Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part III: 80-71

80. The Ten Commandments 1956
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Starring: Charlton Heston
Synopsis: Moses tries to lead the Jews out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.
Review: If you know me at all then you know that despite my mother's best efforts, I am not a religious person. But that doesn't stop me from admiring this biblical epic which will always hold a special place in my heart. Every year this movie is aired on TV around Easter and every year I tried to sit through the whole thing. When I finally accomplished this goal (after many, many tries) it was like a rite of passage for me. I was no longer a child anymore. I had officially developed an attention span and could sit still for over four hours. There is no shortage of memorable scenes including the brutal whipping of the Jewish slaves, the rage of Moses when he comes back down Mount Sinai with the titular laws, and of course the parting of the Red Sea. Its an awe-inspiring film that lives up to its epic status.

79. Arsenic and Old Lace 1944
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane
Synopsis: A man on his wedding day discovers that his kindly aunts are serial killers and his entire family is pretty much insane.
Review: As the synopsis suggests, this is a rather bizarre movie. I guess that's why they call them screwball comedies. You wouldn't think that a movie about homicidal maniacs would make for lighthearted fare, but there you have it. Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, the only normal person in his family who, as he uncovers the depths of his family's madness, begins to go mad himself. He has to save his beloved aunts, get his younger brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt into a mental institution, and fend off the murderous advances of his older brother who's escaped from prison, all while trying to keep things hidden from his new wife. As things get worse and worse for him, it gets funnier and funnier for us. Of course, everything turns out alright in the end. Well, sort of. For me, its the zany plot and larger-than-life characters that make this movie so much fun to watch.

78. The Princess Bride 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright
Synopsis: A grandfather tells a story to his ailing grandson about the adventures of The Dread Pirate Roberts and Princess Buttercup.
Review: Despite the protestations of some men who are insecure with their sexuality, I believe that this film truly has mass appeal regardless of gender or upbringing. It has a little bit of something for everyone: adventure, comedy, romance, fantasy, and suspense. The story is great and well-crafted, taking elements of popular fairy tales and mixing them together to create something that is both familiar and new. Every character, even the minor ones, are memorable and Cary Elwes makes a great leading man reminiscent of Douglas Fairbanks from the days of silent films. Also, I think it was terribly clever of them to embed the main story within the frame of a boy listening to his grandpa tell the story, interrupting it at times to voice his opinion. Not only is this in keeping with the tradition of how these types of stories were first told (and still are), but it also brings the audience into the story in an interesting way that allows for a greater level of interaction. In a word, this is a charming film.

77. Full Metal Jacket 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D'Onofrio
Synopsis: A group of young men are sent to boot camp and then shipped off to fight in Vietnam. Review: Whenever you see a drill sergeant type character who never speaks, but only yells, you have Full Metal Jacket to thank. Ermey gives what is easily one of the top ten most memorable performances in cinematic history and for that reason alone this film is worthy to make the list. But on top of that, this film tells a dark and chilling story of the dehumanizing effects of army life. Most critics tend to view the first half as being superior to the second, and I partly agree. There is a bit of a disconnect between the first part which takes place at boot camp, and the second part which is set in Vietnam, which makes it feel as though you are watching two completely different movies. But I think the second half stands up on its own with some memorable scenes, especially the one with the Vietnamese prostitute (set to the tune of "These Boots Are Made for Walking"), the harrowing scene with the child sniper, and the final shot with the squad marching while singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme.

76. Animal House 1978
Director: John Landis
Starring: John Belushi, Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Tim Matheson
Synopsis: A bunch of slackers try to save their frat house.
Review: The first, and probably the best, National Lampoon movie which launched the whole rauchy teen comedy genre as well as toga parties. Its major themes include sex, drinking, dorm life, sex, sticking it to the man, and sex. These themes have not reflected my post-secondary experience (though being president of the Board Game Club, I don't think my post-secondary experience is the norm), but that doesn't stop it from being absolutely hilarious. John Belushi steals the show as the perpetually drunk and staggeringly stupid, Bluto. His every movement and word cracks me up. My other favourite character is Flounder, who is the most lovable loser in a gang of lovable losers. This movie also features of the greatest endings ever and one of the greatest musical numbers ever.

75. Shrek 2001
Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Starring: Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Synopsis: An ogre saves a princess in order to save his home in the swamp.
Review: More than just a simple parody of fairy tale cliches, Shrek actually tells an interesting story in its own right that calls into question much of what we take for granted in our stories such as notions of beauty, chivalry, and good versus evil. But enough of this pretentious reading between the lines. This is a children's cartoon movie afterall. That being said, I do believe that it launched (or at least popularized) a growing trend towards animated films geared for adults, and for this reason I think it has an important place in the history of animated cinema. But more than this, its a really funny movie with some really funny characters. Just ignore the sequels.

74. Pirates of the Caribbean 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keria Knightly, Geoffery Rush
Synopsis: A washed-up pirate helps a blacksmith save his girlfriend from undead pirates.
Review: The main point to this movie is watching Johnny Depp's performance of what has already become one of cinema's most iconic characters, Captain Jack Sparrow. Nobody really cares about Orlando Bloom trying to rescue Keira Knightly. The ghost pirates are pretty cool and Barbossa makes for a good villain (its hard to go wrong with Rush), but when you go to see a movie about pirates, you want to see swashbuckling adventures on the high seas, and Captain Jack does all this and more. This movie isn't really deep or revolutionary, but it makes up for this with some strong characters, a decent story, and a lot of good fun. Just ignore the sequels.

