January 2008 Archives

An early look at Super Bowl commercials

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Crazy Guy

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This guy's video game reviews are just hilarious (and certainly NSFW). Check out some of the others as found on this page:

Zero Punctuation Reviews


Movie Review (repost) : Casablanca

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As a follow up to yesterday's post on our Saturday night viewing of Casablanca, I thought I would post this review I wrote on June 14, 2007. And no, I still haven't seen it in the theaters, although it is coming to the Brattle for its annual Valentine's Day visit, so I need to block the time out for it.


Ahh, Casablanca...  What more can I add to all the paens that have been written, and all the odes of love that have yet to be written?  I can say it is one of my all time favorite movies, and is the one I've seen the most.  A conservative estimate would be that I've seen it 30 times, quite possibly up to twice that number.  And to all those people who wonder how someone can watch a movie that often, I refer you to Roger Ebert's wonderful review in his book The Great Movies, where he compares watching Casablanca with listening to your favorite music CD - just a nice evening with a comfortable friend.

The serpentine story of a disillusioned saloon owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart), who meets an old flame, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who, it turns out, is the wife of a Resistance leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).  After much twisting and turning, they all try to do the right thing, and it ends with one of the most famous lines in film history:


Rick: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.".

My favorite character, actually, and the one I would most like to play in the sequel, is Captain Renault, the Louis in the above quote, played most wonderfully by Claude Rains.  While something of a slimeball, he's a happy-go-lucky one, who knows what he likes and what he can do, and is happy with that.  He has some good lines ("I like to think you killed a man.  It's the romantic in me." and "I'm shocked, shocked to find out gambling is going on here!" ), and in general comes out smelling like roses, as you would expect to happen with someone like Captain Renault.

The DVD is simply spectacular.  We've watched all kinds of incarnations (although, sadly, I've yet to actually see it in the movie theaters), but the DVD is like watching a brand new movie.  The filmmakers went to great lengths to have all kinds of action happening in the background, and you can finally see it.  The "colors" are gorgeous shades of black and white, and the sharpness is eye-popping.  It also includes a nice little documentary, as well as trailers for Casablanca and many other Bogart and Bergman films, including the Casablanca'ssort-of sequel, Passage to Marseilles.

We spent some time last night dissecting Rick's motivations, and to see when he gets over being bitter and finally gives Ilsa credit for doing the right thing.  It takes a couple of incidents for him to figure it out, but while he is pissed, he's got some wonderfully poisonous lines, like "I saved my first drink for you." and "Did you leave me for Laszlo, or was there someone in between.... or aren't you the kind that tells?" .  But the nice sub-plot of the young Hungarian couple (notice they are in several crowd shots before that, and are also trying to get a visa while Ilsa and Victor are visiting Capt. Renault) resolves itself through the "honest" roulette wheel, reminding him that perhaps somebody did love him that much.  Ilsa then visits him and explains to him just how complicated life can be.  So much has been written about the happenings on the Casablanca set (too much, I think, robbing the movie of some of its magic), but the fact that Ingrid Bergman didn't know the ending (heck, no one knew who she would end up going with until the last takes), gives her confusion some real credence and adds a special poignancy to the visit in Rick's apartment.  It is a fun line of investigation and one that I'll certainly visit again with my friend who introduced me to the Casablanca drug.  We watch it together quite often, and I'm sure more mention of this all-time classic will happen in here.



And, as a added bonus, here's a great "speed painting" of Rick and Ilsa, courtesy of el otro yo's Vox blog:


Saturday night was a big movie watching night. Three movies, covering a wide range of interests - a classic foreign film, a Hollywood blockbuster, and a black and white classic. They also covered a wide range of video quality, as the foreign film is really a TV adaptation, the Hollywood blockbuster was a gorgeous modern HiDef presentation, while the classic was a clean, B&W film. Somehow, it all worked out just fine.

