The Sixth Sense (1999): While I last watched The Sixth Sense many years ago I Was happen to re-watch it this past weekend with someone who had not seen it before. Re-watching a movie where you know well in advance what the plot twists are provides an interesting opportunity to find all of the clues or breadcrumbs that the film offers along the way to build up to the moment of great reveal. Knowing that Bruce Willis’ character is in fact dead after the movie’s initial scene has a viewer appreciating his interactions, or lack-there-of, with other characters more than on an initial watch. One side benefit of re-watching a film like The Sixth Sense with someone who has not previously seen it is how crazy you can drive them when you make comments about specific elements in a scene, or react in specific ways, which make absolutely no sense until you know the secrets behind the film. The Sixth Sense still holds up as it did when it was first released and is worth a re-watch from time-to-time.
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt: Psychology is not a field of study that interests me much. However, if I were to study psychology I likely would gravitate towards positive psychology as a way to better understand my emotional state, personal tendencies, and for insights into how to live a more fulfilling life. This gravitation towards the positive end of the psychology spectrum is likely why I picked up this book to begin with. Overall, I think it was a decent read and worth reading if a person is interested in how Eastern and Western philosophies and perspectives can come together to create a more fulfilling life. With that said, I wasn’t drawn into this book like I am with others and I struggled to finish it over a 3 week period. Perhaps it was the way the author went about making his argument and how he integrated scientific examples and studies, or that I found multiple chapters to be repetitive of those which came before, but there was something about this book that didn’t ‘click’ with me. If I were to focus any of my studies on positive psychology I would like pick up this book again as a starting point to investigate other authors, researchers, and theories. However, I would be unlikely to re-read this book in the future for any enjoyment or pleasure.
The Lodge (2019): The recipe for a perfectly horrible horror movie? Short title + on Netflix + trailer that seems to good to be true + low budget. The Lodge equals this equation. I enjoyed the ‘twist’ where it was the kids who were playing the worst kind of prank on who was likely to be their future step-mother but that wasn’t enough to get me to like this film—I couldn’t wait for this film to be over. I knew something was off when there was a suicide depicted in the first 10 minutes of the movie, which was wholly unnecessary in terms of its graphic nature. The rest of the film was a slow burn to an ending that never exploded. This film is worth avoiding.
The Happening (2008): I’ll admit it—I enjoy most of M. Night Shyamalan’s films regardless of what the critics say about them. I like the supernatural nature that many of his films have underpinning their narratives. And, I’m a sucker for the plot twists and surprising reveals that often come near the end of his flicks.
With that said—The Happening is complete garbage. I’m writing this review with the movie still on in the background and there’s nothing enjoyable about the first 2/3rds of it. Mark Wahlberg should have stopped making films long ago, Zooey Deschanel was a poor casting choice for this movie, and most of the plot of the first hour of the film is the same thing over and over—something mysterious has overcome people and has them killing themselves. I got it. The fact that the killer is plant based was a poorly formed thread in the film and not emphasized enough.
I’m not certain what’s worse about The Happening; the plot or the acting.
Sideways (2004): Although I can’t pinpoint the reason why, I remember wanting to watch this movie since the first time it came out. Perhaps it was the narrative crafted around two male friends bonding while on travels, or the focus on drinking in wine country. Whatever the reason, this movie clearly wasn’t what I thought it was about. Moving seamlessly between comedy, drama, and social commentary with relative ease, I was left at the end of the film not entirely sure if it was worth two hours of my time or not.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): I wouldn’t call myself a HUGE Tarantino fan but I do generally enjoy his movies. While I think in Django he used the n-word a few times more than necessary, and The Hateful Eight could have done with about 20 minutes less dialog, I find myself watching to watch whatever Tarantino puts out no matter how few and far between his films are. I haven’t seen all he’s done (Grindhouse) but I’ve seen most.
Having recently finished Once Upon a Time in Hollywood I was left wondering if it was a Tarantino film at all. I mean, many of the essential elements were present: dialog, shot cuts, cast, and jokes that carry some depth to them; but at the end of the day I wasn’t captivated in the same way I have been in the past with his work. Perhaps I didn’t give the film the attention it deserved, or I didn’t know enough about the film going into it, but I felt like it was a series of disjointed stories that he tried to weave together. The results of Tarantino’s attempt was either brilliant and lost on me, or a fizzling out of what he does best.
The Graduate (1967): I’ve always known about this film. I’ve heard that it’s somewhat of a good coming-of-age tale. I was told it put Dustin Hoffman on the map (not to mention Simon & Garfunkel for the soundtrack). So, on a whim last night for “date night” my wife and I chose to watch The Graduate to see what it was all about.
Oh, was I disappointed and confused.
Perhaps I was thrown off by the age of the film. Maybe it was the odd camera cuts. Likely the relative perceived age of the actors cast had an impact too. If nothing else, the story line itself was disjointed and left more than a little bit to be desired.
