Monthly Archives: December 2013

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Movie Trailer – Blended

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Frank Coraci
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore
Release: May 23rd, 2014

I might really like The Wedding Singer, but I’m not gonna fall for this one.  I get that it’s kind of made for families, although raunchy families I guess.  But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be good.  Adam Sandler just does dumb crap now, it’s like he’s not even trying.


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Movie Review – Crystal Fairy

Category : Movie Review

Director: Sebastian Silva
Starring: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andres Silva
Year: 2013

The actual title of this film is Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012.  That ought to tell you all you need to know about this movie.  It’s weird, let me just put that out there.  It’s weird in the way that many drug stories are, portraying a culture that I, thankfully, know nothing about.  But that makes it hard for me to really comprehend what the characters are feeling, what is driving them on their quest for the perfect drug.  Every once in a while someone makes a movie that’s about people who happen to take drugs, not drugs themselves, and it’s those films that I can actually connect to.  This one tried to get there, but never really quite managed, despite some good acting and a so-so plot, making it just another strange & wild trip.
Jamie is a young man with one thing on his mind; the famous San Pedro cactus.  He has traveled far in search of this hallucinogenic plant, building it up in his mind as the ultimate drug experience, one that will blow away all the cheap drugs that he’s done so far in his youth.  With his friend Champa & his brothers in tow, Jamie starts a road trip that he hopes will end in amazing enlightenment.  But he made one mistake on this path to perfection, and her name is Crystal Fairy.  Crystal is a girl Jamie met randomly at a party, talked to while high, and apparently invited along.  But now that she has arrived, he is sure she’ll mess up what was supposed to be a man’s weekend with her strange hippie ways, her crazy talk about auras & magic stones, and a general positive energy that Jamie can’t stand.  The two will have to learn to get along so that they can both enjoy the magic cactus and what might be the best thing to happen to them all year.
Like I said, it’s weird.  I mean, it’s a story about a group of young people whose sole mission is to boil some cactus juice, get high on it, and see life differently.  It’s a plot that turns out to be a little boring actually, and it’s only saved from total crap by some surprisingly good acting.  I like Michael Cera, some people don’t, but he was really good in this one.  He was intentionally unlikable, pretty assy, and funny in a very awkward way.  What caught me off guard was Gaby Hoffman.  She was a completely different person than what we’ve seen from her before, or at least what we know her for: Sleepless in Seattle, Now and Then, Volcano.  In this one she was intentionally ugly, with a uni-brow and a look that said she hadn’t washed in some time.  She was hairy, grungy, and for some strange reason very often naked.  The nudity itself was shocking and not meant to be enjoyable.  I guess it was there to make a point, to make audiences uncomfortable, and to show the free spirit of a character who was quite opposite from the one played by Michael Cera.  But regardless, the entire movie was an oddity, a slow-moving adventure with no great point.  I have no idea who I’d recommend this to, perhaps no one, and I definitely wouldn’t watch it again myself.

My rating: ✰ ✰


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Movie Trailer – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis
Release: July 11th, 2014

This is a sequel to the popular Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which I didn’t see.  I liked the old Charlton Heston movies enough, and hated the new Marky Mark remake as did everyone.  I like the idea of a reboot of the series because it’s a cool storyline that warrants a second take.  Maybe I’ll have to go back & check out the first before I see this sequel, might not be too bad.


