What I’m Reading/Watching (11/2005-12/2006)

This post contains a list of books I’ve been reading recently. Starting November 2005. November 2005 is an arbitrary cutoff point. Also check out my previous Sept 2004 to Oct 2005 reading list and my current Reading List from 12/2006. See also my Best of 2006, which basically summarizes the best of what’s on this page.

A few remarks. I’m reading several books at a time, and to be honest, sometimes I don’t read all of them depending on the content or my interest. Usually however, it’s been a matter of attention span and what other projects I’ve been doing. Also, you might want to check my favorite novels, and my Amazon.com wishlist. Also here’s an annotated photo of my bookshelf Also, I haven’t read most of these books, but I’ve been setting up Amazon lists of classic Texas novels (100 novels and counting). You also might enjoy reading my Amazon list of Unforgettable Forgettable Novels. I’ve also started adding my book inventory to librarything.com (although I’m allowed to input only 200 titles). At the bottom of this page you will find a list of movies I’ve been watching.

  1. Free Agent Nation, Daniel Pink
  2. Three Kingdoms, 4 volume medeival Chinese epic. (oops, I got sidetracked. I don’t think I’ll be making progress on this one anytime soon)>
  3. Euripedes: Hippolytus
  4. Racine: Phedre
  5. Web Component Development with Zope 3 by Phillip von Weitershausen. A good introduction to the new generation of Zope/plone programming. So far, so good.
  6. True Notebooks : A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall, Mark Salzman. Stories about teaching a writing class to juvenile deliquents. Insightful, sad, excellent writing. Salzman’s style is reflective and accessible. (I can’t wait to read his fiction).
  7. Great Presidential Wit…I Wish I Was in the Book: A Collection of Humorous Anecdotes and Quotations, Bob Dole. I found this used book on the 25 cent rack at the library, otherwise I would have never picked it up. Still, it’s wonderfully entertaining. Basically it’s a collection of humorous presidential anecdotes, with a few jibes by Bob Dole about how he wishes he were president. Harmless funny book. For another fun (and historically important) political book, check Robert Reich’s Locked in the Cabinet. Light reading, but engrossing. Reich personal anecdotes are just as funny, just as charming.
  8. 3 Technical Books about Macromedia Captivate. Macromedia Captivate: The Definitive Guide, (Brenda Huettner), Macromedia Captivate for Windows (Tom Green), Essentials of Macromedia Captivate (Kevin A. Siegel). Can you guess I’m learning to make instructional videos?
  9. War is a force that gives us meaning by Chris Hedges.Compassionate essay about the nature of war in modern society. His thesis: people are attracted to the “mythical aspects” of war and have trouble accepting that fighting is often senseless, random and heartless. This war correspondent has written about Yugoslavia, Afganistan with a literary flair. His stories are compelling (though journalistic), and I particularly enjoyed the literary allusions he made on the theme of war. Most interesting was his chapter (near the end) on the erotics of wartime, especially for innocent bystanders like himself and his admission that war reporting was addictive. My only regret is that this book came out before Bush’s ill-conceived Iraqi invasion. It would have been nice to illustrate his points by looking at the American people (who are often far-removed from geographical realities). Two chilling moments: the tale of how a Muslim farmer gave precious milk to his starving Serb neighbors in the middle of wartime so their infant could live. Much as the Serbs despised the way Muslims terrorized the town, this act of simple kindness restored their faith and hope. Second, his tale of how Argentines rallied around the army during the Falklands conflict even when they were certain to lose provides an instructive lesson to the groupthink that prevails during wartime. Reading this book made me wonder about how easy the Chinese government can manipulate the bellicosity of Chinese citizens (especially with the dearth of outside information behind the Great Firewall). At least the bellicosity of the US can be tamed by a free press and (somewhat) open protests. In China, we have no such guarantees.
  10. Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel by Scott Adams. I’ve read the Dilbert Principle before–twice–once before working at IT, and once after. I can report that the book–which seems on the surface to be satire–actually is shrewd sociological analysis. This light-hearted series of books are more interesting than the cartoons themselves, although the cartoons certainly add something.
  11. Fat City by Leonard Gartner. Classic hard-boiled California novel about down-and-out-boxers. Recommended by Neil Pollack and ultimately Denis Johnson–see this article) . Stylistically speaking, the taut sentences remind me of either Raymond Chandler and Raymond Carver. But stories about boxers–ugh! Can’t someone declare a moratorium? Update: Although the ending left me hanging, the writing was sad, compelling and taut. Each paragraph was a work of art, and I like how the book transcends the idiotic genre of boxing. It is about love, failed relationships and disappointed dreams. Favorite scenes: picking the onions, Billy Tully’s return to his ex-wife (how heart-breaking). As I finish, I just don’t know what to make of it, except to appreciate where it took me, what I saw.
  12. What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain. Practical insights about college teaching based upon the latest educational research.
  13. I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student by Patrick Allitt. Fun personal account by a distinguished history professor about teaching a one semester class. Loaded with insights, anecdotes and suggestions. Things I found intriguing: his total disregard for personal problems of students when accepting excuses (students need to be responsible for their actions, he says), his analysis of why student papers are so poorly constructed (there are many reasons, but it has a lot to do with writing not for a general audience but for the teacher ), why plagiarism is harmful (it prevents the teacher from seeing into the students’ mind). What struck me was how keenly Allitt perceived gaps in understanding and how much material they could digest for a semester class.
  14. House of Breath by William Goyen, I am sorry to report that I am close to giving up on this work. I’m a big fan of Goyen’s Arcadio, but the Whitmanesque flourishes of this work (his most critically acclaimed) were difficult to get into. Goyen is a beautiful writer, but I’m not sure I’m ready to be swept up by his evocations.
