Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Calm movies not to be missed...

First let me explain what I mean by "calm" movies - movies where there is no huge swells of music to disguise long actions sequences, OR where the dialogue and character changes are the most notable elements, OR where the actors are strong enough to pull off acting in silence. Two examples that can't be missed are The Painted Veil (2006) and The Station Agent (2003) - I saw them both recently and their quality struck me as similar though the movies couldn't be more different. Age before beauty, The Station Agent follows a dwarf (playing brilliantly by Peter Dinklage) moving to a defunct train station he inherited and meeting some of the townspeople, including Bobby Cannavale (Will's cop boyfriend from Will & Grace) for humorous friendship and Patricia Clarkson, a woman suffering the loss of her son and her marriage. The three of them form a fun little friendship, full of train watching, cooking, and talking. It's not a sad movie, it's actually very uplifting in a simple way. In contrast, A Painted Veil is heartbreaking in the best way. Edward Norton is wonderful as a '20s bacteriologist studying cholera in China who brings his cheating wife with him to an outbreak. They spend a lot of time seeing each other through stranger's eyes, and start falling in love. It's not a huge movie, there's little music swelling, and not too many scenes of sweeping scenery, but still tells a wonderfully romantic story. If you can think of a better description for movies like this, other than calm, please help me out!

Monday, May 28, 2007

"May I lend a machete to your intellectual thicket?" - Capt. Jack Sparrow

Okay, now I've seen the first 3 of the thirds (Spiderman, Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean) with 3 to go (Ocean's 13, Bourne Ultimatum and Live Free or Die Hard - okay that's a 4th) and I still think they're worth making. I really liked most of At World's End, and there were parts that should have been trimmed a bit. Basically, here's what I think it's about (and the critics are right, it's pretty confusing): A long time ago, Davy Jones and the sea goddess Calypso fell in love. Davy Jones made a deal to live forever, but he was tasked with ferrying those who die at sea to the next world. In return he'd live forever and could set foot on land only 1 day every 10 years to be with Calypso. However, pirates who sailed the seas wanted more control and their high council entrapped Calypso in a body and was thus prevented from meeting Davy Jones on his day off, which sent him spiraling into neglecting his duties, corrupting people and imprisoning them on "The Flying Dutchman" to work off their debt. In order to kill Davy Jones, you must destroy his heart (which is kept separate from his body - like not keeping the deed to your house in your house) and then rip out your own heart and thus take his place as "The Flying Dutchman MUST have a captain. Basically, in this movie, the Dutch East India Company has possession of Davy Jones heart and thus controls the seas. The pirates will have none of this and want to get Calypso released from her mortal coil so she can smack down Davy Jones. So the 9 leaders of pirates get together and release her (which includes Jack Sparrow, so he must be fetched from the meta-physical world he's been sent to - which includes an awesome scene where he argues with all his personalities as he goes insane - Depp perfection) - but she's really pissed about being imprisoned and tries to smack down everyone. That's where the movie runs off the rails - they swirl around in a maelstrom for ages with everyone fighting back and forth and I think all the fun people survive and Davy Jones and Calypso are reunited. But this long sequence happens about 2 and half hours into the movie and is just too much, so I could be wrong. Overall, I really liked most of this movie, but I recommend renting it and fast-forwarding through the overwhelming scenes - and now you have this handy explanation in case you get confused.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Little Children

