Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Friday, February 26, 2010

MPoaF: It's Oscar Time

My humble contribution to the feeding frenzy of the entertainment-industrial complex that is the Oscars. If you want predictions for who'll scoop the main prizes, you'll have to look elsewhere. The words 'Avatar' and 'Hurt Locker' will not be appearing anywhere in this post. (Except just there, obviously). I've seen precisely one of the ten films up for Best Picture - pathetic, I know - so have nothing remotely sensible to say. Other than that the one I have seen - District 9 - is a good, unusual piece of sf, which it's great to see on the list, and that it is obviously not going to win in a million years (and to be honest, much as I liked it ... well, I liked it, quite a lot in fact, but I didn't think it was an earth-shattering masterpiece or anything).

No, this is all about one category we can get some properly good moving images for: short animated film. Here are three of the nominees in full, for your perusal. I would have said 'for your amusement', but the humour on display here is pretty dark stuff, so your mileage may vary.

First off (and winner of my personal Oscar, I think) some nicely grim fairy tale-telling:



And next some nifty French animation:



And finally more thoroughly macabre goings on (just a bit too macabre for me to find it terribly amusing, to be honest):



The other two nominees, by the way, are Logorama, which its creators seem to have removed from most of the video sites that let you embed stuff in blogs, so I got bored trying to find a version to include here, and A Matter of Loaf and Death, which is similarly not easy to get hold of the full version of - but it's Wallace and Gromit, so you know more or less precisely what it's like already.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

MPoaF: Bubbles Make Me Smile

There have been bubbles blown in the house recently. Watching them, I was struck by a child's eye view (a perspective highly recommended for its ability to give the whole world a wash of wonder and fun): 'Wow. Bubbles are cool.' And for no other reason than that: bubbles!







And I have to just add: 'Wow. Dolphins are cool.'

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Friday, February 05, 2010

MPoaF: JJ Abrams just talking, really

JJ Abrams, the guy behind Lost, Cloverfield, the Star Trek reboot and other significant bits of recent popular culture (i.e. easily one of the most important figures in the early 21st century genre-as-mainstream boom), talks about what he does, why he does it the way he does, his grandfather, boxes, magic, all kinds of stuff ... Nothing especially astonishing about it, just a rather nice, well-delivered talk, I thought.


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Friday, January 22, 2010

MPoaF: Making a Book in the 21st Century

Well, one way of making a book anyway. The Espresso Book Machine is already installed here and there, including a few bookshops around the world, I think. Is this a possible saviour for a handful of the doomed bookstores I was talking about last week? I'm a bit dubious, but you can see why they'd want to give it a try. Any straw you can get hold of probably looks appealing when you're sinking fast. It is quite clever, I suppose, and it's fun to watch a book coming into existence like that.



I'm not sure it really offers much defence against the e-book advance, though. Much as I hate to dwell on the gloomier aspects of this revolution, it's stayed on my mind this last week, so a couple of further hints at what the future holds:

As pointed out by Simon in the comments on the last post, Waterstone's, the UK's last big chain of dedicated bookstores is shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. They plan to turn their backs (partially) on the dreaded celebrity biography and give individual store managers more control over what books their shops stock and promote. It's an idea I can get behind, but will it stave off the coming storm? Somehow I doubt it. Might prolong the life of some of their stores, but can't see it saving large numbers of them in the long run.

20% of digital book buyers apparently stop buying print copies entirely. Can't make up my mind whether that's a higher or lower percentage than I would have expected. One thing's for sure, though - it's a chunky enough number (and one I'd imagine is only going to rise) to put a big ugly question mark over the viability of all bricks and mortar bookshops once the digital habit has spread a bit further through the reading population.

Lots of digital books are illegally downloaded. A staggeringly unexpected discovery, I'm sure you'll agree. Reading about it a bit more widely, it's not obvious the study's findings are exactly robust, since there's a lot of extrapolation and sampling involved, but maybe I should just be pleased to see that fiction titles are actually amongst the least affected. (But in this case 'least affected' still means thousands and thousands of copies). Again, one thing's for sure: the numbers will only rise once on-screen reading of books becomes a more widespread and deeply entrenched norm. What effect it'll have on the financial stability of the whole writing business remains to be seen, and I'm instinctively doubtful of anyone who claims to know.

And as for publishers ... well, all I can say is I'm glad it's not my job to spend all day trying to figure out where all this is heading, and whether I'll still have gainful employment when it gets there ... I'd be in a perpetual cold sweat.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

MPoaF: Trailer Time

I have a confession to make. I don't know if this disqualifies me from my membership of geekdom or something, but ... The Dark Knight wasn't my favourite superhero movie experience of 2008. Shocking, I know. Just shocking. I liked it well enough, and obviously thought bits of it (mostly Joker-related bits, I suppose) were brilliant. But I'm pretty sure I derived more simple enjoyment from ... Iron Man. It was a straightforward, slick, pretty confection that didn't really try to be anything more than what it was, and as far as I was concerned it succeeded pretty triumphantly. Which is not in any sense damning with faint praise: I seriously think it's an impressively well put together package, with the directing, acting, scripting and effects all working in near-perfect harmony towards a clear and shared goal. Sure, it's some way from being perfect, but I left the cinema wearing the dumb smile of the satiated seeker of eye candy.

