Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 10 Video Games Of 2013

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Super Mario 3D World
The Last of Us
Plants vs. Zombies 2
BioShock Infinite
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Fire Emblem: Awakening 
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Pikmin 3
Rayman Legends

Top 10 Movies Of 2013

Before Midnight
Frances Ha
Side Effects
American Hustle
Star Trek Into Darkness
Pacific Rim
Captain Phillips
12 Years a Slave
This is the End

The worst movies were The Lone Ranger and The Hangover Part III

Our 2013 Christmas Letter

Hello, all. As you can tell from the crisp air, music on the radio, decorations in store windows and Cardinals' dwindling playoffs chances, it is nearly Christmas time once again. So now seems like as good a time as any to pretend that Facebook doesn't exist and send you a zany photo and an update about how we have been doing. 

2013 has been a year of alarming and disgusting change in our household. The change we are referring to, of course, is that of Zack's diapers. Even though he is our third child, we had forgotten just how revolting a toddler's diaper gets when he begins eating solid food. But our memories are refreshed one or two times daily, when the youngster's drooping undercarriage serves a reminder. 

Zack is the biggest mover and shaker among the household this year, having launched his own app on iTunes, launched his tech startup into an impressive initial public offering and launched an exploratory committee to gage his chances in the 2014 Congressional elections. Although he's only 1 year old, his accomplishments are remarkable. In addition to all that, he also learned how to crawl through the doggie door and spray fridge door water all over the floor, which he proceeds to lick up.

Luke, who is in first grade, is a thriving artist and musician. We see him becoming a one-man band who beat-boxes his own background music while also singing lead and backup vocals. If you think all this to be impossible, it's because you have never been serenaded by the 6-year-old.

Emma, who proudly boasts she is in 'Pre-K' and not just standard preschool, is also the artistic sort. She excels in the ancient, well-respected medium known through the ages as Grabbing Scissors Out Of The Craft Closet And Leaving Squiggly Pieces Of Construction Paper All Over The Kitchen Floor. Combined with her affinity for painting and drawing on several sheets of paper per minute, when trees see this girl, they cry.

Jessica continues to attend grad school, going for a master's degree because the master's she already earned has lost that 'new car' smell. She also continues to work part-time and rescue Zack from his minutely attempts at sending himself to the emergency room by BASE jumping off the dining room table.

As for Phil, he is still toiling away at the local newspaper -- poor guy, no one has stopped to tell him that newspapers ceased to exist in 2005 -- and passing his video game addiction on to his offspring. 

That should about catch you up. We'll check back in at the end of 2014 -- another anticipated year of disgusting, smelly change until we can get that kid potty trained.


The Villarreals

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Report: The Witches

The WitchesThe Witches by Roald Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun book from beginning to end. Dahl's sense of wonder and imagination carries throughout the fast-paced tale. I like its bittersweet, darker-than-expected ending.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

How Cable And Satellite Will Go Down

The whole cable/satellite cabal will probably go down at some point because people are getting sick of paying for billions of channels they care nothing about. 

Once the networks are able to break away from the cable/satellite money and start selling directly to consumers there will be a revolution. It sucks that you have to buy HGTV and a million reality show channels to get ESPN. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Report: 1984

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An alarmist thinkpiece and word of warning to humanity. A dark and terrible read, but illuminating while terrifying. Some of its dreary projections seem farcicle, and some have come alarmingly true. The book bludgeons your mind and soul. I was glad when it was over.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Ever since I first heard of it, I dreaded Saving Mr. Banks, pegging it as a dopey Disney self-congratulations job. A pomade-slicked Tom Hanks would be the hokey, do-no-wrong master of the universe Walt Disney, Emma Thompson would be unreasonably uptight Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. Using his trademark Disney charm and whimsy, Walt would break through Travers' defenses, make her see the error of his ways and...

Consent to wild sex with him?

That impossible historical stretch, I figured, was the only hope the movie had of being entertaining in any way. The trailer even played up this possibility, intentionally or not, with a scene in which Disney looks suggestively at Travers and asks her what he'll have to do to get the rights to her book.

The movie doesn't go that way, but it does skew far darker than I ever could have hoped for, and in that way ends up becoming something halfway profound. Although Hanks' Walt is just as much a hagiography as you'd expect, but Thompson has found a spoon-sugared plum of a role in the furiously demented Travers.

What the movie truly turns out to be is a dark flashback-laden biopic on Travers, describing in painful detail how exactly she turned out to be as coarse and brutal a caricature as she turned out to be. Her past was filled with shame, abandonment and disappointment, much of it at the hands of her well-meaning grease fire of a dad, played by Colin Farrell.

Director John Lee Hancock spins the tale with equal doses of Disney charm and indie-flick grit. The movie amuses, terrifies, intrigues and fascinates at nearly every moment, infusing suspense into a story that everyone already knows the happy ending to. After seeing the ugly, painful way the sausage was made, I'll never watch Mary Poppins the same way again.

Starring Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson. Written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Directed by John Lee Hancock. 125 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Book Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The pacing is incredible, and the writing is forward-driven, unpretentious and dripping with suspense. The detail is necessary and sticky rather than superfluous, flower and forced. Fitzgerald makes Gatsby loom as a dynamic phantom, as full of enthusiasm and purpose as the pages themselves. This is an amazing book. One of my very favorites. A true inspiration, both emotionally and technically.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave is one of those movies you have to see, almost as though a penance or homework assignment. It's a work of magnificence that you need to have experienced if you want to expose yourself to the best that moviedom has to offer. You know that you are in for an uncomfortable experience from the get-go, and just have to deal with that reality, wince and deal.

Based on the 1853 Solomon Northup memoir about a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, the film is out to reveal the grotesque realities of human subjugation. The grime, crushing workloads, barnyard-like living conditions and cruel mental and physical tortures. It's one thing to see an innocent man whipped to a bloody pulp by a sadistic master, but quite another to see the master force another slave to elicit the whipping. Forced participation in cruelty is an ongoing theme in the movie, which explores the social strata of the slave and the interwoven levels of injustice and abuse of power all the way down through the chain of misery.

Chiwetel Ejiofor thoroughly owns the film in the lead. I hate to be one of those guys who is so stunned by a performance then runs out and declares that he absolutely needs to win the Oscar, but I have to do it here. Sure, there are about 20 or 30 movies yet to come out that I need to see before I can say such a thing with any kind of authority, but Ejiofor is so amazing here that it's almost impossible to imagine anyone out-doing him. So either he will win the Oscar or he will be robbed.

Brad Pitt pops up in a minor but crucial role late in the film, and Paul Giamatti makes a mark as a slimy slave wholesaler, but the real work comes from Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender as a disgustingly vindictive master and Lupita Nyong'o as his unwilling mistress. All three performances are enthrallingly awards-caliber, and while it's trite to boil down artistic work to that level, I want them to be recognized so badly that I can't help myself.

