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It Went Something Like This [21 Oct 2016|12:07pm]
[ mood | curious ]

There are a fair number of songs that refer to the existence of other songs, for instance Del Shannon's "Runaway" is being listened to by the protagonists of both Tom Petty's "Running Down A Dream" and Barenaked Ladies' "When You Dream", and Miley Cyrus listens to a bunch of other artists in the course of "Party In The U.S.A.". A rarer and arguably meta phenomenon is when the protagonist of the song hears that same song within the world of the song.

The earliest I can think of is in the 40s country song "Tennessee Waltz", wherein the singer dances to said waltz with their darling, meets an old friend, and loses their darling to that friend to the beautiful, sad strains of a song about that very subject. Looked at this way, it almost feels like a Buddhist lesson about the folly of attachment and the falseness of the world.

There are a lot of "dance" songs that invoke their own title, propagating theoretically pre-existing crazes such as The Twist, The Madison, The Locomotion, The Electric Slide, etc., but in most cases it's clear that they're referring to the dance, not the song itself. A possible exception is "The Time Warp" from Rocky Horror Picture Show, wherein the Riff remembers not just doing the dance, but also people shouting the lyrics to the song. Then you get Columbia's great middle-8 break that seems to be some sort of origin story for both her current persona and the song itself. Of course, since the song is purposely mind-bending and vaguely about some kind of time travel, this kind of self-referentiality feels a lot more in keeping with the tone than for the beautiful "Tennessee Waltz".

A case with RL chronology behind it is "Boyz-n-the-Hood" from Easy-E's 1988 album Eazy-Duz-It, where in an intro he describes how he blasted an NWA album through his car speakers and then "played my own shit it went something like this," followed by the body of the song. The meta-ness of this is a little compromised by the fact that he had in fact done a shorter version of that song on an NWA album the previous year, so you could almost think of the 1988 version as a second song about listening to the 1987 version. But he commits pretty heavily to the reality of the second part, so even if it's not as reality-warping as the first two it at least suggests the ability of music to take us mentally into the past and perhaps to reflect or induce our tendency to repeat past patterns of behavior.

I feel like I've heard others but those are what I can think of. Anyone?

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My new project [01 Sep 2016|01:54pm]
[ mood | creative ]

I have a new project underway! A while back I wrote a sci-fi romance play called Companions and submitted it to Chicago's Coffee & Whiskey Productions. They accepted it, put on a one-day minimalist show of it, and it all went great.

Now I'm adapting it into a radio play, and with the help of Kickstarter backers I'll record some actors and put it up on the internet. If the idea of a sci-fi love story sounds interesting to you then check out the short preview I've got on the page!

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John & Jane went up the timeline, to catch a fizzle bomber. [13 May 2016|08:07am]
[ mood | impressed ]

Having watched the time-travel / gender identity thriller Predestination at least three times now, I'm even more fascinated by it, and decided to straighten out its timeline in terms of when in their lifetimes the key figures meet each other (it's pretty much all spoilers, so recommend you see the movie first).

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I believe that's all of them. Pretty crazy!

Note 1: The two biggest "lonely" times are during childhood / adolescence and old age, which I think is no coincidence.

Note 2: By shifting POV, the movie shows the events in this order in a fairly continuous way: 8, 9, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 10, 12, 13/15 (14 never explicit but heavily implied).

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Number One...Dad? [28 Dec 2015|10:23pm]
I saw a picture of the main cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine posted on Facebook referred to as a "family portrait", and it got me thinking about how, although Sisko & Kira are central to the photo a la a father & mother, they do not have that parental dynamic in quite the way other Trek crews do.

The most obvious Mom & Dad would be Janeway & Chekotay on Voyager. They provide a lot of emotional support while remaining figures of ultimate authority, and yet find it difficult to hide their messy emotions from those they command. They're also kind of uncool, as the episode "Bride Of Chaotica" amply proves: Janeway is game enough to play her part in the ridiculous Captain Proton adventure, but when she actually expresses an interest in continuing the kids do what they can to ditch her.

More individually, Janeway makes the decisions and Chekotay sees that they're carried out, doing a gender reverse of the traditional family roles but following a very traditional Commanding Officer / Executive Officer military relationship. Even when there are bumps in the road, for instance Janeway early-on wanting to micromanage Chekotay within his own sphere, they're the kind of bumps that could have fit comfortably into battle-of-the-sexes entertainment of the mid-20th century (but again, reversed).

In this way they're quite similar to Picard & Riker on The Next Generation. Except that Riker does the job in more of an older-brother way. He performs the duties, but spends more time playing jazz and tangling with the locals than counselling the crew. Of course, this is probably because this is the only Trek crew with a Counselor on permanent duty, providing less conditional support compared to the challenging tone of the others. The fact that Riker & Deana Troi are always linked, and often seen working together on various personnel reports & rosters further gives the sense that they are splitting the "Mom" role between them. And when Picard needs to be managed, either because he's avoiding vacation or is having a career crisis in an alternate timeline, it's generally the team of Riker & Troi that get the job done (without technically contradicting his commands, once again like something out of mid-century domestic fiction).

If the Captain / #1 relationships on those two ships are the 24th Century Starfleet family norm (perhaps one being a "normal" family and the other a "blended" one), then DS9, characteristically enough, is more of the "family of choice". Sisko has to be both Mom & Dad to his son, and pretty much to the crew as well, going so far as to feed them...and to nose into their personal lives in a way that Janeway would have suppressed and which would probably not even have occurred to Picard. Kira meanwhile is not at all the kind of XO Riker or Chekotay were. Any time she's doing reports or handling personnel matters it's with the attitude of them being a barely-tolerable tax on her time. She's much more in the mold of a U.S. Vice President: she's there to take over if anything happens to Sisko, and in the meantime to do whatever job she can find for herself, or to be sent off and be Sisko's proxy because he can't be in multiple places at once. In either case, he essentially trusts her to do whatever needs to be done. If Sisko was asked why it was so important for him to keep Kira specifically as his XO, he might reply like Jed Bartlett did about keeping his VP on The West Wing: "I might die."

Of course that leaves a lot of emotional weight on Sisko...Collapse )
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“One can begin so many things with a new person!" [18 Dec 2015|05:55pm]
[ mood | impressed ]

I recently read George Eliot's Middlemarch, and reviewed it on Goodreads. I found it a very interesting & enjoyable slice of English realistic romance despite it occasionally getting very verbose about things already established.

As I mention in that review, I kept thinking of Eliot's predecessor Jane Austen & successor Edith Wharton while reading it, and in fact kept seeing the characters in those terms. So I've set out to cast the Middlemarch characters, not with actors, but with Jane Austen characters, which seemed like a fun exercise a la breaking Shakespeare casts into Commedia Dell Arte archetypes. Anyway, here goes...

  • Dorothea Brooke / Jane Bennet (P&P)

  • Celia Brooke / Louisa Musgrove (Persuasion)

  • Arthur Brooke / Sir John Middleton (S&S), if he never married

  • Rev. Edward Casaubon / Mr. Collins (P&P), if he'd looked for a wife 20 years later

  • Sir James Chettam / Mr. Elton (Emma)

  • Rev. Cadwallader / Charles Musgrove (Persuasion)

  • Mrs. Cadwallader / Lady Russell (Persuasion)

  • Rosamund Vincy / Lydia Bennet (P&P), with a few unmarried years to refine herself

  • Fred Vincy / Tom Bertram (Mansfield Park), but with more yearning to improve

  • Mrs. Vincy / Mrs. Bennet (P&P)

  • Mary Garth / Anne Elliot (Persuasion)

    Will Ladislaw, Doctor Lydgate and Reverend Farebrother, due to their ambition and complex social problems, should probably be cast from the Edit Wharton Cinematic Universe rather than the Austen one. Whereas Mayor Vincy, Caleb Garth, the Bulstrodes, and many others of the "business men" are much more like characters from Dickens.

    Looking over the list, it's clear that Dorothea & Rosamund really need to team up for Bennet Sisters Power, which makes sense as Middlemarch gets considerable tension (some of it comic) out of almost throwing those two heroines together but then making them miss each other (because if they ever really compared notes, they could sort out about half the town's problems). Will Ladislaw is sort of the Nemesis of the Bechdel Test here, because he keeps being there whenever these two meet and creating a melodramatic situation where they can't talk (except perhaps about him).

    Speaking of Bechdel, my biggest disappointment with the book is that the friendship of Rosamund Vincy & Mary Garth gets dropped halfway through, without any reason I can see. This is really unfortunate given how scrupulous it is about other relationships and how they pull back and forth (so much so that I found it beneficial to read the first 80 pages twice so that I could catch people's first mentions & appearances better).
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    Never Get To The Fireworks Factory [01 Dec 2015|05:13pm]
    [ mood | impressed ]

    The biggest change in television in the past decade or so is, to me, that many people have gone from wanting a show that progresses by hitting various universal notes, to one that hits the notes especially well, to one that resists the lure of the usual notes altogether, at least as far as its central elements go. In other words, to adapt Millhouse's phrase from The Simpsons, we've gone from wanting to get to the fireworks factory, to hoping that the arrival at the fireworks factory is done well, to hoping that we never get to the fireworks factory.

    One example of this evolution is popular "will they? / won't they?" pairings. In the 80s with Sam & Diane or Dave & Maddie there was considerable audience pressure to resolve the romantic tension and get them together. Since serialization was in its infancy this wouldn't be much of a process, more of a one-episode switch from "a show in which two people flirt" to "a show in which two people have a relationship" (although Cheers, to its credit, managed to carry out these things in nice season-by-season steps that neither required viewing every episode nor felt arbitrarily static).

    The big pairing of the 90s, at least in my crowd, was Mulder & Scully from The X-Files. The pressure was certainly still there on the audience side, but the fate of the previous shows (growing irrelevance for Moonlighting and many interesting but difficult contortions for Cheers) led to an extreme awareness on the part of the creative team that putting Fox & Dana together should be done very carefully, and at just the right moment. And while this moment never arrived, at least on TV, its inevitability is demonstrated both by the extreme non-starterness of both characters' outside love interests and the fact that no justification was felt necessary when they're suddenly living together in their second movie.

    As the 21st Century approached, the concept of "jumping the shark" passed into popular parlance (again, at least in my crowd), and with it the sense that resolving a situation could wreck a show. And this extended beyond romantic pairings: everyone had seen and minutely examined the fate of Twin Peaks, which had been designed to be all character exploration with no plot movement, when it was forced to resolve its central mystery (in short, a burst of brilliance followed by a quick, uneven, fall).

    Therefore, hyper-self-aware shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy The Vampire Slayer played with the expectations, either by teasing developments they had no intention on delivering or by bringing the consequence of "giving in" to such impulses into the show's narrative.

