Monday, December 31, 2007

Live Free Or Die Hard

I slid the disc in expecting cliche. The title, after all, reminded me a little too much of those "Love it or leave it," or "They'll pry my gun out of my..." platitudes that make me zone out. I knew the Die Hard sequel was centered around the 4th of July, so I expected lots of red, white and blue.

I was wrong.


Live Free Or Die Hard rocks! Centered around a seemingly all-too-possible cyber terrorism plot, John McClane still kicks ass with attitude. And his sidekick in this version, played by Justin Long, keeps pace and holds his own.

Sure, there was still some cliche and some of the action was unbelievable. But in the end, I was yelling "yipipie-ki-yah, motherfucker!" along with Bruce Willis.

On the inside, at least.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Dark Knight Trailer

I was really stoked to see this trailer for The Dark Knight before catching I Am Legend. It's set to roll out July 18, 2008.

I can't wait...



Saturday, December 29, 2007

I Am Legend

Back in the day, cozy-ing up to the box office window and requesting two adult tickets for "I Am Leland, please" would have caused Mrs. Film Geek to snort. No more, it seems. Not even a side-glance my way.

I gotta get some new stuff.


But, there are few things better than sneaking away for a matinee with my wife on a Friday afternoon.

Especially if the matinee flick stars Will Smith.



Adapted from the novel by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend stars Smith as Army officer and scientist Robert Neville. Neville has the task of leading an effort to stop a strain of virus that is infecting humans, mutating them into zombie-like creatures that survive on instinct alone. Isolated and lonely, Neville finds comfort in routine and his intense focus on finding a cure for the disease, even while it's obvious to the audience that his expectation isn't very realistic.

I Am Legend is the third film version of Matheson's novel. The Last Man On Earth (1964) starred Vincent Price, who fought humans-turned-vampires by an infectious disease. The Omega Man (1971) had Charlton Heston in the lead. His Robert Neville hunted down members of The Family, humans mutated by biological warfare and bent on ending scientific progress, which they consider humanity's downfall. The current Legend seems to successfully combine important elements of each into it's plot, while modernizing the theme as a fairly realistic cautionary tale regarding the clash of science and humanity.

I was mesmerized by the film in it's first hour, which is a real testament to the personality and acting ability of Will Smith. Almost completely alone on the screen during that time, Smith carries the movie with his presence. I got to know his Neville intimately during that time, and develop a real investment in his survival. The second half of the movie was a bit more disappointing: the film moved too quickly, and glossed over what I thought were important aspects of the story.

In the end, though, the central theme of the effect of science on humanity is clear. Humanity's saving grace comes from within each of us; determination and sacrifice trump microscopes and test tubes.

(For now.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Superbad

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's hilarious 118 minute documentary depicting why my daughters will never leave the house.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ah, Now I Remember

One of the Mountain State blogs I really enjoy reading is The Charlestonian, written by a remarkably observant person identified only as Charles. In fact, I like this blog so much that my only complaint about The Charlestonian is that Charles writes too infrequently. His comments always make me think, even if I don't always agree with his point of view.

I've been thinking a lot these last few days about a post Charles wrote before Christmas, titled: Xmas Wishes. In the post, Charles points out the hypocrisy that is the Christmas season: a period of time in which we preach goodwill and giving while being controlled and manipulated by greed and expectation. The comments rang true with me when I first read them, and I was reminded of them often as I waded through the herd of last minute shoppers, bought gifts simply because I believed it was expected of me and felt the distress and worry that comes too easily for a season Charles scoffs at for being called "The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year."

By late Christmas Eve, I'd had enough. After the wrapping was over, I went to bed frustrated, anxious and slightly drunk. (Well, a couple beers did seem to help.)

Early morning came, and I was awakened by cheers from my youngest kids. I watched my daughter Griffyn by-pass the gifts in order to check the milk and cookies she left out for Santa the night before. She was thrilled to find the glass nearly empty, and only crumbs left on the cookie plate. I watched my son Jaden be as excited about the gifts others got as he was about those labeled with his name. I marveled at my daughter Maddisen's appreciation for Christmas, considering this was her first since she figured out that Mommy and Daddy have more to do with the day than does Santa and Rudolph. And I was in awe of my wife who--like all terrific mothers--worked the day harder than anyone else to make it magical and enjoyable for her kids.

That's when I remembered what I find so special about Christmas.

When it works right, Christmas morning can be filled with innocence and goodwill. Young children with wide-eyed enthusiasm for the season, and older kids who still appreciate the efforts of others even after some of that magic has rubbed off. Mothers (and I'm sure dads, but in my family it's "moms") who sacrifice to make sure the day becomes a life-long, special memory for the kids.

