Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dexter - Season Four

Every season of Dexter, I am consistently amazed how they manage to shock, awe and up the ante.

Season four is no except. After viewing the season finale, I am pretty much speechless.

My reaction can be summed up in two words:

Holy @#$%.

That's about all I kept saying while watching the last two minutes of the show--which gave us perhaps one of the best TV villains EVER in the form of Arthur Mitchell as played with sheer perfection by John Lithgow.

My brain just may explode considering the possibilities opened up for season five.

Holy @#$%!

An Education

This little British indie flick has been recommended to me by multiple people. I finally got a chance to see it today and while it still falls into the "good not great" category of most of what I've seen lately, it's still better than most of what you'll find out there.

Actually, I'd say it was "very good" instead of merely good. The acting, direction, cinematography and costumes (it's set in the 60s) were top-notch. What prevents me from being completely bowled over by it was the inability to completely suspend disbelief over the storyline.

The film follows the life of sixteen (going on seventeen--going on thirty-seven...) year-old Jenny--a smart and serious student completely focused on getting into Oxford. Her life takes a major detour when she crosses paths with the charming and witty David--who is twice her age.

David represents all the glamour, sophistication--and most importantly FUN--that is missing from her young life. Caught up in the excitement of all David has to offer, Jenny nearly loses her head while following her heart.

Peter Sarsgaard deftly handles the balance of the charming yet caddish David--yet it's hard to completely sympathize with a character whose moral center is non-existent. It's almost almost unimaginable to watch Jenny's parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) get so sucked into David's web that they allow their young daughter to be whisked away by an older man.

But while Jenny's parents are easily fooled by the clever and sycophantic David, Jenny is no simpering teenager. It boggles the mind that such an exceptionally smart young woman could fall so completely for David's shtick--even when confronted with his cohorts: the beautiful yet exceedingly vapid Helen (Rosamund Pike) and the dissolute and sometimes cruel Danny (Dominic Cooper). Of course the film compresses events into such a short period of time, it was hard for me to believe Jenny would buy into all David's lies.

But the film is based on a memoir by Lynn Barber in which she had a two-year affair with a charming con artist named Simon. Although Jenny eventually gets back on track towards her goal of attending Oxford, her real education comes through her loss of innocence thanks to David.

Although all the actors do a fabulous job, newcomer Carey Mulligan is indeed a standout with her Audrey Hepburn-esque grace combined with a Vivian Leigh-like steely reserve. And I have to give a special shout out to Olivia Williams--who is almost unrecognizable as the dowdy Miss Stubbs (she almost seems to be channeling a British Frances McDormand...) and her lovely nuanced performance.

Although An Education recalls British classics such as To Sir with Love and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, it doesn't quite have the depth of either film--but still it's worth seeing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Road

I've been looking forward to seeing the road after reading the Cormac McCarthy novel. Okay--maybe "looking forward" isn't quite accurate. Like the book, the movie is grim and grueling and consistent in its unrelenting misery.

The film manages to capture the post-apocalyptic world where humans struggle to live from one day to the next and humanity is in short supply. The story about a man and his son stars Viggo Mortensen at his most grimy and grizzled. Mortensen looks less like Aragorn and a whole lot like Michael Douglas after a month-long bender, so if you're going to swoon over Mr. Heart-throb you're bound to be disappointed.

While the movie mainly stays faithful to McCarthy's novel, it doesn't quite capture the stark and beautiful desolation in his prose. I can't quite put my finger on what was missing, but I feel that while both Mortensen's and Kodi Smit-McPhee gave nice performances, the feeling of the father-son bond which was so strong in the book was somewhat lacking in the film.

Still, the film manages to convey the bleak existence--the chill, the fear, the weariness. But while the book made me want to stock up for a possible global disaster, the film just made me want to take a long, warm shower. With plenty of soap.

Yet another entry into the "good, not great" category...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

North by Northwest 50th Anniversary Edition

Alfred Hitchcock directed dozens and dozens of movies, but if you could watch only one, make it North by Northwest. I've only seen about a dozen of Hitchcock's movies, but North by Northwest is easily my favorite. It stars Cary Grant and features action, suspense, mistaken identity, a cross-county chase and--did I mention Cary Grant?

The suave and sexy Grant appeared in multiple Hitchcock films--seems Hitch had a soft spot for the debonair Brit just like his reputed affinity for icy blondes. Oh yes, the platinum beauty in North by Northwest was played by Eva Marie Saint. Check out the cool banter between the two leads--even under the restraints of the Hays code, the dialogue and chemistry sizzles.

The Special Edition DVD which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the film's release features a restored version of the classic thriller along with:


  • Documentary: The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style
  • Documentary: North by Northwest: One for the Ages
  • Screenwriter commentary
  • Music only track
  • Cary Grant: A Class Apart
  • Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest hosted by Eva Marie Saint
  • Photo gallery
  • Trailer gallery

The North by Northwest Special Edition was released on November 3rd and is available in both DVD and Blu-ray.

Monday, November 23, 2009

DevaCurl MirrorCurls

I recently was given the opportunity to test out one of DevaCurl's newest products: MirrorCurls--a silicone-free shine serum. The elimination of silicone from the 99% naturally derived formula means no build-up or greasiness.

Those natural ingredients, which include sunflower oil, balm mint,
lemongrass, chamomile, and rosemary, give MirrorCurls its luscious scent. The product can be used on either wet or dry hair and can either define curls and add gloss or can be used to straighten hair and make it look sleek and shiny.

With my hair short, my curls are currently pretty much non-existent. But I found the product useful for another purpose. Despite the shortness of my locks--which most would think make it easy to style and keep neat--my hair has a tendency to go all "Dennis the Menace" on me which random pieces sticking out at unwieldy angles. A bit of the MirrorCurls smoothed over my mane tames cowlicks and frizzies into submission.

If you have limp, fine hair, MirrorCurls would help to provide substance and texture. My favorite DevaCurl product still remains Mist-er Right, but MirrorCurls is a nice addition to my hair styling arsenal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Blind Side

The Blind Side has been getting favorable if not overwhelming critical reviews--but the audience response has been extremely positive. The true story of Michael Oher--who was taken in by the Touhy family and went on to become a football star with the Baltimore Raven--is uplifting, heartwarming and an unabashed tearjerker.

Critics may fault it for being a bit predictable, meandering and--at over two hours runtime--a little too long, but the story and characters are so engaging that it becomes easy to overlook its flaws.

