Most indulgences are pleasures borrowed from your health or sanity — mindless entertainment, processed food, booze or needless shopping. But not in this case. You’re making your pleasure from the cleanest ingredients: leaves, water, and time.
Don’t Breathe. A good gimmick stretched too far. Much preferred the basic home invasion plot before the homeowner got… complicated.
On Memorial Day weekend I finished an urban walking trilogy. One morning in 2017 I set out to walk 19 miles from the heart of downtown out east to the top of Stone Mountain. I had toyed with the idea for a while, and figured one morning, what the heck. Why not? As soon as I finished, I thought about where else I might go. In 2018, it was 23 miles out northwest to Kennesaw Mountain’s summit. This year, I did a little morning 13-miler down to the airport.
Most of the time on these walks, it’s not really enjoyable. The streets and highways aren’t friendly for pedestrians. The sun bears down on you. Hard sidewalks (when they exist) make my feet hurt. I walk past industrial parks, encampments for those with no other place to sleep, empty lots, next to 4-lane highways, underneath interstate overpasses, past strip malls, past front porches. I feel kinda scummy and outcast, especially when just starting out. But eventually there’s a sense of place I develop, connecting the pieces, filling in the gaps, that I don’t get in other ways. And there’s a satisfaction of looking back to where I came from, and knowing what’s in between.
Like most dumb Type 2 fun I do, I’m… not exactly sure… why? But when I get ideas, and wonder what-ifs, and they don’t go away, it’s usually best to try to give them life.
Paddington. Oh man I was obsessed within minutes. So much heart, moral grounding. And the visual comedy! The dopey slapstick! Gotta chase down the sequel soon.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. It was good. I consider myself a big enough fan of the franchise that I know I’m probably grading on a curve, but I think “good” is accurate. I feel like the world is getting a little too big. Too many characters. This world of assassins used to feel more sneaky and underground, now it feels ubiquitous. There were too many coins being slipped across tables followed by meaningful eye contact. Halle Berry had a nice turn. Laurence Fishburne continues to be simply the best at… speaking… words. Love the final pitched battle gimmick: dudes with so much body armor they keep reviving like zombies. If you can’t send infinite waves of infantry, make them recyclable. John Wick riding horseback through the city at night is very much my shit.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. The old lonesome house, and our weary protagonist, reminded me of Unforgiven. So much western goodness: Leone-esque desert wah wah guitar, church bells, lonesome trumpets; lone figures in a heat-rippled landscape; swords at the ready at the hip or hand like pistols, or resting across a saddle. Interesting gender themes: entitlement, absentee parents, naming children, pregnancy rumors and shaming. Birth scene seems an echo of early trauma. See also: Revenge, MFA, A Vigilante, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, etc..
Wonder Woman. Watched on a flight, which is the perfect environment for quietly sobbing at moments of goodness. The origin story can be so tired, but I just loved the moral heart of this one. The No Man’s Land scene is perfect (and well-named…). Dr. Poison is such a great villain. I loved the make-up and sly creepiness and the hoarse voice. Wish she had more to do. The line “It’s not about deserve… It’s about what you believe.” – such a great scene – got me thinking about William Munny. “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
Crazy Rich Asians. Family drama! Family over mere passion mentioned several times. I like the loving attention to food, and flowers. Interesting that the soundtrack featured so many Asian-language covers of American songs, rather than local originals. I like the reclaiming of the Apocalypse Now helicopter/Wagner scene. Our hero Nick kinda drove me a little nuts with the constant smiling (reminded me of Jean Dujardin in The Artist). Gotta admit I love a good wardrobe change montage – they get me every time. I wonder if there’s some meaning or symbolism that went over my head during mahjong game, specifically the bamboo 8 tile. At the least, an echo of the early poker scene (“playing not to lose”).
Free Solo. Super invigorating. Yeesh. I can’t imagine. There are times I’ve gotten a little bit nervous about moves on a 15ft bouldering wall. I didn’t realize he had a girlfriend at the time of filming. The feat itself was amazing, but what made the movie good was those peripheral relationships. How people around him were stressing out, trying to be supportive without pressuring and without losing their minds. Saw this one on a long flight. Other outdoorsy movies I’ve seen on flights: Wild, 127 Hours.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Second viewing (the first). The opening bombing run is really good. I’d forgotten about it – holds up on rewatch. The casino interlude is so, so dumb. I appreciate the visual contrasts in the salt planet battle. Not just the colors, but the scale, like with Finn’s tiny figure juxtaposed with the gigantic tanks in empty space. We need more like that. So many close-ups. Love the tortured silence of Kylo Ren. So depressed, a mindset to just let it all go, burn it all down. Broader theme here of how brash, seat-of-the-pants heroism is often foolish. The writing still strikes me as bad in many spots. I didn’t notice the first time around how the kid Force-pulls himself a broom at the end.
