2018年1月23日 星期二

Some Other Movies From 1992

1992: My junior and senior years of high school.  Yes, I'm that old.

If I recall correctly, glam metal had bit the dust, and the cool kids were trading in their Poison and Ratt T-shirts for Soundgarden and Nirvana.  Or, if your high school was more "ethnic" (like mine), Public Enemy shirts were being traded in for Tupac (or Biggie).

Of the 10 highest-grossing films of 1992, I'd have to say that A Few Good Men was the only really good one.  Of the Academy Award-winners, I only like Unforgiven and Raise the Red Lantern.  Not that great a year for movies.

I've seen all of the movies below recently.  I found them via the "1992 in Film" article on Wikipedia.

Some Good Ones

1. 1492: The Conquest of Paradise

Ridley Scott directed, with Gerard Depardieu starring as the famous discoverer.  It's a beautifully shot film, and Depardieu is excellent in the lead role.  Probably a bit slow for some people, but I loved it.

2. Chaplin

Robert Downey Jr. stars in this Richard Attenborough-directed biopic.  It drags in the second half, but it's still very watchable.  Oh, and some of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses play Chaplin's wives and girlfriends.

3. Deep Cover

Still a great f*cking movie.  Even if you took classes, and earned advanced degrees in Coolness, you still wouldn't be half as cool as Laurence Fishburne is in Deep Cover.  Also one of Jeff Goldblum's better efforts.

4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Weird FBI agents go to weird small towns where they say weird things to weird people followed by weird shots of things in the background.  The craze for the TV show long gone, this movie will be difficult for most people to sit through, but if you've developed a taste for David Lynch (as I have) you'll probably like it.

Fun Fact: Moira Kelly. who was - in my opinion - one of the sexiest women of the 90s, consulted her parish priest before every sex scene, in every one of her movies.  Ah the Catholic guilt... somehow it makes her even sexier.

5. Howard's End

A painstakingly authentic Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel about British people with painstakingly good manners.  If you can get past the excruciating politeness, it does get pretty good near the end.  It's not exactly Deep Cover, but if you're the kind of person who can appreciate the book then I'm sure you'll like the movie.

6. The Mambo Kings

As cool as Laurence Fishburne is in Deep Cover, Armand Assante might be just as cool in The Mambo Kings.  This movie was also Antonio Banderas's first appearance in an English-speaking movie.

And it's strange to say, but this story of two aspiring musicians does bear some strong similarities to Scarface, even if cocaine and automatic weapons are largely absent from the film.

Fun Fact #1: Assante and Banderas won their roles over the likes of Jeremy Irons and Ray Liotta, who were riding high off the success of Reversal of Fortune and Goodfellas.

Fun Fact #2: Assante would star opposite Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd only three years later.  That guy's career has been quite the roller coaster ride.

7. The Power of One

In 2018 the white savior aspect of this movie will probably rub most people the wrong way, but aside from that it's still a good film.  Stephen Dorff stars as an (English) South African born under the Apartheid regime, with noteworthy appearances by Morgan Freeman and Daniel Craig.  John J. Avildsen (Rocky) directed The Power of One, and this makes sense given the main character's love of boxing.

8. Juice

Speaking of Tupac...

This one's a latter-day Beat Street, centered around an aspiring DJ (Omar Epps).  And while Beat Street gets serious nostalgia points, Juice is probably a better movie.  

The soundtrack is still great, by the way.  "Here is something you can't understand/How I could just kill a man..."  That song really, really takes me back.

9. The Player

After the Weinstein scandal, #MeToo, and the Marvel/Fox "merger" there's a whole other dimension to this movie.

Tim Robbins stars as a motion picture executive accused of murder.  He gives a good performance, though the character he plays isn't particularly compelling, or even all that interesting.  I imagine Robbins was overjoyed to be working with the legendary Robert Altman, and the movie certainly earned its share of praise from critics, but if you ask me The Player is a far cry from California Split and Nashville.  I'm sure that at the time it was gratifying to see Altman direct something halfway good after what he'd done in the 80s, but there's something unconvincing about The Player, almost as if it's too fond of its own cleverness.