At the heart of the story is Sandra Bullock as the feisty, flinty Leigh Anne Touhy. Bullock's role choices have been hit-or-miss, usually capitalizing on her girl-next-door likability. Leigh Anne, however, is a steamroller--ruling her home, husband and everything else she comes into contact with. Bullock does a masterful job as portraying both her hard determination and the compassionate softer side as well.

The immovable object to Leigh Anne's irresistible force is Big Mike, played by newcomer Quinton Aaron. Aaron plays gentle giant Michael Oher with understated dignity. The cast also includes Tim McGraw as Leigh Anne's husband and a scene-stealing Jae Head as the youngest Touhy.

Admittedly, I'm a sucker for these kinds of movies and I shed more than one tear throughout the film. There will be a lot of Oscar contenders coming up in the next month or so--but I doubt many of them will provide as satisfying movie-going experience as The Blind Side.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The BlackAdder Ultimate Edition on DVD 10/20

I must admit that I had no knowledge of Rowan Atkinson's (aka Mr. Bean) Blackadder series. Set in Britain in the Middle Ages, the show follows the exploits of the foppish, foolish, conniving Prince Edmund (Atkinson). It's a silly send-up of British history done soap opera-style--instead of a costume drama you've got a costume comedy.

I adore the Monty Python series and movies--and Blackadder is reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, albeit not quite as sharp and witty.

The Ultimate Edition DVD contains all 25 Blackadder episodes from The Blackadder, Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third and The Blackadder Goes Forth plus the three Blackadder specials: Blackadder Back and Forth, Blackadder's Christmas Carol (which is a purely comedic inversion of the Dickens classic...) and Blackadder: The Cavalier Years.

Special features include:

  • Baldrick's Video Diary
  • All-new commentary with Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Ben Elton, Richard Curtis, Tony Robinson, and Tim McInnerny
  • All-new interviews with Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Richard Curtis, Ben Elton, and Tony Robinson
  • Blackadder Rides Again
  • Footnotes to History - An interactive guide to historical figures and events in Blackadder hosted by Tony Robinson
If British humor is your thing, you might want to think about adding this 6-disc DVD collection to your library. Fifteen hours plus of pure silliness featuring talents such as Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Robbie Coltrane in addition to Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Tony Robinson won't teach you anything about history--or Shakespeare (from whom the creators unabashedly steal plot lines and dialogue...), but it will definitely tickle your funny bone.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

This movie falls into the same category as many that I've seen this year: good, not great. Quirky, offbeat and fitfully amusing, it's a decent showing for director Grant Heslov, long-time producing partner of George Clooney.

The film aims for Coen Brothers-esque twistedness, but falls short. Clooney, as paranormal warrior Lyn Cassady, does his darnedest to ramp up the hilarity, but ultimately the meandering story gets bogged down under its own idiosyncrasies.

One issue is the timeline which spans about thirty years. There is no amount of makeup, fake wigs or lighting (even by the geniuses that light The View, who deftly wash out the deep crevices in the now 108 year-old Barbara Walters...) that can make George Clooney look like a young man in his twenties. Or Jeff Bridges look like a man in his thirties.

Okay, that's niggling complaint. The cast which includes Clooney, Bridges and the dependably smarmy Kevin Spacey has one weak link: Ewan McGregor. Ostensibly cast for the meta inside running joke of "Jedi" references, McGregor seems to be channeling Jason Bateman. If only the filmmakers had decided to hire the real thing instead of McGregor's pale imitation.

Now that might have edged it over to "great."

Then again, maybe not.

Still waiting for the Oscar contenders of 2009 to wow me...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Natural Born Killers 15th Anniversary Director's Cut

It's hard to believe it's been fifteen years since Oliver Stone's groundbreaking film Natural Born Killers was released. Stone took the script by then up-and-coming writer/director Quentin Tarantino and took it from a standard blood-spattered action flick and turned it into a satirical repudiation of our media-fueled violence worshiping society.

Says Stone in the making of featurette:

"[T]he ultimate purpose of the movie—to make people think about the violence that's around them…the whole crimescape that has invaded American life and about the media's coverage of it. The media's built it up into a circus.

A lot of the younger, 90s filmmakers—I'm a little surprised that they think violence is cool and hip, And they play it that way—which is fine for a couple of films like that, but I can't see making a career out of it. Morally, it's a repugnant point of view to me…because I've been in Viet Nam, I've seen the effect of guns and it's pretty terrifying."

Stone certainly sounds like he's not only rebuking media sensationalism but the current filmmaking trend that has seen the like of Saw I-VI and the rise of the torture porn genre. Say what you will about Stone, when he discusses his philosophy behind the making of Natural Born Killers he comes across as thoughtful and intellectual--not the conspiracy theorist wackjob that some would make him out to be.

Stone uses stylistic effects, editing cuts and a throbbing soundtrack to heighten the effect of the story. The violence is graphic--but it's so over the top that it almost loses its impact. Perhaps the non-stop assault on our senses reflects how inured we've become to violence in our everyday lives: the Iraq war, drive-by shootings, etc.

The film features an amazing cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Sizemore, Tommy Lee Jones, Rodney Dangerfield and even a young Balthazar Getty in a small, short-lived role. But the real star is Stone's trippy use of rear screen projection, sitcom laugh tracks, animation and more to illustrate his thesis of how media has shaped our outlook and attitudes.

The 2-disc DVD includes the aforementioned making of featurette, a documentary exploring how NBK might be affected by today's instant communication technology like Facebook, Twitter, etc., deleted scenes, an alternate ending and more. Natural Born Killers is available on DVD and Blu-ray starting October 13th.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

According to IMDB, Warner Bros. decided against marketing this film as a kid's movie and 70% of the marketing budget for it on broad-based and adult driven buys. That, however, didn't prevent a gaggle of kids from traipsing in or for "kid-based" trailers to proceed the showing. Based on the famous Maurice Sendak book, Spike Jonze's version is a melancholy musing of the imagination, exuberance, insecurities and uncertainties of childhood.

The film is gorgeously shot and the "wild things" are beautifully rendered through the work of Henson puppet creatures, CGI animation and formidable vocalization by James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper and Lauren Ambrose. My favorite was O'Hara as the dubious downer, Judith.

Of course, the film lives or dies on the performance of the main character: Max. And Max Records does a fine job as the irrepressible Max. Although Max is unsuccessful in keeping his word providing a Utopian existence for the wild things in his short tenure as king, his overstated promises demonstrate a possible career in politics. The film communicates the story mainly through exquisite visuals, but although Jonze and company do an amazing job of bringing Sendak's (and Max's) world to life, the film ultimately is lacking in emotional resonance.

