By the time I was really aware of the world, Liz Taylor was old and overweight. I never really understand the obsession. This helps.
Archive for the ‘Movies & Entertainment’ Category.
I had pretty good experiences this week with not one but two movies rated 6 and under (which is pretty low) on IMDB
Atlas Shrugged, Part II: A mixed bag, but generally better than the first. The first episode had incredibly lush, beautiful settings, particularly for a low budget indie movie. But the acting was stilted and sub-par. Or perhaps the directing was sub par, with poor timing in the editing and dialog. Whatever. It was not always easy to watch.
The second movie is not as visually interesting, but it tossed out most of the actors from the first movie (a nearly unprecedented step for a sequel) and started over. As a result, the actors were much better. Though I perhaps could wish Dagny was younger and a bit hotter, she and the actor who played Rearden really did a much better job (though there is very little romantic spark between them). And, as a first in any Ayn Rand movie I have ever seen, there were actually protagonists I might hang out with in a bar.
The one failure of both movies is that, perhaps in my own unique interpretation of Atlas Shrugged, I have always viewed the world at large, and its pain and downfall, as the real protagonist of the book. We won't get into the well-discussed flatness of Rand's characters, but what she does really well -- in fact the whole point of the book to me -- is tracing socialism to its logical ends. For me, the climactic moment of the book is Jeff Allen's story of the fate of 20th Century Motors. Little of this world-wilting-under-creeping-socialism really comes out well in the movie -- its more about Hank and Dagny being harassed personally. Also, the movie makes the mistake of trying to touch many bases in the book but ends up giving them short shrift - e.g. Jeff Allen's story, D'Anconia's great money speech, Reardon's trial, etc.
I would rate this as worth seeing for the Ayn Rand fan - it falls short but certainly does not induce any cringes (if only one could say that about the Star Wars prequels).
Lockout: This is a remake of "Escape from New York", with a space prison substituting for Manhattan and the President's daughter standing in for the President. The movie lacks the basic awesomeness of converting Manhattan to a prison. In fact, only one thing in the whole movie works, and that is the protagonist played by Guy Pierce (who also starred in two of my favorite movies, LA Confidential and Memento).
The movie is a total loss when he is not on screen. The basic plot is stupid, the supporting characters are predictable and irritating, the physics are absurd, and the special effects are weak. The movie is full of action movie cliche's -- the hero throwing out humorous quips (ala Die Hard or any Governator movie), the unlikely buddy angle, the reluctant romantic plot. But Pierce is very funny, and is thoroughly entertaining when onscreen. I think he does the best job at playing the wisecracking, cynical hero that I have seen in years.
If I see another movie where it turns out the bad buy secretly wants to be captured by the good guys as part of a more elaborate infiltration plan (e.g. Avengers, the new Star Trek, the recent Die Hard, Skyfall) I think I am going to scream.
Over Christmas break, my son (home from college) and I have played a half dozen or more games of Twilight Struggle, the #1 rated game on Boardgame Geek that refights to US-USSR cold war from the 1950's to the 1980's. There is a good reason for that ranking - it is a very enjoyable game to which he and I have become addicted.
I mentioned it before Christmas, and after playing it once made a couple of comments that I want to revise. I had said I remembered it to be "complex." Actually, for a wargame, the rules are quite simple (no zone of control rules, line of sight, tracing supply, movement costs over terrain, etc etc.). Basically, each turn you play a card from your hand. You may either take the effects of the event on the card, or you may take one of four actions using the operations points on the card (sometimes, if the event benefits your opponent, you have to take the event and the operations points). Your goal is to gain influence over countries and regions, which in turn translates into victory points.
The cards are divided into early, mid, and late-game cards that are staged into the game. This helps avoid anachronisms like Solidarity union forming in Poland in 1950. It also creates a setting where the Russian has early advantages, while the US has late advantages. This really befuddled me for a number of games as I played as Russian against my son, and lost more than I won despite the general sense in the playing community that the game (until recently revised) is a bit unbalanced in favor of the Russian. The problem is that my play style in wargames tends to be methodical and defensive, and to win at Russia you have to open with an RTS-like rush and gain the largest possible lead before the Americans come back in the end game. I finally routed the Americans in the last game when I finally got more aggressive.
