26 Feb 2008

Gary Busey Is INSANE!!

Now THIS was the funniest part of the Oscars last night. I love Gary Busey and thought he was great in The Buddy Holly Story (he actually did all the singing and playing himself AND was Oscar-nominated!), but man was he CARAAAAYYYZEEEE! Seacrest, for once, was funny.

23 Feb 2008

Eurythmics + Stevie Wonder = Fantasmagoricalness!

This is the first in an occasional (perhaps) series where I will post music videos/performances that, IMHO, rule.

I remember, back in 1999, watching the Grammys where Annie and Dave were being honored with a lifetime achievement award. It was the first time they'd played together onstage in a few years. They did a medley of their hits and then, for the coup de grace, the piece de resistance, they brought out Stevie (after Prince my all-time favorite musician) for an AWESOME rendition of my favorite Eurythmics song.

Watch and enjoy...

22 Feb 2008

To all of you in the USA, please read and heed...

Britain is Repossessing the U.S.A. A Message from John Cleese (British comedian)

To: The citizens of the United States of America:

We hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new prime minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.

1. Then look up aluminium, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.
2. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix -ize will be replaced by the suffix -ise. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary').
3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as 'like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as US English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell- checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize. You will relearn your original national anthem, God Save The Queen.
4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.
6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
7. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and this is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. Holden Monaro's are also approved.
8. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
9. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline)-roughly $8/US gallon. Get used to it.
10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
11. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting Nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
12. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
13. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies). Don't try Rugby - the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, like they regularly thrash us.
14. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
15. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
16. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
17. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; strawberries in season.

God save the Queen. Only S/He can. John Cleese

Oscar Predictions

So here's how I'm gonna do this: Who I think WILL win, who I think SHOULD win and who I think definitely WON'T win.

WILL - No Country For Old Men
SHOULD - Atonement (though I would be happy for NCFOM, TWBB or Juno to also win)
WON'T - Michael Clayton

WILL - The Coen brothers (NCFOM)
SHOULD - The Coens
WON'T - Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton)

WILL - Daniel Day-Lewis (TWBB) - No contest
SHOULD - Daniel Day-Lewis (TWBB) - No contest
WON'T - Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd)

WILL - Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) - I think this will be one of the minor upsets of the night
SHOULD - Marion Cotillard
WON'T - Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) - she was great, but film widely derided

Supp. Actor
WILL - Javier Bardem (NCFOM)
SHOULD - Javier Bardem
WON'T - Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)

Supp. Actress
WILL - Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
SHOULD - Amy Ryan
WON'T - Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) - though she was great, other perfs. in this category were simply better

Orig. Screenplay
WILL - Juno
WON'T - Ratatouille

Adap. Screenplay
WILL - Atonement
SHOULD - Atonement
WON'T - Away From Her

Animated feature
WILL - Ratatouille
SHOULD - The Simpsons Movie (but it's not even nominated!) - I haven't seen Surf's Up or Persepolis but from everything I've read, Persepolis probably deserves to win
WON'T - Surf's Up

It's the Coen brothers' year. I don't think there's gonna be one movie that sweeps the awards this year. I think the other categories will be split up evenly between a large array of different films. The only category I'm truly unsure of is adapted screenplay. This could go to NCFOM, TWBB or Atonement. I'm predicting Atonement due to the Academy's propensity to give a film with a lot of nominees - but none of the big wins - the screenplay award. We shall see...

Last year I got six out of nine correct. Can I do better this time?

20 Feb 2008


Today I started my first day of Airman Leadership School. What is Airman Leadership School, I hear you ask?

ALS is a six-week leadership course that every enlisted member must go through before they are allowed to become a noncommisioned officer, i.e. sew on Staff Sergeant stripes. (I made the rank of Staff Sergeant [at my first attempt] back in September, but I'm not due to actually sew on the rank [and get the extra pay that comes with it] until May 1st of this year.)

