The Locus Awards

For those interested in science fiction and fantasy literature but otherwise not “in the know”, Locus is a sort of industry magazine.  It is full of book reviews, author interviews, news, and more about the written speculative fiction field.  Every year, they put out a recommended reading list, and also hold voting for the Locus Awards.  Anyone can vote; subscriber votes count for double.

The reason I bring this up is that fantasy site Ranting Dragon issued a reading challenge this year, which I participated in.  I also won a free book in their giveaway: The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe, which was quite good and on which I shall elaborate when I have a chance.  The whole point was to encourage people to read more good stuff, and participate in the voting.  (To that end, they now have a voting guide available.)

If you’ve read a science fiction or fantasy book (or story) first released in 2010, and you liked it, you should definitely vote in the Locus Awards.  And if you haven’t, well, the recommended reading list might be a good place to start.

Thoughts on Source Code

One of the most recent releases in this unexpected spring bonanza of science fictional movies is Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (who I was not fond of in the Prince of Persia movie) and directed by Duncan Jones (whose directing I enjoyed in Moon).  I am happy to report that Jones has maintained his streak of good movies, and Gyllenhaal has earned forgiveness for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Source Code is a good movie.  It’s a hard one to talk about in a spoiler-free way, but I’ll try—any spoileriffic comments will go at the end behind a cut.  I can comfortably say that that I liked it more than The Adjustment Bureau or Limitless, and I liked both of those movies.

Source Code is tightly plotted and very well-paced.  I never got bored, I never wanted things to hurry up, and I wasn’t able to predict what was going to happen.  In a few cases, I was able to realize some things before the characters did—but not by much.  Frankly, it just made me feel smugly clever.  I think the casting was solid, too—everyone played well together (and apart, for that matter), and I found them all believable.

While the “science” part of this science fiction movie is more than a little hand-wavy, it still came across as plausible in that it worked in the context of the movie, and that’s all that I can really ask.  It even made some nods toward exploring some of the depths inherent in the idea, though that is not the focus of the movie, and yet it still managed to raise interesting questions.  So all in all, this is one of those rare films where I really found nothing worth complaining or criticizing.

Consequently, I would highly recommend Source Code.

Now, on to some spoilery stuff!  Do not read any further if you don’t want spoilers.

Continue reading Thoughts on Source Code

The Adjustment Bureau / Limitless

It seems that March held an unexpected bonanza of science-fictional films.  I have been making something of an effort to see as many as I can, but as my time is limited I have been concentrating on movies that have a degree of positive buzz.  Thankfully,  the two I’ve seen have not let me down.

The Adjustment Bureau

This Matt Damon vehicle is yet another loose Hollywood adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story (“Adjustment Team”).  Not having read the original story, I have no idea how accurate this adaptation is, so my impression of The Adjustment Bureau is solely based on the movie itself.

That impression is favourable.  The cast was surprisingly solid, and while there were plenty of chase sequences and big reveals, the pacing of the movie was surprisingly thoughtful and reflective.  The basic premise—which I think is apparent from the trailers—is that political aspirant David Norris (Damon) falls for a girl and mysterious forces try to keep them apart.

If that plot sounds rather simple, well, it is.  But the movie tries to explore the whole fate-versus-freewill debate, and much of the action develops out of the main characters taking action for themselves.  They actually have clear reasons for acting as they do, and it is an intensely personal story despite all the bigger questions raised by the film.

My only complaint about the film is with the ending, which seemed to arrive rather abruptly and quite possibly undermined the thematic argument of the movie.  While it tied up the plot, it didn’t really answer any questions or give us any sense of what lay in store for the characters. (I will grant that the last point may have been deliberate, given the nature of the movie, but it was still mildly unsatisfying.)

Still, I very much enjoyed this movie.  While it was no Inception in terms of complexity or quality, it was one of the more enjoyable and thoughtful SF movies I’ve seen recently, and I wish more movies were out there like it.  Good stuff.

Limitless

I had some trepidation going in to Limitless, as I hadn’t heard much about it before its release, and I knew its star Bradley Cooper more for his roles in comedies than serious action or SF films.  But it got some decent reviews from SF outlets, and did some solid box-office, so I gave it a shot.

In the movie, Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a struggling writer who takes a drug that enhances his intelligence to stratospheric heights but only lasts for a day.  The plot follows what happens to his accelerated self as he tries to take advantage of his new-found capabilities.

