Stormtrooper Terry

Stormtrooper Terry

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best (and Worst) Movies of 2012

Here it is: the year-end blog I've been busting my ass watching movies the last few days to be able to write, the list of the best movies (in my opinion, of course) of the year. Seriously, in the last 72 hours I've watched like 12 movies... that doesn't sound like a lot, but, you know, I also slept. And drank. I won't really be writing about them, just a few words here and there maybe, and a link to a previous post if I covered them during the year already. Anyway, I admit, I haven't seen everything that came out this year, so the list might be missing a few things here and there, but whatever. At the end of the post I'll be revealing my favorite movie of the year, something I've been tracking since 2008 (here's the recap: 08: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, 09: 500 Days of Summer, 10: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 11: Warrior). Quick aside, all this wouldn't be possible without the Flickster app on Facebook, on which I rate movies all year long.

Before I get to the best, though, here's a list of the worst movies of the year... seriously, I rated these movies 1/2 star each, and that's only because Flickster won't let you give a 0-star rating.

The Worst
Killer Joe
Silent Hill Revelation 3D
For a Good Time, Call...
The Watch
House at the End of the Street (seriously, this movie was so bad not even Jennifer Lawrence could save it.)
The Apparition
Chernobyl Diaries
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Wrath of the Titans
The Innkeepers
And, the movie I'm still calling the worst movie ever: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Now that those monstrosities are out of the way...

The Best (4 stars)
Ted - This shit was so funny I paid to see it twice. And the second time I paid for two tickets. And if you disagree, well, I hope you fucking get Lou Gehrig's Disease.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World - A very heartfelt, funny apocalypse dramedy.
Liberal Arts
End of Watch - This surprised the hell out of me with how good it is. Seriously.
Zero Dark Thirty - Tense, gripping, well-acted... just fantastic.
Les Miserables - Yeah, I like musicals. Especially great musicals. Live with it.

The Best of the Best (5 stars)
The Cabin in the Woods
Marvel's the Avengers
The Dark Knight Rises

And now, that just leaves my favorite movie of the year, obviously in the 5 star category:
Silver Linings Playbook

There you go, there's my list of the best and worst movies of the year. Here's the part where I ask you what you think of these flicks and what your favorites of the year were and, if I'm lucky, maybe one person answers. Let's go, I'm psyched.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Back at 2012

New Year's Eve might not be until tomorrow, but tomorrow I'm doing my big "Best Movies of 2012" post because I still have a few movies to burn through tonight. So tonight, instead of that blog you get a brief look back at my roller coaster 2012, and a look ahead at what I'd like out of 2013.

2012 started with me and my family still dealing with the death of my grandfather, which, you know, sucked. January wasn't all bad, though, as it also saw the celebration of two of my favorite people getting married, with me performing the ceremony. And then there was my birthday, which, you know, is always an awesome party.  But the beginning of the year saw me still unemployed and broke, a trend that sadly continued throughout the year. There was some more good in the beginning of the year, though, as my grandmother and I moved to a better apartment in a better area, an apartment above family who could help take care of her and ease the burden off me a bit, which is very, very nice. That was literally the extend of the excitement in my life through Winter and Spring.

The Summer saw me become employed again... but don't get excited. It was only a one day temp job. But money is money, and I took it happily. The start of Summer also apparently saw me lose a friend, which, all I can say about that is that people do what they want to do, and only so much of it is in your control. Aside from that inauspicious beginning, the rest of the Summer was actually a very good one. I spent those months excited and walking around with a smile on my face. I saw a lot of movies, too, which you know I really enjoyed, but even without that, it was a great Summer.

Of course, the Fall came and everything else fell like a house of cards, and with the exception of another fun wedding for another close friend, October and November sucked mightily. You know, hurricanes and the like. December, though... things seem to have started to turn around as I got a job that'll last until at least February, and prospects of it becoming permanent are there. Even if that doesn't happen, though, it let me do some things for Christmas, and it'll make sure I have a fun New Year's Eve tomorrow night and a fun birthday next month as well.

And that's 2012 in a nutshell. Brief highlights that eventually got tarnished... one or two even outright regretted as I look back... amongst some crap. Which is why I can't wait for this year to end and 2012 to begin. But what do I want out of 2013? I'm setting my sights low so as not to be disappointed: I want this job to last, I want to enjoy fun times with my friends, and I want to drink in peace. In fact, my resolution is to not do anything to jeopardize that. So, you know... no women.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Leverage: The Final Con

The other day I posted a little look back at Merlin, a show I enjoyed that just aired it's final episode. The day after that final episode aired, another show I love, Leverage, aired its final episode as well. Both shows started in 2008 and in a connection that isn't immediately clear, both shows are based on a classic British legend. Merlin's is obvious, but what about Leverage?

