Saturday, February 27, 2010

Terminator fest

For some reason I got on a Terminator kick last week. That's right Terminator. The movie. With Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Really, no idea why I got sucked into this but the third and fourth we actually watched in one night.

The first (of four) Terminator movies was released in 1984, when I was 9 years old. I think I saw it when I was 10. . I've actually watched that movie quite a bit (in the distant past) and correlate my early exposure to it with my affinity for apocalyptic media.  Watching the Terminator series is mindless but is also a walk through time. The four movies span the time between 1984 and 2009, getting progressively worse. But the 1980s culture in the first one is pretty priceless.

Ok, if you don't know about the Terminator series, the first movie (directed by James Cameron - the same guy that just put out Avatar) is described as such:

A cyborg (Schwarzenegger) is sent from the 21st century to present-day [1984] Los Angeles to assassinate a seemingly innocent women [character Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton] whose child [character John Connor]will play an important part in the world from which the killer came.
By today's standards the movie is bad and there's no way around that. For 1984, however, it was awesome. For example, a Variety review from that time says, "The Terminator is a blazing, cinematic comic book, full of virtuoso moviemaking, terrific momentum, solid performances and a compelling story." Twenty-six years later, it's not that impressive.

The next three movies are like this:
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, also directed by James Cameron): 
    • Sarah Connor's kid, John Connor, is a teenager.  Schwarzenegger returns from the future (still as a cyborg - model T-800) this time to protect John.  A more advanced cyborg is also sent from the future (a shape-shifting metallic T-1000) to kill John.
    • From the Washington Post review, "The movie exists on a very basic level; it's one long chase in which the new Terminator tries to get the boy away from the older one."
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2008, not directed by James Cameron):
    • It gets very bad at this point, even with the addition of Claire Danes.  John Connor is still being stalked by cyborgs from the future but this time the cyborg is a woman!  Of course, Schwarzenegger is still in the movie to protect John and his future wife (Danes).
  • Terminator 4: Salvation (2009):
    • Christian Bale plays John Connor but not well.  I start to think that Sam Worthington is hot.  Sure, I saw him in Avatar but didn't really find him attractive.  Can't put my finger on it but in this movie, he is hot. However, the movie itself is really, really bad.  John Connor tries to save his dad (who is actually a teenager at the this time) - the one who impregnates his mom in the first Terminator.  It's incredibly ridiculous.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nine on Wire

Last week around this time I blogged about one of three movies I saw that weekend.  I meant to get to the other two very quickly but here I am, a week later.  Here are the other two movie "reviews."

1. Nine: This movie is about a director (Guido Contini played by Daniel Day-Lewis but is supposed to be Fellini) who has lost his creative drive but has fantasies about all the women in his life, who happen to be amazingly beautiful.  There is more to it but I have to admit, I am not a cultured movie watcher.  My mother loooved movies but had a flavor for obscure science fiction films and threw in some action films (e.g. Rambo) for the old man.  Fellini films have never really reached me (i.e. they have sometimes been confusing to figure out), which may explain my dismay at this film.

I was, however, taken by the sexy performances of Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson and Fergie.  Hot, hot, hot!  Seriously.  I think it was the Slate Spoiler Special on this movie that called it the "movie of boobs" or something like that.  Very appropriate. I do not recommend this movie.  Unless you want to watch a spoiled artist go through a mid-life crisis and only see women for their voluptuous parts.  The San Francisco Chronicle captures the synopsis perfectly, "It's the story of Guido, a film director who lies to his women and cheats on them - and yet we're supposed to think of him as adorable and to see his transgressions as evidence of his restless creativity."

My final comment is a quote from the New York Times review:
“I can’t make this movie,” [Guido] sings. Substitute “watch” for “make” and provide your own music. [This] is a movie about creative blockage and sexual confusion, but not quite in the way it wants to be. Straining to capture artistic frenzy, it descends into vulgar chaos, less a homage to Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” (its putative inspiration) than a travesty.
2. Man on Wire:  If you haven't heard this is the movie about the guy that walked from one of the NYC world trade center towers to the other from top to top on a wire.  Everyone loved it.  Energetic, creative guy with a passion to walk high up on wires.  Right, well I thought the details and logistics of it all were interesting but it could have been about 45 minutes shorter.  I actually tired of hearing the red headed French guy (Philippe Petit) talk. I know, how disappointing to read - you probably loved this movie.

Ok, this is a long excerpt but says what I want to say - from the Onion's AV Club:

The photographs and films of Philippe Petit's various late-'60s/early-'70s tightrope stunts...are suitably breathtaking, and the very idea of walking between the World Trade Center buildings definitely stirs the imagination, and evokes nostalgia for the days when crimes of trespassing and disorderly conduct were more benign. But [the] film lacks a certain broader scope—or necessary contrast. Marsh could've picked any number of counter-stories to put Petit's feat in context: the building of the towers, the history of Houdini-like public stunts, the relative letdown of Petit's post-WTC life, etc. Instead, Man On Wire mainly focuses on the logistics of the stunt so intensely that the details of shooting a rope across the chasm and hiding out from security guards eventually lose their sense of wonder, and become as mundane as listening to an ex-jock describe how he once caught the winning pass in the state championship. It's a story worth telling, yes—but after 90 minutes, it's hard not to wonder if the storyteller can talk about anything else.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Book recommendations

I was getting so good about keeping up with my blog and then I just got busy.  Anyway, I'll try to get back with it.

