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What I’ve Been Doing 13 Nov 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Nov 13th, 2012 by Dan

Wreck it Ralph 2

I’m gonna wreck it! (Picture courtesy: Italia Film Middle East)

Had me a long weekend and I managed to get back into the movie mood. Too bad none of them were quite as good as I was hoping.

Movies

Wreck-It Ralph – Not as good as I thought it would be. I mean, it’s still a decent caliber movie, but it doesn’t soar to the heights of, say, WALL-E. I felt like the video game worlds they invented ultimately weren’t that interesting, but it was otherwise pretty good.

Flight – More about alcoholism and addiction than I thought it would be. I also found the decision to come clean at the end to not make sense. I didn’t think he would have felt guilty enough or ready to admit his problem based on the entire movie before it.

Taken – For how much the internet just adores this movie I thought it would be much better than it is. Just kind of goes and then it’s done. Not a terrible way to spend 90 minutes, but it’s not gonna warrant a second viewing from me.

Casino Royale – Preparing for Skyfall by watching my favorite Bond movie…in Spanish! I don’t like the dub voices, but I like some of the translations.

TV

New Girl – I found the punch to the face and the facepalming hilarious. Nick continues to knock it out of the park this season and, like I say every week, this show has no idea what to do with Winston.

The Mindy Project – I like this show more than a lot of the critics do. Sure, it’s not blowing the socks off of network comedies, but it’s sharp and witty and I love Mindy Kaling’s delivery.

Key & Peele – Some great sketches in the pair of episodes I watched, but the most recent one was a little weak with its material. That Michael Jackson one was fantastic.

The League – I really liked the episode where Ruxin did poorly on the Wonderlic and started acting dumb for the rest of the episode.

Childrens Hospital – It’s really hard to compare episodes to A Year in the Life, but I do love me some Nick Offerman as Chance Briggs.

NTSF:SD:SUV:: – The infomercial was pretty funny, if not a little predictable.

Saturday Night Live – The Anne Hathaway sketches started out pretty weak, but then they really picked up near the end. That Homeland sketch was brilliant.

The Amazing Race – Can’t believe that a team stole money from another team (essentially) and that the same team managed to lose their passports. To be continueds are unsatisfying, but I’m so hooked for next week!

Happy Endings – Finished my catchup of S2. Wore me out a little, but ABC knew that it might so they didn’t air one this past week. Thanks, guys!

Community – Watched “Remedial Chaos Theory” again with Min. Brilliant and classic episode. ROXANNE!

Parks and Recreation – I’m getting a little tired of the endless repeat of Chris Traeger stories. Come up with something new, writers!

The Daily Show – Long string of episodes to try and get current. I’m still prior to the third debate and the election. Just gotta keep plugging away.

Cowboy Bebop – Just a few dinnertime episodes with Min. Managed to not sing along with “Tank!” once. I’m super proud of myself.

The Thick of It – Not having subtitles available makes this…tough to watch on top of the sometimes impenetrable British political system, but it’s usually very acerbic and very funny and very profane.

EDIT: Glee – Forgot about this one. Wow, this show is…mostly not good. They really tried to rewrite history by claiming that Finn was some kind of super motivator. I don’t buy it. He’s doofy and kind of dumb…kind of like Mr. Shue! I find that I only care for Marley when she’s singing (she looks so happy and smiley when she does), but the rest of the new kids are just noise.

Music

Still loving this Geko Jones track that I rediscovered:

And also listening to lots of Stevie Wonder:

Books

A Confederacy of Dunces – Got a few pages in here and there. Ignatius’ character has become a real archetype for the nerdy, put upon character of the modern sitcom. The dude who thinks that the rest of the world is going to hell, but not him.

Video Games

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box – Very little game time in lieu of tv and pokemon.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – Daily Puzzles! Love just popping in to solve them here and there.

Pokemon White Version 2 – Lost my Nuzlocke challenge against Colriss on the Plasma Cruiser. Built up a new team of six and I’m at Victory Road now.

Hotline Miami – This game is just violent, fast, and fun. If you watch my youtube page, there should be some new episodes of Dan Plays starting tonight.

FTL: Faster Than Light – Got some really fun episodes recorded while unlocking a bunch of new ships. Can’t wait to start trying them out!

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – After a three week hiatus to let my backlog catch up (not quite caught up still), I finally jumped back in because David and Min were playing Ironman Classic games of their own. So epic and so fun and I filmed an exciting episode out of it. Very cool and very fun.

The Best Movies of the Decade [Filmmakers Bleed]
Dec 29th, 2009 by Dan

In no particular order…

Memento (2000)

Guess what readers, this post is more or less one giant love letter to Christopher Nolan. With the exception of Insomnia, this list contains every movie the man’s directed since Memento (NOTE: Insomnia is not bad, it’s just not best of the decade caliber). Memento does what Christopher Nolan is known for doing very well. It shifts time and perspective (since each time episode is essentially a different Leonard with no memories of the previous events) just as well here as in future Nolan movies like Batman Begins and The Prestige. If you’ve never seen this crazy exercise in perception and memory, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. Go rent it.

