Category Archives: Movies


Kristin picked out a movie at Redbox as a surprise, and she picked a movie that I hadn’t really heard of, 50/50.

Wow, it was really good.

It’s a “comedy” about dealing with cancer, and I was really impressed with the way it took a serious topic, worked it for some laughs, but at the same time had complex, flawed characters and made us care about them.  I have never watched such an up/down (laugh one minute, cry the next) movie before.

You should just pick it up, it’ll be better if you don’t read about it too much first.

Good pick, Kristin!

— Nat

How to Train Your Dragon


Short take – this is a really fun movie that I could (and will, time and technology permitting) watch over several times, preferably in blu-ray on a big screen, and maybe someday in 3D.  The animation it top notch, the story is good without being overly dumbed down for a “child” audience, and frankly I enjoyed the time I spent watching it.  It is one of those few animated movies, like Ice Age, The Incredibles and WALL-E where I not only thought I had not only be entertained but had been told a true story in a way that paid homage to great film making.

Go watch it, you’ll be glad you did.

As an aside, we watched streaming from Amazon on our Blu-Ray player because it was only $.99.  I’ll be trying that service out some more, but first impressions are that quality is good but it is a little to easy to spend money on the Amazon Video On Demand (VOD) portal.  Some sort of screen that summarizes what you are getting and exactly how much you will really be charged, like many other online transactions, would be quite helpful.


What happened to Nottingham?

The experience I had with going to a liberal arts college is echoed by many of the people I know who attended them: some of the best classes you take are the ones outside your major.  With that I absolutely agree.  Beer in Society, for example.  Brewing beer while learning about the impact it had on human civilization, enabling it essentially, while studying the history of alcohol in the U.S. and how it is even now an important part of our social ecosystem was incredible and had nothing what-so-ever to do directly with computer science.

Introduction to Film was another incredible class, the type of class I would urge anyone to take.  How many classes are their where you learn to enjoy and appreciate the work of others?  All sorts of things were taught in the class, from technical terms and camera techniques to how a director is only responsible for one part of the movie and how so much of it rides upon the editors who cut the movie from the epic amounts of film down to the tightly controlled sequence that people pay to see.

What might have been missing, however, was that just as an editor can butcher or enrich a film, so to can the director and actors butcher the story.  This what allegedly happened to Nottingham which is now showing as Gladinhood…  Robinator… Robin Hood!  That’s it!  Here is an excellent break down of what allegedly happened to the screen play and a plea to change to the system, its a decent bit of reading but I found it very interesting:

Robbing from the poor (writer)

How I got there was fairly intersting, but safe to say I followed the link from this not-so-flattering review (not for the easily offended, although I found it amusing and it is a much quicker read than the previous link):

Robin Hood:  Anatomy of a Cluster****

In the end the movie will be added to my Netflix queue, which means that it will be on its way in to my house about ten years or so, or perhaps never.  My definitive Robin Hood experience will always be the Kevin Costner version, which I watched many a time when I was about ten years old.  Don’t try to change my mind – or I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!  🙂


Kick-Ass (The Movie)

If you were thinking about going to see The Losers, please do what I should have done and ago see Kick-Ass instead.  This is another comic book adaptation but it is done much better and the story is much more original.  It is about super heroes that don’t really have powers, ala The Watchmen but still take the world into their own hands.   This could have been the beginning of the world of the Watchmen.

Yes, she can.

Yes, she can.

I am going to keep this short, because I think you should just go watch the movie.  It has the most dangerous 11 year-old girl that you will see on the big screen.  It is a little gory, and the pacing is a little slow to start with but it takes off and the cinematography and action scenes are pretty killer.  Nicholas Cage has a great showing, as do many other actors in this movie that you probably haven’t seen before.

Grade: A

It’s worth seeing in the theater.


The Losers (2010)

Movies based on comic books, especially Marvell comics (Spider-Man!) are the types of movies that I really want to see in the theater.   The Losers is based on a comic book, I guess, not that I had ever heard of it.  It’s about a covert hit team that gets double crossed way down in Bolivia and then has to make some compromises in order to get back to the states so they can get answers, revenge, and their old lives back.

