Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Peppy The Clown Lives!

I was so delighted to find another one of the coin operated machines that made such an impact on my as a little kid. When I was a youngin' I loved me some puppets. I was obsessed with puppets and hoped to one day become a professional puppetter. Well, that didn't happen - but I've always had a special place in my heart for puppets. One of my favorite things to stumble upon in an arcade back in my youth was a machine that let you push buttons and opperate a marionette. Marionettes were like the cadalac of puppets to a kid with no money. It wasn't until I was in the fourth grade that I ever laid my hands on a marionette, but before then the coin-op puppet machine was just about the next best thing.

The machine consisted of a puppet on a stage, his mouth was controlled automatically to lip synch with a song, but through four buttons you could control the left and right hands and feet. I found one of these machines recently in my off-beat travels. I was thrilled that it still worked. My kids thought I was crazy for being so obsessed with such a simple concept, but 15 seconds after I dropped the quarter in the slot, the kids were pushing me out of the way to have a go at it. I was glad to see it brought good old fashioned smiles to their faces.

One of the feet didn't work but it was still great to see the machine again, Here's a video I took:

There were several different versions of this idea floating around arcades back in the day. I remember this one most vividly along with one only found at Walt Disney World (and I assume Disneyland) which featured a marionette of one of the bears from The Country Bear Jamboree. Good times!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

10 Favorite Films From 2012

I wanted to do a year end list of best or favorite movies from 2012. There's two ways to go about a list such as this; I could do what I thought were the best films of the past year but I won't even pretend that I've seen a fraction off all the films that come out in any one particular year. So, I decided to do a list of favorite movies that I saw for the first time in 2012. Then, after compiling my list it turned out almost all the movies were from the past year. Oh well! Here's what stood out to me as my favorite films that I saw for the first time in 2012...

The Avengers (2012; dir. Joss Whedon)
The amazing thing about this summer's biggest Super Hero flick is how they were able to make a movie with so many characters (four of them being major characters who've anchored their own movies) and put them all together in one tight story that was never boring, not hard to understand, action-packed and funny as all get out! I think this film, single-handedly, made me more of a Super Hero fan than I have even been in my entire life!
Brave (2012; dirs. Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman)
Anyone who knows me knows I love Pixar films. They are magical, hilarious and breathtaking all at once. When Pixar's 13th film rolled around to theaters this summer, I wasn't as excited as I had been for almost every previous film from the studio. It didn't look as lighthearted and funny as some of their best work. Even seeing the picture didn't get me too excited and I placed it near the bottom of the rankings of Pixar Feature Films. Then I watched it again on DVD and I loved it. It's not Pixar doing Pixar, it's Pixar doing Disney...this is a more traditional Walt Disney Pictures kind of picture and it totally works that way. It is very magical, very funny and as always extremely breathtaking. Instead of comparing Brave to Toy Story and Monsters Inc, it needs to be taken for what it is - and it is a very well done, fantastic piece of film making.
The Descendants (2011; dir. Alexander Payne)
Some movies are just so good, you want to crawl inside them and live there. I don't know what that really means, but The Descendants was good as coconuts! (It takes place in Hawaii.)
(500) Days of Summer (2009; dir. Marc Webb)
One of my favorite things in movies is when something happens that not only don't happen in real life, but shouldn't happen in the movie. Case in point, there is an old fashioned musical number out of nowhere in the middle of this picture and I was instantly hooked on this movie from that point. There are alot of other neat, genre bending gimmicks used in this romance story told out of sequence. It's one of the very few movies that I felt the need to track down a DVD copy to own immediately after seeing it.

The Help (2011; dir. Tate Taylor)
Every once in a while I'll see a movie that I equate to the cinematic version of a fine steak dinner. The Help is a delicious meal of a movie about prejudice in the South towards white folks' black housekeepers. There are so many great characters here including Emma Stone's aspiring writer, housekeepers played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Socialites Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain are also amazing to watch as is Allison Janney and the great Sissy Spacek. Beyond the great performances is a movie filled with humor, drama and a really thoughtful script. There's a reason this was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
 The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012; dirs. Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt)
There's a difference between making a funny movie and "doing comedy" and this might be one of the first films to come down the pike in a while that really had sharp comedy writing. Tucked away in this family appealing claymated comedy is some really funny bits. It's one of those projects where you can tell the filmmakers were just trying to make each other laugh. The animated adventure finds Pirate Captain and his crew on a perilous journey to accept the coveted Pirate of the Year Award. Perhaps my sights were set low for a non-Disney animated film, but my kids and I were all really blown out of the water by how funny this movie was.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010; dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
Boy, do I hates me some anime! I always have since I was a little kid. Japanese animation is usually devoid of everything I love about cartoons. That being said, Arrietty, which is a retelling of the famous tale The Borrowers, was really good. I think what made it so good is the simple fact that it is slow and quiet; two things no American piece of animation is every allowed to be! The U.S. voice cast in neat:  Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett.