Contained within those small moments is the real meaning of Christmas, for me anyway.

By Thursday, life will be back to the normal day-to-day grind, so the joy that's experienced is fleeting, of course. But it's a powerful, addictive feeling; so powerful, in fact, that I'll brave the malls and put up with the hypocrisy next year.

Just for the hope of experiencing it again, for a short time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Painted Veil

Poor Kitty!

The spoiled little rich girl is under pressure from her parents to get married, or risk becoming cut off from their wealth. The problem is, Kitty (played by Naomi Watts) is, in addition to spoiled, shallow and pretentious. No suitor is good enough for her, because she can't possibly love anyone as much as she loves herself.

Dr. Walter Fane, played by the always great Edward Norton, falls for her despite the obvious character flaws. Emotionally distant and intelligent, Fane is the polar opposite of Kitty. Regardless, he talks her into marriage in much the same way he'd negotiate where they might have dinner later that evening: he appeals to her sense of logic, and she accepts.

Theirs is a strained relationship that ultimately becomes rather hopeless. Until, that is, Dr. Fane and Kitty become heavily involved in trying to cure a cholera epidemic in rural China, during the late 1920s. Observing her husband through the eyes of those he's trying to help gives Kitty a new perspective, and helps her discover respect and develop love for her husband.


The Painted Veil is a perfect illustration of how we humans choose our perspective and our outlook on life, and how we can lead a life of meaning under any circumstances.

My friend from The Goat Rope talks about this existential theory in a terrific post from November.

The Painted Veil was shot mostly in China and shows such beautiful scenery, a contrast which makes even more obvious the misery most of the humans who live in this region of the world endure. The film is less a love story than a story of acceptance.

But it's a terrific, well written story with great acting and an important message.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Marsh

Gabrielle Anwar is Clair Holloway, a successful author of children's books. Holloway has increasingly disturbing visions of a very young girl--sort of like in The Ring--walking through (or being stalked through) a marsh-like setting. The distress of what she keeps seeing causes Halloway to seek out and stay at the South Carolina farm house which serves as a backdrop for her visions.

Or are they really memories?

The Marsh co-stars Forest Whitaker as an investigator of the paranormal. But even his terrific acting ability can't save this The Ring-inspired flick. It's predictable, poorly paced, unbelievable and anti-climactic.

One of the strangest aspects of this movie is something that really makes most horror flicks unbelievable to me: when Holloway meets up with an evil ghost in the isolated and creepy farm house late at night, it attacks her. Then, after the ghost leaves, Holloway lies down to sleep, and continues to stay in the house for several more days.


My ass would have been in a Holiday Inn three towns away within an hour of even thinking I saw a freakin' ghost.





My grandma mourned the death of her husband, my grandfather, for the full 15 years or so she lived after he died. She used to say: "If only I could see him one more time. Visit with him, or touch him once more."

She had a strange sense of humor, and always appreciated mine. After she'd say that, I'd reply: "Seriously, Mama, I loved him too. But if he shows up beside my bedside tonight, he's either a ghost or a zombie, and both of those scare me to death. I'll pass on the seeing-him-one-more-time thing."

She always laughed.

But I was serious.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hiding From The Christmas Cheer

The word around my water cooler this morning is that Christmas carolers will be singing outside my office in early afternoon.


Ugh...

It's not that I'm a Scrooge. Really. But standing with a frozen pretend-I'm-enjoying-this smile on my face as adults sing Frosty The Snowman while dressed in Dickens-esque costumes just gives me the creeps.

Kinda makes me feel like this:


Gotta find a place to hide.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two Days In

After two sick days stuck in bed with nothing but a laptop and remote control to entertain me, I've come to some random conclusions:

1. Women's Erotic Wrestling XXI is neither erotic or 'rasslin.

2. The Big Lebowski is funnier each time I watch it.

3. The View is boring without catfights.

4. The Fly--the remake starring Jeff Goldblum--is a terrific way to kill 90 minutes.

5. NyQuil causes the strangest dreams. I went into a deep slumber Sunday evening, and dreamt WVU Coach Rich Rodriguez skipped out for Michigan.

6. West Virginia has some terrific bloggers.

7. The governor of West Virginia seems to have stronger and more outspoken opinions about football coaching than he does about the incident involving Megan Williams and a poor state economy. Combined.

