Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Top 5 Awesomely Bad Movies of 2012

So, by special request, I've got one more end of year list for you all, and this one's focusing on something a little different. This time around, I'm going to count down the Top 5 Awesomely Bad Movies of 2012! That's right, the best horribl-awesome movies of the past year! The top movies that were so bad, they were actually kinda good! And rather than writing up a little piece on each of these movies, I'm going to instead include an anonymous reaction that either myself or one of my friends I saw each movie with had towards the movie. So without any further ado...

#5

Paranormal Activity 4

"Most unintentionally hilarious movie of the year? I think so!"

#4

Stolen

"It's like they took every Nic Cage movie ever and combined them all together."

#3

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

"He threw a freaking horse!"

#2

Battleship

"Horrible film, but it was gleefully preposterous."

#1

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

"Well that happened."

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Top 5 Worst Movies of 2012

Last time I looked at the best, and now it's time to look at the worst. But before we get to the list, some dishonorable mentions include Haywire, Hit and Run, Prometheus, Underworld: Awakening, and The Woman in Black. Now lets get this crap over with, onto the list!

#5

Ted
(Seth MacFarlane)

Yeah, just, no. This movie was freaking horrible. Seth MacFarlane has truly lost it with this one. I was hoping for at least a decent Family Guy level of comedy here, but my god, this was worse than even the worst of American Dad episodes. What I don't think Seth MacFarlane understands is that you actually need more than just a talking animal in order to constitute as comedy. Brian is funny in Family Guy despite being a talking dog. Meanwhile, his stupid alien and goldfish haven't spoken a single humorous line in the entirety of American Dad's run, and that's precisely the case here.

He thinks that just because the teddy bear uses foul language that it automatically gives him a pass from having to actually say anything funny. Hell, the funniest part of the movie was the opening scenes when Ted and Mark Wahlberg's character were still young and innocent, before they became the foul mouthed imbeciles that the movie lazily relied on in place of humor. Granted, the audience I saw it with loved it, yet all I could do was sit there and silently cringe to myself at one horrendously unfunny joke after another. I just don't get it, I really don't (and this coming from a guy who typically likes shitty movies!).

I did get a nice chuckle from a very random Ryan Reynolds cameo though.

#4

The Dark Knight Rises
(Christopher Nolan)

I can no longer say that Christopher Nolan has a perfect track record, because this movie was just terrible. After The Dark Knight released, Nolan spoke on how he was hesitant to make a third movie, since a lot of third movies had recently had a bad stigma attached to them (Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand), and after seeing this heap of garbage, I think he should have taken his own advice. The new characters are unremarkable and largely pointless in the grand scheme, the returning actors clearly quit giving a damn anymore, and the writing is just so unfocused and all over the place, like its suffering from a really bad case of ADD.

And in addition to all of those issues, the movie also abandons the world that Nolan has spent so much time and effort building up to this point. I always get a kick when people call this the conclusion to a "perfect trilogy", because that would imply that it's even a trilogy at all. The Dark Knight may as well not even exist, as it bears absolutely no consequence on this movie, which is essentially a direct sequel to Batman Begins. The Dark Knight was a brilliant film, and had an epic sense of scale without getting stupid about it. And yeah, there was "scale" in Rises, but only in the sense that it was overly bloated, and it never had an epic feeling to it, like I kept hearing so many proclaim about it. Rises was just stupid. Sure, it would like you to believe that it's a smart film, what with the way it needlessly complicates a fairly simple plot and draws things out to the point of absurdity. But, unlike the prior films, this one is completely mindless. This movie is littered with so many idiotic moments and ass-pulls that it almost becomes overwhelming.

And as I said, it didn't even fit in with Nolan's established world either. Where the first two feel very much grounded in reality, this one suddenly wants to decide that, hey, now it's a comic book movie! Only, unlike other comic book movies, this one doesn't have a lick of fun to go along with it. And that's the thing, because despite all of these issues, I might have let the movie slide as just another awesomely bad movie if it weren't for one thing: This movie is flat out BORING! It seriously has some of the worst pacing I've seen in a movie this year. I felt like I had just sat through a Lord of the Rings movie by the time Bruce Wayne was still trying to figure out how to get out of his damn prison hole, and all I could think was, god damn, once he's actually out of that stupid thing we're gonna have to sit through another dull half hour long action sequence to finally wrap things up. AHHH!

This is not only Chris Nolan's worst movie, but I'll even go so far as to call it the worst Batman movie to date. Say what you will about Schumacher's films, they're at least fun to watch in their own campy way. Meanwhile, The Dark Knight Rises is dull, boring, convoluted, and more than anything, un-watchable. Original review.

#3

Silent Hill: Revelation
(Michael J. Bassett)

So since I already covered everything this movie did wrong in my original review, this time around I'll instead list everything that that this movie actually did right:

#2

John Carter
(Andrew Stanton)

I already wasn't a fan of this movie, but certain aspects of the story actually intrigued me enough to check out the books. And after doing so, I can say that I not only feel this movie is god awful, but it's also flat out offensive. See, the books pretty much act as Edgar Rice Burroughs' atheist bible. Their sole purpose of existence is to essentially disprove the idea of a religious deity and to encourage people to think for themselves instead of relying on their religion to make their choices for them. The movie, however, decides to ignore this aspect entirely, and from the very first scene introduces supernatural beings who essentially act as gods. Um, bullshit.

There was so much opportunity here to use this source material in such a way as to act as somewhat of a social commentary on current day issues concerning religion in politics that we're still dealing with today. There was so much potential for this to be a powerful movie with an important message, but instead they just decided to shit all over Burroughs' ideology and make this an unoriginal, mindless, cliche filled dump. And what gets me most is that, from what I've heard, this was apparently a passion project for director Andrew Stanton. Yet, I can't see how that could possibly be, seeing as he clearly never even opened the book up to page one.

But even ignoring the shift in direction from this story's original intent, this movie was still a cringe-inducing chore. The love story between John Carter and Dejah Thoris is the most forced and unbelievable romance in the entire history of cinema. The two don't have a lick of chemistry together, and we're suppose to believe that, over the course of a single day, not only do these two fall head over heels for each other, but so much so that John Carter actually asks for her hand in marriage by the end of that day, and she accepts! What, did this movie suddenly become Romeo and Juliet all of a sudden? 'Cause if so, then this movie series is suddenly in for one hell of a morbid conclusion (though, then again, that might actually make this putrid romance plot a little interesting). And see, the romance in the book wasn't nearly so forced. What happened in a single day in the movie was stretched out over the course of an entire year in the book, giving the two an appropriate amount of time to actually get to know one another and fall for each other, and making for a much more believable love story.

It's just as well that this movie tanked in the box office and likely won't be spawning off any sequels, because all of the changes made for the adaptation makes it literally impossible to adapt the following entries in the story. It would have to be an entirely original work, and seeing what they did with this one, I'd hate to bare witness to whatever crap they'd come up with. Original review.

Now I was all ready to easily call this my #1 worst movie of the year, and I said that it was gonna take a hell of a lot to topple this beast. And, well, I didn't expect this, but...

#1

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
High Frame Rate Version

(Peter Jackson)

I had no choice but to declare this the worst movie of the year. Now, the actual movie itself is quite good, but the new gimmick that director Peter Jackson was so intent on implementing is what kills it. I decided to give the 48fps version a chance out of sheer curiosity, and what I stumbled into was an unexpected journey into uncanny valley. I literally could not sit through this. The higher frame rate made it look like the characters were constantly moving in fast forward, and it was so unnerving and looked so unnatural that it took me completely out of the movie. I've never been more distracted during a movie in my entire life, and I was constantly having to remind myself to stop focusing on the gimmick and pay attention to the movie. And then I'd instead start focusing on how I'm still not paying attention, and all the while not a single bit of the actual movie was registering with me.

In fact, when I went to see it again, this time the normal version, I was shocked at just how much I missed the first time around. The entire prologue was just a blur, and all I remembered was something crumbling in the castle. And as for the scene where all the dwarves are introduced, all I could recall was when they were tossing dishes. I couldn't believe how I was able to miss them rummaging through Bilbo's pantry and all that.

But in my initial viewing, I was only able to make it about 40 or 50 minutes into the film before I was fuming in my seat, and I had to get up and walk out. There was just no way in hell I was gonna sit there for three hours and attempt to look past the awful gimmick at hand. I can appreciate filmmakers trying out new things, and honestly, the higher frame rate has been getting mixed reactions, which I suppose ultimately comes down to eye sensitivity. But in my opinion at least, this one's a bust, and I really hope it doesn't catch on. But in any event, here's my original, unrelated review.

