Space Ramblings

Whit Stilman’s The Cosmopolitans Works for the Same Reason Damsels in Distress Didn’t

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Whit Stilman’s movies are at their best when they create an atmosphere that is on the borderline between wealth and sadness, loneliness and privilege, the sense of being an outcast even while living at the center of a life that most can only envy. It’s what he captured first and best in Metropolitan.

It’s what he does again in The Cosmopolitans.

The Cosmopolitans is being compared to Barcelona, but it isn’t really. It’s closer to Metropolitan with Paris standing in for Manhattan and the loneliness of being an expat standing in for being poor. The writing isn’t quite as good, but it captures the same atmosphere and the same innocent timeless feel despite the cell phones.

Damsels in Distress was always doomed. Stilman doesn’t write women well which is why despite its atmosphere, The Last Days of Disco was a poor movie. Barcelona had the writing, but lacked the atmosphere. The Cosmopolitans brings them together. It captures what made a Whit Stilman movie work within the frame of a television show.

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The characters in Whit Stilman’s movies are trying to figure out who they are and what their lives should be. Their status has allowed them the space in which to do that without protecting them from the loneliness and heartbreak of trying. They were sheltered enough to have a kind of innocence that comes from immaturity. They were never really tested. Their decisions have never been hard. It might be easy to resent them if they weren’t basically good people underneath.

Adulthood is the truly foreign world for them. Paris is only a metaphor for the bigger emotional journey that they don’t know how to take.

I don’t know what kind of series The Cosmopolitans will make or if its mood will be sustainable, but if Amazon picks it up, I think it will work in its own way. Stillman’s openness can feel like indecisiveness and audiences may grow tired of a show in which nothing significant happens and in which the flavor of the place is the story. But the same could have been said of Seinfeld.

Stilman’s humor is the nuances. There’s no over the top word salad like Gilmore Girls. The feel of the show is in noticing the small things. It doesn’t try to fool you into thinking you’re smart. Instead you’re another outside experiencing the flavor of a particular place and time. It worked for Stilman in Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. It works in The Cosmopolitans.

We’re not watching stupid characters pretending to be smart to convince us that we’re smart. Instead we’re watching smart people who make stupid mistakes because they’re only learning remind us that no matter how smart we are, we’re still basically fools.

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David E. Kelley Killed Robin Williams

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David E. Kelley did a lot of horrible things to television, but this was the first time that he killed a man.

Forget Parkinsons, money problems or alcohol. Go rewatch the first episode of The Crazy Ones and you’ll know why Robin Williams slashed his wrists with a penknife and then hung himself.

Even watching an episode of The Crazy Ones is enough to make most people contemplate suicide.

Imagine you’re Robin Williams and your job is to spend a week playing the head of an ad agency whose big ambition in life is to get the fat girl from American Idol to sing about hamburgers.

You signed on to a TV show because you needed the money and now you realize you’re being paid $165,000 to shoot a 23 minute McDonalds ad.

There are no words for how screwed you feel.

Now that Robin Williams is dead, the cast of The Crazy Ones is bitching about him.

His antics infuriated the cast, even though he had been hired to try recreating the madcap spirit of “Mork & Mindy,” on which he often riffed unscripted, the source said.

He also indulged himself by taking his pet pooch, a rescued Pug named Leonard, to work.

“He brought it everywhere with him,” the source said. “When he wasn’t filming a scene, he was holding and petting and fawning over the dog.”

Williams — who last year said he signed on to the series because he wanted “a steady job” to help pay alimony to his two exes — ­often complained that he hated the show’s unedited daily rushes.

He also griped that he “had a bad feeling” about the lack of chemistry on set, while the rest of the cast blasted his constant need for attention, the source said.

He was right. The cast had no chemistry. Everyone except Gellar was so bland and blank they could have come from a modeling gig.

Watching The Crazy Ones was like watching A Night in the Museum except that the statues never came to life. Robin Williams was the only living man.

It’s no wonder he killed himself.

It wasn’t his fault that the miserable David E. Kelley sitcom failed. Robin Williams without a script could have been ten times funnier than David E. Kelley’s miserable project, but he walked away feeling like he couldn’t even make a sitcom work.

David E. Kelley’s hackery killed Robin Williams.

Sorry Amazon, Paperback Books Weren’t Invented in WW2

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There’s a big fight on now between Amazon, Hachette and bestselling authors to decide on the best way to screw readers and ordinary writers.

The writers have formed Writers Union. Amazon formed Readers United.

But Amazon, even though it made its big splash selling books, doesn’t seem to know where paperbacks came from.

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents — it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

The existence of the term “Dime Novels” would tell you that it didn’t happen that way.

Paperbacks weren’t invented in the 1930s. because our ancestors weren’t morons. They existed long before that.

