Thoughts on “The City of Lost Children,” “Idiocracy,” and “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis.

When I borrowed the book for my most recent book review, I borrowed some other things that I wanted to read or watch at some point in my life and figured now is as good a time as any. None of them are new so I won’t write full reviews, but that can’t stop me from writing a few thoughts on each in one big blog post.

This weekend I watched the movie The City of Lost Children. I didn’t realize until afterwards that the movie was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also directed one of my favorite movies, Amelie. Stylistically, however, the connection made sense. Even though the setting is more fantastical, it feels a bit more realistic; it portrays a steampunk world as if it was real, whereas Amelie takes place in a more realistic setting but the events are highly stylized. The effects in The City of Lost Children are very impressive considering it was made in the late nineties.

I then tried watching Idiocracy. It’s a film made by Mike Judge, who also made Office Space. Unfortunately, while I like the premise, I think both films suffer from the same problem. Usually it takes ten to twenty minutes for a viewer to know whether or not a movie is going to be likeable, or at least respectable enough to see it through. These two Mike Judge films both make their main point by the time we cross that threshold. So it hooks me at first, but then as the movie goes on I realize I’m wasting my time watching something that’s doing nothing for me. Besides, the library copy I borrowed of Idiocracy was damaged and it skipped ten minutes at one point anyway. I hate that.

I’m almost done with the book Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. I reviewed his latest book, Normal, a few weeks ago. Like Normal, Crooked Little Vein takes a look at the darker side of modern life with humor and a biting narrative, although this one is a type of detective novel rather than science fiction. I can see why the bio for Ellis from the other book called this one a cult classic.

I also borrowed a copy of the movie The Naked Lunch but I haven’t watched it yet. I don’t think I would want to offer thoughts on it until I’ve read the book, anyway. We’ll see after I watch the movie tomorrow.

Reviews seem to be popular on this blog. Is that reviews are popular, or am I just writing reviews better than other types blog posts? I didn’t think I wanted to turn this into a review-only blog… but is that the direction in which I should head?

Thoughts on Amazon Prime.

What’s this? Two blog posts in one day? After I published my last one I decided to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for a few months now, and sign up for a thirty day trial of Amazon Prime. Even in just the few hours  I’ve had it I’ve made a few observations about the differences between that and Netflix. I wanted to try Amazon Prime for two reasons: I’ve gotten really bored with Netflix’s lackluster selection and I wanted to also see what the Prime Reading option had in store for me as well when it comes time for me to resume writing book reviews in March.* There are other services as well which I’ll also go over but those were just extra icing on the cake for me.

I’ll start with a comparison of the Netflix streaming service versus Amazon Prime’s streaming. For the most part I watch both on my television through my Nintendo Wii. Because it matters I should point out that I’m watching both on a standard definition television. I would love to get a more modern (and bigger) set but as I have some big financial plans this year I don’t see myself upgrading anytime soon. I also have the slowest speed available through Comcast around here, although I haven’t noticed any effect on either service.

Netflix looks just fine on my television. I never had any complaints there. The interface, while a bit basic and having less options than the web version, serves its purpose without any regular lag. Amazon’s channel took quite a while to load the first time today, but I’m guessing that had to do with the change in my account. Since then it boots up at the same speed. However, I’m noticing that with many of the selections so far the picture quality is slightly lesser than what I would find on Netflix. I especially compared Star Trek: The Next Generation which is available on both services. If I didn’t already have Netflix I wouldn’t even think about the quality of Amazon Prime’s picture. I have read that depending on the user’s setup the quality can be comparable, so it could be my equipment that’s making the difference. Could it be that this would inspire me to upgrade that as well?

As far as the selection is concerned, I like what I’m seeing so far on Amazon Prime. Of course by switching I’m potentially losing some titles on Netflix that I would have enjoyed, but Amazon’s selection overall looks to be much better. Not only that, but through the same channel on my Wii I can access all of the instant videos that aren’t offered through the Prime service. Many of them can be rented quite affordably. I’m a bit of a cheapskate so I would really want to see the movie, but it’s nice to know that the option is there.

