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My Top Ten Movies of 2008

Posted by samgr on December 28, 2008

With the obvious caveat that I can choose only from movies I have seen.

  1. Flight of the Red Balloon
  2. Let the Right One In
  3. WALL-E
  4. A Christmas Tale
  5. The Dark Knight
  6. Ballast
  7. The Visitor
  8. Happy-Go-Lucky
  9. Frozen River
  10. The Band’s Visit

A strange list now that I look at it… But I think accurate as far as my opinions go.


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Sound! Fury! Blaah! Argh!

Posted by samgr on May 26, 2008

Continuing my quest to plug embarrassing holes in my reading history, I’m trying to address the fact that I’d never read ANY Faulkner. So, the Sound and the Fury away!

First thought: depressing. And sort of hard to connect with for me. The decline of an aristocratic Southern family is very alien to my experiences. Of course, so are, say, orcs, but I felt more of a disconnect with Fury than I have with other novels I’ve read.

Second thought: I actually liked the book, but I didn’t really wake up until the third section. See section-by-section analysis:

Benjamin Compson, idiot brother— meh. (Reading Augie March now, whats the deal with idiot brothers?)

Quentin Compson, depressed emo Harvard kid— meh times a hundred. I don’t have to READ about that.

Jason Compson, angry son-of-a bitch shopkeeper with twin devil-horn spit-curls— BING! I’m paying attention now; we’re back in Plainview-Hearst-land. Tell me what happens! (Spoiler: he comes back to Jefferson and makes a carriage go the other way around a statue. Um… okay. No milkshake?)

Caddy Compson, promiscuous… whoops, not gonna hear from her. “Psych!” says Faulkner, “No female narrator for you!” Instead, we get William Faulkner, omniscient narrator and— Dialect. Lots and lots of dialect. Why do black people talk in dialect and white people don’t, even when we’re no longer inhabiting a white narrator?

This all is kind of hyper-kinetic, and seems like I didn’t like the book, but I think I did. I’m just still digesting it and working out my reactions.

Posted in books, reviews, William Faulkner | 4 Comments »

How About UNDERrated Books?

Posted by samgr on March 11, 2008

I was going to write about more things I thought were overrated, but I couldn’t go through with it. I’ve decided that talking about things that are UNDERrated is less misanthropic. You can make the point that a lot of people don’t know about something, rather than helpfully pointing out that you are right and everyone else is wrong.

Anyway, my underrated book nomination is Loving, by Henry Green. It’s probably one of my favorite… I dunno… four or five books I’ve ever read, and not many people have even heard of it. It’s about a manor house in Ireland during World War II, and it’s written in this pretty much indescribable style — strange and sparse, mostly dialogue, but also occasionally wildly lyrical and descriptive to the point of being bizarre. The tone actually reminds me of Shirley Jackson, although I’m not sure why; it’s obviously not a horror book in any way.

Come to think of it, I may not be using “underrated” correctly. I think there are probably not many people who have read Loving and think it’s bad… Whatever, the real title of this post should be “Loving: A Book that I Like.”

Seriously though, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is stupid.

“Come along then.” said Jonathan. “Climb with me away from the ground, and we’ll begin.”
“You don’t understand. My wing. I can’t move my wing.”
“Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way. It is the Law of the Great Gull, the Law that Is.”
“Are you saying I can fly?”
“I say you are free.”


Posted in books, Henry Green, reviews, Shirley Jackson | 2 Comments »

The Oscars

Posted by samgr on February 23, 2008

As usual, I haven’t seen many of the movies that got a lot of major nominations. I have seen three of the best picture nominees though. I would certainly be cool with either “Juno” or “No Country for Old Men” winning; they were both great movies. I would be sort of weirded out if “There Will be Blood” won, though.

As I’ve said before, I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was great and all, but I’m still unsure what exactly it was in the service of. The movie was very long, intermittently interesting, and I’m just not certain I know what the point was. I would likely be roundly abused for saying this to many people, but I think “Juno” and “No Country” were both much better movies—the now ubiquitous “Juno” backlash be damned. I don’t think much of turning against movies when they get more popular, and therefore not as hip. Hell, I still like “Titanic” (which completely invalidates my opinion about all this I’m sure…)

Anyway, I have no one particular outcome that I’m pulling for in any of the awards, which I sometimes do. Last year, all that mattered to me was that Alan Arkin won best supporting actor, and he did! Life was good.

