Friday, May 30, 2008

Congratulations on 200 hits!!!!

We here (and by we, I mean me) at The House of Milo are all about being self-congratulatory. In the spirit of self-congratulation, I'd like to extend a hearty pat on the back Yup, in only 2 months, I've amassed 200 hits. Do you know what that means? That means, aside from the 50 or so hits I logged myself, not realizing that I was adding to my counter statistics (how stupid was that!?!) I would wager that, I dunno, 20-30 people out there are checking out my little corner of the internet. To those 20-30 people (and I would say that is a fairly inflated estimate) I say thank you, for giving half a care to things that I find interesting. What would somebody think about me if they visited here for the first time?

1) I hate the Spurs almost more that I like the Suns.
2) In another life, I would have chosen to be a reviewer. A reviewer of things.
3) I read a lot.
4) My church basketball team went undefeated and won the stake championship
5) I once went to a wax museum and since that day, have used the pictures I took to add a certain panache to my blog

So, to that special Spur hating, review loving, liberal news reading, championship winning, wax museum visiting internet browsing niche that I have been targeting all of my life, I say thank you. You are the reason I slave over this html shrine once every fifth or sixth day for 10-15 minutes. We salute you. And by we, I mean me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Awkward but Entertaining Finale

Fourth time may not be the charm, but it's certainly good enough. At least in the case of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth and (hopefully) last of the Indiana Jones Quadrilogy. I say hopefully not because this movie is a disservice. Far from it, in fact. However, like a quadrilogy, it is a bit awkward and disjointed, and all parties involved risk tarnishing the famed archaeologist's reputation if they dip into the tried and true formula one time too many. Speaking of the formula, as I watched the movie, I realized there were certain things that HAD to be there for it to be an Indiana Jones adventure. I have decided to rank these parts against previous efforts, to give fans a sense of what to expect from this movie. Beware some minor spoilers, and one fairly large one about the ending (which in all honesty, would not hurt the watchability of the film in the least in my opinion).

The Antagonist: Red Scare era Russians

1st place: Nazis (Raiders and Last Crusade)

2nd place: Crazy psycho cult (Temple of Doom)

3rd place: Kingdom

Yes, I have to say that I think Spielberg and Lucas were trying to slip something political in on us, and while these Russians are serviceable as baddies, they cannot compare to the iconic Nazis as epic foes, nor can they compete with the menacing members of the crazy cult from Temple of Doom. I was never able to shake the feeling that these Russians were nothing more than "Nazis Lite". Blanchet is a fine actress, but her performance is so far over the top that I heard John Malkovich called her. He wanted his Russian accent back from Rounders.

The premise/artifact: Seeking an alien artifact (The Crystal Skull)

1st place: Ark of the covenant (Raiders)

2nd place: The Holy Grail (Last Crusade)

3rd place: Kingdom

4th place: Whatever it was in Temple of Doom. Someone, please remind me.

I think that with George Lucas' penchant for satisfying his own whims with an occasional disregard for fans left many with bated breath, hoping that he didn't take it too far. I feel fairly certain that few fans will be outraged by this change of pace for the series, and I for one am glad that they took some liberties and went for something different. Even though there are some half-hearted attempts to mask this "mystery", I have little doubt that anyone who has been on vacation to Saturn for the past few months and hasn't caught wind of the extra-terrestrial overtones said to permeate the picture will have caught on about 20 minutes in.

Opening set piece: Indy outsmarts Russians at Area 51 and narrowly escapes a nuclear blast

1st place: Raiding the idol (Raiders)

2nd place: Kingdom

3rd place: River Phoenix and the Train (Last Crusade)

4th place: Jazz club chaos (Temple of Doom)

As perfectly and wonderously choreographed as it was, this opening romp is unable to unseat the perfect opening to the first Indiana Jones movie, with the wonderfully nostalgic rolling slab o' death, hundreds of natives with blow darts, and narrow bi-plane escape where we learn for the first time that Indy hates snakes. Of course, this isn't to Crystal Skull's detriment. It's sort of like saying DaVinci had a hard time topping the Mona Lisa. If anything, the opening to Crystal Skull is so good, the meat of the movie seems a little lacking in comparison.

Indy's Curmudgeonly Sense of Humor

1st place: Last Crusade

Defining moment: Throws german off of Zeppelin, and when bewildered passengers are concerned, Indy counters with "No ticket." Honestly, however, there are too many to name here.

2nd place: Raiders

Defining moment: Boom! Swordsman goes down!