Superman Vs. The Elite (2012; dir. Michael Chang)
 This is just about everything a super hero movie should be...at least in my book. First, there's no origin back story. I like a film that knows that we know who Superman is and I don't have to watch him grow up on a farm for the 30th time. The plot is direct and simple. There's action and there is plenty of doses of humor. For an animated film, it's nice to see some adult material without being inappropriate for older kids. There is a little bit of mild swearing, the usual violence and some slightly stronger than suggestive innuendo. The action sequences packed a punch and never stepped into the territory of Saturday morning cartoons. This direct-to-DVD flick had my favorite opening credits sequence of the year - which payed homage to animated Superman shows of my youth and this movie also has the single best opening scene of any Super Hero movie ever...at least in my book!
 Step Up 2: The Streets (2008; dir. Jon M. Chu)
The only thing goofier than me watching all four Step Up films this past year was for me to really take an extra liking to the second chapter. The first movie in the series is about a guy from the streets trying to fit in at a snooty arts school. The second movie is about a girl from the streets trying to fit in at a slightly less snooty arts school. Actually, it might have been the same school from the first movie...I don't remember. But the first movie tries to tell a story while the second movie is just mostly a bunch of dancing. There's just a silly kinetic energy to this movie that is really catchy. It's one of those movies that knows it's nothing special and just tries to entertain the hell out of you. It worked for me. The big giant dance battle in the streets and in the rain is one of the cinematic highlights of my movie watching year!
21 Jump Street (2012; dirs. Phil Lord, Chris Miller)
There's no reason a movie based on an 80's cop show from the FOX network should be any good, yet 21 Jump Street is brilliant! It's an action movie, a comedy, a high school movie and a story about friendship. It plays on all of these notes wonderfully and then throws in some self-mocking on top of that. The movie even manages to parody the entire concept of basing a movie off a TV show and throwing in all kinds of references and stunt casting. This movie is hilarious and jaw dropping amazing in a number of different ways.
please comment with some of your favorite films from the past year...

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

My Week In Movies - Happy New Year 2013

Dark Shadows (2012) I really liked the idea of taking an old Gothic soap opera and turning it into a comedy. The trailers were very promising and funny. However, this is a text book example of all the funny parts used in the trailer. What's left after the spoiled one liners is some story about rival family businesses and some boring vampire special effects. This was a real letdown.

This Means War (2012) One of the rare occasions where my wife requested a particular movie, she's a fan of Chelsea Handler who appears here as Reese Witherspoon's best friend. Two buddies, who happen to be CIA agents, compete for the love of Mrs. Witherspoon..and get this, they use surveillance equipment and the resources of the United States Government to keep taps on the girl and each other. The plot is totally lame and nothing in this movie would ever happen in real life, but charming performances and a lightweight attitude save this movie from being a completely mindless cookie cutter romcom. Reese and Chelsea are very funny alone and/or together.

Cleanflix (2009) This documentary tells the story of a Nevada based Mormon company that takes Hollywood movies and edits out material which they find objectionable and then resell it. The practice is sick to anyone with an artistic bone in their body and the popularity and demand for such edited films is bizarre and puzzling. As the film unfolds, certain key players in the Cleanflix story become characters and the third act of the film drops a major surprise twist into the proceedings. Just when I thought this picture was going nowhere, it took a sharp left turn into Interestingville. Side note: The movie is unrated but if you think a movie called Cleanflix would be suitable for the family - you'd be wrong. There are several comparisons between the Hollwood original cuts of films and the sanitized Cleanflix versions. In addition, the previously mentioned twist takes the movie down a dark path.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) It's hard to believe a movie-loving 39 year old male such as myself had never seen this instalment of the Indiana Jones saga. Something has gotten into me the last couple of weeks - last week I watched a couple of Star Wars films and this week I craved some more mainstream big budget popcorn flicks! Gotta say, I absolutely loved Temple of Doom! Perhaps one of the best action/adventure films I've ever seen! I wish I had seen it as a kid.

Only The Lonely (1991) I saw this John Candy vehicle in the theater 22 years ago, I've always meant to revisit it and finally have. It's a really nice story with an unusual part for John Candy as the romantic lead and it also stars Maureen O'Hara from Miracle on 34th St. This was to be her final big screen performance. Ally Sheedy was also very good in it...something I never thought I'd type out.

A Bugs Life (1998)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Cars 2 (2010)  We had a lazy, pajamas kinda day, New Years Day and had a little Pixar movie marathon. A Bugs Life is a really perfect Pixar film that has seemed to fall through the cracks as far as recognition goes. Toy Story 2 I must have seen at least a dozen times and it still makes me laugh out loud. Cars 2 has got to be near the bottom of the list of Pixar movies, but it's still watchable.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

My Week In Movies - December 2012 Wrap Up

As always, December brings hours of Christmas goodness to be watched. This year I fit in some of the traditional classics like one of my newer favorites Miracle on 34th Street. And there is nothing greater than hearing a 7 year old belly laugh at the ABC Family cut of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It just wouldn't be Christmas without A Very Brady Christmas and another made-for-TV staple Good Luck Charlie, It's Christmas! I caught some new-to-me classics like The Bells of St. Mary's and Holiday Affair and you can't overlook the really wonderful A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas...even in 2D! I've heard so much this year about Love Actually being a really great Holiday film, but I actually didn't care for it at all. However, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Four Christmases, another recent holiday flick that was recommended to me by a friend.

New Movies: I caught the new Step Up: Revolution which is just as goofy as the other three, if not quite a fun. Brave was much better a second time around and Monsters Inc. 3D is another example of how the new technology adds a little something extra to an already fantastic Pixar movie.

Here's my monthly rundown from best to worst:

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Monsters Inc. 3D (2001/2012)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Return of the Jedi (1984)
Brave (2012)
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011)
Die Hard (1988)
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)
A Very Brady Christmas (1988)
Good Luck Charlie, It's Christmas! (2011)
Four Christmases (2008)
Jingle All The Way (1996)
Step Up: Revolution (2012)
Holiday Affair (1949)
One Magic Christmas (1985)
The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Love Actually (2003)

December Movie Count: 18

2012 Movie Count:
236 Movies!!!
up 33 movies from 2011
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