The game's complexity comes not from a lot of rules but from three sources:
1) dealing with complexity of scoring possibilities, as while there are only a few types of actions one can take, there are a hundred locations on the map where one can take those actions. The scoring dynamics causes focus of both players to shift around the world, sometimes in Asia, sometimes in Latin America, sometimes in Africa, etc. The cards ensure that no region is ever "safe" (for example the combination of John Paul II's election and Solidarity can turn a strong Soviet position in Poland into a total mess.
2) getting rid of or minimizing the impact of events that benefit your opponent. The latter adds a lot of the flavor of the game. On average, half the event cards in your hand help you, and half help your opponent. If a card helps you, you can take either the op points or the event, but not both. This is sometimes a tough choice in and of itself, made more complicated by the fact that unused events get recycled and can come back later, when they might be more or less useful. But if the card has an opponent event on it, you generally (with a few exceptions) have to take the op points AND trigger an event favorable to your opponent. Managing the latter consumes a lot of the mental effort of the game, and really helps give the game its Cold War flavor of jumping from crisis to crisis.
3) the interaction of the cards. Like most card-driven games, there are a near infinite number of card interactions. This means that there are almost always certain card pairings where the resulting net effect is unclear. We had to keep our iPad nearby locked into a web site of the game maker that includes rulings on each card. Since the game is now 6+ years old, we never encountered a situation where a clear ruling was not available.
Anyway, we think the game absolutely deserves its #1 rating. Highly recommended.
In my high school days, I used to play a lot of wargames from Avalon Hill and SPI. I once spent an entire summer playing one game of War in Europe, which had a 42-square-foot map of Europe and 3500 or so pieces. Each turn was one week, so it was literally a full time job getting through it in a couple of months.
All that is to say I spent a lot of time hanging out at game stores, particularly Nan's in Houston (a great game and comic store that still exists and I still visit every time I am in Houston). I play fewer wargames now, but I still like strategy games that are a bit more complicated than Monopoly or Risk. But it is hard to find a game store with a good selection (if there is one here in Phoenix, I have not found it).
But I definitely want to try this place -- the Complete Strategist in New York City. Click through for some good game pr0n.
His list of games is good, though I have never played Gloom and I have never been a huge fan of Carcassonne. Ticket to Ride is an awesome game and is perhaps the most accessible for kids and noobs of either his or my list. If you recognize none of these games, it is a great place to start (there is also a great iPad app). To his list of games I would add:
- 7 wonders (our family's current favorite)
- Small world (our family's previous favorite, also look for the great iPad app)
- Dominion (my current personal favorite)
- Race for the Galaxy (you can also download an online version to try, one of my favorite quick computer games)
All of these games tend to present simple choices with extraordinarily complex scoring implications. In most cases, one must build infrastructure early to score later, but the trade-off of when to switch from infrastructure building to scoring is the trick. Five years ago Settlers of Catan would have been on any such list, but it is interesting it is on neither his nor mine.
Once you catch the bug, there are hundreds of other games out there. My son and I last summer got caught up in a very complex Game of Thrones expandable card game. Recommended only for those who love incredible complexity and are familiar with the books. There are also a couple of games I have liked but only played once so far. My son and I last summer played a fabulous though stupidly complex game of Twilight Struggle (about the Cold War, not hot vampire teens). This is considered by many to be one of the greatest war / strategy games ever. We also tried Eclipse (space game, again not the teen vampires) which we liked. I have played Le Havre and Puerto Rico as iPad apps. They were OK, but I think the fun in them is social and the of course does not come through in the iPad app. In the same vein, tried to play Agricola with my kids and they were bored stiff.
Welcoming Princess Leia to the Disney Princess club
PS1: For some reason they STILL are not talking about doing the movie I think would be a layup to make awesome - Han and Chewie, the early years. Meeting each other, smuggling, adventures, winning a starship from the only black man in the universe.
PS2: The Star Wars prequel trilogy are really beautiful to watch, but horrendous as movies in large part because the dialog is so freaking awful. I think someone should try to dub them with better dialog.
I am generally skeptical of movies released in late September - after all, if the studio really had much hope for them, they would have released them in summer or waited for Christmas. But I took my daughter because she is a Joseph Gordon Levitt fan, and it turned out to be solid. Nitpickers need to put away the inevitable time-paradox-mistake criticisms, but we both enjoyed it.
