allizon: (Hello there!)
OK, here's what I'd like you to do for me today as an experiment in my just-now-christened Project: Positivity:

Leave a comment on this post saying something nice about somebody else -- preferably something you've never said to that person before!

I'm not saying to spill your guts about some long-pent-up crush -- that's what [ profile] aroraborealis's annual Confessional is for. Though I suppose you can if you really wanna. But do you think someone has a fantastic way with words? A nifty wardrobe? Do you think they're an awesome parent/partner/friend, or maybe a spectacular cook? Do they have beautiful hair? Are you impressed with their intelligence/talent/dedication/passion/wit/hygiene? Let them know!

Oh sure, you could say nice things somewhere else, perhaps more directly to the complimentee -- in fact, I might recommend you leave a comment here and let the person know directly. I do realize that LJ might not be the most efficient way to spread these compliments. But look, I'm giving you a convenient place to be kind, and a way to have gathered a bunch of warm-n-fuzzy comments in one place! I'd hope it'll make everyone feel good to read the nice things other people have to say. And hey, maybe it'll make you want to get to know someone better, perhaps seeing some random bit of wonderfulness you didn't know before!

Be aware that this post is public, but anonymous comments are allowed.

So -- be nice! Go!

allizon: (Default)
I must confess: I'm one of those throngs of people who all but abandoned LiveJournal for other, younger, sexier social networks. But for all of the ease-of-use those sites may (emphasize may, depending on the site) offer, the ability to click a single link to interact with friends and bestow tiny droplets of positive feelings... I've been feeling largely disconnected from my community, and I think a big chunk of that is because I've gotten away from the place where more personal thoughts and discussions are the norm.

I haven't had anywhere to put the stuff that's more personal to me -- while I could, in theory, use Google+ for that, it's never felt right. Oh sure, I've put out plenty of pithy little one-liners on all of those other networks, but it's not conducive to the sort of solipsistic navel-gazing I'm prone to.

And I'm likewise missing out on the more personal posts from lots of you folk. I keep finding out bits of information way after the fact that I feel like I should have known earlier, and might have had I been keeping up with LJ better.

So hi, LiveJournal. I'm re-entering your orbit. (And I know I'm not the only one, as I've seen others come to similar conclusions!)

More to come.

(This is my first written-for-LJ post since June 12, 2011. Eep.)
allizon: (Default)
Plenty of people at this point have asked: why does the world not have a meme where everyone leaves screened comments with what they want to say to to the poster but haven't yet for whatever reason -- and I say, indeed, why not? So! Tell me anything you want me to know - about me, about you, about me, whatever you like.

Anonymous comments are enabled, and everything is screened. Tell me something you want to tell me, anonymously or not. If you say you want me to unscreen, I'll do so!

Please be gentle. Unless you think I'd like it if you weren't. :)
allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a ginormous corporation wants to strip a lush, beautiful (but primitive) environment of all of its natural resources, and the people who live there are none too happy about it. Or this one: a military man finds himself spending time with a beautiful (but primitive) civilization, falls in love with a woman from said civilization and eventually chooses to side with them against his own people. Add those two stories together and stir in quarter of a billion dollars of groundbreaking special effects, and you’ve got James Cameron’s Avatar.

Somewhere out in space sometime in the future, an Earth colony on the lush-and-beautiful-but-primitive planet Pandora works on mining all of the “unobtanium” from the planet.1 Of course, Pandora is populated by giant blue, peaceful, nature-worshipping beings called the Na’vi, and the Na’vi have to be dealt with before this massive military-industrial stripmining can occur. So the corporation hires Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) to infiltrate the Na’vi and convince them to leave the giant tree where they’ve lived for generations so that they can blow it right the hell up. To do this, they transfer Jake’s consciousness into a genetically-engineered human-Na’vi hybrid, which works out well for Jake since his human body is paralyzed from the waist down. There’s the scientist who becomes Jake’s friend (Sigourney Weaver) and the Na’vi Jake falls in love with (the CGI likeness of Zoe Saldana) and the weak corporate executive (Giovanni Ribisi) and the warmongering colonel (Stephen Lang) and the wise old native mentors (the CGI likenesses of Wes Studi and CCH Pounder)…and if you’ve ever seen another movie ever, you can probably figure out the rest.

Yes, the story is simplistic and derivative of any number of other “white man goes native” stories. But really, that’s utterly beside the point: Cameron wanted a story and structure on which to hang his special effects, so he cribbed together pieces from other sources to suit his needs. You’re not going to convince me that this was “a story he’d always wanted to tell” when it’s been told a dozen times over. Cameron’s a smart enough filmmaker to know that he couldn’t get away with no story — you’re not going to keep an audience engaged for two-and-a-half hours and encourage repeated viewers if all you’ve got is your special effects. He knew that a hackneyed story was better than none at all.

The characters were fine, I guess — while you can have sparklingly original characters in a trite story, Cameron chose not to go that route; taking the time to develop characters would have taken time away from developing his special effects. But stock characters or no, the actors played their parts well, even if these weren’t the sorts of roles which push one’s acting abilities to the edge. It’s worth noting, though, that Cameron does know how to work with his actors, how to get convincing performances out of them, and I think ultimately that’s one of the biggest separators between Avatar and the most recent Star Wars movies: George Lucas took fantastic actors and directed them to completely lifeless performances in his CGI-fests. Cameron might have been more interested in the CGI, but still had some viable humans in there, too. Even if Cameron’s directorial strategy was simply to hire talented actors and get the hell out of their way, that’s a serious improvement over Lucas’s techniques (whatever the hell they may be).