So there you have it, my picks for the very best and worst that this year had to offer in film. I'm sure there'll be a lot of you who disagree with some of my picks (there always are), but I hope you enjoyed taking a look at these films with me nonetheless. And as I said, 2012 was overall an awesome year in film, and I ended up liking far more movies than I disliked. And 2013 ain't looking too shabby at the moment either, so here's hoping for another good year to come!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Top 10 Movies of 2012

It's that time again, time to count down the year's best and worst in film. And this was definitely an awesome year for movies. There were so many super fun flicks released this year that it's easy to lose track of 'em all. And where as most years are relatively easy enough to round it out to a Top 10, narrowing it down to just 10 films gave me a bit of trouble this time around. I had a pretty solid enough Top 8, but I had to wrack my brain to decide which films should fill in those last two slots. But I finally managed to do it, and even I'm a bit surprised by what I ultimately went with. The films that just missed the cut include 21 Jump Street, Django Unchained, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Les Misérables, and Looper. So consider those my honorable mentions for the year, and lets move on to the list.

#10

Resident Evil: Retribution
(Paul W. S. Anderson)

This is probably my most surprising inclusion to the list. But when it came down to it, this beat out all the others if only due to the sheer ambition and creativity of Paul W. S. Anderson. On top of all the over-the-top action, music, visuals, and everything else, this latest Resident Evil is also one of the most inventive and imaginative movies I've seen in some time. Not to mention it's also by far the best in the Resident Evil franchise, satisfyingly tying in all the others while single handedly correcting a lot of the issues present in the previous movies. While they're all essentially just dumb, fun movies in the end, this is the closest I'd come to additionally calling a legitimately good, quality movie in its own special way. Original review.

#9

Chronicle
(Josh Trank)

In a day and age when we're being overwhelmed by superhero origin movies, this one, instead, presents the origin story of a super-villain. And considering how we totally got jipped out of a Magneto origin movie, I'll take what we can get! In what is probably the best found-footage movie since The Blair Witch Project, this one focuses on a group of kids who acquire telekinetic powers. Our main character, a troubled kid named Andrew, happens to be particularly adept with these new powers, and we get to witness as he uses them to rise in fame and popularity amongst his peers, only to fall back down in disgrace and frustration. And, now utilized with an outlet with which to unleash his anger, he goes on a rampage, letting the world feel his pain. It's a fascinating look at the way that various aspects of the world can gradually chip away at someone until they've reached their breaking point, and one that hit a personal note with me. Original review.

#8

The Raid: Redemption
(Gareth Evans)

This movie is bloody, brutal, and unrelenting. And once the action starts, it never lets up, in what some are hailing as the best action movie of all time. And I can definitely see where they're coming from with that claim. Not only is the action intense, but there's a whole variety of it. Want guns and explosions? This movie has it. Wanna see machete wielding thugs clash steel? Got it. Or wanna just see some bad ass balls-to-the-wall martial arts? Yup, this one has all of that in spades. It's everything you could ask from an action flick and then some, all backed by a pulse pounding score that'll keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Original review.

#7

Magic Mike
(Steven Soderbergh)

Yup.

#6

The Amazing Spider-Man
(Marc Webb)

This was a big year for superhero films, and of the big three, I expected the least from the new Spider-Man. But it managed to surpass my every expectation, and easily stands up against Raimi's originals without making them feel irrelevant, the way Batman Begins did to the original Batman movies. The movie manages to still feel fresh despite essentially retreading old ground, which is quite the accomplishment from the appropriately named director. It takes a more serious approach, but it does so while still maintaining a good level of fun all around. But as fun as the action can be, the characters are what bring this movie to life. Andrew Garfield's snarky Spidey is a breath of fresh air, and his various relationships with the rest of the cast have a surprising level of depth to them for a film of this nature. So yeah, I was impressed. In fact, one might even say that I was amazed by this movie (because you haven't heard anyone use that one yet!). Original review.

#5

Seven Psychopaths
(Martin McDonagh)

The director of In Bruges did it again with Seven Psychopaths, delivering an awesomely dark comedy with a totally unique feel to it. And when you're dealing with a movie about psychopaths, you better believe that it's going to be crazy. This movie is exactly that, and with performances this good, it's a believable level of crazy at that, which is the scariest part about it! Somewhat of a satire on ultra-violent films, the movie is about a man writing a screenplay about seven psychopaths (hence the name). But the more he writes, the more his script starts to come to life. And before you know it, everybody (you, me, everybody) gets sucked into this brutally hilarious roller coaster ride of insanity! With clever writing and a stylized editing technique, this is a movie that'll entertain you while you're watching, and leave you wondering if you really just witnessed that after the credits roll. Original review.

#4

The Avengers
(Joss Whedon)

The fact that this even happened at all is an achievement all itself. The fact that its as good as it is makes it all the more impressive. I still have a hard time comprehending how Joss Whedon actually managed to balance out this movie as well as he did. Handling this many big name characters is no joke, but he did it, and he put out one of the most fun movies of the year in the process. Where as Nolan's been taking the Batman franchise to darker and darker places, Marvel's taken the opposite approach, focusing on fun factor above all else, and that's never more prevalent than in The Avengers. In many ways this is very much the Anti-Dark Knight, lightening up the mood and providing an entirely different experience from all the gloomy heroes we see today. And in this incarnation, these characters have never been better. It's an exciting experience from start to finish, with awesome exchanges of dialogue in addition to the hammers and shields and what have you.

Oh, and Loki!

Oh Loki... (Original review.)

#3

Lincoln
(Steven Spielberg)

I'm actually surprised by just how much I liked this movie. Looking at the rest of these movies, you really wouldn't expect this to land so high on this list. And yet, here it is, up there in the Top 3. But I really, really enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It's basically two and a half hours of pure dialogue, and yet it's presented in such an interesting way, and elevated by such phenomenal performances, that the running time just flies by. And this really is a showcase of some amazing acting, so much so that even trying to name off the actors who stood out becomes pointless, 'cause I'd be sitting here all night typing out the names of the entire cast. But I was impressed by this movie, not only with the content that's here, but also by what Spielberg left out. This could have easily become another artificial "tear-jerker", but Spielberg thankfully showed restraint in this department and kept his focus on strengthening the story on its own merits. Original review.

#2

Cloud Atlas
(Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski)

Even after reviewing it earlier in the year, I'm still not sure I quite have the right words to properly describe this film. It's an emotionally stirring sci-fi epic with a message of love and hate that sprawls throughout the ages. The different time periods almost act as individually broken up puzzle pieces, which are then placed in such a way that manages to intricately weave the narrative back together again. And the cast finds new ways to hide within each piece of the puzzle, and they're so good at it that when the credits roll and show you who played who, you'll be shocked by more than one reveal. It's just ridiculous the amount of detail they put into the editing and makeup. But all of these technical aspects, in addition to some great performances all around, tie the themes together and deliver an extremely powerful and moving experience. Original review.

#1

Dredd
(Pete Travis)

For those of you who know me, this one comes as no surprise at all. Quite frankly, never in a million years would I have expected to be as impressed by Dredd as I was. I went in expecting just another dumb, fun action flick, but this movie completely floored me, and what I walked away from was truly something spectacular. Every single thing about this movie just clicks. The action is crystal clear and exciting throughout, and the film constantly finds new ways to increase the stakes around every corner. The plot is strongly written, leaving little room for nitpickers to find flaws, and with a nice level of depth not usually found in this sort of film. And the movie is filled with so many awesome one-liners, brought to life by Karl Urban, who is Judge Dredd. But on top of it all are the visuals. This movie is absolutely gorgeous. One of the most stunningly beautiful films I've ever seen. And the visual effects are all cleverly written into the plot, and used in a way that delivers a strong message on drugs.

I really wish more people could have gotten out to see Dredd, since it got screwed over by theaters playing such limited showings. But I showed my support at least, and I ended up seeing this bad boy four times in theaters (more times than any other movie), and I even broke my anti-3D stance for one of those viewings. The 3D was admittedly underwhelming, which was a bit of a shame, as there were definitely scenes that I thought could have looked awesome in 3D, but they really didn't deliver. So for now, I'm back to avoiding 3D movies (until the inevitable Magic Mike 3D re-release that is, lol). But in any event, like I said, I never would have imagined I'd love this film as much as I do. Not since The Dark Knight have I been this thoroughly impressed by a movie, and more so than any other movie this year, it stands up extremely well in post-viewing analysis. So if you get a chance, see this movie. It's easily the best movie I've seen this year. Original review.

So there you have it, my Top 10 Movies of 2012. And now that we've gotten the good out of the way, next time we'll take a look at the bad. See ya then!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It took me two tries, but I finally managed to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in its entirety. My first go at it was with the 48fps High Frame Rate version (don't do that), and I was so distracted and put off by the frame rate that it resulted in my first ever walkout from a movie. But I'll discuss more on the HFR version in another post, and for now, lets just focus on the movie itself, without any of the distracting gimmicks. So I did give it another chance, this time the regular version, and I still had my reservations going in, but oh boy was this so much better. Not a perfect movie by any means, but still a very fun adventure to tag along to.

