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Archive for October, 2010

Alvin and the Chipmunks: watching videos at 1.5x, 2x.

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I never thought about this until I started talking to some med students.  Most medical schools will videotape lectures and then put them online for students to watch later.  It turns out that lots of students watch the lectures at sped-up rates.

I was wondering if anyone has tried this for movies.  It seems like it would be a great time saver, but on the other hand, seems kind of lame.  Isn’t the point of watching a movie to enjoy the break, to get lost in another world?

This technique definitely works well for lecture.  I get so bored listening to slow speakers (even when the speakers are great), and right now, I’ve gotten up to 1.65x.

Compare:

1x, soooo slow.

1.65x speed, good speed.

2.75x!  Can barely comprehend.

What are your thoughts?

Categories: Uncategorized

Waiting for a better look at the American education system: “Waiting for Superman”

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

David Guggenheim, the man who brought us “An Inconvenient Truth”, has done it again: he’s created a documentary that is not only informative, but also quite moving and inspiring.  Despite this, I found myself doubting the movie’s advice. “Waiting for Superman” followed a handful of individual children, with lingering shots on the darndest things kids say.  Although this approach gave us a personal window into what it’s like to be going to a failing school, specifically by following struggling parents, the movie seemed far too one-sided to present a convincing argument.

It’s hard to mark down a documentary on childrens’ education without seeming heartless, but here I go: the interviews were heavy-handed, and while the animations were informative, I left feeling as if I still wasn’t sure what to do.  Guggenheim paints the teachers unions as the definite bad guys, standing in the way of reform because of monetary incentives; he presents charter schools as the only reasonable solution, but fails to elaborate with balanced evidence.  The ending credits spam us with instructions to donate (text POSSIBLE to 77177 appeared three times), but I am reluctant to do so.

(“An Inconvenient Truth” was different.  There, science was indisputable, and the call to arms against global warming was much needed.  Even there though, I couldn’t get over the urge to gag when I saw “tell everyone you know about this movie”.)

For the first half of the movie, I really was moved.  I wanted to do something, anything, to help – I even considered (briefly and rather childishly) joining Teach for America or interning under Michelle Rhee, the current chancellor of DC’s public school system, who is painted as a freedom fighter for progressive changes that include dissolution of tenure.  And then I stopped to think.  Everything felt too perfect – a problem is presented with children who aren’t getting an education, adults are painted as good or bad (fighting for or against changes to the current system), and ta-da, charter schools are presented as a miracle solution.

What really cinches the movie, however, is the end: we follow these children we’ve come to love as they go up in their respective charter-school lotteries, and we hope, hold our breath, praying that they must be accepted.  In fact, we even go so far to feel that they must be accepted; how could they return to their currently failing schools?  But of course, not everyone can get in; there are many more children than open seats; the odds are against the children.  The camera never flinches as the number of open seats counts down to zero, until it is certain, most of these children will not be going to charter schools.

I must applaud Guggenheim on this brilliant one-two punch.  The whole audience gasped, moaned, and I’m sure I even heard some people crying.  We had not yet recovered, despite a bittersweet ending; right when we were at our most vulnerable, credits began rolling. They were even interspersed with a summary of the movie’s message, just in case someone missed something.

I can’t say that this documentary wasn’t eye-opening – it truly was, and I am inspired to look further at this issue.  Orion will say I’m just mad that someone has made me feel something, but what I’m angry about is the way the movie tried to feed us its writers’ ideas for solutions.  Everyone should see this, first to be educated about education; if for nothing else, to study how easily and dramatically an audience can be manipulated.

No rating, because this is too complicated for me to decide on a score.

Best regards,

Apple; http://appleandorion.com

Categories: Movie Reviews

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Apple – 3/5

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

An adaption of the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my favorite authors, came out a while ago on Christmas Day.  It seemed like a big downer, so I passed it by until now.   “Benjamin Button” is the story of a man who ages backwards – he is born ancient, and then slowly grows younger, year by year.  It is the story of his love for a woman, Daisy, played beautifully by Cate Blanchett.  Brad Pitt stars as Benjamin in his middle to young ages.  It is amazing what special effects can do with the artificial aging of characters.

The movie is slow to get started; we don’t hear the name Benjamin for quite some time.  I even checked to make sure I was watching the right movie.  Daisy always seems awfully mature for her age, and makes friends with an elderly Benjamin early on in the film.

