2013 – New Year, Same Blog

2013 is a new year, but this is going to turn into a new blog.  My life has changed a lot in the last year and it’s time I get back to maintaining this blog.  There are other things in my life to maintain now too, of course, but I have some New Year’s resolutions that I hope to keep.  Here’s the resolutions to start the year off:

  1. Write a review of every movie I watch.  Every single one.  This starts very soon – I am already behind.  I owe the world reviews of Lincoln, This Is 40, Looper, John Carter, The Conspirator, The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained, and Zero Dark Thirty.  I have a long week ahead of me writing these, but if I write them shortly after viewing, I should be able to maintain.
  2. Start exercising.  Nothing fancy, no hard goals here for weight loss or distance running.  Just regular, routine exercise.  This is probably the most important of my resolutions.
  3. Master the four pass shave.  This does not mean that I won’t wind up with any bleeders.  But it does mean I should have good control of my angles, and I should probably have even dexterity with both hands.
  4. Read 15 books.  This is arguably the hardest of my resolutions.  Especially considering I haven’t read one chapter since 1/1/2013 yet, and the next two books I’m slated to read – as I’m already well into the Song Of Ice and Fire series – are well over 1,000 pages.  Perhaps I should count those as four books?  Regardless, I want to read more, I need to read more, and this is my attempt to do so.
  5. Complete all of my outstanding projects.  This includes my quadcopter, a couple website builds, learning to use a CNC at the local hackerspace, and, of course, all the house work.  No more talking about how cool or nice it would be – it will be done!

The trick, really, is going to be fitting this much in with a new daughter.  Family time is hard enough between work hours – how will I do the rest?  That is the real trick.

Film Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Rated: PG-13
Rating: ** (two stars out of five)

I’ve waffled for some time about whether I should give this two or three stars.  I’ve decided on two.  It just wasn’t that good, but all the spiffy, reflective robots had me thinking it was better.

I was not a terribly big fan of the first film.  In the transition from one website to another, my original review has been lost.  I gave that film two stars as well.

Revenge of the Fallen begins with a cheesy voice-over from Optimus Prime, providing some of the most unneeded narration I’ve heard.  The opening starts with some strong action, as the Auto-Bots find and eliminate another Decepticon.  The move doesn’t get much better than that.

The general plot revolves around Transformers lore and the history of the Prime’s – the strongest, truest Auto-Bots.  The last of the Prime’s is Optimus.  Well, that’s not exactly correct – there are two Prime’s left.  The other is The Fallen, Megatron’s mean mentor, who fell from grace after attempting to destroy Earth.

One of my biggest complaints in the first film was the lack of clear visuals on what should have been a major achievement in CG animation.  Even the scene immortalized in the previews of Optimus fighting with another bot on a freeway was blurry at best.  The amount of work, the sheer count of polygons and moving parts – that should have been crystal clear on screen.  It wasn’t.  And it’s not here either. 

Another major complaint was the lack of Michael Bay’s typical gorgeous use of color and dust.  Bay is nothing if not a master of action, and, while some may successfully argue that his films are weak, they are incredibly colorful with very beautiful violence.  The first film was obviously lacking in Bay’s usual flair.

Luckily, this film does add some of that flair.  But it’s not enough to make it a better film.  The characters are weak.  The story is overly complicated.  The animation is blurry.  The action isn’t noteworthy until the end.

And the end … the brief, anti-climactic ending … the voice-over narration again.  Oh, the agony.

Two stars is plenty for this film, and that’s simply because the action at the end of the film is quite good.  Anticlimactic for it’s finale, but quite good until then.

Film Review: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by: Andrew Dominik, Ron Hansen (novel)
Rated: R
Rating: 5 (five out of five)

When a movie begins with a voice over narration, I can’t help but shudder slightly.  Voice over’s are rarely used in a way that works, and when it does work, the question still remains of why it was there in the first place.  There are notable exceptions that I can easily think of:  Amelie, The Shawshank Redemption, or The Royal Tennenbaums – all use VO narration extremely well.  VO narration can easily destroy a movie, as seen in certain cuts of Blade Runner or the latest Transforrmers movie.