Now, I'm bound to slip into some spoilers as I snark and poke fun at this movie, so fair warning to that. But speaking of which, I actually kinda wish the theater I saw it in was empty so that my friend and I coulda just openly snarked at the screen all throughout. This movie was tailor made for that sort of reaction. Like, when Saruman appeared on screen, I had to bite my tongue not to scream "ASSHOLE!". And, earlier on, Gandalf tells a story about how Bilbo's great grandfather invented the game of golf after slicing an enemy's head off and sending it flying into a hole. Later in the movie, during a battle with the goblins, we see a giant rock roll down and knock down enemies left and right, which left me wondering if this might not be the origins to the game of bowling. And there's a ton of other moments like this, which really made for a fun flick.

I did find it interesting, however, that for a movie titled "The Hobbit", there's very little of said hobbit throughout. There's probably a good hour and a half stretch where all that Bilbo has to contribute is just facial reactions to his various situations, with very little actual dialogue. It's kind of a shame, too, 'cause Martin Freeman did an awesome job as a young Bilbo Baggins, and the few scenes where he's actually allowed to do something on screen were done really well. I mean, hell, the scene with Gollum was probably the best thing to happen in this whole movie. When they started their game of riddles, I did worry that it was gonna get old fast. But it didn't, and in fact, it only got more and more intriguing, to the point where the movie could have just been three hours of Bilbo and Gollum exchanging riddles and I would have been more than satisfied.

But really, the movie should have probably been called "Gandalf: An Unexpected Journey", 'cause he's clearly the star of this show. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Ian McKellan is as awesome as ever, though he's definitely showing his age now, which makes it sorta visually weird how much older he looks in these prequels to the original Lord of the Ring movies (meanwhile, nobody else has aged a day!). And speaking of the Lord of the Rings movies, this one definitely fits in the world, though I do wonder if Peter Jackson may have borrowed a little too much from those films. For instance, in many respects this first film in his Hobbit trilogy feels very much like The Fellowship of the Ring Lite. It hits all of the same plot beats as that movie, and features a large gathering of characters who set off on an epic quest. The only difference being that this particular gathering isn't nearly as memorable as that featured in the original trilogy.

Bilbo and Gandalf are joined on their journey by twelve dwarves. There's the Legolas-lite dwarf, the bald, bad ass dwarf, the old, wise, white-bearded dwarf, the big fat "why is he even there?" dwarf, and of course, their dwarf leader, Thorin Oakenshield, who takes up the role of Boromir from the Rings movies (so, Thorimir?), only, since Sean Bean's not playing him, he gets to actually live to see the next movie. And it's just as well, too, since if he died here, who the hell else would there be to take up his spot? 'Cause, as I said, none of these dwarves stand out as all that memorable, and save for Thorin, I couldn't tell you a single one of their names. They're all so interchangeable and get lost in the pack that it makes you wonder why Jackson didn't just try and trim it down a little for this adaptation.

Of course, that's probably an idiotic thing to even suggest, given that he's stretching a single book across three movies. So of course he's gonna pack in as much as he possibly can from this world. And honestly, that was my biggest fear going in, is that there'd just be way too much happening, and that most of it would be fluff. And there definitely are scenes that didn't need to be included. The entire opening, with old Bilbo talking to Frodo, felt like pandering, and didn't really add much of anything worthwhile. And there were a few other scenes that felt unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, such as when the mountains started coming alive and playing their giant game of Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots. But despite these scenes' inclusion, I never got the feeling that the movie was overly bloated or anything. They were all enjoyable enough and added to the overall fun of the movie, if nothing else, and they didn't slow things down a bit, either. Honestly, despite the excess, this might be the best paced movie in this whole series yet, which I so would have never imagined to be possible going in.

So I really enjoyed this movie. The humor is genuinely funny, the action seriously intense, and all the while it was just a great fun time. On a technical level, I wouldn't say it quite meets the standards set by the Rings trilogy, but this was still a fine enough effort nonetheless. And the film nicely sets up the next installment as a little dumbass bird wakes up the dragon Smaug, who's apparently been busy Scrooge McDuckin' (Smaug McDuckin'?) in his swimming pool of gold coins this whole time. But in the end, as our adventurers view their goal in the far distance, we actually get the sense that there just might actually be two more movies worth of trouble for them to find themselves in (not to mention the running. They can fit in so much more running with that distance!). So yeah, despite any of its flaws, I liked this one a hell of a lot more than I expected to, and I look forward to the next two.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Carry On

Yeah, this is about to be my third blog about Avenged Sevenfold. One might start to think I was a fan of this band or something. But anyways, this particular post is going to center around only a single song, their newest track off of the Call of Duty: Black Ops II soundtrack, "Carry On".

I first heard this song while I was signing books in Panama City about a month or so back. Well, at least, I say that was the first time I heard it, though really, I only got to hear the opening portion of the song before some asshat decided to drown it out with freaking Nirvana of all bands. But anyways, despite only hearing so little, I instantly recognized it as an Avenged Sevenfold song, and sought it out as soon as I could. And, as has been the case on several occasions this year with this band, I was absolutely floored, and I just couldn't get enough of it, playing it on repeat the whole night.

The song has a style similar to epic metal bands such as Dragonforce and Rhapsody (or Rhapsody of Fire, as they're now apparently called. Seriously though, more people should check that band out). The fast power metal guitars along with the melodic vocals and the incredible drums (their new drummer definitely meets this band's standards) all come together to bring us something new from this band. And not just the music, but even the lyrics at times sound like the kind of thing you'd usually expect from epic metal. "Search endlessly / Fight till we're free / Fly past the edge of the sea". This song is almost reminiscent to their self-titled album in this regard, the way they play with different styles than usual while still very much maintaining their own unique identity.

Speaking of their lyrics, it's actually sort of extraordinary how much this song speaks to me on a personal level and pretty much summarizes this past year in my life. The song is about not letting anyone or anything bring you down and keep you from chasing after your dreams. And I've been dealing with a lot of exactly that all throughout this year. I've had my fair share of hardships and situations that have driven me about as far down in the dumps as one can go, and at times have come close to reaching my breaking point. Yet, despite all of the odds, I still somehow managed to carry on and move forward, not allowing anything to keep me from living my life and achieving my goals, no matter how hard things may get at times.

Typically when a band releases an exclusive song for like a movie or video game, it's usually an okay song, if not necessarily all that worth your time. However, as if you couldn't tell by now, that's definitely not the case in this instance. This is up there with the very best that this band has to offer. Now, in my previous post, I listed what I felt were this band's best songs to date. And had I heard this song prior to writing that post, it certainly would have made the list. But since it was late, I suppose we can just consider it a strong honorable mention for the time being.

So yeah, "Carry On" is a powerful and moving song, so much so that I'm willing to sit here and dedicate an entire blog post to it. So, if you would, give it a listen for yourself and see if you can't see the brilliance that I do.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Clockwork Orange

What drives a person to commit acts of evil? What makes a human want to do good? And if you're left with no choice in the matter, are you even human at all? These are the ideas that Anthony Burgess tackles in his brilliant work of art, A Clockwork Orange. I finished reading the book last night, and it is definitely the best and most impressive book I've read this year thus far. And after being so floored by the book, I decided to give Stanley Kubrick's movie a watch, and, well, let's just say that I was far less enthused with what I saw. (Spoilers ahead)

The main thing that I loved about the book was the language. Burgess invents a very unique language that takes a little getting used to, but once you pick it up, it's really quite fascinating. And as the book's narrator, Alex, grows through the story, we see as the language gradually reverts to a more normal style of speech. The execution of this technique is quite frankly brilliant, and completely latched me on to this utterly despicable character's story.

Almost all of the book's real charm lies in its language, which is almost entirely lost in the movie adaptation. To be fair, most of this material is honestly un-adaptable, though that does beg the question as to why even bother trying to adapt it at all. The movie is very over-the-top in every single way, almost like watching Willy Wonka and the Clockwork Orange, and I almost wonder if this was done as a way to possibly compensate for the lack of the over-the-top language present in the book. However, if that's the case, then it was a poor decision to make, as it constantly makes the movie a chore to sit through.

For one thing, I absolutely hate the visual aesthetics Kubrick settled with. It's not that it's necessarily bad, I just personally couldn't stand it at all. And it makes me glad that I read the book first, else his visual style might have influenced the book's images as I envisioned them. But even more so than the visuals is the acting. Every single character is over-acted to the point of absurdity, where it actually becomes hard to even watch at times.

The only exception to this would be when Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, is in prison, in which the extreme opposite becomes the case and the character is actually far too subdued and normal. Otherwise, as with every character, Alex is, for the most part, way over-played. For example, in the book, after taking part in a controversial method to remove his evil tendencies, Alex begins to feel physically ill at the mere thought of performing such acts. And the movie's way of showing this illness was to have Alex fall victim to a fit of burping. I don't even know where to begin with how idiotic and disgusting a decision this was, and I fail to see how Kubrick couldn't have easily found a better, more fitting way to show Alex's sickness.

