Friday, April 30, 2010

2010 Lammys! FYC

The 2010 Lammys have started their quest for nominations. Please consider Insight into Entertainment if you're a member of the LAMB when submitting your nominations. Thanks.
You can vote here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Princess and the Frog: Review

After this review and Monday's Musical review, I'm sure you think I'm either a mom with school- age children, or a school-age child. Sadly, I am neither, but have maintained my affinity for animated movies. However, my need to go see them in the theater or even as soon as they're available has waned considerably. I was still excited, though, when The Princess and the Frog arrived in my mailbox recently. So while researching available population demographic datasets for Africa in the mid-nineties, I threw it in the player (I told you my work can get boring). Perhaps I'm finally outgrowing Disney, but their newest flick didn't impress me too much. It seemed like a cobbled together version of many of their older animated films, with an African American heroine, and a few fun new songs. They stuck very closely to the tried and true Disney formula - introduce characters, big opening number to explain the theme of the main characters (e.g. "Circle of Live" or "Belle"), then introduce the bad guy and let him sing his song about the evil things he's going to do ("Gaston" or "Be Prepared"). Next, the bad thing comes to pass, and our hero/ine find some new sidekicks who explain to them why life isn't really so bad (usually in the most memorable song - "Hakuna Matata", "Be Our Guest", "Under the Sea" "Prince Ali"). Then our main guy and girl fall in love, and that's the end of the songs, which is always my biggest criticism with musicals, why do the good songs nearly always occur in the first half? Finally, everything comes out right in the end. There's usually a pretty good score throughout the film too. Anyway, The Princess and the Frog follows this guide precisely.

Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) wants to open a restaurant in New Orleans in memory of her dearly departed father (the mother stays alive throughout this movie, voiced by a notable Oprah). She works really hard to save up the money ("Almost There"), but can't really figure out how to get all the way. A prince arrives in New Orleans, and Tiana's best friend Lotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody who I knew as a teen working in musical theater - so cool that her voice was awesome) wants to fall in love with a prince. However, the bad guy steps in ("Friends on the other side") and turns the prince into a frog. Now, the fairy tale we all know kicks in, he needs to get a princess to kiss him and he'll turn back into a prince. He mistakes Tiana all dressed up in Lotte's fancy clothes for a princess, but when they kiss, she gets cursed too. They escape to the bayou and meet up with a trumpet-playing gator and a Cajun firefly ("When we're human", my fav song). Of course all goes well, but I won't spoil it because it actually has a pretty good twist at the end that was unique enough to make me smile in surprise. It's a good movie, not the best, but fairly original, well voiced, very well sung, but weak on the songs. Mary Poppins has 5 songs I could name right now that are memorable, and even The Little Mermaid has a couple not to be forgotten, but I'm not sure The Princess and the Frog lives up to that legacy. It feels a bit like a copy of a copy of a copy, with some new scenes and a twist at the end, but nothing particularly new. What newness it does have comes from the New Orleans and cajun feel, though Randy Newman's score does sound a bit like watered down NOLA. 3 of 5 star/lambs

Monday, April 26, 2010

Musical Mondays! The Little Mermaid

I can't really explain why I chose The Little Mermaid for this week's Monday Musicals, except that Pandora (online radio) kept choosing songs from it when I set up a station based on the music from "Glee" (don't judge me, work was hard this weekend). And since it's been turned into a stage show, I think The Little Mermaid fully qualifies as a musical, even though it's animated. Oh, and over at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob and The Movie Encyclopedia, their podcast was asking questions about opinions on the big 3 animation studios (Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks, and Studio Ghibli), so the time was apparently ready to watch this again. It also makes sense in my own chronology now that I think about it. It was the second videotape I ever owned (also on Betamax) and I think I watched it every single rainy day one summer. I saw it in theaters and loved it. I think it might have been the first CD I ever bought for myself too.
Anyway, rewatching it today I was struck by how incredibly outdated the animation seems now. While it was a huge jump ahead for it's day, and was a rebirth for Disney animation and started the whole Disney Princess creations, I don't think it's animation is anything spectacular even for hand-drawn animation. It's large and colorful, though mostly block colored without much detail. Watching the trailer for The Little Mermaid 3 (a straight to DVD, I imagine) at the beginning had much more detail and precision than the feature film. While Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were also hand-drawn Disney flicks, their style doesn't seem dated today, just a classic form of animation.
However, the music is still just as awesome as I remember, even the orchestral soundtrack is terrific. "Kiss Da Girl" and "Under the Sea" sung by the reggae-inspired crab Sebastian are still terrific songs, that I've heard redone by a cappella groups as well as pop singers. "Part of Your World" is still my favorite, when Ariel sings about her collection of human paraphenalia. It always makes me smile. I probably won't do too many animated films for this weekly musical feature, but I did enjoy watching The Little Mermaid again. The Princess and the Frog are next on my Netflix queue, so I'm excited to see how far Disney has come in 20 years. What are your favorite animated movie musicals?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Early Season Finales

