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Friday, November 30, 2007

The Friday Challenge

First off, the movie review I didn't have time to run yesterday.

Recommended Renting: Live Free or Die Hard

I've always had an affinity for Bruce Willis, going all the way back to Moonlighting. It's the name, of course, as well as the fact that we're very close to the same age, although my wife assures me that I look much better for our age than he does. More than that, though, I tend to like the kinds of characters Willis tends to play: gruff, reflexively wise-cracking even when it's stupid, not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but with his heart (usually) in the right place. Korben Dallas remains one of my favorite characters in contemporary film SF, and unlike the recent products of LucasFilms, I have yet to get tired of watching The Fifth Element.

But after a movie and TV career as long as my writing career, the character Willis was born to play remains John McClane: cop, failed husband, awkward father, and reluctant but remarkably indestructible hero of the Die Hard series. And while the DH scripts keep making reference to Willis as a sort of modern-day Roy Rogers, the guy I kept thinking of as I watched this one was John Wayne — specifically, the late-period John Wayne of Big Jake.

That's the way to view Live Free or Die Hard: as a movie in which the tubby old guy comes out of retirement to prove he can still get on the horse and kick booty old-school style one more time.

This time around, McClane is a late middle-aged man, at the tail end of his police career. He and Holly Gennero are finally divorced (after being "estranged" since 1988!), he's still just a plainclothes detective working the graveyard shift, and he'd probably be thinking about retirement, except that he has a daughter still in college. (Conveniently, Rutgers.) Relations with the daughter are rocky at best; she goes by mom's maiden name and refuses all contact with dear old dad.

Considering its formulaic elements, then, the plot is pretty darned good. A nicely multiethnic group of cyberterrorists, led by ├╝berwasp Timothy Oliphant, launch a coordinated cyber attack on America on the Fourth of July, with the declared intent of bringing the entire system down. Before things completely hit the fan, though, McClane gets assigned to find master hacker Matthew Farrell (best known from his TV role as, "I'm a Mac,") and escort him to FBI headquarters in D.C. for questioning. (Wow, the mileage and overtime this McClane guy must rack up! I'd hate to see his expense reports...)

After that, the movie turns into The Gauntlet for a while, with McClane doing his best to keep Farrell alive and on the move while world+dog is trying to kill him. Of course, once they get to D.C., Farrell instantly sees what the entire FBI and NSA have failed to notice, and just as instantly decides to switch sides and become a white hat. Of course, the business about bringing the whole system down for political reasons is just a smokescreen to hide the real crime, and there are dirty government secrets galore to be revealed. Of course, the bad guys, once they realize they're up against McClane, find his daughter and take her hostage, and of course, by the end of the movie, she's turns out to be a chip off the old blockhead, and Farrell and Lucy Gennero-No,-I'm-McClane become a romantic item.

The movie has some glaring flaws. For example, if it's the Fourth of July, then how come Wall Street is open for business and there's a panic on the NYSE trading floor when the stock market crashes? Likewise, the scenes shot inside the "super-secret NSA computer facilities" had those of us who've actually been inside "undisclosed locations" rolling on the floor. (At work, we've been laughing about this one all week.) And while the F-35 does have VTOL capabilities, just like the Harrier in True Lies, it cannot engage in combat while bobbing and weaving through urban architecture like a helicopter gunship. Most importantly, the presence of Justin Long as Matthew Farrell is, as likable as he is, distracting: you keep waiting for him to say, "You know, you wouldn't be having all these problems if you'd just used a Mac." (And don't even get me started on the business of his hacking the entire NSA network with a combination cellphone/PDA...)

Still, Live Free or Die Hard is an exciting, well-paced, and fun ride, and it doesn't insult your intelligence nearly halfways as badly as most movies involving hackers do. If you're looking for a fun action rental that eschews CGI and uses real stunts, effects, and pyrotechnics — lots of pyrotechnics — this one is highly recommended.

[Helpful Hint: I had a hard time finding this movie in my local Blockbuster, until I realized that they'd filed it under "L" for Live Free, not "D" for Die Hard. U.K. and Australian customers should have an easier time of it as in those countries it was released as "Die Hard 4.0."]

And now, The Friday Challenge

Isn't it obvious? By the end of this movie McClane's daughter has proven to be just like Dad, except much cuter and with breasts, and Farrell is hopelessly smitten with her and has turned away from the Dark Side to become a good guy. Further, Kevin Smith does a terrific turn as super-├╝bernerd "Warlock." (A nod to Vernor Vinge's True Names, perhaps? By the way, thanks to Colin Lee for pointing this out. I didn't recognize Silent Bob without both his trenchcoat and Jay.)

