Archive for January, 2011

February 2011 movies!

Which do you want to see?  Vote on the sidebar!

Sanctum – James Cameron and underwater caves.

Just Go With It - Jennifer Aniston + Adam Sandler?

Gnomeo and Juliet - what it sounds like.

I Am Number Four – three are dead, and he’s the fourth.

Unknown – Liam Neeson wakes up to a world without him.

Carbon Nation – documentary about climate change solutions.

Categories: Polls, Previews

Bruce Willis with hair: “Surrogates”

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

In the mood for some science fiction fluff during this below-zero blustery weekend?  “Surrogates” is a relatively short action flick that came out in 2009, about a future where everyone has a robotic ‘surrogate’ that lives out day to day life, thus allowing the user to stay at home, safe from disease and violence.  Get this: Bruce Willis is in it, and since he has a younger, better-looking surrogate running around for him, he has hair.

The movie opens with a strange murder, where the son of the inventor of surrogates was murdered actually through his surrogate.  This defies the safety of surrogacy, and a panicked office sends FBI Agent Tom Greer (Willis) to investigate.  This is certainly an interesting setup, reminiscent of “Chobits” or “Ghost in the Shell”.  But while there are tons of interesting ideas here, as is always the case with android/robot stories, the fact of the matter is that none of them get played up in any satisfying way.

The futuristic look and feel of the movie, as well as the ideas of humans losing touch with their humanity (never even interacting with their regular bodies, only using surrogates) is fascinating.  There is one scene with soldiers, who sit in rows and rows of link-up pods, controlling skeletal, disposable robots.  When the robot dies, the soldier whips off his goggles and says, “I’m down”, before getting a new robot and going back into combat.  A classmate told me about a PBS episode he saw about soldiers controlling attack drones, basically piloting missiles from the safety of their workplaces, killing who knows how many people, and then going back home to their families.  I wonder what that does to a person.

Overall – 1/5; this movie has good ideas, but unfortunately, it is mediocre through and through.  Even the action scenes are bad.  I watched it simply because typing and searching through the Xbox system is a huge pain, and Netflix kept recommending it for me.

Best regards,


New theme!

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Theme shopping is hard to do, but it was time for a change, no?

Categories: Misc

The Social Network—A Made-up Story reviewed by Orion

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

There has been much huballoo about the factual accuracy of this particular film.  Being a movie reviewer, I’ve decided to avoid this controversy (sorry internet) by assuming the movie is 100% made-up.  This is, of course, a gross oversimplification.  It is far more likely that this movie is a distortion of events that have actual basis in history.  Luckily for me, it makes no difference for my review.

This film’s greatest strength is the way it manages to capture the raw intelligence and creativity of its characters.  The top notch cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, most notably) interact in a way that feels wholly unscripted.  Every scene is emotionally believable, and the writing is such that every blisteringly sarcastic conversation from Eisenberg stings even the audience watching it.  Garfield plays his character perfectly, the charm and insecurity of his character shining through.

You’ll notice, however, that I mention only actors in the paragraph above.  Why is this?  Is it because none of the actresses in “The Social Network” were able to act?  Not at all. On the contrary, like all the characters the actresses did their jobs remarkable well.  The problem was the way those roles were written.  There have been several criticisms leveled at this film because of its supposed misogynist tilt, and I can see where they come from.  David Fincher, the director, has responded to critics by noting that the institutions that his film explores (including the famed final clubs of Harvard) are notoriously misogynist institutions, and that looking at these institutions from a particular viewpoint naturally push his film into certain territories.  I’m not sure I buy such an argument, for several reasons too long to explore in detail here, but it is certainly true that Fincher provides no positive roles for actresses in this film besides a lone role for a female associate in a major law firm.

Acting aside, however, the movie benefits from excellent technical details.  Fincher directs with flair, setting the story up in such a way that plays with the audience’s expectations.  Before, I said that whether the story is true or not has no relevance to my review.  Well that wasn’t true.  In fact, the director cleverly causes the audience to constantly question their assumptions about the story.  The film takes place during a deposition, with each character’s testimony or testimonies filling in the blanks of a story we know very little about.  We are forced to rely on the testimony of people who despise, dislike, and betray each other.  This is a genius move, because it sidesteps the issues of what is true and what is false, relying on conveying the turbulent emotions and necessities of the case instead of deciding what is true.

