Monday, January 27, 2014

My Own Subjective Top 10 Movies of 2013

Hello, faithful readers.

I told you I'd be back.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I still plan on occasionally posting. I've just given up on regular posting for now. So I've decided to reappear, momentarily, to present to you my top ten list of movies I saw this past year. Remember, these films on this list don't need to have been made in 2013 to qualify, that just has to be the year that I watched them for the first time. Make sense? If not, you can check out past years' lists from 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Truth be told, I thought it was going to be hard to populate my list with ten exceptional movies this year. For a while there in 2013, I went through a string of movies that disappointed me, movies that I was completely indifferent about, movies I disliked and movies I absolutely hated, and yet I still found more than 10 movies to which I gave a rating of four stars or more. And here they are, in a very particular order:

10. Strangers on a Train (1951) - The reason that Strangers on a Train succeeds is because of its antagonist. Robert Walker plays a character that is both charming and terrifying. Plus, Hitchcock does an excellent job of creating suspense and making the viewer feel anxious for the protagonist as well as the antagonist. The climax is a little silly, but this film, overall, is another example of why the name of Alfred Hitchcock will always be remembered.


9. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) - Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon brings a fresh feel and a fresh face to the slasher genre. It's quite entertaining how this film points out how much planning, how much preparation and how much luck would be needed for the murders in those types of horror movies. It also lets us enjoy a full-fledged slasher movie after showing everything that is going on behind the scenes. I was pleasantly surprised by this film. 


8. Life of Pi (2012) - Life of Pi is a beautiful movie, both visually and thematically. This film reminded me of how much I enjoyed the book. Also, I was impressed with Suraj Sharma, who carried his first movie mostly on his own. The CGI is cartoony at parts, but it's easy to get lost in the story and forget that most of what you're seeing is nothing more than visual effects. This is a wonderful adaptation of an excellent novel.


7. Looper (2012) - Looper is a clever film. Time travel is always a sticky issue, but this movie embraces the impossibilities and invites the audience to just enjoy the ride. Whatever flaws this movie may have, it makes up for it with its creativity. Plus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a great Bruce Willis. We need more movies like Looper -- creative and smart movies.


6. The Impossible (2012) - If you're not sure if your tear ducts are working, watch The Impossible. This movie will inspire terror, despair and, perhaps most of all, hope. However, this movie doesn't feel sappy or emotionally manipulative. The acting is superb - even the child actors give amazingly realistic performances - and the special effects are horrifying. This is an amazing true story brought to life on the big screen, and it is a good reminder of what truly matters in this world.

5. The World's End (2013) - The World's End isn't as comedic as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, but it's still a solid action flick. It's interesting to see Nick Frost play the sensible character and Simon Pegg play the screw-up. Plus, it features a good ensemble cast. The plot is simple, yet fun, and the special effects are spectacular. It's not a perfect movie, but it's an entertaining movie and a suitable end to the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy.

4. Argo (2012) - Argo is a well-made movie based on a fascinating true story. No, it's not 100-percent historically accurate, but it presents the plot in a way that works on the big screen. This drama is also subtly comedic, and it features excellent acting by the entire cast. I'll be interested to see if this one holds up as well on subsequent viewings.


3. Wreck-it Ralph (2012) - I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph more than I thought I would. Even though the trailer spoiled most of the funny stuff, this movie features a heart-warming story about accepting who you are. The animation is literally full of eye candy, and it features enough nerdy video game references to keep me happy. Yes, Wreck-It Ralph has some flaws (e.g. Sarah Silverman); however, as I learned from this movie, we should try to look past the flaws and see the good. I've seen this film multiple times and it holds up quite well.

2. Silver Linings Playbook (2012) - Silver Linings Playbook is technically a romantic comedy, but I hesitate to lump it in with all of the other cookie-cutter rom-coms out there. It is one of the most unique romantic comedies I've ever seen. Plus, it doesn't have that pretentious "quirky for quirky's sake" feel that many independent films do. Bradley Cooper is surprisingly good in his role and Jennifer Lawrence is impressive as always. This is an intelligent movie with an entertaining story about broken people who are trying to help each other become whole.