Consulting Rotten Tomatoes leads me to believe that I didn’t understand the movie, or that we just don’t appreciate good quality films when they are put in front of us. I’d push back on that.
Simple because many others say something is good does not make it true. Quality is subjective and clearly this film does not live up to the quality that I was led to believe it conveyed. Other than the soundtrack, and the funny although sometimes oddly placed humorous lines, this film simply didn’t stand up to the expectations I had going into it.
I’d be hard pressed to recommend this film to anyone I know.
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King: I am not certain why I didn’t pick up this book sooner. While not a complete history, or likely a 100% accurate account, this read provided what I would call a good survey of the relationship and conflicts which Native people in North America have with us colonizers and settlers. While the writing style took a little to get use to—it is very informal and personable, it fit well with the narrative the author was trying to tell. With that said, I could do without the author’s constant inclusion of comments about his wife and all of the ways in which she pointed out how wrong he was from time to time.
Outskirts: Women Writing from Small Places by Emily Schultz: A surprising read. While moving from story to story in this anthology of short fiction I often found myself forgetting that these works were in fact, fiction. Compelling tales and emotional narratives, the words on the page made it seem like I was in the same room where the story itself was unfolding. Although many of the environments, scenes and activities were highly unfamiliar to me, taking place in rural locations, I found ways to associate myself with the characters themselves and all they were going through. An easy read, although not a shallow one.
How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell: This is, by far, one of the most important books I’ll read this year and likely one of the ones I’ve consumed in recent years that I’ll return to time and time again. Odell has a way of bringing together multiple artistic perspectives with topics such as philosophy, bio-regionalism, Indigenous understanding of being, technology, and bird watching. Combined, all of these things offer a take on space & place which I wasn’t at all expecting when I opened this book. Touching on the importance of spatial and temporal context, or rather that the attention economy regularly lacks this element, helps to bring together a view that sometimes—more often than not—we need to simply be present in a space, observe, given back to places where it makes sense, and make it so that we do not easily exist in spaces that demand our attention without pushing back a little on such demands. This is a read that I will be purchasing a copy for my personal library so that I may re-read it on an annual basis.
A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload by Cal Newport: A compelling work on the idea that email isn’t making us more productive, but less. In the same vein as Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport proposes a premise about email that runs contradictory to what the prevailing understanding of this tool likely is. Suggesting that email hasn’t delivered on the promise it brought with it as it came into existing—and that it hasn’t aged well—Newport offers some thoughts on how to move away from work in our professional (and personal) lives in order to be productive in the things we are most skilled at. Some of the author’s proposals seem radical, and likely are depending on the organization and systems a person works within—and how much of their work processes are within their direct control. With that said, when consideration is given to the entire premise Newport is making, a person can begin to understand that it might be be a crazy premise but one rooted in sound logic. A highly recommended read especially for those who are in positions to change how their teams communicate on a daily basis.
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman: A read that I typically wouldn’t have partaken in if it wasn’t for its inclusion in a bulk box of books I received. A quick, young adult read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Capturing the (fictional) story of how a community garden came to be in a diverse neighbourhood of Cleveland, the method of developing the narrative from a variety of mini, perspective based stories was engaging. I’m not certain if this piece has been adapted as a short play for stage, but it definitely would lend itself well to that medium. A quick read, but one I would enjoy someone to enjoy if they are given the opportunity.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: I wish this book was a non-fiction read, unfortunately it was not and the value of it was essentially lost on me. I appreciated the attempt to critique society, gender, motherhood, individuality, and marital norms that we have come to accept as the de facto standard throughout history. With that said, I would have received this read more openly if it were written as an actual commentary of these topics and not a fictional account of what could be. Rather than coming out and clearly stating what may be wrong with the standards of the era this work was writing in, the author hides behind “what ifs” and the make believe. Perhaps I am simple minded and need things to be blatantly communicated, but I felt that the approach to Gilman’s social commentary and critique masked both its importance and potential impact. I’m in absolute support of what the author may have tried to achieve in this work but feel that a better job could have been done in explicitly calling out what needed to be said.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading by Leah Price: Even as a lover of books and all they represent I couldn’t have imagined how much I ended up enjoying this read. A short work which connects the act of reading—our physical relationships with books and how this has changed over time—to technology and society, I wasn’t able to put this book down. Taking into consideration the different environments we read in, how these have changed over time as a result of the changing nature of books—and how books have in turn been shaped as a result of the environments they are consumed within—this read hit on everything that I love about the world: books, sense of place, technology, and a love for the things that make us realize that we’re human. Perhaps that last point is a bit of a stretch. Likely not. I didn’t realize that book history was a ‘thing’, although this should come as a surprise as I did read A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel just over a year ago. If I had one criticism it would be that this world was too short. While a perfect length for a casual read, I found myself wanting more. Had I not borrowed this book from the library I would have had like to purchase it. Definitely something I will be on the look-out for as a used book.
