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DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

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Tuesday
Dec242013

Books: My 2013 reviews

Yes, I read a lot, averaging about one per week in the past few years. I’m now aided in this process by audiobooks in the car and Kindle downloads on flights, but that’s just circumstance. I finished the entire shelf of Perry Mason novels by third grade. I read the every book on the New York Times best-seller list in 1963, as well as finishing up Dickens and Dostoyevsky. I ran out of shelves in my little library, just in time for eBooks. I have a backlog.

Books have been with me, often instead of friends, since I was five, when I learned to read. An Army brat, I learned that books were more available and reliable than people. Tragic in one way. Liberating in another.

Thus, herein, I share my reviews of books with my highest ratings on Goodreads, where I post regularly. I have made no effort to provide a list of the best books published this year. For that, please go elsewhere. What you get is my take on what I enjoyed the most, a characteristic mix of mysteries, non-fiction, and literary fiction. I guess I just love stories, every possible kind. (Here’s the complete list for 2013.)

The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #4) by Robert Caro

Caro is a great storyteller, and what a story he has to tell in this fourth volume of the massive biography of Lyndon Johnson. From the 1960 Presidential race through LBJ's transition to the Presidency following JFK's assassination, there is a wealth of dramatic incident, all based upon the author's legendary historical research. I've been a fan of Caro's since his debut book on Robert Moses, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and have a minor obsession about LBJ, having lived in Texas during some of the period covered in this book (I was in Junior High, if you must know). The vivid power struggle between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy is but one of the elements of the book which kept me gripped and turning pages. It was also revelatory to make comparisons on the iron grip of the Congress held by conservatives (in both parties) which LBJ faced in passing his domestic agenda -- it's not all that different today with progress impeded by die-hard conservatives, mostly from the South, except of course, most are in the GOP, and have been since Johnson's policies drove them out of the Democratic Party. One more volume to go, and you can bet I'll be reading it, as well.

The One: The Life and Music of James Brown by R. J. Smith

I saw James Brown perform twice, once at a high school prom on a riverboat in Memphis, Tennessee (1965) and once in a club in Aspen, Colorado (1980). In the first instance, like a lot of white kids, I wanted so very much to dig him, a kind of cultural expression of the same impulse that led to our support of the civil rights movement. We could dance too, maybe not as well, but there was solidarity from heel to ass to head. By the time of the latter encounter, his star, somewhat tarnished by an inscrutable association with Richard Nixon and "black capitalism", was in decline. Didn't stop him (and me) from getting on a table and flinging sweat all over the room, ears abustin' and joy abounding. This book brings it back, and much much more, a well-told story, a good biography. Brown clawed his way from poverty to a global iconic status few have matched, with an uncanny sense of how to grab and keep the spotlight, fueled by an innate and revolutionary understanding of music, rhythm and popular sentiment. He spotted and often crossed a transgressive line. Eager for respect, he often played the fool. He was mean to those with whom he worked and the women he loved. He used his fame, sometimes well, frequently poorly. He was an addict who had crusaded against drugs. Utterly fascinating book whose author clearly loves the man, the legend, and especially the music. But as much as I enjoyed reading about that, it ain't nuthin' compared to listening, which is what I'm doing now -- all of the hits and much more, convenient on Spotify. Check that out too!

The Redeemer: A Harry Hole Novel (4) and Phantom (Harry Hole, #9) by Jo Nesbø

Nesbø has earned his way into the top ranks of police procedurals, taking the time-worn conventions of crime, detection and detectives to a new level. Were it not for the foreignness of people and place names (Norwegian, of course), his Harry Hole novels would slide easily into the long and noble history of the best of the genre. I love Harry : damaged, idealistic, relentless, compassionate, brutal.  

‘The Redeemer’, which I think was only recently released in translation, is the fourth in the series, well before Harry has self-immolated and left the force and decamped to Asia (spoiler), but all of the signs are there ... his on-again, off-again sobriety and struggles with drink, his willful disobedience of superiors, his dogged commitment and intelligent improvisation. The coda(s) contain some surprises, putting the whole corruption motif that suffuses this series into bas-relief. Who's the bad guy, anyway? It's never easy to tell in a world of grayness and moral bet-hedging.

