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Movies, October 2011
robots, being

*** The Trip. Obviously, you have to be in the “enjoys Steve Coogan” camp to enjoy this one, as it’s more of the usual. As usual, he plays a (fictionalized?) womanizing, self-centered, insensitive version of himself, Rob Brydon plays a (fictionalized?) goofy, annoying version of himself, and they goof off and see what happens. It was pretty funny.


Toddler 1, Presumably-intelligent grownups 0
robots, being

So a few days ago, Nora hit her nanny. This happens occasionally and we say it makes us sad and she apologizes, usually right away (one time she held out for a day and then gave me a lovely apology and hug the next day). But not this time. She just did not want to apologize, and so E told her she wasn’t going to get any books at bedtime but go straight to crib. Plus no videos. Fine, said Nora, and to bed she went, basically unfazed. The next day there were a number of discussions about no books and videos and apologizing, and though she clearly would have liked her usual books and so on, she was perfectly willing to do without to avoid apologizing. She went to bed without them completely unfazed, and bedtime took about 5 minutes (usually it’s an hour-long process).

At that point, E and I had a war conference. We were clearly losing the standoff, and we had no desire to go another day without books (though no videos was kind of nice). We of course make a big effort to be consistent — if we name some consequences, then we have to follow through. So we had to find some way to break the standoff without appearing to give in. E’s original idea was “well I’m just going to tell her she HAS to apologize” but then I pointed out that we have no way of MAKING Nora do it if she refuses. Finally, we came up with a face-saving compromise. And so this morning, Nora made a card (with help!) that said “I AM SORRY!”, colored it in and decorated it with stickers. When Anna came in, Nora gave her a big hug and gave her the card and then we got to praise her for apologizing and give her the books and videos back.


Movies, September 2011
robots, being

*** Midnight in Paris. A charming way to pass some time. The best parts were the various actors having a good time hamming up characters like Hemingway and Dali (I am.. Dali!).
** Drive. Already reviewed.


robots, being

We’ve seen this movie before. The hero does bad things but is not a bad man. He’s singlemindedly very very good at something that other people use for evil, but he’s pure of spirit. He is good at what he does but not very good at any other aspect of life; he’s a naif, a child. His skill and singlemindedness define him as a good person, even if he commits illegal acts; the only victims of his actions (at least, the only victims we get to see) are themselves bad people. The heroine is also a pure spirit, and an innocent caught up in a bad situation not of her making. Ultimately, it turns out that the bad men who use the hero and the bad men that are causing problems for the heroine are the same bad men, and the hero must turn against them, using his exceptional skill at one single thing to singlemindedly destroy them. He saves the heroine but cannot save himself; he is too innocent and simultaneously too stained by the things he’s done to live.

This is a very very good story. It has pathos and tragedy, dramatic tension and romance. We like to be able to see a cool guy do cool bad things while managing to believe that deep down he’s good. We like to see him grow up and use those cool skills to do bad things to bad people. We like to see the pretty girl survive and shed a tear for the noble man who saved her. It worked well for The Professional and it should have worked well for Drive.

Unfortunately, we don’t really get much proof that Driver is an exceptional driver. The opening scene is great and shows some of his skill and his cool, but there’s not that much to see it and, for a movie called “Drive”, the rest of the movie is surprisingly light on good car chases. We briefly see him racing on a track, but not enough to know that he’s good. Instead, we just have people saying how good he is. So the audience is denied much of the pleasure of watching the hero at work, and our faith in his purity and goodness (which are predicated partly on his being pure and singleminded in pursuit of his skill) are undermined.

The chemistry between Driver and Irene is fairly unconvincing. Her seemingly complex relationship with her husband is left unexplored, and so her quick attachment to Driver is hard to believe. Their relationship is mostly established with a number of awkward silences that, I think, are intended to meaningful, as well as with some interplay between Driver and Irene’s son that I didn’t buy at all. The situation was partly rescued by the fact that the relationship between Driver and Irene’s husband started to get complicated and interesting rather than being merely formulaic, but that didn’t go very far.

I think the main flaw of this movie is that it intends us to believe that driver is skilled, taciturn, innocent, capable of love, etc, but that it doesn’t really show us enough to make us believe these things. Instead, we are supposed to accept them on faith — either we’re told them, or they come along with all the genre cliches. And without really believing in the character, I wasn’t really able to fully accept the movie. It was decent, but I think it missed being the icon of utter cool that it so obviously wanted to be.


Books, September 2011
robots, being

*** Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination. Great vision of the future, great (anti)hero. I’ve been going through Alfred Bester (who I’ve never read before) recently and I just wish he’d written more full-length novels.
*** Alfred Bester – The Demolished Man. Another fascinating future with fascinating characters.
** Alfred Bester – Hobson’s Choice and Fondly Fahrenheit. Both throwaway short stories, cute more than genuinely interesting. I don’t think I’m a big short story fan any more.
*** Ben Bova – Mars. I started this knowing nothing about it, and so had no idea what to expect. This worked out really well as I kept being unsure whether bug-eyed green-skinned aliens were about to pop out from behind a rock (or at least from tiny bacteria in the air). This book (and his whole series about exploring the solar system) are fairly hard-science-realistic though — focused on the details and difficulties of traveling to other planets and learning about them. It was very interesting but, at the same time, I’m not sure I’m interested in reading many more of them.
*** Octavia Butler – Wild Seed. A book about two (essentially) immortals in a world of mortals who meet and uneasily try to figure out how to coexist. The “science fiction/fantasy” elements are really beside the point here: they just serve as the background situation in which to explore characters. Butler isn’t really that interested in the whys or hows of those elements. Unfortunately, I think, without some exploration of where they come from, why they do what they do, or where they’re going, these characters seem to be just floating in a void, and I was unable to maintain as much interest in them and their problems. The story was good and much of the characterization well done, but I was bored at times.
*** Thomas Perry – Silence. Pretty good thriller, some interesting characters and a good plot, even if you do have to suspend a fair amount of disbelief to buy the basic premise.
** Thomas Perry – The Butcher’s Boy. Perry is hugely praised for this one (his debut novel, I believe), but I was mixed on it. The story follows a mob hit man and a justice department agent as they commit and solve murders, respectively. The parallel structure is nice, but it doesn’t really work here because the agent is mostly presented as an idiot. She makes a number of mistakes and misses things that are obvious to the reader long before they happen, and she just doesn’t have much personality. The hit man’s lack of personality, at least, can be read as intentional; he’s a faceless killing machine who does his best to be nondescript.
*** C.S. Lewis – Out of the Silent Planet. Great vision of a possible alien civilization, and generally enjoyable, but a bit preachy, especially at the end.


