Thursday, May 21, 2009

10 Awesome Movies

Here are 10 movies I've seen that I consider to be awesome. They're made well, some are a little artsy, but they're great.

If.... (1968)
This is a very surreal movie, reality steps into fantasy, and the film shifts from black and white to color and vice versa repeatedly. And, it has one of the greatest endings I've ever seen!

The movie is a fable about the British school system by depicting a school for boys. It explores the themes of repressing sexuality, religion, and bullying from peers and masters. It was followed up with two other movies, O, Lucky Man! in 1974, and Britannia Hospital in 1982. The three are connected by being fables about British life, but their only connection is that all of them have a character named Mick Travis who is played by Malcolm McDowell. While if.... is considered a black comedy, the later two were a little more outrageous in their humor.

A Clockwork Orange (1972)
Based on Anthony Burgess' book, Stanley Kubrick's controversial tale of violence and the human spirit is disturbing and awe-inspiring.

Malcolm McDowell stars as Alex DeLarge, a young man who enjoys his life of violence, rape, and classical music. But when he is arrested after an accidental murder, Alex looks to a new rehabilitation technique for a quick way out of jail. The technique works, but not in the way anyone expected.

The way the movie is scripted and filmed and acted is perfect. There's not a lot more I can say. (What'd you expect from Stanley Kubrick?)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972)
Despite the see-through costumes and visual effects, this film does something I really, really respect: it holds fast to it's source material. Instead of embellishing on Carroll's work or taking from it, it keeps it intact. (With the forgivable framing of Mr. Dodgson taking the Liddell sisters for a boat ride, the puzzling disappearance of the Cheshire Cat scene, and the odd addition of the Tweedles, the only concession this movie makes to Through the Looking Glass.) It features great performances by future Phantom Michael Crawford as the White Rabbit, and Bond-girl-to-be Fiona Fullerton as Alice. There are short songs and diddies that occur, some derived from Carroll, some based on lines from the book ("Off with it's head! Off with it's head! Mutilate it! Decapitate it! We'll be much better off with it dead!"), and some completely new ones. The biggest problem with this movie is that most home video releases use an exceptionally poor print.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Peter Weir's atmospheric film is chilling and enthralling. The movie circles around the mysterious disappearance of some schoolgirls and a teacher at the rock formation known as Hanging Rock. Some live with the mystery, some embrace it, but what is certain is that things will never be the same.

The movie has a gentle yet eerie pace. Soft classical music and the panpipes of George Zamphir heighten the mood. The acting from all the cast is perfect, but the most imposing character is the Rock itself. It is menacing and entrancing all at the same time.

Back to the Future (1985)
Did you expect it not to be here? In an entertaining and engaging tale, director Bob Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale spin a sci-fi adventure tale, with action, and even a romantic plot, making this a movie that does it all, and does it well.

The movie was followed up by a 2-part sequel in 1989 and 1990, titled Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III. The sequel picks up right where the first one left off and takes the audience far into the future and even farther into the past.

Did I mention the amazing performances of Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and Tom Wilson?

Shallow Grave (1994)
Danny Boyle's first feature film, and the first movie written by John Hodges. This gently-paced thriller takes on the adage "Never involve friends in matters of money." Three flatmates in Edinburgh take on a fourth. They wake up one morning and find him dead and a suitcase full of money. They're faced with the choice of reporting it to the police for proper body removal and confiscation of the money, or they can dispose of the body their own way, and keep the money for themselves.

Although there are some turns and the characters aren't too well developed, I just can't get enough of this one.

Forgotten Silver (1995)
Peter Jackson's mockumentary of an overlooked New Zealand film making pioneer is hilarious, engaging and touching. You find yourself wishing it was true. The tale they weave of Colin McKenzie, who supposedly made the first sound film, the first color movie, and the first feature-length movie is that engaging and well-told.

Well-shot silent footage (that was also brilliantly artificially aged), accompanied by commentary by Colin's widow, a woman who appeared in one of his films, film archivists and critics (including Leonard Maltin) add to the deception.

Trainspotting (1996)
This film offers a powerful look at the life of junkies by not being blatantly anti-drug. It also offers a stellar soundtrack! The movie follows the misadventures of Mark Renton and his friends as they make the decision whether or not to "Choose Life."

Honestly, the narrative of the movie pales compared to the novel by Irvine Welsh. What we wind up with is something that is considerably different from it's source, but still very respectful to it.