The story premise is very interesting – Benjamin goes through similar things that growing children do – reading, learning how to play the piano.  But there are only a few threads plucked from the original short story: besides the original premise, spending time working on a boat.  There are a few beautiful shots – Daisy dancing in the night against a backdrop of fog,

For a story that is about growing younger, “Benjamin Button” is morbidly obsessed with the passing of friends and the brevity of crossing paths.  Tilda Swinton does an excellent job as a love interest, but her character fades from the movie without even a goodbye. The people we meet from Benjamin’s childhood die and grow old; he lives in a nursing home.  There is one extended scene leading to an accident, where Benjamin imagines all the circumstances that led up to it – all the individual people whose lives intersected.

For the most part, the movie crawls along at a snail’s place, documenting Benjamin’s life and his many acquaintances.  My major complaint is simply the length of the movie – there were many times when I paused and had to walk around, I was so bored and frustrated with the pace.  When Benjamin finally grows into childhood, I was relieved.  However, it says something in that I did end up finishing the movie, and thinking back, at least enjoyed the colorful life of Benjamin Button.

Overall – 3/5; far too slow, depressing (especially for a Christmas-day release), but nevertheless lovely at quite a few moments.

Best regards,

Apple; http://appleandorion.com

Categories: Movie Reviews

CW’s take on Nikita.

October 23, 2010 1 comment

The CW’s new television show, “Nikita”, seemed interesting.  I’ve always regarded this character with fondness, as we watched the older version in my French class.  “La Femme Nikita” was a sharp, though not perfect, look into the difficulties and stresses of being an assassin, and so I was excited to see it being remade.  Even more exciting – Maggie Q (from Mission Impossible III, Live Free or Die Hard) was set to star as Nikita.  Exciting!

Orion and I sat down to watch the Pilot today.  The first scene was disappointing and awkward, but I kept going, hoping that things would turn out okay.  They didn’t.  I stopped watching less than halfway through

- the action was clumsy, the acting was heavy-handed, and I grimaced when I recognized butchered scenes from the French film.

Right now, episodes are online at the CW’s Website.  If anyone is watching it, and if things turn out good, let me know.  As of now, I have given up hope.

Categories: Snap Judgment

Retired and extremely dangerous: Red – Apple – 3.5/5

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

2010 movie “Red” poses a very pertinent and interesting question to the audience: what happens to a Black Ops CIA agent when he gets old?  Morgan Freeman’s character says at one point, “I never thought it would happen to me,” referring to aging.  This is a great question, but unfortunately, gets lost in the jumble of action and stunts.

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent who finds himself in love with Sarah, an ordinary girl.  He is soon forced out of retirement and back on the road by a sudden attack on his life; his old friends Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren) star alongside him in a humorous, clever, and very “old” adventure.

Everything here are things we’ve seen before.  There is no such thing as tension in “Red” because Bruce Willis can apparently step out of a moving car into a perfect firing position.  However, the movie moved fast enough to keep me from composing a review during it, and its many characters each got a good deal of screen time and background.  Our opening-night audience crowded the large theatre at Century 12, and was active in laughing, cheering, and whooping when Evanston was mentioned.

Karl Urban is well cast as young CIA agent William Cooper, playing opposite Willis as everything he once was: young, ambitious.  This was an interesting dynamic, but was one that failed to be played up.  Likewise, the plot didn’t make much sense, and attempts at seriousness often floundered.  Deaths are thrown around, and body counts are stacked up almost as quickly as they were in “The Expendables”.

“Red” is not a movie to be taken seriously, but rather than being ashamed of this, the movie brazenly plays up funny moments and juxtaposes a few splashes of romance too.  And I have to say, it doesn’t do a bad job of entertaining.  See it if you’re in a fun, action-craving mood, but don’t expect anything world-changing.

3.5/5 – Apple

Categories: Movie Reviews

RED – Orion’s Take

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Waking suddenly at 3:32 am, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) walks downstairs to his kitchen while black-clothed assassins converge on his position.  After calmly dispatching the first assault team, he throws a handful of bullets on a hot frying pan and saunters downstairs to pick up a weapon and passport.  When his house dissolves in a flurry of machine gun fire, Frank remains silent and kills all his assailants before walking quickly off-screen.