The ultimate gaming experience
robots, being

optic: lol this looks like an awesome game http://www.excalibur-publishing.com/deliverytruck.htm
optic: ooh they have a bus & cable car simulator
optic: also PORTS
kent: jesus
kent: i’m not big on video/computer games in general but if i want to play a game i want an escape from real life, not a game that lets you pursue some mundane aspect of real life.
optic: lol london underground simulator
kent: do they have a washing up after dinner game?
kent: or a chasing dust-bunnies under the furniture game?
kent: the only game i play regularly is Ableton Live, and I may have beaten that.
optic: lol http://www.excalibur-publishing.com/londonunderground.htm
kent: can you play london underground as a homegrown islamic terrorist setting bombs?
optic: i’d like to play a game that simulates what its like to look at random web pages at work
optic: nope kent but there are realistic announcements
luna: these cant be real
rich: isuppose ypu guys never played flight aimulator
optic: maybe it’s a game producer simulator
luna: im throughly enjoying hte progessive house soundtrack
optic: better yet, game player simulator
optic: game player simulator sounds like something Borges would have thought up
kent: what about game player simulator simulator
kent: see also infinite regress simulator
rich: damn if i had headphones i could watch netflix streamng on my iphone
luna: you didnt bring a book OR headphones to jurty duty?!
rich: nope
optic: jesus rich
luna: how about JURY DUTY SIMULATOR
luna: where if you forget to bring a book or headphones, you automatically lose


Movies, August 2011
robots, being

*** Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We watched part 1 and part 2 in August. They were sort of long, and a lot of it seemed pointless and boring, and the whole “deathly hallows” thing seemed like a silly distraction from the horcrux business, and then the ending was kinda eh, and Snape (AKA the only interesting character in the whole series) was kind of short-changed, and the postscript just seemed dumb. But all of that was in the book and isn’t really the movies’ fault. The movies were okay; the first one was pretty meh but the second got going okay and was a decent way to entertain away an evening.
*** Captain America. The best superhero/comic book/action movie I’ve seen in a long time. All around good. Also, memo to Hugo Weaving: keep playing self-important villains and no more elves.


Books, August 2011
robots, being

*** David Foster Wallace – Fate, Time, and Language: an Essay on Free Will. I did not read all of this. It took me back to a time in my life when I was more interested in working out the logical puzzles necessitated by thinking deeply about philosophy or linguistics. Wallace had a good argument and did a good job making it clear, and that was enough for me. I didn’t need to read all the tedious working out of the details.
** Lee Doty – Out of the Black. This book was okay while I was reading it, except for the forced and very unconvincing banter. And then the kind of wtf ending. And the kind of hard-to-follow timeline back-and-forth (like, if you’re going to do the split timelines thing, make them palpably distinct, not like two days apart). I liked the attempt at doing hard-boiled mystery and what he tried to do with magic and technology. But then it just kind of turned to mush in my mind, and then I made the mistake of looking at the Amazon reviews, where the author replies to every single negative review in a way that is just not good.
** Douglas Adams – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It’s Douglas Adams, and it’s fun to read, but the whole thing just doesn’t hang together enough. It feels to me like, with the Gently books, Adams just didn’t define enough what was and wasn’t possible in that universe, and so he feels free to just make up anything and the result is kind of aimless. Entertaining but ultimately empty and sort of pointless.
** Douglas Adams – The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. See above.
** Beth McMullen – Original Sin. This book was okay. I’m interested to see if she continues the series and gets better with the character, but this one wasn’t that compelling.
*** Roald Dahl – FFantastic Mr Fox. Roald Dahl is pretty much always good, and this was no exception. Of course, there’s not that much to it.
** Kurt Vonnegut – Cats Cradle. I expected more from this rereading it for the first time in 20+ years, but meh. There really isn’t much there. Sure, ice-9 is a fun concept but otherwise, snuh.
** Terry Jones – Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic. Terry Jones doing a passable imitation of Douglas Adams. Pretty forgettable, and it’s fairly obvious that it’s a novelization of a game; it was hard not to be aware of how the plot points were determined by game dynamics rather than, you know, interesting storytelling.


Books, July 2011
robots, being

*** Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space. Interesting and carefully thought-out universe. Some great and compelling characters, though several of the elements driving the story never really convinced me. I’d like to read more of his writing.
** Tim Powers – The Anubis Gates. Utter cheese, but entertaining. I doubt I’ll read more of his books unless I’m desperate though.


Movies, July 2011
robots, being

*** Intelligence. It’s been called “The Canadian Wire” because, like the Wire, it involves criminals and police and surveillance and it’s set (and made) in Canada. It’s not the Wire, but it’s pretty good. Some really good characters and good story arcs over the course of its 26 episodes. I got into that obsessive must-watch-next-episode mode, which can be so disastrous when watching something on Netflix streaming. I first heard of this series on Slate.