Friday, December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

It looked like a blasphemous interpretation of the source material.  It looked like a bad action movie toting a well known lead character to draw audiences since everyone loves watching the same recycled things over and over again.  It looked like it could perhaps be made tolerable by the awesome actors they had in the lead roles, but I didn't have my sights set very high.

It was sooo much better than it looked.

This is not to say that it was a great movie.  It was fun, things exploded in a cool fashion, the script was never awful, the actors were great, etc.  Action movie done right.  But action movies done right are still rarely "A" grade material, more like "B+".  Sherlock Holmes followed these lines.  I walked out of the theater saying it was the "best mediocre movie" I'd seen in a long time, and I stand by that.  Maybe I even upgrade that a twinge.

Going in, the biggest concern of many people I knew was that it looked like a desecration of the Holmes of Doyle's stories.  Obviously there were changes - it's hard to make a main-stream blockbuster action movie starring a little old man who's basically just really smart.  The Holmes of the screen was a snappy badass, running around and through explosions, beating people up, and thoroughly bitter inside.  He always had the comeback, he always knew where to land the punch.  There was a boxing scene in particular that seemed bad to me.  What Sherlock Holmes ever beat the hell out of people in a back-alley boxing arena?

Apparently the Holmes of Doyle's work, according to my sister.  I consider her an expert of source material faithfulness in movies since she's such a stickler on the stuff that she likes, and she knows Holmes waaay better than I do.  Holmes is a boxer in the stories.  There aren't too many explosions in the stories, but that's just a concession it was necessary to make to the silver screen.  Overall, I'm told, Robert Downy Jr.'s Holmes is very faithful in spirit to the books; much to my surprise, my sister approved.

There's a moment about a minute into the film where we're really introduced to our protagonist.  He's infiltrating some sort of basementy area and there's a guard up ahead.  We hear Holmes narrate as we see each action in slow motion:
Head tilted slightly to the left, so he's partially deaf in that ear.  That's the first point of attack.  Next paralyze the vocal chords to prevent screaming.  Probably a heavy drinker, so punch to the weak liver.  Final blow to the kneecap.  Estimated recovery time:  two weeks.
Then we back up to Holmes behind a corner, and he executes everything we've just seen in slow motion but in full speed.  It all goes according to plan.

This is exactly how I expect an action hero Holmes to act:  he uses his intellect to efficiently and effectively eliminate his enemies.  At the time I felt uncomfortable with the idea that this character I knew as an old fart sitting around a fireplace snorting cocaine and noticing miniscule details would be out and about beating the crap out of people.  I'm still not totally comfortable with it, but I'm much more accepting.  And either way, the scene was awesome.

And that beggar in front of the carriage thing?  And the boxing match?  And the smoke from the fireplace?  All equally awesome.

The music helped with this transition, I think.  It was all fiddley-Irishy music at a quick pace as Holmes didn't punch, but slapped his opponents blows out of the way.  Light hearted, jumpy, prancing about like a rabbit, this made Holmes feel like a light guy who just knew how to fight rather than a totally ripped action hero.  And not just appropriate but a beautiful score, too, and timed wonderfully.

So I've accepted that this Holmes is faithful enough to the source material to deserve my recognition.  My big pre-movie concern satisfied.  But oh is there more to say.  There's so much more.

Let's start with the plot:  the big bad evil guy (not Moriarty) aka BBEG has been murdering people in an occult fashion around London.  Holmes captures him at the beginning, and BBEG is hanged.  Soon after that, he uses his "magic spells" (it's a matter of argument whether he's really using magic or not) to rise from the grave.  He resumes killing people magically.  Holmes starts tracking the guy down, meets up with the girl, and eventually uses his cunning to track him to the big finale where Holmes saves the day.  Pretty standard.

The most interesting thing is this plot's inclusion of magic, making it reminiscent of the Cthulhu / Holmes crossover adventure game I played with Danl and Paul a while back.  I never made it all the way through that game, but it's similarity in plot is worth noting.  People seem to love combining the logic of Sherlock Holmes with the impossibilities of fantasy.  It's a paradox that's very pleasing to the mind.  Neil Gaiman wrote a story in such a universe very effectively.  This combination of two opposites is a reliable way to make an intriguing premise.  Take note, all aspiring story-tellers.

Really, though, the magic is all a lie.  This ending is taken straight from The Illusionist, which is again interesting.  Has every twist been used before, or is this one just a fun one?  The idea that you would start the Sherlock Holmes movie franchise by introducing magic is silly since you're already going to piss a lot of people off with whatever you make.  I guess it makes sense.  Sherlock Holmes is all about reason triumphing over everything else.

This presence of "magic" had a very unique effect on the feel of the setting.  It felt distinctly steampunk.  Steampunk is becoming more and more mainstream, and has been for years.  I'm glad we're seeing more of it since it's one of my favorite genres.  There were similarities to memorable books everywhere I looked.  The bureaucratic society of wizards in London of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the weird magic stuff in the 1800s of The Anubis Gate, the CG look of the backgrounds that resembled so well The Golden Compass, the token anachronism in the form of the stun baton... I loved it all.  What was odd was how anachronistic the whole movie felt as a result.  This shouldn't come as a surprise - any modern action movie set in the 1800s is going to feel anachronistic, but it opened my eyes in a way that they hadn't before.

Many things felt very 2010 about the film - the seamless use of bullet time during fight scenes, the distortion of the whole audio track when an explosion or a gunshot went off right next to the camera.  It felt like you were actually there in a "new" way (I use quotes because I know this effect has been used before, but not as commonly as I'd like).  The whole movie is something that's all the rage right now in cinema:  take a beloved book, action it up, cast some well known names or attractive young actors, and rake in the dough.  They even added this whole magic thing to make it seem more like Harry Potter!  This is, like, the defining example of a movie from this time period.  It's so perfect.  Precisely mixing modern cinema with old familiar characters and stories.  It's beautiful.

I was reminded of Inglourious Basterds.  As with all of Tarantino's work, Basterds was as much about movies as it was about anything else.  One of the central themes was that "this is a movie - it doesn't have to act like the time and place it is set, nor does it have to pretend to.  This is a modern movie, and it is being made in 2009, and it is about 2009, and it is however the director wants it to be."  My favorite part of this was in the middle of a big gala full of powerful German leaders, titles in what looked like a hand-drawn font would pop up on the screen with arrows and point out the important people and who they were.  It's so out of place.  It's so wrong.  And it's exactly how it's supposed to be.  All at the same time.

That is how I felt watching Sherlock Holmes.  I felt like the writers / director / whoever were all keenly aware of what they were presenting.  The story was not set in the 1800s, it was set in what people in 2009 expect the 1800s to be like, with little patches of falsehood here and there to service the plot.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL!  This is all just build up for what is no doubt one of my favorite scenes in modern cinema.  Holmes has just finished a ritual he's gotten from BBEG's spellbook, and now the girl and Watson are on the scene.  Yes, it's now time for the first of Holmes's big reveals, in which he tells us everything he's discovered so far (but not what he's going to do next!).  He talks about how the murders have all been around the city in the shape of a pentagram, how each has represented a different animal that's part of the mythic Sphynx, how the next target is going to be parliament, and how we all must go now to save the day!  And what does he do?  The whole time he's giving the speech?  WHAT DOES HE DO?!


He uses a cane.


The Sherlock Holmes of 2009 is channeling House, a character DIRECTLY BASED ON SHERLOCK HOLMES.  Holy freaking shit is that meta.  That's so meta!  That's soooo meta.  It's so modern.  It's a complete anachronism.  It means the writers are consciously putting references to the modern world into their version of the 1800s.  It means they were using this other character as a basis for their character, but it's all actually just based on their original character!  It's exactly what Inglourious Basterds was telling us about.  It's so cool.

This modern feel doesn't end at House references and computer graphics.  The way the story is told is a modern way of telling a story.  There's bullet time.  There's a man hanged to death from a giant bridge by a metal chain - very hard core.  There's the presence of magic.  Everything about this movie is a 2009 thing, right down the raven that appears whenever a new death is about to be discovered.

This movie made my day.


Also, Rachel McAdams is pretty.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


No surprises here, kids.  If you've heard or seen anything about Avatar you should already know what I'm going to say here.

It looked freaking awesome.  Giant blue dudes falling through the jungle, raptors with wings flying through floating mountains, a mech warrior suit Matrix 3 style in a knife fight with a giant panther, amazing lights at night, crazy good motion capture effects, explosions, giant planets bright in the night sky, etc.  Hells yeah.  It was coolicoolicoolio.  At 2 and a half hours it gets a little long, but it's still probably worth seeing just for the effects.

