Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Ten

What? Huh? Oh, I made it, this is day ten. I guess this means I can spend tomorrow watching these movies... or getting things ready for family.

Yeah, probably getting things ready for family.

So here it is, last chronologically, but not least in my heart. The most recent holiday movie on my list is:

Karroll's Christmas (2004)

You've probably never even heard of this movie, but it's a made-for-cable film that is based on the well-worn Dickens' classic, “A Christmas Carol”. As with most comic takes on this particular story, things get twisted up a bit in this telling. Think “Blackadder's Christmas Carol”, but not nearly so bleak.

Allen Karroll (Tom Everett Scott) is a nice guy, if a bit of a loser. After planning the perfect, and very public, way to propose to his girlfriend and getting shot down, very publicly, he's not feeling that great about the holidays anymore. As if the heartbreak is not enough, there's the matter of his grouchy old jerk of a neighbor, Zeb Rosecog (Wallace Shawn) to just make things all that much worse. Still, as down on the season as he is, he's still no Scrooge... or is he?

On Christmas Eve Allen is visited by the Christmas ghosts (Larry Miller, Alanna Ubach, and Verne Troyer) who quickly realize that there was a bit of a clerical error, and they are in the wrong house; they are meant to be visiting Zeb next door. Still, orders and orders, and the ghosts are not going to leave without showing Allen the error of Zeb's ways.

The movie is a bit syrupy at times, but it still has a sharp sense of humour, and is quite entertaining for a movie I just happened to stumble across in the middle of the night while channel surfing (if you're wondering why I bothered to stop, it's because of Wallace Shawn). I don't know if the fact that it makes my top ten is indicative of it being good, my being sleep deprived each time I've seen it, or if I just had that much trouble thinking of ten holiday movies that I actually like.

I wanted to post up some sort of trailer or advert for this, but I just cannot find one. I have found sites where you can stream or download the movie, but I'm not linking to those. If you want to find them you can use Google just as easily as I can.

So there you have it, ten days of holiday films for those of us who don't like are films sweet enough to make our teeth hurt. There's still a couple of days to go, so it's not too late to go and pick up a few of these while you relax in relief at the end of the season. It's almost over, folks, another Christmas come and gone... at least until June when all the merchandise hits the shelves again.

Happy Winter, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Nine

Did you know that Toys R Us is open twenty-fours hours this week? I kind of want to go at three in morning just to do it. I don't have anything I need there, but it seems like it would be fun. Of course this is completely off topic, so lets get back to the reason I'm writing this, eh?

Here we are on the ninth day of my favourite holiday movies; the penultimate day, if you will. We're going back to the world of animated features again, but not for kids (although not spectacularly adult either), and we're crossing the ocean to the shores of Japan for this second to last choice:

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

I love the late Satoshi Kon's work, like “Paranoia Agent” and “Perfect Blue”, and evidence of how much I like his work based on its own merits is that I loved the movie the first time I saw it without even knowing that it is one of his. Most of Kon's movies tends to be very adult, but this is a much softer film than works like “Paprika” without losing any of the art style or humour.

On Christmas Eve three homeless people, an alcoholic, Gin, a transvestite, Hana, and a teenage runaway, Miyuki, find a very unusual item while scavenging through the trash; a baby. Hana first views this as the answer to her Christmas wish to have a child despite the obvious reasons he could not actually be a mother. Soon the trio realize that they cannot care for this child, whom they dub Kiyoko (pure child), and they set off in an attempt to find out who Kiyoko belongs to using clues found in the bag that the baby was in.

The quest to track down Kiyoko's parents finds the homeless protagonists caught in the middle of an attempted mafia hit, a kidnapping, a car chase, and even a death-defying leap from the roof of a building, all the while being guided and protected by God (or just Deus Ex Machina, if you prefer). As well as finding the truth about who the infant belongs to, the trio may also discover the truth about themselves and the decisions that they made that led them to where they are now.

Even though I am not ranking the films on my list, this may well be my favourite one. It's funny, exciting, and a little sad at times. The only bad thing about it is that I've never been able to find an English dub of it (there is, supposedly, a dubbed version done for Animax, but that dub is not on the DVD). I'm not one of those “dubs suck” kind of people, I usually prefer dubbed films over subtitled ones because I rarely devote my full attention to any one thing, but even if I was a dub-hater, the problem with this not being available with an English voice track means that a lot of people who might really enjoy it will never give it a chance. This is especially sad because Kon's work is fantastic, and this is probably the film that would be accessible to the type of people who would find “Paprika” or “Paranoia Agent” incomprehensible.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Eight

We're closing in on the day now, have you got your shopping finished yet? Yeah, me neither.

So if you thought that yesterday's movie pick was a little dark, wait until you see my favourite holiday movie for today. We're jumping into the 21st century with:

Bad Santa (2003)

Probably the least family-friendly item on the list, this film is exactly what it says on the tin. Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, alcoholic criminal, who is everything a Santa should not be; he curses, he has violent outbursts, and he has sex with pretty much anything that will let him. Naturally he gets a job as a mall Santa, but this is all part of a bigger plan. With the help of his elf sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox), they plan to rob the mall blind and take all that Christmas shopping cash for themselves.

Of course things don't go quite as planned. Not only does Willie find himself more and more at odds with Marcus as to how the heist should go, but he accidentally finds himself actually caring about someone other than himself. After meeting a loser of a kid named Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), and falling for a bartender, Sue (Lauren Graham), he starts to rethink his life choices a little bit.

Aside from just being a really fun, if very dark and adult, film, it is worth noting that this movie is John Ritter's final live action film appearance (if he seems like an odd choice for the film, remember that he and Thornton previously appeared together in “Sling Blade”). If you want to laugh, and then feel a little bad about it, put the kids to bed, Irish up some coffee, and pop this film into the DVD player.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Seven

As I stated when I started this, I'm not a huge fan of the winter holiday season, and this list very nearly ended up being my nine favourite holiday movies because I simply could not think of a tenth movie, but then I remembered this little gem. You probably not only missed this movie when it was in theaters, I did too, but have probably never even heard of it. I only originally saw it thanks to it showing up on cable when there was nothing else on, but I'm glad I found it, or else this list would be ending a day early. I'm dreaming of a darkly humourous Christmas with:

Mixed Nuts (1994)

Phillip (Steve Martin) is having a bad Christmas Eve. His girlfriend is dumping him, his business, a suicide-prevention hotline, is about to be evicted so that the office may be converted into a condo, one of his workers is trapped in an elevator, there's a very pregnant woman locked in the office bathroom, a serial killer on the loose, and to top it all off, no one even seems to need to be talked out of committing suicide. What else can go wrong? How about Liev Schreiber in a dress?

This is another movie with a pretty impressive cast. Aside form Schreiber and Martin, the movie also features Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Juliette Lewis, Robert Klein, and Adam Sandler (he is playing the mentally deficient ukulele player he played on SNL, but it's a relatively small role, so don't hold it against the film too much). A rather obscure and unsuccessful film, it is still a fun holiday movie, especially for those of us who don't live in snowy areas, and get nothing out of those frosty winter scenes.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Six

For day six we're going back to the creepy, but we're also going animated with a movie that has become something of a cultural phenomenon over the years (at least it is if you regularly shop at Hot Topic). This film is probably the most merchandised of all of the films on my list with toys, video games, board games, clothes, accessories, perfume, and even a theme park ride based on it. Check under your bed, and then check out:

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

It's a Christmas movie! No, it's a Halloween movie! No, it's two, two, two holiday films in one! When the inhabitants of Halloween Town discover the doorway to Christmas Town they find it impressive. Really impressive. So fantastically impressive that they decide to steal it. They kidnap Santa, and decide to run the holiday themselves.

Of course the ghoulish inhabitants of Halloween Town completely miss the point of Christmas (that would be secular Christmas, I'm sure the film would never have been made has it addressed the religious aspects of the holiday), and end up put their own hideous spin on it. Things go horrifically wrong when Jack Skellington decides to play Santa himself, and he realizes that maybe he's just not cut out for this whole Christmas thing, but can he free Santa an put things right again?

A great film for people who find “Gremlins” to be a bit too extreme for the young ones, but still like a little horror with the holly jolly. The stop-motion animation is fantastic, and the character designs are creepily beautiful. Throw on some really memorable songs and great voice acting and you have yourself a holiday(s) classic.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Five

Day five! We're halfway through my list, which also means that this is the last weekend before the big day, and that shopping deadline is barreling down on you like a fright train... unless you did most of you shopping back in the fall. Once your done with your shopping you should pour yourself some eggnog and sit down to watch a holiday film that will make you realize how much easier your holidays are.

