Movie review: Meru directed by Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Meru

I am not afraid of heights. I’ve always had a hard time understanding what skeeves people out about being up high, or seeing things from a tall perspective. Sometimes I take my ability to deal with heights to the next level and think about what it would be like to be a mountain climber. Meru proved to me that I probably don’t have what it takes.

The film follows Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk as they attempt to be the first to reach the Shark’s Fin peak of Meru, a 21,850-foot mountain in the Gharwal Himalayas of India. It’s not the tallest mountain in the world by a long shot, but the Shark Fin is one of the most difficult peaks to summit.

The first part of the film covers their first attempt in 2008. A storm kept them off the top of the mountain, and they decided to go back again years later. A series of accidents before the second attempt even started almost derailed the entire thing. I don’t want to give away too many details to ruin the story so I’ll just say that it’s amazing they even made a second attempt after what happened.

The most wonderful part of the movie was its discussion of death and the risks these climbers take. They are out there in some of the harshest and most unforgiving places in the world — day in and day out. And they love it. There was no shying away from reality during the interview scenes of the documentary: They knew death was always just above the next handhold and they embraced it.

It takes a special kind of person to climb mountains, so I think I’ll just continue to enjoy from afar. The stunning imagery and bravery on display vie for a spot in the place I keep my favorites, but in the end I think the terrible and wondrous hubris of the human race wins out.

Meru rates 8 out of 10 stars. You can see it in theaters now. If you don’t share a love of heights with me you might have to suffer through sweaty palms throughout (I’ve heard that’s a thing that happens to you other types). It will be well worth it.

Other movies I saw this week

On breaking habits

Regular readers of the blog know that something has been amiss since Monday. That’s right, this is the first post since I wrote a review of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. So much for daily blogging…

I managed to write every single day for 48 days in a row. In my original blog post I said I was going to give it 3 months before I switched to anything other than a daily schedule. I missed that by almost half.

I’m still going to be writing daily, but I’ve decided not to publish everything like I have been. The reason I didn’t publish anything on Tuesday or Wednesday is because I wasn’t satisfied with what I wrote. So here’s the plan:

  • On the days when I have something ready to publish, I’ll publish it. I still plan on writing based on the daily categories, but I won’t necessarily have something for every day.
  • On the days when I don’t have something ready to publish, I’ll write a short post giving some stats about the writing I did that day. Nothing crazy, just what I worked on and how many words/pages/whatever I managed to drag out of my brain and onto the screen.

Sound like a plan? Well that’s what I’m doing, so it better. See you soon!

Running from 8/31/15 to 9/6/15

I dropped back into the swing of things this week and it was glorious. There’s nothing better than the steady state of bliss I feel when I’ve run on a regular schedule.

Here’s what my week of running looked like:

  • Monday: No run and 5,449 steps total.
  • Tuesday: 30-minute run in the morning with the dogs in the neighborhood. It was fun!
  • Wednesday: 32-minute run in the morning with the dogs in the neighborhood. More fun!
  • Thursday: No run and 4,312 steps total. I was going to run today but I stepped off a curb and tweaked my ankle on my run with the dogs the day before. I decided not to push it.
  • Friday: No run and 4,919 steps total.
  • Saturday: 125-minute run split across two activities, the first with Travis on Town Lake and the second with Mac the Border Collie at McKinney Falls State Park. He did great and I really enjoyed running with him on the trails.
  • Sunday: 120-minute run on Town Lake in the morning. This run felt good and it seemed like I could have gone about double the time without tiring myself out. That’s the best way to injury, however, so I stuck to the schedule.
  • Total active time of 307 minutes with an average heart rate of 142 beats per minute. Total steps this week: ~90,000.

In a world…

So it looks like it’s actually Series-Of-Snapshots-With-Sound Saturday on the blog.

Book review: American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis

I’m late to the American Psycho party. I’ve had intentions of reading it going back a decade (wow I feel old) but I just never got around to it. I started reading it on a plane to San Francisco and finished it that weekend.

Most people are probably familiar with the plot, either from the ridiculous amount of press it’s gotten over the years or from the film starring Christian Bale. If you’re one of the few that has no idea, it goes a little something like this:

Patrick Bateman (Pat Bateman when he’s introducing himself) is living the American Dream on Wall Street. He was born with money, and he makes more of it than he knows what to do with. He has a group of friends, colleagues, and lovers. Bateman is a serial killer. He knows every designer and piece of clothing on earth, and he’s happy to tell you everything you wanted to know about proper style. He dines at the finest restaurants and only snorts cocaine from the most exclusive nightclub bathrooms. Bateman is the 1980s, through and through.

