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Sunday, June 16, 2013
Minutiae of Die Hard
I don't think of Die Hard as being particularly well written, but watching the latter day sequels puts the whole thing in such stark relief that I'm surprised they didn't get a best screenplay nod for the original Die Hard. Alright, that's an exaggeration, but things it does well aren't showy. Fair warning, this post gets pretty deep into the minutiae of the Die Hard movies and only really lists one example, but it's indicative of a larger trend.
A Good Day to Die Hard came out earlier this year, and was functional but mostly forgettable installment of the series. The extent to which I enjoyed it was purely a function of the fact that I enjoyed previous films. Basically, I like John McClane. One area in which the film fails miserably is villainy. There are a few twists and turns on that front, but towards the beginning of the film, we've got this villain that is constantly and incongruously chomping on carrots. It turns out, he's also a tap dancer.
Now, I've never been to film school and I've never taken a class in screenwriting, but I imagine lesson 1 being something about giving your villain a quirk that will help the audience identify him. Think of the thought process in the screenwriter's mind here. He needs a quirk. Shit, everyone loves carrots, let's have him down carrots faster than Bugs fucking Bunny. But he's a villain, we need people to hate him too. I've got it: Tap dance. Genius. But what are we supposed to get out of this? I mean, yeah, when the McClane boys do take him out, there is a momentary comfort that the world has one less tap-dancer, but is that enough?
In contrast, look at Hans Gruber. In many ways, he is the template for villainy. And he loves the hell out of bespoke suits. There's an early scene where Gruber and friends are escorting Mr. Takagi in an elevator.
HANSIt's an odd moment, and it calls to mind Hans Gruber on his day off, shopping for a suit. It's a quirk, to be sure, but it's a subtle one, and it's not quirk for quirk's sake. It's actually quite well placed and it even serves multiple purposes.
It's not obvious or on the nose. In fact, you're probably not supposed to notice it at all, except perhaps in your subconscious. It lays the groundwork for the robbery without being overt. It's a quirk and it gives Gruber depth, but it's not stupid and it fits organically with the story. It's the sort of thing you can actually believe.
Again, this is a tiny nit to be picking, but it's indicative of how well the first Die Hard fits together... and how poorly the most recent installment works. Next time on Minutae of Die Hard: we spend 5000 words on the guy who played Endo in Lethal Weapon, and his decision to let his guard down so that he can snack on some candy bars even while the police are assaulting the building.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Tweets of Glory
As a testament to the enduring power of blogs, I give you a blog post that consists almost entirely of tweets. You're welcome.
So there you have it. Blogs are alive and well. (See you on Sunday with, hopefully, a more edifying post).
Sunday, June 09, 2013
Time is once again short, so just a few interesting links to tide us over until Wednesday, when time will no doubt still be short, but enough preamble, here's some stuff:
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Whedon vs. Martin
This past Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones ended with a doozy of a surprise (at least, for those of us who haven't read the books!), and while we all come to grips with what happened, Joss Whedon is sitting back and laughing. Warning: Many spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, Buffy, Firefly/Serenity, and probably some other stuff.
The Red Wedding, which is the name given to the sequence whereby several of our Game of Thrones heroes are betrayed and murdered in a brutal fashion, was shocking in its brutality. Whedon saw it from a different perspective though:
Basically, Whedon has a reputation for killing off his most beloved characters on TV shows. George R.R. Martin appears to be giving him a run for his money. Or is he?
Whedon's deaths tend to be emotionally powerful, prompting much in the way of hate mail. He defends these deaths in the name of the story. For instance, when Whedon kills off Wash in Serenity, he claims it was because otherwise, we would all assume the success of our heroes would be a foregone conclusion. The death is absolutely infuriating, not least of which because I'm not particularly sure it achieves its aims. It was a shocking moment in the film, but it was so sudden and so damn pointless, that it didn't really do anything but make me sad. Furthermore, he was killed by faceless Reavers, so it's not like you have anyone to blame... except for Whedon himself.
Contrast that with the Red Wedding. Robb Stark (heir to the iron throne), Talisa (his pregnant wife), and Catelyn (his mother) are all betrayed and slaughtered in the cruelest of fashions (their entire army is killed as well). It was sudden, but not nonsensical. And indeed, the sense of dread had been building for a while. For crying out loud, Talisa had just commented that if their unborn child winds up being a boy, they should name him Eddard (after Eddard Stark, who was also betrayed and killed in season 1). Ned friggen Stark!
Again, I was shocked and saddened by this event, but there are a number of things that make this better than Whedon's brand of murder. First, this is a show with a ton of characters, so there will be plenty of others that will rise up to take Robb's place. Second, the show has already established the danger of getting too attached to characters. Lots of people died on Sunday, but they're but the latest in a long line of tragic deaths and betrayals. Third, Martin is an equal opportunity killer. The blood of villains flows as readily as the heroes, which makes for a nice balancing act, and they're sometimes just a surprising (notable example: Viserys Targaryen, who is "crowned" by Khal Drogo in a fantastic moment). Fourth, while the Red Wedding is the end of characters we like, it's also the beginning of a villain we're going to love to hate! The same could be said for the Death of Ned Stark at the hands of Joeffrey (quite possible the most hatable character in television history, who has been built up as such a tremendous douche that his death will have significant cathartic value).
Whedon's use of deaths seem like cheap shots. As emotionally draining as they are, they're actually not that frequent... but in a lot of cases, they probably should be. Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Whedon killed fan favorite Tara, it was a mere plot convenience for him. A cheap way to up the stakes (and he needed this, as those nerdy villains were kinda lame). So what's the problem? Well, if that's what it takes to die in this show, the non-Buffy characters should have all died in, like, season one. It's a pointless, lazy death.
Whedon certainly has his fans and I actually count myself one of them. Indeed, most of his death scenes are well deserved and well done. Even the ones I hate tend to at least be effective. But I'm not really willing to forgive Wash. Just can't get past that one. So Whedon is right, we should give George R.R. Martin an equivalent reputation for killing his characters (in fact, I think he's had that reputation for a while, it's just that we're finally seeing it on TV). But this isn't a zero sum game: there's plenty of blame to go around, Joss! So congratulations: you both have a reputation for killing beloved characters.
Tangentially, are there any characters on Game of Thrones that you would be devastated to see die? And if not, what does that say about the show? Personally, I think that if Aria was killed, I'd be pretty crestfallen. And maybe Hodor, because I love that guy (though I wouldn't be surprised to see him go). What say you?
Sunday, June 02, 2013
Yet more links from the depths of the internets. Enjoy:
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
The Irony of Copyright Protection
In Copyright Protection That Serves to Destroy, Terry Teachout lays out some of the fundamental issues surrounding the preservation of art, in particular focusing on recorded sound:
Nowadays most people understand the historical significance of recorded sound, and libraries around the world are preserving as much of it as possible. But recording technology has evolved much faster than did printing technology—so fast, in fact, that librarians can't keep up with it. It's hard enough to preserve a wax cylinder originally cut in 1900, but how do you preserve an MP3 file? Might it fade over time? And will anybody still know how to play it a quarter-century from now? If you're old enough to remember floppy disks, you'll get the point at once: A record, unlike a book, is only as durable as our ability to play it back.Digital preservation is already a big problem for current librarians, and not just because of the mammoth amounts of digital data being produced. Just from a simple technological perspective, there are many non-trivial challenges. Even if the storage medium/reading mechanisms remain compatible over the next century, there are nontrivial challenges with ensuring these devices will remain usable that far into the future. Take hard drives. A lot of film and audio (and, I suppose books these days too) are being archived on hard drives. But you can't just take a hard drive and stick it on a shelf somewhere and fire it up in 30 years. Nor should you keep it spinning for 30 years. It requires use, but not constant use. And even then you'll need to ensure redundancy because hard drives fail.
