Monday, October 31, 2011

Reel Insight Episode 65: Melissa Leo

Well, Rachel and I have learned our lesson.  I bet you never thought we would, but we have now vowed to stop picking actors/actresses based solely on the fact they have a new movie coming out and/or we think we like them.  Recent Oscar-winner Melissa Leo has taught us well.  Look carefully at the actor's filmography and THEN choose to feature them.  We were so happy to be done, we actually forgot to record the Top and Bottom 3 segment - we did that later!

Also a discussion of The Company Men and the new release In Time as well as some talk about collecting film memorabilia (apologies in advance).  Check it out and let us know what you think.

New Movies seen with Melissa Leo

Don McKay - Starring Thomas Hayden Church as the title character who returns to his hometown when his high school love sends him an e-mail.  Elizabeth Shue is dying, Leo is her creepy caretaker.  Nothing is what it seems, and the various twists make it worth watching.  Definitely not a thriller or horror like they suggest, it's still pretty dark.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Racing Daylight - A nearly so bad, it's good variety, this is a weird historical story meets modern story with Leo, David Straithairn and Jason Downs play the three main characters (all the actors play a modern and historical character).  Leo is Anna/Sadie an odd woman who returns to care for her grandmother with a crush on the handy-man.  She starts going crazy and thinks she sees Edmund (Downs) a Civil War era soldier in the mirror and slowly morphs into his love and basically does go crazy.  The movie is told in 3 segments from 3 different characters POV.  It totally doesn't work, but it's so ridiculous it's fun to watch.  1.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Welcome to the Rileys - An odd look at a couple who lost a child and she (Leo) is dealing by never leaving the house, and he (James Gandalfini) is dealing by having affairs.  He's about to take his latest to New Orleans, but she dies.  He goes alone and meets Kristin Stewart in a strip club.  He falls for her a bit and goes home with her - but just to take care of her it seems.  Eventually Leo gets up enough courage to go after him and she falls for Stewart to and wants to take care of her.  However, she's too damaged to let them and runs off.  Not a particularly complicated movie and nothing much happens, but the acting is pretty good.  2.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Confess, American Gun, and most of her other movies have her as a really really minor character.  Watch them for another reason if you must.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 47

My fellow podcaster took the prize last week.  Congratulations to Rachel.  Hopefully there's a streak coming.  

Last week's clue:  007 meets Solitaire but he leaves her when Jinx walks out of the water
Answer: Live and Let Die Another Day

Leader board
Hatter - 19

Rachel - 7
Dylan - 5
James - 4
David, Nick - 3
Red - 2 
Sebastian, Andrew, Andy, Keith - 1

New Clue:  An FBI dog escapes and encourages a down and out man that he can complete the London marathon.

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Release: Moneyball

I know, you're sad because there wasn't a podcast this week.  But the Morgan Freeman episode was so much fun we had to wait a little while so you could recover.  But we'll return next week with a pretty darn odd actress.

Instead, here's my review of Moneyball.  Based on a best-selling book by Michael Lewis, it tracks the off-season of the Oakland Athletic's general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his attempt to create a stellar ball club with a measly $39 million.  The recent World Series winners, the NY Yankees, have a budget of nearly $115 with which to buy the best players.  Beane thinks this is horrible unfair and rails at the world for a little while since he can't afford to keep his 3 best players any longer.  However, at a meeting one day, he runs into Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who is whispering in another GM's ear to keep certain players - generally "bad" players.  Overall, Billy wants to know what's up, and eventually buys Peter from the other GM.  Peter is an economics major from Yale and has figured out that if you only look at a players' ability to get ON FIRST BASE, you can pick the best players - many of whom are wildly UNDERVALUED because they have other odd quirks that keep them out of the best salaries.  Beane figures he's got nothing to lose and with Peter's help plans a whole new team, even trading players once the season starts.  While nearly impossible to stomach, once it begins yielding results, no one can criticize.

