- Don't (fake trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror: Bad Dream House
- The Cabin in the Woods (trailer)
- The Bat - A violent criminal dressed up like a giant bat terrorizes a family renting an old mansion in search of a banker's hidden loot. Or something like that. Despite mostly taking place in one location, the plot is sometimes a bit hard to follow. Adapted from a play (which was itself adapted from a book), it's clear that the silent era constraints on this one were insurmountable (director Roland West would later remake the film as a talkie in 1930; apparently a more refined take, and there's also a 1959 remake starring none other than Vincent Price). That being said, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on here. The transfer I watched wasn't great quality, but the visuals were well done and memorable. It doesn't quite capture the the extreme angular German expressionism of the era (typified by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), but some of those elements are well represented nonetheless. The intertitles (while perhaps not up to the task of encapsulating the plot) are mostly on point and even quotable (the winner:"For twenty years I've stood by you through Socialism, Theosophism and Rheumatism - but I draw the line at Spookism!") It's an early example of the "old dark house" tale (though The Cat and the Canary did it better just a year later), complete with all the requisite tropes: dark shadows, silhouettes, mistaken identities, hidden passageways, red herrings galore, a screaming, slapstick maidservant, a racist portrayal of a Japanese manservant, a sassy, drunken aunt, and a dude running around in some sort of elaborate costume. In this case a bat, which apparently was one of the inspirations for Batman (indeed, there's even a sequence with a bat-signal). Giallos, Krimis, etc...) The visuals do create a nice atmosphere, but it's not especially scary. Some of the humor works well enough, but it's also quite broad and sometimes incongruous with the generally dark tone (I kinda loved the whole bear trap gag though). All of which is to say that, while interesting, there's not much here that hasn't been done better elsewhere, even if this may have done some things first. Worth it for students of cinema to see how it influenced later works, it's not really a movie for the normals. Still, I got a kick out of seeing all the tropes in their larval form. **
- The Phantom (Robot Chicken)
- The Phantom of the Opera's Girl Problems (short)
- The Phantom of the Opera (1962) (trailer)
- The Phantom of the Opera - I've obviously seen the famous reveal from this film and countless imitations and remakes and parodies over the years, but this is the first time I've watched this one from start to finish. Set at the famous Paris Opera House, allegedly haunted by a Phantom who leaves notes making demands of the new owners about who should be performing what and when. The Phantom clearly has a thing for one of the ingénues and promises her fame and fortune, whilst sabotaging her competition. Watching this one made me realize that the pacing of The Bat was actually pretty good, as it's much slower here. The shots are static and longer lasting, even the intertiles stay up on the screen for a beat or two longer (to my modern, continuous partial attention addled brain, it's a bit much). On the other hand, the clarity of what's going on is much better here, and of course there's some all-time classic moments. Notably the aforementioned reveal of the Phantom without his mask, which really is something, even today.
- The Grimmest Reaper (Robot Chicken)
- The Chickening (short)
- Final Destination 2 (trailer)
- The Phantom Carriage - In Swedish folklore, there's a legend that the last person to die on New Year's Eve, if they've lead a wicked life, is doomed to drive a spectral carriage, collecting the souls of the dead for a whole year. This film opens with a Salvation Army nurse on her deathbed, asking for a local drunk she'd been working to reform. Said local drunk is hiding out in a cemetery. When he refuses to visit the ailing nurse, his friends beat him up and leave him for dead, whereupon the Phantom Carriage arrives. There's a real Dickensian feel to the whole affair, as the drunk reflects on his life and bad decisions, and spoiler alert, what at first seems like it will be a really dark ending turns saccharine as the drunk repents and goes through a Scrooge-like transformation. It feels a bit rushed, I guess, but considering that this is a 1921 film, I'll cut it some slack. The whole holiday redemption theme works well enough, and it's got some great visual moments, including the spectral Phantom Carriage, which shows up translucent on screen and features the unsettling and now iconic image of the grim reaper, wearing a hooded robe and carrying a scythe. The Seventh Seal, amongst countless other films (notably including Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which directly homaged the shot of a man chopping through a wooden door with an axe). Really glad I caught up with this one, and the Criterion Collection presentation is great. ***
- 90 Branzinos Later: The Story Behind The Amazing Spider-Man’s Awkward Dinner - The amount of work that goes into a single shot of a bad movie is still pretty amazing (and far more impressive than most criticism of said bad movies, including mine).
Consider the branzino. The Spider-Man scene originally called for Peter to be unnerved by the fish’s eye staring back up at him — something that’s not possible with the real-life dish, where the eyes melt in the oven. White found himself having to painstakingly remove one eye from each raw fish, then place it back in a roasted socket. The scene also needed one of Gwen’s little brothers to expertly debone the fish for Peter, a task that had to be as easy as possible for the child actor. White took a pair of scissors and made a few tiny, imperceptible cuts that allowed the kid to pull the bone out as if he were a Michelin-starred chef. He did this for every fish, for every take, alongside cooking the entrees for everyone else’s plate, as well. Sadly, neither moment made the final cut.To repeat, it's not even in the film. Crazy. See also: The Problem Solving of Filmmaking (linked in the previous Link Dump)
- The Day the World Didn’t End - You may have heard of the story about the Soviet officer who got a missile launch warning but basically saved the world by not acting on it; this is a more detailed account of that story, with context usually missing from the story.
