Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Release: Surrogates



** If you haven't seen commercials for this, there will be spoilers, however, I'm not revealing anything that isn't obvious from the trailer. **

Bruce Willis' new movie, Surrogates, follows a police detective trying to figure out who and what could have started killing humans, by killing their synthetic surrogates. The future is "peopled" with machines that aren't sentient, but can do everything their human operators are thinking, and relay back all the images they are seeing. So, humans can stay in their home forever, while a better version of themselves, physically, can walk the world. The machines were designed for people with disabilities, so they could more normally experience the world. However, the rest of the world became addicted to never having to wash their hair, or exercise, or get dressed, instead sending their surrogate out in the world to represent them while they operated it from the safety of their home. But someone has made a weapon that will kill a human by destroying their surrogate. Bruce Willis and his partner,Radha Mitchell, investigate leads that bring them to one of the "reservations" of people who refuse to use surrogates, no machines allowed. Lots of complicated ethical questions prevail, but none are developed too deeply, so the movie stays at a light level throughout, though the fight scenes are pretty fun given that machines are doing a lot of the fighting. I think if Bruce Willis' character had been written more like his Die Hard or The Fifth Element characters, this movie would have been more fun along the same lines as those movies. Instead Willis is flat, and none of his dialogue is memorable, which is disappointing given his skill at sarcasm and grouchy cop banter. It's a pretty good movie, and fits well into it's futuristic, sci-fi genre, arguing that to be fully human, you need to experience the world yourself, much like the better Matrix and I, Robot argue convincingly. 3.5 stars/lambs

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday, September 25, 2009

Random thought...

I'm going to Italy next week and thought today I'd like to watch something that is set in Italy. What does it say about me that the first movie I thought of was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for the scene in Venice??

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TV that makes me laugh

"You know there's a question I get asked a lot. Whether I'm accepting an honorary degree or performing a citizens arrest, people ask me, 'Sue, what's your secret?'." - Jane Lynch on Glee

The second thing that made me laugh really hard this week was "Cougar Town". Courtney Cox's new series is not the semi-gross topic I thought it might be. Instead she really doesn't want to be a cougar, but is trying to find a way to be happy, but the different ways she embarrasses herself and her son are just hysterical. She's doing a terrific version of a more mellow "Monica", and it's so much fun. Check it out Wednesdays. In this photo, they're chasing down one of that kids that have been stealing her real estate signs because she's posing with her boobs hanging out. Busy Philips plays her assistant and chose the photo. Hilarity ensues.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Emmys review

I loved the opening number and the presenters were pretty terrific, and they finished on time, but Neil Patrick Harris' shtick about losing his award colored his humor the rest of the night. I liked the breakdown of categories, and the "look-backs" for the years in review in each category.

I didn't see Jon Cryer, Cherry Jones, Michael Emerson or Toni Collette taking their respective categories at all, though they all were terrific. For the rest, it was just my own idiocy not picking Alec Baldwin or Bryan Cranston to repeat their awards. Otherwise, I had a very good night. There were a lot of repeat wins with Amazing Race taking it again, Jeff Probst as the best host, 30 Rock and Mad Men. I was really happy that Kristin Chenowith and Shohreh Aghdashloo both took their awards. Not a particularly surprising night, but still fun to watch. Grey Gardens and Little Dorritt cleaned up too.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Emmy Predictions 2009

I thought I'd put together my predictions for the upcoming Emmy awards just in case people were interested.

Outstanding Comedy Series
"Entourage" (2004)
"Family Guy" (1999)
"The Flight of the Conchords" (2007)
"How I Met Your Mother" (2005) - Should win - this show has grown and yet still stayed so funny, I hope it wins, but it'll probably go to 30 Rock again.
"The Office" (2005)
"30 Rock" (2006) - Will Win
"Weeds" (2005)

Outstanding Drama Series
"Big Love" (2006)
"Breaking Bad" (2008)
"Damages" (2007)
"Dexter" (2006) - Should Win - The 3rd season was wonderful and brought the show up to a totally new level
"House M.D." (2004)
"Lost" (2004)
"Mad Men" (2007) - Will Win - I thought the second season was not as good as it's premiere, but I wouldn't be terribly disappointed when they win.

Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Coco Chanel (2008) (TV)
Grey Gardens (2009) (TV) - Will win and Should Win - It's an amazing series, see it.
Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
Prayers for Bobby (2009) (TV)
Taking Chance (2009)

Outstanding Miniseries
"Generation Kill" (2008)
"Little Dorrit" (2008) - Will win (though I don't know anything about either, it already won tons of technical awards!)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin for "30 Rock" (2006)
Steve Carell for "The Office" (2005)
Jemaine Clement for "The Flight of the Conchords" (2007)
Jim Parsons for "The Big Bang Theory" (2007) - Will win and Should win - He's the funniest guy in this list, and everyone else has been recognized (except Jemaine, but I don't think he's funny)
Tony Shalhoub for "Monk" (2002)
Charlie Sheen for "Two and a Half Men" (2003)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Simon Baker for "The Mentalist" (2008)
Gabriel Byrne for "In Treatment" (2008)
Bryan Cranston for "Breaking Bad" (2008)
Michael C. Hall for "Dexter" (2006) - Should win - see comment above for Dexter!
Jon Hamm for "Mad Men" (2007)
Hugh Laurie for "House M.D." (2004) - Will win

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Kevin Bacon for Taking Chance (2009)
Kenneth Branagh for "Wallander" (2008)
Brendan Gleeson for Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
Kevin Kline for "Great Performances: Cyrano de Bergerac (#37.8)" (2009) - I hope he wins, but I have NO idea! This was the only one I saw.
Ian McKellen for "Great Performances: King Lear (#37.11)" (2008)
Kiefer Sutherland for 24: Redemption (2008) (TV)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Christina Applegate for "Samantha Who?" (2007)
Toni Collette for "United States of Tara" (2009)
Tina Fey for "30 Rock" (2006) - Should Win and Will win - I'm not sure this category has the best set of acting on TV, they just seem to keep nominating the sames set of women. Not sure why I can't get behind these nominees, but I don't really care about this category this year.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus for "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (2006)
Mary-Louise Parker for "Weeds" (2005)
Sarah Silverman for "The Sarah Silverman Program." (2007)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Glenn Close for "Damages" (2007) - Will win - she's pretty amazing, even if this past season wasn't.
Sally Field for "Brothers & Sisters" (2006)
Mariska Hargitay for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999)
Holly Hunter for "Saving Grace" (2007)
Elisabeth Moss for "Mad Men" (2007) - Should Win - she did a terrific job making her character interesting and important every time she was on screen
Kyra Sedgwick for "The Closer" (2005)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Drew Barrymore for Grey Gardens (2009) (TV)
Jessica Lange for Grey Gardens (2009) (TV) - Will win - she was pretty amazing, but I chose Chandra.
Shirley MacLaine for Coco Chanel (2008) (TV)
Sigourney Weaver for Prayers for Bobby (2009) (TV)
Chandra Wilson for Accidental Friendship (2008) (TV) - Should win - this was a throwaway little made for TV movie, but her performance was terrific.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Jon Cryer for "Two and a Half Men" (2003)
Kevin Dillon for "Entourage" (2004)
Neil Patrick Harris for "How I Met Your Mother" (2005) It should be a tie between NPH and Jack McBrayer, but I think it will be NPH.
Jack McBrayer for "30 Rock" (2006)
Tracy Morgan for "30 Rock" (2006)
Rainn Wilson for "The Office" (2005)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Christian Clemenson for "Boston Legal" (2004)
Michael Emerson for "Lost" (2004)
William Hurt for "Damages" (2007)
Aaron Paul for "Breaking Bad" (2008) - Will win - I've heard great things about him, and I don't think any of the others had stand out performances this year.
William Shatner for "Boston Legal" (2004)
John Slattery for "Mad Men" (2007)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Len Cariou for Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
Tom Courtenay for "Little Dorrit" (2008)
Ken Howard for Grey Gardens (2009) (TV)
Bob Newhart for The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008) (TV)
Andy Serkis for "Little Dorrit" (2008) - Will win - the series was wonderfully well received so I'm guessing here.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Kristin Chenoweth for "Pushing Daisies" (2007) - Should win - I just loved Pushing Daisies, mostly because of Kristin
Jane Krakowski for "30 Rock" (2006)
Elizabeth Perkins for "Weeds" (2005)
Amy Poehler for "Saturday Night Live" (1975)
Kristen Wiig for "Saturday Night Live" (1975) - Will win - she's had a terrific year, and created some wonderful characters, and they already honored Justin Timberlake for all of his wonderful work on SNL.
Vanessa Williams for "Ugly Betty" (2006)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Rose Byrne for "Damages" (2007)
Hope Davis for "In Treatment" (2008)
Cherry Jones for "24" (2001)
Sandra Oh for "Grey's Anatomy" (2005)
Dianne Wiest for "In Treatment" (2008)
Chandra Wilson for "Grey's Anatomy" (2005) - Should win and Will win - I think this is her year again, she had wonderful stories and did a terrific job.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Shohreh Aghdashloo for "House of Saddam" (2008) - Should win - I just love her and think she can do no wrong, but I doubt they'll choose something called House of Saddam.
Marcia Gay Harden for The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009) (TV) - Will win - she got such amazing reviews for this that I'm guessing she'll win.
Janet McTeer for Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
Jeanne Tripplehorn for Grey Gardens (2009) (TV)
Cicely Tyson for Relative Stranger (2009) (TV)

Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Series
"The Colbert Report" (2005)
"The Daily Show" (1996) - Will win - they're just awesome.
"Late Show with David Letterman" (1993)
"Real Time with Bill Maher" (2003)
"Saturday Night Live" (1975) - Might win - I think if SNL was ever going to win this will be their year.

Outstanding Reality Competition Program
"The Amazing Race" (2001) - Will win - they've never lost so I'm not going to bet against them.
"American Idol: The Search for a Superstar" (2002)
"Dancing with the Stars" (2005/I)
"Project Runway" (2005) - Should win - it's just a fantastic show and had a terrific season.
"Top Chef" (2006)

Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality - Competition Program
Tom Bergeron for "Dancing with the Stars" (2005/I)
Phil Keoghan for "The Amazing Race" (2001)
Heidi Klum for "Project Runway" (2005) - Should win - Heidi was awesome so she should win.
Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio for "Top Chef" (2006)
Jeff Probst for "Survivor" (2000) - Will win - he won last year, so I'm guessing he'll win again.
Ryan Seacrest for "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar" (2002)

Those are my predictions, we'll see how close I get on Sunday night!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Movies rarely live up to or deserve the hype: Reviews of The Soloist and State of Play

I've been wanting to see The Soloist since I found out Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx would be staring. However, I'd barely noticed the appearance (and disappearance) of State of Play until it was recommended on my Netflix queue. I was sadly disappointed by The Soloist and very pleasantly surprised by State of Play.

The Soloist is based on a true story about LA Times columnist Steve Lopez (Downey), who would write about all kinds of issues, shining light on issues around LA. One day he's looking for a topic for his next column and meets Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Foxx) playing a two-string violin and rambling about his love for Beethoven. He writes a column about Ayers, which starts an uneven, often dangerous friendship. One of Lopez' readers, upon reading about his former excellence as a cellist at Julliard, donates a cello for Ayers. However, Ayers is homeless, and owning something as valuable as a cello on the streets of LA could get him killed, so Lopez arranges for the cello to be kept at the LA homeless center (LAMP). Lopez continues to attempt to restore some of Ayers' talent and sanity by getting him housing, and exposing him to concerts in the city. However, the movies doesn't want to be a story of redemption, and there's no happy ending, or even a very good ending. The director, Joe Wright, also directed Atonement, which I loved, and his style permeates both films. While Atonement's story could benefit from a more artistic style of movie making - long takes of the beach at Dunkirk, swirling floods of the tube station, bombings with music in the background, the snap of the typewriter as music - The Soloist, while a story about a musician, does not. The story is slow, with very little character development. Somehow, it's supposed to be enough that Ayers is schizophrenic and homeless and Lopez is a wry columnist, and thus we know everything we need to know about them. While I LOVE Robert Downey, Jr. he was the only reason I even watched it to the end. 2 lambs/stars
This movie did not live up to the hopeful hype surrounding it.

In contrast, I hadn't heard much hype, good or bad, about State of Play, except that Ben Affleck was in a political thriller and he played a congressman. For the past few years, Affleck's movies haven't always been received very well (though his directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, is a masterpiece). State of Play really stars Russell Crowe as a Washington Globe reporter, seeking a story about two murders in downtown DC. His old-school reporting style is in conflict with his fellow reporter, Rachel McAdams, online blogging style, but he needs another reporter to help him when he finds the story connects to the recent death of Congressman Collins' (Affleck) aide on a subway platform. Crowe's reporter and Affleck's congressman were college roommates. High political drama ensues with corruption, congressional hearings on private military contractors, affairs, marital intrigue, murder, and high-pressure reporting. Helen Mirren plays Crowe's editor, Robin Wright plays Affleck's put upon wife. It's a great film to see on your comfy couch as it does take a little while to build up the story, but once it gets going, it also helps to have someone to watch with, so you can confirm what you think has been going on, and what the big twist at the end really means. Crowe does a terrific job trying to maintain his integrity getting at the truth without destroying his friend's career, and McAdams does his precocious assistant perfectly. 4 of 5 lambs/stars

Monday, September 14, 2009

We'll miss you!