73. American Graffiti 1973
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith
Synopsis: Four friends hit the town one last time before they all go off to college.
Review: To me, this movie isn't about the story or the characters, though the multiple intertwining narratives are interesting, its really all about capturing the spirit of a generation (or zeitgeist if you will). I wouldn't say the early 60's (when the movie is set) were a more innocent time (though some nostalgic Americans may disagree), but it was the end of an era before JFK was assassinated, before the civil rights movement took off, before the Vietnam War, and before a major cultural shift. Just as you can't go back to your youth, there's no going back to this period in American history. Lucas does a fine job encapsulating this culture of fast cars, burger joints, cruising the strip, and of course the music. Ah, the music. This movie may very well have the best soundtrack ever. It definitely makes the top three.

72. The Grapes of Wrath 1940
Director: John Ford
Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell
Synopsis: A poor, dustbowl era family is forced off their land and head to California where they suffer the full brunt of The Great Depression.
Review: Not exactly an uplifting film, unless you enjoy watching people get beat down over, and over again by an uncaring, and sometimes even spiteful society. In which case you probably need more help than I do. But it is this very suffering which makes the film so moving. You can't help but feel for Tom Joad (Fonda) and his family as they go through hell just to get a scrap of bread and continue pushing forward despite all that they've lost. Even though this movie is old, and The Great Depression is not as immediate to us as it was to the 1940's audience, I still feel an emotional connection to the film. In many ways its message is still applicable today especially in relation to disenfranchised groups like immigrant labourers. The movie does has an uplifting ending with Tom vowing in a famous monologue to fight injustice as he escapes the clutches of the authorities, and Ma Joad (Darwell) resolving never to give up and to keep on trucking onwards in yet another famous monologue. Its not an ending that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside, but it does leave you filled with hope for the future.

71. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948
Director: John Huston
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt
Synopsis: Three prospectors head off into Mexico in search of gold.
Review: This is the movie where I get my celebrated crazy prospector impression from, but more than that its also really, really good. The trio of men set out as friends, but as they get closer to finding the titular treasure their bonds begin to break apart. What begins as an external battle against bandits and nature, turns into an internal one against the greed that slowly begins to consume them. Bogart, who normally plays the hero, gives a rare turn as the villain and gives an excellent performance as a man who gives up every shred of humanity for the sake of gold. Its more than just a western or a cautionary tale, its a descent into Hell.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Heroes Who Contributed to the World of Warcraft Fund

For those of you who remember the World of Warcraft fund, you'll know that this post is long overdue. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, I'll fill you in. While still in high school, my friend Zach was facing a dilemma: his WoW time was about to expire and his parents had forbidden him from buying any more as they felt it interfered with his studies. But Zach didn't want to stop playing WoW, so the gears in his mind began to turn, trying to find a way to weasel himself into more WoW without his parents finding out. That was when he discovered that Blizzard had this policy where if you 'resurrect' the account of a friend who hasn't played WoW in over 6 months, then they'd give you a free month of playtime. That was when he noticed that I had quit playing WoW almost a year ago. He tried to convince me to come back to the game, but unfortunately for him I refused to pay by the month for any game, and he didn't want to shell out forty bucks just so that he could play the game for an extra month. So we arrived at a compromise: If I could raise half the money necessary to buy a game card, Zach would pay for the other half. And thus began The Zach and Tristan Playing World of Warcraft Fund. I am both proud and ashamed to say that I was successful. God is great. I told people that in exchange for donating any sum of money, I'd post their name on a website proclaiming them heroes. Here is that list in order of highest to smallest donation:

Natalie Lau - 7.27$ (Truly, Natalie is the greatest of the great.)
Alex Gibson - 4.75$
Zach Cochrane - 4.23$ (This does not include the remainder that he paid once the fund was completed.)
Taylor Laan - 3.00$
Andrew Cole - 2.57$
Radyrick Canicula - 2.31$
Jocelyn Rintoul - 1.14$
Tristan Harris - 1.10$ (Despite my best efforts, I did end up paying for some of my WoW time, if only not to seem like a complete jackass. But I would like to point out that for my 7+ months of WoW playing time, I only paid 1.10$. To put that in perspective, everybody above me on this list, contributed more to me playing WoW than I did. I am an abomination unto the Lord.)
Hayley Salo - 1.00$
Mannu Shah - 1.00$
Trevor Da Silva - 0.88$
Wez Norman - 0.61$
Mike Ledesma - 0.37$
Aurash Yazdgerdian - 0.36$ (Aurash loves his money more than Jesus loves all of us. To have him part even with this small sum is an incredible honour.)
Justin Casol - 0.35$
Chris Beavis - 0.30$
Anna Frederikson - 0.15$
Matt Sine - 0.10$
Spenser Huang - 0.08$
Simeng Sun - 0.07$
Caprice Durose - 0.04$
Sam Oh - 0.02$
Damian Craig - 0.01$ (Damian actually made money on this venture as we had a few pennies left over in the end which we gave to him.)
Kevin Rey - 0.01$ (last and least)

