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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Link Dump
Perhaps I've been doing these a bit too often lately, but here are a few interesting links I've seen lately:
  • Art of the Steal: On the Trail of World’s Most Ingenious Thief: The title pretty much says it, but as near as I can tell, this guy is like a one man Ocean's 11. I hope Hollywood is reading, because you could make a pretty good movie out of this stuff.
    ...Blanchard slowly approached the display and removed the already loosened screws, carefully using a butter knife to hold in place the two long rods that would trigger the alarm system. The real trick was ensuring that the spring-loaded mechanism the star was sitting on didn’t register that the weight above it had changed. Of course, he had that covered, too: He reached into his pocket and deftly replaced Elisabeth’s bejeweled hairpin with the gift-store fake.
    It was two weeks before anyone realized that what was on display was actually a fake bought at the on-site gift-store. The article is great stuff. (via Galley Slaves, who also has some interesting comments about Wired magazine and editor Chris Anderson's willingness to run stories like this...)
  • Google Search for Recursion: Get it?
  • Archer: Why was I not informed of this show?! It's like The Venture Brothers, but for James Bond (rather than Johnny Quest). This show definitely owes a lot to the Venture Brothers, and it's perhaps not quite as good, but it's still quite funny.
  • Birdemic: Shock And Terror Official Theatrical Trailer: "A towering achievement in human creative expression." - IMDB User Review (via CHUD, where Devin notes "every so often, ineptitude and fate converge on the event horizon of cinema's black hole (read: anus) to produce an experience so bafflingly sucky and confusing it borders on the remarkable")
  • 'Battlefield Earth' Screenwriter Is Sorry About That: More for the headline than the article itself, but the guy does seem to have a sense of humor about himself and his work.
  • 160 Greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger Quotes: Awesome.
That's all for now.
Posted by Mark on March 31, 2010 at 09:34 PM .: link :.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Recent Listening
I may have posted about this before, but I'm not a very astute music fan. Don't get me wrong, I love music, I just don't understand it the way I do with something like, say, movies or books. I gather I'm very unusual in most respects when it comes to music, especially when it comes to lyrics. In short, I rarely pay attention to them. My focus is generally on the music and the way the sound of the voice plays into that, which I know is a crazy way to listen to music, but it's what I generally find myself doing. When I really get into an album or a band or something and I spend a lot of time listening to their stuff, I will eventually get around to the lyrics. Sometimes I'm very pleased with the experience and it takes me to the next level. Other times, I find out that I've been listening to German anarchists (and I suppose there's a next level there too).

Part of the issue is that I really have no technical knowledge of music. Tune, chords, notes; I have a general idea of what these things are, but I'm not a musician. I treat music much more subjectively than I treat movies or books. I can recognize when I like the pretty sounds coming out of the speakers though, and that's good enough most of the time.

Anyway, I've lately come to realize that my music catalog is becoming outdated and rather stale. I'm getting sick of listening to the same stuff, so I thought it was time to branch out. Even when it comes to my preferred genres of music (i.e. Rock), I'm not a terribly knowledgeable listener. So in an attempt to broaden my musical horizons, I got a book called 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die by Tom Moon. So far, I've made my way through 38 of the albums listed, which is pretty slow going. At the current rate, it would take me a many years to listen to all of these at least once, but it's still been fun. Here are a few highlights (The book has a website, but not all the albums have the descriptions posted yet):
  • Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise: Moon writes a great into to this album, which has become one of my favorite recent albums:
    At first people thought Sufjan Stevens was joking. After garnering big acclaim for his second solo effort Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State (2003), the singer, songwriter, and nu-folk mystic from Michigan told interviewers he intended to create a series of albums of original songs, one for each state in the union. A grand and quixotic plan a social studies teacher could love, this project seemed likely to exhaust Stevens's considerable compositional resources—even as it earned him a place in the novelty-music hall of fame.

    Then came the even more inventive Illinoise, and suddenly Stevens's modest proposal didn't seem like such a joke.
    One thing I think I've come to appreciate is the instrumentation in these songs. There are some that are a tad slow and I haven't gotten around to really looking at the lyrics (which are seemingly important here), but there are a number of great songs here. Standout tracks include "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!" and (my favorite title for a song) "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!" Alas, I don't think that Stevens will ever get to all the states, though he has apparently released a number of individual songs that could be associated with various states and is reportedly working on a New Jersey album (apparently some sort of ode to the New Jersey Turnpike, which is funny).
  • The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath: This music is a bit hard to describe, but it's very dense, which is something I enjoy in music. I like when it takes a few listenings before I can really parse a song's structure or make distinctions between various sounds and effects. It's also very fast paced and they sometimes get into a sorta rock groove (like, for instance, the end of "aberinkula"). The singer's voice initially got on my nerves a bit, but that eventually went away and I've been able to really enjoy the album. Standout songs include the two opening epics, "aberinkula" and "Metatron" as well as the third song "Ilyena" and the perplexing "Askepios". I suppose this is what progressive rock has morphed into... and it's something I want to listen to more of.
  • Johnny Adams - The Real Me: Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: I've never really listened to a lot of the Blues, but I've always appreciated the sound and feel of the genre, even if I wasn't that familiar with it. These songs tend to be based on lyrics though, so it's something I probably need to listen to a lot more in order to fully get it, but luckily the music seems pretty great too.
  • The Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir - Shakin' the Rafters: You know that scene in The Blues Brothers when Jake and Elwood go to the church and get their mission from God? And then James Brown leads a Gospel Choir in song? This music reminded me of that. It doesn't quite have that same feel, but it is good stuff. Not something I see myself revisiting regularly, but I'm glad I was exposed to this, because it's not something I would pick up on my own.
  • Arcade Fire - Neon Bible: This album is a bit disappointing because I like the music so much, but when I finally got around to thinking about the lyrics, I was surprised at how depressing it was. Moon captures this well in his writeup: "in most rock anthems, the music strides solemnly while the lyrics supply the hope. Neon Bible turns that upside down: The lyrics are borderline despondent, and whatever sunshine there is resides in the cresting, bursting-with-possibility music." The music really is great, and at this point, I do want to check out their first album, Funeral, but I'm just not into the despondent lyrics. Standouts include "Intervention" and "No Cars Go".
  • King Sunny Ade - Best of the Classic Years: This is one of those discoveries that makes this process all worthwhile. Here's this Nigerian guitarist that I never would have heard of in a million years if it weren't for this book, and I love this music. I won't pretend to have any familiarity with African music, but this does strike me as a gateway drug to more from that vein. I've only listened to this once, but it's definitely something I want to listen to more.
  • The Beatles: For unclear reasons, I've never really been that into The Beatles. This is probably a crime for any rock music fan, but I'm doing my best to rectify that. There were 6 albums listed in the book, so those were the ones I started with. A Hard Day's Night, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, and Abbey Road.

