Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 Oscar Winners

It's 2:15 AM and the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony ended about an hour and a half ago.  The King’s Speech won Best Picture.  No one movie emerged as the big winner.  The King’s Speech and Inception had four wins apiece, The Social Network had three, and Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, and The Fighter had two apiece. 

11:30 AM Edit - I should have pointed out that the four wins for The King's Speech were in four of the five "major" Oscar categories - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.  It did not win Best Actress, nor did it have anyone even nominated for that from this film.  See my set of posts on the only three movies in Oscar history to have won all five major awards - Click here for these posts

The show actually moved along pretty well.  It went a little over three hours.  For an Oscars telecast that is blazing speed.  Four hours tends to be more common.  Having presenters do two awards at a time definitely sped things up and I hope they keep it like that.  Not having montages for each of the ten nominated films also saved time.  Things still bogged down with the final four awards (Actor, Actress, Director, Picture.)  It took them over 45 minutes to hand them out when it had taken them less than two and a half hours to hand out the prior 20 awards.

Friday, February 25, 2011

2011 Oscar Predictions

The Academy Awards ceremony is this Sunday, February 27th at 8:30 PM EST.  It is on ABC.  Check your local listings. 

I’m posting this list so you can either be amazed at my overall movie knowledge, or so that you can ridicule me for being wrong.  Hopefully it’s more the former than the latter.  My goal is more than 50% correct, with a hope of 75% (18 of 24 categories), although that is probably not realistic.  Good or bad I will do a follow-up post on how I did.

Here is the complete list of nominations in all twenty-four categories.  What I would pick is highlighted in yellow.  No highlight means I have not seen any of the choices.  What I think will win is in bold.  I will also say if I think my choice is a lock, likely, educated guess, or wild-ass guess.

Movies – My Top 10 of 2010

Here is my list of the ten best 2010 movies.  I believe I’ve seen all the big mainstream movies except Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, which I heard good things about.  I’ll buy it when it comes out and watch it then.  I have not seen any of the Oscar-nominated foreign films or documentaries because they mostly have not been available.  Other than that, my list should be based on a pretty complete set of 2010 movies.

You’ll notice some movies in my Top 10 that did not receive any Oscar nominations.  I have never felt that getting an Oscar nomination was the be all and end all of how good a movie was.  On another note, I had a hard time with position ten.  I had three very different movies (True Grit, Unstoppable, and How to Train Your Dragon) and deciding among them was difficult.

Click “Read more” for the list.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movie – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

How to describe this movie?  I guess I should start by saying that it may very well be unique among the thousands of movies that I have seen.  That should tell you a lot right there.  This is not a movie for people who want to see the same, normal, grounded-in-reality, boy-meets-girl movies they have been seeing.  This is the kind of movie that you just have to go with and have a good time.  I did and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I consider it one of the top 10 movies of 2010.

Movie – Defendor (2009)

Defendor is a small independent film that takes a look at one man who tries to be a superhero and stop bad guys.  It starts out comedic, but as it goes along and you learn more about this character, it slowly shifts to being a drama.  If you watch this I think it will go places that you do not expect.

Woody Harrelson plays the title character, whose real name is Arthur Poppington.  He is a little slow mentally.  He goes out at night and tries to help people.  He is searching for Captain Industry, who he is convinced is the ultimate villain that needs to be stopped.

Movie – Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass was the first bigger budget movie to ask the question – what would it be like if a normal person decided to put on an outfit and try to fight crime?  There would be no lifting trucks, seeing through walls, reading minds, fancy cars, jets, boats, gadgets, etc.  The result is a very entertaining movie, one that is mostly comedic, but one that has some dramatic moments as well.  I consider this to be the third best movie of all of 2010.

