Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Voice

I don't know how to sing... and I mean that literally. It's not just that I'm a bad singer, but that I don't understand how singing works or how to make that kind of sound come out of my mouth. The best I can do is talk at a slightly higher pitch than I normally use for speaking, and hope that they words come out in some kind of rhythm... whatever that is. I have had people tell me I'm tone deaf, which I suppose must be true because I don't really understand what that means. What's a tone?

But boy do I love music, especially the sound of a great singer's voice. If I had one wish, it might be to have a great, soaring, lyrical voice like everybody else in the entire world seems to have. To me, that's about as unobtainable a super power as flight or invisibility.

Anyway, just for fun, I'm going to count down the ten singers whose voices I most wish I had. These are the people who, when I try to sing, it's their voices that I assume must be coming out of my mouth, even though the faces of the people around me tell me otherwise. Anyway, these are just the ten singers who I wish I could sing like, in descending order from awesome to even more awesome:

10. Jackson Browne

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Christopher Lee!

Christopher Lee is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most acting roles of anybody in this history of film. His filmography on the IMDB has 272 entries, which is absolutely astounding. Over the course of his career, he has fought Jedi, Gandalf, James Bond, and Van Helsing. He already has five films that were released or will be released in 2011 alone. He has two films scheduled for 2012 and one for 2013. Oh, and he just turned 89 today. I'm only 34, and I'm lucky if I can work up the energy to do dishes and my laundry in the same week.

All 272 of his films aren't great, of course, but I would guess that all are worth checking out because Christopher Lee is never not great. Here is just a short list of some of his most memorable roles:

Saruman: Lord of the Rings

Count Dooku: Star Wars

Lord Summerisle: The Wicker Man

Bond Villain Scaramanga: The Man With the Golden Gun

Dracula: A dozen different Hammer Horror Films

Flay: Gormenghast

Fu Manchu: Multiple films

Sherlock Holmes: Multiple films

And literally hundreds of others, in his past and presumably to come in the future. Have a happy and healthy birthday, and let's hope it's just the 89th of many more.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blasters N Roses

I don't understand what this is, but I love it. Two of my favorite things have finally come together, Star Wars and GNR:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top Ten Best Movie Monsters

I like monsters. The bigger the better. Put a monster in your movie and I'll go see it. Serve me a Monster Energy Drink and a Monster Cookie and I'll have a perfect evening's entertainment. Anyway, just for fun, I'm going to count down my top ten favorite movie monsters. Why not?

And keep in mind this isn't meant to be any kind of historical write up on the film industry's most memorable, important, or influential monsters. These are just the ten that I like the best, either because they scare me the most or just look the coolest. Also, I'm excluding dragons from this list, because dragons aren't really monsters, they're dragons. That's a whole 'nother list all together, and one I'm sure I'll get to sooner or later.

10. Gamera

Gamera is a giant turtle who walks on two legs, has giant fangs, can breathe fire, and flies. He's also totally awesome. He's the star of about a dozen movies, although he's far better known in Japan than he is over here. Gamera is the friend of children everywhere. 

9. Shelob

Shelob is a giant spider who lives in the mountains that border the land of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings novels and films. She is a being of pure evil who has lived for thousands of years feasting on those foolish enough to enter into her cave. She's disgusting, terrifying, and absolutely awful. There isn't nearly enough of her in Peter Jackson's third Lord of the Rings film Return of the King, but maybe that's for the best because what little of here we do see is horrifying.  

8. The Alien

The Alien (or xenomorph as it has come to be called) from the Alien film series is a masterwork of design. The look was created by H. R. Giger, and it is absolutely outstanding and incredibly scary. In fact, the alien would've scored a lot higher on this list, if only it had been giant-sized. It is very scary, however, and much of the success of the film, as well as the indelible impression the character has made on popular culture, is because of Giger's amazing visual design. 

7. Giant Squid

The Giant Squid from 20000 Leagues Under the Sea was totally awesome, but I think I maybe remember the one from the ride at Disney Land better than I do the one from the movie. Both are very good, however, even if the Squid effects haven't really help up so well over the years. As great as that film is, somebody should remake it already, so the story is more faithful to the original novel by Jules Verne, and so the Squid looks even more bad ass. 

