31 October 2010

The Long Halloween Vol. II: All Hallow's Eve

Last year Norwegian Morning Wood featured a year-long look at the greatest Television Holiday Specials - one a month, no repeat shows, the best of the best. We called it The Long Halloween because this was the first one, and hell, we're Batman fans. When it came down to what to do this year, though we were in a bit of quandry. We had already done Television, what else is there?

After some internal discussion I just decided, hell, Everything. Let's go over everything you need to see and do on every holiday. Hoorah. Let's start with films:

Spooooky Flicks!

There are so many appropriate Halloween Films. It's not even justifiable to attempt to name them all here, so I'll go with a big three:

Who dares fart in my castle?
For classics, nothing beats Dracula (1931). There's a reason Bela Lugosi has been in the mind of Pop Culture for nearly eighty years now and it remains a perfect Halloween viewing. For frights, the downright scariest movie I've ever seen is The Shining (1980), I have trouble getting through any moment of this and it's worth noting that the meticulous attention to detail and multiple plot interpretations I think could slide it into the discussion of one of the greatest movie directions of all time. For the most insane analysis ever, you can check this out which should simultaneously suck a few hours out of your life and cause you to lose sleep for a month. At least that's what supposedly happened to Robert De Niro.

As for a film that perfectly captures a lot of Halloween elements, including some nice scares, check out Trick 'r Treat (2009) - a tiny little film that no one has seen with some really freaky scary elements that features a Halloween Anthology unlike much else out there today. It's definitely worth a squirt today.

Ghoulish Tunes!

I've give you a couple of necessary songs to listen to this night as well. For classic rock songs, nothing will beat Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London," which is an incredible track any time of the year. It's also one of the funniest monster-themed rock songs you'll ever hear. There's not nearly as many Halloween Carols as some other holidays (looking at you, Flag Day...), but you can also dish on "This is Halloween" and of course some "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah." Yeah that's the best I've got. Take a gander at this playlist for many many more, most of which are pretty awful but it'll cover all your creepy party needs.

Haunted-Ass Video Games!

I'll point out with wiener intensity my scariest video game experience playing this level of Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001) late at night on a chilly Autumn morning. Please don't let that affect my recommendation of The Shining. Other than that, a lot of Dead games work nicely. Left 4 Dead (2008), Dead Rising (2006), Dead Space (2008), it's all good. Like movies there's no real shortage of horror games to play. For classics you should check House of the Dead (1996) at your local arcade, for scariness it might be one of the Silent Hill series, but my favourite Halloween Game to play is Resident Evil 4 (2005).

All clowns want to do this to you.

Also for some reason more and more games tend of have these little Zombie mini-modes. The latest is Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (2010) which is downloadable as of five days ago. The Nazi Zombie mode in Call of Duty: World at War (2008) is also immensely fun to play. It does seem like Zombies are somehow becoming more ubiquitous, taking over Community, video games and now Television as well. I wrote a few lengthy pieces on the phenomenon last year but it could probably use some more. From a video game standpoint though, Zombies are just pretty easy. They appear, they lumber and you kill them. But they never stop. That's basically every video game enemy ever. As for the Nazis, well, Call of Duty wasn't the last.

Uhhh...How About Food and Drink?

When I was a small child my mother would always make us goulash on Halloween. She would call it "Ghoulash" though, so it was obviously haunted. So basically that and tons of candy should be your Hallow-Dinner. As for alcohol, I'd suggest a lovely mix of Jim Beam, Cider and Caramel, which in my favourite combination can be blended with ice to make a beautiful "Fallgarita." Trust me, this thing is delicious, Jim and Apple just work, I don't know why or how but it just WORKS.

So that's it really. While you're eating your Ghoulash, sipping on Fallgaritas, playing Resident Evil 4 with The Shining on in the background and "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" on loop in your headphones you're probably coming close to a perfect Halloween Pop Culture Evening. This is an easy holiday though, really. As long as you find something that spooks the crap out of your it's Halloween-Appropriate. Pumpkins, ghosts, vampires, etc all should fit in fine as does any crypt, graveyard, laboratory or middle school locker room setting. You know, whatever gives you the willies.

That's it for this holiday, while we've basically screwed ourselves to find coverage for next year, you should be good to go for this one.

Trick or treat, bitch.

28 October 2010

Because it was on TV: Busting TV Tropes with Community

I steadfastly believe that the best show currently on Modern Television is NBC's sophomore season of Community. There is not a better written or executed live-action comedy by far, and its play with TV character and plot stereotypes, outstanding Holiday Specials and tight commitment to outrageoucity while grounded in character and setting render it one of the all around best shows on Television. Let's dive in:

Community is a seemingly innocuous show that comes pretty quietly as part of NBC's Thursday Night Comedy Line-Up. Currently it's the network's worst performing show of the block (especially this year going against the Satanic Big Bang Theory on CBS. How can people choose that rash over the best show on TV, this is the kind of shit that causes aneurysms). It's single-camera premise involves a gang of characters of varied backgrounds coming together at shithole Greendale Community College. This cast at first seems nutty:

Joel McHale is protagonist if you need him to be - it's more of an ensemble, but his arc is probably the most focused. So we've got the dude from The Soup. We add Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie who are absolute babes who haven't really been in shit else. Then there's the black kid from Mystery Team (2009) who also tried to be Spider-Man and the guy from the Butt-dialing commercials rounding out the youthful cast. Yvette Nicole Brown has also never been in anything too spectacular. Rounding out the main cast then...is fucking Chevy.

On the side is the naked guy from The Hangover (2009), a Daily Show Correspondent, this dude who has been in everything, the creator of Moral Orel and finally, a nice regular ubiquitous dose of Betty White. Phew. All these great comedians, a handful of them true icons, all sharing one room (as is often the actual case, not many shows allow for this much wide comic discourse at once) is an incredible feat on its own. It's well acted and the timing is consistent and hilarious. Just watch:

Donald Glover is growing into an incredible young talent and Danny Pudi's out-of-it but socially conscious Abed is an absolute delight. Alison Brie rounds out with incredible sweater meat alongside a carefully crafted character that is equally innocent with slowly emerging dark edges. The characters are so thoroughly developed that the show once viewed a few times becomes a solid investment.

Let's talk about some landmark episodes, most of which took place towards the end of Season One last spring. "Contemporary American Poultry" (S1;E21) is a spot-on Goodfellas (1990) parody which also serves to emphasize the film's themes, fund its own based on realistic character reaction and development as well as comment on its own meta through the aforementioned Abed character (Awareness of this awareness is also meta'd in "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" [S2;E5], if the show ever becomes preachy or pretentious it tends to acknowledge and defuse it). Of course we must always consider "Modern Warfare" (S1;E23) a standard for any series in their first season, it's rare to see an episode this good any time during the lifetime of a show. It's part action parody / part apocalypse that also leads to some of the most important character interactions in the first season, setting up the Season Finale. It's continuously gripping, contains exhaustive cinematography, excellent pacing and story development as well as countless jaw-dropping moments rendered simultaneously comical and thrilling due to the tone, set-up and execution. There wasn't a better episode on television last year.

