Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I am an avid Stephen King fan and have read almost everything he's ever written, and will get rid of the word almost from this sentence one day. In keeping with tradition, I have just finished his newest collection of short stories entitled Just After Sunset. Some of these stories were good, some not. Here is my review:
1) Willa - I read this 25 page story and then did not pick up the book again for almost a week, and not for the good reasons. This was the most typical "ghost story" I've ever read. The 'twist' was obvious from page one and I was very nervous that Little Stevie had let me down by publishing some seriously horrible stories.
2) The Gingerbread Girl - I quickly gained confidence after reading this story. It was 55 pages of a good build-up of understanding the main character, followed by a great piece of action/horror. This was one of my favorite stories in the book, and it reminded me of one of my favorite Stephen King gorefests - Gerald's Game. I dare anyone to read that book in one sitting like I did. It's a feat of strength.
3) Harvey's Dream - A fun, classic horror 10-page story. Nothing to write home about, but definitely worth a read.
4) Rest Stop - Another short 20 pager that had a sold beginning, middle and end. King is one demented man, and I love how he takes everyday situations, and makes them extraordinary.
5) Stationary Bike - A very different, interesting 30 page story. This was different than all the others, and many of the stories in this collection shared a theme of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This manifests itself in the most different and interesting ways: Painting, and riding a stationary bike. The more this story marinated, the more I liked it.
6) The Things They Left Behind - This was the only one in my review that I had to go back and reread some quick passages. I really liked the story and how it was tied to New York City, but something didn't Gel for me in this story. I think it was written with too much style with Stephen King trying to write like a New Yorker speaks and it didn't work that well.
7) Graduation Afternoon - A perfect 8 pager. This is obviously written after September 11th, but it's a perfect apocalyptic story written in 8 pages. I dare anyone to read this story and then say King is a hack.
8) N. - I had watched an comic book adaptation of this that I bought for $3 on itunes so was already familiar with the story. I think it read better in story than comic book form, but that could be the voice actor they hired was horrible. But this is a very typical Stephen King story about a rip in reality and how regular people that stumble upon it deal with it. This is another of the longer stories in this collection, but again it's a good one.
9) The Cat From Hell - If anyone ever saw the old Tales from the Darkside movie from around 1990, this is the same story from that movie. It wasn't good on film, and it's not very good in print. This is skipable.
10) The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates - a 10 page story that is again not that original. It's better than Willa, but this is a story that we all have read before. Someone dies, then you get a phone call from them and they warn you about the future. It's OK, but kind of a throwaway.
11) Mute - This was one of the better stories in this book again. It reminded me a lot of an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents... story but it is quite good. A story about how good deeds sometimes come back and effect you in interesting ways.
12) Ayana - I'd like to think that this story is very closely related to the Green Mile. Maybe Ayana's last name is Coffey. We never do learn, but I'm going to go with that until I learn different. It's a short tale, but King seems to be lightening up in his old age.
13) A Very Tight Place - Ahh, Stephen King at his gross-out best. A man gets trapped in a tipped over Port-O-Potty. Simple and effective and a fun, fast read in 60 pages.
14) Sunset Notes - At the end of the book, Stephen King includes a little anecdote about each of the stories above. I liked reading each of these just after finishing the story themselves. He only writes a paragraph or two for each, but he explains a little bit his inspiration or where the idea came from. It gives the reader a glimpse into how these are written and it's a nice touch. He's done it before in his short stories and it's always welcome.
Over all Just After Sunset is a fun list of stories that can easily be enjoyed one at a time before bed, in the subway (where I do 90% of my reading) or when secluded up in Vermont waiting for the darkness to engulf you. A definite for King fans, and I'd even recommend it for those that normally don't like him, but want something that will get their heart racing a little.
I watched this movie on Saturday Night. It would have been in my top 10 of 2008 if I had seen it earlier. I don't want to give anything away about it. It is a Swedish movie and it follows the life of a 12 year old boy named Oscar. That's really all I can say. It is scary, intense, funny, and beautifully shot. Anyone that follows this blog I think will enjoy it. Do yourself a favor and add it to your Netflix queue.
