Sunday, November 29, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #68

Title: Main Street
Author: Sinclair Lewis
Judgin' the Book by its Cover: Remember the old Dover Thrift Editions we had to read in high school with the weird paisley-ish prints on their covers? Those were weird. This must be a classy Dover Thrift Edition...

Thoughts: Main Street is the story of Carol Kennicott, a St. Paul librarian who trades in her big city aspirations for small town life when she falls in love with a country doctor. Carol moves to fictional Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, an Anytown, USA, and soon finds herself suffocating beneath the scrutiny and small-mindedness of the townsfolk. The story follows her attempts to buck the system and bring ambitious reform to the town.

Lewis writes as someone who is intimately familiar with the workings of American small towns. Even though the book was originally published in 1920, much of what Lewis describes still rings true today: the doting mother of the town bad boy who can't see her son for who he truly is, the ostracization of the artistic young man, the town's labeling of anything they dislike as "pro-German" during the war years (remember the accusations of things being "terrorist"?).

This book was really sad at times, but eventually left me feeling a bit hopeful. I could relate to Carol's feelings of slowly being sucked into home life and losing her dreams, although my Man Friend certainly doesn't misunderstand me the way that her husband does. But Carol eventually finds a balance, and her story is the story of another America (an off-Main Street America, perhaps), one in which we live day to day in the "humdrum inevitable tragedy of struggle against inertia", as Lewis terms it. Definitely a worthwhile read.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #70

Title: The Alexandria Quartet
Author: Lawrence Durrell
Judgin' the Book by its Cover: The photograph on this cover is strangely appropriate, although it depicts nothing from the novel. The image of the European women as tourists in a foreign land is a pretty apt depiction of the characters' relationship to their environment.

Thoughts: Whew. I feel like I need to chug some Gatorade and do some serious stretching after this marathon. (Incidentally, today is the New York marathon... but hey, any old jerk can run 26.2 miles. It takes a serious person to read an 887-page book). First of all, the Modern Library folks pulled a fast one! The Alexandria Quartet is actually four novels bundled together, so even though the characters overlap and the setting remains the same through most of the work, it's technically not a novel, in my book. Hrmph.

Annnnyyyyhoozle... the book is, like I said, four separate novels published in one volume. The first story, Justine, is written from the perspective of one L.G. Darley, a British writer who is swept into an affair with a married Alexandrian socialite. Darley, a pretty obvious stand-in for Durrell himself, does a rigorous postmortem on the complicated and stormy relationship with Justine, a calculating nymphomaniac married to Nessim, one of the city's prominent bankers. I really struggled with this storyline. The prose consisted mainly of dated psychosexual analysis and broad observations about groups of people. However, the second book, Balthazar, provided a new (and far more interesting) perspective on the events of the first. In this novel, Darley, now living on a Greek island, receives a letter from Balthazar, a scholar of the Kabbalah and a doctor, that pulls the rug out from under Darley's understanding of the affair. The third volume, Mountolive, pulls back and offers a history of Nessim's family that lays the foundation for understanding the social and political climate in Alexandria. Finally, Clea, the fourth, brings a wiser, more mature Darley back to the city as the second world war tightens its grip on the Mediterranean.

The strength of the quartet is its wealth of characters. Durrell manages to create a world in which all the characters are multidimensional and undergo personal transformations throughout the course of the work. The weakness of the quartet, on the other hand, is its failure to create a real world for the characters to live in. Alexandria is seen only through the eyes of the British colonial worldview, and while the descriptions of the geography are quite beautiful at times, the residents of the city are described only as dark and animal-like others. I've been constantly struck throughout this project by the off-putting racism of many of these authors, and this is one of the worst examples. Nearly every description of a native Alexandrian includes a reference to the blackness or darkness of their skin, and they are not given the importance or roundness of the main characters. It's as though the entirety of Alexandria is a playground for the Europeans or the Coptic and Jewish minorities, and everyone else outside of these groups is a part of the scenery that isn't worth investigation. In this respect, I didn't find that Durrell brought Alexandria to life, which is too bad. Moreover, the squishy philosophizing in the book was nearly unbearable to read, and for me it was at its most interesting when it stayed away from that. Overall I enjoyed the book, but given the immense chunk of time I invested in it trying to get interested, I'm not sure I would do it again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Half-Way Point!!

