Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Review: Avatar

You know the hype: After a 12 year absence James Cameron returns to the directing chair with a movie so innovative it will forever change the way movies are made. If there was one director that I would believe that hype about it would be James Cameron. In “The Abyss” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” he demonstrated he that he was able to use cutting edge special effects without getting distracted by them. And in “The Terminator,”  “Aliens,” and “Titanic” he proved that he could use more conventional special effects better than almost any other director.  In all of those movies he proved that no matter what special effects he uses he can craft intense action sequences, usually connected with a pretty good story.

So how is Cameron’s proprietary  live action 3D technology? Unlike almost everyone else I’m going to reserve judgment. I saw Avatar on a RealD 3D projection system with DLP digital projection. That system is supposed to be less impressive than the IMAX 3-D projection system. (Even though the film was originally rendered in RealD… I don’t know, don’t ask me.)

The reason I’m going to reserve judgment is that while in “Avatar” it worked well to seamlessly immerse the viewer into the world of Pandora, the problem was it is an alien world.  Almost all life on Pandora is pointlessly bioluminescent. There is lots of quick movements through alien tree tops, floating mountains, and in general a bunch of stuff that is fantastic. The only time we see human dominated environment is inside buildings where the 3D isn’t very conspicuous or in a space ship at the very start of the movie, which seemed off to me.  Of course that could have been because my eyes weren’t adjusted to the RealD projection yet.

On the other hand the movie is just plain beautiful and the 3D only makes it more beautiful. I just hope Cameron’s system works well in the future. What I want to see is James Cameron use the same system in an Earth-bound action movie and see how it looks. Jim, Arnold is done being governor in a year, have your people call his people. (I’m thinking more “Terminator 5″, less “True Lies 2.”)

What about what all of those 3D special effects were supporting? Cameron’s movies have always had a serviceable story, often a great story. That is until now. I guess the problem was he was damn sure going to get a message in there, but he couldn’t really decide which one, so he jammed as many as he could come up with in. That is kind of strange for a man who used his first four movies (not counting Piranha 2) to deliver essentially the same message: “Nuclear weapons are bad.”

The movie meanders around from “Dances with Wolves” in space, to criticism of the Iraq and Afghanistan War, to a Gaia hypothesis story, to a criticism of the military-industrial complex (in a movie financed in part by News Corp.) and back again. You may think that lefty politics in movies bug me. It really doesn’t, especially when it is in allegory. And especially if it is done well. For me it’s easy to laugh off a message with “those crazy lefties” and enjoy the movie.

But it wasn’t done well here. Cameron famously worked on this movie since 1994. The problem that created is that I don’t think he ever locked the screenplay. The clumsiness of certain parts of the screenplay create a vision of him watching the events of the Iraq war and hurrying back to his word processor to add in some things before the animation had to be locked. Sometimes the result was merely distracting – when one character mutters something about “shock and awe” the fourth wall breaks down and I am ripped out of the world that Cameron created; I’m not sure why he’d want to do that when he spent $300 million to get me in – sometimes it just makes the screenplay sloppy.
If it is a retelling of the myth of the American Indian why do the Na’vi win? (I don’t think I’m giving anything away here. We all know what is going to happen.) If it is about Iraq it is so superficial as to be laughable. (Where are the Sunni and Shia Na’vi? Where was the evil Na’vi dictator who used his unobtainium (!) wealth to invade and slaughter his neighbors?) And why don’t the humans just regroup and come back with more guys and weapons in a few years?

Strip away and ignore “The Message” and it’s a serviceable story, but one we’ve seen in a thousand movies. It seems strange for Cameron to waste ground breaking special effects on a well-trodden storyline, and it is too bad that he did. There are some heart pounding action scenes to be sure, but in the end I guess I didn’t care about the outcome of those scenes enough. I think Cameron missed a good opportunity to develop the rules of avatars the way he did with time travel in the “Terminator” movies. Some originality might have helped me overlook some of the more mundane aspects of the story.

I will say that 2009 has made me say I’d like to see more Sam Worthington. He was pitch perfect in both “Terminator: Salvation” and “Avatar” this year. (Maybe his projects have to have some connection with Cameron.) Like his “Terminator: Salvation” co-star Christian Bale, he can act, but doesn’t seem to either look down on action roles or use them as a chance to ham it up.

