Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is theoretically based upon the influential James Thurber short story of the same name originally published in the New Yorker magazine in 1939.  That original story was a comic story of a repressed and bored husband driving around his dull town, escaping from his life by descending into daydreams and fantasies based upon stock cliche genres.  He's a master surgeon, he's an assassin, he's a daring suicide pilot, all while his domineering wife in our reality sees only a dimwitted fool who must be punished by a lifetime of nagging and misery.  If you have ever watched any story about a character daydreaming into fantasies based vaguely upon reality - for example, just about half of "Calvin and Hobbes"' Sunday scripts or the Looney Tunes cartoon "From A to Z-Z-Z-Z" where a little boy in class becomes various heroes, including Douglas MacArthur - then you've seen something influenced by James Thurber.

One thing that's probably not so much influenced by James Thurber is this version of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", which isn't quite so much about quixotic escapism as much as... actually I have no idea.  I really do not understand what this movie was trying to be, what it was trying to say, or really much of anything here.  Ben Stiller directs and stars as the titular Walter Mitty, and I get the impression that Stiller did not actually understand the original New Yorker story, James Thurber, or even has ever particularly daydreamed in his entire life.  This version comes off not as a commentary on the nature of fiction but rather one part sportswear commercial and another part "Family Guy" random cutaway.  And I'm talking about latter season "Family Guy" here.

One of "Walter Mitty"'s most memorable fantasies, at least the one that received the most laughs from the audience, was a cutaway to Walter's fantasy of becoming a Benjamin Button creature, turning into a little old man while in the arms of his love interest in this movie, played by Kristin Wiig.  How ironic is that "Walter Mitty" decided to reference another bloated largely characterless movie based on an early 20th century short story whose actual point was completely ignored or misunderstood?*  Also, we're going to reference an Oscar-nominated movie from what, five years ago?  I was in high school when "Benjamin Button" came out, that's like three lifetimes ago.  This is really the caliber of comedy we're looking at here with "Walter Mitty" - 'remember that "Benjamin Button" movie?  Isn't it funny that Ben Stiller is a CG dwarf now?'  Really, if all you want is Ben Stiller acting like a loveable loser, occasionally wacky, in a non-offensive generically 'inspiring' movie that will in no way challenge your life or deepen your existence, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is for you.  And remember, the USA Network has yet another 24 hour "Law & Order: SVU" marathon today, as long as we're being safe and thinking inside the box, might as well watch those reruns for the millionth time.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

"The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" was the very first Zelda game I ever managed to beat.  It took me about a year or two, many hours of frantic puzzle solving, and a long adventure through the glories of Hyrule and the horror of the Dark World.  Now two years to beat a game sounds like an embarrassing failure, but I will counter by saying I was ten.  And somewhere out there, in some other universe, Samus Aran is still waiting to get through the second door in "Metroid Prime", which eleven-year-old Blue Highwind gave up on almost immediately because it was too scary.  In our current universe and current time, I beat "The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds" in three days, and that's only because one of those days was Christmas, and my pesky family demanded attention.

Sorry beings of similar genetic make-up to me, you will always be second in my eyes to my true family:  Link, Zelda, our super hot cousin Sheik, and our embarrassing rarely-spoken-of uncle, Tingle.  "The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds" feels like a deeply meaningful family reunion, as we all return back to the good old days.  Yes, our modern lives have filled with unnecessary distractions such as cellphones, Facebook, and motion controls, but we can ignore that for this one simple adventure.  Back in the days before we had to install our games, back in the days before Nintendo insisted that everybody would have more fun flailing their arms or scribbling on a touchpad rather than using buttons, and back in the days when games were just that, games.  You were a hero, you have a sword, you have a princess to rescue, there are things in your way, use that sword and that brain of yours to make those things go away.  Ahh, nostalgia.  Let's forget modernity and sink back... using this, 3DS game, this link to the past*.

But here's the rub:  is "A Link Between Worlds" legitimately a great game or is it just a 3D recreation of "A Link to the Past"?  There is no conversation more vapid than "remember when?", no movie less important than a remake, no song more pointless than a cover.  This isn't merely a sequel, its a complete recreation of the old game, with 95% of the world map entirely unchanged, the entire enemy roster reborn as increasingly silly 3DS cartoon creatures, and at least half of the bosses retreads from the original.  Its not "A Link to the Past 2", its "A Link to the Past 1.5".  Its not so bad that you can simply reuse strategies from twenty years ago and assume that the game will play out exactly the same, but its still... too much of the same.  I'm glad that my old family hasn't aged a day, but I have, I loved this game for what it was when I first played it, but I can recognize that Zelda and gaming has evolved, and moved forward.

Friday, December 27, 2013

American Hustle

What happens when you take a DVD for "Goodfellas" and take a DVD for "Boogie Nights" and put them both in the microwave?  A pile of compact disc goo and a broken microwave, along with a dark stain on your wall after you nearly set your kitchen on fire.  You also will probably get a divorce from your wife, who has grown weary of your many years of absurd experiments mixing random objects, which means your children will grow up in a broken home, become drug addicts, and sell their bodies on the streets of Camden, New Jersey.  Meanwhile you will die alone, sad, and quite terribly fat, on a bus ride back from the casino, having spent away your Social Security check which you were going to use to buy a new microwave, which you've needed ever since you blew up the last one and ruined two of the best movies of the early 1990s.  My ultimate point being:  go see "American Hustle", a far more organic mixture of those two great Seventies period pieces, and therefore keep your microwave, your family, and your children's purity.

"American Hustle" is a film that is very upfront about its creative licenses upon actual historical events.  While some films will lie through the teeth about historical accuracy - looking at you, "U-571", you fraudulent bastard* - this one comes right up and says "Some of this actually happened".  Its vaguely based on the Abscam program of the late 1970s, an FBI string operation based around a fictitious Arab investor who lured out a good deal of New Jersey's political class into accepting bribes, supposedly based around building casinos in Atlantic City.  David O. Russell, director of last year's "Silver Linings Playbook", has taken this simple and fairly standard tale of inevitable New Jersey corruption and turned it on its head, turning the crooked politicians into misguided patriots trying to serve their communities best, the criminal scammers who engineered this operation into heroes, and the FBI agent running the program into a madman destroying the good order of things in order to make a name for himself.  Its a nicely twisted take on the traditional template of public corruption, where the roles have been completely reversed, and ultimately a very funny movie.

The most important point of "American Hustle" - and I promise to do my hardest not to accidentally confuse it with Spike Lee's "American Gangster" - is that's fun.  Its the "Despicable Me 2" of crime movies, featuring extremely complex characters, relationships, and actions, and turning it into a large farce, with of course, the threat of jail time, death, and misery for everybody involved.  The cast has bad hair, the worst of Seventies fashion, which was awful even at the time, all circling together, stabbing each other in the back, hoping that somebody won't be help standing without a chair once the music stops.  There really isn't much of a villain to this story, though I guess it defaults to the FBI for ruining the status quo, instead its characters smashing into each other for two hours and change.  "Goodfellas" might be remembered as a great dramatic gangster movie, but it was mostly played for laughs.  "American Hustle" is the same way, but with a fraction of the violence, and ten times as much simply awful haircuts.  Maybe you're a person who just hates good movies, and hates life, and hates themselves, but otherwise "American Hustle" is a movie you will want to see.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2013: The Time of the Doctor

Spoilers ahead.  Warnings were given.

Somehow its wonderfully appropriate that Matt Smith's Doctor would die on Christmas.  This Doctor has been a figure of fantasy ever since his first incarnation, when he met a young Amy Pond as a magical Raggedy Man, then disappeared for twelve years to become a figure of myth and fairy tale in her life.  Now he's playing up a role that he's always wanted:  the hero to children, protector of the weak and innocent, fighting the dark creatures from around the universe to save a town that appears to be a Norman Rockwell Christmas painting made real.  That now he's sacrificing his own life in a final operatic struggle is only that much more a culmination of his fantasies, its only a tad too perfect.  Which to me, a cynical man, would see as an opportunity to really kick the Doctor in the balls by turning the tables on this situation and revealing it all to be a great Dalek trap.  But to Stephen Moffat, who has created and worshiped this Doctor for four years now, it was exactly the ending this era in "Doctor Who" needed and deserved.

