Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Movies - The Middle

All right - I spoke too soon with my bottom 10. I saw War Horse today, and I thought it was pretty crappy. I think it's because I'm not refined enough to spot an amazing horse when I see one. And everyone in the movie sees the horse and remarks that it's an amazing horse. And the camera lingers on the people looking at the horse. Picture any Spielberg movie and you know it exactly. The camera pans across or up the expressions of those watching the amazing horse. And yes, I know I used the phrase "amazing horse" many, many times. So did the movie. And this is what I kept thinking:

Something else I forgot yesterday when I wrote about Sherlock Holmes is my recommendation for some good Sherlock.Check out the BBC Sherlock, which takes in modern times. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, who was in both movies I saw today, and Martin Freeman, who was Tim in the BBC Office and will be Bilbo Baggins in a year. It's really good, and the second season starts tomorrow - if you live in the UK. We yanks have to wait until May.

So here's everything else I saw this year, with some brief comments about them. These are in chronological order of my viewing.

Blue Valentine
It cuts back and forth between the beginning and end of this couple’s relationship. It’s all about Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who are both great. You love the couple as the fall in love. You hate the couple as they fall out of love.

Barney’s Version
I watched this because I’m a Paul Giamatti  fan. The smaller pictures that he makes often have interesting scripts and/or ideas, even when I don’t like them. Cold Souls is an example. This one was pretty good.

Rabbit Hole
Emotional and difficult. Meh.

The Illusionist 
A movie that I think I might enjoy more if I had known more about Jacques Tati. I think it’s the kind of movie that I would probably appreciate more on repeated viewings.

Cedar Rapids
Some funny stuff. Worth a rental.

What was the last Pixar movie that didn’t win Best Animated Feature? Cars. With Cars II as this year’s Pixar movie (and it wasn’t very good), Rango has a good chance of winning. It was lots of fun and a decent story, too.

Adjustment Bureau
I liked this quite a bit. I thought the idea was all right, and I stayed interested all the way through. Check it out.

Cool nerd humor - fun.

The Lincoln Lawyer
I was surprised that I actually liked it, and possibly more surprised that I actually went to see a Matthew McConaughey movie. Not a bad plot with some decent twists.

Source Code
I would like watching this as a double feature with Adjustment Bureau. Cool idea nicely done. Biggest problem? The trailer gives too much away. However, not everything.

The Conspirator
I was hoping for a cool Lincoln movie to offer for extra credit. It's not worth showing in class (and with Glory, I don't need another Civil War movie). It was all right, but I'm not sure there is really enough for a full feature film. A lot of the drama seemed forced.

Win Win
Another Paul Giamatti movie, and I liked this a lot more that Barney's Version. Good movie.

I liked it quite a bit. I thought the Asgard scenes looked great, and the casting of Thor and Loki were spot on.

Everything Must Go
Very cool little movie. Will Farrell is not typical Will Farrell, which is a good thing (unless it's Anchorman).

13 Assassins
Watch it for the last half, which is one long ass kicking. This is how to film action - actually have stars with skills instead of quick edits.

Way overrated, but still funny.

X-Men: First Class
Big surprise for me. Placing in the 60's was a great idea.Comic book movies taking place in their original time period worked twice this year.

Kung Fu Panda 2
Very forgettable.

Super 8
This was an homage to late 70s/early 80s Spielberg movies. The interactions among the kids reminded me of The Goonies, and to me that's a good thing. It's a cool, fun story.

The Beaver
Deals with depression in a different way, and I liked it. Somehow, Mel Gibson's recent shenanigans might have helped the movie.

The Art of Getting By
I accidentally saw this one (?), and it's not very good. But there were a few parts that felt very real to me, so I left it off my bottom 10. There's some potential that those involved can make a better movie.

The Trip
I liked it a lot. However, it's the edited version of a six episode BBC series. After watching it, it's easy to see that is how it's meant to be seen. I would recommend you wait until the series is available then watch in chunks.

Horrible Bosses
Silly, but there's some really funny stuff in it. The three leads are pretty good.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Really interesting to watch his interactions with fans, and more interesting to see him comment about them afterwards.

Really good movie about almost nothing. I wonder how much I liked it just because it focuses on the A's record win streak and I went to a couple of those game. Plus, this shows that I can like Brad Pitt movies.

Strange, and kind of cool. Watch it if you want to see something really different, and something you might not like.

