Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Over ten years ago, Peter Jackson made a trilogy of movies based on the best-selling series, The Lord of the Rings.  The movie broke almost all known records, both based on money and awards.  After that, any additional entry into the series pales in comparison to the originals.  The Hobbit follows the story of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo who joins a group of dwarves as they go to take back a dwarf city that was taken by a dragon.

The book is short, the movie stretched out to its very limits.  The story begins before the Hobbit novel begins, with a history lesson of how the dragon came to be in the city of Erebor.  Soon after, the recap from the beginning of the Lord of the Rings begins, with a lovely cameo from Elijah Wood and Ian Holm.  Holm then concentrates on his book, beginning the story and depicting himself as a younger hobbit.

The story of the hobbit is not new, most kids are exposed to it in grade school.  The fantasy aspect of the story begins with the description of the hobbits and the dwarves and continues on from there.  Bilbo hosts the dwarves in an amusing episode in his house, they clean his pantry out and he decides he does indeed want to go on an adventure.  The dwarves journey across Middle Earth, being sought after by various goblins and orcs, finding refuge, briefly with the elves.  Another few cameos appear here, with Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel, playing by Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett.

The story continues on and at varying points I kept thinking, is it over yet.  And, to me, that sums up the movie.  While the movie was graphically great, better than the originals, the story, as it was when I read it, was not nearly as interesting as the Lord of the Rings.  In many ways, to me, the Hobbit has always paled in comparison to the trilogy and this is no exception.  The dwarves are played comically, as they should be, and while the idea of retaking their home is affecting, it is executed more towards a child’s attention than an adult’s.  That isn’t to say that you won’t enjoy it, but as with any kid’s movie, you may wonder where the story is going or when it’ll be over.  I applaud Jackson for returning to Middle Earth, but I do wish he’d chosen the Silmarillion over the Hobbit.  Give me elves any day over dwarves.

Also of note, I did see the High Frame Rate version and did find it both distracting and not adding much to the overall viewing experience.  The 3D was nice, but not worth the extra money.  I'd say if you do see it, see it as a regular movie and you won't miss anything!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Movie Review: Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition

If you’ve never met me, only know me in passing online, then you may not know this, but Lord of the Rings really changed the way I looked at literature and movies, the story moving and affecting in a troubling time for me.  I won’t go into details, in retrospect, it wasn’t really all that bad of a situation, but to watch the story come to life, it was just amazing.

I can’t say I’m as excited to see ‘The Hobbit,’ which comes out next week, but I will, of course see it.  What always astounds me about the Lord of the Rings is that the scope of the story is massive – just a behemoth of a story, on par with War and Peace.  With countless characters and storylines, Peter Jackson brings it all together. I do wonder, ten years later, if Jackson wonders if he could have had six movies and not three, given the breaking up of the finales for Harry Potter and Twilight.

I couldn’t help but notice countless ‘movie mistakes’ in this latest viewing.  There are so many instances where people switch from left to right, a clear example of the frames being flipped.  I mean, if Aragorn is holding a torch in one hand, a sword in another, and yet, miraculously, the items switch hands in seconds.  These are the things that are unearthed after too many viewings.

I can’t begin to distil the girth of the story, suffice it to say, it lets you escape the realities of our lives and live in another world, in another time, see good sacrifice greatly to triumph over evil.  Well worth the watch and has stood the test of time.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Movie Review: Killing Them Softly

In this adaptation of Cogan’s Trade, Brad Pitt helms a fantastic cast through the ups and downs of the hard economic times of a seemingly illegal sub-community.  When a card games goes south, a second similar hold-up, the obvious suspect is found guilty, as are the actual culprits.  What starts off as a simple heist spirals into the criminals being held responsible for their actions by yet another criminal, a law among thieves, so to speak.  Two ne’er do wells, Frankie and Russell, go in on scheme to hold-up a known card game that the host had already held-up.  Their leader, Squirrel, advises that the host will be held responsible.  The scheme goes off without a hitch, but as is the case with most criminals, neither are terribly bright and soon reveal their heist to others, thus admitting their guilt.  When the enforcer arrives, he is forced to hire another enforcer, but this enforcer has a mental breakdown, leaving the job to be handled by the one enforcer.  The dialogue between the two enforcers, played by Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini is well worth the price of admission alone.  The story comes to a climax once Pitt’s Cogan finishes the job, ensuring the group he works for is protected from being discovered.

At times, the story-telling was heavy-handed. The movie is set with the backdrop of the 2008 Election, campaign rhetoric from President Bush, future President Obama and Senator McCain, amongst others are interspersed with the main story.  The concept of the story comes fully into focus as Pitt’s Cogan rails at his contact that the President claims many things, but America is a business and he deserves to be paid for the work he has done.  The down-trodden characters like Frankie and Russell are the prototypical representations of Romney’s now famous 47 per cent, people who expect the government to bail them out, that owe them.  The contact for Cogan, Driver, seemed to represent the government intermediary to the faceless committee he serves.  The overt tone of government bureaucracy is doubled as Driver refuses to pay Cogan the rate promised to Mickey, played by James Gandolfini.  His character is also troubled, representing the expectation that he should get paid for doing little to nothing.

I may have seen more into the movie than was implied, but the thoughtful narrative with the graphic violence and unrelenting ending makes for a worthwhile two-hour investment.  Pitt leads the story through various twists and turns, that at times slow the pace down, the payoff not realised until the end.  The movie may not be a superficial indulgence as most Hollywood movies are, well worth the watch for the thoughtful movie-goer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Nothing signifies the holiday season than an animated holiday movie.  To get in early on the family gatherings, Dreamworks released a movie about the various ‘fictional’ entities kids believe in, such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Sandman.  The group is beset by the Boogie Man, who is also trying to vie for the attention of children.  To tip the scales, the group are tasked with bringing Jack Frost into their midst, but he, like the Boogie Man, is not believed in by the kids.

