Movie Reviews: Lady Bird was so _______

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Boring.

I appreciate indie film. For the most apart, it is only through this medium that you can watch art imitating life. There are no super powers. Space Aliens are not getting revenge on Earth. There are no stunts from tough guys that would kill an ordinary human being. Robots from another planet are not randomly picking Earth as a battleground.

I’ve been a fan of the indie scene sine the mid 1990s, when I was an early teen. I watched all sort of indie movies, clever and shitty. I’ve endured pretentiousness up the wazoo and witnessed work that predicted masterpieces to come. When I first saw Memento, I was like “Wow. Just wait until this Christopher Nolan guy gets a budget.”

When I watched Lady Bird, it couldn’t have been more boring to me. It began with a jump outside a moving vehicle, which made me go “okay, maybe we got a story here.” But what follows is basically ordinary coming of age life tale. The music was so off-2002 that it could have been a story for anyone from 1996 to 2004. The Catholic school setting didn’t matter whatsoever, because much of it was a basic rich vs poor plot, a story told for thousands of years, with much of the time spent on drama club.

We watch Lady Bird, a neurotic teen with wit far beyond her age, navigate the waters of her senior year in a town she doesn’t like while pursuing (shocking) boys.

I was incredibly bored throughout. I related to the poverty and needing a plan to get the hell out of town (who doesn’t) but everything else I’ve seen before over and over and over again. Boys and sex and college admissions. An ending ripped from Paper towns.

There seems to be an Oscar tradition of so many films getting nominated now that there is an indie quota of movies artists want to make more of and movies the general public will never see. Last year, Moonlight is a prime example. It might be a fine film, but it is probably one of the least relatable films I could choose to watch, so I don’t.

With Lady Bird, make your choice. It isn’t for everyone, and you’ve seen the movie before under different packaging.

Movie Rating: 5/10 Waitlisted Schools

An Ode to Toys R Us

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“I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid
they got a million toys at Toys R us that I can play with
I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid
they got the best for so much less, it’ll really flip your lid
From bikes to trains to video games
it’s the biggest toy store there is (gee whiz!)
I don’t wanna grow up, cause maybe if I did
I couldn’t be a Toys R Us kid
more games, more toys, oh boy!
I wanna be a Toys R Us kid”

As a kid growing up in the 80s and early 90s, I knew the jingle like many of my friends. The commercials blanketed Saturday morning cartoons, and after trips to the mall (remember when those used to be popular, along with mall arcades?) my parents would take us to Toys R Us.

It was a magical place for an 9 year old. It had basically everything you could ever want. You first walked into a maze of filler (even 9 year olds knew the real toys were in back) and then reached the back aisles. For me and my brother, we would go straight to the Nintendo aisle, which was essentially a bunch of pictures of various nintendo games all the way down the aisle along with a ticket you would have to pick if you wanted to take the front to buy. My brother and I would pool our money. If we had 20 bucks each, we would magically spend $40 on one game. If we had $10, we would get a $19 game, and so on. There were games of many price points for a broke kid to choose. The selections were limitless. Kmart didn’t have it. Walmart didn’t have it. K-B Toys certainly didn’t have it.

When it came to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe, Toys R Us was the joint. It had to display the largest assortment of action figures and vehicles. It didn’t matter what wave it came in. Searching wasn’t required. It was a one stop toy wonderland.

Sometimes, my budget was only $3.15, only enough to cover a G.I. Joe plus tax (I had the largest collection in my grade). I would browse for 30 minutes all the toys I could never buy from all the commercials I saw. Ghostbusters. M.A.S.K. Thundercats. He-Man. Whatever. I didn’t know what the hype was with Star Wars. To me, I found it strange my friend’s older siblings used to collect them, kept pristine in the packaging. For a 9 year old, this was blasphemy. My toys were always opened during the ride home in the car.

