You are here: Kaedrin > Weblog
Sunday, August 17, 2014
As I get older, I find myself more and more attracted to documentaries. I don't know if this is a function of my own personal proclivities or if it's that more documentaries are being made or that in the age of the internet, they're just more accessible than ever. It's probably some combination of all those factors, but I've found myself ranking at least one, sometimes two, documentaries in my top 10s for just about every year. I don't generally like "activist" documentaries (too much ax grinding to actually be effective), though if you're Errol Morris, I can make an exception (not sure if you'd consider The Unknown Known an "activist" film, but I'll most certainly be checking it out at some point) - The Thin Blue Line buys him a permanent exception. I tend to gravitate towards documentaries about professions or activities, personalities famous or unknown. This year has seen a bunch of interesting ones, all lining up in the past couple months (for me, at least). So here are four documentaries that I found worthwhile:
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is the second Marvel Universe movie of the year, and since this occasions a referendum on the series as a whole, I think I've finally bought completely into this whole Marvel Universe thing. To be sure, I've always enjoyed the movies, but in looking back at the blog, I found that I was almost never particularly excited about any of them. At best, there were a few appearances on the Honorable Mention portion of my annual Top 10 lists and honestly, there are only two comic book movies that actually appeared on a top 10 since 2006 and neither were Marvel movies (one was The Dark Knight, the other was Kick-Ass). It wasn't until Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the cumulative effect of repeated rewatchings of The Avengers that I started to get really excited about the series. Indeed, I think part of the appeal of these Marvel movies is their uncanny rewatchability. Even the worst of the films (Iron Man 2) benefits greatly upon repeated viewings, and as the series of Marvel movies goes on, the interconnected pieces start to underline and reinforce one another without burdening any individual movie (with the possible exception of Iron Man 2, which certainly suffers under the weight of Avengers setup).
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proves that it is firing on all cylinders. It's not a perfect movie, but it does exactly what it needs to do, and the fact that Marvel has been able to make a movie this weird, yet still court mainstream awareness and success. As I mentioned last week, this was one my most anticipated movies of the year for two primary reasons: One, I knew almost nothing about it. This sets it apart from most other comic book movies, which I'm usually familiar with in one way or another and thus come with varying degrees of baggage. Not so for Guardians. Second, the talent involved is intriguing. James Gunn is a really odd choice, but then, this is a really odd movie. Part of that is Gunn's goofy sensibility coming through, but the fact that Marvel was able to recognize and court that sort of talent is admirable.
The acting talent was also interesting. Like the rest of the Marvel movies, they got some recognizable people, but not A-list stars, but this group works very well together. They have great chemistry, but also work really well together. Chris Pratt's Peter Quill/Starlord has a sorta naive Luke Skywalker component mixed with cocksure Han Solo charisma. Zoe Saldana imbues Gamora with a sense of gravitas that works well, yet is not so serious as to be devoid of levity (her line about "pelvic sorcery" is a standout that will surely enter the geek lexicon, if it hasn't already). Bradley Cooper provides a surprisingly effective voice acting performance for Rocket (I mean, he's not at Scarlett Johansson in Her levels awesome, but he is very good), and the CGI racoon he's playing works way better than I think anyone could have hoped for. Vin Diesel has perhaps the least to do, but Groot is the most likable character of the bunch and heck, Diesel has done this thing pretty well before. Finally, while Dave Bautista may have made a name for himself as a professional wrestler, he frankly steals the show on several occasions as Drax, displaying excellent comedic timing in addition to the more expected physical presence.
Ronan is fine as a villain, by never really transcends being a generic bad guy. Thanos makes another appearance here, and I feel like the movie wastes his involvement. We are constantly told how powerful he is, but we never see him do anything. We've got plenty of time for that before Thanos hits in Avengers 3, but still, it would be nice to get more here. In any case, while Ronan isn't a hugely inspiring villain, he represents enough of a threat and the stakes are high enough that the movie doesn't really suffer.
The real fun of the movie, though, is watching the Guardians come together. Indeed, I think this is a strength of all the Marvel movies. The best bits are the little interpersonal touches, like the Schwarma bit after The Avengers, Bruce Banner nodding off as Tony Stark bores him at the end of Iron Man 3, or Black Widow haranguing Captain America about his love life in Cap 2. And this movie is full of characters coming together and connecting like that. It's just fun, and that's what makes this movie work.
