Sunday!

So Tom Cruise hasn’t had a flop in 30 years. Okay, 29.

Like, we’re talking about Legend. Which, if you ask me, didn’t deserve to be a flop. (Also, I don’t know why “Rock of Ages” doesn’t really count as a flop but, hey. Though Wikipedia points out that the reviews of that flop specifically mention Tom Cruise as the best part of the film.)

And I’m looking at the list of films and thinking “holy cow, I even enjoyed most of those.” The Mission Impossibles, Minority Report, Jack Reacher, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow… dang. The guy who decides which scripts make it to Tom Cruise’s desk doesn’t get paid enough.

Which makes me figure that I’ll probably end up seeing Rogue Nation and boggling at how, once again, I can’t believe that Tom Cruise is now doing what Schwarzenegger and Stallone were doing in the 80’s except, this time, he’s doing it with halfway decent storylines.

So… what are you reading and/or watching?

(Photo is “Movie Night“, taken by Ginny, used under a creative commons license.)

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71 thoughts on “Sunday!

  1. I went to see Ant-Man and found it underwhelming. The Marvel movies have gotten so tongue-in-cheek about the tropes they’re using and the sillyness of their premises that they lose any real sense of peril or tension. And yet they’re not funny enough to effectively hit the action-comedy niche. (Contrast with Spy, which had a ton of funny moments and still managed to be a fairly effective action movie.) To use a vastly overused term, they’re like hipster action movies – sure, we have action, but we’re doing it ironically, we don’t actually care. Which has the side effect of making me not really care, either.

    I don’t want to go see the new Mission Impossible, even though it’s getting good reviews and I like action movies, because I don’t want to give the CoS my money. Inconsistent of me, since I did go to see Edge of Tomorrow.

    I’m going to watch Fantastic Four instead, unless it gets absolutely terrible reviews. And maybe even if it does. I’m curious, and I have no attachment to the F4 that would make me bothered by any departures from comics canon. And I liked Trank’s last movie, Chronicle.

    Currently reading a book on the history of second-wave feminism, which has been very interesting, and a mix of challenging some of my assumptions and reinforcing other ones.

    Also read The Canterbury Tales recently, which may have played a role in inspiring me to buy to book on feminism, because virtually Every. Single. One. of the stories is about one or more men trying to possess a woman. The refined ones are about “courtly love” and desperately needing to marry someone you’ve never spoken too, and the crass ones are about men coming up with creative ways to sleep with other men’s wives, but they are all about competing over who gets to stake their claim to the woman. It got overwhelming by the halfway point. It’s one thing to know a given time period was immersed in sexism, it’s another thing to be hit over the head with it for hundreds of pages.

    In other news: I got my first long-term job! A permanent position with Statistics Canada, which seems like it should be very interesting. So I’m moving to Ottawa in a month or two. Extremely happy about this, both because StatsCan is probably on my Top 10 list of organizations I’d like to work for, and because it means that hopefully I will never have to apply for a job again, unless I want to.

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    • Congrats on the job!

      I give Ant Man a B, but I admit I was grading on the curve of expectations: a lot of my circle, based on the horror stories coming out prior to its release, had assumed that this would be the MCU’s first big strike out. While it was indeed pretty flip it was awfully funny as it went along in its flip manner. The Latino friend character absolutely stole the show whenever he was in a scene and they even managed to make the ants seem generally likable.

      I could easily understand people who aren’t as fond of the MCU giving it a much lower grade but I don’t see it getting an F unless it loses Marvel money.

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      • Thanks!

        I’d give Ant-Man a C. It wasn’t terrible, but there wasn’t anything about it that engaged me either. (I’ve seen all the Marvel movies , and they’re generally in the B-/C+ range for me: middling, serviceable action movies. Avengers and Winter Soldier were the only ones that stood out.)

        It’s already made back its budget domestically, and more than twice its budget internationally. There’s no way Marvel is losing money on it.

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        • Yeah I’d probably be with you on that C if I was A) an unabashed MCU fanboy and B) warned ahead of time repeatedly that Ant Man would be THE Marvel strikeout.
          I’d submit that the supporting characters monologue/stories, however, were probably worth the price of admission by themselves.

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  2. The End of the Tour (the David Foster Wallace movie) got surprisingly good reviews so my interest has raised. It doesn’t open in SF until next week though.

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  3. I’ve been backfilling my Kindle with some older books whose paperback/hardback existence I’m terminating. I found a pair of Barbara Hambly trilogies (why aren’t more series/trilogies/etc combined into a single Kindle volume?) and some older Alan Dean Foster.

