Sunday, June 15, 2008

SYC Reviews: The Simpsons Movie

There are a series of movies I've missed especially in the last year in theaters. One of those is what will be reviewed today: The Simpsons Movie. I had the chance to see it recently, and it is yet another film that has expectations built up over so many years (pretty much 20 at this point) that would be hard to exceed. Regardless of that, what follows is a fun experience.

The Simpsons is both a highly loved property and by now, grating on some tv watchers' nerves. This may be because after nearly two decades of shows, it's hard to be original and creative. The show does manage to come up with new stuff each week, though many times they are retreads of old material, and the main issue some come up with is that it just isn't as clever or funny as it used to be. Ironically, a few of the shows that followed the film's release seemed to reinvigorate the funny back into the show. The issue probably just stems from the fact that culture today has moved towards the Family Guy style of random humor instead of the family showcase that is the Simpsons. So while it has always been a big bankable show, what took so long to make a movie? Why do it now, when the show isn't quite as popular as it used to be, and how can it live up to the name?

The danger in making a movie based on a currently running TV show is that if it isn't good enough, it can nearly doom the show. For instance, the X-Files film didn't really do much to keep the series alive and it seemed the Beavis and Butthead film was, while entertaining, the last joke for that show as well. However, if you look at something like South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, the film not only was a big success, it brought it back into the spotlight and allowed it to become the 10 year long running juggernaut it is today. So what does the Simpsons movie do? Well it kind of falls in between. It many ways it plays like an extended episode, but also one of the funnier episodes in years. Probably the best thing about is the big screen feel it has, even just the enhanced sound and crisper picture give it that cinematic jolt.

Plot-wise, it's not all that deep but it has just enough to give it a movie-sized issue. Enough that Homer screws things up so bad that the entire town wants his head and the Simpson family is on the run from both them and the government. Of course it is seemingly impossible to think up a story that would be bigger than anything they've ever done, let alone trying to not copy South Park's huge war/hell scenario. Still, the scope is just big enough to feel like it's worth it and the characterizations are quite excellent.

The most important part of this film though? The jokes, no question and there are quite a few good ones. Some smack you over the head like the sight gags, others are subtle yet smart/cute (Bart saying "Oh my god" after having an amazing hot cocoa from Flanders that he at first refused), and others are repetitive yet hit everytime like the totally enjoyable Spider-Pig. The film never once drags, though the beginning and parts of the middle may seem more like side trips than part of the main story. At the very least, the climax is both fun and exciting to watch.

In all, The Simpsons Movie is for those that both enjoy the series and who might like to take at least one last trip with primetime television's most beloved American cartoon family. It's also a pretty good animated film in general, just don't expect the kind of mesmerizing stuff you'd get from a Pixar movie. So The Simpsons Movie grabs the Silver Medal of D'oh-nuts. Mmm, silver pastries. Put it on, lay back, and have a fun time.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SYC Reviews: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Hello fellow intrepid world travelers. It was a few weeks ago that I had the chance to see the 4th in the Indy series, yet another return of 80s brethren onto the 21st century screen. Finally, I have a little time to write up my review, so here goes nothing.

Let's get one thing straight, the anticipation of a film of this magnitude is incredibly difficult to live up to and as such makes it almost impossible to be as good as most fans would hope. Now with that in mind, we leap straight back into the world of Jones. Of course this time out, it's the 1950s, 1957 to be precise. We find our world weary hero at a "landmark" of sorts, where many relics are kept. Suffice to say that the Russians, our villains for this adventure or Nazi-lite as I refer to them, want Dr. Jones to find a clue that will lead them to the fabled Crystal Skull.

Eventually Indy escapes all this while surviving an almost ridiculous event, and yet by now we should expect this of our pulp hero. It occurs early on so you're either going to go with it or not. Either way, it will serve as yet another reminder that Ford is old now, and it's the 50s, so just keep that in mind. Just as Harrison is being accused of assisting the Red Menace, Mutt Williams shows up, aka Shia Lebouf, to get Dr. Jones' help. Seems a certain Professor Oxley (John Hurt) has been captured/gone missing. Of course this is all tied together as Oxley was looking for (and actually found) the Crystal Skull. Mutt and Indy get a quick little joyride through the school in a fun chase scene that gives Marcus Brody a chance to take down some Russians posthumously. Mutt is a near card-carrying Greaser, leather jacket and motorcycle at the ready, not to mention a trademark comb.