The season concluded almost typically. Community is a commentary on sitcoms as well as gangster movies and action films. "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" (S1;E25) ended with Joel McHale choosing between lovers (by the way, anyone notice every fucking NBC comedy ending this way last season?). Instead of milking a Jeff Winger (McHale) and Britta Perry (Jacobs) sexual tension for years (see anything else), Community was confident enough to blow its load during the last few episodes and knew it could move on from there. What cemented its status as the Best-Written Show on Television though, was the simple fact that "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" set up at least half a year's material for any other program, but Community spun out these ideas quickly during the Season Two Premiere, "Anthropology 101" (S2;E1), allowing it to create new storylines and not dwell on conflict that would soon become stale. I was thoroughly impressed with the shows' balls and cockiness, especially on the ever-present threat of cancellation. It is able to innovate these new broad plot lines while maintaining a high amount of solid character development, smaller intimate moments, and probably most importantly, jokes that are funny as hell. It hits you hard on all fronts and has been mostly ignored by critics and viewers for the most part. Diehard fans of the Greendale Humans however, know this is where to be Thursday nights. It's unexpected, brilliantly written and a refreshing step away from more typical sitcom bullshit.

Finally, I'd like to comment on the show's progressiveness. It contains two African-American characters in its ensemble cast who are special and unique personalities for reasons other than their blackness. It treats its woman, old man, Muslim, Chinese, British and Nerd characters the same way. This is pretty important. Donald Glover isn't making black jokes for a half hour. He's just making character jokes the same as the rest of them. It's fantastic and not commented on at all, amplifying its social significance. Watch this show. Every part reeks of awesome.

Tonight at 8:00 pm EST on NBC. See you there, mate.

25 October 2010

First Impressions: Jackass 3D

This is really a once in a generation moment. Alright, it's more like a thrice a generation moment. But it's still special. When the realms of taste, humanity and reality are pushed to their extreme, when any prior concept of cinema comes crashing down around us, when when a fecal geyser erupts from a humble man's Mountain Bottom, these are special times indeed. This is Jackass 3D (2010).

Oh what a lovely bunch. Now, I've admitted before to being a big fan of the Franchise, ever since its beginnings on MTV a decade ago. The ascendancy is spectacular. The original Jackass incorporated guerrilla filming tactics to capture moments that ranged from the immensely clever and innocent (for its part), playing on society's buttons, and of course the requisite stunts ranging from pain to disgusting. The current film is much of the same really (with the simple fact that all these elements are spun to their zenith). There are some notable differences though, all of which deserve mention here:

Did That Cameraman Really Throw-Up on the Six-Figure Phantom 3D Camera?

Yes he did. Jackass 3D was filmed on some of the most expensive Cameras available and the images they capture are breathtaking. Yes, the slow motion flaccid penis is breathtaking. This is a huge step from the shady, often personal use cameras used in the original television show. Suddenly these guys are capturing slow motion vomit and feces better than Planet Earth does ducks falling. The cameras captured the action not only in Three Dimensions but at 1,000 frames per second, which leads to some incredible shots. Agreed, the subject of which are much better seen than read, so go check it out.

Apparently there was a little connection to Zombieland (2009) through a common Make-Up Effects Designer. The opening scenes are also stylistically similar in the sense of really suave, crisp and intriguing slow motion scenes, also reminiscent of Watchmen (2009), which I mentioned in this article. Actually I wager that Jackass' opener is the best of all these flicks. Most are slowed down and ridiculous interpretations of prior famous stunts for each member and the shooting is incredible. For this series to upgrade their camera work so substantially is insane but really perfect for what they've always attempted to achieve. That is, maximum discomfort and goofy chuckling from its audience. It heightens their jackassery that they have such legitimate means to sculpt their craft. Beautiful.

I also really enjoyed the soundtrack. Prior installments have typically found great pairings for montage and music. Jackass 3D adds more of the same, some probably as original inspiration (Knoxville's charm and natural comic sensibility is on full display here by the way) others possibly out of place in how touching they are. I did enjoy Karen O's version of "If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You got to be Tough," playing over the credits, but when they've already utilized the Roger Alan Wade version it seems like they ran out of ideas, even when that track is just about perfect to sum up the whole of Jackass.

Examination in Context:

Looking over this film with the fine eye of a loyal Jackass fan, there are some subtle differences in what we got. For one, the film was heavy on animal use and stunts over gross-out gags and practical jokes. Not like the film didn't have its fair share of all, but it seemed as though the gang had a greater proclivity towards tangling with all kinds of wild animals and seeing what happened. The Bulls were a great on-going theme in Jackass Number Two (2006), this installment seemed to go a similar route with big mammals that hit, like Buffalo and Rams.

There was also the classic "Old Man" bit it wasn't as good as The Shoplifter or pissing on a construction site. There was also a part where an unusual body part of Chris Pontius fights a dangerous small animal and some other similar retreads. There is certainly a fair amount of original material, but we've seen Ryan Dunn attempt to jump creeks before (in worse weather and water) and we've seen Bam's parents freak out at live animals unleashed close quarters before. It's like giving us green apples instead of red ones. The taste is kind of unique but c'mon.

Some of the generally innocent stunts are still the best. Jet Engines and Jared Allen are welcome painful additions (What the hell is with Sean William Scott doing there without a single line?). There were much fewer practical jokes unleashed on the populace this time around, possibly due to the larger, expensive cameras used to film the nonsense.

As for the cast, Knoxville really went above and beyond during Number Two, he and Pontius always seemed like the dudes who just laughed at all the pain instead of crying or vomiting (see Bam and Steve-O). Pontius looked like he didn't have anything to do this entire film other than get butt naked all the time. We saw a ton of Preston Lacy for some reason, who seemed eager to use his rotund proportions for just about any gag possible. Wee Man had a few great bits as did both Dave England and Danger Ehren, the latter two I've always just thought of as the biggest pieces of shit in the cast. The only really funny thing Bam does is cry over snakes. Finally, Ryan Dunn and Steve-O have some great bits, including a proper send-off of the film by Steve-O. Let's talk about that:

Each film thus far has generally ended with a long-form prank or sketch that superceded all that came before. Jackass: The Movie (2002) ended with Steve-O graciously declining the "Toy Car in Ass" sketch and Dunn taking one for the team and getting some ridiculous X-Rays. Number Two had a huge prank on a prank with a celebrity cameo from Jay Chandrasekhar, messing with pretend terrorist Ehren McGhehey as well as giving him a nice pube beard.

