Year One - Movie Review


View Trailer
Year One

I know I've seen worse movies than Year One, movies that involve Dan Aykroyd with a prosthetic phallic-esque nose, but Year One manages to be something entirely unappetizing, a film so lacking in effort or creative ingenuity that it simply putters along until it reaches a long enough running-time to qualify it as something to be put on display at a local dollar theater (where I eventually ended up seeing it). Yes, at times I did want to forfeit the two dollars I spent on this stone age journey and leave half-way through, but Year One is miraculous in how it manages to convince you that maybe, just maybe, something quite funny is lurking behind the next mountain. Well, I'm afraid the cavemen were correct in assuming that the world simply ended beyond that point.

Despite its title, Year One has no discernible time-line and plays predominantly upon anachronisms evident by its players. That is to say, the lead character Om, or Um, or whatever grunt he's called, is just Jack Black wearing a fur kilt. No effort on his part has been made to assume the role of a primitive cave man, and it seems that no one deemed it necessary. As a matter of fact, no one seems to have let any of the actors know when Year One was supposed to take place or how they were supposed to react to it. It's a certain shame concerning how hilarious many of these performers are otherwise.

In an early scene, Bill Hader makes an appearance as the town Shaman, and despite his layers of make-up and bone piercings, he's given no motivation. An out-take during the credits has him address the director, "Harold, what am I doing here?" I'm not really sure either. So many surprise roles go completely unnoticed due to this films utter lack of character, characters and characterization.

I've stated before my misgivings concerning that sweet-natured, fiancé-stealing Michael Cera. Here he shines as the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm liking him more and more, and here he puts forth a reasonable amount of effort. It's not nearly enough, but it gets a comparatively decent amount of laughs. Comparatively.

There are attempts at humor, but once a character is reduced to eating poo for the sake of a laugh, everything somehow looses its luster. To add insult, the film also makes an attempt to make a theological argument. What that argument is, I can't really say.

Let this be said, Year One has a really great plot device. It goes completely unused, but it's really pretty clever, and I don't mind ruining it because the film is already pretty well ruined. Jack Black and Michael Cera are on their way to the ancient city of Sodom to free two local cave-ladies from the chains of slavery. Stopping by Abraham's place they learn that in three days God is going to burn the whole city to a crisp. So they better get there fast, right?

I was really interested by that premise. Unfortunately the film gets it completely wrong. The three day time-frame is later removed, significantly lowering the tension. In addition to this, the film is pretty clear in insisting that God (despite his lightning bolts) doesn't exist, so why rush at all?

It's rare to see a film so narratively hindered by the fact that it lacks a fear of God. Here, it is so well exemplified I think it could be worth a study all on its own.

Otherwise, skip it.


RIP Flan (the mouse)

Although you've been dead for several weeks and I completely forgot to give you a proper memorial here on the Awkward Unicorn, you were the most unforgettable feeder mouse I ever owned and had die. And although your only other friend Nom Nom is still alive and kicking, she misses you dearly. As do I.

We hardly knew yee Flan.

It seems like just yesterday that I bought you for two dollars from the feeder bin at Pet City, and although I had no idea that you were so cute and tiny probably due to how incredibly inbred you were, I was smitten by your curiosity and tendency to run in mindless circles on my hand.

True, I should have probably prepared myself for this moment when you first began having an arched back and walked everywhere on your toes, but c'est la vie... and c'est la mort.

You died the same way you lived, clutching a massive piece of food in your front paws while curled up in the food bowl.

You died doing what you loved most, eating. I respect that. I think we all do when it comes down to it.

Luckily I helped you realize your dream of seeing the city of San Francisco before you died. I remember bringing you into Beth's aunts house late at night from the car because I forgot you were out there, and then later keeping you in the bathroom cupboard for the next three days because Beth and I figured it would be too awkward to mention to her aunt that we also had mice with us days after we had already been there.
And although I'm certain this resulted in a situation where Beth's aunt found the mice but decided not to say anything because she too thought it was too awkward, I can safely say that you made the weekend just that more special.

Thank you Flan.

Never forget.

I wanted to make you a memorial video, but instead decided to just post this memorial video some goth girl made for Bernie Mac. I think it's better this way.


