Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Avatar (2010)

You may already know (or suspect) that Brian and I have somewhat divergent film preferences. We saw Avatar together a couple weeks ago and he was nice enough to invite me to write another guest post with my review of the movie, as it's, um, contrary to his. My Avatar review in 140 characters or less? "Meh." But I don't Twitter, so I have some space here to elaborate on that.

As each character was introduced, my internal monologue was "really? Really?" The abrasive military leader, the sassy female pilot, the gawky academic--all were so one-dimensional. (even though we were watching in 3D. Ha.) The plot was heavy-handed and everything was obvious, with lots of superfluous fighting, hunting, and riding dinosaurs/birds. Unobtainium? Really? Couldn't come up with any other name for this...uh...unobtainable mineral? The Na'vi people are basically blue Native Americans wearing Maasai jewelry and riding horses with six legs. The whole thing felt like James Cameron watched the PBS special on Native American history and said "Ok, that's cool. Let's just add some CGI and we'll have a blockbuster." Here's a quote from the PBS website:

"Jackson's [Giovanni Ribisi's] attitude toward Native Americans [Na'vi] was paternalistic and patronizing -- he described them as children in need of guidance and believed the removal policy was beneficial to the Indians [Na'vi]. Most white Americans thought that the United States would never extend beyond the Mississippi [into space/Pandora]. Removal would save Indian [Na'vi] people from the depredations of whites, and would resettle them in an area where they could govern themselves in peace."

See the parallels? Instead of watching Avatar, try watching We Shall Remain

No blue people, and no glowing forests, but the same basic idea and much more interesting.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Micro Reviews

I'm excited to announce a new addition to Armageddon Blows--micro reviews.  A micro review is just like our normal reviews but smaller, much smaller. 140 characters or less to be exact.  The micro reviews will be hosted by Twitter because...well, it is free and pretty easy to use.

Since we are using Twitter to post reviews we have to follow their rules.  Twitter limits messages, called tweets, to 140 characters because that is the limit for cell phone text messages (aka SMS messages).  Why does a text message size matter, you ask?  Originally, Twitter was a service that allowed people to update a website via text message.  Conversely, you can sign up to receive text messages from a persons page.  This text message stuff still works so if you find yourself without a fancy smart phone, use any cell phone to send updates (ie micro review).

Back to what matters, movies.  There are times around Armageddon Blows office when the staff sees a movie that doesn't warrant a full blog post.  Enter micro reviews.  These bite sized reviews can be cranked out in a few minutes.  There is no reason one couldn't be tapped out from the theater before the credits stop rolling.

As your editor-in-chief, I don't want to limit the fun to AB staff so we are opening this up to anyone with a Twitter account (sorry Facebook people, I'm not sure how to include you).  To get your micro review on Armageddon Blows, add the tag #ablows anywhere in your tweet and it will be found and added to the site.  Why #ablows you ask?  Well because #ab is already being used and #armageddonblows eats up sixteen characters and honestly, I never remember how to spell Armageddon.

We hope the AB community will have fun with this.  Don't feel like it needs to be limited to reviews.  If it has to do with movies--good or bad, we want to hear about it.  For more info on Twitter check out this overview.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Best of the Decade

On December 31st 1999 Brian was 21, and I was nearly 21 years old, Clinton was still president, the World Trade Center was still towering over New York, Favre still donned the Green and Gold, Zack's favorite movie was "Harriet the Spy," Brian was spending many sleepless nights sweaty and shivering in the fetal with worry over the Y2K glitch, and "Armageddon" had been blowing for only one and 1/2 years. Time marches on however, Brian and my twenties are fading further and further in the past, we somehow survived (barely) the Bush years, Freedom Tower is slowly being built in WTCers place, A-Rodge is the Packers new pro-bowl quarterback, Zack now has a much better taste in movies, Brian is now panicked about a.i. taking over mankind, and "Armageddon" has been blowing for 11 1/2 years.

