Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Best Films of 2015

Of the 2015 (the year, not the number) movies I have watched thus far, with only one exception I was very pleased with all of them.

Below is my ranking and some brief write-ups of the year's best movies along with their current domestic grossing ranks in parentheses. (NO SPOILERS)

Top Movies
  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1)
    • It brought back the feel of Star Wars without us having to try to convince ourselves that the magic was still there, which the 2nd trilogy only achieved in episode 3.  The new characters and story-lines introduced have me excited for the subsequent episodes.
  2. The Martian (8)
    • Mostly just very fun and beautiful to watch.  But it also forced me to think about separation, human contact, and endurance.  Not a movie that I'm dying to see again, but I had a blast experiencing it the 1st time.  
  3. Inside Out (4)
    • A really fun exploration in psychology.  
  4. Two Days, One Night [2014] (197)
    • Technically a 2014 movie out of France, but I couldn't get my hands on it until 2015 so I'm including it here.  A simple story, but with very high stakes.  The acting was great, and it had me on the edge of my seat at times.
  5. Still Alice (102)
    • Somewhat similar to 'Two Days, One Night'.  A sobering movie about alzheimers.  
  6. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (57)
    • I won't be sad if this doesn't become a series.  
No Thank You
Jurassic World (2)
Avengers (3)
Ant-Man (13)
San Andreas (19)

Maybe on an Airplane
Furious 7 (5) - Although, the fact that my brother now owns and swears by all 7 of the movies in the series has me second-guessing myself.
Hunger Games (7)
Spectre (10)
Mission Impossible (11)

Ranking of Non-2015 Movies Viewed During the Year (Informational Only)
  1. Gattaca [1997]
    • A great futuristic sci-fi film; and a lot of fun watching the likes of Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman in their nascent primes.  
  2. Into the Woods [2014]
    • A great way to watch a Sondheim musical in the comfort of your own home.  The 'Agony' song was one of the funniest scenes I watched all year.
  3. The Adjustment Bureau [2011]
    • Watched this while I was on a Matt Damon kick after watching 'The Martian'.  It's kind of a genre-bender but I got credit at home for it being a romantic movie, so I was happy. 
  4. Big [1988]
    • It has some great scenes but it ends a little too awkwardly.
  5. The Imitation Game [2014]
    • It was helpful to learn about Alan Turing but the movie didn't succeed in making me appreciate his genius, or in stretching me intellectually.  I mostly came away with learning about his quirky personality, some stuff about cracking the Nazi code with Keira Knightley, and the challenges of being homosexual in the 50's.  I would have preferred that the movie exhibit more focus, and perhaps pull off something more clever with the Turing test or something.  
  6. The Theory of Everything [2014]
    • The comments above apply here as well, only to a greater degree.  The acting yes, was stupendous, but I came away feeling hollow about Stephen Hawking's life, and never really getting the chance to appreciate his genius -- only allusions to it. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Best Films of 2014

A pretty good year for movies I'd say.  Several months after watching it I'm still super high on Interstellar.  I want to buy it on iTunes but my wife says it costs too much.  But then when I try to Netflick it she says she doesn't want to watch it a 2nd time.  What can I do?!

Below is my ranking of the year's best movies along with their current domestic grossing ranks in parentheses.

Top Movies
1. Interstellar (16)
2. Boyhood (100)
3. The Wind Rises (146)
4. Hobbit 3 (6)
5. X Men (9)
6. The Trip to Italy (159)

Movie I Haven't Yet Seen But Excitedly Plan to
The Imitation Game (36)

Movies that Perplex Me as to How People Can Say that They Like Them, and that I Haven't Yet Brought Myself to Watch
Planet of the Apes (11)

In Defense of Audiobooks - Part V

The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot (Laura Paton) (4 stars)

This one came as a “favorite all-time book” recommendation from my most trusted book recommender, Val.  It’s a British author from the 1800’s, and it’s written in a very British tone/perspective, and it references very British landscapes, vocabulary, and culture.  (And the narration was spot-on.)  The name George Eliot is actually a male alias for a female writer whose real name now escapes me.  When I learned that about a quarter of the way through it came as a bigger shock to me than it probably should have.  I didn't think more or less of the story; it just made me see things differently, right or wrong.