- How To Make the Perfect Burger - Pretty much the platonic ideal of a How To Basic video. Perfect amount of innocuous content before it gets... weird. Wait for it. (I hope you like pickles.)
- The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge - An almost absurd story:
Over the next four years, the law professor would be drawn into a “campaign of fraud, extortion, and false accusations,” as one of his lawyers would later say in legal proceedings. At one point, Hay’s family would be left suddenly homeless. At another, owing to what his lawyer has described as the “weaponiz[ation] of the university’s Title IX machinery against Hay,” he would find himself indefinitely suspended from his job. He would accrue over $300,000 in legal bills with no end to the litigation in sight. “Maria-Pia and Mischa want money,” Hay told me last summer, “but only for the sake of squeezing it out of people — it’s the exertion of power.”
- Very specific ways I eat snacks - Relatable.
- Yoba Skywalker Starwars goes to infinity and beyond | Monster Factory - You wouldn't think that two dorks making a custom character in Star Trek online would be great, but then, you'd be wrong.
- Steamed Hams But It's Directed By Quentin Tarantino - Goes on longer than you'd expect; gotta respect the committment to the bit.
- Quentin Tarantino's Best Scene Has Almost No Words and Just Nine Shots - Speaking of Tarantino, this deep dive into the opening shots of Jackie Brown is very good.
- The Shout - Hazy thriller in which an itinerant man (Alan Bates) injects himself into the lives of an experimental musician (John Hurt) and his wife (Suzannah York). Bates claims to have mystic aboriginal powers, notably the titular "Shout", which he says has the power to kill anyone who hears it. Hurt, being a musician, becomes enamored with this idea, but Bates is sorta using it to disrupt Hurt's marriage and you know what? The plot here is almost beside the point.
- The Last Waltz - Canadian-American rock group The Band ended their touring career with a spectacular blowout in 1976, featuring numerous celebrity guests including Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, and plenty of others. None other than Martin Scorsese filmed the concert and incorporated some interviews with The Band, releasing the whole package in this concert documentary. Generally, there's not a whole lot to do with a concert-based film, and while the interviews interspersed throughout are fine, they don't really sell the movie. The music itself is the real standout, and boy is it a spectacular series of guest appearances. I didn't really know what I was getting into with this, and half expected it to be a sorta talking-heads documentary where a bunch of famous musicians opined on The Band's influence, etc... But it turns out that they actually just join The Band onstage and play songs. And it's great! Scorsese clearly knows what he's doing and it it looks good too, but again, its not really the formal filmmaking that makes the movie; it's the sheer number of huge stars that show up at this show that makes the whole thing worthwhile. I really enjoyed it much more than I thought I would and I'm glad that someone of Scorsese's caliber was around to document it... but it's clearly a document and not an actual "experience". Of course, what document could ever really capture what this experience must have been like? ***
- Eyes of Laura Mars - A provocative fashion photographer (Faye Dunaway as the titular Laura Mars) begins having visions of murders seen through the eyes of a serial killer. The killer is orbiting Mars' life, killing those involved in her work. A young Tommy Lee Jones (sporting a bitchin' black turtleneck and jet black mane of hair) plays the police detective on the case. Rene Auberjonois and a larval Brad Dourif have worthy supporting roles. Tons of red herrings, approaching a sorta schlocky American take on Giallos, but not quite getting there, opting for more restraint and soft edges. It's got small doses of sleaze, but not enough to really catapult it into competition with Exploitation or Giallo (and by this, I don't mean that the film is any less valuable, and indeed it seems better received than it would have been if it really leaned into those elements). The final twist isn't that hard to see coming, but also somehow feels a little off, like it doesn't quite fit (that, at least, is very Giallo). Thematically, there's some exploration of art and influence in culture, both explicitly in the text (Laura Mars' work touches on the intersection between violence and sexuality in ways that are controversial) and implicitly in the way the story is told. The pacing drags for a while in the middle and I'm not entirely sure it sticks the landing, but it's still a fascinating little slice of 70s filmmaking. **1/2
- Game of Death - Bruce Lee's final film, he died during filming, leading filmmakers scrambling to assemble something usable from available footage. To accomplish this, the filmmakers use every trick in the book, ranging from mildly clever to face-palmingly dumb to breathtakingly tasteless. This is a movie that actually contains an actual shot of Bruce Lee's actual corpse. That's... disgusting. As a result of all this, the plot is disjointed at best, and Lee isn't in lots of the movie, or is shrouded in shadows or some other trick used to get around the lack of footage. All of which is a real shame because the films finale, set in a pagoda, features some great action setpieces.
