Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010 Movies - Honorable Mentions

Tomorrow I'll start the 2010 top ten countdown. So here's my movies that either came close to the making the list or were just surprises for me.

I've placed my four surprise movies into two groups. First are my Denzel Washington movies. I quickly dismissed both of these movies based on their trailers. They both looked silly to me. But upon reading some reviews from people that I trust, I went to see both The Book of Eli and Unstoppable. Before I continue, I need to remind you that these aren't great movies - but both were pretty entertaining.

If you didn't like The Book of Eli because of its ending, I understand. i read more than one person state that they were totally pulled out of the movie at that moment. It's a silly revelation, but I was OK with it. In the movie world created, it doesn't seem totally unplausable (slight eye roll). But I enjoyed the rest of the story enough to get into it and ride through it, so I was cool with it at the time.

So these two guys on one train are going to chase down another train? And trains are on tracks, right? It's not like the one train can zig and zag, right? Gotta be a lame movie. Unstoppable works. It's exciting and fun. Malcolm X and Captain Kirk make for interesting enough characters as well.

My next set of surprise movies are the "Dumb Action Movies That Don't Take Themselves Too Seriously So They End Up Being Really Fun" movies. They are The Losers and RED. I contrast these with The Expendables. I didn't see The Expendables in the theater, so it didn't appear anywhere on the list. But even though it advertised itself as being a fun 80s style action movie, it took itself too seriously. I was bored.

Both The Losers and RED might even consider themselves to be comedic action movies instead of action movies with humor. The directions both movies take are ridiculous, but the makers seem to know that. The action is over the top, but the makers seem to know that. Again, these aren't great movies - but you'll have fun.

And the runners up:

No documentaries made my top ten this year, but there were a bunch of really good ones. I already wrote about Exit Through the Gift Shop, Joan Rivers:A Piece of Work, Inside Job, and Catfish. I recommend all of those. But the best documentary I saw this year was Restrepo. It shows the daily life of these soldiers in Afghanistan in the Korangal Valley, which is described as the most dangerous place in the world. It never takes a side int he war. It doesn't consciously try to convince you of anything. It shows and tells the soldiers' stories. It's streaming on Netflix right now.

Also streaming on Netflix is Un Prophète, or A Prophet. It's a French film about the Mafia in the prisons. This kid in an outsider who falls under the protection of the mob boss in prison and begins to rise through the ranks.It's Goodfellas in prison with a totally different tone. OK, it's totally different from Goodfellas, but still damn good.

I moved The Fighter on and off of my top ten list. The reason it jumped on is because of Christian Bale. He is fantastic. He is so different from anything else he has done before. The same with Amy Adams. She hasn't done anything like her role before. It's a really good movie, but I think in the end it came down to - another boxing movie? Feel free to disagree.

127 Hours was difficult to watch for all the right reasons. You're supposed to be uncomfortable watching it. I can honestly say that I've come as close to being trapped with my arm pinned under a rock for five days as I really want to. It's a great movie.

However, I left with a similar thought that I had after watching Into the Wild a few years back. Both main characters are seen as heroes to people. But in reality, both are severe dumbasses. In 127 Hours, Aron Ralston broke every basic rule about going into the wilderness. With Into the Wild, I think Christopher McCandless was trying to commit suicide. So I guess he can be excused for doing the same thing. So, kids, remember this. Smart people learn from their own mistakes. Even smarter people learn from the mistakes of others.

Speaking of mistakes, tomorrow - number ten.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another Mess of Movies

Here's some more...

Perhaps the most important movie of 2010 was Inside Job. If you thought Michael Moore's Capitalism was interesting but don't like his particular antics, this is a remedy. It tries to describe the financial meltdown of 2008. As I type this, I think about the comments I made about Waiting for Superman in the last post. But I choose to ignore that. While I think I have a better picture of what happened to the economy, I still don't understand derivatives. The movie does a fine job of trying, but I don't get it. But somehow, I think that's the point. They seem to be nothing more than banking slight of hand. You need to see this movie.

127 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows was pretty much what you expect. If you liked the previous six, you'll watch it. If you didn't, you can skip it. For me, I have the dumbest criticism of it ever, but it's how I feel about it. The movie feels... incomplete. Well, duh. But previous movies designed to be continued later, such as Kill Bill and the Lord of the Rings felt like full movies. I was satisfied with those while looking forward to the next movie. I didn't get that here, and I think that's a result of the source material having been only one book. However, i loved the book. I think when the second part comes out, I'll almost consider it as one full movie, and I have a feeling that it's going to make the 2011 list.

I think it's important that you don't know anything about I Love You Phillip Morris before going in. I didn't know the real story, and it's a good one. There are twists and turns that seem improbable, and the more amazing ones were real. Jim Carrey is great and worth seeing.

Black Swan was interesting, but I can't go much beyond that. It turns out that I wasn't ready for a movie about ballet - who wudda thunkit? There are some cool visuals and the music from Swan Lake is great. But I didn't care for the story or what was going on.

Tangled is really good. It's cool that there are so many good animated movies out there. In fact, two made the top ten list. This one is funny, looks good, and is entertaining for everyone. It doesn't panders to kids.

Tron: Legacy looks really cool. My biggest complaint about the visual is that in the original the good guys were lit up in blue and the bad guys in red. The update has the bad guys in red and the good guys in white. On one hand, it gives the movie a bit of a black and white look. But that's not what Tron should be. The plot? Who cares. Some stuff happened leading them to some cool looking things. I have a strong, strong feeling that if I didn't like the original, I would have hated this. But then again, I probably wouldn't have seen it.

Casino Jack is the story of Jack Abramoff. Kevin Spacey is great in the lead role. He turns Abramoff into a real movie character. It's a pretty entertaining story. I'm surprised the movie got made as quickly as it did, since it seems like this stuff just happened. But it's probably a story worth telling because things don't change quickly in DC.

Somewhere feels like a really long version of its trailer. That's not necessarily a good thing. But after having a few days to absorb it, it's an interesting movie. There are some scenes and visuals that have stuck with me. It seems like the type of movie that I could see come on TV and I would watch for about 10 minutes or so. But then I would remember that it's a fairly boring movie. Very confusing.

All right - tomorrow I'll write about some movies that will be sort of an introduction to the top ten. They're movies that either could have made the top ten or ones that just surprised me. Then on the first, number 10.

Another Mass of Movies

And the movies continue...

I was surprised to really enjoy Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. I'm not a fan of Joan Rivers. In fact, I remember being young (it had to be before 1986) and turning on the Tonight Show to see that she was guest hosting - then - turning it off. That always stuck in my head that she was that person who wasn't funny, so I avoided anything of hers. The next thing I consciously watched of hers was the season she was on the Celebrity Apprentice. So I watched this documentary based solely on critic recommendations. And I definitely recommend it. It's a well made doc, really interesting, and parts are really funny. It's streaming on Netflix now.

I Am Love received rave reviews. But I just didn't get it. Not that I didn't understand it. I didn't see what was so great. I walked out with the same feeling as when I saw Broken Embraces back in 2009, though I liked that one even more. Sure, I will concede that Tilda Swinton is great. But that is all.

Cyrus was just dumb. I never found a character to like, and the camera work was extra annoying. There was a lot of the unnecessary zooming that I found distracting in Battlestar Galactica. At this point, I don't even remember enough about much else to comment.

