Monday, March 25, 2019

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Sometime in the past year or so I finally watched The Terminator (1984; currently ranked 226 on the imdb top 250) and I thought it was on the good side of okay. The story was interesting, Arnold's character was interesting and knowing that this series would spawn sequels and TV shows was an interesting thought. Yet, having watched the higher ranked Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), it's clear to me how this film is ranked higher.

Watching an action film from a pre-CGI error has risk -- you'll either be amazed realizing non of it's computer generated or disappointed when it seems (by modern standards) very amateur.

In this case, save for a couple scenes (I think that hot metal at the end is water with red lights shining on it), the effects are stunning (Robert Patrick's T-1000 metal bending self). But even more than the effects it's the stunts the motorcycle/truck chase for example really brings an intensity to it that pulls you in (couldn't help but think of Mad Max, just less weird).

But, in many ways James Cameron's story, which deserves a great deal of credit, has an emotional heart that is found in this film that wasn't nearly as clear in the initial film. The turn in developing a Terminator character who was a good guy worth rooting for was genus. Not to mention was the creation of an action film that asked the questions "Could a machine be a friend? And does the answer change if the machine, although it has AI abilities, follows your commands?"

Currently quite high on the top 250 films, I'm glad that I snagged myself a library copy of this film and finally cross it off the list of top 250 films I haven't watched

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Kid (1921)

Charlie Chaplin films are unique gems in so many ways, but part of the charm is that there are memorable standalone scenes that can be enjoyed outside of the context of the entire film. For me, it seems like there are a handful of Chaplin films I know I've seen scenes from but haven't seen start to finish. But, I can cross one of those off my list, having watched The Kid (1921). This film has been on the list for a bit, in part because it's was one of the top 250 films I haven't seen yet.

In reading reviews and commentary of this film it's clear that the charm the key words are "pathos" and "comedy" and the way Charlie Chaplin creates a comedy with a string of emotional punches. The film is the story of the tramp who through a comedy of errors finds himself raising (and lovingly caring for) an abandoned orphan. That abandoned orphan character is 5 years old for the bulk of the film and played by Jackie Coogan, who's extensive acting career extended all of his life, and is such a wonderful foil this film matching him in comedy and drama.

I was able to rope my 8 and 10 year old into watching with me, and felt that it held their attention (especially the 10 year old), and if there is any critique it's the dream sequence at the end which seems like fluffy, insincere, and unnecessary -- there's probably a little bit of "wow" factor for some cinemagic of flight in this scene, but for such an otherwise touching comedy, this was unnecessary fluff that seemed like an attempt to extend the reel of a generally simple (but enjoyable story).

But, I'll try to forget that, and instead remember the kid boxing scene, the sneaking the kid into the flophouse, the pancake scene, or the scene with the make shift ways the tramp cares for the baby.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Your Name. (2016)

In the quest to knock out some of the top 250 films I haven't seen, I got a hold of  Your Name. (directed by Makoto Shinkai) and immersed myself in this film with my 10 year old daughter (who's younger siblings joined in, which has made for some awkward moments of 6 year old acting like he's grabbing his breast like the character does in the film).

In the film the initial set up is an odd occurrence of two people swapping bodies (a teen boy from Tokyo into a girl from small town Japan and vice versa). The story actually seems like an artful freaky Friday at first, but it gets more...well meta-physical (think Interstellar and String Theory).

I'm not surprised that this very popular and commercially successful Japanese film would be slated for a live-action American produced re-make, and imagine that it will be very successful. The American version is currently slated to be directed by Mark Webb, of 500 Days of Summer and Amazing Spider-Man fame with a screenplay re-write by Oscar-nominated Eric Heisserer (Arrival).

Is this one of the best films of all time, currently in top 100, I don't think it'd make my list, but it was certainly enjoyable, and am excited after my viewing to see what happens with this film when re-introduced to audiences in a live action format.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

One of my favorite film experiences was years back seeing Buster Keaton's The General accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Despite enjoying this 1926 (ranked on as the the 159th best movie of all times), it wasn't until now that I've caught Sherlock Jr. (current 172 on, and on my list I had not yet seen).

Sherlock Jr. is a joy. Nearly a century old, the cinematic gags surrounding a projectionist who wants to be a detective who falls into a surreal dream like state to solve a mystery is pure delight.

There are special effects, stunts, and camera tricks that are simply enjoyable nearly a century later -- it's exciting in 2019, I can only imagine how exciting this might have been to original viewers.

