|I must admit something: I judge movies by their covers, and I rarely read the backs of DVD cases. So when I saw the cover of Valhalla Rising, I instantly knew that this was a film worth my time. The shirtless, tattooed Viking warrior definitely aroused my interest. When patrons ask me about this film, my first words are always, “It’s strange”. I realize how open-ended that reply is, so I’ll extrapolate a bit: it’s a strange and beautiful Viking journey that will leave you with more questions than answers. This may, in fact, be the intended plot. However, this does not bother me in the least. It’s a film that you just sit back, relax, and watch with your eyes and ears. The sound design is essential and builds serene and tense cinematic atmosphere, and along with the superb cinematography, makes this is a beautiful film. Now let me give you more adjectives beyond "strange" and "beautiful": tense, serious, violent, quite, silent, confusing, powerful, hypnotic, hallucinatory, and thoughtful. With minimal (I really mean minimal) dialogue, the focus of Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is the journey itself. I found harmony in the many moments of silence, and in the many moments of tension that carry the film from beginning to end.
Recommended December 2013
|Try to find a book that better explains how our brain
works. Seriously: I am challenging you. As long as I can remember,
I have always wanted to read ONE book that actually attempts to answer
the question “How does our brain work?”. On Intelligence
is that book. According to the author, it’s all about the cerebral
cortex. This book is a brief but thoroughly fascinating exploration
of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. One super important thing
to take away from this book is that machines are nothing to fear.
Robots are not going to take over and destroy humanity. Yeah, I know
all about the computer that beat the world’s best chess player and
then, more recently, that whole-computer-winning-Jeopardy!-thing.
And let us not forget The
Terminator’s “Skynet” or 2001:
A Space Odyssey’s “HAL 9000”. You don’t have to worry. This
book will put those fears to rest when you learn why a robot will
probably never even “learn” how to play catch with your children.
The human brain is the most complex and amazing organic structure
ever. So much so that it continues to be the one thing that we know
the least about in this universe. Jeff Hawkins thinks about this and
so should you.
Recommended October 2013
Sleep Tight Mientras Duermes
|Are you someone that can’t stand super-overly-positive
people — someone that you see on a daily basis that is always perfectly
happy? I’m referring to the perpetually perky type. Do these folks
sometimes make your skin crawl? Or are you one of these eternally
happy people and are curious as to how anyone on Earth could possibly
ever want to harm a fellow optimist? If so, the psychological thriller
Sleep Tight is your type of movie. As with most movies that I check
out, I have no idea what they are about before I watch them. I can
usually guess the genre by the cover, and maybe recognize an actor
or two, but I prefer to dive in without knowing the temperature of
the water. And you know what? — the water is lukewarm about 97% of
the time. Yeah, I watch a lot of movies — I repeat: a LOT of movies
— and I can only recommend a small percentage of them. I have tried
keeping a list of every movie that I have watched, but then I stopped
because it became clear just how much time I spend on my sofa (but
that’s a conversation for another day). Back on track, I can recommend
that you watch Sleep Tight. Cesar, the superintendent / doorman of
a gorgeous art nouveau apartment building in Barcelona, is played
by the actor Luis Tosar. Just plug his name in IMDB and do yourself
a favor, watch all of it. Currently, he’s one of my favorite actors.
Clara is the effortlessly attractive tenant, lovely, young, successful,
happy, and always smiling. If one was to harbor feelings of attraction
morphed into intense jealously that ultimately becomes full-blown
psychopathic ultra-dysfunctional behavior, perhaps it would be the
balding, single, middle-aged doorman that is confronted with the perfect
Clara many times daily, every week, month, year. Perhaps if Clara
could have toned down her outward exuberance towards life, things
would have turned out differently. But then again, psychos will be
Recommended September 2013
Road to Nowhere
|This movie falls into the 'I’m-not-sure-what-happened-but-I-know-that-I’ve-thoroughly-enjoyed-it'
category. What I mean is that I kinda know what happens but I’m not
gonna stress out about it. Will I watch this again? Probably not.
