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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Professor Hubert Farnsworth's Only Slightly Futuristic Holiday Movie Quiz
Good news everybody! Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available... But now, here are my answers to Professor Farnsworth:

1) Best Movie of 2010

Well, I'm still catching up on a lot of 2010 releases and I'm terrible at picking favorites, but as of right now, I'll have to go with the relatively boring choice of The Social Network or Inception. Nevertheless, those are the two movies I connected with the most this year.

2) Second-favorite Roman Polanski Movie

These days I find it hard to separate the "fugitive child rapist" part from the "great filmmaker" part of Polanski, but I guess I'll have to go with Rosemary's Baby as my second favorite.

3) Jason Statham or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Well, they both make some rather craptacular films, but Statham seems to actually have a few really good films to his credit. Plus, I hate professional wrestling.

4) Favorite movie that could be classified as a genre hybrid

I thought this would be a lot harder, but the answer came pretty quickly: Alien. The two most prominent genres being blended here are science fiction and horror, and it's a superb example of both genres.

5) How important is foreknowledge of a film’s production history? Should it factor into one’s reaction to a film?

I've been thinking a lot about film critics lately. In particular, the age old question of why critics like different movies than mainstream audiences. Without going into too much detail, I think the primary differentiator is the knowledge and appreciation of context. For instance, in order to truly enjoy a movie made a hundred years ago, you have to have some knowledge of what it was like to live back then and also be aware of the limitations of film at the time, and so on. Indeed, it might even be worthwhile to look into what effects the film had on society at large. I suppose someone without that cultural and historical context can still enjoy the film, but not as deeply as someone who has studied all those external factors. Now, "foreknowledge of a film's production history" is but a narrow part of a film's context, but it's certainly relevant. Whether or not it "should" factor into one's reaction is almost irrelevant. All of one's knowledge factors into one's reaction to a film. What one should do, however, is be aware of this fact. Context is not limited to the direct knowledge of the film itself, but all knowledge. One of the reasons people enjoy rewatching movies is that while the movies don't change, we do, and so rewatching a film involves incorporating new knowledge and perspectives, which can still be illuminating. So I'd say it's important, that it should factor into one's reaction, and that as long as one acknowledges their perspective, it's probably a good thing.

6) William Powell & Myrna Loy or Cary Grant & Irene Dunne

Not particularly familiar with the pairings, but Cary Grant & Irene Dunne, because I said so.

7) Best Actor of 2010

My first instinct is James Franco for 127 Hours. However, a few others popped into my head: Christian Bale in The Fighter, Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, and maybe a few others. Also, I haven't seen a few films with contenders, like The King's Speech. But I'll stick with my instinct on this one for now.

8) Most important lesson learned from the past decade of watching movies

I think the aforementioned recognition of the role and importance of context in our reactions to movies is a big one. A lot of our reactions to films are colored more by context than I think we care to admit. Luckily, acknowledging that is the first step towards getting a more complete understanding of film.

9) Last movie seen (DVD/Blu-ray/theater)

In theaters, it was True Grit, which was great. I was a little worried about Jeff Bridges' voice in the trailer. Something sounded so off, so manufactured about it. But in the context of the film, it was fine. And the Coens, as usual, are fantastic at this whole moviemaking thing.

On Blu-Ray, it was Easy A, which was breezy, clever, and fun. Much better than expected!

On DVD, it was Silent Night, Bloody Night. Among the not-so-crowded holiday horror sub-genre, it's near the top, though I think it's also a bit overrated.

Also, I think it's time to add a new option to the list: Netflix Watch Instantly (or, at least, streaming). I'll go first, the last thing I saw on Netflix streaming was Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, an interesting look at someone I never thought much about (despite the fact that she's impacted my professional life in some ways).

10) Most appropriate punishment for director Tom Six

I don't think he necessarily deserves punishment, but the ironic thing to do would be to make him the middle piece, if you know what I mean.

11) Best under-the-radar movie almost no one else has had the chance to see

This is a difficult question because the reason "almost no one else has had the chance to see" something is that it didn't get a very wide release and/or isn't available on DVD. Unfortunately, that's almost as likely to affect me as it is anyone else! However, there are a few movies I've seen that might qualify. The first one that came to mind was Playing Columbine, a documentary about video games and their impact on society. I was really taken with this movie when I saw it at the Philadelphia Film Festival a few years ago, but it never really got a release and its DVD is not widely available (it's not even available on Netflix, though you can buy one for $35 from their website), so "almost no one else has had the chance to see" it. I don't know that it's worth the price of the DVD, but if you get a chance to see it and you like video games (heck, even if you don't), it's well worth watching.

