Thursday, January 08, 2015

2014 film recap

As part of my return to blogging, here's a recap of ALL the films that I saw in 2014, in generally the order I saw them. Enjoy, feel free to agree or disagree.

The Lego Movie (2014): Thought the father-son bit was a bit of a stretch but overall, really quite good.

Vernon, Florida (1981): Apparently Errol Morris had to re-work his idea for a story about a town of people who commonly cut off their own limbs to collect insurance money; the result is limp, without legs.

Gattaca (1997): Ethan Hawke struggling to survive under a strict classist society based on one's genes. Thoughtful, suspenseful, the value of a true friend.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002): That movie everyone says Adam Sandler really shines in outside of his usual schleppy demeanor. I say, yeah, it was pretty good.

Battle Royale (2000): Not as traumatic as I had feared it would be. Bloody, certainly. More of a quirky survival-horror than the slaughter I'd imagined.

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Strong contender for best of 2014, certainly up there for best Wes Anderson film. Perhaps I empathize too strongly with old men recalling bittersweet tales.

Man of Tai Chi (2013): Man, do not touch this one with a six-foot pole, lest it spoil your image of Neo. Some fun martial arts do not save this mess.

Pootie Tang (2001): A few laughs, over-the-top caricatures.You can tell fun was had but I didn't quite feel it.

World War Z (2013): Brad Pitt races fast zombies around the world. Fun.

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014): Another victim of the government enforcement machine. Relevant, so very relevant documentary for our modern times.

Under the Skin (2014): What does it take to be human? What a strange creature, the human male, in this stolid, nearly silent film. I was fascinated to learn that most of the characters were non-actors, filmed with hidden cameras. Memorable soundtrack -- menacing, genuinely creepy.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): A far stronger film than the previous Captain America, with a focus on a modern topic. Comic books are known for their ability to combine the fantastic with questions facing society at large, and this movie translated that spirit admirably.

Godzilla (2014): Walk out after the first 30 minutes, for the rest is dreck, mindless, illogical puffery. OK, the Hawaii scenes were neat. But that ending! Throw it back into the sea, please.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012): Reviewed previously here. Quirky fun, mostly.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014): I find myself drawn to stories wherein the protagonist gets to live again, or have an alternate life from which they return (or wake up from). X-Men:DoFP is one such story, and is so good with it.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014): Groundhog Day meets The Matrix meets (the beach storming of) Saving Private Ryan. That's not a criticism, necessarily, for I rather enjoyed it.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013): A-ha! Nice to see Coogan don his familiar sneer and look of trepidation. Lots of subtle laughs.

Lucy (2014): With its incredibly flawed premise, heavy-handed narrative, and lack of any intrigue or vulnerability, Lucy was mostly awful. A waste of Johansson's and Choi Min-sik's talents.

End of Watch (2012): Cops paying in blood for the disenfranchisement of the disadvantaged. I felt, despite its realism, this one didn't quite strike the right chord for me, despite its admittedly explosive ending.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): I think I may be the only person on Earth who hated this film. I try to come up with a redeeming quality and I cannot think of one.

New World (2013): Classic undercover cop getting caught between the force he works for and the syndicate he's infiltrating. The ending paid off well so I can recommend this one.

Dogtooth (2009): Disturbing, almost surreal. Unsettling to see parents raise their children with an iron grip, messing with their minds for seemingly no reason.

Barton Fink (1991): It was alright. I know it's full of layers and meaning and symbols, but I just couldn't identify with Fink. I noted Judy Davis (Audrey), who played a similar role in The Naked Lunch, also a film about a struggling writer.

Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013): I wanted to learn more about Noam Chomsky (without actually doing the reading), so I figured this might be a fun way to do it. And indeed, in usual Michel Gondry style it is a fun film, but I suspect I need to watch it again to get the lessons within.

The Imitation Game (2014): More of a documentary told as a historical drama. Still, the story of Alan Turing is fascinating and Cumberbatch does an admirable job.