6. Medusa

I don't care who you are or where you're from, The Medusa from the original Clash of the Titans scared the crap out of you the first time you saw it. This was some of the best work by Ray Harryhausen, the greatest stop motion animator in the history of film. This entire film was filled with his amazing work (including the Kraken, Pegasus, Bubo the Owl, and many more), but Medusa is my favorite because she's totally awesome.

5. Rancor

Back before everything went CG, the Star Wars films used to have lots of stop motion effects and puppets, the best of which was the Rancor from Return of the Jedi. No matter how old I get or how many times I watch this scene, it never stops being cool.

4. Dinosaurs from Jurassic Park

Is this cheating? I just can't pick a favorite! Anyway, everybody knows there's nothing in the world cooler than a dinosaur. The only reason the amazing dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park movies (that's right... of them from all three movies. The sequels may have been awful, but the dinosaurs were still awesome) didn't make the top spot was because, cool as they are, dinosaurs are real. Well, they used to be, anyway. 

3. Talos

Another awesome stop motion monster by Ray Harryhausen. Talos was the giant bronze colossus that came to life and attacked the heroes in the film Jason and the Argonauts. If you've never seen this movie, go rent it as soon as possible because it's amazing and full of Harryhausen's best work, including Talso himself and the army of skeleton warriors that attack the Argonauts.

2. King Kong

Now we're getting to the real classics. All those other monsters are awesome, but King Kong is bad ass. Everybody knows and loves King Kong, including all of the people who haven't seen any of the movies. Though, to be sure, there's only one King Kong movie, and it came out in 1933, was in black and white, and was filmed with stop motion animation (mostly!). The Peter Jackson version is very nice looking and well animated in full CG, but the movie is terrible, and the character is lacking in charm. King Kong is without a doubt the greatest American movie monster of all time...

1. Godzilla

Who'd you think was going to win this thing? Charlize Theron? Godzilla is the king of all monsters, and with good reason. Godzilla has starred in about 30 films spanning almost sixty years, making him perhaps the most popular film character of all time, monster or not. By comparison, James Bond has only appeared in about 22 films spanning about fifty years. Oh, and Godzilla could eat all six James Bond actors and still have room for everybody who's ever appeared as Sherlock Holmes, Hamlet, or Orson Welles. Godzilla is just the greatest movie monster of all time.

And, yes, he did fight King Kong.

Friday, May 20, 2011

In Memoriam: Randy "Macho Man" Savage (1952 - 2011)

A moment of silence, please, for The Macho Man, one of the all time greatest professional wrestlers in the history of the sport. Honor his memory by snapping into a Slim Jim. Read more about his life and career here.

Fallout 3 (Revisited)

I beat Fallout 3 about a week and a half ago. I've been meaning to write up my final thoughts on the game (you can read my initial impressions and introduction here), but I've been too busy playing Fallout 3. As soon as I beat the game, I immediately went and restarted it from the beginning. This game was so good, so rich with story, so full of quests that are impossible to complete in one play through, and so open-ended that every player's experience is going to be different, that I knew I had only scratched the surface of what it had to offer after completing it the first time. When I complete the quest again, chances are good I'll create another character and go for a third trip.

The games choices are open-ended and structured so you can play the game almost anyway you'd like. If a character has an item you need, you can entire try to talk them into giving it to you, go on a quest to perform some task for them, or just kill them and take it. The first time around, I played the hero, while this second time around I had more fun and terrorized the entire Capital Wasteland, killing anybody who got in my way and taking the quests that were provided by the bad guys. I don't want this to come out sounding weird, since I'm really a very nice, moral person in the real world, but there is just something very cool about a videogame that lets you kill just about every non player controlled character in the game. 

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: Early on in the game you are approached by a shady character who asks you to detonate a nuclear bomb in the town of Megaton because the criminal syndicate in which he is involved wants it wiped off the map. When I played as a hero, I said no way, then went and turned him into the sheriff. This time around, I said sure. Blowing up the town cut off he quests you could acquire there, but it links you up to other quests from the criminal syndicate that would've been closed off otherwise. Also, the view of the town blowing up in a giant mushroom cloud on the horizon was one of the most astounding visuals I've ever seen in any videogame. It was suitably beautiful and horrifying.

