Monday, June 28, 2010

Geek of the Week: Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe is a former NASA robticist, computer programmer, and most importantly, the creator of the hilarious webcomic xkcd. Touted as "A webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language", xkcd covers everything from complex math jokes to miniaturized raptors. The comic itself is hilarious, but the best part is the super secret Alt-text, which usually makes the punchline even funnier. If you're a science, math, and/or computer geek, you will LOVE this comic.

My personal favorite?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Top Five . . . Underrated Films

Disclaimer: As you've probably guessed, I enjoy a good Top Five list. The Top Fives I describe here are not the definitive lists. They're just my humble opinions - you can feel free to disagree with me and debate it out in the comments section.

Today's Top Five is "Underrated Films". (Underrated can mean lack of critical praise or small viewership, or both.)

5. Mirrormask

As a big fan of both Jim Henson films and the majority of Neil Gaiman's work, I loved this film. It takes a lot of inspiration from the Alice books, but with Gaiman's dark spin. The visuals are beautiful and the acting is superb (especially by Jason Barry, who plays Valentine). Mirrormask is the logical next step from Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, and for those who grew up with these Jim Henson classics, this film is the perfect grown up version of their childhood favorites.

4. Mulholland Drive

David Lynch is the king of bizarre cinema (he's the brain behind the uber-surreal "Twin Peaks") and Mulholland Drive is no slouch in that department. The film is very weird, but it is also very beautiful. It's not a movie for everyone, but if you like weird movies, film noir, gorgeous cinematography, or all of the above, you should check out this flick.

3. The Thing

John Carpenter's remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World was not well-received by critics or moviegoers when it was released in 1982. Despite being an excellent horror film with amazing special effects, it was considered to be overproduced and excessively gory. Of course, compared to the recent gorefests released by Hollywood, it's relatively tame. It has some great actors (Kurt Russell and the always awesome Wilford Brimley), disgusting monsters, and a plot that induces all-encompassing paranoia . . . in short, a horror fan's dream.

2. This one's a tie . . .

Four Rooms:

This film is far from perfect, but it has a really interesting concept: an anthology film about a bellhop (Tim Roth) on his first night on the job. He visits four different rooms, and each room is a segment directed by a different director. The first two segments are decidedly under par, but the last two are what makes this film great. "Room 309-The Misbehavers" is directed by Robert Rodriguez and stars his frequent collaborator, Antonio Banderas. "Penthouse-The Man From Hollywood" is directed by and stars Quentin Tarantino and is an adaptation of an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episode . . . done Tarantino style, of course. Feel free to skip the first two rooms, but definitely check out this movie if you are a Rodriguez/Tarantino fan.

The Legend of 1900:

I saw this movie at my dad's and it is amazing. A beautiful film by Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore and scored by the great composer Ennio Morricone (Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly . . . just to name a few), this flick is heart-wrenching and flawlessly acted. Tim Roth stars as 1900, a piano prodigy who spent his entire life on a large cruise liner. It is a must-see for music fans.

and drum roll please . . .

1. Dark City

This flick actually garnered a ton of critical praise, but is a relatively unknown film to mainstream moviegoers. With influences as wide as "The Twilight Zone", Metropolis, The Maltese Falcon, and Akira, this film spans several genres. It is a sci-fi film noir that has a decidedly steampunk feel. There are some wicked special effects and the set design is beyond gorgeous. The cinematography is pitch-perfect and the cast is stellar . . . Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, and a decidedly creepy Richard O'Brien (Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Mr. Hand. It is Kiefer Sutherland who steals the show as Dr. Schreber, however, in a role far flung from his usual typecast as the condescending asshole. Put this one on your Netflix queue immediately.

Let's hear it . . . What are your favorite underrated films?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Top Five . . . Decent Movies with Bad Endings

Obviously, with a title like that there WILL be spoilers. You have been warned.