One constant escape through the 2000's has been the movies. Denise and I have gone on countless dates to the theater and many more stay-in nights watching our DVD's and Blu-Rays. So many good movies; many, many bad... but lets focus on the positive today. The end of the decade is a great time for lists (one of my favorite things in the world) and this is my list of the top 20 movies of the decade. They are ranked in descending order, feel free to take umbrage with any of my selections and let me know what you agree or disagree with. Note on my methods: The only rule I followed was to choose at least 1 movie from each year of the decade. I understand this may falsify my list a little bit, however, I wanted to make sure the entire decade was represented and not just the last 3-4 years that are fresher in my mind. So here goes:

20. Grizzly Man (2005) A great documentary about the obsessed life of Timothy Treadwell. A man who lived for decades among the Alaskan Grizzly bears, and lost his life as a result. Insightful look inside a troubled mind, with gorgeous scenes of the grandeur of wild Alaska.

19. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Fun, funny, touching family road-trip comedy. Great humor mixed with poignent emotions, and a sweet heart. It just sticks with you. See my August 2006 Review.

18. Fog of War (2003) Robert McNamara's memoirs. Documentary that is one of the best histories of the late 20th Century. As much a history as the study of a man late in life trying to rectify, explain, and apologize for his personal role in the most violent century in human history.

17. Apocalypto (2006) After Mel Gibson's anti-semitic laced arrest, he needed to deliver big-time with his next movie. And boy did he ever with this foreign-language Mayan-era epic action adventure. Edge of your seat thrills from beginning to end.

16. No Country For Old Men (2007) One of only 3 Oscar-winning Best Pictures to make my top 20, it is one of the Coehn brothers best. A study on the relentlessness and pervasiveness of the evil that permeates our world in the form of one of the all-time great villains in movie history, Anton Chighur. He sends chills up your spine.

15. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) The Judd Apatow team dominated the comedy market throughout the decade. While there were many good ones to choose from, "Knocked Up," "Superbad," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," to name a few, the best was the original. In large part because of Steve Carrell's excellent, sympathetic, human, and hilarious portrait of a 40 year old guy who has never gotten lucky. Hilarious hijinks balanced by a great heart.

14. Up (2009) The first 10 minutes are perfect. Simply perfect. Then it only becomes great throughout the rest of the movie. Pixar has always been excellent, but have reached new heights with this and its previous movie, which I will talk about later.

13. The Lives of Others (2006) When this won best foreign language film over "Pan's Labyrinth" I felt there was a great injustice done, then I watched the movie and realized that while I still would have given it to PL, I can't argue with the choice. About the oppressive East German Communist Regime and how the Stassi (the secret police) had their eyes and ears in all aspects of the citizens lives. Powerful and enlightening stuff.

12. United 93 (2006) First and best movie to deal directly with the September 11th Terrorist attacks. Use of unknown and non-actors helps lead to the great you are there feeling, which only enhances the building dread at the inevitable tragic ending. See my review in February 2007 Post, "United 93 Vs. World Trade Center."

11. Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Wes Anderson's first three major movies showcase a great talent with a keen eye for the unique, and understated hilarity. Each slightly absurd, while keeping their feet planted in reality, and each hilarious as well as touching. RT, his third, is his masterpiece. While his other offerings in this decade have fallen short of this mark, he began the decade with a bang.

10. The Squid and the Whale (2005) Only coincidence that this Noah Baumbach movie is side-by-side with WA's "Royal Tenenbaums" as he is a protege' of Anderson's, and this wonderful movie has his Anderson's imprint (who is producer) all over it in style and mood. But it is clearly Baumbach's movie, less up-surd and more personal then any of Anderson's. Story of the trauma and efforts of a teenager trying to reconcile his feelings about his parents ugly divorce. Surprisingly excellent in every way.  Find Brian's review here.