The Kids Are All Right was over hyped by critics. It was good, but not great. the acting was great all around. The story was mostly straightforward, though it took a couple ridiculous turns. While I'm glad I watched it and can recommend it, I hope it doesn't come up in awards season.

Salt was a goofy action movie. It was entertaining, and it wasn't totally predictable. Compared with your typical summer action movie, pretty good. That isn't the highest of praise, but it doesn't need to be.

I think I can comparatively say the same for Dinner With Schmucks. Kinda funny, but you didn't miss anything if you missed it. Considering the cast and people that worked on it, it could have been much better.

And once again, I repeat the same thing for The Other Guys. Kinda funny, but...

Catfish creeped me out. But only because I went through something too similar about ten years ago. Other than that, it's pretty good. There's some internet debate about whether it's real or not. I tend to believe it is just because of the way that things played out.

Waiting for Superman was a disappointment because we end still waiting. Superman doesn't even make a cameo. As far as the movie is concerned, it's a well made movie. It does what the filmmakers wanted to do. It pulls at the heartstrings and makes you think about schools one more time. But as someone in the profession who thinks about schools regularly, it's a bit deceitful. I suppose that if I knew enough about every documentary I watched, I might think the same thing, though. If you see it and you aren't a teacher, sit down with a teacher afterward so they can explain how things really are.

As I've mentioned before, every movie viewing is impacted by your emotional state at the time of watching it. Never Let Me Go is a movie that I wonder if I might have enjoyed more if I had seen it on a different day. Looking back, I liked a lot of what the movie was. I liked it, but I just didn't love the movie. I am curious to read the book.

More soon - I'm getting behind!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Round of Movies

Here are more movies from 2010 that didn't make the Top Ten list.

Clash of the Titans was entertaining enough. I remember leaving and thinking that is was being criticized too harshly, though it wasn't anything to get excited about. I definitely hated the slo-mo and shaky-cam. Not that I ever like that sort of thing, but they seemed out of place in this type of movie. But looking back, I don't remember too much. Very skippable and had a severe lack of Bubo.

Kick-Ass is a movie that had quite a lot of potential. I've read some of the comic, and I liked that enough. While parts were entertaining, it didn't resonate and I didn't care for it.

I think Harry Brown was interesting enough to recommend. Even though you know the basic story, it didn't quite go exactly where you think it's going, and the main character has a decent story arc. Michael Caine is usually pretty good, and there's no exception here.

Iron Man 2 was fun to look at, but its plot was too dense. The first movie got everything right. This one was, well, a sequel.

If you're reading this hoping for some movie ideas to add to your Netflix queue that you didn't know about, add Exit Through the Gift Shop. This is a crazy weird documentary about a guy who gets to know graffiti artists and then becomes one and then has his own show. But is it really a documentary? If you know who Banksy is, go watch this. And if you don't, watch it anyway.

Robin Hood was such a waste. It was dull. The Errol Flynn Adventures of Robin Hood is such a FUN movie. That's what Robin Hood should be. The Disney version is fun. Kevin Costner's version is, even with that crappy Bryan Adams song, a far superior version to this turd.

If you enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, lower your expectations before you check out Get Him to the Greek. Aldous Snow was a great character in that movie, but doesn't necessarily deserve a full feature. It suffers from the some of the same problem that Saturday Night Live characters have going to the big screen. That being said, it has plenty of funny parts and it's rarely boring. It's worth watching, but again, lower your expectations.

I hated Splice. Hated it. Hated it. Hate. Hated. Hated it.

On the other hand, Winter's Bone was pretty good. It's a great character piece. That means those of you who like nothing but action or comedy, it takes patience. And And I admit mine was challenged a bit. But I was never sure where this movie was going, and it tells a pretty good story. And it always looks good. It has a very interesting point of view.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

More flicks!

Here's another batch of 2010 movies that didn't make the top ten list.

The Ghost Writer
is a satisfying political thriller about a guy (Pierce Brosnan ghost writing the former British Prime Minister's memoirs. It's pretty obviously supposed to be Tony Blair, and it involves some secret information. It takes on a bit more weight with what's going on with Wikileaks.

The Green Zone does a nice job of mixing a non fiction story with a fictional action film. It's based on a non-fiction book about the search for WMDs in Iraq. I don't know how much was changed to avoid possible libelous accusations and how much was just changed to be an action movie.

In some ways, I liked Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I liked that he didn't simply retell the story but made it into a sort of a sequel. I also enjoyed how the movie is based more on The Jabberwocky than on the Alice stories. Back when I taught English, my students were required to memorize and recite a poem. I always got a kick out of the kids who picked The Jabberwocky. So that's what I liked. But I didn't dig the visuals - 3D sucks - and the pacing didn't work. I think it's because Johnny Depp played the Mad Hatter, so he had to have a bigger role than was necessary.

Do you want to see something totally different? And I don't mean just random stuff that you can't understand making it different. I mean a story that is told in a different way. Watch the Korean movie Mother. It's a story of the mother of a mentally disabled boy. the boy is accused of murder. It's just... different.

Greenberg was one of those movies that had a better trailer than a movie. It looked like it would be a cool little independent movie, but I found it to be unsatisfying. There have been several small movies made by actors that I didn't care for, but they won be over. Ben Stiller didn't in this one. It has it's good parts, but overall it didn't work.

Chloe was OK, but I honestly don't remember too much. If I hadn't written it down, I wouldn't have remembered seeing it. So take that review for what it's worth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity - Photos!

On October 30, 2010, I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here are my favorite signs and other stuff that I saw.

The Mild Movies of 2010

So far, 2010 has been a really mild year for movies. And yet I've already seen more than I ever have before.

For the non regular reader, I see a bunch of movies in the theater. Every January, I write about my top ten of the year. In the days prior, I try to write about the ones I see that didn't make the list. Last year I saw 45 movies in the theater - much more than I ever had before. So I declared December to be movie-a-day month. Both Lance and Nolan also participated writing about some of their favorite movies. I got some great movie suggestions from both of them. I wrote about the movies that didn't make my top 10 list. This year, I have already seen 48. There's another half-dozen movies coming out that I want to see, though I don't know how many will actually be available in the Bay Area.

As of right now, I only have seven movies that I've noted to make the top ten list. Just seven! That's preposterous. And to be honest, one or two of those were movies that I liked when I saw them much more than I do now. There's only two or three that would have made the list in previous years.

It's not that all of these movies have been bad. It's just that a lot of them have been goodish, just not great. Since a lot of the early ones are now available at home, I'm going to start writing about the movies that didn't make the list, a few at a time. Maybe you'll see something that you like. These obviously aren't full reviews but just a couple sentences.

I already wrote about The Lovely Bones in an Annoying Things of the Week blog. I hated it. Horrible movie. Don't watch it

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is an imaginative movie. It's a beautiful film. If you can, it's the type of movie that you should see on a big screen with a crisp, clear picture. The performances are pretty good too. I personally had a hard time getting into the story, which was simple yet unnecessarily convoluted. Still, I know a lot of people who thought the movie was amazing, so give it a shot.

I watched The Blind Side because it was an Oscar nominated movie. It shouldn't have been. It was better than an after school special, but not as good as a good movie. It's an Oscar nod for dumb people.