When The Assassination Of Jesse James started with voice over work, combined with it’s runtime of 160 minutes (apparently cut down from over four hours!) – I began sweating.

I’m happy to report that the narration is not only apropos for the story, but it’s also so well written, read, and timed that it makes the movie a true masterpiece.

The story seems painfully obvious from the title.  It is, indeed, about the assassination of the infamous outlaw Jesse James by his own gang member Robert Ford.  On the surface, that is all it is.  In reality it is so much more.

This is a beautiful character study.

The story begins with one of the James Gang’s last robbery’s – a train robbery in Blue Cut, MO, in 1881.  Jesse (Pitt) is already part legend at this point, with his name and made-up deeds gracing the dime store novels across the country.

The voice over narration has already introduced us to Jesse.  Into the serene moments before the robbery, enter Robert Ford (Affleck).  He’s given no graceful introduction.  Instead he enters awkwardly.

Ford is full of hero worship.  He idolizes the James Gang, especially Jesse.  He wants nothing more than to be a part of the Gang, to be a part of Jesse’s life, to be a part of that legend – to be the legend himself.  He wants nothing more than to be Jesse.

His worship has reached such an incredible height that it’s crossed the line into lust.  Jesse is decidedly straight, and a consummation of the affair is impossible.  Both parties know how it must end.

After the Blue Cut train robbery, Jesse splits from his Gang and spends time home with his wife.  There are moments of Jesse as a family man.  There are moments of Jesse as the Gang leader.  Both are in stark contrast with each other.

All the while is Ford, lingering in the background, bringing the doomed conclusion ever closer.  Jesse’s paranoia and suspicions of his own gang members grows and he begins to loose sleep.  His end is known to him.

On one quiet Monday in 1882, the inevitable occurs.  In recorded history, Jesse took of his coat, then removed his guns so his neighbors would not become suspicious of him.  He notices that a picture isn’t hanging quite straight, as he stands on a chair to level the frame, Ford takes the shot.  This movie presents it in a significantly different light – how could Jesse have not know what was coming when he knew everything else?  He was able to skip town days before the police arrived.  He was able to flee a scene moments before the heavy artillery came in.  Why didn’t he flee the moment Ford entered his life and his fate was decided?

The rest of the movie is a poem, and ode of sorts to the ragged life that Ford and his brother Charley (Rockwell), who was present for everything, lead until their respective ends.

The final lines of narration are perfection.

At a runtime of 160 minutes, and with a quiet, deliberate pace, it’s not a movie that the masses of 2008/2009 are looking for.  It’s reminiscent of old-time epics, where the landscape is a character of it’s own (thanks to Roger Deakins gorgeous cinematography).

This is a ridiculously good film.  Beautiful.  Tragic.  Poetic.

Interesting stories

It’s a new year, and I’m looking at beginning this blog anew.  To start things off, I’m going to share a few articles that have peaked my interest.

O.T.I.S.: Flying Monkeys
"Odd Things I’ve Seen" (O.T.I.S.) is one of my favorite blogs to spend a few minutes on every few weeks.  It is exactly what it sounds like, and the "Flying Monkeys" entry is as odd as ever!

10 Fascinating Last Pictures Taken
Whether it the last known picture taken of someone, or the last picture someone took before they perished themselves, this list presents one of the more morbid and interesting lists I’ve found in a long time.

Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine
A lost mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, lined with so much gold that a single tap of your hammer would make you unbelievably rich.  But is it real?

Duchess of Carnegie, 96, Refuses to Leave Home
Editta Sherman has lived in Carnegie Hall since 1947, and now she’s begin evicted.  And as it sounds, she’s refusing to leave.

Apollo 8 Astronauts Remember Historic Voyage
An interesting, though painfully brief, interview with the astronauts from the Apollo 8 mission (the first men to orbit the moon).