Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 in Movies!

I have a confession to make… I love lists.

That’s a confession that I think I’ve made before, but it’s also one I haven’t been able to come to grips with. If I’m piddling around the internet and see something like, The 8 Types of Cabbage most similar to Lettuce when eaten raw…. Well, let’s just say that would work a lot better than promises of porn to get me to click a link.

I don’t make lists as often as I want to, but now, with all these year-end lists coming out, I feel like I have permission, at least for the next week or so.

So, right off the bat, here’s a list…

THE 10 BEST SPEC FIC MOVIES OF THE YEAR (That’s the year I saw them, maybe not the year they were released).

10) Chronicle: I honestly almost forgot about this movie when compiling this list. I don’t think it’s much of secret that expectations have a great deal to do with how much anyone enjoys a movie. This flick came out of left-field and stunned me with its story and fx – this was a theatrical release done on a shoestring budget – that’s saying a lot for something so fx heavy.
9) The Dark Knight Rises: This movie disappoints me only in that I would have expected this to be in my top 2 or 3 at the beginning of the year. It was still really good, but I felt it was a bit… I don’t know, it just didn’t move me the way the The Dark Knight did.
8) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: A giant asteroid is coming to kill us all in a few weeks and there is
nothing to be done except sit and wait for it. Lonely guy Steve Carrell and wacky neighbor team up to avoid being alone. I loved it the dark humor that riddled the movie, as well as the emotional baggage that Carrell didn’t want to have to deal with. Very touching, if a bit sad.
7) Attack the Block: I may have seen this in 2011. As I get older I find that anything I’ve experienced in the past 3 years all feels like the last year to me. I almost put Moon on this list before I checked and saw it came out in 2009… is that right? 2009! Wow. Anyway, this is about some street punks (kids) dealing with an alien invasion. Also, they’re British. Awesome movie.
6) Wreck-it-Ralph: A movie about video game characters that was pretty good until the final act. When it became much better than expected. At first I was turned off because I wanted to see much more game hopping by the main character – but once I realized that wasn’t going to happen I ended up getting swept up by the story.
5) The Hobbit: One of the few movies I actually reviewed, albeit poorly, on the blog. In a word: Awesome. In a few more words: Awesome, but 45 minutes longer than really necessary.
4) The Cabin in the Woods: Another one that kind of hit me out of nowhere. I don’t really watch horror-y movies. But along with Tucker & Dale vs Evil, I thought this brilliantly told a story that toys with our expectations.  
3) The Avengers: This is probably the most fanboyish movie in the history of the world for me. I didn’t even bother dreaming of this movie being made when I was a kid because I knew it would have been impossible. I swear – if I ever get my hands on a time machine I am showing this to the 13 year old version of me. Causality be damned.
2) The Amazing-Spider Man: I was not looking forward to this movie at all. I saw it reluctantly because somebody (whose opinion I respected) said it was really good. I am not one of those people that has a problem with a movie deviating from the source material when the final product is great. Well, that's mostly true, but I did hear some rumblings from some quarters about changes - I'm not too sure what they are though, as Spider-Man has bee retconned so much I don't know what is official and what isn't. All that said, this really made an impression on me.  This was, honestly, maybe my favorite superhero movie of all time. It wasn’t quite perfect, but it was close.
1) Looper: This might be the most logically consistent time travel movie I’ve ever seen. Maybe. Bill and Ted did it pretty well too. Regardless, that means I’m going to have to learn the name of the little kid from Third Rock from the Sun, because he was in several of my favorite movies this year (aside from this and Batman, he starred in the excellent chase movie, Premium Rush – which would be in my top 5 non-spec fic movies of the year, if I created such a list).

THREE MOVIES THAT GOT A LOT OF GRIEF – but I thought were really entertaining:

3) Wrath of the Titans: It did kinda suck, but I was never bored. And that means something to me. That was one movie that felt epic, but just couldn’t quite get the drama part to work as well as the action and fx… I thought it was way better than Clash of the Titans that came out a few years ago. Very watchable.
2) John Carter: Besides being stunned at the production budget (about 20 times than Chronicle – No. 10 on my top 10 of the year), which was twice as high as it should have been (if I were a studio auditor, I’d be peeking my head into the accounting for this flick) I thought it was a pretty fun movie. Working from 100 year old books and trying to make it a modern sci fi movie for the masses was a tough undertaking. It didn’t quite work, but it almost did.
1) Underworld Awakening: I hated the third installment of this series, the straight to video one that took place entirely in the middle ages, but this one I got because the missus wanted to watch a movie and sent me to redbox with the instruction to not come back empty handed. I came back with this, and kept being amazed that I was interested. The series as a whole seems to keep setting up these characters that serve as prophesied messiahs or ultimate creatures, and then once they arrive, they get pushed to the side. The boytoy werewolf/vampire hybrid from the first two movies is the most bizarre example of a super powerful being that keeps getting captured and is always in need of a rescue. This time around it’s the little girl that fills this role. All that said though, this movie was a rollercoaster that I enjoyed.