50 down, 50 to go! Unfortunately, 22 of those are books that I'd read previously, and since last month marked the two-year anniversary of this project, it could take me as long as four more years to finish this!! Better get my butt in gear and pick up the pace!

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #71

Title: A High Wind in Jamaica
Author: Richard Hughes
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: What an evocative cover! The contrast between the roiling black skies and the bright, oversized fruit and flowers illustrates the darkness about to overtake the dreamscape of Jamaica. Even the poppies in the foreground suggest an unpleasant, opiatic vision.

Thoughts: This novel, originally published in 1929, tells the story of the sea voyage of seven children from Jamaica to England. After a hurricane levels the family homestead, the Bas-Thorntons send their five children unaccompanied back to the motherland to be nurtured by civilization. Two neighbor children join them on the journey. But the hurricane was only the beginning of the nightmare for the children; not long after departing from Montego Bay, the boat is taken over by pirates, and the children are haphazardly abducted. During the resulting time, the pirates try to adhere to a strict moral code when dealing with the children, but the children themselves soon devolve into amorality.

Hughes' interest in the psychology of children is evident, and he is particularly interested in the opposing ways that adults and children view each other. He certainly punctures the myth of the innocence of childhood, and maintains that within the most angelic naif there lies calculated deception. Hughes' prose is very detached, withholding judgment and refusing to show emotion in the face of extreme events. Similarly, the children react to tragedy with a cool indifference, almost immediately forgetting about the death of a family member. Instead, they fixate on details that could only be of importance to a small child ("There was a monkey!"), and they place a much higher premium on propriety than on actions or motive.

The book has rightly been described as nightmarish, and has also been likened to The Lord of the Flies. In my mind, at least the beginning of it bore a greater similarity to the beginning of Wide Sargasso Sea-- the images of a ruined landscape and collapsed slave economy induce an instant feeling of dread. By the end of the novel, the weaknesses of every character lie in plain sight for all to see. So perhaps this story is simply a post-colonial metaphor, an elucidation of the evil that lurks just under the polite, well-mannered surface of the colonizing British.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #72

Title: A House for Mr. Biswas
Author: V.S. Naipaul (Sound familiar? He should, if you're a faithful reader... and if you're not, get out of here! I don't need any fair-weather fans!!)
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: I love this bright, splashy cover! It captures the essence of the vibrant island of Trinidad far more than the book does, which seemed like it could have been set almost anywhere (my book cover, courtesy of NYPL, was a plain, red, cloth cover... not too exciting). I got a much stronger sense of place about Trinidad from a few short pages in Netherland.

Thoughts: A House for Mr. Biswas narrates the struggles of an Indo-Trinidadian man to gain independence through home ownership.
Mohun Biswas, a character reportedly based on Naipaul's father, is born unlucky and, after his father's untimely death, is plagued by bad decisions, poverty, overbearing in-laws, and unsatisfactory employment. In this regard, he is something of an everyman; there is a universal element to the trials and tribulations that he faces. It was often very frustrating to read about Mohun's exploits; like a lovable loser uncle, nothing he does seems to turn out right and he's a magnet for scam artists. However, he's also an incorrigible troublemaker, and his insistence on standing up to pushy family members was at times the only thing that kept me reading.

Naipaul presents a thoroughly descriptive portrait of Mohun Biswas, and I really felt like I knew him through and through, especially since the book covers his entire life, from cradle to grave. It was a masterfully written story, but its bleakness and pessimism were sometimes hard to swallow. Naipaul presents in this story the tragedy of human existence, the oftentimes fruitless struggle to leave your mark on the earth and to overcome miscalculations and blunders. As a result, it wasn't the most enjoyable read, but it was truthful and timeless.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #73

Title: The Day of the Locust
Author: Nathanael West
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: I actually like this pulpy cover more than I like the book itself, although the cover is a bit misleading (the event in the picture never actually takes place)-- I was under the impression, mainly because of the cover, that this was a disaster novel. Yeah, not so much.

Thoughts: There's a belief, possibly the only opinion shared by both New York intellectuals and Midwestern evangelicals, that Hollywood is the dark, twisted counterpoint to the American dream, a whirling cesspool of evil (unlike the healthy stew bubbling away in New York's melting-pot). Nathanael West is surely the progenitor of this viewpoint. The Day of the Locust is easily the ugliest book I've ever read, a sour, black-hearted, apocalyptic vision of mankind at its worst.

