Thursday, November 15, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Roger RulesThis very unusual title was picked by the kids for Family Night (I clearly would have never picked it on my own!).

The Gist: The middle child in this average American family has to deal with a winy and manipulating younger brother and a grumpy and abusive older one.  His parents seem aloof to his predicament and several awkward and comical situations ensue.

This isn’t the first movie in the Wimpy Kid franchise so I don’t have a way of comparing it to what came before.  As a standalone, it’s just your average teen flick, packed with jokes and situations geared towards getting a rise from middle schoolers, the target audience.

Not much else is there.  The script is quite bare bones and the acting nothing more than acceptable.

The Bottom Line: While it can generate a few chuckles, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules doesn’t impress or leave anything in its pass.  You can watch it with your kids if they’re into it as much as ours are and it’s pretty harmless.

Grade: 5

The Banner #8

The picture I chose for the new banner was taken on October 21, 2012 in Collinsville, Connecticut, during an outing with one of my Meetup groups.

Blog Banner 08

The town is quaint, very pretty, and totally photogenic.  The fall colors simply added to the photo-ops available.  Here’s the full shot:


And the technical details (I was shooting manual):

Lens: Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
F-stop: f/5.6
Exposure: 1/400 sec.
ISO: 200
Focal length: 50 mm

All rights reserved,

The Iron Lady

The Iron LadyI had been longing to watch this movie ever since it came out.  Anything with my beloved Meryl Streep, the greatest actress of all time, deserves watching and this was the one that finally earned her the long-awaited third Oscar, lifting her to the more rarified tier of triple Oscar winners.  Only Katherine Hepburn has more, with four.

The Gist: Margaret Thatcher, now an old lady afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, was a seminal figure during the second half of the 20th century in Britain but her leadership affected the whole world.  We are taken through the most important events of that time as seen through her eyes and those of the people closest to her.

The Iron Lady is at best an average movie.  Sure, the most important events of Mrs. Thatcher’s reign as one of the most powerful Prime Ministers Britain has ever had are analyzed, but one can feel the countless other events that affected her and the nation bubbling just under the surface.

The editing is only partially effective in creating a good flow and the screenplay is part of the problem.  However, whatever lacks in those areas is more than made up for in others.  Costumes, score, and art direction are all very good, and the makeup is flawless.

Finally, of course, a word about Mrs. Streep’s performance.  While aided by the Oscar winning makeup, it is unimaginably, disarmingly, and utterly impeccable.  Everyone knows she’s a great actress, and I was expecting an excellent performance, but from when she first appears on screen all the way to the closing credits I couldn’t believe the bravura performance I was witnessing.  Over and over I found myself in awe of this woman, mouth agape, staring at the screen.

Now, some might say that’s not a good sign, because it jolts you from the action, or that she was wasted in a movie of such low caliber, but in the end her performance is what “makes” The Iron Lady a movie worth watching in spite of its imperfections.  Mrs. Streep’s performance in this movie should be a case study for every aspiring student thespian.

The Bottom Line: While not memorable as far as biography adaptations for the big screen go, Meryl Streep’s performance is so good that it makes this a must-see for any cinephile worthy of his or her name.

Grade: 7

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


9I was undecided whether to watch this movie with the kids or not, since it was animated, but after a few scenes I realized it would have been too scary for them (especially Nicole).  The movie is correctly rated PG-13.

The Gist: 9 is a rag doll who suddenly awakens in a post apocalyptic world.  After finding others like him, he sets out to find a way to salvage whatever he can of the world as it once was.

A very different kind of animated movie, geared towards an older audience than the usual fare, 9 confronts the perils of what happens when technology and weapons get out of hand very effectively.

The Bottom Line: An original script, solid voice over work, and excellent technical work come together in an interesting film that stands apart from the many animated movies we’re accustomed to see, even though it is no masterpiece.

Grade: 7

Friends with Benefits

friends with benefitsThe title pretty much says it all for this average comedy and I won’t deny that the subject matter and the male lead are precisely the reasons why I decided to check it out.

The Gist: While venting about their recent break ups, a guy and a girl lament the general view each gender holds of the opposite one in regards to sex.  They then decide to prove to each other that they can be friends and have sex without any romantic interferences.

Mila Kunis, a good actress I first admired in Black Swan, is overall good but at times too flimsy.  Justin Timberlake, whose acting chops are improving with time, offers a more uneven performance: sometimes he inhabits his character, others he just plays it.  Perhaps the simple and light screenplay didn’t anchor them enough.

The one cameo worth mentioning is Woody Harrelson’s, who steals the few scenes he’s in as the upfront and outgoing gay token.

The Bottom Line: Friends with Benefits is a fairly inconsequential comedy that moves too fast at times but overall entertains thanks to its easy-on-the-eyes leads.  You can find worse ways to waste a couple hours I guess.