The movie is well paced, devastating and eventually uplifting in its strange, harried ways, but it's not quite worthy of its performances. Like The Passion of the Christ, there's a disturbing obsession with flesh being ripped from the bone. The graphic cinematography leaves no detail to the imagination. Reaction shots accompanied by sounds, which McQueen uses sparingly, are more effective at showing the devastation of lashings and lynchings, but he sticks to the gory, incredibly realized details.

The film wants to hurt you, knows you are terrified of what it will show you, then shows you way more than you bargained for. Two critics I watched the film with stormed out in disgust, and I suspect many audiences will do just the same. It normally bothers me when people do that, but I can't really blame them. I just happen to be one of the people who was stuck to his chair, unable to move even if I wanted to.

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Sarah Paulson. Written by John Ridley, based on the Solomon Northup book. Directed by Steve McQueen. 113 minutes. Rated R.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Ruminations On The Direction Of New Girl

I think I'm ready for Nick and Jessica to end their relationship. We'll see if the writers can continue to explore the relationship for humor. They are doing a good job but it's getting strained.

I am at the point where I think they have accomplished brilliance and doubt it can stay this good, unless there is another dynamic shift. And there have been quite a few of those over the two-plus seasons. The writers have proven that they are not afraid to shake things up and change paradigms.

Usually, a sitcom will wear out the platonic romance thing for the whole run of the show, Who's the Boss style, or the four or whatever seasons of Pam-Jim in The Office.

I think they ended the Schmidt-Cece fling too early. He did not deserve her, so it's only fair. And in a way she did not deserve him, for nearly going through with the whole wedding charade just to please her family. But still, it hurts that he screwed up his second shot with her.

But he kind of has to be a doofus who messes everything up. A Schmidt who acts rationally and makes good choices is not a funny Schmidt.He has to be an overzealous wannabe bro, who never quite knows how to bro it up properly.

Nick, in the long run, has to be an untame-able manchild, and Jess has to be someone amazing for whom love never quite works out. Eternally nearly missing out on the romance she so badly desires.

One of the things I like about Nick-Jess is how screwed up and awkward their relationship is. If they can keep that going, and keep them always hanging by a thread and never blissfully at peace with their love, then the relationship can continue to be funny.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Just Posting This

So I don't go the entire month of September neglecting my poor little blog. I want to post more on here. I've got a ton of drafts that would take me a few seconds to massage into post form. Maybe next month. Or perhaps October 2014 at the latest.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review: The Three Musketeers

The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A dull and laborious haul, even for a piece of classic literature based on a candy bar. I did appreciate the use of the terms "lackey," "antechamber" and "What the deuce?" but other than that I had a tough time staying interested. It was almost as tough to truck through as Moby-Dick or War and Peace. I can't fathom why the franchise is so popular.

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Review: Getaway

Get. Away.

That's what I kept saying to the movie, but it wouldn't budge. It just squatted there all stupidly on its big dumb screen, mocking me by refusing to obey.

How dare this silly action flick spoil the good name of the beloved 1994 Alec Baldwin-Kim Basinger sexcapade, which itself was a remake of the 1974 Steve McQueen film. The title, much like everything in the movie, makes no sense, has no bearing on reality, and simply expressed the urge you feel as you longingly eye the portal below the exit sign.

Ethan Hawke stars as a racecar driver whose wife, like so many women, has been up and stolen by Jon Voight. Voight calls Ethan up, tells him that he totally dug Before Midnight and Snow Falling on Cedars, then commands him to steal an armored, camera'd-up car and race it around town at his whims. Do it or his wife dies.

Voight is rather firm about his demands most of the time, but occasionally allows a little freelancing, such as when Selena Gomez tries to carjack Ethan and ends up an unintended passenger on the miseryride. At first, Voight is all KILL HER ETHAN YOU CAN'T LEAVE NO WITNESSES!. But soon he realizes that a female lead for Hawke to vibe off of will help pass the time so he lets her stay.

Gomez tries her best, but she has a little problem in that she was bitten by a vampire at age 11, and thus, despite her biological age of 452, cannot be taken seriously as an adult actress. When Ethan locks Selena in his car, there's a distinct stranger danger vibe going on that's quite off-putting.

More video game than movie, the idiocy has Ethan, in the name of saving the woman he loves, murder dozens upon dozens of people via vehicular manslaughter. You shake your head as his tonka toy of a vehicle survives fiery wreck after fiery wreck, avoiding the cops and ramming through buildings and doing whatever because it's touched a Super Mario Bros. star and cannot be killed.

It's too bad, because this mess could have been sort of fun like Crank, The Transporter 1 through 17 or pretty much any Jason Statham movie that all happen to be exactly the same. All Getaway needed to be mediocre instead of awful was Jason Statham, half a script and one fewer 452-year-old creepy Disney demon spawn.

The real getaway here was the one the filmmakers pulled on the studio, having heisted giant paychecks for minimal work or thought. While I respect the earnest con, I am sad to have suffered 90 minutes of punishment at the hands of the execrable results. Gag away, I did.

Starring Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight and Rebecca Budig. Written by Gregg Maxwell Parker and Sean Finegan. Directed by Courtney Solomon. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

5 Stupid Things People Can Go Ahead And Stop Saying

1. "Breakfast of champions." When the expression is known better than the source is, it leads morons to utter it about eating Doritos or pizza in the morning without knowing or caring where it comes from.

2. "Your tax dollars at work." Your brain cells are not at work though.

3. "If I had a nickel." If I had a hammer every time I heard someone say that, I would likely be in jail by now.

4. "Which begs the question." This has been misused so much that its misuse has become accepted usage. Even if the saying has backed its way into the realm of grammatical correctness, it still sounds moronically pretentious.

5. "___ o'clock." Beer o'clock, sex o'clock, nap o'clock, snack o'clock. How about shut the eff up o'clock?

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Review: Planes

Looking like a lifeless, creativity-free cash-in on a tired franchise, Planes acts the part as well for the first hour or so. A barely-tweaked, character-for-character carbon copy of Cars, the narrative hurls itself into a bonheaded plot mechanic, then lazily skywrites its way to oblivion.

And then things get interesting.

The movie no longer sucks as it teeters into the third act. Much like Happy Feet, it ventures gleefully off to crazy town, taking on a severely dark tone. Refusing to play it safe any longer, it becomes genuinely dangerous and exciting. For the first time, it's not quite clear where things are going, and characters that seemed poorly written suddenly have some definition and edge.

There is much to hate about this movie. Far more than there is to love, in fact. But I appreciate the dangerous turn so much that the glee overtook the Dane Cook-baked misery that led up to that point. The movie works, almost in spite of itself, and though it predictably coasts toward a predictable ending, at least it manages to accomplish the task with flourish.

Still, though, I have to voice my hatred of some of the crap that came before. Ahem.

* The movie shows a televised plane race. These do not exist. How stupid.

* Just like the bizarre world of Cars, humans do not exist. They must have been all killed somehow. Cars do exist, but their only purpose is to serve as forklifts or as crowd filler in the stands.

