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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Link Dump
As per usual, interesting links scrounged from the depths of ye olde internets:
  • Make the Censors Watch 'Paint Drying' - A wonderful Kickstarter for the best kind of censorship trolling. The basic idea is that the British censors have to watch whatever you send them, so this guy made a 10 hour video of paint drying and forced them to watch it. (via Chizumatic)
  • That Time Ronald Reagan Visited Star Trek: The Next Generation And Took The Captain's Chair - These sorts of things are always funny. I like how Reagan reacts to Klingons "I like them, they remind me of Congress." Also, Reagan was correct, Star Trek III sucked.
  • How to Cook Prison Spread - Delving into the culinary delights of prison food.
  • What Errol Morris Thinks of Making a Murderer - Morris is always interesting, and immediately gets at what makes Making a Murderer worthwhile:
    I think it's a mistake to assume, however, that all of these stories are doing the same thing, because they're not. They're doing different things. And... you see more and more criticisms of Making a Murderer because they say it's biased-it leaves out this, that, and the other thing. To me, it's a very powerful story, ultimately, not about whether these guys are guilty or innocent-but it's a very powerful story about a miscarriage of justice.

    There's so many themes in it that are relevant to investigation. But what is powerful in Making a Murderer is not the issue of whether [Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey] are guilty or innocent. It's the horror of the courts and how that story was handled the first time around and subsequently. I can never ever forget Dassey’s attorney and the investigator. The attorney with the catfish mouth and the investigator crying—unforgettable.
    If you liked Making a Murderer, do yourself a favor and check out The Thin Blue Line (it's on Netflix streaming).
  • How to Make Eggs - A simple subject, but this is a great little reference...
  • PHYSICIST: Here's why blowing up the Death Star would have killed all the Ewoks - The trend of Star Wars revisionism that's been sweeping the internets is amusing, and it's funny that people keep finding new angles. This one is interesting, though it's also exactly why Star Wars isn't really Science Fiction (and why that's ok).
  • Grandmaster Maurice Ashley plays NYC trash talker - Grandmaster vs. Chess Hustler, and they trash talk. It's glorious.
That's all for now, see you next week for the Oscars!
Posted by Mark on February 21, 2016 at 02:58 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Favorite Films of 2015
It's hard to believe, but I've reached a decade of top 10 lists. Only a month and a half late! It is, of course, a completely arbitrary exercise, one that has vacillated between a "best of" list and "favorite" list, but I like lists. Lists are American! What are you? A communist? For reference, previous top 10s: [2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

Alyssa Rosenberg recently posed a question on twitter: "if you like rankings of movies, or albums, or whatever, what is it that you like about them?" There were a few schools of thought. One was about how fun it is to argue and play petty status signaling games (which is emphatically not my draw). Another was as a means to discovery, finding something obscure that you've never heard of, but might love. Then there's the list-writer's perspective, where you're forced to clarify your thinking in order to generate a meaningful list. In terms of my strategy in building a list like this, there's definitely a bit of the second thing there, I really do try to highlight some movies that don't get typical love in other year-end lists. Sometimes I'm more successful at that than others (less so this year, actually). Mostly, though, it's the third one that I struggle with. I try my best not to let my biases dominate the list, but on the other hand, I want to make sure I actually like the movies in the top 10. It's tricky. You want some variety, but you don't want to force it. I like to include a documentary, which has the added bonus that my favorite documentaries tend to be less activist focused than the ones most people choose, but again, I don't want to force something unworthy on the list. Similarly, I have an affinity for SF, horror, action, and other genre fare that tends to get overlooked in most top 10 lists... but I also don't want to make it purely genre, because there are other, better movies that must be considered too. It's a balancing act, and it can be extremely difficult to line up a top 10 that is coherent, represents my tastes, but is also filled with worthy movies.

Especially in a year like 2015, which is filled with excellent choices. I'd make this a top 13 list if that was a thing, and I guess nothing's stopping me, but again, the value in putting together a list like this is to force a decision. This was a genuinely jam-packed year full of wonderful movies, from the lowliest indie film to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, the great films just kept coming. Identifying emerging themes is always a silly proposition, but there were a couple that struck a chord with me. The more obvious one is the long-gap sequel, or what Matt Singer called Selective Sequels. Two of the best movies of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road and Creed, were clearly of this mold. Ostensibly sequels, kinda reboots, but both were excellent. Less successful attempts happened this year too, like Jurassic World and Terminator: Genysis, even if one of them was a box office behemoth. The other trend I'm spotting is particularly welcome, and that is the rise of serious science fiction. The past decade has seen a marked rise in quality for cinematic SF, but it's also often used as window dressing rather than embracing the heart of SF. Several movies this year actually dared to engage with their ideas in ways that most cinematic SF does not, which I judge to be a very good thing.

As of this writing, I have seen 80 movies that could be considered a 2015 release. This is about on-par for me, more than your typical moviegoer, but less than your average critic. Not exactly comprehensive, but enough such that a top 10 is actually a meaningful segment. Standard disclaimers apply (as touched on above), so let's get to it:

Top 10 Movies of 2015
* In roughly reverse order
  • Predestination - This Spierig Brothers' time-travel flick constitutes the best adaptation of a Heinlein story ever put to film. Of course, there are strangely few Heinlein adaptations, but this one embraces the sense of wonder that SF is known for (which is more than can be said about most SF films). It's got some flaws for sure, but they're endearing ones, and worth it for the payoff (which I'm certainly not going to ruin here).
    This is the wildcard on my list, the one you're not likely to have seen. Go check it out, then head over to a diner with a friend and spend the day making time-travel diagrams with straws. Paradoxes abound, but Heinlein never let that get in the way of a ripping good yarn. In his words: "A Paradox May Be Paradoctored."
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • Finders Keepers - Starting with a decidedly macabre premise, this documentary about a mummified leg found in a smoker grill at a storage auction manages to pivot into a surprisingly moving story. The true stories of John Wood and Shannon Whisnant are darkly comic, for sure, but there's a lot of pathos here. Wood's struggle with survivor's guilt and drug addition, Whisnant's quest to become famous at any cost, both are played against each other, but it's not exploitative as the initial premise makes it seem. Call it a bait and switch, but in a good way that's ultimately more satisfying than you'd ever have thought.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Room - My heart was literally pounding as I watched a certain sequence in this film, moreso than any horror or suspense film of the year. In a way, I suppose this is a horror film, one that is more grounded and emotionally draining but oddly uplifting in the end. I don't want to give anything away, but while this will put you through the wringer , even moreso than you think it might as you watch, I found it worth the heartbreak. Exceptional performances all around, but especially from Jacob Tremblay, who plays the child in the story. Not for the faint of heart, but excellent nonetheless.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Ex Machina - Movies haven't quite caught up with the full implications of artificial intelligence, but they're inching closer, as this film amply demonstrates. It is a bit contrived, but there are enough red herrings and misdirects bolstered by programmer philosophizing to keep you guessing and even surprise you a few times. First time director Alex Garland keeps things ominous and tense, coaxing excellent performances from the three leads. Especially Alicia Vikander's chilling take on a manipulative AI, one of the year's best performances.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • The Hateful Eight - Tarantino has a way of producing conflicting emotions in me that I feel is somewhat underrated in the general discussion of his work. In particular, I'm frequently struck by the way Tarantino manages to juxtapose horrifying violence with comedic timing or thrilling action that results in a sorta delayed conscience reaction once the action subsides. Most pick one side and rail on Tarantino for that, but I cherish the ambiguity and confusion it produces in me. It's something I've noticed all throughout his work, but it is certainly on display here as well.
    Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight
    This may very well be Tarantino's darkest work, a bit of a sucker punch after his previous two historical epics. In some ways, it's a difficult movie, but it's hard not to respect what's going on here. It's very, very Tarantino, talky and indulgent, and I love it for that.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • The Martian - I can't help but love this movie for bringing my favorite parts of the written SF genre to the screen. It's one of the few movies that really emphasizes problem solving, competence, can-do attitudes, and genuine cooperation. Such attitudes are often seen as jejune and unsophisticated by our literary betters, but they are the beating heart of the SF genre, and only a few movies have ever really engaged with this core the way The Martian does. Optimistic, inspiring, gorgeous, and even funny, this movie tackles lots of complicated math and science and puts it on display with an uncommon clarity (which, to be fair, is mostly drawn from Andy Weir's book, but kudos are still due to Drew Goddard for maintaining the tone and clarity in his adapted script). I don't know that this will usher in a new era of throwback SF optimism, but a man can dream.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • Spotlight - The subject matter here, a look at the journalists who broke the story of decades of child abuse by an alarmingly high number of priests, would normally lead to histrionics, but director Tom McCarthy takes a restrained approach. And this is the best kind of restraint. It's a movie where you could have created a single character who would be an amalgam of all the people working at a newspaper, had him discover perfidy and make grandstanding speeches to oppose it. But McCarthy plays it straight up, like a journalism procedural, highlighting all the little people digging around in cellars with dead rats, looking for obscure evidence. Many of the actors here are known for their scenery chewing, but once again, McCarthy pulls restrained performances out of them, and the movie benefits greatly from this approach. Oddly, this restraint seems to be painting the movie with terms like "unsexy" or "workmanlike", which is bizarre because that's exactly what the story needs. If McCarthy sexed it up, it would not be anywhere near as good a movie. I was tremendously impressed by this movie, perhaps because I just wasn't expecting what it really delivered.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Inside Out - After some lackluster sequels and troubled original productions, Pixar had a delightful return to form with this movie. It took a simple premise, personifying various emotions inside a young girl's brain, and embraced the emotional complexity that life requires. Like the best of Pixar's efforts, it is fun, imaginative, and deceptively insightful.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • What We Do in the Shadows - Comedy gets short shrift in these sorts of lists, so it's always great when I can point to a genuinely hilarious movie that manages more heft than just a few good lines. This mock documentary about four vampire roommates in New Zealand hits the nail on the head. It's very funny, but it's also a loving tribute to old-school vampire lore. Most new vampire movies try to subvert the tropes and as a result, vampires are overplayed and boring, but this movie revitalizes the concept by embracing the commonly accepted lore. It's a spoof, yes, but it's also an excellent vampire film on its own.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Mad Max: Fury Road - This is the most propulsive action film of the year. Visually impressive, it relies primarily on practical effects and communicating more through action and visual cues than dialogue or exposition.
    The Doof Wagon in Mad Max: Fury Road
    Plus, it has something called the Doof Wagon, a giant truck that has a bunch of stacked speakers and a guitarist who is bungie corded to it so that he can provide a diegetic heavy metal soundtrack for the militia's attacks. Oh, and his guitar doubles as a flame thrower. How can you not love this movie?
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Capsule Review]
Alternate #10s
I had a really hard time with the #10 choice above, and frankly #9 and even #8 were in question, especially when I had three movies like the below to consider. On any given day, one of these may have snuck on the list, depending on how whimsical and capricious I was feeling.
