Monday, February 08, 2016
Many apologies for the lack of posting of late, and this one is coming a day late because I basically just forgot to post it. Something about a big sportsball game last night. Anyway, as I prep my Best of 2015 movies list, I have some links to keep you busy:
- Guy annoys girlfriend with puns at Ikea - This is made me laugh more than I would have thought.
- Celebrating the Invisible Artistry and Great Direction of "Spotlight" - Matt Singer valiantly defends the honor of this great, restrained movie:
Spotlight certainly doesn't have the visual panache of The Revenant or The Hateful Eight, but that doesn’t automatically make it a lesser film. Lavish cinematic style is not an automatic and objective good. It needs to suit the material. And it would not suit the material in Spotlight. ...
Singer then proceeds to back it up with several examples. Very insightful, though it does appear that Spotlight has lost its frontrunner status.
Spotlight's direction is "unsexy" because it depicts a world that is unsexy; it is "workmanlike" because it depicts a world of work. If the Boston Globe reporters’ jobs were fun and exciting, everyone would do them and the newspaper business would be thriving. The whole point of the film is to show why these journalists' efforts were important in spite of the fact that what they did was, by and large, boring, tedious, and monotonous. Gussying up this film with elaborate camera shots and eye-catching angles would be a betrayal of everything Spotlight represents. In the same way that the Spotlight team keep themselves out of the story, McCarthy keeps himself out of the movie.
But that doesn't mean he's not there, or that film direction is purely the sum total of a movie’s flashy camera moves. Careful consideration of Spotlight reveals McCarthy's subtle but brilliant direction, not just in terms of cinematography but production design, art direction, and editing as well. Little of it is showy and most of it is easy to miss, particularly if you get caught up in the riveting drama of the Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church and its unseemly practices.
- I'm STILL Not Sayin' Aliens. But This Star Is Really Weird. - You remember that star that had really weird dips in radiance? It turns out that it's even weirder than originally thought, especially when taking into account historical observations. No real explanation has made much sense (even, dare I say, the alien hypothesis, however much we'd want it to be).
- 'Dirty Grandpa': The Most Important Movie Ever Made - Well that's a hot take:
Strangely missing from Oscar consideration, Dirty Grandpa would be a serious contender if it had not, bafflingly, missed the Dec. 31 cutoff date. As you've most certainly heard, there's an online petition demanding the White House take action on this travesty. Another curious decision is Lionsgate releasing Dirty Grandpa, a movie that offers no laughs, as a comedy. Instead, it’s an indictment on our society as a whole - a no-bones-about-it, heartbreaking, devastating takedown on this cesspool of society that Dirty Grandpa thinks we have. And it might just be The Most Important Movie Ever Made.
It turns out that Dirty Grandpa inspired some pretty good writing, including this next link:
- Dirty Grandpa review - This one goes weird:
A couple of weeks ago I had the strangest dream. I dreamed that this movie, "Dirty Grandpa," was the talk of the nation. Not because the Robert De Niro/Zac Efron/Aubrey Plaza raunch comedy was particularly good, but because, apparently-I didn't see any of the movie in my dream, just had conversations with people about it-it didn't do that thing that studio-produced-raunch comedies do, which is take things so far and no further. No. In my dream, "Dirty Grandpa" was spinning heads because it broached John Waters/Harmony Korine levels of outrageousness. The sex scenes between De Niro and Plaza had a "Last Tango In Paris" level of explicitness, for instance.
I think we all know the answer to that question.
Now you just have to take my word for it that I had this dream, but honestly, I did. The question is WHY did I have this dream. As the author of a book on De Niro, I'm frequently (okay, not that frequently, but more often than would be the case for a guy who hadn't written a book on De Niro) asked what I make of his various career moves. So maybe the dream speaks to my critical desire to see De Niro go back to surprising his audiences with audacious performances. Or maybe I’m just a perv who wants to see Aubrey Plaza naked. I don’t know.
- After Dark in CSS - Some genius reimplemented those oldschool After Dark screensavers in CSS. Flying Toasters man. Flying Toasters.
That's all for now...
