Friday, May 28, 2010

The Time-Traveler's Wife

Movie: The Time-Traveler's Wife

I was curious about this mostly because it's such an intriguing premise: a guy randomly flitters through time (due to a genetic condition), meeting his wife at different times in her life. Of course this more focused on romance than science fiction, which was disappointing, as little of the time travel aspect is explained or makes any sense. It's just a gimmick for the story. Worse, this story is an incredibly difficult feat to pull off as a movie, since it's incredibly confusing, and I don't think the producers quite succeeded. It's an okay film, but it's in pieces -- individual scenes stand on their own, but the whole is a bewildering mess and too choppy to build any cohesive emotional resonance. Possibly better for fans of the novel, but I wasn't as impressed as I hoped I would be.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shrek Forever After

Movie: Shrek Forever After

It is obvious the franchise is losing steam. In the first few films the jokes and visual puns came at a machine gun pace, almost too rapid for comprehension -- but in this one there were many long moments without any jokes at all. But it was still enjoyable, if not quite so innovative and funny. The plot was interesting and compelling. The story is about Shrek feeling overwhelmed as a new dad and husband and longing for his old life, so he makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin to have his old life back just for one day. Of course there's a catch as he ends up in an alternate future where he never rescued and married Fiona. That, of course, makes him realize that his old life was great. Worse, at the end of his "day" he'll disappear, because in this version of the world he was never born. Only true love can break his contract with Rumpelstiltskin, so he has only one day to find Fiona and convince her that she loves him, though she's never met him. Interesting story, though perhaps too serious at times. It was amusing to see the various familiar characters in different roles (Donkey was way less annoying), but that running gag got old fairly quickly. Overall this is a decent entry in the franchise and though it won't disappoint too much, it's not remarkable like the first film.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Player Piano

Book: Player Piano
Writer(s): Kurt Vonnegut

Interesting and unusual book. I'm not sure exactly when it was written (I listened to the audiobook so I couldn't exactly flip to the copyright page), but it's obviously quite dated based on the technological terminology used. It's set in the future in a 1984-ish totalitarian state. It's a world where machines are replacing humans at all their jobs, upsetting the working class. It's an interesting idea of a society, though many of the machines are hiliariously primitive (reminding me of the tech on the Flintstones). For example, there's nothing like the Internet and even computers are hardly mentioned -- instead there's focus on automated machines that print and deliver newspapers.

But I found myself frustrated at the glacial pacing of the story. Individual scenes are entertaining and funny and interesting, but I wanted more of the actual story. The story, per se, is about our our main character, an elite of society, waking up and realizing what's wrong with the world and what's missing in his life. It is interesting but it just takes so long for this to happen. Many of the extra characters, like his wife, are purposely sketchy and thin, which meant I didn't care about them, but of course they are important to the main character, so many scenes involve those other characters -- meaning I was disinterested in many scenes. The whole thing just got tedious after a while. I think this is the type of book I would like better on a second reading. Once I actually know where the story's going I'm more apt to enjoy the scenes for their own sake. As it was, I kept itching for the scene to finish so I could get on with the plot, which never did get going. Not Vonnegut's best best work. It's not bad -- some aspects are quite brilliant and hilarious -- but as a novel the thing feels long and is hard to get through.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Why I'm Beginning to Hate Android

Google had their developer conference last week and they did a shocking amount of Apple bashing. I keep up with tech news, so I have been following all the back and forth. I have been struggling with my feelings and it's been bothering me. I have literally been depressed -- like unheathy depressed -- and I realize a lot of it has to do with this Google-Apple battle. It reminds of the political scene, which I avoid completely, as the whole mess makes me want to move to Mars to escape the disgusting bickering. The sides are diametrically opposed, won't listen to each other at all, spew the same lies over and over until they sound like truth, and both claim to be correct.

The first thing to note is that I admit up front that I'm a fan of Apple products and I don't apologize for that. Note that I don't say I'm a fan of the company: that's an important distinction. I love products that make my life better, but I don't care who makes them. I could care less what logo is on the thing. If it works for me, then I support it. So far, Apple products have done that. I've been buying them since the late 1980s and they just keep getting better and better. I love my Macs, my iPhone, and now my iPad.

I used to be a big Google fan. I can still remember -- a long, long time ago -- when I switched my search engine from Alta Vista to Google. Google was a tiny company few had heard of back then. I loved the plain homepage that loaded up instantly and didn't have the awful clutter of Yahoo and other search sites. I loved many things about the company: their homebrew nature, their embrace of open source software like the Linux operating system, and the way they emphasized simplicity over Microsoft's embrace of complexity.

