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What I’ve Been Doing 8 July 2013 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Jul 8th, 2013 by Dan

Can't wait to see this one: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by Josh Whedon

It’s my first time experiencing a Shakespearian comedy (Picture courtesy Pinay New Yorker)

Sure, it’s not like watching live theater for real or anything, but this was my first tie experiencing one of Shakespeare’s comedies (not counting liberal adaptations like 10 Things I Hate About You) and I absolutely loved it. More below.

Movies

This is the End – I wish I could say that I had more fun watching this movie, but it just wasn’t all that funny. Then there’s the fact that I’ll be forever embarrassed by jumping and shouting “AH!” during a jump scare.

Much Ado About Nothing – The proto-romantic comedy. I was almost deceived by how similar to modern rom-coms this adaptation was. Whedon filmed a straight dialogue adaptation of the play and I was shocked by how funny and sharp it was. Not being familiar with Shakespearian comedies also upped the tension for me since I didn’t know what was going to happen once the conflict between Claudio and Hero was introduced.

TV

Homeland – Pretty much watched the entire second season with Katie as she caught up on the exciteent and tension of one of the dumbest, but more entertaining shows on tv. Good times, but less fun the second time around.

Music

Paul Dateh’s violin cover of Kanye West’s “New Slaves” is pretty baller.

Books

The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First – It was fun to learn the history of Tampa Bay’s many attempts to get a baseball team in the area. Too bad they don’t hit the ballpark with as much fervor

Video Games

The Last of Us – Nearly done. There’s a gameplay twist that I don’t want to spoil that made things a lot harder. It’s an interesting way to circumvent the increasing power issue of Naughty Dog games without adding blue guys.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – I mostly play every day to get Nintendo gear, but this game still captures my interest. I just wish I had more free time on a given day.

Movies of 2012 [FB]
Jan 3rd, 2013 by Dan

cinema

(Photo by jimmymac333)

Man do I love me some movies, guys. The following listing of my favorites is not limited to movies that were released in 2012, but rather what I saw in 2012 that I most want to talk about.

Prometheus – I’ve never seen a movie from the Alien franchise, but something about the trailers and the Fassbender hype made me want to catch this one in the theaters. After failing to get most people interested, Ian and I caught this flick. Look, guys, it’s not the greatest movie out there, but Fassbender is amazing, the movie is stunning, and that emergency “caesarian”? Absolutely terrifying and awesome to watch. I want to make everyone watch that hyper tense scene.

The Cabin in the Woods – Kind of related to the previous movie, but I don’t really watch horror/monster movies. They’re not my thing. The buzz on Cabin was so great that I had to face my fears and step in. What I got was a brilliant subversion of the horror genre with Whedon’s fingerprints all over it. It’s not really that scary and I honestly believe that everyone should suck it up and check this flick out. You’ll never look at a horror movie the same way.

Young Adult – The first of these flicks to have actually come out in 2011, Diablo Cody’s look at a thoroughly unpleasant woman seeking to reclaim her glory days is relentless in its brutal look at the awful person that Charlize Theron plays. The absolute kicker is in the scene where Patton Oswalt’s character’s sister effectively destroys the character progress Theron has made. Watching everything shift into place on her face was probably the best acted moment I saw this year.

The Descendants – Or the movie that convinced me that George Clooney was brilliant and that Shailene Woodley had real acting chops. It’s a beautiful family movie with an almost tacked on real estate sideplot that doesn’t quite tie in like I think they wanted it to, but it’s full of great performances and it’s definitely worth seeing.

Higher Ground – I’ve been enamored with Vera Farmiga ever since I saw her in Up in the Air, so I had to check this movie out. It’s about a woman constantly searching for meaning, but frustratingly never able to find it. She plays the part with a lot of emotion and subtlety and I just adored every minute of the performance.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – Fits in thematically with the previously mentioned movie since it’s also about a girl so lost that she ends up involved in a cult (to be fair, Higher Ground is about a fundamentalist Christian sect). Elizabeth Olsen plays the confused, frightened escapee with great skill as her brain struggles to reconcile what is real with what was brainwashed into her head. Of course you also get to contrast the horrible, but peaceful cult with the materialistic and unfulfilling real world that alienated Olsen in the first place. The film is most notable to me with how it closes. Is Olsen in her right mind and is the cult actually about to exact vengeance or not?