The closest it comes is KW's (Ambrose) farewell to Max as he prepares to head back home, "I don't want you to go, I'll eat you up I love you so." Even Max's reunion with his mother (Catherine Keener) doesn't have the impact that it should have. All in all, a very good movie that just misses the mark of being a great one...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Serious Man

A Serious Man is seriously dark, seriously surreal, seriously twisted. The Coen Brothers film it reminds me most of is Barton Fink. Certainly, Larry Gropnick, protagonist of A Serious Man shares similar obstacles as Barton Fink. But whereas Fink suffered a severe case of writer's block, Gropnick is blocked by the stagnation and stultification of suburbia.

Gropnick is living the so-called American dream: married, two kids, up for tenure. But his wife announces she wants a divorce, his brother is a permanent fixture on the living room couch, and his tenure is being sabotaged by anonymous letter writer as well as a disgruntled student who simultaneously attempts to bribe and blackmail Gropnick into giving him a passing grade.

The stuck between a rock and hard place situation that Gropnick finds himself in with his student pretty much defines his life. Like a fly caught in spider web, Gropnick finds himself struggling unsuccessfully against an seemingly unceasing series of setbacks. Billed as a "comedy," the humor in A Serious Man is exceeding dark and painful. We laugh--but mainly it's a sense of relief that no matter how bad our own lives are, our troubles pale in comparison to the misfortunes of that poor putz, Gropnick, who desperately needs Anton Chigurh to put him out of his misery...

A Serious Man has its moments. Most of the cast, including Michael Stuhlbarg as the entirely luckless Larry, are fairly unknown. You might recognize a few characters: Richard Kind (Spin City, Mad about You) as Larry's even unluckier brother Arthur, Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory) as Rabbi Scott, Goerge Wyner (too many credits to mention) as Rabbi Nachtner and Adam Arkin as the divorce lawyer. My favorite character was dry and deadpan Mrs. Samsky: Larry's nude-sunbathing, pot-smoking next door neighbor played exquisitely by Amy Landecker.

Although this is far from my favorite Coen Brothers flick, it is definitely classic Coen Brothers in its sensibilities. The story is book-ended between a Yiddish fable and an ambiguous ending that leaves both its Job-like protagonist and audience to grapple with the messy and unfinished business that is life. As Larry's student's father says to him, "Please accept the mystery." And perhaps that is what the Coen brothers are saying to us with this film about life.

Please accept the mystery. You may not understand the beginning. Or the ending. Or anything that comes between. But that's okay.

It's life. It is what it is.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dear Whore of Lucifer

My latest favorite best of Craigslist post comes via Chicago:

I have recently enrolled in a 12-step program for people whose lives were decimated and finances ruined by lawyer bills when their spouses filed for divorce after finding someone else to fuck and run off with. I am currently up to Step 8: Willingness to Make Amends. As such, I apologize for the following recent transgressions:

Told the drunk at the bar who wanted a Red-Headed Slut that he's more than welcome to you if that general contractor douchebag is done with you.

Annoyed the staff at several hospitals by calling to see if they had any fresh organ donors on hand with a heart suitable to replace your cold, dead one.

Demanded a refund from Southwest Airlines because I tried to get you on one of their planes but they refused to let my bag fly free as advertised in their TV commercials.

Scrawled your cell number in the stall of the john of the bar at the American Legion post down the street with an offer of free prostate exams for all veterans 65 and older.

Told my neighborhood U.S. Marine Corps recruiter that I knew the exact location of the dank, hopeless cave Osama Bin Laden was hiding in and provided the GPS coordinates to your pants.

Lit several offering candles at your church with prayers that karma would hurry its ass up and come around to you while I was still alive to see it.

For these things, my dear handmaiden of Satan, I make my amends. I'd still love to see your head squeezed in a vice until your eyeballs squirt out of their sockets, but I have to go along with the program.

Nip/Tuck on DVD 10/6

One of the benefits of finally getting cable was experimenting with a wide variety of programming. One of those experiments was Nip/Tuck, an FX series about two plastic surgeons and the exaltation of image and superficiality and misogyny. The surgery scenes are grotesquely graphic, the sex scenes seem to be written by pimply male virgins whose only exposure to sex comes from downloaded internet porn.

But at the same time, the series is perversely addictive. It's hard to believe this sexist, cynical piece of work comes from the creator of Glee, Ryan Murphy. Nip/Tuck Season 5, part 2 came out on DVD on October 6th, documenting the continuing misadventures of Drs. McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Troy (Julian McMahon). The DVD contains eight episodes of the second half of season five as well as a fascinating featurette called "The Science of Beauty."

My favorite part of season 5, part 2 was the guest appearance of Richard Burgi (aka Karl Mayer of Desperate Housewives) as Christian's replacement, Dr. Logan Taper. Taper has a fetish that compels him to fornicate with furniture and strangely enough--although the Drs. McNamara and Troy consistently objectify their sexual partners--Christian and Sean are completely freaked out by Dr. Taper's behavior.

Season 6 of Nip/Tuck began last week and as disgusting as the scalpel and sexual escapes of McNamara and Troy are, it's like a train wreck you just can't look away from.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Zombieland

Zombieland was a much better vehicle for the charms of Jesse Eisenberg than Adventureland. Both films featured Eisenberg's geeky character pining for an unattainable female and amusement parks. But Zombieland has Woody Harrelson and zombies. Lots of zombies.

Inspired by Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland features the same cartoonish violence laced with dark humor. I'm no fan of horror flicks and even Zombieland had moments that made me squirm and flinch, but overall the movie was a fun ride.

Harrelson's Tallahassee is part Woody Boyd, part Mickey Knox--unrelenting badass zombie killer. Paired up with Eisenberg's anxiety-ridden Columbus (aka "Ohio"), Zombieland starts out as an unusual buddy film. The odd couple eventually meet up with sisters Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) along the way and become a sort of dysfunctional family unit.

Yeah, it's pretty predictable plot-wise and our heroes always pretty conveniently manage to finding a working vehicle and plenty of ammunition, but if you're in the mood for a zombie killing spree (and who ISN'T?) this is the movie for you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Invention of Lying

With the votes split between Ricky Gervais and zombies, I choose the movie the started later. Yeah, that's how I make important entertainment decision. Given that I've been feeling more than a little zombie-like lately, the extra 45 minutes between showing times tipped the scales in Gervais favor.

