12 Jul 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Review

Well last night, after a couple of years of waiting, I finally got to see the new Harry Potter. Let me first say that Order of the Phoenix is, after Chamber of Secrets, my least favorite book. It's too long, too dark and contains stretches of unimaginable tedium. Despite this, I was still very much looking forward to the new movie. There's just something magical about having a book you've read transferred into moving images.

The reviews I had read about this latest installment prior to seeing it had been overwhelmingly positive. This got me even more excited about opening day. As I sat down last night to watch the film, it is fair to say that my expectations were high. By the time the movie was over, I experienced that rare feeling of having my expectations not only met, but exceeded.

This was, by far, the best of the HP film adaptations. The achievement by director David Yates of transferring 870 pages of text into 133 minutes (the shortest running time of the series, by the way) was nothing short of monumental. Every major plot point throughout the book was expertly crafted onscreen. The casting (always excellent in the films) was pitch-perfect. The art direction of the film matched the book's tone fabulously. And, finally, the acting of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson was actually, for once, very good - something that had always been a little off-putting for much of the previous films.

How they managed to adapt such a large and cumbersome story into a lean running time is beyond me, but they did. Gone were the largely extraneous scenes of HP in the Order HQ. Gone were the needless extra scenes of Grawp. Retained were the fantastically awful scenes with Umbridge (an unbelievably good Imelda Staunton). As for the final battle at the ministry, a tip o' the chapeau to you, Mr. Yates, for visualizing EXACTLY what I had in mind when I first read the book.

Of the new characters, the aforementioned Ms. Staunton steals the movie, frankly, as she conveys the menace, evil and diabolical characteristics of Umbridge through something as small as a smirk and a squeak. Newcomer Evanna Lynch invests Loony Lovegood with just the right amount of cluelessness and whimsy without resorting to quirkiness. And Helena Bonham-Carter, while only onscreen for a few scenes, is truly horrifying as the deranged Bellatrix Lestrange.

Radcliffe and Gary Oldman as Sirius Black bring heart and truly great performances to the film. The scenes they share are among the best and most heartfelt of the entire series.

In short, then, the best Potter yet and, easily, the best movie of the summer. (Most) highly recommended.

17 Mar 2007

Ricky Gervais Comic Relief 2007

Okay, so every two years in the UK the BBC organizes "Red Nose Day" for comic relief. It's a charity telethon that raises money for Africa (as well as homegrown issues such as homelessness). Like a lot of telethons, many celebrities take part and, like the US comic relief, there are many funny sketches interspersed with serious reports about the plight of some Africans. Here's Ricky Gervais' Video Diary from Africa.

6 Mar 2007

Updated Top Ten Movies of 2006!

Well, it's been quite a while since my last Top Ten movies of 2006 list. I have managed to see a LOT (though not all) of the movies I hadn't seen at the time and now present you my new! and improved! Top Ten movies of 2006 list:

1. Babel
I honestly didn't think I'd see a better movie than The Departed from 2006, but now I've seen two of them!! My choice for best movie of the year is Babel. I had read a lot of reviews/articles about this film and, while I still wanted to see it, I thought it would be well-made but boring. How wrong I was. With the three cross-continental storylines, it was anything but boring. A meditation on politics, family, having children, love and culture, this was both thought-provoking AND entertaining, a rare commodity in recent film. Performances across the board were excellent, especially Adriana Barazza and Brad Pitt. The only movie I haven't seen that could POSSIBLY beat this is Pan's Labyrinth.

2. Shut Up & Sing
Let's get this straight right now. I intensely dislike Country music. However, a few years ago I heard the Dixie Chicks do a cover version of the Stevie Nicks (formerly of Fleetwood Mac) classic Landslide. I was blown away at the quality of their voices and their musicianship. My point, is that my liking of their music (in particular their recent album) has nothing to do with their political views (otherwise I'd like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, other Country blue staters, too). I just feel that I should set that straight. Now, on with the review (still don't like Country music).