Playing Columbine
12) Sheree North or Angie Dickinson

Angie Dickinson, because, come on, Rio Bravo. Then again, Sheree North is Babs Kramer. But Dickinson.

13) Favorite nakedly autobiographical movie

Though it certainly didn't happen the way it was portrayed on screen, I'll go with Adaptation. If you require something more traditional, I guess you'd have to go with Almost Famous.

14) Movie which best evokes a specific real-life place

I'm finding this one extremely difficult to answer. The first thing I thought of was the recent spate of Boston-set films that seem to portray the gritty underbelly of the town... but then, I've only been to Boston a few times and I'm certainly not up to speed on their criminal undergrounds. Next, I thought of 127 Hours because I saw that recently and it also has a very well established sense of space and location. I felt like I knew the geography of the area despite never having been there before. I don't think any of those are really good answers to this question, but that's what I came up with.

15) Best Director of 2010

Given my choice for best movie, the obvious answer would be David Fincher. The Coen Brothers probably deserve some consideration as well as a few others, but Fincher seems to take the cake.

16) Second-favorite Farrelly Brothers Movie

Hmmm, well, I guess it would have to be There's Something About Mary, though I do have a soft spot for Kingpin.

17) Favorite holiday movie

I go back and forth between the two classics: It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. If forced to choose, I guess I'd go with Capra's masterpiece, but again, they're both classics.

18) Best Actress of 2010

The first actress that came to mind was Noomi Rapace for her performances in the Millenium trilogy movies from Sweden, but then Natalie Portman was also great in Black Swan, as was Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone. Heck, maybe even Emma Stone in Easy A. But as with the actors, I'll stick with my instinct on this one...

Noomi Rapace
19) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson

At first, I thought: how could this not be Joe Don Baker. But when I look them up on IMDB, I notice that Svenson is in a ton of movies I like. As bit parts, sure, but still. I'll stick with Joe Don Baker though, as he was my first instinct...

20) Of those notable figures in the world of the movies who died in 2010, name the one you’ll miss the most

I think I'll go with what has to be a common answer to this one: Leslie Nielsen.

21) Think of a movie with a notable musical score and describe what it might feel like without that accompaniment.

The first thing that came to mind was the soundtrack to John Carpenter's classic Halloween. Part of the reason I'm choosing this one is because the story of how the music was created is famously due to the fact that an executive saw an early cut of the film without music and thought it wasn't scary. I've actually written about this before, quoting Carpenter himself:
I screened the final cut minus sound effects and music, for a young executive from 20th Century-Fox (I was interviewing for another possible directing job). She wasn’t scared at all. I then became determined to "save it with the music."
And save it he did. Another example from the world of horror would be John Williams' score for Jaws, which incorporates a long build-up of tension that is eventually released in horror.

22) Best Screenplay of 2010

So Aaron Sorkin's work on The Social Network is certainly worth consideration here, but I'm going to go with Inception. You'll note that I didn't include Christopher Nolan in my discussion of best director, and I think that's because he's more notable as a writer than as a director. It's the ideas and storytelling that he excels at. I suppose you could argue that Inception is overly dependent on exposition and info-dumps, but I think the puzzle-like structure of the plot is an achievement in itself.

23) Movie You Feel Most Evangelistic About Right Now

Well, if someone wanted a suggestion for something in theaters now, I'd suggest True Grit. If they have Netflix, I'd suggest Exit Through the Gift Shop (a documentary about street art, with a twist) or, probably the most obscure movie here, Blood Into Wine (a documentary about wine-makers in Arizona, including Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan).

24) Worst/funniest movie accent ever

John Malkovich's ridiculously over-the-top performance as Teddy KGB in Rounders features the absolute worst/funniest accent ever. "Mr. Son of a bitch, let's play some cards!"

Teddy KGB
25) Best Cinematography of 2010

Roger Deakins' work in True Grit comes to mind.

26) Olivia Wilde or Gemma Arterton

My first thought was Olivia Wilde, but that's only because I know who she is. It turns out that I knew Gemma Arterton too, but not as well. Neither has a particularly impressive resume and I like them both, so I'll stick with my first instinct (though Arterton was my favorite part of the horrible Quantum of Solace, and she wasn't even the main Bond girl).