I thought this movie did not explore the notion of enhanced intelligence as well as it could have.  There are threads in that direction, but they get subordinated to the plot-level action and suspense.  However, the narrative style of the film was unconventional for an SF movie, and there were some very interesting visuals used in showing how the drug affected Eddie’s mind and perception of the world around him.

Despite the lack of depth, the movie was entertaining.  While the outcome was somewhat predictable, there were surprises on how we got there, and it made for a satisfying movie.  While I did not personally enjoy it quite so much as The Adjustment Bureau, I can certainly see that other people might like it more.  And, technically speaking, Limitless was the more rigorously science-fictional of the two movies.

Overall, I think my two choices for movies so far this month were good ones.

Another Delightful Screed from Hal Duncan

I haven’t yet managed to read any of his well-regarded books, but from time to time I drop in on Hal Duncan’s blog.  There, he holds forth quite frankly and eloquently on any number of topics.  What amused me most recently was his response to a mainstream newspaper’s discussion of genre fiction, all of which you can find starting here.

Tangled / Green Hornet / Barney’s Version

The girlfriend came to visit for a few weeks, so—as we are wont to do—we frequented the movies.  This post contains my thoughts in brief on the movies we saw together, most of which are old news by now, but I felt they should not pass without comment.

Tangled

Tangled may have the distinction of being the first Disney non-Pixar computer animated film that was any good.  I quite enjoyed it; more than The Princess and the Frog, I think, though the music was largely forgettable and it lacked the gravitas or dramatic oomph of that 2D film.  Tangled just felt more fun, although I’m sure Zachary Levi‘s voice work conjuring my warm feelings toward Chuck may have contributed to this.

I saw it in 3D, and it was thankfully inoffensive in that regard.  Of course, the 3D also didn’t add anything, and I would have rather done without, but unfortunately it wasn’t showing in 2D anywhere at that time.

The animation looked fine; the characters were amusing or cute as needed, and the scenery sufficiently lovely.  As is often the case with Disney movies, the non-speaking animal sidekicks stole the show, in the form of Pascal the chameleon and Maximus the horse.  The story had some fun adventures and clever set pieces and was, well, fun.

It has just occurred to me that, at this point, most 3D computer animated features are all looking pretty much the same.  I didn’t notice much difference in terms of the quality of animation between this, Megamind, and Despicable Me, for example.  I hope this means that we’re at the point where writers, directors, and producers realize that they have to distinguish themselves with the quality of the movies (story, characters, voice acting, etc.) rather than just the visuals.  If so, then Pixar might finally face some meaningful competition.

Anyway: Tangled.  Enjoyable and fun, but not too deep.

Green Hornet

I had been hoping that the Green Hornet movie would be awesome because I generally like Seth Rogen, and more importantly I like movies that are awesome and that are also superhero movies.  There was even some reason to hope that it might be, seeing as director Michael Gondry had produced weird, interesting, and excellent films such as Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Alas, my hopes were not quite met.

First of all, the movie had a truly atrocious 3D-conversion.  Yet another overwhelming piece of evidence that 3D films suck in general, and converted ones suck without exception.  The people who keep making these travesties happen should totally just be melvined.

Secondly, the movie felt like it was two very distinct scripts jammed together in the middle.  So early in the film we see some amusing buddy comedy that is typical Rogen fare, and then in the latter half we have an intense, violent, plot-driven action flick.  Cameron Diaz’s role also seems entirely superfluous—I get what they were trying to do with her character, but she was heavily under-utilized and didn’t become interesting until the very end.

Thirdly, the action sequences lacked any kind of consistent style.  The first fight scene featuring Kato was highly stylized.  It was not necessarily a good style, but it was distinctive.  Some elements of that returned in the final action scene, but were absent from the rest of them.  And for me, a movie having its own sense of style is what can elevate it from so-so or ridiculous to transcendent and sublime.  Green Hornet did not reach such an apotheosis.

That said, it was a passably-entertaining action comedy.  I have expounded upon its flaws—which are many—but in the hierarchy of all movies, it was okay.  I was entertained, I laughed, I enjoyed the action sequences, and there were some genuinely clever bits.  I did not feel it was a wast of my money (other than the 3D), but your mileage may vary.

Barney’s Version

This film is, admittedly, a little far off my usual fare.  But my mother had wanted to see it, so the girlfriend and I went with her.  Also, at the time, there wasn’t really anything else out.