Total: 31.72$

Congratulations Heroes! Your names and your charity shall live on forever. God has a special place in heaven laid out for you. Bonus points to whoever can best describe their profound disappointment in me for participating in this pathetic venture.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Transformers is a Terrible Movie

What's this? I'm actually doing a movie review? Like the original purpose of my blog was supposed to be? You better believe it! But before I get started, I'd like to apologize to my friend Kevin Rey who will undoubtedly take this post as a personal attack and subsequently be offended. I'd also like to apologize to Kevin for suggesting that he is too sensitive to criticism in the previous sentence, when in fact he just doesn't know how to take a joke. I'd like to once again apologize to Kevin for stating that he cannot take a joke. He can take a joke so long as you apologize to him for it beforehand. I'm sorry. With that out of the way, let's begin the review!

Let's begin with the most obvious fact about this movie. Transformers is a special effects extravaganza and that's it. It doesn't pretend or even try to be anything more than this. So if you like that sort of thing, then good for you. I like to think of movies more as art than a shallow form of entertainment, but that's just me. But even as entertainment I think it fails, but perhaps I am not being fair. When I see a movie that's all glitz with no substance, then I am predisposed to dislike it and quickly become bored. Which is what happened when I was dragged to see this. But let's pretend for a second that my brain was rendered numb by the visuals to the point where I couldn't see the film's glaring shortcomings. It's still not the kind of film that would stand the test of time, because it's not really entertainment, but novelty. And eventually the novelty wears off, revealing the lack of story, interesting characters, strong dialogue, and everything else you normally associate with good, entertaining movies. Speaking of which, let's get into how this movie has no story, interesting characters, or strong dialogue.

I guess I am being a little harsh. This movie does have a story, it's just an incredibly silly one that barely makes any sense. Here's my summary of the plot to Transformers: A boy with a tiny penis buys a nice looking car which actually turns out to be a giant robot. They become best friends. His robot friend shows the boy with the tiny penis some of his other robo buddies. They all become friends. Some evil robots come to Earth to find some cube that does some shit. The good robots confront the evil robots. EXPLOSIONS!!!! The story is as bland as it is predictable. It's impossible to get involved with or care about what's going on because its so ridiculous and uninteresting. I am pretty sure Michael Bay took most of his inspiration from a monster truck rally he saw when he was five. Actually, that would explain a lot.

This paragraph is going to be all about the characters, so its going to be short. The main character lacks any personality beyond the fact that he's generic. Just as Bella Swan is a blank slate upon which prepubescent girls can project themselves, the boy with the tiny penis is a blank slate upon which prepubescent boys can project themselves. You hear that? Transformers is Twilight for guys! Need more proof? Megan Fox is in this movie. Megan Fox is an actress in the same way that Glenn Beck is a stand-up comedian, so she's pretty much just there for eye candy. Which is completely redundant in a movie about giant killer robots. Speaking of which, the robots are either one of two personality types: lawful good or chaotic evil, which as you may notice aren't personalities, but alignments. This is so that way the audience doesn't have to think about motivation or context for the characters. This movie really doesn't want you to think. There's also some other minor characters who only show up when they need to advance the plot. And by advance the plot I mean, get from robots not fighting to robots fighting.

Rather than go on about how terrible the dialogue is, I am just going to link you to the quotes page for Transformers at imdb. It's a fairly complete list of grievances.

In conclusion, this movie is shallower than a birdbath. It's the cinematic equivalent of a shiny object that attracts crows. And once you get bored of how glittery it is, then there's nothing left to do but toss it aside and forget about it. These kind of novelty films have really become a trend recently especially with the advent of 3D. Avatar suffers from similar problems (as I discussed in a earlier review which I am too lazy to provide the link for). I'll even admit that Star Wars (the original), isn't as great as I once thought it was. There I said it. A piece of my childhood just died, but I said it. When you ignore the lasers and explosions, it becomes apparent that the acting isn't all that great, the story isn't all that original, and there are more than a few silly bits. But even if you do strip away the special effects, at least the world is imaginative, the story is decent despite its lack of originality, and there's no shortage of memorable characters. An example of a movie that gets it right is Lord of the Rings. The special effects are impressive, but never to the point where characters or story take a back seat. Sure the Balrog looks great, but what I really take away from that scene is Gandalf's demise and how it affects the rest of the Fellowship. Gollum is amazing, but not because of how well they animated him, but of how engaging his character is. This conclusion is almost longer than the rest of the article, so I'll end it now the classiest way possible by saying that Transformers is a shit sandwich.

Bonus points to whoever can slander Michael Bay the best.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part II: 90-81

90. Jaws 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider
Synopsis: A trio of men set out to kill a shark terrorizing their town.
Review: When most people mention Jaws, they normally bring up how scary the shark is, and how the reason why its scary is because you never actually see it until the very end. And although the movie is tense, and its methods have had a lasting and influential effect on the horror movie genre, I didn't actually find this movie to be all that terrifying. The part I like the most, and that really sticks with me, is the interaction between the three main characters. Each of them has there own ideas and ways of dealing with their problems, but somehow they have to work together to save the town with their combined knowledge and resources. My favourite scene is when they're on the boat late at night, just talking about their time spent at sea. For a blockbuster horror movie, the dialogue is surprisingly good.