Good thing, too, since the rest of it is trash.  The plot is bad and predictable.  The science is BS - case and point, the valuable mineral being mined on the wonderful new planet is called unobtainium.  I shit you not.  The blue aliens are tribal, stereotypical, and otherwise offensive whether you interpret them as Africans or Native Americans.  It doesn't matter; they've got headdresses and a deep resounding connection with their nature god either way.  Then there's the half-hearted attempt at a typical mother nature theme.  Basically it goes:  people who like nature - good!  People who blow up giant trees - baaaad.  My sister said she left the theater "offended as a person and a scientist".  She tends to get worked up about these sorts of things, though.  I mean, after all, the point is that it looked really cool.

The story reminded me of Princess Mononoke much more than it should have.  Mononoke actually has substance to its plot, but I felt like the message (if there was one) was predominantly the same.  Also, there were moments when it felt a little like Dollhouse.  I kept waiting for the avatar body to develop a consciousness of its own and start calling itself Echo.  Of course that'd be way too interesting for an action flick like this, so instead we just watched Jake "learn the ways of The People".  There were definitely traces of Star Wars Episode 2 where you got the feeling that the director should be in charge of every visual effect you lay eyes on for the next decade but that he needed to be tied up out back while someone else wrote a half-way decent script.

That's a lot of other source materials that Avatar felt like.  Maybe I'm becoming more well versed in movies, but I find it much more likely that Hollywood is just recycling the same crap it always has and that I'm just starting to realize that it's visuals too, not just plots, actors, and scripts.

EDIT:  Oh man, 2 things I forgot.  First, the planet is named Pandora, prompting me to wonder where all the skaags were (and more importantly Danl).  Second, that tree network giant computer ecosystem thingy was pretty sweet until I remembered it was just that Myst 3 world, again prompting me to wonder where Danl was.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movie Trailers #8

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Cool effects?  Check?
Modern setting fantasy?  Check.
More cool effects?  Check?
Anyone starring except Nicolas Cage?  Ch...god damnit, this movie almost looked like a fun action flick.  I was all ready to maybe get a decent plot out of it but be content with just a fun setting, then they go and ruin it by casting Nicolas Cage.  I don't know, maybe if the guy had more than one tone of voice I'd respect him.  And it's not like everything he touches turns to dust; he's like Jim Carrey - capably of putting out the occasional great movie (Adaptation, The Weatherman, Matchstick Men, or in Carrey's case Eternal Sunshine), but usually annoying as hell.  With Cage, action movies are probably going to go the National Treasure route instead of the quality route.  I guess I liked seeing National Treasure with my family on Thanksgiving, though, so there may be a place for this movie, too.


I feel like I'll be a bit young to truly appreciate this movie.  I've repeatedly seen "shit, I'm getting old" movies done well, and I repeatedly like them, and I repeatedly feel left out of the loop.  Probably because, you know, I'm 19.  Still, as I said, they're often good.  Melancholy comedies are pretty much my bread and butter of favorite movies, I almost always like Ben Stiller, etc.  It'll be nice to see him as something other than this

or this

It sometimes seems like the guy only has two characters.  And I wouldn't like him so much if I didn't like those characters, but I know he's capable of more.  Or at least, that was my impression.  Maybe I'm wrong - I can't remember the last thing I saw him in where he wasn't either a nut-job or a bumbling romantic comedy lead.

Point is, I wah see Greenberg.

I guess that's all I've got for now; I wrote most of this a couple of days ago and haven't found any more trailers I care about in the mean time.  Bad romance / rom-coms are about it.  Next time let's check out the Christmas season movie options.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hot Tub Time Machine: New Trailer


Oh man, what (")great(") jokes.  What hilarious time travel shenanigans.  My anticipation grows with every moment.

New news:  the release date has changed to March 19th, 2010.  I don't know about you, but that's the first week of my spring break.  PARTY TIME?  I think yes.  Just gotta make sure Danl is on break, too.  If not, looks like I'll be in Iowa for part of spring break.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I honestly don't remember what this movie was about. I think it was pretty unnecessarily confusing, though.

Also, I've never liked that SAM'S VERDICT thing that I do. Probably time to stop doing that and just making people judge what I say by what I say instead of a one sentence summary. If I want people to read a one sentence summary, I'll write them a one sentence summary. What idiot made it a requirement, anyway?

PS: Dollhouse season 2 is super duper good. Like, super duper. Get on that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Blind Side

This is the one with Sandra Bullock doing a southern accent. Quite admirably, I might add. If you’d seen her in lots of other stuff it might be hard to adjust to, but it sounded natural enough to me.

The previews make this look like another bad sports story movie. Southern white woman takes in poor black kid, buys him stuff, fixes him up, makes him a football star, and then the cast of characters together overcomes whatever twist begins the third act. I’ll be honest, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The Blind Side follows this plot to a tee but turns out to be enjoyable all the same.

Hold that thought: it bothers me how much I seem to open these reviews with a paragraph like that one. I describe some stereotypical movie formula, say that whatever I’m reviewing fits said formula like a glove, and then follow that up with a “but it wasn’t that bad”. Apparently formulas work. That must be why Hollywood keeps using them.

Back to the review. Actually, do I even need to go back to the review? If you’ve ever seen a movie about a disadvantaged person coming from behind and overcoming obstacles to become some sort of hero, you know exactly how this movie will go. And holy balls is there a lot of movies about that. There’s a lot of books, comics, verbal tales, etc about that. That’s, like, one of the most basic story arch-types. It’s a good’un. This one doesn’t stick out much, but it does have uniquenesses(amases). Sandra Bullock’s character is great. It’s not a new character, but she plays a mean tough modern woman doing what she thinks is right. The story focuses a lot more on the home life of the characters rather than football, which I prefer.


On the flip side, there’s some probably racially insensitive black thugs, a really dumb excuse for the cops to get involved with our heroes, and some really odd “look at us, we’re in a southern movie; isn’t that wacky?” moments. Like, they hire this old woman to tutor the poor black kid when he needs better grades to get into college, and there’s this awkward moment where Sandra is about to hire her. The tutor lady goes “now before you hire me, there’s something you should know… I’m… I’m a democrat”. This is set up as a total *gasp* moment, which is kind of weird. I felt kind of offended for southerners.

Anyway, it was good.

SAM’S VERDICT: It’s the good version of exactly what you‘d expect from the back of the DVD box.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl

Nice.  Nice.

So Lars is an anti-social guy.  Kinda weird.  Actually, it turns out he's SUPER weird when he orders a Real Doll and starts insisting "Bianca" is his half Danish half Brazilian girlfriend.  Yeah.  There's a brother who's gruff and mad about the whole thing and who looks like Sylar.  There's a sister in law who's very maternal.  Actually breathing love interest at the office.  Creepy friend as a cubical roommate.  Kind old woman psychiatrist.  And so on.  The plot is predictable - every side character gets a scene or three depending on their importance in which they interact with Bianca and Lars.  Lars ends up falling for the office girl who has had a crush on him since before she appeared on screen, they go on a date, and eventually he finds a way to remove Bianca from the picture.

Lars and the Real Girl is marketed as a comedy, and I guess it is.  It's... light-hearted, I guess.  There are some funny moments.  I think it's less a comedy and more just a story.  A well told story, at that.  Whether or not you like the premise, and I think you do, it's a well told story.  The pace is oddly slow; the moments that could have made for an odd-ball million dollar budget shitty rom-com are instead played for emotion, and it shows.  By the end of the film, I was cheering for everyone even though most of them were pretty one or two dimensional.  The acting, the script, and everything else made me emotionally invested in the characters in a way that not many movies have in the modern day.  I didn't expect everything to work out in the way I do a lot of the time, I really wanted everything to work out.  Spoiler alert:  it did.

Okay, reality check, the premise is stupidly unrealistic.  Lars' "delusion" is weird and more a good gimmick for a movie than something that could actually happen.  Let's suspend our disbelief for that, though, and take one step closer.  If Lars did start dating a Real Doll named Bianca, I don't think the whole town would be so supportive.  Someone would be an asshole and shoot him down.  There's dozens of people working together to support his insanity in the film, and that just seems... not likely.

But maybe that's the message of the movie - people are willing to love and support each other like that.  Maybe we forget how much (most) other people are willing to help when we need them.  We forget how much they care, and how much we care about others.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether the plot is realistic or not, because I believed it enough as I was watching the movie.  The story was told well enough that I didn't notice or care about the plot holes enough to worry about them.  I was too busy thinking about Lars and the people in his life.  Most movies are ridiculously fake, and we go to them for the spectacle.  This is a movie that's just pretty fake, and I watched it to hear the tale and listen to what the writer had to say.  I liked what I heard.

SAM'S VERDICT:  Well told, optimistic, and cute.  Unless you have an aversion to that last one, you'll probably like it.