Sometime in 2003, at a concert in London, with the US about to go to war with Iraq and protests through major US cities and London, Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Chicks, made an off-the-cuff remark between numbers that she was "ashamed that the Pres of the US was from Texas (where the Dixie Chicks all hail from)." The remark was picked up by the AP and, in true Fox News sensationalist style, was exagerrated and misquoted and, by the time certain sections of the media had finished, the Dixie Chicks had apparently turned into communist, troop-hating, satanic Saddam groupies. Country radio stopped playing their music (even though at the time they were the biggest selling female band of all time - in ANY genre) and some of the more exciteable and uneducated American people stooped so low as to burn their CDs, create burning effigies and send death threats. Yes, you read that right. Death threats.

This film is a documentary following their lives from that fateful day in 2003 to the present. It really must be seen to be appreciated. People who know me know that I agree with their stance on the war and this administration (I can certainly see why some would completely disagree with their comments, especially if they are Bush supporters. The point here, though, is not WHAT they said, but they're right to say it). However, don't let my (or their) political views sway you against seeing this film. If anything, if you are from the right, it would behoove you to see their side of the story, even if you watch it and STILL disagree with their stance/comments. Of course, reasoned discourse and truly educated thinking comes from seeing both sides of a story/issue. I can tell you that this movie, their refusal to apologize, their strength in the face of extreme prejudice, adversity and danger, the heartfelt lyrics to their music, their talent and everything else about these brave women inspired me in a way that no movie has ever done. Honestly recommended for both those that agree and those that disagree with their message.

3. The Departed
See my original comments here.

4. Volver
See my original comments here.

5. United 93
See my original comments here.

6. When the Levees Broke
See my original comments here.

7. Little Miss Sunshine
See my original comments here.

8. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
See my original comments here.

9. Brick
See my original comments here.

10. Casino Royale
What can I say? I am a professional Bond film watcher. I'm not a Bond snob (Roger Moore's my favorite, so you see, I can't be). This movie is unbelievable. From the opening scene (best on-foot chase since Point Break) to the final, iconic mention of "Bond, James Bond," I was wetting myself. Daniel Craig kicked (and killed) so much ass that my own ass started to hurt halfway through the film. THIS, my friends, is the true Bond. This is how Ian Fleming wrote the character to be-a misogynistic, womanizing, cold-blooded killing, fucking asshole of the first order. The decision to reboot the franchise in the very-fashionable-right-now-origin-story format was nothing short of inspired. This was, by far, the BEST Bond movie since The Spy Who Loved Me (in truth, it's technically the best Bond movie ever, but I love the early Moore Bond movies in a nostalgic, I-was-still-just-a-kid, dig-that-Carly-Simon-theme-tune, magical kind of way). I expected it to be good, but not THAT freaking good!

21 Feb 2007

The Worst, best and most creative analogies, similies and metaphors ever written...

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it. Joseph Romm, Washington

She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again. Rich Murphy, Fairfax Station

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't. Russell Beland, Springfield

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup. Paul Sabourin, Silver Spring

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and "Jeopardy" comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30. Roy Ashley, Washington

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze. Chuck Smith, Woodbridge

Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center. Russell Beland, Springfield

Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid55328.com\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake. Ken Krattenmaker, Landover Hills

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree. Jack Bross, Chevy Chase

The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease. Gary F. Hevel, Silver Spring

Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like "Second Tall Man." Russell Beland, Springfield

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph. Jennifer Hart, Arlington

The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can. Wayne Goode, Madison, Ala.

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth. Paul Kocak, Syracuse, N.Y.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met. Russell Beland, Springfield

The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play. Barbara Fetherolf, Alexandria

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free Chuck Smith, Woodbridge

The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon. Unknown

9 Feb 2007

I flew in an F-15!

Today I got what the Air Force call an "incentive flight." Basically, very few people get these in their careers and it means I got to fly in a two person F-15C (or Strike Eagle, if you will) with a fighter pilot. We did various manouvers, I got to actually fly the jet!!! (I took the stick and was allowed to do barrel-rolls!), we went to G-force 8 (8 times my body weight) and then something went wrong and we went to negative 3 Gs (the jet inverted and the pilot and I went up into the canopy!!), but normal flight was restored soon after. From what the pilot said, hardly any pilots go into negative Gs so I was quite fortunate to be able to (accidentally) experience it. I didn't throw up and I didn't black out (of which I was quite proud). Below are some pics from today. To see additional pics, click here.

