Month: January 2016

Welcome to Night Vale “Best Of?” – Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Welcome to Night Vale “Best Of?” – Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Welcome to Night Vale has rightfully earned its place as one of the most popular podcasts around. I am actually surprised it hasn’t been nominated for a Hugo already, and I chalk that up to the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) being the “TV category” in people’s minds and little consideration of non-TV and especially non-film dramatic presentations.

For those unfamiliar with it, it is best summed up as Prairie Home Companion meets the Twilight Zone (with a more than generous helping of Elder Gods-style mythos sprinkled in). It is a community radio program hosted by Cecil Palmer (voiced amazingly by Cecil Baldwin) for the small community of Night Vale – a town descried in the opening words of the first podcast as

“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”

Then Cecil proceeds to happily announce the opening of the new community dog park – where no one is allowed to enter. Hooded figures may be seen in the dog park. Do not approach the dog park! Do not look at the dog park!!

And right from the beginning, they captured this amazing vibe of a radio host who absolutely loves this town he lives in all the while completely accepting of the fact that it is utterly bizarre and home to many strange and inexplicable things. Some storylines grow over the course the series, and there are often references to past events, but to a large extent, each half hour episode stands well on its own, explaining needed references. This can get amusing as Cecil will refer to people in specific ways every. single. time. he mentions them. Like John Peters (you know, the farmer?) or Old Woman Josie who lives out near the car lot who is visited by angels even those by law, angels do not exist. These references are both funny and are sly way to inform you about the character very quickly.

It is hard to pick out an individual episode to nominate (especially since I’m a bit behind), but one that stood out for me in really capturing what makes Welcome to Night Vale so special is “[Best Of?]”. It is actually an atypical episode (although there are many that aren’t typical each year – “A Story About You” and the two-part “Sandstorm” are particularly great examples of this). This time Cecil I son vacation and former host Leonard Burton (voiced by James Urbaniak) comes out of retirement to host the show and play some recordings from Cecil’s early career. What happens over that half hour is really fun as we get glimpses of Cecil’s past as well as Leonard hearing about his own “retirement” all of which embraces contradiction and nonsense that actually makes perfect in the town of Night Vale. It is a great episode.

Listen:
http://nightvale.libsyn.com/67-best-of

or

or

in iTunes podcasts.

Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

[Note: This is a long recommendation, but much of the last half if explaining each of the 8 main characters in case someone wants to just watch this episode and skip the previous portion of the season.]

Sense8 on Netflix is one of those series that does work as one long season-long story, but strikes a balance of also having each episode work with a full story arc(s) as well. All too often, some of these shows with a strong season-long story wind up with individual episodes just being a piece of a story and not a story on its own. Sense8 manages to avoid that to a large degree.

The series is about 8 people who are mentally linked – able to visit each other telepathically, use each other’s skills, and the like. One thing I love about the series is that it not only explores the ramifications of the sci-fi concept of the story, but also deals with themes building off of it. So it’s not just about 8 people whose minds are linked, but it is about relationships between people – the connections that bring us together and choices that drive us apart. It also has this meta-thing going on (mostly in earlier episodes, I believe) with references to Jean-Claude van Damme, Conan the Barbarian, and Lito’s telenovelas that shows how even ridiculous fun of these stories can have deep, inspiring impact for people (and that even a sci-fi show about 8 people telepathically linked can touch and inspire us as well).

I recommend watching the entire series, it is great – although it is certainly adult. There is recreational drug use, nudity and sex (including heterosexual, homosexual, and what is best described as a psychic orgy early in the series), and violence that is occasionally, but not always bloody. However, if you want to jump to the episode I’m recommending (“What is Human?”), you don’t need a lot of background to understand it (see below).

I have heard some people talking about recommending the season finale “I Can’t Leave Her.” That is another very strong episode, but more than any other episode of the series, it is really dealing with the overall season-long story and that, in my opinion, is what makes it strong. If you aren’t invested in the story of the entire season, then the finale is probably only okay. It does have some great teamwork of the entire cluster of 8, but as a stand-alone, I wasn’t as moved by it as “What is Human?”

With “What is Human?” – the 10th episode of the 12 episode season – it shows off everything I love about this series. In particular, the emotional structure they build into the stories really works for me. I tend to prefer uplifting stories far more than depressing ones, and in Sense8 they emotionally manipulate me perfectly. They have this way of sinking into tragedy right before leading into a moment of triumph. Don’t know about anyone else, but it works for me. It makes the triumphs so much stronger, and has an overall, more hopeful feel to it while definitely avoiding being sappy, feel-good. The lows are certainly low, but they persevere. They survive. Definitely reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption in that regard (at least the movie, haven’t read the original story). Characters bottoming out in miserable conditions, and then soaring to triumph.

This episode also has a beautiful moment near the end at an orchestra performance. Thinking about it, that scene is completely irrelevant to the plot. However, thematically, it is striking and really brings them in touch with their own humanity, and humanity in general, and is a moment of beauty we rarely think about. Like the karaoke scene earlier in the series (which is, in my opinion, one of the best karoke scenes ever), it brings a touch of humanity and connection to the characters, and (to get grandiose) the viewers as well.

I greatly recommend it for a Hugo nomination. Even if I could only nominate one thing this year, I would push aside all the stories I have read, and nominate this episode.

If you want to jump straight to this episode without watching the rest of the series before it, I think the quick summary below should have it make sense. Of course, a lot more happens in the first 9 episodes, but this is enough for “What is Human?” to make sense. If you want to watch the whole series without spoilers, then stop reading now.

Continue reading “Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation”

The Shaman – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

The Shaman – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

With decent special effects becoming easier and cheaper all the time, sci-fi short films appear to be booming. Although a fair number of them come across more as teasers and the bare beginnings of a story to entice studios to hire the filmmaker to make a feature, some do tell cohesive stories. Although they face stiff competition from TV episodes for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Hugo award, I think some short films are as deserving of consideration as well. Unfortunately, their audiences tend to be massively smaller than, say, I don’t know – perennial nominees Game of Thrones and Doctor Who.

One short film that really struck me this year was The Shaman. It manages to strike a balance of hinting at a larger world and story but still being a complete tale itself. The summary from IMDB is:

The dark year 2204, in a world that has seen 73 years of continuous war. A Shaman is sent on a mission to convert the soul of a giant battle colossus.

The story is an amazing and seamless blend of ancient and futuristic with a shaman entering a netherworld to try and convert the soul of massive robotic engine of destruction. The worldbuilding really worked for me, and it definitely got me wanting to see more of this world, or even better yet, reading stories based in this setting. The film didn’t just rely on showing off their special effects chops, but instead went deliberately low key and psychological.

THE SHAMAN – a mind-bending short by Marco Kalantari from Marco Kalantari on Vimeo.


On a side note, One-Minute Time Machine is one that I wanted to recommend but unfortunately first came out in 2014. It’s not necessarily NSFW but has some innuendo and language. It does a great job of telling an amusing little story very simply.