Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Releases: Salt and The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The offerings at the average cinema have not been particularly exciting so far this summer.  Art houses, maybe, but not wide releases so much.  However, I ventured out to see a few I had a vague interest in seeing, and thankfully wasn't disappointed.  Salt was a good action thriller with a fairly interesting (and ironically timely) twist.  The Sorcerer's Apprentice was entertaining, and as campy as expected.  Some movies are good merely because they exceed expectations (see Get Him to the Greek) and some are good when they are basically exactly what the trailer told you they would be, with some originality thrown in.

Salt stars Angelina Jolie as a CIA agent who is exposed as a Russian sleeper agent.  We saw from the previews all that she does to deny this, going on the run, trying to find her husband, etc.  However, what they don't tell you in the preview and I'm going to ruin now **spoilers** is that she actually IS a Russian sleeper agent, inserted into the US as a child who is brainwashed to grow up to be part of the CIA (as if that's an easily achievable goal) and then when "triggered" go on a rampage with other sleeper agents and destroy the US for the benefit of Mother Russia.  The children are chosen and inserted during the Cold War, and the movie doesn't really explain why they're even triggered in the first place since the Cold War ended.  I think they were trying to pretend the people in charge were actually terrorists, but that part doesn't get clear.  While Salt does a good job of the thriller, escape and capture over and over, all the characters are fairly shallow and there isn't enough back story.  It did remind me of The Hunt for Red October minus the submarines, but that might have just been because the US is once again fighting the Russians, though October had much better characters and depth of story.  Jolie did a good job, once again, as the bad-ass superhero/villian.  Liev Schrieber was also good as her CIA partner who has a lot of secrets of his own.  The only character will an actual arc of good acting is Chiwetel Ejiofor, though for the first half he's basically playing the exact same character as in Serenity, a guy searching for someone and being bad-ass and single minded about it.  So other than shallow characters, the story was interesting, and action was terrific.  Overall a 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

The Sorcerer's Apprentice was kind of a campy cross between Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  There's a kid (Jay Baruchel doing a better version of his shtick from Almost Famous as the Zeppelin fan and not quite as good as his character from Tropic Thunder) who is destined to be a master of the fantastical - in this case The Prime Merlinian (say it out loud and you'll probably get the joke).  He is a sorcerer and the descendant of Merlin, destined to destroy Merlin's nemesis Morgana la Fey who has been trapped in a nesting doll for centuries.  Protecting this doll, former apprentice of Merlin himself and future mentor of the Primer Merlinian, Nic Cage plays Balthazar in all his campy mediocrity.  The movie missed a great opportunity to let Cage run wild with all his a point.   Cage is only mildly funny, and it's usually on purpose, which is too bad.  There's not much to say - like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, he learns just enough to avoid being killed himself, and finds other people to help him out.  I like the National Treasure movies so I was actually looking forward to seeing this, and it was only exactly as advertised.  Alfred Molina does play a pretty impressive bad guy (other of Merlin's other apprentices who turned to Morgana's side) and Toby Kebbell as his new apprentice offers a lot of funny moments making fun of famous "magicians".  Not great, but not terrible either.  3 of 5 stars/lambs

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reel Insight: Episode 7 Paul Rudd!

Searching for a good Star of the Week, we found Paul Rudd.  Rarely leading man material, he's accumulated a career of some hits and misses and we discuss them all.  There's now a tie for the lead in our Quoteable Quotes with some newbies gaining ground.  Still time to take the lead.  You can also check out our Fan Page on Facebook, and if you have comments or answers to the Quotes, e-mail us at

Monday, July 19, 2010

What I learned from Inception

There are all kinds of movies that defy a description.  To say that Inception is Christopher Nolan's movie about a guy who can infiltrate people's dreams to extract secrets on behalf of industrial espionage is like saying the Statue of Liberty is a tall, green, woman who stands on an island in New York City's harbor.  Both are true, but neither description captures the experience of seeing them.  So, to avoid selling it short, I'll just describe what I learned from watching the movie. 