Nothing is more dissapointing than watching a good movie with a soul-crushingly lame ending. Here are my top five decent movies with bad endings:

5. 1408

In a previous post, I talked about this flick. It's really good, but the original theatrical ending was a let down. The basis for the film is that the room never lets anyone leave, so for John Cusack's character to get out with a few singe marks just doesn't ring true. The director's cut ending seems much more plausible, with Cusack torching the room and becoming one of its resident ghosts. The alternate ending redeems it enough to score the number five spot.

4. Donnie Darko

I know I'm supposed to love and understand the ending of this film, since I consider myself a fan, but I just can't get behind it. If you haven't seen Donnie Darko, you should (and you should skip to the next film to avoid spoilers), but be warned - it's a polarizing film (which means you'll like it or you'll really hate it). I won't bother going into the synopsis because it's a really complicated film, but I will say I was dissapointed in the ending. Donnie starts out as kind of a jerk-off kid with some severe behavioral problems and as the film progresses, the viewer begins to empathize and even like him. To take that away by basically saying "Everyone would be better off if he died" seems like a cop out to me. I get why the flick ends the way it does, but I don't like it.

3. "Memento"

Actually, everyone should see this movie (seriously, add it to your Netflix queue), so I'm not going to give anything away, other than I don't think I've ever been more pissed off at a movie's finale. It's not necessarily bad - it's just really messed up.

2. The Village

Really, M. Night Shymalan? Really?!? We watched this entire movie to find out that they're a cult living in the present?

1. The Happening

I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I like twist endings (for the most part) and I loved Shymalan's The Sixth Sense and Signs. I even liked The Village until the ridiculous ending. The Lady In the Water wasn't really my thing, but it wasn't horrible. The Happening had everything going for it - people killing themselves en masse without warning signs, a small band of people trying to escape the unexplained force, and some pretty cool scares. As soon as they started bringing up the plants, however, I started to get anxious. I sat there thinking, "Please, don't let it be the plants. Please, please, don't let it be the plants." And you know what? It was the f-ing plants! What started out as an awesome R-rated feature length "Twilight Zone" episode (probably more like "Outer Limits", but I like "TZ" better, so indulge me) was reduced to a pithy, didactic "protect the environment" PSA . . . maybe it is more like "Twilight Zone" after all!

Want to rant about a movie ending? The comment section is all yours . . .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Geek of the Week: Dan Telfer

I decided along with "Tales From the $5 Bin", we'll start having "Geek of the Week". This week's geek is Dan Telfer, a comedian who knows a good dinosaur when he sees it. Have a favorite dinosaur? Well, you're wrong!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It Came From the $5 Bin: Deadline

I love bad horror and sci-fi movies. I also love the $5 movie bin. Several stores have these (Walmart, Target, even King Soopers). Sometimes you find a few treasures (The Grudge, King Soopers, $4.99) . . . and sometimes you find some straight-to-DVD suckfests. That is the nature of the $5 bin. I've decided to feature some reviews of a few of those films in . . . It Came From the $5 Bin! *cue the violins*

Best Buy - $6.99

Directed by Sean McConville

Starring: Brittany Murphy
Thora Birch
Marc Blucas

Kris and I found this film in the Bluray section of Best Buy. The cover looked promising (Brittany Murphy in a tub with a ghostly Thora Birch in the mirror) and it was only $6.99, so we decided to take a chance.

Deadline is the story of Alice - a struggling filmmaker with a crazy, stalker ex-boyfriend. As the film opens, she and her roommate are in the process of leaving their apartment. The roommate, Rebecca, is going to stay with her mother while she has surgery and Alice has been offered the chance to stay in a large country house to finish her screenplay, which is already past deadline. The house is quaint, but huge for one person and Rebecca tries to convince Alice to stay at their apartment, but Alice is frightened that her ex will try to find her there. She chooses to stay in the unfamiliar home, despite its creepy atmosphere. Alice hears strange noises in the night, specifically a woman crying and sounds coming from the attic. When she ventures upstairs, she finds a suitcase with a red dress and a box of home video cassettes. She begins to watch them and discovers they are home movies of the couple who lived in the home before. Alice watches the films as they progress from a loving, newlywed relationship to a possessive, jealous one. She begins to believe she is not alone in the house.