Great ending though.  One of the best endings to any movie ever.

10. Diggstown

James Woods and Louis Gossett Jr. star as a pair of con men trying to win big in a boxing match.  James Woods has been in his share of bad movies, but this isn't one of them.  Bruce Dern is wonderfully slimy as the man betting against Woods.

Fun Fact(s): Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, who plays the referee, also appeared in several of Jackie Chan's films, and the "Diggs" for whom the town is named is played by the actor was the villain in Ghostbusters II.

11. Enchanted April

A group of British people try to escape London's gloominess by spending a month in an Italian castle.  I liked this film a lot more than I thought I would, even though nothing much happens aside from good naps and a few subdued conversations.

Some Bad Ones

1. Forever Young

If you were to divide Mel Gibson's career into three phases, these being: 1) the action star/sex symbol phase, 2) the actor/director phase, and 3) the we-all-know-he's-really-talented-but-we-suspect-he's-still-an-anti-Semitic-misogynist phase, Forever Young would be the last movie in the first phase of his career.

This said, the movie itself could also be divided into three parts, these being: 1) the predictable first act where his ladylove dies and he volunteers for a suspended animation experiment, 2) the surprisingly good second act, and 3) the bullsh*t third act that flies in the face of any scientific understanding of suspended animation.

Fun Fact: If you look real hard you can see Walt(on) Goggins as an M.P. near the beginning of the film.  If you look less hard you can see both a young Elijah "Frodo" Wood and Joe Morton playing - yet again - a scientist-type dude obsessed with temporal anomalies.

2. The Mighty Ducks

Emilio Estevez/Sheen leads a peewee hockey team to the championship.  I'd forgotten what a bad actor Estevez is/was, and this Disney movie is also predictable without making you care about anyone in the movie.  

What makes me dislike this movie even more is my certainty that there's some oppressive hockey dad somewhere, forcing his kid(s) to watch The Mighty Ducks.  "Come on, kids!  See?  Hockey's FUN!"

3. Jennifer Eight

Andy Garcia plays a cop trying to track down a killer.

If they'd just cut a half hour out of this movie it would have been MUCH better.  As it is it gets off to a strong start, and then quickly gets bogged down in its own plot twists.  The confrontation between Garcia and John Malkovich is particularly implausible, and also serves as something of an anticlimax.

4. Light Sleeper

As much as I like Paul Schrader, and as much as I like Willem Defoe, I'm just not buying Susan Sarandon as a drug dealer.  There are some other things about this movie that seem improbable too, like the diary that Defoe keeps, and his empty apartment.  Dudes like that would need to be a lot more flashy to attract clients.  

It's still a good movie, but it's SLOW at times and I found the ending infuriating - it just didn't seem to make any kind of emotional or logical sense.  Various elements of this movie will also remind you A LOT of Taxi Driver (which Schrader wrote), but not in a good way.  While I think it's in some ways stylistically superior to Taxi Driver, in other ways it seems like a lazy retread of the same themes.

Related Entries:

Ideas for DC Films
Some Other Movies From 1990
Some Other Movies From 1988
Some Other Movies From 1986

2018年1月22日 星期一

Snail People, Rotting Robo-Sharks, and a Whole Lotta Penises

Not one, not two, but THREE weird graphic novels.  The quality of weirdness might be relative, but I think most will agree that these three are, indeed, weird... and not always in a good way.

Yeah, I think that relationship is pretty much over...