Just in writing that, you can see the problem. Hard drives clearly aren't the solution. Too many modes of failure there. We need something more permanent. Which means something completely new... and thus something that will make hard drives (and our ability to read them) obsolete.
And that's from a purely technological perspective. They're nontrivial, but I'm confident that technology will rise to the challenge. However, once you start getting into the absolutely bonkers realm of intellectual property law, things get stupid really fast. If technology will rise to the challenge, IP owners and lawmakers seem to be engaged in an ever-escalating race to the bottom of the barrel:
In Europe, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release. Once that happens, anyone can reissue them, which makes it easy for Europeans to purchase classic records of the past. In America, by contrast, sound recordings are "protected" by a prohibitive snarl of federal and state legislation whose effect was summed up in a report issued in 2010 by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress: "The effective term of copyright protection for even the oldest U.S. recordings, dating from the late 19th century, will not end until the year 2067 at the earliest.… Thus, a published U.S. sound recording created in 1890 will not enter the public domain until 177 years after its creation, constituting a term of rights protection 82 years longer than that of all other forms of audio visual works made for hire."Sheer insanity. The Library of Congress appears to be on the right side of the issue, suggesting common-sense recommendations for copyright reform... that will almost certainly never be enacted by IP owners or lawmakers. Still, their "National Recording Preservation Plan" seems like a pretty good idea. Again, it's a pity that almost none of their recommendations will be enacted, and while the need for Copyright reform is blindingly obvious to anyone with a brain, I don't see it happening anytime soon. It's a sad state of affairs when the only victories we can celebrate in this realm is grassroots opposition to absurd laws like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA.
I don't know the way forward. When you look at the economics of the movie industry, as recently laid out by Steven Soderberg in a speech that's been making the rounds of late (definitely worth a watch, if you've got a half hour), you start to see why media companies are so protective of their IP. As currently set up, your movie needs to make 120 million dollars, minimum, before you start to actually turn a profit (and that's just the marketing costs - you'd have to add on the budget to get a better idea). That, too, is absurd. I don't envy the position of media companies, but on the other hand, their response to such problems isn't to fix the problem but to stomp their feet petulantly, hold on to copyrighted works for far too long, and to antagonize their best customers.
That's the irony of protecting copyright. If you protect it too much, no one actually benefits from it, not even the copyright holders...
Sunday, May 26, 2013
I hope you're all having a good holiday weekend. Me, I'm filled up with smoked/barbecued goodness right now, so mental capacities have been rerouted to digestion services. As such, here are some links I found interesting of late...
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
SF/F/H Book Meme
Via SF Signal and Ian Sales, one of them fancy book memes "for a lazy Saturday" which means that here at Kaedrin, we're doing it on Wednesday, because we're cool like that. 12 questions about science fiction, fantasy, and horror books:
1. The last sf/f/h book I read and enjoyed was:
The last Fantasy I read that I really enjoyed was The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold. I don't know that it's as enjoyable as her Vorkosigan books, but I found it very approachable and unlike a lot of fantasy. It's not filled with epic battles or action, instead focusing on the kingdom's court politics and the like. There's magic, but it's limited and relatively consistent. This description might make it sound boring, but it's quite exciting. Will certainly look to read the other two in the series, but Fantasy hasn't been a big focus of mine, so I'll also mention the last SF book I read and really enjoyed: Jack Glass, by Adam Roberts, which I found clever and inventive, but still very approachable. I did a full review a couple weeks ago if you want to read more.
2. The last sf/f/h book I read and did not enjoy was:
I didn't hate Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, but I never really got into it and I wasn't aware that it was the first in a planned series, nor that it would end without any real closure (it's also something I probably wouldn't have read on my own, but it was a book club selection). While I don't have any particular desire to read the next book when it comes out (which does say something, I guess), I didn't really hate the book either... For that, I'd probably go with Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher. I actually like the concept and universe of the Dresden Files series (including the first book, which was solid and fun), but I pretty emphatically disliked this one. I may revisit the series again someday, but this one turned me off of it for a while, at least.