A few months ago I emailed some folks on facebook and asked them for their two favorite books.  Out of 14 people, half responded - not too bad, a 50% response rate!  All of the responses were from women which is not surprising since I only emailed one man. Here is the final list:
  • Hit by a Farm by Catherine Friend
  • The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
  • The Eight by Katherine Neville
  • The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis
  • Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
  • Leadville: The Struggle to Revive an American Town by Gillian Klucas
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The house at sugar beach by Helene Cooper
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Monday, February 15, 2010

Public Enemies

Last week brought the viewing of three movies, only one of which was on the Academy Award "to watch" list.  This post will cover one of the movies.

Public Enemies: A story about the hunt for John Dillinger in the 1930's.  Although Johnny Depp is pleasing to look at, I wasn't impressed with the movie.  The performances of Depp, Christian Bale and Billy Crudup were unimpressive.  Crudup was a ridiculous J. Edgar Hoover.  Depp's Dillinger was too nice - really, Dillinger was a hard man and Depp played him kind of soft-heartedly. Bale was steely cold but in a boring way.  A hint of emotion really would have lent something to his performance.  Of course Marion Cotillard was excellent. 

My sentiments are echoed in the Washington Post review:
"The problem is casting. Depp and Bale, each capable of intense brooding, blow each other's circuits. There's no electricity to the rivalry because it's impossible to get a read on either man."
As well as the LA Times review:
"Yet, for all its skill, “Public Enemies” is not quite a great movie. There’s something missing—a sense of urgency and discovery, a more complicated narrative path, a shrewder, tougher sense of who John Dillinger is...The movie is structured around repeated scenes of wounded men (agents as well as criminals) dying as they look into the eyes of their friends. Yet some of the dying men are barely known to us, and the device, though beautifully staged in each case, doesn’t have the power it should have had. The movie is emotionally neutered."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Too much happiness

In addition to watching movies and melting my brain with cute stuff on the intewebs, I also read!  I do read at a slow pace though.  This partially explains why there aren't as many book reviews as there are movie reviews.

Last week I finished reading Alice Munro's latest book of short stories: "Too Much Happiness" (I'll refer to the book as "TMH" from here on).  If you've ever read Munro, you'll know that the title is not really indicative of the actual contents of the book.  I've only read one other Munro book ("Runaway"), so I am by no means an expert.  However, compared to that other book, TMH is a little more...dramatic in the events that unfold.  There's more death in it anyway.  Some reviewers have linked the presence of death to Munro's growing feeling of mortality (she's 75).

Although I liked "Runaway" more, TMH is a good read.  Munro uniquely captures the lives of women of all ages and circumstances.  Even in the space of a short story you get a feel of being in the skin of the main character.  A passage from an LA Times review reflects my thoughts more eloquently than I can do myself:
Munro's stories...remind us that the non-essential things -- the things that didn't have to happen, that could have been avoided if people were a bit more rational, or a bit more careful, or if the world just made a bit more sense -- so often determine the shape of a life. In doing so, they remind us that comfort and security are by their very nature essentially fragile and ephemeral, if not largely illusory.
If the title isn't warning enough, I have to be perfectly clear that these stories are not happy, heartwarming stories.  They make you think and they make you wonder and feel, which, in my opinion may sometimes better than happy and heartwarming.

There's a good Slate Double X podcast book club on this book.

That is all on the book.  I will leave you now with a bizarre image.  What you see below is an actual cake!  The photo is complements of the awesome Cake Wrecks website.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Simon's Cat

Of course, after watching U900 on youtube the other night, I got totally sucked in.  I came across "Simon's Cat."  I watched all there was to see and then remembered that someone sent me the video below some time ago.  It was just as amusing the second time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Look out, I've found another cute thing but this one involves music!  Ok, I know this cute stuff isn't exactly adult and but, damn it, we all have to be adult all day long and we deserve amusement. Well actually I guess some people don't have to be adult very much - it depends on one's occupation and disposition.  Anyway, behold something that I got a kick out of but at least one person I know was just mildly amused by: U900.

and another

There you have it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

last week's movie post - part 2

Part two of last week's movie post =

3. Whip it: Just to get it out of the way, yes, this is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut. Synopsis: Coming-of-age roller derby movie with Ellen Page. The reviews are "generally favorable" but seem all over the board when you read them. There are plenty of plot flaws in the movie and the makeout scene in the pool is too much (i.e. too cheesy). The movie overall does have a certain energy but it also has a certain predictability. I'm sort of so-so on the film.