Half of the acting in the movie, however, is done through motion-captured big blue not-quite-human aliens, and it’s difficult ever to get to that point where you don’t realize you’re watching CGI — it’s not quite “uncanny valley”-esque, but it’s not as natural-seeming as, say, the Gollum effects in Lord of the Rings, either. Somewhat ironically, especially given what I said above about the acting being generally acceptable: the times the CGI-ness was most painful was during the times when Cameron attempted to have his giant Smurfs actually emote (most notably when once Na’vi wails and weeps over the death of another).

Avatar isn’t a great movie, no, but for all of it’s flaws it’s still a good movie. Cameron succeeded in doing exactly what I imagine he was attempting to do: he made an entertaining with absolutely stellar special effects. And it certainly affected my eight-year-old: she became truly distraught at some of the events of the movie, and has been begging me to let her watch it again. (She has pronounced it “the best movie ever”; she and I clearly need to have a talk and see more movies.) The simplistic story and overwrought environmental message certainly didn’t drag down her experience, and maybe even enhanced it — maybe what Cameron has made here is a gloriously violent (though bloodless) kids’ movie.

Avatar may not have revolutionized filmic storytelling, but in its own way it revolutionized filmmaking, and Cameron deserves a lot of credit for that. The movie was nominated for nine Oscars (including Best Picture) and won three: Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography, and all three awards were merited. I know plenty of people were angry or confused about the fact that Avatar was nominated for Best Picture — I even just said in the last paragraph that it’s a good but not great movie. But that nomination was awarded more for the “holy hell, Jim Cameron, look what you managed to pull off” factor than anything else. It’s much the same reason The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King scored so many nominations…but the fact that Return of the King was a much better film explains why that one won Best Picture.

  1. Cameron’s use of the term “unobtanium” is either a big joke or proof of laziness or disinterest in the storytelling. I’m honestly not sure which it is. 

allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

The one overriding triumph and tragedy of being a parent is this: kids grow up. If you do your job as a parent right, you train these amazing bundles of potential to be good, thoughtful, self-sufficient people and you push them out into the world to live their own lives and make their own way and just maybe do the same for their own kids someday. But that beautiful, agonizing process of maturation into adulthood necessarily involves the leaving behind of childish things, a development which tends to be harder on the parents than on the kids — and, Toy Story 3 argues, even harder on the childish things being left behind.

[The mild spoiler light is on now — probably nothing you can't figure out from the trailers or any preview articles, but just in case, I'm letting you know.]

After an absolutely fantastic five-minute sequence to open the movie — seriously, I could’ve watched a full feature done just like the opening here — we’re thrown immediately into the melancholy new status quo of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of our heroes from the first two movies. As Andy prepares to go off to some unnamed college some unspecified distance away, his old toys haven’t been played with in years and finally have to accept that their time as active playthings has long gone. In the first of many instances where director Lee Unkrich shows us that even if they’re comprised solely of pixels, these toys can act, we discover that not all of the toys from previous movies are still with us anymore. Those that are left show a remarkable degree of self-knowledge: they know that they’re likely facing either the attic or the dump.

(Incidentally, whether he still plays with them or not, Andy must still care about these toys, because they’re all in absolutely perfect shape. I wish I could get my kids to take care of their toys so well.)

Through a series of coincidences and accidents and numerous callbacks to the the previous movies, the toys instead end up at Sunnyside Day Care, a facility that at first seems to be a complete paradise for toys looking for kids to play with them. Sunnyside is populated by a host of new characters (most notably a Ken (Michael Keaton) to go with Andy’s sister’s Barbie (Jodi Benson)) and is ruled by the furry, strawberry-scented fist of Lotso Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty), who somehow manages to drip sweet Southern-fried menace even when seeming to be perfectly friendly. Sunnyside isn’t all that it seems, of course — there’s a dark side both from without (the terrorizing toddlers for whom our heroes are not age-appropriate) and from within.

The toys get separated yet again when Woody hightails it out of Sunnyside in an attempt to rejoin Andy yet again. But instead of feeling like a simple retread of the driving plot of each of the previous two movies, Toy Story 3 knows that it’s not the first (or even second) time the series has been over this particular ground, and so both purposefully references what’s gone before while also dramatically upping the stakes for the characters. We get several scenes of derring-do, a surprising torture sequence(!), and one final rescue-and-escape sequence that shows us far more than we might have wanted to know about what happens to our trash after the garbage trucks pick it up.

For all its humorous situations and light-hearted character moments, Toy Story 3 is by far certainly the darkest of the three Toy Storys and among the darkest of all Pixar’s films. Pixar has never shied away from the darkness when it’s helped to tell a story; hell, there’s more death in the first five minutes of Finding Nemo than in most Disney animated movies combined. There were moments in Toy Story 3 that were truly scary — I think my children might have developed acute monkeyphobia now thanks to this movie. Near the ending of the grand action sequence at the end, I actually began to wonder for a minute if Pixar would let these characters meet a gruesome, all-too-final fate. (Mild spoiler: they didn’t.) But the genuine emotion that these toys exhibited when they thought they were facing their imminent destruction was astonishing (again with the “these toys can act” thing, or more accurately, these animators can act).

I doubt it’s all that much of a spoiler to say that Toy Story 3 had a happy ending — but I have to admit it was a happy ending that made me bawl like I’d just lost my own childhood toys. And it wasn’t just a happy ending, but the right ending, the only way to wrap things up that truly respects the growth and stories of all of the characters involved. Any other ending would have been cheating the characters or pandering to the audience and would just have felt wrong. Things had to end the way they did, even if for awhile I wasn’t sure it was actually going to happen.

