2012 is almost gone!

Here we stand, yet again, on the precipice of another new year.

2013

I have started compiling my best/worst film lists for this year. As I went through the 24 films I saw this year, I realized how many great flicks I just never got around to seeing. I also realized how many bad movies I never saw. While the latter is normally a good thing, I feel that a regular influx of bad cinema is essential to better appreciate the good stuff. The big reason for the lack of viewings is that I have gotten far more selective in my theater going since the recession hit. I realize that I cannot see EVERY movie, but this year seems particularly bad. In 2011, there were 3-4 films I could list off the top of my head that should have been in contention, this year there are far more:

Lincoln , Moonrise Kingdom, Seeking a friend for the end of the world, Lawless, Dark Shadows, Battleship, The Campaign, 21 Jump Street, Snow White and the Huntsman, Men in Black 3, The Watch, Being Flynn, Safety not guaranteed, Cloud Atlas, Anna Karenina, Chronicle, Ghost Rider 2…

Off the top of my head. Some are good, some are bad. All are films I wanted to watch for one reason or another.

I am tempted to delay my “list” until a few weeks into 2013, but where is the fun in that? Instead I shall do this- There will be a New years eve posting, as usual, of my top 10 favorite films, as well as the clunkers. At some point in January I shall revisit the list after viewing most of the listed films (thank you redbox and netflix) for a more well-rounded listing.

I will also venture in a Best of TV list which should be amazing considering I dropped cable TV and intentionally only watched maybe 5 shows total. We will see how that shapes up.

Watch and wait!

Tier 5 is alive!

After several days off from work for the holidays, I decided to re-enter the World of Warcraft and do some “Transmogrification runs”! What the hell is a “Transmogrification run”? you ask? Well, here it is:

As you play the game, you gather various pieces of armor to upgrade your character. At the start of the week, I looked like this:

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This is pretty close to a full dungeon set, a lesser set of armor in the game. A set will typically match and look cool on your character. I was happy with this look, but It did not compare to some previous armor sets made in WoW’s heyday of the mid-late 00’s.

Recognizing this, the geniuses at Blizzard introduced Transmogrification. Transmog, as its called- or xmog, lets you change the appearance of your armor to resemble any other piece of alternate armor in your equipment bag. As most of us sold or threw away our cool armor sets back in the olden days of 2008, to recapture the look, we would have to return to older raids (large dungeons) and reacquire the armor.

I spent most of my week doing this, and now I have returned to the circa 2007 “Corruptor Raiment” set which was a personal favorite during the Burning Crusade expansion pack.

Behold!

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Yup. Look at how bad ass that is. All horrible looking with a glowing scythe.

Just thought I’d share my pathetic-ness with the world 🙂

Django Unchained

Woke up this morning, had a nice breakfast with the wife, exchanged presents with my Brother Rich, and then headed over to the Rosen Home for a Christmas party. It was my Godson’s first XMAS! After this, we decided to end the night with something special and headed to the movies! Django Unchained was on the menu….

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The first thing that must be mentioned is that the theater was PACKED. Not an empty seat in the house, which makes me deliriously happy. There are few experience that match seeing a well crafted film on the big screen, and if this can be called anything, it is a well crafted film.
I must start by letting you know that I am certainly inclined to enjoy Quentin Tarantino films. I can easily say that if I were to make a “favorite films” list, at least 6 of his 9 films (5 of 8 depending on how you categorize the Kill Bill duology) would be included. Several of them in the top tier.
Tarantino has lost nothing as he ages. He has stated that he sees himself retiring young to avoid the downward slide in quality that many filmmakers experience. Most Directors have this problem. A select few, the greats, never lose their ability to craft superior films. I truly believe that Tarantino is in this class.
Django Unchained is the tale of a freed slave who learns the Bounty Hunting profession and goes on a quest to free his wife from the villainous Calvin Candie, slave owner….monster.

As in his last film, Tarantino took the name of an older film for re-use. Inglorious Bastards became Inglorious Basterds, and Django became Django Unchained. “Django” was one of the better Spaghetti Westerns of the 60’s. Following it’s success, it became a fad to make westerns starring “Django” as the hero. None of these films really tied together, other than the title character. They featured different actors, situations, many were terrible, a few watchable. The attraction was that Django was famous for being one of the most violent films up to that point in time (before Bonnie and Cydle, The Wild Bunch). What makes it important is not that it is gratuitous, but how is it done, and the shock of it in a film- something Tarantino has mastered at this point. He could make you feel happy, sad, orgasmic, or scared shitless just with a blood splatter. It was an obvious choice for Tarantino to make his own Django.