It’s my kind of writing – a simple, but high-stakes plot, the right dose of creative writing and similes, and a nice element of human observation that comes from the brightest minds from the best writers of each era.  Some of the scenes are still vividly present with me, and will probably recur with me as a real-life scene or experience jogs my memory every now and again.

Book 2: School-Time; Chapter 2: The Christmas Holidays

"Fine old Christmas, with the snowy hair and ruddy face, had done his duty that year in the noblest fashion, and had set off his rich gifts of warmth and color with all the heightening contrast of frost and snow.

Snow lay on the croft and river-bank in undulations softer than the limbs of infancy; it lay with the neatliest finished border on every sloping roof, making the dark-red gables stand out with a new depth of color; it weighed heavily on the laurels and fir-trees, till it fell from them with a shuddering sound; it clothed the rough turnip-field with whiteness, and made the sheep look like dark blotches; the gates were all blocked up with the sloping drifts, and here and there a disregarded four-footed beast stood as if petrified “in unrecumbent sadness”; there was no gleam, no shadow, for the heavens, too, were one still, pale cloud; no sound or motion in anything but the dark river that flowed and moaned like an unresting sorrow. But old Christmas smiled as he laid this cruel-seeming spell on the outdoor world, for he meant to light up home with new brightness, to deepen all the richness of indoor color, and give a keener edge of delight to the warm fragrance of food; he meant to prepare a sweet imprisonment that would strengthen the primitive fellowship of kindred, and make the sunshine of familiar human faces as welcome as the hidden day-star. His kindness fell but hardly on the homeless,—fell but hardly on the homes where the hearth was not very warm, and where the food had little fragrance; where the human faces had had no sunshine in them, but rather the leaden, blank-eyed gaze of unexpectant want. But the fine old season meant well; and if he has not learned the secret how to bless men impartially, it is because his father Time, with ever-unrelenting unrelenting purpose, still hides that secret in his own mighty, slow-beating heart."

The story revolves around the Tulliver family, primarily on the children, Maggie and Tom, and somewhat on the parents, as well as on their family relations, who inject some humor into the story as well as serve for a platform for societal commentary. Maggie is a fascinating character, genuinely desiring to do what is right, but somehow unable to gratify all those she loves that surround her because of their various competing interests.

My only real complaint with it was that for being a subdued British novel with a simple plot, sometimes the drama was actually too overt for me.  With its slow buildup and fantastic character development I would become really invested in the characters and their struggles, but then Stephen Guest or Philip Wachum, or her brother Tom would do things that just seemed too dramatic and inconceivable to me.  I would actually get angry at the characters for being so rash/inconsiderate/etc -- perhaps that's actually the mark of a good book.  But this anger was more irritation, whereas in, for example, 'Angle of Repose', my anger was more sadness and compassion.

Book 1: Boy and Girl; Chapter 3: Mr. Riley Gives His Advice Concerning a School for Tom

"The entrance of supper opportunely adjourned this difficulty, and relieved Mr. Riley from the labor of suggesting some solution or compromise,–a labor which he would otherwise doubtless have undertaken; for, as you perceive, he was a man of very obliging manners. And he had really given himself the trouble of recommending Mr. Stelling to his friend Tulliver without any positive expectation of a solid, definite advantage resulting to himself, notwithstanding the subtle indications to the contrary which might have misled a too-sagacious observer. For there is nothing more widely misleading than sagacity if it happens to get on a wrong scent; and sagacity, persuaded that men usually act and speak from distinct motives, with a consciously proposed end in view, is certain to waste its energies on imaginary game.

