Saturday, June 26, 2010

Movie Review: Half Nelson

Occasionally there comes a movie of such power, beauty, and meaning that it will be remembered for years as a masterpiece, a work of art, a triumph in the field of cinematography. Then there are movies like Half Nelson.

In a normal review, this is where I would start laying out the plot Half Nelson of the movie. However, in keeping with the spirit of the film, I'm going to dick around for a while doing nothing of particular importance to the blog for a good half hour.


Okay, now where was I? Oh yes, bad movies.

The biggest problem about Half Nelson is that it takes absolutely forever for it to actually get from point A to point B. It was released in theaters back in 2006, and was then put on DVD in late 2007. After that, it took TWO AND A HALF YEARS for it to actually reach mediums where it could be viewed, namely Netflix and Red Box. The movie has existed for 4 years, and only recently have people managed to actually notice that it does, in fact, exist.

After watching Half Nelson, however, the reasons for this were explained. My suspicion is that the US government was trying to contain this movie, like some film version of anthrax. It's one of the most inane, pointless films that I have seen in a very long time. The vast majority of the characters are unlikeable and impossible to relate to. Not to mention psychologically unstable - it's really not a good thing when the character who we find ourselves liking the most is the goddamn drug dealer. At least he TRIES to make up for his mistakes, even if you doubt his sincerity at times.

"Gee, sorry guys."

Half Nelson (most likely named after the wrestling move used to make people sit through this thing) is about a teacher with a drug problem. Then he befriends a student. Then... well, actually, that's pretty much it BUT IT TAKES NEARLY TWO HOURS FOR THIS TO BE EXPLAINED! Along the way we see again and again that A: People are flawed, and B: Life sucks sometimes. This is the only message that the movie really has to offer, and it does so like a depressed man with Tourettes. Most of the time it mutters to itself incoherently, but occasionally shouts out "PEOPLE SUCK!" or "LIFE IS COMPLICATED!"

And... that's really pretty much it. This whole affair takes a whopping 105 minutes, but it feels more like 30 years of boredom drilled directly into the skull by a drunk surgeon. This is a woefully poor movie, and is a disastrous waste of time.

Final Grade: D-

Friday, June 25, 2010

Movie Review: Ondine

Fantasy and dreams have an important role in the world. There is so much of the world that we do not understand for one reason or another, be it due to our limited scope of comprehension, or because we're just dumb. Whatever the reason, Imagination, belief and the desire to explain the unknown have long been powerful influencing forces on the human psyche. We are faced constantly by the choice between what we know and what we believe. These questions are addressed in a little independent film called Ondine.

If you're like most of America, you probably haven't heard of this film. It's received little to no publicity since its US release earlier this month, as it's only been shown in independent theaters. That really is a shame, because this is a fine film that deserves to be seen.

The film follows an Irish fisherman named Syracuse (apparently his parents hated him), played by Colin Farrell. "Circus," as our hero is nicknamed (apparently his friends hated him even more), is the father of a seriously ill young firebrand named Annie, who is the only bright spot in his otherwise grey life.

On an otherwise typically poor fishing haul, Syracuse finds a beautiful young woman beguilingly tangled in his nets who says that her name is Ondine. He is mystified by this, as it apparently doesn't happen that often (hey, I live in a big city, what do I know about fishing?). Young Annie insists that the woman is a Selkie, a Celtic mythological creature that takes off its "seal suit" to become a human. Because apparently ancient Celts thought that seals were pretty hot stuff.

Oh, yeah baby, I'd club that, if you know what I mean.

Beyond that, there's not much else that I can say about the plot of this movie without spoiling things, save that it is a nearly constant struggle between the desire to believe in the unbelievable and urge explain the unexplained. It is very clearly not an American made film - the story progresses rather slowly, focusing more on how the various characters react to the situation at hand than in throwing event after event at the audience. It has a slow, smooth pace that gives the audience time to make their own conclusions about what is really going on. Is Ondine indeed something beyond the ken of conventional belief or is truly mundane?

Along the way, there are some truly shining moments between the various characters. Farrell's character of Syracuse is quiet and troubled while also maintaining a certain charm that shines through, particularly in his conversations with his priest, wonderfully played by a delightful Stephen Rea. But the character that really steals the show is that of the out-of-nowhere actress Alison Barry, who plays Syracuse's daughter, Annie. Her fierce conviction and unyieldingly optimistic view on life absolutely makes the film. She is the embodiment of childhood innocence, the incarnation of the part of us that believes in fairies, dragons, and magic. The film is almost worth watching just for her performance alone - it really is that good.

