Sunday, June 29, 2008

DVDs worth staying home for...

A lot of smaller movies, particularly if they don't get stellar reviews their opening weekend, never make it to my local movie theaters. So, I finally got to see In Bruges and Mad Money on DVD this weekend. Totally different topics though possibly flipsides of the moral question of what does it mean to be really bad. Definitely some spoilers below, but as neither are a mystery, it doesn't really make a difference.

In Bruges is the story of two British and Irish assassins who screwed up and were sent to the medieval town of Bruges in Belgium. I was actually in Bruges myself only 2 months ago, and loved seeing all the canals and parks, churches and hospital as well as the main square with the huge clocktower. The main characters played by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell were awesome. Gleeson is a bit older and wiser and Farrell is coming to grips with his first assassination going wrong and ending with the death of a little boy as well as the target. They've been sent by their boss to Bruges to get away from the publicity and Gleeson really enjoys seeing the touristy sights, eating the chocolate and such. Farrell however is much more interested in the pub and the people in a moving being filmed there - a dwarf and a thieving woman. All kinds of hijinks occur, especially after Gleeson refuses to kill Farrell, even though Farrell has become suicidal trying to atone for killing the little boy. Their boss, played poorly by Ralph Fiennes, arrives and tries to carry out the jobs. Lots of tension and gun chases, but all ends as it should. I think Gleeson and Farrell were most believable because they were both using their natural accents, a rough British accent and standard Irish. However, Fiennes was doing a funny cockney lower class accent and it just wasn't consistent or natural, so it became distracting. That's my only problem with the movie. It's mostly lots of talking, about being in a old city, what it means to have killed a little boy, whether being an assassin makes you destined for hell or did some people deserve to die. They do a terrific job, and it's both funny and thoughtful, with some excellent chases at the end.

Mad Money on the other hand is mostly supposed to be funny. But it deals with how people tend to go bad. Their theory is that crime is contagious. Diane Keaton has to find a job when she realizes her husband (Ted Danson, perfectly supporting) lost his job a year ago. The only job she can get with benefits is as a janitor at the Federal Reserve Bank. She watches as all the money arrives, is transported around and ultimately shredded because it's worn out. She devises a really clever way to take out some of the money just before it's destroyed so it can't be missed. She brings in Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes as her accomplices and they steal hundreds of thousands of dollars. They initially wanted to get enough money just to pay off Keaton's debt, and send Latifah's kids to school, but of course they get greedy and that's where it all goes off the rails. However, it's still a clever movie and again, all ends as it should. There are excellent supporting characters, particularly Stephen Root (from Office Space and Dodgeball plus lots of other things, but those are my favorite) as the head of the bank. He constantly walks around and pointing to his eyes says, "Everyone, everywhere, every minute." Because of his determination that it would be impossible to rob the bank, the ladies get farther along with their stealing than they ever thought. It's a funny movie, with a surprising ending. It's nice to see Keaton not as a goody-two-shoes, and Queen Latifah in her traditional mom working hard role, and Katie Holmes as a dancing ditz. Both movies get 4 stars from me.
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Hulk, meh.

I'm not too far behind in seeing The Incredible Hulk, and the reviews I've read seem far and wide in their opinions of the movie. The LAMB averaged just 3.5 lambs in their various opinions. I'm afraid I concur with the average. It was nothing poorly done, but it felt more like a 30 minute episode of The Hulk stretched into 2+ hours with lots of chase and fight scenes. One of my fellow LAMB bloggers mentioned that the only reason to have the first act set in Rio de Janeiro was to have all the rooftops for Edward Norton to run across through the favelas. (Side note - if you want a great movie about the favelas, rent "Favela Rising"). Anyway, Norton has escaped to Rio to try to find an antidote, with the help of Mr. Blue, to the Hulkification of his cells. He gets chased, becomes the Hulk, fights for a while, and then returns to D.C. to get help from his love, Liv Tyler (who does a really good job, a little like her part in LOTR), they get chased, he becomes the Hulk, they escape to find Mr. Blue. Mr. Blue has a crazy Frankenstein kind of lab in Manhattan, he attempts to fix Norton, the bad guys find them, he becomes the Hulk in order to chase down the anti-Hulk, they fight, the Hulk escapes to fight another day. Considering I can sum up the entire movie in 3 sentences, there was too much fighting and not enough plot for my tastes. Plus, LOTS and LOTS of unbelievable elements. Fletch and company documented them, so I won't list them here. I liked it, but wasn't particularly entertained or infuriated. Meh. 3 LAMBS/stars

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Random plug

Yesterday an amazing birthday gift arrived yesterday that I just can't not talk about. It's called a Roku and it'll allow you to watch movies from Netflix without even getting the DVDs. It connects to your Netflix account and then lets you watch instantly anything in the Netflix library of "instant" stuff. Lots of TV shows are available, and nearly all the PBS specials and most documentaries are available. Plus, many movies are becoming available. It works better than TiVo or DVR because you can see things you haven't taped or scheduled, you can just pick from a huge library. It was super easy to set up, you just need to have your internet connection near your TV or have a good wireless network as it connects to your Netflix library through the internet. It frees up your computer for use while you watch all kinds of things. Just a brilliant piece of magical technology. As my friend the Curmudgeon said, "I looooooove living in interesting technology times."

