Monday, February 20, 2017
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Below are my predictions for the Top 8 categories for the 89th annual Academy Awards. Last year I correctly predicted 6 of the Top 8 categories. Below I put in red the movie or person I want to win, and in blue the person I think actually will win.
WILL WIN: La La Land.
SHOULD WIN: La La Land.
WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land.”
SHOULD WIN: Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival.”
Actress in a Leading Role:
WILL WIN: Emma Stone, “La La Land.”
SHOULD WIN: Ruth Negga, “Loving.”
Actor in a Leading Role
WILL WIN: Denzel Washington, “Fences.”
SHOULD WIN: Ryan Gosling, “La La Land.”
Actress in a Supporting Role:
WILL WIN: Viola Davis, “Fences.”
SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis, “Fences.”
Actor in a Supporting Role
WILL WIN: Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals.”
SHOULD WIN: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight.”
WILL WIN: “Arrival”
SHOULD WIN: “Hidden Figures.”
WILL WIN: “La La Land.”
SHOULD WIN: “Manchester by the Sea.”
- La La Land - 14(!)
- Moonlight and Arrival (8)
- Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Manchester by the Sea (6)
- La La Land - (9)
- Arrival (3)
- Moonlight, Fences (2)
- Star Wars: Rogue One, , Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Manchester by the Sea, Hidden Figures (1)
Friday, February 17, 2017
La La Land is the latest picture directed by Damien Chazelle, the 32-year-old wunderkind whose debut film Whiplash was nominated for Best Picture, won 3 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons (Oz). La La Land stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as two star-crossed lovers who are trying to further their artistic pursuits (his as a jazz pianist, her as an actress) in primary-colored, sun-dappled Los Angeles. This year La La Land received an astonishing 14 Oscar nominations, tying the record set by All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). All About Eve only won 6 Oscars but Titanic basically swept the Oscars its year, winning 11. That record was tied by The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2004.
La La Land is the frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar this year (and perhaps win a lot of other categories as well) because of many reasons, but I would say primarily because it is about Hollywood, struggling artists and "the dream factory." The city of Los Angeles (i.e. the eponymous "La La Land") is almost another main character in the movie. The movie begins with a traffic jam (which turns into a frenetic, strangely uninteresting song-and-dance number) at one of the key freeway interchanges in the city and continues by showing iconic images of Los Angeles, from the Hollywood sign, the view from Griffith Observatory, Watts Towers, the Colorado Street Bridge (in Pasadena), the Rialto Theater (in South Pasadena) and many more. As an Angeleno (as most Oscar voters are), La La Land is a delight.
La La Land attempts to upend and subvert movie tropes while it simultaneously reinscribes them. It is a movie musical about a boy and a girl who fall in love while trying to hold on to their dreams of artistic success and fulfillment. There are numerous points in the film where characters break into song and start dancing (like we would expect them to do in a classic 1950s Hollywood musical). But there are also numerous roadblocks to success and happiness for our couple, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). John Legend has a teensy role as the source of evil temptation for Sebastian to sell out and make money playing back up music in a band he doesn't believe in instead of following his dream of opening up a jazz club where he can preserve the authentic traditions of the music for fellow aficionados like himself.
In the end (which is surprisingly unpredictable) La La Land is a heart-warming story with some catchy tunes that any Angeleno will be hard to resist calling the best movie of the year.
Title: La La Land.
Director: Damien Chazelle.
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language.
Release Date: December 9, 2016.
Viewing Date: December 19, 2016.
Overall Grade: A/A- (3.75/4.0).
Thursday, February 16, 2017
I still think The Expanse series is awesome but for the first time in my reading of the series I was not overwhelmed with enthusiasm when I finished the last page of the latest (sixth) book, Babylon's Ashes. (I have bought and read almost every book in The Expanse series on day-of-release and devoured them soon afterwards.) After the stakes for our home planet and the entire human race grew as large as they possibly could in Book 5 (Nemesis Games) there was bound to be a let down in this book, and there was (to me).
There is still a LOT of action in Babylon's Ashes (many space ship battles!) but after our characters survived ridiculous odds in Book 5 I never really believed for a minute that they would be killed in Book 6 regardless of how bleak the situation looked for our heroes. (And it was VERY bleak, MANY times!) So the suspenseful final action scene in Babylon's Ashes wasn't really as exciting of effective as intended to me because I didn't really think that our heroes would die. I'm not sure why I felt this way, because the author (James S.A. Corey) did kill off some major characters in Babylon's Ashes.
