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Bad movies: doing just one thing at a time

I have had a long string of days with no specific time commitments earlier than late afternoon (because things are quite frankly pretty really difficult right now with the vertigo and the meds). As a result, I have the flexibility to try out movies that are in my Netflix queue on an “oh why not, let’s see how it goes” basis, because if they run over the amount of time I need for my workout, or if I have to stop one because it’s no good and move on to another, it won’t screw up the rest of the schedule. I have this theory that if I never run into bad movies (or TV or books or music or restaurants or or or or), I am not casting the net wide enough and am probably missing things I would like that don’t look like things I would definitely totally like.

Lordy there are a lot of bad movies out there. It is hard work to make a movie, and the sheer quantity of terrible ones out there–just the ones on Netflix–just the ones on Netflix that do not immediately trigger the “no, that one will be terrible, do not watch” buttons–is staggering.

One of the things that’s come up a lot about movies that have talented actors in them and come out terrible anyway is that a lot of them start out only trying to do one thing at once. They are doing setting. Not even setting plus gorgeous camerawork, which I could forgive. But look! Here is a solid seven minutes of setting! We are in this particular location! It has buildings! Sometimes a tree or two! (If there are lots of trees I am also more forgiving. Me and trees, you know. Also water. But no, mostly buildings.) Here are some people who are not shot in such a way that you could possibly get to know them, so: still setting! Yep! Setting! No theme here! No characters! Just setting! Seeeeeeettinnnnnng!

Don’t do this.

Or character: here is this guy doing stuff! Boy, is he doing stuff! He is folding his laundry! Hee, what a quirky guy, with the way he folds his laundry! It is what we call stage business, the laundry folding! And this can be great. This can be really good, the stage business, the introducing us to the character. But you can’t let it drag. Because if your actor is talented enough to show us who he is with the folding of his laundry, he’s talented enough to show us who he is with the folding of his laundry in a few minutes. And then more of it…is not actually giving us more backstory of who he is and who his Uncle Carlo is and what his Uncle Carlo did in the war and all that. Not just with the laundry. You have to give us another character, you have to give us more setting, you have to give us something more than just the one thing.

I’m not saying everything has to be fast-paced. I’m saying that even in leisurely pacing, even in a loving slow and gentle buildup like you often get with the hour and a half BBC mysteries, you’re generally doing more than one thing at once…and if you’re not, you lose audience attention, because you have to earn it, you don’t get to just call names when it slips away.

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Books read, late January

Lawrence Block, The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. The good news is, Lawrence Block is just the same as the last time he was writing Burglar books. The bad news is, Lawrence Block is just the same as the last time he was writing Burglar books. I think I am still reading this series out of nostalgia, but on the other hand I still do have the nostalgia.

George Dyson, Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship. Workmanlike and moderately interesting. Does what it says on the tin, talking about the design of a nuclear-powered spaceship.

P. V. Glob, The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved. Also does what it says on the tin. I think this book is why all this information was out there circulating so people like me could take it for granted.

Bernd Heinrich, The Snoring Bird. Kindle. This was my Grandpa’s birthday present this year. (Today would have been Grandpa’s birthday.) I was not really done picking out books for Grandpa when he died, so…I kept doing it, things we might both have liked. This one was a bit disappointing. Too much boyfriend, not enough roller derby. In this case, too much annoying horrible father, not enough birds and ichneumon wasps. Not the best Heinrich, and also not at all the most self-aware Heinrich. And the titular bird was almost completely absent in any detail, alas.

Crystal Lynn Hilbert, The Trickster Edda. Kindle. I’m not sure how I am to handle things I read for blurbing as opposed to review. I have had things I’ve read for review lifted for blurbs before, and that’s fine? I hope I’m not violating any norms by talking briefly about this novella here. It was a romp with junk food and Norse mythology and dating and laundry. Good fun.

Adam Hochschild, The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin. Fascinating book. Hochschild interviewed not only those who had suffered but also those who were still, in 1991 or so, fans of the late dictator. Disquieting and horrible but very, very interesting.

Kyung Moon Hwang, A History of Korea. This is not where to start. It is where I started. It is not a good place to start at all. It’s a good thing I have another book of Korean history on my desk and probably more to come, because this is sort of an “interesting anecdotes” history of Korea, and…really you need more than that. Really. It is a brief romp through the history of Korea. One can enjoy brief romps, but one can enjoy them even more when one is entirely clear on what one is romping through. So: more needed here.

Ari Marmell, Lost Covenant. Start early in the series for full impact, but still swashing and buckling and thievery and joking and fun.

Nnedi Okorafor, Kabu-Kabu. This is a rare short story collection in a few ways. 1) It is pretty thematically unified. 2) None of the short stories annoyed me enough that I quit reading them. 3) I am pretty sure they were all short stories rather than novelettes or novellas. Anyway, mostly African settings/origins, interesting characters, many tie-in points with Okorafor’s novels, highly recommended. Oh, and Whoopi Goldberg wrote the introduction, which made me think not a bit more highly of Nnedi Okorafor and quite a bit more highly of Whoopi Goldberg.