* Dane Cook does an Owen Wilson impersonation as the main character, a crop duster who decides to compete against jet fighters and such to prove to be the fastest plane on earth. I hated everything about this character until he suddenly starts calling another pompous plane out on his BS. Then I only disliked him.

Starring the voices of Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Brad Garrett. Written by Jefrey M. Howard. Directed by Klay Hall. 92 minutes. Rated G.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Lifelong Goal Achieved

I accomplished a lifelong goal Tuesday when I discovered the name of the song at the beginning of this video, the intro to DTV, Disney Channel's 1980s response to MTV, back when MTV played music. Disney Channel was big into responding to stuff in those days, for instance creating Mousercise as a response to Jazzercise.

Anyway, that intro song was always one of my favorites, and my adoration of the tune only increased when my beloved Phoenix Suns adopted it as their pre-tip-off jingle. Nothing gets me as pumped up as that song. Not "Eye of the Tiger," not "You're the Best Around," not "We Will Rock You."

The song was an instrumental, and had no words, so I would create my own:

Get ready

Get ready

So excited that I can't hide it, 

I'm coming into,

I'm sliding into,

The danger zone.

Didn't ever think that I'd find you 

And now that I have we are walking on air.

Didn't even think that I'd find you

And now we are walking on air

Yes the air

Way up there

In the air

Oh the air

Yes the air

Oh the air

Oh the air



I needed this song. And to get the song I needed to know what it was called. The closest I could get to owning it was to dig up YouTube videos like that one and listen to snippets of it. I scanned the comments, hoping someone entranced under a similar spell would have already have done the work for me and have been willing to share the results.

No luck.

I embedded the video on Facebook, begging anyone to give it a listen and see if they could deduce the song's title.


Google, as powerful as it is, failed me in my decades-long search for salvation. No matter how I searched, no one seemed to know the title of the song.

And then, by some miracle, I found my answer through Shazam, a smartphone app that listens to bits of music and identifies the songs from which they came. I'm pretty sure I'd tried to Shazam the song before, but had no luck. I indulged a fleeting hope that maybe somehow, some way, Shazam had updated its database enough to include my Moby-Dick of instrumental magic.

The first time I used Shazam, it came up empty. But I would not take no for an answer. I gave it another try. And my perseverence was rewarded. The sweet result the app yielded was that the song was "RPM" by Network Music Ensemble, and was part of the "After School Rock" album.

I was afraid that Shazam was toying with me, but sure enough, a click of the sample listen button confirmed the answer to be the truth. I joyfully handed Amazon 99 cents in exchange for my childhood appreciation that had festered into a lifelong obsession.

Then I listened to the song about 20 billion times in a row. sometimes just appreciating the song, other times humming along, and occasionally belting out my made-up lyrics along with the music. I was content.

And then Caesar wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Facebook Friending Policy

If you ask me to be Facebook friends and I add you, don't think you've accomplished anything. I am cool with accepting pretty much any person, place or thing as my "friend," because I am a shameless self-promoter who is happy to spam out links to anyone willing to be bombarded by them.

Bear in mind that although I will accept you as a friend, I will most likely not like or even read your posts. Odds are I'll hide you from my news feed because I will care little to nothing about what happens in your life. Such will be our friendship.

Although I do accept all friendships, I cheerfully destroy the relationships just as easily. Those who invite me to events and to play games usually end up not only defriended, but blocked entirely. Also, people who do things in real life to annoy me also get defriended and blocked. Because what's the good of social media if not to exact passive-aggressive revenge?

One last thing. If I can tell you are a spam porn girl, I will definitely not add you. Sorry to disappoint all of you.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's TravelsGulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Starts off with silly whimsy but builds toward profound, relentlessly snarky truths about the human condition. This man loves him some horses. Fascinating Divine Comedy-style social criticism.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Top 5 Zombie Stories That Have Not Yet Been Told

1. The Zom Bee -- In an attempt to win the Spelling Bee, a 10-year-old boy becomes a zombie who hungers for correct spelling rather than human brains in order to achieve the single-minded dedication it takes to become a champion.

2. ZomBaby -- An undead baby wreaks adorable havoc and hijinks as he gets the zombie apocalypse off to a gurgling start and manages to hit his clueless grandpa, played by Tim Allen, in the balls every 10 minutes.

3. Downton Zombie -- A struggling but proud Victorian-era family seeks to cut costs and keep up appearances by soliciting a staff of animated corpses to serve and passive-aggressively resent them.

4. Hannah and Her Dead, Rotting Sisters -- A ripe 105 years old and still intent on playing the romantic lead in his neurotically philosophical comedies, Woody Allen discovers that the only romantic foils age-appropriate for him are those who died long ago but have come back to life.

5. OK, so I give up. There have been so many damned zombie movies, TV series, comics and books that there are only four zombie stories remaining that have yet to be told, and I have listed them all already.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Top 5 Covers That Would Have Sold Even More Rolling Stones Than The Terrorist One

1. Hello Kitty. Little girls, Japanophiles and ironic hipsters would have all begged their mommies to pick up copies for them at the supermarket.

2. Your Mom. Remember back when Time Magazine named everybody on the planet its co-person of the year? Just like that, only with your mom, because everybody knows about your mom. And I mean everybody.

3. Kate Upton. It's worked for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue the last two years, so it's only a matter of time until every other magazine jumps on the trend. Scientists estimate that by 2015, all magazines will feature Kate Upton exclusively on their covers.

4. KABOOM! Just the word in bubble letters and jagged, neon bordering, 1960s Batman TV show style. That way Rolling Stone could have notified readers of its cover story, only with more class and style than a One Direction-style glamour shot of a mass killer.

5. A MAD fold-in. Because they're like two covers in one!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

J.K. Rowling Ain't Nothin' But A Copycat

Watching the 1985 movie Young Sherlock Holmes, it's obvious how much J.K. Rowling swiped to create Harry Potter and the Hogwarts universe. Watson is a bespectacled doofus who looks like Harry Potter. She swapped his role for the lanky redhead, Sherlock Holmes. And she kept the girl in the movie who looks like Hermione as Hermione.

Want more? There's a punk kid with platinum blonde hair, and there's a guy named Dudley in the British boarding school Sherlock, Watson and the Hermione girl romp around solving mysteries in.

This explains why the Young Sherlock Holmes screenwriter, Chris Columbus, took out his vengeance on Rowling by ruining her books in movie form, with those two terrible adaptations he made. It's not, after all, that Columbus lost his drive after he made it big so he ended up turning into a tepid hack of a filmmaker by the point it came time to make the Potter films. He was just pissed that Rowling stole all his ideas so he thought he'd serve revenge just the way the Klingons like it -- cold.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Favorite Scene In Breaking Bad

I am reminded of a scene in Breaking Bad that always recurs in my mind. Hal and an old friend are thinking back to their youthful days of vigor and ambition, wondering how they could have been so happy and eager despite having no money or accomplishments. 

"You know what we had?" he says, "Momentum."

