Monday, May 31, 2010

Musical Mondays!

Because of the holiday, Musical Mondays will return next week.  In the meantime, check out the blog-a-thon over at Encore's World of Film and TV.  A bunch of people wrote posts and submitted them to be included in the blog-a-thon.  Check it out here.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sex and the City 2: Review (Spoilers)

I have a great big, "I told you so coming" from all the people who didn't think the new Sex and the City 2 movie would be good.  I really liked the first movie, and of course the series was terrific so I assumed they'd just do a bit more of the same - focusing on a different character than the previous movie, possibly Charlotte dealing with motherhood, Miranda dealing with her job and family or possibly bringing in a new man for Samantha.  Okay, they did all of those things, for the first 15 minutes of the movie, resolving the problems in the last 5 minutes of the movie.  The first 15 minutes had a terrifically over the top wedding between Anthony and Stanford (Carrie and Charlotte's best gay guy friends).  Liza Minelli performs the ceremony (the best line - "When this much gay energy is concentrated in one place, Liza manifests") and sings "Single Ladies".  The middle 2 hours of the movie were so dreadful, I almost left the theater.  Since I'm warning you not to see this movie, I'm going to spoil as much as I can.  Samantha is offered a trip to Abu Dhabi to possibly do publicity for a hotel.  She brings the girls with her, they have a lovely hotel, lavish time, and then become stupid, oblivious, racists (well mostly Samantha, but the others aren't much better).  Carrie runs into her ex-Aiden, they kiss and rather than keeping her mouth shut about an anonymous kiss around the world, she tells everyone, making her already tenuous marriage to boring Mr. Big a bit more tenuous.  Meanwhile, Charlotte and Miranda bond over the guilt of motherhood and the inability to be complete or perfect while just being a mom.  Samantha decides to defy both laws, culture, and fairly common decency by getting it on with a guy in Abu Dhabi.  She's arrested and her cushy trip is revoked.  However, Carrie forgot her passport at a store in the spice market, so before they can leave they have to get it back.  Of course the nice shoe store manager still has it, but menopausal Samantha drops her purse and condoms pop out, and she's collecting them in her less than covering clothes and starts to be accosted by Arab men (she is swearing at them, hip thrusting, and yelling about sex).  Two full bhurka covered women bring the girls to safety and reveal that they all wear super fashionable clothes under their bhurkas.   There is almost nothing believable about their trip.  Women this highly educated and professional would hardly expect to be allowed to escape either the laws or the custom of keeping yourself covered in a muslim country, particularly when all the women around them are already doing that.  Yes, Samantha is over the top back home, but I don't think she's dumb enough given that she works in publicity to think she can get away with whatever she wants. 

There are a few funny moments, only in the beginning, particularly at the wedding and when they show us what the girls looked like when they all met years ago (image).  Do not go see this if you liked Sex and the City.  This is like a typical single episode surrounding a really, really bad movie in the middle.  1.5 lambs/stars  The .5 is because the clothes are fun, typically ridiculous, but gorgeous.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why I love Robert Downey, Jr.

It's been a while since I did a Why I love feature, but it seemed fitting with all the exposure Robert Downey, Jr.'s had lately.  I admit I haven't seen even close to all of his work like some other actors, but in all the movies I have seen he's the best part of the movie.  He's honed his wise-ass, articulate kid act into a smart-aleck knowing adult bad-ass.

Soapdish was the first film of his that I always remembered it was him.  He plays a TV soap opera assistant producer in love with one of the stars who won't really give him the time of day.  He's trying to take over the show from Whoopi Goldberg and move his love interest into the lead, forcing Sally Fields' "America's Sweetheart" into the dumps.  Lots of shenanigans take place that he manipulates rather than causes, and when the whole thing comes to a head, he ends up on the losing side of course. When he realizes the beautiful woman he secretly loves is actually a man, his discreet gagging always kills me.  He's funny and smarmy and fast-talking enough to keep him out of trouble.

Another 80s movie that I love to watch him in is Chances Are.  He plays the reincarnated husband of much-older Cybill Shepherd.  He arrives on her doorstep as her daughter's new boyfriend, but they soon figure out he has all the memories of Shepherd's deceased husband and is still in love with her.  Of course lots of secret moments take place as they try to figure out if they're crazy and trying to keep the secret from Shepherd's new husband (a young Ryan O'Neal) and from Downey's girlfriend (a very young Mary Stuart Masterson).  Of course it doesn't quite end happily, but I still like watching it on TV.

I haven't seen Chaplin or Natural Born Killers (I know, I know, I'll get to it).  But he's really good in some really bad movies.  Only You was one of the many vehicles for Marisa Tomei after she won the Oscar for My Cousin Vinny and ended up as one of those cheesy, romantic comedies that always end up as part of a DVD package or in the bargain bin.  That doesn't diminish RDJ's performance though - he tricks her into believing he's someone else so they can stay together and then of course charms her into actually falling in love with him.  It's a silly, over the top movie that gives "chick flicks" a bad name, but he's so much fun to watch it's almost bearable.