89. The Double Life of Veronique 1991
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Starring: Irene Jacob
Synopsis: Two identical women, living in different countries (Poland/France), who have never met one another, develop a strange connection.
Review: The concepts that this movie deals with can be a little heady and its highly unlikely that anybody really understands exactly what's going on, but then again that's not really the point to this movie. It features a very rich visual and audio landscape which is all nice and good, but the real star is Irene Jacob who I think has done the best acting in any movie I've ever seen. She brings the characters of Veronique/Veronika to life in a way that I cannot really describe despite the fact that she isn't speaking English. (though she does speak French which I can understand). On a side note, Quentin Tarantino apparently thought the same thing when viewing the movie and originally created the role of Fabienne (Bruce Willis' girlfriend) for her.

88. The Blues Brothers 1980
Director: John Landis
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd
Synopsis: Two brothers attempt to raise enough money to save the orphanage where they grew up via music.
Review: The best part about the Blues Brothers is that despite the constant insanity they find themselves in the middle of, they play everything straight. I am pretty sure they don't even crack a smile at any point in this movie, but that doesn't stop them from being hilarious. The second best part about this movie is their rendition of the song "Raw Hide." And the third best part is the car chase at the end which is undoubtedly the funniest car chase in film history. With great music, great laughs, great cameos, and two iconic characters, The Blues Brothers is certainly one of the most fun movies to watch.

87. Batman 1989
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
Synopsis: The Dark Knight does battle with The Joker.
Review: If Tim Burton is directing, then you know the movie is going to be dark and zany, so its no wonder he's behind the first Batman movie. The look and feel of the whole movie is spot on, and I think Burton did a terrific job of bringing Gotham City to life and making it look like how I pictured it in my mind. It's shady and malicious with just a hint of barely suppressed terror. In addition, Keaton does a good job as Batman, but its Nicholson who steals the show as the greatest villain in comic book history, The Joker. He plays the character with a manic brilliance in a way that only Jack Nicholson can. On top of all this, its also a great action movie with a decent story and awesome gadgets.

86. Twelve Angry Men 1957
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda
Synopsis: Twelve jurors deliberate the guilt/innocence of an adolescent accused of murder.
Review: A great drama, and perhaps the greatest reflection on justice ever put to film. The whole movie is a gripping debate between Henry Fonda's character and all the other juror's who, either out of laziness or prejudice, initially find the defendant to be guilty and sentenced to death. Even if you don't care about what the film has to say about the justice system, there are still a lot of interesting and well-developed characters supported by strong dialogue and intense drama to keep the tension high.

85. Tootsie 1982
Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Dustin Hoffman
Synopsis: A struggling actor pretends to be a woman in order to get a role on a soap opera
Review: When crossdressing is involved, you know its a comedy, and Dustin Hoffman makes a surprisingly convincing woman. Had I not known, I can guarantee that I would have been fooled. Like most movies that prominently feature crossdressing, the central theme of Tootsie is gender relations. It takes becoming Dorothy Michaels for Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) to see how women can be, and often are, objectified and marginalized by men, including himself. But if you don't care for social commentary in your movies then have no fear, for as you can expect, plenty of hilarious and awkward situations arise due to Michael's roleplaying, and their is great cast of supporting characters to back up Hoffman, including the always wonderful, Bill Murray.

84. The Best Years of Our Lives 1946
Director: William Wyler
Starring: Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Harold Russell
Synopsis: Three WWII veterans return from war and struggle to fit back in to civilian life.
Review: You see a lot of stories out there about heroic feats or horrific acts of war, but one thing you rarely hear about is what happens to all those soldiers once they come back to their homes. Many return carrying physical and emotional scars which make re-adapting to civilian life quite challenging. I think this film does a good job on encapsulating their experiences, and how it isn't always easy. When one man returns home to his family, its less a happy reunion and more an awkward gettogether. Russell delivers an emotional performance as a man who's lost both of his hands in the army (Russell himself, lost both his hands in the army) which precludes him from ever really fitting in again. This isn't a super happy fun action-packed movie, but it's very moving.

83. Psycho 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins
Synopsis: Murder is afoot at the Bates Motel and a group of investigators try to get to the bottom of it.
Review: This movie is famous for a lot of things: the music, the shower scene, the killing off of the main character in the first half, and the shocking ending (though this movie has become so ingrained in our culture, that most people know how it ends before they see it). Many still consider it to be the greatest horror film ever made, but I must confess, I was hardly phased by it at all (perhaps I'm a bit desensitized). Nevertheless, it still tells a great story with plenty of twists and turns in true Hitchcock fashion. Also, Anthony Perkins is creepy as hell as Norman Bates. Whenever he says, "A boy's best friend is his mother," shivers always run down my spine.

82. Duck Soup 1933
Director: Leo McCarey
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Synopsis: The small, bankrupt nation of Freedonia is taken over by the crazy Rufus T. Firefly.
Review: This is the only Marx Brothers' film I've seen, and I after seeing it I want to see some more. There's not all that much you can say about it. The whole film is a relentless stream of jokes, zaniness, crazy antics, and Groucho spouting off one-liners. Characters and plot don't really matter all that much, and I wouldn't read too far into the political aspect. I am fairly certain it isn't trying to get a message across about the dangers of dictatorships, or satirizing foreign relations. It's just a hilarious movie.

