Favorite Movies

This is a sticky topic for me. When people figure out I was a film major in college they tend to think I should be able to rattle off a list of my all time favorite movies and moreover think they should be able to then judge my taste based on this list. Eh. I’m not really what some people expect from a film buff. I’ve seen the best of the heralded best or so I’ve been told. I understand films on some levels other people don’t always consider I suppose. I appreciate composition, direction, performance, complexity and metaphor. But, I don’t always. More often than not I am along for the ride like anyone else and things like my mood, time, comfort of my seating situation and hunger all effect my preference of one film over another. Not to mention it takes time to think of all the movies I’ve seen, I don’t keep any written record so, who knows, maybe I missed a great one somewhere. Some of these films I appreciate for just pure enjoyment purposes, others are saying something that at least interests me — profound or not. Others I find compelling for their accomplishments in technical ability or in their ability to push the capability of the visual medium. Mixed bag. Finally, I attempted to do a top 10, I don’t know how stuck to this numbering I am. If I did this tomorrow I might change my mind entirely.

Honorable Mentions

Wall-e  – Woah! I’m started with a pixar animation? Yeah. That’s the kind of list this is going to be. Listen. This is a meaningful story about the destruction of the habitability of the earth. Not only is it saying something interesting, the pacing is great, the visuals are superb and the story has a good bit of seriousness and whimsy. Do it all with a robot that says one word, and do it well. It’s a damn good animated film and you can watch it with your kids.

Kingdom of Heaven — I don’t even know if this is considered a good film. The plot has holes, the acting at time is a little weak. Yet, I really like it. A world grappling with it’s competing religions, a man grappling with his past and future. As forced as it might be it spends some time considering some of the big questions and I like that with a little bit of sword fighting mixed in. Not a great one maybe, but, this is my list because I like it.

Gone with the Wind — Ah yes. Everyone who even wants to think about movie-buffness has seen this one. The glorious american south. Civil war. Southern Belles. Yeah. It’s big, it’s long and I found it compelling and filled with great performances and equaling imagery. I think it was an ambitious story to tackle and well done all around.

The Searchers — If you’ve never seen a John Wayne film directed by legendary western director John Ford and don’t plan to in the future — I’d still say this is one to look at. John Wayne was good at what he did. This movie has a darkness to it as well,  following a man searching for his missing niece with the will to do anything to retrieve her. I had a hard time between this and Stagecoach which I see as sort of equals; both great watches.

Rear Window — A Hitchcock masterpiece of set construction and studio film making. The film is focused down to the level of a play but uses space and shot composition in a way that would never work on stage. Suspense and intrigue in a film that many people will point to as a cinema classic. It lives up to billing and is very accessible while others of its caliber can sometimes be harder to embrace.

Braveheart – This movie highlighting the Scottish legend William Wallace is just a cliche of itself at this point. I don’t know how well it was received when originally in theaters but I think now it’s mostly viewed as cable movie trash. I found Gibson engaged, intense and powerful in this one. I found the plot available and easy to watch at any point. I’ll even go back to this when I’m sick or tired as something familiar to which I can return. Between this and The Patriot which are honestly pretty similar movies I have maybe seen them 5 or 6 times. Neither fails to give me a little tingle near the heroic ending. The modern hero movie with super powers and explosions might be flashy but William Wallace had passion and it gives me little goosebumps when his memory fuels that final battle his people yelling his name as they charge into battle. Might be a guy thing, but, I’m a guy so deal with it.

10. The Big Labowski

I had to fit a cult classic somewhere in this list. I could have gone with Super Troopers or something like Sean of the Dead but I think TBL has such a special feel to it that I think it gets the spot on this list just for sheer acting talent. Jeff Bridges might make the movie what it is but John Goodman certainly does his bit to help it along too. The pacing and story is very unique and the cohen brothers are known for this style of using unconventional plot devices to create a story that seems wandering at times but ends up having a great arc.

9. Back to the Future

I once themed a party around watching the back to the future trilogy. We wound up getting drunk based on bad rules to a drinking game based on memorable lines. The problem was Back to the Future is full of memorable lines due to the fact that we were seeing Michael J. Fox in his prime in a well written and directed series that combined the 1980′s and time travel. By scrutinous film connoisseur standards this is probably a marginal movie. By mine? It’s a classic. Watch it 5 times and that’s probably not enough.

