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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Movie Review: “Snowpiercer”


   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies…but this month I am happy to be reviewing a film in my preferred genre that almost slipped by.

The Cast: 
  
   Chris Evans seems to be on a mission to show he can be more than just a superhero. Having been Johnny Storm and cementing himself as Captain America, I was surprised that he was able to convince me that he can do more. As the main character, Curtis, he delivered a performance that enthralled me and drove home some shocking points of the film.

  
   John Hurt plays Gilliam and while the role seems somewhat cursory to what all else is happening in the film, I was surprised to find out his character had a much deeper impact than suspected. His performance was what I expected from such a veteran talent, even though this was only his third dystopian film.


   Tilda Swinton is nearly unrecognizable as Mason, an administrator in charge of overseeing the back of the train. She invests so much in her role that there is actually elation when her character suffers some long overdue justice.

   Ed Harris isn't seen until the end of the film, but his character is pretty much the whole point and driving force for Curtis’s motivations. I have always enjoyed the performances of Harris and although there is no award winning performance here, he does reinforce the dark and inevitable feel of the film.

The Plot: 

  
   After an experiment in global warming goes horribly wrong, the Earth is thrust into another ice age that kill all life on the planet except for a handful (compared to the previous population) of people that were fortunate enough to board a specially designed train with a perpetual engine...on a track that spans the globe (taking exactly one year to travel the world).

   
   Class-ism has also survived the end of the world as the privileged are at the front of the train enjoying all the comforts and amenities now extinct from the world, while the poor and downtrodden ride in the back living in squalor and decay. 
  
   Spurred on by mysterious messages from the front, Curtis decides it is time to lead a revolt, and take his people from the back of the train by attempting to travel to the front and seize control of the engine. 
  
   To accomplish his task, he has to free one of the designers of the train (Kang-ho Song) from prison in order to unlock the various gates that separate all the different sections that sustain the remaining remnants of human life on the planet. 
  
   What follows is mayhem and pandemonium with some of the most disturbing revelations I have seen on film in a while, accented by gratuitous violence (that surprisingly is less gory that it could have been) and some real life contemplation's that glue your eyes to the screen.


The Verdict: 

  
   The whole idea of this film is brilliant science fiction. Based on a graphic novel, the idea of a super train designed to sustain humanity indefinitely by providing entire ecosystems is fascinating. Using class-ism and a military force to sustain the given roles is eerily reminiscent of much of what is going on now.   

   The direction of the film is also brilliantly done as the movie flows, seemingly with the speed of the train, as this new world of train life unfolds along with the plot to turn things around. The special effects enhance the story and the sparse, but excellent, use of slow motion and camera angles enhance some of the more important action sequences.
  
   I found Curtis to be a flawed hero, meaning he is easy to identify with as all of us fall short of perfection. It’s not till later when we find out just how far he has fallen and you are forced to really contemplate the condition of life on the train, and the world in general, to even begin to empathize with some of the horror this film presents as its reality.


   Although the film was engaging, exciting, shocking and interesting…the ending left me completely flat. Being science fiction meant that this film was certainly my cup of tea, but with an ending that didn't match the rest of the delivery, this film only pierced three cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup of tea.



Rating 3/5

Friday, August 29, 2014

About That Life

   I’m not about “that life.” For those not familiar with the inner city colloquial expression referring to a life in the streets or gang related activity, now you are. If you are a regular reader here, you know I’m not about that life. However, not being about that life now doesn’t mean I was never exposed to it in my youth. Indeed, I was very much exposed to it growing up on the streets of Boston, but maturity and the epiphany that life is about so much more has changed all that. What I’m wondering now, is what prevents others from seeing the same light?
  
   Drugs and alcohol is a big part of being about that life and one could conjecture that heavy and/or frequent drug use of various types can addle the brain and prevent good decision making. In fact, I’m sure it does. Being a substance abuser comes with it’s own set of demons to conquer and if the lifestyle you live proliferates the demon dog pile, it might be hard to realize the road you travel has frequent horrific accidents. There have been many stories of people waking up to reality after a bullet whizzes by their head, but they don’t necessarily stop beaming up to see Scotty because of it…even if they distance themselves from “that life.” On the other hand, how many gangsters refuse to drink or do any drugs at all?