**Some spoilers, but if you don't watch these shows, consider it philosophical rather than spoiling anything **
Three shows I have really enjoyed this season ended a bit early considering May sweeps haven't even started. Ugly Betty, Damages, and Project Runway all completed their seasons, and in the case of Ugly Betty (and possibly Damages) it's the end of the series. Ugly Betty did what the best finales do, wrap up all the stories enough that avid fans are satisfied without putting everything to rest. Betty was slowly wrapped up, she lost her braces, started dressing better, and straightened her hair more. It made her look more professional and fashionable (helpful given where she works) and it was done gradually enough that it didn't seem like it was something she forced. Her sister got married, and she seemed to have a job she was going to like, and possibly a romantic interest we didn't have to watch unfold, but were content was okay.

Damages, however, wrapped up the mysteries of the series slowly and with very little satisfaction to the ending. The character we'd known was dead from the first episode of this season was still dead at the end of the season, and they kept us guessing who might have actually done it, but by the time it was revealed, I didn't care. There were a few false starts, but basically in this season a whole bunch of people died, mostly bad guys, but no one I was upset to see go. There were mysteries that didn't really matter (who cares that Ellen was nearly (but not) given away as a child?), and people going a little crazy for no obvious reason (Patty dreaming again and again about the baby she lost which we knew about in the first season). All in all, I enjoyed much of the season, but not the finale. I didn't watch season 2 and don't think I'll watch again should it get renewed.

I wrote the beginning of this post earlier, but had to wait until Project Runway showed to conclude the post, and man it just got worse as it went along. I was happy that Seth Aaron won the season, but this had to be the most boring finale EVER. Usually they do a reunion show BEFORE the finale, and we get to find out what the finalists thought about their performances on the show. Also, there's usually some sort of final challenge where the producers force the finalists to be more creative at the last minute, and they bring back some other rejects to help them complete it all in time. Those were fun. There was also often a scandal about how things were paid for (Kara's boots, Jeffrey's wigs). This year, NOTHING. Just the show, some analysis, and over. So odd. Very disappointing. But I'll definitely still keep watching. (PS - Why did Seth Aaron make his hair look like earmuffs?)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Date Night: Review

There were two things about the new Tina Fey/Steve Carell movie that struck me when I left the theater that gave me a happy feeling. The first was that a really funny movie hadn't put any of its best humor into ANY of the previews or trailers. Yes, there were a few moments that weren't as funny because I'd seen them several times in the trailers (removing her mouth guard so they can fool around). The marketers of this movie get huge props for actually sampling the movie rather than giving it away. The second thing was that this movie, while totally ridiculous, put all the crazy into one character, so it's easy to believe all the other characters are really normal people making the best of bad situations. Usually in normal people vs the mob movies, the main characters suddenly have talents or abilities that help them outsmart the crooks. Date Night gave all those qualities to Mark Wahlberg while still making Tina Fey and Steve Carell into complete and unique normal people.