The only problem that I have in the movie is a single scene near the end of the film. I won't give away details, but it answers the question of the movie away in the most blank, obvious way imaginable. The majesty and artistry of most of the film comes from the air of mystery around Ondine, the fact that we must choose between what we think and what we believe... and then the movie basically says "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED. THIS IS WHAT IS GOING ON." And with that, all the beauty and majesty of the film is ripped away, and it feels almost as though the movie has betrayed us by doing so.


It's one of those instances where the movie decides that the audience doesn't get an opinion of it's own. The movie says: "This is the story that the movie is going to tell, and it'll be damned if anyone decides that the message was anything different!" This is particularly frustrating and hypocritical in this instance, as it flies in the face the rest of Ondine's theme. In a film that is all about interpretation of perceptions, the movie takes away the audience's right to interpret what they perceive! What the hell??

But despite the thoroughly disappointing ending, the movie is still worth a watch. The acting is great, the characters are solid and well-developed, and the writing is far better than a lot of movies that follow similar trains of plot. Even though the ending gives you the answers to THIS mystery, it still has a way of opening up one's eyes upon the rest of the world, showing us where we have made choices between logic and faith in our lives. The message is powerful, if subtle in its delivery.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Top 7 Most Overrated Movies

There are a lot of movies in the world, and a lot of them are good. A great deal more of them are bad. There are some, of course, that are not nearly as good as their reputations proclaim them to be. Now, not all of these movies are bad - I've listed several movies that I actually do really like. But just because they're good does not mean they deserve the massive amount of hype and popularity that they have managed to claim. And so I present my top 7 overrated movies.

#7: The Dark Knight
"But Faceguy, you shining beacon of unadulterated manliness!" you're asking yourself, "The Dark Knight was a great movie! You yourself have said so!"

I freely admit that I love this movie. It is easily, in my opinion, the best comic book movie around, and has the elements of an absolutely fantastic film. So why do I have it on this list? The Dark Knight got a huge amount of publicity from the incredibly unfortunate death of Heath Ledger, and the fact that he gave an incredible performance as the Joker threw fuel upon the fire. Because of that, we managed to mostly ignore the poor performances delivered by most of the rest of the cast, as well as the mediocre writing and plot.

And yet despite its flaws, people throw titles on it such as "piece of art" and "masterpiece". The Dark Knight is good, but frankly does not deserve that much acclaim. It's a great movie, but still manages to be highly overrated.

#6: Saw
Now, there are a number of people who would disagree with the fact that Saw has that much in the way of publicity. "Au contraire!" say I! You don't get 5 bloody sequels off the ground if you don't have some popularity - in fact, you need a lot. Only a few other series' have 6 movies in their arsenal - Star Wars being the first that comes to mind. Comparing the first movies of each series, does Saw even compare to Star Wars? If you said yes, please post your address in the comments so I can come and BEAT SOME SENSE INTO YOUR HEAD WITH A ROCK.

I liked Saw, but it's not a good sign for a franchise when the director wanted to stop after the first of six.

#5: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
And now we get to the part of this list where I start bashing classics!

Steven Spielberg has a tendency of making some seriously strange projects. While I do have to give him serious props for being the mind behind Animaniacs, the best animated TV show of all time - even the future, he has also made several movies that make me wonder just what it was he was smoking at the time.

One of the most unexplainably overblown films that he has ever made was this Sci-Fi... adjective. I really don't know what genre this falls under beyond Sci-Fi. Drama? Mystery? Comedy? Romance?

Close Encounters is just strange. Truly chicken-on-face bizarre. From people who make massive replicas of Devil's Tower out of mud in their living rooms to spinning, glowing, flying top things, it's just one extended "What's going on?" moment. The weirdest is as the very end, which is about 10-15 minutes of no dialogue as people mill about among aliens before the aliens fly away. Yet despite the fact theat by the end you are bored and confused, look at the bottom of the poster. "One of the most spectacular movies ever made"??? WHAT?!?

Maybe it's because aliens stole my brain, but I just don't get it.

#4: Ben Hur

I know movie posters are occasionally biased, but to boldly claim that what you are advertising is "THE GREATEST STORY THE SCREEN HAS EVER TOLD" is going a little far.

I'm not going to go too deeply into this one, because it's one of those few movies that leaves me with such a small impression that I am relatively speechless. Ben Hur is long - probably one of the longest movies ever made. We're talking 212 minutes, which translates into just over three and a half hours. I think that director William Wyler mistook quantity for quality, which would explain a lot.

The thing that really gets me is how the movie claims to be "a story of Christ." That's a lie! Most of the movie focuses on this Judah Ben-Hur guy, with Jesus showing up once every half hour or so to say "Hey, look at me, JESUS!" before vanishing into his own (much more interesting) story.

