What to stream today?

We did away with cable when we moved to Chicago, and we really have not missed it all that much. Except for a sport event that might be missed here and there (we always have the option to go to see Football games at my Mom’s place) we get pretty much everything via streaming. I figured it would be a good new feature to balance things out to also post about what we are watching or find interesting.

This weekend we streamed 2 movies, and I guess now I know why I did not pay full ticket price to see them at the theaters.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (**)

While this movie was entertaining, it really seemed to be missing something. It was like eating a pie that had flavor, but with mushy crust.

The acting was great. There was really nobody that was too annoying and what was supposed to be dramatic was, what was supposed to be funny also was. The CGI monkeys were mostly believable and did not interrupt the flow of the move for me. Neither did the action. Every character was compelling in some way.

It is a lot to ask for a CGI monkey to be the centerpiece of the movie, but Cesar delivered. He did not seem to want to be a bad monkey, but he was… oh wait, he is not a monkey, he is a chimp! I can already hear the cries all over the ape loving blog-sphere.

It is a little on the violent side to watch with small children, so I would not call it a family movie. It does have potential though, it does make you wonder if there are more ape movies that can be made. I would probably watch another one, but not holding my breath.

I would rent it, but I don’t think I would ever watch it again.


Moneyball (***)

Ah, Brad Pitt. While the dude is still married to a girl I had a crush on when I watched hackers, everything past Billy Bob is damaged goods, I cannot hold that against him. He is a good actor and I seriously did not see him, I saw a very crazy GM trying to run a baseball team with no money to spend. I could relate with a dude trying to accomplish the impossible with no resources… I do work in IT.

The acting was not bad, the baseball seemed like the average movie representation. The movie was more about the man than the game.

While it is kind of a “feel good” movie, it does not make you feel very good. It has flashes of awesome when it tries to make you look at the love for the game, but it reminded me that football seems to be more America’s sport now than baseball.

This one is a kid friendly movie, but maybe nostalgia makes me want to share the older movies from the 80s rather than this one.

I rank it a little better than apes because I think I like baseball better than CGI apes. Overall they are both cheap rentals that should waste a couple of hours of your day.

So what have you been streaming lately?

Babel (****)

I am going to sound a little arrogant about my heritage here, but I believe that the current wave of Mexican directors is really showing what great story telling is about to hollywood. Who am I talking about? Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). That and Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian Nobel Prize Winner) making the list of the 20th most influential pieces universal of literature, has me full of pride to be Latin.

If you rent the DVD, I suggest you watch the trailer before the movie. The title explains what the premise of the story is, but it is not about language but just how different we all are. I have not had a movie frighten me as much as this one did in a long time. Not because of the suspense, what made it scary is the reality of some situations and ways of living.

The movie takes place in 3 different timelines. What attaches them all together is a single event, the “terrorist” attack on an American woman. Brad Pitt might be the biggest name in the movie, but the acting by all the kids, Rinko Kikuchi, and Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza.

I am not going to spoil the movie for those of you who have not seen it, but I have to at least give you one example of how different cultures see the same action from different perspectives. As soon as Santiago asked the kids to go get him some chickens, knowing that a wedding was going on, I knew exactly what was going to happen to the chickens. I also have seen first hand what a chicken with its head cut off looks like and acts like. I also felt bad for the kid in the movie that had to see that, because he looked almost traumatized by what he had just witnessed.

Most of us have seen the videos online about the cruelty towards animals in other countries. However, we might not have see how a cow is slaughtered in the US. I have actually talked to a couple of people that have worked in a meat plant and both of them say that they do not eat meat anymore. I have actually seen a cow get slaughtered in a trip I took to see some relatives in Colombia. It was done with a huge knife directly to the jugular. With surgeon like precision the guy taking the life of the cow killed the animal that was later going to be eaten by the people standing around watching it get skinned and prepped. I wonder how many people in the US would stop eating meat or chickens if they saw one being killed.

In other countries it is very normal to see the animal alive that you are going to later eat. Here in the US is very rare that you witness that whole process take place (unless you are a hunger.) During the movie I almost felt like the kid should not have seen that, but why? Why do I feel different when a little white American kid sees a chicken get killed than if my own kids or the Mexican kids in the movie see it. This is what is great about this movie, it makes you see the same stories from so many different perspective, and better yet, it shows how sometimes inequalities play in our lives without us even knowing.

buy at Amazon.com

Babel.

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V for Vendetta (****)

Viewing vendetta vindicated various vast views.  The only thing that I had heard about this movie was that the Wachowski brothers wrote it and that their first assistant director on the Matrix movies directed it. I had stayed away from reviews on purpose even though most headlines I did read were positive.

Vendetta is a movie that made me wonder, “How the heck did this get released in our country?” It is an unapologetic attack at how we live right now. A film that not only has us rooting for a terrorist but makes us look at government satire and then say “wait a minute, this is not too far from what we see right now.”

While V is not an action packed film, the action that you do see in the movie is executed beautifully. The sword fighting, knifes, and guns all play like instruments in a big opera. The interesting part about the action is that even in the scenes that you do see action, it is all about enhancing the story and not driving it. The music in the film also fits the theme perfectly.

I have never seen the Professional, and the films that I have seen Natalie Portman on have shown me a mediocre actress at best. No, I am not an angry Star Wars geek by any stretch of the imagination, but until this movie I did not see Portman as a great performer. She did an excellent job with the Eve character. Showing vulnerability and strength in a very natural way was necessary for making this character really work and she truly delivered. Hugo Weaving as V was not only an excellent casting choice, but it made for some excellent inside jokes… not going to spoil anything here, lets just say the Matrix is quoted here and there. Weaving also was excellent acting behind a mask, I am amazed at how expressive a mask can be when used the right way.

While V’s political plot that mirrors what could happen (or has already happened) to our world is hard to miss making it an excellent movie, I look at it more as a true piece of art. It has been a while since a movie can be called art and this one really deserves the title.  You have to love a movie that in today’s age of fear makes a terrorist the hero, but it also makes you root for him. If you have not seen this movie, go catch it at the theater.

buy at Amazon.com

V for Vendetta.

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Two for the Money (****)

As the movie started and the words “based on a true story” displayed across the screen I knew I was in for more than what I had originally bargained for. A scene in the previews for the movie had really interested me from the moment I first saw it. Al Pacino grabs McConaughey by the back of the neck and whispers into his ear something like “If you want something from me you are going to have to earn it, and then rip it from my cold dead hands.”

I love Al Pacino; while he is not one of my all time favorite actors I have enjoyed all the movies that I have seen him in. He personifies a strong character better than other people that might have a more commanding presence. One of the interesting aspects of his character in this movie is that it also had a vulnerable side to it, something I don’t remember as clearly from his other portrayals. While there was the physical weakness that his character had, his emotional one was a lot deeper and damaging.

The movie started delivering from its first scene. The emotional set up of a kid trying to please his father at all cost really paved the way for the movie and made it believable. It was something that was very necessary not only because of what the based on a true story means but also because the perseverance that the character showed was outstanding, if not foolish at times. Brandon really wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a professional athlete at all cost, and until faith stepped it he seemed to want to be stuck in a dead end where a single track mind was keeping him back from greatness at maybe other careers.

Rene Russo played Al Pacino’s wife flawlessly. A complex character from difficult beginning that was everything that Al Pacino’s character needed to balance him. Several scenes in the movie really show how behind every great man, there is always a great woman. Her delivery was not only believable but showed commitment to the character. Her character built the bridge that the very polar characters portrayed by Pacino and McConaughey needed. Also worthy of mention is Jeremy Piven who’s fast talking character really helps build some great scenes in the movie.
The movie was already earning four stars, but then Al Pacino delivered a speech in an AA style addiction meeting for gamblers that truly put the whole movie into a different perspective for me. Pacino told the other addicts that their addiction to gambling had nothing to do with winning, but with losing. They were al lemons, damaged human beings that needed the reassurance of losing to feel like they were still alive. From that moment forward I watched as his character continually gambled with his own life. That cemented the four stars and a full recommendation to go rent or buy the DVD today. You will love this movie.

As if this movie needed any other reason to be cooler, the person the movie was based on is actually from Midland, Michigan. I had to rewind the special features like 5 times before I convinced myself that he was saying, Midland, Michigan. His name is Brandon Lang and he actually has his own website. He also has some cool words to say about McConaughey

One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received in my life came from Matthew, who said “Thank you for bringing me a character where I had to dig down and draw on the emotions that every actor dreams about. This was by far my most enjoyable role.” You can’t beat that. A kid from Midland, Michigan getting complimented by a major Hollywood actor. Talk about dreams coming true!

buy at Amazon.com

Two For The Money.

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Oprah and Crash

I have to admit that I did not always like Oprah. I had thought that Oprah was one of the feminists that I wouldn’t like, that instead of empowering woman, they trash man. Until recently I had not watched Oprah much, and I realized that she is actually a wonderful person. While I still hold on to Aaron MacGrueder’s quote; “We should all harbor a healthy fear of Oprah,” I think her TV show has done wonders for informing the public about situations all over the world and presented some of the best coverage I saw about the Katrina disaster.

Yesterday Oprah hosted the cast of Crash. If you have not seen the movie Crash and want to do it in the future, you might want to stop reading now. Crash is a very in your face movie about racism. I was very surprised to see the cast of stars that starred in the movie. This movie uses various stories that are connected via the characters. Everyone has something to do with everyone else on one level or another in the movie, ultimately connecting the various story lines together.

The movie starts with Don Cheadle speaking the following quote as his character Detective Graham Waters,

It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

When I watched this movie I found its meaning so powerful that I had to write this post about human touch. I believe in the power of human contact to express affection, and it is a topic that has been researched by many. This is an interesting article by one of the first things I heard about it back in College even thought the article can be somewhat strong.

Oprah invited Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock and Ludacris to this panel discussion. They began by showing a clip of the movie where two young black man(one of them being played by Ludacris) are having a conversation about how white women (the one in the scene played by Sandra Bullock) will, upon seeing them, hold a little tighter to their husbands arm as they walk down the street. The conversation is about racism and it makes some excellent points, only seconds later you learn that the two black man are carjackers and are stealing a black Navigator from that same couple. This scene sparked the conversation about racism and fear. Racism can come from fear, fear based on prejudice. Prejudice is dictated not only by our environment but also society. Animals have instincts, when a gazelle out in the plains smells a lion it instinctually will run for its survival. Does the same rule apply here? Is that prejudice such a bad thing when you are just trying to protect yourself and your family?

The movie does a great job at posing those questions. It makes you look int the mirror and see that whether you like it or not you live in a society where stereotypes are as common and numerous as our clothes. Take me for example:

I am Colombian so I should know a lot about drugs, coffee and violence.
I am a gamer therefore I have no social skills and am an overall loser.
I am a biker so I must constantly break speed limits and get into a lot of bar fights.
I am a computer programmer, which makes me a geek incapable of discussing any subjects outside of software.
I have a tattoo, which makes me almost a criminal, and up to no good.

I have been a victim of all the generalizations before at one point or another in my life. Our society does not concentrate on individuals but on labels that categorize things around them. Anything different or out of the ordinary can make people nervous and in the end become prejudice. Now, how can we break down those barriers? One of the things I try to do is meet people from all walks of life and look at them as individuals. I am not perfect; I still fall prey of prejudice-fueled thoughts and stereotypes all the time.

Oprah continued showing clips from the movie. The next scene shows Matt Dillon playing a racist cop that takes care of his ill Father and then has to deal with, what seemed to him, an unhelpful and incompetent black insurance worker. Matt takes out his frustration on a black couple that he pulls over because they are driving a vehicle that meets the description of the recently stolen Navigator. During the stop Dillon dehumanizes the black couple played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton by humiliating the husband as he fondles his wife, feeling powerless and overtaken by a mixture of fear, shame and impotence. This is described as another “Crash” moment during the movie, a moment where people collide and race takes a forefront instead of the characters humanity. The movie has several twists and turns and some of the people get to see each other again under different circumstances. A lot of the situations are racially charged and will make people very uncomfortable, some more than others because of the emotional impact they carry. While all the characters play their race stereotype we can also see their human side and how we, even if we are not from the same race, can relate to their emotions.

I had seen Terrence Howard before in a couple of movies. I did not think he was an excellent actor before and I was dismissive of his work. After watching this movie and this interview I have a new respect for him as an actor and as a man. He has had a couple of “Crash” moments in real life. One as an adult when he was arrested after standing up in a plane to take his daughter to the bathroom, the incident was blown out of proportion and he spent a week in jail. This happened pre 9-11 and if you hear the full story you cannot feel anything but sorry for the guy. The other “Crash” moment is even sadder; while in a Santa line in the mall back in 1972 his Father was assaulted and then killed a man in self defense ending up in prison. His parents were both mixed, but his Father happened to be more Caucasian looking than his mother. His Father was saving their spot in the Santa line and when his wife and kids came back a man behind him complained to him about letting the n**** cut in line. His Father replied, “She is my wife.” The white man preceded to choke his him against a wall and started to beat him down… he fought back eventually killing the man and went to jail. I cannot imagine being an actor that has had to deal with so much racially motivated pain playing the scene where the cop feels up his wife.

The rest of the show was excellent; racism was discussed and defined by an expert. One fact that I learned is that 97% of women are raped by their own race. Oprah also brought up the use of the n**** word and how she wants to abolish it… surprisingly Don Cheadle feels that it should be ok for the word to be used between black people.

In conclusion Oprah presented us with an excellent panel that discussed a very good movie about a very touchy subject. I wish I could have told people to watch the show before hand, you can check out some of it on Oprah’s website or wait for a rerun. In the mean time go rent or buy the DVD.

buy at Amazon.com
Crash.
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