Philip Reeve, A Web of Air. Very much a sequel, but a fun one. Structurally a bit odd–I was expecting the younger child’s POV to go further and was a bit disappointed when it didn’t.

Marie Rutkoski, The Winner’s Curse. Discussed elsewhere.

Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil, Bad Houses. Graphic novel about hoarders and estate sales and…yeah, very much off the beaten path.

Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. Ah, a sherbet book. Chilly and insubstantial? Yes, but what I meant was: okay, sure, but…. The argument this book makes is fine; there are all sorts of things the current state of neuroscience can’t touch. I don’t really understand why New Scientist recommended it, because anyone who reads New Scientist even a little bit should have found this book not in the least bit surprising. How is that a useful book recommendation? “Books to bore our regular readers!” Thanks, New Scientist! The other thing is: once you’ve gotten into the minefield that is Stuff MRIs Can’t Show Us About Culpability, 150 pages is not nearly enough to handle questions of culpability and forms of justice, so then you end up with a very slick and shallow version of philosophical questions that people have been wrestling with for thousands of years. Disappointing.

John Sayles, A Moment in the Sun. Oh, oh, oh, this book. This gigantic wrist-busting book. I’m not even sure it works as a book, and I loved it, and I’m so glad I read it, and I want more books like it even if it sort of doesn’t really work. Yes. Because John Sayles is a one of us. Like a you and me and Jon and that other lady, that us! It’s a good us. John Sayles is a voracious inclusive polymath one of us. I mean, you can tell that from the better end of his movies. You can tell that from Lone Star and Matewan and Brother, right, that he’s one of those people who will set out wondering about something and look up five years and four bookshelves later telling you about the mating habits of pandas and how it relates to the silver trade. And he’s a one of us because he can’t look at those things and just see white dudes. I read this book and felt less alone in the world because John Sayles wrote this book about the American war in the Philippines, so naturally it started in the Yukon, like, of course. Naturally. You just let your breath out because we’re like that and there it is. And he’s allowed to do a book like that because he’s John Sayles, but I love him because what he wants to do with being John Sayles is a book like that and not, like, buy a yacht or fancy grills or something. It goes all over the damn place and is so full of people named Mei and Frantisek and you don’t even know who next, white people, black people, Filipinos, Chinese people, men, women, able-bodied, disabled, sick, whoever. I am not coherent about this book. I am not reasonable about this book. I don’t have to be reasonable about this book; it is not a reasonable book. The things people say about James Michener, I don’t really get those things, because Michener has point A, and then he has point B, and eventually you get to Z, and then you are done, and he has gone through the alphabet, whereas John Sayles, he teaches you four alphabets and perspective drawing, and then you’re not sure why, but it’s okay, because you know four alphabets and perspective drawing and whether Jessie’s family is okay maybe. Yes. This book. I would be mad at anybody else who went and made movies instead of writing me more books like this book, but it is John Sayles, so I am not mad, except maybe about Silver City, because that sucked. But this book, oh, oh.

Karl Schroeder, Lockstep. Discussed elsewhere. Kindle, in case you were keeping track for some reason. More to the point in case I was.

Evelyn Sharp, Rebel Women. Kindle. Guys, this was awesome. It’s free, go download it for your own device. It’s an early 20th century British feminist fabulist writing thinly fictionalized stories of her own experiences in the suffrage movement, and they’re sharp and real, and some of them are funny, and they really won’t take you long. And then some of the early 20th century perspective is so “Whaaaaaa?” Like the idea that the 1910s were short on cranks, seriously. It was an eye-opener. And free. Go, acquire, acquire like the wind.

C. J. Underwood, An Army of Judiths. Indifferently-written historical fiction about Kenau Hasselaer of Haarlem. Who was awesome, and honestly, no, the book was not that great on its own, but yes, I did want a novel about Kenau, thanks all the same. I mean, there are things like: if you are writing in English, do not give two of your major characters the nicknames Am and Erm. (Or Um and Is. Or whatever. Common words and mumble-noises: try to avoid as nicknames.) Do not make your readers stop and think about why Dutch servants are speaking with Cockney accents. Etc. But really: Kenau Hasselaer, I am not spoiled for choice in novels about her, I will put up with a lot.

Jean-Christophe Valtat, Luminous Chaos. Sequel to Aurorarama, and I think you’ll want that first. I missed New Venice; the steampunk Paris was fun and interesting but not as vivid and polar-bear-ridden, not as Mris-targeted. Still worth the time. Still will follow Valtat, despite the…central Parisian pun in part of it. (Ow.) I think one of the things that I enjoyed about this is that I don’t as often see time-travel within parts of someone else’s timeline, and I liked that.