This video has taught me so much.
yet left me wanting so much more.

my only regret is that the song isn't longer.


(500) Days of Summer - Movie review


View Trailer
500 Days of Summer

I'm generally willing to give just about any romantic comedy a chance. I did, after all, watch The Jane Austin Book Club Movie. Did I regret that choice? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely. The genre has been subject to many atrocities, most often due to appearances by Sandra Bullock and Richard Gere, but rarely together at the same time, which makes me wonder if they're the same person...

500 Days of Summer actively seeks to debunk many of the preconceptions audiences have concerning "chick flicks" by stating, probably against better judgement, that it's "not a love story" from the get-go. Somehow, in spite of this statement, 500 Days of Summer happens to be the best love story I've seen on screen in quite a long time. Simultaneously funny and tragic, the film has an eye for observation that can't resist reflecting the audiences experiences with their own sweet tastes of bitter love.

This relationship is primarily presented with a focus on Tom (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and is revealed by the use of interspersed segments, his memories, of the 500 days he spent with a girl named Summer (Zooey Deschanel). These segments aren't presented in chronological order, but as far as memories are concerned, when are they ever? There is a refreshing amount of freedom here as the film takes whatever liberties it pleases to show just how, exactly, Tom is feeling. It can either be haunting in it's depictions, or downright embarrassing in concern to how authentic they really are. After all, who hasn't seen their reflection as Han Solo when things were going really well?
Lord knows I have.

Some of the devices put into practice are just brilliant, and if the spontaneous dance number doesn't convince you, the later use of split-screen images certainly will.

500 Days of Summer really is a rare movie. The director Marc Webb takes the liberty to assume the facade of those very Richard Gere and Sandra Bullock films we've been shamelessly used by for so long, and place them into a context that is undeniably affecting, revealing, and downright entertaining. He gets a lot of help from his performers too. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proven himself in serious roles before, but here he hits a perfect balance, one that is funny and heart-wrenching.

See it.

District 9 - Movie Review


View Trailer
District 9

Anyone in the world of video-gaming will tell you there are three movies they're waiting to see on the big screen. One is Metal Gear Solid, one is Half Life, and one is Halo. Those who rarely hold a joystick will have no idea what those titles mean, so I'll clarify. One involves espionage-action with convoluted political messages, one involves a gravity gun, and the other has lots of aliens, many more guns, and also some convoluted political messages. The film District 9 has just about all of those things, which will please many video-gaming enthusiasts, but it's a bit muddled in the midst of its messages which tend to bog down the action, or have messages too subdued due to the emphasis on entertainment.

If there's one thing to learn from District 9, it's that South Africa is not that great of a place. In fact, it's probably one of the worst places to end up. Especially if you happen to be a giant shrimp-like creature from space. These creatures arrive rather inexplicably, have their massive mother-ship stall out inexplicably over the city, and are inexplicably pulled out and set up in a ghetto shanty town of their own. But what can you do? They look an awful lot like giant cockroaches, appear to defecate just about anywhere, and really have no regard for hygiene or waste disposal. I would have liked to see the government try to put one up in the Four Seasons, but the film doesn't manage to take these creatures far from their ruins.

The film is even less forgiving to its human counterparts, who are either alarmingly incompetent, alarmingly inhuman, or both. The central protagonist Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is more drawn to the former. He enters the screen with a sort of puppy-dog charm, excited by his new job duty of delivering eviction notices to the "Prawns" door-to-door. Such a job description sounds like a hilarious prospect, but Disctrict 9 insists on being a simulation of such a scenario rather than an entertaining embodiment of it. His attempts to deliver notices is met with angry clicks, dismembered arms, and hits a major snag when he is unintentionally maced by a mysterious fuel container.

All this is conveyed through the use of segments featuring documentary-like cinematography and segments featuring cinematography based purely upon the narrative. This doesn't really work. Documentaries are completed with an implicit knowledge of someone behind the camera capturing footage in real-time, narrative cinema seeks to hide that operator by any means possible. Switching between the two becomes distracting, disenchanting, and often has one being far more entertaining than the other.