The story is cute and short, the concept of Jack Frost wanting to belong is one most kids can relate to.  The all-star cast makes the characters come to life, but I spent most of the movie wondering how was playing Santa Claus.  The thing that stole the show for me was the stunning visuals.  Dreamworks has outdone themselves once again, mixing state-of-the-art digital technology with great sound and story. There is little significant about this story that makes it memorable, but with enough laughs and heart to make the hour and a half fly by.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Movie Review: Breaking Dawn Part 2

I got caught up in the craze and hype of Twilight some five years ago.  All my friends were raving about the books, raving about Edward, raving about Bella.  I’ll admit it, curiously got the better of me.  I picked up the first book, blew through it, and devoured the subsequent books.  Lucky for me, by the time I got to the series, the final book was about to come out.  Once the series was over, I can’t say I was gobsmacked by the ending, or the writing or characterisations.  But what Stephanie Meyer had in spades was the ability to make Bella relatable to practically every woman out there.  On the surface, Edward and Jacob are both great guys, in theory, but when you look closer, Edward has stalker, controlling tendencies and Jacob isn’t quite house-broken.  I’ve been forced to move Team Jacob after reading a very thoughtful essay from Twilight and Philosophy.  Read on at your own risk, possible SPOILERS ahoy.

If you’re not familiar with the story (for some strange reason), the cliff-notes version is, girl feels awkward in life, drawn to a guy who’s mysterious and gorgeous, wackiness ensues.  In the first book, Bella, our title character discovers the truth about Edward and his family, falling in love with a vampire.  On the shoulders of such pop culture phenomena as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, author Stephanie Meyer adds to the lore, allowing the vampires to be seen in daylight among other curious changes.  The first story is more of an introduction to the relationship between Bella and Edward and the impact it will have on the rest of the characters.  Edward knows he should avoid Bella, but can’t because she is ‘perfect’ for him, though she never truly understands this.  The first book ends happily ever after in the sense that they are going to work on being together.  In the second book, New Moon, Bella, frequently accident-prone, has a mishap at the Cullen house and Edward leaves town, sending Bella into a depressive state. She is only woken from this by her childhood friend Jacob.  The two hit it off, but Bella never cares for Jacob the way he cares for her.  In an effort to spice things up in her life, she goes cliff-diving, causing a domino effect that almost sees Edward commit suicide.  Bella races to Italy with Alice to save him.  At the end of the second book, Edward proposes to Bella, despite her being underage.  In the third book, the antagonist from the first book returns, wreaking havoc and bringing to light, once again, that Bella is weak in her state as a human.  The majority of the third book revolves around the romantic triangle between Jacob, Bella and Edward.  Stalwart fans know Bella would never chose anyone over Edward, but Jacob continues to pine for her.  The third book ends with Jacob running off and Edward and Bella preparing their wedding, after their high school graduation.  I could make some comments on this, but I’ll just press right through.

The final book was anticlimactic to say the least, but the story is based solely on being in love, not to be confused with Harry Potter, where Harry is faced with issues of right and wrong and making difficult decisions. In the films, the directors have done fantastic jobs turning the weak source material into something watchable.  Breaking Dawn, the final book, had the movie broken into two parts.  I’ve posted a review for the first movie, you can read it if you like.  The second movie picks up right where the first leaves off.  Bella has transformed to a vampire and her transformation is astounding.  The change in Kristen Stewart, while subtle, is exactly as I had imagined it while I’d read it.  Bella’s new worldview is amazing to see.  The focus of the books has always been from Bella’s perspective, and having her transform and allow the audience to experience the new wonders of being immortal gave a sense of closure I didn’t expect I needed.  The cast of characters expands drastically in the final movie, bringing the global concept of vampires to an entirely new level.  Carlisle, the leader of the Cullen clan, goes to great lengths find as many allies as he can once they know the Volturi (read governing body for vampires) believe Bella has created an immortal child, a kid vampire.  The crisis becomes all too real once Alice vanishes with Jasper, leaving the rest of the Cullen’s to wonder what she is playing at.  As a vampire, Bella too possesses a super power, one that explains Edward’s inability to read her, though does not explain her visions in New Moon.  Bella is able to extend this skill with some help.  The final battle in the movie culminates in a slight ‘gotcha’ for both author and director.  I will refrain from giving it away, the ending providing a type of ‘almost’ situation that probably should have happened, Meyer too fearful to kill off any of her beloved characters.

The movie was the best twilight movie without a doubt.  But as I’ve heard all week, that isn’t saying much. The Twilight series is not a life-changing series, the struggles Bella faces are based mostly on her romantic interests and little else.  This vapid, somewhat shallow goal makes the entire series pale in comparison to other more heart-wrenching series.  To make the Twilight series have a greater meaning was a tall task, but was done in a somewhat agreeable fashion.  The movies increased the tension in predictable ways, not taking anything away from the books, adding value with a surprisingly good cast.  The cast is the one thing that surprised me the most.  There will always be detractors for Kristen Stewart, and as someone who’s normally not a fan of hers, I was thoroughly impressed by her transformation from the first movie to this final movie.  She never wavered, ignoring the critics and delivering, what I would argue, is an absolutely stunning performance as the title character in a world-wide beloved series.  Stewart raised her quality as vampire Bella and did so in a way that made me respect everything she’s been through with this franchise.  In comparison, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner were mediocre, the rest of the cast paling in comparison to Stewart’s provoking performance.  I really can’t say enough about how I was just shocked by her delivery of the role.  She could have hammed it up, dialled it in as Tobey Maguire and co famously did in the final Spiderman movies.   The final touch that really convinced me of this was the credits, not even Potter took the time to do this, though Rings did.  The credits rolled with images of every actor in almost any role for the entire series, including those that weren’t seen in the final instalment.  There is a lot you can say that is wrong with the Twilight series, but they are a class act.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Movie Review: The Man With the Iron Fists

Normally I don’t go in for movies that have questionable plots from the trailers alone, but my friend is a Tarantino fan, so we decided to give it $6 and an hour and a half, neither of which will I ever get back.  I’ll do my best to summarise, but basically, the story follows the local blacksmith who outfits local gangs with weapons, hoping to free his whore girlfriend so they can be together.  Stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu make curious appearances in this weak, nonsensical story.  The blacksmith creates many different weapons, doing his best to avoid the brewing conflict.  The governor of the district sends a shipment of gold through their village and everything unravels.

