The 1978 Project: Part IV

The 1978 Project is a deep dive into the cinema of a single year (guess which one!) The chosen year is mostly arbitrary, but it's been a fun experience so far. I'm still working through a backlog of films watched earlier in the year, so these reviews are bound to be a bit fuzzy. I've made pretty good progress so far, and am hoping to do the usual Movie Awards and Top 10 sometime this summer. For now, here are six 1978 flicks, these perhaps less obscure than the movies from the last recap:
  • Death on the Nile - Hercule Poirot returns, this time taking a luxury cruise down the Nile river. Naturally, a newlywed heiress is found murdered under suspicious circumstances. Can Poirot solve the mystery before the ship arrives at its destination? A sequel to the more famous 1974 production of Murder on the Orient Express (helmed by Sydney Lumet and starring Albert Finney as Poirot), this one doesn't really carry over any of the creatives from the earlier film, but still comports itself well in comparison. Director John Guillermin is more of a journeyman director than Lumet, but here he's perhaps hitting above his weight (while Lumet wasn't doing his best work on Orient)... or perhaps it's just that the cruise down the Nile affords more picturesque atmosphere, and the ship presents more varied environs. Peter Ustinov also does admirable work as Poirot; not hamming it up as much as Finney, but still presenting the calm fastidiousness and passive aggression of the character well. Along for the ride is a talented cast of side characters, including Bette Davis trading barbs with Maggie Smith in a tuxedo, which is something to behold.
    Death on the Nile with Bette Davis and Maggie Smith in a tux
    Angela Lansbury and Mia Farrow are there too, as is Olivia Hussey (perhaps only of note to genre nerds like myself, but it was neat to see her in something else). The story itself, based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, works well, lots of twists and turns and a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps a bit overlong, but once everything's established, it moves at a brisk enough pace. Solid stuff, well crafted. ***
  • The Boys from Brazil - A wannabe Nazi hunter played by a larval Steve Guttenberg stumbles upon a sinister plot put together by none other than Josef Mengele to rekindle the Third Reich in 1970s Brazil. It's a good example of the Nazis in South America plotting mayhem trope, but despite some kooky twists and a trio of scenery chewing performances by elder statesmen actors Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, and James Mason, it all feels a bit inert. The plot has some weird components, but there've been plenty weirder, and it feels like the long-ish runtime dilutes the premise too much (that, or we've see far too many of this sort of cuckoo nutso Nazi tales and thus put the pieces together far quicker than anyone else in the movie). It's a sturdy little thriller and well worth checking out, but I suspect you've seen many of these elements before. **1/2
  • The Inglorious Bastards - A not so straightforward men-on-a-mission in WWII flick made in Italy, it stands in contrast to Force 10 From Navarone (covered in my last recap). It's a little more freewheeling and mean-spirited, as evidenced by the fact that the men on this mission are all slated for prison. They get lucky when a German attack disrupts their convoy, and are able to escape from both the Allies and Axis forces, attempting to make their way to neutral Switzerland. Along the way, they get entangled with the French Resistance and become reluctant heros. Or something like that.
    The Inglorious Bastards
    While Force 10 From Navarone felt formulaic and staid, this is more suffused with the chaotic 70s energy mixed with who-gives-a-shit grimy exploitation panache. It's easy to see why this attracted the attention of someone like Quentin Tarantino, who clearly took inspiration (though not plot or story) from this movie. It's not as star studded as something like Navarone, but folks like Bo Svenson and especially Fred Williamson keep our crew of criminals likable enough that we never really turn on them. Director Enzo Castellari doesn't get as much play as his brethren in Italian horror (Bava, Argento, Fulci, etc...) but you can see that same Italian flare here, and you better believe I'm gonna watch more Castellari (up next: 1990: The Bronx Warriors looks like a ton of fun.) This is a solid little romp through war torn Europe with a couple of bombastic action setpieces, and I really enjoyed it. ***
  • Midnight Express - A youngish guy is caught attempting to smuggle drugs out of Turkey. The Turkish courts decide to make an example of him, eventually sentencing him to more than 30 years in prison (in a legal process that is really torturous, as it starts as a 3-5 year sentence that is extended right before he's set to be released). There are only two ways out of the mess: 1. legal appeals and 2. escape, termed the Midnight Express. It's based on the true story of Billy Hayes, though it's pretty obvious that some of the scenes (particularly towards the end) are fabrications made for the sake of dramatic expedience (i.e. typical filmic adaptation of real events stuff). That being said, the story at its heart is genuinely involving and powerful. While Hayes did a dumb thing, the sentence and conditions of the jail are pretty extreme, and you can't help but put yourself in his place. The opening, where Hayes is caught, is fantastic and tense, but things slow down a bit in the second act as he adjusts to prison life. Brad Davis plays Hayes in a pretty melodramatic way, which works during the initial portions of the film, but becomes a bit strained by the end. It's not a bad performance and the movie does fine, but I found something lacking, especially in that middle portion. Of note in the supporting cast is a young Randy Quaid, playing a bit of a hothead (apparently not much of a stretch!) It's not exactly a pleasant movie and it has its flaws, but it ultimately works. **1/2
  • Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! - Tomatoes have become intelligent and mounted a revolt against humanity. Cheap spoof of B-movies has its charms and a couple of laughs, but isn't exactly a good movie. It's outrageous and some of the gags actually work, but many really don't. This is one of those movies that a lot of people know about, but few have actually watched all the way through. I suspect I may have had fonder memories of this if I had caught up with it when I was 12 or something and the premise is genuinely goofy and fun... but you already know that just from the title of the film, and I'm not sure the actual movie can sustain that premise. Maybe if I was in a different mood I'd like it better, and again, I like the premise and some of the gags, but it's not exactly inspiring me to revisit it anytime soon. **
  • Starcrash - Yet another Star Wars ripoff, made in Italy and starring Caroline Munroe (best known for her role as a Bond Girl in The Spy Who Loved Me, but fans of horror know her from the likes of Maniac and Slaughter High), Christopher Plummer (most recently seen as a scummy bank robber in The Silent Partner), a fresh-faced David Hasselhoff, and typical "that guy" Joe Spinell (who would work with Munroe again on the aforementioned Maniac). As with most other Star Wars ripoffs, the plot here is almost nonsensical, the dialog laughable, and the performances wooden (the Italian practice of dubbing, even when the actors were originally speaking English, doesn't help). It's ultimately more trippy and woozy than Star Wars, though I don't know if that makes it any better. There's lots of special effects and miniatures work, which looks decent enough, though this is clearly a low budget affair. The production design is more reminiscent of older serials and 50s Sci-Fi movies, which doesn't really hold up, but has its charms. Interestingly, the fighting is a little more gruesome. While Star Wars was a mostly bloodless affair (even when stormtroopers are being gunned down), this one kinda makes you feel the laser burns. At one point, a dude whips out a lightsaber and just slaughters a whole group of people in reasonably graphic fashion. Munroe doesn't get a ton to do other than wear fantastic space bikinis and the like (which, to be sure, she's great at, even if it's pretty incongruous; at one point she gets caught by the space police and sentenced to "hard labor", where her prison uniform is a... space bikini.) Spinell looks pretty great as the main villain, and is suitably menacing, if a bit silly (like the whole film). Also of note is Marjoe Gortner as Munroe's kinda partner in crime. He has a weird sorta charisma about him that is almost repulsive; then I found out that he's kinda famous for being a former Child-Evangelist who made a documentary about the "Religion Business" and so on. Weird dude. It's far from a good movie, but in its own way, it's far from a bad movie too. I guess? It's not a movie that I'd recommend, but it has some fun bits for dorks doing a sorta anthropological study of the impact of Star Wars on cinema... **
Current tally of 1978 films seen: 55 films (pretty much caught up with the backlog, so we're back on track)
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Hugo Award Season 2020

