Before I Fall

Image Groundhog Day, only you hate everyone.

spoilers

Before I Fall is the story of five total and complete losers, four psycho bitch mean girls and one pathetic emo girl. This is a time loop story, that like Groundhog Day, resets as each day begins again. Our ‘hero’ is one of the mean girls, a total bitch to everyone she knows. Her big plan for the day is to have sex with her boyfriend and end her time as a virgin. We follow her as she is mean to her sister, her mother, her father, and everyone else who happens to cross her path. The four mean girls are especially mean to the emo girl. They all end up at a party and everyone gives the emo girl the Carrie treatment by throwing their drinks on her.

The first day of the loop ends with all five of the girls dead. This is by far the best and most satisfying resolution to the story of these horrid people.

We never see any reason why we should care what happens to any of the girls. Our hero relives untold days, slowly changing from a cruel and heartless teenage to a loving and compassionate person. Her three evil friends, of course, never change from being cruel and evil. The emo girl never stops being emo. Our hero wants to save her, but we see no reason why she want to save her. She’s as much a loser as the other four girls, just in a different way.

We are told that things happened at some time in the past that set all of these events into action. But the time loop doesn’t stretch to that distant past, it just covers one day.

So here’s the worst thing about this very bad movie. Our hero, the only person who knows the day is repeating and the only person who changes and benefits from the knowledge of things changing, ends up being the only one of the losers who dies. Once she has changed and is no longer a loser. What. The. Hell.

In Groundhog Day, Phil the sexist weatherman, changes and goes forward into a new and better life. In Before I Fall, the hero dies and we can assume the mean girls will go on being mean and the emo girl will go on to kill herself later. Maybe the loop needed to run one more time and the new and improved mean girl could have done something other than wait til the last possible second to help.

Before I Fall was a downer of a film filled with people you don’t want to spend time with.

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Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Thor is a bit dim.

Neil Gaiman is a great writer and a great reader. I love listening to his audio-books. Norse Mythology is a collection of tales from the legends of Odin, Thor, Loki, and countless lessor gods, giants, monsters, and whatnots. These are odd stories.

Our Heroes are, for the most part, not nice people, not good people, and shocking very much like normal people. They are often hungry, they worry about growing old and dying, they are petty and jealous, and they are not to be trusted. But Neil doesn’t give them the bloody and gory treatment. These gods are people Neil clearly loves and he has a lot of fun with the stories. Even when Thor murders countless people for no real reason, he is still viewed with a Boys With Be Boys attitude.

All the stories here are new to me. I’ve never been a huge fan of Mythology, but Neil does a great job of making these nasty and awful gods fun to read about. Neil fills his tales of ancient gods with modern turns of phrase and his brilliant sense of humor. The tales are told in straightforward ways and Neil does a great job of pronouncing the many unpronounceable names of people, places, and things.

Neil Gaiman is a hugely successful and popular writer. He can write anything he wants and it will be published and it will sell. This is a good thing. These stories were all fun and occasionally thought provoking and once or twice a bit moving. If Neil hadn’t written this book, I would have never heard any of them.

Norse Mythology is a fun book and well worth reading.

 

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Alien Covenant

For people who thought Prometheus made too much damned sense.

spoilers

Alien was a great horror movie. Aliens was a great action movie. The next three movies just sucked. Alien Covenant follows proudly in the tradition of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, and Prometheus.

It’s not so much that Alien Covenant sucked, as it just tells the same boring story as Prometheus. A group of Red Shirts land on a planet and die stupid and meaningless deaths. Oh yeah, and David is back and he’s still a bad guy.

The setup is a colony ship, the Covenant, meets with an unfortunate event. An accident that leaves them near a previously undiscovered planet.  So, was it an accident? Or did something, David or an Engineer?, disable the ship on purpose? A random event triggering the events that follow would be the height of lazy story telling. But then, the whole story is one contrived event after another.

The bulk of the story involves David and his fellow Synthetic Walter playing bad robot and good robot. So, in short, Alien Covenant is either a long episode of Star Trek The Next Generation. Or maybe even the Star Trek Nemesis, one of the worst of the Star Trek films, and that’s no mean feat. So, yeah, Alien Covenant pretty much sucked storywise.

On the other hand, the special effects were pretty damned amazing, just as they were in Prometheus. Which only serves to make you wish they had spent a bit of that money they wasted on solar sails and magnetic storms on a better screenplay.