Ides of March
I went to two Ryan Gosling movies in a row. Drive was better, but this was an interesting look at behind the scenes of politics. I didn't feel like it really went anywhere, though, and was unsatisfied with the third act.

Really good love letter to movies. Some really cool looks at how movies were made. It's the second best movie about early movies currently in theaters.

My Week with Marilyn
Michelle Williams is great. I liked this way to show a famous person - a week in her life - as opposed to the biopic.

Young Adult
Snappy dialogue and good ideas. Patton Oswalt is great and deserves an Oscar nom.

The Adventures of Tintin
It's fun and overall a big OK. Biggest disappointment? John Williams score should have been a lot more fun and identifiable. It's the type of movie that he should have nailed, giving a theme to the main characters that we could easily identify. The opening credits music was cool, though.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
This is a series that has actually gotten better. The first was OK, the second a disaster. The last two, however, have had some fun sequences. In this one, the fake wall down the corridor and the tower in Dubai stood out. Brad Bird is legit.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
I started reading the book a few weeks ago and I'm having trouble getting into it. The same with the movie. I liked the last half much more than the setup, so there's hope for my reading.

Tomorrow, I have three runners-up for the top 10 list, then I'll have the beginners of the list. See you in 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Quick thoughts about 2011

2011 will go down in history as the year that I was told by a coworker that a bowl of boiling water looked good, and not in a sarcastic/ironic/silly way. Seriously.

The funniest thing I saw in theaters this year wasn’t a movie. It was a Sprite commercial. If you go the movies half as much as I do, you might have seen this gem. In it, Drake is ready to record, but he’s “just not feelin’ it.” Because what he does requires raw emotion. The emotion you can only get… from Sprite. So after looking sad, he drinks some Sprite. The Sprite turns him into a robot, enters his body and rearranges his very DNA! After the Sprite surges through his body, Drake gets pissed at the microphone and yells into it, “Last name Evew, first name gweatest.” That’s what he was waiting for. That’s what we were all waiting for. And for the first few times I saw it, I didn’t even notice the funniest part, which is his lyric at the end “Like a sprained ankle I aint’ nothin to play with.” That’s hilarious.

So what was the worst song of 2011? If you said “Friday,” you’re wrong. It’s too funny and entertaining to be the worst. It’s actually a tie.  First is J. Cole’s “Work Out.” He makes the brilliant choice to not just sample, but totally incorporate Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.” Take a bad song and make it shittier. Wasn’t that a discarded Beatles lyric? And then there’s this obnoxious four note auto-tuned “Doot doo doo doooooo” that repeats over and over. It makes my ears bleed MC Skat Kat’s blood. Interestingly, J. Cole’s beard is shaped like an hourglass that’s about to run out. It must be nice to have a career indicator on your face.

And the tie for worst song is Lil’ Wayne’s shitfest “How to Love.” My theory is that Lil’ Wayne must be a necrophiliac because his version of love is boring someone to death, apparently to make love to their bored ass. Seriously, someone forgot to wake him up for the first few minutes of the song. And then he gets excited for a few seconds as he repeats the word crook seemingly 27 times in a row. I yell at the radio for him to stop saying “crooks,” and then he falls back to sleep for the rest of the song. And we all learn how to love.

It’s funny because Drake, J. Cole, and Lil’ Wayne made an impacted ass load of money for that crap while the delicious bowl of boiling water got nothing but oatmeal dumped into it.

2011 Movies - the bottom 10

It's time to start writing about the 2011 movies. So first, for those of you new to this, here are the rules (and those of you not new, skip to the next paragraph). I see a lot of movies in the theaters. While I have my Netflix and big ass TV, it still doesn't compare to the theater experience. In 2010, I saw 58. As of this writing, I've seen 55, though I have one day left of 2011. Beginning on January 1 and continuing for 10 days (sequential days not guaranteed), I will countdown my 10 favorites. Before that, I want to briefly write about the rest of the movies I have seen.

Please feel free to disagree and tell me I'm wrong. If you liked a movie I hated, let me know. If you hated a movie I liked, tell me why. One request - please comment publicly instead of emailing me. Even if you are anonymous, that's cool.

Today I'm going to write about the bottom of my list. These are the movies that I didn't care for. It's in the order that I saw them, with the exception of the worst which I saved for the end.