I also wanted to compare Prime Reading to visiting the public library to read new or at least somewhat new book releases so I could review them on my blog. Right off the bat I noticed that Prime has a small selection the newest book was released nearly four months ago. Neither problem is potentially that much of a concern when it comes to selecting a book for a review, but when I could chose from many more and much more recent book through the Maine public library system I wonder if the convenience is worth it. But it is more convenient than physically going to the library. That’s not to mention if I have a specific title that I want to order, which I have to wait to be delivered to my local branch. Cost is also significant. Borrowing a book from the library is free. Then again, technically it’s not—I pay taxes. I could apply the same logic to Prime Reading if I keep the service for video.

But, alas, I could also get Amazon Kindle Unlimited for unlimited reading of millions of books for approximately the same cost as what Prime would amount to once a month. Then I really would be paying for the convenience of not going to the library. Is it really worth that cost?

Like I said, there are other services that come with Amazon Prime, such as streaming of digital music. There are many albums that I can listen to either online or on my phone (provided I get a good enough signal) at no additional cost. It is a bit annoying that there are many albums that I want to listen to that aren’t offered through Prime, or if they are, not in their entirety. But, like I said, this was just a bonus for me. I have other legal means to stream music, even if it does mean listening to the occasional ad. Besides, sometimes I really would rather buy an album in order to support the artist.

But wait, I could also sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited, which would give me access to the albums I want plus many more, all for the same price as Prime.

There are many other services that I could go into and this post is getting pretty long, so I’ll only point out one other one that caught my attention when I signed up for this. Amazon owns Audible, and offers many audio books to Prime subscribers for free. They also have a thing called Audible Channels, but it’s essentially the same thing as podcasts (and in fact, even includes podcasts that are already free anyway).

But wait, I could upgrade to Audible for the same cost per month as Prime—noticing a trend here? It looks like in many cases being a subscriber to Amazon Prime offers a limited version of other services through Amazon, and if you want to get more you have to pay more. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with the idea of a tiered program Unfortunately the cost is a bit ridiculous. Okay, so you don’t have to be a Prime member to also sign up for one of these other services. But I would think that if you chose to upgrade, being a Prime member should give you a discount on the other subscription. For example, you pay nine dollars a month for Kindle Unlimited, or you pay nine dollars a month for Prime and then five for Kindle Unlimited on top of that. I’m not particularly interested in any of these other services myself but I can’t imagine somebody signing up for Prime, making the yearly payment and then signing up for a monthly bill for an upgraded portion of what they’re already getting, ultimately doubling the cost.

So, when it comes down to it, am I going to follow through with the trial period and sign up for Amazon Prime and cancel my Netflix account? Honestly, I’m on the fence. The better selection and access to other services, albeit limited, make up for the slightly lesser picture quality of Amazon’s video. When it comes down to it, the yearly payment for Amazon Prime comes out to less per month than my monthly Netflix bill. That may end up being the deciding factor between the two.

For that matter, I could just save my money and cancel both services. After all, I can always borrow movies through the library (even though that raises other concerns, such as my history of borrowing damaged discs frustratingly often) or rent them individually through Amazon or Redbox. (That also has a trade-off: assuming that I’m only going to watch a movie once anyway, Redbox’s cheaper price and DVD quality offsets Amazon’s convenience and still lesser picture quality.) I’m probably still going to borrow books from the library anyway. Should I just be a cheapskate and cancel all of these services?

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*As a side note for those who may care, because of potential plans for the first weekend of March I may end up not getting to the first book review until the second Monday.

Sunday List: Top Five Movie Sequels I’d Like to See.

I’ve read and heard a lot of complaints about how there’s no originality in Hollywood anymore, considering all of the sequels, reboots and adaptations that are released to theaters in recent years. While none of these things are new, it feels like we’re getting inundated with a whole series of rehashed stories and characters that just won’t die. I say fine, while we’re at it, then let’s make some decent sequels to great movies that aren’t getting this treatment.