1. Gyo

This was the first I read, and for that reason it's hardest to remember.  As I recall a young Japanese couple visits an ocean resort, and then these weird marine animals start appearing.  The marine animals in question are actually dead, and this multi-legged, nanotechnological organism is somehow animating them and is, of course, up to no good.  The multi-legged, nanotechnological organism eventually works its way up to people, and when they're not infecting others with a multi-legged, nanotechnological virus they're expelling foul gases from various orifices.  I remember there being some kind of weird circus part at the end, and that the hero is sadly unable to rescue his girlfriend from her fate as a rotting, nanotechnologically animated corpse.  (So sad)

There's a great "bonus chapter" that has nothing to do with multi-legged, nanotechnological organisms.  People somewhere in Japan discover these human-shaped caves in the side of a mountain, and individuals throughout the area are inexplicably drawn to enter specific caves, where each of them is slowly elongated through some likewise unexplained process that draws them through the mountain to another, distorted cave on the other side.  Human Play-doh!  That sucks!

Try going to work with THAT on your face!

2. Uzumaki

Of the three weird comics discussed here, this is by far my favorite.  I'm not sure if "Uzumaki" translates into "spirals," but that's what this comic is about.  People get obsessed by spirals.  People TURN INTO spirals.  People also turn into snails (which have shells which have spirals).  Villages are reconfigured into spiral patterns.  And ultimately the last to survive visit an underground spiral world that was sitting right under their village the whole time.

Uzumaki is F*CKING GREAT.  Really, you should find a copy and read it as soon as possible.  Of course it's completely unscientific, and of course some of the things the characters do make no sense, but as an example of dream logic used in comic books it F*CKING WINS.  I'll probably go read it again later today.

Penises!  Vaginas!  It's all so deep, right?

3. Black Hole

This is the American, Eisner Award-winning version of weirdness.  It's the 70s, it's high school, and people are doing a lot of drugs and having a lot of sex.  The only trouble is that some of them may be passing around a virus that might be making them mutate in a variety of ways.  They grow little mouths on their necks, they develop horns, you get the picture.

Oh, and there are A LOT of penises in this comic book.  Breasts, too.  People spend a lot of time fantasizing about "getting away" - which makes sense because it's Seattle and it's raining all the time - but sometimes their dreams of "getting away" end in bizarre firearm-related altercations in the local KFC.

And you know the difference between Gyo, Uzumaki, and Black Hole?  Gyo and Uzumaki are fun, while Black Hole is the biggest pile of pretentious bullsh*t I've forced myself to read in a long time.  I get that readers of recent Image Comics titles* will probably RAVE over it, but f*ck man, Black Hole is some boring, repetitive sh*t.

F*CK the Eisner Awards too, by the way.  Those awards have been meaningless for years now.

Related Entries:

"Flashpoint" by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert (2011)

*Hey, I like Saga too.  And a few other Image titles besides.  But you'll have to admit they make a higher-than-average percentage of pretentious crap.

2018年1月12日 星期五

Ideas for DC Films

It's no secret that the DCEU is in a state of crisis (ha ha get it?).  Justice League tanked both critically and commercially, and one gets the feeling that Warner Bros. will scale down their plans quite a bit.  We'll still see Shazam, we'll still see Aquaman, and we'll still see Wonder Woman 2, but anything other than that is anybody's guess.

Below are five movies I would like to see in the DCEU.  I doubt we will ever actually see them, but then again you never know.

1. Justice Society

I'd like to do this as more of a Kingdom Come-style movie, with older superheroes coming out of retirement to fight some kind of monster and/or supervillain.  But here's the thing: remember that story arc where they were trapped in some alternate universe, endlessly fighting some world-ending foe?  I'd like to do it that way.  No origin story, just an older* Justice Society fighting a monster across the world.  And then - when they're about to die for the hundredth time - we learn that they've been reliving this scenario over and over again, and then they don't die, emerging into the same continuity as the rest of the DCEU.  This effectively retcons the entire DCEU much in the same way Flashpoint would have done, but now we get this whole fun backstory where the Justice Society weren't characters in a comic book (as in "Flash of Two Worlds,") but rather integral components in an entirely new universe.

2. A Decent Flash Movie**

I have never liked the Flash TV show, and I like Ezra Miller's version even less.  I really can't see why Warner Bros. and the CW are having such trouble adapting this character to the screen.  Ditch the silly leather outfits.  Dispense with the melodrama.  Give us an engaging backstory, and don't worry about whether audiences recognize the character from previous incarnations.  The Flash's costume and power set are in themselves the makings of a good movie.