Fast-forward to ‘Phantom’ (Episode 9), where we find Harry coming back to Oslo to save the son of his ex-lover Rakel, whose lives were endangered during the denouement of ‘The Snowman’. The kid has gotten lost in the city's drug culture that’s formed around "Violin," a synthetic form of heroin that is being manufactured in. As always, Nesbø delivers an extremely satisfying plot, with peaks and valleys of action tied to the unfolding of the mystery, which is as much about people as events. Modern Norwegian society is also a character, like all good policiers.

The Woods by Harlan Coben

Coben is one of those guys who have managed to fill up a shelf of his own at the library without managing to attract my interest, except when his mystery "Tell No One" was adapted for the screen in France a few years ago to great effect. There must be something there, I thought, and I picked up this audiobook. I find mysteries the perfect auto-companion in traffic-clogged L.A, and this did not disappoint. I've picked up several others, and I can now tell you, there is a fairly predictable set of Coben elements. What is amazing is how unevenly the formula seems to work. In this rather longer version of the Coben plot machine, we have a nice clockwork involving a seemingly dead murder case from the past (check), a mysterious gang of super-effective bad guys from whom escape seems impossible because they know everything (check); an Asian guy with lethal martial arts skills (check); ambiguous police ethics (check), a rich family obsessed with teaching Our Hero a lesson (check); a family foundation and a lot of legal shenanigans (check); and a deep and abiding love (check). On top of that, we also have a protagonist as county prosecutor in northern New Jersey (setting: check) and a pretty good legal thriller with a moral center. Kind of a suspense/potboiler in a way, but I enjoyed. Not so much the second and third time around -- q.v. my other Coben reviews.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Hiaasen was made for audiobook listening in the car, unless you hate the idea that other drivers might see you as you guffaw out loud. They can't hear you laugh, but they can see you. Around and about Los Angeles in the past few weeks, I was that guy laughing in traffic next to you, and I was crazy with delight. As usual with Hiaasen, we meet a cavalcade of crazies -- his heroes are just as likely to be missing one or two screws as his villains. To wit: former Key West detective Andrew Yancy, defrocked and demoted to restaurant inspector on account of stuffing a portable vacuum cleaner up the arse of the husband of his girlfriend in the middle of Mallory Square. And then wonders why that's a problem. Or the antagonist, a pudgy housewife type who holds a funeral for her late lamented husband's arm, the only bodily remnant available. The arm is a great character, too, but that would require a spoiler, which I won't do here. Suffice it to say, this is another entertaining charmer from the best satirist writing in America, well, at least in Florida.

Strip and Silence by Thomas Perry

I've crossed the threshold into serious obsession over Thomas Perry, especially the Tantor audiobooks featuring a great reader, Michael Kramer (No, I don't believe that he’s THAT Michael Kramer). Thomas Perry is just a killer of a writer: tense, clean prose that delivers a freight-train of a plot, or maybe a formula one race car, complete with twists and turns.  There’s always a large cast of characters positioned along the good-guy/bad-guy axis, a scale that features much more gray than either black or white.

In ‘Strip’, a Bulgarian immigrant semi-crook runs a chain of nocturnal establishments on both sides of the hill in L.A. -- regular dance clubs in Hollywood, strip clubs in the Valley. What starts with the misidentification of a crook who has robbed him during a bank deposit, leads to the unfolding of a classic Perry switchback plot involving cops, major domo's, drug dealers, strippers, thugs, club hoppers, petty thieves, the requisite psycho's, and of course, the mysterious man whose identify was mistaken in the first place and is the closest thing we get to a protagonist. I got added pleasure listening to this in the car as I drove, often uncannily, at or near the various L.A. locations in the story. A new form of interactive fiction: my car was controlling the plot, maybe?

