Lights from Salem

Musings and thoughts of a traveler and armchair linguist on his journey through the ups and downs of life.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

2017 - Movies and Books

I took a year off from my blog, albeit not intentionally. It's just that currently I have very little to say. I do have some thoughts I've been mulling around, however.

That said, at end of every year or the start of the new one, I like to review the year in the books and movies I've read, seen, or inflicted upon myself, if it so happens to be the case.

The following lists are only for movies and books that were new to me this year. I don't include re-readings or re-watchings from prior years.

I also am thinking of including books I started but didn't finish and then tell why that book deserved to get the boot. Most likely because it sucked. But I might tell you precisely why it sucked. For instance, one book from this year would be Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis which I started reading immediately after finishing True Grit, another much superior book by him.

Masters of Atlantis blew because I wanted to read an adventure book about Atlantis and instead it was about naive people and a cult. This is also interesting to me, but I thought the story dragged ass, and four or so chapters in it was not picking said ass up. And it was not an adventure story about Atlantis, which for me was the point of starting it. So I sent it back to library and that was that.

With that said, I present to you my lists. No thoughts beyond what these movies and books inspired, no observations about life, and no musings about future plans. Just a list, and some brief reviews, if the spirit moved me.


It was a year of catching up with decades of culture, where I finally saw some legendary stories made before I had ever been born. Generally, I feel like movies have become weaker and less inspired over the past few years, but there are still some great ones out there, and I was fortunate to see a few of them:

All the Money in the World – 2017
Sprawling, uneven, fairly dull, forgettable. However, all the acting is excellent, especially by Christopher Plummer, who could see a Best Actor nomination.

American Made – 2017
A fun movie, but it felt like it hit below the caliber that it was aiming for.

Atomic Blonde – 2017
The energy, the acting, the music, the dialogue, the look; everything about this movie was perfect or close to. Charlize Theron was stellar as usual. The story was exciting, and the movie was just simply cool. While awards are probably unlikely, I would note Theron as a Best Actress possibility as well as Adapted Screenplay. Definitely one of the year’s best movies.

Basic Instinct – 1992
This movie was surprisingly good. It doesn’t quite hold up but it was enjoyable, and Verhoeven’s movies always have a kind of powerful energy that they give off.

Beguiled, The – 2017
This was a real disappointment. Sophie Coppola is a capable story teller, and the setting of this movie was beautiful. It was well-acted by everyone but still dull, and rather forgettable.

Blade Runner: 2049 - 2017 
I enjoyed this movie a lot. It was atmospheric and the pace was in tune with the story. But I also was never die-hard about the original, so I didn't have a lot of emotional stock invested in the movie. Predictions: Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction/Set Direction.

Brain Damage – 1988
An 80’s movie with a schlocky 80’s feel. Fun movie but best watched in a group while sloshed.

Cape Fear – 1991
Well-acted, but drawn out, and while the antagonist is supposed to look unstoppable, the story begins to look unbelievable.

Craft, The – 1996
Entertaining, but over the top. Definitely had the feel of a 90’s movie, and has very little staying power, although Fairuza Balk certain was striking.

Creepshow – 1982
Not scary, and certainly hokey, but still entertaining. The segment with the cockroaches has the best writing.

Darkest Hour – 2017
Moving, but not deeply impactful or overly memorable. Oldman is great, as always, though. Award predictions: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Oldman), Actress (Kristen Scott Thomas), Supporting Actress (Lily James), Original Screenplay, Editing, Costume Design, Art/Set Direction, Cinematography, Sound

Detroit – 2017
This was another major disappointment. Katherine Bigelow can really keep a movie going, as she has shown with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, which is so engrossing you feel like you are looking through a window into the past. This movie, however was simply disappointing. Well-acted to be sure and tense up until the third act where it loses steam. As a whole, almost completely forgettable, but Will Poulter’s performance was the best part of the film, and could see him get a Supporting Actor nod.

Dunkirk – 2017
I wanted to like this film more than I did. I saw it twice, once on Imax. Nolan is a visual director, and he shows this again as the true star of this movie is the cinematography along with the pounding, strung-out score. The film is experimental in structure, and somewhat washed out in feel, but it is visually a masterpiece, simple and massive. Possible nominations: Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, Art Direction/Set Direction, Costume Design, Score. Mark Rylance could see a nod as well. Kenneth Branagh as well, possibly, due to the presence he commanded, although his screentime was very very brief. In the end though, it felt hollow and forgettable, although I know I am in the minority when I say that.

