Monday, July 19, 2010

Movie Review -- Inception

Christopher Nolan is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. He exploded onto the scene in 2000 with Memento, a shockingly original puzzler about a short-term amnesiac trying to avenge his wife's death, and it told its tale backwards, in order to recreate the feeling in the viewer of not knowing what happened before. It was very effective, got robbed for the Best Editing Oscar, and still is a compelling view even ten years later. One of the biggest reasons that it remains so strong under repeated views is not just in the plot or editing, but in Guy Pierce's haunting performance. He elicits unexpected empathy for his character, even if Leonard Shelby is basically just a misdirected serial killer. It's one of my favorite films for all of those reasons, and it gained so much good will for Nolan that I've seen everything he's directed on opening weekend ever since. So, regardless of the critics' gushings for his later films, why is Memento still his greatest?

Insomnia was okay for a remake, and could be mistaken for a great film if you haven't seen the Scandinavian original it was based on (rent or Netflix it ASAP; it's dark as hell and gets better with repeated viewings). Batman Begins helped begin the 'franchise reboot' craze, but the performances were mostly flat (Katie Holmes, I'm looking squarely at you), and having Gordon drive the Batmobile almost ruined the entire third act for me. The Prestige was better than I thought it would be, but it still felt long and underwhelming. The Dark Knight is 3/4ths of a great film, but gets bogged down in some groan-worthy deus ex machina near the end. And now we have Inception.

I won't spend too much time with plot details, primarily to leave out spoilers, but also because it gets so complex, it would be easier to just cut-and-paste the entire script here. However, a quick synopsis of 'Heat meets The Matrix' will do. Or maybe 'Oceans 11 meets Nightmare on Elm Street 3'? Essentially, it's about people who go into the dreams of others and steal information, international corporate espionage, hot French women locked in basements, and dreidels.

The film is a technological marvel, as are all of Nolan's other films. It's brilliantly scripted, filmed, edited, and scored. Using dreams in film can be risky, because it's been done so many times before (some have made entire careers out of it), but Nolan partially avoids the 'Is it a Dream?' trap by coming out in the first 30 minutes and acknowledging the use of dreams-within-dreams. Those first 30 minutes are perfect, and explain with few words how dream hacking works, and how you can get around things. Then Nolan's script turns into about 60 minutes of solid exposition, but the editing and score help keep it moving at a snappy pace. Then comes the payoff in the last 60 minutes, and while you need a flowchart to keep up with it, somehow it all makes sense. And then we get to why I say Nolan 'PARTIALLY avoids the trap', which is due to the last few shots. Again, I won't get into spoilers, but I'll just say that part of me thinks it's the perfect ending, and the other part thinks it's a terrible cop-out. After you see it, think of Brazil, and how Gilliam made a commitment to an ending, even though you kinda get both. No 'dream' film I've seen since that one has been as strong, and that includes Inception.

Did I enjoy the film? Yes, I did. Nolan used his post-Dark Knight clout to tell the story exactly how he wanted to, with no studio interference. He spent almost ten years working on the script, mapping out all of the minor details, and it shows. It asks much of its audience, which is especially noble in the 'whiz-bang-boom' of the summer season. It has some good action set pieces (the weightless hallway scene is jaw-dropping), but they are not the reason the film exists. So, what is keeping this good film from being great? It's simple, actually: Nolan created a brilliant spreadsheet of a film, but with no sympathetic characters. DiCaprio has the only role that requires more than one emotion, and he came off as passable, but that's it. I'm not saying he's bad, but the film isn't better because of him. I find this to be the case in almost all of DiCaprio's works. What does it say when his best performance was in 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape'? He stole that film, and hasn't really carried anything since.

For me, a film can't be truly 'great' unless it makes some sort of personal connection to its audience. Inception isn't concerned with such things. It shows you sights and ideas you've never seen in a movie before, and its craft is impeccable. For those reasons alone, it's worth recommending. However, I hope Nolan will eventually create another sympathetic character like Leonard Shelby, or he'll cast an actor strong enough to go outside what's on the page and evoke emotion from his audience.

Some critics are hailing Inception as the next 'masterpiece', as they incorrectly did for The Dark Knight. Perhaps if it would've been released in the 'award season' of December and January, to higher expectations, it would've reviewed a little lower? However, the great news is that Nolan is only 39 years old, and still has a long career ahead of him. I have enough hope in his ability to where I'll go to his next film on opening weekend, no matter what. There aren't too many directors I can say that about right now.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


When someone tells me a TV show is good, it usually takes them three or four separate mentions before I end up giving it a try. It's never anything personal; I just think that 98% of what's on TV is complete and utter shit. Well, The Miles kept going on and on about Archer, and whaddya know? He was right. It's fucking hilarious. Don't believe me? You can watch the entire first season for free, starting right here:

Archer -- Mole Hunt (Pilot)

If you have Netflix streaming, it's on there too.

There are so many great lines in the show, I had to make a bunch of ringtones from some of them. I was going to host them here, but doesn't let you do that, so let me know if you're interested and I can e-mail them to you (I have about 30 different ones as of right now).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What the hell have I been doing?

I bet you all thought that this page was turning into a tribute page for all the people we know in our lives who have died or bands that broke up. As the progenitor of this site, I am completely to blame for this lack of activity, or at least as much to blame as the other deadbeats who never post anything here. At least Lord Bling gives us videos to entertain us. I'm going to try to provide an update that actually explains why I haven't been posting as much or at least make up some plausible excuses.

Work- It might be hard to believe when you read what I write, but I actually have a career, a huge part of which is reading and writing. I am a researcher in the health sciences, and I spend countless hours reviewing articles and writing up my own studies. A few years ago, I was a clinician and spent much less of my time doing this sort of thing, so I didn't mind trying to come up with some witty post when I got home from work. Nowadays, if I am not engaged in research, I'm writing emails about my research, reviewing other people's research and writing computer programs to do my research or statistics. I've just made my job sound terrible, but I am one of those sick people who enjoys this existence. I just don't feel like writing as much these days.

School-In addition to working close to full-time, I am also writing my dissertation so that I can get my PhD, which I have been working on since 2007. If you've been in a PhD program or even graduate school, you realize that doing this also requires ridiculous amounts of reading and writing. Do you see a theme here?

Failure to utilize birth control-When I started my PhD program in 2007, I had zero children and my wife was not pregnant. Currently, I have two children under the age of two. For those of you who don't have children, imagine doing all of the activities stated above, but without time or sleep. I love my children most of the time, but the simple fact is that in order to make sure that they don't end up in therapy or shooting people from a clock tower at a local university, I need to spend time with them and sleep when I can.

Hopefully, you're beginning to see why my ability to contribute substantively to this site has been substantially impeded as of late. I'm going to try to be more active here, but I'm also not just going to post crap to have something new here for people to read. That is all.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Best health care in the world? Look to teams that did well in the World Cup (i.e. not the U.S)

To hear conservatives tell it, you'd think we here in the old U.S. of A. have the best health care system in the world. People who have access to health care in the U.S. have a tendency to fall into this trap because they believe that because they experience something, it must be universal to all people. Other situations where this logical retardation tends to lead to faulty conclusions include global warming (including the incredibly dense and annoying - "It snowed 10 inches this weekend, where's the global warming Al Gore?) and abstinence education (I couldn't get laid in by bow tie and suspenders, so kids shouldn't have any problem avoiding sex until marriage).

A study was published recently, which was summarized in an excellent editorial that you can see at the Lancet, that demonstrated just how bad our health care system is here in this great land where anyone can get an MRI (except poor people) and anyone can get surgery (except people without insurance). The bottom line of the survey - the United States ranks last out of seven countries, despite spending about twice as much as other countries, including those with that oppressive commie, pinko universal health care. The editorial also goes on to discuss what Obama-Care is going to do and not do to change that. If you're an intelligent person that enjoys reading over such activities as spotlighting and making corn cob pipes, it's a good read.

My question is how much fucking evidence do conservatives need that everyone (including their stingy asses) is paying way too much money for shitty health care? We could do better with less money if we just accepted that health care access is a huge part of the problem, paying for people who don't have insurance or wait to seek care until the condition is expensive as fuck to treat because they can't afford to get earlier treatment. How badly have we failed as a country that almost half of the people in this country can't understand that we already have a single-payer system, you just have to bankrupt yourself before you can access it?

There are times where I see how a reasonable person could come to a different conclusion than I do, mostly because I'm certifiably insane. Health care reform is not one of those situations.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

RIP Shelfo - Chris Campbell 1978-2010

I've been lucky enough in my life to have some pretty awesome friends, some of whom are much better than I am lately at keeping this blog alive after almost 6 years. I'm not talking about friends in the Facebook sense neither. Real friends, actual people who are part of all the experiences that make up our lives. I lost a real friend this week, Chris "Shelfo" Campbell, who died too soon Friday at the age of 32.

I met Chris and his twin brother Steve on August 13, 1998, when my roommate at the time, who knew them from high school, and I met them to go to see Tool and the Melvins at Red Rocks (where we ran into Lord Bling). We loaded up in their Jeep Cherokee and headed to the show, as we would do many, many times during the following years for a wide range of other shows including Deftones, Limp Bizkit, Sevendust and Korn, just to name a few. Despite the fact that I didn't have tatoos or any of the other characteristics of a hardcore music fan, both accepted me as the nerdy guy who could remember all the minute details about any band, even when completely intoxicated.

Chris had an incredible passion for music and played bass in the band Headgone. Here is an older, but still great video with Chris on bass, Steve on lead vocals, and even a special appearance by the HCP.

not here (live at Cervantes)

Headgone MySpace Music Videos

Chris was incredibly loyal to his friends and family. One great example of this occurred in 1999 when a group of us including my younger sister were walking to a party in Greeley. Some guys drove by and yelled something at my sister, and being my sister, she yelled something back. The cars stops and two guys jump out and start walking towards my sister like they were going to fight a freshman girl. Before I could even think about what to do, Chris was up defending her with an unopened beer cocked back behind his head like he was going to throw a knucklebeer right off their heads. It took those guys about three seconds to figure out that Chris was going to help them meet their out-of-pocket contribution for their health insurance plans if they didn't get their happy asses back in the vehicle and drive away. As they scampered back to their car, Chris turned and made a joke about how doing steroids makes your balls shrink and leads to bad decision-making.

Over the last few years, Chris and I didn't talk very much, a combination of distance and a mutual lack of effort. I regretted this long before his death, but now that he's gone, I hate the fact that I'll never be able to talk to him again.

Chris, I hope you are at peace, and that you're having a beer with Lynn from Snot (and making fun of Michael Jackson). This song will always remind me of you and the time that Chino stood on us at the Ogden in Denver (plus, Chi sings Max's part):

Caturday, motherfucker, do you speak it?

Friday, July 02, 2010

RIP -- This Site?

Dammit, I won't stand by and watch this site die. However, it's pretty boring when I'm the one who writes every post. Why does CowboyLaw have to be a lawyer, doing his legal law thing, for 90 hours a week? Why does the Midge have to spend all his time trying to get his doctorate, punishing his liver, and being a baby daddy? Why does HCP have to spend all day hanging out at Home Depot trying to get hired to carry sheet rock?

Oh well. If you want something done right, sometimes you just gotta do it yourself. So this is gonna count as an update, and I'm giving you stuff too. Don't ever say you didn't get anything from me, you bastards. Over the past couple of months, I made some desktop wallpapers. Maybe you'll like 'em; maybe you won't. But at least it's something new to look at!

I recently watched an old samurai flick called 'The Sword of Doom'. It was really out there. Hard to recommend to most people, but the last six or seven minutes is non-stop insanity. This scene happens earlier, but is very iconic in the genre:

Here's another one where I resized a screenshot from a film. This one's from Saving Private Ryan. If you don't have the Blu-Ray yet, you should pick it up (as soon as Paramount reships it after that recall, although I lucked out and got a good one). If you don't have a Blu-Ray player, well then, I point at you with my snobby finger and laugh. Ha-ha!

Lastly, 'Unforgiven' is one of the greatest films ever made. If you disagree, you are not only wrong, but you're an idiot.

There. A quality update to the site, and not just me posting another YouTube video. 'Quality' of course, being a relative term. Think you can do better? Bring it!