The Art of Reading by Damon Young: K wanted to enjoy this book, I really did. The synopsis from the library, it’s introduction, and the values at the core of it—everything led me to believe that the writer and I would be on the same page. It wasn’t so. If I were to sum up my feelings I would say this; the writer needs to get off their “high horse” and appreciate that The Art of Meaning is deeper than his shallow appreciation of it is. That statement seems funny to me to write, as the author claims to be a philosopher, but I can’t think of a more straight forward way to put it. The clearest example is this: the author takes some heavy shots at, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Some of these shots are valid and I certainly agree with the author that the book is less than stellar in many ways. Unfortunately, the author fails to fully appreciate or articulate the value for a larger group of readers. It seems like the author is only considering one perspective, one full of nothing but privilege and status. The Da Vinci Code is garbage in many ways, but there’s a reason why it was so popular and well received by “the masses.” What I would have liked is for the Young to have expanded the audience for their book, or at least considered that The Art of Reading can take any shape and form, appealing to different audiences. I think the author was trying to do this but it was poorly executed. As I read this work I couldn’t help to think of Alberto Manguel’s commentary on, The Book Fool. If I remember correctly, Manguel’s perspective was that popular culture is popular for a reason—that it is representative of a broader culture at a given moment in time. That the fool may not be those who read works like, The Da Vinci Code, but rather those of us (me included) who criticize such work and those who read it. Young, in failing to considering the broadest of perspectives, may be an incarnation of Manguel’s fool.
Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading by J. Peder Zane: As a collection of articles which at one time appears in a paper-of-record, this is a quick read through the relationships different authors have with specific books which they associate unique emotions or experiences with. What I found most interesting about this read, or rather the stories shared by the various contributors, were the number of reading experiences which began when the readers were children and continued on throughout their adult life through re-reading of the same work. Additionally, the number of contributors—most of whom are authors themselves—who at one time or another met the author of their “favourite” read seemed rather high. Most, if not all, of the works included I have never read, nor do I imagine I will in the future. With that said, if nothing more this read has encouraged me to think about the different types of books I return to based on the emotion they evoke or the experiences they provide.
Bibliotherapy: The Right Book at the Right Time by Claudia Cornett and Charles Cornett: A quick read regarding bibliotherapy as a discipline. Half overview, half instruction, this small tomb—categorized as a “fastback”—provides a basic overview of the process of bibliotherapy and suggests some techniques that can be used to implement it. If I were a counsellor or teacher of small children this would likely provide greater value than it does for the position I’m in. For nothing else, this is a good starting point to understanding what bibliotherapy is, its historical routes, the limitations of it as a practice, and offering a list of potential reads for individuals using bibliotherapy as a form of therapy for themselves.
Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker: This book is dense, to say the least. With a focus on black culture over the course of modern history, primary through the eyes of a coloured newspaper in Pittsburg, Smoketown offers an in-depth look at everything from sports, to music, to the contributions of black Americans in war efforts, politics, and economic development. I really enjoyed this book—for what I read of it. My only criticism is that each chapter, typically focused on one area of culture and a single individual, had so much history and so many names packed into a single chapter that the process of reading got tiring. If I were reading this to research the influence of black culture on historical USA developments over time, this would be a great resource. However, for an entertainment read, there was far too much included in this read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in black history, and a perspective on how an industrial USA develops over time, but be warned—this book depends all of your attention, and stamina.
How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren: This work codifies the process by which an individual can choose to read a book. From understanding the purposes of the different sections a book contains, to realizing that you need not always read an entire work to consider it read; How to Read a Book functions as a great resource to better engage with, and extract value from, the books we read by focusing on analytical reading–consuming a single work and the arguments of the author; and providing some closing thoughts on syntopical reading–reading multiple works across a given topic. While this book provides a highly methodical approach to reading a book, recommending a set of rules an individual should follow, it is valuable in the aggregate as well for those who choose not to follow its prescriptive method. Although I read the updated version (1972) of the book originally published in 1940 I was surprised to see that there wasn’t another revision in more recent years that made note of any changes to its recommended method in terms of the different formats books now come in. As the focus of this work was on the content of the books we read, and not the shape and forms they take, I shouldn’t be too critical of this omission. In short: I wish I had of read this book before starting any post-secondary education.
The Minimalists: Less Is Now (2021): This movie is a direct representation of what the minimalism movement has become—it lacks the depth that the topic is rooted in and is nothing more than a puff piece to highlight the righteousness of the self-proclaimed standard bearers of the movement. I know people who will rave about this film, but they are likely the same people who will equate minimalism with owning everything that is white in the world. I had a feeling going into this film, based on their previous release, that I would be disappointed. I can say, that I wasn’t disappointed in my anticipation.
Death to 2020 (2020): While I am not a fan of mocumentaries in general I have to say that this was a highly enjoyable watch. A recap of many—not all—of the bad things that happened in 2020, the comedic commentary from the fictions individuals in the film held lots of truth. While I wouldn’t say that this is likely to be near one of the best movies to watch in 2021 (or back in 2020) it certainly was entertaining and a good way to turn off the brain at the end of a long year.