Monday, January 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I had given myself the goal of seeing as many of the Oscar-nominated films (best film and actor/actress) as possible prior to the Oscars. I had already seen 3 of the top movies (Frost/Nixon, Benjamin Button, Milk) prior to seeing Slumdog Millionaire this past weekend. Being a critically acclaimed film, my expectations were high. But something surprising happened, this movie about redemption and new beginnings exceeded them.

From the squalor, poverty and shit of modern day India (yes, shit ... apparently a recurring theme in Danny Boyle movies), came something of unexpected beauty. I was floored by this movie.

Slumdog Millionaire opens up a window into a crowded and dirty world that we as Americans cannot even begin to imagine. Set in Mumbai, India (formerly Bombay) over the last 20 years, Slumdog encompasses the life of it's main characters, Jamil, his brother Samir, and his friend Latika (played by the stunning Frieda Pinto). They are each orphaned by the Bombay riots of 1992 and 1993, in which 900 people died.

Their life on the run is told by flashbacks in a manner which I won't ruin for you here. But you can guess enough from the previews and title that is has something to do with So You Want to be a Millionaire. It's a unique premise and manner of telling the story. And despite the pain and loneliness they endure, the story has remarkable humor and spirit. The music is fantastic, comprised mostly of India dance music.

The adult actors, Dev Patel as the grown-up Jamal, the previously mentioned Pinto, and the famous Indian actor Anil Kapoor as the host of the game show, are universally good. But the child actors that portray the three characters as they are growing up are also good.

I was already a big fan of the director, Danny Boyle, who also directed Trainspotting (one of my all-time top 10) and Shallow Grave. His style of film-making, fast-paced, flashy, dirty, morally ambiguous, plays well to the material.

It's refreshing to see a popular movie with a story not set in New York or London and with characters that are not spoiled, blonde and blue-eyed. I cannot recommend a movie any more than I do this sad and effecting love story. Grade: A+

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Week One

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope and Responsibility

President Barack Obama. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It seems like it took a lot of work to get to this point and that we should be happy with the result. But we can't be.

Our hopes may or may not be fulfilled with an Obama administration. They surely were dashed with a Bush Administration.

George Bush may have been driving the bus that went off the cliff, but we all had a role. Some of us may have egged him on to drive faster (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle), saying that the chasm wasn't so deep or wide. Others said there need not be a speed limit -- the free market will save us should we fall off the cliff (Enron, CA energy deregulation, Phil Gramm). A few of us just rewrote history to indicate we never drove off the cliff (Drudge, Bill Kristol, FOX News). But the worst offenders are the people that just sat there, listened to the others without asking questions, or believed that the driver was appointed by God and could do no wrong.

No one person can ruin a country. And no one person can save it. Obama may be the embodiment of our hope but it will not be by him that our world changes. It will be through us. If you want something to change, do it yourself. If something is broken, don't gripe about it -- do something to fix it.

I'm not saying that hope and symbolism are not important or effective. They are. But if they are not followed up with action, they are meaningless. Obama has rightly given us hope. Now let's see what he does with it. Now let's see what WE do with it.

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." -- Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cards are going to the Super Bowl!!

click image for some more pictures

Alex and I went to the Cardinals 32 - 25 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship in Glendale. Had a blast.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Top 10 Movies of 2008

It's time to cut the crap. This is the latest that I've posted my year-end top 10. I guess I was hoping to catch just a few more of the flicks that were released right at the end of '08. So here goes ... in order:

10. Definitely, Maybe - This one surprised me a bit. Taking it for just being another chick flick, I underestimated it. It's funny and heartfelt with nice performances by Ryan Reynolds and Litte Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin. Plus, it has three of the most attractive and talented young actresses in Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks and Isla Fisher. Hubba hubba.

9. Bank Job - British crime caper by the director of In Bruges. It's based on a true story and has the best performance of Jason Statham's career. I know that's not necessarily saying a lot, but it's something.

8. Religulous - It might be a stretching it a bit to call this a documentary. It's more like a live-action, on-location comedy skit by Bill Maher on the ridiculousness of organized religion. But it's very funny. Even people of faith will get a kick out of this one.

7. Milk - Of all the movies that I was this year, probably the best ensemble cast with Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and Victor Garber. It captures 70's California great and illuminates a period in our history that many have forgotten.

6. Curious Case of Benjamin Button - A nice change of pace by Mr. Gloomy, David Fincher. Nice performances by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (like she's ever had a bad one) and cool special F/X.