  15. Futility by William Gerhardie. Lauded satirical public domain novel. Somewhat clever, but the novel dragged and didn’t seem to do anything important or interesting. He wrote this in his 20s. Perhaps I should look up his later works.
  16. America by Alistaire Cooke. Famed Brit writes an engrossing panoramic history lesson for the general reader. Cooke has a jaunty first person style and an eye for unusual details. I listened to his Letter from America for years and was afraid his writing on the page would pale by comparison. Happily, I report this not to be the case.
  17. Stories by de Maupassant. Happily I returned to this writer’s stories on Michael Blowhard’s recommendation. Starting with his earlier stuff, it seems plotty, long-winded, and awkwardly translated (I’m relying on public domain translations). Still, I’m only on volume 1 of 13!
  18. Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett. The novel, Riceyman Steps, though nowhere as successful as his best work Old Wives Tale, nonetheless deserves plaudits for ambition and its tight focus on three expertly-drawn characters. The sentences are beautiful and give profound insights into characters, but lack of incident and forward action leave us with little desire to proceed. Characters don’t really make choices to change their fate; instead, they live on and on, with the occasional traumatic episode thrown in for good measure. The best thing about the work is how it avoids stereotypes about character types; for example, a miser may have real qualms about spending money, but can be persuaded in the right context to spend lavishly (though later he will resent doing so). I had trouble with the ending (which I’ll spell out only obliquely, although there isn’t much suspense); first, why did the novel give so much prominence to Joe (the housekeeper’s boyfriend) near the ending? It seemed out of place. Second, the death doesn’t really have any meaning except to confirm the narrator’s view that people ultimately get what they deserve. Okay, fine, but did the characters really choose their fates (or were they merely burdened by their ill habits?) Bennett doesn’t really present any alternatives; are any people in his world capable of living salutary lifestyles? That, I think, is a flaw of the novel; it fails to give us a glimpse into people who are avoiding the pitfalls of the protagonists. Conspicuously absent are children in this novel; there are literally no opportunities in this novel for the characters to display generosity or affection towards the outside world. How much of this penury is simply a result of the couple’s being childless? Bennett seems convinced that these people are not particularly sinister and even deserving of sympathy; still, the book’s ultimate purpose is moralistic; it exhort us to examine our hearts to see if we possess the same myopic shortcomings.
  19. Video Shooter : Storytelling with DV, HD, and HDV Cameras by Barry Bravermann. Chatty description of the production process. Excellent and funny guide, with lots of photographs. Not a lot of HDV stuff and very little about post production, but still a useful book.
  20. Brothers and Strangers. Trilogy by CP Snow. I’m reluctant to start reading a volume of a large trilogy (for fear of having to read the whole damn thing), but it’s started auspiciously. The characters and plot of this novel of ideas seem interesting enough, although I wish the subject were less about the character’s intellectual and academic development than the “real world” (which is focused more on the daily struggle than whether a certain idea or theme ultimately prevails).
  21. Memoirs of Mary Selwyn; or, a Lesson in Concealment by Charles Brockden Brown. I’ve been meaning to complete Brown’s complete series of novellas. He’s a famous American writer from colonial times. Update: Psychologically the ending worked, although the lack of incident prevented the story from coming alive. The action was told mainly in 1st person flashbacks, and the tone was a little hysterical.
  22. Digital Video Production Cookbook, Oreilly book by Chris Kenworthy. Great book on how to set up your video shots. Lots of illustrations and explanations. I found this book at a bookstore and read it from cover to cover. Gave me great ideas!
  23. XSLT Cookbook, I’m jumping the gun here (because I haven’t read the entire book yet), but it definitely pales in comparison with the Python Cookbook, which is truly a classic book of programming. This book is simply an assortment of random things about XSLT without rhyme or reason.
  24. Linux Multimedia Hacks by Kyle Rankin. Although initially disappointed by the small size, after reading, I found a lot to chew on, especially since my laptop will be running linux.
  25. How to Live on 24 hours a day. Arnold Bennett. Short essay about maximizing the use of your time. Absolutely relevant to this day and age.
  26. Practical Recording Techniques, Fourth Edition, Bruce Bartlett
  27. Legends of Khasak by O.V. Vijayan. Modern Malayam classic.
  28. Restless Nights by Dino Buzzati. Italian allegorical writer. Light-hearted brief tales with deeper darker overtones. Update: This book is not only the best thing I’ve read all year, but the best thing I’ve read in 5 years. I might write a separate essay about this book.
  29. Black Elk Speaks, autobiography of an Indian. Started, but it didn’t seem interesting.
  30. Red China Blues, by Jan Wong. Amazing 1st person account of a Canadian-Chinese who studied in China during the Cultural Revolution and who revisiting to China over the decades. Wong is a great writer and dramatically shows how living in China both brainwashed her and made her skeptical about politics.
  31. Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Remarkable and romantic novel that is philosophical, whimsical, light-hearted, humorous and yes, joyful. Easily the best read of the year.
  32. Dream Novel. Arthur Schnitzler (inspiration for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut).
  33. Beginning Gimp from Novice to Professional. Akkana Peck, excellent updated manual of the world’s leading open source program.
  34. Art of the Business Lunch by Robin Jay. Useful guide to mastering the etiquette of taking clients (potential or actual) to lunch.
  35. Ignorance by Milan Kundera. I am a fanatic of Milan Kundera (I wrote my undegraduate thesis on his books), but I’ve been disappointed by his recent works in the 90s. I’m happy to report that Ignorance captures the earlier magic. Actually it many ways it is a replay of Unbearable Lightness of Being, in both structure and theme. Still, when you have a great formula, you might as well stick to it. Themes: homesickness and the fall of Communism.
  36. The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature by Geoffrey Miller. Erudite discussion of the relationship between sexual selection and evolution.
