Archive for August, 2006

Review of The Golden Compass

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

I’ve posted a review of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass on BBC.

Small victories on the comics front and a 100 Bullets rant

Monday, August 21st, 2006

I’ve managed to take Hellblazer and 100 Bullets off my pull list. I know you’re all very happy for me. Seriously, they just weren’t enjoyable any more. I’m sure I’ll buy another Hellblazer before I die. I like the character too much, and he occasionally draws great aritsts and writers. But I need a break.

To assuage my guilt (at leaving Constantine? I must be crazy), I picked up the first four issues of Desolation Jones and an issue of Nextwave. Both are written by Warren Ellis, so I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. Jones was stronger, but then I had 4 issues to play with. I think Nextwave could become a guilty pleasure in a hurry, though.

While I’m thinking about Snakes on a Plane and good ideas gone bad, I think 100 Bullets was a good idea that’s execution hasn’t lived up to its promise. The idea is great pulp: some fellow steps out of the shadows with ironclad proof that the worst thing in your life wasn’t your fault, proof of whose fault it is, and a gun with 100 untracable – and I mean untracable – bullets in it – do what you will. As an author, you can’t lose. You get to tell a bunch of tense action-packed stories on that premise alone all the while stringing us along about who this shadow-lurking guy is, how he does this, and why. It’s a brilliant structure to hang a series on.
The execution hasn’t worked for me. The pacing is too slow. We got out of the short stories and into a maisma of conspiracies too quickly, and the conspiracies aren’t being resolved quickly enough. It doesn’t help that although the art is distinctive and stylish, it can be hard to tell the bad asses apart. With months between slow-moving arcs, it’s easy to forget who’s who.

I stopped buying at issue 75. Sandman was finished at 75, and it’s a sprawling series by any standard except Dave Sim’s. Preacher was also 75 issues, and IMHO was a nice size. There’s no sign of 100 Bullets coming to a head any time soon. I’m outta here. Execution matters.

Snakes on a Plane

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

I saw this today, because I was sure they would mess it up and I wanted to see how. I have to say, I was wrong. IMHO, they nailed this movie. It’s exactly what the title says it is: pure mindless action and entertainment.

Aside from following Jeffrey Rowland’s Overcompensating, I was pretty isolated from the hype over the film, other than that vague buzz that one can hear whenever something gets hold of the Internet. As such I didn’t realize how much of a slasher movie it was going to me. Once calibrated, though I was fine.

Of course it’s not a good movie, in any kind of sense but being a good slasher/shoot-em up movie. That’s to say that if you’re a sort of geeky 16-year-old-boy, this is your movie. Other than a few slaps at the really amazingly bad aviation references, I won’t even poke holes at the many errors in the movie, except to say that the characters are one-dimensional, the physics are unreasonable, continuity is questionable, and believability is right out. But, unless you’re a movie critic (who has to look for that stuff), looking for any of that in this movie means that you really have a problem connecting with your culture. Snakes on a Plane is going to be sophomoric by definition.

As sophomoric ideas go, the idea is killer. The slasher formula is basically creepie crawlies (or a maniac with a chainsaw and supernatural determination or powers) locked in an enclosed place, eating their way through a crowd of bystanders while a lone hero helps the survivors band together to get out alive. Once you recognize this, snakes and an airplane are such good choices it’s hard to go wrong. Then picking Samuel L. Jackson to be your hero, well, it’s tough to do better there, too. You’ve basically laid out your perfect slasher film (though it’s not far from your perfect action film – substitute terrorists for snakes and you’ve got Die Hard).

A specification for a movie’s not a movie, though, and many great ideas have gone awry. As John Landis said to the AV Club, “people don’t understand this: Ideas are important, but they’re not essential. What’s essential and important is the execution of the idea.” Many if not most really horrible movies, even the horrible sophomoric ones that need barely rise to 16-year-old notions of quality, sound great on paper. The ultimate example of this for me is Revenge of the Sith, which one really shouldn’t be able to screw up as badly is it was. More than anything else, Sith got me to see Snakes, just to see if Hollywood can hit even that low target.

As an aside, the reverse can happen: a weird or lousy idea can be turned into a great movie by suberb execution. I have a friend who heard the pitch for Speed as it was being filmed, and never was able to discuss the movie without giggling. It’s an action movie about high-speed thrills set on a bus. But it works fine because of the execution.

So, if you believe me that character development isn’t important and plausibility doesn’t matter, what’s there to execute? The heart of the slasher movie is to make things creepy and frightening while drawing the watcher into the struggle for survival. Also, there are a lot of genre conventions to play to and riff off, not the least of which is the implausible but excruciatingly painful execution of various victims. None of this could really be done better. The CGI snakes are creepy enough to frighten, but they don’t look entirely real; the situations are nail-biting enough, and the shocks effective enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, and there are many moments of uneasy laughter to hide a cringe – even when you know that the cringe-causer is about as plausible as a Ralph Nader presidency. Excellent job.

I’m not a 16-year-old boy anymore, though I still had a good time. I actually found some of the violence and gross-outs, well, violent and gross. There were many times where I realized that I would have laughed at something as a kid, but it was unnerving to me as an adult. And I’m sure that the creators of Snakes expected the laugh and got it from their audience. It’s strange to realize something about yourself from Snakes on a Plane, but there it is.

Can’t recommend it to everyone, but 16-year-old boys who think it sounds good will love it.

WordPress upgrade

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

If you think that the blog format looks a little different, you’re right. I upgraded to wordpress 2.0.4 which included a slightly modified default theme.

Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane…

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

then back into one.  Then back out again.  Link courtesy of John Heidemann.  The comments are well worth a look, too.

This is clear thinking

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

A 30-second jabber session with Tim Shepard yielded this incredible report of a Zlin wing failure during aerobatics written from the pilot’s perspective.  Clearly I should chat with Tim more often.

More Trek

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Man, I don’t know what I did to get on the weird Trek mailing list but digging through my mail backlog this weekend, I found these from Aaron Falk:

I liked the first one best.

Not to be outdone, Mike Maria (yes he commented on my Motivators post) sent me these:

So, how was your night?

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Leaving work after everyone was gone

An indistinct whiff tugged me toward my past.

Crossing the parking lot

With this city buzzing in my ears

While Its lights washed out the void,

I was small and far from home.

More ominous notions

Voiced through the ether,

Shadows cast on the walls,

Heard only in my mind

Drew me somewhere faraway and small,

where you can still talk to Orion.

And then out to the supermarket.

Out of Annual, Landing Blues

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

32169 is back in service after being inspected again.  Mostly minor things needed to be fixed, but it won’t be my cheapest annual ever or anything.  We’re still wrestling with the EGT and making sure that nothing weird happened to the vacuum pump – and the vacuum pump is by far the more important.

I spent a bunch of time this weekend getting reacquainted with her, and mostly working landings.  Every now and again, most pilots get a bug to work on their landings, and I have it.  I’ve been reading the aviation mags and seeing some of the bad habits they describe in my landings, so I’ve been working to tune them back up.  I’m making good progress, I think, but I suspect that next time I go up for IFR currency with Andy, my CFI, I’ll spend some time landing.

Star Trek Motivators

Monday, August 14th, 2006

I really don’t want to swamp this poor guy, but: Star Trek Motivation Posters.  Oh, yes: they’re geeky.