Though the story doesn't really matter, here you go. Fey and Carell are a husband and wife from NJ who decide to have dinner in NYC, and because they arrive late, they steal a no-show's reservation. The no-shows were blackmailing some bad people who have shown up to get the blackmail stuff back. Tina and Steve confess to having hidden the material to escape and then they stay one step ahead of the bad guys for quite a while trying to find the real blackmailers and ending the problem. They ask Wahlberg for help - he's a "security expert" so he knows how to do all kinds of spy stuff. During the chasing around Manhattan in one night, some of the humor comes from the physical comedy trying to escape bad guys or changing clothes to blend in, etc. The rest comes from the Fey/Carell repartee, some arguing about their marriage and some just being normal people thrown into a strange situation and how they react to it. I'm trying not to give away all the funny parts, so forgive the rambling. There are at least 2 moments when I actually thought I would hurt the person next to me at the theater I was laughing so hard. And lots of other giggling. Possibly one of the funniest movies I've seen in the last couple of years. It's not non-stop laughs, but if you like Fey or Carell in their day jobs on "30 Rock" or "The Office", you'll really like this too. 4 of 5 stars/lambs

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Musicals!

A new feature I'm hoping will catch on here at Insight into Entertainment is Monday Musicals. Nick over at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob inspired the idea with his post about his life in musicals for the year 1986 when we both realized Little Shop of Horrors is still one of our favorite movies. I started working in musical theater when I was about 10 and participated in it (offstage only) through college. I have a decent collection of musicals on DVD (though TONS more on VHS) and rarely choose to watch them, though I love them all. I've now owned the Rogers and Hammerstein collection for several years and never watched them so here's my chance. I'll start this off with the movie that was my first movie on videocassette (Betamax rather than VHS, though). Oklahoma! is not my favorite musical ever, but it's easily the one I've see the most.

Like most musicals of the Rogers and Hammerstein genre, there's not a lot of story to go between the songs, but here goes. Curly (Gorden McRae) is a cowboy in Kansas before it was a state who has fallen for Laurie (Shirley Jones), but she's not sure what to do. There's a big dance coming to raise money to build a schoolhouse and Laurie agrees to go with her farm hand, Jud (Rod Steiger), rather than Curly, who takes her Aunt Eller. Before getting ready for the dance Laurie has a psychedelic dream about who she should marry (my least favorite part). Jud and Curly attempt to outbid each other for Laurie's picnic basket at the dance, with Curly coming out ahead and Laurie agrees to marry him (this IS a musical). However, Judd's pissed and attacks Curly at their wedding and dies. Very sad, but all's well that ends well. The B story is a friend of Laurie's, Ado Annie (I've never understood that name), is trying to decide whether she wants to marry cowboy Will who has nothing besides that he loves her, or traveling salesman Ali Hackim. Ultimately she picks Will but because he promises to love her, so again with the happy ending.

The most important part of Oklahoma! is the music. It opens with "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'", followed closely by "Surrey with a Fringe on top" (a common karaoke song - Harry and Sally fans know). As with most musicals, the first half is loaded with upbeat songs that might not exactly drive the story, but explain what's going on within the characters. Laurie dreams of a happy life with love, and nearly falls for Curly when he sings about taking her out in the luxury of the surrey. Later, Laurie sings to her girlfriends about how she won't complain when her man goes away or does something wrong ("Many a New Day") and then Laurie and Curly sing together about how people will gossip about them if they reveal their true feelings ("People Will Say We're in Love"). Curly also tries to manipulate (and foreshadow) Jud's life by telling him people really do like him and they'll prove it by attending his funeral ("Poor Jud"). The side story with Ado Annie has all the fun songs, "I cain't say no" (and she means it, the little hussy), "Kansas City" about Will's trip to the big city, and "All Er Nothin'" between Will and Ado Annie promising to love each other all the way. And of course the whole thing ends with the song "Oklahoma" which is totally how I still spell it in my head because they spell it during the song, and it's how I remember it. The only part I really don't like about the movie is Laurie's dream sequence. It starts out kind of happy, and ends really dramatically and scary, and it's about 10 solid minutes of interpretive dance without words or song. I've only seen Oklahoma on stage once and didn't really care for the actors taking on the parts of my beloved Shirley Jones and Gorden McRae, so I prefer to just watch this on TV when I feel the need. The new version on DVD is really crisp, both visually and audibly. I loved getting the chance to rewatch one of my favorites. Another thing I think suited a kid's attention span was the fact that the overture and entr'acte were both relatively short (under 3 minutes - for perspective, West Side Story's overture is nearly 15 minutes).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Happy 3rd Anniversary!!

