Sunday, January 12, 2014

Day 772 - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

When I first saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug it was a late showing (10 or 10:30PM).  And, while I normally have no problem watching a movie at that hour, in this case, my body pretty much shut down, and my eyes closed for a few scenes.  I also saw the film in the high-frame-rate 3D presentation.  The fact that all the characters looked "real" and the whole thing felt like a live BBC production (thanks, Mike, for that completely accurate description) also distracted me tremendously.  So, while I enjoyed the movie, I don't think I got the experience I was hoping to get.

Well, I saw the film again.  That's right, I decided to see a three hour movie that I thought was solid a second time.  I'm crazy that way.  But this time was an earlier viewing and in 2D.  What a difference it made.  I really enjoyed the film.  The things I liked about the film the first time I saw it were even better.  I also found that I could concentrate on the film itself rather than the faces of the actors (which I could not look away from in the high frame rate version).

I still have a problem with the last quarter of the film, as the movie bounces back and forth between Smaug and Bard.  I think it slows the pacing down when all we want to see are a hobbit and dwarves fighting a dragon.  However, Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel is still a fantastic creation.  Maybe the romantic triangle between her, Legolas, and Kili the dwarf is a little contrived, but her actions are amazing.  She's the once character who gets to grow and develop throughout the film.

But I may just be happy because any film that has giant man-eating spiders in it is okay in my book.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Day 766 - Mask of Fu Manchu

The Mask of Fu Manchu

I read a lot as a kid.  And because King Kong was my favorite move, even back then, I read a lot on monster movies.  And, while Mask of Fu Manchu isn't technically a monster movie, it does star Boris Karloff as the title character, and for many books, that was good enough.  It was also on of those films that I never got around to watching... until now.

I'm actually really disappointed it took me this long to see it, since I think that if I saw this when I was a kid, it would have been one of those movies that stuck with me forever and left an impact on me (like any Ray Harryhausen movie).  There are scenes of torture, mind control, and man-eating crocodiles.  Even now, I watched the movie and thought it was pretty awesome.

The story is basically a race between the British and Dr. Fu Manchu over who can find the tomb of Genghis Khan first, and take possession of his death mask and sword.  The British want them for their museums and Fu Manchu wants them so he can lead the oriental nations under one rule (his), and take over the world.  Fu Manchu kidnaps Sir Lionel Barton, who knows the location of Genghis Khan's tomb and tortures him for its location.  Barton's daughter, along with her fiance, and Nayland Smith find the tomb, get the goods, and try and save Sir Lionel.

The movie moves along at a breakneck pace, is fraught with danger, and is anchored by a strong performance by Boris Karloff.  However... the film is incredibly racist.  Karloff is obviously not asain, and neither is Myna Loy, who plays his daughter.  The slurs and innuendos fly back and forth between races.  Fu Manchu's henchman, well, I guess there's a reason he's a villain.

But, in spite of all that, the film lived up to my expectations.  I can see a real obvious influence on Indiana Jones in here.  Karloff gives an inspired performance (just look at his reactions when Sir Lionel won't give in after being tortured).  Myrna Loy appears to be having a ball.  And the final battle sequence is just insane for how audacious it is.  Pulp fiction at its finest.  ***1/2

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Day 763 (Part 2)

I'm watching the Philadelphia Eagles play the New Orleans Saints, and I don't really care about the outcome, other than the fact that I have chosen the Saints to win in my fantasy football league.  So I have a tiny vested interest in the game, but all I really want is to be entertained.  I have so many movies and television shows that I could watch, but they require a modicum of attention, and after 9 hours of work, I don't have that much to give.  I'm not sure I would call it laziness, but there really isn't a lot of get-up-go tonight.

I've made this resolution that I would write every day.  I've been writing every Sunday for the last two months, so that day has been no problem.  (I've been writing about collecting baseball cards, growing up with baseball, and camp.)  But in order for me to do this for 365 days, I may have to come up with a daily theme, simply so I don't bore everyone reading this, or even myself. 

Obviously, I can write about every movie I see and every book I read.  But now I have to come up with things to write about on the days I don't do those two other things.  I suppose I could "diary" everything, but talking about the day at the comic shop or even Drug Mart would be pretty boring for most everyone.  And I'm not comfortable writing about private things.  I like having control over what information I give out.  But, hey, I gave myself this challenge.  Let's see if I can be creative.

