Recently watched: Cafe Society

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Last night we rented “Cafe Society”, a film written, directed and narrated by Woody Allen. I haven’t seen very many Woody Allen movies, but the ones I have seen I’ve always enjoyed, such as  one of my favorites, “To Rome With Love.”

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are great in the film, and seem to have pretty good chemistry throughout. The real star of “Cafe Society”, though, is the environments around the actors. There’s not an incredibly thrilling story to tell, and it certainly doesn’t offer any great conclusion, but I felt like the story that does exist was there mostly to navigate from one environment to another. The great music and all the life in the background really shine from beginning to end, and I never felt bored or disinterested. I know I’m probably not doing a great job of selling the movie, but I think it’ll probably remain underappreciated and overlooked by most people, and that’s sad.

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There’s not much more I have to say about the film. I wasn’t blown away, and was never in awe, but it felt good watching it. I’m glad we gave it a chance.

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Recently watched: ‘Free to Play’

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I was browsing the 99¢ documentary rental section of iTunes the other day and came across the documentary by valve about the first International DOTA 2 competition. I’ve never really gotten interested in DOTA or any MOBA for that matter, but I’ve been intrigued by eSports lately and ended up renting it.

I just finished watching it a few moments ago, and I’m glad I discovered the film. It’s incredibly well produced and tells a wonderful story that made me care about something I never thought I would. Throughout the documentary I found myself pulling for just about all of the personalities featured in the film and felt true disappoint as each was eliminated from the tournament. They do a great job of exploring the player’s lives and showing what each has at stake in the tournament.

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They also do a great job at dramatizing the matches, especially during the finale. I never thought I’d feel actual excitement while watching people compete in a video game, but I felt like I was watching the Super Bowl as they showed the most thrilling moments of the final matches. Valve does a great job of building up the tension to the very last moment, and it’s a rewarding finish for sure.

I’m not sure if I’d feel the excitement while watching matches take place live, as I’d imagine there must be a lot of dull moments during certain stages of matches, especially for those of us who have little idea what is going on. I’ll definitely end up tuning into the next DOTA tournament I come across on Twitch to see for myself if it’s truly as exciting as Valve makes it seem during “Free to Play”.

If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend, I highly recommend “Free to Play”. For 99¢ it can’t be beat. Heck, I even ended up renting it twice, because I didn’t finish it during the initial 24 hour rental period and it was worth every penny.

‘Captain America: Civil War’ did not impress

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Last night I saw “Captain America: Civil War” and it wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Civil War ends up being a pretty solid Marvel movie, but the problem is that I’m tired of Marvel movies. I said it after watching “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and it’s still true now. There doesn’t seem to be anything unique in most of the Marvel movies recently. Every one I end up watching feels like I could be watching any other movie in the series. You could practically rip the main character out, throw in a different Avenger and nothing would change.

I expected Civil War to fall more in line with the comic and was disappointed to see it go in a different direction. I wanted it to be darker, but the entire fissure in the Avengers team ends up feeling entirely insignificant. It’s less of a civil war and more of a minor disagreement with no real consequences.

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There were some pretty cool fight scenes in Civil War, but everything still ended up feeling rather shallow. There was no significance to anything and a lot of it felt forced just to be able to create the fight between Team Captain America and Team Iron Man.

On its own “Captain America: Civil War” may be a pretty solid movie, but going into it expecting something with a little more weight seemed to tarnish the experience. I think it may be time to finally wise up and stop seeing the Marvel movies in theaters. They’re just not doing enough to keep me entertained anymore. They all feel the same to me, and the movies have lost any sort of significance they used to have.

I don’t understand why piracy is still a thing in 2016

I know I’ve talked about this before, but after listening to the song “Exposure Bank” by Sunrise Skater Kids, I’ve been thinking about the issue of piracy again. I just don’t understand how piracy is still seen as an acceptable route to obtain media without paying in 2016. With all of the options available today, getting access to a wide variety of media, be it music, movies, tv shows or even magazines, has become easier than ever. Spotify and Apple Music effectively let you download just about any album you can imagine for the price of a single album a month. Downloading music to your phone using Apple Music, for example, is as easy as searching for an artist and tapping a download button next to an album. It’s much faster and more reliable than pirating music, and it’s safer too. So why do people still pirate?