  • Creed - The best movie in the series since the original Rocky, primarily because it is literally reckoning with the idea of living in the shadow of the legends of the past. It's a clever conceit, and director Ryan Coogler gives the film a visual dynamic that really sets the film apart from its predecessors. Perhaps it leans on its predecessors a bit too much, and there are some Rocky tropes that aren't quite as effective here because they feel a bit perfunctory, it's hard to fault it for such reaches because there's no real way to win that battle. This movie does as good as you could ever expect though, and again, it's something I could have seen in the top 10 if the mood struck me.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • The Big Short - Sharp, incisive, damning portrait of the 2008 economic collapse, as told through the eyes of a bunch of dudes who could see the disaster coming and decided to profit off of it. It's a bit loose, and yet its focus prevents certain aspects of the story from being told. That being said, it's still one of the best explanations for the crash that I've seen, all while maintaining a darkly comic tone.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Bridge of Spies - Sometimes I think we take folks like Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks for granted. This movie was generally well received, but I feel like it's one of the more underrated movies of the year (the irony of this not making the top 10 is not lost on me, but I take that more as the strength of the year than a reflection on the movie itself). In a year with tons of excellent action-packed spy adventures, this one takes a more grounded, real world approach. It's all deftly put together, filled with excellent performances, and you can even see the Coen brothers' influence in a few scenes. Not action packed, but a great movie nonetheless, worth seeking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
Honorable Mentions
* In alphabetical order
  • Ant-Man - You've got to respect Marvel's commitment to trying new and unexpected things, and while I don't think this year's efforts were as good as 2014, they did a few interesting things, like resurrecting this obscure character and producing a well executed little heist film. Tons of fun, lots of nice visual gags, and a decent enough introduction to a new hero. Certainly not perfect, but the stage is set for something I could see working well.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Bone Tomahawk - This one was close to an alternate #10, but I figured that I already had a Kurt Russell western where he's sporting a bitchin' frontier beard on the list, so this one ends up here in the honorable mentions. It's a fascinating film though, excellent script, and the gruesome payoff is worth the early deliberate pacing (if, uh, that's your thing - this is mostly fine, but the violence towards the ending will turn a lot of folks off). I really loved this movie though, and it's worth checking out for some excellent performances (I mean, Matthew Fox guys, he's great in this) and dialogue alone.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner] [Capsule Review]
  • Cartel Land - This documentary depicts two conflicts with Mexican cartels, one of which is utterly fascinating, spellbinding, and in the end heartbreaking. The story of a Mexican citizen uprising against the cartels is enough to make this a riveting watch. The other conflict, on the American side of the border, is much less compelling. It's still interesting, for sure, but it just pales in comparison to what's happening in Mexico, such that I'd almost rather see these be separate movies. Still, this is well crafted and heady stuff.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Final Girls - Cheeky self-aware slasher horror has been a thing since Scream, but this movie takes it a clever step farther by not only having its heroes steeped in slasher movie knowledge, but by actually inserting them into the movie (Last Action Hero style). It's breezy and fun, a bit derivative, but with just enough of a tweak on a played-out theme to give it the honorable mention it deserves.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]
  • It Follows - This movie has the best pure-horror premise of the year, and while it does get presented in a visually interesting and tense way, it later becomes clear that the filmmakers didn't really have anywhere to go with it. That being said, there's enough here to highly recommend it, and it features some of the scariest stuff of the year.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service - In a year with many (many!) action-packed spy adventures, this one takes the cake. Energetic, propulsive stuff, adventurous filmmaking, and some expertly choreographed action sequences. In particular, the long takes in the Church sequence are truly impressive, filled with conflicting emotions, confusion, slow motion, and an excellent usage of Free Bird. There are some unfortunately juvenile shots that might take this down a peg, but it's overall quite a fun updating of classic British spy action (certainly moreso than the most recent Bond installment).
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • Krampus - Delightfully mean spirited take on Christmas lore that really embraces the darker side of these things. It's clear that writer/director Michael Dougherty just gets the darker side of holidays (his previous film, Trick 'r Treat is quickly emerging as a Halloween classic). It's not especially satisfying, of course, but that's the point, so it's really hard not to respect the hell out of a movie like this, even if it's not something I could see myself watching every Christmas...
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Magic Mike XXL - Take the original movie, remove the obligatory romance and seedy thriller side-plots, and you end up with this episodic road trip movie that basically just treats sexuality as a thing worth celebrating. There's no real plot or conflict here, just good old-fashioned sexytimes and fun. There's some overarching themes about finding oneself and whatnot, if you're willing to look for it. I have a lot of respect for this, but truth be told, it's not really my kinda movie. Dance, music, no-plot, etc... I can respect what it's doing, but it's emphatically not my bag. But that's cool! That's why list-making exercises are interesting, because if we all loved the same stuff, that would be pretty darn boring.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - This is the little franchise that could, improbably getting better, movie after movie. This is arguably the best in the series so far, thanks to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (a Kaedrin favorite, for sure), some excellent stunt-work, and the incomparable Rebecca Ferguson. It's not redefining the spy adventure genre, but it's a superbly executed version of it for sure.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Nightmare - Director Rodney Ascher's chilling documentary about sleep paralysis and how terrifying such an experience can be is extremely well done. A little more straightforward and less layered than his previous effort, Room 237, it is nonetheless one of the best documentaries of the year, one that I really connected with (such that it nearly made its way onto the top 10 - in a weaker year, it very well might have).
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens - I have to admit that a large portion of my enjoyment of this film is purely nostalgia, but enjoyment is enjoyment, and while this may have perhaps been a bit too derivative of its predecessors, it's still a whole boatload of fun, and the new characters are so fun and engaging that I can't wait to see where they go next.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Full Review]
  • Victoria - It takes its time to get going, but this is nonetheless an incredibly impressive film. It's over two hours long and it's shot in one single take. This isn't one of those cheats like Birdman where the filmmakers use clever cuts and CGI to make it seem like a single take. No cheats, no cuts, just a very, very long single take. And it's not a boring single-location shoot either, there's all sorts of machinations going on here that makes the whole thing that much more impressive. The pacing is a bit deliberate and you can quibble with some of the choices, but it's a worthwhile movie nonetheless.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Full Review] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
Just Missed the Cut:
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order: Should Have Seen:
Despite having seen 8o of this year's movies (and listing out 30+ of my favorites in this post), there are a few that got away. Or never made themselves available here. Regardless, there are several movies here that I probably should have caught up with: So there you have it. That's a pretty damn good year for movies right there. Stay tuned for the Oscars coverage in a couple of weeks. After that, it's onwards and upwards to 2016 movies...
Posted by Mark on February 14, 2016 at 02:02 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Monday, February 08, 2016

