Sunday, July 28, 2013

This Is Heresy to Long-Time New Yorkers-

-But there are some ways in which Los Angeles is superior.

The biggest of these is natural beauty. The drive up the coast to Ventura County (if you catch it in the middle of a weekday, without traffic); the sage-scented hiking trails through the Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains; the nacreous, mother-of-pearl color of the Pacific surf as opposed to the muddy green of our Atlantic coast.

But there's one kind of New York beauty that knocks LA down - the rain at night. On a night like this, when you see the streets lights gleam like bronze and silver on the sidewalks; the lamps reflecting on the thousands of drops falling through the air; the sheen on the green, wet leaves, the smell of water on bark; the oddly cozy sight of the well-lit towers jutting up against the blue and purple sky...that's home, baby.

Monday, July 22, 2013

So, Robert Heinlein-

- by know you've probably figured out that I admire him as one of the great science fiction writers and an impressively competent man (holder of patents, predictor of the Roomba & breeder nuclear reactors, trained all-in fighter, influencer of the '60s counterculture, etc.) if not for some of his later political opinions.

So it pleases me to announce that there's a video clip of an interview with him on the only (?) movie he worked on, an adaptation of his own YA novel Rocketship Galileo. (And as an extra added bonus, visual SF greats Chesley Bonestell and George Pal are also there.)

And here it is!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Another Note on Those New York Shows, Like-

-Castle and White Collar: The weather is always good. It's always summer, the sun is shining, but no one is sweating? Gimme a break. I love New York, but even I will admit that the weather S-U-X.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

New York to Texas

Everyone knows New Yorkers are supposed to be rude jerks. You just know that Sarah Palin doesn't think we're "real Americans," so it's got to be true, right? (Of course, she thought Famiglia Bros was "real New York pizza" too, so what are you going to do?)

Now granted, in New York we have more than our share of violent scumbag psychopaths, but that's mostly because the other states try to bus them in here with one-way tickets - the Greyhound treatment for mental disorders. But speaking as someone who has lived in New York and California and eaten and slept in most of the states in between, the notion that New Yorkers are nastier than others is just...nonsense.

In fact, in my experience it's worse than nonsense - it's been an excuse for preemptive rudeness against New Yorkers. I can still remember attending a party thrown by a friend whose family was from Georgia. This very nice-seeming middle-aged lady struck up a conversation with me, and then asked in a voice dripping with magnolia, "Where are you from, dear?" Of course, I said "Well, I grew up in New York." Matter-of-fact, not with any particular pride or defensiveness. To which she quickly replied "Oh, I'm so sorry!" And smirked as if she'd let off the bon mot of the century against a boorish adversary, instead of gratuitously insulting an invited guest.

It's an attitude I've found most prevalent among Americans who hail from rural states, and who have formed their unshakable convictions about New York and New Yorkers based on Rush Limbaugh, Law & Order: SVU and Spring Break class trips to New York taken no later than 1999.

On the other hand, after growing up in New York, spending more than a quarter of a century here, and returning in middle age, I have yet to hear a single New Yorker mock someone else's hometown or home state. (Mostly because, you know...why bother?)

That changed last night. And it was GLORIOUS.

As you might have heard, Rick Perry, former GOP presidential candidate and soon-to-be-former governor of Texas has been conducting an aggressive advertising campaign to lure businesses to Texas from other states. He's been doing this by taking out ads in other states, then INSULTING those states, and saying that Texas is better for business.

As a strategy, this is just hilarious to me. Big companies don't care about advertising like this; they have their own relocation & search committees that evaluate basing costs 24/7. And medium and small companies, well, they are conceived, built, and maintained by locals. So when Gov. Perry is bashing Illinois, say, he is insulting the very people he wants to woo. When he talks smack about Sacramento or  Chicago, his audience is natives of Sacramento and Chicago. I don't see a particularly warm reception.

And then Rick took his campaign that last step too far, and he hit out at New York. And finally New York, in the form of Lewis Black, struck back. Here's the clip from Black's spot on The Daily Show. The commercial he produced in response to Perry's ads starts at 3:56. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A New York of the Mind

When you're sick, you watch TV. And when you have basic cable, you watch a lot of Castle.

It's a sort of Odd Couple meets Starsky & Hutch cozy murder show, with Nathan Fillion (star of Firefly and popularizer of the Fillion no-bake cookies I use to meet my social obligations at parties) and other attractive actors and actresses (e.g. Fillion's co-star, Stana Katic).

I like it. It takes place in a New York of the mind.

Castle (Fillion) is a bestselling mystery writer who lives with his mom (the inimitable Susan Sullivan) and daughter (Molly Quinn) in a Soho loft. So far, so good - incredible, but not wrong. I mean, you do have to be a millionaire to afford a loft like that. But...