Monday, March 9, 2009
As I sit here on a Monday afternoon watching my favorite movie of 2007, There Will be Blood on Showtime (and realize once again there is not one word of dialogue until 15 minutes into the movie) I realize I have not yet written my favorite movies of 2008. Since I am procrastinating writing a paper, studying for an exam, going to the gym, looking for a job and many other more important things I figure I will write my top 10 of 2008 now so I can feel even worse about myself. As usual, I apologize for the length and I thank anyone for indulging me if they read this. So without further ado:
1) This is a pretty easy one to pick. It had the most heart, the most fun experience I had of being in the theater and was a great story that looked absolutely spectacular on the screen. My number one movie of 2008 is Wall E. I realize that this is the second movie in as many years that gets my number one spot by at times being a silent picture. I have no idea what this says about me, but I must be enjoying the visual side of the medium than the dialogue and sound in my older age. This is not to say Wall E has entirely without fault. The humans near the end bit was just OK and I almost felt like telling the director “I get it, people are fatter and lazier than ever before“ (and I write that as I am not going to the gym and writing instead) but even with those few faults the movie was great. I saw it on a Saturday afternoon and I think seeing it with kids made me enjoy it even a little more. The sheer sounds of delight that came from the 4 year old sitting behind me when Wall E came on screen is as pure as something can be and when he turned to his mother and said in a volume that is not really theater friendly, but also not obnoxious as someone constantly checking their cell phone for an IM “OH BOY IS THAT WALL E?!?” I couldn’t be mad and I enjoyed the movie even with this kid’s asides from time to time. But over all, the animation, the story and the character of Wall E and to a lesser extent Eve made this movie too good to dismiss as simple kids fare. I think everyone should watch it, and if possible watch it with someone under 10 years old.
2) Slumdog Millionaire – This almost feels like a copout since this won all those Oscars a few weeks ago, but Slumdog really is a great movie. Most people have seen this by now and it tells the story of how an uneducated child knew the answers to some difficult trivia by showing his life experience in a series of flashbacks. Again, as one friend especially pointed out to me, there are many problems with the story. Most notably: why did his brother stay behind and get into a bathtub of money besides the simple answer of “it looks cool on camera”. But this is another movie that I left the theater with a great big smile on my face and was very happy with the overall experience. The real star of this movie is Danny Boyle. He’s been around for quite some time and he just gets better with each movie he makes. I will also like to make an amendment to last year’s column (which can be found at my blog www.dork-tastic.blogspot.com) and include his film Sunshine on my favorites of last year. I saw it this year and what a powerful, deep, Heart of Darknessy story in space that came out last year and feel it was missed by many.
3) The Dark Knight – Many may be surprised that this is only at number 3, but the biggest deterrent this movie had was a few slow parts and the long run time went against it at times. I will not spend time going over all the same things many other people wrote about Heath Ledger’s performance (which was great) or Christopher Nolan’s direction (again great). Instead I will write about the 1 thing it seems no one else even seems to have noticed in the movie and was the most amazing part to me the sole time I’ve watched it (yes, I have it on BluRay – Thanks Chuck – and have not watched it again yet – which is one of the reasons it is #3 instead of higher, or lower). The thing no one seems to remember about the movie is the music. Most notable, the high pitch buzzing that seems to start up about a minute or two before the Joker did something crazy. The noise puts you on edge and I believe it was this that helped with the Joker’s performance more than anything else. Add in Gary Oldman once again playing Commissioner Gordon to perfection and a very good performance by Two-Face (even though I didn’t quite believe his breakdown). Another great comic book movie has been added to the debate of which is the best and I still think the more the merrier.