Basically a series of boss fights where Lee dons the famous yellow jumpsuit (homaged by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1) and fights his way through several henchmen, including the, uh, much, much taller Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Ultimately the film is more interesting as the result of a historical trainwreck than as a film by itself. It's an ethically and morally corrupt attempt to cash-in on a dead movie star, but there are some transcendent moments in the film too. This makes traditional ratings here kinda hard, but let's just go **
- Xenogenesis (short) - A 12 minute short film co-directed by James Cameron and Randall Frakes, this is the sort of thing that fans of Cameron would get a kick out of. Some of his most famous ideas from The Terminator and Aliens have their roots here. It's also pretty clearly inspired by Star Wars (which came out the year before). As a piece of filmmaking, it's pretty clunky, starting with a big chunk of voiceover exposition laid over still shots of artwork, then moving to a live action encounter between a pair of explorers and a spaceship security robot thing. Some of the visuals are striking (sometimes approaching a sorta proto-TRONlook), and the technique on display is pretty good considering the shoestring budget. You'll recognize the robot as a similar design to the Hunter Killer tanks from The Terminator and the idea of a woman in an exoskeleton saving the day was clearly repurposed in Aliens. It's short and it works fine, but it's really only of interest to Cameron completists (but if you are one of those, then you'll enjoy this). **
- Snake in the Eagle's Shadow - After trying (and failing) to make Jackie Chan the next Bruce Lee, the studios let Chan do his own thing, which basically meant incorporating more comedic elements into his films. This movie is Chan's breakout effort, teaming up with legendary fight choreographer and director Woo-Ping Yuen (normal Americans probably know him best for his work on The Matrix, but he's huge in Martial Arts cinema). Chan plays an orphan adopted by a man who runs a martial arts school. Chan's character is a lovable, good-natured punching bag who is picked on by the rest of the school. One day he runs into an old man being attacked and rushes to help. Grateful, the old man teaches Chan the Snakefist style. Chan is then able to stand up to the bullies at his school, but then learns that adherents to the Eagle's Claw style are attempting to wipe out all the Snakefist masters, including his old friend. the greatest death scene in all of cinema history. Good stuff and maybe my favorite discovery yet. ***
- Drunken Master - Jackie Chan followed up his success by reteaming with both Woo-Ping Yuen and Siu-Tien Yuen for what might be his most famous early work, the one that really catapulted him into stardom. However, Chan's character is a bit less likable here, playing the spoiled son of a famous Kung Fu instructor. He causes trouble everywhere, in some cases justified (as when he defects a local merchant from another spoiled brat), and in others emphatically not (as when he tricks a girl into hugging and kissing him, though at least in this case the girl's mother kicks the crap out of him in a great scene). Fed up with his kids antics, the father sends him off to train with his great uncle, a teacher notorious for strict training methods and discipline. Eventually, Chan's character starts to wise up, learns his new teacher's secret style of "Drunken Boxing" and uses it to help defend the family clan from an assassin. Like Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, this is a very well executed martial arts movie. The trio of Jackie Chan, Woo-Ping Yuen, and Siu-Tien Yuen work really well together and that chemistry shows up onscreen. Filled with more of Chan's patented slapstick and intricate fight choreography, including the creative and entertaining Drunken Boxing style, this is another film with a high density of action sequences, and they're all fun to watch. Chan's character is a bit of a dolt, but it is fun watching him get beat up for it. It's funny, there was a recent story about how The Rock and Jason Statham have lines in their contract about how they can't lose a fight in a movie, the number of punches they can take, etc... Meanwhile, in the two Jackie Chan movies covered in this post, Chan is getting his butt kicked pretty consistently, which of course allows him an arc to grow and fight back. There's a few sequels to this movie, but I honestly enjoyed this one the best. Indeed, I'm not sure which of these I like better... ***
Obviously, I've already seen quite a few films from 1978 (as of right now 32, though some of those are included below because I only watched them recently), but there are tons of movies I have yet to see or maybe should revisit. So here's the current watchlist, broken out into small categories, because why not?
- Martial Arts - Game of Death, Drunken Master, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow
- Music/Musical - Grease, The Last Waltz
- Arthouse Auteurs - Days of Heaven, Autumn Sonata
- Crime & Punishment - Midnight Express, Blue Collar, The Boys from Brazil, Straight Time, The Silent Partner
- Horror Auteurs - The Fury, Someone's Watching Me!
- The Six Weeks of Halloween - Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, Damien: Omen II, It Lives Again, Eyes of Laura Mars, Long Weekend, Faces of Death, The Evil, The Mafu Cage
- Mystery - Death on the Nile, Coma, The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting
- Girl Power - Girlfriends, I Wanna Hold Your Hand
- Fantasy and Science Fiction - Heaven Can Wait, The Lord of the Rings, Message from Space
- Italian Trash - Starcrash, The Inglorious Bastards, Slave of the Cannibal God
- Exploitation - Death Force
- Killer Bees - The Swarm, The Bees
When I was a teenager, I once picked up a copy of Paradise Lost and immediately bounced right the hell off of it. Something about the blank verse or Milton's particular style was just impenetrable to me. As Samuel Johnson once quipped: "Paradise Lost is a book that, once put down, is very hard to pick up again." And lo, I did not pick it back up again. As such, when news of Neal Stephenson's new novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, pitched the story as "a high-tech retelling of PARADISE LOST featuring some characters from REAMDE" or "Paradise Lost by way of Phillip K. Dick", I was a little apprehensive. Was my hesitation warranted? Maybe! Despite some serious gripes, I ultimately enjoyed the book.
As Fall starts, we center on the titular Richard "Dodge" Forthrast (a character from Stephenson's earlier thriller, Reamde, though Fall could easily be read as a standalone) as he goes about a routine day leading up to a minor medical procedure... that results in his death. Spoilers, I guess, but this is at the start of the book. As it turns out, when video-game magnate Dodge came into money a while back, he signed a will dictating that his body be frozen after death, with the assumption that future technologies would be able to revive him. As his niece Zula and friend Corvallis (both also from Reamde) parse through the will and manage the estate, they come to the conclusion that the state of the art is not to freeze the meat, but to preserve the brain's connectome. Eventually, this leads to a high resolution scan of Dodge's brain, which is then uploaded into a computer, wherein it becomes aware and starts doing... stuff. The process is not perfect, and thus things like memory and identity aren't fully resolved in the uploaded system, but the disembodied mind of Dodge, seeking qualia, is able to construct a body for himself as well as a virtual landform to exist upon. As time goes on, more brains are uploaded and must coexist. Naturally, some conflicts break out in the uploaded bitworld, and hijinks ensue.
