Archive for March, 2007

23
Mar
07

Rocky Balboa & Rocky: A Dual Review/Retrospective

About two months ago I picked up the original Rocky film on a special edition DVD. It sat on my shelf of “movies to be watched” for about….well…. two months. Surprisingly, as many times as it’s aired on TNT and other channels, I’ve never taken the time to real sit down and watch the entire film as it’s meant to be seen. Like everyone else, I had seen so many scenes of Sly hitting meat in a frozen locker or yelling for Adrian after the fight in a pool of blood and tears. And who could forget the most famous scene in a sports movie ever — the morning run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Actually, I probably had seen the entire film — just in pieces. Like my own Tarantino director’s edition of Rocky.

As I watched Rocky for the first time — I mean, truly watched the film — I was amazed at how much I had seen before, but didn’t actually see. The film opens on a shot of an image of Christ. OK, so no big revelation — lots of folks would get that trivia question right. But there’s something very significant about that opening image of Christ. In my eyes, there is a lot of Christ in watching Rocky in that early movie. For one thing, Rocky would bring honor and dignity to the city of Philadelphia, but much like Christ the savior who came to make all things new, those who saw Rocky before he entered into a rigorous training regiment didn’t see him as anything more than the tough guy in the neighborhood with the good heart. Never did they think that this would be the guy who’d go to Russia and for one moment get the world to stop thinking about the nuclear arms race and the U.S. vs. Russia and instead to focus on our humanity and what makes us alike as opposed to our differences.

More than this, I see a strong parallel between Rocky and the Christ spirit that lives in him in the way that he relates to other characters. When most of us see the first shot of Talia Shire in the pet shop, I’m sure we all saw the same homely woman that the director wanted us to see. But Rocky saw something more. The same applied to the way that he saw beauty in pets and animals that interacted with. There was something compassionate about the spirit of a guy who would listen to some of Pauly’s hurtful statements, yet wouldn’t take advantage of his obvious size advantage. Not to mention the compassion he showed to the debtor whose fingers he was supposed to break, but couldn’t bring himself to do so. Rocky’s not perfect. He’s a tough guy who works for the neighborhood loan shark (and, although we didn’t see him do so, probably had to hurt a few people to pay the rent.) But despite these things, when you watch the dichotomy of his character — the big tough boxer who’s tough enough to track down loans, but so soft in heart that he has to mull over what he should say the next time he sees Adrian — you can’t help but fall in love with his spirit. Continue reading ‘Rocky Balboa & Rocky: A Dual Review/Retrospective’

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21
Mar
07

Krimson & Kream Sky – by Brothers E. Sanford and A. Lewis

(Just a reminder to my brothers in the noble klan — keep achieving.)

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O noble Kappa Alpha Psi,

In my heart, you are always nigh,

For the love of my brothers you cause to be,

Is there anything I can do for thee?

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Under a krimson and kream sky,

Shall I live or shall I die,

All in the name of Phi Nu Pi.

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And shall I live life all though,

To all the world I had to show,

The truth of Phi Nu Pi I did know.

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For when my diamond shines no more,

And I have reached that golden shore,

No man should wonder if I,

Truly loved Kappa Alpha Psi.

21
Mar
07

Welcome Fellow European PS3’ers!

ps3.jpgAfter a very patient time waiting in the rafters, finally the loyal European PlayStation fans will join up with their American and Japanese brethren in owning a PS3. I must say that I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for my European brothers and sisters, as I strongly felt that they had as much right to fight over the less than 500K systems Sony put into the consumer channel during the holiday of 2006. In particular, I’ve always felt a oneness with my British brothers and sisters. I mean, half of our TV content nowadays are remade BBC shows (and their version of the Office is infinitely better — sorry folks, it’s true.) But now that compassion turns to kinship. In less than 24 hours, those wonderful folks across the shore will join the rest of us in scavenging through a library of sub-par titles. (Pun completely intended.)

I am also happy that my post from last year was able to be recycled by quite a few folks in this new series of long lines and one-upsmanship to try and secure a PS3. (I got quite a few letters from folks thanking me for it again, and I appreciate your thoughts.) Hopefully the post will lead to you scoring a PS3, as the stakes are a little higher this go round. While US gamers were gifted with the the critically acclaimed film, Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, our folks across the pond will get a treat for their suffering: a Blu-Ray copy of Casino Royale. And as much as I want to be jealous, the fact that at the last moment Sony snuck up on them with the final insult (removing the hardware backwards compatibility of their PS3), again, I felt the need to mourn for their suffering. (Haven’t they had enough??!!)

But alas. The day is finally here! No longer do you wait in anticipation as you lie awake wondering whether the Cross-Media bar will be clunky or cool. In less than one day……that’s twenty-four short hours…… that sleek black box could be sitting in your very own entertainment system. So take a victory lap for your suffering, Europeans. You deserve it.