Today Insight into Entertainment turns 3!
And this is the 400th post. Thank you for all the support.
I appreciate all the people who comment and interact with the blog.
Thanks in particular to Rachel, Fletch, Nick, Andrew,
and Buttercup for all the great comments.
I hope over the next year to continue reviewing movies and TV,
and look forward to revamping the style of the blog a bit.

Dessert Island DVDs

Over at Fandango Groovers Movie Blog they're having an event discussing the eight DVDs you'd want if you were stranded on a desert island (and had the ability to play DVDs). I didn't find out about it in time to participate, so I thought I'd just list my DESSERT island DVD list. I just watched Waitress again recently and it's left me with a super urge to make pie. So in no particular order, here are my favorite movies with food, particularly dessert.

1. Waitress
The story is pretty simple, a woman with an abusive, controlling husband has an epic talent for making pie. She works at a dinner and designs a new pie every day. To escape the drudgery of her life, we often get to see the machinations in her head and they always leave me hungry. Marshmellow Mermaid Pie makes me feel like a kid. Mmmmm...pie.

2. Groundhog Day
There's a scene after Bill Murray realizes he's not going to get to leave the town when he throws caution to to the wind and starts eating everything at the diner, and stuffs a whole piece of cake with pink icing in his mouth at once. In one of the "making of" features I recall for this movie, he actually ate the piece of cake EVERY time, for something like 20 takes. Andie McDowell watched him eat it and felt sick herself, but it always makes me want pink icing (and to wipe the icing off his face).

3. Gone with the Wind
After Scarlett finally marries Rhett Butler, he takes her to New Orleans for their honeymoon, and after years of near starvation, she lives it up, eating all she can. The line Rhett throws back at her always pisses me off, "if you don't stop eating so much, you'll get as big as Mammy, and I'll divorce you." It's said in jest, but for the food that passes by in that scene, I'd probably divorce Rhett.

4. Notting Hill
"Apricots soaked in honey, which actually stops them tasting of apricots and just tastes of honey, but nonetheless, they're yours if you want them". - Hugh Grant trying to offer food to Julia Roberts. He kind of makes me want to try apricots in honey, but it's his rambling about the food he has to offer always makes him more real and endearing.

5. Chocolat
What's not to like about the food in this movie? All kinds of chocolate, drinks, sweets, savory, etc. It's definitely a dessert island DVD. Just watching it makes you want to break any rules just to have some more chocolate.

6. Julie and Julia
There's a scene where she casually makes a chocolate creme pie, and it always looks like pudding, but that's okay, cause I like pudding. Most of the movie is about the savory dishes Julia Child was really well known for, but there are a few moments even on a dessert island that food would be good.

7. Fried Green Tomatoes
The Whistle Stop Cafe serves all kinds of food, and there's a great food fight scene where Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker (I couldn't keep them straight for years!) cover each other in flour, berries, chocolate frosting, and tomatoes, and even with the mess, I still want to eat there. I love Fried Green Tomatoes too, perhaps they should be allowed on my dessert island.

8. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
The ultimate dessert island movie, it practically IS a dessert island. When they first get into the room with the chocolate river (where they lose Augustus), I always want to be one of those little kids. And lickable wallpaper. The fact the the movie spawned its own candy line makes this top pick for movies on a dessert island.

What would be on your dessert island?

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Nobody wins with a headbutt": Paul Blart

I really didn't think I would like Paul Blart: Mall Cop because it looked like all the funny moments were in the commercials (and they were) and I thought most of the jokes were just funny as sight gags (also true) but somehow it all worked out to be a funny movie with a lot of heart. Kevin James (who was also sweet and funny in Hitch) is Blart, riding around on his Segway guarding a mall. He'd rather be in the NJ State Troopers, but physically can't finish the exam. When a group of criminals attempt to take over the mall and steal all the credit card info, it's left to Blart to stop them. He mostly falls on them, trips them or surprises them into unconsciousness, but of course, in the end, saves the day. Totally predictable, but nevertheless enjoyable. Jayma Mays (from "Glee") plays the object of his affection and one of the hostages. 2.5 of 5 lambs/stars

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where do you love: New York or Paris?