That's what leads to fulfillment in life - the direction you're headed. It's all momentum. And it doesn't have to be restricted to dumb 20-year-olds. Identifying and chasing passions are what bring lasting engagement. Happiness is fleeting and nonexistent.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Jane Eyre

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Starts slowly and drags hard in the middle but builds up into some intense psychological drama in the last couple acts. The ending is ridiculous but pretty well close to earned.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Willy Wonka And Religion

The movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a religious parable. Hear me out. Arthur Slugworth (the stand-in for the devil), the black-suited, seemingly malevelent creepo, approaches each Golden Ticket-winning child and offers them each a bargain -- betray Willy Wonka (God) by swiping the Everlasting Gobstopper (the apple) and he will shower him with riches.

At the end of the film, Slugworth is found to be simply a lowly employee of Wonka posing as a rival. Wonka, though, being all powerful, cannot possibly have a true rival. He has simply used Slugworth to do what he loves most, which is mess with people and test their purity of heart with cruel temptations.

Slugworth represents quick-fix temptation over the long-term good. To Wonka's feigned dismay and barely restrained amusement, each child proves unworthy of inheriting the kingdom of Wonka's factory. Most agree to succumb to Slugworth's influence to spite Wonka, whose ways they don't comprehend. And each is summarily cast out.

Only by taking all of Wonka's crap without protest does Charlie prove worthy of remaining in Wonka's presence. He receives eternal riches, is lifted from poverty to wealth, and not only is accepted into Wonka's kingdom, but is deemed Wonka's successor.

Not sure what the Oompa Loompas represent. Maybe the disciples?

Monday, June 17, 2013


Do not ever go to a restaurant and insist on only using your limited Spanish, if you happen to be a native English speaker whose knowledge of Spanish stopped in eighth grade. Sure, you could conceivably say things such as "ensalada por favor," "pollo de chipotle," "arroz," "donde esta el bano" and, my favorite, "yo trabajo en un banco." Maybe you could even fool a few people. But not yourself. 

Do not refuse to speak in English, or act offended if someone tries to speak English to you. And by no means should you fill in your lack of knowledge of your adopted language by making up whatever words you didn't know.

If you disobey my instructions until the restaurant brought in a genuine Spanish speaker to communicate with you, you should most definitely not act offended and indignant that the Spanish speaker does not recognize your made-up words.

Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel packs enough ambition and imaginative touches to do its hero proud. It's a hero, by the way, that it never does name, and I will pay tribute to that restraint by playing along with that ultra-cool pretentiousness and refuse to name him here as well.

Here is a movie that dispenses with all the ample cheese that comes with the hero and his too-many decades of baggage. Gone are the red underwear and gaudy red boots worn on the outside of his tights. Instead is a navy blue catsuit that looks like it was designed by Under Armor or Nike. The cape is still there, but it sort of has to be. I like that the suit only makes an appearance when it absolutely has to, and that much of the film is about Clark Kent, rather than his alter ego. And I like even more that Kent is a scruffy-haired drifter. There is also some cool stuff about his time as a crazy and terrifying kid.

However, Batman Begins this is not. Instead of having the guts to focus on the development of the hero, it goes nutso by bringing in an alien invasion, the Phantom Zone, General Zod and all sorts of other crazy that should have long since been written out of DC continuity. Worse, the hero is very much a reckless idiot when it comes to the set-piece battles, thinking noting of toppling skyscrapers and slaughtering thousands of innocents as he chases down the bad guy.

I love this movie as much as I hate it, and I feel both emotions pretty equally. For every human moment that lends authenticity to such an otherworldly and ridiculous character, there's an equal measure of nonsensical bombast that plague just about every cinematic superhero yarn.

What I'm left with more than anything are questions. Why couldn't the hero have just rescued people, stopped crimes and asserted himself as a force for good and hope for us groundlings? Why did he have to slaughter so many of us and kill the rest of us? Why did we need to see the hero hang out in the Fortress of fricking Solitude talking with a computer program of his dead dad?

There are so many moments in the movie that absolutely work, though. Which is why this is such a tough film to digest and decide whether to hate or love. It ends on a perfect note that matches the finale of Batman Begins. The character stuff, except for an unnecessarily falsely heroic moment with Costner as Pa Kent, all hits hard, and gives the movie a fighting shot at developing into a bonafide franchise rather than another aborted reboot.

I like this movie in spite of itself, I guess. At the very least I have to hand it to the film that it's not as awful as its 2006 predecessor. I will look, up in the sky, with hope the next time a film in the series comes around. Rather than dread.

Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner. Written by David S. Goyer, based on a character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG-13. 143 minutes. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Before Midnight

Any romance with a happy ending is false. Bliss between lovers is only a prelude to inevitable clashes, distrust and apathy that will eventually erode the affair to nothingness. That's true even for the most breathless of fictional love stories, concocted in the masterful Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004).

Before Midnight, which is hopefully only a middle chapter in a series that will continue to check in as a time capsule every nine years, is fearless for the way it ruthlessly devours the sweetness and sentiment in the films that came before. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, whose characters met for a sweet yet fleeting one-night stand in the first movie, then a complicated -- but just as precious -- rendezvous in the follow-up, now sacrifice their adorable love to the unforgiving altar of time and changing personalities.

Once again the movie is just about all dialogue, mostly with Hawke and Delpy talking. The trend of darkening, more severe subject matter that started in the second film continues here. The romance that remains is less about attempts at stoking blossoming flames of love than it is about feeding whithering embers of burned-out passion.

The relationship, stunted because it covered so much ground in its two days separated by nearly a decade, has now run its course and is left wheezing and hunched over. Instead of tantalizing each other by swapping thoughts and emotions that draw them closer together the more they learn about one another, they sling barbs harvested from knowing each other all too well. Each ups the stakes with threats that are either implied or direct, upping the passive-aggressive ante to higher, more punishing levels.

Hawke and Delpy are almost too convincing in their performances, seething with contempt. They jump on each others' thoughts, hammer on insecurities and prey on festering wounds. Watching the movie, you almost feel like children watching your parents argue. You long for a truce because you can't fathom the pain of them separating. After all, if these crazy kids-turned-middle-agers can't make it, who can?

What keeps the movie from being a depressing fireball of angst is that despite all the hurt, and the raw, unnerving dread of the clashes, hope still flowers. Director Richard Linklater could have forced the sentiment by inserting flashbacks of the previous movies, but he instead makes the flashbacks all verbal -- letting the actors paint their memories with expressions and descriptions. Those who haven't seen the earlier films will not be lost, but won't get nearly as much out of the nuances and shades as those who know and love those movies.