9. Into the Wild (2007) True-story about a lost child of wealth who shunned not only his parents but basically all of society in a search for adventure and the truth. Always beautiful, often moving, and always full of pulsing life this movie clearly was a passion-piece for director Sean Penn. In his great adventure to escape society, Chris McCandless, is touched by several wonderful people who remind him that there is a need all people to bond with other humans, not just escape their society. Also, excellent, perfectly suited soundtrack by Eddie Vedder.

8. Wall-E (2008) The second Pixar entry into my top 20 of the decade and an animated movie of unequaled excellence. Wall-E is the last of the robots on an abandoned garbage covered, desolate Earth in the distant future.  Human-kind has made Earth inhabitable for life and has long ago abandoned it to live aboard space ships in outer-space. The first 30 minutes are awe-inspiring. It is not a cartoon, it is a film of the highest order. A science fiction masterpiece first, then developing into one of the best love stories of the decade (between 2 robots!) and finally becoming action-adventure movie for the entire family. I've seen this #1 on other best-of the decade lists and it is hard to argue otherwise.

7. High Fidelity (2000) My one entry from 2000. Maybe this is a nostalgia piece for me, but it holds a special place in my heart as it is one of my first clear memories of Denise and I going to a movie together that we both loved. Plus, I'm a music buff, and the record store scenes of the music snobs is so spot-on and hilarious.  The themes and characters have and still resonate deeply within me. I think I was sold when John Cusack describes the intricacies and strategy required to make the perfect mix-tape, something I loved (and miss) doing. (Buring cds, now playlists, is ok, but I miss the process of hearing what you record. Something more hands-on, more tangible, and as a result more personal... and I think this movie captures that.)

6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) The themes of longing for true love, finding true love, and losing that love have never been more honestly and beautifully expressed then in this awesome movie. Jim Carrey is at his finest, better then anyone could have ever expected, and Kate Winslet is her excellent self. The inspired screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Michele Gondry is matched only by Gondry's innovative and surreal direction. A beautiful masterpiece.

5. City of God (2003) Roger Ebert called this "One of the best movies you'll ever see" and I see no reason to disagree. Follows the trials and tribulations of the youth of the slums of Rio de Janeiro trying to find their way in horrible conditions ruled by oppressive poverty and violent gang-warfare. Brian gave this an excellent review in his March 2006 post "City of God." Zack and I wholeheartedly agree. I believe it needs to be given even more esteem. It breathes and writhes with a life and vitality that few movies could ever hope to match.

4. The Dark Knight (2008) What else needs to be said. The best Hollywood blockbuster of the decade, elevated to even greater levels by the knock-out performance by the late, great Heath Ledger as the Joker. Simply amazing. See Brian's review in his August 2008 post. I agree.

3. The Departed (2006) Maybe "Goodfellas" and "Raging Bull" are better movies, but if on my death bad I was told to pick 1 Scorcese movie to watch before the end, this is the one I would pick. Some movies you can just feel the life of the director flowing through it and this is one of them. Plus the performances are simply awesome. Who's better... Nicholson? Di Caprio? Matt Damon? Martin Sheen? Mark Wahlburg? Alec Baldwin? Shit... its impossible. This movie proves why stars are stars.

2. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) When I heard that Guillermo Del Torro was going to direct the prequal to LOTR, "The Hobit," I couldn't have been more excited.  Because of "Pan's Labyrinth" I believe that if there was going to be one director that could take Peter Jackson's place it would be Del Torro. I've seen great fantasy movies, I've seen many great war movies, I've seen great historical dramas, I've seen great children's fairy-tale movies, and I've seen great trajedies, however, I have never seen any movie that blends all of these elements, and more, into one beautiful whole. This is one of those movies that is excellent while you watch it, but after it is over it stays with you and develops another life within you. Really you have to see it for yourself... did I forget to mention the Pale Man? Well just watch and see.

1. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003) Hey call me a cheater if you want, but this epic movie-going experience is one 12 hour movie, separated by necessity into three separate movies. So I decided to count it as one movie. Bring it on. I'm ready... Anyway, these movies were not and are not just movies, but have became much, much more. There will never be another movie-going experience like it, where it was not just a movie but a life experience that had you had to be a part of. My wife, Zack, Dad and I bonded during these movies and will always have that time, that place, that moment of the release of these movies. Aragorn, Sam, Frodo, Gandalf, Gimly, Merry, Pippin, Legolas, Boromir, Theodin, and of course Smeagle/Gollum, characters who are now and will forever be in my blood. Can NOT wait for this to come out on Blu-Ray. An untouchable masterpiece.

Honorable Mention:

2000: Cast Away 2001: Ghost World, Amelie 2002: Minority Report, Bowling For Columbine, The Pianist 2003: Elephant, Kill Bill Vol. 1 2005: Kill Bill Vol. 2, Batman Begins, Capote, Munic, The New World 2006: Neil Young: Heart of Gold, V for Vendetta, Letters From Iwo Jima, Children of Men 2007: Zodiac, There Will Be Blood, The Diving Bell and Butterfly 2008: Man on Wire, Let The Right One In, Slumdog Millionaire, 2009: Star Trek, Avatar

So... there it is... tell me what you think. Agree? Disagree? According to my list 2006 was the best year, having the most in the top 20 and even more honorable mentions. On the whole, despite the multitude of crap and stupid movies released, there was also so much excellence that all you can say was it was a great decade and lets keep it rolling for the next 10 years... when I'll be forty (What the F?!!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kabluey (2007)

A douchey looser shows up to help watch his brother's devilish kids while he is fighting in Iraq. His unsatisfying life starts to change when he dons a giant blue suit to make extra money.

Writer, director, and star, Scott Prendergast, was on the Sound of Young America pitching this movie when I first heard about it. Listen to the podcast here:

When the big red Netflix envelope appeared in the mailbox, I had all but forgotten this movie. Over all it is an uplifting independent film that has a surprisingly high profile cast including: Christine Taylor, Chris Parnell, and Lisa Kudrow.

2.5 stars out of 5

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cannibal! The Musical (1996)

Before there was South Park, there was Cannibal! The Musical. Trey Parker's CU Boulder's film school project. The story is based on the true tale of Alfred Packer and his fellow miners trapped in the Rocky Mountains for the winter. When only Alfred emerges, people start to ask questions.

The story is lame, acting is pretty bad, and special effects are downright cheesy but none of this makes the movie any less enjoyable. What really sticks with me about this film is how catchy the songs are. They stick to the roof of your brain for months, maybe even years. To my surprise you can grab all of the songs online. The trick to watching this movie is finding a copy. Netflix seems to have taken it out of rotation but you can stream it to your computer in the "Watch Instantly" section. If money is no object then check out the 13th Anniversary Edition available on Amazon. If you can get your hands on an actual disc, check out the commentary track. It is a shining example of why business and booze don't mix. Have a shpadoinkle day!

3 stars out of 5

Monday, March 30, 2009

Team America: World Police (2004)

Three words on this one, America Fuck Yah! So begins my three part series on Trey Parker and Matt Stone (aka the South Park guys).

If you haven't seen this movie by now, then you probably won't--that's fine. If you have only watched it once, I recommend you watch it again. I can guarentee you'll like it better the second and third time. It just starts growing on you until you find yourself standing in front of a urinal singing, "I'm ronry, so ronry...".

Trey and Matt's original idea was to remake Armageddon shot for shot which they already thought was funny (Nick and I agree) but with low tech puppets. Due to legal problems with the studio that owns the film, they gave up on the idea. Holding on to the puppet idea, they decided to do a Thunderbird'ish action movie. By the end they agreed they would 1) never work with puppets again 2) never do an action movie. I'm glad they persevered through this one.