  37. In Search of Memory by Eric Kandel. Nobel prize winner for medicine writes about the biology of the human mind, specifically the mechanisms behind memory and recollection. He delivers a personal account, starting with his early childhood in Nazi Vienna in the 1930’s.
  38. Weight-Training for Dummies.
  39. Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea. I have been looking forward to reading this for over a year. I turned to it immediately after giving up on Futility (see above), and am really enjoying it.
  40. Over There by Arnold Bennett. Journalistic account by novelist Arnold Bennett about how WWI was affecting France. Bennett (like other British writers of the time) was hired by the British government to churn out political propaganda. This piece reveals how first hand eyewitnesses are better able to get at the truth than state-supported sources of information.
  41. Golden Ass or Transformations of Lucius by Apuleius.
  42. Sculpt your Body with balls and bands by Denise Austin. Informative book on exercise balls; best I found at the bookstore, although not enough illustrations.
  43. Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People by Jane Bryant Quinn.
  44. Tales from Ovid, tr. by Ted Hughes. Compelling rendering of the Metamorphasis by a great poet. Unfortunately incomplete, these poems bring ancient legends to life. Update: An extraordinary retelling that has whetted my appetite for Ovid.
  45. Women in the Dunes. Kobo Abe.
  46. Ambient Findability by Peter Morville. User Interface and Design expert talks about making information easy to find. (Also wrote excellent book on information architecture.
  47. Various novels and essays by Marco Vassi, the bisexual erotic writer. For a critical essay.
  48. Chita: a Memory of Last Island by Lafcadio Hearn. Haunting and lyrical story about a big storm that wipes away an island and its inhabitants near New Orleans. Prescient and fascinating.
  49. Version Control and Subversion. Essential reading not only for software developers but also system admins as well. The reason? External definitions and vendor branches.
  50. Other Hand Clapping by Marco Vassi. Spiritual/erotic journey by erotic writer Marco Vassi. Taut masterpiece about meditation, introspection and jealousy. Compare to Moravia’s Contempt. (I’m writing a critical essay about Vassi, so I’m reading a lot by him at the moment).
  51. In Touch, by Marco Vassi. Clever and charming book about a female psychotherapist in NYC in the 1960s who solves people’s sexual and emotional problems. Compare to Kundera’s Farewell Party.
  52. Sensual Mirror by Marco Vassi. Chatty and philosophical and sensual exploration of love triangles, sexual liberations and the meaning of Eros. Compare to Henry Miller’s Sexus.
  53. Stoned Apocalypse, by Marco Vassi. Entertaining autobiography of Vassi’s early sexual adventures. Compare to Kerouac’s On the Road. Also, two collections of essays: Driving Passion (collection of short interviews, most of which are restatements about his sexual philosophies) and Erotic Comedies (collection of stories–which I’ve already read–plus his famous essays on Metasex and bisexuality).
  54. Building Websites with Plone by Cameron Cooper. Excellent guide on using this python-based cms.
  55. What to Eat by Marion Nestle. Excellent consumer guide on food you buy at the supermarket. Convenient and readable.
  56. Making Globalization Work by Joseph Stieglitz. Nobel-winning economist expresses doubts about globalization.
  57. Interactive Storytelling: Techniques for the 21st Century Fiction by Andrew Glassner. Don’t normally like how to books, but this book is surprisingly readable and insightful.
  58. Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, by Chris Crawford. Both this book and Glassner’s books offer lots of insights into games, video and storytelling.
  59. Plum in the Golden Vase, Chinese classic erotic novel. Vol 1. David Tod Roy’s master translation.

Here’s a list of films.

  1. Coppola’s The Conversation (with sound editing by Walter Murch). Watched for a second time (mainly after reading Walter Murch’s description of the editing process). As a suspense drama, it was only so-so, but I enjoyed the people at the wiretapper’s convention, the light-hearted banter. I never could figure out if the killers had intended for the murdered man to hire him (and staged the conversation for his benefit) or whether it just was a coincidence. Nonetheless, it is impossible that they’d proceed with a murder if they (or Harrison Ford’s character) knew that the private investigator knew what was going on. Clever, but implausible.
  2. American Grafitti (with sound editing by Walter Murch). I watched this for the second time, enjoying it significantly more than the first time. Random thoughts: Cindy Williams did a wonderful acting job, and so did everybody else. The Making of DVD extra was full of interesting insights: George Lucas had a degree in anthropology, and took a documentarian/anthropological approach to the subject. Getting clearance for Top 40 songs in those days cost $2000 each, and in this day and age would be significantly higher. George Lucas vowed never to write a script until it is actually sold (which differs significantly from the fiction writer’s approach to these things). Actors marveled at how George Lucas directed hastily and often used scenes with errors, etc in order to give the film more plausibility, a more realistic feel. (George Lucas said his real directing took place in post-production, not actually during production). Interestingly, Lucas tried to shoot without a director of photography in those evening scenes, but had to rework that plan when cameramen complained about the low-lighting challenges. Even though this artistic decision came directly from Lucas, I thought the postscript (J.M. is an insurance agent in Nevada, etc) was totally unnecessary. Highlights for me: the hop, the Wolfman Jack scene (“hey want any of these ice creams?”) and the MacKenzie Phillips scenes (the 13 year old girl with the tough guy). Most interesting to me was Lucas’s observation of how the 4 simultaneous storylines was viewed as radical and uncommercial at the time, although now it is so common that it no longer raises eyebrows.