Oh, and more Michelle Rodriguez in loose tank-tops in anything.

Avatar: In 3D: B+; In 2D: B-.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, right after I wrote this review I popped in “District 9,” which  provided a great example of how a story about the interaction of humans with extraterrestrials which is really an allegory about human politics can still feel original. I’d give “District 9″ a solid A-.

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Moose Droppings – Nothing Serious

  • That’s a perfect football weekend: Badgers beat the hated Wolverines, Packers beat the hated Cowboys.
  • I don’t care what anyone says, the Vikings are being set up for yet another playoff humiliation. But will it be a 41-0 drubbing or a humiliating upset by a huge underdog. (And could that underdog be the Packers?) Sour grapes? Maybe. But besides the Vikings’ history, I know that Rat Face doesn’t have the capacity to win the big games. (Which is why the 1998 Wisconsin Badgers were not National Champions.)
  • Is Gruden trying become Madden? Both are coaches who won the Super Bowl at a young age, and now Gruden has wrapped up a long term deal in Madden’s old job. Gruden better increase his intake of deep fried turduckens and whiskey. He should also find a good place kicker to be his announcer. (I hear the Gruden ‘21 gameplay is going to be awesome.)
  • I just heard Gruden defend Belichick’s fourth and two decision. I have a hard time believing Madden would have been behind that decision, especially since it was a passing play where the ball was not thrown past the first down marker.
  • I’m running the Seattle Half Marathon again the Sunday after Thanksgiving. While last fall my training went off without a hitch, my luck with the weather and illness has not been as good this year. Training has been kind of a flop. My total time per pound title may be in jeopardy.
  • Speaking of illness, we had H1N1 run through our house last week. While my wife took awhile to get over it, it didn’t do too much damage. I was starting to poo-poo it, but was reminded of how dangerous it can be when a young girl at my daughter’s school died from it (possibly). In any case, I don’t have to worry about that strain any more.
  • Bought “Up” for the kids. We caught it in the theater with the kids. I really liked it, in large part  because my late grandfather is the star of the movie.
  • I watched “Evil Dead 4″… er… I mean “Drag me to Hell” this weekend. While I spotted the “twist” early, it’s nice to see Sam Raimi get back to his comedy/horror roots after the self-indulgent Spider-Man 3. Hopefully he makes up with Danny Elfman and Bruce Campbell soon. Both were conspicuously absent.
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But rethink the title.

At first, judging by the amount of Bush and Michael Moore just showing up at a big company with a camera crew seen in this trailer, it looks like Moore is going back to the same trough one more time. But wait, is he mad about the same things as I am this time?

I guess my biggest quibble with Moore would be calling the movie “Capitalism: A Love Story.” “Socialized Risk: A Love Story” would be more accurate. Otherwise he seems to be upset with the federal government bailing out companies that should be allowed to fail, our money disappearing and not being accounted for, and lobbyists and congress making deals which puts the citizens on the hook for risk but not reward.

I look forward to his half-truths, out-of-context facts, and gate-crashing stunts for once.

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Quick reviews of various media presentations I’ve partaken in as of late.