And after the movie ended, the final scene stuck in my head, but for all the wrong reasons. The scene entails Alex lying in a hospital bed, unable to feed himself as the Minister of the Interior is going over politics with him and helping Alex eat his meal. During this scene, Alex opens his mouth in an exaggerated and mocking fashion to receive his food, only to bite down with a sly grin and chew his food in an, again, exaggerated fashion. Now, this would have been fine had they only did this the one time. Two times would have been more than enough. However, they repeat this exaggerated form of eating upwards of ten or so times, each time feeling more absurd and gloating in fashion. Kubrick really didn't know when to say enough was enough.

Another thing that I found very off-putting about the movie was its over-sexualization. The movie is borderline pornographic in nature, and in over-doing it, it greatly devalues the impact, making it lose its luster. And I suppose, given everything that preceded it, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the film ended with yet one last pointless and excessive sex scene. As I've mentioned before, Kubrick really should have held back substantially not only on this, but on almost every single aspect of this movie, as its lack of any form of subtlety is to the detriment of the movie's overall quality.

The movie wasn't all bad, however. The score was by far the standout, utilizing the classical music that our Humble Narrator obsesses over to great effect. And there were a couple of scenes that I thought were generally well done. While not pleasing on the eyes, I otherwise loved the initial break-in scene. Alex singing "Singing in the Rain" was a nice touch that added just a little bit of charm to an otherwise morbid scene. And I also thought that the scene where Alex was being checked into prison was probably the best in the movie. Mind you, nothing of any actual importance or substance happened in that scene, and it could have been cut from the movie entirely without missing a thing. However, it was the more quiet nature of the scene that made it stick out as the movie's highest point, and if Kubrick could have taken note and utilized this same level of delicacy throughout, then this film would have benefited tremendously for it.

As for changes that the movie made from the book, at least as far as the story itself is concerned, I honestly don't have any big issues with anything. Most of the changes make perfect sense within the context of the movie. The one thing that I wasn't a big fan of was that the movie neglected to include any of the references concerning the title's meaning. However, this honestly wasn't a major loss.

In thinking about this adaptation, my mind actually begins to wander to a more recent movie, that being Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. While not entirely the same at all, it did deal with similar ideas of trying to cure a mental illness through controversial means. And it managed to handle the subject matter at hand in a way that didn't blow everything out of proportion. In this sense, I almost feel as if The Master is a better cinematic interpretation of Anthony Burgess' novel. On a technical level, The Master is a stunningly well crafted film. Almost everything about it is marvelous, the acting all around, the music, the cinematography, pretty much everything.

However, The Master's one downfall, similar to A Clockwork Orange (both the movie and the original American book release), suffers from an unsatisfying ending that almost renders the whole thing pointless. Now, I can't blame Kubrick for his movie's ending, as it was faithful to the original release of the book. That said, it's a shame that the original release omitted the final chapter, as I felt it really drew the story to a close and showed an actual, sincere growth for our Humble Narrator. And had I read the book as it was originally released, I likely would have been totally put off by its conclusion.

But in the end, even without comparing it to the book, I still wouldn't have liked the movie at all based on its own merits. And as I've said, I'm really glad I read the book first, as otherwise I doubt I would have bothered with it. But the thing is, Kubrick's not a bad director at all. He just really went far overboard with this particular movie, taking a brilliant novel and churning out an unappealing slop.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012

2012 has been an interesting year. Overall, it's probably been my most successful year in terms of achieving goals is concerned. However, without getting into details, it's also been one of the most emotionally struggling years I've ever experienced. But lets not focus on the bad, and instead, jump right into the good that this year had to offer:

- I filmed a movie. It's something I've been wanting to do my whole life, but I finally managed to get it done and get it out there. And it's been generally well received by most people, which is really awesome. I know the finished product wasn't perfect (the sound was terrible, I know!), but I was still very pleased with the final outcome. And besides which, it was fun as hell to make. We had our fair share of speed bumps along the way as far as casting and re-writes were concerned, but all in all, everything managed to work out and come together fairly well, and I couldn't have done it without all of the help and support that everyone involved contributed.

But as I said, it's received generally positive reaction, and I'd like to just share one of those reactions with you now, one which meant a lot to me and comes from my cousin Andrew:

"Chris,

I finally had a chance to sit down and watch your movie, and I am thoroughly impressed--a lot of people talk about making a film, and stop there, at the talking-about-it-stage. A few people get around to writing down a page or two of a script, and never get beyond that point. Even fewer people finish a script, and the number drops even lower to the number of people who turn that script into a movie. So much dedication, passion, and effort goes into filmmaking, and you possess all of those attributes, not to mention the ability to clearly tell the story you've aspired to tell. Congratulations, this is a huge accomplishment, I look forward to your next one (maybe you'll even invite me to come work on it, haha)!"

-Andrew Meyers


- Not only did I film a movie, but I also published a book. Velcro: The Ninja Kat is something I've actually spent the past several years working on, including an entire year spent trying to get it published through traditional means. But in the end, I felt that I just needed to get this story out there somehow, and so after doing my homework and wracking my brain over all the work that was ahead of me, I finally managed to pull everything together and get this book released.

And since its release, I believe it's been moderately successful thus far. I've held a handful of book signings and contests, to varying degrees of success, and have managed to get the book in a number of stores so far as well. And hell, I even managed to get a blurb in the local paper. And not just any paper, but the Thanksgiving Day edition, aka, the biggest paper of the year. So word's getting out around town on my book, and in the meantime, I've still been working on more strategies to spread the word even further.

- Before I decided to write Velcro: The Ninja Kat as a book, my original vision of the story was for it to be a graphic novel. After spending quite some time unsuccessfully looking for an artist, sure enough, just as I published it, a number of artists stepped forward to offer their services for a possible comic book adaptation. Now, I don't usually make these kinds of announcements public until everything is squared away and finalized, because I hate making false promises to my loyal readers, but as of right now, we're working hard on this adaptation, and I'm really feeling good about it. So hopefully it all works out!

- And in the most random of events, I sorta just happened to stumble into a really good job. I was purposefully unemployed for about a year, dedicating my free time towards working on my movie and other writing projects, when I happened to go to the dentist one day for a check-up. And, on my way out to pay for the procedure, the nice, pretty lady at the front desk asked me if I wanted a job. Just out of the blue. I said sure, and sure enough, I started working for a dental lab a month later.

The pay is good, the hours are good, and it's a fairly nice, stress-free environment with decent enough people working there. My job involves me picking up and dropping off deliveries, as well as making stone models of people's teeth that are then used by my co-workers to make crowns and stuff. So yeah, it's a really nice job, much better than any other job I've ever held, and the best part is NO CUSTOMER SERVICE!

- I've also done quite a bit of reconciliation with friendships. I actually had sort of a falling out with several friends recently. My old group of friends from high school kinda drifted apart, including one of my best friends with whom I've had off and on issues with over the years. And it also just so happened that certain altercations drove me away from my group of writing friends for a while late last year. But pretty much at the turn of the year, things started getting better.

After straightening things out, I was back to hanging out with my writer friends again, many of whom helped out with my movie, and things have been pretty great for the most part since. And as for my high school buddies, that same best friend owned up to his mistakes and has made an honest effort to hang out more often, after years of being one of the biggest flakes I've ever known. But he's pretty much put that part of himself behind him and has really gone out of his way to make our friendship work again, which has been very uplifting for me.

So yeah, I'm pretty sure I hit most of the marks. And despite any of the bad that I may have experienced in the past year, I have generally high hopes going into the next one. I'm hoping to get a lot more done with my writing, including finishing up the sequel to Velcro: The Ninja Kat and its potential comic book adaptation, as well as an entirely different story I've been working on that I'm really falling in love with. I'm probably going to put film making on hold for a bit, as I don't currently have any feasible ideas just now, though I definitely plan to pick the camera back up at some point.

So I suppose that's about it, and here's to a good next year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top 5 Wrestling Matches I've Seen Live

As it turns out, WWE is set to return to Tallahassee pretty soon for the first time in years for another house show. That said, with the announced main event of CM Punk vs. Ryback, I have about zero interest in attending this particular event. Now, had it been CM Punk versus, say, anyone else, then maybe (though, given Punk's recent injury, I doubt he'll be on the show at all anymore), but oh well, no big loss.

In any event though, I actually have attended quite a few really great wrestling events in the past, and I've seen quite a few phenomenal wrestling matches live. So I now want to take a look at the Top 5 Wrestling Matches I've Seen Live. But before we do that, some honorable mentions include Randy Orton vs. Rob Van Dam - Extreme Rules 2007, Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio, and Kane vs. Umaga, Mr. Kennedy, MVP, Finlay, and Big Daddy V - Survivor Series 2007, and Edge vs. Undertaker - Wrestlemania XXIV.