John Wick (2014): More Keanu! Seemed like a poor choice for a story about a guy who loses his temper. Uneven. Some good action sequences.

Interstellar (2014): Another contender for best film of 2014. Definitely most ambitious. Science aside, my gripe was with the concept of love being the eternal force that binds. The space sequences were incredible and the soundtrack (Hans Zimmer) gives me shivers.

Journey to the West (2013): Classic Chinese folk tale given that Stephen Chow touch -- exaggerated comedy, characters with painfully human features, cartoon-y action sequences. Some of the darker, bloodier imagery I could've done without.

Big Hero Six (2014): What is it with kid's films and family members dying? That observation aside, this was a fun film with entertaining characters. I loved the backgrounds, the buildings, the rooms.

The Trip to Italy (2014): More of the same, and that's not a bad thing at all. Pasta never looked so good.

When the Last Sword is Drawn (2003): I was looking for a simple samurai hack-n-slash and this fell short of that bill, leaving my desire unslaked. Talk about your drawn out deaths! I guess some swords just take forever.

Inherent Vice (2014): I left the theater feeling unsatisfied but upon reflection Inherent Vice stands up as an entertaining ride with lots of red herrings, like a disinterested child picking up a beloved toy who just as quickly discards it for another, over and over again. I will say that the soundtrack is excellent, maybe better than Interstellar's.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Final Justice (1999): Joe. Don. Baker. The crew seemingly tear this one up more than usual, apparently in response to JDB's backlashes. So, yes, this time it's personal.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014): It's finally over. Now let's leave happy hobbits be, yes? I think the first of the three Hobbit films was best; this one was just swordplay and slow-motion death sequences.

Kundo (2014): As is often the case with Korean film, this seemingly straightforward "country bandits versus rich officials" story does not end as one might expect. Normally I wholeheartedly welcome surprises but I felt cheated of a better action film.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011): Too predictable, with a payoff that took forever and then some to arrive. Is it my current privilege that prevents me from sympathizing with the destitute? I suppose in the future people may look back and shake their heads at our inadequate healthcare.

Birdman (2014): Brilliant. Michael Keaton is winning. Consider the number of extended-length takes this film has, the effort required to achieve such a feat. Again, here's me empathizing with an old has-been, when I'm really more of a has-never.

I know I've missed a few, but there you go.

Monday, January 05, 2015

it's twenty fifteen

Okay fine here is my update.

Twenty-fifteen! What joys do you have in store for the Hwanner? At this time I have no plans other than to keep karate going. Can I push myself onto a regular sleep schedule? That would be nice, for I suffer currently from night-restlessness.

But 2014! In review, I did a bit of travelling:

  • 4 days in New York City for NECSS in April
  • 2 days in Ottawa for SkeptiCamp in May
  • 8 days in Scotland for a road-trip in August
  • 2 days in Montreal for stag activities in October
  • 7 days in the Dominican Republic for Reg's wedding in October
  • 2 days in London (Ontario) to visit a friend in December
While my gym attendance went way down I still managed to get my blue belt in karate. Finished Breaking Bad over several weeks. Had some laughs at JFL 42. Volunteered with Cycle Toronto.

Saw the Pixies play at Massey Hall. Went dog-sledding. Marched at a bunch of protests. Participated in yet another Board Game Jam. Saw Neil deGrasse Tyson talk at U of T. Recorded a few TDAHS shows.

Work and cats are much the same, much the same.

Oh, I guess I can try recap the last couple months, since my last update. Well, the wedding went off well, Punta Cana being such as it is with hot, easy days, warm waters, and plentiful in comestibles. I took note of the worker conditions, of the turning of lush countryside into concrete malls. Many in our party, myself included, contracted a vicious stomach bug -- a day shuffling between the bed and the toilet. But otherwise, sure, I had fun: tanning, swimming, beach sports during the day; drinking, dancing, stumbling at night.

After returning I went back to training for my karate exam, cramming lessons where time allowed. It'd been some 3.5 years since my last exam; strange to think of how I managed to stretch my time thus. I suppose some of it can be explained away by gallivanting but I feel like it's more of an attitude shift. Certainly, with my blue belt I feel karate is back in my life again.

