Friday, May 11, 2012

The Avengers

I am not a comic book (excuse me--"graphic novel") or superhero aficionado. I've seen the first Iron Man, but skipped its sequel (which introduced Nick Fury and the Black Widow) as well as The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, etc. So I was reluctant to drag myself to the over-hyped action-palooza that is The Avengers.

Turns out, it TOTALLY lives up to the hype.

You don't need the back stories on the characters--there's just enough expository dialogue to clue you in.  Speaking of dialogue, it's crisp and witty with the quips and wisecracks flowing as fast and furious as the action sequences.  This was definitely one of the funniest and funnest movies I've seen this year.

Makes that "in years."

Although Robert Downey, Jr. is in fine form as "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" Tony Stark aka "Iron Man," he's not the only one eliciting laughs from the audience.  For my money, the best character was Mark Ruffalo's soft spoken Bruce Banner turned raging green Hulk.  Indeed, "Hulk, smash!" has become a internet meme and justifiably so.

My only gripe:  casting Agent Phil Coulson as "The Gipper."  Sure, Clark Gregg offers a likeable portrayal, but the idea that somehow this nerdy agent's death--rather than the death of hundreds of innocent people and the annihilation of the planet--is the catalyst for the disparate group of superheroes joining forces was...lame.  Whatever.  The movie still rocked!

I have to say I LOVED this movie.  I may even see it again.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Raven

I saw this flick last Friday even after seeing the sad Rotten Tomatoes rating. I thought, "Heck, they trashed Anonymous (another period piece) and that wasn't nearly as bad as the reviews made it out to be, so maybe they're wrong about The Raven?"  Unfortunately, they weren't.

I'm a sucker for costumes AND John Cusack, so I thought that the combination of the two would make for an entertaining couple of hours.  Although Cusack's portrayal of Edgar Allan Poe isn't quite as awful as reviews seem to indicate, despite the physical resemblance, he doesn't really own the role.  This is partially due to the writing which have him spouting exposition and dropping Wikipedia tidbits rather than depicting a flesh and blood person.

Speaking of blood, there's plenty of it in this gothic horror.  A trio of murders kick off the action immediately--emulating Poe's macabre style.  As gruesome as the murders are, however, they do little to inspire a sense of horror or establish the tone of the psychological thriller.  The tone that is set is not gripping but conveys more of a sense of the somnambulant.  In fact, one of my fellow audience members snored throughout most of the film.  (It's possible that the snoozy movie-goer was this Gawker reviewer, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that others were bored by the film...)

Adhering to period verisimilitude  doesn't appear to have been a major concern for the filmmakers.  The story opens with hoofs pounding down a Baltimore cobblestone street as the police department races to an apartment building to stop a violent crime (as evidenced by the screams and pleas of a woman's voice) in progress.  Clearly a neighbor must have heard the commotion and dialed 911 on his iPhone.

Oh phones (iPhone or otherwise) in 1849.

The film also kills off one of Poe's rivals--despite the fact that in real life he lived to write a scathing obituary of the poet/writer.

There are those who derided the "twist" as to who turns out to be the copycat killer, but that didn't really bother me much.  What I found unappealing about the movie was that the murders--while certainly grisly and gruesome and gory--didn't resonate as "Poe-tic" to me.  I did a paper on the writer in high school and while I don't have a vivid recollection of his work, I did note that the necrophiliac themes were pervasive--even perverse at times.  While the film did hint at Poe's affinity for the repellant, Cusack's portrayal was more of a quirky eccentric (complete with pet raccoon) than a twisted, tortured soul.

Like one of Poe's most famous stories, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven is meant to be a bit of a mindfuck--at least on the part of the killer toying with the object of his homage.  Unlike that gothic classic, however, the movie does little to build suspense and tension and the climax is less of a shattering revelation and more of a tired whimper.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Hunger Games

I always feel like when I see a movie adapted from a book I've never read, I'll be missing out. Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and fans of the series (most of whom feel that Gary Ross' take is a fairly faithful adaptation), I felt like not having read the books definitely put me at a disadvantage.

Of course having READ the books often sets the viewer up for disappointment when the characters you have imagined in your mind don't correspond to the representation on screen.

Armed with only a basic outline of the story, I had little in the way of expectations. Although from what I knew at the outset, The Hunger Games seemed problematic--casting issues and directorial choices aside. The story is basically American Idol meets Survivor meets Roman Gladiators: two kids (aged 12-18) from each of twelve districts offered up as tribute each year to participate in a televised fight to the death.

I take it that The Hunger Games is supposed to highlight our ungodly obsession with reality TV, but it stretches the point beyond believability. I mean, Simon Cowell can be cruel and cutting, but seriously? Then again, The Hunger Games was the number one movie for WEEKS so we have millions of people watching a movie about people watching kids killing kids on TV. Wrap your head around that piece of circular logic...

The dystopian society in The Hunger Games is portrayed as impoverished and malnourished--save for the wealthy residents of the Capitol. But The Hunger Games is televised to all Panem residents. Anyone who knows anything about media knows that content is just the pretty wrapping around advertisements--or as a former English professor used to say, "Newspapers exist to sell underwear." (Actually newspapers barely exist these days. I guess underwear is being sold via Victoria's Secret ads embedded in Hulu videos...) So, if the majority of the viewers of The Hunger Games are too poor to even buy food--much less Miller Lite or a brand new Acura--what's the point of the broadcast?

