Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jesse James was crazy!

I finally watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and these reviews by my fellow bloggers are far superior to anything I'd write, and cover the breadth of the opinions I have for the movie. For those who value my opinion, I liked the movie, the acting was phenomenal, and the whole thing was beautifully done - men, scenery, everything. Brad Pitt created an extraordinary larger than life character, who became paranoid, melancholic and brooding. And of course the ever impressive Casey Affleck was amazing, as a sycophantic side-kick who dreamed of glory.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Random thoughts

I've been woefully absent from my blog lately, and I apologize as it will continue for a little longer while I'm out of town (and country) for a while. Some random thoughts on entertainment though:

Movies: Finally saw Vantage Point and was enthralled. I loved the repetition and the bad guy being such an unexpected character. I suppose they could have cut it back to just 2-3 repeats, but I still really liked it. The supporting cast was great all around and it totally wasn't the typical terrorists want to capture the president storyline.

TV: I've been less than impressed with the return of most of the regular TV shows. The newest season of Battlestar Galactica is holding its own, and the story is changing the characters we love in new ways. I'm dying for Lost to return, but I'll probably survive another week. Oh, and Big Bang Theory is really stepping up in the comedy department. Since I'm definitely a geek, I find it pretty hilarious. The Britney episode of How I Met Your Mother was great, but otherwise I've been underwhelmed by most of the shows returning.

Podcasts: I've been addicted to This American Life on NPR lately. I can't stop listening to the older episodes I downloaded ages ago and never got around to. Also, I've been pretty pissed at the decreasing quality of podcasts in general. Oh, but if you're a chef, or just like watching people make food, check out the "Cooks Illustrated" podcast, so short and so much fun.

Books: Jodi Picoult is the author I've been reading like crazy. She writes in a style that's part mystery, part drama, with lots of inner-soul searching by all the characters. Also, there's a fun sweet mystery series I'm just finishing by Laura Childs that revolves around a tea shop in Charleston (the main character has the worst luck since she keeps investigating murders!).

Thems my current thoughts on entertainment. Please share yours - or give me good recommendations!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Lives of Others....are being watched

Okay, to prove I don't only watch kids movies, I'll post on the best movie I've seen this year. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen in German) won the Oscar last year for Best Foreign Film over Pan's Labyrinth which I haven't seen so can't compare the winners, but I fully agree that TLoO is fantastic. It takes place in East Germany about 6 years before the Berlin Wall fell. There are two casts of characters - the government (Stasi) watchers and the artists being watched. However, they don't fall into evil and sainted along those lines all the time. But you're never quite sure who is good and for what reasons. Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) is a lower level Stasi watcher who is an accomplished interrogator as well as a odd duck on all his own. He is tasked with watching a famed director and his actress girlfriend on behalf of the Minister of his department. The Minister would like the director eliminated so he can move in on the actress. She's been having an affair and our minister would like to have a legitimate reason for locking him up (or making him disappear). Our protagonist Weisler spends his days listening to the director and the girl friend's life. Parties, arguments, sex, writing, etc. and he really starts to belong to their lives - he doesn't seem to have much of one of his own. Ultimately, a friend of the director kills himself because the Stasi blacklisted him, and this sets in motion a series of betrayals - the director writes an article that outs East Germany for not reporting their global record of suicides, the actress spills the beans to the Stasi that the director wrote the article, but Weisler arrives to save the day - or try at least. It's a complicated spy thriller that tells more about what it might be like to spy on someone all day long and not become a part of their life. The acting is terrific, the script (though subtitled) is superb right up until then strangely moving final scene when all is revealed to the director. Brilliant movie and totally deserving its Oscar. 5 of 5 stars!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

I really wanted to see Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium when it came out in theaters, but alas, I missed it. I love Natalie Portman, and I'm definitely a kid at heart. I finally caught it on DVD this weekend, and liked it as much as I thought I would. It's a story about believing in yourself and magic. Dustin Hoffman is Mr. Magorium and owns a magical toy store. He's 243 years old and has owned the magical toy store for over 100 years. Of course, no one believes him when he says these things, but they're still true. He brings in an accountant, Jason Bateman, to determine the value of the store as he's leaving it to Portman, his store manager, in his will. They reason that an accountant must be a cross between a "counter" and a "mutant" so they call him "Mutant" throughout. He's a logical kind of guy and couldn't be more out of place in the Emporium. When the accountant is explaining that a guy can't be the king of a planet that doesn't exist, Mr. Magorium says, "You can't blame people for having aspirations." This sort of conflict goes on between The Mutant and Portman and Hoffman until he meets the little boy, Eric, who haunts the store because he has no friends. Eric and the Mutant become friends, unlocking the part of each other that couldn't imagine a magical story and the ability to make friends. Hoffman is terrific - with glimpses of his Tootsie personality behind the magical insanity and the occasional Rain Main moment when he's wondering about The Mutant's logical questions. But overall, he stays in control with the acting, and has moments of great humor and tenderness. When Portman wants to ensure he's sticking around and that she can't run the store because she's not magical, he reminds her, "Your life is an occasion, rise to it." The movie is full of lots of fun special effects, uncomplicated stories, and the belief in magic in ordinary situations. I loved it. 4.5 of 5 stars, and great for the entire family!