This movie really pushed my buttons as a parent in a way the first two never did; while I certainly enjoyed the hell out of them, neither ever truly affected me emotionally. Man, was that not the case with Toy Story 3. I suspect that this movie touched on my own unexplored issues with losing or abandoning toys, but it also made me took at my kids’ relationships with their toys differently, especially my younger daughter’s with her stuffed lion Alex, who has always been to her what Woody was to Andy. By the time the movie’s pitch-perfect ending arrives, my buttons hadn’t been pushed, they’d been mauled.

(A final aside: Toy Story 3 raises some interesting metaphysical questions about toys and where their “life force,” that bit that makes the toys what they are, truly resides. If Mrs. Potato Head can still see through one of her eyes when it’s detached from her, do all her senses work similarly independently? Given the disturbing-but-funny circumstances that befall Mr. Potato Head, what is it exactly that constitutes his essential Potato-Head-ness? Where, exactly, does Buzz’s Buzz-ness, that self-knowledge that makes him different from the millions of other Buzz Lightyear toys, live? This topic seems like a good one to ruminate on while drinking.)

allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

I have to confess that How To Train Your Dragon surprised me. I knew almost nothing about the movie going in — I mean, I knew there were dragons, and I supposed someone was going to learn how to train one — but I didn’t know anything about the story or who made the movie or even who did the voices. But I was almost a totally clean receptacle for whatever this flick had to give me. And man, did it give me a lot: Dragon is very probably the best not-by-Pixar CGI movie yet, and it even surpasses some of Pixar’s. This was a damn good movie.

On the island of Berk, located somewhere that looks to be very, very far north, a clan of Vikings spend their nights fighting off random attacks from dragons that attack their island and steal their sheep. (All of the adult Vikings inexplicably speak with Scottish accents. The younger ones speak with American accents. Maybe it’s a puberty thing? You come of age, your testicles drop or your breasts grow, and as a consequence you develop a thick Scottish brogue?) The scariest of these hated dragons is the near-mythical Night Fury, a dragon so fast, so vicious that none of the Vikings have ever actually seen one.

Until our hero, Pancho or Hippo or Pustule or something (I never could remember his name, even while watching the movie) shoots one out of the sky with a slingshot-like contraption of his own invention.

You see, while all of the adult Vikings have muscles on top of their muscles and fearlessly fight off the constant dragon attacks with enthusiastic machismo, young Pinochle (Jay Baruchel) has brains on top of his brains. He’s scrawny and smart as hell, but inherited the fearlessness of his Viking forbears and wants desperately to earn the approval of his father, clan leader Stoick (Gerard Butler). So Peanut takes out this dragon using his big brain, goes to find it and discovers he hasn’t killed it but only injured it — and that’s where his journey to self-knowledge begins.

How To Train Your Dragon (2010)

four-and-a-half stars (out of a possible five)

directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois

wrtten by Adam F. Goldberg, Peter Tolan, Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois and Cressida Cowell (novel)

starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse

How To Train You Dragon features some fantastic characterization, especially with the catlike dragon Toothless — but that shouldn’t come as a surprise given that the movie was directed and co-written by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the guys behind Lilo and Stitch, a movie that featured one of my favorite characterization sequences in any movie, animated or not. Somehow I didn’t realize they were the ones who made this movie, or I’d have been much more enthusiastic about going to see it. (I thought I was just doing something nice for the kids.) Toothless even has some Stitch-like characteristics, though none of that character’s mania.

Sanders here comes up with some solid character design — we know just from looking at Pencil or Peggle or Giggle or whatever the kid’s name is exactly where he stands in his society. (The quivery voice Baruchel gave him annoyed me a fair amount, but it actually fit the character’s fourteen-or-so-year-old-ness, so overall I guess I won’t complain too much.) Sanders also plays a neat trick with the designs of several other characters, a gag understated enough that I didn’t catch onto it at all until he revealed what he had done — there was a level of subtlety at play that’s unusual for a kids’ movie.

Also unusual for the genre was the ending, which was absolutely fantastic and surprisingly thrilling in a true “holy crap, I’m really not sure what’s gonna happen here” way. I assumed that a kids’ movie wouldn’t kill off its main character, but Dragon did a superb job of keeping up a sense of suspense and keeping me on edge. Some of the visuals during the climactic battle at the end — a raging fight between dragons that we see only as far-off flashes of light inside clouds — stayed with me for some time after I left the theater.

One of my favorite things about this story was the way it subtly encouraged thinking and questioning as, you know, a Good Thing To Do. Most of the Vikings assume the dragons are evil and launch their attacks because they don’t understand the dragons — they’ve never asked the question why. Human nature, as has been detailed in countless movies, novels, and Arizona laws, is to hate and fear that which we don’t understand. Once Pinhead has the opportunity to see an actual dragon for himself, though, he starts to question — the dragons, his culture and even himself, what he believes and what he’s capable of.

That’s a pretty subversive idea for a kids’ movie to teach, if you think about it. This isn’t a Harry Potter-esque “oh hey, here’s a new world totally unlike the one you know.” And it’s more than just “be accepting of those different from you because you’re more alike than you are different,” which is a fairly standard trope in movies aimed at kids. Dragon really does say “your entire society may well be wrong about one or more of the fundamental assumptions on which it’s built, so you need to think for yourself.” I can’t right off hand think of another kids’ movie that preaches the same idea. It’s certainly an idea I want my own kids to learn, and while I’m happy to teach it to them, I’m more than happy to let this masterpiece reinforce the idea.

(Hiccup, that’s his name. Hiccup.)

allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

Twenty-some-odd years ago, an alien spaceship parked itself over Johannesburg, South Africa, presumably because the alien intelligence knew that was the single best place to go if it wanted to make itself into a heavy-handed metaphor for apartheid. The South Africans went up to the ship and found, so they said, a million aliens stuffed into the ship in wretched conditions, and so they did what any right-thinking government would do with a bunch of aliens: they killed the whole lot of them rather than allow them into their country.

