Thursday, March 24, 2011

Come and See (1985)

Come and See is an extremely graphic war film from Russia set in Belarus in 1943 showing Germany's atrocities against the native Belarussians.  A closing narrative says the Nazis burned down 628 villages with all of their inhabitants.  A very long scene in this film shows one of these villages being torched with all of its villagers being rounded up into a barn and set on fire.  This film requires a strong stomach to sit through, but it's a reminder that the Eastern Front of World War II had a far more gruesome experience. 

The main character is a boy, probably around 13 years old, who is idealistic in the beginning and begs to join the partisans.  He digs up an old rifle as the required entry fee.  By the end, this 13 year old looks like a haggard old man after everything he witnesses.  The scenery reminds me of Defiance, a film from two years ago about Belarussian Jews becoming partisans in the forest starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber.  This film is far more realistic though.  The mud, the weather, the screaming...there is no Hollywood gloss or sentimentality here.  There is certainly no one left looking like Daniel Craig or Liev Schreiber either.  These are real people.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


It is good the general public is now able to see just how remote and prehistoric most of Afghanistan is.  Restrepo is the name of a fallen soldier from the Korengal Valley in 2007 and it is also the name of the outpost the soldiers in Battle Company construct in the valley and name after him.  The Korengal Valley is two provinces north of where I was stationed and it makes my base, which was remote and sparse, seem like Vegas compared to OP Restrepo. 

A long deployment to Afghanistan is extremely monotonous punctuated by brief periods of action.  This is how the documentary is edited.  It briefly shows some of the soldiers a week pre-deployment, as newbies on the ground, and then follows their highlights (and lowlights) throughout the next 15 months.  Building the new outpost takes up most of their time as do the relentless patrols to the surrounding villages.  They conduct shuras (meetings) with the locals who they know are in contact with the Taliban but dare not tell them their locations for fear of death. 

It would be extremely difficult to convey the bleak day in, day out routine of a deployment that long and in around 90 minutes, Restrepo does not really pull that off.  There are a lot of firefights on film including one with a KIA and they effectively show just how confusing situations like that can be.  This documentary felt too brief for the heavy subject matter; however, I'm glad it was made at all.  The guys on the ground at the Company level and below rarely get any face time. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Valmont (1989)

Another attempt to film Les Liaisons Dangereuses.  Valmont was released just one year after Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons, this time directed by Milos Forman.  This was Forman's next film after Amadeus and even brings along Jeffrey Jones, Ian McNiece, and Vicent Schiavelli to you remind you just how good Amadeus was.  Well, Valmont is no Amadeus.  In fact, it is not even Dangerous Liaisons.

The story is very similar.  This time, a very young Colin Firth tries Valmont but unfortunately is compared to John Malkovich from the previous year's film.  Firth is great, but Malkovich was Valmont.  There is also a very young and new Annette Bening as Marquise de Merteuil and she definitely pales in comparison to Glenn Close's Marquise.  Valmont is missing the bite and sting of the dialogue which this story is made for.  The verbal sparring between Valmont and the Marquise should be dialogue the audience remembers afterwards for its cleverness, but this iteration lacks the tension and the smarts.  Milos Forman could have easily used the same costumes and set design he used in Amadeus, but Valmont just seems lazy compared to that effort. 

For newcomers to this story, watch Dangerous Liaisons instead.  Watch Cruel Intentions for a laugh if you want the next generation's attempt at it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book cuts back and forth through time to various countries and characters all connected by the same book, a five hundred year old haggadah which was most recently saved from destruction in Sarajevo during the Serb bombardment.  Each episode involving the text focuses on one main character, usually Jewish, and experiencing a tremendous event in history.  There is the beginning of World War II in Bosnia, Venice in the early 1600s, the Spanish Inquisition and the Jewish explusion from Spain in 1492, and the wars between the Christians and Moors in Spain in the late 1400s.  At the conclusion of each episode, the story returns to the present day with an explanation of one of the book's mysterys. 

