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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Weird Movie of the Week
The last Weird Movie of the Week was actually a book (a surprisingly common feature in this series), but today we have a bona fide weird movie, courtesy of Brian Collins (aka the guy who did Horror Movie a Day for, like, 5 years), who recounts weird movies he's watched on his birthday, including this gem:
2007: CALVAIRE (aka THE ORDEAL) (2004)
The one that started it all! Obviously I wasn't "burnt out" yet, as this was only a few weeks into HMAD's lifespan. It just so happened that I had the place to myself for a few hours and knew it was the kind of movie my wife would get upset by (i.e. it featured rape and/or torture), so I wanted to get it out of the way when I had the chance. And what a delight it was! Sure, the rapey stuff (male on male, for the record) is hardly fun, but any movie that features an entire bar's worth of rednecks suddenly dancing around to a little polka ditty is definitely worth your time. A film that works best without any inkling as to what it's about, though I will say it starts off like (too many) horror films - a car breaking down in a remote area. In the immortal words of Buzzfeed, what happened next will blow your mind.
So yes, it's got some rapey stuff (that's bad), but also redneck polka ditties (that's fun!), so I guess I'm in. I have to admit that my record in terms of actually watching Weird Movies of the Week is actually rather appalling (though I have seen several), but given Collins' note that the less you know about this movie going in, the better, I think this one might be a nice surprise.
Posted by Mark on March 19, 2014 at 11:40 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Link Dump
Yes, again, links from the uncharted depths of the internets:
  • What Is the Time Signature of the Ominous Electronic Score of The Terminator? - I love the score for The Terminator. It's one of my favorite movies, and the score is a big part of that (the pop music hasn't quite aged as well, but Burnin' in the Third Degree brings back some memories). Composer Brad Fiedel intentionally used all electronic instruments for the score, thus emphasizing the artificial nature of the threat. I have no real formal knowledge of music, but I know I like weird, and this score really hits that. Apparently one of the things that drives that weirdness is the time signature:
    As the score kicked in, I immediately recognized it was in a strange time signature. I'm a (very) amateur musician, and my ears are attuned to bizarre beats. This was as jarring as it gets. A disorienting rhythm - in particular the driving, industrial-sounding beat that gets louder and more prominent as the opening theme progresses. It wasn't in 5/4 or 7/8, both of which I can generally suss out with not much difficulty. I tried to count the beat in my head, and by tapping on my thigh: "DAH-doonk, dah-doonk, dah-doonk, gonk gonk." But for the life of me I couldn't make anything fit. My world had been ripped apart, much like Sarah Connor's when she discovered she was being hunted by an implacable killing machine from the future.
    I won't tell you the time signature, but I will note that there actually is an answer in the article (I was a little worried at some point that it wouldn't be solved).
  • Shot: The Wolf of Sesame Street
  • Chaser: The Worf of Starfleet (thanks Don)
  • The amazing invisible spacer GIF hack - Flashbacks. Not to the horrors of 1x1 gifs, but rather the horrors of converting 1x1 gif layouts to CSS. Incidentally, Kaedrin is still partially on 1x1 gifs. I've slowly CSSified things, but the bulk of this design was done in 2001 and used tables and spacer gifs. I actually did find a way to convert the layout to CSS, but I never went through the trouble of updating it in my templates. Someday? Probably not anytime soon. Everything here is custom built, so updating the templates is a pain. But perhaps someday I'll hook into the newer templates that are out there (and that would allow me to switch up designs on a whim - I can kinda do that with the beer blog, it's just that MT has so few designs available)...
  • Warner Bros. Logo Design Evolotion - It's a thorough recap, and it's funny how often the design changed, sometimes dramatically. And it's funny how even movies from 2012 would use "throwback" logos.
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on March 16, 2014 at 07:04 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Don't care how I want it now!
We are living in the age of on-demand media, so this post might rankle some of those who read it. For the uninitiated, Lent started a week ago, and it's got me thinking about the nature of sacrifice. I always hated Lent growing up, but as an adult, I've found it an invaluable way to break bad habits and/or try new things. 40 days is an excellent length of time to give something up. It's short enough that it's achievable, but long enough that your routine can be changed for the better. I actually wrote that a couple days ago in reference to a little beer hiatus (er, quasi-hiatus) I'm going through, but the notion of delayed gratification is powerful, and it applies to lots of other things. Namely, media.

What got me started on this post was Neil Gaiman's eloquent response to a fan's query about the growing dissatisfaction that George R.R. Martin takes so damn long between installments of A Song of Ice and Fire. In short, Gaiman said "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch." And he is correct.