Also, what is up with these girls I keep seeing in the movies?  Evidently there's some pretty girl in every shy guy's life who is just not noticed by said guy but who would be perfect for him.  Have I always been that oblivious or has Hollywood LIED TO ME YET AGAIN?

...probably both.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Term-In Review: Quick Hits

Apparently college is time consuming.  As you may or may not have noticed, this slowed down my posting a lot the past couple months.  But have no fear!  I am now on winter break, so I'll be stuffing my empty days with movies and blogging again in no time.  I'm running out of ideas so you should suggest those, but in the mean time I'm going to do some quick notes on all the stuff I saw this term but didn't blog about.

Miller's Crossing:  still good.  Great gangster motifs.  It's always fun to watch one guy completely control (or at least try to) a situation in the way that our hero does in this film.  Coen brothers are awesome, and so are most of the actors they use regularly.  Very violent at the end, though.

Blue Velvet:   Yeaaaaaah... not recommended for a date movie.  Just because I was able to watch this movie with a girl and salvage the situation into a relationship hours later doesn't mean you will be able to.  It took some serious Joss Whedon smoothing over in there to make that happen.  I guess if you're in to severed ears, crazy people, the 80s, crazy people, drugs, relationship abuse, creepy stalker college kids, and crazy people, by all means go for it.  Otherwise steer clear unless you feel the need to pad your cinema buff resume.

When Harry Met Sally:  Yup, it's the mother of all modern romantic comedies.  There's a reason everyone else takes after it, you know.  It's that it's a pretty good movie.  Sure the plot is just "guy meets girl, they have a friendship, eventually they get married," but there's a lot of scenes in there with real character that most modern romcoms lack.  Harry being divorced right off the bat is odd.  Now-a-days, we'd want to have the perfect man as our star, not the every man.  Then there's the restaurant scene, that opening road trip, and that scene with the wagon wheel table... I like all of 'em.  Worth seeing, even if you are an emotionless hag (DANL).

Entre Les Murs:  Another one for my French class.  Very stylized movie about the modern school system in France.  Lots to say about what works with rowdy middle school kids, what doesn't, and what the system is doing wrong.  Very grim.  No music.  Cool camera work (think The Office style faux-documentary stuff).  Depressing, but interesting if you've got a thing for teaching.

High Fidelity:  Still one of my favorite movies, partially because I can watch it every 6 months and still love it.  If you haven't seen this yet, please leave now and get on that.

Is that really all I've seen?  Apparently I've had even less free time this term than I thought.  Just a movie every other week on average.  I've been filling my free time with TV shows and video games.  Couple new TV shows, though.  I can blog about those, too!

Angel:   Ah, the Buffy spin-off I never watched.  It's... pretty much exactly the same as Buffy.  The second best character is the ghost in Cordelia's house, a good running gag.  Not much to say other than if you want more Buffy but have finished Buffy, you can get more by watching Angel.  Huzzah.

Supernatural:  Two brothers wander around the country fighting ghosts.  Very X-Files-esque, though more mid-western.  Instead of being in this central urban government setting at the beginning and end of each episode, our heroes are constantly out in the boonies.  They live off credit card scams, charity, and petty theft.  A different enough setup to do some new things with the characters.  The first season involves them looking for their missing dad, which adds this whole quest aspect to the show that's always lurking in the background.  Still pretty standard TV horror plots, but it's fun.  The second season gets more in the way of long term plot, and I hear it only goes up from there.  For the record, it's currently airing season 5, which is also the end of the creator's initial long term plot idea.

That's more like it.  7 things to talk about when 2 of them are TV shows?  I can live with that.  Sorry I never got you guys another trailers post before Thanksgiving; I know my family always goes to a movie after dinner on turkey day, and it'd be nice to have some advice as to what sucks and what's cool.  SORRY I COULDN'T PROVIDE.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Au Revoir Les Enfants (et des autres choses)

I watched this movie for my French class.  Actually, we had to read the novelization of this movie for my French class.  We watched most of the movie, too, but the main point was to do reading.  Traditionally when I have to read a book for a class, I end up hating it.  Part of this is because times change, and old books no longer had the appeal they once did.  Part of this is because I hate being forced to do anything, especially on a schedule not of my own devising.  Part of this is because English teachers aren't traditionally good at picking books high school guys want to read.

They didn't tell us it was a novelization when we started reading it, or maybe that bit was just lost in translation for me.  Either way, I figured out what was up about a third of the way through the book and promptly torrented the original movie with subtitles.  I'm more of a movie than book person.

I was impressed.  Maybe it's just that a movie is so much easier for me than a book, but maybe the movie was just really good.  I liked it.

The plot is a cross between a stereotypical boarding school story and stereotypical "hide the Jews from the Nazis" story.  There's a boarding school and a kid at it.  Kid is secretly unhappy but also the coolest kid in his class.  New kid shows up, starts getting picked on by other kids.  Main character kid starts seeing subtle hints that new kid may be a "Jew" (quotes because he's not actually sure what that means), and eventually they become friends after a capture the flag game gone wrong ends with them both lost on a bonding experience in the woods.  Main character kid starts to get the implications of new kid being Jewish just in time for their friendship to blossom and the Nazis to show up and take new kid away.  Loss of innocence, etc, etc.

Let's get the pesky review part over with quick.

SAM'S VERDICT:  It was good if you like boarding school movies.  I don't mind them.

The big question this movie raised for me was "why can stereotypical plots be so good or so bad depending on how they're used?"  There wasn't a single twist in this movie I didn't see coming, and I predicted most of the key scenes within the first 15 minutes.  Yet in the end, I still liked it.  In fact, as I watch more and more movies, I get better and better at predicting everything before it happens.  And if I can tell what's going to happen before it occurs, then what's the point of seeing the movie?  Why not just read a blurb about it and construct it in my head, then get back to playing video games?

It's always fun to watch stories unfold, even if you know where they're going.  It's the same reason (some) people enjoy watching the same movies over and over.  The familiarity of a story can be comforting, and thinking about an old plot in a new way can also be worth your while.  Predictable plots can also let us focus on some other part of the film - action movies all have similar plots so that we can keep our minds on the explosions, and Disney movies all have similar plots so that we can keep our minds on making sure our 3 year old doesn't choke on something.  Also the music.

Beyond that, it's fun to watch a predictable movie you haven't seen before because there's always the chance that they'll defy your expectations, that this time you really will be surprised.  We have to put up with the predictability of most movies so that the few that cut through all that have something to stand against.  If everything was unpredictable, then unpredictability would become the new predictability.  There has to be a base line for the top 5 contenders.

I think familiarity is the biggest reason.  People don't like change.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Top 5 Villains

I started this post with the intent to make a list of what I thought were the top 5 most iconic villains in film.  Yeah, that didn't turn out well.  Turns out the American Film Institute made a list of the 50 greatest villains rather than 5, and it still leaves out some of my favorites.  Not to mention it was created before The Dark Knight came out.
What's a guy to do?  Change the criteria is the most obvious answer, so that's what I'll do.  There's iconic villains, and then there's my favorite villains.  The Wicked Witch of the West is an obvious inclusion on the first while someone like The Underminer might only make it to the second, and it takes someone (or thing) special to straddle both.

Top 5 Favorite Movie Villains
The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Cruella DeVil (101 Dalmations)
Kaizer Soze (The Usual Suspects)
Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Honorable Mention to Mr. Jones (Fringe) who is bumped off the list because he comes from TV rather than a movie.

I'd be happy to talk about my choices more if anyone has questions, but I think this should be pretty self explanatory.  I love twist endings, apparently.  Also Cruella is a scary bitch.  Let me know who I'm forgetting or if there's another Disney villain I should give Curella's spot to.  For reference, here's the basic list of contenders I whipped up before compiling the above 5:

Inglourious Basterds Nazi dude
Hannible Lector (Silence of the Lambs)
Mr. Jones (Fringe)
The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Wicked Witch of the West
Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Voldemort (Harry Potter)
Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
Agent Smith (The Matrix)
Bill (Kill Bill)
Hans Gruber (Die Hard)
Dr. No (Dr. No)
HAL 9000
Jack Torrance
Cruella DeVil
Kaizer Soze (The Usual Suspects)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was blown away.  What a remarkable trailer - it seemed full of the imaginative world of the wild things, full of discovery.  The soundtrack was perfect, and it looked like the director may have tried to do something a bit dark with the story.  Lord knows I love a good corrupted children's story from time to time.  Still, I expected that what I saw in the trailer was about all I'd ever need to see of Where The Wild Things Are.  It is, after all, a 7 sentence long story.  No matter how awesome the guy who made the trailer was, it was unlikely they'd be able to pull 90 quality minutes out of 7 sentences.

Turns out I was dead on in my expectations.  It was cool to see them try something other than your traditional uplifting kids story and play with the themes of divorce and the loneliness of childhood, but as I foretold, 7 sentences do not a 90 minute movie make.  There was a lot of space and boredom to be had, so I used the time to practice not being embarrassed in public.

