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All reviews - Movies (44) - TV Shows (2) - Books (1) - Games (11)

A dream, a reality

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 21 September 2012 11:12 (A review of Sleepwalk with Me)

Last year I had the pleasure of hearing Mike Birbiglia’s standup comic special of the same title, so going into this movie, I kind of knew what to expect. That didn’t lessen the impact of the film on me at all. This is mostly thanks to Birbiglia’s unique presentation: he treats you as if you are watching the film.

“Remember: you’re on my side!”

The story is autobiographical, and, as Birbiglia states emphatically, is a true story. Faced with the decision of marriage while dealing with a dead-end job, a passive-aggressive family, and odd and increasingly dangerous sleepwalking phases (which seem to be triggered by the stress of his slowly fading relationship), Matt Pandamiglio (Birbiglia) chooses to ignore all of his problems and charge headfirst into his dream of becoming a standup comic. This is a smart film—it should be noted that Ira Glass of NPR fame had a hand in it—and its knowing style is perfect for the story and mannerisms of Birbiglia. He is prone to tangents, mumbling—basically a lack of focus that is evident in nearly every aspect of his life, and that translates wonderfully to film. The way reality melds with his dreams—both the sleeping kind and his goals for the future—is subtle but jarring. Much like a dream, it seems so real, bizarrely so, until that point where it is pushed over the line and you wake up. I was happy to see a lot of underrated comics (David Wain, Marc Maron), up-and-comers (John Lutz), and many Daily Show correspondents (Wyatt Cenac, Kristen Schaal) as the supporting cast in this film. It really helped sell the backstage vibe that they was going for when Pandamiglio finally goes on tour. Clearly, Birbiglia knows this material very well, and he has created a real gem. I’m looking forward to his future work, and I hope it’s less dangerous for him!

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Sleek, smart, underrated thriller

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 7 September 2012 06:50 (A review of Michael Clayton (2007))

When describing this movie to people, I compare it to [Link removed - login to see] from the 70’s, which blasted money and television, except this time it’s blasting money and the food industry. This is a sleek legal thriller starring [Link removed - login to see], but I think [Link removed - login to see] steals the show as the mad lawyer who saw a flash of truth and now seeks to destroy the industry that he has been paid very well to defend in court.

“Isn’t it what we wait for? To meet someone… and they’re, they’re like a lens and suddenly you’re looking through them and everything changes and nothing can ever be the same again.”

His bosses at the law firm know what a genius he is, but don’t know how to handle him so they send Clooney’s character Michael Clayton over there to “fix” things. Clayton fails, and the food company starts to take matters into their own hands. This film shows the depths of corporate greed and their focus on profits and numbers in an attempt to block out the harm they are causing. [Link removed - login to see] nails the newly-promoted corporate executive who seems more nervous about giving a speech than ordering a hit. The movie also sheds light on the important issue of genetically modified crops and the specific pesticides used to treat them (read: Round-Up by Monsanto). Sleek and well directed, this film snuck its way into my favorites list. Give it a shot.

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It's a mess!! Not this movie, but in general...

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 30 August 2012 06:14 (A review of The Campaign)

I’ll be honest, as the movie started I was already annoyed that [Link removed - login to see] again resorted to playing the buffoon, A.K.A. Ron Burgundy, except now his name was Cam Brady and he has been an unchallenged four-term Democratic US Representative from North Carolina. In struts (I use that term very lightly) [Link removed - login to see].

"It's a mess!!" :: Marty Huggins

He really steals the show as Marty Huggins, the pure-hearted Capotesque tourism director of the town of Hammond, and I’m wondering if Zach even had a hand in directing. Maybe it’s just something about his crazed goofiness that just cracks me up, but it felt like the camera cut or zoomed or was edited just so… The movie as a whole was generally good, with a painfully funny, extended dinner scene that had me hooting like a caged baboon. Will Ferrell definitely has his moments, but I was bored seeing him do the slow-motion slow-talk thing again. There are times when he is both hilarious and devilishly quick-witted—oh, what a great movie that could have been without the oafishness! Still, I would recommend it, not just for Galifianakis but also the supporting cast—basically the entire [Link removed - login to see] family kicks ass—and the innocent situations the two stars are drawn into only for them to destroy any semblance of good sportsmanship.

