Colossal

At first I thought this was just a low budget movie that had done a good job of finding an Anne Hathaway look alike, but turns out it really is Anne Hathaway. This is an odd movie. One of the rules of sci-fi is to not explain too much, but I think they might had kept a few too many secrets to themselves in Colossal.

At first Colossal looks like your average Rom-Com about a 30 something failure who moves back home. Well, that is if you overlook the opening scene of a little girl in South Korea confronting a Godzilla sized monster. That was 25 years ago.

Anne drinks too much and makes poor decisions as a result. So natch she gets a job at a bar owned by someone she went to grade school with. He also drinks too much and makes poor decisions. After an all nighter she wanderers through a playground near a school. Later that day she wakes up and sees on the news that a monster has attacked South Korea.

One of the few funny bits happens when she calls her ex to talk about the monster attacks. “That was hours ago.” he says as if a fifty foot tall monster rates the same amount of importance as the latest photo of Kim Kardashian’s butt.

Mixed in with the loser love story are a few flashbacks of Anne and the barkeep as kids. They have a couple of dioramas that are being blow around in the wind. Anne’s model flies over a tall fence and the boy climbs the fence, we assume to retrieve the model. The young Anne follows him, only to find him stomping the model of, wait for it, South Korea.

Then the two kids appear to die in some kind of freak lightning storm. This little scene kind of throws the rest of the film out of kilter. Did they really die and all the rest is a dream? Did they cross into some other dimension? Since it’s clear that little Anne hates the boy now, why does she spent all her time with him once she goes back home?

In the end, we are left hanging with a lame joke. No explanations, no reasons, no answers. I kind of like my movies to make a little more sense.

Posted in movie review

Valerian

Over the course of three or four hundred years, the International Space Station changes as hundreds or thousands of aliens dock and never leave. We have a cute montage of humans greeting new visitors to the station, with each race being a little more alien than the last. We watch as a race of uber peaceful aliens living on the planet Tahiti Screen Saver go about their day doing a number of bizarre and incomprehensible things. Then they watch helplessly as wreckage from a battle raging in close proximity to the planet rain down on their perfect and defenseless paradise.

We then shift over to a couple of humans chilling on a beach of their own. These are sort of the heroes of the story, if you can call any of these people heroes. They are soldiers in some future  military and we watch as they proceed to commit murder and mayhem for the rest of the film.

This is definitely a turn your brain off at the door movie.

Valerian is a visually stunning film. There are a lot of way cool effects and funny scenes. But none of it looks even remotely real. This is like one of those old school Disney films  where they mixed live action and cartoons.

Did I mention none of it makes any sense?

The peaceful primitive aliens know to hide in a downed spaceship as their world is destroyed around them. The ship seems to have had no original crew and the sun loving tall blue aliens quickly learn all they need to know to pilot the ship and speak a gazillion languages.

At one point our hero destroys several walls and I’d have to guess, killed a lot of the aliens who need special environments to live. At another point he is worried about creating a diplomatic incident. He then murders the leader of those people. To be fair, the leader did want to eat his girlfriend’s brain, but this is never explained either.

In the end it’s all about a war crime, but a war crime that is never explained. Why was this battle taking place over this tropical paradise of a planet? Who where they fighting? What was so special about the weapons they used?

And so on and so forth.

Valerian was pretty, but dumb.

Posted in movie review

The Circle

If The Circle had been released about ten years ago, it might have been a terrifying glimpse of the future. If it had been released five years ago, it might have still been a bit of a warning of things to come. But since it was released in 2017 and everything seen on screen is already possible, if not actively happening, its a tale of closing the gate after the cow has left the pasture.

The Circle is a bad movie. It’s an odd mixture of a Steve Jobs bio-pic and The Truman Show. We start with our hero, a young and dumb Emma Watson who inexplicably has American parents, longing for a better life than the one being Temp offers her. A friend who is in The Gang of 40 at The Circle offers her a job. She soon becomes a superstar at The Circle, a kind of Apple/Facebook/Google/Big Brother Silicone Valley company with more money than god.

Emma becomes uber famous when she live streams her life to everyone in The Circle, and I suppose, everyone with an internet connection. She takes her new found power and uses it to put forth a couple of ideas. One is that any wanted criminal can be found with the help of the gazillion uses of The Circle. Another is that everyone using The Circle should be required to Vote.

The search and destroy aspect of The Circle works better than expected. They catch a fugitive in ten minutes. They then decide to try it on someone who isn’t a criminal. In a chase reminiscent of the death of Princess Di, the good people of The Circle murder someone for no reason. There is never any mention that there were any consequences to this crime for The Circle or Emma herself.

