Friday, October 6, 2017

Not so keen on the new Bladerunner, also: spoilers

Okay, the number is 2049 (did you know I am dyscalculic and dyslexic? When there’s a number in a title I tend to just think of it as “Title: Number” unless it’s like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 and I’ve learned it, so I thought of this movie as Bladerunner With Numbers After but now I’ll probably remember it was 2049. Side note, the dyslexia is also why I only know the main elves in Tolkien - the names in the Silmarillion are too similar for me to parse them with such similar characters, but I know if it starts with “El” they’re probably related to Elrond and Arwen)
But, now on to other things about the movie.
  • Hans Zimmer was a bad choice. There are tons of people working now who could have done a better job of maintaining the feel of the Vangelis soundtrack while modernizing it without the movie going “BWWWWWAAAAAAMMMMMM” during every exterior flying shot. That was incredibly distracting and I’m fucking salty about it. It happens within like the first thirty seconds of the movie and my first thought was “This will get annoying very fast if they keep it up” and then they kept it up and I was annoyed. A lot. It was literally so loud that it vibrated my seat. It was painful and distracting in a movie that had lots of quiet dialogue.
  • Pick an aesthetic and stick to it. When the movie was trying to mimic the look of Bladerunner it failed (too grey, too washed out, not enough neon) but when it was going for its own style it worked really well (the bright, vibrant orange of the desert, the clean open spaces of the farm - grey looked good and sensible there) but they ended up with these weird muted pastel-brights when they were going for “vibrant in the city.” Like it was just desaturated. And desaturated neon is bad for a Bladerunner flick. Compare the Joi ad to the big Japanese ad in the original - while Joi is colorful, and the only visually interesting thing in that frame, the ad on the bottom is brighter and more saturated - strong yellows and reds, electric blue. And the pastels create a very dreamy feel, but I sort of feel like if you’re going for neo-noir in the style of Bladerunner you’re doing yourself a disservice when you back away from actual neons.
  • Also the lighting and visuals of the Tyrell-corp-replacement (Wallace corp? I don’t remember what it’s called but it’s the place that makes replicants that Jared Leto is in charge of) are super fucking cool looking and also way over-the-top style wank. The lighting is busy in a way that feels like it’s spoon-feeding you the plot, shadows move and shift so characters faces can be artfully revealed in the right moments while the soundtrack is bwamming joyfully along. And perhaps that’s because Leto’s character is blind but that’s not a great excuse because…
  • This movie has way more characters than it needs and Leto is one of them. And I’d like to remind people that Jared Leto has been accused of sexually assaulting several women and has openly bragged about sending used condoms to his Suicide Squad costars, something that should have gotten him fired immediately as sexual harassment. Whether or not you believe his accusers *he* has admitted to being a shit human and doing things that would have gotten him fired, sued, and maybe had a restraining order implemented if he was working in any other industry. Anyway, there are too many characters with tantalizing hints of backstory that we almost get into exploring but never spend enough time with. It’s frustrating, but I’ll get into that more in the spoiler section later.
  • Um hey this film is also really really really white for a flick that’s supposed to take place in future Los Angeles. I guess one of the love interests is Cuban, there are a couple of black folx with speaking roles, Dave Bautista is in it. But the backgrounds are full of white people eating Japanese food out of vending machines with european languages on them. It’s a weird shift from the aggressively multicultural background in the first movie. 
  • Also the way women are handled in the movie is ????? High-key pretty gross? In every direction? I don’t know, I’ve got comments on that that are spoilers. See them later.
  • People gripe about Bladerunner being slow (it is, but that’s a good thing) and people are going to gripe about this movie being slow (it is, but that’s a bad thing). Bladerunner has a lot of tension in its slower scenes, and even if there’s not a lot of tension you’re being introduced to this new world that has a ton of stuff going on in the background to explore if you get tired of the slow dialogue. NOT SO HERE. In fact, let me tell you a story: my family knew people who were working on Bladerunner and everyone we knew who was married when they started working on the film was divorced by the time the movie was done because there was so much time and effort that went into shit like costume design and lighting and matte paintings and fucking architecture. There is so much shit going on that you learn something new about the world in every frame. The new film has a lot of empty space that is stunning to look at but doesn’t pass on any content to the viewer. Something’s always in motion, your eye stays busy, but the consideration and thought that went toward storytelling in the original is missing.
It was a pretty movie and I mostly enjoyed watching it but the music was distracting and it wasn’t as substantive or interesting as the original film by a long shot.
Now, onto spoilers.
Also TW for Violence and misogyny.