Europa Report – 2013
Believable, respectable as a story, technically well done, and tasteful in that the effects were realistic looking.

Fifty Shades Darker – 2017
Acting and writing suffer, but soundtrack was good for an otherwise soap-opera like movie.

Frantz – 2016
Poignant and human. A little uneven at points. Very well acted, but the story was engaging enough. However, it’s not really a film that calls for re-watching.

Friday The 13th – 1980
Rough and very tame by today’s standards, but minimalistic and claustrophobic-feeling. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that it was strong enough to become such a franchise.

Homesman, The – 2014
A good story, although sometimes confusingly told. Believable characters.

Invitation, The – 2015
Original, tense, and well directed. Ominous and keeps you guessing. This was one of the most original and engrossing movies I saw this year.

It Comes at Night – 2017
Not very scary. More effective as a psychological drama, but even at that it felt like it was missing some X factor to push it into a better movie.

It – 2017 (October 2017)
Sometimes uneven and too expository, but at times nightmarish, and very well acted by Skarskgård. Predictions: Best Actor (Skarsgård) (Unlikely), Best Make-Up, Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Costume Design

Killing of a Sacred Deer, The – 2017
The acting, writing, filming, and humor were all good. But this movie just fell flat and was rather forgettable, except for the sense of unease it sends off. Easily one of my least favorite movies of the year, although I enjoyed the dark humor in scenes that seemed to put much of the audience off.

Logan – 2017
Tragic and very human. I’ve never been a huge fan of comic book movies, but this was a good story.

mother! - 2017
The idea that this is the retelling of the Bible from nature's point of view made me see this movie in a completely different light. Because when I originally watched it I felt a bit like I was having a fever dream. I may watch it again, but I sure as hell may not, also. 

My Friend Dahmer – 2017
Well-acted, but laborious in parts. Felt clunky and uneven. Disappointing, since its source material was so good I read it in one sitting.

Nightcrawler – 2014
Fascinating story of a fascinating character. Gyllenhaal’s performance was all-out.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The* - 1993
Fun story and good-animation. Darkness of the story is beautiful, but the movie personally is not my style.

Nightmare on Elm Street – 1984
Holds up surprisingly well; special effects are still good, fire stunt was excellent, and its imagery did feel nightmarish.

Nocturnal Animals – 2016  
Dark, bleak, violent, depressing. Very well acted, and Michael Shannon deserves the recognition he is getting with his Best Supporting Actor nomination. But Amy Adams was snubbed out of a Best Actress nomination, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson especially was out of Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a dead-eyed psychotic killer. One of the best movies I saw this year.

Omen, The (1976)
Still well-made, but the feel of the horror doesn’t seem to translate over the years. 

Only the Brave: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots – 2017
Despite a very animated looking bear on fire, this movie hits all the notes. An excellent tribute to the people it’s about. Easily on the best movies of the year. Possible Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography

Shape of Water, The – 2017
Moving, charming, albeit predictable, but it is a dark, modernish (circa 1960’s) fairy tale. Predictions: Best Picture, Director, Actress (Sally Hawkins), Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Actor (Michael Shannon), Supporting Actor (Bryan Cranston), Cinematography, Art/Set Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Original Score, Editing, Sound

Silent Hill – 2006
It had potential, but felt more meandering than anything. But it did try to be nightmarish in its imagery, and was creative in that regard.

Silence – 2016  
Beautiful to look at, but very drawn out. It does capture Andrew Garfield’s character’s conflict in faith, battling against the eternity of damnation vs. saving the lives of the Christians around him. It felt like a Terrance Malick movie, although not quite as prone to meander when Malick waxes poetic. Cinematography nomination was well-deserved.

Split – 2016
Surprisingly good, given Shyamalan’s shaky record (although not as shaky as everyone says, in my opinion). James McAvoy deserves a Best Actor nomination. Possibly best original screenplay, too. Technically it is first rate, as it is with all of his movies.

Taking Lives – 2004
An ok movie. Unique city location was nice, and the twists keep it from becoming standard clichéd serial-killer movie-telling, but overall the movie was a ho-hum crime movie.

