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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered Dr. Seuss's self-described debaculous fiasco. This time, we've got The Peanut Butter Solution:
So this kid has a "fright" and loses all of his hair, but some friendly hobo ghosts give him a recipe to regrow it. The secret ingredient: Peanut Butter! But if you use too much, things get hairy... Ostensibly a heart-warming children's movie, it seems to have inadvertently scarred an entire generation of kids. I get the impression that adults would just find it silly, but it apparently taps into a lot of fears for kids. Alas it was never made available on DVD (with the speculation being that the soundtrack includes two Celine Dion songs, her first English-language release, and that the rights to clear those songs would never be recouped by sales for such an obscure movie). Oh well, I guess we can always hope for a streaming solution someday...
Posted by Mark on February 18, 2015 at 11:33 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Favorite Films of 2014
Welcome to the annual, arbitrary exercise of summing up a year in movies! 2014 was a fantastic year for movies, but on the other hand, every year is pretty good. You just have to be willing to dig deep through the catalog of obscure releases. I did, and managed to cobble together a pretty interesting list. For reference, previous top 10s: [2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

There are a few really interesting things about the year in movies. First is that, to put it bluntly, Hollywood really pulled their shit together. They often manage to sneak one or two great blockbusters into the mix, but this year, even trite-sounding cash-ins like, say, The Lego Movie turned out to be among the best of the year. Second (related to the first), is that this is the year I finally fell for Marvel studios movies. Sure, I'd always enjoyed them, but not a one has ever made it onto a top 10 list (indeed, looking back, only two comic book movies have ever made it onto my top 10s - The Dark Knight and Kick-Ass). Well that changes this year. The third interesting thing about the year is how top heavy it was. Normally the back end of the year is where all the great movies are, but this year spread things out a bit.

Thematically, things are a bit more muddled. There's definitely a trend towards fictionalized non-fiction that has inspired a lot of debate. Films like Selma, The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and The Theory of Everything all purport to tell a "true" story, but due to the nature of film, must rely on simplifications and fictionalized devices to make the narrative work. Ironically, I think the most successful of these, Selma, has come under the most fire for its historical inaccuracies (which are tiny in comparison to the other films listed). However, any time I watch one of these movies, I can't help but wonder why a documentary focusing on the same subject wouldn't be much, much better.

As of this writing, I have seen 83 movies that could be considered a 2014 release. This is a strong rebound from the past few years, where I've struggled to hit 70 movies. Then again, while I've watched a lot more than your typical moviegoer, I'm also way behind your typical film critic. Speaking of which, my vision for a top 10 list has been evolving over the years, moving away from critical consensus on "best" to a more personal reflection on "favorite". I tend to value entertainment and story more than your typical critic, and am less likely to enjoy "important" movies these days. There are certainly some movies on my list (and more in the Honorable Mentions) that are critical darlings, but there are also more than a few that aren't really showing up on anyone's lists. And that's great, because how boring would my list be if they were all the same movies as everyone else? I suppose this represents a disclaimer of sorts, but again, the world would be a boring place if we all liked the same things for the same reasons. So without further ado:

Top 10 Movies of 2014
* In roughly reverse order
  • John Wick - In a strong year for action movies, this one ranks near the top. But while the intricate gun-based action is fantastic, what makes this movie special is that it's a puppy revenge movie. Yes, Keanu Reeves takes on a bunch of gangsters because they killed his puppy. Park Chan-wook would be proud. Along the way, we visit the coolest hotel ever and are treated to the best gunplay action sequences of the year.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
    John Wick and his avenged puppy
  • Edge of Tomorrow - Of the long list of movies that ape the Groundhog Day schtick, this may be the most fun (though none comes close to the original). Tom Cruise relives a disastrous alien invasion over and over again, and with the help of the awesomely badass Emily Blunt, they find a way to win. The big achievement here is one of editing, which this movie absolutely nails. It's a lot of fun too.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
    Badass Emily Blunt
  • Guardians of the Galaxy - You know that Marvel's firing on all cylinders when they can introduce these obscure characters, including a talking raccoon and tree, and make it work. I think much of this is due to James Gunn, whose goofy sensibility comes through strong. Like all the Marvel movies, the best bits are the little interpersonal touches, and this story of how five misfits come together and connect with one another makes for great fun.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Full Review]
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Another great action movie here, Marvel switching gears again, channeling paranoid 70s thrillers (and even casting Robert Redford to underline that point) and throwing a giant monkey wrench into the works. What strikes me about the action set pieces is how varied they are, but the highlight is the elevator sequence, a claustrophobic but clearly shot and exciting fight. Again, the interpersonal touches, particularly Black Widow's relationship with Captain America, are what really seal the deal with this one though.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
    The Cap and Black Widow, just chillin
  • The Raid 2 - Did I mention this was a good year for action movies? John Wick might have the title for best gun-based action, but this movie is hands down, the best martial arts movie since... the first Raid! The story is a little hard to follow and hits some cliched undercover cop tropes pretty hard, but that's not why you watch a movie like this. You watch a movie like this for the breathtaking action set pieces, such as a mud-filled prison fight or the final boss fights in the restaurant.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • Coherence - This micro-budget film about strange happenings at a dinner party is the best Science Fiction film of the year. Few SF films manage to capture the sense of conceptual breakthrough and sense of wonder that is so common in SF literature, but this film does so consistently (especially in the second half). This might be the most obscure film on my list, but it is highly recommended (and the less you know going in, the better).
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • The One I Love - Another low-budget, quasi-SF film, this time channeling a more Twilight Zone feel. Again, the less you know about this going in the better, but I will say that this did not seem like my kind of movie at the outset, but as the film progresses and starts to put its premise through its paces (and it goes further than I'd have thought), I fell in love with it.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
    The ones I love
  • The Lego Movie - Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made a career out of making movies out of seemingly stupid premises, and this movie may be their crowning achievement. This sounded so much like a cynical cash-grab by Hollywood, but I found myself immediately charmed by the film's fast paced humor and wit. Great visuals, voice acting, and even some weird third act twists that work really well. One of the things I really love about this movie is that it doesn't fall into the typical anti-conformity trap. It acknowledges the importance of creativity, to be sure, but it also manages a subtle balance in the bland hero of Emmit, whose conformity is key to the group's success. In addition, this is the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight. So much fun!
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • Tim's Vermeer - Utterly fascinating account of one man's attempt to recreate Johannes Vermeer's distinctive, photo-realistic method of painting. Directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller fame, the guy who doesn't talk), this film is mostly portraying inventor Tim Jenison as he attempts to suss out how Vermeer accomplished his paintings with the use of various optics and mirrors, then his painstaking attempt to recreate one painting by hand (the overall process took years, the painting itself took months). This is exactly my kind of documentary, a deep dive into a subject I didn't even know needed that sort of treatment. Highly recommended.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]
  • Gone Girl - The talent involved in this film is impressive: David Fincher, Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, an incredible supporting cast... but it's Gillian Flynn's script that sets this apart. The best thriller of the year, complete with unexpected twists and turns. Great dissection of media representation and bias, but all in service of the greater narrative, which is gripping and tense.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson's particular brand of weaponized quirk is deployed to perfection here, his best film since Fantastic Mr. Fox and probably amongst his top 2 or 3 movies. A complex narrative structure (and matching visual strategy) all anchored by Ralph Fiennes' brilliant, funny, and utterly charming performance at the center of the film. Perhaps not your typical comedy, but I find myself thinking it's the funniest movie of the year. Not that there are not other, deeper thematic aspects to the film, but the playful, adventurous filmmaking at its core is what makes this so great.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
    Ralph Fiennes in Grand Budapest Hotel
Honorable Mention
* In alphabetical order
  • 22 Jump Street - Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller do it again. Everyone thought it was a bad idea to revive 21 Jump Street, but Lord and Miller made that work well enough that a sequel was greenlit. Then everyone thought it was a bad idea to do the sequel, and Lord and Miller shut them up too. Perhaps not quite as seemless as The Lego Movie, this still has much to recommend it for. At the very least, the ending title sequence is the funnies thing I've seen all year.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • Birdman - One of the most impressive achievements of the year, if my list was more "best" than "favorite", it would certainly be high on the list. Alas, while I found this quite entertaining, it also seemed a bit muddled in what it was trying to say and was a little on the acerbic side of things. Exceptional performances all around, and the cinematography is spectacular - it's filmed to appear as one long, continuous take, and that is truly spectacular to behold.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • Blue Ruin - An interesting, small scale take on revenge that mostly focuses on the aftermath. I mean, nothing as eye-opening as the puppy revenge in John Wick, but this is less of an action film, more of a slow burning character piece. Well worth checking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Chef - An agreeable tale of the fall and rise of a chef who has no idea how Twitter works. It's funny, everything I've heard about this movie is from people who found it disappointing and claimed that they didn't get why everyone was so high on the movie. I apparently don't follow any of those people because I felt like this was a really fun little movie. That being said, it's pretty textbook Honorable Mention material. It's perfectly cromulent and worth checking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Cold in July - Based on a Joe R. Lansdale novel, this is a solid little Texas thriller (at which, Lansdale excels). The source material is what makes this work, but the execution is on point as well, with solid direction from Jim Mickle and lead performances by Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and yes, Don Johnson. Nothing plays out quite like you expect from the beginning, and this is certainly worth a look for fans of this sort of thing.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - I genuinely disliked the first of the Apes reboot films and had no idea why it had garnered so much positive response, even from picky critics. However, this sequel represents a dramatic improvement on all fronts. It boasts the best villain of the year, some great visual flourishes (that tank shot!), and like its predecessor, perfectly executed CGI motion captured apes. This very nearly made the top 10 and now that I'm writing this, I'm wondering why I didn't find a way to make that happen. Lists are hard.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • The Guest - Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's follow up to the most excellent and fun You're Next (a top 10 choice last year). Alas, while this is quite fun and takes some unexpected turns, it doesn't quite live up to its predecessor. That being said, it's well worth a watch and seems like the sort of thing that would grow on me with repeated viewings.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Imitation Game - I have an affinity for the subject matter here, and I suppose the film comports itself well enough on that front. It's all well executed, but perhaps a few too many liberties were taken with the true story aspect of it. I mean, I get that things need to be changed in order to fit everything into a 2 hour narrative, and many of the changes work just fine. But there are several changes that just go a bit too far (notably the idea that the one dude's brother was on a boat about to be sunk, etc...) Still, it's nice to see Turing and cryptography on screen (even if I'd rather folks read Cryptonomicon instead!)
