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The End (for now?)

September 6, 2012

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Don’t worry; nothing is as sad as the way Nicole Kidman’s face has frozen over the last five years…

Most of you have probably noticed that, despite my original promise of just scaling back, I have in fact decided to quit blogging indefinitely.  This is not to say that I don’t reserve the right to change my mind in the immediate or long term future.  You never know when the need to wax poetically about pop culture might get the best of me.

The fact is, with stress and transition on the job front, I’ve wanted to spend more time goofing off and less time trying to keep pace with the blog (even though I’m the only one setting the pace).

I would like to officially thank all those who’ve followed, commented on, and supported me on the blog.  It’s been a blast on the whole.  I will be keeping all the comments and posts on the blog open for viewing, so feel free to stop on by and re-read any old posts or to comment on your favorites. 

Facebook Friends, as always, I will keep posting my status update reviews for your edification and enjoyment.  

Thanks to All!

Alyssa

Blog Changes

July 9, 2012

Just a quick post to explain some changes I’m making to the blog.  To put it simply, feeling like I have to keep up with the blog each week is rapidly becoming more work than fun, so I’m going to ease back a bit.  From now on, I’ll probably be posting about once a month or so instead of weekly.

For the most part, I’m going to focus on Rapid Reviews (current movie reviews) and Truly Great Movie entries, since those are not only the ones which get the most traffic and views on the blog, but are the easiest to formulate and give me the most nerd-like glee to write.   The last big summer review will be Dark Knight Rises, and after that I’ll probably do a post or two this fall.

So, keep an eye out for blog posts when the urge to write strikes me, but not on a weekly basis. I still plan on posting when I see a movie that I think needs reviewing, but I plan on scaling back so that the blog still remains a place where I can sooth the need to bleed all things entertainment-related without the stress of feeling like I have a self-created deadline.

Of course, all blog posts and comments will remain open, and I’ll be checking in now and then to monitor those.  To all my Facebook friends out there, I’ll still comment and do short “status update” style reviews on a more regular basis (I know, you were worried)…

Thanks to everyone who’s read and enjoyed the blog these past few years.  I’ll still be active on here, just not as much as in the past.

Have a FABULOUS (and hopefully movie-filled) summer!

Alyssa

Movie Marathon Idea: American Nostalgia

July 3, 2012

Happy 4th of July to all!  For this edition, we have a selection of films that focus on America as viewed through rose-colored glasses.  Let’s face it, as a nation we often cling to nostalgia as if it were life itself, preferring to  bask in ideals rather than reality.  Movies are the perfect venue to escape from the day-to-day grind by remembering fondly what has come before, and what will no doubt come again…

1.) Radio Days (1987)

Perhaps Woody Allen’s most personal and most light-hearted film, Radio Days is a hilarious look at the New York of the 30s and 40s from a child’s viewpoint.  Based on Allen’s own memories and featuring an ensemble cast like no other, the film is basically a series of vignettes that celebrate the joy of the ridiculous, the magic of coincidence, and the love one family shares throughout it all.  My favorite sketches involve the dim-witted cigarette girl Sally (Mia Farrow), who finds herself entangled with the mob before rising as an unusual star in her own right.  Radio Days strikes just the right chord from beginning to end, reminding us how important it is to remember those formative years.

2.) Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Francis Ford Coppola’s often overlooked time-travel comedy is less about the sight gags and more about learning to value our past decisions without regret.  Kathleen Turner’s Peggy Sue made the choice to marry young and give up her girlhood dreams, but gets a second chance to change her fate and her true love when at her 25 year high school reunion, she’s transported back in time to 1960.  It’s easy to blame all the hard knocks on fate or on others, but in the end, Peggy Sue learns that she still has some growing up to do of her own .  Nicholas Cage gives one of the best performances of his career as Peggy Sue’s conflicted boyfriend/husband Charlie, who had dreams and goals of his own to consider.  Overall, that love of nostalgia permeates the film, which takes you back to a land of shiny cars, perfect ponytails and dreamy tunes.

