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.?