Wanderlust – The first truly slight movie on this list, Wanderlust has David Wain’s quasi-troop at their funniest. It’s not gonna win any Oscars, but Wanderlust is a happy, fun movie filled with funny people. I mean, any movie that makes me like Jennifer Aniston has got to be worth mentioning.

The Five-Year Engagement – Sure, it’s just shy of a standard rom-com, but this flick is getting special mention for the fine work of Alison Brie and Chris Pratt. Those two are amazing.

Goon – A hockey epic for the modern day. I have almost zero complaints about this movie. It tugs on all the heartstrings with a story as far from cloying as possible. It’ll make you laugh, wince, and maybe cry, but you’ll love it.

21 Jump Street – Who knew that Channing Tatum was secretly hilarious? It’s probably getting a little too much credit, but this is a genuinely funny movie that I expected to be completely idiotic and forgettable.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home – My first Duplass Brothers film. I guess they call this kind of indie film mumblecore, but that’s kind of reductive. It’s a sweet story about brothers, which is the kind of thing I’m a sucker for.

The Avengers – The biggest movie of the year! Do I even have to talk about it? I want to give props to Mark Ruffalo for being brilliant as Bruce Banner and, hey, while we’re at it, I thought ScarJo did a fine job too (so did everyone else).

Argo – A strong competitor for my favorite flick of the year. Who doesn’t love a heist flick? Especially one that’s actually based on real events. 70s facial hair, great, tense performances, and international spy intrigue. It goes to show that you don’t need James Bond flair to make a good, exciting espionage movie. Plus “Argo fuck yourself” is a great line.

Lincoln – Another heist flick, but this one is about getting votes for the 13th amendment. Everyone you could possibly think of is in this flick, but I think its fatal flaw is the whole biopic aspect of it. Lincoln was an incredible man, I don’t doubt that, but in this movie he’s never wrong, always gets the last word in, and is generally a god among men. Worth seeing.

Holy Motors – Gets the WTF? Award this year. Truly bizarre in a way that only French cinema dares. It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s also brilliant. The accordion segment was pretty sweet too

Pitch Perfect – I love movies about music or singing. I don’t care that this is the most stereotypical, formulaic plotting out there. Obviously there’s gonna be discord, one girl is devoted to the old way while the new girl has a revolutionary way to look at things and, guess what, she’s right! Look, who cares about that? Rebel Wilson is hilarious and Anna Kendrick is super charming. Don’t fight it, just enjoy.

Django Unchained – I’m not above stating that this is the most important movie of the year. I’ve heard that some of the events depicted in it are exaggerations of the horrors of slavery. I don’t know if that’s true because I didn’t live in the 1800s, but I think that this movie is properly intense and strikes the right balance between over-the-top violence and the real gravity of the situation. Cristoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, and Samuel L. Jackson all deserve recognition for their amazing performances. If you’re only gonna see one movie on this list, make it this one.

“Did I fall asleep?” – What I’ve Been Doing 18 June 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Jun 18th, 2012 by Dan

Alpha looks seriously creepy there. Wow. (Photo courtesy ComicVine)

In a weekend full of grief over some terrible Marlins losses thanks to anemic offenses I finally got around to finishing Dollhouse…

Movies

Indie Game: The Movie – Steam’s first movie! I didn’t kickstart it, but I was more than happy to support it post-release. It’s not super informative if you don’t already know a bunch about indie video games, but it’s entertaining to see three artists at three stages of their careers and the minds and personalities that go with each. It makes me really crave postmortem analysis of Fez as well.

TV

Dollhouse – I think it’s safe to say that this is Joss Whedon’s weakest show (although I haven’t seen Angel yet…). Most of the complaints were with Eliza Dushku not being up to the part, but I think she eventually grew into the part. The second season was full of a lot of melodrama and, as Min noted, felt very rushed, but I think that Joss had enough time to put a perfect little bow on the series and wrap up all the loose plot threads rather nicely. I’d much rather recommend that people watch The Wire, but if you’re looking for something second tier to enjoy and you’ve already seen Firefly, you could do worse.

Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain – Comedy pairs perfectly with Diablo or another similarly mindless game. This isn’t Oswalt’s funniest work, but I enjoyed it alright.

Louis C.K.: Hilarious – Man, Louis C.K. is funny! I don’t know why I’ve never seen his standup before, but you should catch this before it leaves Instant on 1 July. I loved the bits about how unappreciative Americans are. Good stuff.