It's easy to see why Alice would get creeped out in a house like that and the husband David (Marc Blucas) becomes steadily more menacing. The plot starts to unravel towards the end, however and the finale is confusing, to say the least. There aren't a lot of scares, just an allover creepy feeling. It's less a ghost story and more a question of reality vs. the main character's sanity.

The film is not that bad . . . but it's not that good either. I can see why it went straight to DVD, but it definitely could have been worse. The verdict: Buy something else, but watch for the movie to appear on OnDemand or Netflix.

Deadline gets a 2 out of a possible 5 Torgos (the iconic character from the world's worst movie, Manos: Hands of Fate)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Movie Mashups

I know I've already posted today, but I had to share these absolutely stunning mashups that I discovered on The Daily What. Both are the work of Leandro Braga (Warnng: includes several violent scenes):

First, a compliation of Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese films backed by a beautiful soundtrack that includes songs from each of the directors' movies.

Kubrick vs Scorsese from Leandro Copperfield on Vimeo.

Then, a mash-up of films by the Cohen brothers and Quentin Tarantino (See warning above):

Tarantino vs Coen Brothers from Leandro Copperfield on Vimeo.

What I love about these are that they are organized in very different styles, but the styles reflect the set of directors being featured. The first is very elegant and structured, just like Kubrick and Scorsese's films. The second is more modern and chaotic, referencing the styles of Tarantino and Cohen brothers' films.

Focusing On My Goals . . . Oh Look, It's a "Tales From the Dark Side" Marathon

Every week I say to myself, "This is the week you're going to do everything right. You're going to wake up early enough to eat breakfast; you're going to put on makeup and do your hair. On your day off, you're going to do something productive." The reality is that very few of these things happen. Like most people, I usually end up spending the day in my "Twilight Zone" T-shirt eating microwave hot wings and watching "Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman" and old episodes of "New Detectives". Oh wait . . . no one else does that, do they?

A few posts back, I said I wanted to post every day. I really do want to do that, but I can never seem to find the time. The worst part is that I'm not doing important, necessary stuff. I'm doing lame, time-wasting things like playing Plants vs. Zombies or looking up movie trivia on IMDB. (Actually, I don't think those things are lame, but I'm sure other people do.) I am going to try to post every day, but I may not be able to tear myself away from facebook.

A while ago, I posted about The Nook. My loving husband (we just celebrated our 2nd anniversary!) and my dad went in together to get me this awesome device as a birthday/anniversary gift! It is amazing to say the least. It's very easy to use and has some awesome features, including screensavers that appear on the screen, even when the device is off (they use no battery life). Here it is in all it's beautiful glory (Kris even picked out the pink cover!):

Once I've used it a bit more, I may write a whole post about it, but for now, I'll just say that I've been referring to it as "my precious" all weekend.

Before I sign off, I highly reccommend that you check out Pralines and Dick, a relatively new blog that is a shining example of what I hope this blog will someday be. Color me jealous over how funny these girls are! You can't go wrong with a Wayne's World reference and their Netflix Mystery Theater is hilarious. Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Get Your Summer Geek On

Summer is a great time to be a geek. If you're looking to get your geek on, here are some suggestions:

Festivals and Events (For Colorado geeks):

Colorado Renaissance Festival (Larkspur, CO)

This is the best ren faire I've ever been to. It has great food (turkey legs, steak on a stake, and mmm . . . funnel cakes!), awesome vendors, and plenty of beautiful costumes. The festival runs on weekends from June 12th to August 1st. Check out the themed weekends!

Nan Desu Kan Anime Convention (Denver, CO)

NDK is a fan-run anime convention that attracts a large number of the genre's celebrities. It's a must for the anime fan.