This is really good historical fiction.  The Sarajevo Haggadah actually does exist and some of the cities in the preceeding paragraph are places the book is alleged to have been in its lifetime.  Everything else is fiction.  It is a bit overwhelming and melancholic to continuously digest chapters describing horrendous atrocities committed against the Jewish population throughout the last half century.  It is very moving and engaging, but nevertheless tiring by the end.  Furthermore, there is a twist at the end which is absolutely unnecessary.  I wish her editor would have thrown that right out.  It doesn't fit and throws a hiccup in the pacing.  Other than that distraction, I highly recommend this book.


Clint Eastwood is thinking about mortality.  I don't assume it's because he is 80 years old, but he found a story by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) which he really felt a connection with and decided to make it into a film.  Hereafter includes two real life events, the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami and the 2005 London underground bombings, and follows three different main characters and how they are affected by events which shape their thoughts on mortality and what may come afterwards.

The three main characters are geographically separated.  One is a French newscaster who was personally caught up in the tsunami.  The second is a young British boy who does not know how to function or what to do after his twin brother is suddenly killed.  The third is Matt Damon, the American, who has the ability to make connections with people and interact with their loved ones who are in the hereafter.  He views it as a curse, not a gift.

Each character encounters different reactions as they attempt to discuss what happened to them and there are some moments concerning different nationalities and how they may respond to the idea of a hereafter.  The French are very intellectual and in the film view the idea of a hereafter as a subject which serious people do not discuss and these visions of an afterlife are most likely the result of a concussion.  The British, on the other hand, are shown through a montage sequence of various charlatans and fake psychics as they extort money from people looking for answers.  The American, who actually has the ability, wants nothing to do with it and tries very hard to keep it hidden.

I knew beforehand it was a Clint Eastwood film, but if I did not know that, I still would have attached his name to it.  The music which was so memorable from Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby is back again and the long, contemplative shots of the characters trying to make sense of things are here as well.  The two young British actors who play the twins, Frankie and George McLaren, are outstanding in their first acting roles and contribute a big emotional weight.  The lighting, especially in Matt Damon's scenes in his apartment and in his hotel room, is way too dark.  It is side and back lit and much too harsh.

Hereafter has some bad luck as its video release is the same week as the Japanese tsunami.  There is a very realistic tsunami wave in this movie; however, it is brief and early on.  To label it a 'tsunami movie' is very misleading and a discredit to what Eastwood is trying to discuss.  Eastwood's previous, recent films are better than Hereafter, but this movie is still far superior than the vast majority of its competitors. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

After watching a series of mediocre films, the next one you watch which is outstanding is even that much more special; you appreciate it more.  I had the luck to watch this after a string of disappointing films.  This film does not make any wrong moves.  The story is tight, the acting is wonderful, the cinematography is impressive, and even though it concerns such heavy subject matter, the end doesn't leave the audience without any good feelings or something to look forward to. 

At first, it appears to be a standard look back at the one case the investigator could never stop thinking about; the one which got away.  But the script does not let it remain an average whodunit where the audience sits through the standard motions of will they ever get the bad guy through a series of staged events.  The dialogue is crisp and interesting, individual scenes are fleshed out and given weight, and even the slight twist of an ending does not disappoint or lend itself to implausibility.  It is also not just a police procedural or suspense thriller; there are multiple sub-plots devoted to an unmentioned romance and plenty of reminders that Argentina was not very democratic during the 1970s.  There is a political underlining beneath the characters' actions and hushed conversations which display their fear towards not just the government, but even people who may or may not be government informers.

The Secret in Their Eyes deservedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.  It shows the audience how Argentina was during the time of the secret police and disappearances which really was not very long ago.  I highly encourage everyone to take the time and enjoy this movie; it will not disappoint.   

Viridiana (1961)

This is the fourth Luis Bunuel film I've seen (after Belle de JourDiary of a Chambermaid, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie).  Bunuel is truly one of my favorite film directors; however, this is my least favorite work of his so far even though it won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  It was also banned in Spain until 1977 and denounced in the Vatican newspaper which naturally would want to make me like it even more, but it is overall unsettling. 