The plot of "The Time of the Doctor" is a energetic burning away of all the hanging plot threads of the last three seasons of "Doctor Who".  There are cracks in the universe yet again, the hanging question of the Doctor's name, the Fields of Trenzalore, the revival of Gallifrey, and the return of the Moffat-era central villains, the Church of the Silence.  So its a very stuffed episode with an unwieldy plot so big that it barely fits within the television time slot, relying upon very awkward voice-over narration to fill in the cracks of exposition.  Its a story that takes place over three-hundred years, with the Doctor battling an armada of the entire universe.  And then to top it off, the Doctor needs to finally die, and Matt Smith has to pass on his torch to the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi.  Oh, and the Doctor's companion, Clara Oswald, is cooking a Christmas dinner and while an entire age of galactic warfare goes on in some other time and other place, she's trying to pass off the Doctor as her boyfriend to her Earthly parents.  So its an episode with everything:  Daleks, Cybermen, a turkey in the oven, Gallifrey in a crack in a wall, and weeping angels in the snow*.

Last month I had to say I was guardedly cynical about the return of Gallifrey to the "Doctor Who" universe.  But the very first episode dealing with the return of Gallifrey has done an excellent job keeping the tension high, and not merely retconning the entire Time War out of existence.  The universe is aligned against the Time Lords return, terrified to their very core.  And here for the first time, the Doctor has to walk an extremely difficult line between saving his people, and the safety of the universe.  So while the Eleventh Doctor's tenure is definitively ended forever on the Fields of Trenzalore, just as was prophesied, we see the first step into the new arc, what will be the Twelfth Doctor's battle, to save his home while saving the universe.  As "The Time of the Doctor" shows, that's not going to be an easy reconciliation.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Madness of King Youtube

The other night I had my "Family Guy" rant taken down.  I was able to recover that item after much hardness and misery, all because Google is now a post-punk nightmareish automated system that hates you and me, and secretly wants us all to die in a fire holocaust of nuclear destruction.  Here's me talking about it:


Also, Happy 600th post!  Merry 600th Post-mas, everybody.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What I've Been Reading (Holiday 2013)

Movies have always loved adapting their storylines from novels and books.  It goes all the way back to the beginning, when many of the most classic films of all time were based on the written word:  "The Wizard of Oz", "The Shining", "Frankenstein", "The Godfather", even the first giant monster movie ever, "The Lost World", came out of the mind of a novelist, Arthur Conan Doyle.  2013's slant of "The Hobbit", "World War Z", "Ender's Game", and the dozens of teen fantasy stories that came out this year are nothing new.  In the coming years we'll see dozens more adaptations, and more recreations will occur after that, forever, as long as movies are movie.   However one question I've never had adequately answered for me is:   when you see a movie adapted for a book, is it better to have read the novel beforehand? 

The very last post I wrote here was on the second part of the Peter Jackson "Hobbit" trilogy.  And rather shallowly on my part, a great deal of my criticism were its deviation from the open spirits and accessibility of the book.  The original "Hobbit" has this great sing-song quality to every line, its the kind of prose you really need to read out loud in order to appreciate, preferably to a very small child with a sense of wonder in their eye.  The movie is this massive unwieldy slab of drama and plotlines, with so much going on, it really misses the entire spirit of Tolkien.  But maybe I just couldn't appreciate what Peter Jackson was doing because I wanted it to be that original book?  Maybe I would have given "World War Z" a slowing recommendation if I hadn't cared that we were missing the satire and cleverness of Max Brooks - and the blind samurai chopping zombies heads off with a katana.

Then there's movies I've loved, which were based on books I've never read, and might never get around to reading.  I was ten when "The Lord of the Rings" movies came out, and I certainly didn't care that Tom Bombadil was missing.  I've never read "Coraline", but the movie is one of my favorites of all time.  On the other hand, I have no idea how "The Host" managed to link up with Stephenie Meyer's own vision, and its was one of the worst movies of 2013.  I would say, its probably best in the end to see the movie first, then read the book.  Not because of that hopelessly broad generalization that the book is always better (see and read: "Fight Club"), but because film is, in many ways, a less personal medium than a full hundred page novel.  The more familiar you are with the intricacies of the material, such as my comprehensive knowledge of Middle Earth history**, the less likely you are to enjoy a piece that simply gets its feet wet with that universe, rather than drown itself in the lore.  A movie is something you get to enjoy for a few hours, and its over.  A book is a part of your life for days, if not weeks, something you carry with you and fall into over and over again, then return to reality after a nice long stretch.  A movie is a date, a book is a relationship.  So here are three one-night-stands I decided to go back to and turn into long term romances.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Excess

Oh, "The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug", you are such a difficult case.  I've sat here at this screen for two days now, trying my best to finally get a review written that could adequately fit both the movie and my thoughts on it.  Because I guess I generally hated "The Hobbit 2", but it feels almost unfair to hate this movie, despite its flaws.  Peter Jackson is just a fat little fanboy, way too enthusiastic for the material for his own good, to the point he's gone way too far with his Hobbit trilogy.  But its such a childish excess, like somebody with far too many ideas and fun moments to add to his movies.  Of course, he and his team seem to have forgotten that a human brain can only endure so much, there's such a thing as too much.

Most of us all generally agree that the decision to turn "The Hobbit" into a trilogy was generally a mistake.  The horrible shame of the whole experience is that Peter Jackson's production has all kinds of really good ideas.  You could not have found a better Bilbo Baggins than Martin Freeman, I don't think any better actor for that part has ever existed or ever will come again.  The world-building, the art design, the action sequences (some of them anyway), are all spot-on.  The only problem is that the movies are too damn long, for no reason other than to accommodate massively long exhausting action scenes.  We could have had three lean ninety-minute movies.  Instead we have three bloated nightmares, which are maybe 60% excellent, and 40% pain.  I know Peter Jackson is having a great time making these movies, and his team seems utterly unable to remove anything.

"Desolation of Smaug" is probably a more streamlined movie than the last one, I couldn't immediately name about an hour of content that could have been removed as I did last year with "An Unexpected Journey".  We also thankfully move at a very brisk pace for most of the movie, at least until the action climax when the movie slows to a damn craaawl.  We aren't going to spend an hour in Bag End singing songs and ruining Bilbo's dishes like last December.  But we will spend an hour in Smaug's cave, which is maybe just as bad - if not worse.  So we've gone two steps forward, fixing some of the mistakes of last year, and just as many steps back.  Return to Go, do not collect $200.  And if trends indicate anything, we're probably at the high water mark of "The Hobbit" right now.  Because next year, with "The Hobbit 3" based entirely around a three hour battle sequence*, its going to get much much worse.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

12 Years a Slave

Well, that was depressing.

"12 Years a Slave" is not a movie I particularly wanted to see.  I don't know about anybody else, but the idea of watching Chiwetel Ejiofor get whipped by angry Southerners for two hours didn't exactly catch by fancy.  In fact, I don't think "12 Years a Slave" is a movie I enjoyed, or anybody will enjoy.  Children will be frightened, teenagers will be infuriated by the injustice of it all, adults will be terribly depressed, and the elderly will be ashamed for the whole human race.  So its a movie for nobody, enjoyable by none, one that makes your day considerably worse.  You walk back home after seeing it, and try to put back on the mask of your happy persona to your loved ones, tell them the movie was "okay", and meanwhile stare at the ceiling, desperate for answers that are not going to come.  Its the biggest downer of the year.

The story of "12 Years a Slave" is based upon the actual events of the life of Solomon Northup, an African American freeman living in New York in the early 1800s.  Solomon prior to his imprisonment was living as well as any African-American could ever hope to in that period in our country, with a fine middle class lifestyle and a growing happy family.  That is until he was swindled by two traveling musicians, who brought him down to Washington, where was kidnapped just miles away from the centers of a government purportedly based on liberty and justice, and then sold into slavery in Louisiana.  He toiled for twelve horrible years under several different masters, watching the misery and degradation of his entire race unfold, until finally he was saved, came home, and wrote his memoir with the help of writer, David Wilson.  That "Twelve Years a Slave" was a major anti-slavery novel, coming out only a year after "Uncle Tom's Cabin", which helped build the abolitionist movement in the United States, which led to the Civil War and the destruction of the corrupt Southern society.

