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Cool Stuff

"V/H/S2" is Crazier Than the Original, but Not As Scary

I'll give "V/H/S2" credit: they went for it. There's a brazenness with respect to the scares that outdoes even the original “V/H/S” (except for "Amateur Night"). No coy leave-it-to-your-imagination stuff. But in terms of images that stick with you and make you keep the lights on, I think “V/H/S” had more impact.

The connective story, "Tape 49," involves a young PI couple investigating the disappearance of a college kid. They break into his apartment and discover a bunch of V/H/S tapes, which the woman proceeds to watch while the boyfriend explores the apartment.

The best of the bunch is "Safe Haven," from Gareth Evans ("The Raid"). It involves a documentary film crew investigating a religious cult and its leader, who is eerily and convincingly portrayed by actor Epy Kusnandar. He's to "Safe Haven" what Hannah Fierman was to "Amateur Night," and a creepy actor can go a long way to making a horror movie a memorable experience. What works here is that all the cult stuff is believably freaky and the set up is tense. Something about the fact that everyone is speaking what appears to be Indonesian amps things up a bit too. The gore factor is off the charts, but there is something about the build up to this one – not to mention the over-the-top finale – that just makes it an instant cult (no pun intended) classic. It's my favorite of the group.

Next in line would be "A Ride in the Park," about a young cyclist who is attacked by zombies during his ride through the eponymous park. He's wearing a helmet cam, so after he "turns" we get to experience his transition from bewilderment, to illness, to hunger. It's a very interesting take on the zombie genre from the director of "The Blair Witch Project." As crazy as it sounds, he actually manages to conjure up empathy for the main character who has basically forfeited a pretty rocking life to become one of the undead. When he accidentally butt-dials his girlfriend at the end and realizes everything he's lost, even in his zombie haze, it's a poignant moment that leads to tragic results.

Third in line for me would be "Slumber Party Alien Abduction." This entry is just a lot of fun and its boldness in showcasing the aliens is both a strength and a weakness. What I liked about Slumber Party was the teenagers misbehaving trope we've seen in so many horror movies. This entry is not really scary and the shaky cam aesthetic is pushed a bit too far, but it's still a solid outing. (Question: why is there a blackface Santa in this movie?)

Speaking of scary, there is a section toward the end of Tape 49 – the wrap around segment – that probably provides the most significant scares in the entire flick. Let's just say that if something comes back to life after its head has been twisted completely around, it can provide some frightful moments.

Finally, the first story, “Phase 1,” is pretty good if only because it is fast paced and entertaining. It also has a few jolts.

All of the V/H/S2 stories are kind of weak on character, but you don't have much time to set up character in a short film. Ultimately, this sequel feels like it was
trying to top the first one. But I suppose that's the curse of any sequel: whether knowingly or not, it is always attempting to surpass its progenitor.

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"Carnage" - Good Movie, Great Music

"Carnage," Roman Polanski's latest outing, is a talkfest with veteran actors Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winselt and Christoph Waltz. It's about a seemingly liberal, feel good couple (Foster and Reilly) whose son is brutalized in a playground fight by the son of the more uptight, conservative Waltz and Winslet. The couples meet and at first everything seems to be above board and civil, but as the foursome's time together progresses, things get increasingly tense and unpleasant and good manners fall by the way side.

I tend to like Polanski's work. He has a relaxed, measured way of telling a story that allows you to immerse yourself in the movie. The edges are never too hard; things always have a certain smoothness to them.

As much as enjoyed this movie, the real star is the 2 + minutes of score over the end credits by Alexandre Desplat. This has got to be one of best pieces of musical composition I've heard in a movie in a long time. Every note feels right. This is an exciting time in movie scoring, with people like Desplat, Michael Giacchino, Clint Manswell, Mychael Danna, Trent Reznor, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer filling films with excellent scores. But I think Desplat, who also did the music for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, is my favorite and this soundtrack proves why.


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UFC 3 Undisputed

I've got a friend who works at THQ and he'd been talking about how good this game is. Based on this IGN score I guess he wasn't just whistling Dixie. Fight games aren't really my thing, but I have to give this one a shot.


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"Young Adult" Review - Spoilers - Charlize Theron


I'm reluctant to "review" Young Adult because there has already been a lot of ink spilled on this movie. It's the type of picture people like to brag about seeing because it makes them look smart. Pic has the same feel as movies like "Juno," "Election," "Ghost World," etc. Rolfe Kent did the music, Mr. Mudd (John Malkovich's production company) produced, Diablo Cody wrote it and Jason Reitman directed. This is the crew that does the anti-formula type movies. The problem is, they've done so many that now these flicks have their own formulaic feel. Still, you gotta love a movie that champions the viewpoint of an emotionally stunted 37-year-old single woman who can't deal with embracing adulthood, as defined by getting married, having kids, and moving to the suburbs. As a single person myself, there were some moments in "Young Adults" that I could really relate to, like Theron waking up late in the day, having fallen asleep on the couch in an awkward position with the TV on all night.

Theron plays Mavis Gery, a resident of Minneapolis (considered the "big city" in this movie) and writer of young adult books called Waverly Prep. The books are no longer popular and the series is being cancelled, but Mavis is still significantly more accomplished than her former high school buddies. For reasons revealed later in the film, she's developed a fixation on her HS sweet heart, nicely played by Patrick Wilson. She decides to go back to the small town she went to high school in and try to reclaim him, despite the fact that he's married and just had his first child.

One thing that stood out to me in this movie is how, despite the filmmaker's best efforts to make Theron look dumpy and unimpressive in her everyday romps, she still managed to be stunningly attractive in just about every frame. This kind of works against the pic, because you're always aware that the plot is slightly implausible. There is no universe where guys would not be throwing themselves at Mavis Gary even on her worse day.

However, there's more to this movie than meets the eye, and there's a stand-off of sorts between Theron's Mavis and the suburban types she resents so much toward the end that is not only incredibly uncomfortable, but shows a reversal in perspectives you will not be expecting. By the conclusion, the movie has simultaneously vilified Mavis while also showing that she stubbornly refuses to change. She thinks her view point is the superior one, but the filmmakers put a big question mark over that. You will certainly be thinking about this one for a while after you leave the theater, and that's a good thing.