    So in these and many other cases, the creative teams had learned that sometimes it was vital to deny the audience what they wanted. Of course, there had always been some awareness of this; everyone knew that if you exonerated The Fugitive, cured The Incredible Hulk, or let the kids escape the realm of Dungeons & Dragons that would be the end of the show, but the audience knew on some level that these things could never happen short of the finale, whereas now the audience was being denied things they might reasonably expect to happen.*

    The next stage of evolution, therefore, had to be on the part of the audience themselves. Many people were probably aware, on some level, that the show was better off if Buffy & Angel didn't live happily ever after, but the yearning for it to happen (or some substitute involving Spike or another known character) was still plenty strong. It took a further step for people to just stop even inwardly wishing for that kind of development.

    The first big case of this to catch my attention was among the fans of Elementary, the American modern-day Sherlock Holmes show. Almost from the beginning there was a strongly expressed wish that Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes & Lucy Liu's Watson NEVER get together romantically, one that would have been hostile even to flirtation or hinting, and to the show's credit there wasn't any (compare with the BBC series Sherlock, which engages in some self-aware teasing along the lines of Xena & Gabby although with a very light, ironic touch). And it's not just that this audience didn't want it to happen; they were afraid that it would happen someday in a misguided play for ratings.

    I noticed a very similar reaction, but on a plot rather than character level, to HBO's disappearing-people show The Leftovers. It generally takes a few episodes to figure out what the show is doing, but once people get hooked they often express a wish that the show stick by its practice of never explaining any of its seeming supernatural events, even to the extent of definitively proving that they ARE supernatural. I've seen many posts that quote the refrain of the 2nd Season theme song: "Let the mystery be"; they wouldn't wish for a big reveal any more than you'd wish for a juggler to stumble while he's trying to keep pins in the air.

    I think this is great. Not that all shows have to be like this, but I love that a sizable audience has learned that a good cross-gender friendship or an insoluble mystery can be beautiful things, which would be spoiled by a resolution. In a way, it shows three stages of wish fulfillment: This audience went from wanting something without knowing it was bad for them, to wanting something while knowing it was bad for them, to NOT wanting something they knew was bad for them. And just because in real life they might wish to know if miracles really happened, or what it would be like for that co-worker to make out with them, they no longer required their tele-fictions to fulfill those wishes within their stories. At least, not every time.

    Examples, counter-examples, and any comments always welcome.

    * - Of course, another direction to go with either romantic tension or mystery is to resolve it and move on without making it a big deal. The 4400 was good at both of these; the leads determine their mutual level of attraction early on and never deviate from it, while the plot mysteries were resolved at the end of each season in order to make way for deeper ones in the next. Community might also qualify; characters get it on when they naturally would do so, without this upending the more important relationship in their life: that of the study group.
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    End of a Cat Era [24 Nov 2015|04:25pm]
    [ mood | sad ]

    Our cat died yesterday.

    If you want to read his very long, mostly happy history...

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    Pet ownership is a lot of contradictory things. Paying attention to them versus doing things your pet can't appreciate. Letting them out versus keeping them in. Getting more pets and hoping they help each other versus focusing on the ones you have. Leaving them alone when they slink off versus forcing care on them. We've been on both sides off all these things, and while I'm sure I could have been a better owner in some ways (brushing their teeth, better littlerbox maintenance, playing actively with them more) I think we got the big things right with the info we had at hand. I hope that they enjoyed knowing us somewhere near as much as we enjoyed knowing them, because if so, they were very happy cats.

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    How Kirkly? [16 Jul 2015|04:52pm]
    [ mood | curious ]

    Re-watching various Star Trek pilots lately (triggered by the Trekabout podcast finally reaching Deep Space Nine), I started comparing the various series to each other not in terms of which are better, but which are most like The Original Series (which is not at all the same thing).

    The Next Generation has hands-down the most tangible connections to TOS, which makes sense given that it was closest in RL time. Gene Roddenberry was involved, many of the same writers wrote, and McCoy, Scotty, and the computer were played by the actually-present original actors (and several TOS guest actors play new parts, including Dr. Pulaski).

    Also, TNG is the only show that really duplicates the original Enterprise mission: seek out new life and new civilizations. Some of the later shows were more like this than others, but TNG was the last time that pretty much any story from it could conceivably have been on TOS and vice-versa.

    From almost the beginning, though, TNG's adventures had a different feel. While Kirk's ship spent most of its time out on the frontier, Picard's spent a lot in relatively known space, filling in the gaps in the outlines the first explorers had made. The cruise ship look to the place (as opposed to TOS's more spartan, functional look) underlined this; Picard's crew might be routinely in danger, but they were rarely uncomfortable.

    That crew was, increasingly, another difference. The seven main characters (more like 8-9 at any one time if you rotate between Tasha, Wesley, O'Brien, Guinan, Ro, and Barclay) became a more balanced ensemble than the six or so TOS crew; once you get past Kirk & Spock the number of episodes where another TOS character is really at the forefront rather than serving as an adjunct drops precipitously. This became not just a matter of actor time, but a whole style of working problems whereby Captain Picard for the most part let people decide how to handle their areas of expertise, as long as they weren't overstepping their bounds, slacking off, or breaking Federation principles. As opposed to Kirk, who respected his crew's technical abilities but was generally up close to the problem to exercise his own judgment of the details.

    As TNG entered its later seasons, though, it drifted toward TOS in some ways and away in others. The TV dynamic of "breakout characters" dictated more time spent with Picard & Data at the expense of others, and although their relationship is not Kirk & Spock-like their collective story function became inescapably similar.