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Inherent Vice - I loved Thomas Pynchon's novel, so I was really excited that someone of Paul Thomas Anderson's caliber was adapting it for the screen. And yes, the film works really well for me, though I feel like Anderson gave short shrift to the plotting and emphasized a bunch of other aspects of the story instead. Which is an interesting approach, to be sure, but it never really garnered the energy of the text (or, honestly, of the trailer). Still a really good film, and honestly a contender for the top 10, but just enough was holding it back for me.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Interstellar - Christopher Nolan's latest has a lot going for it, but it never quite congealed into something as cohesive as most of his previous efforts. Certainly gets points for ambition, but the film is a little clunky in its execution. It all fits together, and there are great ideas and emotional moments at its core, but perhaps could use some smoothing over some of the rougher edges (of which there are, sadly, many). Definitely a worthy effort, but not quite as great as it could have been...
    More Info: [IMDB]
  • Jodorowsky's Dune - This documentary tells the tale of Alejandro Jodorowsky's failed but profoundly influential production (er, pre-production) of an adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel Dune. It's a fascinating story, if only for the sheer amount of talent Jodorowsky managed to assemble before the production fell apart. The documentary gets a little repetitive in that respect, and there are no voices of dissent (as curious as I am about Jodorowsky's take on Dune, I'd also be surprised if it was a really great movie...), but it's all very fascinating charting how the demise of this movie lead to the success of others (notably Star Wars and Alien, amongst dozens of others). Definitely worth checking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]
  • Moebius - One of the most profoundly weird movies I've ever seen, I find it very difficult to write about this because of its subject matter. Infidelity, castration, rape, auto-erotic self mutilation, and incest. That doesn't really sound like my thing, but the thing that works about this movie is that all that weird shit is conveyed in a purely visual manner. There is no dialogue in this film, yet you have a pretty clear idea of what is going on, despite the batshit insanity of all that stuff. And it's kinda funny in that respect too. It's one of those movies that will leave you confused about what you think. I almost actually put this on my top 10 because it is so well done despite all its baggage. That being said, I find it hard to recommend to all but the most adventurous of moviegoers.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]
  • Nightcrawler - This very much feels like a 70s movie. It's got that dark, cynical tone down pat and Jake Gyllenhaal's performance is fantastically terrifying. Unfortunately, the whole media critique aspect of the film also feels like it belongs in the 70s (it would be one thing if it was a period piece, but it is set in present day LA). Local news isn't exactly a booming business these days and we don't immediately recognize the sort of stuff this movie goes over (in the way that, for example, Gone Girl was immediately recognizable). That being said, this is a much better done movie than I was expecting, and was pleasantly surprised by how well it works.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Selma - Very strong biopic of Martin Luther King Jr., focusing on one particular battleground for civil rights. It's a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes machinations that King and compatriots employed in their fight, and how change can happen. Director Ava DuVernay does an excellent job balancing the story. Alas, like a lot of stories based on historical fact, I often find myself wishing for a really good documentary. Still, among the large quantity of such films this year, Selma was the best.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Stage Fright - I'm not a big musical guy, but when you combine musical with old-school slasher film? I'm totally on board. The film is not perfect, but it hits several high points and this deserves more recognition than it generally gets...
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]
Just Missed the Cut:
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order: Conspicuously Absent:
Critical consensus has anointed these movies among the best of the year. For the most part, I get why, I just don't happen to agree.
  • Boyhood - Look, I get it, it took 12 years to make, and that passage of time as played out on screen is pretty interesting. Unfortunately, that's about it. Everything else about the film is trite, boring, or totally cliched, making it a bit of a slog to get through. I admire that this film exists and thought it was fine, I guess, but the sheer amount of critical praise this is getting baffles me.
  • Snowpiercer - Man, this movie is stupid. You know how I said that Coherence really gets at the sense of conceptual breakthrough and sense of wonder that is so great in SF literature? Yeah, Snowpiercer does not. There are some interesting tidbits (Tilda Swinton's shoe speech being pretty great on its own) here and there, and it's a pretty movie, but I really kinda hated watching it. Most people acknowledge this movies faults, it's just a matter of how much a given critic is willing to forgive. I come down on the unforgiving side, while most critics seem to love it.
  • Only Lovers Left Alive - Sounds great on paper, two vampires played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston hang out and do vampire stuff. Alas, it's one of those movies that sorta wallows in depression and misery, which is pretty emphatically not my thing. Great soundtrack though.
  • Under the Skin - Of the movies on this list, I like this one the best. I think. I have a hard time wrapping my head around this one, and I think I ultimately come down on liking it rather much. It's gorgeous and Scarlett Johansson is great in it, and it goes to some interesting thematic places, but it is too long, repetitive, and slow by far. Probably deserves to be an Honorable Mention, and I think it's telling that of the films on this Conspicuously Absent list, this is the one I'm most likely to revisit.
Should Have Seen:
Despite having seen 83 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 really want to catch up with: Phew! That's a pretty good year in movies right there. Stay tuned for more 2014 ponderings next week for the annual Oscars live blogging/tweeting (predictions should be up in the morning and my Twitter feed will suddenly have more than just links to the blog!)
Posted by Mark on February 15, 2015 at 12:41 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Link Dump
General nerdery from the depths of ye olde internets:
  • David Foster Wallace’s 1994 Syllabus: How to Teach Serious Literature with Lightweight Books - I gave up on Infinite Jest at some point, but David Foster Wallace remains intriguing. This Syllabus is for a literature class where Wallace made students read Mary Higgins Clark, Jackie Collins, James Ellroy, Stephen King, and other such popular authors. I love it when great artists slum it with trashy texts, because it's all in the approach:
    Don't let any potential lightweightish-looking qualities of the texts delude you into thinking that this will be a blow-off-type class. These "popular" texts will end up being harder than more conventionally "literary" works to unpack and read critically. You’ll end up doing more work in here than in other sections of 102, probably.
    Probably? I want to take this course, probably. Some good thoughts on the art of the syllabus here as well. RIP DFW.
  • How to lose weight in 4 easy steps - Man, step 1 is very true, but also my kryptonite (because this). Also, Step 3 seems oddly specific.
  • LEGO’s letter to parents, and how not to tell a fake when you don’t see one - A few months ago, this lego letter to parents was passed around, and because this is the internets, people assumed it was fake because everyone knows that legos are totes sexist. But no, it's real, and this post goes through it in exhaustive detail.
  • Watch Agent 47 Kill Children You Don’t Recognize In A HITMAN Viral Video - I can't believe that they're making another Hitman movie. If you'll recall, the first Hitman came out back in 2007, and it was on my "Movies I Want to See Even Though I Know They'll Suck" list. It did not disappoint. This new one looks slightly more upscale, but will most likely be on a similar list this year. Also, the viral video is pretty funny, but as Devin notes: "Agent 47, the guy from the Hitman: Agent 47 reboot...kills a bunch of YouTube and Vine stars, but since I don't recognize any of them it just looks like he's slaughtering children." Heh?
  • Venture Brothers Sheet Set - Wow.
  • Reset Button: Do it Again, Stupid - Shamus rips into GTA V, mostly nailing several things I don't like about the game.
And that's all for now. Toodles.
Posted by Mark on February 11, 2015 at 11:19 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Hugo Awards: Puppies Unleashed
As Hugo Awards nomination season hits full swing, the Sad Puppy slates have finally be unleashed. For the uninitiated, the Sad Puppies are a semi-organized response to the notion that recent Hugo slates have trended away from traditional SF, with it's emphasis on sense of wonder and storytelling (the name emerges out of the notion that recent Hugo slates were so depressing that they were making cute puppies sad, or something along those lines). There is an ideological component to the movement as well, and it seems the Right/Libertarian are on the Puppies' side, while Left/SJW are opposed. Or something. In reality, I don't really buy that dichotomy, and that's one of the reasons I can't seem to get on board with the typical responses to the Sad Puppies (for it or against it). To me, it's just another input into the process, which is pretty much how it's supposed to work.