4) Iron Man – Speaking of Comic Book movies. This is more generic compared to Batman and I never really cared much for Tony Stark or Iron Man in the comic books, but this movie was fun, and perfectly in the spirit of the original book. The best thing about this movie is Robert Downey Jr. He was born to play this role and he was the perfectly cast to play a rich, alcoholic, playboy genius. I believed that he was Tony Stark and cannot wait for his eventual binging downfall. I hope he has enough of a sense of humor to have Tony Stark wake up in a random neighbor’s guest bedroom after a bender. The only problem with this movie was the weak villain that seemed added on just so there could be a cool fight scene at the end. Again, not a problem, I like big, cool fight scenes as much as the next guy and there is a reason this is the only BluRay that I own that I have watched more than once.
5) Man on Wire – This may be my obligatory documentary of the list, but I really did enjoy it. The image of Petit standing on the wire between the two towers from the street where you cannot see the wire so it looks like he is floating is one of the most beautiful images I saw on screen this year and becomes haunting since it will never be repeated. I also enjoyed the heist feeling that they gave to the break-in of the WTC and Petit is so much fun to listen to. He should be given a TV show where he walks on stuff around the world. It would be one of the most watched shows at least in my house.
6) Forgetting Sarah Marshall – This was just funny. The cast especially Jason Segal who is great in everything I’ve seen him in (he’s come a long way since Freaks and Geeks) and the cameo by Paul Rudd (who can almost do no wrong to me even though I have not seen Role Models yet) who has mad the saying “YOU SOUND LIKE YOU’RE FROM LONDON” into a daily declaration in my home. The music of Dracula’s lament had to be rewound 4 times because of the loud laughter that was coming out of my mouth. On top of that Mila Kunis has officially grown up and it was amazing to see such a pretty girl like Kristen Bell literally pale in comparison. Not that any of these girls will win an Oscar ever for acting, but eye candy is still nice.
7) Burn After
8) The Fall – Probably not many people have heard of this movie, and according to imdb it came out in 2006, but I saw it this year, so I’m sticking with it on this list. Another visually beautiful movie directed by the guy that did Cell a few years ago. Cell was beautiful to look at and I almost walked out of the theater. The Fall is a good story on top of good looking package. The story follows an injured soldier (Lee Pace – who I already miss in Pushing Daisies) who befriends a little girl as he recuperates in a hospital. In order to use her to steal morphine for his addiction he tells her amazing fantasies that are shown to us the viewer. It is a difficult movie to describe, but I really did enjoy everything about this. It is not as dark as I make it out to sound. It has a slight Dali feel and a very strong old-school Terry Gilliam feel to it. It reminded me a lot of the Adventures of Baron Munchausen and I say that as a huge positive.
9) Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist – Expectations are a huge part of a movie. If you expect a lot and it is just OK, you feel like you hate the movie. If you expect nothing and it is good, or even really good it instead blows you away. This is what happened to me with Nick and Nora. I really enjoyed this movie. It had a Dazed and Confused feel to it (one night and all the things that happen) but by being something I can relate to. Not just relate to thematically or anything but literally since every bar, club or whatever they went to are places I frequented in my 20s. I have been to Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom. I have eaten at at Veselka more times than I can count (or remember). I have gotten super excited about seeing a band and getting last minute tickets – even for free once or twice. This was a movie that speaks to any New Yorker that loves or loved music and I was expecting your typical teenage flick I guess.
This year I only have 9 movies to write about. However, that is because I have some extras to write about. I must update from last year all the movies that I have seen that I wanted to see last year, and for the sake of completion I will include all the movies I have seen this year as well:
And other movies I saw in 2009
pineapple express – Funny, action movie. Another movie I enjoyed more than I expected
the curious case of benjamin button - I really liked this. It had a great story arc, and was well done and Brad Pitt carried the movie well. People say it’s Forest Gump, I don’t get that.
the wrestler – Much like Benjamin Button, I liked it but it didn’t deserve a place in the top. Mickey Roarke of course was great, but it was quite too sad for me. But there is nothing wrong with Marissa Tomei. I like where her career has gone with this and Before the Devil Knows Your Dead.
Religulous – Typical Bill Maher obnoxiousness. I’m a fan and he was quite good, but his holier than thou stuff gets tired. That said: I thought this movie was quite funny and I agree with much that he was trying to say.
definitely, maybe - I wrote an entire blog about this, but again a movie being better than its expectations.