This concept, while hardly perfect, revolutionized the way people looked at baseball.  "Moneyball" is a coined term looking at very specific characteristics of players and how they theoretically could create a team.  The movie hints at the end that the Boston Red Sox adopted this method and finally won a World Series less than 2 years later.  For a nerd like me this made for a wonderfully interesting movie.  It was like Major League goes to School.  And for all that, you get to watch Brad Pitt wheel and deal through what its obviously a very fast-paced process that needs a lot of guts. But he's a more complex character than that - which often drags down the film.  We meet his ex-wife (Robin Wright) and daughter who worries about the team's prospects.  We also see Billy's past as a high school baseball player whose dreams of going pro happen, but aren't what he'd hoped.   Jonah Hill does a good job as the protegee learning the ropes and understanding he might not have the strength to keep going in this job.

We see a lot of the different players - some are chosen very specifically because they get on base, but others are to fill in the roster.  It seems that it's hard to commit fully to playing "Moneyball" because it really does involve going against a lot of intuition of players.   Billy battles the manager (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) as well as all the previous scouts to try to get them to follow his lead. Overall, I really enjoyed the movie.  It was lacking a specific spark that most sports movies have, but it would be hard to say how to add it to the film or if it really would elevate it beyond just a good solid flick.  I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing it again.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thoughts on Fall 2011 TV Season

I usually write up a bit more for the new Fall TV Season, but alas, my real-world job has taken over (though in a funny moment, someone at work mentioned this blog yesterday and I didn't blush or feel embarrassed so I guess it's just part of me now).  But I have a moment and want to put down my current thoughts on the 2011 TV season that has begun.

Shows I'm sticking with (unless they get cancelled):
"New Girl" - I think Zooey Deschanel has enough going into this show that I think they'll find good footing with this show concept and be able to keep it up.  It's a little rough now, but I think it'll find a groove.  The three male stars (Max Greenfield, Jake M. Johnson, Lamorne Morris) have the potential to make a great show, but we'll see how it continues.

"A Gifted Man" - I really like Patrick Wilson and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jennifer Ehle.  The concept for this show works pretty well - Ehle is a ghost appearing to her ex-husband (Wilson), a famous brain-surgeon to guilt him into taking care of her medical clinic now that she's gone.  Surprisingly the ghost part of this isn't the least believable part - it's the idea that you can actually do all the things this guy does in a day.  The newly minted Emmy-winner Margo Martindale (from "Justified") is Wilson's smart-ass assistant and a rotating group has come through as the new head honcho for the clinic.  I enjoy it.

Old Shows I still enjoy: "Grey's Anatomy" - I don't know why I watch this, but I know I'll probably never stop.  "The Big Bang Theory" - I love this show.  It makes my "nerd giggle" appear constantly (if you've ever listened to the Reel Insight Podcast, you'll recognize the occasional nerd giggle").  "How I Met Your Mother" - it's still going in really interesting and funny directions and I feel like they're wrapping it up in a great way (though who knows when they'll actually wrap it up).  "Castle" - I'm not sure they'll avoid the "Moonlighting curse" by letting the leads actually get together, but Nathan Fillion is still awesome.  "Community" - now that I teach at a Community College, this show has a whole new meaning.  They're right a lot more than they're funny so far this season.

Old Shows I just found: "Modern Family" - I know I'm quite late to the party, but it was available to watch on  a lot of my flights this summer so I feel all caught up.  "Doctor Who" - I'm only a few episodes in, but it's definitely my kind of show.

Old Shows I've given up: "Project Runway" - I swore when they picked the person I didn't like last season I would stop watching and I have!  "Desperate Housewives" - Wow - it's seriously turned to crap.  Kind of surprised.

I'm sure I'm missing a fair amount of other TV, but that's what I can remember.  What do you watch?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 46

Hatter seems to think no one else wants to play this game anymore - I can't believe that's true.   So we'll see what happens this week.