Before Sunset remains my favorite of the trilogy, but there's a heft and strength to Before Midnight that outweighs the first two films combined. It's a brutal parade of heartbreak and mind-rake that leaves you curled up and wound up in a ball, covering your eyes but peeking through parted fingers.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Written by Hawke, Delpy and Richard Linklater, based on characters created by Linklater and Kim Krizan. Directed by Linklater. 109 minutes. Rated R.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Top 5 Reasons The Xbox One Will Suck (But I Will Still Buy One Like An Idiot)

5. No backward compatibility. You know those thousands of dollars you've spent on games the last 8 years? Go ahead and get rid of all of them because they won't work with the new system. But at least all those downloads you crammed into your 320gb hard drive will move right on over, yeah? Um, no. Those are dead to the Xbox One as well.

4. It pretty much always has to be connected to the internet. You know what's not always connected to the internet? The internet! Especially if you have Comcast, which goes down as often as records go right round. So now when I lose online access for two days in a row for no reason I'll no longer get to play any Xbox One games.

3. It makes it a pain in the rear to lend or give games to others. It lets you transfer ownership of games, but only after jumping through hoops. The paranoia to the design of this demented DRM restriction is of the Michael Douglas Falling Down variety. Sickening.

2. It costs $500 frikkin dollars. Seriously. Seriously? Seriously. For that price it should also distill its own vodka and pour me White Russians.

1. Seriously, it costs $500 dollars even though it's screwing you over in so many ways. Sure, it may be the lazy way out to use this reason twice, but I am really, really pissed about the price. But not pissed enough not to hand over the money.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The 5 Most Disgusting Vegetables

5. Green olives from Walmart with pimento stuck inside them. There are reasons factory machines see fit to impale these abominations with spicy enemas. It's not only to add some semblance of flavor to the wretched vacuums that abhor taste buds, but to punish the fruit-family rejects for their obstinance.

4. Iceberg lettuce. Lettuce leaves in general are big, stupid and unwieldy, and exists just to take up space and disappoint. Iceberg is the most disgusting of its ilk. Every bit as flavorful and easy to skewer with a fork as its namesake. This is the lettuce that sunk the Titanic.

3. Peas. The Exorcist ruined whatever goodwill this pathetic, puny, Martian alien-skin-colored attrocity ever wielded. The movie scene provded once and for all that peas were the preferred food of the eternally damned. They lurk behind carrots, hiding their mediocrity like pudgy little Hardys around so many Laurels.

2. Radishes. I've never eaten Old Spice deoderant, but I imagine it tastes very much like radish. Blending the texture of an apple with the taste of, well, Old Spice deoderant, the radish's raison d'etre is to disappoint and punish.

1. Every type of squash (tie). Why anyone would ever intentionally eat any type of squash baffles me. Not only do its different varieties taste like urine from various species of rodents when eaten raw, they taste even more sickenly disgusting when cooked. Only with cheese slathered all over them are squash slices somewhat tolerable.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Top 5 Reasons The Spurs Are A Stupid And Boring Team

5. Manu Ginobli is a flopper who could draw a fake charge by acting as though he were run over by a Mack truck if a butterfly dropped a microscopic fraction of butterfly poop a mile away from him.

4. There is nothing other to do in San Antonio, sportswise, than worship the stupid, boring Spurs, so everyone in the town takes pride in the team's constant success and thus behaves as entitled jerks who don't know what it's like to give away all your good players for no reason and suck for years, as the Suns do.

3. Their colors, black and silver, are derived from pencil coloring. The black is from hard pencil writing and the silver is from light. Both are sorely in need of a good erasing.

2. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are good players, but have no flash or style. They play basketball like accountants crunch numbers. They take as much joy in winning as a middle school bus driver does in dropping off the day's last batch of ingrateful tweens so she can go spend half her day's pay at IHOP in a meal she will regret as soon as she exits the restaurant.

1. They walk the ball up the court every time, have no flow or rhythm to their offense, yet bore the opposition into letting them score every other possession or so. San Antonio wins solely because teams cannot stand to be on the court with them so they just roll their eyes and check their texts until the clock expiers.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Da Vinci Cold

Someone needs to write novel about a conspiracy regarding the day Leonardo Da Vinci called in sick from work during a day he was supposed to be painting the Mon Lisa. 

Some outspoken historians swear that the so-called Da Vinci Cold was in actualiy simply a cover story that the great artist used to dupe his commissioning supervisors into believing that he was sick in bed while he was actually totally faking it. No doubt he borrowed, wrecked and restored his friends' dad's car, caught a Cubs' game and marched in a parade -- all while a clueless school adinistrator haplessly tried to track his whereabouts and his parents were none the wiser.

Friday, June 07, 2013

My Theory About Deja Vu

With all due and overdue respect to The Matrix for its position that deja vu is a glitch in the computer simulation we are tricked into believing in life, I hold that it's nothing of the sort. 

I see it as just like a checkpoint in video games. It shows you that you have done the right thing and gotten it to autosave. When you experience deja vu, you have just beaten one of life's missions. Or failed it and are now set down a branching path to the bad ending. Either or. It would be nice if this could be confirmed by an "achievement unlocked" bling sound. And even better if you could go back and re-experience it via Lego-style free play.


Back in high school biology I sat next to a kid named Kip, who had about eight strikes against him heading into the world. He was slow but nice. We talked basketball a bit, and got to the point where we needed to prove who was better at the game.

I remember one time challenging him to a game of one-on-one after school. He beat me, but I convinced him to play again with the stakes of if I won, the first game never happened and if he beat me, I'd say he beat me four times. He went for it and, as fate would have it, the historical record now shows Kip never beat me at basketball.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Jared Has It Right

I am a Subway man, through and through. It's what I consumer for 90 percent of my workweek lunches. I always get a $5 footlong. and I always save the second half for the next day. It's usually a Cold Cut Combo unless the BMT or Spicy Italian are on sale.

The Subway diet I am on works effectively at keeping me from going overweight. It's relatively healthy, as far as fast food goes, and certainly better for me than the processed, tasteless $1 Banquet meals I used to shove down my may every day.

The key to making the diet work is restraint. I used to devour footlongs within seconds, then I discovered that if I stopped with one half I was no longer hungry. Stopping at six inches saves half the hassle, money and calories. Also, I never get a drink or chips. But I do redeem the free cookie coupon on the receipt every time.

It's a great system. I get an amazing lunch every day, I never get sick of it and do not get fat.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

What Would I Do Without Condescending Dentists?

Dentists can be such condescending bastards.

You go in to get your teeth cleaned and every time they're like "You know there is this thing called floss and you can occasionally use it to dislodge the Peanut Butter M&Ms from your teeth?"

During such lectures I am thinking HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY IMPECCABLE MOUTH-CLEANSING ROUTINE! I FLOSS EVERY DAY!!!" but all I can do is sheepishly say "I do floss."

Then the dentist ignores me and goes on telling me more about flossing and how I should really start doing it or my teeth will all fall out and I will get rabies and gingivitis and experience something called "bone loss."