#5 - Tallahassee Live Event - September 2003
Steel Cage Match
Kane vs. Rob Van Dam

Taking place just one day after my birthday, I was in for quite the birthday gift with this particular house show. After Kane had recently unmasked for the first time, he was engaged in a heated rivalry with his former tag team partner, Rob Van Dam. They were building up to a steel cage match to take place on television, and in the meantime, the two were testing the waters for that match at house show events, including this particular one. From what I remember, the match was pretty fun and intense, and the crowd was totally into it. The cage itself was a bit flimsy, which was a bit unusual, though it didn't effect the quality of the match whatsoever. Rob Van Dam picked up the win, and Kane made sure to send the fans home happy with a couple of chokeslams to Eric Bischoff, who acted as the special guest referee for the match.

#4 - Wrestlemania 23
World Heavyweight Championship
Batista vs. Undertaker

This match defied all expectations, and these two put on one hell of a show. This is probably the last time that the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak was truly in jeopardy, as rumors were flying that Batista was set to take the win here. The crowd hated Batista, and he probably got the most heat of the whole night. But sure enough, with the fans on the edge of our seat throughout, Taker managed to pick up the win and the title after a devastating tombstone piledriver to a huge ovation from the crowd, keeping the streak alive in this brutal brawl of a match.

#3 - Wrestlemania 23
WWE Championship
John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels

And closing that same show was the blockbuster encounter between Cena and Michaels, who also just so happened to be the Tag Team Champions at the time. This match truly showed me the difference between any old wrestler and a main event player. Sitting way in the far seats at the back of the arena, I ended up having to watch most of the matches either through binoculars or by watching the titantron. But that wasn't the case with this one, as their every move projected throughout the arena like no other. I was able to witness the action in the ring itself as it was happening and take in all of the drama and psychology on display. In the end, Cena pulled off the win to retain his title via submission in one of the best Wrestlemania main events I've seen.

#2 - Tallahassee Live Event - September 2003
Chris Jericho vs. Ric Flair

I've been to a lot of house shows, but this one was by far the best. Not only did we get Kane vs. RVD in a cage match, but we got to see a technical wrestling clinic from Ric Flair and Chris Jericho as well. And boy was this one a doozy. The crowd was eagerly cheering on both of these wrestling legends throughout, and they in turn put together one hell of a wrestling match. It's also notable that they did this with Ric Flair having his tights pulled down for about half of the match. That's right, The Nature Boy's bare ass was showing clear as day through most of the match before he finally decided to pull his tights back up, which was just freaking hilarious!

#1 - Wrestlemania XXIV
Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels

Speaking of technical classics, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels was not only the best match I've ever seen live, but it may well be among the best matches I've ever seen period. And the fact that I got to witness this one live makes it all the more special. These two told a picture perfect story in the ring like no other. This was Ric Flair's retirement match, and they were determined to have the man leave on the best possible note there was. And the closing moments in particular, when Michaels was battling with himself before finally mouthing "I'm sorry" and hitting that last sweet chin music to end Ric Flair's career, was just epic. Ric Flair went out like a hero in this spectacle of a match, and was given the best, most prestigious exit from the business that anyone has ever, and likely will ever, receive. It's just a damn shame that he had to go and shit all over that beautiful retirement shortly after, but ah well. In any event, this match couldn't have been better, and I doubt that any match I see live from here on out will come anywhere close to topping it.

So there you are, the Top 5 Wrestling Matches I've Seen Live. These aren't the only great matches I've seen, but they're certainly the most notable, and I can only hope to see more matches in the future someday that I'd rank up there amongst the very best.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

High School Years Revisited - My Top 5 Favorite Bands

I was talking with an old buddy the other day about how awesome the music scene used to be in Tallahassee, and the types of bands that we used to listen to during our high school years, mainly consisting of punk and hardcore. Quite a few of these bands even played in town (back when bands actually came through Tallahassee), and I was lucky enough to make it out to most of their shows.

Back then, the scene in town was unlike any other, as bands of both varieties were playing on the same shows on a regular basis, and the two fanbases united as one. Even the bands themselves would comment on how unique a dynamic this was for them, as they hadn't seen anything like it in any of the other towns they toured through. It was truly a scene that was about the love for music. Though, sadly, this awesome period eventually divided with petty squabbles amongst the two fanbases, and ultimately lead to the demise of the local music scene.

But right now, I'm going to focus on the point when the local scene was kickin', back when I was totally into the style of music, as I take a look at my Top 5 Favorite Bands from this point in my life. But before we get on with the list, a few honorable mentions I'd like to throw out there include Darkest Hour & Dead to Fall (lets face it, those two bands were a package deal), Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag. Now then, onto the main list!

#5 - Atreyu

During a period of time when just about every hardcore and metal band sounded exactly the same, Atreyu made themselves stand out amongst the crowd with a sound that added a little more than the same old "three chords and a breakdown" routine that everyone else was doing. With lyrics that you could (usually) actually understand and guitar solos that trumped what everyone else was doing, Atreyu was a band that truly distinguished themselves, and stuck with you well after the music had ended. That said, the only time I recall them coming through town was when they had really started gaining some notoriety, and as such they were playing their newer songs instead of their original, much more memorable set list, which didn't go over all that well with the local scene (though I personally still enjoyed them).

Standout Song - Lip Gloss and Black

#4 - Hatebreed

Speaking of easy to understand vocals, there's not a single screamer in the whole world who does it better than the guys in Hatebreed. This band, simply put, perfected this sound, and tore up the hardcore scene anywhere they went. They came through town once, and it just so happened to be on a night when I had to work late. But the second I got off work, I rushed as fast as I could to the venue and made it just in time to see them live. I was still in my work clothes as I jumped in the mosh pit, and I've seriously never gotten more worn out at a show than I did during their set. I even had to take a moment to step outside and catch my breath about halfway through, but god was it worth it. One of the most powerful bands on the scene during this era.

Standout Song - I Will Be Heard

#3 - Convicted

The only local band on this list, unlike all the others, Convicted never did make it big. And it's a damn shame, because more so than pretty much every other local band during this period, the drive and the talent was definitely there for this band to have gone on to bigger and better things. I've probably seen this band more times than any other, as they played at pretty much every other show in town, and it got to the point that the entire city knew their whole set list by heart. With a bit of a raspy oi punk sound, this band got everyone on their feet and moving around anytime they stepped on stage.

Since they are such a small-time band, none of their songs are available on youtube. However, you can check out more on the band and download their songs here. (Standout Song - She)

#2 - Voodoo Glow Skulls

This band was a blast. A ska punk rock band, these guys always put on a hell of a show, wearing Mexican wrestling masks and incorporating a spectacle of fire in their set (back when they were still allowed to do that kind of thing). My buddy and I actually bought a couple of cheap Mexican wrestling masks to wear at one of their shows, which everyone got a pretty big kick out of. In fact, their show was the only one in which I ever got kicked out of (for stage diving one too many times). And despite the fact that my arm was in a cast at the time, the bouncers had no problem dragging me outside and tossing me down the steps, the asshats. But still, I got to skank to most of my favorite songs and had an awesome time nonetheless.

Standout Song - The Band Geek Mafia

#1 - Misfits

Hell yeah! God I love the Misfits. Of all the bands I listened to at the time, the Misfits are the only ones I still pop in on occasion. And it makes sense, as they're one of the bigger influences to a lot of my favorite bands today. They were also a band that was great to poke fun at for various reasons. For instance, I always comment how they've only written one song per album, and just tweaked that song a little bit for every track. But it was true, though each new album did present an entirely new sound, without abandoning their signature style or treading on their older stuff. And there's also a bit of a drinking game with their music, as I'm almost certain that at some point during each and every single one of their songs you'll hear them sing the word "whoa". But I loved these guys, in all their various incarnations. I never did get to see this band live, which kinda sucks, since of all the bands I was introduced to at the time, this was definitely the one that stood out the most. But as such, unlike the other bands on this list, I'm gonna give these guys two Standout Songs:

Last Caress

American Psycho

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Attitude Era

So I checked out WWE's latest DVD that takes a look at The Attitude Era, and it's definitely a strange set. It's okay, though it doesn't really cover any new ground that hasn't already been covered before, and covered better, in prior DVD sets. In fact, there are times where it feels like the WWE is actually ashamed of this era in their history, which is kinda baffling considering it's arguably their most successful time period ever, and they haven't even come close to matching that level of success since.