Amazon is probably talking about Albatross Books in the 1930s while leaving out the rather complicated history and just shifting over to Penguin. That’s fine, but pretending that paperbacks were invented then is stupid for a company that makes money selling them.

Amazon is pretending to champion readers. Writers United is pretending to champion writers. Both are lying. They’re fighting over a percentage of profits from eBooks.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed With Less Cyberspace

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Like many open world games, Watch Dogs is a wonderful open world matched with a miserable game. The GTA games get around their poor gameplay and annoying mission structures by filling them up with edgy outsized characters and social commentary.

Watch Dogs tries feebly for the social commentary angle, but their ruminations on privacy and technology don’t distract from the Instafail missions, the annoying placement of saves and cutscenes, the too complicated control setup and the poor shooting.

And everything else.

As an open world, Watch Dogs has a Chicago that looks terrible in the daylight, but amazing at night. The overlays give every little NPC a story and make the world come alive in a way that GTA and Saints Row never managed to do. Most of the functions are just pickpocketting and eavesdropping with a cell phone, but picking up missions by eavesdropping on phone calls makes for a dynamic world and mission structure.

It’s too bad that the missions themselves are so miserable.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with less cyberspace and even more awkward controls. The controls are too complicated when they don’t need to be burying the game under layer and layer of strange screens and too simple when they don’t need to be so that when you’re trying to stay in cover, your one press of a key instead alerts every bad guy in the area.

The missions are all about stealth, without the controls to make stealth workable. You have dozens of weapons, but it takes a few shots to kill you.

And that’s just the random missions.

Watch Dogs’ campaign tasks you with an annoying protagonist impossible to care about, who never develops a personality and never shuts up. And he has sidekicks who make you appreciate his lack of personality especially since they keep calling until you take their mission.

If you thought GTA 4′s social networking was annoying, try listening to the same Jordy Chin phone call a dozen times.

Watch Dogs builds a complicated and interesting open world and then jams you into a dumbed down game making the same mistake that Rockstar keeps making with the GTA games. But Watch Dogs doesn’t have enough color to compensate or enough style the way that its Assassins’ Creed games do. Once you get past the open world, there’s no reason to keep playing.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with the amazing open world, but without any of the fun combat or platforming. Instead you’re stuck with another character who can die if he steps the wrong way outside a mission zone, but who doesn’t even offer the fun of cutting through a mob of enemies with a cutlass.

That’s what makes Watch Dogs so joyless. Its characters are bland, its combat is poor and its controls are worse. It’s a great open world that lets you go from urban to rural in a short drive, that lets you encounter a hundred different people with their own stories in a single block, but that plays like an arcade game without any of the fun.

It’s fun to occasionally raise a bridge during a chase letting you fly overhead or raise the bollards shutting down your pursuers, but more often it feels like trying to play a piano while someone is throwing bricks at your head. Stopping criminal convoys also sounds like fun, until your mission requirements tell you that your job is to knock down one driver while surviving attacks by his dozen cronies in a body that can take about three gunshots. Kill him accidentally and you also die.

It’s fun to hack a grenade that your enemy is carrying, but you’re as likely to end up inside a camera while he kills you. It’s fun to zoom through the cameras, but then you’re stuck with hacking a pipe puzzle.

The only way to have fun in Watch Dogs is to avoid its mission structures and Ubisoft’s design makes that as hard as it can to do assaulting you with phone calls and pop ups until you give in and muddle your way through another miserable mission.

And then you wonder why you’re playing Watch Dogs at all.

I Hate Your HDR Photos More Than I Can Say

I used to like looking at photos. Then Instagram and HDR came along.

Instagram just says you’re white, in your twenties, live in a city and have an iPhone. HDR says that you have a few thousand dollars worth of photography equipment and software that should be taken away from you for your own good.

HDR ruins a photo faster than peeing into coffee ruins your morning. It shoves photos down an uncanny valley somewhere between a photo and a picture without looking like either one. It’s a hideous mutant that shouldn’t exist. It ‘pops’ by turning your edges into a bad joke while keeping just enough photo realism so that everyone knows it isn’t a photo or a picture.

HDR is like beating your child so hard he gets a concussion and telling him to join the circus. Looking at them makes the part of my brain that processes images hurt. It’s like motion sickness for art.

 

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Just look at this thing. It’s been HDR’d and color corrected to within an inch of its life. There’s a potentially good picture hiding in that like a mobster in witness protection, but it will never be found.

Look there’s a reason that we like cloud photos. Clouds are intangible. They can’t be touched.

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Skies in HDR photos are congealed balls of colorized wax. They’re streaks of hardened copper. They kill the whole idea of a sky and replace it with something that looks like it should only be found under a microscope.