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: This movie was of particular interest to me because I’m aging like Benjamin Button, but in reverse. Fincher needed to cut about 25 to 30 minutes out of this meandering story. I realize the slowness of the movie was a way for Fincher to get the lifetime span of the movie across, but I checked my watch.  I went into watching it very cynically, but it won me over at the last second. B.
  • The Wolverine Origin X-Men Movie: The problem with this movie was that the first three X-Men movies were pretty much just Wolverine movies with a supporting cast, and Wolverine isn’t interesting enough on his own to support four movies in ten years. The interesting part of the Wolverine story was wrapped up before the opening credits ended. Plus, I don’t really understand what Gambit was doing in the movie. C-.
  • Night at the Museum 2: The first Night at the Museum movie wasn’t exactly a classic, but it was cute and clever. The makers of the sequel forgot that and just crammed as many “exhibits coming to life” moments they could think of into the movie, story be damned. Two things keep this movie from a grade of “F”: 1.  Amy Adams running around in tight slacks; and 2. A few good Hank Azaria moments, especially his criticism of Darth Vader. D.
  • “The Goode Family”: The first episode was the funniest thing I’ve seen on TV in quite some time. (”It’s not important that you wasted gas, it’s important that you feel guilty about it.”) I don’t know what future a TV show that makes fun of the people who elected Obama has in 2009, but I guess if “American Dad” could survive in 2005, there might be hope. Plus, if you don’t live in the Seattle, Bay, Boulder, Austin, or Madison areas you might not fully get it. In any case, I’m going to enjoy it while I can. A.
  • Guns ‘n’ Roses “Chinese Democracy”: When G’n'F’n'R released their last studio album, er, albums, I was 17 years-old, had all of my hair, weighed 70 pounds less and could bench 100 pounds more. I’m afraid that Axl and company aged like me. There’s a few good things left on the platter, but not like there once was. It is kind of hilarious that Axl jammed every musical cliche that came and went in that time on the album somewhere. (Break it down!). C+.
  • Bruce Springsteen’s “Working on a Dream”: The awful “Devils and Dust” aside, The Boss had a creative upswing in the Bush years. Unfortunately, that was due to inspiration derived from 9-11 and the darkest days of the Iraq War – (”The Rising” and “Magic”). Throw in the very fun but oddly named “Seeger Sessions” (odd because there were no Seeger songs on the album) and the Bush years were good to the Boss. “Working on a Dream” begins the downslide to what will surely be the lazy Obama years (like the Clinton years were). There are some good songs – “Outlaw Pete” especially – but it is as meandering as “Magic” was tight. The title cut – used at Obama rallies – is tainted by a self-congratulatory feel. Otherwise there is a lot of “meh” on the album. Fortunatly for Springsteen, his “meh” is masterwork for most musicians working in popular music today. B.
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Semi-Live Blogging the Oscars

  • I finally saw one of the nominated pictures on Friday night: Slumdog Millionaire. I really liked it and am pulling for it.
  • I like Hugh Jackman, I don’t care what Dr. Cox says.
  • The opening number was good. Poking fun at the normally overblown opening number is a good sign…
  • … which quickly fades as they unveil this awful format of having five former winners introducing the five nominees. I thought the object was to speed things up.
  • Milk gets it’s political speech in. Better do it now, Milk won’t likely win another big category. Did the screenwriter say “God?”
  • Jack Black was pretty funny. Taking his Dreamworks Animation movie money and betting it on Pixar. Zing.  I’ve grown weary of Jack Black lately, but by avoiding him when I do see him he’s funny again.
  • Ben Stiller is always a highlight when they allow him to come on.
  • Another good comedy bit with Seth Rogan and James Franco. Laughing at The Reader was good. The Reader is getting picked on a lot tonight. (With good reason.)
  • As I expected when I saw The Dark Knight Heath Ledger wins. He would have won if he hadn’t died. I still say The Dark Knight got hosed out of a Best Pic nod. I wish they’d stop calling Ledger’s overdose accidental. It wasn’t on purpose, but it wasn’t actually accidental. Semi-accidental is more like it.
  • Who likes Bill Maher? Much like Keith Olbermann, I didn’t like Maher before I knew his politics. He knocks the “petty gods”  that at least two of the winners thanked and that the Milk screenwriter said created gays equally. (For the record, I think Maher was unfairly pilloried after his comments about the 9-11 hijackers. Brave and evil/crazy aren’t mutually exclusive.)
  • These Oscars are death. This new format is horrible.
  • I’m guessing Paul Newman edges out Heath Ledger is the Death Montage Applause Competition. Or, they don’t even include Ledger. I forgot that Charlton Heston died. Heston got a shamefully small amount of applause.
  • I forgot Stan Winston died, but some say CGI killed him long ago.
  • Now that Danny Boyle has won an Oscar, I have to reignitethe greatest argument ever had in my college apartment: Shallow Grave sucked.
  • I’m hoping there will be a tie between Kate Winslet and Anne Hathaway and they’ll have to settle it by hot oil wrestling.
  • My daughter got a Kate Winslet (in Titanic) Barbie doll for her birthday. None of the of the other nominees have one of those. Or is there a Barbie Out of Africa doll.
  • I hope Mickey Rourke wins. I want to hear that f-ed up speech.
  • Bah. I’ve had enough of Sean Penn. Yeah, yeah, shut up Penn. You get off on thinking we all think that you are “homo-loving communists,” more than any of us actually care. I am self-congratulatory-phobic, though.
  • Who is this Spielberg guy? An up ‘n’ comer?
  • Huzzah to Slumdog. In what seems like a mediocre batch of Best Pic nods, it seems like the best. I have a hard time believing any of the other tedious nominated movies would be better.
  • The show was death this year. The comedy bits were good, every thing else was horrid. The new format is a failed experiment. Not showing clips of the nominated performances but having other actors talk about the performances instead is  inexcusably stupid.
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Oscar Nominations

