Sunday, December 30, 2012
The Year in Books
The Earth has once again completed its orbit around the Sun, which for some reason means that we should all take stock of what we did over the past orbital period. I just posted my recap of the year in beer (and yes, I'm recycling the opening of this post, heh) and in accordance with tradition, I'm still catching up on 2012 movies (look for movie recap stuff in mid-January, lasting up through February), but Books are pretty straightforward to recap. I've been keeping track of my book reading via Goodreads for a while now, so with their help, I can compare this year's reading to the past couple.
Let's start with overall books read:
This is evidenced by the longest book I read all year, Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign, which clocks in at a paltry 544 pages. For reference, 2011's longest book was Neal Stephenson's Reamde, which was 1044 pages (or, about 10% of what I read that year).
Some more assorted stats about this year's reading:
Anyways, it's been a really good year for reading, and I got through a ton of stuff. Will I read through as much this year? Well, let's try and keep the page numbers equal, but I'm going to say that the overall number of books is going to come way down. Instead of quickly knocking down short novels, I plan to tackle lots of longer books this year, stuff that might take me a while to get through. I'm sure I'll read some shorter stuff too, but I'm probably going to shoot for 25 or so books overall. We'll see where that takes me. More details on that little project to come...
Posted by Mark on December 30, 2012 at 06:35 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
So I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and I have no idea what to make of this movie. My thoughts on this movie have become a gigantic bundle of contradiction, and instead of eventually resolving itself in time, it's just getting bigger and bigger, like a snowball rolling downhill and turning into an avalanche. I've seen a lot of reactions to this film, and I've had the rather odd experience of agreeing with what everyone said about the film. Which is to say, I agree that the film is great, that it is horrible, that it's action packed, but boring, that 48 FPS in 3D is pretty cool, that it really sucks too, that somehow the first third of the story is overlong, yet I can't wait to see more. What the heck is going on here? Let's break it down a bit more.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room first. The Hobbit is the shortest book in the whole Lord of the Rings series, and it's a rather simplistic adventure tale written for children, yet Peter Jackson and crew have decided to split this up into three films. What's more, each film is looking to run close to 3 hours in length. The cynical response to this is to call it a simple money grab, and for sure, New Line certainly greenlit the project for exactly that reason, but I get the impression that Jackson genuinely believes in what he's doing here. I also get the impression that Jackson is being enabled by those around him, that few are telling him not to do something so extravagant. That is pure speculation, of course, but I feel like Jackson got a little carried away with this project and no one tried to stop him.
But how is it possible to do this? Well, technically, I suppose this isn't just a straight adaptation of The Hobbit. The story is certainly padded out, but not by making events in The Hobbit last longer, but by delving deeply into the supplemental materials of Tolkien's universe. Stuff like The Simarillion, of which there exists a ton of material to draw upon.
So rather than a Wizard and a bunch of dwarves dragging a hobbit along on an adventure, we get all these background sequences where we see historical digressions on dwarf culture, or Radagast the Brown riding a sleigh pulled by bunnies, or a mysterious necromancer mucking with the lands, or Gandalf speculating on the rise of Sauron with the elves, and so on. There is an interesting balance that Jackson is trying to go for here. The Hobbit is a really light story, which means that it could be a bit jarring when viewed in light of the more intense LotR trilogy films. These new scenes help integrate the movie with the rest of the series and give it more depth... but I'm not entirely sure that was needed. Again, I didn't find any of these things boring or poorly done, but then, they're just not necessary either.
Does this actually work? Damned if I know! If you're down with the whole Tolkien universe, and I suppose I am, then it's all good, I guess. I'm the type of person that appreciates details that hang together in the end, even if some things aren't strictly necessary. On the other hand, I can totally understand the complaints that this movie is overlong and boring. There's a lot of unnecessary stuff here, and while I appreciate detailed narratives and explanations, I'm also a fan of economical storytelling. While Jackson and Co. managed something rather spectacular with the original LotR trilogy, ruthlessly trimming parts of the story that were superfluous (I mean, is anyone really all that upset that Tom Bombadil didn't show up in Fellowship of the Ring?), they went in the complete opposite direction with The Hobbit, adding tons of extraneous stuff that wasn't even in the narrative to begin with. I can appreciate the skill with which this was done and I was never bored while watching the movie, but at the same time, I would probably have liked this better if there were only one movie that was tightly plotted.
I hold out hope that at the end of this whole process, instead of releasing even longer extended cuts on DVD/BD/Streaming, Jackson will buckle down and produce a 2-3 hour cut of the movie (which, again, is looking to be 9 hours or so long). Given the amount of extra stuff in this movie, I'm pretty sure that would be possible. I also doubt this will happen officially, but I can pretty much guarantee such a thing will show up on the internets, Phantom Edit style. It would probably be an insane amount of work, but I wouldn't put it past Tolkien fans, who certainly qualify as cult fans, despite the popularity of these movies.
