Films I Watched in 2014

Not that many. My wife works nights and Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays) and I tend to wait for her to watch films, except for those things I know will have no appeal to her. Anyway, to refresh my memory I used this list from Wikipedia.

I’d say this was a pretty godawful year for films, or maybe I just watched the wrong ones. In previous years there was always something I never heard of that came out of left field that would become my favorite film of the year – Holy Motors in 2012, The Great Beauty in 2013. I guess that from what I saw so far this year, I’d have to pick Grand Budapest Hotel as my top film, yet I wouldn’t rank it as high as either of those two films. Still, I’ve watched it three times now and loved it more each time.


It strikes me as more than a little bit odd that I watched so few films this year. In no small part that’s because there were fewer films that interest me. And much of my time was spent with TV series – True Detective, Fargo, Justified, Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, The Leftovers, Ray Donovan, Sherlock. Is there any doubt that we’re in a new golden age of TV?

So, those few I did see, in order of release date:

Jack Ryan – Shadow Recruit. I really do not understand how Kenneth Branagh has sunk to this level.

The Raid 2. I know this and the first Raid film have their fans. For me they’re both kind of meh.

Robocop. Like the first but with better special effects and a worse script and worse acting.

The Lego Movie. People love this! I made it halfway through.

The Monuments Men. A star-studded disaster from George Clooney.

3 Days to Kill. With a screenplay by Luc Besson and directed by McG, I should have known better, except that Kevin Costner still is capable of some interesting work.

Grand Budapest Hotel. My favorite film of the year so far. Funny, smart, sad, unique.

Chef.  While this is slight and sit-commy, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I suppose it’s the emphasis on the love of food combined with a terrific soundtrack.

Neighbors. I am a Seth Rogen fan but this wore out its welcome long before it got to the end.

Noah. I really don’t know what to think about this one. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. I just felt kind of lost.

Muppets Most Wanted. I loved the Jason Segel reboot but couldn’t make it all the way through this sequel.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both of the Captain America films are far better than they have any right to be. I’ll watch the next one too.

Godzilla. Another movie that I have (so far) not been able to watch to the end.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Getting a bit tiresome at this stage.

Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise’s first decent movie (not counting the Mission: Impossible series) in years.

Maleficent. Yawn.

A Million Ways to Die in the West. Horrible beyond belief.

22 Jump Street. Consistently entertaining, Shadoe Stevens’ daughter is gorgeous, the best part is the end credit sequence.

Jersey Boys. Clint Eastwood sucks all the life out of the Four Seasons story.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I wanted to like it since I liked the last one. This one’s a step down.

Sex Tape. No where near as god awful as the reviews suggested, but not very good either.

Guardians of the Galaxy. The top grossing film of the year so far in the U.S. (Transformers is #1 globally). I liked it!

Lucy. More Luc Besson nonsense. Stupid stupid stupid.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I expected to hate it. I didn’t. But it doesn’t really offer anything beyond the first film.

The Equalizer. Denzel Washington is consistently watchable. There’s nothing really new here but as far as brainless entertainment goes, this is one of the best.

Gone Girl. Very well done, as David Fincher films always are. I just have this feeling that now that I know all of the plot twists, it wouldn’t hold up to repeated viewings the way films like Social Network and Zodiac Killer do.

Interstellar. I loved it, but I don’t think it was entirely successful. Let’s say I loved it for being a $200 million non-franchise film that tried to be about ideas and not just things blowing up.

In total, that’s just 27 films. And out of those 27, just 9 that I liked. Pretty shabby.

Special Mention: The Trip to Italy. I haven’t seen this. But I watched the TV series – which was amazing and even better than The Trip –  and this is just the 6 episodes edited down for international consumption. So I have little doubt that I love this. I hope they’ll do a third one.

Special Mention 2: Only Lovers Left Alive. A late 2013 release that I didn’t see until 2014. Always loved Jim Jarmusch and this languid vampire tale ranks up there with his best.

Planning to watch: Frank, Boyhood, Magic in the Moonlight, God Help the Girl, Get On Up, Birdman, Top Five, Rosewater, The Theory of Everything, Inherent Vice, Fury, A Most Violent Year, American Sniper, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Unbroken.

So what’s not on my list that I need to check out? What did you love this year? What have I missed?

Sony Embarrases America

So in case you’re one of the three people on the planet who don’t know about this yet ….