What progresses after this is drivel, at best.  Rza as the leading actor is weak, his intonation and cadence unbearable and unbelievable throughout.  Despite having A-list stars in the cast, the story can’t be helped by their presence and the absurdity of this compounds with over-the-top action sequences that even the Kung Fu movies it is mimicking might shudder to see.  There is no saving grace for this movie and no reason to torture yourself unless you have a few hours to kill.  As I walked out of the theatre, there was a man sitting in the front section of the theatre who had fallen asleep.  That says it all.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

Video gaming has been a part of our culture for decades.  The idea of what happens when the games are turned off is very similar to the premise of Toy Story; when the owner is away, the toys will play.  In a somewhat unoriginal vein, Wreck It Ralph follows the main antagonist of Felix Fix It game as he realises that everyone in his game hates him and he doesn’t like being disliked.  When the game hits its thirtieth anniversary, the situation becomes increasingly frustrating for Ralph and he leaves his game to obtain a medal to prove he isn’t a bad guy.

On his way to his medal, won in a first-person shooter style game, like Halo, Ralph obtains his medal, but accidentally shoots out of the hero game to a candy racing game.  In the candy racing game, he encounters Vanellope von Schweetz.  She spots his medal and takes it as her own, planning on using it to enter the race in her game.  Running off with the medal, Ralph is forced to chase her down and ends up embroiled in the situation in her racing game.  While Ralph has run out of his game, this forces Felix to find him and he meets Sergeant Calhoun, who is also after Ralph and an alien he may have assisted in leaving the hero game.

What transpires after this is hilarious and creates some very amusing sequences.  The most notable for me were the cameo’s from other games, like Cubert and Street Fighter.  Ralph was a likable villain, his desire to be accepted perfectly reasonable.  The story with Vanellope was also sweet, befriending each other, both outcasts and finding a common ground.  As kids movies go, this one was as good as Despicable Me, but not better.  I haven’t loved the Pixar movies of late, so I’d argue this is better.  The fact that I am a gamer does sway my opinion.

The cast was, unsurprisingly, amazing.  Everyone was believable and the voices matched the characters well.  I didn’t recognise everyone as I watched, but in some ways, that means I wasn’t distracted by it.  Without spoiling the ending completely, this was a very well told story and well worth watching.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Movie Review: Silent Hill Revelation

 For whatever reason, we all always associate October with scary movies.  Halloween is only one day of the month, yet the scares seem to continue for the entire month.  If you ask me, December should be a month for horror movies, or maybe February.  In what will be the final horror movie for me this month, I saw Silent Hill yesterday.  I didn’t have high expectations, the first movie was only okay, a slight image of the fantastic gaming series, but the sequel didn’t add much to the storied franchise.

The story follows Sharon, the daughter from the first movie who was returned to her father, her mother being lost within Silent Hill.  As per any horror movie, she moves to a new school, meets a new friend and loses her father all in one day.  Her father is taken by those from Silent Hill, knowing they need her to return to get out of their self-inflicted purgatory.  Sharon travels back to Silent Hill with her new friend Vincent, who she quickly discovers is someone from Silent Hill, but wants to help her, not harm her.  Once they get to Silent Hill, all kinds of crazy, scary things happen.  Unlike the other two horror movies I saw this month, none of it fazed me.

The story was utterly forgettable, the ideas unoriginal and uninspired.  What has turned into an annual occurrence for Resident Evil to be a fun movie, is not nearly as interesting for Silent Hill.  I liked the references to the game, and there were quite a few, the story just seemed stale.  The idea of Silent Hill is about disturbing reveals and terrifying environment, neither of these things occurred in this movie.  From the very beginning, I was unimpressed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Sean Bean fan, but his American accent is just comical.  I found it distracting from the moment he opened his mouth and couldn’t stop being distracted by it.  He just seemed out of place in what I can only describe as a ‘B’ movie.  What makes Resident Evil so interesting is the star power from Milla Jovovich, whereas Silent Hill has no such power and thus no charisma or draw.  The Michelle Williams look-a-like, Adelaide Clemens, was good, but not great.  I missed Radha Mitchell.  She was the perfect protagonist from the original movie, and as per most Silent Hill stories, you rarely identify with Alessa, but as someone being sucked into the lore of Silent Hill.  Of the three horror movies I’ve seen this month, this is one you can absolutely skip.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Supernatural Spotlight: Bitten

Remember those episode spotlights I did for a while last year?  Well, after watching last night’s episode of Supernatural (read SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it), I feel compelled to pick it up again.  Remember, this ep aired last night here in the states, so if you’re not caught up with SPN Season 8, then please stop reading so you don’t curse me out later.

In this episode, as summarised perfectly at, the story starts as a ‘found’ footage story, a la Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch Project.  We’ve only seen the series do this once with Ghostfacers, but the end result was still pretty amazing.  The story follows three friends, one who is the geeky, timid kid with the cameras, the other is his suave friend and his girlfriend.  As per any episode of Supernatural, there are demons and murder and a good deal of gore.  It would be impossible for me not to spoil the ending without saying why the episode was so affecting, but I’ll do my best to gloss over the details.

While following a local bully, the two friends get separated, one of them attacked by a mysterious creature.  The other friend finds him and takes him home.  Once home, the cuts miraculously heal, and he’s stronger after the attack.  While this is occurring, the Winchester brothers are investigating the story, unaware of the constant filming.  Many long-time SPN fans dislike the minimisation of the Winchester boys, but it actually makes for great storytelling.