For the second year in a row I have not seen any of the movies nominated for best picture when the nominations came out. Usually, I have seen at least two or three of the nominated pictures when nominations are announced and I would usually end up seeing four or all five of them by the time the Oscars are awarded.

Not this year. A lot of that is about finding sitters for the kids, a lot of that is I don’t find going to the theater very fun anymore since no one knows how to shut the hell up. But most of it is that when I do go to the theater I want to see a movie that’s not tedious.

And that’s what a lot of the movies nominated for best picture look to be. Tedious. The movies that I saw in the theater this year – Indiana Jones, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, The Dark Knight, Quantum of Solace – I saw because they looked entertaining, not to be clubbed over the head.

Milk -  Here’s how I think of this: If Barney Frank had been murdered, would I want to see a movie called Frank? No. Plus for some reason the trailer makes it look like Sean Penn is playing the character like the one he plays in I Am Sam.

Frost/Nixon – This is the most tedious looking of all. Professor Althouse says, “I can see in the trailer the way Nixon’s own words have been edited and ham-acted into something they were not.” What happened to Opie? I used to look forward to his movies. Three of his last six movies before Frost/Nixon have been The Da Vinci Code, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and EdTV. Sheesh…

The Reader – The Holocaust and sex with young boys together at last! It’s like they put every theme that attracts award attention into a hat and picked out two. (Yeah, I know it was a book first, but I still get that feeling.)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – This is the one I want to see the most. That said, this is what we get when the star and director of Fight Club reunite? An overproduced Forrest Gump clone? The Age of Obama started rubbing off on Hollywood early.

Slumdog Millionaire - This is another one that I actually have some desire to see. I’ve heard it proclaimed to be the first movie of the Age of Obama. I guess I’ll need to see it to figure out what the hell that means.

I almost had myself convinced that The Dark Knight would get a nod. I don’t know, I thought that since it is the best movie I’ve seen in years, a game changer to an entire genre, and the second highest grossing move ever that it would get a nod. Nope.

It would have been – for lack of a better word – neat to have had the “first movie of the Age of Obama” in the same Best Picture category of the movie that was a metaphor for the Bush era. But it was not to be.

Meh. If I get a chance to get to the theater in the next few weeks, it will be to see Gran Torino or Taken. Those look like they might be entertaining with a nice little dose of testoserone in them. Movies like that might be hard to come by over the next few years.

On the up side Amy Adams, Kate Winslet, and Anne Hathaway are nominated. Break out the skimpy gowns.

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Going Blu

OK, some of you saw Jingle All the Way in my “Netflix at Home” section and have been openly questioning my sanity. It was Jingle All the Way on Blu Ray disc. I’m testing out my new toy.

After the HD format wars ended with my side losing following the betrayal by Warner Brothers, I was in no big hurry to get a Blu Ray player despite my love of HD DVD.

And then I saw The Dark Knight. Batman Begins is my favorite HD DVD, and The Dark Knight is a somewhat superior movie. I knew I’d just have to figure out a way to go Blu before the release of the Blu Ray disc.

The only problem is that I could not go buy a cheap Blu Ray add-on for my Xbox 360 like I did for HD DVD, and since we are up one kid from when I bought my HD DVD drive and I’m facing student loans, an intern salary, and a tight “Total Money Makeover” budget, I kind of wondered how that was going to happen. (UPDATE: Looking back, they asked as much for the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive when they first hit the shelves as they do for my stand-alone Blu Ray now. It just seemed like a lot less because a stand alone HD DVD player was around $500 at the time.)