5. Wall-E - A great synthesis of art and message. The least talky major studio animated movie that I can remember.

4. Iron Man - A great kick-off to the summer blockbuster season. Robert Downey Jr. is really what makes this movie. He was born to play this role. They say you know when an actor has done a good job when you can't imagine anybody else playing the role. That's what we have here. Gwyneth Paltrow is funny and gorgeous.

3. There Will Be Blood - This was released in January and I saw it then but is generally considered to be a 2007 movie. Brilliant Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day Lewis about the early days of the oil boom in our country. It's epic in scope with great cinematography and a great feel for the period. Also darkly funny.

2. The Dark Knight - This is the comic book movie that might finally get people to think of it as just a movie instead of one based on a comic. Tragic, violent, morally ambiguous ... it can fit right beside a Scorcese gangster movie. You've heard the kudos for Heath Ledger's Joker performance. I had too before seeing it. With those expectations, plus his death, I was bound to be disappointed. Guess what? I wasn't. Ledger was brilliant.

1. Frost/Nixon - My pick for best picture Oscar, though I don't think it will get it. Nixon taught us that it's not necessarily intent or maliciousness that gets our leaders (and our country) in trouble ... it's hubris and lack of self-awareness. This movie is timely because it shows that we probably haven't learned anything in the 30 years hence. "A nation that forgets its past is doomed to repeat it." - Winston Churchill

5 More I really liked:

Speed Racer
Burn After Reading
Journey to the Center of the Earth

10 More I really wish I had a chance to see and that would have had a good chance of making my top 10:

In Bruges
Gran Torino
The Wrestler
Revolutionary Road
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Visitor

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Come What (ever) May - Political Song of the Day

We're running out of time to have songs about Bush. Here's a pretty good one by Stone Sour (Slipknot's lead singer's side band):

"Come What(ever) May" -- Stone Sour

Can you take away every single day?
That we have given to another false prophet
Can you give us all a reason not to fall?
Before you take away another broken promise

Show your pretty face
Hide the bitter taste
You're still the rapist of an entire nation
You wanna be the man you gotta be a man
But you were nothing but a sad insinuation

How can we ever live this down?
How can we ever live this down?

Keep your fingers crossed
The truth is at a loss
Big decision for an ordinary coward
The only problem is your fucking rhetoric
We're more in danger than before you took power

Now it's just a game
God you'll never change
You'd sell us out if you could only find a buyer
You don't give a shit
As long as idiots
Are in your corner you could set us all on fire

How can we ever live this down?
How can we ever live this down?

You never wanted to be
They only wanted a parody
You want the world to be free
What the hell is free about it?!

Now we reached the end
Just get it over with
But this is building to an adament conclusion
Come what ever may
There's gonna be a day
When we have figured out a possible solution

Every thing you've done
Is killing everyone
A little smile on a homicidal bastard
You wanna be a man
You gotta have a plan
Another failure is a guaranteed disaster
How can we ever live this down?
How can we ever live this down?

You never wanted to be
They only wanted a parody
You want the world to be free
She only wanted the world
You never wanted to be
They only wanted a parody
You want the world to be free
But what the fuck is free about it?!
What the fuck is free about it?!
What the fuck is free about it?!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Simple Shoes

Ugh. Finally. After hunting at every place that was supposed to carry Simple brand shoes (as advertised on their website) and not find them, I finally found their line of shoes at Whole Foods Supermarkets. Go figure. Look for shoes at a grocery store ... that's logical. Not.

I know I could have ordered the shoes online. But call me goofy ... I'd actually like to try on a pair of shoes before buying them. They looked great, felt great, and I bought the Dark Earth Sno Tire eco-certified leather shoes. Recycled car tire soles and outsoles. Recycled plastic pedbeds, and shoelaces. Washed leather, organic cotton and 100% recycled paper pulp comprise everything else.

It's not always easy to buy green, but worth it in the long run.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I was watching tonight's national college football championship between Oklahoma and Florida and I couldn't help but be amused and confused by what I saw and heard from Florida's outstanding junior quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Let me preface this by saying from every indication that I have ever seen, Tim Tebow is pretty much the model student-athlete and even more a model citizen -- National Champion, Heisman Award winner, son of missionaries, homeschooled, assists father's missionary work at orphanages in the Phillipines, and by every indication, a nice kid.

What gets me is his need to let us know about his faith at every opportunity. Whenever he speaks he will say "God Bless" or something similar. His eye black said "John 3:16" tonight and has said "Phil 4:13" in the past.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." -- John 3:16

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." -- Philippians 4:13

What is with the moral imperative of the Christian to tesify? You don't see atheist athletes thanking Nietzsche or writing "God is dead" on their eye black ... though that would be funny.

I find it ludicrous that even if God existed that he would care about a football game or would favor one side over another. But that doesn't stop pretty much every athlete from thanking God for their exploits.

When I was researching this post, I was dismayed to find that it was not just athletes that feel the need to testify, chapter and verse, as it were. In-N-Out Burger prints several passages on the bottoms of their cups:

In-N-Out prints discreet references to Bible verses on their paper utensils. The print is small and out of the way, and only contains the book, chapter and verse numbers, not the actual text of the passages. The practice began in the 1980s during Rich Snyder's presidency, a reflection of the beliefs held by the Snyder family:

Burger and cheeseburger wrappers -- Revelation 3:20—"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me."

Beverage cups and replicas -- John 3:16—"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Milkshake cups -- Proverbs 3:5—"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding."

Double-Double wrapper -- Nahum 1:7—"The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him."

Paper water cups -- John 14:6—"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

Of course, my disparaging of open acknowledgement of faith by Christians won't really bother Christians. Perhaps it shouldn't. After all, if they are going to buy into some of the Bible, they might as well buy into the whole damn thing. And Tebow must have at least believed God was in his corner tonight, as Florida won. "Chacun son goût" -- To each his own.

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." -— George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Movie Reviews - Oscar hopefuls edition

I've been a movie-watching madman lately, trying to sneak in all the Oscar-worthy ones I can. I'm going to try and review three of them I've seen in the last week all in the same post. Here goes:

Carrying off as suspenseful a TV interview from over 30 years ago is a feat in and of itself. Making it relevant - even more so. Frost/Nixon and the exchange that it chronicles has a lot to say about the hubris and the feeling that they are above the law that modern politicians have. Frank Langella is deservedly getting a lot of accolades and most certainly will get an Oscar best actor nomination. But I believe that Michael Sheen, in the role of David Frost, is every bit as good. He captures the vocal mannerisms of Frost, but more importantly catches the breeziness, the charm and complicated nature of him as well. Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and Matthew Macfadyen are all outstanding in supporting roles.

This may very well be Ron Howard's best directing yet. Instead of the expansive and exotic sets of Europe (Da Vinci Code), he has the interior of a mid-century modern LA house. Instead of a cast of hundreds, it's pretty much just a battle of two people. But he makes it interesting.

It's got a surprising amount of dynamics and one of those A Few Good Men-type ego-driven moments by the main character ("You're goddamned right I ordered the Code Red!"), except it this instance, it was:

David Frost: Are you really saying the President can do something illegal?

Richard Nixon: I'm saying that when the President does it, that means it's *not* illegal!

David Frost: ...I'm sorry?

Ironically, Kevin Bacon is in both of those films, in a similar role. But, I guess that's why the game is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

You don't have to know a lot about these interviews, or even Watergate, to enjoy this movie. The back and forth between the actors playing Frost and Nixon create a battle of wills that keeps the viewer interested. I loved this movie and it will definitely be in my year-end top 10 (which I'm wrapping up right now).

"I was born under unusual circumstances." And so begins 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards: a man, like any of us, who is unable to stop time. We follow his story, set in New Orleans from the end of World War I in 1918 to the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man's life can be. ... tale of a not-so-ordinary man and the people and places he discovers along the way, the loves he finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.

I don't mind a sentimental movie occasionally, as long as the director puts the work in first. Don't cut straight to that tearjerker moment without first working your ass off on characterization and a good story. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seems to be getting a lot of flack for being too like Forrest Gump. You have a simple-minded protagonist who is the mostly-detached observer of a rapidly changing 20th Century. It's a plot device that allows the story to encompass disparate elements such as racism, war, and cultural changes without going too far off the tracks.

I liked Forrest Gump. I liked It's a Wonderful Life. So sue me. I'm as dark as the next guy but I like a movie that has its heart in the right place without being maudlin. And ... Benjamin Button certainly has its heart in the right place.

This is among Brad Pitt's best work and will surely get him an Oscar nomination. It's not garish or overdone. The strength of his performance is in his face and not necessarily in what he says. When he looks at his mom Queenie, or his friend Daisy, you can see what's going on behind those eyes. Cate Blanchett (his co-star in Babel), in the role of Daisy, is great as always.

... Benjamin Button makes you think about how we spend each day and who we spend it with and that it's never too late to change.

The special effects are subtle, only there to help the story. That's a lesson to you, Mr. George Lucas --- special effects shouldn't be the point of the movie ... they should just be a tool for telling a story. It's a bit of a shock that a movie of such grace and subtlety comes from David Fincher. Now, I love David Fincher movies, most notably Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac, but one would definitely not suspect a movie like Button from the director who has pretty much defined "dark" over the last decade.

Not all people know the story of Harvey Milk, but it's relevance cannot be overstated in the wake of the current Prop 8 controversy (and similar propositions across the country). Our country has been there before. In the 70's, it was Proposition 6, or the Briggs Initiative, that sought to ban gays from working in California public schools.

Harvey Milk was the "first openly gay non-incumbent man in the United States to win an election for public office". After serving for less than a year, he and San Francisco mayor George Moscone, were assassinated by fellow supervisor Dan White. Milk not only championed gay rights, but those of the elderly, small businesses, unions, etc. and his loss hit the city and the state hard. 40,000 San Franciscans marched in a candlelight vigil the night the mayor and Milk were killed.

In the role of an openly gay man, you would think most actors would make the choice of a flashy and showy performance. Sean Penn, in one of his most understated roles, does not. And that's to his credit. And director Gus Van Zant, who tends towards the artsy end of film generally, goes fairly straightforward with the movie. It's a not very stylized biopic of the last 8 or so years of Harvey Milk's life. It's a great ensemble cast with the highlights being fellow Into the Wild alum, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin in the role of Dan White.

I think all three of these films will get nominations for best picture, best actor and best director. There's a very good chance that a lot of the supporting actors, including Sheen in Frost, Blanchett in Button, and Brolin and Hirsch in Milk, will get nominations also. I liked all three films immensely and recommend them.

Frost/Nixon: Grade: A

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Grade: A

Milk: Grade: A-

"Hope will never be silent." -- Harvey Milk

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Movie Review - The Day the Earth Stood Still

I've always said that the best thing about sci-fi is that I even enjoy the bad films because even they aspire to be something more and in the process they are entertaining. The Day the Earth Stood Still is not a bad film. I'm not saying that at all. It's certainly not high art either. It falls somewhere in between.

The movie is a remake of a 1951 sci-fi classic. It sticks pretty close to that original with the main difference being our choice for tool of our own destruction. In the original, the obvious criticism was of the arms race, the military and nuclear weaponry. While still showing those elements, the remake concentrates on how we are destroying our environment. A lot of the lines by Klaatu could just as easily be coming from Al Gore or the World Without Us, using phrases such as "tipping point" and:

Klaatu: "If the Earth dies, you die. If the human race dies, the Earth survives."

Knowing his own strengths (and weaknesses), Keanu Reeves has picked a role that doesn't show a lot of emotion. Reeves plays Klaatu, an emissary from another planet, who is sent to analyze whether we are a race worth saving. Our response to his arrival on the planet pretty much sums up our violent tendencies and makes the aliens immediately doubtful of our worth.

There has been some merciless criticism of this film, mostly by fans of the original. I hate to break it to you, but most people have not seen the original and if they have, a lot consider it very dated. I've seen the original, rightly view it as a seminal film, but I don't consider it so untouchable that it couldn't be re-imagined for a modern audience. After all, Citizen Kane, it is not. It was a glorified 50's B-movie with a message. And that is all the new one is doing also. M Night Shyamalan's The Happening tried to do much the same this year, but I believe this film is better, more entertaining, and more effective in it's message.

Other people criticize the movie because it has a message at all. I hate that excuse. What is the point of making something, whether it be a painting, a book, a movie, a song, whatever, if you are not trying to say something? Is our goal to have a bunch of faceless, vacuous crap that people will eat up like candy and forget about as soon as they step out of the theater? No, thank you.

Reeves is serviceable. Connelly really doesn't have to use any of her acting chops here but is fine. Kathy Bates probably has the meatiest role as a government official.

The special effects are good and the movie is not too long. Overall, the movie is good, not great. I was entertained and I appreciated the sentiment. Grade: B-

Friday, January 02, 2009

Going Green Update

This time, instead of us personally doing something good for the environment, it's my city. The long awaited Phoenix Metro Rail started up last week and we braved long lines to be among the first to ride on opening day. The light rail run goes from just a bit north of central Phoenix east to Mesa, a run of about 20 miles. All of the major museums, Chase Field (home of the Dbacks) US Airways Center (home of the Suns), and numerous concert venues, restaurants, art galleries are all along the route.

We live nowhere near this route, but it's a beginning. A step in the right direction. If a car-happy, conservative state can put in a light rail, there is yet hope.