Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I finished a couple of great sf books recently.

One was Ursula K. Le Guin's first Hugo/Nebula sweep, The Left Hand of Darkness, a tale of a diplomat's visit to a planet where sexual differentiation does not exist; everyone is the same gender and has a monthly "in heat" cycle; childbearing is possible but the childbearing partner is randomly selected. Man, was it good. I can see it now as the forebear of American Gods, where the main story is interspersed with mythmaking and short stories, and also Foreigner, where the main theme, besides exploration of an alien culture, is communication and mutual understanding.

The story is very carefully crafted. Every point-of-view is individuated and solid. The plot is narrowly focused on the actions of just a few characters, but it's epic, grand, uplifting reading. The world-building is complex and its implications are thought out well. I didn't feel like it was anachronistic, even though it was written in the late 60s. At times, though, you could almost hear Le Guin banging the podium; I recall the time a character talks about how gender difference (and consequent sexism) causes war. Don't let that scare you away, though. Overall, it's fantastic, mind-bending reading.

I also finished Brothers in Arms, which is one of the many award-winning Miles Vorkosigan adventures by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love everything about these books, and this latest reread was no exception. They have it all. She's the author tied with Robert Heinlein for most Hugo-winning novels. Start with Cordelia's Honor (which is equal to Shards of Honor plus Barrayar), then The Warrior's Apprentice. See also her fantasy series starting with The Curse of Chalion for sublime takes on religion with all the rest of the killer Bujold stuff. I know I haven't said why all these books are so great. Just trust me, ok? And thank me later.

I saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2. I didn't hate it, but I thought it was pretty long. Hopefully, the next one will be the knockout that justifies the boring parts of this one. And here was something very Empire-Strikes-Back-esque about all the selling-out and dark sides in this number 2 movie. You can almost hear Yoda hobbling onto the Black Pearl with his cane and saying, "The Flying Dutchman!" [cough cough] "Remember your failure at the Flying Dutchman! Arrrr!"

I don't remember if I brought it up, but I also saw Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell's send-up of NASCAR. He really nailed it. I laughed a lot. Also, for adults only.

I finally saw Dark City. Everything it did well, The Matrix came along and did a lot better just a year later. The movies have pretty similar plots on the surface, but Dark City has a deranged Kiefer Sutherland where The Matrix has an awesome Laurence Fishburne. If you carry that analogy to the rest of the movie, that pretty much says it all.

The main character in Dark City plays a real jerk in The Holiday, a romantic comedy Sarah and I got to see for our 4th anniversary. It is about half bad and half good. They really wasted Jude Law, Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, and Kate Winslet with this script. I admire all of them as actors and was really looking forward to this.

Instead, the movie opened with an interminable exposition that does nothing except get the characters to the holiday (the women switch houses for two weeks, that is the story). This was pointless, unfunny blather. It wouldn't even have been confusing if the editor had whoops, just cut twenty minutes out of the movie, straight to Kate and Cameron at their computers, sobbing over their breakups and doing something impulsive, which the audience doesn't quite understand. (Audience of better movie says: I don't understand things that haven't been explained! Waah! Director of better movie says: Shut up whiners and eat your popcorn. Don't make me come over there.)

The other thing that riled me was all the meta-fictional stuff. Three of the characters are in the movie industry. Cameron Diaz makes film trailers. Jack Black writes scores. Kate Winslet's new best friend is a famous screenwriter. At every turn, the filmmakers remind you that you are watching a movie, from Cameron imagining her life as a trailer, to nice music setting a scene with Jack and Kate (you know the kind), which is all well and good until you see that Jack's character is playing the score you are hearing, to Kate acting like a strong woman based on advice from the screenwriter who gets her to watch movies with strong women in them, to Cameron quoting Sleepless in Seattle verbatim, to Jack writing theme music for Kate and her friend! And the worst part is, none of it works, at least not for me. The best thing in that list was Cameron's personal trailers, which were at least funny and in character, but it all pulled me out of the vivid continuous dream and set my teeth on edge.

In conclusion, the movie had some funny moments, but this is one for the Redbox ($1 rentals, mostly new releases; between this and NetFlix, Sarah and I have stopped going to the video store).

We watched Little Miss Sunshine on DVD. This is a funny, funny movie. Not for kids; it's easily rated R for "adult themes" and swearing. It's unpredictable and it made me howl with laughter. I was literally on the floor gasping at the end.

And last, for Christmas we went to see Night at the Museum. Run, don't walk, for this one. Kudos to this film's directors: it's very light as far as objectional content. There's a few jokes that will just fly over the heads of kids, but other than that, nothing gory or edgy. Just a museum that comes to life at night, with hilarious consequences. It's certainly worth a matinee, and in these troubled economic times, when is it ever worth full price to see a movie? If I'd had my choice of movies at the place we went in my wife's family's town, I probably would've gone to the new James Bond, but in hindsight, I don't regret the museum at all. Fun for the whole family.

It's a great vehicle for Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and the merry band of jokers. I don't know about you, but I loved Zoolander and I consider it very rewatchable. I was thinking about Zoolander as we left the theater and I wondered if this museum movie would hold up as well over repeat viewings as Zoolander does for me. In the end, I think it probably will. It's not a deep movie, but it's great fun. Plus, Dick van Dyke steals every scene he's in (and wait for the credits).


jen said...

It is always interesting to me to see what videos you and sarah like and don't like. Sometimes we agree and sometimes not so much! I loved Little Miss Sunshine...despite the language and some of the crude parts. It was just so freaking hilarious. It made me laugh the kind of laugh that was just so satisfying. Like the little note..."Go hug mom." That made me roll on the floor. Pirates of the C...on the other're right, it was too long. In fact I fell asleep. We watched that on new year's eve and it bored me so I was in bed at 10:30. I didn't like what I saw of Talladega. Not impressed. And HOW ON EARTH do you find time to read?!!! I love readig but to find uninterrupted time to read a full sentence is a challenge!! you lucky duck.

Dan Lewis said...

If I don't read, I go crazy. I tried not reading for a semester or so at USU because I was so busy. I basically went into withdrawal. It was not pleasant. Now I read during the semester, whenever. But I have any easy time reading over the holidays.

I am a fan of the absurd, SpongeBob and over-the-top silliness. I think it's pure genius and I wonder why more people don't do it. It's kind of difficult to not make sense in a coherent fashion. So I have a pretty high tolerance for this kind of movie. And hey, maybe I was in the mood. Sarah, for the record, didn't last half an hour on Talladega Nights.