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My Favorite Films of 2012

There were a lot of huge popcorn films this year, but my favorites are made up largely of smaller films.   For me in order to really enjoy a story I have to care deeply about the characters.  While I recognize The Master as a great film it just didn’t click with me.  I thought the world was interesting, but it followed my least favorite character in that world….much to the dismay of Jared from the Man in the Movie Hat website.   The Master does follow the same theme that makes up my top five favorites though.  It’s a story about friendship.  So here’s my list.

21_jump_street_poster_(2012)_wallpaper_02#5: 21 Jump Street.  Yeah, I know.  I had so many movies to put in this slot.  Moonrise Kingdom, Goon and Frankenweenie could have all easily been here instead.  Ultimately the reason I chose 21 Jump Street is because if all four movies were sitting on the shelf and were the only thing I could watch, it’s the one I’d put in the Blu-Ray player.  It’s fun and Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have real chemistry together.  You get the feeling that it was just a fun film to make.  Nick Offerman has a great scene where he basically goofs on the whole idea of rehashing an idea from twenty years ago.  It’s self aware.  There are a couple of great cameos that will probably take you by surprise too.

I don’t know or care about hockey at all, but Goon was great.  The final scene is cringe worthy.  Moonrise Kingdom is your typical quirky Wes Anderson film where every frame is a work of visual art.  Frankenweenie had me really caring about an animated character and pleading near the end to just let the film entertain me and not remind me of any life lessons.  All three films are ultimately about friendship.

looper#4 Looper.  I’m always a sucker for time travel stories.  I’ve worked on the idea on stage about how if I could go back in time to meet with my younger self I don’t think we’d like each other very much.  That’s definitely the case here with Looper.   Ryan from the aforementioned Man in the Movie Hat website saw this before I did.  I sent him my prediction of what I thought it would be about.  I was way off.  So I went in excited to be surprised…and surprised I was right up to the finale.  Maybe it’s not really a movie about friendship as much as it’s about self preservation….but hey…that’s pretty important too.  Filmmaker Rian Johnson gets better and better with each project.   the fact that he glosses over the mechanics of time travel has been criticized, but it’s just not important to the story.  He does a great job of imagining a near future and creates it with a pretty limited budget.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt keeps proving himself as an amazing actor.  Just look at his range when you compare something like this to Hesher from 2010.

safetynotguaranteed#3 Safety Not Guaranteed.  I haven’t been able to get into the whole “mumblecore” thing so I didn’t really have high hopes for this thing starring Mumblecore Lord and Savior Mark Duplass.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s a small story about two people getting to know each other.  One of them is either nuts or a time traveler.  The story could have easily been a big film, but I think the fact that it stayed small really let you get to know the characters as opposed to inserting unnecessary big action pieces.   Mark Duplass is seeking a travel companion to time travel and Aubrey Plaza interviews for the position.   It’s a really sweet film.  Aubrey Plaza does really nice subtle things with her face that’s proving her as a really good actress.  I look forward to seeing her do something completely different in the future.

django-unchained-fan-poster-foxx-waltz#2 Django Unchained.  I just saw this yesterday and fell in love with it and the leads.  Christoph Waltz plays a character so unlike his Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds…but maybe a little similar in some ways.   Jamie Foxx is just plane cool.  to borrow from my friend comedian Mikey Mason, Django is Han Solo cool.  Samuel L Jackson is almost unrecognizable at the start and plays a role I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play.  It’s epic.  The music is amazing.  It’s poetic.  It’s funny at times…particularly the scene where Don Johnson’s posse is dealing with the eye holes in their lynching hoods.  The blood and carnage are over the top leaving one of the sets looking like the house from Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive.  I loved it and can’t wait for the Blu-Ray….and I’m not really a big Tarantino fan at all.  This is definitely my favorite film of his so far.  Again, the friendship between King and Django really clicked with me.

Silver-Linings-Playbook-poster#1 Silver Linings Playbook.  I saw this last week and loved it.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about how it’s all over the place and the ending is trite.  I don’t care.  I thought the acting was great.  I love the way the story telling was frenetic because it matched the characters.   The friendship that forms between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence was engaging.  It’s arguably Lawrence’s first grown up role and she really pulled it off.

Some honorable mentions for me are a horror movie triple threat with The Innkeepers, Silent House and Cabin in the Woods.  All three take the scary movie format and twist it to make for interesting films.  Silent House is shot as one continuous shot….although not really through the magic of film making.   I loved some big pictures too like Hunger Games, Argo and the Dark Knight Rises.  Sleepwalk With Me was enjoyable and really captured what it’s like to be a comedian while diving into Mike Birbiglia’s sleep disorder….coincidentally, I’m typing this at a La Quinta Inn…people familiar with Birbiglia’s story should get the significance.  I’m on the third floor.  Luckily insomnia is my only sleep disorder.