1.  Leonardo DiCaprio's acting skills continue to improve, particularly when his hair doesn't become an issue. 

2. The experience of falling and then startling awake is more universal than I expected. 

3.  Ellen Page has risen above her previous role as a smart-alecky teen.  She can also be a smart-alecky young adult.  Also, she can show emotion and do a great job as DiCaprio's conscience. 

4.  I still love Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  See The Lookout and (500) Days of Summer

5.  Ken Wantanbe was terrific in The Last Samurai (best part of the film) and somehow forgot how to enunciate - I think it missed almost half of his dialogue.

6.  Physics is what keeps us from walking up walls, and that you can't fall in zero gravity, but that an elevator might help.  Seriously, the special effects were terrific, particularly JGL's fight scene, but I think they missed a terrific opportunity for seriously trippy effects. 

7.  Marion Cotillard has added bad-ass to her skills at morose and annoying. 

I really, really liked the movie, I promise.  Imaginative, gripping, mysterious, and thoroughly rewatchable, if only to understand all the things you missed before.  4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Reel Insight Episode 6: Angelina Jolie!

The new episode of Reel Insight is available!  Rachel and I discuss a little Inception and The Kids Are All Right, before heading into a discussion of Angelina Jolie's career.  Check it out and if you know the Quoteable Quotes, send us an e-mail at reelinsight_at_gmail(dot)com.  We love getting comments.  Ideas for future Stars of the Week are welcome too!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New Release: The Kids Are All Right

One of the things I miss most about living in New York City (other than friends and family and City Bakery) is the availability of limited release movies.  A quick trip for work gave me the chance to catch The Kids Are Alright, which was the basis of the Reel Insight podcast a few weeks ago on Julianne Moore, so I was pretty excited.  That and word of mouth and reviews were stellar, and I'm very happy to say it totally lived up to the hype.  A perfect combination of comedy and drama, this movie defies a single genre category.  I'll give you a good description and perhaps someone can give me the best category.  Two women, Nic (Annette Benning) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are in a committed relationship, and have raised two children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (John Hutcherson).  Each mom gave birth to one of the kids, using the same sperm donor, so the kids are half-siblings.  Now Joni is 18, about to head off to college, and Laser convinces her to contact the sperm bank to find out about their biological dad.  It starts off with Laser sort of needing a better male role model, like the dad of his loser friend Clay.  However, once they decide to meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo), it's Joni and Jules who realize they might have been missing something.   Nic is a doctor and supports the family, but is a bit of a control freak.  Jules is more of a free spirit and wants to start her own landscaping business.  Paul, too, is a free spirit who didn't finish college, but now runs his own restaurant and organic farm.  There are 3 major story lines through the movie: Laser's relationship with Clay (which Nic and Jules suspect might be more than friends), Joni's relationship with Paul, blossoming with someone who might be a good role model outside of the rigid life she's led so far, and finally Jules relationship with Paul after he hires her to landscape his yard.  Then the overarching story is what does it mean to be kids in a family with two moms.  Each relationship is filled with humor and drama, as all relationships can be.  I won't describe everything that happens, but will say that there aren't really any spoilers.  It's the kind of movie where the details don't actually spoil the overall story, which can only be experienced as a whole.  One of the funniest moments is when Laser walks in on his parents having sex and watching gay MALE porn.  They sit him down to talk and the only question he has is why they were watching guys.  Nic starts with it's a private thing, but Jules is more practical and says something along the lines of "Lesbian porn tends to be two straight acttresses pretending to be gay, and it's just not realistic."  This is hysterical because Nic is trying to shush Jules and Laser doesn't want that much detail, but it's also a nod to the people watching the film acknowledging that Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are not in fact gay women, but actresses pretending to be gay.  The whole movie is sophisticated enough in the dialogue and acting skills of the whole cast to be able to interact with the audience just a little bit like that.  Yes, there is some commentary on what it means to be gay, definitely lots of commentary on relationships.  When Paul turns out not be a good father figure and Joni confronts him with the simple "I wish you'd been better."  It sums up his character just about perfectly.  And he's the perfect person to play it - not too earnest, not too needy, not too cute (just right in my opinion) and not too together.  Overall, the five major players in this movie were perfectly cast and gave funny, dramatic performances.  It was the subtle differences that made you momentarily aware this was just a standard family, like when the kids would say "The moms are going to freak out" rather than Mom and Dad are going to freak out.  I think the fact that it was just so smooth made it really easy to relate to the family unit even if it's a kind of family unit with which some might not be intimately familiar.  I left loving the movie and wanting to see it again.  Easily the best movie I've seen in 2010.  I'd be surprised if this movie doesn't have some awards buzz.  5 of 5 stars/lambs