Cate and I messing with some equipment...

Courtney, Cate and I about 10 mins before takeoff...

Me getting into the cockpit

3 Feb 2007

This is truly inspiring

[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]
I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay For their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.

But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in Marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a Wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and Pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.

Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back Mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. On a bike. Makes Taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much--except save his life.
This love story began in Winchester , Mass. , 43 years ago, when Rick Was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him Brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

"He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him And his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. ``Put him in an Institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes Followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the Engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was Anything to help the boy communicate. ``No way,'' Dick says he was told. ``There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a Lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed Him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his Head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? ``Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the School organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, ``Dad, I want To do that.''

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described ``porker'' who never ran More than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he Tried. ``Then it was me who was handicapped,'' Dick says. ``I was sore For two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. ``Dad,'' he typed, ``when we were running, It felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly Shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.

``No way,'' Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a Single runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few Years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then They found a way to get into the race Officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the Qualifying time for Boston the following year.

Then somebody said, ``Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?''

How's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he Was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick Tried.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii . It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud Getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don't you Think?

Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? ``No way,'' he says. Dick does it purely for ``the awesome feeling'' he gets seeing Rick with A cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best Time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992--only 35 minutes off the world Record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to Be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the Time.

``No question about it,'' Rick types. ``My dad is the Father of the Century.''

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a Mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries Was 95% clogged. ``If you hadn't been in such great shape,'' One doctor told him, ``you probably would've died 15 years ago.'' So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass. , always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

``The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, ``is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.''

27 Jan 2007

An interesting quote...

Appropriate? I think so....

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

--Hermann Goering, 1946

25 Jan 2007

My Favorite Song Right Now

The artist is Mika, a British guy of Lebanese descent. This is his first single and it just got to number 1 on the UK singles chart this past Sunday.

24 Jan 2007

My two penneth worth...

(Italics=who I want to win, Bold=who will win)
By no means have I seen ALL the movies nominated. My predictions on what will win are based on my knowledge of how the academy usually votes. My opinion on what I want to win is either because I've seen the work in question or from what I've read.

The Departed
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

Martin Scorsese, THE DEPARTED
Paul Greengrass, UNITED 93
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, BABEL
Stephen Frears, THE QUEEN

Helen Mirren, THE QUEEN
Penelope Cruz, VOLVER

Peter O'Toole, VENUS
Leonardo DiCaprio, BLOOD DIAMOND
Ryan Gosling, HALF NELSON

Supporting Actress
Jennifer Hudson, DREAMGIRLS
Adriana Barraza, BABEL
Rinko Kinkuchi, BABEL
Cate Blanchett, NOTES ON A SCANDAL

Supporting Actor
Eddie Murphy, DREAMGIRLS
Mark Wahlberg, THE DEPARTED
Djimon Hounsou, BLOOD DIAMOND
Jackie Earle Haley, LITTLE CHILDREN

Original Screenplay

Adapted Screenplay

Animated Feature

The only movie that can or will beat Babel to best picture is The Departed. For actor, I wouldn't mind if any of the nominees won. They're all fantastic. For actress, I want Dame Helen to win, but I secretly also want Penelope Cruz to win, too. I wouldn't begrudge Eddie Murphy his win if for no other reason than his excellent multiple-roles acting work in Coming To America and The Nutty Professor. Oh, and Monster House was EASILY the best animated movie I saw this year.

20 Jan 2007

Colbert v. O'Reilly - Part Two

Colbert v. O'Reilly - Part One

Seriuosly, how can you not love Colbert? Regular readers know of my intense dislike of Fox News and the current "Right Wing" in America, but props to O'Reilly for being game enough to have Colbert on and then going on The Colbert Report.

19 Jan 2007

My New Favorite Blog (after mine, of course)

I recently discovered this great blog about movies called Pajiba. It's a funny and satirical blog that is about movies first and being funny second. Check out this post entitled "The First Annual Pajiba (Sh)it List"

11 Jan 2007

The 10 Best Films of the Year

I didn't even get a chance to see all the movies I wanted to this year, so of the ones I saw, here's the cream of the crop:

1. The Departed - If you saw my original review of this, you know how much I loved this film. Scorsese back to his best, Jack kicking ass, Matt Damon and Leo ruling and Mark Wahlberg stealing the movie. Best and most enjoyable movie of the year.