3D ends with the "Poo Cocktail Supreme," which while probably one of their most dangerous sketches, it's not set up as well. They propped up the Ass Car as something so extreme even Steve-O wouldn't do it. Both prior ending sketches had enough nervous anticipation allowing the dangers of the sketch to breathe. Poo Cocktail didn't feel this way. They just kind of did it. That's probably insignificant criticism but I wanted something a bit more spectacular (although it's not looking like this will go away soon). At any rate, I'm glad Steve-O got the honour of the last bit, especially after a rough couple of years.

In parting, I'll mention it's fucking rough to be involved in any way with the production of a Jackass movie. In all odds you're likely to be pissed on, shaved or literally punched in the face. Even using a Porta-Potty is dangerous. At its heart though it's just a bunch of guys having fun acting out what they watched on Saturday Morning Cartoons. Some of the facial hits are just brutal, thanks Josh Brown. There are so many unbelievable parts to this film although the majority was shot on private property with cameras that should never be allowed near cats who throw up with such frequency. It's a good film. The editing is typically tight, the laughs are high and the thing looks as beautiful, probably more so than AVABAR (2009). It's definitely the kind of film that you will know you'll love or hate going into it, so if you're a fan, it's worth seeing, if not, stay home.

Stay far away.

Happy Landings

23 October 2010

Undisputed: Usher, Dirtiest Artist Ever

There are a bunch of Music Artists who have had big years in 2010 - B.o.B, Eminem, Katy Perry sure. None though, have had the sheer amount of singles every week as one smooth gentleman - Usher. I hear a new Usher song at least once a month and for all his mainstream success, this cat is really dirty. I'm not sure we noticed it at first but it's actually been pretty dirty from the start, hidden behind this smooth exterior. In honour of Ursh's birthday last week, we're taking a look at his discography today. Let's start from the beginning:

Early Hits - 1998 - 2001:

Amazingly Ush first blew up in 1998 with a #1 Single, "Nice and Slow" off his second album, My Way. It's a typical early Usher song, straight R&B with a mellow, love-making beat. If we check the lyrics a bit closer though we can glean gems like "I got plans to put my hands in places I've never seen / girl you know what I mean" and more blatant trips like

Do you wanna get freaky?
'Cause I'll freak you right I will
I'll freak you right I will
I'll freak you like no one has ever, ever made you feel
I'll freak you right I will
I'll freak you right I will

This was a nice warm-up. Usher gets progressively dirtier and more explicit over the course of his career, however. He a couple of other singles off his third album, 8701, most notably "U Remind Me" and "U Got it Bad" in 2001. Yes, two consecutive hits starting with "U." They both retain the R&B stylings of "Nice and Slow" and may be a step backwards in dirtiness.

"U Remind Me" is kind of a bizarre song, I wouldn't tell a new chick she reminds me of this ex I was once in love with. That's just me, Usher. I mean, you should at least imply a need for lovemaking somewhere, that seems to always work out. "U Got it Bad" is also not that dirty, likely because it's fueled by his monogamous relationship with the Hottest Part of TLC, Chilli. Damn. So after debuting with a pretty ridiculous track, the Ursh cooled down into chill, smooth territory for a while. Fine.

Ascending Nuttiness and Popularity- 2004:

Usher's big years tend to come in spurts for some reason. He had four #1 Billboard hits in 2004 and they're all pretty nutty. His first is the seminal "Yeah!" featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris. "Yeah!" is a landmark track that really launched Ush's career, as well as moving it more away from the slow lovethumping tracks to more dance club numbers with steeper beats and more electronica (as well as featuring his own signature weird hat dancing). It also cemented Lil Jon's popular social vocabulary and established Ludacris as a brilliant complement to smoother vocals, where his biggest hits are found today.

The dirtiness here isn't really higher than typical rap songs, though. I think when spoken in Usher's more silky style the induction to intercourse is that much more seductive. This is forgiven due to its pure party track feel.

Almost every single from Confessions was a #1 hit. "Burn" is a break-up song more than a love-making song. "Confessions Part II" is really the ultimate insane song, though. It's about how Ursh cheated on his GF with some random chick and then knocked her up. Sweet. You'd think Usher would learn from this track not to fool around but hey, that ain't his style, baby. While he's not describing the act here, he's nevertheless dirty arcistrating the aftermath. Finally in 2004 Ush had "My Boo," another relationship track that doesn't contain that much of the nasty. Let's flash forward.

Professor Lovemaker - 2007 - Present:

Ever since Usher's incredible 2004 he's produced nothing but a stream of progressively more explicit hits. He probably caught the bug from his duet with R. Kelly, "Same Girl" in 2007. It's only natural that the two smoothest and most popular R&B singers of the day would come together only for nailing the same girl. Also I do love both of these cats reactions to the revelation - Usher almost chuckles through it, and both harbour no resentment to the other. It's as if "Well, shit, this was bound to happen one of these days." And in the video it turns out they're twins. Neat.

When Ush came back to his own songs they had a definite different attitude. He's really taken up the club scene persona rather than the mansion cooing/wind-swept persona he had at the start of his career. 2008's "Love in this Club" really set the standard. Instead of crooning about break-ups or steady relationships, he's belting about picking up some chick and banging her in a night club. Nice. Check it out:

Might as well give me a kiss
If we keep touchin' like this
I know you scared baby
They don't know what we doin'
Let's both get undressed right here
Keep it up girl i swear
Imma give it to you non stop
And i don't care
Who's watchin', watchin', watchin'

This was his biggest hit off of Here I Stand, but his latest album would make up for that. Raymond v. Raymond is ridiculous. Here is an uncensored "Lil Freak," which is pretty amazing. It's basically about Usher pulling the robbery on some chick at the bar using his star power to get her home but only if she fucks like a freak. Nice. Any of these lyrics helps my example but let's try:

Hey ma yo where your man at, I know you got that
Cause you too fine to be single he at home but he done fucked up
I swooped this girl up and what I'm about do to you about to feel I did him wrong
Cause I'm about to have a ménage with this lady and some freaks at the bar who like fuckin with a star

It continues in "OMG" - "Honey got some boobies like wow, oh wow." Really? "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" continues the trend from "Love in this Club," an explicitly club-oriented dance track rather than smooth jamming. It's a drink and hook-up song, somehow lyrically much less dense than anything from Confessions. Actually that video is pretty cool.

Finally we come to "Hot Tottie." Usher's latest single, as of this writing there is no video yet. The beat and construction of this song is sick, though it's another track where any lyrical sample demonstrates its dirtiness.