Happy endings aside, "12 Years a Slave" is not a movie that will leave you with very much to celebrate.  Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor*, is not Oscar Schindler or Uncle Tom or even Kunta Kinte, he isn't a strong figure defying injustice, he's not trying his best to save as many as possible, and he isn't even defiantly keeping his soul and culture alive in the midst of slavery.  He's just trying to survive, his independence and spirit break within a half hour, the rest of the movie is a man continuing as best he can, for any hope at all for going home.  This is a movie without a hero, the only act of heroism occurs early on by a freeman-turned-slave played by Michael K. Williams, trying to save a Black mother from rape by one of their capturers.  That hero is murdered**, Solmon Northup learns what happens to those who resist, a lesson that is taught again and again throughout this horror of a movie.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

Last year to mark the occasion of Peter Jackson's first of three "Hobbit" movies, I reviewed the 1977 made-for-TV animated adaptation of "The Hobbit".  And today, one year and a day later, another "Hobbit" movie is on its way, ready to set the film on fire with... probably a repeat of many of the mistakes of the first one, sadly.  But before we go forth to examine Peter Jackson's great epic, we must first look back again to a simpler time:  the late Seventies. That was an age of incredible gasoline prices, unrelenting economic troubles, total societal malaise and confusion, a completely ineffective Democrat as president, and constant trouble in the Middle East - so completely foreign to us in the 21st century where everything is perfect all the time thanks to our flying cars and nuclear fusion ovens.  Anyway, the movie we're discussing today is "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings", directed by animation legend, Ralph Bakshi.

Today this movie is often seen as an unofficial sequel to the Rankin/Bass "Hobbit" that was aired on NBC one year earlier.  But Ralph Bakshi's production actually had nothing to do with that adaptation, and the two movies coming out so close together is probably a coincidence.  Ralph Bakshi had been working on his adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" since the mid-Seventies trying to convince United Artists (a now-defunct* studio that owned the rights at the time) that his vision would be the best fit for the audience.  Bakshi's main rival at the time for the opportunity to adapt "The Lord of the Rings" was John Boorman**, who turned into a 700 page treatment which left UA executives completely dumbfounded - though its doubtful any studio executive in 1978 really could appreciate Tolkien's work for its importance.  Boorman was trying to adapt the entire three-part novel in one movie, but Bakshi promised a much smaller cheaper animated production which would only adapt the first half of the three-part novel, which a sequel coming to finish the second half.  Unfortunately, even though "The Lord of the Rings" was a financial success, bringing in thirty million dollars above its merely four million dollar budget, United Artists decided not to make a sequel, leaving the story half-finished.  They also removed the words "Part 1" from the title, leaving audiences in 1978 extremely confused as to ending.  Rankin/Bass, as disappointed as anybody by the ultimate failure of Ralph Bakshi's production, in 1980 went ahead and made "The Return of the King", finally finishing the Tolkien mythos - which is the movie I'll be reviewing come the final "Hobbit" film next year.

As for the movie itself, "The Lord of the Rings" is mostly a historical curiosity, and I can't say it adds up to very much more.  The Rankin/Bass movies were very clearly made with children in mind, thus the whimsical mood and use of songs, Ralph Bakshi however wanted a tone not that dissimilar to Peter Jackson.  Its animated, but its very serious, with often dark imagery and frequent action scenes.  "The Lord of the Rings" was probably the most violent cartoon ever seen in the West in 1978, the only problem being that Bakshi was heavily overreaching his means.  Most of the movie is animated using Rotoscope, but the budget was so shoestring that much of the animation is actually unfinished, leaving muddy live action figures standing in the place of where animated characters should be.  So its hard to judge an adaptation so badly unfinished, especially when its heart wants to be in the right place.  Tragically that heart is flopping on the floor because Bakshi couldn't finish animating the chest cavity, and the film's lifeblood is staining the carpet.  I can't say I personally enjoyed this movie, and I really cannot recommend it to anybody wanting to actually have fun seeing a film.  But if you're really interested in the roots of Tolkien, this is something you have to see one day.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Game About Pirates in the Caribbean: Black Flag

I've never cared about the Assassin's Creed series.  I guess as a history major, I should be more interested in finally having the chance to visit theme park versions of the Crusades or Renaissance Italy or the American Revolution*, but these games never quite interested me.  Ubisoft had to focus on the most preposterous and legendary portions of the Crusades, with Knights Templar and Ismaili Assassins*, rather than the more meaty political conflicts and individual betrayals and power grabs which make the Crusades so fascinating.  Part of it was that this franchise seemed tired and over-milked by 2010, which is amazing since the first game only game out three years prior.  But mostly it was the future simulation gimmick.  You're not really playing a Renaissance rooftop hitman, you're playing some bland Canadian guy who is playing the Renaissance rooftop hitman.

Anyway, that's no problem at all, because "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag" is a game about pirates.  Yeah, the Templars are here, and the Assassin's are here, and the future bullshit is here, but that doesn't matter.   Because in this game, you're a pirate:  you sink ships, you fight the great colonial empires of America head on, you battle redcoats and Man-of-Wars, and drink rum.  We all know the stories of the romance of the high seas, living free and wild as a filthy scallywag, whoring and thieving your way across the blue-green ocean, singing songs of high cheer.  Why did this need to be an Assassin's Creed game?  Is simply the idea of playing a game as a buccaneer firing salvos into innocent merchants to steal their cargo not exciting enough?  You have to be a ninja too?  You also really needed a boring frame story in an pretentious Montreal computer company where you get bossed around by some jerk in IT?

If you're one of those true fans of the Assassin's Creed series, well... keep having fun.  You're as entitled to care about the overarching plot line of the future timeline and the First Civilization and the French Canadian supervillains as I am entitled to completely ignore it and just be a pirate in an open world adventure game.  Though on my side, I think Ubisoft has kinda stopped caring about the Assassin's Creed mythology as well, because the future stuff has only the slightest relevance to the real gameplay and even in the early 1700s era, the Templar-Assassins conflict is given only occasional lip service.  You could - and will - spend hours engaging yourself in the business of piracy, not battling to save the world from a New World Order crew.  Because that's where the fun is!  Its open freedom, dashing out into the waves, destroying entire convoys of British naval ships who really only wanted to put sugar in their tea.  Well, fuck their sugar, fuck their tea, I'm a damn bloody pirate, its my sugar now!  And I'm going to rule this ocean.  I'm going to rule this review while I'm at it, damn the Assassins, damn Ubisoft, and damn the fans!   ARRRR AHARR HARRRR!!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Family Guy Rant: Its Over, Go Home

So last night I watched a new episode of "Family Guy" at its airing time, which I don't usually do.  Its been years since I've watched a proper "Family Guy" episode, I decided to watch out of curiosity since two weeks ago Brian was murdered for shock value.  This show sucks.  Watching it was a huge mistake.  I didn't really feel like writing my thoughts down, I just needed to record myself talking immediately.  Because this is so depressing, so sad, Brian being dead is the least of this show's problems.  Enjoy:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

"Dallas Buyers Club" is the latest feather Matthew McConaughey can add to his headdress along his recent dominating drive to become a "real actor".  Between this, "Killer Joe", "Bernie", "Mud", and the upcoming "Wolf of Wall Street" its easy to say that McConaughey has had the best two years of any actor currently working.  And the funny thing is, other than firing his last agent, I cannot actually see what McConaughey is doing differently.  He's the kind of actor who really never disappears into a role, he just rides on his own natural charisma and talent.  Even in "Dallas Buyers Club", which make no mistake, is a very good Matthew McConaughey performance, its still obviously the same guy from "Failure to Launch" or "Contact"*.  In this movie, McConaughey lost what looks to be fifty pounds, he has gone from a proud red-blooded southern fried ubermench to Ichabod Crane.  But even in that freakishly long-necked, skinny, and horribly twisted frame, its still Matthew McConaughey's same charming southern drawl, with a singsong invitation to every lady in the audience.  And there's nothing wrong with it, he's always been a strong leading man.  Only now he's getting better roles.

If you've ever doubted that Matthew McConaughey is a great actor, go watch one of his worst movies.  There are plenty, honestly.  Try "Reign of Fire" or the massive flop "Sahara" or even McConaughey's brief run as a redneck serial killer in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation".  He elevates all mediocre material given him, he's just a fun person to be around.  Yeah, he's kind of a douche bag, hanging out with (now) notorious bastard Lance Armstrong, and having stoned midnight naked bongo sessions.  But even if you really, really hated "Fool's Gold", wouldn't you want to strip down, and bash your hands drunkenly on bongos with Matthew McConaughey at the dead hours of the morning?  This guy is so cool he even elevates the otherwise entirely mediocre "Dallas Buyers Club".