8. Not showering for three days is somehow liberating.

9. Even jacknuts can be friendly.

10. The cable company does not, cannot and will not bill you discretely for adult programming. No matter how many times you call and beg. (See #1.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dan Fogelberg

(1951-2007)

When I first heard Same Old Lang Syne, I cried. And Fogelberg's Leader Of The Band--a tribute to his father--is moving and inspirational.

I wasn't a fan of his complete work, but America's just lost a terrific singer/songwriter.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Flashback! Bad Movies That Haunt Me: Days Of Thunder

When Mrs. Film Geek insisted we see Days Of Thunder back in '90, I was confused. Neither of us was interested in race cars, race car drivers or movies about the racing industry. Watching a drama with that plot sounded about as thrilling to me as watching cars driven in a circle for 500 miles.

Over the top boring!

Then, it dawned on me. Mrs. Film Geek wasn't really interested in the movie. She was interested in watching Tom Cruise. You remember the simpler times: when people flocked to a Tom Cruise flick because he was all hot. Now, it seems, people run away from his more recent movies because he's a couch-jumper.

Life's strange that way, eh?

I recall thinking--during the couple times I paid attention to the clunker--how the characters in the film had what sounded like porn names.

Cole Trickle.
Claire Lewicki. ("Dr." Clair Lewickie to you and me, Russ.)
Buck Bretherton.

The ugly co-star, Randy Quaid, drew the name Tim Daland. I suppose he just wasn't porn movie material.




Aside from an aphrodisiac, I can't think of much positive about this movie. But, it was a powerful mood enhancer, as I recall.

Cruise is just that pretty.





(Speaking of: I gotta remember to add this movie to my Netflix que. Just to see if I [ahem] remember the plot correctly.)

Until then, I'm still haunted by it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wild, Wonderful And Weird

It seems the Mountain State is not only wild and wonderful, but weird enough to be featured tonight on The History Channel. Check out the best new blog going about WV culture, Appalachian Being.

Buzzardbilly's got the scoop.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry

The five things I think were attempted in I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry:

1. Laughs: The kind that also comes from pickin' boogers and crackin' farts.

2. T&A: And not Sandler and Kevin James. I'm talkin' Jessica Biel T&A. You know, the good kind.

3. A message: Yep, a message film from Happy Madison Productions. Go figure.

4. Fun cameos: Aykroyd, Spade, Rachel Dratch, Blake Clark and ESPN's Dan Patrick.

5. Romantic Comedy: That's right, I said a Adam Sandler movie about two guys pretending to be gay is really a romantic comedy, focused more on the relationship with Sandler and Biel.

The things I think were accomplished by the movie:

1. Sorta. Although the playboy Sandler from the first third of the flick is funnier than the best buddy Sandler of the last two-thirds.

2. Yeah, accomplished. Nicely.

3. "A" for effort, but a little short in making the message really work.

4. Nah. Except for Aykroyd, the people in cameos were posers.

5. Nope. Missed by a mile.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

No Country For Old Men

There are several reasons I'm a huge mark for movies made by the Coen Brothers. The audience can usually count on: tightly written and well delivered dialogue, designed to move the plot along as much as--or more, maybe--than the action; the type of pacing that allows the movie to unfold, without fear of using silence and wide angles to tell the story effectively; and the use of humor or drama to tell the aftermath of a single decision made by the protagonist.

No Country For Old Men, adapted by the brothers from a Cormac MaCarthy novel, is being hailed a masterpiece. All the elements you'd expect--a flawed lead who makes a decision that dramatically changes the course of his life, a bad-guy-on-a-mission who will do anything to reach his goal and a character that serves as the moral compass for the audience, watching and commenting from the periphery--are in the film.

Josh Brolin is better than ever as Llewelyn Moss, who happens upon a drug deal gone bad that changes everything for him and several others. Sheriff Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is incredible in his role as social commentator. But it's Javier Bardem, who plays assassin Anton Chigurh who is getting the most critical acclaim, and for good reason. His is a complex character that you hate yourself for rooting for.

But you kinda do.

The Coen film illustrates the cultural shift toward overt greed and materialism that took place in the early 1980s. Sure, we're used to capitalist businesses exploiting and manipulating for a buck or two. But the drug trade that kicked into overdrive during the 70s and 80s allowed individuals to function as a for-profit: bring in the smack on the cheap, keep overhead low and sell at a premium rate. The greed and violence that resulted changed our culture, probably forever. The US of A is no longer the country our fathers knew. And its fast paced, violent, greedy nature isn't for the weak.

That's what the Coen Brothers are highlighting with this movie.