Sunday, January 31, 2016
2015 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards
We announced the official 2015 Kaedrin Movie Award winners last week, but those awards are skewed towards certain types of movies. Sometimes movies are weird or flawed in ways that don't fit well into a traditional awards setting (let alone the Kaedrin awards!), but they also deserve recognition. The point of the Arbitrary Awards is to highlight these oddities. A few of these "awards" have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. Let's roll:
- The "You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else" Award for Worst Dialogue: Chappie. "I've got blings?... I've got blings!" This award is often difficult because, you know, it's not like I go out of my way to watch bad movies, and good movies with a particularly bad line of dialog (such as the film this award is named after) aren't that common. I suppose one could make a case for Mad Max: Fury Road, actually, but there's so little dialog and during those scenes you're so busy catching your breath that it never quite registers as bad dialog. Anyway, Chappie is pretty clearly the winner, though I almost gave it to Point Break for the dialog that shows up in the trailer alone ("I believe that like me, the people behind these robberies are extreme athletes, using their skills to disrupt the international financial market."). Alas, I never actually saw the movie, so it's hard to really go for it.
- The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Jurassic World. This movie has some ok bits, but dear Lord, these characters are all pretty dumb. Honorable mention goes to the dumb toaster plan that is devised in It Follows.
- Best Villain/Badass (Non-Human Edition): The demon from It Follows. One of the great premises of our time, and the way the demon is used visually in the film makes it the obvious choice for this award.
- Best Long Take/Tracking Shot: Victoria. In a year with a lot of great long takes, this one really takes the cake. The entire movie is a single take, and this isn't one of those cheats like Birdman where the filmmakers use clever cuts and CGI to make it seem like a single take. It's actually one single take. This is incredibly impressive.
- Most Ostentatious Long Take: The church sequence in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Alright, so I can't let some of these other long takes go. This is also an impressive long take, involving more action and ornate choreography than Victoria (though I'm sure Victoria's choreography was just as impressive, now that I think about it). It's a really fascinating scene, full of conflicting emotions, confusion, slow motion, and an excellent usage of Free Bird. It's ostentatious and showy, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant.
- Least ostentatious Long Take: The fight in Creed. Not the title bout, the one before that. It's fabulous filmmaking, but it doesn't call attention to itself like the Kingsman one does. In fact, you barely even realize it's a long take while you're watching it. It's the sort of thing that sneaks up on you, and that is no less impressive or brilliant.
- Achievement in the Field of Gratuitous Violence: Bone Tomahawk. Surprising, because the rest of the movie seems kinda restrained, but you know the scene I'm talking about. *shudder*
- Best Original Score: The Hateful Eight by Ennio Morricone. I'm certainly no expert in this arena, but I love this tense, ominous, grand score from Ennio Morricone.
- The About Face Award: Maggie. It's a zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and yet it's nothing like you'd expect from such a premise. Certainly an about face for Arnold.
- Tensest Border Crossing: Sicario. The movie as a whole didn't quite come together for me, but director Denis Villeneuve sure knows how to create a tense set piece like that border crossing.
- Best Short Film: The Chickening. I always give short films a hard time when Oscars season rolls around, but this is a must watch short film. You should totally watch it. Runner up would be World of Tomorrow, which sort of lost me at the end, but which was interesting nonetheless.
So there you have it. Look for the top 10 in the next couple weeks (depending on what last minute viewing I can squeeze in), followed by some Oscars roundup.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Hugo Award Season 2015
It's that time again. Well, almost. The nomination period for the 2015 Hugo Awards is fast approaching, so I thought I'd get some thoughts on potential nominees down before all the requisite whining and controversy begins in earnest. This marks the third year I've participated, and while I was very gunshy about nominating in the first year, I went far out of my way to find stuff last year, to middling success (i.e. almost none of my nominees became finalists, but a couple things snuck in!) This year, I'm coming in somewhere between that level of effort. I've definitely read a bunch of eligible stuff, but I've only got a handful of definite nominees and I'm not really planning on any Herculean efforts to swell this list. My current nomination ballot, some thoughts on same, and a few things I'd like to read before I finalize my ballot are below. Enjoy:
Nothing too controversial (as if any of you were surprised that Stephenson would make my ballot) or even obscure here, and in fact, I'm reasonably sure that both of these will become finalists for the Hugo. There are a few dark horse books that I'd like to check out that may make the list, including: Zero World
, by Jason M. Hough, Children of Time
by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Dark Orbit
by Carolyn Ives Gilman. I doubt I'll get to all of them, but I should be able to swing at least one before nominations close. Will it make the cut? Only one way to find out.
Another completely unsurprising nomination, given that Bujold is one of my two favorite writers (the other being Stephenson). If those two weren't publishing last year, I'm not entirely sure I'd participate this year. And it looks like we've got a new Bujold novel coming in the next few weeks. Most exciting.
