Ready Player One

I loved the book of Ready Player One. It plays with deep matters of '80s nerdery, namely original and "Advanced" Dungeons & Dragons and especially S1 Tomb of Horrors, old microcomputer, arcade, and home video games (and the very different kinds of games on them), and Rush's more esoteric albums. It's kind of incomprehensible if you weren't alive in the '70s and '80s and into these specific things. It's pretty brilliant if you were. It's a story of logic puzzles, careful research, and follows much of the story structure of WarGames.
★★★★★

The movie is none of these things. It's a very pretty film, largely CGI inside the OASIS MMO, but replaces the intellectual challenges with a very stupid car race; a very precise and funny adaptation of a cinemaphile but not geek movie which was NOT in the book and very out of Halliday's interests; and a final battle, well adapted in scale and craziness, but the final key being in… is this a spoiler if it's in section 0000 of the book? Adventure for 2600. Well, it's kind of too obvious to even mention, if you're looking for an Easter Egg. Did IQs drop sharply in the Spielberg-verse?

SUPER picky detail (but this is in fact what the book is about, being super picky): In the funeral/contest video, the quarters on James Halliday's eyes in the movie were, if my eyes did not deceive me, from 1972. Book says:

"High-resolution scrutiny reveals that both quarters were minted in 1984."

Why change it? Because either they didn't care, or because Spielberg is literally older than dirt, older than rocks, older than "Steven Spielberg is old" jokes, so old that he thinks 1972 is "better" than 1984 (it is not). Everything else about the funeral video is wrong, too, but that's beside my point here about picky detail.

Ogden appears like a Willy Wonka at the end, in a fairly crappy, formulaic ending. It's fucking Spielberg, so you know it's going to be schmaltzy and fall apart at the end, but the extent of the failure is almost epic. The hobbits^W corporate research drones cheering Wade at the end is nonsense filmmaking.

The music varies from great '80s pop music, sometimes in appropriate places; a few pieces of '80s soundtrack music in exactly the right place; to poorly-timed, almost counterproductive incidental music. I loathe Saturday Night Fever, as previously mentioned, and having another dance scene based on it is annoying; the book does mention "Travoltra"[sic] dancing software, but you don't have to see or hear it. I felt nothing from the incidental music. Did Spielberg go deaf in his extreme old age? His old films at least had good scores, but this was vapid.

The final "rule" of disabling the OASIS, the global center of business, education, and entertainment, on Tuesday and Thursday is so stupid only a very stupid old filmmaker could conceive of it.

There is no Ferris scene after the credits, which would have been a great place to at least leave us smiling, instead of "huh, that was not good".

It lacks the brains, heart, and music of a classic '80s film. Go watch TRON or WarGames instead.

★★½☆☆ only because it is so very pretty, ★☆☆☆☆ for plot. Validates my movie policy that book adaptations are always worse than the book, and adds a new one: Don't watch anything by Steven Spielberg. Will some kind nursing home attendant not just put a pillow over his face and end our suffering?

What I'm Watching: Stupid Superheroes Edition

I really shouldn't watch superheroes. Well, Amazon supposedly has Garth Ennis' The Boys in production, and The Boys cured me of reading superhero comics forever, it's the best but last superhero story you'll ever need to read. And I'm expecting Deadpool 2 to be the best sequel to the best romantic comedy superhero movie ever. I don't really count the Marvel space fantasy comics or movies as "superheroes".

But otherwise, it's a disappointing genre. No, I haven't seen Black Panther, not a fan of tyrants worshipped as demigods holding bloodsports in their isolated resource-extraction-economy kingdoms. I wouldn't want a movie aggrandizing Dr Doom any more than I want a T'Challa movie. I loved the Joker in The Dark Knight because he's an anarchist and having so much fun at it, but the real villain is WayneCorp's stranglehold on the world economy, run by a crazy billionaire with military hardware beating up poor people "to stop crime" instead of, say, funding schools and jobs programs, and paying and screening cops to end police corruption. Gotham can only be a shithole if the Batman wants it that way.