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Adrian Tomine - Optic Nerve #12 - Amber Sweet

Adrian Tomine is back on familiar ground with "Amber Sweet," the story of a young woman constantly mistaken for a popular online porn star. As is common in Tomine stories, the protagonist is isolated from her peers and is looking for a way to fit in. But the mistaken identity problem will not go away, so she changed schools and moves to a different area. That still doesn't solve her problems, but I'll let you read the rest.

I really enjoyed this issue of Optic Nerve. It was like a blast to the past, and it's good to see Tomine hasn't lost his touch for doing these unique stories of alienation and disappointment ("Hortisculture"). Also, the letters section is really good. I knew there were a lot of white Tomine fans who just wouldn't get ethnic identity issues in Shortcomings, and the letters confirmed as much.

The beleaguered protagonist meets the real Amber Sweet.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Every now and again you see a movie that reminds you of the importance of a fresh, new perspective in filmmaking. "Martha Marcy May Marlene," directed by newcomer Sean Durkin, is one of those films. Every frame crackles with Durkin's perspective, and oh what a hauntingly beautiful perspective it is. This is a movie of subtraction: it lingers on the scenes between the action/conflicts and tells its story in more of a reductive fashion. This works well for the subject, a young woman (Martha) who escapes a cult in the Catskill Mountains and is trying to put things back together after a traumatic experience with the group. The movie alternates between Martha's flashbacks to of the cult's austere environment and the modern, minimalism of her sister's home in Connecticut, where she seeks refuge.

One of the things I was most impressed with was how Durkin revealed the pros and cons of each way of life. The cult is not all bad, eschewing material excess for a simpler lifestyle, and Martha's condescendingly caring sister with all her financial security is not all good. But at the end of the day, the cult is an amoral band of criminals clinging to the sophistic preachings of their charismatic leader to justify their violent actions. Martha starts to see through these hollow philosophies, which is what leads to her wanting to escape. But Durkin lets us see things in an unfiltered way, without trying too hard to make the sect the bad guy.

I give this movie a high recommend.


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Ides of March - Entertaining Politcal Thriller

When did everyone get so cynical? Repeatedly in reviews of this movie, you see critics say something like, "Not a bad movie, but tell us something we didn't already know about American politics." If this is what we already know - if it really is this down and dirty - then we might as well just all give up and stop voting now. Personally, I found The Ides of March highly entertaining and unpredictable. George Clooney is especially appealing as an all-the-right-answers presidential candidate, as is Evan Rachel Woods as the sexy intern at his headquarters. (Woods really steals the show.) Ryan Gosling continues to be underwhelming to me in movies (see "Drive"), but it was particularly unwise to put his brand of blandness right there beside the blinding star wattage of Clooney. Not a good move at all. Oh, and while Philip Seymour Hoffman does that thing he always does in movies where he's really emphatic and his hair flops around during his colloquies, this movie just affirms he's one of the best actors in the business (same goes for Paul Giamatti).

There are a number of smart, good beats in The Ides of March (pay attention to the cell phone snafu between Woods and Gosling in the hotel room), so it's almost certain you will walk out of the theater with a feeling of satisfaction in having chosen something intelligent. The only thing I didn't care for was the last couple scenes where Clooney attempts to drive home the tragic unraveling of Gosling's moral center. It felt too heavy handed, like Clooney was screaming at us "This is an important movie!" which, of course, has the opposite effect.

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Why I Like "Moneyball" (Despite Not Being a Baseball Fan)


In addition to having a great soundtrack by Mychael Danna...

And a nice performance by Brad Pitt...

And an even better performance by Jonah Hill...

The movie is about a guy who failed (relative to his potential) for a decent portion of his life and somehow managed to turn it all around. In that way, Moneyball reminded me of "Jerry McGuire" in that you have a big-name actor like Brad Pitt playing someone who is essentially a loser pretty convincingly, which is entertaining in and of itself.

Billy Beane was considered by many to be one the most promising players to baseball when he was recruited out of high school in the 80s. But in his professional career he languished and never lived up to the hype. Adding insult to injury, he had turned down a scholarship to Stanford for a big paycheck. Then, right there on center stage, Beane failed for nearly 10 years before retiring from pro baseball to become a GM. And even as a GM for the Oakland As, victory eluded him. That is, until he hooked up with Jonah Hill's (fictional) character and started employing sabermetric principles which value players based on a complex mathematical formula rather than for their stadium appeal and good looks.

This movie was re-written by Aaron "The Social Network" Sorkin, and it has the same feel as the Facebook film. You will definitely leave the theater inspired. I may even check it out again this weekend. Happy Thumbs way up.

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Sandra Vergara in "Fright Night"

When I first saw "Fright Night," I wasn't sure how I felt about the character of Peter Vincent's assist, Ginger, played by Sandra Vergara. I knew she was kinda sexy, but her performance seemed over-the-top and her accent was borderline annoying. However, I noticed that she got some of the biggest laughs in the movie both times I saw it and certain things about her performance started to stand out. For instance, that little move she makes when she says, "I will fuck myself, thank you. Someone has got to do it." (In response to Vincente telling her to "Go fuck yourself!") Her performance moved up from kinda sexy to really sexy on the second viewing and I was a disappointed when she was killed off.

She appears to have significant experience as an actress based on her IMDB profile, but she also has a make up artist page up on Model Mayhem (although she hasn't visited it since January). I suspect that MM will soon be coming down, because she will definitely get more acting work based on what she did in "Fright Night."

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Fright Night Review **Spoilers**

I saw Fright Night tonight in 3-D. It’s a lot of fun and will definitely clean up at the box office.

You can’t help but make comparisons to the first one. Colin Farrell is very good as the cool vampire “Jerry”; not better than Chris Sarandon and not worse. Farrell puts his own take on it. I personally preferred Sarandon (who makes a cameo in this movie), and in an interview Farrell admits he couldn’t fill those shoes and had to just make his own version of the character.