Alright, next up is the presentation. I saw the movie in 48 FPS IMAX 3D (jeeze, that's a lot of acronyms). It was simultaneously interesting and terrible. I guess I can see where Jackson is coming from with this. 48 frames per second does impart more information to the viewer, and it makes fast camera movements appear smoother and more detailed. This is especially helpful when it comes to 3D, and I think this is the first time I saw a 3D movie in IMAX without emerging from the theater with a splitting headache. Should that be attributed to 48 FPS? I'm not sure, but from what I've seen, that might be a fair bet. On the other hand, I found the presentation lacking in many ways. One of the interesting things about it is that I don't really know how to describe it. I'm not alone, either. Everyone seems to be grappling with the problem of describing this presentation, whether they're proponents or detractors. Many have called it more realistic looking and smoother, which sounds nice, but then, detractors are saying it looks like an old, crappy TV show or a video game. There's also the notion that more realistic looking can also contribute to a sorta uncanny valley kinda experience, where the supposedly better experience of more FPS ends up feeling creepy or unnerving. From my perspective, while the movie clearly has great production design and special effects, the presentation detracts from the experience considerably. I suppose I fall down more on the detractors' side here. I found it distracting at first, but eventually got used to it. But the fact that it was no longer distracting doesn't mean that it looked good. Ultimately, I found the whole enterprise rather pointless. I didn't get anything extra out of it, except that this is yet another piece in the puzzle of my cognitive dissonance with this movie.
There's a part of me that wonders if my instinctual response to this is because I'm used to film and that I'm just being a luddite, but I've really grown to dislike 3D, and I don't think that 48 FPS has really changed my mind on that. There's just something so strange about the experience that it's really hard to get over it. This feels like more than just a simple change that I need to get used to. Besides, it's not like I've never seen higher frame rates. For example, I get why video games go for higher frame rates - it's an interactive experience, so faster feedback is always going to feel better - but I don't see the need in the world of film.
There are some things I'm not so conflicted about. Ian McKellen has always been fantastic as Gandalf, and this movie is no exception. Martin Freeman is a wonderful addition to the cast and comports himself rather well, especially in key scenes like the game of riddles with Gollum. Speaking of which, that scene with Freeman and mo-cap Andy Andy Serkis as Gollum is the highlight of the movie. While the beginning of the film felt meandering and overstuffed, the last third was pretty well done and delivered some satisfying arcs that I didn't realize were being set up earlier in the film. Oh and remember that first, horrible trailer with that dwarf song? Yeah, I hated that trailer, but the song actually felt much better integrated into the movie. I thought it was actually somewhat movie. If, like most of the film, a little unnecessary. But it was a good kind of unnecessary.
In the end, I really enjoyed this movie. I also kinda hated it. I... really don't know how to parse my response here. Ultimately, I think I would have rather had a single film that told the simple story with the normal 24 FPS 2D presentation. But I don't begrudge Jackson for trying something new either. Gah, I feel rather feckless when thinking about this movie. I keep throwing thoughts at it, but nothing seems to stick. It's like I'm stuck in some sort of quantum loop, both loving and hating it all at once. The cat is both alive and dead, the electron is a particle and a wave, it's all very paradoxical. But it is happening... so what do I say? I don't know. I do know that I'll try to watch the next movie in regular 2D. Assuming that will even be possible. And I do still hope that someone puts together a 3 hour (or shorter) edit of the entire series at some point. I suppose that says something.
Posted by Mark on December 26, 2012 at 01:52 PM .: link :.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Holiday Link Dump
Things are getting festive around here, so here's a few quick links for your holiday enjoyment:
Posted by Mark on December 23, 2012 at 03:23 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The 2012 Egg Nog Tasting
Every year, on Thanksgiving, my family has an Egg Nog tasting. It's a tradition born by accident. One year, several of us mistakenly thought we were responsible for bringing egg nog, and thus we ended up with, like, 8 egg nogs and devised an impromptu tasting event. In subsequent years, the number of entries rose and our methodology grew stronger. Oh sure, it's still not perfect, but even the attempt at a double blind taste test seems pretty good for such an informal event.