And the best movie that I saw in 2013 was...

1. Gravity (2013) - Gravity isn't just a movie, it's an experience. It's an experience of sight, it's an experience of sound and it's an emotional experience, as well. This film makes you feel like you are drifting among the stars, instead of just showing you a story set in space. The visual effects are unique, awe-inspiring and terrifying, and while the plot is simple, there is beauty in its simplicity. I've never seen a movie quite like Gravity.

Also, as an honorable mention, this past year I enjoyed World War Z (2013), Jack Reacher (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) and The Dirty Dozen (1967), as well, but they weren't quite favorite enough to bump out anything in my top ten.

Let's hope 2014 brings about even more difficult choices as to what to include in my top ten list! Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 11, 2013

300: Rise of a Sabbatical

Faithful readers, this is my 300th post on Slice of Fried Gold. And it's time for me to take a break.

I started this blog in February of 2008 as a place where I could save and catalog the strange and funny things I found on the internet. For a while there, I posted whenever I saw fit, but then somewhere along the line I decided to hold myself to a weekly post. So, for the past few years, the plan was that I would pick an idea from my email inbox and I would spend the week crafting and polishing a post and then have it ready to go by 12:01 am each and every Monday morning.

But that's not what happened. For the last year or so, as my life got busier (or I got lazier, I can't really decide which one), I found myself doing the Sunday night scramble and ignoring my family and friends as I furiously typed away on the laptop and scoured the interwebs for random stories and YouTube videos to embed into the post -- believe it or not, the hyperlinks were usually the most time consuming part of my blog posts.

Additionally, writing a blog post started to lose some of its luster. This arbitrary weekly deadline I set for myself began to loom over my head and I began to dread Sunday evenings because of it. I struggled to find things I wanted to write about, and a number of times I just posted a YouTube video with very little text, simply because I wanted to get the post out of the way -- and that's not the way it should be. This blog was a way for me to get my creative writing bug out, and now that it's become more of a chore, I decided it might be best for me to back off a bit.

However, I didn't want to leave you, my faithful readers, hanging. It bothers me when TV shows end without giving proper resolution or when radio stations change formats without an explanation. So this is my explanation to you: I won't be posting regularly from now on. I'm taking a sabbatical.

Frankly, it seems to me that the age of the blog has passed. I've seen a number of talented bloggers stop blogging and I believe it's partly because the times have changed. Sure, there are popular mommy blogs and opinion blogs out there, but there's not really room for a blog that posts funny videos and weird stories weekly, when people can get the same thing hourly on Twitter or Facebook. I saw the downward slope of my traffic and choose to believe it's because of the decline of blogs in general and not because of a decline of my sense of humor, but still, my heart just isn't in it anymore.

Yup. These are my actual stats from Blogger.
However, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge some milestones on this, my 300th post:

My Most-viewed Post

Most Comments on a Post
  • The Curse of the Number 3 (26 comments). This post about the third movie in a series usually being the worst of the series got a pretty big boost because it was featured on the front page of IMDb (on the Hit List, which is something they've since discontinued). I was pretty proud of this one. It barely beat out Breaking Silence (25 comments), which surprised me, since Twilight fans are usually pretty defensive and vocal.
Sidenote: I once said that I was going to stop blogging whenever I got three posts in a row with no comments, but that happened far too often. :) 

My Favorite Posts
That's a difficult question. I mean, I have 300 to pick from. It includes all of the ones mentioned above (with the exception of May I Request a Sidebar, Your Honor? - that was a throwaway post), but in addition to those posts already mentioned, I also really enjoyed writing:

Now, this isn't a goodbye. I still plan to post when I have something to say, but I'm not going to be doing it on a weekly basis. My time seems so limited lately, and, to put it in current terms, I'm furloughing non-essential activities. I'm taking my Sundays back, and I'm spending more time with my growing family.

I thank you for being a faithful reader of Slice of Fried Gold.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Take a Bite Out of Fashion

Ok, faithful readers, since the last post was only loosely related to Halloween, I decided it was only fair that I do one more Halloween-related post. So even though all of my Halloween decorations are cleaned up and I've spread the horror movies across my entire queue, instead of stacking them all at the top, let's dance around the theme of scary and unusual one more time, shall we?