Then there are are whole bunch of movies in his career that I've neither seen nor heard of, but I'm sure he's probably pretty good.  I think those were his particularly destructive drug soaked years.  But he appears in a supporting role in Wonder Boys and reminds us he would be terrific if he could keep it together.  He plays Michael Douglas' gay literary agent in town to pressure him to finish his second book.  He doesn't have a lot of screen time or tons of lines, but he brings his insanity to each of them and helps Douglas and Maguire through their pot-smoking weekend.

After Wonder Boys and all the real-life drug issues, I'm guessing it was hard to get a job or people to trust him, and he was offered a terrific part on the hugely popular Ally McBeal.  I remember the year he was on the show and my girlfriends and I would gather each week to watch the show in someone's dorm room and swoon over how amazing his character, Larry Paul, was on the show.  We loved him, and reprofessed our previous love from the 80s and thought, "Hooray, not only is RDJ back,  he's got a terrific job that we can watch weekly".  He played a lawyer with a lot of baggage, like ex-wives and a child, who Ally falls for, finally.  His opening scenes are priceless when Ally bursts into his office which is where her shrink used to work, so she assumes Larry is also a shrink and she tells him her problems.  Larry doesn't let on that he's a lawyer not a shrink and we get to see him give her advice but only as someone who wants to date her later.  Just before the big wedding episode RDJ famously got arrested again for drugs and guns charges which violated previous parole and he was sent back to jail, and along with Ally in TV land, the rest of us were devastated by the loss.

From a career perspective, it might not have been a bad idea to get clean.  He's created some amazing films since leaving Ally.  Many of them I've reviewed after watching them for the first time, including Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Tropic Thunder, Gothika and Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang.  The last two I cannot recommend enough as off-the-beaten-track kinds of movies.  I don't usually watch thrillers (nightmares) and Val Kilmer is enough to turn me off, but I really liked both of these.  Gothika was Halle Berry's vehicle as a psychiatrist who has a crazy spell and ends up as a patient in her own hospital where RDJ is a fellow doc trying to help her figure out what's making her crazy and what happened to her.  It's a good thriller/ghost story/mystery.    And Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is much much funnier than I expected.  RDJ plays a thief accidentally cast in a Hollywood movie.  Rachel's Review is better than my memory will give you.

I can't wait for the next Robert Downey Jr. movie - sequel or not - I'm there.

Friday, May 28, 2010

DVD Roundup: Extraordinary Measures and Adam

I've been spending a lot of time writing my dissertation, and one of the techniques I often use to stay organized is to outline a paper I've already written to be sure it says what I want it to say.  I think Hollywood could learn a lot from this technique - particularly in marketing films.  The trailer is basically an outline for a movie after the movie's been made - hopefully without giving the ending away.  However, trailers often tell a story that has nothing (or very little) to do with the movie they're describing.  I would really have liked to see the movie that the trailer for Extraordinary Measures advertised.  It seemed like somewhere between Medicine Man and Lorenzo's Oil.  Nothing remarkable, but I liked both of those so I figured I'd enjoy this.  However, Extraordinary Measures is a bit more like a fictionalized Sicko, bemoaning the problems of creating new drugs and testing those drugs and ultimately bringing them to market.  Now I'm all for the privately funded research - competition for the big bucks often means drugs can get produced faster, but if it's not for an ailment that will happen to millions of people, it's hardly profitable, and will likely never get far beyond research.  This movie does a pretty good job of explaining that dilemma - how to get research into the medicine cabinet for the highest profit.  Harrison Ford is the curmudgeonly (but surprisingly greedy) researcher and Brendan Fraser is the Harvard Business grad who starts a biotech company to get Ford's drugs to market so his kids can be treated.  That was what I thought a lot of the movie would be about - his kids and what they were going through.  That was kind of a red herring - it's really about the drug industry.  It was not terrible, but fairly boring, none of the characters are well developed or particularly interesting.  Keri Russell as Fraser's wife does the best job of actually acting, and we never even learn the name of the couple's third kid, he's just around.  2 of 5 stars/lambs

The other movie, Adam, was better than advertised.  I read a review in the New York Times quite a long time ago, and when Netflix sent it I'd nearly forgotten about it.  The movie stars Hugh Dancy as the title character, a high functioning man with Asperger's Syndrome in New York City whose life and rigid routine have been upset when his father dies.  He meets Beth (Damages' Rose Byrne) when she moves in upstairs.  Adam is able to work, take care of himself, and interact with people for the most part.  Disruptions from his routine or loud places or people who don't say exactly what they mean make things difficult for him.  However, Rose finds herself falling for his kind nature and intensity.  Beth's life is slowly falling apart - her father's been indicted for business tax fraud and that doesn't end well, and crushes her image of her father.  Adams loses his job, and is forced to find another so he won't have to move out of his apartment.  Beth helps him practice all the skills he lacks due to the Asperger's for having a good interview - eye contact, hand shakes and greetings, not to talk too much, when to recognize when people aren't interested anymore, etc.  Asperger's means he cannot interpret other people's emotions - he lacks empathy, though if a situation is explained to him, he can have lots of sympathy, he just can't put himself in other people's shoes (nor understand what the idiom means in the first place - why would you want to put on someone else's shoes?).  I thought the storytelling was really similar to last year's (500) Days of Summer in that things work out differently than you expect they might, it's not a happy ending, but it's not sad either.  Though, also like Summer, the indie vibe it gives off isn't boring or pretentious.   Great acting by both Dancy and Byrne (though she occasionally falls into her droopy-eyed moments that she milks in Damages).  Peter Gallagher is perfectly cast as her smarmy father too.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost: finale!

