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Sunday, January 25, 2015
2014 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners!
The nominations for the 2014 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 2014. At some point, those other awards, I think they're called Oscars or something, will happen as well, and we'll probably do our normal predictions and live-tweeting as well. But I digress, let's get back to the important stuff:
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Hugo Award Season 2014
It's that time of year again. The Hugo Award Nomination Period has begun, and of course, all the requisite whining has begun. People whining about Awards Eligibility Posts, people whining about politics, people whining about the people whining about politics. And wonder of wonders, some people are actually talking about books they like, compiling lists of things to check out before nominations close, or coming up with thorough models to predict who will get a nomination this year. How revolutionary. I'll do my best to focus on same, but I'm sure I'll be sucked into some controversy or other.
Last year, I was a little gunshy about participating in the nomination process. This was mostly due to the fact that I hadn't really read a comprehensive selection of 2013 books or stories. It was also before I realized that some people don't bother reading all the nominees before voting or nominate things for purely ideological reasons. I also realized that I was very nearly one of the two votes that could have put Lauren Beukes's excellent time travel serial killer novel The Shining Girls on the ballot. This year, I won't claim to have read particularly deep into the catalog, but I read more than I did last time and there are definitely some stories I would like to nominate. My current nomination ballot, some thoughts on same, and some things I'd like to read before I finalize my ballot are below. Knock yourself out. Comments are still wonky, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to email me at mciocco at gmail or hit me up on twitter @mciocco (or @kaedrinbeer if you're a lush).
Best Novel: General consensus seems to be that it will not be eligible, but I think there are a few things going for it. One is that self-published works that get bought up by a real publisher and come out a year or two later have made it onto the ballot before (an example that comes to mind is Scalzi's Old Man's War, which was self-published in 2003 or 2004, after which it was promptly bought up by Tor and republished in 2005, garnering a Hugo nomination in 2006). Another is that I've heard that version published in 2014 has some differences from the self-published version, but I have not confirmed that (and it's very possible that this is not true), which might call some things into question. In any case, unless someone official makes a definitive statement about The Martian being ineligible, I plan to include it on my ballot.
Best Short Story:
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
Again, comments are still wonky on here right now, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to email me at mciocco at gmail or hit me up on twitter @mciocco (or @kaedrinbeer if you're a lush).
I think we'll leave it there for now and revisit some other categories or perhaps some stuff I want to read next week. Until then, happy nominating.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
2014 Kaedrin Movie Awards
Only a few weeks late this year, I've done a much better job keeping up than the past couple years. As of right now, I've seen 75 movies that could be considered a 2014 release (as per usual, there are borderline cases where, for instance, a 2013 movie sneaks onto the list because it only played festivals or foreign markets in that year and wasn't really available for me to watch). More than your typical moviegoer, but probably significantly less than your typical critic. But I caught up with a significant portion of that list in the past month or so, and am finally able to commence the ninth annual Kaedrin Movie Awards. [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013]
Same general rules apply: Must be a 2014 release (with caveats mentioned above) and I obviously have to have seen the movie (and while I have seen a lot of movies, I don't pretend to have seen a comprehensive selection). Standard disclaimers about subjectivity and personal preference, because who wants to live in a world where we all liked the same stuff for the same reasons? That would be a boring world. So let's get to it:
It often feels like a given year can only have great villains or great heroes, but not both. For instance, last year was a terrible year for villainy (and a rather good one for heroism). Not so this year! I had no problem populating both categories, and there's some solid choices on both lists. As with previous years, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc...)
As mentioned above, this was a good year for heroism too, perhaps a slight overmatch for the villainy, but that's the way these things should work. Again limited to individuals and not groups (so I only grabbed one Guardian of the Galaxy, even if I liked the whole group!)