I consume a lot of media. Television, movies, books, you name it. I find it astounding that this sort of thing is possible. On Sunday, I posted a list of TV shows I'd like to catch up with. I probably won't watch all of it, because it's likely that I won't particularly love all of it. But I can just about guarantee that I'm going to get hooked on one of those shows and burn through several seasons in a couple weeks. It's fantastic when it happens, and the novelty whore inside of me rejoices, but it is never sustainable. When I think of the amount of work that goes into producing a TV show, my mind boggles. Hundreds of people working thousands of person-hours, all to produce something that can be consumed in 22-42 minutes (pay-cable TV shows have a higher range of 50-60 minutes or so, but the point holds). Obviously, I'm not the only viewer, but it's still a wide discrepancy. Binging is fun and it's really awesome to hit that great show high, but the show will invariably end (or you'll catch up with it and have to wait agonizing weeks or months, months I tell you, before a new episode airs) and that can lead to a serious crash, followed by withdrawal symptoms.

Writers are a little different in that they are a single person, but they're no different in terms of the amount of work they put in to write, and the corresponding pittance we spend reading their work. Someone like George R.R. Martin is writing an obscenely long story, with dozens of main characters and a convoluted plot. It's going to take him a lot of time to keep it all straight, write the story, edit the story, go through the obscenely long publication process, etc... I can accept that. But then, I would say that, as I've not read any of his books (though I am currently whinging about having to wait for Season 4 of Game of Thrones). Still, I think it's fair to say that the dude's earned his time, and we the readers aren't really entitled to anything. It would, of course, be really nice if he would, you know, finish the series. He's not getting any younger, and it's not like certain fears are entirely unfounded (on the other hand, by all accounts, that particular situation turned out pretty well.)

There is some hand wringing that occurs when an author takes time away from a series (that they haven't finished yet, jeeze!) to dedicate time to other things. But as Gaiman notes, writers aren't machines. They're just people, and sometimes they get worn out or inspired by something else. Maybe that something else will be another book, and maybe no one will buy it because they're frustrated at not getting the series book they wanted. Then the author becomes a victim of their own success. That would be a crushing situation for them, but I suspect it doesn't happen that often. The word "fan" is short for "fanatic", and despite what you may think from reading vitriolic comments on the internet, most people aren't really that fanatical about this stuff.

There are plenty of authors that I wish would publish more often. Neal Stephenson only publishes something once every 3-4 years (come to think of it, Reamde came out 2.5 years ago, and I don't know what's next - oh noes!) I've read just about every published word that guy's written, from his lowly first novel, to his pseudonymous novels, to non-fiction and op-eds. And you know what? That entitles me to nothing. Stephenson isn't obligated to write another word. I'm sure there are folks who look at his work on projects like Clang and get frustrated because it seems like he's not working on his next novel. But then, Stephenson has been very clear about his writing habits. Mainly, he finds that he can get the best results by writing a few hours a day, after which he gets burnt out and needs to engage in something else to clear his head (or allow his subconscious to work stuff out so that he can write stuff the next day). Eminently reasonable, and he's very clear and upfront about that. Plus, his books are great.

I was supremely disappointed about some aspects of John Scalzi's The Human Division. He sold the book as a series of short stories and novellas that could be put together in the end to tell a whole story. Only, it didn't. The book ends on a cliffhanger. Then he admits that he did this before he even knew if he could get the follow-up published, which just seems wrong. Fortunately, he did get the go-ahead from his publisher, so the sequel is forthcoming (and will hopefully resolve the story). In the meantime, he's publishing a different novel, which I'm actually looking forward to. So all is well, I guess, but this does bring up a good point about how authors interact with fans.

And here's where I go all Gollum to the above's Smeagol. Authors (or any creators) are not obligated to write what fans want or even really to interact with fans. But it is possible to interact poorly. I was upset and felt deceived by Scalzi's quasi-bait-and-switch with The Human Division, but then, he was really good about asking for feedback and (seemingly) taking it to heart. So I don't hold it against him at all that he went and wrote another novel before working on the sequel to The Human Division. I'm not entitled to anything in this situation, but I think it's fair to say that if Scalzi does start promoting the sequel, that he should be clear about what he's delivering.

But Scalzi's a bad example, because he's really good at that sort of thing and the sequel is forthcoming and even if it doesn't complete the story, I'm sure he'll finish it off at some point in the near future. And again, writing an unrelated novel (or working on other projects) between entries in the series? That's fine too. But there is an extreme here that can be extremely frustrating, and his name is Clive Barker.