Plot wise the first one felt more substantial. It drew you in a little more and felt less isolated. There were only a few key locations in this movie. Neither movie is truly scary, like “The Exorcist,” but this one has more suspense and is gorier.

One thing I definitely didn’t like in this one is that Jerry’s roomie and lieutenant vampire, Billy Cole, is completely cut out of the movie. That dude was one the reasons the first flick was so good.


The Evil plot is reduced as well, and his death just can’t fuck with the first one where he dies a slow, agonizing death with a stake in him, half wolf/half human. I just prefer the old latex effects to CGI.


Brewster is WAY cooler in this movie than the first one. You actually believe he could stand a chance against Jerry. He was more annoying than anything in the ’85 version. The Amy character, who is an Amanda Seigreid doppelgänger, is also WAY more likeable (and sexy) in this one (and Amanda Bearse, pre lesbo, was no slouch back in 1985).

I’ll wrap it up with this. To me scary movies are about “oh shit!” moments. The more a movie has, the more memorable it is. The first
Fright Night had a lot of those moments. The scene where Jerry breaks into Brewster’s room and strangles him through the window; Amy transformation, where she turns “vampire face” at the end; Jerry’s spectacular death; Evil’s spectacular death. This movie only has a couple “oh shit!” moments (although one of them is REALLY good), but it’s still a very likable flick that I’d recommend to anyone. Overall, the redux does not beat the first one, but it’s damn good movie.

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The Myth of the American Sleepover

I haven't seen "The Myth of the American Sleepover" yet, but I'm reading a lot of good things about it. What really drew me to it was this great poster. UPDATE: I found out an artist named Kevin McShane drew this poster. He's very talented and you should check out more of his work.


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Film Recommendation - "Stander"


Based on a true story about a police officer (Stander) in South Africa during the breakdown of apartheid who shoots an unarmed young, black protester.

He's devastated by the event and it spins his life in a different direction. As result of what appears to be a nervous breakdown, Stander starts robbing banks and then coming back to the scene of the robbery to investigate the very banks he took down. He gives the money to poor, black South Africans.

Eventually Stander gets busted, does some hard time, and then breaks out of prison only to become one of the greatest bank robbers in South African history, with his group known as the notorious "Stander Gang."

The movie is surprisingly touching toward the end where you see how taking a stand against the wrongs in South African changed Stander's life irrevocably - divorce, alienation from his family and friends, and ultimately an untimely death, ironically (intentionally?), at the hands of a black man.

For some reason I really liked this one. The soundtrack is good too. Thomas Jane turns in a nice performance.


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Revisiting "The Ring" (Original Japanese Version)


After years of keeping this DVD tucked away because the movie scared the heck out of me, I decided to take a 2nd look last night. Now that I've got some objectivity and the trauma has worn off, I was able to analyze why this movie is so effective. It plays on some dark themes and addresses them unflinchingly, as noted below:

1. Yôichi is a latchkey kid: Reiko's young son is often left at home alone to fend for himself because his frazzled reporter mom is never around and really isn't mother material. This is apparent in the first scene with Yôichi where his mom comes home late and he has already dressed himself for Tomoko's funeral and put his mom's clothes out as well. It is also demonstrated when Reiko picks Yôichi up off the floor at his grandpa's and puts him in bed, upon which Yôichi whispers "You're home..." (indicating he often goes to bed with no one home with him )

Reiko's dereliction as a mother is augmented by the fact that lots of spooky shit is going on around them and Yôichi is very much aware of it and needs someone to protect him. Of course, this all comes to a head when Yôichi finds the "death tape" and winds up watching it in the middle of the night (ironically, on the one night his mom is sleeping beside him).

2. Telekinesis, ESP, and witchcraft: These are all things which, like exorcisms, are not so far removed from reality that they seem totally unbelievable. Sadako's mother, Shizuko, predicted a volcano eruption decades earlier. Her professor husband tried to exploit her abilities at a news conference and she became the laughing stock. It was there that Sadako's powers were first revealed, when she killed a reporter that mocked her mother. From there, it all went bad. The father lost his job, the mother committed suicide, and Sadako was eventually thrown down a well by her dad, who was scared of her powers. Of course, her curse lived on through the "death tape."

3. Bad Shit Happens in Broken Homes: The theme of divorce and broken homes is strong. Yôichi parents are divorced and the father indicates that Yôichi was a mistake. Likewise, Sadako's family was splintered and her father kills her after her mother commits suicide.

4. Young People Can Die Too: Tomoko's death in the opening of the movie, while sleeping over her friend's house, is one of the spookiest in the movie. But it is followed by several other teenagers deaths, leading Yôichi to ask his mom: "Can kids die too?" Most of us feel invulnerable in our teens and early 20s. We don't even consider death as an option, unless someone we know passes away. But in "Ringu," young people are the primary victims of Sadako's curse, and that's a little unnerving.

All in all, it's a strong film with a resonance that the American remake just can't muster. The film is about a curse and it kind of feels like a curse watching it - it will get under your skin. I wouldn't quite put it on the level of "The Exorcist," but it's not far from that.

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"Scenes from an Impending Marriage"

What a great little book. Filled with funny anecdotes of Adrian's final weeks before getting married.


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The Dead Island Trailer is Pretty Cool...

These movie execs need to take a page or two from the game ppl, because if this was a movie trailer, it would probably make back its production cost in the first weekend...

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Megamind's Roxanne Ritchie Has a Big Behind!

I don't look for this stuff, but it is interesting to me anytime a big butt is smuggled into pop culture without anyone noticing. In this case, Megamind's incredibly charming damsel in distress, Roxanne Ritchie, is the vehicle for its infiltration. Voiced by Tina Fey, Roxanne is drawn with far more ample curves than your average animated hottie (see below). But search for "Roxanne Ritchie and big butt" on Google and you'll only find one or two references tops. Hmmm.... Interesting.


