Mar 7 2017

Culture Consumption: February 2017

My reading continues to be sloooowwww, but at least I finished a few things this month — along with seeing a TON of movies.

Books

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll was a favorite read from this month. This beautifully illustrated collection of scary stories, involving ghosts and wolves and other stranger monsters explores the dangerous things hidden in the dark that can steel one’s life and/or self away. The art uses bright vivid colors with a mixture of line styles to create a sense of tension and unease while reading — some scenes are vividly terrifying.

ThroughTheWoods-EmilyCarroll

I also loved reading Jessie Carty’s collection, Shopping After the Apocalypse. In this collection of prose poetry, the narrator begins a journey across an apocalyptic landscape. Contemplative and beautifully written, each poem builds on the next forming an interconnected story of isolation in an abandoned landscape. The result is a more contemplative exploration rather than the violence and terror expressed in most apocalyptic storylines. I really enjoyed this collection so much that I interviewed the poet about her writing process.

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Feb 28 2017

Oscar Best Picture Showcase 2017

The Academy Awards were presented yesterday. I didn’t watch them — funny, since I spent so much time making sure I saw the Oscar nominated short films and Best Picture nominees over the course of the past two weeks. (I was playing with my toddler niece and nephew instead and don’t feel a bit bad about it at all.) I’ve meant to do the following write ups BEFORE the Oscars happened, but never got around to finishing them, so here they are now, all in one go.

For anyone interested in the Red Carpet fashion from the event, I recommend Genevieve Valentine’s rundown, which is quite charming.

And the winner was…

Moonlight

Received 8 nominations and won for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali).

In Moonlight presents three stages in life of an African-American man, from being a young kid who finds an unexpected father figure, to a teenager experiencing his first love with one of his friends, to becoming an adult. I don’t know if I need to say what almost everyone who has seen it has been saying, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture and all, but I’ll go ahead an reiterate it anyway — Moonlight is a beautiful movie. The cinematography, acting, and story all come together in what feels like an incredibly moving dream of an experience.

I was thrilled to learn that Moonlight won Best Picture, because the title is well deserved. It’s too bad the announcement occurred the way it did, with the Oscar gaff of the lifetime. The initial mistaken announcement of the winning film does not in any way take away from the accomplishment of director Barry Jenkins and his team in creating this phenomenal movie. But it did unfortunately take away from their moment to shine on the Academy Awards stage, their thank you speeches punctuated with confusion. Nevertheless, Moonlight and it’s a wonderful movie and well deserved.

Moonlight.

Moonlight.

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The rest of the noms…

Arrival

Received 8 nominations and won for Sound Editing.

Arrival was probably my favorite movie of 2016. Seeing it a second time around only cemented my love for this beautiful first contact movie, in which a linguist and a scientist work together to decipher the language of an alien race. The cinematography and sound editing are amazing, the editing jumping back and forth through time skillfully draws out the emotional impact of the storyline, and the aliens are truly alien. I love this movie so much.

If you loved the movie as much as I did and are interested in the process behind screenwriting and moviemaking, The Blacklist has a fantastic podcast interview with Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter who adapted Ted Chiang’s story into a script.

Amy Adams in Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival

Hidden Figures

Received 3 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer).

Hidden Figures is the true story of the black women computers that performed mathematical calculations as part of the space program at NASA. These are incredible women and the movie, which hits all the right notes in terms of humor and perspective, has me wanting to learn more about them and the other women of science who have often been overlooked.

Hidden Figures.

Hidden Figures.

Lion

Received 6 nominations (no wins).

Lion is the true story of a little boy who accidentally ends up lost in Calcutta thousands of kilometers from his home. When authorities are unable to find his mother or brother, he is adopted by an Australian family who raise him. As an adult, memories of his childhood in India come back to him and he begins a search using Google Earth to find his birth mother. It’s an incredible story. So many feels.

Lion.

Lion.

Manchester by the Sea

Received 6 nominations and won for Original Screenplay and Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Afflek).

There were some issues with the theater a couple of Saturdays ago, so I showed up a half hour late to Manchester by the Sea. Nevertheless, it was still a great movie, a moving story of grief and family and trying to overcome the past. It felt anchored in its location, which was almost a character itself.

