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Feeding Frenzy review on Caltrops
Jul 27th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I reviewed the very fun little rubber monster movie, by RedLetterMedia, over on Caltrops.

Bull (2008) by Kent Tessman
Dec 19th, 2010 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I am posting this like an entire year late. I loved Bull. I want you to love it, too. But I have to confess that I have spent every night for the last ten years using Kent Tessman’s game development system (“Hugo”) to make text games. So if Kent wasn’t so good at the one thing, I’d have written earlier about how much I enjoyed the other thing.

I am also troubled by the fact that my refrigerator has been broken for three weeks and I’m really running out of ways to combine the only things I have left: dry cereal and scotch. The refrigerator in Kent’s text adventure “Future Boy!” is the closest thing I have to one in my real life. (Kent not only wrote and directed Bull, he created a text adventure programming language called Hugo and made two of my favorite games with it.) I’m not capable of writing about the movie he made without this (waves hands) ALL of this becoming an egregious conflict of interest. But who cares. Journalism is dead, anyway. Bull is an engaging, gripping ride that gets better with every viewing. …And the fact that I code about text people saying horrible things to each other in the development environment he gave the world doesn’t affect that.

There are two problems with most independent movies. They are shot terribly and the actors suck. So I want to stress how nice, how professional Bull looks. The CG is just outstanding. (Kent not only wrote and directed Bull, created the programming language Hugo and wrote two of my favorite games, but did the computer graphics for Bull.) It’s well-lit. It’s filled to bursting with hot chicks. I would be happy if I never saw another movie set in Los Angeles or New York, so this one being set in Toronto is a pleasing change of pace. And the actors really aren’t aware that we expect them to seem like they are reading their lines off cue cards written in Comic Sans. The delivery is so good! Benjamin “Pinback” Parrish once said that all independently-made movies ought to have two small information boxes on the back of the DVD slipcase: The “running time” box and the “feels like” box. Most indie movies would go something like “Running Time: 88 Minutes, Feels Like: 244.” But Bull, Christ — it changes everything I’ve ever thought about an indie film. Everything. It’s clear before the conclusion of the first scene, where a desk falls out of a building, that Bull is a real movie that demands to be judged by the same criteria that all movies with budgets in the millions are regularly judged on. (Oh, Kent not only wrote, directed and did the CG for Bull, he created Hugo, the games Future Boy! and Guilty Bastards and wrote a video processing program called Alien Ray for his movie, for post-production VFX work.)

There wasn’t a single line of dialog that was awkwardly delivered. No scene had a distracting component that broke the “magic” of viewing. There was no part where the viewer suspects that something crucial was cut from the film, or that a scene was re-worked due to budgetary limitations. The most sincere compliment I can give it is that I “forgot” Kent wrote and directed it about fifteen minutes into it. This is the standard that all indie movies ought to strive for. That all movies ought to strive for.

***

I have spent a lot of time talking about the movie in relation to its peers. I’d like to stress that it stands on its own. The script is charming. For instance, I absolutely loved the following line, delivered by a guy on his deathbed:

“… I made so much goddamn money”

(Part of it is the dude’s delivery.) If I find myself in a stock scene in a movie, all I ask is that I’m given something new. People have been dying in hospitals in movies for a hundred years. Don’t look this up, but I’m pretty sure that there’s a bit in Birth of a Nation where a guy dies when the abacus keeping him alive locks up. But at no point while watching Bull did I think, “psh, I’ve seen this before.” Take Jay Valentine’s early speech about luck – I am easily led and agreeable, so I wasn’t expecting Valentine to come out against luck. I would have expected just the opposite. Even though that’s been my experience in life – all the advantages I’ve ever received have been due to luck and, geez, little else. So this scene was really sort of speaking to me. If I feel a movie is operating on the same wavelength that I am, even for just a bit, then I really buy in to the whole experience.