    I'm still getting to know all the albums, but a few things have crossed my mind. First is that their songs are so short... I've noticed this before, but it always surprises me. Most of their songs are like 2-3 minutes long. Maybe it's just the other types of music I listen to, but most of the time when I see a 2 minute song, I think it's a filler or transition song between two longer songs. This isn't a bad thing at all, especially when you've got musicians this talented, and I realize that songs generally used to be shorter and that there were physical limitations of records that made it hard to do epic 20 minute long songs and whatnot, but it still struck me as a bit odd.

    The other thing that struck me was just how distinct each album feels. I set up a playlist with all the albums and just started listening in the background one day whilst blogging or otherwise messing around, and every time the music transitioned from one album to another, I could definitely pick it out very easily. It's not so much that I had ever thought of The Beatles music as all sounding the same, but I wasn't expecting such distinction between albums. Overall, I've been very pleased with The Beatles and am still not sure why it's taken me so long to listen to them seriously.
  • Danger Mouse - The Grey Album: Notable in light of the aforementioned Beatles album as well as recent posting, this album "uses an a cappella version of rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album and couples it with instrumentals created from a multitude of unauthorized samples from" The White Album. Sadly, it can't be bought as EMI was apparently none-too-pleased with the album and sought to suppress it. But you can't stop the signal, and the album is still easily found on the internets. Interestingly, it's also been featured in a number of best-of lists, both from 2004 and for the decade. I've never been a fan of rap, but this is the type of album I could probably get into. Of course, it's mostly because Danger Mouse did an exceptional job remixing the Beatles tunes into something new and interesting. I still have no idea what Jay Z is talking about with his lyrics, but this album works really well.
As I write this post, I'm listening to Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, which is rather strange. I feel like I'm in the 60s. So yeah, nothing especially earth shattering in this post (which is probably demonstrative of my lack of musical knowledge more than anything else), but I'm enjoying myself. I did some skipping around the book, but have recently started going "in order" and am still plowing my way through the A's. There are probably a dozen other albums I could list here right now, and I'll try to revisit the subject from time to time on the blog. Anyway, happy listening.
Posted by Mark on March 28, 2010 at 05:35 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
A while ago, Steven recommended that I check out an Anime series called Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's. It turns out that it's a sequel to the original series. Opinions differ on whether or not to start from the beginning, the crux of the matter being that the start of the first series can be a bit of a difficult watch. However, I've found myself to be something of a completist these days, and prefer to start from the beginning (this also holds true for Crest/Banner of the Stars - I'd recommend people to start with Crest even though Banner is the better series overall.) So while I was recommended the second series, I decided to start with the first.

This is probably a good topic for another post, but I've found this completist impulse to be interesting because I can remember when I was young and had no problem turning on a series or a movie even when it had already started. I'm not sure if it's just because I take the idea of watching a movie more seriously these days or what, but I rarely put on a movie that's already begun (unless it's something I've seen before). When it comes to series, a big part of it would have to be that when I was young, most series didn't feature an overarching story arc, instead consisting of mostly one-off episodes. That sort of series is obviously much easier to start watching than something more tightly plotted like the shows common today. Technology may be part of it too, as devices like my DVR or services like Netflix make it easier to watch a series or a movie from the beginning. But I digress!

Having just finished Disc 2 of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, I have to say that despite some major reservations after the first Disc, the show has really turned the corner and become something I'm looking forward to finishing. Indeed, when I got home tonight and put in Disc 2, I had only planned to watch 1 episode. 4 episodes later, I hopped on my computer and pushed up Disc 3 in my Netflix queue and then started writing this post.

The story concerns a young girl named Nanoha whose life is changed when she runs across a magical ferret who gives her a stone called the "Raging Heart" (there seems to be some confusion in translations here, it sometimes being referred to as "Raising Heart" - I gather there's some sort of story there, but I don't want to read too much about it until I finish the series). The stone unlocks Nanoha's magical powers and she decides to help the magical ferret recover powerful but unstable Jewel Seeds (magical artifacts from another dimension). Soon it becomes apparent that they're not the only ones after the Jewel Seeds, and Nanoha gets caught up in the middle.

A sizeable portion of the premise feels a lot like a Japanese version of Harry Potter, what with the young protagonist and the discovery of a magical world, but despite the sometimes fluffy tone of this series, it does seem to delve rather frequently into darker territory. Indeed, while Harry Potter never really had a choice but to confront his destiny, people like Dumbledore at least attempted to protect him. Nanoha, on the other hand, seems to freely choose her fate. Yuuno, the magical ferret, seems to feel bad that he got Nanoha involved, but doesn't really do much to discourage Nanoha. I found this a bit odd, but then again, Yunno is apparently around the same age. For that matter so are Fate and Chrono.

I'm not necessarily opposed to a story that features young characters in such a way (for example, I like Enders Game a lot), but given the dark nature of the story, it's hard to imagine this appealing to young children. In particular, there's a scene where Fate meets with her mother that is brutal. I guess I'm just not sure why the characters aren't older (I speculate below, but I find that reason kinda creepy). There doesn't seem to be any story-related reason for it, and it can sometimes lead to rather odd tonal shifts. These tonal shifts didn't impact me nearly as much as they did in Trigun and indeed, seem to be something common in a lot of Japanese entertainment (I've also seen a few Yakuza flicks lately that feature this sort of thing, and certainly Kurosawa was no stranger to it either - this, too, is probably a good topic for a separate post).

There is one thing that really did bother me about the series though, and that's the fan service. I'm sure there's probably another name for it, but a show that features fan service with 9 year olds is pretty emphatically not my thing. I'm not a big proponent of fan service in general, but I can tolerate it in something like Ghost in the Shell, where it's pretty tame. Here it's just creepy. In particular, there are scenes where Nanoha transforms from her regular clothing to her magical armor, and the transformation is just disturbing. I seriously considered stopping the series after the first disc because this made me so uncomfortable. At this point, I'm glad I continued, but it's enough to hold me back from truly loving the series.

I suppose it helps that the creepiness factor seems to be waning a bit since episode 5 (the one with the hot spring). There have even been a few transformation sequences that aren't cringe-inducing, so perhaps it's something that will lessen as the series goes on (which may be too much to hope for, but still). Also, it seems that Yunno and I have pretty much the same reaction to these types of scenes.

In any case, I'm looking forward to how the first series ends, and I recognize that the second series is what I was really recommended, so I'm looking forward to that too. More thoughts (and screenshots) to come once I've finished the series.