3.) Dazed and Confused (1993)

The best thing about Dazed and Confused is the mood it creates.  On the last day of school in 1976, your various stereotypical teens deal with those issues that once used to seem so important.  This includes your standard posse of bullies (including a young Ben Affleck and Cole Hauser), the popular kids, and the younger siblings who are just trying to stay alive in the face of self-created mayhem.  Richard Linklater’s film isn’t about plot so much as it is about atmosphere and the ultimate aphrodisiac of nostalgia.   The glory days still reign in everyone’s memories, and Dazed and Confused is a nod to the normalcy of grabbing some insanity while the sun still shines.  High school movies are a dime a dozen, but the best are those which take us back without making us feel guilty for remembering just what was so awesome about being irresponsible.

REALLY Rapid Review: Brave

June 27, 2012

Braveis Pixar’s first movie to feature a female heroine, and she’s not the traditional “princess” of Disney lore.   Merida is many things, the least interesting of which is a princess.   Merida is a Scottish lass who is all tumbled red hair and awkward limbs.  She says everything with a sense of purpose and her defenses are always up.    It’s necessary in her world to be always on your guard.   Everyone struggles in their youth at some point against expectations and parents’ goals for the future, even in medieval Scotland and even when you have the world’s most gorgeously animated red hair (seriously, it is mesmerizing and every tendril seems to have a life of its own).

Merida’s greatest challenge lies not in the traditional hero’s epic journey (although there are elements of that in the film), but in coming to realize that her own self-worth isn’t incompatible with the importance of family.   All this is set in the wonderful CGI’d Scotland that Pixar’s animators have brought to life with loving care and charm.  Brave is the first Pixar film directed (well, co-directed) by a woman, but that’s really just trivia when it comes to the results on-screen.  Brave is very much a Pixar film in terms of character, story and heart.  What we’ve come to love about Pixar characters is present in Merida and her clan.  Their adventures are fun and interesting.  They are humorous without being trite, loving without being corny, and touching without being sappy.

Merida and her father

Merida (well-voiced with vigor by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald) is the daughter of burly and loud King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and demure and ladylike Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).  She also has a trio of devilish little brothers who provide much of the early sequences’ comic relief.  In a Disney/Pixar film, it is nice to see this family dynamic intact.   Normally a Disney princess would have a missing parent or an evil stepmother, but Merida has a fully functioning group of folks in her world who genuinely care for her and her well-being.  To a teenager,  however, all this emphasis on family love and honor can be embarrassing.

Merida believes in free will and destiny, in stark contrast to her mother Elinor’s wishes and dreams for her daughter, which involve much the same path she chose for herself: duty, honor and family.  This leads to the amusing sequence shown in the previews where Merida upstages her potential suitors for her hand in marriage, and sets off to find her own way in the rough Highlands.  It’s a classic set up for a coming-of-age story.  To find a purpose in life, we very often look in all the wrong places first.

taking control

Unfortunately, Merida didn’t see The Little Mermaid, and perhaps should have been warned about strange old ladies in deep, dark woods and their intentions.    The witch of the forest offers Merida a chance to change her destiny, but as with most grand gifts, there is an ironic price.  Merida’s desire for freedom impacts her mother, leading to the heart of the story, where Merida must triumph over not just evil forces, but her own flaws, all to find the happiness and freedom that she perhaps had all along.

Although the story’s final half hour is a bit rushed, what I loved the most about Brave (other than the joyously lush animation) was the fact that Merida’s tale has nothing to do with needing a Prince Charming to make her life complete.  Brave is a tale of self-discovery that has a family’s love for each other at its heart, and that in itself is  “brave” route for a Disney movie about a princess to take.  Here’s hoping that more heroines like Merida are in Disney’s future.

Overall Grade: B +

Upcoming Summer Posts

June 17, 2012

I’ll be taking a break for a week or two to focus on some projects (and to take a break from my summer break), but here are the upcoming posts I’m planning on producing for June-August…

Rapid Reviews:

     Week of June 22nd – Brave

     Week of July 3rd - Amazing Spiderman

     Week of July 20th – The Dark Knight Rises

     Week of August 3rd: The Bourne Legacy

Potential Entries (time and theater availability permitting):

    Safety Not Guaranteed

    Total Recall

    To Rome With Love

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Truly Great Movies:

    Casino

   Great Expectations (1998)

Best of the 80s:

    Krull

Rapid Review: Prometheus

June 10, 2012

Ridley Scott can present fictional and fantastical environments like no one’s business.  He’s an artist when it comes to developing worlds, and this isn’t just limited to their outward appearance.  He’s a micro-manager right down to the mores and nuances of the people who populate the places we’ve come to know and worship as movie lovers.  Even in his less-successful films, such as Robin Hood, there is always that sense of awe and appreciation as we view the minute details that make up the substance of his movies.

