Thursday, December 31, 2009

My 2010 New Year's Resolution - Move My Money!

An article posted yesterday entitled "Take Your Money Out of the Hands of the Banking Oligarchs" says it much better than I, but the general idea is to remove your money from any of the big banking conglomerates and place it in a bank highly rated by the volunteer service group, Institutional Risk Analytics or into a local credit union (IRA is looking to offer a way to rate CU's, coming soon in 2010). Over a holiday dinner discussion, writers Arianna Huffington & Rob Johnson, political strategist Alexis McGill, filmmaker/author Eugene Jarecki and Nick Penniman of the HuffPost Investigative Fund, concocted a way that everyday folks like you and I, can help create a more stable financial system. Shortly there after their ideas became the "Move Your Money" campaign. From the article:

"The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the big four banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it's meant to be. It's neither Left nor Right -- it's populism at its best. Consider it a withdrawal tax on the big banks for the negative service they provide by consistently ignoring the public interest. It's time for Americans to move their money out of these reckless behemoths. And you don't have to worry, there is zero risk: deposit insurance is just as good at small banks -- and unlike the big banks they don't provide the toxic dividend of derivatives trading in a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose fashion."

As I write, the bank finder widget at the article link above and the one at, both don't seem to be functioning correctly (hopefully a sign of swarming interest), but until it's back up, here is another way: Go to, register and start taking advantage of their local bank finder; just click "demo" next to banks in your area to see their rating. You'll notice the info reported is often a couple years old but, the trends that get some banks A+ ratings, while others get F's are not something that has probably changed anytime recently.

I am moving my money out of Chase next week. I hope for all our sakes, you will choose to do the same.
Happy New Year! Enjoy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Avatar - The Perfect Movie

How can I say what I need to get off my chest without being understated. I have seen a lot...A LOT...of films in my life. I used to have trouble finding things to watch with friends that I hadn't already seen once, or twice...or more. Among those hundreds..maybe thousands of films there are definitely only a distinct few that really stand out. I mean the ones that touch you in ways that evoke memories for years to come.

Perhaps not even just the movie itself, but perhaps the movie is so good it reminds you of the very time period it was released. Star Wars and Indiana Jones aren't just classic series', they remind me of my youth. I remember being in the theaters, receiving the toys at Christmas. I remember building wooden guns and pretending to be space marines from Aliens, tree forts became the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and halved broom handles became light-sabers.

I also remember movies as I grew older, for other reasons. I remember being touched to tears by Schindler's List while all alone in a $2 cinema. I remember seeing Jurassic Park in the first all digital theater to pop up in my neck of the woods. I remember people I went with, the places I was and like music; movies oft take me back to those days and have me reliving the same feelings again. And so on and so for forth. But those films I listed above aren't always considered the "greats" (with the exception of Schindler's List & maybe the original Star Wars). The term "greats" comes out when you mention The Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, Forest Gump, The Usual Suspects, Saving Private Ryan... How about older? Blade Runner, Full Metal Jacket, Empire Of The Sun, The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange...and that's only going back to the early seventies!

Each of those films had particular pieces of greatness though. Some had great special effects or modeling thats looked real. Some had incredible actors with equally well written scripts. For others it was a musical or an orchestral score so powerful, the music would become an actual co-star. Others still could be enthralled by the epic vistas or cinematography. Even fewer among these may contain several of these aspects, yet none seemed to ever really contain them all. Can one single movie contain it all?

I am writing this today, a mere hour after leaving the film, to let you know that James Cameron's Avatar is The. Greatest. Movie. Ever. Made. I'm gonna let you soak that in for a moment......................

You ready? OK, here we go; and I promise not to give away anything:

It's a complete film, perfectly executed in every way. As a student of film, I can tell you teachers will be using this film for years to come, to show how to make a movie right. The only flaw you could possibly bring attention to in this movie is the fact the the story elements could be said to have been ripped from the pages of many greats before it. But that's my point, Cameron has taken the best ingredients of many stories and cooked up the finest five star dish ever laid before you. Check's not just a dish, it's a three course meal.