3. A sf/f/h book that I would recommend to new sf/f/h readers is:
The two books that immediately come to mind are Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card and Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. Both focused on military, kinda mirror images of each other, actually, with one focused on training young children to face a threat, and the other focusing on recruiting old people to fight wars. Both have good ideas (the hallmark of good SF), but are also page-turners and relatively short, addictive reads. I know Orson Scott Card has engendered quite a bit of scorn for his unpopular political views, but there's no diatribes against gay marriage in Ender's Game, and it's probably worth catching up with the book before seeing the movie, which will probably be terrible (though who knows, maybe it'll be ok).
4. A sf/f/h book that I would recommend to seasoned sf/f/h readers is:
This is a tough one for me. I'd say that I read a fair amount, but compared to many, I guess you'd say that I'm more lightly seasoned than fully seasoned. I'm at a bit of a loss here. I'm still working my way through the best-of lists and classics of the genre, so I'll just throw the first thing that comes to mind out there, which is Diaspora, by Greg Egan. It's a big, sprawling hard science fiction novel, lots of big, challenging ideas, and Egan's famous focus on really hard SF. Egan is probably more famous for Permutation City (also a very worthy read that I only recently caught up with), but I'm guessing most seasoned SF readers have already tackled that one (which is somewhat more approachable than Diaspora).
5. The sf/f/h book I most want to read next is:
Well, the next book I'll probably read is John Scalzi's just released (well, sorta) The Human Division (which is actually the latest in the aforementioned Old Man's War series). After that, I have several books in the queue, though I'm not sure what I'd hit up.
6. My favorite sf/f/h book series includes:
This is actually a really easy one, seeing as though I just read through Lois McMaster Bujold's entire Vorkosigan Saga (16 books in total, with a few short stories thrown in for good measure) and loved most of them, particularly the 4 book stretch starting with Mirror Dance and concluding with A Civil Campaign (check out my post on the series for more).
7. I will read anything by this sf/f/h author:
This is an easy one: Neal Stephenson. I think that I've read every single thing he's ever published at this point, from the lowliest short story or editorial, to his sprawling masterpieces like Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle, and Anathem. Definitely my favorite author, though Bujold has come on strong lately, and I do find myself reading most of what Scalzi publishes these days.
8. The first sf/f/h book I read was:
I'm honestly not positive about this, but I'm going to go with A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle or Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series, both of which I think read while I was in the sixth grade. I even remember writing a Prydain-inspired story for school called The Land of Analak (or something like that, I'll have to see if I can dig up my copy of that sucker sometime).
9. The sf/f/h book I'm most surprised that more people don't like is:
These questions are getting harder, but one book I find consistently underrepresented in best-of lists is Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, a superb and harrowing entry in the tired first contact subgenre. I don't know why it doesn't get more love.
10. The sf/f/h book I'm surprised so many people do like is:
The problem with this question is that I can think of plenty of books that I don't love that are revered by many, but I can see why they would be so popular too - so it's not exactly surprising that, say, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin or Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein have big followings. I don't mean to say that I hate those books or that I found nothing of value there, but I didn't really enjoy them. However, I can see their influence all over SF, so it's hard to be surprised that people love them. That being said, I'm going to have to leave them as my answer, because I'm drawing a blank otherwise.
11. The most expensive sf/f/h book I own is:
I have no idea here. I don't have anything notably collectible, maybe a few first edition Hardcovers purchased in the course of regular reading. I suppose the thing that comes closest is Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday The 13th, by Peter Bracke. It's a big, full color book filled with imagery, and I bought it when it was out of print. It's back in print now, but even a new copy is relatively expensive (approx $35). I think I paid somewhere on the order of $50 for a first or second edition copy at some point, so there's that.
12. The number of sf/f/h books I own and have yet to read is:
Surprisingly few, at this point. I'm pretty good about not building up a pile of shame, but a couple years ago, I probably had 10-15 unread books laying around. I knocked most of them out last year and I'm left with a couple Philip K. Dick books I bought during a sale a few months ago. The Kindle has been a great enabler in this respect, as it allows for instant gratification...
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