8. My Neighbor Totorro

I am a fan of Hayao Miyazaki. A big fan. They are a breed of kids movies that takes the time to appreciate the beauty of quality illustration and animation. They have their own pacing and sometimes even dark story lines tied to the pure bright beauty of the studios animations. My neighbor Totorro  is a classic of the group, while not the most acclaimed (Spirited Away), kid friendliest (Ponyo) or the most visually striking (Princess Mononoke) it does end up being a sort of poster child for the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movie franchise. My interest outside of the visual whimsy is the story revolving around two young girls who are dealing with their mother’s poor health in a new house, new school and new place. They are growing up and struggling against the unfairness of life. With two daughters of my own (who love Totorro) I have a certain sentimental soft spot for this great film.

7. Magnificent Amberson’s

Orson Welles cinematic classic Citizen Kane was no doubt a masterpiece. In its time however it was not well received (probably because the unwashed masses don’t really care about shot composition or metaphor). When it came then to his second films in complete creative control the studio decided to relieve him of his direction near the end of the filming process and edit what they had as they saw fit. Without the vision of Welles the film was mangled and released by RKO with a happier ending and cutting 40 or so minutes from the production. All that said. This film was the a masterpiece of Welles deep understanding of visual story-telling. Shot composition and camera movement were superb even in what was available. This is a mix of what is, which is good, great even and  notion of what could have been.

 6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I like Jim Carey in his comedic roles, but this film proved  his acting chops don’t stop there (by the way, the whole cast was great). His performance, along with the deep and complex storytelling and visual metaphors put a fairly recent film in a place, in my mind, to compete with other great films of the past. Here though, there is something very watchable about the film. There is a lot going on, time is a little non-linear but it’s also something to settle down with on a rainy day or a winter evening. It’s heady, but I think the relative newness and modern visual treatment gives the film a very accessible feeling. Film buffs and people who just like movies can all find something to like here.

5. Pan’s Labyrinth

Gueillmo Del Torro, perhaps better known for his Hellboy films, has put out a couple dark, spanish language films about fairy tales and monsters. Pan’s Labyrinth is certainly dark in both the daylight and the night when the fairy tales are real. The world of hidden fairy tale secrets is not a sunshine and rainbow filled escape for the young girl who is the protagonist of the film, it’s equally dark and scary as the Spanish Civil War being fought all around her. The result is a haunting, beautiful and scary world and a great film.

4. Gangs of New York

It’s a masterpiece for a number of reasons I hardly feel the need to get into. Foremost of these is the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. Yeah DiCaprio is the main character and he does well in his own right but this movie belongs to The Butcher and his portrayal by Day-Lewis. Not only is this really well done, interesting and capture the wonderful world of old New York in all it’s grittyness — but it also has a great historical context ending in the Draft Day Riots of 1863. I can’t help but trying my New York accent and throwing the kitchen knives every time I see this one.

3. Bicycle Theives

This one is a little tougher to get your hands on and your head around for a number of reasons most notably because it’s a little older (1948) and originally in Italian. But it’s characters, plot and cinematography are both beautiful and heartbreaking. I’m not sure if it’s possible to see this film without a tear in your eye even if you’re not a parent. I haven’t done it yet and I don’t expect to now that I have children of my own. This is one of those films that will always show up on the lists of greatest films and has every right to be there.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

There was a point in movie making in the 2ks or 2010′s where there were a lot of these films that had this purposely against the grain, strange takes on real life feel type of feel to them. A type of film with which I was just on the edge of being sick to death. Just before I gave up on trying to watch some of these films– looking for one of them to say something interesting — I found this film about a boy and a girl and fell in love. It was weird, quirky and met every expectation of that indy genre with ease, yet it had something deeper down at the heart of it. As the plot meanders every which way I defy anyone who has ever been in love to not adore this film.