A key feature of this book was the increased presence of political and philosophical discussions, primarily about the nature of evil and the limits of loyalty. I generally enjoyed and appreciated these aspects of the book.
Happily, some of my favorite characters in The Expanse books make pretty substantial appearances in this installment of the story: Avasarala, Bobbie, Naomi, Holden, and Amos. Even Clarissa Mao ("Peaches") is starting to grow on me. I'd love to get some more background on Said, Avasarala's assistant. Also, Michio Pa is an awesome addition to the cast of first-person characters.
The teenage angst of Fillip Inaro made my eyes itch and I felt like I should have cared more about Dr. Prax Meng's sub-plot but I didn't really. I don't really understand why Meng was one of the few characters from Book 2 (Caliban's War) to re-appear in a later book. Filip's dad (and Naomi's ex-husband) Marco Inaro is a suitably evil villain. It is sort of comically (and cosmically) poignant that the most evil person in the known galaxy just happens to be James Holden's girlfriend's ex-husband. I'm sure many readers can relate!
All in all I'm still very much looking forward to Book 7 of the series (apparently titled Persepolis Rising) and am also very excited about seeing how Season 2 of SyFy's television adaptation of The Expanse turns out. To reiterate my overall impression of Babylon's Ashes: for the first time in my reading of the series I was not completely enthralled with this entry. Perhaps my expectations were too high but Corey had met them (and exceeded them) with all the previous books and I hope (and believe that) he will again.
Title: Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6).
Author: James S.A. Corey
Paperback: 538 pages.
Date Published: December 6, 2016.
Date Read: January 14, 2017.
GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.0/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).
Monday, February 13, 2017
Album of the year:
- WINNER | “25” — Adele
- “Lemonade” — Beyoncé
- “Purpose” — Justin Bieber
- “Views” — Drake
- “A Sailor's Guide to Earth” — Sturgill Simpson
- WINNER | "Hello" — Adele
- "Formation" — Beyoncé
- "7 Years" — Lukas Graham
- "Work" — Rihanna featuring Drake
- "Stressed Out" — Twenty One Pilots
Song of the year:
- "Formation" — Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles & Michael L. Williams II, songwriters (Beyoncé)
- WINNER | "Hello" — Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele)
- "I Took a Pill In Ibiza" — Mike Posner, songwriter (Mike Posner)
- "Love Yourself" — Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran, songwriters (Justin Bieber)
- "7 Years" — Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard & Morten Ristorp, songwriters (Lukas Graham)
- Kelsea Ballerini
- The Chainsmokers
- WINNER | Chance the Rapper
- Maren Morris
- Anderson .Paak
However, Beyoncé arguably say she had the most impact on the show, with an astonsihing performance revealing her fully pregnant (with twins) body and the antics of her daughter Blue Ivy throughout the night in the audience, Adele opened with an impeccable rendition of "Hello" and later on performed a decidedly not impeccable version of George Michael's "Fastlove" as a tribute to the pop singer who died on December 25th, 2016. Amazingly, she stopped her performance (for reasons that were unclear to me) about 30 seconds in, dropped an F-bomb on live television and asked to restart the song, which she did, although not in a noticeably improved fashion. The choice of song was very strange, since I think no one would say it is one of Michael's best.
Friday, February 10, 2017
Thursday, February 09, 2017
The first book Nexus in the series was optioned in 2013 by Paramount to be made into a film. The entire series is a heckuva fun ride; I inhaled all three books during Thanksgiving break last year. They are incredibly hard to put down once you start them. Beware!
I was skeptical at first about this book (there's a LOT of mumbo jumbo and touchy-feely language in the very beginning) but I became increasingly enthralled since after the opening sequence Nexus hurtles along at a breakneck pace, introducing nuanced and interesting dilemmas for the characters as the story rushes forward.
Any STEM academic will recognize the cultural milieu in which much of the story in Nexus takes place. The main character is Kade Lane, a late-stage graduate student who has discovered a breakthrough to expand the Nexus operating system to enhance the duration and intensity by which human brains can interact with each other remotely. There is a lot of clever-sounding technobabble involving computational neuroscience, programming and biology that will appeal to most scientifically oriented readers.