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed a little film called The Interview, starring Rogen and James Franco. In the film Franco is a TV news guy, Rogen his producer, and they get a call to go to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-Un. The CIA then convinces them that during the interview, they should assassinate Kim. And, as we now know, in the film, they’re successful. The film was to be distributed by Sony Pictures.

When word of the film got out, North Korea called this film an act of war. As the release date got closer, Sony Pictures got hacked – big time. The first sign of this hack was when perfect quality DVD screeners of 5 other Sony films, some not yet released in theaters, appeared online. These included Fury with Brad Pitt, the new remake of Annie, and the very well reviewed new bio-pic Mr. Turner.

That was quickly followed by massive releases of internal Sony information – including salary information on Sony executives as well as huge numbers of internal emails containing all sorts of embarrasing information.

A group called the GOP – the Guardians of Peace – took credit for the massive hack and public release.

As the release date for the film got closer, the GOP started threatening violence. They announced that any theater screening the film would be the victim of an attack reminiscent of 9/11. Following this threat, 5 major theater chains in the US that had previously booked the film announced that they would no longer show it. And following that, Sony announced that they were canceling the film altogether – no release to theatrical, home video, cable, nothing. Sony would be writing off somewhere in the neighborhood of US$100 million.

Here’s the red band trailer for the film.

In the wake of all of this, Sony declared that North Korea was the source of the hack. The United States goverment has gone along with this, and now the FBI has said they believe it was North Korea. There have been newspaper headlines about the U.S. government considering what new sanctions they might apply against North Korea in retaliation.

Some theaters were going to substitute screenings of 2004’s Team America: World Police, from the South Park guys. And then Paramount got scared and wouldn’t release prints for screening.

So ….

The first thing is: It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Seth Rogen or not. It doesn’t matter if you were anxiously awaiting this film, if you thought it was going to turn out to be a piece of crap or if you never heard of it or couldn’t care less.

You might ask, why risk the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people over a movie? It’s just a movie.

But what has really happened is that major U.S. corporations have allowed themselves to be blackmailed and controlled by anonymous hackers, who may not even be a government organization, they might just be a bunch of kids. This is a first amendment issue. Even if you feel the theaters were justified, Sony had many, many other ways to release this film and give a big middle finger to North Korea and try to recoup some of their investment. Hell, given that they’re prepared to kiss $100 million goodbye, they could have just torrented the film.

Instead, expect plenty of others to try similar stunts in the future now that the precedent has been set. This year it’s a movie. Next year another movie, or a TV show, or a book, or just some expression of some minor idea that upsets the Grand Poobah of Absurdistan or some 14 year old kid spending too much time in his bedroom because he didn’t eat all his vegetables at dinner.

Marc Rogers, one of the world’s leading hackers and security experts, provides some analysis and comes to the conclusion that the hack was not the work of the North Korean government. He thinks it’s an inside job.

One thing I read that Rogers doesn’t mention in his article. Earlier this year Sony hired PricewaterhouseCooper to conduct an IT security audit. This audit, delivered to Sony in September, identified major security holes. It would have been impossible for a large corporation (or even most small or mid-sized ones) to fill in these holes in such a short period of time.  The hack, just two months later, went after some of these holes.

Meanwhile, everyone from George Clooney to Alan Dershowitz is weighing in on this. (Dershowitz: “This is Pearl Harbor on the First Amendment.”) (Michael Moore: “Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I’d also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers.”)(Bill Maher: “Is that all it takes – an anonymous threat and the numbers 911 – to throw free expression under the bus? #PussyNation“)(Neil Gaiman: “So SONY fight back by canceling The Interview, thus proving to the hackers that hacking & threats work very well? That may prove an error.”)

If you’d like to read a very geeky breakdown of the events, along with all sorts of relevant links, then check out this long article at Risk Based Security.

One thing is for sure – this is a big mess that will only get messier.

UPDATE: Sony ended up releasing the film on December 25th – but instead of thousands of screens in multiplexes, it went to 300 independent cinemas. They also released it online via Youtube and Google Play, which means it is now available via the “usual sources” worldwide. I watched about half of it last night – it’s okay, certainly not one of Rogen’s best and I found Franco’s character a bit tiresome pretty quickly, but it’s okay.

Lauren Bacall

Bacall In Beads


One day after Robin Williams’ shocking death, the world also lost actress Lauren Bacall, one of the all time greats.

