Rod Paddock's blog

Review: The Ambassador


The Ambassador

Documentaries take us places. Some take us to places where creativity thrives, others take us to the halls of science, and some take us to unpleasant places, places we do not want to admit exist. The film The Ambassador, opening in Austin today, takes us to this latter place, a world where corruption and hypocrisy are woven into the fabric of everyday society.  

The Ambassador takes us to the Central African Republic, a country bordered by Chad, Sudan and the Congo. A former French colony, the Central African Republic is rich in natural resources (diamonds, gold, oil), contrasted with one of the poorest populations in all of Africa. The Central African Republic is a place where the powerful make fortunes on the backs of the poor and unfortunate.

The documentary shines a light on the easily corrupted power structure of this impoverished nation. The creation of Danish journalist Mads Brügger, the movie seeks to expose the corruption found in the heart of nations like the Central African Republic. 

Review: The Imposter


The Imposter

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." 
--Mark Twain

This statement is a perfect metaphor for the documentary The Imposter, which screened at SXSW 2012 and returns to Austin theaters on Friday. The Imposter tells the story of Nicholas Barclay and Frederic Bourdin. Nicholas is a boy from San Antonio who disappeared one day in 1994 after playing basketball with friends. Frederic is a serial imposter who in 1997 managed to convince Barclay's family as well as authorities in Spain and the U.S. that he was Nicholas. This story would make an interesting piece of fiction if it were not true. It definitely makes for an interesting documentary.

The movie was directed by Bart Layton, who is known for creating the British TV series Locked Up Abroad. Layton's extensive experience making documentaries shows in this movie, his first feature. The Imposter uses a style similar to the one found in Locked Up Abroad (yes, I have seen a few). Extensive use of interviews as well as re-creations of events breathe life into Barclay and Bourdin's joint story.

Comic Con 2012 Dispatch, Part Three: A Triumphant Return to Hall H


Quentin Tarantino Discussing Django Unchained

We survived the travails of the first day of San Diego Comic-Con -- read Part One and Part Two for the saga. After successfully avoiding dietary calamities, exhaustion and depletion of resources, we prepared for the final stretch of our journey. We headed bravely into the maelstrom. We headed into Friday and Saturday braving the realm of Hall H!

As you learned from our last journal entry, Hall H is where the biggest of the biggest panels of Comic-Con occur. Friday and Saturday are the two biggest days of Comic-Con and this is the time when the studios bring out the big guns.

Zombie Friday

Friday was a big day for me and my daughter Krysta. We got in line again around 7 am to secure a seat for the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones panels. Yes, we waited another 4+ hours in order to see an hour and a half of content. The beauty of this strategy is that you see things you would normally not while camped in Hall H. In my case, the Paranorman panel provided insights I had not expected. I was blown away when I learned that Paranorman was created using stop-motion animation. For months I have seen trailers, and could have sworn that the movie was a CG operation. Count me impressed! You will be blown away by Paranorman.

Comic-Con 2012 Dispatch, Part Two: From Hall H to Oderus Urungus


Tim Burton Comic Con 2012

You were forewarned. San Diego Comic-Con is not for the uninitiated. In Part One, you learned just how perilous it can be just to make it to Comic-Con. This time, you will discover what it is like to survive but one day of Comic-Con.

Line, Lines, Everywhere a Line ...

After acquiring shelter, badges, treasure and finally nourishment, rest was mandatory. We would be storming the walls of the infamous HALL H at Breaking Dawn. Actually we wanted to see the panel for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2, which required our weary band of travelers to be in line early to assure we'd get a seat. 

Doing a calculation on our portable abacus, we learned that the optimal time to be in line was probably 7 am for festivities starting around 11 am. Four hours early? Yes, four hours early. The lines for Hall H are epic and it is wise to arrive that early in order to acquire a decent seat. The Hall H madness reached a crescendo in 2008 when the panel for the first Twilight panel hit the con. Why would this middle-age traveller brave such a line? The wee one! This Comic-Con would be my 14-year-old daughter's first, and we would not be missing this for all the shiny vampire sprinkles in the world. 

Comic-Con 2012 Dispatch, Part One: Achievements Unlocked!


Comic-Con 2012

Let this document serve as a warning to people attempting the journey to San Diego Comic-Con. The trail to Comic-Con is a perilous one for some and a life-changing event for others. We go to Comic-Con in search of enlightenment, fellowship, spiritual awakening, inspiration and in some cases acquisition of rare and unique treasures. Be warned this journey is not for the faint of heart or weak of soul. Let the journey begin ...


Attending SDCC (as we veterans call it) requires preparation. The first step in your journey is the acquisition of the rarest of all items: the Comic-Con badge. Without a badge, you're nothing but a "normal," doomed to a life on the outside looking in. The location of "in" is the San Diego Convention Center, the Mecca of all that is geek.

My journey to the 2012 SDCC actually began in the pre-dawn hours of the 2011 SDCC. I waited with fellow travelers in hopes of scoring the ultimate of all SDCC badges, the "Golden Ticket" of Comic-Con, a full convention badge with preview night. Many hours later, after waiting with friends hailing from the far-off realms of Phoenix and Chicago, our weary band was ushered into the hall of tickets. We learned that badges were being rationed to two tickets per person. After my six-hour pilgrimage, the gods of tickets showed me favor and granted my wish: two Full Convention Passes with Preview Night! Acquisition unlocked .... Tickets acquired!