Another Year was an Oscar contender for Best Original Screenplay. The screenplay put me to sleep. Literally. I fell asleep at points in the theater. And for those who know me, sleeping isn't easy. I suppose I should buy this movie to cure my insomnia.

Biutiful was an Oscar contender for Best Foreign Film and Best Actor for Javier Bardem. He was very good, but the movie was just too long at 148 minutes. Cut out at least half an hour and I might have better things to say.

Here's what The Hangover Part II felt like. As a teacher, I occasionally assign projects. The idea is that the crappy kids will do some of the reading and learn some stuff, then apply it to the poster/brochure/whatever. And a few of the kids actually do the work beforehand. But most of them don't. They just goof off until the last minute then throw together some kind of crappy art type thing that is maybe related to the topic. Their focus was on the art, and it shows little to know new knowledge gained. And this is why I rarely give these projects. But I still do, and that's why I have a pile of half-assed (though I doubt it's even that much) Lewis and Clark posters in my classroom. I'll get nothing new from looking at most of them, and the kids learned nothing new from making them. And when I actually grade them next week, it will be a lot like watching The Hangover Part II.

The Green Lantern was just a disappointment all around. Here's a character whose powers have been begging for a big budget release ever since CGI became legit. And what did we get instead? Ryan Reynolds doing a bad impersonation of The Greatest American Hero while learning to fly and a villain that actually looks worse than Spawn's Malebolgia. The best thing I can say about it is that it set up a pretty good idea for a sequel, but only if it's make by completely different people.

I liked a lot of Crazy, Stupid, Love. But a few things really rubbed me the wrong way. From a movie point of view, it lacks focus. It's trying to do too many things, both in plot and in tone. From a real point of view, I don't like the way it approaches some of the relationships that cross inappropriate age differences. There are ways that can be handled, and I thought they hit them in the wrong tone.

Our Idiot Brother has a simple sin. The main character, the title character, isn't too interesting, and therefore the things that happen to him aren't too interesting. I forgot too much of this too quickly.

Like Crazy is the second movie with "crazy" in the title, and I didn't care for either. Someone does something stupid - the character needs to return to England before her visa expires, and simply decides to ignore it - and then is shocked! to learn that her action has consequences. Duh. And then, it becomes obvious that this isn't a very good couple and they shouldn't be trying to get together anyway. And finally, I don't like Anton Yelchin. I don't think he's particularly talented, and I'm disappointed that he will be playing Odd Thomas.

Shame is an NC-17 movie about a sex addict. And it's rather dull.  Who would have thought? Not only that, but it's a movie devoid of any happiness, brightness, or optimism of any kind. Throughout, I couldn't help but think of American Psycho, as it felt like that movie without the killing. Michael Fassbender even looks like Christian Bale in scenes.

I liked the first Sherlock Holmes, but the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, hit all the wrong notes. Just because the movie has the word shadows in the title doesn't mean that it needed to be filmed in them. It was a very dark movie - not the tone, but the lighting sucked. Here's a great opportunity to comment about the craptacular shaky cam once again. As soon as the movie shifts to a fight scene, in comes the shaky cam and the hyper editing. Has anyone ever been to a movie and walked out wishing that it had more shaky cam? No. Never.

I saved the worst for last, and it's one I'm seeing on a lot of top 10 lists. I'm telling you that the emperor has no clothes. The Tree of Life is stinky shit with a piece of corn sticking out of it. Yes, it looks pretty. But that's about it. It's one of those movies that has no real point or message so that "the viewer can decide for themselves." No. It means nothing. Sean Penn basically says the same thing. The actual story, involving Brad Pitt as an angry dad in the 50s wasn't interesting or new. While I like Brad Pitt in some movies, he has actually been in three of my least favorite movies of the past few years with this one, Babel, and The Crappy Crap of Benjamin Buttons.

So that's my bottom 10 for the year. The only one I would consider rethinking is Crazy, Stupid, Love. But I would love to discuss/argue Tree of Life with someone who liked it.

Tomorrow, I'll list the movies that didn't make the top or the bottom of the list and briefly discuss some.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer 2011 Conclusion

This is a follow up to my previous Summer 2011 post to report on what I actually accomplished. If you're really going to read this, you might want to check that out first.

First, I did get quite a bit of work done on my house, though I'm not quite finished with all I wanted to. I put in a new floor in the sun room, and it looks pretty darn good. I decided that I don't like the baseboards, though I didn't decide that until they were in. So I'm going to replace those over the next week. I also removed the wallpaper and gave the room a bit of color.

