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Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

It has been a while since I put together a recommendation piece and even longer since I’ve done a straight film edition.  So just in case you wanted to hear my take again I thought it might be time for another.  As with the first film edition I’ve borrowed the film descriptions from Netflix (in italics) with my own take below.  I hope you enjoy and, as always, let me know your own recommendations.

Paper Heart (2009)

Eccentric performer and romantic skeptic Charlyne Yi embarks on a quest to learn the true nature of love — and gathers some surprising findings when she begins a relationship with actor Michael Cera. Real-life sweethearts Yi and Cera star as themselves in this quirky hybrid of documentary and scripted comedy. The charming romance was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

This is a faux-documentary that, if I hadn’t known differently, I would have thought was real.  Perhaps it is because Cera and Yi are a couple in reality or because many scenes in the film were improvised.  Either way, Paper Heart presents a funny and charming story full of indie style quirkiness and one of the more true-to-life young adult relationship stories on film today.

Hamlet (2009)

David Tennant stars as the melancholy Dane and Patrick Stewart portrays his uncle Claudius in this exhilarating version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s smash hit 2009 production of “Hamlet,” which was filmed on location rather than on the stage. When Hamlet’s father’s ghost reveals he was murdered by Claudius, who then married his widow, Hamlet seeks revenge. Stewart won a prestigious Olivier Award for his riveting performance.

I will admit that I wanted to watch this mostly because it starred David Tennant (whom I first became familiar with through Doctor Who).  There is good reason for that since Tennant is a brilliant actor (and quite scary when he plays crazy).  Add onto that the also brilliant Patrick Stewart as Claudius and all the Royal Shakespeare Company and you have a fantastic Shakespearian production set in modern times.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

When dreamy delivery girl Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) starts popping up in his life, slacker musician Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) takes notice. But to win the love of this rollerblading goddess, Scott must vanquish all seven of her evil exes in martial arts battles. Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, director Edgar Wright’s action-packed romcom also stars Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh and Chris Evans.

Yes, I know that I’ve banged on about this film before but I still think this is one of the most criminally overlooked films of last year.  A modern day love story with all of the difficulties and baggage that involves wrapped up in a story that is conceptually absurd and emotionally truthful.  It is the kind of pure fun that will stick with you for a while.  Besides, it is directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) so you know it has to be good.

Summer Wars (2009)

Though math whiz Kenji Koiso is a social zero, his avatar flourishes in the online space of Oz — until he accepts an e-mail request to solve a thorny equation, creating a conduit between the real and virtual worlds that may destroy both. Set in the not-too-distant future, this sci-fi anime thriller finds the shy Kenji coming out of his shell as he defends innocent citizens, and his honor, against a viral cyberspace menace.

This film has been described as many things: a romantic comedy, a cautionary tale about technology.  For me, though, this is really a story about the importance of family in good times and bad.  There is something here that will appeal to all ages in one of the best films of 2009/2010.

Your turn.  What do you think?

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By now you may have figured out that one of my favorite things to do on this site is to turn people onto whatever I’m digging currently.  What can I say, when I love something I feel compelled to share.  Today what I have fallen in love with is a little film called The Secret of Kells.

In many ways this seems like the little film that could.  Coming from a little start-up animation studio in Ireland the film quickly gained buzz from various international film festival and was eventually nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.

The story of The Secret of Kells centers around a young monk named Brendan who lives in medieval Ireland in the Abby of Kells.  This is a time of great stress in Ireland with the threat of attack from Vikings being an ever present and looming dread.  Brendan, who is an aspiring illuminator, becomes enamored when Brother Aidan arrives in Kells bearing with him the unfinished Book of Iona (later renamed the Book of Kells).  Aidan quickly becomes a mentor for the aspiring artist and his influence (along with a playful faerie named Aisling) eventually leads Brendan to butt heads with the Abbot, who is both Brendan’s guardian and uncle.

The first thing that struck me about The Secret of Kells was how stunningly beautiful it was.  The film’s art style is inspired directly by the historical Book of Kells.  The result is an amazing visual treat bursting with life.  Each frame seems to have been meticulously detailed but the real magic comes when these images are put in motion.  Taking a cue from its artistic influence (which was made in a time before there was such a thing as depth of field) plays with framing, depth, and movement that gives the visual impression of a manuscript coming to life.

This visual tour-de-force is then coupled with a tale that can best be described as exemplifying the character and personality of Ireland.  The story blends seamlessly between the mysticism of ancient Ireland and the faith later embraced.  Furthermore, the spirit of these characters shines through here.  They are playful and jovial while also bearing hardship with stoic determination.  They are lovers of knowledge while never losing the childlike wonder of the world around them.  In a way the personify the Irish spirit that I have always found absolutely fascinating and enamoring.

Perhaps that fascination makes me a bit biased towards this sort of thing but I think even without it this would be a magical piece of artistic film-making fully worthy of the accolades it has received.  As such, The Secret of Kells earns my recommendation.  Now go and check it out and let me know what you think.

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These days we are rather over run by the romantic comedy genre.  To a certain extent that’s alright but after a while they can start doing more harm than good.  You see, most romantic comedies tend to revolve around a very adolescent concept of love.  This sort of overly sentimental and unrealistic depiction of romance (sometimes called “emotional porn”) is fine when all you want is a few moments of escapism but when it starts to reach the level of saturation it has it starts to affect how people believe romantic relationships should be.  That, in turn, can lead to some really messy situations when unrealistic expectations butt up against the realities of life.

That is why, for relationship veterans like me, the Scott Pilgrim series is such a breath of fresh air.  Here (in both the original graphic novel series and the recent film adaptation) that on the surface seems an over-the-top and absurd story operating on the logic of video games and Saturday morning cartoons but dig a little deeper and there can be found one of the most insightful and true to life depictions of human relationships to grace the genre in recent years.

For the uninitiated, the Scott Pilgrim series follows the mis-adventures of a habitually  immature Canadian hipster named Scott Pilgrim.  Scott has fallen obsessively in love with the new-in-town Romona Flowers and, by some miracle, has gotten her to return his affections.  Ramona, however, comes with a bit of baggage in the form of seven evil ex-boyfriends bent on Scott’s destruction.  Add onto this Scott’s own slightly off-kilter exes and the fact that everyone inexplicably has or gains superpowers at one point or another (see the aforementioned video game logic) and you get one of the most complicated relationships to ever hit the streets of Toronto.

With all of these ingredients pilled together we somehow get a wildly epic and hilariously comedic story that somehow manages to depict people in a realistic light (points, power-ups and boss fights aside).  That is because the characters here actually behave like real people do.  The problems here aren’t the contrived obstacles of most romantic comedies.  The big problems aren’t even really the seven evil exes trying to kill Scott.  Instead the main thing standing in the way of Scott and Ramona’s relationship is their own hang-ups.  Their respective immaturities, insecurities, and selfish desires prove a much greater threat and much bigger challenge than any sword-wielding, half-ninja ex ever could be.

All-in-all, Scott Pilgrim seems like something tailor made for my personality.  On the one hand it is crazy and over the–deeply infused with the hipster-geek culture that I’ve so long embraced–while on the other hand it is deeply heartfelt depicting both the joys and fallibilities of human relationships.  Needless to say, it gets a strong recommendation from me.

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I haven’t had much time to write on here lately but I do have an article that has been bouncing around in my head for a while.  Until I get that out, though, I thought I’d bring you another edition of Recommends.

I have never been a huge fan of the iTunes music store.  It always felt a bit restricted (and Amazon MP3 is usually cheaper) but one thing that I’ve always loved about iTunes is the podcasts.  Anymore I think I use iTunes more to listen to podcast than music.  With that I wanted to bring you five of my most recommended podcast available from iTunes:

The Moth

The Moth podcast features people telling real stories of their lives recorded live on stage.  From hilarious to moving and everywhere in between, the stories on The Moth prove that truth is often stranger, funnier, sadder, and more amazing than fiction.

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Rocketboom

Rocketboom is a video podcast focused on news and Internet culture that features humorous takes on newscasting, spotlights on artists and content producers and stories of people from around the world.  It’s always something new and always of the highest quality.

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The Relevant Podcast

The Relevant Podcast is the audio arm of Relevant Magazine and, like the magazine, focuses on topics of God, life and progressive culture.  With humor and intelligence the hosts of this podcast offer stories, music, interviews and topical discussions each week.

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Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me

This show from NPR is a comedic current events quiz.  With a regular panel of comedians and writers Wait Wait… has games like “Who’s Carl this Time” and “Limericks”.  Most entertaining, though, is “Not My Job” where notable people are asked questions about things they know nothing about.  It is hilarious and oddly informative at the same time.

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This American Life

This American Life is a show from WBEZ Chicago and PRI hosted by Ira Glass.  Each week they pick a theme and bring together a variety of stories related to that theme in one way or another.  Always interesting and often inspiring, This American Life is one of the highest quality podcast around.

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For this second edition of my “Recommends” series (I did aways intend for it to be a series) I wanted to narrow my focus a bit and spotlight great pieces of animation.  This are just a handful of films and short series that you may not have heard of but really should.  So without further ado, I give you the ‘toons:

“If you make money from war, you’re scum. If you can’t make money from bounty hunting, you’re an idiot!”

Exiled and disillusioned, the Italian World War I fighter pilot, Porco, scratches out a lonely existence as a bounty hunter in the skies above the Mediterranean.  Porco’s reclusive tendencies get interrupted, though, when a young mechanic and a rival American pilot cross his path.

This is one of those films that can appeal to just about everyone.  Transitioning effortlessly from comedy to action to tenderness this film becomes an affecting experience that sneaks up on the viewer.  Add on to that the chance to hear the very British Cary Elwes do a convincing Texan accent and you’ve got one fine film.

“Oh, what a pretty name! Be sure to take good care of it, dear!”

Porco Rosso came from the director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli and I’ve become convinced that they cannot make a bad film.  The film that is often considered Miyazaki’s masterpiece, though, is 2001’s Spirited Away.

Spirited Away is the story of a young girl who wanders into a magical world of spirits.  There she is forced to challenge a witch to save both her parents and herself.  Heartfelt and beautiful, this film gently explores themes of excess, identity, and redemption all while creating a world of wonder and imagination.  In a way it is like Alice in Wonderland for a modern day.

“Time waits for no one.”

I admit that I already mentioned this film in my first “Recommends” article but it is worth mentioning again.   Charming and believable characters, an imaginative story, and great animation from Mad House Studios make this a film worth seeing (or seeing again).

“Please don’t tell people our bakery’s motorbike ran you over.”

If I had to describe this series in one word it would be “crazy”.  If I had two words I would say “batsh-t insane”.  FLCL (or Fooly Cooly) is the story of a small town boy, the robot that came out of his forehead, and the Vespa riding alien girl that won’t leave him alone.  If that doesn’t make any sense then don’t worry because at its core FLCL is about adolescence, growing up, and all the insane feelings that come from that.  If you can stand a little craziness then check out this six episode series but if not then stay far far away.

“Are you enjoying the Time of Eve?”

Time of Eve is a short six episode series about a time in the near future when humans and androids have become almost indistinguishable from each other.  While exploring themes like creativity, prejudice, and understanding this series maintains a thoughtful and lighthearted atmosphere that avoids the tropes and cliches of similarly themed science fiction stories.  What makes it even better is that the series is available for free (legally) online at Crunchyroll so there is no excuse missing out on it.

Those are my recommendations.  Let us know if you have any of your own.

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Just a small bit of site news here. I’ve added a little widget on the side bar right over there (on the home page) >>>>>>>

It simply serves the purpose of spotlighting what I am currently reading, listening to, watching, or generally finding interesting. I like to share these things I find so feel free to click.

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I’ve been meaning to write on here, I really have.  Due to sudden illness, though, my motivation to write a proper post has fallen somewhere between little to none.  In the mean time, though, I thought I would continue with my blog spotlight series by pointing you over to one of the best sketch comedy groups I have ever found on the Internet.  Okay, so it’s not actually a blog spotlight but bear with me.

A while back I discovered Loading Ready Run through the Unskipable series on The Escapist and eventually discovered that this group of comedians from Canada had been releasing sketch comedy videos on a weekly basis since 2003.

Check them out here (though I feel obligated to acknowledge not all videos are appropriate for children).

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