No matter how the movie actually was, the puppets looked amazing.  It was reminiscent of the giant puppet parade I used to see as a child up in the cities.  Great big things that move both like people and like puppets at the same time and inspire wonder.  The CG they did with the mouths, too... very impressive.  It legitimately looks like the giant live action monsters are moving their mouths as they speak, and not just in a Kermit the Frog up and down way.  I mean a forming of each syllable way.  Very cool.

There were some surprisingly dark scenes.  The end was just kind of sad, and it's not a totally happy ending.  Max doesn't solve any of his problems, he just learns that freaking out isn't the best way to deal with them.  My favorite part of the movie, however, is this almost The Talented Mr. Ripley moment where the main wild thing freaks out and tears another guy's arm off.  In a PG movie.  Then it starts "bleeding" this white goop... it's scarey, man.  Plus, after that, the guy who's now missing an arm doesn't, say, reattach his arm.  Oh no.  He grabs a stick that looks sort of like an arm and wears it around in his shoulder socket like a snowman.  What the crap, guys.

The most infuriating part of the movie were the voices.  I recognized almost everyone, but couldn't remember from where.  IMDB saved me from tearing my ears out after I'd gotten home.  This is a common phenomenon:  recognizing a voice is easy, but pinpointing who's voice it is without their face there on the screen is much harder.  Anyway, this seems to me like prime time to play another round of

Spot The Actor

I'll post a picture (and maybe a youtube link to give you the voices), and you tell me who that actor is or what else they've been in.  Hoo Ha!

In order, we have Carol, Douglas, Judith, KW, The Bull, Alexander, and Ira.  I think.  If those names are wrong I'll be very sad, but what can you do.  I know I at least thought I recognized the voices of Carol, KW, Judith and Ira, but I couldn't place any of them without IMDB help.  What about you?

But yeah.  Pretty mediocre movie.  Like most modern pop culture films, it looks great and is only tolerable in the long run.  At least they tried new stuff even if it didn't pan out too well for them.

SAM'S VERDICT:  It's a kids movie, guys.  And not one made by Disney or Pixar.  What were you expecting?

Girlfriend thought it was cute, at least.  Though Ponyo is probably a better choice if that's what you're in the mood for.

Spot The Actor Answers:
1.  James Gandolfini.  The Soprano's star.  Also the American general from In The Loop.
2.  Chris Cooper.  I saw him in Breach a few years ago.
3.  Catherine O'Hara.  I think I know her best from the Waiting for Guffman documentaries.
4.  Lauren Ambrose.  Apparently she was in Cold Souls, but I don't recognize her.
5.  No one actually cares who this guy was.
6.  Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine fame.  Nice 5 degrees of Kevin Bacon connection with Steve Carell.
7.  Forest Whitaker.  He's probably famous, but I don't know who he is.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall TV Shows Part 2

Picking up where we left of last time.  This has a bit of a misleading name since it turns out 2 of my 3 remaining shows don't air until Februaryish.  Lame!


Chuck is a pretty awesome show, guys.  One part romantic comedy, one part spy movie, and one part nerd herd.

Yeah, that's right.  The premise is that regular guy Chuck Bartowski works at the local Buy More (aka Best Buy) as a Nerd Herd (Geek Squad) tech support guy.  Yes they have cute little cars.  One day he's being depressed about getting kicked out of Stanford and being dumped by his true love college girlfriend when he gets an email from his former roommate.  It's got an attachment which Chuck opens, and it turns out to be full of all sorts of government secrets.  Also happens that the original database was destroyed, so now he's the only copy.  CIA agent Adam Baldwin (Jayne) and FBI agent Sarah Walker (love interest) are assigned to protect him.  Chuck starts leading a secret undercover spy life while still trying to keep his normal stuff going, and he's adorably incompetent but also surprisingly good at being a spy.  Then there's all sorts of sexual tension between him and the FBI lady because there's definitely feelings there but they can't be together because she works for the FBI and also her cover story for sticking around is being Chuck's girlfriend.  Hilarious.  Each episode there's also a subplot with Chuck's nerdy coworkers at the Buy More and the shenanigans they get themselves into which.

Overall, it's super forumulaic.  Good thing the forumla works so well then.  So well, in fact, that it wasn't until the end of season 2 (the most recent one) that I felt like they really needed to switch things up.  Then they promptly did so at the end of season 2, so... there you go!  Only problem left is that it only got renewed for another half season.  God knows why; there's a ridiculous fanbase for a show that's so casually predictable and laid back, and it seems like the kind of thing tons of people would watch.  Apparently there were issues with what it was scheduled up against.  Dumb reason to kill a show if you ask me, especially given how accessable Chuck is.  The tropes are so obvious you could probably jump in to the middle of any episode in the series and write the first half from memory of other stuff you've seen.  What makes the show so impressive is that it's fun even though it's so predictable.  It's like Bond movies and good rom-coms in that way the same way it is in content.  Fun stuff.

This is the one that doesn't come back on until February in case you were wondering.


Yay Mal!  Honestly, it's surprising even to me that I started watching Castle.  The initial spots for it I saw on Hulu were... well, now that I think about it, a great way to sumarize the show.  Take a bad cop show premise - she's an ice-queen badass New York cop with a tragic past; he's an easy going murder mystery writer millionaire who's in need of a new thrill and decides to follow her around as inspiration for his next series - and then throw in two leads with great chemistry.  Nathon Fillion is really impresive; I thought for a while he might just be an okay actor who got lucky enough to work on Firefly, but it turns out he can hold his own with bad scripts, too.  The female lead is also great, but no one cares about her as much because she's not Captain Hammer.

So yeah.  Meh scripts at best, the occasional fun puzzle of a murder, and two leads that compliment each other perfectly.  The fun is just watching the banter of the show.  Lesson learned:  line delivery can make a show all on its own.  Oh, and Fillion's character has a great family, too.  Smart, good looking high school daughter who can also hold her own in the banter category and mother reminescent of Lucille Bluth several notches down on the horrible person scale.  Both of them live with him, so there's fun home life scenes.  Then there's the poker group for famous writers...

Why are poker scenes so fun to watch?  They're all so predictable and bad.  Guess it means I should start playing that game.  Probably pay my way through college.

Where was I?  Castle.   Something stupidly fun to watch if you like watching TV.  I might call it the best mediocre show on television right now.  Then again, I don't watch much mediocre television so how would I know?


Yeah, I watch it.  If you want to talk to me about it, I'm always free for a Lost conversation.  You probably know exactly what you think of this show, though.  If not, go watch it.  Oh, and I've got some paint you can furnish the underside of your rock with; I imagine it's a little stale down there unchanged for 5 years now.

That's what I watch.  Oh, also Venture Bros, but that one probably deserves its own post.  Other good shows I've seen all of:  Cowboy Bebop, Firefly, Buffy, Flight of the Conchords (note: may or may not actually be good), and all the others I'm forgetting.  I recommend them all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Hangover and The Saturday Night Fever Effect

I'm sure you've heard of The Hangover if you paid any attention to the 2009 summer movie season.  When the trailers came out in the spring, it looked like another one of those atrocious movies where a couple of guys get really drunk, forget their wild and crazy night, then have to piece together what happened over the course of the movie.  I've never seen one of these movies get acceptable reviews, and the quick plot summary isn't interesting enough to get me to go see one.  Thus, I assume they're all awful.

When The Hangover came out, this was the generally accepted way of thinking about it.  "Doesn't that look terrible?" could've been its tag-line.  But then something happened:  people started seeing it and liked what they saw.  Reviews popped up all over the place praising it.  Friends of all kinds said it was the must see comedy of the summer.  It was apparently the funniest thing ever, and therefore I felt a little guilty when I never got around to seeing it.  And let's face it:  this is not the kind of movie I'd pick up from a video rental place.

Fall came and I returned to college.  Carleton has this awesome program called SUMO.  Don't ask me what it stands for, but what it does is find two movies a weekend that are either somewhere between theater and DVD release or classically awesome and screen them multiple times over Friday and Saturday.  It's a great thing to do if you're bored on a weekend night, especially if you like movies.  Since that last sentence seems to specifically describe me, I tend to go to a lot of SUMO movies.  This week, as you no doubt have guessed, they showed The Hangover.

I wasn't even planning on going, to be honest.  Few of my friends wanted to see it, and I still wasn't intrigued enough to check it out myself.  After all, what's sadder than seeing a guy bonding movie all by yourself*?  Then 11:30 on Friday night rolled around, and I happened upon a friend making her way over to the Olin lecture hall to attempt to stay awake through the subject of today's review.  (Generally the drunk people yelling at the screen help with that awake thing.)  I followed her over, and...