Oh, wait, I’m sorry, that’s what a right-wing government would do. My bad.

Instead, they evacuated all of them from the ship and set them up in a dingy slum outside of Johannesburg which was, I’m sure, so much better for them. By the time the movie’s story begins, the slum houses 1.6 million “prawns” (the derogatory nickname for the insecty-looking aliens), and the government has decided that’s just way too many of them way too close to the city, and it’s time to relocate the lot of them to a much more concentration-camp like setup much further out of town.

District 9 (2009)

four stars (out of a possible five)

directed by Neill Blomkamp

written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and David James

And that’s where our protagonist, mid-level bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe1 (Sharlto Copley) comes into play, as it’s his job to head up the relocation operation. Thanks to the “mockumentary” format director Neill Blomkamp employs, it’s not initially clear that Wikus is our lead character — Blomkamp throws a whole bunch of talking heads at us at first, and it only becomes clear we’re supposed to be paying the most attention to Wikus after the movie’s inciting incident does its inciting. (Though in retrospect, I suppose, it was probably obvious: he was the first of the many heads to start talking.)

Once incidents have been properly incited (and I don’t want to say anything more specific on that front in case you haven’t yet been spoiled), we move into what turns out to be a pretty damn exciting movie. Most of the scenes kept the tension ratcheted up once the story kicked into gear, and I had two distinct “oh, shit, that was cool” moments. This seemed like the sort of movie where I should have known exactly what was going to happen before it did, but I honestly had no idea where the story was headed — it felt like just about anything could have happened to the main characters and I’ve have just rolled with it.

I like the idea of the mockumentary format in general, but District 9 suffers from some of the same problems with the format that most other faux documentaries do: there’s a need to show stuff which the camera could not possibly have picked up. Director Neill Blomkamp keeps the feel up pretty well for awhile, but eventually needs to show some of the aliens talking and plotting amongst themselves, and from that point on the mockumentary bits are mostly thrown aside except for some shots which were supposedly from security cameras. I’m sure Blomkamp made the choices he did because they thought they’d best let him tell the story he wanted to tell, but I think I’d have preferred he just not even start the documentary-style footage if he couldn’t carry it off throughout.

But that relatively minor quibble aside, District 9 was a solid piece of science fictional entertainment, and one with a much more well-developed emotional core than one might expect from a movie where soliders frequently get exploded into bloody splotches. Copley had apparently never before acted in front of a camera until Blomkamp, a childhood friend of his, cast him as the lead in his movie, but you’d never know he was so inexperienced: there certainly was never a point where I wasn’t sure what Wikus was feeling. Even the main “prawn” character was driven by his emotion moreso than by the simple needs of the plot. I was about to say that I guess that sort of emotional depth should be expected from any SF movie which manages to get itself nominated for Best Picture (expanded field of entrants or not), but, well, Avatar also scored a nomination.

For a relatively low-budget movie — and I do mean “relative to Avatar” — the special effects were indeed special. (I feel safe in guessing having producer Peter Jackson’s WETA Workshops working on the movie probably helped.) Mixing bipedal insectoids, miles-long spaceships, alien weaponry and a heavily-armed twenty-foot-tall battle suit into the middle of Johannesburg and the sad tin hovels of the arid alien slum made for visuals different from most SF FX-fests.

Recommended for fans of: Thoughtful, unexpected, explody movies; precocious insectoid children; Johannesburg; science fiction as metaphor for real-world problems.

  1. I’m half-convinced the only reason the main character was named “Wikus” was so that another character could make a “Dickus” joke late in the movie. 

allizon: (Bad bad little monkey (Curious George))
You don't want to have to comment on my site (or Terry's) and would like the option of commenting here, which is entirely reasonable. I was trying both to build traffic and interest in our respective sites and to consolidate commenting in one (preferably public) place in order to foster discussion.  (I most certainly do not want any backwards links from my public site to my LJ -- vastly different intended audiences!)

But I have to listen to my friends/readers, and several of you have indicated how little you like having to comment there or have outright refused to do so.  So I'm backtracking and re-enabling commenting on the LJ copies of my posts from our sites for all future posts.

I will ask, though, that those of you who are willing to comment Out There please continue to do so.  Having you awesome people discussing stuff out on the sites hopefully encourages other, random non-LJ people who stop by there to get involved.  If you really don't want to do that, or have something to say that you'd just rather leave here, that's totally fine and why I'm re-enabling LJ comments. But I'd appreciate it if you could still use the site commenting sometimes, too!
allizon: (Superman!)
We're moving, and I don't want to move these comics I haven't read in 20+ years again just to store them in the basement again.  You want 'em? If you can come take 'em off my hands, they're yours.

I currently have six or seven boxes (four longboxes, two or three random boxes) full of comics I've bought over the last thirty years. A lot of it may well be crap, but there's gonna be some good stuff in there, too. Most (but not all) of it is gonna be superhero stuff from DC and Marvel. I don't even know for sure what all's in there...I don't want to open the boxes up because really, I don't want to know. If I knew, I might not want to get rid of them, but I do want to get rid of them, so.  Yeah.

If you feel like coming to Arlington to take them away from me, you can have them. Let me know soon, because this offer's going up at my job on Tuesday if I don't have any LJ takers first.

Thanks, LJ!

