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Things I Read And Watched While On Vacation

6 May

ImageLast week, I took a vacation from the internet. And from work! Which kind of IS “The Internet,” as far as I’m concerned. Where do you work, Kirk? I work at The Internet.

So, I took a week and unplugged from the internet entirely. Kind of like This Guy, who got paid to do the same thing over at The Verge, only he did it a whole year, and it sounds like it was a lot more intense than my week. I walked away from Twitter and Facebook, put up a fairly draconian-sounding gmail out-of-office message, and I was  good to go.

I focused on writing music and read a lot. I didn’t play any video games. It was a successful experiment; I wrote a lot of music and got a lot of reading done. (Remember reading? Reading is amazing. It’s like a party in your brain.) I also cheated and let myself watch some movies, particularly toward the end of the week when I had gotten a lot done and was feeling pretty good about everything. I’d pretty much just plug into the internet, watch the movie, and unplug. Breaking the rules? Sure. But hey, sometimes you want to watch a movie.

I thought I’d write a short post about the stuff I watched and the stuff I read, since a lot of it’s old and even a creative “how is this like video games”-er like myself can’t come up with a way to post all of this stuff on Kotaku.

Here goes:

THINGS I READ

His Dark Materials: A series that I had been stalled out on despite really liking the first two books. I finally went back and restarted the third book, The Amber Spyglass, and read it proper. Damnation, this is some good stuff. Philip Pullman is a hell of a storyteller, and Lyra’s world is the sort of fantasy that I just LOVE. It actually feels fantastical! There are so few tropes here, just genuine unbridled imagination. And my gosh, the scope of the storytelling here! How many kids’ (or teens’?) stories concern themselves with a WAR ON GOD and like, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ARCHANGEL and THE RETURN OF SIN TO SAVE THE WORLD? No wonder this shit was controversial. I loved each book, and was gutted to have to say goodbye. If you haven’t read these books, I can’t recommend them enough. I’ve never seen the movie, and I never will. Fuck the movie.

Cloud Atlas: I’m about halfway through David Mitchell’s book and… erm, wow, it sure is as good as everyone said. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it’s the kind of book where you can be like 200 pages in and still be thinking “I’m not really sure what to expect” and then you kind of round a bend and it all starts to slot into place and you think “oh, wow, holy fuck, this guy is kind of a genius!” Not that I’d even mind if it didn’t all come together – Mitchell’s writing is so damned inventive and joyful that I’d read a bunch of wholly unrelated stories, as long as he was writing them. His work reminds me how prosaic 98% of my writing is, and makes me want to be better. I’m not sure about the movie. Should I see it? I think I might watch it once I finish.

Oh, funny thing I noticed about Cloud Atlas comes via the “In praise of Cloud Atlas” bit at the front, where they quote book reviewers as they hyperventilate and work themselves into a tizzy over just how fucking brilliant this book is. I mean, check this shit out, from The Times of London:

“A cornucopia, an elegiac, radiant festival of prescience, meditation, and entertainment. Open up Mitchell’s head and a whole ecstatic symphony of inventiveness and ideas will fly out as if from a benign and felicitous pandora’s box.” 

And people give video game reviewers shit about gilding the lily!

THINGS I DIDN’T READ

Reviews of anything, after finishing. Which was nice! I didn’t go read recaps after watching Game of Thrones, I didn’t read book reviews after finishing Amber Spyglass. I didn’t read any movie reviews. I was surprised at how immediate my impulse to go and read critical discourse after finishing something has become. It was pretty cool to take a week and sort of stew in my own juices a bit, and think about what I really thought of each thing before reading the opinions of others.

Anyway. Moving right along…

THINGS I WATCHED

13 Assassins: Dude, I can’t believe I hadn’t watched this movie yet. Hoo buddy, is it good. Takashi Miike is the man, I’ve seen such an embarrassingly tiny sliver of the man’s oeuvre but I’m consistently impressed by what I see. And how great is Kôji Yakusho? This movie is  grand, and I loved it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This movie made me A) want to eat sushi and B) glad I’m not the son of this guy, and that I don’t run a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. A fascinating documentary, and almost entirely different than I was expecting it to be. I wound up getting sushi like a day after watching this, and I bet it wasn’t as good as Jiro’s sushi. But it was still pretty good.