Best Short Story:
This was actually on my original nomination list for last year... until I found out that while the "January" issue of Fireside Fiction was released in very late 2014, it would not be eligible for the 2014 awards due to the listed publication date (2015), and so here we are. I have no idea what its chances are. Certainly it's had plenty of time to build a following and it's a wonderful story, but it also has the great misfortune of being an initial Sad Puppy pick (like me, they removed it from their list once the eligibility issue reared its head - at least, that's how I remember it, I could be very wrong), so there might be some weird backlash. Whatever, it's on my ballot.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
Those of you following along with the Kaedrin Movie Awards
will probably not be surprised by this list, but I suppose the one missing entry that might raise some eyebrows would be Star Wars: The Force Awakens
. Call it a "snub" if you like, but given the Hugo voters' historical record and generally surprising lack of depth in this category, I opted to highlight some wonderful films that actually need the help. Star Wars
will almost certainly make the ballot, along with Mad Max
and The Martian
. I think Ex Machina
has an excellent chance, while Predestination is a true dark horse (perhaps a resurgence of Heinlein fans will get it done?) and What We Do in the Shadows
has almost no chance at all. If you're reading this, though, seek all these movies out, they are worthy of your time and nomination.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
The only one of these I'm really passionate about is The Chickening
, which has virtually no chance of becoming a finalist. It is maybe a bit on the outskirts of fannish interest (being a take on Kubrick's The Shining
) and strikingly bizarre, but it is absolutely brilliant. You should totally watch it
and then wonder about my mental state afterwards. Seriously though, I found myself reaching for more short films this year than TV episodes (which normally comprise approximately 100% of the finalists). Kung Fury
is a hoot, but I suspect not really the Hugo voters' thang. I have mixed feelings about World of Tomorrow
and it might not make my final ballot, but then, I'd rather see that there than any number of the usual suspects (and it does seem rather fannish). Game of Thrones is a lock to be a finalist, but they've gotten a lot of Hugo attention the past few years, so maybe it's not necessary this year (but then, who else can stop the Doctor Who juggernaut?)
And that just about covers it for now. I suspect I'll read a few other things before nominations are due, but this is where I'm at now. Suggestions are welcome, though comments are still wonky, so hit me up on twitter @mciocco
(if you're more of a lush) or just send an email to tallman at kaedrin dot com.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
2015 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners!
The nominations for the 2015 Kaedrin Movie Awards
were announced last week. Today, I'll be announcing the winners of said awards. Next week, I'll cover less traditional categories in what we like to call the Arbitrary Awards
, and not long after that, I'll post my top 10 of 2015. After that, we've got the Oscars (predictions and live-tweeting or something) and then it's on to 2016. But I digress, let's get on with the awards:
- Best Villain/Badass: Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne in Mad Max: Fury Road. You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome. This was a moderate year for villainy, with only a handful of true standouts. Immortan Joe takes the award and stands tall even amongst the Mad Max legacy villains (though I don't think he quite takes it from Lord Humungus).
Kylo Ren is probably the runner-up, but he's held back by his whiny vulnerability and the fact that he got bested by an untrained and inexperienced hero, which is a shame, because he was initially pretty fantastic (and, truth be told, I imagine him being more menacing in the sequel, so I'm sure we'll be revisiting this topic then). Also of note, Tom Hardy's performance in The Revenant put him in the running, but even he couldn't stand up to Immortan Joe. Krampus might have been a good choice, except that he seemed to rely a little too heavily on his various helpers for the bulk of his work. I think I enjoyed the character of Ultron more than most, but then, the concept of the character is squandered a bit, even if he remains a fun little comic book villain.
- Best Hero/Badass: Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Despite the title of the film, Charlize Theron owns this movie, and while the Best Hero/Villain awards rarely go to the same movie, they earned it here.
Otherwise, there's lots of competition, surely an overmatch for the villains (but hey, that's a good thing, I guess). A few folks who I highlighted more to represent an ensemble than for themselves (i.e. Kurt Russel in The Hateful Eight), and this is something I should probably give its own category for. In terms of runners up, um, I don't really know, there's like 5 or 6 folks of roughly equivalent heroic badassery on the list. But Furiosa stands out for sure, so she takes it!
- Best Comedic Performance: Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. This was a tough category to pick, and truth be told, I'm not totally in love with Trainwreck, but Schumer is great in it, and goes to unexpected places. Runner up goes to Michael Peña in Ant-Man, who totally stole the show, but didn't quite have enough screen time to take the win. Really, the only one not in that I was able to immediately eliminate was Steve Carell in The Big Short. It's probably not even that funny of a performance, now that I think about it, but there was something about how exasperated his character is at what's going on (a feeling mimicked by the audience) that tickled me.