As with any mangement course, there's sure to be some superfluous and perhaps even unnecessary stuff that I'll have to endure, but the point of the course is to prepare young (and that damn sure doesn't mean me!) enlisted troops with the tools they'll need to make unsupervised decisions and to supervise/lead/train those even younger Airmen under them. And this can only be a good thing.

It is thus that I find myself in ALS for the next six weeks.

I already have a lot of leadership experience, having been a retail manager for four years. However, I realize that the military will teach a somewhat different style of management/leadership and therefore am looking forward to learning another way to lead/supervise/manage.

Surely the things I learn in ALS (and in the military as a whole since I've been in) will only help me when I separate from the service early next year.

I'll blog any significant/interesting/humorous things that happen in the course during the next six weeks.

18 Feb 2008

And speaking of my job...

The previous post got me thinking...how many people, both in the military and out, actually know what public affairs is...what I actually do? Well it involves all of the following: journalism, photography, marketing, media relations, PR work and community relations.

Public Affairs can be, and actually is, broken into three parts: internal information, media and community relations (COMREL).

Internal Information: The base newspaper falls into this category. Essentially, we write articles, shoot photos for articles or for stand-alone pieces, and then publish them in the base newspaper - be it paper or electronic (ours at Keesler is an actual newspaper). Unfortunately, we are somewhat constricted by what we can and cannot write (this is the military, after all) - you won't find any Vanity Fair-like features or New York Times-esque commentaries. It's pretty much straight news reporting. Some examples of my articles can be found here, here and here (page 4). I don't actually work in the internal information section of my office, so I don't get to write as many stories as I'd like.

Media: This is where the marketing, media relations and public relations comes into it. Whenever something is going on at Keesler (read: always!), we send out press releases to the local press (within 2-hour radius) "selling" the story to them to see if they might want to cover it. Needless to say we get a lot of good press from some of the great things the base does.

Also, media come onto base quite often. When they do, a member of the public affairs office has to escort them and be with them at all times. Usually WLOX-TV (the local ABC affiliate) comes onto base to film an event or interview. In fact, I had to escort reporter Krystal Allan onto base today (I'm on-call this weekend) for a piece WLOX were doing on the Rust College choir's visit to Keesler (the choir, BTW, were AWESOME!! I'm an atheist, but can honestly say I had an absolute blast at the gospel service today!). On Thursday, we escorted NBC Nightly News reporter Maria Menounos onto base for a story she was doing on returning veterans suffering from PTSD and no, she wasn't entirely unpleasant-looking (she was actually very nice as well)!

Also, NPR, the Sun Herald, WWL (the local Fox affiliate) and even Good Morning America (in Dec.) come to Keesler for various stories. Again, though, I'd do more media if it were my main job in PA, but it's not. My primary area of concern is...

Community Relations: In COMREL, I am the liaison between the base and the surrounding community. Again, marketing comes into it. I have to get the base involved in the local community and get the local community involved in the base. I have to sell the base (not that it needs much selling here, being, as it is, the largest employer on the Gulf Coast). Whenever our wing leadership goes off-base for an event, engagement, etc., I'm usually there with them. I plan, organize and execute base involvement with the local community. I also have to attend many of the local Chambers of Commerce (and there are about five of them!) monthly meetings and events.

It's quite a hectic job and I'm usually very busy (especially when I bring groups of civilians on base for a usually-all-day base tour).

Overall, I love this job. Despite the ton of work and the fact that I often have to attend engagements/deal with media during non-duty hours, I'm so glad I cross-trained into this career field (from IT). I still like IT, but this is much more my bag. Hopefully, when I get out of the Air Force and move back to England early next year, I'll be able to do some PR/Media relations for a high-profile IT company (like Microsoft, Cam) where I can get the best of both worlds.

I also hope to continue the journalism side of the job after I get out. My dream would be to be on TV with my own opinion/review show...in other words, the televisual equivalent of this blog!

My Job - Me interviewing Major General Mark Welsh

Part of what I do in my job (Public Affairs) is interviewing military bigwigs. Here's a video of my most recent interview. The man I'm interviewing is Major General Mark Welss, the vice commander of Air Education and Training Command in the Air Force. We filmed the interview to put on Keesler Air Force Base's public website and to submit up to AETC and Air Force Link for their websites.

