It's been thirty years since I read the Agatha Christie classic. I was not a big fan of the 1974 film, but I sure did get excited when I heard that Kenneth Branagh was taking a shot at a remake, using 65mm cameras, no less.
The reviews were very mixed, so I went in with tempered expectations. Having loved the novel, and still remembering who committed the murder, clear as day, I was anxious to see this film, and to see not only how Branagh tackled the story as a director, but to see him as Hercule Poirot, one of the most loved protagonists in all of literature.
The film is much better than the reviews. The cast is stellar, although I do agree with some critics that the players don't seem to have the number of shining moments that they could have had. The pacing is actually terrific, with ample time given to the setup, and a pretty tight amount given to the mystery. The conclusion is handled well, with a wonderful teaser snuck in at the end. The film doesn't drag.
Branagh does a commendable job as Hercule Poroit, the perfection-driven detective that is pained by his own rigid personality which allows him to be such a world-class investigator.
There were some issues I had with direction, however. Since the bulk of the story happens within the tight confines of a train car, Branagh overcompensates with the exterior shots, which are far too grand, usually with video-game-like crane camera movements, and with far too much CG. Mixed in with an awfully bland color grading, the film doesn't feel as serious as it should.
Yet, I really enjoyed it. I don't know at what point in the story I would have figured it out. Maybe not until the final reveal. Though like any Agatha Christie mystery, the clues are numerous, and after the end, you certainly feel like a dummy if you didn't figure it out. The mystery unfolds in such a satisfying fashion.
I recommend seeing Murder On The Orient Express. It's solid. I don't think hardcore Agatha Christie fans will ever be fully satisfied with any film adaptation, but this one is definitely worth the watch. With a modest $55M budget and a solid opening weekend, hopefully, we haven't seen the end of Branagh as the amazing Hercule Poirot.
American Vandal is yet another piece of quality original programming on Netflix. It spoofs such real-crime docs such as Serial, Making of a Murderer, & The Keepers. After watching the trailer, the immediate thought was, how can this concept hold up over an 8-episode season? Well, fortunately, it does, and in a pretty creative way.
The story opens up with Senior misfit Jimmy Tatro being accused of vandalizing several cars in the faculty parking lot by spray painting dicks on them. A couple of student documentarians, thinking Tatro to be innocent, decide to research the crime, and hence the hashtag: #whodrewthedicks?
This is not a one-joke story. What unfolds is a fascinating mystery (you really start trying to put the pieces together), which is filled with humor, not much of it laugh-out-loud, but certainly in moments. Weaved into that mystery, however, is the true genius: American Vandal isn't primarily about spoofing crime docs. It's true purpose, which it does brilliantly, is to show us what modern social-media-driven high school life is all about. It's fascinating.
This is a show about modern high school culture. You get to see how students of today have to function, and it's absolutely intriguing. Putting together clues is putting together people's Instagram posts in a timeline, or seeing what they posted on Youtube or Facebook at a particular moment. You see how social media drives almost every aspect of their life. But you relate to your own high school experience, but wonder what it would be like if it happened today.
I recommend American Vandal, not only for its humor, of which there is plenty, but even more-so for it's peek into what students have to go through today. Along the way, you'll be trying to figure out the crime, and if you're observant, and pick up on all the clues, you'll have a great idea of who did it, relatively early on. I did not.
I hope there's a Season 2 of American Vandal. It's yet another binge-worthy Netflix show.
I had such low expectations for this film given the modern state of the movie industry. However, when the initial reviews came out stating that this was a worthy successor and an instant sci-fi classic, my expectations started to rise, but I pushed them back down, knowing all too well I was bound to be disappointed.
I then watched the film and realized it's one of the best movies in years and is easily one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Denis Villeneuve and company knocked it straight out of the park.
A superbly cast Ryan Gosling plays a replicant LAPD blade runner. This newer model of replicant is designed to fully obey, and to track down older replicants who could pose danger to humans. He uncovers a mystery–one that could lead to significant consequences to the world, and must solve it by finding the old blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). The answers found to the mystery are wonderful. The whole concept is clever. It's storytelling done right.
The casting of this film is exceptional from top to bottom. From Robin Wright who plays Ryan Gosling's boss, to Ana de Armas who plays his simulated girlfriend, to Jared Leto who plays the very evil founder of the Wallace Corporation, one part after another is acted in ways that continually impress. There is no weak link.
But the real icing on top of the cake is the film's epic look and sound. Roger Deakins, one the most acclaimed cinematographers of all time (Shawshank, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), absolutely stuns you with one amazing visual after another. And the great Hans Zimmer, along with a very talented sound effects and design team, finely craft the future world with amazing sounds that go straight to your core and keep you on continual edge.