The movie has some great action scenes and some nifty cinematography that invokes the scene by scene transitions you would find in a comic book, I’ll give it that, and comic book based movies could make good use of this technique to great effect in the future.  The issue I take with it is that it takes a comic book and puts into our world, so when you are watching some of the scenes the suspension of disbelief is broken as you think “no way would that have worked.”  Movies like Spider Man or the Watchmen change the world enough so that you can take little details and shelve them and that makes them digestible as a whole.  Without having read the comic, I think what happened was the PG-13 rating and the decision to try and keep the setting light, which didn’t jive while at all with what was going on, they just made the good guys too “good.”  How am I supposed to feel sorry for these guys when they cause huge collateral damage to people in the way of their objectives?

I really enjoyed the character “Jensen” who has also played Johnny Storm (the guy who can start on fire) in the Fantastic 4 and Captain America in the upcoming Avengers movie.  The character is a ripped, geeky commando who wears the best t-shirts (lol @ the zombie t-shirts) but can talk to women without making a fool out of himself.  Compared to the utterly cliched Colonel and Bad-Girl roles that are present, it was at least refreshing to have a new type of role and reminded me a lot of Battlefield Bad Company 2 – which is a good thing.  As a side note, how can you be both Johny Storm and Captain America?  It seems like at some point that could become an issue, didn’t the Fantastic 4 at least encounter the Avengers?

Anyway, the movie has been panned as a forgettable action flick, which I suppose it is.

Grade: C+

It’s worth a rental or Netflix queue addition if you do like action movies.



The Christmas break gave me a chance to get back in the movie watching groove.  Kristin and I saw a couple together, then we watched a couple back at the farm with my mom and dad.  Don’t the let “the farm” fool you, “the farm” is more technologically with it than my own home theater setup.  I only have a bigger screen.

Bolt, DVD @ home

This is fantastic movie that Disney released last year.  It was always sorta-kinda on my list to see, but we had never made a priority out of it.  Seeing the backlog of 150 movies in our two movie a month Netflix queue, it is amazing that we got it for Christmas.  Kristin must have bumped it to the top, so I’ll give her the credit for the excellent selection.

The story of Bolt is relatively simple – a dog (Bolt) thinks he has super powers because a studio has been using him in a TV show and has always kept him in the dark to preserve his method acting.  An evil exec shows up on set, shakes it up and Bolt ends up getting mailed across the country because he thought that his Person, Penny, was in trouble.  As Bolt journeys back from New York to Hollywood, we meet several amusing groups of pigeons that stereotype each region, a cat with some emotional issues (aren’t they all crazy?) and the most awesome hamster ever in a movie.  I don’t even need to see G-Force to reach this conclusion.  Amazingly, there is some pretty witty and laugh out loud funny dialogue that results from this setup.  Paired with the technical prowess showed in the gorgeous CGI rendering, this was an incredibly easy movie to enjoy.

Grade: A-

Avatar, AMC 3D @ Roseville

You’ve heard about this movie.  I tried to go opening night but the sellout crowds were a put off seeing as my parents and sister were up and we wanted to also get in some family time.  When Kristin and I tried to go again on Christmas day, the show we wanted to see was sold out, so we got tickets for the next one and got in line, 3D glasses in hand.  It was definitely worth the wait and the $13 per ticket it cost to see.

The movie was fantastic on several levels.  Technically, in 3D it was gorgeous and it was one of few movies where I felt like the big theater experience was worth the coin.  Check this movie out in the nicest theater you have available to you.  You’ll be getting immersed in a new world, and you owe it to yourself to do that in the best environment possible as it is a nearly three hour time commitment.

Next up, the story was a great chunk of sci-fi.  Maybe it was watered down a touch for more general consumption but I still thought it was engrossing.  This a brand new world, brand new story and originality was refreshing and it was nice that they didn’t feel the need to use an existing piece of sci-fi and then vulgarize it for a movie.  It is very accessible and yet you can ponder the movie afterward if you so desire.  To anyone who wants to discuss the question “How does it feel to have betrayed human kind?” I’d be more than willing to engage.  The drive to Iowa on the 26th gave me a great opportunity to reflect.

This is a technically advanced Braveheart (which I also loved) that puts you literally onto a different world.  Its a sensory experience that you’ll be sorry to have missed that you don’t need to be a science fiction fan to get into.  That said, this movie is going to be in theaters a long, long time.

