I’ve enjoyed or loved 90% of every movie Quentin Tarantino has ever made. My wife and I started Kill Bill several years ago, but I think we were tired or something so turned it off and never came back to it.
This spring we did, and the second film might be one of my favorite Tarantino movies of all time. It’s amazing the lengths a woman will go and this movie creatively demonstrates that. I was in awe of the shots and creative mix of color, black and white, and animated sequences.
My wife and I recently watched Manchester by the Sea. It’s a beautifully-acted but heart-wrenching story about a Boston man (played by Casey Affleck) that is left utterly devastated and largely alone after a careless act and some horrifying bad luck. In fact, it’s one of the saddest movies I’ve seen in years.
Although I appreciated the film, I forgot the importance of tragedy while exiting the theater. “For someone who is living in a comedy, is there any value in being reminded that life sucks sometimes?” I asked myself. “Is there any harm in solely watching movies with happy endings?”
Since much of the world is still partially closed or weird, I’ve taken a lot of comfort over the last year in the “simple things.” By that I mean everyday common things that are perpetually satisfying.
I recently re-watched Top Gun with my children. This is what we thought of it: Radical!
As I always do with movies I love, I immediately headed to Wikipedia after the screening to soak up additional context. Turns out, the movie was inspired by this incredibly written article by Ehud Yonay in California Magazine. First published in 1983, Yonay tells the story of two pilots named “Yogi” and “Possum” and how they navigate “Top Gun,” along with two excellent sidebar stories about taking a flight in an F-5 and how to fly one.
“When I climbed out of the cockpit at the end of our hourlong flight, I couldn’t even swagger,” Yonay writes. “Every muscle in my body ached, I was exhausted and slightly nauseated, and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. But they tell me the first time is the worst, and I can’t wait to get up there again.”
FUN FACT: Top Gun has since moved to Fallon, Nevada. My family visited it several years ago on a press trip and were floored by the air maneuvers (or “hops” as they used to say). Looked like something out of Inception—jets flying straight up and down at speeds I’ve never seen before!
From Quartz: “Imagine you are deciding between two different movies. Five of your friends say movie A is nothing special, but definitely above average. Of those same five friends, four tell you movie B is amazing, but one says it is a bit below average and wouldn’t recommend it.
“Which movie would you choose to see? For me, the clear answer is movie B. I’d prefer an 80% chance of seeing a great movie than a 100% of one that is just pretty good. Yet, if you rely on the popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, you would be steered toward movie A. This is unfortunate, and a result of bad statistical methodology.”
Metacritic, on the other hand, weights its reviews and more accurately predicts award-winning movies, the data shows. It also lets you compare critical reviews from audience ones for a fuller picture of how well a movie is received. I’ve been using Metacritic for nearly two decades and highly recommend it.
Now before you write me off as a McEnroe fanboy, which I unabashedly am, please know that the latter is a French documentary about a controversial American tennis brat in his prime.
Shot mostly in slow motion, it is a quirky and mesmerizing film with a powerful finish that convincingly argues that a tennis match is good cinema, and that McEnroe was arguably the sports best “directors” of tennis cinema.
What do Indiana Jones, Little Miss Sunshine, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Darjeeling Unlimited, and Endless Summer have in common? They’re among the very best feature films that make you want to go places. So before streaming your next great home movie, consider one of these first: Continue reading…
As Pogue seemingly sees it, this new economy of article-to-film adaptations turns previously idyllic literature into modern day “trash,” which is as harsh as it is inaccurate. For example, Say Nothing, a book written by the New Yorker’s Patrick Keefe and based on his previously published articles, is hardly trash for soon becoming a TV series. In fact, the book is phenomenal and proof that great authors and their stories deserve to be told across as many mediums and adaptations as possible, in an effort to reach as many people as possible—even ones that don’t like to read books or long-form articles.
Yesterday is my favorite movie of the year so far. So long as you can suspend your disbelief for an hour and a half, it’s a wonderful, heart-felt, and fist-pumping story about music, chasing your dreams, honesty, distraction, and following your heart. 4.5/5 stars (in theaters)
My other favorites of the year are as follows (Updated):
Because we’ve commercially enjoyed airplanes for half a century, however, we now take them for granted. We bemoan their 20% delay rate. We ignore an accident rate of LESS THAN one in a million (safer than driving). We overlook the wonderful places airplanes take us, the game-changing experiences they enable, and the beautiful things they deliver (including flowers).
