Pain & Gain: Avarice at its best / worst

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Muscles, money, melanoma. What more could you want?

For some reason, Michael Bay decided to make a Fargo-esque movie about a real storyPain & Gain is the “true crime” tale of three mid-90s Miami weightlifters who are too set on absolute success to realize that they’ve fucked up beyond their worst nightmares.

Unlike his film’s narrators, Bay seems to have succeeded.

Maybe he succeeded because there aren’t any giant robots, or maybe it’s because truth is stranger than fiction and this story is already good enough.  Or maybe it was because he got Mark WahlbergDwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie to play his barely clued-in protago-villains (“Don’t worry, I’ve watched a lot of movies,” says Walhberg’s character on the topic of kidnapping, “I know what I’m doing.”), and then convinced Ed Harris and Tony Shalhoub to round out his cast.

I’m not saying that this movie is exceptionally good or a critical success.  I’m saying that it wildly exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.  The movie flunks the Bechdel test, sidelining the few female characters involved in favor of focusing on a plethora of detestable assholes who feel like they came straight out of a game of Fiasco.  Their fluctuating connection to reality coupled with the greedy entitlement of Wahlberg’s character pulls the movie along like a freight train, complete with ensuing train wreck.  Their musclebound, idiotically-genius antics exemplify the phrase “hot mess.”

More specifics after the break.

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Strong Female Protagonist

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What if, even with your superpowers, you know you haven’t made the world a better place?

My friends Molly and Brennan have been making Strong Female Protagonist for the past two years.  It’s a super-sweet webcomic which (as they put it in their byline) follows a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility, and a crippling sense of social injustice.  When I first read it, I loved it so much that I went through all of it in under two weeks.  And now they’re using Kickstarter to fund the printing of the first four chapters as a physical book.

By the time of this posting, they’ve already blown way past their original goal.  This isn’t really a review, and I’m not writing this to tell you that they need your support (though I’m sure they’d love it).  I’m writing this to tell you that you should take a look at this excellent webcomic and pitch in for your own copy of it.  I’m certainly getting a copy.  Enjoy!

Unlocked, by John Scalzi

I don’t know if you follow Scalzi on Whatever, but if you don’t I strongly suggest that you take a look at what he posted today.  In addition to putting up the first chapter of his new book over at Tor, he’s also made his novella Unlocked available for free.  And it’s fascinating.

It’s an oral history of a disease that has yet to happen, and as such it feels very familiar; I kept thinking of World War Z as I read it, reminded of how well Max Brooks managed to create a world through the memories of his fictional interview subjects.  Unlocked doesn’t hit quite as high a note as World War Z did for me, but I don’t think it was meant to.  It doesn’t try to give us a worldwide view of what it was like to survive the end of the world.  Instead it serves as an introduction to the setting of his new book, and also tells a story in its own right.  The background created here sets the stage for a book that looks like it will be a very worthwhile read.

Oh, and it’s also good on its own.  It totally sidetracked me from the article that I was going to write for you today, and here I am writing about it instead.  I suggest that you check it out.

Godzilla, King of the (Summer) Movies

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This is a wonderful summer movie.  It’s not good, it’s awesome.

It has its ups and downs: it starts on a high note with the opening credits sequence, briefly shows off Bryan Cranston, and then gives us a front row seat to people making inadvisable military choices.  After that, of course, we get to watch Godzilla, and once again everything is right with the world.  In short, it’s pretty much exactly what a Godzilla movie should be, as far as I can tell.

You’ll want to yell, you’ll want to cheer, and you may very well want to swear in awe.  You will obviously benefit from a huge screen, and I would also suggest a large group of enthusiastic people.  A little bit of alcohol probably wouldn’t hurt either.

Please enjoy your giant lizards responsibly.  More in-depth thoughts (with carefully segregated spoilers) after the break.