There's no denying several of the premises behind the movie Little Children, just out on DVD. First, Kate Winslet is a terrific actress - and given her Oscar nomination for this role, most people didn't bother to actually watch the movie when they nominated her. Second, suburbia is full of crazy characters that can mix together in new and interesting ways given the right set of material. And finally, Patrick Wilson is hot. I'm sure this was the pitch to the studios when this movie was put together, but much more than that was not really achieved. Kate Winslet plays a stay-at-home mom who doesn't really subscribe to the zany at-all-costs protection of the upper middle class way of life, but is trying hard to fit in. She befriends a stay-at-home dad (the melt in your mouth hot Patrick Wilson) to throw off the other mommies, and finds a kindred spirit who wants to buck stereotypes, but still wants to preserve his dignity and love his son. So they spend a summer lounging by the pool and trying to keep their romance a secret from their spouses (who are just odd in their own right - her husband is obsessed with internet porn, and his wife loves her son but not her husband). Thrown into this very strange mix is a recently released felon with a "psycho-sexual disorder". Jackie Earle Haley deserved his Oscar nomination for supporting actor because his creepy, unpredictable character acknowledges his own evil nature, and yet still wants to be the good boy his mother prays for. His story line only touches the romance tangentially and makes for uneven pacing throughout. In the end, the main characters realize they don't want to throw their lives away, but rather be brave and fight for the love they found they deserve (through some very unclear realizations). Overall, it's interesting, but pretending that Kate Winslet is less appealing than Jennifer Connelly was not an easy plotline to accept. They tried to make it clear that self-confidence and determination can make you appealing, but it didn't quite work. Also, there's a TON of narration over the story lines that seems a little out of place - but necessary or the movie would be fairly silent in its deliberations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You're gonna love "Heroes"!!

Now I know most of you have not been keeping up with Heroes, but I'm not sure there are many people who haven't heard "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" - though if anyone understood it before last night, it wasn't me. However, unlike Lost, this show explains itself clearly and often, while leaving some ideas you didn't even realize were mysteries just a little less clear. And the season finale last night was AWESOME! It brought to conclusion many of the crazy issues that had plagued the characters all season - and the World was saved to fight another day - though who died, and who will return is still a little up in the air. The sci-fi nature of Heroes is really fun, and not too crazy to make it annoyingly complex, and the comic book element is subtle, but really powerfully used to link the different heroes together. The stories are complex and the people you expect to survive won't, so just be open to whatever comes and they have a huge story to tell that will sweep you along in the huge tidal wave of hero-worship!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shrek III

Having just sat through my cousin's graduation where many people were identified by who their ancestors were - Winston Salem III, John Paul II, etc., I kept hearing Shrek the Third in my head - wouldn't it be funny if that was the name read someday, wouldn't be worse than some of the names read. However, like the dilution of the gene pool over generations, Shrek the Third bears only a passing resemblance to the original. Some of the same jokes were there - as though passed down through the family - and a few new ones that weren't as funny or as original. The funniest bits were the addition of the ladies of fairy tales - Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty - arriving for a baby shower only to be captured and have to buck their stereotypes and save themselves rather than waiting for their princes to do it. The Charlie's Angels Princess kicked a lot of butt, but that was pretty much the exciting part of the movie. The original was fun watching Donkey and Shrek banter, and this lacked any of that. It was also funny because each of the fairy tale creatures were held to their own story lines, and now in the third, they're just trying to step outside their stories - Captain Hook wants to plant daffodils - which is only funny for a second and doesn't actually make a story worth watching. Worth watching on DVD, but don't bother going to the theater.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Grey's Season Finale...WTF?!

Okay, I did not like that season finale. I think Izzy is becoming a predatory character that really wants to ruin George's life, but doesn't want the blame so she's leaving up to George to do the bad thing (like the thief who's not sorry he stole, but he's very, very sorry he's going to jail). However, I no longer root for Callie to win him either - she's just being mean to Izzy and gloating never looks good on anyone. And I didn't like Meredith's whining that she needed a happy ending to survive - she needs serious therapy, cause the world's best boyfriend isn't doing it. Also, why did they totally screw over the best character on the show - if Dr. Bailey doesn't get some amazing news and fast, then she should just leave the show and start her own - the wimpy place Dr. Montgomery is going could do with a little of her attitude. The only things I actually did like about the episode were Dr. Burke's vows - the seemed really genuine, though more than a little self-congratulatory about being so great - and Alex and Addison's conversation and him running off to find Eva. This was not a great ending to a season that was plodding along quite well, if quite unhappily.