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Movie studios and game designers spend a lot of money trying to make 3D models look like real buildings. HDR makes real buildings look like bad 3D models.

Am I supposed to be impressed because you took a photo that looks like a video game cutscene from 2007?

That’s not evolution, it’s devolution. It’s as if you took genetic therapy to turn into a monkey.

And then there are the animals.

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Is there any reason for this cat to be in HDR? If it understood what you had done, it would be ashamed of you. I won’t even mention the HDR kids. When your son grows up, he would rather you showed baby photos of him peeing outside than the most dignified HDR photo.

Consider this an intervention. Your HDR photos suck. There are only two valid reasons for HDR photos.

1. You’re making a cover for the album of an amateur heavy metal band in Detroit.

2. You’re an idiot

Five years from now you’ll look through your HDR photos and delete all of them and wonder what you were thinking.

Is SciFi Lit Dead? The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection Review

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It took me a while to get around to reading The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection. I don’t like Gardner Dozois on principle, but the annual collections, despite the nepotism, were usually dominated by strong writing.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection stinks of nepotism and mediocrity. There are few strong stories and few bad stories. The dominant theme is mediocrity.

Most of the stories are mediocre. The same five or six writers have two stories a piece in the collection. I never saw that before and it’s telling.

There’s the foreword with its phony confidence about the health of the industry. The pathetic attempts at inclusiveness. And the stories that are congealed masses of SciFi lit genre cliches.

Third world nanotech. Forgiveness and near death experiences. That’s the dominant impression. It’s like the genre hasn’t changed in fifteen years. And it needs a bath.

There are a few ‘different’ stories like Steven Popkes’ “Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected” and “Old Paint” that feel modern, but the rest is the usual post-cyberpunk trash clogging SciFi lit. And there’s even a Steampunk entry. And at least one zombie story.

“Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan has a certain charm, but doesn’t seem like a best of anything, though it comes closer to fitting the Sudden and Old Paint template of modern Science Fiction.

“Chitai Heiki Koronbin” by David Moles circles that same template, but is too mediocre to be here.

Some stories were so boring that they’re unreadable. They’re not bad. They just sit there. Like Holmes Sherlock or Lavie Tidhar, who gets two stories to demonstrate that she can write like it’s 1995. Or Carrie Vaughn’s Astrophilia.

Nobody sums up tired 90′s post-cyberpunk better than Pat Cadigan with “The Girl-thing Who Went Out For Sushi”. Thanks, we’ve done this already. Try a time machine to when computers ran Windows 95 and this story would have been edgy and fresh.

But Alastair Reynolds has his shot with tired Third World genre cliche “The Water Thief”. A refugee camp. Remote work. It’s so timely. In 1995.

Robert Reed’s Eater of Bone is dark and good. “In The House Of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns” by Elizabeth Bear is actually decent and uses the Third World setting intelligently. It’s the exception to the rule.

Indrapramit Das’ Weep for Day is used to market the book, but it’s a mediocre cliche with occasional bursts of style and about the only reason for the hype is the new diversity quotas.

Lavie Tidhar appears to be another diversity quota entry. “Tyche and the Ants” by Hannu Rajaniemi is another diversity quota and poor story. “Vainglory” by Alastair Reynolds would have been a much better substitute.

“Macy Minnot’s Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler’s Green, the Potter’s Garden” by Paul McAuley takes the prize for longest title and most worthlessly mediocre story.

“Nightfall On The Peak Of Eternal Light” seems like a Heinlein story. Except more mediocre. It’s a decent depiction of lunar life, but not really very interesting. Not sure why it’s even here. Ditto for “Nightside On Callisto” by Linda Nagata with a different setting.

Michael Bishop’s Twenty Lights To “the Land Of Snow has its moments of charm, but it’s too long and directionless. Again, mediocrity.

There’s “Steamgothic” by Sean Mcmullen which is every bit as awful as it sounds.

“Ruminations In An Alien Tongue” by Vandana Singh. See quotas, diversity.

“The Wreck Of The Charles Dexter Ward” by Sarah Monette And Elizabeth Bear is somewhat intriguing, but it’s a technophobic zombie story with an interesting setting and no background.

“Invisible Men” by Christopher Barzak is an “I’m so clever I’m writing about class as a metaphor” reworking of The Invisible Man. It would have been mediocre even in 1955.

The overriding theme is mediocrity. It seems as if SciFi Lit, despite being more vocal and more editorially powerful than ever, has run out of steam. It’s unable to jettison its tired cyberpunk gear and its attempts at diversity just make a bad thing worse.

24 is Back…. and It Hasn’t Learned a Thing

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After 9/11, 24 became a left winger’s idea of what a right winger might want to watch. Picture Michael Moore trying to make a show for Oliver North. Then throw in a lot of ADD.

