What the crap is going on?

June 30, 2011 in Blogging, Entertainment, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

So I get up this morning and, as I do on most days, check my email — and I’m shocked to see there are hundreds of unread emails that aren’t spam!  Turns out, my post on The 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time was ‘freshly pressed’ on WordPress (whatever that means).  All I know is that a lot of people have been reading it, liking it and commenting on it.

This is a humble little site that gets around 1000 hits a day, so I sincerely thank everyone for visiting and taking their time to comment, even if it’s just to say it’s the worst piece of crap they have ever come across.

I don’t have time to respond to each comment, so what I’ve done is reconsider my list based on the comments made and made an addition list of films that probably should have made the list (maybe not top 20, but on some list measuring rewatchability) but I missed for whatever reason.  Here’s another 30 super rewatchable films, in no particular order.

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Book Review: ‘Naked’ by David Sedaris

June 29, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

For me, David Sedaris is the master.  When it comes to the type of comedic writing I want to be able to emulate, there’s nobody better than him.  Having attempted (well, attempting) comedic writing myself over the last few months, I am discovering first hand just how difficult it is to make writing amusing.  And Sedaris’s writing is not just amusing — it’s consistently laugh-out-loud funny, but at the same time it is incredibly clever and somehow manages to maintain an air of sophistication.

In my efforts to be more Sedaris-like in my own writings, I sought out one of his earlier books, Naked, published in 1997.  Like the other Sedaris book I read, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (review here), Naked can be classified as a collection of ‘personal essays’ of varying lengths.  Each essay covers an aspect or person of Sedaris’s life, from early childhood to adulthood, and are filled with outrageous characters (many of which are in Sedaris’s family) and anecdotes.

Titles of some of the my favourite essays include ‘A Plague of Tics’ (about Sedaris’s obsessive compulsive tendencies as a child), ‘Dix Hill’ (when Sedaris worked in a mental hospital as a teenager), ‘I Like Guys’ (where Sedaris discovers his homosexuality), ‘The Drama Bug’ (when Sedaris became a theatre fanatic and spoke in Shakespearean for months), ‘Planet of the Apes’ (about Sedaris’s hitchhiking stories), ‘The Incomplete Quad’ (where Sedaris shared dorms with quadriplegic students for free housing), and ‘Naked’ (about Sedaris’s experiences in a nudist colony).

Yes, as the above suggests, Sedaris is a weird, neurotic, somewhat disturbed guy, but he embraces it with a bizarre sense of self-righteousness and humility.  His stories are hilarious because they are so brutally honest, and each joke almost always provides some kind of insight into human nature.  And every now and then he would surprise you with a dash of poignancy, like the piece on his mother’s passing from cancer (‘Ashes’).

Sedaris weaves his internal thoughts, the anecdotes, the stories and the characters together effortlessly with elegant, clean prose, marvellous dialogue (some of which are really mini-soliloquies), astute observations and crafty storytelling.  The thing that amazes me most about Sedaris’s writing is that he knows exactly what words to use to convey the image he wants you to form in your mind.  His descriptions are brief but on the money just about every time, and he can give you a pretty good idea of what a person is like in a just a couple of slabs of dialogue.  He brings his characters to life in a way that few writers can.

I didn’t necessarily like every piece in the book, though that being said, each piece had its moments and I absolutely loved around half a dozen of the 17 essays.  I am certain that I will read his work again (and hopefully sooner rather than later).

4.5 out of 5

Whisk: Shanghai’s Chocolate Heaven

June 28, 2011 in China, Food, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

I will neither confirm nor deny that immediately after a massive meal at the Japanese restaurant Haiku (review here), we went to Whisk, an amazing chocolate dessert place (which has other things like sandwiches, pastas and risottos) in Shanghai.

What I will confirm though is that Whisk is indeed divine.  We didn’t have any of the hot food but we did order some of their splendid chocolate desserts.  For the most part, the hype is justified.  Whisk’s chocolate cakes and desserts are spectacular — delicate, full of flavour, but not overly sweet.

We ordered a tiramisu, a chocolate cake, a hot chocolate (with different levels of darkness) and some kind of molten chocolate brulee thingy that was heavenly.  Even though we may or may not have been stuffed from dinner, we polished them off without any troubles.  I mean, seriously.  Take a look at the slideshow.

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The shop is kind of tucked away in a lane off Huai Hai Middle Road (near the intersection with Hua Ting Road), across the road from exit 2 of the Chang Shu Subway Station.  Despite its appearance from the outside, the cafe is actually very spacious on the inside, with plenty of tables for patrons (though from I understand, it’s not unusual to have to line up during busy times).  Nothing extravagant but nice and cosy, including some comfy booths we took full advantage of after a long day.  What I noticed immediately upon walking in is that most of the customers were predominantly foreigners.  After all, the place isn’t considered particularly cheap by local standards (I think roughly around 35RMB for a dessert?)