There is some truth to the argument that the Flash isn't so much a character as a plot device.  When his comics are taken in their entirety, this has certainly been the case many times over.  But I think that a beginning could be made from Darwin Cooke's version of the character (the Flash that appears in The New Frontier), and from the version that appeared in the later issues of Cary Bates' run on The Flash ("the trial of the Flash").  Those two versions of the character have a very obvious center around his relationship with Iris West, and this center plus the visual elements of the character would make for a compelling film.

The real question is just how powerful to make him.  Stripped-down "metabolism Flash?"  Or "no-plausible-scientific-explanation Flash?"

Oh, and no more Speed Force.  The Speed Force is stupid.

3. The Marvel Family

It's too early to say what route they'll take with Shazam, but I'm hoping it's set during World War II.  This would open the door to the rest of the Marvel Family, and if done well could be a lot of fun besides.  I'd like to see Captain Nazi as the villain.

People keep bringing up Black Adam, but the trouble with Black Adam is that he doesn't really need Captain Marvel/Shazam.  What people think of as cool about Black Adam are qualities associated with later stories that Captain Marvel had little to do with.

Making a funny, kid-friendly Marvel Family movie seems like a no-brainer to me.  It'd be even better with Tawny and Uncle Dudley.  Throw realism out the window, and make a comic book movie that's really like a comic book.

4. Revisit Swamp Thing

Alan Moore wrote so many great comics for this character.  Any one of those comics could be easily adapted into a good film on a lower budget.  Make it adult.  Push boundaries.  Make it weird.

There's been a lot of chatter around a Justice League Dark movie, and although that's not a bad idea I think just bringing back Swamp Thing would be better.  There's also no reason you couldn't later connect a newer Swamp Thing with the existing movie starring Keanu Reeves.  The "trilogy thing" is getting a bit old now, but a Swamp Thing movie and the existing Constantine movie could easily lead into Justice League Dark, and you'd already have Reeve's name to build on.

And let's be real about it.  Zatanna's more of a sex object anyway.  Deadman?  Who really follows Deadman?  The Demon?  That rhyming guy?  Of course any of these characters could be interesting if written well, but it's not like people are clamoring for Zatanna, Deadman, or Demon solo films.

5. A Really F*cked Up Joker Movie

Yeah, yeah, I know the Suicide Squad movie was terrible.  Yet I can't fault Jared Leto for his performance, given the fact that the movie was obviously rushed into production before the script was ready.

And maybe, just maybe you were like me and got chills up your spine when you saw the shot of Joker lying on the floor in the midst of his "tools."  If you did then you've probably also read Brian Azzarello's "Joker," and right after that you were probably thinking about that scene where one of Joker's acquaintances emerges from behind a curtain without his skin.

The recent success of the movie It only emphasizes many people's deep-seeded fear of clowns, and in the right hands a Joker movie could be similarly terrifying.  Of course you'd want to recast (I still think Leto could have been great, but no need to have Suicide Squad hanging over anything), but I could see such a movie working regardless of whether it was set inside the current DCEU continuity.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1990
Some Other Movies From 1988
A Review of Every DC Movie from 2005 to the Present (Revised as of November 16, 2017)
Justice League!

*I'm thinking 40s or 50s, still fit but obviously older.  This would put the "pocket universe" in the 50s or 60s.  Perhaps uncomfortable close to "Watchmen time," but Watchmen was released so long ago, and received such a lukewarm response, that I don't think this is much of an issue.

**Here's an idea: how about a revenge movie featuring Barry Allen.  Eobard Thawne has already killed Iris, and beaten him almost to death, and in the wake of Allen's defeat Thawne is posing as The Flash.  The Flash, after a period of "training," assumes the mantle of Reverse-Flash as a means of overcoming the psychopath impersonating him.  They fight, and in the course of their battle the events leading up to Barry Allen's assumption of the Reverse-Flash mantle are slowly revealed, leading to the defeat of Eobard Thawne.

