Sir, I've inspected this boat, and I think you ought to know that I can't swim

So I haven't updated this thing since my wedding. Coincidence? Probably. Here's an update now though!

Blue Jasmine - I watched this 2013 Woody Allen film on the flight back from our honeymoon (so nearly three months ago). I liked it, but I expect I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been cramped in coach (we had business class on the way there, thanks to the Rascal or whatever he's calling himself now, but no dice on the return).

I Confess - This 1953 Alfred Hitchcock film, starring Montgomery Clift, was better than I expected. You'd think I'd learn by now that even lesser known Hitchcock films are still often gems! If you like Hitchcock and haven't seen this, add it to your list.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - OMG, Bucky was alive after all! Oh, spoilers. Sorry. Anyway, this was quite good. Certainly not the best of the recent Marvel movies, but that's a pretty high bar.

Claudius the God by Robert Graves - This is the sequel to I, Claudius, which I read last year. As you may know, Claudius was the fourth Roman emperor, and these books are, together, a fictionalized autobiography. While the first book focused on Claudius's life prior to becoming emperor, this focuses on the rest of his life. i started it because of my honeymoon visit to Italy, but finished after returning. Very interesting read, though I wonder how much basis there is for some of the events and characterizations.

Man of Steel - 2013's Superman movie. Not very good. You will believe a man can anonymously perform good deeds while never holding down a steady job until our new alien overlords arrive! I miss Christopher Reeve.

Midnight Express - 1978 film about an American student imprisoned in Turkey for smuggling hash, based on a true story. I had actually never heard of this movie until it was the answer to a pub quiz question a few years ago. When I saw that it had been added to Netflix streaming, I figured I'd check it out. It was pretty good, though not great.

Heavy Metal - I think I was too sober for this 1981 animated sci-fi anthology.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - It's Wes Anderson. You know what you're getting and you know if you'll like it.

Los amantes pasajeros (aka, I'm So Excited!) - The latest from Pedro Almodóvar, about a group of passengers on an airplane with malfunctioning landing gear. I liked it.

Silverado - 1985 western starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, and others. It was not so great, with several plot holes and dangling plot threads, and at least one scene that seemed to have been included out of order.

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures by Robert E. Howard - The last of the recent Del Rey collections of Howard's pulp stories. Fun stuff, as usual.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - A major film classic that I just saw for the first time. Jane Russell is billed ahead of Marilyn Monroe, though apparently at the time the take was that Monroe stole the show. However, watching it now, I think I appreciated Russell's performance more than Monroe's.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - The latest in the franchise that now has seven feature films. This seemed like a send off to the original cast (though some of them were barely used, and I expect Hugh Jackman has more Wolverine movies in him) but left the series in a good place with the new cast. I liked the movie a lot. Given the size of the case, the scenes in the future only worked because it was mainly revisiting characters the audience already knows. But they do, so it did.

Fantastic Voyage - 1966 science fiction film in which a submarine and crew are shrunk to microscopic size to enter a patient's bloodstream to remove a clot. It was alright.

As Tears Go By - Kar Wai Wong's directorial debut from 1988. Also features early performances from Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung. It was decent, though Wong of course had better to come. The movie features an amusing version of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" that was in Chinese, other than the chorus.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation - This sequel made little sense, but I didn't expect much. The scene with Snake Eyes and Jinx on the zip lines was pretty cool. I hear they're making a third movie for some reason.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri - The latest from the Pulitzer-winning author is about a man who marries his brother's widow to help her and her unborn daughter move to the U.S. (or, really, get away from India) and the consequences of that for their lives. Pretty depressing.

The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - Another of Ruiz's young adult novels from the '90s, recently translated to English. They're fun and pass the time on the train.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick - One of the better-known novels by the classic sci-fi novelist. Some themes are reminiscent of his other work, where it's not clear what is real and what is not (think, for example, his short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" and the film(s) based on it, Total Recall).

Five Easy Pieces - Early (1970), understated Jack Nicholson movie about a rootless man whose blue-collar life belies his privileged youth. It was okay.

Gandhi - It can be hard to judge a three hour epic film about such an admirable man. It's very long and the subject is, as I said, admirable. But was it a good film? I'm not sure I can even opine on that at this stage.

The Guns of Navarone - I'd been meaning to see this 1961 war/adventure film for years and finally got to it this weekend. You can't go wrong with Gregory Peck killing Nazis. The rest is just gravy.

Except for Mogo

Final pre-wedding update!

A Woman is a Woman/Une femme est une femme - Jean-Luc Godard film about a woman who wants a baby while her boyfriend does not. It was cute.

