Chronicle (2012)

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Jan 022016
 

A grossly-underrated (or perhaps just unknown) movie, possibly the best comic-book film ever produced.

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It’s definitely in the top 5 along with Unbreakable – the only thing from M. Night Shyamalan that holds-up over-time (but man, is it a doozy).  If you make 10 movies and one of them is this, it’s absolutely ok if the other 9 suck.  You’re easily batting above .500 by Hollywood standards.  Your entire life is justified if you pull-off Unbreakable: we’re all lucky that you were born.  But I digress…

Let’s face it, comic-book movies generally suck.  Not because there weren’t a lot of talented, passionate people involved who were giving their best effort.  In most cases there were too many people were involved.  This sort of project usually requires a ton of capital and is based on a venerable franchise to boot, so there’s naturally going to be too many cooks in the kitchen.  Consider Marvel’s “Avengers”, for example: directed by Joss Whedon (whom I’ve adored for years) and totally decent, but not what you’d call a great movie.  I put a lot of the blame on the money: God knows how many committee meetings were required to decide what Captain America’s costume should look like.  Just imagine how many random assholes had input regarding plot and dialogue.  It’s a triumph that the thing was watchable at all.

Contrast that with what I consider to be Marvel’s crowning cinematic achievement thus far, Guardians of the Galaxy.  I’d never heard of it before seeing the movie, but the trailers blew my hair back, and the thing itself was so much fun it should be illegal.  It’s based on an old, shitty property from a ways back that was recently rejuvenated by a respected writer.  I tried reading this source material but didn’t get too far – it still seemed pretty shitty.  My point is, it wasn’t a household name, so the filmmakers weren’t under as much scrutiny.  They had some room to breathe, and created something wonderful.

That said, Chronicle has the same sort of thing going for it, only more-so.  Like Unbreakable, it’s not based on a comic book.  And like Unbreakable, if you only watched the first 10 minutes, you wouldn’t know it was a comic-book movie at all.  But it is, and it’s the best.  I won’t belabor the point with a synopsis, because I’m not a reviewer and this isn’t a review – it’s just one of those things I do when I’m drunk.  But Chronicle is better-written and better-executed than anything Marvel or DC has ever brought to theaters, and if you don’t watch it, it’s your loss.

David Foster Wallace – Kenyon Commencement Speech (2005)

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Dec 262015
 

Randomly found this while google-fishing for information about David Bowie’s “Quicksand” (from “Hunky Dory”, 1971).  What I was looking for isn’t relevant (though it’s worth noting that the above link actually points to the acoustic “demo” version, which is way better than the album version).

What I found was a college commencement speech by David Foster Wallace, some author I’ve never heard of and none of whose work I’ve ever read.  Going to have to correct that in the near-future however.  Always feel a little embarrassed in a hippy-dippy sort of way when some random shit on the internet knocks me on my ass, but there it is: it happened.  Check it out – well worth reading.

Powers

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Nov 262015
 

Powers is one of my favorite comics – one of those ones you read again and again over the years until the damn things fall-apart. It’s the crowning achievement of the now-ubiquitous Brian Michael Bendis, with artwork to match by Michel Avon Oeming. Forget the television series, pretend it never happened: it bares hardly any semblance to the source material.

Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim work the “Powers” division, handling crimes by (and against) persons with super-human abilities. Their cases take them from the highest pinnacles of wealth and celebrity to the most squalid places imaginable. They deal with the best and worst humanity has to offer, though most everyone they encounter falls somewhere in-between. Walker and Pilgrim have the best buddy-cop relationship in the history of fiction, hands-down, and their banter alone is worth the price of admission. Powers is by turns subtle and garish, quiet and brash – but always classy, fun, and smart as hell.