I put together my own fantasy list of films I’d like to see sequels for. I’m sure that none of these will get made. In some cases the people responsible for making them have already said that they aren’t willing to work on sequels. In some cases these are older movies and the sequels would have only worked if they were made years ago. But I can still have my fantasy movies, can’t I? So here are my top five wanted (though unlikely) movie sequels.

  1. True Stories. David Byrne said he won’t make a sequel to this movie. And I’m perfectly happy with it on its own. But there’s a lot of potential for somebody to go back to this fictional town thirty plus years later and see what the residents and their grown-up children are up to. The original movie had a lot of characters based on stories Byrne read in tabloid newspapers at the time. I would think that now with the Internet there would be plenty of source material for even more wild characters. Oh, and it would provide a reason for more David Byrne songs.
  2. Big Trouble in Little China. I agree with the statement Kurt Russell made about the remake: wish it well, but there’s no point. I’ll watch it if it looks interesting but part of the charm of the original film was the atmosphere that only films made in the eighties can have. I would have liked to have seen a direct sequel made by John Carpenter. Sure, Lo Pan died at the end, but some of his followers survived. Couldn’t they try resurrecting him? That, and I felt cheated that snow wasn’t covered by one of the Storms.
  3. UHF. I’m cheating a little bit here. I just want another Weird Al movie in the same vein as UHF. It can be a spiritual successor, if you will. The plot of the first movie was barely there and largely forgettable, and there aren’t UHF stations anymore. Then again, perhaps George becomes a YouTuber?
  4. Napoleon Dynamite. It surprises me that this hasn’t already happened. Not only was the movies a big success, there’s plenty of room to make more in that world. Yes, I know there was the animated series. It’s just not the same.
  5. The Transformers: The Movie. “What are you talking about? They’re already working on the fifth one!” I hear you (probably not) say. But I’m not referring to the live-action toy commercials that are being made today. I’m talking about the animated toy commercial from the eighties. For many of us who grew up at the time, the movie was the pinnacle of the animated form of The Transformers. Yet it wasn’t a box office success, which didn’t prompt another film. Sure, we got the third season of the show which acted as a sequel in a way, but aside from a few high points it didn’t really live up to the standards set by the film. But I would take this sequel even further: instead of picking up the story where the Rebirth miniseries left off, have the sequel completely ignore the American cartoon. This would allow writers to forget the Quintesson-origin story and incorporate Primus into the animated universe. Okay, now I’m really nerding out and I reached my word count. I’m going to end with that.

Tuesday Random Thoughts: Batman, Red Dwarf, iPod Speakers.

  • This weekend I watched a couple of new DVD releases that I recently picked up. On Saturday morning I watched Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. It’s an animated “sequel” to the sixties television series starring Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprising their roles from the show. I don’t think I have had that much fun watching a movie in a long time. I found myself smiling all the way through if not outright laughing. Longtime readers of this blog should know that I’m a huge fan of the old show, and as an homage I thought this movie nailed it. They obviously had to make a few changes to avoid trademark issues (the characters are owned by Warner Bros. but the show is owned by Fox, not to mention all of the other rights issues such as actor likenesses and so on). But it stood on its own—even if I hadn’t seen the show, the reasons I would love the show would be the reasons I liked this movie. But knowing the old show certainly helps have an appreciation of what the makers of this movie did. And there’s also a Get Smart homage near the beginning of the movie as well. There was obviously a lot of fun going into making this movie which comes across in the experience of watching it.
  • On Saturday night I sat down and had a marathon of the Red Dwarf XI. Again, longtime readers should also know that I’m a huge Red Dwarf fan. (Perhaps I should have done a Nerdy Saturday post after all.) There was one joke in the first episode that caused me to laugh so hard that I had to pause the show. That’s only happened to me once before in my life (during an episode of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who… “It goes ding when there’s stuff”). Unfortunately, I laughed less as the show went on, but the same happened to me when Red Dwarf X. I think that’s largely due to marathon-viewing of the entire series at once rather than the quality of the show itself. I recognized things were funny, I just couldn’t laugh at them. I should have spaced it out. I just couldn’t help myself.
  • I bought this iPod docking system speaker-thing a week and a half ago at a thrift store. I wanted to replace the big, old and partially broken stereo system that I kept in my kitchen with something smaller and just for my iPod. I haven’t had good luck with like electronics at thrift shops but I decided to give it a shot. So far it’s worked great. It didn’t come with a power cord so I thought I would get one of those universal power adapters for it. It turns out that they’re hard to find in stores these days. But it’s been running on batteries this whole time and it’s still going strong. I rather like the portability of it as well. Maybe I’ll just stick with the batteries, then.
  • You’ll notice that I haven’t been political all week. I’m keeping this blog apolitical for a while. I for one am sick of politics. I’m not avoiding them, but unless I have a real reason or can’t help myself I’m keeping out of the whole discussion for now. Maybe later.

