Fri, 03 Feb 2017 22:26:53 GMT
Thu, 02 Feb 2017 01:44:32 GMTHidden Figures (2017): Loved it! Not much to say. I thought it lost a little focus right near the end, where John Glenn is making his descent and nobody can do anything but hang around and look tense, but overall really solid. I enjoyed the FORTRAN fan service. Dangal (2016): A whole movie about copy-protection hardware? I was skeptical. But then I learned that it was spelled "Dangal", and that it was... a sports movie. At this point I was even more skeptical, but I was inside the theater so I figured I'd go with it. And it's... a sports movie. But it has three things going for it. First, it's also a breaking-down-the-barriers movie. Sumana liked how much screen time was devoted to Indian girls with short hair. Second, this film contains three awesome songs. Third, the hugeness of Dangal magnifies the working parts of a sports movie so that they're impossible to miss, much like the way Plato's republic is designed to make obvious the virtues that go into an individual human being. Characters are ludicrously fictionalized to make them fit the sports-movie villain roles. Victories that in real life were incredibly lopsided are dramatized as knuckle-biting buzzer-beaters. There's also one place where I detect a shear effect between fiction and reality, but am not sure what the reality is. These girls spend up to the age of about ten training to be wrestlers and wrestling boys on a kind of freak-show circuit. Everyone's attitude is: A girl? Wrestling? Whaaaaa? It really seems like Dad is the first person in India to have the idea that girls can wrestle. But at the beginning of act two they go into a gymnasium and it's full of girls doing wrestling. Turns out India has a whole wrestling thing going. Girls leagues and everything. So what's with all the incredulity in act one? Even if Dad's neighbors are ignorant hicks, it seems like a former national wrestling champion should know that he didn't invent girls' wrestling. A similar thing happens at the end where people are saying "If an Indian wins the women's wrestling championship, girls all over the world will know they can do anything!" Was American sports movie exceptionalism ever this bad? PS: The posters show Aamir Khan with the four actors who play the daughters at different ages, as though they're four different characters in the same timeframe. I love this. Taking Off (1971): A fun squares-go-hip comedy from the same Universal Studios indie-director push that gave us Silent Running (1972). The surest way to get me to see a film is to compare it to an Elaine May film, which Metrograph did, and I took the bait. Taking Off delivers with awkwardness, culture clash and bad original songs—it's like a much cheaper Ishtar. When a woman with a lute drops the F-bomb thirty times in the sort of singing voice you associate with "Greensleeves", you know you're in for a good time. Also features New York grime and the glorious tacky interior of a 1970s Catskills lodge. New York, New York (1977): With Liza Minnelli and Mickey Rourke. No, that's not right, it was Robert de Niro. Everyone's favorite video... hero. Mickey Rourke isn't in this at all. Don't know what I was thinking. The all-too-relevant story of a man who can't deal with the fact that his girlfriend is more talented than he is. The museum's handout claims the problem with the relationship is the "two lovers' equal musical talent", but let's go to the tape. Liza Minnelli actually is a world-class singer, whereas Robert de Niro is a Method actor who learned to play the sax for this movie. It's quite clear she is the superior musician. As such, the balance of power shifts over the course of the movie, and by act three de Niro is nearly out of the picture and Minnelli's character is just lapping up the fame. Basically, everything that's in La La Land that didn't come from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, came from this movie. Overall I was not crazy about this film. La La Land is more fun and my favorite Scorsese de Niro is still Rupert Pupkin, by a long shot. But those two musical n[...]
Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:20:48 GMTThe last time I went to California, my nephew told me lots of punny jokes about animals ("Why are cats so vain? Because they're purr-fect.") He'd gotten these jokes from a Pokémon joke book, in which the jokes were about Pokémon ("Why are Meowth so vain? Because they're purr-fect."), and kindly translated the Pokémon into real animals for my benefit. Which worked out well because the jokes had clearly been about real animals to begin with. This reminded me that I'd been meaning to report back about two other joke books about a common childhood obsession: Jokes for Minecrafters and Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters. I'm really interested in the shady but seemingly profitable world of unlicensed Minecraft books. I've seen Minecraft self-insert fanfic being sold as an 80-page chapter book at Target! I applaud Mojang's lax stance on fan works but that seems a little excessive. I recall from my own childhood that this sort of obsession-feeding book is usually a big disappointment once obtained. Themed joke books are the worst because they're often a big cash-in on preexisting folk jokes. Plus you have to find someone who's as big a nerd as you, and wants to listen to you tell the jokes instead of reading the book themselves. I was prepared for disappointment, but I had to find out what Minecraft kids' jokes were like, so I ventured one more time into a world I'd abandoned long ago. Fortunately, this time I didn't have to pay the Troll Book Club to send me two slim paperbacks. I just put the ebooks on hold at NYPL. And... the best joke in the series is probably the very first one in Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters: Q: What happens when a creeper walks into a bar? A: Everyone dies. It's all downhill from there. Here are the two runners-up: Q: Why do players shop at Endermen yard sales? A: To get their stuff back. Q: Do zombies eat popcorn with their fingers? A: No, they eat their fingers separately. I'm not here to make fun of bad jokes, because comedy is hard, but most of the book is more like this: Q: What did the pig say to the creeper? A: Nothing. The creeper blew up the pig. Many entries have the form of jokes, but are actually Minecraft trivia. Here's one I didn't know: Q: How do zombies and skeletons keep from burning during the day? A: They stand on soul sand. This one hasn't aged well: Alex: "What do you call a polar bear in Minecraft?" Steve: "I don't know. What?" Alex: "Lost, because there are no polar bears in Minecraft!" I need some help on this one: Q: What happened when it became so cold in the icy biome? A: The snow golems were holding up pictures of thumbs! There are also many jokes that require knowledge of the Orespawn mod, which I'd never heard of. One book had a separate chapter dealing with "mods", but a lot of Orespawn jokes were not in that chapter. This seemed unfair to kids who are just trying to understand jokes and maybe laugh a couple times. This one makes me irrationally angry: First player: "I heard the End has its own soundtrack." Second player: "What does it sound like?" First player: "You can only hear it in the End." This one has an artifact that makes me think most of the book was copy-and-pasted from an IM conversation: You might be a Minecraft addict if you forget to give your mom a present for her birthday and instead get her a Minecraft account XD. Anyway, I'm here to tell you that the terrible Amazon reviews of these books are more or less accurate. In the spirit of reconciliation, I thought I'd close by trying my hand at corny Minecraft jokes: Q: How does Steve detect if someone is raiding his marijuana stash? A: He uses a BUD switch. That one's on the house![...]
Mon, 16 Jan 2017 17:32:58 GMTLibrary Work: In 2016 SimplyE went from a two-developer team with me as backend guy, to a seven-developer team with me as architect. We launched the SimplyE reader for NYPL patrons and started work on rolling it out to other libraries across the country. We also launched the Open Ebooks project, which led to our brush with power. I'm not comfortable bragging about the SimplyE product because it needs a lot of improvements, and I feel like saying how nice it is will lead to people thinking (or at least asserting) that I'm okay with the status quo. But if you compare it to the status quo ante, it's really damn good. We took checking out an ebook from a 17-step process to a 3-step process. And I'm totally happy bragging about the team, which is incredible. For the first time I ran a bunch of job searches and decided who to hire, and I think the past year's work has proven I made good choices. At the end of the year, NYPL recognized our team with a Library Leadership Award! To the right is our official team photo (two of the developers are not pictured). I think this is an incredible achievement for a team that basically didn't exist a year ago. Writing: Late 2015 I pitched a number of novels to my agent and we decided on Mine, a Rendezvous with Rama type political thriller. Lately, though, I'm haunted by the pitch I wrote