Fortunately, Barney’s Version turned out to be a fine film.  As with many films starring Paul Giamatti, it was laced with humour but turned a bit dark and depressing toward the end.  (In this case, I believe it was true of the original book as well.  Though it had been many years since she had read it, my mother found the movie to be a pretty good adaptation of the book.)

The story follows the ups and downs in the life of Barney Panofsky.  I can’t really say much more about the plot without giving away spoilers.  What should be obvious, though, is that Barney (played by Giamatti) is front-and-centre throughout the film, and he does an amazing job.  As Barney ages in the movie, Giamatti adjusts his posture, his way of walking, of speaking.  Very impressive and convincing.  The movie also had an excellent supporting cast, though Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s father was the real standout.

So Barney’s Version was an excellent film, albeit a somewhat dark and depressing one at times.  If that’s what you like in a film, this one won’t do you wrong.

Megamind / RED / Skyline / Morning Glory

Once again, I strive to squeak in an update under the wire and leave no gap in the monthly archives.  I have actually quite a lot to talk about, but I’ll limit myself to movie thoughts for now.  That, in itself, is still quite an undertaking, as I managed to visit the girlfriend and we saw 4 movies in theatre in 8 days.

Megamind

I had low expectations for this movie.  When the trailer first debuted forever ago, I was immediately dismayed at the similarities with Despicable Me.  (Note that this was before either movie was released—I was dismayed at the seemingly-similar premises.)  I was also dismayed at Will Ferrell’s involvement, as I have tended to be irritated by his movies, though I may need to reconsider that assessment as I have quite enjoyed several of his more recent movies.

Anyway, point is I had low expectations.  However, a few people I knew saw it and said it was good, so off the girlfriend and I went, and I was really pleasantly surprised.  Apart from both being about the villains, Megamind and Despicable Me are quite different films, and while I enjoyed the latter, I think Megamind was the better of the two.  Indeed, Megamind was one of the better movies I’ve seen this year.

It doesn’t quite reach Pixar quality, but the writing and jokes were clever, and there were some delightful visuals.  And, most pleasantly, the movie actually surprised me in a couple of places.  As a result, I’d probably put it above all the other non-Pixar CGI movies I’ve seen, with the sole exception of How to Train Your Dragon, which was also really good.  Anyway, Megamind is a good movie, and I highly recommend it.

RED

No, not the colour.  Acronym.  For “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”.  Based on a comic by Warren Ellis.  Most of what you know can be summed up with the following: action movie starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich.  If you can’t tell whether RED is something you might enjoy based on that, I’m not sure anything else I can say will help.

Anyway, the aforementioned cast star as retired spies.  When a team of commandos tries to kill Frank Moses (Willis), he reunites with old friends to find out why.  Wackiness ensues, where wackiness equals lots of entertaining gun battles with actors not usually found in the action genre.

The plot is a little weak but vastly entertaining, and the action scenes are well done.  While I have seen better movies, RED certainly satisfies.  Recommended if action movies are your thing.

Skyline

We saw this sci-fi movie because it was the next one playing, and because some of the trailers looked kind of cool.  Unfortunately, the coolness did not persist outside of the trailer.  Skyline was quite dissatisfying.

It is like the illegitimate love child of Independence Day and Cloverfield, where we have an alien invasion, but see it from the point of view of regular people trying to survive.  As such, we never really find out what is going on, and our heroes, such as they are, stand little chance.   It’s a pretty dark and depressing movie, and while they almost did something interesting with the ending, they pushed it too far, took it in the wrong direction, and gave it a non-ending instead.

You don’t need to actively avoid this movie.  It had some cool bits and all, but it’s not really enough to command your full attention.  It’s the sort of thing you might watch if it’s on TV while you’re doing something else, or on an airplane.  So I give this one a big, “Meh.”  My viewing companions were not nearly so kind in their opinions, so be warned.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory is a comedy—or possibly a dramedy, though I am loath to use the term—starring Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford.  It is not a romantic comedy, though there is some romance in it (not between the two leads).  It is just a funny, well-done movie.

McAdams plays an eager young TV producer given a chance to try to revive a failing morning talk show.  She manages to bully Harrison Ford’s character—a legendary news anchor who is a miserable, grumpy bastard—into working on the show, but has little time to wring cooperation out of him and improve the show’s ratings.  Wackiness ensues, where wackiness equals zany news bits, neuroses, Harrison Ford being an ass, and further delights.