This category gets tougher every year and I find I need to just pick an individual from an ensemble that is representative of the movie. Perhaps I should just bite the bullet and change this to Comedic Ensemble or something. That being said, lots to choose from this year:
Always an interesting category to populate, I feel like the big actor showcases this year were all about people I was already very familiar with (notably something like Birdman). As with previous years, my 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). This can sometimes even happen for a long established actor, so yes, I already know who Tyler Perry was, but I didn't know he was doing stuff like this. Yes, the criteria is vague, but the fun of these awards is that they're supposed to be idiosyncratic and weird:
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great... and we've got a pretty interesting mix of stuff this year. Indeed, this category is downright stuffed:
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 a big flourish in independent, micro-budget SF over the past few years, such that SF is kinda leading the charge these days.
Usually a very difficult category to populate, I had no problems at all this year.
A surprisingly difficult category to populate. Usually, I can think of a few additional movies that would fit, and it's not like there weren't a bunch of movies I saw that I didn't enjoy, I just wasn't expecting much of those movies so I couldn't really be that disappointed... Interestingly, they're all sequels, and most of them aren't really that bad, they were just disappointing.
This award isn't for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and it's been a rather fantastic year for action movies...
Well, I suppose even listing nominees here constitutes something of a spoiler, but it's a risk we'll have to take, right?
This is always a strange category to populate because the idea itself is a bit nebulous, but nevertheless, there are always a few interesting choices...
This category gets more difficult every year, but there are some good choices this year, and I'm definitely going to have a couple good options next year... Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie are leading the way with 5 nominations apiece, followed closely by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Gone Girl, and Inherent Vice with 4 nominations. And the list expands as we go from there (5 movies with 3 noms, 8 with 2, and even more with just a single nod). So I'm going to noodle these nominations for a week and announce the winners next Sunday, followed by the traditional Arbitrary Awards and hopefullly, a full top 10 list for 2014. This should be all wrapped up before the Oscars, which I guess I'll be live-tweeting or something again this year. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a touching tale of dolphin assassins. Today, we tackle The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
Young Bart Collins, lulled to sleep by the monotony of his piano lessons, dreams of a castle ruled by his piano teacher, the eccentric Dr. Teriwilliker. Dr. T is determined to prove that his "Happy Fingers Method" of teaching piano is the best method in the world. Having banished all other musical instruments to the dungeon, Dr. T lures 500 reluctant little boys to perform in a colossal concert on the grandest grand piano ever built. In his effort to escape, Bart comes in contact with some of the strangest characters imaginable - Siamese twins on roller skates, a human drum and the most memorable villian since the "Grinch". Filled with surreal landscapes and tongue-twisting rhymes, for which Dr. Seuss is famous, this is a movie children and their parents will love to watch again and again.Or, you know, not. Audiences at the time apparently didn't, as this was a colossal bomb. Still, it boasts a screenplay by Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), even if he pretty much disowned the film and made quippy remarks like "As to who was most responsible for this debaculous fiasco, I will have nothing more to say until all the participants have passed away, including myself."
Also of note to eagle-eyed Simpsons fans is the fact that the name Teriwilliker was lifted from this film to be used as Sideshow Bob's last name. And we all know that Bart is Sideshow Bob's nemesis, just as this movie's Bart is Dr. T's nemesis. It's amazing to me that I'm still, after 25 years, unpacking references made by The Simpsons.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
The Public Domain
I got curious about the Public Domain recently and was surprised by what I found. On the first day of each year, Public Domain Day celebrates the moment when copyrights expire, enter the Public Domain, and join their brethren, such as the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, and the books of Dickens. Once in the Public Domain, a work can be freely copied, remixed, translated into other languages, and adapted into stage plays, movies, or other media, free from restrictions. Because they are free to use, they can live on in perpetuity.
Of course, rights are based on jurisdiction, so not all countries will benefit equally every year. In 2015, our neighbors up north in Canada celebrated the entrance of the writings of Rachel Carlson, Ian Fleming, and Flannery O'Connor to the Public Domain (along with hundreds of others). I'd be curious how a James Bond movie made in Canada would fare here in the U.S., as they now have the right to make such a movie. Speaking of the U.S., how many works do you think entered our Public Domain this year?