81. Paradise Now 2005
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kais Nashif, Ali Suliman
Synopsis: Two would-be suicide bombers and childhood friends from Palestine try to come to grips with the decision they have made.
Review: The most remarkable part about this film is that despite the polarizing issues it deals with, it does not pass judgement on the characters, their cause, or their actions and say whether they're right or wrong. Their is no glorification or condemnation of violence or martyrdom. The question isn't what they're doing, but why. Throughout the film, the two leads pose themselves this same question and begin to second guess their decisions. As they get closer and closer to their goal, and the stakes get higher, and the job gets harder, and their conscience begins to get the better of them, the tension becomes almost unbearable. It's an insightful and gripping film that's definitely worth the trouble required to find it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Top 101 Movies Part I: 101-91

This post marks the first part of my ten part series: My Top 101 Movies Thus Far. I think the title is pretty self-explanatory. It was hard narrowing the list down, and as I see more films I am sure the list will change. But for the time being, you should make it your life goal to see every movie on this list.

101: The Gods Must Be Crazy 1980
Director: Jamie Uys
Starring: Xi
Synopsis: When an empty Coke bottle drops in the middle of an African tribal village it begins to cause a lot of problems as the villagers squabble over who gets possession of the coveted artifact from above. They decide that it is evil, and one man undertakes a quest to throw the bottle off the edge of the earth.
Review: Some may call this movie quaint or charming, but I call it an epic satire. Epic, due to the nature of the man's quest and all the strange beings and hurdles he encounters. And a satire, because it takes a look at "civilization" from an outsiders perspective, and in the process points out how silly it can all be. This combination ensures that the film never becomes preachy, and for the most part it refrains from promoting the idea of the "noble savage." Overall this movie is just a pleasure to watch.

100: Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World 1963
Director: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and every other comedian of the era.
Synopsis: A random group of motorists find themselves racing against each other across California to find 300 000$ buried under a big W.
Review: This movie certainly lives up to its title in that it is absolutely crazy. Almost every characters is insane and/or a scumbag and they only get worse as the movie progresses and greed begins to overtake them. Some of the best slapstick in all of Hollywood history can be found in this film and for that reason alone I think its worth checking out. Also, the theme music is classic.

99: Rebel Without a Cause 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Starring: James Dean
Synopsis: The new kid in school has trouble fitting in and adhering to social norms.
Review: The ultimate teen angst movie (though The Breakfast Club does give it a run for its money), I find this movie fascinating as it documents a shift in American culture that occurred during the 1950's. You see changes in music, the place of youth in society, and views towards sexuality. All of this leads to a vast generational gap which both parents and children alike have difficulty filling in. Jim Stark (Dean) becomes the posterboy of this generation who doesn't quite fit within societal norms, and finds himself an outcast while simultaneously trying to prove himself to his peers. Its a roller coaster ride of a movie that effectively captures the crisis of identity that all people face at some point in their lives, though Stark's is a bit more explosive. Of course I can't review this movie without mentioning Dean's stellar performance in one of his only three film roles before he tragically died. To illustrate, here's an example of bad acting and here's an example of good acting.

98: The Road Warrior 1981
Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson
Synopsis: Mad Max unwillingly finds himself drawn in to protecting a group of civilians from a vicious gang of oil-seeking cutthroats in a post-apocalyptic Australia.
Review: A brutal and violent film, The Road Warrior doesn't pull any punches in its depiction of society after it has fallen to pieces. But this movie isn't really about the fragility of civilization or the dangers of oil dependence. It's about a man coming to terms with his own humanity. No easy feat when there is so little humanity left in the world. At the beginning he is a reflection of the world he lives in: mad (both in terms of rage and insanity), grim, desperate, and uncaring. It's a world where the only person anyone looks out for is themselves. But when he discovers a peaceful town under siege by marauders, he also slowly begins to rediscover the humanity that he'd lost. Its a harrowing tale and packaged in way that is both appalling and appealing with great action sequences to support the heavy content.

97: It Happened One Night 1934
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert
Synopsis: A spoiled heiress runs away from her sheltered life and joins forces with a reporter who's only interest is the next big scoop. They may or may not fall in love with each other.
Review: If you ever wanted to know where the romantic comedy genre has its roots, then look no further than It Happened One Night. Like most subsequent rom-coms, the whole point to this movie isn't the story, which is rather predictable, but the on-screen chemistry between the two leads. And when it comes to Gable and Colbert, its hard to go wrong, especially when they have such a good script to work with. I especially like how they hint at sex without overtly stating it (the walls of Jericho are coming down). As an aside, this movie is one few to have the distinction of winning "The Big 5" Academy Awards (Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Writing, Director, and Picture)

96: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975
Director: Milos Forman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher
Synopsis: A repeat offender, looking to get off easy, pretends to be insane and enters a mental hospital. There he leads a rebellion against the oppressive Nurse Ratched.
Review: My favourite anti-establishment film which is at once uplifting and depressing. The whole film (and the novel upon which it is based) is an extended metaphor for a society which keeps the people down not through brute force, but by keeping them dumb and making them feel powerless. Jack Nicholson gives a career-making performance as Randal P. McMurphy, a convicted felon on the outside of society who tries to make the best of a bad situation and give his fellow patients a piece of their humanity back. This leads him into direct opposition with Nurse Ratched who's goal is to keep the patients in a cowering state under her thumb. The faceoff between the two is the focal point of the film and provides for some of the best drama I've seen in any film as they struggle to gain ground. I'll leave you to decide who ultimately comes out victorious in this epic battle for supremacy.

95: Ben-Hur 1959
Director: William Wyler
Starring: Charlton Heston
Synopsis: A wealthy Jewish man is betrayed, imprisoned, and sold into slavery by his Roman best friend. He eventually earns his freedom and sets out to seek his revenge.
Review: One of the most epic movies ever made, Ben-Hur features plenty of great scenes (one of my personal favourites takes place on a slave galley), but the grandest of them all is the famous chariot race. Its hard to describe the spectacle in words, so here's a link to it on YouTube. You don't really need to see the rest of the movie to appreciate this scene. Its pretty clear who you're supposed to rooting for (note the colour of the horses) and the scale of the scene is immense. The attention to detail is exquisite, the action is intense, and the whole thing unfolds in real time. The rest of the movie is also amazing, but that chariot race is the icing on the cake.

94: Patton 1970
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: George C. Scott
Synopsis: The biopic of the famed American WWII general and his African campaign.
Review: The nickname for Patton was Blood n' Guts and George C. Scott's epic portrayal of the man certainly lives up to that reputation. The whole point of this movie is just to watch Scott, who's acting is so great that he pretty much becomes the man himself. The famous opening monologue alone was probably enough to earn him the Oscar. Patton was a man who didn't take no guff from nobody and lived by the motto, "my way or the highway," much to the ire of his colleagues and superiors, but nobody could deny his brilliance as a general. He is an immediately likeable character despite his shortcomings and it is Scott's performance which ensures we never lose our faith in him.

93: All About Eve 1950
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter
Synopsis: An ambitious, young, wannabe actress insinuates herself into the good graces of an aging theatre star and her circle of friends.
Review: All About Eve? More like, All About the Evils of Ambition! If you plan on making it to the top, then you have to put aside notions of humanity and friendship, keep you eyes on the prize, using and abusing anybody who can help you along the way before discarding them once their purpose is served. The message comes across in powerful way as you witness Eve's (Baxter) climb to the top through lies and manipulation. However, despite the title, this film is really all about Margo Channing (Davis), who steals the show as the theatre diva, who begins to see Eve's true motives, though a little too late. She tries to fight back, and it costs her a piece of her sanity before she realizes that the only way to stop blind ambition is to let it burn itself out. A great film which takes a dark look at the cult of celebrity, it still resonates today.

92: High Noon 1952
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelley
Synopsis: A retiring sheriff discovers that an old enemy is out of prison and coming to town with his gang to kill him. Unable to back down, despite the pleas of his new wife and the lack of support from his friends, he sets out to meet his fate.
Review: We all know the story of the one brave man who refuses to compromise his beliefs, no matter the cost, but there's something about the way it plays out in High Noon that really sets it apart. I think its how Will Kane (Cooper) has plenty of chances to turn back and get out of town while he still has the chance, and in fact on more than one occasion, he very nearly does, but sees his decision through until the very end, despite the personal cost. And its not just him, but the whole town that is forced to re-evaluate and reconcile its beliefs in duty, justice, and violence with who they really are and what they hold most dear.

91: In the Heat of the Night 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier
Synopsis: A black detective agrees to aid the sheriff of a racist Southern town in a high-profile homicide investigation.
Review: Everybody's favourite buddy cop movie! The main focus, and best part about this film, isn't the murder mystery or even the condemnation of racism (IMO), but the dynamic between Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) and Sheriff Gillepsie (Steiger). Both of them have prejudices to overcome as they learn to work together and although both actors do a terrific job, I find Steiger's performance to be the most gripping. He just seems to fit perfectly as the racist southern officer, and you really come to understand his turmoil as he rethinks his long-held beliefs. It's a great film despite the preachiness that some critics and viewers perceive in it, and I also can't get enough of the line, "They cal me Mr. Tibbs!"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

PAX 2010

For those of you who aren't already aware, I attended PAX in Seattle over the Labour Day weekend. This post will essentially be a travelogue of all the amazingly awesome stuff that happened to me at my second PAX most of which involves Guild Wars 2. I also apologize in advance for all the typographical errors which will almost certainly appear in this post.


My good friend Kevin picked me up along with 3 other really tall guys. It wasn't much fun with all five of us crammed into his car for the six hour journey to Seattle, but nobody complained to much. Kevin had printed off directions to the Peace Arch border crossing, but we somehow ended up at the Sumas border crossing in Abbotsford. Still not 100% sure how that happened. We also got stuck behind this train which couldn't seem to decide what direction it should be heading in, but we took advantage of the situation and got out to have a nice stretch. Once we crossed the border it was smooth sailing to Seattle and our dirt cheap hostel. We met up with some other guys who took the train in (what it lacked in economic soundness it more than made up for with a complimentary beverage) and wandered aimlessly around downtown for a few hours. Damian and I found a parking lot where some DnD stuff was going on and took our picture with a Beholder. We ate dinner at some silly restaurant which doesn't seem to understand how reservations worked and then I caught some much needed sleep. I had to get up early tomorrow if I wanted to be one of the first people to the Guild Wars 2 booth.


My alarm clock failed to wake me on time, so I got dressed, skipped breakfast, and bolted for the convention center. Fortunately for me, there were three doors into the expo hall and I just happened to end up in a line that was situated directly in front in one of said doors. Unfortunately I was alone in a line-up for 2 hours. Or so I thought until Damian came to the rescue by cutting in front of the line. Hooray Damian! We looked through our swag bags, found a pack of magic cards, and played a round. My deck was shit so I lost. My first Guild Wars 2 related encounter occurred when some devs game into the queue hall and started handing out GW2 bandannas. I got all excited and shit, but then ran out just before they got to me. Like literally, the person standing in front of me got a bandanna, but I didn't.

My disappointment quickly dissipated however when the doors open and I sprinted to the GW2 booth. I was one of the first people there and didn't have to wait in a line to have my turn, so that made me super happy. I rolled a human elementalist of the nobility and had a blast playing through some dynamic events and personal story missions. Based on first impressions, the game lived up to all the hype. After 40 minutes, my playtime was up and I was given a bandanna, so my fretting earlier was all for nothing. I spent the next while tyring to figure out how to get into the GW2 panel. I found a dev who was handing out collectible cards and trivia competition tickets (or silver tickets as I call them) if they could answer some Guild Wars related questions. If I got the question right to get the silver ticket, then I could attend said competition. If I answered 2 out of 3 questions correctly there, then I'd win a (golden) ticket to the GW2 panel . Did you follow that? If not, then you probably don't care anyway so you can just skip ahead. So my question was, "Over what continent did the Primeval Kings rule over?" which is obviously Elona, and thus I won the silver ticket. I still had some time to kill before my first panel, so I played some stupid MMO called Rift, which after GW2 seemed like crap (though it was very prettiful) and an older game called Two Worlds, which was also crap, but I got a T-shirt out of it.

The first panel was Make a Scene with Telltale. While waiting in line for that, I was pulled aside by some enforcers to participate in a trivia competition. The first question was, "What was Captain Jean-Luc Picard's borg designation?" and I buzzed in and said, "Locusta," even though I knew the answer was Locutus. I was extremely disappointed in myself. But that's okay, because I got that Red and Blue were the first two Pokemon games and that Spore and SimCity were both designed by Will Wright. Alas, I still lost to the guy standing to my right and only won two buttons. The panel itself was also pretty cool. We cobbled together a half decent scene featuring characters from almost every Telltale game (Monkey Island, Sam & Max, Strong Bad, etc.) which ended with Tycho (from Penny Arcade) turning into a Velociraptor.

After that it was back to the show floor for some Little Big Planet 2, LotRO, and some robot fighting game who's name I forget despite the fact that it was actually pretty fun. Soon it was time for the GW2 Trivia Competition and shit was I nervous. If I didn't win a golden ticket then PAX would be a big fat failure for me. I was 17th in line and while I waited for my turn I traded cards with people standing around me while discussing the difficulty of the questions and how much we were going to fail. The guy in front of lost, which made me sad since he was a super cool guy. He even stayed around to congratulate me after I won (spoiler alert: I won). My questions were, "What nation did the Order of the Sunspears declare war on?" (Kourna) and, "What happened to Lieutenant Thackeray and Captain Langmar after the War in Kryta?" (To which I gave a long answer that was apparently much more than was necessary). And that's how I got my golden ticket. We grabbed a bite to eat and then headed down to watch a play called Of Dice and Men, which is about some friends who play DnD together. I wasn't sure what to expect from it, but overall I was impressed with the quality of the script and the acting.

We ended the day by attending the PAX Late Show, hosted by the same guys who do Geek Nights. The show itself was alright, it had its ups and downs. But the most important thing is that this is how I learned that Duke Nukem Forever was at PAX with an actual demo. ITS NOT VAPORWARE ANYMORE!!!!! It also had a 4 hour lineup, because everybody who saw it wanted to try it out just so they can say that they played Duke Nukem Forever and it's actually a real thing now. When I discovered this, I realized that I don't really care that much about Duke Nukem. Once the Late Show was over I headed back to the hostel for some much needed sleep.


My day began with the GW2 panel. I got there early, mainly because I didn't have anything better to do, but a little bit because I was super excited. Three of the major devs were inside and they gave us the rundown on how dynamic events work in the game (old news for me), before launching into the real meat of the panel which was having the 50 member audience design their own dynamic event. We got a look at some new maps, races, and interesting bits of lore to give us some background on the areas we could potentially be putting our event into. After some voting, we finally settled on designing an event revolving around the quaggans' (a peaceful, amphibious race that resemble land belugas) battle with their nasty neighbours, the krait (aquatic creatures that resemble naga). The final product involved bringing together numerous races to build a super weapon, rally an army, and create some potions to take down a giant, killer shark minion and its Sea Witch master who lives at the top of a krait tower in the middle of a lake. It was sufficiently epic.

The most adorable abominations I've ever seen.

Once the panel ended I tried to get a hold of some of my friends, but to no avail. Luckily you never run out of things to do at PAX, so I just wandered the expo hall for a while. I got a signed copy of the GW2 novel, Ghosts of Ascalon (made out to Dr Strangelove X). I then played Tron, which has pretty bad controls IMO, Infamous 2, which is a lot like Infamous except you have this super tornado attack which pwns the shit out of everything, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was pretty impressed with the brief amount of time I had to play it. I like the cover system they have, although it makes the combat system nowhere near as active as it is in GW2. People seem to be pitting GW2 against TOR as the next big MMO, but I don't really see how they compete given the different business models, themes, and gameplay. All they really have in common is a focus on story.

My final stop in the show room that day was the Portal 2 booth. I was sad to find that there wasn't a playable demo, but I was impressed with the presentation they gave. It showcased their new co-op mode and even the first level add some entertaining puzzles requiring the players to work together. They also had a screen outside displaying some of the new single player features such as blue paint which causes you to jump higher, and red paint which makes you move super fast. Out of all the games I saw at PAX, only this one and GW2 are games that I am definitely going to buy.

I ran over to the Sheraton across the street where the Acquisitions Inc. panel was being held. The theatre was jammed pack, and the show was hilarious. It featured Gabe, Tycho, Scott Kurtz, and Wil Wheaton playing DnD live on a mission to rescue Wheaton's character from being sold into slavery in Hell. Far and away, this was the most hilarious panel I've attended at PAX despite the fact that I've never played DnD. The show got out late however, and there was not enough time to make it to the Star Wars panel, so I headed back to the convention center and went to a panel where some industry experts tried to pick the 10 top games of all time. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of this panel. It was funny, insightful, and had a good amount of audience participation which always makes things fun. I'd definitely attend next year if they run it again. The final panel for the night was about mechanism design which sounds really boring, but the hosts did a great job of making it interesting and accessible. It made me look at board games in a very different light.

I was still alone at this point, but I was lucky enough to run into some friends just as they were walking in to the PC freeplay room. The wait was like an hour, so we went to console freeplay instead and played Halo for a while. But we all wanted to play Left 4 Dead 2, so we decided to tough it out and headed on back. I spazzed out a lot while playing L4D2 and for that I apologize, but come on people, you need to stick together! We followed that up with some TF2 which was much more tame despite the retards spamming their mics. Around midnight we decided to head on back for some sleep and prepare for our final day in Seattle.


Sunday was spent entirely in the expo hall as I desperately scrambled to play every game that I wanted to check out. I failed dismally at this goal. I started by playing the charr half of the GW2 demo IN 3D! Overall it lived up to expectations, though I discovered its hard to play wearing 3D glasses over top of normal glasses. I made a necromancer and ran around helping out with some fun events, the most notable of which was the epic dragon fight which was epic. The necromancer death shroud mechanic (where you turn into a wraith and get new skills) worked a lot better than I originally thought it would, and they had lots of other cool skills to boot (like summoning undead minions).

At this point some guy standing behind me tapped me on the shoulder and told me to let someone else have turn. I still had 10 minutes left on my demo timer and was almost tempted to be a dick and tell him to screw off, but I decided to be nice instead and wandered on over to the Deathspank booth. It was fairly similar to the first one, but still a lot of fun to play with funny dialogue, fun combat, and tricky puzzles.

I headed over to the Bethesda booth where I conveniently found two of my friends near the end of the lineup for Brink. I discretely joined them and had a blast playing the game despite the fact that we lost horribly, and any game where you can lose and still have fun is a good game in my books. If you haven't heard of Brink it's essentially Team Fortress 2 crossed with Mirror's Edge. You have similar classes and gameplay to what you get in TF2, but with a greater emphasis on movement like Mirror's Edge.

Afterwards we went to the Star Wars booth so one of us could play TOR while my other friend and I played Force Unleashed 2. It's also a lot like the original with superpowered attacks that destroy anything that looks at you funny. The plot leaves much to be desired. As it turns out, Darth Vader is an idiot who keeps cloning his last pupil from the previous game, despite the fact that his original pupil turned on him, and all of the clones either do the same thing or go insane.

We decided to get in the long lineup for Dragonage 2 as a way to end the day/PAX. When we finally got in, we were treated to a presentation which we'd already heard the entirety of while standing outside the booth. Then we go to play the actual game which was pretty good I must say. Combat was fun, and in comparison to most games with a morality system, this one seems pretty well thought out. I made a rogue type, but found myself warming up to the mage and played her most of the time instead. The graphics were nice, but there were a few times where they dipped into the uncanny valley. Some characters appear to be in a state of perpetual panic.
We still had 20 minutes left until closing so we ended by playing Dead Rising 2 which is a very silly game indeed.

Here's a list of some of the games I sadly missed: Fable 3, Killzone 2, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Epic Mickey, Tera, Deadspace 2, Duke Nukem Forever, and Scribblenauts 2.

We were played out of PAX to the tune of Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up and made our way to the car. The trip back was rather uneventful due to the fact that we were all extremely tired. We stopped an IHOP for dinner where when one of my friends was asked what he wanted to drink, he replied, "The blood of the innocent." I've never seen a waitress more creeped out in my life. At the border, our driver was noticeably nervous and said some rather stupid things to the border guard, but to spare him some embarrassment I won't repeat what Kevin Rey said. Once back in Maple Ridge we said our goodbyes and made our merry little ways to bed. Overall it was the greatest PAX ever.

The End.

Bonus points to whoever can find me in this picture.