The movie has solid writing, is not entirely predictable, and is quite cute to boot.  It is thankfully not rife with cliche and rehashed storylines, and while it’s not ridiculous over-the-top side-splitting funny, there is no shortage of laughs.  A good movie, and recommended if you’re in to general (non-gross-out) comedies.

Salt / The Other Guys / Scott Pilgrim

Aha!  I have finally settled upon a naming scheme for these movie posts.  I shall use the titles of the movies themselves!  Pure genius (so long as I don’t let too many build up)!

Here, then, are my thoughts on the handful of movies I saw since my last movie post.  Sadly, the summer movie season is drawing to an end, so there’s only one more on my list to see (The Expendables).

Salt

Much like when I saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the girlfriend and I took in Salt because we wanted to see a movie and had seen everything else of higher interest.  This Angelina Jolie vehicle tried to bill itself as a thriller where nobody knew what was really going on.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the case.

It was entertaining enough, with a number of nice action sequences, but it was largely predictable.  The sort of movie where there’s a binary choice to the truth—the “Is the protagonist actually the villain?” genre—has been done to death.  In older movies, the answer was always, “No!”  Then, to shake it up a bit, a lot of movies had the answer being, “Yes.”  And that really exhausts the possibilities.

So now modern movies try to make you think the answer is no when really it’s yes, or vice versa,  But it always works out to one or the other, so whatever you guess, you have a 50/50 chance of being right.  And if the filmmakers are clumsy about telegraphing their intent, the odds go way up in your favour.  Coupled with casting some actors who always play the bad guys, and there’s not a whole lot of mystery left.

Now, as a plain action movie it was fine, but if you’re relying on the mystery for your enjoyment, Salt may fall short.  Otherwise it was a perfectly adequate movie.

The Other Guys

The girlfriend and I took this one in to stay out of a rainstorm.  It was an extremely pleasant surprise.  Normally I don’t really like Will Ferrell movies, but his buddy cop feature that pairs him with Mark Whalberg worked really well, and is way funnier and different than the trailers would lead you to expect.

The main plot is a somewhat conventional buddy cop storyline that provides a fair amount situational comedy.  What I liked best, though, was the layer of absolutely bizarre and random humour laid over top of it.  There were jokes in this movie that were completely out of left field, that I could never have predicted.  I’m absolutely delighted when that happens.  Consequently, this movie turned out to be a lot of fun.  I’m comfortable giving it a recommendation.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

For me personally, this movie had a lot in its favour: based on a Canadian comic that I enjoy, directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame, and a pretty solid cast.  I’m thrilled to say it lived up to my expectations.  Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was one of my favourite movies of the summer.

That said, the demographic is really the under-35 crowd, as it is steeped in the world of video games, anime, and indie music.  I suspect that just watching the Universal logo at the beginning is enough for you to tell whether you’ll enjoy the movie or not.  The creator of the comic—Bryan Lee O’Malley—is the same age as me, and thus grew up with all the same cultural touchstones, and that shines through in the comic and the movie.

The movie basically embodied fun, with lighthearted and entertaining fight scenes, an over-the-top cast of odd-but-largely likable characters.  Possibly the weakest character is the eponymous Scott Pilgrim (ably played by Michael Cera), but the whole point of the movie is his growth from useless slacker into a decent guy.  Getting from A to B is where the fun lies.  Highly highly highly recommended.

Fan Expo Canada 2010

Thanks to the generosity of my good friend Jenn, last weekend I attended Fan Expo.  She gave me the passes as an early Christmas/Birthday/Next Christmas present, and was in no way motivated by a desire to have company for her Fan Expo adventure or avoid thinking up other presents for me.

We met for lunch before heading over on Friday, August 27th at around 3 pm.  We thought this would be an easy task, as doors had opened for Deluxe attendees like ourselves an hour earlier, but alas, the line stretched around the entire north and east sides of the building when we arrived, and before long it was wrapping around the south side of the building as well.

Two hours later we finally got in and presented our tickets, at which time we were rewarded with wristbands, and that was it.  No swag bag or anything.  I think I’ve been spoiled by my experiences with Ad Astra and Worldcon.  I put the wristband on, not realizing that it was the sort designed not to come of without being cut, and so I was less than impressed at having to wear the damn thing when I went to the bathroom, showered, and ran errands outside of the convention centre.  Jenn had been clever enough to leave hers loose so she could slip it off.