For the record, Brad Torgersen has posted the official Sad Puppy slate over at his blog. Vox Day has posted a variant, which he calls (perhaps unsurprisingly, given his usual tone) Rabid Puppies. There's a pretty large overlap, though enough differences to be annoying. Assorted thoughts and ramblings are below:
  • The first thing that jumps out at me with these slates is how huge they are (both are basically a full nominating ballot - somewhere on the order of 50-75 overall between the two lists). I think part of the reason Sad Puppies 2 enjoyed success last year was that the list was relatively small (12 choices in various categories), so the impact was concentrated on those works. Remember, the people who nominate for the hugo are actually people! They will not have read this entire slate and chances are, there are plenty of things on the slate that they did read, but would not nominate. Anecdotal evidence indicates this was the case last year, and even the hard numbers show that there was significant variance in the amount of nominating votes for each work. I expect people's votes will be spread out across the entire slate, and since there are so many options, that may spread things too thin.
  • Comparing the two lists is interesting, as is the tone in which they're presented. Torgersen is very careful to indicate that his list "is a recommendation. Not an absolute." He has repeatedly mentioned that it's not about politics, but about story and fun. He also acknowledges the idea that you might not like works on the slate (though "we suspect you might"). Torgersen also, much to his credit, made sure that his own works would not appear on his slate. Day, on the other hand, is extremely combative about the whole situation and appears to be much more ideologically motivated (he explicitly mentions the "science fiction Right"). He encourages folks who trust his opinion on the subject to "nominate them precisely as they are". He also nominated himself in multiple categories (though in the editing categories, not the fiction categories). On the other hand, he nominated Coherence on the Dramatic Presentation Long Form category, which is a personal favorite that I'd love to see get nominated (even though it probably wouldn't). This is why I can never get on board with Sad Puppies, nor can I really get too worked up about it either. Just because a work appears there doesn't mean it is or is not worthy of a nomination.
  • In terms of The Martian, it looks like fears of its eligibility (or lack thereof) means that it was not included in either slate. I actually emailed the Sasquan administrators, but their (perfectly reasonable) response was: "the standard Hugo committee policy for many years has been to not make suggestions on nominations or rule on eligibility of nominated items until nominations close". Apparently, when eligibility of a specific work was announced in the past, other nominees felt it represented an endorsement, so the policy is to maintain impartiality. This makes perfect sense. Interestingly, Vox Day actually quotes me on the matter, though as usual, his tone is way more combative and makes my post seem equally so, even though I'm not. My example of a self-published work that was later published and then nominated was John Scalzi's Old Man's War. Day hates Scalzi, and uses my example as evidence that the Hugos are corrupt or something. This was not my intention at all, and it's weird to see my words deployed in such a fashion. Indeed, I've always thought that the Sad Puppy attitude towards Scalzi has been rather weird. Yes, Scalzi is outspoken on his blog about certain leftist issues, but for the most part, his fiction is fantastic and entertaining stuff. You could make an argument that something like Redshirts was only nominated because he's popular with a certain segment of fandom, but that's the kind of thing that happens with populist awards. More to the point, Scalzi's work tends to be that more old-school science fiction. Redshirts has it's flaws, but it's a very fun book, exactly the sort of thing I'd expect to see on the Sad Puppy slate (except that, obviously, it enjoys wide popularity across most of fandom). That never made sense to me. On the other hand, "Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" is, in fact, a pretty lame nomination.
  • Eric S. Raymond appears on both slates as a nominee for the Campbell Award (for the most promising new writer in SF), which, as he himself notes, is a little strange:
    I will stipulate that I think my one published work of SF, the short story Sucker Punch, isn’t bad. If it were someone else’s and I was wearing my reviewer hat, I’d probably say something encouraging about it being a solid, craftsmanlike first effort that delivers what its opening promises and suggests the author might be able to deliver quality work in the future.