I loved Paris, Je T'aime (Paris, I love you) when I saw it on DVD a few years ago. Here is a short review I did back then. So when the newer version, New York, I Love You, was made it put into sharper focus, what I particularly liked about the Parisian version that didn't come through in New York. First, the main focus of the first movie is the city of Paris. Every short story takes place in a different part of Paris, famous or not, but dramatically Paris. The city itself is the character that exists in each story (they embraced the cliche!). This was not true for New York. Yes, they had Coney Island and taxi cabs and a scene in Central Park, and the diamond district. But that was about all that make it specifically NYC. The diversity of people could have been described as typically NYC, but that's a stretch. Second, there just weren't as many stories. Paris had about 15 different short stories, with some actors crossing over a tiny bit. New York has about 6 different stories, so there is a lot less to love (though it's only 15 minutes shorter). And third, the stories weren't self-contained moments, done when they're done. In Paris, each story could have been a short film unto itself; each story begins and ends, and along with the story that was told, you were acutely aware it takes place in Paris. In New York, each story is drawn out into small bits that interweave, though aren't necessarily related. I liked the format for Paris Je T'aime much better. There were a few stories in NYC that I did like - Bradley Cooper jumping into random cabs that would become other stories was kind of a funny bit that linked the stories. And I loved Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach walking to Coney Island chatting away.  Natalie Portman as a devout Jewish woman who works in the diamond district and is about to get married and disappear into the culture was interesting, but didn't really go anywhere. Overall, it definitely didn't live up to Paris, but New York, I Love You could stand on it own as a decent film. 3 of 5 stars/lambs (4.5 for Paris)

Paper Heart: Not my kind of funny

There are movies that you know the right kind of person would find hilarious, that you can see would make a whole bunch of people laugh, even if it's not the kind of thing you find interesting or particularly funny. Paper Heart is one of those movies. Charlyne Yi - I remembered her most from Knocked Up - drives this mockumentary about a real topic, whether Yi can understand love. She travels with a film crew and interviews people in Vegas and then around the country about love, what it means to them, how to find it, how to keep it, etc. She also interviews her friends about whether or not she's capable of love. This was the first place the movie lost me - all her friends are pretty famous and mostly from the cast of Knocked Up. That seemed odd. Then she meets Michael Cera (comedic genius/one-note monkey?) and they hit it off and start dating. This also happened in real life, so it's hard to figure out what they're mocking and what is real. The best part of the movie is the new ending they put together using a moving diorama like we made in middle school. It's hilarious and worth making it through the film. The rest of it is ho-hum and not really my sense of humor, but I can appreciate that it's potentially really funny (I also didn't like Best in Show, which I'm told is very funny). 2.5 lambs/stars

