Some favorite albums, books, TV shows, movies, and in-depth stories from 2013

Here’s a look back at some of my favorites from last year.

Albums

My pick: “Modern Vampires of the City,” by Vampire Weekend.

Here’s “Obvious Bicycle“:

And “Diane Young“:

Runner-up album:

Beta Love,” by Ra Ra Riot. Here’s the title track.

Honorable mentions: Sky Ferreira’s “Night Time, My Time,” Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” and Lorde’s “Pure Heroine.”

Books

Of the books I read last year, two stand out, not least because they were written by pals.

First: Matt Gross’s “The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World.”

2014 01 08 turk who loved apples

This may not come as a surprise, since I’ve written about Matt’s work before.

The New York Times called the book “a joyful meditation on the spontaneity and unpredictability of the traveling life,” and said:

Gross ruminates on the loneliness of the road, the evanescent friendships that occasionally blossom into something deeper, the pleasures of wandering through cities without a map. Now settled in Brooklyn with his wife and daughters, he leaves little doubt that all his years of near-constant travel have only whetted his appetite for more. “The world,” he writes, has become “a massively expanding network of tiny points where anything at all could happen, and within each point another infinite web of possibilities.”

Worth checking out.

And second: “The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned,” by Dan Campo.

2014 01 08 accidental playground

The Times included the book in a piece called “Suggested Reading for de Blasio,” and wrote:

Daniel Campo, a former New York City planner, considers the serendipitous development of Williamsburg and concludes: “In contrast to urban space produced through conventional planning and design, the accidental playground that evolved on the North Brooklyn waterfront generated vitality through immediate and largely unmeditated action. The waterfront was there for the claiming, and people went out and did just that without asking for permission, holding meetings or making plans.”

Indeed, it’s worth a read.

TV shows

2014 01 09 breaking bad

There can be only one.

Movies

I haven’t yet seen many of the year’s most talked-about films, but I liked “Gravity” and “This is the End.” 2013 films I still intend to watch: “12 Years a Slave,” “The Act of Killing,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and “Computer Chess.”

Stories

And finally, here are some in-depth stories, blog posts, reviews, and other pieces of writing I liked this year:

    Observations on “The Hangover Part II”

    Update: Bill Clinton is said to have visited the set, but apparently did not film a scene. So scratch the bit about that portion being edited out.

    2011 05 26 hangover2

    Just briefly, here are eight tweets I recently wrote containing a few observations about “The Hangover Part II,” which I saw last night. The film, as you may know, is set in Thailand. Start from the bottom…

    8. The Ebert review is worth checking out, as is this Atlantic run-down of the critical response so far: http://is.gd/5JXsa5

    7. Final two thoughts (for now) on “Hangover 2.” Yes, it’s raunchy. But anyone who’s familiar with the first film shouldn’t be surprised.

    6. Lebua hotel features prominently. Chiang Mai is also referenced. Overall, a fun if silly jaunt. But there were plenty of laughs.

    5. Unlike many films set on Bangkok, this one gets beyond the street level, with plenty of shots of the river, the skyline, etc.

    4. While some may not appreciate the way Thailand is portrayed, nothing is beyond the pale.

    3. All the crazy stuff is there: drugs, foreign gangsters, a drug-dealing monkey, you name it.

    2. Various scenes with nudity are pixillated, and Bill Clinton scene was cut entirely.

    1. Saw “The Hangover 2″ here in Bangkok tonight. A few thoughts: The version showing here appears edited…

    (Image via Wikipedia.)

    Around the Web: improving college rankings, Federer’s footwork, inventors killed by their own inventions, and more

    Some links that have caught my eye of late:

    Thai translations of Oscar-winning movie titles

    Thai 101 has an amusing collection of (mostly) literal Thai translations of 2008 Oscar-winning films:

    Thai titles for western films are sometimes corny, sometimes spoilery, and always entertaining. Especially when you translate them back into English. They have a style of their own. Most typically, a subtitle is added to give local viewers a better idea of the content.

    Here are a few that I like:

    The Reader
    เดอะ รีดเดอร์ ในอ้อมกอดรักไม่ลืมเลือน
    “The Reader: in the embrace of unforgotten love”

    The Dark Knight
    แบทแมน อัศวินรัตติกาล
    “Batman: knight of the night time”

    Wall-E
    หุ่นน้อยหัวใจรักษ์โลก
    “Little robot whose heart saves the world”

    25 Best Documentaries

    indieWIRE has a list of the International Documentary Association’s 25 best documentaries.

    I’ve seen many of these films, but am glad to have this list on hand for future reference.

    Do you have any personal faves that aren’t represented on this list? Please share in the comments. And yes, I’m aware that the wonderful “Trekkies” (sample YouTube clip — best part comes at 1:18) isn’t in this top 25. For shame.

