Thursday, March 25, 2010

TV you can work with

I recently submitted the first "chapter" of my PhD thesis. I've always been someone who needs the distraction of TV in the background to keep me focused on work. While doing the actual writing (about 4 weeks work) I watched Season 2 of Alias, Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1 of The West Wing, and Season 7 of Friends. Of course I've seen them all before, though this was only the second watching of Alias, so it was easy to keep going. What do you watch when you just need something good in the background?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A funny video

TV has some of my favorite people. I watch Friday Night Lights because they're generally good people. I watch Weeds because they're pretty much not. This guy obviously liked TV too. Enjoy. To spike the interest, they include Firefly, X-files, Scrubs, etc....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jane Campion: Bright Star

The latest movie from Jane Campion, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director of The Piano, has created another similarly dour period piece with moments of terrific acting, but not a particularly interesting love story that has all the complexity of its hero's Wikipedia page. John Keats is a penniless poet who falls in love with an emerging fashionista Fanny Brawne who cannot considering marrying such a poor person, but wants to learn from him about poetry. Campion assumes everyone watching has mind-reading capabilities as she spends long scenes just letting us look at the characters looking at each other. There's a terrific scene when Keats' roommate, Mr. Brown, sends Fanny a valentine as an insulting joke, and proves that Fanny has no skills at anything but flirting and sewing. I found it hard to believe the love story that ensues. Many movies that describe an artist and his muse often rely on the fact that the woman is as in love with the art as with the man. This is not true, though Fanny seems to appreciate parts of Keats' poetry, she constantly talks about how she isn't an expert in poetry. The movie fails to give another reason for their love affair, though they do make it seem extremely tragic that it never develops as Keats dies at 25 of tuberculosis. Overall, I wasn't impressed with Bright Star. Almost Famous makes the love story and struggles of artists more believeable and interesting and Pride and Prejudice does a better job with a period piece. 2 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Release: Green Zone

The new movie by Paul Greengrass and Brian Helgelund (who made one of my favorite movies A Knight's Tale) stars Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleason, and Amy Ryan. It's a puzzling movie because it takes place in our recent lifetime, 2003, and talks about events that most people will remember, but few people actually fully understood (including those involved, according to the movie). So it's hard to tell if they're telling a completely true story, a "based on a true" story, or a fictionalized version of actual events. I'm guessing it's somewhere in the middle. The exact details have been changed, but the spirit of the film seems to depict actual events. Damon is a soldier in charge of a unit looking for WMDs in the first few weeks after the invasion of Iraq. He's getting more and more frustrated and suspicious because no weapons are found, and because his higher ups don't want to address the failure in intelligence that keeps bringing them up emptyhanded. He starts partnering with Brendan Gleason, the CIA chief in Iraq, who is diametrically opposed to the Bush administration's policies being implemented by Greg Kinnear. There's intrigue about who might have falsified the WMD information, and in particular why they did. Damon interacts with a local Iraqi who wants to help the American soldiers liberate the country, but really doesn't want the cruelties to continue against the local people. We see the torture that was condoned, the disrespect for the country that was invaded, and the frustration it caused all around. I can understand why some people will call this a liberal bias of events, but if you remember it's a movie, and stars an action star and is not a documentary, it's easy to enjoy the film, though hard to forget it's pretty close to how I remember actual events going down. Kinnear is a good Bush flunky and Gleason plays the semi-paranoid CIA guy well, but Damon does the best job as a leader of men, trying to get to the truth - the epitome of an action hero. The great thing about him (something Nicholas Cage always fails to bring) is his inherent intelligence shining through. You believe that he's smart enough to have put together the disparate items he discovers. Good movie, the subject just isn't the easiest thing to watch. 3.5 of 5 stars

To compare this to the most recent exceptional war movie, The Hurt Locker, this movie can barely compare. Yes, they're both fighting in a desert and they both have seemingly honest, neutral main characters who just want to do their job well. The Hurt Locker is told without any of the politics or drama of WHY they're fighting. We only know they're fighting in a desert, it could be any war anywhere. They have to deal with the current type of war fare, but that's all that would date the movie to this time. Green Zone is all about the politics of war, and doesn't make as good a movie. However, it's possible to tell the best story without politics. To quote Green Zone "Don't be naive". All the President's Men told the story of politics and did it brilliantly (though not war), and Lions for Lambs tried to do both but from a desk in Washington, but also failed to make a top-notch film.