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews

I'm always fascinated by which movies did well at the box office, and which ones only barely made it. Also, the stats the papers produce about how this year's box office totals compare to last year or the year before always seem a little fishy. So to combat this, I thought I would look at them a little differently. Each week I'll review the top grossing film of a particular year from the last 20 years. These are based on the year the film was released, and not necessarily the year all the money was made since a lot of movies are released at the end of the calendar year and make most of their money in the following year. It seems appropriate to start with the highest grossing film of all time, which was also the highest grossing film of 1997: Titanic.

Year: 1997
Film: Titanic
Box Office Gross: $600,799,824
Awards: 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director (1998)
Actors: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Victor Garber, Kathy Bates, Bill Paxton

I saw this movie with my college roommate, and we both cried, and then we went home and she cried for hours like her best friend had died. While time has proven that this movie is too long, overly dramatic, and induces mocking and parody more often than praise 10 years after its release, it was still a movie that moved millions and introduced epic scale movie-making to a new generation. Just in case there are a few of you who don't remember or actually missed this movie, I'll recap, with spoilers! It's the story of Rose Dawson, nee DeWitt Bukater, a 90-year-old woman who sees a program on TV about Bill Paxton scavenging the "Titanic" wreckage. She goes to the scavenging ship and starts to tell the story of how she happens to be wearing an enormous blue diamond in a drawing the night "Titanic" sank. The rest of the film is in flashback, where we see a young society debutant Rose (brilliant Kate Winslet at only 22) boarding the ship with her controlling mother (Frances Fisher) and semi-crazy fiance (Billy Zane). She's calm, collected, perfectly dressed, and later we learn sick to death of it all. When she tries to escape all her perfect life will force her to do by jumping overboard, she meets Jack (DiCaprio) a happy-go-lucky artist who won his trip on "Titanic" in a poker game. They fall in love, Jack shows her what it means to be free (doesn't it mean having nothing left to lose?) and she pulls away from her rich, privileged life, ultimately having Jack sketch her naked with the diamond. However, getting in the way of their plans to run away and be free, "Titanic" hits the iceberg and starts to sink. Catastrophe ensues, Rose's fiance gets Jack locked up for stealing, so Rose has to brave the waters to save him, and then they don't make it on the life boats in time, but somehow survive the sinking. However, when the boats come back to look for survivors floating in the freezing water only Rose is still alive - Jack gave up the ghost to save her. It's a heartbreaking movie that you already know will end poorly given the setting, but it's still a classic. There's a lot of heavy acting, dramatic realizations, excessive effects and staging, but overall it's still a classic and has made more money than any other film by a lot. So to start off the Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews, I give you Titanic.
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Monday, June 23, 2008

DVD Roundup

I've seen 3 movies lately on DVD - too much of a hassle to make it to the cineplex on time for movies right now. I was very disappointed by 2 of them, but found one I'd been avoiding surprisingly good. Coincidentally, Hillary Swank starred in two of them. P.S. I love you and The Nanny Diaries were both victims of the same problem - overly focused on a single main character that was too boring to want to watch for two hours. P.S. I love you had a clever gimmick - Gerard Butler, the love of Hillary Swank's young life, dies of a brain tumor. However, he's put in motion a series of letters to come to Swank after his death helping her deal. He plans a trip, some nights out, etc. and she still wallows in grief, despite her girlfriends' attempts to cheer her up and help her move on. There's even a totally unbelievable love interest in Harry Connick Jr. I rented the movie hoping to see more of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (from Grey's Anatomy) but he's only in it for a few minutes, and does a TERRIBLE Irish accent. So boring, uninteresting love story. 2 stars/LAMBS

