Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In Which I Remember About My Blog

Aaaaaaand I'm back!  

Sorry it's taken me a while.  I've spent the past 2 months in a state of shock consisting of continuous pondering of the universe and what the heck I'm supposed to do in it now.

In other words, I've recently returned from a mission.

For those of you who didn't know, I've been in England for the past 18 months serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  As a result, I've missed out on several films that I would have otherwise blogged about.

The following posts will consist of those reviews, but with a different flavor than they've previously had.  I'm writing these reviews without the built-up hype from each movie effecting my reaction.  Instead of anxiously awaiting each release in the theaters I've been dipping into the local Redbox and catching up from the comfort of my parent's couch.

You may ask yourself why bother reading my reviews when you've already determined whether they were worthy of your time and wallet's contents.  If that is the case, I don't blame you for skipping out.  The sole purpose of the following posts are for me to vent my complaints and rejoicings over my favorite character's shenanigans and how adjusting to home life has affected my reaction to them.

So without further ado, I would like to invite you to enjoy the first of my ventings/rejoicings next week in "To Die or Not to Die? That Is the Question", an analysis on cheap character deaths and why they suck mightily. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Which I Accidentally Look Like Thor

I fell down at work today and totally struck a Thor pose:

Here's how it happened.

I'm on the tech team in the Guest Research department, which entails computer repair.  I was carrying three of our F5 tablets that needed some work, thus rendering the floor invisible to my eyes.

So when I rounded a tight corner I didn't see the bulky bag someone had set down on the floor.

I briefly became airborne before my Spidey-senses kicked in and I landed solidly like so:

The noise was so loud people from the opposite side of the office came rushing to see whether I was still alive.

I was more embarrassed than hurt, and quite frankly very pleased that I had managed to not break a bone or computer.

Let me explain how I managed this.

When my right foot caught on the bag there was too much momentum from carrying the F5 tablets and I immediately knew I was going down.  So I launched myself in the air with my left foot.  Using this time in the air, I brought my right leg up and over the bag and in front of me.  At the same time, I transferred the F5 tablets to under my right arm and braced myself against the ground with my left.  And to top it all off, the sound I made when I hit the ground can only be described as thunderous.

All of this happened very quickly, within a matter of milliseconds, so it wasn't until later that I realized how accidentally cool I was.  I concluded that I have the makings of a superhero, those F5 tablets could have just as easily been a baby.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Psychotic Post

A very common question I find very difficult to answer is, "What's your favorite movie?"

The reason being?  I have way too many to choose just one.

One of them is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

I've been thinking of blogging about Psycho for a while now, but with all the recent Psycho-inspired films coming out I figured it's about time.

Why do I like Psycho?  Why does anyone like Psycho?  It's gruesome and terrifying.  It's tragic and disturbing.  It's no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock had a lot of trouble getting people behind this project.  No one believed audiences would enjoy such a dark trip.

But I think Hitchcock saw something in the story no one else did at first; the appeal of Norman Bates.

The true-life Norman Bates the story is based off of, Ed Gein, was a balding middle aged hick with a demeanor that only a mother could love.  Hitchcock's brilliant decision to make Ed the 'kid next door' was one of the many factors that made Psycho so successful.

Norman Bates is a cute kid.  You'd never suspect him.  Even his name sounds close to what he supposedly is; Normal.

But we'll get more into him later.

Psycho was revolutionary in many ways, but I'll only name three.  It was considered very 'naughty', for starters.  The opening scene is a man and a woman in bed.  The woman, Janet Leigh, is in her underwear.  Keep in mind, this movie was released in 1960.  Up 'til this point audiences hadn't seen much worse than the suggestion of nudity.

The shower scene takes the cake, though.  It's jarring and shocking.  Killing off the leading lady in the first 30 minutes was unheard of and intriguing.  Here, I'll let it speak for itself:

Wanna know the kicker?  You never actually see the knife touch her body.  And you never see any nudity.  Yet we've just witnessed a naked woman being stabbed to death in the shower.

Hitchcock forces us to fill in the blanks with our own imagination, and accompanied by the wet stabbing sounds and her screams, it's not hard to do.