ETA[ profile] surrealestate  now has first dibs but might not want all of them, so there's still several boxes that might or might not be up for grabs!
allizon: (andrew)

And a very Happy Mother's Day to all of you fantastic moms out there! I wore my "I <3 Hot Moms" shirt yesterday in your honor!
allizon: (harmonix)
OK, so I guess I should mention this... the official website for The Beatles: Rock Band, the site I busted my ass on all last summer, is up for a Webby for Best Games-Related site. We worked really really hard on this site -- my mantra throughout the process was "Yes, but will that (whatever detail was being discussed) win us a Webby?" I can say that yes, it's awfully nice to be nominated... but it would be even nicer to, y'know, win. I would love to be able to say I was Lead Developer on a Webby-Award Winning Website™. My resume would love it, too (not that I'm looking for a new job anytime soon).

We're really close right now -- we're down 28% to 27% to Game Informer magazine. If you'd like to vote for me/us/The Beatles, you can go to, which is a shortcut right to the page for voting for us. Warning: you'll have to register with the site, which I admit is kinda sucky.

So... yeah. Vote please? It would mean a hell of a lot to me to win this thing.
allizon: (Default)
Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

Dear Will Smith:

I say to you, Will, the same thing I recently said to Seth Rogen about his recent decision to appear in the (so I’ve heard) execrable Observe and Report: you’re a naturally likable guy. That’s why you’re one of the biggest movie stars in the world — because people like you. You’re a good-looking man, you’re obviously smart as hell, you’re filled almost to overflowing with charisma. So why in the world would you want to appear in a movie in which you’re so not likable — especially in a disaster like Hancock? I’d understand if this movie were a matter of your trying to stretch yourself as an actor; that desire would be and is commendable. You’ve made plenty of movies for exactly that reason, and you’ve earned yourself two Oscar nominations so far for it.

But this? This isn’t stretching, Will; Hancock represents exactly the sort of SFX-laden blockbuster which has been your bread and butter for the last decade. Were you so desperate to play a superhero — any superhero — that you thought this was a good choice? It wasn’t, Will. Hancock‘s big draws are A) you (wasted, since your charisma and intelligence were so damped down), B) Charlize Theron (almost entirely wasted) and C) big special effects sequences. Those the movie has in excess, but they’re not even close to well-done enough or compelling enough to make up for its almost complete lack of humanity.

There’s some massive worldbuilding fail going on in Hancock: the entire story is rooted in ideas which clearly weren’t thought through very well. The world of Hancock is one in which Smith’s John Hancock is, in theory, the only super-powered person on the planet, yet there’s no real discussion of the implications of that reality either for him or for the world. We know that Hancock occasionally begrudgingly helps stop some crimes, destroys lots of property, and the people of Los Angeles hate him. But why did this happen, what does any of it mean? What does it mean to have one super-powered person in an ordinary world? Yes, we get a nod to “it’s lonely to be Hancock,” but there’s no serious effort put into what it really means to be this man. You may argue that director Peter Berg doesn’t want to get into those discussions, and you’d probably be right; but avoiding the questions made the movie feel much more lightweight to me — and again, that might well have been Berg’s intent, to produce light, brainpower-lite summer entertainment.

I know that I’m getting dangerously close to violating my own rules here. I’m putting forth what I think the movie should have been trying to do and not simply accepting what the movie gave me. But dammit, this is a Will Smith superhero movie — he should’ve known better, should’ve done better.

Hancock (2008)

one-and-a-half stars (out of a possible five)

directed by Peter Berg

wrtten by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan

starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman

See, Hancock feels like a superhero movie created by people who don’t know, like or understand superheroes…and I know that in Smith’s case, that’s absolutely not true. He’s one of the most famous comic book fans in the world, and surely should have been capable of making a better superhero movie than this. Hancock features exactly two likable characters (neither of whom sports any superpowers), a metric crap-ton of property damage, and very little to no logic or sense. Things happen without consequence, or with inconsistent consequence: for example, Hancock’s disregard for property or, from the looks of it, human life drive the first half of the movie’s plot and what tiny bit of characterization Smith and Berg attempt, but a later massive CGI rampage through downtown L.A. causes not so much as a ripple in the movie’s world. Again, there’s that unshakable feeling of “not thought through very well.”

The one bright spot to me — and sadly not even a bright spot throughout — was, entirely unsurprisingly, Jason Bateman. His character, while entirely unbelievable as a hotshot public relations exec, also provided most of the comedy and likability in the first two thirds of the movie. After the movie’s Big Shocking Twist, however, Bateman seemed to have no idea what to do with his character — and it was at that point that his reactions and feelings should have been most important to the story. I place the blame there on director Berg, because Batemen didn’t even try; had he tried to act like a human being and done so unconvincingly, I might have blamed Bateman, but when there’s no effort whatsoever, that seems more like the fault of the director.

I’m going to give you a Mulligan on this one, Will. I think you’ve got a quality superhero movie in you, but Hancock certainly wasn’t it. Of course, the $227 million domestic this movie took in means your next superhero flick will probably be Hancock 2: Hancockier, so I have a sad feeling that quality superhero movie inside won’t ever see the light of day.

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Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

It’s easy enough to mock Ben Affleck after the downward trajectory into ridiculousness his career took, especially between 2002 and 2005 when he was conceptually inseparable from Jennifer Lopez and made a tremendous number of terrible, terrible movies. But I’m not going to mock him now: his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone (for which he also co-wrote the screenplay), demands all of the admiration and respect he couldn’t earn just a few years ago. Affleck could easily abandon his on-screen career in favor of behind-the-camera work, and that might not be such a loss — he was always more movie star than actor, anyway.

I’ll admit that I had doubts when I heard that Affleck had cast his little brother Casey Affleck as put-upon P.I. Patrick Kenzie — I’ve long been a fan of Dennis Lehane‘s Kenzie-Gennaro mystery novels and, like you do, had my own vision of what the characters looked like, a vision what I knew of Affleck the Younger just didn’t fit. I’m sure I’m not the only person who assumed the casting was pure nepotism. And perhaps it was — but even if so, it doesn’t matter, since Casey Affleck’s performance fits the character as if Lehane had written Patrick Kenzie with Affleck in mind from the start. Kenzie and partner (in life and in business) Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan, whose character is sadly less involved here than in the books) are hired to find a missing four-year-old girl; of course, the case becomes far, far more convoluted than expected.

