Category: Just for fun


Here’s my list of movie reviews in the chronological order in which I viewed them over the holiday break. I picked these movies because they’re considered “classics” and “masterpieces,” and in any case are touchstones of U.S. popular culture. I did not read about the movies before viewing them, and only did so minimally afterwards (but nothing in those reading influenced my reviews).

I welcome comments that disagree with my assessments as I’m always on the lookout for something I “missed” when watching a movie!

SPOILERS: I talk about the movies in full, so make of that what you will.

Taxi Driver (1976)

(5/10)

I was really underwhelmed by this film; although watching the descent of the cabbie into a psychotic break was interesting, there was no real context for his pre-breakdown life. All we know is that he went to Vietnam and had a scar. But why should we care? What actually happened to him that he couldn’t ever sleep or keep his (limited) mind from racing? Without such a context, his “loneliness” and “desperation” are not nearly as compelling. There’s little identification we can feel as the man cannot even coherently talk about his problems (whether it’s to the Wiz or even to his own disjointed journal).

And why does the short-lived focus of his ire become the candidate? Does he want to free his love interest from her work burden and believe that she will then give him a second chance? (Which he ultimately rebuffs?) And, when thwarted, he quickly turns to vent his ire on the pimps of one particular prostitute because….? Even his latent prejudice against minorities comes to the fore throughout his mental deterioration, showing a certain lack of honesty with himself.

Given how underdeveloped (both in meta-character and mentally) the taxi driver is, there’s no real tragedy or empathy that the audience can feel as he spirals out of control. And then for him to become an ex post facto hero based on his outburst of violence seems a cheap trick of undeserved redemption.

That being said, if the movie is an accurate portrayal of NY in the 1970s, then it’s incredibly gritty and well done (and I’m glad I never lived there). De Niro is also better than I expected in some ways, certainly over many of his pigeon-holed roles that define his later career. However, this is not enough to make up for the shortcomings of such a character-driven film, and I certainly would not call it a “masterpiece.”

Deer Hunter (1978)

6/10

First, this movie was too long by about an hour. Indeed, the first hour consisted of a little background for the characters, a lot of dancing at a wedding, and a fair amount of singing…in Russian. Without subtitles. To me, it tried to do what Taxi Driver lacked (give context and background to the characters so the audience could identify with them), but did it poorly by spending too much time on non-essential scenes. This part of the movie could easily have been cut to 30 minutes.

Once the story moved to Vietnam (and back), the movie was infinitely more interesting. (The initial juxtaposition and transition from their hometown bar to SE Asia was jarring and well done). Seeing how the 3 friends handled the stressful hell of war differently was also well portrayed by the actors (for the most part).

De Niro, while ostensibly the “hero” of the film, fell flat in almost all of the scenes. The only time he seemed to come alive was in Vietnam or when he was berating someone back home. He also had the annoying proclivity to say “what” and “huh” when talking with someone, especially over the phone. Walken played his character rather subdued, so I did not get a great sense of loss that the final wake scene tried to evoke. Indeed, Savage’s performance (and character) elicited a greater sense of sorrow and empathy given his particular injuries sustained from the war.

Too much time was spend watching the actors walk or drive around (cutting these scenes would’ve dropped another 15-20 minutes). Inserting real news footage during the fall of Saigon was jarring since it didn’t mesh well, though the concept was well-intentioned enough.

I did enjoy when De Niro went back to Vietnam to look for Walken; it reminded me of a mini “Heart of Darkness”/“Apocalypse Now” story when the veteran comes back from war to “civilization” and then goes back to a war zone that’s deteriorating further as the man goes deeper toward his goal. (Interestingly, I just noted that the Deer Hunter came out 1 year before Apocalypse Now…)

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

6/10

An interesting take on the traditional story, the movie suffered from cheesy lines and shallow, cartoonish villains. Ultimately, the story makes you root for the humans (of course), and hopes you don’t notice that “we” have to use an artifact steeped in black magic to enslave a whole race of beings who we disturbed in our hubris in the first place.

But, being a Warhammer Fantasy geek, I did get a kick out of an army of giants laying siege to a castle. I ain’t seen that before!