So… that’s that I guess. I’ll watch it for John Stewart.

Posted in movies, reviews | 1 Comment »

Daniel Plainview vs. George Hearst

Posted by samgr on February 20, 2008

PlainviewBattle of the psychopathic old-timey tycoon misanthropes! Who will come out on top?

Category: Facial Hair
Edge: Has to be Plainview. He rocks the mustache, while Hearst never really looks completely comfortable with his beard, which he grows over the course of the show.

Category: Weapon of Choice
Edge: That’s one for Hearst. Pick over bowling pin, no question.

Category: Historical Accuracy
Ultimately unclear. Hearst was a real dude, obviously, but was he really that much of a bastard?

Category: Henchmen
That would be Hearst again. 300-pound Pinkertons are a lot more intimidating than small deaf children.

Category: Hilarity
Edge: Oh man. Plainview without the tinest shadow of a doubt. Please see this video if you don’t know how drainage works.Hearst

Category: Critical Acclaim
Edge: It’s Plainview by a mile. Everyone and their mom calls him a “towering performance.”

Category: Bastard Factor
This is tough. I have to say Hearst, who seems to rack up a higher overall body-count, and also to be more comfortable with being cruel just to relieve boredom.

Hearst by my accounts. More personally unpleasant, and springs from vastly more interesting material.

Seriously though, these two characters are weirdly similar. They’re both scary turn-of-the-century psychopaths who claim to be single-mindedly interested in digging for natural resources, but really just want everyone around them to fail and to knuckle under. That seems like such an incredibly specific “type” that the coincidence is strange. I dunno.

Posted in Deadwood, movies, reviews, television | Leave a Comment »

Take this, Films of 2007

Posted by samgr on January 17, 2008

Because it occurred to me, here is my list of the top ten movies of 2007. These are obviously limited to what I’ve seen.

  1. Juno
  2. 3:10 to Yuma
  3. Beowulf
  4. Sweeney Todd
  5. No Country for Old Men
  6. Into Great Silence
  7. Ratatouille
  8. The Bourne Ultimatum
  9. Sicko
  10. The Simpsons Movie

And now, keeping in mind that I saw barely more than twenty movies, here are the three worst:

  1. Spiderman 3
  2. Transformers
  3. Stardust

    I was gonna do the five worst, but aside from those three stinkers I actually liked SOMETHING about most of the other movies I saw, so I thought I’d leave them in their own category. These are three terrible, terrible movies. Comments? I’m looking at you here, Daniel. How do you like Beowulf up there at number three?

    Posted in movies, reviews | 5 Comments »

    A Little More on Salinger (And I’m Home)

    Posted by samgr on October 11, 2007

    Back in the states after a long night’s series of flights.

    And while on my Tico Salinger kick, I also read Nine Stories by Salinger. I’m now officially Salingered out (and I guess so is Salinger since 1965…) I still like The Catcher in the Rye a whole lot, but the stories are much less interesting too me. I like Holden because he’s pretty much a regular person. The Glass family — which Salinger seems to get more and more fixated on — is far less interesting to me as a character or set of characters. They’re all geniuses. They’re into Eastern religion. They talk all the friggin’ time in language no human would ever speak. They’re conflicted and stuff. I’m bored of them, and I don’t get why Salinger isn’t as well.

    Also, Salinger is very big on the whole “cute kids” kick, which is bizarre, since I think of him as such a smart, cynical writer. Some precocious girl helps a soldier come to terms with WWII. A kid defeats prejudice because he hears “kite” for “kike”. Some irritating little towhead is a Buddhist genius and predicts the future. Blah. After a while it gets like looking through an Ann Geddes coffee table book. Ooh, isn’t that darling, she’s dressed up as a banana. This spiritually advanced nine-year-old helps me appreciate human innocence. Etc.

    It made me almost relieved to hear that a ten-year-old kid was eaten by a crocodile last week when I was in Tortuguero. That way I was at least sure he wouldn’t come up to me and spout enlightening koans or something.