WALL-E (2008)

Pixar really has a way of making you care about inanimate objects. Toys, cars, and now a robot. WALL-E has so much charm and character that it’s impossible not to love him (although I know people who do). In what is both a cautionary tale about waste and a love story between two robots, there are genuine characters who speak maybe three or four different lines of dialogue and get the audience to care about their plight like it was an Oscar-bait drama. Pixar’s best work to date.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

You probably didn’t see Robert Downey, Jr.’s best movie of the decade, but you can bet that this movie pushed him front and center for what you might think his best movie was (Iron Man). KKBB doesn’t seem like it should be so good. Its name is kind of generic and I don’t even remember hearing about it before it came out. In fact, I have no idea how it ended up on my movie queue, but it was an instant favorite that I had to share with my roommate. Bonus points to Val Kilmer for his brilliant acting as a sarcastic private detective.

Ghost Town (2008)

My favorite romantic comedy of the decade stars a pudgy British comedian and does not feature one kiss between the two leads. Ghost Town is different, but in all the best ways. Ricky Gervais’ character experiences the same clich├ęd character development that you’d expect in a role like this, but it still feels fresh thanks to his odd sense of humour. It also features a romantic rival who is not that bad a guy and is one of the few Gervais projects that doesn’t feature extended, super-awkward scenes. Definitely worth watching.

Mean Girls (2004)

I know, it seems really lame for a guy to love this movie, but Tina Fey’s writing is so sharp that this movie can’t help but be good. Sure, it meant that we had to deal with Lindsay Lohan for a long while after, but that’s mostly done with now and we can enjoy Tina and Rachel McAdams and everything else about this movie that’s so well put together. As an added bonus to me, the book the movie was based on was written based on the behavior of girls at the National Cathedral School, a rival all-girl private school to Holton-Arms, which some of my good friends attended, so I’m glad it gives them some bad press.

The Prestige (2006)

Oh? Is it time to praise Christopher Nolan again? How often do you see a movie based on a book that is far superior to its source material? This tale of dueling magicians in 19th century England is engaging and interesting to the bitter end. Most people’s only complaints with the movie have to do with its sci-fi plot twist, but I guess it’s probably because they don’t realize that this movie is not firmly based in reality until about 4/5 of the way in. Regardless, it’s a fantastic story and all of its roles are spectacularly acted. The narrative structure is also unique and interesting as the magicians invade the personal lives of their rivals through their diaries. A definite must see.

Snatch (2000)

There’s one thing that Guy Ritchie does well and it’s gangster films, but, given the choice, I’d say Snatch takes the prize for his best work. It’s funny, has great plot twists, and great, quotable characters.

Rent (2005)

Should this even count? It may come from the ’90s and portray NYC in the ’80s, but this musical made the transition to film quite nicely, preserving most of its atmosphere and earning its place as one of three musicals on this list.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Who said that fairy tales were dead in modern society? Slumdog Millionaire is just a great movie. The narrative structure that revolves around the interrogation of Jamal Malik and his answers on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? works beautifully and the trials and tribulations of the characters make for great drama. Will you be surprised by the ending of the film? Of course not. Will you be able to resist tapping your toes to the music of the closing number? Only if you lack a soul.

Batman Begins (2005)

Talk about a challenge. Batman movies were absolutely dead before Christopher Nolan’s adaptation. In fact, I’d go so far as to blame Batman and Robin (1997) for killing superhero movies until Spider-Man came around in 2002. All it took was hiring a real director and a close look at the source material to come up with this fantastic adaptation of one of the oldest superheroes in the business. Nolan was right in getting rid of the cheese factor and trying to make the character seem more realistic than he’d been portrayed before. His choice of antagonists, Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, were great choices in establishing a world based more in reality than the earlier movies created by using Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy and paved the way for the amazing direction he took for The Joker. Batman Begins is proof that a superhero movie can be as great as other movies.

City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) (2002)

Powerful in the same ways that Slumdog Millionaire explored its slums, City of God is unapologetic in its portrayal of favela life in Brazil. Splitting up the story into arcs and showing how one man can seize power and create hell through the eyes of an outsider proved to be an effective narrative technique. This movie is heavy, but it’s also quite good.

21 Grams (2003)

Another hyper-depressing movie, this time centered around a car crash with three fatalities and the fates of the people involved: the man who killed the three people, the wife and mother of the two boys and man who died in the crash, and the man who received a heart in a transfusion. I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s quite good (far better than Babel).