Prometheus has been well-hyped from the announcement of its existence as a potential prequel to the Alien films, but to pigeon-hole it into that limited genre would be to do it a disservice.  Scott directed the first Alien film, which takes place almost entirely within a few cell-sized, darkened rooms and is as much a film about humanity’s own foibles and responses to fear of the unknown as  it is one of the most effective sci-fi horror tales ever made.

Rapace as scientist Elizabeth Shaw

Scott’s focus on building suspense in tandem with character development is key to his success.  Alien and its many sequels would be nothing without Sigourney Weaver’s ground-breaking and human portrayal of Ripley.     In Prometheus we once again have several strong female characters working side by side with not only their male counterparts, but some interesting android technology as well.   It’s a compliment to say that in a Ridley Scott film, no fuss is made about how women are just as good, qualified and capable as the menfolk.   It’s just understood that this is the way the universe should logically function.

Having said this, it is perhaps ironic that much of Prometheus centers on the search for what came before “us” as humans; what’s for certain is that it is inevitable that people always regret looking in dark corners for things that were perhaps meant to be left alone.

Scott’s assembled a decent cast playing the spectrum of somewhat predictable sci-fi roles.   There are a couple of scientists (who ARE a couple) with differing religious and social views (Noomi Rapace and a guy whose name you don’t need to know), there’s  a steely cold blonde working for the steely cold private corporation (Charlize Theron – perfectly cast) , a chisled-faced,noble captain (Idris Elba), and finally a droll and witty android (Michael Fassbender – who can act circles around most everyone else by just arching an eyebrow).   There’s also a second tier group of scientists and hired hands which consists of such folks as assassin guy from The Borgias, Lysa from Game of Thrones, and poor Rafe Spall, who really needs to talk to his agent about taking these roles over and over again.   All these various and sundry personalities work for the Weyland Corporation (headed by Guy Pearce with plenty of old folks makeup action) and are independently contracted.  They behave as such; there’s little unity and many different agendas in play.  This leads  to the interesting set up of a group tied loosely together by fraying threads, with many discrepancies in terms of world views, politics and even social graces.

Theron as Meredith “don’t mess with my grand plans” Vickers

Scott has much more to work with visually than he did 30 years ago when cornstarch and spaghetti made for acceptable android parts, and he runs with it.  The spectacle is pretty awe-inspiring from the stunning opening scene.   The acting is also successful, if at times a little too intense.  What is undeniably true is that this is Ridley Scott’s best film of the decade on many levels and you can tell he knows it.  The proof is in the attention to detail, so much so that at times you are too busy looking at the scenery to remember what pithy remarks come forth from the various characters.

To say too much about the workings of the story would be to spoil most of the fun.  Let’s just say that Scott is still as interested in tackling the question of what price we must sometimes pay in the name of knowledge and discovery.  And, oh yes, keep your eyes peeled for connections to the Alien films; that’s part of the enjoyment.

The story and the payoff aren’t as original or sharply felt as some of Scott’s earlier films, but that’s pretty much to be expected when you are re-treading familiar territory.   One of the co-writers of the script is LOST helmer Damon Lindelof, who knows how to unravel a myth or two.   We know the end results of this journey; the intriguing part is how we got there in the first place.   It’s actually a compliment to say that the movie left me with more questions than I felt I had answers.  That’s the sign of a film that makes you think much deeper than surface level.   There’s much to debate and discuss in Prometheus, and that fills me with nerd-like glee.

Overall, Prometheus is a mesmerizing and thrilling film with a backbone and brain to boot.

Overall Grade: A

Top Five Must Have PS3 Games for Summer

June 8, 2012

 

I’ll be posting a Rapid Review of Prometheus the weekend of the 16th/17th, but until then, here are my top five PS3 choices for your summer gaming.  Have fun!

5.)Batman: Arkham City

The Good:

Many of my complaints about Arkham Asylum were thankfully addressed in the sequel.  There’s more of an open world element to Arkham City, and the graphics keep it from being a standard shoot ‘em up.  Batman’s enemies are next to none when it comes t0 having their own unique and interesting personalities, and there are quite a few perennial favorites who make an appearance here.  Highlights include the return of Harley Quinn and Ra’s Al Ghul.  It’s worth the extra couple of bucks to download the Catwoman DLC; her missions, while non-essential, give the story more depth and meaning.