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Okay, so I finally saw “Catfish,” the documentary indie about a guy who meets a girl on Facebook and chronicles the entire affair, including his impromptu visit to her home in Michigan.

Fair warning: there’s no structure to this review. I’m just going to jot down some thoughts I had about it.

It’s a modern film in the sense that it is entirely based on a people hooking up via the internet (Facebook in particular) and how this digital era of communication has created new and interesting ways for people to pull the wool over each other’s eyes. Despite my reservations about the film, which I detail below, somehow it felt very necessary. I think there a lot more “Catfish” stories out there than we’d care to admit, albeit with varying degrees of subterfuge, not as drastic as what was uncovered in this movie.

With that said, what bothered me about this film is the same thing that bothers me about the National Inquirer and all those media outlets that profit from other’s misfortune. On some level, this movie just smacked of a couple smart, big city hipster types exploiting the misery of this Midwestern woman who was going through a mid-life crisis and had her fair share of problems. I’m sure that they would argue that she gave her consent and that since the movie’s release, she’s sold tons of artwork and the whole experience gave her life meaning. That may be true, but I still can’t help but feel that these guys are just so smugly happy with themselves and that she is the butt of an elaborate joke. What’s scarier: that you can create fictional personas and carry on a fairly sophisticated deceit with someone thousands of miles away, or that they can document the whole thing on film and out you to the world and come out established movie makers while your life remains relatively unchanged?

In a sense, there are two cautionary tales here: one is about the vagaries of the net, the other is about this new world of electronic media where you can be filmed without your knowledge or consent and your home and surroundings can be surveyed by someone in another state with the click of a button.

Oh and P.S., since this is Indosplace where I mainly deal with curvy women and that subculture, check out the thick African American waitress they meet once they arrive in Michigan. She’s a cutie.

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Sophia Coppola's "Somewhere"

The pace of this movie is set by the opening shot of Stephen Dorff taking his black Ferarri around the track four full laps. Coppola just sits the camera on a tripod and we watch the car whiz by four times before coming to a stop. Such is the way of "Somewhere," a languidly paced but beautiful study of privilged ennui as seen through the eyes of Dorff's burned out actor, Johnny Marco. Scenes that would normally be on screen for only a few seconds are dwelled on for minutes at a time, like the charming routines of the two, blonde pole-dancing stippers that perform for Johnny in his hotel room at the exclusive Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles.
Here's what I came away with from "Somewhere": Sophia Coppola is more concerned with mood and beauty and atmosphere than the details of laying out a structured three act film or tying up loose ends. She captures the essence of places and things by not only taking her time in shooting them, but by studying details that some might consider mundane (airport announcement system, elevator chimes, street signs, etc.) but that somehow manage to capture what we remember most about experiences in such places. Her lighting choices and camera angles are just spot on.

As a story, "Somewhere" is weaker than "Lost in Translation." There is probably no more than 30 pages of dialogue in the entire movie. But if you're willing to take your time and just let this movie wash over you, as it's meant to, "Somewhere" is a moving movie going experience. It will linger in your mind after you leave the theater, and any movie that can imprint itself in your mind these days is doing something right.


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Black Swan

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called this movie "high-art trash." I think it's more of a case of Turan not being able to "just let go" -- as Vincent Cassel advises of Portman in the movie -- and enjoy the film for what it is. I don't think Black Swan is a masterpiece (as some critics are calling it), but I certainly enjoyed it. And while it's true, as Turan points out, that it is difficult to discern between the dream sequences and reality, it really doesn't matter in the long run. The movie is highly entertaining, and isn't that the point?

I should also point out that this movie has a great soundtrack.


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"Monsters" - Can You Name That Budget?

My evidence professor in law school once told us not to trust anything we read in the newspapers, that much of it would not pass the evidentiary standards used by the court system. He was a bit of cynic, but when I read the various reports of the budget to make "Monsters," Gareth Edwards' extremely impressive "indie" sci-fi thriller, it ranged from "under $500,000" to $380,000 to $200,000 to several stories reporting that Monsters was made for a mere $15,000. The truth is that the film cost about $200,000 - Edwards himself is quoted on as saying the film was made for "essentially in the very low six figures." (Walletpop, "Horrors! 'Monsters' director did it himself, didn't go broke" September 16, 2010.)

Trust me, when you see this movie and the behind-the-scenes footage of Edwards and his three person crew filming this, you will want to know how much it cost too. You will immediately be consumed by thoughts of "how can I do this too?" But don't be fooled. Edwards was a CGI tech by trade, having worked on numerous documentaries and features before making his debut. Your average person would've had to hire someone to do all those nifty effects, thereby increasing the budget considerably. Still, the movie is quite an inspiration.


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The Amercian - Virtuoso Filmmaking


At the heart of this stark tale lies the axiom "live by the sword, die by the sword."

Beautifully shot by Anton Corbijn, The American so definitively places you in Italy you'll feel you need a passport to see it.

The film has a slow pacing; no quick cuts or cinematic gimmicks. Instead what you get are precise and beautifully framed panoramas and tight shots of Clooney et al.

One scene that stands out in particular is when George Clooney takes Thekla Reuten's character to his secret hiding place to test a custom-made rifle he's built for her. A fellow assassin, Reuten just feels untrustworthy and dangerous. Maybe it's her piercing blue eyes, strong nose and flared nostrils. Whatever the case, that scene is a testament to Corbjin's virtuosity and ability to set up a tense scene without overly relying on a heavy score.

This is not a feel good movie by any stretch, but in this age of "look ma, I shot this on a camcorder," The American stands apart as a true-to-form cinematic experience. This film was crafted by industry professionals and there's no faking that.

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Dianna Agron - More than "Glee"

Dianna Agron is one of my favorites on "Glee," but what is really interesting is her blog, Fell Down the Rabbit Hole. It is a collection of eclectic and funky posts ranging in topics from music to the anecdotal (losing her car keys late one night at Barnes & Noble). What really comes thru is that this woman is not who you might expect based on the character she plays or even her looks in general. She appears to be an artistically talented, introspective young lady exuding positivity. Kudos to Agron! You've got a fan in me.