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

Fences

Received 4 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis).

In Fences, Troy Maxson, an African-American man working as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh, works to raise his family while railing agains the challenges of poverty and racism. It’s clear that this is based on a stage play, from the first scene with its constrained setting and long, eloquent monologues. The writing is beautiful, not so much focused on realism of the moment, but rather evoking a heightened sense of poetry. The writing is backs up with phenomenal performances from the entire cast, who bring these characters to life and handle these lines with amazing power and grace.

Fences

Fences

Hell or High Water

Received 4 nominations (no wins).

Two brothers begin robbing banks after their mother’s deaths in order to preserve their family’s land. They specifically take on the bank chain that holds the loan against the property, a kind of clever revenge. Hell or High Water starts right in the middle of the action and drives through to the end, with just enough breathing room to get to know the brothers and the officers hunting them. The movie is great — not quite on the same caliber as some of the other best picture noms — but still great.

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

Hacksaw Ridge

Received 6 nominations and won for Film Editing and Sound Mixing.

Desmond T. Doss was a U.S. Army medic who served during WWII. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun into battle (something that created significant challenges during his training). The story that unfolds and what Doss does is so unbelievable that it made sense for the movie to end with a mini-documentary, as if to clarify some of the history.

Hacksaw Ridge was good for a war movie, which is not generally my thing. The style of this in terms of cinematography and storytelling felt old, by which I mean it presented the typical look of big budget Hollywood films. I think if I had watched this one first out of the whole set, I would have been fine with it. But since I had already seen a number of the other best picture noms — most of which were more creative or experimental in their style and tone — this felt old fashioned.

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge.

La La Land

Received 14 nominations and won for Director, Cinematography, Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone), Original Score, Original Song (“City Of Stars”), and Production Design.

La La Land is fun and all for a musical about two beautiful young people trying to make it big in Hollywood. The cinematography was pretty for the most part and the music was great — but otherwise it was pretty mediocre. I like both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who are great actors, but not great dancers or singers. The story is a bit light on emotional depth, as well. Nostalgia seems to be the greatest factor driving many people’s love for this (that and maybe how much Hollywood loves its own mythology), although it doesn’t quite live up to the classic musicals it’s meant to be in homage to. Fun enough to entertain, but nothing special.

La La Land

La La Land

* * *

In related news, the Razzies — which I don’t normally pay attention to — announced their “Worst” awards in film, with Hillary’s America garnering Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, and Worst Picture. And that’s kind of awesome.


Feb 17 2017

Some Thoughts on the 2017 Oscar Nominated Short Films

I love short films and am fascinated with how they are able to tell compelling stories in tiny spaces. I’ve been wanting to watch the Oscar nominated short film showcases that play every year, but haven’t had people to go with or the timing was off. This year, I made it happen, taking time to see both the Animated and Live Action selections, and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to also see the documentary shorts and I don’t think I’ll be able to this year. But I’m making it a goal for next year.

As a quick note, it was interesting to discover that all of the live action shorts were significantly longer than the animated shorts (with one exception), being 15 minutes to 30 minutes in length. I tend to think of short films as being in the 3-15 minute range, maybe due to the number of shorts I’ve seen through YouTube of Vimeo. I’m sure cost and time is a part of the reason why the live action movies were longer, with animation taking more time to create cell by cell. The differences in length might also have to do with how people connect with animation compared to live action. I’m not sure. But it’s interesting that the animated shorts were often able to provide as complete and moving of stories as the longer pieces in a shorter amount of time.

My thoughts are below, with links to trailers provided.
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The Animated Shorts

Blind Vaysha, directed by Theodore Ushev (8 minutes/Canada) – Blind Vaysha is a strange folk tale about a girl who is born with a strange infliction, in which she can see only the past out of one eye and only the future out of the other, essentially making her blind to the present. It’s a bit more talky than most of the other animated shorts, but the art is beautiful with a heavy-lined graphic style and strong-toned colors. I loved the way some images overlapped, stretched into impossible shapes, or presented sketchy, swirling images. A little more intellectual than emotional, but it’s my favorite of the animated films.

blind-vaysha_f

Blind Vaysha

Pearl, directed by Patrick Osborne (6 minutes/USA) – A girl and her dad tour the country in an old hatchback, busking and making music and facing life. Although the animation is somewhat blocky and not as dynamic or perfect as some of the other offerings, this is a moving story filled with music telling a sweet story with almost no dialog.

