Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Best Films of the Year!

Most of you know that I'm a cinephile! I love my movies as much as I love my books. I savor each one and go out to coffee for further conversation about what I just read/saw. So, each year I like to let you guys know what's important to me. How the movies out now, or the ones that already are making their way onto DVD, rank up. Here are my top ten (from lowest to highest) for the year:

10. "Away We Go!" - This Sam Mendes film was away from his normal fare. And it featured two talented comedians - John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph - and a phenomenal supporting cast. I really loved this film. The comedy is dry (which I prefer), smart (a plus), and very, very witty. It's on DVD now, and I highly suggest a rental. It's not quite a romantic comedy, but a dramedy nonetheless.

9. "Zombieland" - It's rare that I put comedies on the top ten list, but here's the second one. Zombieland works 'cause it didn't pretend what it was. It was a zom-com, and a worthy, good one at that. Maybe not the best composed filmed...but good enough that I watched it four times at the theatre. The things that almost put this in arthouse world are the opening credits which are phenomenal (and opening credits are a dying art) and the sheer appearance of Bill Murray. It'll be out in January on DVD. Own it.

8. "Up" - I'm a fan of Pixar. They've yet to crank out a crapper. And, "Up", while not my favorite Pixar film (that honor goes to "Monsters Inc"), emphasizes an emotional accord that I've not seen from a Pixar movie. If for no other reason than the opening sequence (no words, just montages), this movie deserves all the praise it gets.

7. "Inglorious Basterds" - one of my least favorite Quentin films but best done Quentin films. Are you lost? I'm not sure I can re-watch IB several times over (I've seen it twice) like I can "Pulp Fiction", but damn if Tarantino's skills aren't honed on this one. The writing is excellent, the acting is grand (Christoph Waltz), and the fun fairytale story works.

6. "(500) Days of Summer" - Joseph Gordan Levitt has become quite the phenomenal actor...and what a good year what with "GI Joe", "Killshot", and this independent flick. (500) is an excellent film. It's not a romantic comedy, as it's made out to be, but an interesting social commentary flick. It's absolutely wonderful. Some of the visuals, combined with a dynamite script work strong for this film. If it won best picture, I'd not be upset at all.

5. "The Princess and the Frog" - Ah, Disney's return to 2-d animation! I was elated. Granted, there's still the computer elements that I despise (I'm a handdrawn sort of guy). Still, the animation is beautiful, the songs are vintage Disney, and the story...ah, i love the new twists that the story offers on the Princess legend (that you have to work for your princess-dom). If you've not seen it...don't wait. See it now.

4.) "Moon" - the best picture of the summer and the best picture that Sam Rockwell's been in. Sam Rockwell is one of my faves. This flick is a one-man show, and it plays like a vintage Twilight Zone episode. Directed by David Bowie's son (Duncan Jones in his directorial debut), this is one of the best pictures of the year...hands down. Seriously.

3.) "The Hurt Locker" - Seriously, the film to beat at this year's Oscars. It's one of the tensest movies I've sat through (I peeled off two fingernails during it). Jeremy Renner is amazing. His performance has stuck with me through the year. Also, the bomb scenes have kept reverberating through my head. Ah, this may be one of the perfect films of the year.

2.) "The Road" - Another perfect film. It's as bleak as the book. It's as depressing, if not moreso, as the book. It's not the "feel-good" film of the year. It is, however, beautifully acted, beautifully shot, and that kid...Kodi whathisname is remarkable! Viggo is too. I came out of the flick exclaiming "glorious", "glorious". I want this to win best picture...but it won't because...

1.) "District 9" should! It's the best film hands down! I love it. The writing, the style, the cinematography, the acting. Fuck! It's the best pic of the year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gifts for the reader in your life.

I hear the bells and I see the attitudes, so it must mean the holiday beast is upon us, snarling and oozing cinnamon and angst pheromones. I’m not particularly fond of the holidays – no surprise, I’m sure. Basically, I think the holiday (whether you’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Christmas, or Solstice, or Weasel Stomping Season) has been bastardized beyond repair. The emphasis on gift-giving has trumped anything else out there. Parents are considered not worthy if they don’t throw out a $300 gaming system…
…okay, I’m breathing deep. In. Out. In. Out. Ah! Better.
This is not a rant about the holidays, I assure you. I love to give books. In fact, what better gift is there than a book? By giving a book, you’re giving an overall experience on every level. The immersive qualities, the mental odyssey that you’ve just handed over…what better gift is there than that? C’mon!
I’m a book hound. I tend to read just about everything and anything and rarely will stop a book mid-read. These are my particular favorite books this year. They’re in no order, but they’re accompanied by a link to amazon. Enjoy.

“Peter and Max: A Fables Novel” by Bill Willingham. I’m not familiar with the comic books that this is based on. I’m impressed that a comic book publisher, like Vertigo, is printing a full 400-page novel, though. That’s a step up. This book reminded me of that the Jasper Fforde novels wanted to be. I was excited to pick up Fforde’s books, but just could never get into them at all. The premise of this book is that the fairytale creatures and characters have to seek shelter in our world as their enchanted lands are destroyed and conquered. All the characters are here, but interestingly enough the main character is Peter Piper (of pickled peppers fame) and his brother Max. I had no trouble following the action (not having read the comics) but loved every sentence. Worth a check out.