Pasted Graphic

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Entering the Scott Pilgrim Universe

Over the past week I've become fairly immersed into the Scott Pilgrim universe. It started innocently enough with me watching the movie, which is directed by the incredibly talented Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead"), and just blew me away. There's just an amazing amount of talent and creativity showcased in this movie. This lead to me purchasing books 1-6 of Brian Lee O'Malley's comic, upon which the movie is based. These are equally amazing and unique properties, and even more so when you consider that they are the originating material.

Not satisfied with just the book and the movie, I have now spent several hours watching (and re-watching) the behind-the-scenes material on the Blu Ray for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It seems like the cast really got along well and it is mind blowing the amount of preparation, training, and resources that went into this movie. Because the special effects in the film are played like comic book gags, you tend to take them for granted. But this film showcased some state of the art work.

Unfortunately, this review isn't all accolades. The one thing about Scott Pilgrim I wasn't crazy about is, well, how white it is. Sure, Knives Chau is Chinese, but she plays Scott's doormat, and her otherness is openly fetishicized in the movie. According to this film, there are no black or Latino people in Toronto - I mean literally, I don't think I saw a single face of color throughout this entire movie. You want to excuse all of this because: (a) Wright seems like a nice guy and I doubt it was intentional, and (b) the writer of the books is himself Asian American. But man, it's really kinda scary to see what happens when there aren't initiatives mandating diversity. Subconsciously or not, things just seem to gravitate to being exclusively white, both in front of and behind the camera. Of course, I'm not the only one who noticed this - type "Scott Pilgrim and racism" into Google search and see what comes back. Notably, white male film critic Sean Stangland writes:

[L]ooking back at the movie, I realize that every "good" character, for lack of a better word, is white. The other prominent Asian characters in the film are Scott's clingy, borderline crazy Chinese girlfriend, Knives Chao (Ellen Wong), and two of Matthew's fellow evil exes, Kyle and Ken Katanagi (Keita Saitou and Shota Saito). Latinos are represented by Clifton Collins Jr. as a vegan cop, and blacks are represented by ... uhh ... hmm ... no one. So perhaps the criticism that the film was made for and by white hipster douchebags carries a little more weight than I thought.

(Race and gender in "Scott Pilgrim") At any rate, I still highly recommend this film. Outside of "The Social Network" (which was far more socially responsible -- bravo to Fincher and Sorkin), it's probably the best movie of 2010.


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Criterion Blu Ray Release of Ghost World in 2011?

According to Terry Zwigoff, it's a distinct possibility. "Ghost World" is one of my favorite movies so the idea of a Blu Ray version with lots of esoteric behind-the-scenes factoids is pretty exciting. I feel like going down to the Criterion offices and holding everyone hostage until the damn thing comes off the presses, lol.


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Mary Elizabeth Winstead

I've been feeling Mary Elizabeth Winstead since Final Destination 3, but she really shines as Ramona Flowers in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." She's actually a little leggier - curvier - than your average Hollywood starlet. (Click to enlarge)


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What's The Best Electronic Viewfinder

These days, the trendy thing seems to be outfitting hi-end DSLR's with the trappings necessary to turn them into full-on video rigs. When done successfully, no one can argue with the results. A Canon 5D Mark II produces results good enough to submit to the Sundance Film Festival - and win. So I found myself looking at Zacuto's electronic viewfinders. But just when I was going to get one, I heard that RedRockMicro makes one of the best EVFs on the market. Be interested to hear other's opinion on this.



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"The Loved Ones" - Australian Booty

Is the indie horror/torture flick "The Loved Ones" worth a viewing just for a glance at actress Robin McLeavy's luscious backside? Probably not, but I'll let you be the judge. The movie did pretty well in the festival circuit, but the recent trend in sadistic movies isn't my thing.


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Too Bad it's Not Real

This great drawing by artist Kevin Herault is not a real comic, regrettably. But I would certainly buy this issue if it were real.


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iPad Spotted on "Entourage" Tonight

So I'm sitting there thinking: "What Mac laptop has a black logo!?" scratch Then I realized, that's not a Mac laptop at all. Northern Exposure's Rob Morrow is using an iPad with, I'm assuming, a wireless keyboard.

Those little gizmos are really catching on.


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New über Thick Booty Babe From Spencer Davis

I've always been a fan of the Booty Babe statues and have several myself, but the more recent models seems to be a bit less voluptuous than the original models. But not this new one: Santa Fe Señorita Booty Babe. This one harkens back to the original Booty Babe statues that made you go "DAMN!"

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Santa Fe_Señorita_Booty_Babe_Vinyl (6)Santa Fe_Señorita_Booty_Babe_Vinyl (1)Santa Fe_Señorita_Booty_Babe_Vinyl (7)Santa Fe_Señorita_Booty_Babe_Vinyl (4)

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Medicine for Melancholy

I recently saw "Medicine for Melancholy" on DVD and was highly impressed. It tells the story of Micah and JoAnn, two twentysomething African Americans who are part of the indie scene in San Francisco. It starts with them leaving a house party the morning after a one-night-stand. For reasons that are never made entirely clear in the movie, JoAnn appears to regret her decision to have slept with Micah and wants nothing to do with him. The first 15 minutes of the movie - the most difficult part to get through - deal with Micah trying to win over the bitterly distanced JoAnn.

But once Micah and JoAnn connect, the movie is sublime, both visually and in terms of content. In many ways "Medicine" is groundbreaking in telling the story of African Americans in love. As the director notes, how many times do we see young black people onscreen who ride bikes around the city, or build aquariums, or listen to indie music? To some extent, the movie itself is an allegory of its characters: white leaning/mumblecore sensibilities on the surface (from the soundtrack to the way it's shot), but undeniably black at its core. The central conflict of the two characters revolves around an age-old question in the African American community, which is what does it mean to be black, and does/should ones blackness eclipse ones class. For JoAnn, class and lifestyle prevail over her blackness. She refuses to limit her world view and her experiences to being black. She lives with and dates a white curator who is away in London and pays a mortgage on a very expensive house in San Francisco. Micah, on the hand, builds custom aquariums and stays in a decidedly less upscale and more gritty side of town. Although the film hints that Micah got his heart broken in an interracial relationship with a white woman before he met JoAnn, in the present tense he clearly sees himself as a black man with a dating preference for staying in race. He is concerned about gentrification and the lower classes marginalization in San Francisco. Everything about Micah crackles with his awareness of being black. For JoAnn, it's a footnote.