The Nanny Diaries might have been more interesting if I hadn't read the book and hadn't lived in New York City. Scarlett Johansson plays "Annie" the Nanny of Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti's Upper East Side couple. Johansson wants to be an anthropologist so the movie is riddled with her voice-overs explaining the anthropological significance of the stupid parenting and anti-parenting maneuvers of the X's. It's basically Johansson acting shocked by the appalling behavior of rich people who should be parenting their kids and not cheating on their spouses, and Linney and Giamatti pretending their a good couple and great parents. They yell at each other and act shocked. The reason Johansson pretends to care is the well-being of their kid, Grayer, who the movie barely makes obvious as a good kid worthy of her fights. Another uninteresting, non-funny family drama. 2 stars/LAMBs

The movie I was surprised to find I actually liked was Freedom Writers, with Hillary Swank and Patrick Dempsey. Swank plays an idealistic new teacher in a school that seems to have only a single class for her to teach (I'm guessing she has others, but we only see one). She has to fight with Imelda Staunton (channeling her "Doloris Umbridge" character from Harry Potter) to get permission to teach the at-risk kids outside of the curriculum. She works with them to understand their lives of gang violence, racial threats and poverty. She realizes their overall education has suffered when she tries to relate a racist picture a student drew to the beginnings of the Holocaust. When they don't know what it is, she begins a curriculum to help them across their lives - from cultural education to history and writing. They read "The Diary of Anne Frank" and become inspired to meet one of them women who helped her - Miep Gies. It's a good movie that does more to follow and understand the lives of the students than most movies like this. Swank isn't particularly inspiring as she lets her own life fall completely apart to help her students, but the students and the actors portraying the students are all terrific. They find inspiration from school to help deal with their own lives and in non-cliched ways become better people. I liked it. Not terrific, but pretty great. 3.5 stars/LAMBs

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Lookout

A friend recommended the indie flick, The Lookout, a few weeks ago and I finally got around to watching it this weekend. It won an Independent Spirit award for best First Feature, and I concur. For a first film, it's an excellent story, well executed and very well acted. Joseph Gorden-Levitt (Third Rock from the Sun, and 10 Things I Hate About You) is a former star athlete, Chris, who now suffers from a brain injury that leaves him with a poor memory and the ability to organize certain ideas. He works as a night janitor at a bank, and lives with a blind roommate (Jeff Daniels) who helps him keep track of things. He hangs out at a bar after work drinking NA beer and overhears a great pickup line, but fails to get the right effect when he delivers it himself. He meets an old boyfriend of his sister's, Gary, who eventually brings Chris into his confidence and "gang" about their plans to rob a bank - specifically the one Chris cleans at night. Chris is happy just to have friends again, particularly ones who understand his condition. It's pretty obvious Gary is taking advantage of Chris, but it's hard to see exactly how he'll make him take the fall. Chris goes along with the gang, but at the last minute realizes he's being taken advantage of, and that they'll probably kill him or drop all the blame on him. And when they threaten both his roommate and a police officer friend, he starts making plans to outwit the gang. However, it's not clear whether he'll be able to retain his plan or figure out how to execute it when the time comes. It's a great mystery, and it's hard to see the plot twists coming, so I really enjoyed the movie. Jeff Daniels plays an excellent friend who only wants what's best for Chris, and works hard to point him in the right direction. Also, Isla Fisher plays a small role that helps Chris get into the gang. Oh, and throughout most of the movie, I kept being reminded of Heath Ledger. Joseph Gorden-Levitt is growing into a fantastic actor, and a strong resemblance to Ledger, both in acting style and in looks. I can't wait to see him make it big. 4 stars/LAMBs
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Best Movie Dads

To honor Father's Day this weekend, I perused the IMDB 250 for the most memorable fathers in the movies. These are not all great dad's, or great people, but they are definitely some of the most memorable dads. Here are my top 10 (though one did not come from the IMDB list!)

1. Clark W. Griswold - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - This is one of my family's favorite movies. And very few of the lines we like are Clark's. However, I'm always struck watching it how much Clark loves his family and wants them to have a "Big Old Fashioned Christmas".

2. George Bailey - It's a Wonderful Life - George had his moments as a bad father, yelling at his daughter to stop playing the piano, but we all know that ultimately he came to appreciate his family and being a dad.

3. Don Corleone - The Godfather - He's not just a Godfather, he's also got 4 children of his own. He definitely has favorites and really shouldn't have spoiled his daughter the way he did, but he still puts family first.

4. Lester Burnham - American Beauty - Lester may not have realized he had the chance to be a good father until it was too late, but at least he realized that his daughter was pretty amazing and that the last images that when through his head as he died were about being a dad.

5. Henry Jones - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - Perhaps an uninvolved dad at the beginning, he helps his son find the Holy Grail and eternal life. What more can you ask for in a dad?