16 Feb 2008

Windows Live OneCare

I bought a new laptop last weekend (my other one is on its last legs and I absolutely CANNOT be without a computer). I got what I think is a really good deal on an HP Pavilion laptop. For $579 (on sale from $779), it has a 15.4" widescreen display, 2 GB RAM, AMD Athlon dual-core processor, NVIDIA graphics card, 160 GB HD, built-in webcam (which we use a lot) and some other good features.

Now, I download a lot of movies, TV shows and other software and while I will continue to do most of my dowloading on my old laptop (because P2P sites are notorious for giving your PC viruses, trojans, worms, etc.), I also intend to transfer a lot of these files to my new laptop (so I can hook it up to my LCD TV to watch the things I've downloaded). It is thus that I wanted good protection software for my new laptop.

I usually just use the antivirus software the AF provides it members at no charge but I found that Symantec 10 won't work with Vista and that Symantec Endpoint Protection 11 (the new all bells and whistles security software) doesn't play well with WPA key encryption (the standard security encryption for wireless routers). So, in other words, I would have to (shock! horror!) actually BUY some internet security software!!

Your hero then found himself perusing the webternets in search of reviews/comparisons of the latest and greatest security software. My parameters included cost, ease-of-use, reputable maker and good reviews. As the title of this post suggests, the winner was Microsoft's relatively new Windows Live OneCare security software.

Knowing a little bit about security software myself from my IT days in the AF (and my managing of the Symantec servers for the base network), I can tell you that so far, I am very pleased with OneCare. All the bugs from versions 1.0 and 1.5 have been worked out (this is version 2.0). For $50, you get a year's subscription to OneCare with all the updates and patches for up to three computers. Needless to say, after installing it on my new laptop (which, by the way, was a breeze), I then installed it on my old laptop (which was running Symantec 10). It immediately picked-up and cleaned a couple of viruses.

Another great feature of this software was that it automatically setup my home network (something I had not yet gotten around to doing due to the fact that I HAVE NO TIME BECAUSE I'M ALWAYS FUCKING WORKING!!!!!). I can now dowload movies/shows on my old laptop and wirelessly (natch) transfer them to my new laptop ready to be watched on my TV. Result! I'm also impressed with the whole "Windows Live" thing. The mail, messenger, onecare, software interface is pretty cool and fun to use.

So if you're current security software subsricption is ready to run out or you're in the market for some new software, I recommend OneCare. The end.

8 Feb 2008

My "after seeing There Will Be Blood" Top 10 Movies of 2007!!

OK. I have finally seen There Will Be Blood (as well as some other new movies since my last top 10) so here is my revised and latest Top 10, top 10 v. 2.0, if you will (and I shall). I deliberately waited a few days to do it so it wouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction. I've also, after some thought, changed a few positions of movies from my last top 10.

(-) = Non-mover

(-) Once

This movie absolutely blew me away. I hadn't heard much in the way of promotion about this movie (despite it being released by Fox Searchlight - a subsidiary of the biggest media company in the world - NewsCorp.). I instead heard about this through movie websites and in film magazines. It is a small Irish film about a struggling musician (The Frames frontman Glen Hansard), living in Dublin, trying to get over an ex. One day he meets a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) who loves his music and is a musician herself. Needless to say, they become close through their shared love of playing. Both Hansard and Irglova are real musicians and first-time actors, though you would never know it from their incredibly natural performances.

Much of the movie is made up of the two leads performing their music (think Damien Rice meets Ray LaMontagne and you're on the right track), and the ordinary struggles of love, love lost, low-income living, friendship, desperation, ambition and, of course, emotion.

This was one of those movies where, after 5 minutes, you know you're watching something special and can't wait to watch it again. Director John Carney both keeps the narrative moving while at the same time letting scenes play out to their natural conclusion. Similarly, the camerawork is both flowing (watch for an especially great tracking shot as Irglova walks home from the store singing) and static.

