Tuesday, January 12, 2016

REVIEW: Crazy, Stupid, Love starring Steve Carell

This movie is indeed stupid, but I'm in love with Steve Carell! 

Warning straight off the bat: you will be cringing 90% of the time during this film.

Don't get me wrong, I laughed plenty of times through this movie. Most of the plot is utterly ridiculous nonsense involving fully grown adults acting like dopey idiots, but its easy enough to sit through if you don't mind feeling terrible about not doing something better with your time. Is this film worth sitting through the runtime? Only if you a.) are watching it with a significant other or b.) have nothing better to do. There is, however, a third option...If you LOVE Steve Carell.

Steve Carell is the number one reason I watched this. He was great in The Office, Little Miss Sunshine, and Dan in Real Life. If you are like me and you respect this widely loved comedy (and dramatic) actor, listen up: THIS WILL SATISFY YOUR STEVE HARVEY CRAVINGS! He is in A LOT of this movie, and it utilizes his distinct personality and goofball wit soon well!

Crazy, Stupid, Love gets credit from me for not being afraid to be sexy! Emma Stone is great eye candy for us guys with a cute face and tight body, while Ryan Gosling turns up the heat for the ladies with hot abs and a trademark swagger. They have great chemistry! Academy Award winning actress Marisa Tomei also appears in the film as a psycho lady. I thought she was great but was underutilized.

DOWNSIDES: The subplot involving the babysitter crush was simply uncomfortable to watch. Sexualizing an underage girl is simply wrong, add that with a thirteen year old boy talking about masturbation (played for laughs, mind you) and you get a really, really cringeworthy feeling. The ending to this little romance was the most sickening, wrong part of the whole thing. I hung my head in shame and disgust.

I also HATED the stupid reveal involving Emma Stone's character and who her family is. It made my eyes roll to the back of my head. It wasn't even funny in a tongue-in-cheek way, it was just maddening.

Overall, watch this movie if you're a Steve Carell fan or a fan of low-brow romantic comedies masquerading as high-brow, do not watch this movie if you're a fan of decent human behavior.

REVIEW: Navel Gazing: True Tales of Bodies, Mostly Mine (but also my mom's, which I know sounds weird)

A triumph! If you love to laugh, you NEED to get this book!

Boy did I love this book! It was funny and touching in all the right places. I found myself laughing out loud on almost every page! Michael Ian Black has done it again! His often-times silly and every-time witty reflections on life are addictive. I read the whole book in only a few days! Literally couldn't put it down. Michael Ian Black has been one of my favorite comedians for years; now he's one of my favorite authors.

You may know Michael Ian Black from movies such as Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, They Came Together, and Wanderlust. In addition, he has been in many great TV shows including The State, Stella and all those amazingly funny 'I love the...' shows on VH1 (my personal favorite was I love 1983 Strikes Back). On a personal level I have been a fan of his since I first fell in love with his dry and acerbic commentary on chicken nuggets.

Michael Ian Black's intoxicating yet extremely neurotic personality shines through the pages. You feel as though he's whispering in your ear as you read. He has masterfully transitioned his finely honed comedy skills into a writer's voice anyone can read and relate to.

My personal favorite tale covered in the book had to do with a punk band Michael Ian Black started in high school. As someone with many, many regrets throughout my own life I really connected to his self-reflection during this section of the book (and every other section as well). I found that chapter VERY funny and therapeutic in a way.

Overall, this is an outstanding book comedy fans of all ages will read and enjoy. Hopefully it will go down as one of the all-time classics of humor literature. For now it will be regarded as another triumph for Michael Ian Black, now undisputedly one of the greatest comedic minds of our generation.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Virtues of a Warrior: Dragonball Z, Japanese Militarism, and the Bushido Code

