Saturday, August 20, 2016

zTravelogue: Media Reviews

I recently spent over 40 hours traveling to and from Japan. During this time I consumed a bunch of food and even more media--three movies and three books. I will attempt to channel Dave and provide pithy insightful reviews of each.

The Revenant

You've probably already seen this. I had not because I have two little kids who absolutely abuse babysitters so I've seen one movie in the theater in the past 5+ years, and by the time we put them to bed zwoman is too tired to watch more than an hour of TV so we only watch TV shows.

Anyway, it won three Oscars (actor, director, cinematography) so I had huge expectations. The movie was good but not great. To me it's just a standard revenge story, Grizzly Adams crossed with Gladiator or Kill Bill or Unforgiven. Like Gladiator it starts with an intense battle scene. And like all three, the protagonist and someone he loves go through a brutal experience that kill s the loved one(s). The protagonist is left for dead only to survive and come back and kill the people who wronged him and the person he loves in a remarkably violent climax.

To be fair, "brutal experience" doesn't do justice to what happens to Leonoardo DiCaprio.

The Revenant Bear Scene from Alamin Abadin on Vimeo.

Additional brutality befalls Leo--he seeks vengeance on a human, not the bear's cubs.

This was a fine way to pass 156 minutes, I'm just surprised that this was one of the best movies of 2015. I'm also surprised that DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for this performance--the role required very little range. All he had to do was act like he was fucked up by a bear, then act angry and fuck up a human. Did you see The Departed or Gangs of New York or even What's Eating Gilbert Grape? This seems like a lesser performance. But good for him on finally getting on Oscar.

Rating: 4 out of 5 airsickness bags.

Everybody Wants Some!!

This was positioned as a spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, which I first saw in the DoG Street Theater and then saw at least 69 more times on VHS in FOG:TB Derek's room. Which is to say Dazed and Confused is one of my all-time favorite movies. It's perfect in so many thematic ways: paddles, whaleshit, "fry like bacon you little freshman piggies!" And then there's stuff like this with little gems sparkling up at you every time you watch:

Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some takes place in Texas and involves students on summer break. Other similarities include a baseball montage and a protagonist who is a freshman guy who meets a girl and rapidly woos her during and after a party. And both were directed by Richard Linklater. Unlike Dazed and Confused, the students are college kids and they are enjoying the last 2 or 3 days of their summer vacation before classes start. And unlike Dazed and Confused, some of the camaraderie between the characters feels forced, the cinematography isn't as interesting, and I ultimately didn't care what happened to the characters.

But like the Revenant, it was a fine way to spend 117 minutes hurtling across the Pacific Ocean. I don't plan on watching it again and again though.

Rating: 3 out of 5 airsickness bags.

In the Heart of the Sea

Speaking of hurtling across, the Pacific OceanI previously opined that "In the heart of the sea is a great book, Moby Dick inspirations notwithstanding, but I don't see how it translates into a 90 minute movie." Director Ron Howard likely read my comment and took it to heart, drawing the film out for 122 minutes instead of 90. Unfortunately the book still didn't translate into a good movie.

In order to make the movie feel like a typical Hollywood story, Howard created beef between the captain (Pollard) and his first mate (Chase) right from the start. In the movie, Pollard got the captain job that Chase thought he deserved, the two men didn't know each other, Pollard didn't know how to sail and was a prick, and thus Chase resented/hated Pollard. But in the book they had previously sailed together and seemed to get along until they were months at sea and couldn't find any whales.

Chase is played by Chris Hemsworth who seems way too big to effectively move around on a rocking whaleship. Hemsworth affects an accent that is completely unrecognizable. I have no idea what he was going for but he ultimately sounds like a deaf truck driver from Long Island trying to impersonate Crocodile Dundee. All of this is to say that Hemsworth does not help the film.

Howard also cuts out a lot of the text on the art of whaling as well as a lot of the story. For example, there's no mention of eating tortoises, setting islands on fire, or visiting the Galapagos Islands. Howard somehow managed to take an incredibly compelling true story and make it feel like contrite Hollywood fiction. Not a good job by Opie Cunningham. At least it's better than this effort:

I don't regret watching this movie but I can't really encourage you to watch it either.

Rating: 2 out of 5 airsickness bags


This is an old book that I've been meaning to read for years but never got around to it until I was stuck at the Raleigh-Durham airport and saw it in the used bookstore. I started it then and finished it on my trip to Japan.

Mark Kurlansky likes to write about food and fishing, and cod is about both and more--Kurlansky writes at length about cod biology; baked cod; broiled cod; roasted cod; cod chowder; cod croquettes; cod stomp and go; cod bacalaitos; cod feroce; cod bouillabaisse; all the different varieties of salt cod; cod behavior; cod habitats; cod population growth and decline; cod fishing methods from antiquity through today; Cape Cod; New Englander's affection for cod; Englishmen's love of eating cod beyond all other flaky white fish; the Basque's penchant for catching cod; Iceland's economic dependence on cod; Spaniard's love of salt cod; how to clean cod; myriad ways to prepare cod roe; myriad ways to prepare cod tongue; myriad ways to prepare cod cheeks; how Clarence Birdseye invented frozen cod; how industrial cod fishing changed the world's economy; and all manner of other cod-related stuff.