The book is essentially told in two parts. First is the real world, where Zula and a cast of familiar characters from Reamde as well as other Stephenson works (including the Waterhouse clan and Enoch Root from Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle) deal with the legal implications of Dodge's death and complicated estate (he's obscenely wealthy, so there's a lot to do there) over the course of decades. Second is in the bitworld, which eventually evolves into a sorta Biblical-flavored high fantasy story. The novel starts in the real world, then starts to interleave chapters in the bitworld, which eventually takes over the narrative completely until a brief interlude in the real world at the end.
The real world portions of the novel are fantastic. Stephenson's usual digressions are present in full force here, but are as cogent and relevant as ever. Which, naturally, means that some of them maybe feel misplaced or extraneous, but are interesting in their own right (for example, the opening of the book is likely to garner some side-eye, as it features Dodge ruminating about lots of seemingly irrelevant topics like alarm clocks and soap bubbles and whatnot). The initial explorations of the will's legal implications and the notion of preservation moving from meat to connectome is handled in detail, but with Stephenson's usual wit.
As the story progresses, we get some jumps in time which allow Stephenson to extrapolate on some of our current day woes. For instance, relatively early on, there's an elaborate hoax that spreads like wildfire on the internet, despite being rather quickly debunked. The whole event is eye opening and tense; Stephenson captures the unfolding drama and the way in which it's received perfectly. The notion of people creating neat little echo chambers for themselves on the internet has always been a concern, but the rise of social media seems to have accelerated some of the complications, and Stephenson does a great job encapsulating the problem and hypothesize the consequences. Some of this might veer too far into hyperbole (the short trip into Ameristan is a good example of that - entertaining and interesting for sure, but a little strained in terms of plausibility), but other aspects are absolutely dead-on. The notion that the internet will become so embedded into daily life and yet so untrustworthy that we'll have to hire full time personal editors to keep things straight is interesting and fraught with dilemmas (only a tiny fraction of which are dealt with here, but done well enough that the reader can generalize). Some of the wrangling around the philosophy of the brain processes that are running on computers are also well rendered in this side of the story, and the conflicts generated on this side of the divide feel real enough.
The uploaded world portions of the novel are... less successful. At their best, they take on an archetypal, mythic quality that lives up to the billing as a "retelling of Paradise Lost". At their worst, though, they're just dull as as spoon. A lot of time is spent, for instance, describing geographic features in unnecessary detail. While this might be expected as Dodge generates the landform, it is still present much later in the story (which is a little strange, as the book contains several detailed maps, as required by Fantasy literature law). And there's plenty of stuff inbetween. When Dodge first regains consciousness and must figure out how to exist again, it's not exactly thrilling, but it holds at least some interest.
It doesn't help that these uploaded brains don't really resemble their real world personas, except in vague ways. As the novel progresses, many of the characters we know in the real world die and get uploaded... but the processes of scanning and uploading are lossy at best, and the world they inhabit is oddly limited by Dodge's initial choices (amongst lots of other constraints that are not very clearly laid out). As a result, the characters in bitworld feel like regressions of their original selves. There are a number of newly introduced characters that don't really connect well, and all the interactions in bitworld can't help but feel a little flighty and airless.
On a thematic level, there's plenty to chew on, but again, since bitworld is so aimless, it's hard to really attribute any real depth or meaning to the happenings there. Sometimes it works better than others, but it ultimately can't help but mute the themes. You might expect that a novel influenced by Paradise Lost would feature a moral component, and this certainly does... but again, the very nature of bitworld mutes any morality here. The parallels are not exact, to be sure, with Dodge kinda personified as both God and Satan at various times, which does bear thought.
Stephenson's stated intention here was to embed a high fantasy within a more conventional SF or techno-thriller narrative, so maybe some of my complaints are nitpicks, but the interaction between bitworld and the real world seems ripe for exploration that Stephenson almost completely ignores. One would think that someone whose beloved relative has died and been uploaded into bitworld would, you know, want to reconnect with their dead relative. There is a brief mention of some sort of method developed by the villain of the piece that allows some form of communication from bitworld back to the real world, but it's just a passing reference that isn't mentioned again. What's more, the bright folks in the real world quickly realized that a lot of the activity in bitworld resembled a physics simulation and were able to create a landform visualization tool that allowed people to watch what was happening in bitworld. Once you have that, it seems almost trivial to devise a way to open up communications between the two worlds. I can think of, like, five different ways off the top of my head. Sure, some of these are rudimentary at best, but that's all you'd need at first. As it is, the book covers almost a century of real world time, but somehow, while real world folks can watch bitworld, the information flow is only in that one direction and no one seems that interested in expanding that flow (yet people have started to change their real world behaviors to make sure their brain can be uploaded once they die, despite knowing squat about what happens there). Plus, well, the bitworld doesn't seem like much of an afterlife.
As the bitworld portions progress, they do managed to pick up some steam and by the time the final quest and showdown arrives, it's chugging along well. Assuming you're able to get past some of the bitworld's shortcomings, it's got a reasonably satisfying ending (though given Stephenson's reputation for endings, I don't think this would be a particularly good rebuke to the haters). As a whole, the narrative comes off a bit disjointed, though much of that is intentional. There's a bunch of time jumps and corresponding new characters, which can sometimes be disorienting, and a little weird when, say, Dodge himself disappears from the story for several hundred pages.
Once the narrative shifts to the bitworld, most of the real world stuff still remains great. Some of it provides needed context to the happenings in bitworld, some of it is just further ruminations on existential themes, and some of it is really quite tantalizing. At one point, Stephenson casually approaches the notion that the "real world" portions are also a simulation. That all of existence might be a Turtles All The Way Down series of simulations within simulations (this might even help explain what's up with Enoch Root). He wisely keeps this idea vague, something that might bother me in other contexts, but which feels well calibrated here. Lots of food for thought in this book.
Samuel Johnson also said of Paradise Lost that "None ever wished it longer than it is." I suspect the same could be said of Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, which does clock in at a hefty 883 pages. About par for the Stephenson course, to be sure, but it does feel like the bitworld portions could be streamlined, which could make for better pacing. Ultimately, I enjoyed this novel for what it was, and while I don't think the bitworld fantasy is entirely successful, I have to admire the ambition. But then, I'm a total sucker for Stephenson, so your mileage may vary. Still, while this novel probably works as a standalone, I don't think I'd recommend it as a starting place for Stephenson. Reamde might actually be a pretty good choice for that, given its more mainstream techno-thriller bent (it's sole difficulty on this front is its 1000+ page length). Still, it was nice checking in with Dodge and Zula and characters from other Stephenson books. I remain intrigued by pretty much anything Stephenson writes, and am already looking forward to his next story, whatever it may be (sadly probably a few years out).
- The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal won best novel, which isn't exactly surprising (it's already won the Nebula and Locus awards), but I must confess, wasn't really my thing. This makes four years in a row where my least favorite novel wins the award. Perhaps more of a statement of preferences and taste than anything else. My preferred pick, Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver came in a relatively close second place, so there is that. As expected, Space Opera came in dead last but clearly had some ardent defenders (this seems like the sort of novel that performs poorly in instant-runoff votes).
- Martha Wells' Murderbot takes home the novella award for the second year in a row with Artificial Condition winning. Of note in the nomination stats is that the other two Murderbot Novellas released last year could also have made the ballot, but Wells must have declined nominations for those. This speaks to the popularity of this series, which is very much my jam. I did not have time to read all the novella finalists, but I suspect this would have been at or near the top of my ballot. Alas, we'll have to wait for 2020 for the next Murderbot story, which will be a novel that seems like a shoe-in for another nomination.
- “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow wins the short story award, and was also my choice.
- Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series wins for Best Series, further cementing how weird this particular award is. I think there's a place for rewarding longrunning series, but the devil is in the details and the results thusfar have been rather strange. This, for example, is a series consisting of three novels, two of which have been nominated for Best Novel already. I thought the point was the recognize stuff like The Wheel of Time - something immensely popular, but which never made it onto the Novel ballot. Weirdly, Wayfarers doesn't seem particularly popular, though obviously popular enough that it could beat out The Laundry Files and October Daye, amongst others. I still remain opposed to this award due to the logistical complications around the award, most notably the near impossibility of reading all the nominated work in the time allotted.
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wins for Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. It was also my pick and certainly the best of the nominated works, but I remain vexed by this award, which almost always gravitates towards the most mainstream choices possible, while interesting stuff like Upgrade and The Endless don't even make the longlist (though the latter may be disqualified due to potentially being viewed as a 2017 release). That being said, if you're in the market for interesting SF movies, you should check those out. They're great, and more worthy of recognition than, say, The Avengers.
- Of the other awards, one winner stands out, which is "Archive of Our Own" for Best Related Work. I haven't kept up with this category or the debate around this particular nomination, but I gather some controversy surrounds this site, which is essentially a Fan Fiction portal. Again, I don't especially have any thoughts either way, but I'm expecting some bonkers takes on this award win.
- The 1944 Retro Hugo Winners were also announced recently. I didn't read extensively, but I was happy to see “Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” by Lewis Padgett take the rocket, and Heaven Can Wait is the clear winner of Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. The Short Form award went to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, which I do find surprising. I was expecting Bugs Bunny to run away with that one, but I guess not. I don't think they've released the detailed stats yet, but hey, at least Batman didn't win...
- I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: My number one wish is for a pristine 4K UHD release of the original Star Wars trilogy.
- I realize that physical media is dying and the 4K market is even more niche than the general physical media market, but if there's one property that could pull it off, it's Star Wars.
- My preference would be for the original, non-special editions to be included in the release. You can still have the Special Editions somewhere. I mean, come on, if the Blade Runner release can warrant literally 5 different versions of the same movie in one box, I think Disney could figure something out here.