One of the things we love about sequels is seeing old faces, watching familiar scenes, and having the general feeling of being back home. For uber nerds who have been watching Alien movies for the part forty years or so, Alien Covenant is a bit of a shock. We all know what a Xenophorm looks like. We know what it’s life cycle is and what the different phases of that life cycle look like. So…why the hell did the chest burster look like a miniature adult  Xenophorm? Also, why did spores create other forms of the monster we have never seen before? And so on and so forth. This whole film is one one long…Wait? What?

But that isn’t right either. Wait, what implies that someone will care what is happening in this snooze feast. Alien Covenant wasn’t good. But it wasn’t as disappointing as the last one. I kind of knew what to expect going in to this one.

 

 

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“We’re all one head injury away from being someone else.” -quote from a book about the brain I have forget all of but this line.

I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about thirty years ago. At about the same time I read If You Meet The Buddha On the Road Kill Him. Another very interesting book. I remember enjoying Zen and it’s tale of a madman traveling around the Northwest with his son riding along behind him on his trusty motorcycle. I mainly remembered a scene near the start of the book about a clumsy mechanic who claims his motorcycle had a problem with it’s tappets, and then makes a big mess out of what should have been a simple repair.

The bulk of the book deals with our hero’s former self, a fellow who was obsessed with the discovery of some higher form of Philosophy, a search for the one great Truth of Quality. Here we wade in over our heads into the swaps of wisdom, truth, justice, and reality itself. There is talk of Aristotle and Socrates and Sophists and the creation of a whole new school of philosophy. All of this sounds like both common sense and complete bullshit. And that is the wonder of Zen and the Art.

Mixed in with the deep thoughts are the more mundane aspects of changing your oil on a regular basis, keeping the moving parts clean, and how to camp on abandoned logging roads.  He goes into some detail on how mood effects the work. How being tired effects the work. How being happy effects the work. He finds joy in small things. It’s hard to tell if this is because of his Zen attitude or because of his electroshock lobotomy.  He can’t really remember the man he was before, but he knows that he is a different man now.

Something I’m not sure I noticed on my first reading is the liberal and generous use of 1960s slang. Cool and Square and Groovy and With It and countless other little bits of Hippyspeak pop up on a regular basis. At first it’s kind of funny, but over the course of the book this use of nonsense words as he struggles mightily with the Great Truths is kind of distracting.

Something else that occurred to me as our hero talks about being a radical teacher who appears to be a bit ahead of his time. I was reminded of The Dead Poets Society. Here the teacher fighting the System loses and is locked away and his mind, the very thing that made him great, is taken away from him.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a brilliant book because it does what so few books are able to do, it makes you stop for a moment and think. Having been a bit bipolar myself over the years, I have to wonder what would have happened if someone had locked me away and changed the essence of my being. Of course, our hero says in the epilogue that what was done to him is now against the law.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of those books that was rejected by a lot of publishers, 121, before being accepted. It is an odd read and does take a lot winding trails…but it is well worth reading.

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The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire tells the story of a handful of people living in the far flung future. Humans are scattered around the galaxy or the universe or something. Lots of random settlements, two of which we see, are connected by a McGuffin bit of sci-fi called The Flow.  This is much like a Stargate system or a series of Portkeys or Jump Gates or a Warp Field or any other made up means of transport over vast distances you have ever seen. Like these other constructs, the tech doesn’t really matter. So it’s kind of odd when John puts a lot of effort into explaining the tech.

John Scalzi is famous for his snappy dialoge and snarky characters. He is infamous for not doing much on the discription front. He holds true to form here. A lot of random people talk and fuck and die and it’s often hard to tell who they are or what sex they are or why we are even spending time with them.

A lot of nothing happens here.

Followed by rather a lot more nothing.

There are three or four main storylines going on at any time. It takes a long time for any of them to cross paths. A handful of people die, but they are not anyone we care about, and are often people we don’t even know.

This is a book that is setting things up for future books. This means he didn’t want to do too much big stuff in this one. So there are one or two bits of action and a lot of talking.

There were a few funny bits but The Collapsing Empire was not John’s best work. Nor is it his worst…that honor goes to Zoe’s War.

John Scalzi has hit that point in his career where he can write anything he wants. It won’t hurt his feelings a bit when critcs and bloggers and reviewers don’t like one of his books. He has more money than god and a fan base that would pay to read his shopping lists. Collapsing Empire is pretty close to a shopping list.