The nomination period for the 2020 Hugo Awards closed yesterday, so I figured it was time to take a gander at what's coming. I didn't read a ton of eligible works this year, or, at least, a bunch of stuff I read didn't feel nomination-worthy. I did manage to nominate two novels and a novella though:

I estimate an approximate 1% chance that either of the novels will actually make the ballot, but I really enjoyed both of them and think they're worth checking out. Bujold has secured nominations for the Penric novellas before (not to mention being in the running for most nominated author of all time, maybe?), so there's actually a pretty good chance this one will be nominated (let's say 75% chance).

I read plenty of other eligible works, but nothing that really rose to nomination quality. Longtime readers know I'm totally in the bag for Neal Stephenson, but while half of Fall; or Dodge in Hell was fantastic, the other half was a bit murky, even for me. My anecdotal assessment is that most eligible voters will feel the same way. Michael Mammay's Spaceside was on the bubble and I enjoyed it just fine, but I didn't feel like it did enough to warrant the nomination. I really loved Ted Chiang's Exhalation, but it's a short story (or novelette/novella) collection and... all of the components were already published before 2019 and thus not really eligible.

In accordance with tradition, my Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form will avoid the most mainstream options, but I fully expect the category to be dominated by Marvel/Star Wars anyway.

All three nominees did well in my year-end movie awards and Top 10/Honorable Mentions, but the only one that seems to have a real chance at making the ballot is Us. There are two other quasi-indie darlings out thre, Ad Astra and High Life, but I didn't particularly enjoy either, so I left them off my ballot. Midsommar and The Lighthouse are more borderline cases, but I didn't really go out on a limb for them because I don't really love them either. I fully expect stuff like Avengers: Endgame (which, to be fair, I really enjoyed) and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (which I did not love) to make the ballot, along with some other mainstream stuff.

There's also a Retro Hugo Awards this year for 1945 (covering stuff made in 1944), but I sadly did not dedicate a lot of time to this stuff. I really should have sought out Theodore Sturgeon's Killdozer! because it's something I'd always heard about, but it can't possibly be as good as the title implies, can it? There are a some Clifford D. Simak and Leigh Brackett stories that I'd probably be into reading too, but I never got to them. I only really nominated for the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, with two pretty obvious entries:

There are a bunch of other Universal monster movies that could qualify that I never sought out, so I'm the worst. Also, there's a movie called The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks that looks promising, but again, I never really got there. The Scarlet Claw seems like it could work too. Man, I should have spent more time on this (in fairness, I've been busy with the 1978 project).

No need for recommendations at this point, since nominations have actually closed, but I'm pretty curious to see how things play out. I'm actually on the fence as to whether or not I'll participate this year. I don't mind stretching myself or getting out of my comfort zone, but the last several years (i.e. almost the entire time I've formally participated) have been pretty rough, so... we'll see what the nominations hold...

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The 1978 Project: Part III

Back in September, I started a deep dive into the cinema of 1978. This was mostly on a whim and 1978 was chosen just because it was the year of my birth (i.e. it's still pretty arbitrary), but it's been an interesting exercise so far. Since September, usual blogging traditions have somewhat gotten in the way, especially the Six Weeks of Halloween (which at least had some 1978 entries) and the recap of 2019 movies. Now that we're clear, I've built up a pretty steady backlog of 1978 flicks to cover, so strap in. These are the older ones that I watched in Decemberish timeframe, so recollections might be a bit more sparse, but here goes:
  • The Silent Partner - Elliott Gould plays a sullen bank teller who is able to anticipate a bank robbery and works things so that he ends up with the money while the blame goes to the robber. Realizing he's been conned, the robber (played by Christopher Plummer) tracks Gould down to engage in a game of cat and also-cat. With Susannah York along for the ride as the love interest and John Candy in an early role. Special notice goes to Gail Dahms-Bonine, the buxom blonde who works at the bank and wears t-shirts with bank-themed innuendo (i.e. "Penalty for early withdrawal" and "Bankers Do It With More Interest"). A decent enough 70s thriller that doesn't have much else on its mind, Gould has charisma but the character as written is a bit of a cold fish. Not as smart as he thinks he is, but smarter than the robber, who is far more ruthless. It's an interesting battle of wills that only occasionally breaks suspension of disbelief. It's a fun little flick, if not exactly mindblowing. ***
  • Message from Space - Kinji Fukasaku helmed this Japanese Star Wars ripoff. It has a nonsensical plot that's almost not worth describing at all, solid special effects for low-budget 1978 Japan, great costumes and production design, and a soundtrack that apes Star Wars except when it turns into surf-rock.
    Message From Space
    Highlights include the Darth Vader analog wearing a Shogun-esque costume (his mother is the Emperor, which was a nice touch), the Battlestar-esque ships mixed with ships with, like, space-sails and shit, like something out of Master and Commander but in space (anyone remember Spelljammer? No? Just me? Ok then). Sonny Chiba and Vic Morrow provide some recognizable faces and you'll recognize a lot of stuff copied from Star Wars, which makes it feel familiar even if it's completely bonkers. Worth a watch for fans of batshit insane cinema, but not exactly "good" but then, what does "good" even mean in this context? **1/2
  • Force 10 from Navarone - Straightforward men-on-a-mission in WWII flick is pretty entertaining, if a bit derivative. It doesn't really do anything new with the story, and previous films in this arena are certainly better (i.e. the original Guns of the Navarone or Where Eagles Dare are far better), but there's something to be said for a well executed formulaic film like this, and it's a decent enough watch. Seeing the likes of a young Harrison Ford (just off Star Wars), Robert Shaw, Carl Weathers, and a bunch of "that guys" like Richard Kiel and Franco Nero help out considerably, but again, it doesn't really stand up to previous iterations on similar stories (or, as we'll see later in this series of posts, other 1978 men-on-a-mission movies). **1/2
  • The Avenging Eagle - You know what, I might have to have a separate top 10 of 1978 for martial arts flicks, because there are just tons of great entries in 1978. I wasn't expecting much out of this one, but it was a really fun flick with great action sequences and decent enough performances.
    The Avenging Eagle
    The story involves two guys running into each other on the road to their respective tasks of honor, or something like that (one of them is seeking to atone for dishonor). Initially distrustful of one another, they eventually gain an unconventional respect for one another. Again, fantastic fight sequences scattered throughout, and they stand up to the heavyweights in the genre. Plus the villain has metal claw hands, which is fun. ***
  • The Redeemer: Son of Satan! - A priest (or maybe a demon or a priest possessed by a demon, or something like that) lures a group of former classmates to a high school reunion, traps them in the building, and starts killing them off one by one, citing their sins as justification. It sounds like it would an interesting sorta proto-slasher (or at least a proto Slaughter High), but it's far more surreal than that. This might really click with a certain type of viewer, but it did not click very well with me. There's some interesting visual tags here and there, but there's a fine line between surreal and nonsense, and this veers a little too far towards nonsense, and the characters aren't especially likable, which makes the whole affair fall a little flat. Maybe the film thinks it's explaining things enough, but it didn't really make much sense, and the scares were pretty rote and unmemorable. The only thing that really strikes me, a few months later, is the opening and closing shots of the film. I have no idea what they mean, but they kinda work? I dunno, it's not the worst movie, but it's not something that'll climb very far on the 1978 rankings... **
  • Girlfriends - This slice-of-life, angst and ennui of a 20-something woman in NYC has become something of an indie cliche in recent years, but this sort of thing was exceedingly rare back in 1978. This is emphatically not my style of movie, but I'll say this: I liked this a lot better than I liked Frances Ha (which clearly models itself as a sorta modernized Girlfriends). It's hard to deny the sincerity and genuine affection the film has for its characters and the way they grow apart and together, change, and evolve. It's not really my thing, but it's well done and I'm glad I watched it. **1/2
We'll follow this up with another post on 1978 flicks soon, so keep your eyes open for that. I mean, you can still blink. And you'll probably need to sleep before I post the next one. Just, you know, do normal things with your eyes, but at some point, you'll be able to point them at another post on 1978 movies, which I'm sure you (and the other 3 people who still read blogs) will be spellbound.

