Saturday, June 30, 2007

A heartwarming tale of hope, and dancing

First, I should probably explain how Stomp the Yard even arrived at my house. My movie watching partner has certain rules about the movies she'll see: children's classic stories (Charlotte's Web, Flicka), sports or competitive movies (Miracle, Bend it Like Beckham,
Music and Lyrics), almost anything British (Saving Grace, Greenfingers) and anything with Mark Wahlberg (Invincible covers 2 categories). This is to avoid seeing movies that are sad for no reason, violent beyond necessary, and that steal a little bit of your soul, even if they are Oscar winners (Last King of Scotland, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, etc.). So, for the past few years, she's done very well in finding quality entertainment. So this explains how a movie like Stomp the Yard arrived. And it was fully within her categories. There's a competitve element between 2 fraternities at a southern university over who will win a national title. There's a lot of terrific classic drama - parents wanting better for their children, children working to please their parents. And the story ends really well. Personally, I love college movies - anything that invokes the spirit of being part of a tradition - and this movie makes it clear that families come in many shapes and colors and you can create a family with enough effort and compassion. The dancing is pretty interesting to watch as it's so athletic and creative, though understanding all their cheers did require the subtitles from time to time. Overall, great Friday night watching.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Better driver commandments....

I confess, I like Car Talk. I've been listening to it nearly since it's inception as it was one of the few NPR programs the entire family could agree on while driving. This is probably one of the best things they've put out there. In response to the Pope's list of commandments for drivers, they created their own more useful list:

1.Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Lexus
2. Thou Shalt Not combine convertibles and combovers
3. Thou Shalt Not take thy rental car to Mexico
4. Thy horsepower shalt not exceed thy IQ
5. If thou are going to pick thine nose, for god’s sake, make sure nobody’s looking.
6. Thou shalt not lie, cheat, steal or attempt to sell undercoating.
7. Thou shalt not return thy brother’s car on empty
8. Thou shall handle lit cigars with car, lest they find refuge near thy loins.
9. Thou shalt not combine dialing and driving, lest thou mortal coil be wrapped around an unholy bridge abutment.
10. Blessed are the Prii, for they shall inherit the earth (Prii being the plural of Prius).
11. Thou shall keepth thy 17-year-old son bound to the slowest and ugliest 1979 Volvo, which hath presenth itself on the list of Craig.
12. Thou shalt not drive like my brother.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Heartland has bad hair

When a show is good, I rarely notice the nitty gritty bits of a show like hair, make-up or lighting. However, all I can say about the new TNT show Heartland is that everyone on it has bad hair. It's a show with Treat Williams (who I loved from Everwood) who plays a donor surgeon. His ex-wife is a representative from the organ donation society and is neither humorous nor sympathetic and has really bad hair. There's a lot of banter between Williams and his ex-wife which is not enough to keep you interested. Plus, the background storylines for every episode starts with someone becoming an organ donor, i.e. having a horrible accident or being badly hurt. Then you meet the sob story of the people who need organs. I think organ donation is a big deal, everyone should sign their donor card and help people after you no longer need your organs, but this show makes it sound like only a sad, rather pathetic thing rather than an enormous gift of life after death. If I were you, watch The Closer, but don't bother with Heartland.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Catch and Release on DVD

For those of you who missed Jennifer Garner in Catch and Release, I highly recommend catching it (pun intended). It falls into a category of movies I describe as mis-marketed. They failed to market the movie for what it was - a story of recovering from grief and finding out who you are and that maybe we don't need to know everything about people we love. It was marketed as a romantic comedy, and it would have failed on that point. First, it is funny - Kevin Smith is perfect as a grown-up man-child who plays video games, but it is obvious he is devastated by his friend's death. Jennifer Garner plays funny and bereft really well, and often in the same scene. Her recovery from the ups and downs of dealing with her fiance's death show a real person's struggle, with all the funny bits she does so well - like frantically painting her new room robin's egg blue while insisting it's Marrakesh Dream all to avoid finding out about her fiance's illegitimate child. It's a really good movie, and if they'd marketed it for what it really was, rather than trying to swing romantic comedy, the reviews would have reflected its quality.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A new book of note...

Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, and The Bean Trees among others, has produced a new non-fiction book with her husband and daughters about a year of conscious food choices. While Animal, Vegetable, Miracle might sound like a diet book, it's really a memoir about a year of trying to raise their own food in rural U.S. and learning to live without foods that have to be imported more than 120 miles. Kingsolver writes the bulk of the book with sidebars of scientific note by her husband Steven Hopp, and personal notes of how a teenager coped and cooked during this year by her daughter Camille. Kingsolver writes really well, with a casual style that describes everything from the horrors of off-season fruit eating to the humorous antics of slaughtering your own chickens. She explains their adventure well, "We're converts in progress, not preachers", as to why this story is not really a diet or lifestyle suggestion, but a memoir of their own story. They recommend being conscious of the choices you make about the food you eat, where it comes from and what it took to get to you, and she says something that resonated with me - "It's the worst of bad manners to ridicule a small gesture." I took this to mean that every small step is important whether it's bringing canvas bags to the grocery store rather than choosing to forever forgo bananas as they are all imported to the Northeast US from far away, or choosing fair-trade coffee rather than raising your own free-range chickens. This book is worth reading through as it will at least make you more informed about the choices you make many times a day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ph.D. in Irish History required (and subtitles wouldn't hurt)

I know The Wind That Shakes the Barley won the coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, but the judges must have had stronger stomachs than I. This is a neat concept for a movie about Irish freedom fighters, but they don't do much explaining about who or why they're fighting beyond the British are bad and the Irish want freedom. However, it takes us through a treaty that's made in 1920 that splits the Irish fighters into those that want peace at any cost (even false freedom) and those that want to keep fighting (Cillian Murphy being very pursuasive). This all would have been pretty interesting if they could have gotten beyond standard male pride and explained something about why they wanted the British to leave - like they were abusive and mean, or kept them poor, or didn't let them practice religious freedom. But most of that was left out of why they were fighting - knowing ahead of time might have helped. None of that really makes a difference because I would never see this movie again due to the incredibly awful nature of the violence and torture that goes on. They did a lot of scenes with people just shouting at each other incoherently and at the end someone would end up dead, fingernail-less, or bald. Very disturbing level of violence without the intellectual payout of what the bigger picture should be.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ocean's 13 - an inside joke worth being part of...

Fortunately, there's not a lot to the plot of Ocean's 13 - basically the wonderful Eliot Gould is scammed out of a new casino deal by meanie Al Pacino, has a heart attack, and Ocean's gang of thieves plans revenge. To flesh this out, there are excellent little bits all the way through that have no real bearing on the story, but are lots of fun to watch - like 2 of the gang starting a riot over fare wages at a Mexican dice factory, Clooney and Pitt discussing how they met Gould and reminiscing about old school Vegas, and walking down the street using their half sentences that show a secret language of friendship that's just fun to be part of. They basically succeed in fulfilling the dictum "It is not enough that I win, others must lose" except they make it - "it's not enough that you lose but lots of people who have nothing to do with the heist need to win all your money so you can't take it back" - I think that was too long as a tag line so they just called it Ocean's 13. It's very funny and the double crossing and who is in on the heist is mysterious right up until the end. They should just keep making these because they're fun and a lot like going to a college reunion - you don't need all the details of everyone's life, just being able to speak about things in common is enough.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Podcast updates...

Okay, I listen to quite a few podcasts at this point, mostly to do with everything this blog deals with (books, movies, TV, entertainment, etc.), but I wanted to bring to your attention two. One, I've mentioned before, the TV Guide podcast that discusses everything video entertainment but with a very snarky bent. Anyway, the guy I didn't like before who made more than a few off-color (read racist or sexist depending on your level of PC-dom) remarks is no longer on the show, so now I can recommend it without reservation. They still discuss all kinds of things that are interesting and most importantly why the like or dislike them so it's easy to see if they are my kind of entertainment (I like a certain level of cheese, more than most so that doesn't become a negative in my book). The second podcast I highly recommend is the NPR Movies. It's basically a summary of all the movie related stories broadcast that week on NPR in all their various shows. So it has movie reviews, interviews with directors and actors, ratings of older options like newly released DVDs of older movies, etc. It's a little more newsy than snarky, but still great source of info.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What can you expect on an airplane?

Okay, I'll admit, I was trapped into watching this on the airplane west, and I would not have watched it voluntarily, but The Astronaut Farmer stinks. Billy Bob Thornton is too creepy to pull off this rancher with an aeronautical engineering degree who wants to go into space and with the help of his 15 year old son builds a rocket. He seems like he's holding a secret, and with other actors you might believe that secret was a good thing - some lofty dream that will encourage children and go down in history. Billy Bob makes you think he's not willing to acknowledge he's the one who farted. He has no loftier expressions than that. If you complete suspend disbelief that a functioning rocket can be built by a single man in a barn from scraps from NASA, then you might find at least a story of a family that pulled together to support one another, and Viriginia Madsen as Thornton's wife does actually make that seem a reality. However, if you're stuck with this movie on a plane, find a good book, it's not worth your time.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Schizophrenic Romantic Comedy