Grade: 6

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Next, by Michael Crichton

Next, by Michael CrichtonCrichton is one of my favorite authors even though this is only the second of his books that I’ve read, the other one being Congo.  The reason I love his work so much is that he’s the author of such fare as Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Rising Sun, and while I haven’t read the books, I’ve seen the movies based on them.

Now, some are jewels (like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain) and others are duds (like Congo and Sphere), but I loved Congo the book, so I feel confident that I’d enjoy his other books as well.

Crichton wrote thrillers with a sci-fi bend, for which I have a natural inclination.  In Next he tackles the troubling to nightmarish scenarios that can occur when scientific exploration as it relates to genetic research is highjacked for financial gain and by unscrupulous lawyers.

The book follows several storylines that at times converge while at others taper off on their own, but is well written, intriguing, alarming, and at times shocking, especially when you realize that all that Mr. Crichton wrote about could actually occur.

Grade: 8

Source Code

Source CodeIf you like a mind-bending, action laden thriller with a serving of sci-fi, look no further than Source Code.

The Gist: A maimed marine is recruited for a super secret mission involving him temporarily “living” inside someone else’s mind.  The goal is to prevent a terrorist attack.

The movies plunges the audience into the action and it takes a bit to understand what is going on in the two parallel realities our hero is operating in, but once you do all you can really do is go “Whoa!”

The magnetically handsome Jake Gyllenhaal expertly navigates his way around the challenges of playing someone whose worldview is upended and blown away over and over again.

The Bottom Line: Source Code’s concept is mind blowing and the execution is fantastic.  Gyllenhaal is great and so are Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright.  It is definitely one of the better movies out there.  Don’t miss it.

Grade: 8

Corpse Bride

Corpse BrideThe King of Darkness, aka Tim Burton, is back with another stop motion wonder, even though this one doesn’t marvel as much as Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Gist: A wedding of convenience arranged by two sets of greedy parents for two very timid souls is upended by the arrival on the scene of a cadaverous bride who believes the groom just married her.

The movie is technically impeccable and in spite of the glaring differences between this type of animation and the computer generated one we’re more accustomed to, it’s well made and endearing.

The vocal cast is great and the score, by longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, a perfect accompaniment.

The Bottom Line: Although it suffers when compared to Christmas, Corpse Bride is an entertaining animated film that perhaps shouldn’t be shown to the littlest ones because after all one of the main characters is still a dead (and rotting) body.

Grade: 7

African Cats

African CatsThis Disney documentary about life in the African savannah for these wonderful animals is incredibly well made. 

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, we are introduced to two families of lions and lionesses and one fierce cheetah mother with her cubs.

The images are absolutely incredible: amazing vistas, massive migrations, ferocious attacks, and profound familial attachment.  It boggles the mind to think of the technical hurdles that were overcome to make such a movie.

The most touching part for me was watching the oldest lioness fighting to ensure her cub’s survival in the pride when she feels her end approaching.  Having a very old dog ourselves, who is now almost 16 years old, I could see so many similar behaviors and it would often break my heart thinking of how she must feel and how aware she must be that her end too is slowly approaching.

I would recommend this movie to all except maybe very young children since some of the attacks can be pretty intense, even tough some might argue that it’s all part of nature.

Grade: 7

Monday, November 12, 2012


WeedsThe final season of this odd Showtime show was not very good.  I always liked the show’s quirkiness but lately it had started to become long in the tooth.  How long could this woman keep selling marijuana for?  How many ways can she find of getting away with it?  How many more dangerous situations can she get herself out of without serious consequences?

Weeds had clearly endured past its shelf life, and I was all but ready to stop watching it when I found out that this would be its last season.  Ultimately though, it left me wanting for a send-off more in line with the show’s rebellious spirit than this attempt to please everyone.

Many years have passed since we last saw Nancy Botwin and now she’s apparently quite rich, the opposite of what she was when we first met her, which forced her to start selling weed to begin with.  She feels like a completely different character.  Her extended “family” seems to be doing quite well too, each in their own way, which again runs counter to what we had grown accustomed to.  Most jarring though is the fact that they seem to now live in a very distant future without having aged more than a few years (their telephones feel like 2080 and marijuana production is legalized across the nation).

Ray enjoyed the way the show ended but for me it concluded in the worst possible way.  I’d have preferred to see them destitute and on their way to the next big adventure rather than rich and settled.  It just felt like a copout on the part of the creators.

Overall, the show was well made and enjoyable, it had just grown too old and weak under its own weight I guess.  I’d still recommend the first 4 or 5 seasons to everyone though.  Mary-Louise Parker is phenomenal and I’d take any chance to lay my eyes on Hunter Parrish, thank you very much!!

