Saturday, June 27, 2009

New Releases: The Hangover AND The Proposal

Okay, there are some spoilers in these reviews, mostly because pretty much everyone who is going to see them already has, and those who haven't might find a few spoilers funny. First, The Hangover. Four guys head to Las Vegas for a bachelor party for Doug (Justin Bartha from National Treasure). However, everything goes terrible off kilter when Doug's slightly strange future brother-in-law Alan (scene stealing Zach Galifianakis) gives them all roofies and when they wake up the next morning, they can't find Doug. The spend the day retracing their steps and talking to people they saw, including the new wife of Stu (Ed Helms), Mr. Wong (the always hysterical Ken Jeong) and Mike Tyson. The comedy appears in both the activies that are re-enacted and in the dialogue of Alan. He's just strange and says things that his slightly cooler pals can only stare at. Overall it's a funny movie, but I still think most of the other movies of the same genre are funnier (Role Models, I Love you Man, Step Brothers). It really doesn't have anything new, except actors who are given their chance to be stars and funny (I've loved Bradley Cooper since his time as Will on Alias). 3.5 stars/lambs

The current number one film (The Hangover is second this week) is The Proposal. I was expecting very little going into the movie. I enjoy Sandra Bullock's movies, but Ryan Reynolds' romantic comedies haven't been wonderful (good, but not great). So possibly I enjoyed this movie so much more because I didn't expect much from it. I'd waited a little to see The Hangover, and it has been much hyped (and deservedly so) but I thought it only just lived up to the hype, it wasn't any more. The Proposal follows Sandra Bullock's Margaret as she bribes her assistant (Reynolds) to marry her to avoid deportation. Because of the timing of the wedding, they're investigated by INS and to prove the legitimacy of their love, decide to go home to his parents' house in Sitka, Alaska for his grandmother's (Betty White) 90th birthday. She's an uptight publishing executive and arrives in the rural town in her Christian Louboutin stilletos and is afraid of the water (his family "the Alaskan Kennedys") live in a huge house on an island in the Sound), but she does a good job to try to fit in an keep the charade going. Andrew (Reynolds) hasn't seen his family in 3 years (it's not easy being Margaret's assistant) and has struggled with being the son of the weathly family. The two of them do a good job of pretending to be engaged and of course end up learning more about each other and ultimately falling in love. It's a very funny movie, both from Bullock's pratfall type humor and Reynolds dry wit commenting on it. I really liked it. 4 of 5 stars/lambs

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's not old if it's new to you: Playing by Heart

This is a new feature I wanted to try out. I've been trying to do some spring cleaning (yes, I'm aware tomorrow starts summer, but I live pretty far north so we're barely getting warm weather yet) and part of that has involved getting rid of boxes of VHS tapes. I wish there was a good place to actually get rid of them, so far my cleaning has involved just looking at my tapes to see which I want to be sure to purchase on DVD or even Blue-Ray. Hence, the title of the post - they're not old movies if they're new to you, and I love so many, and most people haven't heard of a lot of them.
The one I just got it (thanks to on DVD is, Playing by Heart. It came out in 1998 and has a cast that boggles the mind. It's a comedic drama that shows a lot of different kinds of relationships, yet intertwines them in ways that are both surprising, but interesting. Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands play an older couple dealing with reaching their 40th anniversary. Gillian Anderson and John Stewart are a couple trying to figure out how to date the second time around (post-divorce). Ellen Burstyn and Jay Mohr are mother and son trying to figure out how to let go while making their relationship count. They have some beautiful scenes trying to be really honest with each other and Mohr gives my favorite performance, in that for one he doesn't play a jerk or anyone at all smarmy. Oh, and Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillipe are the young 'uns falling for each other while figuring themselves out. Jolie gives a really funny performance trying to drag Phillipe out of his shell, and they're perfectly matched with their strangely dyed hair. There are lots of dramatic subplots, AIDS, adultery, cancer, etc. , but it's really about how to be yourself while dating someone else. The pace of the movie is terrific, you get long enough segments of each story without dragging you too deep into any single story to make you want to stop watching the other stories. Oh, the movie also stars Anthony Edwards, Dennis Quaid, and Madeline Stowe. I really liked it, and the only thing that dates the movie is a line about NBC winning the Thursday night lineup. Even after watching it so many times, I'd still give it a 4.5 of 5. It's available on Netflix, and it only took a few weeks to get it through SwapaDVD.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, June 15, 2009