This is one of those movies that begins with a great deal of promise, seemingly very dramatic and heavy though with a promise of screwball antics and hustle.  McConaughey plays a Texas oil industry electrician, the real-life Ron Woodroof, who loves anonymous Eighties sex only nearly as much as he loves playing cards, drinking shots of bourbon, snorting lines of cocaine, and the rodeo.  He's as straight and homophobic as you'd expect any average Texan roughneck to be, only his freewheeling rambling life style has given him AIDS, which at the time was both a death sentence and consider irrefutable proof of being gay.  He loses his friends, his health, his job, and his home all in a span of a month, which is exactly as long as the doctors say he has to live.  In order to survive, McConaughey travels to Mexico to procure untested experimental drugs, and then realizes he has a fantastic business opportunity:  sell his illicit (though technically not illegal) wares to all of the other HIV and AIDS suffering groups in Texas.  So the movie is McConaughey dancing one step ahead of the DEA, the FDA, and the IRS, in a barely legal bubble allowing him and his largely homosexual clientele to survive.  Which all sounds like a very interesting movie, which it is.  Until however, it largely collapses in the third act, turning into a mostly by-the-numbers biopic with badly simplistic black and white morality, only saved by strong performances which dominate the movie.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ted Cruz's Response to My Open Letter

Holy crap, a response!  A month and a half ago I sent Ted Cruz an email - which I generally assumed would end up unread and ignored - which I posted on this blog.  Just five hours ago I actually received a response, which out of fairness I felt I should post:
Dear Eric,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding the recent debate over funding the federal government.  Input from fellow Texans significantly informs my decision-making and empowers me to better represent the state.  I especially appreciate your patience awaiting a response as we established our office and mail system.
In October, our country experienced the first "shutdown" of some government services in more than a decade.  This partial shutdown was triggered by the refusal of President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid to even consider the 16 House-passed measures to fund every single aspect of the federal government, except Obamacare.  The result was to delay benefits for veterans, interrupt important medical research, and deny Americans access to their own national parks and monuments.  At the very same time President Obama was arguing these services were vital and necessary, he was threatening to veto efforts to ensure they continued. 
Although I believed the government should remain open and functioning, I voted against the deal that ended the shutdown because it did nothing to give relief to the millions of Americans who are hurting because of Obamacare.  Today, many of my Democrat colleagues are calling for an end to the "mandate" that Americans buy insurance through Obamacare - a position that, if adopted in October, could have prevented the shutdown.
Until Congress listens to the demands of the American people, our country cannot return to a path of job creation and economic growth. I remain committed to the full repeal of Obamacare.
Thank you for sharing your views with me. Please feel free to contact me in the future about any issue important to your family. It is an honor to serve you and the people of Texas.
For Liberty,
Senator Ted Cruz

Its actually a much nicer and intelligent email that I probably deserved considering the harness of my original correspondence. This may be just a generalized email on this subject (I'm sure he gets thousands of letters and emails a day) but any response at all was more than I thought I'd get. I've sent back a thank you reply. Also, pretty cool to get a letter from a Senator, even if it is Ted Cruz.  And since Obamacare so far has been little more than a disaster (post on that coming), I'd say his position was legitimate, but his methods were not.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Frozen

Pixar, you guys really gotta step up your game.  For the past three years the Walt Disney Animation Studios productions have been making Pixar look bad.  After about a decade of mediocrity, Disney has been reborn seemingly stronger than ever, starting slowly with a heartfelt return to the classics with "The Princess and the Frog" and "Winnie the Pooh", and then moving forward into full-force explosions of entertainment with "Tangled" and "Wreck-it Ralph".  Meanwhile Pixar has been playing it rather safe, with sequels and franchises being their main focus, with "Brave" being the valiant but misguided exception.  Not that there's really much competition between Pixar and Disney, they money all goes to the same corporate bank account in the end, but its unusual that has Disney's fortunes have risen, Pixar seems to have forgotten that spark that made it such a juggernaut.  Either way, Pixar's "Monster's University" is a movie that worked in its own way, and was a lot of fun.  "Frozen", however, is a homerun, smashing right to the fences, cementing the permanence and importance of Disney's Second Renaissance.

Basically since I've started this blog, Disney has been working their hardest to rebuild the classic fairy tale musical that forms the core of the Disney Canon.  "Frozen" seems to jump directly into the Nineties Renaissance Formula:  we got the catchy music, love at first sight, the fantasy adventure, the annoying side kick (minus terrible pop culture puns), its all there.  This was exactly the kind of movie that Disney used to churn out to impressive effect back when I was a little kid, and it was great at the time:  "Aladdin", "The Lion King", "Hunchback of Notre Dame", "Tarzan", "Beauty and the Beast", these are all masterpieces.  And it worked perfectly for the time, until Disney's competitors released a flurry of hideous far inferior copies.  Anyway remember "Quest of Camelot"?  Let's hope shit like that remains forgotten forever*.  There's a reason they stopped making movies in the vein of "The Little Mermaid" over a decade ago, but watching "Frozen", I can't quite remember what it was.  The formula is back, as tried as ever, but done so well here, I feel like its 1996 all over again, only better than before.

"Frozen" is an adaption of the Snow Queen fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson, though only really in the way that there are trolls and there's a queen who has ice powers.  The rest is an entirely original tale involving two fantasy Princesses, Anna and Elsa, having their happy childhood separated by Elsa's Mutant-X powers, a dangerous ice-based superpower.  Elsa, the storied Ice Queen, remains shut off from her kingdom and upon her coronation unleashes a plague of ice that dooms the world to endless winter.  Anna alone has to separate herself from her new fairytale fiance and brave the frozen mountains to reach her sister and save the world.  It has all the elements of the classic fairy tale:  love, music, villainy, but done with a wonderful twist that makes it all feel so much more real and alive.  This isn't quite the princess stories of Walt Disney and the 1940s, but its our princess tale, and I'd say looking at "Frozen", we're a much more advanced people.

Friday, November 29, 2013

One Piece

So November is wrapping up, and thanks to the busyness of this week, I got nothing else really to report on.  Luckily I've had this post hanging around on the backburner for awhile now, just in case we hit a dry spot.  Once December rolls around we're going to get deluged by the typical crop of serious Oscar-contenders, transparent Oscar-bait, and blockbusters, because the blockbuster season never ends.  But for now, let's talk about a humble anime.  One that has been on the air for nearly fifteen years, and has no sign of ending.  And the only cartoon on Toonami that lately I've even bothered to watch*.

"One Piece" by Eiichiro Oda is typically considered part of the "Big Three" of major shonen anime amongst Western fans, along with "Bleach" and "Naruto".  In Japan, however, there is really no competition.  The Soul Reapers and the Ninjas might make their money with their fandoms, but they're definitely both hiding within the shadow of the Pirate Juggernaut.  And its really obvious why "One Piece" would be better:  its more fun.  "One Piece" is bright, its fun, its happy, it isn't a bottle of angst and brutal combat.  Its a wacky pirate adventure involving a core crew of seven characters (though later nine) fighting their way across the ocean on a fantastic quest to become the greatest buccaneers of all time.  Shonen anime can be consistent, fun, and lean without relying upon ridiculous never-ending arcs, bloated casts, and idiotic plot twists?  The hell you say!

The lifeblood of "One Piece" is not high drama and huge wrestling-style brawls against increasingly absurdly powerful foes, its about high adventure on the high seas.  The Straw Hat Pirate crew of the Going Merry under their childish captain Monkey D. Luffy travel island to island across a colorful ocean full of danger and excitement, but still a bright universe of cartoon-y fun.  Though technically pirates, most of their job appears to be actually defeating more villainous and grotesque marauders who threaten the peaceful lives of villager and citizens of this exotic ocean universe.  The ultimate goal is to reach the treasure cache of the late King of the Pirates, the 'One Piece", the capture of which will turn them into the greatest pirates of all time, and make Luffy the next Pirate King.  "One Piece" is massive in scope - any story that's lasted this long could not hope but collect a huge cast of characters - but still solidly focused on its primary crew, the next island along the fabled 'Grand Line', a belt of riches that is the domain of only the toughest pirates in the sea, and the next bizarre villain who they must defeat.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: The Day of the Doctor

I feel like such a moron sometimes when I have to preface reviews with a warning of "spoilers".  I guess its essential consumer advise:  don't read this blog post until you've actually seen the television special, but it also feels so paralyzing.  When a major literary critic goes to discuss John Steinbeck, he doesn't preface his essay with "lol, spoilers".  Hell, even if you read the preface to a novel written a decade after the fact, it will spoiler the ever living time-traveling shit out of whatever that book is.  You can't make good, really intelligent points without giving away the real meat of the product, which unfortunately is exactly what a spoiler is trying to hide.  So if you're wondering "should I watch this Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special"?  The answer is "yes", and you should have seen it a whole day ago.  Now we're going deeper than that shallow thumbs-up, thumbs-down paradigm.