Comic-Con Review: Lawless



By all accounts Franklin County, Virginia is a picturesque place. Rolling hills, fog covered ponds, covered bridges and greenery as far as the eye can see, this is a place of peace and tranquility. This description is accurate, unless we are talking about Prohibition-era Franklin County. During this era, the rolling hills are accompanied by still fires as far as the eye can see. This is "The Moonshine Capital of the World." This is the world of Lawless, which had a special screening at Comic-Con San Diego earlier this month. Lawless, based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, tells the story of the author’s grandfather and great-uncles' careers as some of Franklin County's most notorious bootleggers.

Lawless highlights the legendary lives of the brothers Bondurant: Jack, Forrest and Howard, played by Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke respectively. From run-ins with the law, a thirst for fast cars, a hunger for success and a love of family, Lawless weaves a story of brotherly love and angst told in the context of the gritty world  of moonshiners. The performances of LaBeouf, Hardy and Clarke are convincing. Jack is the youngest and most ambitious of the brothers, Forrest is the soft-spoken but strong oldest brother, and Howard is the middle brother whose love of moonshine affects him greatly. All of these characters are fully formed people and are left in the hands of skilled actors. 

Review: Katy Perry: Part of Me


Katy Perry is the reigning princess of popular music. In a short timeframe, Ms. Perry has created 7 #1 chart topping hits, sold millions of albums and embarked on a successful world tour. The latest creation from Castle Perry is Katy Perry: Part of Me, a documentary highlighting the ups and downs of Katy Perry’s life, as she embarks on 2011's Teenage Dream tour. 

When viewing the trailer for Katy Perry: Part of Me one cannot help think, "Oh great, another bubblegum princess trying to sell more albums." But this movie is no such thing. It's the real deal and shines a balanced light on the life, love and career of a shooting star. 

Katy Perry: Part of Me starts with self-shot testimonials from Perry fans talking about the empowering and inspirational messages they receive from her. The last testimonial is the musician herself at age 18 talking about the responsibility of being a pop star. This is five years before her breakout album One of the Boys.

Through this documentary we learn that her statement as an 18-year-old was prescient. Throughout the film we see Perry meet with fans backstage. These types of scenes can be contrived but in her case, we can see she is a genuine person. This does not get cemented until late in the film. There is a scene toward the end where you really understand her relationship with the fans.

Review: Ted


TedA man, his girlfriend and his teddy bear walk in to a bar. The bear sits down and orders a margarita ... Whoa! What did you just say? The teddy bear orders a margarita? Come on, now, what kind of joke is this? This is no joke! This is Ted, the newest creation from the fertile comedic brain of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane

The movie Ted opens with young John Bennett making a wish that his teddy bear be brought to life. As a shooting star flies overhead, little John's wish is granted. Ted is brought to life and our adventure begins.

The world soon learns of Ted’s existence and people want to hear his story. The little bear appears in magazines, news interviews and is even invited to be a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The opening scenes of the film are accompanied by a hilarious voiceover provided by Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart.

The film then moves quickly to the present day. The adult John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) are two foul-mouthed boys from Boston, who spend their day watching TV, smoking weed and eating Pringles. Yep, the teddy bear is a raging pothead who likes to party all the time. John is in a four-year relationship with Lori Collins (Mila Kunis), an up-and-coming professional madly in love with him. Lori wants to move to the next step with John but is hindered by the close relationship that her boyfirend has with Ted. The core focus of the movie is spent dealing with this complex relationship.

The thought of a film with a CGI animated bear as a lead character is cause for concern. Rest assured this concern is unfounded. The character of Ted is skillfully brought to life in the able hands of skilled comedic writer MacFarlane, who shares screenwriting credit with Family Guy alumni Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. The character of Ted is believable -- you'd want to hang with him if given the chance. 

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


Seeking a Friend poster

Imagine for a moment that the film Armageddon had turned out differently. What if Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck failed to blow up the "planet killer" headed towards Earth? Well, look no further. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World picks up where this hypothetical rewrite of Armageddon ends.

Steve Carell plays Dodge, a typical shlub who hears about the failure of the aformentioned mission via legacy media: the radio. Seconds after hearing this news Dodge's wife opens the car door, exits and runs away, never to be seen again. This is the beginning of the end in Dodge's meager existence.

In the ensuing days we see Dodge return to work as a phone rep for an insurance company -- he and a few other sad sacks just don't seem to get it. Why the heck are these people wasting their last days at some depressing corporate gig? Soon Dodge returns home to his apartment where he is greeted by his housekeeper busily cleaning his house. Dodge cannot find it in his heart to tell her not to come back, which seems to illustrate just how beaten down and timid he has become.

Dodge eventually finds himself at an end-of-the-world party being hosted by his best friends Warren and Diane (Rob Corddry and Austin favorite Connie Britton). They try to set Dodge up with an end-of-the-world romance. This love connection doesn't pan out and Dodge eventually returns home.

Upon returning home he has a chance encounter with his neurotic neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley). Eventually Penny hands Dodge a stack of mail that contains a letter from Dodge's lost love. This is where the adventure begins in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. As riots break out around them, Penny and Dodge, now friends, set out to find Dodge's long-lost love.

Review: Chernobyl Diaries


Chernobyl Diaries

In April 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor experienced a meltdown caused by a failed system test. This failed test was accompanied by a power surge, explosions and subsequent exposure of the reactors control material. The exposure of the control material caused a fire, sending a radioactive plume of smoke to be released into the atmosphere. The fallout from this radioactive plume caused the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people in the areas surrounding the nuclear plant. One of the abandoned places is Prypiat. Prypiat is the city that housed the workers of Chernobyl. This city is now an a empty husk of a city and the setting of the new movie Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries tells the story of a group of twentysomethings on an extended trip through Europe. Before they leave for Moscow, the travelers decide to take a day trip to the ghost city Prypiat. Turned back by security guards, the group's tour guide finds an alternate route into the city.

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