Film on the Rocks (Red Rocks Amphitheatre)

Being a film buff, this is my favorite summer event. Presented by the Starz Film Center, FOTR features classic films in the open air, surrounded by the beauty of Red Rocks. Each film has an opening band and if you get the VIP package, there is a pre-film party. Make sure to get tickets early, because they quickly sell out - especially the more popular films. Check out the schedule here.

Geeky Summer Blockbusters:

Splice (Released June 4th)

Two genetic engineers created a genetically enhanced human hybrid (who they name Dren - nerd backwards) that rapidly evolves into a dangerous monster.

The A-Team (Released June 10th)

The film version of the classic 80s television show. I love it when a plan comes together!

Jonah Hex (June 18th)

A film based on the DC Comics character.

The Last Airbender (July 1st)

Live action film version of the animated series, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Despicable Me (July 9th)

Animated feature about a battle between evil geniuses!

Inception (July 16th)

Produced and directed by Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), Inception is a sci-fi thriller that has been compared to the excellent cult classic Dark City.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (August 13th)

Directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and starring nerdy boy wonder Michael Cera, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the story of a shy nerd who falls for a beatiful, eccentric girl who just happens to have seven evil exes. Pilgrim must do battle (Tekken-style!) with the baddies to win his crush's heart.

Skip the reruns and watch some awesomely geeky TV:

"Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman"

The Science Channel's facinating look at the universe.

"Mad Men" Season Four (beginning July 25th)

I love this show and I'm so excited for the season four premiere. If you haven't seen the previous three seasons, definitely check them out.


This Starz original series features a support group of suicidal people as they struggle to overcome depression. I love the quirky black humor. Perfect for fans of "Dead Like Me" and "Pushing Daisies". Don't get Starz? Watch it on Netflix Instant (updated with new episodes weekly).

Have some other geeky summer suggestions, share 'em in the comment section!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

IFC Hearts Horror Movie Fans

Due to the growing popularity of their Grindhouse Fridays, IFC is making June their "Grindhouse Month". Every day at midnight, IFC is showing "Grindhouse" movies - to the delight of horror fans. Some of the films are truly subversive, hard-to-find flicks, but the term "grindhouse" is used loosely with some features. Even so, there are several movies that are definitely worth staying up for. Here are a few can't miss flicks:

June 18th - Fido

I've written a bit about this film in a previous post, so I won't repeat myself too much, other than to say that it's one of my favorite zombie flicks.

June 20th - The Prophecy

This film was a really big deal when I was in junior high. It has an amazing cast - Christopher Walken, Eric Stolz, Viggo Mortenson, and, one of my favorite actors, Elias Koteas (Casey Jones in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). The plot boils down to a battle between good and evil, but the real appeal of the movie is that it's just damn cool. I highly recommend this one.

June 28th - Near Dark

Awesome vampire flick. If you like Lost Boys, you'll really enjoy this one. This clip does the film far more justice than I could ever do.

Check out the complete June schedule for the rest of the films.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Mind Has Been Totally Blown

I was almost asleep, so I may have been dreaming, but I believe I just saw a Sunkist ad featuring a recent 30 Seconds to Mars single. Aren't they supposed to be an ironic indie band - the antithesis of commercial selling out (and citrusy sodas)?

Normally, I wouldn't bother even commenting, because I hate when people claim a band has "sold out" because their song was used in a commercial/TV show/movie, but I can't seem to resist taking a jab at frontman Jared Leto - especially since he threatened poor tiny Elijah Wood for not liking his music. (Can you say, "30 Seconds to Douche"?)*

Maybe he needed money to buy more guyliner and sad little scarves.

*Note to Mr. Leto . . . Please don't kill me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Summer of King

After a few hectic weeks, it's good to be back to blogging. I'm hoping now that I have a little more time, I can post every day.

Even though it's just barely June, the hot weather has hit in full force. Summer is here, although not officially. There are certain books that I read every year (and usually around the same time of year) and during summer, I read Stephen King's The Stand. My copy is a hardcover reissue of the "uncut" release that I picked up at a garage sale. It is also large and unwieldy - not ideal for carting back and forth on the bus. I decided to pick up a paperback version and while at the bookstore, I was struck by the sheer number of novels King has written. I thought I had read quite a few of them, but there are several that I haven't picked up.