Grade: A

Inglorious Bastards, Blu-Ray @ The Farm

A fictional movie that is set in World War 2 France, this movie is a testament to Quent Tarantino’s film making prowess.  Lightning paced, viciously meticulous dialogue and astounding set and camera work layer the experience of this movie.  Yet, like our beloved Ogre once pointed out the Donkey, not all layers make everyone happy.   And if everyone truly loves cake and parfait, this movie is more like an onion.  Its violence and parallel universe type story line might be very off putting for some.

Inglorious Bastards is the type of movie you should prepare to watch.  The lights should be low, your cell phone off, your popcorn and beverage set before you.  Then hit play and and pay attention to all the detail.  If you do enjoy the movie, I am imagine you’ll be seeing it several times as there will be new details, new implications and foreshadowing in the dialogue and a host of other minutiae that are impossible to catch in one pass.  Sadly, I own this on Blu-Ray but have no player of my own.  I guess I’ll have to wait a bit to view it again, but that is OK.  I have other movies to see for the first time.

I’m torn on grading this movie.  I typically really enjoy Tarantino’s work… yet I didn’t find this movie supremely entertaining.  On the flip side of that, I appreciate its cinematic quality.  When you are up for a “good” movie versus a “fun” one, this would be an excellent choice.

Grade: B+

District 9, Blu-Ray @ The Farm

Another day, another alien movie about a guy who becomes an alien who has what humans want.  This one is quite a bit different than the Avatar experience, however.  It is done in a documentary fashion, in which live action scenes are played out interjected with interviews from the future about “the incident.”  A story about a simple yet ambitious man who loves his wife who is the head guy in charge of an alien relocation program that doesn’t go quite as planned, there is plenty of action, violence and gross out there for the summer action crowd.  At the same time, there are a lot of heavy themes pertain to individual rights, greed, and the ability of humans to act inhumanely that are also there in Avatar but played out much more forcibly and with greater emphasis.

Instead of relying purely on the concept of humans wanting the ground the aliens inhabit, ala Avatar, District 9 reveals that the aliens have technology that humans desire as well.  Weapons, to be exact, the kind that make people explode and that can only be operated when held by an alien.  Well, our good(ish) guy is infected by an alien fuel container and quickly starts to become a alien himself.  Handily, in his metamorphosis  state he is able to operate the alien weaponry which makes his body quite the valuable commodity and it is decided that his body should be donated to science post haste.  He doesn’t quite see it that way, as most people could empathize with, and takes off.  That’s where the movie puts the action into high gear and the bodies start splatting.

This is another movie that I didn’t quite get into like I would have expected too.  Be well rested, mentally prepared, and cut out the distractions to get the most out of this movie.  It is worth your time and attention.

Grade: B+
Wrap Up

You might be wondering why I piled this all into one post.  The fact of the matter is that I saw one movie a day for four days and that changed the way I regarded each of them.  As such, it is important to capture how each movie impacted the ratings of the others.

First off, Bolt to Avatar highlighted the growing versatility of CGI.  In Bolt, the computer renderings allow for great abstraction of locals and artsy interpretation of traveling, etc and for that it worked fantastically.  Bolt is a beautiful movie.  In Avatar, a new world literally sprang from the screen, drawn down to the smallest detail.  You were there.

From Avatar to Inglorious Bastards (IB), there was a crazy shift in story detail.  If Avatar is a huge mural that doesn’t have much detail when you stand too close to it but is breathtaking in its entirety, IB is large painting that continues to show more detail the more you scrutinize it.  There is so much detail that IB is broken down into chapters which I think is done to give you a chance to commit what just happened to your brain before it starts to fill your ears and eyes again.  It is a complicated movie and and seeing it backed against Avatar reveals  that while there can be pleasure in these details, it can be very off putting.  Considering Bolt in this mix, you realize that movies nearly everyone will enjoy have a lot of value in the fact that movie snobs and people who like to watch movies can enjoy them together and have a common ground.