We started on the exhibition floor, which was insanely crowded.  This was wear tons of booths were set up selling all the things I ever wanted.  GI Joe toys, classic Transformers, endless shelves of DVDs, and comics, and Star Wars everything.  And I had no money to spare.  Alack!  Alas!  But probably for the best.

We wandered over to the celebrity signing area, and were sort of appalled at the cost of autographs.  I mean, I appreciate the need for these people to make attendance worthwhile, and since the lines were quite large I guess they didn’t need to worry about demand, but still… I would have liked an Adam West autograph, or James Marsters, or Tahmoh Penikett, or Michael Dorn, but I could barely afford one, much less all of them.

I did spring for a Guild photo signed by Felicia Day and Amy Okuda, since I enjoy their work and—like many people of the male nerd persuasion—I have a somewhat mild desire to groom Felicia, albeit in a totally non-creepy way.  Really.  And Jenn and I split a photo opportunity with Summer Glau, scheduled for Saturday at 6 pm.  After that we went and got some of Jenn’s books signed by Kelley Armstrong.

At this point, we’d been on our feet for quite a while, so we wandered the floor some more before leaving a bit early.  We were rather frustrated by the poor organization for getting us in, and for controlling the flow of people.

Saturday, we arrived a bit after 11 to find a line wrapped around the building once again.  Thankfully, that line was not ours, but for people looking to buy a single day pass.  We were able to walk past them and in to the reentry doors with no problem.  There was nothing scheduled that early that interested us, so we went straight to line up for the Tron Legacy presentation to ensure we got seats.  This was, admittedly, more my interest than Jenn’s, on account of Bruce Boxleitner—Tron himself, though I better know him as Captain Sheridan from Babylon 5—being a part of the presentation.

They started letting us in early, after security confiscated all our phones and cameras, and we got some decent seats.  The presentation itself was kind of exciting.  It was hosted by Ajay Fry and Teddy Wilson from the Space channel, and first there was one of the tie-in game developers to show off the game.  Then, they brought out Tron Bruce and talked a bit before showing us the trailer and 7 minutes of footage from the movie itself—in 3D!  I don’t actually care for 3D that much, but I appreciated the effort to make the presentation seem special.  There was a Q&A thereafter, and then we were free!

To line up to get our stuff back, which Jenn did while I went to the can.  So, line up to get in, line up to get out, all sort of poorly organized.  By the time we were sorted out, it was already 1:20, so we decided to take in Tahmoh Penikett’s spotlight panel though it had already started.  Apparently it had started late though, because it didn’t seem like we had missed much.  He gave a pretty interesting talk about his work on Battlestar and Dollhouse, and seemed like a nice guy.

After that, I left Jenn to watch Felicia Day while I headed back up to the exhibition floor to try and get a free autograph from Boxleitner, as Babylon 5 is one of my favourite things ever.  I had to line up to take the escalator, because they were controlling how many people were allowed on the exhibition floor.  Rumors were circulating that even people with the 3-day pass weren’t being let in to the building because it was so crowded.

After visiting the Pure Pwnage booth to say hi to the guys (who have a Gemini nomination, by the way), I got to the Tron booth a bit after 2 pm.  He was scheduled to be there at 2:30, and I thought I was in luck—there was hardly anyone there!  Then I asked, as was told the line was around the back of the booth.  And across the aisle.  And around the back of the Marvel comics booth, and along one side.

On the upside, from my spot in the line, I had a good view of the Hasbro booth, which had some pretty sweet Star Wars displays, and I could watch the Marvel preview videos.  Eventually, Jenn showed up and joined me, flitting in and out to keep me and herself entertained.  As we neared the front of the line, she decided she was in the line, too, and so we both got free Tron Legacy posters signed by Bruce Boxleitner.  Sadly, he didn’t have time to personalize them, but I’m not complaining about free.

We figured the James Marsters session would be full, so we sought out food instead.  (We later found out we could have gotten in—oh well.)  Food turned out to be another lengthy lineup.  And then we went to line up for the Summer Glau discussion session.  She seemed quite shy, but had a few good stories to tell from being on set for her various science fictional shows and movies.

Guess what?  After that we went to line up AGAIN for our photo op.  The line went all the way down one hallway and across another, and continued to grow behind us.  But our line was dwarfed by the Stan Lee line, which I don’t think was pre-paid like ours.  And once the line started moving, they were able to process us quite quickly.  Our photo op was at 6 pm, and we were done by 6:30.  I look forward to seeing the resulting photo.

