Saturday, October 27, 2012

Watch This Movie: Cloud Atlas

Rating: WATCH IT!

“Our lives are not our own, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

Does that look confusing to you? If so, you're thinking like everyone else that watched.
Have you ever watched a movie and, when you're leaving the theater, just said "Damn it!" to yourself? Not because you're disappointed, but because, in the words of Will Ferrell, you're "Mind Bottled", with all your thoughts trapped in your head like a bottle? Welcome to Cloud Atlas, my friend. From start to finish, this film is a quilt patched together from about five different storylines, three different major themes and a dose of confusion so heavy you'll be left wondering if you just attended a Mitt Romney seminar on truth telling.
The credits list alone should tell you what a mind bender this will be.
But seriously, it's easier for me to tear apart a bad film than to think on the merits of a film that aimed ludicrously high and occasionally scraped it, while also dregging through some of the pits of film making. Let's be real clear here, everything you might have heard is true. Hugo Weaving plays a typical bad guy type, in addition to an overweight, overbearing female nurse as well as a demonic leprechaun.
Almost as creepy as Johnny Depp in Willy Wonka. But he has a better hat.
You've also got Tom Hanks talking in an initially almost incomprehensible version of future English as well as a crazy Irish accent, among others. You've got white men playing Koreans, and perhaps more insanely, black men playing Koreans. I'm not saying you can't be black and Korean, but the ethnic jive here is just nuts. That's beside the point, though. My advice? Buy into the universe. Accept those elements are a commentary on reincarnation or reoccurring themes that everyone in life deals with. Because this movie has something to offer.
Jokes aside, there are some touching moments. Literally, this is just before these guys kiss. I kid. Or do I?
First of all, the action, when it happens, is awesome. There aren't a lot of other movies where an action sequence will split between three or four different actions scenes occurring in entirely different realities. Off the top of my head, Inception is one of them. In Cloud Atlas, you have a futuristic laser battle parsing between a stowaway slave avoiding gunshots while a 1970s car chase goes down between elderly runaways steal a car. What the hell?
In fairness, this is one of the most awesome scenes of the film.
The action scenes aren't just good. The story takes place over thousands of years, so you see boats sailing in the colonial Caribbean, mansions in old Europe, Blade Runner style future cities and a post apocalyptic Hawaii, complete with ships that look like they were designed by aliens and satellite communication systems that unfold like Lotus flowers.
You can only wish you lived here.
I have a quote at the top of this review, though, and it sums up the movie beautifully. I found myself quoting it last night, more than 24 hours after I'd left the theater. That's one sign, to me, of a good film. The film tells six separate stories in six separate time periods, but ties them together with the common theme that how we act and what we do can have repercussions on those around us, as well as those who come after this. Interspersed in all of this is the notion of reincarnation, that we live on. That's one reason you have actors taking on multiple roles throughout the film. The truly important notion, though, of how we affect each other and can resonate far beyond our lifetimes, is important. I have caught reviews saying that it's trite, and that it's played out. Well, played out to who? Don't we need reminding that our lives have an impact beyond ourselves? Don't new generations need to be told this? Yeah, there are some artistic choices that will bother people. The reuse of actors, some of the accents. They're unimportant to the main thrust of the film though. There's a story of lovers separated by disease and distance, of lovers separated by culture and circumstance, of people who loved for only a moment before being separated by disaster, of love separated by time and fate, of love separated by warfare, and finally love that brings it all to a satisfying conclusion. It's love and courage, recurring human traits in the face of recurring human evil, an eternal battle that never ends but is constantly waged. Humanity may repeat itself, in many ways and lifetimes, but the things we do can have an impact on those who come after, and affect whether they may triumph or not.
Seriously, go WATCH IT!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Don’t Watch This Movie: Paranormal Activity 4

It’s Halloween. You’re ready to be scared. You grab your girlfriend, go to the movies, and get ready to endure one of the most frightening experiences of your youthful life: Movie ticket prices. Because the gods know you won’t be experiencing any scares during Paranormal Activity 4. Let’s be straight about this from the start, PA4 has about as much originality as the last few SAW films. I mean, there are only so many ways you can beat a horse before its undead corpse rises from the grave in a vengeful fit of retaliation. And bloody hell does this corpse fight back.

Haley Joel Osmond played this shtick out 15 years ago.
For those of you who’ve been paying attention to the lore of the Paranormal Activity series (though let’s be honest, who gives a damn), there’s a coven of witches that endows that go about finding successors and possessing children with spirits. That wasn’t too clear in PA1, it came out a bit more clearly in PA2, and by PA3 we were having full on witch-on-broomstick flights of fancy. We learned the entire family we’d been witnessing was descended from witches who’d chosen the two main sisters of the films, and now that curse has been passed onto the boys.
This guy? Total douchebag.
I don’t want to spoil the film for you if you’re planning to watch it (and why would you when this article is titled DON’T WATCH THIS MOVIE), but some secrets are revealed, and new ones unleashed. Apparently the witches are now part zombie or something, like they thought they needed to merge the series with parts of the Quarantine films, creating some horrific pastiche. It’s like some new meta approach to horror, where the movie itself isn’t scary, but the method of creating it is.