Hugo: A surprisingly good flick. It was almost entirely off my radar, but I decided to watch it because as you may have gathered from my list here, I was going through good movies on Netflix Instant and watching them. It’s a good movie, though kind of a strange one – disjointed, in that it’s this whimsical kids’ film in the first half and a big-hearted tribute to the French pioneers of cinema in the second. I’m not sure kids would like it? But I did. An odd film, but an enjoyable one.

Rango: Hey, another surprise. Who knew that this movie, which by all appearances was a dumb cash-in flick that leaned on Johnny Depp too much, would in fact be a surprisingly soulful, enjoyably weird movie that leaned on Johnny Depp the exact right amount? Not I. Also, it’s basically Chinatown? I’m not really sure who this movie is for, as I can’t imagine most kids getting a good percentage of the jokes, but I sure enjoyed it. And Hans Zimmer did the music, and I… I really liked it! A wonderful soundtrack that was just good music, and didn’t feel like a feat of engineering. The scene when Rango walks across the highway… outstanding. Who would thought that my favorite Hans Zimmer soundtrack in forever would be an Enrico Morricone tribute?

Limitless: I think I was just super bored one night and this was sitting on Netflix so I fired it up. This movie is fucking stupid. I watched it up until he began to have weird side-effects from the mind-rewiring experimental drug, and decided that I didn’t really need to watch the Fall From Glory and the Eventual Redemption or whatever. It felt like watching a music video made into a movie, and it had really bad music. It felt like the guy who made it came up with that camera trick where it zooms over block after block of NYC and was like, “Okay, this is dope, how can I make a movie around this?” It felt like a sad fantasy movie for dudes who have super sad fantasies. It felt like… I don’t know, I don’t even care about coming up with more things it felt like.

Avatar: I re-watched Avatar for the first time since I watched it in IMAX 3D back when it came out. Well. The movie has certainly lost a lot in the transition from theaters to Blu-Ray. I’m not sure if that says more for just how well-suited it was to its original 3D presentation or how lackluster the movie itself is (both!) but there it is. Its many flaws are laid bare on the small screen, in particular the writing. (Could they not just hire someone to make the script better? I don’t even mean the story, I just mean the basic sentence by sentence dialogue. Christ, is it bad.) But it’s still got that enjoyable energy to it, and God help me, I like James Horner’s musical score, if you can call four dramatic chords a score.

How To Train Your Dragon: Hey, this movie is fucking great! I have a now-famous soft spot for Tangled, and How to Train Your Dragon was almost as good. Well, okay, let’s not get carried away, it was about 75% as good as Tangled, and there wasn’t any singing, but I still really liked it.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I think I had already seen this, but I didn’t really remember it. Maybe I was stoned when I watched it the first time? Anyway. It was a lot of fun! I was impressed by how funny Jeremy Renner can be, dude is great. Brad Bird is such a creative director, though I do think that I missed some of the human drama that (weirdly?) made its way into past entries, especially JJ Abrams’ hilariously, wonderfully melodramatic “Alias on Crack” take in M:I 3. I bet this movie was fucking awesome in IMAX 3D, which is an annoying thing to think about a movie that’s no longer in IMAX 3D, but there you go. I was legitimately a bit breathless when Tom Cruise was running along the side of that incredible skyscraper. Most impressively, like 80-85% of the time I was totally distracted from the inexorable gravitational pull of Tom Cruise’s assy onscreen presence. I know I’ve written about how I like Michael Giacchino’s music before, but actually, I think my opinion has changed. Maybe I don’t really like Michael Giacchino’s music all that much anymore. I didn’t care for the music in this movie, anyway.