While I really liked the film, I call it one step short of a masterpiece. There is a subplot involving [cough] Woody Harrelson that is unnecessary, and a small number of plot twists that are unbelievable in what is otherwise a very human and believable story. The audience I saw it with--including my friend Bobby, who wondered aloud if he could get half his admission price back--hated the ending. It is inconclusive, and vague at best.

But that's what life--and the stories that come out of it-- is, sometimes.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Perspective

Despite my pessimism over the state of general medical care in this country, watching Sicko recently reminded me that there are certainly times when the American medical system works well, and saves lives.

Back in the late 70s, I saw the system save the life of my grandfather.

I must have been about 14 years old when my grandpa had what I think was his first heart attack. He lived next door, and I happened to be visiting when he began experiencing extreme pain in his chest. He laid down in bed, while my grandmother Evelyn called for an ambulance.

I've described my grandpa many times before as "eccentric," and that's a fair description, I suppose. In the objective reality, though, the term probably doesn't fully describe his unusual perspective on life, his compulsive behavior and his obsessive thinking. His obsessive-compulsive personality was sometimes maddening and sometimes amusing, but was always present. He became anxious around clutter, cleaned constantly and could never figure out why others didn't.

About 45 minutes after my grandma called for the ambulance, the paramedics arrived. (Their station, in Summersville, WV, was more than a far piece from our home.) They quickly concluded grandpa was having a heart attack, and set up an IV line into his arm. Being 14 and rather curious, I stood at the foot of the bed, watching the men do their work. Even while I was really worried for my grandpa, I was really impressed at how the emergency workers performed their job.

Suddenly, after a few moments of the IV, my grandpa yelled out in a weak, but very urgent, voice:

"Evelyn!"

Grandma was just around the corner, giving the paramedics room to work in the small bedroom. She heard him yell her name, and peeked into the bedroom. She was sure he was dying.

"Evelyn!" He said it again, and this time his yell carried a bit more urgency than the previous call. "Evelyn, come here."

As she rushed to the bedside, he reached up and touched her softly on the arm:

"Evelyn, get these gentlemen a bucket. They're dripping IV fluid all over my carpet."

I started laughing, really loud and hard. There was just something damn funny about a man staying true to his obsessive compulsive nature even when facing possible death. The paramedics were not amused.

"Mr. Summers,' the lead guy said, very calmly, 'we're here trying to save your life."

"I know, and I really appreciate it." My grandpa's voice sounded better, fuller. "I really do. But you don't have to ruin my carpet in the process."

Evelyn brought him the bucket. She always did.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sicko

Whether people love or hate Michael Moore, I don't care. Some issues should be so important to a society that they are out of the grasp of politics-as-usual. Moore points that out in Sicko, his documentary on the state of health care in this country. And like with all Moore films, I can't stop thinking of the movie, even days after I've seen it.

In my opinion, the guy's a hero in addition to being a terrific filmmaker. Here are some reasons why:

Infant Mortality: (MSNBC) -CHICAGO - America may be the world’s superpower, but its survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among modern nations, better only than Latvia. Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies, according to a new report. Latvia’s rate is 6 per 1,000.

Life Expectancy: (USAToday)-WASHINGTON — For decades, the United States has been slipping in international rankings of life expectancy, as other countries improve health care, nutrition and lifestyles. Countries that surpass the U.S. include Japan and most of Europe, as well as Jordan, Guam and the Cayman Islands. "Something's wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries," said Dr. Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. A baby born in the United States in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. That life expectancy ranks 42nd, down from 11th two decades earlier, according to international numbers provided by the Census Bureau and domestic numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Medical Care For Children: -(Census Bureau)-The proportion and number of uninsured children increased between 2004 and 2005, from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent and from 7.9 million to 8.3 million, respectively.

Health Care Costs Continue To Rise: -(NCHC)-In 2005 total national health expenditures rose 6.9 percent -- two times the rate of inflation. Total spending was $2 trillion in 2005, or $6,700 per person. Although nearly 47 million Americans are uninsured, the United States spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens.

One of the most important points Moore makes in Sicko is: countries that provide medical care to citizens across the lifespan carry out the service under the concept that a healthier society is more productive, effective and cheaper to care for than one that's unhealthy. Socialized medical care, then, is caring for the future of the country as much as it is caring for the immediate health needs of the individual.

American health care views patients in much the same way as any other profit earning business in modern times:

Fix the problem as cheaply and as quickly as possible, and move on the next widget.

When big business tries to save a dollar on labor costs, I sometimes have to return items to Wal-Mart because the all the parts I need aren't included in the package. It's annoying and time consuming, but nothing more serious than that.

When big business tries to save a dollar in health care, people die.