Dead Snow

I watched this zombie movie on Halloween and was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a stupid gorefest with maybe a couple laughs, and what I got was actually a well crafted monster movie.

One thing that a lot of these type movies don’t understand is that if you play your hand too early, the audience is gunna be bored for the rest of the movie. This one does it right by having a slow buildup, and making you wait until nearly an hour into the movie to get a clear picture of what is going on.

This may make the film sound boring, but it definitely is not. It builds up, letting you get to know the characters, and when the action hits it hits hard and fast.

In case you didn’t already know, this movie is about Nazi zombies in the woods. Your typical ‘college students go to a cabin to die’ story, but it somehow felt fresh. Maybe because it was so well written and well paced for a movie of this kind. Do be warned though, it is in Norwegian, with English subtitles.

There were some very clear nods to the Evil Dead movies, but this is definitely its own film. I enjoyed it a lot, and I laughed and cringed more than a few times.

If you like zombies, comedy horror, and lots of blood, you’re gunna have a good time!

The Hunger Games

I watched this teen thriller, and was at once impressed and annoyed. I thought the actors all did a great job, and the movie was well made and good quality. On the other  hand, it was in desperate need of some editing, and there were several things that made me irritated.

In a battle royal type scenario, two tributes are taken from each of 12 districts in this future dystopian world, and all are forced to fight until only one remains. I’m not sure what the purpose of this is, but its been going on for 70 years and is a popular spectacle… or maybe its not, and causes riots. I’m not sure.

The first hour of the movie is spent establishing that Katniss knows how to use a bow, and showing her wearing pretty clothes. When we finally get to the action I was impressed they managed to get away with wht they did while still having a PG13 rating. Children murdering each other is not usually something you see so front and center.

Over all this was a good action movie, which I thought would have been better if 20 or 30 minutes was trimmed out of the beginning and used instead to make the motivations of the people in charge more clear.

Things that annoyed me: Spoilers:

These are minor things but are so common and annoying in all kinds of movies and books, that I thought I should mention them.

At one point Katniss is chased up a tree by a group who has teamed up to kill her. They decide to wait down below for her to come down, and eventually they all fall asleep. Katniss wakes up before them, and sees another girl in another tree across from her. The girl waves, then points up at a giant nest of mutant killer bees that Katniss hadn’t notices after an entire night up in the tree with it. Then after only getting a blank stare in return, the girl makes elaborate miming motions to explain to Katniss that she should cut the branch so that the bee hive will drop on the kids waiting to kill her below.

Besides how odd it is that she didn’t notice that giant hive of killer bees, the real annoying thing about this scene is that the protagonist is being helped out of a tough situation instead of  persevering on her own merits. I know this scene was used as a way to introduce the Rue character, but they could have had her just point out the nest and Katniss, being the resourceful hero she is, know immediately the significance of it, instead of her just staring like a helpless child and having to be told in specific detail what to do.

Annoying scene number two happens near the climax of the film. Katniss is tackled and pinned to the ground by another kid, and a knife held to her throat. Then, in classic villain tradition, the other girl (I can’t remember her name) starts telling Katniss about how she killed Rue and is now going to kill her. While she is going on and on about how she’s going to kill Katniss, she is tackled and killed by another kid, who overheard her saying she’d killed Rue.

This is annoying because instead of our hero surviving on their own merit, because of skill or determination, she is only alive due to extreme luck. If that girl had decided to just cut her throat, she’d be dead. If that guy hadn’t overheard what was going on and decided to save her, she’d be dead. It’s not a very satisfying feeling when the story is only continuing because of a really good dice roll.

This scene could have been improved by having Katniss holding the knife at bay, struggling for control of it, while the other girl says how she killed Rue and will kill her.

End spoilers.

Anyway, it was a good movie overall, I might watch the other three.

Circle (2015)

This is a very low budget movie, and very interesting concept.

Like Twelve Angry Men or The Man from Earth, this movie takes place in a single few hours in a single room with the same characters. The difference being, in this one, it’s life or death for everyone.

Fifty or so people wake up in a dark room, standing in a circle facing each other. They are also standing within a circle of their own, which they soon find out if they step out of, they will die. Additionally, every 5 minutes or so, one of the people in the room is zapped by lightning that comes from a black sphere in the center of the room, and they die.

It isn’t long before the people realize they are able to secretly vote, with a vote only they can see, on who will die next.

And that is the entire movie. A room of 50  people slowly killing each other and arguing over who deserves to die next. With only 5 minutes to choose between deaths, their reasoning is all very surface level and really highlights the prejudices we all have, and the automatic judgments we place on people.

I really enjoyed this movie, and love seeing this kind of thing. The less money or means you have to make something creative, the more creative you are forced to actually be. This movie would simply never have been made by a big studio with lots of money, whether they thought it would sell or not, it just would never occur to them to make something so simple. With no explosions or sex or creepy aliens or jumpscares. All it had was conversations, and it kept me stuck to the screen through it all.