Plotting covetousness and deliberate contrivance, in order to compass a selfish end, are nowhere abundant but in the world of the dramatist: they demand too intense a mental action for many of our fellow-parishioners to be guilty of them. It is easy enough to spoil the lives of our neighbors without taking so much trouble; we can do it by lazy acquiescence and lazy omission, by trivial falsities for which we hardly know a reason, by small frauds neutralized by small extravagances, by maladroit flatteries, and clumsily improvised insinuations. We live from hand to mouth, most of us, with a small family of immediate desires; we do little else than snatch a morsel to satisfy the hungry brood, rarely thinking of seed-corn or the next year's crop."

Macbeth (Smartpass Audio) – William Shakespeare (Joan Walker et al) (5 stars)
Hamlet (Smartpass Audio) – William Shakespeare (Joan Walker et al) (4 stars)

For whatever reason I’m experiencing a Shakespeare awakening at this stage of my life.  I’ve recently very much enjoyed seeing plays like ‘Henry IV’ at DC’s Shakespeare Theatre (with a virtuoso Falstaff performance by Stacy Keach), or watching the modern interpretation black-and-white film of ‘Much Ado About Nothin’ by Joss Whedon (‘Avengers’)).  And, in addition to all that, discovering these Smartpass Audio audiobook performances has really upped my appreciation a few notches.

The basic idea is that the lead narrator, Joan Walker, opens up the play with 20 minutes or so of historical context, the play’s significance, the different versions and styles the play has taken on over the years, etc.  Then we listed to a prerecorded performance of a troupe of actors performing the play with the lead narrator pausing the production every 30 seconds or so to both clarify what is being said as well as to guide you along with clues and things to focus on / look out for.  As an example, in Hamlet when King Claudius so lengthily introduces Gertrude she explains that this is called a ‘euphuism’ and is typical of Claudius’ way of speaking so ornately, burying the content of his speech at the end of what he has to say.  Another example is how she clues the listener in to the instances when Claudius refers to Hamlet as ‘our’ son (royal we), or ‘our’ son (jointly with Gertrude), or ‘my’ son, or ‘your’ son as the message suits his purposes.  One final example I’ll share is how she points out Hamlet’s different modes of speech like rhyme or prose or freeform to point out 1) the distinction in the various circumstances, but more importantly, 2) how he’s symbolically losing control of his life as his speech degrades at times and he can’t always summon his princely speech when circumstances dictate he ought to.

It was also interesting to learn the historical context of these two plays, and some of the new methods that Shakespeare was introducing to the world of plays.  I believe in the case of both of these plays that they were partially true stories of heretical kingly succession with some of the side characters (e.g. Banquo) given more prominent roles or other various facts twisted to flatter the then-current ruling king or queen and/or suit a story that Shakespeare preferred to tell.  Additionally, to stage a play such that the scenes didn’t all take place in the same location and true to the measure of time as we know it in the real world was apparently revolutionary (or, as the Smartpass audio guide would say, “revolution-ry”), and would have stretched the audience’s minds a considerable amount.  This is not, however, to say that they were a less intellectual bunch back then as far as plays and stories go.  According to the Smartpass folks, the audiences back then had a keen and facile understanding of oral stories and would have likely more easily understood Shakespeare’s plots and references, and even his jokes.

Not a lot needs to be said that hasn’t been said already about the stories themselves.  The speeches and the lines and the character development are all excellent.

Note that this recent Shakespeare fanaticism also led me to Netflick the 1996 Kenneth Branaugh version of ‘Hamlet’, which was kind of a disappointment.  Even though some scenes just didn’t feel right I was still trying to be positive about it throughout the 4-hour movie, but then when Billy Crystal played the role of ‘First Gravedigger’ in a British/unintentional-New York accent my disappointment was too much to overcome.  2 stars for that one.

Green Hills of Africa - Ernest Hemingway (Josh Lucas) (4 stars)

An autobiographical novel about Hemingway's excursion to Africa to hunt the greater kudu bull (among other big game), I was turned onto this book because of i) my general affinity for Hemingway literature, and ii) a desire to extend and enhance a recent, more peaceable trip of my own to Africa for game drives in Kenya.