27) Name the three best movies you saw for the first time in 2010 (Thanks, Larry!)

Excluding 2010 releases (since we're already talking a lot about them in this quiz): The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and Blood and Black Lace. Honestly, it was a bit of a slow year for me in terms of older films and I didn't make it very far on my list of the Greatest Movies I've Never Seen. Ohh, I forgot about The Birds - that should definitely be on this list...

28) Best romantic movie couple of 2010

Love and Other Drugs comes to mind. It's a pretty cliched film, but the two leads have a great chemistry together. Plus, nudity.

29) Favorite shock/surprise ending

Ever? That's incredibly difficult. I suppose I have to acknowledge Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, but I think that's mostly due to the fact that I was so young and impressionable at the time. Psycho has a pretty great ending that actually managed to surprise my jaded teen self... And I have to admit that Lone Star caught me completely off-guard. Se7en has a good one, and while I know a lot of people don't like it, I do think The Usual Suspects has a fantastic twist ending. I could keep going and never actually reach a favorite.

30) Best cinematic reason to have stayed home and read a book in 2010

Well, I don't need a cinematic reason to read a book, but I suppose the craptacular first half of the year (which, as I'm discovering on DVD/BD/Netflix, wasn't as craptacular as I thught) was a pretty good reason to stay home. Then again, the worst movie I saw in theaters this year came out relatively recently: Skyline (which is absolutely terrible, though I have to admit that I love the gloriously stupid ending).

31) Movies in 2011 could make me much happier if they’d only _______________

Uh, be better? Good movies are always welcome. I suppose we could do with less 3D BS as well.

Well, there you have it.
Posted by Mark on December 29, 2010 at 01:46 PM .: link :.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Link Dump
Hope everyone had a great holiday, here's a few more links for your enjoyment: And, of course, lots of Holiday/Winter beers reviewed on the Kaedrin Beer Blog...
Posted by Mark on December 26, 2010 at 05:49 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Early Christian history shows a lot of attempts by Church leaders to attract followers by setting their holidays to coincide with existing festivals and celebrations. In the case of Christmas, the Church chose December 25, as it coincides with pagan winter solstice festivals that were popular in most cultures. As such, most of the folklore surrounding Christmas is an amalgam of both Christian and Pagan traditions. Examples include Christmas trees, mistletoe, and, of course, Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, as we know him, can largely be traced back to the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published in 1823 and written by Clement Clarke Moore. However, Moore was pulling from a long tradition of Christmas gift givers, which were, in themselves, pulling from older pagan traditions. And while our current vision of Santa is jolly, many of the precursors are more varied. We all know about the "naughty or nice list", but we generally shy away from graphic descriptions of what happens to the naughty. Many older traditions did not. Case in point, the Finnish "Joulupukki", which translates to "Yule Buck" or "Yule Goat".

One of the reasons pagan cultures chose to celebrate the Winter solstice is that the shortest days of the year are in December, and once you reach the solstice, the days start to get longer again. In Finland, these festivals would celebrate the return of the daylight and would often feature a personification of the evil spirits that were leaving as the days got longer. These spirits were often wore goat skins and horns and demanded presents. It was a loathsome creature, and it frightened children (which parents no doubt used to their advantage, getting their kids to act nice). Once the Christian traditions reached Finland though, this somehow got flipped around, with the spirits now benevolent and delivering presents instead of wreaking havoc.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a new Finnish movie that wonders what would happen if we discovered the original "Joulupukki". According to the research of the film's main character, young Pietari, the original Santa was not a very pleasant character, so villagers tricked him into freezing water, then covered the resulting ice cube in sawdust and so many rocks that they created a new mountain. Cut to present day, and a crazy American businessman is attempting to find the real Santa, and is excavating a nearby mountain, much to the dismay of local Reindeer ranchers. Pretty soon, their Reindeer show up dead and children start to go missing.

This is not your typical holiday movie, nor even is it your typical holiday horror film, a subgenre I've been exploring over the past few years. It takes a while to get going and while I enjoyed the ending, it was a bit of an anti-climax, as you never really get to see the true horrific power of Santa (on the other hand, I do wonder if that sort of explicit explanation would lose something)... That being said, the film has a dark, dry sense of humor that isn't quite explicit, but which made me laugh out loud several times. This is the debut film of writer/director Jalmari Helander, and it's clear that he has a good eye for interesting visuals and while he does not resort to many horror tropes, he does manage some creepifying visuals, such as the weird wooden dolls that Santa's little helpers leave behind while they're kidnapping naughty children or, heck, even Santa's little helpers themselves.