In Bruges is a perfect film in my book so I really had high hopes for Seven Psychopaths.  I think my expectations were too high maybe.  It’s a fine film, but doesn’t capture was In Bruges did for me.  Hmm, In Bruges is another movie about friendship.

I haven’t seen Beasts of the Southern Wild yet, but from everything I hear about it, I have a sneaking suspicion that it will probably end up in my top five.  We’ll see.   I was a little underwhelmed by Prometheus.  I think I just fell victim to all the hype and speculation.  The Avengers was fun, but I’m not really a big superhero guy.  In fact I missed Spider-man completely and have no intention of seeing it unless it pops up on HBO when I have nothing happening.

Spoiler-Free Captain America Geekout

This summer, I loved Harry Potter and I really enjoyed Thor, but Captain America is what I’ve been waiting for since I was 7. I am an unabashed Cap fanboy, and have been for as long as I can remember. This summer has been a countdown to Cap for me, and my wait finally ended this last night. Holy crap did I love this movie. Do not expect a blow-by-blow story breakdown or analysis of the finer points of technique. I am about to geek the fuck out.

This movie made me giddy, like I wish the Star Wars prequels had. Every frame on the screen was my childhood coming to life. The special effects were phenomenal, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear they starved Chris Evans and shrunk him to play skinny Steve Rogers. The shield slinging was so cool, which was important, because without it, this wouldn’t have been a true Captain America movie.

The character were all spot-on. Captain America has always been my favorite because he was just a regular kid who was given the ability to be a hero, and always knew the right thing to do and how to do it. They pulled that off perfectly. Chris Evans was awesome in the role, both as the determined, awkward weakling, and as the great hero. Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull was brilliant, too. He was evil, menacing, and not too over-the top. The Howling Commandos were great, though I wish they had mentioned them by name.

I didn’t mind any of the little changes they made to the original story, everything worked for me, and I think allowed them to tell a cleaner story, rather than having to explain a lot of unnecessary back stories.

There were some cool nods to the comics, too, like the way we first see Arnim Zola. The Stan Lee cameo was quick, but funny and didn’t take away from the story. The use of the comic style Captain America uniform was also a great nod, and made great sense in the context of the movie.

The only complaint I have is that the movie was over too quickly. As it was wrapping up, I suddenly realized it was about to be over, and very much wished it was longer. Also, don’t forget to stay after the credits. The post-credits sequence is awesome.

One final note, I have never been to a movie where I have seen more people wearing T-shirts featuring the character from the movie. There was even a little kid wearing a full Captain America costume, who had his picture taken with me because he liked my Cap costume hoodie so much.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows : A Muggle’s Review

I’m not a fanboy of the Harry Potter persuasion because I’m not a young adult that grew up with the books, a female fantasy fan nor a poser trying to lure a fangirl out of her Hogwart’s uniform. I am a certified fantasy nerd and will not reveal any spoilers for those that are too cool to read the novels, but Harry wins in the end as you should expect. Read a book.

I’ve read none of the books, but I have seen all the Potter movies to see what the fuss was about. Overall, they were decent but not moving. Owing to being a series for kids, I forgave them for not having balls – which for most of the characters hadn’t dropped yet. All the while, I’m waiting for Harry to come into his own and stop being a Harry Sue character – constantly protected from heroic sacrifice by magical creatures, competent adults and ugly red-headed sidekicks written as less important.

Run, Ron! RUN!

I watched Deathly Hallows part two directly after watching part one, I’m a vet of the Lord of the Rings Extended version – yes, my life is that empty.

Part one established a dark high stakes tone in the beginning with so many supporting characters deaths, then it winds down to a magical hide and seek scavenger hunt around the world with Hermione doing research. The cutaways to show the effects of the Death Eater take over where good, but too far in between. It has a slightly more dreadful feel than when the Republicans took the House.

Finally, there’s some magical intervention that gets things moving when they can finally start destroying horcruxes (horcruxi? whores’ crotches? Is that where Bellatrix was hiding them? That’s Lastrange.)

We learn what the Deathly Hollows are, but not why they aren’t the “Deadly Hallows”. These are English speakers, right? The story arch peaks with the death of the cutest character to date, more sadness then a tonal shift to “AW SHITTLEBERRIES! Now, it’s personal!”