The Leverage, Inc. team, l. to r.: Sophie, Eliot, Nate, Hardison, and Parker.

Leverage is the story of Nate Ford, a former insurance investigator who gathers a team of the people he used to investigate: Sophie, a grifter; Eliot, a former soldier, now a hired hitter; Hardison, a super hacker; and Parker, a thief. He brings them together to start helping the little guys of the world get back at the rich and powerful who have unscrupulously screwed them out of money or property or whatever else. Sound familiar?

It's a modern day Robin Hood. They're Robin and his merry man for the current age, fighting against the rich using cons and computers instead of swords and arrows.

The show is pretty brilliantly done. There's a different con every week, but the kick is that it operates on two different levels. There's the steps the audience sees as the show unfolds... and then there's the con within the con that the audience sees in flashback after the fact, seeing it as the mark sees it, experiencing just how badly they were screwed.

That's not the true joy of the show, though. The true joy is watching the four people he gathered, people who dislike and distrust each other ad all dislike him, joining together as time unfolds, learning that helping people feels better than hurting people and building real bonds of friendship and more by the time the show eventually ends. The show is all about character, as each con becomes personal to at least one of them, and there are cons that involve their families at one point in time or another... or their enemies, as in the case of an evil super hacker played by Wil Wheaton, or the team's ultimate nemesis, Interpol agent Sterling, played by Mark Sheppard, an incredibly famous "that guy."

Trust me, you've seen him in something: Leverage, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Warehouse 13, Chuck, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, 24, Firefly...

The show's run is full of guest stars and great plots and even better acting, and there's even a two-part con in which they overthrow the dictator of a small African government. In short, i can't recommend this show enough. So, you know, if I've interested you, find it and watch it. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merlin: The End of a Story of Camelot

Here's something that everyone might not know about me: the Arthurian legend is one of my favorite things in the world. Seriously. The Once and Future King by T.H. White is my all-time favorite book. I devour pretty much anything related to King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table that I can find. In fact, one of the biggest regrets I have in life is that the semester after I had to leave college the first time, my favorite professor, Br. Edward Wesley, taught an honors seminar on Arthurian literature, and that was the only time in all the myriad occasions I was in St. Francis College that that course was offered. I even tried to bribe the man to do it again at one point, but I got nowhere. So, knowing all that, you can imagine I must have been fairly excited when the BBC premiered a new show based on Arthurian legend in 2008, a show simply titled Merlin.

A promo pic from the second season. From left to right: Guinevere, then-Prince Arthur, Merlin, King Uther Pendragon, Lady Morgana, and Merlin's mentor, Gaius... with the Great Dragon soaring above them all.

Right off the bat, Merlin played fast and loose with some of Arthurian legend, and I have to be honest, a good portion of that annoyed me. In the set-up of the show, gone was the sword in the stone aspect. Arthur was a prince in Camelot, the kingdom of his father, Uther Pendragon (and yes, that's totally Rupert Giles playing Uther; that's half the reason I stuck with the show despite what initially annoyed me), a kingdom in which magic was totally outlawed because of the role it played in the death of the king's wife. Merlin is a teenager sent by his mother to apprentice to the Royal Physician, Gaius... himself a former magic practitioner who was also to train Merlin in the use of his magic. Morgana Le Fay lived in Camelot as the King's ward and as such, Arthur's adopted sister. And Guinevere? Well, she was Morgana's servant, a role that mirrored the role Merlin fell into as Arthur's manservant.

I'm not going to point out all the different ways this set-up is wrong, choosing instead to assume that you've been done at least some reading in your life or, hell, seen a movie or two and know just how wrong it is. I almost gave up on the show with the first episode, but made myself give it a few episodes, if only for Giles' sake.

And I was glad I did, because once you look past the set-up, it becomes a quality show that sticks pretty closely to the intent of Arthurian literature, if not the letter of it. Throughout the course of the show, there are two types of episodes: fun, creature-of-the-week sort of episodes that Merlin tries to protect Arthur and Camelot from as he learns that his destiny is exactly that; and episodes of true Arthurian plots, as knights like Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, and Percival are introduced, as Mordred enters the picture, as Excalibur is created, as Arthur becomes king and marries Guenevere as Morgana turns to the dark side... all the events you'd expect to see as well as one or two surprises, such as the appearance of Tristan and Isolde, as the show's five seasons build toward what happened in this weekend's two-part finale: in the French, Le Morte D'Arthur.

Yes, the show hits all the major beats, but in unexpected ways, ways that make it a fresh retelling that is always fun to watch. The cast is talented, and they have a great chemistry together, which is good because, in the end, the show is all about the bonds of friendship and brotherhood. It's a fun show that is left with an ending that is true enough to Arthurian legend and befitting what the show is about, while leaving it just open-ended enough for there to be more if they ever decide to revisit it.

Merlin rose above the NBC mini-series of the same name from over a decade ago to become my second-favorite filmed adaption of the legend of Camelot (the first being the brilliant BBC film Excalibur, of course), and I'd highly recommend it for any fans of the story of Arthur or, really, for anyone who is a fan of the swords-and-sorcery genre.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Goodreads Book Review - This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It

This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It (John Dies at the End, #2)This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I reviewed Wong's first book to which this is a sequel, John Dies at the End, I gave it three stars. I'm giving this one three stars as well, although I don't think it was as good. One of the negative things I said when I reviewed the first one is that I felt that it needed to make more sense and be more coherent to be a better story. This book made me eat those words a bit; it is definitely more coherent than the first one... and that is, in fact, detrimental to the story. I found myself wishing it was a little bit more of a crazy mess than it was and was a bit disappointed. Still, I absolutely love the main characters David, John, Amy, and Molly (yes, she's a dog, but I'll be damned if I leave her out!) and would love to read another story about them and the insanity they got sucked into. But maybe less spiders, because, lord, parts of this absolutely killed me with my arachnophobia!

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The twenty-fourth book in my Recommended Reading Challenge is the first time a sequel has been featured (you can see my review of the first book, John Dies at the End, here), and only the second time an author has made a second appearance. I've got three more books to burn through at the moment, but I'm always looking for more, so don't be shy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Top Ten Movies I'm Looking Forward to in 2013

If y'all haven't noticed, 2013 is right around the corner. That is, unless a bunch of people who have been dead for centuries are wrong and the world isn't going to end in eight days. I'm operating under the assumption that we'll still be here to ring in the new year and all the new movies that come with it. Since I was off today, I thought this would be the perfect day to put together the list of the ten movies I most want to see next year. To that end, I went on IMDB (with a late assist from when IMDB failed me) and made a list of all the movies coming out next year that I wanted to see so I could whittle it down to ten.

Sounded like a simple idea until it became obvious there are forty-fucking-seven movies coming out next year that I want to see.

Yes, I know. I watch a lot of movies. Deal with it. I have.

Clearly I had to find a way to narrow the field a bit. So I decided the best question to ask myself was, "Which of these movies do I absolutely want to see in theaters and which would I be fine with seeing in other ways?" That took me from forty-six to twenty-one, and from there it was much easier to pick out ten that stood out above the others.

So here are the top ten, in no particular order because, well, it was hard enough picking them, I don't have nearly enough brain power left to put them in any kind of order other than the way they were listed on IMDB: by release date.

January gives us Mama, a highly creepy-looking horror movie from Guillermo Del Toro, which is a recipe for success if I ever heard one. Gangster Squad also comes out that month, and aside from having an awesome trailer, I'm down just for the talent involved: Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone? That's a hell of a cast. I'm in.

Yes, THAT Emma Stone.

In February there's Stand Up Guys, an old-man-buddy-mafia-movie starring Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, and Christopher Walken. If you need to know anything other than that, well, we just really shouldn't be friends.

April gives us the controversial and long-awaited remake of Evil Dead. Normally I'm pretty leery of remakes, but this one has the blessing and endorsement of the people involved in the original, and has the hubris to declare itself the scariest movie of all-time. I like that kind of moxie, so I'll give it a go.

You probably already know what I'm going to say when it comes to May: Iron Man 3. No surprise there. Another round of RDJ in the role he was born to play, in the movie that kicks off what is being called Phase Two of the Marvel Movie Universe? Yes please.

We skip ahead to July, when another Guillermo Del Toro movie comes out: Pacific Rim. This one has giant robots fighting monsters, apparently. And did I mention it's by Del Toro? Del Toro + Robots + Monsters = guaranteed awesomesauce.

There are two movies in August. The first is another long-awaited picture, this one the sequel to Sin City, entitled Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Given how stylized and how much of a niche movie the first one was, I have nothing to say her, really... you either loved it and are eagerly awaiting this, or you didn't, and you aren't. August is a month for sequels, as Insidious Chapter 2 comes out. The first Insidious was a horror movie that did a pretty good job of fucking m life up; it also led to an absolutely hysterical moment between me and my cohort Jabba the Black that I will NOT be relaying here.

The last two movies both come out in November. There's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I absolutely loved the first one so I can't wait to see the next part. Plus, I just love me some Jennifer Lawrence, so, bonus. Lastly, there's Thor: The Dark World, the second Marvel movie next year which apparently picks up just seconds after Marvel's The Avengers ends. Do I have to say anything else?

So those are the ten. As hard as this list was to compile, I'm sure it'll change more than a few times, but this is where it is right now. Any of you out there have any movies you're looking forward to? Let's talk about it!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Goodreads Book Review: The Lucky One

The Lucky OneThe Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A lot of people don't know this about me because I don't get much chance to show people this side of me, but I'm a total romantic. The last love story I read, Bet Me, had me awwing and even tearing up in a few places. So you can't say I just don't like love stories when I say that this might be one of the worst books I've ever read. The writing is ridiculously simple, filled with way too much exposition than is tolerable, breaking one of the #1 rules of writing, "Show, don't tell." Not only does all the exposition break that rule, it telegraphs just about everything that is going to happen in the entire novel way too early one; there was seriously not one piece of the plot I couldn't see coming a mile away. And the ending is a total cop-out. It was unbelievably bad and abrupt, with a ridiculously undeserved denouement. I will say, however, that the characters were fairly well developed and for the most part likeable, so it had that going for it, but the dog, Zeus, was the only saving grace of the entire affair, and the one star I gave the story is all for him.

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As you can see, the twenty-third book in the Recommended Reading Challenge has left an awful taste in my mouth. I need a really good book to cleanse the palette at this point. So who's got one?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Goodreads Book Review: The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's no denying that this is one hell of a beautifully-written book. There's a lyrical, poetic quality to the prose that makes it a real joy to read at times, and the story itself is incredibly moving; there were one or two times towards the end where I could feel my eyes moisten. The characters, even the background ones, are all very well developed and engrossing, too.  All that said, though, did I necessarily enjoy the book? In a word, no. While the language itself was written beautifully, I didn't like the way the book was put together almost like excerpts of different stories at times. The episodic nature of it put me off. Also, as much as I like the conceit of having Death be the narrator, I didn't enjoy many of his asides and I didn't like the way events in the book weren't just foreshadowed but where flat-out spoiled dozens... sometimes even hundreds... of pages ahead of time. At least one or two surprises would have been nice. So that's why I'm giving the book the rating it gets: while I didn't necessarily enjoy it, I appreciate the craft involved in it, so three stars seems like a fair compromise to me.

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Twenty-two books down now, and it's starting to feel like the challenge is really running out of steam as recommendations are coming much less frequently. If you'd like to change that, let me know! I've got two more random internet recommendations I can get started on, but I'd much prefer something more personalized, so if you've got a title, give it to me and I'll jump on it like Apache!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Stormtrooper's Christmas Soundtrack

Here at Stormtrooper, I have a bit of a tradition of doing Christmas-themed posts in December (last year there was a post about what I watch to get into the Christmas spirit [plus Gremlins and Santa Clause, which for some reason I forgot all about] and another reviewing the Batman Christmas special that came out last year). Okay, so last year was only the first year I did it and it was only two posts, that's why I said it's a bit of a tradition and not a full-fledged Charlie Brown Christmas kind of tradition, cut me some slack here.

Good grief.

For the first (and potentially only, I'm not sure yet) Christmas post this year, I've decided to turn my attention to music and list some of my favorite holiday tracks. Fair warning: don't expect Bing Crosby or any of his ilk on here; I have nothing against the classics, they're classics for a reason, but as my thirty-second Christmas on this earth approaches, I'm just tired of them. So this list of twenty-five songs instead features covers of classic songs by contemporary artists as well as new songs by contemporary artists... and, okay, maybe one or two classics as well.

Oh, in the interest of full disclosure, early last week before my new employment started, I put together a holiday playlist on Spotify of eighty-nine songs. If the list of highlights you're about to read puts you in a curious kind of mood and you'd like to see what else is on there, let me know and I'll see about getting you the full playlist. It has followers already and everything, so it can't be THAT bad.

The list isn't in any kind of order, but it's only fair to start off with the song that motivated me to do this, which is why it's also the only song I'm posting the video for (you can YouTube all the other ones yourself, don't be lazy!): All I Need is Love by CeeLo Green, featuring Disney's The Muppets!

Okay, the actual video wouldn't work. But that's just as good. Anyway, here's the rest of the list, in no certain order... twenty-five songs for twenty-five days of Christmas! Yesterday counts, damn it!

2. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2
3. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
4. Yule Shoot Your Eye Out – Fall Out Boy
5. Ex-Miss – New Found Glory
6. I Won’t Be Home for Christmas – Blink-182
7. Forget December – Something Corporate
8. My December  - Linkin Park
9. Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid
10. I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Matchbook Romance
11. Christmastime is Here – Gatsby’s American Dream
12. A Wonderful Christmas Time - June
13. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Daphne Loves Derby
14. Christmas Song – Alvin and the Chipmunks
15. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings – Barenaked Ladies
16. Jingle Bells – Lisa Loeb
17. Good King Wenceslas – Relient K
18. Carol of the Bells – August Burns Red
19. Christmas – Blues Traveler
20. Little Saint Nick – Straight No Chaser
21. Christmas Day - Dido
22. The Twelve Pains of Christmas – Bob Rivers
23. Christmas Song – Dave Matthews
24. Merry Christmas Everybody - Oasis
25. Christmas Shoes – FM Static

So there you have my highlights for Christmas spirit music. Got any favorites of your own you'd like to share? Be like me, spread some cheer!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Back in the Workforce

It's been an interminably long while since I could say this, but I've got a job. And even if it's only an oddly-scheduled temp job, it's still a job,  it pays pretty well, and it's a relief; let's be honest, at this point in my life, any relief, even a temporary one, is much needed, and much appreciated. I figured I should try to explain just what the job is, because it is an odd little situation.

Apparently Morgan Stanley has decided to switch their employees' Blackberry carrier from whatever company was providing it to Verizon. To oversee the transfer, they got a company called Cobite (I think), and they gather all the employee information... names, e-mails, phone numbers, etc... and give it to the Verizon team to use when setting up the phones. The Verizon team, I guess, figured they didn't want to devote a ton of their full-time employees to that task, so they got the staffing agency Adecco to find temps for them, and that's how I got involved, because I registered with Adecco months ago.

Still with me? Good. That was the complicated part, I promise.

So what I do is basically spend all day sitting with the other people on the Verizon team... so far a few full-time Verizon employees and one other Adecco temp... and I pre-program the phones. Open them up, put the battery in, activate the phone, put in the person's e-mail address so it can sync everything for them download whatever apps they should have, put it in the box, and it gets delivered to them. That's it. Oh, and I have to make sure the pre-loaded Facebook and Twitter icons are hidden in the main menu, which just makes me laugh, because there I am checking Facebook and Twitter on my phone during our down times, which can be frequent, because syncing and app store downloading can take a loooong time, apparently. Best part? I don't deal with the employees at all. The Cobite team delivers them after I program them, so there's no customer service aspect of the job at all. That right there gives me a happy.

There's one other aspect of the job that is pretty fun. Morgan Stanley is doing this for employees in all their locations, so we actually will be going to different locations all the time. For example, we were in one of the McGraw-Hill buildings on Sixth Avenue the last two days, and next week we'll be in a building on 5th Avenue for three days before moving to one on 7th Avenue on Thursday, and then another one on 7th Avenue on Friday, and so on. I kind of like that. It'll keep me from getting too bored, and, if nothing else, will give me different places to go to for lunch every day!

Sadly, the job will only last until mid-January with a week-and-a-half off for the holidays, but I'm looking at the upsides here. It gives me money for Christmas, makes sure I can party my ass off for New Year's, and guarantees I'll have enough money to pull off the epic birthday celebration I'm planning, something that is happening literally the day after the job ends.  So all in all, I can say that this is pretty awesome, and I'm totally going to put off worrying about what will happen when I'm unemployed again so I can just focus on enjoying how great this is while I can.

Besides, if the Mayans are right, I'll be employed when the world ends and the rest won't matter anyway!