Friday, May 14, 2010

Gillette Fusion Power Proglide!

Shaving sucks. I feel like it's such a waste of time. There's no fun in it at all plus it adds at least an additional five minutes onto the morning. So I try to do it as sparingly as possible without looking like a caveman.

But for the last several years, my razor of choice has been the Gillette Mach 3. A few years ago, I tried the Schick Quattro and hated it. I immediately returned to the Mach 3. Not only because it was a better razor, but also because it's got such an awesome name. I mean, really. Mach 3 sounds pretty sweet. I feel like I'm using an Air Force Jet to remove the hair from my face.

A few weeks ago, I found a link online that allowed me to get a free next generation razor from Gillette. The Fusion Proglide. So, not wanting to miss an opportunity for a free razor, I absolutely jumped at the chance. I had little hopes for it, since a four blade razor didn't work out for me, so a five bladed razor with battery power sounded even less exciting. arrived. And before I knew it, I was experiencing the cleanest, most impressive shave of my life. They weren't kidding. It was gliding. It was like someone dropped a penguin on my face and he slip slided around until it was smoother than it's ever been. In fact, even the next day I had to thank that penguin for keeping things pretty smooth. Actually, I wish they'd change the name to the Fusion Penguin. I think that would not only be cooler, but would provide for more exciting mascot opportunities.

For some reason, as if they knew how much I was going to love it, they sent me another one a week later. So now I have two. Saving me several dollars as now I won't have to buy a new razor anytime soon. Sometimes free stuff works. And this has absolutely changed my opinion. I know the Mach 3 will always be there for me, but I think now I'm a Fusion Penguin man. Or Proglide. Whatever. Either way, it's awesome.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lost Thoughts on "Dr. Linus" for 3/9

For most episodes so far this season, I have been rather conflicted between my attempt to manage expectations and the reality of the show. Yet this episode required me to do none of that. Finally there seems to be some solid forward progression with real momentum beginning to build. Arguably the best episode of the season thus far, all of the pieces came together to not only make a solid episode, but a fantastic piece of the greater whole.

What needs to be mentioned first is the way in which Jack is finally beginning to come into his own as a leader. This is closer to season one Jack, the Jack who makes decisions and lives with them, as opposed to the Jack of the last few seasons who has just been floundering around hoping he's making the right decision. Now guided more by faith than any sort of rational deduction, his decisions border on crazy, but crazy with a purpose. The scene in which he sits with Richard trusting that the dynamite will not go off spoke volumes of his character, even though the audience knew there was no actual danger whatsoever. My fear was right after Jack sat Richard down that we would be treated to more non-answers via a commercial break. But instead while we didn't get detailed information, we received hints of what is to come and some very interesting facts.

But the focal point of the episode resulted in yet another excellent Ben episode. What's interesting is how big a role redemption is playing for not only the 815 cast, but for characters such as Ben. Ben has always been a man who lusts for power and control. Even when locked up posing as Henry Gale back in season two, his ability to maintain some order of control is what made his character so fascinating to watch. His manipulation knew no bounds and very little of what he said could be taken at face value. He knew he would get out of his situation alive, and be better for it.

Yet, on the island, his control is all but gone, and he is still attempting to manipulate and lie to people into doing what he wants. The problem is that no longer does he have any clout, since everyone now sees through his facade. Attempting to convince Miles to free him was not only futile, but slightly pathetic. Except when Miles told him that Jacob was hoping he was wrong about Ben, you could see this disappointment in Ben's eyes, as if Ben had disappointed the absent father who was never there for him. And again the show explores father issues through a different prism than they normally might.

So when Illana finally confronts Ben after his escape, he is believable when he expresses such regret over holding the island in higher esteem than his daughter and that he is now, truly, a broken man with nowhere to go. Illana's decision to let him stay may have more to do with the fact that one more person on Jacob's side is better than a new recruit to Locke's, but Ben's decision shows how he has now resigned himself to accepting his role on the island as a part of a team instead of their leader. Locke's empty promise of allowing Ben to control the island after he leaves no longer holds any weight for Ben.