Grade – Season 8: 5

Grade for the Show: 7

Fright Night

Fright NightAfter the bitter disappointment that was watching the original Fright Night, the remake felt like a masterpiece.  Incredible, huh?

The Gist: A teenager figures out that his new neighbor is a vampire, who now starts toying with him before taking him out.

Hollywood is enamored with remaking old movies that are either classics (like Psycho) or have a cult following, like the original Fright Night.  It oftentimes doesn’t work, whether because the original was too good to be topped (and Psycho is only one such example) or because the original has withstood the test of time and doesn’t feel antiquated.

In the case of Fright Night, however, the original was so awfully bad that its remake earns high marks by comparison!  Uber hot Colin Farrell plays the vampire with intensity and gusto, counterweighted by uber cute Anton Yelchin, whose name recognition is quickly rising.

The visual effects and makeup are fantastic, but it’s the screenplay that makes this a good movie overall.  The story is well developed and, in spite of the subject matter, utterly believable.  In the True Blood era vampires are all the rage, but a good vampire story is still hard to tell (just look at the Twilight saga here, here, and here).

The Bottom Line: Fright Night manages to be a frightening tale that doesn’t disappoint and easily makes up for the shortcomings of its predecessor.

Grade: 7

Fright Night

fright night 1985This horror movie from the 80s was recently remade (that review is coming up) and as I often do, I wanted to see both to judge whether the remake improved on the original and whether a remake was necessary or a good idea in the first place.

The Gist: A teenager ends up having more adventures than he bargained for after the discovery that a murderous vampire has moved next door.

Saying that I was disappointed with this movie is not totally correct.  I was more offended by its campiness and what felt like a lack of professionalism.

I thought I was going into a horror movie deserving of its name and instead got bad acting, a discombobulated script, and poor visual effects and makeup (although given the time and perhaps a limited budget, I generally tend to excuse those).

The Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a real horror movie, and not an involuntary laugh-fest, then you might want to steer clear of this one.  There are more times when the acting is bad, the timing is off, and the action is ridiculous than I can count.  All that happens on the screen just doesn’t make sense, vampires or not.

Grade: 3

Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and AliensTwo things attracted me to this movie, the sci-fi genre and Daniel Craig, even though both the critics’ and the public’s reception were only lukewarm.  Ultimately, I feel the same.

The Gist: It’s the 18th century and a violent and brutal alien race has landed on Earth to begin an invasion.  A bunch of cowboys and Native Americans are all that stand in their way.

The premise sounded interesting because usually alien invasions happen in the present or the future, not in such a distant past, which makes fighting them and their necessarily more advanced technology virtually impossible.

The screenplay is a little thin though, so try their best as they might, the actors end up looking like cardboard.  There’s the standard bad guy, the typical hero with a not-so-clean conscience, and the inevitable strong-willed female to fall in love with.  Not too many surprises.

The Bottom Line: Cowboys and Aliens is watchable but you keep hoping for it to soar higher than it ultimately does.  Good action scenes and an acceptable concept make for a generic film that’s soon forgotten.

Grade: 6

Friday, November 09, 2012

Three more friendly states

This past Tuesday, on Election Day, for the first time ever, voters approved same-sex marriage at the voting booth in not one, not two, but three states!!!

A big THANK YOU to Maine




and Washington


It was a glorious night for LGBT rights all over the map.  Aside from adding 3 more states to the total number allowing marriage equality and re-electing the most LGBT friendly president we’ve ever had, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was defeated in Minnesota (again, for the first time), and the first openly lesbian Senator, Tammy Baldwin, was elected to the US Senate.

The tide seems to have clearly turned in our favor and our opponents have lost the last weapon they had against us, that whenever the question was put to the people, we lost, which meant that the people weren’t on our side (regardless of the rightfulness of putting a minority’s civil rights to a popular vote).  This time, the people didn’t just hand us a victory, they did so times three, forever shattering that lone, last argument against marriage equality.

A great night full of positive news and results that will hopefully reverberate for years to come.

Videos that make me smile and hope

Via Towleroad two wonderful videos by Mike Buonaiuto about the power of love:

Wonderful.  Just wonderful.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Four More Years!!

President Barak Obama won reelection last night.  The happiness is indescribable.

Not only that, but we now have the first openly gay US Senator elected to a first term and we won marriage equality in 2 more states, Maine and Maryland.  A third, Washington, looks poised to follow suit and we also defeated a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality in Minnesota.

We kept the Senate and even added a couple seats.

Overall, it was a great night for LGBT people in this country and for Democrats.

Love this cartoon by J.D. Crowe:

O 4

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Things are looking good

After hundreds of millions of dollars spent (this time we passed the $2 billion mark!!), today is, finally, Election Day.