The great flaw of this movie is that despite the polished and well-told story, the characters themselves are incredibly simplified.  I say well-acted, yes, but despite capturing the intelligence and creativity of such giants as Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg, it fails to capture any actual character.  What person is only intelligence?  What person is only charm and brilliance?  Moreover, this simplicity of character undermines the overall believability of the film.  Are we to believe that the founder of Facebook, a man who gives speeches on a regular or semi-regular basis, has so little charm or warmth that he only has one friend?

This is a very good film, a very clever film, but ultimately, a very flawed film.  Factual accuracy is not a requirement for art.  But truth, resonance and emotional believability, is.

4/5 Waffles


Oscar nominations for 2011!

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment
Categories: Misc

Because we are gentlemen of Harvard! – “The Social Network”

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll admit it: I love the romance surrounding Harvard.  However, through a series of chances, Orion and I missed out on seeing “The Social Network” when it came out.  Now that it has finally debuted on DVD, we’ve finally filled in this blank.  It took a while though, and in the meanwhile, the film won Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score at the 68th Golden Globes.   I hope my score doesn’t come across as a surprise, because I really thought the movie was well done and polished.

“The Social Network” is the story of how the now ubiquitous Facebook was founded.  It comes as a series of flashbacks during two lawsuits against Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook.  This is certainly an interesting story, and it is extremely well organized; there are no sloppy moments, although there are quite a few questionable ones.  The dorm room planning and coding was great, although I’m not so sure how I felt about Harvard’s finals club parties.

There are always issues with making a movie about people who are still active and alive.  The film portrays Zuckerberg as a genius, but a big jerk, and this certainly can’t reflect too positively on the real Mark.  But that doesn’t really matter, does it?  I’m pretty sure I am old enough to understand that everything I see on the screen doesn’t have to be real.  And besides, it makes a damn good story.  Facebook is so huge – Zuckerberg is the world’s youngest billionaire – and the murky circumstances of the website’s birth were just begging to be told.

The actors in this movie do a great job.  Jesse Eisenberg does an excellent job as Zuckerberg, talking quickly, jumping from thought to thought unceasingly, and most of all, portraying him as a believable college student and inventor.   I had previously read an article in Time, who named Zuckerberg as Person of the Year (see article here:,28804,2036683_2037183_2037185,00.html).  The article portrayed him extremely positively, though Orion remarked on a lack of quotes from Zuckerberg, implying him difficult to interview.  Eisenberg’s Mark certainly seems so.  Similarly, I thought Justin Timberlake did an excellent job with Sean Parker, the charming though possibly paranoid inventor of Napster.  I loved the way that Parker and Zuckerberg clicked, and the way that Parker talked his way into so many things.  Armie Hammer played both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the giant crew-rowing twins who sued Zuckerberg for ‘stealing’ their idea for Harvard Connection.

A few side notes – one friend who recommended the movie to me, Stephanie Chang, remarked that the movie treated women as objects.  This is definitely true – each girl in the movie is a bitch, a slut, or even both.  I’m still not sure how I feel about this, but in lieu of the movie’s overall polish, I’m going to let it slide. Also,  I stared at the actor for Eduardo Saverin for a long time before I realized he was Andrew Garfield, Tommy from “Never Let Me Go”.  And then I looked at the actress for Erica Albright for a long time before realizing she was Rooney Mara, our upcoming girl with the dragon tattoo, starring opposite Daniel Craig.  I must be getting old.

Overall – 5/5; I thought everything about this movie was well planned and well executed.  A Best Picture well-deserved.

Best regards,


You fight like a hamster! – “No Strings Attached” – 2.5/5

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to Resident Connections for providing us residents with free movie screening passes!  We got to see “No Strings Attached” an entire five hours before the rest of Chicago, and the theater was super packed.  This made for a lively audience, which is always a great thing to have during a romantic comedy.

“No Strings Attached” stars recent Golden Globe Best Actress Natalie Portman as Emma, in a role that diverges a ton from “Black Swan”.  Opposite her is Ashton Kutcher as Adam, in a not-too-surprising cute/quirky role.  They meet in a series of serendipitous, random, rather nonsensical series of events, and quickly decide to have a unique relationship setup: one that is purely physical, devoid of romance, and of course, has no strings attached.

I think this movie just proves how versatile an actress Portman is.  Coming straight from psychotic “Black Swan”, Portman is easily able to slip into the goofy, sweet character of Emma.  (I liked how Emma was a doctor, pulling 80-hour weeks, by the way.)  The rest of the movie unfolds in prime chick-flick style (our movie audience was maybe 80-20 girls to guys), with a good measure of humor and raunchiness thrown in.