In short, Ben Hur is long, relatively boring, and hideously overrated. If it weren't for Charlton Heston, I doubt anyone would know this movie even existed.

#3: The Matrix
I'm just going t0 say this once, alright? Okay, here goes... No science-fiction movie -especially one starring Keanu Reeves - should ever... EVER... start it's own cult/religion.

The fact that so many people seemed to take this movie seriously makes me seriously concerned for the human race. Even today, I hear people seriously considering that we all might be inside a giant machine to create energy and, even worse, that THE MATRIX WAS A DESPERATE MESSAGE FROM THE REBELS TO THE REST OF US TO SPREAD THE MESSAGE OF THE TRUTH. I think my faith in humanity just died a little.

Nutshell time. The Matrix (Note: ONLY THE FIRST ONE) was a decent movie AT BEST, and most certainly not a message to humanity from more humanity that we need to start resisting reality. End of nutshell, moving on.

#2: Titanic

... I take it back. Can I go back to Matrix? Please? No? Shit...

Alright, here we go. Titanic told the story of the sinking of the Titanic in a more dramatic and personal way then had ever before been attempted. Captained by James "Mad As A Hatter" Cameron, this movie could have been an absolute masterpeice...

... If it weren't for the fact that it would have been better if written by a 12 year old. The writing on this movie is absolutely painful, and the poor acting only serves to highlight the agony. When the movie isn't being overdramatic and badly written, it's deviating from the main plot by showing us a bunch of nerds playing in a submarine.

The worst part, though? The bit near the end where Rose goes on for what feels like an hour of promising that she'll never let go of Jack... RIGHT BEFORE SHE DOES JUST THAT.

I'm not saying it's the worst movie ever, but... It's pretty bloody close.

#1: Avatar
Oh... oh God... no, please, don't make me - Oh, Jesus, put down that gun! No! AHHHHHH!!!

As you might be able to tell from the above passage, I have a certain reluctance to touch this movie with so much as a ten foot pole. You may have also noticed that there's a theme from the last two movies? Can you tell? Here's a clue.

Titani-er, Avatar told the story of the sinking of the- um, environmentalist Smurf things in a more dramatic and personal way then had ever before been attempted. Piloted by James "Deja-Vu" Cameron, this movie could have been an absolute masterpeice...

Catching on?

This movie suffers from many of the same problems that plague Titanic, except for the fact that it wasn't even a remotely original plot. It's Dances with Wolves. In Space. With Smurfs. And it cost some 400 million dollars to produce. Okay, yes, it was one of the most gorgeous things I've seen on film, but the rest of the movie was BALLS and the fact that it's as popular as it is fills me with RAGE.

So that's the Top 7 Most Overrated Movies list. I hope you enjoyed it, and thank you for reading.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Before I begin, I know that in my last post I implied that I would be reviewing some sort of Roleplaying Game. I freely admit that it was the original plan, but it turned out that writing a review of Dungeons & Dragons was a bit more difficult than I had originally anticipated. I do plan to finish that review, but I have to review some object of vague interest at the moment, so I guess Toy Story 3 will work.

I'm not entirely sure where to start with this movie. I admit that I was not originally intending to see it after seeing the trailers - not to mention the steaming pile of "Why In God's Name Did I Pay For This?" that was Toy Story 2. I didn't even plan to see it the day I did - I simply read a good review and thought that I might give it a shot that afternoon.

Before I get to the potentially offensive bits, I do not dislike this movie. It was a strong film, and definitely something for Pixar Studios to be proud of. But it's certainly no great masterpiece, either, and I'm pretty sure that it will be one of the ones that you won't remember within a few years.

Like these, just without the fail.

Toy Story 3 just can't seem to figure out exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. It jumps from painfully stupid to wonderfully charming to eye-melting depression without any particular transition period. It's like a bipolar Shakespearean actor on meth, and that's just the first 15 minutes. We're faced with that same rapid-fire mood shifts throughout the whole movie, which gives TS-3 a frantic pace that can be a bit disorienting at times. This movie definitely suffers from Ratatouille syndrome - where the writers packed so much action into the movie that there's no room left over for a rest.

The voice acting is... decent. We do get the good performances that we have come to expect from Tom Hanks (Woody) and Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), and a great show from Ned Beatty as Lotso, the film's strawberry-scented villain. However, these three are marred by those of just about everyone else, whose performances range from mediocre to downright painful. The worst of it comes from Joan Cusack as Jessie, who I wanted to strangle, set on fire, defenestrate, blow up, dissolve in acid, disembowel, draw and quarter, and decapitate every time she opened her mouth.

"YEE-HAW, I ruined a franchise!"