I won't give it all away, but I will just say that this film doesn't offer any easy answers to these issues.

I've seen dozens of slice-off-life love stories similar to this film about white characters, and enjoyed them, but I really can't describe what I felt finally seeing black characters get to tell a story like this. Pic is highly evocative and writer/director Barry Jenkins' carefully studied approach to the material paid off in spades. As just one example, the scene with Micah and JoAnn dancing together to "Lightbulbs" as the night winds down was very moving to me. (By the way, the film has a great soundtrack.) "Medicine" reminded me of Ted Witcher's "Love Jones" in the sense that it is breaking free of many black stereotypes and deals with the black bohemian crowd, but I definitely enjoyed this movie a lot more.

Interestingly, finding this DVD in the allegedly liberal city of Los Angeles was far from easy. Neither Cinefile nor Laser Blazer - two stores renowned for carrying offbeat, independent movies like this - had purchased this IFC-distributed DVD so that their customers could rent or buy it. It says a lot about the way audiences are prepared to perceive black people. Somehow I think if this had been some cheapie hood flick about gang members and big booty girlies, both stores would have had it in stock.

Anyway, do yourself a favor and go out and rent this or buy it a Pay Per View. It is without a doubt a modern classic.

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Spider-Man 601 - Red Headed Stranger

I know you guys are like "Wait a second - didn't he make a post about this already!?" It's true. But this is a different angle.

Check eBay and you may notice that while there are plenty of the variant of Spider-Man issue #601, the very first in the Red Headed Stranger series about Mary Jane's return to Peter Parker's life, there are few of the original cover. You'll also notice your local comic book store won't have them. That's right kiddies, this one is on its way to becoming a collectible. I just picked mine up today at Comics Ink in Culver City (see below - last copy, don't bother going there, lol).

As a note, I really enjoyed this particular story line. The issue with Chameleon is the best in terms of art, story, etc.



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Dan Clowes - "Wilson"

I just picked up "Wilson" today and I think it's safe to say -- without even having finished it -- it's one of my favorite Dan Clowes books to date. Maybe he's better suited to the anecdotal than linear storytelling, but it sure is a delight. Page after page of good laughs. If you've never read Clowes, I can't think of a better introduction.

UPDATE: Fox Searchlight Adapting 'Wilson' for Alexander Payne to Direct


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"The Dog Years" - Issue No. 6

I really enjoyed this story. Drayonis nicely captured some of the unique elements of the Black strip club experience. Check out the entire issue here.



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Justice League - Crisis on Two Earths

DC's animated features have been steadily improving since their debut, although even the early outings such as Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight were exceptionally well done. But this new one, Crisis on Two Earths, is just superb. The musical score is smooth and the voice characterizations, especially James Woods as a stoically cool Owlman, are top notch. Marvel needs to step their game up in respect to their animated features. Hulk v. Wolverine was pretty good, but it couldn't hold a candle to this.



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Massive Attack - Heligoland

This album retains Massive Attack's unique sound and won't disappoint fans in that regard. It is uneven, but "Paradise Circus" alone is probably worth the price of admission. "Girl I Love You" would be next in line for me, and is classic Massive Attack. "Pray For Rain" is very unique and should wind up on the soundtrack of the next Transporter Sequel or some suitably dark but cool movie from the UK. All in all, well worth the purchase.


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Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine is one of my favorite comic book writers. He has a knack for capturing the nuances of human interaction, like that scene from Optic Nerve #6, "Hawaiian Getaway," where Hilary Chan is waiting in line at the coffee house and the perky blond barista is super talkative to the guy in front of her, but when Hilary gets to the counter she suddenly becomes reticent. Or the way the cute grocery clerk's kindness in "Supermarket" (Optic Nerve #3) turns into uneasiness at the excessive touchiness of the blind Mr. Lewis, whom she senses might be grabbing onto her for more than direction. Who writes this type of subtle stuff anymore?! I'd recommend the entire Optic Nerve series, and if you can find them, the individual issues because the letters are great.


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Daniel - Bat for Lashes

This somewhat dark, goth song reminds me a lot of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." What a dreamy landscape Bat for Lashes has created. My little nephews, at 11 and 7, even like this song! Check it out on iTunes.



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Man, I've been into Phoenix since I heard the song "If I Ever Feel Better" nearly five years ago at the Virgin Megastore here in Los Angeles. When I heard "Listomania" in the finale to "Entourage" I knew they were starting to blow up. Wolfgang Amadeus is probably my favorite album this year.

It's also nice to see Vibe Magazine covering groups like this in their comeback issue.


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The Fantastic Mr. Fox

I saw this movie this week. As with most Wes Anderson films, and most notably Rushmore, this film does not disappoint. It has a very warm color palette and the settings are pastoral and visually appealing and engender a sense of coziness. A sense of being ensconced in the (largely) underground and make believe world of Mr. Fox and his unusual collection of pals. But I had the same feeling of wanting to rewind and more closely review many scenes for details that I did with Coraline, although that film ultimately has more heart and was more polished and technically amazing than Fox. Coraline was a classic; Fox is just a really good stop motion animation movie.

Rat is played by Willem Dafoe and that is probably the funniest role in the movie. Just listen to that slow, southern drawl when he tells Mr. Fox "It's my jaw-ob (job)"

The part of the movie I wasn't so crazy about was the second half, when the farmers really become focused on trying to capture and kill Mr. Fox. While never overtly violent, the tension and sense of imminent danger is in stark contrast to the cozy, relaxed feeling in the beginning of the film.

All in all, a very enjoyable movie going experience, like most Wes Anderson movies.