    But, Campbell Award material? A brilliant comet in the SF firmament I am not. I don’t really feel like I belong on that shortlist - and if I’m wrong and I actually do, I fear for the health of the field.

    What bothers me more is the suspicion that my name has been put forward for what amount to political reasons.
    I've read Sucker Punch and think it's a perfectly cromulent short story, but if I were to nominate it for something, it'd be for the short story category (which, I suspect will not happen, since it will probably be a crowded category for me by the time nominations close). As a Campbell nominee, I would want some sense that he, you know, intends to write a lot more fiction. I have no doubt that he could write more fiction (even great fiction), I just don't see him taking that on. He's been pretty clear that his focus is on hacking and Open Source advocacy (at which, he is very good and very successful) and that he did this mostly on a lark. Which makes this nomination kinda confusing. (Update: he basically confirms this in the comments)
  • Speaking of Eric Raymond, he has some keen insights into the whole culture war of sorts that's happening in SF right now (of which Sad Puppies is a symptom) that pretty well match up with where I'm coming from. His key insight is that this is not a political issue, but rather a matter of "Literary Status Envy":
    Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

    People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.
    His post on the deep norms of SF is also worth checking out. I find myself mostly agreeing with this analysis (and honestly, he gives a much better primer for the factions involved and general situation than I do above). All those things that literary fiction hates are what I love about science fiction. And I tend to dislike the angst that permeates literary fiction (that this often manifests as wallowing in identity politics and misery is incidental). This focus on literary fiction is why stuff like Wakulla Springs gets nominated for a Hugo, despite not even being slightly SF or even Fantasy. It's a very well written story, to be sure, but it's so far outside the boundaries of any type of genre fiction (let along SF) that I can see why the Sad Puppy campaign is happening.
So there you have it. I do not particularly hate or love Sad Puppies. Call that feckless if you want. I just know what I like. Sometimes that happens to coincide with the Sad Puppies, sometimes not. Go figure.
Posted by Mark on February 08, 2015 at 08:15 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, February 01, 2015

2014 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards
We've given out the formal awards, now it's time to get random. Sometimes movies are weird or flawed in ways that don't fit well into a traditional awards setting, but they can also have excellent bits nonetheless. The point of the Arbitrary Awards is to recognize this oddities. A few of these have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. Let's do it:
  • The "You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else" Award for Worst Dialogue: Divergent. Unless this was actually supposed to be a comedy, this one takes the cake for consistently awful dialogue. I pretty much laughed my way through the movie, so it at least has that "So bad it's good" thing going for it (indeed, the earnest way in which the lines are delivered is what makes it work - if it was supposed to be a comedy, it almost certainly wouldn't work). Another front-runner for this award was Interstellar for it's "Love is the one thing that we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space." speech.
  • The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Blood Glacier. This is the worst movie of the year, by far. Everything about it is stupid (also a front runner for the worst dialogue award).
  • The Park Chan-Wook Award for Most Elaborate Vengeance Scheme: Gone Girl. Lots of elaborate plans going on in this one, one of my favorite movies of the year. While we're talking about vengeance, also a shout out to Blue Ruin, which is very good, but part of its point is that the vengeance isn't at all elaborate.
  • Best Hero/Badass (Non-Human Edition): The Nephilim, from Noah. This is a weird, adventurous take on the Noah story, as evidenced by the Nephilim, basically giant rock monsters that are supposed to be fallen angels or something like that. Whatever, they're giant rock creatures, and they fight for God! Also note that Godzilla actually met my criteria for the singular award (and was nominated there), because he's an individual, not really a class of creature. And he was the best part of his movie, so there is that.
  • Best Villain/Badass (Non-Human Edition): The mirror from Oculus. The movie has its flaws, but the notion of the villain being a mirror that plays with perceptions is brilliant and plays out really well in the movie.
  • Best Long Take/Tracking Shot: Birdman. Duh. I mean, I have my issues with the movie, but the whole film basically appears to be one continuous shot, how can it not win this award?
  • Best End Credits Sequence: 22 Jump Street. I won't ruin the sequence for you; suffice to say it is absolutely brilliant. Honorable mention to Guardians of the Galaxy for the Groot/Drax sequence in the credits.
  • Achievement in the Field of Batshit Insanity: Moebius. I don't... I can't... um, what the fuck? This is surprisingly compelling (it has no dialogue, but manages to visually tell a story much better than a lot of films, even if there are some reallly incongruous events) for how batshit insane it is, but I just, um, shit. Words fail me. Don't watch this movie. I know this will make some people want to watch it more, and to be sure, those folks might still survive, but I can't in good conscience recommend this movie.
  • Coolest Fictional Hotel of the Year: The Continental, from John Wick. You might be tempted to put The Grand Budapest Hotel here, but in reality, The Continental is just way cooler. I mean, it's a hotel that caters exclusively to assassins. Cooler than liquid nitrogen.
  • The Rod Serling Memorial Award: The One I Love. A very Twilight Zone-like movie that will surely get more love in my top 10.
And that just about covers it. We're coming down the homestretch, just the top 10 and Oscar commentary remains. The top 10 will come next week or the week after, depending on if I feel like I can see a few of the movies that I'm missing at this point...
Posted by Mark on February 01, 2015 at 02:31 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Link Dump: Hugo Nomination Edition
Just some links that may prove to be of some use for folks in the Hugo nomination game.
  • 2015 Hugo Sheet of Doom - This is a public Google doc with potential nominees broken out in each category. Some of the nominees are clearly, er, longshots, but at least it's a source where things are categorized by, um, category (so you don't need to figure out a way to hack a Kindle book/story to do a word count or something). It's public, so you can add stuff if you'd like, but play nice (I did my part and added Coherence and The One I Love to the Long Form Dramatic Presentation Category - and you should totally watch and nominate if you like them, because I'm doubting they will get there without a little help).
  • Chaos Horizon - An extremely thorough attempt to predict Hugo and Nebula (novel) nominees. It is basically a value neutral attempt, so there's very little in the way of proselytizing, just lots of collation and correlation, and plenty of analysis. Dude is even starting to predict the 2016 Hugos...
  • Announcing Sad Puppies 3 - Brad Torgerson takes the baton from Larry Correia and is leading the charge this year. It is mildly less combative, but will no doubt raise a lot of hackles when it manages to get something nominated. It does still seem less about "These books are awesome and deserve recognition" and more about "Other people are ideological and we need to fight them" or some such thing. I can't ever seem to get on board with this because it's just too whiny. He's also written a few follow up posts, but has not posted a list yet (and frankly, I would not really recommend wading through the comments). It's worth noting, though, that the folks who bought a supporting membership last year are still eligible to nominate this year, so there's a fair chance that we'll see more Sad Puppy nominees...
That's all for now. I'm sure I'll be posting more about the Hugos as time goes on.
Posted by Mark on January 28, 2015 at 10:28 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, January 25, 2015

