January Medialogging
By Dwip January 31, 2015, 4:21 pm Comments (2) RSS Feed for this post

Weirdly enough this is the first time I’ve actually posted one of these for January. Usually I’m on a post-Christmas video gaming binge, but in my post-surgical, plague-ridden state I’ve got a lot of time for reading, so reading I did.

Analysts predict this trend to continue.

Details for January after the jump.

01/07/2015 Michael Mann, et al., Heat (2004 Warner Bros. DVD, 172 minutes – Personal collection, 2014)

So, it’s never really come up on the blog yet, but I’m a big fan of the game Payday 2, which I’ve been playing pretty solid for about a year now. It’s inspired by a lot of heist movies, foremost among them Heat, and so I decided to myself, “Why not?”

And now I understand all things about Payday 2.

As to Heat itself, there’s a scene about halfway in where Pacino and DeNiro, cop and robber, sit down for a cup of coffee with each other and talk about their lives. And I sat through that scene thinking “Yeah, this makes a lot of thematic sense – the whole blurry line between good and evil, the self-destruction that animates men like these guys – and that’s great and all but it’s just so…movie script. The real versions would never do this!”

And then I watch the making of and it turns out that scene had word by word quotes from a real sit down like that. Oh well.

That scene, and the themes I just mentioned, animate this movie and do so well. It is helped by an amazing cast – even the bit parts have big name actors, all of whom work to perfection. It is also helped by some really memorable action sequences, including a downtown LA shootout that eerily presages the North Hollywood shooutout two years later.

That said, as fantastic as this movie is there are parts I am not entirely sold on.

– Why is Val Kilmer trying to be Brad Pitt from Legends of the Fall?

– Some of Pacino’s wife’s lines are just a bit too on the nose, very movie script stuff in ways that nobody really says in the middle of a fight. Then again, there’s a lot of little “I am watching epic cinema” moments scattered throughout, but that’s kind of how Michael Mann rolls.

– A lot of the family stuff paid off at the end but felt very disjointed at the time. Again, particularly with Pacino’s side of things.

All in all though, a hell of a movie that makes me want to go binge watch a bunch of movies. I may yet.

01/08/2015 S.M. Stirling, The Sunrise Lands (2007 Roc hardcover, 453 pages – Personal collection, 2007)

It is now 22 years since Nantucket vanished and gave us the Change that did in high technology and most of humanity in the process. We’re far enough into the processes begun in Dies the Fire that the children born after the Change are of age, children who think this whole medieval fantasyland is normal. Children like Rudi Mackenzie and Mathilda Arminger. And then a strange wanderer from the east arrives.

In which S.M. Stirling sets out to write The Lord of the Rings or something very near to it. This series has most of the important ingredients – a great Quest with the nine canonical adventurers, new and strange cultures, and politics of a type that would give Denethor and Theoden a headache. We’ve even got a bit of inverse symbolism with one of the major good guy powers using the Eye of Sauron the Dark Lord as its symbol, and the actual dark powers (The Church Universal and Triumphant, in a profoundly bizzare bit of lifting from reality) using a sun symbol. Cute.

I said in my blurb on Dies the Fire that everybody acts like they’re in a fantasy novel about 15 minutes in, and I think to get anywhere with this whole series, it needs to be firmly understood that it’s definitely that thing. There’s a decided mysticism here that I’ll have more to say about later, but many, many notes about the post-Change generation and how at ease they are living in a bizzare fantasyland that suddenly includes castles, giant groups of pagans, and Dunedain Rangers of all things.

That’s either going to work for you or it isn’t, and it’s very decidedly different than anything Stirling’s done before – Island in the Sea of Time had the Event, of course, Conquistador has a working gate between worlds, but those books were essentially grounded in reality, as were Dies the Fire and its sequels to a lesser extent. But where ISOT deliberately didn’t dwell on the Event, you can forget that here – it’s gonna get pretty crazy and pretty mystical before the end, you may be assured.

You’re also in for a better ride if you get from the outset that this thing is gonna be about Rudi Mackenzie damn near all the time, with increasingly brief attention paid to any of the people you may have thought were cool from the old guard characters. You’d also better be aware that Rudi Mackenzie borders on Mary Sue-ish. He can do pretty much everything better than everybody, girls love him, the whole nine yards.

