August 30, 2011

This month's movies

Winter's Bone [ 4/5 | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. A quiet film. Small but beautifully done.

The Tree of Life [ 5/5 | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. This was the most beautiful film I've seen in many many years. It had a wildly unusual structure with a long, non-narrative first third that weighed against the subsequent narrative sections and gave them a context that would've otherwise not existed. The family scenes took up the bulk of the latter two thirds with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and their three sons giving stunning performances. The overall style reminded me of Tarkovsky's Mirror.

Centurion [ 3/5 | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. Silly 10th Century romp with Romans attacking Picts in England or thereabouts. Minor commentary on the hubris of invading empires; lots of blood. After watching Black Death (a better film), I've been wanting more in this genre.

Trip With the Teacher [ 1/5 | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. Continuing the Drive-In Cult Classics collection. Notable for the over-the-top villain (ACT) and two very uncomfortable rape scenes. The bad was boring; the very bad was too infrequent. Still, I was mesmerized at times by the dialog and 70s-ness, and people seem to love this inscrutable catfight scene:

Cold Weather [ 4/5 | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. What an odd and wonderful mood this sets up. The three leads--brother, sister, and brother's friend--had very natural relationships on screen. Conversations were quirky and believably realistic, with humor that for the most part wasn't put on. Highly recommended.

Fright Night [ 3/5 | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. I didn't remember much from the original, so Lisa&I re-watched it a couple of years back. It's difficult to replicate a movie that was very of-its-time, but this remake succeeds with a good cast and that silly premise. Good, not great.

posted by sstrader at 11:25 PM in Cinema | tagged drive-in | permalink

Four sci-fi novels

Continuing my run of reading new sci-fi on the Kindle. Insert some insight about medium and message here. All were pulled, again, from io9 bookclub recommendations and there's been some stunning writing. The first time I've read all of these authors.

The City & The City by China Mieville. Mieville's prose hit me immediately: short, noir sentences mixed with inner dialog that reads like a puzzle. Detective on the case of a dead girl must extend his investigation into the antagonistic sister-city. Dashiell Hammett turns magic realism. Once into it, just pages before the Big Reveal was made I started to suspect it, with well-timed intent of the author. I had at first felt it came too early but then became completely wrapped in the brilliant conceit. Though he couldn't deliver an ending to match the earlier promise, I want to buy this book and loan it out to friends (ah, there's the sad insight about medium--the publisher blocks lending for this publication).

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. From the skilled prose of Mieville to the more quotidian of Vinge. Rainbows End (intentional non-possessive) is in the group of novels like Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it) where an observer from our time adapts to a strange future. This approach lends itself to the intriguing conversion that happens by the end of the novel: resistance to the change in cultural values eventually becomes understanding and appreciation of those values. The more interesting aspect of the story is the technology: ubiquitous wearable network access includes contacts that repaint the world with virtual presences and instantaneous, pop-up knowledge. Names and biographies are easily accessible; video games are played IRL; non-local communication has lost most of its non-locality. Entertaining.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross. This and the Atwood are the two where I'd heard of the highly praised author yet had never read their work. Title is from rule 34 of the Rules of the Internet: "There is porn of it. No exceptions." and following an SVU-type police department in future-Scotland that investigates grisly, meme-based crimes. Stross's future is more expressively realized than Vinge's more dry telling. One oddly common sub-theme is the potential accidental manifestation of an AI in the global network. Different from Vinge's approach--but the same as one suggested in a Cory Doctorow short story--the AI in Rule 34 may have come from the arms race of spammers creating more and more human-appearing presences to fool people. The novel switches between different characters, and keeps you off-kilter throughout (and long after).

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. End-of-the-world downer-lit. This reminded me of Martin Amis's short story "The Immortals" from his collection Einstein's Monsters. In both, one of the last humans on Earth examines the causes of our extinction. In Oryx and Crake, it is from consumerist genetic engineering. Just the thought of the monstrosity that was created to produce "meat" for Chicken Nubbins (TM) fast food is icky enough. Rule 34 level depravity is rampant and believable and the how-did-we-get-here shock is somewhat Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it). Where Vinge provides the formula for optimism--he's a singularity proponent so it comes naturally--Atwood slippery slopes us into something both unfathomably bleak and sadly of human nature. Her creative spinning was well done even though I felt Vinge's vision that life will be different-but-OK holds a more realistic truth. Still, anti-futures aren't meant to be realism but simply warnings, and this was valid.

Continue reading "Four sci-fi novels"
posted by sstrader at 7:07 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9 | permalink

August 6, 2011

Technotise: Edit and I

A year ago I had found some random clips of an animated Serbian cyberpunk film called Technotise: Edit and I. The plot revolves around an underachieving psych student in Belgrade 2074. Her dual jobs of counseling an autistic genius and working as a mule for illicit computer chips collide as an AI starts growing within her. This AI is somehow related to the autistic patient's ability to see the future. Great action, genuinely funny scenes, excellent visuals. If this had come out of Japan instead of Serbia, it would already have been through the theaters. This film deserves so much more attention.

posted by sstrader at 6:10 PM in Cinema | permalink