Battlestar Galactica - the Final Season starts Friday!

I haven't been a fan of Battlestar Galactica since the beginning, I actually watched the first 2 seasons on DVD just in time to catch the third season live last year. Yes, it's been an entire YEAR! between seasons 3 and 4. And with the fourth season announced as the final season, some major questions should be answered and a cap put on the season - I hope. Anyway, in case you're one of the many who don't yet know what a wonderful TV series this is (you probably don't watch Friday Night Lights either), I'll sum up why I love it and what you can expect to find out in the final season. I think there are 10 things you need to know in order to really appreciate BSG.

1. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace - she's the bad-ass, pilot that bucks the rules and saves the day over and over. She disobeys rules, gets hurt regularly, takes nearly everything personally, hits her commanding officers, loves someone she won't let herself be with, and marries someone she barely knows. She risks everything when given an order by Commander Adama, died last season, and appeared in the final episode claiming she knows the way to earth. Oh, and she might be a Cylon.

2. Frak - This is the substitute word for all swearing done within the fleet. It works for all situations - frak you, mother-fraker, frak me, what the frak have you been doing? I challenge you to find a way it can't be used. Plus, it can be used on TV.

3. Hot Cylons - Okay, here's the best explanation I can give. Humans created machines called Cylons to make their lives easier. Cylons became self-aware and fought back. War ensued, peace was declared and Cylons left "The Colonies" to start their own life. Cylons advanced (evolved?) technologically while they were on their own, and returned to eliminate their human creators. The nuked the Colonies, and the remaining humans (around 50,000) managed to escape on spaceships. However, the reason the attacks were so successful was Cylons have evolved to take complete human form. There are 12 models of human Cylons (many copies of each model), and a few models have infiltrated human society. "Six" is the very hot Tricia Helfer, often shown as a figment of Baltar's imagination wearing a red dress. One copy of Six, known as Caprica Six, switches sides and agrees to help the human race reach Earth. Oh, and a copy of Three, Sharon, is a member of the military and had a half-human/half-Cylon baby named Hera, that seems wrapped up in the prophesy that will help them find Earth.

4. Bill Adama and Laura Roslin - Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell are amazing actors. They have the highest roles in the surviving human society - Admiral of the military fleet and President of the Colonies. They aren't above lying, cheating, murder, and rage in order to protect the remaining human society. However, they do everything in the name of compassion and humanity and an attempt to keep civilization from degrading in the name of survival. They show the dilemmas they have to solve and how the right decision isn't always moral. They're complex and creatively portrayed.

5. A really pathetic bad guy somehow manages to keep us interested and constantly manages to scuttle the best-laid plans of everyone else on the show. Gaius Baltar (James Callis) is a prominent scientist in love with Six. He helped her infiltrate the defense mainframe which led to the destruction of the Colonies. He's pretty much only out for himself, though he has various visions of how he will save people, but they alternate with visions of ruling the universe side by side with the Cylons. He's despicable and awful, and yet when he's tried for treason in the final episodes of last season, the arguments against him barely stack up against the good he's also managed to do. But people don't like him, at all. Which of course means he has a cult following, and loyal supporters.

6. FTL drives. I just love that the technical name for the mechanism that allows the fleet to fly faster than light is merely the acronym for its function. The Faster Than Light drive allows the fleet to jump large distances in the blink of an eye, escaping Cylons since you can't track a jump that fast or that far. Every little ship has it. It's just cool, basic sci-fi stuff, but I still love it.

7. The religion debate. Okay, so this is shaping up to be one of the major differences between the humans and the Cylons. The humans believe in many gods (when astonished, they say "oh, my gods") while the Cylons believe in one true God. The Cylons seem to want to convert the humans to their belief in a single God, but given that all of human culture is based on the prophesies of their religious beliefs, many of which have come true, including the myth of Earth, I'm not sure they'll be able to let go of their own beliefs.

8. The search for Earth drives the remaining human civilization. Their ancient religious leaders said that all humans came from the mythical place called Earth and formed the 13 Colonies. They're all named for astrological signs - Caprica, Tauran, Geminon, etc., which each have specific characteristics to the race that lives on that world. Of course racism occurs. Sagittarons have a mistrust of medicines, Capricans are the upper-crust ruling elite. It all seems to be tied up in their search for one Earth and their similar origins. This season we should find out about the end of the myth of Earth.

9. Cylon Ressurection is one of the keys to the survival of the cylons. When a Cylon dies, all the memories and personality of that particular copy is downloaded back into the system and a new copy is "reborn" with all the memories of all the other copies as well as the recently deceased copy. There is an awesome episode where they find a ship that is the source of resurrections and the humans try to destroy it. A particular model can be retired and no longer resurrected, but otherwise, they can die and be reborn over and over.

10. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The show models the current society, with racism issues, torture debate, military supremacy over democracy, love, hate, power, corruption, etc. There are wonderful episodes and lesser episodes like any TV show, but the acting is always superb, the stories mysterious and exhilarating, and the final season hopefully the best there's been!