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books, and indeed films - The Villages

hutch0
Date: 2008-05-24 23:49
Subject: books, and indeed films
Security: Public
Location:the utility room in the sky
Mood:calmcalm
Music:genesis
And first up this evening is Black Man, by Richard Morgan. I find myself in two minds about Morgan's stuff. Altered Carbon was very hard going, but I liked the rest of the Takeshi Kovacs novels enormously. I didn't like Market Forces at all. This one, I did like, with some caveats. It was a bit long (which is ironic, considering the next book I'm going to mention) and the last hundred pages or so seemed to fray a bit. But it lopes along and it carried me with it, and it asks some very real questions about race, racism, and what it is to be human. I thought it was quite brave, really, a bravery Morgan's publishers seem to have rewarded by calling the US edition Thirteen. It's strong stuff and I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but it's worth reading.
And then there's The Dreaming Void, by Peter F Hamilton. This is a very long book, and it's the first in (I think) a trilogy. Big, expansive, space opera stuff. I like Peter's work a lot; he does place very well, which is a bit of a bugbear with me - the first part of Fallen Dragon, set in Northern Australia, is a lovely piece of writing. He does character slightly less well, and his big books are very slow. But that kind of works in his favour; you wind up immersing youself in the world he creates and following the characters from seemingly trivial decisions to their world-shaking conclusions. Having said that, I found myself getting frustrated with The Dreaming Void. There's an assault on a memory-storage vault which is very exciting (and very Morganesque) but seems needless in story terms - infiltration would have worked just as well, and would have been just as gripping, as flat-out invasion. I've waited a long time for this book to come out in paperback, and I'll have to wait a very long time for the next volume (it's not out in hardback until October or something) And it's a trilogy, so I probably won't know what happens until the 2012 Olympics are in full swing. On the other hand, full points to Peter for tackling a story in this way. I wouldn't have done it like this, but I admire him for it.

In the visual arts, I finally managed to watch Season Three of Battlestar Galactica. Strewth but that's tough stuff. I'd heard that this season jumped the shark, but if it did, I didn't notice it. It's true that there are a couple of episodes that don't go anywhere, but even they're streets ahead of anything you'll see on British genre television. And I'm starting to realise that the powerhouse performance of the whole series comes from Mary McDonnell. Edward James Olmos is marvellous, Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck is just barely balanced on the edge of totally crazy, James Callis's Balthar is marvellous, but McDonnell has an extraordinary stillness about her that I can't recall seeing before. I'd also like to give a shout-out for Michael Hogan and Aaron Douglas, who do remarkable work, particularly Hogan. Season Four better be good.
And then we have Season Two of Carnivale. I was worried I'd have a hard time getting into this because in Season One plot seemed to evolve, almost unbidden, out of atmosphere, but this season is a lot more direct. It is, I think, the best thing I've ever seen on television. It seems invidious to single out performers, but Clancy Brown is extraordinary as Brother Justin. Ralph Waite, who never utters a word, is very good, as are Amy Madigan and Michael Anderson. And I have lost my heart to Cynthia Ettinger. If, as I understand, there may never be another episode of Carnivale, the ending of this season just about slingshots the story forward in a satisfactory manner. But I want the full run, the one that pits Ben and Brother Justin against each other at Trinity. Extraordinary stuff.
And finally, finally, I have watched Hot Fuzz. Okay, it doesn't have the punch and immediacy of Shaun Of The Dead, but by god I enjoyed this.
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Kat: I brot you a flower
User: artykat
Date: 2008-05-25 02:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:I brot you a flower
Love me some Amy Madigan. I think she is awesome. She is a psychiatrist on Grey's Anatomy this year, and I am loving it. Have loved her ever since Places in the Heart, which is one of my all-time favorites, starring also Sally Field and others whose names escape me now. EXCELLENT movie.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-25 21:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I hadn't seen her in anything for years and I kind of assumed she was either working in television in the States or on the stage. The first time I saw her was in Streets Of Fire, which incidentally was also the first time I saw Willem Dafoe. And Bill Paxton. And Diane Lane. And Rick Moranis. I'm afraid I haven't seen Places In The Heart.
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Kat
User: artykat
Date: 2008-05-26 01:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Here's a plot summary of it, if you are interested. I think it is a fantastic movie. In fact, i got to actually visit the home where it was filmed -- the people were gone but a house sitter let us walk the land and garden area.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087921/plotsummary
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-26 23:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for that. I'd heard of the film, of course, but it never seemed like one to ring my bells. What a great cast, though. I might give it a whirl one day. Where was it shot?