The ending of the film escalates into the absurd, but in an entertaining and welcome way. My favorite part was when young Pietari suddenly turns into an 80s action hero and starts dropping one liners like "It's either me or Santa. I suggest Santa." (OK, fine, that was 2 lines, but still.) I'm still not entirely sure what to make of the epilogue, though it's still a wonderfully absurd notion.

In the end, I don't know that this is up there with the Christmas horror classics like Black Christmas, but it's probably still an upper tier picture, and it's well worth a watch for fans of dark holiday shenanigans. ***

Update: After the movie, I headed over to the local beer bar, Eulogy, and had a nice Austrian beer called Samichlaus. Guess what that translates to.
Posted by Mark on December 22, 2010 at 08:29 PM .: link :.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Link Dump
It's that time of year, enjoy: That's all for now. With any luck, I'll be seeing Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale on Wednesday, so perhaps a review...

Update: Added some links...
Posted by Mark on December 19, 2010 at 08:08 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The 2010 Egg Nog Tasting
Well, it appears that I've missed the opportunity to partake in the annual 12 Days of Christmas Posting, but while I won't be posting every day like I've done the past few years, I'll still try to make some holiday posts. I'll start with the annual family egg nog tasting. I've documented this for the past few years, and this year started out in similar fashion, with 13 different varieties of eggnog:

A Shitload of Egg Nog For reference, these are the eggnogs pictured (from left to right):
  • Lehigh Valley Eggnog (not pictured)
  • Target Holiday Egg Nog
  • Silk Nog
  • Hood Pumpkin Eggnog
  • Rice Dream Rice Nog
  • Target Holiday Milk
  • Borden Eggnog
  • Swiss Farms Egg Nog
  • Wawa Egg Nog
  • Wegman's Holiday Egg Nog
  • Upstate Farms Premium Egg Nog
  • Hood Golden Eggnog
  • Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog
There was some controversy this year, notably centered around the competition for "Worst Egg Nog". You see, someone brought something from Target called "Holiday Milk", which was essentially strawberry milk... not an eggnog. This turned out to be a moot point, as it wasn't all that bad. As expected, the contest for worst eggnog came down to two options: Rice Dream Rice Nog and Silk Nog. I suppose neither of these are technically egg nog either, but in any case, Silk Nog came away as the "Champion". This is not to say that Rice Dream wasn't seriously considered, but it really just tastes like dirty, cinnamon flavored dishwater. That sounds bad (and it is!), but the watery consistency actually washes down quickly, unlike Silk Nog, which has an even worse taste coupled with the thick consistency of actual eggnog, meaning that it coats your mouth and lingers for a while. Therefore, Silk Nog reigns as the worst Eggnog (substitute) ever.

When it came to judging for "Best Overall Eggnog", things were a little more interesting. This year's tasting started out in our traditional, completely subjective manner, but then we narrowed the field down to 5 finalists (Wawa, Swiss Farms, Wegman's, Upstate Farms, and Target), and prepared a blind tasting methodology where our panel of 6 judges would rate each eggnog on Taste, Appearance and Viscosity.

Blind Taste Test The cups on the right were the "palate cleansers" and consisted of Rice Dream Rice Nog. It was surprisingly effective. Now, don't get me wrong, this test was still far from scientific, but the methodology was much more thorough this year... and yet, we came out with similar results! Last year, there was a tie between Wawa and Swiss Farms Egg Nog. This year, Swiss Farms takes home the prize, but it only nudged out Wawa by a small margin.