Man, I miss the two Richard Donner/Chris Reeve Superman movies, and the two Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman movies.

So anyway.

  • The Tick: The Amazon series is weird. S1 was confused, almost grimdark '90s foil-cover "Superman Is Beaten to Death Like Jesus and We Mourn for 24 Issues" shit, nothing like the surreal parody comics or the insane Warner Brothers-level zany animated series, or even the half-assed but occasionally funny Warburton live series. S2 is less confused, but still not good. Most of the show balances right on the edge of too serious to enjoy, with moments of ludicrousness.
    The Tick and Arthur have a good dynamic, but the Tick comes off strange, not wacky. I like his journey of discovery of self, but it's in the wrong show. Arthur's inadequacy and neuroses are semi-crippling until the plot demands him to act, and then he just does HEROISM while whining a bit. Any chance for humor is stepped over.
    Overkill's a parody of Frank Castle, sure, but he's not any funnier than the real one; in fact, I think Frank in all grimdark Netflix Daredevil and Punisher is funnier. Miss Lint is consistently smirk-worthy but not fully sexy, terrifying, or funny at any time. At one point some marketing people pitch an ad deck to archvillain The Terror, and commit violence at minimal provocation, which gets a "menacing chuckle" from Terror. Which is how I respond to this. Dangerboat's behavior with Arthur plays out creepy and rapey rather than funny HAL-9000 with a cyber-boner parody which maybe they intended. Superion's a smarmy bastard, but then lets his guard down to show… basic decency? He's just not funny. The mad scientist has a funny physical condition, which gives sight gags but no jokes, probably just as well since they'd be offensive.
    Played completely straight, which this almost is, this could be just another shitty Marvel or DC series. Played for humor, this could be a great adaptation of the comics, they have the budget, CGI, and actors. But Amazon just dumped it down the middle.
    ★★☆☆☆
  • Jessica Jones: Started to watch S2E1, but it's even more grimdark and seething anger, without any attempt at humor or irony. I got up to a douchebro asshole picking a fight with Alias and she gets arrested, bailed, and charged in the same day (man, the justice system in Marvel is fast, in my reality it'd take weeks to get on a court docket after an arrest). Nothing fun here, can't take this bullshit right now.

What I'm Watching: Film Noir Edition

Went for some rewatching of good films instead of trying to dig up a new Netflix binge. Spoilers spoilers everywhere. I'm sure nobody needs another commentary on either of these, but it's my blog and I like writing these, so fuck it.