Update: More thoughts here.
Posted by Mark on March 24, 2010 at 09:36 PM .: link :.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Link Dump
Another installment of links I found interesting on the internets:
  • Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer: Brilliantly skewers Oscar bait movies and trailers. Particularly notable in light of recent posting and also a recent link dump.
  • The Video Game Bosses' Lament: Classic. Dracula's voice is the best.
  • Press X to Jason: I suppose this is a bit of a spoiler for anyone who wants to play Heavy Rain, but I have to admit that it's pretty funny (besides, you won't really get it until you play the game). I eagerly away the inevitable sequel: Press X to Shaun.
  • Why DRM doesn't work: Yet another variation on the theme. Also of note.
  • Actual PC Games: Well, to be honest, Stalin vs Martians sounds pretty awesome.
  • Are You Fun to Follow on Twitter?: Tammy Erickson takes the not-so-original assertion that "most people's tweets are neither interesting nor fun to read" and makes an interesting argument about what kinds of tweets actually do work. In short: "Individuals who are most skilled at using this peculiar 140-character medium are those who do notice the small details of life, who capture the moments that others of us miss, who slow down to watch and listen while most race on, and who personalize the events they see." She makes use of a great anecdote along the way. In case you were wondering, I'm not especially interesting on Twitter.
  • Cinema 4D tutorial - Balls Mapping on Vimeo: Sometimes you read a headline and think you have to be misinterpreting what it means. In this case, your mind might not go there, but the video certainly does. And it is hilarious.
That's all for now. See you Wednesday...
Posted by Mark on March 21, 2010 at 04:31 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Sunday's post on Remix Culture and Soviet Montage Theory I mentioned in passing that the BSG Sabotage video wasn't an especially great example of "Remix Culture" and that this video would be a much better example:

Like the BSG Sabotage video, all of the audio and visual components of the video come from pre-existing works of art. The "creativity" here is in the way the video is edited together. Unlike the BSG Sabotage video, which is entirely reliant on its source material for its entertainment, the Shining video is much more creative in its appropriation. It's a funny video, but there's more to it than that. It's also insightful and even a little subversive. Don't believe me? Want me to ruin the video by pointing out the obvious in an attempt to explain it? Great! Let's take a look at a few different ways a viewer can decode the meaning of the Shining video.
  • The first and most nonsensical way to interpret the video is to see it as meaningless, uninterpretable noise. Not sure why I'm even including this, except to acknowledge that, say, an alien being visiting our planet for the first time would probably not have any understanding of the video.
  • The second and most naive way to interpret the video is as an advertisement for an actual movie. This implies a recognition of the conventions and purpose of the format, if not the content of the video. People who would fit into this category simply doesn't have the exformation (apparently my new favorite word) to understand the video as anything more than a movie trailer. Interestingly, the video actually works on this level, though I doubt there are that many people who would actually fall into this category.
  • The next level up is to recognize that the video consists of pre-existing works, like the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining and the Peter Gabriel song Solsbury Hill. At this level, there's also a recognition that the video is not actually representative of Kubrick's film.
  • At the fourth level, we see recognition that the video is actually a quasi-parody. The Shining is a horror movie, and yet it's been edited to resemble a heartwarming family drama. This is where some of the humor of the video derives, and I'd wager to bet that most people who view the video get at least this far.
  • At the fifth level, we realize that it's not just the parody aspect of the video that makes it funny. We've already established that the video uses the conventions of the movie trailer in an attempt to paint a horror movie as a heartwarming family drama. There's also the fact that the song Solsbury Hill is overused to help emphasize the certain movie themes. The question now becomes: Why? The creator of this video wants to do more than just entertain you for a few minutes by showing you clips from a movie you like (which is kinda what the BSG Sabotage video is doing). In reality, this video is less a parody of The Shining than it is a critique of formulaic movie trailers. It's an acknowledgement that the practice of creating a movie trailer can be misleading. This insight requires someone to have seen a lot of movie trailers and to have been duped by at least a few of them. Indeed, it's almost a warning. It's like the creator of the video is saying: Beware what you see in the trailer, for it's probably not what you'll see in the movie. Every time I see a movie that is drastically different than its previews, I think of this Shining video. Fortunately, most people have this sort of experience, so I suspect that most people are able to make it to this category. This is probably why the video became such a popular internet meme.
Now, you could argue that this is hardly the first example of this type of video, and it most certainly was not. One earlier example was this controversial video called Kill Christ, a mashup of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ with the music and format of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 trailer (of course, that video doesn't quite operate on as many levels as Shining, but that's beside the point). Indeed, when you look at the origins of the Shining video, you can see how common this sort of thing has been in the past.
Robert Ryang, 25, a film editor’s assistant in Manhattan, graduated from Columbia three years ago with a double major in film studies and psychology. ... A few weeks back, he said, he entered a contest for editors’ assistants sponsored by the New York chapter of the Association of Independent Creative Editors. The challenge? Take any movie and cut a new trailer for it — but in an entirely different genre. Only the sound and dialogue could be modified, not the visuals, he said.
Ryang won the contest, and posted the video to a "secret" link that he sent only to 3 of his friends. But you can't stop the signal, and even in the days before the broad adoption of internet video sites like YouTube (which had launched only 6 months or so before this video caught on), the meme spread quickly.

Indeed, the video has spawned many imitators, skewering the likes of Mary Poppins (as a horror movie) to Top Gun (as a love story between Maverick and Iceman) to countless Brokeback Mountain parodies. Most of these are cute or funny in their own way, but none seems to quite recapture the brilliance of Shining. But was that only because Shining was the first video of that kind that I'd seen?

The big difference between Shining and its predecessors was technology. I can't imagine that the contest Ryang entered was the first of its kind, but Shining was the first one posted to the internet during a time when high bandwidth connections were becoming more and more common. Personally, I think the video is a valuable addition to pop culture, and it's the sort of thing that wouldn't really have been possible 10 years ago. It's also worth noting that Ryang is a professional editor who created the video in an attempt to hone his talents, so there's value there too. I think that's a good thing, even if it has spawned lots of uninspired imitations. Is it the only thing? Or the most important thing? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it's not valuable. I'd be curious to see what Sonny thinks of the video.
Posted by Mark on March 17, 2010 at 08:33 PM .: link :.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Remix Culture and Soviet Montage Theory
A video mashup of The Beastie Boys' popular and amusing Sabotage video with scenes from Battlestar Galactica has been making the rounds recently. It's well done, but a little on the disposable side of remix culture. The video lead Sunny Bunch to question "remix culture":
It’s quite good. But, ultimately, what’s the point?