As the one friend grows stronger, and somewhat inadvertently kills the bully, the geeky friend decides he wants this power as well.  A scuffle ensues and while the one friend just wants to leave well enough alone, the geeky friend won’t have it and they both become infected with being purebred werewolves.  As insane as this story is, the twist comes with the discovery of the main werewolf and how the video was left for the two brothers to find later.  The big reveal has the girlfriend alive, the only one to survive.  If you’re a fan of SPN at all, you know Dean is known for never letting anything get away.  But in a surprise twist, Dean agrees with Sam, and they decide to give the girl a chance instead of hunting her down.

I’ll be the first to admit that this show screams ‘jumped the shark’ with every other episode, but in this one, they got it right.  The idea for SPN has grown stale, they keep hunting the same demons, trying to defeat Lucifer, trying to defeat whatever the writers can come up with.  But in this episode, you see a lot of character and heart and a story that makes you feel badly for the victim who ultimately is a monster herself.  The girl leaves a pleading message, begging the brothers not to hunt her down, and as per maybe one or two other instances, they let her go.

The draw for Supernatural (SPN) isn’t the scares, but the characters, something that makes Bones never feel old to me.  Just a few weeks ago, I was so bored with an episode of SPN I couldn’t sit still, flipping through games (though, I could also blame the NLCS for being too exciting).  I wish the writers would focus more on compelling characters instead of making bigger, meaner baddies for the boys to fight.  It is rare to see one good episode a year, anymore, but if you only watch one new SPN ep this year, let it be this one.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 4

If you’re still reading this blog, then you know I tend to watch an awful lot of scary movies, despite the fact that I am a scaredy cat, proudly confessed!  Last week, Sinister had me on pins and needles throughout, with this latest sequel for Paranormal Activity, I may have covered my eyes more often than not, I still didn’t feel petrified.

Paranormal Activity 4 picks up where Paranormal Activity 2 left off.  Katie has absconded with her nephew and she is taken to the hospital was soon as the movie begins.  The boy staying with him is forced to stay across the street with the neighbours and all kinds of strange things begin to happen.  The ‘twist’ in the movie did take me by surprise, but the family that is haunted is truly unknowing of their peril until it is far too late.  The movie follows the oldest daughter as she keeps her webcam on her laptop and phone on at all times, and gets her boyfriend to assist with turning the cameras on all the computers in the house and XBOX.

The beauty of good horror movies is that they make you feel comfortable and then tear that feeling away with reckless abandon.  What the original Paranormal Activity accomplished was to deliver a true ‘home movie’ style movie made famous by Blair Witch Project.  In the first sequel, the story delves deeper into the lore, following the events that occurred prior to the first movie, showing why the demon was following the one sister so suddenly.  The story ties between the first two movies were delivered well. In the third movie, the story flashes back to the two sisters’ childhood and the origin of their ‘friend’ and his connexion to the family.  The ending of the fourth movie lent itself well to the ending of the fourth movie, but at long last, the scares have finally become stale.

I was scared, don’t get me wrong.  But I didn’t find the story nearly as compelling, despite some very believable performances from some young actors.  The idea that the demon keeps haunting people stunts the overall story.  I understand that the endings can’t be ‘good,’ but by the same token, there has to be some end in sight, and yet again, there is none.  I respect what the franchise has accomplished, but for me, this might be my last time going.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Movie Review: Sinister

Rarely does a horror movie deliver scares from start to finish, forcing me to cover my eyes for extended sequences.  The story of Sinister is, honestly, nothing new.  Many a famous writer has gone down this path, but yet the writers made this story seem fresh.  Writer Ellison Oswalt, played perfectly by Ethan Hawke, is struggling to write another break-out novel.  Ten years after his only real hit, Oswalt moves his family to a small town into a house that previously had a murder in it.  His only really successful book was a true crime novel and he decides to track down another unsolved crime.  As they arrive into town, the sheriff greats him, telling him to move along and not paint the town in a bad light.  He ignores this advice and begins to set his office up.  Putting their boxes away, he finds a box left in the attic, one they did not bring.  Part of his method is to delve into every last detail, and he happily jumps into the home movies, made on the old school film, not even VHS, but actual film.

The home movies reveal the actual footage of the deaths of the previous occupants.  Instead of sharing this information with his wife, or two kids, he hides it, resorting to drinking.  As the days pass, more and more strange things occur.  The videos are disjointed, each one as much as several decades apart.  Each film depicts the way the family was killed, one child missing in each one.  Oswalt studies each one, getting assistance from a local deputy who investigates the locations of the murders that are nondescript.  The second time he views the films, he notices a face in the woods of the first film, the one taken outside of the family’s new house.  The face is out of focus, and as he gets up to take a close look, the film catches fire.  Thankfully, Google gives him a way to salvage the super 8 film and he gets a blurry shot of the man, if you can call him that.  At this point he gets some good advice from the local deputy and connects with a local professor to provide some backstory to the person.

The replay of each film proves the man can be seen in almost each one, or a strange symbol recurring.  While this is going on, he encounters various strange things, including a few vermin and a large dog.  During one particularly scary sequence, he hears sounds, but as the viewer, we see the missing children running through the house.  It isn’t until the scares amp up that Oswalt finally realises he has involved his family in.  With a light of the film, he barks at his wife to pack the kids and they leave.  As per all movies from the studios that brought Paranormal Activity, the story doesn’t end there.  Unfortunately, once seen a first time, the entity never truly leaves you.  The end is as chilling as the films of the gruesome deaths.  The only thing more affecting would be seeing the next family to be embroiled into the horror.