Although one of my fellow movie-going patrons snickered hysterically throughout, I didn't find the film all that amusing. The premise of a world that is always painfully honest was interesting--albeit stretched thin over 100 minutes. Gervais plays sad sack Mark Bellison who discovers--or "invents"--lying. In a world of blind people, the one-eye man is king and this is Bellison's fate as the inventor and only person able to lie.

The only way the filmmakers could elicit humor was not only to create a universe where people didn't/couldn't lie, but also are incessantly forthcoming with their views--also with Tourette's style zeal.

I didn't find the so-called honest revelations all that humorous, but the film does raise some intriguing issues--for example how does advertising (which is basically lying..) work in a world that can't lie. The most provocative topic the film touches on is the "mythology" of religion. I wish it had been explored in more depth, but given that the movie was supposed to be a comedy--and a romantic comedy at that, that subject was merely glossed over.

The movie didn't even examine truth/lying in regard to relationships--which is unfortunates because it could have generated a lot of mileage on that subject. Gervais is unlikely romantic lead, but he somehow manages to pull it off. First in Ghost Town with Tea Leoni and now with Jennifer Garner. His awkwardness is made somehow endearing and truthfully (no pun intended) the best parts of the movie wasn't the lame humor but the few honest and poignant moments .

I don't recommend The Invention of Lying. Perhaps as a Netflix selection--but if you are jonesing for some good Ricky Gervais, rent Ghost Town instead...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October is National Breast Cancer Month - Sip for the Cure

It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month which means you'll be seeing a lot of "pink" products out there. One that I recently had a chance to test out was Republic of Tea Pomegranate Vanilla tea. The red tea (Rooibos) combines tangy pomegranate with luscious vanilla bean. It smells awesome and tastes great, too!

Pomegranate Vanilla is part of Republic of Tea Sip for the Cure collection which includes a Pink Grapefruit Green Tea, Pink Lady Apple Green Tea and Pink Lemonade Green Tea (see what I mean about the "pink"?). A portion of the sales get donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation--so you've got an anti-oxidant rich red tea that's good for you and for a good cause.

Y'all can commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness month by running for the cure or walking for the cure. Me, I'll just kick back with Republic of Tea Pomegranate Vanilla and sip for the cure...

Ahhhh!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heroes - Ink

Speaking of great lines, Sylar has become quite funny trapped inside Matt Parkman's head.

"I wish I was a ghost. It would be so much better than this hell...being stuck in your miserable life. I mean, have you seen yourself eat a burrito?"

"I will be happy to leave you stewing in your mediocrity."

"Not as easy to ignore me as you thought. It's because I ooze charm..."

In response to Matt saying, "You're ignoring me now?" "It doesn't feel very good, does it?"

The new heroes are way less annoying than last season's rejects. The only new character I find irritating is Claire's new roomie, Gretchen played by Madeline Zima. Zima is also on Californication. I find her to be annoying on that show as well...

Another plus in the lack of annoyances department is the absence of Mohinder Suresh. Not even his mellifluous voiceover to disrupt the show. Unfortunately it looks like he's returning next week...

Koothrapalli Strikes Again

Maybe the writers give him all the best lines because much of the time he suffers from selective mutism around women.









"That's because in your dreams you're a horse from the waist down..."

Best line of the night...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Desperate Housewives - Nice is Different than Good

Show of hands--who was surprised that it was Susan up at the altar with Mike and not Katherine?

Yeah, me neither.

Susan's happiness came at the expense of Katherine--and it looks like there will be hell to pay the rest of the season. Hey, Susan! Think Edie was a bitch? You ain't seen nothing yet!

Gaby had a nice moment with rebellious wild child niece Ana. Lynette is suffering from pre-partum depression. And Bree and Karl are hooking up.

New neighbors Drea De Matteo along with hubby and surly son (How'd they manage to get themselves invited to Mike and Susan's wedding when they'd only lived on Wisteria Lane for less than three months?) have some sort of secret. Looks like young Danny is a psychopath than will make Julie and Susan Mayer regard creepy Zach Young in a more positive light.

Did y'all catch Max Carver aka Preston Scavo as one of the interns on the season opener of The Office? I wonder if this means more guest spots on other shows...After all, Lynette did say that Preston was moving to Europe. "We will never be done if we birth TWO every time ONE moves out...That's just math!"

Dexter - Living the Dream

It's finally arrived. The reason I got cable. The reason I subscribed to Showtime. Season four of Dexter. I've long doubted that the show could sustain its amazing edge-of-your-seat thrills, but each season it not only maintains but surpasses.

I believe season four won't be any different. A sleep-deprived new daddy Dexter has already set himself up to be found out for the serial killer that he is when he crashes his car before disposing of the body. In addition, Special Agent Lundy is back on the heels of another serial killer dubbed the "Trinity Killer" (John Lithgow--creepiness incarnate...) and Miami homicide is dealing with tourists being snuffed.

Welcome to Miami--not the best boost for tourism....

Loved Dexter musing about how he needs to be extra careful with his killings now that he's a Dad. "I'm killing for two now..."

Loved the pairing of Batista and Laguerta. Those two deserve to be happy.

Wonder what Lundy's return means for Deb's relationship with Anton...

And let's not forget Deb's search for the Confidential Informant with whom Harry had an affair. Once she finds out it was Laura Moser, Dexter's mom--as well as the details of how Harry found Dexter...

It's shaping up to be one heck of a season!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Facebook Thinks I'm Gay

...not that there's anything wrong with that!

Monica Hesse over at the Washington Post chatted online about a new Facebook app dubbed "Project Gaydar." According to Hesse, "it can determine users sexual orientation based on their Facebook associations."

Hmm...I'm not sure about that--but based on the ads Facebook serves up for me, it has apparently determined that I'm gay. Yup, I get ads for lesbian match-making services all the time. At least I'm not getting ads for Doc Marten boots and flannel shirts...

Dear Facebook, I am not gay. Stop with the lesbian dating service ads already!

Nick Thune Changes Your Life

Say what you will about Jay Leno--I like him. Especially for introducing the exceptionally hysterical Nick Thune to the American public. Much more entertaining than the Rush Limbaugh interview that followed.






Wednesday, September 23, 2009

LashFood

Forget silicone implants, Botox or Restylane. The latest cosmetic enhancement treatment is lash lengthening. No doubt you've seen the gorgeous Brooke Shields hawking the benefits of Latisse. This lash treatment was actually developed when doctors and patients noticed one of the side effects of the glaucoma drug bimatoprost was longer, thicker lashes. They quickly reformulated the drug and marketed it as a way to increase lash length and volume.

