Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No Reservations - Mostly Martha

The American update to German film Mostly Martha, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, doesn't live up to the original, but is still good entertainment. Abigail Breslin (from Little Miss Sunshine) is orphaned and taken in by her food-obsessed aunt Cat. Zeta-Jones plays the part pretty well, very cold and determined to be the best chef. However, every other person or character I've ever seen obsessed with food actually has joy in experiencing their food - and Zeta-Jones doesn't actually eat her food most of the time, and doesn't enjoy it any more than she has to. Eckhart plays her opposite, brought into the restaurant so she can deal with her sisters death and taking care of her neice. He's fun and professional and good at being a person as well as a chef. He and Zeta-Jones have persuasive chemistry, but her character is so cold it's hard to believe she'd just melt like that (though I would, so who am I to judge). Abigail Breslin is really good at being an 8-year-old girl who lost her mom, but understands enough about life to know that she has to deal with it, and help her aunt figure things out. Good entertainment and will be shown on EVERY airplane for the next year - perfect PG entertainment.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Last Mimzy

This is terrific children's entertainment, but a little slow for adults. The story follows 2 gifted kids who find a box floating in the ocean. The box contains some rocks that spin, a spider-looking plastic thing, and a stuffed rabbit named Mimzy who can speak to the little girl. It turns out this box is from the future and sent back to save the future by collecting DNA from a good person (apparently in the future we've really wrecked everything for ourselves). There are funny bits throughout, and the cast of adults is really very good. Rainn Wilson (from The Office) plays the little boys teacher and figures out that the kids know a bit more about Tibetan past and future mythology than normal kids (Mimzy and the rocks taught them). Inevitably the government gets involved (in the wonder that is Michael Clarke Duncan - the big guy from The Green Mile) and then it takes on many of the threads of the 1980s Flight of the Navigator - trying to escape, running away but back to the alien, and kids fighting for themselves. This is a very creative movie that runs very carefully at children's speed, so very light fare for adults, but perfect for kids and families.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Saving Grace - Holly Hunter is not what's annoying...

The new show that follows "The Closer" on Monday nights on TNT is Holly Hunter's jump into television, called "Saving Grace". She plays Grace Hanadarko, a police detective in Oklahoma City. The setting is actually the most interesting part of the show. Her sister was killed in 1995 when the Federal Building was bombed, and her brothers were fire fighters on the scene as well. Grace has taken her nephew to the memorial to remember his mom. It's the first time I've seen anything mirroring the devastation that occurred on 9/11 in a smaller community. So far, in each episode Grace has to solve some kind of crime, many dealing with cattle ranching or ranchers. Also, Grace is having an affair with one of her partners. All of this would be interesting on its own and would be a terrific series. However, God also has a role, in the angel Earl who comes and bothers Grace about swearing, drinking, and having an affair and basically blaspheming. He's really a superfluous element. The car accident that happens in the pilot and brings Earl's presence into Grace's life would have been enough for anyone to want to change some of their life around. There's not really a need for Earl to keep annoying Grace because it's not done particularly well and draws away from the story each week. I'm going to keep watching as she gets more interesting, and they ordered an additional 13 episodes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Damages....who's in charge?

I waited a few weeks to comment on the new FX show Damages because I couldn't figure out if I liked it, hated it or didn't care. Glenn Close stars as a high-powered lawyer hiring a new associate played by Rose Byrne who seems to have been in a dozen things this year. However, the episode jumps back and forth between "today" and "6 months ago". In "today," Rose is covered in blood and sits in an interview room at the police station nearly catatonic. "6 month ago" she's being hired to work for Glenn's firm and begins working on a prosecuting a case that bears similarity to Ken Lay and the Enron thing, with Ted Danson playing the role of Ken Lay. Over the first few episodes, we find out there are tons of sinister things afoot, and perhaps our dear sweet innocent Rose was nearly destroyed, but we aren't told who destroys her (Danson or Close) or why her fiancee is dead. Basically there's a serious mystery going on that will be resolved, hopefully by the end of the season - why Rose is covered in blood and who killed her fiancee. But the better mystery is in whether Glenn is bad or just pretending to be bad. We see that she seems to like her son a lot - though when he sends her a grenade in the mail, she ships him off to boot camp. There are all kinds of misdirection, lies, deceit and thiller-esque plot twists, and after the first few episodes, I know I will eagerly watch all the rest. It's on Tuesdays at 10 on FX.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Things I like about the '50s: commercial jingles were a national pastime, women got to wear fun colorful clothes, cars were huge but still awesome, and a house cost $3000. Things the '50s should be punished for: girdles, women not knowing how to drive, a married couple with kids who call each other "Mother" and "Father". However, the movie I just saw on DVD, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, manages to make the '50s seem like a reasonably fun time without glossing over the things that must have made things a nightmare for most women. Julianne Moore plays the mother of 12 children married to a drunk (Woody Harrelson with terrible red hair) who keeps things going in her family by winning tons of little contests - product jingles, poetry contests, and other tiny writing contests. It was a creative outlet for her, and the movie makes it clear that this ability to make some money for her family (or in some cases substantial money) and also her only real mind-bending activity. The movie does it in cute ways showing lots of commercials and jingles she is responsible for. Apparently this was a common practice in the '50s - to get housewives to enter contests to win tiny prizes while the company gets a perfect jingle for their product. It's a good movie, with a new look at a common archetype with a funny background story.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bourne, gone but not forgotten