What a mediocre movie.  I mean, I liked it, but it was super average.  The plot is nothing we haven't seen plenty of times before.  The crazy antics of the night before are exactly what you'd expect from a blackout bachelor party set in the silver screen version of Vegas.  The jokes made me smile but rarely laugh.  What was so wonderful about this movie that it made so many people recommend it to me?

Here's my theory.  I believe this is a perfect case of The Saturday Night Fever Effect at work.  A term stolen from the book First Among Sequels in which the characters discuss the movie their effect is named for.  The idea is that if you go in expecting Saturday Night Fever to suck, then it will be great - an eternal classic.  But if you go in expecting that classic status, it turns out to suck.  Expectations completely change your opinion of a work.  I've seen this thing at work even on movies I've seen before.  When I saw the first Harry Potter movie, I thought it was bad.  A week later when I saw it again, I thought it wasn't half bad.  This is because the first time my expectations were through the roof, and the second time they were in the toilet.

I think The Hangover is a victim of this effect.  People must have gone in expecting crap since that's what the preview seems to promise.  Then when it wasn't crap, they told everyone it was solid gold.  Then everyone else went expecting solid gold and, well, it didn't deliver.

Perhaps I'm over thinking this.  Maybe the people that actually went and saw it were just the kind of people that goes to a movie like The Hangover even before they've heard it's good.  These people would be used to low quality films, so an average one would knock their socks off.  They told their friends, and their friends went and found what was actually there:  a few laughs and tolerability.

Whatever the case, The Hangover is an okay movie.  The important thing to take away here is that I want to study the way expectations shape our experiences.  Such a cool idea.  I'm trying to think of other movies that have been colored by what I've heard about them, but I'm falling short.  Catch-22 wasn't great for me probably because the book was so amazing.  That's a common occurrence with adaptations, I think.  I bet I wouldn't hate Spiderman 3 as much as everyone else does since I'd go in expecting nothing.  Little help, anyone?

SAM'S VERDICT:  Okay.  Delivers exactly what it promises.

*Answer:  twelve dead puppies**.
**Be glad I didn't go with my original answer***.
***You thought this was going to be the original answer, didn't you?  Instead I'm just going to say "WOOOO NESTED FOOTNOTES".

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Evening With The Coen Brothers

week ago I went to the Walker to see the Coen Brothers.  Live.  Talking about movies.  This started to come about a few months ago when my dad told me about this 25th(?) anniversary of Blood Simple talk they were giving.  Apparently my parents are members of the Walker, so they got first crack at the stupidly expensive tickets.  Yay massive disposable income.  My mom didn't especially want to go, so my dad said he'd get 3 tickets and that if my sister didn't want the 3rd I could bring someone from college.

An interesting conundrum!  Who would I invite?  I have several friends from town who I'd love to bring to a talk like that.  DBlock and Joey come to mind, and Danl is not a bad backup.  Sadly none of them were in town, so I started thinking of people at Carleton.  Turns out most of my friends here are either not very interested in movies or I don't know well enough to invite on what looks sort of like a date except my dad is there, too.  Awkward.  (Yes, the majority of the college people I like spending time with are girls, so that last sentence makes sense.)  Silly me, I'd forgotten Joey was going to Olaf this year and didn't get around to inviting him until he was already busy with rehearsal for some unspecified thing.  Lame.  Turns out my sister took the ticket anyway, so no harm done.  I like the theoretical question, though.  You've got an extra ticket to some cool thing that you're going to with a parent.  Which of your friends do you offer the ticket to?  Almost like one of those boundaries things.  Once I know you well enough to offer you that ticket, I know we're tight.

We left early so we could eat Thai food for dinner.  It wasn't the greatest, but I like most anything  branded as Thai food.  Plus, free meals.  That means so much to a college student.  It was rainy and cold out, which sucks.  I remember last year we had such a beautiful fall and this year it's just dreary.  Stupid Minnesota getting my hopes up.

The line to get into the performance hall was long even though we were 10 minutes before doors opened.  Everyone was dressed up except me in my unicorn-riding-a-motorcycle t-shirt.  Also everyone was suspiciously middle aged.  Given the price of the tickets I'm not surprised.  I'm probably one of the few kids who would've tried to get tickets to this thing at 17, so I don't know what I was expecting.  Different age groups are just scary.

They had this slide show on the giant screen going for the 30 minutes before the talk that showed pictures of all the other people the Walker had had come for this lecture series.  Elena and I talked about how creepy that one guy looked.  You know the guy.  This guy:

Holy shit, guys.  That guy is freaky looking.  John Waters of Pink Flamingos fame.  I still haven't seen that, but judging by what I've heard that's a good thing.  I recognized maybe a 3rd of the people.

After way too long, someone finally came out on stage and started introducing the men of the hour.  Blah blah blah, they're awesome, go see their new movie, this was the room Blood Simple premiered in, etc.  Shut up and give me my Coen Brothers, lady.  She complied with my request pretty quickly, and voila!  There they were!  Huzzah!  Standing ovation!

This other guy came out with them.  Some movie critic who was there to ask them questions so they'd have something to talk about.  Problem was, he was all "oooo, film theory" and they were all "yeah, we pretty much just like telling stories.  Aren't stories awesome?  We like reading, too."  Then the critic would go "yeah, what about this thing?  What about that film theory thing?" and they'd go "yeah.  Um... yeah?"

My favorite exchange pretty well summed up the whole night.  The critic plays this clip from Miller's Crossing where an Irish gangster's house gets shot up while Danny Boy plays in the background.  It's a great scene, beautifully timed to the music and very important to the movie.  This guy gets shot like 100 times by a tommy gun at one point but the movie is stylized like that so it's okay.  Anyway, great scene.  This gets shown and the critic asks "Why Danny Boy?" to which they reply "Um... because he's Irish?"

Overall, a bit disappointing.  I felt like I didn't get a whole lot out of it.  It was hilarious just how casual they were - just a couple of guys that make movies doing their thing.  Hopeful, in a way, because it means maybe I can be that guy some day.  I just gotta go find me a friend to write with.  That's what college is for, though.  Right?

Quick Time Travel Link

Yahtzee summarizes what I was trying to say in my Index of philosophies in about 1/1000th the words.  Start around 50 seconds, then obsoive:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Informant

I think my favorite regular program of any kind is This American Life.  The show is just... they're so good at capturing those moments in life that make you feel warm inside, and those that make a shiver run up your spine.  The modern independent radio story is more or less a carbon copy of the stuff TAL has been doing for years.  If you've never heard their stuff before, go subscribe to their podcast right now.  It's the best thing you'll listen to all week every week, and you can appreciate it while taking a walk.  It's probably the only thing that gets me out and about some weeks.

"But Sam," you say.  "This is a blog about movies!  Why are you talking about a radio show?  Well I think I made it pretty clear in my last post that I'm not above branching out in my subject matter.  There's plenty of stuff out there that acts like a movie but isn't.  To be sure, radio is a step further away from movies than TV is, but it's still in the same spectrum of story-telling.  That's what I'm interested in in the first place - story telling.  It's just that I like forms that get told to me in 2 hours rather than books I have to read over weeks.  I'm from generation X; I'm impatient and easily distracted.

There's more than that, though.  I put on this week's podcast a couple days ago.  It looked like a re-run from nearly a decade ago.  Turns out the show is all devoted to a single story about an FBI informant who helps take down one of the biggest price fixing schemes ever found and rooted out.  More importantly, they reran it this week because a movie version of their 2000 radio story just came out starring Matt Damon.

I remember seeing this poster around and not being excited.  I never even bothered to watch the preview for it on Hulu.  But after hearing the TAL story... well, they get me interested in everything.  The main character is such an interesting guy, and I can easily see Damon playing him really well.  The guy almost reminds me of The Talented Mr Ripley if you replaced the murder with doing illegal business stuff.

Two recommendations then:
1.  Go listen to as much of This American Life as you can get your hands on.  Right now.  Why are you still here?  I know for a fact that this week's show is free, and you can listen to any show for free if you stream if from their website.
2.  Go see The Informant.  I can vouch for the story's quality, as can reviewers (apparently).  It looks like one of those precious few "true stories" that actually remains true to its source material.

Have at it, movie goers!  Before I go, here's an embedded trailer:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fall TV Shows

It's that time of the year again, the time where I'm in school and stop having time for watching / blogging about movies every day.  My time is broken into smaller pieces than it was in the summer, so I fill it with smaller sized movies.  That is to say, TV shows.