Unfortunately, while long lashes is a welcome side effect of a glaucoma treatment, the side effects of Latisse include darkening of iris pigment and conjunctivitis for starters.

Brooke's luscious lashes notwithstanding, the side effects of Latisse are enough to give one pause. And let's face it: Shields' dramatic lashes are mostly a matter of genetics, lash tint and film magic. So, if you don't want to take the risk of bimatoprost side effects, can you still have gorgeous lashes?

Absolutely!

LashFood is all-natural lash stimulant/conditioner that contains biotin, an essential vitamin, arginine, a natural amino acid--and root and herbal extracts. Developed to condition, repair, restore, and create longer healthier and more beautiful eyelashes and eyebrows, LashFood contains no harsh chemicals to irritate your eyes--or, more importantly--change the pigment in your iris!

I've been testing out the product for the last couple of months and here are my results:

Darker lashes? Hmm--not really. My lashes still require mascara for maximum "Oomph!"

Thicker lashes? Yes, a bit. Not falsies plush, but a bit more volume.

Longer lashes? Most definitely! The conditioning benefits of LashFood allow my lashes to grow to their maximum length. Add a bit of mascara and the tips nearly touch the bottom of my eyebrows.

LashFood carries a price tag similar to Latisse--but without the nasty side effects. So for a natural solution to skimpy lashes, look into LashFood.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Heroes - Orientation/Jump, Push, Fall

Season four of Heroes started out promisingly enough. Peter Petrelli is trying to save the world by using his powers to be a paramedic superhero, Claire's enrolled at college, Nathan is not feeling quite himself--probably because he's actually Sylar, Sylar's consciousness is haunting Matt Parkman, Tracy apparently did not die when she shattered into a zillion pieces--apparently she's like that mercurial Terminator and can re-coalesce at will, Hiro and Ando have joined forces to set up a Dial a Hero business in Tokyo and Noah is at a loss for what he should be doing with his life.

In the two-part, two hour season premiere:

Danko died (I thought he died last season...)
Claire's annoying college roommate died (I got stuck for entire semesters with annoying roommates--how'd she get so lucky?)
Sylar goads Matt into using his powers
Nathan is discovering powers he didn't know he had (because he's actually Sylar...)
Noah is injured by Edgar and saved by Peter

New characters include a super-fast Samurai guy named Edgar (Peter steals his power to help in his paramedic superhero role...), Arnold who has the same ability as Hiro to move through time and space--but who is dying, Lydia who presages the future through the tattoos that appear on her body, a guy who reads those tattoos and I haven't quite figured out what his power might be other than making the earth move. Literally. I wonder if he does earthquakes?

If season four keeps up this quality, it should be pretty interesting. At least none of these new characters is another Maya or Alejandro. What do we think the compass does?

Teaching Evolution to Creationists

My favorite part of last night's episode of The Big Bang Theory:







Laurie Metcalf looked great, didn't she?

I'm so happy the The Big Bang Theory is back with new episodes. Like Penny I wanted to wrap my arms around the show and give it a big, fat kiss...

Observe and Report on Blu-ray/DVD September 22nd

Seth Rogen movies I have found to be very amusing:

The Forty-year old Virgin
Superbad
Knocked Up
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Funny People

Seth Rogen movies I've found to be mildly amusing:

Pineapple Express

Seth Rogen movies that weren't funny at all:

Observe and Report

What's the difference between Seth Rogen as a slacker cop in Superbad vs. Seth Rogen as a hyper-vigilant mall cop in Observe and Report? My guess is that Seth Rogen is at his best in an ensemble cast rather than leading man. Even in Knocked Up, his role was balanced by a talented players such as Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Katherine Heigl, etc. In Observe and Report, the entire story centers around Rogen's delusional character--and unfortunately Rogen can't quite carry it off. (For a humorous take on Rogen the "actor," check out this satirical piece by my Facebook friend, Crystal Air Productions.)

It would hard for any actor to carry off the character of Ronnie Barnhart--a bipolar police wannabe with a drunken mother (Celia Weston), sycophantic co-worker (Michael Pena--slumming...) and obsession with slutty department store makeup artist (Anna Faris).

The film starts out promisingly with shots of "Forest Ridge Mall" really capturing the suburban mall culture. The opening seems to be reminiscent of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but it quickly devolves into a disjointed series of scenes: Ronnie exercising his gung-ho authority, Ronnie patrolling the mall, flasher terrorizing females in the parking lot, a series of robberies in the mall, Ronnie pursuing the slutty Brandi, Ronnie trying to get into the police academy, blah blah blah.

I think I laughed once during the film.

Ronnie eventually captures the flasher (in the most gratuitous and shocking scene in the film), gets the girl (not the slutty Brandi, but sweet Nell played by Collette Wolfe, wife of writer/director Jody Hill, who ends up being the only sympathetic and likable character in the entire movie) and lives happily ever.

There's a lot of profanity, some violence and nudity--all of which separate this R-rated mall cop movie from the other mall cop movie. That OTHER mall cop movie made over $146 million domestically, however, while Observe and Report garnered only $24 million. The DVD, Blu-ray and digital download for Observe and Report available today contains no extras--no special features, outtakes, making of documentary. Just the feature.

Writer/director Jody Hill has earned kudos for his work as writer/director of Danny McBride vehicles Eastbound & Down and The Foot Fist Way. Maybe if McBride had played Ronnie Barnhart there would have been more than one laugh in Observe and Report.

The Green Hornet isn't supposed to be a comedy, is it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Congrats Emmy Winners!

Didn't bother watching the show but I'm especially pleased that the following were recognized:

Toni Collette - Actress, Comedy

Kristin Chenoweth - Supporting Actress, Comedy

Michael Emerson - Supporting Actor, Drama

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (although I would have been even happier if Colbert had won...) - Comedy/Variety Show

Mad Men

I like it, but I'm not obsessed like many of my friends. Most likely because I missed season one and the whole "Don Draper" invention which laid the ground for the series. There is a sort of somnolent seductiveness to the show, I'll give you that. However, that smooth as a cold martini vibe was seriously disrupted with tonight's episode.

A severed foot? What the @#$%?!!! Reminiscent of the E.R. episode where Romano's arm was sliced off by a helicopter blade. That was brutal and shocking--but at least with E.R., blood spurting and grotesque injuries are de rigueur and therefore somewhat expected.

Sheesh!

The Informant!

Even though it clocks in at under two hours, The Informant! does have a tendency to drag a bit. Based on a true story, a title card at the beginning discloses that some characters are composites and dialogue dramatized.