Not a single published work will enter the Public Domain this year. Next year? Nope! In fact, no published work will enter the Public Domain until 2019. This is assuming that Congress does not, once again, extend the Copyright term even longer than it is now (which is currently the Author's lifetime plus 70 years) - which is how we ended up in this situation in the first place.
I've harped on this sort of thing before, so I won't belabor the point. I was just surprised that the Public Domain was so dead in the United States. Even works that gained notoriety for being accidentally let into the public domain, like It's a Wonderful Life, are being clamped down on. Ironically, It's a Wonderful Life only became famous once it was in the Public Domain and thus free to televise (frequent airings led to popularity). In the 1990s, the original copyright holder seized on some obscure court precedents and reasserted their rights based on the original musical score and the short story on which the film was based. The details of this are unclear, but the result is clear as crystal: it's not aired on TV very often anymore because NBC says they have exclusive rights (and they only air it a couple times a year) and derivative works, like a planned sequel, are continually blocked.
I don't know of a solution, but I did want to reflect on what the year could have brought us. There goes my plans for a Vertigo remake!
Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Random stuff found whilst spelunking the depths of the internets:
Sunday, January 04, 2015
The Year in Books
According to the Gregorian calendar, the earth has completed yet another orbit around the sun, and thus Earthlings like myself are prone to reflect on the previous orbital period or somesuch. I'm still catching up with 2014 movies (as per usual), but expect the annual Movie Awards season to start shortly. I just posted about my year in beer, so now it's time to take a look at what I read this year. I keep track of my book reading at Goodreads, and they have some fancy statistic generator things that are pretty cool, especially since I now have 5 years worth of reading tracked on the site (though, of course, I'd love to see more details).
First up, let's take a look at overall books read:
You can also see the breakout of types of book I read:
So it's been a pretty good year for reading. I certainly did better than last year, though I did find that the Hugo Awards process distorted things perhaps a bit too much. I enjoyed the exercise, and since my membership still applies, I will most likely follow along again in 2015, but I don't know that I will be paying as close of attention in the following years unless this year's Hugos really knock my socks off. It's a good thing to read outside your comfort zone, but at the same time, I didn't particularly love many of the books/stories on last year's ballot. We shall see, I suppose. In the meantime, I've got plenty of stuff to read, so stay tuned.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Over the past month or so, I've caught up with and finished off the first "season" of Serial, a NPR podcast that spun off from This American Life. It was a 12 week series of podcasts of varying length that attempted to exhaustively cover one murder case from 1999. The devil is in the details, and if you're fond of that saying, you'll probably enjoy Serial (I am and I did!) You'll be safe for the next few paragraphs, but there will be a spoiler warning later in the post.
The case covers how a popular high school senior, Hae Min Lee, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend and classmate Adnan Syed. He claims innocence, but the prosecution had a witness named Jay who says that he did it. It's an interesting case, especially once you start digging into the details, but that's not why the podcast is great. The creator, Sarah Koenig, takes a very active role in the podcast, such that it's not really about the murder so much as her perspective on the murder and how she reacts to the various pieces of evidence or, more frequently, how difficult it is to actually piece together coherent evidence.
Therein lies the strength of Serial, the stubborn insistence that it's extremely difficult to piece together the details of what happened 6 weeks ago (and even moreso 15 years ago). It's one of the first points the podcast makes, asking several people (unrelated to the case in question) what they were doing 6 weeks ago (no one could confidently remember in detail), and it's something that comes up repeatedly throughout the series.
