Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Weather heating up, then cooling off abruptly

June 7, 2007 Comments off

At 6:15 this morning, it was 78 degrees and getting hotter.  All day it’s been a powerful, hot, humid wind from the South.  Long about 1 or 2 am there should be a cold, dry air mass moving in from the North, colliding with the damp, hot, fast-moving mass.  And things might get interesting.  I’ll have a powerful flashlight and my clothes where I can lay hands on them in a hurry.

But in the meantime, my ghoulish sense of humor demands watching one of the most craptastic disaster movies of all time… Twister!  written by everybody’s favorite med-school dropout climate-skeptwit novelist turned presidential advisor, Michael Crichton! Yeah, baby!  More movie cliches per minute and and a soundtrack that just can’t be beat! 

I especially like the part at the end where they survive an F5 tornado, unprotected, by strapping themselves to a pipe in the ground.  That’s so like the author who posited digging dinosaur DNA from fossil mosquitoes and having the resulting monsters eat a lawyer and an industrial spy.  But far more importantly, there’s Helen Hunt as the (way sexy but insane) obsessed scientist, in almost every scene.  Might have to scoop me up some chocolate ice cream.

UPDATE: next morning, looks like Iowa got off with no damage, and Illinois with some canceled flights, downed trees and snapped power lines, one fatality.  Nothing at all happened in Bloomington/Normal, which all but confirms my theory that State Farm has learned how to control the weather in a several-mile radius around their world headquarters.  Wisconsin had quite a few tornados.  From the looks of the NOAA satellite and radar though, you wouldn’t want to be in some parts of Missouri right now.  8-/ 

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Movie Review: Shut Up And Sing

April 28, 2007 8 comments

MrsDoF and I went to see Shut Up And Sing this evening, riding our bicycles downtown to the Historic Normal Theater. The movie tells the story of the US country band “Dixie Chicks” as they navigated the rough public-relations waters following an unpopular comment made by one of their band members.  They faced almost total cessation of radio play, falling album sales, and even death threats.  (Imagine stepping on stage in a packed arena after you’ve received a specific threat that you’d be shot dead, that night, on stage, and after the police inform you that there’s simply no way to be sure no one smuggled in a gun.)

Basically it’s a documentary band movie, not a genre that I usually go see unless there are other compelling issues folded in.  The camera simply followed the band around during the period documented, and included footage of fans, protestors, and television pundits.  (At one point, Bill O’Reilly opines; “They’re callow, foolish women, who deserve to be slapped around.”)  Singer Toby Keith put out a CD with the Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines photoshopped in the arms of Saddam Hussein. (Natalie was not amused)

It’s an interesting story even just from the music-business perspective.  After becoming the biggest-selling female band in US history, the Chicks had to completely reinvent themselves for a new audience after the country music fan base dumped them.  It looks like they’ll be OK now.

I’m not a fan of the Chicks, but for a different reason than most.  For some people the unforgivable sin is blasphemy; for me, it’s mangling Landslide. ;-)   But never mind that. What happened to the Chicks is an example of mob mentality, a dynamic with a long and dishonorable history.  From the crowd screaming; “crucify Him!” to the media frenzy over the Duke University LaCrosse players, it has always taken courage to say; “woah, slow down. Let’s think about this.”  It’s all too easy to find yourself trudging up the hill to Golgotha alongside the one you’re defending.

I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this, watching our country torn apart by 9/11 and the Iraq war.  People from both sides get positively angry when someone suggests any debate should begin with common ground, but for example I share a lot of ideas and values in common with even the most fervent Bush supporter.  I love this country and feel our values are important to the world as a whole, and so do they.  We both would like to see Osama come to a bad end.  Neither one of us wants our country to make a serious mistake that would cost it prestige or power.  So the debate isn’t over who loves America, who is against the terrorists, or who wants to see Osama hang; we agree on all those things.  It’s over what that big mistake might be, over strategy, over the means to the ends we share.  It’s high time we understood that about each other, appreciated that about each other, and focused on the real debate instead of ripping each other.

The Dixie Chicks aren’t political scientists, or even particularly smart (in one scene, Maines calls her astrologer).  But as it happened they were right about the Iraq war.  It didn’t make us more secure, and it hurt our country, and the president is responsible for that.  Yet here’s this entertainment-industry story that grew out of it.  It’s a little depressing to think that our artistic tastes might be nothing more than an extension of our politics but the movie gives some sad evidence that it could be true. 

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Movie review: “Cars”

December 29, 2006 3 comments

MrsDoF and I watched the movie Cars this evening.  It was visually beautiful, funny and touching in places, and pretty strange to boot.  It took a lot of imagination to come up with even a cartoon society where everyone’s a car.

