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...