Archive for August, 2009

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Ponyo

August 24, 2009

I don’t go to movies on opening weekend any more. I think it’s dumb that Hollywood is now measuring the “hit” level of a movie mainly by the opening weekend. All that really shows is how effective their marketing was, rather than the quality of the movie. So my little protest is to skip opening weekends. Or maybe I’m just waiting for the crowds to go down a bit (they’re over at the premier of this week’s movie when I’m watching last week’s) so I don’t have to stand in line or sit through half an hour of thinly disguised ads. I can justify it either way.

But yes, there is an exception: anime. I like anime and I would like to see more of it in movie theaters, so when they do happen to show anime I feel like I have to get out there and see it, and hopefully they will find enough of a market for it to bring over some more.

So that’s at least part of why I went to see Ponyo. If you know anything at all about anime, you should know that the director, Hayao Miyazaki, is the legend among anime directors, so I really wouldn’t need any justification other than that to see one of his movies. But I also knew going in that this movie was really aimed at kids, so therefore I went in with somewhat lower expectations as far as the plot.

And those expectations were basically fulfilled. The story held together pretty well and it was entertaining, but it was pretty straightforward. If you’re looking for Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, this isn’t at that level. On the other hand, I haven’t seen My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service, and I’m under the impression that those are also more kid-friendly movies. So if you consider those to be essential Miyazaki, then maybe Ponyo is too.

The voice acting I thought was quite good. Disney has the clout to bring in some good actors, so that’s nice to hear (for those of us who remember the days when the American dubbed voices in anime were universally terrible). And overall they didn’t seem to Americanize it except maybe for the song over the end credits. But again, Disney has really been pretty faithful in their translations of Miyazaki, to their credit.

There’s one other reason that I go to see anime, and that’s the artwork. WARNING: Anime Art Geek content follows. From a character design perspective, Miyazaki is interesting because his characters look rather simplistic, without a lot of detail, but he still gets a lot out of them. From the neck up, many of the characters look like they could be exchanged seamlessly between his movies. On the other hand, he creates some really interesting outfits which do more to define and differentiate the characters. With this movie in particular, however, what really caught my eye were the backgrounds. Just amazing! It looked like they were done in colored pencils, with a somewhat sketchy style, but the effect was to really enhance the child-like point of view. Even so, the backgrounds never clashed with the animation on top of them. There were quite a few times when I wasn’t even watching the movie, just studying the backgrounds. Miyazaki is known for his eye for detail, and that was what made the movie for me, looking at all the elements of each scene and realizing how the master had put them together.

So that’s why I would recommend this movie. If the story doesn’t get you, lose yourself in the artwork.

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In Which I Declare Myself Champion of the World

August 11, 2009

So my Hugo predictions turned out 2 for 3 but my preferences were only 1 for 4 (I could add that I voted for WALL-E for long-form drama). So I guess all the other voters are clueless.

Or possibly not.

In the past few weeks it seemed like there was a fair amount of chatter about the nominees for best novel. Some said they weren’t worthy. Others said it’s a fan vote, and who’s more worthy to choose than the ones buying the books? And so on. Maybe that happens every year and I haven’t been paying attention until now, but it did seem to find its way onto some prominent blogs.

To me, the discussion went overboard in trying to put a value on the awards. If the five finalists don’t represent the absolute pinnacle of writing for the year, well, it’s not that big of a deal. Really, there’s no such thing. Statistically speaking, whenever there’s a field of 4 or more candidates, even the winner is only going to get a plurality of the vote. The majority of people will have voted for something other than the winner (The Graveyard Book got just over 25% of the first place votes).

This is not to diminish the winners. Being the last one standing from a long list of nominees would be pretty cool. I wouldn’t turn it down. I’m sure it helps sell more books, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t automatically confer historical significance. No award does. This isn’t the Olympics where the gold medal winner is indisputably the best in the world. Sometimes that’s not even true at the Olympics. And at least subconsciously, people are aware of this. So when my favorite book doesn’t win an award, I don’t suddenly decide that my favorite was junk, and the award winner is brilliant. I can accept that the other book met the criteria for that award and still be a fan of the books I like.

Do Hugo-winning books stand the test of time? Only time will tell. And time will also tend to find those books and authors that were worthy, but didn’t happen to win. I don’t want to pick on any books, but looking at Oscar history, would Kramer vs. Kramer still win over Apocalypse Now? Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan? Annie Hall over Star Wars? What a travesty!

So based on that, I’ve consulted a blue-ribbon panel of experts, surveyed all eligible voters, and determined that the Champion of the World award goes to…me! I want to thank all the little people that paved the way for this great achievement, and if you don’t like it, you can invent your own damn award.

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My Virtual Hugo Ballot

August 8, 2009

Since the 2009 Hugos are going to be awarded in a few hours, I’d better get this posted. Last year, with WorldCon in Denver, I decided to vote for the Hugo awards. The process turned out to be a bit more political than I might have wished for, but in the end it still felt like it was worth doing. So I bought myself another vote this year. I didn’t quite get everything read by the deadline, so where noted, this is how I would have voted. Plus some commentary.