Leaving aside the questions of copyright and the rest: Seriously…what’s the point? Does this add anything to the culture? I won’t dispute that there’s some technical prowess in creating this mashup. But so what? What does it add to our understanding of the world, or our grasp of the problems that surround us? Anything? Nothing? Is it just “there” for us to have a chuckle with and move on? Is this the future of our entertainment?
These are good questions, and I'm not surprised that the BSG Sabotage video prompted them. The implication of Sonny's post is that he thinks it is an unoriginal waste of talent (he may be playing a bit of devil's advocate here, but I'm willing to play along because these are interesting questions and because it will give me a chance to pedantically lecture about film history later in this post!) In the comments, Julian Sanchez makes a good point (based on a video he produced earlier that was referenced by someone else in the comment thread), which will be something I'll expand on later in this post:
First, the argument I’m making in that video is precisely that exclusive focus on the originality of the contribution misses the value in the activity itself. The vast majority of individual and collective cultural creation practiced by ordinary people is minimally “original” and unlikely to yield any final product of wide appeal or enduring value. I’m thinking of, e.g., people singing karaoke, playing in a garage band, drawing, building models, making silly YouTube videos, improvising freestyle poetry, whatever. What I’m positing is that there’s an intrinsic value to having a culture where people don’t simply get together to consume professionally produced songs and movies, but also routinely participate in cultural creation. And the value of that kind of cultural practice doesn’t depend on the stuff they create being particularly awe-inspiring.
To which Sonny responds:
I’m actually entirely with you on the skill that it takes to produce a video like the Brooklyn hipsters did — I have no talent for lighting, camera movements, etc. I know how hard it is to edit together something like that, let alone shoot it in an aesthetically pleasing manner. That’s one of the reasons I find the final product so depressing, however: An impressive amount of skill and talent has gone into creating something that is not just unoriginal but, in a way, anti-original. These are people who are so devoid of originality that they define themselves not only by copying a video that they’ve seen before but by copying the very personalities of characters that they’ve seen before.
Another good point, but I think Sonny is missing something here. The talents of the BSG Sabotage editor or the Brooklyn hipsters are certainly admirable, but while we can speculate, we don't necessarily know their motivations. About 10 years ago, a friend and amateur filmmaker showed me a video one of his friends had produced. It took scenes from Star Wars and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and recut them so it looked like the Millennium Falcon was fighting the Enterprise. It would show Han Solo shooting, then cut to the Enterprise being hit. Shatner would exclaim "Fire!" and then it would cut to a blast hitting the Millennium Falcon. And so on. Another video from the same guy took the musical number George Lucas had added to Return of the Jedi in the Special Edition, laid Wu-Tang Clan in as the soundtrack, then re-edited the video elements so everything matched up.

These videos sound fun, but not particularly original or even special in this day and age. However, these videos were made ten to fifteen years ago. I was watching them on a VHS(!) and the person making the edits was using analog techniques and equipment. It turns out that these videos were how he honed his craft before he officially got a job as an editor in Hollywood. I'm sure there were tons of other videos, probably much less impressive, that he had created before the ones I'm referencing. Now, I'm not saying that the BSG Sabotage editor or the Brooklyn Hipsters are angling for professional filmmaking jobs, but it's quite possible that they are at least exploring their own possibilities. I would also bet that these people have been making videos like this (though probably much less sophisticated) since they were kids. The only big difference now is that technology has enabled them to make a slicker experience and, more importantly, to distribute it widely.

It's also worth noting that this sort of thing is not without historical precedent. Indeed, the history of editing and montage is filled with this sort of thing. In the 1910s and 1920s, Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov conducted a series of famous experiments that helped express the role of editing in films. In these experiments, he would show a man with an expressionless face, then cut to various other shots. In one example, he showed the expressionless face, then cut to a bowl of soup. When prompted, audiences would claim that they found that the man was hungry. Kuleshov then took the exact same footage of the expressionless face and cut to a pretty girl. This time, audiences reported that the man was in love. Another experiment alternated between the expressionless face and a coffin, a juxtaposition that lead audiences to believe that the man was stricken with grief. This phenomenon has become known as the Kuleshov Effect.

For the current discussion, one notable aspect of these experiments is that Kuleshov was working entirely from pre-existing material. And this sort of thing was not uncommon, either. At the time, there was a shortage of raw film stock in Russia. Filmmakers had to make due with what they had, and often spent their time re-cutting existing material, which lead to what's now called Soviet Montage Theory. When D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, which used advanced editing techniques (it featured a series of cross cut narratives which eventually converged in the last reel), opened in Russia in 1919, it quickly became very popular. The Russian film community saw this as a validation and popularization of their theories and also as an opportunity. Russian critics and filmmakers were impressed by the film's technical qualities, but dismissed the story as "bourgeois", claiming that it failed to resolve issues of class conflict, and so on. So, not having much raw film stock of their own, they took to playing with Griffith's film, re-editing certain sections of the film to make it more "agitational" and revolutionary.

The extent to which this happened is a bit unclear, and certainly public exhibitions were not as dramatically altered as I'm making it out to be. However, there are Soviet versions of the movie that contained small edits and a newly filmed prologue. This was done to "sharpen the class conflict" and "anti-exploitation" aspects of the film, while still attempting to respect the author's original intentions. This was part of a larger trend of adding Soviet propaganda to pre-existing works of art, and given the ideals of socialism, it makes sense. (The preceeding is a simplification of history, of course... see this chapter from Inside the Film Factory for a more detailed discussion of Intolerance and it's impact on Russian cinema.) In the Russian film world, things really began to take off with Sergei Eisenstein and films like Battleship Potemkin. Watch that film today, and you'll be struck by how modern-feeling the editing is, especially during the infamous Odessa Steps sequence (which you'll also recognize if you've ever seen Brian De Palma's "homage" in The Untouchables).

Now, I'm not really suggesting that the woman who produced BSG Sabotage is going to be the next Eisenstein, merely that the act of cutting together pre-existing footage is not necessarily a sad waste of talent. I've drastically simplified the history of Soviet Montage Theory above, but there are parallels between Soviet filmmakers then and YouTube videomakers today. Due to limited resources and knowledge, they began experimenting with pre-existing footage. They learned from the experience and went on to grander modifications of larger works of art (Griffith's Intolerance). This eventually culminated in original works of art, like those produced by Eisenstein.

Now, YouTube videomakers haven't quite made that expressive leap yet, but it's only been a few years. It's going to take time, and obviously editing and montage are already well established features of film, so innovation won't necessarily come from that direction. But that doesn't mean that nothing of value can emerge from this sort of thing, nor does messing around with videos on YouTube limit these young artists to film. While Roger Ebert's valid criticisms are vaid, more and more, I'm seeing interactivity as the unexplored territory of art. Video games like Heavy Rain are an interesting experience and hint at something along these lines, but they are still severely limited in many ways (in other words, Ebert is probably right when it comes to that game). It will take a lot of experimentation to get to a point where maybe Ebert would be wrong (if it's even possible at all). Learning about the visual medium of film by editing together videos of pre-existing material would be an essential step in the process. Improving the technology with which to do so is also an important step. And so on.

