Movies 2012

Here’s a list of the movies I saw this past year, sorted by rating (and within each rating, the chronological order in which I saw them).

★★★★ – Best movies I saw this year

Piña (trailer): Stunning. See it. See it. I’m not even a casual dance fan–well, maybe I am now. Human motion and music and meaning. Absolutely lovely. Perhaps the best application of 3D I’ve seen, though that’s not saying much in terms of quality (Avatar, ugh) or quantity. It worked here some of the time: though i realized that its otherworldliness may come from all objects, foreground and background, being in focus. I’m not a stickler for realism, though; this is just another medium. Anyway, would be interesting to see it flat. But overall, highly recommended. I got lost in its worlds and stories and sounds and beauty.I want to see it again, and that’s very rare for me.

pina

Amour (trailer): So many movies just won’t take the time necessary to portray a life. This one does. Sad and harrowing, it gives the sense of gradual loss and all the space—and yes, loneliness—of growing old. I saw this at VIFF.

amour

The Hunt (trailer): I thought this was brilliant because it could be seen from both sides: Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas seemed at times an ambiguous figure even though we knew the real story—indeed how we might all doubt him. It really centres around his performance, and it’s a great one. Another VIFF film.

thehunt

The Master (trailer): The brilliant acting almost overshadowed everything else. I could not stop simply watching Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think there will be a lot to pick up on second watching. I think that the general acquiescence to a mad and cultish figure was riveting and believable.

themaster

Celebration Day (trailer): I don’t listen to “classic rock.” But I grew up on Led Zeppelin; a friend and I were talking about seeing their 1980 tour, which was scuttled on John Bonham‘s death (his son Jason fills in on drums here). The band regrouped for one night five years ago, and that concert is documented in this film. While I thought the performances were generally brilliant—Kashmir in particular—I was particularly struck by a couple of other things. First, the film proves that musicianship, even rock musicianship, does not or need not decline with age: these guys were about sixty here and they’re sounding better than ever. Second, I now agree with Plant’s decision not to have extended this performance into a tour. These felt like last performances to  me: while I don’t enjoy listening to this music regularly, as it’s so overplayed, I cannot imagine what it would be like to sing it. A time and place, nicely visited here but that can now be lovingly put away.

celebrationday

Holy Motors (trailer): Another film I want to re-watch. There’s been a lot of discussion about what it all means, and my knowledge of film history isn’t strong enough to pick up the references. But it was purely entertaining and intriguing. Give me this over superheroes any day.