Futurama – I’ve only seen like six episodes of this show. Everyone seems to love it. I’m checking out the first season. Saw the garbage ball one and the one where Bender gets hooked on electricity. Had some funny moments, but not hilarious ones. I liked the musical bits in hell and seeing the Beastie Boys was bittersweet.

Music

Guys…the video to Girls’ Generation’s new single, “Paparazzi” came out. The stealth conversion of the site to a K-Pop repository continues.

Books

1Q84 – How long has it been since I last read this book? Holy cow! Got a bunch of chapters in. One of the characters has realized that something might be up, but I don’t know how Aomame is gonna tie in with Tengo’s story. I’m intrigued, but I’m frustrated by my usual pet peeve of men writing women like they feel like women think. I mean, I can’t confirm that Murakami is being inaccurate with his portrayal of Aomame’s thoughts, but it doesn’t quite feel right to me. Then again, what the heck do I know about how women think/act?

Video Games

Diablo III – I’m in Inferno! Now I’ve just gotta beat Diablo again. Lost another Hardcore Min. Rest in peace Min the Demon Hunter. Your deeds will be forever remembered.

The Binding of Isaac – Great time killer. Gotta make more progress, but these challenges are tougher than I realized they’d be.

Poker Night at the Inventory – Trying desperately to get the four-of-a-kind or straight flush achievements, the odds of which are 72,192.33 : 1 and 4,164 : 1, respectively. Got a lot of poker ahead of me…at least Texas Hold ‘em has softer odds.

No More Heroes: Paradise – The recent release of Lollipop Chainsaw reminded me that I’ve got a Suda51 backlog that needs clearing. Lotta character and personality to this game. I like Travis Touchdown and I like the fighting for now, but I don’t love the busywork nature of it all. I’ll survive the part time jobs and assassination missions mostly by thinking about the statements that Suda is trying to make, but I have a much harder time dealing with the temperamental motorcycle and overlarge overworld.

What I’ve Been Doing 7 May 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
May 7th, 2012 by Dan

avengers-photo-3

Robert Downy, Jr. was definitely the MVP of the movie. (Photo courtesy JakesplacePS)

Readership assemble! Min and I made the great sacrifice of seeing The Avengers for you. Our verdict? It’s excellent. Go see it, y’all. Seriously.

Movies

The Avengers – It does precisely what I thought was impossible by focusing on each individual character for a bit and giving them all arcs. Granted, most of the groundwork was laid in all the other Marvel movies, but it’s still tough to do. High props to Mark Ruffalo for his portrayal of the Hulk. His barely contained anger was chilling and, most importantly, awesome. Joss Whedon’s writing also gels quite nicely with the movie, RDJ version of Iron Man.

The Five-Year Engagement – It’s a little long, but it’s also very funny and definitely well acted. This movie gave roles to all kinds of hilarious guys like Mindy Kaling, Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn, and Kevin Hart. Not to mention the supporting roles for Alison Brie and Chris Pratt. Emily Blunt remains charming and Jason Segel is his usual lovable oaf self. Don’t expect anything amazing and you’ll enjoy this light romantic comedy.

TV

Mad Men – I have no idea where this season is headed, but man am I just stoked to be on the journey. Last week had all-star performances all around. Can’t wait to see what happened last night.

Girls – Best line: “Ok, American History X.” Awkward humor is where it’s at now, huh? Not complaining, but it’s interesting how that’s the norm now. This show continues to surprise me week to week. It’s better than you might think.

Veep – Another solid, solid episode. I wasn’t sure if the show would be able to maintain its awesomeness, but it has met and exceeded expectations. I really do love this show.

Parks and Recreation – I read one reviewer call the campaign bus running over the Sweetums guy overkill, but I thought it was hilarious. Great work by the cast, but I’m ready for the election storyline to finish.

New Girl – From week to week you’re the one show that really gives me pause, New Girl. You’re really not the best hang-out comedy out there, but you put in work that is passable and regularly funny. I feel like you get more credit than you deserve, but I do enjoy watching you, I guess. At least you name dropped Coach this week. I know you couldn’t bring him back to prevent confusion and because you had to build Winston up from scratch, but I hope you bring back Coach for an episode one day.