The story is very thought provoking, the over arching theme being the strong or the have's taking advantage of the weak or the have not's. Dances With Wolves comes to mind when looking for comparisons. But there is also clever bits of comedy, the inevitable ill fated romance, the horror of mass destruction and genocide (in this case maybe xenocide would be more appropriate), and let's not the forget the action. The script is smart, not cheesy or overly cliched. The conversations feel real, honest and appropriate. The pacing is immaculate. And the research! The amout of study that must have gone into development! They created an entire world! A complete ecosystem! The anatomy of creatures, from huge to insect size, is frankly striking. The language of the alien people is as deserve as what we have got from the years of development of Elven and Klingon.

The acting is superb. Let's forget the main stars, although they delivered the script as eloquently as one would expect of a well healed theater group. The director really coaxed excellence out of his performers. The actors chosen to play the alien race, made the their invented language sound poetic. It didn't sound halting or forced. It was immersive and inflected with emotion, like real languages are. Not like the stale tongue weaving of LOTR's Elves or the guttural bursts that is Star Trek's most famous fake dialect. There were were, of course, obvious stand out moments; like the inevitable troop rallying, reminiscent of Braveheart.

The music is also outstanding. It's James Horner, I shouldn't have to say anymore. Can you hum the music from Willow or Star Trek II or Aliens or Titanic or The Rocketeer or Apollo 13 or Braveheart...yeah, he did it again. That aside the sound mixing, the sound effects and the foley work is incredible. The creature sounds alone should make other sci-fi movies ashamed of themselves and the sound field is so all added to the feeling that you were there in the forests with the actors. Not watching it on a screen; although some credit for that must be given to the 3D effects.

So let's talk about the 3D for a moment. The version I saw tonight was in "Real D 3D" and after this weekend, I will be able to compare it to the "IMAX 3D" experince, but until then I can say that it was a resounding success. This was the fourth movie I have seen in 3D, the other three were all animated: Coraline, Monsters Vs Aliens & Up. Those were all great in 3D, but I'll admit I was tentative about seeing real live action displayed that way. I just didn't expect to like it. I stand corrected. The 3D experience was half this film. I walked out wanting to return to the forest. Like I had visited there on vacation and couldn't wait to look at all the photos I had taken just hours earlier. The were scenes where bugs flitted across the camera, like I could reach out and touch them. I felt the unease and queasiness hit me as characters on screen dared to look over cliff edges from great heights. And I sucked in my breath as flying creature borne riders, took mind numbing dives from on high. I miss it already.

Let's talk action. While the story is full bodied, the action is the shot glass of hard "A" at the bottom of this Jägerbomb. To say the least, when the action comes, it's intense. As towering structures fell I felt a twinge of flashbacks to the twin towers and held my breath as debris and smoke billowed. During one scene aboard an aircraft mid battle, I found myself actually biting my tongue. That has never happened to me from a movie before.

The world. The environment, the vistas, the water, the foliage, the animals, the gas giant in the night sky...the floating frakkin' mountains! You have never witnessed anything like this world Cameron has dreamed up. It's surreal. Yet familiarities with our own world's biology make it seem so plausible and visceral. It is awesome. Not "dude that's awesome" awesome....but awesome like the Great Wall and the pyramids awesome. Awesome like that famous photo of Earth, taken from the moon. Aurora Borealis awesome. AWESOME!

And finally let's talk about the animation...although that word doesn't seem to do justice to CGI in this movie. There is no way to distinguish between computer graphics and camera-shot images in this movie. According to Cameron, the movie is 60% CGI and 40% live action and miniatures...but I couldn't see it. I caught my mouth hanging slack-jawed several times throughout the nearly 3 hour movie. The attention to detail is astounding. You cannot tell where reality ends and fantasy begins. There are none of those scenes where you can just "feel" the green screen, despite how good it looks. Each frame of this movie, could hang in an art gallery as testament to the greatness of the handiwork and artisanship of the animators involved.

