We have a tile!

So San Francisco has this thing, well it’s actually two things, where an artist gets to decorate the front-facing side of a staircase as a public art project. A new one opened up recently so my loving wife and I decided to go take a look. Here’s what it looks like from the ground:

CAM00149 Once you get past the top of the stairs you see in the picture, it goes on for a little while longer. Here’s what that looks like:

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If you look close you can see writing on some tiles. This is because you could buy a tile, sponsor it if you will, to help fund the project. Not to mention have a permanent, special part of the stairs with just about any text on it you want.

So my wife lays down on a step near the top and asks me to take a picture. Which I do. She keeps telling me to get closer, and I’m like ‘Nope, I’m good. That one turned out.’ Some people started walking down the stairs so then I try to get her off the steps. She’s resistant, and I’m so stupid I just don’t get it. Finally, she has to tell me to just look at the damn tile, that on right there, you idiot. (I’m paraphrasing.) Turns out my wife bought a tile for us months and months ago and has managed to keep it a secret, and I couldn’t take a hint and ruined the whole moment. Ha ha. Here’s what it looks like, it’s just under my elbow and says ‘Laura loves Matty J’. She was smart enough to have it say something unique so there’s no mistaking it’s our tile (click the picture to zoom in on it):

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It’s only appropriate that since I have parts of San Francisco permanently etched into my arm that we now have some part of us permanently etched into San Francisco. It takes our love of this city, our love of unusual but beautiful things, and our love for each other and wraps it all up nicely in one little yellow tile.

Of all the thoughtful things she has done, this is the most thoughtful and meaningful. I love you so much honey! I hope you realize that there is no topping this and any gifts I get you from here on out are going to suck. Ha ha.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

So, Marvel Studios is in a roll. I wonder how much autonomy they have from Disney? It gives me maybe a little hope for the new Star Wars franchise, but not too much. I hear they’re dicking with Lucasfilm quite a but. But screw that place, we’re here to talk about Captain America.

This installment finds S.H.I.E.L.D. in turmoil, nobody can trust anyone else. Captain America himself is still getting used to the modern world but has a better handle on things by now. He’s no longer a ‘yokel’ but still has some things to learn. It’s an interesting time for the character because he still holds his 1940′s ideals but he’s starting to come to terms with the reality current times.

It’s difficult to talk about plot without ruining anything, so I won’t talk about it at all. The IMDB trivia mentions that the original writer of the Winter Soldier storyline liked the script, so my guess is that it sticks close to canon, so you comic book nerds will like it. But it also covers other parts of the story pretty well. In some ways it might be thought of as a political thriller with some action sequences thrown in. I think a large part of that has to do with Robert Redfords work on the film. He almost brings some dimension of legitimacy to it that is missing from other Marvel movies.

I also have to give props to Scarlett Johansson. I always thought the was a good actress but mostly in movies I didn’t like. She was okay as Black Widow in the Avengers, but seemed to kind of fill the voids with vignettes of kicking people in the face and whatnot. She kicks people in the face here, but also has a lot of dialog-heavy scenes with Chris Evans which were well written and funny. She brings the street-wise smarm pretty solidly to Chris Evans’s innocent fish out of water. Let’s hope that they find a way to bring Chris Evans into the Black Widow movie they’re supposed to be making.

Lastly, and this is not to say the CG was totally missing from The Winter Soldier, but it seemed like they went out of their way to do more practical effects than what I’m used to, and it showed. There was a lot more hand-to-hand combat, which I guess is fitting for Captain America, and one big car chase in particular that looked nearly devoid of computer-based embellishment.

Star Wars Models

A couple weeks ago I went to the Tech Museum in San Jose because they were having a Star Wars thing, which amounted to models and costumes used in all six movies. Many of these I hadn’t seen so it was pretty cool.

My own phone was an the blink that day but I had our on-call phone. They didn’t turn out half bad under the circumstances.

Noah

OMG! A religious movie!

There’s no getting around the religious aspects of the story of Noah, or as I’m coming to learn by reading Wikipedia, *one* of the stories of Noah with a bunch of other tangential stuff thrown in.

But is it a good story? Well yeah, it kind of is. It’s a fantastical tale that at it’s core is one of righteous vs wicked, and the possibility that a bit of each is in all of us.

Noah is portrayed as a fairly simple man, trying the follow the will of ‘the creator’ without any clear direction on what that will is. One he’s convinced about what his life’s mission is, there’s no stopping him, even to the point of a little psychosis in the third act. There are fallen angels, a mystic great grandfather, descendents of Cain and family conflicts thrown in for good measure. Somehow it all worked without being too muddled, and I assume it’s not entirely true to the bible.