Hawke was truly magnificent in this movie.  As a has-been author, Hawke possessed the tenacity to not realise when the story had become all too real, and still endangered everyone he loved to regain some of his past fame.  The supporting cast was mediocre, at best.  The daughter was more believable than the other two main characters.  The deputy and sheriff were both played very entertainingly, as well as the professor through a web came.  The focus of the film is Ethan Hawke and I have to admit, he was really fantastic in the role.  The story itself was terrifying.  I can’t say what made me so scared, save the face of the thing that was haunting, but the scares came in quick succession, the music perfectly setting up each new scare.  The use of light in the movie made things jumping out more obvious, yet I still couldn’t look away.  Surprisingly, I am still kind of scared, and I saw this movie at 10.30 this morning and it is almost 6.30 in the evening.  I rarely see scary movies that actually scare me well after the fact, but this was one of them.  If you want to be scared, this movie will do that and more.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Movie Review: Perks of Being a Wallflower

If you’ve been under a rock, or don’t watch MTV at all, then you may be utterly unfamiliar with this movie.  I first heard about it as the ‘next big’ movie of one of the former Harry Potter stars.  After going being sure to catch Dan Rad’s first outing, a mediocre horror film, Lady in Black, and seeing the recent Tom Felton entry, Apparition, I thought, let’s go for the trifecta and see Emma Watson’s latest entry in the post-Potter mania.

Perks of Being a Wallflower follows troubled freshmen Charlie, played occasionally well by Logan Lerman, as he copes with missing a year of school and dealing with general teenage awkwardness.  Charlie writes letters throughout the book this movie is based on, the sole vehicle of communication for Charlie in the movie and the narrator.  The book plays the angle well, but leaves much out, the movie leaves even more out.  Charlie has two siblings, one away at college, the other there at home with him and his two parents.  His first few days of high school are not great, but his English teacher, played wonderfully by Paul Rudd, takes a shine to him and sees him as the intelligent kid he is.  During shop class he meets the perfectly cast Patrick, played by Ezra Miller.  Patrick befriends Charlie and introduces him to a world he never knew, including Patrick’s gorgeous sister, played by Emma Watson.

The three go through the school year together, Charlie being several years younger than them and feeling the burn of the separation as the year continues.  Charlie has a crush on Sam, Patrick’s sister, but ends up dating their friend, Mary Elizabeth.  The relationship doesn’t end well and Charlie begins to backslide into bad habits.  As Sam is about to leave for college, Charlie has a huge revelation and realises that his late Aunt Ellen did things to him that he had repressed.

The story is romantic, in a way, but I didn’t find it terribly original.  Many of my friends revered this book, raving about how it had gotten them through tough times and dealing with growing up.  And while I can certainly appreciate how a novel like this can be so affecting, but both the movie and the book left me uninspired.  I didn’t feel better or worse, it just was and shortly thereafter, I forgot it.  Maybe it’s because my friends weren’t drinkers, didn’t do drugs or any of the things the main characters did in the story, so it made it impossible to relate to for me.

At times, the casting was pitch perfect, at other times, less so.  I expected to come out of the movie in awe of Lerman and Watson, but neither shined all that much.  Lerman seemed tentative at all times, as if he were afraid to grasp the role fully, allow his inhibitions to truly go.  I was never convinced that he was troubled, just socially awkward.  Watson is stunning, but when I read the book, the description of Sam was more towards promiscuity than beauty.  While her looks can’t be argued, I expected to see a huge leap forward with this role and didn’t quite see it.  Maybe my expectations were too high, but even Radcliffe seemed more in tune with his role in Lady in Black, and even Felton was better in Apparition.  I just felt unimpressed by her performance and didn’t see any aspect of Sam, but just a watered down, bad ass version of Hermione.  Also, the eyebrow moniker that she has can’t quite be shirked, but she’s getting closer.  Like Lerman, I felt like Watson shied away from the difficult scenes, which were practically every other scene in the movie.  Of the three, Miller was the show-stopper.  He had a quiet hilariousness to his actions and made the character of Patrick come to life.

One thing that frustrated me greatly was the misuse of the amazing cast. I would have loved to see the scene of Candace having the abortion in the movie, as Nina Dobrev was surprisingly convincing as the older sister of the troubled Charlie.  Her best scenes were towards the end of the movie, but were just wonderful.  The adults were perfect, Paul Rudd as the caring teacher, Dylan McDermott as the concerned father and Joan Cusack as the doctor at the very end, all well cast and well played.

Despite the rave reviews, I can’t honestly recommend this movie to anyone. If you liked the book, and God love you, then go see the movie.  If you didn’t, then this might be a rental or a wait for on TV. The subject content isn’t for kids under 18, if you ask me honestly, given the sex, drugs, drinking and sexual abuse, but the story can be touching for those in the younger age bracket.  I’m just glad not to be a parent to opt to take, or not, my kid to this type of movie.  The movie itself was well-made, but I noticed the author of the book also directed the movie and it made me wonder if someone with more experience could have guided the two young stars better with the challenging source material.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Digital Revolution

In this day and age, everything is going digital, the world paperless in the oncoming environment awareness.  I was surprised, and disappointed, to see that all three teams I have season tickets for are partaking in this action, abandoning the tradition of paper tickets, authentic pieces of memorabilia and nostalgia.

In the spring, the Washington Nationals sent a letter to all Season Ticket Holders (STH).  Enclosed in the letter were red cards, non-descript, with the STH’s name and account number.  This was to be the ‘ticket’ of the future.  No more would we have to fumble with paper tickets, mistaking one for the other or losing or misplacing them.  No, now we would have this cards, little more than hotel key cards, that counted for our several thousand dollar purchase.  When I saw this, I thought it was a joke, the baseball season does start around April 1.  I threw the cards in a pile of other pieces of mail, quickly forgotten.

Fast forward to the middle of September, I receive an e-mail from the Nationals, reminding me that there will be no paper tickets next year, but to use my fake looking hotel key card as a ticket.  This will make it easier for me to attend games, they tell me, because I won’t have to remember those pesky paper tickets.  Imagine my horror and outrage when I get back-to-back e-mails yesterday from the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals telling me they too are going paperless.

I’m a unique case, I know.  I don’t know a lot of people that have three sets of season tickets.  It started out simply enough, I wanted to make sure I had playoff tickets for the Capitals.  When the option to get season tickets opened, I got on the wait list, with three thousand of my closest friends, hoping that I’d get a chance.  I was shocked and, perhaps, overly enthusiastic when I got my chance.  Tickets were going fast, so they said, and I grabbed the first two seats that were next to each other.  That may sound odd, but they did try to sell me tickets that were in front of one another.  Sounds like the perfect date night, right?  Luckily, I got seats in the VIP section Acela Club, comes with food and a parking pass.  Great deal?  Absolutely.  At upwards of $15,000 a year, not all that manageable to pay solo, so I had to think outside the box.