The musical score of the film lends a lot of mystique and intensity.  Even people who have never seen the film can imitate it's iconic theme, "Eee!  Eee!  Eee!  Eee!"

This hair-raising music has been referenced time and again in other films, ironically, for comic relief.  Even Pixar used it once:

And, finally, the twist ending.  Everyone knows it now but when the film was first released audiences had no idea the killer was actually Norman.  The film leads us to believe his mother is the killer.  It isn't until the very end, when Vera Miles discovers Mrs. Bates' corpse, that we realize just how psycho Norman really is.

News stories from the 60s report theatergoers leaping out of their seats and even fainting when the corpse was revealed.

If you ask me, the true fright comes when Norman rushes into the room.  When Sam stops him, and Norman writhes as if in agony, we can hear his 'mother' voice crying, "I'm Norma Bates!  I'm Norma!"

 I've always interpreted his struggle in Sam's arms to be more mental than physical.  We're witnessing Norman's last ditch effort to gain control, but 'Mother' wins and Norman disappears seemingly for good.

I say 'seemingly' because Norman eventually regains control and is released from prison after 22 years in Psycho 2

Psycho spawned a total of 4 sequels, 1 (horrible) remake, a biopic released last year, and a television series being released this year.

Of the sequels, Psycho 2 is undoubtedly the best.  Remember when I said Norman Bates fit my sympathetic villain formula?  This sequel is why.

As far as horror movie sequels go, Psycho 2 has been recognized as one of the best.  In it, Norman is tortured by visions of his mother until he gradually slips back into insanity.  The sad part?  The 'visions' of his mother were actually Vera Miles, hellbent on avenging her sister by having Norman recommitted.

Norman's reaction to all this is what qualifies him for the Formula.  Unlike Freddy and Jason, Norman doesn't enjoy killing.  He repeatedly calls on his psychiatrist and does all he can to keep a grip on reality.  The visions of his mother terrify him, and at one point he breaks down in tears, "It's starting again."

In hindsight, Norman shouldn't have gone back to that stupid motel.  But a movie is a movie is a movie.

Hitchcock was released late last year with a star-studded cast of Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma, Scarlett Johannsen as Janet Leigh, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins.

It's a biopic about the making of Psycho that focuses around Hitchcock's relationship with his wife.  Alma was very involved in her husband's work, even acting as assistant director sometimes.

I really enjoyed it.  It was fun and insightful.  The film exhibits the numerous obstacles Hitchcock had to overcome in order for Psycho to be released to the public.  The Sherlock office, yesteryear's equivalent of the MPAA rating system, was adamant that the love scene and the shower scene be cut entirely from the film.

Hitchcock also touches upon the casting process.  Scarlett Johanssen and James D'Arcy's portrayals of Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins were so good it was eery.

Bates Motel is an A&E television series that will premier this March.  It's going to focus on Norman's adolescent years, specifically, his abusive relationship with his mother.  The series will attempt to answer the question of what exactly drove Norman over the edge.  Damen Lindelof, one of the principal writers of 'LOST', will pen the episodes and Freddie Highmore will star as teenage Norman Bates.

I'll definitely be watching this.

Despite Psycho's success and cultural impact, very few of my contemporary peers have seen it. I'm not sure why.  It may be because they already know the twist ending, it may be because they're too chicken to take it on, it may be because it's in black and white, the list goes on and on.

If you want to hold your own in the movie trivia world, you gotta have Psycho under your belt.  It hasn't been referred to as the 'grandfather of all horror flicks' for nothing.

I encourage everyone to see it not because of the context, but because of the content.  Psycho has some of the best black and white cinematography I've ever seen.  It's stunning in HD.  The story is told flawlessly with flawed characters.  The music is engaging, the dialogue is haunting.  It sticks with you.

Don't believe me?  Try getting this final shot of Norman out of your head:

Nighty niiiiight.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Miserable Review

A long time ago, in a blog post far far away...

I blogged for the first time.

And now I finally have the opportunity to post the raving review I so ominously foretold of and bring things full circle.

In short, I loved the film.  But I have my complaints, of course.