This redemption is echoed through the sideways story, as Ben proves himself to be just as cunning and manipulative in that timeline as well. There was little more entertaining than watching him maneuver into a position where he could usurp power from Principal Donald "This Man Has No Dick" Reynolds. (Sorry, Ghostbusters reference.) And it's also a lot of fun to see Arzt hilariously continue to pop up in episodes. But in furthering the seemingly redemptive nature of these sideways stories, Ben chooses his prized student/island daughter Alex over the control he desperately wants and feels he deserves. The main thing that makes this Ben different than his counterpart is the fact that not only is his father alive, but he seems to have a loving relationship with him. Roger Linus feels that he is the one who disappointed Ben by leaving the island, an interesting revelation to be sure. The fact they were on the island at one point is a starting point to clue us in as to what happened to make this world so different.

Elevating this episode even more is the classic reunion scene set to nothing by Michael Giacchino's excellent score. Beach scenes like this one really stand out in that there is nothing better than watching characters who have been separated for so long come together after all this time. There was an early season vibe that I felt in this reunion and it reminded me of a time when occasionally fun and happy things happened to the characters. Only to have that reunion punctuated by the brilliant revelation of Widmore arriving via sub, bringing that dynamic back into the fold after such a long absence.

On a slightly unrelated note, I'm rather disappointed that Mira Furlan, who played Danielle Rousseau, isn't coming back this season, because while I'm making the assumption that she's still Alex's mother, I would have loved to see her as a stressed out mom trying to make ends meet after knowing her as this crazy jungle woman for so long. Of course, this also raises the question as to how this French woman ended up in Los Angeles, but I'm hoping it's one that will be addressed in time.

Between Jack's solid decision making, Ben's decision to stay with the beach team, Richard getting ready to explain himself, and Widmore's imminent arrival, there seems to be a lot to chew on over the next several days and the excitement seems to be ramping up. While we still don't know what's at stake, at least we know that Jack is ready to take some action and make the leaps of faith he was so incapable of making at the start of the series. Episodes like this one allow me to forget about all the questions that I have about the series and enjoy it outright. But I do feel like a lot of questions we've held for a long time are beginning to be primed for answers. Personally, I'm really starting to get excited about the rest of this season. How about you?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lost Thoughts

Coming into the final season of Lost, it's clear to me that I have spent not nearly as much time in thought and anticipation than in any other show. Something about this show has taken me in and clearly I am not alone.

Yet, throughout these last six years, as the onion has been peeled back more and more, the concern mounts that what we find in the middle isn't going to be something that will be nearly as satisfying as it could. What seems to be most interesting is the subculture that has spawned in the wake of "Lost." People constantly analyzing every little movement, every character action, every story point, and attempting to cross reference that with probably hundreds of different sources throughout literature, film, mythology, and philosophy.

Speculation is most certainly fun, but the major drawback is that we're working from limited information. The fact is, even four episodes into the final season, we still have nowhere near the amount of information necessary to make a truly informed decision. Things that still lay shrouded in secrecy are vital to our understanding of the show and therefore any speculation people have is clearly speculation and lends itself to ultimately weak arguments.

The third season finale is a perfect example. When the concept of the flash forward was introduced, it blew my mind. I was confused, and my thoughts were most assuredly provoked. In fact, I spent hours that evening trying to understand the ramifications of the ending. Was this an alternate timeline? Was this the end point of the show? Those were honestly the only two ideas I could come up with that night, and both were completely wrong. After several months of waiting, I realized that the third option that I didn't think of, that this was yet another part of these characters' journeys, was something that was ultimately incredibly simple. At this point, I made the decision to do no more speculating to that degree. Since clearly I couldn't predict what was going to happen anyway. The only thing I could do is make minor inferences based on that which I could actually see, while realizing that my chances of accuracy were rather low. Of course, it was also after that premiere that I had decided this show wouldn't do anything crazy as alternate realities, yet, here we are. Experiencing alternate realities.