Current tally of 1978 films seen: 53 films (I covered 6 in this post, but another 5 are already in the hopper for the next post...)
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Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a touching tale of Vampires and Robots. This time, we've got voluptuous androids and Space Police! The poster is certainly an eye-catcher...
Galaxina Poster
Let's get a load of this plot description:
Galaxina is a lifelike, voluptuous android who is assigned to oversee the operations of an intergalactic Space Police cruiser captained by incompetent Cornelius Butt. When a mission requires the ship’s crew to be placed in suspended animation for decades, Galaxina finds herself alone for many years, developing emotions and falling in love with the ship’s pilot, Thor.
Sounds glorious, let's watch it!
  • We've already mentioned this, but the captain's name is Cornelius Butt, and it bears repeating. To be clear, it's not like one of those things where it says "butt" in the credits, but they pronounce it "boot" or somesuch, they actually just say butt. We're introduced to him when he opens a ship's log, aping the form of Star Trek, but with the content style of Dark Star (it reminds me of the line where the entire ship's supply of toilet paper was destroyed, though let's be real, nothing else can be that well written). He describes his ship's boring assignment as "Joy and yummies." Anyway, that's just his voice. The visual reveal is accompanied by Thus Spake Zarathustra (theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and, well, words kinda fail me.
    Cornelius Butt
    Look, it's obvious that this is a parody and clearly meant to be funny, but it somehow manages to work on both that level and in an unintentionally hilarious way. Neat trick
  • The film kinda, sorta stars Dorothey Stratten as the titular android Galaxina.
    Galaxina and friends
    Stratten was a former Playboy Playmate and Playmate of the Year who was attempting to parlay that success into a career in film. She had some other small roles, but this was basically her only real starring vehicle because she was murdered by her ex-husband and manager (who also shot himself) not long after Galaxina came out. The tragic event inspired two movies (in one, she was played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and songs like Californication. The general consensus was that she had some talent and could have grown into a pretty good presence on screen. Sorry to bum out what will otherwise be a lighthearted post, but here we are.
  • In space, no one can hear your space siren, but they can apparently see your billboards.
  • There's a dude who is exercising while smoking a cigar and drinking beer. It's Thor, the guy who Galaxina will fall in love with...
  • Another dude is dressed in an old Dodger's uniform (with the sleeves ripped off, natch) and cowboy hat, clearly the inspiration for Danny McBride's character in that Prometheus/Alien:Covenant/Whatever movie that came out recently and is somehow worse than Galaxina. Also, he's watching a space opera on future tv. And by space opera, I don't mean, like, science fiction, I mean a literal opera that ends with a song sung by a fat (alien) lady.
  • The wine served with dinner is called Thunder Ripple, meaning that this is clearly a corporate dystopia where Thunderbird and Ripple have merged. Captain Butt comments that it's vintage 2001, a very fine year.
  • Captain Butt eats a weird space egg raw, and has an Alien moment where he vomits a monster that runs away. In a shocking twist of fate, the monster becomes the hero of the film (er, spoilers? Can you spoil a movie like this?)
  • Oh look, there's a space brothel in this movie. Very classy.
  • While the crew is asleep en-route and Galaxina is left to run the ship, there's a very David from Prometheus/Alien:Covenant/Whatever movie that came out recently and is somehow worse than Galaxina vibe, as she falls in love with one member of the crew and reprograms herself or somesuch.
  • Once the get to their destination and Galaxina is sent out to retrieve the Blue Star (more on that in a sec), we have our Mos Eisley Cantina moment, only the people on this planet eat human beings, so their menu consists of things like "lady fingers" that are actual human fingers. My guess is that, economics being what they are, only approximately half of the fingers served are actual "lady" fingers though. I mean, I guess there could be some "gentleman" fingers that would be recognizably male (or at least, not ladylike?), but why throw away the revenue stream if you don't have to.
  • Every time someone says "Blue Star", an "ah ahhh" chorus erupts in the soundtrack, but in a meta maneuver, the people in the scene can actually hear it and are kinda confused. It recalls the Frau Blucher horse whinny gag from Young Frankenstein. I'm sure there's actually a better reference for this, but it's not coming to mind at the moment. I know, this movie deserves better from me.
  • The Mos Eisley bit culminates in a shootout that is straight out of a spaghetti western, but with laser pistols. This movie has it all.
  • Oh no, Galaxina has been captured by a strange cult that worships... the great hog in the sky, Harley Davidson. Of course, her crew shows up and they all escape in the cult's lord, an actual Harley motorcycle.
  • There's more, but what we're ultimately left with is an intentional parody that is also somehow unintentionally funny. It’s like they invented a new way to laugh that can never be replicated. Bespoke humor. Look, I don't want to oversell it and it drags a lot over its runtime, but I had a lot of fun with it and B Movie aficionados will get a kick out of it. The copy on Amazon Prime actually looks pretty good too (i.e. it's not a pan and scan pal transfer, which has been known to happen to movies like this.)
So there you have it. It's not a good movie and you shouldn't watch it, wink, wink.
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SF Book Review - Part 33

