I finally learned how to make restaurant-quality ramen, and it doesn't require super-exotic ingredients. Go to the recipe here.
Funniest quote I've read in ages is a tweet from Jaime N. Christley (@j_christley). Sadly, it's also quite true:
"A reboot of THEY LIVE would just be a guy putting down his iPhone and looking around at shit."
(This review is spoiler-free, and contains only references to what's been seen in the official trailers for the movie. There are a couple spoilers for the original reboot, but you've had four years to see that.)
When I saw J.J. Abram's Star Trek reboot in 2009 (twice, in the theater!) I thought it was great. Forking Star Trek off into an alternate timeline is a great way to escape the strait jacket of fifty years' canon and try some new things.
But the longer I thought about it, the greater my dissatisfaction with the screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Having traveled back in time, why didn't the bad guy (Nero) go warn his homeworld of its impending doom, instead of chasing Spock around the galaxy?
I had many other issues, some quite massive. For example, destroying the planet Vulcan just to make Spock a tragic figure was unforgivable, and struck me as Abram's way of pissing on Roddenberry's tree to mark the franchise as his own.
Here's another case: that Spock (I misremembered it as Kirk) could watch Vulcan's destruction from an entirely different star system, as if it were no more distant than our moon, shows the writers' monumental ignorance of the nature of space. I don't expect screenwriters to have PhDs in physics or astronomy, but a few minutes' research on the internet can prevent such blunders. Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with bending the rules in the service of a good plot. Star Trek has a history of doing just that, but at least the original Trek writers attempted to stay within plausibility. In my opinion, Orci's and Kurtzman's epic failure to do so disqualifies them from writing for Star Trek. It's called "science fiction" for a reason. Why not just power the warp drive with Smurfs on treadmills, then? Just because it's an alternate universe doesn't mean the laws of physics are different too.
As you may have guessed, I approached Star Trek: Into Darkness with a fair amount of negativity, but I was curious to see whether Abrams and his writers (joined now by, Damon Lindelof of Prometheus and Lost fame, ugh) had learned any lessons. Sadly, no.
My first inklings of trouble came with the teaser trailers. Another revenge film? Didn't we just do that with the reboot? Star Trek is supposed to be about finding new worlds, new civilizations, boldly going where no men have gone before. Sorry, maybe in the next film.
And even I was surprised by my own nerd rage over seeing clips of the Enterprise rising from beneath the ocean of an alien world. The Enterprise is a starship, not a submarine, and there are serious reasons why such a vessel would not do such a thing. An inauspicious start, to be sure.
I understand this is a bold new take on the Star Trek universe. I actually love the idea of an alternate timeline. But in almost every detail I dislike the writers' specific choices. Case in point: Starfleet dress uniforms now look exactly like those worn by Nazis. Who approved this? It's incredibly creepy and off-putting.
I'm tempted to scold the writers on their misuse of the term "cold fusion" too, but explaining how they screwed that up would be a spoiler. Still, it's a perfect example of the writers' total lack of due diligence.
Here's another example of plot stupidity: If a ship's artificial gravity system malfunctions in a way that endangers the crew, the obvious safety measure is to shut it down. A mercury switch or accelerometer (as found in a smart phone) would do it automatically. Unfortunately, that's not how we do things in an Abrams film, where adrenaline trumps intelligence.
There are a couple of technologies shown in this movie that would utterly transform life in the Federation, yet they're simply treated as throwaway plot points with no thought given to their ultimate repercussions. Again, that's lazy.
In fact, the plot of Star Trek: Into Darkness makes even less sense than the original reboot. It is little more than the wet dream of people who don't understand the first thing about the Trek universe, let alone actually care about it.
And I could have done with fewer lens flares and fist-fights.
There is an underlying question posed by the plot of STID, namely "what would you do to protect your family?" In all but one case the answer we're given is "act selfishly, screw the rules, and screw everyone else". In the Abramsverse people are quite willing to cause mass slaughter just to save their own family, in a way that reminds me of Gandhi's warning: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." On steroids.
All that being said, there were a few things I liked about STID. I was pleasantly surprised by the final reveal of the plot which drove the conflict in this movie, however badly it was handled. I liked all of the principal characters with the exception of Kirk, who is incredibly annoying. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a charismatic villain, and he does a fine job despite the terrible lines they gave him. The visuals were top-notch, though I find today's visual effects so overwhelming they induce a kind of perceptual numbness. Maybe I'm just getting old. :)
I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars.