"Dancing with the Stars", well sort of

Okay, none of these "stars" pass muster as celebrities (i.e. my mom doesn't know who they are without much detailed information), but that doesn't mean it's not a hell of a lot of fun to watch. I haven't watched all season, but sort of got sucked in because it filled the void on Monday nights after How I Met Your Mother before Heroes (if you read this blog, you already know I watch way too much TV, so no comments please) if I watched them live instead of on DVR. So the first couple of episodes were pretty boring because the dancing was only mediocre, across the board. Now, the finalists have been learning for 10 weeks at least, and have gotten amazingly fun to watch. The season finale airs next week on Monday and Tuesday, with all kinds of dances, from ballroom to jive and cha-cha. Since the "celebrities" aren't really a reason to tune in to watch this show, I recommend watching to learn a little bit about dance - like who knew the samba could be done to "Walk like an Egyptian"? They use good songs, mostly well known or at least fun, and dance fairly traditional dances, if not exact steps to all of them. The genius of these finalists is that they can make these formal movements seem natural when the music moves them. Tune in to see who wins, or at least laugh at the fun.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Goodbye Gilmore Girls

Okay, I haven't watched Gilmore Girls from the beginning, but at least since the middle of the 3rd season and actually own all the DVDs because this is definitely one of the best shows ever put on TV. Yes, it's a genre that doesn't appeal to everyone - lots of rapid-fire dialogue with obscure historical and pop culture references by a mother and daughter who share clothes, ideals, and a love for a small town. The creators, Amy Sherman Palladino and her husband Dan Palladino, left at the end of last season with a fairly difficult scenario for their successors to play out. The last 2 episodes have aired - after a quick notification that these will be the final two ever and not just for this 7th season. Unfortunately, the indecision of the upper levels can be felt in the episodes themselves - Rory just decides, with little explanation or discussion, to not follow her boyfriend, Logan, which felt contrived and very artificial for a relationship that weathered all kinds of other craziness. Then going into the final episode, I felt like Rory had finally gotten a dose of real life because she didn't get the big New York Times job, but had already turned down a good job that would have put her in the field she wanted right out of college. So she was at loose ends and felt real, then the final episode arrives and her life is nicely delivered wrapped up in a perfect bow with little effort on her part, once again. The writers wanted to end the whole show with no questions - they even put Luke and Lorelai back on good terms, but with no resolution to why they are insane about the marriage thing. Overall, it was definitely the time to end the series, and kind of unfortunate that it ended in such an un-Gilmore Girls way. I do love that the town was once again brought to its crazy height of lunacy over Rory's graduation, and Luke showed he loved both Rory and Lorelai.

Monday, May 14, 2007

These are some strange "Children of Men"

The near-future, sci-fi story of "Children of Men" starts with interesting concepts - the youngest person alive is killed at age 18, the world has mysteriously become infertile, and there are still wars raged in the name of religion and immigration. The concept of how the world would change knowing there were no more children is starting to be explored. Our hero, Clive Owen (who can act better than anything about this movie), works in a crappy job, drinks too much and is basically just hanging on, though he has a friend, Michael Caine, who lives off the grid and sells pot to the police. It also turns out that before the fertility crisis, Owen had a wife (Julianne Moore) and a child. We find out Moore has become the leader of the people fighting the government's immigration policies. And that she has a pregnant woman she's trying to get out of the country. All of that was in the previews, if unclear. **Minor spoilers ahead**. That's about where the movie stops being fun or interesting. Moore gets killed in some massive plot to steal the baby, Owen asks his friend Caine to help, who gets killed too. So Owen and the pregnant lady break into a refugee camp to try to meet a boat. She has the baby (it doesn't turn out to be an alien or anything just a kid who awes everyone but whose creation isn't explained) and the movie ends with lots and lots of fighting. I liked "V for Vedetta" much better than this movie because the sci-fi aspects were all explained - the future was a crapheap, but at least the rules were pretty clear and those fighting against the rules really just wanted butter for their toast and sugar for their cofffee. With that kind of tongue in cheek humor about the future, it was watchable, and over the top at times, like good sci-fi should be. Children of Men is just kind of a draft version of the future, incomplete, and rough around the edges, making it very hard to follow to anything real or interesting.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Say goodbye - Studio 60 won't be returning