I think I went into The White Ribbon with high expectations. The saw a lot of amazing reviews. The trailer looked creepy and cool. But there just wasn't enough there for me. It was too slow and deliberate. Often slow and deliberate is a good thing because it leads you toward a payoff. But it wasn't there in this movie. Keep reading for more.

I think I liked Shutter Island more than many people. I think a lot of people felt about this what I did about The White Ribbon. They didn't buy the payoff. My difference is that this movie, whether you liked it or not, had a payoff. The other didn't. But I liked the journey in Shutter Island. It was interesting enough to hold my attention.

More to come!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How To Buy a House

It took me about two years to finally get this house. At the end of the summer of 2008, I got a home equity line of credit using my condo. That money was supposed to be the down payment on a new house. I was also preapproved for $300,000. At the time, houses were just dipping down to that level, so it was a good amount.  Little did I know that the rules were about to change.

I procrastinated for a few weeks before finally contacting my new agent, Jeannie-Marie. We started looking at a couple houses. I soon discovered that while there were plenty of houses below $300,000, there were few worth looking at.  After seeing a few houses, we took another look at the loan approval, as it was about to expire. I contacted my credit union for an update. They let me know that the rules had changed and I was now approved for $270,000.

We went from not much worth seeing to just about nothing. I found out that my credit union was going to be limited in the types of loans I would be eligible for, so I also went with one of Jeannie’s people.  We were looking at around the same amount. And luckily, I found a place that I was interested in.  This place was a two bedroom house. The garage had been converted into another room, so there was plenty of space. However, it was a short sale.

We were accepted quickly by the owners of the house for $260,000. This was November 2008. Then we turned to the owner’s bank for approval. Time passed.  Then more time. Then more time. And as the new year came into place, the rules for mortgages changed again, making things more difficult. However, we worked through them since we weren’t doing anything other than waiting. And more time passed. Jeannie and I decided to look at a few more places. A couple looked OK, but nothing better for the same price. We decided to wait some more. And more time passed. And more.

We looked again in March of 2009. One of the places we had seen before had dropped dramatically in price down to under $200,000. It looked good.  It was in good shape and had four bedrooms and a garage. It was a MUCH better deal than the house I was waiting for. And then about the same time, the wait ended. The bank finally approved the short sale. So I had to decide whether to take the first house or move on to the second. Since so much time had passed, the first house at $260,000, being as small as it was, wasn’t a good deal anymore.  I decided to drop the first and go for the second, even if I had to offer more money. I was accepted by the owner for $205,000. But this too was a short sale. The wait began.

Allow me to offer a spoiler – this wait was longer. Every once in a while, I would take a look to see what was out there, and there were no better deals. Or any reasonable deals, either. All of the houses were either too crappy or too expensive. So I waited. And time passed. Then more time. Then more time.  Summer of 2009, I traveled to Scandinavia. It was a pretty epic trip. I was really hoping that I would return home to some news on the house. But when I returned, I waited.

At the end of the summer, we finally heard from the bank. As it turned out, we heard from the FIRST bank. They approved the sale. It then went to the second bank. I was told that this would be much faster, since if there was more than one loan on a home, the second would often follow the first.  So I waited. And time passed. And then, a couple months later, an answer.

They didn’t approve the sale as it was. They wanted the seller to pay an additional $30,000. This still doesn’t make any sense, since the reason for the short sale is that the seller doesn’t have the money to make payments. So the bank and the seller began negotiations. The guy in charge of the negotiations was called Heman. I saw this as a sign that the Masters of the Universe were on my side. I should have remembered that there was no such thing as a sign.

Negotiations continued, and I waited into the new year. And waited. And time passed. Every once in a while we would find out that something was happening in the negotiations. But no results. So we made a new offer. We contacted Heman to ask if we could pay part of the $30,000.  I was still going to pay much less than I would have on the first place. So we waited once again. Finally we got an answer from the bank. It was a counter offer. They wanted $300,000.

Yeah. Not helpful.

So a new search began. However, this was a year after Jeannie and I had gone out physically looking for a house. Things were different. There were more options that I could afford.  Well, that I thought I could afford. In the previous year, the rules for mortgages had changed again. Luckily, I had also spent the previous year paying off my car and saving money. More on that soon.

We found two houses. As it turned out, I only had one option, but I didn’t know that yet. One of the houses was closer to work. It was a foreclosure, but it really nice shape compared with many others I had seen. Two stories. Three bedrooms, two baths. But it was going to need a little work, and it cost more than the other. If I got that house, I wasn’t going to have any money at all to fix it for quite some time. And as it turned out, the rules for mortgages had changed enough in the previous year so I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. But not knowing that at the time, I put in an offer for that house, knowing that I had a second option. Jeannie quickly found out that I was already being outbid, and the other person had bid above any price I could afford.

So I placed an offer on the second house. The house where I’m writing this. We offered $265,000. They countered with $279,000.  We countered with $270,000.  Done. No short sale. No foreclosure. Just a 45 day close. Yeah, things happened in those 45 days. But those were pretty standard home sale problems.  After waiting almost two years for the house those things were nothing. There was only one problem that made things tough.

Remember all those rule changes? Those meant that I was no longer approved for what I once was. So to afford the $270,000, I was going to have to take even more out of my pocket for the down payment. Teachers only get paid for 10 months a year. That means I take money every month and put it into savings so that I can pay myself over the summer. I had to use that money for the down payment. Just about every penny. I got paid on June 30th. I got the keys on June 30th.  I didn’t get paid again until September 30th. It’s a long summer when you have a new house and no income.

Friday, July 16, 2010

1933: Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel feels like it's going to be less than it is.  During the first hour I got the feeling that the characters were going to go though a few things. They would learn about each other and grow as characters as the movie progresses, and then the movie ends.  But I was surprised.

This movie is actually building to something happening. Today we would call it a twist, though I hesitate to classify it in the same way. I won't give it away because today we would call that a spoiler. 

There are a couple themes in the movie that I noticed. The first is about money and how it affects people is such different ways. Some have it and don't know what to do with it. Some have it and want more. Some don't have it. That changes how each person acts in the movie as it interweaves the stories of the different characters.

The second theme is about life passing you by. About life continuing without you. The end of the movie (and this isn't a spoiler, I don't think) shows new people checking into the hotel. The staff is moving along to a new day. And the doctor, who waits in the lobby for something to happen )though most of the action takes place upstairs), states, "Grand Hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens."

For the first part of the movie, I was trying to think of who Joan Crawford reminded me of.   Not only her looks, but her facial mannerisms brought to my mind Kate Winslet. A quick Google search shows that Winslet is going to be playing a role that Crawford originally played in a remake of Mildred Pierce (a movie I haven't seen).

For my criticisms, Grand Hotel feels very much like a play. In fact the opening scene in the hotel lobby is a series of very long takes. I originally thought it might have been one ten minute take, but it looks like there were a couple edits. Much like the previous Oscar winners, everyone is acting to the balcony seats. Everyone is too close of a talker for me to handle. Thank goodness for widescreen these days so that two people can fit in one frame comfortably.  The music wasn't scored, but was simply music played over the dialogue. For example, the opening scene we hear the Blue Danube waltz by Strauss. And in a few scenes the music didn't fit. But at some point, the music stopped. I didn't notice it until one of the characters actually said that the music stopped. It was an effective moment.