- Breakthrough Performance: Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. This was a really tough one, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was really gunning for the award, but I gave it to Vikander because she had more heavy lifting to do in Ex Machina. I only listed two, but Vikander was also in, like, 500 movies this year, which also helped her case. This was a strong category this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing all of these folks again.
- Most Visually Stunning: The Revenant. I think the movie is about an hour too long, but that hour is mostly glorious landscape shots, so here we are. This award most often goes to a movie that is showy and indulgent, which The Revenant certainly is.
Honorable mentions to Mad Max: Fury Road and The Hateful Eight, which certainly comported themselves well on the visual front (and honestly, had more compelling stories, etc...), though not quite as bombastically as The Revenant.
- Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: The Martian. Perhaps a controversial choice. Not sure it's the best movie on the list, but as Science Fiction? This award simply needs to go to The Martian. You may have noticed that I'm a big fan of written Science Fiction, but if your conception of SF is based on Movies and TV, you've probably got a much different conception of the genre. Problem solving, competence, can-do attitudes, genuine cooperation; these things are often seen as jejune and unsophisticated, but they're the beating heart of SF. Nothing against the angsty, pessimistic dystopias that dominate the genre in film, but I was so happy to see my favorite parts of the genre on screen that I have to give it this award. The category as a whole is unusually strong, actually, and most of the other nominees would comport themselves well in most years. That being said, I hope The Martian ushers in a new era of throwback SF, even if that's highly unlikely.
- Best Sequel/Reboot: Mad Max: Fury Road. Another unusually strong set of nominees here, but Mad Max was simply the most astonishing sequel, perhaps partly because I simply couldn't imagine it being very good at all. Runner up would be Creed, another long-gap sequel to an old, venerated franchise. I gave it a lot of love in the nominations, but I don't think it's faring quite as well in the winner's circle. I will most definitely have to find some Arbitrary Awards to give it, because it was wonderful.
- Biggest Disappointment: Terminator Genisys. A tough choice, as it's not like I expected Genisys to be that great, but I didn't think it would be anywhere near as bad as it was. Maybe I'm more harsh on Terminator sequels because I'm such a huge fan of the original, but I always hold out hope that maybe someone can tell a new story in that universe. Meanwhile, I was super excited for Tomorrowland and it totally did not come close to those expectations. A close call, but I went with Terminator for this "award" because it's clearly the worse film. A close third would be Jurassic World, a movie that has a few decent moments, but which is ultimately pretty pointless.
- Best Action Sequences: Mad Max: Fury Road. I mean, the whole movie is an action sequence, and it's glorious, so it has to win. Honorable mention to Kingsman: The Secret Service for that Church scene alone, Everly for its video-game-esque progression of minions and boss fights, Sicario for the tense border crossing sequence, Creed for that single take fight, and I could probably keep going, but I'll stop now because none of them really holds a candle to the sustained excellence of Mad Max...
- Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Predestination. Really happy to be able to throw a spotlight, however small, on this little SF film. Of course, I won't ruin the surprise, but it's a doozy. Honorable mention to Focus for actually surprising me a couple of times despite being on guard for it (usually the downfall of a con man movie).
- Best High Concept Film: It Follows. I don't think the movie could come up with a good resolution for it, but the pure horror conceit at it's heart is absolutely brilliant, and it's used to excellent effect. Until, again, you realize it has no idea what to do with the concept. Runner up goes to Victoria for its whole single-take device. I guess that qualifies as high-concept, right?
- 2015's 2014 Movie of the Year: Housebound. I could have sworn I saw more 2014 stuff in 2015, but here we are, and I do love this little film, one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Gets the award for Morgana O'Reilly's delightfully snarky performance. Also because she uses a cheese grater as a gauntlet. Highly innovative. Definitely worth catching up with this movie.
And there you have it! Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards and (eventually) a top 10...