In short, while I expected this movie to be very good, I certainly didn't expect it to be so wonderful on every level. Don't just see this movie Once, see it many times.

2. (4) Atonement

I, unlike many of my male, military, heterosexual brethren, adore period films. Also unlike many of them, I regularly use the word adore. With this being said, I thus feel qualified to judge the good period pieces from the bad (of which there are many). For every Remains of the Day, there's a Scarlet Letter; for every Passage to India, there's a House of Mirth; for every Age of Innocence there's a…well, you get my point.

I read many, many, in fact they were all, good reviews about Atonement, so naturally I was looking forward to seeing it, but with some trepidation. I love James McAvoy but dislike Keira Knightly. I love screenwriter Christohper Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) but dislike director Joe Wright(last year's woefully underwhelming and boring Pride and Prejudice). However, I was sure that it was going to be ultimately worthy of my time. It was this and much more.

Atonement is about love, sorrow, regret and, well, atonement. I won't go into the plot too much lest I give away a spoiler or two. Suffice to say that McAvoy and Knightly are lovers across class boundaries during the early stages of WWII. They get separated and ostracized under false pretenses and struggle to find a way back to each other.

Ian McEwan's story, upon which the film is based, is truly moving and by turns, touching, sad, surprising and uplifting. The movie's success, for me, comes down to Hampton's screenplay and the performances of the cast. McAvoy is typically brilliant, adding another truly great performance to his growing canon. Knightly is a revelation. Her clipped accent and portrayal of feeling shows she can act after all. Newcomer Saoirse Ronan, as Knightly’s younger sister, is astoundingly good. Recent talk of a supporting actress nomination would be well-deserved.

But the real star of the show is Christopher Hampton. As we’ve all seen in the past, it’s so easy to take a great book and fuck it up on screen. Hampton’s achievement is miraculous in that he manages to trim an untrimmable book into a 90-min (unheard of these days) movie that captures the heart and soul of McEwan’s novel without sacrificing anything of import.

Again, I went into this movie expecting something very good, but got something fantastic. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not seeing this.

3. (2) No Country For Old Men

For starters, I have always been a huge Coen brothers fan. The odd misstep aside (I'm thinking The Ladykillers and The Big Lebowski) their films are consistently smart, knowing, funny and just plain great. The first Coen brothers movie I saw was Miller's Crossing back in 1991, a year after it came out. I was very much in the gangster phase of my movie-loving life, and I would rent any movie to do with the mob. Needless to say, Miller's Crossing (like all of their genre work) was unlike any other mob movie I'd seen and I became intrigued enough by these weird, slightly nerdy brothers to seek out other parts of their ouvre. I then watched (through tears) Raising Arizona and Blood Simple (to which No Country... owes a huge debt) and I couldn't believe that the same writers/directors made all three of these movies. Since then, I've awaited each Coen brothers release with bated breath (BTW, it isn't baited...trust me, I just found this out).

As much as I loved The Hudsucker Proxy and Barton Fink and O Brother..., Fargo had always been head and shoulders above the rest of their work in terms of genre-mixing brilliance...that is until now.

No Country... is a modern-day western, an old-fashioned cat-and-mouse thriller, a contemporary black comedy and an all-time drama. Based on Cormac McCarthy's acclaimed (when his this guy NOT written an acclaimed book?) novel, the story is as follows: a man (Josh Brolin - um, when did he become a fantastic actor? See American Gangster for further evidence) stumbles on a drug deal gone wrong in the middle of the Texan desert, finds $2 million in cash and decides (foolishly, of course) to keep it. Now, both a small-town sheriff (the ever-reliable and appropriately leathery Tommy Lee Jones) and a psychopath (Javier Bardem - and when I say psycopath I mean psychopath) are after him. Yes. It's that simple.

The Coen brothers take McCarthy's story and inject it with the blackest of humor and the bleakest of tones to produce a film at once terrifying, involving, chilling and hilarious. The writing is brilliant (exhibit A - Brolin's exchanges with his wife), the cinematography beautiful (even of the bowl of shite known as the Texan desert) and the performances uniformly excellent. If you have, until this point, been unfamiliar with Javier Bardem's work (see Jamon Jamon and Before Night Falls for starters), you should stop being so American and try to embrace movies from elsewhere in the world.