Complaint #1
The mark of good editing is when you don't notice it.  Well, I really really noticed it during Les Miserables.  There were moments where the scene would become choppy and confusing, and I had to rely on my past experience with the musical in order to ground myself.

Take, for instance, the scenes where characters pop abruptly out of nowhere.  Like Thenardier and his gang attempting to rob Valjean's house.  Or Javert crashing the hospital party.

Also, Javert having Valjean "Retrieve the flag!" was kinda odd to me.  I understand that we need to see the connection Javert makes later on when Valjean lifts the cart, but it made me think that Javert regularly commanded Valjean to pick up random heavy crap just for the heck of it.

"Lift that boulder!"
"Raise that bridge!"
"Move that house!"
"Wrestle that bear!"

Complaint #2
The Thenardiers were a lot darker than usual.  Normally 'Master of the House' is a fun song that's used for some much-needed comic relief.  The film's Thenardiers were funny, but in a different way.  They were more raunchy and dark.

While it fit in with the overall tone of the film, it made me miss the lighter and funnier version I'm so used to.

However, the Thenardiers are supposed to be despicable and hated in the novel.  So perhaps that was what director Hooper was going for.  And the relief I felt that Valjean was taking Cosette away from such an awful environment has never been so potent.

Complaint #3
Valjean's death wasn't believable to me.  I think this was mainly due to his appearance.  Jackman needed to look older.  Even when Valjean is perfectly healthy he looked odd next to Cosette.  I had a hard time believing he was her father.

On the other hand, Jackman's acting was superb and it helped me overlook his (stallionesque) appearance.  Plus, his appearance in the beginning is nearly identical to the description in the book.

Complaint #4
Continuing with Jackman, his singing was excellent with a few crucial exceptions.
'Bring Him Home' was a good performance from Jackman, but I felt like it wasn't the prayer it's meant to be.  A prayer is a soft yet powerful thing, and that's exactly how this song is meant to be sung.  It's supposed to start off soft and carry to a crescendo that makes the words,

If I die, let me die!  
Let him live.  
Bring him home.

Much more powerful.  But Jackman sang it strong and loud all the way through.  Then he ended it in a strong and strained tone that totally destroyed the normally soft and sincere ending,

Bring him hooooome.

Props to him for making it his own, but I was disappointed.

And last but certainly not least...
Complaint #5
Russell Crowe's performance was certainly memorable, but not necessarily for all the right reasons.  My chief objection is with his singing.  While he can carry a tune, Crowe calls to mind Gerard Butler's Phantom of the Opera.  He had no power.  And while I'm sure a little studio magic would have spruced his vocals up, all of the singing was recorded live in front of the camera.  The end result was a weak delivery with almost no diction.  Hands down, Javert was the weakest voice in the whole movie.

Crowe's acting was something to note, however.  Javert is a beast, and Crowe played that aspect of the character very well.  The Confrontation in the hospital was, in a word, exciting.

Consider also the fight Crowe puts up when his cover is blown at the barricade.  Normally, Javert reluctantly lets them tie him up and take him away.  But not Crowe.  He whipped out his police bludgeon and turned into a muttonchop-less hurricane until Enjolras had to knock him out.

I wasn't very pleased with his suicide scene, however.  Crowe expressed little vocal and facial emotion during Javert's final moments.  Javert is supposed to be unhinged at this point, full of confusion and anger and remorse.  The novel explains his line of reason so well that by the end there's no question in our minds about why Javert jumps.

But the musical is weakened by the limits of dialogue.  So the actor must help us understand what Javert is feeling by showing us how distraught he is.  Crowe didn't do this very well.

The scene was beautifully filmed but he kinda killed it for me.  I wanted to reach into the screen and shake him by the shoulders, "You're about to commit suicide!  Emote, for the love of Hugo!"

The 'Suicide' scene is really important because it brings 'Valjean's Soliloquy' full circle from the beginning.  Both of these men experience HUGE turning points where they can either accept or reject the grace that has been given them.  And both of these turning points are sung to the exact same melody.  This is significant because Valjean and Javert are based off of the same man, a convict-turned-policeman named Eugene Francis Vidocq whom Hugo split brilliantly into two personages.