About 20 years ago (Jesus, has it really been that long?), I read a great book called The Great and Secret Show. One of the best openings I've ever read in a story, and the rest of the book wasn't too shabby either. It was the first Book of the Art, a planned trilogy, and it was published in 1989. Five years (and two other novels, including the most excellent and rather epic Imajica) later, and the sequel came out. Everville was not nearly as compelling as the first novel, but then, middle parts of a trilogy often feel that way when isolated from their siblings. So I waited. And waited. Barker has published 9 novels in the interim, worked on several plays, painted a crapton of artwork, produced some movies, and probably a bunch of other stuff I don't even know about. And he hasn't been silent on the third Book of the Art (you'll need to scroll down past all the other "current" projects he has going on). He's been talking about it in interviews since 1990. In 1996, he said "The final part of the Art Trilogy will be published before the end of the century, I promise!" Well, fourteen years after the turn of the century, and we're still not that close. He wants to finish his Abarat books first, and he's got two of them left.

As I understand it, this third book is going to be massive and ambitious, so I get it, it will take a while, and I'm sure he's burnt out on it a few times and worked on other stuff. But 20 years? That's pushing it a bit, dontcha think? He's still not obligated to deliver it just because I want it, but I think you can understand the frustration fans are going through right now.

Back to the Smeagol side, Barker is ambitious and clearly very excited about wayyy too many things. There's a good chance that this sort of thing is what lead me to enjoy his work in the first place. And I really do believe he'll eventually finish out the Art books, if only because we've had the relatively recent news that The Scarlet Gospels is completed and with the publisher (looking at a 2015 release). This is another novel he's been talking about delivering since the early 1990s, though in fairness, when he originally brought it up, it was going to be a short story, and it will be published next year as a 243,000 word behemoth. So when he says he'll finish off Abarat and move on to the final Art book, I'm on board. But I ain't expecting it anytime soon.

The digital era is the bearer of great tidings, and while there are often frustrating and arbitrary constraints tied to it (and those should totes be fixed, they are not covered under this immunity that artists and creators get), artists are not obligated to deliver exactly what we want all the time. 20 years may be pushing it, Clive, but what can I really do about it? I can scream "Don't care how I want it now!" at the top of my lungs, but acting childish on the internets isn't going to get me anywhere and it's not going to help Clive finish his book. So let's show some self control and glory in the knowledge that delayed gratification can be oh so very sweet.
Posted by Mark on March 12, 2014 at 10:51 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Sunday, March 09, 2014

More TV Shows I Should Probably Catch Up With
About a year ago, I posted a list of television shows I wanted to catch up with. I've actually made it most of the way through that list, with a few stragglers that will also appear below. People keep calling the turn of the century period when television got good the "Golden Age" of television, and while I've seen a bunch of that stuff (Sopranos, The Wire, etc...) some stuff I just haven't taken the time to watch. Catching up with TV shows like this is probably a big part of why I didn't watch as many movies last year, and I don't see that changing much. The quality of television has risen so dramatically, and technology for consumption has gotten so much better that watching TV is actually a fair amount of fun. This is, of course, not a revolutionary notion, but I'm catching up here, so cut me some slack.