Other nitpicky points that annoyed me: old technology such as coal mining coexisting with such advanced tech (CGI mastiffs that can be turned into the real deal) or if everyone in district 12 is starving, who's buying the pastries from Peeta's dad's store? If you're a player in a game where the object is to kill the other players, how do you get mad at a player who killed someone from your district? Also, knowing that there's only one survivor, why do you "team up" with any of your fellow players?

But my biggest issue with The Hunger Games is that the characters in the movie were probably much less developed than in the book. To be sure, director Gary Ross gives the story his signature visual style as evidenced by his work on Pleasantville. But the grisly aspect of the story of kids killing kids is fairly muted with most of the deaths occurring off screen. The lack of character development means that reaction to the deaths are muted as well. At least they were for me: I shed not one tear--not even for the adorable, plucky Rue.

Ross has bowed out for future installments of The Hunger Games series with Francis Lawson stepping in for Catching Fire.  Lawson, who has been praised for being faithful to source material (ala his direction of Water for Elephants) might be able to infuse some more character development and emotion into the second film.  Will I be back to determine if I'm team Gale or team Peeta (I'm leaning towards the latter...)?


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Coming Attractions Spring/Summer 2012

With all the movies I've been going to lately, I've gotten an unusually large dose of "coming attractions." Not that I mind--in some cases I find the trailers to be the most enjoyable part of the movie-going experience. In some cases, I'd almost prefer to watch two hours worth of trailers. In some cases, it FEELS like I have watched almost two hours worth of trailers.

But I digress...

Here are some of the trailers that have piqued my interest over the last couple of weeks/months:

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Who comes up with this stuff? Oh, that's right--this is from the twisted mind of Seth Graham-Smith and is a follow-up to his also twisted "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" which is also being made into a movie. (Has anyone seen a trailer for that? I'm dying to see how the stuffy manners and morality of the early 19th century is transformed by the undead...)

The thought of our 16th president not only as someone who abolished slavery, but was a kick-ass vampire slayer? Totally tickles the funny bone--although from the trailer it appears the movie totally plays it straight.

The Raven

When I first saw this trailer the other day, I thought it was for the Abe Lincoln vampire movie. Similar time periods (early 1800s) and same Gothic feel. But no, it's a movie about a serial killer who is inspired by the macabre work of Edgar Allen Poe, who is played here by John Cusack. Yup, Lloyd Dobler is playing the necrophilia-obsessed author. It's more mind-boggling than Lincoln as a 19th century Buffy in my opinion. Still, I'm a sucker for period pieces so I'll probably go see both (and cover my eyes at all the gory parts...).


I most definitely will NOT be seeing this based on the cliché-ridden trailer. "There's only one man who can get her out..." "He's the best there is...but he's a loose cannon." Ugh. The story: The president's daughter is caught up in a jailbreak that occurs in a maximum security prison orbiting off earth and an operative wrongfully convicted of conspiracy is tasked with rescuing her and earning his freedom. The stereotypical action hero-loner is played by Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace reprises her Taken role as the pretty damsel in distress. An IMDB previewer suggested it might have been a more intriguing story had the roles been reversed and I agree.

Neighborhood Watch

Post-George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin, it would appear that marketing this movie just got a bit problematic. According to the IMDB synopsis, however, the flick about a quartet of wannabe bad-asses turns into a Men In Black ripoff. With Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill on tap, there will probably be laughs. Whether or not they'll be apparent in footage OTHER than the trailer remains to be seen...

(Update: Apparently Fox's marketing department isn't as quick on the draw as I am as they only just now pulled the teaser trailer for Neighborhood Watch in light of the Trayvon Martin shooting.)

That's My Boy

Okay, since it's an Adam Sandler movie, it's pretty much guaranteed to be stupid, silly, raunchy comedy which plays to the lowest common denominator. The set up is similar to Sandler's previous foray into "father figure" aka Big Daddy, but with the added ick factor twist of a little Mary Kay LeTourneau subplot. Although the trailer shows Sandler shamelessly mugging, Andy Samberg is sure to be funny--and what the hell, I love Adam. It's not The Wedding Singer but unless the reviews are Jack and Jill level horrific, I'll probably go see it.

The Five-Year Engagement

Jason Segel AND Emily Blunt? Say no more--I am so there. These two look adorable together in the trailer--I've no doubt the finished movie will be both sweet and funny.

Rock of Ages

Musicals tend not to be big winners on the big screen, but Rock of Ages boasts an all-star cast including Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Cruise. It could end up being a terrible cheese-fest, but two hours of 80s pop/metal might be worth the ticket price.

Dark Shadows

Speaking of cheesy, Tim Burton is back with his creative muse Johnny Depp as soap-vamp Barnabas Collins. Surprisingly, Helena Bonham Carter doesn't make an appearance in this flick (at least one that's credited currently on IMDB) but Seth Grahame-Smith of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) is credited as one of the writers. Unless the Lincoln does Buffy flick, this one appears to be capitalizing more on comedy than Gothic horror.