In general, the egg nogs are judged for two awards: best and worst. Since the number of entries can get out of hand and you can only drink so much egg nog at once, we generally limit the competition to straight nogs, not those fancy flavored things (i.e. no pumpkin spice for us). This year, we added an additional restriction that last year's winner and loser should not be part of this competition. Since the same two brands seem to win every year, we thought this would yield some variety. So the field was a little smaller this year, but the tasting was as fun as ever:
The race for worst egg nog was also interesting. I expected the "So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog" to wipe up the competition, and there were definitely a few people who thought it was the worst thing evar. However, the Giant Light Egg Nog (70% less fat, 1/3 less calories!) won decisively in the voting. The Coconut Nog wasn't excessively bad in my opinion, though it didn't really taste like egg nog. It was like coconut milk with nutmeg, maybe a bit thicker. But the Giant brand Light Egg Nog was absolutely disgusting. A word of advice: if you're trying to watch your fat intake or calories, just don't drink egg nog. You'll be much happier.
All in all, another successful tasting. We'll have to coordinate better next year and get some better, high quality, more obscure options.
Posted by Mark on December 19, 2012 at 10:08 PM .: link :.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Year End Movie Cram Session
With the end of the year approaching and most blogs and newspapers and other outlets already releasing their top 10 lists, I always find myself excitedly rushing to catch up with movies I missed throughout the year... while keeping up with the late-year prestige releases. Some might find this to be a chore, but I always end up having a lot of fun discovering movies I didn't know about or think I'd enjoy. Oh sure, there's the occasional tedious bore too, but that just makes the real surprises that much more enjoyable. As of this writing, I've seen 48 movies that would be considered a 2012 release, which is actually a little low compared to the past few years, perhaps because I didn't end up at any film festivals this year. So I've got some catching up to do, and fortunately, there are lots of good movies coming up or already available on streaming... Indeed, the latest episode of Filmspotting SVU has covered this very topic, and some of their streaming choices have an overlap with my choices below...
Current Releases or Coming Soon
Posted by Mark on December 16, 2012 at 07:06 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Recent discoveries by Kaedrin's chain-smoking monkey research squad:
Posted by Mark on December 12, 2012 at 10:36 PM .: link :.
Sunday, December 09, 2012
SF Book Review, Part 12
I've fallen way behind on the SF Book Review train. I've done a few individual reviews, but I've been reading at a pretty fast pace this year. Perhaps part of the reason I haven't done a SF Book Review lately is that... I'm reading less science fiction. For various reasons, I've hit up a bunch of Fantasy, Horror, Crime, and Non-Fiction this year. SF remains my favorite genre, but others keep creeping in the queue, and even this roundup contains stuff that would likely be classified Fantasy. But whatever, here's some quick thoughts on some books I've read recently.
Posted by Mark on December 09, 2012 at 03:25 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Cult Movies in the Internet Age
Recently on Twitter, Dan McLaughlin asked: what would you regard as cult classic films made after 2000? As Sonny Bunch notes, this very much depends on how you define "cult" films. As it turns out, I've written about this before:
Cult films are (generally) commercially unsuccessful movies that have limited appeal, but nevertheless attract a fiercely loyal following among fans over time. They often exhibit very strange characters, surreal settings, bizzarre plotting, dark humor, and otherwise quirky and eccentric characteristics. These obscure films often cross genres (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc...) and are highly stylized, straying from conventional filmmaking techniques. Many are made by fiercely independent maverick filmmakers with a very low budget (read: cheesy), often showcasing the performance of talented newcomers.Not a bad explanation, but the whole thing is still a bit subjective. Sonny observes that modern cult movies have an additional obstacle:
In our modern, hyperconnected age, however, a key component of "cult" is lost. If you've heard of a film, you can see it. It's on TV and if it's not on TV it's on a streaming service and if it's not on a streaming service it's on DVD and if it's not on DVD you can probably torrent it. That element of discovery, of being in on something no one else is in on, is lost.He's very right about how connectivity plays into this. A big part of why something would be considered cult was that you really had to work just to get a chance to see it. For example, nowadays everyone knows about the 80s and 90s Hong Kong action movie scene (and even if you haven't directly seen them, you've seen a million Hollywood movies influenced or just plain ripping off those movies). But back in the 90s, a buddy and I used to ride the train into Philly and skulk around Chinatown trying to find crappy bootleg VHS tapes of movies we were never quite sure what to make of... I mean, the internet existed and it didn't take long to figure out who John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat were, but who's this Tsui Hark guy? Ringo Lam? Johnny To? What the heck is Wu Xia Pian? It's not like we had iPhones and internet connections. We just saw a poorly labeled VHS with a title on it and took a chance. We ran into our fair share of duds that way, but more often than not, we found some fascinating stuff.
Nowadays? You just throw Full Contact into your Netflix Instant queue and marvel at the bullet-cam shots, all from the comfort of your couch.