We're sticking with laughs for day five as we move chronologically through my list. I remember seeing this film when it first came out in theaters (alone, I should mention, as the family members who brought me went and saw something else). So, without anymore generic prattle: on the fifth day of holiday movies, Munashii gives to theeeeeeee:

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Clark and Ellen Griswold (Chevy Chase, Bevery D'Angelo) are back with a new set of kids for a new vacation. Traveling has not worked out so well for them in the past, so this time they are staying home and letting the adventure come to them in the form of Christmas with the family. It's too bad for Clark that Finagle's Law is in full effect, as everything that can possibly go wrong will, spectacularly, and at the worst possible time.

Clark W Griswold is one of the world's great optimists; he does not let anything get him down, and takes every new problem on with a smile and a laugh. He is a man that turns even the sourest of life's lemons into lemonade; very, very tart lemonade. Sure, Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) may be pumping raw sewage into the storm drain in front of his house, and maybe the Christmas lights aren't working right, and maybe his Christmas bonus has been replaced by a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club, but that is not going to stop him from having the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f***ing Kaye!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Four

My next pick came out the same year as “Die Hard”, but is a little more traditionally considered a holiday film. Lets step away from horror and action and back to mostly straight comedy with:

Scrooged (1988)

Charles Dickens' classic is brought into the 1980's with Bill Murray cast in the Scrooge role as Frank Cross, a cold-hearted jerk of a television executive who has been tasked with putting on a live broadcast of “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve night, but soon finds himself being visited by the ghosts featured in the classic tale.

“Scrooged” is probably the most star-studded (depending on how you want to define that term) of the films on my list, featuring appearances by Bobcat Goldthwait, John Forsythe, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Karen Allen, Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, Robert Goulet, John Houseman, and even Olympic medalist Mary Lou Retton. So come on, put a little love in your heart with this holiday treat..

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now Playing: Dax Plays Faire

Big news, ladies and gents, to me at least; I've gotten a story published. As part of their Broken Mirror Story Event, "The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine" has recorded my short story, "Dax Plays Faire" for their podcast, and it sounds great (there's even a rockin' soundtrack to it).

If you are not already subscribed to this podcast (and you should be) then you can check it out directly from The Dunesteef's website, or just subscribe to it in iTunes or whatever podcatcher you happen to prefer.

This is the first time anyone has actually given me money for a story, so this is kind of a big deal for me. Please check it out, blog about it, tell your friends, your enemies, and that strange little troll of a person who works in your office, but no one knows exactly what they do.

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Three

Welcome back, and lets move on to day three. Yesterday we went into the realms of holiday horror/comedy, today lets testosterone things up a bit with:

Die Hard (1988)

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) has crashed the Nakatomi Christmas party, and only one man can save Christmas, shoeless John McClane (Bruce Willis). Assisted via radio by Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), McClane delivers lots of small lead presents to the naughty boys while spouting one-liners, and just generally being a badass.

Even though the “Die Hard” series has gotten progressively worse with each passing sequel, the original is still one of the best action films of its era, and it proves that action stars can be in holiday films without them being crap **cough**JingleAllTheWay**cough**. So settle down with some cocoa and check out this bit of awesome.

Yippee-Kai-Yay, motherf***er!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Two

Well hello again, and welcome to day two of my top ten favourite holiday movies. Yesterday was both the oldest, and one of the most traditional of the films on my list, today we're getting a little bit darker with a movie that you might not immediately think of as a holiday film:

Gremlins (1984)

Sure getting a puppy for Christmas is a lot of responsibility, but what about a Mogwai? You remember the rules, right? Don't get them wet, don't expose them to sunlight, and never ever feed them after midnight. Of course Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) manages to pretty quickly screw up two out of the three, and before you know it, Kingston Falls finds its Christmas being ruined by vicious little green monsters. Can Billy save his girlfriend (Phoebe Cates) and his hometown from catastrophe?

Even though this movie was sort of promoted as a family-friendly film, it is actually quite violent and graphic in places (kitchen scene, anyone?). That did not stop it from not only being very successful in theaters, but in merchandise as well. I remember having my own plush Gizmo as a kid. I guess the reason this film got a pass from a lot of people was a combination of the cuteness of Gizmo, the fact it was a Christmas film, and the fact that there was a strong element of humour diluting the horror.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day One

You may, or may not, know that I am not a humongous fan of the various winter holidays. I think they tend to bring out the worst in people, even more so since the start of the “War on Christmas” crap. Given the previous, it will likely come as no surprise to you that I am also no fan of sickeningly sweet holiday films either, but that does not mean that I do not like any holiday movies.

Now I could just post a big long top ten list like everyone else or, in an attempt to make it look like I blog more than I do, I could split it into ten separate posts spread out over ten days. So without further fanfare, here is day one of Ten Days of Holiday Flicks.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Who cannot relate to this timeless tale of a child's holiday wish? We've all had that one thing we wanted more than anything for Christmas, so even though I did not grow up in the age of radio shows, never had the neighbor's dogs eat Christmas dinner, and never suffered the indignity of wearing a pink bunny suit, I still feel that young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) is a little bit of an every-man, er, every-kid.

Think of how many memorable scenes this movie has. There's The Old Man (None other than Darren “Kolchak the Night Stalker” McGavin) and his “major award”, the flagpole incident, the realization that Little Orphan Annie is in league with Ovaltine, the bully incident, and of course who can forget the roadside tire change? Oh fudge!

Now this movie did not do all that well in theaters, and it is largely due to home video and cable television that this movie has risen to the modern classic status that it has now. Of course watching this trailer can make the lack of theatergoers make a little more sense.

.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vending Machines

I love vending machines; have ever since I was a little kid. There's something magical about getting something out of one of these contraptions. You put in money, press a few buttons, and out pops something great.

I think my love of vending machines started with my mother's workplace. Every so often her job would make its employees to do mandatory overtime, which would sometimes require her to go in on Saturdays. Seeing as I was too young to be left home alone, I would frequently go with her and camp out in the break room while she worked (it was a secured building, so the stranger danger was at a minimum). So there I would sit, watching “The Smurfs” on one of the break room televisions, and playing with whatever toys I brought along with me. Naturally I would get hungry during this, so my mother would usually leave me with a supply of coins to use in the vending machines.

I loved getting things out of the vending machines. The one full or chips and crackers where you would press a couple of buttons, and the shiny metal screw would turn and drop a crunchy treasure down for me to grab. The refrigerated machine with the carousel inside of it full of sandwiches and chocolate milks just waiting behind the little doors. Not only was pulling open one of the little doors to get the food out neat, but just making the machine turn so that you could see all of its contents was fun.

I suppose part of my love of vending machines also stems from my dislike of dealing with people. I love using ATMs instead of having to go and talk to a teller. I would much rather use the self checkout than be checked out by a cashier. I generally prefer deal with a machine instead of a real person as long as the machine works the way it is supposed to. I know, most people dislike this kindof thing, but not me, the less I have to make inane small talk with a cashier who would really just prefer I go away anyway, the better.

Given the aboce, it will likely not surprise you that I have not lost my love of vending machines as I have grown older, if anything it has grown, and I love finding new types of machines. It doesn't matter if the machine produces something new or unusual, or if it just serves its product up in a new way. I remember seeing an ice cream vending machine like this one at a Chuck E. Cheese:



Of course the thing didn't actually work, and everyone I saw use it had to get a CEC employee to come and open the unit up and get them their frosty treats, but I was still impressed with the idea.

Then there was when these drink machines started showing up:



I mean how cool is that? Rather than just bombing your soda down and getting it all fizzed up inside, it gently lowers the soda and almost hands it to you. Sure it's just a soda machine, but the delivery method is fun, and it means you can have glass bottles (Snapples, Frappucinos, etc) in them safely now.

Of course there is only so impressed you can be with your average chip and soda machines no matter how advanced they may be, which is why some people have stepped it up a notch. We're all used to seeing Redbox machines now (although how many of us ever saw the old, and much larger, VHS vending machines/buildings?), but what about other non-food items?

I'll admit that I was quite impressed when I first saw one of these in my local Macy's:

Not that I have purchased anything out of it, mind you, but it is still pretty awesome.

