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Parks and Rec Talk: “Leslie and Ben”/”Correspondents’ Dinner”

Joe Stando is the writer and proprietor of Gentlemen, Behold!! (He’s writing this sentence, actually.) Adam Dietz is a writer for Filmophilia. Parks and Recreation is a long-running, critically-acclaimed comedy series on NBC. They (we) sat down together over the weekend to talk about last week’s episodes, in what will hopefully become a regular column. Here goes!

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Block Talk: Lego Ninjago The Golden Dragon

Joe Stando has entirely too many Legos (and similar building brick brands). Block Talk is a regular column in which he discusses the good, the bad, and the painful to step on of some of those sets.

Welcome to Block Talk! This is a relatively new idea, spurred by a sudden influx of Lego purchases. I figured I may as well get a little more mileage out of them and post some reviews. The concept of Lego reviews isn’t new; YouTube is choked with video reviews of varying degrees of quality, but the Brothers Brick, a fanblog I follow, has done some nice ones in the past. Without further ado, let’s get into the meat of it!

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Animation Wednesday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are older than I am. Conceived in 1984 as a parody of current comic trends (particularly those of Frank Miller), the resulting movies and TV series launched its heroes to international stardom. The adventures of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo were the biggest thing in the world for children in the early 1990s, rivaling Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny in name recognition. Since then, there have been numerous reboots and remakes, from an early 2000s cartoon to a CGI feature film. With the threat of a Michael Bay movie looming on the horizon, you might think that all of the juice has been squeezed out of this admittedly flimsy premise. But as Nickelodeon’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles take proves, there’s still some new tricks in this old dog.

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TV Review: House of Cards

We are living in a golden age of television, specifically of drama television series. The rise of cable and premium channels has allowed creators to present their visions for series with less oversight from networks and advertisers. These shows are made with fewer strictures; rules like ease of entry and stable status quo that make things easy to sell in syndication don’t matter as much. But now Netflix has taken things a step further, with original programming produced by them, for them, a TV show that never airs on TV. They have new Arrested Development episodes in the pipeline and a couple more prospects after that, but they opened with House of Cards, a gripping, visually stunning adaptation of the U.K. series of the same name.

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Rundown: The Five Best and the Five Worst Christmas Movies

As a connoisseur of films, I’ve seen a lot of Christmas movies, special episodes, and the like. A lot of them serve their purpose of spreading good cheer fairly well, and most are kind of treated as background music (hence the 24 hour marathons of A Christmas Story, among others). But just because there’s a smorgasbord of holiday entertainment out there doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few special ones you should check out- or avoid. Below, I’ve put together a list (in no particular order) of the five best and five worst Christmas themed features. It wasn’t easy; I love theChristmas episodes of everything from Frasier to Scrubs to Adventure Time, and Lifetime has enough Yuletide garbage to make a “Bottom 50” list. But consider this introductory list my gift to you!!

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Animation Wednesday: Adventure Time

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

While I was posting about Regular Show, Adventure Time was unquestionably the elephant in the room. Adventure Time is one of the most popular cartoons on Cartoon Network, nay, on television, and has achieved probably the largest crossover appeal among adults of any children’s cartoon currently running. (The only competition I can think of would be My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but Adventure Time has greater mainstream popularity outside of its fandom.) It’s emblematic of if not a revolution, at least a movement within children’s animation towards clever, distinctive design work, created by indie animators and zine comic artists to satisfy themselves, not their corporate bosses. Why had I jumped to Regular Show while ignoring Adventure Time?

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Movie Review Lightning Round

So, I’ve actually seen a ton of movies lately. Not all of them fit the pop culture/”geek” vibe I skew towards on this blog, but I figure I’ve sunk enough money into ticket sales that it would be a waste not to get another blog entry out of it. And besides, I know hearing my thoughts on films is what you guys live for. So without further ado, here’s Movie Review Lightning Round!!

CLOUD ATLAS

I liked Cloud Atlas quite a bit for the sheer scope of it. It’s best synopsized as “Six visually stunning short films with broadly similar themes and the same cast in variously garish makeup, running together simultaneously.” The diversity of locations, effects, and especially tones (the story set in 2012 is largely a comedy in the vein of Monty Python, while the next story chronologically is a technicolor dystopian romance/tragedy) could have been too schizophrenic, but deft editing ties all of them together continuously while maintaining the right emotions for each. My only complaint is that after the wonder of these characters interacting and influencing one another over and over in different contexts wears off, the film is somewhat hollow. Statements like “love is good, freedom is good, selfishness is bad” apply here, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, and a film of this magnitude deserves themes that will be talked about along with technical proficiency. Still, it’s one of the most interesting film experiences I’ve had all year, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out sometime.

RATING: THREE STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

ARGO

As a fan of the Canadian Caper, I was really looking forward to this movie, and it did not disappoint. Argo captures the tension and stakes of the operation perfectly, and managed to keep me hooked and on edge even as I knew from the get-go how it would end. Ben Affleck’s eye for detail and period elements is great, and there are a number of phenomenal performances, especially by bit players like Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Affleck’s acting is good but not great, but if a starring role for him is the price we have to pay to get movies like this and The Town, I’m more than willing to pay. A clear Best Picture contender.

RATING: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

WRECK-IT RALPH

You can read my review in full here, but suffice to say I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph immensely. Great characters, fun concepts, and although I think it loses a bit of imagination as it goes on, it’s a worthy addition to the Disney Animated Films legacy.

RATING: FOUR STARTS (OUT OF FOUR)

SKYFALL

I didn’t review Skyfall as much as I philosophized on it at length. If it wasn’t clear, I loved it. It’s the best Bond film in about two decades, and one of my favorites overall. Daniel Craig finally “becomes” James Bond, and the film establishes a clear way forward for a franchise which struggles to stay relevant. A treat for the eyes and ears.

RATING: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

FLIGHT

I was glad to see Robert Zemeckis finally let go of his dream for all films to involve weird motion-capture animation, at least for now. That said, I was a little disappointed with Flight. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I got. This may have been as much my fault as the movie’s, but there it is. Denzel Washington does a great job portraying the realities of alcoholism, and the meditations on religious faith were interesting (and not something I’ve seen often in Zemeckis’ work), but overall this felt like a film taking a lot of time to say very little. The plane crash scene may be the most gripping sequence I’ve seen in theatres this year though, and I can’t stay mad at a movie with John Goodman as a freewheeling drug dealer for too long. (As a sidenote, can we get John Goodman as a small but scene-stealing role in every film from now on? Cool, thanks.)

RATING: TWO STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

LINCOLN

There’s a lot to like in Lincoln. Great performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sally Field, among others. A great score. Some beautiful cinematography. But at the same time, it felt like this movie was lacking something important. It’s rather myopically focused on the passage of of the Thirteenth Amendment, and it lacks the varied viewpoint characters teased by the opening scene, in the aftermath of a battle. It dives quickly and deeply into a political landscape almost totally alien to viewers in 2012, and is a bit dry and heavy to follow easily. My brother offered the comparison of “a really weird period episode of The West Wing,” which isn’t too far off. I didn’t come away from it feeling like I had any greater insight to Lincoln, the president, nor Lincoln, the man. But it does contain a number of rousing speeches and great character moments, and these are worth seeing at least the one time.

RATING: TWO STARS (OUT OF FOUR)