Last week's clue: A girl gets her neighbor to take her to the prom while a dad attempts to navigate his newly single world. 

Answer: Drive Me Crazy, Stupid, Love

Leader board
Hatter - 19

Rachel - 6
Dylan - 5
James - 4
David, Nick - 3
Red - 2 
Sebastian, Andrew, Andy, Keith - 1

New Clue: 007 meets Solitaire but he leaves her when Jinx walks out of the water.  

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reel Insight Episode 64: Morgan Freeman!!!!

Rachel and I knew that this was going to be a long discussion.  Before we even started we'd both seen more than 20 of his films.  Now we've seen quite a few more and this is a seriously awesome episode, mostly just because we had a ton of fun making it (I'm not sure that we care if you agree that it's awesome, it was just fun to make).  Recorded over 2 nights (that's how Rachel gets sober halfway and I perk up a bit).

We also discuss 3 still-in-theater movies, 50/50, Contagion, and The Ides of March.  Our random discussion this week involves the trailer for the upcoming The Avengers movie.  Enjoy and send us an e-mail to tell us what you think - you've got 2 weeks!

New movies seen with Morgan Freeman this week:

Feast of Love - I don't think I described this well during the podcast.  Greg Kinnear is a coffee shop owner unlucky in love - we first meet him just as his wife Selma Blair decides she's gay.  We meet his friend, Freeman, a professor on sabbatical recovering from the loss of his son to a drug overdose.  We also get to know one of the baristas who falls in love at first sight (that actually works out for the most part).  Kinnear meets another woman and falls in love again - except she's really still in love with her lover, a married Billy Burke.  We follow all of these stories over time.  The movie finds the balance between indie quirky and box-office schmaltz and walks the line quite well.  Freeman anchors the story as we watch him struggle to find meaning in love and advise his friend. 4 of 5 stars/lambs

Chain Reaction - A really bizarre movie that had potential and then they cast Keanu Reeves as a machinist who discovers the answer to an unlimited clean power source.  Freeman works for a shady government agency who is trying to prevent the free energy from destroying world markets.  Keanu has to escape with Rachel Weisz when they're accused of killing one of the other scientists and blowing up the lab.  Lots of chasing around and trying to figure out what's going on.  2 of 5 stars/lambs

Brubaker  - Freeman's first feature length film.  It stars Robert Redford who takes on his job as the warden of a Southern prison farm by entering as a prisoner and finding out how awful the conditions are within the prison.  Freeman has one great speech threatening another prisoner - you can almost believe it's Red (from Shawshank) in his first year or so in prison, just in the wrong state.  It's mostly boring and told in a style of film common in the late 1970s that I don't care for, but it's not bad.  3 of 5 stars/lambs

Edison (aka Edison Force) - This was painfully awful.  A group of cops are part of F.R.A.T., an unsupervised unit that can do whatever they hell they want to ensure justice.  Starring LL Cool J and Dylan McDermot as the cops - McDermot getting crazier and LL becoming disillusioned with the rough life.  Meanwhile Freeman is a newspaper editor who is mentoring Justin Timberlake (now you know why I saw this).  Timberlake is trying to break the story about this secret group, and is threatened and endangered along the way.  Not particularly violent and not well written or acted, it falls pretty far down the list.  1.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 45

I know I skipped last week.  I appreciate all my polite readers for not  mentioning my shortcoming.  But it's back.  Hatter took the last installment, which includes one of my favorite movies of all time.

Last week's clue: A high school teacher is revealed to be something he never admitted to ruining his fiancee's life and a man and women fall in love amidst zebras, lions, Masaai and Kikuyu

Answer: In and Out of Africa

Leader board
Hatter - 18

Rachel - 6
Dylan - 5
James - 4
David, Nick - 3
Red - 2 
Sebastian, Andrew, Andy, Keith - 1

New Clue: A girl gets her neighbor to take her to the prom while a dad attempts to navigate his newly single world.     