We moved to Germany after elementary school, so I never again visited a Toys R Us until I became a parent. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw a commercial again with the jingle stuck in my mind. My kids watch Netflix. There are no commercial jingles to seep into their consciousness. They certainly know the McDonald arches, but Toys R Us, I don’t think they’ve ever asked. It’s a place they go to see a giraffe sometimes and do a lego demonstration.

This is the inherent problem with their business model. It’s outdated.

Sandwiched between Target and Walmart, which cleaner and newer stores, and online delivery with Amazon, Toys R Us is in a pricing vortex of hell. They simply can’t compete on price while supplying enough cash flow to pay off debt. Some blame Vornado Realty Trust and Bain Capital and KKR and the debt load saddled on Toys R Us. I say perhaps. Take one look at K-Mart, and you can see what happens when you don’t win on price and invest very little into your locations. It’s a branding death spiral.

I’ve been to Toys R Us a few times in the last couple years, and in my opinion, it was clear bankruptcy was inevitable. The parking lots were often crumbling. The facade and paint was worn. When you walk inside, there was the same maze of worthless stuff when you entered, except now, to get to the video games it was usually near the cash wraps. The Lego aisle was always the best of any store (even THE Lego store), the board game section had every expansion known to man, and Star Wars had every variant. The prices always seemed above retail so their promotions would seem like a deal (Buy one get one 50% off isn’t a deal when Walmart already sells it for 40% off all year around). Amazon ships faster and has a larger selection and a return policy where you don’t have to look at an employee to get a refund. Who returns their kid’s toys?

Despite the nostalgia, I was guilty of almost never buying from Toys R Us unless I was exploiting a price mistake or flipping some rare exclusive, despite having the funds to do so. Even for a measly $5, I would simply have my kid wait and buy something online, sometimes right there in the store.

The only hope was store exclusives (which got destroyed by resellers simply clearing the shelf and adding it to Amazon’s inventory) and a better customer experience (toy demonstrations and the giraffe (which will be missed). As for more knowledgeable customer service, I would admit, Walmart toy people are really shelf stockers who can’t tell you anything about anything and seemed angry to be there. Target toy people are really teenage employees in the electronics section spending their time hitting on their coworkers. Amazon, well, you’ll get a customer service rep from India. Toys R Us actually had knowledgeable people in most of the store, and some are downright kids that took the song to heart. One time, I bought a video game at 9pm and didn’t leave until 9:20pm because the guy who rang me up talked about the upcoming Nintendo Switch launch and said he stayed up all night to watch the launch and spouted off all the advantages and reasons why it would be huge. This compares to a visit at Game Stop the same month, where a customer came in, and I heard the guru behind the counter saying the switch would fail like the PS Vita (If you are under 28 and working at Gamestop, you don’t realize the purchasing power of the Nintendo generation). Clearly, my sample size is small, but generally speaking, Gamestop hires assholes paid to lowball people on trade-ins and Toys R Us hires people spending their day in a toy store where a lot of children come in (exception: Toys R Us Managers always tended to be assholes for just about any issue).

What did we lose? Really nothing I suppose. The business model is long broken. The only thing that can’t be replaced is customer experience and having a place ours kids can go if they get good grades on a report card. Everything else, parents can fill in for. We can actually play with our kids and show excitement with the toy, not just forking over cash in the store. We can take them to a Lego convention instead of seeing the Giraffe to build 50 cents worth of legos to a “Batman car.” We can pick up another controller and play with them the video game they want. For experts, we can read blogs and watch youtube  toy reviews. One nostalgic experience can be replaced with something newer, and hopefully better for the next generation.

And we can all still pay the lowest damn price possible. May the best retailer win.

Movie Reviews: Varsity Blues

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“Let’s play the next 24 minutes for the next 24 minutes.”

As someone that grew up in the MTV generation, who graduated High School in 1999, Varsity Blues holds a special place in my heart. It was released in January 1999 after a little marketing campaign on the only channel I watched back then. I saw it in theaters, alone I think, because I was a loner and girls really didn’t talk to me.

