Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Here are some quick, brief asides (hence the title of this monthly column within a blog) about this or that topic, to close out the lovely month of March...
I've been really enjoying Bosch on Amazon Prime. Based on the cop novels by Michael Connelly, this is a terrific crime series that doesn't worry about being totally original and just happily embraces the conventions of the cop show and really runs with them. I'll write more fully about the show when I finish watching all ten episodes, but for now let me send out a broad recommendation.
We recently caught the new live-action Cinderella at the movies. It's, well... Cinderella. In other words, if you know the story you've pretty much seen the movie. But it's beautifully shot and acted, an extra bit of palace intrigue is added to make things a little more compelling for adults, and in the end it's generally a lush, moving piece of film making. If you're at all in the mood for this sort of thing, you won't go away disappointed.
Run All Night, Liam Neeson's latest shoot 'em up, is a pretty good thriller, no more and no less. I did appreciate the "R" rating, though. I hate when movies that cry out for adults-only style action, violence, and language are toned down so they can sell more tickets to the kids. Happily, that's not the case here. This is a nice gritty movie.
I'm now working my way through a bunch of graphic novels that collect DC Comics' Suicide Squad comic book stories. The Suicide Squad is a group comprised of captured super-villains who, in exchange for time off their jail sentences, are asked to perform impossibly dangerous missions that no one else wants to do. It's a fun, bracing series that manages to deepen the characterizations and motivations of characters usually portrayed as purely evil, one-note villains, but while still keeping them, well... villainous.. Lots of good action and black humor here.
There's actually a Suicide Squad movie on the way. Though an "R" rating is probably too much to ask for, the film better be, at the very least, a hard "PG-13". Toning down the violence and villainy too much will be fatal to a successful adaptation process. I mean, if they're gonna do the Suicide Squad, with its assassins, murderers, and psychopaths, then they should do the Suicide Squad. Get it?
Season five of The Walking Dead just concluded on AMC. I thought it was a pretty solid season, with a nice balance of scares and subtlety. It kind of felt like a big novel, one about whether people so used to living a hardscrabble, impossibly dangerous existence out in the wild can reintegrate into a civilized situation. The answer? To be continued next season!
Enough brief asides for now. But there will be more before long.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Isaac Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation, the first prequel to the author’s classic Foundation Trilogy, is a modest but enjoyable science-fiction novel, showing the humble beginnings of Hari Seldon, the legendary scientist of the original trilogy. The novel will probably resonate more if you’re already familiar with the trilogy, as you’ll likely get more of a kick out of the young, slightly vain, slightly scatterbrained Seldon seen here if you’re well versed on his later accomplishments and eventual revered status.
But there are some compelling ideas here for both Foundation newcomers and longtime fans of the original books, often presented in fun ways. In particular, the novel examines the idea of personal cluelessness about one’s genius, and how it sometimes takes others to fill a person in about one's own potential. Here, Hari is presented as someone who thinks he’s just a modest mathematician, with maybe a few creative ideas worthy of writing an esoteric paper on, but nothing more. But once Hari delivers his paper at a conference, the most powerful six or seven forces in the universal hierarchy immediately wrestle and compete with each other to grab up Hari and his ideas first, recognizing their potential to shape the future. And even then Hari is slow to say, “Hmmmm, maybe I’ve got something here.”
Prelude to Foundation is pretty much a chase novel set in a fascinating, far flung future, with a nice level of attention given over to the ways people live and interact, and other humanitarian concerns. Dr.Asimov also uses Prelude to Foundation to tie some of his other famous books into the continuity of the Foundation books, specifically novels in his Empire and Robot series. At this point, that move neither overly complicates nor greatly improves the Foundation series, though it does add a bit of interesting texture, so it’ll be fascinating to see where things go in the other Foundation prequel/sequels.
Finally, in case you missed my previous announcement, HBO is now developing the Foundation books as an ongoing television series. Interesting, huh?
"Prelude to Foundation" is available in both print and Kindle editions.
"Prelude to Foundation" is available in both print and Kindle editions.
Friday, March 13, 2015
On this fine Friday in March, here are some amusing signs that were recently spotted in front of local bars...
Come on in! We have free beer, topless bartenders, and false advertising.
We do not serve women. You must bring your own.
If you're drinking to forget, please pay in advance.
Come in and meet your future ex-wife.
Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that some guy on "Yelp" ever had in his life.
Alcohol and calculus don't mix, so don't drink and derive.
I also just noticed that it's Friday the 13th, so maybe I'll try to come up with some kind of funny bad luck-themed post. But probably not.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
In the previous book in John D. MacDonald's famous thriller series, One Fearful Yellow Eye, our hero Travis McGee gained a little self knowledge regarding his dealings with women, developing some insight into why he’s done the things he’s done in his past relationships. That new self awareness illuminates his actions here in Pale Gray For Guilt, as McGee juggles a new love interest and a case involving a gentle but clueless friend who was utterly destroyed by unscrupulous real estate developers. Related to the latter issue, McGee undertakes revenge this time out, not his usual “I keep half if I can recover your stolen stuff” arrangement with a client.