If you’re looking for the next Red Shirts or Old Man’s War…keep looking.

 

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The Chemist

Stephanie Meyer writes long books. The Chemist is a nice cosy 530 pages long. Plenty of time to get attached to three main characters and a handful of supporting players.

We open up with our hero talking about how much she loves the Bourne novels…except they aren’t very realistic. And thus we enbark on a Jason Bourne novel starring a woman instead of a man.

I liked The Chemist except for one thing. Our hero tortures and occasionally murders people. Nothing wrong with that…she maintains she’s a good person and like Arnold in True Lies…she only tortured bad people.

It’s well known that torture, or enhanced interrogation, doesn’t work.  But in the world of The Chemist, it does work. In fact, she was one step away from the perfect truth serum that would have made her high tech torture techniques unneeded.

The bulk of the very long story is getting to know people. Much like a Bourne book, our hero is hiding from The Government that wants to kill her. She is soon joined by a Bourne clone who is master of weapons and hand to hand combat. We also have a Watson who doesn’t know anything and has to be constantly told why our hero is doing this or that.

I enjoyed The Chemist. When the action finally rolls around, it’s good and exciting. I laughed and cried.

The ending was pretty good, but not exactly shocking. The little epilogue was fun.

The Chemist was a good read.

Posted in book review

The Founder

Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a failure in his fifties who still has dreams of hitting it big. We open up with Ray giving a sales pitch for a shake machine. We then watch as everyone he pitches slams the door in his face. Then he hears about a small hamburger stand that ordered six of the shake machines. This leads him to McDonald’s, a small, but very well run restaurant in California.

Ray is amazed by the crowds and the speed of food delivery. The McDonald brothers take Ray on a tour and show him exactly how they run their business. Ray can see that there is something here. Something real. Something he can use to become the wealthy man he has always dreamed of becoming.

The Founder tells the story of how Ray Kroc stole the McDonald brothers business and their name. At the same time, without Ray Kroc, McDonald’s wouldn’t be what it is today…a restaurant with about 37,000 locations and billions in revenue. The Founder focuses on the beginning of the story, how Ray and the McDonalds saw business and how Ray was not a very nice guy.

One fun scene near the start of the story sees the more pragmatic of the McDonald brothers complain about the fries being too crispy and how they should go back to their former process for cooking potatoes. Both Ray and his brother tell him the fries are perfect as they are.

Ray is a right bastard in his private life as well. If there is a hell, Ray surely has a prime location.

Nick Offerman plays Dick McDonald and John Carroll Lynch plays Mac McDonald. They are both perfect, spending most of their time looking baffled at what Ray does to them. The sets and the props are perfect. It’s an amazing story. Everyone appears to know that Ray ripped off Dick and Mac, but no one seems to care.

The Founder was a very good movie.

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Back of the House

Scott Haas hangs around chef Tony Maws restuarant Craigie on Main and watches the great chef and his team work. Tony is a chef and an asshole-of course, that’s a bit redundant. Anyone who has watched Hell’s Kitchen is familiar with the foul mouthed antics of Gordon Rasmey and one of my personal heroes for lo these many years has been Anthony Bourdian. Neither man seems to suffer fools easily. So Tony is the self centered, I’m Right, You’re Wrong demi-god of his tiny little world. There are times when Scott shows one of the revolving cast of line cooks question something Tony has said, and even on something that is simple common sense, such as when a chef says he didn’t add salt because the dish calls for anchovies to be added later, Tony tells him to add salt. When the chef repeats his opinion that the anchovies are pretty salty, Tony repeats several times to add salt to the dish. Scott always backs up Tony in his writing of these incidents. Tony, in short, can do no wrong.

Which is the overarching backbone of Back of the House. Tony, and Tony alone, knows what a dish is supposed to taste like and he can’t trust any of the people who work for him to get anything right. He is constantly tasting and correcting and tasting again. I’m not surprised that people leave his employ on a regular basis, some to peruse careers in other industries than food service. What’s surprising is that none of them cleaned Tony like a fish before they threw their apron on the floor and walked out.

But then, that’s kind of the whole point of Back of the House. Yeah Tony’s an asshole, but god damn can he cook. The life of a genius is not something anyone else can understand. So it is an odd and interesting book. Scott worships the ground that Tony walks on, but he has no qualms about showing him as just this side of madness, and occasionally crossing over to the other side. Maybe Scott is blind to his blatant hero worship or maybe that was just the result of watching the chef work for a year and half.

