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Cut Steve's Blatherings

Thursday, September 29, 2005

More Rain

        I swear, I intended to cut the grass, but . . .

        It's also become cold and generally depressing.  Otherwise, things are going fairly well.

        Glenn Reynolds has lots of links to reviews of Serenity, here and here.  I read them, and the ones that they linked to, and every one was positive.  We're talking blockbuster movie here.  Groovy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The "Firefly" Movie

        As I mentioned last week, I signed up for a free admission to Josh Whedon's new film Serenity, in return for posting about it.  Last night was the night, so I hied myself over to Roseville for the flick.

        I cut my departure a little close, and was afraid I'd miss the start of the movie, but I got to the theatre in time.  Once there, I went into the mall, and passed a couple leaving.  The man said 'If you're here for Serenity, it's sold out.'  I refrained from pointing out that I wasn't going to buy a ticket anyway.

        So, into the theatre complex, up to the ticket taker, and say 'I'm on the Press List for Serenity.'  Small hitch: the ticket taker couldn't let me in, he had to wait for Universal's publicity guy to come back.  Publicity guy showed up a minute or two later (while I got antsy over the movie starting while I stood there), and checked his list.  I WASN'T ON IT!  That was a major hitch, but he almost immediately waved me in anyway (note to self: next time, do NOT use real last name).

        Into the theatre, which is packed.  Now, where can I find a seat?  I ended up way in the back, which I wanted, and off to the side, which I didn't want.  These were normal movie seats, rather than stadium seats, but I fit into them comfortably (a year and 130 pounds ago, I wouldn't have been able to sit there at all.  Literally, my butt was too wide to squeeze between the armrests).

        The movie hadn't started, and we were treated to a rendition of "The Man They Call Jayne," by one of the fans (that's a song from the Firefly series.)  There were people there from radio station KDWB, and TV channel 45, and they gave out freebies.  A few stragglers wandered in (I ended up with people on both sides of me, no spaces at all; been a while since that happened), and finally, the lights dimmed.

        It was the preview for DOOM, a movie based on a shoot-them-up video game, and it looked like a bomb.  Then came Serenity, and it was very good.

        Since I promised to post on the movie, I wrote a review over at Fat Steve's Blatherings.  I'm going to crosspost it here.

        From Fat Steve's Blatherings:


Serenity



Summary:

        Joss Whedon's new movie Serenity opens Friday.  I saw it last night, and thought it was a very good film, four stars out of five.  I expect I'll pay to see it again Friday or Saturday.
  • Serenity is based on the late TV series, Firefly, and stars the original cast of the show.

  • Whedon employs the same mixture of strengths that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel two of the all-time great television series.  The film has action, humor, and mystery, all blended very well.  The technical aspects are excellent, with one exception noted below.

  • Alas, Whedon uses the idiotic shaking camera technique again, courting nausea among the audience.  People like me had better sit in the back.

  • The movie turns dark and bloody in the last third.  I found it that part very satisfactory, but be prepared for a large body count.

  • But Whedon never loses sight of the moral issues he dealt with in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, and manages to deliver a message that's also crackling good entertainment.

  • Overall, this film "big hit" written all over it.  I think it deserves the success I expect.

At Length:

        Screenwriter/director Joss Whedon has had really bizarre luck with movies and TV shows.  In 1992, a film titled Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit the theatres.  BtVS was Whedon's idea, story, and screenplay, but the studio and/or the director insisted on messing up the execution, and the result was a mediocre film — though I must admit, I enjoyed it.

        Yet somehow, in 1996, Whedon persuaded the WB to turn that mediocre movie into a television series.  During the next five years, it was, in my arrogant opinion, the best show on television, indeed the best TV show EVER.  Buffy ran seven seasons, and spawned a high quality spin-off in Angel, which was very good and ran five seasons itself.