The cast, as always, was perfectly put together, utilizing some previous talent (The great Zoe Bell, Michael and James Parks, and others) to round out the characters.

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Django is played by Jaime Foxx, who was perfection in a role that could have been tricky to pull off. This role was initially offered to Will Smith who turned it down. This was for the best I think, Smith maintains a very guarded image of himself, and this film does not fit that image. Foxx, steps in and makes it his own. Django is strong, vulnerable, vicious, absolutely believable, especially when he is acting. The only elements standing in his way as the best thing in the film are… the three supporting actors.

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This might be DiCaprio’s best role. He has long since escaped the teenie bopper hell that seemed fated for him, and has grown into one of the best actors around. This is the first film that he is entirely, COMPLETELY evil as Calvin Candie. His scenes are tremendous. This is an actor at the top of his game.

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Despite DiCaprio’s mastery Christoph Waltz again steals the show, this time as Dr. Schultz, the Bounty Hunter who frees Django and helps him on the quest to free his wife.

I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this man awesome. If I could identify it, and bottle it, I would be quite wealthy. I have seen 5 of his 6 films since becoming famous after Basterds. The only answer I can reason for his success is “HE IS THAT…DAMN…GOOD” He can turn absolutely any line into perfection. I don’t know what is training is, how he prepares for roles, or anything on his methods, but he has found the ideal path toward his character work. This is the actor Tarantino has been looking for his whole career I think… after the other one he found 20 years ago that is.

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Samuel L. Jackson. The most prolific actor of our age. He usually pops up in Tarantino’s productions. I did not, in a million years, expect him to appear in Django as Uncle Remus from “Song of the South”. It was a genius move by Quentin, and a fantastic performance by Jackson. Not his best, that is reserved for Pulp Fiction or Unbreakable, but this is up there.

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Kerry Washington plays Django’s wife Broomhilda Von Shaft (seriously that’s her name). She is a terrific actress that does not have all that much to do in the film. She is the McGuffin, the prize, the object that moves this story forward. As such, there is not a whole heck of a lot to do other than give the other actors something to react to. Despite this, she does a great job with what is given her.
Honorable mentions goes out to Don Johnson who has one of the best scenes in the film as “Big Daddy”, and to Tarantino himself who makes a cameo appearance.
Nothing need be said about the writing. Tarantino is known for his dialogue in particular and this film is not lacking his usual ability. It is heightened by the presence of first rate actors.

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The Cinematography was by Robert Richardson. He is best known for his work with Oliver Stone (Platoon, wall street, JFK etc), Scorsese (Casino Shutter Island) and Tarantino (Kill Bill, Basterds) He knows exactly what Tarantino wants, and delivers it. The beautiful vistas of the West are magic in the hands of a skilled cinematographer, and Richardson brings the magic.
The music choices, as always, elevate Tarantino’s films. What really stands out is the use of the original Django theme song by Luis Bacalov! Hearing that right off the bat, as the opening them to THIS DJANGO,  I realized that I would not be let down on this front. One of my favorite Jim Croce songs made an appearance in its entirety, and I was even more impressed when I read the credits- “Ancora Qui” by Ennio Morricone and Elisa. Ennio M_F_ing Morricone! I know Tarantino has been trying to get an original piece, if not an entire score by “il maestro” without success. I am glad to see him finally nab a song.
There is not much else to say about Django without ruining the film, so I will stop.

Now, how does this fit on my “Tarantino List”?
1: Inglorious Basterds
2: Pulp Fiction
3: Reservoir Dogs
4: Django Unchained
5: Kill Bill 2
6: Kill Bill 1
7: Jackie Brown
8: Four Rooms
9: Death Proof

I will be honest, there is barely a HAIR’S width of difference between the top 6 listed above. Bottom line:

Go see Django Unchained

The Hobbit- an unexpected journey

If you loved LOTR- you will love this.
If you hated LOTR- you will hate this.

Its really that simple. The almost 3 hour run time flew by for me. The actors were perfect, simply perfect. Martin Freeman is the idea actor to play young Bilbo. Richard Armitage hit it out of the park as Thorin, and Ian McKellan returns to what will absolutely be his greatest role- Gandalf. The other returning cast members were a welcome sight, especially Andy Serkis as Gollum, who once again captivates. There was not much time to get to know all 12 of the other dwarves, but most of them had a scene or two, with focus on a select few for dramatic reasons.