I also hope this catches on:


While not really a vending machine in the traditional sense, the Espresso could certainly be refined into having a vending machine-like interface, and it would be nice for anachronistic people like myself who still like to get our book on paper. Also, it would be nice for new authors in general; imagine being able to go into Borders and print out your own personal copy of “Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”.

As neat as things like that are, it was food machines that made me first love the vending machine, so how are people bringing food vending to the next level? How about a popcorn vending machine?



Or if you prefer cute over pure functionality, there's this lovely little number (from Japan of course, since they seem to truly appreciate the vending machine over there in a way we still do not):



Want something a little more substantial? Maybe some french fries:


Or pizza:



It's just too bad there aren't any of these around here. I know I would hit up the fries and popcorn machines often. On second though, maybe it is good that there aren't any around here. I don't need any more calories.

Ultimately what I would like to see is something like the old Automats:


but done with the current generation of vending machines. Can you imagine it? Going into a restaurant and not having to deal with a living being, but just put your money into the machine, tell it what you want, and in a couple of minutes your food pops out all hot and ready to do. It would be lovely, and someday it will happen. I look forward to that day.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Halloween Playlist

On a recent episode of The Weekly Geek a listener asked about suggestions for a Halloween playlist. While I assume the questioner was asking about one for a party I decided to do a rundown of my own Halloween playlist. Keep in mind that this list was not made with a party in mind, but instead with the idea of it being played in the background on Halloween night while dealing with the trick or treaters in my front yard grave yard, and therefore cannot have cursing in it. If you have any suggested songs for me to add to this list, please let me know.

So without further ado, here is Void Munashii's Halloween playlist presented in more or less alphabetical order:

Theme from “The Addams Family”
“Ain't No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant
Theme from “Angel”
Theme from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”
Theme from “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”
Opening theme from the “Army of Darkness” soundtrack
“Army of Darkness” techno remix
Theme from “Blade Runner”
Theme from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
“The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati” by Rose & the Arrangement
“Cool” from the “Hellsing” soundtrack
“Core” from the “Paranoia Agent” soundtrack
“Creepy Doll” by Jonathan Coulton
“The Crypt Jam” from “Tales From the Crypt”
“Danse Macabre”
“Dead Man's Party” by Oingo Boingo
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by “Charlie Daniels Band”
“Destati” from the “Kingdom Hearts” soundtrack
“Don't Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult
Theme from “Doctor Who” circa 1974
Theme from “The Exorcist”
“Eyeball” from the “Cowboy Bebop” soundtrack
“Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr.
“Ghost Riders in the Sky” by The Outlaws
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” by The Barenaked Ladies
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” by The Friendly Indians
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” from “The Haunted Mansion” movie soundtrack
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” techno remix
Theme from “Halloween”
Various pieces of music and dialog from “The Haunted Mansion” ride at Disneyland
“Haunt You Everyday” by Weezer
“Heffalumps and Woozles” from the “Winnie the Pooh” soundtrack
“I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin' Jay Hawkins
“In the Hall of the Mountain King”
“In the Sky (Ghost Riders” by Johnny Cash
“Lil Red Riding Hood” by Bowling for Soup
“Lil Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs
“Love Potion Number 9” by The Searchers
“Man With The Hex” by The Atomic Fireballs
“March of the Dead” from the “Army of Darkness” soundtrack
“Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” from “The Little Shop of Horrors” soundtrack
“The Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Kickers
“Monster Mash” by Jessie Howard
Theme from “A Nightmare on Elm Street”
“Nightmare on My Street” by Wil Smith
“O Fortuna”
“Object Definition” from the “Paranoia Agent” soundtrack
Theme from “The Omen”
“Pet Sematary” by The Ramones
Theme from “Phantom of the Opera”
“Phantom of the Opera” techno version
Theme from “Psycho”
Theme to “Puppetmaster”
“Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley
“RE: Your Brains” by Jonathan Coulton
“Requiem - Dies Irae”
“Requiem – Tuba Mirium”
“Shoot the Zombie” by Songs To Wear Pants To
“A Silhouette of Doom” by Ennio Morricone
“Somebody's Watching Me” by Morris Day
“Sorcerer's Apprentice”
“Spooks of Halloweentown” from the “Kingdom Hearts” soundtrack
“Symphonie Fantastique – Dream of the Witches' Sabbath”
“This is Halloween” from the “Kingdom Hearts” soundtrack
“This is Halloween” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
“This is Halloween” by Panic at the Disco
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson
“Thunderbird Suite”
“The Timewarp” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (save your Tim Bisley-esque rants, please)
“Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor”
“Tombstone” by Suzannne Vega
“The Twilight of the Gods – The Immolation of the Gods”
Theme from “The Twilight Zone”
“Yo Pumpkin Head” from the “Cowboy Bebop” soundtrack
Theme from “The X-Files”
“Zombie Me” by No More Kings

Note: You will notice that “Rock Lobster” and “Clap for the Wolfman” appear nowhere on this list despite it appearing on pretty much every “Halloween” CD around; this is because there is nothing even remotely Halloween about them. Please keep that in mind when making suggestions. Thanks

VM

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Life As We Know It

In 2007 organized, stable, snarky Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl: “Grey's Anatomy”) and laid-back, skirt-chasing, but equally snarky Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel: “When in Rome”) are set up on a blind date by their mutual friends, Peter and Allison. Things do not go well. Three years later when the unthinkable happens to Peter and Allison the pair find themselves left as guardian's of the friends' child. Can they put aside their dislike of each other as well as their plans for their own lives to raise a kid together?

“Life As We Know It” is the new Drama-Rom-Com hitting theaters this Friday from director Greg Berlanti. This looks to only be his second time in the director's chair, he doesn't do a spectacular job of bringing this story to the screen, but then it's not really a spectacular story, so it works out okay. After slapping you upside the head with the tragedy stick about thirty minutes in, the movie becomes a pretty standard rom-com with a large portion of unprepared-parent-comedy thrown in

The whole film is fairly straight forward and predictable. Poop jokes? Check! Fussy baby jokes? Check! Male and female leads clearly being jealous when the other is with someone else even though they claim to still hate each other? Check, check, and double-check! I'm not saying the movie is not funny or entertaining, I'm merely saying that you are not going to have your socks knocked off.

Heigl and Duhamel do a fine job playing their fairly standard issue rom-com characters, but they never really go the extra mile for laughs. For me the characters who stand out the best are the baby, Sophie (played by Alexis, Brynn, and Brooke Clagett) whose expressive face steals more than a few scenes from her adult co-stars, and Sarah Burns (“I Love You, Man”, “Going the Distance”) as CPS investigator Janine Groff. Both characters are underused though, and this seems somewhat worse with Sophie since the movie sort of revolves around her, but she is used more as a prop and plot device than a full fledged character a lot of the time. I would also liked to have seen a lot more of Burns' character in the film as she was a bit more entertaining than the main couple, a fact that I think even the writers realized as she plays a prominent role during the movie's climax despite there being no real stated motivation for her to do so.

This is clearly a film intended for women (I know, a rom-com with a baby in it not being geared towards men, who'da thunk it?), and with that in mind you can expect to see a lot of a sweaty Josh Duhamel without his shirt on. Sorry guys, there is no eye candy for you here; the closest Katherine Hiegl gets to fan service is on brief scene in a bath towel that could easily have been a cheesecake-y, but isn't.

Ultimately, “Life As We Know It” is a funny, sweet film that is not easy to genuinely dislike, but is not easy to recommend either. The movie is a little too paint-by-numbers, and, at times, feels like an idea for a WB sitcom that got salvaged from some recycle bin and re-purposed. If you've seen more than a couple of romantic comedies in your life then you know how this is going to end before the lights even go down. It's not bad, but it's not worth theater-money either. I suggest waiting for it to come out on DVD, and go see something else on the big screen this weekend.



Like Zombies? Check out "Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse", a free blognovel about the geek and the dead.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Easy A

I grew up watching those John Hughes teenage comedies; “Ferris Bueller's Day Off”, “The Breakfast Club”, etc. I remember, as a kid, thinking how cool it would be when I was that age and in high school... yeah, not so much. Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone: “Zombieland”, “Superbad”) has a similar issue (save that where I saw those movies in the theater, she would have seen them on DVD); she badly wants to live in a 1980's John Hughes movie, but instead she finds herself in “Easy A”

“Easy A” is the story of a teenage girl, Olive, who, while not the “homely” girl who just needs to remove her glasses and comb her hair, is not one of the popular girls. She's just another teenager in a school full of teenagers until one little lie spins out of control. In order to avoid going camping with her best friend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka: “Bandslam”), she makes up a story about having a date with a college guy.