Then I was paying our credit card bill in early November and thought, “What are these Thank You Points about?” I always see the commercial with the guy falling down the hill because he didn’t have a mountain bike, so I’ve always thought it was a program for people who enjoy being injured or something. In fact, I learned that I would be able to get $250 worth of Best Buy gift certificates with our points, not fractured bones.  I asked my wife if cashing in our points could be my Christmas present and she was more than happy to trade the time and expense of finding me a present for something that she didn’t know existed ten seconds earlier.

On Black Friday Best Buy had a sale on the Samsung BD-P1500 (note that it does now support profile 2.0 via a firmware upgrade).  Together with tax and a service plan it cost me $1.54. (I know you aren’t supposed to buy service plans, but they always pay off for me because I tend to break things. I just replaced my two year old XM radio with a new XMP3 radio with a $30 service plan.)

Then on December 9, The Dark Knight came out on Blu Ray. So I broke my Christmas present out early.

I opened the box and distressingly this was the only cable that came with the player:

Yes, that’s a freaking composite video cable. I wonder how many people buy a new 1080p HDTV and this Blu Ray player, put them together with this cable and wonder what the big deal is. I’ve gotten plenty of free HDMI cables over the years, including with my upconvert DVD player. How cheap is Samsung?

I yanked the HDMI cable out of the back of my DVD player and plugged it into the Blu Ray player, threw in The Dark Knight and enjoyed. I’ve heard horror stories about the load times of Blu Ray players, but it didn’t take a minute to load.

And the Blu Ray quality was… the same as HD DVD. Warner does an awesome job with HD transfers for their premiere titles. They did on HD DVD and they now do on Blu Ray. The Dark Knight was as beautiful as Batman Begins or Blade Runner on HD DVD. Those three movies in particular are very touchy because of all the black. If there is a difference in quality between Blu Ray and HD DVD, it takes a better TV than mine to see it. (And that’s possible. My TV is a 1080i, CRT unit circa 2004.)

I upgraded my Netflix to get Blu Ray discs (an extra dollar a month) and grabbed a couple of family titles – the aforementioned Jingle All the Way and Space Chimps to try out. Like HD DVD, Blu Ray seems to vary widely in quality of transfers. Jingle All the Way looked just slightly better than an upconverted DVD, but the CGI Space Chimps looked stunningly beautiful. (I can’t wait to see Horton Hears a Who.) Unfortunatly those movies weren’t made any better by being on a Blu Ray disc, but they are test runs.

Later, I plugged a network cable into the player to let it upgrade its firmware via the internet so that I could try the Blu Ray Live features of the TDK disc… and it promptly crashed. Fortunately I was able to put the firmware upgrade on a USB flash memory stick, plug the stick into the Blu Ray player and it sucked the firmware off of the stick and saved me a trip to Best Buy. I’m not sure why the network upgrade didn’t take, but I think I will be upgrading the firmware via USB flash memory stick from now on.

Anyway, the BD Live features are OK. Nothing I’d call indispensable. I did get an invitation to watch the movie while Christopher Nolan answers questions, which seems fun, but is more likely to be a one-time novelty than anything. The ability to make my own commentaries to discs is intriguing. I’ve been thinking about doing one on my own to the Star Wars series for quite some time.  Right now TDK and one other movie is the only movie with this feature, but I could see it being a lot of fun for some movies to exchange commentaries with friends. That will have to be after a lot more Blu Ray players are in a lot more houses, though.

It’s kind of sick that a WB movie prompted me to buy a Blu Ray player after WB betrayed me and my fellow HD DVD supporters, but life goes on. I like the format so far, and I’ve gotten a few more titles lined up to evaluate. I got Casino Royale for free via a law school promotion, and bought The Terminator for $13 to round out my high-def Terminator collection (the other two I own on HD DVD – T2 was imported). I suspect Netflix will be what makes or breaks Blu Ray as worth it to me. Bring on Space Chimps 2!

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Now For No Good Reason: Amy Adams

I’m running behind today, so here’s a picture of the classy Amy Adams to keep you occupied for a few minutes. Two months from today is Emasculation Day; enjoy this while you can.

Why, yes, Helen, daddy would love to watch Enchanted with you again!