All of this was kind of infuriating the first time around, until I realized the wants-to-write-Lord of the Rings bit. Stirling seems very interested in myth, legend, and the growth and rebirth of same, and you assuredly can’t have those without your archetypical hero, and so here we are.

More to say as we continue.

01/15/2015 S.M. Stirling, The Scourge of God (2008 Roc hardcover, 450 pages – Personal collection, 2008)

In which Our Heroes continue their quest across the continent on foot, braving winters with Buddhist monks, neo-Sioux, and the great realm of Iowa, not to mention the fanatical Sword of the Prophet of the Church Universal and Triumphant.

Apart from all the cool battles and questing and what have you, this is the book that really gets the mysticism train rolling. Prior to this point, it was possible to think you weren’t in a fantasy novel where people actually run into their gods like, for real. That the whole religion aspect was interesting and all, but not, you know, the central focus.

This—book—SEES—you.

Yeah, turns out the gods are real, and there is some crazy magic shit going on in the world. And that’s not exactly going anywhere. And as I’ve said before, that really didn’t work for me the first time around with this one, being used to Stirling’s earlier work where being fanatical in your beliefs pretty much just got you killed and worse by jaguars. I was not particularly prepared or pleased to have my post-apocalypse novel interrupted by demonic possession and angelic visions.

And once you stop worrying and learn to love the demonic possessions, it’s a pretty cool book, full of interesting and quirky cultures, thrilling battles, and all the sorts of things we read Stirling for. It’s just that the crazy theology and pagan rituals all get a bit much if you’re not used to them.

01/19/2015 S.M. Stirling, The Sword of the Lady (2009 Roc hardcover, 484 pages – Personal collection, 2009)

In which the goal of the quest is realized in a deeply confusing ending that ends with something of a cliffhanger.

I was conflicted the first time around on this book, what with the potential lethal doses of magic, mind control, zombie resurrection, and whatever it is happened in the ending. Also the visits from actual gods, but that bit’s hardly new at this point in our lives together.

On the other hand, it’s a blast to read. Thrilling adventures in the dead zones! Actual savages as sympathetic characters! Adventures in Iowa! Adventures in Wisconsin that mostly aren’t! Highly implausible but really cool fights with savages at an inexplicably raised shipwreck! Vikings! African corsairs! Nantucket!

With that said, allow me to delve into some serious spoilers here for a moment.

– WTF is with Marian Alston and Swindapa showing up on Nantucket? There’s a whole lot of “I don’t even” in that ending, but lolwut?

– At this very late date in the series, I’ve learned to swallow all the rather hokey battle cries (Face Gervais, face death? Really?), and I’ve even learned to get past battle dialogue that often descends into alternating national battle cries, but since I’m going to bitch a lot here, I’m just gonna say that if some dude was swinging a sword at my head, I’d probably settle for “Fuck!” or “Fucking die you fucking fuck!” or something similar, though it would probably get the book banned.

– I will buy that the idea of a high kingdom of Montival is a pretty good one, and obviously Rudi and Mathilda were going to hitched at the end of this whole quest, but seriously? Rudi thinks “Huh, maybe we should have a kingdom!” one day and magically almost everybody is on board with the thing? I at least bought it a little bit when it was, you know, Sandra Arminger talking about it.

– I realize that Odard Liu isn’t exactly the pivotal character of the series here, and somebody had to be the Boromir of our little tale, but randomly killing him off-screen was kind of a low way to go. Unlike, say, Ritva Havel, he could have actually had some cool shit going on back in Portland. But nope, gotta get that LOTR vibe so off he goes.

I guess mainly the climax at the end of this one didn’t work very well for me. But there is more to come.

01/24/2015 S.M. Stirling, The High King of Montival (2010 Roc hardcover, 481 pages – Personal collection, 2010)

And then, Sword very much in hand, Rudi Mackenzie and Co. journey back to quote unquote Montival, picking up some allies along the way.

Every time I look at this cover, I’m left wondering what the deal is with that ruined DC-3. So far as I’m aware, there’s never one in the series. Gotta love cover art disconnect, though I do think overall this series has some good art, especially by Roc standards.

This one’s mostly filler between the quest books and the coming war against the CUT. So there’s lots of politics, lots of going to and fro in the land, with some truly creepy High Seeker zombie battles thrown in for good measure. By this point in the game you’re either on board with the magic or you’ve stopped reading, which is good because the Sword of the Lady is the biggest deus ex machina since Bhelliom, with which RudiArtos can do damn near anything.