To return back to the BSG Sabotage video for a moment, I think that it's worth noting the origins of that video. The video is clearly having fun by juxtaposing different genres and mediums (it is by no means the best or even a great example of this sort of thing, but it's still there. For a better example of something built entirely from pre-existing works, see Shining.). Battlestar Galactica was a popular science fiction series, beloved by many, and this video comments on the series slightly by setting the whole thing to an unconventional music choice (though given the recent Star Trek reboot's use of the same song, I have to wonder what the deal is with SF and Sabotage). Ironically, even the "original" Beastie Boys video was nothing more than a pastiche of 70s cop television shows. While I'm no expert, the music on Ill Communication, in general, has a very 70s feel to it. I suppose you could say that association only exists because of the Sabotage video itself, but even other songs on that album have that feel - for one example, take Sabrosa. Indeed, the Beastie Boys are themselves known for this sort of appropriation of pre-existing work. Their album Paul's Boutique infamously contains literally hundreds of samples and remixes of popular music. I'm not sure how they got away with some of that stuff, but I suppose this happened before getting sued for sampling was common. Nowadays, in order to get away with something like Paul's Boutique, you'll need to have deep pockets, which sorta defeats the purpose of using a sample in the first place. After all, samples are used in the absence of resources, not just because of a lack of originality (though I guess that's part of it). In 2004 Nate Harrison put together this exceptional video explaining how a 6 second drum beat (known as the Amen Break) exploded into its own sub-culture:

There is certainly some repetition here, and maybe some lack of originality, but I don't find this sort of thing "sad". To be honest, I've never been a big fan of hip hop music, but I can't deny the impact it's had on our culture and all of our music. As I write this post, I'm listening to Danger Mouse's The Grey Album:
It uses an a cappella version of rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album and couples it with instrumentals created from a multitude of unauthorized samples from The Beatles' LP The Beatles (more commonly known as The White Album). The Grey Album gained notoriety due to the response by EMI in attempting to halt its distribution.
I'm not familiar with Jay-Z's album and I'm probably less familiar with The White Album than I should be, but I have to admit that this combination and the artistry with which the two seemingly incompatible works are combined into one cohesive whole is impressive. Despite the lack of an official release (that would have made Danger Mouse money), The Grey Album made many best of the year (and best of the decade) lists. I see some parallels between the 1980s and 1990s use of samples, remixes, and mashups, and what was happening in Russian film in the 1910s and 1920s. There is a pattern worth noticing here: New technology enables artists to play with existing art, then apply their learnings to something more original later. Again, I don't think that the BSG Sabotage video is particularly groundbreaking, but that doesn't mean that the entire remix culture is worthless. I'm willing to bet that remix culture will eventually contribute towards something much more original than BSG Sabotage...

Incidentally, the director of the original Beastie Boys Sabotage video? Spike Jonze, who would go on to direct movies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Where the Wild Things Are. I think we'll see some parallels between the oft-maligned music video directors, who started to emerge in the film world in the 1990s, and YouTube videomakers. At some point in the near future, we're going to see film directors coming from the world of short-form internet videos. Will this be a good thing? I'm sure there are lots of people who hate the music video aesthetic in film, but it's hard to really be that upset that people like David Fincher and Spike Jonze are making movies these days. I doubt YouTubers will have a more popular style, and I don't think they'll be dominant or anything, but I think they will arrive. Or maybe YouTube videomakers will branch out into some other medium or create something entirely new (as I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of room for innovation in the interactive realm). In all honesty, I don't really know where remix culture is going, but maybe that's why I like it. I'm looking forward to seeing where it leads.
Posted by Mark on March 14, 2010 at 02:18 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blast from the Past
A coworker recently unearthed a stash of a publication called The Net, a magazine published circa 1997. It's been an interesting trip down memory lane. In no particular order, here are some thoughts about this now defunct magazine.
  • Website: There was a website, using the oh-so-memorable URL of www.thenet-usa.com (I suppose they were trying to distinguish themselves from all the other countries with thenet websites). Naturally, the website is no longer available, but archive.org has a nice selection of valid content from the 96-97 era. It certainly wasn't the worst website in the world, but it's not exactly great either. Just to give you a taste - for a while, it apparently used frames. Judging by archive.org, the site apparently went on until at least February of 2000, but the domain apparently lapsed sometime around May of that year. Random clicking around the dates after 2000 yielded some interesting results. Apparently someone named Phil Viger used it as their personal webpage for a while, complete with MIDI files (judging from his footer, he was someone who bought up a lot of URLs and put his simple page on there as a placeholder). By 2006, the site lapsed again, and it has remained vacant since then.
  • Imagez: One other fun thing about the website is that their image directory was called "imagez" (i.e. http://web.archive.org/web/19970701135348/www.thenet-usa.com/imagez/menubar/menu.gif). They thought they were so hip in the 90s. Of course, 10 years from now, some dufus will be writing a post very much like this and wondering why there's an "r" at the end of flickr.
  • Headlines: Some headlines from the magazine:
    • Top Secrets of the Webmaster Elite (And as if that weren't enough, we get the subhead: Warning: This information could create dangerously powerful Web Sites)
    • Are the Browser Wars Over? - Interestingly, the issue I'm looking at was from February 1997, meaning that IE and NN were still on their 3.x iterations. More on this story below
    • Unlock the Secrets of the Search Engines - Particularly notable in that this magazine was published before google. Remember Excite (apparently, they're still around - who knew)?
    I could go on and on. Just pick up a magazine, open to a random page, and you can observe something very dated or featuring a horrible pun (like Global Warning... get it? Instead of Global Warming, he's saying Global Warning! He's so clever!)
  • Browser Wars: With the impending release of IE4 and Netscape Communicator Suite, everyone thought that web browsers were going to go away, or be consumed by the OS. One of the regular features of the magazine is to ask a panel of experts a simple question, such as "Are Web Browsers an endangered species?" Some of the answers are ridiculous, like this one:
    The Web browser (content) and the desktop itself (functions) will all be integrated into our e-mail packages (communications).
    There is, perhaps, a nugget of truth there, but it certainly didn't happen that way. Still, the line between browser, desktop, and email client is shifting, this guy just picked the wrong central application. Speaking of which, this is another interesting answer:
    The desktop will give way to the webtop. You will hardly notice where the Web begins and your documents end.
    Is it me, or is this guy describing Chrome OS? This guy's answer and a lot of the others are obviously written with 90s terminology, but describing things that are happening today. For instance, the notion of desktop widgets (or gadgets or screenlets or whatever you call them) is mentioned multiple times, but not with our terminology.
  • Holy shit, remember VRML?
  • Pre-Google Silliness: "A search engine for searching search engines? Sure why not?" Later in the same issue, I saw an ad for a program that would automatically search multiple search engines and provide you with a consolidated list of results... for only $70!
  • Standards: This one's right on the money: "HTML will still be the standard everyone loves to hate." Of course, the author goes on to speculate that java applets will rule the day, so it's not exactly prescient.
  • The Psychic: In one of my favorite discoveries, the magazine pitted The Suit Versus the Psychic. Of course, the suit gives relatively boring answers to the questions, but the Psychic, he's awesome. Regarding NN vs IE, he says "I foresee Netscape over Microsoft's IE for 1997. Netscape is cleaner on an energy level. It appears to me to be more flexible and intuitive. IE has lower energy. I see encumbrances all around it." Nice! Regarding IPOs, our clairvoyant friend had this to say "I predict IPOs continuing to struggle throughout 1997. I don't know anything about them on this level, but that just came to me." Hey, at least he's honest. Right?
Honestly, I'm not sure I'm even doing this justice. I need to read through more of these magazines. Perhaps another post is forthcoming...
Posted by Mark on March 10, 2010 at 07:19 PM .: link :.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscar Liveblogging
It's become something of a tradition around here to liveblog the Oscars, and this year will be no different. For an idea of how it will go, check out the previous installments: [2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004] Check back for frequent updates (starting around 8 pm EST), and feel free to hang around and leave comments to play along...