So there.

The film about a pathological liar played with great gusto by Matt Damon is at its best when it explores the inane and utterly delusional inner dialogue of its subject.

My favorite part of the movie was one such tangential Whitacre voiceover:

"When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in. Cuz’ they’ve got those black noses. They’d blend in perfectly if not for the nose...

So the question is. How do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water? And think, “I’d be invisible if not for that.” That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear."

Damon is absolutely fantastic as Mark Whitacre, an ethically-challenged corporate whistle-blower. According to the synopsis at IMDB, Whitacre's participation in the FBI sting operation combined with having bipolar disorder led to a complete meltdown. Unfortunately, this unraveling was not examined with any depth in the film--although Whitacre's actions become increasingly erratic, it plays more like he's merely struggling to keep all the balls he's juggling in the air.

It would have also aided the story had Soderbergh and company let the truth unravel over the course of the film. It's pretty obvious early on that Whitacre isn't the "guy in the white hat" he purports to be. But kudos to Damon for creating a character so tragically comic, likeably loathsome and such a brilliant buffoon. The movie's not an Oscar contender, but Damon's performance most definitely is.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lauren Hutton Naturals Face Disc

No doubt most of you are aware of my current obsession with using more natural and organic products to replace the chemical-laden lotions and potions in my cosmetic and skincare arsenal. So I was really psyched to get the opportunity to test out the new Lauren Hutton Naturals Face Disc.

Lauren Hutton Good Stuff was developed to provide make-up options for older women--but the versatile and inclusive palettes are useful and usable for all ages. The line includes everything from skincare to mascara, but it is the face discs that are truly outstanding.

The face discs come in four different shades: pink for very fair skin tones, yellow for those with gold undertones, olive for medium skin tones and brown for darker skin. Each disc contains a sheer concealer, four spot concealers, a pooch and nose shade, a shadow color, blush/lip tint, lip balm, liner and brow powder--each of which are color coded to match up with matching brushes.

The color coding also matches up with a face map that guides the application of each element. Personally, I'm not much into shading and contouring so I ended up making up my own map. Yup, that's me--blazing my own trail...I also used my fingers (for concealer/lip balm application) or my own brushes (shadow/brows) for application.

I used the sheer concealer for under eye circles and two of the spot concealers for--well, spots; using my fingers to pat it on gently. The concealers did a nice job of evening out my skin without looking cake-y or mask-y.

The liner is a deeply pigmented chocolate color which went on smoothly with a bit of water and my liner brush. The brow powder looks like a pale taupe in the disc, but filled my naturally dark brows in perfectly. The shadow powder is meant for contouring, but instead I used in as an eyeshadow. It's a warm, neutral brown shade that reminded my of MAC Wedge.

I don't wear blush except for "special occasions," but the neutral peach shade looked very natural. Mixed with the lip balm, it made a lovely sheer lip tint as well. The entire palette comes in a gorgeous case, small enough to fit in most purses.

I loved just about everything about the Naturals Face Disc. If I was creating the perfect face palette, the only modifications I would make would be:

  1. Develop a set of mini-brushes to go with the palette as well as a way to store them with the case in order to make the palette a more complete make-up solution.
  2. I'd split the contour shadow in half and keep one side the shadow and the other side a highlighter. This would work for both the face and the eyes.
  3. I'd also split the lip balm into a clear and colored shade. The blush mixed with the balm works well as a lip tint, but you risk messing up the blush.
  4. I'd give up two of the concealers (three is enough) and replace with one sheer finishing powder.


In addition to being multi-functional, the Naturals Face Disc lives up to its name featuring:
  • 95% + Natural Origin Ingredients recommended by The Natural Products Association
  • High concentrations of plant-based ingredients
  • An anti-aging cocktail of Grape Seed Oil, Green Tea, Vitamin A, E and C, Avocado Oil and Bamboo
It's really nice to find make-up that's made up of good stuff while making you look good.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the Loop

This scathingly, profane look at the events leading up to the Iraq war is a must-see for jaded policy wonks. If The West Wing is your idea of good political drama, be prepared to bitch-slapped into reality. In the Loop features an array of bureaucratic bullies, idiots, game players, blackmailers and bull$@#%.

Take the back-room machinations of The Deal and add the lunacy of Monty Python's Flying Circus and you've got an idea of the twisted sickness of this film. You won't recognize most of the cast, but they are all uniformly excellent. Players that may be familiar: David Rasche as the hawkish Senator, James Gandolfini as a pacifist General, Steve Coogan as a British constituent and Mimi Kennedy who is outstanding as spoiler Senator Karen Clarke. Another familiar face is that of Anna Chlumsky--all grown up--as a junior staffer.

There are no starry-eyed romantics looking to save the world here, although the film mocks the American obsession with youth. "You know they're all kids in Washington? It's like Bugsy Malone, but with real guns," notes a British bureaucrat. Later British politician Malcolm Tucker storms out of a briefing with a 22 year-old aide and fumes to Senator Barwick:

Malcolm Tucker: I've just come from a briefing with a nine-year-old child.

Linton Barwick: You're talking about AJ. AJ is one of our top guys. He's a Stanton College Prep, Harvard. One of the brightest and best.

Malcolm Tucker: Well, his briefing notes were written in alphabetti spaghetti. When I left, I nearly tripped up over his fucking umbilical cord.

Linton Barwick: I'm sorry it troubles you that our people achieve excellence at such an early age. But could we just move on to what's important here? Now, I understand that your Prime Minister has asked you to supply us with some, say, fresh British intelligence, is that true?

Malcolm Tucker: Yeah, apparently, your fucking master race of highly-gifted toddlers can't quite get the job done...

Linton Barwick: All right.

Malcolm Tucker: ...between breast feeds and playing with their Power Rangers. So, an actual grown-up has been asked to fucking bail you out.
That's just a sample of the unceasing biting wit that makes the film so damn funny--and so painfully true. The only explosions are the short-fused rants of bitter bureaucrats; the only deaths are career-suicides--but in many ways In the Loop is a far scarier war movie than The Hurt Locker or Stop-Loss.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Irony

A recent article in the Washington Post reported how Hollywood is suing Bollywood rip-offs of its films.

Seriously?