I enjoyed the romantic writing approach regarding the animals his party was after, their interactions with the local tribes, and the landscape in general; though that can get a little tiresome if you, like me, aren't so fanatical about the thrill of hunting.  Fortunately, there is a dash of side stories & observations (though not many) in this book that keep it interesting.  Most notably for me was the account of the Austrian that he runs into on one of his all-day hunts.  They sit down to eat -- meat and alcohol probably -- and the Austrian quizzes him on international poetry and asks searching questions on what it takes to be a good writer.  Hemingway is irritated, but obliges.  You get the sense it's kind of like asking a concert pianist to play a bit of Schubert -- it's not something that 'masters' can lightly step in and out of, and requires psychological exercise.  Anyway, to the casual reader like myself, he offers some very interesting commentary on who were the good writers and who were crap, and what made the distinction.  To literary circles back home, and academia in general, I'm sure this ruffled some feathers.

"Writers should work alone. They should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then. Otherwise they become like writers in New York. All angleworms in a bottle, trying to derive knowledge and nourishment from their own contact and from the bottle."

But then he gets back to the hunting and the beautiful nature that surrounded him.  There were some great passages about man, animals, nature, etc.  In some degree it brought me back to those Kenyan sunset jeep-drives where it felt like we were gliding along the grass and earth, with the wind-resistance rushing against you as you stand up--much like the sensation of driving the boat back to camp after the day's last waterski run--with our necks craned back in awe of the enormous sky with its billowing clouds forming a ring that looked like it could turn the universe in on itself.

Here he remarks about one of his kills in a way only he could:

"It was a huge, beautiful kudu bull, stone-dead, on his side, his horns in great dark spirals, wide-spread and unbelievable as he lay dead…. I looked at him, big, long-legged, a smooth gray with the white stripes and the great, curling, sweeping horns, brown as walnut meats, and ivory pointed, at the big ears and the great, lovely heavy-maned neck the white chevron between his eyes…. He was lying on the side where the bullet had gone in and there was not a mark on him and he smelled sweet and lovely like the breath of cattle and the odor of thyme after rain."

Note: This 1935 NYT book review is some great writing in and of itself.  He makes some fair criticisms of the book.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In Defense of Audiobooks - Part IV

Link to Part I
Link to Part II
Link to Part III

The Agony and the Ecstasy – Irving Stone (Arthur Morey) (5 stars)

A masterpiece story about a masterpiece artist.  The story of a man who wanted to do one thing his whole life more than just about any person has ever wanted to do any one thing.  Had I not read this story I might not have known that Michelangelo’s true love was never painting, but sculpting.   That’s not to say, however, that whenever he found himself with a commission to paint he didn’t commit his whole soul and energy into it.

If you’re interested in finding a good self-help book on career advice, I think this story has a lot of it implicit in the approach and dedication of Michelangelo.  When, due to political circumstances, he was tempted by others to walk away from the black-hole project that was the painting of the Sisteen Chapel, he explained to his friend, Sangallo, that he couldn’t walk away because he would despise himself.  “I need my complete self-respect...  Once let me know that I can be content with inferior work, and as an artist I’m through.”

I enjoyed gaining insight into the minds of artists and tradesmen.  It was enjoyable to hear the recurring debate over the superiority of painting or sculpture, and what the artist is able to express through the different mediums.  Michelangelo always preferred sculpture but he couldn’t always put it into words except by waxing poetic about it, and this frustrated him when people like Da Vinci presented a more compelling case for the superiority of painting. 

For me, the climax of the story is shortly following the completion of the radical sculpture project, ‘The David’.  Yes, his life was marked by agony and ecstasy, but each project he undertook was also a microcosm of the competing emotions, and even the marble itself underwent the former to achieve the latter.  And the contest of these two emotions was eminently noticeable in the undertaking of ‘The David’.  It was reviled by many, mostly for being nude, but also for being outsized and ostentatious.  At one point the completed statue was even felled by rock hurlers such that one of the original arms broke off.  When the statue was finally given a permanent place in Florence it was almost exhilarating to see Michelangelo find it the next morning with handwritten notes about it, uncertain as to the tone of the notes, but eventually relieved and emotional to find that they were notes of praise.  “You have given us back our self-respect.”  “How magnificent is man.”  “Never can they tell me man is vile – he is the proudest creature on earth.”