It's been almost a year since I did a recap of recent science fiction reads like this (though there's been plenty of one-off reviews), so I'm definitely missing some older reads, but here's some recent SF I've read:
  • Summertide, by Charles Sheffield - Opal and Quake are twin planets due to pass close to their sun in a grand conjunction that only occurs once every 350,000 years. The event will unleash massive tidal forces on both planets, but especially the already more volatile Quake. Also of note, the two planets are connected by a massive umbilical that allows easy travel between planets, a "minor" artifact from long vanished alien Builders. The event has attracted the attention of numerous people, each for their own reason. One wants to study the artifact, thinking she'll find some key evidence about the Builders. Others have reasons of their own. So this is a pretty solid example of the Big Dumb Object sub-genre, with the text covering several complex Builder artifacts, including the seemingly innocuous Umbilical (I think you can tell that there's more going on there). The character work is middling at best, but functional. I did sorta space out during the second act and the finale isn't entirely surprising, but Sheffield has played the game well, and the pieces all fit together. This is the first in a series that I'd not be opposed to revisiting...
  • Planetside, by Michael Mammay - Colonel Carl Butler is called out of semi-retirement by an old, powerful friend for what appears to be a routine investigation about a missing soldier in a warzone. Naturally, things are more complicated than they seem and conspiracies are abound. Mammay has a military background and it shows (this is a good thing), though the mystery at this story's heart feels mostly stalled for far too long. It all fits together, though it does get faintly ridiculous towards the end. It's entertaining and page turning throughout though, and Mammay is pretty good at action sequences. Butler is a fun character, and the supporting cast has a good presence as well. The ending features a morally questionable act that I'm not sure Mammay grappled with enough, but I guess it works well enough. I enjoyed this well enough to read the sequel...
  • Spaceside, by Michael Mammay - After the events of Planetside, Butler has been discharged, but mostly with just a slap on the wrist for that morally questionable act (again, not sure Mammay spent enough time reckoning with this), so he's managed to find a cushy corporate security gig. Asked to look into a data breach at a rival company, Butler gets embroiled in a conspiracy related to the one from the first book. This is mostly more of the same, though Mammay manages a more evenly paced narrative this time, with interesting info doled out on the regular. Butler makes for a good protagonist, and he's again surrounded by a solid supporting cast. These are entertaining little pot boilers. The SF is middling and nothing you haven't seen before, but it's reasonably well executed, and Mammay has decent enough storytelling chops to keep things moving.
  • Berserker, by Fred Saberhagen - Berserkers are giant killing machines that are the sole remnant of a galactic war between two long gone civilizations. But the Berserkers are still there, and have made their way to Earth controlled space. Will we be able to withstand the killing machines that destroyed two civilizations? This is actually a series of short stories, and as usual, some are better than others. My favorites had to do with the ones where humans figure out ways to outsmart the Berserkers using some ingenious scheme or other. As a general menace and threat, the Berserkers are a great idea, but some of the stories go heavy on interaction with the Berserkers, and they don't really act like the killing machines that are conjured by their general description. That being said, they're pretty clearly a precursor to Star Trek's Borg, and this is an interesting read because of that. I actually tackled this during Vintage Science Fiction Month, but never got around to writing it up (mostly due to having lots of 2019 Movie posts to cover, but also because I didn't have that much to say about these stories) until now...
  • Recursion, by Blake Crouch - A mysterious wave of people who suddenly gain memories of nearly full alternate lives, a phenomenon dubbed False Memory Syndrome, sets a NYC cop and a memory researcher on a quest to find out what is causing this malady. I'd previous read Crouch's novel Dark Matter, and this book has a similar sort of structure. He introduces a seemingly simple idea, then the idea is explored to its logical extreme. Despite the description involving False Memories, the mechanism by which that happens is something altogether different, touching on a couple of SF ideas that are explored pretty well. The idea at its core is reminiscent of a few things (kinda like time travel mixed with Groundhog Day, with some other references for flavor) while retaining its own identity. The characters are well drawn, if a bit straightforward, and the plot moves along at a brisk pace. Well worth a read.
  • Nexus, by Ramez Naam - In the near future, a drug named Nexus essentially turns the brain into a computer, capable of granting precise controls over one's own body while also linking other minds together. A young researcher is caught experimenting with ways to improve Nexus and is thrust into a world of international espionage centered on the future of Nexus. This is a very well crafted thriller with a heavier dose of hard SF than usual, and Naam does an excellent job balancing the whole government espionage aspects with more traditional SF explorations. There's some pretty hefty sequences in the book, such that it's not always an easy read, but it's a good story, well told. Definitely looking to read more from Naam.
That's all for now. Stay tuned, Hugo season is approaching...
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Link Dump

The usual roundup of interesting links from the depths of ye olde internets:
  • And Now, An Intimate Conversation With Elijah Wood - Scott Wampler's interview with Elijah Wood is, well, it's something else:
    I've interacted with you often enough on Twitter to know you're a regular social media user.

    Oh, yeah.

    So then you must be familiar with Daddy Culture.

    (long pause) ...Not really.

    I don't believe that.

    Do you...are we talking about, like, someone who's looking for someone else to take care of them? Like a Sugar Daddy?

    Yes, it could be that. Anyone can be a Daddy.

    I don't -

    People said Venom was Daddy.

    Okay.

    A lot of people said Venom was Daddy, in fact.

    Sure.

    So, was there ever any concern on your part that titling your film Come to Daddy might therefore be considered an intrusion, or co-opting of, Daddy Culture?

    I don't think that was ever a concern.

    Mhm.

    The first thing that came to mind when I read the title was probably the Aphex Twin song, and there's actually another Aphex Twin song in the movie, it's beautiful. But no, I don't think we thought about Daddy Culture, or how we might be appropriating it.

    Well, maybe that's something for you to think about.

    You're absolutely right.

    Do you consider yourself a Daddy?

    Well, I mean, I am a dad.

    Yes, you're a recent father, but are you a Daddy?

    (long pause) I don't think I quite know what that means.

    Alright, Elijah, if we're gonna continue to play games I'm just gonna have to move on to the next line of questioning.

