Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Viewer's Choice

My last post was focused on films that disappointed me over the last few years via my Netflix subscription, so it is only fair that I dedicate a post to those movies that I have enjoyed since becoming a member.  This list will be one including some new releases and some not so new, but the one thing they all share in common is they entertained me for an extended period of time.  One of the main aspects of a film that could make the difference between me enjoying it or not, is the like-ability of the main character.  If the director fails to create a connection between the audience and the character, then it is difficult for me to care about what happens to him/her.  A great example of a director failing at this is in "Into The Wild", the story of the college graduate who died in the Alaskan bush.  At no point in the movie did the character come across as like-able, and as such I found myself eagerly anticipating his demise.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is Forrest Gump, who is someone we all found like-able upon viewing that great film.  My guess is nobody reading this has anything in common with someone like Forrest, yet we all identified with him, and perhaps went so far as to perceive him not as a character being played by Tom Hanks, but as a real person all together.

Another trait I am looking for in a film, is does it include elements of multiple genres?  For example:  "Back To The Future", my favorite movie, has a little bit of everything in it:  romance, sci-fi, action, comedy, etc  How can you not like a movie that has all of that neatly wrapped into a great story told over 2 hours?  So with that in mind, lets take a look at some of the Netflix winners over the past few years:

Shutter Island:  It seems silly to call a collaboration between Leo and Martin Scorsese the "other movie" that Leonardo has done in the last two years, but when compared to "Inception" that is where this film stands in many people's eyes.  I however liked this movie much better than "Inception", for one because it shared so many similarities, yet was portrayed in a more believable context.  This movie was very dark and did a better job with the "is it real or isn't it" concept that it shared with "Inception"

The International:  This is crime/international political thriller co-starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts.  I thought the plot was strong, and there were some pretty intense action scenes.  Overall I was thoroughly entertained by this movie.  I also like the ending, which without giving it away, wasn't a typical Hollywood ending.

Les Miserables:  Hard to believe this retelling of the Victor Hugo classic is now 13 years old.  I was unfamiliar with the details of this story upon first viewing the film.  I am sure this differs drastically from the novel as most movies must in order to convey the story in ~ 2 hours, but regardless I really liked this morality play set in 19th century France.  Liam Neeson is great in the lead role, and Geoffrey Rush (from "The King's Speech") is amazing as his arch nemesis Javert.  If you like a good period piece based on a classic novel, then this is the movie for you.

Julie & Julia:  I don't care if you laugh and call me names, I thought this was a delightful little chick flick.  Meryl Streep was really quite hilarious as Julia Child.  Again, one of those characters where I truly believed became separated from the actress herself.  I thought it was interesting learning about the history behind how Julia Child became famous, and I thought the other part of the movie, based on Julie's blog, was a nice story that is relevant to all of us who are busy but hoping to do so much more.  I really think guys and girls alike will enjoy this movie if they give it a chance.

These are just a few, but many other movies have really entertained me over the last few years, from "Up in the Air", to "Role Models', to "The Count of Monte Christo" and beyond.  What are some movies that you really like?  What films appeal to multiple genres, or have a strong character that you really root for during the movie?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Critically Acclaimed?

It has been nearly two years since I joined Netflix, and I must say it has evolved into the best $10 I spend each month.  Without a doubt Netflix hates me, because I am that customer who throws off their business model.  When I receive a disk I usually watch it that evening (clearly I have a busy social life) and then send it back the next day; in other words, Netflix loses a lot of money on me annually (sorry I'm not sorry).  One of the things I have always made an effort to do since becoming a member is to balance my que with new releases and critically acclaimed classics equally.  There are so many award winners and movies listed on the AFI's top film list that I have never seen, and I thought this membership was the perfect opportunity to view these titles. 

Having viewed numerous Oscar films and other classics, I have come away rather disappointed in most of these films that I viewed.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of Oscar winners are amazing and well deserving of the praise they receive, but a lot of the movies I have seen have been mediocre, and some have been down right bad.  I wonder if it is my generation; have film tastes changed so much that what was considered good in 1984 is so different today?  I don't think that is the case, because I love a lot of older films, in fact some of my favorite films are all from a different era.  I believe the real issue at hand is that film critics and academy voters are incredibly out of touch with what is truly good storytelling.  At the end of the day if the movie doesn't tell an interesting story, then it isn't a good movie.  Below is a sample list of the "acclaimed" films I watched:

The Last Emperor:  This 1987 period piece won 9 Oscars including Best Picture.  This movie tells the story of the last Chinese Emperor and  how his life was affected by the political climate of his day.  This movie was long and boring.  I appreciate the effort of trying to show audiences what things were like in this foreign culture during such a turbulent time, but I don't think ti should have won Best Picture because they tackled a difficult subject.  "Fatal Attraction", "Wall Street", and "The Untouchables" were all superior films and should have carried the day in my opinion.

Amadeus:  This 1984 biopic of the famous composer won 8 Oscars including Best Picture.  This movie was more entertaining than "The Last Emperor", but I still found it somewhat weird and erratic.  The performances were moving, but I definitely don't think it was better than some of the year's other releases:  "The Terminator", "Ghostbusters", "Star Trek III", or "Romancing The Stone".  But when I look at the other nominees for Best Picture, its success is much more evident; 1984 was a weak year.

The Searchers:  While not an award winner, this movie is listed 12th on The AFI's 100 Greatest Films List.  For those of you who don't know, this is a western staring John Wayne, and directed by the legendary director John Ford.  I happen to be a fan of westerns, but this movie straight up sucks.  It is too campy and the plot is terrible.  Wayne's movies are all a bit campy, but this takes the cake.  "Mclintock" and "The Alamo" are far superior John Wayne films, but for my money the best westerns were made by Clint Eastwood, such as "The Good The Bad & The Ugly" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales". 