Community – Starburns is dead. The study group is expelled. I liked that they rallied from that dark moment thanks to Troy. Makes me wonder what’s coming up at the end of the season. Will they succeed in taking him to the A/C Annex or will the group rally in his support? Does it matter if they’re not all taking classes together any more? This season certainly deviated from that…

Music

The Fez soundtrack deserves special mention. It is a joy to listen to in the background thanks to its ambient nature, but it doesn’t let the listener get too comfortable. The dissonance creates an uneasy feeling that I’m perhaps pairing with my game experience too much, but I think it’s still absolutely worth listening to. Especially for you, Min. It’s got no words.

Books

Eh, nope. I gotta get back into reading soon. I almost bought a book this weekend, but physical books feel so expensive to me now!

Video Games

Fez – Certainly the best downloadable console game I’ve played this year. We’re talking Grade A awesomeness in its simultaneous simplicity and complexity. Figuring out a puzzle will make you feel like a genius. Turns into a bit of a pain to navigate as the number of secrets narrows down, but still a game that everyone should play as soon as it’s out on PC, I guess, since none of my readers have an Xbox (that I can think of)

Mass Effect 3 – Played a couple of levels from the Resurgence Pack. They seem big and/or complicated, but I like them. If only they’d vary the enemy types or game modes I’d be happier spending a ton more time in this game. Oh well.

Shadow Complex – It’s funny how I find save rooms so antiquated now. Losing a bunch of progress and listening to the same dialogue over and over because I died isn’t acceptable any more. Still scratches that Metroidvania itch and I dig that.

Devil Survivor 2 – Just unlocked the ability to transfer between Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya instantaneously. I wish the third region had been Sapporo, Hiroshima, or Okinawa. This is a sharp game. Very similar to DS1, but that was a sharp game too. I’m wondering where the story is going in this one, but not in a bad way. I really should play this more…

The Old Republic – The Trooper story continues to be interesting to me. I like the whole “Reassemble Havoc Squad” thing it’s got going on. I even like the companions! Sergeant Dorne, the Imperial defector, seems like she’d add an interesting wrinkle to my game, especially since she disapproves of my character’s rule-breaking habits. The storytelling in this game is absolutely superb. So glad that Min and I are playing this now, but we’ve only got a week before Diablo 3…

What I’ve Been Playing/Watching/Reading [GO/IB/FB/BT]
Jun 1st, 2011 by Dan

Totoro(rororo)

Here’s another breakdown of the media I’ve been consuming:

Video Games:

I haven’t talked about these for a long while, so I’m just gonna go over recent history, post-robbery.

L.A. Noire – Just beat it last night. I think that the game premise shows a lot of potential, but the true masterpiece will be any game that piggybacks off of this one. Why did they feel the need to open world this? It only creates dissonance between the character as portrayed and the character they want him to be. Also: interrogations are neat, but very tough.

StarCraft, Mass Effect, and Portal (all part 2) – Been meaning to fix some choices that my Paragon Shepard made in ME2 before ME3, so I was getting some of that done. Portal 2 multiplayer with Eric was lots of fun. Now I can’t wait for the new “test” this summer. I hope they’re a lot harder. Played SC2 with Min and Simon. We did alright as long as I wasn’t goofing off trying to Hellion rush the enemy. Turns out those flamethrower cars don’t have AA. Fancy that.

Movies:

Bridesmaids – Super hilarious. Kristen Wiig is one of my favorite comedic actors and it’s great to see her find success. I hope this means good things for female-led comedies (no more Heigl, please! (unless she’s in an Apatow movie)). Worth watching.

My Neighbor Totoro – How did I get to be 25 without seeing this movie? The landmark Studio Ghibli feature was heartwarming and fun and just awesome. A sincere movie that is hard not to love.

Love and Other Drugs – I constantly recommend films to friends, but I don’t often watch their recs if I know they’re not gonna be very good. Since that’s kind of hypocritical of me I took this recommendation despite knowing in advance that the movie wasn’t very good. Guess what, it isn’t, but I also knew it had a lot of Anne Hathaway’s boobs in it, so I guess I win anyway.

Animal Kingdom – Australian gangster film. Well done, but not quite as interesting as I was hoping it would be. Gotta love the accents, but creepy uncles are always weird…and creepy.

TV:

Tremé – Season 2 started and I fell about six weeks behind. Watched the first episode last night. I still love these characters, but without the urgency of post-Katrina I have even less of an idea of what the characters are doing now. I kind of like it a little more, but that may just be familiarity. The show also continues to impress with its strong music.