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Movie Review – Home Alone

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Catherine O’Hara
Year: 1990

This might be a Chris Columbus film, but man does it have John Hughes written all over it.  Of course, Hughes did write the script, but he had more to do with the movie than just putting some words down on paper.  He personally campaigned for the lead role to be given to Macaulay Culkin, who he had previously worked with in Uncle Buck.  Jon Candy too as a matter of fact, who also appears in this film.  And the world in which the story is set is 100% Hughes; a small town in Illinois, a dysfunctional family, childhood angst, some crass humor wrapped in a heart-warming lesson.  If you’ve seen his other projects you’ll feel him right away; Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pick, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes Trains & Automobiles, Christmas Vacation, just to name a few.  It was a sad day when Hughes died at the age of 59; the film world lost an amazing talent, a writer & director who was a genius in his own right and someone who gave us movies that we will never forget.
In Home Alone, Hughes & Columbus introduce us to Kevin McCallister, the youngest child in a family of five kids.  He feels like the goat of the group, the one who gets blamed, the one who gets overlooked.  And is he ever overlooked when his family prepares for a trip to Paris for the holidays.  During a hectic morning, Kevin is forgotten, left alone in the attic while everyone else flies away.  And although his mom realizes her mistake fairly soon, it’s incredibly difficult for her to get back to her son, due to Christmas air traffic.  Kevin, meanwhile, thinks he wished his family away & is pretty happy about that.  That is until he realizes how alone he actually is.  A pair of bumbling cat burglars are preparing to pull off the theft of the century, stealing from every house on the block whose residents are away on vacation.  But they don’t know Kevin, and they don’t know to what lengths he will go to save his house, protect his territory, and make his family proud.
Talk about a classic Christmas movie.  This is one that I have got to watch every year.  It puts me in the mood for the holidays, teaches a good lesson about being careful what you wish for, and is ultimately about the love & warmth of family.  But along the way it’s also hilarious.  Much of the humor is juvenile, some is silly, a lot is physical, but it doesn’t really matter.  You can be any age and enjoy the wild ride, the ribald jokes, the smacks to the face.  Because it’s never dumb; Hughes & Columbus keep it smart if not exactly high class.  And the acting is excellent as well.  Culkin looks the part more than he acts the part, but he’s not bad for a kid.  Joe Pesci as the lead bad guy is superb and Catherine O’Hara as Kevin’s mom is appropriately guilty & slightly crazy.  The side characters never detract from the story, and the music is surprisingly excellent until you realize that it was composed by John Williams.  All the pieces fit together, making Home Alone a holiday classic, a comedic masterpiece, and a must-see film.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰


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Movie Trailer – Earth to Echo

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Dave Green
Starring: Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig
Release: April 25th, 2014

This reminds me a little of Super 8, and not in a good way.  That movie was a cool homage to old sci-fi, but in the end it just turned out to be a kids’ movie about aliens.  I think that’s the path this movie is headed down too, but at least that fact is a little more apparent.


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DVD Review – Barbara

Category : DVD Review

Director: Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Jasna Fritzi Bauer
Year: 2012

There is something incredibly fascinating about the division of Germany after WWII, the East & West sides and the politics surrounding the split.  And then the 80s, the smuggling, and the eventual destruction of the Berlin Wall.  I think it reminds us of Nazi Germany, the ghettos, the trafficking of humans, the secrets, the governments watchdogs.  They say history repeats itself, but here there is an almost instantaneous repetition of events, on different scales perhaps but with a sense of irony that cannot be missed.  And as with films about the German occupation of Poland, films about the divided post-war country capture our attention & imagination like few other historical events can.  Barbara is just one more story of a place & time that seems almost surreal, but one that is done so subtly & so well that it can stand alone as a singularly excellent film.

The Movie

Barbara is a woman who has fallen from grace.  Once a prominent doctor in Berlin, her subversive political views and subsequent incarceration have ruined a promising career.  Her talent is too important to be cast aside though, so upon her release she is forcefully relocated to a small provincial town in order to work at the clinic there.  She is monitored constantly, subjected to searches of her small apartment and even her own body.  She is a political outcast, a rebel, a woman who is labeled as dangerous and will never be free from the oversight of the government.  She rides the train or her bicycle to work, returns home, and never participates in life outside of her job, living an uncomfortable life in a place she never imagined would be her home.
But Barbara has secrets that are as unlawful as her opinions.  She meets with her lover on occasion, in the forest and in hotels, planning her eventual escape from the region to freedom in another county.  The wheels of the plot have been put into motion, but several events complicate matters beyond her control.  One is her fellow doctor, Andre.  He is handsome, kind, brilliant, a man who makes a positive impact on the lives of all around him.  But he is also paid to watch her, to report on her performance & her doings to the authorities that constantly monitor her.  And there is also a girl, a young pregnant woman who is a captive of a work camp, a place no better than the concentration camps of WWII.  Barbara cannot help but feel a deep compassion for this girl, a desire to save her from the fate that awaits both her & her baby.  And as the day of her liberation draws near, both Andre and the girl will become important parts of her life, ones that she cannot easily leave behind.