Both the revenge plot and the love story keep the pages turning, with MacDonald surprising me with how much the latter plotline was able to move me. There’s been passion in this series before, but I never saw MacDonald do genuine emotion and sentiment so effectively. In the other storyline, the stock market con engineered by Travis and his accountant friend Meyer gets a little dense with detail at times, but don’t worry about keeping it all straight: it’s always clear why Travis and Meyer are pulling a particular move on the amoral suits, even if the mechanics of the swindle get a little thick.
Pale Gray For Guilt, the ninth book in the 21-book Travis McGee series (which ran from the mid 1960's to the early 1980's) is available in new print, Kindle, and audiobook editions.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Welcome to the second installment of Brief Asides, the monthly column within a blog that briefly (hence the title) touches on various things that have occurred to me lately. As I’d like to keep this whole thing to 800 words or so, let’s get started.
If the purpose of the Oscars is to draw attention to little-seen films of merit, then it is doing an excellent job. If the purpose of the Oscars is to celebrate and acknowledge excellence among all types of films- the huge ones that fill theaters as well as smaller art-house movies- then perhaps an overhaul is needed. I’ll probably write a little more on this topic via its own post.
Speaking of big-budget movies that fill theaters, I finally caught Pacific Rim, the 2013 movie about huge robots fighting huge monsters, on cable. I know this won’t be a very popular opinion, but despite the artistic pedigree provided by Guillermo del Toro’s name in the screenwriting and directing credits, I didn’t think the movie was much better than Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. But maybe the writer/director wouldn’t disagree with me, as he’s stated he just wanted to make something fun. Anyway, it’s worth a look, even if you’re not a rabid fan of big robots and big monsters slugging it out.
Moving through A Dance With Dragons, the most recent book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series (currently being adapted into HBO’s Game of Thrones series), I’m still enjoying the story. However, I find myself agreeing with many of the fan reviews online that express frustration over excessive bloat in the last couple of series entries, stating that too much attention is given to too many third-tier characters and plotlines, the pace is a too stately, and there aren’t enough big, dramatic happenings.
To be sure, the latest book or two are still enjoyable as an immersive experience in an interesting fantasy world, but they’re not the must-read page-turners of the first three. And I’ve been doing the novels on audio, which almost always makes a book better and more fun, because someone else is doing the work of reading it, as well as providing an entertaining acting performance. So, while artistic freedom is still a definite ideal in the creative world, more and more I’m seeing the value of the vulgar notion of a writer having to listen to an editor telling him or her to keep things moving and to be entertaining. The television show has certainly been on the right track, dramatizing the best aspects of Martin’s story and jettisoning the excess.
Moving right along, via my cable system’s On Demand function, I’m about halfway through ABC’s seven or eight episode “series event” Agent Carter, or more precisely, Marvel’s Agent Carter. Set in the late 1940’s and featuring lavish sets and costumes, secret agent Peggy Carter battles international crime as part of an agency that eventually becomes the SHIELD organization of the Marvel movies.
Story-wise, the show is only a little better than okay so far, pretty good but not spectacular, which is how I feel about Marvel’s Agents of Shield (I pretty much like the Marvel movies a lot better than the Marvel TV shows). But unlike that other show, Marvel’s Agent Carter will wrap up its entire story at the end of its small handful of episodes, and isn’t requiring me to make a long-term commitment to its modest pleasures. I like that. And if the series comes back, it’ll be in the form of another small batch of episodes. Kudos to ABC and Marvel for trying to be a little innovative in its story telling. Not everything on network TV has to consist of hundreds of episodes spanning six or seven years. I’m a lot more willing to watch and enjoy “pretty good” if there’s a definite end in sight, and sooner rather than later.
The second half of the current season of AMC’s The Walking Dead recently commenced, and the three episodes shown at this point have been pretty solid, though so far they’re definitely emphasizing slow-burn emotions (especially fear and despair) over big action set-pieces. But the stories have been compelling, being mostly about the difficulty of surviving on the road without the walls and security of a home base. Though, from the looks of things, that last plot point may soon change. But for the better? We’ll see.
HBO’s Last Week With John Oliver, now back for its second season, continues to be a fun way to keep up with current news and issues. In thirty minutes you’ll be brought up to speed on all kinds of current events and you’ll laugh a lot in the process. So, even if The Daily Show tanks or experiences a reduction in quality after John Stewart’s departure, we’ll at least still have John Oliver keeping everyone honest... and entertained.
Well, that’s it for this month’s dose of stream of consciousness. Regular, more thoughtfully-developed posts will now resume, until Brief Asides returns sometime in March. Be good, and if you live in the East, stay warm!