The Office – I’m about two episodes in and Ricky Gervais is proving to be the absolute worst boss possible. Micheal Scott has nothing on how cringeworthy Gervais’ David Brent is. Martin Freeman’s Tim is also meaner than Jim in the US The Office, but I think I like his early character more. I’m interested in seeing this through, it’s only about six hours, after all, and I like succinct series.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The opposite of succinct. Don’t think I’ve mentioned that I started watching this show at all. I’m about four episodes into season 2. S1 was pretty good, but we’ve advanced much further in television since then. It’s so very 90s and I think that Joss Whedon is a better writer now than he was then. S2 opened with an unbearable episode with Buffy being super emo, but it moved on to be as enjoyable as S1. I’m not 100% on board with this show like other people might be, but it’s been solid.

Mad Men – I’m 2/3 of the way through the first season and I’m really enjoying it. So far I’ve been most impressed by the superb acting. Don Draper and the rest of the cast are all so nuanced and interesting that I can’t help but silence the annoyance at the period-appropriate mistreatment of women and the job-appropriate philandering. Fantastic show so far.

Parks and Recreation – What a stellar third season. I wish NBC hadn’t given us two straight weeks of two episodes because then I’d still have P&R for a little bit longer. This is, without a doubt, the finest comedy on television right now. I can’t wait until it’s on Netflix Instant so that I can watch it with Min and Tiffany (that’s right, watch it two more times!).

Community – A season of ups and downs ends on some solid up episodes. Throw in the promise of a reduced role for Chevy Chase (thank you Dan Harmon, he was getting old) and I’m pretty hyped for this show (not as hyped as I am for S4 of Parks and Rec).

Glee – What a weak season. No, seriously, it was super weak. The magic and fire of season 1 has been lost, no doubt thanks to how successful this show has been. Risks are gone, the music is much more poppy and less classic/Broadway, and the writers keep pushing the angsty relationships of the characters to the forefront as if anyone cares. Guess what, Ryan Murphy, we don’t care about Finn and Rachel! We really don’t. Every time I want to quit this show they manage to do one number that keeps me hooked, but this season hasn’t made me want to buy any recordings. Original songs? No thanks. What was up with the finale? Where was the spectacle? There were barely any numbers in it! I’ll probably watch next year, but you’re on notice, Glee.

Books:

The Hunger Games – Think Koshun Takami’s Battle Royale, but Young Adult. Dystopian future with annual deathmatches between 24 teenagers. Brutal, but with a heart. The series is being built up to be the next big thing and I think it’s worth it. A quick, snappy read with enough violence in it to hide the fact that it’s kind of a book for girls. Fight your sexism on this and give it a try. You might enjoy it.

The Last Best League – A book about the Cape Cod baseball league as the last real talent pool before kids start their professional career. I’m a little biased against New England and their overenthusiastic love of themselves and everything they do, so I don’t get into the flowery fellating of the region. Still, I like a good non-fiction baseball drama. Still early in it, should be interesting.

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel lived up to the hype I’d seen. The book is not an easy read, every chapter is from a new perspective, with different styles (including one that is a powerpoint printout) and different characters (they all tie into one person, in particular, but some have characters who are never mentioned again), but it’s an interesting look at the way time changes everyone and everything and the way that the world itself is changing as we hurdle onward in time. Definitely a good book.

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 clichéd 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.

Best TV Shows of the Decade [Idiot Box]
Dec 15th, 2009 by Dan

You’ll notice that this list is weighted heavily toward the end of the decade rather than the early part and that’s all because I didn’t watch much tv in high school (2000-2004). The list is also pretty small because I didn’t have access to most tv shows during my years at the university unless I went and bought box sets (2004-2008).