Robin Hood - This is the Disney version from 1973, which I don't think I'd ever seen before. A fun romp.

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin - The latest book in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I probably have another two or three years to wait until the next book comes out. Le sigh.

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights - Collection of animated shorts with a main linking storyline. Fun stuff.

Gentleman's Agreement - Best Picture winner from 1947 (well, it won in 1948) about a journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to gather material for a story about anti-Semitism. A bit heavy handed.

Thelma & Louise - I had never seen this 1991 movie, but I enjoyed it. What ever happened to Geena Davis?

Young Mr. Lincoln - This is a 1939 film with Henry Fonda as the title character. The makeup makes him look like Lincoln, but he still has Fonda's recognizable voice. Anyway, it was okay. Amusingly, Lincoln wears tails and a top hat in nearly every scene, even when chopping wood. The climax of the film is a trial in which Lincoln successfully defends two young men accused of murder (they didn't do it, of course), which annoyed me in that the judge allowed clearly biased jurors.

Monsters University - The prequel to the wonderful Monsters, Inc. This was... not as good.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre - I wasn't very impressed by this. At times I really had no idea what was going on. Perhaps the film versions are better?

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope - Wonderful 1894 adventure novel that created a sub-genre (Ruritanian romance).

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle - Professor Challenger leads an expedition to a South American plateau where prehistoric animals still live. This was alright.

Faves of 2013

My mix of songs I liked from 2013 is now (finally) available. Let me know if you want a download link.

(prior years available upon request as well)

oh bother

Time for a long update.

Thor: The Dark World - A fun movie. Not the best of the recent Marvel super hero films, but not bad. Not bad at all.

Flower Drum Song - I wasn't familiar with the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical but Gnaw and I caught a portion of this 1961 film adaptation at some point last year. It seemed interesting, so we recorded it the next time it was on. We never got around to watching it and I finally just watched it without her. It was alright. I had braced myself for some dated attitudes that would come across now as racism, but was pleasantly surprised in that regard. It also had one song I did know: "I Enjoy Being a Girl."

2666 by Roberto Bolaño - This has been on my "to read" list since the English translation was released in 2008. It was just so long I put it off for years, but finally read it towards the end of 2013. I quite enjoyed it. I can see why the author wanted it released as five separate novels, though I think I appreciated having them all together (The Part about the Crimes, in particular, would have seemed odd by itself). Still no idea about the title.

The Sword in the Stone - 1963 Disney film adapting T.H. White's novel about the young Arthur before he becomes king. It was okay, but there's a reason other Disney films are better remembered.

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris - There isn't much I can say about Sedaris that hasn't already been said. Hilarious.

Hondo - 1953 John Wayne western based on a Louis L'Amour story. I didn't realize it until after I watched it, but the movie was originally in 3D, which explained some weird shots like Wayne thrusting his knife directly at the camera (i.e., at me, the viewer). Anyway, the movie was okay.

Oldboy - This is the Korean original from 2003 (not Spike Lee's recent remake). I had tried to watch it a while back only to discover that the version on Netflix was dubbed. I recently learned that it had been replaced with a subtitled version, so I finally checked it out. It was okay. I think the main twist was kind of obvious.

Big Trouble in Little China - '80s action movie with Kurt Russell that I had somehow never seen. Pretty fun in that "so bad it's good" category, though I think a lot of the "badness" was intentional.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Not much happened in this middle act of the three-film adaptation of a short young adult novel. Those dwarves sure get captured a lot: first goblins (in the first movie), then spiders, then elves. I think Peter Jackson is trying a bit too hard to make this a prequel to Lord of the Rings rather than the story it was originally. However, we did learn that Legolas lost a lot of weight after the events in this movie but before those in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so that's something.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - 1977 theatrical released that combined three earlier short films, while adding some linking scenes. A classic, of course. Perhaps even three classics.

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami - The final novel in Murakami's loose "trilogy of the rat," but the first widely distributed in the U.S. Having read the first two, I can see more of what Murakami would become in this one. The melancholy feel of his work is there. Some of it actually reminded me of Vonnegut, which isn't a connection I'd made before. Some of the ridiculousness with the sheep reminded me of Cat's Cradle in particular.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai - This is the first film I've seen from Jim Jarmusch, surprisingly. I quite liked it. What's next?

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir - 1947 film about a widow (Gene Tierney) who moves into a new home that is haunted by the ghost of a sea captain (Rex Harrison). Of course, they fall in love. It was alright.

Gravity - Finally saw this and really enjoyed it. Very intense. And space always freaks me out.