For the last several years, I've held out hope that the end was going to be satisfying. Following the show with as much detail as I do, specifically listening to the weekly podcast from the creators, has imbibed me with a sense of confidence that the show does have a direction that it's following. Obviously that plan was not in place early in the first season, since despite their best efforts, there are things that just do not seem thematically consistent with later episodes. Yet, what does seem to be the case is a sense of knowledge that "all will be revealed" before it's over, and this was incredibly evident to me once the end date was finalized.

But here we are, once again, three episodes into the final season, and the mad dash to the finish line I was expecting has yet to arrive. There was a nice sprint out of the gate, but I feel that while the wheels aren't exactly spinning, the pace is much more leisurely than I otherwise would have expected.

The premiere was excellent, weaving between two realities relatively seamlessly while simultaneously hinting at detailed answers that were to come. While we can now say unequivocally that The Man in Black from the season 5 finale is not only taking the form of John Locke, but is also the Smoke Monster, we still don't exactly know WHAT he is. Nor do we understand what changed things so dramatically in the alternate timeline to make things so different, yet so similar. The ABC promos have been saying that "The Time For Questions Is Over" but frankly, it appears that I'm left with more questions than I had before the season began.

The second episode "What Kate Does" was seemingly panned by a majority of the Lost community as a poor episode. Yet, surprisingly, I rather enjoyed it. Especially most of the flash-sideways. Seeing things happen that are eerily similar to what happened on island did give clues to the fact that this universe appears to be course correcting itself. That the situations that happened on island are going to be very similar in this alternate reality. And I thought there were some rather touching scenes in the smaller character moments, which is ultimately the biggest reason that this show is so successful. People want to know who these characters are. The problem was that with a premiere that had such forward momentum, only to be stopped in its tracks, the effect can be rather jarring. Although I suspect that when viewed as part of a whole, it won't be remembered as poorly.

And this brings us to tonight's episode "The Substitute". The episode that inspired me to write all this tonight. Because with the exception of the flash sideways, all that really happened was Locke and Sawyer walked through the jungle and into a cave. Granted, there were interesting things, especially about the numbers, within the cave, but I felt slightly like we were stuck in a traffic jam, waiting for the roads to clear up. Movement is being made, albeit slowly, and that's not what I'm wanting at this point. In addition to the fact that I wanted to see what was happening with the people at The Temple, and being denied that was rather frustrating, especially given what happened with Sayid last week. To leave us hanging after that only to provide us with completely separate information this week probably lessens my enjoyment somewhat. Since my desire to see more Temple is overwhelming my desire to see Locke and Sawyer trekking through the jungle. And the more things like that happen, the more I become worried that despite my blank expectations for answers, the ending will just not be satisfying.

The flash sideways again presented some really interesting questions, but none that were remotely answered. How did Ben become a teacher? (A hilarious scene by the way.) Who's Locke's dad that's going to come to the wedding? And if it's Anthony Cooper, then how did Locke get into the wheelchair this time? Although I must say it's rather awesome watching Terry O'Quinn play the juxtaposition of both confused, frustrated Locke, and completely certain, unwavering Locke and the fact that elements of both characters seem to be sliding between the two of them. Specifically sideways-Locke's acceptance of the reality of his situation and fake Locke's yelling about people telling him what he can't do. There seems to be more to that.

Keeping everyone separated is also a mistake. Jin and Sun have been trying to reunite for over a season and a half now. For far too many episodes, Sun, Lapidus, Locke, Ben, and Richard have been hanging out by that four toed statue, essentially waiting for something to happen. Tonight they finally made the decision to head toward the temple, and hopefully the group will all reunite very soon. Since this show seems to work best when all the characters are functioning as one large unit and not incessantly separated.

I suppose that when all is said and done, it's the journey, and not the destination that makes it all worthwhile. The characters are interesting, and the plot is just a vehicle through which the characters can make decisions and change. Yet, this does not mean that I am not interested in a solid resolution to the plot. On the contrary, I am very interested. And that is ultimately what I hope, and to a degree, expect to see.

Also, where's Desmond? My favorite character needs to come back. Now. Come on man, where are you?