This is the first of the Oscar winners that I think I might watch again someday (unless I end up teaching a class that shows All Quiet on the Western Front). I can't recommend it to the casual movie goer. But for someone who appreciates movies, there's some history here. Grand Hotel shows how you can have a movie about several different characters while their stories overlap and come together at the end. And we've definitely seen many of that type since then. In fact, one name for this type of movie is a "grand hotel" film.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

1932: Cimarron

I'm choosing to leave the image of the poster centered and alone because it's pretty awesome. And most importantly, I believe it was made by someone who hasn't seen or known anything about the movie.

I don't think I've heard of Cimarron before. I'm guessing that the only times I've seen the title before is when I've browsed the list of Oscar winners. I didn't recognize any parts of the movie. I didn't recognize any actors, even though the lead actors has the name Richard Dix. Despite the sweet porn name, there wasn't anything too memorable about him, either.

Cimarron was watchable. I didn't fall asleep and I didn't need to watch it in parts. That's the good thing. I think this is because the scenes are all fairly short and enough happens in each scene to keep it moving. There are some pretty cool shots, including the very beginning, showing the Oklahoma Land Rush. There's also a pretty good scene in a church.  I'm sure you're asking how a church scene can be good. End it with a shootout, that's how.  It ends with the best line in the movie. When asked, "Did you have to kill him?" The main character Yancey Cravat answers, "No, I could have let him kill me."

In reading about this movie, I discovered that it received a lot of attention because of its racist overtones.  There isn't anything even close to Birth of a Nation here. The worst of it probably involves the black kid who is basically a slave. Yancey says about him, "That's loyalty that money can't buy." Later the kid is killed trying to rescue some kids and no one notices or even remembers that he went to go rescue the kids. But then Yancey, who had just been shot in the arm, carries him for awhile. the other racists stuff isn't from the movie but the characters. If anything, it seems fairly progressive for a movie from 1931.

I can give Cimarron a better recommendation than either Wings or Broadway Melody. But beyond that, I don't see too much of a reason to watch. Even a movie buff who wants to see  history of film making can skip it, I think. There are a few characters who are basically parodied in Blazing Saddles, but the same basic characters appear in other westerns, and there are better westerns out there. My favorite? High Noon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer 2010!

Happy 300th post to this blog.  That's about 6 quality posts, 13 mediocre ones, and 280 crap. But now a new era is upon us!  Or not...

For whatever reason, I decided that I'd go ahead and post my summer goals. I'm planning to move into my house in the next couple weeks. There's lots of stuff that I have to do with that, including renting out my condo. I don't want this to have anything to do with that business, as that will take care of itself.

1. Exercise. My original goal for the summer was to shift into more of a weight lifting mode to add some good bulk, as opposed to the bad bulk I spent 10 months getting rid of.  Then a couple days in I tweaked my shoulder. It's nothing bad, but it's throwing a monkey wrench into my plans, and I had to revert to strictly cardio for a little while. So my basic summer goal is to go FULL MACHINIST.

OK. maybe not. So my goal for the summer is to hit the gym five times a week. I was doing that easily during the school year, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I just know that when I move into the house and start working on that, I don't want to lose touch with it.

2. Creativity. Since I've been waiting so long for the house,  I have become stagnant in creativity. My art supplies and music stuff is all in storage or moved out. So this goal has two parts.

The first is that I want to write 500 words of fiction every day. This is a goal that I've set in the past and haven't met because I have too many filters. This summer I've rewired all of my filters. I've now set out to write the most boring novel ever. That means I don't have to worry about any filters standing in my way. At the least, I'll get in the habit of writing. At best, I'll bore my creativity and force it to start working. Maybe something in this novel might jump into something real. Perhaps the character will begin to realize itself. In the first chapter, Jack took out the trash. Second, he walked down to the coffee shop. Tomorrow I'll write about him ordering coffee and reading the paper. He might even start drinking the coffee. I played with publishing this novel online, but I don't know. It really is meant to be quite boring. I'll only do so if the masses demand such a thing.

The second is that I want to create art. When I move into my house, I hope to create some pieces of simple abstract paintings to hang. Then as I create more complicated work, I'll replace those. For now, I'm just going to create one small piece of art every day. But once again, I'm rewiring the filters. All I'm doing is grabbing a blank piece of paper and something to write with. I'm giving myself about five minutes to make marks on the page, then it's done. Once I have my paints, I'll give myself more time. And I want to take some photos and work with some other media eventually. But for now, just these stupid, bad sketches. I'm posting them in my Facebook account under the album "BadArt."

3. The Sopranos. I just finished Season 5. I'll start the final season tomorrow. I have a couple other shows waiting for me to watch, so when I finish this I'll get going on those. I actually have a ton of TV shows and movies sitting on my computer that I've ripped from Netflix disks over the past few months. I really need to get my hard drive cleaned off, so I'll be watching lots of stuff this summer. Yeah, I'm throwing myself a nice, slow softball here. It's summer, and I could use a victory about now.

4. The Oscar Project.  The first two movies, Wings and Broadway Melody, weren't winners in my book.  But All Quiet on the Western Front was pretty darned good. Here's the schedule for the rest of the summer:

26-Jun-10 1932 Cimarron
3-Jul-10 1933 Grand Hotel
10-Jul-10 1934 Cavalcade
17-Jul-10 1935 It Happened One Night
24-Jul-10 1936 Mutiny on the Bounty
31-Jul-10 1937 The Great Ziegfeld
7-Aug-10 1938 The Life of Emile Zola
14-Aug-10 1939 You Can't Take It with You
21-Aug-10 1940 Gone with the Wind

There are a few movies that I've only heard of when looking at the list of Oscar winners, so I don't really know what to expect. I've only seen three of these movies.

5. Wake up. I plan to be out of bed by noon every day. Those of you who are morning people and think this is a ridiculous goal, go away. Those of you who are night people and know how difficult this is, wish me luck!

6. Get it On! I vow to listen to Get it On by Bill Chase 100 times this summer. 93 more to go.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

1931: All Quiet on the Western Front

Technically, this is the first movie to win "Best Picture," as its name changed from "Best Production" with this movie. Perhaps fate knew a bit. All Quiet on the Western Front is a much better movie than the previous two. While I had a lot of trouble making it through both Wings and Broadway Melody, I had no such trouble with this. Even with it clocking in at almost two hours twenty minutes, All Quiet is a much easier movie to watch.

Yes, there are still some things that date this movie. Mostly, the acting. All of the actors were still in stage mode, meaning that they're still acting to the people in the back row even though the camera is in their face. I'll be curious to see the evolution of that as I watch these movies.

But All Quiet lays the foundation for all war movies to come. You have all of the classic scenes, including the guys talking about death, the reason for the war, a scene with the enemy in a trench, and the hospital scenes. Other movies will go on to expand these (and many more) ideas.

After watching, I wanted to see what I had written after watching for the first time:

October 8, 2002 There were a few interesting things about All Quiet. My first real observation was the soundtrack. Or should I say lack thereof. I liked that you hear the exact same things that the soldiers hear right up until the very end - very effective. There was an interesting scene where the main character Paul is caught in a trench with a man he had just killed. I felt that this was a revelation for the character, and I actually would have liked to have seen more of the scene. Finally, this movie had its message that war is hell. Over 70 years later, and events like 9/11, and people like George W. can't wait to rush off to war. I'm not sure if this film will warrant a repeat viewing anytime soon, but still interesting to see.