The film is set for the most part in one house and follows the transformation (downfall?) of Viridiana who was about to take her vows to become a nun before particular events change her life.  There are multiple references and reminders to other Bunuel films.  Fernando Rey is back again for one.  He is the main attraction in the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie 11 years later in 1972.  The odd foot fetish incorporation is here again as well after seeing a similar occurance with Jeanne Moreau back in Diary of a Chambermaid.  Jeanne Moreau was stunning in that film and Silvia Pinal takes over for her in Viridiana as the most gorgeous nun ever.  She makes Julie Andrews's nun in The Sound of Music look plain and common as a comparison. 

The best part of the film is the climactic scene where there is an impromptu 'Last Supper' homage.  It caught me off-guard and then all of a sudden they pose for a picture and BOOM...the last supper.  Genius Mr. Bunuel.  Never seen a Luis Bunuel film before?  Start with Belle de Jour.  If you like that, move on to the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.  Only take the time for Viridiana if you're a huge Bunuel fan like me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Because Red Riding Hood was released in theaters this week (and I am not going to throw the money down to see what is most likely a horrible movie) I rented The Company of Wolves instead.  This movie confused the hell out of me.  Its lead actress, Sarah Patterson, was fantastic and it turns out she only acted in one other film before quitting the business and supposedly starting a family.  What a shame; she held her own against Angela Lansbury and easily out-acted David Warner.

The movie is a dream/nightmare within a dream, hence all of they symbolism, imagery, and resulting confusion.  After reading about this film, it appears its whole double meaning went right over my head.  It turns out that Red Riding Hood is about the emerging sexuality/menstruation of a girl.  Who knew?  The girl must not 'stray from the path', the beasts will abuse you after they have had their way with you, the death of granny and the burning of the red shawl is really her saying goodbye to granny's protection and accepting the onset of adulthood, etc...  I suppose it does work at that level, but was I really supposed to pick up on all of this during the film?  If I was, I absolutely failed. 

I will never think about the Red Riding Hood story the same way again now that I know it's really a Brother's Grimm meets Judy Blume scenario.  When it comes time to teach my daughter about the birds and the bees, I'll just tell her to read Red Riding Hood, but between the lines.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Next Three Days

It's all about plans and logistics.  If you love details and preparation methodology laced with tension and a dash of whodunnit, then this movie is for you.  I imagine a limited audience section who would raise their hands to say they would rather see the event planning rather than the event itself. 

Unlike most prison break films, this movie shows the reality and consequences of following through on the prison escape fantasy.  Bravo on that.  The act of actually breaking a human being out of jail is not guns blazing, good aim, and luck with traffic patterns.  It must require step by step coordintion, study, and run throughs.  Unfortunately, filming those actions to make them engaging for an audience is not easy and is not accomplished here.  I was very surprised to see at the end that this was written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash).  But it does explain why a film as uninteresting as this has such a superior cast.  Too bad the material they are working with does not match their abilities.  Liam Neeson shows up for one scene and comes away as the most interesting character in the movie. 

While sitting through all of this planning, routine, and even more planning, I noticed a very good soundtrack.  He uses a bunch of Moby songs throughout which is good and one of them is called "Mistake".  Is this the director attempting to foreshadow for the musically astute?  I also noticed that the Pittsburgh police department is oddly efficient and display outstanding time management.  Their hunches and ability to acquire mismatched clues are without peer.  Russell Crowe would have done much better against the bumbling Baltimore police department featured in The Wire.  Also, Elizabeth Banks looks goregeous for a woman who spends a significant amount of time behind bars. 

I could not recommend this film to anyone I know; no one would thank me for that.  For prison escape fans, go rent the first season of the series Prison Break instead. 