So here's this week's challenge: give me a brief synopsis for Die Hard: The NeXT Generation. (In Australia and the U.K., Die Hard 5.1a.)

As always, we're playing for your choice of either a signed copy of Rebel Moon or what's behind Door #2, with winners to be announced next Friday. Ready? Go!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Friday Challenge

For this week's Friday Challenge we embrace the spirit of the season, and for specific inspiration turn to that well-loved fantasy classic, Bored of The Rings:
At that moment there was a commotion at the head table, where Frito should have been sitting as a guest of honor. Uncle Dildo was standing on his bench and making motions for quiet, wishing to make his after-dinner speech. After a flurry of jeers and the knocking together of a few heads, every fuzzy, pointed ear and glass eye strained to catch what Dildo had to say.

My fellow boggies, he said, my fellow Poops and Peristalts, Barrelgutts and Hangbellies, Needlepoints, Liverflaps, and Nosethingers. (Nosefingers! corrected an irate drunk, who, true to his family name, had it jammed into his nostril to the fourth joint.)

I hope you have all stuffed yourselves until you are about to be sick...
Ah yes, I do indeed. But by now you've presumably had time to sleep off that typtophan buzz and are up, moving, and eager to tackle this week's Friday Challenge. Ready?

This week, in honor of the holiday — in the U.S., it's Thanksgiving, but those of you who celebrate other holidays may substitute the festive event of your choice, provided it involves getting together with family members you rarely see and gorging yourself into a torpor — we're looking for The Best Thanksgiving Dinner Story Ever.

No, not the nicest one, or the most heartwarming one, or anything easy like that. We're looking for the story that will be whispered about within your family for years to come; like the time my soon-to-be-ex- sister-in-law, having little impulse control to start with and apparently one glass of wine too many, started talking very loudly at the dinner table about how much she really enjoyed —

Never mind, I'll save that one for next Friday. But in the meantime, that's your challenge. Ready? Set? Go!

As always, we're playing for your choice of either a signed copy of Rebel Moon or what's behind door #2. Winner to be announced next Friday — except that in an unplanned warpage of the rules, I'm also extending the deadline for last week's Friday challenge, because I'm not seeing a clear winner yet. Any suggestions or advice would be appreciated.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Road Trip!

So I'm sitting here in a noisy, toddler-infested coffee shop in Nevermindwhere, checking my email, checking on the bookstore biz — K sold two books overnight — even jumped on the VPN and forwarded my office phone to my cell phone, which is something I forgot to do before I left town last night.

This wired world thing is so cool. I am having so much fun with my shiny new laptop, mostly revolving around firing it up at unusual times and in unusual places and seeing who's got an unsecured wifi router that I can tap. Boy, are there a *lot* of 'em around. Heh heh heh...

Life is so different from when I first started out in the business, schlepping around an Apple II in an Anvil case and calling it portable. There were Osbornes, KayPros, a Sanyo portable the size and weight of a Singer sewing machine, a NEC MultiSpeed which served me well and faithfully until the day it got strip-searched in the San Diego airport and never fully recovered from the trauma. And now there's this sleek and shiny new beast.

Still, every now and then, something brings you up short. Last night I tried to text-message an old friend to let him know I was coming into town. The message bounced because it turned out that I was trying to send it to a desktop phone on a land line! A land line? What's that? Who uses those any more?

Friday, November 16, 2007

I'm Not on Strike, But...

There's one piece of one-size-fits-all advice that I keep on giving out. Whenever would-be writers complain to me that they just can't find the time to write, I say, "Turn off the television." Whenever my kids complain to me that school's too hard and they can't find the time to do all their homework and required reading, I say, "Turn off the television." When even non-writers complain to me that their lives are just too complicated and they can never seem to find the hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done, I say, "TURN OFF YOUR FARGIN' TELEVISION!"

It's amazing how much you can get done, once you stop devoting three hours every evening to sitting on your duff in front of your television, basking in its warm, mindless, banal glow.

This is my one great hope for this writer's strike: that it will drag on, and that Hollywood will shut down, and that, forced to choose between old reruns and moronic Fox reality shows, people by the millions will feel themselves compelled to go cold-turkey and turn off their televisions. This won't be good for screenwriters' incomes, of course, but considered purely in terms of service to humanity...

Ironically, I find myself in a similar situation right now. Having gone cold-turkey for a week and dropped out of my so-called life online, I am finding it very difficult to get back into it. I've had ideas for blogbits this week, and had a number of larger pieces I really wanted to work on and post two weeks ago, but now —


I mean, consider this: here it is, Friday, and I don't even have an idea for a Friday Challenge. (WaterBoy won the last one, by the way.) So I guess that's this week's Friday Challenge: anybody got a good idea for a Friday Challenge?