One last thing, the title is "All Right" rather than "Alright", which I think is the idea that kids are figuring things out about gay marriage, parents, relationships, etc. and that things are moving in the right direction, but that's just my own opinion. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Part 2 of the Pixar Podcast - Episode 30

The second part of the Lambcast I did with Tom, Dylan and Sebastian has arrived.  We start off with the movie we all like the least (though we know people who love it), and then get on to the final movies from the last few years.  There's a long discussion of Toy Story 3 and each of our Top 3 Pixar favorites.  Episode #30 is done!  Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another DVD Roundup

This is only half a DVD roundup.  The other half is a movie I saw on TV.  The first was a DVD I saw advertised on another DVD.  It was released in the UK in 2007, and did some of the festival rounds in the US, and finally had a limited US release last October.  St. Trinian's has an eclectic cast, including Rupert Everett (as both a father and his sister), Colin Firth, Russell Brand, Toby Jones, Gemma Arterton, and Stephen Fry.  It centers around a disreputable girl's high school in England, and seem to take place in about 4 different acts. Rupert Everett's daughter (and niece), Annabelle, is being enrolled at the school her aunt runs.  St. Trinian's is a school for girls who would never fit in at another school.  Gemma Arterton is head girl, and runs the school.  There are all kinds of cliques, but strangely they all get along just fine.  There are the geeks, emos (formerly goths), "barbies", glam, and first years.  They all seem to play sports together just fine.  Also on the side, they all have "businesses", including selling designer tampons, 100 proof vodka, and other fun businesses.  Their fence is Russell Brand (who has a crush on Arterton).  End act 1, getting to know the school.  Next, the girls have to defeat a snooty girl's school at field hockey.  They spend some time practicing and it turns out the new recruit Annabelle is really good.  They play against Colin Firth's daughter's team.  Firth plays the Minister of Education who is determined to shut down under-performing schools like St. Trinian's.  End Act 2.  Next they find out about bills St. Trinian's owes and they devise a plan to steal some art work to fence and pay off the bills.  The planning evolves around Russell Brand being able to pretend to be a German art dealer and of course he's insane.  The planning involved tunneling under the National Gallery, as well as qualifying for the "School Challenge" quiz show finals (which are conveniently held at an art gallery).  They cheat their way through the prelims, and then finally they get to the final and stage their heist.  Begin Act 4, the heist.  It's ridiculous and of course it works.  The cheating is stopped by Firth, but one of the other teachers convinces the "barbies" that they're smart enough without cheating (she doesn't know about the heist) and of course it all ends happily.  It's an insane movie that's fairly dark, and according to IMDB will have a sequel shortly.  It's fairly unique but does come together as a hodge podge of other movies.  It's about a 2.5 of 5 lambs/stars