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Sade has announced "Solider Of Love"

Well...... It finally happened. Sade has announced the date for her album, Solider Of Love. It has been dated to release February 8th, 2010. You can pre-order the album from Amazon. I haven't seen an iTunes pre-order link yet. (Thanks to ECJ from ASR for this.)


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Ducle - Jamie Hernandez

I don’t think anyone even looks at this section, lol, but I’ll keep posting stuff on the off chance that someone does. Nobody draws curvy women quite like Jamie Hernandez of the Hernandez Bros. One need only look at Maggie or one his other female creations in the Love and Rocket series to know what I mean. These drawings inform a lot of my creative decisions in terms of posing, color choices, ideas, etc. All the stuff you see in this section coalesces to inform the photos I take of models, even if mainly on a subconscious level. What is informing your photographic choices? It’s something to consider.


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Katie Cassidy: CW Hottie of the Month

The new Melrose Place on the CW is chocked full of eye candy, including the undeniably hot Jessica Lucas, but the creme de la creme of the show is Katie Cassidy, who plays Ella Simms - the new Amanda. Katie hardly has the curves Jessica is working with, but in terms of giving good face and stealing scenes you might as well call this the Katie Cassidy show. Whatever happens with Melrose Place (it’s not quite as good as the 90s juggernaut), Katie will come out of this unscathed.

From a photography perspective, not that they are shooting at golden hour with the sun backlighting Cassidy, creating a halo like outline. Also notice the ample use of green in the background to play into Cassidy’s eyes (click to enlarge pics). Noticing details like this is why photographers often go on to be cinematographers.


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House of the Devil

Remember this name: Jocelin Donahue. She gives a fantastic performance in this subtle and masterfully executed retro horror film. I wound up really liking this movie. It's definitely not for everyone and it's certainly not a feel good movie by any stretch, but the way the parts leading up the mayhem unfold could almost be described as beautiful. It wasn't just 80s redux, it was a significant improvement on that formula.

As an example, the scene where Jocelin’s Samantha is bopping around to the Fix's "One Thing Leads To Another" but then the music abruptly stops (for the audience) when she opens the door to that dark basement is really nicely done.


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Trick 'r Treat

Produced by Bryan "The Usual Suspects" Singer, this is a series of vignettes. None of them are bad, but the last one, about a crazy old man who gets a spooky visit from a "kid" with stuffed satchel bag for a head and button eyes is one of the best horror episodics I've seen since Creepshow's "The Crate" or Twilight Zone's "The Living Doll".

The last one is worth the price of admission alone. Trust.

As an added bonus, Rochelle Aytes is looking real good in this.


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Jennifer's Body

This movie is not nearly as bad as the critics would have you believe. It’s just not as good as it could be. Maybe the bar was set too high given Diablo Cody’s involvement. What’s the deal with Ms. Cody anyway? Did she lose a boyfriend to an Asian American girl at some point in her life? She seems to be dead set on casting Asian American actresses in the most vapid roles. First it was the Christianity loving, pro-life chanting fanatic in Juno; now it’s the Soft Shoulder fan who believes their lies despite obvious credibility issues. There’s a Tarantino-esque strain of subdued prejudice in Cody’s movies so far that’s a little annoying.

Anyway, Megan Fox looks great in this movie and Adrian Brody is projecting “I’m ready for the A-list”. The movie is not scary in the slightest. Well, except for one shot at the very end, as the credits are rolling. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but it involves Amanda Seyfried in badass mode.


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Cool Article on Zooey Deschanel

Actually, it's more about 500 Days of Summer. There's a really interesting quote in Filmstar’s story about that movie. As good as it was, there was an element of preciousness about 500 Days. It's almost too stylish and cool for its own good. It undermines the gritty realism of the "love hurts" story they're trying to tell. But after reading this article I found out that, at least with respect to Zooey's character, that slickness was somewhat intentional.

Summer is also figurative of a certain type of indie movie character. As Webb explains, "There's this term - Manic Pixie Dream Girl - which is this idealised super-attractive quirky girl. Typically this character is sort of consumed by the male, changes his life and it's happily ever after. But we wanted to use that idea and extract some sort of consequence from it - she doesn't solve your problems, she doesn't make you happy. One of the underlying themes of the movie is that happiness lies within, not in the big blue eyes of the girl in the cubicle down the hall. That was a little bit tricky, but Zooey...she has great sense of style, she has this credibility, which is really fantastic, and it's hard not to like her, to be attracted to her. She lives in that idealised box that we have - but there's a consequence to that, there's a consequence to these people not being real, and that's what the end of the movie is trying to embrace."

I got a sense from the article that there was bit of a struggle between Zooey’s interpretation of the story and Summer’s character and the one the screenwriter had. She says “I just tried to play the scenes as truthfully as possible and keep her grounded in my reality of her, which was different from the reality of the film. My job was to protect her integrity, as a character. I’m like the lawyer for Summer.”


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500 Days of Summer

This is a bittersweet little movie. It got a 90% at Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good. I don’t know that I’d quite put it at that level, but it’s definitely enjoyable and not your typical romantic comedy. Zooey Deschanel is always interesting and her line delivery is superb. She's perfected the cute quirky chick role. Check it out. You won’t waste your money.five_hundred_days_of_summer_xlg

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This is one of the most unique, cool movies I've seen in a while. It's going to be dropping soon on DVD, so check it out.


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Drag Me To Hell

EDIT: I saw this tonight, opening night. Here's my review. WARNING: contains spoilers.

The first 30 minutes or so of this movie are pretty damn intense. A couple walked out of the showing I was at. If they could have kept that energy up the whole film, it would've been really scary.

As it stands, it was extremely solid. Good does not prevail over evil, and I always like movies like that. The lead character does everything possible for redemption, but it just isn't enough.

This movie is not truly scary in the get-under-your-skin sense like "The Exorcist" or the original "Ringhu" (Japanese version). It could have been, but Sam Raimi seems to prefer camp to mean-spirited, rattle-you-to-the-bones horror. Still, the movie a nice blend of frights with some humor.