Silver Linings Playbook: Man, what a strange movie. I did not care for it. It was a mess, right? Half the time it was this painful and honest-feeling movie about the difficulty of living with mental illness. The other half, it was this clichéd romcom that was, more or less, Garden State but with more severe disorders and a more grown-up cast. It just didn’t feel cohesive at all, and the entire finale felt like it was the result of multiple rewrites. What happened in the end there, why did both of them get so much better? Was he on meds? Was she? How were they so healthy and well-adjusted? I didn’t get it. I’m almost shocked that this movie was Oscar bait. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Jennifer Lawrence and whatever, but it just seemed like an odd movie to lavish with so many nominations.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t read any criticism after finishing movies last week, but yesterday I found that amiga Sarah Bunting of Tomato Nation totally nailed it:

A few scenes start to open a window into what that’s like to live with, to have responsibility for, for parents and significant others; when Officer Keogh (Dash Mihok) answers the call during Pat’s freak-out, for instance, the script has managed to stop playing Pat’s obvious manic distress for laughs and let the spinning build to a scarier place. Soon enough, though, it’s back to the very important lesson about how we’re all crazy via Dad’s (Robert De Niro) OCD, ha ha…ha. It’s not necessary to treat the vagaries of Pat’s disease with funereal seriousness, but this is a guy whose untreated illness smashed his life to chips and dust. His decision to stalk his ex-wife via her syllabus may not qualify for the Kooky Kuts-R-Us editing treatment.

The Back Half of Boardwalk Empire, Season 3: I have a complicated relationship with Boardwalk Empire, or I guess it’s not complicated, it’s just that I get so fucking bored by the show that I stop watching. Until last week, I’d stopped watching the show precisely one more time than I’d decided to give it another shot. But watching the final 8 episodes of season 3 back-to-back proved an immensely good idea. Not only does the season go out with a cracking handful of episodes, there’s a terrific degree of continuity to the whole season. It helped to see everything right in a row, and I could really grok how well it all tied together. Also, they seem to have figured out that when it comes right down to it, all any of us really wanted was for Roger the half-masked Angel of Death to become a major character. And now I hear that George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane (of The Wirewill be joining the writing staff for Season 4? Damn. I have now given this show another shot precisely one more time than I’ve given up on it. I’m in, for now. (Though I swear to God George Pelecanos if you kill off Roger, I will never forgive you. You killed half the cast of The Wire and that groovy dude on Treme, please let your thirst for beloved characters be sated.)

Toy Story 3: I had so little memory of this movie, though I’m about 90% sure that I watched it already. It’s good, and really intensely sad at times, in that it’s articulating a sadness that films almost never go after – the way the world looks different to us after we grow up. But something about the film’s main prison break a-plot just kind of didn’t quite land for me. Still a good movie, but it felt at times like it was less inspired than its two predecessors. I think maybe it was a problem with Lotso, the villainous bear. They didn’t quite know what to do with him – his story was a retread of whatsername the cowgirl’s story from Toy Story 2, but with 100% less Sarah McLachlan making me cry all over the place. Still, good movie.

The King’s Speech: Okay so I watched this a little bit before my vacation but it was excellent and I loved it, so. What a film! I love movies about grown men discovering friendship. That’s such a rare thing in real life, and it’s so hopeful to see it happen, particularly when it’s a true story like this. I liked this bit from Ebert’s review:

Director Tom Hooper makes an interesting decision with his sets and visuals. The movie is largely shot in interiors, and most of those spaces are long and narrow. That’s unusual in historical dramas, which emphasize sweep and majesty and so on. Here we have long corridors, a deep and narrow master control room for the BBC, rooms that seem peculiarly oblong. I suspect he may be evoking the narrow, constricting walls of Albert’s throat as he struggles to get words out.

See, that kind of shit is why I like reading good film critics. I certainly didn’t notice that, even though it had a noticeable effect on me the entire time I was watching the film. He really will be missed.