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In Bruges review

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 16 August 2012 05:59 (A review of In Bruges)

Two witty hitmen are sent to Bruges after a job goes wrong. Not the most original setup I've heard (Where the fuck is Bruges, anyway?), but this film has a lot of surprises in store (It's in Belgium). As the film progresses, you hear little bits about what exactly went wrong, and how it has been affecting these two. You can tell that it was bad, but when you find out what happened, it will bring you to tears. I've always been a fan of Brendan Gleeson, and he sinks another one, but I was amazed at Colin Farrell's understated performance. The two of them are perfect together--they seem like they've been around each other for years and know exactly which buttons to push on each other, earning their small bits of joy. The end climax was a little less compelling and more loud than the rest, but the ending was well-crafted, haunting and earned. A consistently fresh script and the stunning beauty of Bruges makes this a movie for the ages.

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Serenity now. More Serenity, now!

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 10 August 2012 01:51 (A review of Serenity)

This movie was my introduction to the Firefly series. From the first scene of Mal walking through the ship, I was immediately taken in. What a great set, and a colorful cast of characters. There is something to love in every one of them. After watching the TV series, I felt even more attached to them, making it a bittersweet end to a phenomenal and imaginative universe. The story is that of Mal Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion with such great charm and wit, who captains the Firefly-class ship Serenity… oh, hell. The story is great, but what I really love about it is the interactions between the crew and the lovable crazy genius River Tam and her development into the super-weapon that the government made her into. Joss Whedon is a sharp writer with a keen director’s eye. There is real loss, which sort of magnifies the effects of both the comedy and the drama, which I appreciated. Some fans were upset with the way he handled the end of this beloved series, but I completely ate it up and couldn’t see it ending any other way.

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An immensely satisfying conclusion

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 2 August 2012 08:31 (A review of The Dark Knight Rises)

While not as deep as the previous movie, The Dark Knight Rises manages to be an immensely satisfying conclusion to this gritty trilogy. From the impressive opening scenes until the end, I was riveted, with director [Link removed - login to see] skillfully baiting me along not with plot points, but with interesting characters brought to life by an all-star cast that I actually felt invested in, and curious to know more about. This film seemed to be less about the Batman and more about Bruce Wayne ([Link removed - login to see]) and how he tries to cope with his inner turmoil, aging body, and where this legacy he has created will go once he is gone. That last point eats away at him--being gone--and Alfred ([Link removed - login to see]) is keen to notice his focus. He worries about Bruce, worries that he is on a self-destructive path towards inevitable death. He doesn't want to bury another Wayne, but he is increasingly hopeless. That theme of hopelessness is a primary undercurrent throughout the movie, as things go from bad to worse when Bane arrives in Gotham.

"I will build you and Gotham up with hope and then destroy you. Hope is really the key to torture. Gotham will build to a point of joy and then be wiped from the map."

[Link removed - login to see] plays the supervillain this time around, fulfilling the unenviable role of following [Link removed - login to see]'s notable turn as the Joker, and manages to put his own brand onto the legendary back-breaker, Bane. While the mask he wears looks awesome, it does block most of his face and distorts his voice. However, I liked the strangeness of his accent and delivery, and Bane's intensity comes through when the camera looks into his eyes. At times I thought the editing was a little abrupt and confusing--I honestly thought that they could have added about 15 more minutes to the run-time and let scenes play out a little slower. Minor quibbles aside, the final sequence is so fulfilling that I was almost brought to tears. This is not a stand-alone movie--it almost requires that you've seen the previous two movies for you to fully understand every moving part. So, if you were a fan of the previous two films, do not miss this final installment.

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Glimmering, 16-bit nostalgia

Posted : 5 years, 12 months ago on 26 July 2012 08:32 (A review of Bonanza Bros)

After detailing my fond memories of this early sneaking game to [Link removed - login to see], he felt inspired to pick it up and see what it was all about--which gave me a chance to re-play it and relive the co-op glory with my now-older thumbs. While it wasn't exactly the shining experience I had remembered, I can safely say I still had a blast running from dogs, shooting fat guys, hiding around corners (and slapping those annoying flies), and [Link removed - login to see]. Very simple gameplay mechanics--you get dropped off somewhere with your teammate, you enter the facility, grab the shiny stuff and leave. Smash and grab. However, the fun here is in the approach. You aren't really rewarded for being successfully sneaky, it just feels good to do it. That doesn't detract from the core, goofy fun of it. After all these years, it manages to retain a quirky charm, largely thanks to the unique art style that was daring enough to be original instead of an homage to a more popular style. The levels are relatively short, but increasingly challenging. It only took us a few hours to see the credits roll, but we had to be quite methodical by the time it got to the final level to make sure we could beat it within the time constraints. This was a nostalgic playthrough that really showed me how far gaming has come, and solidified my opinion that if the game mechanics are fun, it doesn't matter how old or pretty the game is.