"Great job, team. Head back to base for debriefing and cocktails." - Spottswoode

3.5 stars out of 5

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Watchmen (2009)

It's been over a year and half since my last post (a lot less time for Armageddon Blows in college than there was in high school), but it's spring break, Watchmen is in theaters, and I had to come back.

Now hitting theaters is the film adaptation of what has been hailed as the "most celebrated graphic novel of all-time" and one of TIME Magazine's "100 Greatest English Novels of the 20th Century," Alan Moore's Watchmen. However, a year ago I had never heard of it (times have a-changed since then). Initially, I remember being very confused by its weird trailer before The Dark Knight last July. Then I became more and more intrigued by Watchmen when I saw a friend of mine reading it as the film's release date neared. I finally bit the bullet, shelled out the $20, and bought the graphic novel last month - a bargain. Then I read it ferociously, planning my homework schedule around Watchmen (I'd reward myself: 1 Logic assignment finished meant I could read 1 chapter, etc), and went on to completely geek about it with my brother (and fellow AB contributor), Nick, since he's read it as well in the past month. As a recently converted Watchmen fanboy scouring YouTube to find every Watchmen video possible, my anticipation for the movie in recent weeks has been immense.

The world of Watchmen takes place in an alternate history of the United States in 1985 with the Cold War at its most critical point; the "Doomsday Clock" is at five minutes to midnight. Costumed adventurers once fought crime in the streets, without special powers (with the exception of Dr. Manhattan who was involved in a freak scientific accident that turned him into a virtual God, and the United States' greatest deterrent against the Soviets). However, at the time of the film, costumed adventuring has been outlawed and only one remains: Rorschach, a sociopath who remains committed to fighting the crime, immorality and corruption in the world (even if he's the only one still willing to do it). That is until Rorschach discovers the death of a fellow adventurer, The Comedian, causing all the Watchmen to rediscover their past. What follows is a complex conspiracy involving attempted assassinations, false accusations, framed murders, and much more as World War III and the nuclear holocaust approaches.

As a film, Watchmen is not an average superhero movie. The villains try to do good, the heroes can be awful, and who is right can be argued from both sides. It's an incredibly elaborate story that honors its source material like few other film adaptations. Director Zack Snyder (of 300 fame) obviously loves Moore's novel and cares about not offending the novel's dedicated fan base. Sure there are some necessary changes made to make the film fit into its almost three hour running time and one major change that was required to not alienate and bewilder a wider audience (fans of the novel know exactly what I'm talking about), but, in my opinion, that change works perfectly. The film follows the novel so closely that I can see how it may seem dense or confusing to an unfamiliar audience member, so be prepared.

I found this movie to be incredibly entertaining. It was amazing to see so many memorable moments from the novel come to life on screen. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Watchmen's most devoted fans to see it after waiting 20 years for a Watchmen movie. Watchmen is a fascinating story filled with complex characters who take the term "superhero" to a place we've rarely seen them before, exciting action with many moments of brutal violence, awesome special effects, and messages leaving you wondering what it really means to sacrifice and do the right thing.

I highly recommend seeing Watchmen (provided you don't get squeamish from nudity or violence). It will definitely twist whatever expectations you have for a "superhero" movie into something completely different. There isn't quite anything like Watchmen.

However, I cannot stress enough that reading the graphic novel can only make your viewing more enjoyable. Not only will it be easier to follow the complex plot, but you will have so much more background knowledge and appreciation for the Watchmen world. I've taken AP English in high school, English Lit. courses in college and read many "classics," and I can say without hesitation or hyperbole that Watchmen ranks up there as one of the best pieces of literature I have ever read. I read it once before the movie and again after in a span of three days before I saw the movie again. And I look forward to future readings and finding out even more subtleties in the amazing story of Watchmen.

4/5 (I knocked off a little bit because I can understand how non-fanboys may not be as enthralled by the film)

as for the graphic novel, 5/5 (I don't think Armageddon Blows allows me to go any higher, otherwise I most definitely would)