Patrick Swayze had a career, with ups and downs, and movies and roles that will never be forgotten. Rest in Peace. This is probably my favorite moment from all his movies, but I will confess I almost posted his moment on SNL with Chris Farley dancing for Chippendale's.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random collection of viewings

I've seen a few good and a few not too good movies lately, but none deserved a full review nor brought me to the reviewing table/page. But now I'm getting behind and want to keep up. So below are a few comments about Sunshine Cleaning, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Adventureland, and Knowing.

Sunshine Cleaning was a big deal at Sundance last year, but didn't really pan out to be as big a success when it opened widely this spring. It's not fantastic, but it's not bad either. Personally, I thought it was a lot of substance with no flash. You really need both to make a fantastic little movie. The movie deals with a lot of issues, every character leans towards cliche - Amy Adams as the high school cheerleader whose life didn't amount to more than being a maid, Emily Blunt as the sister who can't be bothered to get out of her sister's shadow, and Alan Arkin as the single father who is constantly trying to make get rich quick schemes turn into something big - but luckily they're all such good actors that I never thought they were locked into a characterization rather than a person. It follows the travails of opening a new business - cleaning up after death and violence, and becoming an adult. I liked it, and a better soundtrack might have upped the flash factor, but a stronger script would have put it over the top. 3 of 5 Lambs/stars, good but not great.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas shows a single sliver of the Holocaust through the eyes of the son of a high ranking Nazi officer. When the family is moved to the country when the father (a remarkably dark David Thewlis) is promoted to manage a work camp (possibly Auschwitz), his children have to find a new life. Our hero, Bruno (Asa Butterfield) just wants to play with the forbidden children who live on the "farm" behind their house, while his older sister becomes enthralled with the Nazi party and starts preaching its messages. However, Bruno is just a child, and sneaks away to find other children to play with. One day he meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), another 10-year-old who doesn't understand much about the camp he's in. Through their conversations, the picture of the Holocaust is painted with broad strokes, revealing the horror as a child might understand it - which is to say, not at all. They meet regularly in secret until one day Shmuel's father can't be found, and they figure out a way to sneak Bruno INTO the camp to help look for him. As all Holocaust films are sad, and terrible, and yet need to be made from every perspective, this was a unique and ultimately good film. 3 of 5 stars/lambs

Adventureland, however, had lots going for it, but never delivered. It has lots of comedy - working at an amusement park, great comedic actors - but nothing interesting to say. Our hero needs to save money for graduate school (yes, this is post-college group, making much of what they do seem more than a little idiotic), and works at an amusement park with the girl from Twilight (yes, Kristin Stewart, you'll be tagged with that forever) who he falls for. However she's sleeping with a sleazeball married guy (Ryan Reynolds completely wasted). Nothing happens and then it ends. 2 stars/lambs

And finally, yes, I saw Knowing. While Nicholas Cage has made lots of bad movies, I did like the National Treasure movies a lot, so I figured maybe Knowing wouldn't be so bad. I was wrong. The movie teaches us that aliens implanted numbers into special people that predicted all the various catastrophes throughout history and their casualties. When Nick Cage figures out the pattern, they're near the end of the list and now everyone will die as the sunbursts get bigger. But fear not, two children and two rabbits will be saved and thus humankind will continue. Yes, I kid you not, this is the plot. No stars or lambs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

(500) Days of Summer: Review (some spoilers)