        The reason those shows were so good?  Excellent writing, Whedon's skill in developing season long story arcs while creating episodes that stood on their own, a nicely balanced mixture of comedy and drama, great action sequences, marvelous humor, great casts who always turned in fine performances, wonderful sets, lighting, and special effects, and uniquely, a willingness to tackle important subjects.  Buffy and Angel dealt with the nature of good and evil, duty, courage, sacrifice, loss, human weakness, human strength, betrayal, bigotry, and honor, all without being preachy, dull, or simplistic.

        One other special feature of Buffy and Angel should also be mentioned, though not everyone liked it.  Whedon wasn't afraid to kill sympathetic innocents and continuing characters, even series regulars.  At least three died in the first season of Buffy, and the fatalities continued throughout both series.  Any character could die, and it made both the fear and the courage of the heroes more pointed.

      In 1992, Whedon persuaded the Fox network to air a new series of his, FireflyFirefly was to be a combination of science fiction, western, and thriller.  Considering Whedon's record, you'd have thought that Fox would have refrained from interfering with him, but NO!, they just had to muck it up — they refused to open with a two-hour pilot that was already shot (it ended up being the last show ever broadcast), showed the one-hour stories out of the order that Whedon had intended, pre-empted the show frequently, and never broadcast three already filmed episodes.  Then, having ensured a small audience, Fox cancelled it.

        But in 2003 the DVD of the series came out, with all the episodes available, and in the order Whedon had intended.  It made much more sense this way, and sales were very high.  And somehow, Whedon repeated the BtVS trick in reverse — he talked Universal studios into making a feature film out of his failed TV series, using the show's original cast.

        The film's title is Serenity.  I saw it last night, and really liked it.  So much so that I expect I'll see it again over the weekend, with my wife and some friends.

SOME BACKGROUND FROM THE SERIES
        Earth is no longer inhabited (why, Whedon never revealed, but planet Earth was invariably referred to as "Earth that was,").  Mankind managed to spread to the stars, and terraformed numerous planets and moons.  Some colonies ("the Core Worlds") became rich, powerful, and smugly certain of their superiority.  Other places were primitive and brutal, and there were all stages of development in between.  Eventually, the two biggest factions among the Core Worlds decided that, for its own good, humanity should be united under one government, and formed "the Alliance", intending to civilize the barbarians (the main powers in the Alliance apparently spoke English or Mandarin as their main language; the result is that both languages are seen and heard everywhere in the series, and the crew of Serenity curses in Chinese).  While many people and planetary governments thought the Alliance was a great idea, others fought unification, with the rebel troops being known as "Browncoats" (there are conscious parallels with the USAmerican Civil War here).  Two of the Browncoats were Sgt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and Zoe Last-Name-and-Rank-Unknown.  They were among those who kept fighting long after defeat was certain, till the resistance on their planet was crushed at the Battle of Serenity Valley.

        After the War, Mal and Zoe stayed together as partners trying to scrape a living "out in the black," the fringe area of human colonization, where the Alliance's control is still weak, where the Alliances "civilizing mission" isn't doing much, and where violent psychotics called "Reivers" periodically raid frontier settlements (in the pilot, the Reivers are described as raping to death anyone they capture alive; eating the captives' flesh; and using the captives' skin for clothing -- but usually not in that order).  Somehow, Mal found the money to buy and repair a used, broken down freight hauling spaceship, a "Firefly" model, which he named Serenity as a token of his continuing defiance of the Alliance.  Mal and Zoe recruited Hoban "Wash" Washburne, a pilot whom Zoe ended up marrying; Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye, a mechanic/engineer; and Jayne Cobb, a fairly tough and unscrupulous man who's an expert shot and all around crook.  Mal also rented one of the ship's two shuttles to Inara Serra, a member of the courtesan's guild, and thus a prosperous and highly respectable member of Alliance society (which brings up the question of why she'd want to go anywhere on a ship like Serenity, much less away from the Core Worlds and "into the black"; Whedon let it be known that she had a reason, but hadn't revealed it at series end).  When Serenity arrived somewhere, Inara would fly off her shuttle and conduct business.  Mal and Inara were highly attracted to each other, but they won't admit it to themselves act on it (Mal because he disapproves of Inara's profession, or at least her practicing it; Inara because of Mal's attitudes, rude behavior, and her desire to keep their relationship on a business footing).