2014 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners!
The nominations for the 2014 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 2014. At some point, those other awards, I think they're called Oscars or something, will happen as well, and we'll probably do our normal predictions and live-tweeting as well. But I digress, let's get back to the important stuff:
  • Best Villain/Badass: Koba, played by Toby Kebbell in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Despite a reasonable crop of villains this year, it appears that the only non-human nominee takes the cake. And Koba is a fantastic villain, in part because you can actually see where he's coming from. Of course, he ends up going way to far with his actions (he really becomes a turd, a villain you love to hate), but his mistrust of humans is not unwarranted.
    Honorable mention goes to Amy Dunne, played Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, who may end up being a more memorable villain in the long term, but is also almost cartoonishly evil. Also of note is Eva Green, who gives her all in a rather awful movie (300: Rise of an Empire) and even chews up the screen in a movie not nominated that I just caught up with: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) (another terrible and unnecessary sequel). To the extent that these two movies are watchable, it's almost entirely due to Eva Green's fearless performances. Someone needs to give her a real vehicle.
  • Best Hero/Badass: Rita, played by Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. This was an difficult choice, and I kept bouncing between Rita, John Wick, and M. Gustave. In truth, I do think that the character of Rita gets a bit of short shrift in the end, but she's just so great all the way through and I think that's primarily due to Emily Blunt's performance. Also, she uses a helicopter blade as a weapon, which is totally badass.
    As much as I enjoyed John Wick and as cromulent as Keanu Reeves is in the part, there's nothing there we haven't seen before. As for Ralph Fiennes, well, we'll get to him in a moment. And the other nominees here were no slouch. Godzilla has many flaws as a film, but the titular monster is not one of them and really saved the movie for me. I love Groot, but it's hard to single out any individual member of the Guardians of the Galaxy for this award. Miss Duan would have been an interesting choice, but her character takes some weird turns, as does Journey to the West in general. Still, Rita takes it.
  • Best Comedic Performance: M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. A big upset here, seeing as though I didn't even bother to nominate Fiennes for this award last week. However, I definitely meant to (and thought I did!) and catching some of Grand Budapest on TV this week really cemented it. It seems that write-in votes have a much better chance when only one person is voting. The problem with the nominees is that they tend to be part of a larger ensemble, and while fantastic, they don't quite have the singular quality that this award implies. Fiennes performance is truly a masterclass, and hysterically funny to boot, so he takes it. Of the other nominees, I was thinking Channing Tatum, Jason Bateman, or James Franco, and thankfully, I don't have to actually make that choice. Phew.
  • Breakthrough Performance: Jillian Bell in 22 Jump Street. This is always a weird award, but I'm giving it to Bell for her scene stealing performance opposite Jonah Hill. A small part, to be sure, but she shows great promise and wonderful comedic timing. Runner up would be Dave Bautista for Guardians of the Galaxy, who was just so unexpected. Chris Pratt also worth a mention, though I guess he'd been breaking through in smaller roles for a while now. Also of note, a bevy of performances Gone Girl that were great and forced me to hit up IMDB to see what all these great actors have been doing. Unfortunately, the breadth of options split the votes between Gone Girl nominees, so they couldn't win.
  • Most Visually Stunning: Under the Skin. And not just because it stars Scarlett Johansson in a revealing part. My preference for this award trends more towards well photographed movies than special effects extravaganzas, which is what befell Interstellar and maybe The Lego Movie. Still lots to choose from though, and all the nominees are rather gorgeous, in their way.
    Under the Skin
    I just wanted to throw Under the Skin some love now, as it's a movie I respect but don't particularly love (and the visuals are what kept my attention, despite the movie being way too long for its content).
  • Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Coherence and The One I Love (Tie). A pretty good crop of nominees this year, and I really just couldn't decide between these two low-budget SF(ish) films (Both highly recommended for SF fans). Funny, because this year boasted a few high-budget blockbusters, something that doesn't normally happen in this category. In the end, had to go with my gut on this one.
  • Best Sequel/Reboot: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Man, this category is unusually strong this year. I often find that comic book series often have a great second film, and Captain America really delivered in that respect.
    The Cap and Black Widow, just chillin
    The rest of the nominees were also rather good, with special mention to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, mostly because I really didn't care for the first movie (it was fine, but I didn't get the love for it).
  • Biggest Disappointment: How to Train Your Dragon 2. A funny choice, because I think I like this better than all the other nominees. The thing with this award, though, is that it's a game of expectations. I didn't expect Spider Man 2 to be anything special, so while it was still mildy disappointing (because it's not like I wanted it to be as bad as it was), it didn't provide quite as much of a problem because my expectations just weren't that high. But I really, really grew to love the first How to Train Your Dragon (thanks to frequent cable airings at some point), so I was much more crestfallen by the sequel, even though it was "fine" in most respects.
  • Best Action Sequences: The Raid 2: Berandal. Duh. Though honorable mentions go to The Winter Soldier for a few great, varied sequences, Fury for what may be the best tank battles on film (a pity the rest of the movie doesn't live up to that), and John Wick for just being generally badass (I feel bad that I'm shutting it out in the awards so far, so perhaps we'll see something in the Arbitrary Awards for this sucker).
  • Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Gone Girl. Always a tricky award to talk about, as I don't really want to give anything away (is just nominating a movie for an award a spoiler in itself? I sure hope not!) This movie, though, really kept me on my toes. Even when I had a decent handle on what would happen, something else that was unexpected would happen. Other nominees were good too, will refrain from spoilers. You should totally watch them all.
  • Best High Concept Film: The Lego Movie and Boyhood (Tie). It's unbelievable that The Lego Movie turned out to be this fantastic, sticking to its gimmick when it comes to the animation, but then doing other interesting and playful things with the narrative that were completely unexpected (and yes, high concept). Boyhood is a movie I have a tremendous amount of respect for due to the gimmick at its heart: it was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same actors. This way of capturing the passage of time over years is rare and impressive, but the reason I can't just give the award to Boyhood is that I just didn't particularly enjoy the movie. I know, I know, I'm the worst. I do want to recognize the effort though... Also, I probably should have nominated Birdman for this category, even if I don't think I'd give it the win (don't worry, it'll get some love in the Arbitrary Awards).
  • 2014's 2013 Movie of the Year: The Way Way Back. One of the many coming-of-age tales that peppered 2013's movie landscape, this was a really enjoyable variation on the theme (and actually better than several of the others I saw that year). Frozen comes in a close second place in the voting, but alas...
And there you have it! Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards and (eventually) a top 10 of 2014...
Posted by Mark on January 25, 2015 at 03:45 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hugo Award Season 2014
It's that time of year again. The Hugo Award Nomination Period has begun, and of course, all the requisite whining has begun. People whining about Awards Eligibility Posts, people whining about politics, people whining about the people whining about politics. And wonder of wonders, some people are actually talking about books they like, compiling lists of things to check out before nominations close, or coming up with thorough models to predict who will get a nomination this year. How revolutionary. I'll do my best to focus on same, but I'm sure I'll be sucked into some controversy or other.