If you want to see Star Trek rebooted the right way, go watch Galaxy Quest. It's quite evident those writers love their source material in a way the Abrams crew does not.
This spoilerific FAQ from io9.com identifies many of my own deep dissatisfactions with the plot Star Trek: Into Darkness. Do not read it unless you've seen the film first.
By the way, I should mention that I don't hate *everything* Abrams has ever done. Cloverfield was kind of cool as an experiment in extreme cinema verite, and I enjoyed Super 8 so much I saw it twice in the theater and bought the DVD. The monster and the climax are pretty dumb, but the movie perfectly captures the feeling of being fifteen and struck with a crush.
I've written an essay describing the curious resonances between the two films Contact and The Silence of the Lambs. Check it out!
I watched Tron Legacy again, and unlike the Star Trek reboot (which I loved at first, and grew to dislike), this movie has grown on me every time I watch it.
Spoiler Alert! I noticed something I hadn't caught before. When Flynn recounts Tron's valiant defense of him during CLU's coup, Tron's disk is shown as being infected with the orange light of CLU's cause. Later, when Quorra offers herself as a distraction so Kevin and Sam Flynn can get away, Tron's orange disk is then shown as being re-infected with her 'good' blue light. I think that's part of why he decides to defend the Flynns from CLU during the air battle.
Last month I sold my first copy of Dangerous to someone in France. That's a big deal to me, because the chief inspiration for my book came from two French novels from the 1950s: Pauline Reage's Story of O and The Image by Jean de Berg.
So, whoever you are, thank you very much. I hope you enjoy it.
I'm enjoying this arc from Diesel Sweeties. Click on each strip to go to the actual page for a full sized version.
It's helpful to know that Mara, the character on the left, is an ex-porn star. [Who's Who in Diesel Sweeties]
Over the Christmas holiday I saw Peter Jackson's take on The Hobbit. Twice. First in 24fps/2D, and a second time in the new 48fps/3D format. I was shocked by how vastly different were the two viewings.
What I thought of the movie itself
This isn't a review of the movie, but I will say this much: Jackson's worked hard to bring the lighter Hobbit material more in line with the gravitas of Lord of the Rings, and mostly it works.
Good Parts: Bilbo, Thorin, Galadriel and Gollum. The "Riddles in the Dark" scene is simply astonishing, offering the best Gollum performance yet. He manages to be deeply funny and terrifying at the same time. Andy Serkis and the artists/animators who create that character surely deserve an award.
Not So Good: A few things are supersized beyond all recognition, like the Dwarven realm of Erebor and the stone giants. Radagast the Brown and his rabbit sled are too cartoony for my taste, as was the big bad White Orc. (Unlike Gollum, that orc character looked very CG). Elven blades are supposed to faintly glow at the edges in the presence of orcs, not shine like lightsabers. The action sequences are a bit too over-the-top compared to LOTR, in the same way Temple of Doom overdid what worked in Raiders of the Lost Ark. As my friend Lotus observed, orcs in the first trilogy had real mass and were a real threat, whereas in The Hobbit they fly around like paper.
Bottom line: I liked the film a lot, but I didn't love it.
That was my impression of the 24fps version at any rate. A couple days later I went to the new 48fps/3D version, cautiously hopeful I'd be blown away. I was, but not in a good way.
What I thought of the new HFR (High Frame Rate) format
For me, 48fps is a noble experiment, but a failed one. On paper, it should be a big improvement. The faster frame rate makes film grain disappear, and there's a supernatural reality to the image. Everything is super-sharp, movement is very smooth. And yet...
I could barely sit through the first half of the film before I had to leave, it was that off-putting. And puzzling out the why of my reaction has occupied my thoughts for days.
The closest I can come to capturing its wrongness is this: I had the sensation of having wandered onto the set and watching the actors perform their parts in stage makeup. If you've ever seen "behind the scenes" material shot on video, it felt like that, but with super-high resolution. Specific performances I'd enjoyed in the 24fps format now felt over-acted, as if the dreamlike magic of film reality had been ripped away, to leave the actors naked on stage. I never felt an emotional connection with anything that transpired on the screen. I imagine dogs feel the same way watching High-Def TV. Lots to look at, but nothing quite makes sense.