In ‘Silence’ it doesn't hurt that the characters are extremely attractive, amoral, and smart ... so much fun to watch them play. The protagonists (one man, an ex-cop PI; one woman, a former restaurateur on the lam) are liars, though managing a form of morality in love for their families. Really, I've not enjoyed a new suspense author discovery as much as I have these Perry novels since Michael Connelly. I really, really like 'em.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Chabon's near his peak as a novelist who can simultaneously deliver a merciless satire (in this case, uber-hipster interracial Berkeley) while making you care about his wonderful cast of sweet and crazy characters who stumble thru life with their hearts in their hands and their community in their hearts. What a great feeling to laugh out loud, repeatedly, while reading in bed. And to turn pages compulsively because you just can't wait to see how it all turns out. Chabon's assured pace lets the story build, incident after incident, woven together by the unforgiving hand of the past reaching into every moment to claim restitution, dare one say to exact pre-death karma, but that's certainly how it feels. I love the detail from a past that includes the Black Panther Party, velour track suits, big hair, vinyl records, jazz and blues, Tarantino groupies, confused teen sexuality, midwifery, analog amplification technology and so much more. This is a movie waiting for an audience of at least one: me.

A Delicate Truth by John LeCarré

Recent LeCarré-- by which I mean of course the lengthening list of novels he has written since the demise of the Cold War, his great narrative engine -- has drawn fire from critics who seem to believe that his idealism is too shrill. They take issue with plots centered around a parade of bad Western players, particularly American institutional villains like drug companies, banks, and corporate thugs of various sorts. They decry the loss of LeCarré’s unique contribution to the canon, namely the ambiguous gray nether-world of moral ambiguity within which spies on both sides of the Cold War found themselves inhabiting. Today's stories are too black-and-white! I for one am grateful to LeCarré for elevating his critique to the level of art, which is what he does here, well, at least the kind of art that kept me up into the wee hours flicking page after page to find out what would happen. The subject is a botched anti-terrorism episode engineered by a non-governmental cabal of right wing money and ambitious corporate security types living at the edge of the British and US governments. Seems ripped from the pages of the news to me, hardly an exaggeration. What makes it all so compelling are the characters, people with whom LeCarré has had decades of experience -- men (mostly) who navigate the halls of Whitehall and Westminster and the towers of Canary Wharf by means of lies, murder, cover-up and money. What makes it exceptional is the sheer skill with which, even at 89, this writer masters the tools of his craft.

Three Seconds by Roslund Anders

Taut - that's the word blurb writers use to describe suspense thrillers. This is so taut, the string nearly breaks. Also appropriate: ingenious, as in, ingenious plotting. Trains running on parallel tracks, at one point three or four, all barreling along to a tunnel that they must get through. Masterful plotting is what gets us there, though by the last 50 pages, the driver is wanting to verify what you already know. Still. I'd pay for ingenious.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

‘Life After Life’ delivers a kind of alternate-reality fictional take on the 20th century life of a British family with issues -- think of the movie 'Memento' and you'll get it half right, the other half being classic British family-drama fiction. Her beautiful writing and fully realized characters, tinged with moral dilemmas all over the place, save this from being a slightly hot mess, to be expected perhaps when a writer of her skill and stature tries to pull off such a high-wire act.

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

A sweeping epic of New York left-wing Jewish life in the last half of the 20th century, Lethem creates an amusing, acerbic, knowing story in which a large cast (not all Jewish) navigate the touchstones of political and cultural life through a very specific lens. It's a lens I'm quite fond of, though it kind of ran out of steam 2/3 of the way through, in part because the prolix prose wears upon ones ears when trapped in a car with this stuff. This book didn’t come anywhere nearly as close to my heart as his divine Motherless Brooklyn, or even Chronic City, two great earlier works, but I give him extra points for ambition, which is clearly to pick up where Bellow, and especially Roth, left off.