This week's post was sent in by, alert reader, Andrea and I'll admit that it disturbed me. I consider my tolerance level for being grossed out pretty high (I changed two poopy diapers today and only gagged twice), but this fashion statement from a British couple named Fantich & Young just seems. . .wrong.

Check it out:

Yup. Just in case you're not wearing your reading glasses right now, there are teeth lining the bottom of those black Oxfords.

1,050 teeth, to be specific. No, they're not real teeth, they're just dentures, but still. Ew.

Just ew. Especially with the gold teeth accents on the front. I don't know why that disturbs me as much as it does, but it does.

But Mariana Fantich and Dominic Young weren't just content with disturbing dress shoes with dentured soles. Oh, no.

That, faithful readers, is a perfectly normal coat with nothing unusual about it.

I'm kidding, of course. Fantich & Young created this monstrosity using a Savile Row suit, dentures (of course), glass eyes and, you're not going to believe this, human hair. Yes, human hair.

And yes, there are matching pants with denture accents, as well.

They really do go well with those shoes, I guess.

And, don't worry ladies, they have some Jimmi Choos for you, as well.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Let's Define "Blackface"



Before I start, I feel that I should inform you that I'm "white." I put that color in quotes because my skin isn't really the color of a cloud or a marshmallow (though its consistency may be like one of those two things -- I need to work out more). My skin is more of a peach-ish, orange-ish, pink-ish hue. However, my race shouldn't be an issue here. After all, if you're going to dismiss my opinion based solely on the color of my skin, that kind of makes you racist, doesn't it?

I bring this up because recently Julianne Hough has been accused of racism because she appeared in "blackface" for her Halloween costume. Here's a picture:

Now, I don't really follow Ms. Hough's career that much (I hear she dances and sings), but I find it interesting that people are considering this costume to be racially offensive. She was just using some makeup to look like one of her favorite characters from a TV show, who happens to be black. Here's a picture of the character she was trying to look like:

Now, I don't really follow Orange is the New Black that much (I hear there's dancing and singing), but if Julianne Hough is dressing up as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren, why shouldn't she try to match the skin tone of the character? If she didn't, Ms. Hough would spend the evening explaining who she was to each person at the party because no one would really get it. After all, Hough is a blond-haired, blue-eyed white girl. She was just trying to match the TV character (played by Uzo Aduba) as much as she possibly could.

Hough has since apologized for her costume, but did she really need to? If I was going as Conan O'Brien for Halloween, for example, I would probably apply some translucent white makeup to lighten my skin and I'd probably also wear an orange wig. I doubt anyone (including the Irish) would call that racist. So why would it be considered racist to darken my skin a little to match that of a character I'm trying to emulate? Furthermore, would it have been considered racist if Hough had worn a "Crazy Eyes" mask instead of using makeup?

To me, Julianne's costume is not blackface. It's just makeup for a costume. It wasn't done with the intent to offend or satirize the African American community, it was done to match a character on TV. It's not a great costume, but it's also not a racist one.

You know what I think blackface is? Here's a picture:

To me, this is a sloppy and, frankly, offensive way of portraying the skin of those with African heritage. Back in the day, actors would slather on the black makeup and then add a white mouth during vaudeville shows and films. Blackface was done as a satirical stereotype of an entire race and was a pretty bad idea in the first place, in my opinion.

Let's jump back to today, shall we?

That picture is from a 2013 Dunkin' Donuts ad in Thailand about a dark chocolate doughnut. Now, I am unable to read the Thai language, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the text doesn't say "I am a generalization of the African people, and I like doughnuts." No, this advertisement shows a chocolate-covered doughnut held by a chocolate-covered person. It has nothing to do with race. And yet some Americans still clamored that this ad was racist. They yelled "BLACKFACE!" and demanded that the ads be taken down because they were so offensive. Unless "Chocolate-covered Doughnut People" is an existing race on the World Census, this should not be considered racism and it should not be considered blackface.

But that's not to say that people don't do blackface in modern times.