I'm glad that I watched this again almost eight years later. Every time I pass the book in a book store, I mentally add it to my "Read it" list. When I do, i'll be sure to post a book report. Good movie - watch it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

1930: Broadway Melody

There are some musicals that I really like. The Wizard of Oz. Singin' in the Rain. Popeye. But if you were to tell me that I were going to watch a musical, my toes would not be a tappin'. I'm not naturally inclined to enjoy a musical, and this was no exception.

Call me crazy, but I think you need to enjoy the music to enjoy a musical. I didn't hear anything in there that I'm going to be humming again later. In fact, the main song Broadway Melody was played about fifty times. But it's not such an interesting song.

One song that is fairly good, You Were Meant for Me, is actually in the previously mentioned Singin' in the Rain. The possible problem with many of these songs are that they're performed by the lead, Eddie, played by Charles King. This guy looks like the love child of Desi Arnez and Ricky Gervais. He creedped me out. He is a close talker. I look at him and I see Judge Reinhold wanting to take Jerry's parents to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And for some reason, I get the idea that he smells like liverwurst, so the close talking is even worse.

There's also a creepy musical number which sounds like a few eunuchs playing guitar. That's all I have to say about that.

The female lead is a girl named Hank. I had some trouble getting past that one. The second lead is a girl named Queenie. For some reason, I found that easier than the girl named Hank.

There wasn't too much that caught my attention or kept me too interested. This movie, as well as Wings, was called Best Production. It wasn't until a year later that it was changed to Best Picture. I know that since the next movie was All Quiet on the Western Front, things are about to pick up.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

1929: Wings

So I wanted to get a good start on my Oscar Project by sitting down to watch Wings. It didn't turn out to be that easy. It turns out that it's a tough movie to watch, so I watched it in 20-30 minute chunks, stopping throughout to type a bit. So this "review" is a bit more of a play-by-play. I understand that much of it won't make sense to you, the reader, if you haven't seen the movie.

As of this moment, I have only watched the first five minutes of Wings. I already have the idea that it's going to be a rough couple of hours, so I'm going to divide up this movie into parts.

While I like to make fun of students who have no interest in black & white, I still find my own problems with silent movies. Yes, there are some that I like quite a bit. But most of those star Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Of course I understand that movies like Wings weren't silent just because they wanted to be. But a dramatic movie is more difficult to watch. I think it's the over the top facial expressions and hand gestures that get to me. It works when it's a comedy. I don't dig it when it's a drama.

In this first scene, a girl is trying to get the attention of a boy working on a car. He doesn't notice her. She's sad. She looks like she just saw her dog get run over by a lawnmower.

All right. Enough whining. I'm ready for more.

The next scene worked for me. There's a guy who wants to fight in the war, but the officer notices his German name. The guy shows him his American flag tattoo and mugs triumphantly. It worked silently.

Apparently when David was a child, he loved a Teddy Bear refrigerator magnet. Seriously, it's the tiniest Teddy Bear ever.  And then he kisses his mother rather awkwardly. Or, rather passionately.


We got some physical comedy from flag tattoo guy. He's  vaudeville actor named El Brendel, and I hope we see more of him throughout the movie. Also in this scene we learned the age old truth. The best way to make friends is to beat the shit out of each other.

Gary Cooper has arrived to eat chocolate, fly figure eights before chow, and validate Teddy Bears. We quickly learn that he only does two of these things well. Perhaps he should have tried figure infinities or something more horizontal. Wait - make that one. The chocolate has also gone uneaten.

In silent movies, the characters can't hear anything either. You must wake up people one at a time by shaking them.

All right. We finally got some flying action here. These are actual planes performing these stunts, so it feels quite pure. I dislike the quick and close up edits we get today, so I like a shot that actually shows something.

I'm no lip reading expert, but I'm pretty sure that David mouths "Son of a bitch" when he plane gets hit. And soon after we're told that Jack has "two Fokkers on his tail. I think Jack was taught to land by Gary Cooper.

There was some decent action that actually kept me focused for awhile. Then around the halfway point of the movie, there's a cool shot in a night club. The camera slowly rolls over the top of several different tables showing different couples in a quick 2-3 second pantomime, including one woman throwing her drink in the face of the other person. It ends at our hero's table as he is being poured a drink. It works nicely, and is immediately followed with a bizarre scene about bubbles. It's something different, and it has given the movie something different. So I guess that's good.

We moved on to more action. The movie is moving along at a much better pace now. The dramatic scenes have been short and to the point. They are much more tolerable than the opening scene, and because they were much quicker, they worked much better. I'm pretty sure that Jack just mouthed, "Bastards," so I think they're actually saying a lot of things that we don't know they're saying. 

The way the story is ending is actually pretty decent. It's a Shakespearean tragedy, and all the parts have been put into place. The death scene is a little... gay. I mean their talking about getting Heinies and kissing each other. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So I think the movie makers had created a decent story with the love triangle, but decided for some reason to add another part. Instead of a love square, it became more of a love trapezoid. the Mary Preston character didn't add anything other than 20 minutes of screen time, and allowed for a "nice" ending. And in the end, the movie was at least 20 minutes too long, so I would her to make it more palatable.

I was reminded quite a bit of Pearl Harbor while watching this. And for those younger readers, that's not a good thing. In doing a bit of research, I discovered that this movie actually didn't win "Best Picture." It won "Best Production." The award changed names a couple years later, as did the idea for what it should be. For Best Production, they wanted to give the award to the biggest movie, not necessarily the best. Because of the war scenes, and especially the dog fights (airplane, not Vick), it was a "big" movie. That's the same philosophy that the makers of Pearl Harbor had, and it didn't work then. The difference is that movie making changed quite a bit over 70 years. Wings didn't have that excuse.

So here's my summary. The movie is too long. It definitely gets better in the second half. I think breaking it into parts was very helpful, as it wasn't really great enough to hold my attention for too long. Watch if you are an Oscar completest, but otherwise skip it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Oscar Project!

In the midst of my insomnia, I was listening to some Tom Waits at 4:30 A.M. while browsing the internet. There's nothing better for clearing the mind. I decided on the next project for my blog. This decision comes from three problems that I'm having.

The first is that blog-a-day month and movie-a-day month were fun, but they burned me out from blogging. I don't seem to want to write anything during the rest of the year. Partially, I seem to want to save ideas. So I don't know if I will participate in either this year. If I do, it certainly won't be to the extent I did last year. Any entries will be a couple paragraphs or so. But still, I enjoy blogging and I enjoy writing about movies.

The second is that I don't have any money to spend this summer. I had been hoping to take a road trip, but I need to spend some time moving into my home and renting out my condo. I always try to get to San Diego every summer, and I hope this summer is no exception. If I do have any money left by that point, I'll expand that trip based on how much I think I can spend and how much time it will take. It would be nice to add a week or so before San Diego, but we'll see. So my summer will be spent doing things that cost very little money. I have Netflix. I'll be enjoying that.