The Circus (1928)

Most Charlie Chaplin films have that one particular scene which it is known for.  The Gold Rush has the dancing with the forks in the rolls scene.  City Lights actually has two:  the boxing ring scene and the very last shot.  The Circus has Chaplin on a tight rope with monkeys crawling all over him.  Since this movie is set at the circus, there is more farce and slapstick than usual.  That says quite a lot considering what Chaplin films are known for.  There are the sentimental scenes as well with the Tramp; he always overcomes the physical gags, rises up, and shows deep feelings and understanding when it comes time to make a decision about a girl.  If you have never seen a Chaplin film, watch City Lights.  If that's the only one you have seen, check out The Circus. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jackass 3

I did not see the first two iterations of this series but I remember their show from MTV.  Most of the stunts seem a bit stale now and there really are only two which stick out as memorable.  1 - They fill a tetherball with bees and wear no protection as they bat it back and forth.  The loser is the first person to run away because they can't take the stings anymore.  2 - They play behind a jet engine as it blows them backwards across a field.  Some of them are underneath the engine and lob objects such as shoes and footballs at the person in the field; they fly at them with such speed I wonder if it would kill them if they got struck.

The rest of them are quite forgettable; especially where the object is to just hit the other person in the testicles.  They've been doing that for years now and the effect, humor, and overall shock value of it is just gone.  There is still a bit of humor left though.  They stage a midget fight in a bar complete with police midgets and EMT midgets which comes off pretty funny, but that is the exception rather than the standard. 

They also still try for the the ultimate in the disgust factor.  They wrap the fat guy in saran wrap and have him on a treadmill where they collect his sweat in a cup.  Steve-O drinks it but pukes all over the place as does the cameraman.  The other memorable disgust episode is the 'Poo Cocktail Supreme' where they fill a Port-o-Potty with dog excrement, strap Steve-O on the seat, and launch it in the air with 100ft. tall elastic cables.  They have done Port-o-Potty episodes before so it really is not that shocking. 

Skip it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


On today's Op-Ed page of the New York Times, there are two articles concerning what is going in Libya right now.  Hisham Matar tells a good story about some relatives of his which were released a little bit ago by Qaddafi to calm down the protestors.  They were political prisoners and have been in prison since 1990.  Now, they have joined the rebels and are fighting with hunting rifles and sticks against the Libyan Army.  Matar is calling on the international community to help deliver aide to the rebels in the form of food, baby formula, etc...  These supplies are starting to run short due to the interruption of supply lines.  He ends by saying the international community has a moral responsibility to help the rebels since they have helped Qaddafi fortify his dictatorship these past decades.

The second article is by Nicholas Kristof who had a conversation with former Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak.  Gen. McPeak is for a no-fly zone and says it will be a very easy thing to put in place.  This is true, but that does mean actually dropping bombs on Libya to take out certain air defense measures (surface-to-air missile sites, etc...).  SECDEF Gates at least recognizes this operation would be "a big operation in a big country."  Any military move we make regarding aiding the rebels in Libya or not will have unforeseen consequences.  If we help them then how long, to what extent, and do we help the next country's rebels who ask?  If we do not help them then do we really just stand by and watch the Libyan Air Force bomb civilians and murder innocent women and children? 

This situation in Libya has no easy answer.  A no-fly zone would most likely keep the Libyan Air Force grounded, but what is the end-state?  It looks like the Libyan military has the upper hand at the moment and is little by little taking back some territory.  This could easily change in the next hour, but it will be quite interesting to see if U.S. foreign policy moves any further than United Nations communiques. 

Red Beard (1965)

Imagine you just graduated from medical school and expect to become the next Surgeon General; that's how good people think you are and you have the ego to match it.  Suddenly, you're told you will be an intern at a backwoods free clinic for the foreseeable future.  Think you might be mad?  Well, so is Dr. Yamamoto when this happens to him in Japan during the shogunate.  He studied new, foreign medicine in school but almost immediately loses both his fiance and his job prospects.

The next three hours of the film show his gradual transformation from a self important and immature boy into a doctor who understands the pain and trials of the poor.  Through a few specific vignettes, Yamamoto learns the back story of some old men as they lay on their death beds and then receives the challenge to rehabilitate a young girl who has been abused her whole life and trusts no one. 

