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Monday, December 29, 2008

Me Mini Movie Reviews: Valkyrie

2008 has been a long year for me and due to several factors, I entered the second last week of the year without having even stepped into a theatre, despite a long list of movies I would have liked to see. Thanks to a friend, that changed and we went out to a theatre on Boxing Day to see the latest Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie. We're both very interested in history, WWII, and war movies, so this seemed like it would be right up our alley. And we were right - this was an excellent movie and I hope more people go out to see it over it's theatrical run.

Based on true events, this is the story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his role and leadership in a revolt within the Nazi regime in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. The movie is directed by Brian Singer, with Cruise in the role of Stauffenberg, and veteran actors Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkenson, and Terrance Stamp all providing excellent performances. Singer and Cruise have talked about how they set out to make a thriller based in this genre / time period vs a standard historical epic and it shows. They and the script writers were meticulous in going through available records, letters, and films to bring the historical accuracy, but the pacing is sharp and constantly moving forward. There's no lagging moments in the film as you're engaged right to the end to see what happens to these characters. Also, it must be pointed out that the set pieces, costumes, airplanes, and such are all vivid and real with no CGI in sight. That is always appreciated.

Regardless of what one might think of Tom Cruise and his public antics in recent years, it can't be denied that he is a talented actor and can still bring it with intensity when the camera rolls. He (and the character) is the central point to which the movie will either win or fail, and it's a total win. We follow Stauffenberg through the movie as he takes charge of the plan and relentlessly keeps driving it forward as one obstacle after another comes up. We realize the terrible consequences that await for him and his family and everyone involved should the plan fail and yet believe in his strength of conviction when he says they must show the world not everyone in Germany held Hitler's beliefs. However, anyone who has opened a history book will know Hitler's fate, but that never takes away from the riveting drama played out in this story.

I was surprised to see the theatre packed full when we went, and as we discussed it after, there were probably teenagers there looking for a Tom Cruise adventure movie not realizing the important slice of history they were about to see up on the screen. I often think that today's instant gratification generation could not begin to come up with the inner fortitude to fight the battles faced by our ancestors in the past and any chance to show and possibly even learn from what's come before is a welcome opportunity, even if it's packaged in a Hollywood thriller.

This is one of the better movies I've seen in a while and one that stays with you as you mentally play out character decisions and "what if" moments of history. I hope more people go to see it as it's an actual rare movie that's worth the trip to the local cineplex.

Verdict: Highly Recommended.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas

Hope you all had a wonderfully classic Christmas!

I spent time with family and ate too much and had fun. Good times. Will report more later...

Still busy with the season of busyness this week, but got sucked into monkeying around with the HTML of my blog here and now must sleep before I look at anymore hexidecimal html...

Monday, December 22, 2008

"I'm Still Kicking, I Must Be On Broadway"

Sorry for the lack of posts again, but I'm trying to stay focused on taking an axe to my to do list. Had a day off work today, but so much for a day of rest. (That's coming with a couple days off this week).

Got the leaky taps fixed, replaced the fill valve in the toilet that wouldn't shut off anymore, cleaned and did the laundry, made myself my one meal of the day of ham/cheese/green pepper/tomato omelette and homemade hashbrowns,
then did a tricky open heart surgery on one of my computers. Now that was fun - I haven't had a challenge like that in a while. Just like old times.

So I got two more work days, then I'm off for 5 out of the next 6. I could use the break. Oh, and as an afterthought, I guess Christmas is this week too. I should proably finish my shopping before then...

(bonus points if you know what movie the title quote came from)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Me Mini Movie Reviews: South of Heaven West of Hell

Sometimes you have to revisit a movie to really appreciate it. Back in ‘01 or so, I read about Dwight Yoakam writing, directing, and starring in a western called South of Heaven West of Hell. I picked it up on DVD along with the soundtrack CD and remember thinking it was alright for what it was, but a little weird and slow paced and didn’t really get it. I did however enjoy the soundtrack. Then the DVD sat on on my shelf in my collection for years and didn’t really watch it much until recently, being on a bit of a Yoakam music kick, I pulled it off the shelf and ripped it to my PSP and watched it over a week at work on my breaks. This time around, I totally got it and thoroughly enjoyed it and think it a great little overlooked movie.