“Unseen Academicals” by Terry Pratchett. If you’ve never cracked open a Discworld novel you should. Personally I can’t get enough of them and I’m torn up that Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The Terry Pratchett books are an acquired taste, granted. I never discovered them until adulthood, but I’d imagine the young reader in your family would find them amusing. Plus, I always seem a little smarter after completing a Pratchett book. “Unseen Academicals” raises its attention to sports and sports fanfare. It’s a wizards novel (those fans of the series will understand what I mean…there are wizard novels, witch novels, Watch novels, etc). Personally, I’d say that any child who’s bemoaning the end of the Harry Potter series, give’em a copy of Pratchett’s books and let them experience something a little better written.

“Fistful of Feet” by Jordan Krall. Once again, Krall is not for everyone, but those his work is for…well, this is a treat. I’m a huge fan of westerns, and love the everything in the 60’s and 70’s (Sergio Leone, “Django”, all of them). This reads like a love story to the spaghetti western. Actually, it reads like an homage to Italian cinema. You’ve got the touches of Leone, of course, but there’s evidence of Fulci and Argento there, too. Fascinating. All in all, Fistful of Feet is a great read. It’s the way a western should be – brutal, action-packed, and bloody. All the regulars are here: the brothel girls and their Johns, escaped POWs out of Andersonville looking for Confederate gold, a mysterious “bad” good guy, a frilly card cheat, the corrupt mayor, and ass juice. A good read.

The New Bizarro Author Series by David Barbee, Kevin Shamel, Eric Mays and Patrick Wensink. So there are 4 books that came out in a collection: “Rotten Little Animals”, “Carnageland”, “Naked Metamorphosis”, and “Sex Dungeon for Sale”. I’m obviously biased since my name is in the mix, but it’s no mistake. This is a great gift for the reader in your house. They look great as a collection, they’re inexpensive, and (the best part) they’re good. Anyone who has stuck their nose out at bizarre should acquaint themselves with this set. This displays how diverse the budding genre is and can be. Rotten Little Animals is at times frightening and hilarious. Carnageland reads like a video game, which is the first time I’ve ever really experienced that before. Sex Dungeon is an anthology with some interesting ideas. And Naked Metamorphosis…well…you know.

“The Repossession Mambo” by Eric Garcia. I’m a huge fan of Eric Garcia. I loved his “Rex” series. I loved “Matchstick Men”. I even adored “Cassandra French’s finishing School…” But over the last five years I’ve been asking myself where the hell did he go? He seemingly dropped off the face of the planet and stopped putting out books. Well, here’s his newest one. On the surface it seems like a rip-off of “Repo! The Genetic Opera”. Yeah, I buy that. I love that movie and love this book. Having experienced both, I have to say they’re not identical. If I’ve not convinced you yet, then take a look at the book’s opening sentence: “The first time I ever held a pancreas in my hands, I got an erection.”

“Jailbait Zombie” by Mario Acevedo. Mario Acevedo wrote a book a few years back called “The Nymphos of Rocky Flats”. I loved the title but the concept (vampire P.I.) was weak. I never touched it. Then a sequel came out “X-Rated Bloodsuckers”, then another “The Undead Kama Sutra”. Okay, now I’m intrigued by each and every title, and I finally caved. I bought them all and plowed into them. The Felix Gomez story is cliché, no doubt about it. However, the characters are vivid, the noir quality of the stories is spot-on, and Acevedo’s writing is crisp. As much as I love zombies, there was no way I couldn’t pick up “Jailbait Zombie” and was not disappointed. There’s an interesting part about a zombie hurting a vampire because of the silver fillings he had in life. I thought that was interesting.

“Shatnerquake” by Jeff Burk. The concept alone is worth the price of admission. But, make no mistake…this is not parody at it’s lightest. This is, on many levels, what “Being John Malkovich” would have been if John had been replaced with Shatner. This is perfect for those fans of Bruce Campbell and the Trekkie in your life. My only complaint: it’s too short.

“Cloris: my Autobiography” by Cloris Leachman. What’s not to love about Cloris Leachman? She’s a great actress who leaves me in stitches every time. I also think she’s beautiful. But that strange fetish aside, I loved her autobiography. Not being a big fan of television in general, I was more excited about reading her accounts on set with Mel Brooks or on Broadway. The Mary Tyler Moore bits, though, are good. It’s a little dry in areas, but still worth the read.

“Bonk” by Mary Roach. I feel like I’m beginning to sound like a broken record. I love Mary Roach. Ever since I discovered “Stiff” I’ve been hooked. “Spook” was an excellent read, too, and was one of my favorites when it came out. Now, here comes “Bonk”. Bonk is a glance at our favorite subject – SEX. Sex sells and Mary has a blast with the topics: what is an orgasm?; artificially inseminating sows, the complexities of a female orgasm, and scientifically scrutinized coitus. The title and the subject matter should have you convinced already.

“Raising Demons for Fun and Profit” by Mark McLaughlin. Anyone who has ever read Mark McLaughlin knows that the man is pretty much going to have you laugh your ass off. He’s a great weightloss drug that way. “Raising Demons” is my personal favorite McLaughlin yet. Do not hesitate, pick this up…now.