Said I’m tryin’ get your clothes off
From what I’m seeing you look so soft
It’s your body, what I’m goin’ off
Say you go ride off, just don’t fall off
Yeah I done had a lot of women
They tell me what they can do
But can you show me babe

Nice, Ursh. I like the idea of this girl being Usher's Hot Tottie. A Hot Tottie is a warm alcoholic drink that is supposed to help when you've caught a cold. Thus meeting the Hot Tottie girl would be like finding this warm feeling that eliminates the depression and illness in your life. It's beautiful. Although Ush just wants to fuck her.

So that's that. Now, what's the point of all this exhaustive Usher research on a Saturday afternoon (Go Syracuse!)? Basically simply that Tom was right to be apprehensive. Good day.

22 October 2010

Profiles: Admiral Ackbar - Funny Squidface or Tragic Icon?

For no real reason at all today we're talking about Admiral Ackbar. Bar none the most ridiculous high-ranking character in Return of the Jedi (1983), Ackbar I believe takes a large amount of guff from the fan community. He was always one of my favourite characters from the Original Trilogy however, and I believe there is more to dear Fishhead than meets the eye. This warrants closer examination, my friends. I give you -- the Ackbar:

You may immediately notice a few things. What the hell is wrong with this guy? Clearly some kind of Fishy-Squid Monster, Ackbar is a Mon Calamari from a planet of the same name. His species were typically the more docile of two inhabitants of the world, the other being the violent and undersea dwelling Quarren. The Mon Calamari lived in these big bubble cities and cruise ships (which they later converted to Rebel Frigates...wow the Rebel Alliance sucks). There is more information about Ackbar's past and upbringing here than you will ever want or need in your life.

Ackbar in RotJ is introduced around midway through as the leader of the Rebel Alliance's Military, likely the equivalent to someone like Grand Admiral Thrawn for the Galactic Empire (because Grand Moff was a governing position, although the Military-Industrial Complex of the Empire was madly out of control - a likely reason that Tarkin's baby was built for simultaneous leadership, systems control and mobile government). The Battle of Endor thus was to be basically the Rebel's last stand against the Empire. They were all in. I don't think the stakes were ever made that clear in Jedi, if they failed in that battle, really there was nothing left. Every ship at their disposal was sent in for combat. And Ackbar is leading this shitstorm. I have some problems and some reservations here, let's start with his most famous catchphrase:

I'll point out two things: The line is actually pretty smart as Ackbar almost immediately catches on to the Emperor's ploy and wishes to regroup immediately, risking completion of the Death Star II, a huge boon to the Empire, but also saving the Alliance. Note that Calrissian's initial thought process is that the Empire simply knows they're coming, Ackbar correctly suggests the Trap. However, immediately after he suggests a retreat, Ackbar is easily convinced to follow orders from a Smuggler-turned-Baron Administrator of Cloud City (actual title, also he won this position in a game of Sabacc. What the hell is with this Universe?)-turned-General for some reason. You can watch the whole ridiculous scene unfold here.

Yes, suddenly Lando with no prior military experience in engagements of this magnitude has authority to override the Supreme Naval Mind of the Alliance. We can take one of two things from this: 1) Ackbar really sucks as a commander (note his great observation before the Death Star is about to blow - "Move the fleet away from the Death Star." Thanks for the heads up on that one; or 2) Ackbar is a damn pushover who bows easily to spokespeople for Colt 45. Seriously, anyone else realise that most of Ackbar's character is revealed through interactions with Billy Dee Williams? We're only making fun of him so much all these years because his only scenes were with the smoothest character ever in the Star Wars Universe. And yeah, he's a bit of a goof.

But there's more to him than that. Check out the above video about 6:45 in. After Arvel Crynyd of the A-Wing Green Squadron crashes into the Executor, everyone around Ackbar cheers, EXCEPT for Ackbar. I always wondered why. Is this a moment where Ackbar reflected on the chaos and unpredictability of War? Is he saluting Crynyd's brave kamikaze sacrifice? Mourning a great Rebel Pilot? Or just shaking his head realising how stupid it was that, apparently, the Empire's Greatest Warships could have been destroyed this easily the whole time. I hope it's the latter. In that little head bow Ackbar's recollecting all the men he sent against Star Destroyers, nay, all the fear the Rebel Alliance has had for the terrifying ships, one alone used to subjugate a star system. Really, even a crazy old crop duster apparently had the talent to take them down (Speaking of which, how did we take down the ships across the world in Independence Day [1996]? Did every fucking village have to sacrifice some crazy alcoholic pilot?)

So there's this solemnity to Ackbar that I believe we tend to overlook due to some of his goofier moments:

Yeah. Like that. Ackbar is almost synonymous with insanity now. Especially that fad. This is all great to laugh at, but he's essentially a rationally-minded military leader who attempted to provide for the best interests of the Alliance. Calrissian is a lifetime gambler. He was willing to risk many lives for their one chance to destroy the Emperor's Ultimate Weapon (as well as hold out for his friends on the Planet Surface). Actually, his gambit did cost a few of Ackbar's people's starships, which could add to the tension between the two, although Ackbar never stands up for himself. He sits there sad with a weary head and heart. I don't think he's even invited to the final Gay Ewok Party. I mean, fucking Vader was invited. Yeah, that guy. the kid from Jumper (2008) ain't invited to my Gay Ewok Party.

The thing is, Ackbar also represents a vital part of the Rebel Alliance: He's a different species. The Empire was notoriously human-dominated (actually white English dominated, but that's besides the point...). The Rebel Alliance was supposed to be an all-encompassing society like the Republic of Old (but all their leaders were stodgy white guys too...wait, who the hell would want a Chancellor Valorum action figure? Ooh he comes with a staff!). Of course, the first two films featured only stodgy white guys on both sides, so Ackbar's inclusion as a high-ranking admiral shows what was supposed to be a deep part of the Alliance's Unifying Ideology. But he's shown up by a black dude. Well there's something there for diversity I suppose.

I do have an Admiral Ackbar action figure. But maybe, just maybe I won't be acting out "It's a Trap!" under the covers tonight. Tonight...we hang our heads in memory of those that sacrificed for the Salvation of the Galaxy.

21 October 2010

Because it was on TV: Let's Talk about Sex, TV and Sunday Night Football

Ah the changing seasons. Kids trotting off to school, leaves changing, sudden appearance of Goblins on occasion and the temperature goes from nice to shit real fast. In temperate belts. It also means a whole awesome smattering of new television for every boy, woman, girl, child, man and smizmar to enjoy.

Now for the past couple years it's almost inarguable to say that television has surpassed films in storytelling ability. As I proselytized in a massive, nine-part post last year, Current Television is just about the best it's ever been. Whereas every season has its winners and rejects (wait, who is who there?), which was actually recently summed up nicely here.