Okay so at one point Leto’s character disembowels a newly made replicant woman because he’s upset that they haven’t created replicants that can give birth. He does this while he’s complaining that they can’t create enough replicants. So he destroys a newborn, naked woman by slashing her open where her uterus would be. Because he’s upset that they can’t make replicants fast enough. I ??guess?? this is supposed to be character development that makes him look evil, but his objectification of the replicant *before* he disembowels a newborn while talking about how replicants just want life *in front of* his personal replicant he forces to do horrible things and has named “Luv” is evil enough? There’s no need for this gratuitous awful thing that is already fucking uncomfortable as he’s handling a naked, greased woman and lamenting that she’s sterile. Which is what I mean when I say this movie doesn’t handle “women” as a subject well.

And they’re attempting to retcon the rape from the original movie! Kay, the Ryan Gosling character, is tasked with discovering the identity of some replicant bones they’ve found, of a replicant who died giving birth. Turns out that it’s Rachel from the first film, and when Kay tracks down her serial number he hears part of her initial Voight-Kampff interview with Deckard. Kay’s comment on hearing her voice for like ten seconds is “She liked him, this Deckard, she’s provoking him” and later it’s emphasized that Deckard and Rachel were planned to fall in love, destined for it. Which is like cute and all but ignores that she was trying to leave and be autonomous (you know the entire fucking point of this whole goddamned fictional universe) when he threatened her with violence and forced her to kiss him out of fear (and I guess then fuck her out of fear).

Also what the fuck with scifi universes where “we can create complex adult humans”/“have space magic”/“can travel vast distances and explore the genesis of the human race” but delivering children is just as much of a fucking mystery/death sentence as it was in the Victorian era?
In 2049 there are replicants with open-ended lifespans and replicants who always obey humans. The Nexus 8s were developed around the timeline of the first movie and it’s hinted that Deckard was one of the early Nexus 8s with an open-ended lifespan. That’s left ambiguous and I like it. Most of the other replicants we meet are the obedient type, like Kay.

Kay, a replicant, has Joi, a personal assistant/romantic partner whom he loves. Joi hires Mariette, a replicant sex-worker, to have sex with Kay while wearing Joy’s projection like a second skin. This happens immediately after Kay finds out he needs to go on the run and includes a moment where Joi tells Mariette not to speak or participate. It’s visually interesting, and sometimes you can see Mariette’s eyes from beneath Joi’s projection staring at Kay and being attracted to him, but it is weirdly timed and I think it actually cheapens Kay and Joi’s relationship (Joi gets fridged shortly after and near the end of the film it’s revealed that much of their relationship was stock phrases that the Joi advertisement repeats to Kay).

We are clearly supposed to have complicated feelings about Luv; she works for the big bad, she kills people he commands her to, and she ends up having the big boss battle of the flick with Kay. I don’t have complicated feelings. Luv is done wrong by this film. She is designed to obey an evil person, this clearly bothers her and he clearly doesn’t care about bothering her, she wants to win his affection because he is the human being she relies on for *everything* up to and including her ability to continue existing, and for that we watch her brutally choked and drowned. And yes, we’ve seen her ruthlessly murder people, but we’ve also seen that replicants don’t have choices. They can’t say no. She was told to kill people and she can’t say no. She was told to torture people and she can’t say no.

Which brings us to a *very fucking interesting* scene between Kay and his commanding officer Lieutenant Joshi (played by Robin Wright). At one point they’re in Kay’s apartment, she asks him to tell her a memory of his and he says there would be no point; she says “would it make a difference if I said that was an order” and he tells her a memory. She’s drinking with him and asks him what would happen if she finished his vodka, he asks if she shouldn’t be back at the station and she leaves. Prior to this scene we’ve seen her tell him that sometimes she almost forgets that he’s a replicant and that he’s been getting along fine without a soul. She has been admiring and assessing him all while continually reminding him he’s beneath her, and when he leaves Joi pops up to tease Kay about the fact that his Lieutenant wants to sleep with him. And that’s *very fucking interesting* because the scene flips the script on rape in the franchise - all Kay can do is ask her not to make him do this because he doesn’t want to but he can’t say no. It hammers home the restrictions the new generation of replicants face, how far they are from being free. (which incidentally is why it’s so frustrating that the film goes out of its way to retcon the rape in the original movie)

Anyway I don’t want to spoil the whole movie and deconstruct the entire plot on its release date so I think I’m going to leave it here for the moment, but these are some of my major criticisms of the film and some of the things I was disappointed by. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it the way I love the old one (it also sucked in the dialogue department - no tears in the rain or “it’s a shame she won’t live” lines here (Dave Bautista gets to day “You only obey because you’ve never seen a miracle” but that’s a bad line that is obvious and trite and shitty and they probably shouldn’t flash back to it but that’s just an example of how little faith this movie has in its audience to pick up the story and themes from context).