  • A History of Violence: Quiet (too quiet and long) start, then we see small-town diner jerk Tom Stall exhibit skills no small-town diner jerk should have, and all the shit in the world comes back on him.
    The stairway sex scene is the canonical "is that sex or rape?" borderline: It sure starts rapey, but takes a turn, and is the opposite of the earlier cheerleader outfit scene, because the wife has to learn who her husband really is; Cronenberg's sex scenes are the most important character tests in his films, Crash most obviously but just as much here or in Videodrome.
    The boy's inherited talents/same fight choreographer as his dad are impressive, but I don't think he'd have that vocabulary. The ending moves in like an oncoming train. Just a malevolent noir flick. I'm glad Cronenberg didn't fully adapt the very cartoony ending (chainsaws and 20-year tortures!) of the John Wagner & Vince Locke graphic novel, even if in other of his films that'd be a relatively mild scene. ★★★★★
  • Pulp Fiction: "None of you fucking pigs move, or I'll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!"
    "Say what again! I dare you!"
    "Why do we feel it's necessary to yack about bullshit in order to be comfortable?" "Do not be bringing some fucked-up puba to my house!" I don't really like the Mia Wallace date. She's a little too in control to be a cokehead, Vincent's too alert to be a junkie on new good shit. Disco dancing is still and always dead, but hey, Tarantino wanted to make one scene of a film he loved (speaking of films full of indifference to rape, don't ever watch Saturday Night Fever). Even back in the day, a lot of people didn't understand why snorting heroin like coke was a bad idea, but that baggie instead of balloon setup was like a ticking time bomb. Amusing set decoration: Operation and Life games in the dealer's house in that scene.
    "Five long years he bore this watch up his ass, then he died of dysentery." The book Vincent was reading is Modesty Blaise, so it's a hardcover comic collection? Just a prop making a cool reference? I dunno, I read Modesty when it was in the paper in my youth, and some collections more recently. Sex and quick bursts of violence were her MO, but not otherwise thematically connected to the film.
    "Bring out the gimp." Eeeny-meeney is a bad way to go. What's the gimp's story, anyway? This whole segment is just a lesson of why you don't ever go in a building with Confederate flags up, even to save your life, because Southern Confederate traitors are all same-sex rapists, as also seen in Deliverance. "You lost all your LA privileges, hear?"
    "You read the Bible, Brett?" This part of Ezekiel "25:17" being faux-quoted was recently covered by The Bible Reloaded — possibly this episode or one very recent to it. I have a problem with Vincent's shitty firearm safety, nobody carries a gun with their finger on the trigger. "You know what's on my mind right now? It's not the coffee in my kitchen." Jimmy's coffee and The Wolf are fucking amazing.
    "Then I'm gonna walk the Earth. You know, like Caine in Kung Fu. Walk from place to place, meet people, get in adventures.": Why didn't someone made this TV show, Jules in a modern Kung Fu?! Yeah, Sam Jackson was too expensive even then, but he's gotta have an understudy who could do the actual series, like Eric Pierpont played Mandy Patinkin's part in the Alien Nation series, or Michael Shanks played James Spader's part in SG-1. Did you even notice or care it wasn't the original dude? Nope.
    I don't even need to give stars to my 4th favorite movie of all time.

What I'm Watching

  • SpaceX Falcon Heavy, Starman video: A private rocket put an electric car in solar orbit on its way to Mars, with Bowie songs as accompaniment. Heinlein's Delos Harriman from "The Man Who Sold the Moon" and "Requiem" would be proud but very confused at it taking until 2018. ★★★★★
  • Collateral: Pizza boy is killed, and then an endlessly dull police procedural rarely looks at the procedure, instead a bunch of associated characters stop and stare in silence, with occasional whinging, which is to say they're English. The immigration story about the victim's family could be interesting, but it's told very slowly and haltingly. Billie Piper is awful and petulant, which is to say she's Billie Piper. Labour MP is a whiner, which is to say he's a Labour MP. A whiny lesbian COE priest shacked up with a cute Vietnamese girl can't be happy despite living in the first decade in history she wouldn't be burned at the stake. The killer's story isn't well-told, but there's a story there. For who the killer is, their operational security skills are amateurish and just plain stupid.
    Cinematography is annoying, often massively desaturated, out-of-focus "artsy" shots that just look like nothing, then conversations are very hot, flipping camera between people. I hate this soap opera shit, I prefer a cooler, movie-like style. It's not all teal/orange, but it's not natural lighting, either.
    Gave up on this after E2. I have got to stop watching English crime dramas, because my usual mild Anglophobia at these physically and mentally ugly people is turning into full-on "reenact the Revolutionary War". Back to French, Dutch, and Scandinavian stuff, and I think there's some Korean shows I haven't seen.
    ★☆☆☆☆
  • Borderliner: Norwegian cop Niko goes home to his small-town family of cops and then gets tangled up in a murder his brother is involved in, and partnered with a very pretty blonde. Procedure isn't bad, doesn't jump around between characters too much. Norwegians seem to just say what they mean (or speak a lie straight up) and get on with the plot, which is so refreshing after a buncha whinging English. They are professional brooders, grim figures casting grim shadows even when young and nominally happy, but it comes off stoic and not whiny.
    Their reluctance to throw the obvious psychopath in the group to the wolves makes this take longer than needed. Niko's prior case is hanging like Chekov's gun for a long time until it goes off.
    The War on Some Drugs that drives the plot is stupid, and these stoic, quiet Norwegians and Swedes don't really have the cutthroat mentality and heavy firearms to do serious drug business.
    Anyway, eight eps in, it's done and ends on a dark, quiet brood. ★★★★☆
  • Death in Paradise: Still going at S4. Stupid fun, tho Humphrey is the most pathetic detective ever.