   Peer pressure is another motivating factor for the illogical. Gang life in particular promotes the idea that the gang is the real “family” and that loyalty to it trumps any other ties. If it wasn’t so true, I’d recoil from the ridiculousness of such an idea, especially considering how I love my own family. For me there is a point to raising children to attain a better place in the world than I currently hold. There is a point to making sure they get an education and arming them with knowledge to meet the issues of the world (and yes, I’m emphasizing that knowledge comes from more sources than formal education). I can see the lure when your young and without hope, but when you get older and learn that the world is larger than your section of it, I just don’t understand the seduction of your peers over your own growth and well being of your children.
  
   At some point I have to chalk some of this up to just being an idiot. Take, for example, the case of Aaron Hernandez. He denies being in a gang, but gang experts say he shows all the signs…I say whatever, since I’m looking at is actions (gang related or not). The world was being handed to him on a silver platter (from the perspective of someone not born with the talent to get where he was) and instead of moving forward, he apparently decided he was about that life (although the case has not concluded, I do have a degree of common sense). I really don’t understand. I get he has a temper (plenty of us do) but either he lost his mind, or never really invested in having one to begin with.


   It’s tough for me to sit here an rash on children with no guidance to know better these days. If the parents aren’t parenting correctly, the odds get stacked early. Children are impressionable and it doesn’t help when you have a segment of the music industry geared to the destruction of a culture by targeting the youth with a message of self destruction. Take a look at the majority of rappers making it big these days and you’ll find they have nothing positive to say. Further, their success is an example to those looking for hope, that the path they walk and talk is a viable one…when the reality is the exact opposite.
  
   This is a huge problem that is spreading with every glorification of “that life.”  The missteps of the blessed as they stumble and fall trying to negotiate the treacherous path of “that life” are not ringing enough bells in the heads of those that need to wake up. It’s becoming an epidemic just to get the youth to pull their pants up…and we expect to impress upon them that violence isn’t the answer (especially in such a violent world)?


   It has to start with more of us coming out and standing firm that we are not about “that life”…because it has no future. We have to press home the truth that our children are the future and if the path we put them on is about "that life," then we have no right to be outraged when they fall off the cliff. We need to press home that positivity isn't weakness, and those that are truly strong forge their own path to productivity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Walk About It

   I have spoken often of fitness and have encouraged anyone that will read this blog to get involved in their own health. Fitness isn’t just a physical state, but it’s usually where we all start. I also don’t endorse just one form of exercise (although I’m about to get specific for this post) and encourage creativity when working out with an emphasis on being consistent. It’s almost like we go to war with ourselves for our own fitness, and I very much want to win my war…and want others to win their war as well.

  
   The latest offensive on being fit comes in the form of something so simple, yet so very important to us on many levels: walking. It has become one of my chosen mediums in my assault on my body fat and overall health. Middle age has found me (even though I have been vigorously hiding from it) and my knees aren’t so appreciative of my zealous attempts to retain my youth, thus I have gotten smarter (I think) in my effort.

  
   Let me share some facts about walking with you. Walking reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer, colon cancer, and non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes. It improves blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and blood lipid profile. It enhances mental well being and helps to maintain body weight while lowering the risk of obesity. With walking being so simple and easy, I decided to stop looking the gift horse in the mouth.

  
   Walking is just as beneficial as running, provided you cover the same distance. It’s like that scene in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” when Captain America is running around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, lapping Sam Wilson…and later Sam says he does what Captain America does, only slower. Running is certainly quicker but if you have the time, and want to go easy on the knees, walking is the way to go.

  
   Besides the health benefits of walking, for me I get the most out of it from all the time I get to reflect and think. I do a four mile walk at a minimum of four times a week, and a maximum of six (I never walk on Sunday) and I find the time it takes me to do it is time well spent to get my mental wheels aligned again. Exercise itself is a great stress reducer, but when you can do some real thinking while doing it, it’s no wonder walking is touted as one of the best stress reducers available.

  
   Let me also address the stigma that young people run while older people walk. While that is probably generally true based on the condition of the joints versus the risk of injury for older people attempting to run regularly, let me say that you need not be older to choose walking over running. Indeed, while I walk, I get into such a rhythm and walk at such a pace that I might as well start jogging…I even feel like it every now and then, but I stick to my goal and keep pushing the pace. By the time I get home, I’m drenched in sweat and ready to begin some cardio weight training (kettle bells).


   Everyone that is seeking better fitness will eventually find a way to go about it (hopefully). Take this post as me talking about it (walking). When I finish writing this, I’m going to be about it (going for a walk). I encourage any willing and able to “walk about it” (define as you see fit).












Sunday, August 17, 2014

Texting While Dri…

   
   If you’re a regular reader here, then you know I’ve often spoken about the shenanigans I witness when I’m forced to get behind the wheel and insert myself into the madness we call traffic. It’s bad enough to have pedestrians that think the crosswalk is a painted marking denoting the length and shape of an actual forcefield that protects them from harm, but when people with this mentality actually drive, there are no limits to the idiocy that transpires.

  
   I have spoken before about the unwritten rules of the road that are ignored by the foolish among us. Apparently the message didn’t sink in and the horror not only continued, but was exacerbated by further acts of lunacy. Add to all of this the fact (as I have observed anyway) that there is a certain driving style attributed to people that drive Subaru’s and the roadway has quickly become a place I no longer wish to frequent.

      After all of that, I had the audacity to think things couldn’t get any worse…which of course was when they did. I have not written about drinking and driving as I feel that message should be well presented by now and people should know to stay from behind the wheel after drinking. The fact that such instances are down 54% since 1991 is good news. Now, here’s the bad news…texting while driving has replaced drunk driving as the leading cause of car accident deaths being six times more dangerous than driving drunk.

      Being the observant driver that I am, I have noticed recently an increase in idiocy behind the wheel…and have also noticed it is happening more often with people engaged in their phone (or perhaps I should say mobile device). I have been further shocked to see that I have observed more adults than teens doing this! I regard it as a serious problem when you’re on the line encroaching in my lane (cause, y’know…you’re in my way), but when you look at some of the statistics behind this new issue, it’s absolutely disturbing.

      Non-alcohol related traffic fatalities has increased 78% since 1982. Texting while driving has replaced drinking and driving as the leading cause of vehicular fatalities and accidents for teens. Five seconds is the minimal amount of time your eyes are off the road when texting and driving. Traveling at 55 MPH…that’s the equivalent of traveling the length of a football field, without looking at the road!

      Car and Driver Magazine has conducted a braking test and found that it takes the average person .54 seconds to brake. If you are legally drunk, add 4 feet to that. If you are reading an email add 36 feet. If you are sending a text, add 70 feet! Whoa! Even though nearly every state now has laws against such action, the red alert still needs to be sounded on this issue as many people still believe it isn’t a problem and that they are capable of safely texting while driving.

      I can tell you assuredly that the people I have observed concentrating on their mobile device instead of what they are supposed to be doing behind the wheel (driving) have no clue how much of a danger they are to themselves or other people. It saddens me to think that when they figure it out, it will be too late for someone.


   It’s way past time we take driving seriously…and those that can’t figure it out need to be taking the bus.








Sunday, July 27, 2014

Movie Review: "Delivery Man"

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.


The Cast: 

   
   Vince Vaughn is always fun for me to watch. I like his style and his particular brand of humor strikes a chord with me. As David Wozniak, a man that in his youth, donated sperm and is now the father of over 500 children (over 100 of which file suite to reveal his identity), Vaughn downplays some of that humor in favor of trying to really tell a touching story.

   
   Chris Pratt is Vaughn’s lawyer and friend, Brett, who thinks the suite can be won while also being a big break for his litigation business. Gaining 60 pounds for the role shows how serious Pratt takes his character and delivers good comic relief that plays off the drama Vaughn tries to deliver.

   
   Cobie Smulders is Vaughn’s girlfriend Emma. Her pregnancy and desire to raise the child alone due to David’s lack of commitment to life in general sparks the soul searching he does, which later gets exacerbated by the revelation of all the children he has fathered. It’s not a very large or demanding role, but she delivers good enough to add some depth to the situation.


The Plot: 
   David Wozniak is an underachiever committed to doing just enough to get by and despite his passion and good intentions, can’t seem to get life to click for him in a consistent and meaningful way that reflects positivity to those that care about him.

   
   Faced with the prospect of being a father due to Emma’s pregnancy, David uses the pregnancy as a catalyst for change. Soon after he finds out that his sperm has been used to father over 500 children twenty years ago, and sees this development as the means change his ways and show Emma he can be a reliable and capable person.

   Over 100 of his children have filed a lawsuit to reveal David’s identity and his friend Brett takes the case in hopes to further his career and protect David.

   
  David decides, against the advice of Brett, to explore some of the profiles of the children filling suite and begins to involve himself in their lives. Feeling empathetic for their situation and wanting to alleviate their angst and take some responsibility, he grows ever closer to many of them which begins the change in himself he is seeking.

   What follows is a story that explores the growth of David in his quest to become a better man by being a father and friend to strangers seeking answers only he can give them.


The Verdict: 

   
   I very much expected this to be a side-splitting comedy and anticipated this film as such just based on past performances by Vaughn and my particular connection to his brand of humor. While it does have some very funny parts, I found it to be more drama oriented with hints of comedy thrown in for good measure.

   
   I wasn’t disappointed by my expectations not being met, indeed this is a lesson to me to always view films with an empty cup and let myself be filled by their content. Instead of disappointment, I was intrigued by Vaughn’s departure from his norm in favor of delivering something more meaningful than just laughs.

   
   As a parent, this film resonated with me on many levels. Watching Vaughn’s self-sacrifice and investment in his children elevated the substance of this film and gave it a real-life relevance that contradicted the implausibility of the situation

   It was a welcome surprise and could be the beginning of Vaughn’s venture into more serious roles. This may not be a film for everyone, but it certainly reproduced three cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup of tea.



Rating 3/5

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Comic Book Fanatic

   Anyone can be a fanatic about anything they choose, as long as they have enough passion to blind all reasoning and logic, fanaticism is within their grasp. Being an avid reader of comic books, I’m involved heavily in the genre and can tell you that this subject, like most others, is inundated with people steeped in passion…and little else.

   I’m always amazed at how adamant fans become, despite any printed evidence contradicting their position. I really can’t judge them too harshly, I used to be just like them…until I grew up (a relative sentiment considering the subject at hand). I suppose it’s better to say I matured in the genre of comic books and realized that it’s all good…and I like a lot of different stuff.

  
   There are still those that staunchly stand on one side of the line or the other, meaning they are avid fans of DC or rabid fans of Marvel. I suppose somebody should tell them that there are other comic companies out there making some really great books, but the likelihood of that message penetrating their fanatical force field is slim to none. 

  
   I always find it amusing when I debate certain character match ups because a fan can never hide their bias. It’s impossible for them to hide…they have too much passion, and not enough evidence. A classic match up that surfaces seemingly every other week is Batman versus Captain America. Now, there are fans on both sides of this discussion, but when the evidence is presented, it seems like only the Captain America fans lose their minds. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong in being patriotic, but what real weight does that carry in such a character discussion?

  
   I won’t re-hash the fine points that particular discussion always presents, I’ll just point you here…and you can read it for yourself. Now…this is the funny part, after acknowledging Captain America will eventually beat Batman (with the caveat that the only chance Batman has at winning is using gas), Captain America fans hit the ceiling. I should be specific and not paint all Cap fans like this, but the few that were debating me made everyone look bad. I should also note that once you don’t accept their passion as fact, be prepared to be labeled a “fan” even though the only position being taken is that of…the comics themselves.

  
   For these fanatics, nothing less than Captain America beating Batman in two punches or less will do. When presented with a plethora of evidence why this would not happen, they lose their minds and post memes…completely irrelevant scans designed to attack the person, not the position. When they realize a true debater and scholar of the material won’t be swayed by stupidity, an attempt is made to engage the material again. The problem here is when there is no higher evidence to support your position…your position is just, lost.

   I think they are lost from the very beginning since they are arguing that Captain America would win…and I’m agreeing with them (while acknowledging a specific scenario that could effect the outcome).


   This phenomenon can be seen by any rabid fan of any character, who is not willing to engage their higher reasoning. Thor versus Superman is another classic match up that exposes the fans. Unlike the Batman/ Captain America scenario…this match up has a lot more variables and isn’t easily concluded. The only fact (that Thor fans never want to acknowledge) is that they have fought before, and Thor lost.

  
   There are a plethora of reasons why a second fight simply would not go down like the first…but fans don’t want any parts of the facts. Simply trying to get them to realize Thor can be speed blitzed, and Superman has the kind of speed to do it leads to all sorts of shenanigans…even posting a scan of Thor fighting at light speed (a favorite scan of rabid Thor fans) which really isn’t that at all. Thor cannot fight at super speed, his opponent cannot fight at super speed…and the entire context of the picture was their fight breaking into a room where an experiment to slow down the speed of light was taking place. See, a true fan doesn’t do any of the research, they just want their favorite character to win.

  
   I too am a true fan…just not fanatical about any particular character, but just about comic books in general. I accept the good (those things about the characters I like) and the bad (those things that I think really suck…like Orion getting beat like a baby seal by the Silver Surfer). Maybe I’ve become a Vulcan in my old age, but unmitigated passion just seems so…human.


   Comic books inspire us and jumpstart the imagination. They ignite passion and can be the catalyst for lifelong friendships and new acquaintances. Everyone seems to be a fan of something at sometime be it sports, music, movies…why not comics?