Valjean and Javert are opposite sides of the same coin.

I enjoyed Crowe's performance and I think he totally owned the role, but I wish someone else had been cast.

But here end my complaints.  Everything else about the film was excellent.

Praise #1
I loved how they drew and added from the novel.  As a result, the film is even more true to the original story than the theatrical production.

Take, for instance, the inclusion of Marius's grandfather.  Or the additional scenes between Javert and Valjean.

Some of the dialogue is taken directly from the novel as well, and most of it is used during the barricade scene.  For instance, when the genarme shouts, "Who's there?"  And Enjolras replies, "French Revolution!"

But I think my favorite addition would have to be the scene where Valjean and young Cosette escape into Paris via the rooftops, Javert hot on their heels.

They seek refuge in a convent and are aided by the gardener, who happens to be the man Valjean saved from a runaway cart, Fauchelevent.  It's a connection made in the book, but rarely made in any film or stage adaptation.

Praise #2
A lot of the songs have been abbreviated and rearranged for the film.  Normally this would have me up in arms but they did it in a way that gave us just enough of each song, and I'm pretty sure only freaks like me noticed it anyway.

'I Dreamed a Dream' for instance, takes place after Fantine's descent into prostitution.  I think this is much more appropriate since the staged production normally has her sing it before her life has fallen apart.

Also, the orchestration for each song was refreshing and beautiful.  I hardly recognized 'Stars' until Crowe started singing, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Praise #3
Ann Hathaway.  Holy crap.  Her death rattle alone deserves an Oscar.

Her voice was a little harder to rate since the majority of the time it's choked by emotion, but when she appears to Valjean in the epilogue it's clear as crystal.

Praise #4
Colm Wilkinson.  The original Jean Valjean, no one else could have been more appropriate to portray the Bishop.

If anyone could have blown their vocal role out of the water, it was him.  But instead he chose to go for a more sincere, real performance, and I've never liked the Bishop more.  I wanted to hug him.

Praise #5
I love how they excluded Eponine from Valjean's death.  I always thought she was out of place because Valjean had no significant connection to her.  Instead, they had the Bishop reappear and lead Valjean to his reward.  It was much more appropriate and far more moving.

Praise #6
Speaking of appropriate and moving, I really appreciated the moment when Javert placed his badge of honor on Gavroche's body.  It was unexpected because that moment in the score is usually used to reveal Enjolras's body hanging from the barricade.  It showed that Javert was an honorable man and gave us a glimpse of the humanity in him.  I'll be honest, it made me cry.

Praise #7
I actually cared about Cosette and Marius for once!  Their love scene was filmed beautifully, there were even effing butterflies flying around.

It was almost ridiculous but amongst all the dark material it was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Praise #8
The film benefits from being able to depict things the stage never could.  Take, for instance, the fight scenes.

The carnage of the barricade is never fully realized on the stage, it's not really possible.  But the amount of blood shed on screen is so much that Javert actually has to walk through puddles of it in order to get inside the cafe where the bodies are being kept.

Another good example is Javert's suicide.  Ouch.  The whole audience either hissed or went, "Ooo!" When his body hit the water.  On the stage he just kind of fades into darkness and we assume he drowns.  In the film, however, there's no doubt he died almost instantly.

I'm not saying I liked seeing all this violence, but I am saying that the story has done nothing but prosper from the medium of film.  Props to Tom Hooper, because it could have easily gone the other way. (Like Phantom of the Opera.)

Praise #9
There were so many good voices and actors I can't even--I can't even---augh!  They were amazing.  Case in point, Eddie Redmayne in 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'.

 I hope Nick Jonas was watching.  The way these songs were filmed, with live singing, gave the performances a raw and real feeling as if they were being sung live in front of you.

Overall, I absolutely loved the film and I encourage everyone to experience it at least once on the big screen.  I was so moved I've never cried that much during a movie before, and I've certainly never cried that much while seeing it live on stage.  I had experienced this musical in so many different ways it seemed hard to imagine seeing it in a new way.  But the film adaptation was a whole new experience from the 10th anniversary concert, the 25th anniversary concert, my high school's production, the original stage production, and the 25th anniversary tour.  It was like experiencing the story for the first time.