The best tasting note of the day came from my sister-in-law's sister, who claimed that Southern Comfort Traditional Eggnog (I think) tasted like suntan lotion. Once she said it, I couldn't not taste the suntan lotion. Disgusting. Anyway, it was a good year, and I'm looking forward to next year.
Posted by Mark on December 15, 2010 at 07:49 PM .: link :.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2010 Catchup Progress
So the great 2010 Movie Catchup has proceeded quite well so far and while there are still many things I've yet to see, I've made good progress:
  • Cropsey - Ostensibly about a New York urban legend about a crazy old man who kidnaps kids, the film veers into a more real-world direction, delving deeply into a series of child disappearances and the real life Cropsey that the community pinned the murders on. His name is Andre Rand, and while he certainly had a checkered past and a creepy demeanor, there never seemed to be much in the way of hard evidence (despite reams of circumstantial evidence). The film touches on that, as well as some other oddities like satan worshipers and mental hospitals, but ultimately falls a bit flat. It's got a lot of interviews with relevant folks, but the filmmakers weren't able to get an interview with Andre Rand himself (despite a lengthy correspondence via mail) and it feels almost like they were counting on that. It's an interesting and watcheable documentary, but it falls a bit short in the end. **1/2
  • Blood Into Wine - Since this movie about Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's winery in Arizona involved alcohol, I took the opportunity to drink some fantastic beer whilst watching. More comments on Kaedrin Beer Blog. In short, it's a movie that is well worth watching, especially for any Tool fans out there. ***
  • Black Swan - The younger sister to Aronofsky's The Wrestler, the two films share a lot of similarities. Unfortunately, both are similarly flawed as well, especially when it comes to the script. Both films look fantastic, and while The Wrestler was visually toned down, Black Swan affords Aronofsky with more freedom to use cinematic language, and use it he does. Unfortunately, the whole thing plays out like a master chef adding exotic ingredients and ussing all his culinary powers to create a gourmet dish out of Kraft Mac n Cheese. Is it edible? Of course? It's even good. But it's not great. The film is much more ambiguous than most of Aronofsky's efforts, and I thought that part of it worked really well. Fans of the "mind fuck" will enjoy that aspect of this film, and I thought that was well executed.

    My biggest issue is with the main character, Nina Sayers (played well by Natalie Portman). She reminds me a lot of Hugh Jackman's character in The Fountain, in that she's constantly on the verge of tears (if not outright crying), to the point where I cannot believe that she'd ever succeed in ballet. The film's script is constantly telling us that Nina is a flawless but icy and cold dancer, but I spent the entire film assuming she would make a mistake. For the most part, she doesn't, but the way Aronofsky films those scenes seems to emphasize Nina's insecurities, to the point where I couldn't believe that anyone would think her a good dancer. In the film, we're told several times that her technical proficiency makes her perfect for the role of the White Swan, but that she lacks the unbridled passion and spontaneity needed for the Black Swan. But she's shown with such a lack of confidence that I never really bought that she would be good in either role. Part of this issue may just be that I have no fucking clue what makes a good ballerina. I mean, obviously I can tell when someone falls down or whatnot, but I see no difference in the way Nina dances versus some of the other dancers. I mean, they all look great, but it's the way we hear Nina's breathing and Portman's face, while wonderfully expressive, seems to constantly show a look of anxiety. This isn't Portman's fault, it's clear this is what the screenwriters (and probably Aronofsky) wanted, but it just doesn't really fit.