  3. Kicking Bird, directed by independent filmmaker Kelley Baker (aka Angryfilmmaker).Lowbudget but highquality film about a talented runner in a troubled household who is recruited by the high school coach to run competitively. This film had a lot of things going for it: a great cast, interesting characters and an unobtrusive style (after the first 10 minutes, I forgot I was watching a movie because I was already in the movie). Scenes in school/hanging out and at parties captured the highs and lows of teenage life pretty well, as well as their dysfunctional families. But the bad guys lacked subtelty. The grandfather nearly always was nasty and ferocious; the bully just teased the main character even though he was on the same track team (which after a certain point I find hard to believe). I accept that these characters were flawed and even dangerous, but they didn’t have to be that way every moment of the film. I appreciated how the protagonist and the coach were more complex characters–not entirely bad, not entirely good, but one thing stuck out. In one scene, the coach is revealed to have a sexual thing with a student (spied on by the protag’s sidekick). We really didn’t have to see this; it would have been more effective to present this information indirectly through rumors rather than to show a scene. (That would have given the coach’s character even more ambiguity). The real problem with the end is the moral superiority of the protag at the end in his speech to the coach. Yes, it was a sign that the protagonist had grown (I bought that completely), but it turned the coach into the 100% bad guy (when clearly the coach had done a lot of good for the protag). Sexual pecadillos notwithstanding, I really don’t care terribly much that the coach had entirely self-serving motives for helping the boy. (I actually preferred to have the coach’s character to be more ambiguous). The key moment in the film is when the audience sees that the protagonist had gotten past the coach’s plans and has taken the initiative to map his own life (even when it runs against the direction his mentor has mapped for him). That first act of confident assertion is the moment when we see that the protagonist will manage all right, regardless of the troubles at home. The fact that the coach is a self-interested scumbag (in comparison) is just not that important to the boy’s story.
  4. Slap Shot starring Paul Newman. Hilariously rowdy film about a pro hockey team. which never tries to be serious. The film, like the team, just has no rules; you just never know what to expect next. Great hockey scenes (lots of low camera angles–Ozu would be proud). Contrast that with Bull Durham, one of my alltime faves which feeds into the underdog/it’s all about the game not the money mythology. In Slapshot, nobody ever grows or develops any personal ideal to strive to aside from getting ahead. If anything, the film captures how a city rallies around a athletic team as long as they are winning.
  5. Heaven Can Wait by Buck Henry. Watched again. An elegantly told Buck Henry tale which fits all the pieces together at the end. Part of the fun is watching how Warren Beauty fakes being a millionaire; the other part is watching him act like a quarterback (do people ever believe that?). I like how Henry sews the omniscience/amnesia/body replacement plot details seamlessly. Significant laughs come from the servants’ antics too.
  6. Connie and Carla, Michael Lembeck/Nia Vardalos musical about crossdressing ladies at dinner theatre. Vardalos has charm and good comic potential (so does by the way the bad guy who travels around America’s dinner theatres to hunt them down). Watching it a second time, I am less impressed by the dance numbers (and was even more stupefied at the Dave Duchovny subplot). Isn’t it interesting how gay culture coopts pop culture long after mainstream society has tired of it? That is what the comic duo and the gay nightclub have in common. They are both obsessed with the cultural refuse of our musical culture–which by the way, is also what will outlast many other highbrown cultural icons. (See my longish essay about this film, Lavishly Praising Bloodbaths.
  7. Loving Glances, first-class effort by Radivoje Andric, a young Serb director about couples in love during the Yugoslav conflict. At times sentimental, the story and incidents are original, imaginative and the characters are great too. A Serb intellectual who lives a desolate life as a political refugee in Belgrade misses his girlfriend who has emigrated to America. He imagines that his girlfriend is with her to keep him company, and then he imagines a whole cast of people from his past to keep him company during his homeless wanderings through Belgrade. We’re never quite sure of how deluded he is; does the girl really exist? Are they really engaged? Then he meets a girl–a real girl–not an imaginary one– who forces him to deal with his realities and make choices. This film–which took a long time to be made because of the Yugoslavia conflict–doesn’t get bogged down in politics–but it shows the effects of these events on ordinary people. Too bad it couldn’t have been released (for example) in 1999 to give Americans a glimpse of Yugoslavs as a people not merely as a patchwork of ethnic tribes at war with one another. The settings and situations are bleak, but the people are charming, a mixture of the old-fashioned and hip. Don’t miss the “computerized dating service” scenes and the matchmaker–they are great fun, if not a little sad. The female lead, Ivana Bolanca is charming and mysterious and vulnerable. Senad Alihodzic, the male lead is thoughtful, happy-go-lucky and bursting with poetry and optimism. I found myself wishing the scenes with imaginary characters could be shortened a bit, and that Ivan Bolanca’s character could be fleshed out a bit–she too seemed like a mere romantic projection sometimes. Still, after finishing, I find myself wishing that America could have more dreamers like Radivoje Andric to make movies.
  8. Tomorrow We Move by Chantal Ackerman. Light-hearted movie with artsy-fartsy characters and situations. The movie is so french and Rohmeresque. I didn’t feel I needed to finish this work and still enjoyed it. Probably the most delightful parts were also the most mundane: the story centered around the selling of an apartment, the showing of an apartment to potential buyers and the personal details that are revealed in the telling. I didn’t love this film (perhaps because the characters are too close to home for me), but the situation and some of the dialogue was clever.
  9. Where’s the Party, Yar. It’s about a lot of immigrant Indian college students having parties. It deals with the culture clash between Indian culture and Texas culture, and is a light romantic comedy for teens. Mainly in English, though it has a few parts in Hindi (and the typical Bollywood corniness and dance numbers). Two trivia facts: Iin addition to recognizing the scenes shot at UH, I recognized an Indian video store I used to go to check out videos (on Hillcroft and SW Freeway). The protag is an Electrical Engineering student from India enrolled at University of Houston. On the first day of class (for a course entitled “Introduction to Digital Signal Processors”), the prof starts polling students about their knowledge of Fast Fourier Transforms. One stylishly-dressed American-born Indian girl exclaims, “Wait, isn’t this “Introduction to Fashion?” and then scurries away.