2. Volver - I'm a huge fan of Almodovar's work and I think that this is the best thing he's ever done. Penelope Cruz proves that she can really act, Carmen Maura is fantastic as the Mother, the music is perfect and the production design and use of color (especially red) make this the most beautiful movie I saw this year. Nobody can write about women like Pedro Almodovar.

3. United 93 - Wow. Considering the subject matter, it's almost unbelievable that Paul Greengrass has been able to make a film that is powerful, accurate, inspiring and, crucially, not over-emotional. This was both the most uncomfortable and powerful movie of the year.

4. When the Levees Broke - Reigning in his usual angry polemical style, Spike Lee lets the people of New Orleans speak for themselves in this amazing four-hour documentary. More than your opinion or my opinion, the victims give their own account of one of the worst days in the nation's history. This film is a hugely important and accurate indictment of a government's (lack of) response to a tragedy.

5. Little Miss Sunshine - This is one of those movies that is so built up with hype about how brilliantly funny it is, that you just know it's gonna disappoint when you finally see it. Well, it turns out that this wasn't the case when I finally saw this last week. Equally hilarious, prescient and touching, the first time directors present a microcosm of the (now) typical American family. Abigail Breslin is magnificent as the titular heroine.

6. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - The best and only western I saw this year. Tommy Lee Jones wrote, directed and starred in what is on the surface a revenge/road movie. Underneath, however, are commentaries on the plight of hispanics in the south, general ignorance, the new west and plain (no pun intended) friendship. Highly recommended.

7. Brick - I read a lot of good buzz about this movie on the internet and from friends so I decided to rent it to check it out. Man, it really knocked my socks off. Some people thought the cod-noir dialogue was too gimmicky but I thought it suited the plot perfectly, as did the milieu of high school, that is, the traditional whodunit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way since 3rd Rock.

8. Inside Man - The second Spike Lee joint on this list, this was, for me, almost the perfect movie in that it combined entertainment and social commentary in a perfect stew. A clever heist story that would have worked well in the hands of a hack is turned into a hugely impressive thriller in the hands of a director as talented as Spike. Add to this comments on race in America, how we interact with each other under pressure and a kick-ass performance from Jodie Foster and you get one of the most entertaining "joints" in years.

9. Quinceanera - This is a small independent movie that won several prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. It tells of the coming of age party (the "Quinceanera" of the title) of 15 year old Magdalena and the troubles and issues facing teenagers in America today. By focussing on a Mexican community, non-Hispanics can see that some truths are universal. Uniformly excellent performances from an inexperienced cast, especially Jesse Garcia as Carlos.

10. (tie) V for Vendetta and Jackass Number Two - I really couldn't decide which one of these to leave out so I cheated and included them both. The former was far better than I expected it to be. The script, sets and Hugo Weaving made this the best movie I saw in the first quarter of the year. The latter was quite simply one of the funniest movies I've ever seen (and I saw Borat this year). If you judge how successful a comedy is on laughs per minute (and intensity of laughs) then this is a text book example of the formula. I was actually crying in some parts.

Honorable mention:

I really, really, REALLY loved:
Rocky Balboa (whodathunkit)
An Inconvenient Truth (you can't argue with facts, Mr President)
Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius)
Hard Candy (Ellen Paige - what an actress!)

I just really, really loved:
Talladega Nights ("Dad, you made that grace your Bitch!")
Lady in the Water (why do so many people hate on this movie? It was WAY better than The Village)
MI:3 (three words: Phillip Seymour Hoffman)
Open Season & Happy Feet (highly entertaining)
The Descent (best horror movie of the year)

Movies I didn't get a chance to see, but some of which I'M SURE would have made it into my Top ten are:
The Illusionist
The Prestige
Thank You For Smoking
The Last King of Scotland
Little Children
Casino Royale
The Fountain
The Holiday
The Good German
Notes on a Scandal
The Good Shepherd
Pan's Labyrinth
Miss Potter
The Queen

Crap Movies of the Year:
Failure to Launch
Failure to Launch
Failure to Launch
Miami Vice