And that was the end of that.

Sunday morning we met at 11 (after I had a Cinnabon for breakfast).  This time there was a significant line of people with armbands waiting to get in, so Jenn and I took a spot in the shade and waited for the end of the line to reach us.  (It is possible that we may have filled in a large gap instead, but I fell no guilt about that.

We decided to stay away from the exhibition floor, and went on the spur of the moment to a Space panel with Ajay Fry, Teddy Wilson, and Natasha Eloi, along with two surprise guests: David Blue from Stargate Universe and Ryan Robbins from Sanctuary.  They were quite funny playing off each other, had incredibly hard questions for their giveaways, and ended the event with David Blue signing Ryan Robbins’ ass.  It was an unexpectedly fun time.

From there, we went to see William Shatner speak, and not in just as he was starting.  He was in the largest panel room, so we were able to get seats, albeit far from the front.  Shatner was… funny.  Really funny.  He had tons of funny and interesting stories to tell, poked fun at his cohosts and the audience, and worked the crowd well.  This was also an unexpected delight.  However, I was not crazy enough to try for an autograph after the fact.

From there we switched rooms to see Sendil Ramamurthy of Heroes fame/infamy.  He played Mohinder on that show, one of my favouite characters of the first season, who the writers made progressively more ridiculous as the series wore on.  He had a lot of interesting observations about his time on the show, and working as an Indian actor in general.

After his show, we were pushed out of the room to line up to come back in for the Michael Dorn panel.  I went to this mostly out of curiosity, to see just how geeky a Star Trek panel could be.  It was pretty geeky, but Dorn worked the crowd well, was happy to play to his Star Trek fans and discuss Worf in detail, and had funny stories to tell from the set and the things he’s managed to do as a result of his fame—specifically, riding in a lot of military aircraft.

By this point is was 4 pm, and our day was winding down.  Jenn left at this point to do some other shopping, and I wandered the exhibition floor one last time before heading home.

Overall, it was a fun experience wrapped in boredom and frustration.  It had an extremely commercial vibe about it, unlike Ad Astra or Worldcon or other book-oriented events, and all our 3-day pass guaranteed was getting to the exhibition floor—everything else we had to pay extra for or line up for.  As a result, there were a number of panels that we missed because we were lining up for something we wanted more.  I’m not sure I’d go back again, unless one of the following comes to pass: a) they have a guest that was a must-see for me, b) they seriously improve their crowd control and access issues so I don’t spend half my time in lines, or c) I have a ton of money to blow on the exhibitors.  If I can optimize the fun stuff though, then maybe….

More Movies

You know, you’d think I’d get around to writing about something other than movies.  But I’m on vacation now, so this is all you’re going to get.  My thoughts on some July movies follow.

The Last Airbender

I really wanted this movie to be awesome.  I mean, I want all the movies I see to be awesome, but for this one I had  especially high hopes.  This is because it was a live-action adaptation of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is one of the best things ever.

Now, I will admit to some trepidation when I heard that M. Night Shiyamalan was the driving force behind this film.  But, by all accounts, he was so excited by the cartoon that he fought to be able to make the movie, and at least the story was already coming from somewhere else, so there’d be no lame twist ending.  In fact, the first season of the show had one of the best endings to anything I’ve ever seen, so there’s no way he could screw that up, right?  And the trailers were looking pretty sweet, too.

But alas, all my hopes and dreams were dashed.  The Last Airbender had Lucas-esque dialogue, narrated montages that skipped over so much and explained character interactions rather than showing them, and just felt rough and unfinished.  It was also short.  I will grant they had a tough job, cutting 10 hours worth of TV down to a single movie, but they could have at least gone for a 2.5 to 3 hour movie rather than the abrupt 90 minutes we were given.

The ending also changed somewhat from the show, cutting out details making it just a little bit less awesome and a lot wussier.  Way to go, M. Night!  You could have filmed the last 3 episodes of the season shot-for-shot and had one of the best things ever on film, and you still managed to cock it up.

(It is my fondest hope that Shiyamalan was working busily away on a 3-hour awesome epic version of this movie when the studio told him it had to be released in a month, and so he whipped this version together in the little time he had, and that the DVD will have a super-cool Director’s Cut.)