Village Murder Mysteries

What I'm Watching

  • Death in Paradise: Dorkiest of all dorky English dork DIs Dick Poole is sent to a Carribean island to solve the weekly mystery murders with sexy local DI Camille Bordey and goofy island cops (Dwayne is Danny John-Jules, Cat of Red Dwarf fame!). Too perfectly fit puzzles, no random craziness, but good comfort watching.

    [Update 2018-03-07] S3 replaces Dick with Humphrey Dogood or some such, hapless and disorganized, almost a parody of a detective, and many eps use repetitive flashbacks, and people standing next to people monologuing, rather than conversations. The supposed screenwriter in one ep is writing a script full of novel-like editorializing, rather than an actual script, which suggests to me they fired all the writers and hired amateurs. Looking at the list of episodes backs that up; eps not written by Robert Thorogood are mostly dire. The appearance of Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon!) is a nice surprise. I miss '80s TV shows that would recycle actors constantly.

📺

What I'm Watching

  • Get Out: '60s-'70s horror movies could start with a girl walking alone in risk of being murdered, because it was the Golden Age of Serial Killers; now post-Trayvon you feel just as tense for a black guy walking in fucking suburbia, or at a roadside police stop, or at a white country house, just as justifiably.
    The "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" parents and sibling are spine-crawlingly uncomfortable. The black servants are weird as hell. Even if there was nothing scary going on, this is one of the most socially terrifying things ever.
    And when someone screams at you "GET OUT", you get the fuck out.
    ★★★★★

  • Atomic Blonde: Based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City". MTV-era music, good period props & sets. But the 21st C cancer of teal-and-orange film tinting part 2 is hideous and grossly offensive to my '80s-era eyes. Occasionally a shot is in period hot blue and pink neon, or a weird gel like green & yellow, but not enough. '80s colors POPPED.
    Charlize is a competent ass-kicker in the dancer-doing-fight-choreography style, not talkative or an especially convincing actress, her clipped South African accent can't pass for English or anything but maybe Dutch or German. But this doesn't require much more than action. Chick version of Arnie.
    The lesbian sex is perfunctory, unattractive, and uncommented on; that's not plausible for anyone in that era, who would've used it as lethal leverage against a spy.
    The McGuffin of a list, the spy plot barely matters. It's a bunch of cool scenes. The two fake ending scenes after the interrogation room are so brain-damaged stupid and unnecessary I have to assume they were written by Hollywood producers (who never had a bowl of soup they wouldn't "improve" by pissing in it), not the original writer.
    ★★★½☆ mostly because the tinting so offended me.

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon is now on Netflix, based on the cyberpunk books by Richard Morgan (which I read about 15 years ago and am somewhat fuzzy on). I'm up to ep 5 of 10 now; time for binging is hard to come by but I'm trying.

"Avoid blunt force trauma to the base of the brain, and energy weapons fired at the head!"

Good story adaptation. Doesn't flinch from any of the gross biology, the casual homicides and "organic damage", the sex and nudity. It's some good old-fashioned porn and torture porn at times.

So first, the weird premise: Everyone has an alien-tech chip in their spine which backs up the brain, lets them transfer to another "sleeve" (body). I have problems with this: Alien tech shouldn't interact with Human biology, and how did they get interstellar travel in the very near future? The show doesn't do much to establish the year or future history, but best I can figure:

  • Now? Interstellar travel.
  • 2050? Find alien tech, get brain chips.
  • 2100: Protectorate vs Envoy war.
  • 2350: Present.