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Release: Contagion

It's a strange film that can make you feel like you're watching a documentary and actually wonder why you don't know how the whole thing turns out already.  This was the sensation I was left with after watching Contagion, which like Soderbergh's other movies, weaves a lot of different stories and characters together to give you a full look at a particular issue (the one that struck me most was a comparison to Traffic, which I don't like, FYI).  I'm not sure what he improved for Contagion but I liked the overall effect much better.

Basically, Contagion follows an alternate universe where an epidemic begins.  Similar to SARS or Swine Flu or even the most recent H1N1, we see an infection (with a 25% mortality rate) unfold globally and watch how many different elements of society deal with it.  First and foremost is the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)
and the WHO (World Health Organization) as the first cases appear in isolated pockets all over the world.  There's a mystery element throughout the film as they seek the "patient zero" that initiated the whole outbreak. Unlike movies like Outbreak, this has a relatively low mortality, highly contagious (someone can basically touch you, so like the common cold) and doesn't make people bleed from their eyes.  To the film's benefit,  they seem to have focused a bit more on the societal and governmental response rather than making an outlandish disease that couldn't exist.

Some of this seems well thought out and creative in how they portray what are certainly published protocols for something like the CDC.  Laurence Fishburne is in charge of this outbreak, and sends Kate Winslet to the field (Minnesota) to investigate and get the local health department up to speed in coordinating a response.  We see her struggle to investigate the cases (Matt Damon's wife was the first case, which she passed to a lover on the way home) and to get the locals to react accordingly.   Fishburne is also working with his scientists, Jennifer Ehle, to understand the disease and eventually create a vaccine, which they seem to do on a realistic, if panic-driven, timeline.   And then Jude Law is a semi-paranoid blogger who wants to make the information about this potential epidemic public and points out all the people who benefit from the epidemic (drug companies, etc.) and will withhold the drugs or vaccines until it's most profitable to sell them.  His story was a little over the top (or maybe that was just his teeth), but his part of the story needed to be told, if it was done in a really uneven manner.

 There were still a LOT of stories that felt criminally under-developed. Marion Cotillard is the WHO representative sent to Hong Kong to map the first case, and is kidnapped and held for months.  Matt Damon never becomes sick - why wasn't that discussed at ALL!!!  A lot of the weaving together of all the stories is done well, but overall, you still feel like you're watching a documentary and haven't really become involved in very many lives.  Good, but not great, leaves you with too strong a need to wash your hands.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Release: 50/50

There is a lot about the new movie, 50/50, that resonates with me.  I've been in the situation of having to make decisions that only seem like a good guess, with a pretty terrible chance of helping.  I've also had health issues that I'm sure I couldn't have overcome without my family and friends.  I'm also a huge proponent of therapy, everyone could benefit from a little help learning to deal with their lives and issues.  I also have always tried to hold on to my positive attitude about my own life, even when it wasn't going well, so I get the concept that there is a lot of humor (if it's color is close to black) to be found in terrible situations.

50/50 is the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old NPR story writer who is told he has a particularly bad and rare form of cancer, with the odds of survival giving the movie its name.  His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogan) tries to be encouraging and helpful, though mostly in the getting laid department.  His girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) decides to stick with him, but is such a narcissist that all she can focus on is how it affects her life.  Adam is reluctant to ask for help from his parents, Anjelica Huston and Serge Houde, because his father has advanced Alzheimer's and his mom seems to constantly overreact.  Of course, he realizes eventually that letting someone help you makes the burden that much lighter - whatever amount they're able to carry.  One of the bright spots of his treatment is meeting some new people - specifically Mitch (Philip Baker Hall) and Alan (Matt Frewer aka Max Headroom), fellow cancer fighters, and Katherine (Anna Kendrick), his psychologist helping him deal with having cancer.