On that last point they are indeed accurate. There is no 'bone' killer like a visit to the dentist.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Feb. 19 Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Anna Karenina 

The combination of director Joe Wright and actress Kiera Knightley usually translates to Oscar gold, as it did in Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, but it meets its Waterloo here in tackling the stiff, surly prose of Leo Tolstoy. The meandering Russian tale of forbidden aristocratic love — Knightley's character spurns her stiff, high-ranking husband, played by Jude Law for military man Aaron Taylor-Johnson — fails to ignite. Sumptuous visuals and passionate performances can't save the lead-footed tale. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo features deleted scenes, a featurette on the story, several background featurettes and Wright's commentary.


Ben Affleck continues to thrust himself into the top echelon of directors with this masterful espionage tale about a daring CIA rescue of Americans caught in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Affleck pulls double duty, starring as the agent who dreams up a caper of masquerading as a filmmaker scouting locations in Iran in order to make off with the would-be hostages. Vigorous pacing, heavy suspense and authentic performances sell the captivating drama. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes Affleck's commentary, picture-in-picture insights and a look at the story that inspired the film.

Atlas Shrugged: Part 2

The determined, if questionably talented, cast and crew of Ayn Rand devotees continue to hack their way through the lionized author's obtuse prose, spinning a laborious tale of an economy torn asunder by socialist tendencies. Preachy and unafraid of schmaltz, the material will either annoy you or tell you exactly what you want to hear, depending on your political leanings. Deleted scenes, a close-up with Sean Hannity, who makes a cameo in the movie, and a behind-the-scenes featurette fill out the package.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome

Apparently frustrated that its Battlestar Galactica reboot has run its course and came to a definitive end, Syfy seems determined to milk spinoffs out of its franchise. Following the interesting but unsuccessful deep prequel series Caprica comes this movie, which could well serve as a pilot for a new prequel series. Taking over for Edward James Olmos, Luke Pasqualino plays the younger Adama, a hotshot fighter pilot who is moving up the ranks as humanity is slaughtered by the Cylon menace. Impressive effects and an intriguing roundup of surely doomed characters lend color and heft to the production, but the movie — while fun — probably isn't enough to hook me on another full-blown Galactica series. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes an unrated cut of the film, deleted scenes and a look at the effects.

Fun Size

Victoria Justice makes a rickety transition from Nickelodeon star to movie lead in this droll, Halloween-themed comedy. Justice plays a teenager who juggles an out-of-control social life with the desperate chase to track down her lost little brother. Lifeless dialogue and predictable plotting make the movie insufferable, not allowing the talented Justice to rise to her capabilities. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, a Carly Rae Jaepsen video and a making-of featurette.

Hats Off to Dr. Seuss Collector's Edition Blu-ray

Previous Warner Bros. efforts to package short-form adaptation of Seuss's beloved stories individually were questionable values, but that's not so with this anthology. The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who all appear in this roundup, which makes for an excellent impromptu Seuss animation festival. Two hours of special features, including other miniature adaptations of Seuss books, are also here.

On the Waterfront Blu-ray

Criterion deliver a long-overdue tribute to Elia Kazan's astounding 1954 drama, which boasts one of moviedom's game-changing performances with Marlon Brando as a longshoreman who suffers a crisis of conscience when he's placed under the thumb of a mobster. The vivid black-and-white cinematography pops with theatrical glory, giving the movie a sheen I'd seen many times before but never witness. Extras abound, including new interviews with actors from the movie, including Eva Marie Saint, a new documentary on the making of the movie, commentary from movie historians and an impressive tribute book. 


Blending the off-kilter sensibilities of Korean and Japanese horror along with back-to-basics frights reminiscent of 1970s American fright flicks, director Scott Derrickson's film never fails to impress. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime author and beleaguered family man who unwisely moves his brood into a small-town home that served as a setting for an unsolved mass murder. Predictably, the family ends up int he crosshairs of the intrigue, but the story takes many twists that harken back to The Shining and the original The Amityville Horror. Derrickson checks in on a pair of commentary tracks, and featurettes fill you in on the story's creepy facets. Deleted scenes with Derrickson's commentary are also there.

The Terminator (Remastered) Blu-ray

The previous Terminator Blu-ray looked pretty good, and it takes an eye trained better than mine to notice any relevant upgrade in this remastered cut of the 1984 sci-fi stalwart. The film's effects are hit and miss, with the seams more noticeable in HD than they were in the fuzzy VHS days. That's not to say I'd be so silly as to recommend a VHS or DVD version above this spectacular-looking transfer. Seven deleted scenes, a retrospective on the film and a making-of featurette fill out the extras. 

Top Gun 3D Blu-ray

The unashamedly goofy 1986 dogfighting classic flips on the afterburners to make yet another pass on Blu-ray, this time soaring into the third dimension, for anyone who actually has one of the TVs equipped to display the fading fad. The inclusion of the 2D Blu-ray and a digital copy ups the value proposition, but the extra features have remained unchanged from the 2011 25th anniversary edition Blu-ray release. 

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Feb. 12 Blu-ray/DVD releases


This is a true horror movie. Attaining preternatural access into the lives of bullied children, director Lee Hirsch shows just how brutal and bitter life can be for kids who are singled out for constant physical and psychological torture by impossibly cruel persecutors. The raw and devastating footage serves as a sorely needed wake-up call to tear the lid off one of society's closeted cancers. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes deleted scenes, a filmmaker Q&A and public service announcements that deliver the movie's message.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

The lauded teen coming-of-age drama lost me in the third act, which takes an unneccessary twist that muddies up what was previously a moving and relatable tale. Logan Lerman plays a depressive freshman who starts hanging around with a pair of counterculture-embedded upperclassmen (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) who help him find himself. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes commentary from writer/director Stephen Chobsky, as well as a separate track with Chobsky and several castmembers. Deleted scenes, dailies and a featurette round out the package.

The Sessions 

Sure, it may be Cinemax-style soft-core porn lightly disguised as inspirational drama, but there's plenty of film-snob value here, thanks to a trio of mesmerizing performances by the leads. John Hawkes plays a romantically stifled writer who relies on an iron lung to survive. Enter Helen Hunt as a hands-on therapist who provides some heavy-duty sexual healing. William H. Macy rounds out the trio of heavy-hitting performances as a befuddled priest who walks the Hawkes character through the moral implications of his therapy. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes looks at the performances, deleted scenes and cast interviews. 

Silent Hill: Revelation 

Not that the 2006 original was much to live up to, but this wretched sequel embarrasses the franchise by dispensing with the tenuous hold on logic by the previous movie and increasingly nonsensical game series. Adelaide Clemens plays ah school student who hunts for her lost father (Sean Bean) in the haunted title town, with would-be lover with a secret (Kit Harrington) tagging along. Poorly rendered gross-out CGI imagery plagues a parade of silly, inane nightmare sequences that add up to very little. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes a small making-of featurette.


I lump this head-scratchingly beloved Bond flick along with The Dark Knight Rises as the most inexplicably overrated movies of 2012. The heedless 'splosion fest gets off to an invigorating start before devolving into a Home Alone clone. Daniel Craig delivers his usualy steely excellence and Javier Bardem cuts an intriguing figure as a sexually ambiguous villain bent on getting inside the unflappable hero's skull. The film is far more rich in style than substance and, like Quantum of Solace, fails to deliver on the promise of the Casino Royale reboot. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes loads of background featurettes and filmmaker commentaries.