3) Total Recall: I really wanted to like this movie. It was beautiful to watch - the actors and the scenery - but I had such a hard time sitting through this. I was bored, I didn’t care who lived or died, and I didn’t find anything at all that improved on the Arnold Schwarzenegger version from 20+ years ago.  And I would point out that it was a remake of THAT movie, not the Philip K Dick story. I found that even more bizarre. Who made that decision?
2) Dark Shadows: The most bored I have been watching a movie all year. I found almost nothing about this movie worth watching. Was it really about a 200 year old vampire trying to reopen an old fishing cannery?
1) Battleship: Look, I honestly thought the movie was okay. Really. What makes me get all shaky and angry about this is that somewhere, a studio head decided they had to have a tentpole movie for the summer. It threw a quarter of a billion dollars into a project and swore that they had to make it something amazing. Instead of finding a worthy project (either from the literary world or a something original) the braintrust decided to make something had to have been an SNL skit at one time and turn it into this. I swear, I think we’re on our way to seeing a 300 million dollar ‘Tic Tac Toe: The Movie’ within a decade – hell, maybe before then.


Prometheus: I had pretty high expectations for this, fueled mostly by Michael Offutt’s marketing machine. When it finally arrived I was awed by the beauty of this movie. I was so awed, in fact, that I really loved it while I was in the theater. I did have issues as I watched, like the map maker guy that got lost, along with the biologist that decided to play with the alien thing as soon as he discovered it. My wife is fond of saying that any movie that requires the characters to be morons in order for it to make sense is probably not a very good movie. I tend to disagree, as I like Dumb and Dumber quite a bit, but I’m guessing that this is more the type of thing she was talking about. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was one of the most poorly constructed stories I’ve ever seen on film. It’s a mess from very beginning and only gets worse. Very Disappointed.

And there it is. The year in movies.  I think I’ll put another post up soon with another list. Because I’m all about indulgence right now.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Christmas Wish! Plus Other Things!

I DIDN'T REALLY THINK THINGS THOUGH when I decided to do my Michael Jordan-esq “I’m Back” announcement recently. It’s Christmas! Also Hanukkah and Kwanza. It’s probably other Holidays too, but I’m the stereotypical American that is blissfully ignorant of things outside his personal experience.

Regardless, I’ve been struggling with what to do with this blog, I’m toying with the idea of doing a theme, or interviewing folks, or whatever. It seems like me continuing to talk about my pets or home improvement projects might not be the best use of everyone’s time.

We’ll see though, that also means more work for me. I’m not a huge fan of actually doing work that I don’t have to. I noticed lots of folks are taking time off of blogging for the holiday. But I may post a few times - even if no one is around. I need the practice.

IN THE WAKE of the horrific school shooting last week – which I hope to never mention again – I did get led down a rabbit hole of statistics. I found some stats (real ones, not made up ones) that made me do a double take: 

Murders in the U.S. in 2011:        12,664

When we factor in the population base, some quick head math tells me that the odds of getting murdered in the US in a year is about 1 in 24,000.

In England – 1 in a million.*

That’s a pretty stunning disparity. What can I say? Wow. I would add that this has nothing to do with all that gun control talk that has been dominating the news since the tragedy - but that is a HUGE difference. I didn't read any details about why that might be the case. I just saw the stats. I have my opinions, but I'll leave it to others to interpret what they want from the data.

IN LESS EXCITING NEWS, I took the missus to see The Hobbit this week. Her review was more or less identical to mine. Except that she turned to me halfway through the movie and mentioned she really wanted to throw up. A comment on the HFR 3D and not the quality of the movie itself.

She did have a complaint, but it’s pretty spoilery, and I figure it’s new enough of a movie that I might unwittingly ruin the experience for others if I blurt it out.

*That's me doing math there. I only mention it because I was pretty generous with rounding. I think I came up with something like 1 in 963,000 - but that's close enough to round up to a cool million in my book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Unexpected Journey - At 48 Frames Per Second

I generally don’t do movie reviews. I don’t think I do reviews very well at all, if I’m being totally honest. Especially for movies. I think part of it is that I get hyper focused on the movie on screen and I either ‘buy in’ and think it’s the greatest thing ever done, or I’m sucked out of the story for some reason and I hate it.

That’s generally how I am with books too, but I’m at least nominally capable of deconstructing a book to find out what I enjoyed and what I didn’t.

Anyway, I took the kids and a nephew and went out to see The Hobbit over the weekend. I shelled out the $100 and made sure we got to see the 3D IMAX HFR edition.

This is me attempting a movie review – I shudder for you all – I’m going to split this into two: The Presentation first, then the actual movie.

