Sunday, February 27, 2011

Best of the Week - Fourth Week of February

Best TV show I saw: Last Sunday there was a Saturday Night Live retrospective. They interviewed cast members from the entire history of the show. Like most of us, I’ve been watching Saturday Night Live for my entire life and this showed a bunch of behind the scenes and trivia facts throughout the past 35 years.

Best movie I saw: Last Sunday night Aubrey and I went on a date. We went to a local restaurant that we enjoyed with a glass of wine each. Then walked across the street to the Kew Gardens Cinema and watched A King’s Speech. This movie will most likely win the Oscar on Sunday night. Although I did really enjoy this movie and thought it was well acted by Collin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter, and told a great story of a time in history that most people never knew, it wasn’t my favorite of the year. The reason was I actually felt the movie was a bit rushed. The first hour was perfectly paced, but I wanted to see more of the King’s progression of being able to read. They also hinted at some trauma when he was young that caused his stutter but never officially answered what it was. I understand in therapy understanding there was a trauma is often more important than what actually happened, and this story was about a beloved King of England and they wouldn’t really expose all his dirty laundry in a movie, I was still disappointed by this.

That said, Colin Firth deserves every bit of praise he is getting The man put on a performance of a stutterer that never felt forced or annoying which is what usually happens. He did not over-act once and everything felt perfectly natural. Geoffrey Rush was equally as good and was the catalyst for Colin Firth’s character development. These two on screen had great chemistry and probably were the reason the two hours flew by

I also enjoyed: Exit Through The Gift Shop is a documentary film about the rise of street art movement during the early 2000s. But that’s not what the movie is actually about. It’s more about the Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman that enjoyed filming things and the pseudo-scam he pulled on these artists. He told them he was an actual filmmaker and followed them around for years filming their actions. When the time came and the artists he was filming asked him to show them the finished product of the movie they were making, he went to work and went through TONS of tape in order to piece together a movie, but just brought back a jumbled mess of a picture. Since his movie was crap, he turned over all of his tapes to Banksy (the famous/mysterious street artist) and then Guetta went out and became his own artist while burning bridges with the rest of his old friends to do so.

This has all of the makings of a good documentary for me. It’s a great story and even better is it tells a story of something I never would have thought about learning about, but thought was really interesting. All of the artists were all quite likable and I’ve always thought what I’ve seen of Banksy’s art work was fun and quite good. He reminds me a lot of New York’s De La Vega, but even more talented/interesting.

Best thing I read: This week I read an amazing book called As God Commands by Niccolò Ammaniti. I read a lot anyway, but last year joined a book club to expand mind and read books I wouldn’t normally read. Every week in this book club, someone new picks the book and although there is some veto-power, we basically just read what that person chose and move on. This week was my girlfriend’s Aubrey’s choice and she chose this book based on her friend Bridget’s recommendation. I was originally skeptical and hesitant, but I started the book since it was 400 pages and budgeted about two weeks to read.

The book is broken up into four main sections; Prologue, Before The Night, The Night and After. I started the book knowing nothing and it opened up in a small town in Italy and told the story of a boy and his drunk father in the middle of a blizzard where a dog is annoying the drunk father. He gives his son his gun and tells the boy to kill the dog.

The next 380 pages of the book went by in a blur. The style of writing (with almost one chapter every two pages) made for such a quick read. On top of that the book had some of the most colorful characters I’ve read in a while, with everyone having their own quirks and issues.

I don’t want to give away what the book is about, but it focuses on this boy, Christiano, his father Rino, and other quirky characters in this small Italian town. Everyone in this town has a vice and a secret and it had a very old-school Coen Brothers or David Lynch feel.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I actually finished it and wanted to flip it over and start reading it again. I wasn’t expecting the humor it had as well as the horror of real life in a small town. It doesn’t matter that this book takes place in Italy, this story could happen anywhere.

I just found out there is even a movie that came out in Italy last year and am going to try and find a way to see it since the trailer makes it look like a perfect adaptation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

50 Best openings to movies

Sometimes all a movie needs to suck you into its world is a great opening. There are even some movies that I loved the first 5-10 minutes so much that I didn't care what happened the rest of the movie, I was already in for the long haul (Hello Magnolia).

IFC has compiled a list of their top 50 greatest openings to movie complete with clips of all of them. Now, I have not seen all of these movies, but they are worth watching. This list made me realize how much I love how Stanley Kubrick shot films.