I got my threshold finished, and it also looks pretty darn good. That ended up being the most difficult part for sure. I put baseboards in most of the house. Then over the past couple days I have put in the crown molding. I still need to get the details finished - putty, sand, and paint the seams, caulk the edges.  It looks good, though it definitely looks like it was done by someone who has never done it before. Even though I didn't finish all I wanted to before school started, it wasn't by lack of effort, so I'm OK with it. Here's one corner, where you can see the threshold and the crown molding.

I still have plenty of projects to do inside over the next several months, but none are as difficult as what I have finished. They are just time consuming. So I'm in good shape to have the inside where I want it and I can work on the outside next spring/summer.

My vacation was sweet, but too short. I want to give that a separate blog some day. But the big thing that dealt a huge blow to my summer happened pretty much my first day on the road. The AC at my condo went out, so I had to get the fixed while I was still on the road. I wasn't in a good spot to get multiple bids or to do any real research, so it cost me a lot more than it should have. It sucked.

I still haven't gotten to The Wire yet. That's because Netflix started streaming Mad Men. Given the Netflix history of things suddenly disappearing, I wanted to get that going first. I just got to the fourth season. It does take a few episodes to get into, but it's worth it. The third season is great. I hope to complete that in the next week or two and then start on The Wire. I also finished Breaking Bad Season 3 right before the fourth started a few weeks back. That's the best show on TV right now. Freakin' amazing.

My gym membership expired a couple weeks back. The work I've don eon my house has actually been the best exercise I've had, but I need to get something going soon. I did a pretty good job of going regularly before it expired. I don't want all that work to wither away, though. Or, more likely, add on the bad pounds.

I didn't end up with the beginning journalism class, so there was no cool curriculum to develop. I had a few cool ideas, though, and I'll do those in the yearbook class as time permits.

So now?  New school year. We're four days in, and it looks to be a good year. I don't seem to have any nightmare classes like my fifth period class last year. That should make for a less stressful year. But I do have yearbook, so that will be a different kind of stress.  We're already late with one deadline, so not the best start.  Other than that, the most important thing to do with the beginning of the school year is to start planning the next summer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer 2011

I haven't posted since February? It certainly has been a dry spell for this ol' blog. Another school year has come and gone. It was a pretty good year. 5 out of 6 classes were good. And the other? Well, good luck to those kids.

Last summer I started with writing a blog about my goals for the summer. Looking back, I accomplished just about nothing. That's mostly because I moved into my new house and quickly realized that I had negative dollars. I did achieve two goals. I was awake before noon every day. Once again, I would like to point out that was a huge accomplishment for someone with my sleeping difficulties. I give myself a sweet pat on the back. I also finished watching The Sopranos. That's mostly because Astound messed up my appointment time and I had a week in my house with no cable, and no money to go do anything. So I watched The Sopranos. It was awesome.

So Summer 2011? My goals are much more ambitious. I finally have some money saved up to finish the big projects in my house. In the last few weeks, I've started on a couple of these. I have my own list of things to get done so that my house no longer looks like a construction zone. I just finished fixing a wall that I hated. I'm purposefully leaving it unpainted before I leave on vacation. Why? Motivation. When I get back, it will be staring me in the face and I should get going right away. Also, Costco has flooring on sale. So I bought the new floor for my sun room, which I'm going to leave in a place where I trip over it regularly so that I get to work. It would be nice to get the inside of the house in good shape so next summer I can worry about the outside.

Speaking of vacation, I'm leaving Wednesday morning for my little road trip. It should be pretty sweet. I'm looking forward to some southern BBQ, New Orleans food, and seeing some cool sites as well. But it's mostly about the food.

I have all of the episodes of The Wire ready to watch. I've heard nothing but excellent things about the series, so I'm going to tackle that this summer. I have a few book that I've started reading over the past couple months. I need to get those finished. I want to get some painting done (as in art, not my walls). And I would like to do some writing. I started during NaNoWriMo, but it stalled after the first week. I start up every few weeks, but I'm boring myself. I can't quite find my voice. I completely stall on the Oscar Project last summer. I blame it on the movie Cavalcade. I can't find a quality version of it, and the crappy copy I did find was boring as crap. I'm going to skip it and restart with the next movie.