    Aronofsky's visual style is about as brilliant as it gets here, but as with his last few films, I think his choice of material is a bit lacking. Ultimately, Aronofsky is able to save this film with his visual style, and maybe some of the more ambiguous script elements are handled well too. For instance, the character of Lily (another great performance from Mila Kunis) is seemingly inconsistent throughout the film, but that's perfect because she is seen through the insecure lense of Nina. The mother and ballet director are mostly thankless roles, maybe a bit too exaggerated. The psychological thriller and horror elements are fantastic, though not quite as prevalent as the film's marketing would have you believe. Sorting out fantasy and hallucination from reality can be difficult at times, but in a good way. The ending is pitch perfect, in much the same way as The Wrestler's ending (both employ a similar, and wonderful, final shot). Aronofsky is also able to convey a certain excitement or energy in the progression of ballet, something I found invigorating, despite not being at all familiar with the form. It's a good film, ambitious and ambiguous, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it has some serious flaws as well. ***
  • Alice in Wonderland - I don't have a whole lot to say about this, except that I was surprised that I didn't hate this. Indeed, I quite enjoyed it, even if I know that it embodies all those Tim Burton cliches that have gotten so tired of late. The CGI is lame and production design is typical Burton and the script has little to do with the actual source material, but that was exactly as I expected, only better. So while "I didn't hate it" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, and this most certainly won't be making the top 10 (or probably even honorable mentions), it's also not terrible! **1/2
  • Doghouse - I have to admit that I'm disappointed in this one. I've become a big fan of director Jake West's previous effort, Evil Aliens, but this newer film lacks a lot of the energy and splatterific fun embodied by that earlier film. The film follows a group of guys taking a trip to a small rural town to get away from it all, but then they find that the town is filled with murderous zombie women. As with most zombie films, there's a lame societal commentary here, this time focusing on a battle-of-the-sexes. There's a fair amount of humor, some decent performances, and even some clever solutions to various problems throughout the film but ultimately the premise falls a bit flat for me. **
  • Bonus: Torque - Ah, the joys of accidental Netflix queue ordering. I forgot this was actually in there and despite it not being a 2010 movie, I watched this so-bad-it's-good candidate with high hopes, and I was not disappointed! It's gloriously awful! Nick Nunziata's review says it better than I ever could:
    When I say that Torque is the most shamelessly synthetic and overstylized action flick ever made I mean it in the nicest way possible. This film makes cheese blush. It gives bullet time lead poisoning. From the first computer assisted race sequence to the climactic Chop-Kawasaki and Mach 48373 race through the city, Torque revels in excess in ways that would resurrect Don Simpson and eject him from his grave in slow motion as doves gather and carry him to the surface of Venus where he is pelted with little rocks shaped like Jerry Bruckheimer's night terrors. As the film unfolded I seriously found myself falling in love with its utter fakeness and bold arrogance. You know the kind of love I'm referring to. The love an inmate finds after cell blocks B and C ventilate his colon enough so that he forgets what it was like before the whistling sound began to waft from his drawers twenty-four hours a day. Before his ass had its own climate. Torque is that rough lover, the one who punches you in the eyes when he/she is happy and does spinning monkey kicks to your coccyx when he/she feels melancholy. This film has the Goodyear blimp testicles to recreate a quote from The Fast and the Furious (also produced by Neal Moritz, one of this film's many Summerian summoners) and then scoff at it.

    It scoffs at The Fast and the Furious, a film that not only made this film possible but one that looks like a Cassavettes flick in comparison. Let that sink in. I'll wait.
    As Nick notes, this is either a 0 out of 10 movie, or a 10 out of 10 movie, or both at the same time.
Posted by Mark on December 12, 2010 at 04:21 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

