Sunday, 29 July 2012

R-Wards 6

The sixth year in this blog has finished, and once again it is time to look back on the year that went by. Let’s have a look to see what has happened this past year other than us getting older.

I can identify three trends in my consumption of contents, the main subject of this blog’s reviews.
The first took place in similar manner to the way ebooks have entered my life. Just as two years ago the Kindle entered my life and made me unable to look at books the same way, this year Spotify entered my life and totally revolutionized my music listening habits. It is important to mention that while Spotify has been available in Australia only this past couple of months or so, I have been listening to it through the better part of the year via VPN. Once again we see how the copyright conglomerate arrests our culture's development, and once again we see how useless their measures are.
Regardless of my never ending gripes with the those who want to preserve their old business models above all else, Spotify is/was a revolution: for a start, it meant that music made a big re-entrance to my life after years of disappointment. It also meant I can now listen to [almost] everything I want, whenever I want and wherever I want – and the quality is pretty decent. Isn’t technology marvellous?
The second trend is to do with my disappointment of Hollywood’s products. I have become so disillusioned with mainstream American cinema this year that I no longer care for Blu-rays as much. Sure, Blu-rays can offer wonderful presentations, but what is the point when everything’s the same and it’s all dull? In contrast, “foreign” and independent cinema provides content that may be poorer in production values but manages to consistently surprise me for the better. For now, I am done feeling I have to succumb to social pressure and watch whatever “hit” Hollywood’s marketing departments are telling me I should be watching.
The third trend is to do with video gaming. I have been playing video games for the bulk of my life, ever since my parents got me my Atari 2600 (and even before, playing Pong and the Atari at my friends’). My video gaming has known its ups and downs, but in general ever since the last game that truly managed to captivate my thoughts and my senses through the night and through the day – FIFA 99 – gaming has been a casual experience, a way to have fun here and there (I’m sure my wife would argue about the “here and there”). Over the past couple of years gaming has been infiltrating my life more and more, thanks mostly to ABC’s wonderful show Good Game – a program my son has been addicted to since he was two.
This year, however, gaming put a firm foothold in my life. It’s no longer a matter of “here and there”; it is something I think of all the time, something I look forward to doing all day long, something that overtakes other priorities – sleeping, reading and even blogging. And it’s all thanks to one game and my decision to buy it after reading The Guardian’s review and watching the one at Good Game…

Best Film:
By far the weakest contender in this year’s awards is the best film category. Simply put, there was no film out there that truly managed to captivate me. There was some good stuff, mostly from foreign sources (Headhunters is a fine example), but these lacked that spark that makes them truly great.
In this year of mediocrity, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris stood above the rest. Midnight in Paris is not only a fine smart comedy and a good piece of cinematic art, it also packs a very meaningful satirical jab of a quality that is rarely missing these days. And it’s even science fiction!

Best Book:
Honestly, I am wondering whether I should just automatically hand this category over to the latest book published by Richard Dawkins, because that definitely seems to be the trend. I often go on how John Scalzi is my favorite author of fiction, but that distinction is made only so I have enough room to say Richard Dawkins is my favorite author overall. Let it be noted Dawkins manages to occupy that spot despite only writing about fairly narrow subject matters!
on my part I finally managed to meet him in person this year. I can only hope to meet him and his books many times more; his recent tweets indicate he is currently working on his autobiography (he asked whether it should focus on science or on the personal, to which I will contribute my my 2c and say: personal!).
This year’s R-Ward winner for the best Richard Dawkins book is The Magic of Reality. The beauty of The Magic of Reality is not only in its eye opening content and the learnings both child and adult can gain out of it (as beautifully demonstrated at our own house); this book takes the book format even further than before. It is as interactive as a paper based book can ever be, which works astonishingly well to enhance the experience. I have to admit I did not try the fully interactive experience the book offers on the iPad, but I am very curious.
The Magic of Reality is firmly aimed at kids, but The Magic of Reality will teach the vast majority of adults out there a whole lot about this world that we live in. Popular science for the people does not come in a shape better than Dawkins’.