The writing by Irving Stone is also very good.  To write history in such an imaginative and descriptive way is quite a feat, and it makes the reader the better for being able to remember the details in this way.  Some examples of his near-poetic writing: “…No, because he felt that each new piece he carved had to break through the existing conventions – achieve something fresh and different.  Bregno moved his jaws in a chewing movement as through trying to pulverize this concept with his teeth.”  And elsewhere, “She laughed the soft musical tone that dissipated the last of the day’s humiliation.”

One of the reinforcing lessons to me personally from this book is that I love art.  I’m so glad at its existence, and for the variety it adds to life, and the difference of perspective it provides.  I was inspired by Michelangelo to see that even at the end of his life, with all the hardships and poverty he had endured, he wanted to extend his life, or even live it a second time.  And that his body of work remained genuine and impressive throughout his entire life.  “The forces of destruction never overcame creativity.”

At Home: A Short History of Private Life – Bill Bryson (Bill Bryson) (4 stars)

If you want to know about the progression from cave dwellings to mud huts to halls to two-story homes to basically Downton Abbey this is a great book.  Oh, and if you also want to learn everything about everything while you’re at it, this is the book for you. 

Bill Bryson takes the reader on a guided tour of a proper English-style home and stops at each room, nook, and appliance to expound on the origin and purpose of each component.  It’s actually very fascinating, and a lot more entertaining than one might think from the sounds of it.  You’ll be learning about the introduction of light into homes and that will take you on a series of expositions ranging from what life was like when people lived in the dark (did they go to bed when the lights went out?  Answer: not really), to how difficult it was to clean out kerosene lamps, to how main sources of power were kerosene, then whale oil, then natural gas, then electricity (I may have missed some parts of the succession.  Did bat guano belong in that list, or was that an altogether different chapter?), to a discussion of Benjamin Franklin’s misunderstood contributions to various inventions as well as his personality.  If you can keep up it’s a fascinating ride.

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (John Lee) (4 stars)

This is an intense read.  You had better keep your Buendia family tree handy as well as bookmark the link to the book’s “sparknotes” on your iPhone.  The creative and disjointed writing style reminded me a lot of Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’.  I suppose one reason why I probably preferred this book to that is that the Latin American culture/history is more accessible to me than is that of India, so when he writes about the firing squads and the massacres it somehow resonates a bit more. 

This is the kind of book that I wouldn’t have had much luck with without the help of  For example, I learned things like the following through reading the notes in step with my progression in the book:

García Márquez’s style of writing is commonly referred to as magical realism, which describes, among other things, the way historical events are colored by subjectivity and memory is given the same weight as history. One easily identifiable trait of magical realism is the way in which mundane, everyday things are mingled with extraordinarily wonderful, or even supernatural, things. In Chapter 2, as José Arcadio is seduced by Pilar Ternera, we learn that “he could no longer resist the glacial rumbling of his kidneys and the air of his intestines, and the bewildered anxiety to flee and at the same time stay forever in that exasperated silence and that fearful solitude.” Here, García Márquez describes very specific physical events side by side with huge, abstract emotions. This is typical of magical realism: just as the distinctions between different times are muddled up, the distinction between the real and the magical, or between the ordinary and the sublime, become confused.”

The book is an undertaking, but it’s fun and it’s brain-stretching.

Moby-Dick – Herman Melville (Frank Muller) (5 stars)

I once explained to Val that boring isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  If you can be convinced of that concept then I think there may be something in this book for you.