And then yeah, the holiday season. Work Christmas party. Shopping for gifts. Christmas Eve with the cousins, Christmas day with the parents and sister. Did not do nearly as much video gaming as I thought I would. Spent New Year's Eve with my film writer friends, a pretty grand potluck feast that fairly overflowed, followed by a smaller, rowdier dance-centric party at a nearby friend of a friend's.

Much drinking, December. And it shows! My back hurts, my head hurts, my foot falls asleep easily, my sleep is troubled. Things can only get better though, right? RIGHT???!

Friday, October 24, 2014

I'm going to the Dominican, what

The last time I was in the Dominican I went with my family and a couple other families; I remember the sandy beach by the hotel, the two arcade machines (one of them an intense racing game that I'm sure featured primitive graphics by today's standards), and the tiny lizards that seemed to be everywhere. But now I return for my friend's wedding, middle-aged and somewhat aimless.

Nay, I shan't let such thoughts rule my days under the tropical sun. I will eat hearty, play hard, drink fully, and sleep deeply. I will also be without internet, the fees being highway robbery, so I shall be away from Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and in so doing travel in time for a while, untouched by the world and its carrying-on.

Well, I guess I can catch you up on what I've been busying myself with. This week I've been fighting a chest cold or some such thing; lying down for a period of time results in a hacking cough, making sleep difficult. Over the weekend I was in Montreal with friends, a stag weekend with drink and merry-making. I still am clueless around women, even at my age. Drink may provide a kind of courage but it does so at the cost of making you look rather like a dolt. It was nice to see the city, if only for a glimpse; I've many memories, most fond, some not so.

I have also been pushing myself physically, in order to get in shape for my blue belt test later this year. Whether I'll be ready is another question, but having a goal, even an unshaped one, is doing me some good. Oh, the weekend before was the Thanksgiving weekend: a dental appointment, groomsmen shopping, karate, and of course the big family meal.

My bedtime approaches, and I must awake in the early hours. Live well, my friends, and I shall see you in a week.


Monday, September 29, 2014

trying my hand in Scotland

AirTransat flight, packed into the window seat, using my coat to cover my eyes. An uneven sleep. Two meals: a beef and potatoes dinner, and a continental breakfast featuring pink goop posing as yogourt. Greeted by my friend at the airport with a welcome coffee in hand. Short drive through Glasgow, stopped to admire one of the downtown campuses. Lunch at Bar Gandolfi: pasta with capers and anchovies. A sleepy but gorgeous trip to the house, gliding between soft green hills. Steak dinner in Casa Mia in Dumfries, my tummy enjoying the extended day.
Egg, venison sausage, back bacon

Sunday was a much needed sleep-in, followed up by a healthy brunch, a bike ride around the surrounding countryside, and recording an ALS ice challenge.

Loch Lomond
Monday was driving through Moffat to drop off the housecat, then to Glasgow with a short stop at a rest station for petrol and a heavy plate of sausage, potatoes and peas. Checked into the Citizen M, a modern, streamlined hotel, seemingly inspired by Japanese sleep pods. Walk to The Admiral Bar to catch a Glasgow Skeptics' talk on electoral inequality, which I found useful. Sidled up to some fellows afterwards, resulting in a night of drinking, debating and poking fun at politicians, ended with deep-fried sausage and chips eaten drunkenly on the stumble back.

Glen Coe
Tuesday was the second half of the drive up to Loch Ness, first with a rest stop at Loch Lomond, Then through the Highlands, that remote beauty, alternating massive rocky hills with green valleys. I was particularly impressed by Glen Coe, whose magnificence is lost in a photo -- the sheer gravity of all that stone and earth piled high puts one in a minute space, bending one's perspective. Upon arriving in Dores we had a fine meal; another steak for me, followed by a quiet walk along the beach.
Urquhart Castle

Wednesday was a full breakfast of fresh rolls, pancakes, bacon and eggs. Drove up through Inverness then down the other side of the Loch, stopping in Drumnadrochit for souvenirs before continuing to Urquhart Castle. Though it is a ruin, one gets a feel for how this was a living fortress of the Middle Ages, complete with drawbridge and trebuchet.