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Edge of Love: Review

I don't recall having seen this movie advertised in theaters or publicized much, and that really should have been a clue that it wasn't for me. Also, I'm not a big fan of Kiera Knightly (though she's becoming a better actress, slowly) and don't like Sienna Miller at all. The reason I saw it is because of the guys: Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys (from Brothers & Sisters). Rhys plays poet Dylan Thomas and is married to Miller, but lost his virginity to Knightly back in Wales. They're all in London now trying to survive the Blitz, and Knightly meets soldier-boy Murphy and they "fall in love and get married". That's in quotes because it's what is supposed to happen, but Knightly's only marrying him to spite Rhys whom she can't have. There's lots of drama. Rhys has been put to work, because he's a poet, making propaganda films for the military. He hates his job and makes it clear to everyone around him that it's beneath his talent (which hasn't really become too famous yet). Miller is a nut-job crazy woman who is jealous and mean but then totally loving, and cheats with other men. Since Rhys is in love with Knightly anyway, he doesn't much care that his wife is skanky. However, once Knightly gets pregnant (on her wedding night) she returns with the crazy Thomases to Wales. They wait out the war barely scrapping by, but Miller is making money off being skanky now, and since everyone gets to eat no one pays attention. We see glimpses of the atrocities Murphy is going through, that make him crazy when he gets home. Lots more fighting ensues, with some crazy violence, but all ends fine as we know it must because Dylan Thomas is a famous poet. Apparently the war gave him lots of things to write about later. The movie is not good. All except Murphy are supposed to have Welsh accents, and only Rhys (because he actually is Welsh by birth) can carry it off. Knightly can't about 80% of the time, you totally forget she's supposed to be a childhood friend of Rhys because she has a British accent and he doesn't. And Miller brings in her odd American twang from time to time, but she does a better job maintaining the Welsh. The acting is fine, but the script really just goes in circles of odd love pairings to the point where you're sure the writers just wanted Knightly and Miller to get it on. Not worth your time. If you're surfing the Netflix Watch Instantly, check out Botany of Desire instead and you'll have a more pleasant 90 minutes. 2 of 5 stars/lambs

Who knew ABC would win?

I watch a lot of TV. If you're a regular reader of my blog you can attest to my love for TV. I had an odd thought the other day wondering which network I watch the most. To explain why my odd thought occurred, I was explaining to someone that In Plain Sight was returning to USA (Wednesdays at 10) and thought, "Wow, I really like the shows on USA, I bet that's the channel I watch the most," but of course it isn't, so here are the tallies:

ABC: Castle, Lost, Cougar Town, Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters

AMC: Mad Men

CBS: How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, CSI: Miami, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, Numb3rs

Fox: Human Target, Bones, Fringe, Glee

Fx: Damages, Justified (both are new additions to my own watching pattern)

Lifetime: Project Runway, Drop Dead Diva

NBC: Chuck, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights

TNT: Saving Grace, The Closer

USA: In Plain Sight, Royal Pains, Burn Notice, Psych (which might be over soon), White Collar,
used to watch Monk, but that just ended for good

So I guess ABC is the winner. I actually found that surprising, but some of them are my favorite shows. Also ABC has the best online viewing after the fact. Hulu is good for NBC and Fox, but CBS is abysmal. I think what I like about the shows on USA over the other channels is that since so few people I know also watch them, it kinda feels like they're shows just for me. I'm sure more people watch them (or they wouldn't be in multiple seasons) but they're not really part of the zeitgeist or appointment TV so I don't have to forgo something else to watch them. As always, I'm sure I forgot something good that will return in the not too distant future. As you can tell, I don't watch much reality TV, mostly just Project Runway. However, thanks to the Demented Encyclopedia podcast and the Blog Cabins Survivor updates, I keep track of what's going on. If you feel the need to know what's going on without actually watching the shows, check them out.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Commentary is good...

I've always enjoyed the comments people post on my blog (except for the few in another language or the spam type of course), but I've never really thought about boosting my comments. A fellow LAMB member is hosting a contest, which I really like, and I thought I'd share something about it, hoping to add Marshall as one of my followers, but we'll see. Here's his scoop at Marshall and the Movies

If you leave a thoughtful and relevant comment that contributes to intelligent discussion of movies or any other topic I bring up here, you will be entered into a random drawing for a prize. The more you comment, the better chance you have of winning. My hope is that you will be get in a habit of commenting that extends beyond the end of the contest.

What is the prize? Well…

The winner will receive their choice of one of the 10 Best Picture nominees from 2009.

The drawing will be, as I said earlier, completely random. I’ll probably write notecards for each comment and draw one out of a hat. But, if you are interested in improving your chances, I have a few little ways for you to improve your odds.

Fellow bloggers, if you post a link to this contest on your own blog, I will give you two extra entries.

Non-bloggers and other friends, if you refer a first-time commenter to “Marshall and the Movies” and they mention you by name, I will give you three extra entries.

PS - Yes, I'm totally using this plug as another post to boost my numbers, sue me.