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

five stars (out of a possible five)

directed by Ben Affleck

wrtten by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard

starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Amy Ryan, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman

Affleck the Elder also draws stellar performances from his supporting cast, including Broadway vet Amy Ryan (who earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) as the perhaps-not-quite-as-anguished-as-she-should-be mother and the always-reliable Ed Harris as a cop reluctantly working the case with Kenzie and Morgan Freeman as the head of the Boston Police Department’s missing child division.

Gone Baby Gone is a mystery, technically, but almost not quite; who was responsible for the crime committed — or even which crime was committed — proves less important than what the events say about the people involved, both the victims and the investigators. The plot has all the mechanics of a whodunit, all the reverses and reveals, but those concerns are secondary.

Never, never have I so badly wished for a character not to do something which his nature insisted he must. I’m not one given to talking to characters in the movies and TV shows I watch, but I wanted to grab Patrick Kenzie and slap some sense into him: “You’re not a parent, you don’t — perhaps you can’t — understand. This situation is out of your depth. All of your moral absolutes are whispers in the wind when the well-being of a child is involved.” But I think Kenzie knows he’s stuck in a murky area ethically and his rigid divisions between Right and Wrong provide his only signposts toward right action; the movie’s heartbreaking final scene shows him that those signposts might not have been guiding him correctly after all.

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Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

If I were to take the time and figure out a list of my most very favorite movies of the 1980s, you’d find all of the following on said list:

  • The Breakfast Club (1985)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
  • Mr. Mom (1983)

…and if I were to extend this list with other movies from the Eighties which I really enjoyed but couldn’t necessarily count as “among my favorites,” you’d see:

  • Sixteen Candles (1984)
  • Weird Science (1985) (Yes, really.)
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

That’s a pretty impressive list, especially for covering only a six-year span. Every one of those movies was written (and some were directed) by John Hughes, who passed away yesterday.

Hughes didn’t look down on nerds, unlike so many of his contemporaries. In fact, Hughes celebrated them (mainly through his nerdly avatar, Anthony Michael Hall) and showed us — or, rather, showed all of you who weren’t nerds in the 1980s — that they were real people, too, and their stories deserved to be shared just as much as the pretty people’s do. Even iconic “cool kid” Ferris Bueller was really a nerd at heart: he might have gotten a computer instead of a car for his birthday, but he used that computer to hack into the school’s computer and change his number of absences, a very nerdy thing to do.

Of all of Hughes’ movies, The Breakfast Club most particularly spoke to me (and many others like me, I’m sure), in no small part because I was basically the same age as its characters when I first saw it. That movie was the first time I can recall that I was presented the idea that we are all freaks in some way, we are all of us different, no matter how “normal” we may look on the outside. I remember a couple of long walks from my house with my dad to get milkshakes at McDonald’s, and we’d talk about that movie and the characters and what it meant and how it related to me and my friends.

So thank you, John Hughes, for creating so many characters I could relate to when I was a teenager, and for creating so many movies I enjoyed so much. You can be sure my kids will be watching your teen-oriented movies when they’re teenagers themselves — which will be thirty years after those movies came out — and that’s a fantastic legacy for you to have. (Of course, my kids adore Beethoven, which you also wrote, so they’re already in love with your work.) Rest well.

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Announcing Rock Band Network, in which anyone can get their songs into Rock Band. (Provided they're willing to learn the tools and their stuff passes a stringent peer-review process, since we don't want anything violating copyright or anything just wretched going into the game.)

And here's the official website, which my team has been working like hell on for almost a year:

[ profile] skintalker's been working his ass off on this (as have a great many other awesome people here) so send some mad props his way. ;)

(And now, I stick my head back into my Big Hole of OMG So Much Work...)
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Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

A troubled actor under house arrest for arson. A television writer juggling both creative and political concerns trying to get his show on the air. A video game designer trying to find help for his stranded wife and daughter. What do these three men have in common? Well, they’re all played by Ryan Reynolds, for one thing, but the nature of their connections is the mystery at the heart of John August‘s thought-provoking but maddening The Nines.

The Nines contains three stories which more or less add up to one larger meta-story. Each episode features the same three actors in roles which roughly correspond consistently: Reynolds is the focus; Melissa McCarthy is someone important to him in some way; and Hope Davis tries to keep McCarthy’s character away from him. Each story includes numerous callbacks (or call-forwards) to the others. To say more than that starts to eat into the fun of the movie, that piecing together of little bits of information and visual clues.

The Nines (2007)

four stars (out of a possible five)

written and directed by John August

starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy and Hope Davis

Reynolds in particular makes the most of his multiple roles. It’s easy to think of him as something of a one-note actor because most of the time he suffers from Movie Star Syndrome: he’s handsome enough and charismatic enough and naturally funny enough to carry a role by essentially playing himself (or so it seems; it’s not like I’ve ever met the man). But in The Nines, he shows that when given a part which requires it, he actually can act. Two of his roles here are well within his regular wheelhouse, but in the second segment, he plays a thinly-veiled version of writer-director August: his turn as a reserved, driven gay man runs refreshingly against the normal Ryan Reynolds type, and it give me hope that he’ll find more roles in the future which can bring this level of work out of him.

