Kirst Words

They only sound cursed.

April 20th, 2014

I bought things with which to edge my lawn today: an edger, weed barrier, edging and spikes. I discovered Target was not open today. Something to do with a religious holiday of some sorts. I also re-potted my bonsai and ponytail palm both of which were so root logged I’m surprised they’re alive. Finally I mowed my lawn. I discovered I need to trim my backyard trees — they have offshoots(?) which have very low branches making it difficult to mow around them. I intended to do all of these things yesterday but I did nothing yesterday except cook a roast beef. It was not prime and the taste isn’t as good requiring some A1 to go along with it.

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I tried to watch the RiffTrax of Pirates of the Caribbean but the mp3 had issues and crashed around an hour in. I tried a few times to restart but it still crashed. I may try and re-download it to see. I ended up wanting to see some musicals and watched bits of Pitch Perfect and the last few episodes of SMASH.

April 15th, 2014

the-raid-2-berandal-teaser-poster

The Raid: Redemption from two years ago was quite the surprise. A martial arts film with crazy-ass stunt work but the story was so simple the acting never needed to be called into question. They simply leapt from one fight to the next. The Raid 2 is a bit more complex but it added an hour as to not take away from the fighting.

The story behind Raid 2 has Rama (Iko Uwais) going undercover to gain the trust of a mob boss’s son. The mobs all have corrupt officers in their pockets but if Rama can do his job well, he can root out all the bad cops in Jakarta. Rama doesn’t want to do it but the super secret Jakartan police convince him by guaranteeing his family’s safety. But they’re not super honest either. They tell him it’ll be a few months. I mean, they’re the good guys but no one is going to volunteer if they know it’s going to be several years. There are some good fight scenes in jail but we then get a cut scene which says “TWO YEARS LATER” which unintentionally made me laugh.

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So here’s the real core of the film and why Rama had to go undercover. There are three factions which run the city’s underground. The Indonesians are headed by Bangun (Tio Prakusodewo) with his son Uco (Arifin Putro) and right hand man Eka (Oka Antara.) The Japanese are headed by Goto (Kenichi Endo) and his son Keiichi (Ryuhei Matsuda). And there’s Bejo (Alex Abbad) who runs the newcomer Arabian faction. Bejo’s group was in charge of the complex run by Tama in the last film. Now the Indonesians and the Japanese have had a 10 year truce and are powerful enough they don’t see any threat in the Arabs. The issue is Uco wants more control. He has total first world problems. He doesn’t want everything simple and just handed to him. He want’s to kill and maim and fight. He has fires and he wants to be feared, not respected. So he does what he thinks is best for him.

Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog in the first film) returns as Koso, an assassin who is very loyal to Bangun and fought with him back in the old days. Call me racist but I started thinking there were more recast-return rolls, especially the Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman,) the big boss of the fight scenes who I thought might have been Joe Taslim (Sgt. Jaka from the Raid.) Because of who dies and who died in The Raid I thought that casting would have been particularly clever.

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If you like martial arts movies see The Raid 2. Was it better than The Raid: Redemption? No. The fights, while often on a much larger scale, got watered down a bit. When facing multiple foes, most fight scenes had the “wait and see” approach which is instead of everyone rushing the person at once they each wait and see how the guy before them does before attacking. This is sort of a fight scene standard with multiple opponents but it was often filmed as to show off the guys waiting their turns.

Also the story was a bit too complex. There are comparisons to Infernal Affairs/The Departed but those were character driven pieces involving bonding and loyalty whereas Rama sort of clams up as a no nonsense, very boring guy once he’s undercover. The only emotion he shows is when he’s on the phone. Yayan’s character feels like he was added as an afterthought. He could have been Eka and still done the same stuff. Though I suppose if you’ve got a guy that fights that well (and he did) what do you need Rama for? Still, all of the fight scenes are great.

BTW: did anyone else see Taylor Swift making cameos on SNL and the MTV Movie Awards? “You’re getting really upset and whenever a man shows emotion, I appear!”

April 5th, 2014

Captain-America-Logo

So Marvel movies can be a bit cookie-cutter. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But doing the same thing every time can get boring quickly just as deviating too much can really put others off. I hated Iron Man 3 which I found too ridiculous in some of it’s premise but loved Thor 2 which I found to be almost identical to the first film. I was in the minority on both. But I am a comic fan and the studio is trying to reach everyone. Cap 2 is a great middle ground — it breaks the mold sufficiently but doesn’t deviate from who the character is.