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

I have loved Ms. Home's voice and fearless dive into contemporary psyches ever since I first began reading her short stories. Here again, she delivers the authentic first-person POV of a person of a different gender than herself as she tells the story, Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving, of a man in the throes of a horrendous mid-life crises. Spoiler: the fulcrum of the story is a fatal car accident triggered by his hostile older brother in which people in the other car are killed and the brother is hospitalized, though not for long. He self-discharges and goes home to find our protagonist in bed with the wife, whereupon he bludgeons her with a lamp. Complications, as they say, ensue, as if that wasn't complicated enough. This is a story of family, weird extensions and encounters that redefine family as this uncertain central character, a second-rate academic with an obsession for Richard Nixon, navigates the unfamiliar waters of deep emotional connection. There are the brothers' kids, already troubled, and the offspring of the car accident victim. There are the women he meets online. And parents all over the place. And African chieftains and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. There's a charming, shaggy-dog quality to the unfolding of the story, and a few preposterous plot points, but while in each scene, her language is always precise and taut, the voice clear and usually funny, and the gaze into the matters of the heart unblinking.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Chilling, stunning, nearly unbelievable: the story of Scientology told herein leaves one gasping. How could this have happened? The book, so well-written it hurts, tells us how a young L. Ron Hubbard stumbles from one scam and lie to another until he hits finally upon the idea of a "religion," and then proceeds to command a worldwide audience with the original Dianetics craze, and one of the most successful "self-help" books in history. We learn, mainly through the eyes of Paul Haggis, the fiilm and TV writer-director whose 35-year relationship with the "church" ended in a very public way, just how paranoid, powerful, rich and crazy the cult became, especially under Hubbard's successor David Miscavage. My own awareness of Scientology is episodic -- I remember the Ramparts Magazine story in the 70’s, tales of terrorizing critics and locking up those who wanted to leave. I became aware of the relentless recruiting and wealth aggregation by simply living in two of its main centers, DC and LA. And then the crazy Tom Cruise and Hollywood stuff, well, by then it had become very public. What I found most amazing was the early days of the movement. I need to go back and watch THE MASTER again. Very telling.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen

Of the mysteries McEwan spins, by far the greatest has to do with matters of the heart (and the body), the espionage aspect being a self-admitted bus-and-truck version of the kind of Cold War tale so well told by LeCarre. Indeed, the novelist has fun gently satirizing such genre conventions as the mechanics of trade craft, betrayals by double- and triple-agents, soulless bureaucratic snafu's and the angst that comes to those who lead a double life. Where he really excels, as always, are the mechanics of falling in and out of love and the atmospherics and tone of the Cold War settings in and around London. Not easy being a spy when the government is falling apart and everyone is smoking dope and screwing like bunnies. McEwen delivers his pleasures seemingly effortlessly, and even with heavy and obvious foreshadowing, the final reveal carries an especially yummy aha moment.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

I love David Mitchell's sentences, tone, ambition and talent. My bookish infatuation started when I stumbled across The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), thanks to my friend Alison. It's a historical novel set within the Dutch enclave of Edo-era Japan, but is like no other period piece I'd ever read. Then I devoured Cloud Atlas, and I was a goner. I loved that book so much, I gave copies as Christmas gifts two years ago and attended the movie its first night (liked, not loved the adaptation). I started Black Swan Green months ago, got interrupted, and it took a while to get back into it. This is a tiny gem, not an epic: essentially a coming-of-age story in a small English village. Not unlike Rowling's recent The Casual Vacancy, only better written and more focused on a single family. Not a lot happens of great note, unless you count divorce, infidelity, theft, bullying, teenaged lust, and revenge. Felt like updated Austen, actually.

The Nightmare: A Novel by Lars Kepler

THE NIGHTMARE is, without a doubt, a mystery, a suspenseful mystery triggered by a police investigation, but it is also a social-issue novel, fiercely uncovering the international traffic in illegal arms sales. This is a complicated story with multiple twists and turns, with the authors (yes, there are two writing together under a pen name) diving deeply into the history and psychology of many characters who are caught up in a nightmarish killing spree that is, ironically, centered around the villain's mind game centered on his victims' nightmares. There is a lot of over the top action, which began to wear on me ... how many times can the superhero hired killer track, kill, escape and kill again? And there are certain leaps of faith needed, especially for me, around the villain. But I was willing to cut some slack because the hero, a Finnish-born Swedish detective who was also the hero of THE HYPNOTIST and THE FIRE WITNESS (which I will finish soon) is everything you want in a hero. And because of the frequently lyrical depiction of relationships between the large cast of the broken and the brave.