I don't remember how much was explained in the book, but it's way too fast up front and then nothing happens for 250 years.

There's too many physical hardware devices, when almost everything should be software projected on any flat surface or into your optic nerve.

The Methuselahs, rich assholes who can't die, don't really show off how debauched they are until a few eps in, but it's pretty tame compared to Caligula.

The Neo-Catholic and Muslim fruitloops who don't want to be resurrected never made any sense to me in the book, and of course they're committing demographic suicide, there shouldn't be any "believers" this long after the chip.

I don't like the goomba actor they "sleeved" Kovacs in, but Ortega, Elliott, Poe, and most of the others are fine. Kovacs' Hello Kitty backpack full of guns makes me laugh every scene. The fight scenes are great, very bloody and physical, up-close combat. The hotel fight was excellent, once the mooks realize the hotel's killing them.

Visuals are sometimes very derivative of Blade Runner, which wasn't at all the impression I got from the book. Later it gets more of its own look, more gutter SF. The trash areas look like Richard Stanley's Hardware, but not as dirty. The upper city has pneumatic tubes for cars like Futurama, and flying cars with manual controls which seems so implausible it may as well be a sleigh with flying reindeer.

But it's well-shot, the CG mixed into the world constantly as you'd expect from neural-interfaced brains.

Should be ★★★★★ because they made a show of guns, fucking, and brain-fucking for me, but the stupid timeline knocks it down to ★★★★☆

What to Watch When You're Watching Nothing

Dealing with family medical stuff this week, every damn thing has been piled up, I get zero time to work or play. When I can finally sit down, can't concentrate on a real show.

Netflix has "Slow TV: Train Ride Bergen to Oslo", 7 hours of a train through cold wilderness and tunnels. I just wish the town signs didn't BONG and the conductor would shut up at stops. Drink my coffee, try to read this Elmore Leonard book, this could be really peaceful.

Between interruptions, I've made it 105 minutes down the track in four days.

I tolerate but dislike cold, but I think I'd like Sweden or similar, out in the boonies with nobody around who speaks English or wants anything from me. ☕️🚂🏔

What I'm Watching

New year, new Netflix; it's kind of weird how quickly Netflix has gone from "I want to watch old TV shows & movies" to "source of all good new shows".

  • Travelers[sic] S2: Most eps this season are either the big flu story, a plot by the Faction, or pursuing Traveler 001. The problem is, the Faction is right, and their solution would work better than incremental tiny changes by a tyrannical AI. Traveler 001 is an unusually skilled person to send back as a guinea pig, and not the kind of mistake I believe the Director capable of.

Still, burned thru the season in 3 days. S2E7, "17 Minutes", is the best actual time travel story of the entire series yet, repeated attempts to use minor changes and "reloading" to solve a bigger problem.
★★★★☆

  • La Mante: The Mantis is a woman vigilante, like a female Dexter, whom they imprisoned and call a "serial killer" despite her only having killed people who deserved it. Now a serial killer copycat is recreating her executions, and she offers her "help" on a condition.

The French police in this series are much less professional than other such dramas, occupying nice historical buildings with dubious security, doing everything off the books, half-assed, keeping secrets they shouldn't keep. They bunch up and walk into ambushes like complete amateurs.

Having the heir apparent outsider supercop (in comparison to the other idiot flic) be named "Captain Carrot" is obviously a Terry Pratchett reference? But they aren't that fun, this is a grim, maudlin, humorless show, and at no point is anyone sympathetic except Jeanne, our Mantis.

As the eps go on, the coincidences get less and less plausible, the last suspect to be the killer is ridiculous but telegraphed far ahead. There's an exchange, "We'll rescue you safe and sound. Everything will be OK." with Carrot and The Mantis, which just made me laugh and laugh, since so obviously she's not the one who needs protection.

I don't know that I liked it, but at just 6 episodes I was willing to keep going.
★★★☆☆