    At the same time, however, the incipient signs of serialization were appearing (about the same time Twin Peaks came on the air). and although TNG didn't really do story arcs longer than three episodes, callbacks, which were rare & celebrated on TOS, became so commonplace on TNG that it might be hard to find two episodes in a row that didn't refer back in some way. However, this doesn't distinguish TNG on a strictly relative basis because all the other series were even more serialized than it was (same could go for surface improvements such as makeup, special effects, and the appearance of women in senior jobs).

    Summing up TNG...
    Like TOS: creators, missions, eventually Captain/Science Officer team.
    Unlike TOS: decentralized ship operations, decentralized storytelling

    Deep Space Nine, in terms of the human element, is an almost total break from TOS. All that's left is Majel Barrett as the computer voice in terms of a TOS person doing their TOS job. Plus, the very un-TOS serialization reaches its height, and the show increasingly commits the un-Roddenberry cardinal sin of questioning whether human progress would always be for the good.

    Related to the last, but more subtle (though inescapable once you notice it), is how much less human-centered DS9 is in general. Even in the first season, before it had completely distinguished itself from TNG, it was already routine for a DS9 episode to have scenes with aliens talking to other aliens and no humans present at all. And while the Federation is on balance the most benevolent of the various interstellar governments, that "on balance" sums up a lot of probing and soul-searching that are very different from TNG's confidence in moral rightness and TOS's generally unthinking assumption of it (Spock aside).

    And then, of course, you have the mission. The Niners do manage to find some life & civilizations, but they're not really seeking them out. Their job is to rebuild a devastated world and forge an interstellar community out of the many forces interested in the wormhole. As a result, DS9 probably has the fewest TOS-compatible episode plots of any of the Trek shows.

    On the other hand, though, there are substantial ways that DS9 hearkened over TNG's head back to TOS. At the top, you have a captain with a very performative way of expressing himself. Now, Patrick Stewart may not talk exactly like you and me, but Shatner & Brooks talk in a way that only makes sense as a show they're putting on for those around them. They have big ideas, and big emotions, and they revel in expressing these. Picard had them too, but when he expressed them it was against all his attempts to avoid it.

    And, once again, that Captain is best friends with his science officer. Sisko & Dax have less surface sparring than Kirk & Spock did, but the sense of being supremely trusted confidants is very similar. They're not partners in crime in quite the same way, because Sisko tends to delegate nearly as much as Picard did, and therefore Dax's job often has her working with others on or below her own level rather than him. But their personal relationship is at least as close.

    Which is more remarkable because DS9 introduces long-term, relatively stable romantic relationships, something completely absent from TOS and which TNG only had in the most abstract way. O'Brien & Keiko, Sisko & Yates, the Daxes & Worf, Odo & Kira all dealt with the joys & trevails of love with an impact very different from the doomed one-episode-stands of TNG & TOS.

    Another thing DS9 brings back is the frontier vibe that was a foundation of TOS. As one of the creators said, if TOS was Wagon Train in space, DS9 was Deadwood, complete with gruff sheriff, wily barkeep, and fiery native woman. DS9 becomes home to the Niners, but unlike Picard's Enterprise it's never really "like home". It's the Niners themselves who adapt.

    DS9 is often considered "un-Trek", but I think those similarities are substantial enough that when it paid tribute to TOS, whether through Tribbles or mirrors, it felt like they really knew where Trek had come from, as well as the new directions where they wanted to take it.

    Summing up DS9...
    Like TOS: Captain Soliloquy, Space Western, Captain/Science Officer team.
    Unlike TOS: Very different mission, Romantic Relationships, the most serialized.

    Voyager was perceived in its time as a step back towards TNG, which in some ways made it more like TOS and in others less.

    We're on a ship again, and unlike TNG we're far from the comforts of known space, which lends a TOS air to things. Further, we have a Captain who gets very involved in decisions, and demonstrates knowledge of the technologies of space travel that Sisko & Picard probably considered outside their department, which makes her in some ways very like Kirk even as it makes her have the most casual way of talking we've seen yet.

    Perhaps related to that casualness, we have a Captain who is doubted by her crew and has to win their allegiance more than any other. This is strictly relative, given that 90% of the time people assume Janeway knows best, but crew-integration bumps early on and the Janeway / Chakotay disagreements in hard cases like "Scorpion" are the closest the main character crew of any Trek series come to mutiny without some sort of mind control or impersonation being involved.

    Voyager is even more like TOS in its all-crew cast. The many fatalities in the first episode and the remoteness from everywhere means that everyone is busy, In fact, since newcomers Kes & Neelix consider themselves crew-members, there's basically no non-crew until various child characters start to creep in in the later seasons. This, plus the split Federation/Maquis origins, makes the show a lot more about the stress of command and obedience than any show since TOS.

    It could be argued that Voyager also takes a step back in the area of serialization, but I'd say it's mostly a step sideways. While they don't do long arcs, and development of the universe beyond the ship is limited by the one-way trip home, that trip puts a unitary focus on mission progress that even DS9 didn't have. You could practically have a "light years from home" at the beginning of every episode instead of stardates, and reducing that number is at the center of practically everything that happens. This is probably even more foreign to TOS than DS9's space operatic structure was (though of course having a lot in common with the past & future Battlestars Galactica and Battleships Yamato).

