Lights from Salem

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tristan's List of Books and Movies from 2014

Being the somewhat compulsive list maker I am, I keep track of what I've watched or read throughout the year.

For 2014 was a good year for movie watching, and there were some real ringers to be had.

For books there was less of an outcome, but most of the books I read were extremely dense and demanded more attention, time and energy.  

As usual, I've put in some reviews where I felt appropriate.

(*= a movie I've seen before 2014, but not before I started keeping a list of everything that I've watched)

1. 12 Years A Slave (Interesting story, well acted, beautiful scenery. But felt heavily abridged.)

2. American Hustle (Good, but not great. Very well crafted film, strong in every way other than it simply didn’t hold my interest like I had hoped.)

3. Babadook, The (Brilliant, sensitive and very scary horror film. Excellent writing, acting, directing, sound-mixing and cinematography.)

4. Bad Words

5. Balada triste de trompeta (The Last Circus) (First half was very good. Second half was a mess.)

6. Batman*

7. Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Excellent and well executed dark comedy.)

8. Brokeback Mountain *

9. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Good, but not as gripping as hoped. Herzog shows his brilliance, but some of his monologue is a bit over-the-top.)

10. Changeling (Slow going at first, but amazing plot twists. Annoying score.)

11. Closer – 2004 (2014) (Good - Very well acted. At times difficult and disturbing to watch.)
12. Day of the Dead (Dark, bleak, but still interesting.)

13. Dial M for Murder

14. El Juego de Arcibel (Very Good – Simple but well-told and well-acted story about fighting the system. Good make up effects, too.)

15. Emperor (Trite Hollywood fare. Tommy Lee Jones is good, and acting is fair overall, but as a whole the movie is nothing special.)

16. Fifth Element, The*

17. Forces Spéciales

18. Fright Night

19. From One Second to the Next

20. Gang Wars (aka The Devil’s Express) (Schlocky, but entertaining)

21. G.I. Jane

22. Godzilla – 2014 (Good effects, fun story, good editing, kept the pace for a monster movie.)

23. Gone Girl (A near perfect (and perhaps superior) adaption. Cinematography and score are especially excellent.)

24. Guardians of the Galaxy, The (Fun, good but nothing new or fresh.)

25. Hard Candy

26. Her (Very Good – Touching look at how we perceive others. Strong performances all around.

27. Hobbit, The: The Desolation of Smaug

28. Heart Machine, The – (Very good – Interesting love story. Surprisingly touching and good acting.)

29. Hot Fuzz

30. House of the Devil, The (Very Good – Atmospheric, and good at capturing the look of 70’s films. Surprisingly violent. Excellent cinematography, score and editing.)

31. Hunger Games, The: Catching Fire

32. Hunger Games, The: Mockingjay – Part One

33. Imitation Game, The (Good – Well acted story, but also not terribly originally told. Cumberbatch is good, but not his usual great.)

34. Interstellar

35. Into the Abyss (Very Good – Another fine documentary by Herzog. Stark and bare.)

36. Jack Reacher

37. Kill the Messenger (Good – Good performance by Renner)

38. Lone Survivor (Very good – Exciting and sometimes hard to watch. Fascinating look at modern warfare.)

39. Million Ways to Die in the West, A

40. Mummy, The – 1932

41. Night of the Living Dead - 1990* (Good - Perhaps unnecessary, but still good and entertaining remake. Has some power to it.)

42. North by Northwest

43. Oculus (Good - Actually scary and suspenseful. )

44. Passion of the Christ, The *

45. Platoon

46. Predator*

47. Psycho – 1960 (Good – Well done, but as I’ve seen it before (just not uninterrupted) as well as how famous it is, it’s lost a lot of its power.)

48. Rear Window – 1954

49. Relic, The

50. Sadist, The

51. Scrooged

52. Sleeping with the Enemy

53. V/H/S (Good – Shocking, frightening, surprising, creative.)

54. We Were Soldiers (Very good – Excellent and powerful war movie, probably one of the greatest
      portrayals of battle ever shown on film. Should be on the list of all-time greatest war films.)
55. Wolf of Wall Street, The 

55. X-Men: Days of Future Past

It was a good year for reading about the Navy SEALs and for reading about spirituality.  I don't see a relation between the two.

(* = books that were the best I'd read this year.)

1. “Art of Living, The: Vipassana Meditation As Taught by S. N. Goenka”* by William Hart 

2. “Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learner”* 
     by Michael Erard (Very good, interesting and inspiring, but heavy on psychology.) 

3. “Butterfly Effect, The: How Your Life Matters”* by Andy Andrews (Short but good and to the point – Thank you Dad) 

4. “Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight”* by M. E. Thomas (Good – Interesting portrayal of a possibly misunderstood part of the population.) 

5. “Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior” by Rorke Denver and Ellis Henican 

6. “Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass” by Stephen King (Good; a romance story, the weakest link so far though.) 

7. “Dasbodh: Spiritual Instruction for the Servant – Spiritual Discourses Between a Master and Listeners” by Saint Shri Samartha Ramdas 

8. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway (OK. Gimmicky but subtly effective.)

9. “Four Agreements, The: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom”* by Don Miguel Ruiz

10. “Glossika Mass Sentence Method: German Fluency 1” By Mike Cambell and Christian Schmidt

11. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (Good – Starts out a bit clunky and (seemingly) predictable, but climax is suspenseful.)

12. “I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj”* by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Excellent. Piercing and unflinching.)

13. “Illusion vs. Reality – Dialogues with Shri Ranjit Maharaj” by Ranjit Maharaj

14. “Master Key to Self-Realization”* by Shri Sidharameshwar Maharaj (Sublime: Clear, kind, poetic, powerful.)

15. “Peanuts Guide to Life: Wit and Wisdom from the World’s Best-Loved Cartoon Characters”* by Charles M. Schulz

16. Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy (Fun, as his books usually are.)

17. “Rogue Warrior”* by Richard Marcinko with John Weisman (Very Good – Surprisingly well-written; would be a great movie.)

18. “SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper”* by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin (Excellent. Well written, down-to-earth, both ferocious and gentle, the story wields both the sword and the olive branch.)

19. Service: A Navy SEAL at War by Marcus Luttrell and James D. Hornfischer (A quieter but in some ways more complete story than “Lone Surivor”.)

20. “Warrior Soul: The Memoir of a Navy SEAL”* by Chuck Pfarrer (Well written, and with honesty and humility.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Happens When You Don't Use a Chair

I bought a yoga ball to sit on at work and help alleviate my "kicky feet" as well as  aid in juicing up my kinesthetic brain passages.  Due to my cubicle's rather open position facing down a hallway, people could see me bouncing up and down on my big blue yoga ball while I translated medical documents.  One of my co-workers commented that this was strange to see, but if she had a yoga ball to sit on herself, I doubt she would have said anything.

I was quite happy to sit there and bounce while I typed.  The ball didn't properly "bounce" and get air, it just let my restless legs keep rhythm to whatever what was firing off in my mind while I'd flick words onto the computer and, depending on the mental nature required of my translation, listen to music or podcasts out of the privacy of my headset while I typed.

The only problem I had was that the ball was noisy to blow up, so I tended to top it off after hours in order to not disturb my neighbors.  It occurred to me that there might be something improper to the whole picture:  I would contendly bounce on my ball and listen to music that invigorated my spirit while I thinking how to best translate a document in which some unfortunate person was describing how their life was falling apart.  But if my spirits were up, my translations would be better and hopefully the individuals in question would get the help they needed.

In this particular morning I had assumed the position to work and bounce, and since I was working on a blood lab, something which I find almost complete joy in translating, I was able to listen to a podcast as well. Blood labs, like any translation, do demand attention to detail, but they mostly consist of lists of numbers set in a template I already have established.  So, while they are long and rather tedious, they are extremely simple and straightforward, and it is easy to see that you are making progress in them.  Therefore, my mind is at liberty to spin a couple of extra plates while I crunch up and double check my numbers of uric acid measurements and white blood cell counts listed.

In this particular instance, my corner of my mind began to  mull over if there wasn't something wrong with my dear yoga ball. It seemed to need more refills of air, but I couldn't tell if it wasn't holding air as well as it had when I first got it, or if I was imagining things.  I could tell it wasn't able to support me as well as it could before and I thought to myself that it really is time to top it off again.  The very instant I was thinking this, the whole goddamn thing exploded, dropping me flat on my unbraced bum.  As I crashed through space and onto the floor in front of my computer I couldn't decide if surprise, sudden and unexpected pain, or wounded pride was more of a problem, so I yelped out "Ow, my ass!" and decided that would have to do.

Since I had music playing through my earphones, I had no idea how loud the pop of the ball had been, but apparently it rang out across the office because even people from down the hall started coming into my cubicle to see if I hadn't somehow had an aneurism and fallen off my desk.  They rushed into my cubicle to find me still sitting on my sore bum on the floor in the middle of my now shattered yoga ball with my headphones still stuck in my ears and feeling very undignified.  I felt as if I had been caught doing something wrong rather than just the victim of a expedited rubber ball deflation.  I would be remiss though if I didn't say that I was also touched that they  hurried over, looking concerned and ready to help if I needed it.

My neighbor who had said I looked strange sitting and bouncing was one of the first responders, but later admitted she was very reluctant to step into my cubicle, because if I had fallen and was bleeding out of a head wound, she said she would have collapsed. There would have been no shame.  I recently got blood drawn for a check up and nearly passed out twice in a row.