The novel, told mainly from the perspective of Tod Hackett, a studio art director, centers around Faye Greener, a beautiful but hard girl whose unabashed sexuality attracts a crowd of low-life admirers. Tod falls for Faye, as does Homer Simpson, a gawky hotel clerk from Iowa who traveled west for his health; Earle, a handsome but poor cowboy who works part-time as an extra; and Miguel, Earle's Mexican roommate. Faye wields her body as a weapon to propel her ever closer to stardom, and her unattainability only fuels the men's fires. As the denouement approaches, the lust and debauchery around Faye increases until nothing is left but utter destruction.

Faye is a stand-in for Hollywood itself, all surface and no substance, the post child for the allure of artificiality. West's Hollywood is filled with creatures like Faye-- dissipated degenerates on the fringe of society who spend their sweaty-palmed coins on the cheap thrills of whorehouses, bars, and cockfights. These residents, who flocked to California in droves in the hopes of a better life, found nothing but disappointment and disillusionment waiting for them, and when they move together en masse, they become a dangerous mob devoid of all humanity.

This novel is particularly nasty-- the terms "slut" and "fairy" are tossed around frequently, the main character on more than one occasion is preoccupied with the idea of rape, and each character is described with a searing contempt. I found it very similar to Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary, in which Puerto Rico's outsiders drink themselves into total collapse. The prose is fairly lively and interesting, but the viewpoint is so toxic that unless you're an incredibly pessimistic person looking for your worldview to be confirmed, you probably won't enjoy this book too much.


Just finished up a long, laborious, and detailed post about The Day of the Locust, and as I clicked on it to publish it, the text vanished and the autosave apparently failed-- it's like I never wrote a word! Totally disheartening... I'm not sure I have the strength to go through that again...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #74

Title: A Farewell to Arms
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: Have we ever talked about how much I love poppies? Few things in life make me as happy as spotting a cluster of poppies waving in the breeze. They're so cheery and spontaneous-- how can you not love them?

Thoughts: OK, we're all friends here, right? So no one's going to judge me after I confess to a great ignorance? You all know me-- American Lit major, book worm, general nerd-- but you may not know that until now, at the ripe old age of 26, I hadn't read a lengthy Hemingway work. While we're being totally honest here, I may as well mention that the only thing I've actually read of his is one short story, "Hills Like White Elephants", something I'd blame partly on the zeal of professors seeking to rid syllabi of the canonical white male authors and partly on my own avoidance of the macho-man-does-macho-things ethos I've always associated with Hemingway. I've had a copy of A Moveable Feast stuffed in my bookshelf for a couple of years, but I've staved off reading it out of fear that I'll rush off to Paris on the next flight out and find myself gnawing on a baguette on the Rue de Rivoli before my poor Man Friend even realizes I'm gone!

To my great surprise, I really liked A Farewell to Arms, and I found the story to be incredibly moving. Between the lines of Hemingway's starved, spare prose lies a tender love story, the story of two people brought together and bound by the nearness of death. Frederick Henry's experiences as an ambulance driver in war-torn Italy closely follow Hemingway's own life, and thought the details of Henry's affair with a nurse differ, the emotions are as true to life as biography, if not more so. I highly recommend this book. I ran to Strand and picked up a copy for Tromant as soon as I finished, and watch out, this book may be headed your way soon, too!

One last thing: an unexpected side effect of this novel was that I consumed more pasta while reading it than I have in the last few months combined! Everything other scene takes place while someone is slurping macaroni or spaghetti-- I'm just glad that I didn't take to guzzling grappa with the same vigor!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #75

Title: Scoop
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: The whimsical illustration and cover design perfectly suit the tone of the book. Nice work, guys!!

Thoughts: An identity mix-up sends bashful nature columnist William Boot to the front lines of a revolution in the African country of Ishmaelia, where he rises to the occasion and becomes a war reporter. This light but satirical farce details the ridiculous nature of competition between newspapers, media's descent on foreign soil, and political coups. No one is left unskewered in this book-- country estate-dwellers, urbane novelists, high society debutantes, media magnates, newspapermen, foreign dignitaries, and the list goes on. Scoop reveals a different side on Waugh, one that is only hinted at in Brideshead Revisited, that of the quick-witted and unrepentant satirist. I really liked this book, although it didn't have the depth or emotional charge of Brideshead. Worth a read.