Anyway, here are my predictions for the major awards:
  • Best Picture: Avatar. But I could be very wrong. The conventional wisdom is that it's between Avatar and The Hurt Locker, but there are a couple of things to consider here when it comes to my prediction. First is that The Hurt Locker has been racking up the pre-Oscar awards by the boatload, so there's momentum there. There was a story about some rather annoying email campaigning from Hurt Locker producers, but I don't know that that will really hurt their chances... Second is that with the expansion of the category to 10 nominees comes a change in the way that the votes are tabulated. This year, this category will be decided by an instant-runoff voting process rather than a straightforward first-past-the-post vote (like every other category). Voters are ranking all 10 nominees against each other, and movies that aren't ranked high will start to drop off the list (this is, of course, a drastic simplification of IRV). This will tend to favor movies that have more of a consensus. It's not enough for Avatar or Hurt Locker to get the most #1 rankings, it also has to garner #2 and #3 votes (and so on). The implications of this are unclear. I think both Avatar and Hurt Locker will be placed high enough on the lists that they're both still frontrunners, but the prospect of a Dark Horse also emerges here, and in this case, I think that might be Inglourious Basterds (which would be my #1 pick, were I voting). I think part of the reason Avatar will win is that it's just made so much money and the Hollywood insider crowd might want to thank it for opening the gates for 3D and seeing movies theatrically again (wait a year though, as 2010 will be the year where 3D becomes overexposed, and will include some high-profile failures). As a result of all this, I'm actually not that confident about my pick. This is actually a good thing, as it makes the ceremony more interesting when you don't know the results...
  • Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. This one is much less interesting. I suppose there's still a chance for an upset, but even Bigelow's primary competitor (and ex-husband), James Cameron, seems to be campaigning on her behalf (noting in interviews that he thinks it's her year). Regardless of how Best Picture turns out, I'll be very surprised if Bigelow doesn't win this award. Of the nominees, she's certainly the favorite, but if I were voting, I'd be going with Tarantino...
  • Best Actress: Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. I never saw The Blind Side, so I guess I should just keep my mouth shut here, but Bullock certainly has the momentum here. Her main competitor is Meryl Streep, who's been nominated 16 times and won twice. I haven't seen An Education, but my understanding from the film nerd community is that Carey Mulligan should be winning this award. In the end, I think Bullock has enough goodwill that she'll win...
  • Best Actor: Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart. This one's pretty well locked up, though I suppose there's an outside chance for someone like Jeremy Renner or Colin Firth to make a run at it... Still, Bridges is a popular guy and this could be seen as a sorta lifetime achievement award (in addition to rewarding this specific performance, which I have not seen, but which seems pretty popular)...
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique for Precious. Another one I haven't seen, but she seems to have the momentum here.
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds. He's the standout here, but there's an off chance that Christopher Plummer will get the nod as a sorta lifetime achievement award. But I think that would be a crime, as Waltz was tremendous...
  • Best Original Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino. I honestly can't see it going to any of the other nominees, not even Hurt Locker (the appeal of that movie is very much the visuals, not the story or dialogue).
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner. Another pretty strong bet here. I think the screenplay awards tend to go to movies that are more mainstream and that feature snappy, memorable dialogue, all of which points to Up in the Air. Plus, the Academy seems to love Reitman, and this will give them a chance to award him without upsetting the big guns in the Director or Picture races.
  • Editing: Avatar. I expect Avatar to rack up the technical awards (and I think that's really what Cameron is campaigning for, as I think he knows this is where his bread is buttered).
  • Cinematography: Avatar. See above re: technical awards.
  • Visual Effects: Avatar. See above re: technical awards.
  • Musical Score: Up. This is probably my blindest guess.
  • Best Song: "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart. Yeah, another blind guess.
  • Makeup: Star Trek. Why not Avatar? Because they didn't use any makeup (and thus weren't even nominated)! It was all digital.
  • Best Animated Film: Up. Though I would probably give it to Fantastic Mr. Fox, that would be a big upset here. It's pretty much a lock for Pixar...
  • Best Documentary: The Cove. Documentary is always a bit of a wildcard, but I think The Cove will take this, though I suppose it's possible that Food, Inc. will tickle the right politics in the Academy (i.e. these are the folks that gave Inconvenient Truth and Bowling for Columbine an Oscar)
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Un prophéte. Another wildcard category, but the things I'm hearing about this movie are so good that I find it hard to believe that anything else will win. But I've most frequently been wrong with these wildcard categories...
And there you have it! Next task is to go out and buy some good beer so that I can drink my way through the musical numbers during the ceremony. Check back as the Oscars start for frequent commentary.

Update 7:12 pm: I always forget that 8 pm marks the start of the Red Carpet BS, which I don't think I can stomach (even with the drinking), so updating will probably start around 8:30 when the actual ceremony starts. Oh, and Barbara Walters special? Maybe I'll put that on in the background, but I'm so happy she's retiring from that gig. She's a terrible interviewer. Then again, probably better than me (who'd end up producing something like the Chris Farley Show).

Update 8:24 pm: First beer of the night, Westmalle Dubbel. Tasty and kinda dry, makes me want to drink more. Could be dangerous. Anyway, show is about to begin. Let's do this thing.

Update 8:30 pm: Well, that's a different way to open the ceremony - trot out the best actor/actress nominees and... then just announce their names. This is a kinda dull opening, is it not? Oh wait, NPH! Oh fuck, a musical number. Shit! I thought we got this crap out of our system last year. Where's my beer?

Update 8:34 pm: Seriously, what's up with all this musical bullshit? It's not like there are any musicals that were nominated (except Nine, but that one won't be winning or anything), and indeed, it's not exactly a popular genre these days. Why?! Ok, finally, Alec and Steve. Let's hope they're actually funny.

Update 8:39 pm: Ok, I laughed a few times. Not bad, Aleve Martwin. It's a bit scripted and stiff, but still fun.

Update 8:43 pm: The Avatar bit was funny, but not as funny as this would have been. George Clooney doesn't look like he likes this... but there's no real joke there, so I guess he's fine. Basterds jokes are great.

Update 8:48 pm: After a relatively restrained opening act, we've got our first award. They're really stretching out these nominee announcements... Woody Harrelson looks shockingly not high. I was reading a book recently where a young con-girl was stringing along a perverted old man - and the whole time, I was picturing Christopher Plummer (that doesn't mean anything, but still). Best Supporting Actor goes to Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds. And I'm 1 for 1...

Update 8:50 pm: Uber-Bingo! Bearded Waltz threw me for a moment, but it fits. He clearly had his speech prepared.

Update 8:52 pm: Ryan Reynolds is channeling Rod Serling while reciting the plot of The Blind Side. Seriously, I'm expecting Sandra Bullock to sprout a tiny third arm out of her forehead or something. Hey, I just noticed, not a single montage yet. What's the over/under this year? Let's call it 10.