As for the everyone has to vote bit of business, well, no government on Earth wants to require all of  its citizens to vote. While it might be an ideal, the Party in power only wants their constituents to vote. No government, even a ‘democracy’, wants full scale mob rule. The people in power want the power for themselves.

In the end, Emma destroys The Circle by outing her bosses. But it’s too late, she already lives in a post privacy world. And, for the most part, so do we.

The Circle was an odd movie. It looked good, had great actors and sets, and yet the story didn’t make any sense.

Posted in movie review

Coffee shop

I love the story that JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in a coffee shop. To me it tells how she was able to fall into flow and block out the rest of the world. I do love that feeling myself. It also makes me think that she needed to get away from home. Homes are very demanding places if you care about things like clean dishes, floors, and porcelain. So nice to be away for a bit.

I remember drinking coffee while sitting on my father’s lap. One of a handful of fond memories having to do with dear old Dad. His coffee was a mixture of 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 sugar…in other words, the magic formula that has made Srarbuck a gazillion dollars. But Dad, like everyone else, knew there was no money in selling coffee.

When Starbucks first came to Fort Worth, there was an ad in the Star Telegram for a free cup of coffee…up to $5. Whoa! I thought, who hell would spend five dollars for cup of coffee? When I went to use the coupon, the guy ahead of me spent $7.

So many people spent $5 or more that a fellow wrote an investment book suggesting you could retire on what you spend on your daily macchiato.  I tend to get Starbucks for free by using things like Swagbucks and Shopkicks.

Starbucks is also a place I tend to think of as being part the better times in my life. If I can afford to go Starbucks things usually going well.

Then there are the people. Often times I have gone to Starbucks with coworkers and friends. I’ve had interviews in Starbucks. And now…well, I spent a bit of time in Starbucks waiting for Instacart to tell me they work for me. A couple of the stores where I shop have Starbucks inside them. Most have a Starbucks nearby.

I’m usually a Frappicino man…that caffeinated milkshake dear old Dad would have loved. But I’m trying a few other things. So far I like them all.

I’m blogging, not working on my latest novel, but I do feel a bit like a real writer sitting here.


Posted in random thoughts, writing

Smartphone

About six months ago I joined the rest of the world and got a Smartphone.

In December a hit and run driver slammed into my 2006 Grand Caravan. It was a minor wreck. I called the police and when I was done, I drove home. But that was it for the van. A car that had taken me all over the country. Totalled…as the insurance company that wrote me a check for six hundred dollars called it.

Now my world is altered. I have things to think about. Choices to make. I decide that I need a newer car and that I need to make money with it. I do a lot of searching. I decide to get a 2015 or 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan. And to do Uber on the days I’m not taking portraits…which is my ‘real’ job.

In order to do Uber or Lyft or Instacart or Favor or Postmates, I had to have a Smartphone.

My phone is an LG Stylo2. It’s a nice sized phone and I can use all those side Gig apps. I gave Uber and Lyft a shot, but didn’t love either that much. I stumbled upon Instacart, a gig where you shop for and deliver groceries. Its my go to side Gig. It’s something I like doing.

I’ve always been a fan of jobs where I have a lot of free time. Security guard, assembly line portrait photographer, and now App based jobs. Instacart sees me sitting around much of the work day. I’d rather be working…but I don’t mind waiting around until there’s something to do.

Smartphones are delivery systems for Apps.

I use my Gig apps on a regular basis,  but the two apps that get the most screen time are Waze and Podcast Republic.

Waze is a way cool navigation app. Not always perfect…it has taken to the wrong address a couple of times…but it has a lot of cool options. I make mine sound like a British woman. I also get notices about police ahead and a little ding when I go over the speed limit.

Podcasts are a whole new world for me. Sort of. I’ve always been a fan of NPR and audio books, but this is a little different. Many of the pocasts clearly have no Editors, Directors, or Sound Engineers. These shows can be a shock to the system. Others are completely professional and are a joy to listen to. I like No Such Thing As A Fish and Revisionist History. Among many others.

I also have a few games. Governor of Poker 3 and Bit Dungeon II are current favorites.

I have now become one of those people who constantly has my phone in my hand. I wrote this blog post on my phone.

I still use my laptop or desktop to bang out my novels…this tiny keyboard is not really to my liking.

I like my phone and my new van-a 2015 Dodge Grand Caravan. So far so good on the making money front.

 

Posted in random thoughts, Uncategorized

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.

Posted in movie review

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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