Sorry, I can't post the Monday musical today because I must write about the finale of Lost that aired last night.  Yes, there are spoilers after the first paragraph so if you actually care about seeing it fresh, skip the rest of this post.  I don't think I caught the first season live, I think I caught it on DVD later, and then watched the rest live.  I haven't always loved it and there were definitely episodes I didn't pay any attention to and I would never say I've understood an entire episode, but I have to say, the finale did give me a lot of closure.   I enjoyed it; I think I kind of understand what happened; and it didn't piss me off or leave me feeling like a movie needs to be made to give me more of these characters.   This review is not for the casual watcher - there are too many things to explain and very few make sense, so only if you watched it and want my take on what happened will this make sense. - Jess

So on Tuesday we saw that Jack had become the new Jacob - which I think means something like Jack had been assigned the duty of making sure that evil (Locke) doesn't escape the island and take over the world, and that Jack had to protect the light - the good - from Locke.   The sub had been blown up, but there's still a plane that can take people off the island.  So most of them are trying to get to the other island.  Miles finds Richard in the forest where Locke left him to die, and they head for the plane.  While traveling by dugout canoe they find Lapidus in the water (Rachel, he wasn't dead, who knew?!) and they realize now they can actually fly the plane.  Meanwhile, Locke has returned with Ben to find the well where they dumped Desmond.  He's gone, but they follow some dog tracks (yes, Vincent lives) to a hut where Rose and Bernard have been happily existing this whole time.  I actually always liked them, kinda calm and relaxed people among the crazy.  Dez swaps his life for Rose and Bernard and leaves with Locke and Ben.  I don't remember how, but somehow Locke, Ben, and Dez meet up with Jack, Sawyer, Hurley, and Kate at the pool of light.  Jack's decided he'll let Locke do what he wants and then kill Locke afterward.  This is where it doesn't make much sense.  Dez goes down the light waterfall, moves a stone, and the light goes out and earthquakes start (presumably to send the island to the bottom of the ocean).  This makes Locke mortal - no longer a smoke monster.  Thus, when he and Jack fight, even though he stabs Jack in the gut and in the neck, Jack still manages to kill him.  However, the island is having earthquakes and Jack realizes he has to put the stone back to make the light come back.  Sawyer and Kate have left to catch the plane, but Hurley and Ben go help Jack go down the light waterfall.  Because he knows it'll kill him, Jack anoints Hurley to take his place (become the new protector), and Hurley makes Ben his #2.   Jack goes down, moves the stone, saves Desmond, and basically dies.  We also see the plane take off with Kate, Sawyer, Miles, Richard, and Lapidus.  The End of life on the island.  All's well that ends well.

Meanwhile, in the sideways world (where the plane didn't crash), Dez, who has remembered what happened on the island and become enlightened and enlightened Hurley are trying to enlighten everyone else.  They broke Kate and Sayid out of jail, and now Kate is attending a party with Claire and Dez that Charlie and Daniel Faraday are playing (backstage Daniel and Charlotte meet for the first time and sense a connection).  Claire goes into labor and Kate helps her deliver the baby, just like on the island, and they both become enlightened - which seems to mean they're very happy and remembering all the good stuff that brought them together in the past.  Charlie arrives after the birth and the deja vu hits him and he becomes enlightened.  Jin and Sun are in the hospital and it turns out Juliette is their baby doctor (oh, and the mother of Jack's son - Rachel, you called it), and seeing the baby on the monitor with Juliette enlightens Sun, and Jin realizes he loves his wife and he's enlightened.  Also, it means they both remember how to speak English - very fast Rosetta stone, like "the intersect" on Chuck.  Sawyer and Juliette run into each other and their witty banter brings them back to the island and they're enlightened.  Hurley's been driving around trying to find Shannon and Boone, and when Sayid goes to help Shannon, they're enlightened and remember they were in love (until Shannon was shot).  Oh yeah, Jack operated on Locke's broken back, and when Locke gets the feeling back in his feet, he becomes enlightened.  So only Jack is left.  He goes to the party where Claire had her baby, and runs into Kate.  He sees images of their love, but isn't yet enlightened.  She brings him to this church where his father's body has been brought.  He goes inside, and the coffin is empty, but it enlightens Jack some more.  His father appears and explains to him that he's dead - and that at some point everyone is, some before you, some after.  Slow that I am, I finally realized all the images around them are from all the religions - crucifixes, menorah, moon and stars, etc.  Basically, the Lost creators were trying to be all-encompassing in their finale, but it definitely left out atheists.  I think they were trying to say that the sideways world was "heaven/nirvana/afterlife place" where you went to learn things about your life and connect with the people from the most powerful parts of your life.  When you are enlightened, it will all come together and that will be the end.  It kind of worked that way.  I like it because they did a good job making all the nice moments of the series, the love, the triumph, adventure, etc. become the most important parts.   Basically, it is better to have loved and "lost" than never to have loved at all because eventually everything comes back to you, even if you're dead.  Trite, maybe, but maybe just cheesy.  I'll have to wait to read more commentary to find out if I'm even close.  But that's my best guess.  I wasn't blown away, it was confusing, and took some time to digest, but overall I liked it.