    Romance is a mixed bag. (Tell me about it!) The one-way mission means we get more one-night stands for the Captain and crew, but the closed ship is a perfect incubator for Torres & Paris, who create the most believably developed "new" romantic relationship in all of Trek. But in terms of screen-time, the marriage problems are way down from DS9.

    Voyager, in brief...
    Like TOS: Hands-on Captain, Exploration, one-shot romances, crew tensions.
    Unlike TOS: Plain-folks Captain, two people fall in love believably, all about getting home.

    Enterprise is a strange case. It has the absolute least Kirk-like Captain (if you thought Janeway was plain-folks, or Picard was hands-off, Archer has them both beat), but is a big return to Trek in terms of its universe: Vulcans are a big deal again and we see the Andorians after a very long absence. (Klingons remain inescapable). On the other hand, they did lapse a couple times to problematical fan service for TNG groups like the Ferengi & Borg. We also lose Majel Barrett as the ship's computer.

    The mission is very frontier-y like TOS, but has more of a sense where every little step is a victory over adversity, like Voyager. And you have long-building story arcs, like DS9 except maybe moreso.

    One way that Enterprise is different from all the others is the absence of a character perpetually ready for love. Up to now there'd always been one, albeit with a steady regression through the ranks. In TOS it was the Captain, in TNG the first officer, in DS9 the Chief Medical Officer, and on Voyager the Helmsman. Maybe there is one on Enterprise, but he's too far down the ranks to appear.

    On another crew-relations note, we're back to an ensemble dominated by the relationship of the Captain to his Vulcan first officer, with only the Doctor character really standing out on a regular basis among the others (although that's on his own rather than completing a TOS-like trio).

    I'm going to leave off there, because although there are episodes of Enterprise I quite enjoyed, trying to make systematic sense of it makes my eyes drift away from the screen.

    Enterprise, in brief...
    Like TOS: Voyage of exploration, old school alien races, Captain & Vulcan dominate.
    Unlike TOS: The least Kirkly Captain, big season-long plots, no Majel.

    Putting it all together, I'd say TNG, which seemed superficially the most like TOS, is in fact the most like TOS. Much as with the origins of the Civil War or whose fault World War One was, the obvious answer is quite often the correct answer. But it's still worthwhile to look closer!

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    "You can't kill us!" [05 Jul 2015|10:23am]
    [ mood | impressed ]

    I saw Terminator: Genisys yesterday. It was much more fun than I expected, but had a bunch of problems. It's very analogous to Star Trek Into Darkness: a brisk one-time watch with a bunch of ideas and interesting riffs on the original, but almost none of the tension & emotional resonance. Here's the breakdown, with hopefully no spoilers...


  • While future Kyle Reese is an interesting character, time-traveling Kyle becomes a bit too much of a dude bro, action comedy guy (STID had a similar problem). Just because Chris Pratt is great doesn't mean all male leads should be Chris Pratt.
  • Cop-out ending (also like STID).
  • Some never-explained stuff, including one great big one.
  • Comic relief character went a little broad. JK Simmons really runs with the bumbling side of his character, and I honestly can't say whether by doing so he saves or ruins his scenes. Basically he's doing a great job in a different movie.

  • Really fun depiction of a time travel situation gone amok. Much like Sarah Connor Chronicles (which surprisingly is referenced more than T2 is) you can tell that this timeline has been so messed with that no one quite knows what's going on anymore, they're all playing in the dark.
  • Associated with that, a lot of fun "Oh, so this time THIS is happening!" moments.
  • Also some great surprises showing the resourcefulness of one Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) in all timelines.
  • Surprisingly good use of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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    I like it this way. [30 May 2015|01:05pm]
    [ mood | impressed ]

    As the result of random Netflix browsing I just saw November Man, which is not the tenth sequel to Kevin Kline's January Man but rather Pierce Brosnan's latest anti-James Bond film, following The Matador and Tailor Of Panama, although in a different direction.

    It's a techno-spy story with very familiar moves drawn from both mentor/student films like Spy Game & Hopscotch*, "control room one step behind" stuff like the Bourne movies, and "relevance thrillers" like The Peacemaker and The Interpreter.

    For most of its run it's a fairly amiable mix of these, no competition for the serious likes of A Most Wanted Man but outstripping silly messes like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and even the antiseptic success of the Mission Impossible movies, and with an above-average share of actualized female characters (without however reaching parity in this regard). Along the way there are a few clues that something more subversive is happening, but they're easy to ignore or chalk up to randomness.

    The end, however (*mild spoilers*) shows that something more risky was happening. I can't say it 100% pays off, but while it makes the film more flawed it also makes it much more interesting. Because in a way somewhat like Watchmen (*oh yeah, mild spoilers for it as well*) it turns out that the plan our heroes were trying to thwart is actually something a lot of people would consider a good thing, well beyond the "well-meaning evil" that a lot of technothriller heroes end up thwarting. And given the revelation of this, Pierce cuts through the conundrum in a way that reminds me both of the Watchmen comic's telling of the Gordion Knot and of Avengers' Bruce Banner's famous line about anger.

    And suddenly everything makes more sense, and is more unsettling (and I imagine to many people a lot less satisfying). If the theme of Brosnan's non-Bond thrillers tend to be "a real life James Bond would be disturbing", the ending to this provides more evidence.

    The film has plenty of flaws, from the usual "the action takes place in the country that offered us the best deal" to the rarer but hardly unique "improbably epic backstory with made-up name to match". On the latter front, the concept of "The November Man" falls well short of Keyser Sose and somewhere above The Glimmer Man, perhaps just a little south of John Wick. But clunky though it is it serves its function, even if it does it so late that the final twist feels more contrived than it needed to.