First up was Part IV of Dekalog (The Decalogue), director Krzysztof Kieslowski's masterpiece for Polish television. Each episode is based on one of the Ten Commandments, and all are set in a dreary apartment building in Krakow. They are not preachy by any means, and of the four I've now seen, they sometimes only lightly touch on the themes of the appropriate Commandment. This was was based on "Honor thy father and thy Mother" and tells the story of a young woman who finds an envelope of her father's labeled "Open upon my death". She suspects it might have something to do with her long dead mother, but can she resist opening it? And what might it have to say and how might it affect her relationship with her father?

Another powerful entry in the series. These are some really great dramas, powerful and interesting, described once by Stanley Kubrick as the only masterpiece he could name in his lifetime. All have been must watched cinema and I'm anxious to get into more of them. I put this one on because we had about an hour my wife was ready to start watching the next movie and it filled the time admirably.

We followed this up with the 2005' Best Movie, Brokeback Mountain in HD. It was kind of weird that I had this movie from Netflix, given Heath Ledger's recent tragic demise. This added twist made even my wife want to come down and watch the movie.

A long movie, clocking in at 134 minutes, filled with impressive visuals, which are director Ang Lee's forte, it failed to seriously impress me. In case you don't know, Brokeback Mountain follows the lives of two men who fall in love while spending a summer up in the mountains as sheep wranglers (you know, where men are men and sheep are nervous...). They fight their forbidden love once they come down out of the mountains and try to carry on in as "normal" a fashion as possible. Each gets married and has children, although Ennis (Heath Ledger's character) has a much harder time dealing with his feelings for Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) than Jack does.

They manage to get together a few times a year for "fishing trips" but Ennis finds it harder and harder to compartmentalize his feelings for Jack. Some ups and downs occur, tragedy ensues and Ennis must carry on as best he can.

My one word evaluation for this movie was "overwrought". Everything just seemed too much, right from the opening camera shot of a cowboy leaning against a wall, shot thought the wheels of a passing train. I'm pretty sure it wasn't so much the homosexual love story that put me off, just that the characters seemed to go on and on about it, and everything just dragged out. Both Heath and Jake did great jobs with their characters, as Heath's taciturn cowboy and Jake's kind of glitzy rodeo rider were played well. I also thought that Michelle Williams did a knock out job as Heath's first wife. But in the end, I felt it was just overly dramatic and overly long. My wife, on the other hand, thought it a great, sad, touching and romantic movie. Must be a 'chick flick', I guess!

We finished up the night with our first viewing in over a year of Casablanca. This was the HD version I got from Toshiba and it was the same clean, crisp version found in the Special Edition DVD. My friend and I have seen Casablanca dozens of times and it never fails to impress when watching this sharp reproduction just how much is going on in every frame. I was once again just blown away by how beautiful Ingrid Bergman was and how perfectly she inhabited her part. Still my all time favorite movie and watching it never gets old.


Movie Review: Evil Dead 2

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Evil Dead 2 was next up in my DVD player, and man, what a doozie! Directed by cult hero Sam Raimi and starring cult icon Bruce Campbell, this frenetic movie has just about everything - horror, comedy, multicolored blood, quiet moments, etc. I watched it about a week ago and I still don't know what to make of it.

Ash and his fiance Linda show up at a remote cabin for some romance, when things turn rotten. It turned out to be where Professor Knowby translated the Necronomicon and unleashed some demons from Hell, who then torment Ash, Linda and the Professor's daughter and her group who comes looking for him. Blood, in all its green/black/red glory, flows freely, one liners are tossed off with reckless abandon and any logic flies out the window early and never stops running.

I really had no idea what I was getting into with this movie and now that I've watched it, I really have no idea what I just saw. It was such a mish-mash of ideas. In one commentary I watched, they talked about how it was required viewing for some recent horror directors and I can see why. There's just so much going on that you would be sure to find something interesting to use.

But that doesn't make it a good movie. Sure, it was a fun hour and half, but it didn't really make much sense and the comedy was so slapstick as to break up any hope of a connected movie. Bruce Campbell gave it his all and there were a number of pretty funny lines.