After everyone saw that I was fine things returned to business as usual and I picked up the shattered rubber wings that had once allowed me to sit and probably screw up my back, and I was left to ask myself, was this karma?  Had I somehow upset the balance of the universe while happily finding a niche in my career, using my love for language, but translating documents written by people in deep pain? Or was this just a freak of nature; a yoga ball gone bad?  

Some questions have no answers.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May Thoughts

Today I was listening to a podcast about whether objects or experiences make us happier.  As in most things, the answer seemed to be "It depends" but the general verdicts leaned towards experiences, but with caveats.

However, hosts made a point that struck me.  Materialism keeps people at a baseline-level of happiness, evidence shows.  In other words, getting something new is great for a few weeks, but then the charm wears off, and the person returns to their normal level.  Hence, much like a drug fix, the person goes after a new thing.  Life becomes cluttered but there is no real fundamental change or improvement is made.

And I wondered, what is my baseline level of happiness?  Can it change or is it fixed?  I feel fairly certain in is not fixed.  However, I look around and so many people seem to be jubilant with things in their life.  "How's the new job? -It's great!"  "How is your new apartment?  - It's so nice!" "How's that chocolate mousse? - It's terrific!  And I catch myself wondering, and I really that much below them?  Or are they exaggerating or putting on a front to hide from mediocrity?  It's a bleak question I suppose, but I wonder how many folks are sincere in their expressions joy.   
I have to admit a biased from where I am writing right now.  Things have been going good for me: I got a new job that is closer to what I want to do in life, and I recently moved to a new apartment that I think will be a good change for me in many ways. 

But the fact is, despite the many incredible people I have met here in Austin, and the friends I have made, there has recently been a profound sense of loneliness in me.  It's a feeling that I've had much of my life, having traveled as much as I have.  I've forged wonderful life-long friendships but distance is usually an issue, and I've hoped to make some friends here that are close, both emotionally and geographically. 

But in nearly every case, things have remained at a casual level, and I wonder why.  This is certainly not what I want in a friendship.  I wonder what lesson I have to learn from this.  I do wonder if I can keep being open with my heart with people I care about.  Wearing my heart on my sleeve comes as natural to me as breathing, and trying to be more guarded is probably a useful skill, and one I'm not very good at yet.  But I am realizing that my energy to spend on those around me is very finite, and less so if I care about someone who sees me as simply a casual acquaintance rather.  In some cases, connections which I thought would foster potentially profound friendships has instead given way to deep misunderstanding and miscommunication and a painful attempt at learning the other person's language. 

This is not at all to diminish the connections I have made here though.  I am very thankful for the wonderful people I've met and friendships I've made, and aware that things do continue to evolve.

Today, while concerned about this, and no doubt stuck deep inside my own thoughts, I realized I had left my phone at home.  This was irritating and it helped point out how much I missed my phone and how much I missed it. 

But it should not have been a problem. 

After work I stopped by my old house to pick up some mail that had been sent there.  I got in my truck to leave, but got no further.  The engine would not even turn over.  A mobile mechanic was called up and he started working on my truck in the street to replace the starter.  I was very irritated, and upset that I was unable to contact a friend of mine to let her know I was not meaning to stand her up to play pool.  

Forced to sit by myself for a couple of hours and slow down while my truck was gutted, I turned my feelings inward, which was uncomfortable, since this feeling of loneliness now feels like broken glass inside of me.

As I was examining these feelings, I became more aware of the world around me, of the sun setting, of the breeze blowing the trees on the street, of the air becoming cooler, and of the fireflies twinkling on and off over the neighbors' yard.

And I had to admit to myself that everything changes: the light, the temperature of the air, the motion of the wind, and even the fireflies were not constant.  And then I looked back at my feelings, and started to feel less of an attachment to them, because they are in constant flux, too.  At the moment, they were feeling pretty shitty, but they don't tend to remain that way during the complete day.  And even if they do, they go away when I sleep, where I don't feel anything, which alone means they cannot be constant.

And if it is not constant, it's hard to see how they can be personal.  Everything moves on its own, but part of a bigger whole that moves.  Instead of the idea where one feels insignificant, or that their feelings are a drop in the bucket, there was more a sense of life is simply being expressed in this particular way, at this particular moment. 
And there was comfort in that.

So, maybe neither objects nor experiences bring happiness, because happiness too is an experience that comes and goes.  But there can be peace beyond that.  Nothing needs to be taken personally.

Yes, I am still lonely feeling.  And I am still uncomfortable with that.  But I started to remember that I have a right to feel uncomfortable, and that there is nothing wrong with that, or with going through an emotional low.  I feel that in my life I have gone through a large number of them, but perhaps there is a reason for it.  It doesn't have to be suffering, but rather a different expression of life in a given moment.  It is not my intent to say that if you are unhappy you shouldn't do anything about it to try to improve the situation if possible or feasible, but once you give yourself permission to feel shitty, feeling shitty actually feels less shitty, and I think that allows joy to come in organically, rather than force fed through objects or experiences.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tristan's List of Movies and Books of 2013

As usual at the beginning of the year, I recap the list of books I read, and include a little review, if appropriate.