    So basically, if you like this sort of thing, and don't mind ending up with some bad feelings for the future, I'd recommend seeing it.

    * - Don't know how many people remember Hopscotch, the Walter Matthau "creative retirement from the CIA" comedy, but the parallels are surprisingly numerous given the difference in tone.

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    600 quid for a door?! [17 May 2015|11:06am]
    [ mood | impressed ]

    Yesterday I watched all three hours of HBO/BBC's miniseries of A Casual Vacancy, adapted from the JK Rowling novel which I liked a lot. Since I imagine different readers will approach this from different backgrounds, I'm splitting this into three parts (though of course you should read whatever parts you wish).


    The show has one of the best looks at class relations of anything I've seen for tv. It's about how the loss of a person whose life crossed class divides worsens the life of an entire community. It shines most when it's showing the life of one impoverished teenage girl who seems tough and able but has lost her lifeline and knows it, but it also makes the community surrounding (and to some extent neglecting) her feel like a living entity. Even if due to cuts from the book (or flaws from the book) some of the characters don't feel quite like human beings, they still feel like they belong where they are.

    And the place where they are is pretty amazing: this seemingly idyllic village with livestock always in view, where an ignorant observer might assume there can't be a care in the world. Much like Margie at the end of Fargo, I found it tragic that people could get so caught up about money on such a beautiful day; but that's the world, both ours and theirs.

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    Questions & reactions eagerly welcomed as always.

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    Crosspost Alert [27 Mar 2015|02:03pm]
    [ mood | amused ]

    Mostly pimping out a post I just made to twinpeaks, about how curiously many of today's youngish actors could have been Twin Peaks set kids.

    Though to give this some content of its own, I was recently amused to realize that definite Star Trek set-kid Adam Nimoy (immortalized in a Star Trek blooper in which he surprises Leonard by walking onto set made up as a miniature Mr. Spock) directed the memorable TNG episode "Rascals", no doubt applying his knowledge of what it's like to be looking at a starship set from a low angle.

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    Name Calling On Star Trek (mostly TNG) [24 Mar 2015|11:15am]
    [ mood | curious ]

    I was just reading a comic called Star Trek TNG: Perchance To Dream. It was pretty good, in that tricky way of "we should be like the source, but do things the source can't do" way. Not perfect but very interesting.

    One false note that rang like a gong to me, however, was that when Data has a mental problem Geordi La Forge suggests he talk to "Deanna" about it, which sounded very wrong. I couldn't imagine La Forge calling her anything but "Counsellor" to her face and "Counsellor Troi" to anyone else, at least during the actual series. So it got me thinking about the tangled web of what everyone on the Enterprise calls each other.

    Starting at the top, Captain Picard generally calls people by their rank-only during official situations, and then either their first names or Mr. Last Name (no Ms.!) if he's being what he would call informal. So in the ready room it's "Will", "Beverly", "Geordi", but that's as far as it goes. Even he always calls Deanna "Counsellor", which I like to think shows he's a little intimidated by her or has more of a sense of being in a continuous Doctor/Patient relationship than he does with Crusher.

    On the second tier, you've got Riker, Crusher & Troi. They're all less formal people (Troi maybe professionally rather than by temperament), are on first names with each other and generally get there with underlings fairly quickly, unless they're mad at them. Looking up, they're all "Captain" or "Captain Picard", except Beverly calling him "Jean Luc" when they're alone. Actually, Beverly seems to have more variability in what she calls people based on circumstance than most; she's the only regular crewmember I can think of who calls Deanna just "Troi" to other people, which contributes to my feeling that they're not really that close, and just engage in the occasional girl talk because they're the only person each other has to do so without moving a long way across the ranks.

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    Firm Diving Board Needed [17 Dec 2014|04:51pm]
    [ mood | confused ]

    I recently watched The Congress, a very audacious and creative film in which Robin Wright plays a version of herself who permanently sells her public image as part of a futuristic entertainment experience.

    Despite all these things, I ended up disliking it. Normally, I wouldn't devote much space to criticizing a relatively obscure, well-meaning film like that but it gives me a chance to talk about why I did like some other films.

    The problem with The Congress is that the set-up, which takes place in our very near future, seems completely divorced from the way things actually happen. People talk in long monologues on the same subject and to the same end. Top-level film professionals go into "only one chance" situations with no preparation or plan for what to do if things don't go exactly as expected. An actress agrees never to act again (anywhere) without once expressing that acting might be an important part of her life (apart from financial considerations). On and on. Things which seem like they could easily be addressed with no change of plot.

    Take, on the other hand, Slipstream, Anthony Hopkin's written/directed/starred-in movie I loved on first viewing and subsequently put on my Desert Island movie list. Like The Congress, it draws on "real" people and prior movies to create a version of Hollywood before jumping off into weird phantasmagoria.

    Unlike it, though, it always feels rooted in a specific knowledge of the movie-making world, so that even when impossible things happen they happen in the "right" way. (For instance, when the Script Supervisor is killed she bemoans the fact that Hopkins will "lose all continuity", which he does.) Whereas in Congress when Wright freezes up during a terrifying capture session, they have no other actor to read with her, no director, nothing except for a completely contrived story her agent comes up with to draw her out. Amazing visuals, terrible ideas, actors groping around trying to plug the gap: The Congress in a nutshell.