2018年1月8日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 1990

1990.  A whole new decade.  In 1990 I was 15 years old, so even if I hadn't previously seen the movies below, I do retain some memories of posters and previews from that time.

I have the feeling, however, that I wasn't watching a lot of films in theaters during that year.  I can remember spending some of the 80s and early 90s in a comic book/horror movie timewarp*, so it could be that during most (or all) of 1990 I was avoiding the local multiplex for that reason.

The movies below were found via the "1990 in Film" article on Wikipedia.

Some Good Ones

1. School Daze

Less a single story than a series of vignettes about life in a black college.  Laurence Fishburne stars as a student activist when everyone's not singing and dancing.  Spike Lee was never a very good actor, but his talent as a director is obvious in even this, his second movie.  

Fun Fact: Spike Lee went to film school with Ang Lee, and Ang Lee worked as Assistant Director on the film Spike Lee submitted as his Master's thesis.

2. Brain Dead

Bill Pullman and Bill "Game Over" Paxton star in this Cronenbergish movie about brain alteration.  I have the feeling the screenplay was very good, even if the direction is lackluster.  You'll probably see the twist at the end coming a mile away, but it's still an entertaining movie.

3. Air America

Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. star as two pilots inadvertently smuggling drugs during the Vietnam War.  As a film with a message it falls flat, but it's still a relatively interesting take on that period in U.S.-Southeast Asian relations.  Not The Killing Fields mind you, but a good vehicle for Mel Gibson at the height of his Lethal Weapon period.

That scene where Gibson and Downey Jr. talk about addiction though.  28 years later, there's a whole other dimension to that conversation.

4. Wild at Heart

Part Wizard of Oz, part "anti-action movie," and one of the most delightfully weird movies you'll ever see.  If you find yourself wondering why either Nicholas Cage or David Lynch were ever famous, this is the film to watch.  This was the second movie Laura Dern did with Lynch, coming a few years after the equally great Blue Velvet.  Diane Ladd is excellent as Dern's deranged mom.

5. The Hunt for Red October

Still the best submarine movie ever made, and yes, I've seen Das Boot.  Sean Connery stars as a Soviet sub commander trying to defect, and Alec Baldwin is a CIA analyst trying to catch him.  I still think Alec Baldwin's version of Jack Ryan was the most plausible.

Fun Fact: The U.S. Navy initially worried this movie would reveal top secret information about U.S. subs, but they changed their minds after they realized what Top Gun had done for Air Force recruitment numbers.

6. Green Card

An American woman and a French man try to fool the INS, and - of course - fall in love.  Peter Weir directed, with Andy McDowell and Gerard Depardieu starring.  This movie falls firmly into rom-com territory, but the performances are convincing and the director worked from a well-written script.

7. The Guardian

Druids sacrifice babies to trees somewhere in California.  By 1990 Exorcist director William Friedkin was very far from the heights he reached during the 70s, but The Guardian is a decent low-budget horror film.

8. Miami Blues

Alec Baldwin stars as a con man impersonating a cop, with Fred Ward as the real cop trying to track him down.  1990 was a good year for Alec Baldwin.  He was great in both The Hunt for Red October and this film.

9. Navy SEALs

I'm gonna start referring to beers as "brain grenades."  Yep.  From now on that's something I'm going to do.

Michael Biehn (Fuck yeah!  Michael Biehn!) and Charlie Sheen (what, him again?) head up an elite team of badasses in this latter-day version of Top Gun.  

...and you just know that the black guy getting married at the start of the movie is BAD NEWS.

Fun Fact: Charlie Sheen went to high school with Sean Penn, Rob Lowe, and Sheen's own brother, Emilio Estevez.  While schoolmates, the four made their own films using a Super 8 camera.

10. The Ambulance

It's Official: Eric Roberts had one of the Great Mullets of the 1990s.  Styled to perfection, feathery - it was the kind of mullet that gets noticed.