And like last year, I want to exercise regularly. I didn't do very well last summer, but I picked up again in September. My 24 Hour Fitness membership runs out in August. I'm feeling pretty good about what I've been doing for the past year, but I've had a should problem for the past five months. It gets bad, then when I'm ready to see a doctor, it gets better. It has slowed me down every once in a while, but I haven't stopped going. I can feel some good results from the past year. I hope to crank it up this summer.

Next school year, I'm going back to yearbook. I just found out on Friday that I'm also going back to a beginning journalism class for 7th graders. I have some prep to do for yearbook this summer. But I want to revise what I used to do with the 7th grade journalism class. I wasn't ever happy with what it used to be, since it always took a back seat to everything else. We are going to be making the newspaper and it's going to have some creative writing, but I want to do more with it. I need to develop a cool curriculum this summer.

So that's the plan for the summer. Nothing breathtakingly amazing, but it should be good. I'm looking forward to writing my Summer of 2012 blog in about a year in which I look back at this one and basically repeat everything because I did nothing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

溥儀 (Pǔyí - also known as Henry)

Number One: Toy Story 3

Expectations can change your outlook on a movie; I've written about this before. I think my expectations were down when I saw Toy Story 3, but probably not too much. It really is an amazing, brilliant, and perfect third movie, and I think I would still rank it number one even if I were ready for something great.

Three things possibly lowered my expectations. The first was the trailer. To me, it made Toy Story 3 look like it should have been direct-to-video. Looking back, though, the trailers seemed purposefully vague. Perhaps they knew that it needed no real marketing. Simply its title and the word Pixar would guarantee an audience.

My second reservation was the idea that third movies can't be great (though I do know that there are exceptions). This is the new benchmark. Nobody can ever again say that third movies are always horrible. You can, however, say often.

The third is related to the second. The first two movies are so good - how can they possibly strike gold a third time? But perhaps I forgot that Pixar has done it again and again. For me, their only disappointment was Cars. I will still watch Cars 2 this summer. Why? It's Pixar. Cars, while it didn't speak to me, was still better than so many other movies.

With the first Toy Story movie, I really liked it, but didn't love it right away. The thing that sticks in my mind the most is actually a couple CGI scenes. One of them is simply when the car pulls into the gas station. On the big screen, it looked amazing. Upon watching it on a TV, I was much less impressed. It was the first time that I really "got it" when people say that special effects are so much better on the big screen. I confirmed this when the first two movies were rereleased in the theaters a year or so ago. That scene looked cool again.

I haven't seen Toy Story 2 nearly enough times. For some of you, that might be a funny thing for someone to say. How many times do you need to see a movie? With movies like these, lots. There's so much to see. I saw it in the theaters then when I first got it on DVD. I showed it in class the year I "taught" computers, but I was probably grading papers while it was on. But then I didn't see it again until the theatrical rerelease. I had forgotten how cool it was.

Spoilerish here: Toy Story 3 starts pretty darned good. And then it does something rare in movies. It gets better and better as it goes along. And I have to admit that they really sucked me in in the final, climactic scene. For a brief moment, as the toys approached the incinerator, I was actually concerned. I started to wonder if they were actually going to let the toys die. I knew it couldn't be a sad ending, so I wondered if they were going to try some kind of toy magic reincarnation type of thing where the toys live on in other versions of themselves. And yes, I know how silly that sounds. But man - they sucked me in. I was there.

And then the final ending is... perfect. There was no better place for the toys and no better way to show it. It's perhaps the most perfect movie scene since the opening of last year's Up. Pixar is just brilliant. For a while, I fought with making Toy Story my top movie. For some reason, it felt like I was giving in to "The Man" or something. It's a freakin' kids movie! It's a stupid cartoon! But, dammit, Toy Story 3 was incredible, and I've happily accepted that. I'm perhaps happier with picking this as my Number One movie than I have been in a few years.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

載湉 (Zǎitián)

Number Two: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Here's a really simple test to see if you might just enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I'm going to explain one of the nerdiest things about me (and there are many). If you understand it without having to explain it, you will like Scott Pilgrim. Every once in a while, like everyone else, I misplace something and need to look around for it. Or perhaps something simply falls under the couch. Or since I just moved, I'm constantly looking for things in the yet-to-be-unpacked boxes. And when I finally find that item, I hold it over my head and sing or whistle four notes rising in chromatic order. (Of course, if there are people around, it's all in my head)

In the Legend of Zelda, every time Link finds something, you hear this sound. When you play yourself some Zelda, you hear that often. And it's a GOOD thing.