Update 9:00 pm: Aha! Montage #1! Right? Heh, but it's a great use of animation. The best two were even the best two movies (Fantastic Mr. Fox was my favorite though). If crowd clapping was how they judged this, the winner would be Up. And it is, in fact, Up, making me 2 for 2. And a pretty good speech too. Well done.

Update 9:05 pm: Ohhhhh, awesome, does this mean I don't have to suffer through live performances of the best song category? Thank God! And Crazy Heart song wins! I'm 3 for 3 (incidentally, having listened to the snippits of all the nominees, this one probably deserved to win too). Speech is just straightforward Thank Yous... and only one of them talked. Weird. Must have been told to keep it short.

Update 9:05 pm: Best picture nominee District 9, introduced by Chris Pine from Star Trek. It's kinda amazing that District 9 got nominated at all. Check out John Scalzi's notes on how SF will fare tonight. I pretty much agree with his thoughts...

Update 9:16 pm: Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr are doing well here. Good stuff. And Best Original Screenplay goes to... The Hurt Locker? What the fuck? That's the worst written of the nominees. Tarantino has to be pissed, and deservedly so. This is bullshit. Speech is mildly political, and obviously prepared. I'm 3 for 4. This does not bode well for either Inglourious Basterds or Avatar when it comes to best picture.

Update 9:18 pm: Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick are still alive? But this is a nice tribute to John Hughes, and let's see if there's a montage. Yep, Montage #2! Score.

Update 9:20 pm: Interesting that Hughes gets his own montage instead of just getting shuffled into the annual Dead People Montage. Not saying he doesn't deserve it (and it's not like the other dead people can complain), but it's still interesting.

Update 9:24 pm: Jeeze, even the 20 second recap of the first 20 minutes of Up is undeniably effective.

Update 9:27 pm: Devin Faraci is also liveblogging over at CHUD. Regarding Samuel L. Jackson's presentation of best picture nominee Up, "Get these muthafuckin' balloons off mah muthafuckin' house!" Classic.

Update 9:32 pm: Zoe Saldana looks a lot like a human version of a Na'vi! Oh, wait. Nevermind. Ok, so this Montage (#3) is all about Hollywood trying to convince us regular schlubs that the short films categories are important... and pretty much failing. Some of these do look great though. Logorama apparently has 2500 copyright violations in it's short running time... and hey, it wins! Score. Ohhh, he's French. Huh. "3000 non-official sponsors whose logo appeared in the film." Hehe. Funny. I wonder when they'll get sued.

Update 9:43 pm: Awesome, I'm glad someone sacrificed their dignity to make fun of Avatar. Ironically, he's presenting the award for best makeup, which Avatar isn't even nominated (and yep, Ben Stiller just mentioned that fact). And the winner is... Star Trek. Score, I'm 4 for 5. Alas, probably the only award for Trek. Speech is pretty much straight thank yous. Referred to Paramount as "that robot" which will probably get them fired. Hey, it's one of the winners' anniversary. Hope his wife is in the audience.

Update 9:45 pm: I feel like A Serious Man is getting better in my mind. Some movies get worse as you get further away from them. A Serious Mind gets better. Of course, I want to rewatch it, but I have this feeling that it will be even better the second time around. Definitely glad it got nominated (and I don't think it would have made the cut in a 5 nominee field)...

Update 9:52 pm: Best Adapted Screenplay goes to Precious (I refuse to type the subtitle to this film, and will type even more explaining that I won't than I would if I just typed the subtitle). Well, I suck this year! 4 for 6. Guy seems very heartfelt in his speech - I don't think he expected to win. Good on him, though.

Update 9:55 pm: Oh wow, a Bringing Down the House reference. Sweet. And... Montage #4. Hey Roger Corman! Wait, is this some sort of series of lifetime achievement awards? Or are they different. Well, Here comes Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall. Wait, they're not going up to the stage. I don't think anyone understands what's going on. What is going on? Oh shit, Robin Wiliams. Run!

Update 10:01 pm: Best supporting actress goes to... Mo'Nique for the movie I won't type out. And I'm 5 for 7. What is she talking about with the reference to "politics"? Another speech that seemed well prepared. Hrm, never saw An Education, ut I probably should at some point.

Update 10:08 pm: Sigourney Weaver looks la lot like a human version of a Na'vi! Oh, wait. Nevermind. Art Direction goes to Avatar. Shame I didn't pick this award. I think James Cameron might be more excited about these tech awards than he is for director or best picture. Whoa, heavy acceptance speech. Doctors told him he wouldn't survive, and now he has an oscar. And the third guy doesn't get to say anything.

Update 10:12 pm: Now Keanu Reeves. He looks high. And Costumes, another award I don't pick, goes to... some movie I never heard of! Yay! Whoa, "I already have two of these." You stay classy, Sandy Powell.

Update 10:15 pm: I didn't see Precious, but I actually do want to at some point. In other news, I've moved on to Allagash Fluxus and have opened a bag of Gibbles, the official thin pretzel of Kaedrin.com.

Update 10:19 pm: Sweet. Paranormal Activity parody is hysterical. And they're finally acknowledging that horror is underappreciated by the academy... by showing us a montage (#5). Good stuff though...

Update 10:25 pm: Awesome use of Morgan Freeman voiceover. Hehehe. I didn't pick this award though. This intro is surprisingly informative. Again, the Oscars are trying to convince us that the next award is legitimate (but more successfully this time). And the award goes to... The Hurt Locker. It's looking like it will be a sweep for Hurt Locker, which is a shame. I mean, it's a fine film and all, but if it wins all the awards, I'll be a bit disappointed.

Update 10:28 pm: How the fuck did Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen get nominated for anything? Well, the award goes to Hurt Locker. Again. These guys just won the other sound award. Huh. Again, bodes well for Hurt Locker's chances later in the night... and wow, Elizabeth Banks looks gorgeous. And of course, she's presenting the nerd sci-tech awards. Nice.

Update 10:30 pm: If I had my way, Inglourious Basterds would win every award it was nominated for. I'm still ticked off that Tarantino lost in the original screenplay award. Travesty!

Update 10:37 pm: I was a little worried about this Allagash beer I mentioned earlier, but it's great. It says on the label that it's "Ale Brewed with Sweet Potatoes & Black Pepper" which gave me pause. But again, it's awesome. Ahh, Sandra Bullock takes the stage for Cinematography award. And the award goes to... Avatar! Go me, I'm 6 for 8. For a speech that is primarily Thank Yous, it was actually pretty good. I dunno, maybe I'm delirious at this point. Or drunk. These beers are strong, after all.

Update 10:39 pm: Yay Dead People (montage #6)! And crap, a live musical performance.

Update 10:49 pm: What the hell is going on with Sam Worthington's glasses? By the way, he looks la lot like a human version of a N... yeah, that joke's pretty much played it's course, hasn't it? YEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Interpretive dance! Please hold, whilst I drink my beer.