Weeds: Season 8 

Showtime's meandering comedy about a drug-dealing suburban mom (Mary-Louise Parker) who rose to the ranks of master criminal, then crashed spectacularly before trying to scoop the shards of her life back together, makes for a rewarding victory lap. The show has long since lost its edge, and Parker's character is so insufferably narcissistic that she's tough to watch at times, but the writers show some creativity in the final run. A roundtable discussion with the show's creator and producers, deleted scenes, a gag reel and cast and crew commentaries fill out the two-disc set.

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Feb. 5 Blu-ray/DVD releases

Alex Cross 

Tyler Perry shelves his overused Madea character for a bit to take on the role of a cop gone rogue in this amiable but dull action flick. A cop on the verge of taking an FBI desk job before his life is thrown into turmoil, Perry's titutlar character and his partner (Edward Burns) tangle with a demented murderer (played by a gaunt Matthew Fox) in an explosion-prone Detroit. Director Rob Cohen does what he can to liven up the humorless take on a Lethal Weapon-like concept. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes Cohen's commentary, deleted scenes anda  featurette on the adaptation from the source book.

Celeste and Jesse Forever 

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg play a couple that has separated and struggles to maintain an intimate friendship as they move on to the next stage. Romances for both parties complicate things, and the bittersweet romantic comedy forces both characters to come to terms with their roles in one anothers' lives. Jones seens a bit too old for Samberg, and the role, but the chemistry they conjure is convincing. Extras include deleted scenes, commentaries from the cast and filmmakers, a making-of featurette and a red carpet premiere Q&A.


Denzel Washington tosses another remarkable performance onto the pile, playing an alcoholic pilot who improbably navigates his rickety aircraft to safety amid a terrible storm. Once he recovers from his injuries, the real turbulence begins, as he struggles with a heroic reception blended with a federal investigation into his altered state of mind during the flight. Don Cheadle and Kelly Reilly leave impressions in strong supporting roles, and a freewheeling John Goodman steals all of his scenes. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo boasts a breakdown of the mesmerizing plane crash scene and a pair of making-of featurettes,

Here Comes the Boom

Kevin James checks in with yet another forgettable family comedy, this time playing a science teacher turned MMA fighter, grappling for funds to save the school's music department and scoring with a hard-up school nurse played by Salma Hayek on the side. It's a wonder that the insultingly awful story is somehow watchable, thanks mainly due to the lead's eagerness to physically humiliate himself for cheap laughs, but the movie is still largely an inoffensive waste of time. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes a look at the training regimen and sundry forgettable background featurettes.

Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-ray 

Disney's 1953 film was always one of the studio's uglier classics, but the switch to HD boosts its look considerably. The animation is still comparatively stiff and unimaginative compared to the studio's other landmark animated movies from the era, but the movie seems refreshed and more alive than in muddy previous releases. Much like Dumbo, the film still suffers from a slew of embarrassingly racist moments in the midsection. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo boasts a slew of new background featurettes, as well as previous featurettes and deleted scenes from the previous DVD release.

A Star is Born Blu-ray

Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand pairup for the 1976 version of the too-often-filmed story. The slow-burn melodramatic love story takes a while to get where it's going, but Streisand's star power is in full effect and Kristofferson is deliciously bitter enough to keep things watchable. If you remember the movie from 1980s cable or VHS, the sharp vividness of the Blu-ray transfer will make it look like a new film. Packaged as a tribute booklet, the film comes with extras including Streisand's commentary, deleted scenes and wardrobe tests.

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: Bullet to the Head

Sylvester Stallone may be old, but he refuses to play the old guy. He takes on the same types of roles he did 30 years ago -- often literally, when he makes Rambo and Rocky sequels. He's taken out restraining orders against gray hairs, wrinkles and flab. His muscles are probably the great-grandchildren of his 1970s muscles, who have all decided to stick around.

His delivery in Bullet to the Head is as wooden and garbled as ever. That's as it should be. An enunciating Stallone is hardly a Stallone at all, and would be like a Bogart who didn't snarl as he spoke or a Jimmy Stewart who didn't stutter or stretch out his vowels. This is Stallone the persona, roaming the New Orleans streets as a hitman with a heart of deer antler extract, narrating his own story like a 1940s gumshoe while spitting out 1980s catch-phrases and good-natured ironically racist jokes that might have been taken at face value in the 1970s.

His de facto partner is Taylor (Sung Kang), a D.C. cop who's under deep cover, trying to track down some mob boss or other who's connected to an evil land developer who wants to tear down old barns before kids can save them by staging musicals. Taylor exists as a surface for Stallone to bounce the post-racist jokes off of, and to antagonize the anti-hero by hitting on his semi-estranged tattoo-artist daughter.

The broad outlines of the movie are as irritatingly and comfortinly predictable as possible, but the finer details keep you on your toes. Director Walter Hill, showing a whisper of the action-crazy bliss he established in The Warriors (1979), 48 Hrs. (1982) and Red Heat (1988), gleefully trots out one bad guy boss after another, letting Stallone and his compadres cap one without a thought before they can get into Bond villain-style explanations of their sinister plans.

Bullet to the Head is a little smart in the way it's so unapologetically stupid. It drags and sags a little, then doubles back to make things right with its utter, detached cool.

The silly affair is as disposable as a tinfoil bubble gum wrapper, but just as shiny. You could get by without it, but this is a little something more than another box to check off for Stallone completionists. The everlasting gobstopper of an action star has done far, far, better and indescribably worse. An average Stallone is still better than most anything you can find in this advanced age.

Staring Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi and Christian Slater. Written by Alessandro Camon, based on a graphic novel by Alexis Nolent. Directed by Walter Hill. Rated R. 91 minutes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Jan. 29 Blu-ray/DVD releases

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2

Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel, about Batman coming out of retirement to take one last stab at cementing a legacy of stomping out crime, gets the second of its two-part animated film adaptation. The second volume is even more fascinating and fast-paced than the first, released in September. A jingoistic Superman comes into play, tangling with the Caped Crusader in a politically-tinged power play that involves Ronald Reagan. Moving and unabashedly mature, this is perhaps the finest Batman tale yet told. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo boasts a look at the adaptation, a digital comic and a featurette on the Superman-Batman clash.

Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection Blu-ray 

It's hard to beat the value proposition offered by the 2007 Die Hard Blu-ray compilation, but this one takes an honest stab at it by piling on a disc full of new extras. The new set, like the one from more than five years ago, includes the first four movies in the series. The new slate of extras is imprssive, paying tribute to the series' pop culture influences, its impact on the action genre, the choreography of the fight sequences and the makeup of Bruce Willis's unflappable hero cop, John McClane. Whether or not the bonuses are worth shelling out $40 for the new set rather than $30 for the old one is debatable.