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  4. I remember being on the outside looking in at all the Pop Culture Cruise Bashing over the last decade or so. When folks would start into how much they disliked him I’d do what you just did: you didn’t like Risky Business? Top Gun? The Last Samurai? The Firm? Collateral? Jerry Maguire??? “Ok”, those folks would say, “he’s made some pretty good movies.” Damn right he did!

    Just finished my second reading of BOTNS, and now I have to back thru the whole dang thing again and try to make sense of the plot given the clues I missed the first time thru and only figured out by the end – like literally, the end – of the second reading. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book of fiction that demands so much of the reader. In fact, at one point, the narrator of the book (Severian) actually says something like “Well, I’m done recounting these events to the best of my ability. Before you, dear reader, think I’ve shortchanged you, tho, go back and read it again.”

    Well, I did that and I’m still confused. What makes it particularly difficult to figure out is that Gene Wolfe categorically stated that there’s no magic in that book. Hmmm…. So! Now I’m onto Urth of the New Sun – and then probably a re-re-read of BOTNS to make sense of my new knowledges.

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  5. I have pivoted away from audiobooks, after having finished Secret Prey (which was one of the best of the Prey series), and am now listening to Revenge for the last half-season of the show’s run. I find that listening to TV isn’t agreeing with me right now, so I think I may go back to audiobooks next. Probably Asimov.

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  6. True Detective S2 has gotten a lot of criticism, but I thought the episode last week was strong, with the climactic sequence (Bezzarides’ Escape) bearing up well on a second viewing, even if the insertion of a molestation flashback raised the lurid exploitation quotient to what should have been intolerable levels.

    So, am looking forward to the new episode leading off my customary quasi-autoerotic vicariously sadomasochistic Sunday night orgy of borderline pornographic apocalyptic neo-pulp: THE STRAIN, FALLING SKIES, THE LAST SHIP, HUMANS, TRUE DETECTIVE. If they don’t quite rise to GAME OF THRONES, THE WALKING DEAD, and PENNY DREADFUL tele-cinematically, where they’re not downright terrible, they make up the quality deficit in volume. (On the other hand, I do have standards for this kind of thing: I found THE BRINK and BALLERS pretty much unwatchable, the former having had “pathetically unfunny Jack Black/Tim Robbins vanity project” overdone and underthought all over and under it – YMMV.)

    Yeah, I know it’s mostly not great, and too much for a single evening, but that’s why the Good Lord gave us DVRs.

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    • (TD S2 spoilers): I thought that the score during Bezzerides’ escape was awful, very intrusive, particularly when the others were sneaking around outside; and so was the rocking tune as they all hightailed it down the highway in their car, implying some sort of cheesy action movie triumph rather than the considerably-darker more ambiguous outcome of their undercover operation. The molestation flashback wasn’t awful to me, necessarily, even if it spelled out some things that might have best been left implied; perhaps I forgive it because it was basically TD paying homage to Twin Peaks, with its very own version of BOB there at the party.

      The Strain is epically stupid, yet I can’t seem to quit it. I seem to have one show at a time like this, and since Walking Dead has been off, it was Wayward Pines and now this. It has a few good and/or entertaining performances in it, and some of the cinematography is nice, but the writing is just awful, as is the kid who is the. Absolute. Worst.

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      • Felt exactly the opposite way about the score. True, I’ve always been a sucker for those early-Schoenberg style strings – would have been happy to listen to them without the show on – but I thought they helped build a queasy yet portentous atmosphere that suited the character’s addled/perilous situation, and the rocking finale charging away under the carefully foreshadowed Full Moon was just the kind of pathetic fallacy I want from Sunday night quasi-porn . (TRANSFIGURED NIGHT was one of my favorite psychoactive listens once upon a time.)

        But my sentiments exactly on THE STRAIN (except for the TWD diss).

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        • I think the thing that is so frustrating about both Strain and Walking Dead is that there are occasional glimpses of a much better show in there trying to get out. I could be wrong, because it might be impossible to sustain over a series-length rather than a two-hour-movie-length (and/or it might hemorrhage viewers, like Hannibal), but I almost feel they should largely jettison plot, character and dialogue almost entirely, and go instead with what they are sometimes good at, which is action and cool visuals. TWD has occasionally done episodes that are almost like this, hallucinatory tone poems.

          It’s like they need a Michael Mann to come in and Miami Vice/MTV it up, or a George Miller to see exactly how far a Fury Road can run.