Short Story

1: “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson

2: “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang

3: “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

4: “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick

5: “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick

“26 Monkeys” was the only one I finished reading by the deadline, so I voted for it, and I’m glad I did. “Exhalation” had a pretty interesting concept but “26 Monkeys” was the best story, I thought. No idea what will win.

Novelette

1: “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel

2: “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner

3: “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi

4: “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear

5: “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick

“The Gambler” was the only one I read before voting, so I gave it a vote. But “Pride and Prometheus” was definitely my favorite, a crossover story between Pride & Prejudice and Frankenstein. “Ray-Gun” was also pretty satisfying. “Shoggoths” seems to be the one with the buzz behind it though.

Novella

1: “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay

2: “The Tear” by Ian McDonald

3: “Truth” by Robert Reed

4: “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress

5: “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow

I did finish all of these, so this is my real vote. I thought they were all pretty good, I could have voted any of the top 3 as number 1. “Political Prisoner” I guess felt the most complete, the tightest. I’m a long-time McDonald fan so it was hard not to put him on top here. “The Tear” seemed like it had the most original ideas but seemed like it needed a little bit more of something to hold it together. Prediction-wise, I can’t go against Doctorow, although that one also seemed a bit unfinished to me.

Novel

1: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

2: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

3: Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

no vote: Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

no vote: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

If I had a blog a year ago, I could have predicted these 5 books would be the finalists. I read all of them except Anathem, which I skipped because I didn’t care for his other books that I’ve read so I didn’t want to buy a huge and expensive hardback. I intend to get it in paperback sometime but it wasn’t available in time for this vote. Saturn’s Children I thought had a really interesting idea but the story didn’t pay off for me. I might have voted No Award, but I didn’t want to penalize Anathem like that, so I left those two blank. Little Brother and Zoe’s Tale were very close, and if I was voting now I might switch them. Little Brother seemed a bit more interesting as a new story, but I think I liked the writing better in Zoe’s Tale. But I think The Graveyard Book was the best in both respects. And I’m expecting it to win the prize, because Gaiman should have some extra votes from people coming to the convention to see him as guest of honor.

My favorite book of the year didn’t make it onto the ballot: Nation by Terry Pratchett. I was hoping that maybe some sentimental fans could push him over, but I’ve also heard that he’s declined nominations in the past, so maybe it doesn’t matter. In any case, I thought he did a brilliant job of creating two vastly different characters and showing the same world through both of their eyes. One of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a long time.

This turned into a long post, so more general thoughts later.

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Tabloid Media Claims Another Victim

August 4, 2009

I’m not going to mention his name and risk getting a lot of traffic I don’t want, but you can probably figure it out. It’s been more than a month since he died, and several celebrities have died since then, but he’s the only one who still shows up in the news every day. And the irony is, I think he might still be alive if the media wasn’t so obsessed with him.

They keep looking for sensational angles: drugs, conspiracies, murder. Not really any different from when he was alive. But they never quite get to asking the question, “Why?” Because if they did, the obvious answer would be that he wasn’t comfortable having every detail of his life reported in the media. He hadn’t looked healthy in years, the stress was clearly wearing him down. Maybe there was some other factor that was the immediate cause of death, but odds are that he didn’t have much time left regardless.

Fame may be a double-edged sword, but that shouldn’t be the same as carte blanche to take away every last vestige of someone’s privacy. Every celebrity seems to have a different level of tolerance for the prying eyes, but the thing about the tabloid media is that it’s their job to cross the line and go where the celebrity doesn’t want them. That’s the only way they can get their Exclusive! Shocking! Scoops! Celebrities these days are probably under tighter surveillance than any criminal.

The consumers can’t claim total innocence either. Somebody did buy enough of that tabloid media to keep it profitable, so the cycle of sensationalism continues. A classic case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, where everybody had a hand on the axe. But in that tale you can’t discount the role of the instigator that sets things in motion.

The media always defends itself by saying they’re only giving the people what they want. I’ve always thought that’s a bit of a cop out. They spend plenty of money marketing that stuff, convincing people that what they want is what they’re being given. If something doesn’t sell now, the solution is always to up the shock value. And then the mob mentality of the competition drives everything straight to the bottom.

Anyone who blames the media for their problems is automatically dismissed. When you blame the media for reporting something false, everyone assumes that the report is actually true and you just wanted to keep it hidden. It’s a not-so-inside joke, to the point where the media is always happy to note that someone is blaming them. But there are other ways they can do harm besides misreporting. The issue isn’t always truth vs. lies, sometimes it’s triviality. Just because they have a bunch of facts they can report doesn’t mean that information has any value to the viewer. Maybe if they pulled back just a bit, the public wouldn’t really miss that stuff and the celebrities could live longer, happier lives.

Yeah, I know. Fat chance.

P. S. I never really had any interest in his music. But it’s kind of bugging me how even after he’s dead, they’ll use any excuse to get his name in a story, just to try and sell their product.