When the weekend is over, and Rhiannon grills her for details, Olive ends up saying that she slept with him. This lie is overheard by super-Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes: “What I Like About You”), and quickly spread across the school, growing in ridiculousness as it goes. Unlike most high schools, apparently no one at this school is sexually active because everyone seems either shocked or impressed by the news. Suddenly Olive, while not exactly popular, is the center of attention.

Things get worse when Olive admits to another student, Branden (Dan Byrd: “Cougar Town”), that she made it all up. Branden is the regular recipient of beatings from the school's homophobic jocks because he is gay, and when Olive suggests to him that he pretend he is straight until he's out of high school he asks her to help by pretending to sleep with him.

“Easy A” is a surprisingly smart and funny movie. Even though it appears to be set in the town of Ojai, California everyone seems to live on the planet Snark, from Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church: “Spider-Man 3”), the English teacher, making jokes about teachers rapping in bad movies to Olive's repeated references to the Demi Moore version of “The Scarlet Letter” witty dialog flies fast and furious. The style of humour in this movie reminded me a lot of the borderline absurdity found in “Arrested Development”, and that's not a bad thing.

One of the major purposes of this film seems to be turning those old John Hughes films on their ear. Far from the oblivious/absent/panicky parents found in those films, Olive's parents are present and accounted for, they just don't interfere. The school principal (Malcolm McDowell: “Heroes”), while still stern, makes jokes about school fundraisers with musical numbers, and the guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow: “Friends”)... well, that would be spoiling things a bit.

Fast paced and funny, the film is not perfect. Amanda Bynes comes off like someone trying to do an impression of Mandy Moore's character from “Saved!”, and it really just never works for me. In a film full of over-the-top characters, she just seems like she's trying to hard. While she does succeed in creating a really unlikable character, it just doesn't seem as natural as everyone else in the film.

The other small issue, and this really is just nitpicking, is Olive's brother, Chip (Bruce Clyde Jenkins). The poor kid only has three lines the entire movie, and seems more like a piece of the set than an actual character. Judging by the look on his face in some scenes, even he's not sure why he's in the movie.

The only big potential issue, and this is not one for me, is the religious aspects of the movie. It is almost impossible to like Marianne and her cadre of Christian fundamentalists. While the hypocrisy of her group is not as blatant as in a movie like “Saved!”, they still manage to be mean, hateful, judgmental, and just out and out liars. They are never really portrayed as the bad guys, but if this film has antagonists, they are it. It's all quite funny really, but if you are one of those Christians who thinks you are part of an oppressed minority then you may not see the humour.

Big applause has to go to Emma Stone. She plays her character as smart, witty, sexy, and just a little bit bitchy; switching from being a cheerful snarker to someone who just starts spitting out facts when she's flustered (think two parts Michael Bluth and one part Temperance Brennan). Plus it's just nice to see that she can carry a movie as the lead instead of just a supporting actress or part of an ensemble.

While I don't think this movie is going to be the next “Superbad”, it is better than a lot of the mediocre stuff out there (I'm look at you, "Going the Distance"). “Easy A” gets a solid B+ from me; it is a funny movie that won't insult your intelligence, and I definitely recommend heading out to the theaters to see it.

“Easy A” in in theaters now, and is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drugs, and strong language.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Social Network

I love social networks; without them there are a number of people who I almost certainly would have lost track of over the years. Heck, you probably found the link to this review through Twitter... or Buzz, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Myspace, or the current big daddy, Facebook, so I guess that maybe you like them too.

“The Social Network” is the new film by director David Fincher (“Fight Club”), based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, about the birth of Facebook, and the controversy about who really created it.. As if having Fincher directing was not enough, the screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”, “Sports Night”); with names like that in charge I went into this film with some pretty high expectations.

The story is told through a series of legal depositions where Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg - “Zombieland”, “Adventureland”) is being sued by his former best friend, and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as well as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), whose idea for a Harvard-only social network seemingly inspired what would become Facebook. As the parties in the two depositions are questioned the movie gives us flashbacks to the incidents they are describing.

Lets speak plainly here, this movie does not portray Mark Zuckerberg as a nice guy; a genius certainly, but also a complete horse's arse. From the opening scene where he gets dumped by his girlfriend for implying that he is doing her future a favour by dating her, Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as someone who is either truly incapable of interfacing with live people, or as someone who suffers from a mental handicap. He's rude, a jerk, insecure, and completely incapable of going more than thirty seconds without insulting someone, but he's also easily manipulated in the right hands.

The right hands belong to Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster. Parker is everything Zuckerberg wants to be; he's smart, popular with women, people respect him, and he can do pretty much whatever he wants. Parker can see the potential in what Zuckerberg and Saverin are doing, but he thinks he knows how to make it go even bigger. Saverin is completely against Parker's ideas, and this puts Zuckerberg in a position of choosing between someone he respects and the only person he could truly call a friend.

Sorkin's writing shines through beautifully in the movie's dialog. He manages to write a conflict where there are no heroes and no villains, there are simply a bunch of people who all think that they are in the right. From Zuckerberg's thinly veiled insults to Parker's overly confident manner, the movie manages to keep the audience laughing while still telling an interesting story without ever really giving you someone you should be rooting for.

Of course the best writing in the world would be worthless in the hands of bad actors; luckily the young stars are able to pull it off. Playing against his normal awkward nice-guy characters, Eisenberg creates a perfect genius jerk; playing things cold and clinical for the most part with just enough human in there to still keep Zuckerberg from being completely unsympathetic. Garfield brings a nice balance to Saverin, making him seem both smart and professional, but still susceptible to emotions that seem foreign to his friend. As far as Timberlake goes, this is the perfect role for him: a complete douche-bag.

The only things really going against this movie are its length and ,strangely enough, its music. The movie is pretty long, coming in at about two hours, but it would be hard to cut anything; the parts that get dull are important to the plot, and the parts that are not important to the plot (Eduardo's girlfriend and the scarf, for example) are genuinely funny.

The musical choices for the movie are not bad, per say, but they are a little odd. The film's original score is by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, yes, that would be the Ross and Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame, and it shows. A lot of the film's music is tense and brooding; stuff that would be a lot more at home in a horror film than a serious drama with comedic highlights. It's not that the music is bad, it's just that I kept waiting for the zombies to show up.

“The Social Network” is one of those rare movies that plays computer use straight; characters speak a language that many people will find foreign. Is your average movie goer going to understand what an “Apache server” is? How about what “PHP” is? No, probably not. I consider myself fairly computer literate, and a lot of that was Greek to me (but then I could never wrap my head around programming). I like that they took this route in dealing with computers though; programming is done in a plain black window and they don't try to make it look cool or exciting. If you want to see flashy montage sequences where programming/hacking is done using cute computer graphics and people hitting keyboards very quickly then go rent “Hackers” because this is not that movie.

It will be interesting to see how this movie is ultimately received both critically and in the box office. It is a good movie, probably even award-worthy, but it's a little Inside Baseball . I would compare it to movies like “The Late Shift” or “Pirates of Silicon Valley” in the sense that the subject matter may not be that interesting to most people, but that the movie itself still manages to be quite compelling.

Even if you are not that interested in computers or Facebook, “The Social Network” is still an interesting movie. With a strong script, good directing, and a solid cast, this is a great movie to go see. It's fun and entertaining while still maintaining a strong sense of drama. Don't forget to whip your phone when the movie is over and Facebook about seeing it; at least that's what people did at the screening I was at.

“The Social Network” opens nationwide on October 1st, and contains adult language, sexual situations, and drug and alcohol use.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

J.C. Hutchins' New Look

If you have never checked out J.C. Hutchins site, you now have an excuse; he has just given it a whole new look. If you are unaware, Hutchins is the creator of the 7th Son series of podionovels, and has helped to create #StillHere, a fantastic tie-in to Discovery Channel’s “The Colony”, and was author of the fantastic, but underrated, “Personal Effects: Dark Art”.

You have been depriving yourself if you have never listened to or read any of his work, so go do something about that now by going to JCHutchins.net right now.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: The Walking Dead

Ok, yeah, it's another trailer, but not for a movie this time. This is the trailer for the upcoming AMC series based on Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead".