4. Inglorious Basterds: synopsis - In this Quentin Tarantino film, various parties take advantage of a Nazi movie premier in a bid to try to end WWII. The film had some wit and I actually enjoyed Brad Pitt's Tennessee accent and attitude. I don't know that it is Best Picture worthy, one of the awards for which it was nominated, but I certainly did enjoy the different, if sillier, take on World War II. I will note that, as a fan of good sound, this film had excellent sound. From the scrape of a fork on a plate of strudel to a hand on a rifle's trigger in a bar fight, the sounds were crisp. Some of the music selections were a bit bothersome. At least one song was a song used in Tarantino's Kill Bill and I'm not sure one of the modern-era songs worked.
A sentence in a review in The New Yorker struck me, "'Inglourious Basterds' is not boring, but it’s ridiculous and appallingly insensitive—a Louisville Slugger applied to the head of anyone who has ever taken the Nazis, the war, or the Resistance seriously." Understandably and justifiably most movies made about World War II are serious. The slightly different (read silly) slant on this movie was appealing to me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

eight to go

As I mentioned in a blog post last week, I had ten movies to see before the Academy Awards. Now I have just eight! This week I watched four movies but only two of them were on my Academy Awards "must watch" list. You ready? Here is the rundown.

1. The Blind Side: In a very small nutshell, this is a movie based on a true story of a way-underprivileged African-American teenager in Memphis that is taken in by a well-to-do white family and thrives. Although it's one of the ten movies nominated for an Academy Award for best picture this year, it got average reviews. I resisted seeing it mostly because I thought it was "one of those sports movies" but really just didn't know much about it (also I'm not really a fan of Sandra Bullock). It's been four days since I've seen it and I have to say, I liked it. Sure it was a feel good movie but the true story part of it really hit home. Feel good movies can often times be cheesy and usually come around holiday time. If it wasn't based on a true story, I'd have a hard time believing it really happened. The New Orleans Times-Picayune review sums it up nicely:

  • "The message, of course, is that a simple act of kindness can have a profound impact on the trajectory of a life. There's built-in potential there for overwrought emotion and cloying, movie-of-the-week formula, but Hancock [the director] deftly dodges it, and "The Blind Side" ends up being a tear-jerker, a heart-warmer and a thorough crowd-pleaser in one tidy package.

2. (500) Days of Summer: In a bizarre twist, this movie got better reviews than The Blind Side. Just goes to show that you never can tell... Ok, what was this movie about? Let's see, boy meets girl but it's not a love story, which is fine but what is it really about? Sure, I like romantic comedies every now and then but not this one. Maybe I'm not young and hip enough and/or maybe I've been married too long but this movie was not my cup of tea.

Ok, I've gone on long enough for tonight. I'll discuss the other two movies in a "part two" later.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

food art

After the last post about the epicute web site, I decided to search more on food art just to see what I could find. For some, the purpose of life is to manipulate food into cartoonish items, which are also amusing and quite possibly tasty.

I found this and several other bits of food art on one web site:

Holy frijoles! I found this a post on one web site that has pretty amazing bento box-ish creativity:

Some of the food art is more literally art than food, like Condoleezza Rice:

Meat-based art:

That is all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

2010 Academy Award Nominations

Let's start at the same point - check out the 2010 Academy Award Nominations.

Ok, so now that we've both reviewed the list I can spout my opinions.

This is the first year that the Academy has nominated 10 movies for best picture instead of 5. Now 5 more movies can slap the "Academy award nominated" label on the front of their DVDs. I'm not clear on other reasons. I heard something about wanting to draw in more of the mainstream crowd (i.e. most of America that has never seen Precious or A Serious Man) by nominating some mainstream movies (e.g. The Blind Side and Up). That's not to say these "mainstream" movies don't have merit. It does confuse me how "Up" can be nominated for both Best Animated Feature Film and Best Picture.

I need to see about 10 movies to be up to speed by March 7th (the day of the awards show). Unfortunately 2 or 3 of the 10 movies are no longer in the theaters and are not yet on DVD. Since I haven't seen many of the movies in the running for one award or another, I can't properly judge them. I can, however, say that I'm pleased to see The Hurt Locker in the running for Best Picture. Conversely, I am not entirely pleased to see that Avatar is also in the running. Although Avatar is an innovative film in its presentation and concept, it doesn't seem like Academy Award quality. Do we really want a quasi-animated movie that tells the same old story of a white guy saving a tribal people representing the best film of our time? I'm not 100% that The Hurt Locker represents the best film of our time either but it does embrace an actual reality and makes us face it too. I'm sure many will disagree with me but oh well.

This year brings the fourth Best Director nomination ever for a woman: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. The three others were: Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003). No woman has ever won Best Director.

This year also brings only the second Best Director nomination for an African-American: Lee Daniels for Precious. The other was John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood (1991). No African-American has ever won Best Director.

I'll have to return to this topic after I've seen a few more films.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cute...yes, more

I bring you epicute! I'm pretty sure I haven't blogged about this particular web site before...but it's possible. There are so many cutesy web sites to keep up with. The difference between this particular web site and most of the cute web sites I share is that this one isn't focused on furry mammals. This goes more with cute food. Some of it borders on food art but it's not just vegetables with faces cut into them. I have to admit, a lot of it is way too cute but there are a few gems. See below.

Anyway, if you like cupcakes and little whoopie pies - this it the site for you.