From a visual perspective, Gunn knows what he's doing and manages the large scale battle sequences and CGI extravaganza well (certainly better than the Star Wars prequels), even if some of it is unnecessary. Some of the close-up hand-to-hand combat can be a bit difficult to follow, but it never approaches the worst of the aughts (when a lot of action was simply incomprehensible) and some of it is actually fantastic. For the most part, it's a very visually pleasing movie. The soundtrack, comprised of lots of popular 70s hits, works extremely well. It actually functions as part of the story, since they all come from a mix tape that was given to Starlord by his dying mother on Earth (and it's his only real connection to his former home). The actual choices are an intriguing mix. And "mix" is the perfect name for it, as it is genuinely diverse in terms of what is included. This isn't a Forrest Gump nostalgia-fest, it's an eclectic mix of fun little songs that matches the tone of the movie perfectly.
So what we're left with is an intensely fun adventure movie, taking on some of the best aspects of Star Wars and space opera in general, mixing that with some grand Spielbergian adventure, all with a unique and decidedly goofy perspective that works really well. Marvel seems to have taken some huge risks with this movie, and they are indeed paying off big time. I cannot wait to watch this again, and this one is almost certainly in my top 3 Marvel movies. Plus, we've got a sequel coming, not to mention Avengers 3. This is all very exciting, and I'm greatly looking forward to Marvel's next phase (though I have to admit that I'm very disappointed that Edgar Wright has left Ant-Man - then again, I'm hoping that since they were already so far along, much of Wright's perspective will remain intact...)
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
It's been a while since my chain-smoking monkey research squad's research efforts on ye olde internets was posted, so enjoy some interesting links:
Sunday, August 03, 2014
Fall Movie Preview
As I transition off the Hugo Awards, I figure I'll return the other hobby horse of this blog: movies. I've actually been keeping up with new releases and will probably do some recapping in the near future, but for now, let's look ahead at some movies I'm excited for as we enter the fall movie season:
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Hugo Awards: Miscellaneous Thoughts
Just a few thoughts that I've not crammed into the multitude of other Hugo Award posts I've been making of late.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Hugo Awards: Final Ballot
We are coming down the homestretch; the voting deadline is July 31st, and I'm pretty much finished going through the categories I'm going to get to, so here's where things are shaking out:
Predicted Winner: Ancillary Justice
Predicted Winner: Six-Gun Snow White
Predicted Winner: "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling"
Best Short Story:
Predicted Winner: The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.
Predicted Winner: Gravity
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
Predicted Winner: "Doctor Who" The Day of the Doctor
Best Professional Artist: my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.
Predicted Winner: No idea!
Best Fan Artist: my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.
Predicted Winner: Sarah Webb
Best Fan Writer: my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.
Predicted Winner: Abigail Nussbaum
And that covers all the categories I'll be voting for (there are several others that I just won't get to). All in all, it's been a fun year. I can't say as though I discovered anything that really blew me away, but I'm really happy with this whole experience (the annoyance caused by various controversies notwithstanding). Since my supporting membership qualifies me to vote on next year's awards as well, you can probably expect to see this whole rigmarole again next year. I know, I know, you're already looking forward to it. In the meantime, we'll probably have a couple more posts on general stuff about the Hugos, and I am really curious to see how the voting turns out (sometime in mid-August).
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Hugo Awards: The No Vote Categories
There sure are a lot of categories for the Hugo Awards (that's 17 categories, if I'm counting correctly). My main focus has been on the fiction awards, but I've obviously been making my way through a lot of the others. That being said, there are some I just won't get to, whether that's because I don't really care about the category or I just don't have the time to make my way through it. So don't expect to see much about these categories:
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Hugo Awards: Warbound
Warbound is the third book in Larry Correia's Grimnoir Chronicles, and (finally) the one that was nominated for this year's best novel Hugo. Because I tend to take a completist view of this sort of thing, I read the first two novels in the series, Hard Magic and Spellbound, and generally enjoyed them. Correia has mashed up a number of genres - action, noir, fantasy, even a little steampunk, etc... - and made it work. This is no small feat, and I suspect many attempts at this sort of thing do not work anywhere near as well. And Correia is a telented storyteller as well. There are things set up in the first two books that pay off here, indicating a thoughtful approach. Plus, it's just fun. This is a quality that I suspect is lost on a lot of people, but not on me! Even though this particular genre mashup is not exactly in my wheelhouse, I appreciated the series as a whole.
So I basically knew what I was in for in this book, and it delivered on all the promises made by the first two installments. As an individual entry in the series, I'd say it's about on par with the rest of it (perhaps better than the second installment, but only because middle stories in a trilogy tend to be incomplete).
The story picks up right where Spellbound left off. Heavy Jake Sullivan is trying to mobilize a force to face the Pathfinder, a scout for the great Enemy that will devour the world if the Pathfinder is successful. Meanwhile, Faye Vierra is coming to terms with being the spellbound and must seek out help to ensure that she is not corrupted by the power that "curse" has granted her. When Sullivan and Faye find out that the Pathfinder has been more successful than it seemed, the planet is about to be plunged into a great battle against the Enemy. You might even say that Earth was warbound. Heh.