Even forgetting about the quests and missions entirely, it's still fun just wandering around the wastelands of the post apocalyptic D.C. At one point while wandering around at random, my radio picked up a strange signal that sounded like gibberish. As I began to investigate, moving closer to the signal's source, I discovered a crashed UFO with a dead alien lying next to it. After searching the wreckage,  I found an alien blaster that kills just about every enemy in the game with one hit, disintegrating them so only a pile of ash remains. I don't care who you are, that's just bad ass, and it's only one of many little secrets and easter eggs I found littered throughout the game. The world is huge, but it pays to go exploring.

The game isn't completely perfect, however, since I found a few bugs here and there, though never so frequent or so catastrophic that they ruined the experience. Sometimes my character will slide around even though I'm standing still or I'll jump a few spaces after killing an enemy. Once my character got stuck to a wall, and another time the game froze up completely, but luckily I save often so nothing was lost except the time it took me to restart my Xbox. Also, while it's nice to have the in-game radio (with the lovable DJ Three Dog and some wonderfully atmospheric big band tunes), it got really repetitive after a while, because the DJ keeps repeating the same news items over and over again, and there are only about five or six songs that keep playing.

However, having said all that, Fallout 3 is my new favorite game on the Xbox 360, and one of the most fun and satisfying games I've ever played in my entire life. Even though it came out about two years ago, I'm still getting hours of play out of it, and I don't see the end of that coming any time soon. Even after I do complete it again and find myself ready to move on, there is downloadable content to add on and even a sequel set in Vegas, although it is supposed to be very buggy and not as good, but I'm sure I'll pick that up once it comes down in price. If you haven't played this game, check it out because it works both as the best action and RPG title I've ever played. And if you have played it, get back in there and play some more.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

That's Not Orson Welles

 From the comments for my retrospective on Orson Welles:

"Now you should review every movie in which Orson Welles is a character, played by another actor."
          -Justin Garrett Blum

I've never been one to let down my fans, so let me see if I can oblige with a quick rundown off the various film portrayals I've seen of Orson Welles:

"The Night That Panicked America"
Paul Shenar

This was a pretty good made for TV movie about the broadcast of the War of the Worlds that, well, panicked America. I actually watched this when I was a kid, before I ever saw Citizen Kane and became a fan of Orson Welles, so this was my first real introduction to the man and the impact he had on the world. I remember very little about it, other than that I was mesmerized by the story. I don't remember Shenar's performance all that well, but I do remember his stentorian voice and that he was very passionate portrayal.

Anyway, I don't remember him being bad, but since I had never seen an actual Orson Welles film, I had no way of telling if it was accurate or not.

"Ed Wood"
Vincent D'Onofrio / Maurice LaMarche

This was a wonderful biographical film about the awful filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., and it contained a small but pivotal cameo appearance by Orson Welles. Ed Wood never actually met Orson Welles in real life (to my knowledge, anyway), but it was a very funny, clever scene between the two directors, both on complete opposite ends of the talent spectrum. Anyway, Welles was played by Vincent D'Onofrio, with the voice supplied by Maurice LaMarche, a well known and very successful voice actor.

This was a very good scene with hilarious dialogue, but it was still strange and awkwardly filmed. D'Onofrio is a dead ringer for Orson Welles, but having his voice dubbed over (by the extremely talented LaMarche) doesn't really work, and gives the scene a very odd disconnect, despite the fact that it is very well done in every other way. Anyway, it's a good scene that works in the film, but I wouldn't want to watch more than just a few minutes of this collaboration.

"Cradle Will Rock"
Angus Macfadyen

Tim Robbins directed this film about art and politics in the 1930s, much of which had to do with the the Welles production of Cradle Will Rock. This is just a brilliant film that I recommend highly, and Angus Macfadyen was pretty good in the role of Welles himself. He was maybe a little too goofy, but he looked just like him and had the right presence and sense of command needed for the over the top Orson Welles. He was ok, but much better was Carey Elwes as John Houseman (who was the production partner of Orson Welles, but most people probably know him better as that old British guy from The Paper Chase.)

Interesting tidbit: Macfadyen also played Peter Lawford in the HBO biopic about the Rat Pack, a role for which I thought he was better suited.