Craig Lauzon, playing Charlie (our protagonist) did the best job of any actor that I’ve ever seen in a production of this scale. I really hope that Craig and Kent get the chance to make movies together for a long time. His character has enough going on where he captures our attention throughout the entire piece. I really enjoyed the set design when Charlie meets Maury Chaykin. The way the camera was pulled back and the way the light streamed in reminded me of when the robot Sean Young gets the Voight-Kampf test in Blade Runner, but it may have been the video game that had the similar set, I can’t exactly recall. At any rate, I liked the set and I think the featurette showed that there was a lot of CG there, which blew me away. It was a fun scene, and reinforced that our dearly departed Mr. Chaykin could have been equally successful as an action screen star, with the beat-down he delivers in that bit.

Kent consistently nails scenes that draw from the shared consciousness of our culture. I happen to think that there isn’t much worse than going to an office party by yourself. It’s usually depressing and awkward. The experience that Charlie and Penny (Lindsey Deluce) have at their office party is depressing and they both show that they are quite susceptible to feeling awkward. And Charlie’s nearly-constant feeling of being in over his head at his job (and recognizing that fact) come across really well. We have every reason to feel bad for the guy and root for him no matter what happens.

One of the reasons this has taken forever to write is because Bull is a difficult movie to avoid spoiling. I really can’t talk in depth about what’s going on without ruining everything, and I desperately want you to see it. You can get it here through Amazon.

And I have to say that I loved the logo on the unturned cards in the Solitaire game.

The Three Greatest Movie Performances Ever
Dec 6th, 2009 by Pinback

1. This was originally going to be a top five list, but I couldn’t think of two others that fit the criteria I will list in #2 below. Which is not to say there aren’t any, so if I think of them, I will add to this list. Hopefully you one or two people who still read this BBS can come up with your own nominees and I’ll add them where appropriate.

2. There have been hundreds, maybe millions of great performances in movies over the past thousand years, and this list is not to discount any of them. However, what I’m going for with this list is performances that electrified and defined a movie, performances that command full awe and attention for every second the actor is on film. Not just great acting, but something where you go such and such film was great, but I don’t remember much else about it except for (performer’s name). Pacino DeNiro was fantastic in Taxi Driver, but I remember the movie Taxi Driver more than his specific performance. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean as the list is listed:

#3: HEATH LEDGER, THE DARK KNIGHT

The Dark Knight was a good, but not great, action/comic book movie.EXCEPT for the 24-some-odd minutes that Ledger was on the screen, because from the very first shot of his back, as he stares up at the bank, there is no way to take your eyes off him or otherwise not be completely enthralled in what he did up there. He seems like he’s in the movie a lot longer than he actually was, because who the hell cares about any of the rest of it. Added to the performance was just the fact that it was the JOKER, but so fantastically reimagined that all other Jokers kinda totally suck now, I think. And then he died. But damn. Way to go out, buddy.

#2: DENZEL WASHINGTON, TRAINING DAY

He’s had a wonderful career playing largely moral, conflicted, good guys, but Jesus Christ, nobody who’s seen this movie could ever see him as anything but Alonzo ever again. I’m conflicted on how good a movie this actually is, because once again, I do not care. Every single inflection and movement and delivery he offers here is so perfect and adrenaline-infused that you don’t want anyone to hurt him because then he’ll stop saying and doing things and then there’s no reason to keep watching the movie. Holy Christ, I can’t believe how great this goddamn performance is, from the first frame to the last. King Kong truly ain’t got shit on him.

#1: CHARLIZE THERON, MONSTER

What else is there to say other than Charlize Theron broke acting with this. Since this came out, they are still having to come up with something else for actors to do because she already won at it. You probably haven’t seen this movie, though, because you only like movies about spaceships and teen roadtrips.

There ya go. Other performances I considered for this were the aforementioned Pacino, Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, and a couple others I can’t remember anymore.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Dec 26th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

This is not a movie that I would normally see by myself, left to my own volition, on Christmas day. Left to my own devices on Christmas day, staring down the barrel of a reality celebrating the birth of Christ with a little but a graffitied-upon home, three goddamn cats and no Coffee-Mate, I am sure things would have ended up like this.

