Thursday, January 31, 2008

How I'm surviving the WGA strike

A recent poll indicates that more than 60 percent of people don’t feel bothered or inconvenienced at all by the writers’ strike. I don’t quite fall into that camp, because pop TV, which I unashamedly adore, is now increasingly a cesspool of annoying reality shows (including Election 2008 nonsense). I’m missing Heroes in particular, and shortly, I’ll be missing The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But regardless, Deb and I are surviving nicely, thank you very much, on older TV series available on DVD. Right now, we’re plowing through all three seasons of Veronica Mars, which I enjoyed first run but Deb somehow missed; tonight, we’ll watch the seventh episode of season two. And on my own, I’ve been re-experiencing Babylon 5, slowly sipping at its first season and anticipating the wonders of seasons two through five. Coming up: revisits to Nowhere Man, La Femme Nikita, The Prisoner, the Emma Peel Avengers, and Firefly.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Catching up with Ken MacLeod

Hat tip to Anders Monsen for alerting me to this terrific interview with Prometheus-winning author Ken MacLeod. MacLeod talks about sci-fi, Left politics, market anarchism, and much more of interest to Libertarian Leftists. Here’s a taste:

“One of the problems I have with some on the Left is that they dissociate themselves from the past and present state-socialist regimes, but what they actually propose is, well, state socialism — but, of course, with more democracy, civil liberties and blah, blah, blah, which everybody knows wouldn’t survive the first real emergency (i.e. about day two of the revolution). Even the reforms they propose are statist. It would be much better, in my opinion, if they were to do the opposite: Take a bit more responsibility for the state-socialist past and propose something that is visibly different and institutionally unlikely to replicate the well-known defects of state socialism.”

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Thursday, January 24, 2008


British director Danny Boyle cites 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and the original Alien as the three greatest “space movies” of all time. Well, his own Sunshine, released on DVD earlier this month, turns out to also be a masterpiece of that genre. What’s really astonishing, though, is that this film, by the man responsible for such critically acclaimed movies as Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, received almost no fanfare until now and was only released marginally in U.S. theaters this past summer. What’s the deal?

Sunshine, which I purchased only because I saw Boyle credited on the DVD case, literally leaps out of nowhere and onto my list of twenty or so favorite science fiction films. It’s breathtaking on countless levels, and it passes two essential Conger criteria for Great Movies: (1) after first watching it, the film haunted me until my second viewing a day or two later, and (2) it bears up to repeated viewings, revealing deeper secrets with each replay.

Here’s what I like about Sunshine:

• The story is riveting. In brief, to “restart” a dying sun, Icarus II journeys forth with a nuclear device. The ship follows an earlier mission that disappeared seven years before and eventually stumbles across the first Icarus, now lifeless but with its payload intact. What happened? And will whatever happened impact Icarus II’s assignment?

• The cast is sensational, including Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). You care about this crew.

• The movie is stunning to look at. The effects are gasp-inducing.

• The soundtrack by Underworld is phenomenal.

• Written by Alex Garland (who also scripted 28 Days Later), Sunshine is speculative and thought-provoking, way beyond most of what passes for sci-fi these days. It might be accused of being too esoteric or too full of itself. I’d disagree. Yes, it is layered with multiple ideas and themes (Examples: what is duty? is the crew playing God?), and many of them may not be clear until second or third viewings. But it’s all worth the effort, and the film is punctuated by exciting and beautiful “action” sequences that are never gratuitous but instead propel the story forward.

By the way, this single-disc DVD is packed with goodies, including deleted scenes (with Boyle commentary) and separate full-length film commentaries by Boyle and Dr. Brian Cox from the University of Manchester. It’s a boffo package.

Sunshine is highly recommended.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why I am NOT an anarcho-capitalist

My friend Wendy McElroy does a terrific job explaining why she doesn't embrace the "anarcho-capitalist" label. Must reading for libertarian leftists.

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Miss Liberty: a sci-fi icon?