Firefly

It may have come out early in the decade, but I was way late to the party, since I first started watching Firefly during the summer of 2008. I’m not what you’d call a Whedonite. To this day I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy or Angel, but, between Firefly (and Serenity) and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I’ve come to see that he’s a damn good writer capable of creating interesting worlds filled with great characters. Firefly is definitely not the first space opera to hit the airwaves, but it’s definitely one of the few I’ve ever seen to focus on fringe members of society like Captain Reynolds instead of prestigious members of an organized army. The world of Firefly is not that different from ours, save for space, and it feels like an accurate representation of what space would be like in its exploratory infancy. If the wild west was possible on Earth, it seems more than likely that the space frontier would develop similarly. Firefly makes me happy because the crew is amazing. Each character (…minus Simon) is interesting, well acted, and hilarious at any given time. FOX did the world wrong by canceling this show and bringing back Family Guy

Arrested Development

Once in a while a great show comes along that revolutionizes the way you experience television for the rest of your life. Arrested Development is that show for me. I didn’t start watching until the third season (final) was set to start, but I fell in love with the show from the first zany episode. One of the leaders in the recent American movement to serialized television, Arrested Development is probably the first serialized comedy I’ve ever seen and that may have been its downfall. Rather than go with the typical American sitcom style of status quo ante episodes and unrelated plots, Arrested Development episodes depended and borrowed heavily from every episode that preceded it, a trait that blocked out potential future viewers who felt like they were continuously out of the loop with the jokes. Those of us who were in on the joke loved experiencing every minute of the Bluth Family’s fall from grace in this show that proves that smart comedy can be hilarious. Unfortunately, it also proved that smart comedy doesn’t sell. FOX canceled it during its third season, tragically ending the best show I’ve ever seen in my adult life.

Lost

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. Oceanic Flight 815. The DHARMA Initiative. The Others. Jacob. The Smoke Monster. If you know what any of these things are, you know something about the best drama of the decade. I initially avoided Lost because of all the hype. If that seems petty and stupid, that’s because it is. People hear a lot about the show and how it never seems to answer questions or come to any satisfying conclusion, but I think that’s the talk of people unused to these long, serial dramas and the pace at which they move. Of course, ABC wasn’t helping any with the pacing when they were refusing to give the creators a firm end date. Lucky for us, the staff held their ground and told ABC they wouldn’t continue the show without a firm end date. Since then, things have moved along briskly (if confusingly) as the cast tumbles toward the dramatic conclusion of the most puzzling show of the decade. Will we all be satisfied by the ending when it airs in 2010? Expectations are running high, but I’m trying to keep mine neutral to low so that I’m able to enjoy the ending they’ve got planned for us. So long as it doesn’t go out like The Sopranos, I’m game.

The Office (US)

Bringing hit shows to America from across the pond doesn’t guarantee success. The television environment in the UK is just too different for that. Many of the best shows are extremely limited in scope and know when they’ve run their course. The original run of The Office in England comprised 12 episodes over two seasons and one two-part Christmas special. Within two seasons The Office (US) surpassed the episode count of its parent and finally managed to come into its own identity. No longer borrowing from its roots, The Office has stumbled here or there and struggled with the Homer Simpson effect (as I like to call it), but overall blossomed into a fine show all its own with a much happier outlook that reflects American tastes more than anything. Beyond that, Steve Carell has emerged as one of the premier comedy actors in the business thanks to his ability to express very human pathos into his comedic roles. While I personally think that NBC shouldn’t push the show beyond next season, it’s certainly been a funny ride so far.

Extras

While we’re already talking about shows written/created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, we may as well progress to the fantastic look at the life of a television/movie extra as told by Ricky Gervais. It’s unclear to me how much of the story is auto-biographical, but one can’t help but get a peek into the difficulties that Gervais must have faced trying to earn notoriety and bring The Office to television while also getting a glimpse into how different The Office could have been if Gervais and Merchant didn’t keep their standards up while chasing fame. Spoiler alert, but the first season deals with Gervais’ character, Andy Millman, and his struggle to both sell his idea for a show (a blue-collar workplace comedy with an obnoxious boss (ring any bells?)) and gain notoriety. Each episode features a cameo by a known (usually) British star in film or television as an exaggerated version of themselves and Andy eventually gains enough attention from the BBC to produce his show. Unfortunately, they turn it into a laugh track, lowest common denominator comedy to attract the highest audience possible and Andy continues to compromise his vision just to hold onto the scraps of fame that he has gained. It’s a sad story with a slightly uplifting ending that’s absolutely worth watching for no reason other than to see Orlando Bloom act like a self-centered jerk who hates Jonny Depp.