Movies with Everyday Heroes

"Everyone’s a hero in their own way/ Everyone’s got villains they must face/ They’re not as cool as mine/ But folks you know it’s fine/ to know your place/ Everyone’s a hero in their own way/ In their own not-that-heroic way" – Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

There have been a ton of superhero movies in the last ten years.  Most involve people with superpowers derived from radiation (Spider-Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc.), mutation (X-Men, Wolverine, etc.), or technology (Batman, Iron Man, etc.)

By “everyday heroes” I mean people who don’t have any of those things going for them.  What if a normal human just happened to put on a suit?  Two movies I will recommend deal with that directly – Kick-Ass and Defendor.  A couple of other movies fall into this category – Special and Mystery Men.  While both were okay, neither was good enough for me to recommend.

The third movie I will write about then is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  To be honest, this movie doesn’t fit as well in this category as the other two; it is really in a category all by itself.  If I waited until there were two other movies like it, though, I would probably never end up posting on it.  I’m including it partially because I want at least three recommended movies in this category, but mostly because it is one of my Top 10 movies of 2010 and when I write about that I want to have reviews for all 10 movies already posted on this blog.

You can find my posts for these movies here:

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

On to the reviews…

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book – Math Doesn’t Suck

The author of this book is Danica McKellar.  If the name or her picture on the book cover look familiar, it’s because she is an actress best known for playing Winnie Cooper on the TV show The Wonder Years.  After the show got done she went to UCLA and in 1998 graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Mathematics.  She has held the title of World’s Hottest Mathematician ever since.

Hike – Borestone Mountain

View from West Peak of Borestone
Borestone Mountain is the centerpiece of the Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary, which was founded in 1958.  In addition to the hiking, the sanctuary features Adirondack style cottages on alpine ponds that are available to be rented.  There is also a Visitor’s Center with displays of the animals in the sanctuary. 

The hiking trail to the two peaks of Borestone is listed as moderate by the AMC Maine Mountain guide.  That is more an average than an overall description.  The trail starts out easy, becomes moderate when starting up Borestone, and becomes somewhat strenuous as you near the top.  The reward is 360 degree views from two different peaks, much of it looking into the “100 Mile Wilderness.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Humor – 69 Posts

With this latest set of reviews I made my 69th post on this blog.  Here’s how the mind of a man works.

Movie – Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Yes, this is a kung fu movie, but one with a silly, animated fat panda as the lead.  How can this be a movie with a badass?  In this case, it is the villain who is a badass.  In most movies, what makes a great hero is the skill of the villain that he has to defeat.  This movie is both a spoof of, and homage to, kung fu movies.  The two of these things combine to create a villain that is so badass that you can’t imagine how he can be defeated.

Movie – Pitch Black (2000)

Pitch Black is the classic “group of people caught in a dangerous situation just trying to get home.”  It could have been a western with cowboys surrounded by Indians, or a contemporary movie with people trapped by criminals.  In this case, it is a science fiction movie.  Not unlike John Wayne becoming a star after doing Stagecoach (an example of a Western version), Vin Diesel is the breakout star of this movie.

Movie – Gran Torino (2008)

Almost 40 years after making the original Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood came out with Gran Torino.  Unlike the sometimes cartoonish Harry Callahan, in this movie Eastwood portrays a man who is a much more realistic badass.  The character of Walt Kowalsky is a Korean War veteran, a retired autoworker who spent more than 40 years at Ford, a father and grandfather, and a recent widower after decades of marriage.  This is a terrific movie and it is one of the best films Eastwood has ever made.

Movie – Dirty Harry (1971)

The movie Dirty Harry didn’t invent the maverick cop genre (Bullitt is an earlier example), but it sure cemented it in the public consciousness.  Harry Callahan is a cop who has little patience for politics or legal procedure.  Anything that prevents him from getting scum off the streets is bad in his book and he will often disregard it.  He also carries a .44 magnum gun, which is much too powerful for use on the streets.  After this movie came out a “Dirty Harry” moment or act became part of the language.  The list of movie and TV references on IMDB is a mile long.  This movie also has the famous “Do you feel lucky?” quote, which is one of the most misquoted lines in movie history.