** ETA:  Actually Bonham Carter IS in Dark Shadows.  All is right with the world...

Premium Rush

Three words to describe why I'll being seeing this movie: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Any trailers pique your interest lately?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

21 Jump Street

This movie version of the once popular 80s TV show would have seemed to be another indication that Hollywood is indeed out of new ideas. But I could tell from the trailer, that instead of updating the original show (which itself was a ripoff of the 60s/70s The Mod Squad), the intention was to go the buddy comedy route and lampoon the very idea of actors in their late 20s/early 30s playing high school students ala Beverly Hills 90210 (**cough cough Luke Perry cough**).

Of course Jonah Hill who has become a staple in movie comedies over the last couple of years (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Get Him to the Greek, etc.) is a shoo-in as the dorky, choke-in-a-clutch Schmidt and Channing Tatum certainly fits the bill as the pretty-but-dim Jenko--but did you know that Tatum is actually FUNNY? So much so that you'd actually forgive him for being in not one but TWO Nicholas Sparks movies as well Step Up 1 & 2.

The movie is filled with great comic actors like Nick Offerman and Ellie Kemper, but it's the great chemistry between Hill and Tatum which turns the story from a standard action adventure into more of a "bro-mantic" comedy. That's not to say there isn't plenty of action--there are car chases, explosions and gun violence, but given the overall tone of the movie even the climatic bloody shoot-out at the end of the film is played for laughs.

Fans of the original TV series (I never watched it...) might be disappointed at the irreverent take on their beloved show, but there are at least four former Jump Streeters making cameos in the film--including Johnny Depp. The movie is a mess of silliness and mayhem, but is definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Here's to hoping that Hill and Tatum re-team for future comedic efforts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

"High concept" is Hollywood-ese for movies that can be summed up in a single sentence. It's usually reserved for blockbusters like Die Hard which became its own shorthand for high concept with the numerous copycats that followed it being described as "Die Hard on a Bus," "Die Hard on a Plane"--you get the idea. Ironically, the indie flick Jeff, Who Lives at Home manages to convey its concept with less than a sentence in its title.

The "Jeff" is question is played by Jason Segel who's made a career out of playing the overgrown man-child. His enormous size and hangdog expressions really contribute to the character of the basement-dwelling, pot smoking, 30 year-old with a severe case of arrested development due to the untimely death of his father when he was young.

His brother, Pat (played by Ed Helms) suffers a similar case of stunted growth--lacking a role model for becoming a man although he is employed and married, unlike Jeff.

But back to Jeff, whose belief system is built upon the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs as he approaches commonplace occurrences like wrong numbers as messages from the universe as to his destiny. After experiencing said wrong number while smoking a bong and watching an infomercial on TV, Jeff sets out on a fatalistic journey that is the basis of action for the rest of the movie. His journey has him crossing paths with his estranged brother Pat (twice) which only furthers his interpretation of meaning.

As Jeff's journey becomes subsumed by Pat's marital difficulties, the film starts to resemble the 1996 indie flick, The Daytrippers. Written and directed by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, the film does explore the relationship between the two brothers--as well as Pat's relationship with his long-suffering wife Linda (Judy Greer) and the tension between the sons and their uptight mother (Susan Sarandon)--but mostly it's Jeff's journey to discover his destiny which he does in a big way in the climatic ending.

As such, the film is highly dependent on Segel's ability to walk the fine line between adorable and annoyance, which he manages with ease. Although a fairly lightweight piece of whimsy, the Duplass brothers along with their talented cast manage to make this day-in-a-life film "the best day in the history of the whole world."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Friends with Kids

In Friends with Kids, Jennifer Westfeldt's adorably neurotic Jessica Stein-esque character is still single with loudly ticking biological clock. So, she and BFF Jason Fryman (Adam Scott) decide to forgo the unhappily ever after route taken by their friends (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd and Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig) and have a kid together.

While what follows in pretty predictable in a Harry Met Sally had a baby kind of way, it still is an engaging little flick. While it doesn't quite live up to the charm of Kissing Jessica Stein, Westfeldt and Scott have great chemistry and are completely adorable together. Sure, it's got a lifestyle porn gloss to it, but as with KJS it perfectly dramatizes the fact that life and relationships can be messy and that the unconventional these days is becoming the norm.

As a post on Gawker points out, the supporting cast is fairly peripheral to the movie--so if you were expecting Rudolph and Wiig to delight you with their SNL comic chops, you're bound to be disappointed. Well, not so much disappointed--the tangled relationship between Westfeldt's Julie Keller and Scott's Jason Fryman provides enough interest. The characters are not altogether three-dimensional: Jason is superficial serial monogamist and Jules has an obsession with pondering various death scenarios--but that's about the limit of the depth of portraits. Still, Westfeldt and Scott manage to draw you in with their performances.

Even with its flaws, I enjoyed the film much more than many I've seen lately. It brought me to tears at points (and I forgot tissues AGAIN!) and left me satisfied with the resolution--even though it was pretty much a given (see ending of "Harry Met Sally"). If you liked Kissing Jessica Stein, you'll enjoy Friends with Kids. And if you have seen KJS, rent it!

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Given a choice between a serious Oscar-worthy drama and a mindless comedy, I'll generally choose the comedy. I've seen enough dark and depressing fare to last a lifetime. After catching the trailer for the Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston vehicle Wanderlust, I thought it might just do the trick.