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The movie flows well from the last picture going from World War II action film to conspiracy thriller. In case you missed it the first film is summed up in a Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to WWII Captain America (Chris Evans) including his original costume. The movie starts with a S.H.I.E.L.D. rescue mission. Cap’s there to save hostages but the Natasha (Scarlett Johansson,) the Black Widow, is there for data retrieval which almost botches the mission. Cap complains to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who shows him the new S.H.I.E.L.D. initiative: three heavily armed helicarriers that sit in perpetual low orbit designed to take out computer profiled threats on the potential of their actions. (i.e. this guy might be a terrorist in a few years so the computer will have him killed now.) This moral ambiguity doesn’t sit well with Cap and he ponders his place in the organization.

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Before Cap can do anything about it an attempt on Fury’s life leaves Cap with all the data retrieved from the ship. Fury’s parting words are “don’t trust anyone.” Cap meets with Fury’s council boss, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford,) who is investigating what happened to Fury. He thinks Cap is hiding things (which he is) and sends all of S.H.I.E.L.D. after Cap. Cap ends up having to trust the Black Widow and he and Natasha become fugitives on the run, trying to figure out what the data they have is. There is a bit of buddy pic stuff that goes on with Cap and Natasha where she’s very flirty and he’s from the 1940s. It works to break up the film’s dark and ominous themes and their banter is some of my favorite bits from this film. Especially the “was I the first girl you’ve kissed since the 1940′s?” scene in the truck.

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There are two more characters worth mentioning, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who Cap believes is a paratrooper but in reality is a bit more maneuverable and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) who, for being the title of the film, really doesn’t get that much screen time. Still, both are integral to the movie.

Sorry, I had beans for lunch

Sorry, I had beans for lunch

nerd stuff: The opening scene has Batroc (MMA fighter Georges St. Pierre). No really, BATROC, THE LEAPER, one of the great C-List villains. Amazing. The way they used Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) was wonderful and there was even a brief mention of a Stephen Strange, I think he’s a doctor. Having an Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp) was cool but they didn’t put her in the suit. Which makes sense since it was designed and still remains a 60′s go-go cat suit, but still. Cap’s list of things to catch up on notebook is great: Star Wars/Trek, Spicy Thai Food and Marvin Gaye. I think Star Wars is crossed out because he’s seen it — much like Cap it is a Disney property. Cap’s also seen WarGames.

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The movie ends with the everyone who survived heading in new directions. Enough that I’m interested in where the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show will go. (The TV show is only OK, I wouldn’t rush into it yet. It feels very first season Buffy in it’s clumsiness.) In the credits there are two stingers. The first is for next year’s Avenger’s: Age of Ultron but does have classic Cap villain Baron VonStrucker and the second you don’t really need to stay for but possibly hints where the next Cap movie or more likely the Black Widow movie (if it happens) will go. The very end of credits stinger is the constant of Marvel films that I wish they would break. I just find it annoying now.

Hail Hydra.

March 22nd, 2014

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So if you’ve seen one Wes Anderson film you’ve seen them all but you really don’t know anything about the rest. This movie is a story within a story within a story. It starts with a girl going to a monument of an author. This is filmed in IMAX. She has his most famous book, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and looks at the back which has a picture of him. We cut to the author (Tom Wilkinson) who then recounts his tale of how he wrote The Grand Budapest Hotel. We cut to the author (Jude Law) as a younger man visiting this aging relic of a hotel, nice but past it’s prime. This is filmed in anamorphic widescreen. The author meets the owner of the hotel, Zero (F. Murray Abraham,) who tells the author how the hotel came to be in his possession. We cut to a young Zero (Tony Revolori) who has just signed on as a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest working directly under M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes.) This is filmed in FULL SCREEN. Yes, like TVs of old, fullscreen — there are black bars on the sides of the screen. When narrators change the screen ratio changes — mostly between fullscreen and anamorphic.

