Sat, 01 Apr 2017 22:58:18 GMTThe LEGO Batman Movie (2017): Man, you head to the movies to take your mind off the increasingly troubling political situation, and then something like this happens. Anyway, the first hour of this movie is really fun and goofy, and then it develops a plot and bogs down in action scenes that are impossible to follow. I forsee an edit that cuts 22:30 of the last 45 minutes, then slows down what's left by 50% so you can see what's happening. It seems really weird that IMDB lists Siri, a nonsentient computer program, as an actor in this movie. I mean, I get that that's what it says in the credits, but it seems like fodder for "Crazy Credits" and not something we should take seriously. Are there other fictional actors in IMDB? Kermit the Frog doesn't have a .... wait... why is "Kermit the Frog" showing up as a hyperlink? Dammit, he does have an IMDB actor page. The very first example I looked up. This makes no sense. Why is Kermit the Frog listed as having an "uncredited" role as The Minstrel in Once Upon A Mattress (1972)? If you're copying down whatever it says in the credits, that's one thing. But a fictional character can't have an uncredited role! As Kermit would say, aaaaaaah! Come out from under that Muppet and face our scrutiny! Boxcar Bertha (1972): Just what I needed on that day: a Roger Corman B-movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Raw talent doing its best to fulfill a crappy work order. Trains, labor organizing, and 1970s poster paint blood. Recommended but only if you're in that kind of mood. Film Roundup regulars will not be surprised to hear that like most movies Boxcar Bertha features John Carradine, but unlike many movies it's also got his son David. In fact there's one Oedipal scene where David mugs his dad. Overall, I wasn't super impressed with David's acting chops. It was like watching Joel Hodgson rob trains: entertaining, but not quite believable. Beat the Devil (1953): Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, together at... still? With Robert Morley filling in for Sydney Greenstreet, I suspect. The whole movie, I was looking for a twist that turned out not to be there. But Jennifer Jones steals the show as the bored wife who blithely surfs the edge of a hazardous Bogart-and-Lorre caper, just because it's something to do. This month the Television Spotlight shines on Jane the Virgin (2014-), a fun, silly melodrama we picked up based on a recommendation from Julia. Way to go, Julia! A while back in Film Roundup I said that Jacques Tati's Playtime is like Brazil but with all the nastiness taken out. Well, Jane the Virgin is like Arrested Development with... most of the nastiness taken out. In fact one could do a comedic Tumblr on the topic, a la Breaking Development, but I don't know how big the overlap fandom is. Should be bigger, is what I'm saying. I was initially disappointed that Jane the Virgin doesn't have the fantastic element I assumed it would have, but it's addressed within the show with other people incorrectly making the same assumption, so that's fine. Whew! Let's do the books while we're at it: I finished The Fortress of Solitude, the incredibly long novel I mentioned last month. The first half was really good, and I started out hating the second half, but it eventually won me over... just in time for the book to end. The writing was really good on a sentence-by-sentence level; a decent experience overall. Four Futures by Peter Frase is basically a four-part series of blog posts. I don't think I found a lot of new information in it, but I like the framing device. [...]
Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:14:53 GMT(image) Hey there. After keeping this magazine in the house for five years, I finally read it. You see, I only like things that are vintage. Sometimes you gotta age it yourself.
Standout stories for me were Naomi Kritzer's adorable "Scrap Dragon" and Alexander Jablokov's gross-out "The Comfort of Strangers". I guess I'm exposing the fact that I haven't read the Rich Horton anthology that reprinted "Four Kinds of Cargo" (The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2013 Edition), since that also reprinted "Scrap Dragon". I repeat: adorable.
I also liked Ken Liu's "Maxwell's Demon" for the clever way it combined several very different ideas. I love this issue's Mark Evans cover art, for John G. McDaid's "Umbrella Men", but I prefer the story I made up after looking at the cover art for five years. (However it is the first time the story I made up based on the cover art bears any resemblance to the real story.)
In the course of an essay on vampire fiction, Elizabeth Hand mentions the ur-text, John Polidori's The Vampyre, as well as the 1845-1847 serial "Varney the Vampire" which ran to 670,000 words (Project Gutenberg has a measley 327,927 of those words). I don't care about vampire stories but I'm always interested in the first or biggest example of something. This column also made me aware of Theodore Rozak's Flicker, in a would-actually-want-to-read-it way.
Man, "Varney the Vampire" makes me think of vampire Jim Varney. How come they never did an Ernest movie about that? Seems like a natural fit. Bye for now!
Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:56:18 GMTThis won't wait for Film Roundup because it's only showing until the end of the month. Last week Sumana and I went to see FRED at Dixon Place in Manhattan and had a good time. It's a short, funny play with a Starship Titanic feel. Check it out!
Wed, 01 Mar 2017 13:32:36 GMT
Anyway, the movie itself was enjoyable but the musical they're putting on seems, at best, comparable to other musicals of the 1930s.
IMDB trivia: "Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig star in a remake of this film." No thanks.
Recommend seeing in the theater for the audience participation factor. There's an audience stand-in in the movie who has clearly seen it before and is trying ineffectually to stop it from happening! Just like real life.
I'm gonna shoehorn Book Roundup into this post because although I started three books on my commute, I lost interest in two of them a fair way in, and the only book I finished in February was Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. A great horrifying read with a sinister George Saunders-type feel in places.
I thought I'd also finish The Fortress of Solitude, but that book's a lot longer than I thought! I'm not even halfway through. Stay tuned!
Mon, 27 Feb 2017 13:07:14 GMT"Do they have a designated survivor? Like, one celebrity who doesn't attend the Oscars?"
"That's what we have other countries for."
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 movi[...]
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.