The Frustrating: 

Batman STILL can’t murder anyone, so you are very often left swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle in frustration waiting to strangle one of many minions that pop up in each mission.  Also, there aren’t enough side quests to make it truly immersive.

4.) Final Fantasy XIII-2

The Good:

Lightning’s little sister Serah steps up to the plate as the protagonist, in a story which opens up the universe of Gran Pulse across both time and space.  The addition of the time-traveling Historia Crux makes it possible to re-try missions and open up new loot and cut scenes.  The battle time has been streamlined and cleaned up a bit, and the best thing about FFXIII’s system, the paradigms (where you can utilize each character’s strengths in different formations) is back.  One thing the Final Fantasy series has always done well is create a storyline and characters you can care about, and Serah and her partner Noel’s journey is no different.  Only a few locations are “recycled” from XIII, and many new locations await your discovery within the game’s main storyline.

The Frustrating:

Many missions involve the need for solving mini-game  “paradoxes” that are simply math problems disguised as fantasy lore, which I found repetitive and tedious.  I also missed the team element of battle, which is missing from this particular fable.  Serah and Noel are the only main characters in the game, and instead of being able to choose from various formations of a traditional ensemble cast, your only other “squadmate” is a monster that you must capture and train to be a part of the team.  Lightning, the underrated protagonist of XIII, only makes sparse appearances in the sequel, which is a shame.   And, oh, the ending.  If there isn’t a sequel to this sequel, I will not be a happy camper.

3.) Max Payne 3

The Good:

The crotchety, off the wagon renegade ex-cop is back in all of his David Caruso-esque glory (including the trite but amusing monologues about his messy and poetic life in the underworld).  The best thing about the first two games was the noir-feel of it all.  The dingy streets and bitter thugs Max encountered were not original, but the style and story were.   The third game picks up with Max as a gun for hire, and wisely chooses to intercut his current story of woe with flashbacks to how he got there in the first place.  Weapons are easy to use and handle, the graphics are stellar, and the voice acting is top-notch.

The Frustrating:

Playing on medium or hard levels will wreak havoc on your nerves when it comes to auto-aim and use of bullet time.  There are stages where the next cut scene or autosave is MILES away, leading to replaying the same set of enemies multiple times.  The cut scenes themselves are “artistically” grainy and wiped out in parts, no doubt to show Max’s addict mindset, but they would be an epileptic’s worse nightmare and seem out of tune with the rest of the action.

2.) Dead Island

The Good:

This game was surprisingly well-crafted and engrossing for a zombie epic.  Taking place on the resort island of Banoi, you are not just running from zombies, but also helping other survivors to shore up and combat the End of Days.  The story takes you from a pampered resort to a third-world city and finally a creepy jungle.   Along the way there are plenty of weapons to craft, survivors to assist and zombies to hack to pieces.   Although characters are secondary to creative gore, each level has more than enough side quests and exploration to make even the pickiest gamer happy.  The zombies aren’t all slow-moving and mindless, leading to some genuine scares if you aren’t paying close attention to what’s around the corner.

The Frustrating:

Although well-written in its first 3/4ths, the game’s final chapters seem rushed and out of tune with the rest of the story.  Weapon upgrading is only worthwhile if you manage to secure the rare items in the game, so come prepared to scavenge and hunt for what will get you to the next level.  Each character has a weakness as well as a strength, so make sure that you choose wisely for longevity.

1.) Mass Effect 3

The Good:

The storyline is movie-worthy, and every decision your main character makes has a ripple effect on the world and the outcome of the plot.  A rare non-Star Wars RPG that stuns on all levels, the final chapter of Mass Effect is a worthy sequel to its predecessors.  Leveling up is straightforward and logical, characters are well-rounded and well-acted, and the enemies are clever as well as interesting.  Alien races have their own quirks and weak spots, while the humans in the game are considered to be the lost children of the galaxy.

The Frustrating:

Some of the side quests are difficult to complete without psychic powers or the help of a strategy guide, and your journal is often worse than useless in pointing you in the right direction.  Character interaction is great, but having to re-play a half hour’s worth of dialogue when you chose the wrong response on the menu is a mood killer.  And oh, the ending.  Don’t mind the naysayers.  It’s a fitting end to the series as a whole if you’ve been paying attention, but is still a kick in the proverbial pants.

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