Today I have serious problems with Google. They have lost their way. The Google of today resembles Microsoft far more than early Apple. Like Microsoft, they are a huge company with an insanely profitable business and with a monopoly in their industry. (Remember, a monopoly in and of itself is not illegal -- only the abuse of monopoly power is illegal.) Google's monopoly on search is even more insidious than Microsoft's OS: at least Microsoft's is visible and you have to choose to buy it. Google probably has data on you if you've think you've never used the service!

But the business problem with a monopoly is that you've already conquered the market. There is no room to grow. Thus both companies have been on a voracious search for new revenue. They've bought their way in dozens of unrelated industries. Microsoft co-owns a television network and makes video game machines. Google's now making operating systems, just announced plans on getting into televisions and set-top boxes, is coming to tablets and netbooks, and will start selling music and ebooks soon. Where will it end? None of these new ventures are profitable and both companies have neglected their core products, but both have plenty of money to lose on experiments and apparently feel it's key to expand and get into these other markets in case they get lucky a second time.

Because I'm an Apple fan, perhaps it seems natural for me to resent Google's move into Apple's territory (I'm mostly talking about Google's mobile phone operating system, Android, which attempts to compete with iPhone, though Google is also promising to compete with Apple in a slew of other areas, such as music downloads). But I don't like to think so simplistically. I pride myself on being fair and open-minded. Am I such an Apple freak that my emotions are outweighing logical and rational thinking? Could it be that I'm overreacting because I'm afraid of Android? I don't like to think so, but until recently I wasn't sure.

Now I realize that my mixed feelings are the source of my dilemma. I have strong feelings and opinions about the Google-Apple battle, and I wondered why my emotions were so powerful. Some of the things I've heard recently have made me extremely angry. I don't like feeling angry. This has frustrated me and bothered me but I couldn't get a handle on it because I didn't want to pick sides based on emotion. I wanted to pick the right side.

I feel like the child of divorcing parents. Suddenly two people I looked up to are fighting and I'm lost and confused and bitter. Who do I support? Why must I choose? (A lot of my anger, I see, comes from being forced to choose.)

But Google is forcing this decision. They are actively attacking Apple. Has Apple ever attacked Google? Apple puts Google on their phones and used to have Google's CEO on their board of directors. They were friends. But Google is not just competing with Apple, they are bad-mouthing the company, spreading lies about Apple's products, promoting their own technology, and expanding to compete with Apple on multiple fronts. This is vindictive and nasty, just like a couple who once loved each other and that love has turned to hatred and they know each other's vulnerabilities and hot buttons. It is this nastiness that I am sensing and that has been depressing me. These are two great companies that I loved and supported. And I'm going to have to choose one. That pisses me off.


Friday, May 21, 2010


Movie: MacGruber

I'm a huge MacGyver fan and I thought a parody of the series would be a lot of fun, though I will admit the couple of sketches of this I'd seen on Saturday Night Live didn't have me laughing. Unfortunately, most of the jokes in this fall dismally flat. There are basically three kinds of jokes: (1) horribly graphic sexuality, profanity, and nudity overplayed to mock the original series' wholesomeness; (2) awkward and bizarre gags that fail (like MacGruber carrying around the removable stereo from his car, apparently worried someone would steal his 1980s casette deck); and (3) brilliant skewing barbs of parody that are quite good. Unfortunately, the first two predominate, and though those aren't entirely without humor, they are never very funny and mostly make you feel repulsed. Those jokes in the latter category are so few and far between that there is little to recommend this film. I think I laughed out loud twice in the entire film. I cringed quite frequently, though. There's nothing redeeming about this movie at all. It's not funny and it's mostly disgusting with vulgar humor that alienates the core audience for it (MacGyver and Saturday Night Live fans). Extremely disappointing and I would advise you approach with caution and ankle-level expectations (you'll still be disappointed).


Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2

Movie: Iron Man 2

For the most part this is a by-the-numbers sequel, though there are a few character moments. The plot is somewhat convoluted: Mickey Rourke plays a Russian mad scientist whose father was ruined by Tony Stark's father and he wants revenge so he forms his own Whiplash suit. He later joins up with Tony's rival arms manufacturer to build evil robots to kill Ironman. Tony himself is typically sour and moody and outrageous, as he's secretly dying (radiation from the suit is killing him). The film tries to eke drama from this but I found it dreary: we're really expected to buy that Ironman would die? Please. The ending is typical action silliness, though not unpleasant. In fact, that's how I'd describe he entire film. It's eminently watchable, but not great. The only thing of real interest to me was Scarlet Johanson's intriguing character, who was awesomely gorgeous and cool and seemed like a wonderful foil for Tony Stark. Every time she came on screen you didn't know what was going to happen and I liked that. Unfortunately, she's only in a handful of too-brief scenes. (There are rumors she'll get her own spin-off movie and I'd love that.) Worth seeing if you're a fan, but this isn't going to bring new people to the franchise.