"RKO 281"
Liev Schreiber

Another HBO biopic, this time about the production of Citizen Kane and the epic controversy that followed. This film is very well written and worth seeing for its look into the film production of the times, as well as into the making of the greatest film of all time. However... Liev Schreiber wasn't my favorite Orson Welles. Schreiber is a brilliant actor, but he just never seemed right for the role, and even though he looked the part and gave a great performance, I just never really bought him as Welles. He just didn't have the gravitas or charm of the real Welles.

But still, it's a good film that's well worth checking out, and Schreiber is very good, even if he isn't completely perfect in the role. The rest of the cast is fantastic, however, especially James Cromwell as William Randolph Hearst.

"Me and Orson Welles"
Christian McKay

This isn't a very good film. It's a fairly trite, boring story about a young man who gets a small role in the Orson Welles production of Othello. Zac Efron is the "me" from the title, and while he's not bad at all, he's given very little to do other than to stand there and look handsome. However, Christian McKay's performance was amazing, making him the king of the Orson Welles clones. He's not very handsome, but he still managed to look just like the very striking Welles, but it's his voice and the way he carries himself that really sold it. This guy comes as close as anybody will ever get to portraying Orson Welles, and his performance alone makes the film worth seeing. He was brilliant.

This film is also worth watching if only for the look at the production of Othello, no actual footage of which exists, so this is as close as we'll get to seeing any of it. Check it out, but fast forward through all the scenes without McKay as Orson Welles.


This movie was beyond good. It was totally and completely awesome. It was imaginative, exciting, awe-inspiring, uplifting, laugh-out-loud funny, and absolutely, 100% bad ass. Needless to say, I liked it, and thought it was probably the best comic book movie ever made.

Thor is a film based on the character from Marvel Comics based on the character from Norse Mythology. The stories featuring the character are rich with history from both the comics and the mythology, and this film is as wonderful an adaptation as I could've hoped, of both the character I grew up with in the comics and the mythology I was introduced to by the stories of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Sure, in this film Thor's enchanted land of Asgard is another planet (or "realm") and it is hinted that they are not really gods but otherworldly beings, but I'm fine with that because, really, what are gods but otherworldly beings anyway? It served no real purpose to ground the gods from the comics and Norse mythology into a more solid science-fictional setting, but it didn't hurt the story any either. Nor do I care -- as some vocal critics on the internet clearly do -- that one of the Asgardians was Asian while another was an African American, especially not since that African American actor was my boy Idris Elba, who was totally awesome as the stoic gate keeper Heimdal.

The film's depiction of Asgard was mesmerizing. The mythical characters, sprawling castles, and otherworldly backdrop all looked as though they were ripped straight out of a Jack Kirby drawing. After the opening scene in the desert of New Mexico, the film's first twenty minutes or so take place on Asgard, introducing the Odin, Thor, and the rest of the mythical characters, and showcase the ongoing war between them and their enemies the Frost Giants. This opening sequence is so extraordinary, especially the battle pitting Thor, Siff, and the Warriors Three against the Frost Giants, that the later sequences on the planet Earth almost don't live up, and I found myself wanting more Asgard and less New Mexico. Luckily, there was still a lot of Asgard throughout, and the sequences on Earth got better and better as the story went along.

The story concerns a war between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, as well as the war between Odin's sons Thor and Loki. Loki, the god of mischief (at least, in the comics. Here he was kind of just Loki the Undefined), hatches a Machiavellian scheme to have Odin step down as ruler, have himself placed upon the throne, and Thor banished and exiled to Earth, powerless, mortal, and stripped of his enchanted Uru hammer Mjolnir. If all of that sounds too much, don't worry, since it's actually just a coming of age story about a young man who learns to become an adult, set against the backdrop of a sensational setting full of action and spectacle. You know... just like a Marvel comic.

The cast was great, featuring Antony Hopkins as the main god Odin, who finds the perfect tone in his performance and, again, looks like he walked out of a drawing by Walter Simonson or Jack Kirby. Tom Hiddleston is very good as the main villain Loki, even though his role was underwritten, keeping his motivations and intentions somewhat muddled and hard to follow. Natalie Portman was also fine in the role of the romantic lead, being both very charming and beautiful enough to capture the heart of a God. However, other than wanting to look at her, does anybody really consider themselves a fan of Natalie Portman? Do people go to the movies just because she has a starring role? And does anybody really find her believable as an astrophysicist who lives in a tiny trailer in the middle of the desert in New Mexico? Rounding out the cast was the aforementioned Idris Elba and the always good Stellan Skarsgard. Oh, and I have nothing bad to say about Kat Dennings, other than that she wasn't in this film nearly enough, even though her character served no purpose at all.