The movie tells Gustave’s tale as narrated by Zero probably as recounted by the author. It is a tale of politeness, love and duty and the lengths people will go for money. It has a range of characters, none of whom try to hide their accents but it doesn’t matter because the story’s the thing here. Maybe in his head the author has given M. Chuck (Owen Wilson) a country accent or Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) an Irish one and we’re hearing what he projects. Perhaps they were immigrants to war-torn Europe and that was supposed to be their accents. Young Albert Henkels (Edward Norton) could have spent a lot of time in the United States losing his accent before returning to become an officer of rank. Or maybe Wes Anderson just wanted them in the movie. Anderson’s films often feel more like plays to me with acts and characters playing parts, never trying to get you to believe they’re that character. It’s just a role they’re playing and if they’re good it won’t matter.

The story’s main thrust begins with the elderly Madame D’s (Tilda Swinton) love for Gustave. She is a frequent guest of the hotel but this time when she goes to travel she is murdered. She leaves her most prized possession to Gustave: the painting Boy with Apple. Her son, Dimitri (Adrien Brody) is responsible and has Gustave framed for the act but not before Gustave steals and sequesters the painting away. How M. Gustave clears his name and the role Zero plays is the film.

If you’ve liked past Wes Anderson films you’ll like this. If you haven’t you won’t. I like Wes Anderson films. If you stay through the credits there is no stinger but there is a animated dancing soldier. As I was leaving I heard an elderly gentleman remark “that [the soldier] was the best part of the movie.” Clearly not a Wes Anderson fan.

March 19th, 2014

I’ve been doing Japan Nite since 2006 (possibly 2005) so at least 8 years. It would be 9 but I skipped 2012 being the year I wrecked my car and couldn’t make it. On Tuesday (March 18,) four bands made the trip to the Double Door: Zarigani$, Happy, Jungles!!! and Vampilla. Just Pat and myself. It went from 8:30 til just after 11. Each band had a little more than a half hour set.

Zarigani$

Zarigani$

Zarigani$ was the first band consisting of two girls; one was a bassist and the other drums. They were very garage band with great energy but not very polished. Not that they had to be — they were quite fun. They also had some sort of backing tape or pre-programmed music that may have been controlled by foot pedal because there was more than just bass and drums sometimes. All the bands spoke in english, Zarigani$ mentioned they were going to be at this year’s ACEN.

HAPPY

HAPPY

The second band was HAPPY. They were an all-male quintet who played psychedelic rock. They were very polished but lacked the energy of Zarigani$. When I saw them I commented to Pat “they make me want to cut my hair,” which if you’ve seen me recently is kinda long. They were lured back instantly for an encore to chants of “mou ichido” (one more time.)

Jungles!!!

Jungles!!!

The third band was Jungles!!!. An all-girl quartet who were really Red Bacteria Vacuum from a few years ago but one of the members (bassist or drummer) was pregnant or just had a child so they got a temporary replacement while she was on maternity leave and changed the name. They were hard punk heading into metal territory and easily my favorite band of the night. They were the most polished and had the highest-energy. Two things from their set stood out. There was a guy who lost his glasses in the mosh pit and they stopped and turned up the house lights to help him. When he found them the lead singer said “you a lucky boy,” and they continued. There was a song where the drummer and bassist switched instruments but when they went to the next song the transition back was seamless as the rest of the band kept the rhythm up during the change. It was really cool and both Pat and I made note of it. As great as they were, Jungles!!! was not the most memorable band of the night.

"Storm"

“Storm”

The most memorable band was Vampilla. As they were setting up we wondered if the person with the robes and white wig (dubbed Storm by Pat) was male or female. When they started playing we still couldn’t tell. Clearly with the picture I found above, Storm’s a woman but from our vantage it was hard to tell. It seemed they were going for performance art. I noticed there was a central area on the stage that was not occupied and Pat pointed out a person dressed in rags with a crutch walking through the crowd. I then realized and told him that was the lead singer. And he was. He was dressed totally in rags and then took off his headwrap. Then he took off the rest of his rags to reveal a muscle suit.

Vampilla

Vampilla

He even went into the crowd and danced on tables.

Table Dancing

Table Dancing

At one point he stage dived and the crowd wasn’t ready and almost dropped him. I sort of lost it and just couldn’t watch them without laughing. The last bit was the bassist who started in a track suit but slowly took bits off until he was just in a banana hammock. He then had the crowd clear out and backflipped onto the floor.

Bassist

Bassist

As usual I bought a lot of CDs but no t-shirts this time. And strangely I did not buy anything from Vampilla when I did my buy through after HAPPY and avoided their one CD at the end of the night. I’m sure Vampilla will haunt my memories forever.