The lead actress is very interesting to watch. Kinda sexy, kinda innocent, and a little bit bad girl... Trying to escape her country bumpkin past, you almost feel sorry for her.

Overall I'd recommend it. I'll probably check it out again at some point.


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Esther Baxter in "Speed Dating"

The first trailer for the upcoming flick with Esther Baxter in it, "Speed Dating," has dropped. Check it out here.

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"Let The Right One In" - A Pretty Cool Vampire Flick

This movie isn't all that scary, but it certainly has its fair share of gloom and doom. From the first scene when we see a man's throat slit as he hangs upside down from a tree while a dog watches until the carnage at the swimming pool at the end, the movie has a foreboding sense of dread to it. The director made a lot of smart choices in this very well done story about a 12-year-old (not really) vampire (Eli) and the socially inept younger boy (Oskar) she falls for.

You can't help but wonder what awaits Oskar once Eli tires of him and/or he gets old, but it looks like they've got a good thing until that day comes.


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On Switching From A TiBook 867Mhz to MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz


I have been using a
TiBook 867Mhz for the last four years, but I had gone thru at least two batteries, a screen, and most recently one of the hinges finally broke. My local college was selling the Spring '08 (not the most recent ones) MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz model for $1399, which is a steal, so I decided to step off into the abyss and purchase it, after much debate. (Not an easy decision to make in a recession, but you can always make money with a computer)

Anyway, for those G4 Powerbook users contemplating the upgrade, let me offer these few choice observations on the upgrade:

--Heat/fan issues: The Macbook Pro is rumored to get VERY hot. So hot that some users say they have to put a magazine between the computer and their lap to keep from getting burned. I haven't seen this. I've run several apps at a time and at most the heat is moderate. The TiBook, on the other hand, was a furnace and the fans came on almost constantly, esp. in the last year or so. I don't remember it always being so fan-happy, but at some point it seemed like that fan would kick on after just 5 minutes of use, esp. with the adapter plugged in.

Winner: Macbook

--Keyboard: The auto light keyboard on the Macbook Pro, which senses when it's dark and kicks in with an eerie X-Files glow, is damn cool. And the keys have a nice springiness, but the overall feel is more precious and delicate than with the TiBook. I can easily see that silver rubbing off with the Macbook keys if I don't get an iSkin cover. The black plastic keyboard of the TiBook felt more utilitarian, even though the white letters eventually started to wear away. It's really too soon to call, but for now...

Winner: TiBook

--Speed: This doesn't even merit a discussion. The MacBook Pro, with its dual Intel processors, 3MB of level 2 cache and 4 MB of RAM easily dusts the TiBook's crops. But to be fair, it's got a 4-5 year technological advantage, which is HUGE in the world of computers.

Winner: MacBook Pro

--Spinning Beach Ball of Death: Toward the end with the TiBook, just about anything would cause the spinning wheel to come up. Even if I so much as scrolled down the page with a YouTube movie embedded, the wheel would appear. God forbid I run more than two RAM heavy apps at a time and try to rapidly switch between them. I haven't seen much of the spinning ball of death on the Macbook yet, but I'm sure it's time will come

Winner: MacBook Pro

--Internet Experience: Another category that is pretty obvious. There is no website that can't be conquered with Safari 3.1 in Leopard. Pop up blocking is sublime. The TiBook was choking on sites as commonplace as CNN. Even Photobucket was becoming iffy.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Design Build: --> Winner: MacBook Pro, lol.

Conclusion: So was it worth it? I'm sure it was, but right now the MacBook is just pleasant in a low key kind of way. It hasn't blown my socks off or anything. I was acutely aware when watching "Entourage" in high def that I couldn't have done that on the TiBook, but that isn't exactly mandatory computing either.

I could probably have held off another week of so, but I'm glad I didn't.

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The 2009 Maxim Calendar - The Right Stuff

The urban modeling industy could stand to take a page or two out of Maxim's playbook on this one. This is some of cleanest and nicest photography I've seen since Cindy Crawford's classic 1990 Calendar shot by Marco Glaviano, which used to sell for $100+ on eBay.



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Holy Crap! The Ghost World Special Edition is Awesome

As a big fan of the Ghost World movie, comic books, and pretty much all things Dan Clowes, I couldn't have been happier to find this new hard bound edition of Ghost World in the book store a week ago. I knew it was coming out, but had lost track of when. Nothing against Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly, but their dates are not exactly hard and fast.


Anyway, this new iteration of Ghost World includes both the serialized comic and the screenplay, in addition to a lot of really cool extras. Just about every bit of trivia surrounding Enid and Rebecca is included in this book. And short of a sequel, this is about as good as it gets for now. As usual, Clowes leaves us wanting more, but it's still a nice little surprise.


BTW, there's a funny jab at the movie Juno in this book, which was in many ways a refashioning (read= ripoff) of Ghost World. At any rate, pick this one up when you have a chance. It's a keeper.

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The Man Who Loved Breasts - Anatomical Objectification in Comics

I read this over the weekend. This Robert Goodin story is not bad. It's got a whimsical feeling to it, almost like the protaganist dreams everything that happens to him.

I've always been interested in books, movies, TV shows, etc. that are about men obsessed with women's anatomy, because it's a very difficult topic to pull off without seeming highly exploitative. I've wanted to do something for years about three guys who destroy their lives due to their preoccupation with women's backsides. Each one loses something major in his life - his job, his fortune, his wife. But I never thought a publisher would be interested in that type of story. I guess "The Man Who Loved Breasts" disproves my theory. (Another sleeper where it comes to this subject is Dan Clowes "David Boring" - note Boring's obsession with big backsides and the trouble that gets him into)


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"Jack Brooks Monster Slayer"

Not a bad little horror flick. The lead actor, played by Trevor Matthews, was cool without trying to be. We'll see more of him for sure.

The actress who plays his girlfriend, Rachel Skarsten, is cute and kinda curvy.


The problem is that the movie is slow and not scary. All of the action is crammed into the last 15 minutes and, while decent, it takes too long to get there.

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