Life of Pi (2013)

8/10

Although the movie didn’t live up to the hype I had heard about it, it was the best I’ve seen in my holiday line up (so far). First, the CGI was impressive, as the animals looked truly real (for the most part), and some of the other effects were quite interesting (bio luminescence, the island morphing as a body, etc.). Secondly, I really liked the first part of the movie (before he got on the boat), when the young Pi was exploring the various religions without preconceptions about any of them. Lastly, it really did give one food for thought about what the story was trying to portray through the animal avatars.

For example, is the movie about facing your inner demons? That part of yourself you want to change but may be necessary to define who you are at the end of that journey? And when you finally let go of that part of yourself, do feel emptier or a sense of peace? Or is all that a delusionary mask to cover up the choices you were force to make in order to survive?

Or is it a battle between the Id and Super-ego, and what that conflict may look like as an analogy? Where one is necessary to survive outside civilization, the other is necessary to integrate back into a human community, but they must ultimately co-exist within each of us.

Or is it about a search for understanding “God” or “gods,” however one may conceptualize them? However, for a story that would supposedly lead one “to believe in God,” the final line (“which story do you prefer”) seemed pretty shallow and weak. After all, the “real” story happened, and the other was made up for anyone of the above reasons (one’s inner struggle or the search for God), using analogies. If one is the “truth,” then we can’t believe the analogy…unless it helps us understand the “historic” events that actually occurred—in that case, then that analogy is actually useful. Sneaky, eh? I think I will try reading the book and see if it delves deeper into such interesting issues.

I wasn’t terribly surprised by the second story told (and the truthful one), ever since I read and discussed The Island of Dr. Moreau. My simple axiom: never trust a lone survivor of a shipwreck at face value!

Raging Bull (1980)

4/10

A horrible movie. The main character is a whiny, foul-mouthed, homophobic, paranoid wife-beater. Even when he “breaks down” twice during the film, there was no sympathy elicited from me since there was no identifying with him nor any empathy generated throughout the movie. The dialogue was annoyingly repetitive (especially when LaMotta badgers people about who his wife was sleeping around with), and I found myself actually fast-forwarding through several parts of the movie.

He takes no responsibility for his choices (making terrible ones at that), and yet is petulant about why the world is treating him so bad. Oh, but he “never went down for anyone.” Big whoop.

I give De Niro kudos for being in shape and then putting on weight for the film (no CGI or make up to that effect), but that’s about it. How anyone can call this a masterpiece is beyond me. As yet, Scorsese has failed to impress me in the slightest.

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WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead.

So Dexter was a very strong show; good writing, good acting, good at getting you to root for a serial killer because he’s not “quite as bad” as those he kills.

The last season was pretty strong overall, so I had high hopes for the series finale. I was glad the show hadn’t jumped the shark or wasn’t petering out like so many other shows that I initially liked but went on too long (Smallville, Supernatural, Burn Notice, etc.).

And the season finale was strong…except for the last 5 minutes.

[If you haven’t seen it and don’t want it spoiled or to have any preconceived notions going into it, stop reading here.]

You've been warned.

You’ve been warned.

If you’re still reading, you’ll remember that Dexter kills Deb (ostensibly to save her from living life as a vegetable), decides he can only bring pain to those he loves, and so pilots his boat into hurricane Laura (the name of his biological mother) after dumping Deb’s body over the side like his other victims.

Oh, and then he resurfaces as a grizzly lumberjack somewhere far north of Miami.

Bawhaa?!?!

Bawhaa?!?!

So what’s wrong with this ending? Let us begin:

  1. Dexter has evolved in the show; he’s developed empathy and emotion, something sociopaths aren’t supposed to be capable of. Then, with the tragic death of his sister, he realized he doesn’t want to “feel” anymore because the pain is too great. So he rides into the storm, presumably to commit suicide. Kind of a bummer, but I could deal with it. Except, of course, he SURVIVES. Let’s amend that, he survives a hurricane, in the middle of the Gulf while his boat is ripped to pieces! Dexter may be a semi-tragic hero, but Wolverine he is not.

    Dexerine? I think not.

    Dexerine? I think not.