Bravo, Hollywood.  I was wrong to doubt you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Son of Aragog

I had a 1am adventure with a spider that I've deemed blog-worthy.

To put it shortly, I had to kill it with a baseball bat.

Reason #1  It was huge.

Reason #2  I didn't want anything less than three feet between me and it.  Him.  The son of Aragog.

I had just returned from a late-night shift at work and decided to stay up a few more minutes in order to read my scriptures.  I was one verse along when something big and dark bungee jumping from the ceiling caught my eye.  My heart lurched in a familiar, unpleasant way when I beheld one of the biggest arachnids I've ever seen.

He was clamoring around my bedroom door, probably preparing to make a web.  His legs were so large I could hear them pattering against the wooden frame.

I immediately went for my first weapon of choice, a flip-flop.  But I quickly realized that whether I wore it on my foot or my hand would require me to be within millimeters of the spider and something about the way he was moving suggested that wouldn't end well.

I needed distance.

My first choice would've been bug spray but this would've required me to leave the room and Odin knows if the spider would've still been there when I returned.  No, I had to keep my eye on this one.  If he got away there was a 0% chance of sleep for me.

So, keeping one eye on Aragog Jr, I reached for the aluminum bat I keep by my bed and readied myself for battle.

As I approached him he stopped his scampering abruptly and we eyed each other.

We moved at the same time.  I made a whack at him but he darted up the wall with lightening speed.  I managed to knock him down but as soon as he hit the carpet he started running toward me.

It continued like this for several minutes; I would make a swing then he would rush me.  I had never dealt with such an aggressive spider before so I had to change my usual tactic of herding them out into the open to get a clear shot.  Now I had to let him chase me far enough away from a wall so I could get a clear shot.  But whenever I took a shot he would scuttle back to the corner where the wall and floor met.  And when I got close enough to try and encourage him out of the corner he would rush me again and force me away, whimpering like Ron Weasley.

Our battle had moved into the living room, and I eventually had to fake him out.  I disappeared around the corner long enough for him to wander out into the open.  Once he had I snuck back to the entry way and struck a Gandalf pose with my bat poised vertically over his hairy head.

Resisting the urge to bellow, "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"  I slammed the bat down and Aragog Jr splattered everywhere.

I gave him a second whack for good measure, let loose a giddy laugh, then basked in my victory.

Moral of the story, children?  Read your scriptures and keep a bat by your bed.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Me Me Me Meeeeeeeee

My lovely friend Shannon recently nominated me for the Liebster award, which requires that I bombard you with useless facts about myself.  You lucky readers, you.

For those of you who care enough to read this post, here are the rules:

1. Each person awarded must post 11 facts about themselves.
2. Answer the 11 questions the nominator has set for them.
3. Choose five bloggers to nominate.  (If I've tagged you in this blog, it means you're one of 'em.  If you're wondering why you weren't tagged, it's probably because I don't know you have a blog.)
4. Create 11 more questions for the bloggers they will nominate.
5. Let the lucky bloggers know.

Alrighty, 11 (pointless yet revealing) facts about myself...

#1  The first movie I ever saw in a theater was Disney's Beauty and the Beast with my mom in 1991.

#2  Speaking of which, my greatest wish is for a movie theater to be built wherein only the best of theater-goer behavior is allowed.  No kids, no crunchy/loud candy, no cell phones, no getting up and leaving/coming back, and absolutely no talking.

If not, I could settle for a semi-annual public flogging of a bad theater-goer to promote good theater behavior nationwide.

#3  I've never been snowboarding, skiing, surfing, horseback riding, skydiving or bungee jumping despite having grown up near the Southern Californian coast as well as the high desert.

But I do enjoy 4 wheeling.  And shooting things.
#4  I love the cold and despise the heat.  If it's cold you can bundle up.  If it's hot, however, there's only so much you can strip off until things get weird.  Besides, the heat inspires sluggish thinking and reactions, whereas the cold sharpens and quickens.

And all of this is ironic since I'm a Mexican from Southern California.