Together they travel down to South America, beginning the main part of the adventure that leads them in a race against the Russians for the city of gold itself: El Dorado. This is the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where when united with the other 12 skulls, um well, something will happen. I won't spoil if you haven't seen it by now, but suffice to say that KOTCS takes a certain departure from standard Indy fare. It does fall well in line with the times it takes place in, but it may leave a bad taste in the mouths of those who love Raiders and Last Crusade. Anyway, enough of the plot, let's analyze the cast.

Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones, it's as simple as that. Even at this age, he still evokes cool confidence, intelligence, and whip-crack (pardon the pun) smarts. Shia isn't too bad as Mutt, but when we find out who he really is, well that will either have some questioning if it's a good idea or if he's capable of the role. Still I think he does a fine job, just not exceptional or anything. Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood, and while she clearly looks older in that "whoa haven't seen you in like 20 something years" look, she almost looks like she's having too much fun in the movie. Hey I would too, but little seems to bother her and she has at least a half-smile through almost all her screen time. Hurt is fine as Oxley, a professor gone cuckoo by the Skull. Cate Blanchett is our villain, Irina, leader of the Russian group. You almost don't recognize her and I enjoyed her sword fighting and playful accent. As always, the Indy villain bites off more than they can chew and Indy knows when to call it quits before they do.

The joy of the film comes not so much from the story, but from the characterizations we've come to love. The book and fist smarts, the sense of adventure and witty one-liners, the crazy chase/fight scenes, creepy creatures, and of course snakes, which probably evoke the funniest joke in the film. There are bits that may either go too far or be too ridiculous, but that is up to the beholder. Personally, I found an enjoyable little romp back through the best adventure character I've ever known.

With all that said, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets a deserved Silver Medal of Part-time Archeology. To me, the film cannot live up to the original Raiders of the Lost Ark or my personal favorite, Last Crusade. It is however, still more fun than Temple of Doom, and should get at least one chance to see it in theaters. Just hearing that famous Raiders March and seeing Ford in the hat once again is nearly enough.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

SYC Reviews: Iron Man

It has been a while since a new post has popped up here, but I'm motivated enough at this moment to make one. Why? Because I just got back from seeing the first big blockbuster of the 2008 summer movie season, Iron Man. That alone should get you to know where I'm going with this.

The first thing to note is that Iron Man is based off a comic book by Marvel, so we're talking superhero action film here. But hold on, it blends all this with smart writing and well placed and timed comedy. If you still need a good reason to see this movie, then here it is: Robert Downey, Jr. Downey simply IS Tony Stark, the protagonist who will become Iron Man. Tony is a weapons manufacturer and a bloody rich one at that. He's got it all and flaunts it without a second thought; Downey's Stark showcases his ego, his ignorance of those around him that care about him, and the eventual turn around when he realizes the impact his weapons are having on the world.

This film is at its heart, an origin story for Iron Man, which from the comics has been updated to Tony having to deal with a terrorist organization that has been using his own weapons to fight their war. It of course goes even deeper than that, but the real enemy is higher up in the food chain. The supporting cast begins with a great performance by Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Stark's co-controller of the company and the man who opposes Stark's change of heart about the business. He slides into this role with ease and never comes across as over the top, he has a means to an end one way or the other. Gwyneth Paltrow is also excellent as Pepper Potts, the Money Penny to Stark's Bond; she remains a likable character and a great playing off point for Stark. Lastly we have Terrance Howard as Jim Rhodes, who doesn't get to do too much but what he does is just fine.

So is this just an action film? No, but when there is action, it's fantastic. Special effects are unquestionably top notch and the armor just seems so darn cool and real. Fights are handled so well and you always love being reminded that a billionaire playboy is the one in the suit. When there isn't action, there's a good enough origin story going on and again, very nice comedy. Stark's robots/computer Jarvis alone provide more than enough fodder, let alone Stark's razor sharp wit.

