September 6, 2013

Why Is Good Coffee So Hard?

I work from home once or twice a week. There are a few reasons for this, chief among them that I pick my son up from school in the afternoons.

But if there is a close second reason, it's that the coffee at my work place sucks. I'd call it mud but that would be insulting to mud

It's a heady mixture of sticks, dirt and leaves with just a hint of ass.

At home, I can drink a fine French roast. Which makes the whole thing a real no-brainer.

I know I have it easier than most. There are people striking for decent wages and a safe work environment, and I'm bitching about the coffee. But good coffee is a great morale booster...and it's cheap.

September 5, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1985

Honorable Mention – Weird Science: It’s a funny little ridiculous film. Plus, I really identified with those two nerds as a kid. What with me being a nerd and all.

5. To Live And Die in L.A.: This neo-noir film was criminally ignored when it came out. Definitely worth owning on DVD. And if you’ve only see William Petersen as Grissom on CSI, you’ll see a new side of him here.

4. Pee-wee's Big Adventure: I love this movie. It still makes me laugh when I watch it. The whole concept of him chasing after his bike is insane…but it works. And no, there is no basement at the Alamo.

3. Better Off Dead: Would “absurdist comedy” be the right way to describe this movie? Call it what you will, but it’s a lot of fun. And how can you go wrong with the bad guy being named Roy Stalin? Never mind the Korean drag-racers doing a Howard Cosell impression. And I want my two dollars!

2. Brazil: Only Terry Gilliam could meld comedy with a sci-fi dystopia. Biting satire of the highest order. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you get the DVD that has the 142-minute cut, as that contains Gilliam’s original vision. Do not settle for the studio cut of 94 minutes, which isn’t worth wasting your eyeballs on.

1. (Tie) Pale Rider and Ran: I didn’t want to have a tie at the top, but I love both these movies. Pale Rider continued Eastwood’s deconstruction of the Western that culminated in Unforgiven. And Ran was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. It was the movie that introduced me to Kurosawa. You cannot go wrong with either of these films.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: Back to the Future, Day of the Dead, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Goonies, Ladyhawke, Rocky IV, Wetherby, The Breakfast Club, Rambo: First Blood, Part II, Young Sherlock Holmes, Witness, National Lampoon's European Vacation, Target

Guilty Pleasure – Commando: It’s a mindless action film with one-liners galore and a lot of gunplay. But I watch it every single time I see it on television. I cannot explain the hold it has over me. I don’t think it’s the bad guy with the chainmail shirt. More likely it’s that Arnie somehow slaughters over 200 enemy soldiers without getting scratched. That takes talent.

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – The Last Dragon: Not insane in a bad way, but in a “These guys were smoking some strong weed” kind of way. How else can you explain a plot where the Shogun of Harlem – named Sho’Nuff no less – walks around challenging random people to fights? And the hero is a guy named Bruce Leroy who needs to find “The Glow” in order to defeat Sho’Nuff? It’s completely off-the-wall in every way.

I Take Pictures

This is one of my favorites. It's the CN Tower in Toronto reflected in a nearby building. This was taken in May of 2011.

September 4, 2013

The Worst Movies I've Ever Seen: Cyborg

Ah, early 1989. You almost killed my love of movies those first four months. First my experience with Leviathan and that complete bullshit ending. Then you had to throw Cyborg at me. You were one heartless bastard, early 1989. Luckily, the other eight months more than made up for your callous behavior. Why did you hate me so?

You can't talk about Cyborg without discussing its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. In 1988 he made his mark in the American action movie genre with Bloodsport, which is a story unto itself (Look up Frank Dux in Wikipedia to see what I mean). Suffice it to say, Van Damme plays Frank Dux, the first American to even win the Kumite, a supposed underground martial-arts tournament in Thailand. The action scenes were great and it even had Bolo Yeung. Bolo, man! How can you not like this film? Plus, Jean-Claude didn't really have to act, which was a plus.

Anyway, Bloodsport does killer business. It cost $1.5 million to make and earned nearly $12 million, which in 1988 was a lot of money. So Van Damme is now the newest and hottest name in the action film industry. He chooses Cyborg to be his next film, a post-apocalyptic tale where the Plague has decimated humanity and evil gangs infest the ruins. Van Damme is Gibson Rickenbacker, a "Gunslinger" hired by a cyborg carrying a potential cure for the Plague to escort her from New York to scientists in Atlanta. The leader of the strongest gang on the coast doesn't want this to happen, so he attacks Van Damme and takes the cyborg to go to Atlanta on his own. Van Damme eventually awakes and pursues the gang to save the cyborg. Lots of fighting ensues.