Sunday, January 17, 2016
2015 Kaedrin Movie Awards
Welcome to the 10th annual Kaedrin Movie Awards. Ten years. A decade! Hard to believe we've been doing this for so long, but here we are. As of right now, I've seen 69 movies that could be considered a 2015 release. More than your typical moviegoer, less than your typical critic, but enough so that able to commence with the whole awards rigmarole. [Previous Installments here: 2006
Standard disclaimers apply: Must be a 2015 movie (with the caveat that some 2014 movies were not accessible until 2015, an edge case that seems to be more common these days) and I obviously need to have seen the movie (and while I have seen a lot of movies, I don't pretend to have seen a comprehensive selection). Blah blah, subjectivity, blah blah, personal preference, blah blah, the world would be incredibly boring if we all liked the same things for the same reasons. Enough preamble, let's roll:
This was a moderately good year for villainy. Far from the worst year for this sort of thing, but while I didn't have any trouble populating the list, the true standouts seemed rare.As usual, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc...) or ideas (sorry It Follows
This was a stronger year for heroism though. Lots of memorable heroes to choose from, even from obscure or unlikely sources, and they tend to outweigh their villains heavily. Again limited to individuals and not groups
Best Comedic Performance
- Harry Hart / Galahad, played by Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service
- Everly, played by Salma Hayek in Everly
- Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
- Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
- Scott Lang / Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd in Ant-Man
- Solo, played by Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- Rey, played by Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan in Creed
- John Ruth, played by Kurt Russel in The Hateful Eight
- Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
This category is often difficult to populate because comedy so often comes in the form of an ensemble, but we had a decent enough year, except that I don't think I saw that many comedies.
Always an interesting category to populate. Sometimes, it's not so much about someone's industry breakthrough, but a more personal breakthrough. This can happen even with established actors. This year, though, it's more about young up-and-comers, and it's dominated by a terrifying flood of girl cooties. Or something. The main criteria for this category was if I watched a movie, then immediately looking up the actor/actress on IMDB to see what else they've done (or where they came from). A somewhat vague category, but that's why these awards are fun.
Most Visually Stunning
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great... and we've got a pretty interesting mix of stuff this year.
Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film
I like to give a little love to my favorite genres, hence this category. When I started this category, I always had trouble finding good SF movies, so I had to pad out the category with horror. But we've seen an astonishing increase in good SF in recent years, mostly micro-budget independent stuff, but this year we've even got some big studio releases.
Usually a difficult category to populate, but Hollywood has stepped up their game in recent years, thus making this a more interesting category than ever. Very strong year for this sort of thing.
A category usually populated by sequels, this year offered a strong showing of original movies... that were disappointing. Naturally, the sequels came out to play as well, and I should also mention that this category is weird in that I actually enjoy some of these movies quite a bit... but my expectations were just too high when I saw them. Related reading: Joe Posnanski's Plus-Minus Scale
(these movies scored especially poor on that scale)
Best Action Sequences
This award isn't for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and this has been a very good year for action.
Best Plot Twist/Surprise
Well, I suppose even listing nominees here constitutes something of a spoiler, but it's a risk we'll have to take, right?
Best High Concept Film
A nebulous category, to be sure, but a fun one because these are generally interesting movies. Actually not a ton of these this year, but the ones we did have were great.
2015's 2014 Movie of the Year
There are always movies I miss out on, whether due to availability or laziness, but when I do catch up with them, I'm often taken with them. Sometimes a very difficult category to populate, maybe because I didn't see much, or didn't like it, or just plain forgot that I saw it (which, to be fair, probably says something about the movie's chances). In this case, I think it's all of the above. I could have sworn I saw more than the below and that I was thinking it would be a good year for this category, but I'm having trouble finding options here...
So it looks like Mad Max: Fury Road
is leading the way with 6 nominations, the highest since 2007 (when Grindhouse
nabbed 9 nominations). I'm a little surprised to see The Revenant
not far behind with 5 nominations (it's a fine movie, but I'm not as enthusiastic about it as a lot of the other movies in this post). Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
clock in at a respectable 4 nominations apiece, while Ant-Man
, The Hateful Eight
, It Follows
, Kingsman: The Secret Service
, and Predestination
come in at a solid 3 nominations each. Many others have two or one nomination, with 36 total movies (not including the last category, which would put me at 40). Not too shabby. As usual, you'll have to wait a week or two to see who wins, followed by the Arbitrary Awards and the traditional top 10, concluding with some Oscars prognostication and live tweeting. Stay tuned!
Update: Steven pointed out
the egregious oversight of not including Daisy Ridley in the Breakthrough Performance category. We apologize for the fault in the nominations. Those responsible have been sacked. She has been added. (Steven also mentioned John Boyega, but even though I did not nominate him back in 2011 for Attack the Block
, he has been on my radar ever since. So while his Star Wars role is certainly a mainstream breakthrough, he'd already wormed his way into this film nerd's heart long ago!)
