Friday, July 13, 2007

This is not Devon magically posting from basic training with his mind, unfortunately. This is Felicia. I just received a letter from Devon in the mail today, and he asked me to let you all know that everything is going well, and to post his mailing address for him. The delay in getting this out was caused by the drill instructors tossing his address list after he arrived. Gotta love those guys, right?

Anyway, here is his address:

Rec Rohlf D.R.
2nd BN Echo Co. PLT 2107
38001 Midway Ave.
San Diego, CA 92140-2107

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

I am SO glad we watched all three Die Hard movies before this. First, to remember how frickin’ amazing the original is, and second so that I could accurately assess how disappointing Live Free or Die Hard is…or is not?

Prior to its release, a lotta people talked about all the things that clearly pointed to Live Free or Die Hard “ruining” the Die Hard franchise…giving him a lame geeky sidekick, the PG-13, a bald John McClane, a storyline based around computers*…all this and many more have been considered, but you know what? This franchise was ruined from the moment Die Hard 2: Die Harder (and what a retarded title that is, by the way) hit the screens. So pretty much as soon as it became a franchise, BAM, ruined. Gone. That said, Die Hard With A Vengeance is off the frickin’ chain. You don’t enjoy it, you can just take a big lick right now. It’s not as good as the first, but it’s pretty damn great.

What did Live Free or Die Hard get right? Awesome action scenes. Really. Len Wiseman’s only previous directing credits are on the Underworld franchise, which I’ve never seen and never will (but I know a guy in college who, in the days following the release of Underworld: Evolution, swore it was the best film he’d ever seen…film school is a sad, sad place), but the man has an eye for movement. Second, McClane’s still cool. Whatever. He always will be. Third, the plot’s actually pretty sweet, even if the execution is less than thrilling. Fourth, they made sure it all happened in one day. That to me is KEY for a Die Hard movie, and they stayed with it.

Unfortunately, cool plot, awesome action, and a great main character a good action film do not make. Because the bad guys just suck. They’re awful. There’s nothing interesting or compelling about them, and they did that retarded thing they’ve been doing…I’d say since around the time X-Men came out, where everyone suddenly decided action movie villains need to be sympathetic and have motivation beyond money and just being evil. Screw that. For all its faults, Transformers still had just an evil guy (robot) to fight against. Mission: Impossible III was great for many reasons, one of which Phillip Seymour Hoffman was just flat-out evil. No reason, no motivation…he just hated you for being you. And so did every Die Hard villain…until this jackass, who couldn’t even be bothered with a personality while he’s trying to destroy the country (or show the country how it could be destroyed or whatever his lame plan was). Just makes me angry.

Second, Justin Long isn’t funny. Ever. Not just in this movie. Ever (yes, even the damn Mac ads). I get his appeal, he’s kind of a cool hipster guy, and maybe it’s just because I dislike hipsters, but I just have a disproportionate loathing for that guy for like no real reason. And this movie wasn’t changing that very fast. I think it’s just because he’s always kinda this likeable loser hipster guy, but beyond that has no real distinguishing personality, and people put him in movies because he fills space a lot more effectively than most other actors. Could be. He wasn’t nearly as bad as the damn sidekick in Die Hard 2 though. Man, you wanna talk about the most boring supporting character ever put in a major action movie.

Next, yes, the PG-13 sucks. There’s some pretty great violence in this movie (and a lot of it happens to that guy who’s always climbing and jumping, but he lives through an unusual amount of it), but it looks like it’s happening to like mannequins or something, I don’t even know. That monkey guy gets taken down pretty spectacularly, actually, but, y’know…no real blood. And I know this says a lot about me as a person that I really crave my violence bloody, but y’know, unless you’re doing a lot of kung-fu (and even then), blood’s kinda part of the game. Especially with the shooting and so forth. And especially in a movie called DIE HARD. HARD. DIE.

Oh, and Kevin Smith isn’t outright bad so much as he…it’s like when you’re watching the trailer for that new Hairspray musical thing, and the credits tell you John Travolta’s the fat woman. And you ask yourself…why? Why would they cast John Travolta? Why not cast a woman? It’s kinda the same thing with Kevin Smith in Live Free or Die Hard. They clearly put him in here because he’s kinda known as a cool geeky guy, but it’s just really distracting and doesn’t serve the story (or the lameass character he’s playing) or any other purpose other than an attempt to gain geek points, which they lost immediately because movie fans are much smarter than studios give them credit for when it comes to spotting such things (although we’ll always end up paying for it, so I guess we’re not as smart as we think).