The Ambulance is also a well-written thriller with a great sense of humor.  Roberts stars as a penciller at Marvel Comics (!) investigating the disappearance of a woman he meets on the street.  James Earl Jones also makes a brief but memorable appearance as a detective.  

Fun Fact: This was the first movie Stan Lee ever appeared in.

11. Postcards from the Edge

Has Meryl Streep ever been in a bad movie?  I've seen most of them, and I haven't seen a bad one yet.  Death Becomes Her, maybe.  Wasn't too fond of that one.

Streep and Shirley Maclaine star as a mother and daughter struggling with substance abuse as their careers in Hollywood reach a low ebb.  It's based on the novel by Carrie Fisher, which was centered around Fisher's relationship with her own mother, Debbie Reynolds.  The movie's great, and I'd like to read the book when I have the chance.

12. State of Grace

Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, and Ed Harris star as Irish gangsters feuding in New York.  It lacks the visceral punch of The Departed, but certain scenes in State of Grace will remind you a lot of that movie.

And why, you wonder, haven't you ever heard of this movie?  ...because it was released during the same f*cking week as another Martin Scorsese movie, GoodfellasState of Grace is an excellent film, but it's no Goodfellas.

13. Presumed Innocent

Raul Julia was an actor who rarely found a role worthy of his talent.  Thankfully Presumed Innocent provided one of the few exceptions to this trend in his career.  He's excellent as Harrison Ford's defense counsel.

Harrison Ford, for that matter, is excellent in this movie, too.  He plays an attorney accused of murder, and he's wonderfully conflicted throughout.  After seeing Frantic and Presumed Innocent I'm starting to reappraise him as an actor.  When given the right director and the right script he was very good.

That director, by the way, is Alan J. Pakula.  He's directed a TON of classic movies, but everyone (including me) seems to forget his name when compiling lists of noteworthy directors.

Some Bad Ones

1. Bird on a Wire

This movie's excruciating.  Mel Gibson plays upon the sex symbol status earned in the Lethal Weapon and Mad Max franchises, and Goldie Hawn screams her way through chase scenes.  Those wondering why Detroit looks nothing like Detroit, and why Wisconsin looks nothing like Wisconsin are hereby informed that this film was shot in British Colombia, Canada, far away from (and nothing like) either place.  

Air America, also released in 1990 and also starring Gibson, was much better.  Mel would make his directing debut with The Man Without a Face just three years after, and would go on to appear in some truly great films besides.  Goldie Hawn, of course, has been in better movies.

2. Havana

Director Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford reunite for this story about a gambler in pre-revolutionary Cuba.  Redford almost has enough screen presence to carry the whole thing off, and the first half of the movie isn't bad, but the second half is both incredibly dull and full of some of the most melodramatic dialogue known to man.

While watching this movie I couldn't help but reflect on the parts of the Godfather Part II also set in Cuba, during the same time period.  "I know it was you, Fredo.  You broke my heart."  Francis Ford Coppola did a lot more with a lot less.

3. The Rookie

Cheesy cop movie in which Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen chase a ring of car thieves.  On what planet are cops allowed to act like this?  Even in 1990 most of what Eastwood's character does would constitute both harassment and wanton destruction of property.

4. Loose Cannons

Between Ghostbusters and Being A Pretty Good Actor, Dan Akroyd was appearing in unfunny comedies like Loose Cannons.  Gene Hackman plays straight man to Akroyd's multiple personalities, all without a single laugh to be found in the film's 2-hour runtime.  Loose Cannons was a critical and commercial disaster, and this fact is unsurprising.

5. The Godfather Part III

Can't blame Francis Ford Coppola for trying, but in the absence of Mario Puzo** this movie was never going to be as good as the first two.  What you can blame Mr. Coppola for is the casting of his daughter as Mary Corleone.  She is such a terrible actress that you feel sorry for any actors sharing scenes with her.

6. Reversal of Fortune

Jeremy Irons and Ron Silver star in this movie version of the famous Claus von Bulow trial.  I get why critics liked it, but I found the characters so insufferable that my mind wandered during the film.  Is it possible that Irons played Bulow too realistically?