6. Marlin - Finding Nemo - Marlin swam the seas to save his son from an aquarium. He learned new things about himself and things that would interest his son (sea turtles live over 150 years!). He came through and ultimately proved he could be a good dad, without being too controlling or smothering.

7. Mac MacGuff - Juno - There aren't too many dads that would take in a teen pregnancy without yelling and being disappointed in the daughter he raised like Mr. MacGuff. He still asks how his daughter is doing and helps her choose people to take the child. I admire him each time I see the movie.

8. Darth Vader - Star Wars Episode IV,V,VI - Definitely one of the most memorable fathers, even if his part in raising the children was zero, he ultimately make huge sacrifices for his children.

9. Atticus Finch - To Kill a Mockingbird - Probably the best representation of a father that cinema has ever shown us. He's honest, caring, honorable, and intelligent. It doesn't get much better than Atticus Finch.

10. Richard Hoover - Little Miss Sunshine - I know this one is kind of a stretch, but I liked that the dad decided to support his daughter's ambition to be in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. He even cares enough not to let her compete. He's the overzealous dad that supports even when he should be a better dad and say no from the beginning, but at least he gets there in the end.
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Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer TV is the best candy...

The summer TV season has started and while the networks move to all reality or reruns, the cable channels bring out their big guns, or at least their funny ones. While I agree with my fellow blogger Fletch's take on their commercials, I still like their shows. And since they're all fairly randomly returning, I need at least one commercial to find out when they're arriving. Anyway, the first one to start has premiered already and I've seen the first two episodes, so I thought I'd review it. Here goes:

In Plain Sight (Sundays, 10pm on USA) stars Mary McCormack (who I really liked as a secretive NSA agent on The West Wing) as a U.S. Marshall with the Witness Protection Program. She works out of Albuquerque, NM and relocates people who have made agreements to testify against bigger criminals. Some of the people she protects are criminals themselves and seem to have a hard time leaving the business, so Mary (also her character name) has to step in to keep them from getting killed. Alternatively, she protects totally innocent people, like witnesses to crimes - accountants to drug dealers, or kids who saw their dad shoot their mom. It's really funny, but still a little dark and thriller like. Occaisonally they (Mary has a partner) actually have to solve little crimes to figure out who has found their protectee. It's a fun show that I DVR and watch while I work. It's not overly complicated and Mary is trying to survive living with her mother (Leslie Ann Warren still channeling her ditsy character from Will & Grace) and now her mysterious sister (Nicole Hiltz - on hiatus from The Riches). It'll be a fun series and promises not to disappoint.

Here are the shows I intend to watch and their advertised premiere date. Also, links to my reviews of previous seasons.

Weeds - June 16 Showtime

Burn Notice - July 10 USA

The Closer - July 14 TNT

Monk and Psych - July 18 USA

Mad Men - July 27 AMC

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Sex and the City is Awesome!

Definite spoiler alert! I saw Sex and the City: The Movie last night with 2 girlfriends and we loved it. The theater wasn't particularly full, but it was nearly all women, as you'd expect. The ages of the women did surprise me - though given the other movie at our duplex theater is still Indiana Jones perhaps it was just the better choice. And it definitely was the better choice. It's a great movie. It's very true to the original series - they focus on fashion, men are plot devices not characters, and they travel all over New York City. However, the movie kicks it up a notch. They have the time to do mini-fashion montages (bad 80s dresses, fabulous wedding dresses, and clothes from the original series) which the TV show wouldn't have time for. They also have the time to develop a few stories a little longer than the show would have been able to - like Carrie's devastation and recovery. She is heartbroken and swept away by her friends to recover, and she really looks as broken as the rest of us feel - like the world should stop until you figure out how to live again. I cried twice during the movie, once in sadness when Carrie is hurt and once in happiness when Charlotte gets great news (sorry, I'm trying not to completely let the surprises out). The side story lines - Miranda's relationship struggles, Samantha's identity problems, and Charlotte's happy life - are all perfectly complementary. Isn't that always the truth - when one of your girlfriend's lives is falling apart another comes through and is getting everything she always wanted and you look at them both trying to figure out where you're stuck in the middle? I think Sex and the City does a great job creating characters that are compilations of people - there's no way any individual person could be all the things Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte are, but pieces of each of them are present in all of us all the time. I loved the movie, and highly recommend it to anyone who liked the series, even if you didn't know much about it you'll like the movie. Oh, and Jennifer Hudson's addition as Carrie's personal assistant is terrific. She's a little stereotyped as the modern 20-something add on who knows all the current best ideas for cheap fashion (Bag, Borrow and Steal anyone?), but she's a great actress and proves she can do comedy and hang with the big girls. Loved it!
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