My first brush with the Statue of Liberty in science fiction was, of course, in the extraordinary final scene of Planet of the Apes in 1968. I was in the eighth grade, and that image absolutely devastated me. I was knocked senseless. What an outrageous vision! It haunted me for months — still does, actually. So imagine my surprise when Gerry Canavan took the time to pull together an extensive, decades-spanning collection of Miss Liberty in sci-fi media. Sheesh! It seems the idea was old hat long before Apes. (Her latest use can be seen in the just-released Cloverfield.) Maybe the Libertarian Party can incorporate some of these ideas into a new logo.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The art of "taking it all in stride"

A wonderful apocalyptic moment somewhere outside London between Professor Challenger and his chauffeur Austin in The Poison Belt (1913), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

“Austin!” said his master.

“Yes, sir?”

“I thank you for your faithful service.”

A smile stole over the servant’s gnarled face.

“I’ve done my duty, sir.”

“I’m expecting the end of the world today, Austin.”

“Yes, sir. What time, sir?”

“I can’t say, Austin. Before evening.”

“Very good, sir.”

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Is Atlas shrugging?

My old pal Brian Richardson has written the greatest book review of Atlas Shrugged ever. Here's how it begins:
"When she entered the room, she knew immediately that he had finished reading the book. His eyes surveyed the lines of her dress approvingly, as if remembering his glorious exploration of the underlying body and recognizing its perfection, content in the knowledge that he knew and understood every contour. As he looked around the room, she could tell he saw the furniture, the appliances, the ashtray full of crushed stubs with the telltale dollar sign, in a way he could not have seen fully unless and until he had read and absorbed every page into the core of his being."
Fer chrissakes, finish reading the review right here.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Thinking about CLOVERFIELD

“Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”
— Harry Lime to Holly Martins, looking down from the top of the Ferris wheel in The Third Man

Cloverfield is about the dots. My expectations were high for this movie, based largely on the reviews I’d seen online for the past few days. And remarkably, I wasn’t disappointed. Cloverfield takes the Big Monster genre and brings it down to the people, Harry Lime’s nameless, faceless “dots.” This film, in a very odd way, reminded me again that when we hear the numbers from, say, Iraq, there are flesh-and-blood people attached to those numbers. People with families and friends. There are also, quite likely, many many stories of bravery and loyalty and sacrifice. Stories we’ll never hear.

When was the last time a goddamn MONSTER MOVIE made you think about that?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008


OK, for the time being at least, I’m hooked on Fox’s new Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Gee, for a fan of the first two Terminator movies, who’s seen each of those flicks two dozen times apiece, what’s not to like? Really?

What Sarah Connor’s got going for it big time is its faithfulness to those first two films. It plays The Game set up by James Cameron two decades ago, and that’s really a good thing. This isn’t a “reboot.” Rather, it’s a nice, smooth continuation of the original idea and story, ignoring the questionable third movie of a few years ago. There’s a lot to like here. Lena Headey (300) picks up the role of Sarah from the great Linda Hamilton quite nicely. I believe her in every scene. She may not be as frantic as Hamilton was, but then, do we honestly want to watch that much angst week after week? The kid who plays future freedom-fighter John Connor is fine. Summer Glau, “good terminator” Cameron (a tribute to John Cameron?), builds on her soft-but-deadly image from Firefly/Serenity. In this series, she’s River Tam with gears and bolts. I like it.

Of course, it’s the writing that always counts. And God willing, the writers’ strike will be over by the time this show reaches its ninth and end-of-season episode. This is good stuff. The characters are well drawn. The plot arcs are in place. And I’m curious where we’re headed with The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

It’s always nice to see good sci-fi on TV.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An Ode to Summer

John DeNardo over at SF Signal is enamored with Summer Glau. So much so, he writes, that “despite my lackluster viewing experience with The Sarah Connor Chronicles, one bright spot remains: Summer Glau. Tough female characters are irresistible, and Summer plays them well. (See also: Serenity.) Yet whenever I hear her name, I don’t think of the elfin beauty or the kick-@$$ karate moves…I think of that damn ’70s song from Seals and Crofts called ‘Summer Breeze.’” So John delightfully offers the following in Summer’s honor:

Summer Glau (Makes Me Feel Fine)
(Sung to the tune of “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts)

See the girl all curled up in the cryo
Not a stitch of clothing found in sight
Mal is ticked off wond’rin’ ’bout the Doctor
I don’t care, I’m feeling alright

Summer Glau, makes me feel fine
I can’t shake her image from my mind
Summer Glau, makes me feel fine
I can’t shake her image from my mind

See the tree branch lying on the cold deck
She picks it up, maybe thinks it’s fun
Snap us back to now, see the worried crew
Don’t look now but River’s got a gun


Followed by agents, their hands painted blue
They have no idea just what she can do
’Cause when she sees what’s playing on TV
Fruity Oaty Bars, now it’s time to kick @$$

See the angel punching and a kickin’
Not really sure what she could do
She’s a weapon, a source of destruction
She’s a vital part of Malcolm’s crew


Speaking of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I have the two-part pilot recorded on the DVR. I’ll try to get to it tonight and post my thoughts here later this week.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

I'm tagged with another meme

While I was away from the keyboard, Brad Spangler tagged me with this freedom-oriented meme: “What motivated you to start looking into Anarchist/Libertarian thought?” That question is probably best answered by quoting myself from an interview I did last year with Sunni Maravillosa. Sunni asked about my first brush with the freedom philosophy:

“I was a high school Republican punk and card-carrying member of Young Americans for Freedom in 1970. Somebody somewhere handed me The Virtue of Selfishness. [Ayn] Rand was grouchy but interesting. At the same time, though, I was reading articles and columns by libertarians like Jerome Tuccille, David Friedman, and Philip Abbott Luce in YAF’s monthly New Guard magazine — and this was after the famous 1969 Labor Day purge in St. Louis. Imagine that! Then, at a YAF summer leadership conference in Glendale, I spotted some kids hoisting laissez-faire signs and an enormous black flag. They handed me a shitload of free reading material: issues of The Match! and photocopies of things like [Murray] Rothbard’s ‘Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal’ from Ramparts and [Karl] Hess’ famous Playboy piece, ‘The Death of Politics’ … Within a few months, I had subscribed to the Libertarian Forum newsletter and had read Tuccille’s Radical Libertarianism: A Right-Wing Alternative. I was calling myself an anarchist before I turned 17.”

Now, unless they’ve already been tagged, I’d like B.W. Richardson and Tom Ender to answer the question.

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Move over, Godzilla!

If I wasn't particularly excited before about Cloverfield, the "big monster movie" opening in theaters this coming weekend, I sure am now.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

La Jetee

While I'm away a few days, enjoy Chris Marker's classic 1962 short La Jetee, which inspired Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys a few years ago.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008


A lot of people think they’re unimaginative, but I love gift cards and gift certificates. Love ’em to death, whether I get them for birthdays or for Christmas. So I got one over the holidays, redeemable at my local comics retailer, and it was burning a hole in my pocket. And after scouring the shop for something “special,” I came up with this new collection of illustrator Tim Sale’s early Batman stuff, Tales of the Batman. Amazingly, until now, I’d never seen any of it — and me, a big fan of Sale's work on the Batman graphic novels The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, and even the things he’s done for the Heroes TV series.

There are five great stories in Tales of the Batman, three of them lengthy three-parters. The writers are Alan Grant, Kelley Puckett, Darwyn Cooke, and James Robinson. But even though I know deep down that the story should be more important than the artwork, it’s Tim Sale's artwork that really triumphs here. This is all dark, gorgeous stuff. And each story is prefaced with a few words from Sale himself — and, you know, I really like this fellow. He’s kinda humble and thankful for his success and all, and he spreads the credit around. He seems like a good guy.

If you’re a Tim Sale fan, buy the book. If you’re a Batmaniac, buy the book. It’s a real goodie.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Is Hillary already out?