3rd place: Kingdom

Defining moment: I really can't reveal this, it would be a pretty bad spoiler, BUT it involves a snake, and it's pretty clever.

4th place: Temple of Doom

Defining moment: Not sure. Eating monkey brains?

Raiders one moment almost powered it to the top of the rankings, it's so good, so anti-climatic. But for sheer charm (and for the cleverest screenplay as well) it is hard to top Crusade. In contrast, Kingdom feels a bit contrived at times, a bit forced, a bit like, well, it's almost as though all parties involved hadn't done a movie of this type in nearly 20 years. Fancy that. When the charm and chemistry of the characters works, it is great, and don't think for a second that the movie doesn't have a sense of humor, it's just that when something doesn't work, it jars you back to reality, and forces you to think to yourself "That should've been left out." Can't think of too many moments like that in Crusade. I can't think of any moments like that in Crusade.

Nasty creature moment: Millions of angry army ants

1st place: Snakes (Raiders)

2nd place: Army Ants! (Kingdom)

3rd place: Bugs (Temple of Doom)

4th place: Rats (Last Crusade)

While unable to compete with snakes (which are basically the Nazis of the animal kingdom) the army ants in this movie are fierce. There are a couple of moments that ensure that Kingdom earns every inch of its PG-13 rating, and those moments do not disappoint.

Female companion: Marian Ravenwood

1st: Marian Ravenwood (Raiders and Kingdom)

2nd: Two timing German hussey (Last Crusade)

3rd: The future Mrs. Steven Spielberg (Temple of Doom)

In a huge nod to fans, Marian comes back, and in many ways the chemistry shines. If anything, I felt that the relationship could have had more moments, more time to let the relationship develop. Thank heavens for strong female heroines, unlike the Annoying chick hall of fame inductee from Temple of Doom. Sheesh.

Outrageous Action Apocalyptic Climax: (MAJOR SPOILER)

Little green men vaporize Ruskies, annhilate a lost city, and leave no trace

1st: MELTING NAZIS!!! (Raiders)

2nd: Open heart surgery (Temple of Doom)

3rd: The three trials (Last Crusade)

4th: Ze Martians (Kingdom)

So much CGI is out of place in the Indy universe, and as another reviewer put it, Spielberg has done this before, and done it better. Why the appropriate ending would be an amalgamation of The Ark melting Hitler's minions and Close Encounters is beyond me, unless Stevie has a wheel he spins for movie endings, and these two happened to come up again. A bit disappointing.

Final quick hits: I felt Indy was a bit anachronistic in the late 50's, although they manage to recapture most of his magic. Also, bonus points for not trying to play Harrison younger than he is. Ultimately, some moments have a been there done that feel, but when the place you're visiting is a creepy sepulcre with Indiana Jones, you don't mind going back. This movie felt like a little less than the sum of it's parts. While individually scenes were excellent, together as a whole, the flow was off, and the overall package didn't seem quite right. When I take scenes as individual pieces, they work much better. Action ultimately trumps writing and story in this fourth movie, so fans of Indy's wit may be a bit disappointed. There are about 20 minutes towards the middle of the movie that I could have done without. Shia LeBouf doesn't Jar Jar anything, but ultimately I'm not sure how much he added (certainly not as much as Connery in Last Crusade). Strike that, there is ONE Jar Jar moment, and all I'm going to say is Tarzan. You'll know what I mean. In terms of an end for the series, it is awkward that it, and not Last Crusade (especially considering the name!) will be the series' capstone. While parts of it shine, Last Crusade was a more appropriate ride into the sunset.

When all is said and done, if you asked me would you rather have an imperfect but entertaining fourth Indy movie or nothing, I would answer that I'd rather have it, and that's what Spielberg has given us. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets three out of four bull whip cracks, and probably takes it's place as about the third best Indy pic, behind Raiders and Crusade, but for the most part ahead of Temple of Doom. Older kids will enjoy, but the intensity is probably too much for the young ones (remember, every last bit of that PG-13 is used to the max). I didn't feel cheated as a full price view, but as a counter point, my wife said that she'd have felt better paying matinee money for this one. Lower your expectations and enjoy. Expect the world and be disappointed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I See Dead People (With Subtitles)

(Avast, mateys, minor spoilers ahead

I think that as I do reviews, I may have to sell the sponsorship rights to my dear Mom. This past weekend, with my wife and kids off on an adventure to Utah, my parents invited me out to dinner and a movie. Never one to turn down free food (or almost anything), I graciously accepted. The movie was a rental that I hadn't heard of. "The Orphanage". A horror film. Dead orphans stalking the living? How could we go wrong!

There are things that are scary, and there are things that are terrifying. Scary is someone in a mask wielding a meat cleaver. Terror, however, true mortifying, oppressive horror, goes deeper. It preys on our deepest fears. El Orfanato takes one of the most overlooked yet painful and terrifying scenarios imaginable. The unexplained loss of a child. As a parent, I can personally attest that the scariest eight minutes of my life, was when guests staying with us unloaded their van with our front door open for a good 10 minutes. In the ensuing chaos, no one had noticed that our little 1 and a half year old had wandered outside. After a time, my wife and I both came to the realization that neither of us had seen our youngest in some time. We both assumed the other had put her down for a nap. Ghastly scenarios swirled around my head. As I tore through the rooms in our house and back yard, I wondered if I might fight her having fallen from a high ledge, or face down in our 10 dollar kiddie pool. I will never forget running up our street, crying out frantically her name while barefoot, only to look back over my shoulder to see my wife sobbing with our little girl in her arms. She was playing in the rocks of our neighbor's yard. I have never cried like I did when we found her.

Now that you have no doubt called Child Protective Services, I had better finish this quickly before they come knocking at our door. The Orphanage, Spain's Oscar nominated foreign language film, takes us through this same scenario with a supernatural twist. The central characters in this haunting, frightening, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting (!?!) film are Laura and her son Simon. In the early goings of the film, we learn that Laura, an orphan herself, has purchased with her husband the titular orphanage where she grew up, with the intention of creating a special type of home for children where she, her husband, and adopted son Simon will also live. During the closing, however, apparently no one disclosed the dark history of the property, and of course, the obviously gifted and imaginative Simon begins to see and play with special friends. They teach him how to play a special game, where the winner is granted any wish they desire.

To give away much past this would be a disservice to this finely crafted story, but needless to say, Simon disappears mysteriously and without a trace. The rest of the story is Laura's quest to find the truth about her son's disappearance, while simultaneously unearthing her homes dark and guarded secrets. This trite description is as underwhelming as The Orphanage is powerful.

The plausability of the movie rests squarely upon the shoulders of Laura, played with ease by Belen Rueda. A bad note in her performance would bring this melancholy symphony to a grinding halt, yet she deftly undulates between frantic desperation and cautious hope. Her range is amazing as she channels the viewers' worst fears and dread. As anyone will agree by the end of the movie, she is called upon for such a broad range of emotion from beginning to climax, that you half expect her to be panting and breathless by the last frame. The story is an amalgamation of two of my very favorite tales, an oft overlooked novel by Orson Scott Card called Lost Boys, and the standard by which the modern suspense/horror movie is judged, The Sixth Sense. Viewers will no doubt draw comparisons between this and The Sixth Sense, but rest assured, there is more than enough original content here for the material to feel very fresh. Indeed, this is the first movie I have seen since Haley Joel Osmont saw dead people that had such an "Ah ha!" moment, that I almost immediately put it back in for a second viewing. I would not be surprised if others after coming to the conclusion immediately retraced the movie's winding course once again to see if, as M. Night Shamalan did so long ago, the movie followed it's own rules.

The Orphanage is rated R, but after having viewed it (indeed, a very naughty thing) I cannot fathom it's rating. Aside from it's overall opressive and grim atmosphere (and tense moments) viewers will find themselves witness to a very shocking car crash (with brief graphic intensity) but little else along the lines of viseral gore, and one F bomb. Of course, if you have any question, do not see it, and obviously, this is NOT one for the kids.

I give The Orphanage four out of four...orphans? Adoption papers? I dunno, I can't come up with anything good, except for the admonition that you should see this movie.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Juno what I'm saying, holmes???

The little movie that could. The only Oscar nominated movie that wasn't a nihilistic, violent, and/or depressing bringdown. The breakout role for Ellen Page. Juno is a wonderful little movie, which explores real problems without denying the viewer hope for humanity. Why is it that to be considered art nowadays, a movie has to be a painful exercise? Did you know, for example, that Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for best picture? Imagine that, a rollicking rollercoaster ride, well written and impeccably directed, could be nominated for best picture? Do you also remember that Forrest Gump, a touching, funny, and dare I say kind hearted movie actually won best picture? That feat will not soon be repeated in Hollywood, as the standards for quality seem to exclude popular movies from being nominated. Indeed, the nominating process in Hollywood is probably something akin to elitist music snob poseurs in high school fumbling over who discovered which crap indie band first.

Well, let me assure you, the moderate commercial success of Juno is assuredly not the crap indie band of my former analogy. Juno is pure vintage U2. It follows the story of the movie's namesake Juno as she unwittingly becomes pregnant, and in a serendipitous epiphany at an abortion clinic, decides that she will carry the baby full term and find it a great home. Where does one find such a home? Why, the Penny Saver, of course!

We follow Juno as she navigates the worlds of high school, her family, and the prospective parents to be. The interactions are priceless. The world of Juno exists somewhere between the Coen Brother's Fargo and the pseudo Rexburg of Napoleon Dynamite, although these characters are more acutely self aware and, dare I say, smarter than those that exist in either of those other movie created worlds. Indeed, one of the knocks on the movie is that kids don't really talk as smartly as they do in this movie (and as a high school teacher, I can verify this), but my response is, who cares? It is a wonderful little world that has been created here, full of characters that the audience cares about. Ellen Page has been heralded (and rightly so) for her performance, but the cast's ensemble is perfect. There is not a weak performance to be found.

Juno is not a perfect movie, but for a dramedy it strikes just about the perfect balance. Even though I drew a Napoleon comparison, the comedy to drama ratio is about 60/40 (although the wife says she'd peg it as the opposite). This is a relatively family friendly affair, although, to maintain cred with the academy they do drop the obligatory F-bomb, and there are scenes that insinuate sex. For anyone that wants a movie that explores an imperfect world, with imperfect problems, without robbing us of hope for a perfect future, then Juno will fit the bill nicely.

My rating? Three and a half pregnancy tests out of four.

Rated PG-13 for some insinuated nookie content, pandering to Hollywood hipsters with an F-bomb, a little edgy language, and themes regarding human reproduction (it's about teen pregnancy for heaven's sake!)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Suit of Iron, Box Office Gold

I must preface this review with a story which has very little to do with the review itself. Iron Man, for some time, has been on my summer to do list hovering around the second tier; something that I would like to get around to, but wasn't terribly pressing. Friday rolls around, and as I peruse (I check this website more than I think, I suppose), I stumble over two overwhelmingly positive reviews of Iron Man, one from CNN itself, and one from Time. I'm intrigued. I don't subjugate myself to reviews, but not having the unlimited budget of a Roger Ebert to see any and every movie that comes down the pipe, I have to research a bit. I hop over to to find out that their sampling of reviews are 92% positive. This is where it hits me.

The blockbuster season is upon us. I must see Iron Man.

Without having made plans the chances are dim. Enter fate. My mom calls, and asks if we'd like her to watch the kids so we can go see Iron Man. Hmmmmmm. I think about it for .034 of a second. I say yes, and by a serendipitous turn of fate, the wife and I are off on an adventure to see the summer's first blockbuster on opening weekend.

We are living in the golden age of comic book movies. I loves me a good comic book movie, and I loves me a good blockbuster. I love the dramatic, the different, the occasional art house flick, but when all is said and done my friends, nothing trumps the summer blockbuster, but above all, the well done summer blockbuster. The well done summer blockbuster doesn't sacrifice story for sizzle. Its over the top effects complement rather than crush the narrative. Iron Man scores points for doing neither.

While I wish I could be chic and be the dissenting voice I am happy to report that I cannot. Iron Man is another in a line of supremely crafted super hero pictures which puts the character front and center, rather than as an afterthought. Spider-Man 2 explored the human toll such great responsibility can wreak upon someone endowed with such great gifts. Batman Begins chronicled Bruce Wayne's tranformation into the Dark Knight in poignant detail, making his alter ego a conflicted and imperfect hero. The bonds that he forges with Alfred and Lucius Fox as his partners in the fight to take back Gotham strike the perfect tone. Tony Stark, then man behind the iron mask, takes a cue from Bruce Wayne, but runs with it. What makes Robert Downey Jr.'s performance spot on is that, unlike Wayne's attempts to feign being the billionaire playboy, Tony Stark is that billionaire playboy. This movie makes being a super hero fun again. He is flippant and fast fast with the quips. Downey was born for this role. This movie fails with anyone else in this role.
In the first 5 minutes of the movie, Stark is brought to the grim realization that there is heavy price for dealing in arms, and the rest of the movie takes on a bit of gravity with that realization. Somehow, Iron Man stays light on it's feet while dealing with this issue. These undercurrents don't stop the transformation from arms dealer to super powered war machine any less fun. We've gotten so serious with our super heroes, we've almost forgotten how cool it would be to blow up a tank and save a village of refugees. Iron Man strikes the perfect balance, and any comic book fan would be well served by the year's first great box office smash.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy Immigration Day!!!!

I found this article today on CNN's website. I don't necessarily frequent because it is the greatest reporting, but it is an easy web address to remember, and it is pretty funny to see what passes for news nowadays. The other week, no kidding, Martha Stewart's dog dying was a top story. But I digress.

Anyways, I like to peruse the op-ed's of CNN correspondents (I have to say, I think they have fairly good representation from a variety of political ideologies. FAIRLY good, not great) and I came across one piece that I found myself mostly agreeing with.

For those too lazy to haz clik (click on the link, to my English speaking friends) it basically illustrates where demonstrators go wrong when they are trying to fight for more rights for illegal immigrants.

"I don't buy this argument that there was no racism or acrimony in the immigration debate until the protests started. Get real. Those things have been present in every immigration debate for more than 200 years. Of course, they were going to be part of this one.

That isn't to say that a lot of people don't see red when they see protesters do things like waving the Mexican flag. They do. As tactics go, that's a foolish one: demanding rights of one country while showing allegiance to another. It's bad manners -- and bad civics.

Thank you! I finally figured out what bothered me about protests and marches for immigrant rights. I have to tell you, I'm a fairly level headed and moderate kind of guy. I lived in Mexico for 2 years for heavens sake! These protests were not supposed to bother me. But they did! And why? Because, gosh, we're in the U.S., and if you want more rights, don't talk about how great the place you came from is, talk about how much you love it here, and how much you'd like more of your people to have that opportunity.

Last time I checked we were a sovereign nation here, governed by the rule of law. I think we're allowed to determine what our policy towards immigration is, and just because we have an immigration policy, that doesn't mean we are racist. It's like we're your older brother to the north. Just because we don't want to let you in our room while we play Xbox and listen to Metallica, don't get mad at us. It's our room, and we decide when to let you in. We still love you though, and if you're cool with us, we'll let you come and play Halo 3 eventually.

It is just a simple fact, we cannot take in everyone. Logistically, it is impossible. But let's get this thing straightened out, let's get more immigrants legal, not with amnesty, but with a way to work towards legal citizenship while incurring some sort of penalty.

Another true story, as a missionary in Tijuana, we taught and baptized a really great guy, but when we came back to invite him to church the next week, his wife let us know that he was gone. We were dumbfounded. Where did he go? Well, he got baptized to help his chances to jump the border. And apparently, we were pretty good missionaries, because it worked. We didn't see him again for a few months. Why do I share this story? If you saw where this family lived, you wouldn't have blamed him one bit for trying to jump. However, I truly believe that jumping the border is not the solution for more than the short term. "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses". Amen. Absolutely. But, as you consider the decision to leave Mexico, the question must be asked, where can you best serve your country. You are needed to fight another fight. The government of Mexico, not the U.S. is the real monster here. I think that one protestor got it right.

"Cesar (a protestor)...blasted the Mexican government for allowing this kind of inequity to occur. That is who the immigrants should be picketing with their marches, he said, instead of wasting their time demanding rights and privileges from the United States. It was time to go home, he said, and fight the battle for fairness, dignity, and economic justice where it might do some good -- on Mexican soil.(quotation added by me) "

(Just for good measure, google Mexico's southern border policy and you might just get some interesting hits.)

I don't know who you are Cesar, or what you're doing. Possibly waving an American flag in a country you love, while figuring out how you can help your fellow countrymen back home in your native land. All I can say, my man, is amen Cesar, amen.

Que dios les bendiga en la lucha de libertad.

Say it loud, say it proud!

Well, there seems to be a few people visiting my first little foray into the blogosphere each day, or so says that free little counter I threw up here, but if I could trouble you to do so (and I don't know if I'm violating blog etiquette by asking) would you leave me a comment? If you like what I'm saying, or ESPECIALLY if you don't like what is being said, let me know. It is my hope that with a little humor, and a little insight, this could be a place to discuss ideas that people like you and I find interesting. I'm not asking for a novel, but I am writing for an unseen audience, and my only reward is feedback. Define me! Validate me! Make this insecure little only child feel the love.

Or the hate.

Just write something.



(and thanks to the people who have already left comments, your insights and commentary are appreciated)