Friday, December 31, 2010

Year of Bests '10

Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times
"You mustn't be afraid to dream bigger, darling." ~ Eames [Inception]
I was thinking that I would come up with something keenly philosophical about this year in review, but I think I left all of that in whatever posts I published on the blog this year. I guess I should be happy with that.


Anyway, the following are what I consider to have been the best posts and events in the blogs I follow and the interconnections they generated for this year:

The class act that is Jen Forbus (look up the term and you'll see her smiling and warm face right there). Plus, she keeps coming up with great reading series like Audiobook Thursdays. to make the rest of us jealous :-). Plus, I have her to thank for my Walt Longmire addiction, as well as sharing her wonderful company at another L.A. Times Festival of Books.

J.D. over at RADIATOR HEAVEN really knows his films and how to write a review that involves his readers. He brought a smile to my face this year with these posts/events on his blog for 2010: Heat, John Carpenter Blogathon, Midnight Run, Tombstone, Miami Vice

Author John Kenneth Muir's work is one that I continually discover through his Reflections on Film/TV blog. His penetrating and keen understanding regarding the context of where specific shows and film fit in our culture always offers up a thought-provoking ride. His recent list of his top visited posts is its own best category, and his look back at 1979's The Warriors remains one of my high-water marks. Still, I know for fact that I drew particular inspiration from two individualized reviews his this year: Cult Review: The Road and Cult TV Flashback # 111: The X-Files: "Sein Und Zeit"/"Closure". He is a smart and generous man, and I'm proud to call him friend.

I have nothing but praise for John D's (of Nobody MoveGreatest Sci-Fi Movies list (along with his overall taste in film).

Ed from Edward Copeland on Film... and more: brought more joy with his anniversary looks at RAN (25th) and The Grifters (20th).

If you enjoy horror, then you shouldn't have missed B-Sol's Vault of  Horror series, The Lucky 13. Time to catch up.

Jeff's Stuff Running 'Round My Head blog happily draws me to his thoughts on film, family, and song [even though he is a San Francisco Giants fan ;-)], but his look at one of my favorite books, The Use of Flashbacks In "L.A. Requiem", made my year.

The one who lives in Los Feliz and is a writer continues to put out simply wonderful reviews of films (both old and new) at this blog, Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur. Far too many of his movie appraisals would have to be placed here for a bests list and just wouldn't fit (he does so many great ones). So, I'll direct you to one particular and exemplary review to prove my point. His piece on Walter Hill's Wild Bill was great, but it was the last section of the review that affected and pierced me with its words and acuity. And I still consider it the best paragraph I read all year.

Sci-Fi Franatic's movie examination of David Cronenberg's underrated adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone, God's Been a Real Sport to Me post, is the best example of why I'm so glad to have discovered his blog, and in doing so, made another friend.

Jeremy Ritchie's splendid critic defense of director Paul. W.S. Anderson, as well as his Paul Thomas Anderson Blogathon, at Moon in the Gutter shouldn't be missed.

Colonel Mortimer's (of his ... Will Have His Revenge blog) splendid 1980's Project which included favorites The Long Riders and John Carpenter's The Fog was another highlight and finding.

All hail Patricia Abbott's continuing blog and book series, Friday's Forgotten Books. It remains a joy to read, and sometimes to add to.

Naomi Johnson's determination and prowess in bringing off the second annual Watery Grave Invitational cannot be underestimated. If there's any one reason why I continue to enjoy short stories (and her book reviews), it was she and this.

Blogger christian over at Technicolor Dreams never fails at writing something interesting about culture, music, politics and film. For me, the best example of this was his Sci-Fi Dystopia Theatre: Rollerball (1975) post.

Tanya over at Dog Eared Copy weighs in two things near and dear to me. Audiobooks and film. Her recent looks at The Ice Harvest and I Am Legend are not to be missed. But it was her first audiobook review, Matterhorn: A Novel of Vietnam, that caught my eye and put her on the follow list.

I cannot forget to mention the splendid piece for the classic, The Big Country, written by the fine western/noir film blogger who goes by the non de plume of Livius over at Riding the High Country. If you enjoy the genre, don't miss this one.

Will's Secure Immaturity blog was another blue-chip uncovering. That he allowed a less than worthy DS9 fan like myself to join in on his superb Deep Space Nine celebration this year shows he's more than a nice guy. He's also a fine and engaging writer... even though John Kenneth Muir, Sci-Fi Frantic, and I harangue him over his Star Trek: The Next Generation allegiance ;-).

Bryce Wilson (Things That Don't Suck) is another choice find. His review for one of the most startling films of this or any year, Black Swan, left me pointing it out to others to take in. His own review of the year in film is also worth reading.

Chris Voss of Celluloid Moon would be my third on a match, very definitely not unluckily, for new (to me) blog revelation. His review contribution to J.D.'s John Carpenter tribute week, Prince of Darkness, was a thorough blast and stood out to me. His post for the 15 Directors meme was also a great one.