Anyway, this ends this current article, for all of you who actually took the time to read it. I actually have a lot more to say, but I'll save it for another time. Feel free to comment if you want to start a discussion about the show, and I'm thinking about doing this every week now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Up" Review

Pixar's track record continues to shine with the release of their newest movie "Up". While not as much of a masterpiece as last year's Wall-E, it still provides plenty of laughs and thoughtful storytelling that is above and beyond what would appear to be the reach of most studios.

"Up" is the story of 78-year-old Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner) who has had a lifelong love of exploration and who never seemed to be able to get out there and do any real exploring. After marrying his childhood sweetheart, who shared this love of his, there was always something preventing the couple from going to Paradise Falls in South America, the one place they truly wanted to go. Illustrated in an incredibly moving montage at the start of the film, the audience is taken through the journey of their life together, including some surprisingly mature themes that will probably go over the head of smaller viewers but heartbreaking for those who have the ability to grasp the situation.

After the death of his wife and being forced out of his home by business development, Carl decides he has nothing to lose and uses thousands of balloons to lift his house upward and spend his remaining years in Paradise Falls. Meanwhile, young Wilderness Explorer Russell is looking for his final badge, the "Help the Elderly" badge, so he can become a Senior Explorer. Carl unfortunately wants nothing to do with him, yet through a series of circumstances, Russell becomes part of Carl's journey and through this exploration they begin to learn more about each other and discover what it means to truly live a full life.

The film excels more than anything else with the characters. Russell and Carl are so incredibly well written that each decision they make is one that can be understood. The progression of the characters moves along at a solid pace and when the moment of realization occurs for Carl, you really feel his epiphany with him, which is a testament to the great writing of the team at Pixar.

And there really is something for everyone in this movie. Goofy sight gags for the kids, deep meaningful themes for the adults, all in a PG movie.

The only real negative to the film was the fact that I didn't find myself buying Carl's willingness to deviate from his original plan. It seemed slightly forced in an attempt to create some sort of conflict, but upon watching it again, I suppose it's possible that it will be better understood why he decided to make the decision that he did.

From a technical perspective, this movie is again a masterpiece. The light from the balloons, the stylized character designs, and even the 3D effects all add to create a beautiful atmosphere that could be enjoyed even if you had no idea what was being said on screen. What's also incredible is how the 3D effects were not overwhelming at all, only serving to add literal depth to the movie, and never going for the cheap poke-in-the-eye gags. Some movies can really have the 3D as a distraction, but here it was clearly part of the storytelling and they made every attempt to not abuse that.

"Up" ultimately is a touching, unconventional story that succeeds on just about every level. Upon first viewing of the trailer last year, I wondered whether or not it would be viable to have an old man as a protagonist, but, as Pixar always does, they proved me wrong for even questioning it.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Terminator: Salvation Review

Numerous interviews with the director of "Terminator: Salvation", McG, have reeked of a deep insecurity about the project; a desperate need to tell the world "this movie is good, really! Look at all the people involved other than me! That will show you!" Yet, the movie succeeds in being an interesting fourth entry in the Terminator franchise and a relatively solid summer blockbuster, but not much else.

The movie begins with John Connor (Christian Bale) on a mission to take out a Skynet facility in 2018. Connor knows he is going to someday lead humanity to victory against Skynet, he just doesn't quite know when that is going to be. In the meantime, his pregnant wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) sits at home doing doctor things waiting for him to return. The mission somehow wakes up Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) from some sort of half-man/half-machine slumber. Frankly, describing the plot is partially an exercise in futility since it mostly involves the Resistance trying to defeat and run away from Skynet and Marcus discovering what he truly is.

Which leads to the main problem of this movie: the plot is essentially incomprehensible toward the end. The motivations of Skynet are strange at best and completely nonsensical at worst. Sure they make some good strategic moves from time to time, but when it comes to their ace in the hole, it seems like they did not think that one through at all, which I'll refrain from describing as to not spoil anything.