In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Scott Pilgrim lives in a video game inspired world. That sort of thing happens, but for real. The movie is filled with video game references and sound effects. The name of his band is Sex Bob-omb. Again, if you get the reference, you'll probably like the movie (it's a Super Mario thing). I loved this world and I loved the way this movie looked and sounded. I loved the story and the characters.

And if you don't like video games, it's also a comic book movie. Is there anything better than comic books? Well yes, but not a whole lot of things! I have to admit that I haven't read of the graphic novels. I want to, but I just haven't gotten there. It's a money thing - anyone have them and want to let me borrow them?

About Scott Pilgrim, Kevin Smith said, "Nobody is going to understand what the fuck just hit them." I agree. It looks unique in a beautiful way. Cool, cool movie!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

載淳 (Zǎichún)

Number Three: The Social Network

If I were picking the best movies of 2010, The Social Network would be number one. It is the best of the year, for sure. I liked my top two on a deeper level, but this movie was fantastic.

I'm not sure if it will win Best Picture, but it needs to win Best Screenplay. The best part of Aaron Sorkin's TV shows that I've seen, as well as his movies, is the dialogue. A year ago last November, I spent the Thanksgiving Break watching Sports Night. While it wasn't always the best TV show, the dialogue was always snappy.

But great dialogue can fall apart if it isn't delivered by the right people. This cast is also amazing. In my mind, Jesse Eisenberg has always been kinda like Michael Cera, but a better actor. He really delivers here, as does Justin Timberlake and Spider-Man. And then you have the amazing special effects work to create the twins. It was flawless and never noticeable, the way CGI should be.

Much like Green Zone and Casino Jack I'm surprised that this movie was made as quickly as it was. On one hand, it makes the subject matter much more accessible if the subject matter is still fresh in our heads or still around, as is the case with Facebook and Zuckerberg. But the possible negative is that we haven't had time to find out some of the details from some potential whistle-blowers somewhere down the line. Does that take away from the movie? I don't think so. And I guess they can always remake it down the line. In fact, isn't it inevitable?

Friday, January 7, 2011

奕詝 (Yìzhǔ)

Number Four: Inception

I have one regret about Inception. It has nothing to do with the film itself. I wish I hadn't known as much as I did about the movie going in. And I didn't really know too much. But I can only imagine what a great experience it would have been trying to figure out what was going on for the first fifteen minutes or so. With a movie as big as this one, would it have been possible for me to have even avoided knowing the basic idea?

I really respect Christopher Nolan for being as ambitious as he was, but also for mapping out all of the details. If you argue that some of the rules of the levels of dreams were ambiguous or arbitrary, I wouldn't argue too strongly against you. But my argument is simply that I'm glad there were rules, and within that world, they were clearly defined. Nolan did his homework. He obviously ran the ideas past people who told him which things weren't explained, and they worked toward an explanation. All it took was a couple lines of dialogue to explain a couple things. (ARE YOU LISTENING, WRITERS OF LOST? Just a couple throwaway lines of dialogue per episode would have been courteous!)

Inception at the very least proved that you can have an effects filled action movie that also has a plot. SPOILER ALERT! And the ending. I love that the ending is ambiguous. I've been to so many movies where I've said, "If the movie ends exactly here, it's perfect." But they always keep going. I love not knowing. I've read some theories and ideas online, and that's part of the fun. I also enjoy reading the people who are truly adamant that there is a correct answer, as if Nolan had run out of film at that moment and just couldn't get to show us. Inception left me thinking and it kept people talking. And it made a buttload of money.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

旻寧 (Mínníng)

Number Five: True Grit

Last year, the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man was my favorite movie. Their movie this year, True Grit, was also great.

After seeing the trailer, I thought it looked cool, but the actors seemed to be playing caricatures instead of characters. It doesn't do their work justice.This cast might be a bit too small to call it an ensemble, but they worked so well together. I saw this just a few days after Tron, and Jeff Bridges is a completely different person. Matt Damon is different from any other character he has ever played. Hailee Steinfeld was great at Mattie, the girl who is leading the hunt. I was most concerned with her from the trailer, but she ends up stealing the movie from the other actors.