Five thoughts about “Doctor Strange.”

Earlier today a friend and I went to see Doctor Strange, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t usually post movie reviews and I usually make lists on Sundays, so tonight I’m offering five thoughts on the movie. You could say that I’m just making an outline for a review and am being too lazy to actually write it out. You’re probably right. But I’m more or less picking five thoughts on the film at random. I’m also leaving out a lot of stuff as well. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

  1. I’m fully aware of the controversy surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, and it didn’t bother me. I know that many people have had a problem with the “whitewashing” of an Asian character, as well as changing its gender. At the same time I know that the director of the movie offered a pretty lame excuse for doing so. I really do sympathize with those who take offense at this, even though I don’t have a horse in the race myself. But honestly, I’m such a fan of Tilda Swinton that I forgot all about it.
  2. I wish I had another beer or two before watching this one. Out of all of the Marvel movies, this one is the “trippiest” so far. I could understand what was going on. But I would like to see the movie with some sort of mind, or at least mood alteration before going in. Oh, and by the way, my two-nights-a-year regarding alcohol went right out the window. There’s always New Year’s.
  3. I did have a problem with one scene in particular. Despite all of the fantastic effects in this film, there was one moment which I thought they fell short. There’s a moment in the film when all of the characters are on a giant stone disk in the sky (well, sort of the sky… hard to explain) and their circling each other discussing the situation before they start fighting. In the background the skyline of New York City has been completely distorted and is facing in all different directions. Yet, even with all of the advancement in this area of movie-making technology, I could still tell that they were in front of a green screen. It didn’t help that the villains looked like they were rejects from the Mortal Kombat movies. It ended up feeling like a scene from a 90’s Saturday afternoon martial arts show than a big budget motion picture.
  4. Despite the above two comments, I’m glad I saw this on the big screen. Overall, the effects are amazing. I’m glad that they finally got around to putting this character in a movie and that this was the one that we got. I’m wondering if I would still like it on my small television at home, though. This movie is yet another reason why I need to pay off my credit card bill and buy a big screen T.V.
  5. Overall, it was a fun movie. I always liked Marvel’s celestial characters and the related story lines, that they’re getting close to the Infinity War that they’ve been building up to with the Cinematic Universe. This movie does feel like a step in that direction while at the same time holding it’s own. They do beat the morals of the story over the audience’s heads a bit too often, but I don’t watch superhero movies for substance. I expected fun escapism going into the theater, and that was what I got.

My Halloween Resolutions.

I didn’t have the resources to put together a costume in time, so I just dressed up more than usual at work today (in black and grey, of course) and elaborated my eye make-up a bit. I did put on full face make-up and my cheap costume hooded cape last night for the (ultimately non-existent) trick-or-treaters, and I rather liked the effect. On the plus side, I discovered that by leaving some of the white make-up on the brush, and lightly brushing over my eyeliner it creates a really cool effect where the black looks like it’s fading into my skin, as I did today.