After seeing this movie, I’m gonna bask in their awesomeness. I’m going to treat airports as speed portals to this big round ball. The next time I pick up a two-day package from Amazon, I’m gonna pour a little out for the flying metal tube that brought the world to my doorstep. Seriously, not even monarchs had it this good. Continue reading…
The documentary makes a convincing argument that structured specialization prevents our children from achieving greatness, especially in athletics, but also in other disciplines.
After interviewing and examining the upbringing and work ethic of over a dozen all-star athletes and musicians, the movie concludes that if you want your child to be great, raise them on a well-rounded diet of interests and physical activities. Do this until at least late high school or even college in some cases. Only then should children focus and devote the majority of their time to one pursuit.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, the filmmakers argue that this strategy allows our youth to play by different rules and see things differently. And there’s strong evidence suggesting this cannot be done if aspiring athletics, musicians, and others are strictly raised on only speciality from a young age, which is increasingly the norm now. That’s bad because youth specialization stifles their creativity and innovation and prevents them from developing other muscles and talents that can have a positive crossover effect on their primary passion.
Many years ago, Disney released a Pixar film that had a profound impact on the course of my professional life.
At the time I was a full-time video game critic for several online magazines. I had a knack for raking mediocre games and announcements over the coals. I gained a reputation for publishing smart but scathing copy. Back then, I felt it was my job, if not duty, to critique everything I touched as if the orbit of the Earth depended on it. Continue reading…
You are bound to encounter a noticeable number of people in life who don’t watch TV, avoid books, or ignore performance art and sports altogether. But you’ll probably never encounter someone who doesn’t watch movies—they’re that universal.
Because of this, film tourism (or “location vacations”) are a big deal. Indeed, an untold number of scenic or otherwise interesting places might not have entered our collective radars had some movie director chose to shoot somewhere else.
Of those immortalized backdrops, few trips are more iconic or deserving than to one of these. Continue reading…
For its disjointed story, distracting dong shots, artistic cinematography, impressive set production, and a few emotionally gripping moments, I award Roma—the highest-rated movie of the year—3.5 out of 5 stars. Cynics will love it!
My wife and I watched the critically-acclaimed The Post recently at our local theater.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the movie is about how The Washington Post, namely its brave publisher Katharine Graham, decided to publish the controversial Pentagon Papers in 1961.
Although the movie kept me engaged with strong acting, tight tension, and fun twists, I deem it good but not great. Here’s why: Continue reading…
The first was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, recommended by my sister Sara. Not to be mistaken for the horrific name, popular movie, and Halloween theme it inspired, the book is actually about what it’s like to be human. Masterfully written by Shelley when she was only 20 (!), Frankenstein made my heartbreak and made me ponder humanity more than another other book recently (save for this, this, and this).
Due to a few slow pages and an ending that abruptly stops (like most classical literature), I award it four stars out of five.
The second I read in less than 48 hours. It’s called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell. About the making of The Room (aka “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”), this book made me laugh out loud, cringe, and cheer on numerous occasions. I admire Sestero for his candor, for seeing the good in the world, for sharing his story, and for shining the spotlight on the conflicted, inspiring, and likable man named Tommy Wiseau. “What a story, Mark!”
For its hilarity and heart, I award it four stars out of five and anxiously await the movie adaptation starring James Franco.
I recently watched 180 Degrees South. It’s an enjoyable documentary by surfer, climber, and conservationist Chris Malloy, in which he follows the adventurous footsteps of his two mentors—Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and North Face founder Doug Tompkins.
I’m always writing down blog ideas. At the time of writing, I have 535 unpublished saved drafts. Most of these will never see the light of day. But some of them are worth sharing. In an effort to whittle that number down as fast as humanly possible, here are five things that have crossed my mind recently: Continue reading…
Honor codes, moral self-reminders before brushing with temptation, and asking others to be honest in tempting situations can reduce dishonesty to almost zero, researchers found.
People are increasingly dishonest as they distance themselves from tangible things (i.e. its easier to steal digital money than tangible money, and it’s easier to cheat in golf by kicking your ball while looking away as opposed to picking it up). To heighten honesty, look at ill behavior right in the face before doing it.
Everybody is dishonest. Everybody. And all nationalities are equally dishonest, researchers found. It’s just that foreign cultures feel more dishonest because they cheat in unfamiliar ways.
Scandinavian economies and The U.S. have the world’s highest levels of social trust—Africa and South America the least, which has a dramatic effect in the size and health of those respective economies.
Bankers cheat twice as much as politicians. Lying can be appropriate when it’s done for the good of others as opposed to selfish reasons and only if the truth wouldn’t later upset the person that was deceived (i.e. telling a hysterical passenger on a crashing plane that you’re an aeronautics engineer and everything is going to be okay or lying to your children to keep them out of imminent danger or harm’s way).
I recently completed a $150 DNA test for a story I’m working on. Without going into too much detail, this is what I learned:
I’m healthy. Of 36 diseases tested, I’m not a carrier of any problematic genes. Phew!
I’m 99.9% European. That’s code for “white privilege.”
I’m ordinary. For example, I’m a normal sleeper. And although we were all Born to Run, my muscles are more “sprinter” than “endurance” type.
I got confirmation of what I’ve already observed. For instance, I don’t posses the bald gene, I’m not hairy, my ring finger is longer than my index, my second toe is longer than my big toe, I have wet earwax, and my skin is fair. Go figure!
Genes are overrated. Like my favorite sci-fi move so eloquently proves, our genes do not define who we are or how we choose to live. Yes, DNA is important and can have a big impact on our circumstance. But it does not determine our destiny or who we chose to become with the cards we’ve been dealt.
When I was nine years old, I saw Big starring Tom Hanks. It’s a movie about a boy doing young-at-heart things in a grown-up’s body. That and being employed to have an opinion on (i.e. review) toys.
At the time, I thought it was the coolest movie ever made. I still think it’s pretty darn cool.
In reality, my work as a writer over the last decade is not unlike protagonist Josh Baskin’s. I get paid to have an opinion and ask a bunch of questions. I tinker with ideas, learn from those who are smarter than me, and slay the dragon of misinformation with research as my shield and a keyboard as my sword. Continue reading…
My wife and I watched Atari: Game Over last night on YouTube (part II here). It’s an hour long documentary about the fast rise and even faster demise of video games in the early ’80s and the misinformation surrounding their fall (the games, not the decade).
That’s just the pretext, however. The documentary is really about hurtful group think, toxic urban legends, and the unfair, if not tragic, treatment of Howard Warshaw, a talented and pioneering game designer that was ostracized for his largely innocent role.
Although the documentary handles some weighty baggage, director Zak Penn keeps it fun, fast-paced, and peppered with likable characters. When Warshaw is partially redeemed by the end of the movie, I was rattled with sympathy.
Atari: Game Over isn’t as fist-pumping fun as Kong of Kong, which you should watch posthaste if you haven’t already. But the former is more accurate and just as endearing. Furthermore, it challenges the viewer to scrutinize their beliefs before accepting them and encourages us to give others the benefit of the doubt.
In honor of the World Cup, which starts next week in Brazil, here’s how I fell in love with the game.
The year: 198X. I was at a friend’s house in a remote part of northern Oklahoma. We were watching Victory, a so-so Sylvester Stallone movie about a POW soccer team playing Nazi Germany during World War II. My buddy and I were no older than five or six at the time.
Not wanting to endure the feeble character and pre-game drama, we fast forwarded the VHS “through all the boring stuff” to get right to the climatic game. While the build up to said game will likely keep most adults engaged — more for its interesting plot than acting skills — the last 20 minutes of the movie is most triumphant.
My wife and I watched Stardust recently. It’s been on my watch list for years, given its high viewer rating. But the crap poster always kept me from hitting “play.”
I’m glad I finally did. Stardust is a five-star film. The best fantasy movie I’ve seen since The Princess and the Bride—maybe even better. It’s certainly better than the under-edited Lord of The Rings, the most popular fantasy film of late. (Don’t worry nerds, I kept my sub-genres separated.)
In any case, I liked Stardust so much, I immediately read the book. It’s good but ends with a limp. The movie, on the other hand, ends with an enormous and climatic bang. The similarly-ended The Natural is the only other movie I can think of that is better than the book.
It’s worth watching, at least according to this romantic. Charlie Hunnam’s performance was uneven—brilliant when confronting his uncle, not so much when mourning the death of his friend. But it was obvious to me after watching it: Charles Dickens is a masterful storyteller. He’s proved it many times over. As have his contemporaries, including Jane Austen.
Upon finishing the movie and while channeling the most formal English I could muster, I commented to my wife, “We gotta go to England! The source of such great storytelling deserves to be honored with our presence.”
Is it wise to make an audience feel physically disoriented, claustrophobic, and unsettled? I’m not so sure. In addition to immense stress and one-too-many suspense hangers, that’s exactly how Gravity will make you feel.
This is due to director Alfonso Cuarón’s excessive use of first-person and single-shots that are heavy on pans. The effect certainly made me empathize with the lost in space heroine. But I’ve seen a lot of other movies that make me empathize with characters, not because of cinematography tricks, but because of powerful acting. Continue reading…
My wife and I went to a screening of Unfortunate Brothers last night. It’s an affecting documentary by Dodge Billingsley about the political, economic, and cultural divide of North and South Korea.
The film is touching, insightful, and kept me engaged for 55 minutes. It also made me sympathize with the plight of North Koreans.
The only problem: The movie was screened to a group of eggheads at BYU, my alma mater, and all the academic and naive student types that congregate there. And not just any kind of academics—the “international relations” kind that like to talk political theory, solve other country’s problems from afar, and use big words to make themselves feel like they’re contributing to society.
For example: After the screening, an expert panel of three pleasant fellows including the filmmaker fielded questions from about 80-100 attendees. The second “question” came from an assumed student that liked to hear himself talk. He talked about how the movie “moved” him. In between lengthy pontifications, he said, “I guess my question is” three times. He talked a lot. He was the opposite of concise. Continue reading…
The recent trend of making movies into trilogies — or better yet, four part trilogies where the third movie is bifurcated into two even more drawn out movies — is really the best thing to happen to cinema since at least technicolor, at most sound.
In fact, I think audiences have really missed out on a lot of epic, multi-part stories. I mean, mini series were big in the ’80s, for crying out loud! Couldn’t Hollywood see the writing on the wall? Skate to the puck a little sooner?
Even better, they should have started making trilogies a half a century earlier. Can’t you just imagine the possibilities? No?
The New York times ran an insightful piece this weekend on the decline of Sony, which is valued at just a quarter of where it was a decade ago, and just one thirtieth the size of Apple:
“Sony makes too many models, and for none of them can they say, âThis contains our best, most cutting-edge technology,’ ” Mr. Sakito said. “Apple, on the other hand, makes one amazing phone in just two colors and says, âThis is the best.’ ”
In addition to department infighting, that really sums up Sony’s troubles: too much product, none of them hits. Continue reading…
Assuming his biography well represents him, Steve Jobs was a jerk for much of his life. A work-a-holic with eating disorders, incredibly bratty, ruthless.
I’m sure a lot of devout followers will excuse his actions with “no one is perfect.” I prefer that justification, however, for people who are at least trying to improve their social skills with age, instead of sticking to their anti-social guns as Jobs did for much of his life.
Speaking personally, I’ve owned a Blu-ray player (PS3) since 2007, yet I only own maybe five Blu-ray discs. Yes the picture quality is nicer, but upscaled DVDs and streaming movies look nearly as good, and up until this year, they were a whole lot cheaper.
Many people believe Moon Unit Zappa and her 1982 single Valley Girl are responsible for popularizing this usage of “like” precisely at the moment Ms. Zappa sang, “It’s like, barf me out.” In reality, the slang use of the word “like” has been a part of popular culture dating as far back as 1928 and a cartoon in the “New Yorker” that depicts two woman discussing a man’s workspace with a text that reads, “What’s he got – an awfice?” “No, he’s got like a loft.” The word pops up again in 1962’s A Clockwork Orange as the narrator proclaims, “I, like, didn’t say anything.”
Not only that, but the slang interjection was even found in a novel circa 1886. Tubular!
Although I normally avoid “restricted” movies on principle, I make exceptions when referred to by friends with good taste, especially since the Motion Picture Association of America hasn’t always shown the best judgment when rating movies.
Like Shawshank Redemption and Schindler’s List before it, The King’s Speech is one of those movies I’m glad I excepted. It’s not as good as the aforementioned. But it’s a feel-good story with great acting. Recommended for Royal Monarchy and British accent fans everywhere.
The film: Iron Monkey. The scene: “Gone with the wind.” While most people panic when wind takes hold of loose items, these two stay cool, react quickly, and gracefully prove they’re not exactly who they appear to be (i.e. doctors).
In case you didn’t know, Kung Fu movies are to the Chinese as comic book movies are to Americans. Both are awesome. But instead of childish names and muscly tights, Chinese superheroes are ninja fast and averse to gravity.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”—Rocky Balboa