Sunday, January 10, 2016
SF Book Review, Part 21: Hugo Prep Edition
I read a lot of books last year, but I'm way behind in reviewing them, so in an attempt to catch up, here are some thoughts on a few Hugo Award related books. Last year I went out of my way to seek out stuff that would be eligible for the Hugos. This year: not so much. But I've read a few things that could qualify, so here goes:
- Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos - This book was nominated for the Hugo Awards last year, but Marko Kloos withdrew the book due to the whole Puppy kerfluffle (thus clearing the way for the eventual winner, The Three-Body Problem). As a result, Kloos emerged mostly unscathed from the whole affair, and many pledged to purchase and read his book anyway. For my part, I really enjoyed the first book in the series and thought it showed a lot of promise, so I was inclined to check out the sequels anyway. This book starts off with humanity in pretty bad shape. Already suffering from a civil war and overpopulation, a new and relentless alien race (referred to as Lankies) has seemingly targeted human colonies throughout the galaxy. Our intrepid hero, Andrew Grayson, is right in the thick of it. After some disastrous operations, he gets scapegoated and assigned to a tiny, ice-bound colony in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, that situation ends up in mutiny and treason... and then the Lankies show up. I liked this well enough, but it also felt a little like the series was treading water. The first book was a little derivative, but well executed and it set up some interesting dynamics. This one is also well executed and moves the ball forward a bit, but not very far. The Lankies still remain inscrutable, which could wind up being a good thing, but what we do know about them is straightforward and not all that "alien". Grayson and pals are competent and likable, but there's some discomfort with the whole treason thing. The military here is presented as incredibly dysfunctional, especially when you move higher up the ladder (the grunts are all pretty honorable folks). Depressing, but certainly a valid extrapolation of current political trends. The book ends with a desperate counterattack against an invading Lanky ship. They use a tactic that's treated like a breakthrough, but that any reader even remotely familiar with space combat tropes already knew about. So what we're left with is a reasonably well executed MilSF novel, entertaining, but not mind-blowing.
- Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos - The third of Kloos' series sees our intrepid heroes marooned on that tiny, obscure planet that's been cut off from supplies. Lankies are getting closer and closer to Earth at this point, and human institutions are breaking down. Again, we've got some well executed Military SF here, a capable enemy and competent heroes. Kloos is good at action, and the stakes are certainly higher here. Our heroes wind up striking an alliance with former civil war enemies (the Sino-Russians) and defending the Earth from disaster. There's still no real insight into what's going on with the Lankies, and this book feels, again, like we're treading water. I understand there's a fourth book coming out this year, which I'd hope would move closer to a resolution or at least understanding. I feel like I'm being pretty hard on these books; I've enjoyed each of them quite a bit, and I'll probably end up checking out the next book. There's a possibility that this will get nominated this year, but I'd rank it as more of a dark horse than a lock. I don't think I'll be nominating it, but it's worth checking out.
- Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold - A novella set in Bujold's Chalion fantasy universe, this one concerns a young man who accidentally contracts a demon. Demon possession is rarely considered a good thing, but in the Chalion universe, it can be a manageable thing and if you can control it, you will get a fair amount of power. Penric is a likable young chap, and I love the way this story treats the relationship with his demon. I won't go into too much detail, but this was a fantastic novella, one that doesn't require any familiarity with the other stories in this universe, and will definitely be on my Hugo ballot. Check this one out, it's short and very good.
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik - Agnieszka is a clumsy, homely girl who loves her little village, but the corrupted Wood, filled with monsters and evil presences, has slowly been encroaching on the territory. The Dragon, a magician who is assigned to the area, holds the Wood at bay, but requires an assistant from the village. Each assistant is a young girl taken by the Dragon and serves for 10 years before being freed again, usually moving away from the area afterwords. Agnieszka assumes her best friend, the beautiful and talented Kasia, will be taken, but of course it turns out that Agnieszka is chosen. At first, she seems singularly unsuited to the task, and can't even learn simple spells. But it turns out that she has a knack for a more intuitive form of magic. Soon, the Wood starts to become emboldened in its attacks, and Agnieszka and the Dragon must find a way to counter the offensive. This is a wonderful little fantasy book. It's got some flaws. I wasn't a big fan of the romance and some of the conflict is rooted in profound lack of communication. Some people like that sort of thing, but the Dragon's initially terse relationship with Agnieszka was frustrating for me, and indeed, a lot of the initial confusion and conflict would have been resolved had he spent a few seconds explaining some things. Similarly, the rigid way all the magicians in this universe treat magic seems unlikely, especially when Agnieszka starts showing them her more intuitive version. Those minor complaints aside, this is a well constructed story, with an ominous and cunning enemy and some interesting allies. Novik manages to cultivate a good sense of dread throughout the story, and when the shit really starts to hit the fan later in the novel, it's much more effective because of that slow buildup. You could say that the ending is a bit rushed and convenient, but one thing I really love about it is that this feels like epic fantasy, but it's not 7 books of 800 pages. Novik builds a complex, interesting world here and tells a complete story, and I like it more for that. I will probably be nominating this for next year's Hugo, and near as I can tell, it's a frontrunner. Recommended for fans of fantasy!