Friday, March 12, 2010

DVD Round Up: Precious and Whip It!

I was eager to see Precious now that it's out on DVD, as it never came to a theater near me. Given all the love, and ultimately two Oscars (Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay) this movie has received and knowing how dark the subject might be, I was nervous that it couldn't live up to expectations. Clarice Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a 16-year-old near illiterate teenager in Harlem in the 1980s. She's pregnant for the second time by her father, and blamed for this by her mother (Mo'nique). She has used her ability to day dream to escape the horrors of her home life and maintains a self-contained hopeful inner life. She's kicked out of school for being pregnant, but offered a chance at an alternative school that seems to help at-risk or troubled girls get their GED. The teacher, Paula Patton, gives her hope that life could get better and when her son is born, Precious decides she's had enough of the abuse her mother doles out. It's pretty violent watching them fight, and you're never sure what will set Mary off. Mo'Nique's performance was definitely Oscar worthy, both for the quick transformations she makes when the social workers come by, and the halting confession she gives at the end trying to explain why she is the way she is. It's a pretty terrific movie, and the acting performances are exceptional, down to the smallest parts. It's not an easy movie to watch, but it is a very good film. 4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Whip It! was another movie that never came near where I live, but finally arrived thanks to Netflix. This is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, and Ellen Page's first big film since her Oscar nominated turn in Juno. She does attempt to rein in the smart-alecky attitude from Juno but you can see it emerging as she gains confidence by joining a roller derby team - The Hurl Scouts. She lies about her age and joins Drew and Kristin Wiig and becomes the new star of the team. Juliette Lewis is the star of the rival team, and attempts to shut down Page by outing her age. Page has been lying to her parents about what she's doing. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern play her parents who want her to excel at Beauty Pageants, but Page is eager to do something a little more risque with her life, but doesn't want to hurt her parents. Like most of the characters in this movie, there's no commitment to a single story or idea, and it makes for a muddled mix of coming of age, sports triumph, teenage rebellion, and taking charge of your future. Good, but not great. 3 of 5 stars/lambs

Friday, March 5, 2010

A non-Oscar post: Odd DVDs

I rented 2 DVDs recently that I couldn't finish. Usually, even if a movie is incredibly boring I'll at least skip ahead to the end and actually find out what happens. Then I probably won't even bother to review it, though perhaps as part of a DVD Roundup. I saw Coraline, the animated movie nominated for Best Animated Picture this year, but it was the type of animation that I just couldn't watch. I believe it's called stop motion animation, similar to The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, both of which I enjoyed somewhat. But, Coraline just started to be too creepy to be believable as a children's movie and odd to be for adults. The basic premise is that Coraline finds a secret door in her house that leads to a world where her parents are the opposite of her real-life parents. I'm sure things go horribly wrong and she realizes her real parents are the best, but I don't know as I only watched about 20 minutes and didn't bother skipping to the end. I remember this being released in 3D, which I think would only be creepier, but that's just me.

The other movie I wanted to like, or at least sit all the way through, was the remake of Fame. I should have known from the moment it was listed as a PG movie that it would be nothing like the gritty, musical version from the 1980s that I secretly loved. I was roped in my a good adult cast (for musicals) - Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally, Kelsey Grammer, and Debbie Allen. However, they're all underused, and kids I've never heard of did very pale, washed out versions of what the movie used to be. Not even a good "High School Musical" version, just bland. I fastforwarded to the end to hear them sing the theme song, but didn't watch the last hour.