District 9 doesn’t stay on rails like Avatar did which adds a layer of complexity and believability that ultimately forces you to consider the issues both movies raise.  Avatar can be considered wide appeal entertainment whereas District 9 isn’t the kind of movie that softens its message for the sake of the audiences enjoyment.  While many will walk out of Avatar impressed by the technology and satisfied they saw a fantastic battle play out before them, District 9 uses its violence and technological prowess to underline the points it is making so that most will leave the movie with more questions than answers.  Humanity has a history of treating minorities and those it considers less educated or capable than themselves as inferior.  Inferior enough to be killed or enslaved, actually.  Regarding that, it is important to keep asking questions.

In all of these movies, there was plenty of greed and human confidence in understanding how the universe works at the root cause of the issues.  Aside from Bolt, there was also an awful lot of human brutality against “aliens” on display this weekend.  In that regard, this was an exhausting set of movies to see.


Paranormal Activity – don’t watch it at home!

Kristin and I have been enjoying the big malls here in Manila, but I was really wanting to go to a movie.  That’s something that we both really enjoy but don’t make the time to do much back in the states and since we are supposedly on vacation here we looked up the listings and found a movie we would *both* enjoy.  Twilight is evidently huge over here and has overtaken many of the screens, leaving few choices.  I had read a good red box blog about Paranormal Activity, and since Kristin had been gone for Halloween when I typically try to watch a horror movie, this seemed like a good choice.  Paranormal Activity was a fantastic choice as it wound the audience tight and was a well shot and written horror movie.

The movie is about a couple who deal with a demonic haunting following Katie, the female protagonist.  Micah, the male protaganist and boyfriend who can handle whatever is going wrong in his home, decides to film and communicate with the demon.  There are only two other people in the movie and they have only bit parts.  Realistically, the best part of the movie is when the camera is set still and covers the entrance to the bedroom and the bed.  The movie is completely shot with a handheld (albeit professional grade) camera, so be prepared for some wobbly camera shots.

I get really immersed in horror movies and know that they are especially awesome when the entire theater audience gets into them.  My previous best experience at a horror movie was at a showing of The Ring, when the whole theater was gasping and nervously chuckling altogether – someones phone rang in the theater about half way through, which resulted in a short scream.  Well folks, that happened again with Paranormal Activity and it was fantastic. 

The audience was really into it and by the end of the movie, everytime we cut to a night shot the audience would start to chatter nervously and and that enourmously dialed up the tension.  When the good stuff happened, the screams filled the theater.  Speaking of the good stuff, the effects are great and I was really impressed to see that the director and editor refrained from cheap “jumps” by  not doing stuff everytime they panned the handheld camera around.  That added to the tension rather than diminishing it.

Kristin and I were creeped out all night by this movie and even into this morning, talking about what some of the things meant and how it was supposed to be interpreted.   We were very glad we didn’t watch this by ourselves, in our home.  Any couple that chooses to do that and genuinely gets into the movie is setting themselves up for a bad night!

Everything is OK after the last night.

Trust me.

A solid A for this one.


Sometimes, bigger is better

Craigslist hunting can be a pretty rewarding sport.  Since Kristin is gone and the work situation being what it is, I’ve had a little more stress and a little bit more bored time on my hands.  Those who know me well know how I react to this type of situation: I shop.  Craiglist and the Anandtech forums are both likely places to buy things as deals can be had and there are many different items to peruse and then devise rational for having them.

I’ve never liked the passive subwoofer that the Onkyo home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system we have upstairs uses.  Bass should be felt and heard to be experienced and this lil’ guy is woefully inadequate.  Hence, I decided to find a good deal on a used powered subwoofer.  I found a 12″ Mitsubishi sub for $50.  I wasn’t able to find a lot of info on it online because it came out in 1997 or so, other than the fact it was part of a reasonably high end component system.  I was surprised when the lady tried to get it out of the back of her Accord, it was huge!

12" Mitsubishi vs 12" Parts Express Subwoofer

12" Mitsubishi vs 12" Parts Express Subwoofer

The sound is huge too.  While the parts express sub seemed to find the resonant frequency of everything pretty well, the Mitsu shakes the seats.  In order to test the sub I watched the Matrix lobby scene.  Then I ended up watching the rest of the movie.  Great sub.