While I was still working on the blog version of "Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse" this was pretty much the only zombie fiction I was still reading. You can tell from the trailer that they are changing things a little from the book, but it still looks really great. Just one more reason to look forward to Halloween.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Going the Distance

“Going the Distance” is the new romantic comedy about a Mac and a PC who-; no wait, no it's not (but wouldn't it be cool if it was? I'd go see that). It's actually about two thirty-somethings who have to cope with the strains and stresses of a cross-country relationship.

Garret (Justin Long: probably best known from the “I'm a Mac” ad campaign) meets Erin (Drew Barrymore: “Music and Lyrics”) one night while out at the bar. He's just been dumped by his latest girlfriend essentially for being a douchebag, she's blowing off steam because her internship at The New York Sentinel newspaper is not going well (and yes, there is a brief explanation as to why someone in her thirties is still an intern). After some initial rockiness, the pair hit it off.

A one night stand becomes a friendship. A friendship becomes something more, but before that can really become a relationship Erin's internship ends, and she must return to San Francisco to finish her schooling. In spite of their better judgment, the pair decide to give a long distance relationship a go.

The plot is the standard boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back only to lose her again, and then must do something big to win her back one final time variety of plot. You're not going to find anything especially new or fresh here, but that doesn't mean you won't be amused. Strangely though, not many of the laughs come from Long or Barrymore (although for some reason Drew Barrymore cursing and suggesting a large biker perform an anatomically impossible act on her is enough to make me laugh), but from the supporting cast.

The friends and family of Garret and Erin are easily the best parts of this movie. In New York, Garret has his roommate, Dan (Charlie Day: “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), who likes to listen to his roommate's romantic sessions through the wall, and his co-worker, Box (Jason Sudeikis: “30 Rock”) who is growing an 80's mustache to attract older women. Erin in San Francisco has her friend, Harper (Sarah Burns: “I Love You, Man”) her germaphobic sister, Corinne (Christina Applegate: “Married... With Children”), and her sister's husband, Phil (Jim Gaffigan: “17 Again”). Ultimately it is Day, Sudeikis, and Applegate who garner the majority of the films laughs, if not the biggest laugh (all I'm going to say about that is “dining room table”) of the whole film.

Justin Long seems like an odd choice for this role. While it is clear that the filmmakers tried to tailor the lead roles for the actors, the story feels like it should have leads who are about five to eight years younger than they are stated to be, there's only so much you can do for someone like Long. He's just not that good of an actor, and it shows in this. His character comes of as a bit of a douche at best, and a downright jerk at worst. I'll be honest here and say that I am not a big fan of Long, so my opinion is slanted by that, but I think that he is one of those actors (like Michael Cera) who can ruin a movie for you if you don't like him.

For most of the film, “Going the Distance” moves at a steady pace, making sure to throw decent amounts of mostly lowbrow humour at you when things start to get a little too heavy, but there are times when it tries to be serious. This movie fails the hardest during these times as Justin Long cannot pull it off convincingly, and towards the end the film starts to feel a little draggy; like it could have had a completely different type of ending about fifteen minutes before the actual conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie, but then I went into it with really low expectations, so unless you are looking for a decent date movie (but maybe not a first date; there is a lot of swearing, sexual references, and Long's bare arse) there is really no reason to recommend seeing this in theaters. The story is pure meh, Justin Long is not a leading man, and the laughs that are there, while plentiful, just do not outweigh the film's flaws. Rent it, or check it out on cable in a few months when it is just another bawdy romantic comedy shuffled in with all of the rest. If you are really that desperate for a new RomCom to see though, then you can see “Going the Distance” when it lands in theaters on September 3rd.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World Graphic Novel Trailer

I am still in the throes of Scott Pilgrim mania, and one of the best things about the movie is that a lot of it is taken directly from the series of books. This trailer demonstrates that by recreating the entire trailer with images from the graphic novels (although to be fair some of the scenes used in this trailer appear differently in the film)


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Relationships can be difficult; you have to learn to give and take, to compromise on things, to not expect to always get your way. You have to learn to deal not only with your own romantic history, but that of your partner as well. Of course when your partner's romantic history has challenged you to a battle to the death, things may be getting out of hand.

“Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” is based on the “Scott Pilgrim” series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, and follows the misadventures of Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera: “Arrested Development”, “Superbad”) as he tries to win the heart of the literal girl-of-his-dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead: “Live Free or Die Hard”).

Scott has obstacles to overcome before claiming the heart of Ramona though: he has to break up with his high school aged girlfriend, Knives (Ellen Wong), survive the sarcasm and dubious of his snarky best friend Wallace (Keiran Culkin), drop his natural tendency to be an oblivious jackass, and defeat all seven of Ramona's evil exes who start to make themselves known as soon as Scott hatches his plan to ask Ramona out.

As important as the actors are, it is the direction of Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”) that plays a big role in bringing the comic book to life complete with costumes and sound effects that look like they jumped off the page of the books. Almost everything in the film from each character's hairstyle to the locations they are at feel like live action versions of their two dimensional black and white counterparts.

The film starts off very faithful to the book, following the first volume very closely, but as the movie progresses it does stray farther and farther from the books, eliminating characters like Mr. Chau and Lisa as well as entire subplots like Sex Bob-Omb's recording an album and Scott's wilderness sabbatical. Of course when you have to condense 6 volumes (one of which wasn't even finished at the time of filming) into a single feature length film you have to expect some cuts. The problem is that some of these cuts have big effects on the overall plot; removing development for some of the secondary characters and causing some fight sequences to be combined or eliminated altogether..

The characters suffer the worst in translation though, with only Wallace and Scott really coming across the same as they did in the books, while Knives, Kim (Alison Pill: “The Pillars of the Earth”), Stephen (Mark Webber), and Young Neil (Johnny Simmons) get little to no development, and as a result don't feel as genuine as they did in the books. The character that suffers the worst from the move from paper to film is Ramona.

In the books Ramona Flowers has a lot more to do; she has scenes of her own, her own fight sequences, and seems like a much stronger and more independent woman. In the movie Ramona comes across more as the damsel-in-distress from the video games that the movie is joking about than the strong fighter she is in the book. Yes, she does have a couple of fight scenes (that are both different than any of the ones in the books), but she is easily the biggest victim of feature length time constraints.

Aside from the pretty standard the-book-was-better kind of complaints though, I really did enjoy this film. Cera did a much better job than I thought he would, and just seeing him in the film's many well choreographed fight sequences is worth it. Sure the movie would have been better served by being split into two parts a la “Kill Bill” or “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, but being targeted as a rather niche audience of gamers and geeks that probably could not have happened.

Ultimately I do recommend this film as long as you are the sort of geek that smiles when you hear “Legend of Zelda” sound effects, recognizes the bass line from Final Fantasy II, and sees nothing illogical about a person turning into a pile of coins when you kill them. While the movie fails to perfectly duplicate the books on the big screen the general flavour of the original story does come through beautifully. Have yourself an epic geekgasm with “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”, in theaters now.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: Our Sick, Mad World

It's been some time since I've posted something that amuses me, but I've been in a Satoshi Kon sort of mood since watching "Paprika" last weekend. One of my first exposures to Satoshi Kon was the series "Paranoia Agent", so here I bring to you a "Paranoia Agent" anime music video set to "Mad World" (Tears for Fears version)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Expendables

Are you tired of romantic comedies, and computer animated kids' films? Have you have it with sparkly vampires and talking dogs and cats? Do you want a manly film full of manly men blowing up manly things? Then you may just want to check out “The Expendables”.

The Expendables are a team of highly trained mercenaries who seem to have one real mission in life; blow things up. Led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone: “Rambo”, “Rocky”), the team is offered a job by the cagey Mister Church (Bruce Willis: “Die Hard”, “Cop Out”) to go to the small island nation of Velina and assassinate their corrupt dictator, General Garza (David Zayas: “Dexter”, “Oz”) and whoever is helping to keep him in power. Of course nothing can be all that simple, right?

Following Ross into battle are Lee Christmas (Jason Statham: “The Transporter”, “Crank”), Ying Yang (Jet Li: “War”, “Hero”), Toll Road (UFC fighter, Randy Couture), and Hale Caeser (NFL player, Terry Crews). Rounding out the cast are Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, all in supporting roles. For a simple old-school guns, knives, and explosions action film this is a huge cast.