For one thing, the documentary feature is very short. It's like they just rushed through everything as quickly as they could, glossing over major events such as the Austin/McMahon and Austin/Rock rivalries. But then they go on to focus on DX for a comparably extended period of time, as if DX was the defining force behind the Attitude Era. Sure, they were certainly a big deal, though there were definitely bigger aspects that contributed to the success of this era. For instance, The Corporation, Vince McMahon's stable of cronies put together solely to battle his arch nemesis, Stone Cold Steve Austin, is never once even hinted at. This, despite having so many major implications on the company such as Triple H's rise as a main event mainstay, Shane McMahon's shocking display as a credible competitor in the hardcore scene, and the showcase to one of The Undertaker's most popular portrayals of his entire career, when he was the gothic leader of his Ministry of Darkness. All of this is absent from this set.

And not only are major events absent, but major wrestlers themselves couldn't even be bothered to add their two cents. The main guys who contribute to the documentary portion are guys like The Road Dogg and Mark Henry. To a lesser extend, Big Show and Mick Foley have their say as well, as does Christian (but no Edge), but that's really about it. Major stars such as The Rock, Austin, and Triple H have only maybe a single line or two to say, and then other big names such as Kane, Undertaker, Michaels, and Jericho are entirely absent altogether. Hell, even Vince McMahon didn't care enough to say a few words on this era of his company. I would have also liked to have maybe heard a little bit from some current guys talking about how this era may have influenced them at all, but there's nothing like that here either.

Not only is the documentary rushed, but it's oddly edited as well. They just seem to jump from one thing to another with little in the way of rhyme or reason, and on two separate occasions they randomly start focusing on The Brood. It's almost as if whoever put this thing together didn't even watch the finished product to look out for these things. But more than anything, there's probably more emphasis placed on the sexualization of this era than anything else, to the point where one would think that sex was the only thing that The Attitude Era had to offer. And they go out of their way to show guys like Foley talking about how they probably went too far in this regard, and it almost comes across as if they're trying to use this DVD set as an apology note for this era of wrestling even happening.

It's pretty disappointing seeing a DVD focusing on one of the most successful eras in wrestling being given such shoddy treatment. I was hoping for an in depth look at the era, similar to what we got from The Rise and Fall of ECW (which is, oddly enough, still by far the best quality DVD that WWE has ever released). And I know that the WWE is still capable of quality DVD sets, as was proven with the CM Punk DVD that came out a couple months ago. But this set feels like a waste, and if you've already seen The Monday Night War, then you've already seen a better and more in depth look at this time period, and that set was juggling between what WWE was doing at the time as well as WCW.

So the documentary feature was mostly a let down, and the bonus features aren't much to brag about either, with quite a few startling omissions. It's an odd set, and given the importance of this era, you'd think that they'd treat such a DVD with at least a modicum of respect. Hell, lord knows they could certainly learn a thing or two about putting on a quality show in this day and age by looking back at their successes from this time frame.

But basically, the only reason to even bother with this DVD is to finally see footage from this era where the old WWF scratch logo isn't blurred out anymore.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lincoln

It took me two viewings to really appreciate this movie. The first time around I thought it was certainly good, but nothing really worth writing home about. However, after the second viewing, I gotta say that Lincoln is definitely one of the best movies I've seen this year so far. A political biopic focusing on the final months of Lincoln's life, the movie is completely dialogue driven, and yet, at two and a half hours in length, it never loses steam or drags a bit. It's a completely engaging and interesting glimpse into the life of politics, with stellar performances all around from the entire ensemble.

Rather than jumping around and trying to squeeze in a little bit of everything from Abraham Lincoln's life, the movie instead chooses to focus on the end of his life, from the time of his re-election to the time of his assassination. And during this period of time is when he was trying to get the 13th amendment to abolish slavery passed, which is what the bulk of the movie is about. The debates and the different tactics used to procure votes is all very fascinating to watch, and it's all heightened so much by the phenomenal acting on display. In many ways, the film has a very theatrical feel to it, and watching the debates and such play out really is almost like watching a play acted out on stage.

But while the politics are playing out, we also see a "behind the scenes" look into Abe's personal life as he and his wife continue to struggle with their grief over the loss of their child. Sally Field is just awesome in the role of Mrs. Lincoln, believably falling to pieces anytime they're behind closed doors, yet putting on a happy, if bitter, face when in the public eye. The role just came so naturally to her, and, well, that can honestly be said about everyone in the cast.

It's hard to say who the stand-outs of this film are, since everyone really did hold their weight and contributed to the film. Tommy Lee Jones was great as Thaddeus Stevens, who spends the film struggling to play the political game and put his personal feelings aside for the better of the country. And I also got a real big kick out of James Spader, who plays one of the men hired on to try and sway the Democratic party members to their side of the vote. These sequences with Spader and the gang were really fun to watch, and added in a nice, natural layer of humor on top of all of the drama going on.

But the obvious star of the show is Daniel Day-Lewis, who absolutely kills it as good ol' Honest Abe. He just lives this role, and as you watch the movie, it almost feels like you're actually watching Abraham Lincoln himself on screen. He has so many moments where he'll just stop everything and tell a story (usually with a point), and I just couldn't help but think how this whole movie could have been just two hours of listening to Day-Lewis talking and telling stories and it'd still be great. He truly commands your attention in this way. He's almost certainly going to get a Best Actor nomination for this performance, and boy does he deserve it.

As wide and big as the cast is, the movie also does a good job of distinguishing everyone. Usually in movies like this, there'll be several characters who sorta have a similar look or don't really stand out from the pack. But here, every single character has a very distinct style and personality, so they don't just blend in and you never got lost with who is who, which I was very impressed by.

As I've mentioned though, the most fascinating aspect of the film was definitely the politics, particularly the Congressional debates. It's really interesting how the views of the Democratic and Republican parties at that time, at least as portrayed in this film, are almost completely opposite to how they would likely be portrayed today. And yet, it's also really interesting how much of the political atmosphere is almost exactly the same today as it's portrayed as being during this time period. Now, I'm not exactly a historical expert for this period of time, so I can't say how accurate or not these portrayals are, but I found the comparisons very intriguing nonetheless. And I also couldn't help but wonder if certain aspects in the film were meant to be somewhat of a parallel to the move for gay rights in today's society, though it's possible I might be looking a little too much into that.

If I had one negative thing to say about this film, it would be concerning the ending. I feel the movie ended about two scenes later than it should have. We already know Lincoln gets assassinated, and I didn't feel it was necessary to show that in this particular incarnation of the story. It felt out of place, and it came after a scene that felt like the logical conclusion as Abe walks out of the white house after successfully passing the 13th amendment. I was expecting and hoping for them to fade to black and roll credits right then and there, but, alas, the film lingers on just a bit too long. But it's not that big a deal, and when that's the only fault I can find with the movie, then it's definitely been doing something right up to that point.

So I initially went in worrying that this was going to be another War Horse, only without the horses, but Spielberg brought his A-game this time around. From start to finish, the movie is a fascinating watch, and as I said before, it just flies by, which is quite an accomplishment considering it all plays out almost entirely through dialogue. The pacing is just spot on, and it somehow flew by even quicker the second time around. I was able to catch so much more and appreciate the film as a whole that second time through, so I'm really glad I went ahead and caught it again. This was a great movie, one of the year's best, and one you should definitely make an effort to check out at some time.

...

Though, now that I think about it, I guess I was a little disappointed that they never did get around to addressing that whole vampire fiasco...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

So Rise of the Guardians wasn't quite as good as I was hoping. It was still a nice, decent little film, but I couldn't help but feel like Dreamworks just missed the mark on a number of aspects.

Basically, the story is that the children of the world are protected by the Guardians who watch over them, such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. The Boogeyman wishes for a return to the old times when people used to fear him, so he begins a plot to make the children lose their faith in the Guardians and spread fear into the hearts of the children of the world. So the Guardians gather and turn to the Man in the Moon, who guides them to Jack Frost to help thwart the evil Boogeyman. So yeah, that all sounds pretty awesome, right? But, awesome as it sounds, the movie doesn't quite live up to the premise.

The movie starts off strongly enough with the introduction of Jack Frost, as he first discovers his powers and comes to the realization that, unlike the Guardians, the people of the world don't actually believe in him. And his struggle to find his purpose in the world and be believed in is the driving force of the movie. But the introduction of the other Guardians is quite clunky in comparison. They're certainly interesting characters, and the liberties taken with them is definitely a selling point to the movie. Santa, for instance, is a sword wielding, tattooed bad ass. The Easter Bunny is a boomerang flinging Australian bad ass. And hell, even the Sandman, goofy as his character design looks, winds up stealing the show with his sand powers. And he, too, is bad ass.

The Tooth Fairy, on the other hand, comes off as kind of a creep, and provides for some of worst aspects to the movie. There's an entire sequence where the Guardians are trying to help the Tooth Fairy gather teeth from the children of the world that just feels so out of place. For one thing, the scene lasts for entirely too long, but on top of that, they take a comedic aspect to this sequence, which, given the urgency that's supposed to be at hand, just really feels like an odd decision to make. In fact, the humor as a whole is pretty much a miss in this movie (though I did get a pretty big kick from a running gag concerning a painting yeti).