I'm enjoying several series currently on TV (notably True Detective, Archer, Game of Thrones, and a few others), but there are still a lot of shows I could be catching up on, whether they be Golden Age staples or just obscure weird stuff, like my first pick:
  • Clone High - After enjoying The Lego Movie so much, I decided to take a look back at what else Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had done, and this one popped up. I vaguely remember when it aired on MTV a while back, though it was originally produced and aired in Canada before coming to the US. I know the Extra Hot Great folks are big fans of the show too, and I've always wanted to check it out. Alas, streaming options are nil, so I'll have to take a flier on the DVD.
  • Look Around You - Short spoofs of 80s educational science movies from Britain? It sounds rather strange, but from what I've seen so far, it's hilarious. Another recommendation from our friends at the Extra Hot Great podcast from Previously.tv, this was a canon entry from Dave a few weeks ago. Thanks Dave. Thave. Once again, streaming options are limited. That sucks.
  • Louie - This is Louis C.K.'s show where he plays a presumably fictionalized version of himself. I've seen a couple episodes, and they're pretty good, though this does get a lot of hyperbolic praise, so I'll probably give it a more serious look at some point. And wonder of wonders, it's on Netflix streaming, so it's easy.
  • Psych - One of those seemingly light and fluffy USA series that a friend actually really loves. I've seen a few episodes, and they really are a lot of fun, so I'll probably make my way through the series, and it's nice to have a procedural detective show that doesn't depress the hell out of me. Also on Netflix streaming.
  • Veronica Mars - I know almost nothing about this series except that Kristen Bell is the title character, and that she does detective stuff with her dad, or something like that. I figure I should probably check out the show before that Kickstarter movie comes out, and it just got added to Amazon Prime streaming, so that's nice.
  • The Shield - One of those shows frequently cited amongst all the talk of Television's Golden Age, along with the likes of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and the like (it seems to be the first basic cable show to challenge HBO). All I know about it is that it's about a dirty cop played by Michael Chiklis - one of them anti-hero shows. It's also on Amazon Prime streaming, so I should probably hop to it.
  • Oz - HBO's prison drama was kinda the first foray into that Golden Age of television thing, so I figure it's the sort of thing I should probably nail down. It's on HBO Go, but Comcast won't let me watch that anywhere but my computer or tablet, so options are limited here.
  • Mad Men - A holdover from the last list that I've just never pulled the trigger on. It's another highly praised show that I'm sure I could get into, but again, that trigger won't pull itself.
  • Doctor Who - Another holdover, and I'm sad to say that I've made minimal progress on the show. That being said, I expect to make a concerted effort this year.
Phew, looks like I have my work cut out for me. Someday, I'd like to read Alan Sepinwall's book The Revolution Was Televised, which covers 12 shows: The Sopranos, Oz, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Fortunately, I've got about 2/3 of them reasonably well covered (need to finish off a few seasons here or there) and several on the list above, so if I make good progress, I might be able to read the book this year without having to spoil the shows. Score. Or maybe not. That's a lot of television to be watching!
Posted by Mark on March 09, 2014 at 08:39 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Link Dump
I feel like I've been doing these more often lately, but nevertheless, more links for your enjoyment, with some shot and chasers embedded in shot and chasers.
  • Shot: America's Angriest Store: How Whole Foods Attracts Complete Shitheads. - I'm sympathetic to this cause, but the funniest part of this article is the inherent irony. Embedded Shot:
    I've shopped at Whole Foods in every time zone, in at least 10 different cities: LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Austin, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, DC and Richmond, VA. I love Whole Foods.
    Embedded Chaser (from the same article):
    The problem with Whole Foods is their regular customers. They are, across the board, across the country, useless, ignorant, and miserable. They're worse than miserable, they're angry.
    Heh. Still a fun article though
  • Chaser: Whole Foods: America's Temple of Pseudoscience - Who'd have thunk that Whole Foods was so divisive:
    From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there's really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn't just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don't.
    Heh.
  • Shot: Headshots - Photos by an awesome person.
  • Chaser: As a European this is how I imagine Americans have breakfast - Another photo by an awesome person. However, this is, of course, completely inaccurate. Normally there are two eggs, half of the bacon is substituted for sausages, and if you're in Philly, Scrapple is involved.
And that's all for now. See you soon suckers friends!
Posted by Mark on March 05, 2014 at 09:39 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Oscars
At this point, every conceivable opinion you could have about the Oscars has become gauche. Whether you're genuinely enthusiastic, profoundly bored, or searingly cynical, you've got a pretty lame outlook on the event. It's not your fault, it's just the hand we're all dealt. I've found that two things help make the show palatable: beer and mockery. And predictions!

This marks the tenth year I've covered the Oscars. A whole damn decade. I wish I could say that I'm going to do something special for this anniversary, but who am I kidding? I don't really wish that at all, and in fact, I'm recycling some stuff from last year (like the first paragraph of this post, which is as relevant now as it was last year). I used to "liveblog" the Oscars and continually update a post like this as the night wore on, but last year I decided to get with the program and took to twitter (along with the rest of the movie nerds). I expect my personal commentary to be less frequent than even last year, though you can expect a lot of retweets, because other people are more witty than I am. If, for some reason, you want to check out previous years' predictions and commentary, they are here: [2013 |2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]

