2011 Movie Mini-Review Roundup: Captain America, A Dangerous Method, Mission Impossible 4, My Week With Marilyn, Young Adult

I am nearly caught up with the movies I wanted to see from last year. Here are some mini-reviews of the handful of 2011 releases I saw in April:

Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]
Captain America: The First Avenger [2011, Joe Johnston]
Captain America’s origin film is pretty much paint-by-numbers superhero fluff. A handful of quality performances, led by Chris Evans as Cap, can’t save this from plodding along and resorting to the same tired action moments. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for the movie or maybe I’m just not the right demographic, but this didn’t do anything for me. A shame, too, because I really enjoyed Iron Man (and to a lesser extent, its sequel). Captain America has made me lose most interest in The Avengers. 5/10

A Dangerous Method [2011]
A Dangerous Method [2011, David Cronenberg]
Students and followers of psychology (particularly psychoanalysis) will get the most out of this disappointing Cronenberg effort. Michael Fassbender was on a roll in 2011 and delivers a strong performance as Carl Jung, as does Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud. The examination of their friendship and mutual respect is intriguing, but the film suffers badly whenever the overacting Keira Knightley is on screen. As such, a potentially interesting subject becomes tedious as the script never really goes anywhere. The highlight of the film is Vincent Cassel’s small role as the cocky, free-wheeling Otto Gross. Again, this film is one perhaps best reserved for psych majors. 6/10

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol [2011]
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol [2011, Brad Bird]
Brad Bird’s live-action debut is a riveting affair with at least one unforgettable scene (climbing on the side of the Burj Dubai is just insane). Tom Cruise proves he still has “it” as secret agent Ethan Hunt, who along with the surprisingly formidable team of Simon Pegg and Paula Patton is sent on a mission to stop a nuclear launch. The villains (led by the unfortunately misused Michael Nyqvist) are a bland and uninspiring bunch, but the movie itself is still a fun ride with plenty of action and cool gadgets. Arguably better than it had any right to be. 7/10

My Week With Marilyn [2011]
My Week With Marilyn [2011, Simon Curtis]
Starry-eyed Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) weasels his way into a movie production job and gets to spend a week on set with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). All of Monroe’s idiosyncrasies are on display here, and the legendary actress is played expertly by the always captivating Williams. The film itself is entertaining enough, but unfortunately starts to dabble in tired cliches during the third act. A solid, albeit forgettable endeavor. 7/10

Young Adult [2011]
Young Adult [2011, Jason Reitman]
Charlize Theron is brilliant as a thirty-something young adult fiction writer who still acts like a teenager. With her main goal being to seduce her ex-boyfriend (who is now happily married with children), she is not exactly the most likable character. Regardless, it is hard to look away from this dark comedy, even as it sometimes gets uncomfortable. Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody make a great pair, and this movie is further proof of this. Special mention must be made of Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson, both of who deliver strong performances in their supporting roles. One of last year’s more underrated films. 8.5/10

Did you see any of these movies? Did any of them stand out to you?

Poll Results: Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie

I ran this poll a little longer, but the result was never really in doubt. According to you guys, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movie is:

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

THE RESULTS:
– Terminator 2: Judgment Day: 11 votes
– Predator: 5 votes
– The Terminator: 4 votes
– True Lies: 2 votes
– Conan the Barbarian: 1 vote
– The Running Man: 1 vote
– Total Recall: 1 vote
– Kindergarten Cop: 1 vote (no joke)

Can’t say I am terribly surprised by this one, as the early consensus seemed to be T2 all the way. Great to see Predator get the runner-up position (my vote), as well as a few scattered nods for his other films. What do you guys think? Happy with T2 winning, or do you prefer another film from Arnie?

THIS WEEK’S POLL:

What is the best “Best Picture” winner from the 2000s? I don’t think this one will be as lopsided, though I could see one particular film taking control of the #1 spot. I am not sure what I will be voting for, though.

Hope you guys had a great weekend!

PC Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Out of the Park Baseball 13
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Genre: Baseball Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: April 9, 2012

All hardcore baseball fans, no matter who they root for, have one thing in common: they believe they could run a professional team, sometimes even better than the actual general manager does. Of course, some are more vocal about their beliefs than others, but diehard fans especially love to nitpick every move their favorite team makes. I am guilty of this myself, so I turn to baseball simulators to prove that I can successfully manage a professional team. While there are a few options available, there is one franchise that is a clear cut above the rest, and it is one that I keep coming back to every year: Out of the Park Baseball.