PS - If you can, watch some of the alternate endings they did on Jimmy Kimmel last night too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stories of Coco Chanel: Two reviews

In the past 2 years there have been as many adaptations of the life of fashion designer and icon "Coco" Chanel.  One, a Lifetime movie Coco Chanel, starring Shirley MacLaine as Coco in her later years and Barbora Bobulova as the young Coco.  The second, Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel), is a French language film and stars Audry Tautou as Coco the whole time.  Both stories describe her early days as a seamstress by day and cabaret/saloon singer at night in the turn of the century in France.  She decides the only way to overcome her humble beginnings (she was dropped off with her sister for the nuns to raise after her mom died) is to become a mistress to a wealthy aristocratic man.  She meets girlfriends of her lover and they love the hats she makes.  She starts working harder, making hats and becoming better known for it, as well as the clothes and style she wears herself.  It's more of a mens-wear inspired fashion (the Tautou version show's her cutting up men's shirts to sew into her dresses to change the look) and wears pants and looser fitting clothes without corsets.  She eventually falls in love with a guy named Boy, who can't marry her, but he helps set her up with her own stores and her fashion ideas increase. ** Spoiler -  Eventually Boy is killed in a car crash - End Spoiler ** and yada, yada, yada, she becomes Coco Chanel.  That's the story told by both versions.  The Tautou story ends there with a quick look at her much later watching her own fashion go down the stairs at her couture house (also an image repeated in the MacLaine version).

However, I thought the MacLaine version superior because it doesn't just give us a short glimpse into the salty beginnings of a legend, but alternates with her at the end of her career, after she's becoming a household name with the suits and the little black dress.  Tautou is good, as the moody, determined, ambitious Coco, but we see very little of her inspiration and why she bothers to become a fashionista.  Bobulova does a better job making it clear she was mining one of the few avenues open to women and using the only skills she possessed besides her body.  They show how her style evolved, and why she went the directions she chose (expensive fabric wasn't available during the war years so she wanted to make clothes women could afford and replicate - jersey became fashionable and corsets were done).   

However, both films fail to give a clear picture of the woman.  Wikipedia adds a lot more about her involvement with both sides during WWII, and her decline as a French designer due to perceived collaborations with the Nazis, and her fan base switching to British and American audiences.  She also had affairs with many famous people, and I guess a new film opened at Cannes last year about her time with Igor Stravinsky, but it's not on DVD yet.  Both are good films, but whitewash a much more complicated woman.  If you're only going to watch one of these, I'd watch Coco Chanel for the more interesting characters.  Coco Avant Chanel - 3 stars/lambs, Coco Chanel - 4 stars/lambs

Monday, May 17, 2010

Musical Mondays! RENT

First and foremost, Rent is a Broadway musical.  I was really excited when I heard they were bringing this Pulitzer-prize winning show to the big screen, but nervous because I wasn't sure how it would work.  Would they just do a filmed version on the stage, or actually make it a legitimate film.  They found a good middle ground, taking the elements of staging and movement from the stage, but incorporating elements that are only possible on film, such as dream sequences, memories, etc. while the music was going on.  Rent is a rock opera, which usually means all the dialogue is sung, between actual songs.  For the film, they took some of the dialogue-type music and made it a spoken rather than sung, though not for everything thank goodness or it would have lost some of the characteristic charm of the stage production. The biggest thrill for seeing the film is that they used nearly the entire original cast (Rosario Dawson replaced an actress who was pregnant, though possibly also for big-name status).