Anyway, it certainly goes without saying so far that a couple weeks (months...sorry) into the new TV year and...well it's pretty rough. There's hardly a hit among any of them, and out of that much less is a critical darling. Thus it's my intention to examine all of TV here (as I of course typically live by the TV mantra of Sports/Movies/Cartoons) to sum up the true swarth of what's on the tube. So let's kick it with the new shows:

Drink! Drink Like a Freshman!

Is there honestly a single offering here that jumps out at you? Apparently some people have dug Hawaii Five-0 and Mike & Molly (REALLY?!). I mean, we're down to watching a retread of an ungroundbreaking show from the 70s and a show that from all appearances looks like a dumber Honeymooners? Honestly, we're still going with the fat, lazy lovable husband, but getting rid of the hot wife? It escapes me, how much safer can you get, CBS? Also what's scarier - it works.

But I digress. Let's look to cable. I haven't seen Terriers on F/X, hear it's good but despite my favour towards Donal Logue, doesn't seem special. Other than that, Boardwalk Empire has been a treat, if not simply equal parts every-gangster-movie-ever-made with a splash of interesting in the form of long-time genius B character actor Stevie Buscemi in lead. What makes the show work so far is that it takes from some of the best films out there. Whether it's sustainable through the scrutiny of its lead (already some love the idea of Buscemi as the perfect double-sided gangster, others hate him, either way it works for his character, though viewership may fluctuate). Whereas this series surely needs some room to grow, it's having a tough time finding out what exactly it can be right now. As it distinguishes itself however, I bet it'll be one of HBO's best.

So I'll admit to really enjoying one new show this season. Adult Swim's Childrens Hospital. This is the single new show I've picked up and followed and it rules.

Malin Akerman playing ridiculous is awesome. The babes in this show are unreal, as is the cast, which includes recurring spots by Winkler, The Bad Dude from Robocop and Mike Ceratops over the loudspeaker. Every character constantly plays ridiculous situations with an absolute straight face (including Rob Corddry in continuous clown make-up). It parodies Medical Dramas better than Scrubs (shot on the same set) and has a continual vein of surreality and silliness that hasn't let me down yet. Go watch it.

I'm also interested in The Walking Dead, premiering Halloween Night on AMC. The series of graphic novels has had some excellent themes and plotting, barring at times unreadable and unnecessary dialogue. With a good scriptwriter this could spin the standard Zombie apocalypse in an interesting way (as in an on-going serial, dealing with not the first few days nor simple long-term outrageous snapshots but rather a complex human reaction to a slow and marauding end of the world), helping to reinvigorate a genre that seems reinvigorating every four to six months.

The Best Returners:

There is a good crop of established shows out there, notwithstanding those that just wrapped up due to insane cable schedules. These include the requisite mentions of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy. I'd like to highlight some shows that I watch most regularly (you can tell my interests and demographic immediately) and how they've done so far:

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has gotten some of its steam back recently after a pair of lackluster season openers. My early concern has thus been reassured. South Park has also seemed to be more desperate in the past couple seasons, but tonight's was incredibly strong as are some previews that are building my anticipation. One of the first shows to successfully follow South Park for two consecutive years, Ugly Americans has also proven itself to be a pretty witty show, sneaking under my comic radar with its balls-out universe anchored to a very normal guy. I've also been impressed with the current (22nd somehow) season of The Simpsons which has found ways to still be simultaneously controversial, thought-provoking, artistic, innovative and hilarious:

Despite the fact that the Flight of the Conchords might have been the funnest part of the season so far, it's possible the show is gaining ground again after spinning its wheels for the greater part of the past decade (no clips on Hulu of this one for some reason, watch the whole ep anyway, you'll be pleased).

The two best-written shows of the Season so far though, have been The Venture Bros on Adult Swim and Community on NBC. I'm planning a thorough post on Community actually, the management of character and plot expectation in these early episodes has been fantastic, it's criminal this has never been recognised (sure it's only in its second year...but this is an NBC show now going against The Big Bang Theory on Thursday nights - how long is this going to last? This is NBC's funniest and most well written show - how is it doing the poorest?) Venture has also been spectacular, actually by now becoming one of Adult Swim's longest running and reliably well-plotted shows, but you guys knew that.

On to some shit, I think that The Office, 30 Rock, and How I Met Your Mother have all their best seasons behind them (although the live 30 Rock, while admittedly hokey and sitcom-y was somehow very entertaining, and the HIMYM race across New York was also probably the best ep of the season) and for the most part I haven't been that impressed. The Office has some of the best ratings on NBC, I'm curious its fate after Carell skips town.

Movies! On TV!

I realise I'm that bad of a TV junkie that I've memorised most of the release schedule for flicks showing up on the box. It's usually around a two and a half year lapse between theater premieres and showing up on F/X or some place, but we've had some great opportunities to watch shit on TV.

Now, we live in an age of Netlflix, Hulu, DVD and all matter of illegal download services. There's never really a reason to catch a flick on television. I've begged to differ on a few occasions. A flick like Jumper (2008) I'm never going to waste space with on my hard drive or preempt Harry Brown (2009) in my Netflix queue. But it's perfect to put on F/X on the background while writing blogs. It deserves about as much interest as Mark Zuckerberg gives deposing lawyers and that's what it gets. We'll flex the spectrum to Cloverfield (2008), The Hangover (2009) on HBO which I've caught on two non-consecutive hotel room visits and the awesome Forgetting Sararh Marshall (2008). Spectacular times, my readers.

Now for a Sports Update

How about the NFL Season this year? This stat is incredible, as is the simple fact that Sunday Night Football is NBC's highest rated program by far. In fact, it was the channel's only program to break the Top 25 after last year's ratings for the year were totaled. I'm not sure it speaks to the popularity of the sport as much as how absolutely terrible some other shows have been.

I don't talk about football enough here. It's an advertising goldmine, multi-billion dollar industry (my friends and I got in an argument of whether or not we'd rather own the entire NFL or Facebook over the next five years). It's also a focal point for zeitgeist and frankly, some of the raw programming is underrated (I challenge anyone against Kenny Mayne). Haha, I still just love that NBC stat, they need to advertise all of their shows during those precious few hours a week they're actually beating some one.

Part of the reason NFL games have done so well is because of an extremely high level of parity in the current season (fourteen teams have only two losses, six have three, none are undefeated and only two are winless...dammit). Longtime favourites have had fantastic nail-biting losses and Detroit was in a blow-out that actually favoured them. How the hell can you tell which game is going to be good? You can't motherfucker, you had better watch them all.

Which is exactly what's happening.

Oh yeah, and This:

So these are my early impressions of the year so far. I think there are many shows that can do better, there's certainly nothing really good among new offerings, but sports and movies are fantastic. Hail Xenu, keep your screens on, dear readers.

