Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Expendables 2

Watch any trailer for this movie, and you'll know if you're in its target audience.  If you're still not sure, if you haven't seen at least five films of each of its main stars, you may well want to give it a pass.

I, on the other hand, had no doubts that this movie was for me. I've seen just about every film of all of the stars, and I had a great time at the first movie.  I walked into the theater tonight fully prepared for a little under two hours of mindless, unrealistic violence, dumb dialog, and in-jokes delivered badly.

The Expendables 2 delivered all of those things by the extended magazine full. 

I could explain the plot, but there's no point.  It's just there to put our team in interesting situations in which they can kill many people.  I could talk about the acting, but, really, there was hardly any.  I could review some of the many inside jokes, but either I'd be ruining them for you or you wouldn't get them, so there's no point.

The decision is simple: If you're in the audience for this movie, you'll have a grand time and laugh your ass off.  If you're not, I don't know how you'll react, but the odds are that you won't like it. 

Predictably, I had a wonderful time and now hope for an unrated Director's Cut DVD. 

Friday, August 17, 2012


One of Cirque du Soleil's traveling shows, Dralion, came to Raleigh two nights ago, so of course a group of us went to see it.  As you can probably tell from the name, it focused on an East/West fusion Chinese acrobatic arts and Cirque's trademark style.

As the above trailer suggests, the show was wonderful. What the video can't capture, though, is the magic of seeing these feats live.  I admit to being a huge Cirque fan, so perhaps I'm biased, but I enjoyed this one very much.  I was particularly fond of the men diving through sets of vertical rings, something that reads as somewhere between dumb and dull but that in person is quite amazing to see.

I was saddened to see many, many, many empty seats in the arena; the people here in the Triangle have no idea what they're missing.  If this show comes to your city, do better than we did, and pack whatever venue is hosting it.  You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Harry Harrison

Yesterday, the SF field lost another member of its old guard: Harry Harrison, SF author and SFWA Grandmaster, passed away. I never met Harrison, so I have no personal stories to tell of him, but he influenced aspects of my work, and I am saddened at his death.

When I was a teenager, like so many other SF readers I discovered and instantly became a huge fan of his Stainless Steel Rat stories.  I devoured the books and stories as soon as I could find them.  I loved the attitude, the humor, and the style Harrison brought to them.  I then read more of Harrison's work, watched and enjoyed Soylent Green, the film based on his novel Make Room! Make Room!, and generally came to assume, as one does of authors you've read heavily, that he would always be around, creating more stories and books.  2010's The Stainless Steel Rat Returns, with its new adventure for James Bolivar DiGriz, aka Slippery Jim, aka the Stainless Steel Rat, served to confirm that belief. 

It was, of course, a foolish feeling, one I knew as such when I paused to examine it, but I rarely did. 

When I was writing my second novel,  Slanted Jack, I focused quite a lot of the action on an old pal of Jon Moore's, the best con man Jon has ever known:  Slanted Jack.  Note the initials match Slippery Jim's.  Jack's real name was Jack Gridiz.  That I created Jack's name by moving around a few letters of the Stainless Steel Rat's real name is equally obvious.  Yeah, I was paying tribute to possibly the greatest SF con man--and certainly the one with the funniest adventures. 

For some time, I've harbored a fan-boy hope that I might one day meet Harrison and give him a copy of the book.  In my fantasy, he liked it.  Now, of course, that chance is gone. 

What remains, though, is his work and all that it has inspired.  With Harrison, that is a very great deal indeed. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ruby Sparks

The moment I heard about this movie, I wanted to see it; how could a writer resist?  Learning that the film's directors were the same as those that created the wonderful Little Miss Sunshine only increased my desire.  The trailer, though big fun, made me a little nervous both about the schmaltz level and how the writers would resolve the moral dilemma they'd posed themselves, but I was still game to go.

So, off a group of us went the other night to a local art theater to check it out.

I'm glad we did. 

If you haven't seen this one yet, I very much don't want to spoil it for you, and I recommend you not read any other spoilers, so I'm going to have to keep this short and vague.

The story does address its moral implications, and it does avoid excessive sentimentality, so the writers largely addressed my two big concerns.  The beginning is slow, but I'm willing to forgive it that.  The actors were uniformly strong, with Annette Bening particularly wonderful in a small role.  The movie's greatest weakness, at least to me, is its ending--not its emotional climax, which is satisfying, but the denouement.  That said, all of us left discussing it, which is a good sign, and opinions varied, which is another good sign.  About it, though, I will say no more, lest I spoil it.

Ruby Sparks was one of the more intelligent, emotionally complex films I've seen recently, and I'm glad to be able to recommend it strongly.  Definitely catch this one before it vanishes.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

An expensive small error

A couple of days ago, I was calling a local friend when I made a rather expensive and embarrassing mistake. Our area has grown enough that even when you are calling someone with the same area code, you now have to dial that area code.  My area code is 919. 

I started punching the number I was calling into the very old handset of my land-line phone.  That phone is old enough that the keys are sticky and sometimes repeat. So, by accident, I dialed 911. To the best of my knowledge, I did not hit the Talk button to make the call and instead immediately disconnected.  I figured that because I had not sent the numbers, I was safe.  I then dialed the correct number and began a conversation.

During that conversation, I heard the sound that alerts you to an incoming call, but I ignored it; I was, after all, already talking to a person.

When I disconnected, I checked to see the source of the call I'd missed and found that it was my city's emergency services group.