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Star Trek V Related Humor

I’d say my roommates in college and I could have had the exact discussion that starts at about 1:02 into this clip from last night’s “The Big Bang Theory,” but I don’t think any of us would have defended Star Trek V, even compared to Star Trek I.

I agree that Star Trek V is the standard against which all badness is measured. (What does God need with a starship?)

I’m an unapologetic fan of both “The Big Bang Theory” and “Worst Week.” Those shows make me laugh and ease the sting of Monday.

Speaking of Star Trek movies, they showed a new commercial for the Star Trek movie reboot coming out next summer during “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, and it looks extremely promising.

Why yes, I do watch a lot of TV on Monday.

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A-Wing Fighters for Truth

I meant to post this before the election when we all needed some relief from the constant election commercials, but it is just as funny now, if not as topical:

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

“Excuse me! The timeline makes no sense! The Clone Wars were over before the Rebel Alliance was formed!” Yeah, it’s a joke, calm down.

Billy Dee still looks pretty good for his age. Colt .45 must have antioxidants in it or something.

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R.I.P. Paul Newman

Not only was Paul Newman a great actor, but he was a great human being. He knew how to give back: Putting up the money to give jobs to people who make a high-quality product and donate the profits to charity, while not making a big deal about it.

While there are no shortage of great Paul Newman to choose from – Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hustler, Road to Perdition, and on and on… But my favorite has always been Slap Shot:

(R-rated clip.)

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And you think you have problems…

My Netflix class action settlement – 1 extra movie for a month – has kicked in. However, the timing sucks because DirecTV just gave me an anniversary present – 3 months of Showtime and TMC for free. I don’t see how I can fully utilize those two things at the same time!

I guess I could store a bunch of Showtime movies on the DVR (I’ve grabbed Rocky Balboa in HD so far) but then I have to give up the space for a few months.

I tell you, if it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all…

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But I guess the American Idol winner does get more votes…

I noticed in this week’s Entertainment Weekly (Yeah, I subscribe, I like the movie, TV, and DVD reviews. Wanna fight about it?) they had a Q&A with both Senators McCain and Obama about their particular pop culture preferences. Which is all fine. Everyone, including presidents, have their favorite singers, movies, and actors. Until they came to this question:

Have you or any member of your family ever voted for an American Idol?

McCain was unaware of such a vote, but Cindy chimed in she voted for Jordin Sparks because she (or he? I don’t know) was from Arizona.

Obama says that his daughters voted last year.

Both of them got the answer horribly wrong. The only acceptable answer for a candidate for President of the United States to that question is for the candidate to punch the asker in the throat, and stand over him or her and yell, “Fuck you for asking. I’m a coin flip away from being POTUS and you’re asking me about a contest fueled by tweener girls and bored housewives? When you said you wanted to talk about movies and things, I thought you were going to ask me whether Gary Cooper or John Wayne was a bigger badass or something, not pansy-ass American Idol. What the hell is the matter with you?”

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Not a Good Weekend to be a Large Black Entertainer

Bernie Mac, Issac Hayes… did any black entertainers survive the weekend? Well, Chris Tucker. Goddammit now there’s probably going to be a Rush Hour 4.

When I heard Bernie Mac died, I thought, “Why, oh why couldn’t it have been Cedric the Entertainer instead?”

As for Chef, where do Scientologists go when they die? Or do the thetans just find new bodies?

R.I.P. big black dudes. We’ll miss your baritone voices.