Dark Knight, by contrast, was an altogether more complicated and ambitious beast. And perhaps because I'd fallen for the pre-release hype, it seemed to me to come up just short of the lofty targets it set for itself - aside, as I said, for some passages of seriously accomplished film-making. It's clearly the more interesting film of the two, but it just didn't deliver quite the entertainment kick to me that Iron Man did.

All of which is a convoluted (and believe me, I could go on and on, making it more and more convoluted, because I've thought about this particular compare and contrast exercise far more than is healthy) ... anyway, all of this is a convoluted way of saying that of all the big budget, sfx-heavy films promising to grace our cinema screens in 2010, this is probably the one that tickles my fancy most of all:


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Friday, December 11, 2009

MPoaF: The Cryptozoological Edition

I've got a passing interest in cryptozoology. Not in the sense that I actually believe there are dinosaurs living wild in the Congo, or hairy hominids roaming the North American continent, or plesiosaurs splashing around in a certain well known body of water not too far from where I currently sit (even though I am apparently blind to the evidence provided by Google Earth itself in that last case).

No, it's more a case that I would like to believe all that stuff, and find those who do, the stories they tell and the quests and investigations they undertake interesting and vaguely appealing. There's a certain romantic instinct - a sort of longing for mystery and strangeness in the world - that seems to be part of the mindset, and I think that's a very basic human attribute. A very high proportion of us are drawn in one way or another to the mysterious and the strange, and we find our own personal ways of bringing those elements of the world into our lives. The search for unexpected wildlife fits the bill in a lot of respects.

And although I dismissed the plausibility of some of the most famous cryptozoological icons right at the start, there are several other cases that I tend to think of as 'semi-cryptozoological' that appeal much more strongly to both my heart and my head. For example, there's the possibility of big cats living wild in the UK, eating our sheep.

Or, and here we get to the thing that really captures my imagination, and even moves me, there's the thylacine. Could there be, somewhere in Tasmania, or even mainland Australia or New Guinea, a surviving population of the largest modern marsupial carnivore? Living in the wildest places it can find, skirting the fringes of human awareness and imagination? I would be utterly delighted if that one day proved to be true, not least because it's humanity's fault that the poor old Tasmanian Tiger disappeared in the first place.

I think part of the reason the thylacine has a hold on my imagination, and that of many other people, is that we have film of what may well have been the last individual of the species. Call me a big softy if you like (my excuse is that I'm a wildlife fan by instinct and by education) but I find this clip really quite moving. Was this animal, at the time it was filmed, the very last of its kind on the whole planet, thanks to us:



Probably. But not necessarily, if you climb aboard the cryptozoology wagon. There have been heaps of alleged thylacine sightings, and even some films, including one from this very year that's now drawing to a close.







Not exactly conclusive, huh? Unless you were after proof that there are mangy-looking dogs and foxes running around the Antipodes, in which case - well, make your own judgement.

But this, out of all the cryptozoological tales, is the one I want to be true. I reckon it'd be wonderful if in one of those clips we were looking at an animal that had survived, hidden, despite humanity's best efforts - both intentional and otherwise - to rid the world of it. If I was a multi-millionaire with time on my hands, I wouldn't be remotely tempted to embark on expeditions in search of the yeti or the sasquatch; but the thylacine ... yes, I could spare a fraction of my vast wealth to mount a quest in the wilds of Tasmania. Guess I'm just a romantic at heart.

(Though if I did find something out there, whether or not I'd tell anyone, I'm not sure. If anything deserves a bit of privacy, a bit of human-free peace and quiet, it's the thylacine.)

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Friday, December 04, 2009

MPoaF: On the Subject of Writing

Earlier this week I spent a pleasant hour or two in the company of the students who make up Strathclyde University's Writers' Society, inflicting upon them some of my experiences, views and prejudices regarding the whole writing thing. I've done this kind of thing a handful of times now, and so far it's always proved enjoyable. I can report that our nation's students - at least the aspiring writers amongst them - are a fine body of folk. (But when did they get to be so young? More to the point, when did I get to be so old? Surely it was only a year or two ago that I was a student myself ... oh, wait. Maybe it was rather longer than that ... don't think about it. Ignore the harsh realities of time's passing. If you don't pay it any attention, it's not really happening ...)

Some universities, it has to be said, benefit from the wisdom of writers rather more ... well, rather more consequential than me. Here, for your Friday viewing pleasure is a whole half hour of a speculative fiction legend talking about his craft at Point Loma Nazarene University. Take it away, Ray Bradbury:

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Moving Pictures on A Friday 2

I quite often like the results when science and art rub up against each other. From Semiconductor Films, here's Magnetic Movie:

Magnetic Movie from Semiconductor on Vimeo.


More info on the film here, and on Semiconductor Films here (clicking on the 'Art Works' link takes you to lots more clips of their sometimes decidedly weird little films).

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Moving Pictures on a Friday 1

First in a potentially regular, but more likely irregular, unreliable and haphazard, series in which I get to post random bits of video - generally of a more or less sf or fantasy type - that have tickled my fancy for one reason or another. Exciting, huh?

With or without commentary, by the way. This one without, since it's just a bit of fun that speaks for itself:



Original is here, where if you dig around you might find a few details on how it was done.

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