As per usual, my predictions for the major awards (and, um, some not so major awards that I always pick for some unbeknownst reason):
  • Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave. This is actually something of a race. The three strong contenders for the award have already gone through several cycles of buzz and backlash, peaking early, then rallying, etc... I like that Best Picture allows more nominees, but in reality, it's usually pretty easy to narrow the field down to the 5 that would have been nominated with the old rules. In this case, I think it's pretty safe to assume that Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyer's Club, Her and Philomena have next to no chance to win. I haven't seen Nebraska, but it seems too low-key to attract a lot of votes, and if it's going to be rewarded, there's a better category for that sort of thing ("better" in the sense of academy voters distorted mindset, at least). The Wolf of Wall Street is next on the chopping block, because the Academy already righted their wrongs for Scorsese a few years ago. This leaves 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity, and I would not be surprised if any of them won. 12 Years because racism is bad and the academy likes to feel important, Hustle because it's an actor/actress showcase and the academy is mostly actors, and Gravity because spectacle and also a pretty big performance from Bullock. I think Gravity could certainly take the cake here, and would not be surprised if Hustle took it either. Now, I don't truly understand the weird run-off style voting for Best Picture, but I suspect that 12 Years will take the edge because even if someone doesn't vote for it in the number one slot, they'll almost certainly put it in the number 2 slot. Also, racism is bad. (On the other hand, apparently many voters have refused to watch 12 Years because it seems so harrowing - which isn't an uncommon reaction, though pretty cowardly if you're tasked with voting for the Oscars, if you ask me.)
  • Best Director: Alfonso Curaon for Gravity. Cuaron has all the momentum going into the Oscars, having taken the Golden Globe and DGA awards, which actually bodes well for Gravity in the Best Picture category. Best Picture and Director usually track together, but again, I think the weird voting process for Best Picture means that years with close races can see divergence in the two categories. It's a rarity, but it happened last year for purely political reasons (Affleck wasn't nominated and that was seen as a sleight, plus torture is like, really bad, and Zero Dark Thirty had the temerity to depict it). This year I think there's a fair chance that it will be a split because of the close race, though it's also a fair bet that Steve McQueen will take this too. I guess you could call my choice hedging my bet, but I think there's a good chance that the awards will split.
  • Best Actress: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. This is another tough one, as I really think that Amy Adams could take this award due to her being awesome and her (beloved by the Academy) movie not winning Best Picture/Director. Plus, you've got that Woody Allen taint, though Blanchett seems to have survived the controversy intact. Or something. It's a tough call. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing Sandra Bullock take the award, but that won't happen because she just won recently and quite frankly, Amy Adams deserves it more.
  • Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club. He's got the momentum, and we are living in the Golden Age of McConaughey. The dude went from reviled romcom stoner to critical darling making daring choices and putting in superb performances in the course of, like, 2 years. This is also a very actorly performance, with the unflattering physical transformation and all that stuff that the Academy loves to reward. The dark horse here is Bruce Dern, as a sorta lifetime achievement award and a way to reward Nebraska (if it's going to happen, it will happen here).
  • Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave. She had the early buzz, but J-Law seems to be coming on of late, and again, the Academy may want to reward the actor/actress friendly American Hustle here. On the other hand, she just won for Best Actress last year, so the Academy may not see the need to reward her again and go with the unknown 12 Years actress (who was genuinely fantastic).
  • Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club. Some minor controversy here from the LGBT community, but I don't think it's enough to stop Leto's momentum. Plus, the competition in this category isn't quite as fierce as the others this year. I wouldn't be surprised if Leto lost, but it's his award to lose at this point.
  • Best Original Screenplay: American Hustle. The other strong contender here is Her, but I'm betting that the Academy is too old and stodgy for that movie and will want to reward Hustle in some way.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave. Finally, a category that is somewhat close to a lock. I just don't see any of the other nominees pulling an upset here.
  • Editing: Captain Phillips. Gravity was an early frontrunner, but Captain Phillips has been coming on strong.
  • Cinematography: Gravity. Duh.
  • Visual Effects: Gravity. Duh.
  • Makeup: Dallas Buyers Club.
  • Costumes: American Hustle.
  • Musical Score: Gravity. Though I think this is a big toss up.
  • Best Song: from Frozen
  • Best Animated Film: Frozen. Minor possibility of an upset from Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, though some weird politics may keep that in check (I haven't seen the movie, but it apparently is about the guy who created Japanese airplanes in WWII). I have not seen either film, so I'm just going on buzz here.
  • Best Documentary: The Act of Killing. This could easily go to Twenty Feet from Stardom because it's more of a feel-good movie about unsung heroes and the Academy likes that sort of thing. The Act of Killing may have peaked early, but I'll still go with it for this.
  • Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty. Though I've also heard a lot about Broken Circle Breakdown...
So there you have it. Actually a lot of pretty tight races this year. Gravity will almost certainly pick up all the technical awards, but the real question is how well it'll do in the big awards. I wouldn't be surprised to see it do really well. It hits a lot of Academy sweet spots. I'm going to throw up my twitter feed here, though obviously it won't start updating much until we get towards the actual ceremony. Feel free to leave a comment here or hit me up on Twitter...