Changeling – I hate Clint Eastwood, but this wasn’t bad.
kung fu panda - Fun, animated movie. Jack Blackisms on a Panda are funny too.
zack and miri make a porno – Just OK. It felt very rushed though. Kevin Smith has hit that place where he’s not too edgy anymore and not a very good filmmaker. He is still quite likable though so that helps.
hellboy 2 - Good, solid action movie. Gives good hope to the Hobbit with Guillermo DelToro directing
mamma mia! - I guess I like musicals. A fun movie that you can watch on HBO anytime and you’ll find yourself humming along. Good to watch while other stuff is going on.
the other boleyn girl – I hate period pieces, but Scarlett Johannssen and Natalie Portman can make a movie of them in fat suits taking turns farting on a snare drum and I’d probably watch. That said, this was not very good even if the girls did look pretty.
Wanted - I implore you people. Read the book. Maybe the first 5 minutes are similar, but the story is very different. That said, for mindless action eye-candy this isn’t horrible
the incredible hulk – Fun adaptation much better than Ang lee’s original. This is how you make a better hulk movie. I hope the Leader comes next.
tropic thunder – Five words: Robert Downey Jr. Tom Cruise.
Cloverfield - Fun action movie
american teen - I hated this movie. But it was good to see how happy I am that I’m not in high school now. If this is the typical American in high school, I’m glad I grew up in the stupid repressed 90s
harold & kumar... – Not as good as the first one, but NPH should be watched all the time whenever possible.
meet the Spartans - Stupid.
prince Caspian - Better than I expected, and probably even better than the first one. Still something is missing from these adaptations.
the strangers - Very scary first hour. After that it becomes more typical horror, but that first hour is a perfect example of minimalist horror.
21 – Worth seeing once. But really, just read the book. If only
eagle eye - Speaking of formulas. I saw this on a plane. That was enough.
vantage point – I hated this movie. More regular formulas, but I ha to see it from like 8 different angles.
Jumper - One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It made no sense.
Other 2008 movies:
Sunshine – A, I loved this movie
the Simpsons Movie – B+ . Better than virtually any past episodes.
Assassination of Jesse James – B – Quite good. A little long, but good
Into the Wild – C – I think Sean Penn kind of sucks. This movie was directed like a cheesy 80s music video. That said, it got me to read the book and I loved the book.
Darjeeling Limited – A- I laughed so hard during this movie and I don’t know why. I just really enjoyed it
The Mist – B very good B-movie stuff. With a sick ending.
Juno B really liked it the first time, but on other viewings, it has many problems.
The Bucket List – B-. What can I say, I’m a sucker for these type of movies. Overall I liked it. It didn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but very good.
Sweeney Todd – C Boring at times, and I couldn’t care less. That said: it was beautiful to look at and much gorier than I expected.
Atonement – D I don’t get it. I couldn’t wait for it to end.
Romance and Cigarettes – C+. Interesting quirky movie. Glad I saw it, never need to see it again
Southland Tales – C-. I would probably give it an even lower grade if I understood what the hell happened. Very disappointed movie from Richard Kelly
Eagle vs. Shark – B-. Forgettable movie from Jermaine from Flight of the Concords, but I enjoyed a lot of it at the time. Think of it as a New Zealand Napoleon Dynamite.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
So let's just get this out of the way, I thought the movie was fantastic. It was in as much of the spirit as a comic book (not graphic novel people! Stop trying to make it sound 'important' with semantics) adaptation could be to its source. I never read Sin City, so I can't speak about that, but I have read Watchmen at least 12 times over the past 12 years, so I can consider myself an amateur expert and I can say it was at times a perfect recreation of the book.
