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


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.