Of course with such a large cast and the limitations of how long an action movie can be you are faced with the issue of finding enough stuff for everyone to do. This is where the movie falls short. Statham and Stallone do the majority of the heavy lifting for the heroes, which would be fine if they were the only two stars in the film. Unfortunately Li ends up being sadly underused, and Crews and Couture only have a handful of lines before the climactic battle begins. As it turns out it is possible to have too much awesome in one film.

Finding enough screen time for everyone is not the movie's biggest failing though. For me the worst part of this film was the camera work. During the fights scenes especially, we are hit with lots of quick cuts and shaky camera, and there are moments where I had trouble who was fighting who (is that Statham or Couture fighting with Austin? I had to ask my wife to be sure). Do not sit in the front row of the theater for this movie if you are susceptible to motion sickness.

Some may criticize the film for having a weak plot, and yes, I suppose it does. To me the plot feels like something you might find in a video game; merely an excuse to create a lot of awesome action sequences, but then again when is the last time you watched a true action movie for the plot? “The Transporter”? “Shoot 'Em Up”? “Crank”? “Die Hard”? No, this movie is not going to win any awards for its story, but really, who cares? If you are watching this film you are watching to see well choreographed fights punctuated by snarky one liners and things blowing up,

Lots of explosions, cursing, and a body count to rival the “Star Wars” trilogy, “The Expendables” is a violent, loud celebration of testosterone and explosions. It's an action film for people who like action films. I had really high expectations for this film (bordering on Phantom Menace Syndrome if I am being honest), and this film did fall short, but it was still a fun film with plenty of gags to laugh at and injuries to wince at.

If you like violent, manly films, then this movie is worth seeing in the theater for the fun of laughing, groaning, and cheering along with the rest of the audience (yes, people were actually cheering during parts of the film) when “The Expendables” opens on August thirteenth.. If violence is not your bag, and you want sensitivity and a message in your movie, well there's always “Eat Pray Love”.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flipped

Based on the YA novel of the same name, “Flipped” is the latest movie by director Rob Reiner (“Stand By Me”, “Misery”, “The Bucket List”). To briefly sum up this film, it is a nostalgia inducing romantic comedy about a pair of pre-teens. The even more briefly sum up this film, it is award bait.

When Juli Baker (played first by Morgan Lily, then by Madeline Carroll) first sees Bryce Loski (Ryan Ketzner, then Callan McAuliffe) and his family moving in across the street from her, she knows that he is destined to be her first kiss. Bryce views this same event quite differently, knowing that his new neighbor is destined to be a pain in his ass.

The story is told in a He Said, She Said format. After showing a series of events from one character's point of view things will then flip to show the same series of events from the other side, and the two versions of events may not necessarily exactly match (Bryce and Juli's first meeting is the best example of this) since we are dealing with potentially unreliable narrators.

Rounding out the core cast are Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller, and Aidan Quinn giving the film a strong, if not stellar class, stable of actors. At first they all seem like fairly shallow stereotypes of 1960's America, but as the story progresses the actors do a great job of showing their character's flaws, strengths, joys, and regrets. There is no resolution to any of these potential subplots, which is not something you see in many movies even if the book was that way, but it works here. It gives the movie almost an Adrian Mole kind of feel for me; that some things that happen are just things that happen. Not every small thing has to be foreshadowing to something greater down the road, and that gives the movie more of a real life feel. Life rarely wraps everything up neat and tidy in less than an hour and a half.

This kind of story telling would make a lesser movie feel too long, but “Flipped” feels a bit short if anything, coming in at under ninety minutes, even with all of the extra details that have no impact on the plot. I did walk out at the end of the movie wanting more, but that has more to do with the film's ending rather than its run time.

One of the most refreshing things about this movie is what makes it different from other, what I will call, Nostalgiacore films: there is no obvious political element to this movie. There's nothing in this about wars or civil rights. In fact the only even remotely political thing involves cutting down a tree. Sure there are a few things in it that would not be appropriate today (some sexism, for example), but they're not in the film to make us feel like we've come a long way; they're just there because they should be.

A reoccurring theme in “Flipped” is that people are more, or less, than the sum of their parts. The more I think about that, the more I realize that it applies to the film itself There's nothing spectacular here, the script is good, the acting is competent, the soundtrack is what you would expect from a film set in the sixties; it's all good, but none of it is really above average. However the film itself manages to somehow be better than just average; everything fits together just right to create an end product that is worthy of the award nominations it is looking for.

Aside from a couple of curse words (appropriate in context) “Flipped” is a good movie for the whole family to enjoy together. It's cheerful, sweet, and touching without being too syrupy. There are no explosions, no shootouts, no glittering vampires, or breathtaking CGI. There's just a solid film with a lot of heart. Not necessarily a must-see-in-theaters kind of movie, but certainly one you should see. “Flipped” hits theaters on August sixth.

Friday, July 16, 2010

#StillHere

Yeah, I've not posted anything in awhile; I've been hard at work on a few short stories for the Escape Artists Flash Contest II (one of them made it to the second round, which was nice), one for the Dunesteef Broken Mirror Story Event (wish me luck), and short stories and a new novel based on some of the flash pieces I wrote.

Oh, and I've been playing video games, so maybe not working too hard.

You know who else has been hard at work? J.C. Hutchins, that's who. The super creative behind "7th Son" and "Personal Effects" has been working on some goodies that tie in with the new series of The Discovery Channel's "The Colony". I did not get to see more than a few episodes of the first series, but I liked what I did see. This time around the world has been decimated by the flu, and it will be interesting to see what different things the survivors will have to deal with.

The part that Hutchins had a hand in is the online component. My first reaction is to call it an ARG, but that feels wrong. Rather than do a bad job of describing it to you, just check out the video below. I'm #StillHere, are you?

Join The Colony from Campfire on Vimeo.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: The Wilhelm Scream

There are a few stock sound effects out there that you here all the time in movies, television shows, and video games. Probably the most famous stock sound effect is The Wilhelm Scream, named for the character Wilhelm in the film "The Charge at Feather River" (actually the second film it was used in). This sound effect has been used in the "Star Wars", "Indiana Jones", and "Lord of the Rings" movies, and now that you know what it sounds like you will hear it all the time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Splice

Look, up on the screen! Is it an allegory about having children when you are not ready for them? Is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of engineering? Is that the guy from “The Darjeeling Limited”? It's all those things and more! It's “Splice”.

“Splice” is about nerdy hipster biochemist Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley: “Dawn of the Dead”), and her nerdy hipster boyfriend and partner Clive (Adrien Brody: “The Darjeeling Limited”), a couple of up-and-comers in the science community who, having already spliced together genes from different animals to create a couple of living phallic blobs called Fred and Ginger, want to take their science to the next level.

Clive and Elsa know that the next step is to introduce human DNA into their experiments, but they are told that their gene splicing operation is being reworked to focus on making their existing discoveries marketable. The young, cocky scientists are angry about having theyr lab pulled out from under them so in a night of hard work, and a montage sequence worthy of “CSI”, they go ahead and splice that human DNA just to prove they can.

From there one thing leads to another, and with a cry of “What's the worst that could happen?” the spliced genes are put into an ovum, and begin the grow. Before long the synthetic womb bursts and out pops a new little phallic creature which ages quickly, becoming more and more human looking. Elsa names it Dren (get it, it's “nerd” backwards.)

Now at this point you would expect the creature to go on a murderous rampage that Clive and Elsa try to cover up to protect their experiment, right? Nope. Instead you get an hour of them trying to raise this little girl (who just happens to have a poisonous stinger at the end of her tail), and go through the stages of parenting in fast forward; trying to get a fussy toddler to eat, teaching it to associate pictures with objects and names with people, dealing with teenage temper tantrums. Sounds riveting, right?

If you are looking for a good horror film, then go see “A Nightmare on Elm Street” again, because most of this film is solid Sci-Fi. The movie only really becomes a horror movie in the last fifteen or twenty minutes when it seems like the screenwriter realized that the movie had been going on for quite some time, and it might be a good idea to throw in a climax at some point.

At 104 minutes, this movie feels too long. There are a number of scenes that could have been shortened or removed entirely with little loss to the film. I am thinking in particular of the first half of the dance scene, and I would like to forget the sex scene entirely (although it does lead up to the most unintentionally funny scene of the film). I found myself checking my watch a lot in the last half hour of the film since I had a rough idea of how long the movie was, and it did not seem like it was building up to anything.