In more detail, I will go over what I thought how each character was done and perceived in no order except how I come up with each character:
-Dr. Manhattan - Almost perfect. Billy Crudup had the detached almost scientific approach to the character down pat. Inhumanly virtually omniscient, and I thought he was great. The effects used to create him were perfect. Stand out moments for me: the introduction of the character when he was HUGE working on that machine, the sex scene, the flashback to his origin, getting dressed for the Ted Koppel interview, and on Mars. I felt it was great how they introduced his ability to see all times at once early in the story a smart move and am glad they did it that way even though it changed a few things. Just over all, very well done, and for the people that were in my theater that laughed at his blue junk almost every time...that's just ridiculous.
- Rorschach - Almost perfect. His origin scene was my favorite of the movie. Of course they cut out the psychiatrist's back story which I liked in the book, but Jackie Earle Haley was perfect. Almost born for the role. My only problem of his entire arc was him chasing after the Big Figure in costume instead of in his prison uniform.
- The Comedian - Such a likable asshole! He is not in the story much, but he brings the story together and Jeffery Dean Morgan played him to perfection. They did not cut back on any of his horribleness and seeing the fight scenes (which were all done so well) in real time and seeing how bad-ass these characters are as fighters made you appreciate how great the Comedian must have been in order to survive for so long doing what he did. On top of that, there was the sick scene with Silk Spectre I that was violently brilliant (and while I'm here I will say I loved Hooded Justice looking like he walked out of the page of the comic even more than anyone.
- Nite Owl - I loved him. He is the heart of the story anyway as the sad, bored retired super hero that you realize halfway through how great he is at being a super hero and he really doesn't know how to do anything else. Patrick Wilson always seems to do very quite, good work like he did in Little Children (did him and Jackie Earle go on audition together?) and the frightening Hard Candy. He made Nite Owl come off the page into the screen.
- Silk Spectre II - All I can really say is meh. She wasn't bad, but this girl cannot act. She's pretty and looks good in latex, but acting does not seem to be her strong suit. That said, she had to play the probably the least complex role of Silk Spectre II, and she was OK in it. Her big reveal about her connection to the Comedian and such did not feel like such a huge revalation because of her flat acting, but that hardly ruined the movie for me.
- Silk Spectre I - Why couldn't Carla Gugino play Silk Spectre II instead? She was great as the mother, but she's beautiful and can act better than Malin Akerman. She always seems to be solid in everything she's in from Son-In-Law to Sin City.
- Ozymandias - I don't know who this Matthew Goode actor is that played Ozymandias, but I felt like he was the worst actor of the bunch. He had one of the hardest roles to play mankind's savior/villain/smartest man alive/everything else and I didn't believe him. It may have been mostly due to his her-now, gone-later accent. It sounded Germanish when I always saw Ozymandias as being as American as apple pie/hometown boy made good. On top of that it always seemed to come and go which annoyed me. He pulled the action scenes off amazingly, but he took me out of the movie at times with his wooden acting (which was actually kind of ok for the role) but the accent bothered me.
- Zack Snyder - Great direction. He put the impossible to film comic book onto filmand impressed me doing so. It was gorgeous to look at, and he made the complex story easy to follow (for me, but I've read it many times. I will have to speak with other people to see if they felt the same way.) My only real problem was a lot of the make-up used to make people look old didn't work for me. That is such a slight complaint that it's hardly worth bringing up, but at times it was quite bad.
- The ending - I have no problem with it. This book is not my bible (that is reserved for Sandman - Another impossible to film comic book that I hope someone can someday bring the love and care that Zack Snyder seems to have brought to this, but I doubt it unless Hollywood is hiring, then I will do it.) I'm not sure if the new ending made as much sense, but it's close enough to the original that I get it. They cut out all the artists and engineers story which would have added a lot of time to make the ending of this make sense. Instead with this ending they could limit the characters to just the myriad they already had. The ending doesn't make as much sense since Dr. Manhattan seems to be more powerful than the rest of the world, but I'm OK with it. It kept to the spirit of the book and they kept the final 2 twists in the movie which I was worried they would Hollywood up: Rorschach and the New Frontier 's final scenes were done quite well, and these made me happy.
That's all for now I think. Go see this movie, I think everyone will enjoy it.