Watching TV shows like CSI or Bones makes it seem easy to figure out in minute detail exactly what happened in the past, but that's clearly not the case in real life. One of the most amusing examples in the podcast is the alleged payphone outside of a Best Buy store: no one can confirm that it ever existed. Best Buy doesn't remember, the phone company doesn't know, blueprints show a space for a payphone inside the building (but no one remembers that either), and so on. The case against Adnan definitely depends on that phone being there, but no one can corroborate it (though it does seem unlikely that no one would have noticed that the phone didn't exist during the investigation and later trial, it's still a good example of how difficult it is to piece things together). It's probably worth remembering this sort of stuff the next time some sort of controversial crime is committed or even the next time you get angered by something as trivial as a tweet or something like that.
The other interesting thing about Koenig's perspective is that it seems pretty clear that she entered into this case because she thought there was a fair chance that Adnan was innocent. This is not at all unusual, but it is an interesting look at how media bias shapes the way stories are pursued (it would be a great story if Adnan was innocent, perhaps not so much if he wasn't and the courts got it right). To her credit, Koenig doesn't seem to ignore any of the evidence that looks bad for Adnan, and indeed, spends a lot of time on those aspects of the story. This again gets back to the difficulty in piecing together events from the past. Koenig doesn't downplay any of the evidence, but there are so many holes in the story that it's hard to know what actually happened.
(Here be the Spoilers) And in the end, after over a year's worth of investigation, Koenig still doesn't know. In the final episode, she does personally come down on Adnan's side, but only in an "innocent until proven guilty" sorta way. She just doesn't know enough about what actually happened to Hae to say for sure that Adnan actually did murder her. She says that if she was on the jury, she would vote to acquit. Having listened to her perspective for 12 weeks worth of podcasts, I would probably agree, except what do I know but what Koenig presented to me? There's a reason that a trial has two opposing advocates. I mentioned earlier that Koenig "doesn't seem to ignore any of the evidence", but how would I know that?
At the very start of the series, I was immediately reminded of Errol Morris's documentary The Thin Blue Line, which covers a case in which a police officer is killed in Dallas, Texas. Morris has stated that he started this project with a specific goal in mind (I won't go into too much detail here because it's a film you should watch and I don't want to ruin anything), and unlike Koenig, he actually got to that endpoint. The movie actually had a tangible impact on the system, eventually causing decisions to be overturned on appeal. Again, Morris embraced his subjectivity in making this movie. He was almost taunting the viewer through his use of non-linearity, editing, and even visual cues like lighting and framing.
Did Koenig do something similar in Serial? The podcasts are primarily comprised of her direct address to the listeners. She frequently plays audio recordings of calls with Adnan, police interviews, and even court proceedings, but they are usually very short clips. She also attacks the case from multiple angles, thus leading to a non-linearity that also reminded me of Morris' documentary. And while it's clear that she spent a long time pouring through documents, evidence, and audio, it's not entirely clear how much was left out in the interest of streamlining the story. This sounds overly cynical and paranoid, I'm sure, but that's kind of the point, isn't it? How do we know what happened? With the case, with the podcast, with anything!?
That might sound like a copout, but it's not. It's a simple recognition that sometimes the Truth is not always knowable. A project like Serial or The Thin Blue Line could lead to revelations, as it did with the latter, or with a big fat question mark, as it did with former. Sometimes you still need to make a decision, even when you don't have all the facts you would like. Ultimately, assuming Koenig to be trustworthy (and I have no reason to really doubt her, despite the above), I'd have to agree with her conclusion. There's no real answer, but I don't know that the evidence was clear enough to convict someone either.
I've often wondered about The Thin Blue Line - was Morris just lucky? How did he know to keep pushing the established story? How do you select a case for this sort of thing? How much time do you spend investigating before you decide whether to continue or not? When and why would you consider giving up on a case? Serial has been a resounding success, and it appears that there will be a "Season 2" of the podcast, so perhaps this will be one of the things Koenig addresses. It would be entirely fitting with the general tenor of the series so far. (In case it's not abundantly clear, if you are reading this and enjoyed Serial, I highly recommend checking out The Thin Blue Line, currently available on Netflix Instant!)
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