Tagged by a Tough One

Well, not Valerie, who did the actual tagging, but the tag itself – list your favorite movies. Traditionally, I get all film geek at this question, insisting that I can't compare apples to oranges, that I'll only pick the top films of a specific genre, blah blah blah. Rather than belabor you with a ton of internal deliberation, I'll just go with gut responses (and photos ;) So this is isn't well considered, it's prolly not too accurate, but I'll count down my five regardless:
#5: The Matrix. The first one. Every so often, I make a concerted effort to pretend the sequels never existed, dig out the DVD and am surprised at how fantastic this flick still is. While bullet time has lost some of its gee-whiz appeal, the movie itself hasn't lost a bit of its power. From the "he's beginning to believe" moment when Neo wrangles the helicopter on, this one's still a killer.

#4: Scream Trilogy. Speaking of killers, my favorite horror series makes the list. The pop culture parts are less relevant now, and the meta-appeal of characters being aware of the film versions of their peril has now been overdone, but at the time, Scream was like that shot of adrenaline plunged into Uma Thurman's chest in Pulp Fiction. Set the (fairly stupid) horror industry on its ear, turning what's traditionally an exercise in exploitation into a hyper-literate whodunit... and kept the momentum thru two remarkably solid sequels.

#3: Empire Strikes Back. Another exercise in pretending a certain section of the saga doesn't exists (the prequels instead of the sequels), but if you can forget Teenakin and the Jar-Jars remember how big a deal it was when Darth Vader said "I am your father." It's become kind of cliche to say that Empire's the best of the Star Wars saga, but watch it again – it's an incredible mix of action and emotion, pyrotechnics and pathos.
#2: Raiders of the Lost Ark. I almost went with another "whole saga" vote here, but a) Temple of Doom, while not as bad as I originally remembered, still ain't great and b) dunno how Part IV will turn out... yet. Last Crusade was a fantastic return to form – but the form was founded with Raiders. It's Lucas doing what he does well (story, not script), Spielberg at his absolute best and Harrison Ford before he started making stuff like Firewall. An absolutely perfect adventure.

#1. The Lord of the Rings. Yes, the Extended Editions and yes, the whole damn thing, as I consider it one twelve-hour movie. One can quibbles with a few details and someone will eventually surpass the special effects, but for raw grandeur and sheer spectacular emotion, it can't be beat. I have, on occasion, sat and watched all three extended edition DVDs in a row – it's a hell of a day. Confession: I got a little teary the first time I saw Rivendell. Anyway, the most impressive example of consistent filmmaking vision I know.

Some honorable mentions that occurred along the way: Back to the Future Trilogy, particularly Part II, which I think is beyond brilliant. The New Jersey Trilogy consisting of Clerks, Chasing Amy and Clerks II (ignore Mallrats and Jay & Silent Bob, etc.) And can't forget the two great two-letter sequels, T2 and X2.

Frank and Chris, you're it. Everyone else – thoughts?


Superheroes Suit Me

Ok, lemme preface this by saying I'm a Batman guy. I don't read him consistently anymore (have gotten a little more Marvel than DC), but how can one argue with a man driven half (at least) insane by blind rage, keeping himself going only by waging an endless, unwinnable revenge quest to strike holy terror into the black hearts of evil criminals? Don Quixote, my ass. Plus, Catwoman. C'mon.

And I loved Batman Begins. It regularly shoots out for Best Superhero Movie with X2, the most recently viewed generally being on top. So I'm biased.
That said, WB released a promo image of the new Batsuit, and while I'm well aware of the perils of commenting on still shots of costumes (remember how terrible the X-Men looked? and how great Superman looked? Whoops.) prior to seeing them onscreen, I'm gonna take a shot regardless. And I'm gonna do it without resorting to any of that "Holy Insert Pun Here" Adam West/Burt Ward nonsense that still haunts my dreams. So click the pic for a bigger shot and read on.

Given that trying to leverage the cloth comic look would land us squarely in the Christopher Reeve camp, I think they've done a fantastic job with this costume. It fits with the design ethic of military suit parts put to another use, much like the Batmobile (I'm not sold on the Batpod, but that's another post). Plus, it doesn't have a big yellow target in the center or nipples. More detail...

Things I like:
  • Multiple pieces in the cowl means Batman can finally turn his head. The world's greatest crimefighter goes through life with about a 30 degree cone of vision? Um, no. "Hey, criminal cohorts – I've figured out how we can finally defeat our mortal enemy... approach him from the side!"
  • Spikes on his arms are retractable. Otherwise he'd have a hard time fitting thru doors and alleys.
  • It looks like armor that goes over his muscles, not armor that's made of muscles.
  • He's standing – and denting – on a police car. 9-1-1- is a joke in Gotham, too! Take that, 5-0!
Things I don't like:
  • The utility belt's still strangely gold and a little crotchy. Yes, we can assume Batman's packing a high-caliber weapon down south. Move on.
  • Ears are still too big. It's as if some D-girl keeps saying "But people won't understand that he's a Bat, man." They look slightly streamlined, but should be more like short nubs. Better balance.
  • Wish the cape was bigger/cooler. Supposedly it's got some powers of its own, but it should be almost a living extension of his hate and rage. Not like Christian Bale tied a towel around his neck.
Overall I'm good with it. And having gotten a fairly detailed script synopsis a few months ago, I'm fairly confident that the flick will rock. For now, I believe in Harvey Dent.


Fant-eh-stic Bore, Too

The first Fantastic Four flick certainly didn't live up to its title. This one's a bit better, altho I dunno if they're gonna get to the point where they have to consider what to name Fantastic Four... IV.

Anyway, the reason this one succeeds slightly is that it's freed from the burden of exposition. We know who the Four are, we know what Fantastic things they can do, so it's good to see them just do it. Human Torch's fire effects seem to have improved, and they had a bit more fun with Mr. Fantastic's stretchability, but The Thing still looks and acts like... a guy in a rubber rock suit. Jessica Alba's basically her own special effect, altho they do saddle her (not as fun as it sounds) with a weird wig/dye job and bizarrely blue contacts.

The new wrinkle this time is the arrival of the Silver Surfer, who looks like the morphy T-1000 from Terminator 2... on a surfboard. He works for Galactus, the Destroyer of Worlds, who sends the Surfer to scout out worlds for him to, well, destroy. In the comics, Galactus is a really big guy who actually eats planets. The movie shows him as an indistinct cloud that engulfs Earth. I get that a giant in a pink hat eating the world prolly doesn't work well on film but a big cloud is still basically a big cloud.

There's a lot of hand-wringing about Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman's wedding, proving that no action movie can exist without cliched character drama. There's a hardass army general, proving that a moral compass or common sense don't appear on any recruiting (or Central Casting) form. There's Dr. Doom again, proving that Hollywood still wants more villains so they can sell more action figures. There's the second Stan Lee cameo of the summer, proving that we should stop paying him homage. And the whole thing feels really poorly paced, proving that director Tim Story is a Chris Columbus-level hack.

What works? The races and chases with the Surfer are fun. Chris Evans highlights the film again as Johnny Storm. His banter with Ben Grimm is amusing. And it's short.

Should you go? Dunno. If you're a big Fantastic Four fan, you'll likely be both pleased and pissed as it gets as many notes wrong as it does right. If you're not, you'll likely slot it in somewhere between Daredevil and Ghost Rider in terms of iffy superhero movies. If you're a kid, you'll likely enjoy it, altho you're also not likely reading this. So overall, prolly not – Netflix The Incredibles instead.


13th Time's a Charm

Ok, just to clear the air – I was "in" for Ocean's 11, and thought the only real problem with 12 was that it wasn't called Ocean's Dozen. The Julia Roberts mistaken identity stuff was a bit misguided, and the whole thing smacked a bit of having been dreamed up over too much vino on Clooney's Lake Como veranda, but still – harmless.

Regardless of how far 12 fell from the tree, 13 is a refreshing return to form. There's little to no unnecessary exposition (the line "it's not their fight" explains why Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones are absent) and the reason for being is simple and fun – revenge. Al Pacino, an evil casino owner (are there good ones?) named Bank, gypped the crew's mentor out of money and the shock drove him to the hospital. The gang comes up with a plan to bankrupt Bank and bury his opening night gala.

And... that's it. The rest of the flick follows the ups and downs of getting it done. The scheme is brilliant, it's shot with style, and this time the cast lets you in on the fun. It's not high art - if caper movies do nothing for you, this ain't gonna change your mind. But if the idea of watching a bunch of supercool guys pull a supercool scheme, all the while acting... supercool, then there are way worse ways to spend ten bucks and two hours.


So-So pranos

After successfully avoiding getting spoiled on Monday, I hunkered down to watch the Sopranos series finale last night. Funny story – right at the end of the episode, while Meadow was parking and Creepy Guy went to the bathroom, the DVR recording ran out early. Thinking I missed some shocking revelations, I dialed it up on On Demand, fast forwarded to the end and – less funny story – didn't miss a thing. I realize this isn't news at this point, but thought I'd share my views.

Overall, eh. Maybe even feh. I wasn't surprised that it didn't end with a
bloodbath or 80s style freeze frame, but it was still pretty annoying. Yet typical. From the 18+ month breaks between reduced-episode seasons to the excruciating explorations of less-than-secondary characters to satisfy the creators' whims, the show unfortunately evolved from a brilliant, breakthrough take on a tired genre to a self-important exercise in indulgence.

The series slid so far off the rails, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but even the things it used to do well were botched – Phil getting his head shot and then crushed by a car full of babies while random onlookers laugh and vomit is smacks more of
Naked Gun than Sopranos.

And it ended that way. I guess I get the point, that they've made it thru their immediate trials, but their life will always be a series of looking over your shoulder moments, but it felt so inconsequential that it's hard to get invested in it. When a show thumbs its nose at you, trying to flaunt its supposed superiority, it better deliver. And this was a few peppers short of a
Satriale's sandwich.

For those in search of closure:


Ok, this isn't what I had for lunch, but...

...it is what I had for dinner over the weekend at onesixtyblue. That's their signature dish, the Delmonico, a perfectly marbled ribeye topped with carmelized shallots and watercress salad with potato puree (i.e. mashed potatoes) and shallot sauce. I'm not the biggest steak guy in the world, but this was like some sort of benevolent meat god slicing off pieces of himself for you to enjoy. Unreal.

Speaking of biggest guys in the world, this one was hanging out at the bar:
Yes, MJ himself, here shown perhaps finishing off the last of his Maine Diver Sea Scallops (which I also loved – perhaps there's a god of shellfish as well). I was under the impression he didn't own the restaurant anymore; maybe he still has a stake, maybe he still comes for the steak. Regardless, it was good to see him hold court again, even if that meant telling stories to a circle of his buddies.

Service takes a tad to get used to, in that the waiter puts some strength behind his suggestions ("I've ordered you a cheese course" or "under no circumstances should you order the squab"), but they proved to be dead-on. And once you settle in, it's terrific – his offer with the cheese course he insists on was "I'll buy it if you don't love it." And we did.

Dinner might cost in the neighborhood of the restaurant's name, but onesixtyblue's well worth it. Ask for Stephen and enjoy.



While I'm not struggling to justify my existence, haunted by memories of another life, I do find myself a bit lost. It's about this blog. I originally created it to build up a portfolio of sorts in order to pursue a job critiquing pop culture media. As Some Guy's favorite guy might say, "Mission Accomplished." Not that I got said job, but I've filed enough entries for that purpose should the opportunity arise.


An unexpected bonus of blogging has been reconnecting with a bunch of friends, so I'll definitely still hang around and comment. While life has taken some turns that take me away from the keyboard more, I'm still interested in posting – but I'm toying with what to post. I don't want to just do daily updates, as there are a million of those, and it'd be mostly filled with rants about working in the ass end of advertising – even I'm not interested in that.

So I turn it over to you, my (few but loyal) readers. Should I blog about...
...nothing, just abandoning the whole deal
...the same basic stuff, 60 word reviews of movies and tv, expecting things to pick up more around the fall season
...reviews of anything and everything, from comics I read to what I had for lunch
...ponies and unicorns (please don't vote for this ;)