But yeah, despite some flaws, the characters were all good and fun for the most part, and the voice acting was really spot on as well. And even the Boogeyman's goals were actually quite understandable and not just generically evil, which is refreshing in a film aimed at more of a younger crowd such as this.

The movie's strongest point is definitely in the visuals. The film is quite frankly beautiful. The level of detail put into just little things, such as the characters' clothing, is just mind-blowing. And the scenes with the Boogeyman's dark "night-mares" battling against the Sandman's glowing, dreamy sand are absolutely gorgeous. A lot of work was definitely put into the visual aspect of the movie, but it's just a shame that not nearly as much effort was put into everything else.

So yeah, this movie didn't quite live up to my expectations, though I would still say it was a generally good movie. And in an admittedly weak year for animated films, it's probably one of the better ones released this year. It's nothing worth going out of your way to see, but if you do get a chance, then you'll probably still have an enjoyable enough time with this film.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Man With The Iron Fists

So the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA took a stab at making a martial arts film. Yet, despite his expertise in the culture, it didn't quite come together all that well. It certainly has its moments of brilliance, but it has just as many, if not more, missed marks that drag the film down and keep it from being as fun and satisfying an experience as it could have been.

It's a fairly basic story of a clansman's betrayal leading to a road of proposed warfare, dragging in three very different men from three very different backgrounds. First, a fellow clansman, in search of vengeance over his leader's murder. Then, a rambunctious Englishman who just so happens to be in town on vacation, seeking pleasure through violence. And lastly, a local blacksmith, who regretfully forged the weapons used to cause all this mess. And their roads ultimately lead them to a brothel, which acts as the central location for most of the film's more important affairs.

The acting is pretty decent enough for a film of this sort. Most of the actors appear to be having fun at least. Russel Crowe was a blast, stealing the show in every single scene, and Batista even impressed me a little with the charisma he brought to the screen. And Byron Mann, who plays the main villain, appears to be channeling Dave Chappelle's Prince character, but I got a kick out of him. RZA himself did a decent enough job narrating the film, though whenever he was actually on the screen, it almost felt like he was taking things too seriously, which sort of stood out in an otherwise somewhat silly movie. But for the most part, the characters are all handled well, and the movie even caught me off guard with the direction some of them took. At least twice we saw people who I expected to be villains actually turn out to be major protagonists, so in that sense at least the film wasn't entirely predictable.

Coming from RZA, I was hoping for the soundtrack to really kick all kinds of ass. But, sadly, that's not entirely the case. The soundtrack is awesome during the opening credits and in one or two other action scenes, which are accompanied by Wu-Tang Clan style rap beats. And I was hoping for more of this sound throughout, but for most of the film, they instead resort to typical fair that you'd come to expect from this type of movie, which was really just disappointing. And speaking of sound, this may be a bit nit-picky, but I did notice a few instances where the sound effects felt almost muffled, taking away some of the 'oomph' from the hits.

But in the end, this is a martial arts movie, so the most important thing this movie needs to get right is the martial arts action itself, right? But while the martial arts is definitely this film's strongest point, it also happens to be its weakest as well. The film has moments of brilliance when the camera pans out and lets the martial arts take center stage. But then, just moments later, they muddy it all up with extreme close-ups and quick cuts, ruining otherwise mesmerizing sequences and making them hard to watch at times. I also didn't think the movie was nearly as crazy as I was hoping for. It's certainly over-the-top and has its fair share of imagination, but it never feels like it showcases any of this imagination to its full potential. And while a lot of the bigger action scenes with loads of people involved last for a good minute, once we get down to the big final fights that the movie's been building up to, they all end far too quickly, ending the film with a disappointing series of anti-climaxes.

When the movie's not busy making us dizzy with quick cuts, the visuals do tend to have a very appealing look to them, particularly during said panned out scenes. However, the movie isn't quite as beautiful as it would like to believe it is. It just has a very artificial feel to it, like it's trying a bit too hard, but a lot of the environments and sequences are shot in an awkward style that sort of distorts the film's beauty, which happened to stick out to me.

But while it may seem like I'm tearing this movie a new one, I honestly didn't hate it. I found it enjoyable enough, and there was plenty to like here. Russel Crowe is the standout of the whole movie, and the villains were a whole lotta fun. And when we can actually see the action, it's definitely a thrill to watch. This movie had so much potential to be something awesome, but a few too many odd editing choices hold it back from greatness. So it wasn't all bad, but it was definitely an underwhelming experience.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph or: Candy Land: The Movie

So Wreck-It Ralph was an enjoyable movie overall. It wasn't quite the movie that it was advertised to be, having more in common with the board game Candy Land than any video game I've ever played, but still, it was a nice, fun little movie.

The story is basically that Wreck-It Ralph is the villain of the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr., but he doesn't want to be the bad guy anymore. The life of a video game villain is a lonely one, and even after the game ends, the heroes of the game continue to treat them like garbage. So Ralph wants to try his hand at being the hero, so he goes rogue, visiting other video game worlds in his attempt to prove that he can be the good guy for once.

The premise sounds interesting, and I was really looking forward to seeing a lot of classic video games get showcased here. But outside of the very beginning and the very end, the vast majority of this movie has very little at all to do with video games. Ralph eventually finds himself in a game known as Sugar Rush, which is a candy-based racing game. And once he arrives, and for the remainder of the movie, it essentially becomes a movie about candy.

The video game references go out the door in favor of candy puns at this point. But while it's certainly a bit disappointing that this is the rout this movie took, it's honestly not all that bad. The movie is still very good and fun, and the jokes are still genuinely funny and enjoyable. And near the end, it even gets surprisingly emotional on top of everything else. Sure, it's a bit cutesy, but it's not overbearingly so. And I especially thought that I was going to grow tired of Sarah Silverman's character, but even she actually really grows on you.

When it actually does focus on video games, that's when the movie really excels. Seeing classic villains from various games take part in a group therapy session was awesome, and they litter the world with lots and lots of little references here and there that are easy to miss. For instance, there's a brief moment where the words "Aerith Lives" are graffitied onto a wall, and they even threw in a Sonic PSA, which I got a huge kick out of. And I just know that this is the kind of movie where, the more you watch it, the more little things like this that you're going to catch.

However, good as everything was, it's probably telling that the best part of the whole movie was the ending credits. During this sequence, Ralph and the gang visit various classic gaming worlds in pixelated fashion, including Sonic's Green Hill Zone and the car bonus stage from Street Fighter II (which got the biggest applause of the whole movie from my audience). This whole thing is really just a blast, and it's pretty much what I was expecting this whole movie to be, so it's kind of a shame after the fact to find that this aspect played such a small role in the film.

So even though it wasn't what I was expecting, it was still a good movie overall. And its message of accepting who you are was particularly well implemented I felt. So yeah, that's really all I've got to say on the matter, so to send us off, I'll turn your attention to everyone's favorite Hedgehog with my very own "Sonic Says":

"Hey kids, if you're expecting to see your favorite video game characters like me and Zangief all the way through, then you might be disappointed, and that's no good. But if you go in with an open mind, then you might just find yourself having a good time anyways!"

Friday, November 2, 2012

Silent Hill: Exposition

With both Ned Stark and Jon Snow present in this movie, one would almost think that winter was coming to Silent Hill. And if the coming of winter is supposed to spell doom for the world, then it can't come soon enough. Silent Hill: Revelation just flat out sucked.

The original Silent Hill movie came out in 2006, so with six years between films, you'd think that that would be enough time to work up something at least halfway decent. You would apparently be wrong, as it would turn out. While the first movie wasn't great, it at least maintained a genuinely creepy vibe throughout, had some legitimately interesting visuals, and the story was even somewhat interesting. None of those descriptions can be applied to this piece of crap.

This movie is just an unimaginative farce. It tries so hard to be creepy, but it just goes too over-the-top with the "weird" factor. It feels forced, and instead of creepy, it just comes across as goofy and, quite frankly, boring. It often forgets that it's attempting to be a horror movie, and tries (and also fails) to steal a page out of Resident Evil's book by incorporating action elements to compensate. But, as with everything else in this movie, the action just feels forced, coming at you out of nowhere and sticking out like a sore thumb. Not to mention that the CGI effects are like something straight out of a bad Sci-Fi Original Movie. Actually, on second thought, scratch that, because that's far too complimentary of a comparison for this ugly monstrosity.

The real killer of the movie, however, is the writing. Holy crap this dialogue. Exposition, exposition, every sentence is exposition. Whatever happened to "show, don't tell"? The actors in this movie are constantly telling us exactly what they're doing as they're doing it. Constantly explaining every single thing, and then re-explaining it every five god damn minutes. The dialogue is just so awkward and forced, as if the script never even made it past a first draft.