My immediate emotional reaction following "The Day of the Doctor" is best described as cautious pessimism.  The ultimate conclusion of this special is to completely recreate the paradigm and probably the overriding mood of the modern "Doctor Who" universe, shockingly retconning a huge portion of the Doctor's history.  This is actually doing the very thing that makes me hate time travel stories so much:  when all of history can be rewritten, you can just remove or change pesky points in a character's backstory, and suddenly nothing that happens has any permanence or meaning.  "Doctor Who" for the most part has been smart enough to avoid doing that thanks to all kinds of deeper rules about how you cannot interfere with your past, how there are certain points in history that cannot be changed, and even going so far as to call somebody who would rebuild history, no matter what the motive, to be committing terrible sins of hubris*.  Well, guess what?  The Doctor does all of those things at once, breaking every rule of logic and good narrative sense.

That I am not sitting here in tears shows the strength of show-runner Steven Moffat's writing and tone in "The Day of the Doctor".  It is a very good episode of this show, surprisingly grounded for much of its running time despite being a massive anniversary in the series history featuring three Doctors at once.  Basically the main foe of this episode is an alien race that could have been in any episode, featuring a small-scale adventure who is not exactly defeated but peacefully dealt with thanks to the Doctor's superpowered cleverness.  Russell T. Davies would have shot for the grandest most operatic of adventures in massive scale, but Moffat's strength is generally keeping the adventures small, even in anticlimaxes.  The new John Hurt Doctor is no cackling supervillain, he's just another Doctor with his own moments of goofy Doctor charm.  It could even be called an anti-climax, but only if you're judging emotional and narrative strength in that uniquely American scale:  by how big and expensive the explosions are.  What we have here is David Tennant and Matt Smith dancing together in a hilarious fashion, working off the emotional terror brought back by John Hurt's secret Doctor, and solving a universal crisis in grand optimistic style, its nothing an audience cannot love.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games has now become what "Percy Jackson", "The Sorcerer's Apprentice",  "I Am Number Four", "The Golden Compass", "The Mortal Instruments", "Beautiful Creatures", and "Ender's Game" all failed to become:  a massively successful young-adult blockbuster franchise.  The first "Hunger Games" was a very successful movie from the last year, managing to really break out and make a unique place for itself in the ruthless competitive market to be the next Harry Potter or Twilight.  This is mostly thanks to coming from a legitimately popular book series - how many people have read the "Number 4" books? - having very competent direction, a hot new actress in Jennifer Lawrence, and managing to be a family-friendly version of "Battle Royale".  So if you want to build a great new film franchise and make buckets of money, just do that:  get the right idea, get the right actress, and hit the world at exactly the right time.  Easy.

The first "Hunger Games" is a movie I recall not enjoying, but still feel some respect towards.  In the year and a half since, I can't say its memory has particularly been sour:  it was a movie with faults, but was sincere.  Sincerity is really half the battle with any movie, and its definitely what separates "The Hunger Games" from soulless failures like "The Golden Compass".  I know producers think they can just patch together a few ideas and Frankenstein them together to make a winning movie, but they must know:  audiences can tell when a movie is being made by people who just don't care.  A character's motivations should be the accomplishment of their goals, not the paycheck of their actors - you don't think we couldn't see the dollar signs in Robert Pattinson's eyes when he pretended to be in love with Kristin Stewart?  And I don't mean in the movie, his acting was worse in real life.

Speaking of sham romances manufactured by the producers to create false fantasies in the eyes of fans, there's this movie.  Jennifer Lawrence's Catnip Everclear has returned - though in "The Hunger Games 2" one character calls her "catnap" a few times, which is too close to my nickname.  So from now on she will be called "Claptrap Jellybean". Claptrap Jellybean must again suffer through the savage reality show called 'the Hunger Games', battling for her survival in order to entertain the foppish 1% of this dystopian universe* and remind the Depression-era districts to get back to their slave-labor jobs and stop doing that annoying three-fingered salute of defiance.  So the stakes are higher, the tension is growing, and basically "Hunger Games 2" expands its universe and plotline while thankfully correcting the worst mistakes of the original.  Well, most of the mistakes, there's still that blackhole of a romance subplot.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Lone Ranger

What in the name of Jay Silverheels' dusty rotting corpse balls was that?

"The Lone Ranger" is probably the ultimate proof that Hollywood studio executives are terrible at their jobs.  They're supposed to be the hard-nosed, hard-drinking, long-smoking cynics who can put away all passion, all love, and all pretensions of art to finally get to real meat and bone of what the movie industry is about:  making money.  Why else do you think we're up to "Transformers 4" when apparently every person in the industry - including Michael Bay - hates the fuck out of that franchise?  Cash up the wazoo.  How does Adam Sandler manage to look at himself in the mirror these days?  By counting the billions in his back account and wondering how much more he needs before he can fill an Olympic swimming pool pull of currency.  But even judging a movie in the worst possible way - how many tickets it sold - "The Lone Ranger" is a complete disaster.

And you don't need to really be Houdini to realize "The Lone Ranger" was going to flop, and flop hard.  Its based off an intellectual property that has not been culturally relevant since the Eisenhower Administration.  Even Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski are too young to have actually seen "The Lone Ranger" on TV when it aired, let alone its origins in radio serials.  Anybody could ask around the major demographics and realize that the public conception of "The Lone Ranger" is filled with cobwebs and the stink of old-timey Native American racist stereotypes.  Hollywood needs to understand that you can base new franchises off of old intellectual properties, but there are intellectual properties that people are excited to see again:  like Star Wars or G.I. Joe, and there are franchises so ancient and forgotten nobodies cares anymore.  Yeah, you could make a movie about "Buck Rogers" or "Commando Cody", but do you really think anyone would go see them?   ANYBODY could have told Walt Disney that "The Lone Ranger" was going to tank, it doesn't take a wizard.  Not people who get paid millions of dollars to know better.

What's so sad is that ultimately "The Lone Ranger" doesn't feel like a tragically ignored passion project from a serious director who really wanted to bring one of his favorite stories and characters to the big screen, like last year's under-looked "John Carter".  It feels like a movie that nobody wanted to make, a basic recreation of tropes and setpieces that worked before, really without much care.  Everything about this is basically a remake of "Pirate of the Caribbean" just set in the Wild West, bringing along with all the unnecessary bullshit that series acquired over the years.  They made this movie because it meant Johnny Depp could wear a funny hat and play a silly over-the-top character - again.  But don't think this is going to be a fun, family-friendly romp through classic adventuring.  Its a sloppy bloated mess, moving at a snail's pace through two and a half hours of mindless parroting of action tropes done so much better in movies made a decade ago.  If you love Westerns, don't see "The Lone Ranger".  If you love The Lone Ranger as a character, don't see "The Lone Ranger".  Even if you just love movies, go for a walk instead.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What I've Been Reading (Fall 2013)

The Blue-mobile is currently in the shop, so that means I'm house-bound, for the most part.  I think I might be able to wrap my laptop with a hobo pack on the end of stick, pop out my thumb, and fair the dangers of the Garden State Parkway, that wretched hive of thieves and villains, to go see "About Time".  Or I could instead sit down and enjoy an old friend of mine.  I think you've heard of him.  His name is READING!!!  You may think that even though I spend most of intellectual power writhing over the performances in a Marvel superhero movie that I may be entirely illiterate.  But in fact, I read a lot.

Just last night I read no less than three books!  It was a time paradoxitive record of grammar-digesting brilliance.  And not little Goosebumps nonsense books, bit old fat novels full of texts.  These things had so many words they will spilling on the floor and on my good pants.  Which reminds me:  any of you ladies or gentlemen got a mop?  My house is completely cluttered with words, some quite long and very hard to scrub out.

So what I have here are three shorter reviews of the three books I read, none of them altogether connected in any way.  I considering writing out singular reviews for all three, but I decided that I didn't want to get as deep and involved as my film work.  I've read so many good books in just the years I've done this blog, and there's so much to talk about, I could spend a month just detailing the material I have, which is always expanding.  So from now on, I'll make a post like this:  "What I've Been Reading".  It will pull back and give a shorter but hopefully still extensive overview of the products, and hopefully you'll realize, like I have, how much genius are inside these tomes.  (Be careful though, because the genius gets on your pants sometimes, and that doesn't wash out.)  Really though, I don't want to write a post for every book I read like I do for movies and video games.  It would be too exhausting, and mediocre books are so much more tragic, considering the time and energy you have to invest in order to experience them.  I want to just review the best of the best, so you Space Monkeys can see what you're missing.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

"Kingdom Hearts 3D: Goofy Subtitle" is now the fourth portable side-game released by Square Enix theoretically to expand the universe and set the stage for the next full title in the Kingdom Hearts saga.  By coming to the 3DS, this phase of spin-offs, side-stories, prequels, and less important adventures has now landed on no less than three whole gaming platforms, meaning that a poorly equipped fan of this series is going to have to pay an extremely high price for their entertainment.  Usually I'm more punctual with my Kingdom Hearts reviews and don't spend a year and change ignoring them, but I only finally purchased a 3DS* last month.  I definitely could have reviewed "Kingdom Hearts 3D" back in the summer of 2012, but it would have been a fascinating post-modern patchwork of educated guesses, dancing metaphors, and ludicrous poetry.  So thoroughly useless if you wanted to know how good of a game "Kingdom Hearts 3D" is.