And then there is Chris Hemsworth in the title role, about whom I can only say I don't think he was acting. I think they actually found a Norse God and put him in this film, since he was that imposing, that handsome, that charming, and that good. This guy was incredible, from the moment of his introduction until the very end of the film, he carried the entire movie and made us believe that he was a god who walked among men. This was the best performance of a comic book hero since Christopher Reeve first appeared in the original Superman film. I can't imagine anybody could walk away from this film being unimpressed with Hemsworth, if not for his acting, then at least with his abs.

Holding the film together was director Kenneth Branagh, who may seem like an odd choice considering he is best known for his Shakespearean adaptations, but the only other writer who compares to Shakespeare is Stan Lee... and I'm only kind of being facetious when I say that. Branagh is a director who has never shied away from histrionics or over the top theatrics, often at the expense of his non genre films, which is why he is so well suited to Shakespeare and, as it turns out, comic book adaptations. This film's story is Shakespearean in nature, and Branagh's experience and sure-handed direction ground the entire production in reality, giving the otherworldly setting a tone we could understand and the actors a sense of bravura that was both dramatic and authentic. This movie worked not only because it had a great story and a good cast, but because director Kenneth Branagh knows how to tell a story like this as well as anybody.

Thor was a nearly perfect film that proved that all you need to adapt a comic book into a great movie is to write a good script, hire a wonderful cast, put a talented, proven director behind the camera, and stay faithful to the source material. All of those things came together, causing lightning to strike, which is fitting because this film is about the Norse god of thunder. I'm just excited that I'm able to geek out about a Thor movie where I can mention things like his hammer Mjolnir, Heimdal, Odin, Siff, and other items and characters from Marvel lore in order to praise how they got it all right, instead of to complain about how they messed it all up. Thor was the real deal, and succeeds as one of the best comic book films of all time. Go see it because I want to watch a sequel.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, David Krumholtz!

I'd be remiss in my duties as a geek blogger if I didn't wish a happy and healthy birthday to geek icon David Krumholtz. He's not quite up there with William Shatner, but he's a fan favorite character actor who's always good, usually chooses cool projects, and elevates everything he appears in.

Maybe you know him as one of the stars of that show Numb3rs, as Mr. Universe from Serenity, as Barry Schweiber in that one episode of Freaks and Geeks, or from the 10,000 other movies and tv shows in which he's appeared. He made being a nerdy Jewish guy cool cool.

Happy birthday, David!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I give this one a thumbs up. It's nothing you haven't seen before and won't blow your mind or anything, but it's a very funny, very clever cartoon that has a lot to offer both kids and adults alike. I enjoyed it and recommend it, if you're into that sort of thing.

The film is basically a superhero story as told from the point of view of the villain. That's a fun premise, especially when the villain actually wins, much to every one's surprise, including the villain Megamind himself. He finally achieves his plan of taking over the city, but feels lost and hollow in his victory. And, no, that's not really a spoiler, since that's pretty much the first act of the film. It's a bit overplotted and Megamind's character arc isn't completely believable, but it's very funny and very clever, even though it's maybe not as funny or clever as The Incredibles or Despicable Me, both of which covered similar territory already. But if you liked those movies, you'll like this one too.

Will Ferrell does fine voice work as Megamind, although I think he's funnier when you can see his full range of facial expressions and mannerisms. I don't think he's as talented at voice work than he is when he's on camera, but he did all right. Brad Pitt was somewhat underwhelming as the voice of Metro Man, the film's version of a Superman-type hero. Pitt is a fine actor with a nice voice, but either his manner of speaking or just the tone of his voice lacked the real gravitas to pull off this type of character. He just sounded flat, and his voice didn't match the brilliant visual look of the character. They should've gone with somebody like Puddy from Seinfeld. Tina Fey was very good as the lead heroine, however, giving a surprisingly effective dramatic performance. As unpopular as this is going to make me, but I usually find her incredibly annoying, but I enjoyed her voice work here.