This year’s version, lucky #13, has the same in-depth simulation offerings but is also packed full of upgrades. Immediately, the most noticeable difference is the brand new interface. The traditional menu system and its core buttons have all been switched around, with a shiny new right-side toolbar providing easy access to the most important screens. If you’re familiar at all with previous versions of the game, this graphical overhaul definitely takes some time getting used to. I did enjoy its changes in the long run, however, and I like this particular direction the series is taking.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

The biggest, perhaps most impressive, addition to the game is the real-time simulation mode. Basically this means that you can follow each game pitch-by-pitch, adjusting the speeds as necessary, and even jumping in to play the game if you want to. It’s pretty cool to keep an eye on several games at once, especially when you happen to stumble upon a rarity such as a no-hitter in progress. This is especially convenient for those running leagues as the commissioner.

Quite a bit of attention has been given to the core engine as well. Trades are noticeably tougher — a good thing — and teams can be labeled in three stages: Win Now!, Neutral, and Rebuild. This makes it slightly easier to find a trade partner, although it is still difficult to pry away their talent without giving up some big-time players or prospects of your own.

If you were a fan of the newspaper/mail system in previous editions, you will love the improvements in OOTP 13. Several unique storylines have been added, offering a much-welcomed freshness to the articles. One of my personal favorites so far was a story about a veteran on a struggling team taking it upon himself to hold his teammates accountable for their actions. A couple weeks later I was sent an article about this leader holding a kangaroo court about some minor action (I believe a teammate stepped on the team logo) and charging him a $100 fine. Brilliant. Little things like that give OOTP a touch of personality that just cannot be topped. I love this stuff, and would be very pleased if more of it seeped into future updates/versions.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Of course, Out of the Park also comes pre-equipped with all of the latest MLB rosters, and new seasons are built with the recent rule changes in mind (i.e. more wild card teams, and Houston’s move to the AL West in 2013). Player photos are missing initially, but there are countless mods available to fully customize the game any way you see fit. Seriously, if there is any one thing you don’t like about the game’s setup, you can change it. The official forums are a great source of information for the game, with all sorts of awesome expansions and goodies available. The creators of OOTP are also very active in the community and regularly provide patches to fix many of the bugs that users come across. Rest assured, if there is a significant glitch discovered (unlikely), Markus and the guys will be on it ASAP.

There are so many ways to dig into OOTP that everyone will play it differently. I chose to import my association from last year’s game and immediately continued playing as if nothing had changed. It was terrific — my settings were transferred over, and I played through the rest of my season while also getting to enjoy the new features of the game. Of course, if you don’t have an association to import, you can create a new league (real or fictional) starting at any year you desire. You can play the games individually or sim them in bunches — it’s up to you. You can even join an online league with other GMs, which is an absolute blast with a good group of guys.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

I have been speaking nothing but praise for the game so far, but there are a couple of minor flaws I feel I should mention. For one, the in-game text is a little difficult to read. I have a 19-inch monitor and occasionally have to squint to accurately read the team lineups and current statistics. While the in-game interface can be switched around, there is no way to increase text size. I have gotten used to it, but it would still be nice to adjust as needed. Also, while the trade engine is certainly improved, I was able to manipulate the system in one area. I noticed that it was a little too easy to sign a free agent to a minor league contract halfway through the season and then flip him to another team for a superior option. It was strange to me that I was able to do this. After all, if a team had any interest in the player I signed, why didn’t they just sign him on their own? Not a huge deal, but it is tempting to take advantage of this.

Again, those are two unbelievably minor flaws in the grand scheme of things, and they do not lower my rating at all. Folks, this is a 10/10 if I have ever seen one. Easily the best baseball simulator I have ever played, and it is one with infinite replay value. For only $40, you will get your money’s worth and then some. If you are into baseball statistics or are a diehard fan of the sport, do yourself a favor and give it a shot.

I will leave you with this warning, however: this gets addictive, FAST.

10/10

Beer Review: Rogue & Voodoo Doughnut – Bacon Maple Ale

My birthday was last weekend (April 15, to be precise), and to celebrate I flew out to Portland, Oregon with my girlfriend. We drove out to the coast, stuck our toes in the Pacific Ocean, spent a day exploring the Columbia Gorge and its glorious waterfalls, and also took some time to gallivant around the eclectic city that is Portland. One of our stops was the famous Voodoo Doughnut — “The Magic is in the Hole!” — home to many odd endeavors.