Movies with Serious Badasses

"You don’t tug on Superman’s cape/ you don’t spit into the wind/ you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger/ and you don’t mess around with Slim" – Jim Croce

With all the romantic movies I posted last week I felt it was time for a shot of testosterone.  This set of movies is going to concentrate not just on tough guys, and not even on guys that are kind of badass.  No, this set of movies is going to be about characters that lift badassery to a whole new level.

Who better to start with than Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971)?  Making for an interesting double feature, almost forty years later Eastwood did the movie Gran Torino (2008).  Can an almost eighty year old man still be badass?  If he’s Clint Eastwood he can.  Switching to a newer generation, Vin Diesel had the first really good role of his career in Pitch Black (2000).  The last movie I will review is Kung Fu Panda (2008).  What’s that?  You’re wondering how Jack Black’s panda character is badass?  I’ll give you a hint – that’s not the character I’ll be writing about.  Check out the posted review for the answer.

Finally, can a man be badass while playing ping pong?  If he’s Bruce Lee using nunchucks he can.

You can find my posts for these movies here:

On to the reviews…

Monday, February 14, 2011

Humor – Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day once again, the day where people commemorate the beating, stoning and beheading of Saint Valentine by eating chocolates out of heart-shaped boxes.  The greeting card, floral, and magazine industries get in the spirit by metaphorically beating and stoning the single women in the country for not being in a relationship.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Humor – Praying for Snow

It appears that the Baptists have had enough snow this winter.  (Click “Read more” for the pics.)

Book – Ender’s Game

Back in 1986 I was visiting a college friend in Massachusetts and he had somehow ended up with two copies of the book Ender’s Game.  He gave one to me.  He had not read it yet and he figured I might get to it before he did.  After a three hour drive home, and having nothing else planned, I started reading the book around suppertime.  Even though I had to work the next day I did not put the book down until I finished reading it around two in the morning.  The next day I called my friend up and just said three words to him “Read. Ender’s. Game.” 

Hike – Little Wilson Falls

Little Wilson Falls
The “Little” in “Little Wilson Falls” refers to the fact that it is on Little Wilson Stream, not that the size of the waterfall is little.  At 60 feet this is among the higher waterfalls in Maine.  I caught it on a day where there had been rain, so the volume of water was quite impressive, too.  This is an easy hike so if you like waterfalls, this is definitely one you will want to check out.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Movie – Possession (2002)

Possession is a very romantic drama.  It is a smaller movie that got a little lost between more commercial movies Gwyneth Paltrow did like Shallow Hal and Austin Powers.  It is probably the most traditionally romantic movie of the four where she played a Brit.  It is also quite an intelligent mystery story that keeps the film moving along as clues are uncovered.

Movie – Shakespeare in Love (1998)

This movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1999.  Among others it beat out Steven Spielberg’s movie Saving Private Ryan.  There was some carping over this as people asked how this little romantic comedy/drama could beat out a big budget war movie with big D-Day battle scenes and Tom Hanks in it.  Some people complained that the makers of Shakespeare in Love actually campaigned for the award, as if every other movie maker hadn’t done the same.  I am here to tell you that the reason that Shakespeare in Love won the Best Picture Oscar is that it is a truly great film.  In fact, it is second only to Schindler’s List as the best film of the entire 1990s.

Movie – Sliding Doors (1998)

People tend to think it’s the big decisions in their lives that have the largest impact.  In reality, it’s the moment to moment things that happen that can have huge consequences.  Have you ever paused to think “What if?”  “What if I hadn’t stopped to buy a coffee and met the love of my life?”  “What if I hadn’t gotten off on the wrong track?  Would my life have turned out better?”  Well, Sliding Doors takes a look at one of those moments in the life of a young woman and shows you both outcomes.