The second movie I caught on TV, it was released in 1999.  It's called Happy, Texas, starring Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam as escaped convicts that stumble into pretending their a gay couple who are experts in staging little girl beauty pageants.  They arrive in Happy, Texas and agree to fulfill their contract with the town to train their girls for the regional beauty pageant in order to avoid getting captured again.  The town sheriff is played by William H. Macy and Ron Pearlman is the marshal hunting for them.  It's basically a comedy of errors.  Steve Zahn plays Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. and has the full fu-man-chu mustache and is in charge of teaching the girls to dance.  He's basically clueless (like his character from Out of Sight) and brings most of the funny to the movie.  Northam makes friends with the bank owner while he's casing the place, but of course falls for her.  However, Macy, seeing that Zahn and Northam are no longer a couple, comes out of the closet and asks Northam out on a date.  They go dancing and everything.  The whole thing seems like it'll go fine until the third prison escapee M.C. Gainey arrives planning to rob the bank.  Northam has to stop him, and calls in the marshal and Macy stumbles upon it too, getting shot.  The whole thing ends fine, similar to Little Miss Sunshine with the little girls performing the routine the Zahn taught them.  It's also a mish-mash of other movies, but since this came out before Sunshine and within a year of Out of Sight, it doesn't seem like it's a copy, just going along the same lines.  Much funnier than I expected, and I actually went back and re-watched Zahn learning to teach the kids to dance by watching old pageants and then practicing by himself.  3.5 of 5 lambs/stars.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Musical Mondays! Guys and Dolls

The first Broadway show I ever saw was Les Miserables when I was about eight or nine.  Not long after, I saw the revival of Guys and Dolls.  I actually saw the final performance of the original cast - Nathan Lane and Faith Prince, Peter Gallagher, J.K. Simmons, among others.  It was an amazing performance, Peter Gallagher was moving on after that night.  A few years ago I went through a period of obsession with Frank Sinatra, his music, his movies, etc. and caught Guys and Dolls.  I'd seen scenes from it over the years, but hadn't watched the whole movie, which also stars Marlon Brando (yes he can seriously sing), Jean Simmons, and Vivian Blane, as well as Sinatra.  It came out in 1955, five years after the Broadway premier, and is set somewhere in the 50's or so and is one of the greatest romantic comedies ever.  Sinatra and Brando play gamblers Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson.  Nathan runs a craps (dice) game that floats around New York City wherever they won't get caught, catering to rich other gamblers.  Nathan has been engaged to cabaret singer Adelaide for fourteen years (they keep getting off the train at Saratoga on their way to Niagra Falls to get married!).  Meanwhile, Nathan has made a bet with Sky that he can't get the head of the local church mission, Sarah Brown, to go to Havana with him (this is pre-Bay of Pigs).  Sky is smooth, cunning, and sexy as hell thanks to the magic Brando could still exude back then.  He convinces her to go with him by promising to bring 12 sinners to the mission so she can reform them.  In Havana, she gets drunk and there's a huge dancing scene.  That's probably my only criticism with the show and the movie, the extended dance sequences.  There's another one near the end when Sky is trying to convince 12 guys to come with him, by rolling craps for them.  "Luck be a Lady" is the song, and is often really extended for dances.  The title song describes Nathan and Sky's final problems - that guys will do anything for a doll (woman, in case you don't speak 50s).  There are quite a few more kitschy songs, but all tell something of the story - "If I were a bell" is Sarah's drunk song about how she'd rather be uninhibited and ring like a bell.  Adelaide has two songs at her cabaret show (one was written just for the movie), as well as her laments about Nathan not marrying her.  Near the end Adelaide and Sarah get together and sing about nailing down their guys and marrying them as soon as possible.  The movie does a terrific job bringing the play to life.  All the exterior scenes are cartoonish graphic representations of New York City or Havana, but all the interior scenes (which are the majority) are perfectly depicted to represent the places all the gamblers hang out.  The direction is good, but not particularly different than the plays I've seen.  My favorite song from the movie, "Adelaide" was actually written specifically for Sinatra for the movie.  It describes how he actually loves Adelaide and can't believe she loves him too.  I couldn't find it on Youtube, but the one below demonstrates Brando singing. 

Reel Insight: Episode 5 - All about Leo!