Eric standing outside Voodoo Doughnuts

Eric standing outside Voodoo Doughnuts

Here, take a look at a few of their most popular items:

Captain my Captain: Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch
The Loop: same as above but with Fruit Loops instead
Triple chocolate penetration: Chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and coco-puffs
Memphis Mafia: Fried dough with banana chunks and cinnamon sugar covered in a glaze with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips on top

But, to me, most intriguing was the Bacon Maple Bar (even Anthony Bourdain is a fan!): Raised yeast doughnut with maple frosting and bacon on top

It’s as awesome as it sounds.

Later on our trip, we stopped in at Rogue Ales Public House, the downtown brewpub for one of my favorite breweries. I couldn’t believe my eyes when, as soon as I walked in, there were a dozen large pink bottles of beer sitting out. Pink bottles of a Rogue & Voodoo Doughnut collaboration: Bacon Maple Ale! This sounded so ridiculous that I had to bring back a bottle home with me.

Tonight, I couldn’t resist the urge any longer.

Rogue & Voodoo Doughnut - Bacon Maple Ale

Bacon Maple Ale
Brewery: Rogue Brewery [Newport, OR, USA]
Style: Smoked Beer
ABV: 5.60%

The Bacon Maple Ale has 13 ingredients: (list courtesy of rogue.com)
Malts: Briess Cherrywood Smoked Malt, Weyermann Beechwood Smoked Malt, House-smoked Hickory Malt, Great Western 2 Row, Munich, C15, C75 Malts
Speciality: Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Pure Maple Flavoring
Hops: Perle, Sterling
Yeast & Water: Pacman Yeast, Free Range Coastal Water

Three smoked malts and applewood-smoked bacon… yeah, smoky doesn’t even begin to describe this beer. When poured into a glass, it doesn’t look much different than your typical ale (clear amber appearance), but the taste would be quite the surprise for the unsuspecting drinker.

Breakfast. That’s what this is. Bacon and lots of maple syrup. The syrupy taste makes this an awfully sweet beer, but the smokyness helps balance things out. It’s definitely a two-headed monster, however. The bacon/maple combo appears first, followed by a smoky finish. A hoppy aftertaste also lingers on the back of the tongue.

My initial impressions were glowing — I was surprised at how drinkable this novelty beer actually was. Subsequent tastings became a little too sweet for my liking, but not to the extent that I didn’t want anymore.

A bottle of Bacon Maple Ale will pour two tall pints, so it is a good option to share with another curious beer drinker. I probably won’t go out of my way to drink this again — it is available mostly in Portland, after all — but I am glad that I was able to try this unique brew. Bacon lovers, give this a shot.

7/10

My Movie Year – 2009

Andy over at Fandango Groovers puts together some really great blogathons every once in a while, and his latest is titled “My Movie Year“. I am a week late to the party, but I had to join in after seeing the great posts scattered around the blogging community. The concept is simple: select your favorite movie year and back it up with five movies to support your claim.

Now, this is actually quite the difficult question, and it has raised some interesting debates across the internet. Examples from critics include 1939, 1959, 1962, 1994 and 1999. All worthy choices, but I opted to go for a more personal route: the year 2009.

This was the year that I absolutely fell in love with film. Now, I had always enjoyed watching movies but it wasn’t until 2009 that I opened up and began indulging in anything and everything film-related. This was also my first full year living in Chicago, and there was a very cheap video store right around the corner from my first apartment in the city. Between that and Netflix, I had access to all sorts of great DVDs.

While 2009 may not be the *greatest* movie year ever, it was still a good one, and I have fond memories of many of its releases. Here are my top five, followed by some honorable mentions:

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart

District 9
District 9

Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds

Up in the Air
Up in the Air

Zombieland
Zombieland

Honorable mentions: (500) Days of Summer, An Education, A Serious Man, Away We Go, Best Worst Movie, Black Dynamite, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Sin Nombre, Watchmen

What is your favorite movie from 2009? Do you have any interesting movie-going memories from that year?

For a full list of participants in this blogathon, head over to Fandango Groovers.

Video Game Review: Fez [XBLA]

Today we have an awesome guest video game review from Max @ Impassionedcinema!

Fez [XBLA]

Fez
System: Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Polytron Corporation
Release Date: April 13th, 2012

After five years of anticipation, Fez has finally come out to Xbox Live. Since the game has been featured at gaming conventions and is even one of the subjects of Indie Game – The Movie, there’s been quite a lot of people awaiting it’s arrival.