        With Inara providing some steady income and respectability, Mal and crew set off to move freight, carry passengers, smuggle, hire out as gunmen, and heist things that weren't nailed down.  Mal and Zoe never were reconciled to the Alliance's victory, and operating outside the law appealed to Mal's continuing idealistic/romantic streak — though those same emotions sometimes led him to turn down profitable jobs, play Robin Hood, or otherwise get into trouble.  In the two hour pilot, they picked up three semi-passengers, semi-crew members: Book, a "Shepard," or traveling priest/monk who knows a suspicious amount about armaments; Simon Tam, a brilliant young surgeon; and River Tam, Simon's little sister, a super-genius seventeen-year-old psychotic.

        River was in some ways the key character of the series.  A child prodigy, the teenaged River was lured to a "school" where she could supposedly develop her talents to their full extent.  In reality, it was a secret Alliance research facility where surgery was performed on the "students'" brains, various horrible psychological conditioning was performed, and skills the Alliance would find useful were imparted.  In particular, the Alliance made River a super-humanly capable fighter and marksman.  They also managed to give her psychic abilities, or develop a pre-existing potential, something they may also have done with some or all of their other victims.  Why they were doing all this wasn't totally clear, but it did become obvious that River and the others were at least partly intended as covert agents, spies, and assassins.

        Fortunately for River, brother Simon grew suspicious.  He noticed that the phrasing in her letters home seemed wrong, that she referred to things that had never happened, and that words were misspelled (River had started correcting his spelling when she was three).  Convinced that his sister was trying to send him coded messages, he eventually managed to get intelligence on the "school" and mount a rescue operation.  As the pilot opened, he and River were on the run, and Alliance agents were both trying to recapture River, and killing people she and Simon had been in contact with.  Mal allowed the Tams on Serenity both because he hates the Alliance, and because his crew gets wounded often enough to need a surgeon aboard.  But as the series developed, there was increasing fear that River might be a danger to the others aboard ship.  Also, Inara finally admitted her feeling concerning Mal to herself, and decided to leave the Serenity.  For the rest of the series's events, watch the DVDs.

THE NEW FILM
        The movie opens with a flashback: River is in the experimental facility/prison, and Simon breaks her out.  An anonymous Operative of the Alliance Parliament shows up, and reviews the records of the escape.  It becomes clear that one of the reasons the Alliance government wants River so badly, and kills those she's talked to, is her psychic ability.  Various high level members of Parliament foolishly toured the facility while she was there.  They knew things that the Alliance is desperate to keep secret, and they fear River will reveal them.

        The Operative would have fit in well with Felix Dzerzhinsky's CheKA.  He is, in his own words, a monster, but a monster with a faith and a cause.  Someday, the Alliance will bring about a civilization without evil, and he will do anything to help that along.

        Meanwhile, out on the edge of the Alliance, Mel and his crew are pulling a payroll robbery.  When he involves River, Simon gets angry and decides he and his sister will leave Serenity, but no sooner do they split than River happens to look at a television in a bar, and becomes fixated.  She utters the word "Miranda," then suddenly attacks the patrons and staff indiscriminately, leaving almost everyone dead or unconscious before Simon manages to stop her.  Mal happens to be in the bar, and takes the Tams back to Serenity and tries to find out what happened.  He soon learns it was a trick — the Operative caused the television to display subliminal messages that triggered River's "lethal weapon" mode, but in places where there was a security camera.  Now the Operative knows who's been helping River and Simon.  The rest of the film is a fairly straightforward scifi/action plot, with the Operative doing anything he can to get River, and Mal and crew trying to dodge the Operative, figure out what's going on, and resolve the situation once and for all.  I thought it all worked very well.