1. 8 1/2

This film has pretty much everything someone who fancies them self a film buff would like to sink their teeth into and is frequently called the greatest film ever made about film making. Creative use of every part of cinema; every element deserves, if not begs for a second look and a second thought. The exploration is of the self here and moving into the mind of a film maker and creator in such a way presents plenty of bizarre, non-linear story telling opportunities (which are fully exploited). I think what might distinguish this film a bit more so though, are the moments where madness seems to take over but is then weaved back seamlessly into a graceful dance Fellini orchestrates masterfully.

That’s the list for now. We will have to see how it changes going forward but, some really great ones here many of which I am now anxious to re-watch.

David Siegfried, Warrior Poet

I guess you could say this title is a bit arrogant. But that is not really the point. It is interesting in our work lives we have to take on some sort of title and use it in our lives whether or not it really defines anything but your role in a business. Society as a whole wants to know what you are doing to contribute. My neighbor asked me 2 things when I met him, “What do you do?” and “You like dogs right?” I was obliged to tell him, “Web Developer,” in my best corporate robot voice and “uh… sure” but that was mainly because his dog looked a bit intimidating and I didn’t want to start a feud.

No one wanted to ask me what sort of title I would give myself for my life. I like being husband and uncle and soon, father. I have always felt that my life will be defined best by how I am there for my family, I have known this for years. And yet, I still feel like I could use a title for me, not for my job, not for my family members, just for me.

So, there you have it, a two paragraph explanation for the title of this post. I batted around a few ideas. I like to think and organize and learn. I feel I am at my best being creative, bringing people together and telling the truth. I am comfortable working though tough spots and overcoming obstacles and I think at the end of the day I do nothing better than I write (if you’re critical and dislike my writing you might have cause to laugh here, that’s fine, you look better smiling anyway).

I tried thinker-poet, life champion and philosopher  None of those suited me, not the way I liked. Something about the warrior word sounded right. I don’t make a habit of physically fighting but, I feel like in a lot of ways just having the will to make it in this world means you need a little bit of warrior in you. I don’t really think poet is a perfect work, but, in conjures up some nice images, the one I like best is creative. Poetry implies depth, wit, creativity, awareness and organization all are things I value in myself and find ways to perfect.

I don’t know, maybe just a funny idea, maybe something more, maybe something I can keep in my head when I step out of the house, I remind myself what I am, where I have strengths and what I want to be every day, just me, not my job and not anyone else. Just me, just something that I can keep for myself.

Make one for yourself perhaps, carry it with you, help it define how you go about your life.

The most epic explosion of all time was not the deathstar

Oh yes, I know how you might have felt when Hands Solo blasted the Battle Star Galactica to pieces and yelled “Get out of there Warf!” That was indeed the best explosion of all movies, you’d be wrong, very wrong. 

The movie featuring the most epic scene of destruction that has ever appeared in any movie ever in this history of Sci-Fi. That’s right, most epic. In this case it also might be the most over done too. I’ll leave that for the next generations of film industry buffs to sort out. Am I talking about a space move? No. Am I talking about a war move? No. I am talking about a movie where kids in their early teens are trying to make a zombie movie when shit gets real. I’m talking about Super 8.

For a movie about kids trying to make a movie, a passtime for which I have great respect and fond memories, I can admit it seems strange to have Hollywood’s most jarring scene of explosions, wreckage and plain old chaos happen here. The movie, until the point of the train explosion, is something like the set-up for Stand By Me. Where a young Wil Wheaton or in the case of Super 8 a young Joel Courtney has suffered some amount of childhood hardship and finds his friends are all the more important to him because of it.

Next thing you know, you have 5 kids standing on a train platform shooting a scene to try to add some story to their zombie bloodbath movie when our hero sees a car driving onto the train-tracks. Now, I understand a car speeding down the tracks would surely destroy the car, it would likely rip apart the fuel tank and would cause fire and explosions around the car, and certainly derail the train. My bet is the crash would be over in 10 seconds. This crash goes on for what seems to be about 5 minutes. Whole train cars flying through the air, kids dodging cargo and scrap-metal vaulted from the train cars and ripped from god knows where. The train station itself was crushed to splinters and likely exploded itself. All of this while our hero children run though the debris like a war zone. Unscathed, uncrushed, but jarred surely.

Now this would all be just fine if I was not cursed with a film background from my college days. Every movie is an opportunity to be followed by a long period of analysis if I feel it had something to say. I ponder over the nuances, scenes that capture a moment, and themes that mean something to me. This movie made me not want to analyse it in some ways too because I couldn’t help connecting with the kids and their dream of creating a great movie for a festival. I think because of this my analysis of this movie is slackened a bit. I realize the explosions are the height of hollywood pornography and every movie these days needs the big hook if it is going to sell tickets. I can’t help the feeling that this explosion meant something, however.

I think it is possible that kids in this movie are a portrayal of the bored kids that come about every summer, wishing something interesting would happen. How about the bored adults working day in and day out in the office, wishing for something interesting to happen. A little disaster can spur a great adventure. But maybe more for our main character Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) the great summer adventure is a way to forget the loss of a family member. This suspicion is pretty simple, however, no one needs to make the movie more than it is. This ranks this movie as another summer flick, reminiscing on ET and Stand by Me, showing a coming of age under strange situations, learning what friendship and community are worth when something disastrous happens.

I suppose the outrageously done train crash is more of a marker what needs to be included to sell tickets. Forget great shot composition, fantastic acting performances by a young group of performers (also Kyle Chandler who is possibly my favorite actor) and a solid plot. In ET the monster was a little rubber costume fixed up with some animations. Stand by me featured only a dummy as a dead body that is hardly seen. As movies have progressed, we need more and more to satiate a crowd of digital-effect junkies that is the movie ticket buying generation of today. Take away the effects here and I still think you have a great story well acted, it just wouldn’t have sold tickets. Blow something up in an eccentric manner and now we’re talking. Cha-ching baby.

Fantasy football and my 2nd place destiny

This year, like the 8 before it I am hosting a fantasy football league for an odd amalgam of people including friends from highschool, former co-workers from lifetime and even family. Each year we battle it out on the fantasy football scene over at yahoo.com/fantasysports with nothing on the line but self-satisfaction and bragging rights.

This was our first year doing a live draft party over at my house and we had a great time doing it. It made the season feel a bit more competitive and forced you to work with those good or bad decisions made during the draft through the rest of the season. This adds to the sense of accomplishment I always feel when it comes down to the last week of the season and I am, without fail in the championship game. And this is where it all goes wrong.

Each year of the last seven, I have been in the league championship play-offs; which means I have been in the top four teams at the close of every season. Coming into the play-offs I have without fail won the first game landing me in the final championship match. And then. Well, and then I have, with the exception of one year, lost that championship game. Hardly without fail, I arrive #2 of 10 or #2 of 12. Now there is nothing wrong with second place in a game that I enjoy for an entire football season, but, come on. There seems to be a fate about it at this point. There was a year where we even tied and the tiebreaker went against me. Last year I appeared to have won the game, only to later have the stats adjusted and title already declared for me, literally taken away. I mean, honestly, come on.

This year, I sit on the precipace of another championship game, facing off against the team that finished in second place and the person who knows more football and fantasy football than I do. And I find myself wishing, as I do every year, that this year I’ll be #1 of 12. If it doesn’t go my way though, I guess being number two isn’t really all that bad. Here’s hoping I break my trend.

Unboxed, my 3rd Woot! bag of crap

Two days ago to my very happy surprise a box from woot.com sat on the front stoop waiting to be claimed. This is the rare package you order, for a mere 8.00 dollars from woot and never know what you’ll find inside. This is my 3rd of such packages. They come up only on certain days of the year called ‘woot-offs’ where instead of the 1 day 1 item rule woot usually follows, there is a deal available until such time as there are none left. When that deal sells out a new item is posted. This lasts for 48 hours. There is no warning, there is no way to predict this occurrence and when it happens there is no way to know when the bag of crap will show up.

Talk about smart web marketing if I am allowed an aside here. Folks who follow woot or know about the deals and the wacky products that comprise a woot-off check the site every day. The bag of crap takes it one step further, check the site daily for a woot-off and when a woot-off happens keep watching to see if you can spot one of these hard to come by random bags of crap.

Are the contents always good? No, frankly they are rarely useful, it is crap after-all. But the joy of getting a box filled with who-knows-what is something even more surprising than Christmas. My first bag of crap had something like 50 mini-slinkies among other things. My second bag has dust pads refills for a device I didn’t own and a mechanical usb dog that is the most useless piece of crap I can imagine. This time, here is what I got.

Contents of a woot.com bag of crap, december 2011

  • 2 fire engine red duffle bags
  • 1 spitball dartboard of excuses
  • 1 Dremel Trio Multi-tool for sanding and cutting wood
  • 1 keychain woot monkey
  • 1 Cupcake flavored(?) lip gloss in a cupcake shaped container

I think the duffel bags are endlessly useful and the multi-tool has to be a steal at 8.00 dollars when it retails at $80.00. I think this might have been my best bag of crap ever. I even gave the Mrs. the cupcake lip gloss.

When seeing is believing, the proper eye wear is key

You know, I once scoffed and mocked people who put small shards of glass and or plastic in their eyes for their unwillingness to embrace their disabilities. “I wear my disabilities on my face,” I would tell them, “I can’t see and I am proud.” But now, I have joined the ranks of those wearers of hidden lenses, the fraternity of the sighted eye, I now own contact lenses.

You may be hurt by this gesture you glasses wearing folk you. But let me tell you, it’s not that bad after-all. Sure you have to be mildly comfortable touching your own eye and sticking something in them to boot, but it is nice in ways too. I mean, try wearing a scarf over your cold face in the winter time without fogging up those specs. Try running in the summer heat with those glasses on, not only will you look like a nerd, you’ll have sweat stained glass and have to worry about the glasses sliding off your nose. Not for me, there are times in life, when glasses are not the way to go, and I am now someone who has the choice.

So call me what names you like. Two-eyes, Normal, whatever; Your pathetic insults can’t hurt me. Now that I have another option for seeing I am invulnerable to your name calling and also I am less likely to trip when running or working outside in the cold, times when I usually would just skip attempting to correct my vision at all.

Take that!

Kindles rooting on an open fire

I had the distinct pleasure the last week to be in on a Christmas gift for a family member who best not be reading this blog post (I’m very sure he wont be). The gift was the Kindle Fire, the desire, to be able to play games found only on the Android Market. Well the kindle only has the Amazon Market so it was going to need some customization to get this to work.

My thoughts on rooting the Kindle Fire

I don’t necessarily recommend the process at all. I was able to do it though with little prior eperience. It was not an easy task though, at no point was I having fun and all the while I worried about royally screwing up the device. At one point the device was not starting thanks to a launcher .apk file which you need to install to be able to view the Android Market App you finally got installed properly. 

However, once it works, it works well and makes so much sense. Why a tablet maker would not include the android market on such a capable device is beyond me. I realize there is money to be made, but, it is almost a reason not to buy the device. These tablets are nothing without great apps, the Android Market gives you the greatest ability to find great apps, the limited amount in the Amazon Store seems laughable and seriously hinders the tablet.

At least let me share some links I used

Well, if you want to try this yourself, here are some websites I found pretty useful, be prepared to be patient and learn a lot about these tablets along the way.

http://liliputing.com/2011/11/how-to-sideload-apps-even-the-android-market-on-the-amazon-kindle-fire.html

http://androidadvices.com/android-market-place-amazon-kindle-fire/

http://www.pcworld.com/article/244303/how_to_root_your_kindle_fire.html

There were a couple of others but the top one here was actually the most useful set of directions for me, it had some little hints along the way that made a big difference. The last link here is what you need to do first, you can’t do any app sideloading without rooting, but make sure you unroot when you are done to avoid hangups in your amazon video streaming service.

Curled up by the fire with eggnog and a new blog

Well, starting this whole process up again around Christmas time is a bit of a gift to myself. My last attempt at a blog was more of a look at me and my big important thoughts about HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and so forth. Bah Humbug to that!

Fortunately life is all about starting over and with another year and another Christmas gone by, I’ve given myself the gift of a blog that I can write whatever I want in. I can write about work if I want but, I have other things I’d like to write about.

I’m a bit of a gamer and I have a fair few opinions on movies, books and music as well. So, going forward, I plan to give those thoughts and whatever else strikes me at any given moment (I was a bit of a fiction writer in my collegiate days, who knows).

Merry Christmas and a happy new blog!