I’d forgotten how awesome the first Matrix movie was…


I love you, man


Redbox redeemed itself with this gem of a movie after allowing me to rent Transformers 2.  The pretext is simple, a guy needs a best man for his wedding and realizes that he doesn’t have any close friends.  Awkwardness and comedy ensue as the protagonist, Peter Klaven, tries to find a BFF in time for the wedding.  What really made this movie shine was the low key actors sharing the screen well, the comedy and the pacing of the movie.

Paul Rudd (Peter) and (Zooey) Rashida Jones (known to me as Karen Filippelli, Jim’s GF from the second season of The Office) are getting married and I think play the part of a couple preparing to get married really well.  I suppose that I liked Jones from The Office and was predisposed to like her in this part.  Jason Segel (from How I Met Your Mother) plays Sydney, the man crush for Peter.  Scenes are played out in a relaxed, believable manner that makes the jokes and rocking out to Rush all that more engaging.

The humor found in  I love you man might make some prudish people uncomfortable but otherwise has very wide appeal.  There is  subtle humor that some will appreciate, along with some “in your face” projectile vomiting that almost had me rolling on the floor.  The sometimes explicit comedy keeps the movie from becoming too sweet which would diminish its value and essence of creativity.

Contemporary comedies like Superbad or Napoleon Dynamite completely like any sort of pacing.  I love you man does a great job of giving us the background, starting the conflict, running the conflict up to a crescendo and then resolving the conflict.  Very little time is given to pure comedic indulgences and this does an excellent job of keeping the burner on and keeping the audience interested.

I liked the movie a lot, but it won’t be joining my list of favorite movies ever.



Transformers 2: The Revenge of Michael Bay

Let me start out by saying that I like movies that include lots of action, big guns, fight sequences and lots of bass.  Transformers 1 was good enough in this respect with the nice surprise of Megan Fox eye candy and some actual humor.  If only Transformers 2 had managed to follow the same recipe, it would have been passable in the tradition of fairly mindless summer action movies.  By trying to cram too much of what made the first Transformers movie good and bring back all the flaws typical of a Michael Bay movie along with a convoluted story, Transformers 2 truly stumbles.

First off, the situation at home is ridiculous and way over the top.  College is  a circus where we are introduced to characters we dispose of almost immediately.  The sole reason the roommate exists in this film is to reintroduce us to the Sector 7 guy from the previous film.  So much failed comedy here, it felt like this whole section of the movie was conceived poorly and then edited on crack to try and breath some life into it by upping the tempo ridiculously.  Personal interactions remain baffling the entire movie in the same tradition.  The banter was almost too much in the first movie and evidently the felt an even bigger helping was needed here, which was a mistake.

Ah, hello Michael Bay.  Could you cut around anymore?  Can you ever, *ever* let the camera sit still?  It’s like you take all the cool stuff you can do with a camera and then do it every damn shot.   It is interesting when you use a nifty camera technique to illustrate a particular dramatic sequence.  Using them all the time is nauseating and disorienting.  Show some restraint.  Further, show you know how to tell a story through a steady narrative.

Finally, that story.  Did we really need to crush that all into two hours?  There are huge holes in it that are boggling in retrospect.  For example, why would the primes sacrifice themselves to hind the shiny key to everything if all you needed to do to get it back was to walk in and grab it?  Did they all need to die to do that?  How did the bad guys not know they had all those allies somewhere out there in our solar system in the first movie?  And that was the father of the Decepticons, in our solar system?  Yet the Decepticons ended the Transformers home world?  Clearly the Decepticons could have completely taken out the armed forces of the world on their little destruction spree, but they didn’t bother.  It goes on and on.  While I was watching the movie it was OK, but the more I think about the worse it seems.

Not to say I didn’t enjoy some parts of the movie.  The opening scene, Optimus’s first battle, Bumblebee taking out the tiger thing and the bulldozer bot both were very enjoyable.  Seeing the forces of the United States military was also pretty awesome.  CGI effects in the movie were incredible.

Anyway, here is to hoping they wait a long time to make Transformers 3.  So long that Michael Bay isn’t going to direct it and they can find some people to write a cohesive screen play.

B- when I watched it, C- in retrospect.  Mindlessly entertaining.  Very mindlessly.

And yes, Dave, you did tip me off to this and I watched it anyway.  At least I didn’t get tortured in an IMAX like you did…