Ready Player One: The Movie

I thought that Ready Player One was one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in the last few years, so it’s exciting to hear about progress being made on the film adaptation.

If you haven’t read that book, I highly recommend it.  Especially if you were a geeky teenager in the 80s, as you’ll be able to relate to all the references.  But you don’t *need* to be of the right age.  I’m slightly too young to have experienced much of what the book talks about, but I still loved it.

I have mixed feelings about Zak Penn.  He tends to work on films that go through a lot of screenwriters, so it’s hard to get a feel for his writing or clarity on whether he’s responsible for the good parts or the bad parts.  I loved Last Action Hero, X-Men 2, and The Avengers.  But then he also worked on Inspector Gadget (the movie), Elektra, and X-Men 3.

Also, you should take this news with a grain of salt.  There are approximately 10 times as many movies in pre-production as actually get released, so until a film has a director and cast announced, it’s not real.  (And even then, there’s no guarantee it will actually come out.)  But it’s exciting to think about this movie.

Also, if you like Ready Player One, you should watch the movie Fanboys, which was written by the same person.  (And if you like Fanboys, you should read Ready Player One.)

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25th Anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman

I found this Buzzfeed interesting.  Someone who was 10 when the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie came out watched it with a 24-year-old who had never seen it.

This gives a fresh perspective on both a genre-creating movie that helped launch the idea of summer blockbuster comic book films, as well as on the late 80s in general.

Definitely worth a read for anyone who remembers the movie.  (And if you don’t remember the movie, it’s worth rewatching.)

Absurdity of the Day

Absurdity of the day: When someone laughs about how ridiculous it is that Optimus Prime is waving a giant sword while riding a giant alien robot fire-breathing dragon, and then someone else feels the need to correct them that he’s actually riding a giant alien robot fire-breathing dinosaur.

Because that’s totally different.

Fast Food Review – Taco Bell Quesarito

(I continue to be too busy for more Movies We Still Care About.  I promise I’ll return to that series soon.  In the mean time, here’s a fast food review.)

In one of my screenplays, an alien visiting Earth sums up my own opinion on Taco Bell when he says, “They have 43 menu items that are all the same thing but shaped differently.  It’s amazing.”

The Taco Bell Quesarito is a new configuration of the same ingredients, and it succeeds in improving on their old combinations.  It won’t blow you away like the Doritos Locos Taco or the Cinnabon Delight (two of Taco Bell’s best innovations from the last few years), but in my opinion it is significantly better than Taco Bell’s similarly sized and priced burritos.

At my local Taco Bell, the Quesarito ranged from $1.99 to $2.99, depending on whether you got beef, chicken, or steak.  (I chose the steak.)  It was a lot smaller I expected, only marginally bigger than their Grillers.  But it packs 650 calories into that small size, compared to 350-450 calories for the Grillers.

What really makes it work is the cheese.  They somehow managed to split the difference between semi-solid melted real cheese and liquid processed fake cheese, to come up with something that is deliciously gooey, but is held in place between the layers of tortilla.  It’s a lot more cheese than is typically in one of their burritos, which is kind of the point.

In terms of how it actually looked inside, there wasn’t a huge difference between the photo on their website and reality.  (Other than the site photos is ground beef but I ordered the steak.)  If anything, I’d say reality had the ingredients better mixed.

Quesarito

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Side note: Taco Bell stole the idea from Chipotle’s “secret” menu.  I’ve never tried a Chipotle Quesarito.  Regular Chipotle burritos are already too much food for me, and I typically only go there during the lunch rush when they wouldn’t be willing to make it.  But I would be interested in a comparison, and to see how Chipotle’s unprocessed ingredients compare to Taco Bell’s more processed food.  Then again, a Taco Bell Quesarito is 1/4 the price of Chipotle’s, so that’s something to consider.

To sum up, I recommend the Taco Bell Quesarito, and will definitely get it again.

Story and Literature

I recently read this noxious and silly article in Slate, about how adults who enjoy popular fiction that is billed as Young-Adult should be embarrassed that they read and enjoy it.