Enon by Paul Harding - New novel by the author of Tinkers about a man's year of grief over the loss of his teenage daughter. Sad, but quite good.

Inside Llewyn Davis - I may be in the target audience for this, but I thought it was really good. There are still four Coen brothers-directed films I have not seen, so I should really fill in the gaps. This is your invitation to guess which four.

The Lady Vanishes - This is the 2013 BBC/Masterpiece remake of the classic Hitchcock film. Kind of goes without saying, but this was not as good. The characters were much less sympathetic and the plot felt more contrived as there were too many characters with non-sinister reasons to pretend to not have seen the titular lady. See the Hitchcock version. Skip this.

music in 2013

Decent year for music, though not as good as 2012. Here are ten 2013 albums I enjoyed, listed alphabetically (i.e., not ranked):

  • Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

  • Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

  • Cults - Static

  • The Dodos - Carrier

  • Islands - Ski Mask

  • The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

  • Jamie Lidell - Jamie Lidell

  • The National - Trouble Will Find Me

  • Suede - Bloodsports

  • Zola Jesus - Versions

I don't think I can really choose a favorite from the above, actually.

This link will take you to my lists from previous years.

2013 in film

I only saw four new movies in 2013. Four!

In ranked order, they were:

  1. Thor: The Dark World

  2. The Wolverine

  3. Iron Man 3

  4. Star Trek Into Darkness

Pretty pathetic list (judged on number of entries alone). So many things I didn't get around to: Blue Jasmine, Gravity, Man of Steel, Monsters University, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis... Maybe I'll get to a few of these in the near future.

This link will take you to a page with all my year-end film lists. Looks like last year I also listed six 2012 films that I had not yet seen (though I had also seen ten 2012 films already at that point). I have now seen five of those six (the exception being The Master).

Happy new year!

a river's just a river

Been a while. Here's an update, but it'll be a quick one (in no small part because I've forgotten a lot of things I wanted to say about these films and books):

The Awful Truth - 1937 comedy with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a divorcing couple. Pretty good.

Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami - His second novel. Still developing his style, but I enjoyed it.

Les Miserables - This is the 2012 film of the musical. It was shortened from the stage version, with some of the cut music spoke instead, some new music and new scenes (many of which were inspired by the novel). Russell Crowe sucked but Hugh Jackman won me over. Overall, I enjoyed it.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout - The latest from Strout, about two brothers dealing with a crisis involving their sister's son. I liked it.

A Star Is Born - This is the 1937 original version of the film (it's been remade at least twice, not including The Artist) about two married film stars with careers heading in opposite directions. Pretty good.

The Lost Weekend -  1945 Best Picture winner about an alcoholic. Very good.

The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan - Egan's first novel, about a girl heading to Europe to relive her late sister's visit years earlier. Not Egan's best, but not bad.

How I Got Insipid by Jonathan Lethem - Two stories from Lethem's earlier, sci-fi period. Probably skip-able.

Desk Set - I caught part of this Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film years ago and now have finally seen the full movie. It's a romantic comedy in which Hepburn works as a researcher for a TV network, and Tracy sells (gigantic) computers. Misunderstandings ensue. Enjoyable.

The Magic Labyrinth by Philip Jose Farmer - Another in Farmer's Riverworld series. It felt kind of rushed as he tried to wrap up various plot threads. Many characters pretty much disappear.

Foreign Correspondent - Hitchcock film that was basically a propaganda piece during WWII (before the U.S. entry). Still, not bad.

The Rat Race - I got this confused with another Tony Curtis film, The Great Race, which is how it ended up on my list when I saw it was added to Netflix instant. This one was okay, about Curtis and Debbie Reynolds struggling to get by the New York.


What story down there awaits its end?


The Postman Always Rings Twice - 1946 adaptation of James M. Cain's novel. Alas, not as good as I was expecting.

The Dark Design by Philip José Farmer - The third book in Farmer's Riverworld series. This book brings some of the characters from the first two books together and begins to reveal a bit more about the world. I'll probably keep (slowly) reading.

Star Trek into Darkness - Meh. Alas, my hopes about them forgetting the time travel thing were unfulfilled.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino - My first Calvino. Interesting book about a reader whose reading of books is continually interrupted (so we, the reader, only get the beginning of several stories). I will definitely read more.

The Wolverine - Much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It was pretty good, though it's a bit hard to suspend disbelief about Logan's toughness when they specifically are saying he's lost his healing factor. Apparently, that means he can get shot a bunch of times and run through the streets of Toyko, but then collapse hours later (but then chop wood the next day). Oh yeah, and perform surgery on himself.

The Thief of Bagdad - 1924 silent film. Fun adventure with great sets for the era.