The effect was inconsistant. A few shots really benefited from the new format, but they tended to be the wide, static establishing shots where you expect everything to be in focus. Rivendell, for example, and the beauty shot of Bag End. The close- and medium-shots, and chaotic battle scenes, however, were too sharp and rich in detail. It didn't help that Jackson chose super-saturated colors, either.
My hunch is traditional film's 24fps and tv's 30 work so well because they sync closely with the 1/25th second 'persistence of vision' effect. Perhaps those flicker rates produce a slight trance that helps the imagery go down smoothly. Whatever the case, my perceptual system did not enjoy 48fps, and I don't believe it's a simple matter of my age or lifetime exposure to the old format. It just feels wrong, wrong, wrong.
I think it must have screwed with my perception of time and space, too, because sometimes the speed of movement felt strangely accelerated, almost like video that hasn't buffered properly and rushes ahead to catch up. Yet the sound was always in synch, so I don't think it was a technical glitch.
Apparently I'm not the only one saying these things: http://gizmodo.com/the-hobbit/
I took off my 3D glasses at various points in the film to see if that might help me accept the HFR format. It's hard to say for sure, but it didn't seem to help things.
Here's another interesting thing I observed. Today's 3D technology is pretty darned good. I can watch a 3D movie with pleasure. But later when replaying such movies in my head, I don't retain the 3D aspect; it goes back to being flat images. HFR, on the other hand, was so profoundly strange that I do remember it vividly. Weird!
Good try, but no more, please
That said, I applaud Peter Jackson for giving it a college try. I'm glad I got to experience it, even if I didn't enjoy it.
Perhaps the trick to making HFR work is a new approach to directing and cinematography. More restrained camera work, subtler acting. It might make for great nature documentaries with locked-down cameras.
But I don't ever want to see another HFR movie.
By the way, this has been tried before by Douglas Trumbull and his insane Showscan format. I've always wanted to see that. Now I'm not so sure.
I've read the book twice. I've also just listened to the Audible version of this book for a second time. And once again I'm blown away by how good it is. Here's the review I submitted to Audible.
Q: What did you like best about this story?
A: I'm a William Gibson fan, and I applaud his wilingness to try new things, honing his craft along new and unexpected vectors every time. What makes Pattern Recognition one of my favorites is Gibson's ability to see situations, scenes, and narrative connections with an eye that has, simultaneously, a child's innocent wonder and a great-grandmother's deep appreciation of history and the mysterious tides which rule the human heart. His prose is like nothing else I've read, and can wrench sudden hoots of laughter from me in one moment, then steal my breath in another.
Pattern Recognition takes place in 2002, a full decade before the date of this review, yet I consider it a subtle, fresh kind of science fiction. It views our world through a filter that sharpens the reader's appreciation of the ways in which our present day is already profoundly science-fictional. When was the last time you really thought about the miraculous nature of email, or the bizarre way advertising has mutated and evolved in the last couple of decades?
I suspect Gibson had only the barest notion of where this tale might lead when he began writing it, and perhaps none at all. Often that method falls flat, but here the process of discovery infuses the story with an organic flavor that succeeds brilliantly.
Q: Which scene was your favorite?
A: It would be impossible to pick a favorite.
Q: Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
A: There were several deeply moving scenes in Pattern Recognition, but I am unable to discuss them without spoiling. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.
So I'll speak in code: Cayce, the protagonist, is moved to tears by what she finds at the source of the digital Nile (Gibson's term) she's been exploring. I shared her tears because of a deep appreciation for the delicate, beautiful, tragic, and utterly unexpected nature of her discovery.
Q: Would you consider the audio edition of Pattern Recognition to be better than the print version?
A: I enjoyed both print and audio editions of Pattern Recognition, but Ms. Fraser's performance adds a subtlety and depth which greatly amplifies Gibson's velvety prose.
Q: Any additional comments?
A: Pattern Recognition is not for everyone. If your tastes run to Twilight or Bond, this won't do a thing for you. But if you enjoy lovingly-crafted prose and an eye that turns the mundane into the wondrous, I suggest you give it a read.