We chose to see it in the new HFR format of 48 frames per second 3D. Normal movies are 24 frames. At first, the experience was jarring. Everything seemed to be moving WAY too fast. Our eyes are used to seeing films move in a certain way and all that extra visual information breaks your brain for a few seconds hehe. After those few seconds of adjustment, I was amazed at the detail on screen. After a few minutes I was hooked.In a rainy scene, you can see almost every drop of rain. Fire looks closer to “reality fire” on screen (something I never realized was deficient before). This HFR reminds me of the jump from film to digital 10 years ago. It seems off and wrong at first, but after a while you start to love the overwhelming benefit of the new format. I am not sure if this will ever be adopted across the board for most or all cinemas, but it should be used on every big budget Hollywood action film. For the first time, I did not feel cheated by the extra 3 bucks they charge for 3D.

Speaking of 3D. this is also the first 3D film to that gave me no eye fatigue due to motion blur!. With all those extra frames, the blur is replaced with motion and the eyes are quite thankful!

What follows are my replies to some of the complaints being put forward by critics:

The 48 fps made the CGI look fake.
The CGI was top notch, and more realistic than ever. I feel the 48 frames helped it.

The story was boring, and not a stand alone film.
The story well constructed while being very faithful to the novel. I did not feel that it was an incomplete story. While it was obviously the first of three chapters, there is a narrative that reaches a resolution in the last scenes. It centers on Bilbo and his journey to be accepted as a member of the Dwarven Group.

The “additional material” introduced from the voluminous backstory of LOTR was unneeded and terrible.
Rather than be put off by the additional material they inserted into the story, I was fascinated by it, and enjoyed every extra second. I am only vaguely familiar with these plot points, so it was terrific to see it played out. It did not stretch out the movie to unreasonable lengths. It added only a few scenes to the final picture.

Radagast is the new Jar Jar Binks.
Radagast the Brown Wizard is not the Jar Jar of these films. please critics… He, and his rabbits, are pretty awesome. Plus who could hate Sylvester McCoy?! He’s great.

The film is too violent. Nonsense. It is no more violent than the first 3 films, and no one complained too loudly back then.

The 48 frames make the film look cheap.
This one has merit, but not for the reasons put forward by critics in what I feel is an attempt to destroy the new format at birth. Many television programs use a higher frame rate. British television seemed to use it quite a bit in the 70’s. Because we have only experienced these sort of visuals in what is perceived to be a “cheaper” format, we immediately associate it as being a lesser product. While I was taken in by the story, I was also forcing myself to be conscious of production value. LOTR films are notorious for insane attention to detail when it comes to sets and props. This film is no different. There was no cheap there. There was certainly no cheap from the actors, and it was not present in the CGI. The cinematography, particularly in battle sequences, was spectacular, and not cheap looking. Final verdict- this one is purely bias due to prior experience.

The 48 frames make it seem less fantasy and more reality- taking you out of the experience.
Obviously, there are no trolls, elves, dwarves, hobbits, rock monsters, magical elven cities, and orcs in reality. But the frame rate does give it a more realistic style. There is something to that complaint, but I feel it is completely up to the individual. Personally, it did not take me out of “Middle Earth” but instead drew me in.

Its late, that’s all I’ve got to say for now. hehe. If you have questions- shoot away! As a guinea pig for those hesitant to try it out in 48, I am happy to help answer questions. I do, however, recommend that you see it for yourself regardless. Its a good movie!

The Three Stooges

Simply put: if you like The Three Stooges, you will like The Three Stooges.

The casting could have destroyed this film, but fortunately they found the right mix.

Will Sasso comes the closest I have ever seen to a Curly impression that is a true Curly. Sasso is able to do the nyuk and barks while still conveying the child-like qualities that made Jerome Howard a star.

Chris Diamantopoulos was a perfect Moe. The mannerisms were spot on, and the vocal work was superb.

The real accolades, however, are rightfully given to Sean Hayes (of Will and Grace) who practically channelled the ghost of Larry Fine. Larry is the toughest Stooge to get right, and Hayes was superb. I have heard that voice acting god Billy West was brought in to coach him on Larry, and let me tell you- those were dollars well spent.

The film is about 90 minutes long as is broken up into 3 “shorts”, although there is a larger story in place. Larry David as Sister Mary Mengele was inspired. I don’t know who’s idea it was to dress that man up as a nun, but it paid off. The opening scenes with the Stooges as children are ok, but the real fun starts when we meet up with them around age 35. The story is essentially the plot of The Blues Brothers in that the Catholic Orphange that raised them is broke, and they need to raise cash to keep it open. The rest of the film shows their adventures in raising the money. It is simple, and effective.