THIS is why the Internet was invented. Google has a new search feature so you can quickly find out how many degrees of separation any actor has from Kevin Bacon
It is hard to push the number much higher, for any reasonable value of "actor." For God sakes, Charlie Chaplin is a 2. I got a three with Humphrey Bogart and Butterfly McQueen. Not even sure how to get a four.
Wither the camera operator? I thought this was interesting - super-high-resolution cameras in fixed positions that cover the whole field, with broadcast shot selected as a zoom/clipping window withing the larger picture.
Generally, I get turned off by education video because I find the information bandwidth is often way too low. I can read it faster, and get 99% of the benefit.
But this is a case where video explains in 60 seconds more than one could in a whole lecture.
Link via Hit and Run
Commando is one of my favorite of its genre. All the elements are there - classic Arnold walk-away lines, bad acting, infinitely large ammo magazines, worse-than-stormtrooper bad-guy shooting, more bad acting, and unrepentant machismo.
Via my daughter. It's a suckers game to try to analyze what is popular on YouTube, but the view count for this video is just staggering. It apparently also has about a thousand imitators. If I am going to watch a cover video, why wouldn't I rather one with LA cheerleaders? But I have to credit Harvard as a trendsetter. Who knew there could be a whole new genre of videos about lip syncing pop tunes in a moving passenger van?
It is bad enough that great series like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey whiz by in just 10 episodes or so, making us wait another year for more. But Sherlock has to be the ultimate tease, giving us just three (admittedly epic) episodes each season. I mean, every three episodes there is a season-ending cliffhanger.
OK, not really. But it is Joss Whedon. Being a Firefly fan-boy and one of apparently only 12 people who "got" Dollhouse and liked it, I am happy to see Whedon's success with the Avengers. I'll be at Comicon this summer (yes, I am that big of a geek and besides my family will be in San Diego anyway on vacation) and I am thinking Whedon is virtually a lock to make an appearance.
The movie Blade Runner is a pretty substantial departure from the Phillip Dick book "Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep" on which it was based. Even so, and perhaps uniquely in literary history, Dick seems to have absolutely loved the movie. It kept the right elements of the book - ie, what makes us human -- and shed the silly, trippy stuff.
I don't remember it being a huge box office success. Probably too dark, even with the last minute change of ending (the happy notion that Rachael had no programmed termination date was added to give audiences a more upbeat ending.) But the movie certainly had a huge effect on the look and feel of sci-fi. After the Matrix and the Terminator, we are used to future dystopias, but in the 1970's most popular sci-fi had cities that were as bright and shiny as a new penny. I remember seeing it the first time, and Blade Runner was arresting, a whole new category of sci-fi noir. I still love the movie, and it wears pretty well, but nowadays fan argue endlessly of the merits of the original release vs. the directors cut. The latter purges the Harrison Ford narration and happy ending that were tacked on to make the movie more audience friendly. I personally like the narration-- it feels consistent with the noir genre -- though the faux happy ending is lame.
Star Wars crowd-sourced in 15-second intervals, each by a different person, often in completely different styles.
The garbage chute scene at 1:18 is pretty representative of what this is about. We get live action (both high and low quality props), animation, sock puppets and even ferrets.
The opening 20th Century Fox credit change is great - how they missed this idea in the real movie, I will never know.
This has been around a while but it is worth a repost as we approach Oscar film season.
Earlier today, New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff opined on Twitter about cuts in government services. It’s not every day that you see such stupidity displayed so confidently…except from the Left:
Imagine John Boehner home in OH, seeing an escaped tiger–and getting a msg that help is unavailable due to govt cutbacks.
Well, I don’t know about John Boehner. But I do know that if I received such a message, it’d be because I was trying to call up a government flunky to haul a tiger carcass away. And if I did get such a message, my very next call would be to a good taxidermist.
It’s an interesting glimpse into the worldview though. The unspoken assumption is that, without government tiger hunters, we’re all doomed to be mauled by wild beasts. Presumably, this is because we are all tiny, little children, utterly incapable of solving our problems without the intervention of our benevolent government overlords. It’s a worldview that operates on the assumption that the government is the only adult in the room.