In case you glossed over it in the previous paragraph, Bateman has a wicked side. Here’s a (very) tame example of what you’re in for when it comes to his madness:

I tried to make meat loaf out of the girl but it becomes too frustrating a task and instead I spend the afternoon smearing her meat all over the walls, chewing on strips of skin I ripped from her body.

As disturbing as that may seem to some, that is one of the tamest descriptions of Bateman’s violent habits. As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of horror fiction so I have plenty of experience with violent, scary and off putting stories. I still wasn’t prepared for the wanton violence on display throughout the book. It’s over the top and so, so masterfully told.

The book is a deep and cutting indictment of American culture. Bateman is the result of capitalism run wild, concerned with how much money his peers are making one second and treating women like goods to be enjoyed and discarded the next. I’ve never seen such a violent parody that’s still on point in its criticisms in my life. Bateman is the classic unreliable narrator, but you can’t help but wonder how in the hell he is getting away with everything without anyone treating him any differently.

The novel is incredibly graphic, so much so that it was dropped by the original publisher Simon & Schuster. Unsurprisingly it’s been banned and vilified in many areas of the world as well. Luckily, we don’t live in one of those areas and you can take my advice to read the book.

American Psycho rates an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars for me. You can buy American Psycho on Amazon if you’re interested. Thank you in advance if you purchase a book through one of the Amazon links on this site. It helps pay for my reading and movie watching habits.

Other books I read this week:

Movie review: American Ultra directed by Nima Nourizadeh

American Ultra

I never thought I would be writing this review, but here we are. As a reminder: The movies I review each week are determined by the ratings I give them. So American Ultra is the highest rated film of the week.

The movie tells the story of stoner Mike Howell, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who happens to also be a super secret agent. His girlfriend Phoebe Larson, played by Kristen Stewart, helps keep him alive as he goes through all kinds of ridiculously violent scenes. The plot is deeper than that — perhaps not by much — but I don’t want to get into any more detail for fear of spoilers.

I’m not usually one for comedy, but it turns out when you mix it with loads of gratuitous brutality I enjoy it quite a bit. I don’t know if that says more about me or the film. I suspect many of the elements I enjoyed might be the reason why some don’t enjoy the film. Where else can you see a graphic depiction of death-by-spoon-in-neck with stoner jokes?

I also watched quite a few Hitchcock films this week. Hitchcock’s work includes suspense and violence, of course, but nothing even approaching American Ultra. If I had a time machine I would go back and show this film in a theater with an audience expecting Hitchcock just to see how fast everyone would rocket out of the place. I would have to figure out a way to convert the digital projection to film first. Surely a digital to analog transmogrification would be no big deal if I already figured out how to break the space-time continuum, right?

I’m a sucker for weirdness, which is probably the reason I guiltily enjoyed this film so much. American Ultra rates 8 out of 10 stars and is in theaters now. Go see if if you want to experience a slightly off putting mix of comedy and violence.

Other movies I saw this week:

Book Review: Borderlands edited by Thomas F. Monteleone

Borderlands

According to my Goodreads account I’ve owned Borderlands since December 7, 2013. Somehow I just got around to reading it. I say “somehow” as if the hundreds of books I own but haven’t read are just going to sit up and turn the pages themselves.

I regret waiting this long to read this wonderful horror anthology. I revel in the enjoyment I still feel when I think about the collection, even a week later.

I was lucky enough to come across an entire set of the Borderlands series in a used book store. This book sets the tone as the first in a “horror anthology series not concerned with traditional elements of horror fiction.” Each story includes an introduction from Monteleone that’s just as much about the story as the authors themselves.

The collection is chock full of great writers, from Harlan Ellison to Poppy Z. Brite. My favorite out of the collection was Delia and the Dinner Party by John Shirley. It tells the story of a little girl, her parents and how the terrifying reality of life can be exposed during a dinner party.

I don’t think there was a terrible story in the anthology, which is unusual. One of my favorite lines from the book came out of Suicide Note by Lee Moler:

There may be a man over the age of thirty-five somewhere who isn’t aroused by a garter belt and stockings on a pair of high-flow legs, but don’t trust him because he’s a liar.

Another great quote came out of His Frozen Heart by Jack Hunter Davies Jr:

Old people stayed awake watching Johnny Carson because they were afraid they’d die in their sleep in the long hours before dawn.

The anthology certainly achieves its stated goal of bringing atypical horror to the forefront. I love typical horror, and I’m happy to report I also love the atypical side of things. I think, in the end, it all comes down to great writing and plot. Borderlands has both in spades.

Borderlands rates 5 out of 5 stars. If you can find a decent copy, you can buy Borderlands on Amazon. They are hard to find, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the book if you’re a fan of horror, and likely if you’re not. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits (yes, I always need more books), so thanks in advance if you decide to make the right choice and pick up Borderlands.

Other books I read this week: