Jan 29, 2010

Jan 27, 2010

Best Selling Movies For Realz

Finally! Someone with patience and a database finally figured out the actual numbers. Because Avatar selling $89 3D tickets and making the most money is kinda stupid. Of course, the real numbers are to normalize at least by population. The US population has increased from 142M to 300M since Gone With The Wind, which means it destroys any other movie on this list, per capita. The world population has almost tripled in that time, if you want to go that way.

Jan 16, 2010

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Red Cliff – You have no freaking idea how excited about this movie I was. I’ve been excited for movies. I was excited for 9. I could barely wait for the LotR sequels. But I have been waiting for this movie for years. I have been waiting for the idea of this movie for literally a decade. Dynasty Warriors 2 ushered me into the world of Luo Guanzhong, the writer of the Three Kingdoms saga, the chinese equivalent of the Iliad. I had played the Romance games for years before that, but I was never hardcore enough to get into them seriously. I played the shit out of DW2, and every sequel. I think I maxed like 20 or 30 characters in DW4. I loved these games so much I read the 1000 page epic that is the Three Kingdoms. That shit is like the bible, this guy begat that guy, this person fought on this plain against this dude for this building. It was dense. But I did like it a lot, and I love the stories. So, yeah, I have been waiting to see this story done for a long time. I know it had other incarnations, a couple TV shows in china, but I wanted a big ass cool movie, and I got it. I think it’s probably not for everyone, the movie is nigh inpenetrable to someone unfamiliar with the story. Besides the fact that it’s in chinese, besides the fact that there’s several major characters and 10s of minor ones, besides the fact that we’re all a little racist and the chinese actors look alike. On top of that, there’s Zhou Yu, and Zhao Yun! C’mon! But I was eating it up, because I already knew it all. (though I was confused for almost the entire movie because they were having this guy Kongming do all of Zhuge Liang’s stuff! I forgot Kongming was his casual name). Besides the crazy plot, the movie is some romance (not really necessary, if you ask me, and by far not the focus of the book, but oh well, I guess you gotta have it in a big movie) and battles. The fights aren’t amazing. They are pretty damn cool, but they are kinda chinesey. Not full on crouching tiger, not exactly floating dancing on the rooftops, but a little light in the loafers. But there are still some legitimately great fights. The coolest part, as it god damn well should be, is the strategy. This period, in both the book and obviously the games, is famous for its strategy. Zhuge Liang is practically the personification of strategy in chinese history. The way they deal with the strategy is really cool too. It could easily have been magic, there is a lot of magic in the book and the games, they are fantastical tales. As the Iliad has gods and goddesses and super human heroes, so does Three Kingdoms have astrology, magic, and super human heroes. But they take a very practical and cool view of these things. The blinding light is plated shields, the astrology/magic winds is more meteorology and observation. It’s still a little outside of reality, but it’s not runes and spells. Honestly I would have been okay with runes and spells too, but this was better. I also really love how they managed the warrior cult. These books (and again, games) are strongly focused on the greatness of the primary warriors. The games are built around you taking one hero into battle, laying waste to 100s or 1000s of enemies, fighting other heroes and defeating the whole army solely based on that fight. The book is a romantic tale of the humble greatness of Liu Bei, the fighting supremacy of Guan Yu, the noble leadership of Zhou Yu, and the military genius (surpassed by no one but Sun Tzu) of Zhuge Liang. These men are idolized like superheroes or demigods. The movie really sticks with this glorification. Hell, there’s an entire formation built around trapping the enemy army in a confined area so the heroes can beat the shit out of them 1 on 100.  It’s totally awesome, totally appropriate. Anyway, back to the broader view, If you are into braveheart or chinese kung fu stuff, this will probably do you well. Though it is long, 2.5 hours, it went pretty quick for me, I was into it. I have since read that the full (2 movie) chinese version is almost 5 hours. I want to see this so bad, but it’s in chinese and only been subtitled into spanish for some reason, which breaks my nerdy little heart. I’ll find a way, though. Might have to learn spanish. UPDATE: I found a copy, english subtitles, next time I have 5 hours, it’s on!

Avatar Update: I forgot to mention in my review. My big problem with 3D that remains is depth of focus. 3D forces you to focus on what it wants you to focus on. The guy, not the tree. The gun, not the face. The jet, not the dragon. Granted 2D does this too. But if I’m going to be “immersed” I oughta feel like I’m looking around a real world and focus on whatever I damn well please. 3D will not exist until it is hyperfocal, or (even fancier) it tracks eye movement and focuses as appropriate. Hyperfocal is easier though. So, get on it, Visionary Director From 2017. Also, people are starting to make me not like this movie by their over exuberance. It is a technologically fantastic movie. It is NOT a great movie otherwise. It’s a silly natives story that’s been done to death and has holes up the wazoo (which seems recursive, but oh well). Just say its pretty and move on, jeez. And no that chick does not deserve an Oscar. It was a good performance for motion capture, definitely an achievement, but that doesn’t make it anything remotely near amazing acting. Don’t make me hate this movie, fanboys!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Meh. I’ve said before here that I had signed off by the 5th book. I know I read this one because some of the details seem familiar, but I couldn’t have told you a single thing about it besides the death at the end. The movie is fine, it’s more of the same potter stuff. An awful lot of bullcrap about teenagers kissing, which I remember from the book. I can’t really imagine caring less. And in as much as my major complaint about potter is that it became all about the characters and plot, which is the weak part of the books, especially as guided by Rowling’s middling writing. There’s barely any wonder, little magic, and no excitement. This movie was the peak of this boring mountain. At least the last movie had that crazy ass wizard battle. This didn’t even have that. No dragons, no griffons, basically no quidditch, no real wizard battles. Unless you write harry/hermoine/ron/snape slash fiction, I don’t see why this movie would matter much.

Fiddler on the Roof – This movie was pretty good. Probably my favorite of the musicals that I don’t love. The music is good, it’s very catchy. But it’s not wonderful in any way that inspires me. I like sunrise sunset an awful lot. And the other songs are fun, just not more than that. The musical feels a lot like a stage production in parts. The father coming in on a road with a horse and a cart talking to the viewer or to god is very stageish. I don’t really like when he talks to the viewer, but I’m okay with him talking to god by way of narration. It works pretty well. The movie looks convincing, except for the stage feeling, of some jewish village in russia. I knew the movie was about jews, but that was it. It’s actually a supremely depressing movie. Though I did enjoy it, I have no need to ever see it again, it would just bum me out. I don’t like the music enough to get sad! The whole arranged marriage thing is baffling, and that it still happens today is even more so. But the movie is about resisting that, so it ends up good. The experience of jews throughout the last couple thousand years is just astounding. I mean, a lot of people hate a lot of people. We (americans) have treated black people, native americans, and japanese people really despicably. We also have given a pretty hard shaft to every other minority, but those are mostly about power, land, money, and xenophobia. Not good things, but distantly understandable. There have been lots of civil wars, genocides, ethnic cleansings, but they are all local, and people confuse themselves into thinking those things equal power, prestige, or honor. But the extent to which people throughout history have gone out of their way to hunt down and destroy or take the lives of jews is just impenetrable to me. To send an army to some village to kick them out of your country when their influence doesn’t even extend past that village’s borders is unimaginable. This is not news to anyone, I know, but I’m not sure I’ve written it down before, so there you go.

Children of Dune – This is the SciFi (I think?) miniseries that combined Messiah and Children. I don’t want to live blog this, but I’m 15 minutes in, and so far I don’t like the actors they chose for Stilgar (too white, too bald, no beard), Wensicia (too old and why is she the schemer now?), or Mohiam (far too young). And as a rule, the effing desert people shouldn’t be pasty northerners that look like the last time they saw sand was a playground. Okay, no more live blogging, I’ve seen it all now. It was alright. There was some cool things they did, a lot of it isn’t great. The movie is too interested with Leto’s chest and abs. I know he had to be shirtless to show the sand trout thing, but why was he half naked the 4 hours before that? The weirding way is better than the Dune movie, but this came out after the matrix, I’d think you could do it a little better. The CGI in general isn’t wonderful. Even for scifi in 2003, it seems like they should be better. The laser tigers particularly look pretty lame, more cuddly than threatening. The worms are pretty cool, but I think they went overboard. It continues this strange idea that Fremen’s eyes glow, which is dumb. The worm in Dune was immense, menacing, and used sparingly. These worms pop up every 5 minutes with 75% of their length not only above ground, but also sticking straight up into the air! It was pretty cool to see the stealing of a worm, though. But, all things considered, I guess it was a pretty decent adaptation.

Guantanamo Photos

The red cross was permitted to take pictures of several detainees to give to their families (something normally prohibited officially by the Geneva Convention, unofficially by [enter your feelings toward the military here]). Looking at them prompts one of the most complicated mixes of emotion I’ve recently experienced. One of these guys is Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a man I would be happy to hear was raped to death by badgers. Some of these men have since been released, perhaps some of them are still imprisoned and innocent, perhaps some that were released were not. But in these photos they are just dudes, smilling dudes, praying dudes, happy dudes. I have no idea which one is the mass murderer. I have no idea if the bad ones made happy photos for their families, or to show the world that the US couldn’t contain them, or because they truly are as happy as one could possibly be in a military prison. I know some are not guilty and that Guantanamo is a stigmatic place in which bad things have happened. I know that some are guilty and that they deserve not the tiniest shred of sympathy. I know that I can’t tell the difference. Very strange.

Jan 12, 2010

Google vs. China

Wow, this could be big. I’d love to see Google using its power for social good, not just technological good (assuming you aren’t someone who thinks they are evil laying in wait). And of course there’s going to be arguments that it’s a business decision, not a moral one… Just let me have this, okay?

Michael Cera Movies

An excellent description of why I’m officially over Michael Cera (c’mon, Year One? And Youth In Revolt looks dumb. He’s lucky Scott Pilgrim is an awesome book, he better not Michael Cera it).

Jan 9, 2010

The Third & the Seventh

Sometimes a thing needs context. On the face of it, this video is just an artsy, kind of boring movie showing a bunch of architecture and landscapes. Pretty, but not really worth 12 minutes for anyone not super into that kind of thing. Until someone tells you that it is entirely CG. Jesus. Mahogany. Christ. This is the single most amazing piece of CGI I’ve ever seen, and yeah, I saw Avatar.

Jan 5, 2010

James May’s Toy Stories

James May, from Top Gear, has a BBC show where he revisits classic toys from our youths, and tries to do something amazing with them (with a lot of money, and a lot of help). He’s done a playdo garden, a erector set bridge, and I just watched him build a lego house. The money must be immense, but he harnesses the good will and help of so many people, architects, engineers, and designers, but also just plain ole people to do all the legwork. It’s pretty fantastic. It’s a BBC show, so you can’t really get it except nefariously, but if you can, or if it ever comes to BBC America, watch it. I just had a smile plastered on my face for a solid hour and it’s still there.

Jan 4, 2010


Ha! I would say spoilers, but the whole point is that it doesn’t matter, we’ve all seen Pocahontas anyway.

Jan 1, 2010

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Avatar – Well, jeez, lot to say here, but pretty much all of it has been said. It’s an amazing movie in many ways, though not all ways. The plot is, obviously, the weak point. It is, as I had heard, just Pocahontas slash dances with wolves sort of thing. Military dude falls for a chick, goes native, fights against the white man. It’s a hard thing to do, writing a story about natives. It’s hard to not be subtly racist when a white man writes a story about not-white people. Just because they are blue doesn’t make the parallel movies any lesser. But, in theory, there’s no reason you can’t write that story, it’s just hard. All things considered, it was handled well. The plot itself is troublesome. You want to cheer for the natives, of course, you want them to win. And let’s pretend for a moment it’s not obvious who will win in this kind of movie. But looking past that, humans have spaceships. They can bomb the planet to a crisp and no manner of native juju will save them. The idea that this story can have a happy ending won by violence is ridiculous. It’s almost sad that the only way to win against the big bad white man slash humans is with big bag of violence. It’s an odd moment I had - to think it’s too bad there isn’t another way. It’s a very hippy sentiment that there ought to be a peaceful way of managing things. But oh well, that’s not how stories like this go. Besides, peace isn’t very exciting, even in 3D. So let’s get to the good stuff. The movie is effing fantastic looking. I won’t go over what James Cameron did here, technologically. It’s essentially real-time rendering of CGI environments and characters so that the director can visualize what he’s making. There’s a lot more, most of which I don’t know, but has, theoretically, the ability to change the way some people make movies. However he did it, the movie is beautiful. Nearly everything is CG, but it looks as real as any CG ever has. The blue people are stunningly realistic. The scenery is gorgeous, though it does have a cartoony quality to it. This is largely due to the otherworldness, and due to the fact that everything on this planet glows for no distinct evolutionary reason. But then when you aren’t paying attention there will be a plain old normal tree that looks like life. Then there’s the 3D, of course. I am historically pretty anti-3D. If I can be annoyingly self obsessed and quote my review of monsters vs. aliens in 3D:

3D is still gimmicks, it offers no value. Shit flies at you, you duck, it’s a novelty, it means nothing. Some day in the future 3D will be a fundamental medium for art, just as radio, then pictures, then color pictures. It will give us something we can’t get otherwise. But right now all it gets me is balls in my face. And no one likes balls in their face.

This isn’t the holy grail, yet. We have not achieved a new level of story telling. But for the first time literally ever, I see that potential. There are a couple balls in your face moments, but as a rule 3D is used more for setting up environments than for making you duck. The 3D places you in a world that is slightly more alive because of its depth, no pun. Its particularly effective when it comes to the futuristic hologram computer displays everyone uses. It makes the holograms feel like actual holograms, it’s pretty damn cool. The particle effects are pretty amazing. At one point he’s walking around with ash falling around him, and it gives the scene so much character. It’s also the first battle I’ve ever seen in 3D. The closest thing is Beowulf, which wasn’t very good. The rest of the time 3D is used for cartoons or horror crap. But this had honest to jesus dragon vs. jet plane air battles in 3D, and that’s damn cool too. I don’t want to overstate, I wouldn’t say we’re in a new story telling medium. But I can imagine us saying, in 50 years, that this was a huge step. A real step, not a gimmick, in the way we show stories.

Sherlock Holmes – Damn, this movie had a lot of good parts, but it just didn’t come together. The fight breakdown is just about the coolest thing I’ve seen all year. And I saw it last year, so shush about the technicality. And there are a lot of other good things. Ever actor does well. It’s pretty funny. The look of the movie is great. I’m fine with a violent Sherlock Holmes. If you ask me about any one aspect, I’ll give you a positive response. But the movie as a whole just doesn’t work. It’s too slow or has poor pacing, I felt bored for too much of it. Someone suggested it lacked dramatic tension, and I think that’s right, it almost plodded through. And the whole big reveal ending was actually really bad. Holmes goes through and explains all the things he figured out to solve this mystery and that. Except not a single one of them is interesting. In every single case we understood that there was a trick, that worked something like “this”. And in every case he explains the exact poison, explosive, compound, or mechanism that allowed the “this” to happen. But none of those things are interesting. It’s like knowing who Kaiser Soze is all along, but at the end revealing that he learned to speak in a different accent in grade school when Jimmy Collins gave him a book called How To Speak In Accents written by Frank Smith who was born on a farm in Kentucky. Who the fuck cares?? Okay, going a little strong there, but mostly because I’m disappointed. It should have been good, it had good ingredients, hopefully the sequel that’s clearly planned will put them together into a good soup.

Role Models – Alright movie. I was only semi-conscious watching it and it took me 3 tries, through no fault of the movie (sickness), so I might not have got all the delicate nuances, but I think I’m good. You saw in the ads that they had LARPing, but I was surprised at the extent to which they really focused on it. It’s a cute movie, I laughed, not a lot, but enough for a sick day.