Joseph Gorden-Levitt carries this movie himself.  He is in every scene, and nearly all the events are seen through his eyes.  Some of this shows us the isolation that cancer (or any other illness) can create.  It's hard to articulate to others what it's like to be inside a body falling apart.  This leaves the movie in danger of falling hard on cliches, which thankfully it manages to mostly avoid.  Rogan is funny doing his regular shtick trying to get himself and Jo-Go laid.  But it's Jo-Go's relationship with his mother and his therapist that are at the heart of the film.  Since they're both struggling with how to help Adam, both practically and emotionally, it gives the viewer an avenue to vent some of our own feelings of helplessness with Adam's situation.  When Adam does finally break, on the night before his last-chance surgery, we're right there with him wanting to scream at the unfairness of life.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie.  There were a few laugh out loud moments, but mostly watching Jo-Go fight for the right to be "normal" again was what got me.  I didn't quite leave in tears, but it's a good movie to make you feel something.  Cancer isn't funny, but it's definitely become a part of life, and that's what movies are about - showing you what life can be. 4 of 5 stars/lambs  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reel Insight Episode 63: Bryce Dallas Howard

Bryce Dallas Howard brought us an interesting week.  Sometimes when we pick an actor/actress we know a lot about them, and have seen a lot of their movies.  Sometimes we just pick someone who just has a new movie coming out with a quick glance at their career to be sure they have enough movies to make a Top and Bottom 3.   This week we were pretty surprised finding out our original perceptions didn't play out once we saw them all and talked about her career.   This week we also discovered Barney's Version, Trust, and The Lion King 3D.  Oh, and TV Talk makes a return appearance talking about the new fall shows I saw (Rachel wasn't as interested).  Check it out and please send us your feedback.

Movies I saw with Bryce for the first time this week
Manderlay - Lars von Trier makes really strange movies.  I think their concepts are really great (Dogville had a lot of originality) but for whatever reason, Manderlay couldn't keep up - though a supposed sequel.  Howard arrives at a plantation with her mobster dad (Willem Dafoe) and they find out slavery is still going on in the 1920s.  Howard stays and wants to teach the slaves what it means to be free.  It's as bad as it sounds like it would be, and it's done without a set, just minimalist space filling.  1 of 5

Loss of a Teardrop Diamond - This is one of Howard's only real leading roles, and she does a good job getting the whole movie going being a kooky Memphis debutante attending her coming out parties and asking Chris Evans (the grandson of a former governor, now the son of a drunk) to be her escort.  It all comes to a head at one party where she loses one of her aunt's diamond earrings.  When Evans won't help her find it, and starts hanging out with another girl, she goes off the deep end for a while.  She's got issues for sure, but it's a pretty good period piece.  3 of 5

The Village - I didn't want to see this because I don't like being scared.  But Rachel assured me it would be okay, and she was right.  It was a pretty great creepy movie.  This strange village has to stay away from the woods surrounding them because "things that they don't speak of" will attack them.  The twist is a good one, and I like the general relationships between all the different characters - the cast is amazing (Brendan Gleason, Judy Greer, Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, and Sigourney Weaver) and keeps the film from being too weird. Adrian Brody is the exception, I really didn't like his performance.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Lady in the Water - Another M. Night Shyamalan movie, based on a fairy tale.  It's an interesting concept, particularly with the "meta" movie references.  A good cast props up the weak and sometimes ridiculous story, but overall, it doesn't quite make sense enough to keep you interested.  It runs just a bit too long to keep the interesting parts of the story going, but the idea that an Asian fairy tale was coming to life was a great concept, but it just couldn't keep me interested. 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Book of Love - She's only in a few minutes, but this is a crazy story.  Simon Baker and Frances O'Connor are married, and O'Connor has an affair with Gregory Smith (a high school swimmer) but then the couple takes him to Disney world, and everything falls apart.  Just an odd Indie movie.  2 of 5 stars/lambs