There is one scene in the film that so encapsulated the stupidity of the Stooges that I am still laughing 13 hours later. It is a little slice of sight gag perfection that is rarely experienced these days. Without spoiling, let me say that I will never think of Free Range farming quite the same way again. It was such a quick and  stupid gag, but it was perfect. It is obvious that this film was made by people that understand the stooges. There is not much that needs to be understood, but the Farrelly’s get it.

When most of the nation stopped showing stooges in the 70’s and 80’s before their tv revival nationwide in the 90’s, there were small pockets of America that still showed the stooges every day. I was lucky to have lived in the Boston/Providence area where the stooges never went out of style and each New Year’s was rung in with the Annual Stooges Marathon on Channel 38 hosted by “The Movie Loft’s Dana Hersey. I literally watched these guys every week from age 4-10. We had tons of VHS tapes to add to the viewing. (I have probably seen “disorder in the court” no less than 100 times, not to mention “Malice in the Palace”)

The Stooges were a big thing in my family. My father and Uncle loved them, and that was passed on to me. I am particularly  happy to see that they continue to entertain children today- as evidenced by the roaring laughter of the kids at last night’s screening. If you have kids, take them to go see this movie. It is genuinely funny.

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Hunger Games: Food for thought

God that title makes me wanna puke….so smugly unclever.

I will preface this entry by stating that I have not read the books. Until a short while ago, they were not even on my radar. I am sure I passed them in the bookstore (before it went bankrupt) and briefly glanced at the cover and moved on to other fare. What I did not know was that this is EXACTLY my sort of book: a good one with a message. How can I know this without reading it? The Movie.

This film has a lot happening in it. On the surface it is a Battle Royale meets Running Man film where 24 kids must battle to the death, on television, for the world to see. Underneath there is an wonderful anti establishment commentary that every young person should be exposed to in America.

Watching this film, I was taken aback by the amazing fashions in “Capital City”. It is as if Lady Gaga were given free license to completely redesign the world. No….literally.

The Capital is an exciting place! The colors, the art, the music, the energy! I have always loved cities, and it is a place I would want to live in. As attractive as it is, the film shows that the truth is more complicated. The Capital is populated by brainwashed “haves” who are taken in by the glitzy glamor of reality tv and the pop culture world, as the “have-nots” toil away to provide the labor needed for the rich to live in their world. All the while, the administrators of this society keep them controlled and enthralled by “bread and circuses” while others suffer through brutal lives. This is not a new idea. It gave rise to socialism and the labor movements across this world. That this film could be made in 2012 and resonate so clearly to the average person is astonishing. A few decades back, this film would not have worked. It would not have been made, and its message would have been lost. But its time has come again.

As in the early years of the 20th century, and for a time in the 60;s and 70’s, American society is facing change. People are out of work, and the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. This is a political film. It is not necessarily a Liberal film, nor is it a Conservative film. It is a film that imparts a central truth that both parties ignore: The Establishment wants us to be stupid, we are easier to control that way. The endless bickering between politicians and the foolishness of our popular culture (of which I am an admitted sheeple) are blinding us. We, on the blogosphere, are constantly reading of the erosion of our Constitutionally granted rights by Bush and Obama. The Internet is becoming more controlled, we can be labeled as terrorists and detained forever or even killed without warrant. Young liberals are blinded by the “more government to control evil business” rhetoric, and conservatives calling for “less evil government to protect victim businesses” All the while, both lose nothing, and only gain power.

Young people: There is nothing wrong with enjoying reality tv, the latest movie, or music craze, but don’t let that be ALL you expose yourself to. Learn about our country, its history, and what is happening in the world. For every Kardashian or Jersey Shore you watch, wikipedia American social history. Make an effort to educate yourselves. Hunger Games, which bridges both of those choices, is a great place to start.

Oh noes…..

The Doctor Strange Movie is coming! This reported at comingsoon.net:

t has been confirmed that the script for Doctor Strange has been completed by Thomas Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (Conan The Barbarian, Sahara) and Marvel Studios are now actively seeking a director to come in and helm the project. Once the director has come on board, they will then be searching for the cast to star in Doctor Strange

That’s right! The two assholes I ripped to shreds in my best/worst of 2011 article are writing this. Wasn’t it enough to destroy Conan for me? Now they move into the comic world. fml