Link Dump
Many apologies for the lack of posting of late, and this one is coming a day late because I basically just forgot to post it. Something about a big sportsball game last night. Anyway, as I prep my Best of 2015 movies list, I have some links to keep you busy:
  • Guy annoys girlfriend with puns at Ikea - This is made me laugh more than I would have thought.
  • Celebrating the Invisible Artistry and Great Direction of "Spotlight" - Matt Singer valiantly defends the honor of this great, restrained movie:
    Spotlight certainly doesn't have the visual panache of The Revenant or The Hateful Eight, but that doesn’t automatically make it a lesser film. Lavish cinematic style is not an automatic and objective good. It needs to suit the material. And it would not suit the material in Spotlight. ...

    Spotlight's direction is "unsexy" because it depicts a world that is unsexy; it is "workmanlike" because it depicts a world of work. If the Boston Globe reporters’ jobs were fun and exciting, everyone would do them and the newspaper business would be thriving. The whole point of the film is to show why these journalists' efforts were important in spite of the fact that what they did was, by and large, boring, tedious, and monotonous. Gussying up this film with elaborate camera shots and eye-catching angles would be a betrayal of everything Spotlight represents. In the same way that the Spotlight team keep themselves out of the story, McCarthy keeps himself out of the movie.

    But that doesn't mean he's not there, or that film direction is purely the sum total of a movie’s flashy camera moves. Careful consideration of Spotlight reveals McCarthy's subtle but brilliant direction, not just in terms of cinematography but production design, art direction, and editing as well. Little of it is showy and most of it is easy to miss, particularly if you get caught up in the riveting drama of the Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church and its unseemly practices.
    Singer then proceeds to back it up with several examples. Very insightful, though it does appear that Spotlight has lost its frontrunner status.
  • I'm STILL Not Sayin' Aliens. But This Star Is Really Weird. - You remember that star that had really weird dips in radiance? It turns out that it's even weirder than originally thought, especially when taking into account historical observations. No real explanation has made much sense (even, dare I say, the alien hypothesis, however much we'd want it to be).
  • 'Dirty Grandpa': The Most Important Movie Ever Made - Well that's a hot take:
    Strangely missing from Oscar consideration, Dirty Grandpa would be a serious contender if it had not, bafflingly, missed the Dec. 31 cutoff date. As you've most certainly heard, there's an online petition demanding the White House take action on this travesty. Another curious decision is Lionsgate releasing Dirty Grandpa, a movie that offers no laughs, as a comedy. Instead, it’s an indictment on our society as a whole - a no-bones-about-it, heartbreaking, devastating takedown on this cesspool of society that Dirty Grandpa thinks we have. And it might just be The Most Important Movie Ever Made.
    It turns out that Dirty Grandpa inspired some pretty good writing, including this next link:
  • Dirty Grandpa review - This one goes weird:
    A couple of weeks ago I had the strangest dream. I dreamed that this movie, "Dirty Grandpa," was the talk of the nation. Not because the Robert De Niro/Zac Efron/Aubrey Plaza raunch comedy was particularly good, but because, apparently-I didn't see any of the movie in my dream, just had conversations with people about it-it didn't do that thing that studio-produced-raunch comedies do, which is take things so far and no further. No. In my dream, "Dirty Grandpa" was spinning heads because it broached John Waters/Harmony Korine levels of outrageousness. The sex scenes between De Niro and Plaza had a "Last Tango In Paris" level of explicitness, for instance.

    Now you just have to take my word for it that I had this dream, but honestly, I did. The question is WHY did I have this dream. As the author of a book on De Niro, I'm frequently (okay, not that frequently, but more often than would be the case for a guy who hadn't written a book on De Niro) asked what I make of his various career moves. So maybe the dream speaks to my critical desire to see De Niro go back to surprising his audiences with audacious performances. Or maybe I’m just a perv who wants to see Aubrey Plaza naked. I don’t know.
    I think we all know the answer to that question.
  • After Dark in CSS - Some genius reimplemented those oldschool After Dark screensavers in CSS. Flying Toasters man. Flying Toasters.
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on February 08, 2016 at 11:31 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, January 31, 2016

