Monday, December 22, 2014

Decembrion Invictus (part 2)

Without further delay, let us pick up where this post left off, and continue a fond look back at my arbitrarily selected and utterly subjective Top Ten Points of Pop Culture for 2014.

6. Best imaginary Masterpiece Classic spin-off my wife and I co-invented: Anna Bates, Edwardian Detective! I mentioned about halfway through the year that my wife had given up on Downton Abbey. I never really expounded on how or why that happened, so let me do so now. We actually got all of the way through series 3, assuming you count the Christmas special as a separate entity. Once again, we were subjected to spoilers about major plot developments, and my wife learned that Matthew dies in the Christmas special. At that point Matthew had become one of her favorite characters, and she was crushed to learn how he had been written out of the show. So we watched the final regular episode of the series, the one with the village cricket match that ends with Lord Grantham and Tom and Matthew all smiles and manly shoulder slapping in slo-mo, and when the credits rolled my wife announced, "OK, that's it, that's how the story ends. And they were all happy forever, yay!" To this day it is a losing battle to try to convince her otherwise.

But, before we reached that impasse, we had great fun with the Downton subplot about Anna trying to prove her husband's innocence and have him released from prison, which was one of those melodramatically soap-tastic throughlines that started out interesting and then became kind of laughable and then became amazing in its relentlessness, and by the time Mister Bates was in fact exonerated and set free we had decided that an entire series about this little feisty housemaid solving mysteries in 1920's London would be the best show ever. If someone can put me in touch with Joanne Froggatt's people, that would be great.

7. Best (only) live performance: Hedwig and the Angry Inch. As I mentioned in part 1, I got out to the movie theater a lot this year, relatively speaking. And I am grateful for that, because I am still a big fan of the whole big screen experience. I also enjoy live performances, be they music concerts or theatrical shows or whathaveyou, and so now that I seem to have my annual movie excursions up to a satisfying level, it's time to start lamenting how rarely I get to see live shows any more. Oh woe is me!

Right, I am (mostly) kidding. Obviously I recognize that expecting to get any traction on this point is pretty unlikely. And frankly, it's also unlikely that, even if I had seen more live shows in the past twelve months, that any of them possibly could have measured up to the Hedwig revival that I was lucky enough to take in on Broadway. I've said it before, but I can't say it enough: if you have the opportunity to go to the Belasco while the show continues its run, go, and at the very least if you've never even seen John Cameron Mitchell's film version of the show, rent it and watch it immediately.

All that said, I would like to note for the record that my enthusiasm for live musical theater extends in a straight and unbroken line toward whatever date in the future the inevitable Broadway version of Frozen opens up. I am so pre-geeked for that it is beyond ridiculous.

8. Best number-related accomplishment: 250. As in, sometime during March of this year, I officially checked off the 250th movie from the master list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. (It was David Cronenberg's Videodrome.) You might recall I drew attention to the fact that I had hit 200 on the Master List back when I saw Being John Malkovich, about a year and a half ago. What was true then is true now: I tend to mix in a lot of movies of personal interest to me with the canonized selections, so my progress through the Master List is slow. At this rate, I won't finish the remaining 751 (plus all the miscellaneous new additions for each intervening year since 2003) for about, what, 23 years? Everyone needs hobbies (or pastimes, as the case may be).

9. Most surprising source of reading recommendations: a work seminar. My father has fallen into the habit in the past few years of marveling aloud at my Amazon wishlist. To his credit, he tends to generously get me several things from said list every birthday and Christmas, which I appreciate, but somehow I always seem to end up having the same conversation with him, wherein he calls me on or close to my birthday and tells me that gifts are on the way, possibly in separate shipments (I am aware of the perils and pitfalls of e-commerce but apparently my father finds this to merit comment every time), and then he tells me how much he enjoyed just perusing the whole list, and wondering how in the world I even manage to hear about all of these obscurities in order to wish for them in the first place.

It's really not that big a mystery. I'm on GoodReads, I have friends on GoodReads, I follow book reviews on various pop culture websites, and when I encounter a review or recommendation of something that sounds remotely interesting, I head over to Amazon and add it to my list, which costs me very little time and effort. It has worked out well so far.

Every one in a while there's a new twist on the old process, though, as was the case this fall when I attended a forum on cybersecurity hosted at the Pentagon. It looks like I never blogged about it, and even though it was just a month and a half ago, I'm not sure if that oversight was due to not being entirely sure how kosher it would be for me to yammer on about current DoD information technology approaches and challenges, and thus erring on the side of silent caution, or if it was simply due to my usual laziness and poor time management with the blog in general. In any case, this particular tidbit doesn't really violate the former concern. One of the speakers took a bit of a non-standard tack and simply spent his allotted presentation time talking about various books that he has read and loved which have the most direct bearing (in his opinion) on modern cybersecurity problems and solutions.

I should back up for a second and admit that while I am always open to learning new things and consider adding to my personal knowledge base in a way that might improve my ability to discharge my professional duties to be part and parcel of the gig, I really asked my managers if I could go to the forum because I thought it would break up the monotony of the work week by getting me out of the cubicle farm for a day, even if the change-as-good-as-a-rest mainly involved zoning out during interminable PowerPoint presentations. So I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging this book-evangelist was. Still, all the charismatic enthusiasm in the world is only going to go so far in convincing me to attempt to wade through a brick of a textbook about authentication protocols, no matter how vital it is to our network integrity. But, as it happened, most of the speaker's recommendations were actually books with more of a narrative hook, journalistic explorations of big moments in internet history, because he's a big believer in approaching cybersecurity via an insider's understanding of how hackers think and operate. Some of his recommended readings were honest-to-Gibson fictional novels, because they got the mindset right.

Clearly it was a given that shortly after the forum I tracked down some used copies of four of the books the speaker had recommended, and they are now part of my increasingly eccentric to-read pile. It remains to be seen whether or not they will make me measurably better at my job, but that's really a secondary consideration at best.

10. Biggest must-get-to-in-2015: Birdman. I know, I know, I said I would have less superhero movies in this back half installment, but that's not the same as saying no superhero movies, now , is it? And Birdman barely qualifies as a superhero movie, anyway. Or does it? Well obviously I don't know because I haven't seen it yet. But when it started showing up in the entertainment news before it was released, the premise alone was enough to get my attention. Any semi-satirical take on an actor who was once heavily associated with a superhero role trying to move on and create serious art later in his career would have piqued my interest, but the fact that they actually cast Michael "Batman '89" Keaton as that actor? Sold! But it was a small release, and despite speaking directly to my personal fascinations it was a bit of an oddity, so I suspected it might be one of those things I caught up with way, way down the road. Then the end-of-year awards started piling up, with an astonishing number of them accruing to Birdman. That jumped the flick right up my queue (in theory, at least, since it's not even out on dvd yet) and when I do get my chance to see it, I will report my reactions here.

So, all in all, an entertaining year has been had once again. And next year, I hope the trend continues. Who knows, we might get a new Song of Ice and Fire novel, or the conclusion of the Kingkiller Chronicle. We'll definitely get a new Avengers movie in the summer, and a new Star Wars movie by Christmas. I'd say the odds are good that things will be headed in the right direction.

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