A truly memorable piece of film.

4. (new) There Will Be Blood

Well, I finally saw this and while it didn't quite meet my expectations (which was partly my fault for building it up too much) I thought it was still utterly brilliant from start to finish.

This film reminded me of those films made during Hollywood's "second golden age" - the 70s. Throughout the movie, I kept getting flashes of movies such as Easy Rider, Nashville, Taxi Driver (especially), Apocalypse Now, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Barry Lyndon, etc. The feel and tone of the movie seemed like a throwback to that era - the first era of film that incorporated realism (in all aspects - script, cinematography) into mainstream film-making. For more on this subject, I recommend Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls a book about 70s movie-making and one of the best books I've ever read about movies.

Back to TWBB, everything you've read/heard about Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in this movie (and probably a hell of a lot you haven't) can't do justice to how remarkably good he is. I've always been a DD-L fan (especially since My Left Foot in '89 and In the Name of the Father [one of my all-time favorite movies] in '93). The guy just seems to be able to play any role completely convincingly (compare this to his falsely-accused IRA bomber in In the Name of the Father and to his gay hustler in My Beautiful Launderette and you'll see what I mean). These days, he chooses his work sparingly, which in one way sucks for us - we don't get to see him that much, but in another way ensures quality control (though Gene Hackman, who's in tons of movies, is good in everything, even if the movie is shit). In this movie he creates another memorable monster (think Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York) but gives him so many complexities that he still has the ability to surprise us throughout the movie. He'll get the Oscar and deservedly so.

A little praise, though, for Paul Dano. He plays DD-L's nemesis in the movie, the self-righteous (to the nth degree) preacher, Eli Stone. For a young kid who's only notable other roles include sidekick in The Girl Next Door and mute (for almost the whole movie) sullen teen in last year's Little Miss Sunshine, it's a miracle that he doesn't get acted off the screen by DD-L. Remarkably he doesn't. He manages to hold his own and create a memorable (if somewhat one-note) slimeball. One of the few missteps in the movie is when we see Eli Stone about 20 years later. Paul Dano, who looks like a 15-year-old anyway, looks exactly the same 20 years on - something that caused me to temporarily to suspend my willing disbelief.

On to Paul Thomas Anderson. Of the four movies he made before this one, I'm split right down the middle. I loved Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but hated Hard Eight and Punch-Drunk Love. I have a great affection for his movies, though, because of how utterly fantastic Boogie Nights was (which is another of my all-time faves) and because it's rare to find such an accomplished and interesting (even in his failures) director AND writer. Here he creates what many say is his masterpiece (I still think it's Boogie Nights, but concede that I'm in the minority here). One thing that's struck me about PTA is that he knows (and loves) his movies. As I mentioned, you can feel the 70s maverick director feel throughout this movie and can spot where he's lifted from the great directors of that era. If you get a chance, re-watch Goodfellas and Boogie Nights back-to-back. You will see that Boogie Nights is almost a remake of Goodfellas, so shamelessly does PTA "homage" Scorsese's masterwork. The upshot being that PTA is someone totally influenced by other filmmakers, but far from that being a bad thing, it works in his favor as he employs the best techniques and ideas to create great movies (for the most part). TWBB is another in his arsenal of great movies (he's now 3 and 2 by my reckoning).

5. (3) Juno

This is an indie in every sense of the word…low-budget, naturalistic acting, unpredictable storyline/plot, the converse of an “epic” film. This in itself is not a mark of quality, but it’s a good start.

It’s the story of a 16-year-old girl (Ellen Page) getting pregnant in small town America, and the funny, painful, all-too-real consequences that follow. I won’t be giving the plot away to say that she decides to keep the baby and give it up for adoption to two upwordly-mobile smug-marrieds played by Jason Bateman (surprisingly understated) and Jennifer Garner (annoying, yet sympathetic). The plot and the film then revolve around this decision and how it affects all of the interested parties – her Dad (the always great JK Simmons), the child’s teenage father (the good, but always-acts-the-same Michael Cera), the adoptive parents, her friend, etc.