Unfortunately, while this movie has a cute, almost original premise, nothing too deep goes down; the ending is especially bland. This kind of romantic comedy is already overdone, so much so that even the ‘original’ ideas have been overdone.  The original romantic comedy goes like this: boy and girl meet, fall in love, and then something goes bad and someone runs away and the other person chases them to the airport.  Even stories with a little twist, like “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days” or “Hitch”, feel overdone by now.

At least “No Strings Attached” tries for cleverness, and its script is not bad.  The audience laughed at almost every joke, and Portman and Kutcher were both naturals.  There are lots of cute secondary characters, including a dog named Freckles, but that’s all they are, secondary characters.  Emma and Adam each have their own circle of friends, and they are all at least well set up with solid (if shallow) personalities.

A side note that bothered me – the trailer made this seem like Emma and Adam were best friends for a long time, who didn’t want to “worry about their friendship being ruined” (Wikipedia).  But that’s not the case at all – they spend one summer at camp together, meet briefly during college, and then again when the movie starts.  This makes it feel like a lot less is at stake, and was rather disappointing.

Overall – 2.5/5; you’ll have fun and laughs during the ride, but the film makes little impression.

Best regards,


EARLY PRE-RELEASE REVIEW: No Strings Attached — Orion’s Take

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

No Strings Attached is a clever, sexy, and hilarious romp of a film.  Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman fairly sizzle on the screen, their easy chemistry adding to the story’s charm.  Despite a fairly standard plot set-up and denouement this is not just another chick-flit rom-com.  The story spans over a decade and has a lot of quirky characters to boot.  I just wish the ending wasn’t so stupidly predictable.

Ashton Kutcher is Adam, the son of a famous actor who is struggling to get his TV writing career off of the ground without relying on his father’s influence.  Adam has several encounters with a certain girl named Emma (Natalie Portman) who expresses her problems with emotional encounters.  Soon enough they get into a sex-filled relationship without any strings, and that’s when the trouble starts.  Emma can’t handle the emotions, Adam can’t handle the lack of emotions, and damnit, they can’t stand that in each other so they got to break up.  But wait!  They were never together so it doesn’t count as a break-up.

Natalie Portman, coming off a wonderful performance as Nina in Black Swan, shows the depth of emotion available to her.  It’s impressive to see such a spunky and funny characterization come out of someone who in another movie plays a weak and sexually repressed ballet dancer.  And she is wonderfully sexy in a film that demands that sexiness, seemingly without trying.  Ashton Kutcher is just along for the ride, perhaps, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  The sex is less sexy than the date scenes with Natalie Portman perhaps because it’s so awkward.  We don’t really get the flame here that teases us in the sly smiles the two leads exchange.  Also notable is Kevin Kline, who is incredibly funny as Adam’s father.

This movie has its fair share of problems.  The characters other than Adam and Emma, while quirky, never really get developed.  Though some scenes are genuine and endearing, others come off as hammy and overwrought.  The jokes are funny and keep coming, but they don’t cut deeper than the surface, and are used like frosting to hide the holes in this film.  Yet I couldn’t help but be charmed by this film: there was just something about Natalie Portman’s smile that entranced me, some quirk in Ashton Kutcher’s expression that made me laugh.  It’s these two characters that carry the film, for better or for worse.  We could certainly do much worse.

4/5 Waffles



A master of his time: “King Kong” (1933)

January 19, 2011 1 comment

“King Kong” is perhaps one of the most iconic figures in the collective movie-watcher’s mind.  Who can, once they see it, erase that image of an enormous ape at the top of the empire state building, one furry hand clutching a screaming blond and the other swiping madly at fighter planes?  In one of my classes this quarter, we were assigned to watch the 1933 version – the first version before a slew of remakes – and present a review through the guise of a 1933 film reviewer.  I’ll spare you the stream-of-consciousness review I wrote for class (although I had a lot of fun writing it) and instead try to take a balance between modern and original audiences.

The film is about a director, Carl Denham, who takes a crew to an unknown island to make a picture.  At the beginning, the night before the voyage, he picks up a girl to star in it, having been told that with a girl, his films could double their revenue.  Ironically (or perhaps pointlessly not), the blond actress, Fay Wray, seems to fill that exact role in “King Kong” – she spends her time screaming and fainting her way through the scenes.  What makes this film especially remarkable is its inclusion of giant animals – dinosaurs, a loch-ness monster of sorts, huge snakes and, of course, the eponymous monster ape Kong.  This is 1933 that we’re talking about.  Sure, Kong looks ridiculous by today’s standards, but for the time, I can only imagine how exciting he and the other island giants must have been.  As I understand it, Kong was animated through a mixture of puppetry and stop-motion; nearly every scene he’s in is completely filled with his looming, furry body.