- I'm willing to admit that a lot of the more technical changes to the original trilogy are worth it. In particular, cleaning up the compositing (i.e. the boxes around spacecraft, the transparancy in the cockpit from Empire, etc...) is worth it. No one complains about those changes, and I would actually love it for those to be included. This does make for a more complicated case though ("Release the originals but you can change the things I don't love" is a difficult case to make). A lot of the other changes are probably fine, if unnecessary. Actually:
- There are really only two unforgivable changes: 1. Han not shooting first, and 2. Darth Vader's saying "No, Nooooooo" at the end of Jedi (this one was added for the Blu-Ray release in an epic troll, echoing one of the worst bits from the prequels). If you were to remove both of those changes, but keep the entirety of the rest of the special editions in the 4K release, I'd be happy. I mean, sure, the Jabba scene in Star Wars is completely unnecessary as are a few other changes, but they're at least debatable and not actively horrendous. Remove the two aforementioned worst changes and you'll get 99.9% of the fanbase onboard. Or maybe George Lucas will just continue to troll his fans by wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt.
- I hope that future movies beyond Episode IX will be new stories. New Characters. Minimal prequel baggage. Some ideas:
- Grand Admiral Thrawn - We've already lost the ability to do Timothy Zahn's original Thrawn trilogy, but you could still salvage some of the main ideas behind the threat of Thrawn and create a compelling new story. This would be complicated a bit by the character's appearance in current efforts like Rebels and Zahn's more recent Thrawn books (which are fun, but their prequel nature holds them back), but it's all workable.
- Knights of the Old Republic - Technically a prequel, sure, but with all new characters and thus a story that isn't hampered by what we already know. You don't need to follow the video games' story here (not least of which because video game adaptations don't exactly have a great track record), but the general idea that you can tell a story in this universe completely unconnected from the context of the films and still be successful is worth noting.
- Small Scale Threats - We've already done the planet/galaxy scale threats and the Death Star is more than played-out; why not tell a more personal, character based story that generates stakes based on already established universal themes of good and evil, rather than wholly existential threats?
- It would be nice if future Star Wars installments had some sort of vision other than "Make lots of money!" To be sure, I feel like the current Disney installments have had some interesting ideas, but they're completely disjointed. It's easy to complain about George Lucas and the prequels, but the man had a vision and for all their faults, the prequels were more cohesive than what Disney's been doing. Marvel's been playing this cohesive vision across many properties game long enough for us to know it's possible. But then, so many other attempts to imitate that have failed that it's clearly not an easy thing to pull off. But between Pixar and Marvel, Disney has proven they are capable of doing so. Whether that's through producers or a stable of writers/directors or other creatives, it should be possible. All signs point to a break after Episode IX (notwithstanding the TV shows), which is probably a good thing. When it does come back, it would be great if there was some sort of guiding vision behind the movies. This is easier said than done, for sure, but that's what's needed to make a good franchise work.
- Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik [My Review]
- Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee [My Review]
- Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse [My Review]
- Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers [My Review]
- Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente [My Review]
- The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal [My Review]
Best Novella and NoveletteI skipped both categories this year, mostly just because I ran out of time and would rather spend my time reading Stephenson's new novel (which starts great, but appears to be trailing off...) than Shawshanking my way through these categories. Of what I read, I did enjoy The Murderbot Diaries stuff (looking forward to the upcoming novel) and The Tea Master and the Detective, so make of that what you will.
Best Short Story
- “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow
- “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker
- “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher
- “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander
- “STET” by Sarah Gailey
- “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djèlí Clark
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- Sorry to Bother You
- Black Panther
- Avengers: Infinity War
- A Quiet Place
1944 Retro Hugos: Best Novelette
- “Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) (Astounding Science-Fiction, February 1943)
- “The Halfling,” by Leigh Brackett (Astonishing Stories, February 1943)
- “Citadel of Lost Ships,” by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, March 1943)
- “The Proud Robot,” by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) (Astounding Science-Fiction, February 1943)
- “Symbiotica,” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1943)
- “Thieves’ House,” by Fritz Leiber, Jr (Unknown Worlds, February 1943)
1944 Retro Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
1944 Retro Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
- I Walked with a Zombie
- The Seventh Victim
- Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
- Der Fuehrer's Face
- No Award
So that just about does it for the Hugos this year. The ceremony is in a few weeks, so stay tuned to see who actually wins...
- The Problem Solving of Filmmaking - Great video made by David F. Sandberg, the director of Shazam!, explaining the multitude of problems to be solved in even the most trivial of scenes. It reminded me of a great anecdote about Kurosawa that I cannot find anymore, but went something like this: An interviewer praised the composition of a shot in one of Kurosawa's period movies, and asked him what inspired the shot. Kurosawa answered that if the camera was pointed just a little more to one side, then you would have seen a busy highway with lots of cars. If it was just a little more to the other side, then you would have seen a big factory. He pointed the camera where he did not just because it looked good, but because he couldn't really point it anywhere else...
- My many years of reading dangerously - whether Twitter likes it or not - Andy Miller reads a ton of books and thus made the reasonable decision to talk about it on social media. This, of course, is a disaster:
I really love reading. The thing that drives me crazy about social media - about life, in fact - is the presumption of bad faith where none exists. Motives attributed to me for regularly posting, and it’s hard to emphasise this enough, A PHOTO OF A PILE OF BOOKS ON A KITCHEN DRESSER include: lying; boasting; publicity-seeking; ego-boosting; product-shilling; cultural-gatekeeping; trying to make individual correspondents feel guilty about the quantity and/or quality of their reading; and, of course, reminding hard-working, family-loving men of the pleasures they have sacrificed by working hard and loving their damn families, one of which is the reading of books. When they discover I have a job and a family too, that only makes it worse.It's important to recognize that Twitter is not the real world.