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Me, ready for trick-or-treaters (well, I probably wouldn’t have held the wine to their faces)

On the minus side, I discovered that I shouldn’t put the white make-up on my face directly after shaving. My neck has been rather itchy today, which I figured was just because I didn’t bother shaving this morning. I just looked in the mirror and saw that the skin there had been irritated somehow. I’m guessing that it had to do with the make-up going into the minute cuts that are caused by shaving.

I don’t need a costume, really. I went right from work to downtown Portsmouth for a couple of beers then the parade. I would rather watch the parade than be in it, and because it’s Monday I didn’t go bar-hopping afterwards. It wasn’t like I needed anybody to see me. But still, it would have been fun to put something together.

So, I have a couple of resolutions to make before next Halloween. First, I seriously need to put together a decent costume, and I need to start working on it as soon as possible. Second, I need to expand my horizons when it comes to horror movies. I watched a couple over the weekend and found that I enjoy the genre more than I thought I would. The only problem is that even with my lack of experience with the horror genre I can tell that Netflix has a pretty lousy selection. There are always hidden gems, to be sure, but it’s still pretty easy to tell the crap sometimes, too. I went to a store downtown today that has a large selection of horror DVDs, but I didn’t know what to get. I don’t want to spend the money if I don’t know if a movie is good or not. I guess I’ll have to hit the library.

Why make this a Halloween resolution, if I can watch horror movies year round? For that matter, if I’m exploring my Gothic side, why use Halloween as a marker at all? I still like to have a sense of occasion. I want next year’s horror movie marathon to actually count. The rest of the year will be for research. (Well, when I can watch movies that is—I’m not dedicating the entire to this resolution.)

I also have to see if I can get a job that will actually play decent music for the holiday as well. I don’t care what the clientele is, on Halloween there should at least be one Misfits song.

Writing Progress Wednesday, no, Thursday: keeping with the expected length.

I’m nearing the end of the second act of the first draft of my screenplay. I plowed right through this week. It’s amazing how much you can do when you actually sit down and work at something. Yes, that was sarcasm, with the snark aimed at myself. Anyway, I just got to page 73. If a screenplay is a page a minute and a rough guide for a movie is 90 minutes long, then a three-act screenplay divided evenly would mean that I should have reached the third act thirteen pages ago. Yet I have one more plot point to go before I get to that point.

Of course these are rough figures, not staunch rules to go by. There’s a couple of scenes which are just action which may turn out longer in the movie (should it get made) than what would correlate to the page-a-minute rule, just like there are scenes of dialogue which should go quite quickly. On top of that, who said my movie needs to be 90 minutes? Nobody said that, but that seems to be quite an average length for something other than a big blockbuster. It’s just a guide that got stuck into my head years ago.

In that case, running long like this is a good thing. It means I’m not rushing it. If there’s anything unneeded, then I can always cut it. I’d much rather trim than struggle with writing something more. It helps that I’m working with an outline, of course. It could also mean that if the story is longer than average, then it has more substance. That’s probably not the case, considering this isn’t exactly high-class cinema, but I can still think so.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have after work, but it’s possible I could finish off the second act tomorrow. If not, I may dedicate some time to working on the screenplay this weekend. I know I’ll definitely be in the third act by some point next week. It’s possible, then, that I could have the first draft finished by the end of September. It’s still a little later than I would have liked, but hey, I’m not working on anybody’s deadline but my own. As long as I have something that I feel comfortable submitting by the end of the year, I’ll be satisfied.

Then comes the question about how to submit these things. I get the feeling that’s going to take a lot more time than I’ll want to dedicate in January. Could it be that I’ll have to skip the RPM Challenge this year? I hope not, considering the album I released last time.

As always, I have two short stories for sale on Amazon. There’s links for both of them at the top of this page. Feel free to submit reviews on Amazon or get in touch with me here.