Connor also serves as some sort of section leader of the Resistance but has little say as a top decision maker. Which is fine, since this is relatively early in his Resistance career. The problem is that you never really see TRUE leadership from him. Sure, he has a little John Connor radio show where he talks to anyone who will listen about how Skynet will one day be defeated, but this isn't exactly leadership. That's not to say that Connor is incompetent. On the contrary he shows himself to be an excellent fighter and capable of making incredibly smart decisions. It would seem that he is working up to this point, and many already see him as a de facto leader on account of his radio addresses.

In fact, the true standout is Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) who, as a teenager, is able to keep his cool in difficult situations and inspire those around him with his confidence and poise. It makes perfect sense that he is the father of John Connor, since you can see the man he is growing into and the choices that he makes. Unfortunate then that Connor himself doesn't seem to have the same sort of ability.

Fortunately, all the actors in the movie give it their best and provide a real core upon which to build the rest of the film. Bale is consistent as always and really puts everything he has into the character of John Connor. Worthington spends much of the movie yelling insanely, but when he is given the opportunity to settle down for a moment, you can really see his charisma. His confusion about his nature is on full display and he plays it very well.

The action scenes are really the big draw to the movie though, since most of the movie is just nonstop action for the sake of action. On a sheer entertainment level, this is where the movie shines through. The Terminators look more real than ever given that most of the movie relies on practical effects and not on CGI, giving the battles more intensity than they otherwise would have. The CGI that IS there is not only effective, but complimentary to the practical action, creating an incredibly believable world that presents the engaging struggle between man and machine.

The problem is that most of the action adds nothing to the story. They're entertaining battles to be sure, but they're without purpose. They have such length but the plot developments only happen slightly before and slightly after each battle and even then these are only mildly interesting developments.

McG clearly set this up as the first part of a trilogy, but the movie ends so unceremoniously that I find myself completely unconcerned with what will happen next in the Terminator saga. I will still be first in line to see the next one, but it also isn't hotly anticipated.

When all is said and done, this is definitely a movie worth seeing in theatres, especially if you're a fan of the Terminator franchise. They make some cool callbacks without going over the top with it, and while much of the plot will leave you scratching your head, there's enough positive here to recommend it as a fun summer popcorn action picture.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Fighting" Review

Every so often a movie comes along that completely defies your expectations. Sometimes this happens in a positive way. Other times, not so much. Well, I'm happy to report that despite my incredibly low expectations for "Fighting", the end result was much worse than I honestly expected.

"Fighting" stars Channing Tatum as Shawn MacArthur, a street vendor of knock off goods in New York City. At least until he defends himself from some people trying to steal his stuff and Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) inexplicably sees an underground fighter in him. So when Shawn goes to confront Harvey, Harvey offers him the opportunity to fight, right there on the spot, and Shawn mindbogglingly accepts this offer from a man who coordinated a theft from him just hours earlier.

That's essentially all that you need to know about "Fighting." Despite the fact that the title of the movie is "Fighting", there's surprisingly little fighting in it. Nothing in the movie will surprise you in any way except for how paint-by-numbers it all is. Anyone who has seen a movie will be able to telegraph each plot point a mile away.

And of course, characterization isn't necessary when you are able to just glide through a plot of this nature. Nope, just stick a few characters with a few stereotypical "from the streets" backstories, and you have yourself a movie. And the acting isn't any better. Howard, who normally excels in his roles, seems to be channeling some sort of high functioning Rain Man in his speech patterns and Tatum just mumbles his lines probably hoping that you don't really hear anything he has to say since the writing is so atrocious.

Top it off with an incredibly hackneyed reluctant love interest, Zulay Valez (played by Zulay Henao, too lazy to even change the girl's first name) and there is pretty much nothing redeemable about this movie. And you really have to appreciate the way the line between persistence and stalking is drawn. Wait, it isn't? No, not at all. Shawn follows her around, waiting for her to show up in random places, buys her gifts within moments of getting her to agree to hang out with him and offers to pay for her apartment. (Maybe THAT'S where I'm going wrong in life. I'm not being stalkerish enough with women!)

