No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glen Greenwald

This is a scary book, and an important book. Greenwald is a clear writer. He manages to get across the information Snowden leaked from the NSA in a readable and even fairly pleasant manner. That’s very important, but not fun reading. The more exciting part of the book deals with Greenwald’s experience documenting Snowden, and his views on the importance of whistleblowing and truly free press. Understanding the scope of the surveillance state that the NSA has built is an important part of understanding the modern world. It makes me angry, but I’m glad I have some idea of what’s going on. It might make you paranoid, but in a reasonable way. Paranoia and concern is the right response.

Kingsman: the Secret Service

Fuck Mark Millar.

I don’t remember when in this movie I thought, “I bet this was based on a Mark Millar comic,” but it was no surprise to see his name in the credits.

Millar has a distinct style of over exaggerated comic violence. This was my least favorite part of Kingsmen. I liked the set up. I liked the backstory of the organization. I liked the ridiculous villains, and the ridiculous heros, and the ultra-Bond style. But then the action parts are all incredibly gory and jokey at the same time, and that’s really off putting. So Mark Millar.

The absurd action sequences get in the way of a fun story, and a decent heart. It didn’t ruin the movie, but it pissed me off.

Looking past that there were things to like. Colin Firth was very Colin Firth — I mean this as a compliment. Taron Egerton as Eggsy was a wonderful underdog, and it helps that he’s a babe. Roxy was a great character. I don’t know if Sam Jackson’s character really worked, but it’s obvious he was having fun. The world of the movie was nicely stylish, well shot.

The most interesting part of the movie was the villain’s plot, which involved giving everyone free wifi and cell service. The idea of access to this sort of stuff, and who’s controlling it in the background feels like a very important issue to address. It’s the kind of thing more villains should be trying to control, past the real world cable companies. The villain’s worry about global warming and overpopulation felt overdone, but his methods felt like a step into something new.

But really. Fuck Mark Millar.

I liked this movie alright, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the adaptation hadn’t stuck so closely to his style.

The Losers

This was a very fun action movies. It isn’t amazing, but it’s visually interesting, and has a good cast. It was a perfect movie for a mindless summer night.

It does all the little things right. The musical cues were great. There are some great visual moments. The action scenes are well done, and not overly predictable. The cast is really solid. Idris Elba is just unfairly compelling and good looking. Chris Evans should have more chances to do comedy instead of being a muscely action hero. It’s a movie full of good pieces that never add up to something spectacular.

The problem is the ending — instead of wrapping things up neatly they left room for a sequel that never happened. That’s very typical Hollywood — stopping itself from creating a satisfying ending in the hopes of kickstarting a franchise. Even with some loose threads it hangs together alright, and the emotional arc is satisfying.

The movie is based of a comic series that I read all of years ago. I remembered a big twist halfway through the movie, but knowing that didn’t ruin anything.

It isn’t a great movie, but it’s a fun diversion.

On the Lower Frequencies: a Secret History of the City by Erick Lyle

I love love loved this book. It’s a collection of pieces that had appeared in various zines in the late 90s and early 00s. Lyle writes about living in San Francisco through through gentrification, the following dot com bust. He was a punk activist through the rise of the Bush administration, and part of the protesting the war on terror.

It’s such a place specific book. Lyle clearly loves San Francisco, and a part of it that most visitors don’t get to see — one that tourists are specifically warned away from. But that’s Lyle’s neighborhood, and his affection for exasperation with his neighbors comes across clearly.

One of the big themes is the use of space. Lyle is living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but he’s squatting or crashing with friends or finding other homes along the margins. Lyle talks a lot about homelessness, and America’s failure to provide for homeless people, and how homeless communities and the support structure around them have found ways to look after themselves. San Francisco is a city where space is expensive, and Lyle uses sorts of tricks to find space to make art and music and community.

This book made me want to do more things, which is amazing, I hate doing things. It made me feel like people can actually change things, or at least they should be trying. This is a book that I’m still thinking about, and I think it’s going to stick with me for a long time. It looks at the world in a different way that I find very exciting. Highly recommended.

Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish

In the first chapter of this book every word starts with A. In the second chapter every word starts with A or B. In the third chapter every word starts with A, B, or C. The twenty-sixth chapter uses every letter of the alphabet. The twenty-seventh uses every letter except for Z. And so on.

What a fascinating game.

I really appreciate this as an idea. I love that someone set out to write a book like this, and then did it, and then it got published, and then is an actual readable novel. Is it a particularly awesome novel? Not really, but it has it’s moments.

There is a loose plot. There are characters. There’s a bit of a story, and a lot of themes. I’m not sure if it really hangs together, cause I certainly didn’t understand it all. But it was an interesting ambitious book, and I enjoyed it.

If it wasn’t the middle of the summer I might look up some academic articles on the text, and try to pick it apart further, but for right now I’m content to marvel at it’s existence.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This movie wasn’t very much fun, and didn’t really make sense.

I loved X-Men First Class because it was so much fun! It was lively and a little bit sweet. There was a lot of joy in playing with the time period. Days of Future Past is far more grim, to its detriment.

The ending doesn’t work. I’m not going to explain why, cause I don’t really understand. It doesn’t really make sense, and the parts I understood weren’t very good. My memory is that the comic book storyline made more sense, which is really saying something, because I also remember that being pretty nonsensical. Sometimes a movie can get away with not making sense, but they’re a lot more fun than this.

There were somethings I did enjoy. The young and old versions of Magneto and Professor X are both fantastic. If you don’t read X-Men stories as being about Magneto and Professor X’s tortured romance, I’m sorry, that must be such a sad life. Their relationship is so wonderful, it was my favorite part of the first film, and it’s still an element here. Also, Sir Patrick and Sir Ian are just adorably good friends.

I was impressed by how many random X-Men I could name — a lot more than my girlfriend. I’ll take that as a sign of a well spent youth. I’m not sure all of these different mutants were really necessary, and they generally weren’t developed at all.

Quicksilver was a ton of fun. He was a weirdo, and they really used the time period to tell us things about his character, and it was just a blast. I wish they had done more with him though. Especially if they actually make him Magneto’s kid! Maybe that’ll show up in the next one.

My problems with this movie aren’t enough to make me not want to watch the next one. I’m might be a bit less excited, but the franchise still has enough stuff going for it, and I still care enough about some of these characters that I’ll check it out.

(I HOPE THE NEXT ONE IS LESS ABOUT WOLVERINE. I DON’T CARE ABOUT WOLVERINE.)

Tim’s Vermeer

Okay, so this is a documentary about a dude named Tim. He made a lot of money doing computer effects stuff, so now he has the time and money to do weird shit. He had read about the theory that Vermeer used lenses to get the sort of realism of the light in details in his paintings. So Tim decided to figure this out, using only the technology that would have been availible in Vermeer’s time. And he figures something out that works, so he decided to build a replica of the room Vermeer painted in, with all the stuff, and the right light, and then try painting it himself. He’s this guy who had never painted before, but he just went for it. It turns out pretty well. It looks like a Vermeer.

This whole thing brings up some really interesting questions. What’s the difference between making art and using technology? What do we add to a work when the goal is to mimic reality? There isn’t really the analysis that I want. It never goes far enough into these questions.

That isn’t the type of movie it is. It’s a very dull quest movie. It isn’t trying to raise phylisophical questions, and when they show up it doesn’t know what to do with them. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. It just means that there’s lots of room for us to keep going. This movie is a possible starting place for much bigger ideas.