The movie was not without *some* redeeming features: it did showcase a lot of cool ideas from the show, and the bending looked pretty good (though not quite right compared to the original).  Some of the actors were okay, but they weren’t given much to work with.

I wish I could recommend this movie wholeheartedly, but it was so rough, and so disappointing, I can’t.  About the best I can say is that if you do see it, the cool ideas that made it into the movie might inspire you to watch the original show, which is—as I have stated above—one of the best things ever.  (Also, if you do see the movie, see it in 2D—the 3D is the converted kind, not the filmed kind, and apparently sucks and makes the movie incredibly dim and an even worse experience.)

Despicable Me

This was a cute and funny CGI movie.  I saw this in 3D, but apart from a few token “wow” scenes nothing would have been lost seeing it in 2D.  It centers on Gru, a supervillain who gets scooped when a new villain steals the pyramids.  As part of his plan to regain his status as the most dastardly of supervillains, he adopts 3 orphan sisters.  Wackiness ensues.

From the setup, you can probably figure out the emotional arc of the plot, but it is still handled with charm and humour.  It doesn’t approach Pixar-quality, but it has plenty of laughs, some clever ideas, and some “Awwwwwww” moments.  A satisfying and entertaining summer movie.

Inception

This is the latest movie from Christopher Nolan, whose last movie (The Dark Knight) was all kinds of awesome.  As such, there was a lot riding on this to be a success, and a lot of hope from audiences that it would be different and good.  Thankfully, I think it succeeded on all fronts.

Inception is a sort of reverse heist movie.  Leonardo DiCaprio plays an expert at going into others’ dreams to steal ideas and knowledge who gets hired to *plant* an idea instead.  He has to assemble a team, make a plan, and then execute it (which inevitably goes wrong).  Wackiness ensues.

Now, the plot is more complicated than that.  A *lot* more complicated.  That may be the greatest problem in the movie.  They have to devote a lot of exposition to it in the first hour of the film, and then when the action kicks in it is somewhat-to-very confusing to follow what is really going on when the plan goes awry.  The overlapping action scenes are beautifully-constructed, though, and once you’ve given it a bit of thought, only the ending is left as ambiguous.

So, this is an excellent movie that is beautifully shot.  I saw it in IMAX, which was pretty sweet (except for sitting in the 3rd row like I did).  It’s not a simple action movie, it’s not quite a drama, but it is really good.  I recommend this one.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

I know, I know.  Disney movie, starring Nic Cage.  Why give it the time of day?  Well, we gave it the time of day because nothing was out that we hadn’t already seen that we might possibly find amusing.  But you know what?  It wasn’t bad.  In fact, I might even go so far as to say it was pretty good.

Nic Cage seems to have found his most natural role ever in playing a creepy, crazy old guy, and Jay Baruchel nailed his lovable nerd loser role (as he is wont to do).  The plot was a bit predictable, but it moved quickly, *mostly* made sense, and was pretty fun.  The visuals were good, and in some places genuinely clever.

So this movie was like the inverse of The Last Airbender: the trailers made it look awful, but it turned out to be surprisingly good.  It’s not the best movie of the year or anything, and it doesn’t really need a sequel, but it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night, and that is more than most movies can say these days.

Final Thoughts on Worldcon 2009

I had promised some final thoughts on my first Worldcon, and in the nearly three weeks since it ended I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate and absorb other people’s con reports.

First of all, it was a great lot of fun!  My girlfriend and I had an absolute blast, and are already making a list of people we plan to press-gang into going to the next one we can feasibly manage.  Everyone we met was friendly—or at least perfectly polite—and while I wouldn’t say we made any new best friends, well, that wasn’t really why we went.

I was happy to meet several authors I only knew of from their writing or online presence, and find out that they do indeed seem to be pretty cool in person, too.  My biggest regret was that my attempt to travel with minimal luggage limited the number of books I could bring for them sign.

The panels were, by and large, delightful.  We always had plenty to choose from, and in some cases, making a decision between them was really tough.  We attended some that were truly excellent, many that were good, and a few that just weren’t quite what we’d been looking for, but such is the way of things.

I even enjoyed the opening and closing ceremonies, and the Hugo Awards.  I’m not usually one for ceremony and pomp, but everything was kept moving briskly and infused with humour.  It was particularly fun watching the shock and delight on the faces of some of the award winners (David Anthony Durham, Ann Vandermeer, and Frank Wu come to mind).