  10. Cousin, Cousine, American version of French film starring Ted Danson. I watched 3o minutes and turned it off, not because it was a failure but I knew what the film was going to do.
  11. 49 Up by Michael Apted. See my post about it here. One of my faves.
  12. Apocalypse Now (second time). I watched this with excitement after reading Walter Murch’s great description of it in his book The Conversations. What struck me: the lavishness of the set pieces matched the lavishness of the Vietnam escapades (much as the Halliburton excesses for the Iraq war will with time seem hilarious) , the foreshadowing of Kurtz’ insanity through other soldiers , the great shadows and coloring during the sea shots (the battle scenes were brightly lit and a pleasurable feast for the eyes even if their consequences were tragiccomic). Frankly, I was bored by the last half hour (again) and the hazy incoherent succession of dreamlike settings. Interesting yes, but far too unrealistic to really resonate with the viewer. I didn’t understand how Kurtz could be so incoherent and at the same time wield such control over the natives. Also, the explicit references to Conrad were way overdone.
  13. The Servant (screenplay by Harold Pinter), directed by Joseph Losey. Great decadent British drama with lots of twists and perversions. I had at least two moments where I just dropped my jaw in utter surprise.
  14. Ozu, I was Born But. Masterpiece 1930’s children’s silent film by Ozu. Comic, funny, everything you’d ever want in a film.
  15. Alexandria, Why? Great 1st part of an Egyptian trilogy. Can’t wait to watch the rest!
  16. Bull Durham. Baseball classic. Watched again.
  17. Steamboat Bill, starring Buster Keaton. Why have I delayed watching Buster Keaton for so long? Altogether charming tale, great fun. The film didn’t dwell on slapstick–there’s a tendency to think that all silent films can be boiled down to that, and the humor is often subtle and delayed. The emotions here and gestures are not really exaggerated, although the situations are slightly ludicrous. I was amazed to realize that the camera shots are entirely stationary; there is no panning or movement. The stage (and the people) are the only thing that move. Really, though, this doesn’t ruin the film experience and reminds me that fancy camera shots are less important that the visual elements and blocking (and of course the dialogue). A classic shot is waking up to a blown down house, hunkering underneath the covers only to find your bed is now inside a stable.
  18. Harry potter and the Goblet of Fire. Marvelous collection of great acting and special effects. Frankly I’m surprised that this volume could be so spectacularly realized, but the director pulled it off. With practically every scene, I gasp, although I’m growing weary of this high school point system which seems to have neither rhyme nor reason. Points deducted for being late in a race, but bonus points awarded for saving somebody’s life… Honestly, think of the movie as as series of 4 videogames and you can appreciate the narrative better.
  19. Detour. Directed by Edgar Ulmer. 1945 film noir classic (and in public domain too!). As incredible as the central coincidence was, I in fact bought the narrator’s version of events because the protagonist seems so shocked at it too. Great camera shots in the car and nightclub; lots of lights and shadows; the female villian seemed overdone, although it is true how certain people can blackmail us into performing certain actions. The ending seems fitting, but I’m not quite sure the protagonist has learned anything, or whether his toughened attitude will in fact help him to live or to love. Update: see Roger Ebert’s definitive essay about this film.
  20. Menace 2 Society, Albert and Allen Hughes story about a teenage criminal in a LA ghetto who lets himself sink deeper in the hole. I’m of mixed feelings about this. The lighting and photography was nothing short of brilliant (there’s a great tracking shot at the climax near the end, which just blew me away). Some of the details ring true: the grandfather’s sending the boy away, the murderers who watch the videotape of the killing for fun, the possible escape options which are overlooked until it is too late. Still, the bloodbath qualities of the film just turn me off. You don’t need to throw a lot of blood on the screen to show that the thugs are willing to resort to violence whenever they feel wronged. Underneath the moralistic upbraiding, I see a bit of sentimentality about families and friends which seem there only for the pacing: family outing, then senseless violence, ad infinitum.
  21. 8 Mile is a Curtis Hanson vehicle for Eminem. It had lots of great moments (and Brittany Murphy looked absolutely luscious), but all the great lines were saved for Eminem. Apparently he is capable of doing no wrong, even when he is cursing at people and beating them up. This (like Menace 2 Society) is just a set of one crisis after another. Both this and Menace 2 Society use a child as a prop, a kind of innocent eyewitness that are supposed to pull at your heartstrings (luckily, modern audiences are more sophisticated). I loved the Detroit scenery, the neighborhoods, the drabness. I also enjoy the detail about Eminem worrying about getting a ride; why is it that movie characters (even the poor ones) always have cars to drive around. The rap contest at the end was definitely the film’s highlight.Great fun, although unsurprisingly, the best raps and lines are saved for Eminem. (The DVD extras show some outtakes which are supposed to be wonderful too). The film shows how a puny whiteboy like Eminem could survive in a milieu like this that esteems violence, tough talk and displays of strength. BTW, Kim Basinger was horrible as a drunk mom.
  22. Sponge Bob Square Pants movie. Just to show that I enjoy simple entertainment every so often!
  23. Smartest Guys in the Room, arty documentary about the Enron Scandal which I received as a free gift. Totally uninteresting approach, partly because the director had nothing to add except to dress up a book it was based on. But wait, the director interviewed the book writers who appear at multiple times. The segues are moderately interesting (helicoper shots of skyscrapers, and long winding shots within them), but the soundtrack seems totally inappropriate..the sort of thing you’d do if you are trying to promote Warner Chappell’s back catalog, for instance. Ironically the newsy nature of the subject makes the film uninteresting; it would have been better to focus on one strand of the scandal and give it depth.