Movie – Emma (1996)

When Alicia Silverstone’s movie Clueless came out in 1995, it was quite popular.  The writer/director Amy Heckerling was asked how she came up with the idea and she confessed that she had basically just taken Jane Austen’s book Emma and put it in a modern setting.  That caused interest in the book and the very next year a new version of Emma was filmed.  Along with the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie this caused a huge revival in popularity for Jane Austen.

Movies where Gwyneth Paltrow is British

“She says ‘Mummy’ instead of ‘Mommy.’  I don’t mind that.  I will if she starts saying ‘basil’ and ‘pasta’ the English way, as that really drives me nuts.” – Gwyneth Paltrow, on her daughter Apple’s accent

For the record, Gwyneth Paltrow was born and raised in California, with some schooling on the east coast.  She has played British characters in several movies, though.  She also married a Brit and has a home in England with him, as well as one in California.

The British are notoriously intolerant of any actor or actress that attempts to do one of their many accents and does not get it absolutely perfect.  Paltrow seems to have passed muster with them.  Contrast this with Americans, who have no problem accepting Cary Grant’s accent, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.  Of course, being from Maine I notice it immediately if someone tries to do a downeast accent and gets it wrong, so I can see both sides.

Paltrow has played a Brit in Emma (1996), Sliding Doors (1998), Shakespeare in Love (1998), and Possession (2002).  For completists: she also had a small role as “Young Wendy” in the 1991 movie Hook.  She said one word – “Peter” – in a British accent.

All four of these movies are quite romantic, so they are good complements for the upcoming Valentine's Day.

And guys, despite what you might have heard, watching a romantic movie does not cause your genitals to withdraw up into your body.  I have watched several hundred romantic movies and I can assure you that I still have an outie, not an innie.

You can find my posts for these movies here:

Sliding Doors
Shakespeare in Love

On to the reviews…

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Humor – Social Networking with Your Parents

Kids – if you try to network, chat, or text with your parents you will find that they can not only embarrass you at school, at the mall, and at the movies, but in cyberspace as well.

Parents – if you try to network, chat, or text with your kids you will find out things about them that you really don’t want to know about.  You may think you do, but you don’t.

Book – 1421: The Year China Discovered America

From the title of this book you might think that it is fiction – an alternate history.  It is actually a non-fiction book published in 2003 by Gavin Menzies.  In it he details how ten years earlier he discovered in an old map that Portugal knew about the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe decades before Columbus traveled across the Atlantic.  This revelation led to him finding other old maps that accurately detailed the coasts of Patagonia, the Andes Mountains, the Antarctic mainland and the South Shetland Islands – all long before Europeans had “discovered” them.  Other old maps showed Australia and the west coast of North America.  The only conclusion was that there must have been a massive effort to map the world carried out in the early 1400s.  Only one nation on Earth at the time had the naval capabilities to do that – China.

Hike – Cadillac Mountain, South Ridge

Close-up of the Featherbed
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in Acadia National Park in Maine.  It is also the highest mountain on the Atlantic Ocean anywhere north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  In the Fall and Winter it is the first place in the U.S. that sees the sunrise.  It has a free auto road that allows people to drive right to the top.  It also has multiple hiking trails to the summit.  Some are more challenging than others.  This post describes a hike up the South Ridge trail, the longest trail, but also the easiest.  It also describes a walk from the top of Cadillac Mountain all the way to the sea.

Humor – Efficiency or Laziness?

There is a fine line between efficiency and laziness.  Which one is this?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Movie – Tangled (2010)

Tangled is loosely based on the story of Rapunzel.  Other than the tower and the hair, the story bears little resemblance to the fairy tale.  This is the first 3D animated movie that Disney has released.  (Pixar is owned by Disney, but releases their movies separate from them.)  While Tangled is no Pixar movie, it still has some interesting elements to it.