for Nice Things, a novel about the fascist takeover of the Federation. Sometimes when I sit down to write Mine I feel like I should be writing Nice Things instead, but most of the time I'm glad I'm working on absolutely anything else. Progress on Mine is slow but steady. But slow. My increased responsibilities at the library haven't been good for writing time. Short stories I wrote in 2016 include "Quest For Boredom" (which I... supposedly sold??? but haven't heard back), "The Girls Boys Don't Notice" (possibly the best title I will ever come up with), "Fool, Professor, Peasant, King", and the unsellable "Unicode Changelog", which I might self-publish. Situation Normal is still on the Desks of Editors. Bots: I've drastically scaled down my use of Twitter because I don't like what it does to my brain. As a corollary, I don't really like that my whimsical software encourages people to spend more time on Twitter. So I've stopped putting bots on Twitter. Also, Twitter randomly suspends my bots without telling me. After the completely innocuous Vintage Groaners was suspended, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I've thought about taking down my bots in a fiery cataclysm, rather than letting Twitter pick them off one by one, but a lot of people get happiness from Minecraft Signs, Hapax Hegemon, and (finally!) Smooth Unicode, so I'll commit to keeping the big ones working at least. I have a solution in mind for my computational creativity going forward, but I'm pretty damn busy so it's going to be a while. I've been doing this stuff since 1998 and it's still something I like, so consider this not a goodbot, but rather au botvoir. Here's the 2016 robot roll call: The Lonely Dungeon, my fave of 2016. That's Life! Anniversary Gifts, inspired by my and Sumana's 10th anniversary. The aforementioned Vintage Groaners. Location: Bot Heaven. Ingsoc Party Slogans. I admit that Twitter really is the best medium for this particular idea. A Time of the Day [...]
Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:25:11 GMTIf you've come for cutting-edge gaming news, I must disabuse you of the notion you've somehow acquired. I buy computer games when they're ported to Linux. Then apparently I only talk about them at the end of the year. Let's get started!
Two excellent tabletop games stick in my mind: the thrilling Pandemic Legacy, about which much has been said elsewhere; and the unassuming Stinker, which once you play it is revealed as an absolute marvel. Stinker cleverly fixes all the problems, large and small, with "spell-something" games and "one-person-judges-everyone-else" games and "come-up-with-something-funny" games. It's not as surefire a hit as Snake Oil, but I love it and it's usually a hit when I introduce it to new players. Stinker is the Crummy.com Board Game of the Year.
Three years ago I closed the book on non-tactical RPGs and declared Mother 3 the all-time winner. Well, now I gotta re-open that book because Undertale improves on the formula. It's clearly based on the Mother series, but it has a solid new combat mechanic, a lot of memorable characters, and a type of humor I like better than the humor in the Mother series (which I do like, quite a bit). I really disliked the climax of Undertale, but a lot of Mother 3 was rambling and unfocused, so it kind of cancels out. Undertale overcomes my prejudices to become Crummy.com Computer Game of the Year.
Runner-up is Duskers, the space exploration game which combines survival horror with system administration. Your typing speed can make the difference! Super creepy, but feels a bit unfinished.
Other computer games I enjoyed a lot in 2016: Mini Metro, Stardew Valley, RimWorld, Beglitched, Brogue, Caves of Qud, Sunless Sea, and XCom: Enemy Unknown.
Sat, 14 Jan 2017 16:32:00 GMTNearly all the books I read in 2016 were in electronic format. I either read library books through SimplyE, or I dug through the piles of ZIP files I've accumulated through Simon Carless's video game StoryBundles. Greg Millner's Perfecting Sound Forever was the only paper book I read in 2016 that I recommend; in fact, it's the Crummy.com Book of the Year.
I've got seven more super-recs and I'll give little capsule reviews for them, since they predate the first occurrence of Book Roundup. I read a decent amount of fiction, but you'll notice there's not much fiction on this list. What happens in my head when I read fiction seems highly idiosyncratic, so I'm more comfortable recommending super-detailed nonfiction.
[P]eople can tell the genuine from the fake, even when it comes to making up names. Do not make them up, therefore.
There are a series of amazing close reads that show how Tolkien worked, e.g. by finding weird stuff in medieval texts (What is the name "Gandalfr" doing in the middle of "Tally of the Dwarves", when "alfr" means "elf"?) and making up a retcon.
Sat, 14 Jan 2017 12:31:45 GMT
Wed, 04 Jan 2017 00:30:53 GMT
Film: Maintaining Film Roundup Roundup (now updated with 150 high-quality films!) makes it pretty easy to come up with a top ten for 2016:
Look at that list, we got four documentaries on there.