Please check out this link and watch some of the best openings of all time:

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Sopranos ending

Althought I was never the biggest Sopranos fan in the world, I always appreciate when someone has the passion for diving into a story like the author of this essay did. I will warn you that This article is extremely long, but I thought it was a great analysis of the ending of a pop culture juggernaut. The author breaks down the Sopranos Finale and in doing so breaks down the entire series.

Put aside about an hour and sit back and enjoy since this is worth a read:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Best of the Week - Third Week of February

Best TV show I saw: Nothing that was absolutely spectacular this week. Although I did enjoy Michael Scott’s movie Threat Level Midnight during this episode’s episode of The Office, I have to give this week’s award to Community which continued its second season streak of hits. I have to admit that last year I thought this show was hit or miss (although more hits than misses), but this season it has really hit its stride with some of the funniest characters on TV: Abed and Troy play off each other too well. The look on Danny Glover’s face when he was in the presence of Levar Burton this week was comedy gold.

Best movie I saw: I just finished watching Machete. It was a perfect continuation to the Grindhouse films that Tarantino and Rodriguez started back in 2008. I hope they continue putting out these cheaper movies that are really all about fun than anything else. Since these films don’t take themselves too seriously, they are able to get such well respected actors (Robert DeNiro) and celebrities to poke fun of themselves (Linsdsey Lohan).

I also enjoyed: The Swedish version of The Girl Who Played With Fire. This movie may not have been as god as it’s previous installment. However, I enjoyed the novel this movie was based on so much that it was great to see a film version of it. Although the first movie I think benefited from a a lot of the editing it got from the source material, this movie took a little too much of the fun and mystery out of the book and as a result was a little boring.

Best thing I read: I finally finished up the 5th deluxe volume of Invincible. This is a comic book that tells the story of a kid who finds out his father was basically Superman, but a Superman that came to Earth to take over the planet. He finds out his father was evil and gets him to leave earth and then becomes a hero to try and make-up for his father’s bad actions. It is really a great story in the vein of old-school Spider-Man with a character that has human problems along with superhero ones. All of this happens in a comic book that also happens to be one of the bloodiest books out there. Also, since it is creator-owned you never know what is going to happen and who might die in any given episode.

I also enjoyed: A short novel that I received for free at Comicon called Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker. The author approached me while I walked past her at Comicon and gave me the book for free. The story follows a college professor that becomes a zombie during a zombie apocalypse but keeps his smarts while also thirsting for Brains and writing the memoir as it goes on. He understands that he is a Zombie, but hopes he can somehow find some sort of peace with the humans. He meets other Zombies along the way that have other special abilities (one that is fast, one that can speak still and one that is a nurse and can bandage them all up as they get injured). The book tries a little bit too hard to be clever, but for what it is I enjoyed it.

Best music I heard: The new Radiohead CD was just released, but I have not had a chance to properly listen to it yet. Since most of their CDs take some time a few listens to fully marinate, I will reserve any judgment for the time being.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Best of the Week - Second week of February

Best TV show I saw: Nothing really to write home about this week. Maybe it’s because I was out all week, or everything I watched was average, at best. If I have to choose something, it would have to be this week’s episode of The Office or 30 Rock. Both are always quality, and this week was more of the same

Best movie I saw: I watched two movies this week: An old classic and a new movie that has been getting a lot of acclaim. The newer one wins. I watched Lenny starring Dustin Hoffman, and maybe I’m not a big biopic fan, or the black and white/interview style the movie was done in turned me off, but it got better near the end when Lenny really found his voice and started fighting in court. I now understand why many of the comedians I enjoy always sight Lenny Bruce as an influence. He was the first that really fought for his right to say anything and although his act is not as controversial today, I can understand why it was in the 1960s.

Meanwhile The Town was a lot of fun. Ben Affleck is turning out to be a pretty good director (while his acting continues to disappoint) with his newest was an improvement on his debut, Gone Baby Gone.

I did not read the novel on which this movie is based, but apparently there is a 4 hour cut of this film that follows the book exactly which I would be interested in seeing. That said, this movie was decent and had a similar feel to Scorsese’s The Departed (but that might just be the subject matter and the Boston accents talking). Although the story was kind of by the numbers heist flick, I liked getting to know the characters a bit and all the pieces for a complete story were there. Along with great supporting work from Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall and a final appearance by the great Pete Postlethwaite (before he was finally “done in” by cancer and not Mr. McManus). I'm not sure if I totally bought the love story between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall's character which is the most important part of the story which may be why the movie felt a little flat.