2015 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards
We announced the official 2015 Kaedrin Movie Award winners last week, but those awards are skewed towards certain types of movies. Sometimes movies are weird or flawed in ways that don't fit well into a traditional awards setting (let alone the Kaedrin awards!), but they also deserve recognition. The point of the Arbitrary Awards is to highlight these oddities. A few of these "awards" have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. Let's roll:
  • The "You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else" Award for Worst Dialogue: Chappie. "I've got blings?... I've got blings!" This award is often difficult because, you know, it's not like I go out of my way to watch bad movies, and good movies with a particularly bad line of dialog (such as the film this award is named after) aren't that common. I suppose one could make a case for Mad Max: Fury Road, actually, but there's so little dialog and during those scenes you're so busy catching your breath that it never quite registers as bad dialog. Anyway, Chappie is pretty clearly the winner, though I almost gave it to Point Break for the dialog that shows up in the trailer alone ("I believe that like me, the people behind these robberies are extreme athletes, using their skills to disrupt the international financial market."). Alas, I never actually saw the movie, so it's hard to really go for it.
  • The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Jurassic World. This movie has some ok bits, but dear Lord, these characters are all pretty dumb. Honorable mention goes to the dumb toaster plan that is devised in It Follows.
  • Best Villain/Badass (Non-Human Edition): The demon from It Follows. One of the great premises of our time, and the way the demon is used visually in the film makes it the obvious choice for this award.
  • Best Long Take/Tracking Shot: Victoria. In a year with a lot of great long takes, this one really takes the cake. The entire movie is a single take, and this isn't one of those cheats like Birdman where the filmmakers use clever cuts and CGI to make it seem like a single take. It's actually one single take. This is incredibly impressive.
  • Most Ostentatious Long Take: The church sequence in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Alright, so I can't let some of these other long takes go. This is also an impressive long take, involving more action and ornate choreography than Victoria (though I'm sure Victoria's choreography was just as impressive, now that I think about it). It's a really fascinating scene, full of conflicting emotions, confusion, slow motion, and an excellent usage of Free Bird. It's ostentatious and showy, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant.
  • Least ostentatious Long Take: The fight in Creed. Not the title bout, the one before that. It's fabulous filmmaking, but it doesn't call attention to itself like the Kingsman one does. In fact, you barely even realize it's a long take while you're watching it. It's the sort of thing that sneaks up on you, and that is no less impressive or brilliant.
  • Achievement in the Field of Gratuitous Violence: Bone Tomahawk. Surprising, because the rest of the movie seems kinda restrained, but you know the scene I'm talking about. *shudder*
  • Best Original Score: The Hateful Eight by Ennio Morricone. I'm certainly no expert in this arena, but I love this tense, ominous, grand score from Ennio Morricone.
  • The About Face Award: Maggie. It's a zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and yet it's nothing like you'd expect from such a premise. Certainly an about face for Arnold.
  • Tensest Border Crossing: Sicario. The movie as a whole didn't quite come together for me, but director Denis Villeneuve sure knows how to create a tense set piece like that border crossing.
  • Best Short Film: The Chickening. I always give short films a hard time when Oscars season rolls around, but this is a must watch short film. You should totally watch it. Runner up would be World of Tomorrow, which sort of lost me at the end, but which was interesting nonetheless.
So there you have it. Look for the top 10 in the next couple weeks (depending on what last minute viewing I can squeeze in), followed by some Oscars roundup.
Posted by Mark on January 31, 2016 at 11:29 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hugo Award Season 2015
It's that time again. Well, almost. The nomination period for the 2015 Hugo Awards is fast approaching, so I thought I'd get some thoughts on potential nominees down before all the requisite whining and controversy begins in earnest. This marks the third year I've participated, and while I was very gunshy about nominating in the first year, I went far out of my way to find stuff last year, to middling success (i.e. almost none of my nominees became finalists, but a couple things snuck in!) This year, I'm coming in somewhere between that level of effort. I've definitely read a bunch of eligible stuff, but I've only got a handful of definite nominees and I'm not really planning on any Herculean efforts to swell this list. My current nomination ballot, some thoughts on same, and a few things I'd like to read before I finalize my ballot are below. Enjoy:

Best Novel: Nothing too controversial (as if any of you were surprised that Stephenson would make my ballot) or even obscure here, and in fact, I'm reasonably sure that both of these will become finalists for the Hugo. There are a few dark horse books that I'd like to check out that may make the list, including: Zero World, by Jason M. Hough, Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman. I doubt I'll get to all of them, but I should be able to swing at least one before nominations close. Will it make the cut? Only one way to find out.

Best Novella: Another completely unsurprising nomination, given that Bujold is one of my two favorite writers (the other being Stephenson). If those two weren't publishing last year, I'm not entirely sure I'd participate this year. And it looks like we've got a new Bujold novel coming in the next few weeks. Most exciting.

Best Short Story: This was actually on my original nomination list for last year... until I found out that while the "January" issue of Fireside Fiction was released in very late 2014, it would not be eligible for the 2014 awards due to the listed publication date (2015), and so here we are. I have no idea what its chances are. Certainly it's had plenty of time to build a following and it's a wonderful story, but it also has the great misfortune of being an initial Sad Puppy pick (like me, they removed it from their list once the eligibility issue reared its head - at least, that's how I remember it, I could be very wrong), so there might be some weird backlash. Whatever, it's on my ballot.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Those of you following along with the Kaedrin Movie Awards will probably not be surprised by this list, but I suppose the one missing entry that might raise some eyebrows would be Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Call it a "snub" if you like, but given the Hugo voters' historical record and generally surprising lack of depth in this category, I opted to highlight some wonderful films that actually need the help. Star Wars will almost certainly make the ballot, along with Mad Max and The Martian. I think Ex Machina has an excellent chance, while Predestination is a true dark horse (perhaps a resurgence of Heinlein fans will get it done?) and What We Do in the Shadows has almost no chance at all. If you're reading this, though, seek all these movies out, they are worthy of your time and nomination.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The only one of these I'm really passionate about is The Chickening, which has virtually no chance of becoming a finalist. It is maybe a bit on the outskirts of fannish interest (being a take on Kubrick's The Shining) and strikingly bizarre, but it is absolutely brilliant. You should totally watch it and then wonder about my mental state afterwards. Seriously though, I found myself reaching for more short films this year than TV episodes (which normally comprise approximately 100% of the finalists). Kung Fury is a hoot, but I suspect not really the Hugo voters' thang. I have mixed feelings about World of Tomorrow and it might not make my final ballot, but then, I'd rather see that there than any number of the usual suspects (and it does seem rather fannish). Game of Thrones is a lock to be a finalist, but they've gotten a lot of Hugo attention the past few years, so maybe it's not necessary this year (but then, who else can stop the Doctor Who juggernaut?)