A great example of this sort of mentality was the Bruce Willis action filmLive Free or Die Hard. The movie was a decent thriller, falling into the unlikely-buddy-movie genre (including also 48 Hours and most of the Lethal Weapon movies).
Like most modern techno-thrillers, it required a lot of technical suspension of belief, but what really struck me was the premise -- that somehow, if terrorists were able to really shut down the government, people would go into a panic and be totally lost and forlorn. Even the strong male hero buys into the premise. Can you even imagine a Clint Eastwood movie where Clint laments how scared Americans will be if they were to call the FDA to inquire if a certain product is truly organic and no one answered the phone? It makes for a sort of irony in the movie because in fact the government is completely useless in the face of the terrorists, who are brought down essentially by a few private individuals.
This is something my son pointed me to a while back. Many, many movies use the same scream. It sort of has become an in joke by movie makers. Watch the video, you have heard it a zillion times but may not know it.
IMDB has a list of 225 movies and games with the scream. As you can tell from the video above, Lucas puts it in nearly every one of his movies. And it is not surprising to see Tarantino on this list -- his movies are like movie trivia contests with all the inside jokes and references and homages to other films.
Well, I hesitate to recommend this movie, because the first three people I told about this as if it was some kind of clever discovery of mine said "Oh, yeah, loved it, saw it years ago." So maybe everyone else saw this movie a decade ago and I just missed it. But I really enjoyed an older Christopher Nolan (Inception) directed movie called Memento. It stars Guy Pierce (LA Confidential, one of my favorite movies) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix).
The movie is about a man trying to get revenge on his wife's murderer. The only problem is that somehow, from roughly the point in time his wife died, he lost all of his short term memory. So he can never remember things more than a few minutes. He has to trust notes he has written (including tattoos on his body) for clues that he pursues.
The clever part of the movie is that it is shot backwards. Well, I don't mean everyone walks backwards. It is shot in a series of 3-10 minute clips with normal forward action, but then the clips are reassembled in the film in reverse order. The end of each scene is therefore usually the beginning of the previous one (though there is a second thread in black and white that moves through the movie in a slightly different way).
This seems crazy and confusing, until you realize that at any point in the movie, you are in exactly the same place as the protagonist - you know nothing about the past, or even, in the start of the clip, how you got there. Its not a casual movie that you can watch while you are doing something else, it requires some concentration, but it worked well for me. The most incredible thing is that despite the fact you know how it all comes out, the movie is incredibly tense and exciting -- you don't know why it came out that way, and the movie is full of twists and turns.
Postscript: There was a movie last year of completely different style - straight forward plot line, uneven acting, more of an action movie - that had a sortof kindof similar plot. The movie was called Vengence, and it was about a man who was losing his memory and slowly degenerating trying to find his daughter's killer. It is a totally different movie, but cribs some of the Memento plot devices, such as labelled Polaroid pictures as a memory device. It is pretty good, particularly for fans of Asian-style action movies, and is directed by Johnnie To.
I have read most of Stephen King's novels, and like many of them. But some of my favorites were the four novels he wrote as Richard Bachman, in part because they were actually, you know, novel length rather than thousand-page monstrosities.
I have discussed in other posts that the Bachman book "the Running Man" is one of the movies I would most love to remake. The movie was a silly farce where the lead actor (the governator) was out-acted by Richard Dawson, for God sakes.
This week while my daughter was sick I reread "the Long Walk." Its one of those love it or hate it things -- the Amazon reviews are split between 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews.
I would love to make a movie of "the Long Walk." It would not be that expensive to make -- the whole book takes place with a hundred teenage boys walking a couple hundred miles down a road. Seriously, 10-12 unknown teenaged actors, 90 or so other extras, a couple of steadicams on a flatbed truck. The crowd scenes at the end would take a lot of extras, don't know how expensive that would be, but I think a really interesting movie could be made. I picture something ala Kirosawa, maybe even in black and white. The concept also seems to suggest Tarantino, which reminds me of a movie called Battle Royale that is a sort of similar, but much more violent concept, which Tarantino once listed among his ten favorites.
PS- This would also be a really cool play. Picture a big moving conveyor belt from front to back of the stage, so the actors walk a steady pace through the whole show.