Ash: [talking to mirror] I'm fine... I'm fine...
[Mirror Ash jumps out of the mirror and grabs Ash]
Mirror Ash: I don't think so. We just cut up our girlfriend with a chainsaw. Does that sound "fine"?


The first half of the movie is Campbell's Ash fighting the various demon incarnations himself, and then the party of four shows up for some more fun. There were some great camera shots but again, like the dialog and slapstick, they felt more like someone thought of something cool to do and so they did it, rather than having some idea as to whether it actually worked or not, or even made sense. A good movie to watch drunk, I think.



Let's not be blue, Calliope! And let's play a different version, shall we?

(and once again the pix ain't showing up)


Computer Vision

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I used some "cutting edge" technology to watch a couple of movies on my computer via Netflix's "Instant Movies". I hadn't tried this out, as movie watching on my computer isn't really at the top of things I like to do, but I noticed where Netflix changed their policy for the Instant Movies in response to Steve Jobs announcement of Apple TV. They used to allow 18 hours per month with the rental package I have (their three movie deal), but now they allow unlimited online viewing. Not that I had used any before, but I figured what the heck.

I was disappointed to find that the Netflix service only supported Windows XP & Vista. Seems pretty shortsighted of them. But it worked okay on my work XP box, especially with the dual monitor set up. I played the movie fullscreen on one monitor while I "worked" on the other. I had to use the headphones, as my Windows box doesn't have the nice speaker setup, but the Plantronics USB headphones did a nice job, sonically speaking.

First up was 2006's The Contract, a Bruce Beresford/John Cusack/Morgan Freeman movie that I had honestly never heard of. Freeman plays the head of a hitman organization who crosses paths with Cusack, a father trying to reconnect with his wayward teenage son. Their wilderness jaunt is rudely interrupted by Freeman trying to escape from the law, and they take him under guard. This proves to be a mistake when Freeman's cronies try to take him back and much mayhem ensues.

I suppose it could have been one of those "Average Joe takes on more than he ever knew he could" kind of movies, but it was surprisingly flat and uninvolving (and I'm pretty sure it wasn't just because of the small screen). There were several very strange characters, and neither Cusack or Freeman seemed to be having much fun or to understand their characters. Not exactly a feather in the cap for Beresford, who was one of the main instigators in my love of all things Australian. His 'Breaker' Morant (a desert island flick for sure), along with Peter Weir's early work, fired my Oz imagination. Tender Mercies is another great, and sadly underrated, Beresford title, and of course there's always Driving Miss Daisy. But I have to admit to not seeing much of his work lately and The Contract isn't all that special.

So I went further back in time for my next Instant Movie and watched The Steel Helmet, a truly excellent war film by Samuel Fuller. Made in 1951, this realistic Korean War film so unnerved the "Red Hysterics" that the FBI investigated Fuller for creating "Communist propaganda"! Starring Gene Evans (who turned in a long and varied career in both movies and television) as Sgt. Zack, the lone survivor of a ambushed patrol who tries to find his way back to friendly lines. He is befriended by a local Korean boy and a medic who also lost his platoon. They help out another patrol in establishing a forward OP (Observation Post) and hold off waves of North Koreans.

A really solid war pic, made on a shoestring budget in ten days. There were pretty basic archetypes and some standard plotlines, but I really enjoyed it and can recommend it to anyone looking for a realistic portrayal of grunts in combat. One death near the end was both predictable yet touching. Evans played the gruff combat sergeant to perfection. A good movie to watch on the computer.

If you are interested in becoming my Netflix Friend, just click here.


 



Inches and Falling :: Our Way To Fall

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Our Way To Fall
Yo La Tengo










The Mook asks, I deliver...

And heck, it even included the cover art this time...