Well, in addition to the first half of the Pixar Lambcast, Rachel and I recorded Episode 5 of Reel Insight.  We discuss the recent movies we've seen (including Eclipse!) as well as some other fun or mediocre movies.  Then some Emmy love and discussion.  We get into the career and our connections to Leonardo diCaprio!  His new movie Inception opens this week so we thought it was a good time to explore his career.  There's a little surprise with our top and bottom 3.  Huge agreement on the top, but an odd separation on the bottom.  Check it out!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My first appearance on LAMBCAST is here!!!

It's finally here.  I had a blast recording this with Dylan, Tom, and Sebastian.  We got into a huge discussion of all things PIXAR.  All eleven movies (Toy Story 1, 2, 3, A Bug's Life, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall*E, and Up), and a bit about Pixar's place in the whole as a whole and our own individual worlds.  There was a really great split in the ages of our little group.  Dylan and I saw the first movies in high school, and Tom and Sebastian remember Toy Story as one of the first movies they ever saw.  I think it gave great perspective on the films.  Also, we went on so long, it's been divided into two parts, this is episode 29.  Here's the first half, or you can download it on itunes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Emmy Nominations 2010

This was not intentional, but I happened to be watching the Today show when the nominations were announced, so I thought I'd share my glee (pun intended) with everyone.   First and foremost - Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton were each nominated for Actor/Actress in a Drama series for their exceptional performances as Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Principal Tammi Taylor.  This is the first nominations for the show in a major category (casting isn't a major category).  Hooray - my love for the show is shown here, here, and here.  The other great surprises were all the nominations for Glee, particularly in the supporting and guest categories.  Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer, and Kurt's Dad Mike O'Malley were all nominated.  I loved the relationship between Kurt and his dad this season, with all they went through when Kurt came out, and then dealing with Finn's homophobia.  Amazing that they were actually recognized for this work.  Also, Lost was recognized as a Best Drama series for the first time since it's first season, along with a first nomination for Matthew Fox (and Terry O'Quinn and Micheal Emerson, both previous winners) Otherwise, there weren't a lot of surprises, lots of regular nominees, but here's hoping some new people win. 
Here's the list of nominees:

Best Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall - Dexter
Kyle Chandler - Friday Night Lights
Hugh Laurie - House
Matthew Fox - Lost
Jon Hamm - Mad Men

Best Actress in a Drama Series
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer
Glenn Close - Damages
Connie Britton - Friday Night Lights
Julianna Marguiles - The Good Wife
Mariska Hargitay - Law & Order SVU
January Jones - Mad Men

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad
Martin Short - Damages
Terry O'Quinn - Lost
Michael Emerson - Lost
John Slattery - Mad Men
Andre Braugher - Men of a Certain Age

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Sharon Gless - Burn Notice
Rose Byrne - Damages
Archie Panjabi - The Good Wife
Christine Baranski - The Good Wife
Christina Hendricks - Mad Men
Elizabeth Moss - Mad Men

Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Larry David - Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matthew Morrison - Glee
Tony Shaloub - Monk
Steve Carrell - The Office
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock

Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Lea Michele - Glee
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - The New Adventures of Old Christine
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler - Parks & Recreation
Tina Fey - 30 Rock
Toni Collette - The United States of Tara

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Chris Colfer - Glee
Neil Patrick Harris - How I Met Your Mother
Jesse Tyler Ferguson - Modern Family
Ty Burrell - Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet - Modern Family
Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jane Lynch - Glee
Julie Bowen - Modern Family
Sofia Vergara - Modern Family
Kristin Wiig - Saturday Night Live
Jane Krakowski - 30 Rock
Holland Taylor - Two and a Half Men

Best Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Modern Family
Nurse Jackie
The Office
30 Rock

Best Drama Series
Breaking Bad
The Good Wife
Mad Men
True Blood

Happy Birthday!!!!!