Also everything Jared Leto did that was actually necessary to the plot could have been done by Lawrence Fishburne on speakerphone or some shit, we didn’t need this gratuitously gross character who was played by someone in cripple cosplay and has been accused of rape, there is literally no reason to have him in this movie or to have a blind character played by a sighted actor or to make him only part-time-blind you know what okay I have huge problems with Jared Leto in this film and look forward to making an edit that does not include him.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Look, Bitcoin is just a terrible idea


Okay, full disclosure, I did the illustrations and cover design for this book. So perhaps there's something of a conflict of interest here but I'm going to go ahead and talk about it anyway because working on the art for this book is part of why I didn't have much time to read in July (combined with time spent in Las Vegas and general chaos).

Anyway, this book is a FANTASTIC read if you're looking for some simple, clear explanations as to why you shouldn't invest in Bitcoin, should discourage everyone you know from investing in Bitcoin, and want to spend a great deal of time laughing at people who continue to get burned in Bitcoin speculation schemes. David Gerard is a long-time observer of the cryptocurrency scene and an even longer-term participant in worrying techno-mischief, and has a very good sense for when something is or isn't bullshit, and Bitcoin is a long mile of bullshit.

The long and short of it is that the cryptocurrency is a pump-and-dump speculation scam. Gerard also makes it staggeringly, stunningly clear that bitcoin doesn't appear to have any functional, real-world applications outside of ordering hits or buying drugs and even those applications are untenable, considering that the well-known BTC funded hits are a) well-known and b) were actually federal investigators hired by an idiot to kill people who might have threatened his cryptoincome; also people who sell drugs hate using bitcoin because the transactions aren't stable enough.

I'll say that again: the currency is too unstable for online drug dealers to want to deal with it.

You should buy the book and read it. Gerard is wonderfully witty and the book is full of clear information that's easy to understand for non-techs - handy when you're trying to talk the marketing department out of blockchain smart contracts.

GO BUY IT HERE AND ADMIRE MY LOVELY DRAWINGS AND THE CLEVER WRITING.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Learning to live with death


 For years now people have been telling me that I need to read Terry Pratchett and unfortunately it just kept getting pushed to the back of my mind over and over and over again. It felt like jumping into Stephen King for the first time - there's so much that he's written that I didn't know where to start. When Pratchett died in 2015 someone asked Neil Gaiman on Tumblr what they should read first if they wanted to read Pratchett's work and Gaiman recommended Mort. I bought the book that day and it sat on my shelf for two years while I worked through things higher up on the to-be-read list.

Now, I'll say straight-up that I liked the book, but I don't think I'm going to end up with a Pratchett collection the same way that I have a King or a Gibson or a Stephenson collection - I've got nearly all those other guys' books and have read almost all of their books somewhere between five and seven times at least. I liked Mort, I had a fun time reading it, but I think Pratchett might be an almost-perfect author to use my library card with.

Mort was a rapid read, lasting just a couple of hours. The writing is simple but bitingly funny, the universe is expansive and fascinating, but unfortunately I still don't really feel like I know enough about it to sink deeply into it. The book did make me want to read a lot more Pratchett, I enjoyed the mythology of the world and the tone of the writing enough for that, to be sure. But I feel like I want to do a deep dive into the Pratchett that's out there before I make a commitment to buying dozens and dozens of books.

Anyway. Mort. It's a funny book about Death, Death's Apprentice, Wizards, and how everyone has to follow rules in some way. As a first look at Discworld it's enough to tantalize but not enough to really get to know the place. I was pretty happy with most of what was happening in the novel but it did feel a bit clunky in places, most of which had to do with romances feeling really stilted.

I hope to explore more Pratchett in the future, I hope I enjoy return visits to Discworld, and I agree with Gaiman - Mort is a good book to get your toes wet and see if the Pratchettverse is worth exploring.