What an interesting take on a fascinating period in time.  Perhaps not everyone is as intrigued by the division of post-war Germany as I am, or even the history of WWII for that matter.  But if you are, here is a film that captures that era excellently.  But the difference between this film and one like The Lives of Others is the location.  This story is set in the countryside, a place of relative peace & beauty, a great contrast for the intense political & social issues that are simultaneously occurring.  The other is set in Berlin itself, under the shadow of the wall, deep within the underground movement, the government surveillance, the constant danger.  Setting this movie in a place still clinging to the past and still protected somewhat from the modern world was an excellent choice, as it showcases a complex situation in a simple place.
And the story was delivered very well.  There was a subtlety and a silence about the film that was enjoyable to watch but gave a dangerous feel.  Moments were captured in simplicity but with the knowledge that the undertones were anything but.  Again, this was also reflected in the innocence of the town, even while a thrilling story was taking place right under it’s nose.  That’s not to say there was a lot of thrilling action.  The threat of harm was ever-present, but there was very little violence or anger on display; most of the emotion in the film was bubbling just under the surface.  And that made the story feel that much more realistic & engaging.  These were things that actually happened, if not this event specifically then ones that were very similar.  And the choices that the characters had to make during the film were ones that had real consequences and were driven by real emotion.
The acting helped to support a well-constructed story and breathed life into incredibly believable characters.  Nina Hoss was excellent as Barbara, playing her as an extremely private woman, one whose life was made hell by the constant invasion of her space, her body, and her free will.  Her performance was subtle & realistic, keeping her emotions in check for most of the film, only showing them in extreme moments.  And Ronald Zehrfeld was as strong as Andre, the attractive & compassionate young doctor.  We were left a little unsure as to his character’s intentions, his motivations, and his actual feelings.  We as an audience had to figure out what was driving him & which parts of his persona were honest, which were a show.  And the chemistry between the two was spot on, with trepidatious interest & barely controlled passion, creating a tension that added to the intensity of the plot & crafted a captivating film.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video quality is very high.  The color is every scene was rich & in wonderful contrast.  The picture was sharp, attractive, and detailed.  The many outdoors scenes were very well done, with wonderful natural light.  The entire film was a pleasure to view.
Audio – The DVD was done in Dolby Digital.  The language of the film is German with English subtitles.  There are no options for different languages or any other audio choices.  The sound quality of the film was good, but with no scenes crafted to highlight its richness.  Much of the film was quiet conversation, silent moments, and so the lack of sound was more important.
Extras – There are no extras on the disc.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedBarbara is a film without mass appeal but with a very solid product to deliver.  The history behind the story sets the stage for the drama, and so people who are interested in that era may enjoy this film more than those who are not.  The acting holds up on its own and the simplicity of the action is refreshing, but there are times when audiences could become bored.  The video quality is great, the audio fine, but the DVD has no extras.  This is well-made film, but one that is slow, foreign language, and historically based.  Not a movie to excite the majority perhaps, but one that has some excellent qualities that deserve attention.

✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ – Content
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ – Video
✰ ✰ ✰ – Audio
– Extras
✰ ✰ ✰ – Replay


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Thought – Oscar Update

Category : Thought

 

Two months ago I posted some early Oscar Predictions.  Since then the picture has changed a little and it’s time for an Oscar Update.  I’m trying to see & review as many contenders as possible before the Academy Awards and I hope to give you some insight into any movies you don’t get the chance to see.  So here are some candidates for Best Picture:

This is the Indiewire.com ranking of top possible Academy Award contenders:

  1. Gravity
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Saving Mr. Banks
  4. Nebraska
  5. The Wolf of Wall Street
  6. Inside Llewyn Davis
  7. American Hustle
  8. Captain Phillips
  9. Her
  10. The Butler
  11. Blue Jasmine
  12. August: Osage County
  13. Dallas Buyers Club
  14. Philomena
  15. All is Lost
  16. Fruitvale Station
  17. Prisoners
  18. Lone Survivor
  19. The Book Thief
  20. Before Midnight
Added: Dallas Buyers Club, Lone Survivor, The Book Thief.