(500) Days of Summer has been out for quite a while, but as we leave summer behind I finally got a chance to see it on Labor day. It's a remarkable movie, not a love story, but still the story of a relationship and the course it takes. Joseph Gorden-Levitt (wonderful in The Lookout) plays Tom, a greeting card writer who is sure his true love is out there somewhere. He meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) who doesn't believe in fate or true love, and just wants to be friends. Of course, they do fall into a deeper relationship of sorts and Tom thinks he's found the one. Unfortunately, Summer doesn't feel the same. We see some of their 500 days together and not. There are ups and downs and a wonderful dance scene (below) when Tom feels that initial burst of love. I think just as people can be referred to as a "Betty" or a "Veronica", someday you'll be able to say whether you were the "Tom" or the "Summer" after a relationship was over. Either you're the one who loved the most or you're the one who wanted to stay friends (obviously in relationships that work out, neither is the Tom OR Summer). It's a great movie that has a good soundtrack, excellent acting, and a great gimmick to tell the story in an order that makes their encounters make sense, but maybe not all the time. I just loved Joseph Gorden-Levitt's smile when he was happy and in love, and you can't beat his downtrodden facade when it all goes south ( his boss asks him to start channeling his grief into the "funeral and sympathy card department"). 4 of 5 stars/lambs

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday, September 4, 2009

Can "The Wire" really be the best show on TV? YES!

A great fellow movie blogger recently posted a great essay on whether a war film can make for great entertainment. It hit me that we can ask that about a lot of the best shows on TV too. "The Wire", which aired on HBO and ran its final season over a year ago, is easily among the best shows ever shown on television. However, a summary of the series includes drugs, murder, corruption, conspiracy and overwhelming violence at times. How does this combination make for great TV, you might ask. And I did - I even had to rewatch the first 5 episodes in an effort to get hooked. Well, 55 episodes later, I watched the entire series and have become one of the proud to recommend it. The description of the series is much less than the sum of its parts, but I will try anyway. Overall, the series is about crime and law enforcement in Baltimore. Each season examines a central group of police officers and drug dealers through a greater lens within Baltimore. The first season sets up the characters and taking down drug kingpins through fastidious and careful law enforcement - specifically a wire tap. However, as in any animal kingdom, once one party finds an advantage, the other finds a way to counter that advantage. The second season examines the corruption and deterioration of Baltimore waterfront and the shipping industry. It does feel a bit like a whole different show for a little while, but eventually you begin to understand what the series is trying to do, and you can accept the second season as it is. It was my least favorite season, and in some ways the most violent and nail-biting and so does stand alone well. The third season brings us back to the streets of an unruly set of drug dealers who seem to be missing their leader. An "out of the box" thinking cop who has had enough of the crime associated with drug dealing on the corners of his district tries out a new paradigm of law enforcement: if you can get them into a single location away from local people - both dealers and fiends - then you'll have peace. Essentially he legalizes the drug trade. However, at the same time, the political machine is starting to get going and lasts through the end of the series. The fourth season, my favorite, examines how crime and the schools interact with each other. One of the cops from the first season has left policing and become a teacher, so we meet his students who all are at the point of making choices about being drug dealers, muscle for drug dealers, snitches, hookers, etc. The political side of law enforcement increases with the mayoral race in Baltimore. Favors are traded on the back of crime statistics and you see both police and politicians trying to make things appear however will best help them. The final season looks at the media's role in crime and solving crimes, specifically at the Baltimore Sun. Funding for the police force has been cut to help out the ailing school system, and our troubled, but heartfelt police set up a fictional serial killer, which they know will increase funding, aided by the stories written by the press bringing attention to the issue.

Throughout each season there are the changing leaders of the drug trade, and because all of our police are at some point part of the homicide division, we can keep in touch with the murders from the drug trade while still looking at another side of Baltimore. You must believe me that the experience far outweighs reading this summary. I highly recommend the entire series, particularly season 4. However, given that the dialogue is seemingly faithful to the culture of each group of people - the police jargon, the drug talk, etc. I recommend watching it with subtitles until you get used to the language, which I promise you do after a little while. Also, there is an incredible amount of violence throughout. They do a good job of making the viewers as inured to the violence as the dealers and cops already are, but yet they're still able to shock you with violence, and knowing that no one is ever safe pervades both the living and the watching this series. There is a lot of terrific acting throughout, and none really stand out above, but my favorite character adds a bit to nearly every season he's in. Andre Royo plays a dope addict named "Bubbles" who alternately snitches for the cops and lives on the street. He has a good heart, but can't seem to escape his addiction. His story line is carefully told over the entire series, rather than a single season, and he'll break your heart and show you redemption, all without being cliched or boring. He's a great actor and a wonderful character. While the show was only nominated twice for writing, the entirety of the show is what draws you in and moves you to appreciate how exceptional its quality really is, and thus what the average TV show is missing. Also, for a show with an enormous cast, they did a terrific job of including story lines with every character, but not ultimately revealing much about each individual character, but rather how it relates to the whole.