My lower-tier "recommended" list gets longer every year; here's a quick stab at the top ten of my twenty-one recommended movies from 2016:
I'm not really happy with calling that second tier "recommended" because it implies I'll scoff at your decision to see a solid film like Arrival or Kung Fu Hustle that I didn't put on my list. Hopefully no one does the data gathering necessary to deduce (incorrectly) that I'm scoffing at you.
After several years of Film Roundup I think I can now make what to me looks like a normal person's top ten film list, containing only movies from 2016. All of these were worth watching:
Kind of a boring list though! Where are the nuns, the fourth-wall-breaking gangsters, or the convicts handcuffed to each other? Answer: in movies from previous years.
Mon, 02 Jan 2017 15:57:47 GMTJust a few notes on the books I read in December 2016. Books marked with a * are ones I read for free through NYPL's SimplyE mobile app. (Big news on that coming up! Also, I guess I should write a simple explanatory post for people who don't want to read my RESTFest talks.)
Sat, 31 Dec 2016 23:08:04 GMTLooks like December 2016 has escaped its holding pen! As you flee, please consult this Film Roundup for next steps and valuable offers from our partners. Blue Collar (1977): Solid work/heist movie with Richard Pryor doing a Peter Falk-like job of putting comedy and drama into a single role. In fact, the movie poster shows Pryor twice, once doing a "drama" face and once doing a "comedy" face. Like those old Greek masks, I guess. Not pictured: Pryor's co-stars. A good thriller with authentic 70s grime. Cool factory footage means this was probably Krzysztof Kieslowski's favorite Richard Pryor movie. Plunder Road (1957): Some films noirs claim to be LA-centric, but only Plunder Road has the guts to focus entirely on the logistics of highway transportation. High quality popcorn noir. The smog inspection scene made me laugh. La La Land (2016): The movie that picks up where Plunder Road left off. It's a pretty musical, a genre you don't often see in modern American films, and I was enjoying the settings and the low-tech accomplishments of craft and the fact that it's more emotionally realistic than most pretty musicals, and then the ending happened. Such a great ending! It recontextualizes the entire movie in a way that only works because you spent 90 minutes in a pretty musical with above average emotional realism. I'd go into more detail but for once I think I don't want to spoil you. The whole movie I was thinking "I know Ryan Gosling is a different Ryan than the guy from Deadpool, but they look exactly the same and I can't remember the other guy's name so I'm going to pretend this is a Deadpool prequel." This did not enhance the movie as much as I thought it would. Ghatashraddha (1977): "Such a good movie!" - Sumana's mom. A Kannada New Wave weepie in the style of the Apu trilogy. It was pretty good, but I didn't like it as much as Sumana's mom does. The print I saw included a hilarious subtitle. Two teenagers from the village school are arguing, the younger one runs off in a huff. The older one: "Tut! Poor fellow!" I kind of felt it didn't mesh with the tone of the rest of the film. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016): This year's Christmas movie with Susanna. Finally, the superb junkyard art direction of the Star Wars universe is matched by an appropriate storyline: "we got the job done but everybody died." I know they only did it to avoid answering the question of why these people weren't in Episode IV (possible alternate answer: "they were somewhere else"), but it was so good to watch some characters in this universe unconstrained by the burdens of myth. A surprisingly high recommendation. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964): Clearly an inspiration for La La Land, but the new film is more to my taste in a couple ways. First, Cherbourg isn't really a "musical" in the [HB]ollywood sense, it's more like an opera or a very long cantata. Second, this film has the same ending as La La Land, but because it's an understated French film and not a noisy American musical the really cool thing doesn't happen on screen. Unlike my Deadpool fantasy, this film really is kind of a sequel to Lola, a film I saw in 2014. I didn't notice this until IMDB trivia time afterwards. I would definitely pick this movie over Lola. As the year draws to a close (actually, afterwards; I'm writing this addendum on Monday) let's turn the Television Spotlight on the beloved classic, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968-2001). I don't think I've said this explicitly on NYCB, but when I was growing up my family did not own a television. You might think this was snobbish behavior, but I don't think Mom and Dad went around bragging about this at parties, and looking back on 1980s TV I have to say it was a solid choice. This means that I didn't see any Mister Rogers' Neighborhood u[...]