Loch Tay, with a crannog on the right
Our return drive continued south; we missed the Crannog Center's closing time, but our luck in finding lodgings for the night held true in Killin. Tonight's dinner was a creamy seafood pasta, courtesy of the charming Smiddy restaurant. We followed up with drinks in the local pub, entertained by a young woman and her French bulldog.

Thursday was a day-trip in Edinburgh -- visiting the Castle, seeing the newly installed trams. We took in some fine views from the top of the Camera Obscura building, which otherwise houses a curious collection of visual illusions, many of which I'd seen in my internet travels and in other science centres.

The Royal Mile
Now a coffee and sandwich while watching the continuous flow of tourists through the downtown, various street performers vying for their attention -- a young woman on a ukulele, another creating long bubbles, a bagpipe player, a Stormtrooper with a kilt.

Friday served as a day of rest -- pizza and video games, catching up on Twitter and news of the referendum. A walk in the nearby forest at dusk.

Saturday was another trip to Moffat, treated to brunch. Finally got to try a "99 flake", something I'd been curious about since seeing it in Little Britain -- the ice cream is a lot more watery than I'd prefer, and the flake itself was pretty bland. Purchased some souvenirs in the form of Scotch and Moffat toffee, which is more of a hard candy that goes from sweet to slightly sour, the acid shining through.

Road to Dumfries
And so on the Sunday I returned, back to Toronto, back to the cats (for whom I got a sitter), back to my condo and work and morning scrums. My summer adventure was over, and I return anew, wanting to do more, to be more.

I had a full breath of a fair, green land, and I hope to breathe it again, one day.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Flying to Scotland

I'm flying to Scotland tonight to see a friend there. I grew tired of having nothing to show for the summer -- nights of staying in watching Netflix, weekends with no plans. Feels good to finally do something.

Well, I caught a friend playing at the Emmet Ray this past Sunday, some live music to fill my time. Saw some faces I hadn't seen in ages, had a few beers, enjoyed myself.

My condo's heat pump was a bit wonky for a week or so there. It turned out that the fan for the building's water supply to the heat pumps needed a reset, or some such thing. Anyway the cooling works again, which puts my mind at ease regarding the cats. I actually dreamt of them last night, scrambling at the walls, trying to escape from what I gather were zombies or a similar threat. I feel guilty every day that I don't play with them, such is the attachment I've grown. I hired a cat sitter to look after them while I'm away, who appeared very prepared and professional. Still, the cats' well-being occupies my mind.

I am really liking Breaking Bad. I'd been holding out on watching it, the premise being so implausible to me. Once one gets over that hump however the show truly stands on its own as a work of television art. Much more addictive than Game of Thrones, which I found to be shallow, without substance. Seeing Walt sink into depravity is both fascinating and painful; I feel sorry for those around him. And I'm only in the second season!

Apparently Rob Ford is making a comeback in the polls! Toronto, my how you dumb/disengaged/jaded you've become!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Summer of Shows

Well, I'm caught up on A Game of Thrones. I was not all that into the show for the first three seasons, which is strange -- you'd think I'd be all over something full of swords and magic and intrigue. But no, it wasn't until the fourth season that I started to get that "just one more episode" feeling. It's difficult to say exactly what the show lacked for me. Not enough relatable characters? I did come to enjoy the Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark stories, and I liked the idea of Sansa developing into something other than a pouting ingĂ©nue. Over in Essos, I couldn't get past the idea of Daenerys freeing slaves by merely talking to them, as if one could change a person's core belief with only reason. Were that the world was so easily fixed! And, on a nitpick scale, how is she feeding her army? Where are the trains of supply wagons?