However……

….as it has been my job to kill the joy of those who walk into a situation with rose-colored glasses and bring their minds back down to earth, I’m taking this opportunity to do what we call in business “level-setting”, or quite simply, setting the right expectations, as not to cause you to throw a fit. There are quite a few things about your PS3 that you should understand before opening that box. (And perhaps for some who are mortgaging their home — a few things you should know before even picking one up.) Continue reading ‘Welcome Fellow European PS3’ers!’

16
Mar
07

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit…. : Review

Borat was a film that I had intended to see last year.  I’d heard so much about this film and its satire and strangely enough its crossover appeal, that I had to see it.  And so I finally watched today with high expectations. 

First off, to set things right, the official title of the film is, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan“.  <whew>.  I needed to state that up front because the name and everything that came afterwards set the stage for a huge satirical experiment.  Borat is a mock-umentary about a man from Kazakhstan who goes to America in search of a way to help promote his own country.  (Hence the title).  The film manages to pack in quite an array of diverse adventures in it’s short one hour-twenty six minute runtime.  These adventures take Borat through all kinds of ‘fish out of water’ experiences — from a Sunday morning Pentecostal worship service to a southern garage sale to a New York subway.  If nothing else, Borat is certainly not ordinary.  And it isn’t at all predictable.  You’d truly be lying if you said you knew where each turn would take him and the film crew.

Strangely, this film, while a collection of skits that take the Sasha Baron Cohen character through a number of completely unrelated sequences, manages to maintain a degree of cohesion.  The story managed to keep a level of continuity that kept it from being a hodgepodge of unrelated scenes (a la Jackass.  Which doesn’t matter, because I thoroughly enjoyed it.)  Whether it’s true that Sasha Baron Cohen is a genius and this was a master design or perhaps he just got lucky and somehow these scenes all fit together, the movie maintains a flow that makes it easy to follow.

One of the things that struck me most about this film was how uncomfortable it made me.  When it comes to films, I’ve seen some of the most challenging stuff onscreen.  Gore, sexual situations, language — I’ve seen it all.  But somehow, this film manages to make me turn away more than the gore-ridden scenes as I watch real life people respond to Borat as he does his best to make them feel completely uncomfortable.  At first it’s kinda cute and funny when he’s on the train and New Yorkers threaten him with violence.  But later on, it starts to become much more intimate.  And while I snicker a bit at the situations, I start to fidget a bit as I watch older people, who totally don’t get that this is a joke, react to very off-putting situations.

One thing I must say about Sasha Baron Cohen.  Unlike any that has come since, he has managed to be the closest thing to Andy Kaufman.  While many would cry blasphemy at the thought that I’d try and compare the guy who does Ali G to the comic genius of Kaufman, but what many don’t recall is that Andy wasn’t really cool mainstream until he died.  He was just annoying to a lot of folks.  He made you squirm in your chair.  And you never knew quite when he was joking or when he was serious.  Much in the same way, Sasha has managed to do almost no interviews since the films release without being in character, his efforts to shock, disturb and disrupt our norms is what makes him interesting to watch.  And while he hasn’t done anything as wild as wrestle Jerry Lawler or tape lunch with Fred Blassie, he is certainly on his way.  I was kinda proud that he decided to turn down the offer to present at the Oscars because they asked him to do it out of character.  And I’m not even a fan of his shows.

So, did I like the film?  Well, yes.  But not on the level that most folks probably appreciated it.  I’m no deeper than anyone else, but my impression from talking to many who saw the film was that people were reacting the the humorous nature of the situation.  While I found those situations funny (as well as uncomfortable) I think the film works on a very different level when you stop focusing on Borat and you start to examine these everyday folks who are literally from a cross section of the country who emit some of the worst behavior.  While some of Borat’s behavior is ridiculous and crude, one might argue that with the exception of one lone local station weatherman, that everyone in the film was really no better in how they reacted to Borat.  In fact, some of the worst behavior in the movie comes from the people who aren’t featured.  I was amazed that these people weren’t able to stop the footage from making it into the film.  Much of it is very unflattering (to say the least).  For me, this movie works best as a mirror put up to our faces at just how insensitive we can be (when we think nobody’s looking.)  I think that South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, works better as a satire piece, but this one should definitively give film classes and psychology classes much to discuss.

Borat is a very unique film that will definitely have you walking away thinking about it for a few days.  It’s not a particularly exceptional satirical film and probably not even among the best mock-umentaries.  But it does make you laugh, (and squirm), but more importantly, it should make you think.  Check this one out.  (And for a good discussion among friends, talk about your reactions to the non-featured characters that we meet.)

16
Mar
07

"The Truth? Oh, But the Lie Is So Much More Fun!"