    Rambo in Thailand: The Reviews Roll In

    Rambo in Thailand

    When I heard that Sylvester Stallone’s new “Rambo” flick takes place right here in Thailand, I knew it’d be a must-see. I haven’t laid eyes on the film yet, I’m sad to say, but some early reviews have just rolled in:

    Joel Stein, writing in Time, interviews Stallone and opens with this exceptional lede:

    Sylvester Stallone has memorized a lot of Procol Harum lyrics, and for the next two minutes I’m going to hear them. Because if you want to know what inspires a man to write a movie in which hundreds of people are blown up and which, by his own estimate, contains only three pages of dialogue between the two main characters, apparently you have to listen to the lyrics of a psychedelic 1968 song called In Held ‘Twas in I: Glimpses of Nirvana. This is the song that made Stallone want to be a writer, which is surprising because while it contains one Zen koan and mentions the Dalai Lama three times, it does not allude to firing a rocket launcher through a helicopter window.

    And then there’s this:

    Sure, Stallone agreed to do the movie before Rocky Balboa was approved, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t find something to say. Like Procol Harum, Stallone is not afraid of metaphor, of being opaque, of answering some questions with questions and other questions with a hail of bullets. What he wanted to say in the new Rambo came down to one smart speech: “Old men start wars. Young men fight them. And everyone in the middle gets killed. War is natural. Peace is an accident. We’re animals.” Stallone eventually cut all that dialogue out because Rambo is a silent man, and blurting out your thesis is for college papers, not movies.

    And finally:

    The guy who created Rocky is a cheery pessimist who believes that despite an ugly world, you can make incredible things happen with great effort. “Rocky represents the optimistic side of life, and Rambo represents purgatory,” he says. The world, Rambo realizes, is perpetually chaotic and dangerous. “If you think people are inherently good, you get rid of the police for 24 hours—see what happens,” Stallone says. “I could start a war in 30 seconds. But some countries spend 100 years trying to find peace. Just like good manners, peace has to be learned.”

    I also like A.O. Scott’s story in the NY Times:
    “Rambo (2008): Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Jungle”:

    When we first encounter him, this weary warrior has retreated from geopolitics, passing the time at a remote river station in the Thai jungle, where he hunts poisonous snakes and dabbles in blacksmithing. Old Rambo seems kind of depressed, to tell the truth, until his wrath is stirred by the viciousness of the Burmese Army.

    Burma? But why not Burma? (In this movie, no one calls it Myanmar.) As a precredit montage of actual news clips reminds us, the military government of that nation has been engaged not only in widespread authoritarian abuses but also in a brutal, long-running campaign against the Karen ethnic minority. And it is with the Karen that Rambo, once roused from his weary cynicism, throws in his lot. No longer the bloody avatar of wounded American pride, he seems more inclined toward humanitarian intervention — a one-man N.G.O. with a machete. Will he show up in Darfur next?

    The review ends on this surprisingly upbeat note:

    Mr. Stallone is smart enough — or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not — to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony. His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back.

    Other reviews, however, aren’t as kind:

    Hollywood Reporter/Reuters: “Rambo should have left sleeping dogs of war lie”

    SF Chronicle: “‘Rambo’ – There will be blood. And rippled muscle.”

    Kansas City Star: “GRAMPO! At 61, Rambo is in fighting form, but does America still care?”

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Have you seen this flick? What do you think?

    “Withnail and I” Redux

    "Withnail and I"

    “Withnail and I” have been reunited. Times Online:

    We last saw them together by London Zoo’s wolf enclosure, parting mournfully in the rain at the end of the most memorable drink and drugs bender in British cinema.

    One film – Withnail and I – was enough to place Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann among the great screen double acts in the eyes of generations of fans who still “demand to have some booze” and smoke “Camberwell carrots”, echoing memorable lines from Bruce Robinson’s film some 20 years after it was made.

    It was assumed that the pair had grown apart or fallen out because they have not worked together since, but Grant and McGann have been reunited at The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival after a young director plucked up the courage to ask them to appear in his short film…

    (Via Kottke.)

    Stallone: I Received Death Threats on Thai-Myanmar Border

    Rambo IV. Baby

    Sylvester Stallone — who, you’ll recall, has weighed in on Myanmar before — says he received death threats while filming his upcoming flick, “John Rambo,” here in Thailand. Times of India:

    Actor-director Sylvester Stallone has revealed that he received a series of death threats while filming upcoming sequel John Rambo along the troubled Thailand-Myanmar border.

    The 61-year-old star said that his crew was filming on the Salween River when they were warned that they would be shot if they did not leave the place immediately.

    “We were on the Salween River and we were told to get out because we were going to be shot,” Contactmusic quoted him as telling American TV show Entertainment Tonight .

    Stallone also claimed watching refuges fleeing from Myanmar to Thailand during his stay at the location.

    “It’s the most brutal regime in the world and the most secretive. It has an oppressive regime that (keeps all riches) for themselves. Everyone is forced into drugs or prostitution or slavery,” he said.

    “People are escaping all the time (from Myanmar), coming over with gaping, maggot-infested wounds, their ears being cut off. You saw a lot of suffering, a lot of malnutrition,” he added.