And that just about covers it for now. I suspect I'll read a few other things before nominations are due, but this is where I'm at now. Suggestions are welcome, though comments are still wonky, so hit me up on twitter @mciocco or @kaedrinbeer (if you're more of a lush) or just send an email to tallman at kaedrin dot com.
Posted by Mark on January 27, 2016 at 05:46 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners!
The nominations for the 2015 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. Today, I'll be announcing the winners of said awards. Next week, I'll cover less traditional categories in what we like to call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I'll post my top 10 of 2015. After that, we've got the Oscars (predictions and live-tweeting or something) and then it's on to 2016. But I digress, let's get on with the awards:
  • Best Villain/Badass: Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne in Mad Max: Fury Road. You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome. This was a moderate year for villainy, with only a handful of true standouts. Immortan Joe takes the award and stands tall even amongst the Mad Max legacy villains (though I don't think he quite takes it from Lord Humungus).
    Immortan Joe
    Kylo Ren is probably the runner-up, but he's held back by his whiny vulnerability and the fact that he got bested by an untrained and inexperienced hero, which is a shame, because he was initially pretty fantastic (and, truth be told, I imagine him being more menacing in the sequel, so I'm sure we'll be revisiting this topic then). Also of note, Tom Hardy's performance in The Revenant put him in the running, but even he couldn't stand up to Immortan Joe. Krampus might have been a good choice, except that he seemed to rely a little too heavily on his various helpers for the bulk of his work. I think I enjoyed the character of Ultron more than most, but then, the concept of the character is squandered a bit, even if he remains a fun little comic book villain.
  • Best Hero/Badass: Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Despite the title of the film, Charlize Theron owns this movie, and while the Best Hero/Villain awards rarely go to the same movie, they earned it here.
    Imperator Furiosa
    Otherwise, there's lots of competition, surely an overmatch for the villains (but hey, that's a good thing, I guess). A few folks who I highlighted more to represent an ensemble than for themselves (i.e. Kurt Russel in The Hateful Eight), and this is something I should probably give its own category for. In terms of runners up, um, I don't really know, there's like 5 or 6 folks of roughly equivalent heroic badassery on the list. But Furiosa stands out for sure, so she takes it!
  • Best Comedic Performance: Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. This was a tough category to pick, and truth be told, I'm not totally in love with Trainwreck, but Schumer is great in it, and goes to unexpected places. Runner up goes to Michael Peña in Ant-Man, who totally stole the show, but didn't quite have enough screen time to take the win. Really, the only one not in that I was able to immediately eliminate was Steve Carell in The Big Short. It's probably not even that funny of a performance, now that I think about it, but there was something about how exasperated his character is at what's going on (a feeling mimicked by the audience) that tickled me.
  • Breakthrough Performance: Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. This was a really tough one, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was really gunning for the award, but I gave it to Vikander because she had more heavy lifting to do in Ex Machina. I only listed two, but Vikander was also in, like, 500 movies this year, which also helped her case. This was a strong category this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing all of these folks again.
  • Most Visually Stunning: The Revenant. I think the movie is about an hour too long, but that hour is mostly glorious landscape shots, so here we are. This award most often goes to a movie that is showy and indulgent, which The Revenant certainly is.
    The Revenant
    Honorable mentions to Mad Max: Fury Road and The Hateful Eight, which certainly comported themselves well on the visual front (and honestly, had more compelling stories, etc...), though not quite as bombastically as The Revenant.
  • Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: The Martian. Perhaps a controversial choice. Not sure it's the best movie on the list, but as Science Fiction? This award simply needs to go to The Martian. You may have noticed that I'm a big fan of written Science Fiction, but if your conception of SF is based on Movies and TV, you've probably got a much different conception of the genre. Problem solving, competence, can-do attitudes, genuine cooperation; these things are often seen as jejune and unsophisticated, but they're the beating heart of SF. Nothing against the angsty, pessimistic dystopias that dominate the genre in film, but I was so happy to see my favorite parts of the genre on screen that I have to give it this award. The category as a whole is unusually strong, actually, and most of the other nominees would comport themselves well in most years. That being said, I hope The Martian ushers in a new era of throwback SF, even if that's highly unlikely.
  • Best Sequel/Reboot: Mad Max: Fury Road. Another unusually strong set of nominees here, but Mad Max was simply the most astonishing sequel, perhaps partly because I simply couldn't imagine it being very good at all. Runner up would be Creed, another long-gap sequel to an old, venerated franchise. I gave it a lot of love in the nominations, but I don't think it's faring quite as well in the winner's circle. I will most definitely have to find some Arbitrary Awards to give it, because it was wonderful.
  • Biggest Disappointment: Terminator Genisys. A tough choice, as it's not like I expected Genisys to be that great, but I didn't think it would be anywhere near as bad as it was. Maybe I'm more harsh on Terminator sequels because I'm such a huge fan of the original, but I always hold out hope that maybe someone can tell a new story in that universe. Meanwhile, I was super excited for Tomorrowland and it totally did not come close to those expectations. A close call, but I went with Terminator for this "award" because it's clearly the worse film. A close third would be Jurassic World, a movie that has a few decent moments, but which is ultimately pretty pointless.
  • Best Action Sequences: Mad Max: Fury Road. I mean, the whole movie is an action sequence, and it's glorious, so it has to win. Honorable mention to Kingsman: The Secret Service for that Church scene alone, Everly for its video-game-esque progression of minions and boss fights, Sicario for the tense border crossing sequence, Creed for that single take fight, and I could probably keep going, but I'll stop now because none of them really holds a candle to the sustained excellence of Mad Max...
  • Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Predestination. Really happy to be able to throw a spotlight, however small, on this little SF film. Of course, I won't ruin the surprise, but it's a doozy. Honorable mention to Focus for actually surprising me a couple of times despite being on guard for it (usually the downfall of a con man movie).
  • Best High Concept Film: It Follows. I don't think the movie could come up with a good resolution for it, but the pure horror conceit at it's heart is absolutely brilliant, and it's used to excellent effect. Until, again, you realize it has no idea what to do with the concept. Runner up goes to Victoria for its whole single-take device. I guess that qualifies as high-concept, right?
  • 2015's 2014 Movie of the Year: Housebound. I could have sworn I saw more 2014 stuff in 2015, but here we are, and I do love this little film, one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Gets the award for Morgana O'Reilly's delightfully snarky performance. Also because she uses a cheese grater as a gauntlet. Highly innovative. Definitely worth catching up with this movie.
And there you have it! Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards and (eventually) a top 10...
Posted by Mark on January 24, 2016 at 09:31 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2015 Kaedrin Movie Awards
Welcome to the 10th annual Kaedrin Movie Awards. Ten years. A decade! Hard to believe we've been doing this for so long, but here we are. As of right now, I've seen 69 movies that could be considered a 2015 release. More than your typical moviegoer, less than your typical critic, but enough so that able to commence with the whole awards rigmarole. [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014]