And saw the whip cream bikini.

The bad teacher.

Tweeter the party animal.

The nerd reading Vonnegut who can throw a football 50 yards.

Had music of my High School days.

It made an indelible impression. Rewatching it recently, it holds up in some areas while lacks in other areas. The West Texas Football plot is cliche. The backup becomes starter, in sort of a Nick Foles role. The coach is an ambitious asshole. The girlfriends are hot. The biggest problems are really not that big. The ending is predictable, but really, after the partying is over, the target audience doesn’t care. Listening to the sweet beats of the Foo Fighters as they play in the second half is pure gold.

Out of the cast, Paul Walker had the biggest career, but it was cut short. He peaked in Fast in the Furious, in what I think was his best role.

James Van Der Beek, continued his role as Dawson. Which, ended weirdly. (Fucking Pacey). I think his best role was The Rules of Attraction, but still didn’t have the best scene even that film.

Amy Smart went a ton of places, but nothing really big. She is sort of on the C-list. This could have been her peak, unless you think Just Friends was her chance.

Ali Larter as whip cream bikini girl. I think I imagined myself marrying her from Jan 1999 to May 1999. Wow. This was her peak.

Jon Voight played the coach. Still with the longest career, he is sort of an older version of Amy Smart if she doesn’t change trajectory. His best role since then was his cameo in Tomb Raider, only because people are not sure if he is really acting or not in a weird method acting paradox.

Scott Caan found out what Van Der Beek is finding now; TV is where it is at for a steady paycheck. He still hasn’t peaked, and with a good role, could break out in the future.

Movie Rating: 7/10 Hook and Ladders

Movie Reviews: Only God Forgives

37426.jpgAfter seeing Drive, like many people, I was interested in what would come next from Nicolas Winding Refn. I was so excited, I did something I rarely do … I paid to watch the movie on demand. It cost around 20 bucks I think, and it was 20 bucks I would have rather had back. This is the price to pay when you want to see something still “new” in theaters from the director of Drive.

I even watched it twice, just in case I missed something or it was too confused at the arthouse story. I didn’t pay twice, mind you, since it was one of those things where you can watch as much as you wanted in 24 hours.

It was clearly an experiment gone wrong.

Ryan Gosling must have wanted to capitalize on the skills of the new hot director who made the classic, Drive, based on source material (a book, then Hugh Jackman script). Or, he clearly wanted to pay Refn back while loyalty in order to get funding for the film.

If you watch the documentary, My Life Directed, it is clear there were issues getting funding and distribution for this movie. Ryan and Nicolas had to make appearances at Drive events in order to add to the budget of Only God Forgives. What is also apparent is Nicolas Refn’s fear about how the story would be received.

It’s surely weird.

Kristin Scott Thomas is evil.

Ryan Gosling is really an antagonist in a foreign land.

We watch bad people squirm around trying to navigate in seedy ways.

The hero had unorthodox and uses methods most revered for villains.

The story is about characters which I like, and the cinematography is actually pretty good. The story isn’t compelling for my taste. I doubt anyone in Thailand relates to it. I term this is a story out of water. I can’t really classify it. I hated it and appreciated it at the same time. There is one great scene, involving a market ambush. There are a bunch of terrible, and cinematically pretentious scenes, involving everyone.

In My Life Directed, Refn says everyone wanted him to make another Drive.

Well, it’s been around 7 years since Drive. I think it’s time.

As for this movie, I’ll forgive you.

Movie Rating: 2/10 Machete chops

Movie Reviews: Dunkirk

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Like many of my movie reviews, this is really a half movie review, and a half tangent rant on something related to the film. If you truly want to know about the synopsis of the film, there are many other blogs or media reviews to read.

It’s also a little personal.

