Sunday, April 22, 2012

"The Hunger Games" [A-]

This is one of those films that gets a high grade not because it's a pleasant experience, but because it does its job so well. This is the story of an America gone wrong. After an only partly explained cataclysm and war, the future USA is ruled by the technological haves. One way they have of keeping the apparently rebellious have-nots in line (part of a decades-old negotiated peace) is to have them submit two teenagers to an annual fight to the death. One of this years' participants is the unconventional Katniss.
Katniss' story is well told. The settings and other characters are appropriately evocative and provocative. Arguments can be made about whether the film is promoting violence or speaking against it. Thankfully, most of the actual gore is kept off screen, allowing us to focus on Katniss and her predicament. If you've read the book, the film is a fine adaptation. If you have not read the book, you may want to, in order to gain more insight into Katniss and her situation. Or you may not. Either way, I think the film is worth seeing, if for no other reason than to gain some clue about the phenomenon of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games (IMDb)

"Johnny English Reborn" [B-]

This is a fairly amusing addition to the Johnny English franchise. I thought the original had more energy and humor. This one had only a few outright laughs. There were plenty of well done moments and some good running gags. The story seemed to have greater potential than the final result.

Johnny English Reborn (IMDb)

read: Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook (4 stars)

Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career HandbookBeing Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook by Michael Lopp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael Lopp is the person behind the blog 'Rands in Repose', which explains the blog-like feel of this book. It may be presented as if it's a coherent guide to a career in the software industry. But it's clearly just an edited collection of articles on topics related to career, career management, and a management career. This is not really a weakness, but it's not always a strength, either. The book sometimes lacks flow.

A bigger weakness is that few of the articles really lead to any conclusion. Most will get you thinking about your own career or situation. This is good. Some also make solid suggestions for how be successful. This is better. But not all do. And even those that do are most relevent within the specific context of California's Silicon Valley during the first decade or so of the 21st century. In an industry that's always changing, career management is just as volatile.
The strength of the book comes in the voice of the author, Michael Lopp or Rands. He strikes a friendly, beleaguered tone that helps the reader identify with the situations and with the nuggets of advice being offered. Even though the advice is often more implied than spoonfed, I think most software developers will find something in here to help them in their working life, whether they are an individual contributor or a manager (or on their way to being a manager). Just read with a your own good judgement intact and use the articles as jumping off points for personal reflection.
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Saturday, April 14, 2012

read: County Line (3 stars)

County LineCounty Line by Bill Cameron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is two books in one. The one I enjoyed the most is the taut, bare-knuckled adventure of 'Skin' Kadash as he searches Portland, San Francisco, and a small Ohio town for the woman he has decided he loves. While he was recuperating from another adventure, she has taken off for parts unknown, for reasons unknown, and has not returned as quickly as she led her friends to believe. He knows he has to track her down. Along the way, there are murders, attempted murders, brawls, and scant clues.

Compressed between the two halves of this thriller is another story. This one about the confused teenage version of Ruby Jane-the woman Kadash loves. She's in and out of trouble. Fighting to make her way through life against the odds. In a way, this backstory is what drives the rest, but I found it mostly a distraction. The style is different. The tone is different. And I wasn't invested enough in her to stick with it. I skimmed through and got the gist of it.

The writing was pretty good. The characters and settings well presented. The mystery was OK. What knocked this book down from 4 to 3 stars was the weak center section.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

"The Ides of March" [B-]

I'm not sure why I had such high hopes and expectations for this film. It does have a fine cast and garnered plenty of good reviews and award nominations. But a talky, morality play about politics is not a riveting way to spend a quiet evening. Especially when it's heavy on the play (as in speeches) and light on the morality (as in nobody seems to have any).

The writing, acting, and directing are very well done. The problem is that there does not seem to be a genuine heart and soul for the viewer to identify with. What's left is cold and hollow. One joy is watching Ryan Gosling do almost as much driving and brooding here as he does in the grittier Drive (which I liked more).

The Ides of March (IMDb)

"Skyline" [C+]

This is an old-fashioned monster-fest. It was fun to watch. A cotery of vapid friends party. When they wake up, all-powerful aliens are landing and taking everyone in the city away, using mysterious blue lights. Eventually, survivors of both the party and the initial landing have to dig deep and take on the aliens face-to-face and hand-to-hand, and we get a few hints of what both are made of.

What works: The visual and sound effects are pretty amazing. There is non-stop rampaging in and above the streets of Los Angeles. The alien monsters are appropriately monsterous and mysterious. What do they want? All the budget seems to have been spent on effects.

Not so much: the writing and acting are wooden. There is much posturing and arguing about staying or leaving. The aliens and their technology and biology are completely unexplored, even though it seems to be a key piece of their motivation for invading earth. Of course, both their techology and biology would probably not hold up under any sort of scrutiny.

I liked this more than I expected. With a little more attention paid to the script and a slightly higher caliber cast, it could have been a better version of Tom Cruise's ponderous remake of War of the Worlds.

Skyline (IMDb)