However, I was asked to go with my good friends Pinback and savvyraven, and I can say, quite categorically, that I had a wonderful time. It’s just that I would describe the movies that I do choose to actively leave the house for, on my own, as possessing one of the following qualities:

1) A comic book character

2) A character that, at some point, takes up a chainsaw or a glove with a bunch of knives in it, and runs after the other characters

3) #2, except in outer space.

So, this was gonna be a departure for me. I didn’t know that the director of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had also made Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac, although if I had been told that beforehand, I would have recoginized the essential truth in it: they have certain qualities that I enjoyed in all of them, and I’m all right with saying that David Fincher makes good movies. I know, welcome to like 2001, but still, a man can possess trivia about Arkanoid or cinema in his life, rarely both, so please cut me some slack.

TCCoBB is a movie that I believe benefits from knowing nothing about, before entering the theatre. It was a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve only read The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, and I am pretty sure that none of the characters in this movie appear there, so if you’re like me, and only did the bare minimum in high school English, you’re safe. If F.Scott believes in a Stephen King-like principle of a shared fictional universe, well, fuck me. I only knew that the story chronicles the life of a man — Benjamin – from his physical age 90, and down. So yeah, he gets younger as the movie goes on.

I am going to assume that the book actually had a plot. The movie really doesn’t, and I totally don’t normally enjoy flicks like that — The Royal Tenenbaums, Forrest Gump, whatever. Even There Will Be Blood is pushing it for me. This one was well made, with a minimum of jogging retards, and Ben Stiller in a jogging suit, so Benjamin Button gets high marks there. I would like to comment on its length. When we got out of TCCoBB, we found ourselves in a world we could not have predicted. The cash in our wallets were only worth pennies, thanks to years of inflation. Mars had been completely colonized – not by humans, we had been there and left, but rather, by dogs. And if the three of us seemed like we were closer in friendship, for having endured this lengthy film, it wasn’t an illusion: the Universe had expanded as far as it was going to go while we were in there, and had begun the process of called the Big Crunch.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a little long, I’d say.

The last bit I will leave you with is this: as the credits on the movie rolled, we gathered our coats and cups, and stood up, giving our legs some circulation. We heard a small boy’s voice one row back. He said, God bless him, “Was that a true story?”

And I know you “had to be there” to make that anecdote work, if there is even the hint that someone over the age of 5 came up with it, it is horribly unfunny and an example of someone trying to hard, but I knew, while dissolving into an embarrassing giggle, that I would never say anything as unexpected and funny in my life. Bless that kid. I also realized I really should abandon reviewing movies, since I’m never going to top that line. Back to shitty game reviews (I’ll let “shitty” modify either word that comes after it, depending on what you think of my writing and video games) for me.

It’s been fun, I’ll watch movies without commentary, everyone be excellent to one another, and party on.

*** out of 5.

Pinback Sells ICJ on “Boogie Nights”
Aug 11th, 2008 by Pinback

Boogie Nights. Really. Top ten? Why that one? Sell me on Boogie Nights, I’ve never seen it.

Well, alright. I’ll try, anyway.

Of course, it can be a difficult sell, depending on how the salesman approaches it. If I come up to you (Robb Sherwin) and say, here, watch this, it’s a two and a half hour movie about porn in the 70’s, of course you (Robb Sherwin) would probably get so angry you’d stomp out of the room, stopping only to kick a hole in the wall.

So I’m not going to do that. Particularly since Robb IMed me that his three biggest misgivings about the movie were that 1) it was two and a half hours long, 2) it was about porn, 3) it was set in the 70’s.

I suppose I could tell you instead that it is actually a 70-minute movie about a guy in the future who builds a time machine to go even farther into the future to blow shit up with lasers, and while Burt Reynolds kind of looks like a futuristic laserguy in the movie, you will probably begin to suspect I’ve lied to you once he starts asking Marky Mark about his cock five minutes into it.

