Archive for the 'Films' Category

General discussion and ruminations about the movies. Includes the contents of the reviews and trailers categories.

Take care of yourself for Christmas 2020

24-Dec-20 9:30 AM by
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A lot of our fiction hasn't caught up to this reality: the few new television shows and movies that have been released tend to exist in the past or in some alternative reality where there is no coronavirus. There are exceptions, such as NBC series Superstore or the horror movie Host, though this sensitive topic hits so close to home that how it's handled in media can be hit or miss.

Yet sometimes, this denial of reality can be just what we need. Some marketing firms release commercials and advertisements that aren't really about the product come across more as short films. Apple's Frankenstein ad, now four years old, is a good example:

But for media created in a time of pandemic, I find myself watching and rewatching this season's "Take Care of Yourself":

There is so much emotion captured in these wordless two minutes. The glory of days gone: The frustration of lost agency — something my own father struggled with. The self-consciousness of trying and failing in public. The inspiration of the next generation. The self-sacrifice to do something for someone else. And choosing to live in the present, not the past.

I myself am missing my family this holiday. As a digital nomad, I was on the road in 2019, too — but at least then I found distant family to celebrate Christmas with. This year, I've been welcomed into the home of a family that is not my own. It still leaves me wistful for simpler times when everyone could be together.

By depicting an unrestricted family gathering, this commercial plants itself firmly not in the reality of 2020. Yet for some reason, it's something that I needed. Maybe it's because I have neither grandparents nor children, making its abstract lesson more noticeable than the setting or context. Or maybe it's the inspiration that if we work hard enough, we as a society can endure and accomplish anything — including surviving this pandemic.

Whatever comes after the pandemic won't be a return to "normalcy" as we've known it. But this Christmas isn't cancelled any more than last year's was or next year's is. Each year will be different, and if we can find the strength and motivation to adapt, then that itself is something to celebrate.

The Wishgranter

10-Sep-16 10:30 AM by
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Happy birthday to a special someone! May all your wishes come true.

Looking Back at 2014

04-Jan-15 9:01 AM by
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Happy New Year! It's been four years since I took this opportunity to reflect on the past year of movies, so I have some catching up to do!

For about a decade, my moviegoing was stable at 10–16 outings a year. I've never been one for Hulu or Netflix, so anything I didn't catch in theaters, I'd either borrow on DVD from the library or miss entirely. But lately, my habits have changed:

2014 year in review

Not since I was in college have I gone to the movies as often as I did in 2014! What changed? I attribute this uptick to several causes, in order:

  1. This was my first full year living in Boston. I now have easy access to so many theaters that it's easy to hop on a bus or subway and see one after work or on a weekend.
  2. Likewise, I also have easier access to friends who live in Boston, where I went to grad school. Many of them don't have cars but can use public transit to coordinate outings. More invitations to the movies equals more movies.
  3. The Brattle Theatre, a non-profit theater in Harvard Square. It has only one screen and generally shows a different film every day, ranging from classics to indies to regional debuts. I'm a patron of the Brattle, which grants me a dozen free tickets a year. Darned if I'm going to let them go to waste! However, this also means not every movie I saw in 2014 was necessarily a 2014 release, such as Labyrinth and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  4. RiffTrax Live. The creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have kicked up the number of live-streaming comedic commentary events, with four in 2014 alone. I backed two of them via Kickstarter, so of course I was going to see my name up in lights!

Having gone to the theaters so many times, I thought the competition for best films of the year would be stiffer, but the choices are fairly obvious — especially if you like children's films: Frozen (which technically came out in 2013), The Lego Movie (essentially a retelling of The Matrix), and Big Hero 6, which I liken to a cross between How to Train Your Dragon and The Incredibles. All three films were a pure joy, and though there is a place for cinema to be challenging and address dark or difficult subjects, I felt like these movies made moviegoing fun, while featuring believable characters and some plot twists that elevated them above being insubstantial tripe.

I'm not going to make predictions for 2015. The last time I offered predictions, they included promises that I would not be seeing X-Men: First Class or the Footloose remake. I ended up seeing and thoroughly enjoying both! So enjoy whatever the year has to offer. Showbits' official debut was eight years ago this month, and though my energy for blogging has mostly been directed elsewhere, theatergoing is still a big part of my life. I look forward to sharing those experiences with you for years to come!

Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history

11-Jul-14 10:56 AM by
Filed under Reviews, Television; 2 comments.

In the fifteen years since I cancelled my cable service, the television landscape has changed: "reality TV" was invented, medical and legal procedural dramas boomed, and HDTV became the norm. So it was interesting to watch and review the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire for Computerworld. Not being an AMC subscriber, I bought a season pass for the first four episodes on Amazon Instant Video and paid for the fifth episode individually.

It's hard to judge any show by its early episodes — I doubt any of the various Star Trek series would've lasted long by that metric. So I tried to keep my critical eye at bay for the first few episodes, which was not easy. The three main characters — Joe MacMillian (Lee Pace), Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) — are trying to develop one of the first IBM clones of 1983, but their subterfuge and machinations, with both corporations and each other. I roll my eyes at such drama for the same reason that I stopped watching soap operas. MacMillian, who physically reminds me of a cross between John Cusack and Andy Garcia, is a vile businessman who oozes deceit and smarm. He's a character you love to hate.

Halt and Catch Fire

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillian. What a jerk.


But there are some really nice moments of character development, too. Clark, the show's Steve Wozniak-like character, struggles to realize his dream of creating the ultimate computer and will hitch his wagon to whoever can help him get there. At the same time, he's trying to be a good husband and father, though his family clearly isn't his priority.