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More Moose Droppings

  • You know why I allow myself to wear Crocs around the house and lawn these days? Because douchebags like Steve Tuttle have now deemed them uncool.
  • I wonder what kind of giant, anthropomorphic food Prince Fielder imagined Manny Parra was last nigh. A chorizo?
  • A friend e-mails: “Parra is fighting with The Giant Hamburger in the dugout, UW (rightfully) booted a guy who could’ve been the most dynamic weapon in the Big Ten this year, and the Favre mess. What a great time to be a Wisconsin sports fan.” Could be worse. I don’t really see how, but I’m sure it could be… I replied we’ll forget all about those things when Aaron Kampman is named MVP of Super Bowl XLIII.
  • Sometimes I forget I’m in Pac-10 country, but then I hear someone talking about how great the Seahawks will be this year despite the fact that they have no running back and the defense looks iffy. Apparently they plan to use the 90’s Pac-10 plan of scoring 90 points through the air and hoping that the other team can only score 89. They might be able to pull it together, but I’ll reserve judgment. If they only had Matt Hasselbeck acting like a crazy person, I’d have more confidence.
  • I would just like to enter into the record that the Beijing Olympics will turn out to be a clusterfuck. Now whether that is a 1972 Munich clusterfuck or a 2010 Vancouver disaster (calling that one in advance) awaits to be seen.
  • I watched Amistad last night for the first time in awhile. I was in the mood for a good lawyer movie and had been itching to watch it again since watching “John Adams.” I noticed that Speilberg had Justice Blackmun play Justice Story. Justice Blackmun authored Roe v. Wade and is in a neck-and-neck competition with Souter for biggest douche on the court in the last 50 years. Justice Story was the father of American maritime law and very anti-slavery. (Hence his opinion in the Amistad case, which nicely worked in both of those issues.) I thought it kind of ironic that Story, who was on the moral side of the biggest moral problem of his day was played by the guy who created the right to freely exercise the biggest moral problem of our day.
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Wilhelm Scream

I think I heard The Wilhelm Scream in The Dark Knight last night, can anyone confirm this?

I always love hearing The Wilhelm Scream, even though it sometimes takes me out of the movie. It usually takes a few times seeing the scene to hear it, fortunately.

Some of you I’m sure have no idea what I’m talking about. The Wilhelm Scream is a scream from The Charge at Feather River which for some reason has been the scream of choice for Skywalker Sound and presumably some other mixing studios for TV shows and movies for decades since.

These two videos should sum it up. There are some repeats, but it gives a nice sampling. Extra props to the second one for throwing in a scene from the Star Wars Holiday Special:

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Review: The Dark Knight

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to believe the hype. I hate going into movies with high expectations, because it is easy to be let down. And I didn’t shell out $8 (Or in this case $14 to sit in the VIP theater and drink beer) to be let down. The Dark Knight lets you buy into the hype and still come out smiling. Well, maybe not smiling, the ending doesn’t particularly lend itself to smiling, but I wasn’t let down.

First off – Heath Ledger. Another reason it is too bad that Ledger died is that the inevitable Oscar nomination, and quite possibly Oscar win, will be cheapened by looking like some kind of sympathy prize. In another way, his death transforms a fantastic performance into a legendary one. Whatever the Joker is supposed to be, Ledger was perfect as him. The maniacal laughing, the voice, the walk, the tongue flicker, are nice mechanical touches, but whatever he did to go from clown to menacing in the blink of an eye can’t really be described by words. At one point the Joker tries to get a detonator to work as a shuffles away from an explosion, and Ledger hilariously plays it perfect, like a man just trying to get a stopped clock to work as a debris happens to be falling around him. It doesn’t sound like much, but his portrayal is full of little touches like that which made it realistic, as funny as that sounds talking about a Batman villain. I think the writers were wise not to bother with a Joker origin story. He was much more creepy just appearing. And the differing versions the Joker himself tells make you squirm more than Jack Nicholson falling in a vat of chemicals ever could.

While Ledger steals the show, there are some other very good performances: Christian Bale is solid again as Bruce Wayne / Batman  (I want that scary Batman voice he uses), Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Michael Caine as Alfred, the guy from “Lost” as the mayor, hell even the cop from The Fugitive who is always playing a Chicago cop seemed to step it up. Maggie Gyllenhaal is fine, but what’s with her face? It looks like she hasn’t slept in months. Curiously, the only one not quite up to par is the usually excellent Morgan Freeman. He just seems to be kind of phoning it in.

Even when comic book movies are very good – the first two Spider-Man movies, Superman II, Tim Burton’s Batman movies, and Batman Begins – you always kind of know what is going to happen. And to be sure, here there is a showdown between Batman and The Joker, but there were a lot of twists in the plot that were more likely to be seen in a movie like L.A. Confidential than a comic book movie. Without giving too much away, Batman doesn’t ride off into the sunset with the gratitude of Gotham City. Ledger’s Joker proclaims himself to be an agent of chaos, and the Joker kind of reigns chaos down on the script as it skitters about trying to figure out who Batman needs to save (or who needs to save Batman). There is no Batman (or Spider-Man, or Superman) racing to save the girl, the city, the world, whatever, but a more human story. There is no grand plot, just the Joker trying to pull down the city and the city’s heroes by inflicting chaos through crime. It was almost a brave choice for the filmmakers to play it that way, but it worked well.