Cheers,
     - Alli

You can buy Mort, which was published in 1987, by clicking on this sentence.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Action fun and fast cars

Okay so my sister dragged me out to see Baby Driver because I don't go to the movies as much as I should because, again, I'm really fuckin busy, but I enjoyed the shit out of the movie even though it has some odd problems (women being written sort of badly/strangely, not enough black folks in Atlanta, that sort of thing).

But it was a joy to watch, the car chase scenes are some of the best I've ever seen and I'm super glad I got so many of them. The music was fuckin' fantastic, it was really amazing to see people signing in a film, everything looked cool as hell, and the one dance-walk scene is maybe the best thing I've seen on a screen in like five years.

I'm happy I saw the movie, I love Edgar Wright, I want Edgar Wright to make more movies, I want Kevin Spacey to make more movies, I want Jamie Foxx to get more roles he can have fun with. This was fun to go see even if it was a little popcorny, but I still think there's a deeper thing there about how hard it is to get yourself out of a situation where you've built momentum - no matter how good your motivations are for getting into a rut or how good your motivation is for getting out of a rut sometimes you're just stuck in a rut and it sucks and it feels like everything is falling to pieces around you.

I like that the film studied that kind of inertia so subtly that it took me a month to realize that's what it was doing, because it was so well hidden under a catchy (maybe gimmicky) soundtrack and big bold bright fun visuals.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Whining and dying



Ohhhhhmygod this fucking year.

Okay. So I basically didn't read any books in June, I started reading Our American King but then got distracted and very, very fucking busy and that's kind of where I still am only I've finished reading a couple books but now I'm super behind on blogging about them and I haven't made a video rundown since fuggin APRIL.

Like the good news is I've started a Patreon and an Etsy store and have purchased a domain for my webcomic and have been working on submitting to anthologies and such.

The bad news is that I don't get as much time to read and I don't get as much time to write about what I've been reading so that's where I'm at with this blog.

I mean, it's not going to *stop* me or anything, I've just gotten really good at constantly functioning with some low-grade, background panic going on.

Anyway, David Lozell Martin's Our American King is depressing as fuck and I really have to stop accidentally stumbling into reading dystopias because in other years I love that shit but right now I just cannot hang with a story about a military takeover of the US after some unnamed catastrophe. TOO UPSETTING.

The book was generally fine, there were a couple things that were genuinely compelling and made me want to know more but like I'm just not super in the mood for rape and starvation and might=right at the moment. The latter half of the book has some things that it wants to say about the petit bourgeoisie and resource hoarding but I don't know that it said it all that well, or at least it doesn't seem all that well said when the US seems pretty amped to eat the rich at the moment.

(Like, they're talking about rich people in Arizona walling themselves away from the poor and sneering down at their suffering - I read this the same week that John McCain flew away from his hospital bed to vote to overturn the ACA. MAYBE SAVAGE MURDER OF EVERYONE INVOLVED DOESN'T SEEM THAT BAD TO ME BECAUSE OF MY PREEXISTING CONDITIONS BUT FUCK IDUNNO)

Anyway, if nothing else it's super weird to look at the grim perspective of only 9 years ago and say "welp, it didn't go that way but maybe it went worse."

Because it's hard to read a book about an exhausted population looking to a charasmatic liar to lead them away from democracy from the perspective of someone living in the time of 45.

Fuck.

David Lozell Martin's Our American King was written in 2008 and can be found wherever.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Patience!


There's something cosmically funny about spending my entire reading of Waiting for Godot frustrated by the notes of a previous reader whom I strongly disagreed with.

Well, I didn't actually disagree with her (and based on the note-taking style and handwriting I feel fairly comfortable pegging this as a late high school or early college girl/young woman) so much as I deeply wished she would get on the book's level. But not all of us are meant to be lit majors and I shouldn't be a shit about that - she was noting down the obvious things her teachers pointed out, that's not her fault. But it was distracting as fuck. Which is probably why I need to stop buying one-dollar books.

Anyway, that poor girl's professor was full of shit, as is anyone who attempts to tell you what the fuck Beckett was trying to say with Waiting for Godot.

That's not to say the play is bad, of course, or that it doesn't have something to say, just that Beckett was markedly adversarial about people trying to know the works that he as the author claimed not to understand.

So, that being said, what is Waiting for Godot about? Two men. The world. The bleakness of the sky. The audience. Tension. Dissatisfaction.

It's about a lot of things, it's almost dizzyingly up to interpretation.