Rudd, especially, is known for his comic chops and has appeared in a number of funny movies in the last couple of years: 40 year-old Virgin, Role Models, I Love You, Man, etc. Aniston has comic cred as well--although her film roles haven't quite lived up to her Friends pedigree.

Wanderlust is fitfully funny--lampooning both the lifestyle of the urban yuppie as well as the neo-hippie. The latter undergoes a skewering that is over the top with the commune-dwelling residents of Elysium are portrayed as free love-living, yoga practicing, organic farming, vegan nudists.

Along with Rudd, whose gorgeous complexion never seems to age, and Aniston, who manages to look stylish even wearing an array of ponchos, peasant blouses and Ugg boots, the film features Justin Theroux, Malin Ackerman, Lauren Ambrose, Linda Lavin and Alan Alda. (Did Alda recently get a new agent? He's really popping up a lot these days: Tower Heist, The Big C and now Wanderlust.)

Wanderlust has its moments of funniness--but it's fairly uneven. There are cringe-worthy (especially if you're not a 17 year-old male--or are female in general...) moments as well. If your taste runs towards the vulgar and ridiculous, catch a matinee showing of Wanderlust. Otherwise, wait until it hits Netflix.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Salute to Sidekicks

A common trope in TV shows is that of the plucky hero/heroine and their intrepid sidekick. There's Batman and Robin, Ralph and Ed, Lucy and Ethel. In most cases, the sidekick is willing to dwell faithfully in the shadow of their confederate. But sometimes the sidekick proves to be more engaging than the so-called lead that they are supporting.

Take for example Rhoda Morgenstern. As a sassy counterpoint to the sincerity of Mary Richards. To be fair, Mary Tyler Moore's character acted as more of a "straight man" to the general wackiness of the friends and coworkers around her--and Rhoda was no exception. Of course when Rhoda's character was spun off into her own show, her sister Brenda (Julie Kavner) became the sidekick who often eclipsed Rhoda.

Here are some examples of my favorite scene-stealing sidekicks:

Jack and Karen

The show may have been called "Will & Grace," but the true stars were Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally as Jack and Karen. I never quite got why GLAAD showered the show which perpetuated broad stereotypes with so many awards, but Jack and Karen never failed to amuse.

Sam Axe

Burn Notice is a show about a burned spy named Michael Westen who is trying to find out who betrayed him and regain his status with the CIA. I'm sure many people watch the show to see how Jeffrey Donovan's character employs his super spy skills to save the day, but I'm more engaged by the comic relief provided by Bruce Campbell who plays Michael's friend, Sam Axe. Sam is a beer-swilling, wise-cracking, ex-military turned gigolo-type--but he's also completely loyal and dependable.

If I needed someone to lay down cover fire while I surreptitiously advance upon my target, it'd be Sam Axe.


Matt Bomer is indisputably one of the most beautiful people I have ever--and man, can he wear the @#$% out of a suit! But the reason I keep tuning into White Collar each week is not for Neal Caffrey, the dapper grifter or even the stoic and steadfast Peter Burke (Tim DeKay). It's for Willie Garson's paranoid thief and Neal's cohort, Mozzie.

Garson was adorable as Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City, but he gets more screen time on White Collar. And thank goodness because his character is the most fun on this show.


While Edie Falco is always watchable in whatever role she plays, she is surrounded by talent with the cast of Nurse Jackie. I love each and every character! But Merritt Wever as Jackie's acolyte, Zoey Barkow is definitely a scene stealer. Zoey idolizes Jackie, but still manages to stand on her own among an exceptional ensemble.


As a physicist nerd afflicted by selective mutism around women, Kunal Nayyar as Rajesh Koothrappali on The Big Bang Theory doesn't have a lot of lines. But when he does, he absolutely crushes them.

Penny: We should have never slept together. It's what ruins friendships.

Raj Koothrappali: You can't ruin a friendship with sex. That's like trying to ruin ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.

Plus he's really adorable...


Grimm is one of two fairy tale-inspired series this season. It's pretty much a police procedural with supernatural type characters (wolves, bears, spiders and more). One of these anthropomorphic beings is played by Silas Weir Mitchell. His character of Monroe has turned out to be a true blue (or more accurately, "Blutbad") friend to Grimm descendant, Nick Burkhardt. Nick is a somewhat bland, boring character (although easy on the eyes) so it's pretty easy for Monroe to capture the spotlight.

Any TV sidekicks that make your must-watch list?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Big Miracle

In the footsteps (fin strokes?) of movies like "Free Willy" comes this "inspired by a true story" tale of three California gray whales trapped by ice in upper Alaska.

Yes, it's largely predictable as far as outcome. Yes, the all-star cast (John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Stephen Root, Time Blake Nelson, Dermot Mulroney and more) and the varied storylines (environmentalism, professional aspirations, tribal allegiance, mass media, unbridled capitalism, cold war politics--oh, and the aforementioned trapped whales) muddy the water, but all in all this was one of the more satisfying movie-going experiences I had lately.

There's plenty of tearjerking potential (this time I was prepared with tissues--yay!) and while a (somewhat) happy ending was a forgone conclusion, there were enough twists and obstacles to keep me engaged in the unfolding drama. Although the true story this film was based on didn't have the solid, upbeat resolution that its movie version did--but then that's Hollywood for ya.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Artist

This film by French director Michel Hazanavicius starring French actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo is up for Best Picture as well as nine other Academy Awards. It's a black and white silent movie about a silent movie idol.