I’m a top-rated power seller on e-bay, and while there is the option to use Ticketmaster and its exorbitant fees (I’ll revisit this later), I knew I could make more money selling the tickets I couldn’t use on my own.  Is this a violation of my ticket contract with the Capitals?  I asked this to my rep and the answer I got was no, as long as the people using the seats never got thrown out.  This leads me to a very important conclusion, the seats, the tickets, are mine, to do with as I please, not to abuse them, but sell or give them away as I see fit.

The first year I had the Capitals tickets, I lost in excess of $4000 of my own money because I couldn’t sell more than half of the tickets and was unwilling to let them go to waste, so I attended far more games than I meant to.  The following year, Ticketmaster adjusted their online rules slightly, but the best place to sell was still on e-bay, Craigslist or the like.  I found a great buyer last year and didn’t lose money until I got to the playoffs.  This may surprise some of you, but people actually don’t want to pay the cost of tickets for playoff games.  It makes me nervous as I try to sell my Nationals playoff tickets.

So what does all this mean?  Long story short, and it’s too long already, I know, I pay a premium for my season tickets and should be able to use them however I deem.

According to the teams, the new digital tickets will be easier to use.  I’m not sure what they base this off of, but in an e-mail from the Wizards, they want so far as to claim that should you forget your tickets or pull the wrong ones out of the ticket book, now you don’t have to worry.  My counterpoint to this is, if you’re that stupid that you can’t see what game you’re going to and what day of the week it is, you have other issues and probably shouldn’t be spending in excess of $3000 on tickets, and that’s on the low end.

According to the teams, the plastic hotel card is superior to paper tickets.  This one I can’t even begin to understand.  I sat next to a father and son the day Edwin Jackson pitched a complete game (in April) and they had season tickets.  The look on the kids face as he stared at the authentic piece of memorabilia was priceless.  Do you remember your first time at a game or concert?  Do you still have the ticket stub?  I do.  I keep all my ticket stubs, I love the look and feel of them, the care taken in the picture selection, all of it.  Maybe I’m old school, maybe I’m out of touch, but to me, the season ticket holder should be set apart from the rest of the people, having something unique that makes their tickets (not hotel cards) something special and unique.

According to the teams, this change to digital tickets is included in the price we already pay.  Great, so where’s the money I’m paying for the paper tickets?  I know it’s hidden under a by-line in the contract telling me I have no rights, but if you’re charging me for paper tickets or digital tickets, shouldn’t I get to choose?  My season ticket prices have never decreased, not even once, and yet somehow, they’re saving money, no doubt, on the new digital ticket, but am I seeing that savings?  Of course not, that’s absurd.  If you’re going to charge me for my tickets, then give me the paper tickets.

According to the teams, this will be the exact same thing as having real paper tickets from the ticket book.  I’m running out of words to describe the complete idiocy and disrespect exhibited here.  According to the Nationals, Wizards and Capitals, if I print a piece of paper from my computer, with a bar code and a logo of the team, that’s somehow the same as the hard plastic tickets or the cardboard ones I receive in the mail?  When I got my first set of season tickets, only a few years ago, I was awed and humbled by how eye-catching they were, how they made me, as an attendee, feel like I was someone special, because I was in the vaunted group of season ticket holder.  Not everyone can afford it, most don’t care, I agree, but there are many of us that do.  There are games I attend, and I see Caps fans with dozens of pins in their hat or on their lanyard, each pin indicating another year they were a Season Ticket Holder.  In all their brilliance and glory, the teams are taking this right away.  No longer will we have any special ticket to place in the lanyard around our necks.  No, I can print a piece of paper from my computer and somehow that’s the exact same thing.  I may not be a genius, but I’m not that stupid either.

Finally, and this is really all I have left.  If you insist on taking our money, money we paid for paper tickets, at least let us choose to get the paper or digital version.  If that isn’t amenable, as teams are rarely amenable or even willing to listen to their consumers, then how about this: I will pay the $300 or so that it probably costs you for my paper tickets.  Isn’t that a fair deal?  Isn’t that what you want?  As teams, you aren’t providing a service now, are you, you’re taking our money, so if we offer more money, you’ll certainly take it, won’t you? 

To advertise tickets and not actually provide any physical tickets is laughable and deplorable.  I expected to be treated better for paying $3000+ for Wizards tickets, $12000+ for 2 years with the Nationals and $50000+ for the Capitals for 3 years.  This is a sobering reminder to all of us, corporate America is just that.  The concerns of the ‘little’ people who support big business are meaningless.  As long as they get our money, it makes no difference.  Someone else will come along and pay and they’ll win.

If you are a season ticket holder to any of the above teams and are as upset by this change as I am, please, please e-mail your guest service representative immediately.  They are not responsible for the change, but they are the only ones that can let our voices be heard.  I’ve tweeted at Ted Leonisis and gotten no response, and expect the same from those at that level, but as a group, we can protest and hope that perhaps, by the time the season begins for the NHL at least (next season), maybe we can get what we paid for.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Movie Review: Resident Evil Retribution

In an annual entry, Resident Evil has released another movie and it adds to the already rich tapestry from the games.  In this latest entry, Alice is once again being hounded by zombies, but not Wesker, the former head of Umbrella, and the usual villain in the series.  Noticeably missing from the line-up of characters are the Redfields, but it was nice to see game favourites Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong and Jill Valentine.  While I have my own view of how they should act and look, the actors somehow made it work, though it won’t ever be the same.  I thought Ada Wong was the most accurate, but that might just be me.