holymotors

★★★½ – Definitely worth seeing

  • Shame (trailer): Depicts well something I’m tempted to say would be very difficult to do: the declination of pleasure to obsession to compulsion. No joy, but no particular sadness either, until it has consequences, which here may be set up a little too obviously. Still, recommended.
  • Monseir Lazhar (trailer): Surprisingly less than the sum of its parts. On paper a lovely, human story; but it didn’t deliver quite the impact that might have been expectedâ??or at least that I did. Kudos for not going over the top, but it didn’t quite reach the  top, either: a delicate balance between subtle and slight. Worth seeing, though, for several excellent performances.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin (trailer): Immediately bought the book and read through to fill in some blanks and inconsistencies that I suspect we’re lost in the translation from novel to screen–unless I was having an off night. The usual objections to the rich American family that doesn’t seem ever to go to work, but overall an effective, harrowing story of parental bewilderment: those who have not been through it (parenthood, that is) may be scared off; those who have, like me, will recognize and perhaps shudder despite the degree of strife. Very engaging and full of effective tension; Tilda Swinton is great as usual.
  • A Separation (trailer): Interesting cultural limitations and twists on a Western–or is that just human contemporary–situation and setting. Some loose ends: the wife’s story wasn’t fully developed, I didn’t think. But a minor qualm. Just the right developing ambiguity and the central figure of the daughter Termeh was brilliantly written and played. Recommended.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (trailer): Not as good as the original Swedish movie of 2009, though it probably had better music. Probably should get an award for best trailer, though. Watched this on my iPad.
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (trailer): Perhaps not the most obvious movie for a vegan, but the care and artistry of this guy are inspiring. I would eat his food if I had the chance.
  • Moonrise Kingdom (trailer): Wes Anderson nuttiness. A tonne of fun.
  • Monsters (trailer): Surprisingly affecting sci-fi, proving you just don’t need big-budget special effects to succeed.
  • Coast Modern (site): alternately inspiring—West Coast architecture is home—and depressing: I won’t ever have a home anything like these. Very nicely done.
  • Pearl Jam 20 (trailer): I stopped listening a few years ago, though one of their recent Vancouver concerts was a lot of fun. I took a look at this partly out of curiosity after reading Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. It’s tempting to see Pearl Jam as a salvage job for the Seattle scene. Workmanlike and dependable; though not really “grunge,” if that even means anything. Watched on iPad.
  • Take This Waltz (trailer): Rising and falling of lust and love. I like Sarah Polley‘s films. Watched on iPad.
  • Life of Pi (trailer): I haven’t read the book. The movie was visually stunning, but was screwed up by nonsensical (is there any other kind?) religious mumbo-jumbo; and the current-day scenes were really weak.
  • Sleepwalk with Me (trailer): Mike Birbiglia is a funny guy. But this movie is mostly a rehash of material you will have heard if you’re a This American Life fan. Given that these were old jokes to me—perhaps I should have known from the title—it’s hard for me to judge how well they work in this medium. Given also that many of the stories seem to have arisen from Birbiglia’s actual experience, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here, unless he’s continued to have more crazy experiences. Still, worth seeing if you haven’t heard his routines. Watched on iPad.
  • Argo (trailer): As good as Hollywood gets, probably. Docked half a star for offending Canadians (not to mention Iranians, probably) and for the writers failing to take thirty seconds to Google the take-off speed of a 747: it’s about 160-180 miles per hour, so police cars couldn’t keep up.
  • Django Unchained: (trailer): Like Inglourious Basterds, a mixed bag. A lot of what Tarantino does seems just to be to use violence to string together scenes in support of some admittedly good writing (not to mention great acting). I wish he’d try a different kind of film. I actually thought that Django had the weakest Tarantino scene ever—the prattle about the pre-KKK masks. Not funny: just really dim. I was surprised.

★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these

Reading 2012

I read a few more books in 2012 than the year before, and started posting more consistently to Goodreads; you can follow me there if you like. Most of these books are fairly current; where they’re not, I’ve indicated year of publication.

Fiction

Fiction

The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers. Almost relentlessly good writing, sometimes great, very occasionally over the top. Horror and response to horror minutely and beautifully observed and reconsidered, and again. “The details of the world in which we live are always secondary to the fact that we must live in them.” There’s a continuous passage—pages 144-146 of the Little, Brown hardcover—that is as powerful as anything I’ve recently read, and as far as I know or now feel, an accurate accounting of these Arab wars or any war; or at very least something very affecting was got into me by the author.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz. Economy and energy. Almost a novella. Brilliant stuff. Given an extra dimension for me by the reading he gave at the Vancouver Writers Festival this year: perhaps the most gracious and keenly intelligent writer I’ve heard.

Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992). Mentioned by Junot Díaz in a recent New York Times interview. Absolutely brilliant. Almost every sentence a revelation. Read it. I picked up “Train Dreams” (below) on the strength of this.

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (1958). A ripping yarn. And yet, I kept hoping that the women, outcasts, and slaves (!) of Umuofia would rise up. Ultimately, it’s the tale of one idiotic set of beliefs replacing another. I know, it’s a story, but it’s not simply presented as such. I feel about as little sympathy for Okonkwo as I do for the missionaries who destroy the Africans’ “way of life” (not that they had any right to, of course)—which is defined and enforced by a ruthless circle of brutal men.

Lionel Asbo: State of EnglandMartin Amis. One is left wondering, “What’s the point?” A good yarn, but so what? I have to go back and read something like “Money,” I suppose. I enjoyed “House of Meetings“—completely different tone.