I've decided then, that this summer, I will try to read all of King's work, starting with the books I haven't read yet.

Coincidentally, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was on AMC today. I have mixed feelings about this movie. As a film, it's beautifully done and Kubrick's notorious attention to detail is obvious. As an adaptation of King's novel, however, I think it is definitely lacking.

Kubrick's stellar film making skills cannot be denied. As with his other films (2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, in particular), The Shining has gorgeous sets, beautiful cinematography, and unique camera work. Kubrick's film has some amazing iconic shots (particularly the two twin girls holding hands) and the suspense-inducing score has much to do with the terror building as the story progresses. Jack Nicholson puts in a terrific performance as the crazy and steadily crazier Jack Torrance and Shelley Duvall's fear seems absolutely genuine. The only problem is this is not King's The Shining.

Kubrick is famous for adapting well-known and well-loved works of literature and changing them drastically. Both King and Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, were disappointed in Kubrick's adaptations of their work. Kubrick has often been accused by critics of sucking the themes (and subsequently the depth) out of these stories and presenting a purely surface representation of the story.

My biggest problem with the adaptation is the casting. In King's novel, Jack is portrayed as a generally good guy with some anger problems. He struggles with his desire to drink and wanting to be a good husband and father. In the book, the reader can tell he genuinely loves his son and though he is often conflicted about his marriage, he loves his wife as well. It is the hotel and isolation that eventually drives him to the brink of madness. This is most clearly evident in the ending, when through his insanity, he realizes what he is doing and tells Danny to run away. It is clear to the reader at that point that his violent actions are the hotel's influence.

Nicholson (who kind of looks crazy all the time) comes off very differently in the film. He seems a little off-balance right off the bat and his irritation with his family is palpable. There is no final redemption for Jack and he becomes the main antagonist, not the hotel.

In the novel, Wendy is portrayed as a strong, independent woman who is fiercely protective of her child. She stays with Jack after he breaks Danny's arm, but only because she doesn't want to return home to her overbearing mother. She eventually decides that Jack has quit drinking and their relationship slowly begins to heal. There is always the looming possibility of Jack drinking again and the reader gets the impression that his relapse will be the breaking point for Wendy.

Knowing that, Shelley Duvall was entirely the wrong choice for the character. Her performance portrays the character as weak and submissive to her husband. She shows none of the strong will exhibited by King's character. Her anger towards Jack after Danny emerges from Room 237 seems completely out of character, when compared to her spineless quivering throughout the rest of the movie. Even her appearance is wrong, as in the book Wendy is described as a pretty blond.

Even the Danny character, who in the novel is exceptionally bright as well as being blessed with supernatural gifts, seems off-kilter. In the film, he is an ordinary little boy with psychic powers. His "imaginary friend" Tony is a little boy who lives in his mouth (but apparently moves Danny's finger when he talks - I'm still confused about that one), and is quickly dismissed as a childish quirk. In the novel, he represents Danny's suppressed and misunderstood powers and has much more significance.

Kubrick doesn't address Jack's struggle within himself - a struggle that is eventually represented by his physical confrontation with the hotel as it overtakes him more and more. Allegedly a metaphor for King's own problems with alcoholism and drug addiction, this theme was the crux of the novel, showing how a basically good man could be made a monster by letting a bad influence rule his life. Kubrick decides instead to allude that Jack is a reincarnation of the hotel's first caretaker (Jack's feelings of deja vu, Grady's statement, "You've always been the caretaker here, sir.), and the final photo showing Jack in the foreground of the 1922 party). This leaves the film version as an excellent horror flick, but a flimsy shell of the original story.

The film and the novel are both good independently, but Kubrick's version is not a good representation of King's rich storytelling. Admittedly, it is difficult to get all of his detail into a 2 hour movie, which is why the miniseries adaptations of his work tend to be better than the theatrically released films.