  24. Serenity. Joss Whedon’s swashbuckling sci fi adventure was fun, manipulative and yes, silly.
  25. Ankhur. (dir, Shyam Benegal ). Hauntingly beautiful tale of a simple Indian peasant who marries an abusive man, and when he leaves her, she has an affair with an honorable son of the landowner. A sad tale with just great cinematography. One of the year’s best. Shabana Azmi as Ankhur is positively radiant.
  26. Egyptian Story. Disappointing 2nd part in Egyptian trilogy by Youssef Chahine. I wanted to like this film. Parts were theatrical (and reminiscient of 8 1/2, which I also didn’t like), but overall, it was long, self-indulgent and a little too flippant about existential moments. Good premise, bad movie.
  27. Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach.
  28. Games of Love and Chance (L’Esquive)
  29. Tarnation.
  30. Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.
  31. Shop on Main Street. dir by Ján Kadár.I just have to say I was blown away by almost every single shot of the movie. The black and white color looks gorgeous, and the indoor shots have lots of shadows and texture. The outdoor shots seem overexposed, brilliant, artificial and almost unbearable. The criterion version just looks superlative. Watch the dinner scene at the start where the man’s brother in law is getting drunk with Tony. They are yelling, and having a time, and the camera dives/sweeps/rapidly turns around and falls. It conveys the dizzying nature of the conversation. The outdoor scenes in the first half of the movie have lots of bustle and activity, with lots of turns and shifts of perspective. People will remember the historical themes, but please don’t overlook the amazing cinematography (which rightfully doesn’t call attention to itself but enhances the emotional impact of every scene). In one scene (where Person X hits Person Y), camera conveys the claustrophobic, almost paranoiac perspective of Person X and sets the rest of the action up. We just knew what was going to happen next here. The dream sequences/surreal effects were modest and didn’t seem too fantastic; they were small enough for a small man overtaken with fear.
  32. South Park: The Movie
  33. Withnail & I.
  34. 13 Conversations about One Thing by Jill Sprecher. An understated philosophical masterpiece. And made in USA? How is this even possible?
  35. Elizabeth, dir by Sheker Kapur starring Cate Blanchett.
  36. Monseiur Klein, dir. Joseph Losey. WW2 drama about mistaken identities in Nazi times. Compare to Frisch’s I’m Not Stiller.
  37. Baraka, dir Ron Fricke. Nice visual extravaganza that didn’t really do much. That’s ok though.
  38. Elevator to the Gallows, dir Louis Malle. Somewhat interesting French crime/suspense film.
  39. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch). Second time.
  40. Larry Sanders show (1990s HBO sitcom). As brilliant as I remembered.
  41. Decalogue. Second time.
  42. Battlestar Galactica (after recommended to me by Sam and Jim Go to Hollywood).
  43. When We Were Kings, documentary by Leo Gast about Muhammad Ali’s boxing match against George Foreman. The most amazing thing about the real-life story is that a minor injury to Foreman during a sparring match resulted in a 6 week delay in the much-talked about fight. 6 week delay!? No wonder there was a lot of footage.
  44. Eyes Wide Shut, dir by Stanley Kubrick. Second time. Didn’t like the first time, but this time I really went gaga over Kidman’s confession of her desire for a naval officer while in her underwear. The great dialogue, the skimpy underwear and Kidman’s expressions and intonations of this scene just made the film for me. The actual orgy scenes were not that interesting or even erotic (and what’s the deal with that droning devil music?) As the older friend of Tom Cruise explains at the end, it was just play acting (but do we know for sure?) A few philosophical disagreements: why is it so horrible when she confesses to her decadent sexual dream to her husband (isn’t that just the Catholic guilt talking?) Couldn’t she have just woken up and exclaimed, “wow, I just had the sexiest dream!” and left it at that? Secondly, the advice at the end to “fuck” seems a little simple-minded for the subtleties of before; was the problem really lack of desire between them? That’s partly the reason why the film left me unsatisfied. Beautiful bodies and faces notwithstanding, was there really any point in watching this film other than to say, “wow, that was hot!!” (not that there’s anything wrong with that). At the end I was left with three messages: a) humans are weak and need the continued interest of hot-looking loving spouses to keep them from being led astray and b)marriage is not sufficiently satisfying to prevent some people from finding emptiness in it and c)honest confession of darkest sexual fantasies to a spouse has the potential to destroy the relationship. I’m afraid I don’t agree with any of these three claims (although I’m a confirmed bachelor–what do I know about the subject anyway?). Cinematic details I enjoyed: password being “Fidelio” (good resonances with the marriage/infidelity theme), Kidman’s character turning off the soundtrack music right before they leave for the party (I didn’t know characters could do that!), Cruise’s lowkey performance, the visit to the morgue, Cruise’s constant imagining of his wife making love to the naval officer. Frankly, I’d trade all the ballroom and orgy scenes for Nicole Kidman’s confession of her most lurid sexual fantasies in her underwear (compare to Linklater’s Tape, an equally turbulent film). A female friend made the interesting observation that the orgies were not explicit enough, and there was no humanity in it–partly because of the solemn mood music; Kubrick was muting sounds of human passion for the sake of an ethereal quality. Generally, aside from Janet Maslin’s enthusiasm for this film, this film seemed to hold next-to-no-appeal to woman viewers, a fact I found very surprising.
  45. Squid and the Whale. dir Noah Baumbach. Manhattan family drama that shows the effect of divorce on the children. Expertly written, the film has a good sense of the details that come up in these custody battles, how they matter and how they hurt.
  46. Breaking the Waves, dir Lars von Trier. Groundbreaking Dogme film depicting the marriage of a mentally unstable woman in a conservative village. Parts are somewhat melodramatic, and the village elders seem a bit too unrealistic, but still a compelling film.