Ancient Light, John Banville. Some great writing—it starts strong—some middling. Someone else on Goodreads pointed out similarities to Barnes‘ “The Sense of an Ending,” but this is not quite of the same quality. Very enjoyable though, particularly around the vagueness of (all sorts of) memory. The slight twist at the end reinforces the overall message of the unreliability of not just memory, but perception—of places, events, and in particular people, those closest to us. Perhaps not as understandable to someone not yet in middle age. I may read more of him—I understand this is the third book of a trilogy.

Pulse, Julian Barnes. I loved “The Sense of an Ending” last year so picked this up. A solid collection of short stories. I liked those in “One” better than the perhaps more adventurous “Two,” but all were good. The “At Phil & Joanna’s” series was entertaining and funny.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000). A ripping yarn, compellingly told. It doesn’t quite sustain its quality to the end, but I’ve picked up “Telegraph Avenue” and am eager to read it. Saw Chabon at the Writers Festival and he was intelligent and funny.

Train Dreams, Denis Johnson (2002). Not quite of the same quality as “Jesus’ Son” (above), but well worth reading.

The Listener, David Lester. The first graphic novel I’ve read. I have nothing against the genre. But this is a bit thin, and in particular suffered I think from an adolescent tone. I’m sure we’ve all encountered the type: oh so knowing, oh so superior, oh so intellectual. The depth isn’t there, in my opinion. It has its moments, and I think the artwork is great and supports the story well. But I wanted more: depth, maturity, and even history.

Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan. McEwan seems to focus so much on his “hook” of a surprise twist at the end of his books (incidentally, I wasn’t sure I believed reviewers who claimed to have figured this one out—perhaps I’m just thick) that the writing is sometimes secondary. I enjoyed this a lot more than “Solar,” but the characters seemed less involving than “Saturday“—I get it, that’s perhaps the point, but that seems like a bit of an excuse. If you like McEwan you’ll probably enjoy this. But I’m losing my enthusiasm a bit, when there’s so much great writing out there, from Michael Chabon to Denis Johnson. I think “On Chesil Beach” was his high point.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver (2003). A rare case of a movie that prompted me to go back and read the book. Having finished the book, I want to see the film again; like ‘2001: a space odyssey,’ though not written and filmed in tandem as Clarke and Kubrick did, I see them as somewhat complementary; and it seems Shriver is quite the fan of the film adaptation of her book. At any rate, I thought this was a great book. Sentences that were surprising and original; and of course the characters of the mother and son intrigue. That’s the crux: insight into the psychology of some interesting characters, and by extension of us all. To what extent Eva is an unreliable narrator may be in question, at least until the end of the book. But more interesting is the character of Kevin. I don’t know enough about such psychopaths to judge the quality of the portrayal, but for the most part it convinced me. The only two things that stuck out were Kevin’s altered behaviour during his illness; and his apparent racism. Although I can understand the “breakdown” in his carefully constructed world as he aged from sixteen to eighteen in prison, his relenting during an illness when he was younger was not really explained—not that his behaviour could really be explained, but it made me wonder. Likewise, his precise and controlled intelligence would seem to be at odds with some of the racist remarks he made when a bit older. But these are quibbles. Although having seen the movie first may have dulled somewhat the impact of the book—I won’t post spoilers here—I recommend this book. Though not in terms of style, it reminded me somewhat of Philip Roth‘s “American Pastoral.” I have seen enough of almost-over-the-edge teenage thinking to appreciate the thought that went into Kevin, if not actually being a little scared in retrospect.

The Lake, Banana Yoshimoto (2005). A slight and contrived story masquerading as profundity. Made all the worse by cringe-worthy clichés—though I suspect the translation, by Michael Emmerich, is poor—and unnecessary supernatural BS.

Incomplete

Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo. I can’t say it much better than does David Sedaris on the slip cover: “As rich and beautifully written as a novel.” Would that all non-fiction be so compelling. Depressing, yes; but the people shine. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. Not much more to say, other than “read it.”

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Denial Kahneman. I need to re-read this: a goldmine of information on psychology; I should have taken notes as a lot of it is applicable to my work. Anyway, fascinating, and definitely recommended.

Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of GrungeMark Yarm. I was almost next door in Victoria and Vancouver during the “grunge” years in Seattle, so the whole scene seemed almost knowable. This book provides fascinating background information, but is particularly fascinating for how it traces the arc of a scene. Ultimately very sad, of course, not just thinking about Andrew WoodMia Zapata, Kurt Cobain, and Layne Staley, but the toll that addiction took. And how quickly fashion moved on and forgot about the town. I went to see a grunge/Nirvana exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle recently, and it was great but ghostly to see artefacts in glass cases from this music that was so human and alive. If you are even a casual grunge fan, you should read this book. My only criticism is that there are so many characters that I found myself having to go to the index repeatedly to remind myself who some of them were.

Vancouver Special, Charles Demers. He picks and chooses, but nothing is sacred and I got a sense of the flavour of my city, both what I already knew and some new angles. And he admits, “Drug money is the unknown variable in almost any economic equation that you can’t otherwise reconcile in Vancouver.”

This Is Not the End of the Book, Umberto Eco et al. I am going to post an expanded review of this book. Some good points, although the two men—Eco is in conversation with someone named Jean-Claude Carrière—are hopelessly clueless about technology, which is central to the argument.

Mortality, Christopher Hitchens. Exactly what you’d expect from Hitchens. And if you’ve read him, that’s pretty good. At the same time, heartbreaking.

Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now: As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It, Craig Taylor. I picked up this book after returning from a week in London last summer (pre-Olympics). A great format to learn about a city: conversations with and stories from Londoners. Would that more cities had such volumes.

Who I Am, Pete Townshend. On balance probably more interesting than Keith Richards‘ “Life,” but it had even more of an absence of any talk of composing the music that is so central to the story. As if how the tunes and sounds were composed is incidental to the events and times and especially the stories, in particularly the “rock operas” Tommy and Quadrophenia. I’d have loved to have read, for instance, about how Townshend put together the synthesizer lines for some of the early ’70s material—but he seems even to have forgotten they were ARP synths.

Incomplete

Periodicals

Last year my post was titled “Books 2011” and thinking about that recently I realized that I don’t read as many books as I’d perhaps like to because I’m often reading periodicals and “newspapers.” In 2012 I expanded my iPad subscriptions. I read the New York Times and New Yorker pretty consistently. Wired is so cheap it’s a no-brainer; if I read four articles a year it’s worth the price. I subscribed to The Economist but didn’t find myself reading it as much as I should: a 2013 resolution. The Walrus finally became available on iPad; it was my last print subscription and I had really stopped reading it because I just don’t think of picking up a paper magazine. There are a couple of wine magazines (Wine Access and Snooth Buyer’s Guide) that I look at now and again. I subscribed to The Guardian/Observer partly because my daughter was living in the UK; but I cancelled it near year’s end as she’s returning and it was also probably too much given all of the above.

Special mention is due The Magazine. I find the articles sort of engaging, topical for a “geek” perhaps. Perhaps. But the interesting thing for me about this “experiment” of Marco Arment‘s is how dismissive he—and apparently much of the audience—has been of the iOS Newsstand. Well, I have to say that all of the publications I’ve listed above so far outshine the writing in The Magazine that this is pretty surprising. Maybe, despite my focus on usability, I find that the problems with, specifically, the Adobe Publishing Suite are completely overshadowed by the quality of content in something like the New Yorker. I like the Magazine app, sure, but I’m not sure it could support the volume of one of these other publications, at least not yet. Maybe it’s the app/framework that Arment should focus on.

Vancouver “Writers Fest”

I wanted to include a note about this event. It seems to me that it’s time for the organizers and announcers to pass it off to a new generation. I saw Martin Amis endure an embarrassingly awful interview by Anne Giardini. At the David Suzuki/Tim Flannery event, “The State and Fate of This Small Blue Planet,” the authors were barely introduced by Hal Wake, who was far more concerned with introducing the “rebranding” of the festival to “Writers Fest”—as he’d done ad nauseum at the other events. Who cares, and what was wrong with “Vancouver International Writers Festival”? Worse, he instructed the audience not to engage in social media during the talk. It seems to me the event needs as much publicity as it can get, especially to attract a younger audience; real-time Tweeting should be permitted. Wake was a bit better while interviewing Michael Chabon.