Thin Blue Line, The – 1988
Well-made, but not as memorable as I had expected. Still, it’s worth pointing out that this movie has power as it overturned a conviction. Nevertheless, it wasn’t as impactful or as engrossing as I had hoped.

Thing, The* - 1982
Good effects, fun story, gory, but tame by today’s standards.

Toni Erdmann – 2016
Long and slightly uneven, but wonderfully touching movie with a heart of bottomless love and tenderness. Acting is brilliant and very natural.

Under Sandet (Land of Mine) – 2015
Amazing, unassuming, simple, and moving movie. Definitely will be in the running of best movie I’ve seen this year.

We Need to Talk About Kevin – 2011
Very interesting story, and obviously snubbed on nominations for Best Actress and Best Actor

Whip Basics – A Beginners Guide: Vol. 2 – 2015
Whip Basics – A Beginners Guide: Vol. 3 – 2015
Whip Basics – A Beginners Guide: Vol. 4 – 2015
Some people like guns, some people like knifes, some like swords or bows and arrows. I learning the art of the whip and tap into my inner Indiana Jones. 

Wind River – 2017
Simply put, possibly my pick for best movie of the year. Cold, poignant, poetic. Not the best of the Frontier Trilogy, but nearly equal to “Sicario”, and still fantastic. Predictions: Picture, Director, Actor [Renner], Actress [Olsen], Original Screenplay, Cinematography, which simple but stark.

The competition was stiff for best movie seen this year

Best Movie of the Year:
Only the Brave: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots – 2017

Second Best
Under Sandet (Land of Mine) – 2015

Honorable Mention
Atomic Blonde – 2017
Invitation, The – 2015
Nocturnal Animals – 2016  
Toni Erdmann – 2016

Wind River – 2017


by Stephen King
Very good – rich and moving. It reaches out to the reader with feeling.

2001: A Space Odessey 
by Arthur C. Clarke

Art of Language Invention, The: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building 
by David J. Peterson

Bermuda Triangle, The 
by Charles Berlitz
Took me back to my roots where I would hunt around in the library for stories on ghosts and UFOs. Reading this was a fun and youthful experience. 

End of Watch 
by Stephen King

Finders Keepers
by Stephen King

Finding and Marketing to Translation Agencies: A Practical Guide for Freelance Translators 
by Corinne McKay

Glossika Mass Sentence Method: Mexican Spanish Fluency 1 
by Michael Campbell and Daisy Gomez
After having learned Spanish 15 years ago while living in Mexico, I finally got around to studying it more or less formally.

Glossika Mass Sentence Method: Mexican Spanish Fluency 2 
by Michael Campbell and Daisy Gomez
Glossika Mass Sentence Method: Mexican Spanish Fluency 3 
by Michael Campbell and Daisy Gomez

How to Make Whips 
by Ron Edwards
Informative and written with personality, which I had not expected. I haven't worked with leather yet, but this was a fun book on a rather obscure art. 

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin 
by Erik Larsson
Moves along well, but the pace of timeline in final events gets a little confusing.

Killer Inside of Me, The 
by Jim Thompson

Last Blitzkrieg, The 
by Walter Freeman

Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, The: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do 
by Sarah Knight

Mr. Mercedes 
by Stephen King
I picked up this book and Finders Keepers at the library at the same time. I randomly chose to start with Mr. Mercedes, and lucky me because not only are the two books related, but they are the first two of a trilogy with Mr. Mercedes kicking it off. I would quite miffed had I plunked down in the bathtub to start a book, only to find I was starting halfway through longer story to another book I had had in my hands but had left at the library. 

No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Proven Plan for Getting What You Want in Love, Sex, and Life 
by Dr. Robert A. Glover
Good – Not completely applicable to me, but also validating at times

Red Sparrow 
by Jason Matthews
Boring – Slow-paced, dull. A shame because all the pieces were there for a more interesting story.

by Stephen King

Second Objective, The 
by Mark Frost
Fun and exciting, and interesting look at one of the most interesting German operations of World War II.

Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man 
by Norah Vincent
Good but uneven and unexpectedly disturbing

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life 
by Mark Manson

Study in Germany! A Comprehensive Guide for Foreign Students 
by Gabriela Stefanut

True Grit 
by Charles Portis

Best book of the year: 11/22/63
This book had the sweep of a one-man epic, covering years of his life. It was poignant and told with heart, and drew you into its world bringing it alive for you on a personal level.