  47. Hudsucker Proxy, dir Coen Brothers
  48. Minority Report, dir Stephen Spielburg (second time).
  49. Crumb. Amusing documentary, although the perversions described really unsettle the viewer.
  50. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Mediocre Korean crime drama. Didn’t finish.
  51. Big Red One, dir Sam Fuller. Interesting low-budget film. Many excellent parts, but my main complaint was that Fuller put the soldiers through lots of battles in different countries though this was highly implausible. Still, much of the dialogue and situations seemed real and awful.
  52. TV Shows: My Name is Earl, Sex and the City, Southpark, How I met your mother (current fave)
  53. Casino, dir Martin Scorcese. Masterpiece, though in typical Goodfellas style, the violence is overdone and by the end the characters no longer seem plausible.
  54. The Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky.
  55. Selena, dir by Gregory Nava starring Jennifer Lopez. Biopic that transcends the genre. Remarkable performances by all and great homage to Texas singer.
  56. Music from the Inside Out, by Daniel Anker. Inspirational documentary about orchestra players for Philadelphia Symphony.
  57. Hands Up. Documentary, directed by Rob Amato about the origins of the Vietnamese manicure industry in California.
  58. No Direction Home. dir Martin Scorcese. documentary about Bob Dylan.
  59. Country Teachers, dir by Qun He. Charming understated domestic drama about a young girl who teaches in a rural village and learns about the politics and special challenges it poses. Highly recommended.
  60. Meet Joe Black. This film had a marvelous premise, great moments and lines, but the last hour torpedoed everything it built by catering to mainstream Hollywood/housewife sensibilities.
  61. Rat Race. Terrible movie that I watched because I was sick with a cold.
  62. Draughtman’s Contract, dir by Peter Greenaway. Stopped after 30 minutes. Sorry, Mike!
  63. This Girl’s Life, directed by Ash. Stylish and profound feminist/porn film starring Juliette Marquis as successful pornstar. Compare to Exotica. I like how the film portrays the girl’s choices and not simply the exploitation questions behind the porn business. One thing I found unrealistic is this depiction of porn as being highly profitable for actresses. It’s not. Most woman end up making peanuts, and then they quit. The real money lies at the strip clubs, and it’s strange that that aspect never was mentioned here.
  64. Hole, dir by Nick Hamm. Unfortunately I rented the wrong version (I had expected the film of the same name by Taiwanese director Ming-liang Tsai), but this version worked well. Several surprises, and narratives tricks, plus great ensemble acting. I found the second half implausible, but generally a strong film.
  65. True Colors, dir Herbert Ross. Mediocre political suspense film with some interesting personal conflicts.
  66. Brooklyn (play). Musical fairy tale as told by 5 homeless people. Excellent and caustic.
  67. Popeye the Sailor Man (cartoon shorts). Creative, inspired cartoons. Fun to watch the unremorseful pummeling of characters. The real reason to love Popeye is Winston Sharples. Who is he, you ask? The man who scored all the music, who has a knack for adding humor, melodrama and zaniness with his melodic touches.
  68. Leila, dir Dariush Mehrjui. Compelling film about an Iranian couple who learn that the woman is infertile. The ending didn’t make sense to me emotionally, but the slice-of-life depiction of this relationship let the characters and events speak for themselves. Everyone is a sympathetic character (to some extent), and by the end, and that fact makes the dilemma behind the film all the more tragic.
  69. Perceval dir Eric Rohmer, delightful and imaginative restaging of Arthurian adventures in a theatrical environment. The ending is marred by a 15 minutes straightforward retelling of the Jesus tale. When jesus comes on, you might as well turn off the DVD without any loss. Yes, it’s true that Christianity influenced Arthurian legend, but it didn’t belong here.
  70. Pulse, dir by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Effective understated Japanese horror film. The first film in my mind to make the connection between social anomie and the proliferation of ghosts. Very effective cinematagraphy. The camera is always drifting away from characters. When somebody says, “Everybody is always disappearing,” well yes, we can see it right before our eyes!
  71. Early Seinfeld episodes (from a DVD collection).
  72. Oh God, dir Carl Reiner starring John Denver. The director’s/writer’s commentary is especially hilarious and revealing. Loved the part where Reiner confessed his conscious effort to include Terri Garr’s legs in as any many scenes as possible. Actually, even though the story’s theme is simple and almost holier-than-thou, there’s a lot of uxorious attention going on.
  73. Night of the Hunter. Dated Southern gothic tale told mainly from a child’s point of view. The best thing about the film was the children’s performances. They were convincing (especially the girl whose trusting naivety rang true, not to mention her incompetence at keeping a secret). The girl cutting up some of the money…a great moment. The irony is that the only thing keeping the kids in danger was their secret. All they had to do was tell where the money was, and the man would take it, run off and never be seen again (and their mother would still be alive!). Discussion question: Describe each character’s attitude toward the money and how it affected their actions. A magnificent moment of recognition came when the boy seeing the reprise of the police arresting his father/pseudofather, runs up crying and throws the money at him. That moment rang true; that despite his hatred for the preacher, he couldn’t stand a repeat of that past memory that scarred him. But certain plot elements bothered me. So the Mitchum character couldn’t chase down a 10 or 11 year old boy? So he couldn’t cajole the information out of him (rather than say it so bluntly?). 0So the woman was ready to marry so soon? So the police didn’t totally comb the area to find out where the money was? And where the hell were the neighbors all this time?
  74. Seinfeld episodes Season 1 and 2.
  75. Three Women by Robert Altman. Interesting failure about a strange symbiotic relationship between two women. Both Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek were brilliant here, though the end seemed too surreal for me.
  76. Lady in the Water, (dir Night). Another interesting failure. I don’t think it hangs right, but I appreciate the effort to bring mythological overtones to a suburban landscape. Still, it’s a little too all-knowing for my tastes.