It's a fine play to read, and I'm sure it's a fine play to see, but I don't properly know that it's about anything.

Maybe it's about relationships. Maybe it's about trusting other people, about the various ways we love.

Fuck if I know, I only read it because it only cost a dollar and it's on friggin everyone's "best works of the 20th century" list.

It isn't bad, not at all, it's very very good. But it's good because it moves you as a reader or a viewer even though it's working with the thinnest story, characters, setting, and purpose possible. It's a tremendous feat that might mean nothing. It's beautiful for the sake of enjoying its own beauty.

Which is fine, in fact it's lovely, but it's hard to give a shit about.

Cheers,
     - Alli

(You can buy the play here if you want to)

I should probably stop reading genres I hate

Ugh, a murder mystery that's also a romance? Why did I think this was a good idea.

Because it was free. That's why I read it. And because I was in Vegas with my mom and needed something to hate-read in my down time.

And The Lavin Murders was, for me, a perfect hate-read.

It's a perfect mish-mash of all the traits I hate in mystery novels and all the traits I hate in romance novels (though it's not a romance novel, it doesn't get steamy or sexy, there's just a slow-burn love story that does a bad fucking job of it). The bad mystery aspects include things like cops dismissing the spunky "little lady" leading the story, a vast conspiracy, and a protagonist who doesn't suspect that the titular Lavin Murder is a murder in spite of finding the corpse of a customer wrapped in a fur coat behind the counter of her store that she had locked and unlocked herself.

Seriously, it takes like fifteen chapters for our martini-loving, vintage clothing-wearing heroine to start to wonder if perhaps her dead friend who mysteriously appeared in her store and had suddenly, forcefully, and unexpectedly demanded the return of the coat her body was wrapped in, might have died as the result of foul play.

The book is largely an excuse to talk about fancy clothes, and I don't begrudge it that, it's the one thing the novel does well. I wanted to google some of the designers whose names popped up in the pages, and sketches of the outfits described would probably look stunning. But I couldn't bring myself to care about the conflict between our protag and the mean rich lady opening a store down the street just to fuck with her, or the protag's strained ongoing friendship with her aggressively misogynist ex, or the protag's budding romance with the tall strong and unconventionally handsome handyman who wears vintage flannels passed to him from his uncle.

The whole thing is just kind of insipid and dull. I found myself continually rolling my eyes and shouting at my kindle. I hate the classist assumptions of the protagonist we're supposed to agree with. I hate the ostensibly pro-sex-work but really well-of-course-that's-why-she-got-murdered attitude. I hate that (spoilers) the plot turns out to be about the exploitation of Native American land rights by the big bad and that our white-as-fuck protag and her white-as-fuck boyfriend have to come in and rescue a Native American character and be the heroes.

For being such a shitty little novel it was full of fascinating tensions that I don't know if Angela Sanders herself was aware of. Protag's ex boyfriend is a liberal politician's right-hand-man and is a shitty, gaslighting, mansplaining douche - her budding romance is with a working-class man who has family in prison and butts heads with the main officer investigating the case because the cop knows he's from a group of rough hombres, or whatever. Protag goes to a political fundraiser at a rich lady's house at one point and there's a fight between Protag and another vintage clothier and Protag ends up hanging out with the catering staff. THERE'S SOME INTERESTING STUFF ABOUT CLASS HERE. THAT'S KIND OF COOL AND SEEMS LIKE SOMETHING YOU COULD SPEAK TO IN A WAY THAT DOESN'T DEVOLVE INTO "Well, this little princess wandered into our dive-bar, we're going to sneer at her until she proves herself." Same with the misogyny of the liberal politicians opposing the egalitarian attitudes of the working class. Same with the too-brief explorations of sex work and Native rights and gentrification.

I get that it's supposed to be a fun fast-paced thriller about fashion and murder, but if it's supposed to be fun maybe don't take fifteen fucking chapters to have the protagonist lounge around her apartment making martinis and thinking of how much she'll miss her friend who mysteriously died in Protag's own store before our intrepid heroine starts to think it might be murder.

Jesus fuck. Pacing problems and milquetoast progressivism plagued this novel, which I suppose is perfectly apt considering its Portland setting.

Ugh. I guess if the other books in this series came up free from the Kindle store I might download them to hate-read some more but there's no way in hell I'm paying for them.

Fuck.

Cheers,
     - Alli

The Lavin Murders by Angela M. Sanders.