Bacall, whose career spanned 70 years, made her film debut at the age of 19 opposite Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, in which she got to say the immortal words:

You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.

She and Bogart fell in love and were married (he was 24 years older than her) and they remained together till Bogart’s death in 1957.  (Bogart remains my all-time favorite actor and my dog is named for him.) She was romantically linked to Frank Sinatra and was also married to Jason Robards Jr.

(Here’s a good bit of trivia. Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway got drunk together and got into a debate. Hawks claimed that great books made lousy movies, lousy books made great movies. Hemingway disagreed. Hawks bet Hemingway that he could make a great movie from Hemingway’s worst book. “What’s my worst book?” “To Have and Have Not.” Hawks told Hemingway that the book was a “bunch of junk.  Hemingway agreed and dared him to film it. And he did, but basically he threw away almost everything from the book except the title and the names of the characters. William Faulkner helped write the script.)

(Another bit of trivia. Legend has it that Bacall’s singing voice in THAHN was dubbed by a young Andy Williams. Hawks and Bacall both deny this.)

Bacall’s films include The Big Sleep, Key Largo, Young Man With a Horn, How to Marry a Millionaire, Harper, Murder on the Orient Express.  She won two Tony Awards for appearances in the Broadway musicals Applause and Woman of the Year. She won a Golden Globe for The Mirror Has Two Faces and received an honorary Oscar in 2009.

Lauren Bacall was one of the true greats and will be missed.

Robin Williams

I woke up this morning to the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide. Almost every day we read news of celebrities dying, some too soon, and shrug our shoulders (at least I do) and say, well, people die, everyone dies sometime. The news of Williams’ death left me almost inexplicably sad. And clearly it did this for others too – I can’t recall any other celebrity death getting so many mentions from so many people in my Facebook feed.

I never knew Williams and I never got to see him perform in person. But I’m just 3 years younger than he was, which means that I got to follow him for his entire professional career, from when he first turned up on TV on the Richard Pryor show and his guest appearance on Happy Days that led to Mork & Mindy. It was just last week that I finally had listened to his amazing interview on Marc Maron’s WTF from four years ago. He seemed so optimistic and so in control that this news was doubly shocking.

Anyway, while Williams was in many movies that I detest, he was in an almost equal amount that I really respect (and that’s not counting his multiple stand-up specials for HBO, surely his best work). So I thought I’d run down a few of them.


This was his first major film role, in Robert Altman’s revisionist live action take on the beloved cartoon character. Revisionist? The movie was reviled in its time, yet I liked it 30 years ago and love it now. Screenplay by Jules Feiffer, a cast that included Shelly Duvall, Ray Walston, Richard Libertini, Bill Irwin – and don’t forget songs by Harry Nilsson, arranged by Van Dyke Parks.

The World According to Garp

Two years later, the film that proved that Williams could act, and could do serious as well as humor.

Moscow on the Hudson

This is a great film from Paul Mazursky, one of the most patriotic films ever made. Williams carries the film but he had a great script to work from and a great director to work with.

Good Morning Vietnam

This was the first film to properly capture Williams the comedian, as the role gave him plenty of room for improvisation.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

A small role in this Terry Gilliam wackfest.

Dead Poets Society

People love this movie and I guess I did at the time but I never feel an urge to go back to it.


Robin goes semi-maudlin, this is the kind of film that would set the stage for a lot of his later work.

The Fisher King

Back with Terry Gilliam.


Yea, Robin is funny again!

The Birdcage

People seem to love this film but I don’t, maybe because the original is too firmly fixed in my mind.

Good Will Hunting

I’m currently reading Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, which is primarily about Sundance and Miramax, and the making of this film is an important chapter in that book. Williams gets his Oscar for this but is he just repeating himself from Dead Poet’s Society?

What Dreams May Come

I keep thinking I have to watch this again one day.


One of a small number of films in which Williams played a bad guy – very effectively.

World’s Greatest Dad

What is especially notable here – and commendable – is how Williams continued to appear in smaller indie films, even ones like this that might be slightly controversial, giving support to interesting projects and to friends (in this case fellow stand-up and now writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait).

He also continued to do stand-up, his last HBO special was in 2009 as I recall.

Anyway, you can hear his entire Marc Maron WTF interview on YouTube here. It’s revealing, it’s frank, it’s very funny.