Yeah ... c'mon ... *wimper*

Part 2 had the much more quicker pace that a finale should. Action, tension, action, tension – you know, like a movie. Voldemort is made gradually weaker with each destroyed horcrux with the backdrop being a magical war I’ve been much anticipating. Harry and Snapes’ relationship is fully revealed, which satisfyingly transforms our view of the headmaster. Our “hero” fated to save everyone is going to actually have to take one for the team, team being the world – about time.

Potter goes forth to die and is merely knocked out by a loophole in wand etiquette. This bothered me. Voldemort’s entire goal is to kill Harry, yet he doesn’t check the apparent body himself? He could feel whenever a horcrux was destroyed, but not this most important one in the series? That’s as dumb as a Jedi Chosen One taking a Sith Lord at his word.

Dumbledore’s ghost tells Potter he can stay in Heaven’s subway or go back and make sure all those deaths for his sake were’nt in vain. What kind of asshole would stay, especially when there’s a Weasley wet for him?

Harry survives. Neville Longbottom comes through amazingly, then Potter shows Voldemort how to kill an enemy.  Flash forward: Harry knocks up Ginny and Ron does the same to Hermione, kids go to Hogwarts, the Circle of Life plays in your heart and the end.

A Real Hero

So, again, somebody else makes it possible for Harry to  succeed. Neville fills his shoes to destroy the last horcrux with Hermione and Ron serving their usual role as bait. As soon as Voldemort is mortal, it’s a done deal? Wasn’t he a badass before all this?  There’s a likely stated reason for this that I missed in previous exposition, the point is I didn’t find Harry’s victory all the heroic, but I guess its par for the course.

These are a good pair of movies, and I’m sure emotional investment in the series will make it awesome, but for me it was worth the price of admission: $5 bootleg.

Happy Birthday, America!

Wait, they're making a new movie? What about me?

Woo! I was going to post the Team America theme song, but decide maybe we should be the only web site that doesn’t do that today. Instead, enjoy the trailer for Captain America, which is going to kick ass all over the place in a couple of weeks.

God damn, i can’t wait for that movie.

E.T: Jedi?

My five-year-old son Alex came home a few days ago insisting that he had learned from his friends that E.T. “Has the Force.” My wife chalked it up to him being cute and a believer in all things Star Wars, but he insisted it was true. Of course, she decided she’d show him by ordering E.T. from Netflix.

My wife and I had not seen E.T. since it was originally released 19 years ago, so the details were fuzzy, but she was sure he was no Jedi. Well, we watched the movie, and Alex is more convinced than ever that E.T. “Has the Force,” but now I agree with him.

In the movie, E.T. displays telekinetic powers, not unlike a Jedi might manipulate his surroundings with the Force.

Additionally, E.T. passes a kid dressed up as Yoda for Halloween, and tries to follow him, saying “Home, home.” It appears he recognizes Yoda, or at least his species.

Then of course, a delegation of E.T’s species is visible in Star Wars episode I.

This may not be a new idea, but I am now convinced that E.T. does exist in the same universe as Star Wars, and that while E.T. may not be  Jedi, he, and maybe his entire species, is at least Force-sensitive.

Alex and his friends were right.

Movies I Won’t Be Seeing This Summer

Summer 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty awesome time for movies, especially if you love all things nerdy. Who ever thought we’d see Thor, X-Men First Class, Green Lantern, Harry Potter  and Captain America movies all in one summer? It’s a great time to be a geek. Sadly, though, into every summer falls a few garbage family movies. As I’ve stated before, I’m the father of two young boys, and am bombarded with advertisements for things people are trying to sell them. Lately, it’s been movie ads.

These are worst I’ve seen this year:

Mr Popper’s Penguins

What a piece of crap this looks like. I can hear the Hollywood brain trust coming up with this one:

“They’re penguins, What should we call them?”

“Well, what do they do?”

“One is kind of loud.”

“Loudy!”

“One bites Jim Carrey a lot.”

“Bitey!”

And so on… My 5-year old could have come up with more imaginative names. Yeahbsolutely.

The Zoo Keeper, or Night at the Museum at the Zoo:

“Hey, kids like the King of Queens guy, right? …and funny animals? …and T.G.I. Fridays?”

The girl won’t marry him because he’s a zookeeper? Really? Don’t you have to have a degree to do that?

I’m going to make a bold prediction about this one. He realizes the blonde girl is a bitch and ends up with Rosario Dawson. Credits.

I will not be taking my family to either of these CGI animal turds. Luckily, they haven’t shown interest in either, I guess I’m raising them right.