In feudal Japan, the Samurai represented the highest echelon of military nobility. Samurai were skilled and highly respected warriors who were supremely dedicated to a set of moral guidelines called the bushido code. Primarily influenced by Buddhism and the writings of Confucius, bushido stressed the importance of honor, courage, wisdom, and mastery of martial arts and can be loosely equated to the western concept of chivalry. The virtues of bushido were deeply instilled within the collective conscious of Samurai through the generations, and over the years parts of the code were written into formal law, expanding its influence to the whole of Japanese society through to the 20th century. During World War 2, the bushido code was fully embraced by the Japanese military, who indoctrinated their soldiers and Japanese society as a whole to prefer an honorable death over surrender or defeat. When the war ended the constitution was rewritten to eliminate any reference to bushido in an effort to reduce Japanese militarism, but the code still maintains significant influence in modern Japanese society and culture, including one of its most popular exports, manga and anime.
One of the most well known figures in Manga is Akira Toriyama, who was born in 1955, ten years after the end of World War 2. Starting out as a poster designer, he made the move to Manga in 1978 and found huge success with his comedy series Dr. Slump two years later. However, his biggest success came with the release of Dragonball in 1984. It is the story of a young boy named Goku who goes on a quest to find mystical Dragonballs that have the power to grant wishes. As the series progressed, the comedy was gradually replaced with a far more action-oriented plotline and eventually transformed into an entirely new series, Dragonball Z. The series introduced a vast array of characters to the Dragonball canon, including Goku’s son Gohan as well as his new rival, the Saiyan prince Vegeta. DBZ is the most popular series in the Dragonball franchise due to the detailed and engaging storyline, consistently exciting action sequences, well developed and complex characterizations, as well as its various themes and how they can be applied to everyday life.
Recurring themes of Dragonball Z include honor, sacrifice, and morality, all key components of the bushido code. The two main characters of the series, Goku and Vegeta, have vastly different interpretations of the code and what it means to be a noble and honorable warrior. These differences not only inspire a bitter rivalry between the characters that lasts throughout the series, but also represents the philosophical divide between militarism and pacifism in 20th century Japan.
One might think Vegeta as the ultimate representation of the values of the Bushido code based on his warrior pride and eagerness to improve his martial skills, but in actuality his views represent a skewed version of the code. In addition to being courageous and honorable, Bushido also emphasizes the importance of righteousness, benevolence, and wisdom. Vegeta’s skewed interpretation of Bushido combined with his over-reliance on racial dominance (saiyan elite) often lead to his defeat in the series.
Vegeta’s version of the bushido code is similar to the version the Japanese military used to indoctrinate citizens and soldiers into believing war was purifying and that sacrificing their lives for the Emperor was supremely honorable. During the Meiji period, Japan became increasingly nationalistic thanks to modernization and success in foreign wars such as the first Sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese war. During the occupation of China and the second Sino-Japanese War which began in 1937, Japanese troops were pressured to achieve victory or die with honor. Soldiers who died on the battlefield were glorified on the Japanese home front, further cementing the importance of militarism in their society.
Although the Japanese soldiers’ adherence to the ideals of honor and courage emphasized in the bushido code gave them early success on the battlefield, at the same time they were also committing horrible atrocities on ordinary citizens. During the Rape of Nanking, the Japanese soldiers slaughtered hundreds of thousands of citizens in a cruelly sadistic manner, and sadly that is only the tip of the iceberg. Similar massacres were committed elsewhere in China as well as in other territories such as Singapore and the Phillipines. This brutal wave of violence throughout the region is similar to the reign of terror the Saiyans brought to the galaxy they inhabited. Like the Japanese in the 30’s and 40’s, the Saiyans thought of themselves as a warrior race. Their entire society is built around conquering planets both for profit and for the service of their emperor, Frieza. Saiyans are shown taking great delight in slaughtering civilians with the same sadistic intent displayed by Japanese forces in East Asia. The parallels between Saiyans and Imperial Japan don’t end there.
The Japanese treated prisoners of war as subhuman due to their strict belief in honorable death before capture or defeat. Mistreatment of POWs was widespread, and nearly 30% of those taken prisoner by the Japanese would not survive the war. Vegeta displays this same mindset when he cold-heartedly killed his longtime friend Nappa because he had been dishonorably defeated by Goku. The complete disregard for morality and disrespect for the value of human life displayed by Japanese soldiers and by Vegeta is in direct conflict with some of the most important components of Bushido, which in addition to honor and sacrifice also promoted benevolence and righteousness. Both the Japanese soldiers’ and Vegeta’s strict adherence to the same corrupted interpretation of Bushido caused the deaths of millions of innocent lives.