(I know there’s nothing strikingly original or unique, maybe just the link to the WTF interview, just felt compelled to write something about this.)

Music Recommendations Please

I need some recommendations – very specific ones. Please read on.

I’ve been obsessing lately over the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese has always been brilliant in his choices of music. It’s one of many reasons that Mean Streets hit me so hard when it first came out, and it’s something he’s carried through his entire career.  And yes, I think he’s better at it than Tarantino.

So the WoWS soundtrack goes in several directions. The first is blues, a genre that I know really well.  He’s got mostly well-known tracks from Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley. I’ve basically got every track ever by people like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf – all the Chess greats really – plus all the key stuff by everyone else from John Lee Hooker on down.

And then there’s a couple of oddball standouts. He’s got Joe Cuba’s deliriously fun Bang! Bang! (a song I had long ago forgotten and now can’t stop listening to) and Jimmy Castor’s great Hey Leroy Your Mama’s Calling You.

And then there’s something else. I don’t know quite what to call this sub-genre of jazz. There’s a tinge of soul and more than a hint of gospel. The blinding ray of light came via Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, performed by Cannonball Adderley, written by Joe Zawinul. This is a great piece of music.

So I’m trying to come up with a playlist. Something that takes off from Bang Bang, Hey Leroy, and Mercy Mercy Mercy. I’ve been trying to update iTunes Genius for recommendations for two weeks now and it keeps timing out.  It might have something to do with the fact that I’ve currently got 102,953 songs in my iTunes library. And maybe the songs I’m searching for are ones I don’t currently have.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, in part:

Charles Mingus – Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

Gil Scott-Heron – Home is Where the Hatred Is

Rahsaan Roland Kirk – Spirits Up Above

Eddie Harris & Les McCann – Compared to What

Lalo Schifrin – Black Widow

Mongo Santamaria – Watermelon Man

Weather Report – Birdland

So what others can I add? Jazz with a bit of soul, r ‘n’ b, gospel, funk, latin flavors?  I’ve gone through some 60s stuff like Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green – nothing seems to fit the mood that well.  Ditto for a lot of the 70s era CTI stuff (well maybe Deodato’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, I think he may have better tracks for this but I don’t know his catalog that well).  Thanks for any and all suggestions!

Golden Globes & Oscars 2014

The Golden Globe awards remain an odd affair. Voted on and presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – which means it’s a small-ish group of entertainment industry reporters who have somehow managed to turn this into a global affair at which all the big stars turn out. Here’s the major winners in the motion picture categories this year (full list here):

  • Best Picture – Drama – 12 Years a Slave
  • Best Actress – Drama – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
  • Best Actor – Drama – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
  • Best Picture – Comedy – American Hustle
  • Best Actress – Comedy – Amy Adams, American Hustle
  • Best Actor – Comedy – Leonardo Di Caprio, Wolf of Wall Street
  • Animated Film – Frozen
  • Foreign Language Film – The Great Beauty
  • Supporting Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
  • Supporting Actor – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
  • Director – Alphonso Cuaron, Gravity
  • Screenplay – Spike Jonze, Her

And now we have the Oscar nominations. Me, I’ve always cared about the Oscars but not for any logical reason. Today they’re influenced by ad campaigns, studio politics, box office success and Hollywood’s dream of how it’s perceived by the rest of the world.

American Hustle and Gravity each get 10 nominations, 9 for 12 Years a Slave. Here are nominations in key categories, along with some scattered thoughts:


  • American Hustle – Seen it. Enjoyed it. But I don’t think it’s the total success that some critics would claim. Great performances across the board.
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity – Seen it. Enjoyed it. A tremendous technical accomplishment. Not going to win.
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Wolf of Wall Street – Seen it. Loved it from start to finish. I’ll call this the third part of a Crime Doesn’t Pay trilogy along with Goodfellas and Casino and it’s easily my favorite Scorsese film since Casino. But a lot of the old timers in the Academy won’t vote for the film that has the word “fuck” more than any other non-porn film to date and that some think glorifies crime (they’re wrong).


  • David O. Russell – American Hustle. Russell is on a strong roll following Silver Linings Playbook and he gets career-best performances from a lot of his cast. Who knows?
  • Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity. A strong contender because the film was a very personal project and a big box office success.
  • Alexander Payne – Nebraska
  • Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
  • Martin Scorsese – Wolf of Wall Street. He’s 71, the film has the energy of a film made by someone half his age and he probably doesn’t have too many like this left. So maybe. But I think it will be Russell vs. Cuaron.


  • Christian Bale – American Hustle – if he wins, it will be an award for the accent, the weight gain and the toupee
  • Bruce Dern – Nebraska. Have yet to see this but Dern could be a sentimental favorite – more than 50 years on screen, only one previous nomination.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Wolf of Wall Street – Leo’s first comedy; he should do more.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
  • Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club – A couple of years ago he was completely counted out; but lately he’s been great in a number of films and could be a strong contender.


  • Amy Adams – American Hustle. If she wins, it will be an award for her cleavage.
  • Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine. Cate owns this. The weight of the entire film is on her shoulders and I don’t think anyone else could have done what she did here.
  • Sandra Bullock – Gravity. She was really, really good, but I don’t see her winning.
  • Judi Dench – Philomena
  • Meryl Streep – August: Osage County. Not a chance. The worst-reviewed film to get any major nominations.

Supporting Actor

  • Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips. Haven’t seen it yet but hear he’s amazing.
  • Bradley Cooper – American Hustle. A great performance but …
  • Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave.
  • Jonah Hill – Wolf of Wall Street. He’s very, very funny here, but would that be enough for a win?
  • Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Supporting Actress

  • Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine. She’s nice here.
  • Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle. She almost steals the film.
  • Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
  • Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
  • June Squibb – Nebraska

Original Screenplay

  • American Hustle
  • Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen’s 16th nomination for writing.
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Her
  • Nebraska

Adapted Screenplay

  • Before Midnight
  • Captain Phillips
  • Philomena
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Wolf of Wall Street

Foreign Language Film

  • Broken Circle Breakdown
  • Great Beauty – one of my favorite films of 2013
  • Hunt
  • Missing Picture
  • Omar

Animated Feature


Despicable Me 2

Ernest & Celestine


Wind Rises

See the rest of the list here.

Shockers?  Inside Llewyn Davis only nominated for Cinematography and Sound Mixing. It’s won some best picture of the year awards from various critics circles.

And where is a nomination for Thelma Schoonmaker for editing Wolf of Wall Street? You have a three hour movie that moves the way it does, when it’s over you think it was only 90 minutes long, that wouldn’t have happened without this legendary editor.

Ancient Tales From the World of Advertising

Sunday morning and I’ve got work to do but I’m feeling lazy so I’ll sit here and type instead. Hope this isn’t a repeat of older stuff – after all these years it’s getting harder and harder to keep track.

From around 1976 to 1980, I worked for director/cameraman Bob Gaffney. I had a weird progression of jobs for him. First I’d come in on a part time basis to edit the house reel. Then I got hired to work as a production assistant on various shoots. Then I became the receptionist in the office and from that somehow got promoted to being his business manager. I figure that in those four years I worked on at least 100 TV commercials in various capacities.

Bob had a pretty amazing career in the business. He started out working on March of Time newsreels and ended up with a more-than-20-year relationship with Stanley Kubrick, shooting second unit stuff on Lolita, Strangelove and 2001. He directed one feature film on his own, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. He was the producer of Kubrick’s never-finished Napoleon – which led to him to leaving the feature film business and starting his own production house to do TV commercials (although he continued as a friend and advisor to Kubrick, which is how I ended up doing tiny bits of stuff for The Shining).

Here’s one of my favorites of his spots, a Christmas commercial for Miller Beer:

Here’s another notable one – Dannon Yogurt, the first U.S. TV commercial to be shot in Soviet Russia – in the 1970’s!

Bob came back from Russia with some great stories about the shoot, which was in what is now the Ukraine. They would go from farmhouse to farmhouse, generally around 5 a day. At each farm, the story was the same. They’d walk in and be introduced and the people there would break out the home made vodka and start drinking with their new American friends.

Each day, by the afternoon, almost everyone would be passed out except for Bob. As I went through the rushes, I noticed that while everyone else was passed out, Bob’s focus would get sharper as the day went on. I asked him how such a thing was possible and he told me that before they’d enter each farmhouse, he’d have a cup of the Dannon yogurt, which he believed lined his stomach before the drinking would start up.

I’ve never tested this theory to see if it would work for me. One of these days I will.

