Thursday, December 30, 2010

Roger Ebert Plays Tecmo Bowl In 1989

Since the dawn of time, Roger Ebert has claimed ignorance of video games and questioned their artistic value. Although he's backpedaled on his dismissive stance of video games as art as of late, he did so because he doesn't have enough experience with games to make an informed opinion.

With that in mind, it's quite a surprise to stumble upon a 21-year-old video clip that reveals Ebert is something of an OG gamer. Click "play" to see him get his Tecmo Bowl on, talking smack as he matches wits with Gene Siskel on the NES:

Ebert may not think games are art, but he definitely thought they were fun.

via Roger Ebert's blog

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: True Grit

This is posted at OK.

The Coen brothers are so good at Westerns that anyone else who wants permission to make one should have to get their written permission. Their characters don’t talk, they spit bullets. Their photography doesn’t dazzle you, it opens up and swallows you into its desolate prairie maw. And their stories don’t resonate, they grab you by the scruff of your neck, sit you on their collective knee and spin you a tale that sets your eyes agape with wild wonder.

Drawing on the same earthy, rawhide-tough feel of No Country for Old Men, the Coens take a legendary Charles Portis novel, toss it into the air and shoot eight holes in it before it hits the ground. The movie is so good I the original True Grit has to be considered a crappy premake.

The 1969 version of the film, for which John Wayne won a best picture Oscar, starred Glen Campbell, Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall. The new film boasts an equally impressive lineup of actors, not the least of which is 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who stands toe to toe with physically imposing, magnetic performers such as Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin with commendable authority.

Steinfeld plays 14-year-old Mattie, who is out to set her family’s affairs in order following the murder of her father by a slow-witted outlaw (Josh Brolin). The Coens imbued their dialogue with a David Mamet-like speed, letting Steinfeld thoroughly own scenes in which she negotiates the price of her father’s casket and verbally whips down a conniving horse salesman.

In a world of his own as Rooster Cogburn is a fattened-up, eyepatch-sporting Jeff Bridges, who growls his way through pitch-perfect, oatmeal-thick colloquialisms, making like that scary great uncle you always tried to shy away from at Thanksgiving. A marshal who puts his services up for hire for the right price, Rooster accepts Mattie’s offer of $100 to track down the varmint. Mattie insists on tagging along, pulling her weight through an endless series of shivering nights, grueling horse rides and mystifying run-ins with folks on the trail.

Sometimes joining in as a delightfully awkward third wheel is Texas Ranger La Boeuf, played with grisly angst by Matt Damon. A lout who leers at Mattie and lashes out with insipid rage at inopportune moments, the mysterious lawman hides heroism beneath layers of dangerous buffoonery.

What seems like a boilerplate story comes alive through the passionate performances and finely tuned narrative, which sinks its hooks into you then drags you on a ride that grows increasingly wild, panic-ridden and beautiful. Characters bond and drift apart, bad guys show their softer side, making you feel guilty for cheering the heroes to blow them away, and every line of dialogue sings like soliloquies out of a 19th century poetry slam.

Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld and Barry Pepper. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the Charles Portis novel. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: How Do You Know

This is posted at OK.

How do you know when you’re watching a bad romantic comedy? When the male lead has to resort to tumbling down the stairs during a phone call to get a laugh, that’s a start.

When Jack Nicholson pops in to overact for a few scenes to punch his time card before he can go hit the Laker game, there’s another piece of evidence.

When the normally adorable Reese Witherspoon contorts her personality into an unrelatable heroine, you’re getting warmer.

And finally, when you long for the exit sign more than you do for the characters to sweep each other away in a victorious, violin-swelling embrace, you know that you are not only a redneck and dumber than a fifth grader, but are, in fact, watching a bad romantic comedy.

James L. Brooks, the once mesmerizing writer/director who delivered Terms of Endearment and As Good as it Gets, shows with this half-hearted, lifeless affair that he’s capable capable of a magnificent feat. Somehow he squanders the talents of a screen legend in Nicholson, a surefire cut-up in Wilson and one of the most reliable comedic linchpins in Paul Rudd.

Witherspoon has been off her game for years now, unable/unwilling to reclaim her romantic comedy throne after becoming a Serious Actress in Walk the Line. Here she plays Lisa, an elite softball player who’s forced into retirement following her inability to make the national team.

Little does Brooks seem to know that the joke is really on Lisa’s teammates, since softball has been eliminated as an Olympic sport.

Despondent, Lisa tries to get her life back together the only way a girl can – by latching on to whatever guys amble across her path, thus validating her dwindling sense of self-worth. Basically, this amounts to a horror movie for feminists.

Lisa spends the entire movie bouncing back and forth between Matty (Wilson), the curiously old baseball player who is said to be the best in the game, and George (Rudd), an executive who has lost his girlfriend and home because he’s being investigated by the federal government. Nicholson plays George’s father, whose purpose is to hang out and wave his arms for a while so there’s another name to slap on the poster.

You’re supposed to root for Lisa to dump Matty and hook up with George, which she does, before moving back in with Matty. Then you root for her to do it again, and she complies. This process is every bit as exciting as it sounds.

As the movie plays on, you grow more and more jealous of Nicholson’s character for staying out of it as much as possible. You long for the camera to switch to whatever he’s doing, even if it’s just sitting around doing crossword puzzles and making crank calls to Diane Keaton.

How do you know you’re watching How Do You Know? When you start dreaming of crossword puzzles and Diane Keaton.

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson. Written and directed by James L. Brooks. Rated PG-13. 115 minutes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Best Movies And Games Of 2010

TOP MOVIES 2010 (Note -- I will update this if and when I see The King's Speech)

1. Toy Story 3
2. Inception
3. The Social Network
4. True Grit
5. The Fighter
6. Black Swan
7. 127 Hours
8. Shutter Island
9. Nice Guy Johnny
10. Solitary Man
11. Megamind
12. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
13. Somewhere
14. Rabbit Hole
15. Shrek Forever After


1. Sex and the City 2
2. When in Rome
3. Killers
4. The Bounty Hunter
5. Letters to Juliet
6. Waiting for Superman


1. Tecmo Bowl Throwback
2. NBA Jam
3. Red Dead Redemption
4. Heavy Rain
5. Picross 3D
6. God of War III
7. Limbo
8. Alan Wake
9. Super Mario Galaxy 2
10. Halo: Reach
11. Super Scribblenauts
12. Bayonetta
13. No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle
14. Mass Effect 2
15. God of War: Ghost of Sparta
16. Super Street Fighter IV
17. Blur
18. NBA 2K11
19. Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker
20. Monopoly Streets
21. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Review: The Fighter

This is also posted at OK.

The Fighter is about a real-life dude whose life was a remake of the movie Rocky. David O. Russell directs, Mark Wahlberg stars and Amy Adams Adrians.

Wahlberg’s character is Boston pugilist Micky Ward, the only boxer in history – other than Rocky – to discover the secret to winning all boxing matches is to stand there and get the snot beaten out of you for the entire match before pummeling your tired opponent at the last second for a dramatic ultimate victory.

Micky has got it rough. He lives in the part of Boston so bad, you can major in one of only two subjects: boxing or crack. Micky’s older brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), chose boxer, before changing his mind and going with crack. Bear in mind that if you want to be both a boxer and crackhead in the same lifetime, you pretty much have to do them in that order. So in a sense, Dicky is excellent at prioritizing.

The rest of Micky’s support structure is hardly more effective. There’s his mom/manager (Melissa Leo), whose knowledge of the sport matches that of a mediocre Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out player, and a pack of seven sisters who are useful only when forming mobs to chase down Micky’s girlfriends.

I have to say, Micky’s name weirded me out, being the same as Rocky’s trainer. Whenever someone would say something like “Hey, Mickey’s coming!” I’d get all excited and expect to see Burgess Meredith rise from the grave to take one last crack at training Rocky for the title, but alas, I was let down each time.