District 9 is a special-effects laden spectacle featuring a handheld look. That description is pretty similar to the way people described Cloverfield when it first came out. But Cloverfield worked because it was fully dedicated to its medium. Its subject appeared captured on one reel of a single handheld camera, with a present camera operator who had his own character. It didn't appear to have the benefit of narrative flashbacks, but managed to do so with the narrative device of the single tape being used a second time to capture the chaos. Most importantly, Cloverfield was very human. There was something not just political to grab on to, but something about the connections we have with each other, how those connections change, and how that connection can never be severed.

District 9 certainly has messages concerning apartheid, segregation, and racial injustice. It's not hard to see that. It also has mech-fights featuring pigs being picked up with gravity guns and shot at soldiers just before utilizing body-exploding lasers at even more soldiers. The comedic value in that scenario doesn't quite mix with those themes being delivered so heavy-handed. It was even a tad more successful with Starship Troopers.

With all that said, District 9 manages to be one of the best action films of 2009. It's entertaining, if not always quite fun. The exploding body bits certainly earn an R rating, but considering all the video-game fans checking this one out, that won't be much of an issue. All in all, it'll do well in biding their time before a Halo movie gets produced.


Coraline - Movie Review


View Trailer

There are all sorts of movies that we've seen as kids that in retrospect we realize should never have been classified as "kids movies." After all, which of us were not deeply troubled by Wanka's Oompa Loompa's? Or confused as to whether the kid from the Never Ending Story was really a boy or a girl? Or emotionally wrought over the presence of David Bowie's package in Labyrinth? I know I was. So here we have Coraline, a kid's movie made the way they used to be; colorful, vibrant, and really rather disturbing when you think about it.

Coraline belongs in the horror genre. In fact, I want it to belong there, because to be honest it's better than the majority of films that we have classified as so. The world of the title character is dark and dreary, cold and isolated, and this is the world we're supposed to be rooting for. What the young Coraline discovers however is another world painted in color, one that is illuminated in the midst of a perpetual night. It's a world I'd like to visit. But what the film manages to distinguish is the difference between a vibrant world and a lifeless one, and within that distinction Coraline serves as a film that could never be made, certainly not so effectively, outside of the medium of animation.

I'm not sure if Coraline's supposed to be in middle school, but she's certainly on her way to adolescence with a rather nasty attitude. Her parents too have problems of their own, including ones involving money. Maybe it was a bad time to move into a new house, but it's here that Coraline discovers a small passageway that leads to somewhere that's not quite new, but simply nicer. In Coraline's "other" world, the improved versions of her otherwise neglectful parents are impeccable with the exception of their black button eyes. These eyes have a deadened quality whose only glimmer is that from the comforting glow of the world around them. Just watching them mill about in the kitchen is a surreal moment, and that's how the film manages to be so effective, it's unforgettable.

With a mixture of computer animation and stop-motion animation, Coraline is easily the most distinctive animated film I've seen in the past year, if not longer. Watching it is like watching a magic show; I don't know how it's done, but if I could guess I would say it was pain-staking, time-consuming, and completely worth it. Listen to this soundtrack too. It's wonderful.

I regret I wasn't able to catch this while in theaters, but I surmise I'm not alone.

My only qualms are with that of the films performers. Dakota Fanning has shown her talent otherwise, yet somehow her voice doesn't reflect the same amount of emotion her animated counterpart does. Maybe my volume was just turned too low, but I felt as though the sound effects as well could have been equally tuned to reflect the environments in a similarly vibrant manner. But these are all just asides. Coraline is so different that it begs to be seen.

But should it be seen by kids? I say yes, at least as long as there's an adult there. Kids these days (and I did just say "kids these days") are mostly fed content to make them less stupid, case in point being shows like Dora The Explorer, shows that in fact expect kids to be stupid and therefore cheat them out of quality story-telling. Do kids mind if Dora's "Back Pack" song is largely identical, and just as retarded, as Dora's "I'm a Map" song? No, but I think it's a duty of the parents to point out that level of retardation.