Anyway, here’s one of my favorites of the many stories he had.  The first American TV broadcast of the film The Sound of Music was in 1976. McDonald’s wanted to do a big music commercial. The concept was to mimic the film’s opening, with a girl spinning around and singing – but instead of on a Swiss mountain top, she’d be in a field of wheat, ready for harvest.

Given the time of year, they had to go to New Zealand to shoot the commercial. So they’re in this field, mountains in the background, a perfect sunny day. As they’re getting ready to shoot, about a mile away in the background Bob notices a cow herd (or shepherd or cowboy or whatever you want to call him) driving a herd of prime cattle. He figures this has to be a gift and calls out that they should hurry up and get the shot.

Not so fast! The representative from McDonald’s came running up and told him, “No! You can’t shoot that!” Bob couldn’t understand it. He thought it was the perfect touch. But the guy from Mickey D told him, “Those are prime beef cattle. If you have those in the shot, people will think that’s what our burgers are made from. We’ll get sued.”

Anyway, I found this short documentary about Gaffney on Youtube. In this part he talks about his work on 2001 and a story from the time when he directed Orson Welles.


New Year’s Day Rambling

Some of this may/will be a repeat. Such is life.

I’ve been out of the office for 12 days (using up 5 vacation days).  I’m really not in the mood to go back to the office tomorrow, so I’m doing a blog post, which helps me put off going to bed, which helps me put off thinking about returning to work.

My time off was not as exciting or event packed as one might think – I caught a cold a few days before Christmas and so mostly stayed close to home. I had been thinking about a brief Macau or Shenzhen run but didn’t make it to either of them. Also, I’ve got a business trip to the UK coming up in 3 weeks and following that, my wife will meet me in Paris for a proper honeymoon, so I might as well save my money for that.

(Brief grumble: She needs a visa for France. The French consulate web site says 3 to 10 working days for visa processing and she needs to present her plane ticket and hotel reservation with her visa application. It also says one must make an online appointment; one cannot merely show up and wait in line. So I booked everything and then went to their web site to make an appointment for her and the earliest available appointment is January 16th. This is cutting things awfully close.)

After not shooting anything of consequence in a long time, I did do one shoot at PASM that turned out rather nice. Here’s a sample:



The girl in the photo is Faye Wan, who was the lead singer of HK indie band Hazden. “Was” because she’s just left the band to concentrate on her studies. She’s not a professional model but I knew she not only looked good but that there aren’t too many Chinese women in HK with such prominent tattooes.

I needed something new because I’ll be one of the participating photographers in a group exhibition in Soho in February. It’s called Scraped (link is to the Facebook event page, in case you’re interested) and I needed some new shots for the show.

(Note: I had this thought – having just shot Faye and now planning an upcoming shoot with Chris B from Underground HK, it might be interesting to shoot an entire series featuring tattooed women. If you’re a woman and have tattoes and are interested in having me shoot some portraits of you – or if you know someone who fits the bill – please drop me a line.)

Following that shoot, I went out with friends to one of those places in San Po Kong that every local and almost no expat knows about – 七喜粥麵小廚 –  a place with no English name and no English menu but where people were pulling up in Rolls Royces after midnight for a break. They’re famous for their crab congee – but we were there after midnight and the crab was sold out. We settled for prawn and fish maw congee, which had some amazing huge and tasty prawns in it. Usually I’m not a congee fan but this dish changed my mind – I’d definitely go back for this, or to try the crab. Other dishes maybe not so much. There was raw, marinated fish skin. Goose intestine with noodles. And something that my friends said had no English translation, just “funny fish,” which was mostly chunks of fish bone with some meat on it, tasty but not easy to eat.

So mostly what I did aside from the photo shoot (and the post-processing, which is still not complete) is work on my CD and DVD collections.

I’ve got somewhere around 2,000 to 2,500 DVDs (including Blu-Ray and HD-DVD) and have sorted out around 750 to unload. Using a Mac program called Delicious Library, I can scan the bar code for most of them, build up a catalog, and check the current value for used copies on Amazon. Of course many of them are going for $1 or less, but some are in the $30 or $40 range, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason that I can figure out as to why some of these things are worth what they appear to be worth.

Then I turned to the CDs. That’s far more difficult, as I have at least 5,000 of them and a relatively small space to work in. I got them all out of boxes (I hope), then went through the task of alphabetizing them and sorting out which ones to keep and which ones to lose.  (I’ve only done Rock A-M so far.)