Last year, I was a little gunshy about participating in the nomination process. This was mostly due to the fact that I hadn't really read a comprehensive selection of 2013 books or stories. It was also before I realized that some people don't bother reading all the nominees before voting or nominate things for purely ideological reasons. I also realized that I was very nearly one of the two votes that could have put Lauren Beukes's excellent time travel serial killer novel The Shining Girls on the ballot. This year, I won't claim to have read particularly deep into the catalog, but I read more than I did last time and there are definitely some stories I would like to nominate. My current nomination ballot, some thoughts on same, and some things I'd like to read before I finalize my ballot are below. Knock yourself out. Comments are still wonky, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to email me at mciocco at gmail or hit me up on twitter @mciocco (or @kaedrinbeer if you're a lush).

Best Novel: All three are kinda longshots. A Darkling Sea has the best chance to make it, as there is at least some minimal buzz surrounding it. A Sword Into Darkness is self-published and not typical Hugo material, but I really enjoyed it (and not for nothing, but there's a fair chance it would make the Sad Puppies slate, which could improve its chances). The Martian suffers from eligibility issues - it was self published in 2012, then snapped up by a publisher and put into fancy editions and audio books in 2014 (where it has sold extremely well). General consensus seems to be that it will not be eligible, but I think there are a few things going for it. One is that self-published works that get bought up by a real publisher and come out a year or two later have made it onto the ballot before (an example that comes to mind is Scalzi's Old Man's War, which was self-published in 2003 or 2004, after which it was promptly bought up by Tor and republished in 2005, garnering a Hugo nomination in 2006). Another is that I've heard that version published in 2014 has some differences from the self-published version, but I have not confirmed that (and it's very possible that this is not true), which might call some things into question. In any case, unless someone official makes a definitive statement about The Martian being ineligible, I plan to include it on my ballot.

Best Novelette?
  • Atmosphæra Incognita by Neal Stephenson (from Hieroglyph)
  • A Hotel in Antarctica by Geoffrey Landis (from Hieroglyph)
Here's the thing with short fiction, I think it's pretty easy to tell the difference between a short story and a novella and a novel, but when you throw novelette into the mix, it becomes much less intuitive. I'm pretty sure the above two stories are long enough to be a Novelette, but I'm not positive. Also, you'll be seeing a lot of Hieroglyph in the nominations today. Hopefully I'll be able to pad this out with some other sources of short fiction as time goes on. Also, maybe I'll find a novella or two!

Best Short Story:
  • Periapsis by James L. Cambias (from Hieroglyph)
  • Covenant by Elizabeth Bear (from Hieroglyph)
  • The Day It All Ended by Charlie Jane Anders (from Hieroglyph)
This is a a pretty good list here, and I'm reasonably certain that at least one will come close (Covenant seems to have some buzz). I will most certainly be checking out additional short stories though, so hopefully I can find some more nominees.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: While I don't claim comprehensive selection in my reading, I'm much closer when it comes to film. Alas, I'm pretty sure my two favorite nominees (Coherence and The One I Love) will not make the cut, and the one I'm most ambivalent about (Interstellar) seems to be a shoe-in. I also wouldn't be surprised if movies I didn't care for do well, notably Snowpiercer.

Again, comments are still wonky on here right now, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to email me at mciocco at gmail or hit me up on twitter @mciocco (or @kaedrinbeer if you're a lush).

I think we'll leave it there for now and revisit some other categories or perhaps some stuff I want to read next week. Until then, happy nominating.
Posted by Mark on January 21, 2015 at 11:19 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

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