One thing I do like about the film is that while it clearly has an agenda it does not blatantly beat you about the head with it. It is very clear that the scientists are bad, immoral, reckless, unsympathetic people who deserve to have bad things happen to them, but at no point does anyone actually come out and say these things. No one mentions that what they are doing is an affront to God, and there is only a couple of mentions about the moral boundaries that Clive and Elsa are crossing. I can definitely appreciate a movie that regards its audience as smart enough to notice its motives without having sa character come directly out and state it.

The other thing I like in the movie is the acting. Adrien Brody portrays Clive as a very book smart man who seems to lack any real self confidence, and largely does whatever Elsa wants even if he disagrees with her and knows it is wrong. He seems to exist solely for her; like he feels he's lucky to have her. Sure some of his most dramatic dialog got laughter from the audience, but that's more to do with the circumstances of the scene than with Brody's performance.

Elsa on the other hand is a very uneven character. As with Brody's being unintentionally funny, this is not Sarah Polley's fault. Elsa is meant to be a very unstable person, and there is justification for this in the movie, so while it is jarring to see her suddenly go from caring mother to Nazi-esque scientist it does make sense in the context of the film.

I ended up being a bit disappointed with “Splice”. The trailers make it looks like an intense and fast-paced sci-fi horror thriller, and it is at the end, but this movie may well have the most misleading trailers since “The Time Traveler's Wife”. It's not bad enough to be so bad it's good, like “The Box”, but it's not good enough to recommend seeing in theaters. The ingredients for great film are here, a solid cast, decent (if imperfect) effects, and a good idea, but it never lives up to its potential.

At its very best “Splice” is a tense “meh”, and at its worst it's downright squicky. It oozes its way into theaters June 4th, but really, wait for it to come out on DVD.

Read "Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse".

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

Early Morning Amusment: Ian McKellan is the Fresh Prince of Bel Air

This made me laugh when I first saw it, and I was happy to see that there is a series of these (Charles in Charge and Ducktales are good too). I want to see him do a version of "Never Gonna Give You Up" though.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: EZ-Cracker Re-Edit

This may be one of the most annoying things ever, so why does it make me laugh every time?

Pudding!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Happy Towel Day

"I eventually found it in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door reading 'Beware of the Leopard'!"


Happy Towel Day everyone!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: Who You Gonna Call?

The folks at Improv Everywhere bring the Ghostbusters back to the New York Public Library


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: As Seen onTV - A Tribute to Doing it Wrong

Okay, so it's not all that early, but I still find this amusing.

One of the things I love about commercials for as-seen-on-tv products is how they can make the simplest things, like boiling water or combing your hair, seem incredibly difficult and inconvenient. This is a video tribute to that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: "Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death"

Okay, so I cannot embed this one, but it is still worth checking out. DW:tCoFD was made for Red Nose Day in 1999 and features Rowan Atkinson, Johnathan Price, Hugh Grant, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, and the Daleks in a short Doctor Who adventure that is at the same time both faithful and absolutely absurb.


Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death"


Also, don't forget that tomorrow is the final chapter of "Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse" It's been a long two years of writing and posting, but the end is finally here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: 1985

Yeah, yeah, it's another Suberunker AMV, but I think this is the video that first introduced me to Azumanga Daioh, which is no bad thing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Babies

Are you tired of movies with plots? Are you sick to death of dialog? Do you feel that a story just gets in the way of a film? Well have I got the film for you.

“Babies”, from director Thomas Balmes, is precisely what it says on the tin; it is a movie about four babies. From just before birth through their first birthdays we follow the lives of Hattie from America, Bayar from Mongolia, Ponijao from Namibia, and Mari from Japan. Technically this would have to be classified as a documentary as it does literally that, it documents the vastly different (and sometimes maybe not-so-different) lives of these four children, and it does it without offering any opinions or explanations as to what is happening on screen.

So what can you expect to see in “Babies”? You can expect to see lots and lots of cuteness. You get to see babies with cats, dogs, goats, and cows. Babies peeing, pooing, hiccuping, eating, crying, sleeping, and doing pretty much anything else that's cute. There's also a large amount of baby nudity as Bayar is rarely wearing pants and Ponijao never is.

This is a movie that makes you do all the work as there is no narration at any point in the film, only captions at the beginning telling you the names of the babies and where they live. So on the screen when you see Ponijao getting his head shaved with a kitchen knife, or Hattie trying to escape from a parent and baby group singing about how the Earth takes care of us all it is without comment or judgment by the filmmaker. Everything is what it is, and anything you choose to read into it is purely on you.

The scenes seem to have been chosen at random based purely on cuteness for much of the film's short 80 minute run, only occasionally finding symmetry between the lives of the four child stars. There are times when the scenes sync up to show the babies interacting with cats (except Ponijao, who only seems to have dogs around), or seeing them each start to crawl, or talk, or take their first steps. Aside from these few sections the movie appears to basically just be running the clock out showing cute and/or interesting moments, and given the overall brevity of the piece it would seem that they were lacking for material.

I can think of no reason why anyone should want to pay money to see this movie. I'm not saying it should not have been made, and I'm not even saying it's not art, I'm just saying that if you are able to read this and you want to watch cute baby videos then head over to YouTube and search for some. Seeing the differences in the way children are raised between the different cultures is interesting, and with narration to explain why some of what was happening was happening would have made this a very interesting documentary. As presented it is just a cute fluffy experience that could be arrived at by looking at pictures of LOLbabies.

The best thing about this movie is that the lack of narration does make for some wonderful opportunities to add your own dialog for the babies, but unless you're in it for the cuteness overload then that's it. I would strongly suggest you save your money, but if you do want to see four cute babies doing cute baby things then “Babies” is in theaters now.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: "Doctor Who: Timecrash"

So what if I overslept... by rather a lot? I still need to be amused. Searching the depths of YouTube has found me "Doctor Who: Time Crash"
(this is in widescreen, so you'll probably want to bring it up to full screen)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Early Morning Amusement: The Wizard of Ozaka

It's way too early, so I need something fun to wake me up. Today lets go with one of my favourite AMVs; The Wizard of Ozaka.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

There are few horror movie monsters out there more recognizable than Freddy Kruger; he stands shoulder to shoulder with other classic monsters from Dracula to Jason Voorhees, and like pretty much all of those classic characters it is time for him to get a reboot. It's time to bring Freddy into the age of iPods and cell phones with the reboot of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.

First thing you need to know is that this is in fact a reboot, not a straight remake. While the movie does feature some of the original's more iconic scenes (the bathtub scene, Tina's death scene, the bodybag in the school hallway, the girls skipping rope, and of course the line “I'm your boyfriend now”) it does not feature the same characters aside from Freddy himself, and even his back story has undergone an overhaul.

Gone is Heather Langenkamp's cheery Nancy Thompson, she has been replaced by the darker Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara: “Youth in Revolt”). Nancy is an artist and a waitress at the Springwood Diner, where she witnesses one of her friends appear to kill himself after talking of a man trying to kill him in his dreams; a man she too has been dreaming about.

As more of her classmates die, Nancy and her would-be boyfriend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner: “Veronica Mars”), try to find out what connects them to the dead teens, uncover what their parents have been hiding from them, and try to stop Freddy before they become his next victims.

I have been a fan of the original Nightmare series since I was a kid, I even watched the TV version where Freddy generally only played a Cryptkeeper-esque role, so I was skeptical of anyone playing Freddy Kruger besides Robert Englund. Well let me say that I was worried for nothing, Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”) makes for a scarier Freddy than Englund ever did. Where Englund's Freddy was frequently, and intentionally, a little hard to take seriously, especially as the series went on, Haley's Freddy finds a nice mix between being hammy and being extremely creepy. Helping Haley in this is the fantastic makeup job. Haley can be a pretty creepy looking guy to begin with (there are scenes in this version of Freddy before his death), but the make-up makes him disturbing before he even opens his melted mangled mouth.

One of the things that really struck me while watching this movie was the sound,. See this in a theater with a good sound system, as this movie actually takes advantage of it. At various points in the film Freddy's voice seems to move through the theater, and ambient noises will sound like they are coming from above and behind you rather than sounding like they are coming from the screen itself. It's a little thing, but it really shows the effort that was put into making this the best movie they could.

Is this movie perfect? No, it has a number of little plotholes that are kind of annoying, like who posted Devon's final video on his vlog, but nothing too major. The only thing that really distracted me during the film was Quentin. Maybe it's just me, but Kyle Gallner, while doing a fine job of playing Quentin, is a bit on the homely side for a leading man. I was very surprised that he turned out to be one of the major characters in the film since he looks like a doughy poor man's Robert Pattinson, a resemblance my wife also commented on after the film's conclusion with no prompting from me. Am I being petty here? Yes, very.