Spider-Man (2002)
This is, in my opinion, the way to do a superhero movie. Get a great story and a great cast (I don't care if Kirsten Dunst isn't a match for the Mary Jane of the comics). The hero's origin is related dramatically, altered a bit for screen, and does not drag through the movie. In addition, they handle the villain well, a great match for the hero, but the villain is not played down and robbed of screen time, and is not exactly a completely unsympathetic character.

So far, there have been two additional movies made in this series. Spider-Man 2 (2004) is often considered the best of the three, as it deftly handled handled the question "What if a superhero didn't want to be a hero anymore?" Spider-Man 3 (2007) is generally considered a let down, as it got bogged down with three villains who each could have handled their own film, and a conflict for the hero that needed more fleshing out. (The whole Peter Parker dressing in black and dancing thing could have gone, too.) Spider-Man 4 is expected for 2011.

EDIT: Unable to decide on a script, Spider-Man 4 has been shelved, and a new series of films based on the character will be produced.

Waiting... (2005)
A disturbing and engaging look at a day in the life of working-class America. The movie follows the crew of a night shift at ShenaniganZ restaurant who are working their jobs and making decisions that could change their lives.

The cast is hilarious (some viewers seem to have some emotional baggage about the cast, though) and perform excellently. The script is witty and makes the movie easy to relate to for anyone who's worked in a restaurant or a similar job. Music is used effectively to convey the action and thoughts of the characters. The thing that may drive some people away is the food-tampering scenes and "The Game."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Curious Case of the Video of this Week

I have been uploading at lease one video a week to my not-at-all Ozzy YouTube channel, JaredofMO, but this week's video has an interesting history.

First off, it might help if you see this video:

My sister and her friends filmed that in 2006, while they were on a Missions Trip to Jeruco, Mexico. Incidentally, it was the first video on YouTube that would turn up if you searched for "Jeruco." (There are now many other videos.) The score was done by a musician they'd met while they were there.

It was while Audrey was in Mexico that year that I decided she and I should look into moving out, but that's not important right now.

The next year, they went back, the guys were gone, and some new kids were with them. They filmed a new video, with a different idea. It would be more like random sketches than an actual plot. Shortly after she returned, though, things got kind of serious with her and Shaun, and she didn't get a chance to put it together.

The footage was taken from the camera, put on the computer, then later, I put it on a DVD+R disc.

A couple weeks ago, I found it and asked Audrey if she'd mind if I took a shot at putting it together. She said, "You probably would anyways," so she said I could.

Audrey says it's "funneh," but she misses the title and credits... I sent her the video file I made it from and we'll see if she does anything with it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Taco and Chili recipes ... my way

Unlike your stereotypical bachelor, I actually cook. Here's a couple recipes I've done.

~1 lb. ground turkey (or beef, I prefer turkey because it's leaner and the flavor of the seasoning is more noticeable)
~1 packet taco seasoning
~Toasted taco shells (or, if you're just doing taco salad, you can use tortilla chips)
~1 can diced tomatoes and chiles (the spicier, the better)
~Shredded cheese
~Shredded lettuce (I often go without this, as I tend not to buy fresh vegetables, since they spoil before I use them)

Brown the ground turkey with the tomatoes and chiles. Drain the mixture when it's done cooking, and stir in the taco seasoning. Melt in the cheese.

And... that's all there really is to it. Portion the mixture in the taco shells and top with lettuce, and add salsa if you want it.

For taco salad, crush the shells in a bowl or plate, or use tortilla chips.

~1 lb. ground turkey
~2 cans of red kidney beans or Mexican beans
~Chili seasoning, at least four tablespoons, more or less to taste
~1/3 cup of preserved jalapenos or fresh, sliced jalapenos
~1 can of diced tomatoes and chili

I have two variants for cooking the ground turkey. One is to put the uncooked meat in a crock pot with all other ingredients and enough water to make sure it doesn't burn and let it cook and and stew with the other ingredients. This should only be done if the chili is being made a couple days ahead of time, so no bacteria from the meat survives. The other is to brown the meat conventionally, and then putting all the ingredients in a crock pot.

Yeah... You see, I'm fond of having my chili Frito-pie style, so I came up with baking it so the chili wouldn't make the corn chips soggy. What you do is mix all ingredients in a baking pan (you can do the uncooked ground turkey variation here, but it needs to be thawed), and baking it at 400 degrees for two hours, stirring it occasionally, so the beans don't burn. Make sure the beans and meat are fully cooked to avoid... gastrovascular disasters. :D

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hi Diddle-Lee-Dee...

So, I head out to go to work, and it's raining. Raining hard. So, out comes the umbrella. I wait for the bus, and it keeps raining... HARDER. The bus is late, and the wind is blowing, and suddenly, my umbrella bends! No, not the top part (though that did happen), but the shaft! I manage to straighten it, but now it's pretty short... Time for a new one? I think so...