        I won't give any more of the story, not wanting to spoil it for anyone, though I will mention we learn more about the Reivers, whose history and habitss turn out to be highly relevant.  As mentioned above the movie has Whedon's characteristic virtues.  The screeplay's well written, there's a good deal of verbal and physical humor (the audience frequently laughed out loud), the action sequences are exciting, the acting is first rate, and the design and lighting are excellent.  But Serenity also has Whedon's habit of knocking off good guys and innocents.  The film becomes somewhat dark in the last third, and horrible things happen to characters who don't deserve it.  The bodies really pile up.  I found the climax satisfying and fitting, but don't expect a Star Trek finish where everyone important either lives, or will be brought back to life in the next flick.  The characters who died in this movie are staying dead.

        Whedon also retains his strong moral commitments.  The Operative is fighting for his cause, and Serenity's crew end up fighting for against it.  It's clear which side Joss Whedon favors, but he doesn't make the Operative's side a caricature.  Instead, Whedon addresses basic questions of morality and human society, all while being marvelously entertaining.

        Well, that's what's right with Serenity.  What's wrong with it?  The camerawork.  Whedon is one of these people who believes that if you shoot with a handheld camera, and don't use the steadycam, it gives the work the feel of a documentary, or an improvisation, or something assembled from "found footage" taken by a non-professional.  He used the technique in the TV series, and he uses it here.

        Whedon is wrong.  The lighting, the camera angles, the seamless integration of story with shots, the costumes, the effects — there has never been a documentary, improvisation, or "found footage" work that looks like this, and there never will be.  What the film looks like is a highly professional, thoroughly scripted movie, made by a director with pretensions.

        Now, shaky camera work on the big screen can make me vomit, and I've walked out of more than one movie because of this nonsense.  I wish Whedon hadn't done it.  Fortunately, he didn't indulge in it too often or too violently, and I had a seat in the rear (a suggestion from my friend A., who has the same problem).  I managed to endure it fairly well, but if you're sensitive to this too, be warned.  And I hope you'll write the studio, producers, and directors of any similar film, and complain.  This idiocy needs to be stamped out.

        Having gotten that off my chest, I don't have much else in the way of complaints.  I was surprised that Shepard Book wasn't on the ship when the film started, since he was when the series ended.  There were a couple of places where someone did something slightly stupid as a plot requirement, but not often, and not terribly stupid (still, if [deleted] had made sure [deleted]was dead, things would have developed much more happily.  Overall, the film is excellent, and I give it four stars out of a possible five.  If Whedon had used a steadycam, I'd add the at least another half star.  I suspect that if you don't enjoy this flick, you dislike all action films.  I'm certain Serenity will do a big box office, and in my opinion, it deserves to.

        And I'm looking forward to Serenity Two.


        And I'd like to thank Universal, both for making the movie, and giving me a chance to sample it for free.  I hope this free tickets for bloggers idea spreads!!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Well, this should be interesting

      Joss Whedon's movie Serenity, based on his cancelled TV series Firefly, opens next Friday.  I just promoted myself a place on the press list, so I can see it for free next Tuesday, the 27th.  In return, I have to blog about it.

        My big concern about the film is that Whedon would use the hand-held jerky camera style he used on the series.  I can't watch movies like that.  My old girlfriend A., who has the same problem, suggests sitting way in the back, but my wife K. likes to sit fairly close.  So, this will give me a chance to see the movie, and if I can stand it at all, and K. wants to go, I'll go see it with her again.

        Tune in to Fat Steve's Blatherings next Tuesday to find out whether I was able to watch the film at all, and if so, what I thought of it (I did like the TV show).

Medical Weirdness at Casa St. Onge

        It started last night.  I was sitting on the couch with my laptop, and a really intense pain gradually developed in my left side.  I took some ibuprofen, and went to sleep, and felt much better when I woke up.  But now, it's bugging me again.  ????  Why would sitting on the couch bother my side?  Did I pull a muscle?  If so, how?  But I can't think of anything else consistent with this case history.  What's going on here?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's Raining AGAIN

        Has been for about an hour.  Less yard work for me, but eventually the grass will get annoyingly long . . .