If that sounds fun to you, this is your kind of movie.  Frank Moses is what you might imagine Jason Bourne becoming, if he was given a chance to get old.  His friends are just as deadly: Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirrier play retired killers with a mischievous charm.  Unfortunately, his enemies are not up to snuff: only Agent Cooper, played by Karl Urban, is any fun to watch.  The plot is convoluted and not worth following, but lead to some rather funny situations.

I liked this movie better than another old-person-action-movie, “The Expendables,” simply because it didn’t take itself as seriously.  In one scene Bruce Willis steps out of a car as it spins away from the impact of a collision with a SUV, firing ceaselessly as the car just barely brushes his legs.  Karl Urban cowers under the windshield, realizing in that instant that he is seriously outmatched.  The scene is so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh.  That’s what this movie is, and it knows it.  The self-awareness is refreshing.

4/5 Waffles

Categories: Movie Reviews

The Godfather Part I – Orion’s Take

October 16, 2010 1 comment

This is a movie that needs no introduction.  Coppola’s masterpiece, the gangster movie to end all gangster movies.  Could this movie ever live up to the hype?  I approached this movie skeptically.  Three and a half hours is nothing to scoff at, and I’m not known for my patience.  Yet this movie was everything it promised to be, and more.

This movie follows the epic struggles between Mafia families and the internal tensions within the Corleone organization.  The focal point is Michael Corleone, the youngest son, the “civilian” of his family, who soon shows himself quite capable of helping out the family.

The film moves on the strength of its characters.  The casting is excellent for the most part.  Marlon Brando is magnificent as Vito Corleone, the Don of the family.  He plays his character with great grace, managing to capture Vito’s sharp intuition as well as his strong sense of honor.  At one point Vito is given the news of a death in the family.  His face contorts, he shakes with grief, and he turns away.  When he turns back, he is composed, the Don again and no longer just a father.  It’s moments like these that distinguish The Godfather from other gangster films: the gangsters are not mindless thugs, but real people.  All actions in this world have motivations, whether those motivations are revenge, greed, or love.  No figure in this film better exemplifies this than Michael, the anti-hero and protagonist played by Al Pacino.  Michael acts meticulously to protect his family members, seemingly without remorse.

This is a bloody tale of revenge and love in the best sense.  When the movie climbs to its bloody climax, your breath catches in your throat, and as the actors come tumbling down, you can’t help but exult and be horrified in Michael’s victory.

5/5 Waffles

Let Me In – Orion’s take

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I never managed to work my way through the original incarnation of this film, having been stymied by the slow pace and some casting choices, but seeing the positive reviews I was persuaded to give it another shot.

The movie is constantly shifting and twisting the viewer’s perceptions of the characters in the film.  Within the first few scenes the viewer is introduced to a man who systemically captures, kills, and then drains a young man.  One might be inclined to call that man a villain.  Owen, the young boy at or near the center of it all, is a child of a divided household who is continuously bullied at school.  A victim and hero?  Or a boy just as cruel as his tormentors but unable to express that cruelty?

The best example of this kind of character shift is the vampire, Abby.  Abby appears at first to be a young girl who has a curious penchant for being barefoot.  Later, we learn of her vampiric nature.  This, however, fails to make Abby less sympathetic to the viewer.  But she is not purely innocent: her actions as a vampire are brutal and even sadistic.  Compared to the bullies, whose motivations become clear with time, her own actions remain fairly inscrutable.

This movie is great when it focuses on its characters, on the developments and shifts in perspective.  It is not so great when it tries to be a bona fide horror movie, with screams and blood and all.  Don’t go see this if you have a weak stomach: the character development will be lost in your vomit.

4/5 WAFFLES – Orion

Let Me In – Apple – 4/5

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

It is usually the case that the movie doesn’t properly capture the beauty of the book.  However, after watching “Let the Right One In” and being inspired to read the 450 pager, I found myself terribly disappointed in a novel that just didn’t capture the haunting feel of the movie.  I’m being unfair, because the book actually did come before the movie, but I just felt it gave too much information, a lot of which detracted from what I felt to be the most important aspects of the film.