Where the movie lacked though, was the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but the ending–though a fine ending in principle–was poorly executed.  I found it to be very telling, in a ‘rub it in your face to be sure you get it’ kind of way, and was a bit off putting after the smart movie I’d just watched. Treating your audience like they’re dumb is never a good idea.

I recommend this to anyone who was a fan of 12 Angry Men, or Last Man on Earth, or anyone who is a fan of the party game Mafia or Werewolf, it was a very interesting and unique movie, and I think you’ll enjoy it!

Word A Day: Cleistogamy

It’s starting to seem like I should call this ‘word every other day’, but, onward regardless! Here is the next one:

  1. self-fertilization that occurs within a permanently closed flower.

A word I have never heard, in any form! Botany is neat, and biology of all kinds. I think in another life I could have been a biologist of some kind. Life is so interesting!

This first made me think of figs, because a fig is like a closed garden, the inside full of tiny flowers. But figs are not self fertilizing, they use the fig wasps that live inside them to get pollinated.

A look at wikipedia tells me that peanuts, peas and beans are most well known for being cleistogamous.

The advantage of this automatic self pollination, is that it is much more efficient. There is no need to expend energy on petals, nectar, or large amounts of pollen to attract bees or other winged creatures to get yourself fertilized. The downside, though, is that the lack of genetic diversity leads to slowed down evolution.

I wonder if humans will ever be able to asexually reproduce. I doubt it would ever be popular, as it is not very advantageous to genetics. But, maybe it will be possible for women someday to impregnate themselves, and give birth to a genetic clone.

Or maybe we’ll all shift to exogamy… and everyone will be born in tubes.

Word A Day: Allusive

Well, I’ve already missed a couple days. I’m determined not to go back to my old ways of only posting a couple times a month though!

  1. (of a remark or reference) working by suggestion rather than explicit mention.

I like to be allusive in my writing. I also like reading allusive things. Directness and clarity are great too, but when you figure out something for yourself by picking up on subtle suggestions, it can be very satisfying. Or even if you don’t pick up on it, but once it is made clear you can realize all the places it was alluded to.

I think Gene Wolfe is especially good doing such things in his writing, and it is something he has inspired me to get better at.

Everyone on Earth, as well as all their pets, should read the Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe.

I’m not alluding to anything here, just do it.

The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu

I just finished this sequel to the Three Body Problem, and once again my mind is blown. This book left me with a picture of the universe I never imagined… a dark forest indeed.

The only complaint anyone seems to have about this series is the characters, and though they are more fleshed out in this one, they are still a bit lacking. But in my opinion, this downside is more than made up for by the overflowing fountain of ideas.

SO MUCH happens in these books. So many concepts are introduced and there is such endless imagination, that if the author took the time to have full, well built characters, each chapter could be ballooned into it’s own novel. And I’m not sure if that is even an exaggeration. Nearly every scene is introducing some new idea or concept or unsuspected implementation of an idea, and this seizes my attention more than anything I’ve read in a long time.

My biggest complaint was nothing to do with the story, but with the narrator, as I listened to the audio version. The narrator was fine, but, it was a different narrator than the first novel. The narrators did certain character’s voices in different ways (Da Shi, the detective, most notably) and it was really hard to get used to. I also noticed that they used a different translator, though the writing still felt similar in voice to me. (the third book will return to Ken Liu being translator, and I hope they return to the first narrator as well).

The final book, Death’s End, will be out in the US in April, and I hope I don’t have to wait much longer for the audio version. Really excited for the conclusion of this amazing series!

Word A Day: Accorder


 Definition: One who accords assents or concedes

Here it is! The first word I’m not familiar with. I am familiar with ‘accord’, of course, but I’ve never seen this noun version used.

When I first saw this I thought of a musical instrument, like a recorder, or an accordion.

Thinking about music, I wonder if musical instruments–and the ability to play them–will become gradually extinct, as people more and more use computer programs to compose and play music.

Harps and grand pianos and cellos are huge, unwieldy and very very expensive instruments, and if the sounds they produce can be reproduced by a computer, these high cost contraptions may become collectibles.

I’m sure musicians will be shaking their head at this thought, and I as a guitar player certainly do too. There is no way currently, for computers to be able to copy the effect of human touch on music–the precise bending of a string according to the current mood and feel, the speed at which the bow is drawn across the strings, the pressure, all adjusted precisely and improvisationaly, by human instinct–but in principle, there is no reason we couldn’t eventually replicate that ability on a computer. The controls may be virtual, and may even resemble the original instruments at first, but the physical object itself would no longer be creating the sound.

We already see many popular modern musical groups using no instruments other than computers, and voice. Often not even voice. It makes me wonder if any instrument other than the computer will ever be invented again.

New sounds are surely being invented, though. They evolve and spread throughout pop music like a new species, eventually dying out as the new popular sound emerges. But the instrument that produces them is still a computer program. Since the electronic synthesizer, I don’t think any new musical instruments have been invented.

Music will always be around, but I suspect that in the future, actual physical instruments, besides the voice (which will likely become heavily augmented in professional singers) will be a thing of the past, and all music produced will be produced via a computer program.

I’ll still be strumming my guitar though!