It seems to me to almost be a sick joke on Tetsuya Nomura's part to name a game "Kingdom Hearts 3......D", considering the now eight-year wait we players have endured for the third true installment in the Kingdom Hearts saga.  You hear those words "Kingdom Hearts III" and suddenly your heart leaps - we've passed the handheld needless complications and weird experiments and we're finally back on track - then the rest of the title creeps in:  "...D: Dream Drop Distance".  There you go, three meaningless words alliteratively strewn together to piece together a desperate pun.  I guess as titles go we cannot go deeper into the pretentious rabbit hole of crap as "358 divided by 2 Days" but "Dream Drip Dissidia" is definitely a good run for its money.

Since "Dream Derivative Dissonance" is now the sixth or seventh Kingdom Hearts game I've played, one cannot help but feel the deep scourge of "haven't we done this all before?"  These games have made their innovations here and there in the esoteric battle systems, but the combat engine for "Kingdom Hearts I", "Kingdom Hearts II", "358/2 Days", "Birth by Sleep", "Re:Coded", and now this are all the same.  The only game that feels especially different is the 2D "Chain of Memories", which thanks to an ill-conceived and barely playable 3D remake, can also play exactly the same as every other Kingdom Hearts game.  "Dirty Dog Dirigible" offers a few additions like a Pokemon-esque support team and the opportunity to play in parallel storylines with Sora and Riku.  It also has the best graphics of any handheld Kingdom Hearts game yet.  But ultimately, it all plays like a measurably worse version of "Birth by Sleep", with a rougher camera, a smaller game, and unnecessary crap getting in the way of the game.  You can never really go too far wrong with a Kingdom Hearts game (unless you play Re:Coded") but "Dancing Dark Dolly" is about as bad and mediocre as this series gets.

Time for Some RealTalk

I'm steadily getting the uncomfortable impression that I might be talking only to myself around here.  I've always joked to real world friends and family that nobody reads this blog, but frankly in the last few months it feels like my humility is jinxing itself into reality.  Its been four years since I started this blog, and during that time its become an essentially hobby in my daily life.  I can't watch a movie in theaters anymore without pondering how to best word my upcoming post, and I constantly looking for new subjects to write about.  This is just a part of who I am, if I were to drop this hobby, my life would become considerably more empty and dull.  I have no idea what I could possibly replace this part of my life with.  But lately... I don't know, it seems so much more empty around here.

Steadily there have been fewer and fewer comments on my posts, perhaps making me wonder, am I doing something wrong?  Have I strayed somehow away from the formula that made this blog - an extremely small - but measurable community?  There were old faces of well-known users who used to comment all the time, now most of them have disappeared.  I get maybe ten comments per month, when back in 2010 and 2011 I felt like I got that may per post.  I know "Escape Plan" isn't exactly a movie that is setting the world on fire and creating an army of rabid fangirls rioting through our streets, but neither was "Sanctum", and damn, I got much more of a response for that back in the day.  I have to wonder:  what happened?  I try to improve my writing and this blog's presentation all the time, but yet everything I do differently seems to have more and more people running away.  Is there a smell around here I am unaware of?

Where'd ya all go?  Do you want cookies?  We have cookies.  Do you want a review of "Kingdom Hearts 3D"?  Because that's coming tomorrow - with cookies.  Do you want poop jokes?  Then the cookies are getting an extra special ingredient just for you.

So if I still have sentient readers (not that I dislike the adbots, you are valued citizens of Planet Blue too) please give any good advice that you may or may not have to get Planet Blue back on track.  Or if you have no good advice, give bad advice.  Anything would help at this point.  Because nothing in the world - not even "Man of Steel" - is more depressing than the words "0 comments" at the end of a post.  I'd like to see that go away.

EDIT:  Jesus, eight comments in just as many hours, that's really touching.  That means seriously a lot, you know.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thor 2

The story I'm often told about Marvel superheroes is that they manage to walk the line so well between real human problems and fun crimefighting.  Spiderman is a lonely nerd living paycheck to paycheck while also beating up Doctor Octopus.  Iron Man is an arrogant showboating alcoholic but also beats up... whoever his villains are.  And the X-Men are all closeted homosexuals.  So where exactly does Thor fit in?  He's a fabulously handsome, indestructible cosmic prince whose main problem in life seems to be that his girlfriend lives on another planet and long-distance relationships are hard.  Why am I trying to bring humanization to a character that is literally a GOD?  Thor has earned nothing for his powers, they over no cost, he has no psychology that pushes him forward to fight evil, he's just a guy with a lightning bolt.  He is probably the blandest and most thoroughly uninteresting character in the Marvel cinematic universe - other than his girlfriend, a small piece of wood with a picture of Natalie Portman nailed to the front.  I don't really know how Thor acts in the comics, and I'm guessing somewhere there are several decades worth of fascinating stories involving the guy, but that's not what we have on screen.

Loki is a star, Loki is a masterpiece.  He's a shapeshifting schemer who is always nine steps ahead of his enemies.  You never really know what angle he's playing, which adds to the overall excitement.  That he's charming, witting, just a wonderfully-dickish troll just makes him all the more fun to watch.  Yeah, maybe he tried to wipe out the human race one or two times and that is pretty awful.  But when Earth is fill with such people at the Natalie Portman 2x4 and her disgustingly annoying comic relief friends, you wonder if maybe we deserve destruction.  In fact, screw the "Thor" business, this movie is now called "Loki 2".  Forget the Marvel Universe, I have a new title to offer:  "The Tony Stark and Loki Liesmith Show + Friends".

As for the movie, its really uneven.  The mood seems to be closer towards pulp high fantasy that the Marvel Universe is moving towards, its closer to Flash Gordon than a superhero movie.  Though occasionally the special effects and scenery screams Star Wars Prequel to me.  Loki and Thor working off each other are really the movie's soul, but they don't spend enough time together.  Some characters work, most don't.  The plot is very choppy, its got a very slow beginning, and very briefly picks up speed, but never takes off.  You got your action fix, you got your colors, you got your cheap laughs, and that's it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Explaining the New Recommendation Scale

Yesterday I instituted a new addition to the blog:  infoboxes.  Since everybody I've personally asked and the one comment I received have been positive, I'm going to say that they were a smart addition to the blog and will remain until finally I lose interest in writing or readership becomes so scarce I simply become too depressed with my utter failure to continue.  I've only gotten a chance to use them on movie reviews, but they're also going to appear in video game reviews as well.  On that infobox is the informative stuff of director, rating, release date, etc. but it also includes in the final row a new feature:  Recommendation.

Previously I've avoided using any kind of scoring system for my reviews for the simple reason that scoring systems are bullshit.  Opinions, positive or negative, should never be qualified into abstract numbers or stars or letter grades.  What exactly does it mean that say, "Pokemon X" has received a B, but another game receives a B+?  Some critics even push this further creating an entire mathematical formula of categories and values which somehow add up to a final whole.  So you could end up with a situation where say, "Metroid Other M" is a better game than "Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories", because it has better graphics, tighter controls, and better level design, thus adding up to a higher score.  However, anybody who would seriously express that opinion would be met by me with a Japanese sword slash to the face.

I like my current system because it goes straight to the point.  It isn't stars, numbers, points, or grading, its plain old consumer advise.  Here's a movie or game or book, what should you, the consumer, do with your purchasing power?  It almost doesn't need any further explanation, but I've quite characteristically over-thought the system, so I feel like I need to explain it just a little bit further.  So I'm going to lay out the entire scale before you after the "read more" break, then explain in too many words exactly what it means and why I'd give that recommendation.  Finally, in case there is any remaining confusion, I will give some examples of movies I reviewed in 2013 for each Recommendation which were released before I made the scale up.  That way you can finally discover if I wanted you to see "Carrie Remake" or not, in case my text wasn't entirely clear.  (Hint:  don't see "Carrie Remake").

The Counselor

"The Counselor" has not had a very warm reception amongst critics.  Its current Rotten Tomatoes score is about 38%, which means it actually has a slightly worse score than "Only God Forgives", Nicolas Winding Refn's disastrously awful follow-up to "Drive".  Considering that 2013 has been the setting of a mass grave for potential adult crime thrillers, seeing the bitter failures of "Gangster Squad", "Dead Man Down", "Stand-Up Guys", "The Place Beyond the Pines", and most atrociously, "Pain and Gain", it looked to me like "The Counselor" was about to join that unhappy host.  Yeah, it had a great trailer, but the trailers for "Dead Man Down" and "Only God Forgives" were works of art - absolutely meaningless when compared to their horrible full products.  So I went into the theater well-braced to add another film to my list of Worst Movies of 2013*.  Instead I came out with a movie to add to that other list I make at the end of the year.