Not to mention, this film's contemporary edit is around 45 minutes (Hollywood, how about that! It's the perfect length for a simple story chock full of effects).Glad I caught this, and you can too, tracked it down on YouTube.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Dangal (2016)

There's a handful of Aamir Khan films in the IMDb top 250 I haven't watched, but this recent one, Dangal, is one had been on my radar that I gravitated towards watching first. This based-on-a-true story of a father who's aspirations for his unborn children (a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in wrestling) are dashed when his family is filled with daughters instead of boys is an incredibly compelling film. In the spirit of great sports movies, the film does it all right.

My wife and I split the film experience into three sessions (at over two and half hours long), but in watching it I regretted earlier on we hadn't included our 10 year old daughter in the watching experience, but have since shared it with her as well. Our younger boys haven't watched it, because of subtitles, but otherwise would expect they'd enjoy as well. Although the heart of the film, resonates with some parental experiences, but also champions some powerful concepts. Powerful scenes include the turning point for Geeta and Babita talking to their friend who was married off at a young age, some fantastic scenes of perseverance and training (my daughter likened it to Rocky) and so many other powerful scenes from start to finish.

Glad I watched it and can cross it off the list of IMDb top 250 films I haven't seen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

IMDb Top 250 - Revisited 2019

A little over 5 years ago, I thought I could make a dent in the top 250 film list; in October 2013 I had seen 188 of the 250 films and worked on making a dent in the list, including enjoying some great films along the way (like the 2010 film Incendies then 242 and now ranked 124).

But alas, for all that effort, instead of seeing 188 out of 250, as of today I've seen 184 of the 250.

In 2013 I talked about genre films having a little extra boost in the ratings, but in the past 5 years the current list seems to capture more contemporary world cinema that can put you behind the eight ball on this list. Not to mention, the list shifts all the time.

As of today here are the 66 films (26.4% of the list) that I have not seen...and we'll see if in 2019 I can make a deeper dent. For those interested the full list (always changing) can be found here.

36. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
43. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
44. Whiplash (2014)
55. The Great Dictator (1940)
59. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
60. Paths of Glory (1957)
62. Django Unchained (2012)
64. Princess Mononoke (1997)
70. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
79. Your Name. (2016)
80. M (1931)
82. Dangal (2016)
84. Like Stars on Earth (2007)
85. 3 Idiots (2009)
99. The Kid (1921)
117. Yojimbo (1961)
123. Heat (1995)
125. Ikiru (1952)
127. Andhadhun (2018)
128. The Great Escape (1963)
129. Children of Heaven (1997)
131. My Father and My Son (2005)
134. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
135. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
139. The Gold Rush (1925)
143. Casino (1995)
144. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri(2017)
147. Inside Out (2015)
149. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
151. V for Vendetta (2005)
155. Dial M for Murder (1954)
158. Green Book (2018)
167. Come and See (1985)
171. Sherlock Jr. (1924)
173. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
174. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
177. Tokyo Story (1953)
178. Mary and Max (2009)
183. Sunrise (1927)
184. Wild Tales (2014)
190. Stalker (1979)
194. The Bandit (1996)
196. Memories of Murder (2003)
197. Persona (1966)
201. Andrei Rublev (1966)
204. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
207. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
213. Logan (2017)
214. Rang De Basanti (2006)
217. NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
218. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2(2011)
221. Barry Lyndon (1975)
223. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
229. Diabolique (1955)
230. La Haine (1995)
234. The Nights of Cabiria (1957)
237. The Handmaiden (2016)
239. Tangerines (2013)
240. Castle in the Sky (1986)
241. Paris, Texas (1984)
242. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)
243. Drishyam (2015)
244. Paper Moon (1973)
246. PK (2014)
247. Sanjuro (1962)
248. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Friday, October 05, 2018

Bluebird, Bluebird

Recently I completed reading the book Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke.

The book, is a contemporary crime novel focused on a Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews, who with his own personal demons in the typical flawed hero fashion who finds himself involved solving a crime in a small East Texas town.

Yet, this book is not just a crime novel, it's a social reflection. The author, Locke, an African-American has chosen to make her main character a Black Texas Ranger -- something she calls out as unique. This man, is being indicted in court at the start of the book for involvement in another crime and being accused of protecting a black man (a friend) who is accused with limited evidence of killing a racist white man who had given his friend (and the ranger) grief on previous occasion. With his Texas Ranger status suspended he rolls into a situation where he's investigating a crime of a white woman and a black man (potentially connected) in a small town with a black diner and bar that may be part of a Aryan hate group. Oh, yes, and the small town's police force is, you guessed it, white and resistant to the rangers investigation.