Nobody cares anymore.
Anyway, the best part of the movie is watching the Xbox Kinect they play with, because at that point PS3 fans started booing in a moment of nerd solidarity. Wii users, which we know don’t really exist, were appropriately silent. PA4 does dabble in some interesting elements, such as using the infrared from the Xbox sensor as a way to pick up on ghost movement, but it’s never really enough to scare. There are some tense moments when you’re wondering if someone’s going to get cut by a knife from the sky like God’s holy vengeance, but you never really feel frightened. The moment that made me jump the most was when someone almost got hit by a Prius, and if that’s the only way the movie’s going to scare me I’ll go load up on alcohol and watch World’s Deadliest Police Chases.

She's underage, perverts.
No, for most of the film you’ll be watching asleep in their beds, like a pervert who can justify their bad habit as a form of ‘ghost hunting’. Yeah, nobody wants to know about the spirits you’re seeking, sicko. In fact, the main male figure of the movie comes across like a creepy teen stalker by the way he sees and records every detail of his girlfriends existence due to their cam chats over the computer. So nerds everywhere, rejoice. You too can hope of seeing breasts at some point in your lifetime, as long as you remember to convince her to keep the webcam on so he can hunt ghosts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dining Review of Ruggles Bakery

The Rundown:
The City:
The Place: Ruggles Bakery
The Day: Friday
The Time: 12:30 - 5:30
The Review:

The end of a hard week of work means a chance for me to catch up on some writing, stretch my legs and go for a minor bit of adventuring. By adventuring I, of course, mean eating, as finding a new place to dine is one of the simple pleasures I enjoy in life. A return to the area of Rice Village happened with some trepidation, considering the rather stodgy appeal of some of the locations I had visited. Today though, I was in for a treat.

Ruggles Bakery sits toward the tail end of the strip, a bit away from all the hustle and bustle. Its position may put it farther away from the busy street of Kirby, but it works well, if only because that means there's a decent parking space to be found. This might not be true throughout the entire day, but it's a welcome change of pace from the meager one or two spaces afforded at some of the other locations on this street. I swear, it makes one wonder how so many people can cram into this small space.

At any rate, by this time I've settled on Rice Village being the sort of coffe and wine version of Austin's 6th Street, a sort of walk-and-enjoy area where you can skip between coffee hourses and small cafes as opposed to bars. Ruggles, though, is a place you can go and settle in for the day. The first thing to note about the place was that, as opposed to a few other locations in the village, Ruggles is actually welcoming. A warm and simple wooden interior matches a quirky front banister that provides a personal touch. Instead of tables covered in table cloth, they're simple wooden affairs. No pretensions of wine cases deck their walls, but instead an open view of the kitchen gives you sight on the food being made.

The front display case shows off their talent with an assortment of baked goods, but my primary concern was lunch. At eight dollars, the Roast Beef Sandwhich sounded like a good deal. Paired to a two dollar Black Bean Soup and a dollar drink, and it all came out to about 13 dollars. Perhaps a bit high for lunch, but take away the soup and you've got something much more modest. Besides, for most people the sandwhich will do nicely all on its own.

I have to say, the Black Bean Soup is a bit underwhelming. It is, without question, soup. Textureless, save for some bits of tortilla chips and a dollop of sour cream, they could work a bit on its composition. Perhaps keeping a bit of the bean in the bean soup would serve to give some life to the dish. It's tasty enough, but nothing to write home about. A good Black Bean Soup can actually be hard to nail down, and I think Ruggles is a bit off in its execution.

However, the big draw was the sandwhich itself. Placed on an onion roll with rolling cuts of beef, doused in au jus, with a smattering of onions, it was a treat. Too much onion and the sandwhich risked being overwhelming, and samea goes for the juice. Several times it bordered just on the edge of enjoyable tolerance, but in the end it was pulled off quite nicely. Large portions, filling and tasty, I can't speak highly enough of it.

Perhaps I should have had some of the cofee at this cafe, but instead I contented myself with a brownie and chocolate cookie. I would suggest that, perhaps, the cookies be kept warm. Otherwise they sort of just sit on display, growing hard and less appealing, especially if you're eating toward the tail end of the day. However, the brownie was delicious, and moist, so no complaints.

The staff was courteous, happy and smiling, at least when I arrived there at noon. I can't say what their temperments were like once the larger dinner crowds started to flock to the bakery, but I felt quite welcome, not only by measure of the staff but by the overall design of Ruggles itself. It's a nice break from the stuffy attitudes and unfriendly service that seems to have fit into some other parts of the Village. Although some of the food was only average, their big hits, the sandwhich and brownie, were quite delicious. I can deal with a cup of bland soup, but nobody should ever botch Roast Beef.
An excellent place. Do yourself a favor, and make this the place you stop by when you're visiting the area.

The Final Call:
Staff: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Drinks: N/A
Food: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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