Visually, this film was incredible. This had some of the best CG humans I've seen yet, crafting a perfect blend of realism with still cartoony dimensions and proportions. Best of all were the action set pieces, which brought to life comic book style battles better than I've seen in almost any movie of this type. The action sequences were so well done they made me wish somebody would finally make a big budget CG film based on superheroes that was played straight, instead of for laughs or as a parody. I'm sure the upcoming Avengers movie will be cool, but I'd rather see that kind of film done in full CG like this was.

So... Megamind. I liked it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I found this show because I was searching for things on Netlfix starring Idris Elba. In case you don't know, Idris Elba is awesome, and he's one of those actors who not only seems to pick good projects, but he elevates everything he in which he appears. I first saw him on the US version of the Office, as the replacement manager of the paper company after Steve Carrell's character quit or got fired or whatever. After that, he made a bunch of movies, only some of which were good, but all of which were worth seeing if only for him. But I love him best for his role as my man Stringer Bell on HBO's The Wire. Luther is a new BBC police procedural that stars Idris Elba as the title character, so that makes it worth watching right there, but thankfully it's also pretty good. However... I didn't love it, and I'm still not sure if I'm going to recommend it or not.

Elba plays Detective John Luther, a detective for the London police department who has serious demons. Luther is a brilliant investigator, but he has anger management problems, a messed up personal life that keeps intruding on his work, and a personal code of justice that sometimes has him going outside of the roles of law in order to catch the bad guys. Also, he's a bit of a an ass, but Idris Elba is such an amazing actor that he's able to make it all work and come together in a way that the titular character is admirable, scary, honorable, despicable, cold, and charming. This is some of the finest work currently being done by one of the best actors around. If you're a fan of the actor, you won't be disappointed.

As a police procedural, however, it's not that great. The stories are very clever and all of the actors are fine, but it's just a bit too dark, too unengaged, and too impossible to believe throughout. I just find don't think that a London cop tracks down a different serial killer every week, especially not ones whose crimes are as grotesque and depraved as the ones found in this series. And while Luther's deductions are often very clever and well thought out, they too often border on the supernaturally clairvoyant.

So I liked this show, but I didn't love it. I loved the main performance by Idris Elba and I enjoyed the London setting, but I found the stories to be far too dark and far too unbelievable. It's definitely worth checking out for Elba, however, who's still one stone cold cool mother.

"Consider Dat a Divorce!!"

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver Separate

17 hours ago | PEOPLE.com
After a 25-year marriage as one of the nation's leading power couples in Hollywood and politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver have split up, they say in a joint statement. “This has been a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us," they say. See more »

I have nothing to say about this. I just wanted an excuse to use that quote from Total Recall. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Anne Baxter!

Maybe you remember Anne Baxter from her roles in The Magnificent Ambersons, The Ten Commandments, All About Eve, or The Razor's Edge, for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Or maybe you just remember from the post I wrote yesterday, where I mentioned her briefly and said that she's my number one celebrity crush. Or maybe you don't even remember her at all, which would be too bad because she's one of the most beautiful and talented actresses in the history of Hollywood's film industry.

Anyway, today would have been her 88th birthday had she not died at the relatively young age of 62 in 1985. Go honor her memory by renting one of those movies I mentioned above, or any of the others from her fine career. She's was always good and always charming and always beautiful.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Orson Welles: Happy Birthday and Career Retrospective

George Orson Welles was my all time favorite film director, actor, magician, celebrity spokesman, and guest on the panel of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. He was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1915, before going on to fame and fortune (of sorts) in the world of theater, radio, film, TV, and the written word. He passed away in 1985, but had he survived until today, he'd be turning 96.

His career started strong when he took Broadway by storm as 21 year old directing avaunt guard  productions of Macbeth starring an almost all African American cast (in 1936!) and Julius Caesar with the story transposed to Fascist Italy. Perhaps his most famous theatrical production (that he never actually got to stage) was The Cradle Will Rock, which was shut down by the federal government due to cut backs in the Works Projects that supporting arts and theater. After their normal theater was locked up and most of the actors and musicians refused to perform at a different, non union-supported venue, the leads spontaneously performed the performance from the audience. After that, he became world famous with his now legendary radio production of The War of the World's, that either intentionally or accidentally mislead much of the country into thinking an actual alien invasion had taken place in New Jersey. He then became the voice of The Shadow ("Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men...?"), until Hollywood came calling and he made the most highly regarded film in American history.