(On a side note, I’d like to say that I was very happy to see Gilmore Girls‘ Melissa McCarthy given such a large part in a movie. Her performance here was mostly nothing exceptional, one scene of barely-contained rage withstanding, but it’s always nice to see an actress who so flouts conventional Hollywood wisdom about body image get to do her thing in a major role and remind people that there’s more than one way to define beauty. Of course, this movie wasn’t especially Hollywood in the first place…)

The Nines kept me intrigued through its first two thirds, but the conclusion gave me a serious case of whatthefuckitis. I can’t say that the ending didn’t play fair or set itself up properly, because it did, but I kept waiting for some indication that there was another layer to be peeled back to give me the real ending. Even though everything we’d seen in the previous ninety minutes had indeed been building toward this particular conclusion — in retrospect, anyway — the final nine minutes of The Nines seemed very much like a left-field copout. I’d rather have had a much more open, vague ending than having something decisive but which felt so awkward. Watch this movie to enjoy Reynolds’ performance, but don’t go in expecting to have everything wrapped up satisfactorily.

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Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

There’s a good reason Sandra Bullock took the title of “Queen of the Romantic Comedy” away from Meg Ryan in the middle of the 1990s. [1] As epitomized in While You Were Sleeping (the movie which first launched Bullock into romcom stardom and still the best of them she’s made to date) Bullock projects a naturally awkward adorableness which makes the audience feel very protective of her: we empathize with her romantic plight and we want her to succeed because she obviously deserves the attention she’s so desperately craving. Ryan never truly seemed like One of Us; her romantic problems always seemed to exist on another level entirely and Ryan projected a sort of aloofness. And while Bullock’s love woes are equally contrived, she herself seems much more accessible to us: we’re much more likely want to give Bullock a comforting hug than Ryan.

(Incidientally, I’m curious to see the seeming shift in her on-screen persona in the more recent The Proposal — she’s clearly playing against type as the less vulnerable of the leads and letting the also-affable Ryan Reynolds take on the more likable role. The shift didn’t seem to affect the movie’s box office any, but I’m curious to see if I’ll like her in the position of power.)

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

four stars (out of a possible five)

directed by Jon Turteltaub

wrtten by Daniel G. Sullivan and Fredric LeBow

starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher, Peter Boyle and Jack Warden

Lonely Chicago transit system employee Lucy Moderatz (Bullock) spends her days in a tiny booth taking an endless supply of train tokens from commuters; she spends her night in her apartment alone with her cat, eating frozen dinners. Lucy has convinced herself she’s fallen in love with Peter, a handsome, well-dressed man (Peter Gallagher) who comes through her station every morning, though of course she’s never spoken to him. On Christmas Day, she witnesses him get mugged and knocked onto the train tracks, then manages to pull him off the tracks in time to save his life. At the hospital, in the sort of misunderstanding on which romantic comedies are designed, his family mistakes her for a fiancée they’d never heard about. Peter’s in a coma and can’t clear up the issue, and Lucy’s unsure how to do so and unsure she wants to…until she meets Peter’s brother Jack (Bill Pullman).

Bullock’s Lucy is the perfect sort of heroine for a movie like While You Were Sleeping: she’s endearing and harmless, letting herself sink into the moral morass of the film’s plot because she can’t bear to break the hearts of her newly-adopted family. Even when we disagree with her choices, we get where she’s coming from — she only has the best of intentions. We’d never stand for her decisions in real life, but within the context of the movie, they’re, well…adorable. Bullock’s natural charm shines through in this movie — as does Pullman’s. In many romantic comedies, some even starring Bullock, we think the protagonists should end up together only because their names are above the credits and we know they’ll be together in the happy ending. Here, both Bullock and Pullman are so likable that we want them to work their way through the convolutions of the plot so they can find each other.

The movie’s very professionally directed by Jon Turteltaub, and I don’t mean that to sound disrespectful. So many movies feature awkward reaction shots or questionable line readings or bizarre transitions, just to name a few pet peeves, which make the film seem amateur no matter what the budget. But Turteltaub leaves none of those moments in While You Were Sleeping (with the possible exception of some strange lines from the venerable Glynis Johns, but I’ll cut her some slack). Turteltaub assembled a thoroughly professional cast (and again, I use that word as praise). Any cast with Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, Gallagher and Pullman will yield some solid acting; Gallagher in particular plays his part with glee, even the throwaway lines. (Of course, he spends half the movie in a coma, but still.)

In the end, While You Were Sleeping might not be extraordinarily witty or incisive and might be more than a little predictable, but it is very pleasant, charming and heart-warming, and I can think of many worse ways to spend an hour-and-a-half.

[1] No, it’s not because Ryan became all collagened and scary-looking; that actually happened later on — indirectly as a result of her dethroning.

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Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

Shane Black, who wrote and directed the neo-noir comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, loves to throw together characters who really shouldn’t become friends but do exactly that — usually in spite of their better instincts.  Take two characters with very little in common, stick them in circumstances which continue to throw them together when they’d rather be apart, and watch the fireworks pop and burgeoning bromance grow.  It worked in Lethal Weapon, it worked in The Last Boy Scout, and it works like hell in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  It certainly helps in this case that he’s got Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, both incredibly charming actors, to make the awkward friendship work.