So, here we have the remake of an adaptation of a new spin on vampirism.  “Let Me In” features Chloe Moretz, who was (BAMF) Hit-Girl from “Kick-Ass”, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played the son in the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.  Directing is Matt Reeves, who was responsible for “Cloverfield”, that movie where everyone kept waiting for the shaky handheld shooting to stop and cut to a real camera.

Abby is a 12-year-old girl who “has been 12 for a very long time” (does that echo Edward Cullen?) and moves into town with a man who appears to be her guardian.  Around the same time that they move in, some seriously grisly murders begin happening.  It isn’t long before we realize that Abby is a creature of the night, one who lives off blood.  The interesting idea – she’s still a child, one who loves puzzles and is fascinated by a Rubik’s cube presented by the young hero of the movie, Owen, who is the subject of merciless bullying at school.

There are several things different about this movie from the original: it is louder, more exaggerated and ‘American’.  The horror aspects have definitely been upped, and a lot of the secondary characters have been cut out; I have to admit that the movie functioned better than I thought it would.  I went in expecting to hate the movie, but I found myself understanding the changes that Reeves made – the way he handled Owen’s family situation was more emotional, but Smit-McPhee is more than capable of squeezing out a convincing tear.  The two young actors were surprisingly well cast, and gave a genuine aura to their characters; although I have to say that I still liked the original movie’s two leads better. A few small details really changed the course of the film, (specifically, the inclusion of one photobooth film strip), which further changed the motivations that characters are suggested to have.

An interesting piece of visual interest: there were several scenes where a character is looking through something – a telescope, a door peep hole – and the light from what they see is reflected on their eyes.  This was such an interesting and beautiful effect.

What is the point of a remake?  It is a re-imagining of a piece of work, and thus should have memorable changes.  After all, Shakespeare didn’t think up any of his stories, but he did a damn good job of writing them in his own way.  “Let Me In” had its own details (which felt noticeably American), but still, it took its most memorable scenes shot-to-shot from Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In”.

Overall – 4/5; a remake faithful to the original, and therein lies its flaw.

Best regards,

Apple; http://appleandorion.com

See also: “Let the Right One In”

 

Princess Mononoke – Apple – 5/5

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The epitome of balance: Miyazaki’s masterpiece “Princess Mononke”

This is perhaps one of my favorite movies of all time.  But you already knew that, didn’t you?  So why watch a movie that I have already seen?  Because each time I watch it, I understand something more about the characters, about what drives each action.  I always go through the feeling – why is there is much hate, such mutual wishes for destruction?  How is there any way that Ashitaka can resolve these conflicts, when no one side is wrong?

Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” is actually about a prince.  His name is Ashitaka, and his goal is to journey to the west, to “see with eyes unclouded”.  After a demon marks his arm, Ashitaka is forced to leave his village; rather than slowly decay, he rises to meet his death, traveling to see if he can find the cause of the demon, and with it, the cure to his curse.  He comes to a city of ironworks, run by elegant, gun-wielding, brothel worker-liberating, Lady Eboshi.  The city borders the ancient forest of the Deer God, from which a wolf tribe launches attacks against the iron city.  Among these wolves is San, the Princess Mononoke from whom the title derives its name.

At one interview, I got to discussing this movie with another student.  After I told him that my favorite Miyazaki movie was “Nausicaa”, where humans are pitted against nature (in the form of giant insects) in a violent conflict, he declared that “Mononoke” was a more mature handling of the situation.  It is true: although humans and the forest are at odds in “Mononke”, neither one is really “good” or “bad”; the characters are nuanced, their situations are believable and sympathetic.  Even when characters betray others, they are not so despicable as they seem; we are led through Miyazaki’s mastery to walk a mile in each man’s shoes before judging.

As for the visual splendor, “Princess Mononoke” has no match.  It is beautiful and lovingly animated: although the film is made of pictures, it is obvious that much care has gone into making scenes either frightfully realistic or whimsically imaginative.  The first time we see a bullet, it falls to the wooden floor with such a convincing thud that we know it must be heavy; when Ashitaka travels through the forest and comes across kodama, friendly forest spirits, we are charmed by their tip-toe steps.  Especially because it is composed of drawings, there is no limit to the magnificent things we can see.

Overall, 5/5 – this is a beautiful, masterful, film.

Best regards,

Apple; htpp://appleandorion.com

Categories: Movie Reviews
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