‘Specially the plot, which has never before been attempted in the history of movies.  Get this: the hot-shot superstar is forced to slow down and discovers a better life from friendship and community.  Eh?  Eh?  Waddya think?  Have we got a best-seller, or what?

OK, it was Doc Hollywood.  But I liked that movie, too, and not even one of its characters was a talking car.  I recommend it for fun, or if you really like animation (which I do). Or if you like NASCAR, to which I must confess indifference (rather see Grand Prix or off-road racing.)  Just for animated comparison, I give The Incredibles (review) a 9.5, and this movie about 7.  On a logarithmic scale.

My son just asked; “What would you give Ice Age?”  Can I use fractional quantities less than 1 in a review?

Categories: Movies, Reviews

To Kill A Mockingbird

November 12, 2006 6 comments

MrsDoF and I went on a nice date last night, to the local Chinese restaurant for some excellent soup and eggrolls, then to The Normal Theater to see the 1962 adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.

This is what we call a “great movie” not only because it is a compelling story beautifully filmed, directed, and acted, but also because it uplifts human values. 

The danger in watching a movie like this one is that it makes most of the drek oozing out of Hollywood today look like garbage.  But to be fair, most of the movies made in 1962 were probably crap, too.  Something this good just comes along once in a while.

Only suggestion I’d make to the Normal Theater volunteer staff is; the decent thing to do would be leave the house lights down for thirty seconds or so while the credits roll – to let viewers use their hankies in privacy. Both women and men cry at certain movies but men dislike anyone to know it.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Guest Blogger: Samuel L. Jackson

August 19, 2006 3 comments

Hi, this is Samuel L. Jackson.  An hour ago I was just picking up some bald-head wax when this bald-headed white dude bumped into me and he recognized me from my recent movie, Snakes On A Plane.  Now he looked like a Decrepit Old Fool but we got to talking and next thing you know, he asked me to sit down at his laptop and write a “blog entry” for his web log.  He said he and a friend from work just saw the movie, and would I please write for him, just this once?

I said that sounded pretty boring but he said something about how I should talk about the “dysfunctional integration of alien species of serpentine vertebrates in aircraft interior ecology” or some crap like that, and I just thought I’d shine him on a little bit.  A guy that clueless deserves to be set straight, you know what I’m talking about?…

See, Snakes On A Plane isn’t about improbable movie cliches, or even about snakes, really, it’s about one thing: YOU DO AS I SAY, AND YOU LIVE.  That’s really all there is to it.  I don’t have time to be subtle or do the dance with you on this, because we got mutherf*ing snakes all over the mutherf*ing plane, you got it?

I don’t really know what kind of snakes.  I’m an actor portraying an FBI agent escorting a witness of a brutal mob killing, and the mobster found out which plane it was, and he put hundreds of poisonous snakes on the plane.  So I suggest you get your butt back to your seat, and do what it is you do to keep the plane in the air until we reach L.A. 

Let me worry about the plot holes and gross inconsistencies; this movie isn’t about that anyway.  It’s about something called ‘viral marketing’ and it’s about how we had to pull out every action-horror cliche in movie history and blow them up to bigger than snake size just for some of us to survive long enough for the obligatory surprise at the end of the movie.  You think that’s a picnic?  You think we have time for you to panic and get all weepy because you’re scared?  Well we don’t.  I need you to be strong and help me get us where we’re going.

Well this will have to be enough, because I’m tired of typing when I should be kicking butt and making wisecracks to a cheering and clapping audience of almost all white dudes in a theater someplace called – I’m not making this up – called “Normal”.  It’s what I’m here to do, so let me do it,  You got that?  Good.  That’s all.

Oh, and one other thing – go to the website.  There, if you do as I say, you’ll not only live, you’ll get a personalized message from me that you can email to any one of your friends.  Then I won’t have to come after you.

OK Decrepit, you can have this damn thing back.  It’s got snakes in it anyway.

Snakes on my blogroll:

Categories: Movies, Reviews

“An Inconvenient Truth” movie reivew

July 27, 2006 2 comments

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
- Upton Sinclair

You wouldn’t think a movie about a politician giving a slide show could possibly be interesting.  But I saw An Inconvenient Truth on Thursday and darned if it didn’t turn out to be really well done and very interesting indeed…

As a side-note, it is the best PowerPoint presentation I have ever seen.  Being at a university, I’ve suffered through quite a few, most absolutely terrible.  But if you give presentations in your job, and if you use PowerPoint, I encourage you to see this movie to get an idea of how well it can be done.  (Yes, I know Gore uses Apple’s ‘Keynote’ but it is a very similar product.  The same principles would apply to either)

I now realize that much of my opinion about Al Gore was formed by things that other people said about him.  He was, after all, a science buff in a Senate dominated by lawyers and party loyalists.  And when he stepped in front of a camera, his handlers were coaching and prompting him so much that he really didn’t come through very well.  That all changes with this movie. 