A Nice Day for Library Visiting

        It's still raining fairly frequently in Minneapolis.  Ever time I get ready to water the plants, it's rains a day or so before, so I haven't had to do it for a month.  *SIGH*, I was so looking forward to cutting the grass again today . . .

        It's K.'s day off, so we went to the library, and ate afterwards at Baker's Square.  Using EXTREME care, I managed to eat a small piece of chicken breast without nausea (if you took the skin off a chicken leg, the piece I ate weigh as much as maybe a third to a half of the leg meat).  I also had a piece of Oreo pie (very crumbly, prevents nausea), and some iced tea.  Back home now, thanking God for creating air conditioning.

        Manipulated K. into doing a Sudoku game this morning.  'Why shouldn't she suffer like I suffer?', that's what I say.  Besides, she's the rat-bastid who introduced me to it.

        If you like fantasy, I strongly recommend Princess of Wands, by John Ringo.  The hardcover will come out late December, early January, $25.00 list, $16.50 from Amazon.

        Not sure you'd like it, or want to spend that much?  Check the free sample chapters here.

        If you'd prefer an electronic version to a dead tree one, it will be probably be $6.00 in January, and since this a BAEN e-book, you can download multiple copies, in multiple formats, to multiple machines, and precisely none of them are encrypted, or expire after X months, or any of the rest of the nonsense most publishers engage in.  Jim Baen has these two crazy ideas, the first being the most people are honest and won't redistribute his books if he treats them fairly; the second crazy idea is that anyone who steals it anyway wouldn't have bought it in the first place.

        Oh, if, after reading the eight free chapters, you decide you Must have it NOW, Princess of Wands is available as an electronic book Advanced Reader Copy for $15.00, gradually declining to $6.00 or so when the hardcover hits the stores. An ARC is a copy of a book that hasn't been proofed or checked for continuity errors, distributed to bookstores, reviewers, etc., in advance of publication.  I'll wait for the dead-tree version, because I'll want to loan it to K. and others, because the cover looks nice, and because I believe that the book will have CD-ROM in it, also non-copy protected, containing other Baen books (Baen has done this before).  Of course you're on your honor never to copy the CD . . . wait, I forgot, you may copy it all you want, just copy the complete contents, and don't sell it.  Give away one to every person on earth if you want (no, I'm not kidding).

        Stay well, faithful few.

        Anyhow, I've read the sample chapters, and I liked them a lot.  Ringo is on my short list of authors who I buy whatever they publish, without questions, but even if I'd never heard of him before, I'd buy this.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

This Blog's Readership Has Lept Up!

     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


        In other words, it's now averaging three readers per day, instead of two.

        While I'm here, I might as well tell you I've discovered a great new way to waste time, called "Sudoku."  This is a game where you have a large square, subdivided into three intermediate sized squares, which are further divided into nine small squares each, making 81 squares total, in a nine by nine square (I have a couple of pictures here.  You could also visit the Sudoku website).

        Anyhow, you get the Sudoku grid with some of the squares already filled in with numbers from one through nine, as the picture referenced above shows.  The aim is to fill the grid in, so that you have one of each number in each row, in each column, and in each intermediate square.  This takes an hour or two for me, when dealing with one of the more difficult puzzles.

        I got started on this when my wife mentioned it to me, and just recently our local excuse for a newspaper, which was already running it in the paper, started putting it online as well, at this URL.  I strongly recommend you stay away from this temporal black hole.

        Oh, it finally stopped raining for a few days, and I got the grass cut.  I was amazed how quickly the new self-propelled power mower got through the stuff.  It's a Briggs & Stratton we bought at Sears, and I'm very satisfied.

        Have a nice week, all.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

She Got Me!

      My dear sweet wonderful wife, who I am considering strangling, was talking with me about my blogs.  I mentioned that I'd referred on Fat Steve's Blatherings to those "hungering for further pearls of my ineffable wisdom".