So, I guess I can just list some of the things about this movie which make it so fantastic, despite the subject matter and the length. (Of the movie, not of Marky Mark’s fake monster cock.) (Well, not necessarily of that.)

To watch this movie is to watch one of the great film makers of our time burst onto the scene with the unbridled ferocity of a giant, rabid, mutant kitten. How Anderson went from making Hard Eight, an excellent but quiet thriller about a loser finding a father figure in a more mature loser, to this artistic explosion of epic proportion is really amazing. You would never have known he’d have this sort of movie in him. Though I remember watching it for the first time, thinking, I didn’t know anyone had this kind of movie in them. I’d never seen — experienced — anything like it. Two and a half hours of raw, blistering power that just continued to bludgeon you from all sides with its fists of originality and energy.

Stylistically, it is no secret to say that he borrows very liberally from Scorcese and Tarantino, but at the same time manages to outdo them both in terms of audacity and technical bluster. All the tricks of the trade are here, from copious use of music, ridiculous tracking shots (one of which starts, I think, in a bedroom, and ends up underwater in a swimming pool), to all the rest. His followup, Magnolia, is often criticized as being too flamboyant in its stylistic excesses, and it seems reserved next to this.

All of this wizardry is nothing if it’s not in service of an entertaining story. Now, the subject matter may or may not interest you, but the frailty of the human experience which is the focus of the story arc is not exclusive to the porn industry of the 70’s. It is timeless and universal.

Of course, we can say simply it’s a cautionary tale about the excesses of money, drugs, whatever, and we can say “been there, done that”. Which may be a fair argument, but you certainly won’t notice that while you’re watching it. For one thing, it’s not a story about one guy, it’s a story of a bunch of people, all on the same ride, but all affected it by it differently, and watching how their relationships come about and change is fascinating.

This is a whole family of people who all believe they are doing the right thing, who so very genuinely and naively believe that they are headed in the right direction, while we the audience see otherwise.

Then one night, in one of the more memorable, shattering sequences in movie history, everything comes to a head, and it starts to become clear that while they thought they were climbing the ladder to heaven, they were all the while digging themselves into hell. Nice imagery, huh? I thought of that in the shower this morning.

But who cares, right? Even all THAT wouldn’t be any good if the movie just wasn’t a blast to watch, and I’m telling you — I’m telling you, Robb Sherwin — that this movie is a friggin’ blast to watch. It’s a riot. It’s hilarious, sad, exasperating, goofy, all of it. You ask me if it’s a long 2.5 hours? My friend, it is the shortest 2.5 hours in all of moviedom. You ask me if we will be able to throw quotes back and forth, as we’ve begun doing with all the other PTA movies? Boy howdy, can we.

It shares the “dangers of excess” theme with There Will Be Blood (with money, drugs, and fucking in place of oil), but there’s one other thing it shares, which is that where you would expect the movie to end, one last, completely bizarre and off-the-wall scene shows up — a scene of such brutal intensity that you will never, ever forget it, and one of those scenes that changes the way you hear a particular song. Much like you can’t hear “Stuck In The Middle With You” anymore without picturing Mr. Blonde torturing Marvin Nash and cutting his fucking ear off, this scene has a similar effect. It’s just ten minutes of amazing cinema.

The fact that the other 140 minutes are just as good is astonishing. You may complain about the ending not being “final” enough, but as with Blood, I think the movie ends when there’s really nothing more you need to see. Any more frames would be wasted. And you’ll be too exhilarated and exhausted from the ride that you’ll be ready for a nap anyway.

In conclusion, you should see this movie because it is:

1. Exciting.
2. Hilarious.
3. Amazing.
4. Awesome.
5. Great fun.
6. Almost zero scenes showing a closeup of a 12-inch donger.
7. Has a character named Rollergirl, which you appear to think is a good thing.
8. One of the best movies ever.
9. You will like it.
10. Trust me.

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