Weeds

This show has really gone and changed from year to year. What started as a satire on suburban misery has really ballooned into a far-reaching comedy tackling some seriously complex issues (maternity, masculinity vs. feminism, maturity, rape, murder, addiction, etc.) without ever getting too dark for too long. Just watching the opening shows how much the show has changed, since “Little Boxes” hasn’t played past season 3 when they, spoiler alert, burned down everything you knew and moved on. While some of the stereotyping jokes have gotten a little old (WE GET IT, SANJAY IS GAY! HAHAHA….MOVE ON), the show does still seem relevant and interesting in its fifth season and the most intriguing developments seem to come where you least expect it: from Nancy’s kids. Let’s hope that the show continues strong into 2010 with some fresh, interesting plotlines as Nancy delves deeper and deeper into a world she used to only scratch the surface of. It’d be nice to see Conrad again too…Extra bonus reason to watch: Mary-Louise Parker is seriously hot for an older lady.

30 Rock

I almost missed the boat on 30 Rock. iTunes gave me one free episode (the one where Jack things Liz is a lesbian) and I thought “Good, but not great” and didn’t watch through the rest of the first season. The critical buzz brought me back for season two and I fell in love with the show. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are comedic powerhouses in this, the second best comedy of the ’00s. In fact, 30 Rock and this most recent presidential election have both proved that Tina Fey was probably the only funny thing about SNL when she was still head writer while Mean Girls proved that she’s just plain good at writing. 30 Rock is brilliant in its subversive, but fair humor and takes the best parts of Tina Fey’s improv heritage and applies them to a sitcom that will have you guffawing every episode unless you lack a soul. It’s a must watch.

Dexter

I love shows that take place in Miami. More than that, I love shows that are unique in premise. Cop shows are a dime a dozen. Shows where the main character is the real villain are harder to come by. If you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t know that Dexter is about a cop who is also a serial killer. It’s not a unique plot in movies/literature/comic books, but it’s one of the few times I’ve seen it on tv and I love it. Dexter Morgan is a sociopath struggling with living with the urges that drive him to kill and staying out of the electric chair. The first season was based heavily on the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, but subsequent seasons have had more creative freedom to mold Dexter beyond Lindsay’s strict characterization. I’m a little behind on seasons 3 and the current season, but I feel like the character is maturing rather nicely, if not a little unrealistically (he seems to exhibit more feeling than a sociopath should, but I’m no expert) and the show usually brings me back for more each season.

Pushing Daisies

Bryan Fuller had a great premise on his hands. Ned, the piemaker, could touch dead things back to life, but the renewed life had two rules: If he touched them a second time, they were dead forever and if he let them live longer than a minute, another life would be taken in its place. Abandoned by his father and harboring a power he does not really appreciate, Ned grows up to be a rather distant man who doesn’t let anyone get too close to him. He also teams up with a private detective, Emerson Cod, to solve murders once Emerson spots him using his powers. The status quo he develops (baking pies using rotten fruit that he brings back to life and solving murders for the reward money) comes crashing down when he revives a childhood sweetheart that was his one true love. While the show is often too sweet for its own good, the development of its themes of affection and intimacy (without touching, of course) are both interesting and well done. The storylines were clever and the show was funny, but it was ultimately too expensive to produce for the limited ratings it received and the show died before giving the viewers true resolution with all of its dangling plot threads. Worth watching because it is the most unique show of the decade.

Honorable Mention: Battlestar Galactica

There was so much promise here. The first two seasons of BSG were the best sci-fi I’d seen on television. How can you screw up the paranoia of the Cylon threat and the powerful storylines about a race driven to the brink of extinction? I’ll tell you how: haphazard decisions and haughty religious overtones. The Final Five were not decided upon when the show began. As I heard it, they shoehorned cylon origins onto characters who they never intended to make cylons and the see-sawing quality of the final episodes make that very apparent. When you combine that with one of the stupidest finales in the history of television (let’s just say it goes something like “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”) you’ve gone and ruined what could have been the most significant show in recent science fiction history.

EDIT:

How did I forget The Wire?

The best police serial I have EVER seen. It deconstructs everything you know about television cop dramas by showing you both sides of the fence and the reality that good almost never triumphs over evil. David Simon must have really been affected by his days in Baltimore, because this love letter to the city tells the truth, giant warts and all, about how drugs have destroyed Baltimore and how the police are rendered powerless by bureaucracy to do much of anything about it. The show is a bit of a downer, but the acting is superb and the plotlines (save for one that I really hated in Season 5), will keep you interested through the five seasons. This show is a must watch.

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