Yes, "The Counselor" is good.  Really good.  Really really good.  Really really really really really really really good.  You will do yourself a great disservice if you decide not to go see it, by listening to the critics.  That being said, it isn't going to please everybody.  "The Counselor" comes from a screenplay by acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy, best known for writing "No Country for Old Men".  McCarthy is not a writer who makes pleasant worlds for the whole family to enjoy, and he usually doesn't leave you with a nice warm feeling at the pit of your tummy.  He's a brutalist, constructing novels full of humanity's very worst behavior, reveling in the stark pointlessness of our species.  "The Counselor" is straight out of that mold:  it doesn't end well, the characters do not come out of this adventure as better people, and most of them do not survive at all.  They're all trapped within a faceless, monstrous machinery of violence at the American-Mexican border that moves forward the illegal drug industry.

Last week I reviewed "Machete Kills", which took the very same location and transformed into pulp swashbuckling for its protagonist.  That was candycorn, absolute nonsense.  "The Counselor" may still be somewhat of a stylized picture of the drug industry, but it is definitely moving into a far more interesting and profound artistic statement.  The movie begins with a very deliberate slow movement (though not slow-paced) of scenes and pieces getting laid outward, its not really clear what the plot is until roughly halfway through.  But once those pieces are finally put together, you can see the noose hanging around every person's neck.  Specifically its a steel-wire mechanical noose, fed by a grinding electric motor that will never ever stop tightening.  There is nothing you can do.  Nobody can help you.  This machine will keep tightening until the noose is fully closed.  Until its sawed through your flesh and left your blood spraying on the ground for all to see.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ender's Game

(This blog is now something like four years old, so I'm trying something new, at least for a little while:  infoboxes!  Please give feedback as to how this looks.)

"Ender's Game" could have been worse.  As an adaptation of a classic SciFi novel written by Orson Scott Card*, this movie could have been an absolute train wreck.  Just imagine if they had tried to pull in the trends of modern teen fantasy movies, turning Battle School into a Space Hogwarts, or added a romantic plot line, or just casted Kristin Stewart in any role.  I could see a Hollywood producer, cigar in mouth, tearing out whole pages of the original 1985 novel, and shouting to his loyal minion, Gavin Hood, "this is too bleak!  I want more adventure, kids want fun!  They want Percy Jackson in space!  And throw in a funny alien sidekick."  Luckily, that wasn't the movie that got made.  Instead they stuck mainly towards a faithful, though badly rushed adaptation of the novel, with just as many good decisions as bad ones.

The original "Ender's Game" is a very interesting read, one that does not easily lend itself towards the easy mediocrity that the Hollywood system that made such crap as "Oblivion" and "Elysium" seems to love.  Its something of a precursor to "Neon Genesis Evangelion", where the main characters are not exactly the great child heroes following a Joseph Campbell journey, but rather tortured victims of a society manipulating them into becoming monsters.  There is a very bleak sense of cruelty that dominates everything about Ender Wiggins' journey in this novel, as every step in his journey, every bully he overcomes, is all just a pre-planned psychological manipulation turning this boy into a perfect computerized commander, a tool to wipe out an alien species (notably not called "Buggers" as in the novels) that serves as the greatest threat to humanity.  The results of his journey is not a proud return to Earth, but devastated people, carrying burdens that no child should ever have to bare.

Some of that narrative actually survives within this film of "Ender's Game".  I can't say this is a success of Gavin Hood, who previously directed one of the worst superhero movies of all time, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine".  Rather its the actors managing to pull together decent performances despite terrible material to work with.  The script is rushed, desperately trying to fit every ounce of the novel's story within less than two hours of screentime, which is simply hopeless.  The tone is lost, which was probably the intent, trying to work off of the book's brand recognition while still making a stupid fun Blockbuster, an impossible task.  But I can't call this movie a complete disaster.  There are some special effects sequences that actually manage to work, most of the cast manages to breath life into their deeply-constrained characters, and the story's importance and brilliance still manages to breath through.  This isn't the great "Ender's Game" movie that you might have wanted, but it isn't any cause to demand Gavin Hood's head on a stick either.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Carrie Remake

I'm not exactly making a bold, controversial claim when I say 'remakes are terrible', am I?  That's because everybody seems to agree with me:  remakes are terrible.  The only problem is that Hollywood keeps making them, and that is, of course, because people buy tickets to them, because we as a culture have become a cancerous diseased mass that would rather eat recycled forty-year-old rot than actually take a chance on something new and bold.  So who is to blame for the "Carrie" remake?  Is it the director who knowingly surrendered her artistic integrity to put together a purposefully mediocre product?  Is it the producer who calculated how much money he would make?  Is it Stephen King?  No.  Its you, America.  You're to blame.  Me, you, everybody.  This is the movie we've have chosen, we've voted with our ticket purchase, this is the movie we deserve.  So let us sick back, stuff our faces with popcorn, and ignore the collapse of our economy and our world empire and watch a shitty remake.  Enjoy your cultural cancer.

The first question you might be asking is:  'was 'Carrie Remake' any good?'  Well, you mostly answered the question already just by using the word "remake", which curses this movie to join a league of hundreds of horror remakes, nearly all of which are awful and forgettable.  The more important question is:  'why did Blue Highwind go to see this movie when he knew it was going to be awful and forgettable?'  The answer to that question is:  there is no other horror movie playing right now.  Its Halloween, I want to go out and  see a nice bloody horror movie.  But I don't get a nice bloody movie, I get a crappy remake of a Brian De Palma movie made almost forty years ago, and no other choice.  Even the usual October suspects of Paranormal Activity and Resident Evil are mission in action.  And those franchises view sucking as a matter of principal.  So there's no other choice:  "Carrie Remake" or no Halloween.

My main recommendation to a potential audience of "Carrie Remake" is to see the original.  The 1976 movie, not this cinematic regurgitation.  This ticket is unnecessary.  This is exactly the kind of movie made to be as unoffensive and mildly entertaining as possible, so in many ways, its the worst kind of movie you can find.  Utterly and horribly manufactured, with any points of controversy and real fear smoothed out.  Because you don't need to be scared at a horror movie any more, you just need to gawk at CG effects and cheesy X-Men telekinesis poses.  So if you want a movie made for the express purpose of mediocrity that will in no way enrich your life, go see "Carrie Remake".

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blue is the Warmest Color

"Blue is the Warmest Color" was this years' winner of the Palme d'Or, the highest award given out at the Cannes Film Festival.  That on its own steeps "Blue" into high reputation of artistic integrity and international prestige, since Cannes is regarded as the very height of world auteur art cinema.  Which of course, to us in America, doesn't mean a great deal since I'm guessing a lot of us just came home from seeing "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa".  Cannes proudly presents itself apart from all commercial filmmaking business, which of course is all part of its own brand, from which it makes a great deal of money from audiences who just cannot enjoy watching a movie where a man in old age make-up abuses a child and assaults strangers for the perverted audience's amusement.  Naturally this Blue here has rather aggressively avoided Cannes and pretentious arthouse filmmaking, because frankly I'm just as stupid and lowbrow as the rest of my country.  But I'm also loud and idiotic enough to demand that I have a voice in all ranks of movie-making, no matter how foreign and no matter how predisposed I am to hate it.  I like to make a big deal about the Oscars every year, and compared to Cannes, the Academy Awards is a Jackass convention.  So maybe I should pay attention to the Palme d'Or winner every year, maybe I should broaden my horizons, try something well outside my comfort level.

Or maybe I'm watching this movie because LESBIANS.  And I'm obnoxious enough to be completely shameless when I admit my motive here.  LESBIANS.  FRENCH LESBIANS.  One who is underage in the movie.  The IFC Center in Manhattan has been all too willing to sells tons of tickets while winking quite grandly about the power of art, variety and deeper meaning in the movie experience, and also this is NC-17 so these chicks are going to fuck like crazy.  This is as close as we're going to get to a modern "Last Tango in Paris", though tragically America has progressed to the point that nobody is going to protest this movie, and even more tragically, Marlon Brando isn't going to sodomize anybody with butter.  We've all long passed the point where movies can seriously be labeled as "obscenity", especially when tonight I'm sure Cinemax is going to air many more lesbian sex scenes to a far broader audience.  And I'm disappointed, I've completely missed the era when a movie could really be subversive.  Do I need to project Japanese tentacle porn in order to piss off conservative housewives?  Even they won't care anymore.