Internet urban legends. They’ve been around since the first e-mail was sent. And of course, urban legends themselves have been with us for as long as we’ve been able to talk. There are myths and legends like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy that we just propagate — most of the time without even knowing why. And then there are those special kinds of myths. Urban legends fall into that weird category of “lies that somebody starts….but seem so detailed (or perhaps so much fun to tell) that we just keep pushing them and pushing them.”

I think it was understandable twenty years ago to think that if you flashed your headlights lights at a car driving without their headlights on that a gang might follow you and shoot you. Or that college kids might drug you at a party and cut out your kidneys when you passed out and leave you in a tub of ice then next morning with a note. But that was before the Internet. Now there’s a seemingly endless stream of information that we can access to verify if those things that we ingest are actually fact or fiction. We collectively do millions of Google searches every day. But is anybody really searching for the truth anymore.

Close friends know me as the guy not to send spam to. If I’m on a list along with twenty other folks and there’s a big lie in the header, you’ll surely get a response with the truth. Snopes.com has become my best friend some days. All you need to do is a simple search on their site and you’ll find out whether Neil Armstrong was actually talking about his childhood neighbor when he landed on the moon. Oh, what’s that? You don’t know the legend? Well, allow me to share it with you……

According to some, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, after saying his famous “…one small step for man…” line, (which, in itself, is being disputed), he allegedly also said, “Good luck, Mr. Gorsky”. When later asked why he uttered these words and just who in the world this ‘Gorsky’ guy was, Neil explained that when he was a child, he recalls hearing his neighbors during a domestic spat. Through their bedroom window, Armstrong allegedly overheard Mrs. Gorsky say, “Oral sex? You want oral sex?!! You’ll get oral sex when the kid next door walks on the moon!”

Ah, what a sweet story of triumph, prophecy, and the American spirit. So beautiful. So charming. So…..wrong. This never happened. It’s not even kinda true. Just someone behind a keyboard thought it would be a good idea to shoot this out of a canon and people went for it. And how could you blame folks? I mean, it’s a really cute story. But the disturbing idea to me came a few years after I’d heard it. A friend of mine (who I consider to be rather tech savvy) had been one of the few that hadn’t come across this e-mail. Or maybe he had and just wanted to send it around again for nostalgia’s sake. Whatever the reason, it came my way. Being a dear friend of mine, I just wanted to send him a message with the truth. I didn’t “cc:” the world. I didn’t shout “WRONG!”. I very simply and nicely said something to the effect of, “Hey – isn’t this a cool story. I actually read this article though (insert link) that says it’s not actually true. But it’s still cool, huh? See you at lunch”. Later that day when we sat down to consume our fine afternoon cuisine, he said something which still sticks with me……

“Hey – did’ya get my e-mail.”

“Yeah – I read it. But I kinda want to believe that it was true. I’m just going to believe that it happened.”

And therein lies the problem. People want to believe the lie. There’s no fun in the joy-killing notion that Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren never went on Oprah and talked about not wanting people of color to wear their clothes. There’s no fun in knowing that they don’t actually serve rats in your favorite restaurant. Or that you won’t grow roach eggs in your mouth after licking a stamp or an envelope. The real fun is in passing around the lie. And people like me just kill the fun. Continue reading ‘"The Truth? Oh, But the Lie Is So Much More Fun!"’

11
Mar
07

300: Review

I recall the first time I saw Gladiator in the theaters. I was left with a sense of bravery that made me walk just a little bit taller and with my chest out just a little bit more on my way back to the parking lot. It’s almost the stuff that can make a man decide on a whim to sign up that very day to go and serve his country during wartime. Russell Crowe was so charismatic as Maxiumus Aurelius. And the film has remained one the staples in my DVD library. It’s a showpiece. It’s the kind of movie that you pull out to impress folks with the quality of your display. There were several attempts in the time since the film’s release in 2000 by directors to try and capture that same sense of battle and courage on screen. Most failed. In this reviewer’s opinion, I think we just found a film that eclipses Gladiator in almost every way.

In a sense, it seems somewhat petty to compare Gladiator to 300. Besides the fact that they both deal with sword and shield ancient civilization combat, they are each great films in their own right. And in fairness to Gladiator, I’m certain that Riddley Scott’s directing of that film gave a lot of inspiration to the makers of 300. But I draw the comparison because 300 succeeds in revitalizing the spirit of Gladiator in a way that none since have been able to. Both are the kinds of films that will actually make me drag my lazy carcass out of the house to watch an experience in the theater that is well worth my nine bucks.

300 is a film that is based on the Frank Miller graphic novel dramatization about the real-life Battle of Thermopylae, which took place in 480 B.C. Frank Miller tells his dramatized story of 300 Spartan warriors who valiantly defend their country from the spreading threat of Persian rule brought on in the form of a million Persian warriors.