#5  I'm a huge nerd.  But did you know I'm also a comic book collector?  Here, be impressed:

Money well wasted.

#6  The majority of my iTunes library consists of movie soundtracks.  This is largely due to the fact that they helped me study when I was a student at BYU, and even now when I need to focus on something it helps to let a soundtrack run in the background while I mull things over.

I could afford it, I would hire Michael Giacchino to compose my life.  He could just follow me around with an orchestra, no big deal.

#7  I love driving manual, I even prefer it over automatic.  Each of my children will learn to, whether they like it or not.

#8  I studied Jeet Kune Do, Kempo Karate, and Wing Chun under Jerry Meyers, who was taught and trained by Bruce Lee.

And have since forgotten most of it.

#9  I think the huge deal people make over birthdays is dumb.  It's the anniversary of the day our mothers went through horrendously unspeakable pain and we were ejected from the womb, why do we celebrate it?

Acknowledge it?  Sure.  But freak out, bake a cake, take the day off work, have people sing to you and give you gifts?  Nay nay.

#10  I love the internet because it produces hilarious crap like this:

#10.5  If I were in The Avengers I'm pretty sure this is how I would react.

#11  If I were an animal I would probably be a panther.  Bagheera is one of my favorite classic Disney characters, I've always related to him.  The first thing I would do upon finding an abandoned baby is deliver it to a pack of wolves.

Then shove it so it starts crying and the wolves notice it.

And now for Shannon's questions...

#1 How do you wake up in the morning?  ie what wakes you up?
"Non Regrette Rien" has been my alarm ever since Inception hit theaters.  I don't think I even need to explain why this is both clever and cool of me.

#2 If you could drive any car without worrying about gas or street regulations or maintenance, what would it be?

The Tumbler, you silly goose.

#3 If you had to pick one feature on your face to be completely hideous, which would it be? (I'm thinking snaggle teeth and warty noses, don't disappoint me, guys)
A uni-brow would suit me well.

#4 Assuming you rule the universe, what would be the first thing you would tell people to stop doing?

#5  What is one inside joke you have with a sibling and how did it happen?
My sister likes to tease me about how she convinced me I was found in a trash can by our parents as an infant.

#6  Tell me a story about a time you ended up in the ER.  Please.
Never have.  I'm invincible.

#7  What are your two guilty pleasures?  Anything.
Titanic and Red Vines.

 #8  Why did you choose the post-high school career/education/family/whatever path that you did?
Kind of a hard question, since I haven't chosen yet.  But the reason I chose to study Anthropology/Archaeology at BYU was because I've always had a fascination with ancient Egypt.  Even now I'm re-reading the textbook from my Egyptian archaeology course.

Unfortunately, a career in ancient Egyptian archaeology or Egyptology is both impractical and unsafe nowadays.

(Because, you know, of mummies and stuff...)

#9  What is the most adventurous thing you've ever done?
Drove with my dad in the passenger seat. 

#10  What is one thing about yourself or your accomplishments that you are very proud of?
I'm proud that I went to BYU and earned a Bachelor's.  Now that I've moved to Brea/Fullerton I'm surrounded by people who are much older than me and haven't even started school, so it's cast a whole new light on my experience in Provo and the knowledge I gained there.  Basically, I'm very grateful I had the opportunity and ambition to go to BYU.

#11  What is your favorite children's book?
Harry Potter, of course.  But if you're talking picture-book I'd have to say In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak.

And now for my nominations...

Here are your questions:

#1  How many bones have you broken?
#2  If you could learn any fictional language, what would it be?
#3  What is your dream job?
#4  Your thoughts on Snooki?
#5  Your favorite holiday and why?
#6  Have you ever convinced your sibling they were found in a trash can and adopted?
#7  What is your earliest memory?  How old were you?
#8  Name something you're afraid of.
#9  What's your favorite hobby?
#10  If you were trapped on an island and could choose one celebrity to be there, who would you choose?
#11  If you had to choose to watch only one comedy for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

No, I don't expect any of you to actually do this.  It's time consuming and kinda pointless, there isn't an actual award involved.  But it's fun and doesn't need to be completed any time soon.