This was the first Christopher Nolan film since Batman Begins that I did not see in theaters. I saw the the hype. I knew the history. Nolan is one of the best directors in the business today. But I couldn’t bear to watch it.

It has nothing to do with the film, but more to do with the content.

I’m a veteran. By choice, I simply, don’t watch realistic war films often. Before the service, I did. Saving Private Ryan was the best in my opinion. World War II was the war to end of all wars, and the greatest generation, steadfast brits, key allies and resistance groups, fought the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan, all while The Soviet Union fought and bore a huge cost on the brutal eastern front of the war. Who broke the Third Reich? (Hint: land wars in Asia are brutal) Since doing my share in OIF and OEF, I don’t really want to watch war films. I think since I watched The Hurt Locker, which itself was a preposterous action film, my interest waned the moment I saw Jeremy Renner lost and confused in the supermarket aisle.

That was me. Or is me. I don’t know. When the war idealism fades, and you enter your 30s, your taste in cinema evidently changes to. At least it did for me.

I have not seen American Sniper, despite liking and respecting Clint Eastwood films.

I have not seen The Lone Survivor, despite thinking Peter Berg is a good director.

I did watch Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up with Zero Dark Thirty, but that wasn’t really a war film. It was really a spy movie, which are still fun in my book.

Maybe I have Post Traumatic Movie Syndrome.

So, it took a lot for me to watch this movie, and its from a different era. To drill down to the cause, maybe it’s because war isn’t a glorified thing when you are part of it. Young and predominantly determined people fight wars old people lead. I wouldn’t go as far as to say poor people fight in modern day, since really, Armed Forces of the US are middle class after a few years, with education opportunities that can propel them to the higher rungs once you make it past 4 years (most don’t, especially in the Marines, statistically). We come in as idealists and usually leave a change person, for better or worse.

We learn  few universal military maxims. First and foremost, healthcare sucks: incompetent and motrin-pushing when you are in, and incompetent and ailment-denying when you are out. Politicians won’t truly ever care. If you are a vet, try writing a congressman and see if you ever get an answer. The VA is literally filled with healthcare bureaucrats who run it like a DMV. Instead of the entire VA and their $70 billion budget, they could gut it all and cover all retiree’s insurance with a top program, and make it law to deny coverage. Would benefits be abused by some? Maybe. It happens under the VA now (with disability shopping) and with Medicare (which the country covers for older retirees). But really, what is the over abuse when it comes to healthcare? Electing to have more knees surgeries …. fuck. You got to me one tough motherfucker to want a knee operation that you don’t need. They say 39,471 veterans are homeless any given night in america, which is a shame. Many of these people have serious problems. Some, are post traumatic stress syndrome related … something that was frowned upon as a sissy psychology-pushed diagnosis until the Iraq War. Help them before the sands of time turn them into a shell of their former selves.

Nevertheless, wars are fought and always will be fought. In this movie, we watch a retreat unfold. Nothing is truly explained. Nolan expects people to know their history other than the few lines of introduction the film opens with. I read somewhere that Nolan wanted the film to have no script, which I guess was unique, and perhaps ambitious if this was an intended documentary style recreation.

I didn’t love the film. I actually will go as far to say, I think the narrative is disjointed. Nolan seems to be watching too many Kubrick films. If Interstellar was like a Space Odyssey tribute, Dunkirk is an homage to Paths of Glory. Every frame is beautifully shot and could be hung in an art gallery. I just didn’t see a story. Nothing felt compelling to me. There isn’t a single narrative. You don’t really root for anyone. There is no villain. It doesn’t really demonize or talk bad about the enemy. The movie is 90% visuals and a Hans Zimmer score.

Not even his stable of trusted actors can save the story. Between Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy (who is one of the few saving graves of the film) there just isn’t much for them to do, along with the 400 other white male actors (this is a Christopher Nolan film, so go figure)

The film is simply a retreat, and afterward, I felt tired.

Maybe its genius because it doesn’t glamorize war. There is no real victory. There is no real point.

Movie Rating: 5/10 low tides

Movie Reviews: Valerian

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One of my favorite movies when I was in High School was The Fifth Element. Luc Besson directed a far fetched movie of the future with a distinct sense of over-the-top style and visuals where a love story was front and center. Valerian was supposed to be the spiritual follow up. The visuals were certainly there. The love story was there. The costumes looked pretty similar.

But something was missing.

I don’t know. Valerian was based on source material, but the Sci-Fi mystical mystery simply lacked charisma, weight, and a counterbalance. Simply put, it doesn’t have a crusty Bruce Willis, known for his trope roles, playing things over-the-top. It didn’t have Chris Tucker playing the second greatest role of his career. It doesn’t have Mila Jovovich with her orange hair and non-sensical dialect and, lets face it, over-the-top hotness to propel the film. In High School, I wanted to marry the girl in orange hair. That is the type of personality I had. I was so introverted and too stuck in friend-zones that Mila was the most fascinating woman I’d ever seen. I was entranced. In fact, I saw The Fifth Element twice. For a broke kid, this rarely happened. On top of this, I think The Matrix, The Phantom Menace, and *Titanic were the only movies I saw twice in the theater.

*for various reasons 

Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan certainly do their best. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in the spiritual follow up to The Fifth Element? And to be frank, despite a nonsensical and uninspiring CGI opening, which made be bored and disconnected, Cara and Dane’s opening scene was actually pretty great. I dug the whole thing. The playful back and forth. The teasing and flirting while responding to the mission on hand while getting through backstory exposition as they interacted with the set and post-production CGI that needed to happen. This is complicated stuff, and the opening scene between them needed to establish the stakes. I dug it. I liked it.

But then we got back to the plot. The non-sense that nobody cared about. The gimmicks few understood or cared to understand. The mystery that nobody wanted to see. The species nobody wanted to save. The betrayal (and wasted Clive Owen role) that everyone saw coming but nobody cared because the costume was so laughably bad, it was hard to take seriously. At least Gary Oldman had a metal head, cool gun, weird creature beneath desk, and was over-the-top crazy. Clive Owen is just boring … like the entire movie.

Even really inventive speed chases with really cool visuals really don’t mean much. All I really wanted to see was Cara and Dane get together again. It’s not that I’m a damn sap for a love story (Note: Titanic was watched for various reasons, not related to the doomed romance between Leo and Kate, from two classes of society, two countries, and a doomed fate against a bittersweet James Horner soundtrack)

It really was the only interesting thing about the film. They were not as dull as other reviewers allude to. I would have rather watched them do a normal mission together. If an asteroid or say … iceberg hit their spaceship on the way, it would have made more sense than whatever the plot of Valerian was.

Movie Rating: 4/10 space station capsules

Special Guest: Sarah “Tin Foil” Zant (Went on 2.5 dates in 2004, so not quite a ex-girlfriend, but she still texts me twice a week, in fact, for 10 years I thought her last name was Zon, which really was the only reason I said yes to her as she rang me up at Blockbuster video because anyone with Zon as their surname was automatically destined to be a mastermind of some sort)

Did you know Cara and Dane are actually delivering an Oscar worthy performance? Few know the true backstory, but Cara actually began researching for this role when she played Margo in Paper Towns. Luc Besson had already secretly sent her a red envelope with an invitation to star in Valerian. You see, Margo is actually Sgt. Laureline. Hold on … take some deep breaths. If you watch carefully, there  is a clear reason why the movie begins during the same time as Paper Towns. She was specially selected and pulled forward in space time to save the future. Margo was always a flirty, mysterious wanderer and there is no better job for that in the galaxy than the special police division. This is why she had to ditch High School and leave town. It was time for her time teleportation. In Paper Towns, Nate Wolff plays Quentin Jacobsen, also a boy with zero personality and appears to lack acting skills. People immediately confuse Dane DeHaan’s performance as also lacking all characteristics of quality acting, except, when you carefully consider Dane is merely replicating what Margo would want subconciously, the boy across the street who she left hanging with shitty clues, you understand the mastery at work. This is a subtle and thoughtful performance. There is deep psychology against the impact of space-time we are working with. If you watch the moment, scene, and style in which the final proposal happens, and you actually put together the clues, you’ll get it and you might shit your pants. Only charlatans would think Valerian is a spiritual sequel to The Fifth Element when its actually a sequel to Paper Towns, but Luc Besson isn’t going to dumb it down for everyone. He wants his masterwork to be watched in the year 3001. 

