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Showing posts from May, 2014

An Actual Holy Grail (or, This Is Your Future, Schmucks)

I just found out that the original Heartbreak Kid from 1972 is available on Youtube.

It looks like the feed has only been up for about two weeks, so it's probably going to get removed before too long.  Even so, this is an important day for me.

A review of "The Bodyguard" (2004)

The short bit for people who don't like to read reviews: If you can get past the casual homophobia and you don't mind suffering a few jokes that don't totally hit home, The Bodyguard is a solid action-comedy from Thailand that plays out like a healthy mix of Ong Bak, King of Beggars, and Drunken Master.  It's got some excellent gags and one of the best opening sequences I've ever had the pleasure to see in a movie.  If you have ever found Stephen Chow even remotely funny, you'll want to check this out - it's not one of his, but many of the comic sensibilities are similar.

My Rating:  3.5 / 5

A Review of "Anna" (2014)

So excited, guys!  I got to see a movie before its theatrical release!  And granted, it's available to literally anybody right now on Vudu, and true, I did have to pay to see it, but I still feel like a proper Film Critic.  I'm totally gonna review the shit out of this movie!  I'm even gonna throw in some snippets that can be used as pull quotes in case they decide that my blog sounds like a good resource for their poster!

Prepare yourself for my review of... Mindscape.  I mean, Anna.

The blurb for people who don't like to read actual criticism:
'Salright.  Has some nifty ideas and strong acting, but the buildup is kinda weak and it doesn't totally stick the landing.  I'd recommend renting it instead of going to the theater.

My Rating:  3 / 5

The longer bits for people who like film discussion:

Animal Characters

On this Memorial Day, I'd like to ask the nation to join me in thinking on an important issue.  When is it appropriate to have animal characters in your story?

I'm not referring to anthropomorphic creatures like Mickey Mouse that walk and talk like humans.  I'm referring specifically to animals that are characters.  Like the horse in Frozen, or the horse in Road to El Dorado, or the dog in pretty much any romantic comedy ever.  Animals that behave like animals and yet are treated as characters in the story, either by their critical function in a story arc or by their relationships to the human characters.

Some stories are specifically about animals, so they're kind of exempt from this discussion.  I can't imagine trying to tell the story of Air Bud without Air Bud.  That would be what, exactly?  The story of a lonely kid who's bad at everything and then joins the basketball team only to continue being bad at everything?

Actually, wait, that sounds way better.  …

Week in Review: 5/25/14

Movies I Watched in the Last Week

1) Thor 2: The Dark World - I find it harder and harder to give a shit about comic book movies lately.  It's like the only part of my life where I can feel myself turning into a grumpy old man.  Music, fashion, food, politics, etc. - changing trends don't bother me anywhere else.  But this cynical obsession with comic book movies over the last five years?  Somebody get me a cane so I can wave it at young people and tell them about the good ol' days when heroes actually had challenges and there was tension in their conflicts.  Anyway, this movie was pretty boring.

My Rating:  2 / 5

A Night at the Drive-In

Saturday, 7:00 PM.  The first day of the summer to crack a hundred degrees in the heat index.  Sweat drips like I stepped out of the shower as I wait in line.  I consider backing out so we can go home.

"Wanna just watch movies at home?" I ask.

She looks at me with more disdain than I can comprehend.  "We're already here," she says.

Not that it would do me any good, anyway.  The line of cars behind us is an immovable wall.  There is only one direction we can go.  Slowly, ploddingly, we roll forward with the traffic to the ticket gate at the drive-in.

There is an odd scent in the air: the reek of fetid standing water mixed with the tantalizing grease of a thousand french fries.  My mouth waters and I fear the Pavlovian response I may be developing; what will happen when I pass by an unclean port-o-potty sometime in the future?

Hipster Holy Grail: The Caller (1987)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....
The short bit:The Caller is a low-budget, confined thriller / drama / surreal comedy about a man and a woman who vaguely threaten each other for an hour and a half while you try to figure out what's happening, only for the last ten minutes or so to kick you in your brain-crotch and leave you staggering and helpless.  Anchored by two strong (if occasionally overacted) performances, it manages to be far better than its premise would suggest.  It's definitely a recommend if you can watch it without having to buy a copy, and I'd say that it's worth a few bucks if you're a fan of high-concept, low-stakes movies.

My Rating:  3.5 / 5 The longer bits:

Tales From My Shitty House, Part Four: There's Wallpaper on Everything

I didn't take enough pictures of my house from when we first moved in.  It's a piece of advice that everybody gave me when we first started our renovations, and which I ignored every time because I was in such a hurry to get things fixed.

For the most part, I'm not too broken up about it.  But once in awhile I catch myself thinking about some outrageous thing in our house that we had to deal with, and I realize that there's no photographic proof of it.  Sure, most people will just accept what I say because there's no good reason for me to lie - but wouldn't a picture put a nice button on it?

For example: the wallpaper.  Most of it looked like this:

Bad Feedback

I said before that finding readers is a huge challenge.  There's a second part to that which I've only lightly touched on.  It's the part where you accept your readers' criticism.