A recent $200,000 settlement against an Indian filmmaker who plagiarized My Cousin Vinny (What? No musical version of To Kill a Mockingbird?) was seen as a positive event for the Indian film making community:

"Indian film critics hope the landmark "My Cousin Vinny" payout will encourage Bollywood producers to find more experimental and original story lines. There has traditionally been a lot of pressure on Bollywood to produce proven moneymakers, especially because many of the films were bankrolled by Mumbai's wealthy underworld figures. But now, cleaner money is making its way into Bollywood."
Ya gotta love it. Hollywood is suing Bollywood for ripping it off. They say imitation is a form of flattery, but India not only imitates Hollywood with cheesy Bollywood versions of its films, but by the very act of the rip-off!

Hollywood is the absolute master of the rip-off. Especially when it comes to ripping off itself. Reboots of Beverly Hills 90210 and now Melrose Place? Another movie version of Fame populated by your favorite sitcom stars (Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammar, Megan Mullaley, Bebe Neuwirth?). Is it ripping off the 1980 movie--or the rip-off 1982 TV series?

Not to mention Saw I-V, Final Destination 1-4, Fast and Furious 1-4 and all the freaking Halloween movies. Yeah, let's sue Bollywood. That'll solve the copycat problem.

Pot, meet kettle.

Votre Vu Tart D'amande Body Souffle

I'm big on foodie scents. Vanilla, citrus, chocolate, cocoa butter, coconut. Smelling good enough to eat is high on my list of priorities when it comes to body products.

Votre Vu Tart D'Armande Body Souffle not only smells awesome, but it actually does a fabulous job of keeping my skin soft and supple. Loaded with super rich ingredients like macadamia oil, grape seed oil, shea butter, coconut oil and sweet almond oil. Despite being full of oils, my skin completely drinks in this luscious cream. Yeah, initially my body is a bit slick after application, but eventually it's absorbed as it totally hydrates my skin.

And, as I mentioned earlier, it smells heavenly. Like Almond Sugar cookies. You will be seriously tempted to lick your arm or find some way to ingest this delicious body cream. But think of it as food for your skin. A delectable indulgence of epicurean proportions--without the high caloric ramifications.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fringe Season One on DVD Today

For all you sci-fi fans mourning the loss of The X-Files, J.J. Abrams offers up Fringe--which, in addition to squirmingly odd occurrences like spontaneous human combustion, over-sized viruses and syphilis-ridden vampires, features alternate realities, morally ambiguous characters and cutie Joshua Jackson.

The Mulder/Scully character is portrayed by Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham. The former FBI agent is recruited by the Department of Homeland Security's "Fringe" science division where she tracks down the carnage created by science run amok--also known as "The Pattern." Of course it helps to have the memories of your former lover and double-agent John Scott (Mark Valley) implanted in your brain. And dotty mad scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his surly caretaker son Peter (aforementioned hottie Jackson...) to assist you.

If you think LOST is out there, you ain't seen nothing yet until you check out Fringe. Aided by former LOST cast member Lance Reddick (aka Matthew Abaddon) as Oliva's boss (Good guy? Bad guy? Your guess is as good as mine...) and Michael Giacchino doing the music (I swear, every time there's a scene break I keep expecting the smoke monster to appear...), Fringe has signature Abrams touches throughout. I half expect Dunham to realize she's working for SD-6 next season.

The series is quite stylish--right down to the odd 3-D location subtitles and gore-ific special effects. Most people will get sucked into the paranormal phenomena, but I loved the comic interplay between the not-quite-in-his-right-mind Walter and the perennially-put-upon Peter. In addition to all 20 episodes of the first season, the DVD has an additional 6 hours of special features-- including featurettes, production diaries, producer and writer commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel, Blu-Ray exclusive content and much more.

Could Fringe's alternate realities (Peter Bishop is actually Pacey Witter--from the alternate "reality" of "Dawson's Creek"...) be the clue to the LOST finale? Hmm--I wonder... But until LOST returns in 2010, you can always get your Abrams mind game fix with Fringe. The season one finale airs on Thursday, September 10th at 9 pm on Fox and season two premieres the following week. And Fringe: The Complete First Season is available on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Entourage Marathon - part 3

Watched episodes 2-8 of Entourage with my friend Dave today. Seems episode one fell through the cracks--but otherwise I'm caught up on season six.

The tagline for this season is "Life changes. Friends don't." What also never changes is the formula that is Entourage: hot cars, hotter girls, lots of sex, outrageous spending. Well, maybe a few things have changed. Vince is still Vince--but Turtle is in an actual relationship and going back to school, Eric gets a real job other than just being Vince's manager, Ari is cuddly family man at home and Lloyd tormentor at work and even Drama has an interesting storyline this season.

Although the show allegedly revolves around the career of Vincent Chase, he is by far the least interesting and watchable character on the show. Still the insider references and conspicuous consumption are what keep me coming back. Not to mention the diverse cameos and the always entertaining Jeremy Piven.

It's also kind of fun seeing perennial good guy Matt Letscher (Eli Stone, Brothers and Sisters) playing a major douche-bag on Entourage. Wonder what torture he has in store for Drama? It was also funny to see the bit that inspired the Seth Rogen/Doug Ellin feud:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

50 Things Being Killed by the Internet

There's a great article in the UK Telegraph about 50 things made obsolete by the Internet. The first thing that's cool about it is realizing the changes (not all good!) that have occurred with the advent of new connectivity technologies (remember coming home from work and listening to messages on your answering machine?). The second cool thing is discovering the similarities and differences between the U.S. and U.K. (Ceefax?).

And the last cool thing is the mostly literate, snark-free and calm responses the article generated as opposed to the usual troll-baiting, flame-throwing free-for-all:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sex, Religion and Politics

I'm pretty sure Miss Manners would have a pithy comeback regarding Facebook status postings. As in polite conversation, I sincerely question the wisdom of people who wear their politics on their sleeve. Especially when they are egregiously uninformed.

Okay--there's no fighting ignorance I suppose, but whatever happened to plain ol' civility? The latest meme on Facebook is all about health care reform (remember when it was a place where you could toss virtual livestock at each other all in good fun?) and the knives are coming out.

This is the status update people are posting:

"No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day."

Sounds reasonable--but to many idiots stalwarts it's a thrown-down gauntlet. I submit to you that anyone satisfied with the current state of health care--which is to say, where you or your employer pay an outrageous monthly premium to an insurer that limits who you can see, what treatments you can be prescribed, how much they will cover, etc.--has either never gone without health insurance or had to deal with a chronic illness.

Having type 1 diabetes means that unless I work for a company with group health insurance, I am un-insurable. Because health insurance isn't about providing health care, it's about minimizing risk and maximizing profits. And even with group health insurance I am forced to navigate a system which is more about preventing me from obtaining health care rather than providing me with the means to do so.