I'm very sad - this is a day of mourning. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Aaron Sorkin's show with Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford and Amanda Peet) has been cancelled. It was a very costly show, but it was just starting to find its rhythm and I'm sad to see it go. Alas.

The best line from "Earl"

Okay, this line is one of the many reasons to love "My Name is Earl". To set the scene: Randy (Earl's slowish brother) walks in with tissue in his nose. Earl asks what happens and Joy says:

"M&M's melt in your mouth, not in your nose"


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Bring back "How I Met Your Mother" - and change the title...

As far as I can tell, CBS hasn't decided if it's going to bring back How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM), one of the only really funny sitcoms that still fills half an hour - I'm still forming my full opinion of Two and a Half Men. The background of HIMYM, in case you've missed it during it's first 2 seasons, is Ted is telling his kids about how he met their mother 20 years before. In 2005, Ted lives with his college friends, Marshall and Lily who are engaged to be married. They also have a friend, Barney (played brilliantly by Neil Patrick Harris who has throw off all remnants of Doogie Howser) who has a mysterious job and comes from a slowly revealed background. Ted meets a girl named Robin early on, who we learn is NOT his kids mother. So whoever the mother is, has not been revealed as yet. Now, all this sounds pretty simple, very Friends-like in it's simplicity. But it's that simplicity that is both refreshing and fun to follow. Ted is an architect, Marshall a law student, Lily a kindergarten teacher, Robin a TV reporter, and Barney wears a suit. But it's the fact that they have such incredible friendships - the kind where Ted and Marshall find it pretty cool to settle a dispute by using the swords that have hung on their wall since college; and Robin and Lily can communicate telepathically (sort of) to tell Lily not to open Robin's risque shower gift in front of her grandmother; and Barney arrives with just the idea of "suit up" for nearly every occasion and sometimes they do. They set up really great situations to stumble through, and do a lot of episodes showing a single event from different character's perspectives - like explaining that the smell from Marshall's car, which he thought was from Ted throwing up during a road trip in college, but really was caused by Robin and Lily borrowing the car and a homeless person trying to get in and steal their chinese food that gets thrown around the car. It's a great show that should continue and really get off the ground and keep having fun. The season 2 finale is next Monday at 8 on CBS.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Spiderman 3 - With a awesome mean streak

I want to say I was sucked in by the advertising, but really I just wanted to go prove my point that the Spiderman franchise was a big mistake after the first one. However, I was wrong. This is a great action movie that redeemed all the faults of #2. There are awesome action sequences that, for a change, don't go on for 10 minutes without dialogue or humor. There's terrific CGI that is probably incredibly cutting edge, but is done so appropriately and creatively that you don't think about CGI or special effects, you just think "I wish I'd been there to see that" - in a break with it's predecessors it doesn't feel like you're watching a comic book. And best of all, the movie doesn't take itself too seriously - which is good for a plot dependent on a creature that lands from outer space and a villain created by "demolecularization". There are half a dozen moments that you're not sure should be funny, but they are anyway. Toby Maguire doing his evil dance is probably supposed to be just a moment showing the change in his personality, but it's pretty hysterical, and very well choreographed - very much invoking Jim Carrey in The Mask. And so as not to spoil the end, but since it's a pretty terrific ending sequence (again peppered with funny dialogue and humor, rather than 30 minutes of CGI and Spidey swinging around), let's just say that you'll be satisfied with who dies and who lives. It's a huge improvement over the last one, and a good movie in it's own right.