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #76

Title: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Author: Muriel Spark
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: That's a pretty glamorous photo! But what's going on with the weird fighting cherubs on the left?

Thoughts: This story is about a non-traditional teacher at a traditional school for girls in Scotland, sort of a Dead Poets' Society in which the tale is narrated by a former student who has an ambivalent view of her teacher. Miss Brodie refuses to stick to the prescribed curriculum and instead selects a group of particularly malleable students ("the Brodie set") to take under her wing and instruct about the importance of art, fascism, and her own love life. The deceptively simple story is woven between the past and the present as the narrator slips in clues about the fate of Miss Brodie and her ultimate betrayal at the hands of one of the Brodie set.

I liked the way that Spark dug into the hazards of molding children like putty, and her observations of how aware school kids really are of what is happening around them. I also liked the narrator's bittersweet tone as she looks back on the girls from her past and, knowing what she now knows about their lives and fates, wistfully wishes to undo past actions. But I'm not sure that this is a top-100 kind of novel-- I didn't feel moved or changed by it, and I'm not sure that I would heartily recommend it to someone else.

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #77

Title: Finnegans Wake
Author: James Joyce
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: This may be the blandest cover so far...

Thoughts: This is the book that nearly did me in. I spent four months reading it, probably the longest time I've ever spent on a single book, four months of pain and suffering. When I finally finished it in February, all desire to blog (and every last shred of discipline I ever possessed) had been sucked out of me by the whirling abyss that is Finnegans Wake. I started reading with hope and optimism, which was quickly replaced by nagging worry (which was inevitably followed by intense frustration). I expected the book to be something like, oh, maybe Trainspotting-- written in a difficult vernacular that would suddenly open up and make sense after a chapter or two. Not so with FW. The plot (I use this term loosely) centers around a father and son, stand-ins for periods of Irish history. After that things get really convoluted, particularly since Joyce is interested in the way that stories get distorted with time and likes to spin and re-spin the episodes in the novel. I purchased the Joseph Campbell skeleton key and read it simultaneously, and with Campbell's aid, I sometimes could pick out themes in the text, but I never felt like I truly understood what was going on. Joyce is clearly a talented wordsmith (as evidenced by the abundance of puns in the book, many of which made me chuckle), but I just couldn't wrap my brain around this one, no matter how hard I tried.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Did It!!

I finally finished Finnegans Wake today!! Then, I picked up The Rum Diary (given to me by a coworker) and polished the entire thing off at work today, also (don't worry-- it's totally legal to read at my job)! Stay tuned for my upcoming FW review...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 Movies

Because, as usual, I owe it to my fans to put in my 2 cents, here's a list of all the movies I watched in 2008 (sans Saturday afternoon action movie crapfests that I came in partway through, and probably also minus a few movies that I forgot to record) accompanied by a quick one-line review. I'm sure you've been anxiously awaiting my opinions... Looking back over this, it's pretty clear to me when my "X-Files" re-watching mania began, leaving me with no time to watch movies. 2008 sort of became the year of obsessive, all-encompassing, time-sucking passions for me... We'll have to wait and see what fun 2009 has in store for me!