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          • Though Strain already has a Del Toro, so it should be fine. It’s weird how inconsistent the monster quality is – the Master mostly looks ridiculous, and the season premiere flashback to the Master’s origin had a vampire with a clearly-visible bodysuit – but I think Kelly looks appropriately creepy/gross (the red eyes), and ditto for the Feelers.

            Eichorst is terrific, since he’s essentially one of The Gentlemen from Buffy.

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          • I’m not going to try to make TWD out to be the greatest thing since the meatball, but I do think it’s a couple leagues of congealed meat product above THE STRAIN. Considering the former’s success over the course of years, saying so wouldn’t really be a big knock on a series in its second season – if only it wasn’t, as you said, epically stupid, and consistently inconsistent. And, on TWD specifically, I’m also not sure that there really is a better zombie epic to be done. (I thought the genre might already be done when TWD’s first season started… but it keeps on shambling on.)

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            • I agree that TWD is better than Strain, since it has achieved decency multiple episodes in a row more than once, and has had a few more reasonably-convincing characters who you could care about over its run. And like I said, there have been individual episodes that were actually quite good IMO.

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              • Another strong TD2 episode – liked every plot thread. Am wondering if Vince and our two surviving heroes end up shoulder to shoulder or back to back. Seems like a natural possibility. Am assuming at this point that Vince is probably going to die, somehow redemptively, while taking a lot of foreign language speakers with him – not sure about the Missus. It’d be OK with me if Rachel and Colin ride off into the sunset together because I’m just a sentimental ol cuss.

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                • I think it was stronger than the last one, but there was still some bad mixed in with the good. I’ll start with

                  SPOILERS FOLLOW (I’ll go ahead and rot13, because for some reason the spoiler tags aren’t working quite right for me).

                  The Bad:

                  B1: “Everything is f*cking”. groan

                  O2: Ubj qvq gung bar qhqr xabj jung rkvg Jbbqehtu jbhyq pbzr bhg? Jbbqehtu geniryrq dhvgr n jnlf qbja gur genpx (naq pbhyq unir tbar gur bgure, fb gurer jrer ng yrnfg 2 bccbfvgr irpgbef ur pbhyq unir orra geniryvat), pyvzorq n ynqqre, naq rkvgrq n (oybpxrq/ybpxrq) qbbe – jul jbhyq fbzrbar unir orra ylvat va jnvg, jvgu n trgnjnl pne, evtug ng GUNG (ntnva, oybpxrq/ybpxrq) rkvg cbvag, whfg va pnfr Jbbqehtu fbzrubj znantrq gb qrsrng NYY uvf nggnpxref naq oernx uvf jnl bhg gurer? (Nyfb, vs V jrer Jbbqehtu’f xvyyre, V’q’ir fanttrq uvf jnyyrg/onqtr va nqqvgvba gb uvf cubar, fvapr rira n oevrs qrynl va VQ’vat n pbc’f fynva obql pbhyq ohl lbh fbzr znarhirevat gvzr, naq znlor vg’q ybbx yvxr n eboorel/qeht qrny tbar onq).

                  O3: Gurer jrer n pbhcyr bs jrveq rqvgvat pubvprf jurer gurl uryq ba n fprar whfg n orng ybatre guna lbh’q rkcrpg orsber phggvat, naq vg gvygrq gur zbzragf sebz tenivgnf gb tbbsl. V qba’g unir n fcrpvsvp rknzcyr, ohg vg jnf whfg fbzrguvat V abgvprq.

                  O4: Guvf znl whfg or n shapgvba bs fgergpuvat bhg jung vf rffragvnyyl n abve-glcr fgbel (jvgu vgf olmnagvar bireynccvat cybg guernqf) gb frevrf yratgu, ohg gur vasbqhzcf gb rkcynva nyy gur fgbel pbaarpgvbaf vf…n yvggyr uneq gb sbyybj. Gura ntnva, V’ir frra Znygrfr Snypba zhygvcyr gvzrf, naq vs lbh nfxrq zr gb fhzznevmr gur cybg evtug abj V’q or fghpx – fb n 8 + ubhe Znygrfr Snypba jbhyq cerfhznoyl or avtu-vapbzcerurafvoyr.

                  Gur Tbbq:

                  T1: V yvxrq gur fpber n YBG zber guna ynfg jrrx’f. Irel rssrpgvir V gubhtug. V guvax ynfg jrrx gurl jrer tbvat sbe n Xhoevpxl-Ylapul guvat jvgu gubfr fgevatf, ohg nf V fnvq vg whfg qvq abg jbex sbe zr bhgfvqr gur ubhfr ng nyy.