“We have so many loyal fans, It’s good to know our future rests in their hands, We all do this for the thrill, Real musicians don’t need much to pay the bills”

Napster became a thing when I was in middle school and it truly did revolutionize the way I consumed music. Before Napster I had very limited means of accessing music. My exposure to music came from what was played on the radio, what few CD’s I could buy in a year, and the music shared between friends (occasionally by trading ‘burned’ CD’s). Once I discovered Napster essentially the entire history of music became available at the click of a button. I was able to discover music quicker than ever before, and rather than spending hours at FYE using their listening stations, I could just download a song and if I didn’t like it I’d delete it.

“Buying bad music is the worst, Be sure to download every album, piracy comes first. Once you decide you like it, Get some merchandise and we’ll be supported.”

For a while most of my music was acquired via piracy, however the launch of the iPod and eventually the iTunes store changed everything again. All of a sudden it was easier to purchase a digital album than it was to pirate it. You would be guaranteed a certain level of quality for a price that CD’s could never compete with. The iTunes store was the first step in the right direction in an effort to supersede piracy as the default method of acquiring music, however in recent years another revolution has changed the music industry yet again: streaming.

When I first discovered Spotify’s premium service, which allowed you to download entire albums from just about every artist you could think of in a matter of seconds, my mind was blown. Once again an entire world of music became available to millions of users at the tap of a screen. Spotify Premium became the way I consumed music (outside of the car, in which I still enjoy my SiriusXM radio) until I switched to Apple Music upon its release. Apple Music works much the same as Spotify does, however I like the app better.

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I can’t understand how anyone with any sort of appreciation for music could still pirate in 2016. For just $120 a year you can essentially “own” every piece of music that releases that year and all the years past. Not only that, but you have access you your entire music library on all of your devices, without ever having to transfer any files. It’s so easy it boggles my mind why anyone wouldn’t subscribe to a streaming music service.

$10 a month for all the music your ears desire seems too good to be true, and while it’s great for consumers there is some validity to the fears that the services short change artists. That, combined with the fact that I love vinyl, is the reason I still continue to buy music that I really love. For example, I’ve recently become obsessed with The Strumbellas and immediately ordered their “We Still Move on Dance Floors” album, and pre-ordered their upcoming album “Hope” on vinyl (I also bought both on iTunes, as I REALLY love them and want to support them!)

“Yeah, pats on the back, Yeah, live on the streets, You’re entitled to our music, You did so much to deserve it, Yeah, download a car, Yeah, don’t need to eat.”

There are so many options in other forms of media as well. The app Texture offers a sort of ‘Netflix for magazines” where for either $10 or $15 a month you get access to a wide variety of magazines including back issues. The higher priced plan includes weekly publications such as The New Yorker, TIME and Newsweek.

As for movies and TV, Hulu now offers an add on subscription to Showtime for $9 a month, and HBO and Starz both have streaming services that no longer require cable. You can get access to a wide variety of movies for relatively little money by subscribing to these services. If you want the latest and greatest, I still think the iTunes store offers great prices on movies. I’ve grown my library quite a bit lately just by watching out for sales in which popular movies go on sale for $9.99 or less on iTunes. A lot of new releases sell for $14.99 as well, which is cheaper than DVD’s and Blu Rays ever were. It’s cheaper than ever to watch movies legally, for the sake of the entertainment industry I hope that more people start to choose the high road.

 

Seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoilers may follow)

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I was able to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last on base last night thanks to a partnership between AAFES and Disney, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Many of us stayed up hours after a long day of work to see Episode VII, and it was absolutely amazing!

Leading up to the release of The Force Awakens I deliberately avoided most Star Wars news and reviews so that it could be as fresh an experience as possible. I knew nothing about the film other than the tidbits of information that could be gleaned from the trailers. I fully expected the appearances of Han Solo and Chewbacca to be nothing more than a cameo, so I was delightfully surprised to find they play a major role in the film. I was also glad to find that many other iconic Star Wars characters make appearances throughout the film, and it seems as if they’ll be important players throughout the trilogy.