Day 763 - Every day (The Wolf of Wall Street)

My New Year's Resolution was to write every day.  And if that day is ending at 3:15 in the morning, so be it.  I really should be getting to bed.  I have to work all day tomorrow, and I might have a poker game tomorrow night.  There's all sorts of reasons for me not to be on here.  But the simple fact is - I can sometimes be stubborn.  Instead of writing as soon as I got home I've been bouncin' around on these here interwebs for a few hours after getting back from seeing The Wolf of Wall Street (I love this later period of Scorsese films).  I would recommend it, but boy, this is not a film for the youngsters.  If Goodfellas was over-the-top in terms of violence and profanity, this one is over-the-top in terms of sex and profanity.  However, at three hours long, it's completely captivating.  DiCaprio creates a character that you absolutely cannot look away from.  I could write about the acting, the debauchery, the use of music in the film, and all of it would simply be there to try and convince you to go see it.  But I'm starting to pass out, and I've already edited most of the previous sentences in one way or another, and I think that's what this "exercise" is supposed to be about - becoming a better writer.  So, nothing long, but I feel like I've fulfilled my obligations.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Day 761 - 2013 Book Round-Up

So I read 64 different books this year.  For some people that's a lot of books, and for others it's a good start.  Out of all those books I read only 35 different authors.  I like reading the same people apparently.

Thank you Tom Cruise - because of the film Jack Reacher I started reading the Lee Child novels.   I got through 8 of them this year (with another 2 on the pile for this year.  They're great.  I'm always a sucker for fast-paced action/suspense novels and Lee Child delivers in spades.  I only read a couple of them in their correct order, but what's great about them is that I don't need to read them in order to enjoy them.

I also read 8 books by JK Rowling this year.  I plowed through all the Harry Potters again, as well as A Casual Vacancy, which I like to describe as feeling like a Stephen King book, just without the horror elements.  And speaking of King, I read Cell this year.  A great, quick read.

I read a bunch of books from a few of my favorite authors - Gordon Korman, Lawrence Block, and Stuart Woods.  Nine books just from those three this year.  A bunch of those I was simply reading again for the second (or possibly 20th time - no joke).

James Swain was my surprise author of the year.  I bought his novel The Night Monster from the Dollar Store, and it was easily my most profitable purchase of the year in terms of enjoyment.  And then to find out that he's written a bunch of other books has made me happy.  Three down, many, many more to go.

My favorite non-fiction books that I read this year were Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe (duh), and In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch.  She went undercover at Jerry Falwell's church in order to expose evangelical Christians, and instead, while she may not have been converted herself, she got to see them as real people.  It was really a great read for me, in that it allowed me to take another look at my beliefs and strengthen them.  Welch did a great job at not making the book a dry or uninteresting read.  Another solid Dollar Store pickup.

I've got a bunch of books sitting on the floor next to me from when I went to Columbus after Thanksgiving.  I've read three off the stack so far, and I'm itching to get to the rest, but the two library books I've got tell me I need to wait.  But I've finished a book already this year (2014)  - Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain.  It was the fifth book in a (neverending) series (which is fine).  But what was great, is that I didn't even know it existed.  I had her first three novels in the series (as well as her first book, Confessions of a Teenage Sleuth), and finding books four and five (hardcovers!) in Columbus made the collector in me happy.  I've now started book six (which, apparently, came out a few months ago, and now I have to buy a copy to keep the streak alive) and I've got to blow through it so I don't incur major library fines.

I don't know if I'll read more books this year than last (I won't be vacationing in a tropical paradise this year with lots of time on my hands), but we'll see.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Day 760 - My favorite films of 2013

Let's get some things out of the way  - There's a number of films that were released this year that I haven't seen yet either due to lack of time, laziness or any number of other circumstances.  So, who knows, maybe The Wolf of Wall Street might end up as my favorite film of the year.  Not inconceivable based off my love for The Departed, Shutter Island or Hugo.

And the other thing is that these are the movies that I have loved this year.  There's a real mix of films here, and I think it's representative of the fact that I really do love all genres.  Just don't be boring.  And of course, there's more than 10.

Starting from the top...

1. The Way Way Back - When I saw the trailer for this earlier in the year, it was already striking a chord in me.  And then there was the fact that Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote the film (and directed, too) and they were the same team who co-wrote The Descendants (one of my favorites of 2011).  Yes, I had high hopes, but the story of a young guy who finds friends, summer love and a fun job during what might have been the worst vacation ever just felt right on all levels.  Steve Carell successfully played a cad.  Liam James is perfect as the kid.  He doesn't need to say much for us to know exactly what he's thinking.  And then there's Sam Rockwell hitting another home run.  It's one of those quiet films that hits all the emotional areas that I want.

2. Before Midnight - The third film in the Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater trilogy.  Lots (and lots) of talking.  But it's soooo good.  These are smart characters with a lot on their mind, and I love dropping in on them every 9 years.  This year Jesse and Celine are having some marital issues, and it makes for an emotional and gripping story.  I found the ending hopeful, and others have seen it as tragic.  Any film that can do that has something going for it.

