Monday, January 26, 2015

Day 1151 - Would You Rather

Would You Rather is a horror flick that, while effective, has a few flaws.

The simple plot is that Shepard Lambrick (deliciously played by Jeffrey Combs) has invited 8 people to his house to engage in a deadly game of "Would You Rather."  The person we get to see make this journey is Iris, as played by Brittany Snow.  Her brother needs a bone marrow transplant, their house is up for sale, and school is no longer an option.  This game is her best shot at keeping her head above water.

Once the game starts, the movie hits on all cylinders.  You're sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see how each player is either eliminated or moves on.  The tension stays strong throughout... except when Lawrence Gilliard as Dr. Barden shows up.  Dr. Barden is the guy who recommends Iris for the game, but then he gets second thoughts.  As you watch the movie, you realize his character is completely unnecessary.  In fact, every time the movie cuts to him, it actually slows the pace down.

That's one of the bad things about the film.  The other bad thing - it took me about two minutes in to see where things were going.  It cast a bit of a pall on the proceedings.

But the things that work, yeah, they work well.  Like I said, the pace of the film is spot-on.  It does what good movies do, and it builds slowly.  The big reveal of how serious the game is takes some time to get to, but that's because we're given the time to see how desperate Iris is to get to this point.  The other main thing that works - the acting.  Every one of the actors seems like they're giving it their all.  What could simply be a fun exploitation movie is elevated by the actors, as they manage to create rich characters with the smallest of screen time.  I can't really think of a slacker in the main group.  And, for me, it's always great to see Crab Man (Eddie Steeples) in anything.

I would rate this higher, because of all the positives, but I just find it frustrating that I figured out the trajectory of the story so early on, that it clouds my view of the whole thing.  Well worth a watch if you dig this sort of thing (and you know who you are), but once is enough for me, I think.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day 1146 - Gotham

Is it seasonal affective disorder if all you do is sit at home and read and watch tv and eat junk food?  And part of that tv is Gotham, and I'm watching it right now as I type, and holy cow, that's Peter Scolari as the commissioner!  There are a lot of comic nerds that don't like Gotham (and I can say that, because I'm a huge comic nerd), but I'm completely on the opposite end of that spectrum.  And I say that simply because I'm still watching the show.  With so many tv options, my mind tends to wander and drift.  I've gotten to the point (and I'm not sure when it exactly happened) where there are so few hour-long dramas that I watch, that I sorta cling to the ones that make me want to watch them almost immediately.
Ben McKenzie's Jim Gordon manages to show how one honest man manages to barely keep his head above the morass that is the crime and corruption of the worst city in the world (well, the U.S.).  Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock does what Donal Logue does, which is make a person that has an abrasive personality, bad habits, and an ego to match a compelling and charismatic character.  Robin Lord Taylor plays a skinny Oswald Cobblepot (who, we all know will become The Penguin), and he's not yet the criminal mastermind we know he'll become.  He's very smart, but he's still a little green, and it's nice to see his early mistakes and how he's constantly learning from them.  Let alone the fact that he's super creepy.  Then there's Camren Bicondova's street urchin (Selina Kyle).  Apparently she was a dancer before the show was on the air, and her moves bear that out.  I'm not sure the creators could have picked a better person that we know will end up being Catwoman,
Lest I overdo the praising, I do have some complaints, but they're exceedingly minor.  Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) as Gordon's on again/off again girlfriend is a shadow of a character.  I have no interest in any storyline that she's involved in.  And Zabryna Guevara's Sarah Essen is Captain of the Gotham police force, but she's too nice.  In, what's supposed to be the worst, most corrupt police force, she's too altruistic.  Gordon should be butting heads with her in every episode.  Although that would probably be boring.  In any case, both those small complaints could easily be fixed with some stronger writing.  I'm willing to give it that, because I like just about everything else.
I've barely touched on anything other than the acting, and I haven't even written about Bruce and Alfred, but honestly I had no idea what I was gonna write tonight after being off for a couple of weeks.  I was still writing, just not a lot and not on here.  Like I said, seasonal affective disorder.  But we'll see see what happens in the coming days.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day 1135 - Football