I've had health insurance and I've been without health insurance--and in my experience neither situation is ideal as a means of health care. Anyone who thinks that a single payer solution like in Canada or Great Britain would be a bureaucratic nightmare hasn't navigated a health insurance phone tree. We already have the bloated bureaucracy--it's called "Blue Cross" or "Blue Shield."

And @#$% you to the moron who thinks I should move to Canada or England because I'm dissatisfied with the way the current system works. I hope you never contract a chronic illness which forces you try to actually get health care from your health insurer (good luck with that!), or have them raise your premiums or rescind your coverage as many health insurance companies have done (Well, actually I sorta do...).

It's time to remove the profit motive from health care. And it's time to get back to tossing sheep and whatnot on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Republic of Tea Stir Fry Spice

Anyone who knows me knows that cooking ain't my thing. My motto: "Why waste time cooking when you can eat it right out of the box?" Fewer dishes to wash that way as well.

That's one of the reasons I was so eager to try out the new Stir Fry Tea Spice from Republic of Tea. A mix of ginger, lemongrass, organic gunpowder tea, parsley, white pepper, garlic powder and a touch of sugar, the Stir Fry Tea Spice is a quick and easy way to add a bit of pizazz to a meal.

I sprinkled a bit in a chicken stir fry to zest things up a bit, but it works just as well sprinkled on a chicken breast or piece of salmon and then baked in the oven. A little more work than just opening up a box, but not much more. The spice mix is also good for you as green tea helps to lower cholesterol and is high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

A little tin of Stir Fry Spice equals instant gourmet. If it came in a box, it'd be perfect...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good-bye Solo on DVD Today

With a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.8 stars out of 10 on IMDB and laudatory reviews from top critics, I was primed for some indie movie magic courtesy of Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo.

I was disappointed.

The movie takes the slight premise of a Senegalese cabbie named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) in North Carolina whose path crosses with a suicidal redneck named William (Red West) changing the lives of both men as they form an unlikely alliance. Solo is cheerful, chatty, charming while William is dour, dreary and downbeat. He hires Solo to drive him to a place known as Blowing Rock where he plans to end his life by jumping.

Given that the date is some time in the near but not immediate future, Solo attempts to cajole the recalcitrant curmudgeon from his plan. What follows is a classic example of what happens when an immovable object meets an irresistible force. It's not much of a spoiler to let you know that the immovable object remains immovable.



The film sets up the story in the first minute or so, but by giving William (and by extension, Solo) an extended time line, the film loses its urgency from the get-go. In addition, Solo's charms are not nearly as persuasive as William's depression. Well before the film's end I found myself wanting to drive him to Blowing Rock myself. And helping him with a good swift kick over the edge...

The film meanders aimlessly with scenes depicting Solo's love for life juxtaposed against William's inexorable march towards death. Lacking a sense of urgency, solid trajectory and saddled with stilted dialogue, it ends up being a string of vignettes which ultimately add up to not much. In other words, it's no Driving Miss Daisy. In fact, my friend Hollie wrote and filmed a short with a similar storyline that had much more emotional resonance.

But don't take my word for it. A. O. Scott loved it. As did Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan.

Or rent it, watch it and decide for yourself. The DVD complete with theatrical trailer and director's commentary is available today.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

When I first saw the trailer for the virally-hyped sci-fi flick, my heart sank. The promo featured a Transformer-esque alien wreaking havoc. Oh no--not another Michael Bay bombastic "blow @#$% up" fest! Fortunately, the trailer gives absolutely no indication of the terrifically nifty District 9 has in store for viewers.

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the film features no famous names--other than producer Peter Jackson. The location is fitting given that District 9 recalls the specter of apartheid, along with the inhuman and inhumane conditions of refugee camps and a bit of genocidal violence to boot.

Actually there's more than a bit of violence: those who chose to see Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds most likely got their fill of sadistic and twisted gore, but District 9 provides bullets, bombs and @#$% blowing up along with a tense and suspenseful story.

The aliens are not a warm and cuddly bunch ala Spielberg's E.T. In fact, they're a thoroughly unattractive lot. There is a mini alien who offers what could be construed as "cute," but kudos to writer/director Neill Blomkamp for letting the finely crafted story lure us into rooting for the opposed bug-like beings. The story is told via Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) a bureaucratic buffoon who eventually becomes our hero protagonist.

There's a bit of Greek Mythology (watch for the Trojan Horse!), nods to The Fly, Independence Day and Iron Man--and a little bit of Beauty and the Beast as well. But truth be told, District 9 is really its own beast--and very different from most sci-fi action thrillers I've seen. While there is no preachiness or heavy-handed message, District 9 evokes the shantytowns and slums of India and South America, African refuge camps and even World War II interment and concentration camps.

The film doesn't get bogged down in political, but rather enables the viewer to get caught up in the action, story and characters by allowing us to empathize--and perhaps walk a mile in another's chelae.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Baader Meinhof Complex

This Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language film is opens theatrically in New York on August 21st, in L.A. on August 28th, San Francisco on September 4th and expanding from there. Set in West Germany in the tumultuous 70s, the film explores the terrorist group known as the Red Army Faction, or RAF.

Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) plays Andreas Baader and Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others) portrays Ulrike Meinhof, the title characters and leaders of the radical group. The film, directed by Uli Edel, captured the verisimilitude of the period with a grainy documentary style.

Of course I was aware of the societal upheaval in America during the late sixties/early seventies, but as The Baader Meinhof Complex depicts, that upheaval was happening worldwide. In West Germany, the still fresh scars from the Nazi era created an environment that made the civil unrest of the United States look tame in comparison.

The film doesn't shy away from portray the violence and anarchy. At two and a half hours, it painstakingly outlines the ten year reign of the RAF. I could deal with the butt-achingly long running time, the English subtitles and German language, and even the excessive violence. But what was lacking in the film for me was a sense of character development, motivation and empathy. Although creating a sense of empathy for a group of terrorists would be a difficult task under any circumstances, I really had no sense of why these people needed to do what they did. After being caught, arrested and put on trial, they had the audacity to whine about being mistreated due to being put in isolation.

Seriously? You blow up people and what do you expect? Fluffy pillows and pudding pops? Maybe post-9/11 makes it difficult to see terrorists and bombers as anything but heroic, so I was more caught up rooting for the Fascists to take the RAF down than anything else. But as a historical documentation of an intriguing period of time, The Baader Meinhof Complex makes for compelling viewing. If you're a history buff or political junkie unafraid of subtitles, I suggest checking it out when it hits your town or is released on DVD.