This film is not for the weak.  It's three hour running time pays off at the end during a climactic scene involving an entire poor family who resort to an extreme option to escape their station.  The echoes of half a dozen women into a well may seem melodramatic, but it is a fitting capstone for the audience who just witnessed a long and arduous Kurasawa movie. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Morning Glory

Rachel McAdams is annoying.  Well, I'm sure she's lovely in real life, but her character in this film would not be in your inner circle of friends.  Examples of why not?  Let's see.  She's ridiculously gorgeous but gets flustered when people ask her if she has a husband or boyfriend.  She says "sorry" all of the time.  When there is something she cares about and gets animated it comes off as "I'm so perky!  Listen to me because I'm perky!"  She is always flustered, is dropping things on the ground, and her face usually has a vaguely incredulous look on it.  Enough examples yet?  Hooray for Harrison Ford and Jeff Goldblum who verbally smack her down like the yappy dog she is playing. 

This movie reminds me why I hate morning shows.  At one point, Rachel tells Harrison that there was a war between news and entertainment, and news lost.  So did America.  Shows such as the Today Show, Good Morning America, and the Early Show are just ridiculous.  God forbid Americans learn what happened over night in other countries while brewing their coffee. 

Ford's dialogue saves this film from being a total loss.  "You want me to banter?  Isn't banter from the Latin word meaning to jabber like a moron?"  Responding to Diane Keaton who says, "I had to say rectal and moisture in the same sentence" he retorts with "Well, first dates can be tricky."  These lines are few and far between and do not make up for the rest of this nonsense.

Thought of some other ways why Rachel's character is annoying.  She bangs her head against various items with an alarming frequency to convey to herself that she is frustrated or embarrassed.  She says "hi" at least twice but usually three times when she enters a room. 

So much to not recommend this film, but to end on a positive note, Chris Matthews and Morley Safer make cameo appearances. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Senso (1954)

Criterion Collection released Luchino Visconti's Senso this week so I figured I'd give it a try seeing that I had yet to see a Visconti film.  The film takes place in 1866 in Venice during the Austrian occupation and Italy's attempt to finally unify as a state.  These political events are a backdrop for a romantic love story though.  There is a bit of a Romeo and Juliet theme here as the woman is a married Venetian Countess and the man is an Austrian Lieutenant.  I don't think the link is anymore overt than that; however, part of the story does take place in Verona. 

The movie opens at an opera house which is fitting because the film seems like a melodramatic opera itself.  The music is overbearing, the woman is constantly crying and burying her face in her hands, and there is a complete and utter tragic ending.  You may think I've given something away there but I promise, it's not the tragic ending which Romeo and Juliet implies. 

I didn't love this film and I really am not sure yet if I even liked it.  There are good scenes such as the beginning in the opera and the ensuing encounters throughout Venice, but once the story leaves Venice and moves to Verona, it falls apart for me.  I also am too late to appreciate the grandeur this film represented.  It was the first Italian film in Technicolor and the colors really are deep and rich.  The scenes are beautiful to look at, but the strength of the story doesn't match its intensity. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Take your pick on what this novel is really about.  An English newspaper operated out of Rome and its many different employees.  Happiness - what makes you happy?  Some of the protagonists would say just being in love, driving ambition at work, etc...  Each chapter is devoted to a different character.  However, they each have a particular arc.  The chapter starts off happy and normal.  Good things happen.  Something unexpected and horrible happens.  Move on to the next chapter.  Some of these episodes can really be gut-wrenching.  A woman who realizes she isn't very attractive overlooks some really glaring faults in her boyfriend just to say proudly that she has a boyfriend.  A man belatedly succeeds in his job to cope with the death of his daughter.  A long plane ride with a flirtatious couple ends in the chapter's last sentence as one of the most calculating and cruel twists you will never see coming.  But if you see it from the other guy's point of view, is it still cruel?

Kate bought this book at the airport to survive a plane ride but put it down after 30 pages or so.  I picked it up and liked it much better.  The first chapter is by far the worst which is most likely why most people will quit this book.  The title is also aptly coined; every character has significant imperfections which hinder their working and personal lives and frequently impact the lives of their coworkers around them.  I never had the bug to be a journalist and feel comforted by that after reading these 'fictional' newspaper tales.  The horror in these tales isn't necessarily because of the newspaper though, it's because of the people who work there and their personal failures. 