I told you I would channel my inner Dave! All this fishy goodness is packed into about 230 pages, so it's a quick and pleasant read. That said, fans of natural history and oddball facts will enjoy this more than your average normal person. It's a book for Dave.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 airsickness bags (unless you're Dave, then 4.5 out of 5)

When We Were Orphans

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote Remains of the Day, which I read and greatly enjoyed in Prof. Heacox's Contemporary Literature class. His later novel When We Were Orphans is not as good. In theory it's a detective novel--the main character is a detective who spends 3/4 of his life looking for his parents. Throughout the story he claims to solve all sorts of crimes, but the story never provides even a shred of detail regarding the crimes or how he solves them. He just talks about the fact that he solves crimes, ad nauseum, while pining away for some woman whom he says looks like a bird of prey. It's weird.

Set in Shanghai in the 1930's, during the Sino-Japanese War, an overly protracted portion of the book involves the main character slogging his way through bombed out rubble while bombs and bullets fly around him. So preposterous is this scene, and his motivation for the slog, that I began to believe the whole thing was a child's dream (the book starts in the main character's childhood). It isn't a dream. It's just weird.

And the conclusion is weird. I don't want to say that it was a let-down, but it kind of made me wonder why Ishiguro bothered to write the story in the first place. Immediately upon finishing the book, I quoted Ryan Lochte and said "Whatever."

But it kept me entertained for five straight hours and some of the writing is damn good. You could do worse. But if you're into stories set in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese War, watch Empire of the Sun.

Rating: 3 out of 5 airsickness bags

In a Dark, Dark Wood

I was desperate for something to read and grabbed this at the tiny Hudson News next to my gate at SFO. I hadn't heard of it, and my other options were some tripe I'd heard of or some tripe I'd already read. This book is tripe too.

It's a mystery novel with no plot twist, no surprise, no ... mystery. The cover quotes Reese Witherspoon's assertion to "Prepare to be scared ... really scared!" but nothing scary happened. Just a bunch of British people in a house in a dark wood. A dark, dark wood, one might say.

It gave me something to do between San Francisco and Newark, but that's about it.

Rating: 2 out of 5 airsickness bags


rob said...

wordcount > postcount

Shlara said...

you read an entire book about cod?

zman said...

It's better than it sounds. Up next is Kurlansky's other book Salt. It's about salt.

Mark said...

I had grilled oysters and Brie last night. Fucking delicious. I recommend you ordering it if you see it on a menu. Also got very drunk and (temporarily) lost my phone. That, I do lot reccomend.

Mark said...

Not, lot. Whatevs.

Mark said...


TR said...

My eldest turned 9 y/day. We allow our kids to pick a restaurant for their b-day. My oldest' favorite food is crab legs. We went to Red Lobster last year. It was...unexceptional. So we decided to steer him to another joint this year. But he got his heart set on Joe's Crab Shack, which is a chain (I think). The nearest one was in the heart of Newark. We went and the entire restaurant experience (food, service, ambience, uncleaned garbage on the floor in the booth next to me) was pretty awful. I came back and powerscotched to take the edge off.

Long way of saying screw you and your delicious dinner last night, Mark. No offense.

rob said...

walked into starbucks with my 14 y/o. three dudes who looked roughly her age were checking her out, and not subtly. getting into a fight with them was the right move, no?

rob said...


headed to the cape tomorrow. what local brews do i need to look for at the packie?

zman said...

At least they were her age.

zman said...

Check out Boomsauce by Hobo Brewing Co.

Clarence said...

Check out Gizzsplatter by Party Phall Brewing Co as well.

Mark said...

Following up on comments. No offense taken, TR. Joe's Crab Shack is a chain and it's hot fucking garbage. If you ever come to Miami though, hit Joe's Stone Crab. It's only open seasonally but it's amongst the best seafood restaurants you'll ever have. On that note, the wife and I are scheduled to vacation for a few days in Miami in early September. The current Zika crisis is making that a bit dicey.

Rob- my stepdaughter started high school last week. She's an attractive kid. High probability that I'll be threatening a 15-16 year old kid in the very near future.

Danimal said...

Heading to Miami tomorrow for a big company boondoggle. Okay, Aventura and not Miami. Should be nice and cool, not conducive at all for the Zika.

T.J. said...

Hello from Chicago

Mark said...

Chicago is the best summer city around. Enjoy, graduate.

rob said...

neymar cared about that game. a lot. that was pretty cool.

Clarence said...

Teej, you should call Johnny G

Clarence said...

Core principles

Mark said...

Aventura is underrated. Good mall and close to Gulfstream race track. Also, the south Florida institution that is Flanigan's is down there. Get some.

Clarence said...

Ante Up on XM backspin. Will always make me think of Muppets. So good.

Mark said...

Ante Up is an all timer and the fact that the Muppets/TJ introduced it to people who would've never known it otherwise makes me happy. Fuck yeah.

Yap that fool!!

T.J. said...

Walked into a medical center/hospital lobby, took an elevator to the 18th floor, and am now enjoying one of the best cocktails I've ever had. We've had a strong day in Chicago

T.J. said...

I'm good at Muppet filler

rob said...

you're the best, teej

Mark said...

Greg introduced me to TJ (among other things), so God bless Greg. And TJ.

TR said...

Summer Chicago is the tits for sure.

Fun night w/ Juan Carlos at the local pool club. I left a shit-ton of jerk sauce residue on the communal grill. May surprise some folks o n Sunday.

rob said...

i hope jerk sauce isn't a euphemism