The third is that I've seen a lot of movies so far in 2010 (22 as of right now, and I haven't ruled out going to see something later today or tomorrow morning). The problem is that I haven't loved any of those movies. I can't picture any of them making a top 10 list from any previous years. I have a hard time believing that I've picked 22 decent movies, especially when many came highly recommended. In fact, I can recommend many of them as "entertaining," and many as "worth watching because it was different." In the first category, The Book of Eli, Green Zone, Alice in Wonderland, Hot Tub Time Machine, How to Train Your Dragon, The Losers, and Iron Man 2 were all entertaining. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Mother, Greenberg, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, A Prophet, and Exit Through the Gift Shop were all in the "different" categoty. So I can recommend any of those for those reasons. But I didn't love any of them, and I blame my current lack of passion for movie watching. I think it's similar to the "reader's block" I wrote about during Blog-a-Day month (which is cured, by the way. I might write up some book reports over the summer).

So I need to fix all three of these problems. I looked at how I developed my interest in movies to the next level. I've mentioned my AFI project before. I want to do something similar. So I picked Oscar Best Pictures. I'm going to start at the beginning with Wings from 1929. I'll watch about one a week in order and give a write up. I haven't seen 31 out of 82, and most of those were early winners. So clearly the second half of the project will be a shift from first viewings to rewatching with fresh eyes. If I stick to one a week, I'll work on this for the next year and a half. There are several movies I'm looking forward to watching for the first time, some I'm looking forward to watching again and writing about, and a few that I'm dreading watching again (I'm looking at you, Shakespeare in Love!) But it should be a cool ride, and I hope it gets me excited about movies again.

Want to join in? Course you do! (Boos pours you a glass of rye (name THAT reference for bonus points!)) It would be cool to make this project a community sort of thing. It starts this coming week. If you try really hard, you can probably find a list of the movies somewhere. Sometime this coming weekend (June 4-6), either write on your own blog and link to it in the comments here or just write up your own entry in my comments. Or just comment on what I say. Want to watch any of these with me? Let me know and I'll let you know when the viewing will happen. Party at my new house!

I do realize that there's a major barrier to the project from the beginning. Wings is not available on DVD. I found a bootleg copy on the internet. If you don't know how to do such a thing, I can get a copy to you if you ask or give you steps to find it. You'll run into the same problem in a couple weeks with Cavalcade. Everything else is out there.

A Memorial Day update.

I haven't blogged in awhile, so this is a general update of a bunch of different things.

The end of the school year is quickly approaching. We have 10 days remaining. Of those 10, I will spend one at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, one at the eighth grade pool party, and one is the last day, which is on a Monday. (Yes, for those of you who aren't involved with the school district, our last day is on a MONDAY. Does that tell you all you need to know about the level of stupidity of those running the district?) So yeah, there are really seven days left. But I have to wake up 10 more times, and that's what counts the most.

As I wrote about many months back, I set trying to lose some weight. My original goal was to lose 20 by 2010. I barely missed that, but I've made up for it. I've now lost over 30 pounds. I feel much better and probably look better too. I still have a year and a few months of gym membership, so I'm not done yet. I'm moving on to new goals and I hope to have a fairly active summer (physically, at least, as I won't really have money to do much else - more on that soon).

Here's a note about human psychology. I think one big reason that I've done so well is my limited gym membership. I picked up the Costco deal, which is two years for $299. The alternate would be to join a gym on a month-to-month contract. But in this deal, I'm limited to 24 months. After that, I have to pay up again if I want to continue. So I never had the "I'll get going next month" mindset. I knew going in that I had two years. Period. It's a similar mindset to this idea. What kinds of New Years Resolutions do successful people make? None. Successful people don't need an arbitrary date to be successful. They do it now. So, I did it "now."

So it looks like I finally have a house. I'm planning to write a good full entry on the entire almost two year saga, so I'll cut that short here. But I'm in contract and heading towards closing on this 3 bedroom, 1 bath in Concord close to Mt. Diablo High. You might be able to see pictures at this link while it lasts. The original contract was a 45 day close plus an option for the buyer to rent for up to 30 original days. Now it trying to close her own deal for the place she's moving to, so that might make everything happen sooner. It looks like all of the potential barriers have been agreed to at this point. So that means I'll be moving anytime from the middle of June to the end of July. I hope we get something nailed down in the next week. That means around that time I'm paying just about every dollar I have saved in the world, so I have nothing to spend at all. But at least I've locked in a 4.5% rate. Suck on that.

My next update ended up being long enough that I made it into its own entry. I should be posting that in minutes.

And hey - anyone want to rent a one bedroom condo on the Concord/Clayton border or know someone who does? Seriously for REAL this time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscar Roundup - 2010

Every year I try to see all five movies nominated for Best Picture. This year the format changed to include ten movies. I set the goal to see seven. Yet when the list was announced, I had seen nine. So I caught the tenth, thus exceeding my goal and once again achieving perfection. I've written about 9/10ths of these previously, so the titles will include links to that.


I still don't get it. Yes, it's a beautiful movie. There's some decent action. But there isn't a lot beyond that. There might be one thing that will hurt its chances. Voters are sent screeners - a DVD copy of the movie. So perhaps many people would have seen it on their smaller TVs. In my opinion, as I wrote about originally, that's going to knock a lot of the magic out of it. However this thing made so much money that I doubt a lot of people were waiting to watch it on their screener. I'll be disappointed if it wins.

The Blind Side

This movie isn't bad. It's even somewhat entertaining. But it isn't... good. While it might be unfair to compare it with Precious, you have to when they are in the same catagory. They share enough themes that you have to see which movie presented those themes better than the other. Precious beats The Blind Side all the way. I have a feeling that this movie was nominated so that dumb people will have their movie to cheer for.

District 9

I was very surprised to see this nominated, though it stands zero chance to win. I'm glad it's getting some recognition because of its nomination, but if they wanted to appease the geeks, I would have picked Star Trek.

An Education

I doubt it will win, but it's a VERY good movie. My real hope is that Cary Mulligan will steal the Best Actress award away from Sandra Bullock.

The Hurt Locker

I'm hoping this will win, even though it wasn't my favorite of the group. The simple reason is that every source I've read states that it's down to Avatar and The Hurt Locker. And really, it's the superior film. I still wonder if I will watch this again someday and wish that I had moved it up on my list. I still want to blame the shaky-cam for me not connecting with it. But I will be content if it wins.

Inglourious Basterds

The same sources state that if any movie sneaks in to win it's going to be Inglourious Basterds. I'm totally fine with that. However, its guaranteed Oscar will go to Christoph Waltz. If he doesn't win, it will be a tragedy at the level of Shakespeare in Love defeating Saving Private Ryan.


Very good movie deserving of all the praise it receives. And like Waltz, Mo'Nique has the award locked up. Though if she loses, the sky won't turn blood red in the same dark shade.

A Serious Man

This was favorite movie of last year, so I'm totally stoked that it was nominated. I hope a lot more people saw it. It stands no chance whatsoever of winning.


Will win, but not in this category. It's cool that the expanded category will allow for the occasional animated movie to be nominated, though none will ever win.

Up in the Air

I actually like this movie more as I think about it more. I'm looking forward to watching it again on DVD. Right now I feel like it has gotten lost in the shuffle. This is one movie that is really getting hurt by the expanded category.

Couple more thoughts:
Jeff Bridges should, and deserves to, win for Best Actor. None of the other performances really stand out, and he'll win to finally reward him for his past performances and nomination. I hope Avatar wins lots of technical awards. It deserves them all. But some characters and an engaging story should matter when a movie is nominated for Best Picture. The only documentary I saw was Food, Inc. Watch it if you haven't. I hope the other four nominees give me some movies to Netflix this year.