Documentaries: Botany of Desire and Good Hair

I haven't seen a lot of documentaries in the last year. Usually I'll see one or two of the Oscar nominated documentaries, but this year I hadn't seen any. However, in the last couple of weeks, I've seen two. Good Hair is an exploration of all the lengths women, mostly black women, go to in order to have "good hair." Chris Rock decided to discover why his daughters might think they don't have good hair. He interviews famous black people about their own hair, including Al Sharpton, Nia Long, Ice-T, Raven-Symone, and Maya Angelou among others. He also travels to quite a few hair salons and talks to hair stylists about what it takes to have long, smooth hair, what it costs and where the hair comes from. As a blond, white woman I admit, I didn't really have any idea what it took to create different styles of hair. I saw Chris Rock interviewed on Oprah when he was initially promoting the movie and really wanted to see the whole thing. Rock builds the story around a competition between stylists at a huge "hair show" in Atlanta. As a documentary, it builds all the pieces to explain a story with which many people might not be familiar, without condescending to either the audience nor mocking the people he's interviewing. There are a few moments when he's in total disbelief that people will pay thousands of dollars for a weave that must be professionally maintained frequently. At least I'm a little more aware of how much I don't know now that I've seen Good Hair.

Botany of Desire is a documentary based on books and writings by Michael Pollan. Narrated by Frances McDormand, they examine 4 different plants that have been influenced by humans for very different reasons. Pollan wants to flip our perspective on these plants and look at them from the plant point of view and see how these plants, if they were able to have a thought process, were able to force humans to do their bidding. The four plants are apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. Each section is told with a background about where the plant originated, how they developed to fulfill different desires in humans: sweetness, beauty, hallucinations, and nourishment. It's a really interesting documentary told from a unique perspective. I like Michael Pollan's writings so I was already intrigued by the topic, but the depth the documentary reaches is more detailed and easier to understand than some of his books. Also, it's told for a broader audience, without Pollan's strong politics involved. Both are great films that are entertaining, and interesting. 3 of 5 for both

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Last Station review

I actually saw this one in the theater a few weeks ago and with traveling and whatnot, forgot to post my review. And unlike Bright Star, this period piece actually stays with you, and unlike several other historically based movies lately, actually assumes we know very little about the topic and teaches us only what we need to know, without force feeding it. The Last Station is based on the true story of the final days, weeks and months of Leo Tolstoy's life. Christopher Plummer, in his Oscar-nominated performance, plays the author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, who has become the leader of an almost cult-like following that seeks to live life outside of the government and in some sort of harmony. It had little exact explanations of what people in "the movement" wanted, just that worldly possessions were a pretty evil thing, and sharing them with all people would make you a better person. However, he was part of the aristocracy and his wife, Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren in a terrific Oscar nominated performance) was really pissed he was going to give away the rights to his novels, leaving them without income when Leo dies. They have a very volatile relationship, still full of passion and love, but with so much distance in their current beliefs that they can barely interact anymore. Paul Giamatti plays an assistant of Tolstoy's in "the movement" and enlists the help of James McAvoy to spy on them. McAvoy plays a young idealist who just wants to serve "the movement" and doesn't really help Giamatti undermine the Countess, as he hopes to do. However, finally Giamatti, with the help of one of Tolstoy's daughters, convinces Leo to flee to live out his life according to the simple tenets of "the movement". Sadly, he's old and sick, and only makes it to a railroad station when he can't make it any further. His love for Sofya comes out in his dying ramblings, and they are reunited as he's dying.