Today is my godmother's birthday!!! She's 60 years young today, and looks, sounds and acts exactly like I remember her from my childhood (except now she has a blog!).  If you're feeling generous and like birthdays, jump over to her blog and wish her a happy birthday.  I know it would make her day. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

DVD Roundup: 2012 and I hate Valentine's Day

My Netflix queue has been slim pickings lately, probably due to the fact that I saw most of what I wanted to see in 2009, but there are a few remnants making their way to my TV.  2012 was John Cusack's attempt at a disaster movie.  And as a disaster movie it's not bad - things fall apart, unbelievable things happen, people rise to the occasion, some turn out to be dirtbags and get killed, there are explosions, cracks in the earth, tsunamis, and lots of running around.  I think this basically could describe all good disaster movies (Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Core, etc.), but most of them also have something that sets them apart.  I saw this movie a few weeks ago, but couldn't muster the will to write much about it mostly because there's not much to say.  Cusack and his ex-wife Amanda Peet, and her new boyfriend Thomas McCarthy don't do much, but they get the most screen time.  Oliver Platt and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the government people who figure out the world is ending and start creating the arks were pretty good.  Platt is douche-y and you don't like him, but you know he's right when he says that not everyone can survive.  And you like Ejiofor's earnestness when he thinks as many people as possible should survive.  Woody Harrelson was also funny as a anarchist radio host who broadcasts from his truck near the Yellowstone explosion. The only thing that was interesting and slightly original was the creation of the arks and the international cooperation that went into creating them.  They glossed over the "science" too much for me.  If they're going to go with a scientific basis of the end of the world, they gotta give us some more science besides a pit in Yellowstone with really high temperatures that then explodes.  Alternatively, if you're going to name your movie 2012, then you should use more of the Mayan theory that the end of the world will occur based on their religious beliefs and calculations.  The special effects weren't bad, but overall the movie was meh.  No one expected it to be original, but dare I say they didn't take it as over-the-top as I would have liked. 2.5 of 5 stars/lambs  (Check out what the rest of the LAMBs thought here)

**Spoilers, but do you really care? ** 
The second movie I saw on DVD was also barely worth the time.  I Hate Valentine's Day is the third film written by Nia Vardelos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Connie and Carla both of which I enjoyed) but this was directed by her as well.  She reunited with her Wedding costar John Corbett, and other than an unrecognizable Judah Freidlander (30 Rock) and Rachel Dratch, the cast has all nearly unknown actors.  The concept:  Vardelos is a florist who is in love with falling in love, but doesn't think relationships are worthwhile because the romance ends.  Therefore, she just goes out on 5 dates with a guy while he woos her and then she breaks it off.  So far this seems to have worked.  She poo-poos the people who say she just hasn't met the right guy, until she meets and dates Corbett.  They meet when he's trying to impress a girlfriend on Valentine's Day, but he catches the unseen girlfriend with another guy, so now he's free to date Vardelos.  She's an expert on the woo-ing phase of relationships, and dictates generally what they should do on their dates.  The big joke that isn't mined for all its humor is that she's the girl all guys have been waiting for - sex without commitment.  They mention that she doesn't sleep with all the guys, but it's more of an afterthought when advising a friend.  However, after she does sleep with Corbett, who knows about the 5 date rule, she doesn't hear from him again because he's abiding by her rules.  She becomes crazed trying to get over him since she's fallen in love with him, but he's kind of moving on since he doesn't think she's interested any more.  Like most romantic comedies, it's based on the fact that if they just talked, they could probably resolve their issues and be happy since that's what happens at the end.  Meanwhile, her entire outlook on love has changed.  She used to be obliviously happy and now she's painfully aware that she's unhappy.  Started with an interesting concept and then got crushed under its weight.  A few funny moments with her florist assistants, but that's about it.  Not great.  2 of 5 stars/lambs (I'm betting no other lambs have seen this, so I can't direct you to anything further).

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reel Insight Episode 4: Julianne Moore

It's here! Rachel and I discuss the career of Julianne Moore, the movies and TV we've seen this week, and of course there's the Quoteable Quotes game at the the end! E-mail us if you know the answer.