That picture is of Ted Danson. For those of you who don't know who Ted Danson is, he was a famous TV star who only really made one successful venture into the movie world with Three Men and a Baby. Anyway, in 1993 he appeared at Whoopi Goldberg's roast, admittedly, in blackface. But for some reason Ms. Goldberg was fine with it (note her approving face in that picture). And when the media got after Mr. Danson, she defended him, saying she had helped write Danson's "comedic" material, and even referred Danson to the makeup artist who painted his face. Danson and Goldberg (which would be a good name for a law firm) also dismissed the accusations by saying that these types of roasts were intended to offend and shock people. This is blackface, but apparently it's an excused example of blackface.

Here's another example I'd like to discuss:

That picture depicts a group of fans painting themselves the color of their favorite sports team, which happens to be black. As far as I can tell, those girls have no racial agenda with that makeup. If fans of the Dallas Cowboys painted their skin silver, would that be considered racist? Perhaps they would be showing racism against the robot race? Should this be considered blackface? No.

Here is one final example of actual blackface, and, I need to warn you, this is offensive on a number of levels:

That is a picture of a guy smearing black makeup on his face, and fake blood on his hoodie to portray Trayvon Martin. He and his buddy apparently chose a "couple's costume" for this Halloween party. The girl is the middle is just clueless. If she realized how offensive and wrong this costume was, she wouldn't be standing between those two idiots and smiling. This is when people should get offended. This is racist. This is wrong. This is blackface.

It doesn't make sense to call that final, terrible, example of blackface "blackface" and call Julianne Hough's costume "blackface" in the same breath. The motives behind and implementations of each costume are completely different. People need to stop crying "BLACKFACE!" when it's not actually blackface. The more you throw around that term, the less power it has when it should actually be used.

So, faithful readers, let's recap what we've learned today:
  1. Using makeup to look like a famous actor/character, or painting yourself your team's colors is not blackface. 
  2. Smearing black paint on your face with the intention to portray a stereotyped caricature of an entire race is blackface.
  3. I need to work out more.
Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Northampton: They All Float Down Here

Faithful readers, can we call just take a moment, be honest with each other and admit that Tim Curry's role of Pennywise the Clown in Stephen King's "It" is the most terrifying thing to ever happen on television? Can we all just admit that that creepy clown has haunted our dreams as children and may even cause feelings of dread in us as adults?

Or is it just me?

I first saw "It" when it was on TV in 1990. Confession: I was probably not quite old enough to be watching something like that. How do I know that I may have been too young? Because I threw up after watching the first half of the miniseries. Now, that could have been because I had eaten too much hamburger gravy, or it could have been that my body was revolting after the terror and stress I had just put it through.

And to this day I still get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I see Pennywise, and sometimes when I just see Tim Curry. So you can imagine my feelings when I found out that someone in Northampton, England (which I believe is just north of Hampton, England) was dressing up as Pennywise the Clown and roaming around the streets.

Apparently the Northampton Clown, as he's called, shows up at a random location and stares at people. He doesn't talk, he doesn't juggle, he doesn't make balloon animals or any of the other terrifying things that clowns normally do -- he just stands there and waves. So people began to be, understandably, creeped out by him, and they did what normal people who are disturbed by something do these days - take a picture and post it online.

Here are a few of them:

Oh I get it!

"They all float down here!"

"Don't you want your balloon?"

Great, a clown and a weeping angel in the same vicinity. *shudder*

The pointing makes this picture especially creepy.
The Northampton Clown first started popping up around September 2013 on Friday the 13th (of course). Since that time, his pictures have appeared on the news, he's started a Facebook page and, just last week, his identity was revealed.

News outlets are now reporting that the Northampton clown is a student named Alex Powell. Alex is a filmmaker who made a mockumentary about a clown in a similar getup a few months before the sightings began. However, even though the media is sure that the Northampton Clown is none other than Alex Powell, the Northampton Clown Facebook page simply states, "Don't worry, my identity is still safe. See you all soon! BEEP BEEP!" so perhaps the Northampton Clown is still out there. . .waiting to be found in the dark night.

 Well, I guess it's back to nightmares and bed-wetting for me.