I hate being held hostage to something I have no control over.  I had every intention of either going to a Bible study tonight or seeing White Bird in a Blizzard at the Cinematheque.  It could have gone either way, but I was waiting for the furnace guy to call me today.  He didn't give a guarantee, but I was hoping for some sort of resolution to this story.  It's a very weird thing to actually have the ringer of my phone turned on, as I almost always have it set to vibrate.  And I got zero calls today.  I didn't want to go to either event in case the furnace guy decided no time was too late, and I was going to get a loud annoying call in the middle of something.  So, instead, I got some McDonalds, went home and am now going back and forth between watching football and watching the greatest silent Fritz Lang expressionistic German film - Metropolis.  Not a bad night by any stretch of the imagination, but not what I particularly wanted to do tonight.

So I sit here watching sports, and I think I'm going to write about some of my history with organized sports.

I've always loved baseball, but when I was in the 3rd and 4th grades I played touch football for school.  And I was pretty good.  I practiced with the older kids, and that's what I really remember about that time.  I practiced hard.  This was years ago, and I don't really remember how good I was, but I did get a trophy for "Most Promising Player Award" so I was either okay or I had a lot of heart.  I think it was a mixture of both.  I do remember the final game of my career, because we were winning going into the last play.  We were on defense, and the other team threw a "Hail Mary" pass (oddly appropriate since it was probably two Catholic schools playing) that was batted in the air and caught in the endzone by the other team.  I remember the coach berating us for not knocking the ball down, as opposed to knocking it in the air.

And that was the end of my "professional" football career.  I wasn't that disappointed that my new school didn't have a football program, since I never really had as much passion for that as I did with baseball (even though it only took a couple more years to squash that dream as well).  I never had the "What if?" moment that I've always had with baseball.  That "What if I had continued playing football throughout my life?"  question that I'm certain probably haunts others.  I was perfectly content to play hours of Nerf football in the street with my friends.  It was much less stressful.  And, as the pick-up tackle game in college that ended with two bloody lips for me proved, I was perfectly content with my decision to let the game go.

I had heart.  I had talent.  I was a huge fan of the Kardiac Kids.  But I just didn't have the passion.  I enjoy watching football now, and I look back on those two years proudly (hey, I got a trophy!), but the sport still doesn't move me as much as baseball does.  It might be my own mindset.  But, hey, pitchers and catcher report in about 5 weeks.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Day 1134 - Waking up to 50 degrees is not fun

Wednesday night I went to Carrabbas with my mom and my sister to celebrate my dad's victory in the "Survivor" pool this year.  He bailed because he was sick.  I ate a lot.  When I got home I prepped and readied myself to read a lot of comic books.  I had some chocolate covered pretzels (Christmas gift!), some pop (Squirt), and the new Echosmith album all good to go.  I lasted through the album before I put everything on the table next to me and just passed out on the couch.  If I go to bed that early, I'm never concerned that I won't wake up in time for work, because I usually wake up in the middle of the night and make my way to my bed.  Which is what I did, because I was hot even though I was under one blanket and I keep my house at a frosty 60 degrees.  I went up to my bedroom, set my alarm, and fell right to sleep.  At about 7AM I woke up, and my head felt cold.  Which was weird, because I normally sleep under three blankets.  I went downstairs to look at the thermostat, and it was reading 51 degrees.  Pretty cold.
It was pretty early, so I watched some YouTube videos in the hopes that they might give me the answers that I needed to take care of this inexpensively.  They did not help.  So I called my furnace guys, and they told me they'd call me back when both our schedules were ready.
I attempted other fixes as much as I could since I was working, and resigned myself to dressing warm until I got the furnace guys call.  But when I got home, the heat was on!  I called the furnace guys, told them all was well, and thanked them.  I went to volleyball that night (3-1 for the first game of the season), and came home to have some dinner and watch some TV.  I was in the basement relaxing when the furnace turned on, but didn't catch.  The same thing it had been doing all day.  At that point, I was in for the night.  I went to bed late, bundled up, and woke up (again) to a frosty 50 degrees.
My backup plan had been sick the day before, but today (still feeling under the weather) Ryan said he'd take a look at the furnace.  When he called me at 4:30 with bad news, I had to bite the bullet and call the furnace guys again.  Working around my schedule (with a lot of help from my friends), the furnace guy found the problem, and gave me a temporary fix.  He's supposed to come back on Saturday (fingers crossed) and give it the permanent fix.  As it is, I've spent a decent amount of money, but it's worth it because 1). It's really,  really cold out. and 2). The guy obviously knows what he's doing.
When he was done with hos work, I went back to the comic shop, finished the work I was doing there, and then spent some time catching up on the last five months worth of Avengers and New Avengers comics.  It was worth it.  It was also worth it to come home to a comfortable house.  I just hope tomorrow is the end of it.  It's too cold for messing around.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Day 1131 - Food