And that's all for now. I'm not completely caught up at this point, but I'll get there someday! In the meantime, the Kaedrin Movie Awards will be kicking off soon enough, so stay tuned!
Sunday, January 03, 2016
The Year in Books
So we have reached the one time of the year in which Astrology suddenly becomes palatable for everyone. As we've reached the end of our current calendar's orbital period, we take stock of where we are and where we're going. We come down from the holiday season, make resolutions, and promptly get to breaking them. I'm making light of this, but it's a good thing to do from time to time, and completing another trip round the sun is as good a time as any. I don't tend to talk about my more personal reflections here, but I do like to look back at the year that was in terms of books I've read and movies I've seen (movies will get their own, much more elaborate jamboree later in the month). I keep track of my book reading at Goodreads
(we should be friends there!), and they have some neato statistical visualization tools which could really use an overhaul, but they'll have to do and now that I have 6 years of data, it's more useful than it used to be.
First up, total books read:
So I read 45 books in 2015, about on par with last year, but still not quite reaching the heights of 2012's 50 books (my record in the current era). Same distortion as last year: I was following along with the Hugo awards
this year, so the 45 includes some short fiction (but, I should add, not all of the ones I read, so maybe it's a wash). Call it cheating if you like, but it actually made up a smaller piece of the pie than last year. We'll get into this in more detail below, so let's take a look at page numbers:
Less than last year's record breaking number, but far from my worst year and considering the inherent variability of page numbers
, let's just call this on par with last year or 2012. Anecdotal evidence indicates that I tend to read more page numbers when reading shorter books, while longer epics tend to slow me down. This year I had a lot of both. Sure, I had a bunch of novellas and novelettes, but I also read several 800+ page books. Let's look closer:
So the shortest book was a Hugo novelette that I was kinda meh about, whilst the honor of longest book went to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
clocking in at 1006 pages. Runner up appears to be Seveneves
at a svelt 880 pages, followed by the most "popular" novel, A Game of Thrones
at 835 pages. And I read a lot of other 500-800 page books, leading to a moderate average page count of 306, which is not quite as good as last year's 322, but better than 2012's 289. Interestingly, 2013's average page count was 356, which is the highest of the current era; more evidence that longer books tend to slow me down.
And the breakdown remains similar, though simplified this year. No comic books or short stories included, and maybe a slight increase in terms of non-fiction, but still dominated by fiction.
Goodreads also provides a fancy gizmo that graphs publication dates, which now looks like this:
The oldest book I read was 1961's The Stainless Steel Rat
, a short little SF con man turned spy novel. Not my favorite, but more interesting than a lot of Hugo related stuff I've been reading.
I declare this a good year of reading. I don't plan any significant changes in my patterns this year, though I'm honestly still on the fence about participation in this year's Hugo process. My current membership allows me to nominate, and two of my favorite authors released great stuff this year, so I'll certainly submit a ballot, but I'm just not sure if I want to put up with all the manufactured controversy. Taking a quick look at the Sad Puppies crowdsourcing post, it looks like there will be a John C. Wright novel this year, which is not an exciting proposition. Dude is talented, but his style bounces right off me and while he sometimes has neat ideas, I rarely find them explored well. Plus, Wright is one of the more divisive members of the Puppy cohort, and I don't want to deal with all that baggage. I guess we'll have to see how this plays out. In the meantime, I'll just keep poking at older SF since that seems to scratch the itch I have right now.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
2015 Year End Movie Cramming
The end of each orbital period is usually accompanied by a mountain of best-of-the-year lists and other such reflections. Here at Kaedrin, we watch a lot of movies, but we don't feel beholden to the timeline and usually end up posting our top 10 list in early/mid February. There are a few reasons for this. As we approach awards season, studios are cramming the final weeks of the year with qualifying runs of prestige pictures. But those movies only play in a handful of theaters and don't go wider until later in January. Earlier indie titles are just starting to show up on streaming services now. Plus, I'm just a dude who likes movies a lot. I don't really seek out critic credentials so that I can go to screenings, etc... That being said, January is typically chock-full of movie watching for me, and the grand majority of it is comprised of catching up with movies from the previous year. As of right now, I've seen 50 movies that you could consider 2015 releases
(are you on Letterboxd
? We should be friends.). Interestingly, with the advent of streaming and better availability of obscure movies, the "year of release" is becoming something of a fuzzy line for me. Sure, What We Do in the Shadows
came out in 2014... but that was in it's native country (New Zealand) and the film festival circuit. It wasn't really available to normal people in the USA until 2015. There are numerous examples of this, so keep that in mind. Anywho, there's a ton of movies I want to catch up with in the coming weeks, so I figured I should try and nail down some semblance of a list here. As usual, much of this is dependent on availability and timing, and I probably won't be able to get to all of them. Enough preamble, onto the list:
- The Hateful Eight - I don't really need to justify seeing Quentin Tarantino's latest at all, and if possible, I will try and catch the 70mm roadshow in KOP. Fingers crossed. (In theaters soon)
- The Revenant - I feel like I've been seeing the preview for this forever, and it looks gorgeous. Plus, you know, bear rape (j/k, of course, that was the dumbest controversy ever). (In theaters soon)
- The Big Short - Is it me, or did this come out of nowhere? It's got a bizarre pedigree, but has been getting good reviews. I'll probably take a flier on this one. (In theaters now)
- Victoria - All I know about this movie is that it's shot in a single, continuous take. And supposedly no Birdman-esque editing tricks either. Other than that, I'm going in blind, but I'm pretty excited about it. (Amazon streaming and iTunes rental.)
