Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas 2016

I left for SLC on an evening flight from Love Field on December 21. Three of my nieces and nephew (the ones that live in Seattle but were in SLC for Christmas) came with my mom to pick me up at the airport. My five days in Salt Lake was spent with family and friends. We celebrated Athena's fifth birthday. We went on a light tour on the Provo River. We went bowling. We even had a white Christmas.

Ivy, Elliett and Koko at Grandma's

We made snowflakes

Jorge works at Rumbi. Proud of him. 

I traveled downtown (by bus!) to hit up Toasters...

...and "La La Land" at The Broadway

Public art in downtown SLC

Ivy, Jorge and I went to a Christmas Eve showing of "It's A Wonderful Life" at The Broadway

Christmas morning

My presents to the family

This year's Christmas Day movie was "Rogue One". The boys all loved it. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Manchester By the Sea

Besides seeing the poster and a few views of the trailer, I didn't know much about "Manchester By the Sea." It has been getting a lot of buzz since it premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, so I knew I would need to see it.

I'm glad I didn't know much about it before seeing it, because it made it that much more powerful. Based on the poster, I was sure it involved a love story of some sort (Michelle Williams is the only other actor on it besides Casey Affleck). I watched the various trailers after seeing it, and they would make one think they are going to see a somewhat-comedy: slacker uncle must take care of his teenaged nephew after his brother dies, causing him to return to the home town he left, with a possible rekindling of a left-behind love.

While those things do happen, they don't happen in a funny way. At least not "ha-ha" funny. The movie is emotional, with the weight of sadness felt throughout.

Casey Affleck plays the "slacker" uncle, Lee, forced to return to Manchester by the Sea due to the abrupt death of his brother from a congenital heart defect. Lee is a handyman in Quincy, and in the first scenes we see that he is not good with people. Flashbacks slowly reveal his story. And it is heartbreaking. There is a lovely scene where Lee is at the police station, the grief and sadness palatable, and it is set to classical music. It's stunning.

Another powerful scene is between Lee and his former love, Randi, played by Michelle Williams. From the flashbacks we see them in love and we see what tore them apart. They have an awkward and sad phone call. Then they see each other at the funeral, and it is heartbreaking to watch. But then they run into each other, randomly, in town and Randi wants to talk. It is heart wrenching and electric and truly brilliant. So much hurt and love and sadness and regret infused in one scene.

Lee is trying to overcome his grief from a terribly tragic event. In most movies, the situation of coming home and caring for a family member would be just what was needed to pull a person out of their grief. But that's not really how life works, and that's not how this movie works. This movie will stay with you. I highly recommend it.

Kyle Chandler is one of those actors that is in everything and is always great. He's never been a "flashy" actor in that he never appears in magazines or gossip columns; he just quietly acts and lives his life. He won a much-deserved Emmy for playing Coach Taylor in 2011. He has been in "Carol", "The Wolf of Wall Street", "Zero Dark Thirty", and "Argo" (all of those were contenders of some sort in the Oscars". I just think he's fantastic.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I don't think it's any secret that I really like Star Wars. I have journal entries of the re-releases and prequels that I posted about last year. I was full of excitement when a new trilogy was announced. I was not, however, excited about the other trilogy - a trio of standalone Star Wars stories to be released between each of the new Episodes. Was anyone really clamoring for an origin story of Han Solo? Or, even worse, Boba Fett? I know he gained cult status over the years but I never understood it, and the inclusion of him and his dad in the prequels was ridiculous.

Which brings us to Rogue One, the story of the rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star. This enabled Luke to fire his proton torpedoes into the exhaust port that started a chain reaction that blew up the Death Star. Based on reviews I've read from critics and from friends on Facebook, and the general reaction of the crowd I saw the film with, everyone loves it.

I am not everyone.

I wanted to like it. I really did. I even went into it with fairly low expectations so I wouldn't be disappointed. And it still didn't rise to the occasion.

There's nothing bad about the movie. It's competently filmed with some good movement and decent acting. I just didn't care about any of the characters though. I was bored fifteen minutes into the film. The never-ending parade of new planets, each with their own title card so the audience knows the name - I'm sorry, but is this a Star Trek film?!