You can't help but love the way True Grit looks. The locations are beautiful all the way through. I think that one of the difficulties with going back and watching Westerns is that their locations are pretty generic. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the Hollywood were filmed in the Mojave Desert. Or more likely, the same Hollywood backlot designed to look like the Mojave Desert. I wonder exactly where the Spaghetti Westerns were filmed. I don't remember seeing any deserts in Italy, and a Google search for "Italian Desert" only shows me Italian Desserts. Mmmm... gelato.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

顒琰 (Yóngyǎn)

Number Six: The Town

What's the deal with Ben Affleck? He started cool with his roles in Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting. Then he got really lame with Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Now he has reemerged as a cool, first with Gone, Baby, Gone (which I thought was OK) and now with The Town. His most underrated role in the past few years was in Hollywood Land. It looks like he tried to be the lead actor thing and made his money. With cash in hand, now he can pick good projects.

The Town is a really cool heist movie, (though it's never really explained why Hawkeye and Daredevil want to rob banks), but it has a lot more than that. At its core is an intersting relationship between Affleck's character, a bank robber, and his hostage. It isn't some kind of Stockholm Syndrome type of relationship. She doesn't know he was one of the bad guys. The ultimate conclusion to the movie (ambiguous here to avoid spoilers) is a bit suspect. Would she really make the choice she does in the end? To me, I find it to be a bit of a stretch, which possibly dropped this movie down a notch or two on the list. But there's enough great stuff to strongly recommend this, and I look forward to watching it again.

Another great element of the movie is the neighborhood. It takes place in the Charleston neighborhood of Boston around Bunker Hill. There are some great aerial shots of the Bunker Hill Monument - better than any images I've been able to find online. After the movie, I searched for a few overhead shots of the monument to place into my Powerpoint for discussing the Revolutionary War. I couldn't find anything nearly as good, though I didn't spend too long looking. So I know that I'll watch this again at least once before next September so that I can take some screen grabs.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

弘曆 (Hónglì)

Number Seven: The Millennium Trilogy

OK, so I'm cheating with number seven. It's actually three movies. If they had been released in different years, I would have categorized them separately. And I'm not exactly sure that any of them would make the list in any average year. But as it is, all three movies were released in the US in 2010, so I'm ranking them this way.

First, I must explain what made me the most upset with the beginning of the first movie. I didn't see it. And it wasn't my fault, either. I showed up for a 5:15 movie at 5:10. When I bought my ticket, the ticket person told me that the movie had already started. I assumed this meant the previews were showing. Nope. The movie was already moving along when I made my way into the theater. I have since gone back to find out how much I missed. Even five minutes early, I missed the first five minutes. It's tough enough following a movie that I have to read, dammit. Luckily for all of us, I'm a smart guy and was able to figure out enough of what was going on.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was first, and it's a complete movie on its own. However, many of the elements introduced are brought back in the second and completed in the third movie. The movie starts by taking some time to establish the two main characters individually before bringing them together for the main story. I really like the way the characters' relationship was able to develop from that point on.

The basic plot of the movie is a mystery/thriller that these two characters are thrust into, and it's a pretty good story at that. But combined with the other two movies, this plot turns out to be simply a backdrop that allows Blomkvist and Lisbeth to establish their relationship. And it's a complicated relationship, at that. They are sort of lovers. They are sort of friends. As the trilogy expands, he turns into more of a father figure or guardian, make their relationship in the first movie more interesting.

The Girl Who Played with Fire tells us a lot more about Lisbeth's background. As we can easily tell from the first movie, she probably had a messed up childhood. This one confirms it as we start to meet her family. Blomkvist's part of the story starts and investigation that will lead into Lisbeth's family and give us more background for the third movie.

The second movie has a much faster pace than the other two movies. Looking back, it's more of a bridge between the two movies that a movie all to itself, as a lot of it looks back and forward to those. The faster pace, with a bit more action, makes it a better movie.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is mostly Blomkvist's story. Because of story elements from the second movie (attempted spoiler avoider there), Lisbeth takes a back seat for much of this movie. I found that to be rather bold since the movies are named after her character, though she does appear enough.

While each film is watchable and quite enjoyable on its own, the trilogy becomes a complete story. I didn't enjoy the first movie as much as I did after seeing all three, and that's a pretty strong feat for the filmmakers. To me, it's about these two characters and watching them grow through the movies. As I mentioned before, the second and third movie really brings back some of the storylines from the first movie that seemed like character development moments.

