Misleading Movie Titles 101: Jupiter Ascending

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Jupiter falling.  Again.  I lost totally count.

What a poorly titled movie.  Sure, one could argue that there’s an overall metaphorical upwards trajectory for Jupiter’s (Mila Kunis’) life, but over the course of the movie she spends far more time falling.  And being caught or carried by Channing Tatum (who was often agreeably shirtless).  Yet there were a few things that rose over the course of the movie: my excitement, my confusion, and my blood alcohol level.  Oh, and my voice, because I gave up on staying silent and just started talking in the movie theater.  I think the Wachowskis may be branching out into straight-to-RiffTrax movie releases.

You want to hear a few of the redeeming features of the movie?

Sean Bean doesn’t die.  Also, the movie has a hilariously recognizable cast, with many very watchable faces.  The depictions of the terrifying spacefuture (well, spacepresent) are intriguing and gorgeous, even when they’re super goofy and prominently feature terrible science.  The concept art and overall design are beautiful, fascinating, and leave the movie chock-full of eye candy.  And the comedy commentary practically writes itself, especially if you know and like Oedipus.

None of this makes up for the fact that the movie is terrible, but they’re all compelling reasons to see it on a very large screen with good sound for as little money as possible.  Preferably with enough booze to get you tipsy, because facing this movie sober seems like a terrible idea.

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The Restoration Game, by Ken MacLeod

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Eastern European politics (both Soviet and post-Soviet), color revolutions, spy games, long hidden family secrets, and a quiet sci-fi premise?  Sign me up.  Ken MacLeod‘s The Restoration Game gives all of that, plus a little bit more.  Maybe that’s why I liked it so much.

It’s a quick read, with an engaging and easy-to-follow female protagonist who, as the story unfolds, comes to feel like the appropriate scion of all those who’ve come before her.  I’ll explain that, I swear.  The book gets bonus points from me for having a female narrator; I’m writing a piece with a teenaged female narrator (as I’ve mentioned previously), and everything is grist for the mill.  And I should note that while I quite liked Lucy’s narration in The Restoration Game, I’d love to hear women’s opinions of the narrator’s experience and voice in this book… I don’t exactly have a good frame of reference by which to judge it.

About that scion comment: our protagonist, Lucy Stone, opens the story with a cliffhanger and no context.  It works well, catching you quickly and pulling you in, and then the entire book becomes an extended digression to give the context for that scene, only finally reaching resolution (appropriately enough) at the very end of the piece.  At the beginning, you have no idea of what Lucy has been through, what her family history is, or what she is capable of… but by the end, things fall wonderfully into place.  It’s wonderfully done, and flows smoothly from start to finish.

Ok, that wasn’t quite right.  There’s still that initial sci-fi premise, right at the very beginning of the book before Lucy ever has a chance to speak, and I bounced off it the first two times I opened the book.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I thought I’d set out to read and wasn’t nearly as interesting to me at the very beginning as it was by the very end.  After some reflection, I think MacLeod placed the introduction of the sci-fi premise correctly; there really isn’t a better place to put it that makes more sense and doesn’t disrupt the story further.  Without that initial introduction, later elements of the book would make very little sense and feel insufficiently well signaled (here we are back at the perils and prerequisites of good foreshadowing).  MacLeod clearly set himself a difficult project, possibly without realizing that he was doing it, but I think he managed to do a good job of it.

It looks like this post isn’t even going to have a break.  The Restoration Game is fast enough and internally intricate enough that I don’t want to ruin anything for you by accident, so I won’t bother with the usual danger of discussing potential spoiler material.  Suffice to say that it’s a good book, one worth picking up for quick fun, especially if you’re interested in a jaunt through spy games and epistemological thought experiments.

Battlestar Galactica

When we talk about science-fiction, we hold two different ideas in our heads. First, we think of lasers and space ships and so on. As I discussed previously, I don’t particularly see this to be science-fiction, but rather the clothing that science-fiction wears. Science-fiction should be about how new technology shapes the way we have to live our lives, not just wearing a sciencey setting. Here’s a quick litmus test for that. If the science suddenly became real, would we make such a movie in that era? That is, cars must have been science-fiction at some point. But would 2 Fast 2 Furious ever have been a sci-fi movie? Probably not. What is the distinction? 2 Fast 2 Furious doesn’t think about how the existence of cars changes human nature and society, it simply tells a story that uses cars. You could imagine the same movie with space ships, or horses, or any other speedy mode of travel. On the other hand, Minority Report is clearly science-fiction, being about the way we would react to some technology. Would we accept it? Would we fear it? Would we fight against it?

Bearing this in mind, Battlestar Galactica is one of the best science-fiction TV shows I’ve ever seen. Warning: there will be minor spoilers after the jump.

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Who Did it Better: Elysium vs Johnny Mnemonic

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I just saw Elysium, and in discussing it with a coworker we determined that it was indeed a cyberpunk film.  Our fellow coworkers weren’t familiar with the genre, and in introducing them to it we remembered the 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic.  We then realized that Elysium shares many aspects of the classic William Gibson story.  From this point on there will be spoilers, and unlike previous posts I won’t be whiting them out, so if you don’t want either film’s secrets to be revealed, you should stop reading.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution

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Choice is the name of the game when it comes to Action-RPGs. Old RPGs (especially Japanese-style RPGs) didn’t have much choice, and they play a lot more like interactive movies than games. Your ‘choice’ came down basically to your character (and not ever his crucial character elements, but simply how you geared him. I say this not to impugn that style (the Final Fantasy series is one of my favorites), but only to point out how the Western RPG market diverged. If you look at earlier RPGs like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate, not only do they flesh out character creation (instead of having a set character you can outfit, you build your character from scratch), but you get increasingly more options, via sidequests and choices of which factions to ally with. But I argue that these choices are hardly real. Why? Because they do not meaningfully impact the game. Sure, you can ally with the thieves’ guild against the mage’s guild or vice versa, but honestly:

  1. what difference does it make?
  2. Isn’t it basically determined by the class you play?

This can be most exemplified by more sandbox RPGs, where the extra ‘freedom’ you have is to explor ethe continent doing sidequests. But ultimately, the gameplay doesn’t change all that much.

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Pacific Rim

GENTLEMAN-GUSTAF-FUCK-YEAHIf I made a top 5 list of things I think are cool, it would look something like this:

  1. Dinosaurs
  2. Dinosaurs
  3. Robots
  4. Dinosaurs
  5. Dinosaurs

But I don’t really think the above captures how much I like dinosaurs. My parents swear that my first real word was ‘dinosaur’, I still know the names of far-too-many dinosaur species, I can give you a compelling argument as to why the T-Rex was likely a scavenger, not a hunter, I have practiced several dinosaur noises, although I remain jealous that my phone makes this noise when texted, as I doubt I could ever be trained to replicate it, and I once nicknamed a lady I dated ‘raptor girl’ to my friends because she did a raptor impression on the internet and gave me a dinosaur head (cut out of a magazine) attached to a popsicle stick on our first date — boy was that a good move! — and we remain close friends to this day. Basically, I want to be a dinosaur when I grow up. When Jurassic Park was re-released recently… let’s just say that the number of times I saw it is shameful, or would be if I were capable of feeling shame about my love for dinosaurs. So you can imagine when I saw this trailer for Pacific Rim, I all but soiled myself. IT’S DINOSAURS FIGHTING ROBOTS! But having seen it, I must admit to a mixed reaction.

WARNING: with most media, I feel obligated to introduce a complicated system of spoiler tags. But there is no plot of which to speak in this movie. So if you fear the spoilers, don’t read on, but know that I’m judging you.

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