In case you missed this phenomenon in the late 90s, here's a sum up of the story.  Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal) are roommates on the lower east side of Manhattan called Alphabet City (the avenues in that section are no longer numbered like 5th Avenue, but become Avenue A, B, C, D) in 1989, Christmas Eve.  Roger has HIV and wants to write a song he'll be remembered for ("One Song, Glory"), and Mark is an aspiring documentary filmmaker.  Their former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs) wants to collect their rent since he just bought their building and some others ("Rent").  In exchange for deferred rent, he wants them to shut down a protest that's brewing against the neighborhood changes, organized by Mark's ex, drama queen Maureen (Idina Menzel).  Maureen's new girlfriend, Joanne (Tracie Thoms) can't get the sound equipment set up for the concert, and Mark shows up and they lament dating Maureen ("Tango Maureen").  Another former roommate, Collins (Jesse L. Martin) and his new "girlfriend" Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) - both HIV+ -  arrive to help out.  To get everyone out of the apartments, Benny cuts the power, and neighbor Mimi (Rosario Dawson) goes to ask Roger to help her ("Light My Candle" - my favorite song when I first saw it).  The protest goes off well ("Over the Moon") and Mark sells his footage of it to the news.  Roger and Mimi also realize they're both HIV+ and that they can make it work (.  The end of the first act is the best scene of the whole show "La Vie Boheme", where the whole group sings about the bohemian life they lead, open minded, with lots of cultural and pop references (here are the lyrics).  The movie then does a  bit of a good cheat, with music overlaying some fun images of the week between Christmas and New Year's.  The second act has more problems, with Angel getting sick and dying ("I'll cover you"), and Roger going away to write his song, and Mimi and Benny getting together, and Joanne and Maureen getting engaged (different from the play) and then breaking up ("Take Me or Leave Me").  Meanwhile, Mark has 'sold his soul' to take a job for a sleazy TV show, working for Sarah Silverman's Alexi Darling.  It's a really small part, but she brings a non-entity on stage to life well.  Even though it's a story about coming of age in a time of AIDS, poverty, violence, gay and straight, and all, it's still a Broadway musical, and things work out pretty well by the end.  The final song in the play is "Seasons of Love", but the movie puts it right at the beginning, and not as part of the movie, just all the characters standing in their own spotlights, in costume, on stage singing.  The music is revived at the end of the movie while they watch Mark's documentary about them all over the past year.   The movie does a good job bringing it to life a brilliant play and musical without losing the feel of the original work.  Also, having the original cast makes the voices really familiar if you're only familiar with the soundtrack.  I loved the play - I saw it my sophomore year of college on Broadway, then again my senior year, and once since college.  And I watch the movie now at least annually to be reminded of the overarching messages the music provides, which became the tagline for the film: "No Day But Today", meaning you never know what's going to claim you in the future, live for today.  Stage version 5+ of 5 stars, film 4.5 of 5 stars for it's originality at bringing a stage play to the screen.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My first guest post!!

Just thought I'd share this fun news.  An article I wrote about The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus was reprinted over at Movie Fanfare.  Check it out here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Serious Man: Review

I was raised Catholic, and have a strong understanding of my own faith (if not a belief in it all). Similarly, I have a Jewish godmother, many Jewish friends, and dated a Jewish guy for a long time. So I didn't have the same problems with all the Jewish inside jokes that many reviewers seem to have had with the movie. Many assumed that if they understood all the inside references, they would have liked the movie better. I doubt it. Perhaps they were saying all the jokes in Hebrew or Yiddish, so I didn't get any of those, but I doubt that too. As a movie, it has certain good qualities, the story has many different characters that are likeable and unlikeable. I liked the antihero - Larry Gropnik, and thought the actor did a terrific job avoiding falling into the insane depths of despair his character had the right to do given the hardships he's going through. The story doesn't actually tell a very interesting story, though it has some themes that resonated with me. The story is basically, Gropnik's wife wants a divorce, his daughter's stealing from him, his son's a moron about to be bar mitzfahed, one of his student's is bribing him, one of his neighbor's a jerk, the other is a sexpot. Basically, nothing particularly original or interesting. The theme that I liked was the idea of "doing nothing". His marriage fell apart because he didn't do anything. He won't get tenure because he didn't do anything. He is slowly losing his land to his neighbor because he doesn't do anything. Basically, the movie seems to be saying that it's important to take an interest in your life and that just coasting through won't get you the life you'd like. As with most Coen Brothers movies, they don't hit you in the face with anything in particular, and this movie does very little as well. I didn't like it, and think the people who thought it was hilarious are crazy. Okay, there were a few moments when Gropnik is seeking advice from an odd assortment of rabbis that were humorous. Hardly redeeming. 2 of 5 stars/lambs
However, if you'd like to read a funny review of this movie, check out Fletch's at Blog Cabins

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Death at a Funeral: Redux

Rachel over at Rachel's Reel Reviews has been using a technique in her posts lately that lets you know what she's really thinking.  In an homage (not stealing, homage, really) to her, I'm going to do the same for my review of a remake of an recently made British movie, now an American movie, Death at a Funeral.   Hopefully this will illustrate how similar the two really are.   Below is the exact review I wrote for the British version, with some edits.  A few extra actor names were added that I didn't bother with in the original.

A British farce that's centered around the death of a patriarch. The two sons have returned to bury their father. The elder, Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) Aaron (Chris Rock), lives in the family home with his fiancee, and the other, Robert Ryan (Martin Lawrence), is a successful author living in New York. Daniel Aaron is distraught and trying to figure out how to eulogize his father, while everyone arriving is disappointed that Robert Ryan won't be doing the eulogy. Their cousins arrive, one (Tracy Morgan) complainingly bringing Uncle Alfie Russell (Danny Glover) in his wheelchair, and the other (Zoe Saldana) bringing her fiancee (Alan Tudyk James Marsden) to introduce to her father. They stop to pick up her drug-dealing brother (Kris Marshall Columbus Short - from The Losers) on the way, and a mix-up in drug bottles occurs. Ultimately, Alan Tudyk James Marsden ends up really high on ecstasy, convinces people the coffin is moving, and then ends up naked on the roof. Peter Dinklage (yes, he's in both) shows up to blackmail the brothers with photos of him and their father in compromising positions. They fight with Dinklage, who is hysterical fighting for his rights to the inheritance and he ends up in the coffin. I won't give away the rest, and believe me there's a lot more and it's a constant chase between scenes to figure out who lives, who dies, and who gets away with what. It's terrific, and I highly recommend checking it out. 4 of 5 stars 3 of 5 stars/lambs

