Monday, January 30, 2012


WAR HORSE is the best John Ford film that John Ford never made.

There's a lot to like in the film, especially if you are an animal lover. The animals are the best actors in the movie. All the tech categories are astounding, most notably the cinematography, score and sound design. But the film runs too long. (Who the hell decided movies should be tow and half hours long?) And the film plods badly when it's about the humans. Stick to the horses in a horse movie. The people's characters are as thin as the paper they were written on.

But the love of the horse overcomes the blasé humans, and makes the film watchable. Yes, it's formulaic, but most of the formula works, even John Williams' heavy handed score. If you can watch this film without a handkerchief, you are not a human being.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


THE GIRL and her DRAGON ASS are featured well in the film THE GIRL WITH  THE DRAGON TATTOO, the American remake of the original film.

I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by this version. I liked the original quite a bit, and feared a remake, thinking there was no reason to do it. Yet this film is a better made movie in every way, including the casting of almost every part, but the American version does have one fatal flaw; the explicit violence of the original is much more affecting.

The narrative in this film is much better, as is the visual design (although typically for Fincher, I had problems with both the light and the dialogue levels being too low). However the sound design was outstanding, and the music was surprisingly affective as well.

My major hope when I heard they were doing American versions was that they would make the sequels better than the comparatively weak originals. (Full disclosure, I have not read any of the books.) I still have that hope, and now it's even higher. Unfortunately since this film did not do well in the US, there's a chance there may be no sequels.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


THE INTERRUPTERS is an excellent but difficult-to-watch documentary about violence on the streets of Chicago, and, more importantly, a group of individuals who have chosen to intervene on behalf of non-violence.

Like any good documentary, I learned a lot from this film. First off I had no idea just how bad Chicago's violence has become. It's stunning. But even more interestingly, it's amazing to me that these Interrupters literally walk into armed fights in the streets and try to stop them, and with an amazing degree of success. There are a number of interesting characters in the film, but it does have one flaw. It runs too long. A good half hour could have been cut out and included as bonus material. I think they felt the need to follow too many characters too closely. At some point the violence and emotion stop getting the desired reaction because it's just to much for an audience to swallow in one sitting.

But I still highly recommend the film.

Monday, January 23, 2012


A BETTER LIFE is a great little indie film about how difficult life is for immigrants in Los Angeles. Many of us who spend time in Los Angeles are surrounded by people like the characters in this story, the people who mow the lawns, wash the dishes, and clean our homes, but we never really see how they lead their lives. I spent my first 3 years in Los Angeles living near USC amongst people like this but never really got to know any of them.

Yet their story is universal, as it was when my grandparents moved to this country almost 100 years ago. They came here looking for one thing, a better life for their children. I can't imagine how difficult it is to give up everything you have and know to go to a strange country where you don't even speak the language. But that's what my grandparents did. As Polish (and Irish) immigrants, they were the bottom caste at the time that they moved here. Since then, whatever the latest round of immigration brings has always found its way to the bottom. In Los Angeles, that would be the Mexican immigrants.

The main characters in the film are very good. If there's any criticism, it's that the film is a little slow and simple, almost predictable, as they encounter all of the problems one would expect for illegal immigrants. The saving grace is the acting; the performances are extraordinary, and could quite possibly create Oscar nominations.

I highly recommend this film, especially to Angelinos.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


NAMM is always a blast. I get to see a ton of new music products, especially technologies, and hear some good bands. This year I also got to go to the TEC awards.

It was a lot of fun but there was not any new product that really blew me away. But I will be back next year!

Friday, January 20, 2012


SUPER 8 is a super film. I was very pleasantly surprised. On seeing the trailer, I had thought, "I lived through the 70s, I've seen this all before," but watching the actual film was a much more enjoyable experience than I had expected. Although I think it helped that my wife and I played a drinking game that each time there was a lens flare, we had to sip some wine.

It's as though someone took the best of Spielberg's early films and put them in a blender (Close Encounters, ET, and a little bit of Jaws) and then added Alien for taste. The film has a great cast of young'uns, especially the Elle Fanning, who could easily be be nominated for Supporting Actress for two of her scenes. (It's awfully hard for someone that young to be aware enough to give a performance that has three layers at the same time.

I was afraid that the self-reflexive nature of the film would get in the way, but the movie-within-the-movie was not at all a distraction, although the child director seemed to have been discarded as a main character halfway through.

Kyle Chandler is a little goofy (his part is not very well written). And there are a lot of "refrigerator moments" as Hitchcock used to say, where later that night you think about plot points that don't make sense, but in the flow of the movie they are fine.

Definitely worth a rental if you have not seen it yet.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

CES 2012

CES 2012 (the Consumer Electronics Show) for 2012 was a little bit of a letdown. Granted I was there for the last day (like last year) but it did not seem as busy or well-attended as usual, and the technologies present did not seem to be game-changers. Probably the biggest thing covered in the media was the influx of Netbooks, which are really not a new idea, along with thinner flat-screen TVs, and 3D viewing systems. Perhaps the only new thing was 3D printing, which is still in its infancy and is probably not really ever going to take off to mainstream users anyway.

But Vegas is also fun.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


HUGO is one of the best films I have seen in a long, long time. It is everything THE ARTIST wanted to be but failed upon. This film has rich characters, complex situations, and visual and aural beauty. It has a great original score by Howard Shore, and fantastic sound work by Tom Fleischman.

The film is truly an homage to the great films of yesteryear. The visual beauty is the culmination of a lot of different work: Cinematography, set design, costume, and visual effects. It is truly moving. The cast is excellent, particularly, the kids.

I saw the film in 2D because my wife and I both hate 3D. I cannot imagine how putting this film in 3D could make it any better. The cinematography implied plenty of depth without the need for headache-inducing gimmickry.

I highly recommend the film to everyone.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


THE ARTIST has everything I love in a movie. It's silent. (Much like Gary Rydstrom, I somehow wound up doing sound on movies even though I was originally attracted to film because of silent geniuses like Keaton and Hitchcock).

And it's got a cure, heroic dog. Not as cute as our Riley, but Riley is not as well trained.

But the film is not perfect, and it's certainly not best picture material. When did it become acceptable to lift entire musical sequences from famous films and recycle them as your own? (I'm looking at you, AMERICAN HORROR STORY.) Is it really that hard to be original?

There's a lot I liked about the movie, especially the historical references, but one of the reasons that the silent era died was that the stories were often too simple and melodramatic. (Not the great ones, of course.) But this movie commits the same sins, the two main characters are pretty one-dimensional, and their actions are all very predictable. Maybe the director should have watched Murnau more than Chaplin.

Nonetheless, I highly recommend the film for fans of Hollywood history. It's a lot of fun.

Friday, January 06, 2012



It's nice to see a new Indiana Jones film, made by the best director of action sequences, Steven Spielberg, and without a crappy script by Steven Spielberg. It almost cleanses the pallet from that crappy fourth film with the aliens, or whatever they were. 

Of course this isn't an Indy film, in fact, in many ways, it's the grand-daddy of all action films, a comic book brought to life. To be honest, when I saw the trailer, I thought I would hate the 3D-style animation instead of the comic style, but I was immediately impressed just with the title sequence. The story is rock-solid, and the adaptation is great. The cast is very good and the animation is outstanding. John Williams' score is good too. 

It's a shame that this film didn't do well in the US. I guess not enough Americans know Tintin, or are not interested in an older story with a mostly European cast. I definitely recommend the film to everyone. Perhaps my only criticism is that some of the violence is actually too toned-down, that it is aimed towards kids. It would have been better as a PG-13 film.