Pearl

Pearl

Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer (6 minutes/USA) – This story of a baby piper bird facing his fear of the ocean is funny and adorable in that predictable Disney/Pixar way. The animation is technically perfect and beautifully rendered, worth watching for that alone.

Piper

Piper

Pear Cider and Cigarettes, directed by Robert Valley and Cara Speller (35 minutes/Canada/UK) – There are parts of Pear Cider and Cigarettes that are gorgeous, the animation slick and stylish with hard angles that reminded me of certain comic book drawings. In the story, which is based on a real human, a man describes the dynamic personality of his friend, Techno, who eventually became a hardcore alcoholic. This is the most adult of the animated films, presenting a complex and straight look at sex, drugs, alcohol, and the fall of a friend. It’s also the longest out of any of the short films I watched. Although the last third of the film was moving, the first two-thirds were a little slow going for me and I think it could have been cut down a bit while still maintaining its powerful effect.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Borrowed Time, directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj (7 minutes/USA) – A sheriff returns to the site of his father’s death. The CGI animation is good, but the story didn’t connect with me, despite a few genuinely surprising moments.

Borrowed Time

Borrowed Time

Highly Commended

Due to the adult nature of Pear Cider and Cigarettes, the screening showed three additional animated films in order to give parents time to bring their kids out of the theater, if need be.

The Head Vanishes, directed by Franck Dion (9 minutes/Canada/France)

Once Upon a Line, directed by Alicja Jasina (8 minutes/Cyprus)

Asteria, directed by Josh Crute (5 minutes/USA)
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The Live Action Shorts

Timecode, directed by Juanjo Giménez (15 minutes/Spain) – One of my favorite shorts of the night, Timecode is the story of two parking lot security officers who begin communicating with each other in an usual way. This utterly delighted me. It’s wonderful and a bit weird. It probably is not going to win, but it’s the one I’d watch again and again without hesitation.

Timecode

Timecode

Sing, directed by Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy (25 minutes/Hungary) – A girl comes to a new school and is delighted to join the school’s award-winning choir — only to discover that the choir is not what it seems. It’s a wonderful story about friendship and people coming together in quiet revolt against unfair systems.

Sing

Sing

La Femme et le TGV, directed by Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff (30 minutes/Switzerland) – A bit of a quirky tale and almost-but-not-quite romance in which an older woman set in her routine. Every day she waves a flag at the passing TGV train, which leads to a mysterious answer from one rider. It’s sweet, even if the ending felt a bit abrupt.

La Femme et le TGV

La Femme et le TGV / The Woman and the TGV

Ennemis Intérieurs, directed by Sélim Azzazi (28 minutes/France) – An educated, Algerian man applying for French citizenship finds himself confronted with a young immigration official whose examinations grow more and more invasive. This is essentially just a movie of two men sitting in a room talking, but the writing and acting are stellar, making this intense and captivating as each man tries to gain control, although the power is clearly skewed in favor of the young immigration official. There’s a lot going on in this, reflecting the current issues surrounding immigration and prejudice against Muslims. I’d like to watch it again and think about the layers some more.

Ennemis Intérieurs

Ennemis Intérieurs / Enemies Within

Silent Nights, directed by Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson (30 minutes/Denmark) – A woman working at a homeless shelter begins a romance with a homeless refugee from Ghana. Although the acting is great and it’s well done, there were aspects of this that annoyed me in terms of how the young woman approached him, more as someone to save instead of as a whole person. I also really didn’t like the ending (which I won’t talk about because of spoiling).

Silent Nights

Silent Nights


Feb 2 2017

Culture Consumption: January 2017

Alrighty, here’s my January in books, movies, and such.

Books

This is the first is time in, well, probably ever that I haven’t completed a book over the course of a month — not even ONE. I’ve been doing a lot more watching TV than reading this past month as a way to unwind and reading three books at once sort of extended things out a bit — though really it was the watching that got me.