The only thing I would add is that this story so completely works when translated to an African-American cast, taking place in the US, speaks to the universal nature of the story.  All families have problems, and fight, but ultimately drive each other crazy and will definitely help you hide the bodies.  Also, while I LOVE Alan Tudyk, I think James Marsden was the funniest thing in the new movie (In the photo, he's listening to the fern sing).  His portrayal of a guy high on a hallucinogen was hysterical.  His facial expressions and elasticity could rival Jim Carrey at his best.  Also, I was nervous that Tracy Morgan would just be the mumbling buffoon he plays on TV, but someone made him enunciate and it actually improved his acting immeasurably.  Good, but not great, though if you haven't see the original, it's so similar you'd probably give it the 4 I gave the other one.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Musical Mondays! NINE

This will likely be the newest musical I review for this feature, but as I just saw it, and would review it anyway, and it's a musical, this seems appropriate.  Nine is based on the stage musical from a few years ago, which was in turn loosely based on the film 8 1/2 by Fellini.  I've never seen the stage version, and I have seen very few Fellini films, and not 8 1/2.  So I went into this film based solely on the strength of the cast and director.  Rob Marshall did a terrific job bringing Chicago to the screen (that will be reviewed soon), so I had high hopes for this.  As it never came to my local theater, I had to wait for Netflix.  However, I'd heard the many unhappy reviews, but took them with a grain of salt given my higher-than-usual tolerance for musicals.  My mom used to say a good measure of a quality musical is whether you leave the theater humming the tunes.  While I did get some of the songs stuck in my head for the evening, Nine was disappointing. 

We meet Guido Contini (a whiny unsympathetic Daniel Day-Lewis), a maestro of Italian cinema in the 1960s.  He's tortured by lack of inspiration for his new film, and seeks it from the many women in high life.  The movie is mostly about the women, and for that I did enjoy it, but they too are kinda whiny and needy.  Most of the story is told through Guido's remembered fantasies about these women.  The ones who weren't were the ones I liked best: Judi Dench and FergiDench plays Guido's long suffering costumer.  She talks about her start at the Paris nightspot the Folies Bergere.  She tries to keep Guido in line and get his movies made the way he wants them.  A great big sister.  Fergie (from the Black Eyed Peas) plays the whore who Guido met as a child who gave him and his friends a bit of a show and told them how to treat women.  Her song was easily my favorite, and definitely the best sung song of the bunch.  Her voice and raunchy dance number, "Be Italian", were really terrific.  The rest of the women also each sing a song about their relationship with Guido - Marion Cotillard as his wife, Penelope Cruz (in an oddly Oscar nominated role) as his mistress, Sophia Loren as his deceased mother, Nicole Kidman as the actress from his movies, and Kate Hudson as a journalist interviewing him.  All the musical numbers were performed in Guido's head and on the same stage (save one song by his wife) and the sets did invoke the crazy unfinished nature of Guido's mind.  The costumes were also terrific, and I'm surprised weren't even nominated for an Oscar.  Overall, the movie didn't live up to my hopes, and didn't live up to the incredible cast.  Personally, I blame it on Day-Lewis being improperly cast - somehow I sense another actor could pull it off better.  I think Raul Julia and Antonio Bandares played it on Broadway, and that seems like better casting.  2.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Release: Iron Man 2

I won't bore you all with a long review of Iron Man 2, as almost everyone reading this review will already have seen it.  So I'll skip right to what I liked and what I didn't. 

  1. The fight scene with Jon Favreau
  2. Scarlett Johannson as the bad ass who helps save the day (her role in the next installment should be more substantial, though then I probably won't like her as much)
  3. The aside at the beginning when Don Cheadle arrives and says, "I'm here, it's me, get over it" as a small nod to the fact that he replaced Terrance Howard.  I thought he did a good job, particularly when he got his own suit.  He learned to fly it awfully fast. 
  4. Stan Lee as Larry King
  5. The effects were good, and inventive, without being totally over-the-top-sequel-esque. 
  6. RDJ was good playing the self-destructive/self-pitying guy, but it went on too long. 

  1. While the dialogue was good, they spent way too much time talking/fighting over each other.  Normally that kind of banter from RDJ is terrific, but it was hard to get all the jokes and to figure out what was going on.  It was usually 2+ people talking almost all the time.  
  2. Mickey Rourke's affinity for birds.  Change it to a chihuahua and it would have been watching cuckoo Mickey Rourke playing himself (though with crazy physics skills)
  3. Too long, a large chunk of the middle could have been chopped down. 
  4. I would have liked more explanation of who the heck Nick Fury was and how he knew Stark Sr.
  5. Sam Rockwell is wholly unbelievable as any part of the character he was playing.  Just Sam Rockwell playing himself again? 