But despite Cusack's best efforts, the movie still manages to have some truly entertaining moments. The sequence where the heroes break out of Sunnyside being one of the best, the whole sequence being an excellent homage to The Great Escape. There are also some moments where Pixar's brilliance does shine through, showing some poignant humanity from these plastic characters. Late in the movie there is a moment when the characters fall into a trap, and it seems that there is no escape. Instead of cheesy screaming and other antics that one might expect to find in this sort of film, they simply hold each other's hands and wait for the inevitable, simply taking comfort in the fact that if they must die, they do not have to do so alone. It's an incredibly powerful moment, and that's something that so many animated movies these days seem to lack.

Of course, the movie can be brutal at times, especially towards children. Seriously, this movie has some moments that had the children in the theater bawling.

This is where your loyal childhood friends will end up. Thanks to you, you little bastards.

I won't spoil the ending, but I will tell you that, assuming you have a soul, you will probably tear up sometime near the end of this film. It's not a sad ending, per se, but it makes you face so much nostalgia from when you were a kid that you will find yourself missing the days when life was a series of adventures between yourself and your favorite toys.

Would I recommend you see this movie? That honestly depends on who you are - Toy Story 3 is certainly not a film for everyone. While it's true that the acting is hit-and-miss and the story feels schizophrenic and rushed, it is a Pixar movie, and while it probably won't be remembered as one of its classics, it does have a good amount of the charm and thoughtfulness that we have come to expect from... most of what Pixar makes.

Final Grade: B

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Eternal Question

Why are we here?

If I were to answer that question directly, I'd probably say something along the lines of "for the lolz," but that would drag us into a long discussion on the matter of philosophy, and philosophy is not the purpose of this Blog.

"Wait, what?" You are probably asking yourself. "This thing has a POINT?"

Well, it looks like I fooled you, didn't I! This Blog DOES have a purpose beyond a random brain-dump for me. You see, I fall into a certain category. It's an important category, as well as the answer to a potentially philosophical question that goes something like "What am I?"

Well, I have an answer. I am a

I am a geek in just about any way imaginable. If it is a geek thing to do, there is a strong chance that I have done it and enjoyed it and
don't even regret it.

This Blog is going to be about Geek things. More specifically, it is going to REVIEW Geek things. There are a LOT of Geek things in the world - video games, geek movies, role-playing games, books, etc. etc. That's what I'm going to review. A lot of these reviews are going to be about things that have been around for a long time. However, I will also review current things, and will even be known to take requests about what I review.

So that's why I'm here. As for you, you're presumably here because you enjoy reading to my ramblings. And for that, I thank you.

So! Starting tomorrow we will begin with the reviews. For the first... large number of posts, I will be reviewing various tabletop RPGs. So grab your gear and get ready to search the bodies for loot - it's time to crawl the dungeon!

Concerning Names

For as long as I can remember, people have displayed a shocking inability to correctly pronounce my name. My name is a relatively common one... so long as you're in Ireland. Unfortunately I live in Minnesota, populated largely by Swedes, descended from the Vikings. Considering that the Vikings famously raped and pillaged much of Ireland, I suppose it could be a lot worse than people saying my name wrong, but I digress.

A lot of times, when introducing myself to a large number of people, my name is met by a bunch of looks that would normally be reserved for a naked man who stood up and started speaking in Klingon. When I was a lot younger, I would compensate by spelling my name aggressively at people, going so far as to preemptively correct commonly made mistakes. This was, however, doomed to result in horrible failure once I entered public school, where my rapid-fire listing of 15 letters resulted in many years of bullying to come. So I adopted a nickname. Unfortunately, this Nickname was very similar sounding to one of the most common names in the US. So... that went well. Eventually, I ended up being known as a variety of other titles, such as:

Hey, Jackass!
Hey, Moron!
You! Over there!

And, my favorite from my grade-school days:

That Zombie Kid.

After public school, I would simply introduce myself, smile blandly at the confused looks, and explain that I'll answer to just about anything. Mostly, this would get me addressed as "Hey, you!" or "Blond kid!". However, in early High-School, something came up that I had never heard before.

"Hey you! With the... FACE!"

Everyone faces a moment of destiny at some point in their life. Sometimes it's when they see their first great movie, lose their virginity, or play their first game of D&D. For me, it was when I was called "Hey you, with the face." It describes me perfectly as I do, in fact, have a face.

So, if you were wondering why I named my Blog "Hey You With the Face," you now know. If you were not wondering that, well... sorry about the past few paragraphs of exposition.

So here I am, presenting myself to you here, on the Internet. You know know a bit of who I am - I am a writer on the Internet, one of countless thousands others much like me in this digital wonderland. But I hope to be more than just one of the faceless, nameless masses.

I want to be the guy with the Face.