- Kim Stanley Robinson on Infodumps - He's not a fan of the term:
Someone once described your Mars books as an infodump tunneled by narrative moles. I think it was a compliment. What do you think?To me, infodumps are just a part of SF and thus not inherently a bad thing. As Robinson goes on to say (there's more to the quote at the link), SF needs science, and science is expository. So he certainly has a point here, but on the other hand, exposition and infodumps can be done poorly. It's all subjective and I'd argue that SF needs to make room for this sort of thing, but it's possible to go too far.
No, not a compliment. I reject the word "infodump" categorically -- that's a smartass word out of the cyberpunks' workshop culture, them thinking that they knew how fiction works, as if it were a tinker toy they could disassemble and label superciliously, as if they knew what they were doing. Not true in any way. I reject "expository lump" also, which is another way of saying it. All these are attacks on the idea that fiction can have any kind of writing included in it. It's an attempt to say "fiction can only be stage business" which is a stupid position I abhor and find all too common in responses on amazon.com and the like. All these people who think they know what fiction is, where do they come from? I've been writing it for thirty years and I don't know what it is, but what I do know is that the novel in particular is a very big and flexible form, and I say, or sing: Don't fence me in!
- Quantum Physics, the Mandela Effect and perceived changes to your NECS entrée data - So this company that creates food distribution software made this video talking about how the names of foods are changing (i.e. Haas vs Hass Avocado) and how it's all due to Quantum Physics, the Mandela effect, and alternate universes and what the hell am I watching? Is this some sort of elaborate hoax? YouTube is filled with videos like this, to be sure, but not from the CEO of a software company. Maybe it's just because I'm reading Neal Stephenson's Fall, or Dodge in Hell (which has a lot to say about false information on the internet), but this feels like the truth is slipping away from the internet.
- Iguana Chased by Snakes - I mean, yeah, pretty great chase scene, better than most Hollywood versions...
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to participate. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Larry Gopnick, Professor Dewey Finn, Ms. Elizabeth Halsey, Professor Abraham Setrakian, Mr. Dadier, Professor Abronsius, Professor Moriarty, and Professor Birdman are also available. As an aside, the movie that Dr. Jonathan Hemlock appears in is a weirdly memorable one that I have an odd affection for, which is nice. Let's get to it:
1) Name a musician who never starred in a movie who you feel could have been a movie star or at least had a compelling cinematic presence
I had a surprisingly hard time finding someone who didn't have a film credit (as an actor, not as themselves), so I'll just give the first one I could find, which is Jimi Hendrix. He obviously appears in Woodstock, but as himself (it's a documentary). He seems like a guy that could have shown up in some of those vaunted 70s films...
2) Akira or Ghost in the Shell *
I definitely prefer Ghost in the Shell due to its characters and ideas, but I will give credit to Akira for its visual style and animation, which is superior (not that Ghost is entirely a slouch in that department, to be sure, but still).
3) Charles Lee Ray or Freddy Krueger? *
Freddy Krueger, without question. I like Child's Play (and even some of the sequels) just fine, but they always seemed a bit silly to me, whereas A Nightmare on Elm Street has a premise that is one of the purest distillations of horror ever put on screen, and Freddy is the instrument of all that.
4) Most excruciating moment/scene you've ever sat through in a film
Since it would be doubly excruciating to catalog and sift through such moments, I'll just go with the first to come to mind, which is most of the film Martyrs. I have an odd sort of respect for it, considering I never want to see it again and will probably never recommend it to anyone (other than someone asking for that sort of thing, I guess).
5) Henry Cavill or Armie Hammer?
This is a tough one, as both are actors that I really want to succeed, but who seem to have continually been frustrated by being forced into lackluster movies. They're both great in the severely underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (presumably the basis for this question), but their other films are severely mixed. I'll give it to Cavill at the moment (based in an alarming amount on the way that he, like, reloads his fists in Mission: Impossible - Fallout and also, he's a great Superman who does his best given dreadful material to work with), but Hammer could easily overtake given a couple more good performances (he seems to have more range, I think, but I just haven't seen enough of it).
6) Name a movie you introduced to a young person, one which was out of their expressed line of interest or experience, which they came to either appreciate or flat-out love
I'm having trouble thinking of specifics here, but I do consider it a victory that my nieces now prefer the original Star Wars trilogy (and in particular, Empire) over the Prequels and more recent Disney entries.
7) Second favorite Robert Rossellini film
Embarrassed mulligan here.
8) What movie shaped your perceptions of New York City, Los Angeles and/or Chicago before you ever went there and experienced the cities for yourself.
For New York, Ghostbusters, though I probably got to New York early enough to not have perceptions shaped by something more meaningful. I've only been to Chicago once, but I guess The Fugitive and The Blues Brothers work. And I have yet to visit L.A. and there are more options here than anywhere else, so I'll just go with Heat and leave it at that.
9) Name another movie that shaped, for better or worse, another city or location that you eventually visited or came to know well.
I've lived near Philadelphia my whole life, but I'll always associate it with Rocky and Trading Places, though the latter probably doesn't have anywhere near the mindshare of the former. Despite living near the city, I rarely go into it, which is kinda sad.
10) Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee? *
As Dracula? Bela Lugosi. As an overall filmography? Christopher Lee.
11) Elizabeth Debicki or Alicia Vikander?