This film just works on so many levels, as a very fun blockbuster, as a comic book origin story, as an action-comedy, and as a great character study. There's really very little more you can ask of this film, it is pulled off with deft aplomb and you will be hard pressed to leave the theater without feeling more than satisfied at the experience. Plus, for the comic book geeks out there, there are a few hints of things to come, and quite the geek out moment after the credits roll. Lastly, Stan Lee's cameo is his best yet, quick but hilarious.

I think it's quite clear by now that Iron Man takes home the Gold Medal of Shellheads. I highly recommend Jon Favreau's excellent directorial take on the character and Robert Downey, Jr.'s shining performance. A man you might hate in real life is truly a character you can love on the big screen. If the other summer movies can live up to this one, we're in for a hell of a ride this year. Simple as this: see Iron Man.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Life (Not Aquatic) Update

Hey all, so while I like to sometimes post about just about anything, I also as you have likely noticed, like to use this space for personal stuff. So here's a quick catch up on things going on for me, for those that care to read about ;)

For starters at work, while I'm no closer to enjoying what I do, I am appreciated for it it seems. Come early March, I'll have a pay raise for an extra $15,000, which will bring me up to $60,000 annual salary. Yes this is the most money I've ever made and is for now the reason I'm sticking with this job. Also, since the job works for me for now (in the sense that while I don't enjoy it, I am good at it), I've already mentioned that I only plan to leave for a better reason such as a job that would definitely pique my interest. I'm not in a rush like I was before.

This also likely means I'll renew my lease here, finally not having to move a year later. It'll be a breath of fresh air sticking in one place for a bit. I don't know how long that will last, but I see no reason to move. It's convenient, price isn't too bad and it's rather big for a one bedroom apartment. Community is also simple, usually quiet, and very safe. College age kids are pretty rare, which is both good and bad.

Hey speaking of social stuff, I've joined the Or Hadash, which is a Jewish young professionals association. This means Jewish people from the surrounding Orlando area from ages 21 to 40 get together for all kinds of social events. I went to my first one on Thursday, so yes I was actually out of the house for once on Valentine's Day, just not on a date. This was a Happy Hour at Urban Flats, a neat little place (even though I don't drink) where 20-30 people showed up (this is apparently only half of what normally shows up due to the holiday). Basically it lasted for 3 hours and I got there before anyone else did, which felt very awkward. There were several times where I thought I might run out the door and get out of there. If you don't know, I do in fact have a form of social anxiety, which of course wouldn't really manifest itself around those I'm comfortable or familiar with. Things were awkward at first, but eventually I got to meeting some cool people and some pretty cute girls. It went so well at the end that 8 of us went out to dinner afterwards. I got a chance to chat it up with a pair of Asian Jewish sisters (how neat is that right?), one of which worked at Disney (sweet!), so we talked up a storm about that. Another girl I talked to for much of the dinner was completely awesome and sadly taken; her boyfriend wasn't in town or something but I could easily see why she had one, one of the nicest people I've ever met.

I did also go to a dinner and Shabbat last night but I left before the service because things just weren't going well. Almost no one from the group showed up, those that did were boring and anti-social, the food was bad, and it was basically a really tiny temple which just had a lot of much older people who all knew each other. Maybe I'm not really looking for that kind of religious experience right now, just social stuff. I want to meet people my age, make some great friends, and if I'm incredibly lucky, meet a great Jewish girl and start a relationship. One can only hope. I'm saddened enough that I'll be reaching 25 and never had a girlfriend before, I certainly plan to change this. Oh and Ultimate Frisbee is tomorrow, weee!

What else, what else... Alright not to brag or anything, but I've made several commitments in my life, including the above social outreaching, to overall improve myself. I'm sure most of you know I had joined a gym months ago and started personal training. Now I find myself at the gym every free night that I have, this is sometimes 6 times a week depending on what I have going on. Thanks to this, I've no shame admitting that I'm finally losing weight at a good pace. Since I started a change to my diet well over a year ago and added more exercise, I've dropped over 20 pounds in that time. I won't say what my weight is unless you're really curious to know. Suffice to say I have a long way to go before I'm satisfied with the results, but I'm very happy that I'm making this commitment. I'm also doing my best to change my attitude towards both life and people in general, trying to become a "nicer" person. Not a doormat mind you, but I feel I could be far better rounded in the way I interact and express myself.