Sometimes Castle drives his daughter to school so she can get there on time.
There are factories and abandoned Manhattan.
Poor and middle class suspects own their own cars.
Apartments have backyards.
Irish mobsters are everywhere, and Hell's Kitchen is dangerous.
Russian mobsters run an illegal card game in Manhattan's Chinatown, instead of Brighton Beach.
Three of the four crime-solvers on the show are NYPD detectives - but you never see one of them eat street food.
It's also fairly easy to stage corpses in elaborate and macabre positions in the middle of Manhattan without anyone noticing.

I love this show. White Collar too - for the same reasons.
I think the writers are doing it deliberately, as a goof.

Did I miss anything on these shows? Let me know.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Warehouse of Wonder

So Warehouse 13 just had its season finale. I didn't watch it - which isn't necessarily a comment on its quality. When a series develops long-form arcs over seasons, it makes the assumption (and takes the risk) that you'll stay current on the backstory. By Year 3 or 4, I've usually detached from the show. I'll miss an episode here or there, and before you know it, the series has rumbled by without me. It happened with The Sopranos, with Mad Men. And it's true even for shows I really, really like (as opposed to respect): I've barely remained current with Game of Thrones, and I think that's one of the best F/SF TV shows ever.

But Warehouse 13 is the current incarnation of a dead trope: the SECRET GOVERNMENT WAREHOUSE that has accumulated all the world's legendary/magical items. It's okay to use the notion as a background somethin'-somethin' - e.g. the final sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where it's not only cool, but a sarcastic comment on the nature of government vs. individual heroism. Unfortunately, too many producers make it the central premise of their projects, or use it for additional cool points, and add nothing else. "Hey, look, it's Noah's Ark! Isn't that cool?" "Hey, look, it's Tesla's death ray! Isn't that cool?" "Gosh, I hope nobody finds out about this place, they could steal the Spear of Destiny and then we would all be in trouble!" Sigh.

The Librarian.
Area 51.
Warehouse 13.
Every fourth episode of The X-Files.

It's an idea whose time has come, and gone.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Defiance Is Getting Worse [SPOILERS]

Well, not as bad as Rob Bricken at thinks.

But then, Rob's anger at the season finale comes from a guy who is pretty invested in the show. Me, I was always lukewarm at best (check out my first post about it), but then my ears pricked up as the last few episodes (specifically the season's penultimate episode, "Past Is Prologue") seemed to be getting tighter, more rational, with the characters behaving in their own interests, instead of the plot's interest. But the finale let some of the air out of my slowly inflating interest balloon.

Some of the things that stood out in a bad way (instead of "stood out" maybe "sat down"):

1. The Rosewater sisters. I'm sorry, but they're just useless. Not the fault of Julie Benz and Mia Kirshner, the actresses; it's the writers. Maybe I missed it, but I never saw Mayor Amanda do much of anything besides make flat-footed speeches and say "that's wrong"; and the idea of a madame/hooker who falls in love almost immediately for the tough hero of the show is just so tin-eared that you want to reach through the screen, past the show itself to the writers room, grab O'Bannon, Murphy and Taylor by the collars and yell "Talk to a hooker! Just one, for research! God knows, you're all LA writers, you've certainly used them before."

2. Doc Yewll. She's a former mass murderer, smarter than most every other character, a techno-savvy cyborg with the skills and ability to kill - and she sounds like a tough dame from a 1940s gangster movie! (Way to go, Trenna Keating.) But she doesn't see the Earth Republic goons coming and gets taken hostage like a UN observer in Somalia. You'd have expected her at least to booby-trap her lab.

3. When Nolan and Irisa break out of the Earth Republic lab, it was every first-person-shooter visual cliché you've ever seen.

4. I'm sorry to say it, but the little kid they found to play Irzu has a thousand watts more charisma than Stephanie Leonidas, who plays Irisa. She stole the scene from Stephanie in less than 60 seconds. Maybe it was the fact that she sometimes smiled.

5. Why, why did Kenya Rosewater warn Stahma about what she was going to do? Really, kid? Give advance notice to your potential victim? How did you survive to own your own bordello in the first place?

So here's the thing...notice how most of these gripes have to do with female characters? And how the show runners are guys? Sigh. (I will admit that the most interesting character on the show is Stahma, Datak's wife. They got her and Datak right. And Nicky Riordan was fun as portrayed by Fionnula Flanagan, but she's dead now.)

However, unlike Rob, I *did* like the way that Datak finally loses control and sabotages himself. (I won't say how...spoilers). I thought it was perfectly in character; if there weren't the potential for Datak to do something like that, he wouldn't be nearly as scary as he is; it's necessary to make him unpredictable.

Maybe the real problem is that the writers are only comfortable with Nolan, Stahma and Datak as characters who actively drive the story forward; the rest feel too often like set dressing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Defiance" Is Getting Better

No one is more pleased than I am to revise a negative opinion about a science fiction TV show. So I'm happy to report that Defiance, Syfy's big-budget western-town-with-aliens show, seems to be getting better.  The last two episodes have been sharper, more logical, and less flat-footed. And the Big Baddie Datak Tarr is becoming more interesting.