The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe - Coda to Wolfe's four book Book of the New Sun, which I read last year. Helps explain the world and what it was all about a bit more, but while maintaining the same high standards.

Anatomy of a Murder - Classic courtroom drama with James Stewart. It had been on my DVR since December, but I just finally got around to it. Quite good.

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - One of Ruiz's "adult" books (as opposed to his "young adult" ones). I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as his other "adult" novels. It tries to put together pieces from his other two novels, but the plot is extremely superficial. It makes me think that this was mainly a way to put the pieces into place for his next book.

Judgment at Nuremberg - 1961 film with an all-star cast about one of the Nuremberg trials (though some of the cast became stars later). Well done film by Stanley Kramer portraying the dilemma between justice and political expediency.


Say it ain't so, Joe

Time for a long-awaited update.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves - The fictionalized story of the early Roman Empire, told by the man who would eventually become the fourth emperor (and whose coronation this book). Quite enjoyable political intrigue.

Eight Men Out - Film about the Chicago White Sox team that threw the 1919 World Series (aka, the Black Sox). As a baseball fan, I enjoyed it, but it's probably not among the best baseball films.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck - I read this in advance of a brief trip to Monterey in May. It's a collection of loosely-linked stories about the inhabitants of that town. Very good.

The Lady Vanishes - I had seen this Alfred Hitchcock classic before, but Gnaw wanted to see it before PBS airs a recent remake this summer. Still good.

Leviathan by Paul Auster - A story about coincidence. I liked it. I need to explore more of Auster's work, as I've liked what I've read of him over the years.

Safety Last! - Classic silent comedy starring Harold Lloyd. Probably not as good as the best of Chaplin or Keaton, but it was still fun.

Seven Men from Now - A classic western. I've now seen all the westerns mentioned in this article, though I still haven't seen quite a few of the films noir listed. I'm not sure that this one lived up to many of the other westerns on the list though.

Iron Man 3 - Better than the second movie, but not as good as the first. But you knew that already. What was Killian's plan exactly? I mean, he was clearly in the midst of a cover up, but what was the original plan? Sell stuff to terrorists? Sell stuff to the US military? Sell stuff to hardcore Marvel Comics fans?

The Last Emperor - I thought I had seen this before, but there was a lot I didn't remember, so maybe I never saw the whole thing. It was good, but I'm surprised it won Best Picture. I would categorize it more under the "visually stunning" category than the "dramatically exciting" category. That said, looking at the other four nominees that year, I've only seen two of them and neither of those were clearly superior to this film.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith - This is the 1941 Hitchcock film, not the 2005 movie with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. It was a departure for Hitchcock, being a screwball comedy with no thriller elements at all. It was fine, I guess, but there's a reason he's known for a different type of film.

Inside Man - I realized that this 2006 movie is the only Spike Lee Joint I've seen since Malcolm X (and I've seen all of his feature length films prior to that), which is kind of weird. It was pretty good, though I found the ending a big unsatisfying.

A Man for All Seasons - This is the 1966 film about Thomas More and Henry VIII. Very similar to Becket, which I watched a few months ago. I think I liked the other film more, as it was a bit more focused on the characters. This was still good though.

  • Current Music
    Kurt Vile

Happiness consists of being able to tell the truth without hurting anyone.

Been a while. Here's an update.

- Every once in a while I wonder which is the most classic film I've never seen. Scratch another contender off the list. That said, I think I don't really get Fellini. This was okay. Maybe the language barrier makes things seem less poignant.

Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem - Collection of short stories. Short and sweet.

Life of Pi - Saw this with my grandmother and we both quite enjoyed it. Having read the book (10+ years ago), I kind of knew what to expect, though there was a lot I either didn't remember or was added/changed.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier - His first novel set in (relatively) modern times, though still in the south. I liked it.

Tarzan, the Ape Man - The first Tarzan film starring five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. He would go on to play the character eleven more times, and the distinctive Tarzan cry from this 1932 film is still iconic. This was okay. It had some amusing use of African stock footage (including superimposing characters onto scenes of natives dancing). There was also some funny costumes and props, including adding fake ears and tusks to make Asian elephants appear like African ones.

El Borak and Other Desert Adventures by Robert E. Howard - A collection of the pulp writers "desert" adventures, many taking place in North Africa and the Middle East during and around WWI, and many starring the El Borak character. Fun stuff.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - Finally saw this (while on a cruise with my family, no less). I liked it, though I can see why some consider it racist. And Quvenzhané Wallis was good of course.

The Day of the Jackal - Thriller about a (fictional) assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle. It was fun, but I think I was expecting more.