Let’s get this out of the way up front:  the plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is utterly and completely ludicrous.  The mystery at its core relies on such incredible levels of coincidence to get anything at all in motion or to reveal clues to its characters that it’s utterly divorced from anything approaching reality.  And I’ll also say this:  I truly didn’t care.  Don’t watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang expecting a mystery which plays fair and makes sense, because really, this just ain’t the movie for that. I believe Black made the plot this outlandish on purpose, as the entire movie is something of a loving tongue-in-cheek sendup of old film noir flicks.  Watch this movie for the actors and their chemistry, for the plentious wit in the screenplay and for the sheer fun of it.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

four stars (out of a possible five)

written and directed by Shane Black

starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan and Corbin Bernsen

Petty thief Harry Lockhart (Downey) flees New York for California after the first of those amazing coincidences:  he stumbles into an audition for a cop drama while running from the police after being busted trying to steal a toy for his niece.  Suddenly he’s at a fancy Hollywood party thrown by producer Harlan Dexter (a creepy Corbin Bernsen), where he’s introduced to Perry van Shrike (Kilmer), a private investigator hired by Dexter to help train Harry for his movie role.  Perry also happens to be gay, meaning he’s known as “Gay Perry.”  (Get it?)  Soon after, Harry meets Harmony Lee (Michelle Monaghan), a woman who seems to be perfect for him — and it’s at that point that the ridiculousness of the plot kicks into high gear, and at this point that it’s best I stop recounting it.

Downey plays Harry in full-on Manic Downey mode:  Black’s hyperverbal screenplay fits that aspect of Downey’s persona perfectly.  Harry narrates the film in true film noir fashion, but unlike the more hard-boiled narrators of those movies this one reveres, the fourth-wall-breaking Harry forgets details, has to reverse and correct himself, and berates himself for missing crucial bits of plot.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was one of Downey’s first steps toward reclaiming his career, and anyone who enjoyed his performances in 2008′s Iron Man and Tropic Thunder should greatly enjoy him here.

One of the more refreshing facets of the movie was the fact that Kilmer’s portrayal of Gay Perry was, regardless of his character’s name, in no way stereotypically “gay.”  There’s none of the pop cultural shorthand we normally use to indicate that a character is homosexual; if Perry and the other characters didn’t tell us himself about his sexuality, we’d have no way to know.  The humor in his character isn’t to be found in his homosexuality, but rather in his conisderable wit, his total self-confidence and the way he deals with the much less refined Harry. Any “gay humor” with Perry is in the reactions of other people to him — Kilmer, pardon the phrase, plays Gay Perry totally straight.   But it’s still Kilmer’s funniest performance since Real Genius and a reminder that he doesn’t do comedy nearly frequently enough.


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Originally posted at Moviegeekz.. If you have something to say -- and I hope you do -- please go comment there!

More than once I’ve casually known — or even just known of — people (friends of friends, usually) who have made me think “That’s someone I need to be friends with.”  Usually it’s a realization that we have similar interests, sometimes it’s a touch of envy because that person is already doing something I want to be doing, and sometimes it’s just that the potential friend has that particular charisma that gives them a measure of indefinable “cool.”  Rarely, however, do I act on that impulse…because walking up to someone I know barely or not at all and saying “Hey, you cool person, you…I want to be your friend” is a damn hard thing to do.

And I Love You, Man gets that difficulty exactly right.   In some ways making friends is more difficult than dating: at least with dating, the asked-out has a pretty clear guess what the asker-out wants.  But while it seems like it shouldn’t be so, saying to someone “I want to be friends with you” turns out to be far more awkward than asking for a date. (I’ll admit to the possibility that maybe this is just me, and other people have no problem whatsoever doing so…but I suspect it’s not I’m not alone.)

I Love You, Man (2009)

four stars (out of a possible five)

directed by John Hamburg

wrtten by John Hamburg and Larry Levin

starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons and Lou Ferrigno

Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) asks his girlfriend Zooey (Rashisa Jones) to marry him and realizes shortly after that he has no one to be his best man at the wedding — or, more technically, realizes that he has no male friends close enough to deserve the honor of being his best man — and no one he thinks would accept, anyway.  Even his father (the always wonderful J.K. Simmons) and brother (Andy Samberg) are far closer to each other than they are to him. Peter has one of those ideas that only ever occurs in movies and sets out to meet new guy friends, hoping one will click well enough for that person to be his best man. He finds a likely candidate in Sidney Fife (Jason Segel) who, in fine buddy comedy tradition, represents Peter’s polar opposite: relaxed and confident where Peter is neurotic and unsure, easily likable where Peter is reserved. (Not so coincidentally, Sidney shares his surname with one of the most legendary best friends in the pop culture canon.)

But here’s the thing: I said this setup follows in “fine buddy comedy tradition,” but it doesn’t follow those footsteps too closely. Because while most comedies of this sort would have Sidney turn out to be in some way wrong for Peter, that’s not the case with I Love You, Man. Writer/director John Hamburg gets it: Sidney actually is a really good guy. As is Peter. There’s one scene which seems to be setting us up for a big twist in the nature of the relationship between Peter and Sidney, but that twist never comes. Both characters — as well as both actors playing them — are completely likable. We want these guys to be friends because we want to be friends with both of them.

Also, a more traditional (read: lazier and dumber) comedy would have made Zooey out to be a nagging shrew, and Sidney would have shown Peter the light in realizing why he shouldn’t marry her.  That’s not the case here:  Zooey remains loving, caring and sympathetic throughout, even during the expected late-movie problems between her and Peter.  That’s one of the beauties of the movie:  all of the main characters only want what’s best for the people they care about.  Sidney wants Peter to marry Zooey.  Zooey wants Peter to have a good male friend, even if she’s a bit jealous when it actually happens.  Peter wants to have both of these people in his life, difficult as becomes to balance the two.

I Love You, Man follows solidly in the recent Apatowian tradition (though Judd Apatow himself has nothing to do with the movie):  it never makes fun of its characters.  It doesn’t ask you to laugh at Peter either for not having any real male friends or for wanting them; we can laugh at how he goes about trying to find them and the results of the search, but not at Peter for the desire itself. The movie’s humor comes from the interactions between the characters, not from any inherent ridiculousness of the situation.   I Love You, Man lets these characters and the relationship between them stay real, and we care about them far more than we might have expected as a result.


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March 2012

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