    Honestly, Scott, I want to help you, I just -

    Moving on.
    They talk about things other than Daddy Culture too.
  • It’s Time for a Best Stunts Oscar - The trials and tribulations of trying to get a Best Stunts Oscar off the ground. It's more complicated than you might think, but it's also stupid that it doesn't exist.
  • Why Didn’t Ancient Rome have Dungeons and Dragons? - Ruminations on the nature of innovation and how infrequently it actually happens.
  • Predators And Danny Glover Dancing On The Set of Predator 2 - I mean, what is going on here?
  • Spiders On Drugs - Stick with this until the end, it's not what you think. Or maybe it is. I don't know what you're thinking.
  • This Grasshopper Mouse Hunts Scorpions, Howls at Moon - This mouse is much more badass than the bigoted stereotypes surrounding mice.
That's all for now...
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Favorite Films of 2019

We conclude this recap of 2019 movies with a traditional top 10 list, only a month and a half (or so) late! This marks the fourteenth year in a row that I've posted a top 10, which is a pretty respectable streak. For reference, previous top 10s are here: [2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

I always try to find some sort of themes for the year in movies, which is a total fool's errand, but I guess I'm a fool because I enjoy trying it out. This year's biggest theme seems to be an "Eat The Rich" sort of thing. I would list some examples, but it appears that the grand majority of the below films actually comment on wealth and inequality, directly or indirectly (alright, fine, some of the more notable examples include Parasite, Knives Out, Hustlers, Ready or Not, Us, and many more). I would normally say that this isn't my favorite theme or anything, but then, these are some pretty fantastic movies, so what do I know? Another theme worth mentioning is the continued influence and growth of streaming. One film in my top 10 and three more in the honorable mentions are streaming exclusives, which is a pretty solid showing... We'll see if the Oscars will get over the hump and recognize some streaming stuff tonight, but it's clear that there's some interesting stuff happening on streaming services.

As of this writing, I've seen 98 films that could be considered a 2019 release. While this represents an increase over the past few years and is certainly significantly higher than your average moviegoer, it's still a much smaller number than your typical critic, so take this all with the appropriate boulder of salt. Standard disclaimers apply, and it's especially worth noting that due to regional release strategies, some of these would be considered a 2018 movie, but not available until 2019. Eagle eyed readers may notice one particular entry reappearing on this year's list from last year (which had to do with unofficial release shenanigans last year), but I love the movie so much and most people haven't seen it, so in it goes! Anywho, I think that's enough caveats for the moment, let's get to the list:

Top 10 Movies of 2019
* In roughly reverse order
  • Us - Jordan Peele's sophomore directing effort isn't as lean or focused as Get Out was, but it is jam-packed with interesting ideas, visual flare, amazing dual performances, and yet it remains entertaining and rewatchable. It's bold and exciting filmmaking, and I'm intrigued to see what Peele does next.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • Dolemite Is My Name - Eddie Murphy's triumphant return to comedic greatness comes in what is clearly a labor of love. For some unknown reason, Rudy Ray Moore movies were a staple of my teen years, and this bio-pic of Moore is supremely entertaining and funny; an excellent example of the "I'm pretty sure it didn't happen this way, but who cares because this is really fun!" style of movie. Murphy's performance alone makes this worth the watch, but the whole thing is just so much fun.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Capsule Review]
  • Parasite - Bong Joon Ho's films don't often work for me, but this one really opened my eyes. It's a fantastic con movie with lots of thematic heft bubbling under the surface. It's one of those movies where I never really knew where we were going, but once we got there, it felt inevitable. Impeccably crafted with great performances all around, I'm glad this one is garnering lots of attention.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Shadow - Zhang Yimou's tale of palace intrigue sometimes approaches Shakespeare-esque grand historical drama while also featuring excellent wu xia action sequences and a muted but somehow still visually striking visual palette. Zhang handles the intricate plot and action with a clarity and fluidity that is impressive (and beyond most other directors).
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Apollo 11 - This documentary is an astonishing document of one of humanity's greatest achievements.
    Apollo 11
    It winds up being more informative, exciting, and emotionally potent than any "dramatization" of the same events can manage, and the restored 65mm footage looks astounding.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Knives Out - Rian Johnson's whodunit perfectly captures the Agatha Christie ouvre; tons of red herrings, mysteries within mysteries, an old creaky house, a will reading, cozy sweaters, and so on, all expertly crafted and knitted into an airtight narrative. While some of its surface politics might initially feel ham-handed, the real lesson at the heart of the movie is that it doesn't matter what ideological position you take, it's your actions that matter.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek - Taut single-location thriller about a militia member trying to ferret out a killer in their midst, this movie is gravely underseen and underrated. Smart, sharp writing anchors the film and manages to ratchet a lot of tension out of what are essentially a bunch of conversations.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • One Cut of the Dead - Longtime readers may recognize this as my favorite movie of last year, but due to various release date snafus, it's probably more apt to put it in this year's list. It obviously has traction among genre fans, but it deserves wider recognition so I'm including it near the top of this year's list too.
    One Cut of the Dead
    What starts as a somewhat rote zombie story (albeit one that is made more interesting due to the filmmaking), eventually morphs into something that is so much more. Highly recommended Japanese flick, very entertaining and surprisingly resonant.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - Quentin Tarantino's latest love letter to 60s Hollywood and the power of cinema continues some of his more indulgent tendencies and at first glance feels a bit disjointed, but after watching a couple times, any reservations have been obliterated. Tarantino is still at the height of his craft, he's able to harness star power while getting great performances, and he managed to redefine Sharon Tate as a real person while he was at it. A supreme hangout movie, I have a feeling this will age very well.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
The Quantum Jury Prize:
Awarded to films that exist only in a quantum superposition of two or more states. If you're not sure what that means, but that's kinda the point, and I'm going to confuse matters even more because while I've had this section in the last few years's Top 10 lists, I'm using it in a completely different way this year. In the past, the quantum state had to do with my respect for films that I didn't particularly love watching, or things that I went back and forth on.