Hemlock Grove: I tried to watch some more Hemlock Grove but man, this show is just pretty fucking bad. I initially said that I’d keep watching it to the end of the season, but it’s wandered to the point were I just Literally Could Not Give Less Of A Shit and don’t want to watch these mopey assholes wander around and smoke cigarettes and have nothing happen. It’s a laughable show, really. On Twitter one time (good story bro) I was like “This show feels like each line was written by a different person, like, they hired thousands of writers to write it.” And that’s about how it feels. Plus the characters are all assholes and it’s so over-filtered and fug. I might be out.

***

Hmm, that’s kind of a bum note to go out on. It was a great week, though, really! I’ll have some music to share here at some point, once I get the demos into shape, but I’m really happy with how it’s all coming along. I’ve finally taught myself to use Logic after a decade on Pro Tools, and I must say, the program is wonderful, and a much better fit for the way I write than Pro Tools ever was. I’ll probably write something about that when I have more time.

I hope you all had a good week, as well. And hey, you don’t have to go a whole year, but if you’re ever able, I recommend unplugging from the internet, even if only for a weekend or something. It’s a good exercise, and your Twitter followers will still be there for you when you get back.

Viva Melodic!

22 Mar

I’ve been having a great time running my “Kotaku Melodic” series every Thursday from 7-9PM. We’re sharing all sorts of music-related stuff, from goofy videos to funny hidden audio easter-eggs to composer interviews to classic-game mixtapes. That image is from a post I did about the baller music of Persona 3. At my most professional, I described myself as “in full-on, hearts-on-fire love with this game.” That about sums it up.

Anyhow, I wanted to point everyone here over to it, since if you head to the Tag Page, you can just read Kotaku Melodic as if it were its own little music/games blog. You can do the same for our other channels, including Sportaku, PC Gaming Lives, the Off-Kilter comedy block, and the comics-oriented Panel Discussion.

So, go read some Kotaku Melodic! We had another fun set of posts tonight, and will be back next week with more.

Read Kotaku Melodic

My Name Is Jason Bateman and I Approved This Movie

4 Jan

Hello everyone! Happy New Year!  I’m back from a very nice, relaxing break, thought I’d get back at it.  Last weekend, I watched Ricky Gervais’ new movie “The Invention of Lying,” and really enjoyed it.  However, there was one thing that struck me as a little odd, and it was to do with the casting.

Basically, the movie is sweet and charming as hell, and has some great performances from its leads – Jenifer Garner is super adorable and funny and Ricky Gervais is great and even busts out the capital-”A” acting chops a bit.  Rob Lowe is also great, and plays that un-self-aware prick that he can play so well.

But dude, the rest of the cast is kind of… an overstuffed mess.  Granted, an overstuffed mess of people I really enjoy, but all the same… without spoiling anything, the film features: Martin Starr, Jason Bateman, Stephen Merchant, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Nate Corddry… and when John Hodgman showed up for all of thirty seconds near the end of the film, I was actually getting kind of weirded out.

I was probably just me, but I sorta got the sense that they were parading these people out for us, saying “See? Here’s another hip, funny actor you love!” And clearly the actors were all happy to be involved with something that Ricky Gervais did, but the end result wound up feeling a little …club-y?  Like they were each saying “My name is [Famous Comedian] and I approve of this movie. And of Ricky Gervais in general. And so should you.”

And, of course, I do approve of Ricky Gervais, and all of those actors, but even so, it was a bit much.  And while The Invention of Lying certainly isn’t the first movie to do that, it was the first time I noticed it as much as I did.

Am I alone on this? There’s nothing wrong with it, I guess, but I think I would’ve preferred more selective, focused casting.  Tina Fey, Louis C.K., and Rob Lowe were all great.  Maybe we could’ve done without Tambor, Bateman, Hodgeman, and the rest?  The film itself suffers from a bit of lack-of-focus, too (things get pretty hairy when they tackle religion for fifteen minutes then drop it), so really, the casting shenanigans just contributed to a larger feeling of over-stuffedness, but still, they did contribute.

It’s gotta be hard when you’re Ricky Gervais, and you’ve got half the comic actors in Hollywood breaking down your door to be in your next film. But sometimes it’s best to just say, “Next time, Jason.”