1.) Idiocracy (Netflix 1/5/08)-- liked it a lot! Funny stuff...
2.) There Will Be Blood (in theater 1/18/08)-- Unbelievable. Crushing, powerful, amazing.
3.) Punch-Drunk Love (re-watch 1/25/08)
4.) Magnolia (Netflix 2/2/08)-- Liked it a lot. A huge movie with an emotional impact, although it was a little muddled and perhaps a bit long. Also, there was a lot of crying.
5.) Juno (in theater 2/11/08)-- good, but not great. Weird how it neatly ended a not-that-happy story...
6.) Atonement (in theater 2/13/08)-- Well-made and unrelentingly sad.
7.) Big Trouble in Little China (on TV)-- greatest movie ever made. USA! USA!! USA!!!
8.) Be Kind Rewind (in theater 3/3/08)-- sweet, but somehow I never really connected to the story or characters. Felt more like something that I SHOULD have liked than something I actually liked.
9.) Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Netflix 3/7/08)-- raunchy, but was more original than the typical stoner/college/gross-out movie because of its commentary on race.
10.) Once (Netflix 3/10/08)-- very sweet and original love story. Really, really liked it!
11.) Stranger Than Fiction (Netflix 3/16/08)-- liked it, although it was a bit too "meta" for my liking. Nice to see Will Ferrell in a more restrained role, though.
12.) Michael Clayton (Netflix 3/17/08)-- OK. I get it-- corporations are ruthless and evil, corporate lawyers are also ruthless and evil, and pesticides are bad for people. Nothing new here. The movie was a little slow, but still fairly enjoyable.
13.) Blades of Glory (Netflix 3/22/08ish)-- Mildly amusing. Napoleon Dynamite guy is a horrible actor.
14.) Me and You and Everyone We Know (Netflix 3/28/08)-- I really liked the theme of people struggling to connect with each other, despite the alienating influence of new technology. But, the undercurrent of very young sexuality, and the light way that it was treated, was pretty uncomfortable (i.e., we're supposed to laugh at a would-be pedophile and underage girls trying to seduce him). So I have mixed feelings about the movie overall.
15.) The Simpsons Movie (re-watch 3/30/08)-- Funny. I fell asleep towards the end 'cause I was really tired and it was Sunday nap time.
16.) Reno 911!: Miami (Netflix 4/5/08)-- Dumb but fairly entertaining. Pretty much the same as a gigantic episode of the show, which I like, but never go out of my way to watch.
17.) Sunshine (Netflix 4/14/08)-- Well-made and interesting, but disturbing and a little too pseudo-scientific for me...
18.) Fantastic Four (on TV 4/27/08)-- Super-cheesy dialogue and dumb story, but still kind of fun.
19.) Spiderman 2 (re-watch 4/27/08)-- I think I actually liked this movie more the second time. The first time around I was totally bored and thought it was just like the first.
20.) Iron Man (in theater 5/2/08)-- Really liked it! Great cast, not cheesy, and totally entertaining.
21.) Hearts of Darkness (Netflix 5/8/08)-- Interesting movie about what goes on behind-the-scenes in a crazy production. Amazing that Apocalypse Now turned out to be any good at all.
22.) Shine a Light (in theater 5/13/08)-- Scorcese. The Rolling Stones. Obviously it rocked. Note: Had tickets to see this opening night, but had to hock them last second to see a friend's show. Then time passed by, etc., and suddenly it was May and I still hadn't seen this. Also, some old dude was smoking pot in the theater... and there were only 7 people in the theater at the 3:30 show.
23.) Batman Begins (re-watch 5/16/08)-- Wanted to get pumped up for the new Batman movie, but had forgotten (or perhaps not realized) how heavy-handed and, at times, clunky this movie was. Granted, exposition is never a prime strength of a comic book movie, but I'm growing a little tired of movies where a full half-hour is spent catching us up with the character's history.
24.) Charlie Wilson's War (Netflix 5/18/08)-- Interesting, and I liked it, despite my hatred for Julia Roberts, my tiredness of Philip Seymour Hoffman's smug superiority, and my disinterest in any Tom Hanks movie. The light satire of the movie suddenly turns sinister, thanks to Mike Nichols' deft handling of the Sorkin script. Also, TVC's own Wynn Everett had some nice screen time (and big hair!).
25.) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (in theater 5/23/08)-- I came in with low expectations because long-awaited sequels to popular franchises seldom fare very well (see Star Wars, Die Hard), and, despite cheesy moments, it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie. It's Indiana F-ing Jones, after all! But, I maintain my original thesis: space, and by extension aliens, are gay.
26.) Tongan Ninja (Netflix 5/25/08)-- I Netflixed this because Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords made it. Plus, it's a New Zealand ninja movie, so that's pretty awesome. It was dumb but amusing, and had some funny musical numbers. Strangely enough, it kind of seemed like something that we would have made in tone, subject matter, and production values. :)
27.) Contempt (at Film Forum as part of the Godard in the 60's retrospective 5/29/08)-- This was an interesting movie about the deterioration of a relationship. I enjoyed it, except for the extra-creepy voyeuristic camera on Brigitte Bardot's naked butt. Pan a little slower, dude, a little slower. Wait, I didn't scour every inch of her butt with my greedy eyes yet! SLOWER!! Ick.
28.) No Country For Old Men (on DVD 5/31/08)-- I finally got around to watching this movie after way too many people told me I MUST SEE IT NOW and detailed their favorite parts, scenes, and even shots. Also, I've already read the book, which read like a screenplay. The movie was a technical success-- beautifully shot, excellent acting, etc., but I was never very engaged by it. After the movie ended, I didn't feel affected by it at all, and I didn't find it memorable at all, which was strange, because I thought about the book for days afterward. Somehow, seeing the story visually represented sort of drained it of all depth and feeling for me. So yeah...
29.) The Big Lebowski (rewatch 6/8/08)-- Watched this for like the 2,000th time. Still awesome.
30.) Jurassic Park (for Cam's birthday 6/29/08)-- Dude, it's Jurassic Park! Greatest movie ever.
31.) Semi-Pro (Netflix 7/1/08)-- Nearly unwatchable. I fear for Will Ferrell.
32.) Persepolis (Netflix 7/18/08)-- Really wanted to see this in the theater, but never made it. Moving memoirs of life in Iran during the revolution and war.
At times very funny and at times very sad. Highly recommended.
33.) The Dark Knight (in theater 7/19/08)-- A taut, tense, and superbly acted movie. Heath Ledger didn't disappoint in his much-hyped final performance. I really don't care about any other movie now.