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Book Review – The Sirens of Titan

Category : Book Review

Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year: 1959

I would say that my favorite author is Stephen King.  I understand that some people don’t like his work, and I also understand that he’s not a very unique choice for a favorite, but he has ability to draw me into the worlds he creates like no one I have ever read before.  His stories are fun to read on the surface, but also extremely deep if you care to jump in.  The only other author who comes close is my second favorite, Kurt Vonnegut.  His books are more overtly meaningful with less of a popular element to catch the eyes of people who are looking for a page-turner.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t write entertaining stories, because he does, but they are obviously metaphorical, where King’s could just be taken at face value if that’s what you choose to do.  Anyway, Vonnegut is an amazing author who I’ve read well, even though this is my first review of one of his books.  The Sirens of Titan is one of his earliest novels, one that gained him a lot of fame, but also one that isn’t as strong as his later works.  That’s not to say that it’s not good; it’s still a fascinating story with an incredibly rich message, one that ought to be read, discussed, and enjoyed.
Meet Malachi Constant, the richest man on Earth.  He has extreme good luck, as did his father, and he does what he pleases with his money with not a single thought for the future.  When he meets Winston Niles Rumford & his wife, events are set into motion that will lead to the collapse of Malachi’s fortune, the ruin of his business, and his eventual travel to the planet of Mars.  There he unwillingly becomes a part of Rumford’s plans to invade Earth, to conquer it using Martian troops and advanced alien technology.  But Malachi revolts against this path, leading him on a journey through space & time that he never could have imagined.  And the secrets that he learns about the point of the universe & the meaning of human life will change his world forever.  He will meet his soul mate, father a son, repair a broken robotic alien, live on a great number of planets, become the entire Earth’s whipping boy, and grow old during an adventure that never seems to end and always remains astonishingly random.
How’s that for a summary?  The book doesn’t really make much sense if you break it down into events.  The first part is pretty boring; rich people talking about the future and the author giving us the story of Malachi’s family fortune.  But powering through that portion you arrive at a place in which the action never stops.  A war between Mars & Earth, glowing space creatures that spell out messages, a religion formed around chaos theory, space ships that fly themselves, voodoo dolls in the form of Malchi Constant.  The events are weird beyond description, but each one has a meaning, a deeper purpose that leaves readers pondering the great questions of the world.  And that’s, I guess, the point of the story; to get you questioning the world, your purpose, intelligent design, God, the future, destiny, fate.  All the big questions come up, some of them are “answered”, and others are left for you to figure out.  I enjoy a story in which I’m left to think for myself, to create my own theory to explain the hows & the whys.  And Vonnegut creates such a story here.
It’s not his best book perhaps, but it is one of his early works & he can be forgiven for not creating a polished masterpiece.  Vonnegut himself grades it an A, and I would be hard pressed to disagree, although I liked some of his other books far better.  Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five; now those are great novels; incredibly excellent stories with the patented Vonnegut weirdness and some mind-blowing messages to deliver.  He likes to throw a little bit of sci-fi into all his books; this one just happens to have a ton more than usual.  But that’s not to say it’s a sci-fi book.  The technical aspect isn’t there, he’s just using space as a backdrop because it allows for so much, his imagination can run wild without too much critique or correction.  And for this story it works; an outer space tale about the meaning of life as told by a man who fell into the events of the book randomly.  There are a lot of funny moments, odd happenings, great quotes, weird characters; all the things you could want from a Vonnegut book.  If you are already a fan chances are you’ll like this one too.  If not, I would recommend trying a different one of his works and coming back to this one when you’ve gotten a little acclimated.  This one’s kind of out there; good, but strange, and perhaps not one you want to read as your first Vonnegut experience.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰


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Movie Trailer – Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Will Finn
Starring: Lea Michele, Bernadette Peters, Patrick Stewart, Martin Short
Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer, James Belushi, Hugh Dancy, Oliver Platt
Release: May 9th, 2014

There are some animated movies that are made for both children & adults.  There are some that are made just for kids.  I think this is going to be the latter.  I would be surprised if there was much to hold onto from a grown-up perspective, but I think my daughter might really enjoy it.