One That's So Bad It's Good

1. The Forbidden Dance

Just as for every Beat Street there's a Breakin', for every Lambada there's a Forbidden Dance.  Laura Harring was FINE, but her sexiness was never going to redeem this story of an Amazon princess defeating an evil corporation with... the forbidden dance!

(Really, that's the plot of this movie.  I'm not making it up.)

Fun Fact: Laura Harring eventually married the great-great grandson of "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismark, and even though she and her husband later divorced she retains the title Countess von Bismark.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1988
Some Other Movies From 1986
A Review of Every DC Movie from 2005 to the Present (Revised as of November 16, 2017)
Justice League!

*Not to mention masturbating heavily, and obsessing over girls I was too scared to talk to.  Ah, to be 15 and crushingly shy once again...

**The script was based on one of Puzo's short stories, but that's the extent of his involvement in the movie.

2018年1月2日 星期二

"Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace (1996)

I first heard of this book through my friend Andy1.  Andy was a classmate at Seattle University2, a few years older than myself, and during one of our first conversations he pointed out another classmate, a strikingly attractive woman3 sitting across the room.

"She likes Infinite Jest," he said quietly.  "People who like that book are idiots."

Having never heard of Infinite Jest, I could only shrug my shoulders and say ok, but I must admit that his extremely negative reaction4 to another person's reading choices had me puzzled.  What was so bad about Infinite Jest?  And why was anyone who liked it an idiot?  Andy, being the cryptic sort of person he was, never went on to explain either his hatred for Infinite Jest or those who liked it, and since I had no time for fiction between the onerous texts foisted upon us by various professors, I eventually forgot about Infinite Jest until a much later date.

Two years later I was going through a "difficult book phase."  I managed to read (and enjoy) Moby Dick5, and this opened the floodgates to a slew of "difficult" novels.  I read War and Peace6.  I read Ulysses7 and (part of) Finnegan's Wake8.  I read Gravity's Rainbow9.  I read the Illuminatus! Trilogy10.  I read (a lot of) Faulkner11.  I read 266612.  A book only needed a reputation for difficulty and I was more than ready to read it - the bigger and more difficult the better.

Yet at that time, for whatever reason, I failed to remember Infinite Jest.  Perhaps it was because I had no Internet at home back then.  Perhaps Infinite Jest just hadn't been out long enough to draw my attention.  This was 2005, after all, and it had only been published 9 years before.  It could also be that I was too "classically-minded" in the books I was seeking out, especially given that older books 1) had more of a reputation, and b) were much cheaper to acquire13.

I was reminded of Infinite Jest much later, however.  It was when I visited a thrift store last summer14, and when I came across a collection of David Foster Wallace's essays15.  I didn't buy the book, but I remember thinking that his thoughts on certain "great men of Literature" were quite funny, and were, moreover, similar to my own opinions.  As much as I like certain things that Philip Roth, Hemingway, or Saul Bellow have done, you have to admit there are certain masculine tropes in all of their fiction, and that their books often read like works of self-appreciation16.

So it was that I remembered David Foster Wallace's most famous work, and that much earlier conversation with Andy.  A book for idiots?  A book famous for being difficult?  A book for the ages?  A book to despise - above all others?  I decided then and there that I had to read it, if for no other reason than to know what all the hubbub was about.

So I did.

Just don't ask me about the plot.17

Or if I liked it.

Because I'm still not sure about either.18

Other Difficult Books:

"Permutation City" by Greg Egan (1994)
"The Island of the Day Before" by Umberto Eco (1995)
"The Flounder" by Gunter Grass (1977)
"Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

1. Whatever happened to Andy?  Last I heard he was living on Vashon somewhere, in a house where he planned on living some kind of alternative lifestyle.  We kept in touch via Facebook for a few years, but after my "fake name" account got deleted I lost track of him.  He could be a pretentious asshole at times, but he was one of the more likable (and memorable) of my classmates at Seattle U.

