Saturday, October 22, 2011

I Just Watched: A Nordic Double Bill!

Last weekend it was Valhalla Rising.  This weekend it was The Troll Hunter and Antichrist.   That actually makes three Nordic films in a row.  Not counting Ingmar Bergman, I doubt I've watched that many Nordic films ever.
Something about a movie featuing Trolls, filmed in Norway with Norwegian actors and English subtitles appealed to me.  This also being the Halloween season it seemed like a good time to watch it.

Troll Hunter is similar to The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield in that you're told your seeing raw found footage.  In this case the film was shot by college students investigating bear poaching.  They start following a man they think might be the poacher but they discover he's not hunting beers, he is hunting trolls for the state.  He's a bit disillusioned however and though he knows it's a bad idea he decides to let filmmakers follow him and learn about his secret work. 

The Troll Hunter is very pretty to look at.  The special effects are good and all the Norwegian forests and fjords are beautiful.  It's not really scary however, though there are some tense moments.

Watching The Troll Hunter reminded me of a time I was in Berlin and I watched Xena, Warrior Princess on TV.  I've never watched much Xena but I'd seen it enough to know it was silly.   But watching it in German put it in a new light.  Instead of being frivolous it was suddenly dark and mysterious.   The sound of the language and not being able to understand anything made a world of difference.

I've heard they're considering remaking The Troll Hunter in English with Hollywood actors.  As much as I liked this version I imagine the new version will suffer in translation.  Sort of a reverse Xena.
Next up was the Lars von Trier film.  You've probably heard of this one.  It's quite notorious for its graphic sex and misogynistic themes.  I wont try and describe it.  It's just too fucked up for words.  Fucked up in an interesting way, but still fucked up.

I admire this film.  It was really, really difficult to watch at times but also impossible to turn off.  The actors were fearless.  Not since Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant have I been so shocked by a performance.  Neither William Dafore nor Charlotte Gainsbourg pull any punches.  This was seriously adult stuff.

If you can stomach the disturbing in the pursuit of an artistic and thought provoking experience you will be richly rewarded by this film.  If you're just looking for some entertainment look elsewhere, this film is not for you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

But I Want the Digital Version

With frustrating regularity I'm finding that the books I want to read are not available in a digital format.  I understand that publishers are running into conflicts over publishing rights and that there are costs associated with converting books to digital but it is still annoying.

Among the recent list NPR compiled of people's favorite science fiction or fantasy novels,  I couldn't find any of the following for the Nook.  That's 21 of 100 of the most popular books/series as voted by the public.

7.  Fahrenheit 451 - (Pre-order only)
34. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
35. A Canticle for Leibowitz
40. The Amber Chronicles
41. The Begaraid series
44. Ringworld
45. The Left Hand of Darkness
47. The Once and Future King
49. Childhood's End
50. Contact
55. The Last Unicorn
58. The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant
66. The Riftwar Saga
70. The Time Traveler's Wife
76. Rendezvous with Rama
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes
87. The Book of the New Sun
91. The Illustrated Man
92. Sunshine
96. Lucifer's Hammer
100. The Space Trilogy

It doesn't stop there either.  I've been reading books suggested by  I really like their suggestions but from their top 25 there are 4 series I can't find in digital format.  Three of which are in the top 10.

#5 The Black Company
#6 Gormenghast
#7 The Blade Itself
#24 The Riftwar Saga

I know, I can always read the paper versions but damn, I love reading on my iPhone.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Just Watched: Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising is one weird movie.  It's not the weirdest movie I've ever seen but it ranks up there.  (The honor of weirdest belongs to Begotten)
The film has a neat premise:  A mysterious man raised in the fighting pits of dark-age Scotland escapes and joins a band of crusaders on a journey to the holy lands.  Things start to go wrong almost immediately however and they end up in a misty forested land populated by savages.

 The mood was dark and the story seemed to reek of mythic portent.  The musical score was heavy and droning.  The camera lingered on the actors faces and the cold and wild landscapes.  I love that sort of stuff.  So I find myself asking: why didn't I like Valhalla Rising more?  I didn't hate film, but I didn't love it either.  It left me rather ambivalent. .