                  T2: N irel fjrrg erirefny sbe Ormmrevqrf’ qnq’f punenpgre, jubz jr unq orra yrq gb fhfcrpg zvtug or fbzr xvaq bs perrc; lrf, ur znl unir unq fbzr erfcbafvovyvgl sbe jung unccrarq gb Nav nf n puvyq orpnhfr bs uvf lbhgushy vqrnyvfz, ohg ur jnf njner bs vg, naq unq ab qbhog orra chavfuvat uvzfrys sbe vg uvf ragver yvsr. Fhqqrayl uvf jrveqyl oyrnxyl-avuvyvfgvp lbtn yrffba va gung rneyl rcvfbqr znxrf n ybg zber frafr.

                  T3: Ivapr Inhtuna SVANYYL frrzrq ng ubzr va uvf punenpgre. Jurgure gung’f orpnhfr ur jnf tvira yrff checyr cuvybfbcuvmvat sbe uvf qvnybthr, be jurgure vg’f orpnhfr jr ner ergebnpgviryl zrnag gb haqrefgnaq gung GUNG qvnybthr jnf ARIRE Frzlba – gung jnf n tnatfgre, gelvat gb cergraq ur jnf n pvivyvmrq zna naq zbhguvat jbeqf ur qvqa’g shyyl haqrefgnaq, naq abj nf n pbearerq navzny ur vf “serr” gb or shyyl onpx va uvf angheny ryrzrag – rvgure jnl, V obhtug sbe gur svefg gvzr gung ur jnf ab bar gb or zrffrq jvgu.

                  T4: Ormmrevqrf naq Irypbeb qb unir terng purzvfgel, naq gurve fprarf gbtrgure jrer avpr (“Lbh’er abg n onq zna.” “Lrf….V nz”). Chggvat gurz va gung jrveqyl nepunvp zbgry ebbz tnir gur rssrpg bs gurz orvat na byq pbhcyr, gvzryrff naq fheebhaqrq ol ynpr qbvyvrf va gurve pnova be fbzrguvat. Fb gurl ner cebonoyl qbbzrq.

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                  • Hey – any idea why the spoil function is stopping before it should? Does the presence of other html tags confuse it? I checked and it looked like I closed all mine but maybe I missed one?

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                  • B2: How did that one dude know what exit Woodrugh would come out?


                    Eh – one never knows for sure what tactical info a guy’s had access to. Could be the next exit was several blocks or miles away. Could be the tactical plan had already been to flush him out through that exit. The killer may or may not know that the other four guys are wasted.


                    B3: There were a couple of weird editing choices where they held on a scene just a beat longer than you’d expect before cutting, and it tilted the moments from gravitas to goofy. I don’t have a specific example, but it was just something I noticed.

                    Didn’t notice. Did notice a point where a reaction shot was reacting to a missing reaction (between the B sisters), but I think was intended to be that way.

                    B4: This may just be a function of stretching out what is essentially a noir-type story (with its byzantine overlapping plot threads) to series length, but the infodumps to explain all the story connections is…a little hard to follow. Then again, I’ve seen Maltese Falcon multiple times, and if you asked me to summarize the plot right now I’d be stuck – so a 8 + hour Maltese Falcon would presumably be nigh-incomprehensible.

                    Eh, I just go with it. Did you ever see the Bogart/Bacall THE BIG SLEEP? Was widely considered to be a self-deconstructive parody with a plot intentionally impossible to follow. What matters is that a bunch of people get angry and betrayed and kill each other and stuff.

                    The Good:

                    G1: I liked the score a LOT more than last week’s. Very effective I thought. I think last week they were going for a Kubricky-Lynchy thing with those strings, but as I said it just did not work for me outside the house at all.

                    Can’t see anyone’s experience getting spoiled by that, so’m leaving un-spoiled. I liked the score last week. Liked it this week, but wasn’t as foregroundy: HEY! Did you notice that they switched up on the title song? Ended on a different verse. Almost missed it because I habitually fast forward through openings.

                    G2: A very sweet reversal for Bezzerides’ dad’s character, whom we had been led to suspect might be some kind of creep; yes, he may have had some responsibility for what happened to Ani as a child because of his youthful idealism, but he was aware of it, and had no doubt been punishing himself for it his entire life. Suddenly his weirdly bleakly-nihilistic yoga lesson in that early episode makes a lot more sense.