Of course, this review wouldn't be worth much if I didn't mention the randomness. Between the guy who runs up and does a flip off the wall and a man dressed as a human taco who walks past the camera, there are plenty of "What the hell is that?" moments that permeate the entire movie. I don't know if the intent is to confuse you so you don't realize how terrible the movie itself is, but if that is the case, no, it didn't work.

I barely even want to mention the fighting itself. There are four fights, all lasting fewer than 5 minutes. A movie called "Fighting" put less than 20 minutes of fights in the whole movie, yet somehow was able to stretch the running time to 1 hour and 45 minutes. And filled that with what? Story? No. None to be had here. Completely unacceptable.

"Fighting" has the distinct privelage of being one of the worst movies I've seen in the theater in a long time and would not recommend the movie to anyone. Anyone at all. Seriously. Don't go see it.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Adventureland Review

Every so often a movie comes along that completely blows away every expectation that you could have had for it. And despite the fact that many of the trailers make it out to be a run of the mill goofy summer job comedy, "Adventureland" has so much heart and realism to it that I'm still thinking about it.

James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated from college in Pennsylvania during 1987 and is planning on pursuing a postgraduate degree at Columbia in New York after a summer traveling through Europe. Unfortunately, the initial plan involving his parents helping him along on this journey had been scrapped after his father gets demoted and they no longer have the financial means to support this. This leads to James getting a job at the summer carnival "Adventureland" where he plans to save up money to afford a place in New York in the fall. It is here that he meets an incredible cast of characters, the most important of whom is Em Lewin (Kristin Stewart) who, despite seeming like she walks around perennially stoned in real life, is incredibly fantastic and alluring here, faults and all.

What is most surprising about this movie is how at the core, "Adventureland" is not really about the comedy. Sure, the movie is hilarious and there are plenty of laughs to be had from start to finish, but every laugh is earned. Even the cheap kicked-in-the-nuts gags are realistic because everyone knows a guy like that, a guy who is just so completely immature that only these childish moments give him entertainment. Even Ryan Reynolds, who normally is king of over the top, turns in a subtle performance as adulterous musician Mike Connell.

Every character has flaws and makes dumb mistakes, mistakes that every day people make. Whether it be trusting someone you shouldn't with a huge secret or knowing that you're about to make a mistake and you do it anyway, these are things that happen to real people and none of it comes across as forced. Writer/Director Greg Motolla (who directed "Superbad") places every character in such a specific position that the audience can truly feel for them. Some of the decisions are misguided or outright wrong, but you never feel as if the characters who make even the worst decisions are bad people.

Other films would have taken the fact James is a virgin in his early 20s and hammered that home, making the loss of his virginity the driving focus of the movie, but it's not. His virginity is just one element of his character. Sure, that's a background focus of his, and he still is a male, but it never overwhelms the plot. In fact, it only becomes an issue when he himself brings it up, showing that many of the things we think are holding us back are just parts of who we are, things that should be neither celebrated nor condemned. Even the wackier characters such as managers Bobby and Paulette (SNL's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) are handled in a very regular way.

There's also more story than what's just on the surface. Peripheral characters too have their own life issues that are only alluded to but never really explored, yet they don't have to be. They appear to exist to provide our main characters with a more fully realized back story.

The soundtrack is also fantastic, with many excellent songs from the 1980s, most of which are poignant and not used for kitsch. All too often 80s movies focus on the over-the-top outfits and tacky songs, but those were just two elements of that era. This movie never takes that route and in fact can't think of one self-referential 80s joke that was made.

If there's one complaint to be had is that the pacing is a little odd near the beginning of the movie before it settles into a very natural progression. Towards the start, I could really feel the scene changes and this was slightly jarring. While I don't feel that any significant differences were made between the start and finish, I was brought fully into the characters' world and each step towards that end became more natural.

This is a movie about growing up, changing, and just dealing with life and the unexpected things it throws at you. Sometimes it's awesome, sometimes it sucks, but that's just the way life is. In the end, "Adventureland", despite its reality as a hilarious film in its own right, is an incredibly nuanced movie that deserves to be seen by the widest audience possible. A completely heartfelt surprise.