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Few, The Scared, The Nude

Nestled in between Allentown and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is a little town called Sinking Spring. Sinking Spring has a population of a little over 4,000, yet it has caught the eye of the national news lately. Why? Because of their Haunted Scream Park called Shocktoberfest. At first glance, it looks like your standard Halloween haunted attraction fare. You've got a haunted hayride, a couple spook alleys and a midway to keep people fed and entertained while they're waiting. However, they also have a new attraction this year called The Naked and Scared Challenge, which, faithful readers, is exactly what it sounds like.

Yup. Some demented mind in Pennsylvania thought it would be a fun idea to have people go through their haunted house completely nude.

Now, yes, I've had those nightmares when I'm suddenly naked in front of a group of people, and yes, it was terrifying, but that's a completely different type of fear than being chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac. Plus, I've witnessed the behind-the-scene antics of a haunted house before. Most of the people "working" there are young volunteers that had nothing better to do that night. So even though they may say "Participants are never in view of minors or non-participating customers," you're still being seen by the people you're with and the actors in the haunt. Plus, October is a cold month, especially in PA.

And apparently the fear was a little too real for a few of the township officials after this event got some national publicity, so Shocktoberfest has been asked to tone it down a bit. They've gotten rid of the nude option and only have the "prude" option, which means you can only go through in your underwear now.


I guess my wife and I will have to cancel that road trip to Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania this Halloween. Oh well. There's always that naked Christmas sleigh ride in Alaska. . .

Monday, October 7, 2013

Screams from Room #209

Ok, faithful readers, I will admit that I've had some difficulty getting into the Halloween spirit this year. But this video, sent in by, alert reader, Dena, definitely gave me the creeps.

Quick Note: This is not one of those sudden jump-out videos. I wouldn't do that to you. . .in this post.

Now, there are a few of reasons why I think this video is fake. First of all, if it was recorded on September 4, 2003, why did it take so long for them to upload it? I mean, people have been uploading videos to YouTube since April 23, 2005 and people have been interested in the paranormal since at least September 10, 1993, so why would they wait until September 4, 2012 to upload it, never mind the fact that it's just getting popular just now in October of 2013. Wow. I think I put too many dates in that paragraph.

Also, why is it that we can hear Amy at the beginning of the audio, but not later on? And why can you hear John's muffled drive-thru speaker speech when he's outside of the room, but not when he's giving the description of what was in the room? Plus, the screams from room #209 come in a bit too clear, if we can't even hear John most of the time.

Furthermore, two seconds pass between the time the unnamed security manager says "John, are you there?" to when John walks back out of the room and is clearly not using his radio. And somehow, in those two seconds he manages to tell the security manager (and us, the audience) that he wants Amy to call the police, that there's no one in the room and that the furniture was all turned over. Then John puts the radio to his lips for one second, and manages to tell the security manager that the carpet was ripped up and the shower was on and, once again, there's nobody in there.

Finally, why didn't John turn on the light when he walked in the room? If I were John, turning on the lights would be the first thing I would do if I were to hear screams in a dark room -- call me crazy. A flashlight is a dark room is just asking for the spooky.

However, even if this video isn't real (which I doubt it is, because Jimmynut22, who uploaded it is also a filmmaker, apparently) (and he uploaded the exact same video with the title "Alien caught on camera" a day later on September 5, 2012), I still think it's effective as a creepy video and a fun way to kick off this Halloween season.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Breaking Bye-Bye

Faithful readers, I wasn't able to watch the Breaking Bad finale Sunday night because I had other priorities. So I had to go on a media fast to avoid spoilers for this show. I didn't get on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Blogger (hey! that's what this blog is on!) for over 24 hours so I could avoid hearing anything about it. It was kind of liberating, actually -- I got a lot of stuff done. And it's surprising how easy it is to not read any spoilers when you just avoid the internet completely.

Anyway, Breaking Bad is dark, depressing and hard to watch, but it was also amazingly creative, absolutely riveting and it's the reason I don't have a real blog post for you. I can't wait for ClearPlay to get a filter for this show so I can actually recommend it to people.

Never fear, I have a whole slew of Halloween-related posts for the month of October.