Alice, played purposefully by Milla Jovovich, cruises through throng after throng of enemies, less zombies and more of the ‘other’ enemies seen in the RE games.  Seeing the reappearance of a Licker is something I still don’t care for, but I’m waiting for the Steel Maiden to show up.  While the plot is no less convoluted than any other RE movie, the story flows smoothly as Leon leads a group to find and save Alice and rescue her from within the Umbrella testing facility.  The concept of clones and copies of people crop up throughout the story and fan favourites like Rain Ocampo and Carlos Olivera reappear.  Alice makes her way through the facility, and once she gets out, is confronted by Rain and Jill, the latter having Scarab Appliance forcing her to fight Alice.  After a heated battle, presumably leaving another fan favourite dead, Alice confronts Wesker and sees what has happened to the world.  The ending leaves the assumption of a sequel.

Though I love the games, the movies have an aura about them that make them a totally separate experience.  While I’m not usually a fan of an episodic format for movies, this one stands on its own and the special effects, IMAX and 3D are just stunning.  The story continues to delve into the characters, and their relationships to Alice, and the reappearance of past characters makes it fit into the mythology well. What I felt lacking was the movie was truly a part, a piece of the series.  It certainly could stand on its own, but felt very much like we’re waiting on the next entry to continue the journey.  Whether you’re a fan of Resident Evil or not, this movie is well worth seeing, but don’t expect to feel any sort of closure once the ending credits begin to run.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Movie Review: The Possession

Movies about possession aren’t new, and this movie doesn’t bring anything new to the genre.  Despite that, I still found myself in a state of fear throughout the movie.  One might argue that I’m just the scared type, but I see a lot of horror movies and am usually not forced to cover my eyes for fear of seeing something that might follow me home.

In The Possession, the story is based, loosely, of off a true story, a story which was featured in Entertainment Weekly about a month ago.  In it, the story was revealed that the chest of which the story is based, was found at an estate sale, the seller unwilling to take it back after several attempts.  The buyer bought it and left it in the basement of their establishment, having to rush back to the place after the workers reported troubling sounds coming from the basement.  What followed was a series of strange incidents that could never be substantiated, but led to poor health to any who encountered the box.  The scary aspect of this story is that the ‘curse’ was never truly explained, there was no warning prior to anything happening, and this could occur to anyone.

The movie follows the story of a divorced couple, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick, who are taking care of their children at regular intervals.  On one weekend with the father, the kids happen upon a yard sale, where the youngest of his kids finds and asks to buy a box with no hinges.  The father obliges and the girl is troubled by it within twenty-four hours.  The parents are utterly baffled by the behaviour of their daughter, things becoming stranger and stranger.

The story ends as most of these stories do, with no lives truly lost, but the series of jump-inducing scenes increasing as the movie draws to a close.  While Morgan and Sedgwick are believable parents, there is nothing that compels you to be drawn in by their performance.  If anything, I felt the camaraderie from the two sisters, played wonderfully by Madison Davenport (Hannah) and Natasha Calis (Em) are what drew me further into the story.  The relationship never took centre stage, but the few instances they were featured, their mental state and concern for one another was palpable.  The Rabbi who helps them is played by Matisyahu and was likable, but also funny at times where he perhaps shouldn’t have been.

I wanted to really like this movie, especially given the glut of horror movie, but I found it forgettable soon after seeing it.  The movie delivers great scares, but I can’t imagine any movie, or story, building off of what The Exorcist did so many years ago.  Whether it is Christianity or Judaism that is the focus of the exorcism, the plot seems to be the same in every movie and it becomes tiresome.  I would love to see a ‘new’ possession story, but I doubt we’d ever see it on the big screen, because Hollywood sticks to what is tried, tired and true.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Movie Review: Apparition

Apparition does little to bring anything new to the genre of horror, but avoids obvious pratfalls that doom better stories.  The cast is made up of B-level actors from powerhouse franchises, such as Harry Potter and Twilight, but you wouldn’t know it.  With even a mediocre script I would expect more from both Ashley Greene and Tom Felton, but was disappointed at their stereotypical acting.  I was more terrified by the trailer for the upcoming Paranormal Activity 4 than I was throughout the entire movie.

The story revolves around a move into a new house, the happy couple, Kelly and Ben, the latter played by Sebastian Stan, begin to discover strange things going on in the house.  Ben seems to be unfazed by this, but Kelly becomes increasingly troubled.  Things come to a head when Kelly discovers found footage on Ben’s computer of he and his friends trying to bring a ghost into our world.  Of course, things don’t go according to plan and Ben’s then-girlfriend vanishes into thin air.  The ghost is continuing to haunt the last remaining people who tried to bring the being to life, including Patrick, played by Tom Felton.  Once he joins them, they try to send the entity back where it came from.  They perform an anti-séance and think the trouble has vanished, but it hasn’t.  It consumes Patrick and goes after Kelly and Ben.  To avoid giving away anymore of the tepid story, the ending lacks punch, but wraps up in under an hour and a half.

What this movie lacks in ingenuity it makes up for in boredom.  There were scares, don’t get me wrong.  I covered my eyes at varying intervals, but scares that you don’t expect are the only thing the movie truly delivers.  The story never truly resolves itself, the ending leaving the audience in the throes of wondering what happened, and possibly realising it was the villain that won.  As I said before, I expected more from Greene and Felton.  They both delivered textbook wooden performances, showing little range outside of what I imagine was a mediocre script.  I know I shouldn’t throw stones in a glass house, but this is one of those movies where you look at the cast, the budget, which wasn’t meagre, and wonder what went wrong.  The story had potential, but fell flat.  Who’s to blame?  I blame myself for hoping that Greene and Felton would deliver great performances in their first really outings outside of Twilight and Potter, but that didn’t happen.  This is a rental, maybe.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Can’t Put the Fun in Funeral

It seems to happen more often than not, but people are born, people get married and people die, the major events that litter all our lives.  While I could discuss the where and why I was at a funeral, I think it would be a disservice to the person who passed.  The tone of this blog is, hopefully, much more conversational.