This year, it's more about which film would end up in the tenth slot (astute readers may have noticed that there's only nine films listed above). Like Shcrodinger's Cat, the actual #10 film exists in a superposition that will only experience a waveform collapse once we observe it. But every time I observe it, I get one of four answers. Or something like that. I guess I could have just done a four way tie for #10, but it's my list and I'm doing this instead.
  • 1917 - The single take conceit dominates the conversation around this affecting WWI drama, but I found it effective at emphasizing the tension and claustrophobia of the young soldier's mission. The story is perhaps a tad simplistic, but the execution is so spectacular that it deserves some recognition. This is the sort of film that I do tend to gravitate toward, so it could easily have taken that #10 slot.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Dragged Across Concrete - S. Craig Zahler's latest crime thriller is a real doozy. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start, but once the unconventional bank robbery at its core gets going, it sinks its teeth in and never lets go. This movie occupies a similar space as several others on my top 10, but that's because it's sorta in my wheelhouse.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Little Women - Greta Gerwig's impeccably appointed adaptation of the famous Louisa May Alcott novel hits on all cylinders, but the performances of a large ensemble are what really shine for me. As I understand it, Gerwig's spin on the story was to introduce some chronology tinkering, and I have questions about one bit in particular, but I ultimately loved the movie. This film would make my top 10 a more rounded list.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum - Just in terms of pure action, this film is worthy. In particular, the knife fight is one of the most spectacular sequences I saw on film all year. The only thing holding this film back is the plot, which is starting to feel a bit creaky and strained at this point. That said, it's still supremely entertaining to watch, and that's the sort of thing I like in my top 10.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]
Honorable Mention
* In an order I dare you to discern
  • Uncut Gems - The Safdie brothers pull an exceptional performance out of Adam Sandler and the last hour or so of the film is almost unbearably tense, but I can't help but thinking that I'd enjoy this movie a lot more if I cared at all about pretty much any of the characters. The artistry is evident and the film is very well made, but it's far from a crowdpleaser. I liked it, but it's a far cry from the top 10.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Prospect - This indie science fiction flick about a doomed prospector and his daughter's fight for survival on an alien planet has some setup issues, but is ultimately a very well done thriller with good performances and worldbuilding (I particularly like the decision to make wearing the space suit with helmet at almost all times a necessity; it's one of those things that seems like a limitation but is actually an opportunity and actually makes for a good aesthetic choice.)
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]
  • High Flying Bird - Steven Soderbergh shot this film on an iPhone, and it's true that the film mostly consists of simple conversations, but there's a nifty plot baked in, with sharp dialogue and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. This is one of those things that got kinda dumped on Netflix early in the year, but is worth seeking out (also of note: I hate basketball, but I still enjoyed it!)
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]
  • The Irishman - Martin Scorsese's epic gangster flick is an unwieldy 3.5 hours long, but it's also an interesting character study about a man who (very) slowly hollows out his soul over the course of decades of working for the mob. By the time you get towards that last hour, it becomes utterly devastating. De Niro and Pacino put in their best performances in years (decades?), but Joe Pesci is the real standout, and that's saying something. It's not a "fun" film, but it has grown on me, and is well worth checking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Capsule Review]
  • The Kid Who Would Be King - Joe Cornish's modern-day take on Arthurian legend is probably more entertaining than you expect. This seems like one of the more chronically underseen films of the year, with great performances from a young cast and properly archetypal characters. Maybe it's a little silly, but it's actually a lot of fun.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Avengers: Endgame - The culmination of more than a decade's worth of films somehow manages to mostly stick the landing. It doesn't break the mold of your typical Marvel movie, but that sort of thinking doesn't work for the MCU. The real strength is not the individual films, but rather the way they underline and reinforce one another. This may or may not be your thing, but it is still a pretty amazing achievement. (Oh, and this particular film is, in itself, pretty damn entertaining.)
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • The Farewell - Lulu Wang wrote and directed this drama about cultural differences between China and America (as illustrated by a family crisis precipitated by the matriarch's cancer diagnosis). Wang manages a fine balancing act between the specific and the universal. We all have families and events (ranging from happy to sad and everywhere inbetween) like those highlighted in the story, but the movie also portrays a very specific family and a very specific culture clash with oodles of keenly observed details. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would (it's one of those films I probably wouldn't have caught up with if I didn't go out of my way for posts like this).
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Little Monsters - Lupita Nyong'o leads this goofy Australian zombie flick about a down-on-his-luck musician and a teacher protecting a field trip from a zombie outbreak. Well worth checking out.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Klaus - Animated Christmas movie that plays with the origins of the Santa Claus (er, Klaus) myth, this is a gorgeous movie with a clever script and fun story. I'm not sure if it's destined to become an annual tradition, but you could do a lot worse in that respect...
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]
  • Marriage Story - I'm not a big fan of Noah Baumbach's general obsession with dysfunction, but there seems to be a bit of balance here that helps this story about bitter divorce proceedings. There's a somewhat even hand between the two aggrieved parties, but the real insight of the film is just how shitty lawyers are and how the legal system can intensify an already brutal and vicious event into something even more severe. Exceptional performances abound, and even a touch of hope in the end.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]
  • Ready or Not - A new bride becomes enmeshed in her new family's gaming tradition, which sometimes involves a hunt to the death. One of the most fun times at the movies of the year, with an eye opening and unexpected ending which I'm probably ruining for you just by talking about it, sorry. Worth checking out for you horror bloodhounds out there.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Good Boys - Surprisingly affecting story about a group of tweens going on an epic quest to fix a drone (or something, that part isn't important). I thought this would be a rote, one-joke affair (tweens cursing!), so when it turns out that this movie had some pretty sharp insights into the nature of growing up and friends who come together or drift apart, I was quite surprised, and you might be too.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
  • Hustlers - A group of strippers band together to scam a bunch of Wall Street clients, this sorta has the feel of a Scorsese gangster epic; the rise and fall of a brash criminal enterprise, anchored by Jennifer Lopez's magnetic performance and her relationship with costar Constance Wu.
    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]
Just Missed the Cut:
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order: Should Have Seen:
Despite having seen around 90 of this year's releases (and listing out 30+ of my favorites in this post), there are a few that got away. Or never made themselves available here. Or that I probably need to watch, but don't wanna because reasons. Regardless, there are several movies here that I probably should have caught up with: Normally, I'd do a whole post of Oscars predictions, but since they pushed the ceremony up this year, I basically ran out of time and in the end, who cares about my predictions? I'll be on Twitter during the show, so feel free to hit up @mciocco for incisive commentary (or, more likely, retweets of people funnier/more insightful than me). For the record, my guesses are for Best Picture: 1917, Director: Mendes (maybe Bong Joon Ho), Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Actress: Renée Zellweger, Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Original Screenplay: Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood (though maybe Parasite), Adapted Screenplay: Little Women (though maybe Jojo Rabbit). So there.
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The 2019 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners were announced last week. The premise of those awards is to recognize aspects of films that aren't reflected in more traditional awards or praise like a Top 10 list or whatever. However, any awards system will fail to capture all the nuances and complexity available, so we come to the Arbitrary Awards, an opportunity to commend movies that are weird or flawed in ways that don't conform to normal standards. A few of these "awards" have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. Previous Arbitrary Awards: [2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]
  • The "You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else" Award for Worst Dialogue: Serenity. Sometimes this award goes to bad movies, other times it goes to movies that are so bad they're good. This utterly bonkers movie straddles the line, and is almost worth watching for the absurd twist at its core, but the dialogue is also quite impressively bad (A favorite line read: “Baker Dill, you’re no more than a hooker“, funny just because of his name, but then the struggling fisherman responds: “A hooker who can’t afford hooks").
  • The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Glass. Overall, I like a lot about this movie, but boy, are those hospital employees stupid!
  • Award for Achievement in Seagull Violence: Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse. I was mixed on the film overall, but the, er, seagull scene was pretty eye opening, and it's worth noting that Willem Dafoe probably deserves more recognition somewhere too.
  • Best Stripper Who Doesn't Really Strip That Much: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. There's this thing in Hollywood movies were really famous people play strippers but they don't actually take their close off but in this case, who cares, J Lo is magnetic and super charismatic in this film that definitely warrants more recognition than it's got.
  • Give This Person Their Own Action Franchise, Dammit: Mackenzie Davis was really fantastic in the middling Terminator: Dark Fate, it really just made me want to see her in an original action movie that isn't saddled with all the baggage of the Terminator sequels.
  • Most Explosive Ending: Ready or Not. I will not spoil the ending, but I admire that they went there.
  • Best Entrance to Graduation: Booksmart. This movie is fun, if not quite the revelatory experience some have proclaimed it as, but I kinda loved their entrance to their graduation, so here we are.
  • Best Documentary About a Complete Fraud: The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. The story of multi-billion dollar medical-testing startup Theranos is fascinating and the fraud at its heart is completely bonkers. Strong runners up in the the Fyre Festival documentaries, but there were two of them and they split the vote and besides, Theranos' fraud is much more egregious than a poorly run music fest.
  • Best Long Take/Tracking Shot: 1917. Duh. Due to release date weirdness, I'm not sure if One Cut of the Dead qualifies, but it would be a strong contender.
  • Should Host the Oscars: Babu Frik from Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker. Look, he won't be better than my dream host for last year's Oscars (that would be Cheddar Goblin, who should host every year), but Babu Frik would work...
  • Best Hero/Disembodied Body Part: I Lost My Body. This is an interesting animated French movie that I'm not sure adds up to much, but approximately half of the screen time portrays the quest of a disembodied hand making its way back to its body, and it's something else, let me tell ya.
  • Most Egregious Use of Bullet-Time Technology: T-34. Tank battles galore. Some of the effects aren't perfect, but it's a really fun action movie with great tank battles.
  • The "Weiner" Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: American Factory. It's perhaps not as distinguished as the award's namesake, but the access the filmmakers managed in this Chinese run American Factory is admirable and enlightening.
  • Best Drinking Game: Whatever it was they were playing at the wedding in The Farewell. I don't know what the game was, but the visual comedy of it all was perfectly calibrated.
  • Achievement in Sandwich Eating: Vince Vaughn in Dragged Across Concrete. Dude just plows through a breakfast sandwich after a long stakeout night. This is one of those scenes that immediately made me think "This needs to be an arbitrary award", but since that was like 9 months ago, I totally forgot about it until now (I'm adding this after the fact), but it 100% warrants recognition.
Stay tuned, the top 10 comes next week (just in time for the Oscars, which I probably won't be posting about because they pushed the broadcast up a few weeks)...