If you have been following actual science about global warming (as opposed to popular media) you know by now that working scientists are pretty much in agreement on the reality and the cause. Gore does a wonderful job of cutting through the popular-media crap to bring this to the screen in an understandable form. 

He answers popular criticisms of global warming theory with data and clear exposition, rather than with invective and indignation.  Michael Moore could learn a lot from the ex-next.  On second thought, no; he probably couldn’t.  He would complain the rational approach was cramping his style.

Gore illuminates the comparison of loss,  as in the way his family only quit growing tobacco after his sister died of lung cancer.  When something unimaginably awful is coming, and we know it, we just don’t want to face it and take action ahead of time.  So much easier to pretend that everything is OK.

He also clarifies exactly what we stand to lose.  A little more carbon dioxide, a few degrees warmer, so what?  Well here’s ‘so what’…

The movie ends on a hopeful note that while time is extremely short, a combination of several changes can reverse the increase in greenhouse gasses.  He also provides an example that – inexplicably – I had not thought of; the ozone layer.  Today our ozone layer is on the mend because the science was clear, governments acted, and the problem was solved. 

At the end of the movie, according to the newspaper review, he makes good use of the credits-rolling time.  But unfortunately (conditioned by years of boring credits) I had already left the theater when they began to roll.  No big deal; I will probably see it again. 

Commenters, please be sure to note if you have seen the movie.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Movie Review: The DaVinci Code

June 20, 2006 12 comments

On Father’s Day my youngest Son (now 21 years old) and I went to see the DaVinci Code.  Having seen quite a lot of negative press about the movie, I was prepared for mediocrity.

The movie absolutely kicked ass.  I was surprised by the suspense, the fast pace, the sense of mystery, and the cold horror of the bad guys and their agents (many of whom were good people with good intentions).  I was very pleased that they didn’t derail the story with some implausable romance between Hanks’ and Tautou’s characters.  There were a number of clever escapes.  The French actor who played the police investigator is not widely known in the US, but I loved him in Les Visiteurs.

I won’t bother rehashing the storyline as you surely know it by now, but I thought it was a great suspense thriller; a genre that I do not normally enjoy.  In retrospect, this is hardly a surprise, since the movie is based on a best-selling novel, stuffed with top actors, and is directed by one of the best in the business, Ron Howard.  So why did it receive so much negative press?

The answer was in the movie itself: “The mind sees what it wants to see”.  To many viewers, the movie is blasphemous, an attack on their most deeply held beliefs.  It’s pretty hard to pull “great story” through that filter. 

Since I am not troubled by the notion of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as lovers or spouses, and the Catholic church pretty much strikes me as a gigantic money changer in the temple, I felt no obstruction to just enjoying the story and how it was presented.

The social context of the story is another matter. 

Suppose you were an author with a yen for history, and you wanted to debunk the Catholic church.  You could write a boring historical book, with a lot of documentation, didactically exposing the roots of the institution and making a case for apostasy.  Or, you could write a work of fiction.  Sprinkle in some obvious historical inaccuracies and say; “Hey, it’s a work of fiction; whaddya want from me?”  Make the work compelling and let one of your almost-sympathetic fictional characters do the heavy polemical lifting.  Not saying that was Dan Brown’s motive, but it’s a possible scenario.

Now suppose you’re an ancient church (not a person, like Dan Brown, but an institution comprised of many powerful individuals, a vast hierarchy led by one person).  You could systematically debunk the historical inaccuracies of the book and movie, and they’re doing that.  But it won’t help, because it’s already labelled fiction.  In the end, as Tom Hanks told Audrey Tautou, “What matters is what you believe” and belief is very much a matter of affection.  A good story beats dry facts every time, and the production values of The DaVinci Code are right up there.

The church can also stage boycotts (and look lame) or try to get the book/movie banned (and look even lamer).  It’s a no-win situation for the Catholic church, and the best they can do is to give the movie bad reviews through various channels, and hope a lot of people forget to rent it when it comes out on video.

Will the movie shake anyone’s faith?  Sure. If enough people see it, a few will walk out of the theatre saying; “Hey… yeah!  Why didn’t I ever see that before?!”  But the church shouldn’t worry, because a lot of people say the same thing after walking out of church services.  Even after walking out of a theatre and saying it.