- The Assassin - I've heard good things but know little about this. It may be difficult to get ahold of in time, but it seems interesting enough. (Availability unknown)
- Room - Another movie I don't know a lot about, but which is getting lots of buzz in circles I follow. It's another one I'm not sure I'll get to due to availability issues, but I am intrigued. (Availability unknown)
- Kung Fu Killer (aka Kung Fu Jungle) - Rumored to be one of the best action movies of the year, this Hong Kong martial arts flick sounds great. (On DVD/BD/streaming rental)
- Close Range - Another action flick, this one with less of a good reputation, but which apparently has some great action sequences. Something about a guy protecting his family from a drug cartel. Sounds like it could be fun. (On DVD/BD/streaming rental soon)
- Joy - I've heard many conflicting things about this, and based on my general reaction to David O. Russel movies, I'm betting I'll think this is a mess. We'll see if I can squeeze it in, but I wouldn't be surprised if I don't get to it. (In theaters now)
- The Lobster - A frontrunner for Kaedrin's prestigious Arbitrary Award "Achievement in the Field of Batshit Insanity". Alas, this may be difficult to track down. (Availability unknown)
- Cooties - A holdover from this year's Six Weeks of Halloween, this seems like a fun little horror comedy in which kids at a school become zombies or something. (On DVD/BD/streaming rental)
- The End of the Tour - This got good reviews and David Foster Wallace is an interesting guy, but I'm not entirely sure how down with this movie I'll be. Still might give it a shot (on DVD/BD/Streaming rental now)
- Finders Keepers - Documentary about a guy who finds an amputated leg inside a used grill he bought at an auction. Sold! (DVD)
- 1971 - Documentary about activists who revealed FBI abuse in 1971 (seems to have many echoes to today's privacy discussions, etc...) (DVD/BD)
- Amy - Documentary about Amy Winehouse which has gotten a lot of buzz. (DVD/BD)
- The Search for General Tso - "Who was General Tso, and why are we eating his chicken? " These are questions I need answered in documentary form. (Netflix Streaming)
- The Wolfpack - A documentary about a bunch of kids who grew up never leaving their apartment, and the only thing they know about the outside world are movies. (Netflix streaming)
- Call Me Lucky - Bobcat Golthwait documentary about an obscure comedian? Sounds good. (Netflix streaming)
- The Russian Woodpecker - I know very little about this documentary. Something about a Chernobyl survivor and Ukranian war? Has won some awards already... (Amazon streaming rental)
- Advantageous - One of those low budget SF movies that have peppered the landscape over the past few years. Often interesting, sometimes a bust, I'm probably willing to check this one out. (Netflix streaming)
- Faults - An interesting premise involving cults and mind control, etc... I've heard mixed things, but it's on Netflix streaming, so I might give it a shot.
- The Duke of Burgundy - I don't know what to make of this movie. Everything I've heard seems weird, but not so weird that it'd fit the "batshit insanity" realm I usually enjoy. Again, it's on Netflix streaming, so perhaps I'll give it a shot.
- Results - Another Netflix streaming flier, seems kinda like a romantic comedy, or maybe not? I don't know, we'll see if I actually get to this...
So there you have it, 20+ movies that I would like to check out, though I probably won't get to all of them. And I'll probably watch some other junk instead. Stay tuned for Kaedrin movie awards, coming mid-January!