Attendance: Just Show Up

One thing I noticed in the audience was how many people not in my age group were there.  I realise that most people who die are old, which is such a flawed statement I can hardly stand looking at it, but it has some truth to it.  If people are allowed to lead a rich, full life, then they die towards the end of said life.  It stands to reason that most people who would attend a funeral are the person’s peers.  In this case, the woman worked at a non-profit that had quite a few young people in it, myself included.  She sat next to me for several years, tolerated my silliness and lack of professionalism with grace.  She was well liked and well known.  But when I looked around the church, I could count on one hand who many young adults there were that weren’t related to the family.

I don’t know if this is an issue with all of my peers, but it needs to be fixed, rectified and acknowledged.  Just because you feel uncomfortable or don’t ‘like’ funerals isn’t a reason to be rude or disrespectful.  Swallow your pride, take a deep breath and pay your respects to someone, be kind and be giving.  Funerals aren’t fun for anyone, and I saw a great outpouring of support from the company I had been with, and it made me feel good.  It made me feel good that I’d taken the time that not one of my friends did and pay respects to someone who had been kind and comforting, a great contrast to the turmoil that still plagues the association.

Get over yourself and attend a funeral!

It Isn't Baseball, so Crying is OK

I realise that some people hire mourners to make appearances at these sorts of events, but that isn’t necessary, not really.  Funerals are sad, you’re celebrating the fact that you will never see someone ever again.  Funerals are permanent and forever, and it is sad.  We don’t go because we want to grab onto the casket and go under with them (though movies and TV would make you think so).  It is okay to cry, to be upset, to lament what you should have said or done that you can’t change now.

I foolishly only brought 2 tissues, and paid for it, but I think there really should be standing boxes strewn about, it isn’t like they won’t be needed.  It is totally reasonable to cry your eyes out and be fine as soon as you exit the church.

The only caveat I’d bring to this is there doesn’t need to be overly demonstrative crying going on.  It is distracting, I grant you, but it is probably not always appropriate.  I know this might be a touchy subject, but at least I’ll do my part to keep it to silent crying, and maybe we all can give it a try?

How Long Should a Service Be?

I sometimes wonder when I’m sitting in really long services if secretly the person who passed is chuckling at how silly we all are crying for hours on end.  This is more of – if you’re about to die or host a funeral, it doesn’t need to lag on.  People are already upset that are there, to make them sit through tearful speeches without ‘assistance’ is slightly unkind.  Being Muslim, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy that anyway.

I have only attended a few funerals, the Muslim ones I’ve gone to have been short and sweet, in and out and at someone’s house enjoying eats within an hour.  Christian funerals are much more orchestrated and requiring a lot of standing up and sitting down, and also singing.  I won’t lie, I didn’t sing, but I did get up and down countless times.

I can’t say that if a loved one has died you don’t have the right to make a speech, and I was treated to some great speeches today, but on the whole, they are usually depressing and involve a lot of crying by the speaker.  I was pleasantly surprised when the kids of the woman who passed had some hilarious stories that weren’t denigrating, but just were, and they made me smile.

All in all, a funeral shouldn’t be something to make people even sadder.  We all know what we are facing and we will cope in our own way, the key, to me, is to make the transition for everyone that much more bearable.  Tell a funny story, an anecdote, a quote, something embarrassing, but don’t make people cry even more than they already are!

The one thing I want to really highlight was how nice it was to see so many familiar faces supporting one another.  Family doesn’t just mean the people you’re genetically related to.  Family can be anything, as wide-reaching as a university experience and as tight-knit as a small department.  You spend more time at work than you do at home, to deny that you care about the people you work with might seem ‘cool,’ it is childish.  I’m glad I went and I wish more people my age would understand the importance of attending funerals.  Funerals aren’t about having fun, but paying your respects to someone who deserves it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne series is based off of a book of the same name, the first piece of the trilogy featuring Matt Damon.  The profitable franchise expanded its scope and added a new operative, Aaron Cross, played by southpaw Jeremy Renner.  The sequence of events for the latest Bourne movie takes place during the previous Bourne movies, if I was following the story correctly.

Aaron Cross is one of several operatives that are out in the field, taking medication to continue to be physically and intellectually superior to all others.  Cross is in the wilderness when the whole operation back in the States begins to go nuclear, and everything is being shut down, meaning they are killing all the evidence, operatives included.  Of course, Cross gets away, but realises he needs his meds to continue to survive or he will certainly be killed.  Enter Dr Marta Shearing, played wonderfully by Rachel Weisz.  Cross remembers her at the lab and seeks her out, only to find her embroiled in a serious situation with a co-worker shooting everyone in the lab except her.  Given the greater cleansing occurring, Shearing is set to also be eliminated, but Cross swoops in at the last second, saving her and concisely telling her it’s either his side or death.

The two embark on an adventure to get Cross the medicine he needs, flying to Manila.  The varying scenes in Manila are beautiful set pieces, bringing the action to a subtle high with various chases and shootouts.  Shearing manages to get Cross what he needs, but the agency sends another operative after Cross and Shearing, creating a wonderful series of action sequences that are supposed to eclipse those in the first Bourne movies.

During the action sequences with Cross and Shearing, the offset scenes in offices with Edward Norton intensify the tension that is occurring far away from them.  While the story continues onward, there are slight inclusions of the larger story with Jason Bourne, as if to tie the series back together, but created more confusion than anything for those not familiar with series, such as myself.

For the most part, the movie was passably entertaining.  I never felt truly compelled by Cross’ story, though Renner was more than believable as a pitiable character prior to his inclusion in the program.  Shearing was your typical scientist, pretending to focus on the science and not the consequences of her actions.  Neither are terribly interesting, but the chemistry between the two main characters makes the story worth watching.  Renner and Weisz are fantastic together, Norton plays the usual stuffed shirt, with much of the previous Bourne cast in the wings.  I have never found the Bourne stories all that interesting and am sad to say that this followed that pattern.  I had wanted to give the franchise a second chance with a new leading man, but it was the same idea, with nothing to make me want to come back.