2010 Movie Catchup
So the general consensus seems to be that 2010 hasn't been a particularly good year for movies... and for the first half of the year, I was definitely in agreement. Things have turned around a bit since then, though, and it's looking like some of the smaller films from earlier in the year are being released on DVD/BD around now. Normally, I've got a ton of current-year movies under my belt by this time in the year - usually around 60-70. When I finished off the 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon last month, I took a loot at my list and saw about 30 movies from 2010. So all throughout November, I've been playing catchup on 2010 movies. I've made some headway, but there's still quite a few movies I want to catch up with before I put together the annual awards and top 10. So let's start with new movies that are coming out in December:
  • Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale - I don't remember how I found out about this one, but I'm super excited to check out this Finnish movie about an archaeological dig that unearths the "real" Santa, who then proceeds to go on a murder spree (of course!) Ok, so it sounds terrible, but I have an affinity for such movies and this one opens on 12/22 in Philly. Score.
  • Black Swan - Initial reports appear mixed, and judging from what I've heard, I'm not going to love this. But I'll watch anything Aronofsky puts out.
  • The Tourist - I know this looks like typical Hollywood trash, but the talent involved is somewhat intriguing.
  • The Fighter - Another one I don't have particularly high hopes for, but it's been getting good reviews, so I guess we'll see.
  • TRON: Legacy - Low expectations here, but should be fun.
  • True Grit - I have to admit that Jeff Bridges' voice gives me pause, but it's Coen Brothers, so I'm in and will probably love this.
Next up, 2010 movies that are or will be available on Netflix Watch Instantly:
  • Cropsey - Documentary about a creepy urban legend? I'm in!
  • Mother - I have to admit that I'm not quite on the Bong Joon-ho bandwagon, but I'm still interested in checking this movie out...
  • Vengeance - I am, however, on the Johnny To bandwagon, so I will most definitely be checking this one out.
  • Blood Into Wine - A documentary about the Wine business (apparently features Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame).
  • The Art of the Steal - Documentary about the power struggle to control a group of famous paintings after the owner's death.
  • Restrepo - Documentary about soldiers in Afghanistan.
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop - Documentary ostensibly about street artist Banksey, but apparently things get twisted around in other directions...
  • Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work - Documentary about the woman, the myth, the legend.
  • Red Riding Trilogy (1974, 1980, 1983) - Three movies telling the story of a 14 year manhunt for a serial killer.
  • Terribly Happy - Seems kinda like a serious version of Hot Fuzz... big city cop forced to take a job in a small town, hijinks ensue.
  • The Good, the Bad, the Weird - A Korean take on the Spaghetti Western? Why not! Technically been around for a while, but it just became available for most to see this year.
Finally, 2010 movies I'll probably be checking out on DVD/BD (again via Netflix) in the next month or two:
  • The Secret in Their Eyes - Technically this won the Oscar for best foreign picture during last year's Oscars, but it wasn't released here until this year. These movies often end up on my top 10, so this is a natural choice.
  • Doghouse - I don't think this battle-of-the-sexes zombie flick will be winning any awards, but I really enjoyed director Jake West's previous schlock-fest, Evil Aliens, so I want to check out this movie.
  • Easy A - I wanted to check this out when it was in theaters and I suppose I had no good reason not to, but I never got around to it. From what I've heard, it's surprisingly good, so I guess we'll find out!
  • The Kids Are All Right - Doesn't really sound like my type of movie, but I'll check it out anyway because everyone seems to love it.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - I've heard it's the best video game movie ever made. I've also heard it's terrible. Of course, those are not conflicting statements.
  • The Expendables - I've heard bad things, but really, how bad could it be? Not super excited about this one and may not get to it, but it's on the list!
So there's 25 movies I want to see in the next month or so. Something tells me I won't get to all of them (particularly junk like The Expendables), but I'll give it the good ol' college try. Of course, there are probably a few other movies coming out on DVD/BD in January that I'll want to check out as well... but interestingly, I think I could put together a decent top 10 list right now if I had to, which is actually a pretty good sign (and I'm virtually certain that some of the above movies will make their way onto the list as well). 2010 didn't get a particularly good start, but it's shaping up to be ok (for me, at least).
Posted by Mark on December 08, 2010 at 08:51 PM .: link :.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Link Dump
I went to a football game today and am still thawing out, so here are a few links:
  • Charles Bronson Kills Hipsters - Unfortunately, it's only a parody. My favorite part is that it's rated PG.
  • Fake Criterions - Spot on parodies of the Criterion Collection cover art, though honestly, some of the imitations fall a bit flat. Still, well done. (Update: Apparently Tumblr is down! Hopefully it will be back shortly.)
  • Paul Thomas Anderson Reportedly Adapting Thomas Pynchon’s Novel ‘Inherent Vice’ - Hell yeah. I guess I should read the book that's sitting on my shelf. I get the impression that it's Pynchon slumming it in a genre story, which means that maybe PTA will also be slumming it with a genre flick (in this case, hard boiled detective fiction). I love it when that happens.
  • Live Webcast Fail - Moron inadvertently reproduces the Droste effect (complete with recursive audio!)
  • Funky Forest - After School Club (NSFW) - I seriously hesitate to even post this. I have no idea what the fuck is going on in this video. It's quite possibly the weirdest thing I've ever seen. And I've seen some weird shit. You know what, don't click on this link. Seriously. Some things can't be unseen.
So there you have it.
Posted by Mark on December 05, 2010 at 07:24 PM .: link :.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Insert Spam Pun Here
So I upgraded Movable Type about two months ago, and for the most part, I think the version I'm using right now is great. However, it quickly became clear that my preferred spam fighting solution, CCode, was not working correctly, and indeed, it was messing up all of the fancy new authentication methods that MT was implementing. So I had to remove that and update the comment form code to reflect the new functionality. That seemed to go swimmingly, but due to a combination of factors, I've discovered a veritable plethora of spam comments pouring into my system.

The way it was set up was that anonymous comments end up being stored in "pending" status, meaning that I need to approve it before it shows up on the site. The tricky part there is that the default way MT displays comments when I log in doesn't register "pending" comments, so I never noticed that the spambots were quickly rediscovering my blog and having their way with my comment system.

Now, this isn't and hasn't ever been a particularly popular blog, so it's not uncommon to see a lack of comments. That being said, I began to get a bit suspicious after over a month with no comments. So I took a closer look and found 11,000 pending comments in the system. The grand majority of these were placed in the past couple of weeks, and looking at the comments shows an interesting progression from the time I upgraded to the present. At first, only a couple of comments were submitted per day, then a few more, then a dozen, then a few dozen, then hundreds, and recently it's been in the thousands. So a few hours ago, I turned off anonymous comments, which effectively muted the spam, but which I suppose also presents more of a hurdle towards casual or new readers.