Standard disclaimers apply: Must be a 2015 movie (with the caveat that some 2014 movies were not accessible until 2015, an edge case that seems to be more common these days) and I obviously need to have seen the movie (and while I have seen a lot of movies, I don't pretend to have seen a comprehensive selection). Blah blah, subjectivity, blah blah, personal preference, blah blah, the world would be incredibly boring if we all liked the same things for the same reasons. Enough preamble, let's roll:

Best Villain/Badass
This was a moderately good year for villainy. Far from the worst year for this sort of thing, but while I didn't have any trouble populating the list, the true standouts seemed rare.As usual, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc...) or ideas (sorry It Follows). Best Hero/Badass
This was a stronger year for heroism though. Lots of memorable heroes to choose from, even from obscure or unlikely sources, and they tend to outweigh their villains heavily. Again limited to individuals and not groups Best Comedic Performance
This category is often difficult to populate because comedy so often comes in the form of an ensemble, but we had a decent enough year, except that I don't think I saw that many comedies. Breakthrough Performance
Always an interesting category to populate. Sometimes, it's not so much about someone's industry breakthrough, but a more personal breakthrough. This can happen even with established actors. This year, though, it's more about young up-and-comers, and it's dominated by a terrifying flood of girl cooties. Or something. The main criteria for this category was if I watched a movie, then immediately looking up the actor/actress on IMDB to see what else they've done (or where they came from). A somewhat vague category, but that's why these awards are fun. Most Visually Stunning
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great... and we've got a pretty interesting mix of stuff this year. Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film
I like to give a little love to my favorite genres, hence this category. When I started this category, I always had trouble finding good SF movies, so I had to pad out the category with horror. But we've seen an astonishing increase in good SF in recent years, mostly micro-budget independent stuff, but this year we've even got some big studio releases. Best Sequel/Reboot
Usually a difficult category to populate, but Hollywood has stepped up their game in recent years, thus making this a more interesting category than ever. Very strong year for this sort of thing. Biggest Disappointment
A category usually populated by sequels, this year offered a strong showing of original movies... that were disappointing. Naturally, the sequels came out to play as well, and I should also mention that this category is weird in that I actually enjoy some of these movies quite a bit... but my expectations were just too high when I saw them. Related reading: Joe Posnanski's Plus-Minus Scale (these movies scored especially poor on that scale) Best Action Sequences
This award isn't for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and this has been a very good year for action. Best Plot Twist/Surprise
Well, I suppose even listing nominees here constitutes something of a spoiler, but it's a risk we'll have to take, right? Best High Concept Film
A nebulous category, to be sure, but a fun one because these are generally interesting movies. Actually not a ton of these this year, but the ones we did have were great. 2015's 2014 Movie of the Year
There are always movies I miss out on, whether due to availability or laziness, but when I do catch up with them, I'm often taken with them. Sometimes a very difficult category to populate, maybe because I didn't see much, or didn't like it, or just plain forgot that I saw it (which, to be fair, probably says something about the movie's chances). In this case, I think it's all of the above. I could have sworn I saw more than the below and that I was thinking it would be a good year for this category, but I'm having trouble finding options here... So it looks like Mad Max: Fury Road is leading the way with 6 nominations, the highest since 2007 (when Grindhouse nabbed 9 nominations). I'm a little surprised to see The Revenant not far behind with 5 nominations (it's a fine movie, but I'm not as enthusiastic about it as a lot of the other movies in this post). Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Creed, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens clock in at a respectable 4 nominations apiece, while Ant-Man, The Hateful Eight, It Follows, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and Predestination come in at a solid 3 nominations each. Many others have two or one nomination, with 36 total movies (not including the last category, which would put me at 40). Not too shabby. As usual, you'll have to wait a week or two to see who wins, followed by the Arbitrary Awards and the traditional top 10, concluding with some Oscars prognostication and live tweeting. Stay tuned!