That’s about the only way in which the movie disappointed me. It’s a story that could have been schmaltzy in lesser hands, but somehow not only hits every note just right, but bludgeons every note with a right cross that bloodies the note’s eyes and dislodges its nose. Chief among reasons the movie works is Adams, whose version of Adrian – here a spunky college dropout bartender – isn’t the “oh please oh please Rocky stop fighting Adrian” from Rockys 3 through 5, but the badass, “you’d better win or else you’re sleeping on the couch” Adrian from the earlier movies. Adams is such an adept performer that she displays layers of nuance and heartbreaking sentiment in one scene, while bending over in front of the camera as other characters snidely evaluate her ass in another.

Bale, looking more Joker than Batman, is astounding as Dicky. So convincing was Bale as a crackhead that I didn’t even realize it was him until the end credits rolled. I expected the screen to read “Dicky…. Played by ACTUAL CRACKHEAD” but sure enough, it said Christian Bale.

One could easily determine that the title not only refers to Micky, but Bale and Adams’ characters as well. As well as myself, as I continue to duck and cover, insisting to myself “This isn’t as good as Rocky! This ISN’T as good as Rocky!” Only to speculate that if I let down my guard at the end of the fight, this stubborn palooka will floor me and convince me otherwise.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on a story by Johnson, Tamasy and Keith Dorrington. Directed by David O. Russell. 115 minutes. Rated R.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

Dear Christmas Card Recipient, Mail Thief or Recycling Industry Sorter,

I'm happy report that 2010 was an excellent year for my subset of Villarreals, meaning that nothing catastrophic happened. No job losses, hospitalizations, robberies, car explosions or locust plagues crossed our paths the entire year.

We added a dog, subtracted a truck and welcomed a Honda Odyssey into our garage. It's a smooth Swagger Wagon, equipped with eight seats, 18 cup holders, electric doors and thousands and thousands of dollars of debt.

Some of us changed. Luke evolved from a 2-year-old who made train sounds that drove his mother crazy all day into a 3-year-old who made continuous heavy metal guitar riffs that drove his mother crazy half the day (she earned a 4-hour daily respite by retreating into the calm, quiet recesses of part-time middle school science teaching).

Emma transformed from a screaming, tiny ball of disapproval of all our actions into a slightly less tiny ball of crudely worded disapproval of all our actions. Chief among Emma's list of Disapproved People was one Santa Claus of North Pole, Arctic Circle, who accosted Emma twice in Williams, Ariz. -- first when he requested that she sit on his lap and ask for presents, then again an hour later on a train ride when he crudely handed her a jingle bell. Emma twice screamed at the overbearing clod with sharp fury, prompting Luke to ask "Mommy, why is Santa Emma's greatest enemy?"

Our new dog, Murphy, adopted us from a Human Rescue society. He makes up what he's missing in a fourth leg by producing 35 times his bodyweight in black hair. We can only nod politely when complimented on our new black shag carpeting that complements the tile we had installed by the gentleman Emma refers to as "UhShawn."

On the job front,

-I made a major advance in my chosen field of demolition by volleyball spiking the life out of our TV while playing a video game.

-Jessica really accomplished nothing, at best. She spent half of the year as a stay-at-home mom -- what do those people do all day? And the other half as a part-time teacher in our pathetic failure of an education system that is but a roadblock to the shining success of charter schools, which will not only turn all our children into geniuses but allow us to one day defeat Ghana in the World Cup. But public school teachers, with their exorbitant salaries, cakewalk jobs and evil agendas of filling kids heads with evil lies such as global warming, evolution and the periodic table, are to be reviled and destroyed. Luckily we've put a state legislature in place that will do just that, as quickly as possible.

-Emma prepared for a future in the federal government by beginning a hobby in which she hunts down loose change to throw into the trash can.

-Luke finally settled down on a career choice. After insisting he'd be a farmer, astronaut, Laker, Cardinal, racecar driver, Army man, Joker, dragon and builder, he decided he would become a rock star. "I'm going to be on your iPod, Daddy," he said firmly. "And you better play me loud." Please join me in congratulating the boy in choosing a field that's more stable than that of his father.

So now you're all caught up. Take care, enjoy life and when things get tough, just be thankful you're not the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback coach.