DVD Roundup: Valkyrie and New in Town

As always, my DVD Round up pairs two movies that only in the land of Netflix would they have arrived at the same time. The first is Tom Cruise's latest, Valkyrie, tracing the last attempted assassination of Adolph Hitler by German soldiers right around D-Day. Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a disillusioned soldier fighting for Germany in North Africa. He loses his hand, and eye in an attack and is sent back to Berlin where he hooks up with a recently foiled group of assassins in Hitler's high command, led by Kenneth Branaugh and Bill Nighy. They set up a plan to assassinate Hitler and Himmler and route the SS and the Gestapo and take control of the government. Just from watching how much von Stauffenberg's group have to take over makes you realize how pervasive Hitler's terrible government had become and only a huge coup and a lot of treason would put a stop to their attrocities (luckily the Allies were able to come at it with a huge army rather than a small group of insiders). They're nearly successful in their assassination attempt, but history records Hitler's suicide later, so these movie makers were tasked with the unenviable position of having to make a known historical event interesting when everyone already knows the ending. I thought they did a good job of creating a tension and revealing another side of the most complicated war ever. Tom Cruise is good. His performances in recent years have been colored by his real life exploits, but in this case, I found it made sense. His zeal for getting rid of Hitler was a perfect place to put all the energies he's devoted to his real life, so it wasn't distracting for a change. Good movie, with excellent supporting performances. 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

The second movie I watched was New in Town with Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick, Jr., J.K. Simmons, and a wonderful performance by Siobhan Fallon (her big moments I remember are as the bus driver Dorothy Harris in Forrest Gump and the birth coach in Baby Mama). Renee plays an executive at a food company who is sent to reorganize a plant in Minnesota, and figures out that most of the country is really cold in the winter, and that there are places where it doesn't really matter what you look like, but who you are and what you do that matters. Yes, it's a super-duper simplified rom-com about good and bad and learning to be yourself and falling in love. But it's also, reasonably heart-warming and Renee is good, and the supporting cast is really funny, especially Siobhan Fallon as her secretary, with a strong Minnesotan accent. The cheap laughs come when Renee is struggling with the cold (it's impossible to be attractive and sexy in a down coat, it just is), but the really funny parts are with Siobhan's observations about the differences between Minnesota and the rest of the country. Not great, but not bad, either. 3 stars/lambs

Friday, June 12, 2009

Birthday poetry

I've never claimed to be either a good writer or a poet, but as today is my 30th birthday, I'm using the opportunity to write three random reviews using haiku. I beg your indulgence.

Revolutionary Road

Hopeful lovers wed
Cruel life springs hard upon them
Reality goes on

I really liked this movie. Kate Winslet is terrific, her acting and wardrobe are impeccable. Not the happiest of films, and didn't deserve to lose its Oscar momentum, but it did. Winslet totally deserved her Golden Globe for this, and should have been nominated for the Oscar for this performance over The Reader. Michael Shannon is good, but too short a performance to win and probably shouldn't have been nominated, just praised. 4 of 5 stars

Pineapple Express

Pothead sees murder
Tries to hide with dealer, smokes
Pineapple Express

There were a lot of funny parts to this movie, but overall, it's not great. James Franco is hysterical, and between his performance in this and Milk, he'll be someone to keep watching for Oscar in the future.