What makes the movie so special is the script and the acting. Screenwriter Diablo Cody has created a painfully funny movie with characters that actually speak realistically (probably the hardest thing to write is how “the kids” in America actually speak, act, react, etc). Despite some criticism that Juno speaks perhaps a little too smartly or smart-alecky, I would say that Cody has the patois just right. Juno becomes a little less witty and loquacious as the movie goes on and the realities of her situation become heavier.

As for the acting, Ellen Page is absolutely sensational as the eponymous heroine. A 20-year-old that still looks all of 14 or 15, never mind 16, she imbues the character with all the familiar traits of teenage years: the aforementioned smart-assedness, maturity AND immaturity (often in the same sentence), melodramatic moments and moments of real heart. It looks like she will be nominated for Best Actress and quite deservedly so, but may lose to Julie Christie for Away From Her or Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose, if recent critics awards are anything to go by.

I had a constant smile on my face as I watched this, from the involving story, to the continuously funny moments, to the realization that I was quite simply watching a brilliant film.

6. (5) Sicko

Those of you who know me know I’m a liberal. I have no problem standing up and being counted (unlike some people). I don’t claim to be “independent.” I’m left-wing and proud of it.

Michael Moore is also, as you know, very left-wing. The given position people took when Michael Moore came out with a new film that you would like it as much as you liked/agreed with Moore. Certainly with movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 and, to an extent, Bowling for Columbine, this argument seemed to hold some weight.

In Sicko, however, Moore drops the partisanship for an honest, sober, sometimes harrowing tale of the US healthcare system (or lack thereof).

I’ll refrain from getting on my soapbox and explaining why universal healthcare works and why the US is so behind the times and instead concentrate on the film. Moore is a filmmaker full stop. The man knows how to put together a compelling movie, no matter your political preference. I went to see this in a movie theatre just outside Baltimore. In the audience (and I’m not making this up) were a mixture of young and old, different races and what, in my own stereotypical way, I presume to be college kids, military, gangbangers (no, really) senior citizens and pretty much every demographic you can think of. Judging from the laughter and the whispered conversation going on around me, it certainly appeared that EVERYONE thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Moore knows how to get an audience’s attention and keep it for the full running time. When the subject interests you as much as this did me, that’s a formula for one of the most enjoyable evenings I spent at the movies this year. Absolute joy.

7. (new) The King of Kong

I had heard many great things about this movie on the internet and finally found time to download and watch it. All I can say is "wow!" How did a documentary about Donkey Kong become one of the best movies of the year? Probably by being a classic underdog story and creating what quite possibly may be one of the best villains of the year in Billy Mitchell - videogame legend and record-holder of many classic arcade games.

In a fit of laziness on my part, here's a capsule summation of the movie by someone else: "In this hilarious, critically acclaimed arcade showdown, a humble novice goes head-to-head against the reigning Donkey Kong champ in a confrontation that rocks the gaming world to its processors! For over 20 years, Billy Mitchell has owned the throne of the Donkey Kong world. No one could beat his top score until now. Newcomer Steve Wiebe claims to have beaten the unbeatable, but Mitchell isn't ready to renquish his crown without a fight. Go behind the barrels as the two battle it out in a vicious war to earn the title of the true King of Kong."

This movie was soooo good. Steve Wiebe, an unassuming family man from the Seattle area, has always been good at most things, but through bad luck or not enough talent, he's never been the best or made a huge success of his life. For reasons I can't remember right now, he decides to break the Donkey Kong world record. He buys a coin-op DK machine, installs it in his garage and sets about to do the impossible - beat a 20-year-old record.

Billy Mitchell, superstar gamer, was big in the eighties (appeared on TV countless times) and runs his own successful business (hot sauce manufacturer). He has a cabal of hangers-on and "assistants" who run around after him, biggin him up and doing his bidding. So arrogant and slimy is Mitchell, it's hard to believe you're watching a documentary. He belongs to the pantheon of classic eighties/early nineties movie villains - ones that have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Even his hair is villainous ( a straight, shiny mullet).