I've chosen the phrase "social reflection" instead of "social commentary" though here to describe this book. Locke was clearly working through fiction to create characters and situations that interacted with the public discourse on the state and perceptions of African American rights and relationship with police and the justice system. Yet at the same time she chose some archetype characters put didn't just want to tell a one-dimensional tale with a cut and dry message. Instead she layered in a deep complexity of roles, power, and the impact of time and culture. In many ways shaping a story that in many ways seemed to say "this is complicated."

In many ways, one of the compelling parts of this story is that it takes place in small town Texas, and you can tell that Locke has done well to craft this landscape in a real and compelling way, that makes this story unique (and perhaps at time easier to contain) than a story that would take in an urban environment.

In that regard, as a story, there were times when I felt like Locke was more concerned with weaving this reflection and layering of characters than in creating a compelling plot. There was certainly moments here that were engaging, but there was also a point when I found myself ready for some action but instead got backstory and reflection -- something I typically enjoy, but with a series of flawed characters and complexities I found myself start to at times find myself to emotionally detach from the characters themselves and find out how it all fit together.

If there is one more critic here, it was that in many ways, there was something about this book that felt more like a film or television series. It may be unfair to assume that Locke's experience as a writer for the Televisions series show Empire would have influenced her writing here, but in a story like this I expected to see some more character arch in the central character, but instead Darren seemed like the star of a TV show with those around him coming in and out as support characters. In this way, it was not surprising to me to find out after reading it that FX had made purchased rights to Locke's work (this book to be the first of three) to be produced under the name Highway 57. I could see this doing well in this medium, and frankly in many ways I sensed it being written with this end game at least partially in mind.

All in all thought, I appreciated this book and think that it's good to see these conversations as part of our social dialogue and appreciate what seemed to be an attempt to present a multi-faceted story that didn't try to hard to generalize the race/justice conversation into a single narrative.

This book is part of my 12 books in 2018 challenge, see the other books/post here

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ordinary Grace

I've been reading the book Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger for awhile and have recently finished it.

Why it has taken me so long to read (months perhaps?) has perplexed me. The book was an enjoyable read. I would sit down and read the bite sized chapter and enjoy the coming of age style story of Frank Drum growing up in a small Minnesota town in 1961.

I could imagine the town, the characters and the details of the relationship between the young Frank and his younger brother, older sister and conflicted parents.

Frank's father, a minister was a respectful characterization of a pastoral character. I am always intrigued by pastoral characters who often are portrayed in the extremes fluffy-bunny softies or secretly sadistic maniacs and appreciated this tale that made him very much someone who was between these extreme. I man who acting on his vocational desires but dealing with his own past, a family in their own unique places in their lives and spiritual journeys, and dealing with a congregation with their own spectrum of interest. This by far was the greatest joy to me in the story.

So coming back to my original perplexity here is "why did it take me so long to read?" I joked with my mid-west wife that reading this book made me feel like I was hanging out in a mid-west town or with mid-west people. There was a lot of life details and the pace was a little bit in the ordinary space, even, when the events were far from typical. And then in the same way I wasn't bored. I could easily have enjoyed this type of book in the spirit of a television miniseries or serial TV show (Broadchurch or Bloodline) as the characters and the stories unraveling are in many ways more intriguing then the finale.

A delightful read towards my 2018 reading challenge, but one that slowed me down somehow just a bit.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

Oh my, this was a good one.

The Monk of Mokha by is a new biography by Dave Eggers about an unlikely entrepenuer Mokhtar Alhanshali. (Although a biography, Amazon currently has this book at "#1 Best Seller in the Persian Gulf Travel Guides Category" which is a less than accurate category, but...well algorithms and such).

Mohktar is a twenty-something second generation American of Yemeni descent growing up in  rough neighborhood of San Francisco trying to find his way in a world. He's not sure of his passion, college is not quite obtainable, and in many ways is at a millennial crisis with his values, his culture and the American dream.

And yet - the story does not just hem and haw through this journey. Instead the talented Dave Eggers writes a wonderful story that in many ways, takes it's readers by the suprises that I'm sure were equally surprising for Mohktar as he saw his story unfold. T

Mohktar realizes the central role Yemen had to the initial discovery and cultivation of coffee in the 16th century, and Mohktar in this discovery takes great pride in this lesser known fact in a world where Yemen had a small fraction of the coffee trade and was not known for quality coffee. He decides that he wants to bring he book in many ways is as much an education in coffee cultivation and the global trade of coffee (which Eggers takes some great care to outline in conjunction with the period of time that Mohktar was also learning the scale and scope of his new found dream).