3. Furious 6 - The sixth film in the Fast and Furious series is simply one of the most fun action films I've seen.  The series has its own internal logic.  How else could you have an airline runway that never seems to end?  In this series, based off the amount of time it takes a car to go a quarter of a mile, that runway is spot on.  The Rock blends so well with these other characters it feels like he's been with the franchise from the beginning.  And then there's the amazing reveal at the end that ties Tokyo Drift to the rest of the series.  The death of Paul Walker makes me so sad, because these films have simply been getting better and better.

4. Gravity - I liked Dr. Ryan Stone's (Sandra Bullock) backstory.  I thought it gave the film a reason for her to not give up in the face of impossible odds.  And then there's the fact that beyond being visually stunning (the 3D was great!), the film is also a masterclass in suspense.  It never lets up.  Every reveal lets us breathe a short sigh of relief before forcing us to hold our breath again.  I honestly think Bullock deserves an Oscar for this, and Clooney ain't no slouch in the film either.

5. About Time - I like the way Richard Curtis writes.  Seeing a film both written and directed by him is even more of a treat.  And this one was funny, sad, dramatic, and suspenseful.  Bolstered by a great (and game) cast, it was simply a delight.

6. All is Lost - I think Robert Redford says all of six lines in the film.  That's all he needs to say.  The story of a man who's boat gets punctured by a random shipping crate and then has to stay both afloat and alive is astonishing.  Redford plays one of the smartest characters in recent memory, and even with all his smarts, sometimes fate stands in his way of survival.  There have been all sorts of comparisons to Cast Away, and while the films are similar, the journey is way different.

7. You're Next - My favorite horror film in recent memory.  Talking about the plot only ruins some of the surprises that are in store.  Suffice to say, the heroine (Sharni Vinson) plays one of the best "victims" in a horror flick.  The satisfaction that I felt from characters that actually acted intelligently in one of these films cannot be overstated.  And then you have the fact that even without the cheap shot at the end, motivations have been revealed, and that made me even happier.  And, of course, there's the correct grammar.

8. Pacific Rim - Giant robots vs giant monsters as directed by Guillermo del Toro.  I wish there had been a little less rain, but otherwise it made me feel like I was ten years old again in the best possible way.

9. The Spectacular Now - A high school girl falls for the alcoholic high school boy.  Sounds like a real winner doesn't it?  It really is.  Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller as the two main characters are some of the most believable characters on screen this year.  They each have their problems, but you root for them to overcome them.  In fact, the whole film, while being about depressing subjects (wait till you see Miles' character track down his father), is never depressing itself.  It's about hope, and how we sometimes have to fight for it, no matter the odds.

10. White House Down - A better Die Hard movie than the last Die Hard movie (although, truth be told, that wasn't hard to do).  But, boy, did I have a lot of fun watching monuments be destroyed, rockets being launched, and Channing Tatum do a perfectly respectable Bruce Willis impersonation.  This is going to be one of my go-to Friday night, time to decompress, action movies.

11. Frozen - The best animated film of the year (and I loved Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill and Despicable Me 2).  A true musical along the lines of The Little Mermaid, with a strong, strong story featuring two great female protagonists.  The Bechtel Test is passed within the first minute of the film.  And the supporting cast is equally fine.  If you don't come away loving Olaf (the snowman) or Sven (the reindeer) then I may have no hope for you.

12. The Hunt - A chilling story of what one lie can do.  But that lie happens to be a whopper.  It's hard not to put yourself in Mads Mikkelsen's place as the teacher whose life is thrown into complete upheaval.  It's a rough film, but you can't take your eyes off the screen, as there appears to be no end in sight for Mads.  To go from Le Chiffre, to this, to Hannibal Mads Mikkelsen became one of those actors that I've put on my short list of people I'll watch in just about anything.

13. Blue is the Warmest Color - Yes, the three hour NC-17 French lesbian drama is on my list.  It would be worth it just to see Adele Exarchopoulos as the main character, but it's just as good in the sad truthfulness of the story.

14. Spring Breakers - The most subversive movie of the year, anchored by a stellar performance by James Franco as the appropriately named Alien.  It goes in every possible direction, none of which you think or are expecting.  Overindulgent at times, but that may be on purpose.  With Harmony Korrine you never know.  But I truly didn't have a more mind-blowing time at the movies this year as to when I saw this.

And then the two best movies that I saw this year that were released last year were:

The Impossible - Riveting, intense, incredibly acted.  Naomi Watts as the mom, and Tom Holland as her oldest son give two of the most realistic portrayals of the year.  It may never make you want to leave the country again, but the fact that this family managed to both survive and meet up after all they went through is staggering.

Django Unchained - Tarantino's newest was just as good as anything else he's done.  Christoph Waltz deserved that second Oscar.

And there we have it.