Update: Added the last category, which I can't believe I forgot to add. I had the flu this weekend, so I wasn't thinking straight...
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2019 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners

The nominations for the 2019 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. Since then the Vegas odds-makers and Howard Ratners of the world have been going bonkers, so it's time to announce the winners so that the criminals trapped in that weird vestibule thing can be buzzed out (get it? I'm being topical! For the approximately zero of you who have seen Uncut Gems, at least.) Next week, I'll announce the winners of some more goofy, freeform categories that we call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I'll post my top 10 of 2019 (the Oscars are much earlier this year, so I may post some commentary, time permitting, or more likely not). Alrightly then, enough preamble, let's get to the winners. And the KMA goes to:
  • Best Villain/Badass: Red, played by Lupita Nyong'o in Us. And it's not even particularly close. Lupita Nyong'o's performance as Red is full of menace and barely suppressed rage, but it's a dual role, and she puts forth a distinct performance has Red's doppleganger too (and without spoiling the movie, the villainy is not diminished by such machinations).
    Red in Us
    The other nominees aren't so much bad as they are simply perfunctory. It's a superhero film or a Star Wars film and so a villain is dutifully trotted out. For the most part, they get the job done, but few leave a lasting imprint. Thanos works less because of himself than because he's the villain in the culmination of a ten year run of movies (this is Marvel's superpower - the individual films matter less than the whole). Jake Gyllenhaal makes Mysterio work better than he does on paper, but is ultimately a little silly in Spider-Man: Far from Home. Mark Dacascos is interesting in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, but it's hard not to see him as the Chairman from Iron Chef America, which adds its own surreality to the proceedings, I guess, but perhaps not intentional. Plenty of fine villains, but nothing stands out as much as Red...
  • Best Hero/Badass: Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. An altogether better year for heroism, even for a more atypical, perhaps even ambiguous character like Cliff Booth. Tarantino doesn't explicitly tell us what happened with Booth's wife, but what we do see in the film proper is certainly badass and heroic. It's one of those things where your interpretation of the character in the film probably says more about you than the film itself.
    Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Lots of other strong contenders in this category too. I don't know how John Wick keeps losing this award, but it appears he'll have another chance soon enough, and we'll certainly be talking more about this film below (this is perhaps why I don't feel compelled to give him this category - it gets recognized elsewhere). Scott Adkins puts in a fun, badass performance in Avengement, pouring himself a pint after beating the hell out of every gangster in a bar with a cricket bat. Even bit parts like Tilda Swinton in The Dead Don't Die warrant some mention, though that character has a distinct lack of heroism (which is not to say that she's a villain either). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not also does well, though she suffers in comparison to Sharni Vinson's Kaedrin Movie Award Winning Hero/Badass performance in You're Next. Actually, the grand majority of nominees are pretty close, with only a couple standouts. It's a pity that most of them were not opposed by proper villainy.
  • Best Comedic Performance: Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name. This movie was clearly a labor of love for Murphy, and his passion for the material really shines through. This is an award that is often muddled due to the prevalence of comedic ensembles (and a glance through the nominees shows some of that), but Murphy's performance really does stand out in a way that most others do not. A bunch of the nominees are smaller, side characters who manage to steal scenes from the larger narrative (Keanu Reeves in Always Be My Maybe, Zoey Deutch in Zombieland: Double Tap, and perhaps most impressive due to the young age, Archie Yates in Jojo Rabbit). Other nominees are more conventional, or perhaps less conventional but not defined so much as comedic roles. In the end, Murphy's performance is why this award exists.
  • Breakthrough Performance: Florence Pugh in Midsommar and Little Women. For whatever reason, I had a tougher time populating this category this year, but Florence Pugh was my first thought and the obvious winner due to a strong lead performance in Midsommar and her thankless ensemble work in Little Women ("thankless" might not be the right word for this, but the character of Amy is fraught with some baggage for sure). The woman can frown like no other, but she has a nice smile too (there's a scene in Little Women where the sisters are doing one of Jo's plays and she clinks her pipe with her sister and for some reason that moment is very memorable for me.) Anyway, Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U is here as a sorta "sorry, I forgot to nominate you last time", but she genuinely seems up for anything in this sequel (the glee with which she kills herself to reset the day, jumping out of the airplane or headfirst into a woodchipper, really does stand out). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not again gets a nod here and I'm expecting good things from her going forward. Did I say it was hard populating this category? Huh, because all the nominees are pretty great, actually.
  • Most Visually Stunning: Shadow. It's an odd choice, because the color palette of this movie is quite muted, to the point where it almost feels like a black and white film at times, and yet that only makes the visuals in the film stronger and more memorable.
    Shadow
    Strong runner up in the form of 1917, whose single take shenanigans are impressive to say the least. The rest of the nominees range from the gorgeos spectacle to the more sober but very well photographed that usually populate the category...
  • Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Us. Jordan Peele's sophmore directing effort isn't as lean or focused as his first effort, but it's still good and interesting stuff. The rest of the nominees are a pretty fun bunch and well worth checking out. They skew towards horror, as I wasn't taken with a lot of this year's high-profile artistic SF (like Ad Astra or High Life), but the lone SF nominee, Prospect, is quite good and it feels underrated (or at least underseen) too.
  • Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: Avengers: Endgame. As mentioned above, this movie's strength is not just that it's a fun movie with lots of good stuff, but rather that it's the conclusion to more than a decade's worth of films, and the achievement as a whole seems worhty of recognizing (and what better place than the best sequel category). Given my usual distaste for sequels, this category is often difficult to populate and it's hard to believe that I never had "Remake" as part of the category before (though I'm sure I had some nominees that were remakes in the past? Maybe?), but two decent remakes this year in Little Women and Cold Pursuit) persuaded me to add that to this category. The other nominees are just fine and well worth checking out if you liked their respective previous films...
  • Biggest Disappointment: The Laundromat. Remember when Steven Soderbergh quit directing films? Well, he made two in 2019, one of which was pretty great (High Flying Bird), and the other just fell completely flat. So many of the elements of The Laundromat should work, but it just continually fails to inform or entertain, culminating in a bizarre non-sequitur of a 4th wall break that's just plain boorish. This is not a category I like to dwell on, but I will say that I generally enjoyed the other nominees, but for whatever reason, I had higher expectations that I probably should have going in, which makes them disappointing. But the Laundromat takes the cake here.
  • Best Action Sequences: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. Hey may not have won the best Hero/Badass, but this film certainly had the best action sequences of the year. With each new installment, these movies one-up the action, and this one contains a few amazing setpieces, most notably the knife fight and the one with the good doggies. This marks the year in which I discovered Jesse V. Johnson's direct to video/streaming offerings, so a couple nominees show up here that are worth watching for action fans (Avengement and Triple Threat). I didn't love Ad Astra, but what's not to like about the moon rover battle? Also of note, S. Craig Zahler's more measured, deliberate action setpieces are tense and unpredictable, punctuated by gruesome violence. Oh, and not nominated but should be: T-34, a Russian tank movie with great, propulsive action sequences and extensive bullet-time-esque shots (the one on Amazon Prime is dubbed, but who cares, you're not watching this for the dialog). A decent crop of action this year, for sure.
  • Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Knives Out. "It is not a doughnut hole, but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not holed at all!" I won't go into details here due to spoilers (and I suppose the fact that there's a twist/surprise is spoiler all on its own, but in the case of a whodunit, what else would you expect?) Some other good nominees here, but again, I'll refrain from details due to spoilers...
  • Best High Concept Film: 1917. The idea of a "high concept" is a bit of a nebulous one and maybe the "stringing together shots so it looks like one continuous take" isn't enough of a high concept for you, but it really worked in 1917, so here we are. Much has been made of whether this is a gimmick for gimmick's sake or otherwise effective, but it worked well for me, building tension and claustrophobic dread over the course of the film (with little in the way of release). Other nominees had some neat ideas for sure, and most are worthy, even when the high concept doesn't quite work out in a way I loved (i.e. Cold Case Hammarskjöld is a bizarre documentary and I'm not entirely sure it works but it's interesting nonetheless...)
  • 2019's 2018 Movie of the Year: A Simple Favor. It's a nice, twisty little thriller. Once I get past a given year, I don't usually catch up with stuff from that year, especially when it comes to more challenging films. This year wasn't really an exception to that, but I did catch up with a lot of fun things. Perhaps another benefit of the streaming era... One notable nominee would be Suspiria, which felt a little overlong and overindulgent, but which I ultimately liked a lot. Most of the other nominees are worth a watch here or there too, though none are really lighting the world on fire.
So there you have it. Congrats to all the winners. Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards, coming next week!
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Vintage SF Month is hosted by the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss "older than I am" Science Fiction in the month of January.