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Engrossing sci-fi noir

Posted : 6 years ago on 20 July 2012 08:51 (A review of Gemini Rue)

First things first: I am not a point-and-click adventure gamer. I have not played many of them, and if I have, I have not beat any of them. Enter Gemini Rue. It's kind of a miracle that it even managed to catch my interest, but after watching the [Link removed - login to see], I knew there was something more to this sci-fi noir game. Right from the start, I felt as if I was back on my SNES, playing some long-forgotten gem of an adventure game. The environments, all drawn by the game's sole creator Joshua Nuernberger, are incredibly detailed and it is a pleasure to just soak in the gritty atmosphere. You play as Azriel Odin, ex-assassin on the crime-ridden planet of Barracus, who is searching for his kidnapped brother--whom you also control for certain segments of the game. As Delta-Six--Azriel's brother--you must go through a series of tests while trying to find out why your memory was erased and what exactly you are doing in this sterile facility. However, things are not as they seem, not the facility and not even the people you meet. You may not be able to tell the truth to anyone. The puzzles were intuitive and enjoyable, but at times tedious since there is no "run" option. I was also annoyed that I could not pause during dialogue moments, but these are very minor issues in an otherwise tremendously satisfying game. Without revealing any key spoilers, the plot is cerebral, intended for a mature audience that deals with questions of the fallibility of memory, the mystery of knowing oneself, the uncertainty of the past and the future, crime and morals, and, especially, trust. No one trusts anyone on Barracus, and for a good reason. Tell someone too much about yourself and you will wind up as the next corpse on the trash heap. Don't miss this engrossing indie gem.

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Big ideas from a big personality

Posted : 6 years ago on 16 July 2012 07:32 (A review of The Pervert's Guide to Cinema)

Slavoj Žižek, who narrates this fascinating exploration and analysis of modern film, introduces to us this important idea: “Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire—it tells you how to desire.” In no time at all (and with a thick accent) Žižek expounds on the power of film to alter one’s desire, simply by showing you characters that desire. By this simple act, film as a whole has altered the consciousness of the world, Žižek argues, by introducing ideas of want where none existed before. After giving us this basic premise, he rattles off ideas to support it, along with seemingly tangential tirades about psychoanalysis and Freud as fast as he can say it. Presented in a great style by director Sophie Fiennes in actual locations used in the famous films being analyzed, this seems like more of a platform for Žižek to be Žižek, who is clearly a gifted and powerful philosopher. He has great insight into memorable scenes, presenting first the clip and then his analysis and explanation of how it might affect a watcher. Some great thoughts include the idea of the voice as a foreign intruder, an entity that comes from the abyss inside of you that is not entirely yourself, mostly an actor for evil with undercurrents of well-meaning. He give details about the death drive, not in the Buddhist sense of seeking self-annihilation in order to find peace, but more along the lines of an inanimate object—something beyond death, almost undead—that possesses a sort of drive within it that causes humans to feel uneasy, to want to be rid of it; to want it. Žižek explains, “the only way to get rid of the object is to become the object,” thus setting us up to be reintroduced to his original idea of the pervert art of cinema and its influence on culture worldwide. I haven’t even begun to talk about Part 2 of this three-part film on cinema. If you are a fan of film analysis or Žižek, seek out this hard-to-find three-part documentary. There is much to be learned.

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Unparalleled colloquial cunning and conniving

Posted : 6 years ago on 5 July 2012 05:18 (A review of Deadwood)

An epic, Shakespearean drama set in the settlement of Deadwood in the Black Hills of South Dakota, this series focuses on the will of humans to make their name and their living, each taking advantage of the complete freedom--or lawlessness--on a different moral spectrum. In Deadwood, those that seem the most evil may not be, and those that smile and pay well may well be rotted on the inside.

"In life you have to do a lot of things you don't fucking want to. Many times, that's what the fuck life is... one vile fucking task after another." :: Al Swearengen

Featuring an impressive cast and well-developed characters, with prominent historical figures making appearances, you see how life might have been in all of its brutality. Alliances--some surreptitiously made, others more public--forged and broken at the sight of gold or the idea of the government encroaching and slowly but surely removing those freedoms people have learned to love, in the name of safety and lawfulness. Or is it just another surreptitious alliance, some power play by a wealthy businessman across the nation trying to take advantage of a fledgling community? It's easy to see how simplistic morals can become complicated when your life and liberty is on the line and the only person you can trust is public enemy #1. This is a deep, eloquent and moving series, punctuated by moments of blue-collar wisdom ("I wouldn't trust a man who wouldn't try to steal a little..."), real heartbreak (the Civil War is still a fresh wound to many in the camp) and downright dirty tactics. I could not recommend this series any higher.

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