I won't give away what happens. Needless to say it's unexpected. This was possibly the most enjoyable and entertaining movie I saw all year. See this now. Pure heaven.

8. (new) Gone Baby Gone

See my initial review/response here. Suffice to say, the movie equivalent of The Wire. That, in itself, should be all you need to know.

9. (-) American Gangster

Of all the movies on this list, I was most looking forward to this one. It filled all of the boxes on the “Carlos wants to see it” checklist: Gangster movie? Check. Denzel? Check. Russell? Check. Ridley Scott? Check. True story? Check.

I suppose that it was inevitable, then, that I would be ever-so-slightly disappointed; after all, what movie could live up to such pedigree? Don’t get me wrong. This movie ruled. However, it didn’t blow me away. I thought it was really, really good, but not utterly fantastic.

With this being said, it was still great enough to be in my top 10 of the year. To give you a little perspective, I’ll mention below some movies that I loved that didn’t make the top 10. This will show you how good this movie was, but also how high my expectations were for it.

To the film itself. The true story of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas and the NYC policeman who brought him to justice. This movie reminded me very much in tone, subject matter, style and structure to Heat. It wasn’t in the same league as the Michael Mann masterpiece of course, but is the closest thing to it I’ve yet seen. Both movies show the parallel stories of a criminal and a cop. Both movies star top-notch actors who don’t even share the screen until the end of the film. Both movies have said actors finally meet in a scene involving a conversation across a table. Both movies have stunning, sudden violence, show the domestic issues of the main characters and have the two leads surrounded by excellent supporting actors.

Maybe subconsciously I was comparing this to Heat all along and that’s why it didn’t knock my socks off. But, on the other hand, maybe I wasn’t. In either case, the film was still one of the best of the year. Denzel and Crowe were, as ever, fantastic (I loved Crowe’s NYC accent – hard to do and not overdo at the same time). Josh Brolin was, for the second time this year and the second time on this list, absolutely brilliant. Seriously. What happened to this guy? The story was completely involving and Ridley toned down his stylistic flourishes a bit to let the story do the talking. Watch this movie, then put on Jay-Z’s companion album of the same name (it’s not a soundtrack as it wasn’t written until after the movie came out and none of the songs are used in the movie. Rather, it was inspired by the film).

Damn, it feels good to be a gangster.

10. (7) 300

I knew that this movie would be in my top ten of the year, but I struggled with where to place it (listen to me…”I struggled.” As if this list is even worth “struggling” about. I should get out more). I thought this movie quite literally kicked-ass. There really is no better way to describe it. But, I thought, shouldn’t more “worthy” movies like Rescue Dawn or American Gangster be higher on the list? Then I thought no. That’s just snobbish. When it comes right down to it, I just really fucking enjoyed this movie. I also think “fucking” is an appropriate adverb here.

Much has already been written/talked about this movie, so I won’t go into too much detail. I liked it for pretty much the same reason as most people liked it – the fights, the CGI, the fights, the action, the story, the fights, the acting (Gerard Butler, Lena Heady, Dominic West and Rodrigo Santoro were all awesomer than a movie with this subject matter deserved. Yes, “awesomer” works here too), the fights and lastly, the fights.

There isn’t really much else to write about concerning this movie. It fucking rocked. The End.

Movies that were knocked out of the top 10 thanks to this new list:

Knocked Up, Eastern Promises, Enchanted and The Kingdom - see my original Top 10 here.