So as the story introduces Mohktar and educates the readers about coffee, the book then takes the amazing turn as Mohktar heads to Yemen and begins to begin his entrepenueral dreams with limited experience, capital, and a war torn country where he finds himself caught in the middle of Saudi led airstrikes in Yemen and a divided country between Houtis forced and a complex set of allies and political and rebel coalitions within the political hotbed.

What starts as an endearing person story, turns into the history of coffee and by the end becomes  quite the page turner.

The story's a pleasure and one that I was glad was part of my 2018 reading list for 12 books in 2018.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere

After waiting quite some time on my library wait list, this clearly popular book came in and was an easy book to tear through.

The book Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is an interesting character study about a suburban family with four teenagers in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The book works through some perhaps common themes of items such as suburban ideals versus deviant rejection of these principles, but does so with intriguing story telling.

One of my favorite things that Ng did in this book was unravel the story in a way that almost carelessly (but clearly intentionally) dropped hints along the way of future parts of the story while keeping the details locked up -- early on the book outlines an event with a fire, talks about a town controversy, details a mother and daughter leaving town in the middle of the night, and some interpersonal challenges between a group of four siblings. What is it all about you ask? And the book lets the intrigue unfold one question at a time.

In addition to Ng's story telling, she also does a great job of demonstrating an understanding of people. The characters she creates generally seem reasonable and believable. These may be characters but they not only seem believably but also reasonable archetypes on a suburban community.

As on of my book choices for 2018 (12 books in 2018 goal), this was an enjoyable selection and addition, not to mention, pleasantly intriguing.

Saturday, March 03, 2018


In 2017 I ended by 12 book goal with Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Since reading it I have found that I felt like it's style and themes connected with me in a way that left me enjoying without giving out a lot of recommendations for others to read. Certain pieces of the book felt like they touched on my own idiosyncratic interest, such as typography.

So I was pretty excited to finish reading a see that Robin Sloan had recently written a book called Sourdough.

Sourdough conceivably was something that instantly resonated me having recently restarted by own starter (a dedicated sourdough bread maker for over a year until a dishwasher and insurance issue interrupted my diligence). Similar to Mr. Penumbra, this book did not disappoint - there were times when I was reading, laughing out loud and feeling connected to the character Lois (is she Lois from the technology firm, or is she Lois the bread maker?) who is capable of making it in the modern world, but called to other less mechanized worlds.

In many ways, Sourdough was an easy read, but also had some narrative inconsistencies, largely because Lois is in many way the singular character in this story and everyone else who comes and goes are less than supporting characters, limiting the narrative arch of the story.

All said, plenty to enjoy here - although at time I stopped reading to make my own sourdough bread.


This book is part of my series 12 books in 2018.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me --  or as my daughter and I called it What's the name of that book again? -- is a delightful children's novel and Newberry medal winner by Rebecca Stead.

My 9-year old reader doesn't typically take my recommendations, and this was no exception. But when she got sick I read this to her and we both really enjoyed it.

Stead's book is different for modern children's literature  in that it takes place in the late 70s in New York City with a plot that in part centers on the mother's acceptance as a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid. In fact, because of the $20,000 Pyramid theme my daughter and watched a YouTube episode of the show (an episode with David Letterman as the celebrity guest) to help her understand what the author was talking about (such as the speed round and winner's circle). The chapters have topics like you'd see in the game show so we pretended that each chapter was one of these challenges (example chapter title is "Things That Open" and I'd say "Jar of Peanut Butter, Car Door, House Door, Backpack).

The book was really enjoyable to read aloud and has a mysterious plot (mystery notes) as well as some pre-teen angst ("why is that boy no longer talking to me" and changing interpersonal relationships), and with super short chapters it led itself well to bed time reading where you could decide how long you were going to read and not get stuck in the middle of a chapter.

The book's main character, Miranda, loves the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and if my daughter took my recommendations I'd use that as a jumping spot to get her to read that one (on her own), but that's probably not so promising.

This book has a lot of heart and sweetness and is the perfect book for a girl my daughter's age -- hitting them right on the edge of more independence, more emotion and a time where an understated female hero navigating family and friendship is delightful.

Part of the 2018 reading series for 12 books in 2018.

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Return: Fathers, Sons and The Land in Between

I recently finished reading the Pulitzer Prize (Biography/Autobiography) winning book The Return by Hisham Matar.

Matar's story is remarkable, namely because while he has spent much of his time in the western world -- including his birth, having been born in New York when his father was a part of Libyan delegation to the UN -- his life centered on volatile Libran country under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. What is more, his father Jaballa Matar with deep political roots was not an allie to this regime and the young Matar and family were exiles of privledge. Matar's seem so foreign and incredible, stories of family members on the lookout constantly for fear of the worst.