    Basically, I think people should read A Catcher in the Rye and perhaps nothing else. I still think my decision to pick up Nine Stories was better than the other option I was considering, which was The Fountainhead. I feel like someday I have to read Ayn Rand to be well-informed, but I really don’t want to. Maybe I will if I’m ever in prison.

    Posted in books, Costa Rica, J.D. Salinger, reviews, travel | Leave a Comment »

    Franny and Zooey in Costa Rica

    Posted by samgr on October 2, 2007

    My reactions to reading Franny and Zooey, in order–

    1) Man, who is this Lane jerk? What a tool. I would be perfect for Franny. I would understand her and stuff.

    2) It´s so tough to be an afflicted genius. Tear.

    3) Seymour´s fat lady = little man at Chehaw Station (a la Ralph Ellison),
    Seymour´s fat lady = Christ, so little man at Chehaw Station = Christ? Hmmm…

    4) Franny and Zooey = The Royal Tenenbaums

    I liked it though. And I am in Costa Rica, in Puerto Viejo. (Walking here: Hey man, good ganja? Hey man, want smokes?) More on that to come: the country not the smokes. I am getting a lot of good reading done, though. Discovered Jose Saramago, whom I´d never heard of before.

    Posted in books, Costa Rica, J.D. Salinger, reviews, travel | Leave a Comment »

    A Renaissance for Drive-In Movie Theaters?

    Posted by samgr on July 5, 2007

    I was talking with my roommate Cailin about this this morning; I think it’s high time for drive-in movie theaters to come back into style. It seems like such a great idea to me. They used to be everywhere, but now I’d have to drive for a couple hours to get to the closest, which is depressing. I think there could be a market. Nostalgia sells; you could have waitresses on roller-skates and everything.

    There were a lot of open-air theaters in Greece when I was writing for a travel guide there, and they were great! Some were on roofs; you would sit down outside, get a beer, and watch the show. That’s a slightly different thing I guess, and in either case it’s sort of climate-dependent, but I’m sure it could all be made to work somehow.

    (I always watched schlocky American movies in Greece when I was homesick. I saw Spiderman 2 and Hidalgo, both of which I would give three stars out of five… You can’t get much more Hollywood than Hidalgo; it’s about a cowboy teaching uptight Arabs to loosen up and be more like Americans. At the end, he’s saved by the spirits of his native American ancestors. I guess that’s a spoiler. Spoiler alert.)

    What do you think? Would you pay to see a drive-in movie? Would you pay ME to see a drive-in movie? Would you pay the spirits of your native American ancestors?

    Posted in movies, reviews | Leave a Comment »

    One Sentence Reviews Thus Far

    Posted by samgr on February 9, 2007


    The Road, by Cormac McCarthy — Yay!

    The Road is a beautifully-written and inordinately depressing description of a post-apocalyptic America, but the masterful language would have more power and significance if married to a better plot.
    (reviewed 1/15/07)

    Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino — Yay!

    This book is fantastic, deeply weird, and smarter than me.
    (reviewed 1/15/07)

    The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon — Nay.

    I love both Michael Chabon and the concept for this book (an unnamed elderly detective and beekeeper solves a mystery in 1944), but, despite beautiful language, it doesn’t arrive anywhere or achieve much; what’s more, I have my own more interesting ideas about what Mr. H. would be up to in his dotage.
    (reviewed 1/17/07)

    Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe — Yay!

    Despite the grisly and melodramatic title, this is a pretty good scifi/fantasy story set in the far future, boasting an original and interesting world that is unfortunately populated by listless and boring characters (and weirdly-written sex).
    (reviewed 1/17/07)


    Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo Del Toro — Yay!

    Pan’s Labyrinth was among the two or three best movies I’ve seen all year, using fantastic imagery and fairy-tale themes to tell a deeply-moving story and remind the viewer of the fundamental cruelty at the heart of fascism.
    (reviewed 1/15/07)

    Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling — Yay!

    I guess everyone knows this already, but this movie is awesome; also it has Paul Rudd in it.
    (reviewed 1/17/01)

    Posted in books, movies, reviews | Leave a Comment »