The asterisk (*) by the author’s name indicates those were exceptionally good books.

This year I'm including some new twists: I'm going to list the best book I read in the fiction and non-fiction category, and I'm also going to include the movies I watched, all with the same self-imposed “rules” and “features” of the list.

As always, these are books I read this year, not only just books that came out this year. Most of them were written ages ago, some of them centuries ago.

None of the movies I watched were made centuries ago, however.

These are all my opinions, and these lists are mostly for my amusement, and for the occasional two or so requests for recommendations of books to read that I get during the year.

Some conclusions:

-Robert Heinlein had a brilliant imagination and was a great story teller. This is not, however, the same as saying he was a great writer. His characters and dialogue have aged horribly, and I wonder if they sounded hokey even at the time they were written.

-Seems I hit the spirituality books a little hard this year. Sweet. 

Books I Read in 2013

1. Abyss, The by Orson Scott Card; based on screenplay by James Cameron*
a. Excellent – As much a novel as a supplement; fleshes out story perfectly

2. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan*
a. Sublime. From all of the elements in it, I should not have enjoyed this book. And yet it was perhaps the richest and most fascinating book I read this year. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to write. The second two books in its trilogy are very nearly equal to it.

3. American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice

a. Good, a little too homegrown for me, but haunting to read due to his untimely death.

4. Bankei Zen: Translations from The Record of Bankei by Peter Haskel (translator); Yoshito Hakeda (editor)*
a. Sublime – Clear, beautiful, to the point. From the East, but so clear it can be easily accessed in the West; old, but has lost none of its freshness.

5. [Title removed at publisher’s request]*
a.  Small but powerful.  If you read this book, it’s because it has found you, not the other way around.

6. Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan*
a. Sublime. Dense, though at times a bit confusing. The second book in the Takashi Kovacs trilogy.

7. Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider*
a. Very good, magic, lyrical.

8. Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book, The by Bill Watterson*

9. Clear in Your Heart: The Radiant Mirror of Self-Shining Awareness by John Wheeler*

10. Dark Half, The by Stephen King
a. Good, kept the pace going, but ending between the Thad and Pangborn seemed abrupt.

11. Dirty Enlightenment: The Inherit Perfection of Imperfection by Peter Brown*
a. Very good though hardly a primer for his “field”.

12. Dismantling the Fantasy: An Invitation to the Fullness of Life by Darryl Bailey*
a. Sublime, Gentle, Poetic, Clear. This book breathes life.

13. Essence Revisited: slipping past the shadows of Illusion by Darryl Bailey*
a. Very similar to “Dismantling the Fantasy”. The clarity of Bailey’s words remains excellent

14. Hannibal by Thomas Harris
a. Good – Dark and sexual.

15. Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
a. Ok – Felt unrelated to the Hannibal series, far-fetched and forced. Weakest of the saga.

16. In The Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language by Akira Okrent*
a. Very Good, nice intro to the history of conlanging.

17. Inferno by Dan Brown

18. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton*
a. Very Good – Well-paced, exciting, dark. Second time reading it: First novel I had ever read; I originally read it in third grade.

19. Key to Rebecca, The by Ken Follet 

a. OK, slow until the last 70 pages or so. Before then I had considered giving up on the book.

20. Life Above All Else by Gilbert Schultz*

21. Light Behind Consciousness, The: Radical Self-Knowledge and the End of Seeking by John Wheeler*
a. Very good, though not as good as “Awakening to the Natural State”

22. Longest Day, The: June 6th, 1944 by Cornelius Ryan
a. Good, well-written, interesting German points of view

23. Look for Yourself: The Science and Art of Self-Realization by Douglas E. Harding*
a. Sublime – Some of the clearest pointers in the West on so-called Eastern spirituality.

24. Lost World, The by Michael Crichton
a. Second time reading it. Originally read in grade school.

25. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf*
a. Very good – cinematic and well-developed portray of Dahmer as told by someone who knew him when he was a teenager.

26. On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious by Douglas E. Harding*
a. Excellent, clear, friendly: An excellent book on spirituality.

27. One Good Thing by Preston M. Heller*
a. Very Good; occasionally a bit heavy-handed and in need of an editor, but overall well-told.

28. Op-Center by Tom Clancy, Steve Pieczenik
a. OK, slow-paced yet felt rushed.

29. Open to the Source: Selected Teachings of Douglas E. Harding by Douglas E. Harding, Richard Lang (Editor)*

30. Orders from Berlin by Simon Tolkien
a. OK, interesting premise but a bit dull and predictable.

31. Reason for God, The: Belief in the Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller
a. Good and Challenging; Good book to have in one’s arsenal to discuss conservative Christianity

32. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
a. Good – Good story, okay writing.

33. Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein
a. OK – Quite aged and characters act corny.

34. Ruins, The by Scott Smith
a. Good, dark, hooks you in.

35. SEAL Warrior: Death in the Dark: Vietnam 1968-1972 by Thomas H. Keith and J. Terry Riebling
a. OK; fascinating but author’s voice was a little too macho for my taste.

36. Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King
a. Good, Surprisingly suspenseful and satisfying.

37. Silence of the Lambs, The by Robert Harris
a. Good – Interesting story, good characters, okay writing.

38. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
a. OK – Dry and Plodding.

39. Suffer in Silence by David Reid*
a. Very good, almost documentary-like. Plot is fairly thin, but fascinating and very well-written.

40. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 17: Something to Fear by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*

41. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 18: What Comes After by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*

42. Weirdos from Another Planet by Bill Watterson*
a. Very good – imaginative and touching, as always

43. Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan*
a. Very Good – The slowest paced but the most complex of the Takashi Kovacs novels so far. 

Best book of the year:

Fiction: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Nonfiction: Dismantling the Fantasy: An Invitation to the Fullness of Life by Darryl Bailey

Runner up: All of the books I read by Douglas Harding.

Movies I watched in 2013

Along with the reviews, I'm going to include what I thought were the best features of the film, and what it might get nominated for if the Academy Awards were run by me.

The ones with this goofy looking thing (§) mean that I saw it prior to 2013, but watched it again in 2013, which is the first year I started making a movie list. 

On some of the movies I did not include the years they were made.  My list has evolved over time in terms of detail, but I don't always go back and fix the past shortcomings.

1. 13th Warrior, The (May 2013) (Okay)
a. Good visuals, bad character development. Nice depiction of language learning

2. 42 (April 2013) (Very Good)*
a. A bit clichéd, but some good photography and an excellent performance by (and make-up job on) Harrison Ford.

3. Act of Valor – 2012 (October 2013) (Very good)* §
a. Macho and propagandistic, but exciting, interesting and full of excellent cinematography.

4. Babakiueria (March 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Surprisingly funny, effective, and cutting satire on aboriginal/European POVs. Very recommended.

5. Battleground (Jan 2013) (Good)
a. A slow but well-told story about a group of American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge, focusing on their psychology rather than on the fighting, similar to A Thin Red Line.

6. Beyond Thought (Awareness Itself) (Jan 2013) (OK)
a. A ho-hum documentary about the state of Awareness that is aware of all things.

7. Captain America (June 2013) (OK)
a. Good, but flawed and a little shallow.

8. Captain Phillips – 2013 (October 2013) (Excellent)*
a. Suspenseful and well paced. The last 5 minutes are some of the most moving ever filmed. My nomination predictions: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hanks), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Editing.

9. Conjuring, The – 2013 (October 2013) (OK)
a. Had some creepy and suspenseful moments but was too formulaic.

10. Contagion – 2011 (October 2013) (Very good)*
a. Suspenseful, cold, stark. Focus more on the situation instead of connecting with any characters. Some good cinematography.

11. Croods, The (April 2013) (OK)
a. Boring and clichéd. Some funny moments but very very few.

12. Cropsey (December 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting documentary but somehow unfulfilling.

13. Debt, The (May 2013) (Very Good)
a. Good plot twists, good acting.

14. Devil’s Double, The – 2011 (October 2013) (Very good)*
a. Disturbing and dark. Dominic Cooper’s performance is unbelievably excellent.

15. Die Brücke – 1959 (July 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Well-told; brave enough to show some realistic violence.

16. Django Unchained (Jan 2013) (Excellent)*
a. Excellent action/comedy/drama. Arguably Tarentino’s greatest film, second only to The Inglourious Basterds. Christoph Schultz gives an excellent performance.

17. Ender’s Game – 2013 (November 2013) (Good)
a. Fairly faithful, but felt rushed and lacked the depth and heart of the book. Predictions: visual effects.

18. Event Horizon (April 2013) (Good) §
a. Clichéd but spooky and intriguing haunted house story in space.

19. Everest: IMAX – 1998 (October 2012) (Good) §
a. Good photography, as always with IMAX.

20. Fire in the Sky (May 2013) (Okay)
a. Interesting story, but a bit boring.

21. Flight (2012) – December 2013 (Very Good)*
a. Well acted, well directed, excellent crash scene.

22. Frighteners, The – 1996 (September 2013) (Very good)
a. Surprisingly good dark comedy.

23. From the Earth to the Moon (June 2013) (Good)
a. Good but not as interesting as I’d hoped.

24. Good Day to Die Hard (Feb 2013) (Poor)
a. Disappointing, hollow, half-baked, terrible character development. The weakest entry in the series. The car chase was the very entertaining, though.