March 8th, 2014

R5_V10C13_80213_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0022If you liked the first 300 from seven years ago you’ll probably like this. It’s very similar but also kinda by the numbers with one exception: Eva Green. Eva stands out among all the cookie cutter Greeks and even holds her own against the God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) who has little screen time much like the first film.

This movie starts before the original 300. Artemisia (Green) is Greek but saw her family murdered and herself taken as a slave by a rival city-state but was rescued by the Persians with whom she is now aligned. They trained her in the arts of war and she soon became a favorite of the king. The movie begins with the battle of Marathon where Athenian Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) kills the Persian King Darius (Igal Naor,) father of Xerxes. Upon his deathbed Darius realizes the error of his ways but Artemisia manipulates Xerxes into becoming the God-King we saw in the first movie. With both of them seeking revenge against the Greeks, Xerxes for his father’s death and Artemisia for past injustices, the Persians go to war with Greece.

Themistokles is a mostly realized character. He splits his energies behind uniting Greece and naval strategizing. He also give a lot of inspiring speeches a-la St. Crispin’s Day. He tries to get Sparta’s navy to join in against the Persians but Queen Gorgo (Lena Hedley) speaking for Leonidas (Gerard Butler who does not return but is shown in flashback with scenes from the original) denies him. Sparta’s fleets would ensure victory over the Persians and unite Greece but Themistokles and his navy must battle without them.
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This is the setup. A small force against impossible odds. Themistokles uses clever strategies to defeat his opponents, hand picked Admirals eager to gain Artemisia’s favor. With his victories Artemisia sees a worthy rival. Eva plays Artemisia very coolly. There is fire and passion but it is controlled and calculating. Does she end up wanting more than revenge?

The gore and the way the movie was shot, with it’s hyper slo-mo violence was innovative seven years ago but is quite the standard now. Still it gets a marginal pass mostly for Miss Green’s performance. Is there the possibility of a 303? I’m guessing so.

March 2nd, 2014

Seen quite a few movies over the past weeks. I was sick for the end of December and the first half of January but I finally got around to seeing things with The Lego Movie. Of course many will realize I did not see a movie in theaters in January but there you go.

The Lego Movie
LEGO
With a strong 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, I thought The Lego Movie would be spectacular. It wasn’t. Which is not to say it was bad it just wasn’t what I would expect from such a high rating. There was nothing bad and enough good parts that it is hard to give it a bad review. I would easily recommend it and anyone not liking it probably can count the number of movies they like on two hands.

The Lego Movie is about Lord Business, an evil overlord who is set to control all of Lego Land via the artifact, kragle, but can be stopped by a prophecy of a Master Builder who will find the block that will stop the kragle. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) who is the most bland, conformist, average, unimaginative person there has ever been. While everyone conforms, everyone else at least has one distinguishing trait. But not Emmet. He ends up being mistaken for the Master Builder of the prophecy and goes on a great adventure in trying to stop Lord Business. Emmet discovers himself and who he can be in this adventure.

The movie takes an interesting meta turn at the end which is hinted at throughout the movie, particularly in the kragle. I won’t spoil it but it feels like a cheat or a bit of deus ex machina. Still even the ending was well meant and emotionally compelling and the rest fun.

Robocop (2014)
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I saw the first Robocop in theaters in high school and later as a midnight movie in college. In high school I was too young to understand the satire but found the hyper violence quite cool. In college, the violence was still cool but the satire made it amazing. This PG-13 remake neither has the satire nor the violence. It’s probably more violent than the original but by today’s standards it’s just average.

Before my viewing I posted “Why would anyone go to see a PG-13 Robocop?” to which one of the responses was Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy/Robocop). But he doesn’t do it for me and there wasn’t enough Abbie Cornish (Clara Murphy) to keep me interested. There were attempts to modernize the satire. Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak) plays a TV News show host clearly in bed with OmniCorp but he is the only real attempt at some fun. The rest of it has that grim re-imagining that prevails among modern films. The actions scenes are fine but overall not worth it.

The Wind Rises
THE WIND RISES. © 2013 Nibariki - GNDHDDTK
Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are almost synonymous but Hayao has only directed about half the studio’s output and The Wind Rises is his last film. Miyazaki’s love of aircraft is well known and this loose biopic is about Jiro Horikoshi who was the chief engineer of many of the Japanese WWII fighter planes. There are moments of fantasy and wonder but for the most part it is truly an expression of Miyazaki’s love of aircraft and of the hard work and dedication it takes to become great. I don’t necessarily share either of those fascinations but it was still a good film.