The Force Awakens is not all about old favorites, however. The new characters Rey, Finn, Poe and BB-8 are all incredibly interesting, and yet very little is revealed about them which makes me even more excited for what comes next. It seems clear that Rey will play a central role as the trilogy unfolds, but I’m curious to see how Finn will fit into the future of the Resistance. I really enjoyed watching his transformation from an uncertain Storm Trooper, to a self serving character who helps the Resistance only to achieve his personal goals (echoing Han Solo).

Overall the story and action of The Force Awakens is very much akin to that of the original trilogy. Everything looks and sounds like it did in the older films, and the story is so similar to that of A New Hope that some fans have come away from Episode VII mildly disappointed. It is undeniable that The Force Awakens plot points echoe A New Hope’s from beginning to end, however I feel like this both adds a sense of nostalgia and acts as a tribute to first film. Vox has a pretty good breakdown of the ways in which VII mirrors / copies I (with some MAJOR spoilers), but the similarities are probably already apparent to anyone who’s been a fan of the series.

I enjoyed everything about The Force Awakens. In some ways it may be A New Hope with a fresh coat of paint, but it left this Star Wars fan with a huge smile on his face.

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Recently Watched: ‘Grandma’

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Yesterday evening Vanessa and I returned to The Flicks in Boise to see Paul Weitz’  “Grandma” starring Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner. The film tells the story of a young woman named Sage who must acquire $600 in one day to pay for an abortion. Sage seeks the assistance of her foul mouthed, lesbian grandmother as she feels she has no one else to turn to.

The two go on an amusing adventure together and they each learn a lot more about each other than they probably wanted to. Sage witnesses her grandmother’s free, incredibly progressive spirit while also learning a lot about her troubled past. The film goes to some uncomfortably dark places among all the humor, yet none of it feels forced and these moments complicate Sage’s already difficult situation.

I really enjoyed the visual style and use of color in the film, and I especially loved the performances of Tomlin and Garner. They have great on screen chemistry and it’s wonderful to watch.

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Without saying too much (you’ll have to see for yourself), I’d simply point out that “Grandma” adds more to the conversation of abortion that may pair well with the film “Juno.” In fact there’s a scene outside an abortion clinic that mirrors a scene from “Juno,” however Tomlin’s character’s reaction is quite different.

I enjoyed “Grandma” quite a bit. The film is short, clocking 79 minutes, yet the story unfolds and wraps up just fine in that amount of time. I highly recommend “Grandma” to anyone up for a lighthearted film that tackles an incredibly difficult subject. The film performs wonderfully.

Recently Watched: “Pawn Sacrifice”

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Yesterday afternoon Vanessa and I took a trip to The Flicks theatre in Boise to see “Pawn Sacrifice”. The film chronicles the exciting rise and sudden disappearance of American chess great Bobby Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire.

A movie about chess, or one particular chess player, might not sound exciting to most, but the life of Bobby Fischer is definitely one worth peering into. I grew up not knowing much at all about Fischer, until I read Frank Brady’s “Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall” a few years ago.  The story of Bobby Fischer is fascinating and the lead up to his face off with the Soviet Union in 1972 is a thrilling tale.

“Pawn Sacrifice” does a wonderful job of simultaneously illustrating Fischer’s eccentric behaviors, his troubled mind and his incredible brilliance. Tobey Maguire does an excellent job displaying all of these traits. Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg are both wonderful in their roles as well, as their characters try desperately to keep Fischer on track to defeat the Soviet champion, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber).

The excitement of the final showdown between Fischer and Spassky is electric. It might be hard to imagine becoming excited for a series of chess matches, but director Edward Zwick does an exceptional job captivating the audience.

As the 1972 chess match ends the film concludes rather quickly and fades to black. I was left wanting more, however I feel like ending the film so suddenly is appropriate considering Fischer faded into obscurity rather quickly as well. I recommend checking out “Pawn Sacrifice” whether you have any real interest in chess or those who have played it. The film tells a dramatic story well, and is enjoyable to watch throughout.