Monday, January 11, 2010


#1 - A Serious Man

My #2 movie, 500 Days of Summer, was a great movie but was incomplete in a few ways. A Serious Man is complete. It's perfect. Everything works.

I've enjoyed some Coen Brothers movies in the past. My favorite is Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? But I've also been bored by some. I couldn't make it through The Man Who Wasn't There. While they certainly hit more than they miss, I don't know if I've ever been more than a casual fan.

If I had any problem with this movie it's that I'm not Jewish so I probably didn't catch some things here and there. But even if that's the case, it was presented for everybody. So if you're a gentile worried that you won't get it, worry no longer.

I knew the basic idea of the story going in. The Coen Brothers were retelling the story of Job. In case you don't know his story, God gets a long term case of diarrhea and uses Job instead of a toilet.

But even though I knew that this guy was going to get crapped on, it was still filled with plenty of surprises. There's a great scene involving a couple cars driving along. You know what's going to happen, but not really.

Every scene is essential and perfect, filled with a lot of fantastic, snappy dialogue, particularly from the rabbis (rabbanim? rabbii?) that Larry goes to visit.

For the lead, they couldn't have cast Larry Gopnik any more perfectly that Michael Stuhlbarg. He's basically an unknown. I see from his IMDB page that he was in Cold Souls and a couple episodes of Studio 60, but I didn't recognize him. And that's the way it needed to be. He needed to be an everyman. Jake Gyllenhaal, Shia LaBeouf or Corey Feldman couldn't have been Larry Gopnik. That's right. I chose the Tochnit Av Triumvirate of Jake, Shia, and Corey as my token Jewish actors.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


#2 - 500 Days of Summer

The narrator warns at the very beginning that, "This is not a love story." And it isn't. But still is.

The makers of 500 Days of Summer took a lot of chances. They tried a bunch of little tricks throughout the movie. I can totally understand if someone were to watch this movie and say that they didn't work. But for me, they were excellent.

Some examples include the little movie montages, as if you're watching an old documentary. They throw in a little bit of a Ingmar Bergman parody (combined with its IKEA scenes - makes we wonder if I liked it only because I had just returned from Sweden). There's a great split screen scene showing Expectations vs. Reality.

One of the best parts of the movie is that isn't out of chronological order. Now this isn't unique, but they do it for all the right reasons. They lay out a series of expectations that they slowly shatter as the context is revealed. The order of the scenes is very carefully and beautifully choreographed.

My absolute favorite scene of 2009 (just ending out the opening of Inglourious Basterds) brings out the full cheesiness of Hall and Oates You Make My Dreams. For those of you who have seen it, I'm embedding the video of this scene below for you to relive its glory. If you haven't seen it, go watch the movie instead. Save the scene for the context of the movie.

To be honest, not every bit of this movie works, which is probably why it hit #2 instead of #1 on my list. I'm not a huge fan of the supporting cast. And there are a few bits of dialogue that are too sit-com for me. But the leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, are perfect. The story is perfect. And the 95% of the movie that does work is excellent.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


#3 - Inglourious Basterds

Much like Up, Inglourious Basterds is on my list because of the opening scene. Christoph Waltz is brilliant as "The Jew Hunter," Hans Landa. If we don't see Waltz holding up the Best Supporting Oscar trophy this year, it will be the Academy's most egregious error since Saving Private Ryan didn't win Best Picture.

The only question might be whether he's only a supporting actor. Is Brad Pitt the lead? I think that Waltz is probably in this movie more than Pitt is. I'm still blaming Pitt for the really crappy Benjamin Button, but he's pretty good in this as well. He might get that Curious Case of stink off of him sometime soon.

He's actually great in every scene he appears in, but the opening is his showcase. It sets the mood right up front that moves through the rest of the movie. I could easily see this scene showing up as a one act play. I dread watching that high school production, but at least Waltz's performance will be ready to wash it away.

To understand and appreciate music, especially classical music, one must be able to appreciate tension and release. Great music builds you up to a point where you almost can't handle it anymore, but gives you the critical release. That's also the key to some other things in life, but kids read this, so use your imagination.

Quentin Tarantino gives a clinic on tension and release in movies. Each scene, not just the first one, is its own short film. Each scene gives the characters reason to squirm. But more importantly, so does the audience. While you might not like the way he releases the tension, but he does.

Honestly, I haven't read or heard anything really negative about Inglourious Basterds from anybody who I consider to be intelligent. I guess, in that case, if you've been around me and had bad things to say, that tells you what I think. If anything? It's too long. However, since you can view it like a bunch of individual films, it will be easy to watch on DVD. You can easily break it into parts and still be satisfied.


#4 - An Education

An Education was a real surprise for me. I threw in this movie near the end of the year on a whim. I wanted to get some delicious Cheeseboard, so I figured I might as well go see a movie while I was in Berkeley. This was the only movie I hadn't seen that I had even the mildest interest in watching.

It turned out to be excellent. In the lead role, Carey Mulligan makes the entire movie work. She's a wide eyed young woman getting in a situation that's way over her head, but she's smart. It's not enough to just have the script put words in someone's mouth to show us that they're smart. There has to be something in their eyes.

Any teacher can tell you the same thing. There are some people who you can just tell whether anything is going on inside their heads by looking into their eyes.

I've been watching the TV show Veronica Mars. It stars Kristen Bell from the excellentForgetting Sarah Marshall. She's hot. But I've seen commercials for her over the last week or so for her upcoming movie When in Rome. She is still hot, but doesn't look as hot. I think it's because on Veronica Mars, she's smart. Her character in this new movie looks like your typical cliche romantic comedy role. The type that the extremely untalented Kate Hudson would usually play. That's why Bell is hotter as Mars.

This is the first time that I've seen Carey Mulligan, but we'll see more from her. She handles the character and everything it goes through like a pro. An Education is actually a similar story to Up in the Air. But it presents a totally different way of looking at it. Obviously, I recommend both movies.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


#5 - Up in the Air

Up in the Air is the third movie from Jason Reitman. I just wrote about his first movie, Thank You for Smoking, in my best of the decade blog. I liked his second movie, Juno, quote a bit, though not as much. I've since discovered that it's mostly the pretentious soundtrack that turns me off.

I liked Up in the Air for a lot of the same reasons that I liked Thank You for Smoking. George Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, is as real to me as Aaron Eckhart's Nick Naylor. He's a confident character in his profession. He knows exactly what he's doing every step of they way while he's working. But then when it comes to his personal life, that's a bit more of a disaster.

Ryan Bingham's has no real personal ties. He has family members who are more like acquaintances. Friends are mostly people he meets on the job, and therefore more like acquantances. They know who he is on the outside, but not much about who he really is. This is a theme that I found in common with those from Funny People. And perhaps I'm again drawn to it because it might be a bit personal.

The trailers for Up in the Air don't appeal to me. In reality, a lot of what they show is out of context. They present it as a light,quirky comedy. But it's more than that. It's more of a drama that's light on the outside but has a bit more of the darkness of real life. And by that I don't mean that it's a dark comedy. It has some real moments that I lot of people might find to be a bit uncomfortable, even though its best notes are quite subtle.

I've read a lot of what the critics have had to say, but I haven't heard from any "normal" folk who have seen it. I have a feeling that the average film goer might be a bit lukewarm after seeing it, mostly because it isn't just that light hearted comedy they're looking for. Near the end, Up in the Air takes a turn that is going to bother people. The movie isn't wrapped up in a neat package with a tight bow.