Books Finished This Month: 0 (*weeps*)

Total Books for the Year: 0 (*wails*)

Still in Progress: Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez, Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, and Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu

Movies

Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight (2015)

I’ve been meaning to see Spotlight, for a while, ever since it won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay. The movie is based on the story of how a group of reporters uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. Although a bit slow paced in the beginning, the movie is fascinating to watch, to see how each small piece of evidence, every interview, every mistake comes together in the end.

I’m particularly interested in how the characters are developed in the movie — which is to say not much, since the main focus is not on the emotional trajectory of these characters, but on the trajectory of uncovering and revealing the truth. And yet, the writers, director, and actors do an excellent job of using small moments that make us connect with them and reveal how their work is affecting them. It’s all very well done.

I also enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for and Don’t Breathe was a great thriller with tight pacing. XXX: Return of Xander Cage was all over the top action and somewhat stupid, although in a stupidly fun sort of way (it also gets points for having lots of diversity in its cast).

New-to-me Movies This Month:
1. Spotlight (2015)
2. XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
3. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
4. Don’t Breathe (2016

Short Films

I enjoy watching shorts and I’m hoping to taking time to watch them more often. All of the ones I list here are available online with links provided.

My favorite of the batch was The House of Small Cubes, a Japanese animated story of a flooded a world, in which an old man dives into his past — a beautifully animated and so many feels.

I also loved One Week, no surprise since I’m a huge Buster Keaton fan. A couple gets married and are given a build-your-own home kit — with disastrous and hilarious results.

I also dug the silent film A Trip to the Moon, which is loosely based a Jules Verne novel, and Isle of Flowers, a strange, jumbled, poetic documentary from Brazil.

Shorts from This Month:
1. The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (2012)
2. Isle of Flowers (1989)
3. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
4. Junior and Karlson (1968)
5. The House of Small Cubes (2008)
6. One Week (1920)

Television

Game of Thrones was my greatest time-suck last month — although I didn’t intend for it to be. I meant to take it slow and just watch an episode here or there, then something shocking or catastrophic would happen at the end of an episode and I’d have to watch the next. I went through Season Two and Three in this way — and if my pace keeps up I’ll probably finish all the way through Season Six before the end of February.

However, my focus Game of Thrones is not entirely there when watching, so sometimes I miss little details. I have a feeling I’ll have to watch it all again at some point in order to make proper commentary on it. But I continue to love  Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen (Khaleesi), and Tyrion Lannister, as well as Brienne of Tarth, who was introduced in season two.

Arya Stark

Arya Stark, from Game of Thrones.

I also checked out the first episode of Black Mirror from season one, which tells the story of a kidnapping and a bizarre ransom demand involving the Prime Minister of the U.K. It was complicated and smart and sooo disturbing. I’m excited to see more.

I’m starting to fall behind on The Walking Dead again, only this time it has less to do with being terrified of what’s going to happen to the characters and more to do with finding myself having greater interest in other things on TV. At this point, I’m mostly sticking with it to keep up with discussions among family and friends.


That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?


Jan 6 2017

Top Reads of 2016

I read a total of 57 books in 2016, far lower than usual, but it was a particularly busy year for me in regards to writing and other projects. Nevertheless, there were many great reads this year, so many that I would not be able to narrow them all down to just a few. So, here are my favorite reads, all categorized, because that’s how I roll.

Best Science Fiction Novel

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The more I read Connie Willis’ work, the more I admire her as an author. Doomsday Book was no exception. Set in Oxford—at a university in which historians are able to actually travel back in time to witness and experience the past eras they research—the story is split between Kivrin, who travels to the Middle Ages (one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history), and Dunworthy, her mentor who is terrified to see her go and is left to face his own crisis in the present day as a sudden influenza outbreak flares up, forcing Oxford to go into quarantine. Dealing with disease as it does, it’s a dark story, although it is laced with Willis’ wit and humor. I especially loved Kivrin’s journey to the Middle Ages and fell in love (as Kivrin does) with the family that takes her in. A fantastic book, one that had me itching to read more in Willis’ time travel series.

Honorable Mention: Ancillary Mercy, by Anne Leckie, which was the conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy (the first book was featured on my list from last year).

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