An ode to classics such as Castlevania, Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda, Fez follows Gomez and his journey through the 2D world. It seems that it’s time for his adventure to begin though, as the wise man of the village passes the torch on to him. Gomez witnesses the explosion of a cube that shatters its pieces everywhere for Gomez to collect. It has also damaged the world he lives in. Now his world can be rotated in 3-dimensions due to the explosion.

Fez [XBLA]

Everything about Fez feels retro. From the low-level of detail in the character design to the inspired score by Disasterpeace, Fez is all about the classic game love. The players journey through the world of Fez will require jumping from platform to platform in order to find the next piece to the puzzle. Rotating the screen at the exact moment to connect different orientations of the world is often required. Luckily, the gameplay of Fez never feels cheap. Even if you miss a jump, it’s only a matter of seconds until you can try again.

There’s a layer of gameplay underneath the seemingly simple platformer. Once half the game is completed, Gomez will discover that there are also thirty-two anti-cubes to collect in addition to the original thirty-two. These cubes require a deeper understanding of the world, having players decrypt the language and symbols of the world to solve the incredibly original puzzles. The true adventure of Fez begins halfway through the game.

Fez [XBLA]

If there are any faults to Fez, it comes from two different areas, map design and bug checking. The map has a steep learning curve to it that even three hours into the game it continues to frustrate. While the idea is reminiscent of the Metroid Prime series maps, it never feels intuitive. It’s such a vital piece of the game as well since it works as a checklist for places that all the puzzle pieces have been found. The other area that still needs work, are the game bugs. After five year of development, Fez still has some crushing bugs. Sometimes they will transport players right back to the Xbox Live Dashboard and other times save games might even be corrupted. One of the biggest problems I suffered through my play through was that the sound would cut in and out while rotating the world. These faults in the code are inexcusable and while I’m glad to finally have the chance to play Fez, it’s a shame that these faults still exist.

In a video game world full of copycat ideas, Fez is an inspired original journey. Light on story, but deep in creativity, Fez will be a game remembered for the things it accomplishes as opposed to the things it might’ve fell short on. So what are you waiting for? Get ready to follow Gomez through this inventive world and forever remember what a Fez is really capable of achieving.

8.5/10

Written by Max Covill of Impassionedcinema.com

Weekly Poll Results: Best David Fincher Film

The results are in! According to you guys, David Fincher’s best film is:

Fight Club

THE RESULTS:
– Fight Club: 18 votes
– Se7en: 9 votes
– The Social Network: 6 votes
– The Game: 3 votes
– Zodiac: 2 votes

Interesting voting! It seems Fight Club has received a lot of (unjust?) backlash in the last few years, but that didn’t matter to you guys. The 1999 cult film ran away with this poll, easily beating out other greats such as Se7en and The Social Network. I am a little surprised that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button didn’t get any votes — I figured there would be a couple for each, at least.

What are your thoughts? Are you happy that Fight Club won?

THIS WEEK’S POLL:
Once again, I am inspired by the happenings over at Fogs’ Movie Reviews (he’s blowing up over there!). Last week, Fogs ran a wildly popular “great debate” poll in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone squared off to decide who was the best, once and for all. Arnie won in a VERY close poll, so in light of this I am giving the Governator his very own spotlight this week.

The question: What is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movie?

Have a great weekend, folks!

The Ten Best Actors of All Time [Relay Race]

Nostra over at My Filmviews always comes up with some pretty rad ideas for blogathons and features, and his latest may be the best one yet. I had the honor of being selected by Jaina from Time Well Spent to take part in the “Ten Best Actors of All Time” Relay Race. For those who have missed it so far, here is Nostra’s description of the series:

So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one actor (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actor. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors.
It will also mean that those who follow this relay race will get to know new blogs as well!

As a reference point, here is the order of the race so far (starting from the beginning):
My Filmviews -> The Focused Filmographer -> Front Room Cinema -> I Love That Film -> FlixChatter -> All Eyes On Screen -> Time Well Spent

I had to do some serious thinking about this list, as it is already pretty amazing. I didn’t want to have to remove any of these guys, but rules are rules. Here we go:

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro

Daniel Day Lewis
Daniel Day Lewis

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando

Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall

Christian Bale
Christian Bale

Gregory Peck
Gregory Peck

Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio

My Addition: Paul Newman

Paul Newman
How can you not like Paul Newman? He was so effortlessly cool in everything he was in. The ladies loved him because of his good looks and big blue eyes, guys loved him because he was a man’s man and could play the confident anti-hero so well, and he was a hell of a guy to boot. Not only was he a successful actor for SIX decades, Newman was a humanitarian who gave back to a wide variety of charities. Hell, his profits from his Newman’s Own line of salad dressings (and other foods) amounted to over $300 million, all of which went to charity.