In 1990, as a young man, Matar's father was kidnapped by the Egyptian Secret Policy. For all the intrigue of the period of Matar's life up to this point, this book really focuses on the years after the kidnap, especially those in the final days of Gaddafi regime.

Matar's book is only semi-linear, with pieces of his story and his quest to understand his father's fate as the central thread in the story.

In reading this book, some sections were quite powerful, while others were a little bit challenging to get through. In many ways, a disappointment of mine was that while Matar's father was kidnapped I felt like he wardened off his narrative from understanding the people that were in his life through the journey, namely his mother and wife Diana. I was left curious wondering, who are these ladies? How did his mother bare these times? in this regard, my favorite passages were the limited glimpses into his mother's act of waiting in the early days of his kidnap including the video taping of soccer matches he was missing on television.

Yet, the central focus of this book is Matar and his personal reckoning with his father's imprisonment.

There is one paragraph in this book, that I really feel sums up the ethos of this book that in my opinion in the central thesis of this text.

"The country that separates fathers and sons has disoriented many travelers. It is very easy to get lost here. Telemachus, Edgar, Hamlet, and countless other sons, their private dramas ticking away in the silent hours, have sailed so far out into the uncertain distance between past and present that they seem to drift. They are men, like all men, who have come into the world through another man, a sponsor, opening the gate and, if they are lucky, doing so gently, perhaps with a reassuring smile and an encouraging nudge on the shoulder. And the fathers themselves must have known, having once themselves been sons, that the ghostly presence of their hand will remain throughout the years, to the end of time, and that no matter what burdens are laid on that shoulder or the number of losses a lover plants there, perhaps knowingly driven by the secret wish to erase the claim of another, the shoulder will remain forever faithful, remembering that good man's hand that had ushered him into the world. To be a man is to be part of this chain of gratitude and remembering, of blame and forgetting, of surrender and rebellion, until a son's gaze is made so wounded and keen that, on looking back, he sees nothing but shadows. With every passing day the father journeys further into his night, deeper into the fog, leaving behind remnants of himself and the monumental yet obvious fact, at once frustrating and merciful -- for how else is the son to continue living if he must not also forget -- that no matter how hard we try we can never entirely know our fathers."  
 --The Return, Hisham Matar (first paragraph of Chapter 6, "Poems")

This book is one of the books in my 2018 goal of reading 12 books in 2018.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

When Breath Becomes Air

I recently (and quickly) finsihed When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The book, which was published post posthumously does not keep the author in suspense as to the eventual outcome of the author. Paul Kalanithi was in his final year of residency in neurological surgery when diagnosed with lung cancer.

My expectation of the book was that it would focus on the trials of a doctor dealing medical tragedy and that it would be an emotionally heavy read.

While the above was partially ture, what I read was different than expected.

For starters, as discussed in the forward and in the text of the memoir, Kalanithi was a fantastic writer. Kanithi had not initially began his life trajectory looking towards medicine, and instead had a literary interest (his undergraduate study was in English literature), and the though of writing was not something that occurred at the onset of cancer, rather something that was contemplated for later in his life. The result was a memoir written by a fantastic writer. The text was interesting, compelling, contemplative, and engaging. I am convinced that this is only slightly in part due to the life situation that Kalanithi found himself in -- his cancer.

The first half of the book deals with Kalanithi's pre-cancer life and his telling of his life pre-cancer was incredibly compelling, not for the actual content but the authenticity of how he ended up a brain surgeon and the lessons along the way. To read about the real experiences of a brain surgeon (names and situations changed to protect the medical rights of those described) is a window into a common world that is rarely shared (probably that protecting the privacy of others, and not all doctors could write some contemplatively).

The title of the book seemed poetic at at the start, but the title is so apt because it really describes the stories central conflict -- a wrestling of the treatment of the inevitable treatment from life to death and the existential challenge of the decisions that are made along the way.

One of the great things about this book, is that as a reader you know the outcome, you read the sincerity in the text that Kalanithi doesn't know his outcome and is wrestling with the decisions of what a young man is supposed to do with his life when he doesn't know his remaining life. As for conclusions, Kalanithi is transparent in not presenting a path, instead acknowledging how his own thoughts shaped and evolved as his story unfolds.

While the story is sad, for me the years didn't start until about page 187, I see this book as a great gift for Kalantithi to share, and a great gift that his wife Lucy Kalanthi gave in finishing the book and helping bring the book to press upon his death.

This book is one of the books in my 2018 goal of reading 12 books in 2018.