Oh, shit. 

Either I had accidentally transmitted the numbers, or phones automatically send as soon as they detect 911; I don't know, and I don't plan to experiment to find out. 

I immediately called 911, tried to explain my error, and was routed twice before I got someone who would listen.  That person informed me that because I had not answered the return call, a law-enforcement officer would have to visit my house.  I tried to save them the expense, but to no avail; the rule is that they have to come.

That rule even makes a certain sense, because what if I was being coerced to say nothing was wrong?  Erring on the side of caution is fine by me. 

So, the officer came, was fully aware he was wasting his time, was nonetheless gracious, and left.

I hate that I wasted his time and cost taxpayer money. 

I think I owe my local sheriff's office some cookies. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Little Hen

When friends told me about Greg Cox's gushing review for this new restaurant in Apex, I knew I had to go. So, the other night a group of us ventured to a part of the area I rarely visit for a dinner at Little Hen.

The menu changes daily,  as you'd expect from a place that emphasizes using whatever its farm partners make available that day.  Our table opted for the farmstead feast, both meat-eater and vegetarian versions, which are basically its versions of a tasting menu.

Our first course was a charcuterie and cheese platter, with all but one of the goodies on it coming from local sources.   We sampled a "parma ham" from nearby Johnston County, a local salami, and a wonderful soppresata.  The six cheeses ranged from a brie to a goat to a gruyere.

After that, we moved to a tomato salad that, for the non-vegetarians, mixed heirloom tomatoes with marinated, grilled shrimp, small watermelon balls, and a fennel olive oil.  It was delicious and summery.

For our main courses, each pair of us split one of the restaurant's signature "Big Boards." This dish is exactly what it sounds like: a large cutting board covered with food.

The vegetarians faced this mountain of goodies.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

Grilled squash, fresh green peas, shelled peas, fried green tomatoes, fried squash, a tomato salad, and something that they called gnocchi but that tasted more like polenta were just some of the things on this platter.  I am not a squash fan, but everything I tasted was yummy.

As good as the vegetarian dishes were, however, the  Tuscan Heritage Pork board, which two of us split, was way better.  (Of course, as a meat eater, I would say that.) 

They cut the meat from the giant pork chop into slices that they put next to the bone. They left on the fat, so some trimming was necessary, but every piece was tender and succulent and lovely.  The ham tasted as rich as top-notch barbecue, and the cheese grits were a delight.  The two vegetable salads and the squash were also tasty, but the two of us barely made a dent in them and didn't even finish all the meat; I was determined not to stuff myself and to save room for dessert.

That was a good choice.  We sampled four of the desserts, and all were tasty, particularly the blueberry pie.  The tiny baked Alaska with sorbet interior was a surprisingly successful riff on this classic dish.

My understanding is that Greg Cox gave four and a half stars (out of five) to Little Hen, and I can't go that far.  The dishes, though lovely, lacked the complexity that such a rating requires.  Put differently, the food here wasn't as wonderful as the meals I've had at Panciuto, which to me is now the best of the local restaurants.

That said, the dinner was excellent, and Little Hen will definitely get more of my business.  Do bring a big appetite, because the portions are large, but definitely check it out. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

I've mentioned before that I was excited to see this film, so last night a group of us caught the late show at our local megaplex. 

I entered the theater prepared to love this movie.  Over the previous week, we'd watched the three earlier Bourne films in order, and they held up well.  The first was the strongest, of course, with the second nearly as good and the third a bit worse, but all were strong films.  Damon's consistent performance, a blend of mostly deadpan, machine-like expressions and movements interrupted by moments of passion and action, never let you forget that Jason Bourne was a different, messed-up superagent. 

In this reboot of the franchise, Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross is, fairly enough, a very different person.  He's supposed to be an improved version of Bourne, but one with more self-awareness and concerns--neither of which his creators realize he has.  In a telling opening sequence, writer/director Tony Gilroy, the man who controlled the previous three films, shows us Renner shirtless and muscular in icy waters in Alaska, so we know he's a tough dude. I don't recall a single shirtless Matt Damon shot in the earlier installments, but that was fine, because the weird, machine-like character Damon portrayed was enough to convince us that he was as badass as the fight scenes made him appear.  The opening shot made Renner start out a weaker, more conventional character.

I've read complaints about the plot, but I thought it held up well enough as long as you suspended your disbelief enough to accept the silly science behind this (and the other) films.  I had no problem with that.  The continuing revelations of layers upon layers of secret government programs was also silly, but it's in the tradition of the earlier films and, hey, who doesn't love a good conspiracy?

I didn't see real any chemistry between Renner and Rachel Weisz, so most of her actions seemed to be largely the product of the plot's needs.  Fortunately, the action scenes kept us moving well enough and the actors did good enough jobs that their interactions didn't hurt the film either.

My favorite performance was Edward Norton's, who's always at his best when he's playing a bad guy.  Here, he was a very bad guy indeed, but one who thought he was a good guy, and his character brimmed with the intensity of the true believer, the man who will do anything and feel good about it because it's all in the service of a good cause.  Even when Norton actually has to use say, "We're the soul eaters," a line that's tough to earn, he delivers it well enough that it offends the ears only a little. 

I can't recommend this movie without the reservations I've expressed, but on balance I do recommend it. I'd also definitely go to another Jeremy Renner film in this franchise, but I hope that if Gilroy makes one, he finds some new plot device to drive it. 


Blog Archive