Matilda. Starts with so much energy, but I couldn’t sustain my enthusiasm the full runtime. It’s fun, though.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?. Melissa McCarthy is so great. Love the portrayal of depression, loneliness, the walls and inability to connect, or only go so far before withdrawing. Nice touch with how the city sounds you hear in the apartment early on are echoed by/set up the sirens after the urgent voicemail!
Mandy. Psychedelic revenge horror. This was a little too drawn out for me. You’re just immersed in suffering. But its mood and wholeness was great. The woozy rainbow colors and lens flare (like Annihilation), the washes of color. Excellent soundtrack – I’ve been using it for work music ever since.
It’s never too late to reflect.
I walked a lot. It’s the best. One of my goals was to walk every street in downtown Atlanta. Done.
I also walked from my place downtown out to the peak of Kennesaw Mountain. This was ~23 miles of mostly road walking that was mostly… pretty miserable. It’s hard to feel like you’re living your best life when you’re walking a narrow strip of grass next to a 4-lane divided highway through light-industrial zoning. But you grow in some odd way. You feel a bit more sympathy for when you see someone doing it who maybe didn’t have the same choice in the matter. Similar to my walk to Stone Mountain I featured in Good Things in 2017, “Really glad I did it, and I will never do it again.”
I also got some good walking when I made a summer visit to Glacier National Park with my dad and brother. We hadn’t had a guys-only trip like that since… I couldn’t tell you when. No place like it. Only downside was not being able to disappear into the wilderness immediately.
Glacier was my second National Park of the year. Earlier in the spring I went on a volunteer trip to Saguaro National Park, working on a long-running project to remove invasive buffelgrass (which increases wildfire risk, among other issues). It was the most incredible experience. I’ve long loved the outdoors and hiking and such, but there was something about that trip where nature just really bowled me over. I was there after a dry winter (I am told), but rains had come through just before I arrived. Over the course of the trip, I got to see the desert wake up. Spring was beginning. So many crazy plants I’d never seen up close, or even heard of, were leafing out over the course of the week.
To see the dry brown scrubby landscape come alive, and then return home to the lush damp south… I was absolutely drunk on nature. I went to my usual weekend stomping grouds, a favorite state park, and I was just in aww. “Look at these grasses! These leaves!”
That new appreciation for nature ended up feeding into an amazing reading streak. I surfed one of those rare waves of books, hitting a stride where every book leads to the next and the next and the next.
I think it really kicked off with McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, just before the Saguaro trip. I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and that led me to The Hidden Life of Trees and then I figured I’d give Desert Solitaire another shot, and loved it this time around. I read Goodbye to a River, where I got a feel for the frontier, and more curiosity about the history of the west and non-white experience of the environment. Empire of the Summer Moon was a nice complement. A Natural History of the Senses worked its way in, and Black Nature, and This Radical Land, too. (In the midst of this I took an excellent workation trip to Toronto, and saw Niagara Falls on one of those little boats, and had an out-of-body experience.) After adding Coming Into the Country and Rainy Lake House to the reading binge, I’d touched just about every region of the country. This all tied together and peaked with what I think was my favorite book of the year, Empires, Nations, & Families. Whew. What a ride.
Outside of that, some other 2018 reads I enjoyed more than average, with especially goods ones asterisked:
- La Place de la Concorde Suisse (McPhee!)
- Hamlet* (Shakespeare: pretty good writer)
I watched some good stuff, too. Many of the stand-outs were smaller-scale movies. Favorites, among those new to me, mostly in reverse chronological order:
- Lean On Pete (favorite of the year)
I built on my daily push-up and squat habits, slacked off on meditation, and got a lot better at flossing regularly. (Don’t economize on floss. Buy the good stuff and use it liberally.)
I started doing evening journal to match my morning one. I’ve really liked this addition. It’s a good opportunity to scrub my brain clean before I sleep. Usually it’s just bulletpoints of what happened during the day, and that’s plenty.
Good year, though it didn’t always feel like it. 🤔
Eighth Grade. I largely can’t relate to this, because I think I was mostly too oblivious in middle school to feel terribly awkward or unfit. The movie is still great, though. Loved the use of the soundtrack, emphasizing the cuts and subjectivity. Great closing speech at the end. Not eloquent but heartfelt, which is maybe better.
A Simple Favor. Pretty fun mix of thriller and comedy and keeps a light touch. Blake Lively has a great role. I dig it.
Hip-hop artists are musicologists, and sampling is one way histories are folded into the present.