I guess my real point is, despite the vast titillation aspect that surrounds "Blue is a Warmest Color", I am completely out of this movie's loop.  I was generally unimpressed with just about everything that happened here.  Its a very long, very boring, very dry movie.  It has a lot of things to say about growing up, finding your sexuality, the lifeblood of a relationship, which is all drained forward for three hours, with the highlights of course being the sex scenes.  Its not pornography, the movie clearly is carrying itself with a seriousness and meaning that supersedes just trying to please the male eye, or even the female eye, but its just not very good.  There's definitely a marketable sensationalism that can be found by promoting a French lesbian independent sex movie, but as for the audience's side:  you're going to be stuck in a theater for three hours, and you're going to check your watch.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Escape Plan

So "Machete Kills" was cheesy action movies done terribly.  Let's see if "Escape Plan", a sincere film harking back to cheesy action movies of the past can do better.

The last few years really haven't been lacking in feature film homages to 1980s action craze.  Between "The Expendables", "Bullet to the Head", "The Last Stand", and this, if you want an Eighties-style action movie, you are not lacking in opportunities.  Just avoid "Die Hard 5" unless you like being miserable.  I don't know if this is made from legitimate love of the classic genre of old, or perhaps out of Hollywood's new-found fascination in Old People.  Lately there's been an entire genre in Old People Movies, bringing back the actors of a generation ago and seeing if they can continue to do the old genre work.  Now we have "Last Vegas", "RED", "Stand-Up Guys", "Parental Guidance", and the upcoming "Grudge Match".  Hollywood seems to understand it has an aging audience and is adapting its whole selection to play to the over-fifty crowd.

Or maybe its just because that other than Jason Statham, the world is simply lacking in true action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The whole point of "Escape Plan" is to bring together these two titans in a way that "The Expendables" franchise has only ever danced around.  After their individual movies from earlier this year tanked, maybe their combined star power could actually make a dent in the box office?  Its certainly enough of a spectacle for me to want to watch, even though they don't ever get a chance to fight.  This is more a very non-clever prison escape movie where the main method of fleeing is punching people and shooting dudes.

Luckily however, "Escape Plan", despite not being very well-made or well-written, it actually is a pretty fun movie.  Schwarzenegger is really shooting up his A-game on his charm, bringing all he can to elevate mediocre material, and Stallone is still Stallone.  The tongue is well in cheek, but the overall experience is still solid enough.  You know what you're paying for, and its not bad stuff.

Machete Kills

There's a thin line between "homage" and "parody".  Robert Rodriquez, never a director known for subtlety, was actually able to walk down that line rather well in the original "Machete".  That was a movie that was never made to be serious, clearly, it starred a sixty-year-old background actor from every Mexican crime movie made in the last twenty years, Danny Trejo, who appears to be physically incapable of making a face other than pure anger.  But it was clever, it was fun, and while jumping out of the rails at nearly every second, it still was reasonably grounded within its own stylized reality.  Machete is the world's first Mexican superhero, battling Conservative reactionary anti-immigration forces with a long pointy piece of metal.  Even people unaware of "Machete"'s roots in terrible politically-conscious 70s B-movies could appreciate it as a fun movie playing up a silly concept.

The original "Machete" ended promising two sequels:  "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again".  At the time, riding on the Mexican high of Danny Trejo kicking Stephen Seagal's ass, I was down for it.  Having actually seen "Machete Kills", its obvious to me that Machete was a gag with a limited lifespan, and now the joke is already old.  "Machete Kills" is a movie full of several dozen ridiculous concepts that sound hilarious on paper, but actually aren't that great in execution.  Like, an avenging bordello madam that fights with Fembot weapons.  Just writing that sentence brought a smile to my face.  Then you cast the actress, you film it, then stuff it in an movie featuring President Charlie Sheen, a maniac Mexican Bond Villain, Mel Gibson trying to start a space empire, and Lady Gaga, then suddenly its not very funny anymore.  Its just confusing and stupid.

"Machete Kills" is a movie with atrocious writing, bad acting, confusing structure, and special effects so bad that Robert Rodriguez probably should have hid behind the "Alan Smithee" pseudonym.  But then its defense is "yeah, I'm trying to be a terrible movie, laugh at me".  Sorry no.  There's being fun and goofy and roping the audience along for the ride, and then there's going out of your way to be purposefully awful.  I can't laugh at bad special effects or bad dialog when I know they were made that way on purpose.  Or that the director obviously knows how to do a better movie and just isn't trying.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pokemon X

"Pokemon X and Y" are the newest installments, the latest and greatest recreations of the Pokemon franchise, Japan's most popular cultural export.  This is actually the fourth mainline Pokemon game that's been released in the lifetime of this blog, coming after "Pokemon Black and White", "Black and White 2", and the remakes of "Gold and Silver".  And even though I've played pretty much all of those games, I actually never felt it was necessary to do a proper review of them.  Ultimately for five generations now Pokemon has been exactly the same, merely increasing the cast and producing new regions for the player to explore, rather than creating any real solid innovation.  I played "Black" last year, and it was fun, just as all twenty or so previous games have been fun, in exactly the same way.  However, "X" gets the special honor of having a post written about it.  Because finally, after so many years, Pokemon finally feels like its moving forward.

The core plot and mechanics are all essentially the same, its still a rigid turn-based RPG featuring a massive monster collection theme as you go ahead to become the greatest Pokemon master of them all by beating every trainer in your region.  The only changes to the battle mechanics are shallow tweeks of moves and elements, with the overall balance of power slightly reconfigured thanks to the addition of new Pokemon and the new Fairy type.  Really the expansions are mainly superficial:  the game is now finally in full 3D, with all 700 (God knows how many) Pokemon now moving in real time animations and full depth.  The online features are far more extensive, allowing you with extreme ease to trade, fight, or simply communicate with friends or anonymous South Koreans from all over the globe almost immediately.  Even better, most of the petty annoyances that have weakened this series have been ironed out, making for a much faster, prettier, and exciting Pokemon game then we've ever seen before.

Right now, within two minutes of booting my brand new 2DS* I could be in the midst of an epic Pokemon duel with a random Japanese stranger.  Actually, let me try it out right now and see how it goes.  Wait a second.  Yup, got my ass kicked.  And now some passerbyer person named Gabe wants to trade.  And I can't believe this, but I just got a Hydreigon for a Skarmory.  Let me thank him by giving him some boost Capture power.  See how Pokemon has evolved?  Do you see how much fun this game is?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

An Open Letter to Ted Cruz

[This is an actual email I've sent to Senator Ted Cruz.]

Dear Ted Cruz:

My name is Eric Fuchs, and I am a voter.  You do not represent me, as I do not live in the state of Texas, but as a United States Senator, and an officer of the federal government, you ultimately are accountable to every citizen.  You may think you represent only the right-wing spectrum of this country, and you may consider all those who do not attend your rallies to be enemies, but for better or for worse, you are in my government.  And you have taken responsibility for the welfare of not only myself but hundreds of millions of other Americans, most of whom - if given the chance - would vote you very swiftly out of office.  But that is not the system we live in.

The government shutdown was not solely your responsibility, and frankly, more blame belongs on the shoulders of the House of Representatives than yourself personally.  But nobody in this country has benefited as greatly as you have from this government shut down.  It was your grandstanding in the Senate in a confusing twenty-one hour pseudo-filibuster that really galvanized your party to shut down the government in an ultimately failed attempted to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  And at no point have you ever stated that you are not responsible for the government shut down, or have you stated regret for that government shut down, or have you done or said anything that has allayed this crisis.  You've gone out in front and owned this crisis.  Though I'm sure you can find plenty of blame to go around in your party, so don't panic when you read the next paragraph.

Standard & Poor's has estimated that the cost of this government shut down for the sixteen days it has lasted has cost the entire American economy some $24 billion dollars.  We, the American voters, did not want to spend $24 billion on a government shut down, we grew tired of these endless idiotic Washington battles back in 2011.  But you did it anyway, without our consent.  We are helpless before non-functional government, which you are all too proud to stand up in front of and celebrate.  In a parliamentary system you would be looking for a new job now.  Either way, the latest estimates for the population of the United States is some 313.9 million people.  $24 billion divided up amongst 313.9 million adds up to about $76.45, rounding down to the nearest cent.  This means that thanks to the government shut down, which has made you a household name now, you personally owe me and the rest of the American people seventy-six dollars and forty six cents.

I can accept cash or check.

Thank you, Eric Fuchs