Star Wars: The Force Awakens was made, and made well, from top to bottom, by people that love Star Wars. Though heavy on the nostalgia, it skips today’s rampant “reimagining” and captures the fun and excitement of the universe while standing up as a modern movie. A great addition to the series.
George Miller pulled off an impressive feat with Mad Max: Fury Road. After a 30 year hiatus, he managed to craft a movie that is better in every conceivable way than the previous 3 installments. It’s everything an action movie should be: fun, fresh, relentless, uncompromising, and extreme but, perhaps most surprisingly, not dumb.
Watchmen is an adaptation of a comic series that should have been longer into a movie that should have been shorter. Action was slick and acting was much better than expected, but the story preserved the uneven pacing of the source rather than remedying it. A noble and ambitious attempt with mediocre results.
Hancock is the most under-rated movie of 2008 so far. It’s not great, but it’s pretty good and very fun and likeable. It’s got some actual humor, superhero effects, a few cheesy scenes and lines, and a simple but effective backstory. It also isn’t trying to start a franchise, which is a nice change.
This movie was so uniformly bad I couldn’t even finish watching it. It’s basically a really bad Adam Sandler movie without Adam Sandler. It has people in it who have otherwise been reliably funny, so it’s difficult to fathom the odds of that many funny people making an entirely unwatchable movie. Wow. Horrible.
The best Batman movie since the first, The Dark Knight was everything fans of superhero movies could want. Cast, music, and effects were up to expectations, while the real highlight was the writing behind Ledger’s excellent performance. Comparisons to Empire are deserved, will the next one fare better than other third movies?
A post on the Freakonomics blog got me thinking. What inventions have genuinely improved, or even affected, my life. I drew up a list, and decided to constrain it to the 21st century, so things like the cellphone, the VCR, the CD, the ATM, instant messaging, and online banking aren’t on the list. Here they are, and where possible I put the approximate year I adopted them.
Major Improvement to Daily Life
- Tivo (2000) – Definitely #1 on the list. I don’t consider myself a couch potato, but this completely unshackled me from the network’s arbitrary scheduling. It also make more shows enjoyable, or even watchable, by cutting out commercials.
- RSS/Google Reader (2002, 2005) – RSS enabled me to keep track of a much broader set of sources, and Google Reader took RSS to the next level by making my subscriptions and unread articles available anywhere (including my phone).
- Smartphone (2006) – I’m far more organized now that I have my full contact list and calendar on me at all times, as well as being backed up, plus last-resort internet access is a nice bonus.
- TV shows on DVD (2003) – There’s now a new category of TV show, the ones I don’t even bother to Tivo and just wait for the DVD.
Minor Quality-of-Life Improvement
- Netflix (2002) – Like they say, no more late fees.
- Wifi (2004) – Adopted later than most geeks, has proven useful in many ways.
- Wikipedia (2003?) – Coming from someone who used to read the encyclopedia for fun, Wikipedia is like crack.
- Text Messaging (2006) – Late to the game here. Enables a new layer of communcation and makes me both more responsive and more proactive.
- GPS (2007) – I waited a while for the price dip, and now consider GPS a mandatory item for my car.
- mp3 player/iPod (2002/2004) – No more discman and CD cases is a good thing.
- Digital Camera/DSLR (2001, 2004, 2007) – I’m too lazy to deal with film. I got my first digital in 2001, my first nice one in 2004, and my first digital SLR in 2007, each a vast improvement over the previous.
- Firefox (2004) – Firefox has gone from lightweight security-minded browser to bloated, customizable security-minded browser, both of which I’ve found value in.
- Eclipse (2002) – Java wins in my book because of Eclipse. Having a program that thinks for you enables you to think about the real problems.
- Launchcast (now Yahoo! Music) (2002) – One of the earliest and still one of the best customized music services. If you’re not sold on Pandora and Last.fm it might be because they are are inferior versions of Launch.
(supposedly) Major Advances, Adopted by Me, Negligible Impact
- Social Networks (2004) – I use LinkedIn as a sort of resume-light, and myspace to keep up with my sisters, and facebook as the site du jour, but they are all just curious diversions.
- OS X (2005) – Scores high on sexiness. Scores low on stability & usability
- XP/Vista (2003) – Windows 2000 made computers better and more useful. XP and Vista seem to just make them slower.
Major Advances, Unadopted by Me
- VoIP/Skype – I don’t use landlines.
- Fastlane/Speedpass – I still find the ease with which someone can track me disturbing, plus the lines these days are usually shorter at the cash lines.
There’s probably some that I missed, or just weren’t important enough to remember. My main question is, what’s next to get on the list, and where on the list will it end up?
Eastern Promises, an exercise in minimalist plot, succeeds due to delicate acting and stoic directing. It’s got the villian, anti-hero, idealist, and the fairly obvious Twist, but saves itself from mediocrity by telling only the important parts of the story. Cronenburg’s films succeed because they leave you with questions, not answers.
3:10 to Yuma is a violent Elmore Leonard western, but unfortunately the setting was rather unimportant to the story. Russell Crowe flashed his trademark smirks, and Christian Bale flexed his trademark angst, in a decent, but relatively unremarkable story of redemption. If you’re hankering for a hunk’o’Western, this should do the trick.