      "Oh," she offered, "I think your wisdom is definitely 'effable.'"

      Worse she was correct.

      Moral: think twice before you marry a sarcastic grammar-and-usage-snob.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

6:15 CDT, Raining AGAIN

More Changeable Weather

      In the morning, cold, with a lot of rain and thunder.  The afternoon warmed up, and it was fine.

      I went by the hospital for a routine post-op check, and I weighed 326 on the scale there.  That was with clothes and shoes on.

      Later, lunch, a bite to much, puke.  GRRRR.

      Nothing really on the schedule today.  Friday, K. and I will go to a Chi Gong exercise class lasting all day.

      Stay well.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"If You Don't Like the Weather, Wait a Minute"

      Over the weekend, it was rain, rain, rain.  Then, yesterday, Labor Day, it was hot, sunny, and humid.  Kaye and I went looking at cars (we liked the Saturn Ion Quad a lot; the Toyota Matrix was OK, but had a bit less leg room; the Toyota Prius was on a waiting list of six months, so we couldn't even look and sit in one).  After the car shopping, to Applebee's for a veggie pizza (K.), onion soup (moi, and iced tea.  Afterwards, we watched Monk on the Tivo.

      That was yesterday.  This morning about 2:00 AM, another thunderstorm.  Now it's sunny again.

      Meanwhile, I sit here inside, blogging.  If the grass ever dries out, I'll cut it, with our nifty new power mower.  And as soon as I catch up on my blathering and TV, and I have a new science fiction novel by David Weber to finish (Old Soldiers, Baen Books, available on dead trees or electronically with no damn-fool copy protection and unlimited downloads; Jim Baen trusts you not to rip him and his authors off).

      So, busy me.  Hope things are going well for the two of you who stop by daily, and the half-dozen I mail this too.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rain

      It's pouring right now.  It's been raining off and on all night.  Depressing.  Could the remnants of Katrina have reached this far north?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Still Puking After All These Months

      I had a lovely time on the North Shore, and it's been pretty good since we got back.  Of course, there were the previously mentioned computer troubles, but those are more or less fixed (still have some software re-installing to do).

      The last few days, the weather has been nasty.  Raining right now, for the third day in a row.  That's probably discouraged attendance at the MN State Fair, but since we didn't plan on going anyway, big deal.  Otherwise, no particular complaints.

      My weight was down to 230 a few days ago, from 245 the last time I weighed myself [CORRECTION: I was down to 330, from 345.  My thanks to my one time girlfriend and still friend A. for catching the error.].  So, even though I still can't handle chicken, and even though I ate too much twice on our vacation, and twice since coming home (and when I do that, I worship at the shrine of the pocelain god), I have no serious complaints about the my vertical banded gastroplasty.  Every time I stand up, and lift 135 pounds less than I used to, my knees thank me.

UPDATE, 9/7: 325 today at the hospital, with my shoes and clothes on.

      On the 'To Do' list: buy emergency generator, stock up two weeks worth of storable food and water for Kaye and I.  I should have done this years ago, especially after we were without power for a week, but after Katrina I definately will do it now.  Of course, first I have to make room in the basement for it . . .

      Unpleasant as that job will be, going up the basement steps is much easier, now that I weigh less, so I WILL do it.

      Hope you're both well, daily visitors.

Give For Katrina Recovery

      Last night, K. looked at her check book, and asked how much I'd donated to aid Katrina victims.

      "Fifty Dollars", said I.

      She thought a moment and said, "Give them another hundred."

      So just now, I donated another hundred dollars ($100.00) to the Salvation Army.  You, too, should find a reputable charity that's acceptable to you, and give what you can.  If you need suggestions, you'll find a bunch here.  Ours continue to go to:

The Salvation Army, 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769).

      Afterwards go over to NZ Bear's, and you can log your contribution.

Technorati Tags: flood aid, Hurricane Katrina

Crossposted to Fat Steve's Blatherings