Update: Steven pointed out the egregious oversight of not including Daisy Ridley in the Breakthrough Performance category. We apologize for the fault in the nominations. Those responsible have been sacked. She has been added. (Steven also mentioned John Boyega, but even though I did not nominate him back in 2011 for Attack the Block, he has been on my radar ever since. So while his Star Wars role is certainly a mainstream breakthrough, he'd already wormed his way into this film nerd's heart long ago!)
Posted by Mark on January 17, 2016 at 02:58 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, January 10, 2016

SF Book Review, Part 21: Hugo Prep Edition
I read a lot of books last year, but I'm way behind in reviewing them, so in an attempt to catch up, here are some thoughts on a few Hugo Award related books. Last year I went out of my way to seek out stuff that would be eligible for the Hugos. This year: not so much. But I've read a few things that could qualify, so here goes:
  • Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos - This book was nominated for the Hugo Awards last year, but Marko Kloos withdrew the book due to the whole Puppy kerfluffle (thus clearing the way for the eventual winner, The Three-Body Problem). As a result, Kloos emerged mostly unscathed from the whole affair, and many pledged to purchase and read his book anyway. For my part, I really enjoyed the first book in the series and thought it showed a lot of promise, so I was inclined to check out the sequels anyway. This book starts off with humanity in pretty bad shape. Already suffering from a civil war and overpopulation, a new and relentless alien race (referred to as Lankies) has seemingly targeted human colonies throughout the galaxy. Our intrepid hero, Andrew Grayson, is right in the thick of it. After some disastrous operations, he gets scapegoated and assigned to a tiny, ice-bound colony in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, that situation ends up in mutiny and treason... and then the Lankies show up. I liked this well enough, but it also felt a little like the series was treading water. The first book was a little derivative, but well executed and it set up some interesting dynamics. This one is also well executed and moves the ball forward a bit, but not very far. The Lankies still remain inscrutable, which could wind up being a good thing, but what we do know about them is straightforward and not all that "alien". Grayson and pals are competent and likable, but there's some discomfort with the whole treason thing. The military here is presented as incredibly dysfunctional, especially when you move higher up the ladder (the grunts are all pretty honorable folks). Depressing, but certainly a valid extrapolation of current political trends. The book ends with a desperate counterattack against an invading Lanky ship. They use a tactic that's treated like a breakthrough, but that any reader even remotely familiar with space combat tropes already knew about. So what we're left with is a reasonably well executed MilSF novel, entertaining, but not mind-blowing.
  • Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos - The third of Kloos' series sees our intrepid heroes marooned on that tiny, obscure planet that's been cut off from supplies. Lankies are getting closer and closer to Earth at this point, and human institutions are breaking down. Again, we've got some well executed Military SF here, a capable enemy and competent heroes. Kloos is good at action, and the stakes are certainly higher here. Our heroes wind up striking an alliance with former civil war enemies (the Sino-Russians) and defending the Earth from disaster. There's still no real insight into what's going on with the Lankies, and this book feels, again, like we're treading water. I understand there's a fourth book coming out this year, which I'd hope would move closer to a resolution or at least understanding. I feel like I'm being pretty hard on these books; I've enjoyed each of them quite a bit, and I'll probably end up checking out the next book. There's a possibility that this will get nominated this year, but I'd rank it as more of a dark horse than a lock. I don't think I'll be nominating it, but it's worth checking out.
  • Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold - A novella set in Bujold's Chalion fantasy universe, this one concerns a young man who accidentally contracts a demon. Demon possession is rarely considered a good thing, but in the Chalion universe, it can be a manageable thing and if you can control it, you will get a fair amount of power. Penric is a likable young chap, and I love the way this story treats the relationship with his demon. I won't go into too much detail, but this was a fantastic novella, one that doesn't require any familiarity with the other stories in this universe, and will definitely be on my Hugo ballot. Check this one out, it's short and very good.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik - Agnieszka is a clumsy, homely girl who loves her little village, but the corrupted Wood, filled with monsters and evil presences, has slowly been encroaching on the territory. The Dragon, a magician who is assigned to the area, holds the Wood at bay, but requires an assistant from the village. Each assistant is a young girl taken by the Dragon and serves for 10 years before being freed again, usually moving away from the area afterwords. Agnieszka assumes her best friend, the beautiful and talented Kasia, will be taken, but of course it turns out that Agnieszka is chosen. At first, she seems singularly unsuited to the task, and can't even learn simple spells. But it turns out that she has a knack for a more intuitive form of magic. Soon, the Wood starts to become emboldened in its attacks, and Agnieszka and the Dragon must find a way to counter the offensive. This is a wonderful little fantasy book. It's got some flaws. I wasn't a big fan of the romance and some of the conflict is rooted in profound lack of communication. Some people like that sort of thing, but the Dragon's initially terse relationship with Agnieszka was frustrating for me, and indeed, a lot of the initial confusion and conflict would have been resolved had he spent a few seconds explaining some things. Similarly, the rigid way all the magicians in this universe treat magic seems unlikely, especially when Agnieszka starts showing them her more intuitive version. Those minor complaints aside, this is a well constructed story, with an ominous and cunning enemy and some interesting allies. Novik manages to cultivate a good sense of dread throughout the story, and when the shit really starts to hit the fan later in the novel, it's much more effective because of that slow buildup. You could say that the ending is a bit rushed and convenient, but one thing I really love about it is that this feels like epic fantasy, but it's not 7 books of 800 pages. Novik builds a complex, interesting world here and tells a complete story, and I like it more for that. I will probably be nominating this for next year's Hugo, and near as I can tell, it's a frontrunner. Recommended for fans of fantasy!
And that's all for now. I'm not completely caught up at this point, but I'll get there someday! In the meantime, the Kaedrin Movie Awards will be kicking off soon enough, so stay tuned!
Posted by Mark on January 10, 2016 at 01:54 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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