Best on TV:
A well executed good idea needs no budget to deliver, a point well delivered by this year's R-Ward winner, Misfits. Misfits tells the story of a bunch of fine young British delinquents turned unwilling superheroes of sorts by a freak storm. The question it asks is who the real freaks/criminals are, a question that is re-asked every episode in a different manner and with totally different settings.
It's entirely un-PC: there is nudity, coarse language, the works. It's decidedly low budget, with limited sets and stars we haven't seen anywhere before. But it is so so good! Between episodes dealing with Nazi occupied England to the ever so brilliant rendition of a contemporary Nativity tale (that would surely upset the bleeding hearts out there), Misfits is a work of art in its genius. The fact it also happens to be very enteretaining is a wonderful bonus.
Going back to my point on Hollywood's deficiencies, a simple comparison between Misfits and its American equavalent in themes, Alphas, says all that there is to say about the vast distance between Hollywood, quality and originality. Where Alphas is pale, dull, formulaic and repetitive, yet bursting with production values, Misfits is sharp, edgy, breaking conventions at every episode, and always original. What it doesn't have in cash it covers up with a soundtrack that beats everything else around.
I sure do hope we will have a season 4!

Best Video Game:

If this year’s movie category presented the weakest playing field, the opposite has to be said for this year’s R-Ward winning video game. If one is to take a single winner out of this last year, this would be it.
I have never heard of the Mass Effect world till this March, probably the result of the franchise initially aiming towards the Xbox (and subsequently PC) markets. But when I heard about it, what I saw made me do a very uncharacteristic move: I went and purchased Mass Effect 3 immediately upon its release, paying the full price (or rather, the full price the cheap shop I buy at charges).
The rest is history. Mass Effect 3 started out as a half hour here and a half hour there after the rest of the family had gone to sleep. It proved so gripping that my wife, unavoidably listening to the action, started asking questions; we talked about it so much that our son got involved, and despite his age I let him watch (in my view, there is no difference between him watching Mass Effect and him watching Star Wars; actually playing the game is a whole different ballpark, though). Soon enough Mass Effect 3 started occupying ever expanding time slots of my day. The end of its single player campaign had the whole family watching a five hour marathon together.
Ever since Mass Effect 3 came along, my PlayStation has turned, in effect, into my MassEffectStation. The only exception is that only other game I can care for since ME3’s entrance into my life – a game called Mass Effect 2 (summarized in one sentence, ME2 is an excellent game, by far the second best I have played this year, but it feels like a dress rehearsal for the real thing that followed).
The question of what it is that made Mass Effect 3 the phenomenal game that it is is the most interesting one. From the perspective of someone who is now deeply into the addiction of ME3 multiplayer I can say that if I have to point at one factor then that factor is the game’s ability to make me care. Not only for the character[s] I play, not only for the characters around my player, but actually for the whole Mass Effect world.
Between the trilogy of games, the books, the art and the comics I suspect Mass Effect will be in my life a whole lot longer.

Lifetime Achievement R-Ward:

In the course of its six year lifespan, this blog has seen me reading plenty of material from prominent atheists. Some of it had to do directly with matters of religion/atheism, but the bulk of it had more to do with philosophy and science. The events of this year put a much stronger focus on these guys: the release of several works of particular interest, the death of a prominent atheist, and my personal attendance to this year's Global Atheist Convention where I met most of these people I look up to in person (as well as a eulogy to that one guy who couldn't make it).
Perhaps it was the amplification effect created by the crowd of similarly minded people, but at the convention I couldn't avoid feeling just how much I owe these people. In many ways their thinking is now part of me - in the sense that it is their cutting edge look at things that is directly shaping the way I think and behave. With that in mind, I would like to name these people I owe so much to, as well as the work of theirs that I got to review here during this past year. My R-Ward for lifetime acheivements goes to the following prominant atheists:
  1. Christopher Hitchens: Hitch-22, Letters to a Young Contrarian, The Monarchy.
  2. Sam Harris: Lying, Free Will.
  3. A. C. Grayling: The Good Book.
  4. Lawrence Krauss: A Universe from Nothing.
  5. Dan Dennett.
  6. And then there is the guy I look up to the most, Richard Dawkins: The Magic of Reality.
I'm looking forward to more stuff from all of the above. I am also looking forward to more people added to this list of prominent atheists whose words are worth listening to. There is so much to this universe they can talk and teach me about!

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