Movie Madness: Navigating the June Movie Jungle

Summer blockbuster season is here!  Woohoo!  Transformers and Green Lantern come out this month and I don’t care about either of those.  I’m perhaps a year or two too old to have grown up with the Transformers.  They were hitting as I was starting Middle School and already having a hard enough time keeping it a secret that I still loved my GI Joe and Star Wars toys.  I grew up with Ghost Rider and Spider-Man.  Green Lantern was never my guy.

Still though, June does have two pretty big powerhouses coming out that I am looking forward to seeing.  More importantly, me being the me that people like comedian Erik Kitter constantly mock, I’m much more interested in the small personal films.   Here are some of the movies you may not know about, but I think are probably worth seeing.

June 3rd

I’ve said it before that I love meta comedy.  Well, I love meta movies as well.  Submarine looks like the kind of self aware movie that won’t be chocked full of cliches.  Christine wanted to see it because of star Craig Roberts acting in the Being/Becoming Human universe.  I think when you also throw in the great Sally Hawkins and Richard Ayoade along with Yasmin Paige who seems pretty terrific in the trailer and you’ve got a winner!  Plus, I love movies about people who say the wrong things, but sound right doing it.

I wasn’t an X-Men fan growing up either, but I am looking forward to X-Men: First Class.  Yeah, there are a lot of things I’m not sure I get like why everyone on this looks roughly the same age, but in the other X-Men movies Magneto and Xavier are considerably older.   Still though, there’s something about X-Men in the 60s that just seems really neat.  Plus, Jennifer Lawrence was understated and incredible in Winter’s Bone.  I’m looking forward to seeing what she does this year both in this movie and then later in the Hunger Games.

In Beginniners, Ewan McGregor stars in this sweet movie about a guy who finds out at the same time that his dad is both dying and gay.  Melanie Laurent from Inglourious Basterds costars along with Christopher Plummer.   Maybe the gimmick with McGregor talking to the dog is only used as much as it is in the trailer, but screw it…those two moments alone made me giddy for this picture. In rewatching the trailer, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the dog was Plummer’s dog and serves as a vessel for McGregor’s character to say the things he never had a chance to say in real life to his father.  I’m so excited just for the potential of this film!

June 10th

The biggest blockbuster I’m looking forward to of course is Super 8.  I love that the trailer doesn’t tell you a whole lot at all.  From what I can piece together it looks like possibly some sort of alien being transported by train escapes in a small town in the early seventies and a group of kids try to track it down because they maybe understand it better than the government does.  I’m not sure of anything other than the fact that I’m intrigued and excited!

It’s an odd genre, but I love road trip movies.  The Trip looks like a really fun journey with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing lose versions of thsemselves.  I’ll go along for the ride.  Yep, I packed I handful of euphemisms to use for this paragraph and got as much mileage out of them as I could.

Just Like Us is a documentary that comedian Ahmed Ahmed made that chronicles a tour through the Middle East and ending up in New York.  My favorite kind of comedy is the kind that lets us see how we’re all similar regardless of the color of our skin or gender or sexual orientation or age or economic status.  I hate comedy that points out how different we as a people.  I got to work with featured comedian Maz Jobrani earlier in the year and I think that’s one thing he did really wonderfully.  He pointed out how even though there are divisions in the Middle East who have been at war with each other for centuries, when you break it down to just people, we’re all a lot alike.

Road To Nowhere is a movie about the making of a movie.  Like with the aforementioned Submarine, I like meta.  The trailer doesn’t give away anything really about the film other than the general tone and look of the thing.  I’m intrigued.  I’d really like to see this one.  Star Shannyn Sossamon was in Wristcutters: A Love Story, which is one of my all time favorite quirky little films.

June 24

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop isn’t just a concert film of the tour O’Brien took after leaving NBC, it’s a behind the scenes look at show business and the psychological ups and downs a performer experiences.    It’s comforting to me to know that it never gets easier.  My path will always be met with drama and grief.  If it were easy, more people would do it.  I think it’s interesting too that judging by the trailer, it looks like Conan does the same thing that a lot of us do to cover up either pain or feelings of discomfort, he just “turns it on”.

Green Lantern Movie Toy Review

"I hope this movie doesn't suck!"

Summer movie season is fast approaching, and with it comes the inevitable movie tie-in toy lines. With typically lackluster offerings over the years (refer to the Playmates  3-¾” Star Trek line from a couple of years ago), the major toy companies have successfully lowered my expectations of what we will see for movie tie-in merchandise, particularly in the action figure department. This year’s Green Lantern movie toys from Mattel stick to the long-standing “Throw anything on the shelves, kids will buy it!” tradition.

We had all had seen pictures of the line from Toy Fair earlier this year, and I was under whelmed to say the least. The toys looked kind of cheap, and the likenesses didn’t look right. Today, however, I got to see the 3-¾” toys in person at a Toys ‘R’ Us store.