Oh, and one more thing:  Audrey Tautou, if you are reading this… have you ever considered the advantages of romance with a middle-aged American blogger?  Think about it.  :coolsmile:

Categories: Movies, Reviews

DaVinci Code Review Review

May 23, 2006 6 comments

Blockbuster movies are rarely good, so I usually wait until they are available at my favorite video store.  This is because I’m cheap, I have a low threshold of boredom, and muscle pain gets to be a problem after about forty minutes in any chair. 

So it is with great pleasure that I present a review of The DaVinci Code from my friend Pete.  He’s an evangelical Christian so this one’s safe for the whole family.  :-P

While on the DVC subject, Real Live Preacher  lays down the truth track on all the church protests about the book and movie.  To wit: if I ever write a book that is in any way even mildly critical of Christianity or the Catholic Church, I should be sure to send advance copies of it to religious leaders and ask them to try to ban it.  (RLP link from ***Dave)

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Four documentary films

May 13, 2006 Comments off

We went to the Historic Normal Theater this evening to watch a collection of four Oscar-winning short documentaries, on Norman Corwin, Kevin Carter, Hiroshima, and Rwanda.  The one about Rwanda was not what I expected and should be seen by everyone.  Reviews follow below the fold:

The first one is entitled A Note Of Triumph: the golden age of Norman Corwin.  It distresses me that many people do not know who Norman Corwin is.  He is a poet, writer, broadcaster and producer who is best known for an inspiring international broadcast on the occasion of V-E day when Germany surrendered at the end of WWII.  My father used to quote him and I have heard several of his broadcasts on tape.  With material like that it’s not hard to fill 40 interesting minutes, but I’d have been just as happy listening to a collection of Corwin’s broadcasts.

The documentary ended with Studs Terkel quoting the closing prayer of Corwin’s most famous broadcast:

“Lord God of test-tube and blueprint
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father’s color or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples through expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.”
- Norman Corwin, from “A Note Of Triumph”

“Every schoolchild should know this”, said Terkel.

The second film was about the life and death of Kevin Carter, the Pulitzer-winning photographer whose suicide followed years of torment.  Carter was a war photographer who stared into the cruel face of man’s darkest inhumanity.  Most people will remember his photo of a vulture awaiting the death of an emaciated Sudanese child.  Many cruel and thoughtless people blamed him for the child’s situation.  In fact, Carter was so sick when he took the picture he could barely stand, and the child was in such a condition that even if he could have summoned a jet and flown her directly to the best hospital in Houston, the outcome would still have been in doubt. 

I remember Carter’s suicide and probably wouldn’t have gone to the theater if I’d known this piece was in the show.  But then I would have missed the fourth film…

The third film was The Mushroom Club, a capable but not exceptional documentary about ten survivors of the Hiroshima bombing.  But I would rather have just seen the entirety of Keji Nakazawa’s incredible, amazing animation about the bomb than this documentary which showed a few seconds of it.  Alternatively one could read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, first published in 1946.

The fourth film, God Sleeps In Rwanda, I expected to be the ultimate downer.  But instead it was inspiring and uplifting.  Rwanda suffered an inconceivable genocide that left the devastated country 70% female, even though Rwandan culture had traditionally denied women significant roles in society. 

The women profiled in this documentary – some as young as 12, having been brutalized, raped, and seen the slaughter of their entire families, took roles of responsibility.  One became a policewoman (new to Rwanda) and is studying to become a lawyer so she can help HIV positive people – like herself.  One began raising her siblings and says; “One day I will be a wonderful mother.  I know this because I am doing it now.”  One became a mayor – no education – and organized the whole community of mostly women to rebuild houses and actually build a road, by hand, to the capital so commerce could reach her community.  There were others.

I would like to make everyone whining about how rough they have it in America, watch this film.

Then we walked home in a cool, light rain, which was refreshing after sitting in the theater.  A well-spent evening.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Broke Bike Mountain

February 9, 2006 6 comments

I think my mountain bike is sending me signals that it’s about ready to go to the bicycle shop in the sky.  It had a second metal-fatigue related failure yesterday: the gear shifter broke off.  Since it is made of high-quality aluminum (it isn’t a cheap bike) I think it is just the repeated stress from years of shifting. 

Actually it’s more of a cruiser bike than a mountain bike, but I couldn’t resist the title, which leads to my comment on the movie about gay cowboys.

I’d love to see ‘Brokeback Mountain’ – it sounds very interesting as unusual things often are – but for one problem; it’s a romance.  If the trailer is a good representation of the movie, it’s just like a gay version of the bodice-rippers MrsDoF is always reading, and I don’t usually seek out movies with a lot of mushy parts in them.  Not even gay mushy parts.

Not that I’m opposed to romance in movies – I certainly did enjoy the compressed love-affair in The Terminator but movies about romance just aren’t my cuppa.

Now if they could add some explosions, and maybe some invading aliens…

Categories: Movies, Reviews