25. Gravity – 2013 (October 2013) (Very good)
a. Very suspenseful and very straight-forward story telling. Very interesting that finally space is portrayed as completely silent. My predictions: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Bullock), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Editing

26. Great Gatsby, The [2013 version] (June 2013) (Good)
a. Energetic: Possible Oscars: Art Direction/Set Direction, Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Direction, Editing

27. Hobbit, The: The Desolation of Smaug – 2013 (January 2014) (Very good)*
a. Bleak but superior to first film. Less campy. Nominations: Visual Effects, Sound Effects, Sound Effects Editing, Art-Set Direction, Costume Design

28. H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer – 2003 (November 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting tale, but rather blandly told. A bit cheap-looking.

29. Hangover, The: Part III (June 2013) (Good)
a. Funny, but the weakest. Nevertheless, nice to see the formula changed a little bit.

30. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (March 2013) (Okay)
a. Good make-up effects and set pieces, but felt more like a couple of chapters rather than a stand-alone story.

31. Iron Man 3 (May 2013) (Very Good)
a. Slightly darker, good, but not the best in the series.

32. Jurassic Park* (April 2013) (Excellent) *§
a. Classic film, and 3D looks surprisingly good.

33. La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful) – 1997 (November 2013) (Good)
a. Good and touching. Slap-sticky, but still magical.

34. Lawless (Feb 2013) (Good)
a. Good, but didn’t live up to expectations. Tom Hardy did very good voice work.

35. Life of Pi, The (Jan 2013) (Good)
a. Very good adaption…My predictions: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay

36. Lone Ranger, The – 2013 (July 2013) (OK)
a. Entertaining but long and a bit drawn out. Good use of scenery. Possible nominations: Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Art Direction/Set Direction

37. Man of Steel – 2013 (June 2013) (Good)
a. Nice back story, fun to watch, and moments of brilliant cinematography, but a bit disappointing. Predictions: Visual Effects

38. Master, The – 2012 (July 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting look at Scientology, but very slow moving. Excellent performances, however.

39. NeverEnding Story, The – 1984 (Good)
a. Famous movie, but acting and effects, and probably overall feel, are best left for children. Still entertaining though.

40. Now You See Me (June 2013) (Very Good)
a. Fascinating and smart. Good twists. Possible nominations: Director, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Supporting Actor (Woody Harrelson).

41. Oblivion (April 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Surprisingly good and moving. Haunting; great special effects, cinematography, sound and acting.

42. Others, The – 2001 (October 2013) (Very Good)*§
a. Brilliant ghost story, excellent acting, especially from the children. Great cinematography.

43. Perfect Vagina, The (Jan 2013) (Good)
a. Interesting reporting on how some women are opting for plastic surgery on their vulvae to make them more “idealized”.

44. Psycho – 1998 (October 2013) (OK)
a. A remake of the original 1968 version. Some chills and suspense but felt hollow. Excellent cinematography, however.

45. Red Corner – 1997 (November 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting; listening to the interpreters was the most interesting part.

46. Red State (May 2013) (Very Good) *
a. A bit confused and heavy handed, but mostly well-done and surprisingly dark.

47. Rescue (September 2013) (Good)
a. Well-shot, but slow IMAX documentary.

48. Rescuers, The (March 2013) (Very Good)* §
a. An old, dark Disney classic. Brought back nostalgic memories of music and art work from the children’s book and tape that were adapted from the movie. With gunshots, kidnapping, skulls with diamonds in them and scenes of children putting on pajamas, its interesting to wonder how the MPAA would rate it now.

49. Ring of Fire – 1991 (November 2013) (OK
a. Good, but expected more of a geological documentary rather than a presentation of life in that area.

50. Rosemary’s Baby – 1968 (October 2013) (Very good)
a. Good acting and a disturbing ending.

51. Ruins, The (May 2013) (OK)
a. Good adaption: decent B-suspense/horror.

52. Se, Jie (Lust, Caution) – 2007 (November 2013) (OK)
a. Well acted, but dragged.

53. Serenity (March 2013) (Very Good)
a. Very good, not quite perfect, moving finale to the series “Firefly”.

54. Session 9 – 2001 (November 2013) (Good)
a. Beautiful use of locations. Not terribly original.

55. Silver Linings Playbook (March 2013) (Very good)
a. Touching comedy/drama. Sensitively portrays a family’s frustration about mental illness. Jennifer Lawerence’s character is very fascinating.

56. Sinister (March 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting horror film. A little too clichéd but still created an atmosphere of suspense; had some jumps; gore was mostly suggestive.

57. Species – 1995 (October 2013) (Boring)
a. Dull and fairly unoriginal. Considering the list of some good actors, everyone gives a flat performance. Best features were some of the designs by H.R. Giger and the actresses’ attractive body. Made me really wonder if it was made to cater to some kind of fetish.