Edited at 2008-05-26 11:14 pm (UTC)
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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2008-05-25 09:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I never finished "Altered Carbon". I found it a bit dull, and lacking much in the way of SF.
Oddly enough "Market forces" was more entertaining, if only because of the over the top kind of corporate world it portrayed. I still skim read chuncks of it though.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-25 21:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Altered Carbon's an odd kind of book. It has a fantastic central science-fictional idea, but then it goes on to be an old-fashioned hard-boiled detective thriller. I did enjoy it, but as I said, I found it hard going. I think I didn't like Market Forces for much the same reason you like it - it just seemed a tiny little bit too over the top, and I didn't think it was as well-written as Altered Carbon.
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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2008-05-25 23:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Aye, but the idea is both rather old (old minds in new bodies) and also totally wrong in every way if you actually pay attention to science. I think there has been something of a narrowing of SF in the past 30 years due to the narrowing of science as we more fully explore the boundaries of the possible.
And I found the hard boiled detective thriller thing clashed with the world building- if the world was as high tech as is implied, most of what happened in the story wouldn't work. (I'm relying on condensed bits of 6 or 7 year old memories, so might not be completely accurate)

Hot Fuzz is very enjoyable, it is mostly predictable, and over the top, and stereotypical, yet comforting, in a way related to how Pratchett's discworld books are comforting, especially the later ones are.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-26 00:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's true it's an old idea - I did it myself, a long long time ago, and was suitably chagrined to find out that it wasn't original, even then - but something about the way Morgan approached it made it seem feasible, somehow. The idea of travelling across the galaxy by broadcasting a personality construct between worlds, to be downloaded into a new body, and this being no more strange than getting onto a bus, is quite a good idea. And in Broken Angels Kovacs recruits a squad for a mission by going to a sort of junkyard where the cortical stacks of soldiers who have died in a war are piled up, still embedded in their host vertebrae. I did like that.
Myself, I have a problem with this downloading thing which I don't think a lot of writers have addressed. There's a John Kessel short story called `Walk Like A Dinosaur' which centres around a form of teleportation in which the traveller is recorded and the recording is transmitted to a receiver, where the traveller is reconstructed. Meanwhile, the original traveller is painlessly and instantly destroyed. In the story, though, something goes wrong and the original traveller isn't destroyed. Which leaves something of a quandry for the staff of the teleport, because it means there are two versions of the traveller, each living separate and diverging lives. Good story. And Walter Jon Williams does something similar at the end of Days Of Atonement and Voice Of The Whirlwind.
My problem with the downloading is that it's only a copy. I'm actually more interested in what happens to the original. Morgan's universe is one where, basically, VHSes of people are swapped endlessly. Is it real, or is it Memorex?
I think Charlie Stross may have thrown the narrowing of science thing open on his blog a while ago, I can't remember. It's a good point, though. And I think it goes further back than the past thirty years. If you're going to write hard science fiction, your choices - in certain directions, anyway - have become more and more limited. We now know what the environment is like on the planets of the Solar System, and we have a better idea of stellar evolution. On the other hand, as one door closes another opens, and current scientific knowledge provides an enormous amount of wiggle room, even if you're determined to write mundane science fiction.
And yeah, Hot Fuzz is predictable and over the top, and stereotypical, and it's not as good as Shaun, but by god I enjoyed it. I understand Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's next film will be a road movie set in America.

Edited at 2008-05-26 12:15 am (UTC)
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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2008-05-26 15:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I too enjoyed hot fuzz, and it was a good reversal when thingy stabbed his mate (If you can decipher that you've seen the film). Plus all the Daily Mail readers got their come uppance...
Thats what annoys me- smug people.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-26 23:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg would love you. When thingy stabbed his mate.
I don't mind smugness so much if there's a good reason for it. You know, you'd excuse Neil Armstrong for being a little bit smug, so long as he didn't go on and on about it. But you're right - all the bad guys fall exactly within the Mail's demographic. I hadn't thought of it like that.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-25 21:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You're right about it being another Highlander for Clancy Brown. All that business about `receiving a boon' from another prophet swerved dangerously close to Highlander, I thought.
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rou_killingtime
User: rou_killingtime
Date: 2008-05-28 10:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm loving the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica too. Jumped the shark? Pah. That phrase is so overused of late that it has practically lost all meaning. Just got done watching episode 8 of the fourth season, and several things about this season are particularly impressing me: first, that for all the shocks and surprises (and there are plenty of both) it's well written enough that it's all presented in a plausible manner, and secondly I still have no idea at all how they are planning to bring the series to the finale. However, much like the ant staring at the rubber tree, I have high hopes!

Thanks for the tip on Carnivale; I've been short of good shows to watch of late and I intend to check that one out. I'll in turn recommend to you the show 'Reaper' (a supernatural comedy), which would be worth watching for Ray Wise's fantastic performance as the devil alone. Also, Kevin Smith's involvement in the project helps keep the scripts nice and sharp.