Update 10:53 pm: The winner for best score is Up, and I'm 7 for 9. Another speech that feels prepared, but actually pretty cool.

Update 10:58 pm: Outstanding visual effects goes to Avatar, and deservedly so. Again, Cameron looks overjoyed. Hey, Jason Bateman! Presenting Up in the Air. Good, solid movie. But not a best picture.

Update 11:05 pm: Best documentary goes to The Cove, and I'm 8 for 10. Is it that Fisher Stevens? Yes, it is that Fisher Stevens. Wow. Anyway, I never saw The Cove, but from what I can tell, this was well deserved.

Update 11:08 pm: Editing award. Again with the explanation of the award, but again it's actually pretty good. And the award goes to The Hurt Locker. And I'm 8 for 11. I drastically underestimated the Hurt Locker, I guess. Does this bode well for Hurt Locker for the big awards, or are these all consolation awards? Hey, these winners gave thanks to Sam Raimi! Cool...

Update 11:10 pm: Keanu Reeves: War is a drug, kinda like the stuff I just did before I came up on stage. Hehehe. Still don't know if Hurt Locker will win the best picture award, but it looks more likely than it did this morning. Ooooh, stay tuned for humorless dick, Sean Penn! I will, Oscars!

Update 11:19 pm: Pedro and Quentin, an interesting pair. And I'm pretty sure Tarantino is high too. This really is shocking. I never would have pegged Tarantino and Reeves as looking more high than Harrelson. And best foreign picture goes to... The Secret in Their Eyes. Well, I'm 8 for 12. Ohhh, he makes a Na'vi joke, that falls completely flat, but I like it. And this guy is funny because he's trying to speak English but he clearly is flustered. I don't think he expected to win.

Update 11:21 pm: Depending on who you talk to, Avatar is the most profitable movie of all time, or the accounting is so twisted that it didn't make anything. Sorry, but the 3D bump, while important, certainly didn't account for all of the money this film made. The truth is, despite how much it's gotten on my nerves, it did make going to the theater a necessity again, which is more than you can say for most movies.

Update 11:34 pm: What the hell is this motley crew of presenters for the best actor award? Really random. Jeff Bridges so knows that he's going to win. Vera Farmiga is awesome. Her dress... not so much. I guess I see where they're going with these presenters. Great anecdote by Tim Robbins (or is it Ted). And a S.W.A.T. reference. Classy. "Good Luck Jeremy" translates to "You're probably not going to Win." Best actor goes to...shit, they'r e announcing the nominees... for the third time. Ok, Jeff Bridges wins, and I'm 9 for 13. Congrats Jeff. And I thin he's high. Yeah, definitely high. The Dude abides.

Update 11:37 pm: Jeff Bridges has been married for 33 years, certainly an oddity in Hollywood. Probably because he and his wife were high the majority of the time.

Update 11:51 pm: Another random accumulation of presenters for best actress, though like best actor, they are all related to the nominees in some way. Humorless dick Sean Penn presents the winner... Sandra Bullock. And I'm 10 for 14. "Did I really earn this, or did I just wear y'all down?" Heh. It's funny because it's kinda true (I shouldn't say that since I haven't seen the movie, but still). But her acceptance speech is quite classy.

Update 11:58 pm: Barbara Streisand has won as many Oscars as Meryl Streep. Just noting that without comment. And best director goes to Kathryn Bigelow. Good on her, well deserved! First female to win best director. She looks sooo appreciative. Don't sell yourself short, the script had nothing to do with your win. And she dedicates the award to the military. Congrats to her, it's a well deserved award.

Update 12:03 am: And Hurt Locker wins best picture. That was quick! Not much of a surprise at this point. And I'm 11 for 16. Or maybe not, I apparently missed an award at some point. . Apparently I'm 12 for 17. Must have been drinking too much. Anyway, that works out to around 70%, which isn't my worst ever, but it was close...

Update 12:09 am: And that about wraps everything up. An interesting year, but overall, an uninspired ceremony. Which is pretty much the usual...nothing especially memorable about this year, except that Hurt Locker won more than it deserved... On the other hand, I certainly liked Hurt Locker better than Avatar, so what am I complaining about...

Update: For those overseas or who haven't seen the ceremony, check out Alex's last-minute overview...
Posted by Mark on March 07, 2010 at 11:36 AM .: link :.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Various and Sundry
I must get back to being an inadvertently incompetent FBI agent in Heavy Rain (in fairness, my private eye is doing a stellar job), so just a few short notes:
  • First, an announcement! Yes, the Oscars are this Sunday, and in accordance with tradition, I will be liveblogging the event (as I have for the last several years). Feel free to stop by and stick around. I might even get me one of them event chat thingies.
  • The 2009 Muriel Awards: Speaking of movie awards, it's nice to see that some other folks are as tardy as I am with my awards. In any case, it's a good list, and lots of worthy winners.
  • I'm probably the only person who cares about this, but I found this announcement that 2K sports won't be putting out a NHL game for the PS3 or 360 (instead focusing on a Wii version) mildly interesting, and probably a victory for PS3 and 360 owners. My own experience with the 2K Hockey game was rather poor, and I found it very strange indeed when the unforgivable bug that was in my 2005 game was still in evidence at least 3 years later. In any case, this move probably makes sense for 2K, as they only sold somewhere on the order of 150 thousand copies of the game last year (on the PS3 and 360) while selling 250 thousand on the Wii. I suppose it also helps that EA isn't putting out their NHL game on the Wii (yet), as EA's games are clearly superior to the 2K versions. That being said, hockey games (and probably sports titles in general, including Madden) have gotten a bit too complicated for their own good these days. Aside from the tacked-on inclusion of the NHL 94 controller scheme in EA's games, these aren't really games you can just pick up and play. Whatever you may think of the Wii, it does represent an opportunity to rethink the way you approach a game. Often, making a game simpler can increase the fun-factor. But then, I'm not exactly confident in 2K games making that sorta leap. Still, it could prove interesting if EA followed 2K to the Wii. In other news, both 2K and EA missed out on another opportunity at an Olympic Hockey themed game, which I think could be a great change of pace for the Hockey gaming crowd.
  • Frederik Pohl has been writing a sorta retrospective of his friend Isaac Asimov (part 2, part 3, part 4, and ostensibly more coming). I've read a ton of Asimov and credit him with being one of the first SF authors to really get me into reading, but I've never read any of Pohl's books. Yet another addition to the book queue, I guess. In other news, I've actually been making some progress against the queue of late (3 books in 3 weeks, which is pretty good for me, though probably not a sustainable pace), so perhaps I'll get to a Pohl book sometime in the next decade.
  • Holy cow is this post boring... To spice things up, I present this item from the "I'm not scared enough of the Japanese" file (not really NSFW, but worth noting I guess). MGK, as usual, perfectly captures the situation with his captions (note the one underneath the image too).
  • Haven't seen many 2009 movies, why not spoil them all?
Alright, I better end here, or this is going to get really boring.
Posted by Mark on March 03, 2010 at 08:54 PM .: link :.

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