Overall, the good outweighed the bad, and it was entertaining. A good stand alone movie, not dependent on the original, and broke new ground, but as with many sequels that already plan to be a trilogy, it spent too long setting up the next film.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Friday Night Lights is coming back, get ready!

Friday, May 7 at 8pm on NBC, the fourth season of Friday Night Lights will begin its run anew.  With the deal between DirectTV and NBC, we got a bonus 2 seasons of FNL, and it was worth every penny.  Taking advantage of my dad's DirectTV subscription, I've already seen and LOVED season 4.  The first season was amazing, introducing characters and stories that were some of the best on TV.  Definitely was the introduction of the most function marriage on television in a long time.  Season 2 went off the rails a bit with the whole Landry/Tyra murder story.  Season 3 brought us our first villains with the McCoys (JD and his dad).  Now in Season 4, our beloved coach has been fired from the Dillon Panthers, but hired at the new East Dillon High to coach the Lions.  The field is a joke compared to the turf the Pathers played on.  There are no boosters to speak of, and the strength of the team is fairly limited.  We get to meet some wonderful new characters and catch up with some old ones.  I can't wait to watch it all again.   Michael B. Jordan (pictured), from the terrific season 4 of The Wire, is a new player on the Lions, trying to escape his legal troubles by turning his life around.  You can always trust FNL not to be cliched or overly dramatic, and they tell his story really well.  Jurnee Smollett plays a cheerleader at East Dillon who used to date Jordan, but now finds my fav Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) intriguing.  I won't tell you which characters return and which ones don't, but just trust the show will still be awesome. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Losers: Review

There weren't a lot of options for movie viewing this past weekend, and I'll admit, my love for The Wire is what lead me towards The Losers knowing Idris Elba was in it. He had a small part, but still brought his A game. The Losers, I have since learned, is based on a comic book, which explains a lot of the graphics and some of the shots throughout the film. However, if you didn't know it was based on a comic, it doesn't matter to the movie at all. It's a campy, exciting, action movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan leads a military unit with Elba, Chris Evans (this movie convinced me he will be a great Captain America), and two lesser known actors, Columbus Short (who I really liked on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), and Oscar Jaenada (better known in Spanish language films). They are sent to Bolivia to take out a target but then they become the target. In a fairly odd contrivance, a bunch of kids are killed instead of the team. Figuring they're abandoned, the team gets stuck living in Bolivia without identities or any way to get home. Then Zoe Saldana arrives and hires them to kill the guy who tried kill them - a psychopath named Max (played for laughs and insanity by Jason Patric). She's suspect, but that doesn't stop Morgan from getting it on with her. Elba doesn't like her, but he really wants to get home, and Short has a baby on the way, so he'd really like to get him and tell his wife he's not dead. There's a lot of humor in the various moments when a different guy has to show off his expertise - Evans on computers, Short with transportation, and Jaenada as a sniper. There are lots of shootouts, double crossings, a little bit of mystery and Morgan trying to still be the sexy heart throb he was able to pull off on Grey's Anatomy that I don't think he's been able to duplicate since. Patric plays a terrific psycho bad guy who kills anyone who gets in his way, and that's where a lot of the humor comes from too. Overall, it's not particularly complicated, but it also doesn't try to be more than its source material, not too long, and not too serious. I liked it, and would definitely watch potential sequels (though the box office returns are low enough I doubt there will be any).
3 of 5 stars/lambs

Monday, May 3, 2010

Musical Mondays: Cabaret

Cabaret won 8 Oscars in 1973, including directing for Bob Fosse. It lost out Best Picture to The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppolla got his revenge on Fosse two years later when he and Godfather II beat Fosse who was also nominated for Lenny. Cabaret took Best Actress for Liza Minnelli, Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey, as well as Sound, Music, Cinematography, Editing, and Art Direction. On Broadway, the Kander and Ebb musical also won lots of awards in 1967, including for Joel Grey again, and later Alan Cumming in the 1998 revival.

The story differs only slightly between the stage and film versions. A few songs are added and subtracted, and my personal preference is for the recent revival which combines a bit of both. The movie soundtrack was always my favorite growing up. It was produced at a local theater when I was about 11, and my mom let me go not really realizing how adult the themes can be - adultery, abortion, sex, homosexuality, Nazis, etc.

American Sally Bowles works at a Cabaret in 1931 Berlin. She meets British Brian who rents a room nearby and hopes to teach English to pay his way. The emcee at the Kit Kat Club is the character who links the tumultuous romance between Brian and Sally, and what's happening in real-life Berlin. Brian is staid and proper, and Sally couldn't be more wild. She tries to live a bohemian life, but she really wants a happy secure life but can't seem to behave properly to get it. We see Germany deteriorating and the Nazis picking up their power, and its influence on all of the lives of the characters. Bohemian lifestyles aren't really allowed much in Nazi Germany. Most of the violence is played for laughs on stage in allegory, but interspersed with scenes of real violence. As most movies of the WWII type, nothing ends very well, which generally goes against the rules of previous musical theater. It's a gritty movie that happens to smooth over the roughest edges with song, often in the background or on stage at the club. Liza is wonderful as Sally Bowles. She's flighty, over the top and gets mad when other people tell her she's wrong with the way she's living. Michael York (the future Basil Exposition from Austin Powers) is also great; quietly judging Sally, but secretly wishing he could be more impetuous. And no one beats Joel Grey as the emcee. Alan Cumming and Neil Patrick Harris created their own versions, but Grey really set the standard that no one will ever live up to completely. The video is Cummings at the 1998 Tonys.