This is a little like the Cavill/Hammer question earlier in that these actresses both show great promise, but are still early on in their careers and thus one could really pull ahead of the other. I'll give it to Vikander for her performance in Ex Machina, but obviously Debicki could easily overtake with, like, one star-making role.
12) The last movie you saw theatrically? The last on physical media? Via streaming?
Theatrically, it would have been Midsommar, but the power was out at the theater when I arrived, so it was God's way of saying I should come home and answer this question with The Dead Don't Die. Great deadpan humor, some nifty meta stuff, a little messy and I'm not sure it entirely works, but I enjoyed it. On physical media, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx, great presentation from the Criteron Collection.The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot, not quite the fun romp implied by the title and a little jumbled in its narrative (the frequent flashbacks don't quite work), but once I got past the preconceptions (which, to be sure, are the title's fault - this could have been a good answer for one of the questions below about favorite titles, but the title doesn't represent the film well enough to take it), I rather liked it.
13) Who are the actors, classic and contemporary you are always glad to see?
I tend to take Hitchcock's infamous view that "All actors are cattle." but obviously it's always fun to see certain people show up. Depending on how you define this, the list would probably be entirely too long, so I'll just look at some of the most frequent folks I've been glad to see show up over the last couple of years: Boris Karloff, Veronica Lake (both staples of my 50 Under 50 project last year), Linnea Quigley (a Six Weeks of Halloween fixture.... which, come to think of it, is also true of Karloff and even partially Lake), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, and you know what? It would probably be a lot easier to list the actors that I'm rarely glad to see. In the interest of time, we'll just leave it here for now.
14) Second favorite Federico Fellini film
Even more embarrassed mulligan here.
15) Tessa Thompson or Danai Gurira *
Tessa Thompson, though I see that Gurira showed up in the bonkers My Soul to Take, a movie that only a few of us like, so I feel like I need to grant extra points here. Neither is particularly well served by their MCU roles at this point, but Thompson seems to be setup for a solo adventure maybe?
16) The Black Bird or The Two Jakes?
I have not seen either of these, but given my general feeling on sequels and reboots these days (particularly long-gap sequels as both of these are), I'm pretty confident that my answer would be "neither". But if you asked me which I was most curious to actually watch, it would probably be The Black Bird.
17) Your favorite movie title
Wow, that's not a broad question at all, is it? It's tempting to just list favorite movies with reasonable titles like The Godfather or Halloween, but maybe it would be one of the more goofy or weird titles like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, and of course: Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Hellbound, Flesh-Eating Subhumanoid Zombified Living Dead, Part 3, which is nice and all, but the real champions of this answer should be one of the baroque titles from Giallo movies. In particular, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, which is clearly the best title in the history of cinema.
18) Second favorite Luchino Visconti film
Yet another embarrassing mulligan.
19) Given the recent trend, what's the movie that seems like an all-too-obvious candidate for a splashy adaptation to Broadway?
I don't really know squat about Broadway aside from the highest of high profile stuff, so I don't know, Star Wars? On the other hand, I mean, it's not like Planet of the Apes couldn't rake in the dough considering there's already a template that people absolutely love. Back on that first hand, there's no need to ruin an absolutely perfect bit like that, so let's keep it with Star Wars.
20) Name a director you feel is consistently misunderstood
I struggled with this one, so I'll just go with David Lynch. His films tend to be pretty surreal to start with, people have wildly varying theories, and of course, he steadfastly refuses to answer any questions about the meaning of his work. Misunderstood... by design?
21) Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth? *
I feel like Evans has more meat on the resume, but Hemsworth has better comedic chops. Evans for now, but Hemsworth could make a run for it someday.
22) What's the film that most unexpectedly grew in your estimation from trivial, or unworthy, or simply enjoyable, to a true favorite with some actual meat on its bones?
The Silence of the Lambs is a movie that I initially just saw as a sorta schlocky serial killer tale (definitely entertaining, but my teen brain wasn't picking up on much else), but it has slowly but surely wormed its way into my head, prompting rewatch after rewatch until it grew into one of my absolute favorites. Early on it was one of those confusing Best Picture winners. Now it's still confusing, but more along the lines of "How did the Academy actually manage to get it right?"
23) I Am Curious (Yellow), yes or no?
I don't know anything about this (I assume we're talking about a film), but given my usual answer to this sort of question: yes. I'm just not the censorious type, though I guess one need not interpret "no" as being censorship or whatever. But I guess I do, so there.
24) Second favorite Lucio Fulci film
Ah, finally an Italian director I don't need to take a mulligan on! I'll go with The Beyond. Creepy atmosphere and an A+ eye-gouging gag (though to be fair, most Fulci movies have that).
25) Are the movies as we now know them coming to an end? (http://collider.com/will-streaming-kill-movies/)
Movies are always evolving and they don't exist in a vacuum. There's certainly much more competition for mindshare these days, so movies are adjusting. This isn't a new thing. The theatrical experience is much more in danger, but even that will probably continue to soldier on in some form. In Neal Stephenson's novel The System of the World, the character Daniel Waterhouse ponders how new systems supplant older systems:
"It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently ... have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive. ... And so I say that Alchemy shall not vanish, as I always hoped. Rather, it shall be encapsulated within the new System of the World, and become a familiar and even comforting presence there, though its name may change and its practitioners speak no more about the Philosopher's Stone." (page 639)So the movies will not vanish, but rather it shall be surrounded and encapsulated by whatever the future holds for streaming or VR or AR or, you know, the future.