After that, things went down hill and he struggled along for much of his life, scrapping together the finances to budget his various film projects, mostly taking acting performances in films that ranged from the fantastic to the forgettable. For a while he became more popular for his appearances in the commercials for Paul Masson Wine than he had for any of his movies, where he spoke the immortal catchphrase, "we will serve no wine before its time."

In honor of the man's work and birthday, I'm going to be boring everybody with a retrospective of the man's career. This career is actually worth talking about, however, since even his failures are incredibly interesting. I'm going to mostly limit myself to the films he worked on as a director, but I'll mention some other appearances or productions that are most notable:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fallout 3

I bought this game maybe a year ago but never got into it. I played it for a week or so, but got bored or annoying or frustrated so I quit. I seem to remember not taking the time to really understand the mechanics of the gameplay so I always felt confused, and I saved my game at a point where I was low on energy, out of ammo, and surrounded by enemies, so whenever I'd try to play my game, I'd immediately die. Also, this is the kind of game that is so massive, so epic, and so complex, that the longer you go without playing it, the more confused you are when you try to jump back in and continue on with an old saved game.

Anyway, I was sick all week so I was stuck in my apartment with nothing to do. I had already watched the Netflix movie I received, and I had just completed Mass Effect 2. I lacked the energy and funds to go buy a new game, so I just restarted Fallout 3 from the very beginning, figuring I may as well give it one more shot. Anyway, about four days later with 24 hours logged (according to the time-stamp on my last saved game file), I'm completely hooked. Long story short, this game is totally, completely, and 100% bad ass.

Fallout 3 is the third game in the long-running RPG series that takes place in a post apocalyptic America. It basically tells the story of what would've happened if the American future envisioned during the fifties actually came true, and then stated frozen in time after a world-wide nuclear war. The fifties theme through out, including a full on big-band style soundtrack that you can listen to on your in-game radio, is incredibly funny and adds to the overall atmosphere of the Cold War gone horribly wrong. You play as a character who grew up in a bombshelter, who is forced to escape to find his missing dad, who ran out one day into the wastelands of the metro DC area. 

This time around, I took my time to really explore the world as I began, making sure to take things slow as I learned how the gameplay worked, what the stats meant, and how to master the combat. Also, I made sure to finish lots of small, fetch-type quests before attempting to start the main storyline. This was a much smarter way to play, but the coolest thing is how Fallout 3 is the kind of game that offers a different experience no matter how you want to play. After I finish every quest, I thought to myself how interesting it will be when I replay the game and do something completely different. For example, one of the quests in the beginning of the game has you deciding between defusing an active nuclear bomb in the center of an inhabited and peaceful town, or earning a lot of money to rig it to explode and kill everybody. This time around I saved the people, but next time I might not be so nice.

Graphically, the game is well done, but far from being the best the 360 has to offer. DC is perfectly realized (at least, perfectly realized after a hypothetical nuclear war), but the overall look is intentionally drab and bland. The color palate is muted and full of browns and greens and greys, which adds to the mood but does tend to make everything look kind of similar. As you walk along the wasteland and watch the sun rise or set over the horizon behind the remains of the Washington Monument, there is a certain beauty to the otherwise nightmarish landscape. You can play from a first or third person perspective, but the third person is completely useless so I don't even know why it's an option at all.

Combat is amazing, once you get used to the fact that this isn't a first person shooter. You have a huge arsenal of weapons (all of which you have to learn to repair and fix up or else they will break, usually in the middle of a fight), ranging from grenades, sledgehammers, missile launchers, and machine guns, all of which feel different and fun to use. You can use them as you would in any first person shooter, although it won't feel as precise or fluid as what you'd find in, say, Halo or Call of Duty, and then there is the V.A.T.S. system, that lets you free time and pinpoint various parts on an enemies body, showing you the percentages of actual damage you will do, depending on your skill, distance from the target, or other factors. V.A.T.S. is so much fun and cool that it will be hard to go back to Halo or Call of Duty after using it for so long.