I think Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) could kick James Bond's (Daniel Craig) butt. I think he's smarter, more resourceful, and never takes advantage of the ladies which can often distract Bond. I would say that Bond has much more fun, but Bourne could win in a fight. So I saw the third in the series, The Bourne Ultimatum, today. It's definitely a good ending to the series because it answers the main question - where did Bourne come from and why does he know how to be a spy? And it still has lots of assassins trying to kill Bourne (and always losing, suckers). The action is well choreographed and I did chew off several fingernails watching them try to win. Oh, and an addition to the Bourne series is David Strathairn as the scary second-in-command of the evil people (some version of the CIA) who is willing to kill anyone around Bourne just to try to get to him. Joan Allen does a great job trying to take down the bad guys and Albert Finney is always excellent explaining why he's bad but you should forgive him. It's not a terrific movie, but the actors and exceptional action sequences make it worth while.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Hot Fuzz

First, if you haven't seen Shaun of the Dead, stop what you're doing and either add it to your Netflix or Blockbuster list or go out and rent it. AFTER you've seen Shaun of the Dead can you really appreciate Hot Fuzz, the 2007 offering from the creators of Shaun. They have nothing in common except an appreciation for funny slayings and the lead actor (Simon Pegg), as well as a kind of hilarity that is both smart and potty-esque at the same time. Hot Fuzz is the story of a top London police officer promoted to a rural post (to get him out of the city and stop making the others look bad). His high-tech skills and virtual paranoia about law-breaking annoy most of the rural cops and residents, but he slowly starts to fit in. However, all kinds of "accidents" start happening and he begins to uncover something I wouldn't ruin (also you have to see it to believe it). But believe me that it's worth every second. Pegg's partner (Nick Frost, also from Shaun) Danny, is obsessed with his hipper partner's background and can't believe he hasn't seen Point Break or Bad Boys II. The final scenes of the movie are an homage (or rip-off) of all the great cop dramedies. I highly recommend this (but only after you've seen Shaun, trust me.)

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Innocence of Fun

One of the main reasons I still subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, besides my entertainment obsession, is Stephen King's column called "The Pop of King". It comes out monthly, I think, in EW, and I look forward to reading it every time. He does lists of things he loves (rock music, summer reading books, music that isn't getting played on the radio but still rocks, TV shows not being acknowledged, etc.) and also comments on things he finds interesting. This week it's about a video he saw on Ellen about a guy dancing in Best Buy. While this is a small thing, he describes why it's terrific so well. The moment of fun in all things entertainment should be savored. Sometimes it's called a guilty pleasure, sometimes chick flick, and all sorts of other ways to describe the moment when you really burst with happiness from something being done just to your taste. I find that moment watching The West Wing all the time. But there are other things too - many of which I've described on this blog. Here's one of my favorites from Boston Legal:

Denny: It's fun being me. (Thinks) Is it fun being you?

Alan: Most of the time.

I just love it!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The History Boys

I have really mixed feelings about The History Boys film. I didn't see the show on Broadway, and it's pretty hard to see how they managed to go from stage to film with the movie, because it's so well put together as a movie. It's the story of a group of senior boys at a British boy's school in 1983 studying for their exams for Oxford and Cambridge ("Oxbridge" in their parlance). They have a "renaissance man" in Richard Griffiths - he teaches them a little about absolutely everything, from singing to acting, to quoting famous poets and statesmen for all occasions, and a stong link to all the historical context for things. They seem to have fun, and would seem pretty cultured at parties. However, a new young teacher has been hired to help them prep for the exam, and he finds Griffiths lessons useless and teaches the boys how to spin history so it sounds different than all the other "Oxbridge" essays, definitely a useful talent, but still feels dishonest to the boys. One of the boys is in love with their James Dean leader, and brings the idea of homosexuality to the entire story. It turns out (and this I imagine would have been implied on stage rather than demonstrated), Griffiths gives the boys rides home on his motorcycle and usually gropes them a bit at 55mph. It's just something they all accept and is joked about between them, but when the headmaster finds out it nearly destorys Griffiths (who is married, it's 1983 after all) and it changes how he interacts with the students. The irony is that our James Dean character has fallen in lust with the new young teacher. There's a lot of examination of how difficult being gay can be and it takes place at a time when certain things were just accepted and others were kept very secret and frowned upon. I totally didn't see the end coming, but it does a terrific job of resolving the story. I liked the overall movie, but some of the topic was uncomfortable to watch. However, one of the fun things was watching Madame Maxime (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) teach history with Mr. Dursley (from all the Harry Potter movies). The acting is terrific and the story has lots of fun moments and really examines an topic that probably hasn't changed as much as we'd like to think.