Too, having just spent three entire books laboriously journeying across the entire continent on foot, everyone makes it back to Montival inside of one book by virtue of leaping on the railroad and going through Canada. Convenient. One wonders why they didn’t go that way the first time instead of right through the middle of the CUT, though of course if they had there would be no series.

As with all Stirling, it’s an entertaining enough ride, and it’s cool to bring back some characters from the first set of books and see some new places, but one can’t help but get the feeling the train is coming off the tracks here a bit.

01/30/2015 S.M. Stirling, The Tears of the Sun (2011 Roc hardcover, 530 pages – Personal collection, 2011)

I have yet to figure out why this book has the name that it does. For that matter, neither of the last two books featured their titles much in the actual text either. It is what it is.

This is a weird book, and I confess that while I liked it quite well this time around, it bounced off me pretty hard back when I first read it.

And here’s the deal. For the last four books, we’ve mostly followed Rudi, et al. across the continent doing whatever while everybody back home showed up for a chapter or two just so you didn’t forget about them. So we’ve got to have a “here’s what happened while you were gone” section, expanded to the whole length of a book.

Kind of.

What Stirling chose to do was mostly structure it as a series of flashback chapters while simultaneously attempting to move the plot forward with Rudi back in Montival. This quickly devolves into a whole series of “Well, let me tell you about THAT” chapters that end up leaving one confused about the exact chronology of things by the end.

This is not an approach without its charms. While action by the main cast is somewhat limited, it does feature a lot of Tiphaine d’Ath and I like her a lot. It also introduces interesting new characters in Huon and Yseult Liu, both of whom I enjoyed reading about. I’ve liked the whole House of Liu plotline throughout both Change series, and I’d like to see more of the kids later. It also goes into some detail on the whole CUT infiltration thing, which is at once deeply creepy and pretty interesting.

Thus, the whole thing is kind of muddled, but enjoyably muddled. That said, I can say that because I know we’re almost out of Rudi books. Back when I didn’t know how many books were left in the series, I was pretty pissed by the detour.

But we’re getting close now, I think.

01/30/2015 Michael Mann, et al., The Last of the Mohicans (1992 Twentieth Century Fox DVD, 117 minutes – Personal collection, 1990s)

“There is a war on! How is it you are headed west?”

“Well, we kind of face to the north, and real subtle like turn left.”

There are a lot of wonky things about this film. It’s based on the James Fenimore Cooper novel of the same name in the sense that the setting and the character names are roughly similar and not much else. It is subject to some greivous overacting in places, even by the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis. There are a couple too many speeches on the romanticism of the frontier and the looming death of the native peoples. It is utterly inaccurate in the best Hollywood tradition.

I don’t much care. The Last of the Mohicans is one of my favorite movies, one of the ones I’ve seen more times than I can conveniently count. That it’s a very cool looking period piece undoubtedly helps, as does the soundtrack which is probably the single best I own – Promentory has been part of the soundtrack to my life that lives in my head since the first time I’ve heard it.

Mostly, though, it’s a stirring, straightforward, fast-paced movie about men and women and revenge and war and all the great emotions that make great movies. Great battles, great romance, great scenery, great cinematography – there’s a whole working romance in this movie cut together over like five reaction shots, two lines of dialogue, and a cliff. And of course Magua is one of the great villains.

I’m pretty much gushing, I know.

That said, I waver on my admiration for the DVD director’s cut over the theatrical release I used to own on VHS (remember VHS?) in the 90s. On the one hand, it gets rid of that abysmal Clannad song that was the one bad spot on the soundtrack, and adds some bits and pieces to scenes that make them work better. On the other hand, he cuts out a few things that didn’t need to be cut, and inserts a whole preachy speech by Chingachgook that was done far better by the Huron chief earlier in the movie. Win some, lose some.

I desperately want to look like an epic badass and leap off a huge waterfall whenever I watch this.


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Comments on January Medialogging
avatar Comment by Jason #1
February 4, 2015 at 3:18 am

Well as I said at the time I finished the 3rd book, That was a really great series and I like it alot. I see where it’s going and if I keep reading the story will become part of something lesser. So I stopped. I am pleased with this decision.

avatar Comment by Dwip #2
February 4, 2015 at 2:03 pm

You are…not altogether wrong there.

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