I cooked tonight!  Like, legitimately cooked.  I bought shrimp scampi, and I wanted to cook it in the oven, but I couldn't find an oven-safe container to put it in.  So, I went with sauteing it on the top of the stove.  I melted a teaspoonful of butter in the pan, dumped in 7 or 8 shrimp, and let it cook for about 8 minutes.  There were a couple of things about it - 1. All I could think of was the "Chopped" judges berating the cooks for not seasoning enough, so I made sure there was plenty of (garlic) salt and pepper on the food.  2. I have no idea how to tell if the shrimp was done.  It seemed okay, and I'm considering this a cooking victory.

And that's all I got for tonight.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Day 1131 -Whiplash


Wow.  I love when I see a movie that both exhausts and exhilarates me at the same time.  I wish I had seen this a couple weeks ago, because I know what one of my new top 10 movies of last year is.

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a drummer in the best music school in the country.  Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons) is the foul-mouthed taskmaster of a teacher.  I would say the movie is about the relationship that develops between the two of them, but that would be inaccurate.  It's about the battle of wills between two alpha males - one of whom wants to be the best there is at what he does (much like Wolverine), and one who's looking for perfection, even if he has to beat it into the other one (literally and figuratively).

When we first meet Andrew, he's practicing on the drums.  In fact, throughout the movie, he practices all the time, sacrificing any sort of social life.  And the reason he practices all the time, we're led to believe, is to impress Fletcher.  When we first meet Fletcher, he's standing in the doorway watching Andrew practice.  He's obviously the top dog at the school and any one of the students would give up their right arm to be in his class.  But, immediately, he comes off as a jerk.

But I don't think the movie is about Andrew trying to make Fletcher a surrogate father figure that he's trying to impress.  He already has a wonderful father (nicely played by Paul Reiser), and he's the complete opposite of Fletcher.  No, I think the movie is about endurance, talent, and genius.  Fletcher uses a story about Charlie Parker getting a cymbal thrown at his head, as the turning point in his career.  Fletcher uses that same action (pretty literally) to evoke that same turn in his students.  There's absolutely no doubt that it's abuse.  He does things that will make you gasp in shock.  You know what he's going for, and he explains it even better towards the end.  But the results vary dramatically from person to person.  Andrew takes the abuse, and it drives him to become the best he can be.  But even he has his limits, and getting pushed past them wreaks some havok.

There is nobody who is better at hurling insults than JK Simmons.  He does it with such venom and panache, that not giving him an Academy Award nomination for his role in this seems like it would be a great disservice.  And Miles Teller matches him beat for beat.  When he practices so strenuously that his hands almost become a river of blood, you believe that no makeup was necessary.  You're rooting for this kid to reach the apex of his potential, thereby "beating" Fletcher.  In fact, there's a scene where I felt like shouting, "Beat him!"