I give full credit and thanks to Rachel of Scientist Gone Wordy for coming up and following up with the idea of doing duo reviews of books and their film adaptations. I'm just happy to ride her coattails with these: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, A Scanner Darkly by Phlip K. Dick, The Children of Men by P. D. James, and The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick. Note: I also praise Naomi Johnson for pointing her out to me in blogosphere and noting her thoughts on Elvis Cole and Joe Pike and review of Stalking the Angel. And hell, she even appreciates a great sci-fi classic like Dune.

While I'll always read her fun and sharp-witted movie and book reviews, and especially pieces like Pop Culture Nerd's take on female action heroes, the posts that really tug at me are those when she opens up about herself. Cases in point, My First Halloween and What Memorial Day Means to Me.

Dennis Cozzalio did his readers a great favor with his fascinating, intellectual discourse on seeing (or choosing not to see) Irreversible (a film I still won't touch). And of course who can forget this year's fabulous and legendary film quizzes from Spring Break, Labor Day and Year-End Holiday time.

Lastly, I must spotlight my dear friend Corey Wilde's last latest book review of Print the Legend. This was the post placed into the ether before he handed The Drowning Machine blog's reins over to the very capable hands of Naomi Johnson. It was published on February 15, 2010 and was typical for the quality of his book examinations and the judgment for the works he deemed essential reading. Besides Jen, who got me started scrawling my thoughts down in a weblog, I also have him to thank for where it is now. Without Corey's encouragement, comments and feedback to nurture it in 2008, I think the recording of my thoughts would have petered out a long time ago. I continue to hope and watch out for the man's return to the surface.

Books (includes Audiobooks)

My books of the year in each category are in bold.
Most enjoyed in fiction
Shutter Island, Elsewhere, The Gentlemen's Hour, A Bad Day for Sorry, The Sentry (ARC), The Lock Artist, The Guards, Death Without Company, Toros and Torsos, California Fire and Life,  Kindness Goes Unpunished, The First Rule, The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death, The Rainy City, The Shawshank Redemption (re-read), Strip, Print the Legend, So Cold the River, Savages, A Red Death (re-read), Echo Burning, The Killing of the Tinkers, Metzger's Dog, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Another Man's Moccassins, Salem's Lot (re-read), The Butcher's Boy, Envy the Night, The Magdalen Martyrs
Most enjoyed in non-fiction
The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder and the Construction of America's First Superhighway, The Films of John Carpenter, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Most enjoyed audiobook narrators
I can't imagine anybody other than Gerry O'Brien as the voice of Jack Taylor (The Guards, The Killing of the Tinkers, Magdalen Martyrs), or someone else's tones for Walt Longmire (Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins) instead of George Guidall, and Tom Stechschulte simply is Hector Lassiter (Toros and Torsos, Print the Legend). Not surprisingly, more kudos for Ron McLarty (California Fire and Life, Salem's Lot), Dick Hill (Echo Burning), Frank Muller (The Shawshank Redemption), and Simon Vance (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). For me, 2010 brought great audio introductions with the likes of MacLeod Andrews (The Lock Artist), Paul Michael Garcia (The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death), Cassandra Campbell & Bahni Turpin (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), and Michael Kramer (Strip, Savages, Metzger's Dog, The Butcher's Boy).


Films on the big screen I got a kick out of in 2010
  • Inception
  • Toy Story 3
  • Black Swan
  • True Grit
  • Kiss Ass
  • 127 Hours
  • The Tillman Story
  • The Dirty Dozen
  • Chinatown
  • Harry Brown
  • The Uninvited (1944)
  • Inside Job
  • Shutter Island
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • Heat
  • TRON: Legacy
  • Machete
  • RED
  • The Expendables
  • The Other Guys
  • The Crazies
  • Hot Tub Time Machine
  • The American
  • Salt
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
  • Knight and Day
  • Back to the Future (25th Anniversary)
  • Ghostbusters
  • Unstoppable
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife
  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
But I'm still kicking myself for missing Winter's Bone, The Social Network, Hereafter, The Town, Waiting for Superman, Buried, Let Me In, and The King's Speech on the big screen. But, that why Netflix is around.
The list for those that did the same but were on disc or streamed
  • Ip Man
  • Despicable Me
  • Centurion
  • Red Cliff
  • Doomsday
  • The Last Voyage
  • Dante's Peak
  • Volcano
  • Good Hair
  • The Missing Person
  • Food, Inc.
  • The Lathe of Heaven
  • Children of Men
  • The Princess Bride
  • Minority Report
  • A Scanner Darkly
  • Freebie and the Bean
  • Red Sun
  • Last Train from Gun Hill
  • Helvetica
  • Hard Target (Director's Cut)
  • Nightmares in Red, White and Blue
  • The Pacific
  • TRON
  • The Third Man
Happy New Year!