  77. The Haunting. A terrific tale of people investigating the haunting of a house. I enjoyed the rationality of the investigators, a perfect foil to the supernatural aspects of the tale. I liked how the film didn’t go overboard on the violence or gore, preferring instead to hint.
  78. Born on the Fourth of July. Great Oliver Stone film I must have missed when it first was released. The best movie I saw this year.
  79. The Hole (Taiwanese version). I found this movie too precious and revolting to the stomach (perhaps because my own apartment is infested with roaches).
  80. Pickpocket on 53rd Street, dir Sam Fuller gangster/film noir film mainly of historical interest (because of Red Scare overtones), but still one can’t help rooting for the two criminal leads.
  81. X2.
  82. Various Exercise Videos. Recently I’ve become a fanatic of exercise DVDs. I’ve created a page listing my reviews of various exercise videos.
  83. Twin Peaks: Walk with Me..Movie (dir, David Lynch). Sequel to Twin Peaks series, much more graphic and nightmarish. I’m on the fence about this one; Lynch tries to depict the nightmare of a series of gory killings and sexual crimes. It was a challenge to do so tastefully, and I’ll give him credit that he did that well. The question remains about whether a movie with violence so immediate can ever redeem the cinematic process itself. The proper way to watch a Lynchian orgy of violence is as a nightmarish erotic vision (a la Goya) with ghostly evocations throughout.
  84. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, watched 1/3, then stopped watching because I couldn’t stand the sentimentality. The movie MIGHT have worked if the two leads were not so famous and charismatic. The film was so cute and wierdy to be edgy.
  85. Dear Frankie, an interesting (albeit dreadful) film written and directed by two women. Well-intentioned and acted, it nonetheless manipulates a lot of scenes for emotional impact, even the central conceit of the film itself. Still it raises a few questions (such as, ” how much should we hide from children?”)
  86. Killing Zoe , a surprisingly good film, with performance by Julie Delpy and lots of surreal moments. Ultimately it suffers from an excess of disgusting violence, but the love scene at the beginning is one of the loveliest and most ethereal I’ve ever seen. This film was full of surprises, not the least of which that robbers could be so cruel and incompetent. The question in the middle of the film was whether the safecracker was loveable, whether his happy-go-lucky competence ultimately made him culpable for the bloodbath.
  87. X Men 3: Fun silly escapism, just like its predecessors.
  88. Apollo 13. This film just gets better and better each time I watch it. I’m coming to the point of calling it one of our genre’s best, even though its narratives are conventional enough.
  89. Loss of Sexual Innocence. artsy German film with lots of nudity and little to do with sex apparently. The colors and narrative dislocations are memorable; the final scene gives the whole narrative an allegorical feel. I enjoyed wandering through these stories, although I’m unsure whether I learned anything.
  90. Chloe in the Afternoon, dir Eric Rohmer. Romantic comedy about a married man who befriends a former female friend and comes perilously close to infidelity. Poignant scenes, but a little too cynical for my tastes. Still, look for entertaining scenes (such as when he shops for a pullover sweater and flirts with the shopgirl).
  91. Comfort and Joy —forgettable and predictable romantic comedy, redeemed partially by stellar performances by the actors playing the parents. Update: Gosh, I rented the wrong version of Comfort and Joy, the one directed by Maggie Greenwald, not the one directed by Bill Forsyth. Now I’m feeling stupid!
  92. 40 year old Virgin a decent-enough comedy with enough vulgarities to embarrass a porn director. Ultimately predictable plot, but lots of surprise gags (the protagonist fumbling around with a model of female genitalia at a doctor’s office, the crazy/mad Indian sales worker, the crazy antics on the sales floor, and lots more). Gosh, the love interest turns out to be hot-looking and independently wealthy and tolerant of men who collect action figures and is over 40 years old in real life; there’s a lot of those around! I digress.
  93. Dot the Istylish romantic comedy starring three photogenic people in a love triangle. Really, it must be so hard work for beautiful people to manage all these love triangles; they deserve our pity; I watched an hour of it before deciding I really didn’t need to know what was going to happen. As if Godard were working for MTV as a 22 year old instead of making Breathless. Still actress Natalia Verbeke was terrific and worth watching out for; great flamenco sequence also. Main character was a video producer, which made for lots of fun. He and a friend talk about whether he should crash the wedding (a la Graduate); when he says, “life is not a movie,” his friend comments, “Come on, whatever you say, whatever you do, movies always got there first. Even that line you just said comes from a movie, um – Kevin Spacey in the end of, uh, Swimming With Sharks. “
  94. V is for Vendetta Surprisingly entertaining dystopic film made from comic book. Natalie Portman added the human element, rekindling love in geeks everywhere. Individual elements of plot didn’t seem particularly original, but the main character was delightfully quirky and so was the manner of exposition; describing things from the police investigator’s point of view was inspired. Not a great film, but it at least let you reflect on the nature of terrorism and the lies the state feeds you about them.
  95. Right Stuff —well produced biopic of test pilots in the 1940s through 60s. Lots of good cinematic moments, but ultimately the film was too long, too episodic and repetitive. Lots of people gaping at the air in wonder and feeling proud of themselves–be prepared. Watching this film only reminds one of how great (and understated) Apollo 13 is by comparison. I would have never enjoyed this film if I watched it when I came out; now that I am 40 I am much more tolerant of these epic-sized character portraits even if their aim is less artistic than informative. Particularly fun was the section on the grueling medical tests they had to undergo. If only the rest of the film could be that light-hearted.
  96. Trust dir by Hal Hartley starring Martin Donovan with Adrienne Shelley (recently murdered). Watching Hal Hartley’s Trust for the second time 15 years later is exhilirating and somewhat disappointing. One of my fave films. See my longish commentary about it.