I was bothered by how cliche the whole thing seemed. I know that the original trilogy wasn't exactly a new concept - good vs. evil, etc, and George got inspiration from many sources. But what he created felt original. Now everything is just connecting pieces of a larger universe and it bores me. The most cliche moment was when a character falls down a shaft and the audience is to believe he is dead, if not severely incapacitated. However, he returns at the very moment the protagonist needs assistance or else she'll be killed. I literally said, "Oh come one!" out loud, while the people behind me were cheering.

Vader makes an appearance, but he was a weird fit. Grand Moff Tarkin is there with a digitally-added Peter Cushing (who passed away several years ago) and it was distracting. The droid, K-2SO, was meant to be comic relief but I found him annoying and far too human-like for a droid. The filmmakers could never decide if they wanted a love story between Cassian and Jyn or not, and they end up playing it both ways throughout the film. Jyn never gets fully developed into a character we care about, and her rousing speech isn't entirely inspiring. I think the reshoots did not serve her character well.

I liked the final sequence of air and ground battle (which we've seen before in Jedi), which brings us right to the beginning of A New Hope. Even though most of the ground forces are characters we do not know, their battle is nicely done. Chirrut and Baze were interesting characters with good chemistry that I actually did feel sort of fond of.

At this point, I'm tired of all the films that exist just to make Disney money. I can accept George wanting to make the prequels, as he claims that story existed in his head all along. But it's now just getting to be too much. I just want to enjoy my original trilogy and occasionally watch the prequels. I have turned into the old person yelling at kids to get off their lawn.

The Trailers Before Rogue One

I ended up seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on pre-opening day (that's what I'm calling the trend of non-midnight showings). I'll have much to say about that, but for now I'm going to focus on the trailers seen before the movie.

I love trailers. It's movie window shopping. A really good trailer can make one want to see a really terrible thing. Becuase all the trailer needs to do is sell a person on seeing a film; once the ticket is bought and your butt is in that theater seat it doesn't really matter if the film is "good" or not. (Sidebar: movies these days seem to be about having the biggest opening weekend and care little about massive drop-offs in attendance after that. In the end, movies are made to make money.)

Logan - I thought it was ballsy (and really smart) to set the trailer for this latest Wolverine film to Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." It's a great song and Cash conveys all the right emotions that are just right for a story about Logan, the guy who is Wolverine. I admit that my interest in Wolverine (and comic book movies in general) have waned greatly. I might give this one a shot....

Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan has made a WWII film. As expected, he has cast many of his favorite actors (Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy). I am not terribly interested in this, but the prescence of Mark Rylance might get me to see it.

I don't remember the name of this one, but it was about babies competing to be cute again. The main baby is voiced by Alec Baldwin. It looks awful, but the crowd seemed to think it was funny. Pass.

Power Rangers - I may be the target demographic (mid-30s reliving a popular tv show from my growing up years) but I have zero interest in seeing this.

Kong - when good actors are in a movie based on a video game.

Cars 3 - Even though Cars 2 is widely considered the worst Pixar movie, another sequel was greenlit. Why?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol: 2 - I really enjoyed the first one. However, it's awfully hard to tap into the same thing twice and get the same results. I'm cautiously optimistic about this sequel, but I am still superhero'd out.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

From Here to Eternity

I have been slacking on my 35 by 35 goal to watch all the Best Picture winners. Luckily I'm getting helped out by Fathom Events, which today showed the 1953 Best Picture Winner From Here to Eternity. Most remember this film for the iconic kissing on the beach scene. And the scene did not disappoint, even if Ben Mankiewicz joked after the film that it was film on a studio back lot with stand-ins (all untrue!)

From Here to Eternity is the story of two men, both in the Army in Hawaii just before Pearl Harbor is attacked, and the women in their lives. Sgt. Warden, played by the handsome Burt Lancaster, is an enlisted man who runs Company G for the never-present General Holmes. The General decides promotions based on which soldier fights in the yearly boxing matches. Just-transferred Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (the dreamy Montgomery Clift) used to be a middleweight fighter but doesn't want to fight anymore. This causes a lot of trouble for him, as the General needs to win the boxing matches for a promotion for himself.

I found the backbone of this story - the men treating Prewitt bad because he won't box - to be rather thin. With all the things a soldier in the Army needs to do, these guys are really concerned because one of them isn't going to box?