I've now moved onto Breaking Bad, and I have greatly enjoyed my time with it thus far, some five episodes in. I've heard about the descent the characters fall into, and am glad that their slide is slow for they are quite likeable as they are now, on the precipice of still being moral. This last episode had Walt turn down an offer to pay for his chemo, which I thought was quite foolish, and would appreciate some more justification for this. A minor quibble; the show is very well done and lives up to the hyperbole.

Did I mention that I finished the US version of The Office some months back? I quite liked it, even after Steve Carell's character left. Sure, the show felt quite different with the rotation of bosses, but simply seeing my favourite personalities continue to interact was enough. Never did like Ed Helm's Andy Bernard; while Carell's Michael Scott had an innocent quality to him, Andy was just a fickle, self-absorbed jerk. Anyway, I'm glad to have finished it.

Back in the real world, I finally made it over to Bike Sauce over the Simcoe weekend and changed the freewheel on my bicycle. It was a relatively painless operation, with the guiding words of the volunteers there. I think next I shall replace the seat and the pedals, both of which are in very sorry states indeed.

Urp, yes, I continue to play Hearthstone daily. Naxxramas, the new single-player campaign, has added some variety and cards to the game, so hopefully the metagame will see some changes. I do like building anti-"Miracle Rogue" decks -- my best bet is with a Paladin rush deck so far, though it only wins maybe 1/3 of the time it's played. Currently I run a lot of Warlock handlock/giants, and try to figure out the best ways to work in the new cards.

The summer is nearly over! I watched a lot of movies and shows, and certainly put in a lot of hours in video games. Spent time with friends, exercised, intermittently volunteered, but what else have I gotten done? Are there any adventures left before the autumn?

We shall see!



Friday, July 11, 2014

a midsummer's update

The fan for my heat pump stopped working. It's been wonky of late, and when I got home last Tuesday, after a day under the sticky glaring sun, my condo offered little relief. Indeed I ended up resorting to drinking myself to sleep, cursing the humid air. I was at the Evergreen Brickworks, enjoying beer and meat and fruit pies, a foodie event to be sure.

Yes, Canada Day, a country I love and cherish but is governed by fools I cannot abide, seemingly populated with people I hold less and less in common with. Well, not truly truly, but certainly I find the divide between us has seemingly deepened. Or perhaps it was always thus, and only as my eyes look broader do I see the chasms of empathy, of understanding, of relating. Let it be said that variety is both humanity's strength and weakness.

But the weather, the weather since that day has mellowed, a mild summer with much rain and cool winds. I find it comfortable; surely this is better than the raging waves of heat and humidity in summers we've known before here. Thus my heat pump (the fan, in fact) lies dormant, the comfortable evening air a viable, even preferable, alternative.

I volunteered with Cycle Toronto today, working as a bicycle valet for the opening of the nearby Corktown Commons, a thoroughly modern oasis in the city, nestled in a remote corner, complete with a water park and pond. It's quite the thing, and I hope to enjoy it again soon.

I've been burning through Death Note, an anime that holds up to the praise I've heard. The premise: a high school student finds a notebook that, when a person's name is written in it, will cause that person to die. Given this somewhat absurd item in an otherwise modern Japan actually makes for a good crime-drama, with a group of detectives attempting to find and bait out the killer, who sees himself as a kind of god, punishing those he deems unfit for the world.

I've also been trying some other iOS games, looking for an alternative to Hero Academy, which has unfortunately been neglected by Robot Entertainment, its creators. Such an excellent turn-based game! I dare say a classic, and I've not yet seen its equal. I lament its gradual demise. In any case, I've tried Summoner Wars, Uniwar HD, Outwitters, with the last of these being the closest (and yet still falling short) to the type of strategic thrill of HA.

Am I seeing anyone, you, like so many around me, may ask? No, I am not. Strange how one's outlook on daily life can change by such a small fact, such an innocent point. I remain single, comforted by little, dragging my feet through the days, growing heavier and wondering what next can I do to keep sane, to scrape up what little joy I can from the dregs I've surrounded myself with. Ha, but I exaggerate, a bit anyways.