34.) Zodiac (Netflix 7/24/08)-- A riveting film about the Zodiac killer's terrorization of the Bay area in the late '60's and the labyrinthine investigation surrounding the unsolved murders. I got entirely wrapped up, along with Jake Gyllenhaal's character, in the dizzying plot. This movie really reminded me of All the President's Men, particularly the score, and as it turns out, both films were scored by the same guy. And both movies manage to maintain tension and suspense while the main characters, in essence, push paper. Interesting.
35.) X-Files: I Want to Believe (in theater 7/26/08)-- Lots of fun. Several of the plot points were wildly implausible (and I mean WILDLY implausible), but it was still great to see Mulder and Scully teamed up again.
36.) Step Brothers (in theater 8/1)-- This movie was... dumb. I like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, but somehow I don't like seeing them as foul-mouthed and nasty as this. They should stick to PG-13s-- it suits them better. But at least it wasn't another sports movie.
37.) Wall-E (in theater 8/2)-- Excellent. This was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful movie, particularly for a kids' movie. It was a very quiet and intricate movie-- I loved that they didn't feel the need to wow kids with nonstop dialogue and zany setpieces. I really, really liked it.
38.) Hot Fuzz (Netflix 8/9)-- Really fun! I liked the goofball take on the buddy cop movie.
39.) Amadeus (DVD 8/31)-- A master work about talent, envy, and God. Affecting and unbelievably executed. Yep, I'm just now watching this for the first time.
40.) 3:10 to Yuma (Netflix 10/3)-- I find it hard to believe that I didn't watch a single movie all during September. I must have forgotten to keep track! Anyways... this movie didn't really feel very necessary-- it's almost impossible to make a Western that feels new, and this didn't really succeed at that. The feel, the characters, the moral, even the plot felt like they were copped from other movies. And the myth of redemptive violence, which I always have a problem with, was really in your face in this movie. It's not that I didn't like the movie, but it was fairly unmemorable and felt like a remake because it was so unoriginal.
41.) Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Netflix 10/10)-- A somewhat amusing, but thoroughly predictable romantic comedy. It had its moments, but overall nothing too impressive.
42.) Almost Famous (rewatch 10/12)-- Seriously, maybe like the 30th time I've seen this movie. Trivia: going to this movie was my first date with the Man Friend... although he brought his brother along, so maybe it wasn't a date?
43.) Changeling (in theater 10/26)-- A disturbing and well-crafted movie about a woman's struggle to find her missing son. Totally heart-breaking. Note: some critics complained about the lack of consistency in the movie, that it jumps from genre to genre, but I actually liked that. I felt like this was a complex story that needed a complex structure to do it justice.
44.) The Conversation (Netflix 11/7)-- Liked this movie. Gene Hackman is a stud (and you gotta love Harrison Ford's appearance as a smarmy, conniving assistant) and is always a pleasure to watch. I really liked the way that the film examined the issue of privacy-- it's clear in the movie (and in real life) that anything gained by unlawful/borderline unlawful surveillance is bought at a heavy price. Of course, the landmark sound design is legendary for a reason-- it's pretty impressive.
45.) Four Christmases (in theater 11/28)-- Now, before you hastily pass judgment on me, please understand that this was a desperate situation in which my entire extended family thought this movie looked "SO cuuuuute" and in which I gritted my teeth and went (despite my better judgment) in orer to prove that I am a Team Player and that I am not a Film Snob or a Stuck-Up City Gal. That said... I'm pretty sure this dethroned White Chicks and maybe even Flying Tiger as the Worst Movie I've Ever Seen. It was joyless, mean-spirited, gross, poorly edited, had no story arc, and, possibly worst of all, had a completely unwarranted corn syrup-y ending tacked onto it. I can't possible emphasize enough how awful this movie was. NEVER see it. Don't even make eye contact with the DVD cover-- somehow you'll be sucked into the vacuous whirlwind of poopy that makes up this movie and you'll probably never recover.
46.) All the President's Men (rewatch Netflix 12/17)-- I think this was probably the 5th time I've seen this movie (I even wrote an excellent paper on it in college, if I may toot my own French horn a bit, and this movie inspired me hugely as a 15 year-old journalism student), but I can't help but be impressed by it every time I see it. Redford and Hoffman are great, the score is perfect, the camera work perfectly complements the story and the mood, and the script is excellent. If you've been living under a rock or are the only person in the world who reads blogs regularly but didn't attend a liberal arts school with this somewhere in the curriculum, watch it now.
47.) A Christmas Story (on DVD 11/24)-- Um, the greatest movie EVER? Our Christmas Eve tradition usually involves watching this and/or It's a Wonderful Life. I want to live in this movie. Not kidding at all here.
48.) Charlie Wilson's War (on TV 11/24)-- Like I said, Christmas Eve at the Man Friend's family homestead USUALLY involves watching A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life. However, the combination of HBO and history nerds in that house occasionally means that you flip on the TV 30 seconds into Charlie Wilson's War and somehow end up spending Christmas Eve hating the ridiculous way that American foreign policy is formed instead of having your heart warmed and being reminded that "no man is a failure who has friends". Dang you, history nerds!!
49.) The Spirit (in theater 12/28)-- Wow, this was a big, hot mess. I didn't come into it with high expectations at all-- I just thought it would be a fun and mildly entertaining popcorn movie. But it was a big, hot mess. There was no structure at all and no story arc, and nothing at all happens during the first hour and fifteen minutes or so. The movie takes forever even letting you know who the characters are, and then nothing happens! Instead, scene after disjointed scene follows monologue after pointless monologue. I really felt like the scenes had been shuffled like a deck of cards and haphazardly dealt into a random order-- the movie would have been just as nonsensical if the scenes had been placed in a different order. It wasn't driving at anything at all. Moreover, this was a comic book movie without a single action set piece! Someone needs to explain this to me. Finally, a kitten gets zapped in it!! A tiny kitten!!! And there's a thoroughly unreasonable amount of puns in this, even for a comic book movie. If that's not crime enough, consider this one last thing-- while the end credits rolled, my ears were assaulted by a Christina Aguilera song. Yep. As if I wasn't already miserable enough. The only thing this movie had going in its favor was casting the dad from "The Wonder Years" as the police commissioner. Mr. Arnold!!