The best event I saw was An Intimate Interview with Junot Díaz, who was free to talk without a moderator or interviewer. Granted, he didn’t need one; he was incredibly entertaining and gracious—I’ve never seen anyone better at taking a poor or naïve question and turning it around to seem like the most insightful query he’d ever received.

Well, Vancouver is a small town. I’m thinking about going to the New Yorker Festival this year.

Talley Arroyo Grande Valley 2010 Pinot Noir

Clear, medium ruby-garnet in the glass. Appealing medium-intensity nose of cherry, wood, and smoky damp outdoors. Dry, medium acidity and tannins along with sour cherry and 14.4% alcohol provide some real bite, but this is very nicely balanced with ripe red fruit, vanilla, and some floral qualities. Medium body and a nice long finish. Overall very good, and definitely recommended. $54 at Everything Wine. See Talley Vineyards and the winemarker’s notes.

Talley Arroyo Grande Valley 2010 Pinot Noir

A thousand days

I’ve been on my own for a thousand days, following a bit more than twenty-two years of marriage—and I don’t want to calculate how many days that was. It feels good: every day a bit further from a long shadow.

But I’m not sure one can ever completely escape it. I’m no longer in my twenties. I’m not certain any more that a full-time, long-term relationship is a desirable or even a natural thing—see for instance Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. And starting something now feels different; looking at dating site profiles I sense the scent of real desperation. But I’m not desperate, despite occasional loneliness and except in the sense that Leonard Cohen lamented regarding a time of life still distant to me: ‘one just wishes for someone to have dinner with now and then’ (I couldn’t find the original quote).

It’s mostly the possibility of a life of interminable financial servitude to my ex that supplies some sense of regret—not for the divorce but for the whole sorry story in the first place—and I think I must know a little of how the convict feels. The only advice I can offer here is: be damned sure; check the laws of your province/state and country, as in certain situations they certainly do not favour men; and consider pre-nuptials.

Here’s a (large) sparkline of my weight since my separation: hey, why not? Another data point.

F. Scott Fitzgerald apparently wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.” I have no idea what book that might have been from, because I haven’t read him. In fact I first encountered the quote in a review of a Springsteen album when I was young, said album—The River (1980)—being devoted to identifying and exploring said second acts. Anyway, I’m Canadian. But I think the matter is undecided. Working with more limited financial and temporal resources, it’s not entirely down to will.

Shall I wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach? The fuck if I know. But it’s good to live near the ocean.

2009 Môreson Miss Molly In My Bed

Medium-plus ruby red in the glass. Almost-medium intensity appealing nose of deep black fruit, red cherry, and wood fire. Dry, medium acidity and medium-plus tannins. Medium body, nicely balanced Merlot and Cabernet: blackberry and plum, oak and a touch of coffee; 14% alcohol. Medium length. Overall good. A gift from my father; I believe this was about $30 at Kits Wine. See Môreson Family Winery.

Môreson Miss Molly In My Bed 2009

Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir 2008

Medium deep ruby with a garnet rim. Beautiful light nose of red cherry, strawberry, and fall forest—perfect complement to this drizzling but beautiful Vancouver day. Dry with a hint of residual sweetness, mid acidity, low tannins and light-plus body. Red fruits dominate, nicely balanced but with a bit of medicinal quality (also noted by a taster on CellarTracker). Good length. 14.2% alcohol. Overall good. $48 at Legacy Liquor Store. See Domaine Carneros.

Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir 2008

2010 Catena Malbec

Medium ruby and a slight purple tint. Medium nose of plums and sour cherry, spice and damp. Dry, medium-plus acidity, mid tannins, and a light-ish body. Dominated by sour cherry and general black fruits, with tasteful oak. Medium length with a finish that falls off in terms of flavours quite quickly. 13.5% alcohol. Overall good. $26.50 at Steamworks. See Bodega Catena Zapata.

2010 Catena Malbec