Sgt. Warden's story - he's having a love affair with General Holmes' wife. It seems the General and his wife have come to an agreement about the state of their marriage - due to a death of a child, multiple indiscretions, and a lack of love, they are really only married in name. She herself has had affairs, too. But this one with Sgt. Warden is real love.

I find their love story not entirely compelling. They have a few scenes together and they fail to generate any sort of connection. Even after their lovely and sexy kiss in the waves, they get into an argument. He chooses that moment to ask about her other men, and has the audacity to get angry about it. She tells him her sob story of the pregnancy and such, and then they are clutching each other tightly.

It is interesting to view the story with my modern eyes. The men are all prone to take out their emotions with violence. Even for the smallest infraction (Prewitt refuses to box because he once made a man blind, but has no qualms getting into a knife fight in an alley because his friend is being treated poorly in the stockades - really?). The women are there to support and be literal arm-candy for the soldiers.

The film went up against Roman Holiday and the western classic, Shane.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I (Finally) Saw Elf

Elf came out in 2003. I didn't see it when it was originally released. And in thirteen years, when the film became a quotable classic, I never got around to seeing it. Until last night. It was playing in the metroplex, and what better way to see a film for the first time than on the big screen with friends.

It's really hard to go into a movie with no expectations when everyone has already told you how unbelievably funny it is. I mean for real, many people really love this film. I didn't want to let them down.

The movie starts out really funny. I love the whole set design with the forced perspective and callback to clay-mation. Will Ferrell commits completely to the role of Buddy the Elf, a human raised by elves in the North Pole. He knows Santa. He loves sugar. He is sweet and innocent. He wants to meet his real dad.

That real dad lives in NYC, and the sequence of Buddy arriving in NYC is pretty funny. However, the film can't ride on that for as long as it does. The second half of the film is bad - bad effects, bad Christmas message, bad character changes.

David S. Pumpkins is funny in a five-minute skit, but a feature-length film of him would be overkill. Buddy the Elf would have been a great five-minute sketch.

(This line about asparagus and pee made me literally laugh out loud at the theater.)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Arrival of Fall (finally)

While friends and family were getting snow in Idaho and Utah the past couple weeks, I was relishing the fall that had finally arrived in Denton. It's true that we had a cold front a couple weeks ago that made me turn my heater on finally (only to have to then switch between turning it off, turning the overhead fan on, and once turning the AC back on; not to mention the days of using the heater and AC in my car), but it has been the changing of the leaves that really made it feel like fall.

And that started a couple weeks ago. I had been a bit sad that the trees here don't really turn; I even had a conversation about that with some friends. But then they did start changing! I wish I had even one photo to share, but I don't. You all know what changing leaves look like, so just close your eyes (or look out your window) and imagine the lovely oranges and reds and yellows that paint the landscape.

A cold front has moved in and it's going to rain all weekend. At least it's not snow.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Droppin' Like Ladybugs

My home has been a magnet for ladybugs. Three in one night one time. Frequent and consistent visitors they are. It hasn't really bothered me, because, let's be real, ladybugs are cute. Unlike evil, vicious, scary spiders. If my home was a magnet for spiders, I would have called an exterminator or moved out a long time ago.

So I have gotten used to seeing the random ladybug crawling on my ceiling or curtain or door.

However, now I have to get used to seeing them lying there dead. Four yesterday. It makes me sad. What are they dying?!?! Is it the change in weather (fall/winter has finally hit Denton)? Is it just their time? Are they infected?

I don't know.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Adventures in Bicycling

I ride my bike. Sometimes cool/interesting things happen when I do that. Here's what happened today.

     I was riding down Welch on my way to Eagle to film a spot for DTV. A large white truck started passing me and I could hear the driver say something to me. I couldn't make it out though, so I don't know if it was something nice or something mean. When he passed and his bumper was in view, there was a sticker: Hillary for Prison. I'm guessing he wasn't yelling pleasantries at me.

     As I turned onto Hickory, making my way back to City Hall, there was a person on a bike in front of me. I like when people in their cars can see multiple people at once using a bike lane (or even just riding). We got to the intersection with Carroll Blvd and there was a car in our (green and obviously a) bike lane.


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