It is, as sappily as I can put it, some of the first steps on my road back to a state of happiness. It is one I don't plan to deter myself from. Clearly I've been doing a lot of thinking and reevaluating of my life in the past few months. Finally I'm taking some action to ensure some of these things. Hell, I even started up the story that Sean suggested to me. I don't know when I'll get that done, but it is a short story so it's something I feel is far more manageable than trying to put together an entire novel.

Well I guess that's about it for now. Thanks for reading this far if you did, I enjoyed writing it. Have a kickass day, my friends.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Just Messin' With Ya, Bro

Did you ever feel like you were going along with your day, things are going just fine, pretty well in fact, but someone attempts to ruin it by "messin' with ya"? Here's what I'm talking about. At work, I'm with a bunch of guys who range from boring to cool to just plain annoying. The amount of people worth talking to there is smaller than I would hope. I notice though that those that speak up sometimes have a tendency to say something not just rude but sometimes offensive. Of course it depends on the context. I've got at least one guy at work that we go back and forth with the same daily in-jokes about me being Jewish and him being Indian. He jokes about Hitler and stuff, and I joke about, well less effectively him being a tech support guy (which he actually isn't, just quality assurance, yes that's much better than being tech support, no dealing with customers, just us developers). Maybe we're just on the same wavelength of humor because we've each got an understanding that while we're sort of jabbing back and forth, it's completely not meant to be offensive at all. Could be that the way it's said, it's clearly just said to be funny but not at each other's expense. There's laughing immediately on both sides so there must be something to that. Basically we're both well aware that we aren't really making fun of each other's culture.

But then I encounter some other people, including one guy who works right next to me. He's the type that just offhandedly will make fun of someone and then quickly back it off. Something like "Well, if the code doesn't work I'm sure Bob broke it. Oh hey Bob, didn't see you there." And in this context, of course he knew Bob was there the whole time. It's joking for sure, but it's every single day and endless. That's of course a very mild version of what I'm talking about. On a near daily basis, it seems someone there always has to make a remark that either slightly or strongly makes fun of me or others. I'll admit, I can be kind of sensitive to this stuff, and I know I shouldn't be. I know if I say something like that, I want it to be clear that there's no way I mean true offense if possible. But some of these guys just throw it out there and move on. Hell I was made fun of for using "big words" as it were, apparently having a vocabulary is taboo in engineering, go figure.

I'm not trying to blow this out of proportion though, I'm well aware that this is VERY small stuff. Over time it can get to you, but I often ignore it and just do my best to brush it off. I don't often retaliate unless I know we're clearly in sync that we're both just making jokes, but not directly at someone's offense (hopefully what I'm trying to say is clear, I can't think of any other good examples). What I'm wondering is, why do people feel the need to do this? Breaking up the monotony of the day with humor is expected, but why is the most common desire to do it at someone else's expense? I even went grocery shopping today and had the bagger make fun of the fact that I was buying lean cuisine or low fat things. Apparently he thought the idea of trying to eat right or lose weight is either funny, stupid, or something I'm not aware of. Sure the kid was either in high school or he was of younger college age, someone I could actually see making fun of me if we were in high school together.

Oh that's another thing. I'm trying not to make this too personal but it's hard not to. In grade school I often felt like a target for these kinds of things. Sure I was nerdy and did well, so I get that dumb kids wouldn't like that and acted accordingly. But this kind of thing has always seemingly been around me. Are there just that many dumb fools running around or is it something about me? If so I'd sure like to know. Ah maybe I'm being paranoid. It's just something I've observed lately and I thought I'd point it out. Obviously I'm not going to let it bother me that much, I've got more important things to do.

This is just one of those life observations that makes you think (and sometimes worry about the human race). Maybe this is odd coming from me, but if people were nicer to each other (and that goes for me, too), maybe society as a whole would improve. Can't we all just get along?