I'm no Joseph Campbell but I can usually spot a creation myth, a hero's journey or a parable of Jesus.  Unfortunately, I didn't get what this was film was trying to accomplish.  We had an escape from bondage, a voyage of redemption that turned into a decent into hell and finally a sacrifice that did something albeit I couldn't tell what beyond it turning the sky purple. All along the hero killed many people in big gobs of flying blood, had various red-toned premonitions and near the end he built a cairn of rocks that defied physics and took a bunch of dips in the water.   I'd love to be able to construct some deep meaning from all of that but it is beyond me.

In many ways it reminded me of the existential bleakness found in my oft-referenced favorite author Cormac McCarthy's novels.  It shared a lot of the same elements.  The insignificance of man and the futility  dreams or of spirituality itself in a harsh natural world.   Or that could just be me projecting my own meaning on an essentially meaningless film.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Just Read: Lyonesse Book 1 by Jack Vance

Last night I finished the first book of the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance.  It was a very interesting read. 

The book was published in 1983 but reminds me more of the work of James Branch Cabell, who wrote 50 years earlier, than it does any contemporary author.  It's told in the third person and lacks much of the detailed description that dominates the modern fantasy.  It also eschews any pretense at reality and takes the magical and fantasy elements to levels I associate more with fairytale and myth than a modern story.   At no point did a witch turn a pumpkin into a carriage or poison an apple with a sleeping spell but that's the exact kind of story being told - albeit with sex and violence enough that you probably wouldn't read it to your ten year old.

I'm not complaining either.  Too many genre novels borrow with a heavy hand from their popular  predecessors.  So while not exactly unique it was refreshingly different and a fun read.  


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Genuis by Association

Through no fault of his own, and by all accounts in express discordance with his wishes a recently deceased technologist is being lionized in the press and new media. I was struck by the news as much as the next person but among the myriad of articles written about the man I find a similar thread  reappearing.  The thread of association.

I find it one of the odder aspects of public mourning.  What does it matter that you - the reporter - had a previous interaction with the deceased?  I don't understand it.  So you had coffee with the guy back in the early days.  How does that make you a worthy chronicler of his passing?  Perhaps If I'd had met the man I'd have felt the same need to tell the story.  I didn't however.

My niggling feeling goes beyond that level of association however.  It extends to the fan-boy.  I have news for them: liking the product of a genius does not require genius of its own.  I too am a convert but I don't hold myself in better regard because of it.  I'm simply a leaf on the wind of technology.

My little rant should not be construed to impinge on the power of emulation.  I realize imitation and emulation can fuel the spirit of future inventors.  I get that.  He's a worthy icon for the next generation of technologists.  

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. By the by, I have no idea why I needed to write this in language that sounds like I was raised a century earlier than I was but that's the way it came out.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Night Reader

It's been a year since I got a Nook for my last birthday.  Since then I've become a complete digital book convert.  I love reading e-books.  My pile of unread paper books is growing dusty and I'm almost ready to just throw them out and buy their digital versions.  I like reading digital that much.

That said, It's been a while since I actually touched my Nook.  I think it was July at the beach, if you must know.  Now, it turns out, I actually prefer reading on my iPhone 4.  Here's a little list of reasons I like my iPhone 4 better.

1. Night reading.  I love to read when I cannot sleep. I think I purposely wake up in the middle of the night just so I can read a little.  The iPhone is just perfect for that.  I can use it one handed.  The back-lit display bright enough for comfortable reading but not so bright that it wakes up Jayne.

2.  I always have it on me.   Any time or place I have a few minutes of down-time I can pull out my phone and read a little.   Sure, it's a bit small, but when I dial down that font to the smallest possible size the Retina display still shows a lot of clear text.  (Don't hate me just because I have good eyesight.)

3. It's fast. Page turns are quicker than my Nook.

4. Touch screen.  When I want to look up a word or mark a page it's much easier.

The Nook is great for the beach however or if I have a nice light source and I know I'm going to reading for a while and I want to avoid the eyestrain.  So I have no plans to get rid of it but I surprised myself when I realized just how much I enjoyed reading on my iPhone. 

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism