Mr. Bill George Presents

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Duplicity

In Film on August 29, 2009 at 8:56 PM

Tony Gilroy’s film Duplicity was released this week on Blu-ray / DVD and I could not let the occasion pass without saying something. It is one of my favorite movies of the year as evidenced by the review I posted on my previous web endeavor (IAgreeWithTheMovieDude.com). Because that review came in the waning days of the site and because my love for this movie cannot be overstated, I submit to you my full review of Duplicity:

Tony Gilroy wrote and directed this spy comedy about two former espionage experts attempting to pull off a major con job in the private sector. Gilroy’s name may sound familiar because his directorial debut, Michael Clayton, garnered rave reviews and more than a couple Oscar nominations. Clayton was easily one of my favorite films in 2007 and Duplicity is now one of my favorite films of 2009.

Gilroy once again focuses his story on the cutthroat world of business and corporate moguls. In this case, the always fantastic Paul Giamatti and Clayton veteran Tom Wilkinson run rival corporations in the home pharmaceutical industry (think Johnson & Johnson). Meanwhile, stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play former spies (of the C.I.A. and MI6 respectively) with a complicated past who now find themselves reunited working counterintelligence for the companies.

Going too into depth summarizing the story would ruin the experience so I’ll leave it at that. Sufficed to say, Gilroy’s writing is as sharp as ever and the constantly twisting and turning story proves both smart and rewarding. Another part of the film’s success is its editing. Pieces of the present are intersected with moments from the past, blending together seamlessly like chapters in a novel. It’s not linear and that is to the film’s advantage. Gilroy tells us exactly what he wants us to know, when he wants us to know it. Trying to put the puzzle together keeps the film constantly engaging.

Owen gives a fantastic performance in a role that, just like the film itself, is smart, charming and always entertaining. Roberts is no slouch either but she does feel a tad more dispensable. She could have been replaced with someone a little younger, with a little more charisma and the movie may have been better served.

But as is, the film just works. When it is firing on all cylinders it is devilishly clever and thoroughly absorbing. By the end I found myself completely caught up in the action and on the edge of my seat waiting to see if my predictions were accurate. Now that’s a feeling every good thriller should evoke.

BOTTOM LINE: Pure enjoyment for the crime and/or spy movie buffs out there.

Whole Foods And Healthcare

In Business on August 26, 2009 at 2:44 AM

This is slightly old news at the moment but the C.E.O of Whole Foods, John Mackey, posted an article that caused some controversy. “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare” was shown on the Wall Street Journal’s website and caused a great deal of disturbance among more liberal Americans, who in most cases are the ones that go to Whole Foods. The entire thing was a P.R. Nightmare. People are boycotting the natural foods markets all over the country to show their opposition to Mackey’s opinions.

I think, after reading the article, that Mackey really doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, which is unfortunate given that he is the C.E.O. of a major corporation (though given how major corporations have been faring lately, it’s hardly atypical). And while I disagree with his overall message, he does make some interesting points, and provides what in my mind appears to be the conservative ideal for privatized health care. He does a very good job of playing a responsible and caring C.E.O. while ultimately not doing much for health care or his company.

What follows are his list of suggestions with commentary/rebuttal where appropriate:

Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).

Mackey goes on to suggest that this would solve a lot of problems with our health care system and provide an example for how his company utilizes high-deductible plans. What he doesn’t bother to explain is what high-deductible means. It means that you’ve got to pay out quite a bit of money before you start getting fully insured. Would this ease some of the financial burdens on people on a paycheck to paycheck basis? Absolutely. Would it allow insurance companies to spend a lot less? Sure it would, but as soon as someone has a health problem they’d better have $2,500 in the bank. Which doesn’t sound like much to your average middle class American, but your average middle class American also isn’t bagging groceries at Whole Foods. Mackey also suggests that this creates an incentive to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. No it doesn’t, it creates an incentive to avoid spending that $2,500 at all. I’ve had a toothache for the past few months but have I gone to the dentist? Nope! Thanks high deductible insurance plan! Realistically speaking this only really helps solve health care problems for people that can afford to have some health care problems to begin with. It’s a great way of working within the system we have, but nothing near what a proper universal heath care system could offer.

Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Read the rest of this entry »

You Magnificent Basterd

In Film on August 22, 2009 at 8:57 PM

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Deathproof was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life and I still have not forgiven Quentin Tarantino for putting me through it.

And please, spare me the “he was trying to do” this or that. Don’t bother telling me in what light I should view it. It was a waste of my time. Plain and simple. I don’t care if it was a throwback or homage. I don’t care if he made it slow and excruciating on purpose. It was terrible and I’ll never get that time back.

My history with Tarantino has always been checkered. I really love Reservoir Dogs.  Pulp Fiction I’m lukewarm about. Jackie Brown left no impression on me whatsoever. Kill Bill pt. 1 I loved while pt. 2 felt played. His style is often a turn off for me, but the performances in his films and his writing keep me watching.

His latest work, Inglourious Basterds, is his best film to date. I say that without a doubt in my mind. He shows the kind of top notch director he can be when he focuses… but at times he still gets in his own way.

90% of the film is a fictionalized World War II drama about a group of Jewish-American soldiers and German double agents attempting to destroy the Third Reich, and it is phenomenal.

The other 10% is Tarantino being Tarantino: Over the top musical flourishes. Absurd typefaces. Random voiceovers. Unnecessary flashes of imagery, etc. Because his presence is felt so rarely, it proves only to distract rather than enhance.

But the rest of the movie makes up for it and then some. Tarantino has always had a gift for dialogue, but in the past that dialogue has been in a context that is usually fairly entertaining (opening scene in Reservoir Dogs) or worthless (girls in Deathproof).

This time, Tarantino pairs his gift for dialogue with some real substance. The outcome is some of the most riveting exchanges I’ve seen on screen in a long time. I cannot stress this enough: Inglourious Basterds is one of the most compelling movies I’ve ever seen.

A great deal of that has to do with the fantastic performance of Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. He carries the film and is one of the most interesting and watchable villains Tarantino has ever brought to the screen.

As a warning, all the parts of the film I’m raving about (and also can’t stop thinking about), are subtitled and star no name actors. While the advertisements play up the Basterds and the star power of Brad Pitt, their role is actually fairly small in the scope of the story. Don’t go into the film expecting a constant bloodbath. This is a thoughtful and methodical tale of espionage with some occasional action.

The more I relfect on it, the more I want to see Inglourious Basterds again… right now.

It is the least Tarantino-y of his films and I feel it’s his best. That may say more about my taste than anything else, but believe me when I tell you that this movie is something special.

Crowning Moments Of Awesome

In Film, Literature, Television on August 20, 2009 at 12:44 AM

As defined by the website www.tvtropes.org, a Crowning Moment of Awesome is best described as:

“The moment when a fictional character does something for which they will be remembered forever, winning for them the eternal loyalty of fans.”

And it was at this website that I found myself escaping from my hours of boredom, looking up what I deemed to be Crowning Moments of Awesome and seeing if they were indeed cataloged by what I would declare as the most comprehensive compendium of such moments.

As I searched through the website and was reminded of the various CMOA that I have experienced throughout my years as a reader/movie-watcher/tv-gazer, I realized that these instances really make or break a movie/book/show for me. It’s these small instances of, for lack of a better word, awesomeness, that have made the works that they are a part of so memorable in my mind.

Off the top of my head one example that comes to mind is Gladiator, when Russel Crowe removes his helmet and reveals that he is still very much alive to Commodus’ dismay and declares:

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Just re-reading this quote gave me a shiver accompanied by fleeting goose bumps. It is one of those movie moments that will stay strong in my head, even as most of the other parts of the movie fall into obscurity.

Another legendary moment is in The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya finally faces the six-fingered man, repeating the lines, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.” A moment that will be forever rise above other scenes, bronzed in an awesome glory.

Sometimes, however, a movie cannot elicit any memories of a CMOA. Some movies have but a few, some might have multitudes,  and some movies could be said just to be one giant CMOA coalesced from many smaller CMOA, such as the 300 holding strong against their titanic Persian foe.  After reading this article and looking through the numerous examples, I discover that a well placed CMOA is the #1 thing I look for in a movie. The first half of a movie can be shit for all I care as long as it somehow can pull a glorified CMOA from its ass, obliterating all the other detritus from memory.

My favorite CMOA of all time would have to be the end of the last episode from the anime series “Cowboy Bebop” (one of the few anime shows that I can stand to watch). The character “Spike Spiegel,” whom has illustrated various amounts of badassery throughout the series and has become one of my top 5 fictional characters, ends the series with such an amazing “bang” that I will never tire of watching the episode again and again. I do not want to divulge what specifically it is that he does due to the nominal chance of ruining it for someone who might plan to watch it someday, but I can say that it is indeed a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Read the rest of this entry »

District 9 Sleeps Alone

In Film on August 18, 2009 at 2:36 AM

I like to go into my movies fresh. I mean really fresh. I’ll watch a teaser for something, if there is one, or the first 30 seconds of a full trailer. If I’m watching the trailer online, I’ll simply stop it once I get the idea. If I’m watching the trailer in the theater, I’ll actually close my eyes after a certain point and do my best to ignore the sound.

Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut District 9 was no exception. I watched the initial teaser trailer and went on a media blackout from then on. But I tell ya, that teaser stuck with me.

It didn’t depict exactly what the movie would be like, but it conveyed the premise and my imagination did the rest. Now I’ve seen the actual film and I’m having trouble reconciling what I saw on the screen and what I saw in my head.

I can’t help but judge this movie two separate ways. It succeeds in terms of execution but also fails by limiting itself to being a pedestrian action flick.

[ENTERING SPOILER TERRITORY]

The film begins by getting the audience up to speed, documentary style, with the events of the past twenty years. An alien mothership has been hovering over Johannesburg and the aliens that occupied it now live in a contained slum known as District 9.

All of this is great, great stuff. The effects are fantastic, the story is gripping, and faux-documentary is always a winning style choice if you ask me (Death of a President anyone?). It begins to scratch the surface of all the sociological questions raised by these visitors… Then we start to follow around one alien affairs officer who begins to mutate into an alien.

Enter 30 straight minutes of running, hiding and screaming. (Lots and lots of screaming.)

Then, in the third act, our protagonist teams up with an alien in a sequence reminiscent of Aliens vs. Predator. Yes, this movie reminded me of AVP. (That’s never a good thing.) Together they proceed to run and gun. And gun and run.

Is it entertaining? For sure. Well done? Absolutely. Original? Eh, not particularly. Unforgettable? Hardly.

I suppose my overall gripe is with the filmmakers’ content selection. I found myself much more interested in the complexities of the mass relocation of a hostile alien race than in a pencil pusher going through a Fly-esque transformation. The vision they present to us in the beginning is worldwide in scope and its ramifications are on a macro scale. But by the end of the picture we find ourselves following a guy and his alien buddy trying to reclaim a MacGuffin.

Speaking of the finale, did I miss something or did it not seem to make much sense? So the ship’s fuel also has the interesting property of causing genetic mutation in humans? And is the fuel just for the drop-ship or the mothership or both? Did he need all that fuel just to fire up the tractor beam (which apparently is all that was really required)? Did he really just fall to his knees and give a ‘go on without me’ speech?

And so I stand before you a conflicted man. I love action as much as the next guy but some more depth would have been appreciated. Lord knows I’m not asking for an intergalactic Crash here, I just want some more effort put into the plotting of the second half. Read the rest of this entry »

To Beep Or Not To Beep

In Society on August 14, 2009 at 9:12 AM

I honk my horn at other drivers probably once or twice a year. It’s a rare occurrence to say the least. Meanwhile, I know people who are constantly laying on the horn every chance they can get.

What accounts for this disparity?

Part of it is the fact I generally assume positive intent. If someone cuts in front of me or does something that impedes my driving, I try to take a second to re-live the experience from their perspective and find out if there is a rational explanation for what they did. And I reflect on the occurrence as a whole to make sure I was not the one at fault. Then I try to determine if I actually have the right to beep at them. In other words, instead of “beep first, ask questions later,” I like to decide if the situation is beepable (or ‘beepworthy’ if you will) before applying the horn.

Problem is, by the time I reach a decision, the moment has passed. Beeping too late is empty and pointless. We’ve all moved on. There’s no effect.

Those few times I do beep, is because the situation occurs slowly instead of spontaneously. And 9 times out of 10, it involves trying to get through the ‘Fast Lane’ of a toll booth.

It seems many people in our fair commonwealth forget the first part of the term: FAST. It is supposed to take less time going through the ‘Fast Lane’ than waiting for a normal toll. And don’t give me the “it’s listed for 15 mph” nonsense. We all know they can pick up on that transponder even if you’re doing a good 40.

When it comes down to it, ‘Fast Lane’ passes should be mandatory. It shouldn’t be an option anymore. Everyone should just be issued one. And the dividers between booths should be removed and we should just drive under an overpass filled with sensors like they do in New Jersey. No real need to slow down. Our goal is to keep moving and the state’s goal is to collect money quickly, so we all win.

Back to the discussion at hand: car horn honking. We should discuss, in an open forum, what makes an offense beepworthy.  What action by another driver do you find yourself consistently beeping at? Do you only beep at individuals, or at a situation as a whole? Must it be at someone because of something they do? Or do you beep at the fact that there is a hold up ahead of all of you?

I’m very curious to hear some varying points of view on this topic.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

In Film on August 13, 2009 at 12:11 AM

Stephen Sommers’ end of summer blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was my first experience with the G.I. Joe franchise… ever.

Yes, it’s true. Growing up I never saw the show, I never owned the toy, I never so much as touched any Joe paraphernalia. It was not a conscience decision by any means. It’s not as though I actively avoided it. It just never became a part of my pop-culture lexicon for whatever reason.

So going into this film I was a blank slate. After I heard it used in the film I distinctly recognized the line, “Knowing if half the battle.” But otherwise, any and all inside jokes or references were lost on me.

But I have to say, as an ambassador of the series, Rise of Cobra did an admirable job. I now find myself much more interested in the story and its characters. And I certainly will watch the plethora of sequels that will stem from this opening act.

The story followed the loose outline I would expect from an action figure based film: bad guy wants to take over world, good guys must prevent it from happening. Any semblance of depth comes from the characters in the elite G.I. Joe unit and their histories/connections.

Other than the occasional flashback to break up the action and fill in the gaps, the film barrels full speed ahead at all times. It also has a distinct beginning, middle and end, all while laying down a foundation for future installments.

What I’m trying to say is: G.I. Joe knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do, and it does it well. It excels at being an entertaining action film. It succeeds everywhere that Transformers 2 failed.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. Some of the flashbacks are a bit hammy and the humor is at times forced. And they never seem to take into account all the civilians that presumably lose their lives during all of the breathtaking action sequences…

After the abysmal Transformers 2, Rise of Cobra redeems the movie based on a show based on a toy genre. Check it out if you are looking for some mindless entertainment.

Oh, and if you see it and don’t like it, you’re probably a communist.

I Love America.

Say Uncle

In Society on August 11, 2009 at 6:26 PM

“Uncle Bill.”

Everyone seems to have one.

Well, now I’m going to be one.

At a press conference this morning my sister announced that she was indeed pregnant. Sources close to her confirm that she has been aware of this for some time now, but the information was not disclosed to the public until today.

So that means I can now discuss with you how excited I am.

Because let’s face it, what better relative role is there than the aunt/uncle?

You get to spend time with the kid. You can spoil him or her. You can take credit for stuff he or she does, but receive zero percent of the blame for foul-ups (instead just throw your sibling under the bus (which at this point in life is standard operating procedure)). You don’t have to give out money every time you see them like you will with grandkids. And while the grandparents are still around, you are less likely to be asked to babysit.

It’s the perfect blend of benefits and responsibilities (heavy on the former, light on the latter).

… So this is where I thought I’d search for the most famous ‘Uncles’ in history and comment on the list and we’d all delight in a good time… Unfortunately, my searches yielded no such list. The best result I came across was Uncle Sam.

Speaking of which, do you know the origin of that iconic character? According to Wikipedia:

A businessman from Troy, New York, Samuel Wilson provided the army with beef in barrels during the War of 1812. The barrels were prominently labelled “U.S.” for the United States, but it was joking said that the letters stood for “Uncle Sam.” Soon, Uncle Sam was used as shorthand for the federal government.

The man himself looked nothing like the gaunt, steely-eyed patrician of popular lore. The Abe Lincoln look, along with that fantastic star-spangled outfit, was a product of political cartoonists like Thomas Nast.

Interesting, no?

I Love America.

Okay, enough of that. Any Uncle’s or Aunt’s out there? Have any advice? Anecdotes? Thoughts at all?

Leave ’em all in the comments below.

Read the rest of this entry »

McCartney At Fenway

In Music on August 8, 2009 at 7:27 PM

Generally, when I am at a concert I notice that there is an indeterminable amount of people around me bobbing their heads, tapping their toes, and occasionally rhythmically swinging their hips to the tunes. I have never been one of these people. I am a person who looks around at this unspoken choreography going on in the crowd around me and thinks, “How does that happen? I guess I should bob my head or something,” for fear that the people in my immediate vicinity might mistake me for an upright corpse struck with rigor mortis.

However, I became all of those people effortlessly the other night when I saw Paul McCartney at Fenway Park. I can recall certain times during the night where I came to certain realizations, such as the realization that my leg was moving at regular intervals without my knowledge to the beat of Lady Madonna and that my voice box was indeed “na-na-naaaing” with the rest of the crowd for the end of Hey Jude. It is the fact that the music brought out these seldom seen functions in me that I knew I was witnessing an amazing performance.

I must say I was hesitant to shell out $215 two weeks ago on tickets for me and my girlfriend but after all is said in done I can say that it would have been worth it had I only been there for the A Day in the Life / Give Peace a Chance rendition. I remember being covered in goosebumps suddenly and intensely as soon as I heard that familiar, elegant guitar strum accompanied by the melodic entrance of the piano keys.

Not all the tracks were Beatles tracks however, a good number of the songs at the concert’s start were from his solo career, which I can’t say I’m too familiar with. I didn’t mind this though because it made those few initial songs played from the Beatles all the more magical. I love the Beatles, though I have always just classified them as classic rock and never once thought I’d be hearing those familiar songs sung by one of them. They were a golden relic that I wouldn’t ever think I’d experience which made hearing those songs performed by one of the two surviving members one of the most memorable experiences I will ever hope to have. I cannot believe that two weeks ago I was contemplating missing a living legend because I would be tired for work the next morning.

Aside from my overwhelming feelings of Beatles nostalgia this concert inspired in me, the concert itself was fantastic. I mildly feared that the show might be something that sells just by having Paul McCartney’s name attached to it and was skeptical of the quality I would experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Invasion Of Normandy (In Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania)

In Sports on August 5, 2009 at 12:37 AM

I’m standing in a crowded landing craft. Or at least it’s called a landing craft. In my mind I’m an allied soldier, ready to storm the beaches of Normandy with my brothers in arms as we save Europe from the grip of tyrannous Nazi bastards. Images of “Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault” and “Saving Private Ryan” flash through my head. However, outside of my mind, I am actually in a wooden recreation of a landing craft, firmly planted on a grassy field surrounded by 10 other landing craft placed intermittently along an imaginary “beach line.” My rifle is really a paintball gun and my brothers in arms are fellow players who have made their way to Pennsylvania as I had for “The Invasion of Normandy” at Skirmish Paintball. One of the largest paintball events in the world.

We stood cramped in this craft waiting for the game to start. Waiting for the entrenched Nazis at the tree line to make fodder of us. We were the first wave. From the outside we could hear war crys as our allies got amped up for their wave to go in. This was not so with us, we in the landing craft had dimmed to a calm silence as the 30 seconds till the game start counted down. Sweat beads run down my face stinging my eyes, unable to be wiped away because of my mask. I check my harness, make sure my ammo pods are secured. I will be needing more than what my hopper can carry alone. The time is running out now. At five seconds a siren wails, signaling the start of the game. From the distance a million orbs of paint rise from the tree line like a great swarm of speckled bees that have just been disturbed from an ageless slumber. The silence of their ascent lasts for only a moment as the tiny orbs begin hammering the door of the craft, assaulting us with reverberations from the wood.

I crouch low, ready to sprint when that door drops. A great “WHOOMPF” is heard all along the field as the doors of the landing craft fall softly to the tall grass. Five guys ahead of me falter in the sprint to cover as shells and paint giblets erupt from their chest. Poor bastards never stood a chance, the germans had a bead on them ever since they started firing at the door. I don’t pause in my advance, I make it out of the landing craft and sprint the few yards to cover. About half of us made it out of the craft and we had drawn very heavy fire.

It was only the first wave and we were already barely able to fit behind the little cover near the landing craft. With nervous hesitance I knew I had to move up, if the second wave entered without us moving up it would be a cluster-fuck of camouflage, paintballed allies, and very happy Nazis. With that knowledge I charged ahead to the next available bunker. I remember thinking it was much more spacious however the volume of enemy fire I had attracted was also much more significant.

“MOVE UP!” I scream, along with a few others in the front lines. We few were like the fingers making way for the rest of the hand to drag itself up. Thank god, people started to move up though I found myself in the predicament yet again of being cramped in my bunker. Looking to my right there were a few barrels that would have to do for cover. I got up to sprint to it when I heard an immense flare in crackling, the firefight just reached a new level. Thinking the enemy all decided to say “Hey! Go for that guy!” I picked up speed and crashed into cover. When I made it to cover I saw that the firing was due to the second wave hitting the field, guns blazing at no particular target, and the germans were happy to return the favor. There were paintballs colliding with other goddamned paintballs to give you any idea as to how filled the air was getting with hard-shelled orbs traveling at speeds upward of 270 feet per second. Read the rest of this entry »