Honorable mention (some new ones since the last list)

Other movies I saw this year that I really liked included:

(new) Into the Wild - Read the book, loved it. Saw the movie, really liked it

(new) La Vie En Rose - Cotillard should win Best Actress. She was fantastic in a very good movie

Hot Fuzz – No Shaun of the Dead, but still one of the best comedies of the year

Superbad – No Knocked Up, but still one of the best comedies of the year

Harry Potter 5 – For me the best HP movie yet (from the least-enjoyable and longest book, no less)

Rescue Dawn – Both Werner Herzog and Christian Bale can do no wrong

28 Weeks Later – Even better than the first one!!

Before the Devil Knows Your Dead – Great performances from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and even Ethan Hawke in an otherwise conventional thriller

Live Free or Die Hard – The best Die Hard since the first one

Sunshine – Absolutely riveting…until the end. WTF???!!!

1408 – Surprisingly good. Worth it for the scene between Cusack and Sam Jack alone.

The Simpsons Movie – I wanted to hate it, but it was actually very funny

Bee Movie – I like Jerry Seinfeld so I liked this. Simple

Shrek the Third – I disagree with most reviews. I thought it was just as good as the first two

Spider-Man 3 – Same with this one. I really liked it. Good story, action and effects

I Am Legend – I thought this would be okay and that the ending (if the reviews were anything to go by) would suck. How wrong I was. It was great and the ending was perfect. Will Smith. Biggest movie star in the world

Ocean’s 13 – Again, I thought it would be okay, but I really liked it. Funny and cool

Zodiac – A serial-killer movie from the guy who brought you Se7en, and it couldn’t be more different. A meditation on the nature of obsession featuring a career-best turn from Jake Gyllenhall

Movies I saw this year that I didn’t like (I can’t say a movie’s bad unless I’ve seen it, no matter how right I think I’ll be, otherwise Who's Your Caddy and Alvin and the Chipmunks would be on this list, I'm sure...)

3:10 to Yuma – What a massive disappointment. It should have absolutely kicked ass and it was mmmokay

Transformers – Aside from the CGI, it was rubbish

Fantastic Four 2 – Aside from Fish as the Silver Surfer, an atrocity

Ratatouille – One word…BORING! Both Cate (my five-year-old) and I agree on this one!

Shooter – Wow. Did this suck. And I quite like Mark Wahlberg, too. Shame

Arthur and the Invisibles – Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

2 Feb 2008

The Courtney Word

After much deliberation, cojutation and digestion, my wife Courtney has decided to take the proverbial plunge and create a blog of her own.

Now she, too can experience the cathartic feeling of "puttin' yo shit out there" for the world to see!

Seriously, though, if you want an interesting read on food, health, politics and "the European living in the US," all from a unique perspective, click her gorgeous face!

1 Feb 2008

California Democratic Debate - First thoughts

Great debate. Intelligent discourse (as opposed to the media-induced sniping of last time and the attack-happy Republican debate last night) that centered on both where they agree and, more to the point, where they disagree (on the issues. Period.). Reaffirmed my position that I prefer Obama, but think Hillary would be great, too. I came out of this liking Obama more (and I still want him to win the nomination), but I was really impressed with Hillary (for the first time).

Healthcare - like Hillary's plan (mandatory healthcare for all - lowering price so ALL can afford), but prefer Obama's (lowering price, but not mandatory as there will still be some who can't afford it and they mustn't be punished for that). Both plans good and on the way to true, free universal healthcare (which the rest of the western world seems to be able to accomplish, but which we still seem too self-centered to vote for - and don't get me started).

Immigration - Like Hillary's plan (work on a way to get illegals legal through education, easier process), but prefer Obama's (same as above, but no retro tax payments: how can an illegal - who was being paid lower than the minimum wage - be forced to pay back taxes based on at least the minimum wage? Unfair).

Iraq war - Like both plans (a definite withdrawal from Iraq), but prefer the fact that Obama was against it from the beginning and was proven right on what he predicted in 2002 (that invading would increase tensions with Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, would make us less safe from terrorist attacks, and would take us away from foreign-policy concentration on North Korea, China, et al.).

Again, though, I truly think they would both make good presidents and are interested in leading us in the right direction (which can only be up after this disastrous administration). Hillary for once didn't seem robotic, but genuine and almost off-the-cuff. Obama was more relaxed and reaffirmed his reputation as a riveting orator.

Oh, and Wolf Blitzer is such a fucking idiot.