Movie – Unstoppable (2010)

What if a train a half a mile long, including some cars that hold toxic chemicals, got loose with no engineer, no automatic brakes, and with the throttle at full power?  That is the basic idea behind Unstoppable.  It says it is “inspired by true events.”  The true events are that trains actually do get loose now and then.  Usually they are quickly stopped, but the particular incident that inspired this movie involved a train that traveled over sixty miles before they were able to stop it.

Movie – Salt (2010)

Salt is an action movie starring Angelina Jolie.  While it is not as good as her movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith, it is better than her Lara Croft movies.  It may also bring you some surprises.

The premise is that the CIA gets a walk in – a man claiming to have information on Russian spies that have infiltrated the CIA.  Walk ins are interviewed to see if they set off any bullshit detectors with their stories.  The finest interviewer the CIA has is Jolie’s character, Evelyn Salt. 

Movie – Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2 is the sequel to, you guessed it, Iron Man.  It does not work quite as well as Iron Man does, but then Iron Man is one of the better superhero movies ever made.

Iron Man 2 returns all the characters who survived the first movie.  They add a new villain, played by Mickey Rourke (Sin City, The Wrestler), a rival defense contractor, played by Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon), and a new character, played by Scarlett Johansson (Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Love Song for Bobby Long.)  They also re-cast the role of James Rhodes.  He is now played by Don Cheadle (Devil in a Blue Dress, Hotel Rwanda.)

Movie – How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon is the kind of movie that will probably appeal more to children than to their parents.  It’s got the boy who’s got all these great ideas, but whose father, of course, doesn’t listen to him.  It’s got parents getting into trouble and kids having to rescue them.  Pretty much all the standard clichés of a movie aimed at kids.  It’s the humor, the animation, and some action sequences that lift this movie above the same old same old and that give adults something to enjoy.

Movie – Alice in Wonderland (2010)

This movie is a bit schizophrenic (which may be fitting since it features both a Mad Hatter and a March Hare.)  It suffers from the same problem that hurt Superman Returns (2006) – it can’t decide it if is a remake or a sequel.  Once it finally does decide, though, it is an entertaining movie.

Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) plays Alice.  She is not a child, though.  She is of marriageable age.  During the affair where her engagement is to be announced she sees a white rabbit.  She follows him and falls down his hole.  She goes through many of the adventures from both Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass.  This is the section that is pretty much a remake.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Movies – 2011 Best Picture Nominees Recap

I have now posted reviews for the ten films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.  I am not done yet.  I intend to write reviews for those pictures I have seen that received other Oscar nominations.  Look for reviews of Iron Man 2, Salt, Unstoppable, Alice in Wonderland, Tangled, and How to Train Your Dragon in coming days.  I might be able to do one or two others, too.

In the meantime, here is how I would rate the ten Best Picture nominees from best to not quite the best.  (Positions four through six are pretty much interchangeable.)

Movie – Winter’s Bone (2010)

The first thing you should know is that this is not a happy, feel good kind of movie.  If you are looking for something light and fluffy, this isn’t it.  If you are looking for a serious drama with good performances, however, this movie delivers in spades.

Jennifer Lawrence plays a seventeen year old girl living with her mother, brother, and sister in the Ozarks.  Her mother has lost her mind and doesn’t communicate anymore.  Her brother and sister are younger.  Her father is out of the picture.  It is up to her to keep this family together and to keep them from starving.

Movie – The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right has the most humor of any of the Best Picture nominees, other than Toy Story 3, of course.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to have the movie turn dramatic in the last third of it.  This weakens the movie some.  It is still a good enough movie to recommend, but it could have been so much better if they had kept it a comedy.

Movie – Black Swan (2010)

I know little about the ballet and pretty much nothing about Swan Lake.  Many of you would probably say the same thing.  I mention this because you should not avoid the movie Black Swan because you think it will be boring or something you would not be able to follow.  I watched Black Swan and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is really a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing about what is actually happening.  I consider it to be the second best movie of the year.