The great thing about CCode was that it was completely transparent to everyone but the spammers. It stopped spam cold, but visitors to my site didn't have to do anything differently (except that their browser had to be javascript enabled, which is hardly a big hurdle for, well, just about anyone) and I didn't have to wade through thousands of spam submissions. It would be really nice if the developer who originally wrote CCode (or someone else) would update it to work with MT5, but it doesn't look like it's been updated since 2007, so I'm guessing that won't happen anytime soon.

All of which is to say that if you submitted a comment in the past month or two, it may be deleted in the great purge I'm about to implement here. Sorry about that. Also, you may see some funkiness happening with the comment forms below. If you have a Google or Yahoo account (among a few others), you should be able to use that to comment for now. I'm trying to figure out a way to reinstate anonymous commenting without resorting to CAPTCHAs or other intrusive methods, but it will most likely be slow going.

In any case, I'll leave you with my favorite piece of spam from this latest attack:
I tried to publish a comment previously, but it has not shown up. I think your spam filter may be broken?
This would be hysterical if it wasn't so annoying...
Posted by Mark on December 02, 2010 at 08:29 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Opera 11 Beta
I'm one of the few people that actually uses Opera to do the grand majority of my web browsing. In recent years, I've been using Firefox more, especially for web development purposes (it's hard to beat the Firebug/Web Dev Toolbar combo - Opera has a tool called Dragonfly that's decent, but not quite as good). A few years ago, I wrote a comparison of Firefox and Opera across 8 categories, and it came out a tie. The biggest advantage that Opera had was it's usability and easy of use. On the other hand, Firefox's strength was its extensibility, something that Opera never fully embraced. Until now!

Opera recently released a beta of their next version, and I've been using it this week. It's looking like an excellent browser, with some big improvements over previous versions:
  • Extensions - Opera has finally taken the plunge. Having only been available for a few days, there isn't quite the extensive library that Firefox has, and given the smaller user base and Firefox's head start, I'm not sure they'll be able to catch up anytime soon. That being said, it's a welcome addition, and when combined with Opera's superior native features, perhaps this will even the score a bit. Extensions also represents an interesting dilemma for Opera - will they turn the most popular extensions into native features? One issue with Extensions is that they can be somewhat unreliable and yield poor performance (for instance, the various Mouse Gesture extensions for Firefox can't hold a candle to Opera's native functionality). That was always Opera's worry about Extensions, so I'm betting we will see extensions rolled into the native app in future versions.
  • Performance and Speed - Opera 11 is noticeably faster than it's predecessors (no small feat, as Opera has always been good in this respect) and probably it's competition too. Of course, I'm going on a purely subjective observation here and I'm obviously biased, but it seems faster than Firefox as well. It's probably on par with Chrome, but Opera has certainly closed the gap (especially on javascript-heavy pages, which is what Chrome excels at). Once this browser is out of beta, I'd be really interested in seeing how it stacks up. Somewhat related is improved support of various standards, notably HTML 5, so there's that too.
  • Tab stacking - Opera was the first browser with tabs, and now they're making small, incremental improvements. In this case, it's the ability to group a bunch of tabs together and allow you to expand or contract them. I haven't actually used this feature much, but I can imagine scenarios where I'd have dozens of tabs open and grouping them might be helpful (this also makes their tab preview on mouseover functionality more meaningful, as mousing over a contracted group of tabs shows you a preview of all the tabs (this was only marginally useful if not a complete waste on regular tabs, but in this scenario it works well)). On the other hand, I'm not sure the trouble of grouping and maintaining the tab stacks would ultimately save time (but perhaps future iterations will come up with smarter methods of automatically grouping tabs - an approach that could be problematic, but which could also be beneficial if implemented well).
  • Search predictions from Google - This is minor, but just another "We're catching up to Firefox functionality" addition, and a welcome one.
There are some other things, but the above are the best additions. Some of the other stuff is a bit extraneous (in particular, the visual mouse gestures are unnecessary, though they don't seem to hurt anything either), and some of it won't matter to most folks (the email client). I've run into some buggy behavior, but nothing unusual, and it actually seems pretty stable for a beta. So I'm looking forward to the final release of this browser.
Posted by Mark on December 01, 2010 at 08:30 PM .: link :.

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