There are some big differences between TV and movies.  TV episodes have to be a very specific length, so they tend to fall into a small number of plot formulas.  These plots tend to rise and fall at very specific times, namely commercial breaks.  At the same time, the stories told on TV can be much longer than those in movies since they come back every week.  This again leads to a repetitive rhythm in stories as shows that do choose to have story arcs that last more than one ep(isode) tend to have high points at the beginning and ends of seasons, and during that one week in the winter where ratings are measured more than other times.  Not that is particularly bad for the medium as restrictions breed creativity, and sometimes the deadline of a season's end can make a show get on with it.  Remember the third season of Lost when they didn't know how long they were going to have to keep the show going, so they just dragged everything out as long as possible?  Yeah.  Bad news bears.  An ending for the show was great for them.  Could've helped The X-Files a lot.  Smaller plot threads can do the same thing, and a season's end can be a good way to make the writers wrap things up.  With an appropriate cliffhanger, of course.

Yes, TV is limited by the network system.  Blah blah blah Firefly comment blah blah.  Nothing to be done about that, though.  It's a shame, but we deal.  It's not like Hollywood doesn't have that going on.

Anyway, I'm going to start periodically updating my faithful readers on my current opinion of the shows that I watch.


Now without further ado...


WOOOO FRINGE!  This show just started its second season this past Thursday.  It's a show by J.J. Abrams, also known for his co-creation of Lost and Cloverfield.  I still struggle to find differences between Fringe and The X-Files beyond the fact that the buzzwords we're willing to suspend our disbelief for have changed since the 90s.  Instead of aliens we've moved up to anything with the word quantum in it.  Great show, though.  It's my favorite show on television at the moment, and it had me hooked from episode 1.  Here's how the pilot ends:

Bunch of dudes in white lab coats in a pristine white basement somewhere beneath ominous corporation Massive Dynamic.  A boss woman we've briefly met comes in to the lab, and we see that they have the body of an important dude who just died in a car crash on a gurney.

BOSS LADY:  Is he dead?
BL:  How long?
LT:  About three hours.


BL:  Question him.
smash cut to black

Yeah, bitches.  That's some heavy hitting right there.  Then there's the end of the first season where, well, I know some of you ignored my spoiler warning so I won't spoil it here.  Besides, it leaves me speechless - it's such a visual thing.

Then the characters are... actually, for the most part I like the supporting cast a lot more than the main cast.  The black dude is amazing, Astrid is fun and perky, and Nina is fucking sweet.  Walter is fun, though it seems like every ep they have to give him a new stupid line about food.  We get it, he's nuts.  It's a good way to introduce new viewers to his character, yes, but please.  You're professional writers.  You can come up with another way to quickly depict him and switch off episodes; you don't have to use the same joke every time.

Olivia is fine, though not amazing.  I'm a fan of Peter even though he feels like a 7 or 8 when he should be a 9 out of 10.  Everyone's better than Mulder at least.

Oh shit, then there's that one guy.  Mr. Jones.  What an awesome villain.  He totally gets a spot on my top 5 villains of all time.  So creepy.

Pretty much.  If you were a fan of The X-Files and don't like this show, it better be because you're squeemish.  There's a lot more downright disturbing ideas in Fringe I think because society has sort of upped the ante in what creeps it out.  You have to be pretty hardcore these days.


It's not Firefly, that's for sure.  Probably the worst of Whedon's shows, but that still leaves a fuck-ton of room for goodness.  Oh, and the first 5 eps are complete trash.  If you want to get started on this show but don't want to deal with the horrendous beginning, here's what I recommend:  buy (or "buy" [by which I mean torrent]) the DVDs, watch the original pilot episode, then read plot summaries of the first 5 eps.  If you're really bored, watch episode 2 because I actually liked that one.  If you're really, really bored, watch the one where she's robbing a bank, too.  If you're really, really, really bored, still don't watch the rest of them.  They blow.  After that, watch episode 6 and just go from there.  It should be enough to hook you unless you actually need those first 5 eps to figure out what's going on, in which case the show is as good as dead.  Probably is anyway given the ratings.

If you can make it all the way through the season, the payoff is HUGE.  The end of the season is merely fine, but they filmed a 13th episode for the DVDs called Epitaph One.  It's awesome, though disappointing that the show is so close to dead that they had to essentially put 5 seasons of plot into a single episode.  I feel robbed of 4 years of setup and reveal.  4 years should be 4 years, not 43 minutes.

I think the biggest problem with the show in its first season is that there's no character you can really like.  Topher is sort of likable, but he's also creepy as fuck.  You're "supposed" to like Echo, but she by definition doesn't have a personality.  The doctor is likable I guess.  Everyone else is not up to empathy standards.  Epitaph One greatly implies that this will change, but still.  You want people to like your show in season 1, not season 5.  That first one is where it's most important.

Whatever.  Lots of faults, probably worth it if you follow my advice about what not to watch.  Hey, that gives me an idea...


Oops, I'm out of time.  I'll be back later this week with Chuck, Castle, and any other shows I watch but am forgetting about.  In the mean time, check out Fringe season 1 on DVD.  It's awesome.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How To Get To Movies On Time

I remember when I first realized that everyone I knew was bad at organizing trips to the movies.  We were getting on to interstate 35 on our way to see TMNT, and we only had 8 minutes to get to Lakeville theater, a drive that would normally take 12.  Somewhere between 80 and 90 mph, I wondered why we hadn't just left 15 minutes earlier.  We'd be able to safely get to the theater, people who wanted to spend atrocious amounts of money on snacks would have time to do so, and everyone could empty their bladders before the movie began.  Why were we so late?

Then the realization:  everyone thinks that if you're going to a 9:00 movie and it takes 25 minutes to get there, you should leave your house at 8:30.  It'll take 25 mintues to get there, and you get 5 minutes to get all your friends, get your tickets, go to the bathroom, and get to your movie.

Think about that.  I know when you, dear reader, head out to a movie, that must be approximately your thought process.  You probably just think "25 minutes to get there plus a few more for other stuff".  But that other stuff takes, like, half an hour itself!  It takes me more than 5 minutes just to get to one friend's house; what happens if I'm taking 4?  Not to mention the time it takes for people to get out of their house when you show up.  No one's perfect, and everyone takes a bit of time.  You have to account for each person you're bringing, traffic and construction, and getting to your theater once you've gotten out of the car.

That trip to see TMNT was a great example of this.  Someone had told everyone to meet at Blue Monday 30 minutes before the movie started.  Naturally, no one showed up until 28 minutes until showtime, and then we spent 5 trying to figure out who should drive and who should go in what car.  Just as that had been decided, we realized someone who was coming hadn't showed up yet, so one car had to wait for him.  He showed up at about 20 minutes until showtime, and then it took another 2 minutes before the car engines were starting.  Now we had less than 20 minutes to make a 25 minute drive, buy our tickets, and sprint to the theater.

After that night, I decided to start taking matters into my own hands.  If I'm going to a movie these days, I make sure  I know what showing I'm going to, who I'm taking, and how long it takes to get to the theater.  (I'm always the driver, although that's mostly because I have a car and don't mind rather than anything else.)  Then I take the expected driving time, add 10 minutes of travel time per person I have to pick up, add another 5 for good measure, and leave with that total amount of time to get to the theater.

"Wow," I bet you're thinking.  "Don't you get to the theater stupidly early?  I don't want to have to sit through those horrible movie adds."  This, my friends, is the best part of the whole system.  Yes, I do get to the theater early, but since I started doing this, that early time has become my favorite part of the whole trip.  You aren't feeling rushed during it because you have plenty of time, so you get to have a nice, relaxed conversation with your friends.  See, the reason I watch movies is the same reason some people like to drink:  I like having something to do with my friends.  When you get down to it, there's nothing more interesting in life than other people.  Not everyone is interesting to everyone else, of course.  You have to be able to connect with another person on some level to make them worth your time.  It may be a competitve connection, like you're playing a game, or it could be a social connectiong, like you happen to both feel passionately about your favorite brand of rootbeer.  Whatever.  Everything worth your time in life somehow contributes to cool interactions with other people.  Personally, one of my favorite ways to interact with others is through stories.  I like telling them, but I also like hearing them.  Talking about stories with friends is fun, and going deeper and really analyzing them can lead to all sorts of good, meaty conversation.  It just so happens that I enjoy film as a medium for storytelling, so I like watching movies with friends.  And that pre-movie time you get when you're early is wonderful for talking!  You can continue whatever conversation you were having in the car, you can compare expectations for the film you're about to see, or you can scrounge up something to say from those terrible adds for small local businesses and churches that for some reason feel the need to advertise.  The time before a movie is ripe for conversation.

Anyway, I was originally planning to give out some helpful pointers for making your movie-going experience more enjoyable.  I didn't mean to get a philisophical on you.  Not sure what I was going to say, though.  It's mostly stuff people already know but don't actually follow through with.  How about a list?

1.  Stop at a gas station for snacks.  Assuming you want them, that is.  It's easy to smuggle in food, and you can save, like, $3 a person if you make the time to stop at a gas station instead of buying movie theater food.