The finale is an impressive feat of writing.  With very few words, and lots of music, you're meant to have your emotions flung around.  And you do.  And watching two people who may hate each other, or may respect each other, face off in a battle of talent and wills creates one of the most exhilarating endings I've seen in quite some time.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Day 1129 (again) Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators

I don't remember how old I was when I read my first Nancy Drew book, but I do remember the title - The Mystery of the Fire Dragon.  I loved it, and it was the beginning of a lifelong love of mysteries.  From that book, I worked my way through the first 56 hardcovers and continued through a lot of the softcovers (#57 and up).  And, of course, being the collector that I am, I had to have all the original Nancy Drew books.  What that meant for me, though, was a little different than having first prints of everything.  I could live without those, because I (probably) still can't afford those.  Instead, in the 1950's they rewrote the early stories, shortening the page count from 216 or so to 180ish.  There are no 180 page count books in my collection.  And last year, I finally finished upgrading the absolute worst copies I had, so now everything is good or better.

Then there's the companion series - The Hardy Boys.  Yeah, I didn't care for them as much.  I could never identify with Frank or Joe, and their stories never seemed as fun or dangerous or creepy as Nancy's did.  I've got a number of their books, but I've never felt the need to track down more than what I have.

However, there was a mystery series that I did find as compelling as the Nancy Drew series, and that was Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.  Jupiter Jones (the smart one), Pete Crenshaw (the athlete), and Bob Andrews (the normal one) were teenage investigators who worked out of Jupe's uncle's junkyard solving cases that were strange, compelling, and always seemed to have a touch of the supernatural to them.  I still remember the day when I went into the bookstore and found out that they had revamped the series for teens.  I felt that I went in every two weeks looking for a new book.  Eventually, they printed 11 of them, and they're all pretty good, but one of the new series stood out.  But more on that in a bit.

I read 103 books last year.  That's probably why I didn't see as many movies as the year before, and I don't think I'll ever top that number in my lifetime.  But out of those 103 books, I re-read the original 43 Three Investigator books, along with the 11 updated ones.  It took me about five months get through all of them, and it felt great.  As with any series, it all depends on how much you like the characters, and with no exception,  these three guys were people I liked hanging out with.  They solved mysteries that involved art thieves, haunted houses, thieving midgets (!), and pirate treasure, among others.  Compelling stuff.  When they did the new series, they were less of a mystery and more of tracking down bad guys who stole cars or who wanted to stop the opening of a play.  And while they weren't mysterious, they advanced the characters, and were pretty exciting.  And the fourth book in the series was called "Funny Business" and was about the guys finding a collection of comic books, going to a convention, and meeting all the people involved in the industry from the editors to the artists to the cosplayers.  It was a clever mystery, it had incredibly well-defined characters, and didn't talk down to those of us who know comics.  (And, yes, Jupiter got a love interest in the story that didn't feel forced.)  It immediately surpassed my two previous favorite books in the series - The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure (with the aforementioned midgets) and The Mystery of the Invisible Dog (which had real supernatural elements to it).  I read Funny Business every few years, because as with the best books, you want to immerse yourself in their world every so often.  At least, I do.  And a few years ago, through the magic of the internet, I found a hardcover copy of the book that was signed by the author.  It's easily in my top ten favorite things I own.

But to bring it all back around again, I started The Three Investigators series last February, and I think this year I might re-read all the Nancy Drew books.  It's been a while since I took them off the bookshelf (there's so much other stuff to read), but I do love reading series.  Heck, last year, I re-read Hitchhiker's Guide, too.  (so good!)  But right now, I've got a few books lined up in the queue, including As You Wish written by Cary Elwes about the making of The Princess Bride, and the new books by Gordon Korman and Carrie Vaughn.  So, February is looking like it's getting full.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Day 1128 (going backwards because apparently I lost some days in here.)

My unofficial/official stance when writing on here is that I have to have an opinion on something.  Whether it's movies, tv shows, books, music or whatever, I try to write something that has an opinion.  That's going to change this year.