First and foremost, the film is a visual masterpiece. Much in the same way that Sin City was incredibly artistic in it’s attempt to provide the viewer with a moving version of the comic book, 300 is a breathtaking visual journey. I didn’t read the graphic novel, but one could watch this film and see the comic book like influence that Frank Miller brought to the screen. The film’s color scheme is incredibly drab and moody. You won’t get any greens or blues or yellows here. Just a lot of earth tones contrasted by the red capes of the Spartans…..well, that and the blood that spills across the screen. (More on that in a minute). The colors and digitized scenery succeed in giving this film a unique and unmatched style. When I was watching the film, I felt as if there were at least fifty or sixty unique shots that would be perfect for a desktop background. Although the subject matter is very destructive and warlike, there’s an unmatched beauty in the way in which the scenes are presented. This will be a film that will unquestionably adorn the top shelf of my DVD collection.

I’m sure that many of the more traditional and conservative (not politically conservative) reviewers will make much of the violence that takes place during the film. And there’s no doubt about it — this film more than earns it’s R-rating. But I think more is made about the violence in 300 than is probably warranted. First off, let’s face facts — wars do exist and they’re ugly. And regardless of the number of propaganda films, commercials and other devices used to trick people into thinking that there’s something glamorous about being a soldier, the fact remains that it’s hell. Without getting too political, there are many that were in support of actually going to war, but will criticize a film for it’s fictional depiction of war-like conflict. Whatever happens during the two-hour showing of this film pales in comparison to some of the horror stories that can probably be told by our men and women — many of whom are probably on duty as I write this review safely behind the covering of freedom that they’ve given me. So, yes – 300 is a violent film. But it’s a depiction of a historical war. And violent is what war is.

As hardcore as some the onscreen battles in 300 are, comparing it to some other violence onscreen reveals one significant difference. Yes, 300 is a violent film, but it’s not gruesome. There aren’t any guts hanging out. It’s almost Matrix-like in nature, as there’s blood. but not an excessive amount of blood, such as what you’d see in a slasher film or Saving Private Ryan. The violence is blended very well with the over-the-top style fanciful and legend-style narration of the film. Continue reading ‘300: Review’

11
Mar
07

Going the Way of the Drive-In

3d.jpgJust this past week, a friend and I were debating over the idea that ‘the theater’ — that is, the physical movie theater — had outlived it’s usefulness. As nostalgic as I often find myself in this blog, I am unapologetically on the pessimistic side of this discussion. After years of patronizing these establishments, I’m strongly coming to the conclusion that there’s little that National Amusements or any other mega-plex theater can offer me that a $2000 HDTV with a $200-300 surround sound setup, an HD movie player and a Netflix account can’t deliver.

OK, sure, we’re talking about a substantial investment here. Not many folks have that kinda cash laying around (even during tax season) to invest in a $2000+ display. But the price of displays are coming down. Way down. I saw some great 42″ plasma displays for $1200 – $1800 recently. And prices are only going to go down even further. If you’re going to have one high priced item in your home, aside from your mattress and your sofa, I’d argue that your display should probably be the most expensive item. It’s probably the centerpiece of most family entertainment. And at $8 on average for a movie ticket, plus cash for snacks and fuel, it probably makes sense in the long run to invest in your own home theater.

The annoyances alone are enough to make me strongly consider abandoning theaters altogether. Kids kicking the back of your seat during the performance. Parents scolding. Children crying. Cell phones emitting tinny ringtones (and even worse, the extremely rude few that actually hold phone conversations during a showing). Having to sliding around on oily, buttered floors in the dark. The inability to pause the showing when “nature calls” — or to even stop and go back a bit when I feel that I missed some small-yet-significant detail. Overpriced, unhealthy (and poor tasting) food. And let’s not forget the know-it-all guy who has to verbally navigate his wife/girlfriend through each plot turn. These are just a few of the annoyances that are driving folks like me away from the theater.

I’ve heard some make the argument that taking away these annoyances might change my mind about the experience. Not likely. I’ve heard Alex Lindsay on his This Week In Media podcast talk about some of the theaters on the west coast that try to offer a more upscale experience — some by installing high quality displays or upping the quality of the food. One attraction in San Francisco actually has compartmentalized sections for intimate showings with you and your friends. These are all nice tries (and I’d still like to check those theaters out someday), but for my money, I’d rather watch the film on a 50″ plasma with DTS.

I’m not completely progressive. Some of my most memorable film experiences were with a crowd of strangers as we reacted to an action film with shouts and applause. Or even crying together with an audience at a touching scene. Those were some great moments. And I can look back on those memories and smile. But looking forward, I’d still rather be home with my 50″ 1080p LCD set. Continue reading ‘Going the Way of the Drive-In’