The plot is a bit broken up here, with Faye's story almost completely isolated from Sullivan's, and with some prominent characters from the first two books making an appearance, but otherwise sidelined for most of the book. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's another indication of how loose the series has been. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and it's clearly not as bloated or flabby as something like The Wheel of Time books that I've read so far, but I do find myself thinking that these books could stand to be a bit shorter.
As per usual, Sullivan and Faye take the brunt of character work, and they're both likable protagonists. Toru is also the type of character that grew on me as time went on. As always, there's a colorful cast of supporting characters, including some new faces (I was a fan of Wells, the alienist - a slightly less creepy version of Hannibal Lecter).
As I mentioned in the previous two reviews, one of my problems with stories about magic is how overpowered the magic becomes as the story progresses. The stakes are continually rising, and because it's magic, it's tempting to just keep making the magic more powerful. For the most part, Correia has pulled it off in this series. In part, this is because he set up some very clear rules, and used logical extensions of those rules to find new powers. By the end of this book, things were getting a bit too overpowered, but then, this is also the last book, so I think some leeway is required. I'm pretty impressed that Correia was able to balance everything out this well.
I guess this is a spoiler, but not really - Faye saves the world (as she did in the first two books), but on a larger scale. Faye is basically the main protagonist, and she's a bit terrifying. This is partly because she is so powerful, but also because she seemingly kills hundreds if not thousands of people throughout the series, but feels not a single pang of guilt towards it. For that matter, Sullivan and the rest of the Grimnoir are similar in that way, so perhaps that's a Correia thing. But in this book, there is at least an acknowledgement that such wanton bloodlust will lead to disaster. Faye is the spellbound, which means that she can absorb the power of magical actives when they die. This is why she is so powerful. But such power can also corrupt, and the previous spellbound became consumed by his quest for power and became a mindless killing machine (basically driving this alternate history's version of WWI) Faye spends a good portion of the novel trying to come to terms with the fact that she could easily be corrupted in that way, and she catches herself thinking things that would lead down that path. I was glad to see this tacit acknowledgement that all this death and destruction wasn't really a desirable thing, even if Correia seems to revel in the violence and action of it all.
And finally, a word on the audiobooks. Even though Baen very thoughtfully included all three novels in the Hugo Voter's Packet, I listened to the audiobook for all of them. As it turns out, the book is read by Bronson Pinchot. Yes, that Bronson Pinchot. And he's really fantastic (supposedly, these books have won him awards), seemingly able to handle a multitude of accents and vocal registers (given the worldwide scope of these stories, there are a lot of foreign accents required). From Audible, it seems he has 144 titles available, which is a pretty impressive body of work.
This wraps up all of the fiction awards that I'm voting for. My ballot for best novel is basically as predicted, with this one falling right smack in the middle, behind Neptune's Brood and Ancillary Justice, but ahead of Parasite (that ending has really curdled in my mind as time goes on) and The Wheel of Time. In the end, I probably wouldn't have read all three of these books if left to my druthers, but I have had no real issue with them either. They're a ton of fun, and I may even be tempted to check out some of Correia's Monster Hunter books if I get in the mood for something like that.
Obligatory note of all the controversy surrounding the nomination of this book. I've already (briefly) discussed it elsewhere, but I tended to concentrate more on reading all the nominees. Now that I've read all of Correia's "Sad Puppy" slate of nominees, I'd say it was a pretty mixed bag in terms of quality. Then again, so were a lot of the nominees overall, but that's just the way of populist awards. I appreciate reading some things outside of my comfort zone, and this was a good way to accomplish that. I get the consternation around this, but I was ultimately pretty happy with this whole experience.
From your perspective, only a few more Hugo posts to go. I am reading The Great Hunt (the second book in the Wheel of Time series), so I'll probably review that when I finish (short story here is that I like this better than the first book, but it's still ridiculous that this series got nominated as a whole. I'm reading this book because Tor very thoughtfully included the entire damn thing in the voter's packet. But according to my kindle, I have about 266 more hours of reading to go before I finish the series, which ain't going to happen by the end of the month). There are definitely some awards that I won't be voting for (how am I supposed to vote for Editors?), and I have some other assorted thoughts about the whole process as well. I'll post my final ballot when I get the chance as well. Then I'll have to find something else to write about, because I'm sure my readers (all three of you!) are getting pretty sick of this Hugo stuff.
Thoughts and ramblings on culture, movies, technology and more; updated every Sunday and Wednesday.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
And Now the Screaming Starts
Back of the Cereal Box
Movable Type 5.12
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.