This year I plan (plan) on writing a bunch, like I did during the glorious days of MySpace.  And in order to do that I've got to expand my repertoire a bit.  I'm going to write about life, loneliness, happiness, Star Wars toys, comic books, run ins with the law, and whatever else may float my boat.  Obviously, reviews are still going to be the main crux of what I write about, but I can't be saddled with my own self-imposed restrictions any longer.

However, with all that being said, I need to clarify this, as well.  I write for me, but I'm willing to let anyone see what I write.  I want as many people to read my stuff as I can drag in.  But I also hold two jobs and I'm very savvy in what I let everyone see.  You're only seeing what I want you to see in any given situation.  It's not that you can consider me an unreliable narrator, because I have every intention of telling you the truth at all times, but it's both going to be refracted through my own thoughts, and I'm not going to tell you everything.

But I will tell you this - I almost want my next car to be a Honda simply because of Skeletor.  Both of his commercials make me happy.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Day 1129 - The One I Love

The One I Love

I'm gonna lead with the trailer.  Feel free to give this a watch before you start reading, because this (completely spoiler-free) trailer is what got me to buy the movie even before seeing it.

Now that you've got that out of your way, let me say that the movie is wonderfully strange and surreal, yet also a touch simplistic.  However, I think I'll be pondering the ending over the next few days.

The story is about Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) spending the weekend at a vacation home on the advice of their therapist.  And then things get wonky.

Mark Duplass is a man who wears many (figurative) hats.  As an actor, I love him in The League.  As a writer/director he's responsible for such little gems as Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  And, of course, Elizabeth Moss is from Mad Men.  Together, they make a couple that you have to believe in (you do), and one that you're willing to watch for an hour and a half (they are).  Having a chemistry that is so real, helps ground the movie as it displays some more "fantastical" elements.

Because of the limited setting, the movie reminds me of a stage production, and could probably be easily adapted that way.  But director Charlie McDowell never lets the story feel claustrophobic.  And he's helped considerably by the music.  Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans have created a score that heightens the tension and accentuates some of the weird humor.

Obviously, as you can tell, this is a movie that has a lot of secrets.  I'm not going to spoil them here,  but any smart moviegoer will be able to pick up on some of the easier ones (such as why these two are in therapy in the first place).  But it's the larger ones that make the movie as compelling as it is.

This wasn't the undiscovered masterpiece I was hoping for, but it was a nifty little flick that went into enough strange place that I'm happy I own it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Day 1127 - Movie Roundup of 2014

I thought I watched a lot of movies this year at 149, and then I did the count and realized I watched 24 less than I did last year, so I was a little disappointed in myself.  I take comfort in the fact that I'm pretty sure I read more books this year than last year, though (but I haven't done that count yet).  But I watched a lot of terrible stuff this year, a lot of mediocre movies this year, and some really good films.  I want to write about the top 20 really good films I watched this year starting with number one.

1. Under the Skin - One of only a few movies that I saw twice in the theater this year.  Jonathan Glazer's film was not for everyone.  Most of the people I know who saw it hated it, but there were a select few of us who thought it was amazing.  Certainly a strange movie, but something about it burrowed into my brain, and no other movie, besides my 16th pick, stuck with me more.  Scarlett Johansson said about 20 words in the whole film, and was still amazing.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy - I could probably watch this every day for a few weeks and still not get tired of it.  Drax is still my favorite character, but everyone holds their own.  I've always loved James Gunn's movies, and I'm happy that he's getting even more exposure.

3. Birdman - Amazingly directed (one continuous shot!), wonderfully surreal, and massively layered storytelling.  It's a shame that it's score isn't going to be at least nominated for an Oscar, because it's one of the few in recent memory that stands out (in a positive way).

4. Only Lovers Left Alive - Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in a Jim Jarmusch film about vampires.  You go in hoping it's going to be good, and the fact that it's great makes me happy.