The author is a journalist, or former journalist at least, and it shows in his writing.  Short, crisp sentences.  Remember Hemingway's style from The Sun Also Rises?  Like that.  Short.

Paranormal Activity 2

For this sequel, the filmmakers decided to go with the idea that more is better.  There are cameras than just the one from the last movie and there are more characters than just one couple.  But more does not make better.  In fact, it decreases the suspense.  More means there is less 'alone' time for the characters.  Also, the fear is spread amongst more people; therefore, it is felt less by each. 

The film Paranormal Activity scared the crap out of me.  There were long, static shots of a room and an occasional event.  This time, the long shots are much shorter and since there are multiple cameras, no room is the main focus like the bedroom was last time.  Furthermore, there was no build up to an event last time.  A door would slam or the sheet would rustle all without warning.  Now there is a low, rumbling bass noise which signals a coming event.  This takes most of the fear of anticipation out of the scene. 

The plot is actually connected to the previous film but I won't give away how.  The idea of a sequel to Paranormal Activity is fine and the script works...but there is too much activity going on to make it truly paranormal.  If you haven't seen the first one, I highly recommend it.  Skip this one.

Waiting For "Superman"

I remember there was a surprise when Waiting For "Superman" did not make the Oscars list of the Top 10 documentaries.  Documentaries do not usually get that much publicity and when one does, such as this one did last year, people naturally expect it to win awards.  But I understand why it was left off.  It's disjointed.  It wanders around and lacks a smooth narrative flow. 

The subject matter is very interesting.  What is wrong with America's schools?  It presents multiple options on why schools fail and seems to settle on the teacher's unions.  The unions are opposed to change and use their power to prevent any of it.  The most amazing section is when a student carrying a secret camera in his backpack shows multiple teachers in his school saying they weren't doing anything that day and sit back and read the newspaper.  The news aired the tape and the superintendent fired the teachers.  However, the teachers had tenure.  Under the contract, the superintendent was forced to rehire these teachers and pay them a year's back pay.  It is nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher.  Doctor's and lawyer's commonly lose their licenses for shoddy work, but teachers almost never lose their licenses and can really negatively impact a child's education. 

There is some suspense at the end when the handful of individual students the film followed are waiting to find out if they made it into charter schools, but the overall impact of the students falling through the cracks and failing schools does not really hit home.  There are plenty of scenes to make the audience upset and wish for change, but it ultimately falls flat.

USC Takes the Ball out of Basketball

Kate and I watched the UW/USC game last night and it was one of the worst games I have ever seen.  UW fell behind early so USC changed their tactics to just suck up time on the clock.  This started in the middle of the first half!  With USC up by 10, they started to run out the shot clock on every single possession by just standing right in front of the half court line.  It was maddening.  It was boring.  I wanted to run onto that court and start throwing elbows.  The Dawgs play a fast-paced game so to combat this new stalling tactic, they would just run it down the court and shoot the 3 or go for a lay-up, then we would have to wait another 35 seconds for USC to attempt a shot again. 

If you want to beat the Dawgs, just play the zone defense.  That's it.  Every team in the NCAA knows this.  USC knows this because I saw them playing the zone last night.  You don't have to do that idiotic hang onto the ball trick which just about didn't work for you in the end anyways.  Any decent team playing against the Dawgs will always take an early lead as well because Isaiah Thomas is ice cold for the first half of every game.  The guy scores all of his points in the second half, mostly through free throws nowadays.  Matthew Bryan-Amaning will miss the majority of his shots within five feet of the rim and .....  I could keep going, but you get the point.

Maybe I'm not really mad at USC, but am deflecting my anger because I'm pissed off at UW.  They commit consistent turnovers, miss the easiest shots in the world, don't hit their free throws, and it looks like they just relish playing in the come from behind, underdog role.  You guys play WSU in the PAC-10 tournament next week.  You've already lost to them twice, I foresee a third loss.  You guys will make it into the NCAA tournament as a double digit seed and will need a miracle to make it out of the first round. 