But regardless of how awesome of a human being he was, he was just as great on the big screen. I became a fan after watching The Hustler for the first time last year, and I quickly made an effort to see more of his work. My favorite performance so far remains his lead role in Cool Hand Luke, where he just oozes charisma and proves that you don’t need guns or explosions to be a badass.

Paul Newman was nominated for countless awards before finally winning Best Actor for 1986’s The Color of Money (the sequel to The Hustler). Other highlights from his long and varied career include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hud, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Verdict, and Road to Perdition.

Who I Replaced: Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks

Nothing against the guy — he has had A LOT of great roles and is one of the most charming and likable actors in the business, but I would put him a cut below the others. I feel bad for removing Mr. Hanks, but the questionable choices from his last decade of work make it a little easier for me to take him out.

Now I am passing the torch to Chris at moviesandsongs365. Good luck!

Movie Project #12: The Bourne Identity [2002]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Bourne Identity [2002]

The Bourne Identity [2002]
Director: Doug Liman
Genre: Action/Crime/Mystery
Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente and Chris Cooper
Runtime: 119 minutes

Sometimes I amaze myself when it comes to looking at how many movies I missed from the last decade. I didn’t really start (over)indulging in film until just three or four years ago, and I never bothered with a lot of the major blockbusters. That’s how I skipped out on Casino Royale (or Bond films period), and a lot of the big-budget action flicks from recent years. Because of this large gap in my movie-watching history, I made sure to include The Bourne Identity in this year’s project.

Looking back ten years later, it’s weird to see Matt Damon look so young. Regardless, he is more than capable as the ex-CIA operative, Jason Bourne, who is rescued from the Mediterranean Sea with no recollection of his past. His only hint comes from an account number to a Swedish safe deposit box that is surgically implanted in his hip. He quickly learns that he has better reflexes and hand-to-hand combat skills than the average person, and a trip to the Swedish bank reveals even more curiosities: the deposit is box full of passports with different aliases, several types of currency, and a handgun. The CIA is alerted to Bourne’s bank visit and soon he finds himself on the run with no clue as to why.

The Bourne Identity [2002]

Bourne hitches a ride with Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente), an unassuming pedestrian who accepts a $20,000 offer to get him to Paris. Soon she becomes targeted by association, and the two embark on a wild adventure as Bourne attempts to learn who he is, as well as who is trying to kill him.

As far as spy thrillers go, this is a good one. There are moments of groan-inducing cliches, but for the most part this is a well-crafted adventure that rarely lets its foot off the pedal. A car chase scene through the streets of Paris is exhilirating, as are the moments when Bourne encounters hitmen who are out to eradicate him. There is never a shortage of adrenaline-pumping action and suspense, and the film even manages to include some romance (though not a major focal point, thankfully).

The Bourne Identity [2002]

The movie has a good set of villains in place, with Bourne’s former boss Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) leading the operation to get rid of the ex-operative once and for all. The hitmen sent after Bourne are intimidating, especially “The Professor” (Clive Owen) with his extraordinary sniping skills.

The Bourne Identity is a fun thriller with a little more brains behind it when compared to others in the genre. It feels a little dated now, but it’s still an entertaining watch with plenty of thrills. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the trilogy in anticipation for this year’s entry in the series.

8/10

Poll Results: Best Teen Comedy

Happy Friday everyone!

I am closing last week’s poll a little early since I will be out of town for the next few days. I have a bright and early flight this morning to Portland, Oregon, a town I have been wanting to visit for years. I am especially looking forward to visiting some of their craft breweries (a few of which are within walking distance of my hotel), and doing some hiking in the beautiful mountains just outside of the city. It’s going to be great to get away, and hey, if you have any suggestions as to what I should see/do while I am there, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I will try to keep tabs on any updates while I’m away.

Anyway, onto the winner of last week’s Best Teen Comedy poll:

Superbad

THE RESULTS:
– Superbad: 10 votes
– Fast Times at Ridgemont High: 6 votes
– American Pie: 2 votes
– Road Trip: 1 vote
– Other: 10 Things I Hate About You: 1 vote

In the battle of old vs. new, the new prevailed. Superbad is a freakin’ riot, but I am a little surprised to see it mop up against some classics. No love for Animal House or Porky’s?

This week’s poll is inspired by a very entertaining roundtable discussion from three great movie bloggers: Ian, Fogs and PG Cooper. Vote for your favorite David Fincher film, then stop by and see what those guys had to say!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you next week.