  2. Dexter also voiced the concern that he can only bring pain and death to those he loves (Rita, Deb). Yet he has Hannah, Harrison, his step kids, and the rest of the police force who will now live in pain precisely because they think he’s dead (oh yeah, and he totally avenged and saved Lumen, too). In other words, there are a lot more people he hasn’t brought pain to than those he has. Granted, his wife, sister, (and an argument can be made for his adoptive dad and Dr. Vogel), are pretty big, but so is his son and Hannah (who he loves more than his first wife, see #3). So, for a traditionally cold-blooded, rational person (albeit thrown into tumult by emotions he’s unsure of how to handle), he makes a very irrational decision.
  3. Dexter’s reason for killing is gone. He no longer looks forward to it or needs it; he needs Hannah. His life in Argentina would be very different than the one he led in Miami. He would not attract the same attention or “bad forces” that his dark passenger attracted because, we’re led to believe, that would no longer be an issue or past time he engages in. Dexter’s reasoning for leaving Hannah and trying (?) to kill himself are unfounded based on the projection of his new life.
  4. Did I mention he survived a hurricane in the middle of the ocean?

Now, the hurricane itself is sort of interesting in a Freudian way. Was he trying to get back to his mother’s womb? (Ick). Did she reject him or give birth to him again? Meh.

eggchamber04

I may be mixing my metaphors here…

At least I have the series finale of Breaking Bad to look forward to next week.

Assuming Disney does the Thrawn Trilogy, I got to thinking who would fill in the roles of our beloved heroes and villains.  Setting aside the idea that they could inject Ford, Hamilton, Williams, and Fisher with a shot from the fountain of youth known as CGI, I compiled a list of potential candidates to fill their shoes (and some new characters). I welcome feedback, dissent, and additional actors I probably overlooked.

Luke Skywalker:

Chris Pine, Matt Damon, Daniel Craig

(I think Chris Pine could pull off the youngish and struggling Luke, though Matt or Daniel would bring a certain edge to him that could work).

Han Solo:

Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson

(Bradley from Limitless, not the Hangover; and Liam has taken on that action hero vibe lately, but could still bring some whimsy to the role).

Lando Calrissian:

Idris Elba, Lance Gross, Denzel Washington

(I think Idris would be ideal, though Lance has a certain suave look that is all Lando; Denzel needs to be considered for his depth and gravitas).

Admiral Thrawn:

Jeff Bridges, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Day Lewis

(Bridges could be hard-edged, Fassbender looks like the artwork, and watching Daniel transform would be pretty amazing).

Talon Karrde:

Hiroyuki Sanada, Robert Downey Jr., Ken Watanabe, Laurence Fishburne

(As a smuggler kingpin, I think Hiroyuki could bring something new to the role, Robert could have a lighter edge, Ken would be pretty spot on, and Laurence might bring that Morpheus thing to it with some success).

Mara Jade:

Angela Bassett, Anne Hathaway, Maggie Cheung, Danai Gurira; (2nd row) Michelle Yeoh, Mila Jovovich, Kate Beckinsale

(In the role of a well-rounded operative, all of these women have proved their chops in action roles; Angela might be a titch “mature” for the role, Anne might be too soft, Maggie or Michelle could work well, Danai is untested in dialogue as of yet, Mila and Kate both fit the bill pretty well but don’t round the cast out particularly well from a diversity stand point).

First a shout out to Tyler for the suggestion of Michael Fassbender for Admiral Thrawn.

Secondly, you’ll notice I left out Leia–I had quite some trouble casting her, so have at it.

Thirdly, while some of the actors are quite well-known, I think they could pull it off.  Some may be better suited for other roles (Robert Downey Jr. as Han?).  Several actors are not particularly well-known here in the U.S., but I think the cast needs some diversity given the non-white talent out there.

Anyhow, this was a bit of fun, and I hope Disney doesn’t screw it up (though given the most recent trilogy, they probably will do alright).

Addendum:

Somehow I forgot about Edward Norton!

Thrawn? Karrde? Solo?

So though I read the Hunger Games back in January, I only just got around to seeing the movie last night.  I won’t go into the quibbles over what was important that they left out (I’m trying to enjoy the movie adaptations for what they are).  But I felt something fairly unique happened in the translation of this book to the screen.

First, they worked really hard to keep the movie PG-13; much of the violence was shrouded or used blurred fast-cuts to minimize what the audience actually saw.  My wife, who saw the movie in the theatres, feels that the larger screen lent an air of even more brutality to it since one could feel immersed in the action, especially where half the tributes are killed in a single scene.  That’s a luxury the fictional audience in the book don’t have if they’re watching the broadcast of the games.