The article is easily dismissible pretentious crap.  The author comes off as someone who is bitter over her inability to write books that people want to read.  Rather than accepting that she’ll never be more than a niche author, or learning how to be a better writer so she can appeal to a larger audience, she blames the world in general for not recognizing her brilliance.

Plenty of other people have already criticized or mocked the piece.  (If you were aware of it at all before reading this blog post, it was probably because one of your Facebook friends was ripping it apart.)  I’m writing about it because the piece inadvertently brings up a key point about story, and how it relates to both popular/young-adult novels and “classic”/sophisticated/pretentious literature.

At its basic level, a story is about a sympathetic character pursuing a difficult and meaningful goal.  The story is the vehicle through which a movie or book conveys emotion to its audience.  It’s what ties a book/movie together.  Without that central story, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.

Story isn’t the only aspect of a book.  There are many others, such as character development, style of writing, literary allusions, symbolism, theme, mood, atmosphere, morals, metaphors, point of view, interesting ideas, moral ambiguity, and probably fifty more that you can think of.

The key difference between “literature” novels and popular or YA novels is that the literature novels incorporate a lot more of these aspects into the writing.  To the extent that these aspects are done well, they improve the book.  That’s a good thing.

But the problem is that many of these “literature” type novels focus so much on the other aspects of writing that they don’t bother with an actual story.  So the book ends up being just a bunch of stuff that happens, or even worse, a whole lot of nothing happening.

Without the story, most people aren’t able to truly engage with the book.  And without that engagement, they’ll be too bored to appreciate any of the other literary qualities.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course.  There are people who are capable of enjoying literary qualities without a story.  But people who enjoy story-free literature will always be a small niche compared to the broader public.

(To be clear, I’m not saying this applies to all literature-style novels.  There are plenty of pieces of classic literature with very strong stories.  Brilliant works like To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Huckleberry Finn, or most of Shakespeare’s plays. These are works most people can enjoy.)

By contrast, YA books tend to lack these literary qualities.  Without flowery language and symbolism to hide behind, all they have left is story.  If they have a strong enough story, they’ll be enjoyable to the general audience.  (Excluding pretentious twits who want to look down on books that normal people like.)

Going back to that silly article in Slate, it seems to revel in how superior it is for a book to *not* have a story.  Praising some of the author’s favorite books explicitly because they have unlikable characters and a complete lack of a coherent ending.

That’s not to say she’s somehow wrong for liking those books.  Her tastes are her tastes.  Though I pity her inability to enjoy books most people like, I envy her ability to enjoy books most people would find boring.  I also envy people with the ability to enjoy televised golf.  In both cases, they have options for entertainment that would not be enjoyable to me, so they’re better off.  Life is more amusing when you’re easily amused.

But having personal tastes that allow you to enjoy storyless literature, like having person tastes that allow you to enjoy televised golf, does not give someone any sort of moral superiority.  And anyone that suggests it does deserves to be mocked.

New Movies on Netflix in June 2014

Here’s a list of the new movies on Netflix this month.

Of these, I recommend:

Carrie (1976): Based on Stephen King’s first book, this is a tight and effective horror-thriller.  A bit slowly paced by today’s standards, but definitely worth checking out.

Clear and Present Danger: Probably the best of the Jack Ryan movies.  This is an exciting thriller that combines solid action sequences with tense spy stuff.

Sherlock Season 3: If you haven’t been watching the BBC Sherlock series, reimagining the Sherlock Holmes stories into the modern day, you really should.  Each season is three TV movies, and they’re amazing.  In this third season, the show takes a radical departure from the original stories, but it works well.

Wayne’s WorldOne of my favorite comedies of all time.  This is filled with zany hilarity and extremely quotable.

Other movies you’ve heard of that are new to Netflix this month:

  • Annie Hall
  • Barbershop
  • Cold Mountain
  • The Craft
  • First Knight
  • My Girl
  • A River Runs Through It
  • Rudy
  • Tarzan (1999)
  • World War Z