"And I'll write you a role that has more than three lines, too!"

Avatar Was Pretty Frickin’ Awesome

23 Dec

It's actually a lot awesomer than this.

After weeks of mocking the ads, doubting the movie, and marveling at the fanboys, it was time to go see Avatar. So, David, Sonia and I hit the metreon IMAX to see, as David called it, “Ferngully Everquest III: Dancing with Smurfs in 3 Dimensions.”

In an effort to avoid getting there late and having to sit in the neck-breaking front row (which totally happened last time I saw an IMAX movie), I got there 45 minutes early, only to find… that the theater was half-full.  Woah!  (Side note: when you arrive to find a theater half-full, are you still being optimistic?  Like isn’t it more positive to say you saw it as half-empty?  What if the expression was “See the theater as half-empty” instead of “See the glass as half-full”?)

We managed to get pretty good seats, high enough up that the entire screen was visible with minimal neck-relocation.  There weren’t any ads, which was nice (especially considering that tickets were $17), so we got this awesome world-beat “WELCOME TO IMAAXXXXX” video, where the screen described and showed us all the awesome speakerssss and screenssss and stuff, and then… AVATAR.

I of course won’t spoil anything story-related, but dude. This movie was some freakin’ eye-candy the likes of which I have never seen. I had some pretty serious doubts about it – the ads looked silly, and the story sounded trite, it was basically FernGully… but here’s the thing: all of that is totally true, but when you’re seeing it in action, on that screen the size of a parking lot with the ridiculously beautiful 3-D glowing plants and the sizzling bullets just jumping off and shit, and you just can’t help but be blown away by it.

Every time a groaner line of dialogue would make me roll my eyes, they wouldn’t get to half-roll before some crazy wondrous thing would happen onscreen – these insane-o whirlygig glowing nightcrawlers were my favorite – and I’d be bugging out all over again.  Like, there were actually whole scenes of the movie that made my jaw drop, like one of those people in the ads for movies. If you have the option, see it in IMAX – the movie is so impressive-looking that it gives credence to the entire notion of the New Age of 3D Movies.

As Sonia pointed out, several scenes in the film, mostly to do with the Na’avi (those are the huge blue alien people) and their rituals, felt akin to watching the Opening Ceremony at the Beijing Olympic Games.  Just total sensory overload, a voice in the back of your head saying “Dude, how in the hell did they even MAKE this?”

Which was a question I actually asked several times. Whether it was the touch-sensitive, glowing flora, the incredible skydives of a huge red flying pterodactylmonster, or the way that embers and bullets would shoot off the screen at you… it was just ridiculous.  Whatever you may say about James Cameron, the dude’s still got it. And by “it,” I mean “gigantic balls.”

No, seriously, it's really pretty rad.

So, yeah, if it’d been an animated film that came out ten years ago, it would’ve been wholly unremarkable, literally FernGully, the sort of movie where people say “Oh, you know, actually, I really like that movie!”  But it’s not that, it’s Avatar, and it is not, (thankfully!), a spectacle of the handheld “you-are-there” variety that so many filmmakers have become enamored of these past five or so years. Nope, Avatar is a real goddamn spectacle, full of the kind of larger-than-anything-you’ve-ever-seen, balls-out impressive stuff that I wish more movies had.

And it bears mentioning that this isn’t some movie about robots from space or a monster invasion or something… it’s a movie about how people suck and destroy nature, and how important it is to be connected to the world around us.  Which, sure, it’s not There Will Be Blood or anything, but it’s still nice.

Basically, the movie made me feel like I was 14 again, stoked as hell for a big event film and years away from the bloggy, opinionated internet scrooge I am today. That’s something a movie hasn’t done in a long time, maybe not since The Two Towers. I turned off my brain and let the absurdly pretty pictures overwhelm me, and it felt good.

I Implore You To Skip “New Moon”

30 Nov

"God, we are just so miserable right now."