It's a really interesting movie, and told with beauty and restraint. The violent fights between Plummer and Mirren have absolutely no restraint. They play a couple that has obviously lived and loved for decades and knows what's what in their marriage and inside each other. Their chemistry is amazing, just for the power and presence they command on screen. Giamatti is a perfect weaselly character that he's played (intentionally or not) countless times. You're never sure he wants to totally ruin everything or is just trying to help. McAvoy is all earnestness and hope that this movement he's joining is a good thing and that he can be helpful to it. All the performances are really good, but I was most struck by Kerry Condon who plays McAvoy's love interest who only joined the movement to escape Moscow and be able to eat and live for free, so she doesn't actually believe in everything and makes McAvoy question all his beliefs. McAvoy's real-life wife, Anne-Marie Duff, played Tolstoy's conniving daughter. Odd trivia I thought I'd share. My only complaint about the movie, and it wasn't a small issue, wasn't the fact that all the actors spoke with a British accent (though they're supposed to be Russian) but rather than they used the FULL Russian name EVERY time they addressed anyone. I've been told this is customary in Russia, but hearing them say Lev Nikolayevich every time they spoke to or referred to Tolstoy in an English accent was really distracting. It was a good movie, and if you like period pieces, Russian history, or incredible acting, I recommend this movie. 3.5 Lambs/Stars

Happy Easter!

I was trying to think of a movie in which Easter is even mentioned, and I couldn't think of very many. I was trying to avoid many of the movies that show the sources of Easter. I'm thinking more of the chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs. The only one I could think of barely mentions Easter, but when you think about it, Easter figures prominently at least twice in Steel Magnolias. Based on a play by the same name (which I saw with Cherry Jones as Dolly Parton's character Truvy), there are 3 main acts: Getting ready for Shelby's wedding (Julia Roberts) which seems to be taking place right around Easter as Truvy has been dying eggs to send to the church get hidden. Weezer smashes them in the trunk when her dog gets scared and runs away. The second act is when Shelby has returned, and though diabetic and advised against it, has decided to have a child. The third act (spoiler, but this movie is several decades old at this point) is when Shelby dies and it's several months after the funeral we see her son playing at the Easter egg hunt with all the other main characters. I think the colors and the fact it takes place in spring always makes that last scene seem a little less sad, even though I'm usually still crying. That and Dolly Parton squealing, "I'm a chain" always makes me giggle.

Anyway, there's your Easter movie. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Brothers: Review

I've always liked Natalie Portman, so I knew I had to see Brothers, even though the subject wasn't really one I was interested in watching. One of my big pet peeves with movies is when a movie is marketed as one genre, but really falls into another, or usually not into one at all. The previews for Brothers made it seem like Natalie and Tobey Maguire were married, he went off to war, is presumed dead and she takes up with his brother, ne'erdowell Jake Gyllenhaal. While the basics of that summary are true, the movie is mostly two different stories that intersect toward the end: one following Maguire as he suffers being a POW and then suffers the trauma again when he returns and a second story following a widow trying to come to terms with the loss of her husband and raising her girls alone, but with the help of her good friend and former brother-in-law. About halfway through the movie I was thinking, "wow, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal have absolutely no chemistry, this is going to make it hard to believe they fall in love like the previews suggest". However, their relationship was perfectly constructed, platonic love, fraternal, friendly, and nothing more. The previews make it look like they fell in love because the first story line needs to intersect theirs when Maguire returns home, and the filmmakers chose paranoia about his wife and brother getting it on as his form of coping/PTSD symptom. Until the two story lines are forced to interact, the movie is really good. Maguire is a crazed victim of his captors and can't cope with what they forced him to do and the constant torture (short glimpses of this or the movie wouldn't be tolerable) and we see him fall apart during his captivity from a strong marine to a broken man. In the other story we see Portman and Gyllenhaal lean on each other to cope with the loss, rebuilding their lives and helping the little girls deal with life moving on. The ending seems overly constructed and overly dramatic to allow all the characters to be really emotional, but actually loses the dramatic push the movie was building up to throughout. Good, but not great movie. I'm not sure how they should have marketed the film to make it seem more like a soldier's survival story rather than a love-triangle gone wrong, but it would have been easier to have enjoyed the movie without the incorrect preconceptions I had from the previews. 2 of 5 stars/lambs

Really short term goal...

I was inspired by Rachel over at Rachel's Reel Reviews to check out when my own blogiversary would occur and how close I would be to reaching some sort of round number. Well, it turns out Rachel and I might be kindred spirits (though not usually in movie taste) in wanting to blog as the 3 year anniversary of Insight Into Entertainment will be on April 10!!! Also, I'm at 392 posts, so I will attempt to hit 400 posts in the next week. Wish me luck!