Here’s what Matt Drudge is reporting today:

“Facing a double-digit defeat in New Hampshire, a sudden collapse in national polls and an expected fund-raising drought, Senator Hillary Clinton is preparing for a tough decision: Does she get out of the race? And when?!”

According to “one top campaign insider,” Hillary “can’t take multiple double-digit losses in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. If she gets too badly embarrassed, it will really harm her. She doesn’t want the Clinton brand to be damaged with back-to-back-to-back defeats.”

Anyone else but me NOT buying this?

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DVD review: SHOOT 'EM UP

The greatest gunplay movie ever made, writer-director Michael Davis’s Shoot ’Em Up, was released last week on DVD. What a treat. I said nice things about the movie last September, when it pretty much tanked in theaters, but on second viewing, my opinion has actually risen to greater heights. What I thought was clever the first time around seems absolutely brilliant now. What I chuckled at in September now has me clutching my gut in laughter.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not a classic noir film. Nor is it a spoof of classic noir. But it takes your typical guns-blazing chase picture and shoves it over the top to a degree that’ll delight action fans. Davis oughta direct a film based on one of Duane Swierczynski’s fantastic crime novels. He’d do a perfect job.

Anyway, the DVD has some nice bonuses: an interesting full-length commentary from Michael Davis, an hour-long “making of” documentary, some deleted and extended scenes (with commentary), and the amazing “animatics” that Davis used to pitch the movie to producers and even to star Clive Owen to get it made. Oh, and Shoot ’Em Up also stars Paul Giamatti as last year’s greatest movie villain and the delicious Monica Belucci as the classiest lactating hooker ever. So what’s stopping you from buying or at least renting this thing?

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Weathering the past weekend

You should always keep in mind that when Californians bitch about weather, we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. We get some rain and wind, and you’d think, the way a lot of us talk, biblical prophecy was coming true. And of course, to judge by what you see in the media whenever anything happens in the Golden State, you’d think all of us were frickin’ immersed in water and snow right now. Well, our little coastal burg got quite a few inches of rain this past weekend — more than some folks, a whole lot less than others — and yeah, the high winds and high surf were a pain in the butt. But the drought still ain’t over. And that’s what counts. Deb and I weathered the, uh, weather.

In fact, very very early Saturday morning, despite the storms and media fear-mongering, we packed up two dogs (our own and one we were dog-sitting) and trekked 200 miles across Damnation Alley (CA-41) to Fresno for a daytrip. For the second time in several months, I spoke to the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization that offers networking and support to women writing (and reading) in the mystery genre. Last June, I talked about marketing. This time, as founder of the Blind German Mechanics, the San Luis Obispo County scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, I was asked to speak about Sherlock Holmes on the occasion of his 154th birthday. It was great fun, there were terrific questions, and the club sandwich I was served was top-notch. Many thanks to the Sisters for their graciousness. I hope you’ll invite me back again.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Movie review: SWEENEY TODD

As I suspected, Tim Burton’s movie adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street belongs on my Best of 2007 list. So go ahead and add this bit to last week’s post.

I’ve seen the Stephen Sondheim musical on stage three times — once on Broadway with George Hearne and Angela Lansbury in 1980 — and I’ve loved the macabre opera from the start. And Burton has brought it to the screen brilliantly. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are perfection. Alan Rickman contributes his best performance in many years. And the extraordinary appearance of Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat) is a real surprise. And, by gawd, all these people can sing! Sondheim’s songs have been moved from the stage to the screen wonderfully.

Yeah, yeah,,,this movie is filled with dark, gory stuff. Sure, there’s bright red blood aplenty. But this is the gruesome tale of Sweeney Todd, after all. The original stage production was horribly (and, by turns, comically) grim. But I was smiling the whole time I sat in the theater watching this new Tim Burton masterpiece.

Sweeney Todd is a keeper.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Free Bill Stickers!

Thanks, Wendy!

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