Anyway, don’t see this movie. Bye.

*Here’s another thing I didn’t know until the movie started – four distinct screenwriting credits. Sometimes that works out well (Children of Men), other times not so much. It breaks down like such…Mark Bomback wrote the screenplay, but the story was by him and a guy named David Marconi, although some amount of the story was based on an article called “A Farewell to Arms” by John Carlin. Oh, and Roderick Thorp, author of Nothing Lasts Forever, the book on which the original Die Hard is based, gets credit for “certain original characters.” Fan-tastic.

P.S. I was just now surfing through the Rotten Tomatoes reviews, and for literally the first time ever I am actually wondering if I even saw the same damn movie. Maybe I didn't. Maybe it was all just a bad dream. That happens sometimes. I've dreamt of seeing Batman Begins, Superman Returns, and Transformers at least before they came out. In dream form, they all blew hard.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

SICKO

I’ll keep this brief – see this film. It’s the single most important film I’ve seen in…I don’t know how long. Michael Moore wisely keeps the focus out of the politics and just on the affect our system has here, and the effects of universal health care in other countries (and if you’ve ever had any reservations about universal health care, I can’t see any of them remaining after watching this). Would universal health care be a step towards socialism? Maybe, but, as Moore points out, we’ve socialized the fire department, the police force, schools, libraries, etc. And how bad could France’s system be if people not only get free health care, but free child care (well, okay, $1 an hour), free nannies, five-eight weeks paid vacation (with an extra week for your honeymoon), unlimited sick days, and in the end have higher productivity? And you still get to choose your doctor.

Michael Moore, as he did with Fahrenheit 9/11, backed up all the facts presented in this film. It’s not a fact-heavy film, as most of it is about comparing how well people get by with universal health care, and how well we get by on HMO, but the facts that are there are important, so even if you (unwisely) choose not to see the movie, I encourage you to look through the fact sheet. It’s pretty damn informative.

The one area I’d fault it on is Moore does a huge stunt towards the end in taking 9/11 rescue workers to Guantanamo Bay for health care, which ends up being little more than that – a stunt. But it does lead to an important point in which we find out that, yes, Cubans get better health care than we do.

But once again, see it. It’s quite often very funny, incredibly informative, totally convincing, a little enraging, and even a bit touching at the end.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

TRANSFORMERS

Ready for another mixed review of a major summer motion picture?

I am a Michael Bay fan. I wouldn't say he's one of my favorite directors, but I would say I enjoy all of his movies to varying degrees. I'm more forgiving of Pearl Harbor than most people are (it's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand where its heart is at, I just feel like something went askew and they didn't quite deliver on what they'd hoped for), I enjoy most of Bad Boys and The Island, and I out-and-out LOVE The Rock, Bad Boys II, and ESPECIALLY Armageddon. I don't understand the arguments against the last two (The Rock is pretty much universally recognized as sweet)...Bad Boys II is supposed to be retarded, and it really does have just incredible action sequences, and Armageddon...I dunno. I love every piece of it. Especially the characters. And Michael Bay did wander into his one moment of genuine emotion in his entire career (a career in which he's attempted to find genuine emotion many, many times) when Bruce Willis says goodbye to his daughter. But that's all on Willis and especially Liv Tyler.

But people who say Michael Bay is the worst thing since the invention of cinema are just idiots. Never mind the scores of bad movies that have come out in the past, but look at frickin' Brett Ratner, who's not only content with making a third Rush Hour movie (which looks retarded, but not in that knowing way that Bad Boys II was), but also took a second to screw over the X-Men franchise. And then there's guys like Shawn Levy (who sat in the chair - and probably didn't do much else - on the sets of such films as Cheaper by the Dozen and the Pink Panther remake). You look at a Michael Bay film and, if you can't catch onto his knack for quickly establishing character, you can at least see all the work that was put into making the movie...the guy can make a film MOVE.