We also get a troubled Batman, which again adds an unnerving reality to the surreal. He is tortured by what he has become, and by what is being done because of him. The Joker is played as the the flip side of the same coin as Batman. One violent sociopath playing for the good guys, one for the bad. In an almost unsubtle way, that point is driven home by what happens to Harvey Dent and his lucky coin. The spectrum of good to evil nutjobs who play by their own rules running parallel level with the good cop Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), DA Rachel Dawes, and the mafia bosses who play by if not the law, then by societal norms worked real well as a story device. There is a reason the movie is called The Dark Knight and we are shown why in the third act when the parallel spectrums stop being parallel and the two sets of good guys start working cross purposes.

My only real complaint is that for some reason it seems like Christopher Nolan needed to get cute with the action scenes. Having successfully staged lots of Bat action in Batman Begins it seems like he didn’t want to do the same old thing. That’s fine, but I like to see my action. There were a couple of scenes where there were too many quick cuts and flashing lights to make the Bat-asswhoopin’ as enjoyable as it could have been.

Other than that my only question is: Do you only need a regular motorcycle endorsement to ride the Batpod? Because if so, I need to get me one of those. (Some women leaving the theater with me said my Harley wasn’t cool until I added guns to it like Batman has. I’m seriously considering it.)

The Dark Knight: A.

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Wall-E / Narnia 2

I’m listening to Laura Ingraham on the XM, and she’s still busting on WALL-E. I don’t get it (well, I generally never get it when someone rips on a movie that they haven’t seen). Of course, I can identify with someone who doesn’t want to buy into a movie phenomenon, I felt like the only person on Earth who thought that the first Pirates of the Caribbean was God-awful, the only thing keeping it from giving Batman and Robin or Star Trek V: God Gets a Starship a run for their money as “worst movie ever” was a few of Johnny Depp’s funny moments.

But Wall-E is running an astounding 97% at Rotten Tomatoes. For comparison the first Pirates movie is at 79% which is extremely solid, and a very few movies with wide release run 100% – The Godfather, Toy Story 2.

I’ve heard a couple other conservative talkers – Glenn Beck, some lesser names – give a knee jerk anti-Wall-E sentiment. I’m not sure why. The movie is one of those that can be enjoyed by the whole family – a pretty solid social and sci-fi satire for the parents, a cute story for the kids. The messages – take care of the planet, don’t live your whole life connected to a machine, get off your ass on occasion – are ones that almost everyone should be able to get behind. (The take care of the planet message is done in a pretty non-crazy way – it’s mostly about being aware of how much plastic Chinese crap you use, a message conservative conservationists shouldn’t have a problem with. Though I would have liked to have seen a few Disney items in there, you Disney hypocrites.)

We saw Wall-E at the drive-in with in a double feature with the marketed-to-Christian-conservatives Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. That movie just wouldn’t end. It was poorly paced, poorly edited, and the tone was all over the place. There’s probably an OK story in there in 90 minutes, but not in the way it was handled. I think that C.S. Lewis must be in heaven with his drinking buddy (really) J.R.R. Tolkein wondering if he can get J.R.R. to hook him up with his screen adapters. There is no question that Wall-E is the superior family fare to Narnia.

Wall-E: A

Narnia 2: C-

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R.I.P. George Carlin

I was a minor fan of George Carlin, much preferring Cardinal Glick to the bulk of his stand-up. However when he was on, he was hilarious.

Two of my favorite of his bits:

Baseball vs. Football:

Sick of Guys Named Todd:

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No One Better Take My Stapler or I’ll Set the Building on Fire

This morning when I showed up to my first day at the new job, they handed me a pack of office supplies to bring to my office. Imagine how thrilled I was to find a brand new red Swingline 747 Classic stapler.

Here it is, my very own red Swingline:


I can’t decide if this is either a really, really good sign, or a really, really bad sign.

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