Brady Mancrush

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Oh yeah, I'm ready for the Patriots to open up a big can o' whupass on the Chargers this Sunday! And here's the guy who'll open it:



Last Books of 2007

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A couple of last minute additions to my "Books of 2007" that I haven't written anything about would include the following:

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - I picked this up at the same time as I got The Magic Compass from the library, so I went on a bit of a movie magic bing. I bought this one at the local drug store, so it featured Will Smith on the cover. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but it turns out that I Am Legend is actually a novella, and so the rest of the book is filled with about a dozen more short stories of his (some of them are only a couple of pages!)

I enjoyed the beginning of the story, as man against monster, but gradually the main character became annoying. He did a lot of whining. It would occasionally pick up steam when he'd go face to face again, but then peter out in some long diatribe against life - not very heroic. Then things change radically on him and it all ends rather abruptly and, I have to be honest here, confusingly. I'm not really sure what the heck was going on at the end, but I doubt the movie ends the same way! I also found the quaint anachronisms (like a push button starter on the car) strangely irritating. Oh well, it was a short ride anyway.

I also read, as mentioned, The Magic Compass by Philip Pullman. I figured any book written by a proud and public atheist was worthing trying, especially given the movie hype. It started off badly for me, as it introduced several fantasy memes that I just can't stand, like a child everyone prophesizes about and a mistakenly overheard conversation. It got a little better and wasn't awful, I guess. I'm not sure what all the anti-religious brouhaha was all about - it isn't the first fantasy book where the controlling religion is pretty awful.

The milieu was pretty eclectic, to say the least. I was happy he didn't spend pages of exposition explaining every little detail, as I find those mind numbing as well. Talking armored polar bears are a little extreme though! And I surely got tired of the "get captured" plot device, as the girl in question must have gotten grabbed five or six times in order to move the plot along.  But I did finish it, which is more than I can say for most fantasy novels these days. And I probably will try the next in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

And I did finished the aforementioned Code of Conduct by Kristine Smith. Unfortunately, it devolved into more of a political thriller, rather than a straight mystery. I got kind of lost in the interwoven politics of the place, although I always enjoyed the heroine. Her back story was pretty interesting and the setting of the books is well thought out and very rational. I do want to get the next book in the series, Rules of Conflict and hope that maybe the mysteries get more attention.

2007 Year in Review - Movies

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And, finally, my 2007 year in review for movies. According to my 2007 Movies collection, I watched approximately 52 movies, for an average of one per week. I got my HD-DVD player in the spring, which really increased my viewing pleasure. Of course, given Warner's decision to go BluRay exclusive (and Paramount may join them), I may be backing the wrong hi-def format. But I figure I will get a PS3 at some point soon anyway, so I'll be covered there. And with my purchase of the Marantz sr7200, I have plenty of HDMI inputs to share.

Easily, my favorite movie of the year was Pan's Labyrinth. I was enchanted, appalled, saddened and ultimately uplifted by this magical movie. What brilliant insight into the Spanish Civil War, and war in general, it offered. I was moved and touched by this movie and I'm very excited to see that it is now available in HD-DVD.

The surprise hit of the year was Bubba Ho-Tep. I really wasn't expecting anything from this movie, but I thought it perfectly walked the tightrope between serious and comic, horror and tragedy. I really need to get this DVD as well.

So, in no particular order, here are my top ten movies of 2007. The ones in this list are the ones I saw for the very first time.

  • The Queen (review) - really solid movie, although you have to wonder how accurate it is
  • The Bourne Supremacy (review) - great HD-DVD, solid action flick
  • Pan's Labyrinth (review) - movie of the year for me. Devil's Backbone (review) was an excellent sort-of prequel.
  • The Fog of War (review) - just a "talking head" but what a head!
  • The Battle of Algiers (review) - a true French classic; gives the Iraq fiasco some historical context.
  • Bubba Ho-Tep (review) - my surprise hit of the year; what fun!
  • The Red Circle (review) - another winning French noir
  • Game 6 (review) - much easier for this Red Sox fan to watch these days!
  • Elevator to the Gallows (review) - great classic French noir
  • The Secret of Roan Inish (review) - Sayles in top form; great to watch with the kids

These are my biggest disappointments. In the case of The Departed, I truly disliked the movie and felt it a real chore to watch. The others weren't as painful, but fell far short of the critical raves they received.