In closing I'd like to share that up until now, my favorite movie of all time was James Cameron's The Abyss. It too is one of those films I felt "had it all". Humor, story, romance, action, sadness, frightening, special effects, music, etc... But again, nobody has every really made a film quite like this one. As the credits rolled I felt dumbfounded. I just kept saying "wow" out loud, over and over. I was in complete disbelief. How is it possible? How could one movie do, what Avatar just did? How can you top that? I felt like just wandering outside into the night, in a daze, occasionally pausing to shout out to my fellow citizens of Seattle, "go see this film; it will change your life".

Well maybe not change your life, but it will move you. Whether it be to tears, to the edge of your seat, to stand up and cheer, or laugh heartily with the WILL move you. It's even moving me to spend another $14 to see it aging this weekend. Be prepared for this movie to sweep the Oscars and any other meaningful award show too. Place your bets now. I think I am out of things to say. Now it's time to sleep (if I can) and dream of the Na'vi and of the planet called Pandora. I can't wait to get back.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ink - What Indie Film Dreams Are Made Of

When was the last time you saw a movie that really broke ground, stood apart from the pack and surprised you in ways you weren't sure movies could do anymore? Let's face it, there are a lot of good movies out there. Well made, talented actors, beautiful sets, amazing cinematography; but usually they are just reiterations on a theme you've seen before. I have just finished an independent film called Ink. To say the least, I was blown away. I had seen a quick trailer for this film some time ago and added to my list to see, but it wasn't until today, after a word of mouth recommendation to see it, that I forced myself to sit down and give it a chance.

Ink is many things. At it's heart, it's about redemption, but that's just the creamy filling. The candy coated exterior is packed with dream worlds, creepy looking villains, well choreographed action scenes, surreal shoot locations and hypnotic special effects. I don't even really want to elaborate on the story any further than the trailer does. Half the enjoyment of this film was in the journey of discovery! The first 20 mins of the story is almost frustrating in its complexity and apparent disjointedness...but like any good puzzle, it all starts to come together quickly and fall into place.

And the music! The music is so good. In fact I just saw a link to buy the soundtrack on the YouTube page while I was looking for the trailer embed code. There are several segments of the film, that evoke emotion like a good music video, there is actually very little dialog compared to your average flick. The film makers do a great job of getting points across without needing to have those odd scenes where two characters talk about plot points. You know, like they are talking specifically for you to overhear what the are saying as opposed to carrying on an actual conversation, often starting with a line like "so let me get this straight..." or "so wait, you mean that..."

I will say that Ink is not complete without flaws. For all the wow moments and dream-like sequences...there are a few spots where you can tell that this was a low budget independent film and a couple actors are noticeably noob-eriffic. But if you can get your expectations of flawless & polished film making to relax for just a bit, you will find a diamond in the rough. There is actually a 10 minute "making of" in the DVD extras that shows how many of the costumes, back drops, stunts and make up were done on a limited budget. And though I have yet to listen to it yet, there is also a full length commentary that I'm interested in.

To sum this up; this movie has all the right elements of a great film. You may even find yourself ready to shed a tear near the end. It's a cult hit in the making. You will never regret the 2 hours you spent watching or the 5 bucks you spent on the rental. Although you also wouldn't regret buying it. I think this is going to be added to my list of odd but awesome films that I will watch over and over again in the future. Story-wise, there are no similarities, but it kinda reminded me of Dark City or maybe Donnie Darko. It's got odd, quirky characters. Dark & disturbing villains. Great props, a touch of sci-fi, tons of atmosphere and a surprise twist in the end that leaves you whirling.

Get this film, grab some popcorn, dim the lights and get ready for a movie that really has no peers. You will be raving to your friends, as I am now and I guarantee this film will be in your top ten of 2009...if not all time. Enjoy.