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Sports – 2013 NFL Picks, Week 16

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 16 Picks
(8-8 last week, 148-75-1 for the season)
Bye teams: none

Mia @ Buf – It’s all starting to come together for the Dolphins.  They hang on to upset the Patriots, they put together a winning streak, and the playoffs seem just within reach.  They have got to win these last games of the season and I think they will, starting with a beatable Buffalo team.

NO @ Car – The Saints are in trouble.  They’re still a great team, but the blueprint for beating them has been established; take away Jimmy Graham.  Brees doesn’t seem like the same QB when his TE is unavailable, and let’s not forget that NO has not been a very good road team all season.

Min @ Cin – Last week’s loss to the Stillers didn’t surprise me, despite the Bengals being the better team.  What would surprise me would be the Vikings beating them at home.  Cinci is undefeated in Queen City and knows now that the playoffs are not guaranteed if they start screwing off.

Den @ Hou – The best team in the league vs the worst.  This could have been a trap game had the Broncos not lost last week and been smacked in the face with the knowledge that the playoffs are coming & that they’d better regroup.  I don’t think Peyton & Co. will falter here.

Ten @ Jax – Here’s the surprising fact of the day; the Jaguars are 3-1 when playing teams in their division.  They can’t beat anyone else, but that doesn’t matter as far as this matchup is concerned.  Neither of these teams has any playoff hope, but the Jags are playing at home and should win.

Ind @ KC – Recently the Chiefs have only been able to beat mediocre teams.  But right now, I think you’ve got to call the Colts a mediocre team.  They’ve backed into the playoffs where they might be hosting KC in the first round.  So this game has some meaning to it and I can’t see Indy winning.

Cle @ NYJ – We’ll call this the Who Cares Bowl.  Neither team is going anywhere, both have a boat load of problems, and it doesn’t really matter which way this one goes.  The Jets are good at home (5-2) while the Browns suck on the road (1-5), so I guess the game is in New York’s hands.

TB @ STL – I didn’t see that last one coming, as the Rams stomped the Saints.  If they can do that to Drew Brees, what can they do to Mike Glennon?  Add in the fact the the Rams are a good home team while the Bucs lose when they’re away and we should have a one-sided battle.

Dal @ Was – This one could get ugly.  No one allows more points than the Redskins, though the ‘Boys aren’t far behind, so we should get to see a good old fashioned shootout.  The winner will be decided by which QB makes more mistakes, Romo or Cousins.

NYG @ Det – I hate picking Jim Schwartz & the Lions to win anything, but how could I pick a team that scored zero points at home last Sunday?  New York is a giant mess (see what I did there?) and should lose even though Detroit seems to have a penchant for sucking.

Ari @ Sea – It’s been fun watching the Cardinals surprise us all, but they’re just out of the playoffs and have to go into Seattle to take on the Seahawks.  No team is more powerful at home and I can’t see Palmer playing better than Wilson.  It’s been a nice run, but it could all end here.

NE @ Bal – If the Bengals are the AFC’s Lions, than the Pats are the AFC’s Siants.  Take away their main weapon, send them on the road, and watch them crumble.  You could probably say the same about most teams, but the Patriots are supposed to be elite.  I doubt they show that this week.

Pit @ GB – Matt Flynn did just enough last week to win, with a little help from Tony Romo of course.  Rodgers could be back this week, maybe next, but either way I think the Pack are just the better team, despite Pitt’s big win vs Cinci last week.  Look for some Lambeau Leaps.

Oak @ SD – This would be a simple game to pick if the Raiders didn’t enjoy playing the spoiler so much.  As it is, I don’t think they have enough this season to mess up too many teams’ plans.  The Chargers are heating up at the right time, have their sights on the playoffs, and should roll.

Chi @ Phi – Jay Cutler is back & the Bears are alive, but that defense is still a major problem.  Both Chicago & Philly are leading their respective divisions & want to hold onto them, but someone’s going to fail.  The Iggles always play better vs NFC opponents & should win here.

Atl @ SF – I don’t love the Niners and I can’t see them going deep in the playoffs, but this is a winnable game.  The Falcons are over-matched, on the road, and just can’t keep up.  The Niners are coming in hot, winning four straight.  They’ll keep it going and get the W here, no problem.