Maneater (a Lifetime miniseries)

Sarah Chalke needs dough
Marries rich man with wrong name
Grows up, finds real love

This I caught because I love Sarah Chalke in "Scrubs", and it turned out pretty funny. Judy Greer is awesome in her tyical role as wise-ass best friend (27 Dresses) but the males leads are weak, even if Chalke is good.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Tonys

I love awards shows, I like the insider jokes (many of which I'm sure pass me by as I'm not actually an insider of any industry) and I like the hosts who try to bring their own personality to the show while staying out of the way of the people desperate to know if they won. I thought Neil Patrick Harris was terrific. A few too many off-color jokes, but overall it was extremely well done, and his obvious personal attachment to Broadway is inspiring. I saw him perform in Sondheim's Assassins a few years ago and he's wonderful on stage. The rest of the Tonys was generally well done. They chose big-name presenters so more people might be included in the fun (it's no fun to watch an awards show for people you don't know at all). My other good point was Dolly Parton coming out to start the song for 9 to 5, but then handing off to the cast (both were nominated, Dolly for writing the songs, Allison Janney for her performance, and others). It was fun, and there are lots of shows I want to go see, as always.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lost and Found in space and time....

I was recently tagged by Fletch over at Blog Cabins for a meme started by Getafilm. The idea is to pick a place and time from film that you'd most want to be part of. Here are the rules, followed by my choice:

1.) Think of a place (real or fictional) and time (past, present, future) portrayed in a movie (or a few) that you would love to visit.
2.) List the setting, period, applicable movie, and year of the applicable movie's release (for reference).
3.) Explain why, however you'd like (bullet points, list, essay form, screenshots, etc.). If this is a time and place that you have intimate knowledge of, feel free to describe what was done well and what wasn't done well in portraying it.
4.) If possible, list and provide links to any related movies, websites, books, and/or articles that relate to your choice (s).
5.) Modify Rules #1-4 to your liking. And come up with a better name for this meme.
6.) Link back to this Getafilm post in your post, please.
7.) Tag at least five others to participate!

I had a hard time choosing a place I'd want to live, there are positives and negatives even in fictional places. I honestly first thought I'd like to live in the time and place of Star Trek: The Next Generation (the 24th Century for you unaware). I like the idea that they've evolved beyond a capitalist society and science and information are important. I also really want a food replicator - imagine just being able to think of your dinner and it arrives, no more cooking. But I realized 1) choosing this time and place really confirms me as a bigger nerd than I'm prepared to be, and 2) they don't dress very well.

So I thought some more and was intrigued by the world of 19th Century England as found in Sense and Sensibility (the book, mini-series or movie), but only if I was wealthy. I like the idea that nothing was required of women (not much was thought of them either) so they could really do whatever they wanted. If you're wealthy you get to live in a big house in the country going to down for balls and parties and such. It's a quiet pace of life, and you can kind of do what you want. But, there are huge drawbacks - women are not highly valued (mostly valued for their dowry in marriage and only as baby-makers afterward). So I'm not sure I'd actually enjoy it.

Then I settled on exactly where I think I would be happiest - living in Aaron Sorkin's world. Specifically in The American President (1995) version of the US. The world is environmentally friendly or at least hoping to be. They have great respect for civil rights, and they speak really fast and walk while they speak. I like it. Any of Sorkin's worlds have people who speak quickly, so pretty much they'd all be fine. And, I'd be willing to put our current President up against the fictional Michael Douglas, so I guess I'm happy to be living now.

People I'd like to tag:

David Bishop at Hoping for Something to Hope For
Rachel and Rachel's Reel Reviews
Buttercup at Buttercup Counts Her Blessings

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Top TV Performances 2009

A fellow blogger put up a list of her 25 favorite performances during the recently completed TV season. As I don't watch some of the shows she loves, I thought I'd create my own. I'm sure I've left out some wonderful performances, and I'll think of them later, but here's my top 10 TV performances of the season.

1. Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) "Big Bang Theory" - I watch this show and giggle at the nerdy humor every week. I love it. Parsons is the funniest guy on TV and has a great time making everyone else squirm. The fact that all his friends give in to him every week kills me, I wish I had that kind of power. Even when he can't speak he's awesome. Check out this clip if you don't believe me.