Talk about meta.

Those who have fallen under the spell of the recreation of this long past era are effusive in praising the film (see TEN Academy Award nominations). And then there are those who aren't impressed--like film critic Jeffrey Wells who said of the movie:

"The Artist is all about re-creation, backward visitation and reflective surfaces. It possesses and radiates nothing that is truly its own, except for a desire to give entertainment-seekers a nice pleasant time."

I wouldn't be quite as dismissive of The Artist's charms as Mr. Wells--but he certainly has a good point. There's nothing new in the film: its plot borrows heavily from the far superior and more charming depiction of the advent of talkies, Singing in the Rain as well as the already multiply-remade A Star is Born. Indeed, one of the minor characters in The Artist is a definite Lina Lamont ripoff.

As baffled as I am about all the buzz surrounding this "re-creation" (Gus Van Sant did a shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho some years back which definitely did NOT receive the adulation afforded The Artist...), I'm more puzzled by the why of it all.

Why would protagonist George Valentin jeopardize his thriving career by refusing to do talkies? Did he think his French accent would put off the audience ('cuz we all know that American women are completely immune to sexy accents...)?

What was the point of having a stellar supporting cast including John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell and James Cromwell whose combined screen time was less than Uggie the dog?

Why the need to tell this story--to recreate a bygone film genre--at all? Mel Brooks did it over 30 years ago--and far more successfully and charmingly than this venture.

The movie felt long and at 100 minutes it's certainly no Lord of the Rings endurance test, but it's a good fifteen minutes longer than the films it's trying to emulate. And while the acting in silent films focuses on emotive facial expressions, Bérénice Bejo crosses the line into the realm of "mugging" for the camera. As the plucky heroine, she's perky and spunky and completely lives up to her aptly annoying name, Peppy Miller. She reminds me of the forced exuberance of Shelly Hack in Charlie perfume commercials.

Bejo did have a nice moment in the film when she crashed Valentin's dressing room and pantomimed caressing herself via his jacket. But overall she gave off a smug vibe and I wanted to smack her. I thought it would have been more entertaining if the beauty mark Valentin gave her to make her stand out among the competition moved around her face--maybe jumping from the right side to the left or something.

Like Hugo, The Artist is a love letter to the film industry. But while it's a lovely little film, it falls in the "Good, not great" category for me.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I Can't Believe It's Not Battlestar Galactica

I'm newly addicted to the sci-fi series compliments of its playing on BBC America (that channel has also got me hooked on the British version of "Being Human"). We're up to season four now and I'm totally engrossed in the tale of the 30+ thousand survivors of the Cyclon wars searching for Earth.

But this post isn't about Starbuck, Apollo, Admiral Adama or President Roslin. It's about this commercial for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter:

Does the narrator's voice sound familiar to you? I could swear it's James Callis aka Dr. Gaius Baltar.

Anyone know for sure?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Signs of the Impending Apocalypse

2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar and I appropriately rang in the new year watching a marathon of The Walking Dead.

Okay, I'm not one to put stock in apocalyptic superstitions -- after all, by all accounts the world was supposed to end in the year 1000 according to Rodulfus Glaber, in 1843 according to William Miller, in 2000 (according to Prince...), twice in 2011 according to Harold Camping and now in 2012 according to the Mayans (although to be fair, they weren't accurate in predicting their own end--why should we trust them to predict the end of mankind?).

Even though Isaac Newton gives us a reprieve until 2060, Jezebel has pulled together a list of apocalyptic signs

To which I would add this:

The "LazySuit." This appeared on a late night infomercial and I was sure it was really a SNL sketch. Taking the Snuggie one step further is this one piece sweat suit with strategically placed zippered opening for easy access.

Living in L.A. where everything is California casual, it's typical to see people wearing Juicy Couture track suits or pajama bottoms--but this bit of fashion takes the cake. The commercial showed grown men and women hanging out in their LazySuits while tailgating.

I can't imagine anyone wearing these out in public--even if they came in NFL-approved team colors instead of lagoon blue, plum, half lagoon blue and half plum, light gray and white striped, fuchsia, sage and berry.

According to the site: "LAZYSUIT is all about a comfy and loose fit, and it is perfect for both genders. When you put your LAZYSUIT on, you will feel how soft and comfortable the material is, so you would want to keep it on at all times."

If you're interested in a one piece sweatsuit, they're on sale for $69.50 with free shipping!

Bring on the apocalypse!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Despite the low Rotten Tomatoes rating, this flick ended up as a Best Picture nominee--so of course I had to see it. The movie is about Oskar Schell (who may or may not have Asperger's or autism) and his journey to find what the key found in his beloved dead father's personal effects unlocks.

The close-to-saintly dad is played by the eminently likeable Tom Hanks and his death in the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11 already is a set up for tugged heartstrings (Note to self: Bring TISSUES to tearjerker movies!!!). Given the premise, it would seem certain that one would be in for a maudlin melodrama. But Thomas Horn as the precocious kid and Sandra Bullock as his mother convey the pain of the loss in a way that's raw and palpable.