    Even David Lynch's Inland Empire, which is probably even more formless than either of the others, has Congress beat in feeling that the basic facts and characters of its universe are based on something real, even if they're constantly flying off in unpredictable directions that may or may not lead anywhere. Laura Dern's central actress may be insane, but she's an insane actress, as opposed to "Robin Wright", who is more of a floating POV that things happen to and whose name is exploited endlessly for cheap emotion-by-association.

    So in the year where we had surprise undeclared remakes of The Black Hole (Interstellar), The Big Lebowski (Inherent Vice) and S1m0ne, color me very surprised that The Congress is the only one of the three not to exceed the original.

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    4 He Is NOT The Kwisatz Haderach [05 Dec 2014|11:37am]
    [ mood | creative ]

    It has just occurred to me that Anakin Skywalker of the Star Wars series is in many ways the equal & opposite of Paul Atreides of the Dune series.

    (Spoilers for both, natch.)

    The thing that made me realize this was the fact that both of their mothers are captured by the natives of their desert planet. Paul saves his mother's life and befriends them; Anakin fails to save his mother and kills them.

    Then you have both of them involved with a royal woman. Paul marries Irulan for show but privately is distant from her. Anakin marries Padme privately but in public keeps it a secret.

    Anakin is considered the Chosen One by a magical order, who test him and try to train him. Paul is tested but assumed not to be the Chosen One, and the magical group writes him off. Which is perhaps the smart way to go, given that Anakin destroys the group that tries to help him while Paul leaves his pretty much alone after showing them who's boss.

    Speaking of boss, Anakin creates an Emperor, Paul overthrows one. Anakin offers his son rulership of the galaxy but is rejected, Paul successfully passes it down (although here Luke might be considered luckier than Leto II).

    Also Anakin, maimed after having been considered dead for some time, redeems himself, saves his son and changes the course of history (by killing the Emperor); Paul, blinded and considered dead for some time can do little more than tell his son how hard it is to have any good effect on history (although here my memory is hazy).

    And to sum up: Anakin hates sand. Paul cherishes desert power. Desert POWER.

    Would welcome further parallels or exceptions!

    Addendum: Paul's imperial troops wear robes, are armed with knives, and are mega-badass. Anakin's wear armor, are armed with lasers, and are useless.
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    Our Space Future Through Movies [12 Nov 2014|07:16pm]
    [ mood | impressed ]

    Watching Interstellar (and being greatly impressed by it), I'm mentally programming a Space Exploration Film Festival. So I'm putting together a list, and for fun I'm doing it in order of perceived chronology (i.e. how futuristic each film is).

    To me, a good space exploration film requires the awestruck crew of a space ship or installation, isolated in a seemingly lifeless environment while confronting the wonder & terror of what is out there.

    Therefore, a film is disqualified if it:

    -Isn't immersive audiovisually (most pre-2001:ASO space films, and a bunch since).

    -Spends too much time on Earth (comet movies, we-brought-something-back movies, most solar crisis movies, most astronauts-in-trouble movies, most getting-into-space movies) or another life-bearing planet (Stargate).

    -Movies where space travel is too easy / routine (Star Wars & Star Trek movies).

    -Not enough sense of wonder (Starship Troopers).

    -Movies that concentrate too much on Mars (Red Planet, Total Recall, Mission To Mars, Ghosts Of Mars). It just never seems to work out.

    The list follows, starting close to now and getting further and further into the future both within the sub-lists and between them. I've included some of the more significant disqualified films in parentheses for the sake of completeness and to give our future more detail.

    -- Just Beyond Now: Space exploration with the tech we basically have. --


    (Species 2)

    Europa Report


    2001: A Space Odyssey


    2010: The Year We Make Contact

    (Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun)

    --New Steps: Today's tech plus a little leap, made from our own desperation or with the help of some new Friends. --




    (Macross, thanks cdk)

    (Final Days Of Planet Earth)


    --Solar Neighborhood: Space travel between permanent installations in our system is now routine enough to be almost, but not quite, mundane. --



    Silent Running


    Event Horizon

    (Blade Runner)

    (Fifth Element)

    --Bye Bye Sun: We transition from a developed solar system to interstellar travel, with some sort of tangible lasting result (if not the one we looked for).--



    (Planet Of The Apes)

    Solaris (both)

    Lost in Space

    --Star Truckin': Interstellar travel is pretty common, but still with severe enough conditions (cold sleep, uncomfortable warp jumps) that it's never for the faint of heart.--

    The Black Hole






    --Closing Frontier: Even though space travel is still no picnic, the era approaches an end as it gets harder to be really alone, even in space.

    (Starship Troopers)

    (Cowboy Bebop)

    (Alien 4)

    (Star Trek: Enterprise)


    (Pitch Black / Chronicles Of Riddick / Riddick)


    Suggested additions & alterations of course welcome.

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    Theology Bites [07 Oct 2014|11:32am]
    [ mood | amused ]

    from the More Than One Lesson pocast, covering the movies Nosferatu (1922), Nosferatu (1979) and Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) in a Christian context...

    Host: "But this isn't all a downer. Although vampires, like the fallen angels from Jude, live eternally in gloomy darkness, we still have a chance. We...non-vampires...still have a chance."

    Co-Host: "To not get bit by sinners."

    Host: "Yes! Avoid bites."

    Co-Host: "This is the point of Christianity."

    Host: "Nothing spiritual, just...avoid bites all around."

    Co-Host: "If somebody wants to bite you..."

    Host: "Yeah?"

    Co-Host: "Figure out if they're a sinner first."