Secondly, the movie did a fairly good job of portraying the audience in the Capitol as alternatively overly-exuberant and bored during lulls in the action.  It was, after all, merely a spectacle for them to watch and root on their favorites.

And this is where the creepy transformation from book to movie hits home.  Forgive me for getting a bit “meta” here, but when we read the book, all of that is imagined, and we’re merely reading a description of the death, mayhem, and desperation of the combatants.  We read about the audience watching and reveling in their safe voyeurism, but we, as the reader, are also kept at a distance.

That all changes when we become visual spectators to the games ourselves, just like the Capitol audience.  Perhaps we don’t have the same “enthusiasm,” but we’re certainly rooting for Kat and Peeta, and that tacit participation blurs the line between fiction and reality.  Rather than simply reading about the games, we’re watching them alongside the Capitol hedonists.  We watch the deaths unfold, hold our breath during the dramatic moments, and hope our champion emerges safely.  It seems fair to ask: Are we really any different?

That is quite a drastic transformation of how we engage with Suzanne Collins’ work known as the Hunger Games.  Perhaps she meant for us to see such similarities when reading the book, but we are directly confronted with our own participation when we watch the movie…especially on the “big screen.”

And that may be one of the most important lessons of the movie, unintentional or not.

A Sea of Tranquility

So, apparently, in order to facilitate a measure of inner serenity, I need to be by a large body of water.

In retrospect, this slow-burning epiphany began on my first trip to St. Davids, where I experienced a sense of connectedness with the world.  Later, my wife and I got engaged there, so that particular spot has grown in significance for me.

St. Davids, Wales.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and see several oceans and seas…

Me in the Pacific, many moons ago.

 

 

The North Sea in my new duster…it was a phase.

 

 

Sometimes I was lucky enough to travel with someone to the water:

The wife and I at the Mediterranean off the coast of Barcelona.

 

Stingray City in the Caribbean…that’s my brother getting up close and personal.

 

All of us at the Atlantic…it’s really calming for my daughter, too!

Recently I was back near the Pacific in San Diego for a conference.  I debated whether or not to take the cab ride over the bay bridge to see the ocean–and I’m glad I did.  It was as calming and soothing as I remembered.  As I stood in the water, I imagined a life where I could greet the sunrise (or shortly thereafter) every morning for just a few minutes, putting me in the right mind for the rest of the day.  And perhaps a stroll with the family at sunset, letting go of the day’s worries.

Though I never grew up near the water, once I saw the Atlantic there has been a calling ever since, and I heed that Siren’s song whenever I can.  I think the vastness of the ocean puts life into perspective and the rhythmic waves erode my frustrations.  I can feel my chest untighten, and my trivial concerns wash away with the tide.

This last time, when I came home (sadly my family wasn’t able to come with me), my wife noticed my more peaceful demeanor.  I think her exact words were: “I know you got this Zen thing going on, but…”  And for a few days, the little things that got under my skin seemed to matter less and I had more patience with those around me (quite a feat for me).

But then I had to drive again, and it turns out my inner peace may just have to do with the fact that I didn’t have to deal with JAs on the road for 6 days.

Still, I like to think the water has something to do with it, and from time to time I’ll turn on my video of the lapping waves, try to recall the feel of the ocean breeze and the smell of the salty air, and just relax.

Hey, I’ll take a pool if that’s all I can get!

 

 

Hello fellow travelers of the cloud.

This week I won’t have much Internet access, so you’ll have to find some other way to spend those few minutes reading the semi-coherent ramblings of yours truly.  I really do appreciate your support, and I promise that next week we’ll resume our normal programming.

All the best!

 

Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration.  But I did receive a Versatile Blogger Award from fellow blogger Teri over at Snarkfest, and I just want to say I accept this award in the spirit in which it was given!

I always knew my scatter-shot style of blogging on different topics would pay off some day!