The film not only features the top caliber talent of Oscar winners Hanks and Bullock, but Viola Davis, Max von Sydow, John Goodman and Jeffrey Wright contribute nicely as well. The story, however, belongs to Thomas Horn--who possesses one of the most astonishingly beautiful faces I've ever seen.

Yes, the set up is contrived to be an emotional sucker punch. (What in the world is the owner of a small, independent jewelry store doing in the World Trade Center on 9/11?) Yes, it's an unabashed tearjerker. But for emotional resonance (which I've found sadly lacking in most of the movies I've seen of late...), it delivers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Upon the recommendation of Martin as well as its nomination for Best Picture, I went to see Hugo. I would have preferred the 2D version as I find 3D to be gimmicky and intrusive, but 3D was pretty much my only option. The 3D glasses needed to be in place for the trailers because they were all for 3D movies. I've no interest in seeing a mustachioed Lorax popping out of the screen, but I have to say the 3D effects for Titanic looked pretty spectacular.

Speaking of looks, that's something Hugo had going for it in spades. It's visually stunning. The intricate set design was reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie. And the self-contained universe of the train station had echoes of Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal." I was somewhat surprised that it was a Scorsese movie--it's not exactly his oeuvre.

As far as performances go, Ben Kingsley gives his usual excellent performance as George Méliès. Sasha Baron Cohen plays the station inspector with broad strokes but never over the top and Chloe Grace Moretz did a fine job as the adventure-loving Isabelle--even tackling a British accent with aplomb. (Her accent was even better than Gwyneth Paltrow or Renee Zellweger.) Why everyone in Paris had a British rather than French accent is a mystery to me...

Asa Butterfield as the orphaned Hugo Cabret was probably the weakest link. He was decent for most of the film, but as the central character whose journey the audience is following he didn't evoke much empathy. I was expecting that Hugo would have some Dickensian connection to George--or to the bookstore owner who seemed somewhat startled to hear his name when Isabelle introduced them. As it turned, there was no real connection between the orphaned boy living secretly in the train station and anyone else in the film. Nor was there much connection to the character for the audience. That combined with the overall detachment of the film (gorgeous on the surface, not much substance underneath) puts it in the "good, not great" category for me.

I did appreciate the film history lesson the movie provided by way of the character of Méliès. Much of what was portrayed in Hugo was accurate: Méliès was a magician turned filmmaker in the early days of movie making. He accidentally discovered the optical illusions created by stop action and became a master of early special effects. He did stop making movies working selling candy and toys at a shop in a Paris train station. Méliès, however, was "rediscovered" and honored in the late 20s rather than the early 30s as depicted in the movie--but that's a small quibble.

As an homage to early filmmakers and film making, Hugo has a lot to offer. But although 3D and the visual effects in Hugo are a natural update to Méliès movie making magic, I would have preferred a film that had more depth than dazzle.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


When I heard that J.J. Abrams, creator of LOST, was executive producing this new series, I immediately scheduled it on my DVR. Of course, there will be many drawing parallels to the intensely-dissected cult favorite--after all, the show is also set on an island, operating under mysterious circumstances including possible time travel and features Jorges Garcia (formerly "Hugo/Hurley") as one of its stars. But so far the new series appears to be a fairly standard crime procedural drama with the mysterious underpinnings as an overarching theme.

The show seems to take notes more from The X-Files and Fringe with the plot following one person each episode. In the case of Alcatraz, that person is one of 260-some prisoners who poof! disappeared when they were due to be transferred to other facilities after Alcatraz was shut down in 1963. 260 prisoners divided by a standard 22-24 episodes per season equals 10+ years to tell all their stories.

I think J.J. may be a little overly optimistic here, don't you?

Apparently these prisoners disappeared and have been in some sort of suspended animation for 40 years. There's a whole secret FBI operation dedicated to tracking down these prisoners and, more importantly, finding out who or what took them and why. It's headed by one of the former guards tasked with transporting the prisoners to their new residences by the name of Emerson Hauser, played by Sam Neill.

The problem is that when these vanished prisoners pop up again, they tend to go on murder sprees. Some are motivated by past grudges, some are motivated by psychotic tendencies, some are motivated by both. But some are apparently motivated by whatever forces abducted and held them for the past decades.

I'll keep watching to see if the series lives up to the promise of LOST (without devolving into a clusterfuck of a unsatisfying finale), but I hope the series gets more Fringe-y and less Law & Order.

We already have four Dick Wolf shows on TV--there's no need for another!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Dangerous Method

Although this movie purports to be about the relationship between Drs. Freud vs. Jung, it's more accurately a story of Jung's illicit relationship with one of his patients who went on to become a noted psychoanalyst in her own right. Keira Knightley the initially damaged Sabina Spielrein who is healed by Jung's application of "The Talking Cure" (the stage play on which the movie was based), a method proposed by Dr. Sigmund Freud.

Knightley has received mixed reviews for her performance, but I think she acquits herself admirably. An actress of remarkable beauty, she is fully willing to forgo vanity as her face is contorted by the pain and humiliation of her "affliction." Yes, her accents drops out at times, but I give her credit for attempting to maintain it even during scenes requiring her to be hysterical.