2.  Obviously, make sure you have enough time to get to the theater.  I just spent a huge amount of space ranting about this, but leave a good 20 minutes earlier than you think you have to.  It'll leave everyone less stressed and with a better outing.  If you don't like spending that extra time talking to your friends, you should reconsider more than just when you're going to leave for the movie.

3.  Don't bring people to the movie that are going to ruin it for the rest of you.  For example, I no longer watch Pixar movies with Danl unless I want to spend the whole time trash talking with him.  If you must bring that one person along who really would rather be doing something else, make them sit on the end next to someone they won't bother, and honestly, you should consider finding something else to do entirely.

4.  That last bit transitions nicely into thinking about who you're going to sit next to.  You don't have to go this far

(although someone probably will), but you should consider stuff like "who is legitimately in a relationship with someone else here?" and "am I going to be wanting to lean over and make jokes about this film to the person next to me?  If so, are the people next to me up for that sort of thing?" and "is it really a good idea to let the two girls who are going to be screeching loudly together and thereby bothering the whole theater sit together?" and "is it really a good idea to let the two guys who are going to make jokes about the terrible rom-com script and laugh loudly thereby bothering the whole theater sit together?" and "will I have to pee a lot during this movie because I got a mega-large Coke, meaning I should take the aisle seat?"  All good questions.  As Munroe says, don't just file into the row haphazardly.

That sounds like it for now.  If you've got any movie-going advice of your own, let me hear it.  I always enjoy new ways to improve my movie experience.

Until next time, remember:  leave early!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

9: Why College Is So Important

So there's this guy, we'll call him Ane Shacker.  He grows up as the quiet kid in class who doesn't speak much even when you're trying to have a conversation with him.  In high school he doodles through history instead of taking notes, and comes up with some pretty cool sketches.  When he goes off to art school, he's already got this idea floating around in his head:  it's for this group of little guys made out fabrics and nick-nacks, and he sketches them a lot.  Pretty much every project he does features these little guys in some way, and in the ones where he can't he tries to find ways to fit references in anyway.  In portraits they show up as logos on shirts; in pictures of flowers they're silhouetted in the background.  He doesn't mind that they look corny, he's more into computer arts anyway.  Eventually he starts developing a story for them, too.

Somewhere along the line, Ane gets lucky.  He's showing off some of his digital sketches to someone important, and they think it's great stuff.  He gets some money and some buddies willing to work for tiny amounts of money, and they put together pieces.  This is looking even better now, and a big studio is even thinking about picking them up.  Things start going fast; they get more money, more people, and pretty soon they've got a whole movie made about these guys!  Damn they look cool, too.  Tim Burton's even signed on to hook his name up with the publicity.  Ane's dream has come true!  He's gotten his little doll-guys onto the big screen!  Now everyone can see his sketches in full 3D!  But wait, shit, were they supposed to write a story to go along with it somewhere in there?  Ane's always pictured them as fighting soul stealing robots, so some of those get thrown in.  The robots look cool, too, because Ane did a series of roboty looking things back in school.  Yeah!  Movie done!

Okay, so that's probably a bit off from the facts.  Maybe.  Check out this imdb page, though.  Yes, that's a link to 9, a short film made by the same guy who made the movie this review is about.  A short film made in 2005.  Wikipedia says it took 4 and a half years to make, so this thing's been in the works since 2000!  This guy's been working on this project his whole life!  It's his baby.  It's just too bad he didn't hang out more around the English department so that he'd make some friends that can write.

9 looks awesome, you can't argue with that.  I'm always looking for animated movies that target themselves at people above the age of 4.  It's just that I want them to make sense, too, and this movie doesn't.

The plot is... well, take all the post-apocalyptic stories and all the AI gets too advanced and kills all the humans stories, put them together, shake them up, and draw out like 6 at random.  Chop those up, use a couple pieces from each, and voila:  you've got 9.  Evil machine creatures?  Check.  A band of people seemingly alone in the world?  Check.  Each of them is a boring stereotype?  Check.  Beautiful sky above the clouds but dry crappy world beneath it?  Clues hidden by someone who came before this group about what they should do to survive?  Sacrifice of the selfish guy who turns noble at the last minute?  Cool explosions?  All checks.  Seriously, it's a boring plot, and it's full of holes.  There's something about souls being sucked out of our numbered heroes, and something about saving them from the machines.  There's a deux ex machina ending.  There's even a fucking HAL9000 style red circle for the evil bad machine's "face".  Everything is a cliche.  My dad speculated that some of the scenes were actually homages to other movies, but we both thought hard and couldn't come up with anything.  Conclusion:  the scenes are all so cliched that it just feels like they're homages because they're so fucking overused.

But enough about the bad.  I'm only so pissed because I was hoping the plot would be good so that animation as a genre could take a step forward.  And because it would have been SO EASY to give it a mediocre plot instead of a bad, nonsensical one.  Why would you want to see 9?  Here's some reasons:

Yeah baby.  That last one especially; it may not look like much, but that snake slash machine thing is awesomely creepy.  You've gotta see it to appreciate just how disturbing it is, but basically it uses one of the puppets that has died as bait for the rest of them, hypnotizes them with the dead puppet's eyes, then picks up the limp bodies, sews them with blood red thread into a subdued form, then puts them inside itself to carry back to the machine lair.  It's terrifying.

The character design is also great.  It's an intriguing puzzle:  how does one differentiate nine of these little rag doll guys?  Each opens up along the chest, and each closes in a different way (buttons, zipper, shoe laces, etc).  Each has different looking eyes.  Each is made from a different fabric.  More impressive is how each of these design choices helps bring across the doll's personality.  The hunter has a bone mask.  The girl looks softer and lighter than the rest.  The angry guy has different eyes, more capable of looking angry and suspicious.  The librarians are small, thin, and don't speak.  Every one of them looks unique and cool.

Man, I could sit here all day and talk about how cool looking this movie is.  I could also sit here for the same amount of time and bitch about the stupid plot.  If you just want a sweet looking 80 minutes, what are you waiting for.  Otherwise, you can pass this one up.

Hey, it beats an art museum.

SAM'S VERDICT:  Easy on the eyes, just bring some earplugs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

5 Movies You Haven't Seen But Should

Okay, so you may have seen some of these, especially if you're my dad and watch all the same stuff I do.  But the rest of you probably haven't even heard of most of these, and they're all great.  If you're looking for something new to see, check this list over and see if anything catches your fancy.

The Hudsucker Proxy

I'm a sucker for everything Coen Brothers.  They've got a pretty standard forumula that about half their movies follow.  It involves various groups getting involved with some sort of illegal activity, then due to either people being stupid or just bad luck everything goes to hell.  People die, the heist / murder / what-have-you goes fowl, etc.  I like that formula.  They've done it adapted from a book with No Country For Old Men, they've done it as a comedy in The Big Lebowski, they've done it straight in Blood Simple, and they've gotten it nominated for best picture with Fargo.  This movie, The Hudsucker Proxy, is one of their movies that does not follow this formula.

So you've got a hyper-stylized version of the "newsies" era.  What is that, the 20s maybe?  Whatever.  It's New York City, people are all walking around in gray suits with briefcases not turning their heads.  The sky is white rather than blue.  All the buildings all super tall.  Tim Robins is a young guy fresh out of school looking for a job, and he finds one in the hectic mail room of Hudsucker Industries.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hudsucker jumps out the top floor of a skyscraper.  That sucks.  The board of directors, being evil and such, tries to decide how to deal with the fact that they will no longer have control of the company.  They devise a plan to put an idiot in charge, drive the company into the ground, buy up all the cheap stock, then get back in charge and make millions.

And just after this, who should walk into the office of the Head Evil Guy with a BLUE LETTER

but Tim Robins.  He gets the job, and it goes from there.  And yes, before you ask, there is a fast-talking, hard-working, woman-in-a-man's-world reporter with too much sass and not enough patience.

The brilliant red pops so well against the otherwise gray pallet of this movie.  If I ever get disheartened as an artist, I'm just going to watch this movie again.  Ideas can come from anyone, guys.  Everyone has a beautiful idea inside of them waiting to blossom, and everyone has a different take on everyone else's ideas.  Remember that.


Not the modern animated one.  I haven't seen that one, but I hear it's good.  No, I'm talking about the old school black and white masterpiece that's never been fully recovered and has substantial sequences missing because they've been lost to time.  Metropolis is one of those old movies you see the poster of in classrooms inhabited by old people or cinema profs with movie posters on the walls.  I know what I think when I consider watching old movies:  no way.  Times have changed, stuff that was funny even just 15 years ago is stupid now.  Action has gotten better, drama has gotten more dramatic, and everything has gotten more colorful.  Seriously, though.  This movie is a masterpiece.  It's arguably the first sci-fi movie ever made, and certainly a very early story in that genre in any medium.  On top of that, the plot is good.  It's just a good movie.  I only watched it because I was forced to for a high school film class, but it was great.  I stopped looking for techniques like I was supposed to super early on and just watched it because I wanted to know what happened next.