The “get rid of” stack grows depending on my mood at any particular second. I’ll hit some artist and be really brutal and then, for no rhyme or reason, decide to hold onto all of my Peter Hammill or Robyn Hitchcock discs.

Some discs I feel emotionally attached to for one reason or another and want to keep the physical disc, even if I ripped it to MP3 a long time ago. Maybe it’s the packaging or maybe I just feel that I have to have the actual CDs of every Bonzo Dog Band album.

And each time I put a CD into the “sell” pile, I feel a sense of defeat. I bought it once, with all high hopes, thinking it would be something I’d love, something that I’d absorb and it would become a part of my life, and then that never happened with that particular disc. Which in and of itself isn’t anything big, except when I stop to think about what I spent for it times how many I’m getting rid of equals what I might have done with that money.  Oh well. You can’t undo what’s been done, you can only learn and move on.

In the past year I’ve basically stopped buying physical CDs. There are some exceptions (like the super deluxe Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat, which comes with a marvelous book) but mostly, every time I hit a CD shop (an increasingly rare occurrence) and see something I want, I stop and think not just about the money but also about the space it’s going to take up, and more often than not put it back on the shelf.

I’ll run the CDs through Delicious Library soon. I’ve got no delusions at this point about what they’re worth. (I did note that on Amazon, if you look at the Mobile Fidelity gold disc version of Cream’s Disraeli Gears, someone is asking over US$1,000 for it. Good luck to him.)

The last movies I watched ranged from okay to pretty good – Saving Mr. Banks, Don Jon, Prisoners, Riddick, The Butler and American Hustle.

Also, I re-watched Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, now that Criterion has released it on Blu-Ray (and the image quality is amazing). I remember watching this in film school, it was my first Bergman film, thinking it was really perfect. I think at the time I saw my parents in it. This time I wondered if it was me.

And mostly I’ve been playing Springsteen’s new album, which leaked out on the net a few days ago. It’s a real odd grab bag – covers, studio versions of things previously only done live, a new version of Ghost of Tom Joad, some stuff from the archives with Clarence and Danny. Mostly it works for me.

Anyway, Happy New Year everyone. 2013 started off shitty for me and seemed for awhile as if it would only get shittier. Then I got a new job that doesn’t suck and also got married. Let’s see what 2014 has in store …

Year End – Best & Worst Films 2013 (And Hobbit 2)

I don’t do a good job of keeping track of what films I watch in a given year. I can keep track of what albums I like from the year because I’m pretty obsessive about maintaining metadata in iTunes, but film is a different story. I’ve referred to this list from Wikipedia of films released in 2013 for my usual random thoughts, which in this case is in order of release date in the U.S.:

  • The Grandmaster – Wong Kar-Wai joins in with the mob retelling the story of Ip Man. Even though I’ve seen the full Hong Kong version and not the shorter U.S. one, it still seems somewhat truncated. As always, some amazingly gorgeous photography and production design.
  • Gangster Squad – Sean Penn + John Brolin + Nick Nolte = disaster
  • Stand Up Guys – Someone please tell Al Pacino that enough is enough.
  • A Good Day to Die Hard – just horrible from start to finish.
  • Jack the Giant Slayer, Oz the Great and Powerful – just stop it already. Neither was as bad as expected; neither have any reason to exist.
  • Olympus Has Fallen – How did we end up with 2 White House Under Attack films? This one was less bad than White House Down. Or was it the other way around?
  • Trance – a rare mis-fire from Danny Boyle
  • The Place Beyond the Pines – Doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to do but is still thoughtful and rewarding.
  • Iron Man 3 – Shane Black breathed new life into the series.
  • The Big Wedding – There’s an entire generation that only knows De Niro from shitty movies like this and wonders what all the fuss is about.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness – Sound and fury and please don’t let J.J. Abrams do any more of these.
  • Behind the Candelabra – Should have been a theatrical feature in the US but wasn’t; amazing performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, wonderfully shot and directed by Soderbergh.
  • The Great Gatsby – The plot of the book expertly rendered and missing almost all of the subtext.
  • Fast and Furious 6 – Hey, it was fun.
  • The Hangover Part III – I may be alone in not minding the 2nd one. The third one was relentlessly unfunny and awful.
  • Only God Forgives – A lot of people hated this. I think it was brilliant.
  • After Earth – Why oh why does anyone give M. Night Shyamalan money to make movies any more? Oh, right, Will Smith wanted to buy a movie for his son.
  • Now You See Me – Great trailer, second rate entertainment.
  • The Internship – Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson go to work at Google. I think this is the worst film I saw all year.
  • This Is the End – Goofy and funny and I laughed – out loud – frequently
  • Man of Steel – After a reasonable first half, the second half was all about blowing shit up really loud.
  • World War Z – A troubled production but I thought smart (for a zombie movie) and very well done.
  • The Heat – As always, could have been funnier, but it was funny enough for me.
  • The Lone Ranger – Not as bad as many critics claim. Which doesn’t mean it was good.
  • Pacific Rim – So let me get this straight. The Earth is attacked by aliens. The entire world pools its resources and comes up with giant robots that punch and kick? If you can get past that, it’s kind of okay.
  • RED2 – I really should hate this kind of thing but this has an easy charm to it, old pros knowing they’re doing silly crap and enjoying the paycheck.
  • The World’s End – Simon Pegg + Edgar Wright = Can do no wrong in my book
  • The Wolverine – a huge improvement over the first
  • 2 Guns – Starts out great but can’t maintain
  • We’re the Millers – Great trailer and a funny film
  • CBGB – Another film I couldn’t finish. Watching this sitcom treatment of one of the most important eras in popular music was too depressing.
  • Elysium – I felt let down
  • Kick Ass 2 – I liked the first Kick Ass. I turned this one off after 30 minutes and feel no need to finish it.
  • Prisoners – Fairly gripping stuff, weak ending, and I was distracted by Jake Gyllenhaal’s tattoos but I have to say that Jackman does his best work when there’s no CGI around.
  • Gravity – An amazing technical achievement. Not as suspenseful as it wants to be but well worth seeing.
  • The Great Beauty – The best film I saw in 2013.
  • The Hobbit; The Desolation of Smaug – see below.

Films from 2013 I have not seen that could potentially be on my list of best films of the year: Blue Jasmine, Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, Out of the Furnace, Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska, Before Midnight, Her, All Is Lost

In summation – my favorite film of 2013 (so far) The Great Beauty, my least favorite film of 2013 (so far) The Internship (bearing in mind that I will hopefully never see Grown Ups 2).

For the record, here is the American Film Institute’s list of 10 best films of 2013:

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • Nebraska
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Fruitvale Station
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • Her

If you’re keeping track, so far I’ve seen just one from the above list. Well, January is the season of Oscar screeners and those have a habit of finding their way to the net.

As promised, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.  We saw it today. IMAX. 3D. HFR. My wife, who hasn’t read the book, loved it.

As for me, well, a film should stand alone, without comparison to the source material. But that’s next to impossible here, for such a widely read and loved book. The book takes 5 hours or less to read; the 3 films, when finished, will take almost 9 hours to watch. There’s simply too much here.  Everything is BIG, which means when all is said and done, nothing is big. Everything goes on for far too long and there are characters and entire sequences that could have been removed and would not have been missed.

That being said, Jackson does almost as great a job with Smaug as he did with Gollum and Martin Freeman is consistently wonderful – when he’s allowed to be. It’s also kind of nice that Freeman gets to sort of reunite with his Sherlock Holmes co-star Benedict Cumberbatch here.

It’s definitely better than the first film. For its 161 minute running time, it moves along briskly. I’m glad I saw it. But I’m convinced that had Jackson done the entire book in just one 3-hour film we all would have been better off (all of us except the Warner/MGM stockholders, I suppose).


Monty Python Reunited!

The five surviving members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam) are reuniting for a series of 5 live shows to be held at London’s O2 Arena July 1st through 5th, 2014.  The first show in the 14,500 seat arena sold out in 43.5 seconds. Carol Cleveland will be joining them for the shows – that’s obviously her with them in the picture below.John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gillian, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland

Python disbanded in – wait for it – 1983. They reunited for a brief appearance at the Aspen Comedy Festival in 1997. 

There’s talk of an additional show at the Hollywood Bowl and even rumors of a full-on world tour (which I’m sure will omit Hong Kong).

Anyway, this video is the entire press conference in which they announced their reunion:

While I’m sure there’s no way I’ll get to see them live on this tour, at least I got to see them live in their prime, when they appeared at NYC’s City Center in 1976, and I’m sure there will be DVDs and all other sorts of odds and ends available to buy eventually.