Best thing I read: It is unfortunate that I read two great books last week and this week the best thing I read were the latest two volumes of The Walking Dead. Volumes 13 & 14 show Rick and his crew finding a new town that is walled in that they are invited to and shows how much they have changed because now they will not trust anyone, even people that are inviting them into their safe area. This series continues to be a great peek into how society would break down if 99% of the population was wiped out and only a few survivors remained. The characters really go through a ton of changes and you can see how the pressure of trying to survive affects each of them differently. The main character Rick is one of the best written characters I've read in any medium. He started out as a begrudged leader and we have seen his development from leader to broken man to .... something else now. These books continue to get better and I'm looking forward to rereading the story from the beginning soon.

I also enjoyed: Volumes 4 & 5 of Scott Pilgrim which is very cute/fun. Just as good/fun as the movie.

I also enjoyed: A short novel called The Vintage Caper. It is a by-the-numbers whodunit story of a rich man’s wine collection is stolen and an Insurance Company has to hire a detective to find the wine so they don’t have to pay out the insurance money. It is a fun story, but I think 150 of the 225 pages talked more about the different wines from the different vineyards of France and the food they would pair with than a good, cohesive story. The book took about 3 hours to read from start to finish. So, it was entertaining, but definitely nothing I would call good or recommend others to read.

Best music I heard: This is easy again this week. I have been quite busy as I mentioned and Monday was my chance to go to Madison Square Garden to see Prince perform. First of all, I had no idea the Cee-Lo Green was opening up so when I got to my seat around 8:00 and heard his recognizable high-pitched singing I was happy and it helped get me in the mood for Prince.

After a brief hiatus Prince hit the stage. I will not go into a detailed run-down of his show, but all I could think as I watched him perform was “This man is a Professional”. He can really do it all. He sings, he dances, piano, he engages the audience, and puts on mini-plays with his back up dancers. Oh yeah – and he plays Guitar better than anyone I’ve seen live so organically. While he’s playing it seems like he the guitar is almost playing itself, he is so fluid and smooth even during the craziest guitar solos I’ve heard. If it’s been a while, do yourselves a favor and just listen to the end of Purple Rain again.

The man played for over 2 hours, featured a bunch of guest appearances by the likes of ?uestlove on drums, Cee-Lo came out to sing the Gnarls Barkley song Crazy with Prince on guitar, and a much publicized Kim Kardashian sighting, which was much more playful and fun than the media reported.

Prince puts on a spectacular show. From the stage set-up, to his musicianship I am quite happy I got to see a living legend perform.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Movie Quoting

I am an unashamed movie quoter. I am not proud of my actions all of the time, but sometimes I am extremely proud. About 90% of what I say (and write) is just jumbled up quotes from television and movies, but I'm able to put them together in such a way that you may not even notice.

This is why I thought the following article was fun and decent. I agree with most of what is written here (especially the part about quoting Wet, Hot American Summer).

I am also still putting together my 100 favorite moments/quotes of movies. It is slow work, but it will get done. Until then, enjoy this article:

(Taken from

I have a weird memory for dialogue. If you asked me what I ate for lunch yesterday, it could take me ten minutes of piecing my week together to figure it out. If you asked me to tell you what George Costanza said to Jerry Seinfeld when Jerry announced he wasn't going to have a menage a trois with two women, I'd have the answer instantly ("What? Are you crazy?!? This is like discovering plutonium by accident!!!"). It's just this strange way I'm wired. I've gotten a rotten brain. "IT'S ROTTEN, I TELL YA! ROTTEN!"

How'd this antisocial behavior land me such a beautiful wife? Despite my incredible physique and raw animal magnetism, I was a bit of a dork when I was 19 years old. I used to quote a lot of stuff, but my favorite was "Austin Powers" and its sequel. "Austin Powers" was so widely quoted in the late 90s that my lovely wife -- who never quotes any movies -- often quoted "Austin Powers" at parties. Two mutual friends noticed this and thought our shared love of Fat Bastard was a strong basis for a relationship. Eleven years later, I think it's safe to say they were right; "love actually is all around."

So quoting movies can be a force for good in the universe. In 2011 though, movie quoting's role in a film nerd's life has changed. In the days before the Internet, there were no message boards or blogs where you could meet people who shared your passion. Comparing movie quotes was how you did that. They were like secret Masonic handshakes; a way for cinephiles to identify and connect with other cinephiles. In the days before YouTube, before DVD chapter stops, before IMDb "Memorable Quotes" pages, movie dialogue was like a geek badge of honor. It required work. It showed you cared. As Lester Bangs says in "Almost Famous," "the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool."

As Patton Oswalt observed in his now-infamous piece for Wired, "Wake Up Geel Culture. Time to Die," all of those technological advancements brought movie quoting to the masses. They practically made it cool, however briefly, to quote "Austin Powers." And let's not forget, before "Austin Powers" went mainstream with its mega-grossing sequel (right around the time file sharing really started to take off), it was basically a cult film. Being able to recite Dr. Evil's shushing run doesn't have the cache it used to (if it ever did in the first place) because anyone can find a transcript of it online. Unless you're one of those people who's "okay with being unimpressive," it's not enough.

Last Friday, a friend forwarded me an article from Splitsider, along with a note, "Thought this would be up your alley." He was right. The article, by Luke Kelly-Clyne, is called "Please Stop Quoting These Comedies Forever Immediately," and obviously my alley is a dark and nerdy place where "Monty Python" falsettos endlessly echo off the blacktop. Kelly-Clyne's concedes to occasionally indulging in the practice of quoting memorable lines for movies, but believes a moratorium is needed on certain titles, including "Anchorman," "Wedding Crashers," and "Borat." Here is his rationale for eliminating "Borat" from the movie quote lexicon:

"It was shocking and wacky, yes. Six years ago. The whole thing is over. If you're at a party where the host is giving out those memory-eraser pens from "Men In Black," then you can quote "Borat." Otherwise, don't."

I don't have a problem with people being sick of "Borat" quotes -- I'm sick of them too -- but I think there is an arbitrariness to Kelly-Clyne's piece. He lists ten things you should never quote, and ten things you should quote, and there's a significant amount of overlap between the two lists. Don't quote "Chappelle Show" sketches about Rick James, he says, but do quote sketches involving Nick Cannon. Mostly, these lists read like one film lovers's personal tastes. That's why we need a standardized set of rules for movie quoting, rules that move beyond simple subjective judgments to acknowledge the pleasure of quoting without denying that pleasures' limits. Sort of a "The first rule of Fight Club is..." thing.

I feel like I need more time to mull The Rules of Movie Quoting. But this is a solid first draft:

RULE #1: If you don't know it, don't quote it.

Like I said, I love a good movie quote. But if you don't have a quote right, you shouldn't be reciting it to others. Now that the Internet has made this kind of knowledge so much more accessible, there's really no excuse not to have a movie quote's wording and phrasing exactly right. The only thing less cool than quoting a movie is quoting a movie incorrectly. Do it, just do it right. "I'm talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT... Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please."

RULE #2: Respect and understand your audience.

There is a time and place for movie quoting. But there are also wrong times and wrong places for movie quoting. For example: if you're in the theater, waiting for a sequel, don't sit there and quote the original movie. We all get it, the first movie was great; that's why we're here to see the second one. This is the cinematic equivalent of wearing a band's T-shirt to their concert. "Don't be that guy."

RULE #3: Go for the deep cuts.

A repertoire of movie quotes is like a stock portfolio: diversity is key. Back in the Stone Age (pre-2000), movie quotes were about shared experience. Now, they need to become more about connoisseurship. To a lowest common denominator movie quoter, the question "What's that from?" is a conversational kiss of death. It shouldn't be. Quoting something obscure can be a pop culture gateway, a chance to share something you love with someone who hasn't discovered it yet.

"Borat" is a fun movie, but we've all done it. Same for "Austin Powers" and "This is Spinal Tap" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Instead, try something a little more unusual: "Wet Hot American Summer," or "Quick Change," or Arnold Schwarzenegger's commentary track for "Conan the Barbarian." Be different, but remember: "just because it's loud doesn't mean it's funny."

I think this is a really good starting point but I welcome your feedback and suggestions in the comments section below and at my Twitter page. If you don't like it then "up your butt with a coconut." No refunds if you disagree with me, either. "Consider your refund escaping this death trap with your lives!"