Theodore Sturgeon once famously opined that "ninety percent of everything is crap." It's a funny adage, but unfortunately for Sturgeon, his own bibliography proves it to be a lie. Of course, I haven't read it all, but he's batting 1.000 in my book. To Marry Medusa was originally published under the less palatable title The Cosmic Rape (there are some wrinkles to the edited versions/titles that aren't really worth going into; this is close enough for jazz), but what I read was the full novelization... that still only clocks in at 160 or so pages.

The story presents an unusual riff on the tired alien invasion genre. Dan Gurlick is a bitter, alcoholic hobo. His latest meal, snatched from a trashcan, is a half-eaten cheeseburger that just happens to contain an alien spore that has traveled many light years in search of an appropriate host. Once Gurlick eats the burger, the alien spore proceeds to eat him. Or rather, his mind. It turns out that the spore is the tool of an alien hive mind called "Medusa", which has absorbed and assimilated the lifeforms of billions of other planets across multiple galaxies. And yet... humanity flummoxes it.

Medusa is able to infect Gurlick the normal way, but there's no connection to others of his species. As a vast, nearly incomprehensible hive mind, Medusa can't conceive of a species that isn't already a collective. It thinks that humanity has fractured as a protective measure, and thus sets Gurlick on the task of collecting raw materials so that Medusa can create some self-replicating machines that will (re)unite humanity... and thus make them ripe for conquest. But is Medusa trying to play with something it doesn't understand?

The story has an interesting, if scattershot structure. There are chapters covering the aforementioned exploits of Gurlick and Medusa alternated with various vignettes and character sketches of seemingly ordinary people in not-so great situations. There's a creep seeking to rape a co-worker, a homicidal maniac named Guido who is animated by his hatred for music, a young boy named Henry who is abused by a smiling father, and an African farmer named Mbala whose yams are being stolen. Sturgeon's fondness for the short story form is certainly evident here, and at first, I thought each of these secondary characters would only get short introductions, but then he starts to revisit folks we've already met. As you might expect, some of these work better than others, but that's almost part of the point. Sturgeon literally refers to these stories as anecdotal (page 107):

These were people, these are anecdotes, dwelt upon for their several elements of the extraordinary. But each man alive has such a story, unique unto himself, of what is in him and of its molding by the forces around him, and of his interpretations of those forces.
It can be a bit disorienting, but the ultimate effect is that Sturgeon has managed to make humanity as a whole a character; at first metaphorically, and then literally. It's a neat trick, and one that a lesser writer might not be able to pull off.

Sturgeon's prose is stylish but lean, often moving in unexpected directions without being drowned in hooptedoodle. It's funny, because a lot of characteristics of this book are things that I don't normally enjoy (i.e. episodic structure, character sketches, pretty simple plot overall, very stylish prose, some overly dark situations, etc...), and yet Sturgeon makes them work for me.

Sturgeon is clearly fascinated by hive minds and collectives as evidenced by his earlier classic, More Than Human, which covers many of the same themes from a smaller perspective. To Marry Medusa is certainly great, but even though Sturgeon pulls off the disjointed nature of this story, it can't quite compete with More Than Human. Both books are recommended though!

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