Indeed, it's mainly Knightley's movie (evident in that she gets top billing over both Viggo Mortensen as Freud and Michael Fassbender as Jung) with the depiction of the ultimate rift between Jung and Freud and schism between their analytic philosophies given very little screen time.

The film suffers as most adaptations of plays do being heavy with dialogue and fairly static in nature. Towards the end of the film, I was feeling a bit snoozy as the two lead characters (not Freud) wrapped up their relationship with one final analysis. The most fascinating piece of info I got from the film was Spielrein's thesis regarding the connection of sex and death. It's a very Scorpionic/eighth house viewpoint and it makes me wonder if it inspired Jung's astrological archetypes.

All in all, the film was a perfect representation of the adage, "Physician, heal thyself!" and my long held belief psych students gravitate to the discipline to diagnose their own neuroses.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Favorite Movies of 2011

2011 was a fairly ho-hum year for films as far as I'm concerned. I only saw 23 releases which is well under my usual average. Frankly, I just couldn't be bothered. Many of the films I chose to see were praised by critics but left me feeling "meh." I still have a handful of 2011 films to see (The Artist, A Dangerous Method) and there were a few I decided to skip (Bridesmaids), but I'm hoping 2012 will be better than the lackluster 2011 as far as movies are concerned.

My top 10 in no particular order:

1. Fast Five - You'd think the Fast and Furious franchise would have run out of gas by now. Vin Diesel's return to 2009's Fast & Furious injected new life into the formulaic cars + crime + girls + action scenes plot and Five just upped the ante. It's not making critic's lists or winning Oscars, but for action-packed popcorn fun, this flick delivers. I'm looking forward to number 6 in 2013.

2. Harry Potter Deathly Hallows 2 - I missed part one in the theaters and had to Redbox it before seeing the final installment. It was a spectacular ending to the decade long series although I couldn't help feeling (as I did with the other Harry Potter movies) that so much was expurgated from the books to fit into the confines of a two-hour running time.

3. Bad Teacher - Very raunchy, very funny. Think Bad Santa with Cameron Diaz in the Billy Bob Thornton role. The real revelation, however, was Justin Timberlake. You will never be able to look at the pop heartthrob in the same way after this movie.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Way long and felt like two movies smashed together, but still engrossing, gripping with great performances.

5. Jane Eyre - I'm a sucker for period dramas and this adaptation of the Bronte novel delivers with gothic castles, costumes and a smoldering hero in the form of Michael Fassbender.

6. The Muppets - Just nostalgic fun. Following the Dracula puppet show which served as the final scene of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason Segal was the perfect choice to write the Muppet reboot. Not all of the human cameos work, but it's great to see the old gang back together again. The performance of "Man or Muppet" by Jason Segal featuring Jim Parsons is worth the price of admission alone.

7. Anonymous - As I mentioned, period dramas are particularly appealing to me and I'm fascinated by stories set in the Elizabethan era. I once did a college paper on the possibility that Christopher Marlowe was the actual author of Shakespeare's works but the conjecture that they were penned by the Earl of Oxford was a theory I was not familiar with. Rhys Ifans, who played Hugh Grant's bumbling roommate in Notting Hill, is a magnificent Edward De Vere--proving that some things do indeed get better with age.

8. Moneyball - Nice performance by Brad Pitt, but Jonah Hill pretty much walks away with the movie. Even if you're not a sports fans and you find baseball about as intriguing as watching paint dry, you'll be completely sucked into this story.

9. Source Code - Taut, sci-fi thriller. Borrows from a number of similar stories--including 2006's Deja Vu--but does it with style.

10. The Help - Great performances and touching moments. Really does a great job of conveying the pre-civil rights South.

And the rest:

Crazy Stupid Love - Fairly enjoyable with the exception of the obligatory "big speech" moment.

Tower Heist - Silly fun. Like eating cotton candy: more air than actual substance.

The Adjustment Bureau - Damon and Blunt have chemistry and look great together but the fate vs. free will plot stretches belief beyond the breaking point.

The Descendants - Despite the Golden Globe awards I found it too meandering with way too much voiceover exposition.

The Ides of March - Watching the machinations and the dirty underbelly of the political machine will make you want to tear up your voter registration card and move to a nation ruled by a beneficent despot.

J. Edgar - Unfortunately this was so much weaker than I could have imagined. Too much narration, too little action.

50/50 - Joseph Gordon Levitt fights cancer and woos his therapist but the real "romance" is the friendship between his character and Seth Rogen's. The plot wandered a bit for me, but overall it was a decent movie.

Drive - Raves by reviewers and Ryan Gosling. This noir piece had its moments (not to mention one of the most violent scenes I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing), but while most of my friends (and yoga instructors) loved the techno soundtrack, I found it to be intrusive and distracting. Albert Brooks completely upends his traditional neurotic nerd character.

Young Adult - Diablo Cody has come a long way since Juno. Young Adult bears no traces of the unbearably cloying hipster-speak that made her first flick so precious. It's a dark film about damaged people (well, Theron and Oswald's characters, anyway). A much deeper examination of the war zone that is high school than the incessantly flip Juno.

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy - Reviewed earlier--good, not great.

The Company Men - I reviewed lessons learned from this film on another blog.

The Guard - Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson in an "In Bruges"-esque film. Definitely worth renting.