We start by seeing Jiro’s dreams as a child. He shares a dream world with Giovanni Battista Caproni, a famous Italian aircraft engineer, where they can see each other’s ideas. Some truly fantastic flight imagery is presented when Jiro is in this dream world. We move to him traveling to Tokyo where he meets Nahoko Satomi when their train is impacted by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. He gets her home and then runs off to assist his fellows at university but she never forgets him. He is a great engineer, able to visualize the strengths and flaws of aircraft and quickly rises at Mitsubishi designing planes. By chance he runs into Nahoko again and they fall in love and get married. The movie doesn’t try to judge or portray Jiro in any light, just document his view of the world.

Technically the animation was amazing. Whatever CGI was used was not noticeable by me. Animating reflections of headlights on a wet, cobblestone road in the rain you would think they’d have to use CG but I couldn’t tell.

Frozen
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In the three months Frozen has been out I have heard much about how good it was and it lived up to everything. Of the four movies here, Frozen is easily the best. If I’d seen it last year, it would have been a good nominee for fave film.

While Elsa (Indina Menzel) is being promoted as the Disney Princess, the real star is Anna (Kristen Bell,) her younger sister and also a Princess I might add. We get to see most of the film through her eyes. The movie starts with young Elsa and Anna playing and we discover Elsa has ice powers. An accident almost kills Anna and Elsa spends the rest of her childhood avoiding Anna to protect her and everyone else. Their parents (if Elsa and Anna are Princesses their parents are regents) die on a diplomatic mission and eventually Elsa is to be coronated as Queen. Anna, who we have followed up to this stage, is thrilled to meet people and do things while Elsa is the exact opposite. She doesn’t want to meet anyone because she’s afraid she might hurt them.

Elsa’s secret comes out but what happens next is a clever deviation from the standard Disney script. Of course we have humor, adventure, true love and it all ends well — it IS still a Disney movie. But I think this does a good job of summing it up:

The songs are fun and there are enough to call it a musical but the real standout is Let It Go.

The movie excels on a technical level as well. There was a scene where Kristoff (Johnathan Groff) enters a trading post and I really thought it was actually a person coming in from the snowy outsides. The snow was that good.

February 8th, 2014

On the Graham Norton Show last week, Keira Knightley told the story of how Joe Wright, the director of Pride an Predjudice, did not want her for the role of Elizabeth Bennet because she was “too beautiful.” When they met, upon seeing her he promptly told her “oh no, you’ll do fine!” Graham asked if he at least was more polite in how he broke the news and she told him “no, it was pretty much like that.” But it was okay because she got the part.

February 3rd, 2014

So Chinese New Year was Friday, Jan 31, 2014. I was going to have dim sum with mother on Sunday thinking the Superbowl would actually lessen traffic and that they would have had the parade on Friday (or at worst Saturday.) Of course they held celebrations on Sunday. When we arrived we couldn’t find any parking and ended up just heading back home and had Red Lobster. Happy New Year!

January 23rd, 2014

So I was incredibly social (for me) last week.

On Sunday 1/12 (which was in the middle of on-call) I went to Game Works in Schaumburg for book club. We read Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. A small gathering for club, three with a late fourth — all of us in various stages of sick or getting over it. On Tuesday I had a late dinner with comic book friends and on Thursday I went out drinking with the guys from work. There I finally met co-worker John’s wife who was a former baker. She sends many a delicious, sugary pastry in with John and I had joked she and I dated in the past and offended her so badly she was trying to kill me with her sugary delights.

As far as sick goes Sunday I was still under the weather from being sick but by Thursday I was fine. I am completely healthy now. Though today I was supposed to have a doctor’s appointment but it got cancelled. It’s really cold today but apparently it will be colder on Monday, which is when they rescheduled it. Still have not seen any movies since I was sick. Want to see Frozen and this week I, Frankenstein opens. It’s by the Underworld team but has no Kate Beckinsale, much like Underworld 3, but they’re not even trying to have a sexy female lead so I have no idea if I’ll watch this. I have to work on Saturday anyways.

This week has been quite the norm. Stay at home but I’ve been drawing a lot.