The movie does rely a lot on jump-scares. Freddy frequently appears on screen as the camera turns accompanied by a loud noise in an attempt to make you jump out of your seat (and if you are the sort of person that works on, you will be doing a lot of jumping). A lazier filmmaker might be satisfied with this, but it is not the only card up Nightmare's sleeve; there is plenty of creepy atmosphere, effective use of music, and just the genuine scariness courtesy of Haley's performance to make even the most jaded Nightmare fan's heartbeat quicken.

All told, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” brings the basic story of Freddy Kruger into the 21st century much more faithfully than last years “Friday the 13th” reboot did for Jason. I enjoyed both movies, but if I were to recommend one of them it would most definitely be the new Nightmare. It's violent, bloody, decently written, and quite, quite scary. If you were a fan of the old series you owe it to yourself to give this version a chance.

Stock up on energy drinks, get a refill of your A.D.D. meds, steal some adrenaline from the nurse's cart, and grab your crucifix because Freddy's coming for you in theaters nationwide this weekend.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Unreality of Tragedy

Just a little heads up before you read any further. This is not a movie review, or some humourous anecdote, or even me complaining about some stupid insignificant thing. I am not trying to make you laugh here, or let you know whether or not a movie is worth you money; this is a reasonably serious post. You have been warned.

I have been given cause to ponder the unreality of tragedy lately. If you know me in the mundane world then you likely already know what this is about, and if you don't, well I'm not going to elaborate on it too much. I will say that this did not happen to me, but happened on the periphery of my reality; happened in a place that I cannot help but see.

What happened was an accident; a senseless, pointless, stupid, shit happens kind of accident, and someone died as a result. There are questions of exactly what happened, whether or not it could have been prevented, what punishments should be doled out, but that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the unreality of what happens next.

Of course on the night of the incident the home was the center of attention. There was police, CSI, and lots of media on the street all night along with bright yellow “Do Not Cross” tape and glowing orange flares blocking off the entire street. By morning though it was all gone, and if you didn't know better you would not know that anything had happened there. Outside that home everything was normal, but inside something happened; time stopped.

As far as I know no one has been back in the house so while time continues on for the rest of us, we go to work, shop, go to the movies, move on with our lives like nothing ever happened, the time bubble inside the house sits and waits. The inside of that house now exists outside of reality.

Assuming that you have never actually had to, can you imagine having to go back into a place where someone you love died like that? The last items they used still sitting out where they left them? Perhaps there is the beginnings of a meal that will never be made now still sitting on the counter in the kitchen, perhaps the unwashed plates of that person's last meal still sit in the sink waiting to be washed. The echo of the deceased remains until someone goes in there and it hits them.

Possibly even worse than the remains of their life and the last hours of it is the blood. There will be blood on the floor, now dry, where they suffered their injury and then were taken into the house while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Unless I am mistaken (and personal experience tells me that I'm probably not), no one will have cleaned that up, so not only will these people be coming back to the echo of their lost loved one, but to a horrible glaring reminder of how they died.

I can see it all in my mind's eye, and I wonder if this is the result of my being a creative and therefore something all creators experience. Is it something that everyone sees in their minds, or if it's just me. Am I the only one that can clearly see the inside of this home that I have never been inside of? That can see the crumbs on the plate from that last baloney sandwich? That can see the partially read book that will now never be finished? Is my imagination just that overactive?

Hundreds of fictional people have fallen before the force of my keyboard. Heroes, villains, and the innocent; I have slaughtered them all with the tapping of my fingers, but somehow that empty house, frozen in a nightmare as it is, seems strangely unreal to me now. It's like a bomb wrapped up like a birthday present; it looks harmless, inviting even, but once you open it time will start to flow again, and the horror of that frozen time will unleash itself upon you

I know this seems a bit of an odd post for me as I am usually full of sarcasm and complaints, but it's kind of been haunting my mind since it happened. I see those flowers and candles on the doorstep and cannot help but think about how that place is now haunted, not by a ghost necessarily, but by an echo of a tragedy just waiting to make someone hear it all over again. It doesn't matter how long they wait to go back, the house will sit there frozen in time, exempt from reality, until someone enters it, and experiences it all over again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"How to Train Your Dragon"

Based almost not at all on the book of the same name by Cressida Cowell, “How to Train Your Dragon” is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel: “She's Out of My League”), son of viking leader Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler: “300”). Hiccup's village is under constant assault by a variety of dragons who steal their food and destroy their homes, and as a result the vikings have made it their purpose in life to find and destroy the dragons.

The film opens with an epic battle as the vikings try to defend their village from an aerial dragon assault. Hiccup, who is the apprentice of Gobber (Craig Ferguson: “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson”), the village blacksmith, frantically tries to cross the village to help sharpen and distribute weapons, all the while being told to get inside by everyone who sees him due to how utterly useless he is.

When Gobber himself goes to join the battle he leaves Hiccup alone to mind the shop, giving the young wannabe dragonslayer a chance to try out his ballista-like bola launcher. With no one else around to see it happen, Hiccup manages to take down the most feared of dragons, a dragon never before seen by anyone who lived to tell about it, the Night Fury.

In order to prove himself in the eyes of his father, his village, and maybe even get himself a date with Astrid (America Ferrera: “Ugly Betty”), Hiccup tracks the dragon to where it crashed, preparing to slay the dragon and bring back its heart. Upon finding his wounded prey he discovers that he does not have it in him to kill the defenseless beast, and further discovers that everything his people know about dragons may be wrong.

“How to Train Your Dragon” is the newest film by Dreamworks, and my first instinct is to compare it to other computer animated films. The movie comes in a little lacking when compared to Pixar masterpieces like “Up”, but compared to other Dreamworks films like “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Shrek” the movie easily hold its own, and even excels in visual quality. Compared to movies like “Madagascar” the movie seems downright awesome.

The animation is very good, and a lot of attention has been put into the small details. You can make out individuals hairs on the heads and faces of the vikings and their clothes, and the fire effects are probably the best I have seen in a computer animated picture; they were so good in fact that during the film's climax they looked like they would be more at home as an effect in a live action film than a cartoon. Dreamworks may not be quite at the Pixar level yet, but they are making great strides.

The film is not without its problems, but they are minor ones. For some reason that either was not explained or was lost on me all of the adult vikings have Scottish accents, yet all of the kids sound American. Now I'm not expert on vikings, but I am pretty sure they did not come from Scotland or the United States.

Another issue, and I am sure this is because of merchandising, is that the dragons look just a little too cute to be as scary as they should be for a lot of the movie. The Night Fury in particular kept making me think of a Pokemon, and I found that a little distracting as I kept trying to figure out which one it made me think of (I ended up deciding on either Mudkip or Latios, if you are interested).

Like most Dreamworks animated features, “Dragon” has a fantastic cast. Aside from those I have already mentioned, keep an ear out for Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”), Jonah Hill (“Superbad”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”), David Tennant (“Doctor Who”), and Ashley Jensen (“Extras”) who fill out much of the rest of the cast. Accents aside, they all do a fantastic job breathing life into their characters.

Sure this movie is no “Up” or “The Incredibles”, but it is also not a “Madagascar 2” or “Ice Age 12.5”, and that is a very good thing. Fans of the book may find themselves wondering what happened to the story they love, but for the rest of us “How to Train Your Dragon” is a well done fast paced family film with plenty of laughs and action to keep you interested. This should prove to be a very strong launch for a new film franchise, something Dreamworks needs if they really intend to retire Shrek.

If you want a film you can take the whole family to this weekend, “Dragon” is easily the best choice. There is some mild (and not so mild) innuendo, but most of that will go right over younger viewers' heads. Without spoiling anything, I will say that there is one bit at the end where parents may have to do a little explaining to their kids, but I liked how this showed that some things are permanent, and if they intend to follow the series of books at all (even if just in titles alone), I am sure that this figures into the sequel.

I strongly recommend seeing this in theaters if you are at all interested (IMAX if you can), as this movie is not going to seem quite so epic on the small screen. Spend a couple of extra bucks for the 3D version, the sense of depth it adds to the movie is nice, and the flying sequences look fantastic. The use of 3D is sure to amaze younger (and some older) viewers.

“How to Train Your Dragon” burns its way into theaters nationwide this weekend.

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