Hotel Transylvania 

I was disappointed that this one didn't snag a best animated film Oscar nomination, because it was my second favorite movie in the category last year, after Wreck it Ralph. An exuberant and stupendously hammy Adam Sandler voices Dracula, an overprotective dad who has sheltered his annoyed daughter (Selena Gomez) while running his business, a sanctuary for creatures of the night that protects them from dreaded people. A romance inevitably unfolds, with Drac's daughter spurning the monster lifestyle to fall in love with a human visitor. Creative visual effects, clever writing and a dynamite voice cast that includes Steve Buscemi, CeeLo Green, Kevin James and Andy Samberg ratchets up the excitement level. The 3D/2D Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo oozes with extras, including the short Goodnight Mr. Foot, three deletd scenes, filmmaker commentary and a slew of entertaining background featurettes.

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jan. 22 Blu-ray/DVD releases

End of Watch

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play young, idealistic LAPD cops who aim to make a name for themselves while pounding the mean streets of South Central. The story unfolds through a found footage narrative, purportedly shot by the cops as they patrolled their beat, which features an improbably high amount of shootouts and other deadly confrontations. The performances and chemistry of the lead and believable, improvised dialogue keep the drama grounded. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes writer/director David Ayer's commentary, deleted scenes and a slew of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

For a Good Time, Call...

Graynor and Lauren Miller get together for a comedy about mismatched Manhattan roommates who team up for a lucrative phone sex business. Taking the same concept as Two Broke Girls and taking it on all sorts of joyfully dirty tangents, the movie rarely fails to deliver the good time promised in the title. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, deleted scenes, filmmaker commentary and a making-of featurette.

That Obscure Object of Desire Blu-ray

Luis Bunuel's final film is also one of his finest efforts. In the 1977 masterwork, the filmmaker explores obsessive lust through the warped lens of a wealthy widower (Fernando Rey) who longs for an ever-out-of-reach younger woman (played alternately by Carole Bouquet ad Angela Molina). He chases her desperately, venturing into dark, disturbing territory. The film features background interviews, a featurette on the odd yet appropriate dual-actress casting and a retrospective of Bunuel's career.
Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jan. 15 Blu-ray/DVD releases

Farewell, My Queen 

This sumptuous French film delivers a far more authentic take on the final days of Marie Antoinette than what Sofia Coppola delivered in her 2006 take on the material. Diane Kruger shows the youthful monarch quickly evolve from a sheltered, near-oblivious untouchable to a marked woman whose life and institution are crumbling at her feet. Lea Seydoux plays a member of the court whom Antoinette invites into her inner circle, becoming privy of her sexual relationship with a duchess (Virginie Ledoyen). A plot unfolds that tests the Seydoux's character's loyalty, leading to an excruciating finale. A making-of featurette and filmmaker interview round out the disc.

Hannah and Her Sisters Blu-ray

Woody Allen's 1986 relationship dramedy rounds up Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Dianne West and Barbara Hershey for a wince-inducing tapestry of failed marriage, sibling rivalry and midlife discontent. Allen's talent for witty screenwriting and note-perfect observational touch are in full force, and his stunning cast never fails to mesmerize. The disc lacks extras.

Life's Too Short

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant continue to keep pumping out offbeat HBO comedy series, this time taking a mokumentary angle in which famed little person Warwick Davis (Willow) plays a pathetic, desperate-for-attention version of his real-life self. Consistently funny and bittersweet, the narrative allows Davis to do some excellently insightful work, providing a peek into something that seems like genuine perspectives on fading stardom and social double standards. The DVD set is light on extras.

Taken 2 

Liam Neeson reprises his role as a former CIA agent who rescued his daughter from a kidnapping. Now he tangles with the dad of one of the scumbags he killed in the 2008 film, seizing his wife and holding her captive in Turkey. While Neeson is as intense as ever, proving himself time and again to be a reliable action star, the story feels tired and worn-out. The proceedings don't flow with the raw urgency of the first film, taking on the forced tone of a Die Hard sequel. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack includes a bonus unrated cut, deleted and extended scenes, alternate ending and a smattering of background featurettes.

To Rome with Love 

Woody Allen, who writes, directs and appears in this madcap, Rome-set comedy of interrelated characters, is still a capable filmmaker, but his comic touch isn't what it used to be. It's still fun to see him round up a gang of acolyte megastars and do his thing though. As always, Allen's cast is staggering. Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Alison Pill, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz and Alec Baldwin all show up, with Allen playing a retired opera director who longs to make a comeback, and Eisenberg as Allen's younger, neurotic surrogate, who juggles romances with Gerwig and Page. The jokes are hit and miss, but overall the movie is a marginally enjoyable romp. A background featurette takes a rare peek into Allen's filmmaking process, and cast interviews pepper the extras.

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Friday, January 11, 2013

What I Learned from the Guinness World Records 2013 Gamer’s Edition

Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition books are known for providing benchmarks to gauge your own skills against the history’s greatest, but the latest volume provides so much more.

This year’s edition is chock full of valuable knowledge about the 2012 gaming year – or at least about the 2012 gaming year as of the book’s copy deadline of September, as viewed through the lens of marginally informed editors.

I do my best to keep up on gaming news, but the book – which came out Jan. 13 – boasted plenty of mind-blowing nuggets that I somehow had missed.

Here’s what I learned:

* Controversially hiding DLC characters on a disc can net a game a world record. Street Fighter X Tekken snagged the Most DLC Characters in a Fighting Game for the clever tactic. (Page 94)

* EA Sports’ NBA Live franchise, the torch holder for the Best-Selling Basketball Franchise, is “back on track with a scheduled NBA Live 13 Reboot,” despite the vaporware having been canceled in September. Swoosh! (Page 160)

* There is a redeeming quality of the much-derided Vita title Resistance: Burning Skies. Says the book, “The first FPS on a portable console to use dual stick control also has an online option to give gamers the novelty of enjoying deathmatches on the bus or even in the bath!” Which is nice, because slogging through a game with a Metacritic rating of 60 can leave you feeling a bit dirty. (Page 30)

* That despite what rimshot-seeking, sexist comedians of the 1980s would have you believe, females actually can drive, at least in Mario Land. Thirteen-year-old Leyla Hasso, as of Sept. 19 2013, held 30 of the 40 possible time trial records on the PAL version of the game.  Oddly, there is no mention of a male version of the record in the game, nor any distinction between male and female records elsewhere in the book.  (Page 134)

* Draw Something is the Fastest-Growing Multiplayer Mobile Game, for having picked up 50 million players in the 50 days following its launch in February 2012. This despite the game having hemorrhaged 5 million players in May, after the Zynga takeover of developer Omgpop.

* No one does solar system volume like EVE Online, except for EVE Online. The book hails EVE Online for boasting the Most Solar Systems in an MMO, breaking its own record in March 2009, expanding its universe from 5,431 to 7,699 solar systems. (Page 109)

* Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the world record holder for Most Advanced Hand-held Platform Game, despite not being all that good (Page 112).

The publisher provided a copy of the book for review.