Wait, maybe I should make this into three parts. No, that would be too much.

Presentation: The HFR (High Frame Rate) is a reference to the way that this movie was shot. As far as I know, it the first feature film to be shot in 48 fps (frames per second) ever. The promise is that it offers a smoother look, and in 3D – since polarized glasses tend to cut the number of frames each eye sees in half – along with the brightness – it means that the movie experience is much more enjoyable. That’s the intent, at least.

This is supposed to make the movie more engrossing, visually. If you’ve been anywhere on the internet and looked into what other think you’ll have seen that there a lot of people complaining about the experience.

I, for one, certainly found it distracting. But in the end decided I liked it. First, if you’ve ever seen many daytime soap operas, or some of those British shows that pop up on PBS on occasion then you might see some similarities. It’s a bit like watching a movie in fast forward – except that nothing is going fast. It’s a strange thing, and I found myself, especially early in the movie, staring at the screen and watching carefully how things looked. I mean, how can something appear to be moving too quickly, but not be? It’s a mystery.

I think all films shot in the standard film format (24 fps) have kind of tricked us into thinking that is the way things on a giant screen are supposed to look. And the hyper-real 48 fps reminds us of the cheap video productions we’ve all seen on poorly produced shows. It is disconcerting.

It’s funny, as my wife and I have shopped for a television that could also serve as a monitor for my job when I work from home, we’ve ended up having these long, detailed conversations about frame rates on televisions and the typical 24fps standard for movies and how problematic it can be when watching something – like a blu ray disk of a movie. It can cause movements to look unnatural. On a technical level, the sorts of problems that arise can be really difficult for engineers to solve.

Sorry, I digress.

By the time the movie was finished however, I was pretty thrilled with the format. I intend on sneaking out one night this week with the missus and watching it again. This time to see if I can watch the movie without the staring at the screen.

The Movie: For what it’s worth. I thought the movie was fantastic. I feel like it suffers just a bit from ‘Jackson-Bloat’ – a term I made up just now to describe his tendency of stretching a film out longer than its natural length. Some of the early portions of the movie seemed excessively long - but it was charming. I didn't really mind the excessive length. 

I’m reminded a bit of Tolkien who said something like,”…if there is something I regret – it’s that I didn’t make it (LOTR) longer….” I believe Peter Jackson feels the same way about his movies. As this might be an all-time great film if it were just 45 minutes shorter. As it stands, more isn’t better, but it’s still pretty awesome.

If I had a frustration it was that so much of the effort put into foreshadowing al the LOTR stuff makes no sense. I mean, we've all seen LOTR so it's not like we need all that. If some future movie goer watches The Hobbit movies first, then they might get all excited about the LOTR movies, but then get confused because they reintroduce characters that we've already seen. 

For me though, small complaints. I loved the movie. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I'm Not Dead


It’s funny how a few days off quickly ballooned into a few months of sabbatical. Such is the nature of things I suppose. But a few months ago when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with things I decided to skip a week of blogging. Not just skip writing in my blog, but of visiting others as well.

And then another week passed, and another, and another. Before I knew it people were sending me emails wanting to know if I was okay. I guess I really have been away for a while now.

WHAT HAPPENED while I was out? Disney bought Lucasfilm (will I now see the 1977 theatrical version of Star Wars get released on Blu Ray? Without all the updates).

There was a presidential election – I think somebody won.

NASA KEEPS ANNOUNCING they’ve found evidence of that water once flowed on Mars in the ancient past – At some point, someone needs to talk to them about these sorts of things. This last one was this huge tease about something ‘game changing’ and it turned out to be just repeating what they’ve told us at least 3 other times in the recent past. I’m thinking about starting a conspiracy that they found real aliens there but the govt stepped in and shut them up before they could announce it… thusly changing their story at the last minute and bringing up the water thing yet again.

I FOUND OUT DUOTROPE is going to a subscription model in January. Something that saddened me greatly – it’s a website that many authors use as a resource to track their submissions to various markets. As the real value that the site offers is that so many people use it that you can find out what standard wait times are for markets you’ve submitted to, what their acceptance rate is, and a pretty slick search feature that helps identify the best markets for a story that you may have written, the rest of what they offer is more secondary, at least to me.

I imagine that the number of people that will leave the site after it goes subscription will really devalue the data they collect – and therefore devalue their service. That’s my fear anyway. I’m torn about whether or not I want to invest in moving it forward.

Other than that, I had a lot of free time. What did I do with it all? Well, I watched 5 seasons of 30 rock, I finally got caught up on The Walking Dead. I read a few books, I started and QUIT reading a few more books.

All while doing some soul-searching.

I’m not so sure I’m through with that last part. At least in regards to my writing. But that’s been my time in a nutshell. More later… it’s good to be back. Just baby steps for now.