Overall, I've enjoyed watching the first five episodes and will likely continue watching the series as time permits. For more details, read my full review on Computerworld.com, "Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history".

It's easy to fall in love with Her, Computerworld, and MIT

20-Jan-14 7:30 PM by
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This month marks two one-year anniversaries. January 12 was my departure from Computerworld, the magazine and website where I'd been an editor for six years; January 22 commemorates my arrival at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I now work on the MIT Medical marketing team. I was concerned that leaving the publishing field would diminish my value as, and opportunities to be, a journalist. Much to my pleasant surprise, the opposite has proven true, with resources and collaborations now possible that weren't a year ago.

When Monica Castillo of the Cinema Fix podcast recommended I see the movie Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix, I sensed the opportunity for a story. Monica had previously gotten me into a press screening of Jobs, which I turned into a review for Computerworld. With Her's focus on a lonely bachelor's romantic relationship with a Siri-like mobile operating system, this film also seemed up the alley of Computerworld's readers. I sold my pitch to their news editor.

Here's the thing about writing film reviews for Computerworld: it's a publication that covers IT, not cinema. For the article to be a good fit, it would have to connect to the IT angle somehow. Past methods of doing so wouldn't work. For my first Computerworld movie reviews — The Bourne Ultimatum, Live Free or Die Hard, Iron Man, and Iron Man 2 — I paired with a security expert and analyzed that aspect of the movie's tech. But Computerworld didn't feel I needed a co-writer for Her. Jobs had plenty of historical fact to assess, but Her was a fictional, futuristic work. My editor suggested that "It would be great if we could set the context around the melding of technology and day to day life as opposed to just a straight out 'this was a good/bad movie'." I wanted to do more than that — but what do I know about artificial intelligence?


Fortunately, whatever technical knowledge I lack, MIT has in spades. Right in my own academic backyard is CSAIL, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. I reached out to the MIT News Office, and Abby Abazorius connected me with principal research scientist Boris Katz. On short notice, Katz made himself available to discuss the basics of artificial intelligence and consciousness and how they compared with the capabilities of Samantha in Her. Even though Katz had not seen the film, my line of questions based on my own viewing opened him right up. After just 45 minutes of conversation, I had ample material to transcribe.

The resulting article, "It's easy to fall in love with Her", was published on January 11 — a year to the Friday that I left Computerworld for MIT. I found it a fitting manifestation of the ways in which I can continue to be a contributing member of the Computerworld community, even more so now that I have access to everything MIT has to offer. Who knows what other stories lie about MIT, waiting to be unearthed?

Jobs movie applies its own reality distortion field

19-Aug-13 1:45 PM by
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Less than two years since Steve Jobs' passing, his life story hits the silver screen today. The limited release of Jobs, the feature-length film directed by Joshua Michael Stern and starring Ashton Kutcher, was delayed from its original April release after it received poor reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. The official release will please Apple fans with its casting and acting as much as it will frustrate them with its script and dramatic reinterpretation of events.

Josh Gad & Ashton Kutcher

Josh Gad & Ashton Kutcher as Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.


Continue reading my review at Computerworld.com »

A big thanks to the Cinema Fix weekly movie review podcast, whose co-host got me into the Jobs press screening that made my review possible!

Summer Shorts sellout: My favorite CGI films

19-Jun-13 12:23 PM by
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I spend so much time watching YouTube that, in 2009, I applied that knowledge toward creating a Showbits feature: Summer Shorts. Every weekday for a week, I posted a different short film to this site. In 2010, I revisited the format but over a longer period of time, sharing one video every Friday for 17 weeks.

After a two-year hiatus, I'm pleased to announce Summer Shorts is back, though in a new context. Going with a thematic approach and a commercial outlet, I've compiled my nine favorite CGI shorts into a video gallery. "9 animated shorts that give Pixar a run for its money" is my first freelance feature for ITworld, an affiliate of Computerworld, the magazine where I was an editor for six years.

9 animated shorts that give Pixar a run for its money

Who needs Pixar? Here are my 9 favorite CGI shorts that you can watch for free right on YouTube.


Two of the nine shorts will be familiar to long-time Showbits readers. Pigeon: Impossible and Kiwi, though older, stand as some of the most enjoyable and memorable animated films I have seen online. Five other shorts I'd seen before but had not previously shared, leaving Rosa and The Chase as new to me, the result of extensive research into YouTube's library.

There were enough other candidates that ITworld's gallery could have been nearly double its length: six more videos, including The Passenger and Sebastian's Voodoo, nearly made the cut. As is, the final playlist totals an hour, making for an fun and diverse showcase of the fastest, funniest, most poignant CGI films YouTube has to offer.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug trailer

11-Jun-13 6:03 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

Last year's release of The Hobbit was warmly received by this blogger. In many ways, I actually preferred it to the Lord of the Rings: it seemed lighter, somehow, and there was more obvious character growth in our protagonist. Though a bit uneven in pacing, it didn't feel too long, either. It left me eager to see the rest of the series.

That wait got a bit shorter today with the release of the first trailer for the second part in this trilogy. Behold The Desolation of Smaug:

I'm actually a bit underwhelmed by this trailer, which I feel reflects more on the editing than on the source material. There weren't many surprises or major plot references. The most intriguing, but still unsurprising, aspect was the appearance of a certain well-known elf. As someone not well-versed in Tolkien lore, I'm unsure how Legolas Greenleaf works into this tale, seeing as how he was not in the original book. But all will be revealed upon the film's release on December 13, 2013.

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