Lionel Asbo: The State of England by Martin Amis

I can't for the life of me understand how I could have read so many books without diving into Martin Amis, whose reputation I've known for years. I loved Lionel Asbo -- the book, not the character, as he is an unrepentant thug, boor, slob, creep, and evidently, for Amis, a stand-in for everything that's wrong with England these days. A working class hero, indeed: this is what the poor would do if they got rich: basically the same thing as the rich, only without manners. I add a shout-out to the audiobook narrator Alex Jennings, who really performs all roles with intense brio and cheer, not to mention what to this Yank's tin ear, replicate the sounds of class-based English accents, replete with slang and short-hand. I doubt it would have made as big an impact on the page. I confess to be a bit confused by the ending. Who DID let in the dogs? Maybe we're not supposed to know.

Friday
Jan062012

Week's Best Posts: Long Reads, Best-of Lists, TV & Movie Biz #NGIF

We're in a New Year, and it's time for the first edition of "Nick's Great Information Friday," my weekly curation of the best posts and links in film, television, technology, and all the things I follow. I promise, this will be the last installment filled with other people's lists. Going forward, of course, we have to put up with all the damn awards!

THE LAST OF THE 2011 LISTS

  • If you've been following my blog lately, you'll know that I've written "best-of" posts for television, books, software, and now movies, with the last of the four coming out as late in the year as I could make it in order to include pictures from the December glut. This post gives you links to all four sets of reviews.
  • Anyone can make their own list (including me), but these guys curate a list of the best lists. I like it, notwithstanding the source:  a quirky website called Crabby Golightly.
  • To review the best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2011 from ion9 ("We come from the Future") here's a good list -- not my prime genre, but worth a look.
  • Check out “A Year in Transmedia,” Simon Staffans’s free ebook colllection of posts about the emerging t-m field, including an interview  with your truly : download here.
  • The best of 2011's tech writing is collected for your consideration by Thomas Houston at The Verge.
  • The Guardian offers "the top 50 iPad apps." 

THE LAST OF THE PREDICTIONS 

  • The Next Web offers its own tidbits in "What 2012 Holds for Online Media."
  • Book-obsessed website The Millions posted a very informative rundown of the most anticipated books of 2012.
  • Fortune's "Guide to the Future," notwithstanding the sheer grandiosity of the headline, is a useful predictive wallow, highlighting a few trends I hadn't considered. 

THE MOVIE BIZ

  • Amid the predictable hand-wringing over the predictable year-end bad news about movie box office, The Wrap's editor Sharon Waxman jumps in with some obvious and sensible advice, and renews her call for "bold" moves by the studios in digital (WB's acquisition of Flixster? "come on, I said bold!" sez Waxman.)
  • Meanwhile, serial entrepreneur and start-up guru Steve Blank slugs Hollywood a bit harder in his post "Why the Movie Industry Can't Innovate and the result is SOPA."  Truthfully, Blank does a great job of showing that Hollywood doesn't innovate, but doesn't really tell anyone why they can't. It's a good read, nonetheless.
  • The Atlantic's Derek Thompson dives deeper into Hollywood's business model by asking "Why Do all movie tickets cost the same?" 
  • Indie Producer Ted Hope spotlights a cool infographic that displays virtually all possible film distribution options.
  • IndieWire blog THE PLAYLIST itemizes its 50 most anticipated films of 2012

THE TV BIZ

  • Want a quick gloss on the Changing TV Landscape? Go no further than this lovely infographic, covering the dawn of digital broadcasting (2009) through social TV. 
  • Deloitte puts some numbers to the cord-cutter chatter. 
  • Broadcom chip to be introduced at CES would embed a host of  "over-the-top" functions in next-gen set-top-boxes alongside regular cable channels, reported in some tech detail here
  • Reports are that reality-TV king Mark Burnett taps his scepter upon social TV start-up ACTV8.
  • BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield claimed this week that  Nielsen viewing data proves that Netflix is the 15th most-watched TV "network" in the U.S., and is second in Netflix homes.
  • Mobile Content Ventures hooks up with MetroPCS to deliver next generation of live mobile video. In related news, TV Technology looks at the evolving television experience, with a look at ConnecTV, another MCV initiative that seeks to bring TV to the tablet. The consortium of TV station groups and networks has an ambitious agenda

LITERARY & READING

  • Speaking of curating, VentureBeat has compiled a really neat list of 2011's best tech-oriented "long reads" -- itself an interesting trend, e.g., countering the web's relentless info-snack quality with major explorations of interesting topics that were once the province of "quality" magazines. I had seen only a few on this list before.
  • Small press Tin House has reissued a really wild book called "Plotto: the Master Book of All Plots" a 1928 anthology that runs down 1,462 possible plots. Evidently studied by Hitchcock, no less.  