2. Seattle University, a Jesuit institution of higher learning located in the Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, Washington, U.S.A.  I attended the Master in Teaching program there from 2003 to 2004.  It was expensive, but at least it was over quickly.

3. By far the most attractive of my classmates, even if she was more than a little bit in love with herself.  We later learned that she was having an affair with another classmate, this Hunter S. Thompson type who was already married, and quit the program very early on.

4. But then again, Andy had extremely negative reactions to a lot of things.  He was one of the most opinionated people I've ever met.

5. I still think that Melville might be the greatest and most inventive author that America has ever produced.  He was so far ahead of his time it was ridiculous.  I picked Moby Dick because I tried to get through it in high school and failed.  My second attempt, over a decade later, was much more successful, and I loved that book from the first page.  If you're looking for something to read, I highly recommend the two travelogues he wrote before penning Moby Dick.

6. It has its good points, but the historical deterministic aspects of it wore on me after a while.  I still think Dostoyevsky was a great writer, but he's best taken in small doses.

7. Still one of my favorite books.  It casts a long, long shadow over 20th and 21st century fiction.

8. I say "part of" because I couldn't get through it.  Finnegan's Wake makes Infinite Jest look relatively straightforward.  Sure, it's a lot shorter, but is most of it even written in English?

9. Couldn't stand this book.  One of the most pretentious, unbearable things I've ever read.  Also a lot more mathematical than Infinite Jest.  Parts of this book consist of equations.1

10. Really great book by two guys who faded into obscurity after its publication.  Also very emblematic of the time in which it was produced.  Delightfully weird, even if it veers too close to Ulysses at times.

11. Faulkner's great.  THE author of the Southern United States.  I liked The Sound and the Fury, but Go Down, Moses has to be my favorite.  If you're looking for an easy point of entry into his bibliography I recommend Sanctuary.

12. Written by Roberto Bolano, a South American author who lived in Mexico for many years.  One could make the case that this is the Spanish/Central and South American version of Infinite Jest.

13. I was living in Taichung, a large city on the west coast of Taiwan.  I bought most of my books from a handful of bookstores located near the Taichung Train Station.  Needless to say, the selection in any one of those bookstores wasn't awesome.

14. I was visiting my parents.  I was also looking for books.  Strangely enough, I couldn't locate a copy of Infinite Jest in any used or new bookstore I visited, and there wasn't time to order one online.  I eventually located a copy in a Taipei bookstore after I returned from Seattle.

15. I now wish I'd bought that book.  Oh well, I'll be back in Seattle next month and I can probably buy it then.

16. Older men facing the prospect of their own death, older men in destructive relationships with much younger women, the erosion of personal relationships by time, the burden of fame and previous successes, physical or psychological impotence, you get the picture.

17. There's a synopsis on Wikipedia of course.  It makes more sense than the actual book does.  I'm undecided as to whether one should admire or feel sorry for those with enough time on their hands to derive so much structure from a novel that may or may not have a structure to begin with.  An even more concise description/synopsis might be: "tennis and substance abuse."

18. To be honest, reading Infinite Jest is like running a marathon.  You know ahead of time that parts of it are going to be unpleasant, but you also know that you'll be glad when it's done.

19. To the best of my knowledge, there is no 19th footnote above.  Why are you reading this?  You're wasting your own time!2

Related Entries:

"Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace (1996)3
"Humboldt's Gift" by Saul Bellow (1975)
"2666" by Roberto Bolano (2004)
"Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

1. My #2 most hated book, ranked just behind the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom.

2. Footnotes to footnotes!  Check and mate, Mr. Wallace!  The only thing this entry is missing is some long, involved, technical discussion of a subject almost no one cares about.1

3. And a footnote to a link!  Bet you never thought of that in 1996, Mr. Wallace!

Related Entries:

"The 120 Days of Sodom" by the Marquis de Sade

1. This is the last of the footnotes, really.  I promise.  There will be no more footnotes after this.  What, are you still here?  Are you still reading this?  Really, I'm done.  I have no more to say on the subject of Infinite Jest!  Leave me in peace, will you?  Away!  Away!