Friday, May 4, 2007

"Private Practice"

I assume you watched the new Grey's Anatomy episode last night that is the pilot for Kate Walsh's new series. I LOVED it. There were great actors from previous series that got a chance to be in what could be a terrific series. Merrin Dungey (the wonderful Franci from "Alias) plays Addison's best friend from med school who was recently divorced, though remains in the same practice with, Taye Diggs. In a totally different role, well still a smarty pants role, for Amy Brenneman (of "Judging Amy" fame) she's an emotional wreck of a psychiatrist. And finally, in a possibly very annoying role Timothy Daly (from "Wings") plays an alternative medicine practitioner. And finally, my favorite is Paul Adelstein, who was the evil guy from Prison Break (who ironically only just became a prisoner) playing Cooper, the man-child pursuing love on the internet with women who steal and strip his beautiful car. All of these very talented actors are in private practice together in a co-op type medical practice in L.A. which is the only place this sort of deal with play well. The best part of the episode was the moment that relived those diet Coke commericals where all the women in the office gather to watch the desk clerk go surfing for lunch and walk by them with his washboard abs. You could see the drool...I think it could be a terrific show - oh, and the elevator talks, in a nice way making fun of all the elevator hoopla that goes on in Seattle Grace. Shonda Rhimes is brilliant, mostly for bringing Marti Noxon (of both Angel and Buffy fame) to help with the writing and producing. I hope they put this show on the air, and I hope we like them more later.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Everwood - Grown up and living in LA

I whined and whined when Everwood was cancelled last spring in order to run the 13th season of 7th Heaven. However, the creator of Everwood, Greg Berlanti, is part of the production company that created Brother & Sisters, the new show with Sally Field and Calista Flockhart that follows Desperate Housewives. It started out a fairly cliched show, a large family that fit all the statistics - 1 gay son, 1 drug-addict, 1 Republican - that engendered lots of infighting about politics and acceptance. If it had stayed that way, it would have been cancelled quickly. However, the strength that Everwood displayed in its complex characters, unique story lines, and heartfelt dialogue, has finally broken through on Brothers & Sisters. There are several storylines going on at once, but with many overlaps as it's a close family that has trouble keeping secrets, especially from each other. However, the stories aren't difficult to follow, unlike Heroes right now. The family is more than a little quirky at times, but who isn't, and the level of acceptance and forgiveness they're able to exhibit is worth watching. B & S also shows some of that spastic humor Desperate Housewives was able to put together at the beginning, before the mystery took over everything. It's only just finishing it's first season, but here's hoping it gets a few more...and is never cancelled for 7th Heaven.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

End of Gilmore Girls? Going out in a blaze of glory...

Since they've removed the Gilmore Girls creators, and it looks like Alexis Bledel isn't coming back next season, at least not for all of it, I'm guessing they're setting us up for the end of the series. At least they're trying to do it with a little class and a few new things. Last night's new episode proved that Lorelai (well, Lauren Graham) can in fact sing, even something as difficult as "I will always love you" (Dolly not Whitney), and that Luke can still be cute. And the other thing I actually really liked was the Rory was able to find failure. One of the worst things about the super-successful life that the Gilmore's come from is that you can go from birth to 50 without ever experiencing any real failure. And Rory's been exposed to real life through Lorelai, but always really thought she was destined for the perfect life her family comes from. By not succeeding, or more specifically 2 rejection letters for jobs she was no way qualified for, just a little bit at an early age, we get to see her figure out a little more about who she is, rather than what she can do. They didn't quite get to all of that, but we see a glimpse that her self-confidence has been shaken in a way even her 400 hours of community service didn't touch. This season has been pretty dismal so far, but is starting to achieve some of its former glory. Lorelai wishing everyone "joy and happ-i-ness" is priceless.