Dune – Hajeez. This movie should not have been made in 1984. And it should not have been made by David Lynch. I just read the book, so I figured I’d see the movie again. It screws up pretty much everything. Part of it is the era. The body shields are hilariously bad. Nothing that came after star wars should look this bad, it’s really awful. Elsewhere the tech is clearly at fault, you can’t really blame it. At the same time, James Cameron wouldn’t make Avatar until he could do the tech he wanted, maybe they should have waited until someone invented After Effects for arguably the most famous and critically loved science fiction book ever. The next problem is the director. You can’t give something like this to a director who does such weird shit. How could he not go off and “make it his own” God forbid he leave a classic well enough alone. I’m being harsh, he doesn’t mess with SO much, but nearly every perturbation is a bad one. There’s no reason to make the Bene Gesserit bald, black, and menacing. They are menacing without being overtly evil. These women are companions, consorts, wives, and queens. They needn’t dress like witches just because that’s what they are called. The weirding modules are the stupidest idea ever. Lynch said he didn’t want “kung fu on the sand dunes” so he ditched the weirding way as a martial art. Okay, I almost buy that, but you turn this internal physical mastery into knowing how to yell into a gun. And without that gun, the only person you can kill is someone with a heart condition who isn’t expecting you. The third stage navigator threw me off, but the idea grew on me, and apparently Herbert threw it into his later books. I know a director has to put his own spin on a source. But you can either be Jackson with LotR and Zach Snyder with Watchmen, or you can think you know better than a literary genius and make the Baron fly into the mouth of a sandworm, your call. The rest isn’t really anyone’s fault, the movie just doesn’t live up to the book. The fremen aren’t convincing, they are supposed to be weathered desert people, not hippies on a camping trip. Some actors are fine (the duke, stilgar, gurney), the mentat’s are weird, too weird just for the sake of weirdness. Besides Piter will always be that bald wretch from Dune 2: Battle for Arrakis, Duncan isn’t in it enough to make a presence. Sting is unnecessary (as per usual). The Baron is probably the biggest disappointment. His voice in the audiobook was so fantastic. Slovenly, menacing, proud, evil. This guy is evil, but more fanatical, more comically crazy than menacing, which is too bad. The best thing the movie does is the worms. For all the poor tech in this movie the worms look pretty great. They are simple, not terribly overused or overshown, the way a monster like that should be. The other big fault with the movie I have no recommendation for – it has a lot of internal monologue. But the book has a lot, and it is critical to the story. There’s no way to communicate these feelings and plottings and doubts without internal thoughts. But that is nigh impossible to do without being corny (cheesy noir style), creepy (whispering narration dune style), or obstinately overstated. Even today this is a very hard movie to make, but then, I’m not a filmmaker, someone ought to figure out a way.

West Side Story – Part of the musical discovery (I think more of these will be coming). I actually fairly well liked this. It’s corny as all hell. In addition to being made a few decades ago, which is understandable. The whole idea of gangs that fight with dancing is hard to take. The scene where the jets are just SO ANGRY that they have to POSE and DANCE and POW! It’s honestly laughable. But, putting that silliness to the side, it’s a pretty good musical. The music is mostly enjoyable, there’s this weird (but purposeful) choice to have actors that don’t sing all that well. The rooftop scene is my favorite, with that america song that’s famous. I love the whole parallel to two gangs fighting it out was really fantastic. The rest of it is just kind of romeo and juliet, obviously, but despite all these things I say are corny or something, I did like it.

Mad Max – I had never seen this! It’s kind of both a dude and a nerd staple, somehow. But, for whatever reason, I hadn’t seen it. It’s not quite as… mad as I thought it would be. It’s more like… I’m a cop, okay now I‘m retired, okay now bad stuff happens, okay now I’ll be mad for like 15 minutes. It wasn’t a bad movie, it just wasn’t quite the rampage I expected. The world they set up is pretty decent. The bad guys are capably bad. I’m a little underwhelmed, I guess. I’ve heard that it’s the sequels that are really the big deal, Thunderdome in particular, and those will come in netflix soon enough. If I didn’t know this was a big deal movie, I would have thought it was pretty forgettable.

Flags of our Fathers – Finally got around to seeing this one, the sequel will follow soon hopefully. It’s a pretty sad movie. Sad because it once again points out how ignorant I am. I didn’t know there were two flags, I didn’t even know freaking Roosevelt died during the war! I knew Truman came in at the end, somehow I thought Roosevelt just ended his term. Jesus, someone needs to make me take high school again. Anyway, the movie is also sad because it’s really sad. War is always sad, the reality of people is always sad. And yes, there is an uplifting character to the nobility of soldiers. But that too is sad, because it’s misused, misrepresented, and too often just not true. But it’s a good movie. Beautifully shot, well acted, and obviously informative. Looking forward to the sequel. Not a favorite ever or anything, but definitely good.

Love is All You Need x 156

Pretty cool, huh?

Pizza Mathematics

This tickles me to no end.