Fay Wray’s character, Ann Darrow, quickly falls in love with the ship’s First Mate, Jack Driscoll.  There is one scene that I especially liked – Denham is testing Ann in front of the camera, and we watch her act according to his directions, without knowing exactly what he wants.  He tells her to look up, be amazed, surprised, shocked, terrified, and then, to scream.  I’ll give it to you guys, Fay Wray is one hell of a screamer.  Jack, grimly overlooking the shot, says rather ominously, “What’s he think she’s really going to see?”

Although the film seems ridiculous in many aspects, least of all being the jerky technology that moves Kong, the film is still of a magnificent magnitude.  It’s sort of sexist (all the men go crazy over saving Ann), racist (the crew members are rude and condescending to the stereotyped island natives), and also campy (dinosaurs fighting giant apes?), but in the end, there is no doubting that “King Kong” was truly a king of its time.  It’s one of the 50 best American films according to the American Film Institute, and has since its release been recognized with multiple awards and honors.

Overall – 2.5/5; I personally found the action too dragged out, crushing any messages of human-beast interactions under the constant show-off of fight scenes, but the film remains monumental.  See it if you’re feeling historic, and because it’s such a famous creature of a film.  It’s even all on Youtube, and so you know it’s got to be a classic.

Best regards,


On serial killers and blood spatter analysis: “Dexter: Season 1”

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I only started watching “Dexter” because of all the awards it’s picked up.  Orion started the season without me, and, hating to be left out, I scrambled to catch up.  At first, I hated the show.  I hated how creepy and awkward Dexter was, and I hated how flat and boring all the other characters were; all these impressions were formed from what I would like to conclude is a very poor pilot episode.  Fortunately, “Dexter” gets a lot better a couple episodes in, so much so that it’s the first television show I’ve followed since “Avatar”.

“Dexter” tells the story of a blood spatter analyst named Dexter Morgan, who also just happens to be a serial killer.  Dexter is interesting in that he is a serial killer with a conscience – he only goes for other killers, and has a strict set of ethics.  The show, “Anna Karenina”-style, has a ton of other main characters, including Dexter’s foster sister Deb, his girlfriend Rita and her children, the members of the police department and their respective lives – the list goes on and on.  You might ask how a show about with a serial killer as the protagonist could possibly be any good; the show’s strength lies in its careful development of the characters, and a slow but steady complication of Dexter’s coldness.

“Dexter” is a very much a long-term commitment, as its story requires information from previous episodes to make sense; flashbacks spread throughout the series follow Dexter’s childhood and the massive cast of characters is constantly building on experience from older episodes.  While there are some one-episode characters, the show departs significantly from the simple “one-case-per-episode” style of detective TV shows (a la “Law and Order”).  I’m not sure what it would be like to turn on the TV and watch an episode of “Dexter” from the middle of the season; it might dangerously teeter on the edge of complete confusion, or it might make perfect sense.  Viewers pick up a lot more than one would think, and at times, I feel like “Dexter” really hits us over the head with concepts that have been set in place in previous episodes; perhaps this mechanism is in place to ensure first-time viewers are able to follow.

In Season 1, we meet a serial killer in the first episode, and throughout the whole season, his presence is palpable, growing in meaning as the season progresses.  This very linear story is both slow and driving – it becomes important to follow clues throughout multiple episodes, and this larger scale makes predicting suddenly possible.  (As an example, one rarely guesses the correct culprit or explanation in “Scooby Doo”; the reveal is a surprise, but isn’t that part of the fun?)  So far, with “Dexter,” Orion and I have been able to predict almost every big plot twist so far.  This is of course satisfying, but also lowers my respect for the series.  I am angry when I am not given enough information to figure out mysteries, but at the same time, feel disappointed when I predict a surprise reveal before it comes – do I deserve this eternal torment for my very specific and demanding requirements?  I look forward to the day I see the perfect movie – just enough mystery to go forward, and just enough clues to hit realization at the climax of the movie.

Overall – “Dexter” is a sophisticated, massive television drama with unique characters and scenarios.  Give it a few episodes before passing judgment on its quality, and enjoy the experience of predicting twists before they go down!

Best regards,



Categories: Movie Reviews

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