I've also been enjoying the genre-mixing spy drama / comedy 'Chuck'. It's much lighter entertainment than my usual fare, but any show with a computer nerd as the main character has a certain appeal to me, as a bit of a computer nerd myself. Plus, it's good to see Adam Baldwin on the telly again, even if he isn't playing Jayne Cobb...
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-28 23:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I charge you now, whatever you do, DO NOT SPOIL SEASON FOUR FOR ME! We don't have satellite, so I'm waiting for the box set to come out. I made the mistake of reading the spoilers about Season Three because I'm an impatient bastard, and I'm not going to do it again.
A friend of mine, who thinks Battlestar is some of the best genre writing of any kind to hit television in a very long time, is really worried the writers don't know how to resolve everything. I think everything's going to be okay, somehow. We'll see.
Season One of Carnivale, as we've said, is very slow and mostly atmosphere, out of which the plot sort of coalesces. You have to keep your eyes on it, but it's very rewarding. Personally, I think the quality of the writing edges Battlestar, but only just. It's well worth seeing. As is, if you're looking for recommendations, Deadwood.
I'd seen some pretty poor reviews of Reaper, but if you say it's worth a look, I'll give it a look, and as you say, an hour watching Ray Wise is never an hour wasted.
Adam Baldwin's in Chuck? Wow, I have to see that. I'm not sure who's having the better post-Firefly career. Summer Glau turned up in a recurring role in The 4400, another series I'm partial to, and as the Good Terminator in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Nathan Fillion went onto movie roles, although the last one I saw him in, White Noise: The Light, sorely misused him (and Katee Sackhoff) Sean Maher and Jewel Staite have risen without trace, Ron Glass I think has gone back to the theatre, Gina Torres was in a short-lived FBI-type series, Alan Tudyk was in I Robot and did voice work in the Ice Age films.
Dammit, the world needs Firefly back.
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rou_killingtime
User: rou_killingtime
Date: 2008-05-29 02:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Worry ye not on the BSG season 4 spoilage score, I wouldn't dream of doing such a thing!

I didn't realise that Reaper has had some poor reviews. I'd say that if you've liked any of Kevin Smith's movies (eg. Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma) then you'll probably enjoy Reaper. I'd suspect the poor reviews are from critics who don't enjoy Smith's style of humour. Sure, it isn't for everyone, but it definitely tickles my funnybone.

I've seen Summer Glau in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and I think she was a good casting choice there. Shame the show seemed to have been harder hit by the writers' strike than any other I can think of. I take it you're not a fan of Stargate: Atlantis then, or you'd have noticed that Jewel Staite now has a regular spot on that show :)
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-05-29 22:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've seen, and liked very much, Dogma, but I haven't seen any of Smith's other stuff. I'll give Reaper a whirl.
Summer Glau is a good casting choice, although I do worry about her being typecast as the ass-kicking chick. I thought calling her character `Cameron' was a nice touch.
I saw a couple of early episodes of Atlantis and lost interest, but I was never the world's biggest fan of SG-1 anyway. I hadn't realised the Divine Jewel had got herself a gig on it.
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rou_killingtime
User: rou_killingtime
Date: 2008-06-02 06:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've now watched all of Carnivale, and it was indeed superb television. It was also cancelled way ahead of its time, dammit! I read that it was costing something like $4 million per episode to make, and that the viewing figures weren't high enough to keep spending that kind of cash.

I also read that the writers had envisioned a six season story arc...
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-06-06 21:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Strewth, that was quick. Both seasons? It took me months just to get round to watching Hot Fuzz.
Mind you, it is good, isn't it? I hadn't realised it was so expensive to make, but I guess most of it was shot on location and period detail costs.
I'd heard it was going to run for six or eight seasons, as well. As I understand it, each season would cover one year, starting in the Depression, covering America's involvement in the War, and ending with the detonation of the first atomic bomb and, as Michael Anderson says at the beginning of season one, the end of the Age of Magic. Would've been brilliant.
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rou_killingtime
User: rou_killingtime
Date: 2008-06-06 22:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh yes, both seasons watched. I have way too much free time on my hands, and lots of bandwidth :)

I'd say that Carnivale, as expensive to make as it was, was a fine example of money well spent. Talk about your proverbial visual feast! I rather liked the way the plot developed in season one, almost organically, and had to be absorbed through a process of mental osmosis. Instead of the conventional handful of story threads, it was more like the full tapestry. Season two, as you've already noted, went about things in a more direct manner.

If I had to sum the show up in a single word, I'd say it was "sumptuous".

Sigh, now that the bean-counters rule the world we can expect fewer quality shows like Carnivale, and more brain cancer inducing tat like X-Factor and Gladiators.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-06-06 22:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, if you have a lot of time on your hands, I can recommend Deadwood and The 4400. You need to give </i>The 4400</i> a bit of time to work, but by the end of season two I started to get the sense that something rather considerable was going on. Not in the same league as Carnivale, of course (although Deadwood is, I think, in terms of writing, performance and period detail) but a damn good try. I just bought season three, and I'll be watching that soon. Also, and don't laugh, Boston Legal, which is smart, howlingly funny at times, and boasts wonderful performances by James Spader and (whisper it softly) William Shatner. I never thought I'd write the words `top of his game' about Shatner, but here he's playing the role he was born to play, and he's terrific.
But you're right about Carnivale. `Sumptuous' really does sum it up. I'm glad they made what they did, and I'm glad I had a chance to see it. You have to remember that television - US television more so than over here - is an incredibly hostile ecology. Brilliant shows fail to make the grade by fractions of a percentage point and are cancelled to make way for the next experiment. Although I expected better of HBO.
People tend to forget, but the first couple of series of Dad's Army and Only Fools And Horses didn't get particularly good viewing figures or reviews. It was only because the BBC had faith in them and let them develop over time that they became the ratings giants that they did. That wouldn't happen today.
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