Friday, February 4, 2011

Best of the Week - First week of February

Best TV show I saw: My brother told me about this new show on the Science channel (I didn’t even know there was a Science Channel). The show is called An Idiot Abroad. I’m not sure if any of you out there watch the Ricky Gervais Show on HBO (but you should). That show is just an animated version of his podcast that he has been doing for years with Steve Merchant and a friend of theirs named Karl Pilkington. Karl Pilkington is really the star of the podcast, and as a result, Ricky Gervais decided to produce another show with Karl Pilkington.

This new show takes Karl and sends him to the Seven Wonders of the World. There have so far been two episodes (one to China and the Great Wall and the other to India and the Taj Mahal). The genius behind this show is that Karl Pilkington is the funniest person in the world without meaning to be. He sees the world in such a different way that watching him react to the culture differences are simply amazing. As an example: When told he was going to China his response was that he didn’t want to go out of fear that he would have to eat toad there and then get nervous that he liked it so much that when he returned to London, he would be unable to find it and would never be sated ever again. But really it’s the way he delivers everything and his all around demeanor that make this show. Do yourself a favor and watch both.

I also enjoyed: Community, The Dungeons and Dragons episode from last night was probably the best one so far. The direction and homage to Lord of the Rings really made the episode for me. This show just gets better as it goes on.

Best movie I saw: Life has been busy lately, and as a result, I only watched one movie this week. An old classic from 1979: Kramer Vs. Kramer. I now understand why this movie is viewed as a classic. Dustin Hoffman is fantastic in it showing the most range I’ve ever seen from him. He plays a man whose wife leaves all of a sudden leaving him with a six year old son. Hoffman is the typical go-getter of the late 70s who concentrated more on his career than his family so was never much of a father and now he is the only person left to take care of his child. As a result he sees his priorities shift to his family from his career. A year and a half later his wife returns asking for custody and a bitter custody battle ensues.

Although the movie is a bit dated because of the gender roles, the heart of the story is still poignant and worth watching. Also, the actor that played the child is a) amazing and b) reminded me exactly of me when I was that age (but those two things may be related).

Best thing I read: I finished two books this week. I mentioned the first one last week: Endurance by Alfred Lansing. This is the true story of a team of 28 men that were shipwrecked in Antarctica in 1915-1916. I cannot put into words how amazing this read was, and I normally am not the biggest non-fiction fan. After reading this book, no one has the right to complain about the cold, or this “extreme” weather the northeast is experiencing now.

I also read a great book: Mockingjay, the concluding chapter in the Hunger Games Trilogy. I cannot speak highly enough about this trilogy. Taking place in a dystopian future society (Granted: I am a sucker for dystopian society books) this series blends together elements of the Japanese film Battle Royale with Stephen King's The Running Man, but features one of the greatest heroes I’ve read in a long time. Going in, you should know this is marketed as Young Adult Fiction, but there is nothing immature about this. This series is bloody and action-packed. I know they are attempting to make a film version of this for next year, but I cannot imagine it getting MPAA approval for PG-13 (which is the desired audience) since the very nature of the books deals with some very difficult themes. This series really got better and better. The first book was good, but you could predict the course of action. Books two and three really are game-changers and are at times harrowing and difficult to read. Do yourself a favor and read the entire series. To make things better, they are approximately 375 pages each (so only about 1000 pages for the entire series) and due to Suzanne Collins writing style and content, they are very fast reads.

Best music I heard: Sunday night, I was given a treat. My good friend Jed called me up and asked me what I was doing. Since I had no plans, he asked me if I would like to accompany him to front-row center tickets to see Robert Plant at the Beacon Theater. I didn’t have to think before I said “What time?” as my response. I have never had front-row anything before and to see a living legend rock star only 10 yards away was a treat like nothing I can describe. He hit the stage around 9:00, and although he’s British he seems to have gravitated to a slightly country-style in his sunset years. He opened with a stripped down version of Misty Mountain Hop and although he can’t quite hit all the notes, he was able to augment them just enough to stay within his register. I don’t want to go through song by song, but I will say the man can still rock and it was great to see someone with his career obviously still love to sing and perform. You can see my setlist and hear each song here:

The picture above was taken with my phone from my seats so you can see how close I was to the man. My favorites of the night though were Gallows Pole and Ramble On. Getting these great seats and having a legend sing just 10 yards from me, make me know this is the closest I will ever get to seeing Led Zeppelin and I can’t thank Jed enough for thinking of me for this fantastic experience.

Anyone else do anything worthwhile this week?