This was a fun book that talked about a lot of food stuff outside of my wheelhouse. Even things I was familiar with, such as mashed potatoes, were prepare in a way unlike any mashed potatoes I have ever had. The Craigie on Main Burger is one of the things that put the restaurant on the map, so naturally, Chef Tony hates the burger and does everything he can to make it impossible for the average customer to eat one. He prefers serving his Tasting Menus, where he personally picks out what foods to serve. Here you’ll find things like House-Made Phytoplankton Garganelli Pasta and Sashimi of Maine Hiramasa. Sure I can’t get that burger?

Back of the House was well worth reading.

Posted in book review

Colony

In 1992 there was a silly little movie called The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag. It was a bit of fluff about a librarian that gets into trouble. Somewhere near the end there is a scene of the bad guy having dinner with a man and his wife. He offers the wife a bit of food on the end of a knife. She take the food into her mouth nervously-and then the bad guy scrapes the blade across her teeth and slices through her cheek. This was one of the most shocking bits of violence I have ever seen in a film, not because it was up there with Bonnie and Clyde or Robocop or Gladiatorr, but because it was so unexpected and out of place.

Colony is a basic bit of mindless sci fi dreck. The Earth has been taken over by mysterious alien forces and the world has been turned into an occupied zone where humans have been forced to play along or die. There is a Resistance that goes about the usual resistance business of killing collaborators and sabotaging whatever they can sabotage. Our story focuses on one man and his family trapped in a bit of former Los Angeles.

In Colony Season 2 Episode 3:Sublimation, there is a shocking bit of business near the end. Colony is a violent show, but it is violent in usually meaningless ways. Billions are dead, so what? Random people who work for the Aliens are killed in every episode. Yawn. Occasional Resistance fighters die here and there. Shrug. To the last, these are deaths that mean nothing. Deaths of faceless, nameless people.

Then we get to Sublimation. In the grand tradition of Game of Thrones, the writers of Colony introduced a new character, Devon, and gave her some backstory, made her a friend of our hero, made her a key player in his escape from his problems-and then they murdered her. Wow. Not only do they kill her, but they drench our hero and his son in her blood. This was just as shocking as that scene with the mobster and the knife. Here was a death of someone we cared about, someone we thought was going to be around for at least the rest of this season. To see her liquefied by an alien drone was a hell of lot more shocking than the deaths of two no names in similar fashion moments earlier.

For the most part, this is still par for the course in Colony. Our hero did commit murder last episode after all. It’s a show about the death of humanity. There has never been even a glimmer of hope that our heroes will win this battle. The Aliens are too advanced, too powerful, too omnipresent to ever be beaten by humans armed with well, nothing. The bulk of the story-lines deal with petty human problems. It’s never been made clear why the Aliens need any humans at all.

I still like Colony, but I’m not a fan of the total downer direction of the story. Not that it was ever exactly happy, but it’s downright grim now.

Posted in sci fi, tv review

La La Land

I grew up watching Musicals. Singing in The Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and My Fair Lady were regular viewing fare. There were plenty of bad musicals as well. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Little Prince didn’t quite measure up for me. The last Musical that I really loved with Julia Andrew’s Victor/Victoria, and it was more of a modern twist on the musical, since all of it’s songs were preformed on a stange, as opposed to everyone just breaking into song for no reason.

La La Land opens with a song and dance number on one of L.A. infamous freeways during a traffic jam. It’s not an esspecially great song and the dancing is not exactly inspired, but it does tell us where this picture is going. An old fashioned Musical with over the top acting and a love story at it’s heart.

La La Land is chock full of cliches, but that’s not a bad thing. A movie that wants to remind us of the good old days needs a fair share of tired old plot devices like Boy Meets Girl, Rags to Riches, and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. In the end it all worked, even though I would have gone ahead and written the happy ending.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are fun to watch, but they are not exactly Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. Of course, no one is these days. There was a fun bit in the middle of the film where John Legend tells Ryan that it’s people like him who are killing Jazz, because he can’t give up his love of the greats of the past. It’s easy enough to see that this is a new musical that is not meant to be a classic MGM Musical, but something a little bit different.

I liked La La Land a lot. The music was good, if a bit repetative by the time the credits roll. The singing was not great, but it was good enough. The dancing was often pretty bad and only served to remind me of the great scenes that clearly inspired many of the numbers. Still, it was a good effort.

La La Land is well worth watching.

Posted in movie review