I apologize in advance for the rant to come. Over Thanksgiving, I was taken to see “New Moon,” not entirely against my will, but certainly against my better judgment.  I had not read any of the books, nor seen the first film, though I hit the ‘pedia to confirm that what I thought I knew of the plot (Girl meets vampire, lots of pining, vampire sparkles, pining, baseball, sparkle, pine, fin) was indeed the sum of it.

I went in expecting, at the very least, a cheesy good time, some OTT high school romance histrionics, and some hot vampire on werewolf action. What I got was more than two hours (MORE THAN TWO HOURS) of the dullest, most joyless navel-gazing I’ve ever had to sit through.

I know I can get prone to hyperbole here, but in this post, my vitriol is entirely in proportion. Picture twenty minutes of the following conversation, punctuated by a thirty second snippet of action, followed by a shockingly immediate return to… more… stilted… talking. Rinse and repeat about fifteen times.

Edward: “… I need you so much.  I promise I will always protect you.”

Edward and Bella stare at one another

Bella: “I need you too.  So much. I always will”

more staring

Edward: “But I can’t anymore. I have to go. You’re not good for me, Bella.”

Edward and Bella stare (conspicuous lack of eye contact)

Bella: “…. Why? Why do you have to go?”

Continued staring

Edward: “You’re not good for me. I have to go.”

Staring. Cue Grizzly Bear song.

I mean, honestly. This is the great love story of our age? This is the movie that millions of screaming, lovestruck teens gave the biggest film opening in history? As Pajiba’s Dustin Rowles said in his scathing (and a bit girl-hating) review, “There’s never been a chasm so wide between the intensity of devotion to a film and what it actually deserves.” Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek puts it a bit more directly: “It’s a cheap, shoddy piece of work, one that banks on moviegoers’ anticipation without even bothering to craft a satisfying experience for them. Its pandering is an insult.”

There’s so much more that I could complain about. No one makes eye contact for the entire run of the movie. There is no narrative arc. The entire movie is shot in various shades of grey. New beasts are revealed, vendettas are pursued, and characters even die, and yet thanks to the editing, acting, and writing, it feels as though nothing happens. For a runtime, I might remind you, of more than two sodding hours.

If you're incapable of finding some camp value in THIS, maybe you should give up making movies.

Worst of all, the movie simply does not know how to have fun. The leads are ostensibly in love, and yet whenever they are together, they seem absolutely miserable. There is no campy winking, no sense of humor – even when Bella is having a normal conversation with a quartet of super beefcakey dudes who walk around shirtless all the time, it’s nothing but dour, drab, dull, dull, dull.  Not even a hint of the irony or joyfulness of True Blood, despite a suspicious number of similarities in character and story.  Just… nothing.

I’m convinced that the book is nowhere near as lame as the movie. Actually, I bet it’s pretty fun stuff, if you’re into angsty teen romance. The fault here lies elsewhere – The film’s director, Chris Weitz, ought to be ashamed of himself (he directed About a Boy, for crying out loud!). The editing team should’ve never signed off on it.  If I’d written a book that got turned into that movie, I’d be furious. Kristen Stewart (who, if you’ll recall, I thought was so very good in Adventureland), needs to go out herself and track down a decent screenwriter and director for the next film, lest she forever be associated with movies this bad.

As tired as I am reading broad, lazy, more-than-slightly-misogynistic rants about the Twilight fanbase (see the first few paragraphs of the aforelinked-to Mr. Rowles’ review), I’m pretty appalled that this lifeless, joyless dreck is what all the squealing is about. Sometimes it feels like every time I defend popular culture, it thanks me by taking a huge dump in my living room.

And to think, I could’ve seen Fantastic Mr. Fox instead. Good lord.

All Will Be Carved

26 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

“2012,” or, Attack of the 200-Foot Jesus

10 Nov

2012 - Attack of the 200 Foot Jesus

I’ve seen this poster on the MUNI stop by school for the past couple of weeks, and each time I see it, I gotta say… I wouldn’t be surprised if people who haven’t heard of the movie see this poster and come to the conclusion that it’s gonna be be a monster movie about a giant, marauding stone Jesus.

…which would be pretty sweet, actually.

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