There's a writing tip out there somewhere - and I feel terrible that I can't properly attribute it, because it's one of the best writing tips I've ever read - that says that you should focus on the criticism that gives you a defensive gut reaction.  Chances are that the reason you have such a strong feeling is because you already recognize it as the truth and you don't want to admit it.

I like this in theory, but in practice it sometimes just drives me crazy.  There are certain people that always strike a nerve when they give me their opinion.  One person in particular.  Let's just call her "Pat" to avoid any hurt feelings.

Week in Review: 5/18/14

Movies I Watched in the Last Week

1) Let the Fire Burn - This is a hard one to rate.  On a purely technical level, it's a brilliant documentary.  It's tense, moving, and brilliantly edited.  It presents a complex issue in a generally even-handed way; nobody involved in the events depicted is set up as The Villain or The Hero, and rather than relying on talking heads to tell us what we should think, it just uses archive footage to present the facts that are available.

On the other hand, this is some of the most depressing stuff you'll ever see.  It's about a time the police dropped a bomb on a house in Philadelphia that killed two dozen people and burned over 60 houses to the ground, but somehow none of the authorities got the stink of domestic terrorism stuck to them.  So... you'll be outraged by one of the biggest piles of bullshit in human history, but at least it's honest outrage.  Is that a good time?  I don't know.  You be the judge.

My Rating:  5(?) /…

Three Dirty Jokes That Suck

You know how when you're a kid you laugh at things just because you think you're supposed to?

I remember watching Fierce Creatures when I was still in middle school and I thought, "This isn't really uproarious or anything, but I recognize that I'm supposed to laugh now.  You know what?  I think I might."  And then I'd cock back my head and cackle loud enough that anybody observing would think, Hey, look at that kid!  He understands punchlines!  We should get him a medal.  And maybe some cake.

But then there were times when I heard a joke that I didn't understand.  I could figure out the part that was supposed to be a punchline, but due to a combination of me being dense and/or a child, I didn't realize why it was supposed to be funny.

The thing is, if a fellow eight year-old just told you a dirty joke and you didn't laugh, you'd out yourself as an idiot.  And that would be way uncool.  So I'd still fake laugh.

Now, years later, I'…

Hipster Holy Grail: Zone Troopers (1985)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The short bit for people who don't like to read reviews:
Zone Troopers is the very definition of a B-Movie.  Awhile back I bitched about how SyFy dreck is ruining what was once a fine and influential sub-genre, but I don't think I gave enough examples of movies that did the opposite.  This one is a perfect illustration.  It's cheesy, campy, overly-patriotic fun about a small group of WWII infantrymen who befriend an adorable(?) alien and zap Nazis with laser beams.  You're getting exactly what you expect here.

My Rating:  3.5 / 5

The longer bits for people who like film discussion:The Bit Wherein I Introduce Things

Time for a confession, guys.  I, a guy who writes about movies on the Internet, am a fan of Charles Band's…

Dumb Fun vs Bad Writing

Last week I watched Mindhunters.  It's an incredibly dumb movie, but I had a great time with it and I'd recommend it to anybody who enjoys silly, overblown thrillers.

But this can create a problem with my film philosophy, you see.  I've harped on movies like Transformers or Star Trek Into Darkness in the past because I thought they were dumb and had terrible screenplays.  The Transformers franchise in particular is terribly written.

A frequent defense of those movies is that "You can just turn off your brain and enjoy them," and seemingly I'm saying the same thing in defense of Mindhunters.  As you can imagine from a weirdo like me, I'm losing sleep over this kind of cognitive dissonance.

Fortunately, I think I've figured it out.


If things have gone as planned, then by the time this post is released, my profile will have been updated and it's no longer a secret that Stephanie and I are expecting our first child this November.  Hooray!

(If things didn't go as planned and this announcement comes as a total surprise to anybody, then, uh... I have great news!  Stephanie and I are expecting our first child this November.  Hooray!)

We have been married for almost eight years, but we had been putting off having children.  Our original plan was to wait until our tenth anniversary.  There were many reasons for waiting: we wanted to make sure our finances were in better shape, we wanted to make sure we had a good home, we wanted to make sure said home was in decent repair and didn't have any death-traps, we wanted to make sure the marriage was strong, and more.
But probably the most important and most selfish reason is simply that I was afraid having a child would stop me from being able to write.

Week in Review: 5/11/14

Movies I Watched in the Last Week

1) Harold and Maude - This didn't do a whole lot for me.  Everyone seems to have loved it quite a bit, but it seemed to me like a few terrific scenes of dark humor interspersed with long periods of tedium and unearned quirk.  Maybe I'm just too much of an asshole.

My Rating:  3 / 5

2) The Grand Budapest Hotel - Easily the best movie I've seen so far this year.  I went into it virtually blind other than that it was a Wes Anderson movie that involved a hotel, so I was pleasantly surprised by every plot development.  I can't really sum up just how great it is in a mini-review, but just trust me and go see it if you haven't already.

My Rating:  5 / 5

Movie Review Rating Systems

It's pretty easy to take yourself too seriously as a critic.  After you write a few movie reviews, you can get it in your head that your opinions are better than others or that you are more qualified to write reviews.  Eventually you will be tempted to come up with Rules or Standards for your criticism: a scientific approach to a subjective thing.  Thus movie review rating systems are created.

I have no inherent problem with a rating system.  I think it's fine as a shorthand way to get across your opinion, and people tend to flock toward a quick answer.  It's concise and numerical and sounds official.  Those are all good things.

What I don't get is why everybody feels the need to explain it.

A review of "The Peanut Butter Solution" (1985)

The short bit for people who don't like to read reviews: It will be hard to give a firm recommendation for The Peanut Butter Solution if you can't see it in the same context as I did.  From a more "objective" viewpoint, it is a deeply flawed movie with some inconsistent internal logic, serious pacing issues, and incredibly cheesy music.  Even so, it provides a surprisingly mature and well-informed representation of children that (mostly) isn't patronizing, and it is so full of interesting ideas that it can be admired more for its conceit than its execution.  It's more of a recommendation if you have kids and you want to simultaneously entertain them while also permanently messing with their heads.

My Personal Rating:  3.5 / 5
My Rating for Jaded People on the Internet: 2.5 / 5

The longer bits for people who like film discussion:The Bit Wherein I Introduce Things

This is a deeply personal movie for me, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

Am I Supposed to Hate Jared Leto? I Can't Remember.

I haven't been keeping up with the Internet's 'tude on this guy.  Is Jared Leto in the ranks of "Good Actors," or is he on the list of "Posers We're Supposed to Hate?"

A quick perusal of IMDb informs me that I liked him in Fight Club, American Psycho, Lord of War, and Dallas Buyers Club.  So, that's a good thing, right?

But there's a blog (that I didn't read at all) dedicated to hating on him, and Google's auto-complete feature brings up "hate Jared Leto" after only six characters.  Right up there with Jay Leno and Javascript.

I'm not sure what's what anymore, Internet.  Y'all confuse me.

Being Selfish

A lot of writer stereotypes and tropes don't make much sense to me.  For example, the coffee-swilling long-haired douchebag who hangs out at the back of a cafe and goes on about their memoir from the two weeks they backpacked around Europe.  I don't doubt that such people exist, nor do I doubt that they might have put together a string of 10,000 words at some point or another and called it "their book," but that doesn't make them a writer.

Last week I wrote a bit about the alcoholic writer, which is a breed I suppose exists the same way that an alcoholic anything exists.  And there's always the good-looking, athletic writer type that exists in horror movies - usually the ones based on Stephen King stories - or putzy guys with hot wives like in Duplex or I Give It a Year.
The only stereotype that makes a lot of sense to me is narcissism.  Hell, isn't that what blogging is all about?

Week in Review: 5/4/14

Movies I Watched in the Last Week

1) Dallas Buyers Club - I'm not good at watching biopics.  At the end, I always wonder how much of the story is true and how much is either sensationalized or biased.  For example, DBC makes a big point of playing up how evil and useless the bureaucracy of the FDA is, but I'm left wondering:  what if the reason we have effective AIDS treatments now is specifically because the FDA was slow and methodical with their approval process?  I have no idea because I'm a layperson and I haven't done any research.  This movie was a compelling drama with some surprisingly funny beats, but I hope it's not going to be my only source of education on the history of AIDS treatments in America.  That would be pretty dumb of me, huh?

My Rating:  4 / 5

2) We Are What We Are - I posted a more complete write-up of this yesterday, so you can read that if you're curious.

My Rating:  3 / 5

A Review of "We Are What We Are"

The blurb for people who don't like to read actual criticism
We Are What We Are is an occasionally creepy movie that does well with a low budget.  Unfortunately, despite its intriguing premise and the potential for terrific and horrifying antics, it falls a little short on overall scares and tension.  It almost makes up for this with some interesting subtext about religion,  parenthood, and health; however, as its message(s) end up a little muddled, it falls just short of being the literary horror movie you might be hoping for.  If you're interested in cannibal movies with a strong sociopolitical undercurrent, then I highly recommend Ravenous instead.

My Rating: 3 / 5
The longer part where I discuss things:

Hipster Holy Grail: Twister's Revenge (1988)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The blurb for people who don't like to read actual criticism:
Twister's Revenge is something of a marginal recommend.  It is an action-comedy whose laughs come entirely from its more serious beats, whereas its comedy generally falls flat.  Its first act is a bit of a slog, but once it actually gets going, there's enough fun stuff to make it worth your while as long as you've got ninety minutes and a bottle of whiskey to kill.  Or, in other words, this movie's about rednecks who square off with an AI-controlled monster truck.

My Rating: 3 / 5

The longer bits for people who like film discussion:
The Bit Wherein I Introduce Things

Ironically, this is the first time that I felt compelled to do some research on the history of…