Now, as a point of warning: this is not a film for the Instagram generation. It's slow, long, intelligent, and relentlessly punishing. If you favor sugar candy over a fine filet mignon, this film will not work for you. It can probably only be appreciated by moviegoers who prefer substance and depth over sparkle.
That being said, if you are a grownup who appreciates deep stories and characters, and appreciate amazing visuals and sound, Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute must-see. It's beautiful and brutal enough to make you cry. It will make you think long after you leave the theatre. It is, finally, a deserving sequel to a classic that we all loved—which in Hollywood history, is but the rarest of gems. Catch it on the big screen while you can.
At some point, an item is priced so low, it's too good to pass up. That's what's happened recently with MoviePass.
I've always loved going to the movies. It used be much more affordable to me, especially the first showings of the day. At some point, even the matinees got to a price point where I'd feel guilty going that often. Fifteen years ago, I probably saw 35 films a year at the theatre. Last year, maybe it was ten. And I live right across the street from a large AMC.
So when MoviePass announced a few weeks back that they were lowering their price to $10/month, I knew it was too good of a deal to pass up. I waited awhile, since I knew demand was heavy, and then a week ago, I ordered my card, and I tried it out today for the first time.
It's awesome. Once your card arrives, you download the app, then select the theatre you're going to (the nearest ones will be on top of the list). And as long as you're within 100 yards of the theatre, you select the movie you want to see (and the time). That activates your card to work for that particular purchase. You can then use the kiosk, or stand in line at the window. It's easy. See as many movies as you want, as long as they're not IMAX or 3D. All for only $10/month.
Now, my small drink still cost $6.10. So, hopefully they come up with a monthly service to pay for that too. But without having to pay the $10.50 for the matinee ticket, I didn't feel too guilty about buying an overpriced cup of syrup water.
If you love going to the movies, MoviePass is too good of a deal not to get. I believe it works at any theatre that accepts MasterCard. If I didn't have a full day of stuff to do tomorrow, I'd go right back to the theatre. I anticipate my films/year will head right back up to 35 or more.
It's a killer deal. I'd highly recommend it. Go see more films.
I recently watched the four-part HBO series The Defiant Ones, the doc that tracks the careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. It's pretty darn fascinating.
Director Allen Hughes does a commendable job at structuring the tale which covers Dre's and Jimmy's careers from the beginning, to their intersection, and beyond. Told via interviews of a lot of very famous people who witnessed the duo's rise (Springsteen, Cube, Snoop Dog, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, David Geffen, Bono, to name just a few), mixed with fascinating archival footage (Dre spinning records in his youth, Jimmy working on his first big gig with Bruce, etc.), the tale that is told is pretty epic.
We find out that these men went through a lot of pain, a lot of growth, and had to reinvent themselves at several points in their career to stay relevant. Their common denominator: a relentless drive to succeed.
Great fiction usually involves intriguing characters defeating obstacles in order to achieve a goal. The Defiant Ones does exactly that; only it's a tale that really happened. It's a fascinating part of history that can't help but be inspiring.
If you have HBO, check it out.
I skipped Alien: Covenant at the theatres because of the mediocre reviews. I finally caught it last week while on a plane ride from MI to CA. I'm glad I watched it for free on a very small screen because I would not have been happy if I had sacrificed time and money to see it on a big screen.
The film has a very promising premise which I won't give away. But almost every scene felt like it needed further work. I'm guessing it was grossly under-written, and at $97M, under-budgeted. They should have added another couple million for rewrites alone.
One of the biggest problems with the film is that it was hard to care about any of the characters because they were so one-dimensional and underdeveloped. A lot of the writing seemed downright sloppy. For instance, Danny McBride plays a guy named Tennessee. What an annoying, cliched name. There's one scene where the other character calls him by his name about a dozen times. The cliche was hard to handle the first one or two times. By the end of the scene, it was so annoying, I almost stopped watching.
Another big issue was that there wasn't an A-list star to carry the film. Michael Fassbender is a terrific actor. He lacks A-list shine, however. And there was nobody even close to a Sigourney Weaver. In fact, after watching Covenant, you realize how much she carried the first three films.
I'm even going to complain about the effects. At times the Aliens looked awful. Other times they looked alright. Maybe another few million would have fixed that issue as well.
The premise was clever, however. I can see why the pitch was bought. But, this is yet another classic case where the film went into production long before the script was ready. My guess is that if Fox had ponied up another $50M for bigger stars, better effects, and most of all, better writing, Ridley Scott would have had a lot more to work with.
I've been a big fan of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, especially of Skyfall, which I thought to be the best film in the entire series. When Spectre came out, I passed on seeing it in the theatre, primarily because of the mediocre reviews and word-of-mouth. I finally watched the 24th installment in the series, on my tablet, while on vacation, and I now regret not seeing it on the big screen.
The opening scene takes place during the Day of the Dead in Mexico, and it's an extraordinary series of long, epic, tracking shots that effectively pull the viewer back into the Bond universe. The main aspect of the plot is set up rather quickly, as is the ovearching mystery. Another tremendous, tense, action scene unfolds in Italy, complete with the requisite eye-popping car chase.
Sam Mendes excels at making these huge, action films. The cinematography is top notch, with one stunning composition after another. Though most of the complex action sequences are cut well, there are issues, which get to the core of the film's main problem.
Spectre has all the elements of a grade-A Bond film: intriguing plot, terrifying antagonist, excellent acting, grand action-filled scenes, a beautiful femme fatale. But the second half of the film has something that is the Achilles' heel of these type of movies: believability issues.
There are a handful, maybe more, of instances that are ridiculously unbelievable. These almost all happen in the second half of the film, and the closer you get to the end, the more frequent they are. And it's a shame. You spend millions of dollars setting up an elaborate action sequence, but blow it on the writing, because the escape is far beyond the scope of believability. It's a few instances of lousy writing that end up preventing Spectre from being a fantastic chapter in the Bond series.
That being said, I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. It's better than the critics gave it credit for. And I still have enormous hope for the next installment now that Daniel Craig has finally signed on. And I do wish I had seen those action sequences on the big screen, even with the let-downs.
Spectre is one of those rare cases where a movie costs $250M, and you look at it and say, I can see where all that money went. Perhaps another $500k on another draft would have been money well spent, however.
Benioff & Weiss went off on their own plot path for Season 7, and decided to cut it down to just 7 episodes. That had me fearful. So much could go wrong, at such an important time in the overall arc. We've waited years for Daenerys to arrive on Westeros to lay to battle on the continent. How would such an important event, especially the long-waited meeting of the Mother of Dragons and Jon Snow, unfold?
After episode 1, Dragonstone, I knew we were in good hands. Benioff & Weiss took the characters, crafted so well by George R.R. Martin, and did what was necessary: further develop the story at a satisfying pace (with one big exception). There was not one weak episode in all of Season 7, and it could be argued that episode 4 (Spoils of War) was one the best episodes, not only in the series history, but of any series.
What Season 7 did exceptionally well was grand scale epic combat, whether is was battles in the south of Westeros or north of the Wall—the scale was truly awesome. It was some of the best combat we've seen in the entire history of television.
The long awaited character interactions were handled well too. I didn't feel let down by any of it. The tension was further built through tremendous writing and acting. We finally truly fear the Night King.
Yes, there was one huge problem: the writers took exceptional liberty with keeping travel times believable. Apparently, the only two things that can travel faster than the speed of light are ravens and dragons. It was truly an awful mechanical cheat used far too often, but it didn't ruin anything for me.
Season 7, for its spectacle alone, was the best season yet of Game of Thrones, and that's saying a lot. Now they just have one more season to go, and I have no idea how Benioff and Weiss are going to top what they did this season.
About a year ago, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis hit the scene and quickly became one of the most popular books of the last year. Written by J.D. Vance, a 33 year old former Hillbilly who grew up in a very broken family in Kentucky and Ohio, and who overcame immense family dysfunction and poverty to eventually join the Marine Corps, get a B.S. from Ohio State, and then eventually a law degree from Yale, the story is heartbreaking, hopeful, and above all, intriguing.
Part of the reason why this book is resonating so strongly with people on both ends of the political aisle is because Vance attempts to explain why his culture, the one that extends from Louisiana, up through the hills to upstate New York, has had such a hard time financially. It's a mix of broken families, culture-inherent conflict, mixed in an environment where the manufacturing factories & coal plants shut down during a major opioid crisis. This creates a scenerio where people feel there's no chance of getting ahead, and therefore many just give up.
The story is full of conflict. J.D.'s mother is in and out of his life, and many men are in and out of her life. His beloved and tough Grandma is the only solid parental figure that stays with him. Being so separated from the white-collar class, J.D. didn't even realize that one was to wear a suit to a job interview. He goes in-depth as to the many ways in which the Hillbilly culture is so separated from the rest of society, that it's hard for many of them to function well with diverse and more upscale cultures when they leave the hills.
If you want to read an interesting story about a fascinating American culture in crisis, I'd recommend Hillbilly Elegy. It reads like a good fiction tale, but one that turns out to be true, and gives you a deeper understanding of our nation.
The critics were pretty brutal towards the second season of Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer, a series based off a ridiculously funny 2001 indie film. Though those same critics loved the first season (which I did too), for some reason the whole concept seems to be wearing thin with many of them.
I can see why people who are high-brow film lovers don't dig this kind of stuff. The plot meanders. The characters are over-the-top. It often feels like a first or second draft of a cheap comedy. It's absolute ridiculousness. But this is what Wet Hot is all about. It's different, it's goofy, it's only about the moment, and when the jokes land, it's some of the funniest stuff you've ever seen.
Yes, Season 2 isn't as funny as Season 1, which wasn't as funny as the movie. That being said, it's eight half-hour episodes that fly by, and you get more than enough laughs to make it worth your while. Season 2 actually has more heart than the first, Through the goofy plot of Ronald Reagan and George Bush trying to blow up Camp Firewood with a nuke, and our returning campers trying to save the day during their reunion, we actually get to see them grow through the absurdity of it all, and laugh all the way.
I hope to hell there's a Season 3. The problem with having a TV series based off an indie film from so long ago, is many of the actors are now huge stars, and even when they want to do the series, it's a scheduling nightmare. Fortunately Wet Hot has such a strong following that it's able to attract other stars as well.
I recommend all of Wet Hot American Summer. It's one of my favorite comedy films/TV series. And though the ending of Season 2 was something to behold, I sure do hope we haven't seen the end of Camp Firewood.
Respawn CEO Vince Zampella recently gave an interview with Gamespot in which he admits that Titanfall 2 sold well, but not as well as it should have, and that Respawn is moving on to work on other stuff. So we're looking at a (at least near) finished product. He are my final thoughts on the game:
As you can see, I've played the game for about 187 hours (which is pretty good since it's been out for about 10 months):
Even after all that time, I'm enjoying the game more than ever. It never fails to be fun.
The updates have been frequent. The new maps have mostly been old Titanfall 1 maps, but they're all well designed. The first big new game mode, Live-Fire, was released in February. It's pilot vs. pilot on small maps with no respawns. I never really got into that mode at all. But the second major added game mode, Frontier Defense, released in July, is a co-op, wave-based, horde mode that is utterly fantastic. There's a new Titan ranking system called 'Aegis Ranks' that allow your Titans to get more powerful so you can play tougher hordes. It's an incredibly fun mode that forces you to work together to defeat the five waves of increasingly difficult NPC's. It's exactly what the game needed.
And playing Attrition is still a load of fun. Yes, I wish there were more maps. Obviously, since it didn't sell a ton, it was cheaper to recycle Titanfall 1 maps. But that's better than nothing. I still play at least a round almost every day, and never get bored of it.
Will there be more Titanfall? Zempalla hints at it, but doesn't seem to commit to it. It's clearly the best first-person-shooter on the market. They botched the release horribly, both with the awful pre-Alpha tech test, and with the launch date sandwiched in between Battlefield 1 and the new COD. That being said, the user-base hasn't diminished, and if another chapter is written in the Titanfall saga, there will definitely be a hardcore group of old-time players that will jump on the game, and if marketed right, it could be a huge hit.
Come November, I'm sure a big chunk of my FPSer time will switch over to Star Wars: Battlefront 2. But I don't see myself giving up Titanfall 2 anytime soon. It's just too great of a game. It has legs. And it's so cheap now that anyone who hasn't tried it yet, should pick up. This is a rare game that's worth much more than the original price. It's a game that you can easily sink several hundred hours into, and still love the game.
Incredible reviews aside, the reality is that Dunkirk is an excellent film, but not an excellent film compared to other Christopher Nolan films.
Nolan made an interesting choice in approaching this story. He took the enormous historical event of the Battle of Dunkirk, and decided to tell it via three relatively small plot lines. Each is well crafted, and the glue that holds the harrowing scenes together is Hans Zimmer's wonderfully chilling score. The acting is solid. There are great moments of visceral impact. At times the cinematography is excellent. At times it's a little blasé. Though at its best, as in scenes of ships sinking, and soldiers fighting for their lives via canted angles, the film delivers brilliance.
Dunkirk is a showcase of a monstrous event. There are few character arcs, few deep relational interactions, few moments when a character's growth wows us. Instead, the wow factor is in the showcase. Therein lies the problem. Dunkirk is a $100M film. It plays much smaller than a recent $40M war film, Hacksaw Ridge, which had the deep emotional arcs satisfyingly imbedded into it, along with wow moments far more impactful than those found in Dunkirk.
I recommend seeing Dunkirk. It's much better than the vast majority of war movies out there. Yet, coming from whom many consider to be the best director of our day, Mr. Nolan was outdone by Mr. Gibson, and not by a narrow margin.
Awhile ago I read the Frank Brady biography of America's chess champion. It was an intriguing read, to say the least.
Fischer grew up in a fatherless home; his mother was far too busy to spend much time with him, so he found love in the Brooklyn & Manhattan chess clubs, on the board. His home life gave him little chance of becoming a well-rounded human being, and the pain from his broken household negatively influenced the rest of his life, as he quickly became the best chess player in the U.S., and one of the best in the entire world.
Fischer was a huge component of America's Cold War battle against the Soviet Union. His 1972 World Championship match against Boris Spassky was much more than a battle of wooden pieces—its was a battle to see what side had an intellectual advantage. It took the news headlines away from the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. It was that huge.
Fischer won the title, and then turned down over $15 million in offers to live in utter poverty in the Los Angeles area, dropping completely out of the chess world. Brady does a good job of following Fischer's life through the madness, giving us what answers he can. Yet, at the end, we're as frustrated as the rest of the world was, because we'll never know how great Fischer could truly have been. And above all, we wish a better human being would have represented the United States in that epic battle of the minds.
It's a fascinating journey of human exploration for chess fans, and non-chess fans alike. I highly recommend it.
Unfortunately, after a short three years, Netflix's Bloodline has come to an end, a victim of the termination of Florida's film incentives program. Obviously, shooting in the Florida Keys isn't a cheap proposition, and given the nature of the show, there was no way to shoot it elsewhere.
The first season of Bloodline got widespread critical praise. The next two seasons were much more mixed. Netflix doesn't release ratings, but the rumors are that the show was not widely watched.
This kills me. I loved all three seasons. Bloodline is simply one the best-acted shows I've ever seen. I cannot praise it enough.
'We're not bad people, but we did a bad thing' is the show's tagline. The details of what that bad thing is, goes to the heart of the entire arc of the show. The revelations that are squeezed out over the show's entire run floored me, right up to the very end. (The last two episodes are rated very low on IMDB, yet they were an incredible finish to me).
Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn have gotten much deserved praise for their acting in the series. However, all the leads, including Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, & Sissy Spacek excelled throughout the show.
Bloodline was too slow for many. It didn't have the big action sequences or special effects of some of the more popular shows of our time. But for a pure adult drama, Bloodline is about as good as it gets. It clearly deserves to be in the same elite category as GOT, Breaking Bad, & The Wire.
If you have the patience to watch a slower-placed show, I highly recommend giving Bloodline a chance. It's terrifically crafted, from beginning to end. This disturbing look into the dark underside of the Rayburn family is as powerful as it is haunting. The show will stay with you long after you finish watching it.
And on a last note, Kyle Chandler is one hell of an actor. He's clearly on of the best in the entire game.
My final rating: 9.8/10.
The Microsoft presentation was impressive. Looks like after some stumbles with the current-gen, they're doing the next-gen right.
The key to the Project Scorpio debut was that its graphics looked like real next-gen, and boy did they ever. From the Forza 7 footage, to the new Assassin's Creed, to a new BioWare game called Anthem, the 4k footage wowed, in every sense of the world. The eye-popping specs of the new Xbox One X do show up on the screen, and that's what will ultimately drive sales.
Microsoft's decision to have full backward compatibility, including accessories, is going to help soften the $500 price of the new box. When Scorpio was first whispered about, people threw around much higher prices, given the specs, so though it won't be cheap, it'll be a significant bang for the buck.
Of course, for people like me, purchasing a 4k TV will be a must. That's going to be an additional $800-$1,500, though I'm sure they'll have package deals at the end of the year.
What really impressed me though is that Scorpio is designed to make current games looks better. And on top of that, MS announced that several developers are going update current titles to 4k just for the new box. I think this will be huge, especially if the biggest games of the day are updated (Titanfall 2 & Witcher 3, please).
Microsoft had a lot on the line. Because they focused on the Kinect with the Xbox One instead of raw power, their sales significantly lagged behind Sony's. I think that's going to change since the Xbox One X will be far more powerful than any other console.
So I'm saving up. I don't know if I'll buy one right away since Red Dead 2 has been delayed until Spring. But it sure would be fun playing Star Wars: Battlefront 2 on a 4k TV come Christmas.
Microsoft, you've done good.
The Hollywood Reporter states: 'The Keepers is fascinating and often gripping because it makes the argument that shining a light on enshrouded horrors takes many forms and doesn't have a statute of limitations, even if the law does.'
Variety calls it 'The best true-crime docuseries yet.'
Time accurately state why The Keepers is superior to another popular Netflix crime docuseries: '...that's the crucial difference between this show and, say, the 2015 Netflix sensation Making a Murderer, whose directors clomped heavily over a complicated story. Their aggressive point of view goaded viewers toward certitude. White, by contrast, isn't asking us to be the sleuths. He's depicting the process of discovery among mourners. The "detectives" we follow are Cesnik's former students who set out to solve the case. This isn't just more respectful to the victim than other true-crime stories, with their breathless delight at new clues. It's also more effective.'
The Keepers is a 7-episode Netflix documentary that explores the unsolved 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who was a teacher at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore. I won't go into the story, other than it involves unbelievably heinous abuse and cover-up by the Catholic Church, Baltimore Police Department, & the city and state governments. What I will say is that this documentary is leagues above some of the prior crime docuseries that have been so popular of late.
What this documentary does well is it tells the story through recollections of the players involved. It doesn't purposely leave out evidence like Making of a Murderer did. It doesn't force a view down someone's throat. It just lets the story reveal itself, point by point, through people's spoken word. Because the story is so shocking, so horrific, and so engaging, this style works wonderfully.
This isn't a story for the faint of heart. It goes deeply into how purely evil human beings may be. But it's a well-crafted trip, and therefore I highly recommend it. Perhaps a few episodes drag at points, but within moments, they get right back on track.
This isn't a documentary that's going to make you feel good. Nonetheless, it's something I feel should be watched. Yes, you will cringe. But at the end of it, you'll understand a little more about what human beings are capable of doing than you knew before the ride. If you think you can handle it, please give The Keepers a try.
My rating: 9.3/10.
Last week it was announced that a new series is coming to Netflix; one based off of The Witcher novels—a fantasy series written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The books are widely popular, having been translated into 19 languages. Perhaps most people are familiar with The Witcher, however, because of the video game series. The Witcher 3, which was released a little over two years ago, won many Game-of-the-Year awards. I recently finished the main quest (and have started the first expansion pack), and it's easily one of my favorite games of all time.
Everyone needs to become super excited about this Netflix series. I'm sure they're going to throw a ton of money at it. But right now, millions of people have to be anxious as hell over the casting.
What makes The Witcher special is the wonderfully crafted characters. The story is that of the no-nonsense Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, who is a Witcher. Witchers have special abilities they use as hired monster hunters. Though the monsters are varied, the real color comes from the humans. Yennefer, the strong-willed sorceress and sometime love of Geralt's. Ciri, the feisty and rebellious princess, who Geralt thinks of as a daughter. Triss, also a sorceress, who is madly in love with Geralt. Dandelion, the often clueless and coin-stricken bard. Zoltan, the much-too confident dwarf. It's an ultra wide-varied cast of characters that rarely fails to intrigue.
If done well, this could be Netflix's Game of Thrones. The characters are that good.
So get excited. The Witcher will relieve some of the pain of Bloodline ending too soon. It could become Netflix's signature show.
I am truly horrible at blitz chess. I will blunder, it's just a matter of when. But I'm working on it. I like studying a bit of chess on most days. I'm trying to train my mind into reading positions more quickly. It's just that I'm not consistent under tight time constraints, so I'm always rated several hundred points lower in blitz & bullet than I am at slower times.
This game, though, might be one of my quickest wins ever. It's a great example of the dangers of not grabbing control of the middle when you can, and of how quickly, especially under blitz conditions, one blunder can lead to disaster.
Gbell619's resignation came after move 8:
The other day I watched the film for the first time since I was a kid. The 1973 Western was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood. I had forgotten what a good film it was.
We see few Westerns made today because they tend to do horribly at the international box office. I think High Plains Drifter could be made today and could probably see profit. The beauty of the film is in its simplicity. It's based on character much more so than plot.
Clint plays a stranger who rides into a small Western mining town, gets into immediate trouble at the saloon, proves his skills at shooting a revolver, and is then hired to defend the town against a gang who will be coming to cause havoc. What makes the film so interesting is the cast of characters that inhabit the town, and their interaction with the stranger who has them do outrageous things in preparation for the final showdown. It's that simple. They prepare for the gang, and then the gang rides in at the end.
The film ends with an ambiguous/supernatural tone that isn't needed at all. It tried to go a bit too far. But besides the over-the-top reveal, it worked well throughout, and in very limited locations. Ninety percent of it takes place in a small town, one that was obviously built for the shoot. There are the scenic shots of the vast plains of the American West to add cinematic value, all of which looked to be simple, easy-to-shoot setups.
Fascinating characters who are well cast are what makes High Plains Drifter work. It is in some ways the anti-Western with a true anti-hero. It relies on character to make up for the limited space in which it takes place. It hits its notes well, and besides the disappointing try at the end, it doesn't attempt to be more than it should.
It's definitely worth the watch.
I'd never seen the classic film before watching it last week. Having watched it almost 70 years after its release, I had problems with it that I'm sure no one sitting in the theatre in 1953 had.
The story is about a princess, Ann (Audrey Hepburn), who is visiting Rome. Ann is tired of her structured routine, so she sneaks out of the embassy at night to explore the city. She meets Joe (Gregory Peck), an American reporter who works for the American News Service. Joe shows Ann around the town, secretly having a friend photograph them so he can sell a story about her, behind her back.
The problem that I had, even though it's kind of a romantic comedy, is it's very hard to accept Gregory Peck as such a fiendish character because he's so imprinted into our brains as Atticus Finch. To Kill A Mockingbird came out in 1962, nine years after Roman Holiday. But being so many decades after both films, it feels like Peck is miscast in Roman Holiday. That's the downside of having a performance for the ages—it's hard to accept your acting as anything else.
Roman Holiday was one of Audrey Hepburn's early films, and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for it. It was obvious from her performance that she would go down in history as one of the greatest actresses of all time. She lit up the screen unlike few people ever have.
I feel the film deserved its Best Picture nomination. It's a very good film. I'm sure Peck played fantastically to that 1953 audience. I'd certainly like to have seen Robert Mitchum in the role of Joe, though. It's just too hard to hate Gregory Peck. It would be like putting Tom Hanks (or Audrey Hepburn) in a bad guy role. Too hard to buy.
I definitely recommend watching the film, however. They're both outstanding, iconic actors doing their thing with a fun script, with the beautiful backdrop of Rome behind them. It's classic through-and-through, and if you can buy Mr. Peck as something far less likable than Atticus, I'm sure you'll even love it more than I did.
This is full of spoilers, so please don't read on if you haven't seen the movie.
Kenneth Lonergan wrote an incredible script. However, I'm not satisfied with his ending. This is the second fantastic movie from 2016 (the other being Hell or High Water) that went with a soft ending to the detriment of the film. This is breaking with the tradition of having a climax, and then a denouement to finish the story.
Manchester by the Sea ends with Lee, sitting at a dinner table, telling his teenage nephew Patrick that the family friend George will adopt him so that he can stay in Manchester. In the following scene, Lee and Patrick walk down a road, bouncing a ball. Lee tells Patrick that he can't stay in Manchester because he "...can't beat it," meaning he can't beat the bad memories of the place, and that he'll look for a two-bedroom apartment so that Patrick can visit him. The film closes with the two going out on the boat to fish.
The reason why this ending is so unsatisfying is because it ends with a reveal and not a completion of Lee's character arc.
A much better ending would have been: Lee drops off Patrick at George's house. They hug and hold back the tears outside of the house as Lee hands Patrick off to his new family. Let gets in his car, turns it on, and starts backing out of the driveway. He stops at the end of the driveway. He contemplates. A tear drops down his face. We see a CU of his hand fumbling around the keys near the ignition. The hand shakes. He turns off the car. Cut to Black.
This would have shown that Lee finished his arc: that he had grown to a place where he'd be willing to face all of his demons in order to honor his dead brother and take care of the nephew who he really loved.
I can't argue with Lonergan's decision. He made one of the best films of recent memory. However, I'm sick of these soft endings attached to otherwise fantastic films. This devastating film would have been so much better by alluding to greater hope for Lee's future. It would have made all the pain that we suffered while watching through the incredible sadness dissipate away in a most satisfying way.
Pop the balloon. Don't let the air squeeze out of a pinhole leak. That's no way to end a great story.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the film in the theatre, so like most of the world, I waited around for it to get to Amazon Prime. I'm not sure why, but for some reason, I didn't believe I'd like this film as much as the critics. Maybe it was the Matt Damon connection, not sure.
Turns out, I was wrong. Manchester by the Sea is one of the best American films in recent memory.
For a sub-$10M picture, this film is extremely well-crafted. Yes, there's the occasional poorly framed shot, or cut that doesn't work as well as it should. But for every one of those instances, there are many compositions and sequences that blow you away. There are scenes that are fantastically well done, like a funeral scene without dialogue. It's done entirely in slow motion (and I usually detest slow motion) under music, and all you can do is read the actors' lips, but you don't need to, because the performances are so strong, you understand what was being said.
I now understand why Casey Affleck won that Academy Award. This is a performance for the ages. Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams are superb as usual. And Lucas Hedges kills it as the teenager trying to deal with the death of his dad. But the excellent casting doesn't stop there. From top to bottom, this film is solidly acted.
Yes, this movie is heartbreaking. It's so emotional, it's hard to sit through at times. But it's so well written, acted, and directed, it's something to be appreciated. The nuances in the relationships are absolutely incredible. It makes this story believable. The scenes ring so true, it's almost as if the film bar has been raised.
There are two minor problems with the film. First, it pushes too far in some instances. A bit of restraint would have been more effective. And second, (minor spoiler alert), I'm not a fan of the soft ending.
That being said, Manchester by the Sea is a prime example of storytelling done right. You could teach a semester-long filmmaking class on this movie alone. So if you haven't seen it, grab that Kleenex box, and turn on your Amazon Prime.
One last note: thank God that Matt Damon had to drop out of the lead because of scheduling. Without Casey Affleck, this wouldn't have been half the film it turned out to be.
My rating: 9.8/10.
I jumped online last night to play some Titanfall 2. The new DLC just dropped, and I hadn't played the game for quite awhile, for a few reasons. I've been trying to study chess almost every day, the pool at my complex is warm enough to use, and I've been playing the new Xbox version of Skylines. So, not much time for Titans or blogging.
Since I just regened for the 8th time, I decided to finally start learning how to use the Scorch Titan. It is by far my least favorite Titan, but I see so many people using it, it's about time I put some hours into it. Tone & Ronin are my favorites by a long shot. I also played the first few games with cannons. I don't have a lot of weapons left to regen, and I want to get the pro-screen on all the weapons, but I'm horrible with the slow cannons (as everyone else must be since they're rarely used).
The result? Being rusty and using weapons & a Titan that don't fit my style caused me to go severely negative for the first handful of games.
I'm not a great gamer. But I'm pretty decent—definitely good enough to have a positive K/D with the better weapons, and well into positive territory with the best weapons.
The problem, at least for me, is when I'm not really helping my team, the game becomes a lot less fun. And that got me thinking: what's going to happen when my skills inevitably decline?
Being in my mid-40's, I can compete with the 12 year olds. But at some point, I won't be able to. These little runts will be able to kick my ass. And my fear is that at that point, my love of the first-person shooter might decline. It's a scary thought.
Gen-X grew up with the advent of video-gaming, so along with me there will be millions that will have to deal with it at the same time I do. It'll be uncharted territory. I think 10-20 years from now, publishers will have to include separate servers for the people who have aged to the point that their skills aren't competitive anymore.
Some of my other hobbies won't be affected as much. As a writer, I only intend to get better. With reading, I can just adjust the font size on my Kindle. Chess matches take rating into account. But with something as reflex-intensive as first-person-shooters, the downhill will have to start at some point.
This is a topic I don't hear many people talking about. You do hear about research that proves that video-gaming helps keep the mind sharp. But what about the depression that comes as one's skills decline? The industry needs to start thinking about that.
I watched a fascinating documentary yesterday called The Fear of 13. It follows, almost completely via monologue, the story of the probably wrongly convicted death-row inmate Nick Yarris.
Nick's story is unbelievable at times, but we know at least most of it is true. He started out as a young car thief, got mixed in with the wrong characters, was sentenced to death for murder, and then DNA analysis was founded, and the absurd story of him trying to get the crime-scene evidence checked for DNA is absolutely incredible.
Nick tells his story brilliantly. From the dark tales of abuse in prison, to self-teaching himself to read (he read over 1,000 books in just a few short years), to the fight for his life on death row, it's hard not to feel for the guy. The beauty of the documentary is in its simplicity. There are some minor reenactments, but the bulk of the film is just Nick, sitting down, telling his horrid tale.
There are times when Nick sees positivity in situations where no normal human being ever could. His story isn't just that of a man going through the trials and tribulations of death row, it's the story of man who somehow finds a way to mature within the confines of a prison, all while sentenced to death.
I give this documentary high marks. Definitely, check it out.
My rating: 8.8/10
I've been severely congested the last couple of days and have had a sore throat and a cough. I think I may have picked up a bug while down in Hollywood late last week. It's always frustrating getting sick, but for me, since I sleep with a nasal pillow C-PAP mask, any congestion and I'm not getting good sleep for days on end. I hate it.
As a writer, there is little that is worse than lack of sleep. You can't concentrate. Writing & reading are completely out of the question. I can't even play chess because I'm so tired and miserable. Can't exercise either.
I was hoping to catch the opening day Detroit Tiger's game, and that got rained out. So in-between my 5 minute naps (which is about as long as I can sleep without my CPAP), I've been playing video games, just wasting time. The 2015-remaster of Bethesda's Dishonored is on sale for $20, which includes all the DLC. I'm not big into stealth games, but because Dishonored 2 got such rave reviews, I figured I'd try out the first one. A few hours into it, and I'm liking it so far, even though graphically, it's showing its age (the original was released in 2012 on the previous gen consoles).
Luckily I rarely get sick in Southern California. In my home state of Michigan, it's a regular occurrence. That's one of the many reasons why I live here in Los Angeles.
I absolutely hate not being productive for more than a day or so. I think that's the worst part of getting sick.
Jon David Rosten, author of
Order "The Wicked Trees" off of Amazon, today!