Pew! Pew!

Holy crap, what steaming piles of dog turds these are. As fake-y as the CGI characters look in the trailers and TV ads we’ve seen so far, they look even goofier in plastic form. Kilowog looks like a cartoon dog. Hal Jordan looks like a stiff-armed Jerry Seinfeld.  Also, the line boasts a whopping 6 points of articulation – shoulders, hips, head and waist, at least on the figures I saw (Sinestro, Hal and Kilowog). It does appear that some of the figures have ball joints at the shoulders, which provide some range of motion, but most of the Hal Jordan figures are simple up-down swivels. So, the only action poses you can do with them are waving, pointing, and goose-stepping. At $8.99 MSRP per figure, are we really supposed to get excited about toys like that?

Wee! We're green!

As toy collectors, we have come to expect better, even in a 3-¾” line. In a hobby where Hasbro is putting out super-articulated G.I. Joes, Jedis and Marvel Superheroes, we demand better. Mattel has really dropped the ball on this line, in my opinion. They can say it’s aimed at kids and not collectors all they want, but it’s no excuse for poor quality. Hasbro has been making beautiful figures at that scale for years, Mattel just can’t seem to get it right. They should have learned from their ill-fated DC Infinite Heroes line a couple of years ago. You need to please the kids and the collectors with a line like this to be successful, and you do that by offering a combination of cool sculpts, reasonably good articulation, and a high level of playability. You don’t achieve that by giving us cheap-looking, stiff-armed junk.

Hasbro - Doing Movie Toys Right.

To be fair, the 6” line doesn’t look terrible, but those figures are fifteen dollars each. I’m already stretched thin trying to collect toys I really want, like the great 6” DC Universe  and comic-book themed Green Lantern lines Mattel is putting out, which does prove Mattel can make great toys when they try. Too bad they didn’t put in any of that effort here.

6 inch GL - not bad.

In short, I will not be buying these, not for me or my kids, not even when they inevitably end up in the clearance aisle at Wal-mart. Am I completely off-base? Does anybody want any of these? What movie toy are you looking forward to Thor? Captain America? Let me know.

Dennis Burdziak is a toy enthusiast, comic book reader, and friend to people more talented than himself. Follow him on twitter @dburdziak.

Mike vs. Kobe vs. The Game With No Name: The Conclusion

Previously, on The Game With No Name…(still haven’t come up with a name)

Read the rest of this entry

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 trailer

OK, I know I’m a few weeks late on this one, but give me a break. I’m new to this site and blogging in general.

The trailer for the final installment in the Harry Potter Octology (is that a word?) was released, and has Potter-heads everywhere all atwitter, myself included. I’m a late comer to the Harry Potter world, having waited until my wife made me watch the first 6 movies before I ever cracked one of the books, but I am a full-on Potter nerd now. The trailer is beautiful, and gives us glimpses of some of the coolest parts of the book brought to life. I’ll try to stay spoiler-free, but I make no promises, especially if you haven’t seen the previous movies.

In this final chapter, it’s a race for Harry and friends to complete their mission begun in part one, the destruction of Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes, the items that he has imbued with a piece of his soul in an effort to live forever, and to then vanquish him once and for all.  Right away, the familiar theme music brings us back into the magical world. The Voldemort voice-over sets the tone, reminding us this is no longer a kids’ movie series, these characters are grown up now and are dealing with some dark, life-or-death situations. The trailer then gives us glimpses of the roller-coaster ride into the Gringott’s vault, a dragon, Death-eaters galore, wizards flinging spells all over, and a whole bunch of stuff on fire. Only one thing bugs me, I don’t remember the scene with Harry and Voldemort  falling off a bridge in the book, so that may be a movie add-on, please correct me if I’m wrong. Everything leads up to the battle of Hogwarts, which we see bits of, not enough to spoil anything, but enough to give those of us who already know what happens glimpses of all  the things we are hoping to see.

This movie should shut up anyone who called the last one slow or boring. Everything that I can remember that is left of the story is non-stop excitement and action, which is what the trailer seems to show. There will be battles, there will be death, and there will be fire and explosions. Characters will meet their fates and fulfill their destinies.  In the end only one  can survive – the Chosen One or the Dark Lord.

Yes, many of us have read the books, but seeing it alive on screen is something completely different. Between this and Captain America, July can’t come soon enough for this nerd. I’m excited, are you?

Dennis Burdziak is a married father of two, a total nerd,  and wannabe member of Dumbledore’s Army. Follow him on twitter @dburdziak

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