There’s something to be said about a thorough exploration about any subject, for in the thoroughness of the exploration new discoveries are borne of necessity.  This is a simple tale of Ishmael getting on board the Pequod to help Capt. Ahab hunt down the sperm whale, dubbed Moby Dick.  But in the telling of the story we’re introduced to various exploits (the comical, Huck Finn-esque account of Ishmael bunking with Queequeg), geographies (the exposition on the preeminence of Nantucket), religious histories (the introduction to Ahab and his puritan contemporaries), revenge, and of course, whales.  After reading this book, I now feel like I have a special kinship with all whales, and I perk up whenever anyone mentions the prodigious sperm whale.  It’s fascinating to think about whales and their behavior (e.g. sperm whales apparently come up to spout air with precise rhythmic duration, and each particular whale has its own particular spouting and diving durations), and to consider their mass, and the fact that they have eyes separated by a massive (I mean, really massive) block of head.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about whales is what we don’t know about them.  (From the ‘At Home’ book,  it is believed that sperm whales perhaps have spermaceti in their heads to cushion their brains from sparring blows that they might incur with other sperm whales at underwater depths that surpass man’s ability to descend, so of course no one can confirm this.)

Some chapters are certainly a drag, but others are just so good.  Probably the best of all is chapter 1 which touches on man’s primal attraction to water.  That intro is almost scriptural or Shakespearean in the sense of importance and truth it conveys – I have almost considered memorizing it (but don’t count on it).   

Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?- Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster- tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling And there they stand- miles of them- leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets avenues- north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Apple Watch

Put me down as being pro Apple Watch.  It all feels very reminiscent to when the original iPhone came out.  A revolutionary device (granted, significantly less so in this case) that a lot of online commenters are already "hating on."

People are already upset about the battery life, predicting it will not meet sales expectations, saying they can't see any real need for it, upset about the lack of health-tracking abilities, and up in arms about the price.

Sport model.  $349-$399 depending on size.
Let's look at the positives.  For $350 you can put a great-looking watch on your wrist that happens to basically be a computer.  I can envision using the watch as a handy walkie talkie to, say, avoid having to fish out my phone with my one child-free hand in 10-degree weather to ask my wife what I should do now that I learned there are no whole chickens available this week at the farmers' market.  Or send her a tap to say "I'm on my way home," or two taps to say "I got held up a bit, but should be coming home just in time to be slightly too late to eat dinner with the family and a bit too early to avoid throwing off the kids' nighttime routine, thereby creating a 2-day cycle of grouchiness and general irritability, and also I love you."

The iPod controls, and no doubt controls for apps like Audible eventually, I think will also come in handy.  I often want to jot a digital note and bookmark a certain passage in an audiobook, but don't because I'm commuting to work and my phone is too deeply buried in my layers of clothing.  I could come up with several other nice conveniences, though I would have to admit the list is not super long; yet, anyways.

One of the key things for me is that the watch just looks really good.  It's true to long-established rules of watchmaking, yet is also bravely forward-thinking.  (For example, at first I was bothered that they opted to go with a rectangular design, thinking that this made it too conspicuously geeky relative to a traditional circle, but then I learned that Jony Ive and the design team quickly came to the conclusion that if people are going to be using this largely to read lists, well then the watch demands to be rectangular.  It's final design ended up being somewhat similar to the 1904 Cartier Santos.)

As for the complaints about the price, yes the $10-17k gold versions are ridiculous, but when your product caters to the entire globe, you're going to run up against some interesting consumer preferences.  Also, it seems like a neat opportunity for Apple to really dig in to metallurgy and do some groundbreaking things with gold (making it more scratch-resistant than most anything else currently out there).  And it doesn't extend just to gold; they're also forging steel in the mountains of Khazad Dum (joke Lord of the Rings reference) and making it 80% more durable than standard.

Sleek & stealth watch face with stainless steel case.  Venezia leather, handcrafted strap.
And the straps are a breakthrough in and of themselves.  A year or two ago I wanted to get a black leather strap for an automatic Seiko watch.  Trolling through hundreds of nearly identical eBay and Amazon ads for watch straps was boring, overwhelming, and eventually unsatisfying.  This new system Apple has spawned is both more simplified and more exciting.  And the modular nature of the straps (i.e. being able to slide-snap them in and out with the watch case) is a real breakthrough, especially considering how pricey the bands are.  Yes, the bands are very expensive ($450 for a steel link bracelet) but if you take the time to read on their website about the thought and materials and craftsmanship that goes into them you just might be persuaded.  And if not, again, you can always buy a handsome $350 version.