2008 Books

Just in case anyone cares, here's the list of books I read last year. I opted not to give reviews, since I've already blogged about most of these titles. Also, there's a good chance that I forgot to include a book or two on this list. Note the sudden curtailment of my reading (I call that FinnegansWakeSyndrome)...

1.) Ironweed by William Kennedy (1/4)
2.) Down and Out in Paris and London (1/11)
3.) Tobacco Road (1/15)
4.) Under the Banner of Heaven (1/24)
5.) Midnight's Children (2/16)
6.) What I Learned From Shamu (3/7)
7.) Loving (3/14)
8.) No Country for Old Men (3/27)
9.) The Old Wives' Tale (4/9)
10.) River Grace (4/10)
11.) White Teeth (4/21)
12.) Ragtime (5/11)
13.) Lord Jim (5/27)
14.) The Death of the Heart (6/10)
15.) The Five Love Languages (6/28)
16.) A Bend in the River (7/1)
17.) Angle of Repose (7/29)
18.) The Adventures of Augie March (8/29)
19.) Jesus for President (9/6)
20.) Brideshead Revisited (9/15)
21.) A Room With a View (9/23)
22.) Making Movies (10/6)
23.) Kim (10/28)

Friday, January 2, 2009

It's Been A While...

Holy crap!! Just realized that I haven't posted any new entries since October, mainly because I'm still slogging through Finnegans Wake like a drunk elephant in quicksand (yeah, it's unpleasant). Don't worry-- my year-end best-of lists are coming shortly...