Apparently, there are some requisite instructions to go along with this award:

  • Create a post for the Versatile Blogger Award
  • Add the Versatile Blogger Award
  • In the same post, thank the blogger(s) who gave you the award and put a link back to their blogs.
  • Nominate 15 fellow bloggers the Versatile Blogger Award and inform each nominated blogger by posting a comment on each blog
  • In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself
  • In the same post, include this set of rules

I’ll also begin with a list of random goodness about me that is sure to entertain, or at least make you question your public association with me.  Drum roll, please…

  1. I entered a dance contest on a cruise ship…and came in second.
  2. I was born with 8 wisdom teeth…have only had 4 removed.
  3. I’ve never used any drugs and have apparently restricted my alcohol consumption to Louis XIII cognac…I blame my brother.
  4. I ridicule others for their taste in crappy TV/movies…but Kung Pow makes me laugh uncontrollably for some reason.  (I blame John).
  5. I’ve worked as a paper boy, bus boy, retail salesperson (J.C. Penny, Best Buy, Riders, Games Workshop, Borders), fitness coach, pizza deliveryman, research assistant, archivist, and father…and I would not give up any of those experiences.
  6. Despite all my curmudgeonly posts, I’m really an idealist at heart.  (Shhhhhh…)
  7. And if I could have one superpower, it would be teleportation…just so I would never have to drive again.

And my nominees for the Versatile Blogger are:

therippleeffect2009

Erin Gong

Hot Space Station Justice

Neil Gaiman

Team Rasler

Robert Reich

Outside the Universe Itself

Monkey See

Naked Capitalism

Niki Rudolph

Things I Can’t Say

The Information Diet

Roy Germano

Sharyn Lonsdale

Bret Victor

 

For the final installment of photos celebrating National Photography Month, I thought I’d throw out a few things that I did actually touch up with photo-editing software.

This is a statue in the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum with some dramatic lighting.

A different statue in the same museum, playing on her coyness.

A picture of our daughter, whose brightness simply radiates out, lighting up the room.  (Yeah, I know, cheesy, but hey, that’s my prerogative).

And a final shot I took of my gorgeous wife…1960’s style.

Thanks for taking a look at our photos; though I won’t be doing a similar series anytime soon, I’ll put up the occasional post of some of our interesting shots since the May’s Monday Mugs garnered some interest among other photophiles out there.

May’s Monday Mugs: People

This is the third installment of my Monday posts celebrating National Photography Month, and it’s all about people.

This is a shot taken by my wife of a beautiful couple in love–my sister-in-law and her husband.

A buddy of mine got married, and while the photographer they hired was posing them, I was sneakily taking shots a bit off the beaten path.

Luckily, I don’t think the guy noticed…

Here’s another shot my wife took, this time of me and my daughter enjoying a boat ride in Michigan.

We go to our fair share of Renaissance Faires, and this is a knight preparing to joust at a show in Pennsylvania.

And another image by my wife of her father, fishing down on the Atlantic coast of Florida near Christmas a couple of years ago.

This is the talented woman who has taken many of the great shots in our family album; we were hiking in the mountains of Montserrat, Spain.

And finally, this is my daughter “conducting” a modern art installation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I/we haven’t done any actual photo “shoots” in a studio or where we have a subject/model; we prefer to catch people candidly, and not too many strangers as you can plainly see.  But, having gotten into this photography thing a bit more, (and having seen some of the great work that other folks have done), I think I’d like to try and set up some more structure shoots.  Now I just need a willing victim…

Continuing to celebrate National Photography Month, this week’s theme is travel! (Mostly).

These shots are from trips I took with my wife (in our pre-child phase).

This was an abandoned asylum up in Michigan; a little cyan filter gave it an interesting look.

This was a shot my wife took of an woman walking uphill in Tarragona, Spain.  It’s one of our favorites because of the candidness and all the great memories!

This was also in Spain, up in some mountains near the Montserrat Monastery.  The weather was amazing (it was in December and was actually warmer up in the higher altitudes), and was really one of the most peaceful places we had ever been (that wasn’t near water).

Also in Michigan, we took a relaxing cruise on a “large mast” tour, and, having seen so many nautical shots, thought I’d try my hand at one.  There’s another rope one around here somewhere, but this one is more colorful.

Our Capitol building; politics aside, it’s still a great piece of architecture!

And finally, a lightning shot from our back porch–because it was the only one that came out.

Thanks for looking; feel free to share any photos from your travels, we love to see new places!