 COMPANIES & START-UPS 

  • Can newspapers be tech incubators? asks this interesting GigaOm report
  • "A Web of Apps" offers a quick gloss of new apps that help with the challenge of discovering content.
  • Iconic blue chip company Kodak teeters on the brink.
  • With potshots coming fast and furious over the new Yahoo CEO, Fast Company posits that Scott Thompson, the company's fourth top exec in five years, could turn the stodgy web giant around by concentrating upon turning its tonnage of "big data" into gold.  
  • Never heard of Path? It's the buzzy "new" social network that offers a cozier alternative to Facebook.
  • Marshall Kirkpatrick gives an unqualified rave to curation tool "Storify" because it personifies an important trend of providing context from the tonnage of information.
Monday
Jan022012

• 2011's "Best" - My Favorite Books, Movies, TV & Apps

 

Over the course of the last month I've given a lot of thought to the review of my favorite media of 2011 -- not necessarily "THE BEST". No, more like "MY BEST." 

Here is a handy set of links to the four posts in hopes that you might find some useful tips, insights, or recommendations that can enrich your life in 2012. 

 

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

And Happy New Year, Happy 2012.

 

Friday
Dec302011

• Best Films of 2011 - My Year End Lists & Reviews

To try and see as many of the year-end releases as possible, I’ve saved my movie “best-of” list til last among the four 2011 posts (television, books, software & movies). 
Not only does the industry in all its wisdom release most worthy titles bunched up at year’s end, but the poorly released foreign and Indie titles begin appearing on DVD and Netflix too! Not enough time to see everything.
One tries to catch up with contenders before Oscar night, of course, but this nutty pattern creates a bit of a problem with year-end lists, doesn’t it? Do I offer you my favorites released in 2011 or viewed (by me) in 2011? 
Well, I’ll try to do both in this post with lists first, and then the reviews, which I have written throughout the year on Flixster here (if you follow me on Twitter or FB, you may have read a few, as well). 

The LISTS:

First Tier Favorites:

  • The Descendants
  • Hugo
  • Tree of Life
  • Melancholia
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • Pariah
  • A Separation
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Weekend
  • Moneyball
  • Win Win
  • 50/50
  • The Help
  • Poetry
  • Incendies

Second Tier Favorites:

  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Young Adult
  • Another Earth
  • Drive
  • Shame
  • The Artist
  • The Lady
  • Coriolanus
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Margin Call
  • Bill Cunningham New York
  • Beginners
  • Jane Eyre
  • Source Code
  • Senna
  • The Skin I Live In
  • A Dangerous Mind

Also enjoyed in 2011, no matter when released:

  • In A Better World
  • Biutiful
  • Carlos
  • Catfish
  • Gasland
  • Mesrine
  • Mother
  • Red Road
  • Dogtooth
  • Inside Job

The REVIEWS

First Tier Faves:

  • The Descendants. Clooney's Matt King should have it more together than he does, what with substantial inherited wealth and a rich life filled with friends and family, but we learn, pretty much as he does, that his life is a mess. And we learn, pretty much as he does, that he has the character to pull the wandering strands of his life into a pattern that might help him build a future. The razor sharp script, filled with many knowing epiphanies, gives an ensemble led by Clooney scene after scene of power, tinged with bruised humor and a lovely historical Hawaii overlay. I'd vote for Clooney's performance as the year's best male.
  • Hugo. Gasp provoking and deeply satisfying, Scorcese's homage to the early magic of the movies was a blast, one of my favorites in a year when the movies themselves are front and center as subject matter (The Artist, My Week with Marilyn). Not to mention the astonishing use of 3D technology, the insanely inventive sets (like something out of Terry Gilliam), and a lovely feel for humor. It's a long way from Mean Streets to this enchanting train station, the shy boy, and the lost soul of cinema. The latter, embodied in Kingsley's charming performance, is the driver that makes the film more than just a visual thrill ride, because of course, the throwaway attitude towards culture is everywhere and mightily present today. 
  • Tree of Life. The carrier of Malick's deepest emotional sense-memory, Tree of Life uses various experimental film modalities to "tell" a story, sort of. I presume it's his story, his memories of childhood in central Texas. And I presumed that the resonance, the febrile vibrations which I felt erupted because I spent my 13th and 14th years in central Texas too -- but no, my movie companions responded to the delicate and harsh gestural and emotional content of this segment of the film as strongly as I. Much has been made of the layering of different modalities -- the formation of the earth, the cosmology of the planets, the birth of empathy via the raptors, alongside his somewhat murky family story. I liked a lot of that stuff, in part because of the sheer beauty. What I decidedly did NOT like was the ending, with the zombie-like wanderings on the beach, presumably a sort of heaven or purgatory. Indeed, the insertion of the adult Jack, e.g., Sean Penn, seemed out of sync with the rest. A minor whine, because overall, I was overwhelmed.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Dec222011

• What Did You Learn This Week? Sharing favorite posts & links

As Christmas approaches I'm getting a head-start on my weekly round-up of favorite posts and links with this contribution to your mental lifestream. 

Best-of Lists

The lists, they just keep on coming, don’t they: reviews of 2011, predictions for 2012 and beyond. Among the posts that caught my eye this week were:

  • Walter Mossberg’s roundup of best 2011 gadgets.
  • Marshall Kirkpatrick of Read/Write/Web discusses the “Top 10 Feed & RSS Technologies of 2011."   Yes this sounds geekier than hell, but it's really more of a rundown of how one excellent observer uses web technologies to learn more about the world. I'll be making my own such effort in my year-end list of favorite apps, coming soon to this space. 
  • Innovative consultants and curators par excellence offered a slightly askew 2012 trend roundup from ten innovators. (As it happens Fortune Mag published a glowing review of PSFK, the consultancy of tomorrow --whew!)
  • The great Storify tool offers a step-by-step guide on how to turn your Facebook photos into the story of your own personal 2011, should you need a way to compensate for all those cards coming into your mailbox from people you didn’t send cards to (even e-cards).

Film

Who are they trying to fool, anyway, those list-makers: we are in the midst of the High Holy Days of film, and it all leads up to the Oscars. The Academy has published its list of the 265 productions eligible for 84th Academy Awards.  

I’ve seen 56 and counting. How about you? BTW, I will publish my own year-end top movie list after Christmas (still have more to see), but if you cannot wait to read reviews of the movies I already reviewed, check out this link on Flixster.

Film Comment published its annual year-end survey of film critics and editors, naming Tree of Life as Best Picture. Secret sauce is the list of best unreleased films. Enough to keep you going through the summer months of comic book movies!

MY STUFF

Tribeca’s Future of Film picked their Top 10 Transmedia posts of 2011, including two of mine!

Georgia Tech has posted videos from the Future Media Fest Conference, including the panel on the Future of Television in which I paraticipated. There are some good talks here. 

MISCELLANY

One of my very first and favorite Twitter discoveries was “Very Short Story” or VSS – inventive proof that one could say something “fictional” in 140 characters. Now you can read 300 of them in book form: Very Short Stories 300 Bite-size Works of Fiction.

Keep up with Apple’s plot to assault television as we know it, courtesy of some good reporting from the Wall St. Journal.http://www.inc.com/magazine/201112/evernote-2011-company-of-the-year.html

The Wrap profiles YouTube sensation Freddie Wong, one of the many young creatives whose popularity on the video sharing site have pioneered another method beyond conventional Hollywood.

Inc. Magazine names Evernote as Company of the Year. (Note: Evernote is one of my favorite apps, to be detailed in yet another forthcoming year-end post).