58. Spectacular Now, The – 2013 (September 2013) (Very Good)
a. Very well done and un-clichéd. Possible Oscars: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay

59. Star Trek: Into Darkness (May 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Happy to hear Klingon used and see Kronos, even if it was just a brief scene.

60. Sum of All Fears – 2002 (September 2013) (Good)§
a. Entertaining and suspenseful.

61. Talvisota (January 2013) (Good)
a. A long, but good tale of a group of soldiers during the war between Finland and the Soviet Union. Often slow, but well-acted. Directed at a Finnish audience, so some background on the war itself is useful before watching the film.

62. Ted (March 2013) (Good)
a. Great one-liners; not as funny as I’d hoped, but some hilarious moments.

63. Three Kings – 1999 (June 2013) (Good)
a. Good example dark humor and war.

64. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – 2011 (July 2013) (Good)
a. Layered, dense, worth re-watching

65. Valhalla Rising – 201? (November 2013) (Boring)
a. Beautiful cinematography, and artistic but mostly meanders about and drags.

66. Wolverine, The – 2013 (July 2013) (Good)
a. Interesting, fascinating introduction, but mostly action and light on story.

67. World War Z – 2013 (July 2013) (Good)
a. Nothing terribly original, but interesting look at a crisis on a global scale.

68. Zero Dark Thirty – 2012 (Feb 2013) (Excellent)*
a. Great film in docu-drama style. One forgets they are watching a movie and feel as if they are watching the real thing. Climax is genuinely suspenseful. One of the best-directed films of 2012.

69. Zwartboek – 2006 (August 2013) (Very good) *
a. A bit contrived, but an interesting WWII drama from a presumably little-discussed resistance group. 


Before publishing this, the Academy Awards published their list of nominees from 2013.

You can see it here.

I stand by my personal nominees though.  Over the years, I've become more and more skeptical of the Oscars.  I still think they are fun, but I don't take them nearly as seriously as I used to.

My next blog entries will be back to meandering and other nonsense, as usual.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mugs Are In Danger Around Me

(Note: Written the night before)

So. This week I think I may have turned a corner. At the beginning of the month I started drinking soda again after a month of giving it up. Every time I do this, I feel fine but then miss the sweet taste of Coke or root beer or whatever, and then every time I drink it again, the joy is incredibly short lived as they taste more and more like the chemicals they are. This week I bought a Cherry Coke and a Cherry Pepsi. I finished the Coke but didn’t enjoy it like I had hoped. But the Cherry Pepsi I just couldn’t do. For some reasons my body just was not getting any sweet, sugary happiness from it and I dumped the last half of it into my roommate’s flower pot.

Maybe it is time to just throw in the towel.

On the topic of beverages, earlier this evening I went to a teahouse, my new favorite haunt in Austin, to translate a document for an organization I volunteer for. I made the mistake of ordering a tea that not only was disappointing in flavor, but also had such a high caffeine content I about jumped through the roof. At one point my hands were jittering so bad I nearly spilled my glass. Had I succeeded in spilling and breaking the cup it would have been the second time within the space of a week I’ve knocked over and destroyed a drinking vessel. However, in the case of the first one it was a mug in the shape of a mason jar that I knocked over with my hands. I was in my room and thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, which in fact turned out to be nothing. But in the process of moving, my flailing hands hit my plastic mug and sent it flying of the desk and smashing across the floor.

This would be the second time I’ve broken this model of jar, so now I'm on my third mason jar mug. I guess if I were a drinking device, I would not want to be around me this week.

There were very few pieces to clean up, but it only drove home the point that I really do need to clean my room, as it looks like a tornado hit, and then crashed on the couch for a week. So that will be my task for tomorrow before I go home to Nebraska for Christmas.

The weather has finally started to pick up temperature-wise, which is good news for my sissy reptilian-esque core body thermostat. Also, Operation Meet People has been going well too, after seeming like it dropped off earlier this…well I about said winter but in fact it would be late fall when the weather decided to become treacherous, and my mood became reclusive.

My roommate asked me if I was excited to go home. I told her I wasn’t really, but that in fact I rarely get excited about anything. This is something I’ve never understood, but it’s never been a problem in my life. I suspect it’s a bit like my inclination towards introversion: for most of my life I thought something was wrong or missing from me, that I was somehow mis-constructed or lacking, when in fact I just liked being on my own. There’s no quicker cure for what’s wrong with you than discovering that there is, in fact, nothing wrong with you, despite what others might say.

So when I tried to think about what I do get excited about: seeing a movie or reading a book I’ve been looking forward to, or seeing a friend I’ve missed for years, I guess there is more of that. But when it comes to my family, there is something different. Maybe it’s just a matter of becoming more independent.