We didn’t spend a whole lot of time at Whisk but it was a great time.  It reminded me a little of the Max Brenner and Lindt stores in Australia but Whisk has a homier feel and their desserts might even be a step above (well, at least Max Brenner’s).

PS: the business card states that the cafe’s website is www.whiskcafe.com.cn, but whenever I’ve tried it it’s come back as an invalid host name.

Movie Review: Barney’s Version (2010)

June 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

A bit of a delay in this review, but I guess better late than never.  I wasn’t quite sure going in what to expect from Barney’s Version, a drama starring Paul Giamatti as a man who, based on the snippets from the trailer, likes his ladies.  That was pretty much all I knew.

Well, I admit I was surprisingly impressed with Barney’s Version by the time the credits rolled.  Based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is a crafty, captivating film bolstered by some superb performances.  Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Barney Panofsky, an unlikely ladies’ man who recalls his unusual and highly interesting life through various flashbacks dating back to the 1970s.  I won’t say much more about the plot because it’s the type of film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you just go along for the ride.  There’s lust, romance, friendship, betrayal and an intriguing mystery too, ensuring that there’s hardly a dull moment in the lengthy 132 minute running time.

What surprised me about Barney’s Version is that I enjoyed the film despite the immensely flawed and unlikable protagonist.  Barney is a fascinating character but he’s a complete douche no matter which way you look at it.  Nonetheless, Giamatti’s performance makes Barney human and almost sympathetic at times.  I was shocked to discover that I was actually touched by Barney’s story towards the end.

Of course, it’s not all Giamatti (who won a Golden Globe for his performance).  The supporting cast was also amazing and it is a travesty that not more acting nominations were garnered.  Dustin Hoffman was a standout as Barney’s father.  Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman and Bruce Greenwood were also fantastic in their respective roles.

I understand some of the complaints about the film — that Barney was too much of a prick for the film to be enjoyable, that Giamatti was too fat and ugly to attract such pretty ladies, that it was misogynistic, etc etc — but I think they are missing the point.  For starters, the film is called “Barney’s” Version for a reason, and although the format doesn’t quite capture the ‘unreliable narrator’ of the book as well as I thought it should have, this was Barney’s story from his perspective and his memory.  Besides, there are far less attractive men with more attractive women in the real world, and in any case, I personally thought Giamatti’s persistence and zest for life did give him a peculiar charm (but hey, what would I know?).

Ultimately, I found Barney’s Version to be a lovely film about the ups and downs of life and its moments.  It’s not perfect but it’s one film I’ll likely remember years down the track.

4 stars out of 5

Rekindling the passion with old writing projects

June 27, 2011 in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

Have you ever started writing, got halfway through, or almost finished a piece of writing, but for whatever reason never saw it through to the end?  Have you then, days, weeks, months, or even years later, tried to pick it back up again to see if you can finish it off?

That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last few days.  I have no less than three ‘old’ projects that I’m trying to get back on track, with the time off being from a couple of weeks to almost a couple of years.  And you know what?  It’s really really hard.  Ridiculously hard.

What I’ve been trying to do is rekindle the passion I once had with these projects, to recapture the flame inside me that made me want to write all day, work on it all night, think about it as I’m drifting off to sleep and getting right back into it the moment I wake up.  I’ve had those moments with all three projects, but whenever I stop (due to a plethora of reasons, including laziness, procrastination, holidays, other work and unforeseen circumstances outside of my control) I find it difficult to regather that momentum again.

I ask myself why that is the case.  Do I still want to finish them off?  Of course, more than ever — in fact, now is the best time because I actually have the time to work on them.  Do I still think they are good ideas?  Yes.  Perhaps not as brilliant as I originally envisioned, but good enough.  So why, dammit?  Why?

I guess part of it might be because I fear that I’ll pick up the old project, have a look at it, and be stunned into depression over how crap it is and how much work I’ll need to do just to fix it up.  That almost always happens when I look back at my old work.  But surely I’m not alone in that, and others have gone on to put in whatever work was necessary to finish it off.

Having a zillion distractions around you certainly doesn’t help.  That’s why I am so enamoured of full-time writers who work from home, people who can just sit down at the table X number of hours a day and work on their shit rain, hail or shine and no matter how much they don’t want to do it — like a real job.  I remember Stephen King said something like that in On Writing, that you have to take your writing seriously or else no one will.

That’s it.  I’m going to give it a try and see what happens.  Work on my shit like a 9-5 job on the days where I can.  I’ll report back with the results in a couple of weeks.