Powers (Wikipedia)
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Operation Desert Storm: “Winds of the Storm” (1993)

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Nov 032015
 

A public domain film from the National Archives, with some audio/video cleanup by Jeff Quitney. Explains the 1991 Gulf War air campaign with numerous interview clips from General Chuck Horner, USAF (commander of all the air forces) as well as his 4 divisional commanders.
Desert Shield and Desert Storm are generally under-appreciated by most Americans. The only downside to planning and implementing a massive operation near-flawlessly and with minimal casualties is that you make it look easy; afterwards there’s an understandable tendency for those without in-depth knowledge of the events to say, “What was the big deal?” But if you have even a layman’s appreciation for what went into that effort, and some knowledge of history, it’s clear it could easily have been a very big deal. We were lucky to have a military that had learned the hard lessons of Vietnam led by some excellent people.
If you want to learn more, I highly recommend Tom Clancy’s “Every Man a Tiger,” a non-fiction book written with Chuck Horner that covers the affair in great detail yet is imminently readable even for civilian pukes such as myself.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965

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Jul 022015
 

The 3rd and final volume of William Manchester’s biography of Churchill is a riveting narrative of World War II from over-the-shoulder of one of the greatest – and most interesting – leaders of the 20th century. It’s chock-full of fun, and holds-up over multiple readings.

One favorite anecdote of mine I came-across today: During the autumn blitz of 1940, Churchill is entertaining dinner guests in the basement of No. 10 Downing St. (a rickety, if comfortable, deathtrap which he was eventually persuaded to forgo for more secure lodgings). At one point the building shakes from a nearby bomb hit – Churchill excuses himself and orders the kitchen staff upstairs to seek shelter. 20 seconds later, a second bomb lands even closer, utterly obliterating the kitchen.

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The Hagakure – Yamamoto Tsunetomo

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Jul 012015
 

Saw this in the first episode of the universally-underrated 2nd season of HBO’s True Detective. Being impressionable (and drunk), I immediately ordered a copy. It’s really good – the D.E. Tarver translation is particularly nice.

If one models himself after a great warrior, one will become a great warrior. The problem today is that there are not many great individual warriors to imitate. To overcome this, one must piece together one’s own model from various people.

Study the warriors around you and discern their strong points. Model your manners after a warrior with perfect manners. Model your courage after the bravest warrior, and your manner of speaking after the greatest orator. Model your conduct, integrity, and resolve after those who are highly polished in each area. This way you will model individual merits and avoid the bad points.

Many people tend to see only a man’s weak points, and they overlook his good qualities. It usually follows that people imitate a man’s weak points rather than his strong points. It is known that a certain person may have a strong mind of resolve, and be dishonest also, and by nature most people tend to seek the lowest level or the easiest path.

If you are able to see a person’s good qualities, even if he is inferior to you in all other areas, you will never lack an abundance of excellent teachers.

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Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)

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Jun 092015
 

An old favorite – the best bio of Hamilton currently available.  A thoroughly-researched history of the smartest, least-appreciated founding father.  Also, man was Jefferson a putz.  Alexander Hamilton (amazon.com)

Chernow’s stuff’s all great – I also recommend his biography of George Washington and his history of “The House of Morgan”.

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The Blue Ant Trilogy – William Gibson

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May 292015
 

My favorite book of all time is Neuromancer, the first winner of the science-fiction “triple crown” — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.  Never mind that Gibson’s particular conception of “cyberspace” didn’t materialize as he envisioned – that’s what people always want to focus on first for some reason, as if he was a prophet who incidentally published some fiction.  I love it purely for the writing and story – there’s nothing like it out there, even now, sadly.  But I digress.

The “Blue Ant Trilogy” consists of Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History.  I was initially kind of “meh” about the first two, but somewhat more engaged by the third.  Thanks in large part to the character Milgrim (who I’ve increasingly come to relate to), I re-read Zero History a number of times and it gradually dawned on me that it was the best new fiction I’d read in decades.  The other two followed likewise: the entire trilogy is unparalleled.   I tend to lag a decade behind Gibson in taste, but I can’t feel too bad about it – he is Gibson after all.

If you ain’t read them, get on top of it!  They’re in chronological order, but the second two are much more closely-linked (plus they’re my favorites):  I recommend trying Spook Country, and if you like it then Zero History.  By that point you’ll enjoy Pattern Recognition all the more as a sort of prequel.

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