Thu, 15 Dec 2016 14:46:33 GMTI created a blackout story as a present for Allison and decided to retroactively make it my 2016 NaNoGenMo project. I call it "Amazon Prime". Enjoy!
Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:49:52 GMT
Sat, 03 Dec 2016 20:54:24 GMTPlease join me in writing a long-overdue Crummy feature, Book Roundup. Hmm, I'm being informed I have to write this myself. Please join other NYCB readers in reading a long over-due Crummy feature, Book Roundup. This is part of my up-ramping effort to post to NYCB more often and to control more of the information I put on the Internet.
It works like Film Roundup, but with less detail. At one point I pledged less detail on Film Roundup and it hasn't really worked, but here I'm serious. I'm just going to mention the books I read that I liked or that I need to remember I read. I'm reading most of these books on NYPL's SimplyE reader, and since libraries don't keep track of which books you read, this is a great way of remembering what I've read.
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 02:37:03 GMTA few movies seen in a miserable month. Really high success rate though! Plus, this is the first month since the beginning of Film Roundup where every feature I saw is a new release. Maybe that counts for something in this messed-up world. Naw, who am I kidding? Update: turns out that's not even true, I forgot about Avanti! when I was writing this. When I was writing this I knew there was probably a movie I'd forgotten and I'd have to write an update like this one, and now it's happened. I saw a long series of Kieslowski shorts and the standout was Hospital (1977), a slice-of-life documentary shot in a Warsaw trauma center where everything is super Communist and falling apart. Even the hammers don't work properly! Unglamorous gore and unsexy nudity abound. For half these people it's the worst day of their lives; for the other half it's just a normal day of improvising. The Target Shoots First (2000): Watch it on Vimeo! A thought-provoking documentary about managing creative people in an anticreative environment/being creative with the disappointing materials on hand/being uncertain about the moral valence of your creative work. This film has a fun Office Space vibe, I think because of the editing. It was filmed at the last moment your boss might think "it's just home video, not like this could end up in a movie or anything." I loved the Aerosmith cameo. Steven Tyler saying "such a deal!" has become a catchphrase in our household. I'm pretty sure it's Steven Tyler who says that, but I admit I would fail any "Aerosmith member or random old dude of equivalent age?" test. The Age of Shadows (2016): Man, Korean movies, huh? This was much more violent than the corresponding American R movie would have been. You think you're out for a classy espionage movie and it's just people getting murdered from the first scene to the last. In between the murders there were some cool fights, some good espionage, lots of nice looking period sets and costumes. I do not recommend overall because the amount of gore takes it past Robocop territory, but Sumana liked it. There's a suspenseful scene where you don't know whodunit, but the real question is, whocares? There are maybe six characters here, we're near the end of their movie, and I'm not so attached to any one of them that I'm going to be shocked by a revelation that this one is the Cylon. And... I was right not to get attached to any of these characters. Whew. Avanti! (1972): Pulling out a new Billy Wilder DVD is like uncorking a vintage bottle of wine--an unrepeatable experience. At least I assume that's what it's like, from the way wine snobs talk about wine. We opened Avanti! uncertain as to the precise mixture of dark and funny in its bouquet, and... it's about 70-30. Laughs and callbacks all the way through, but it's a rom-com about a guy having an affair, handled with the attitude you'd expect from the director of The Apartment and Double Indemity. Caution: includes fat jokes. They don't even land anymore because Juliet Mills is not fat by 2016 standards, and probably not even by 1972 non-movie-star standards. Arrival (2016): Sometimes I'll tear up during a movie and I resent it. It feels cheap, like I'm just having a physiological reaction to the soundtrack. This happens a lot during trailers. Sometimes it's a good movie and the content legitimately makes me tear up. This happens pretty reliably when someone's spouse or kid dies and you have to see the effect of that death on the surviving spouse or parent. (Parent death, not so much, maybe because that's actually happened to me.) Three Colors: Blue and Waiting both did this to me. Because of its narrative structure, Arrival made me not [...]