Because I Said So had all the hallmarks of being a terrific romantic comedy - Diane Keaton, the best comedic actress with slapstick skills, Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo as Mandy Moore's fun sisters and starts out with a fun setting of wedding montages as they get married. Oh, and the whole point of the movie was to find Mandy Moore a boyfriend. It started off being very much like what you'd expect a romantic comedy to be - though Keaton was a little over the top when interviewing potential boyfriends. Then the movie loses a lot of momentum on the funny side when all the different betrayals are outed (Moore's dating 2 guys, one for her mom and another cause he's hot, but not quite right for her, and the fact that Keaton interviewed these guys ahead of time) and it turns out Keaton is much closer to crazy than we originally thought - this is where the movie takes on more of an offbeat indie film that doesn't try too hard where we realize that Moore and Keaton are very much like each other (there are mirrored scenes where they're each rearranging furniture) and need to leave each other alone. And like a good Romantic comedy, it does end with everyone happy. Overall, it's a very uneven movie that doesn't keep the pace of a comedy or a drama very well. There should have been more scenes with Graham and Perabo and their interactions between Mother and youngest sister - those were funny. Decent rainy day rental, but I'd stick with The Station Agent or The Painted Veil or Knocked Up first.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Miracle of Birth

I saw Knocked Up last night, and was struck by the concept that women often forget the pain of pregnancy and childbirth after the baby arrives, and I felt the same way about the series of stupid jokes and painful flirting that start Knocked Up after she gives birth (sorry, that was a bit of a spoiler, but I'm guessing everyone already knew). This movie is definitely the original that critics wax poetic about, but they leave out the fact that it's also a pretty dead-on example of the post-college, lazy, stoner, man-child culture as well - which can be funny but this borders on sad. When their only extracurricular activity is smoking up and watching naked scenes from movies, there's a lot to overcome for the main characters to find a life together. The two main characters do a lot of growing up when they decide to try to be parents, and they do a lot of looking beyond the superficial to find what's underneath, even when the superficial is pretty painfully awful. I think the realism of the man-child culture actually makes it really clear the struggle Heigl has to go through to let Rogan into her life, and what Rogan has to do to grow up. There are lots of crazy funny moments, and a decent amount of dialogue about what women want from relationships and what men want. Katherine Heigl is very good, though it 's not a huge departure from her Grey's Anatomy character, and Seth Rogan plays a very sweet man-child who actually figures out what he needs to do to grow up and be a father. I was happy to see Jason Segal (who plays Marshall on How I Met Your Mother) as Rogan's best friend and Leslie Mann (from Big Daddy) as Heigl's sister struggling to be a good mom and wife without driving her husband away. There's a hilarious scene with Paul Rudd (tragically underused for comedic affect elsewhere) and Rogan in Vegas when they get high on 'shrooms and Rudd counts the diffent types of chairs in their hotel room - he dislikes some for their bad aura. Overall, funny movie, and after the baby arrives the characters have changed so much that you can almost forget the pink-eye incident.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Summer shows

If you have cable, I highly recommend checking out 2 new TNT shows this summer - both premier on Monday night, June 18. The first has been around 3 seasons already and won lots of accolades - The Closer, with Kyra Sedgwick. I've only seen the first 3 episodes of the first season, but I already love it. She's a really amazing investigator for the LAPD special murder unit (which justifies why she always investigates high profile murders). She was brought in because she's a CIA-trained interrogator who can close a case on questioning a witness alone. The writing is very sharp and incredibly carefully crafted even in the first few episodes. It seems a little like a cross being Monk and CSI (Miami, NY, or Las Vegas). It's been really good so far and I don't think you need to have seen the other seasons to catch up this summer. And premiering after The Closer will be Heartland with my favorite TV doctor (the former Andy Brown from Everwood) Treat Williams. As a friend said, it would be a waste if he didn't use all that medical training he has. I'm hoping the rest of the show is as good as he can be.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Car Wash for Peace!

Jimmy Fallon (of SNL and Taxi with Queen Latifah fame) put together this hilarious song because he said he didn't have a better way to support the troops. Here are some of the lyrics: "Put down your gun, pick up a sponge, let's have a car wash for peace....there'll be no more wars or dirty cars, if we have a car wash for peace". You can check it out on itunes - all proceeds go to Fisher House (I think) that takes care of troops and their families while they get treatment. I'll post the song if I can figure out how, but go support a car wash for peace and watch it on YouTube.

Bring back Nick and Nora!

Okay, I know very little about the Huffington Post, but whoever this guy is writing on it is my friend. I love Allison Janney, Timothy Busfield, Studio 60 and Aaron Sorkin, and so does he. Check out this blog on why those two should be recombined as much as possible. They were brilliant on The West Wing from season 1 through the end (though he went on break for a little while) - dealing with how to overcome a very public professional relationship and still be friends and more. I recommend checking out the last 4-5 episodes of season 7 just to see how they resolve their relationship!