5.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier - A really great action flick with hints of 70's paranoia that actually gets better with each viewing.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson's newest flick is sharp, funny, visually sumptuous, and did I say fun?  It may not have the heart of some of his other movies, but it more than makes up for it in style.

7. Boyhood - How did Richard Linklater get this movie made?  12 years of filming and nobody quit?  12 years of filming and you've created a movie that feels authentic and real?  12 years of filming and nobody knew about it?  I may not love all of his movies, but I can't deny that he is one of the most interesting directors that's making movies now.  And I did love this one.

8. What If - One of those movies that I like because it hits all my own personal sensibilities.  Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan update When Harry Met Sally and they don't mess it up.  It also has a strong supporting cast, which a movie like this needs.

9. Locke - One man in a car as played by Tom Hardy.  If you're going to be that experimental, you better be good, and writer/director Steven Knight is that good.  Man, I forgot how much I liked this movie.

10.  Tim's Vermeer - Teller (of Penn & Teller) directs this documentary about Tim Jenison, a very rich inventor who decides to see if Vermeer used a camera obscura to make his paintings look as good as they did by trying to do it himself.  I love movies that make me look at art in different ways, let alone make me continue to re-evaluate what art is.

11. Edge of Tomorrow - Tom Cruise is slimy, Emily Blunt is awesome, and we, the viewers are all the better for it, in this riff on a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day.  The last shot rivals that of Birdman for my favorite of the year.

12. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - What makes it better is the fact that it's a remake of the worst of the original movies, Battle For the Planet of the Apes, and it's a great remake.  Apes with guns, on horseback, and talking?  Yes, please.

13.  The Fault in Our Stars - Nope.  Haven't read the book. Maybe someday, but for now, I'll take this massively dramatic and unapologetically tear-jerker of a movie.  Yes, I can be a sucker for a movie like this sometimes, as long as everyone commits and tells the story well.  Sue me.

14. Interstellar - It evoked feelings of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet it was still its own creation.  Not the home run I was hoping for, but still a solid triple.  And those robots were awesome!

15. John Wick - Keanu Reeves is a retired killer who jumps back in the game when a punk steals his care, and even worse, kills his dog.  A full-blown action movie with nothing more on its mind than killing all the bad guys dead.  And doing so in a way that makes you both not question what you're seeing, as well as cheering on the main character.

16.  Wetlands - The one movie on here that you've never heard of.  A German film about a teenage girl who might be the most unhygienic person you've ever seen, and what happens when she's hospitalized after one of the worst shaving accidents you'll ever see.  I wanted to see it because I knew it was an extreme movie (it really is!), and I wanted to know if my own personal barometer has changed that much from college.  I think the movie would have been much worse for me if it weren't for a few things.  Firstly, it's a good movie regardless of the content.  It's funny, it's thoughtful, and it has heart. Also, it's a gorgeous looking film.  That helped temper my reaction dramatically.  Sure, there might be a scene or two that I thought might be a bit much, but I'm pleased that I continue to strive for interesting and good.  I recommend this only to those who aren't offended by anything, because, sometimes, just "wow."  But still good.

17. The Theory of Everything - Who knew Stephen Hawking was that funny?  That was my first reaction.  Actually, that was my second reaction.  My first one was, "Eddie Redmayne pulled off the most amazing performance of the year for me."  A touching love story that unfolds along with Hawking's decline as ALS attacks his body.  And, yay, another movie that makes me feel smarter after watching it.

18.  Veronica Mars - It makes me happy that this exists and was good.  Not great, but definitely good enough.

19. Bad Words - Jason Bateman directed and starred in this raunchy, but quite frankly hilarious, comedy.  This was the funniest movie I saw all year.

20. The Raid 2 - Not as good as The Raid: Redemption, but that was going to be a tremendous feat anyways.  More non-stop action.

And, because I live in Cleveland, there's still a number of movies that'll probably be nominated for Oscars that haven't even opened here.  I'm sure I'll get to them, but for now, this is my top 20.