                    Yeah. Also part of the exploded “true history of California” aspect of this season’s tale. If people hadn’t been so busy nit-picking dialogue and wishing that Woody and Buzz I mean Matthew were back for a 2nd season, and weren’t still correcting for overpraising season 1, and dealing with other unanswered and behind-the-scenes questions, there might have been broader discussion of what S2 is trying to say.

                    G3: Vince Vaughan FINALLY seemed at home in his character. Whether that’s because he was given less purple philosophizing for his dialogue, or whether it’s because we are retroactively meant to understand that THAT dialogue was NEVER Semyon – that was a gangster, trying to pretend he was a civilized man and mouthing words he didn’t fully understand, and now as a cornered animal he is “free” to be fully back in his natural element – either way, I bought for the first time that he was no one to be messed with.

                    Re-spoiling it even tho I don’t think it’s terribly spoiling. I think the problem for VV is that he’s more memorably a comedic character actor than a dramatic lead. His shtick is more neurotic than psychotic. Whenever I see him, I’m waiting for him to go into the guy from MR AND MRS SMITH (one of the classics, of course) or SWINGERS (his breakthrough). But I like what he’s trying to do and what they’ve been trying to do with him even if I’m not ever really quite sold on it.

                    G4: Bezzerides and Velcoro do have great chemistry, and their scenes together were nice (“You’re not a bad man.” “Yes….I am”). Putting them in that weirdly archaic motel room gave the effect of them being an old couple, timeless and surrounded by lace doilies in their cabin or something. So they are probably doomed

                    As are we all.

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                    • I did notice they switched up the opening song verses, but I didn’t go back and play it again to see if the new verses were commenting on where the story is now. I usually let the opening credits play since I like Cohen (though last season’s opening music *was* a little better, IMO).

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                      • Wrote a bit about the opening song for TD1 here: http://wp.me/p4h0Xw-bSn

                        TD2 clearly is examining that other mode of annihilation of the human, but I’ve not yet taken a close look at the title song. It seems to tell a story that doesn’t quite fit any of the characters, so that makes me think it may be more a thematic statement. Also may work as a statement by Pizzolato about himself or what he sees himself as doing – it’s easy to exchange “entertainment industry” for “California society,” for instance.

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                        • If this was included (I think it was):

                          You turned me in
                          At least you tried
                          You side with them
                          Whom you despise

                          Could be referring to Woodrugh’s agreement (or temporary ruse) to sell out Bezzerides and Velcoro.

                          And this:

                          You serve them well
                          I’m not surprised
                          You’re of their kin
                          You’re of their kind

                          Could be about Blake.

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                          • I think it’s more thematic and generalized, but this episode did include even more than the usual betrayal-related plot points or betrayal-sub-plot payoffs.

                            Research suggests this isn’t the first time that TD2 swtiched up athe lyric selections. I think I noticed before but didn’t care enough to nail down the impression. The length of the original song creates lots of opportunities.

                            If the whole thing was just a bit more compelling, I might go back through the DVR and track the changes. Maybe the finale or discussion of it will provide the motivation. Not expecting it to.

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  7. Been rereading Jack O’Connell’s novels, so waist deep in an orgy of critical theory inflected, post literary, deconstructive crime pulp.

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  8. Binge-watched Series 8 of “Only Connect” on youtube – working my way back in time from the current series… Highest possible recommendation if it’s your type of thing. The type of thing it is is basically a pub quiz, only objectively harder than College Bowl (from personal experience, I’ve competed in both). Since it’s a British production, some of the questions are obviously going to be impossible (“the fourth-to-most-recent Home Secretary?”), but there are a surprising number that are America-based, which still flummoxes the natives (albeit significantly less than the reverse). Punishingly hard, but that’s paradoxically what makes it uniquely good. Even with Jeopardy, you sometimes feel like you really should have run the table – on this show, just getting one right each round feels like a triumph, and delivers a surprising rush…

    On that topic, for Lois McMaster Bujold fans, the hair is all wrong, but in all other ways the host, Victoria Coren Mitchell, is now how I personally envision Laisa Toscane. Sharp, quick on the uptake, edgy when appropriate and self-deprecating when appropriate, and fits the body type exactly – which you don’t see that often on TV these days. Somewhat ironic, since her real-life husband is very unlike Laisa’s husband Gregor…

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  9. I stumbled across an explaination of Mulholland Drive sometime last week and decided to watch it again yesterday. My only other viewing of the movie was probably a at least a decade ago, so I don’t remember how much I understood back then, other than a typcial Lynchian WTF feeling. I’m sure it made more sense this go around, aided by the interpretations of others, than I was able to puzzle out on my own.

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