The theme of the movie comes from the title song told at the end, but pieces of every song become part of the same central theme. There's very little of a traditional musical theater model that the movie follows in terms of song. There's not really a bad guy - other than the amorphous Nazis - and the heroine isn't really someone worth rooting for when she continuously sabotages herself. "Maybe This Time" is her song about her hopes that life will be different now that she's met a different guy. Nothing's different (she cheats and everything goes down the tubes) - "...everybody loves a winner, so nobody loves me." When Sally meets a rich German guy who wants to date her, she and the emcee sings "Money (Makes the World Go Round)". The emcee sings one of my favorite songs (though I do like quite a few of them), to mock the Nazi hatred of Jews without getting in trouble. "If you could see her" usually has the emcee falling in love someone in a gorilla suit, and he sings "..if you could see her through my eyes, she doesn't look Jewish at all." The emcee gets away with a lot, but does a great job of actually retelling the story going on around him through songs that don't sound nearly as serious as everything actually is. And the final song, "Cabaret" states Sally's feelings perfectly, "what good is sitting alone in your room, come to the cabaret."

If you're trying to see more Oscar type movies, particularly from the 1970s (my own under-watched decade), this makes a great treat, whether or not you're a fan of musicals.

There is one story line that was completely removed from the movie, that of a quiet love story between the older owner of Sally and Brian's boarding house, Fraulein Schneider and a Jewish owner of a fruit stand, Herr Schultz. Ron Rifkin won the Tony for playing Herr Schultz on Broadway. Their story is sweet and shows a very non-bohemian effect of the Nazi terror toward Jews.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

DVD Round up: The Informant! and The September Issue

I've been accused many times of being a soft critic. Yes, it's true, I can usually find something to like in most movies. However, the real reason is that I tend to see movies I think I will like (particularly if I have to pay for the ticket). And second, I often don't bother to review movies I didn't like. And even less often do I bother reviewing movies I find meh. But to round out my reviewing a bit, here are two that had things to like, but overall didn't rise to the level of review-worthy.

The Informant! was the Matt Damon vehicle last fall that got him quite a few nominations or at least attention. And he was worthy of attention. He spent the whole movie spinning his heels trying to drive the thing forward. It is "based on a true story" and not having heard of the scandal they discuss throughout the film, it was as much fiction as fact to me. Damon works for a chemical company that he knows has been fixing prices with the Japanese. He reaches out to the FBI (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) who has him tape conversations about the illegal activity. However, after the whistle is blown, Damon thinks he'll get to run the company once the bad guys are taken away. Then they find out he's been taking kick-backs and bribes. Damon is an odd, odd character. He's delusional about how the FBI will work for his benefit, obviously smart enough to make lots of money and hide most of it. He forges signatures and gets caught, so the original FBI agents get in trouble for not properly checking into the guy they're basing their whole case upon. It's a movie that you hope will provide dividends once you figure out what's really going on, but you never do. Directed by Steven Soderburgh, you can feel the same clouded mystery and humor as the Ocean's movies, but as nothing actually develops and Damon's character isn't nearly as charming or compelling as Danny Ocean, this movie doesn't really go anywhere. It can't seem to decide if it's a drama or a comedy and doesn't really do a good job at either. I did like Melanie Lynsky as Damon's wife, always agreeing with his crazy ideas and helping him keep it together. 2 lambs/stars

The September Issue is a documentary about the biggest issue of Vogue ever produced, September 2007. It follows editor in chief Anna Wintour and creative director Grace Coddington as they put together a huge issue. Grace sets up photo shoots, designs the look of each, puts together the fashion within each, and then Anna cuts out tons of her hard work deciding what actually goes into the issue. There are a few fun scenes to watch as they go to fashion shows and help Sienna Miller do the cover shoot in Rome. But overall, it wasn't anything particularly innovative. It does show Anna Wintour as a real person who doesn't usually wear dark glasses, who has children who are proud of her, and she can smile and laugh, but that she's really good at her job for a reason, she's got skills. Grace Coddington was fun to watch prepping all of her things. She showed real pride in her work, and also worked from an incredibly creative point of view (though, for someone who used to be a model and works in fashion, her hair was a disaster). However, if you've seen The Devil Wears Prada, Ugly Betty or Project Runway, it didn't really tell you anything new about how they work, minus the drama of course. What do they do with designers, how they think up some of their ideas, what they use for inspiration, what it all costs, where they get to go for work, etc. A very cut and dry documentary following around people who work really hard. 2 stars