    Host: "Let's tally up who bites: Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires. No thank you...And don't you bite either."

    Co-Host: "Smoothies for everyone."

    Host: "THAT'S the message. I'm glad it came across exactly like I wanted it to."

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    Let's not turn into Those People [03 Oct 2014|10:46am]
    [ mood | impressed ]

    Saw Gone Girl last night. Speaking as someone who has not read the book and considers David Fincher to have a very mixed track record, I thought it was a masterpiece. Just amazing. Any debate on the acting abilities of any cast members from here on in will have to mention this film.

    Theoretically this is a crime film, with different threads covering the procedural, accused POV, and various other sub-genres. But really it's a story about stories, specifically how powerful narratives can sweep away people's judgment and get them to destroy or save the lives of others. It really belongs in a category with other brutal story movies like Billy Wilder's Ace In The Hole, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Nolan's Prestige, or the Mamet film of your choice.

    The leads are great, but the supporting characters are what I end up remembering. Even the naked girl from the "Blurred Lines" video rules her scenes and masters both sides of a big character change. But it's Tyler Perry who just about steals the film as a wise cracking lawyer. I think he'll be pulling off the Jonah Hill trick of going in just one year from "Huh, they're having him present an Oscar? Well why not?" to "Of course they nominated him."

    Kim Dickens also has a triumphant return to the big screen as a very smart police detective. She's been great on tv like Deadwood & Treme' but I'm glad to see her back in the medium she was so good in in the likes of Zero Effect.

    Neal Patrick Harris does everything right, but unfortunately demonstrates that his star image may be too big for him to be a really believable movie character. He got the job done, even achieves chilling at times, but he can't sustain it and, insanely, loses a "disappear into the role"-off with Tyler Perry.

    If you're in the mood to see horrible things happen to largely horrible people, this is the best way to do it.

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    What Happened? [26 Sep 2014|02:11pm]
    [ mood | impressed ]

    Last week, saw the rather astounding 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles on Netflix Instant. It stars Steve McQueen as a sailor on a U.S. Gunboat in China in 1926. He's a man of few words, but of the strong conviction that he (and people in general) should be left alone to pursue excellence at whatever they're good at. For him it's keeping a big steam engine running, but he has as much respect for people like missionary Candice Bergen who try educate the next generation.

    I was expecting this to be a big-screen exotic technocolor adventure, and the visuals and music correspond to this. But the actual story is a serious subversion, with the boat, a holdover from the Spanish empire that America overthrew and replaced, carrying out "fly the flag" missions that are not only arguably unnecessary but potentially producing the anti-Western sentiment they are supposed to guard against.

    The anti-Westernism isn't all of one kind either, though they do tend to dovetail under stress. The film draws lines between Chinese warlords, gangsters, labor chiefs, western-educated nationalists and mysterious communists, but only to see the lines erased when a crisis or opportunity turns them all against our little boat. And when the boat fights back, the sort of scenes which a generation earlier (or later) might have been pure thrills become tragedies of people acting courageously at cross-purposes.

    It's very long (over three hours) and deals with a lot of minutia (especially about the running of the ship and its steam engine) that might put off some, but the rewards that come from this were staggering to me. When McQueen tries to explain the engine to a Chinese peasant he's chosen as his assistant, it nicely points out not only that the peasant has no frame of reference to really understand it, but that even forty years later the viewers don't really have one either. Even that early machinery had reached the point where it was basically magic to anyone not versed in it.

    Performances are good all over. McQueen quiet, Bergen sympathetic, Richard Crenna (the Captain) his usual mixture of arrogant and possibly wise, and the recently late Sir Richard Attenborough being very Simon Pegg-like as a tragicomic fellow sailor who wants to make a life with a Chinese woman.

    And then the ending, wow. I went in expecting Treasure Island and ended up with a mix of Apocalypse Now and Last Man On Earth. Interesting how some parts of Hollywood tried to ignore "the 60s" pretty much up to the 70s, while this one picked apart the lessons of Vietnam as they were happening, while still using the old visual language.

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    Holo Emmisary, Batman [24 Sep 2014|03:23pm]
    [ mood | contemplative ]

    The latest in my crazy Star Trek: Deep Space 9 theories...

    (the last was that the whole show was an ups-and-downs romance between Bajor and the Federation)

    This one is that the main crew of DS9 are to the holosuites what the Prophets (aka Wormhole Aliens) are to Bajor & the alpha quadrant as a whole.

    Both groups...

    1) Have wide-spanning powers to direct, alter, and escape the more "limited" reality.

    2) See the universe as much vaster than can be perceived by the denizens of that reality.

    3) Find the issues considered important by such denizens to be, for the most part, unimportant, even while attempting to sympathize with them.

    4) Have brought into being an individual (Vic Fontaine & Benjamin Sisko) who, while still very much OF their more limited world, are capable of seeing beyond it and getting involved in the happenings of the larger reality.

    5) Are induced to intervene in the events of that limited reality explicitly in order to save that individual and keep their "story" from ending.

    That last part was the genesis of this whole theory: that the same qualities that caused the crew to "waste time" helping Vic in "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang" caused the Prophets to intervene and save everyone from The Dominion in "Sacrifice Of Angels".

    Taking it further, and looking at the way the Prophets treat Kira & Jake in "The Reckoning", it seems like what the crew thinks of as the great Prophet vs. Pah Wraith war might just be a game to them, and that in shutting the game down Winn is acting sort of like Moriarty or a ReBoot character in shutting down the "fun" the players were having.

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