Posted by Mark on March 02, 2014 at 11:42 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Link Dump
You know the drill, painstakingly curated links posted here for your enjoyment, so you better damn well enjoy. Or not. I'm not your mother. Where were we? Ah, yes, links:
  • Chief O'Brien at Work - This little webcomic perfectly captures the pathos of Chief O'Brien. I like how most of the comics start with the same three panels.
  • Asking the Wrong Questions: Her - Abigail Nussbaum's review of Her is a lot more critical of the movie than I am, but we also share some thoughts:
    Science fiction films, it often seems, are the idiot cousin of the genre. Not that there aren't some excellent SF films out there, but even if you ignore the vast majority, which are actually action or horror films in an SFnal setting, what you'll be left with will be mostly small, simple stories in thinly drawn worlds, often with a thuddingly obvious political subtext. Again, that's not to say that these films can't be good--Moon, to take one example whose story and world are practically miniscule, is one of the finest SF films of the last decade. But it's rare, verging on unheard-of, for SF films to achieve the depth and complexity of SFnal ideas and worldbuilding that written SF is capable of, and I think that part of the reason for this is fear. Most SF filmmakers (or their financial backers) are afraid to imagine a world too different from out own, a future too alien--the most celebrated SF film of the last year, after all, was one that used space exploration as a metaphor for alienation, and ended with humanity effectively barred from space for decades to come. Spike Jonze's Her isn't the film to buck that trend, but it carries within it the seeds of that film. Jonze takes the relatively unusual step (in the film medium, at least) of pairing SF with romantic drama, but that potentially refreshing choice turns out to be Her's undoing--not only because the romance it crafts is problematic and unconvincing, but because it obscures the much more interesting SF film that Her could have been, if it were slightly less afraid of the future.
    Again, I don't quite agree with everything, but it's very well put, and the rest of the review is a pretty compelling argument. I still liked the movie a lot, but like I mentioned earlier this week, I think the movie doesn't fully explore the implications of its SFnal ideas and its world never really approaches the depth or complexity of novels covering similar ground.
  • Firefly Fan Tries to Retroactively Save Dead Character With NASA Data - This is one of those articles where no one really comes away looking particularly good. This guy went to extreme lengths to help... a fictional character. On the other hand, I (and I suspect most Firefly/Serenity fans) can sympathize with him, because Joss Whedon is the sort of writer who will kill a character in the most blatantly manipulative but still heart wrenching manner, so heart wrenching that it doesn't really achieve its aim. But then, we've covered that ground before, eh?
  • Inside The Army's Spectacular Hidden Treasure Room - Yada, yada, yada, it turns out that the giant government warehouse that the "top men" store the Ark of the Covenant in at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark is actually a real place, and it's awesome.
  • Stephen King's Boners - Niche tumblr of the week, created by a brilliant maniac named Britt Hayes whose goal is to catalog "every mention of an erect penis in Stephen King's novels." She's only been doing this for about a month, and she's got 5 pages of boners.
There you have it. Stay tuned for some Oscar commentary on Sunday, and while I'm thinking that my twitter will consist more retweets than original tweets, I'll probably be online for the whole ceremony, so feel free to follow me there.
Posted by Mark on February 26, 2014 at 11:25 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Favorite Films of 2013
The notion of summarizing a year in movies as "good" or "bad" and trotting out a top 10 list is an arbitrary exercise, but it's one that I enjoy in partaking. Sure, it's an attempt to reduce the irreducible, but sometimes good comes of it, and sometimes I just like to share movies I love. I had a slow year in movies, and have not seen as many as I have in previous years, but the great 2013 movie catchup was quite fruitful, and I was able to cobble together this list pretty easily. For reference, previous top 10s: [2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

Of the past few years, I feel like this one resembles 2011, a year in which I had no real clear favorite. Indeed, I could not even bring myself to "roughly" rank the films and used alphabetical ordering instead. Truly a copout, and I'll try to do an ordering this year, even if I don't have a really clear favorite. As for thematic consistency, I do see some things in 2013. Every one of my top 10 favorite movies this year surprised me with their subtlety, nuance, and complexity. Sometimes this was at least partially the result of poor marketing, but even in those cases, the story itself unfolded in unexpected ways. Another, more minor theme (at least, in terms of consistency), could be summarized as "lost people finding themselves" or perhaps "coming of age stories". A few of these made it to my top 10 (and some are in Honorable Mention), but many did not (and a few I didn't like at all).

As of this writing, I have seen 70 movies that would be considered a 2013 release. This is about on par with last year, but less than some previous years. It's certainly less than most critics (who easily see twice as many movies in a given year), but probably a lot more than your typical moviegoer. Speaking of critics, my list has slowly been morphing away from critical consensus, think "favorite" rather than "best". This is a disclaimer of sorts, but it's also what makes my list distinct, right? I certainly have a couple widely praised movies in my list (and many of the critics' favorites are in my honorable mention), but there are some movies here that rarely show up in anyones list. This is partly my love of genre film coming through, and also a belief that sometimes a movie doesn't have to be "important" in order to be considered "great". Alrighty then, enough introduction, let's get to it:

Top 10 Movies of 2013
* In roughly reverse order
  • Stories We Tell - This is one of those documentaries I kept hearing critics talk about in hushed tones, but it always seemed like it would be pretentious and indulgent. It turned out to be neither. Sarah Polley interviews her family, and what at first seems indulgent quickly goes away as revelations start dropping. It's a very personal story, obviously, but it's easily relatable. And there's a subtext about how stories are told that gets at something more universal, even if that part isn't as explicitly laid out. An excellent film.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Captain Phillips - I don't think the marketing for this movie did it any favors, but the film itself is a spectacular exercise in tension and unconventional action. There's a monologue at the beginning that is a bit too on the nose, but once this true story of Somali pirates gets going, it never lets up. It's a taut thriller with a couple of expertly staged set pieces, a surprisingly even handed portrayal of the Somali pirates (humanizing them without excusing their actions), and good performances all around.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • In a World... - Charming indie film about an aspiring female voiceover talent and her struggle in a male-dominated industry. It's a premise you might think would lead to preachiness, but writer/director Lake Bell keeps things light and emphasizes the humor rather than the preachiness (the issues come through naturally nonetheless and the movie is better for that). A lot of people found this movie slight, but it connected with me and made me laugh out loud. One of the most purely enjoyable movies on this list.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • Gravity - Have spacesuit, will travel. A gorgeous spectacle of a movie, and while the story and themes are a bit ham-fisted, the method of delivery more than makes up for any shortcomings in that respect. Alfonso Cuaron manages to wring a huge amount of tension from a seemingly simple premise (astronauts stranded in space by flying space garbage), and that suspense just ratchets up higher and higher as the movie goes on. The backstory might even be unnecessary, though it didn't bother me nearly as much as it seemed to bother others. Great movie all around.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • The World's End - Another hilarious entry in the quasi-official Cornetto trilogy, this one channels Doctor Who in a big way and wholly succeeds. In the running for funniest movie of the year, but it's got a heart too. A winning combination that this particular group of filmmakers excels at.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • You're Next - It puts the "fun" back in home invasion movies. I was quite worried at the start of the film, as it initially focused on grating dysfunctional family tropes, but it quickly picks up, especially as twists are revealed, and it ends strong. It's suspenseful and very tense, but also funny and entertaining. Indeed, it might be the most fun I had at a movie theater all year.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award] [Capsule Review]
  • Room 237 - Ostensibly a documentary about three theories on Kubrick's The Shining, the movie is actually a meditation on obsession and conspiracy theory, and the people who engage with them. Director Rodney Ascher does a remarkable job letting these theories play out, splicing in footage and visuals as needed (sometimes slyly commenting on the ridiculousness of the more challenging claims). While Kubrick fans will no doubt enjoy it, this film is elevated by its unflinching look at obsession and conspiracy theorists.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Side Effects - Steven Soderbergh channels Hitchcock's scheming films with this tense, twisty thriller. There was a moment early on when I thought this would be a preachy film about the ills of the pharmaceutical industry, but instead, it engaged with genre architecture as a way to make the critique more broad. Everyone has an angle, everyone is scheming, and it's great fun to watch that play out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • Short Term 12 - Another critical darling that didn't sound like my cup of tea, this is nonetheless one of the most affecting movies of the year, and I really connected with this story centering on a foster-care facility. It's certainly not for the faint of heart and will put you through the ringer, but it's a masterfully executed film, and while it doesn't ignore the tragedies of life, it also finds ways to celebrate and laugh at it.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Upstream Color - I don't normally fall for tone poems or fever dreams in film, but this one hooked me and never let go. Even after months, I'm haunted by some of the imagery and thought provoking ideas and themes. A challenging, obtuse, but worthwhile movie. It's certainly not for everyone, but it's challenging, adventurous filmmaking at its best.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
Honorable Mention
* In alphabetical order
  • 12 Years a Slave - A harrowing one-timer of a movie that is undeniably well made and tells an interesting story (one which I'd not heard of before). I can't take the full bore contrarian view on this movie and call it torture porn, but it is a movie meant to make you feel miserable and depressed (it succeeds) and that's really not my thing. The most fascinating thing about this movie was the Benedict Cumberbatch character, but that segment was also among the shorter parts of the movie. I can appreciate the film for what it is and what it's doing, but there's something here that held me back.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • All the Boys Love Mandy Lane - The seven year wait as this film sat on shelves perhaps built up expectations a bit too much for me, but it's a fine horror film that goes in interesting directions and puts some twists on standard genre tropes. Definitely worth seeking out for fans of the genre, but it's probably got some broader appeal as well. I really liked this film and it was one of many films vying for the last couple of slots on the top 10.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]