At the end of the day, this game is just fun, which is all I really want from any game I play. The mood is incredibly well done, especially when you're sick and stuck in your apartment. It's been fun, but also depressing, with my own health problems combining with the mood of the game adding to a very strange feeling as I played. I don't think you have to be sick to really enjoy this game, but it did help a lot to suck me into the barren wasteland of the game's world. Anyway, I just wanted to check in and talk about this game, but I've gone on long enough and I'm just about to escort the surviving scientists from Project Purity to the Citadel so, obviously, I should get back to that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I watched about twenty minutes of this before I gave up.

That isn't to say it's a bad film -- far from it -- just that it wasn't for me. It was just too... cheery, if that makes any sense. It started with a brilliant prologue that set up the story perfectly and made it seem dark and moody, but then it switched to the present day and opened with a big musical number where Rapunzel sang some awful song with all these animals, and I just tuned out. I love musicals as much as anybody -- more than anybody, even! -- but the songs in this film just weren't very good. Also, the voice acting was kind of grating. Mandy Moore is a cute girl with a cute voice, but she's not a very good voice actor. And that guy who played the prince was just... ok. I thought Anne Archer was fantastic as the evil witch, until I checked the IMDB and learned that it wasn't Anne Archer. What a weird think to be mistaken about. How did I ever even think I recognized the voice of Anne Archer?

Visually, this film was gorgeous, with a wonderful art style that actually looked like a hand drawn Disney film transformed into 3D, if that makes any sense at all. The characters looked better than any I've seen in a CG film, and the backgrounds were colorful and gorgeous. This was a very beautiful, well animated film.

But I still turned it off after about twenty minutes because I was bored. I didn't care about the story, I found the characters kind of annoying, and I didn't care for the music. I had other things to do and better things to watch. However, I recommend this highly for any parents of young girls, since it's very pretty and Rapunzel seems like a good heroine. But I'm a 34 year old man, so it wasn't for me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


The new Fast and the Furious movie is the number one movie in the world, and now Osama bin Laden is dead. Coincidence? I think not. That's right... The power of Vin Diesel killed Osama bin Laden.

Mass Effect 2

This was a very good -- probably even great -- game that just didn't live up to all the hype. If you believe most reviewers, this wasn't just the best game of 2010, but maybe the greatest title in the history of the videogame industry. I read reviews calling it perfect, a masterpiece, and totally and completely superior to the original game. I certainly enjoyed and it have no regrets about buying it and playing through it, but I still liked the first one better, since for every advance that leaped this one forward , it still took one or two steps back in other ways.

Mass Effect 2 takes place right after the epic finale of the first game, shaking things up with the death of the main character and the destruction of the Normandy, the starship we called home over the entire first game. Of course, within minutes, your character is resurrected and the ship is put back together, with a new artificial intelligence system being the only noticeable change. Those two things kind of became the hallmark of this game's plot: Lots of stuff happens, that ultimately mean nothing and have zero impact on anything. The entire game itself lacks any kind of real forward momentum, overall story arc, or ultimate conclusion. There is little more than a retread of the Collector/Reaper threat from the first game, but this time around we get no real main villain to follow or care about. The actual focus on the game play is 90% spent on assembling various crew members, until you finally reach a point where the game decides the actual story should start, at which point it ends after one mission. All things considered, this game's story is really poorly told and fairly boring and unengaging.

But at least the gameplay is awesome, upping the action and tweaked the controls from Mass Effect 1. Battles were often a chore in that game, since the cover system was somewhat broken and the aiming often felt off. This time around, the game is a true action masterpiece, with gameplay that gives the Gears of War franchise a close run for the money. There are a lot of weapons and "spells" to use, but I pretty much only used the battle and sniper riffles, finding no real use for anything else. Also, leveling up and finding items felt like more of a formality than anything else, since I never got much of a feeling of upgrading or leveling up at all. Also, the graphics are improved over the first game, having the same impeccable design, but with none of the stuttering or graphical tearing we saw before, although the level design was still boring, featuring totally linear paths through waves of the same four or five enemy designs that we kept seeing over, and over again.

So, I liked this game, since the graphics are fantastic, the action is fierce, and the overall sci-fi setting is a geek's dream. But I didn't love this game, because the story was poorly told and lacked dramatic thrust, the enemies were lame, and it did put too much of an emphasis on the action at the sacrifice of the RPG elements. But if you loved the first game, playing through this sequel is a no brainer that you won't regret.