13 October 2010

Hey! Twit us up.

As foreshadowed here, Norwegian Morning Wood has also invaded Twitter as of this very night. Follow comments deemed even far too stupid for Facebook over @ NM_Wood. Clever, clever, I know. Facebook will probably have more news and links while Twitter really is an incredible dumb service (also very poorly crafted in html and pretty un-user friendly. That is, unless you're a gerbil, of course). I have no desire therefore to fill Twitter with my keenest observations, but people seem to like it so it's there and I'll attempt to pimp it out.

Enjoy, I spent the last 45 minutes getting the colouration just right. You're right, it sucks...

So have it, hoss, NMW is storming into the 21st Century.

Now Catch Norwegian Morning Wood on Facebook!

Hello dear readers on the interweb! Here we have the third NMW post concerning everyone's favourite privacy-invading, data-collecting, multi-billion dollar, society-revolutionizing networking website, Facebook. As some of you might already be doing so, you may now follow updates via your Facebook at Norwegian Morning Wood's Official Page.

It's actually a neat opportunity as a side-stepped addendum to what we like to do around here - movies, pop culture and any other kind of bullshit that crosses our path. Facebook and Twitter allow for these gerbil-sized attention span notes. Whereas I've always attempted to avoid crooning on movie news and gossip, instead focusing more on film content and analysis, the 420-long Facebook character posts allow for much briefer synopses of Pop Goings-On that may be interesting to our readers (you).

A Twitter account will also be set up very shortly as soon as things get organised around here. For now though, the Facebook account will serve to capture little headlines, links, videos or whatever other garbage I've always wanted to post but deemed too insignificant to get into around here. Of course, following either the Facebook or Twitter accounts will also grand you access to any normal NMW updates as well.

So go be our friend. Do not doubt Facebook's omnipresence. It could destroy you in scrabble.

11 October 2010

First Impressions: The Social Network, Part II: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Facebook

As The Social Network (2010) has remained the number one film in the country for the second weekend in a row, I'm left with a few more items to ramble about. You can check out some primary musings about the acting and other technical aspects of this fantastic film over here. Today we're going a bit grander - examining this flick and its subject matter in its context within zeitgeist, major themes and its place among the social revolution. Let's get to it:

This is Mark. The real Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook (doubtful of the legitimacy of that claim? Um...watch The Social Network), the world's youngest billionaire, and the greatest percentage gainer on the Forbes 400 list from 2009 - 2010. Checking out this kid's bank is sick, he makes AVABAR (2009) look like a Soup Kitchen. He's coasting on a cool $6.9 Billion thanks to his 24% share in Facebook (which implies Facebook getting a sweet $28 Billion or so total worth, although this company took a few years to turn a good profit). Wikipedia has a great bit on how this is possible at all, it's hard to believe that Zuck gets this bank through advertising alone. Essentially, Facebook advertising is ridiculously valuable.

As self-published, nearly 50% of Facebook's 500 million users check the site at least once daily. That's 250 million folks exposed to advertising on any given day. To place this in perspective, the #1 Television show for the WEEK last week was ABC's Dancing with the Stars at 21,341,000 million viewers. Regarding movies, as I said earlier, the #1 film of the week was The Social Network at $18,703,991 worldwide. If we for the sake of easiest estimated argument guess $10 a ticket (for some reason I don't think the 3-D Social Network sold well), around 1.8 million people saw a movie about Facebook around the world while 250 million people checked Facebook around the world. The website has cemented its status as a societal institution and for all its importance Mark gets another check. As you can tell, this trend is only increasing.

So all this is saying is that Facebook is one of the most profitable, invasive and important companies in the world. Zuckerberg's genius deserves praise (recognition) as much as he deserves his status as privacy-demolishing asshole. The Social Network, with whatever liberties they took (probably lots) demonstrate this idea brilliantly in its opening moments. Eisenberg as Zuckerberg is cocky and confident in his own element and exhibits a unique understanding of what other people want. He has troubles however, relating to other people. It's a unique dialogue, Zuckerberg is able to distance himself and diagnose the desires and interests of those around him without ever identifying with them on a personal level. His genius is incomparable (many of the classroom scenes also demonstrate this), but it comes with this bitter resentment of both lack of aforesaid recognition and respect, a direct result from his off-putting demeanor. He's thus in a pretty awful circle that he could release himself from if he were any one else.

There's almost this idea of talent wasted on the young. Zuckerberg puts himself on everyone's map by getting silly drunk and hacking into half of Harvard University's student records with his Facemash Application. Genius goes to his head. He has this nerdy confidence in his own effort, surely deserved on some part. He talks down to Harvard Administrators, high-priced Lawyers (including an incredible scene articulating exactly why the Winklevai lawyer is literally not worth his full attention) and finally showing an extreme disregard for business rivals.

Zuckerberg and Sean Parker in the film represent everything people like the Winklevai fear in New Money. They lack regard for gentlemanly conduct. As one of the Winklevoss twins (I freely admit they are different characters, but I cannot name which is which. Tyler or Cameron. You sucked in Beijing) mused for most of the film, there is supposed to be this unspoken sense of decorum among the Harvard University Class System. These kids who have just fallen in money don't share this notion. They in fact have no concept of how they are "supposed" to act. In fact, the film works in part because it's pretty believable watching what would happen if all these nerd college jagoffs suddenly find themselves self-made billionaires. Look how they spend their first summer. They're Programmer Rock Stars. In between marathon coding sessions they're hitting clubs and sucking bongs with random groupies. No one told them how to act, when they try to make it up for themselves they crash and burn.

This interactive trailer is really cool and full of some interesting facts. What's great about this film is that it simultaneously signals the arrival of Facebook through an origin story, yet by its creation it also dilutes the impact of the supposed social revolution. Director, David Fincher, Writer, Aaron Sorkin and Star, Jesse Eisenberg all do not use Facebook. This almost comes true in the film - the Eduardo Saverin character also does not know how to use the site despite being the CFO. The creators of the film claim  to have created a film based on character and plot, rendering the ultimate Zeitgeist story timeless. This is very true, but part of what faults this from being a perfect film is this lack of commentary on how deep the Social Revolution has hit its generation. Indeed this really won't break until the first generation of Facebook Users (ME.) are out there controlling society and running everything off the site.

Landon Palmer's column over here hits on some of these ideas. He contends that the film's treatment of the Founding of Facebook are more examples of business truisms from yesterday applied today. What's certain is that this film is going to mean very different things to different generations. Somehow it's already ranked as one of the highest-grossing College Comedies (this is a comedy?) and actually shows more of College than any other film on that list. Actually, the only major difference between life depicted in the film and College life during the past half-decade is the lack of Facebook Usage. Drinking and Drama. Is there anything else?

I'll go back to Zuckerberg one more time to wrap this up. The Social Network is an incredible film, and the ending, while somewhat predictable to fulfill Zuck's character arc also has a lot of meaning. Tying into his opening distance he exhibits with all his personal relationships, his social loneliness remains high despite his efforts to bring people together. Throughout the film though, it is clear that none of his motivations are altruistic. Refreshing Erica Albright's (Rooney Mara) page after a friendship request is Zuck's perfect "rosebud" scene. The only thing he wants is what he wanted before all this shit. Despite all his effort and accomplishment to make up for his shortcomings, none replace what he really needs, which is that intimate human connection. In essence, this is the best treatise against Facebook itself. Ones and Zeroes will never replace actually talking and developing a relationship with another human being.

As Zuckerberg basically admits in the film, users primarily are addicted to Facebook for boning, or at least the thought of boning. This is the ultimate irony of Facebook that exists every time you log on (hey oh!)- does it increase or decrease friendships? Do our relationships become too technical and facebook-icised? The scene when Saverin's girlfriend is pissed at him for not changing their Relationship Status comes to mind as a perfect example. In our lives it's no longer real until it's on Facebook. Shit never happened if photos are not on Facebook. People won't come to Events unless they're posted on Facebook. Is it streamlining lives or complicating them?

I don't have these answers. Maybe Facebook does. Now go out and Facebook us...

07 October 2010

First Impressions: The Social Network, Part I

I had the good fortune to check out one of the best films of the year so far this past weekend. I went alone because no one else wanted to see it. Dammit, this is Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) all over again...I present to you, The Social Network (2010):

Really the only fault in this film is the somewhat generic plot. It's a rise-to-the-top-but-abandon-everyone-and-everything-that-matters kind of schtick. Some comparisons around the Interwebs have already been made to Citizen Kane (1941), There Will Be Blood (2007) and Goodfellas (1990). Of course what might run through your mind is that these are all incredible movies, all three some of the greatest of all time. Does The Social Network par up?  Probably not with these three, but it's like comparing cheese pizza to pizza with pepperoni, sausage and pineapple - a bit less flavour, but its still some damn good pizza (Daniel Plainview is surely the pineapple). Right. On with it then.

Every technical part of this film is incredible. The writing of Aaron Sorkin jumps out from the first few phrases between Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) and his gf (Rooney Mara) and never lets up. It's quick-paced, purposeful, succinct and incredibly tight. I'd be heavily surprised if this didn't pull down Best Adapted Screenplay come February. The words bounce around like silk, they pour and drip and soothe, it's ingenious. The editing interweaves impeccably between flashbacks and court cases, occasionally dawdling on the former, although its structure isn't bound to the hearings as a strict framing device. I was actually reminded of Goodfellas while watching some parts in which the plot is developed through sequence rather than scene. This is tough to do and David Fincher nails it. The editing is crisp, hardly a scene lingers longer than it should, and its two hour running time never feels dragging or hurried. To a tee the creators crafted this film beautifully.

The plot is tight. Character is quickly established and every lead is given a reasonable motive, even folks like the Winklevai (Armie Hammer played both twins, a fact impossible to know unless you knew it. There are many special effect folks in the credits due in part to this seemless constant effect [including multi-person, crowd dialogue, double rowing scenes and slightly different hairstyles] that Fincher pioneered with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [2008]. Nice to see that technology applied. Now if we can figure out something to do with technology used for Transformers (2007)...Gobots: The Reckoning (2013)? wow that was  long tangent) have a justifiable, if not douchey arc and motivation. Eisenberg and Fincher paint Zuckerberg as an ironically socially awkward, borderline Asperger Syndrome, wannabe asshole wunderkind who was continuously bitter towards the people closest to him. He's almost unlikeable, throughout it's much easier to identify with Eduardo Saverin (impressive performance by future Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield). Saverin's lack of expertise and seemingly lack of ambition however, doom his association with the idea of a generation from the start.

This generational capture, the notion of striking the kettle as it's hot comes largely from Sean Parker (JT). In the film Sean is this rock star kind of programmer, business cutthroat, the "devil" the creation myth needs. It's he who pushes Zuckerberg the most to capitalise on his great idea. It's important to note however, that neigher Sean nor Mark are really in this thing for the money (which Mark admits a handful of times). As he said with Napster, it's not about getting rich - it's about changing industry, changing the world. The true life Sean Parker seems to agree. Whether Zuckerberg threw Eduardo out due to Parker's influence, Saverin's lack of common ideology or simple resentment over his inclusion in Harvard's Phoenix Club is debatable. At its core though, The Social Network tends to be about what happens when normal, socially-flawed college students are suddenly given the opportunity of a lifetime. They fuck up.

I have a bit more to say about this flick, but I'll leave you with that for now. Stay tuned, dear readers, Part II will drop sometime in the next couple of days.

05 October 2010

Remember That Past Decade? 9 Films That I Underrated

Hello, dear readers. Now that one of the nuttiest Summers on Record is done and over with we here at Norwegian Morning Wood can get back to the stuff that matters. That is uh...needless countdowns and arbitrary rankings of pop topics. Oh wait...we did that all the time this Summer...

But since the time of ranking the top films of the 2000s apparently isn't over yet, I thought it was time for another round. I put a tremendous amount of effort into some rankings last December and looking back on it I'm not really satisfied. In fact, I hate all of my top picks. For these reasons today I'm presenting to you all out there Nine Of the Greatest Film of the Past Decade, all worth more of a check-out than my arbitrary The Dark Knight (2008) and The Return of the King (2003) rankings. So fuck that shit, check this out (and we'll see if I'm content):

#9: Minority Report (2002)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Philip K. Dick (short story), Scott Frank & Jon Cohen (screenplay)

Remember a time when no one really knew how fucking crazy Tom Mapother was? When Colin Ferrel wasn't annoying and irrelevant (I beg to differ). When Spielberg was making Spielberg-like action films without irony or homages to himself? This was Minority Report. It's one of Tom's last great roles playing a Tom Cruise-character, not playing against type or beefed up with irony. He's got enough grief, anger, defects and charm to be very watchable. It's also got elements of instantaneously classic Sci-Fi Noir, iconic spider-thingies, cool guns and cars as well as an accurate look at the future of individualised advertising seemlessly integrated into culture. The epic sense of the film contains a convoluted but rational twisting, intricate plot that just barely escapes being a mind-fuck. It's one of the last great Action/Science-Fiction films, really.

#8: American Gangster (2007)

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Steven Zaillian & Mark Jacobson

I feel like this is a great film underrated by internet snobs. The dichotomy and contrast between Denzel and Crowe's characters is sweet. In fact, Frank Lucas may be one of Denzel's most intricately crafted characters - an utter ruthlessness hidden behind layers of pride, family, tradition and honour. He's a man of integrity, which facilitates his criminal rise rather than hinders it. Crowe's honesty and almost arbitrary commitment to doing good also fights with some of his own horrendous personal relationships. The hypocrisy of the characters continues throughout the film's plot - Denzel exploits black people in order to be ranked among the richest and most powerful among them. He also seeks to outrank and outgun the Italian mafia among other crooks - is this the American dream? An individual fight for personal gain without regard for any other ideal. It's also notable that this is a very aptly directed film with incredible production. Nearly every scene is a genuine location shoot, Ridley used barely any sets or extra production. Also, Denzel's murder of Idris Elba is one of the best on film for the decade.

#7: Up (2009)

Directed by: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Written  by: Bob Peterson & Pete Docter

There is more raw character development and touching story in the heartbreaking first five minutes of Up than most films contain in their entire lengths. For that alone Up deserves a mention here. I ranked Wall-E (2008) in my last compilation, but it's a tough call between Up (and Toy Story 3 [2010]) over Pixar's best feat. It's endlessly incredible that this studio keeps churning these things out. Up works because it's such a simple story that continues to grow organically from the characters. Carl Fredrickson's vows and actions are believable because of that opening scene that sticks with the viewer as much as the old man. There is of course the annoyance of children and dogs that tend to put this film an arms length for most rational minds, but for that final catharsis of Carl's grumpiness that directly stems from that integral first five, its worth it.

#6: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson

Can you tell I'm a fan of character, yet? I'm not a huge Wes Anderson fan, but The Royal Tenenbaums is so delicately and tightly set up and executed that it deserves its spot here. It's an interplay of seemingly arbitrarily quirky characters, though it never feels forced or random for the sake of random. It's about the expectation and failure of greatness, which then of course interplays with a subtext of the greater importance of family, understanding, forgiveness and love. It is fantastically cast and acted, one of Paltrows, Hackman's and Luke Wilson's best roles, along with uncharacteristic turns by Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller. Anderson's unmistakable style and ironic tone throughout also rank it among his best work. There is an unprecedented level of attention and detail in the direction, script and set design. I'll also give a nod to Owen Wilson's undervalued work as a screenwriter.

#5: Adventureland (2009)

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Greg Mottola

This, Zombieland (2009) and The Social Network (2010) should establish Jesse Eisenberg as one of the most talented actors of his generation with subtle degrees of variation on the awkward but sure likeable nerd. I'll probably need to do a Compare and Contrast profile with Eisenberg vs. Michael Ceratops pretty soon, but for now that's neither here nor there. He captures the unsteadiness necessary with the coming-of-age character here but also displays just enough confidence throughout to allow his arc to be believable. Kristen Stewart is also sweet here, further establishing her anti-princess persona in a way that furthers the story in a very natural way. Ryan Reynolds arguably playing the most realistic version of what any Ryan Reynolds-Character would be like in real life is also a delight to watch, almost simultaneously playing for and against type. It's a true drama pretending to be a comedy with people like Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig being wacky to serve the story rather than detract from it. Brilliant.

#4: Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Directed by: Stephen Chow
Written by: Stephen Chow, Huo Xin, Chan Man-keung & Tsang Kan-cheung

This is the only truly live-action cartoon ever made. It's also a simple story filled with some of the best martial arts sequences of any nation's films in the past decade. It's consistently funny, action-filled as well as constantly innovating and inventive with truly vile villains that are deeply thought-out and rendered human through varying degrees of hubris. Again, it's a relatively simple set-up and execution, but that's the beauty. It's extremely creative, investing, well-paced and edited. The ending is also incredible. It was tough to call this one over Chow's Shaolin Soccer (2001) but the sheer goofiness and enjoyment from watching this flick is unparalleled.

#3: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Directed by: Walter Salles
Written by: Che Guevara & Alberto Granado (story), José Rivera (screenplay)

I enjoyed this film less for the exploration of the slow development of early philosophies of Che Guevara and more for a view of the grim revolutionary as just a dude trying to get laid in Chile. It's about the humbling of youth amidst an unaddressed and uncared for crisis, as well as leveling a global revolutionary's ideals to simple care for fellow humans. The key is developing an ability to identifying with each other - lepers, travelers, homeless, poor wage workers and communists alike. The two lead characters are also deep and complex, showing wide range of emotion and interests, along with playing off each other like long friends. Gael Garcia Bernal in particular as a young Che is spectacular.

#2: The Hurt Locker (2009)

Directed by: Katherine Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal

This was truly the Best Picture of 2009, there's no doubt in my mind. The Hurt Locker is a constantly gripping character suspense-drama. It's crazy good. It becomes one of the most thrilling films I've seen in years through its impeccable character development, realistic base in contemporary events and a true connection to the matter at hand. Bigelow offers incredible direction, really getting into characters while providing tons of action. The production is also outstanding, many of the sets were real - that's real sweat, heat and frustration on the actors' faces. Renner also owns, the ending is incredible in particular to his character and in a way elicits what the film is really about - the mindset of a people at war, not the war or the danger itself. It takes a gander into both the lives and minds of those defending our freedoms - although are they really out there for us or themselves? The Hurt Locker is a near-perfect film in tension, plotting and character.

#1: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by: Ron Hansen (novel), Andrew Dominik (screenplay)

The longest title ever describes this film perfectly. Some will complain of its length and pacing (Reading the title basically matches the pace of the film - I'll admit to falling asleep a few times before really getting into what this film was), but its core is an excellent piece of filmmaking. The cinematography and scope is constantly brilliant. Very nuanced performances from both Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck emerge within a plot that is allowed to set and build to its eponymous action. The character of Robert Ford incredibly complex and Casey nails it. Their relationship, apparently for once very accurately close to real-life events, is one of adoration, jealousy, paranoia, trust and betrayal. It sits and broods and develops while both actors slip into their skins. Pitt is hollow and jaded, the perfect actor to play someone expected to have this raucous public life but is really just human. Casey is this misguided newcomer, angry without knowing exactly why. It's an incredible film on these handfuls of levels. I'll also point out that the train scene shown above was shot with completely natural lighting. Awesome stuff. It's a film difficult to sit through but worth the patience. James' death ironic, pathetic, simultaneously justifiable, horrific and cowardly. It brings great insight to every character involved. This might just be the Best Film of the 2000s.

Honourable Mention:

I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) on F/X recently, seeing it again reminded me of how good this Apatovian Comedy is. I've never seen another film so driven by character action, reaction, subtext and emotion. Literally this film is built on the organic growth of character, it fills every scene mostly using dialogue to spread its funny instead of outrageous sight gags or zaniness. It's spectacular.
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