John W. Adkisson, Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Audiobook)

In general, I've come to believe that as great as some notable novels written through the decades by talented authors are (and I've only read a small bit of them), often fiction can pale next to real-life accounts of little examined historic events. Sure, there are numerous volumes dedicated to the grand stage that are monumental wars and epic political struggles throughout millennia for readers and history buffs like me to sample. But sometimes it is the intimate story of one important individual, and the people and effects surrounding her, that continue to ripple through time in unexpected ways and have an ongoing impact in the lives of many. Such is the case for author Rebecca Skloot's close chronicle of an African-American woman who died young in 1951, but who will outlive those of us breathing today.

This post has been updated and moved to my current blog, which can be found here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Forgotten Song: Cherry, Cherry by Neil Diamond

In the wake of Neil Diamond finally making it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this week (along with a great and worthy set of inductees for 2011), I had to put something together for the occasion. But what was I going to spotlight here? I mean the man had so many friggin' hits in his career, many of them marshaling me through my teen years and the caldron that was high school, how could I pick just one and be representative? Who cares that many dismissed his work for so long because they thought it only epitomized the 'soft' side of rock and regulated it to the 'pop' for the era. They miss the point entirely by not acknowledging how superb his discography (and talent) is in point of fact, or how far-reaching its influence. Besides that, many of my relatives simply worshipped the singer/songwriter/performer. For good reason, too. So I had pressure to make this count. In the end, it came down to what I've played the most of recent. And it's a song I only re-discovered a short time back.

This post has been updated and moved to my current, which can be found here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's the Little Things in Wyler's The Big Country

My recent (and likely umpteenth) viewing of one of my all-time favorite westerns on Turner Classic Movies, William Wyler's The Big Country, had the whole family involved some weekends back. It was the first time for both of my children (an experience which they loved, btw). My wife, too, sat through and enjoyed it -- a rare event for only a small number of films, it seems. Not surprisingly, it's considered the thinking man's western. Succinctly, it is a film that makes grand use of the adjective in its title by virtue of the expansive landscape it captured (delivered in glorious widescreen via the Technirama film process) and the subject matter the director successfully portrayed in its storytelling.
"What raises The Big Country above a trite critique of contemporary politics and lends it a timeless relevance is the fact that it’s also an examination of man (or should I say men) and what he’s made of." ~ Livius
The rest of this post has been updated and moved to my current blog, found here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields

John Lennon: Where were you when?

BBC News asked this question yesterday in their piece for the 30th anniversary of this sad event:
John Lennon's death 30 years ago was one of those shocking, poignant "where were you when" moments that fashion collective memories out of historic events.
I look at my children today, who are both now ardent Beatles fans (to the chagrin of their mother, no doubt), and can't really find the words to express the depth of that moment, or express what it meant to fans (and non-fans) alike when it played out. Perhaps, it's still a little too painful. I have explained to them that John died a long time ago, but it comes off flat. Certainly, Elvis fans should be able to relate since their moment had arrived three years in advance. Even though I was less passionate toward Presley, I can still recall that instant as well. I was driving eastbound on the 10 freeway, just passing downtown L.A., when I heard the news of Elvis' death on FM radio.

It's not a matter for someone to be nostalgic. Shocks to the system of this sort make an indelible impression on human software. So it was for millions when it was announced that Mark David Chapman shot John Winston Ono Lennon in the back when he returned home to The Dakota apartments on this date 30 years ago today. Forlornly, and forever, sealing those two, and place, in time. The passing of the decades since has only increased my appreciation for the artist, and lessened any time I dwell on Lennon's murderer. But, when I do think of him (like today), it is this quote from Michael Mann's The Insider that always comes to mind:
"Fame has a fifteen minute half-life, infamy lasts a little longer."
So where was I? You would have found me sitting alone in an L.A. apartment (a girlfriend's at the time who was away at an evening college course) watching a now ancient 19" cathode ray tube television set. Ironically, that location is less than 2 miles from where I live now. I was viewing the Monday Night Football game, Patriots vs. Dolphins, when Howard Cosell made the sad announcement (a bulletin he did not want to do):

Since my mother had died two years previous in 1978, I thought I had no more tears for anything. I was mistaken.

Friday, December 3, 2010

But I'd Heard There's No Crying in Baseball

A few years back had as its lead piece, Top 10 list of films that make grown men cry (the original web page has since disappeared). I don’t believe it ever became aofficial‘ meme, but I’ve seen similar reported on various newscasts over the years, as well as other online pieces on the subject. Including some blog posts, just like this one, where someone adds their 2¢. Let’s not forget this UK site is an online retailer in the business of selling movie DVDs and Blu-rays. Takes no great leap that the site looked to spur film sales than make a point.

The rest of the post has been updated and moved over to my current blog, found here.