And in the end, can the average person really believe that some people actually like being alone? We do exist. And that's probably why I like this movie as much as I do. I'm actually looking forward to watching this again. i have a feeling that I'm going to like it even more the next time, and I might even like it as much or more than Thank You for Smoking.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


#6 - World's Greatest Dad

I don't want to say too much about World's Greatest Dad because you need to go into it without knowing what's going to happen. So I'll be vague.

The first thing that immediately popped into my head when first learning about this movie is the movie Fathers' Day. Clearly, this is because they both start Robin Williams and have a father in the title. I didn't see that movie, but it doesn't look very good.

This is not that movie.

This is probably my favorite Robin Williams role. He is different from anything else he has done before here. I would even say that if you don't like Williams, you'll still like this.

World's Greatest Dad was written and Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Many of you might only know him from the Police Academy movies. You only know him by his "Grover voice," as Goldthwait calls it. In that case, you don't know him. He isn't like that all the time. One of his standup shows is even called Is He Like That All the Time?

This is a dark, messed up movie. The only reason to skip World's Greatest Dad is if you don't like black comedy. If you do, check it out. Get ready for some Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuce! (Hornsby, not Springsteen)

Monday, January 4, 2010


#7 - Funny People

I'm finding it difficult to explain why I liked Funny People as much as I did. It's kinda funny, but not necessarily hilarious. It has a good story, but not really great.

Perhaps it is the emotion that goes along with it. Adam Sandler plays a guy that is pretty much alone. He doesn't really have any close friends or family that he can really confide in. The more I hear comics (or people who know them) talking about comics, then more I understand how tortured they often are. It's this torture that drives their comedy.

While I doubt anyone will agree with me,, I feel the same about Funny People as I did about Lost in Translation. Both movies deal with comics in a more serious role as a sad, lonely comic. Both have this lonely person meeting someone who fulfills that loneliness for awhile.

I liked Funny People when I saw it in the theaters, and something about it keeps popping back into my head, increasing how much I liked it. I haven't seen it since the first time. I'm curious what a repeat viewing will reveal for me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


#8 - Up

Is Up in my top ten only because of the first ten minutes? Absolutely. The opening of this movie is perfect. From the newsreel to the music, frame by frame it's perfect.

But the rest of the movie is pretty good as well. My lack of knowing anything about the movie helped as well. I knew that there was a guy who put balloons on his house to make it go up. But I had know idea where it was going, so that made the movie a bit of a surprise for me.

With all Pixar movies, there's a good mixture of comedy with the emotion. My favorite line? Dug (the dog) said, "Hey, I know a joke! A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, 'I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.' Ha! It is funny because the squirrel gets dead." That's good stuff.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Decade of Movies

I thought I'd go ahead and throw a quick list of my favorite movies of the decade that I saw in the theaters. I didn't start keeping track until 2004. For 2000 to 2003, I had to scan a list of movies and see what I had seen. I probably missed several, so I have a lot more from 2004 on. Also, I didn't go to the movies as often early in the decade. This means that movies like American Psycho, Memento, and City of God that I saw at home aren't on this list. And finally, I'm just throwing it together quickly, so whatever.

I have three that came close, but I chose to leave them off. They are my number 1 and 2 from this year (which I'll get to in just over a week) and The Aristocrats. Quite a few of the comedians were guests on Penn Jillette's radio show, so got to "know" many of them even more. It is a good introduction to many comedians as well. Really, really funny movie.

10. Gangs of New York

I enjoys Scorsese movies, but I love me some Daniel Day Lewis. He drinks my milkshake. I'm still not convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great actor, since no matter how much he ages, he's still Luke from Growing Pains. But in Gangs of New York, he needed to naïve. I love the setting and the look of old New York.

9. Thank You For Smoking

I love Nick Naylor, the character. Aaron Eckhart is perfect in a role that should be a horrible person, but he isn't. He has a horrible job. Jason Reitman showed up what he could do before Up in the Air, which I also loved. It will make an appearance in my top 10 for 2009.

8. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

The funniest movie of the decade. Yeah, I said it. It's the most quotable as well. I've had this movie with me on road trips and just listened to it while I drive.

7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Crazy movie. it never takes itself seriously, and I like that. The dialogue is all smart ass,and I feel close to that. Watch it to see why Robert Downey, Jr. is one of the best. I haven't seen this in a while, something that I need to correct soon.

6. In Bruges

When I made my list for 2008, I came down to the top four and kept switching around the order. I picked Slumdog Millionaire at the time. I didn't pick In Bruges, most likely, because it had been awhile since I had seen it. After rewatching both over the course of this year, In Bruges sticks out. It has its moments of crazy, but Ray (Colin Farrell) is a GREAT character. Speaking of Colin Farrell, he had one of the best cameos in 2009. His role might actually be bigger than a cameo. But don't go looking for it on IMDB - that will spoil it for you (through it wasn't the best cameo of the year - that was in Zombieland).

5. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

I loved absolutely everything about it. I even liked all of the endings. if you think about it as 20+ minutes to end a three hour movie, that's overkill. But it's 20+ minutes to end three three hour movies. In that case, is it so much? I even liked the extended versions on DVD. And yes, this really is for all three movies. But each one was better than the last, so I agree with the Academy and I'll give it to Return of the King.

4. Sin City

See Avatar? I can enjoy a movie that is nutty for CGI. For me, my reaction watching this movie was the one I read about from other people with Avatar. Except this was almost five years ago. And I think it's a more beautiful movie. I like how the stories fit together. I like the characters. But most importantly, it looks perfect. Possibly my favorite few seconds of a movie of the decade? Watch here starting at 1:55. Stuka's (the guy who gets hit) reaction is priceless.

3. Garden State

This, along with my #2, are mostly about the music. I love the soundtrack to Garden State. A lot of the songs appeared scattered throughout Scrubs as well. It's a soundtrack that sets a definite mood. But I also love Zack Braff and Natalie Portman in here. Here's a quote from Braff character, Andrew Largeman. "I spent 26 years waiting for something else to start." How many people wait 26 years to start living? Or even more? Time to wake up.

2. Once

My expectations were raised before I saw this movie. I liked it quite a bit, but didn't love it. Then it started to sink in, and I bought the soundtrack. Over the next couple months I started to love it. I've watched it a few times since, and it doesn't get old. I love the music even more. I love the characters even more.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I've come close to answering "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" when I've been asked my favorite movie. I've always hesitated because it seems too new. But it's been more than five years, so I'm going to go ahead and declare right here that it's my favorite. Since I talked about music for the past couple movies, I love it here, too. I love the soundtrack. Take a listen:

And I love the music video with Light and Day from The Polyphonic Spree. It's kinda creepy, but fits alongside the movie.

Why do I love this movie? It's everything. It's the Academy Award winning script from Charlie Kaufman. It's Jim Carrey's perfect performance as Joel. He isn't too subtle, and he isn't over the top. It's Kate Winslet's perfect performance as Clementine. You fall in love with her along with Joel, and you want to forget her for all the right reasons - because you're in love with her, too. It's the great scenes and images that not even Lacuna, Inc. could make you forget.

I've flipped movies around on this list a few times. Every year, I state that my list is never really complete - I just have to make a decision before I post it. But Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has never moved from the number one spot on this list.