I've sidetracked. Coraline encourages exploration into new worlds, encourages appreciation of art, encourages an appreciation for what you have and teaches valuable life lessons. Sometimes scary stories are the best way to do that. Coraline might be a glorified version of Hanzel and Gretel, but it's still a great scary story, and it certainly deserves a viewing.

Paper Heart - Movie Review


View Trailer
Paper Heart

Charlyne Yi is quite a mischievous butterfly. Just watch Paper Heart's opening clip of her stand-up routine, where she approaches the audience, tells them she has a wig while reaching for it, in a "just kidding" attitude confronts the audience that she made them think she was wearing a wig, and then removes the wig she is in fact wearing. Paper Heart is a film that is meant to reveal the truth about love by masking it with a fictional narrative, also based upon truth. It's a documentary when it features interviews, otherwise it's a scripted partial-reconstruction of the real-life relationship Charlyne Yi has with her co-star Michael Cera... who also appears in the film as himself.

Yes. It can be confusing, and that confusion is often a distraction. Which is unfortunate if you're aware of it, because Paper Heart on its own is a very entertaining and very endearing film. Had I never heard of the people in this movie, I don't think I would have doubted for a second that segments of it were real, when in fact they were completely staged.

But then again, just because it's staged doesn't mean it can't reveal something that is very real.

Charlyne Yi's earnestness, and what appeared to me as intentional awkwardness, somewhat put me off at first. I couldn't help but be suspicious as that awkward persona is frequently utilized by her to draw out a reaction. But she grows on you. After a while, you don't really care how much of it is fake or real. All of it is simply charming.

The film is directed by Nicholas Jasenovec, and in the film he functions as the lead antagonist. To him, the film itself comes before its subjects, sometimes at great emotional cost. But that's also not really Nicholas Jasenovec on screen. That's actually Jake M. Johnson, and of all the people in this movie I was most impressed by the dynamics he brought with his performance. Not entirely bad, but entirely focused on his art, his character is constantly changing while adhering to an alterior motivation.

At the recent Q&A session I attended I was confused when the director Nicholas Jasenovec began taking questions, as he looked nothing like his on-screen counterpart. For the lack of a better phrase, I got pwnd good.

Paper Heart enjoys playing around with the audience, but at a deeper level I considered the staging and scripted scenes to be fueled by an insecurity considering it's subject, that being love itself.

I made a documentary too, and it's a lot like this one, at times almost startlingly like this one. But it was real, and I actually lived it. I'm really grateful for that. Although this story is entertaining and heartwarming, when that wig was eventually revealed as false the film left me feeling a bit cheated. But that was just because of what I went through in making my own film. It's terrifying making a film that is truly honest, and it's even more terrifying to reveal that honesty to others. Despite it's facade, Paper Heart just isn't that honest with us, at least not in the same way. Is it still a good movie? Yes. Absolutely. It's a great one. But when it comes to authenticity it's just as earnest as its leading lady.

See it.


What I Did Over The Weekend

Sorry ladies, but the Z-train has officially left the station. Next stop: Marriage.

That's right, I got engaged!

To those who may be confused: that womanly hand is Beth's, not mine.


I had been carrying the ring around for about three weeks, and after talking to my parents and my brother Ben, I just had to ask her right away.
Not that it was much of a secret to begin with. The first week I had the ring Beth became curious about the constant mysterious square-shaped bulge in my pants, and gave it a quick poke while we both drove to dinner. Realizing what it was, we both quickly glued our eyes back on the road without a word exchanged.

Since then I had waited patiently for a chance to ask her parents for their blessing. With the ring at my side I hesitated to pop the question to Beth, even when opportunities arose while we traveled through San Francisco.

On Saturday Beth and I found ourselves at her apartment making a Facebook page for our cat Georgie Fruit. Somehow the moment seemed right, or it must have seemed right to me because it was then that Beth noticed that I was giving her a strange look.

That look, my friends, was the look of passion.

Knowing the moment had arrived I picked up Beth and somewhat awkwardly, and perhaps even dashingly, carried her to the couch.

It was there, in front my second greatest love (aka: the television), that I asked her to be my wife.

She said yes.

Realizing that I still hadn't asked her parents, the next day I made a quick three hour drive up North and back again to let them in on what was going on.

Now is the time to celebrate.