2014 ~ The Year In Film

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The top 10 films I saw in 2014 are:

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Boyhood
  3. Los Angeles Plays Itself**
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Blue Ruin
  6. The LEGO Movie
  7. Snowpiercer
  8. Gone Girl
  9. Edge of Tomorrow
  10. X-Men Days of Future Past

Honorable mention to: Detective Detective Detective, The Babadook, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Dumb & Dumber To, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cheap Thrills, Interstellar, Fury, and Joe.

** = Technically, this film was completed and released in 2003, however it didn’t see widespread availability until being re-released this year.

This year, for the first time, I took a leaf out of Justin’s book and kept track of every single film I watched! Actually, it’s not hard to do. Just write down a film after you watch it.

Here are all of the 95 films I watched in 2014:

* = denotes theatrical viewing

– A Band Called Death
– Ace In The Hole
– The Babadook
– Big Hero 6*
– The Big Lebowski
– Biutiful
– Blue Ruin
– Boyhood*
– The Canterbury Tales
– Captain America: The Winter Soldier*
– Cheap Thrills
– Coneheads
– The Conjuring
– The Croods
– Dawn of the Planet of the Apes*
– Dead Silence
– Detective Detective Detective*
– Drinking Buddies
– Dumb and Dumber To*
– The Edge of Tomorrow
– A Fish Called Wanda
– The Fisher King
– Fracture
– Frozen
– Fury*
– Ghostbusters
– The Gift
– The Grand Budapest Hotel*
– Gone Girl*
– Good Will Hunting
– Gremlins
– Guardians of the Galaxy*
– Hairspray
– Heavenly Creatures
– Her*
– The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies*
– The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition
– Home Alone
– Homicide
– Hot Rod
– Hugo
– Humanoids From the Deep
– The Ice Storm
– Imprint
– Inside Llewyn Davis*
– Insidious
– Insidious Chapter 2
– Interstellar*
– Joe
– The Lady Vanishes
– The LEGO Movie*
– Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
– Logan’s Run
– The Long Goodbye
– The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition*
– The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Extended Edition
– Los Angeles Plays Itself
– Lovelace
– Mad Max
– The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
– Men In Black 3
– Minecraft: The Story of Mojang
– Mr. Bean’s Holiday
– The Muppet Christmas Carol
– My Left Foot
– Nacho Libre
– National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
– Nebraska
– Nymph()maniac Volume I
– Oculus
– Pacific Rim
– Philomena
– The Prestige*
– ReAnimator
– Scarlet Street
– Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
– Short Term 12
– Showrunners
– Singin’ in the Rain
– The Skeleton Key
– Snowpiercer
– Solomon Kane
– Stargate
– Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
– The Talented Mr. Ripley
– Tangled
– Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down!
– Transsiberian
– The Usual Suspects
– Wake in Fright
– The Way Way Back
– The Wind that Shakes the Barley
– X-Men
– X-Men Days of Future Past*
– Year One

2012 ~ The Year in Film

Admittedly, I didn’t see a great many “films” theatrically in 2012. I spent a decent portion of 2011 ingesting a glut of films for free at a theater that still used the actual medium of film, but in 2012, I daresay I saw perhaps only one legitimate “film.”

The Master
Enigmatic. Surreal. Mesmerizing. Discomforting.

That film, was The Master. By no means an endearing experience, it is nonetheless an unshakeable one. This film springs from a dusty, high, forgotten shelf of cinema  where a few peers may reside. Perhaps Aguirre: The Wrath of God? Perhaps The Thin Red Line? I don’t know what else to compare it to.  It’s just… extant. Great performances all around, but the connection between the film’s titular character and Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard is tenuous and oblique. P.T. Anderson seems to have something to say about the apparent futility of soul-searching in a world replete with charlatans who employ technology as a means of enlightenment, but I’ll be darned if I know what it is.

Balin & Dwalin
Dwarf Lords from Under the Mountain

Now I am brought to my top 10 list of movies from 2012. The #1 spot is taken by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, unsurprisingly. I have been a Tolkien fan since my youth, and originally read The Hobbit from an illustrated version that my mother bought for my cousin. Gollum’s cave is etched deeply into my remembered childhood imagination. Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth is at once triumphant, cataclysmic, and like the arrival of a dear, old friend on your doorstep.

Bernie
Jack Black’s greatest role.

My second favorite film came as something of a surprise. I had known of Richard Linklater’s new(er) film, Bernie, for a while. Strictly speaking, the film was completed back in 2011, but it didn’t see the light of day as far as a distributor until 2012. Why on earth it took me so long to finally watch it, I cannot say. I do know I will NOT miss out on Linklater’s next project, a third entry in the Before Sunrise series, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I digress. Jack Black does something amazing, here. He inhabits the entire length, breadth, and width of his idiosyncratic, real-life character’s personality traits and proclivities, delivering a performance that is so bizarre and true, it could not have ever been invented. Read that last sentence aloud, without taking any breaths. Sorry about that.

And the list goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.

  1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  2. Bernie
  3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty)
  6. Looper
  7. The Avengers
  8. Les Misérables
  9. The Master
  10. The Dark Knight Rises

Here is a list of ALL 2012 releases which I have seen, specifically. An all-time low: total number equaling 18. I aim to do a little better in 2013.