Sorry about your last home game seniors, we'll definitely miss Overton's defense, but I am really looking forward to anyone else taking over the low post from MBA right now who can actually score in regular intervals.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


There are certain people you do not piss off in action films:  Black Mamba from Kill Bill, Nicolas Cage in everything, Clint Eastwood in most things, and more recently, Machete.  I did not include the Rock on this list because I think it would be intuitive for anyone to not kill the Rock's brother.  Just don't do it.  It's bad for business and it will not end well for anyone.  If you kill the Rock's brother, he will remember that and put your name on a list. 

I started this movie with a preconception; it was going to suck.  It doesn't.  This action movie has some soul in it.  Its characters have back stories and they are presented in more than a single dimension.  Unfortunately, it plays a bit dumb at parts and feels like it must help its audience along.  Characters are introduced with a title such as "Cop" and "Killer".  I don't think these are needed, even for people who would choose to see this movie in the theater.  It's also not good enough to stay away from the cliches.  The cop is naturally 10 days away from retirement, the Rock cannot just turn around in a vehicle, he must squeal out of everywhere in at least a 270 degree turn of smoke, and the idiotic dialogue includes such gems as, "I have a hunch," "Well, so did Quasimodo and look where it got him." 

The Rock in this movie reminds me a lot of Machete from last year.  If Machete 'don't text', then the Rock doesn't look both ways before he crosses the street; he just assumes cars will slam on the brakes and let him go.  He is on a mission.  He has one thing to do and he just goes out and does it.  Bravo on the initiative.  He also has tattoos on his forearms that only underworld gangsters and body builders can recognize. 

The casting sticks out.  Tom Berenger shows up very briefly; is he mad because he didn't get included in the fourth iteration of the Sniper series?  Mike Epps shows up as well.  The script is good, but do you really need to cast the minor characters as well known as these guys?  It's a distraction (remember Ted Danson in Saving Private Ryan).  Also, a good, but unorthodox, inclusion is the 'Killer'.  This is guy is Johnny Cage with a serious inferiority complex and says quips like, "I'm done with yoga, I beat it."  The ringtone on his contract killer cellphone is the theme song from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  That is not the only Clint Eastwood rip-off.  Remember the end of A Fistfull of Dollars?  *smacks forehead*

Take aways:  To the Rock, do more movies like this and stay away from crap like the Tooth Fairy and you will be ok.  To everyone else, do NOT kill the Rock's brother. 


Garbage.  This is one of those SyFy monster movies ala Mega Python vs. Gatoroid but with a much larger budget.  It's also a direct Jaws rip-off and steals all of its other scenes from other decent horror films.  There is Richard Dreyfuss is a cameo roll singing "Show me the way to go home", the poster has a girl on top of the water with a bunch of piranhas right below her, and there is also the inevitable argument that "we can't close the beach now, this community needs the money!"  Remember how Samuel L. Jackson died in Deep Blue Sea?  That method has returned. 

The lead actor is a newbie with the name Steven R. McQueen, another rip-off.  It was good to see Elizabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, and Christopher Lloyd getting work again, but I think there is a reason you don't see Jerry O'Connell very much anymore, he even sucks in this movie.  It also has a pair of children who just yell and scream the whole time; that makes for pleasant movie watching. 

Kate came home while I was watching this and joined me around the mid-point of it when the fish really get going.  She hates horror movies, but I tried to explain this was not a horror movie.  This is really making fun of horror movies and trying to use that tactic to make some money for itself.  The fish naturally choose spring break to start wreaking havoc and really, there was some sort of morbid satisfaction watching a bunch of frat boys and sororstitutes getting eaten alive by piranhas. 

Lessons learned:  you can kill a piranha with a shotgun (Ving Rhames), you can tase one to death (Elizabeth Shue), you can transform into a badass hero trying to save lives when you were just a nerdy seismologist diver a minute before (Adam Scott), and your silicone implants float to the surface after piranhas eat your boobs.   