Juno (2007)

Yeah, no high school kid talks like her. Sure, this movie made being a hipster seem cool and caused your friends to act like insufferable idiots. Yes, Michael Cera has gone on to be pretty annoying since this movie and Arrested Development. Beyond all that, it’s still a funny movie with witty, fun dialogue. Bonus points awarded for having Jason Bateman in it.

Garden State (2004)

While we’re on the subject of movies that spawned annoying indie-ness, Garden State did it first back during my freshman year of college. I admit, part of why I like this movie so much has to do with my trek down to Cinemopolis in downtown Ithaca, but I actually enjoyed this movie. I might have a different opinion if I watched it now, but it always seemed to me that Zach Braff didn’t overdo it here with the pretentiousness. It’s also worth stating that Peter Sarsgaard is a fantastic actor in almost everything he does and that this movie proves that Natalie Portman is not as bad an actor as the prequels might lead you to believe.

Casino Royale (2006)

I don’t care what you say, but old-school James Bond was stupid. More of a superhero than a spy, he had ridiculous gadgets and was just plain campy. I think it took Austin Powers for me to fully understand how dumb the whole thing really was. Funny thing about Casino Royale is that its reinvention of the wheel stems instead from a return to source material. The Bond of CR is a brutal killer closer to a sociopath than the suave secret agent that we grew up with. Unfortunately, the second in this new series went and screwed it all up with poor casting and poor cinematography, but I like the direction this new Bond is going and I have high hopes for the future of the series.

Up (2009)

Pixar just keeps hitting them out of the park. WALL-E was fantastic and Up came along right after to prove that a movie for children can be just as mature as a movie for adults. I won’t spoil the plot too much, but let’s just say the opening 20 minutes or so will break your heart, if you’ve got one. A truly great cartoon about a man dealing with regret and clinging to his past, but eventually moving on.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The best way I’ve heard this movie described is “A love story that starts after the love is gone.” ESofSM does many things well as it examines the memories of this failed relationship as they are yanked away from Jim Carrey’s mind while he struggles against that very darkness he hired them to create. Another great movie that I haven’t seen in too long. I should pull this out sometime soon.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Since we’re talking about movies that deal with relationships ending, let’s push right on into a completely different type of movie. FSM is on my list because I think that, despite all the ridiculous exaggerations of the peripheral characters, the way that all of the actors interact with each other seems real. It’s a genuinely funny movie with good acting and hilarious situations.

Children of Men
(2006)

With a plot remarkably similar to Y: The Last Man in many respects, this post-apocalyptic look at a world scarred by a lack of childbirth is just awesome to watch. Fresh off the success of Sin City, Clive Owen, this time with his natural accent, stars and kicks ass in all kinds of believable ways as he escorts the first pregnant woman in ages to a research vessel. This movie makes the list more for its look than anything else. That last scene in the refugee camp where Clive Owen is chased by the military and the terrorists is stunningly shot. The end scenes also remind me a lot of Half-Life 2. Great movie.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)

Strangely enough, I’d never seen anything by Joss Whedon until I saw DHSAB. I wouldn’t quite call myself a browncoat yet, but this movie inspired me to start checking out and loving his work. Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion really need to start alongside each other in more things, because they’re dynamite on screen. This is my favorite musical of the modern age and you should watch it if you haven’t seen it.

The Dark Knight (2008)

One man is responsible for making this film truly great: Heath Ledger. His portrayal of The Joker was beyond amazing. The interrogation scene (and the rescue that follows) still gives me chills every time I watch it. Like no other man in film or comics, Ledger really understood that The Joker is a force of chaos and entropy. It really is too bad that it will never happen again due to Heath Ledger’s sad death. The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all time.

Filmmakers Bleed: North by Northwest Review
Jul 26th, 2008 by Dan

It’s time for a blast to the past today with a Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest (hereafter abbreviated as NNW). #40 on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies top movie list, it’s held in high regard as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best and also is credited with being “the first James Bond film,” by some due to its spy plot, dashing leading man, and daring (at the time) action sequences. Now, I may be a bit more critical of this movie after having recently seen Casino Royale and the trailer for Quantum of Solace, but that’s mainly because I feel this movie would be much better served if it were created in the modern day instead of limited by the constraints of late 1950s film.

SPOILER TIME

The plot revolves around a advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, who is accidentally mistaken for another man, George Kaplan, in one of those classic Hitchcockian moments that always set these sorts of things up. Naturally, the bad guys kidnap Thornhill, intending to interrogate him and kill him, since this Kaplan bloke appears to be a spy. Since Thornhill doesn’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about, they decide to kill him in one of the lamest movie assassinations ever: they make him drink a bottle of bourbon, put him in a car, and intend to drive it off a California escarpment to cover their tracks. What follows instead is one of the most interetsing things I’ve ever seen: a car chase where one of the drivers was drunk. Like I said before, this would be that much cooler if this were a modern movie, since the canned scrolling backgrounds really fail to capture the urgency and difficulty of this chase where modern movie effects could have made it seem a bit more dangerous.