Super 8 - The Spielberg influence was evident in this cross between E.T. and Cloverfield. Again, good not great.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Given the stellar cast of this adaptation of the John le Carre novel, it definitely made my list of must-see movies. It's interesting to break down just how many of the actors in this spy thriller were also in the Harry Potter series: Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), John Hurt (Ollivander), Toby Jones (voice of Dobby), Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore) and Simon McBurney (voice of Kreacher). Of course it'd probably be more significant to have a list of British actors who HAVEN'T been in the Harry Potter series...

But as far that goes, the film also boast a non-Harry Potter trio of hotties in the Dorian Gray-esque Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and Mark Strong.

The story is slow and deliberate--a definite contrast to the gimmicks, gadgets and over-the-top action scenes of James Bond and other movies of that ilk. It's more like watching a game of chess unfold. I liked the more realistic portrayal of the "spy game." No Alias-style martial arts, no Mission Impossible improbable disguises. Just a methodical game of cat and mouse. The film was also very good at depicting the period--early 70s, Cold War.

I won't throw out any spoilers but I determined fairly quickly who the "Spy" would turn out to be and I was right. I can't say that Tinker Tailor Solider Spy kept me on the edge of my seat, but it was somewhat engrossing. The story of George Smiley, British agent, being kicked to the curb after years of loyal service, resonated too closely--but I wouldn't put this on my list of favorite 2011 movies. A bit low-key and plodding for my tastes, and perhaps a bit too stiff upper lip.

Oh, a bit heavy-handed with the title cards (seriously--someone needs to limit those to one second of screen time. Ugh.).

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that among all the action-thriller trailers was the preview of Wes Anderson's latest Moonrise Kingdom which looks to be the Wes Anderson-iest movie ever. With a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand and usual suspect, Bill Murray, the trailer makes the flick look like a Wes Anderson parody. Picture Rushmore on steroids.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


This week seems to be one of endings, but the finale that saddened me most was the halt to the 4+ decade long run of the ABC soap opera daytime drama, One Life to Live. I can't remember when I began watching OLTL. It was some time around Judith Light's infamous courtroom breakdown scene and the reappearance of slain sleazeball Marco Dane in the form of his here-to-fore unknown twin brother, Dr. Mario Correlli.

One Life to Live went to the twin well fairly often. I'm not sure if there was an instance prior to Marco being revived in the form of his better behaved twin brother (who in actuality was the one who mistakenly murdered--Marco just assumed his identity post-mortem), but there were certainly numerous examples after that. One of which was Ty Treadway coming back to play Troy MacIver following the death of his character Colin MacIver. The writers managed to get "Troy's" shirt off in less than five minute after his return to the show. Well done! Unfortunately, Troy managed to stay fully dressed after breaking out of Statesville to terrorize Nora one more time before the show's finale.

It's a popular trick to kill off a popular character and then bring the actor back as that character's "twin." One time OLTL killed off a popular character, but rather than conjuring up a previously unknown twin, the actor was recast in another role on the show. But get this--he was a walk-in meaning when the character he originally played died, his soul was transferred into the body of another character on the show whose soul had moved on. It was kind of frustrating that characters would interact with Michael McBain (even his soulmate, Marci) and not recognize that he looked EXACTLY like Al Holden.

Of course some twins come back from the dead looking totally different than the original character--like when OLTL recast Todd Manning from unconventionally attractive Roger Howarth to pretty boy Trevor St. John. Initially, TSJ was playing Todd Manning so in most cases a voiceover stating, "The role of Todd Manning is now being played by Trevor St. John" should have sufficed--but noooooooo. The writers had to come up with some convoluted back story that Todd, who had always hated the scar branding him as a former rapist, had been beaten severely and had gotten reconstructive plastic surgery that made him look like another character--whose identity he assumed for months until he revealed the truth of his real identity (and major surgery) to his daughter Star.

If that wasn't enough for fans to swallow (and we were pretty open to swallowing exceptionally far-fetched plots including time travel, characters coming back from the dead multiple times, characters going off to summer camp and coming home ten years older, alter egos, evil twins, questionable paternity, etc.), the writer brought the original actor back about six months ago and rewrote Todd's back story to include another unknown twin who was brainwashed and surgically altered so as NOT to be identical to explain what Trevor St. John had been doing for the last eight years.


The Todd/Victor story was about the only plot point left dangling when the last episode aired yesterday. At one point it looked like OLTL would have a future online, but those plans have since fallen through. Several of the actors/characters are migrating over to General Hospital, so if you still need to get your fix of John McBain or Todd Manning, you still can do so starting in February.

For those who wrinkle their noses and shake their heads wondering how people could be so invested in a "soap opera," ask yourself: Did you make sure to set the DVR so as not to miss an episode of LOST? Are you sucked into season two of Boardwalk Empire? Grey's Anatomy fan? Private Practice lover? Thirsting for Game of Thrones? I'm willing to bet somewhere on your must-see TV watchlist, there's a soap opera or two lurking...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Since I have a bit of free time...

Apologies for leaving this blog to sit dormant for so long but I was otherwise occupied for a while. Given that I'm not at the current moment (don't you love the cryptic-ness?), I've decided to get back to blogging.

It's not like I have anything better to do.

Oh by way, anyone know any companies in need of an SEO Analyst, Content Manager, Copy Writer/Editor, Blogger, etc.?