  • Children of Men (review) - some movies I just don't get...
  • The Departed (review) - overwrought mess of a movie
  • Goodfellas

And these are "classics" that I watched again in 2007 and will probably return to the DVD player in 2008. Yes, they are that good.

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (review) - certainly a "Desert Island" movie for me. The best of the "pulp" adventure movies
  • In the Heat of the Night (review) - Jewison, Poitier and Steiger at the top of their game
  • The Sting (review) - a movie that always stops me in my tracks when channel surfing. Excellent HD-DVD presentation.
  • Das Boot (review) - like you're in the tin can yourself.
  • Moulin Rouge (review) - over the top fun.
  • Witness (review) - Peter Weir and Harrison Ford in top form.
  • The Thin Man (review) - must get the DVD set.
  • Unforgiven (review) - spectacular HD-DVD
  • Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (review) - another DVD I have to get

I wasn't feeling like any of my Netflix rentals the other evening, so I looked through the five HD-DVDs I got for free from Toshiba after registering the HD player. I also didn't feel like anything challenging, so I went for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - a frothy sci-fi movie with the cachet that the actors were filmed almost entirely in front of blue screens and everything added later using some serious number crunching. Featuring a boffo cast with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Giovanni Ribisi, first time director Kerry Conran scores a visual home run, even if the plot and movie itself is only a solid double.

Begin the movie mix by adding a touch of mystery (disappearing scientists), spice it with a feisty relationship (Paltrow as Polly Perkins(sic) and Law as Sky Captain), stir mightily with giant robots (reminsicent of The Day The Earth Stood Still's Gort) destroying New York City (yay!), and the two heroes heading off to save the world and you pretty much have the entire movie. There are thrills, chills, zippy plane rides, and pretty cool quasi-steampunk atmosphere, along with plenty of corny dialog and goofy sets.

In the end, it didn't really make a whole bunch of sense, but it was fun getting there. I mean, why exactly did Sky Captain and Polly Perkins need to go into the villains lair all by themselves? The ending was fun and the ride pretty exciting, so I can't denigrate it too much. Just don't go into it looking for a sci-fi classic, that's all.

But the picture was superb, as you might well expect given the technology involved. The integration was seamless and the colors vibrant and sharp. I loved the robots. The sound too was great. I got through about half of the producer's commentary and, while it definitely sounded like a producer, it was still revealing in just how much computer horsepower they needed to harness. Nice addition to my HD-DVD library.



I guess John Scalzi over at Whatever used to do a thing called "Weekend Assignment" on another blog he wrote for, where he would come up with a topic for a blog post over the weekend. I say I guess because I never read his other blogs! But now that he has stopped writing for these other blogs, someone else has taken on the Weekend Assignment. So here' s Weekend Assignment #196:

Weekend Assignment #196: Now that the WGA strike has had lots of time to affect the prime time television schedules, how is it affecting you as a viewer? What show do you miss most, aside from reruns? Do you miss your weekly appointment with that ill-behaved doctor, or your visits to Wisteria Lane? Does it bother you not to laugh at fresh jokes on your favorite sitcom? Or are you just as happy watching reality shows, or new episodes of shows that have been held back until now? We want to know!

Extra Credit: how are you spending the time instead?

I  don't watch regular network TV at all. 90% of my TV viewing are sports events, or shows talking about sports events, so it has had almost no impact on my viewing. The one place it has hit home is in my daily DVR of "The Daily Show", which has been in reruns so their topical impact is obviously lessened. For some reason, Olbermann's "Countdown" show hasn't been affected, maybe because "news" writers aren't in the same union?

But even then, I don't watch The Daily Show "real time", so there isn't any time saving. I usually just turn it on to watch the opening monologue when I settle into bed, if I have any time at all. And I don't miss it that much, although Jon Stewart and his writers are among the funniest around.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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