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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Minute for minute this is the best Marvel movie yet. At its best it’s right up there with Iron Man 1 and The Avengers, but while Iron Man faltered a bit at the end and The Avengers required some amount of indulgence, this one is rock solid from start to finish and even a comic book cynic could enjoy it. The pacing is perfect, the action has a bit of everything and is seriously impressive, and there’s hardly a line of cheesy dialog to be heard.

If you had to nitpick you could say the grand scheme doesn’t quite live up to the intrigue that precedes it (granted there’s a LOT of early intrigue) and, well, the makeup artist goes overboard on Chris Evans in a couple scenes. Yeah, that’s the worst of it. As far as action movies go it’s about as good as it gets.

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Top VGM of 2013 Mixes

Usually I save my affinity for movie and game soundtracks for my soundtrack site but here’s the occasional exception. These three compilation mixes feature my favorite pieces from the game soundtracks of 2013 in three separate genres: orchestral, electronic and rock. Listening to music from video games may seem silly to the unacquainted, but for people whose tastes go beyond the typical top-40 fare they’re well worth a listen.

Volume 2: Orchestral and Acoustic

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Blue Jasmine

blue-jasmine-cate-blanchett1

Woody Allen’s latest is purely a star vehicle for Cate Blanchett, and her performance as a spoiled socialite struggling psychologically with a fall from grace is without question outstanding.  But as genuine as the depiction of her severely flawed, almost completely unlikable character may be – and those of the only moderately more likable characters around her – there’s no thought-provoking look into the root of it all, no hint of resolution, no particularly exceptional craftsmanship, and little humor to distract from the sad state of affairs at hand. It’s a plain look at real people struggling with real – if slightly elite – problems, and as such it wins points for authenticity but few for entertainment or artistry.

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American Hustle

American Hustle

This is an ensemble film so let’s get down to it. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are a bit out of their element but turn in quality performances, Jeremy Renner is solid, Christian Bale unsurprisingly is brilliant and Amy Adams – somewhat more surprisingly – is equally so, going from manipulative to vulnerable, loathing to empathetic sometimes within a span of seconds.

The story takes its good sweet time to develop, which during the extended prologue feels novel but come the third act gets a small bit tiresome. Still, with characters this interesting it’s not such a terrible thing if they overstay their welcome.

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Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

A fairly dark look at young decadence that despite the art-film aesthetic offers about what you see on the cover – spritely pop stars in bikinis and James Franco with cornrows and a grill. Neither of which is necessarily a bad thing. The generally depraved proceedings, overexposed camera shots, and constantly repeating imagery and dialog don’t make for light entertainment but they’re admirable enough from an artistic perspective, until a ridiculous ending makes the whole thing seem like posturing.

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Lorde: Pure Heroine -Album Overlorde Mix-

Ever since hearing Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine I’ve been meaning to put together my own DJ mix for it.  It’s not often I’m inclined to make a mix for a single album, but it’s not often I hear a pop album where nine out of ten tracks are 4/5 star efforts.

So now that the New Zealand teenage anti-diva has won her well-deserved Grammy for “Royals”, here’s my “Album Overlorde Mix” of the album Pure Heroine.  If you like it be sure to buy the unabridged full album and share the mix with other alt-pop (the genre, how convenient) loving friends.

Amazon (CD) / Amazon (MP3) / iTunes

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Fast & Furious 6

Fast & Furious 6

Fast Five was a well-oiled machine; this sequel shows some of the series’ mileage but still makes for a fun ride. After a strong start the movie stalls in its middle section from too much loosely connected plot and too little action until hitting the gas again for an exciting finish. A bit too fast maybe – a couple of major developments happen to prominent characters and hardly anyone seems to notice.

The action, though, makes for good fun – not only the car chases but several brawls that do the bone-crunching Rock-Diesel showdown from the previous movie proud. And just being able to talk seriously about the plot in a Fast & Furious movie shows how far the series has come. Fast Seven and Tokyo here we come.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

More driven than the meandering first episode, but still hampered by uneven pacing and far too much plot, much of which still feels inconsequential two films in. As in the first film, the abundant action too often looks like a video game – not so much in the special effects as in the ridiculous actions characters are performing onscreen. (One particular scene has them going from Chun-Li-stomping on heads to Mario-hopping into barrels in the span of a couple minutes.)

The dragon Smaug is impressive, as are the cavernous underground vistas (enough almost to make me wish I’d seen it in 3D). And the ending does set the stage for a climactic conclusion. Whether Jackson can provide that in the third and final film without dragging it down with extraneous exposition remains to be seen. Judging by his first two efforts I’m guessing not.

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Pressed for Time: First-time WordPress Installation & Customization in a Day

wordpress comp

When the time came to create a personal blog – the one you’re looking at now – I decided it was finally time to try out the web’s most ubiquitous CMS, WordPress. Though I’ve been creating websites from scratch in PHP and MySQL for years, aside from a short stint with Joomla this was my first start-to-finish experience with a CMS.  My two burning questions coming into the project:

  • Is WordPress as easy to use as they say – not only the installation but also authoring and administration?
  • Is it customizable enough for someone used to coding everything from scratch?

I’ve documented my installation and early customization process – including any pitfalls encountered along the way, along with their solutions – in the hope that it’ll come in handy for anyone else debating whether WordPress is right for them.  I consider it a fair example of how far you can go in building and customizing a WordPress site in a single productive work day. Continue Reading

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And We’re Up

altpop screen cap

After fifteen years doing web publishing in some fashion – mostly dedicated to a niche hobby of mine – I’ve decided to finally do the blog thing.  For a new blog you might notice there are quite a few older posts – these are imports of my various movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes from the past several years.  Along with continued movie reviews, I expect to post what useful information I can about web development, along with reviews and opinions from the tech realm as well as perhaps some musings from my travels.  Not exactly the most uniform of content but that’s what these things are for, right?

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Gravity

GRAVITY

“127 Hours” in space. Both films focus almost exclusively on a single character in life-threatening circumstances, and both would have never worked without a talented actor in front of the camera and a great director behind it. In place of the orange desert hues of the former movie we get the deep blacks of space, immersive special effects (with excellent 3D) and the trademark long, extended shots of director Alfonso Cuarón. Definitely see it in the theater and give good consideration to 3D or even Imax.

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The World’s End

world's end

Quite possibly the greatest British sci-fi action comedy ever made (no small feat). Despite a slow start and an incredibly annoying protagonist, the comedy is good for several silly laughs and the action – even with its cast of pasty forty-somethings – is more impressive than almost every big-budget Hollywood flick of the past summer. Best viewed with as little prior knowledge of the peculiar proceedings to follow as possible.