  • Brave – theatrical
  • Les Misérables – theatrical
  • The Master – theatrical (film!)
  • Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty) – theatrical
  • The Avengers – theatrical
  • The Dark Knight Rises – theatrical
  • The Hunger Games – theatrical
  • Skyfall – theatrical
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – theatrical
  • Prometheus – theatrical
  • John Carter – theatrical
  • Looper – theatrical
  • Chronicle – theatrical
  • Moonrise Kingdom – RedBox
  • Bernie – Netflix
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi – Netflix
  • Take This Waltz – On-demand
  • The Innkeepers – DVD

Book Review: Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Ubik

I am Ubik.
Before the universe was, I am.
I made the suns.
I made the worlds.
I created lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there.
They go as I say, they do as I tell them.
I am the word and my name is never spoken, the name which no one knows.
I am called Ubik but that is not my name.
I am.
I shall always be.

I have a favorite science fiction author. His name is Philip K. Dick. If you find yourself reading this blog or in my company having a conversation about, oh, anything, you may hear me drop his name. His fame has only grown since his death in 1982, roughly one year before my birth. Like other heroes I have come to admire, such as Townes Van Zandt and William Wyler, I will not get to meet him, in this life.

I found one of his more well-known and oft-referenced books, Ubik, at my local library. I checked it out, and I read it. I digested it. For some reason, when I take a book by PKD and sit down to read it, I find my mind wanders. As a writer, his form is not especially bracing, nor is it overly stylized. Often, his books read like the diary of a solitary, washed-up, blue collar worker at or near the end of his rope, as indeed his protagonists are often cast. I think the particular aspect of his writing which causes my mind to wander- vigorously wander, as a top set free from a string- is its prescience. Dick’s incisive wit sizes up our present, evolving situation to an uncanny degree of accuracy. Oh sure, in his vision of the future we might all be flying on rockets to the moons of Jupiter, but the basic structure of human society is vividly realized in a way that seems both plausible and unsettling.

Ubik paints a future where humans have evolved the capacity for psionic powers such as telepathy, precognition, and other fascinating abilities. Think X-Men or Heroes, but without the grandiose notion that the responsibility to serve all mankind- or destroy all mankind- is the primary function of such humanoids. No, indeed, the primary function of such humanoids is to go to work for a firm which specializes in deploying them as agents who will infiltrate target organizations to accomplish the goals of a paying customer. Taking this basic idea of adaptation / survival of the fittest one more step, the book also introduces a subset of humanity with the ability to negate the psionic powers. These humanoids go to work for a rival firm that deploys them as agents to track the psionic humans and perpetually dampen their ability to perform.

Naturally, the protagonist of this book is, drumroll, a normal human being who operates equipment designed to detect psionic fields. He is, of course, a bachelor, and he is destitute and constantly needing to bum a nickel or quarter from a friend or coworker in order to get by. His name is Joe Chip.

The book also concerns a concept of reality that manifests itself in several of Dick’s short stories and novels. Richard Linklater’s film Waking Life is quite possibly inspired directly from this idea. In my opinion, the most eloquent explanation of this concept actually takes place in the fractured internal monologue of Robert Arctor, the drug-addled protagonist of Dick’s latter-day masterwork A Scanner Darkly (which was given the silver-screen treatment by Linklater in 2007, using the same, rotoscoping animation technique as on Waking Life).

This will give me time to think, he reflected as he wandered into the cafeteria and lined up. Time. Suppose, he thought, time is round, like the Earth. You sail west to reach India. They laugh at you, but finally there’s India in front, not behind. In time — maybe the Crucifixion lies ahead of us as we all sail along, thinking it’s back east…

The First and Second Coming of Christ the same event, he thought; time a cassette loop. No wonder they were sure it’d happen, He’d be back.

Ubik, the namesake of the book, doesn’t manifest itself until a good chunk of the main storyline has transpired. A team of inertials (the humanoids with anti-psi powers) is assembled to investigate a serious threat from a rival team of psionics on the moon. When they get there, all is not as it seems…

There is a girl among the inertials with the disconcerting power of being able to alter the past, thus altering the present. The people she involves in episodes displaying her abilities still retain memories from the previous timelines, however they are never quite sure whether these memories are reliable. Various events take place in the story which may- or may not- be caused by a greater power. Writing appears on walls, messages are found inside of cigarette cartons, and a holographic commercial for a product in a spray can, called Ubik, plays for the protagonist. When the inertials start to mysteriously disappear, a sinister purpose is slowly revealed.

Only Joe Chip, the regular human, the one who is perpetually broke and hopelessly single, can muscle through to figure out what is at stake. In the process, he encounters various incarnations of Ubik: a balm, a tonic, and a spray can. He refrains from using it, because, after all, he has no clue what it even does! Meanwhile, currency begins to rapidly lose value, newspapers begin to report older and older news, and household appliances slowly revert to their more ancient incarnations.

This novel actually references and borrows heavily from an earlier PKD short story entitled, What the Dead Men Say. In that story, there are cryonic coffins which recently-deceased people can be put into, allowing their brains to remain alive for decades longer, and for conversations to be carried out with the dead. Technically, these individuals are in a state of “half-life” as the book calls it, and are preserved so that the living may consult them for advice, or just emotional relief. It’s a fascinating concept. The Spanish film Abre Los Ojos borrows on this idea, as well. Joe Chip’s boss has a wife in “half-life” and she is consulted for help. The cryonic “moratoriums” where the dead are filed away are devoid of psionic interference.

Is the narrative of Ubik confusing? Yes, a bit. Dick actually wrote a screenplay version of the novel during his life. It has never been put into production. He had a very interesting idea for how to actually film the story and present it in theaters. Perhaps someday, someone will tackle an audiovisual adaptation with success.

Until then, I am left to imagine the sight of someone holding up a canister of Ubik would look like, though I do have Terry Gilliam.

Terry Gilliam holding PKD aerosol can
From an episode of the BBC show Arena, entitled, “Philip K Dick: A Day in the Afterlife”

I am Ubik