I definitely have a strong interest in reading the books. At the moment I have a pretty sizable stack of books that I want to get through, so I'm putting it off for the time being,as well as waiting for the third to come out of paperback. There is enough interesting action and character moments in the movies that I'm sure the books will be fun, and I'm curious to see what else I can get out of them.

I'm also hesitantly looking forward to the American versions of these movies. American remakes of foreign films can be hit or miss. My worry is that it's possible that it's being rushed, since the first one is supposed to come out at the end of this year. Also, I really enjoyed the two lead actors, and Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist. The first movie is Rapace's showcase, and Nyqvist brings the third movie to a higher level. Daniel Craig? We'll see.

However, David Fincher is directing. With the exception of Benjamin Button (which I hated), he has a really solid résumé. In fact, his latest movie will show up on this list in a few days.

Once again, I'm not sure that individually, none of the three movies would have made the list, but together they are solid. So what about the American release? It's going to need to be really good to make it if only one is coming out this year. Forget the Oscars, Fincher. Your true goal is to make it onto my list.

Monday, January 3, 2011

胤禛 (Yìnzhēn)

Number Eight: Hot Tub Time Machine

On one hand, I have a feeling that I'm adding Hot Tub Time Machine to the top ten list because it was a week year for comedies. Dinner with Schmucks, The Other Guys, and Get Him to the Greek were OK, but not memorable. The only other comedy released that I had any interest in was Due Date, but word of mouth wasn't good enough for me to try it out. So it's possible that I found a funny void in my top ten and threw this movie in there.

On the other hand it IS a damn funny movie. At the very least, it's a great parody of a lot of crappy comedies from the eighties. At best it's a great raunch comedy. Rob Corddry delivers some of the best lines. "It's like Gary Coleman's fucking forearm!" It has great rewatchability, but not if it's replayed on Comedy Central. They'll cut it to shred.

And then there's the title. It's in the same "So horrible it's great" category with Snakes on a Plane. The difference is that Hot Tub Time Machine actually has a good movie to go along with its title.

One last thing. How can you not enjoy a movie that seeks to create a better past by ending the legend of John Elway? Unless you're a Donkeys fan, of course.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

玄燁 (Xuányè)

Number Nine: How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon wins the award for worst marketing of the year. We're living in a time when a lot of animated movies are coming out, and a good handful of them are actually pretty good. If it's Pixar, you know to see it. But how do you drudge through the rest of them? On some ways, you can say the same thing about all movies. But some animated movie makers have finally figured out that animated movies can be good, while others still know that it doesn't have to be good - kids will still want to see it.

The same was true of another really good animated movie from a couple years ago,Kung Fu Panda. If I hadn't happened to have seen some good reviews of that, I never would have seen it. With Dragon, I only looked at reviews because of At the Movies. While people are saying that type of show is needless in modern times because of Rotten Tomatoes and other internet sources, I disagree. It's a shame that it's gone. And not because I agreed with the hosts. In fact, I found myself disagreeing with AO Scott and Michael Phillips quite a bit. But at least it was a weekly roundup of ideas instead of just seeing a number on Rotten Tomatoes.

The trailer made it look generic, but How to Train Your Dragon is much better than that. It ended up having a pretty good main character who goes through a good story arc. It has some great scenes, and the animation is beautiful. Then again, perhaps I will still in a Scandinavia hangover when I saw it and was really into the Viking stuff. Doesn't matter. It was cool.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

福臨 (Fúlín)

Number Ten: The King's Speech

For me, The King's Speech is all about the interactions between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. These two actors have done some great work on their own, in The Single Man and Shine. But the way they play off of each other becomes a master class in acting. They have taken these historical figures and turned them into legitimate movie characters.

I also enjoyed the history from this movie. After doing some research, it looks like they played with the time line a bit for dramatic effect. I'm OK with that, as it's not a documentary. They stuck with the important ideas. But the big test for me is that I actually DID some research after watching the movie. It got me interested enough to check it out.

While I have a decent idea of the basics of World War II, I don't really know the details. This movie shows some of the activities that I didn't know anything about. I have an even looser understanding of basic British history, though I find it to be quite interesting. Ever since I visited London in 2005, I've been interested in the history of the monarchy. But beyond King George III's involvement in the American Revolution, I don't have nearly the same foundation. So far, The King's Speech has gotten me on the right path to learn more.