  • American Hustle - A rock solid con man (and woman) story, even if there is a bit too much emphasis on the cartoonish histrionics of some of the characters. Still, it's a pleasure to watch, and the exaggerated tone does work, perhaps because the actors involved were so fantastic (particularly Christian Bale and Amy Adams, though everyone is great in this). This is another film that was really close to nabbing that last slot in the top 10.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Drug War - Kaedrin favorite Johnny To is extremely prolific, and I'd put this one down as somewhere in the middle of the pack (which is still pretty good overall). It's got a police procedural backbone, with some undercover work for flavor, and a couple of Johnny To's expertly staged, chess-like action sequences (including a spectacular shootout at the end). A solid film, if not quite a top tier effot.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Her - Perhaps because of my love of Science Fiction literature, I almost always find myself disappointed by filmic takes on SFnal themes. This film is certainly much better than its premise (a man falls in love with his sentient computer) would have you believe, but it also doesn't fully explore the implications of its SFnal ideas and its world never really approaches the depth or complexity of novels covering similar ground. That may be unfair, but that's where I'm at, though I will say that I enjoyed this movie quite a bit nonetheless. It has fantastic performances (in particular, Scarlett Johansson's voice acting is amazing) and a visual flare. Still, I found myself wanting more exploration and depth in the end.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Much Ado About Nothing - The best complement I can give this movie is that it really made me want to go and read more Shakespeare. I was really quite taken with this movie, though I can't help but think that my enthusiasm was primarily based on the source material rather than this particular iteration. Not that it's bad or anything. The performances are great and there are some nice visual flourishes too. And I like the story behind the movie as well (basically Joss Whedon and his friends made the movie at his house over the course of a week or so, right after The Avengers). Indeed, I very nearly placed this at #10 on the list above, and perhaps on another day, I would have. In the meantime, I've got to dig out that collected works of Shakespeare book I've got buried in a box somewhere.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Mud - A solid mixture of crime, thriller, and coming of age film with an artistic bent. It's a little on the nose at times, and maybe a bit too long, but it's a well made film, and it's got yet another in a long string of interesting performances from Matthew McConaughey, not to mention some fine child acting.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Pacific Rim - So it's a movie where giant robots and water monsters beat the hell out of each other. It's not a perfect film, but it is a tremendous amount of fun, and there's enough weight to the characters that it doesn't devolve into mindless action. It is particularly good at worldbuilding, and its world has a terrifically lived-in quality that you don't normally get in big summer action blockbusters. So yes, a ton of fun.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Full Review]
  • The Angels' Share - An interesting film with some sharp edges, but enough round corners that it doesn't matter. Some tonal oddness, but it works well enough for me and really sorta snuck up on me while I was watching it. Definitely worth watching, and I'm sure whiskey (er, whisky) nerds will enjoy.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Conjuring - Fantastic old school horror, a slow burn with actual likable characters and a minimum of cynicism. It's not perfect, but it is very effective, one of the scariest movies of the year, and it's something that stuck with me after it was over. Impressive and creepy, it was another candidate for that final top 10 slot.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Wolf of Wall Street - Surprisingly vulgar and yet full of vitality and energy, with an excellent lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and as always, masterful work from Martin Scorsese. The one strike against it is that it sorta begs comparison to Goodfellas, which is a tough act to follow. Wolf hits a lot of the same notes, but it never quite hits them as well as Scorsese's previous masterwork. Nevertheless, this makes an interesting addition to the unofficial Goodfellas/Casino series where theft and corruption gradually becomes more and more legal. Just narrowly missed out on the top 10 here.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • This Is the End - In the running for funniest film of the year, great ensemble, tons of fantastic cameos, and lots of raunchy laughs. Not for everyone, but certainly for me. Another film I considered for the top 10, but left out in favor of The World's End...
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Thor: The Dark World - For some reason, I tend to gravitate towards these Thor movies moreso than the other individual Marvel heroes (like Iron Man or Captain America). Perhaps its those Shakespearean undertones, or the fish out of water elements, or the just plain comedy (of Thor riding the subway or getting into a small car or hanging his hammer up on a coat rack), or the inclusion of Loki and Tom Hiddleston's scene-stealing performance (though Chris Hemsworth manages an admirable charisma as well). Whatever the case, I enjoyed this more than any of the other Superhero movies this year, and am still greatly looking forward to the Marvel phase 2 stuff.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • Trance - An engaging and energizing film with a raucous mashup of cliches that starts off plausible enough, then saunters into ludicrous territory, which would be bad if it didn't rocket past that phase and into some next-level bonkers stuff towards the end. It's an outlandish thriller with preposterous twists and turns, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Full Review]
  • We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks - This documentary covers a lot of ground and unearths a lot of interesting ideas and philosophical debates, though perhaps it gets a bit sidetracked by Julian Assange's antics a bit towards the end... but then, so did the entire world, so it's hard to fault the movie for that! Definitely worth watching, especially considering more recent events and NSA snooping and whatnot. Another contender for a top 10 slot.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
Just Missed the Cut:
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order: Should Have Seen:
Despite the fact that I've seen 72 of this year's movies (and that this post features 30+ of my favorites), there were a few that got away... mostly because I'm lazy! Or something wasn't available yet. Take your pick. I may or may not catch up with some of these... And that just about wraps up my 2013 movie recap. Stay tuned next Sunday for the usual Oscar Liveblogging - previous installments here: [2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]
Posted by Mark on February 23, 2014 at 07:46 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


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