The Zant Rating from The Zant Files: 100/100, simply a masterpiece

Game Reviews: Lego Ninjago Movie (PS4)

IMG_2784.JPGI am not exactly a connoisseur of the Lego video game franchise. I’ve dabbled in mostly Star Wars and enjoyed some of it, but never quite was the one that needed to collect every achievement or beat any of the games for that matter. They mostly collect dust in my gaming cabinet of all the different systems I have.

I went to the ol’ Redbox at the grocery store, and rented Roman J. Israel, Esq and as I went to check out, it offered a free game rental.

“Sweet,” I said.

I touched the kiosk touchscreen and viewed the options. There were 4.

“What the hell,” I said.

One was PES 2017. I already play Fifa, and as we all know, once you go Fifa you don’t go to PES. This is like a cardinal sin of gaming.

The other was Assassins Creed: Origins. I am fairly interested in this title, however, I didn’t envision me having enough time to really get into the story, especially since I already was renting a movie.

Then there was a game, that appeared to almost be a ripoff of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The last was Lego Ninjago Movie. I remember my son wanting to play this for our Nintendo Switch, so I said, “maybe he can test it out.”

I came home and told my 6 year old the treasure I got. He was excited as can be until we popped in the game and had to go through Master Wu’s dojo game tutorial. It was essential for the game, maybe, but a bit long. I was hoping to just leave after the game began and let him on his campaign, but something happened.

Garmadon attacked the beach and all of a sudden it was an aerial attack with the green dragon to defend the city. Wow. This looked actually pretty fun. The graphics were pretty good and it felt almost like an arcade game from the 90s. I’m using actual pictures from our gameplay.

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I stayed at my sons side. He began his quest and I learned how to play and navigate the more difficult challenges. We beat the first couple levels taking turns, then dumb me finally noticed the icon in the top right of the screen.

This game was 2 players!

With a split screen, we played as Vader intended for Luke … at his side, father and son, ruling Ninjago Island together. We battled countless obstacles. Found lots of gold bricks. Fell down into countless waters. But somehow, someway, always found a way to the end of the stage. The graphics are rather good and the obstacles are not too repetitive. Some of the bosses take a little time to beat, but that should be expected. The developer really did a tremendous job making it suited for kids (and parents) with very little gaming skill. They want it to be fun, and a little challenging.

I woke up today, and my Ninjago warrior woke us up. Not the 6 year old.

My 3 year old.

“Ninjago!” he said, in his 3 year old voice.

“What?” I said, rolling over in bed.

Minutes later, my 3 year old runs back into my bedroom with something in his tiny hands. It’s the Redbox cd case with the game inside (I did eventually watch Roman J. Esquire).

“Ninjago!” he said again.

Wow. What a creative Lego game developer bunch. My 3 year old watched with Ninjago envy. He wanted to be like his big brother. We popped in the game again, and all of a sudden, looking at the clock, he has played another 8 hours straight.

Maybe my parenting sucks.

Maybe I like having to get him past the more difficult puzzles. Gamer Dads look invincible when they can beat anything in Ninjago.

But now, my son is halfway through. We have 3 hours to return the game, or I face the the stiff $3 late additional day fee.

Damn you Redbox … Damn you and your marketing tricks!