Chinatown:  This 1974 film was nominated for 11 Oscars, and is widely considered one of the greatest noir films of all time.  I was excited to watch this when it arrived, as I like movies set in the 30's in LA ("LA Confidential", "The Black Dahlia", etc).  I liked this movie much better than the three I have listed above, but it was not the classic I was expecting.  For me it was the ending; I thought it ended rather abruptly and the loose ends were tied up too quickly.  Overall this was a good movie, but not a classic.

The English Patient:  This 1996 film won 9 Oscars. This might be one of the most boring movies of all time.  It took me three nights to watch it because I kept falling asleep during it.  I don't want to waste many words talking about this dreadful film, other than by saying that "Primal Fear", "Waiting For Guffman", and "Jerry Maguire" were all 1,000 times better than this bore.

I have watched many other "classics" over the last two years that have helped reiterate my critic-audience disconnect hypothesis.  "A Passage To India", "A Clockwork Orange", "The Year of Living Dangerously" and others all disappointed me in one way or another. 

What award winners/classics left you unimpressed upon first viewing?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Score For Sacroma and Beyond

I want to thank everyone yet again for the amazing generosity they have shown by donating to and participating in Score For Sarcoma.  I don't have the final figures yet, but I can say without question that we blew my expectations out of the water.  All of the credit goes to everyone who helped us with their kind donations.  What separates this fundraiser from others is that our proceeds aren't just going into a general research fund or being used to cover hospital overhead.  Our donation is going to directly help cancer patients that truly need the assistance, whether it is paying for Rx or assistance with bills due to income loss, these funds will help patients concentrate their efforts on getting well.

A number of people have asked me if I am going to continue blogging, and after much thought I have reluctantly decided to do so.  One reason for this is that my fight with cancer is definitely not over, as quarterly scans will remain a part of my life for sometime.  In between such scans I think I will try to keep the same tone that this blog has had from the beginning, though the topics might change.  I hope the content is entertaining and informational, and as always, I would love for you to comment, as I am hoping to have more discussion based posts going forward.

Thank you again for tuning in over the past seven months, and I hope you all continue to check in from time to time going forward!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Cancer Free

Good morning all, happy Monday!

As you all know, I had my surgery this past Wednesday, so I write today proudly able to say that I am currently cancer-free!  The surgery was a tremendous success, it took about 2.5 hours and Dr. Monson indicated that the tumor was very small and he was able to get the entire thing.  He then called me yesterday to relay the results of the tests they ran on the tissue extracted.  He said it was mostly dead tissue, which means that the chemo and radiation really did their jobs perfectly.

The real unknown in my mind goes back to what the post-op nurse told men about what I was doing when I awoke from surgery.  He said I was singing Elton John songs, which is weird, because I am honestly not really a fan of his catalog.  Seems strange that I would choose to burst into his tunes at such a time.  I spent one night in the hospital after surgery, with no real complications, save vomiting twice due to the morphine after dinner.  I am limping around a little bit so I am using a cane, which is much more convenient than crutches thankfully.  Two drainage tubes were inserted in my leg to help keep the void clear of fluid, so upon discharge I had two squeeze it bottles dangling from my leg, which made wearing shorts a no no.  Other than a  little pain and the limping I can't complain, just so thankful to have surgery behind me.  I have had such great support from all of you out there, as well as amazing care from my medical team; I thank you all so much!

Next up for me aside from recovering from this surgery is another round of scans in June.  This will be a quarterly staple for about 2 years, and then assuming no relapse, the scans will be moved to every 4 months and then biannually. 

Thanks again for the support!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Next Stop: Due Date

Good afternoon everyone, it has been a while since my last post.  I hope everyone is doing well trying to understand how Charlie Sheen has contracted Tiger Blood and Adonis DNA.

Yesterday I had my pre-surgery scans, both an MRI and a comprehensive CT.  Admittedly I was a little nervous about the CT results, because you just hate to hear that you now have tumors in your lungs or something.  That is a fear I am going to have to get over with, as going forward I will have these scans every quarter, and since I can't do anything about the results, nothing good comes from worrying, so it is best not to.  Thankfully my CT results were clean, and we got final confirmation of my tumor's shrinkage, from its pre-chemo size of 10x8cm to 4x3cm as of yesterday.  Dr. Monson seemed pretty impressed with the sheer amount of shrinkage, and even indicated that although he will still have to make a pretty decent sized cut next week to take good margins, he doesn't expect that I'll need physical therapy, which was also great to hear.  One funny thing that happened yesterday was as my appointment with Dr. Monson ended, I had to sign a release indicating that I was okay with them removing my tumor.  There was an option to check a box for prognosis, where the options were "good", "fair", and "poor".  I was glad to see him check "good", and I wonder what people must think when the doctor checks "fair" or "poor".  It was a pretty easy decision to sign the release, as the form went on to say that should surgery be refused there was a check next to the "poor" prognosis box.  Pretty easy decision for me, good or poor, hmm?

Quick update on Score for Sarcoma, thus far we have received a tremendous response from all of you regarding this great event we are putting on.  I can't thank you all enough for helping us raise money for those patients truly in critical need of support!.  I know as I collect and pay a new medical bill seemingly everyday (with very good insurance), I just can't imagine what it is like to get these same bills while simultaneously struggling to keep up with rent or pay the heating bill.  Remember, cancer isn't blind, so we shouldn't be to those that need our help!

I still want to encourage any of you to join us for either football or drinks (or both!) on March 19th, there is still plenty of room!