And that hasn’t changed.

It’s 2014 and 24 is still the same show it was. Its producers, picking up some wind from Homeland’s popularity, have shoveled in Wikileaks, the white widow, drone strikes and moved the setting to London and yet it’s still exactly the same show.

Jack Bauer is a rogue. Jack Bauer is on the run. Jack Bauer is the only one who knows the next attack is coming. And no one believes Jack Bauer even though he’s been right a dozen times. And he once piloted in a nuke. And no one even recognizes him.

There’s another substitute CTU war room with its soap operas, another West Wing drama and it’s all the same stuff all over.

24 still has its moments. Only by its last season did it become so hopelessly miserable as to be completely unwatchable. But it’s thin stuff.

While shows like The Following and Blacklist are playing with the 24 formula, it has stayed the same. Why? If 24 had to come back, why not go back to what made its first season work. Jack as a human being, frantic and with something at stake. Or pick up more interesting villains.

It’s 2014. Does anyone really want forced dramatic debates about drone warfare? Or the least plausible Al Qaeda terrorists ever?

Why even bother moving the series to London if you’re going to act exactly like it’s Los Angeles? Why pretend that little drone friendly fire will outrage the Brits when you have a battalion of CIA people running around waving guns around London?

Why not, and here’s an absolutely ridiculous idea, have Jack deal with a British version of CTU? Because that would be playing with the 24 formula. And that golden formula is on its 9th season and ridiculously predictable.

Soon Jack will be believed. He’ll lead a team. Then he’ll go rogue again. Margot Al-Hazari will turn out to be the pawn of some secretive group that wants to discredit drones or that infected President Heller with a senility virus so they can take over everything. And they’ll turn out to be the pawns of someone else.

We’ve done this before. Why do we have to do it again?

You can’t blame the cast. Kiefer Sutherland gives every scene 110%. Yvonne Strahovski is unexpectedly good and working overtime in a generic role. Even William Devane is trying to take bland material to a West Wing level, even if his parliamentary speech is so bland and cliched that no one would even bother booing it.

24 Live Another Day could have worked. It could have justified its existence. All it needed to do was shake the formula up enough to make the show watchable. Stop clinging to old characters. Stop acting as if it had something important to say about drone warfare. Stop being a Bush soap and deal with life in a new decade.

And it doesn’t even try.

Why not dump Jack into London as a stranger without Chloe, the CIA, President Heller or any of the trimmings? Stuff him into an alien world and watch him try to navigate it with no support.

It wouldn’t have given fans nostalgia hits, but it might have been a show worth watching.

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Google Glass has Trouble with Scottish Accents

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No matter how ground breaking it’s supposed to be, like every other voice recognition system on earth, Google Glass doesn’t do Scottish well.

Not that Apple is any better at Scottish accents than Google.

Or any voice recognition really.

The Neighbors was Good… and then All the Characters Became Idiots

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I wish I could say that I feel bad about The Neighbors being canceled, but I can’t blame ABC. The show has slid so much in quality that the few times I tuned in, I couldn’t sit through an entire episode.

And that’s too bad.

The Neighbors had a great cast and debuted with fun episodes, but it worked only to the extent that it resisted becoming a conventional sitcom.

Debbie and Marty Weaver grounded the show for a while with a working class Jersey background. They felt like real people and a real family. And then Marty became Homer Simpson, an overgrown whiny baby with a 50 IQ and the kids became sitcom kids, smarter than their idiot parents.

And The Neighbors became every sitcom, a bunch of cliches pushed around a plate. And the cliches were terrible cliches. The show wasn’t a laugh machine the way that a CBS sitcom is. The Neighbors worked because of its talent cast and because the writing combined sincerity with the actually unexpected.

Season 2 seemed to be about the endless relationship between David Mamet’s daughter and “Reggie Jackson”. And the aliens went from being a little mysterious and different to becoming ordinary wacky sitcom neighbors. The show became I Love Lucy with worse writing and predictable gags.

The holiday episodes were terrible. The musical episode was unwatchable. The celebrity cameos were pointless.

It didn’t have to be this way.

3rd Rock From the Sun, a very similar show, had already gone over this territory. And its comedy stopped working when the aliens became too familiar and the sitcom cliches too overpowering. That show had John Lithgow who could keep the machine going because he could deliver a line like “Hello Family” and make it funny.

The Neighbors didn’t run that way. There was a time when it felt more like Andy Richter Controls the Universe and less like Modern Family. Wacky, strange and unpredictable, but sincere.

It would have been a shame if that show had been canceled. Instead canceling The Neighbors spares everyone from its 3rd season Christmas episode in which everyone ends up on Dancing With the Stars.

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