So I was out-of-my-mind eager to see Transformers. Not because I watched the cartoon all the time as a kid, and could probably still dig up my Optimus Prime action figure. But because it was the new Michael Bay movie. And Transformers is, if nothing else, an absolutely stunning summer action movie, the kind they just don't make that much anymore - it's frickin' HUGE. Everything about it is massive. The robots, the story, the action, everything just feels EPIC. This was the first movie this summer that's made me sit up and verbally express my amazement at the spectacle that was moving across the screen. And anytime the movie kicks into high gear (and it does this, thankfully, very very often), it moves into the realm of greatness.

But it's those other times that are the problem. And I know I shouldn't go into Transformers expecting a great human story, but a) I love the human story in Armageddon and at least ENJOY the characters in The Rock and Bad Boys II, and b) the movie spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to get us to give a damn about its human characters, especially Shia Lebeouf (who elevates his character so far past what's on the page that I became an instant fan) and Megan Fox (who...God damn is she a babe). But I swear I couldn't have cared less about either of them. And Megan Fox's character (Lord knows what her name was) was just saddled with modern-day female cliches...okay, I'm first in line for a movie featuring strong female characters, especially in major roles...I don't feel like I have to list my credentials here, but I love the shit out of Waitress and Marie Antoinette, and maybe my favorite cinematic moment this year is when the three girls kick the shit out of Kurt Russell in Death Proof, so make of that what you will, but it just pisses me off when they seem to just spin the wheel and give the girls in these movies the most random traits just to make the girls feel like they're a part of the action too. For example...Megan Fox is the daughter of a carjacker (or something), so she knows more about cars than most other guys (which intimidates them, so she doesn't mention it because she can't help falling for jerks with great abs - I think she actually says that part out loud), and later on uses this part of her past to drive a tow truck (backwards) with Bumblebee attached to it, who shoots the shit out of everything (that last part doesn't bother me, actually...it was pretty cool).

And once again, I know this sounds like I'm dwelling too much on the characters in a movie based on a line of toys, but the damn movie kept trying to make me care! And I couldn't. I didn't even like the damn robots that much until they started fighting each other. I love action movies to death, but it pisses me the hell off when they try to find character moments and drama but are just completely incapable of either.

I really am being unfairly negative about a movie I really did enjoy, but this was the stuff I got to thinking about over the last day or so. It's harder to just say "the action was effing amazing." Which it was...I mean, really...I watch a LOT of action movies, and there are very few that have achieved what Bay and his team have done here. For about 3/4 of the movie, I was on the edge of my seat, not 'cause I thought there was a chance the good guys would lose, but because God damn...did that just happen? No, it couldn't have, it was TOO awesome...oh, wait, it totally did though. Only in the time it took that thought to form, like twenty other ridiculous, mind-blowing, "did that just happen" moments frickin' just happened. There's a full-on 40-minute showdown between the Autobots (the good bots) and the Decepticons (the other guys) at the end of the movie in the middle of LA that was one of the best things I've seen all year. It's INCREDIBLE. This may be the best effect work I've ever seen, if only for the speed at which those things transform. There are two Decepticons that can fly, and there's like twelve times when they jump up in the air, transform, and fly away in the space of maybe a second. There's a GREAT aerial battle with one of them and some jets too.

The ONE thing I wish they did, action-wise, is a chase scene, or rather a driving battle. And I mean a BIG one. I know that seems ridiculously obvious, which is exactly why it should have happened. There are smaller bits where they drive around and transform at the same time, but I wish with everything in me there was like a nine-minute, Matrix Reloaded-style segment for that.

But all said, the best "summer movie" so far this summer. Sunshine's gonna kick its ass, or at least I hope it does (though from what I hear, that's more 2001 than Armageddon, but I think enough of the elements are in place to qualify it as a "summer movie"...and it comes out in a few weeks). I'm not a fan of the "turn your brain off, and you'll enjoy it," because a) that apologizes for what the person saying it secretly believes to be a bad movie, and b) if you do, you're gonna miss most of the action (it comes at you way faster than any of that fancy dialogue stuff in those other movies you kids are so fond of), but, really, it's like a ride (which is also a retarded thing to say)...strap in and enjoy the hell out of it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Paris, je t'aime

Ben has been begging me for a summary of my trip to France, and I figure after just seeing the movie, there would be no better time than now, especially since I'm supposed to be working now, although I have absolutely nothing to do. This won't be quite a film review, but I'll work some of that in it, as my trip and the movie has some cross-over.