Finally, the bus arrives, and I'm surprised to see that the driver is the only one in the bus. I pay my fare and get in. At Dillon's supermarket, where this driver usually stops to use the restroom, he gets off and turns to me and says, "There's a Tornado Warning, we gotta get out of the bus."

So, we go into Dillon's. While I'm there, I figure, "Might as well buy some cat food," so I do.

While we're waiting for the storm to blow over, they blare the radio announcements over the intercom, customers and employees gathering at the front.

I almost thought, "It's the end of the world out there."

I don't know why I've been obsessing about the end of the world recently...

The driver turns to me and says, "You didn't really want to go to work today, did you?"

"Are you kidding?" I reply, "No one wants to go to work."

After about twenty minutes, they declare it's safe for us to go. The bus driver and I get back on the bus, and he turns up the street, since it'd be making the bus run REALLY late if he resumed the usual route, and he even dropped me off closer to work that the stop I usually get off at. (I swear, that guy is cool.)

When I got off work (busy!), it was bright and sunny out... Yay... And when I got home, I found my copy of the Platinum Edition of Pinocchio had arrived (along with a certain book by a certain author who I'd didn't think I'd be reading from so soon). Right now, it's sitting with another DVD I'd bought, Iron Man. So, there's a movie about a wooden boy and a man who dresses in metal... Huh...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Being Human

I guess I gotta give a shout-out to my Glasgow friend (or is the proper term Glaswegian? Ach, no one cares) Al Cook. I've done a lot of linkage to his blog and other sites he's on and talked about him a lot on my Oz blog, but not so much here. Yeah, he recommended some books I've read, and he's commented on here, but that's it.

Anyways, this blog entry he wrote led me to look up the show he was talking about. (Go read it...)

This show isn't aired anywhere in the US, but I managed to get hold of it by some uncommon means. (I can do R2 DVDs.)

I'm not going to make this a long, indepth review, but this is what I will say: this is one of the freshest ideas I've seen for a TV series in a long time and I found myself enjoying it immensely!

I don't think it could be aired in the US, as each episode was about 56 minutes long. In the US, shows that run for an hour are actually about 40-42 minutes long, maybe 45. In addition, they use some language and visuals that the freakin' FCC (Ha ha! Family Guy reference!) wouldn't approve of. (Or maybe, I don't know how cable's content rules are.)

Maybe some things are better left in the UK... But we don't get stuff like that in the US!

EDIT: Turns out BBC America is getting this, so I've decided to get cable.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Clockwork Orange

Well, this didn't raise any eyebrows or get any weird remarks. I guess my co-workers just take it for granted now that I read weird books.

Well, actually, A Clockwork Orange isn't so weird, though the edition I bought does have a weird cover. This is one book you've probably heard of, and maybe you've seen the (awesome) Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation.

The book is set in the future, just when is uncertain. (Due to a model of car that is mentioned, some set it in the late 1990's.) It's suggested early on in the book that the human race now also inhabits the moon. Thankfully, the events of the story stay on Earth.

The story is told in the first person by the main character, Alex. We open with him and his "droogs" (they are a gang) drinking drugged milk, then going out to commit random acts of violence, including the rape of a woman in her own home in front of her husband.

The story then contrasts Alex's night life with his life by day: he skips school by feigning illness (this is followed with a visit from Alex's parole officer), then he goes to pick up a music album at a store, and in the process, meets two young girls who he takes home and has his way with.

The next part of the book makes an interesting point. Alex's droogs make his position in the gang feel threatened, so he gets back at them, doing a bit an act of violence to prove he is the Alpha Male of the group. This behavior is typical of mankind, though, as we always try to prove ourselves the master.

Alex then goes to an old lady's house to burgle it, when he is met by the lady. When he tries to escape her, he accidentally murders her. His droogs beat him and leave him for the police.

Alex goes to prison and stays there for two of his fourteen years. He confides in the prison chaplain, who is something of a moral compass for Alex. Rather than forcing religion on Alex (though he does call Alex a brother in J.C.), he serves as a moral compass, saying that reformation comes from a personal choice. He even warns Alex when he shows interest in the Ludovico Technique that when a man is deprived of the choice to do good or evil, he is no longer a man.

Alex gets to be the first person to undergo the Ludovico Technique for reforming criminals. Being properly nourished, the subject is strapped to a chair and their eyes are held open and they are forced to watch films of violence until they are repulsed by the thought of it.

This is what happens to Alex, and in about two weeks, he is declared reformed and ready to re-enter society. In a test, he buckles instantly to a bully, and is repulsed at his urges when a ... beautiful woman comes onstage.

So, Alex goes back to his parents, who were uninformed of his arrival. He discovers that all of his belongings were seized by the police to be sold to care for Alex's victim's cats. Even worse, a lodger now has Alex's room, and he claims he's more like a son to Alex's parents than Alex was. Unable to stand up for himself, Alex leaves.

That really struck me as a low blow for the character. Alex was thinking his parents would be surprised to see him return and pleased at his reformation, but instead, he just gets turned out onto the street. And here we find a surprise: you care about what happens to Alex now. Sure, just a matter of pages ago, you were shocked at his violence and despised just about every action, and now you feel bad for him. Well, hold on, kids, it gets worse.

Alex discovers his once-favorite classical music sickens him (the music in the films he watched is now being recognized as torture by his psyche), and he briefly considers suicide, before realizing that he probably couldn't do it, since the very thought of violence sickens him.

He goes to a library, but a librarian who he and his droogs had attacked early in the book recognizes him, and he and other old men beat Alex, until they are stopped by the police, who turn out to be Alex's former droog Dim and his former rival Billyboy. They also beat him and leave him on his own.

Alex manages to find refuge with a writer named Mr. Alexander, who turns out to be the husband of the woman that Alex and the droogs raped early on. He reveals that she died, and calls her and Alex victims of the modern age.

Alex tries to avoid letting Mr. Alexander discover what he did in the past, but he accidentally drops clues. Mr. Alexander begins to piece it together when a couple of reporters arrive and interview Alex. They take him to a room in a house and lock him in, and then blare classical music, eventually forcing Alex to jump.

He awakes in a hospital, where not only is he recovering from the injuries of his fall, but they are also reversing the effects of the Ludovico Technique. His parents invite him to stay with them again, as their boarder has left. The minister deals with Alex to avoid bad publicity by offering him a cushy job with a good salary.

Now, in early American editions, this is about where the novel ends, with Alex being practically restored to status quo, and as the movie was based on an American edition, that is where it also ended. But there was an additional chapter in all other countries, which is now in American editions as well. I, of course, went for one of these later editions.

The last chapter opens like the first, Alex with a new gang of droogs, but now, acts of violence fail to interest Alex. He runs into his old friend Pete, who has settled down and gotten married. Alex finds this peaceful life appealing, and decides to pursue it, even though, if he has children, they could make all the mistakes he made.

I found the last chapter to be the logical conclusion, as I couldn't really accept that Alex would just go back to his old life with no effects after everything he'd been through. After all, by reversing the effects of the Ludovico Technique, Alex now has the power to choose again, which brings us to the meaning of the title. Without that last chapter, the ending is open, where Alex could go one way or another with his life. Thus, the last chapter could be viewed as redundant.

Now to write what the heck the title means. "Clockwork" of course, suggests machinery, which is usually set to work one way. "Orange," in the title, is a metaphor for human beings, quoting the author: "an organism lovely with colour and juice." So, the title is talking about a human being set to do only one thing, deprived of choice. So, that's why the weird title.

The book uses slang called "Nadsat," which is loosely based on Russian words. This was done to prevent dating the book. It's a little difficult at first to catch on to, but it grows on the reader.

The movie was a very faithful adaptation, with some forgivable (for the casual viewer, anyways) changes. One subtle addition made was how obsessed with sex this future world has become, seen in the erotic art that is practically everywhere. In a society such as this, sexual crimes such as rape are inevitable. The movie even has Alex killing the old woman (who isn't so old) with a giant porcelain phallus, practically the ultimate way of saying "I am the Man!" (One last note on the movie, Malcolm McDowell was awesome as Alex.)

The thing I was disturbed about while reading the book is that I can see our society headed the way Burgess predicted it. Just this last week I read this in Dear Abby column:
Recently, I picked up the newspaper, glanced at the front page and an article caught my eye. It was about a disabled man who had been kidnapped and taken to an apartment where he was beaten. It was one of the most disgusting this I have ever read.

Not long after that, I saw another article. This time it was about a mentally challenged man who was lured from his bus stop to a deserted street, then beaten and robbed. Knowing these things happen makes me sad, angry and turns my stomach.
There is hope however. That was sent in by a 13-year old girl, asking how she could help.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine Flu

Okay, people asked me what I thought of the swine flu. Well, here's what I've got to say:

The media has blown it all out of proportion. It's an illness, and thanks for letting us know, but would you mind telling people that, as with most viruses or sicknesses, if treated soon, you can recover. And likely, you will. This is flu, not cancer or AIDS!