Tuesday, March 29, 2011

No Man Can Walk Away from His Own Story

From out of the desert, a man with no name arrives in a run-down town in the Old West. And though that sounds like the plot of a stereotypical western, Rango takes the cliches and tweaks them. For one thing, this is no ordinary man; in fact, it's not a man at all. The title character is a chameleon who can't blend in because he has such a penchant for sticking out. And his eccentricities lead to him becoming the sheriff of and savior for a town called Dirt, where the residents are down to their last drop of water.

With a voice by Johnny Depp and direction by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), Rango is, unsurprisingly, a whole lot of fun. But it's also an affectionate tribute to other films that clearly served as inspiration, including High Noon, Chinatown, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There's even a "cameo" by Clint Eastwood (though he's voiced by Timothy Olyphant). The colorful, vibrant animation by special effects powerhouse Industrial Light & Magic (this is the company's first full-length film) is nothing short of spectacular. We're talking Pixar-level detail and quality. Rango features some distinctive, albeit unattractive, characters. It's also got an enjoyable "Greek chorus" of birds, and music by Hans Zimmer. Good fun, indeed.

Is Rango for kids? Well, despite all the color and humor in the film, the kids around me were fidgety when I saw it. Could have been the 1:45 running time. The references definitely went over their heads, and the plot couldn't have been very relevant to them. But I enjoyed the film, and walked away impressed and amused. I'm giving Rango a B+.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Accurately Named

The difference between average movies and very good ones usually comes down to one word: characters. If the filmmakers can't make you believe that the people on screen are real, that they have actual emotions and feelings, and if you don't care what happens to them, then chances are good that they're overcompensating with high-concept gimmicks, lame jokes, or special effects. There's no need for such things in Win Win, a film that's special because it's got great characters you can't help but like and root for.

Paul Giamatti stars as Mike, a sad sack New Jersey lawyer, who is struggling to make ends meet. Through some questionable actions, Mike becomes the legal guardian for one of his clients, which nets him $1,500 a month. When the client's grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), runs away from home, Mike takes him in and lets him practice with the local high school's wrestling team, for whom Mike is a volunteer coach. Turns out, Kyle is a skilled wrestler, and soon the team's losing streak is turned around. But will Mike's changed fortunes last, or will his choices catch up with him?

Win Win is just that: It's a well written, well acted dramedy that rewards the viewer from start to finish. Performances, from Giamatti (playing the type of role he does best), Amy Ryan (as his wife), Bobby Cannavale (earning laughs as Mike's best friend), and Melanie Lynskey (as Kyle's drug-addict mother), are all good. And director Thomas McCarthy's screenplay is authentic and tight.

These are characters we know, and who we want to see do well. Thankfully, the movie does right by them, and that's what makes Win Win a real winner. I'm giving it a B+.


Monday, March 21, 2011

He Can See Clearly Now

Nancy Reagan and South Park's Mr. Mackey would not be fans of Limitless, the new movie in which Bradley Cooper takes a drug that makes him smarter, faster ... better. Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a struggling writer in New York, who is introduced to the aforementioned smart pill, and is instantly able to write, predict stocks, outsmart others, dress better, and more. I'd let you predict what happens from there, but to its credit, the film's plot is not entirely predictable. Limitless is fast-moving and generally enjoyable, but I've gotta admit that it feels a bit too self-aware, like it's trying too hard to be a hip and cool version of Flowers for Algernon or something. There are worse ways to spend your time, but I'm only going to give Limitless a B.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More Free Stuff Thanks to Twitter

You may recall that last summer, I used Twitter to get my entire office free Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Aside from it being a great marketing program for Ben & Jerry's, it was lots of fun for me. To this day, I use the story as just one reason why I think Twitter is worthwhile. I mean, how can you argue with getting free stuff?

Well, guess what: It's happened again.

Last Thursday, I tweeted that an article on Esquire.com made me want to host an Oscar party. A few minutes later, I got a random reply back from the folks at Pretzel Crisps: "You host the party we'll bring the snacks!" All I had to do was send them my address and they'd make a delivery. After a couple tweets back and forth, and a little bit of skepticism from me, I confirmed that the offer was legit. Turns out Pretzel Crisps (which are yummy, low-fat chip/cracker-style pretzels) are monitoring social channels and are swooping in when they see someone in need of a snack. It's a great way to spread the word and get a little buzz for the product. And hey, it worked for Ben & Jerry's. So with all that in mind, I arranged to have a delivery a couple days later; as Jacqueline wrote, "We really want to help u kick the case of the Mondays!" And sure enough, that's what happened.

Mid afternoon yesterday, Jacqueline arrived at my office with a shopping bag and a box of Pretzel Crisps. All different flavors, too: Original, Buffalo Wing, Everything, Sesame, and Garlic Parmesan — about 20 bags total. (No Cinnamon Toast, though. What a bummer.) It was plenty for me, and plenty for me to share with my coworkers — many of whom were impressed that I was once again able to use Twitter for personal gain.

But it's not all about me getting free stuff, is it? I mean, after all, Pretzel Crisps is getting a bit of mileage too. I tweeted about it on Thursday, so my more than 1,000 followers saw. Then, after the delivery, I took a picture and tweeted and posted to Facebook. I'm sharing some of the bags with people who want to try, and they'll tell others. And now I've written a blog post, which I'll tweet and post to Facebook. So as far as Pretzel Crisps is concerned, they've gotten a bit of "free" marketing from me. All it cost them was a few bags of crisps. Point is, everyone's happy and it's all because of Twitter. Oh, and did I mention how good these crisps are? Really, they're quite tasty. I recommend them. Seriously.

Of course, now I'm really curious about how far I can take this "free stuff thanks to Twitter" thing. Apple, are you out there? What are the chances I can score a free iPad ...

All kidding aside, though, gotta give kudos to the folks at Pretzel Crisps. Great campaign, nice execution. I'm happy to help spread the word.

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