Tonight we should know the outcome of the most expensive US presidential campaign ever, but I like the odds that Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gives President Barack Obama for winning a second term in office:

11-6-2012 9-19-11 AM

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A non-polluting fuel

It appears that British scientists have figured out a way to create a synthetic fuel that doesn’t pollute at all:

Engineers in London said this week that they’ve developed a new type of synthetic vehicle fuel that’s created out of water and thin air, literally by pulling carbon molecules out of the atmosphere and recycling them.

Speaking to a conference this week put on by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers, researchers with Air Fuel Synthesis, Ltd. said they’ve successfully married a synthetic fuel production technique that dates back to World War II with modern atmospheric carbon capture and sequestration methods.

The resulting product, they said, works in all current vehicles, can be blended with conventional fuels, and just might be a game changer for human energy and the fight against climate change if it’s ever produced on a large enough scale.

“We haven’t broken the Second Law of Thermodynamics or anything,” Air Fuel Synthesis spokesperson Graham Truscott told Raw Story. “We take carbon, we combine it with hydrogen, put it in a reactor to make methanol, then we take the methanol and put that in another reactor to make petrol. The processes of making synthetic petrol from carbon are well known and have been around for many, many years. The Germans were doing it during the Second World War. The South Africans were doing it during the apartheid years. But they were taking their carbon source from coal. We’re taking our carbon source from the atmosphere.”

That’s been a goal of many scientists over the years, and significant investment has been poured into London-based research on nanomaterials that attract carbon molecules in the atmosphere. Researchers hope that these materials will not only be able to aid in the production of carbon-neutral fuels, but could also be useful in helping prevent carbon emissions from major polluters like coal plans and oil refineries.

[…] The drawback, of course, is that the process of creating this synthetic fuel is quite energy intensive, so it doesn’t get nearly as far toward its goal of being carbon neutral if the electricity used to synthesize atmospheric carbon into gas comes from burning fossil fuel. It’s also expensive: the team only produced about five liters of their synthetic fuel, at a cost of about $1 million for the whole project. But that’s not the point, they say.

Air Fuel Synthesis thinks the tripping points of cost and efficiency can be overcome by using renewable sources to like solar and wind to drive production, and they aim to prove it by building a large commercial plant within the next two years that will turn out up to a ton of carbon neutral fuel every day. They say their first target is the motor sports industry, which could benefit from a cleaner fuel.

Fantastic news.  Hopefully, they will be able to produce this fuel economically enough and Big Oil won’t succeed in curtailing this clear threat to their bottom line.



Here’s a fantastic computer generated video from NASA about the formation and evolution of galaxies in the universe.  It’s simply fascinating.

Star Wars to get a new life

Disney announced to purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd. and all its subsidiaries:

A decade since George Lucas said “Star Wars” was finished on the big screen, a new trilogy under new ownership is destined for theaters after The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that it was buying Lucasfilm Ltd. from him for $4.05 billion.

The seventh movie, with a working title of “Episode 7,” is set for release in 2015. Episodes 8 and 9 will follow. The trilogy will continue the story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia beyond “Return of the Jedi,” the third film released and the sixth in the saga. After that, Disney plans a new “Star Wars” movie every two or three years. Lucas will serve as creative consultant in the new movies.

“I’m doing this so that the films will have a longer life,” Lucas, the 68-year-old creator of the series and sole owner of Lucasfilm, said in an interview posted on YouTube. “I get to be a fan now ... I sort of look forward to it. It’s a lot more fun actually, than actually having to go out into the mud and snow.”

[…] The deal includes Lucasfilm’s prized high-tech production companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, as well as rights to the “Indiana Jones” franchise.

Lucas was hailed as a cinematic visionary when the original “Star Wars” came out in 1977. But he had become an object of often-vicious ridicule by the time he released 3-D versions of all six films in the Star Wars franchise earlier this year.

Die-hard Star War fans had been vilifying Lucas for years, convinced that he had become a commercial sell-out and had compounded his sins by desecrating the heroic tale that he originally sought to tell.

They railed against him for adding grating characters such as Jar Jar Binks in the second trilogy and attacked him for tinkering with the original trilogy, too. Any revision in special edition or home video releases — such as making the Ewoks blink or having a green-skinned alien named Greedo take the first shot at Han Solo in a famous bar scene — were treated as blasphemy.

I think this will be good for Star Wars.  Lucas created a fantastic universe with wonderful characters and storylines, but his insistence on keeping full control on scripts and directing duties clearly resulted in the inferior products of the prequels.

Considering that previously he had only directed the original Star Wars, and that the other two (especially The Empire Strikes Back) were much better, I think it’s safe to assume that an injection of new blood will only benefit the franchise.

Hopefully though, Disney won’t frak up…