It’s pretty much laid out in the title what it’s going for, and uses the harsh reality and desolation of the western genre to get there. Dwight Yoakam stars as US Marshal Valentine Casey who winds up in a confrontation with the ruthless Henry Gang when they rob a bank. Time passes, but their trails will intersect yet again at the most inopportune moment for Val, but he knows he must bring them to justice. Along the way, a colorful cast of characters cross paths including Adalyne (Bridget Fonda) whom Val falls for, her traveling companion Brig. Smalls (played by Billy Bob Thornton in an odd stately cameo), Shoshonne Bill (Peter Fonda) who introduces Val and Adalyne to a hot air balloon ride, the vile Henry Gang led by Leland (Luke Askew) who was like a father to Val, the evil Taylor (Vince Vaughn) who has it in for Val, other members of the gang played by Paul Reubens (no kidding) and Michael Jeter, and the Dunfries clan who run the mercantile / hotel where most of the paths cross. If you watch movies / TV with any kind of regularity, there are a lot of faces you’ll recognize here as plenty of well known character actors are involved. Where else will you find two Sling Blade characters, a Wedding Crasher, Pee Wee Herman, an Easy Rider, the Point of No Return assassin, Rockford’s buddy Coop, Walker’s friend CD Parker, Boss Jack from Traveller, and Tim “You wanna buy a rope” from Pure Country all in one movie? It was a whole movie of “where do I know him from?”

Now granted, my first impression of it being slow paced and bizarre was on the mark, but it works for the movie. ***Possible Spoilers*** This isn’t a John Wayne western. It’s a bleak, dirty, crude, desolate, and violent place these characters find themselves in and are trying to move on from. One’s salvation is a recurring theme, which makes sense since the title refers to the movie being an allegory for purgatory. These characters aren’t dead, but they certainly aren’t living. They’re stuck in between with unfinished business and souls that can’t rest. Only Adalyne is there by choice to rescue the deaf child being raised by Doc Dunfries. Everyone else is stuck in their own personal desolation, some worse than others. The past has to be confronted and peace made with what got them there before any hope of moving on to a future can happen. Val begins to realize this even as he senses a new hope in Adalyne. Even though he wants to go with her, he has to put the past to rest. ***End Spoilers***

This movie probably isn’t for everyone (Amazon’s reviews seem to be either one or five stars, nothing in between), but in a sea of remakes, blatant Oscar grabs, and tired retreads, it is somethings thats original. It is a crude and violent movie with some slow points and bizarre moments, but it’s also genuinely funny in spots, brings some good action in the final shootout, and has some excellent lines. There was one scene that had me laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes - at work, no less. And if you’re paying attention, it’s got more to it story wise than your standard shoot ‘em up western. Think Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter and you know what level you’re on here.

Verdict: I’d definitely recommend it for those looking for something way off the beaten trail and the patience for a slow moving character story. And if not, the soundtrack is worth a listen anyway.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Much Too Young...

So another year gone off the lifespan, and as I'm wont to do on this yearly mile marker day, I sit here looking back. Loads of memories, a healthy mix of good and bad mark the trail. And while I'll put this last year in the latter bucket, it's time to cowboy up and drive on. All anyone's got is the here and now anyway, so I reckon mulling on the back or forward of it makes no difference. Would've preferred a less rocky trail, but the footing's solid if unspectacular, and it'll take me where I need to get to, if not where I want to be. That's another trail, but for now I'll head into the wind and hope next year's mile marker is on higher ground...

This ol' highway's getting longer
Seems there ain't no end in sight
To sleep would be best, but I just can't afford to rest
I've got to ride in Denver tomorrow night

And the white line's getting longer and the saddle's getting cold
I'm much too young to feel this damn old
All my cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole
I'm much too young to feel this damn old

Lord, I'm much too young to feel this damn old

from Much Too Young
by Garth Brooks

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Place Holder

With the flu recovery coming along, and work, and trying to hack my way down my overdue to do list, my blogging time is microscopic this week.  Got a few more things to do and then get back to normal just in time for Christmas.

Yay - Christmas!  It's December, we've got snow, the radio is starting to play Carols, and Christmas is 3 weeks away.  Best time of the year.

Could almost give a guy reason to smile...