I'd give you a quick plot synopsis, but I honestly don't remember what happens.  Something about a girl and some serious class divisions.  Heaven and Hell imagery frickin' everywhere, man.  I think there's robots involved.

The Weatherman

I know what you're thinking:  first he wants me to watch a "classic" piece of cinema for entertainment rather than to be able to say that I've seen a "classic" piece of cinema, and now he wants me to endure Nicholas Cage.  Yes, that is what I'm telling you, but keep reading.  I swear.  He's actually tolerable in this one.

Tolerable... that's an apt word to describe The Weatherman with.  This is the bleakest of comedies I have ever seen.  It's black as a black bear wrestling Malcolm X at midnight on a moonless night, all covered in black paint.  If you take me up on this suggestion, be prepared to be depressed.

Nicholas Cage is this guy.  He's got a dad who's a famous writer who he's always stood in the shadow of.  His ex-wife has custody of the kids, and she's got a new boyfriend.  Cage only gets to see the kids from time to time, and both of them have some pretty serious problems.  His job is as the weatherman for a medium level network.  Basically, his life is going down the toilet and he doesn't know what to do about it.  The movie is about it circling the drain, and the slight glimmer of hope that comes to him in the form of the chance to interview to be the weatherman for a really big network, maybe make 6 figures...

It's as bleak as it sounds, but it's also heartwarming in some sense.  It has a few of my favorite bits of all time in it; the discussion of people throwing stuff at Cage, the tarter sauce bit, and the brilliant ending thing with Cage narrating and walking through the streets as people dissipate around him... It's all so depressingly beautiful.

Plus it has Michael Cain in it.  Everything with him in it is at least watchable.  Oh!  And the kid from About A Boy.  Yeah.

Man On Wire

You see that movie poster?  That is a guy slacklining between the towers of world trade center.  Need I say more?


I don't think I should have to, but I know you won't be motivated to actually go watch the movie unless I do.  Also I want to.  So there.

Man On Wire is a documentary about this French dude in the 70s who slacklined between the twin towers.  No joke, this actually happened.  It's an awesome idea to begin with, but the telling of the tale just gets better.  Watching it felt like watching Ocean's 11.  There's a good script, there's a love interest, there's all this great history, and then there's the way they tell the story.

It comes in two parts that jump back and forth throughout the movie.  The first is the story of actually getting into the twin towers with all the necessary equipment, which feels like a crime movie.  This was by no means legal, remember, so they had to sneak past guards and such.  Some guys dress up as business men, some as construction workers, there's an inside man, security guards... it's exhilarating.  The other story thread is all the history behind Philippe (the guy you see in the poster there).  This wasn't the first giant structure he'd slacklined on / around / between...

It's a beautiful movie.  Gymnopedies is probably my favorite piece of music ever, and I've never seen it better used.


It's one of those movies where they tell the same story from lots of different perspectives, except that going into it we already know the story:  it's Little Red Riding Hood.  It's like we were already given one perspective, and now we get 3-5 more (I don't remember how many).  I love this movie because I love all point of view movies, but also because it's a great animated movie done at a tiny fraction of the cost that Pixar works at.  I'm always happy to see someone come close to matching a giant in any field, even if the giant is lovable like in this case.  But yeah, it's funny, it's clever, it's unique, and it has Joe / Brock / Patrick Warburton in it.  I love his voice acting.

Trust me on this one, though.  You don't need an excuse like babysitting your cousin to go watch this one.  You may have to pretend you're 14 again to not feel awkward while watching it, but if you can get around that feeling that you're too old, this is a kick.  High squirrels, British frogs, snowboarding grandmas, everything you could want from an early teen movie.

There you have it, people.  5 movie suggestions that you probably haven't heard from me before.  I recommend them all, even though I doubt any of you will take that too far to heart.  Even if you don't like one of these, go watch a movie sometime soon!  I know any readers here do a lot anyway, but seriously.  Pick up something new next time you've got the opportunity.  Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.  Branch out!  Try new things!  ENJOY THE CINEMA!

Edit:  I discovered after writing this that Hoodwinked actually has a sequel coming out called Hoodwinked Too!  Hood Vs Evil.  Title aside, it looks as good as the first.  Apparently it's got a Hansel and Gretel thing going on.  Go check out the first one before that gets here so that if you're interested you can grab some friends and all go to the second together so it's less awkward.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ponyo and Miyazaki's Relationship to Disney

SAM'S VERDICT:  This is the most adorable thing I have ever seen.

Okay, first thing's first.  I went to see this movie at this new theater in Burnsville called The Cinemagic Atlantis Theater.  Yeah bitches.  Cinemagic.  And it's Atlantis.  What place could better house your movie viewing experience?  No other.  You walk in the front door and there's a ticket both in front of you with an elaborate cage between you and the cashiers, and the whole place is decorated to look like marble.  Then once you get your ticket, you step into the main lobby where there's all kinds of giant pillars, crazy elaborate fantasy murals of muscular men and scantily clad maidens, and giant statues of a guy with a trident and his babe.  After taking that in, you realize that the awesomely epic music you're hearing is not coming from the usual tvs showing a loop of previews, but rather hidden speakers.  This is some seriously epic music we're talking about, too.  Big building and booming pieces that sound like the soundtrack to a place that has earned the right to the name Atlantis.  Walking down the hall to the theater, the music kept playing.  It was great.  I bet the employees want to kill themselves, though.  Listening to one 4 minute loop over and over for 8 hour shifts can't be good for morale.

Then there were the seats!  These were the most comfortable movie theater seats I'd ever sat in.  Big, comfy things with leather headrests.  They leaned back so far it felt like mine was trying to eat me up.  Plus they were brand new, so they didn't squeak at all.  Movie theater heaven, let me tell you.

Anyway, what movie was I going to talk about?  Oh yes:  Ponyo.

I heard a lot of talk a couple weeks before Ponyo came out about how Miyazaki was selling out with this movie by associating it with Disney.  To that I say "BS".  Just because someone accepts corporate sponsorship for their artwork doesn't mean they're somehow getting worse.  People who make good art should be rewarded for their efforts, and if they're being offered lots of money, well, who doesn't want that as a reward?  If Disney had taken creative control away from Miyazaki that would be something else, but my sources tell me this was not the case.

A related topic is the huge number of famous American actors doing voices for Ponyo.  This is a more debatable point; some of the same people that thought Miyazaki was selling out with Disney thought he was also selling out by agreeing to let all sorts of famous American dudes into the cast.  Seriously, look at that cast:  Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Betty White... that's some serious name dropping going on.  This is something one could get mad about for more legitimate reasons.  After all, it's possible that an actor would get cast in this movie for their fame rather than their talent.  I liked the voice acting myself, so this wasn't a problem.  I always feel weird listening to famous actors do animated characters, though.  It's like... I know that voice, and I know the person that voice belongs to, and it's not the person who's body that voice is coming out of.  Liam Neeson and Betty White bothered me a lot in this movie for this reason, though they both did fine acting jobs.

On to more review-y things!  As I said in my verdict, this is probably the most adorable thing I've ever seen.  Cuter than lol-cats, cuter than baby pictures, cuter than pretty much everything.  I haven't seen any of Miyazaki's "for kids" work before, just Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.  I actually laughed out loud many times just at how hilariously cute the scene in front of me was.  That bit where Ponyo is running across the ocean following Sosuke is just so full of innocent glee, it makes me feel all young and pure again.  The movie has the marks of a kid movie all over it, you know, because it is one.  Stuff like there not actually being any villains just challenges, no unlikable characters, messages about acceptance and love, the works.  It's so happy and optimistic, like if we were all like this everyone would be happy all the time.


So yeah.  Adorable kids movie.  Too bad I'm an adult now, and thus the ending was ruined for me.  I kept thinking about what would happen if after Ponyo and Sosuke grow up he stops loving her?  What happens if he finds someone else?  Does she turn into sea foam?  Does she summon her mother and wreck havoc on the land?  Does she just cry her eyes out live a crappy life as a human?  Then I realized that I was a monster - all I can think about is the repercussions of the ending, I can't just accept it as a beautiful children's story.  I'm tainted by age.  Me, someone generally considered optimistic, I can't help but try and find faults in the perfection of this tale of love.  What's wrong with adults?

Life is hard.  I do my best to have fun, and hopefully that will do me well.


Ponyo is a wonderful kids movie, but it is a kids movie.  I know a bunch of people out there not into that sort of thing, and that's fine.  This isn't the movie for you.  But you Miyazaki fans and older folks that enjoy a good kids piece would do well to go see this.  It's blissfully innocent.