Thornhill clearly survives, but is taken in by the police for driving while intoxicated. He tries to clear his name, but a return to the house where he was kidnapped to just makes him look even more stupid and a trip to Kaplan’s hotel room finds it sans Kaplan and, more suspiciously, none of the staff have ever seen this George Kaplan fellow. Desperate to clear his name, Thornhill heads to the U.N. to look for the man who force-fed him bourbon, but finds out that he was using a fake name. Worse, the man who shares his name is murdered with a knife to the back by Thornhill, who is caught in a picture holding the knife before he flees. So begins the NNW travel that is echoed in the title as Thornhill chases Kaplan to Chicago, meets a beautiful woman (pretty good looking by modern standards too), beds her (he’s just like James Bond), and arrives in Chicago hoping to find Kaplan.

What Thornhill doesn’t see is the scene after the murder in some government intelligence agency where the fact that George Kaplan does not exist is revealed. He is a fake man meant to confound targets into chasing him while the real agents and operatives do their work. Thornhill is on a wild goose chase. When one of the agents asks “Should we help him?” the rest of the agency says nope, he’ll either be shot by the police or the bad guys, but that’s not our problem, it will only help us.

So continues the movie, with the famous plane attack scene and more spy-like maneuvering until Thornhill is eventually recruited by the agency and eventually has to save the girl in a daring chase down Mt. Rushmore. It ends, as these movies typically do, with the guy getting the girl and, we suppose, him returning to his life as an ad executive exonerated of all charges.

SPOILERS END

NNW is actually a pretty strong movie in terms of its themes of mistaken identity which been duplicated in modern times with movies like Enemy of the State. It does, however, suffer from kind of slow pacing (not as bad as other old movies) and awkward dialogue (a relic of the past as well) that may turn you off to the movie if you aren’t really into older flicks. I’d say its definitely worth watching if you like Hitchcock or old movies, but should probably be avoided otherwise.

Filmmakers Bleed: Casino Royale
Jul 8th, 2008 by Dan

I can still remember the buzz behind Casino Royale when it came out last year. It was supposedly a reboot of the James Bond universe, a revisit to his origins and a way to bring the movies closer to their source material, the Ian Fleming novels.

It wouldn’t have been the first franchise to do this in recent history, the biggest and most prominent example being the Batman Begins movie. The question is, could this series mimic the masterpiece that was the new Batman movie? If you put your money on a resounding yes, you’d be absolutely right.

Absolutely gone is all of the camp of Pierce Brosnan and company’s respective Bonds. I haven’t seen any of the original Bond movies, but my guess is that they were thematically similar to all of the other exaggerated James Bond movies. Not that I know what the novels are like at all, but given that Ian Fleming was, himself, an actual spy and that supposedly Casino Royale is similar to the book of the same name, my guess is that there were significant changes from the atmosphere of the James Bond novels to the silver screen.

How is the Daniel Craig Bond different? Think of it as a shift from the most absurd of all Bond gadgets I’ve ever witnessed, a car with a cloaking shield, to a movie whose most advanced gadgets are portable defibrillators and cell phones. Casino Royale is still an amazing action movie, but it feels a lot more grounded in real life espionage. Instead of being an over-the-top action movie like the days of old, it’s an actual cloak and dagger-type movie. Bond is still a charming, womanizing agent employed in Her Majesty’s service, but he lacks the “super-powers,” if you will, of the Bonds of old. He can be caught, he can be tortured, he can be hit. Someone recently described Daniel Craig’s Bond as a much more physical and brutal Bond and he had it right on the money.

Rather than delve into spoilers at all, let me just give a general overview of the plot: being a reset, of sorts, this is an origin story about James Bond. Luckily, he’s not a superhero, so we don’t have to spend all this time waiting for him to get his super powers or start being a badass. He starts the movie in employ of MI6 and raring to go, but this is, more or less, his first mission. Also worth noting is that this is the first James Bond that will have a direct sequel. Planned as a trilogy (I know…it’s very trite), the upcoming Quantum of Solace and whichever movie that succeeds it will be related in story to one another. This aspect does make Casino Royale‘s ending a bit of a letdown, but also pumps you up to see the latest flick.

So now we arrive at the question I know all of you are asking: “Is this movie worth spending some of my valuable time watching?” The real question you should be asking is “When is the soonest I can get my hands on this movie to watch?” It’s that good. Casino Royale will restore your faith in the Bond universe and should be watched immediately. Lucky for you and I, the wait for some closure on the story will be a short one, since Quantum of Solace will be released this fall. Go rent it or something!

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