In any case, it’s a grand film. Epic, if you will, in scale. Russel Crowe lends a level of gravitas to the role that few living actors could deliver. The visual effects are big. The flood is big. The ark is big. It’s just big. I was entertained.

The Muppets Most Wanted

The wost Muppet movie ever (Muppets in Space) is still kinda funny to me in places, so I’m a built-in audience for this one.

In any case, it didn’t disappoint. I feel like the story was more of a throwback to the Muppets tradition, if you can call it that, where most of the movie is made up of short scenes, random gags and puns, but is somehow all held together with a loose plot. Somehow the Muppets make that kind of mess work.

I haven’t decided if I like this one better or worse than the previous one, I think I like them about the same but they definitely have a different feel to them.

Bad Words

The directorial debut of Jason Bateman turned out to be pretty damn good. I hope they let him direct more movies, he has a light but keen touch for black comedy, that’s for sure.

Bateman directs himself in a story about a 40 year old that finds a loophole in the rules for the National Spelling Bee and proceeds to crush kids in regional competitions so he can get to the big show. I won’t spoil the reasoning behind it, but in the end it almost seemed like it didn’t matter. He somehow takes a character that by all accounts should be despicable and makes him sort of charming and endearing.

Friends and enemies are made on his journey, things kinda work out at the end, people learn lessons, etc., but there are many laughs along the way.

I doubt this will be in wide release but it’s worth looking for at your local arthouse.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I have to admit to being the only middle aged man in America who is not a Wes Anderson fan.

I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. I’ve sat through, or sat through parts, of most of his films. But by and large they don’t appeal to me. I couldn’t put a finger on it. Rushmore? The main character, Max, was an asshole. I wanted to punch him constantly. Bottle Rocket? I think I got five minutes into that one before I fell asleep. Life Aquatic? Maybe 15 minutes. The Royal Tanenbaums was tolerable, but mostly because of Gene Hackman.

Finally, finally! The Fantastic Mr. Fox arrived and started to realize what it was about Wes Anderson that I didn’t like. Why did Mr. Fox work for me and all his other work did not? I think it might be a matter of perspective, or how that perspective is conveyed by Mr. Anderson. The farcical nature of his live action films didn’t work for me because the line between reality and fantasy were not clearly delineated. At least that’s what I’m blaming it on. The characters in his previous work were so outlandish, so unrealistic, so cartoony. Yet the backdrops of the stories are in the real world. The contrast of those two ideas, I think, turned me off.

The characters in comedies I like are either realistic enough to be believable (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) or so outlandish that I can roll with the farce (Dumb and Dumber.) Wes Anderson inhabits a grey area in between that apparently turns me off.

But, when his sensibilities are applied to an animated fox in a casual business suit… now that’s something I can understand. That makes sense to me. There was hope for Wes Anderson yet.

So with all that backstory, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised at how much I liked The Grand Budapest Hotel. The story was framed as an author listening to a man recalling stories from decades previous, so that lent an air of acceptable unbelievability to the whole thing. You can’t expect the old man to remember everything as it was, and as he was telling his story to an author you had to believe he may have embellished a little bit.

The pacing was merciless, the acting superb. Who know Voldemort had such refined comedy chops.

The style it was shot in actually added to the story, too. Most shots were static, with a few Steadicam sequences thrown in. He used unique side-panning gimmick that you don’t see much of any more. Add to that the tight aspect ratio used in the flashback scenes, and it almost felt like you were watching the story unfold through a Viewmaster, or even a series of old photographs flipped face up on a table.

So, there. I can’t say I’ll necessarily be a Wes Anderson fan from here on out, but The Grand Budapest Hotel was a hell of a fun movie.

Divergent

I’m not sure if this is the next Hunger Games or the next Twilight, and it wasn’t a bad movie by any means, just not my bag.

I can get into Hunger Games because of Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson and maybe even a little Elizabeth Banks. I guess I’m saying I know these actors and enjoy their work so the Hunger Games seems more like a big Hollywood blockbuster.

Divergent (I’m old!) has a bunch of younger actors that I’ve heard of, and maybe even have seen in a film or two, but I just couldn’t connect with them. That’s my problem, I guess.

The story did have an interesting departure from the normal dystopian glumness you usually get in these kinds of YA movies/books. Their world was set up in a way where there wasn’t really a have vs have-not mentality. Most everyone is separated into one of five factions, each with their own purpose. There are a few leftovers with no factions that are sort of just viewed as homeless people are in the real world. Nobody seemed to be oppressed.

The conflict arises when one faction wants to take over the governing from another faction. The attitude wasn’t “Wait! This whole faction thing is corrupt!”, it was more like, “Wait! That’s not the order of things!” So, anyway, that was interesting. There’s allusion to a world outside the setting of Divergent, so I’m sure this will change in the coming sequels, but for now it was an interesting angle.