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: