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Monday, November 4, 2013

Gravity


This was probably the most intense movie I have ever seen. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I frequently found that my jaw had literally dropped. This is intense in a very real way, not in some lame action movie sort of way.
After the movie ended, I actually found myself relieved that it only had a runtime of 90 minutes. I'm not sure I could handle that level of non-stop intensity for two or three hours. It was quite the exercise in anxiety.

The cinematography in Gravity thoroughly blew my mind! I didn't know stuff like this was possible. I applaud Alfonso Cuaron for his efforts to advance cinema technology
Something interesting about the cinematography is that they used VERY long takes.  Modern movies have an average take length (the shots between cuts) of about six seconds, but Gravity has an average take length of 45 seconds! The opening scene is one continuous shot for 17 minutes! It is simply incredible!

Besides being technically stunning, the cinematography is very beautiful as well. The cinematographer for Gravity is Emmanuel Lubezki, the same guy that did The Tree of Life, one of my favorite movies, and by far the most beautiful film I have ever seen. Gravity certainly doesn't disappoint in that department.
Another interesting thing is that the script was written by Alfonso Cuaron, and his son Jonas Cuaron. I think the idea of a father-son team is really cool.

The other thing that surprised me, is that the budget for Gravity was only about $80 Million. For a film as ambitious and ground breaking as this, I expected that figure to be much higher.

I expect that with the level of technical sophistication, and photo realistic rendering, and the 3D IMAX format, comparison to Avatar will be unavoidable. I think this is a fair comparison as far as the visuals go, and with how groundbreaking the two films are, and with how immersive the experience is, but the comparisons stop there. Avatar is a much more conventional film in terms of its plot, style, and pacing. Gravity is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It is simultaneously immensely grand in size, while being extremely small, claustrophobic, and personal. Think Castaway in space.

Gravity is one of a very few films where I left the theater in legitimate awe. I seriously have no idea how they filmed most of this movie.

Another thing I want to point out is just how incredible the soundtrack is. Much of the movie is silent, or mostly silent. I was amazed at how effective it was to have the silence of space highlighted by such incredible music.
The movie itself is 90 minutes. The soundtrack is 70 minutes. I suspect that if you cut out the portions of the film that contain no music, and are mostly silent, you would end up at about 70 minutes. What this means is that the film doesn't reuse the same music or theme song over and over again. Listening to the soundtrack from start to finish is almost like re-watching the film. The soundtrack on its own is a very cool experience.

One of the marks of a great movie is how likely I would be to go see it in theaters again. (I saw Avatar seven times in 3D IMAX.) However, I have a feeling that the intensity of Gravity will make it difficult to watch again and again. Avatar was simply an enjoyable journey, highlighted by almost reverential moments of pure beauty. By contrast, Gravity produces an almost unrelenting feeling of anxiety. That being said, I can't wait to go see it again.

For just pure enjoyment and fun, my favorite movie this year is still The Way Way Back. But I am going to say that Gravity is still a must-see, and I am giving it five stars. It just doesn't get much better than this.


*I did go see Gravity for a second time. While it was still intense, knowing what would happen did significantly reduced the anxiety level. I was also a bit surprised that with the reduced intensity of the overall experience, the movie seemed somewhat less enjoyable. I'm not sure how rewatchable Gravity will be over time, and I wonder how impressive it will be on a small (by comparison) TV screen.
After a second viewing, I would probably give this 4 out of 5 stars. Still very very good and technically impressive, but it did seem to lose something.

I also just want to make a quick little note about Sandra Bullock. She is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for her performance. I'm generally not a Sandra Bullock fan. I just don't think she is a very good actress. While she did a decent job in Gravity, and successfully carried the movie for most of its length, I don't think her performance was particularly memorable. I think almost any other actress could have performed just as well, if not better. So while I give her credit for a generally good performance, I don't think it is Oscar worthy. She'll probably still win though...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Way, Way Back



Has anyone heard about this movie?

I hadn't, until a few days ago.

My good friend and former roommate, Blake, texted me to let me know a group of our friends were going to see it.

I had no idea what it was, who was in it, or what it was about, so naturally I looked up the trailer.

I was instantly interested.

I decided to put off some other tentative plans so that I could go see the movie.

I'm glad I did!

This is absolutely my favorite movie of the summer, and might end up being my favorite movie of the year!

I'm hearing good things about Mud, which I still need to see, but The Way, Way Back will be hard to beat.

I'm not really sure how to classify my favorite type of movie, but this is definitely in the same category.
This difficult-to-define category includes films such as 500 Days of Summer, Midnight in Paris, Dan in Real Life, Whip-It, 50/50, Juno, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Basically I love thoughtful, qwirky, character driven dramedies (drama + comedy), like those typically released by Fox Searchlight (which includes The Way, Way Back, by the way).

The Way, Way back, hits each of these elements perfectly, It was so incredibly funny, but also so tender and thoughful. The cast and characters were perfect! Not everyone is likeable, but they all did excellent jobs.

Can I just say, Sam Rockwell is INCREDIBLE! He is quickly rising to the top of my list of favorite actors.  This is the guy who played Wild Bill in The Green Mile, Guy Fleegman in Galaxy Quest, Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, and my personal favorite, Sam Bell in Moon.
I'm convinced that this guy can do just about anything.

I'm committing right now to see more of his movies.

The Way, Way Back was made for only $4.6 million. It is an excellent example of the type of quality film that can be made for a relatively low budget.

I am so glad that there are still companies like Fox Searchlight financing and distributing films like this!

In my opinion, this company is the only shining light in the movie industry right now. I am getting so tired of the mega budget special effect spectacles that all the big companies are making right now.

After a while, it all begins to look and sound like Transformers.

If you look at the list of Fox Searchlight's movies, you see a very impressive history. Many of my all-time favorite movies are on that list.  Almost all of the best movies from the last few years are on that list.  In my opinion, movies by Fox Searchlight are some of the only movies worth seeing anymore.  I can't praise them enough.

I don't want to say too much about the film, because I don't want to risk detracting from the experience if you choose to see it. I will say though that the relationship between Owen (Sam Rockwell), and Duncan (Liam James), is one of the most tender on-screen relationships that I can remember. I love their interactions and dialog. Almost immediately we become deeply endeared to both of them. If you want to see what quality character development looks like, definitely go see The Way, Way back.

I'm giving The Way, Way Back a solid 5 out of 5 stars. I will definitely be pre-ordering this one, and probably seeing it multiple times in theaters.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Hitchcock Review: Stage Fright



I recently revisited one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movies, Stage Fright.

Stage Fright was made in 1950, and stars Jane Wyman (former wife of Ronald Reagan), Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, and Alastair Sim.

Stage Fright is also one of only a few Hitchcock films that features Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, in a supporting role. I like her performances quite a lot, and wish she had done more acting. She is always very fun and charming.  In Stage Fright she plays Chubby Bannister. How's that for a name!

The cast of Stage Fright is probably its greatest strength. Everyone really shines.
I'm not much of a Marlene Dietrich fan, but even she is good in this.
Jane Wyman is absolutely delightful and classy in this film! After watching it, I kind of have a crush on her. She is really excellent, and quite pretty. I especially like her in the garden party scenes. She has a pretty amazing smile.

My absolute favorite character though, is Commodore Gill, played by Alastair Sim. He is so funny! He has some of the best lines, and totally steals the show! It is worth watching just for him.

As I said, Stage Fright is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. It is a really great example of the classic Hitchcock style.
If you pay attention to such things, it has some very impressive camera work, neat set trickery, and impressive lighting effects. The final scenes of the film really stand out and are incredibly suspenseful.

In addition to all of its great qualities, Stage Fright has one characteristic that really sets it apart from the rest of Hitchcock's films. It contains one of only two mistakes he ever admitted to making.
I'm not going to tell you what the mistake is. Actually I'm going to give you a challenge. If you haven't already seen Stage Fright, watch it, and see if you can pick out what the mistake is. After you have seen it, do an internet search to find out what the mistake was, and see what you think.

I actually really like the so-called "mistake". I think it creates a neat viewing experience. I do see Hitch's reasoning though. The funny thing is that modern directors make this same "mistake" all the time, but nobody seems to notice or complain. Hitchcock was definitely a perfectionist. I wish more directors were like him.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

100 Miles!


I completed the Bike MS Century Ride!

It was so much fun! I would definitely do it again.

I was actually surprised by how easy it was. There really weren't any major hills, and I felt really well prepared for it.

I got through the whole thing without any aches or pains. I was tired of course, and it was difficult to keep up my pace towards the end once my energy was waning, but I was very happy with my performance.

Here are my recorded stats:
Ride Time: 5 hours 46 minutes
Trip Distance: 100.16 miles
Average Speed: 17.36 mph
Max Speed: 39.36 mph
Average Cadence: 95 rpm
Max recorded temperature: 114.9 deg F!

Here are some photos!


I was worried that I would be late in the morning because on my way there, I got stuck behind a house!


Here I am waiting to start. There were a lot of people there! I think about 2700 people participated.


They had to send us out in waves starting at about 7:30. I'm not sure exactly what time I started, but I know when I finished. I think with the aid station stops, I did it in a little under 7 hours. Not sure though.

I took a bunch of selfies at the aid stations, but they pretty much just show me in various stages of sweatiness.  You guys probably don't want to see those...so here are some action shots from the photographers they had out on the course.











They gave us pretty nice medals!

I think if I were to do it again, I would do two things differently. First, I would bring along a camera other than my phone. One I could grab and operate while I was riding. We saw some beautiful scenery along the way, and I would have liked to have captured more of it. Second, I would spend less time at the aid stations. I was sort of riding with a group the whole time, and I was trying to stay with them.  Also, I wasn't sure how difficult it would be, so I admit that I took it kind of easy. I would really like to keep the total event time, including stops, down under six and a half hours.

All in all it was a great experience!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Perks of Being a Wallflower didn't really interest me when it first came out. I usually try to stay on top of the films that come out, and which ones are worth seeing, but I hadn't heard much about this one, and therefore concluded that it was just some fluffy teen flick that could easily be missed. I guess it just sort of slipped through the cracks...

I recently watched it on my brother's recommendation.
I'm glad I did, because it was excellent!
I was incredibly impressed with this film, from start to finish.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has probably the most talented cast of young people I have ever seen in a movie before. Everyone did a really excellent job.
I especially liked Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. Those two really stole the show.
Logan Lerman is quickly becoming my favorite young actor. He is incredibly talented.

The thing that impressed me most about this film, was how heartfelt and genuine it was.  It was such a thoughtful and personal look into some of the issues high school age kids might face. Even though you might not have dealt with the exact same issues, I think everyone can relate to the feelings portrayed. Particularly poignant was the need to be accepted, make friends, and get a fresh start. Everyone has things that they would like to leave behind and forget about. As someone who didn't particularly like high school, and never really felt like I fit in, I related to this film very deeply.

One thing that I've come to understand in recent years, is that not everyone can understand or identify with every film. Some really excellent films seem to be totally lost on some people, while they truly resonate with others. One of the best examples of this is Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. Truly personal for some, abstract and boring for others. There isn't anything wrong with this, it just means that films take on different meanings based on our experiences. I feel like The Perks of Being a Wallflower falls into this category. While it is an excellent film, it won't resonate with everyone.

I'm really surprised that this film didn't garner more buzz when it was released. It basically got overlooked for all the major awards, especially the Oscars.
In my opinion this film absolutely should have been nominated for best picture.
In fact, I'm going to make the declaration that this is the best film from 2012 that I have seen. I think this was a much better film than all of the 2012 best picture nominees. It was certainly better than Argo. I still can't believe that won best picture. That's probably the least deserving best picture winner I have ever seen. Coincidentally, Argo was released the same day that The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released.
While I am on the topic, I am also incredibly surprised that The Silver Linings Playbook got so much attention. That movie, and every performance in the movie, was absolute garbage.  Who really thought the performances in that film were deserving of so many best actor nominations? The performances from the cast of The Perks of Being a Wallflower were much more powerful and evocative. With Silver Linings Playbook, I felt like every member of the cast just phoned it in.

Had The Perks of Being a Wallflower been nominated for best picture that year, it would have been my favored pick to win.

What the heck...I'm going to go ahead and give it 5 stars out of 5.

I kind of feel like The Perks of Being a Wallflower nicely rounds out a little trilogy of favorites for me, along with 500 Days of Summer, and 50/50.
Wallflower so perfectly captures high school and the teenage years, 500 Days of Summer perfectly illustrates what it is like to have a real relationship, and 50/50 shows us the impact that health and other physical trials can have. In each of these films, friends and family play an integral role. These films deal with real issues that everyone will face at some time in their lives. I'm not sure what genre these films fall into, but whatever it is, it is my favorite genre.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Superman Returns!




I started this post quite a long time ago, but never finished it.
I am one of the few people who actually really liked Superman Returns.
Out of all the Superman movies, it is probably my favorite.
I know that it borrows dialog and plot elements from the first Superman film, but for some reason, it works. Those things just seem to fit.

My brother had never seen it before, so after the disappointing Man of Steel, we decided to all watch Superman Returns for comparison. We all agreed that Superman Returns is exponentially better than Man of Steel. It is just so much more satisfying and true to the character.

So without getting too much into spoilers, here are the top ten reasons I love Superman Returns:

10. The music is fantastic! The combination of the original John Williams soundtrack with some new original compositions is so good! This is a fantastic film score.
9. I think Brandon Routh is the perfect actor to play Superman. I thought he did an excellent job, despite much of the criticism. One of the problems with Superman is that if you pick someone who fits the Superman role well, he usually seems out of place as Clark Kent. Routh seems to fit both roles quite well.
8. The Gatling gun save. How cool is it to just walk right into the hail of bullets from a Gatling gun?!
7. The airplane save. This whole sequence is just spectacular. Crashing through the burning wing...the crumpling nose...the stadium...I love it!
6. When he pulls the ship out of the ocean, rips the door off, grabs the guys hand, and then just drops the ship out from under them. This scene is both incredibly touching, incredibly powerful, and a visual spectacle. Very impressive.
5. When he is so exhausted that he just plummets back to earth.
4. That the doctor's needles just bend when they try to stick him.
3. The crowd outside the hospital
2. Despite his jealousy, I love how Superman respects Richard's role as head of his family. When Superman saves them from the sinking ship, instead of doing it all himself, he saves Richard, but allows Richard to save his family. This movie is far more profound than people give it credit for.
1. Despite its flaws, this film really captures the heart and soul of Superman. I love how satisfying it is!

There you have it. I wasn't planning on giving this film a star rating, but what the heck, I'll do it anyway.
I would give Superman Returns 4 stars out of 5.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Man of Steel...and a Bunch of Other Stuff



Saturday I saw the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, directed by Michael Bay.  Oops...I mean Zack Snyder...

I can only think of one word that adequately captures the essence of this film.  Vulgar.

What?!  Vulgar: Lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined.

I actually rather enjoyed the first half of the film. This was where we got to see Kal-El/Clark Kent wandering anonymously around the world, taking odd jobs, saving people, and then disappearing. We also saw snippets of his childhood and his interactions with his parents. These were by far my favorite parts of the movie.  We actually got a look at the true nature of Superman, and this was very satisfying. Unfortunately, once he puts on the suit and cape, it's all downhill. It quickly degenerates into a slug-fest where destruction is carefree and abundant.

This trend in summer action movies is really troubling me. There seems to be no question among critics and audiences alike that the Transformer movies are terrible in every way. People who like these movies admit that they are terrible, but they enjoy the action.  So why is it that when we see the same level of gratuitous destruction in a Superman or Star Trek movie, the change in franchise somehow validates the sloppy action? Again, I remind you of that word I used...vulgar.

Destruction on this scale is absolutely ludicrous. In one sequence, we have Superman confidently walking down the street, telling people to stay inside because it isn't safe.  W then we see him throwing the bad guys through those same buildings, the bad guys throwing him through those same buildings, trains and cars and trucks, and airplanes crashing through those builds...all presumably full of people. Explosions are everywhere, and yet there never seems to be another thought directed towards the innocent people that are surely becoming casualties.

How many skyscrapers were destroyed in this film? 20? 30? It was a lot. Basically an entire city center was leveled.  Are audiences really so brain-dead that they never once wonder about all of the people that are in these buildings?  If you think about it, Superman actually did a pretty terrible job of saving...really anyone at all. The only person he seemed to be concerned about was Lois Lane. They even paused amidst the chaos to have a little make-out session. Doesn't anyone else see how ridiculous this is?

In the other superman movies, one of the major sources of conflict comes when Superman is faced with the choice of saving lots of people, or protecting Lois Lane. In those movies, he always makes the right choice to save lots of people.  Not so in Man of Steel.

I am honestly amazed that in our post 9/11 society people are willing to accept displays of careless destruction as a legitimate means of entertainment.  Would anyone go back and watch footage of the twin towers collapsing just for the fun of it? Does anyone think that this was just a spectacle for our entertainment? Is it even possible for us to see those images without thinking of the thousand of lives that were lost? This was a BIG deal.
So why is it that when we see catastrophic destruction exponentially greater that September 11th in a summer action movie, we accept it, love it, and give no thought to the potential loss of life? What was the body count in Man of Steel or Star Trek: Into Darkness? I submit that it was AT LEAST in the tens of thousands.  In a major city, how many people would die in the destruction of 10 or 20 skyscrapers?

What amazes me more though, is that J.J. Abrams had the crassness to show this kind of destruction, and then dedicated his film to the people affected by September 11th. Does anyone else see the irony? he is taking potentially horrific events, magnitudes greater than what we saw in real life, using them as a spectacle for entertainment, and then tries to pass it off as a way of honoring real life people who lost their lives! In the film, he never even mentions the loss of life, or the affects of that terrible day, except in a brief ceremony where the main event was the rechristening of the repaired USS Enterprise. It seemed like mentioning the loss of life was just an afterthought; a cheap attempt to validate the cataclysmic set piece he engineered. Why are people not crying out over this?!

Again, the word vulgar springs to mind.
This would be akin to an action movie depicting a theater shooting where hundreds of people are murdered, and then dedicating it to the people of Aurora Colorado.
Absolutely ludicrous.

If you don't mind some swears, and you want to hear a really compelling argument for why massive destruction is not appropriate in a superhero movie, check this out.
http://collider.com/man-of-steel-superman-criticism-max-landis/
I agree with everything he has said. The society shaking destruction seen in recent blockbusters like Man of Steel, Star Trek In To Darkness, The Avengers, and all of the Transformers movies, is probably the most troubling trend I am seeing in recent years, aside from the rise in popularity of so called "torture-porn" films.

I actually have a theory about why mega-destruction doesn't bother people. Are you familiar with the concept of the Uncanny Valley? I discussed this in my Tron: Legacy review.
The basic idea is that when we see a representation of a person, our ability to become emotionally attached to that representation depends on the level of realism. However, there is a point where the level of realism is incredibly high, yet the emotional attachment is incredibly low. This happens because people can tell that something is slightly off about it...something just isn't quite right. It is very close to the real deal, yet still noticeably artificial.  This creates a "valley" on the graph of emotional attachment.
I think that this same thing is happening in these blockbuster movies that are so CGI heavy. The CGI cityscapes look incredibly good...but there is no question among audiences that the buildings are not real, simply because the scale of destruction is so large, that no film could ever possibly afford to do it for real. Thus, because it looks real, but obviously isn't, there is no emotional attachment to the city, the buildings, or the people inside of them.
compare this to the scene in Terminator 2 when they blew up an office building, or the scene in The Dark Knight where they blew up a hospital. In those two movies, THEY ACTUALLY BLEW UP REAL BUILDINGS! Both of those scenes were significantly more spectacular and emotionally impacting than anything seen in Man of Steel or Star Trek. What I am trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with action heavy movies, but there does seem to be a level of quality that has been missing from these new movies. More CGI is not the answer.

All-in-all, this was a pretty terrible Superman movie...yet audiences seem to love it. Why is this? The critics are pretty much all agreeing on how sub-par this film really is.

For example, on Rotten Tomatoes, Man of Steel currently has a critics rating of 56%. It's Metascore is 55. Yet audiences have given it an 8.2 on IMDB, and an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. That's a pretty large disparity.

For comparision, here are the ratings of the three previous Superman movies: (ignoring Superman III and IV, because it is pretty universally accepted that those were embarrassingly terrible films.)

Superman (1978) 93% RT Critics, 77% RT Audience, 7.3 IMDB, 86 Metascore
Superman II (1980) 89% RT Critics, 66% RT Audience, 6.7 IMDB, 87 Metascore
Superman Returns (2006) 75% RT Critics, 67% RT Audience, 6.2 IMDB, 72 Metascore

The LOWEST rated Superman movie is still 20% HIGHER than Man of Steel, yet when you look at the audiences rating, the HIGHEST rated Superman movie is 5% BELOW Man of Steel.
Something is wrong here.
It seems to be the trend these days for people to ignore the opinions of film critics, exclaiming that critics don't know what they are talking about, or critics only like artsy movies. If you are one of these people, I would suggest that your tastes probably need some refining. You probably have a pretty immature understanding of what the criteria for good films actually are. Film critics spend their lives studying films. For the most part, they understand what makes a movie good or not.  I don't always agree with critics, but I can usually read their analysis, and get a pretty good idea of what I will think of the movie. It helps to find who your preferred critics are, and read their reviews first.

So what is my purpose with all of this criticism? I guess what I am saying is that I am sick and tired of these destruction-filled summer blockbusters. The people who make these films are classless and have extremely poor taste, and the audiences who actually enjoy these films, and describe them as "awesome!" or "best Superman movie ever!", have even less class, and even worse taste. I seriously question the presence of any level of intelligence in these people. The fact that movies like this are so quickly embraced, causes me to lose just a little more faith in humanity. Grow up people!

I'm going to stop my rant right there.
Let's say some positive stuff now.
I had no problems with the plot of the film, it was fine. Except for a few head scratching moments, it was fine. Like how did Lois Lane manage to always turn up where Superman was, especially when the epic fist-fight had them zooming and crashing all over Metropolis? She must run really fast. Furthermore, if the battle between Zod and Superman had them flying all the way up into space...why did they keep returning to Metropolis? Shouldn't their battle have been all over the planet?
Anyway, besides stuff like that, it was fine.
I REALLY liked the cast. I loved Cavill as Superman, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane was very good.
Michael Shannon as Zod was a bit of a miss. He's not a very convincing actor. His "I will find him!" line got pretty comical after he repeated it four times in a row.
Russell Crow's Jor-El kind of stole the show for me. He was very good.
Again, I really liked the first half of the movie, before all the action stuff started happening.

I'm going to give Man of Steel 2.5 stars out of 5.
Did you notice the movie poster I chose to include in this post? That's Superman hanging his head in shame after being part of such a dumb movie.

I kind of included a lot of Star Trek thoughts in this review as well.  On further reflection, and a second viewing, I'm dropping my rating of Star Trek: Into Darkness down to 2 stars out of 5. It was significantly less entertaining the second time around, and even more plot holes and evidences of its poor writing came into light.  For example, don't the filmmakers know how far away the moon is from earth? It is REALLY far! So when they are having their battle, and drop out of warp RIGHT NEXT TO THE MOON, how did they then CRASH INTO EARTH?! Ridiculous. A simple Google search could have told them the distance from the earth to the moon.  It's 384,400 km.  One of Sulu's few lines actually states their distance from earth as 237,000 km.  Remember how they had to align their ship so some people could shoot over to the other ship? If you were paying attention, that whole sequence was taking place in orbit around THE MOON, or at least very close to the moon. The moon was the backdrop for that whole sequence, and they appear to be stationary in relation to the moon.  Then somehow with no power to their engines, and no dialog to explain it, they manage to drift all the way to earth, and plummet dramatically through the atmosphere.  How dumb do these people think audiences are? It's actually kind of insulting.  It really is just a case of filmmakers building their films around action-packed set pieces rather than any actual plot. Sometimes things just don't fit together well.
I am convinced that filmmakers these days are hoping that by keeping the pace fast enough, and the action chaotic enough, that it will be impossible for audiences to keep up enough to actually think about what is going on, or realize that things don't really make any sense; thus preventing the discovery of all their sloppy workmanship.  It's actually kind of a clever slight of hand trick...but still very bad filmmaking.

Wow this was a long one! I included all sorts of crazy crap in this review! Sorry about that.
Keep in mind that these are my candid OPINIONS about these films. If you disagree with me, don't worry about it. My opinion isn't really worth anything anyway.

Friday, June 14, 2013

MS Century Ride

In case you didn't already know, I've been training for my first century bike ride!

I'm pretty excited for it. :)

I am doing the Bike MS ride on June 29th for the National MS Society.

I set a goal to raise $600, and my work is contributing $250 towards that goal.

I have been training pretty hard, and I am feeling really good about the upcoming event.

If you would be interested in donating, please go to this link.

Click the blue "donate" button, then search by participant for my name, "Robby Spratt".

Once my name comes up, you will be able to click "donate now".

I sure would appreciate your support, and it will go towards a very good cause.

Thanks! :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Emigration Canyon

Saturday I went on a bike adventure!

I rode from my house to the summit of Emigration canyon.

Round trip it was 50 miles. Well...49.5, but that's close enough, right?

The funny thing about this adventure was that I didn't plan on riding Emigration canyon at all.

Originally I was just going to go for a nice 40 mile ride to the zoo and back. (I'm training for a century ride at the end of the month.)

When I got to the zoo, I felt so good, that I decided to ride up to Ruth's diner. (Favorite restaurant, by the way.)

Then when I got to Ruth's, I felt so good, that I decided to go a little farther, and see what was ahead.

After going a little farther, I figured I would keep going until I got to a really hard steep hill.

I never really came to any steep hills, so at some point I just decided that since I had come this far, I might as well go the rest of the way to the summit.

I'm glad I did! It was spectacular!

The problem with bike adventures is that I don't get many photos...because I am busy...biking.

Here are the photos I did get though.







Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness


Wednesday night, I saw the new Star Trek movie.
My brother couldn't see it until today, and didn't want his experience to be influenced by my opinions, so out of respect I withheld any comments or posts until after he had seen it.

It's no secret that I was not a huge fan of the previous film.
My initial review was actually pretty favorable; but now that I have seen it a few times, and some of its glaring plot holes have come into light, I feel it is a truly terrible film.

With that in mind, I enjoyed this second film MUCH more than the first.
I was entertained, never bored, and found it to be very fun and enjoyable.
That's my initial gut reaction.

That being said, if you even think about it a little bit, Star Trek: Into Darkness is ultimately unoriginal, and disappointing.

This is going to be a bit of a bipolar review, because my feelings on it are so conflicted.
I simultaneously liked it, and disliked it.
I'm weird...I know.

I liked this new film more than the first, primarily because it left out all the ridiculous slap-stick humor, and obligatory J.J. Abrams CGI-monster chase sequences. This one also had a decent plot, and a compelling villain, unlike the first.
Several of the performances really stood out as something special. I loved the Christopher Pike character.  They also made much better use of Scotty this time around.
Also the space battles were second to none. Really top notch.
It was fun. That's pretty much the end of my praise.

The film's biggest problem, is that it does not have the courage to stand on its own, and be original. It borrows too much material from the original franchise, in terms of dialog and plot elements.

I thought it was a major mistake to retread on such familiar Star Trek territory.
With one name change, and a couple of minor plot changes, they could have made almost the exact same movie, but it would have been much more original and interesting. As it was, it became far too predictable, especially towards the end.

With this whole alternate timeline thing, they pretty much have free reign to do whatever they want, so in my opinion, they shouldn't be borrowing/stealing dialog and key events from the original films.
Why would completely different establishing events, occurring at a totally different time from the original establishing events, lead up to a nearly identical conflict, climax, and resolution as in the original films?
Really this is just an example of poor writing and lack of imagination.

The first half of the film was pretty good. For a while it looked like they might actually be taking a few concepts from Star Trek and really making them their own, unfortunately this didn't pan out.

The ending was embarrassingly sloppy and predictable; complete with the usual deus ex machina that completely destroyed any real risk or emotion.
Also, the obvious allusions to the original series felt unnecessary and out of place.  What should have been a powerful and emotional sequence was turned into a ridiculous tongue-in-cheek joke.
What's worse though is that most of the people in the audience, probably won't understand why a certain part of the film is embarrassingly laughable. Kids these days...

It also featured a destruction sequence that really bothered me. I don't want to say too much by way of spoilers, but shouldn't that crash have killed thousands, if not tens of thousands of people? Yet, we never heard anything else about it. It was just consequence-free destruction for the sake of having a big action finale. That was disappointing. Either leave it out, or address it head on. Don't just throw in a big spectacle scene because it looks cool, and then pretend that it didn't really matter.

Plain and simple, this is just a modern re-imagining of the Star Trek brand, tarted up with 500% more action, and 2,000,000% more special effects/CGI. It is an action sci-fi film for the modern ADD audience, and it barely qualifies as Star Trek.
Basically, it is just more of the same from J.J. Abrams. A fun summer action movie, nothing more.

I would give it 3 stars out of 5.

******

Ok, That is my original post-viewing review.
After writing my review, I came across Collider.com's review.
Boy were they harsh! They gave it a D rating!
I actually agree with everything in their review.  As far as complaints go, they really hit the nail on the head. This isn't just Star Trek snobbery...the movie has some serious problems.
Where I differ however, is that I still think entertainment value counts for something; and Into Darkness is certainly entertaining.  I enjoyed it! I had fun with it!  It is definitely fun enough to justify overlooking some of its flaws for the sake of the experience.
On their rating scale, I would personally give it a solid B.
Their review is actually very well thought out, so if you are interested in a fairly thorough analysis on why this is not a great film, give it a read. I quite enjoyed it.

*Edit:
After a second viewing of this film, I have a much better idea of just how bad Into Darkness actually is. There are so many things that are wrong with it, and so many things that just don't make any sense.  I talk about this more in my review of Man of Steel, so I won't reiterate here.
I'm bumping my rating down to 2 stars out of 5. This is probably my least favorite Star Trek movie...well, maybe second least favorite...The Final Frontier was pretty bad. Maybe I just need to watch that one again.  Hey! That would be a fun project! Re-watch all of the Star Trek movies and rate them from most favorite to least favorite! I'll have to do that one of these days.

Gatsby


Last weekend I saw The Great Gatsby.

What a weird movie!

I'm not super familiar with the works of Baz Luhrmann. I've seen Moulin Rouge!, and Australia, but that's all.

I didn't really like Moulin Rouge!, the style and story didn't really appeal to me.

Australia was ok, it was just way too long.  Really it should have been split into two separate movies.

I suppose if you like the style of Baz Luhrmann, then you will probably like The Great Gatsby also.

I can't really say that I liked it...but I do have to admit, the soundtrack was pretty good; especially the new song by Lana Del Rey.


Watching this movie was like a roller coaster for me.  I don't mean that the movie itself was a roller coaster, but rather that my opinion of the movie, while I was watching it, fluctuated wildly...like a roller coaster!

At times I thought, "this is the worst movie I've ever seen!" Then a few minutes later I would think, "hey, this crap isn't half bad."
Other times I thought, "this style is so stupid!" But then I would think, "wow, the style was actually really cool in that part."

It was a strange experience.

The party scenes got a little tiresome after a while. There were so many of them!
I was also kind of grossed out by how sweaty this movie is. I swear, half the movie consisted of characters lazily lying around on sofas, half dressed, all sweaty and gross from the New York summer heat. It gave it kind of a trashy feel.

I only have two real complaints about Gatsby, besides the weird style:

1. Tobey Maguire is terrible! He's terrible in everything! Why are people still giving him jobs?!

2. The CGI was terrible! They used it WAY too much! Seriously, at times the buildings and scenery looked like they belonged in a Star Wars prequel...it was so bad.

Everything else...was ok.

It's been a long time since I've read the novel, and I don't remember it very well, but I am told that this movie follows the book very well, with the exception of Nick Carraway narrating from a Sanitarium.

My overall impression of the film is that it is all style and no substance; which is actually rather appropriate considering the book itself is about a bunch of selfish people who are solely concerned with style and appearance, but have no real substance themselves.
So in a way, the style of Baz Luhrmann was the perfect medium for conveying the ideas and personalities found in The Great Gatsby.

Like I said, it's weird.

By some strange cosmic stroke of genius or happenstance, this terrible film is somehow made excellent through its terribleness.

I would say it is worth watching...once.

2.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Iron Man 3


This is going to be a quick review, because there isn't much to talk about if I am going to avoid spoilers.
I just wanted to say that I really liked it, and it is my favorite of the three Iron Man movies. I think I even liked it more than The Avengers.
I loved the humor of the film, but was also interested in the dramatic portions. I LOVED what they did with Tony Stark, being on the verge of a breakdown after the traumatic events in The Avengers. I thought that this element added a lot to his character, and the plot.
I also liked Pepper Potts more in this film than any of the others. She actually did stuff! I just wish that they had done more with her in the armor...maybe her own suit???
I'll give this one 4 stars out of 5. This is definitely in my upper tier for the usually-lame super hero movies. I was very impressed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Summer Commute

Last summer I decided to get more into cycling, so I purchased a shiny new road bike. :)

This summer I've decided to try commuting to work on my bike.

It's only 10 miles each way, and I have a pretty good route picked out that is safe for cyclists.

Also, my work is pretty bicycle friendly with our showers, and changing area with lockers.

Plus, there are already several people I know of who regularly bike to work.

They are pretty cool dudes...I would also like to be a cool dude...

So yesterday I rode my bike to work for the first time.

It was a great success!

My morning ride was very pleasant, and I felt great afterwards.

When I drive, it takes me about 20 minutes to get to work. Biking only took me 40.

Sure it makes my commute twice as long, but I get my daily exercise at the same time. So that's pretty good I guess.

My afternoon trip had significantly more traffic to deal with, so it was slightly less pleasant, but still quite enjoyable.

I felt well equipped for the commute with my backpack, spandex, and flashy lights, but I think I still need to get a mirror for my helmet. I know they look dorky, but it would make me feel a lot better knowing what was coming up from behind. Glancing over my shoulder all the time gets old real quick.

It was too cold to ride in today (May 1 = snow in Utah), but I'm hoping that this will become my regular summer routine. :)

Here's to being awesome!





Thursday, April 25, 2013

C.P.K.

You know how every once in a while I will make a declaration that something is "Robby Approved"?  Well, this morning I realized that I probably need a way to express my disapproval of things.
Sometimes, things need to be...Robby Rejected!

The first ever Robby Reject is...California Pizza Kitchen!

Why, you ask?

Well, last night I ate there for the first time. Here's what happened:

I wasn't feeling very hungry, so I decided to have a simple half Caesar salad.
What could go wrong?

When the greeter dude came to take our drink orders, I told him that "I just want water."

He asked me if I wanted sparkling water or still water.

In my head I'm thinking, "sparkling water at a pizza place? What kind of pretentious operation is this?"
So I told him that I just wanted regular still water.

I was pretty surprised when he brought me a fancy glass bottle of french water, already opened of course, so I couldn't refuse it...and poured it into a wine glass.  Now I am wondering how much this "glass" of water is going to cost me.

When someone says "I just want water," how does that translate into "I want your most expensive bottle of fancy french water"?  What happened to the complimentary glass of water that you get everywhere? Most places start you off with a glass of water even before they ask if you want to order a fancy drink...
At least it wasn't sparkling.

Not impressed.

Anyway, after a while the server lady came to take our meal orders.  Remember I had already decided on the half Caesar salad, which was only $6.

My choice was motivated more by my lack of hunger than the price, but I figured that I might as well try to save a couple of bucks if I wasn't going to eat very much...

So I tell the girl what I want, and she immediately asks me if I want chicken, shrimp, or salmon on my salad.
She said it in a way that made it sound like I had to choose one of them, like selecting how you want your steak cooked, or which sides you want.

So now I am thinking "I must not have read the menu very carefully, I didn't know the salad came with a choice of meat." Naturally I don't want to read the menu description again, so I just tell her chicken.

Turns out, the chicken wasn't included. It was extra.

So my $6 salad magically became a $10 salad.
Combine that with my $5 glass of water, throw in a tip, and my meager meal ended up being a little over $18!

I was not happy.  I felt like I got hustled.

So here is what I learned; if you go to C.P.K. and you want water, you must specify that you want regular free tap water, even if they don't present that as an option.  And when you decide what you want to eat, make sure you know what the item description is, and if they ask you about options you weren't aware of, you'd better find out if they are included before you accept them.

California Pizza Kitchen is pretentious and overpriced. They use trickery and circumvention to get you to spend more money.  I will not be going back.

C.P.K. has been ROBBY REJECTED!


Monday, April 22, 2013

The Grapist

Have you guys seen this super weird video?

It's one of those things that you probably shouldn't be laughing at, but for some reason you can't help yourself.

I'm still not sure what to make of it, but here it is.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

First Time for Everything

It isn't every day someone sends a text to let you know that they "despise" you...

This very thing happened to me today.

It sure caught me off guard.

I thought this person was my friend.

Apparently, I thought wrong.

This is probably the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to me.

In fact, the whole text was needlessly unkind.

I just have one thing to say about this:

I am a great person, and if you can't see that, then it is your failing, not mine.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Who Watches the Watchmen?


I recently finished reading the graphic novel Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

I loved this book! This was definitely one that was difficult to put down, and I suffered many late nights and drowsy mornings on its account.

I read Watchmen on my brother's recommendation, and I don't think I could write a better review than he already did, so please go check out his blog post.

I do have a few comments to add though.

This is only the second graphic novel I have read. The first was V for Vendetta, also by Moore.
For a long time I was kind of skeptical of graphic novels, thinking that they are pretty much just expanded comic books. Now that I've read some, I've realized that this is ok.  Being illustrated doesn't lessen the potential value of the story or themes.  Actually it makes for a rather unique experience, because rather than reading pages and pages of descriptions, you can spend that time studying the detailed images. Many of the pictures contain subtle clues about the story and characters that could easily be missed if you were to rush through it.  Good graphic novels are something to be savored.  It's actually quite refreshing to experience a quality story told though a different format. It's really a treat for the imagination.

Overall I would give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. Great story, incredible characters and dialog, amazing images, Watchmen has it all.

Seriously, every time Rorschach spoke, I was in awe. This book has one of the best opening monologues of all time. Sometime I need to re-read this book, and make a list of all of my favorite quotes.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Robby Spratt Superstar

My brother has been experimenting with Final Cut Pro, and made this short video after a recent IDPA shoot.

I thought it was pretty hilarious...and awesome.

Enjoy!

(The video might not play through the blog, so you may need to watch it on YouTube.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Note

I don't have very many memories from elementary school, and those that I do have are mostly unpleasant.
But I do have a few memories that I kind of like a little bit... Playing Pogs in the hallway, crossing the monkey bars at recess, soccer in sixth grade, and this one...

In fifth grade we had cubby boxes in the back of our classroom.

One day I opened mine and found a note inside.

It was a love note from a secret admirer.

My first one.

Actually, my only one...

I tried so hard to figure out who it was from.

I even tried matching the handwriting with several of the girls that I knew.

That silly note meant so much to me.

I knew it was probably just a prank, but I didn't care.

For some reason it made me feel hopeful.

I held on to that dumb thing for nearly two decades.

I kept it tucked away in a safe place.

I think I finally threw it away a few years ago.

Maybe I should have kept it...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Saddle West

A couple of weeks ago, my Dad and brothers and I went down to Pahrump, Nevada to attend a four day tactical shotgun class.

It was awesome!
I'll post more on that later.

This post, however, is to highlight the oddities of the hotel room we stayed in at the Saddle West.
We were so amused, that we decided to make a video.

Filming and editing was done by my awesome brother, Andrew.

Enjoy!


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Top Hitchcock Films

I recently realized that there is a MAJOR CONTENT GAP in my blog!

I've hardly blogged at all about ALFRED HITCHCOCK!

I've decided to remedy this oversight.

For starters, I've made a list of all of my favorite Hitchcock films.
The asterisks will denote the very best of the best. These should be considered MUST SEES for any movie lover.

Here is my list:

The Birds (1963)*


Psycho (1960)*


North by Northwest (1959)*


Vertigo (1958)*


The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)


To Catch a Thief (1955)


Rear Window (1954)*


Dial M for Murder (1954)*


Strangers on a Train (1951)*


Stage Fright (1950)


Rope (1948)*


Notorious (1946)


Spellbound (1945)


Shadow of a Doubt (1943)*


Suspicion (1941)


Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)


Rebecca (1940)*


The Lady Vanishes (1938)*


The 39 Steps (1935)*


Blackmail (1929)*


The Lodger (1927)