Did anyone particularly like either of these movies, such that I should give them another chance when they appear on TV? Please let me know if I've missed something great. Or cheer me on for saving hours of my life. Enjoy watching the Oscars on Sunday!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Insight's Oscar Predicitions 2010

I can't seem to find my Oscar predictions from last year, so I can't tell you how well I guess them. I did really well on the acting categories for the Golden Globes though (I went 6/6 on the movie actors), and here's hoping I can do as well with the Oscars. My predictions are marked with a * sign, and the ones I wish would win are marked with a + sign. Sometimes it's both.
Also, this year contests abound. We'll see if I win any. If you're a movie blogger, check out to enter. Or go over to the challenge at Spaghetti and Sweet Peas.
Best Actor
* Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney in "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth in "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman in "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker"

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon in "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson in "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer in "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci in "The Lovely Bones"
* + Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds"

Best Actress
* + Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren in "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan in "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia"

Best Supporting Actress
Penélope Cruz in "Nine"
Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air"
Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart"
Anna Kendrick in "Up in the Air"
* + Mo'Nique in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Best Animated Feature Film
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"The Princess and the Frog"
"The Secret of Kells"
* + "Up"

Achievement in Art Direction
* "Avatar"
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"
"Sherlock Holmes"
+ "The Young Victoria"

Achievement in Cinematography
* "Avatar"
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
+ "The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"The White Ribbon"

Achievement in Costume Design
"Bright Star"
"Coco before Chanel"
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"
* + "The Young Victoria"

Achievement in Directing
"Avatar" - James Cameron
* + "The Hurt Locker" - Kathryn Bigelow
"Inglourious Basterds" - Quentin Tarantino
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" - Lee Daniels
"Up in the Air" - Jason Reitman

Best Documentary Feature
"Burma VJ"
"The Cove"
* + "Food, Inc."
"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"
"Which Way Home"

Best Documentary Short Subject
"China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province"
"The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner"
* + "The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant"
"Music by Prudence"
"Rabbit à la Berlin" (Deckert Distribution)

Achievement in Film Editing
* "Avatar"
"District 9"
"The Hurt Locker"
+ "Inglourious Basterds"
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
"Ajami"(Kino International)
"El Secreto de Sus Ojos" (Sony Pictures Classics)
"The Milk of Sorrow"
"Un Prophète" (Sony Pictures Classics)
* + "The White Ribbon" (Sony Pictures Classics)

Achievement in Makeup
"Il Divo"
"Star Trek"
* + "The Young Victoria"

Best Original Score
* + "Avatar"
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Sherlock Holmes"

Best Original Song
"Almost There" from "The Princess and the Frog"
"Down in New Orleans" from "The Princess and the Frog"
"Loin de Paname" from "Paris 36"
"Take It All" from "Nine"
* + "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart"

Best Picture
"The Blind Side"
"District 9"
"An Education"
* + "The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
"A Serious Man"
"Up in the Air"

Best Animated Short Film
"French Roast"
"Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty"
"The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)"
+ "Logorama" (Autour de Minuit)
* "A Matter of Loaf and Death" (Aardman Animations)

Best Live Action Short Film
"The Door"
"Instead of Abracadabra"
"Miracle Fish"
* + "The New Tenants"

Achievement in Sound Editing
* + "The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Star Trek"

Achievement in Sound Mixing
* + "The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Star Trek"
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Achievement in Visual Effects

* + "Avatar"
"District 9"
"Star Trek"

Adapted Screenplay
"District 9"
"An Education"
"In the Loop"
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
* + "Up in the Air"

Original Screenplay
"The Hurt Locker"
* + "Inglourious Basterds"
"The Messenger"
"A Serious Man"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Single Man: A nod to Colin Firth

I don't have a lot that I liked about the Tom Ford-directed film A Single Man, but I have to say I liked Colin Firth. He did a good job as the newly single 1960s gay professor of literature in LA by showing melancholy, terrible depression, impatience, longing, determination and of course he swam around naked (was it just me, or was that a nod to his famous scene in Pride and Prejudice?). I also liked Ginnifer Goodwin as his neighbor trying to be PC (before it was necessary and was just called manners) and Matthew Goode as his deceased partner who wanted to throw caution to the wind, but knew in the 60s that might not be the easiest thing to do. As for the things I didn't like: the affected color changes characterizing Firth's connection to another person, too much literal "swimming" through his depression, and Julianne Moore's ridiculous over-the-top character. The other thing that bothered me, particularly when someone else pointed it out was how often they told the gorgeous Colin Firth how awful he looked, when we were given no reason to think he didn't look wonderful. It is a terrific story that probably makes a very good book, but the things I liked just barely outweighed the things I didn't. 2.5 of 5 lambs/stars