It does not mean that I am not happy to go home, nor does it mean I don’t look forward to it. It just means that I see it as something that is coming, and accept it as such. I felt the same when I went to the Peace Corps or to Germany or to teach English in Prague. There were moments of excitement, and a general happy anticipation, but mostly just a contemplative curiosity or acceptance.

I have made no New Year’s resolutions this year. I didn’t last year and I did admirably, so this year I expect an equal amount of resounding success. But I am keeping not only a list of books that I’ve read, as usual, but this year I also started keeping track of movies I’ve watched, so you can expect to see that. I have stopped caring so much about what the Acadamy Awards thinks, so I am going to include what I think were the best movies, at least out of what I saw, and I have yet to see all of the Academy Awards movies of the past year, but as a general rule I avoid musicals anyway.

So I’ve spoken my piece tonight. Nothing terribly profound I would gather. Unless you consider smashing dishes poetic, I would hazard this hasn’t been my most moving work yet. But I’ve written it and I had a half-way decent timing doing so, and now that my caffeine buzz is fading into ether, maybe I shall, too, for the evening.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

And So, A Warm Farewell to November

Austin has been cold these past couple November weeks.

Till just recently, the grey weather has sat unmoving in the sky like a meditating stone and the stillness has seeped down into the trees and the buildings and the grass and certainly it has affected me.

It comes has no real surprise, then, that my energy level has been fairly low, although it gets like this at this point every year.

The weather affects my mood, it subdues it and makes me more melancholy.  However, I do not call this depression.  Depression sucks the life out of you.  Melancholy is more like a dense buzzing of energy, like the contemplative embers after a fire.  After the blaze burns out, they stand guard to keep you company.  And in my case (and in that of many others) it's where much of my creativity seems to lie.

I have found the pursuit of happiness to be too exhausting and disheartening, in a world of constant flux and change.  I have also found pain to be a wonderful teacher, and see that it can be seasoning to life, something that adds flavor and a bittersweetness to it.  In this sense, pain need not be an enemy, and it need not be a source of suffering.

And it seems appropriate since, true to the flux of Life, this is a time of flux for Tristan.  But this melancholy feels more like a cocoon of change rather than a hinderance.

A new roommate recently moved into the house I'm sharing, and my inner cat came out, in that I mostly barricaded myself in my room for three days while I got used to someone new sharing the same tiny space after months of just two people at home.  This is just another way to adjust.

Lest this note sound too somber, this is not a case of me sitting in a pool of self-pity at all.  This is more an deeper appreciation of how to see the world, and to look at it with as little judgement as possible.  To see it for what it is, and to see what I really am.

To see what we call pain in the world and realize that perhaps, that does not have be to be a source of suffering, but just one aspect of a deeply nuanced life.  To look at the feelings that move in me, and the thoughts that move in me, and no longer view them as the be-all, end-all of life, it is welcoming of everything, unconditionally.

A celebration of life is not a celebration of happiness.  The sky does not celebrate sunshine over dark clouds or night.  The sky welcomes it all and what needs to happen happens.

For life flowing through human beings, is it any different?

If anything comes from this post, I hope it is that just because something doesn't feel happy doesn't mean it is wrong for that time.  What if happiness is not the same as joy, or bliss, or peace?  Life plays many tunes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Intense Conversations

Apparently I am incapable of having relatively light small talk.  When I've spoke with people, many of them say they enjoy talking about deeper things (whatever that may be in their case: religion, science, politics, or what-have-you) but say how at work they engage in small talk.

Which is fine, except for when I've engaged in small talk, I've been told it's intense.

I don't know how to mold this talking around.  When I meet someone new I often am extremely curious about them and have always seen this as flattery, although over the years I have come to see how it can make people uncomfortable.  So I try to hold off on such an approach till I know someone better.

But this intense curiosity still leaks through usually without my own being aware of it.

For those of you who don't know, I moved to Austin in very late July.  I tell people I moved here in August because that feels more honest.  But then I feel like I've lied to them so the next time someone asks me I say July.  I should just say "late summer" and let them puzzle over it.

So far I have found employment working as a valet driver at a hotel downtown.  In fact I have found I love working with people.  I discovered that while teaching English.  But while speaking with guests gets me plenty of small talk practice, the topics get old and plain and feels like it's going to flake away, like badly painted wood.  I walk away starved for conversation.  Such conversation I can find with some of my co-workers.

I should make clear that I no longer see this intensity as a bad thing, or a draw back.  It arises in what is Tristan, the same as my preference for red over orange arises.  It's not something I have control and is neither good nor bad.  I know that I don't use it to hurt people, and I think that's the main thing.

I have made a couple of friends in the city and spending time with them has helped me ease into this new location, for which I am thankful.

Really, though, even tougher than thinking of small talk conversations isn't the toughest thing for me at the hotel.  That would be seeing young couples together.

It's nice to be in a city around people my age.  It can be frustrating, too.