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Read Aliette de Bodard’s Short Stories

Thank you Spaige, for recommending Aliette de Bodard to me.

I don’t usually feel compelled to read short stories online (amusing, given that I create short stories which I post online), but I’m totally sold on Aliette de Bodard‘s work.  This post isn’t so much a review as it is a public service announcement; I’ve only read a few of the pieces that she has up so far, but I like all of the ones I’ve seen.  If you aren’t already familiar with her work, I encourage you to take a look at them.

de Bodard repeatedly creates fascinating new worlds and touching tales, each a brief brush with the unknown that promises much and delivers more.  I’m not sure how to put this, other than to say that each of the stories that I’ve read feels full of potential even when the story feels as though it has drawn to a close.  I’m very impressed.

In other news, I’ve finished a full rough draft of another short story.  It needs editing and commenting and may yet need to be entirely rewritten, but with a little luck I’ll have something new for you here soon.  That’s all for today.  I strongly encourage you to take a look at Aliette de Bodard’s short stories, they’re really good.

Orphan Black

Deeply watchable.  That’s what I have to say about Orphan Black.

I should amend that: deeply watchable and a bit confusing.  You could easily argue that those are both understatements.

Please bear in mind that this is strictly from the point of view of having watched the first episode, but I’m very excited to watch the rest of the show now.  Let me tell you more.

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2 Bad 2 Guns isn’t 2 Better

The short and sweet version is as follows: 2 Guns delivers everything that I’d expect from light and entertaining action-movie fare, and even does some of it decently well.  It does not, however, exceed expectations, and even dips below them at a point or two.  This comes despite the presence of fairly good actors and a potentially highly interesting premise, hence the title of my review.  Maybe seeing Denzel Washington across from Mark Wahlberg got me too excited?

I’m not saying that 2 Guns is bad.  It might even be above average for an action-movie (though where the mean lies is difficult for me to determine, given the prevalence of outliers and misleading clumps in the data).  But I don’t think that it will stick around in our collective memory for any considerable period of time, except perhaps as inspiration for something that could have been done a bit better.

Keep reading, I’m not done yet.

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Tremors: Horrific Comedy Done Right

Kevin Bacon as a rural Nevadan handyman, facing off against subterranean worm-snake monsters alongside a surprisingly entertaining ensemble cast?  Yes please.  Tremors is nutty, ridiculous, and entirely more fun than you’d first think.

Despite being billed as a comedy-horror, in my mind the film is almost entirely comedy.  I’m sure some people will be scared by watching Tremors, but I can’t say that I know any of them.  There are a few good startling moments, and some particularly dreadful scenes in which people die horribly, but I never really felt the same tension or clenching fear that I would expect from a horror film.  It’s laughable to think of this movie as being the same category as something like Aliens; despite having ostensibly similar story arcs and genre expectations, they are not at all like each other.

Case in point: the very first shot sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with Kevin Bacon pissing off a cliff down into the valley below.  Tremors repeatedly leavens its tension with humor, and it nearly always does it with moments that ring true to the characters involved.  Better put, it didn’t feel like any lines were being delivered as jokes.  If something funny happens, it feels like it happens because the characters would do that thing rather than because someone decided that that was the right point for a punchline.  I had no idea that people living in a remote town in Nevada could be so unintentionally entertaining.

I should clarify.  Living in a remote town in rural Nevada is mind-numbingly boring, but the characters are a delight.  Burt and Heather Gummer, the town’s two survivalists, are some of my favorites.  They are so enthusiastically over-prepared and so happy to finally have a chance to be proven right that it very nearly hurts.  And the town’s children are similarly entertaining; it’s their clear boredom that really sells me on the town’s isolation, even though I wouldn’t give them high marks for their acting and even though they don’t play a large part in the film.  It’s fascinating to see what develops when terrible things start to happen in a town where everybody knows everybody, and nobody has all that much to do.

Give it a try.  For more of my thoughts, read on after the break.

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