The largest difference between the film and my few days in Paris is perhaps the most obvious, my short 4 days there focused entirely on the monuments and museums: Notre Dame, Eiffel tower, the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay (my favorite), Invalides, Arc d'Trimophe, Versailles, a couple other cathedrals that I forget the name of, the church that the Jesuits were founded in, a boat tour of the Seine, and my absolute favorite moment of the trip: the Jardin du Luxembourg. The gardens were my favorite part of the trip because I was reading Les Miserables at the same time (in fact, to "prepare" for the trip, although I've meant to read it for a while now), and part of the novel took place in the park. I was so excited when I came to that part, I started running around the garden looking for the exact spot where it took place. The only identifying feature, however, most have been torn down in the last 140 years, though, and I wasn't quite sure where it happened, but I'm pretty sure I got close. The scene is where two of the main characters met and fell in love, which, really is the whole point of Paris, je t'aime. I like to think that I found something in that garden. I don't know what it was, probably not love, but who can be sure?
The difference is that film showed Parisians in their city. As a tourist, I could only get a taste of this, but the film showed the essence of the life of the Parisians. Love is life in a moment, and even a mere glance or a shattering heartbreak can show this, and that is what the film is about.

The film is a collection of 18 short films about love in Paris. The first 3 or so are typical (although touching) stories where two strangers meet and fall in love. (Pat didn't quite enjoy the one with two men or the one with mimes). The rest (with the exception of the vampires, which was just weird) weren't the idealized conceptions of love-at-first sight, but showed love in all its complications and contradictions. All of the stories were love between people, which seems to me a very narrow definition of love, with no element of God in any of it, but France as a whole isn't religious, so I guess it makes sense.

The second half of my trip, and the very reason I was in France to begin with took me out of Paris, and out of the scope of the movie. The retreat at Taize was not a disappointment, but only because I was prepared for the worst. It gave me a lot of good reflection time, which was very nice, and really, is a place apart from the world. Life there consists of three prayers a day, where you sit in a big room and chant their songs, which was nice. Then food, which as a rule, was bad and there was never enough of it. There was also a "bible introduction," which was elementary, and palled in comparison to Sophomore year. But the majority of the people there, and even those in my group have had very little religious education, and actually learned from the experience. What I learned the most from was the students from Israel that were there. The intention was that A few Jewish Israelis and Christian Palestinians would come to the retreat and talk or something, but the Palestinians didn't get visas in time, and I was chosen to take one of their place. It was very interesting to experience Judaism from Jews. I have of course learned a lot over the years both from the comparative religion class at JHS and from things like Passover at Cornell, but really have never experienced from anyone who is, to the depth of their being, Jewish. Even the many Jews at Cornell are on the whole very secular, without any religious component other than going home for Passover, so to see Jews actually act out and teach their faith was something. I like it, especially the bittersweet aspect that seems to underlie their experience of the divine. They also invited me to shabbat, which was great food compared to the dismal fare at the retreat.

My group, 6 Cornellians, were selected because we were involved in Campus Ministry in some way (all I did was go to Guatemala). One of the priests is getting old, and worried about his legacy at Cornell, came into a large sum of money, and wanted to send students to a place that has influenced his life very much, and then we could come back and help the shoddy shape of the Cornell Catholic Community. I really don't know how much we'll be able to do, but I guess I'm kinda committed to Campus Ministry now.... I'm of course glad that he sent us, I don't know when I'd see France any other way, but I'm not sure if it was worth it. The best part of the trip was meeting new people, (predominately German) including the other 3 Americans at the retreat. Although, I could have done the same reflecting anywhere else, the fact is that I wouldn't have, and so I'm quite grateful that I went. I even think I found God in some new way. It was like the last clip in Paris, je t'aime. A lady from Denver goes to Paris, sees the sights, sits in a park (always the park!) and falls in love with Paris. While I certainly hope that I'm not as pathetic or lonely as that woman, I could at least relate. I went to Paris, and found something; God, answers, life, love, I'm not sure, but there was something.


PS: I have pictures, I'll try to get them up later