Additionally, the world building of Nexus is top notch. The story is set in the mid-21st century and includes excerpts of documents which refers to (future) historical events which give a compelling sense of verisimilitude to the book. For example, one of the primary antagonists in the plot is Samantha (Sam) Cataranes, who works for the Emerging Risks Directorate (ERD) of the Department of Homeland Security. The ERD uses all sorts of technological forms of surveillance and weaponry to protect the United States from various technological advances that are perceived to be destabilizing or open to potential exploitation by evildoers. As someone who works inside a federal agency, the depiction of government action (and inaction) appear to be right on point.
The plot follows Kade and Sam as they go to an international biotechnology conference in Bangkok Thailand in order to meet the world's leading scientist in the area of nanotechnology (who is going to offer Kade a postdoc position in her lab) and teach her more about how Kade's scientific breakthrough could change the world (and the humans who live in it). Of course there are people who are determined to maintain the status quo and they want to steal Kade's invention and use it for their ends (or suppress it's development). The struggle between these forces is thrillingly depicted in an exciting and suspenseful way by the author, Ramez Naam.
If you liked Marcus Sakey's Brilliance trilogy (and I certainly did), I'm confident that you will enjoy Nexus. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the Nexus trilogy and hope that it maintain's its quality and energy.
Author: Ramez Naam.
Paperback: 460 pages.
Publisher: Bad Robot.
Date Published: December 18, 2012.
Date Read: November 23, 2016.
Very fun technothriller!
The second book in the Nexus trilogy, Crux, extends the story begun in the first book, Nexus, by broadening the dilemmas encountered by the characters to even larger scale. At the same time Crux reveals ever widening conspiracies by government agencies as they grapple with the technological advances engendered by the widespread distribution of the drug Nexus which allows human-to-human brain communication and control.
Crux is pretty good but not as good as its prequel, Nexus. It's still very well plotted and also action-packed but to me the story itself doesn't really advance as far as the first one did. (This is a known common problem with middle books in trilogies.)
I've seen in other reviews of the books that Naam has been called a "plot artist" instead of a writer and I think that is unfair, but I would agree that plotting and pacing are his strong suits and characterization and lyrical/lexical expression are not.
This is not to say that Crux is bad, it's just not as fantastic as the first book (Nexus) was. The series (so far) is at least as good as the Brilliance series by Marcus Sakey and the Tao series by Wesley Chu and occupies a similar narrative space (action-packed, techno-thriller set in the near future with SFnal elements).
Author: Ramez Naam.
Paperback: 512 pages.
Publisher: Bad Robot.
Date Published: August 27. 2013.
Date Read: November 25, 2016.
The final book in the Nexus trilogy ratchets up the suspense, stakes and action to pulse-pounding levels.
The killer app (or key idea) of Apex (and the series as a whole) is the existence of Nexus, a drug which allows one to access and manipulate the human brain like a computer operating system. Additionally, Nexus-enhanced brains can communicate with other Nexus-enhanced brains similar to internet-connected computers.
Ramez Naan takes this technological development and explores how the world would react were this to happen (roughly 25 years in the future), paying particular attention to the governments of United States, China and India. It is an exciting and frighteningly realistic portrayal of how events can be influenced by the decisions and actions by a few key people (the President, White House Chief of Staff, National Security Adviser, etc).
The main character we follow through all three books is Kaden Lane, who developed Nexus 5, which is much more powerful and longer-lasting than earlier iterations of psychotropic drugs. Kaden is flawed but we get to know him quite well, and he matures a lot as the story develops through the three books of the series. The Kaden of Book 3 is definitely NOT the same naive graduate student of Book 1. In addition to Kaden, we also follow the fortunes of Feng, a cloned biologically enhanced bodyguard who was tasked with protecting Kade but now treats him like a brother and Sam(antha) Cataranes, a Nexus-running, US government operative who was tasked with controlling Kaden to satisfy her mission orders but who has a change of heart when she meets a child exposed to Nexus in the womb in Book 2.
In addition to Nexus, Ramez Naan also posits other technological and sociological advances that greatly enhance the story. Overall, Apex is a near-future, hard sci-fi techno-thriller, and an excellent read.
Author: Ramez Naam.
Paperback: 608 pages.
Publisher: Bad Robot.
Date Published: May 5, 2015.
Date Read: December 3, 2016.
OVERALL GRADE: A- (4.0/4.0).