2. Simon Baker (Thomas Jane) "The Mentalist" - Definitely the best new show on TV this season (okay, one of the best), but it's all because of Baker's comedic timing and hypnotic abilities (I love when he gets to hypnotize someone). It would be just another crime procedural without him and the trust his team puts in his ability to read people. Such a good actor, and who knew vests would become so sexy again.

3. and 4. Joshua Jackson and John Nobel (Peter and Walter Bishop) "Fringe" - This might be the second best new show on TV, and one of the best ever. I love the sci-fi freaky things that happen on this show, but the best parts are the kooky things that Walter's broken brain likes to blurt out.

5. Josh Holloway (Sawyer) "Lost" - I thought "Lost" was pretty amazingly difficult to follow this year - with the time jumping and place jumping. But it was always worth watching Sawyer try to figure out where he fit into everything and how he was going to get back to Kate (even after he fell in love with Juliet). It was really his season. Playing "LaFleur" and becoming one of the leaders of the Dharma Initiative gave him more depth without having to resort to more and more flashbacks. I loved him this season.

6. David Krumholtz (Charlie Epps) "Numb3rs" - Like Sawyer, Charlie got to grow so much this season, and I thought David Krumholtz did a terrific job showing us all of Charlie's struggles between using his mathematical gifts for exploration or for helping the FBI and his brother. I've written of my love for Krumholtz before, but I thought he was given such great material and rose to the occasion this season, particularly in the 2-part season finale.

7. Adrianne Palicki (Tyra Collette) "Friday Night Lights" - I think this was Tyra's last season on FNL, if the rumors are to be believed, but she went out on a high note. Her drive and determination, while full of self-doubt, to go to college was inspiring and she did a great job struggling with the uncertainty she had. She was always an interesting character, and when Landry gave her crap for using him, she actually seemed to listen, while attempting to keep doing it.

8. and 9. David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel (Seely Booth and Temperance "Bones" Brennan) "Bones" - They really had terrific chemistry throughout this season, better than previously. There were a few episodes where the story didn't help, but it was always great watching the two of them interact, whether arguing about religion or the proper way to comfort someone. I wasn't a huge fan of the season finale's twisted world, but I did love seeing them finally get a chance to actually show their affection. It'll be interesting to see where the "making a baby" storyline goes.

10. Melissa Rycroft (Herself) "The Bachelor" and "Dancing with the Stars" - Okay, she's not actually an actor and probably won't be on anything I watch again, but I think she did a great job with her 15 minutes of fame. She behaved like any other woman when she was dumped on TV, and better than most. Rather than crawling under a rock or trashing him in the tabloids, she did one better - she stole the headlines from him by being an instant success on "Dancing with the Stars". She never mentioned him again in any interviews I saw, and even took the teasing from the comic during the finale with a smile. She's a class act, and I hope she continues to do well.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Up: Review of a short film

There have been lots of live-action shorts made into real films. The most recent example I can think of is Frozen River which premiered as a short film at Sundance and was made into a longer film after that. It feels like the new Pixar movie Up was a 15 minute short film that they decided to make into a feature-length film. I say this because the best part of the movie was the first 15-20 minutes, essentially before the thunderstorm. The little boy explorer meets a kindred spirit in Ellie at their clubhouse. Then occurs one of the most movie montages in movie making (particularly animated) as we see them fall in love and age and finally our hero, Carl (terrific Ed Asner), old and alone in his house as the neighborhood is turned into a skyscraper. Carl overcomes being thrown out of his house by taking it away (his career had been a balloon seller at the zoo) with a huge set of balloons. On his floating front porch he finds he's accidentally taken with him a young explorer named Russell. This is where the movie pretty much loses its amazing magic - the kind that lifts you above the ruin that is Wall*E's world or makes you want Toys to triumph. Up becomes just a really good kids movie after the thunderstorm whisks our heroes away to South America. Good triumphs over bad, and the talking dogs are fun seems to be all you need for the rest of the film. If you have kids, take them. 3.5 of 5 Lambs/Stars