Of course all the other elements of cult still apply. The quirky, non-mainstream sensibility, the passionately loyal fanbase, the obsessive analysis and debate on the internet. Of course, even that element has been eroded by our connected age. Lost fanatics were endlessly analyzing numerology or recording episodes and going over them frame by frame like they were the Zapruder film. These are cult movie tendencies gone mainstream.
And indeed, cult movies don't always stay cult. No one would consider It's a Wonderful Life a cult classic these days, but despite it's pedegree, it had a lackluster release and languished in obscurity for decades. It wasn't until some observant TV execs noticed that its copyright had expired without being renewed that it started to become mainstream (and how could it not - apparently multiple stations would air that thing repeatedly during the holiday season). This might give another clue as to why the internet is breaking down cult movies: on the interwebs, no one gives a crap about copyright!
Anywho, we should probably get to the meat of the question. As a working definition, I'll say that a movie must enjoy a certain degree of obscurity as well as a small but fiercely loyal and dedicated fanbase (as evidenced by large-scale public demonstrations, obsessive analyses, comprehensive wikis, etc...) I'll start with Sonny's first batch of suggested post-2000 cult movies:
In the end, I agree that the internet is a bit of a game changer for cult movies. The internet trends towards the Long Tail and ever-smaller niches (not just in entertainment), which are traditionally the domain of things like cult movies or other underground scenes. Of course, none of this is going away, it's just changing. In accordance with Kaedrin law, I will end with an appropos Neal Stephenson quote from The System of the World:
"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."
Posted by Mark on December 05, 2012 at 09:37 PM .: link :.
Sunday, December 02, 2012
Companies Don't Force You Into Piracy
But let's be honest with ourselves, that doesn't mean that all those same media companies don't suck. Let me back up a minute, as this is an old argument. Most recently, this article from The Guardian bemoans the release window system:
A couple of months ago, I purchased the first season of the TV series Homeland from the iTunes Store. I paid $32 for 12 episodes that all landed seamlessly in my iPad. I gulped them in a few days and was left in a state of withdrawal. Then, on 30 September, when season 2 started over, I would have had no alternative but to download free but illegal torrent files. Hundreds of thousands of people anxious to find out the whereabouts of the Marine turncoat pursued by the bi-polar CIA operative were in the same quandaryThis is, of course, stupid. This guy does have a pretty simple alternative: wait a few months to watch the show. It's a shitty alternative, to be sure, but that doesn't excuse piracy. As Sonny Bunch notes:
Of course you have an alternative you ninny! It's not bread for your starving family. You're not going to die if you have to wait six months to watch a TV show. You're not morally justified in your thievery.Others have also responded as such:
This argument is both ludicrous, and wrong. Ludicrous, because if piracy is actually wrong, it doesn't get less wrong simply because you can't have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay. You are not entitled to shoplift Birkin bags on the grounds that they are ludicrously overpriced, and you cannot say you had no alternative but to break into an the local ice cream parlor at 2 am because you are really craving some Rocky Road and the insensitive bastards refused to stay open 24/7 so that you could have your favorite sweet treat whenever you want. You are not forced into piracy because you can't get a television show at the exact moment when you want to see it; you are choosing piracy.This is all well and good, and the original Guardian article has a poor premise... but that doesn't mean that the release window system isn't antiquated and doesn't suck. The original oped could easily be tweaked to omit the quasi-justification for piracy. Instead, the piracy is included and thus the article overreaches. On the flip side, the responses also tend to overstate their case, usually including something like this: "you can't have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay." This is true, of course, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating for consumers. And with respect to streaming, the media company stance is just as ludicrous as those defending piracy.
Here's a few examples I've run into:
I get that these are all businesses and need to make money, but I don't understand the insistence on alienating their own customers, frequently and thoroughly. I'm not turning to piracy, I'm just a frustrated customer. I've already bought a bunch of devices and services so that I can watch this stuff, and yet I'm still not able to watch even a small fraction of what I want. Frustration doesn't excuse piracy, but I don't see why I should be excusing these companies for being so annoying about when and where and how I can consume their content. It's especially frustrating because so much of this is done in the name of piracy. I suppose this post is coming off petulant and whiny on my part, but if you think I'm bad, just try listening to the MPAA or similar institution talk about piracy and the things they do to their customers to combat it. In essence, these companies hurt their best customers to spite non-customers. So I don't pirate shows or movies or books, but then, I often don't get to watch or read the ones I want to either. In a world where media companies are constantly whining about declining sales, it's a wonder that they don't actually, you know, try to sell me stuff I can watch/read. I guess they find it easier to assume I'm a thief and treat me as such.
Posted by Mark on December 02, 2012 at 08:19 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in December 2012.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
2012 Movie Awards
2013 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.