For a movie that has an important line that says "Never Compromise" - I can understand why Alan Moore will hate this movie, but for someone that enjoys Comic Books, Film and the marriage of the two when they are done this well, I can compromise a little. At least until the sequel. Then me and Hollywood will have words.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
This is probably my new favorite show on TV. There is one reason why this show is even close to as good as it is and that reason is Toni Collette. This girl can act and it doesn't seem forced at all and this is a role that can easily seem forced.
In The United States of Tara, Toni Collette plays a Kansas suburban mom of a 16 year old slightly rebelious daughter and a 15 year old seemingly already out-of the-closet gay son which I will go into later.
John Corbett plays her husband who runs a landscaping business. The twist of the show is that Tara has multiple personalities. It seems she was raped or something in high school or college (they haven't quite explained what happened yet, but they're working up to that). She has 4 distinct personalities. Tara an artist/mother. T - a 16 year old slutty teenager that wants to drink and party. Buck - a 40ish Vietnam Veteran man that drinks, smokes and watches a lot of porn. Alice - a 1950s-type of June Cleaver mom that is a great homemaker and kind of a hard-ass. She may be emotionally detached, but she's fun.
The only problem with the show is the gay son character. The writers are really forcing him in because I understand there are gay kids out there that know they are gay from a young age, and I'm OK with that. My biggest problem is his personality. They make him this Jazz-loving gay kid that is chasing after the jesus-loving jock on the show. Now, I may be wrong, but I highly doubt there are many people that can relate to this kid.
The real star of the show is Collette. The girl can act and worth seeing every week.
So that said, going forward if I hate a movie, I will be giving it a 0 in bold at the end and if I love it, I will be giving it a 10.
My scale will basically look like this:
0 This is a horrible piece of shit that should never be watched again -- something like Jumper
1 Horrible with some redeemable qualities.
2 Bad, just something that was cliche.
3 Bad, but at least some originality.
4 Not that bad, but not that good.
5 Completely average - probably the worst grade to get.
6 Not that good, but not that bad
8 A very good movie, usually a comedy or action movie (not my usual preferred genre) that I would watch again.
9 A great movie, but not necessarily something I need to watch again very soon.
10 A great movie, an instance classic that I cannot wait to watch again in the near future.
**I reserve the right to change my grading scale at any time.**
Now, I included the front cover of the novel instead of the one-sheet to the left because I love the artist Dave McKean. That is not to say the movie wasn't good too because it was. I was a little upset that they did not use the 3D as much as I would have liked since I paid an extra $5 or so to get the 3D experience and feel I didn't get more than $2 or $3 extra.
As far as the movie itself, it was a fun, cute movie that I wish was a little scarier since I remember reading the book there was a more eerie feel to the book, but I guess they had to tone that down due to it being an animated film geared towards kids.
I was impressed with the claymation, but I must say there is something about Henry Selick movies for me that do not work. I always seem to fall asleep when I watch his movies and I started drifting at times during Coraline as well. My girlfriend pointed out what the issue is. He always using the chanting-style of music and it puts me to sleep.
I guess I did not LOVE this movie, but this is not a negative review since this was probably the worst Neil Gaiman book I've ever read so I couldn't expect too much.
The movie just follows a pretty standard/typical story-arc with great animation but overall it is worth seeing especially in a great visual medium.
I just watched Kung Fu Panda on my gorgeous BluRay player. Now, this was not better than Wall E or many other movies I've seen this year, but all in all it was a fun movie to watch. Now, this could be my own personal love of Jack Black, but all in all I really enjoyed this movie and the animation was perfect, especially on my TV.
My favorite part of the film I had to find out from imdb which I will just copy/paste here " The individual fighting styles of the Furious Five members (Crane, Mantis, Tiger, Monkey and Viper) are actual martial art styles modeled after the particular animals."
Also, I personally know very little about Kung Fu, but I have a friend who studies the Fu quite seriously and he is always talking about his Shifu which is what Kung Fu people call their teacher/father according to him and this movie took at least showed respect towards Kung Fu (at least as much as my untrained eye could tell).
It was a fun way to spend 90 minutes.