Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

With just an hour and a half left to go in 2013 here on the east coast, I thought I'd get one last blog post in.

Having two little girls in the house that love to sing and dance around (allegedly they're related to me), we knew that Frozen would be a likely 'must see.' And so far, we've taken our oldest to it three times (though only once in 3d, aka 'the real version').

Frozen is a Hans Christian Anderson story - I think the original is called "The Snow Queen" or the "Ice Queen" or something along those lines. Basically, it's about two sisters in Norway or somewhere thereabouts. One of them has magic ice powers and they get out of control. The other must try to reach her and get her to somehow undo all of the freezing she's accidentally done.

The main sister, Elsa, fortunately doesn't suffer from having a personality outside of being angry, fearful, and then eventually empowered and sashaying around in a snowy evening gown thing. The younger sister, Anna, got engaged to a guy she's only known for one day. You're supposed to root for her even though she's insanely shallow. (Song lyric she sings: "I see your face, and it's nothin' like I've even known befooooorrreee!)

The dark horse love interest is a guy named Kristoff who would be cool except that he talks to his reindeer in a doofy voice and he was raised by some cutesy trolls who seem like they belong in a different movie. On the plus side, almost every song is really good and very catchy, so you won't mind going to it again. And again. And yet another time. And more.

As parents, it's definitely tolerable. The comic relief - the snowman Olaf - isn't as annoying as he seems like he'll be, though at least 1/5th of the time you do wish he would fall into a geyser. And sometimes he's actually funny. The graphics are cool, and the 3d effects are very subtle and add a lot of great depth. If you're wary of 3d, spring for it on this because it won't turn you upside down like Gravity or anything like that.

In closing, I'd just like to say that the ice castle that Elsa magically builds for herself on top of a distant mountain is very pretty but has no bedrooms, furniture, heating, insulation, kitchen, or bathrooms, and that without any kind of food or water, she'll very likely have starved or froze to death within a matter of hours had the movie taken a more realistic turn.

Happy 2014!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

President Joseph Smith, Jr.

"It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind."

-President Joseph Smith, Jr.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Review: Titan, by John Varley

Hoo boy.

Well, OK. So I have no idea how I came to be recommended to read this book. I thought it was from a blog that I regularly read, but I checked it and there's no sign of this. But someone said it was like a 'landmark' sci fi classic on par with Contact or 2001 or something, (both of which I read and neither of which I liked, so who knows even then what I was thinking) and I was interested enough to put it on my Amazon wish list for like 2 years.

Finally I found it at my local library. Not on audio CD, unfortunately, which meant I had to read it the old fashioned way. I found it...well...

OK so there's a ship called the something or other (it's been about 4 days since I finished it and the details are already gone). It's going to Neptune or Saturn or something to study one of its moons, Titan. Within about 3 pages the author establishes that the entire crew is romantically involved with each other, and that two Japanese sisters are in an incest relationship and that 'civilization has evolved to accept this.' I probably should have stopped there, but when the ship got attacked by a giant tentacle space monster that eats everyone for a year and then poops them up through the ground into a giant spaceship world thing with grass and air and sky and strange creatures, I was roped back.

Just when I thought I was out...

Anyhoo, half the crew is missing and the remaining people who survived, the ship ate 'all their hair' and 'all their clothes' and turned them all into lesbians.

I'd like to take a moment to pause here and note that per the book's dust jacket, Tom Clancy calls John Varley 'the best writer in America.' 

Meanwhile, on the ship planet thing, which they name...something like Gaea or something. Yeah, that sounds right. ...meanwhile on that, they meet some giant blimp aliens who fly around, and they meet some other weird aliens, and everyone's apparently naked and hairless. 

Many hundreds of pages pass. Some of the crew can talk to the aliens. Others wonder why they're all lesbians now apparently. They eventually meet some centaurs, who the author takes extra care to describe in full anatomical detail. He's really concerned that you will forget about what biological traits differentiate men and women in this universe of stupid.

Blah blah blah they do some other stuff and it gets even weirder, if that's even possible. They get to the end and it's actually somewhat satisfying, even though the previous billion pages were extremely bizarre and boring and nothing happened. 

If they ever make this into a movie it will cost about $750 billion dollars, will be rated X, and about 3 people will want to see it. So obviously Hollywood will probably try.

So why did I keep on reading? The weirdness factor and the fact that the author of the book that would get turned into my all-time favorite movie (Red October) seemed to think that this author was as good as it got in America definitely played a factor. But now I realize that Tom Clancy recently passed away and this quote was likely received via quack psychic post-mortem for a special December 2013 reprint of Titan, and was badly garbled in translation. I assume what he meant to say was, "John Varley has some very strange issues he needs to work out, and his books are great if you are a pervert and/or insane."

That said...two thumbs up. 

Just kidding. 

No thumbs up, and an index finger sideways, pointing you in the direction you should run when someone asks you if you'd be interested in reading Titan. I mean, it wasn't poorly written, I guess. To say something nice about it. It was capably written and, uh, imaginative, I guess. But seriously, if this is what is takes to be considered America's best author, then literally everyone on the planet should be able to write classic sci fi. This was straight-up Gentlemen Broncos-level.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book Review: The Cabinet of Curiosities, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

If you're familiar with the Broward County Library system (and who isn't?), about 70% of their entire book on CD collection is in Spanish, and the other 29% is Stephen King. That makes long commutes difficult when one is attempting to switch things up from their typical podcast fare.

Which is why it was lucky that I came across The Cabinet of Curiosities. Written by Douglas Preston, who wrote the previous excellent non-fiction crime book, The Monster of Florence, I recognized the author's name when browsing through the audio book section at the library (El Resplandor, Cementerio de Mascotas, and so on).

This is a fictional book about a serial killer from New York who may have inspired a new copycat killer in 2012. It's good! Not super good, but good enough to listen to for a million hours on my commute Mondays through Wednesdays down to Miami and back.

A few things to note: there is no main character. Not even a little bit. The closest thing to a main character is Agent Pendergast - a Southern gentleman FBI guy who has nearly supernatural powers of observation and memory. He's the most important character, I guess, but he's only in about 40% of the book. The rest of the time is split between various other people; a reporter, a female archaeologist (they're called 'femarchaeologists, I think), the killer, a developer guy, a guy at the museum, some other people. etc.

Things I liked about it: it was an interesting idea and was clearly written to be made into a thriller-type movie some day, likely starring Tommy Lee Jones, Scarlet Johannsson, and like the guy who plays Thor probably. But it had some good 'set pieces' that would translate into fun scenes in a movie. I also liked that it was very clean. Apart from the subject matter, you could almost make it PG.

Is it worth reading? Sure. The audio CD reader guy wasn't that great, in my opinion, although he did do a good job of having to take on a broad variety of styles of voices. For that, the guy who read Monster of Florence blew him away. But this was a fun diversion - definitely worth picking up if you're faced with reading a Dan Brown novel and need an emergency alternative.