Now, this sounds like it should be in Van Damme's wheelhouse. There's lots of fighting, he doesn't have to act much...solid gold, right?

Wrong. Oh, you couldn't be more wrong.

First off is this basic disconnect; in a post-apocalyptic society that is advanced enough to build a cyborg, they can't build a freaking helicopter?? They still have boats in this world, so why does Van Damme have to walk through a thousand miles of swamp? Advanced, self-aware cybernetic beings are within their capability, but land and air-based combustion engines..that's a real bitch. And how does he get from New York to Atlanta in a couple of days? Did the Plague shrink the size of the United States as well?

Then there is the fighting. Talk about disjointed and lackluster...it's like the Charlotte Bobcats on film. Van Damme looks uninterested while pulling off his admittedly jaw-dropping moves. And his opponents, these filthy gang members/pirates/wackos, fight about as well as these two guys. The gang leader, the fearsome-looking Fender Tremolo, fights like Tank Abbott. Which, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the one-time MMA fighter, means a lot of big punches and little movement. Which is fine in a MMA match, but not on a cinema screen. And once you've lost the fighting as a draw, what does this film have left to offer?

There's also this weak subplot where Van Damme remembers a young woman and her two children who he escorted from a city to an isolated farmhouse in the worst days of the Plague. They fell in love, and then a young Fender and his gang appear. In the one emotionally effective scene in the film, Fender binds Van Damme, the woman and her son together in barbed wire and hangs them over an open well. He then gives the end of it to the woman's young daughter and tells her they'll live if she can hang on. Of course, she doesn't. Ironies of ironies, she joins the gang and Van Damme meets her again. The subplot adds nothing to the film. Plus, Van Damme looks ridiculous through the whole thing.

September 3, 2013

Movie Review: Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

But remember that, even when those who move you be kings or men of power, your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God you cannot say "but I was told by others to do thus" or that "virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that. - King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton)

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: William Monahan

Producesr: Lisa Ellzey, Terry Needham, Branko Lustig, Ridley Scott

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Major Stars: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, David Thewlis, Alexander Siddig, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson

I know I am in the minority here, but I don’t care. I think Kingdom of Heaven is a damn fine film. And Orlando Bloom did a good job in his role of Balian. Deal with it.

Now, I may be biased in favor of this movie. I’m a military history buff and the Crusades are one of my favorite periods. So to see someone the caliber of Ridley Scott attempt to capture the magnitude of this time on film makes me pleased.

But he really did a fine job here. The scope of the film defines the word “epic.” The Siege of Jerusalem at film’s end is amazing to watch and historically accurate in the gear and weaponry the two sides use.

Which isn’t to say that the film is entirely accurate. Truth is, Scott plays around with history a bit. Balian wasn’t a blacksmith but a born-and-bred knight. He was older. He was involved with serious intrigue in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in trying to choose a successor to Baldwin IV’s son.

But more on that in a second. To sum up the film, Balian (Bloom) is a blacksmith in France. His father, Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Neeson), finds him to bring him to Jerusalem and be his heir. Godfrey dies on the way and Balian becomes the new Lord of Ibelin. He becomes involved with the politics of Jerusalem and grows close to King Baldwin IV and has an affair with his sister, Sybilla. Her husband Guy (the lord of Jerusalem after Baldwin’s death) and his friend, Raynald of Ch√Ętillon, provoke Saladin into a war. They stupidly lead their army into a massacre at Hattin and leave Balian on his own to defend Jerusalem against the approaching army of Saladin.

The cinematography through the film (kudos to John Matheson) is top-notch. Scott shot the film in Morocco , so you really get the feel of what it was like to live in the 12th century in the Crusader Kingdoms. There are sweeping shots of the scenery and of battles (the beginning of the Battle of Kerak being one) that are just so impressive. Combined with a great score (Harry Gregson-Williams) it just enhances the entire experience of the film.

The acting is solid throughout. Bloom does a good job as Balian. People have derided his slight stature, when in reality he wouldn’t have been a hulking mountain of muscle. The real Balian was a smart knight, one of fought with his brain as well as his sword. And Bloom conveyed that nicely. Neeson was great in his short time and Brendan Gleeson is wickedly enjoyable as the detestable Raynald.

 

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