I attended a lot of the panels on writing, as I have aspirations in that direction, and while they were uniformly excellent and and full of good general advice, most of it I have encountered before in one place or another.  Perhaps this is a sign that I’ve gotten all the general advice there is to get, and there’s nothing left for me to do but practice, practice, practice and seek out specific guidance and help.

So, all in all, a truly delightful time.  I took a fair number of pictures, most of which didn’t turn out, but I have posted them to Flickr anyway.

Nancy Kress, David Hartwell, and other Hugo winners
Nancy Kress, David Hartwell, and other Hugo winners

Now, given that this was my first Worldcon, I have no idea how it compares to previous ones in terms of attendance, programming, organization, or, well, anything at all.  The comments that follow should be read with my general ignorance kept firmly in mind.

One thing that sort of concerned me was, to put it bluntly, how old a lot of the attendees were.  When people talk about they graying of fandom, all they need to do to make their point is take a picture of the audience at a Worldcon panel.  Perhaps I’m phrasing this too harshly—I don’t mean to complain that there are a lot of older people, but rather that there didn’t seem to be that many younger people.  I’m 30 and still felt young compared to the majority of attendees.  At the very least I had expected myself to be near the median.

My concern is, well, where are the new fans going to come from?  The current fans aren’t going to live forever (well, barring breakthroughs in senescence research), and so the con—and the Hugo Awards—will need a constant influx of new people, and it’s not something I saw happening in a big way.

This is in stark contrast to the San Diego Comic-Con, which continues to grow as a massively popular media event among young people.  I have two friends who have made a trip to see SDCC, whereas I doubt they’d heard of Worldcon before I’d talked about it with them.  Now, no one wants Worldcon to be overrun by TV, movie, and video game content like Comic-Con has, but at least that brings in young people.  And an infusion of more people could do Worldcon a world of good.

Now, perhaps my concerns are overstated—there was a sizable chunk of teen and youth programming, so perhaps there was a sizable chunk of youngsters secreted away somewhere.  Similarly, there may be lots of younger people who would like to go to Worldcon, but can’t due to their economic situations—as they age and prosper, perhaps they will be the infusion of new blood.  However,  I can’t help but agree with Lou Anders (who I unfortunately did not get to see on any panels, despite his near-omnipresence and my enjoyment of his blog and many Pyr titles) that if Worldcon raised its profile a bit, it could boost attendance and ensure a long and healthy future.

Anders cites the opening night conversation between economist Paul Krugman and author Charlie Stross as the sort of thing that could raise said profile, and I agree.  A Worldcon built around a set of high-profile events like that as anchors of the programming, promoted and advertised well in advance, might attract more people interested in seeing what it’s all about.

I mean, I’ve been reading SF and fantasy for more than 20 years, but only in the last year or so have I started going to cons, or even wanted to, and part of it was ignorance of what goes on there and why I should go.  For a distributed community of Sf fans, who don’t all come from larger population centres with local cons, having a big draw like that to get new people in the door can only help bring more people into the fold, without corrupting the essence of Worldcon.

Another concern—or perhaps this is more of a comment or question—related to the Hugo Awards.  It was apparent that winning the Hugo meant a lot to the winners of the Fan awards, or to the writers and editors of the fiction awards, and semiprozines, and art, and the like.  Even the newly-minted graphic story had a few of the nominees in attendance, and I think that award may grow into more prominence in the coming year.  But, apart from the Metatropolis crew, I don’t think any of the nominees for dramatic work  (short or long) were present.  With that being the case, I sort of felt, well, why bother?

I mean, I can see that the Hugo Awards are fandom’s way of signifying and rewarding the things we liked most in a year.  But I feel that it should be meaningful to the nominees and winners as well.  This article has suggested that a Hugo for video games is overdue, but perhaps the Hugo voter demographic isn’t engaged enough with that field, and, well, do the game writers even care?

Perhaps this ties back in to needing to raise the profile of Worldcon.  While the prestige of a Hugo for Dramatic Presentation will never eclipse the significance of an Oscar or Emmy, it would be nice for it to be regarded as prestigious nonetheless.

Anyway, I suspect these concerns will resolve themselves over time, as I become more familiar with the ongoing history and life of Worldcon and the Hugo Awards.  In the short term, I just hope to be able to make it to the Worldcon in Australia next year.

With that, my 2009 Worldcon adventures have come to a close.  Time to start reading potential nominees for next year’s Hugos….