Like Vegeta in Dragonball Z, the Japanese would eventually suffer their downfall due in part to their blind confidence in their own superiority militaristically and racially. While Vegeta’s overinflated pride caused him to underestimate and lose to opponents such as Goku, Android 18 and Cell, the Japanese also underestimated the fighting capacity of their own opponents such as Great Britain, Australia, and the United States for essentially the same reasons. Years of political propaganda from the military caused overconfidence in the Japanese ranks, regularly resulting in disasterous outcomes. For example, their version of bushido encourages rapid advances in the face of overwhelming odds at the expense of defense. While this idea is honorable in principal, it goes against conventional military strategy and often resulted in suicidal banzai charges and eventual defeat. In Dragonball Z Vegeta displays this same attitude emphasizing bold attacks over common sense and strategy. During the Cell saga he even invites Cell to grow stronger for the challenge of defeating him. This lapse in judgement and overestimation of his own abilities caused him to be defeated, just as it did for the Japanese.
In addition to military pride, racial pride played a significant role in causing the atrocities throughout Asia. Under Imperial Japanese rule, racial propaganda claiming the racial superiority of the Japanese people, specifically the Yamato, was omnipresent. Being a very homogenous nation, Japan is very uninviting to foreigners even to this day, but especially back in the 30’s and 40’s. Even before the Second Sino-Japanese war, the Japanese committed a violent pogrom against Koreans who they believed had poisoned water supplies. Over 3,000 innocent people were slaughtered in that event, and the racial hatred only got worse as the years passed. It is believed that the belief of the racial superiority of the Japanese over all other Asian races is one of the major factors that contributed to the widespread atrocities committed during the second world war. Like Imperial Japanese soldiers, Vegeta believes himself racially superior based on his Saiyan blood and nobility. This factors in to his disrespect for other species and races he encounters throughout the series, and his cold hearted murdering of innocent people without a second thought such as on Namek.
Vegeta’s short stature may be another parallel. Japan is a comparatively small nation with limited resources compared to China. It could be argued that their aggressive attitude towards domination in the region is a reaction to being the underdog, in a way. Like Japan, Vegeta is small in stature, but compensates with a tough guy persona and an over-emphasis on increasing his power level, which could be equated to the Japanese building up their arms. Regardless of its connection to Japan, I believe Vegeta’s short stature is a major reason for his aggressive and showboating personality. Both he and imperial Japan had little mans syndrome.
So we’ve explored the parallels between the philosophies of Vegeta and Imperial Japan, but who is Goku supposed to represent? I believe he represents the ideal state of pacifism, non aggressive but extremely capable of handling diversity should it come his way. At the end of World War 2, the Japanese adopted a new constitution that renounces war as a right of the nation, forbids the threat of force in international conflicts, and also forbids the maintinence of land, sea and air forces. The Japanese military today consists of the Japan Self-defense forces, which is typically used in peacekeeping efforts and disaster relief. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century to the present day there has been much debate over the capabilities and scope of the JSDF. With recent tensions high in East Asia, the debate is currently as active as ever, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggesting radical changes.
Although free from state-sponsored militarism, Japan is a country with deep-seeded warrior traditions, and the spirit of bushido still exists under the surface. Goku represents how the virtues of Bushido can still be upheld while maintaining a peaceful attitude. Goku’s benevolent respect for life, selfless acts of bravery and sacrifice, and disciplined restraint despite tremendous power make him an ideal follower of Bushido and a role model for Japan as a whole.
The rivalry between Goku and Vegeta represents the struggle between nationalistic militarism of the first half of the 20th century with the pacifism of the second half. It is a struggle that plagues the national conscious of Japan to this day. Subconsciously, I believe this is one of the major reasons the series is so popular in Japan. Further than that, the struggle between pride and morality is something every individual struggles to balance. Vegeta is villain, but he is still relatable because pride is a natural component of the human condition. We are all proud of ourselves to some degree, but pride is selfish and blinds us to the truth of our condition. Dragonball Z condemns Vegeta’s pride by having him constantly lose to his morally superior foe Goku. In essence, Dragonball Z is a morality tale warning against blind pride and overambition, promoting instead righteousness, courage, and reverence to family and friends.
Dragonball Z is more than a fantastic action series. It is rich with well-developed characters, fleshed-out themes, and intriguing subtexts that are endless in their interpretations. The story and values promoted in the series appeals to both the conscious subconscious mind on a carnal and spiritual level. The series has resonated with millions of fans worldwide not only because of its amazing action sequences, but also because it is relatable to our condition as a species and our place in the modern world. I hope this analysis opened your eyes to some of the deeper meanings behind Dragonball Z and its characters.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Crash and Burn by Artie Lange (2013) Book Review

A Highly Engaging and Often Disturbing Account of One Man's Journey to the Darkest Depths of Depravity

As a long time fan of the Howard Stern show, I was well aware of Artie Lange's problems with drugs and alcohol even before reading his first book, Too Fat to Fish. I found that book a good read, although I found myself bored with some of Artie's stories that were rehashed from the show. As a knowledgable Stern fan, this book went into greater detail about Artie's mental and emotional state and taught me many things about his personality that I had not known beforehand. I found the behind the scenes stories to be, for the most part, informative and insightful, and sometimes even disgusting. One of the best stories included was his account of an embarrassing night at the playboy mansion, a hilarious tale that reminded me of how talented a story-teller Artie can be.

This book covers the time period from after his first book came out in 2008 to the present day. During that time period, Artie Lange went through a personal hell, cycling through drug binges and withdrawals, constantly trying to dupe and outwit his friends and family so he could continue his destructive habits until it all came to a head in a most disturbing way. Some of this book is very hard to read, especially if you are a fan of Artie and wish to see him well. I actually saw Artie Lange when I went to a book signing for Too Fat to Fish in 2009, and can personally attest to the fact Artie looked totally out of it. At the time I had no idea how bad off he was.

The book is a fantastic and highly emotional account of a man who lost everything due to his own demons, but some parts of the book made me a little frustrated. Even though this was written after his crash and burn, he doesn't seem very regretful for the horrible things he's done to himself and others. Sometimes he regrets his actions, but then a paragraph later he will defend them or even praise his own contentious and irresponsible behavior. In the book he also bashes many celebrities and normal people who, in my opinion, didn't deserve to be ridiculed in such a way. A sarcastic wit is what makes Artie's humor so great, but at some points it seemed to me like he was being too harsh, and that made me sympathize with him less.

That aside, he does say nice things about some of his fellow comedians who have passed away such as Greg Giraldo and Mitch Hedburg, which I found very informative and nicely written. These comedians struggled with addiction and lost their battle. Their passings effected Artie deeply, and that hurt resonates with the reader in a profound way. It was in these passages where I felt he was being the most genuine.

For fans of Artie Lange, this book is a must read. For fans on the outside, as a stand alone book of an addict who descends into an abyss of drugs and booze, the book is still effective. However, it does have a tendency to become redundant as he tells one too many stories of getting high on airplanes and his general disdain for flying. I did find his rituals of scoring drugs while keeping it a secret from his friends and family very intriguing.

Overall, I must say I enjoyed this book more than Too Fat to Fish, and besides a few minor complaints I had a great time reading.

Artie, if you read this, I hope you stay clean man.

American Movie (1999) Review

What makes Mark Borschardt so relatable is that we all know someone like him. He is slightly mad and socially awkward yet assertive and intelligent, a fast talker with a quick wit and a big mouth. He is at some points self-confident and optimistic of the future, and other points hopelessly down in the dumps or drunk out of his already wacked out mind. He is also passionate about his life’s ambition, to fulfill his dream of making a feature horror film inspired by his own favorites Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In the pursuit to complete the film Mark undergoes a series of hurdles and setbacks that succeed in making bad situations worse, prolonging an already drawn out production and frustrating his family and friends. In order to secure funding for the film, he must coerce his notoriously stringy elderly Uncle Bill to help finance the project, resulting in quite a few scenes of comedy gold. Interviews with Mark’s family are candid and revealing, shedding light on some factors that may have influenced Mark’s obsession with cinema.


The colorful cast of characters is filled out by his long since burnt out friends Mike and Kenny, who have been helping Mark make his films since they were all kids. Mike Schank in particular steals the movie with his slow moving, soft-spoken voice delivering some of the funniest lines in the movie.

American movie is a fantastic documentary that paints a thorough and engaging portrait of a man inspired by passion and driven by obsession. It offers a glimpse into the life and psyche of a flawed yet sympathetic character in both his darkest and brightest moments. If you’d like the learn something about the power of peserverence, I suggest you watch this film.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX (2002) Gameboy Game Review

Since the original NES classic, the Contra franchise has produced many high-quality action shooters characterized by smooth controls, quick action, and a high level of challenge. Contra The Alien Wars was a title originally released on SNES back in its heyday. Konami decided to reissue the game on the Gameboy Advance with great results.

The action playing on the gameboy advance is as fluid as ever. The controls are easy to master as you blast your way through the levels. The first level isn't too hard, but the game cranks up the difficulty real quick. For those who don't know, your character in Contra dies in one hit, die three times you lose one of your three continues. There are two difficulty settings: Normal and Novice, but the only difference is that you get more lives on the lower setting. Some parts are crazy hard, but for the most part it is easy to memorize the patterns of gameplay after a few times playing through. In the end, I consider the intense challenge to be more of a positive than a negative.

The level design of this game is absolutely stunning for the GBA. There is always something interesting going on in the background, and the game always has a new setting ready to throw you for a loop every once in a while. For example one level you're fighting on a train, moving between the inside and outside as you fight off baddies in every direction. It's very exciting and I never get tired of playing it through!

In terms of gameplay, Contra has always kept it simple, and thats one of the reasons I like the franchise so much. What more do you need in a video game besides a muscled up action hero and a new host of evil villains to destroy. Much of this game you'll be fighting boss battles. There may be up to 4 per level! The boss fights are awesomely fun though. The most incredible boss fight in terms of fun factor and visuals would have to be the level 3 boss you see on the cover of the game. He is probably the coolest looking boss I've ever fought, and he's fun to take down as well!

If you're looking for a fast-paced action game that will provide a healthy challenge and keep you constantly interested, then I highly recommend picking up this game. It is a great addition to any gamers collection.

Angela's Ashes Movie Review

I first saw Angela's Ashes when I was a little kid about the same age as Frank in the beginning of the movie. Seeing it at such an early age had a profound effect on my outlook on life. Recently re-watching it as a 21-year old was like reliving an old dream. I couldn't believe I was having the same thoughts and feelings as I did so many years before. I'm not familiar with the book, but watching this film is like an endurance run for your emotions. There are so many devastating moments that by the end, you'd think you'd be numb to it, but there always seems to be another heart-wrenching moment around the corner. Some of the images in this movie have stuck with me for life.

Angela's Ashes put my life into perspective at an early age. I was emotionally invested in the characters, and through their struggles I learned a lot about life. All I could think was how lucky I was that all my family members are alive and we have a roof over our heads. Its easy to take those things for granted, and this movie does a good job of making you appreciate them a whole lot more.

The production value of Angela's Ashes is top-notch. The film does an extraordinary job of taking the viewer on a journey back in time to Limerick, Ireland in the early 40's. It was a time of great hardship, especially for Frank McCourt's family, who suffer greatly throughout the film. I personally love the imagery of old Ireland with its rustic stone structures and foggy weather. The settings are accurate and well-detailed, contributing greatly to the overall realism of the film. The tone of the film is very dark, gray, and mundane, and that dark tone is reflected in the bleak color palette. There are very few vibrant colors to be found, only gray, black and the occasional green. It truly succeeds in painting a bleak portrait of the McCourts life.

The actors in the film are mostly very good. Of course when dealing with child actors you always have to consider the fact that they're, well, children. So there's only so much they can do in a heavily dramatic film like this that requires some serious acting chops to pull off. I think the child actors do a good job in their roles, especially the little kid who plays Frank in the beginning. Like I said earlier, I really identified with his character as a kid, so that makes a good performance in my book.

For some reason this film slipped under the radar both critically and commercially. It was overshadowed by the book and as a result has been mostly forgotten it seems. It's a shame because this is a seriously dramatic film that is one of the most emotionally effective stories I've ever experienced. The scenery is beautiful, the score is absolutely fantastic, and there are moments that will make you laugh and then cry.

It's definitely a movie worth seeing.