Will I recommend this film? Yes, definitely. I would like you to watch
this and tell me what you think happens because I never google for
an explanation. I’m not the type of person who researches the meaning
of stuff, especially movies. What I can tell you is that the Road
to Nowhere is a movie about making a movie about a murder mystery
that may actually be happening while it’s being filmed — possibly
a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, all hinging on how beautifully
mesmerizing the lead actress is and whether or not she is an actress
portraying a character or is the actual person being portrayed. Honestly,
I really don’t know. Nevertheless, this movie is memorable because
the acting is believable, the production has that high-quality indie
feel, and the story isn’t Hollywood-obvious (a.k.a. forced down your
throat). And it’s true, the lead actress, Shannyn Sossaman (her name
in real life), is absolutely mesmerizing. The Road to Nowhere
is like a slow, sultry daydream that may or may not be happening.
You will get lost in the drowsy midsummer confusion, but somehow this
makes it all the more intriguing.
Recommended July 2013
The Coming Plague
|There is nothing more refreshingly satisfying than waking
up from an absolutely and totally horrific nightmare to realize that
it was all just a dream, not real, never happened. This is one of
the most comforting feelings that I know of. Then I became fascinated
with human diseases like viruses, particularly of the viral hemorrhagic
variety, and the comfort is gone. After reading about these diseases,
I became stricken with nightmares that previously only Stephen King
novels could produce. But unlike King’s novels, the nightmares induced
by The Coming Plague are real. I consider Laurie Garrett’s
book to be a seminal work regarding the spread and detection of infectious
diseases during our modern times. You can read it straight through
or just pick one disease at a time. Have it your way, but I recommend
plowing through it from beginning to end. This book covers all of
the major players, like Ebola, which destroys one’s body so quickly
that it’s barely a concern for those of us living outside of the Congo.
My favorite disease — if one must have a favorite — is smallpox. The
diseases discussed in this book do travel. These diseases do mutate.
Scientists do hunt them down. And boy oh boy will it FREAK you out!!!
You will scratch and wonder why your skin is suddenly so itchy. You
will become slightly concerned about an incidental cough or a kinda,
maybe sore throat. You will check and double check your throat glands.
You will examine the whites of your eyes in your bathroom mirror for
the first time ever. Perhaps you will wash your hands more thoroughly.
You may become a little more vigilant during your next flight. Doorknobs
will become... ummm... difficult. A little voice in your head will
ask "do I have a fever?" Trust me, you will shake it all off because
after reading this book you will realize that your newly acquired
neurotic leanings are futile. It is what it is; that’s my philosophy
at least, especially when it’s about drug-resistant bacteria. But,
hey, learning is all in good fun, right? Wait, who just sneezed!?!
Recommended June 2013
The Gone-Away World
|I bought this book at JFK airport without knowing anything
about it. I just wanted something — anything — to help pass the time
during my layover. It turned out to be the best purchase that I have
ever made at an airport terminal; this book, and the tuna tartar on
sesame rice crackers. (It’s true, I will eat sushi virtually anywhere.)
Anyways, The Gone-Away World is post-apocalyptic sci-fi surreal
awesomeness. You will follow this rag-tag team of misfits that are
trying to save the world from “stuff”, the residual matter from a
super mega-weapon of mass destruction. This book gets weird, like
kind of weird. There are Kung-fu battles and pirates. And ninjas too.
Recommended May 2013
The Mysteries of Lisbon
|Based on the novel Mistérios de Lisboa (1854)
by Camilo Castelo Branco, this version, directed by Raúl Ruiz, is
the theatrical adaptation of a mini-series originally aired on French
television. The theatrical adaptation is a mere 272 minutes; that’s
only five hours! I know, right! Totally doable. Sign me up. Having
the apartment all to myself on a cloudy Monday, I declared my day
off from work “International Couch and Cat Appreciation Day”. This
was the day that I would finally tackle The Mysteries of Lisbon.
It was my first experience hearing the Portuguese language. I was
expecting it to sound similar to Spanish but I was amazed to hear
it sounded more like a Slavic language. Intrigued by this, I googled
“Portuguese sounds Slavic” and I’m not alone in this observation.
I should research this further. I should learn to speak it myself.
Anyways, I have a checklist when considering conquering an epic film
adventure. One should not take epic-ness lightly. Over 4 hours in
length? Check. Set in the greatest (the 18th) century? Check. Gorgeous
costumes? Check. Subtitles? Check. Beautiful men like the actor Ricardo
Pereira? Check and double check! Oh, and a twisted tale of an orphan
trying to uncover his past that simply must span decades if not a
lifetime? Check. So when folks ask me “Watched anything good recently?”
this film is the first thing that comes to mind.
Recommended April 2013