And the acting, my god. This movie has good actors! So why are they so terrible in this film?! I can only blame director Michael J. Bassett (who, no shit, just so happened to also write this steaming turd) for this atrocity. The acting wasn't exactly praise-worthy in the original, but here it's almost borderline parody. And the stiff delivery along with the terrible, terrible writing makes for a constantly cringe-inducing watch.

The plot (and I use that word very loosely) was idiotic all the way through, so I suppose that, with that in mind, it may as well be fitting that a freaking hugging contest ultimately determined the final outcome. No, I'm not even joking, the big finale was a battle of who could hug the hardest. Hell, I'm gonna need a hug after sitting through this disaster of a movie.

And Sean Bean didn't even die! Sean Bean always dies! (Sure, he didn't die in the first one either, but still!) This movie got nothing right! It couldn't even get that right! Really, I have nothing positive to say about this movie. It wasn't even so bad it's good, it was just bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. But I don't need to tell you how bad this movie was, I'm sure one of the characters will be more than willing to fucking explain it to you over and over again!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cloud Atlas

I went into Cloud Atlas knowing full well that this could have gone either way. Either it was going to be a convoluted train-wreck, or it was gonna be a work of art. I'm happy to report that it's very much the latter. Cloud Atlas is an extraordinary achievement, and a supremely powerful film, one that I truly felt a connection to. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was so thoroughly moved by a film. But the thing about it is, when it comes to talking about this movie, I really don't even know where to begin. It's just such a deep experience, and I'm certain that a lot of it flew right over my head. And while I'm not even sure that I can give this movie its proper justice, I'm gonna give it my best shot anyways.

It's a grand sci-fi epic spanning over the course of centuries, from the 1800s, to more modern times, and well into the distant world of the future, both pre- and post-apocalyptic. And all throughout, the movie constantly shifts back and forth through time, showing little bits and pieces at a time from these different periods. In most films I would likely find this format really jarring, yet that's never the case in this film. The editing is immaculate, every single shift makes sense and fits perfectly. And as we watch each story play out, we gradually see the movie's many themes begin to click into place.

Ultimately, this movie is about how everything is connected. How all of us are connected to one another and this world as a whole. It's about our past, our present, and our future as a people, and how the life that we live does not necessarily belong to only ourselves. And in this sense, it's also about cycles. The cycle of hatred, and how we continue to make the same terrible mistakes that alter the course of history for the worse. And the cycle of love, in all its many forms, be it destiny, unlikely companionships, and the ability to let go and sacrifice that love for the greater good. In both instances, the law of attraction is in full force, and, for better or worse, every single action leaves its mark on the world. And I just know that this movie is also about so much more that I could only catch a glimpse of, but all of these themes are explored so deeply and resonate on such a personal level. Hell, the movie opens by essentially showing you exactly how several of these storylines conclude, and yet despite this, I was still left with such a heavy, emotional gut-check of depression as well as tear-jerking levels of happiness once we caught back up in the end.

As for the time periods themselves, they all have a very distinct style. From the sea-faring expedition of the 1800s, to the more thriller-esque mystery attempting to be unveiled in the '70s. The dark and depressing musical narrative of the early 1900s, to the super stylized science fiction future, and the eventual fall of man back to barbaric times. In fact, the only storyline that feels even the slightest bit out of place would be the current day period, which sees a trouble-making publisher, played by Jim Broadbent, who finds himself locked in a nursing home which he must try to escape. The ongoing theme of changing one's fate is there, sure, but I can't help but feel like there's something more to this portion that I'm missing. And there was a particular line at the very beginning concerning the flashbacks and flashforwards in stories that definitely felt relevant. But even if it didn't quite seem to fit, these scenes were still very enjoyable, taking nothing away from the movie, and even managing to lighten the mood just a little, providing most of the humor in the movie.

Speaking of which, the movie is also very balanced as a whole with all of the different styles and genres it splices together. In addition to the aforementioned emotional factor, the action, humor, and drama is all implemented at all the perfect moments, with no one element ever overwhelming the movie. It's just a really well paced movie. At almost three hours in length, this movie is a breeze, which is refreshing in this day and age where I'm finding myself growing more and more tired of needlessly lengthy movies. It's a long movie, but not a single second is wasted, and at no point does it ever begin to drag.

The cast was all around really great. The movie uses an ensemble that is re-used in each of the different timelines, and I really appreciated that they didn't just essentially play the same character in each one. For instance, Tom Hanks has a tendency to be one of the main protagonist in most of his timelines. However, in at least a couple of them, he becomes the main villain (his character who we see briefly during the modern era is especially a treat to watch). And there are instances where actors might even play a character of different race or gender in different timelines, and a lot of these times you can't even recognize the actors at all. As the credits roll and they show all the characters who each actor played, there were several occasions where I honestly would have never guessed. The makeup and costuming in this movie is just absolutely astounding.

As the movie ended and the credits rolled, I just sort of sat there in stunned silence at what I had just witnessed. I was so moved that even just thinking about this movie after the fact has gotten me choked up at times. And as I mentioned before, I really haven't even scratched the surface with what this movie has to offer. Cloud Atlas is the kind of movie that almost makes me feel like an idiot when I try to sit down and analyze it, but everything was just so, so well done that, even though I'm sure I didn't quite get all of it, I was still able to walk away with a satisfying feeling of fulfillment. It certainly demands repeat viewings and thorough deconstruction to truly grasp this movie, and I definitely intend to revisit it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity 4 is actually the first entry in the series that I've seen thus far. And if the other three are nearly as funny as this one is, then I'm more than willing to go back and give them a shot as well! That's right, from start to finish, this movie is utterly and unintentionally hilarious. All of the "scares" left my theater laughing at the sheer cheesiness, and I at least had a good enough time that this movie's countless number of problems couldn't take away from my enjoyment.

Spoilers ahead, in case anyone honestly cares.

So after a creepy little boy's mother is taken to the hospital, the family who lives across the street takes him in as one of their own. Why this child is just randomly brought in, as opposed to being taken by child services, is beyond me, but let's just go with it! Anyways, after the kid moves in, more and more creepy things start happening at the house, and that's when the fun really begins.

The main girl starts noticing the creepiness, and so she brings aboard her appropriately creepy boyfriend (seriously, it's revealed that he's essentially been watching this girl sleeping via her web-cam, and yet even after this is revealed to her, she's still completely cool with the dude. What?!) to help set up cameras throughout the house to monitor the activity. The thing is, after they spend all this time establishing that they're setting all of this up with the intention to go back and watch the tapes, they never actually do that. The footage goes completely ignored, and for no apparent reason, rendering this major plot point entirely pointless.

Also concerning cameras, I understand the need for them in order to get the whole "found footage" aspect down, though there were several occasions where it just felt awkward. Like, when the girl is just shoving a camera in her mother's face while she's preparing a meal. It's as if everyone is completely cool with constantly being filmed, no matter how inappropriate the setting may be for it. But then, when shit starts to happen, despite it all being captured on film, the family wants to argue that the girl is crazy and just making things up, when they could just as easy watch the damn footage she's been filming and see that she's not lying. Hell, even after creepy crap starts happening to the other members of the family, they still don't wanna give the girl the benefit of the doubt. (Also, random, but I love how there was just a random cat in the movie that would run across the screen at times, who nobody in the family ever once acknowledges, almost as if someone on set just happened to bring their cat to work one day and let him have free reign.)

But going back to the camera, other than inappropriate family moments, there were also times when it was like, seriously, why are you still even holding this thing? Drop the camera and save yourself already! (Though there is one single scene where she actually does just this, as she attempts to break out of a garage.) And again, it's one of those things that's hard to pick on, because I understand the need to get it on film for the sake of making the movie, but still, it really kills any kind of believability factor.

I will say this though, the movie doesn't try to go the cheap rout and throw in jump scares around every corner (though, to be fair, this movie doesn't actually throw in any scares now that I think about it). And it even plays with your expectations of the trope. For instance, there are several times when a character will open the refrigerator, leaving the door blocking out the rest of the scenery. In most horror movies, you'd expect that once the door's shut, something or someone would suddenly appear there to provide a quick startle. However, to this film's credit, they never actually go through with that, which I honestly have to give them kudos on that.

As ridiculous as this movie is, the ending just left me dying with how out of nowhere it was. For one thing, the big finale is a total rip-off of The Blair Witch Project's conclusion, minus any sort of subtlety. And then the final shots turn this ghost movie into some sort of random as hell zombie apocalypse or some crap. Seriously, I don't even know, and the movie did absolutely nothing to suggest that this would be the final direction it was heading towards.

So yeah, technically speaking, this was a terrible movie. And yet, despite it's many, many flaws, I really can't find myself hating on it too much. Because in the end, it was still very enjoyable, even if for all the wrong reasons. Considering that it's supposed to be a serious horror movie, this is a complete and utter failure in that respect. But otherwise, Paranormal Activity 4 is probably the most unintentionally hilarious movie I've seen this year.