate and Leo are both at full strength in this picture, spinning apart in spectacular fashion--but they are forced to do so by transcending the material, which means somewhere along the line someone fell down on the job. Scenes with Michael Shannon as the institutionalized son of the couple's realtor provide welcome relief from the melodrama, as he bears vocal witness to their last-ditch attempt at escape and its inevitable unraveling. His scenes are the only part of the film that doesn't feel at least a bit rote; every other step of the fall is telegraphed, making the film feel far longer than its two-hour running time, and not in a good way.
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As it happens, The Reader and Revolutionary Road are both playing at the Uptown; The Reader's run ends tonight, and Revolutionary Road starts tomorrow. Earlier in the week my mom and I were trying to agree on a film to see this weekend. She suggested The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Marley & Me, and I countered with The Reader. (Dad rarely has an opinion in these discussions.) "What's it about?" she asked, and I said I wasn't exactly sure, "But it has Kate Winslet, so I'm going to see it anyway."

Which is true. Hell, I saw The Holiday. And today I took the bus over to see The Reader, 'cause my mom was unconvinced.

I'm glad I didn't know much about this film going in. I haven't read the book and I didn't read up on it ahead of time, and so as not to color anyone else's experience I'm not going to spoil anything here. But it's a film of remarkable moral depth and complexity, and I found it engrossing and emotionally wrenching. It starts out as one thing and transforms three or four times without doing any fancy narrative calisthenics. Oscar bait, sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if the first film I saw this year won't still be the best 365 days from now.
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Did I enjoy this film? Yes. Does it have problems? Many.

Heath Ledger = Good. )
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I should have loved this movie. I loved the first movie, I love the Hellboy and BPRD comics, and pretty much everything Guillermo del Toro does is amazing. None of those things are going to change in the wake of this film, and yet.

The word here is uneven. )

*("Doesn't he know bones are crunchy?" Yes, I saw "Get Smart" recently, too. Sadly, it may have been better than this movie.)
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Critique by Dave


You know I like these stories, and I was excited to read this. I've been hard on your last few submissions, but I was hoping this would be a return to form. I do think there's some good stuff in here--the action scenes, for the most part, are really well done--but in the end I had a lot of problems with it.

I hate to say it, but you lost me right at the beginning. )
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Things I have not posted about on account of being busy and scatterbrained:

Yes, that is me in the latest issue of Writer's Digest. Jordan Rosenfeld interviewed me for the "First Impressions" column, which features first-time novelists. I sure make it sound easy. And, thanks to the lies of photography, I look good doing it.

Comics: Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction are leaving Immortal Iron Fist. Wah! For serious, their run has been incredible; retro-pulp updated for the modern day, with the glorious feel of grainy, badly-dubbed kung fu flicks. This, combined with John Rogers leaving the sadly underselling Blue Beetle (Seriously, do people not want their superhero comics to be good?), is going to cut down my comics reading considerably.

DVDs: I gave up on The L Word, finally, because I can't stand Mia Kirschner or her character or the way that the writers apparently view writing on that show. So. Grating. Like, Baltar-and-Six grating. (Them being the reason I can't watch BSG.) I started on Weeds, which is pretty great so far. Also started on Season 1 of the new Doctor Who, which is . . . cute? I can appreciate that it's all about the fun, and they're aiming at kids, but man is the plotting preposterous. Yes, Rose is wonderful, and the show is funny ("Harriet Jones, MP Flydale North"), but I'm not sure I'm going to last with it. I finally saw "Network," and I'm sorry I waited so long. Genius. Also saw "A Streetcar Named Desire." (Yes, I have many gaps.) Brando was amazing, as usual, but it took a long time for Vivien Leigh's performance to work for me. There's a particular definition of "feminine" in Streetcar that I find extremely off-putting in fiction as well as in life. Which may actually be part of the point of the play, and may be why it works in the end. Obviously I haven't decided.

Books: Am reading Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women In Revolutionary France, by Lucy Moore. This was recommended to me by [ profile] stephanieburgis, and man am I grateful. Really evocative, and sad, and inspiring. Also reading Lost White Tribes: The End of Privilege and the Last Colonials in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe by Riccardo Orizio, which sounds a lot more awesome than it is. It's more a travelogue than anything, neither historical nor anthropological in focus; a disappointingly shallow look at a potentially rich subject.

Baseball: Bit of a rocky start for the Twins, not unexpectedly. Liriano's shaky, and the offense is unreliable; but Hernandez is a rock, and Bonser seems to have matured nicely. Not to mention that Carlos Gomez is as much fun to watch as Torii ever was. Dropping two to the Tigers = not cool, but it's early yet. (If you catch me saying that in August, I give you permission to smack me upside the head.)


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