Friday, March 4, 2011

127 Hours

I watched this movie while comparing it to other films the whole time which really lessened its effect.  127 Hours was one of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture and it's the last one I saw in that company; therefore, I spent a good amount of time likening it to Black Swan, The King's Speech, and the Social Network.  Bad idea.  Just let the movie stand by itself and you can get to comparisons later.  Also, I started comparing it to other films with similar story arcs (action in the beginning, action in the end, long dry spell in the middle).  I thought of the Shawshank Redemption.  Both of these films have long dry spells in the middle which serve to advance time in a methodical manner.  Unfortunately, not an effective movie watching method.

Overall, it is a very good film.  A.R. Rahman wrote great music and the visual effects were realistic and effective.  When you think about cutting off your arm, you don't really consider the mechanics involved in such an action.  It is not just an arm.  There are nerves, tendons, and bones.  In fact, you would have to consider that breaking the bones would be more effective than just sawing through them.  I never planned to put so much thought in this process, but it appears there are times when these follow through actions are really important.  Here's hoping the next movie I watch I can just sit back and soak it in rather than sizing it up against its peers. 

Awkward House Hunting

When we were in Seattle this past weekend, Kate and I met our realtor for the first time and she took us to around six houses to see what we liked and what neighborhoods we wanted to focus on.  About four of the houses were bank foreclosures and one of them actually had a family moving their things out of their house when we arrived.  I found it pretty awkward to be looking at a family's house while they were in the process of moving out because they were evicted. 

Now some of you are probably thinking this is the proper thing to do since they couldn't pay their mortages.  I felt this way earlier as well, but then I read Matt Taibbi's article "Invasion of the Home Snatchers:  How the courts are helping bankers screw over homeowners and get away with fraud".  My entire opinion is changed now.  States, in particular Florida, have set up shady kangaroo courts to deal with a backlog of foreclosure cases.  If the defendent fails to show, the plaintiff (the banks) automatically win even though they have the flimsiest of evidence.  The vast majority of the time when the defendent shows up (and has a lawyer) the bank cannot produce the house note or when they acquired it.  If they do have the note, there are always glaring fabrications on the dates associated with it.  I am not doing this article justice with this brief description.  Before you're quick to judge the next home foreclosure you hear about, read this article:

February 2011 Disc

I usually make a CD of the music I've been listening to for the last month.  I started doing this in college and make at least a few a year.  I have made a disc for each of the past few months because I've actually been home and have the time to devote to it.  Here is the February list:

1 - Mann feat. 50 Cent - Buzzin' (this is a great leadoff dance song)
2 - Kings of Leon - Pyro (a little slow for a second song on a mix, but it's so good it can hold its place)
3 - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - My Oh My (tribute song to the late Dave Niehaus)
4 - Rihanna - S&M (Kate was quite shocked at how dirty this song is)
5 - Smith Westerns - All Die Young (heard this on XMU; they're playing Sasquatch)
6 - The Kills - Satellite (the first song from their new album; planning on going to their show on 9 May @ Showbox SoDo
7 - Peter Bjorn & John - Second Chance (their new album is much harder than their previous two)
8 - The Decemberists - This is why we Fight (good tune finally not part of a rock opera; was this album not released on vinyl?  No where to be found except for over-priced limited editions)
9 - Martin Solveig & Dragonette - Hello (heard this on BBC One and I think I heard it on a commercial during the Oscars as well)
10 - The Twilight Singers - On the Corner (waiting to hear more of this album before I buy it)
11 - Cake - Long Time (saw them perform this on Letterman)
12 - Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition (Diet Coke uses this song for their most recent commercial)
13 - The Strokes - Under Cover of Darkness (good to see them back again)
14 - Ra Ra Riot - Boy
15 - Jimmy Eat World - Coffee and Cigarettes (I didn't think they had anything left to contribute but this song is really good)
16 - Skillet - Awake and Alive (Evanescence knockoff)
17 - The Last Royals - Crystal Vases
18 - The New Devision - Starfield
19 - Chad Valley - Up and Down (these last two songs are both KEXP Songs of the Day and sound remarkable similar to one another)

The January disc is better than this one, but all months can't be equal.