30 December 2011

War Horse

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If you read my last post, you’ll note that Tintin gave me hope for Spielberg’s continuing career. I included the note that it may have been because of the inclusion of a large number of awesome people. After seeing this movie, I think that was probably the case.

War Horse is based on a children’s book that was later adapted to a stage play, neither of which I’ve read or seen. It covers several moments/periods of time with several characters during World War I, centered around a horse with magical powers. It’s meticulously engineered to pull on your heart-strings and inspire you and all that bunk.

The problem here is that I’m a cynical person who doesn’t love horses. If I were the opposite of that, I’d be all over this thing. There are too many moments of the “Spielberg Face” without really justifying it in my eyes, and it’s all just so damn wholesome. Not a drop of blood is shed, even when a large number of people are gunned down, a horse gets run over by a tank, and our hero the horse runs through several fences of barbed-wire. Except for that last bit pretty much everything that could be at all off-putting happens off-screen. Yeah yeah, it’s a family movie, whatever.

As I said too, the horse is magical. It seems to understand human language without much difficulty, has an incredible grasp of empathic situations, and keeps doing things that everyone insists are impossible for him to do. This would be a bit more affecting if there were a reason for it, like he was born with the soul of a dragon or something. Also I think it would have been cool if the movie was actually all filmed from the horse’s perspective and we didn’t get all this extra stuff with the humans and whatnot.

It’s a pretty movie for sure. It is an odd look though; many scenes kind of gave me the impression of a green screen even though it probably wasn’t used, I guess it was just the lighting. Just kinda weird.

So. Bottom line, bad movie for cynics. Probably good for wide-eyed horse-loving children.

28 December 2011

Buncha Movies

I’ve been busy, yo.

Young Adult

Charlize-Theron6-Young-Adult I liked Juno. Haters be damned. Up in the Air was good. This movie is better than those movies. Charlize Theron plays an evil woman who used to be the most popular, prettiest girl in high-school, and now she keeps living in a fantasy world of entitlement and superiority while the rest of the world has moved on to boring but healthy reality. She decides to rekindle a flame with her “soul-mate” who happens to be happily married (although she doesn’t think that’s really possible, since they’re soul mates). Patton Oswalt’s broken but awesome character tries repeatedly to tell her she’s an idiot without much luck. It’s a pretty tragic movie, and the it’s neat that Charlize isn’t really an antihero here, just a messed up human. Oswalt is really what made the movie great though.

Mission: Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol

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Needs more colons. I remember watching the first one twice in a row, way back sometime around THE YEAR 2000 in my youth pastor’s trailer-home with the rest of the youth group, trying to figure out what the hell was going on in it. I think I watched it later on and didn’t have that much trouble, but it definitely left an impression of being an enjoyable mind-game sort of action movie. I’m pretty sure I saw the second one but I must have blocked it out mostly. Maybe I didn’t. I haven’t seen the third though, so a bunch of the stuff that happened in this one didn’t really make a whole lot of sense, although I think they did a good job of recapping the important bits without sounding too expository. The story here is that a bomb exploded in Russia and now Tom Cruise and co. are no longer employed by the US government but have to stop the bad guys or else everyone will die and they’ll be labeled terrorists. Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Paula Patton do very actiony things while being funny a lot, and Michael Nyqvist plays a boring, detached villain without really doing a bad job of it. Cruise proves he can still actionate with the best of them in several very impressive scenes. It’s a really preposterous, enjoyable movie. Go Brad Bird.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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The last one was okay. Wasn’t a huge fan but whatever. This one gets more into the story that most people know (I’m not claiming to be knowledgeable on this stuff though), what with Moriarty playing a major role, represented by that British dude from Mad Men. However, it’s still a ridiculous action movie rather than the cerebral venture I think the subject matter is more suited to. Of course it’s been done a hundred times but this is still just unnecessary, especially with so much going on all the time it’s hard to even grasp what’s happening. There were at least three scenes I thought were the climax. It’s nice to see Noomi Rapace in something, and I’m definitely looking forward to Prometheus, but she didn’t really help the movie much. Guy Ritchie has made some good stuff; his visual style is very evident here, and it’s often nice to look at. I think it was fun enough altogether, there was just too damn much of it.

The Adventures of Tintin

13cp_tintin_the-sec_834868f I had a Tintin book a long time ago. I don’t remember a whole lot about it other than it was quite captivating, and that one dude was drunk a lot. With that as my basis, I can say that this film realized my idea of it quite excellently. It also showed that Spielberg can still bring it, although that might be largely influenced by the inclusion of so many awesome people in the making of this wonderfully warm and exciting adventure. We’ve got Andy Serkis, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Steven Moffat, Peter Jackson, and probably a bunch more I forgot about to make sure it doesn’t suck. Thankfully George Lucas is not on the list. It’s just a thrill to watch these lovable characters and colorful villains battle it out happily over such gorgeous CG sets whilst spouting humor left and right. Tintin himself brings to mind so many characters from books I read as a child, all those boy-genius detectives like the Hardy Boys or Encyclopedia Brown, always coming to the right conclusion on minimal evidence without making it seem implausible. I think the greatest triumph here though is the use of 3D; as it isn’t live action it’s not that much of a feat, but there are several instances where it’s used to show depth so much more than just popping things out of the screen, and it looks utterly fantastic. The visual style aside from that is just very pleasing to the eye anyway so it’s win-win. Great movie.

11 December 2011

Hugo and The Descendants

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I haven’t seen that many Scorcese films. I know that he’s very highly respected though, and the movies I’ve seen of his make a good case for that respect. This movie is a new breed for pretty much everyone though, being that it’s Martin’s first “family” film and also made in the dreaded 3D. It was made at the behest of his daughter, who really liked the book that I haven’t read. None of that stuff matters though, because it’s Scorcese.

It’s about a kid who’s parents are dead, like Batman, but instead of kicking bad dudes’ asses all the time he gets all mopey, is forced into clock maintenance, and tries to fix a robot in order to find an expected final message from his dead dad. This indirectly leads to him meeting Sir Ben Kingsley and Chloe Moretz and having an adventure of educational heights.

The trailers gave me the impression that this might be sort of a fantastical movie, like The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus or Pan’s Labyrinth in some respects, but it’s really not. A little suspension of disbelief is required for some bits but for the most part this is just a vehicle for the praise of film and its earliest champions, specifically Georges Melies, who made that moon-face-bullet thing. There’s a section somewhere near the middle in which the scary gambler from Boardwalk Empire narrates a beautifully architected lesson on the guy’s history, in which we learn that he made a ton of movies and then lost them all and got really sad. The objective then becomes to make him happy again.

It’s definitely a good movie. I wasn’t too crazy about Asa Butterfield or even Chloe Moretz’ performances the whole time, but they had their moments. Sacha Baron Cohen was pretty entertaining, and Ben Kingsley is just a great actor whichever film he’s doing. The 3D nonsense worked quite well from time to time, but whenever there were quick cuts or fast movements I just couldn’t deal with it. I think the latter issue would be much less of one if it were filmed at a higher framerate, like The Hobbit is going to be. Still, Scorcese’s great at making stuff look good and he used the technology pretty much as well as anyone could.

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The last Clooney movie I saw was The American, and it was awesome. I just recently saw Sideways for the first time, and that was pretty cool too. Good signs. Figured I’d give it a shot, and since Young Adult wasn’t showing at the theater I was going for, this was the next in the stack. Too bad I can’t really stand Hawaiian music.

George Clooney is the trustee of a bunch of land on a Hawaiian island and his wife’s in a coma. He doesn’t know his kids well and they know more about his wife than he does. He finds some crap out about her that makes him angry, and he has a hard time concentration on the fact that he has to decide what to do with this land he’s got before his cousins go all apeshit on him. I guess that’s the gist.

It’s a tad boring, but not bad. There are some funny/awesome bits, mostly involving something of a side-character named Sid, and Clooney’s older daughter is quite attractive. The buzz this one’s getting is all for Clooney’s performance though, which is good, but I don’t think it really stands out that much, and he will most likely not get an award for it unless there’s some political thing going on that I don’t know about. Not as good as Sideways or The American.

23 November 2011

Melancholia

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I liked Lars Von Trier’s last movie, Antichrist. I didn’t love it. It was certainly a distinct film, and quite an experience to watch, but I’m not the biggest fan of watching people disfigure themselves painfully (well, I loved 127 Hours, but that’s just different somehow). I haven’t seen any other LVT movies though and he’s got a history of getting a ton of nominations and awards for making great movies, so Melancholia was definitely somewhere near the top of the list of movies I wanted to see this year.

Here we have Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg playing unlikely sisters. Kirsten’s character, Justine, is clinically depressed. The first half of the film is a documentation of her efforts to defeat this depression and have a wonderful wedding. The second half concentrates on her sister Claire, who in the preceding act was trying to support Justine, but now faces a different sort of doom that Von Trier is basically using as an analogy for depression.

That might seem a bit boring. Sometimes it is. However, that analogy for depression is a god-damn planet on a collision course with Earth. Wrap that around your head. Von Trier’s excellent knack for visuals makes this conceit beautifully intense, never mind the gorgeous slo-mo prologue. The atmosphere leading up to the finale is very palpable. I’m not sure how I felt about Kiefer Sutherland’s role as Claire’s husband; his actions seemed a bit odd but did add to the sense of desperation.

I’ve been depressed in the past, but I’m fairly certain it was never this bad. I’m thankful that Von Trier was able to make this film to educate people about this illness while wrapping it all in such a beautiful package.

06 November 2011

Some Movies

I’ve decided to forego watching The Walking Dead live tonight live because I figure I’d never sit down to write this stuff otherwise. It’s not that great of a show anyway.

In Time

in-timeIt’s been over a week since I saw this. It’s not that it’s nothing to write about, I just haven’t found the time really. It isn’t a great movie or anything though. It could have been I guess; the conceit was appealing to me at least, no aging past 25 and a count-down until you drop dead, and the director is the guy who made Gattaca, so it’s got some pedigree. Apparently he’s made at least one semi-stinker since then though. Some of his visual style came through in the sets, and it’s got a similar sort of sci-fi societal examination going on. Unfortunately the script is a bit ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many puns involving the word “time.” It almost gets comedic. The action is alright, the actors do their jobs, and it’s a very timely (oh crap there I go too) movie what with all this Occupy stuff going on. A decent thing. I’d put it on level with The Adjustment Bureau quality wise, although I think I enjoyed that more.

La Piel que Habito (The Skin I Live In)

antonio-banderas-elena-anaya-the-skin-i-live-In-la-piel-que-habito-01A plastic surgeon whose wife was badly burned and later died decides to create a new skin that can resist fire. That’s about as much as I knew about this movie. I’ve not seen any Almad√≥var films before this, and nothing I’ve seen with Antonio Banderas has really given me the impression that he’s a serious actor, but apparently the two have a history. I’m glad I didn’t know much about it; there are a lot of red herrings offered for about the first half of the film, and then the twist happens and everything becomes so much more interesting. It’s a very sexy, strange and creepy thing. If you can handle subtitles and like stuff that pushes the boundaries a bit, I highly suggest checking this out. Just don’t read too much about it.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

C-PRE_zMartha-Marcy-May-MarleneThis was one of the big winners at Sundance this year. It bears a few similarities to Take Shelter in that it deals a bit with mental breakdown and family, and it’s also quite slow; it is however much more grounded in reality. The oncoming storm is replaced by the evil in people, and Michael Shannon is played by Elizabeth Olsen, who is apparently one of those Olsens. You could never tell from this performance. Martha (or Marcy May (or Marlene)) is a sort of a lost girl who thinks she’s found a home in a sort of commune centered around a man named Patrick. As with most communes that make their way to the fictional screen, it’s not really the innocent, idyllic lifestyle she pictured. Her life immediately after her two-year immersion in crazy-land is told in parallel, trying to find a semblance of her previous life with her sister and brother-in-law at their summer home, causing lots of stress and hard decisions. It’s a good, emotional and engrossing film as most psychological things are, but I had a bit of a hard time figuring how she stayed with the crazies that long.

I also watched Splice again today, and it surprised me how many elements it shares with The Skin I Live In. It’s not as good though.

25 October 2011

Take Shelter

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Hey look, it’s another one of those movies no one has ever heard of!

However, you may have heard of the now not-so-new HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and if you’ve seen it then you know Michael Shannon, and you also know that Michael Shannon is a g’damn monolith of an actor. That should be enough to make you want to see this movie. Add in a bit of psychological and familial turmoil, a dash of the supernatural, and you’ve got a guaranteed box-office failure of an Oscar film. Of course it’s not really showing on a huge number of screens so it was never going to make much money anyway.

Michael Shannon is a good, loving father to a cute little deaf girl, and a good, loving husband to that beautiful woman from The Tree of Life. He’s got a solid job and good friends (one of which happens to be another guy from Boardwalk Empire). Life is good. Then the movie starts. He’s plagued by intensely real dreams of a dreadful storm that changes people and destroys everything he knows; the dreams begin to affect his waking life, and he starts taking drastic measures not very unlike those in a certain story-arc from Six Feet Under. The film follows him as he grapples with the very high possibility that he’s becoming schizophrenic and the irresistible urge to prepare for destruction, all while trying to preserve and protect his all-important family.

While it is a very slow movie, there are several moments of great intensity that mirror (to a less violent extent) the explosive scenes in Drive. Lots of great, languid shots of storm clouds and swarming bird flocks help to convey the doom descending on Shannon’s mind. A very large component of the film is the family aspect though; this guy really wants to be a good parent and hates what his mind is doing to his ability to do it.

Of course, we never really know if he’s really going crazy or if he’s a prophet. The final scene leaves it open for interpretation, much like Inception. I’m not sure what I think. I tend to like more superhuman/natural stuff so I guess I lean toward the latter, but it really could go either way.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with Shannon’s performance as I have been with his work in Boardwalk Empire. He’s much more human here. Still, it’s being lauded as one of the greatest of the year, and I can’t really argue with that given what I’ve seen. It’s a very good movie, just a bit slow.

17 October 2011

50/50

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a pretty rad dude. He and James Franco are two of the best young-ish male actors around right now, methinks. Seth Rogen can be cool sometimes too I guess, and this movie really uses him correctly. I suppose it helps that he’s really playing himself in more ways than one, as he basically lived his own part in real life as a friend of the writer, Will Reiser, who wrote the screenplay based on his own experience with cancer. I haven’t seen that many movies about this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine the majority of them are this enjoyable.

JGL is a young dude with plenty of life to live, when suddenly an aching back leads to the discovery of tumor with a highly poly-syllabic name. He then goes through all the normal things a cancer patient goes through, calmly then a bit less calmly, dealing with the support of his neglected and overly-caring mother, his seemingly self-focused best friend, and a girlfriend whose earnestness may be masking her other emotions. It may sound like a dire tale, and it is; cancer is no joke and this movie makes no joke of it. It does, however, serve up plenty of humor along the way. As I said before the film makes great use of Seth Rogen’s talents, but more importantly keeps his annoying laughter to a minimum. Both he and JGL are extremely likable dudes, Anna Kendrick is beautifully awkward and everyone else just fills their roles really well.

It’s an emotional journey without relying too heavily on drama, which is great. I think too often this subject is made unapproachable in its doominess. This is more of a story about a guy who happens to be dying and his realization that people actually love him a lot more than he thought they did.

11 October 2011

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

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Another VOD viewing because good movies don’t get wide enough releases to be convenient. Blah. Not that big of a deal though, it was just seven bucks and HD, so it was a pretty fine viewing experience anyway. Certainly worth the money.

I have to admit the biggest attraction for me to this movie was Alan Tudyk in a lead role. He just doesn’t get enough of those. I’ve also seen the other guy, Tyler Labine, as something of a charming idiot/asshole character named Sock on the deceased show Reaper, which I enjoyed mostly. Up until now I thought the girl was Amber Heard but apparently she’s Katrina Bowden. They look much alike in their blondness.

The actors are far from the only things going for this though. At first glance the film appears to be your average slasher flick with a couple of Deliverance-style hillbillies hacking up a bunch stupid college kids. While the kids are indeed stupid for the most part, it turns out they’re the ones who are inadvertently causing all of the mayhem. Most of them mean well, they’re just incredibly bad at staying alive. Tucker and Dale, a misunderstood pair of kind-hearted West-Virginians who just want to go fishing and learn how to talk to ladies, hopelessly watch as the carnage piles up around them while trying to enjoy their new vacation home in the woods.

It doesn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped; the ways in which some of the kids die just seems a bit far-fetched, and every mishap requires so many things to happen just so in order to actually happen. Sure, they’re all quite funny, but the level of stupid required in these situations is just a bit staggering.

The characters are good though, and Tyler Labine actually comes out at the top (he’s pretty much the main character I guess, so that makes sense.) The gore isn’t too horrible to watch and Katrina Bowden is incredibly gorgeous, so it’s a very entertaining viewing, and I recommend it.

20 September 2011

Drive

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Looking back at the past year of movies, there have been a lot where I wouldn’t have minded at all if the film was cut short at about 60 minutes or so. Some I just wanted to end. Yes, a few kept me interested, but I think this is the first one that had me wishing for an extension; and yet, it ended where it should have, and was better for it.

I haven’t seen the Pusher trilogy, but I have seen Bronson, and that was enough to raise my interest in this Nicolas Winding Refn (such a sweet name) movie, never mind all of the praise it’s been getting, including Best Director at Cannes. I just checked and I have not in fact seen any Ryan Gosling movies, which explains why I didn’t really get all the hype on that end. His performance here hasn’t really made me a huge fan but I’d be okay with trying out some more.

So the movie is about this guy who drives cars. He’s a stunt driver, a mechanic, and a getaway driver for criminals. He does all this without saying much, and almost always remains entirely calm. A little bit of romantic involvement with Carey Mulligan brings him into a dangerous situation, and we begin to find out that his past might not be all roses, surprise surprise.

The cool thing with that bit about the past is that we’re not given any actual information about it. All we learn is that this guy is capable of some pretty intense actions (he’s also very good at staring contests and not saying anything when asked questions). We never even learn his name, he’s just the Driver. Pretty awesome. We’re also treated to a ton of breathing space between the action sequences. The contrast this brings to said scenes is just fantastic, although even without the space they’d still be shocking. All of this is done with beautiful shots and an occasional backdrop of 80s-ish nostalgic synth music (strangely not cringe-inducing in this context).

The film also features some great Ron Perlman and Bryan Cranston performances. It’s nice to see Cranston as someone other than Walter White. Perlman of course elevates everything he touches, and he does a fine job as usual. I said before that Gosling’s part wasn’t that impressive, but it’s definitely very good considering how few lines he actually has. Most of the performance is body language.

So it’s a super great movie. Go check it out.

08 September 2011

Red State

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I’ve been listening to Kevin Smith’s myriad podcasts for a few months now, so I’ve been keep quite current on this movie and all of its strange distribution, but I didn’t manage to catch it during his premiere tour. So now that it’s on On-Demand I figured I’d check it out. I’ve heard lots of good things and a few not-so-good things. One thing that always comes up though is that this movie is a reinvention for Smith, a complete departure from everything he’s done before. I’ve gotten a little tired of his style so this concept is anything but a deterrent.

The film is inspired by the Westboro Baptist Church and their ridiculous, hateful antics. It’s not about them, although it does mention them, but only in comparison to the antagonists who are much much worse. The initial protagonists are the most similar to Smith’s usual characters, a bunch of horny teenage boys who just want to have some fun like normal people; the Five-Point Church has something of a vendetta against this normal fun.

I don’t think I’ll go into any more detail about the story than that. It’s a pretty good one, but it’s not really what makes the movie good; it’s mostly the performances. Red State has some very good actors, including John Goodman, that guy with the stapler from Office Space (Stephen Root), two actors who star in Breaking Bad (Matt Jones and Anna Gunn), Melissa Leo (who recently got an Oscar) and a bunch of other great people I recognized. I don’t remember seeing Michael Parks in anything before, but he probably had the most impressive scenes of anyone else in the movie. Downright scary dude.

As for Smith’s reinvention, I’d say it’s definitely true. There were very few moments past the first 15 minutes that felt like anything I’ve seen of his before, except maybe near the end where the flow of conversation broke down a little bit. I’ll put that down on editing though. The guy threw this together very rapidly, mostly while very high. That said, it’s a beautifully shot movie and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s very serious, troubling and thrilling. Much like Dogma it might not be the best theological treatise but it’s a good horror flick with a little more applicability to our current reality than something like Paranormal Activity.

Now that I’ve finally seen this, I’m a bit more interested in Smith’s supposedly final upcoming movie Hit Somebody. I think it might be great.

06 September 2011

The Devil’s Double

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So Fright Night and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark sadly turned out to be busts. I was hoping the latter’s association with the awesome Guillermo del Toro would make it something more than its other pedigrees, but apparently that wasn’t really the case. I’m not that big into horror most of the time anyway. I’ll probably check out the original Fright Night at some point though; it seems it’s pretty well liked. Anyway, with those two down the drain, my prospects for movies these last couple weeks have been slim. This one here was basically a lark. I’d heard some mildly good things but it took a friend’s uncharacteristic invitation to go see a random movie to get me to try it.

It’s about a guy who ends up being a double (against his will of course) for one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday, during George Bush senior’s administration. It follows that Uday is “The Devil” in this case. The film definitely drives this home. He’s a pervert in many many ways, a drunk, a cocaine addict, a murderer and a sadist, never mind being a touch insane and very narcissistic. Our hero Latif is decidedly none of these things and loathes his boss immensely, while Uday keeps saying he loves him like a brother in between bouts of violent punishment whenever Latif tries his patience. Eventually Latif gets sick enough of it all to take more definitive action.

It’s pretty obvious that both Latif and Uday are played by the same actor, but he does a fine job of portraying two different characters. There weren’t many moments when I couldn’t tell which character was which, except maybe for a couple where Latif was imitating Uday’s antics. Mostly an impressive performance overall. The rest of the cast is good too, and it all looks quite nice. The story is engaging, the stakes are high, the use of real-life war footage is good, and while I think it might have been a bit more convincing film if it had been subtitled, the dialogue was snappy.

I don’t know a whole lot about the real story, but I suspect this is mostly on-point, at least for the major events. Apparently Latif is still out and about somewhere, living a life untethered to a madman.

23 August 2011

Attack the Block

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I must be a hipster or something, because this seems to be pretty underground. There were only seven other people at the theater. Granted, it was a Monday, but still; this movie needs to be seen. I guess it doesn’t help that it’s only in like 10 theaters in the country and isn’t being advertised as far as I can tell, but whatever.

It’s produced by Edgar Wright, features Nick Frost, has aliens, and contains tons of British inner-city slang that can be found in things like Misfits, one of my favorite shows. It’s pretty much the best thing ever. Much like Super 8, it stars a youthful cast of exciting characters and features fantastic visuals. Unlike most US summer blockbusters though the visuals do not take the forefront. They’re certainly well done, and almost entirely with practical effects, but the greatest things are the characters and the dialogue. Almost every sentence ends with “innit,” which is a strange perversion of “isn’t it” but doesn’t mean that anymore. People say things like “believe, bruv,” and “allow it” to mean things that we would say completely differently.

There’s tons of movement. Very little sitting around. It’s all entertaining, gripping, funny, touching, intense. Some of the characters’ decisions don’t make too much sense, but that’s okay. They’re just super cool people, unlike those (as I’m led to believe) in movies like Skyline or Battle LA. Certainly cooler than in Cowboys and Aliens.

Most of the reviews or mentions of this movie I’ve read or heard have been painstaking in leaving out as many details as possible, and I’ve tried to do that here. Just know that it’s a pretty fantastic movie and you should definitely see it if you get the chance.

15 August 2011

30 Minutes or Less

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Alright, time to crap out a review before bed.

I like Jesse Eisenberg, and Aziz Ansari is pretty cool too. I haven’t seen much with Danny McBride but I know he’s funny. I don’t really know anything about the rest of the actors in this movie, but the trailer looked funny and I was hearing some good things here and there, why the hell not. Monday night theater run it is.

The gist of the story is that Jesse is an asshole pizza delivery guy, and some other assholes strap a bomb-vest on him in order to force him to rob a bank so they can set up a tanning salon slash bordello. As you can imagine things don’t really go quite right, although it seems to be working out well for the bombers for longer than I expected it would.

Anyway this is a comedy, so there’s lots of funny. It tends to be pretty raunchy comedy given that it’s an R, which also allows for a respectable amount of boobs, but it doesn’t rely entirely on that freedom and has some genuinely funny stuff in it dealing with friendship and whatnot. I think Danny McBride is the funniest of the bunch here, with Aziz in a close second. Jesse isn’t really a funny guy, just super intense. He works well enough. I’m not sure whether I liked or disliked Danny’s penchant for wearing heavy metal shirts; I liked seeing them in a movie but I don’t really like seeing them associated with being a psychopath. The media does that enough.

There are some really good jokes and a pretty awesome chase scene, and it’s definitely entertaining all the way through; I don’t think I laughed as much as I did for Horrible Bosses (which I forgot to write about, it was pretty darn good). It was solid though. I think I should probably watch Point Break sometime so I can get some more of the jokes.

14 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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The trailer for this movie made me laugh. It looked kind of terrible. The CG apes were completely unbelievable, Franco’s delivery of the “Cure” line was awful, and Charleston Heston was nowhere to be seen, removing all credibility. I had mostly written it off even though it prompted me to finally watch the original film to see what the big deal was. Turns out that it was an excellent movie, sadly followed by quite a number of sub-par sequels, and a reboot by Tim Burton that sucked; I vaguely remember watching it but I can’t bring up any details. So anyway, the critics started lauding this one and I was mildly surprised. I’m still a week behind on movies though, so I didn’t see it until today.

As you probably all know, this is a prequel to the original movie that tries to explain how the apes replaced man as the dominant species. The original didn’t really go into depth about that at all; it just presented the situation as it would be and allowed the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Supposedly the same task was handled in one of the old sequels, but I don’t care to find out how similarly. In this one, James Franco is a scientist trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, seemingly prompted by his own father’s (John Lithgow’s) illness. This leads to testing on apes and eventually to the miracle of Caesar the intelligent chimp, who through a series of events becomes a leader of the new primate race and begins something of a rebellion against humanity.

It’s very much an action film, I’d say quite a bit moreso than the original movie, which dealt mostly with theology versus science and stuff like that, with only a few chase scenes among the dialogue. There’s plenty of good dialogue here too but the advances in special effects allow for a much more visually immersive experience. Andy Serkis’ mo-cap performance is pretty great as usual, and although at the start the CG apes look a bit wonky, I mostly got used to it by the end. The relationship between Franco and Caesar is handled pretty well. I almost teared up in a couple spots.

It’s very obvious that this is only the beginning of the story, and it’s been confirmed that it’s planned to be a trilogy. It should be interesting how it plays out, and how much is done to make it line up with the ideals of the first movie. I’d like to see a bit more of that philosophical stuff rather than ape-war.

Not a great movie. A very good one though.

07 August 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

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As I said last week, I had been pretty excited for this movie until the reviews started coming in, and felt a bit betrayed. As such I didn’t go to see it. I wasn’t sure if I’d see it in the theater at all, especially what with the Revenge of the Rise of the Fallen Planet of the Apes movie getting all that praise and whatnot. Then the new Half in the Bag review came out last night, and I felt compelled to see the film before I watched the review. So I did.

This movie is about James Bond and Indiana Jones killing some frog men and learning about tolerance while the hot chick form House does weird stuff with fire, Wild Bill Hickok gets yanked into a spaceship, and one of those pesky moon clone-workers tries to shoot a gun. All in all, it’s pretty cool.

But seriously folks, it ain’t half bad. There’s at least an honest attempt at characterization for the main characters and even some of the less prominent ones, the visuals are awesome, and you get to see Olivia Wilde’s back. I wish this were an R. Some of the story elements aren’t really explained very much or seem a bit too convenient, but overall it works well enough as a Western will. I have to say I’ve been pretty spoiled by Deadwood as far as Westerns go, so this didn’t wow me as much as it could have. I’m not entirely sure what I was looking for in it that wasn’t there; I think I just assumed the combination of the two genres would be awesome no matter what.

It’s good acting all around, and the setting was very nice. Not the best movie ever or anything, but it couldn’t hurt to go check it out.

01 August 2011

Another Earth

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I meant to see Cowboys and Aliens this weekend, but the middling reviews it’s getting and the abundance of other real-life fun-things I had the opportunity to do pushed it out of frame. I would have also liked to see Attack the Block, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be showing anywhere near me. Thankfully though the trusty old Landmark E Street cinema was showing another film I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about.

From the title and the promotional photos, most people (including me) would mark this as a sci-fi film in which another planet shows up in the sky, leading to a lot of space travel and physical effects of such close proximity, boring stuff like that. One would also expect that much of the film would take place on this other earth; however, that is not the case at all.

This is a movie about a girl who makes a horrible mistake and spends the majority of the movie trying to fix it. The whole planet thing is related but not the focus. There’s a ton of emotion, heartbreak and awkward love interspersed with a little thought on the implications of alternate timelines and duplicate people, and some brief but beautiful meanderings on the allure of space. It’s a very good story and acted extremely well, except for one moment that just didn’t seem to happen in a way that made much sense.

The camera work is a bit shaky at times but it’s nothing like the Blair Witches and their ilk. The quality of the picture varies with the mood to great effect; sometimes it looks like a home movie and others like a big-budget sci-fi film. The visuals aren’t what make this movie though. It’s definitely the story.

27 July 2011

Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger

The lazy bug’s gone and bit me again. I saw this on Saturday, started a post a few days ago, and gave up because I didn’t feel like writing anything. Here ‘goes again. I don’t think I’ll try to stick with any sort of structure because I don’t give a damn.

It’s a good movie. I liked it. Very much like watching an old comic book. There’s a good amount of camp, lots of altruism and concentrated evil, and explosions. It’s not going to win any awards for story or anything but the characters are very likable and well presented. The setting is great, and the whole bit with Rodgers being the front-man for war bonds was classic.

I don’t really know much about Captain America; most of what I know of the early classic superheroes was gleaned from old collections in my local library as a kid, which I read on the bench but never checked out. I think I assumed my mom wouldn’t let me. Thusly I’m not very attached to the character, but watching this movie made me a fan. He’s made extremely relatable in his cg-stiched-face phase as a short weakling who can’t make it with the ladies, and then when given the power to make himself a badass, he does as he was advised and doesn’t abuse it. He’s just an all-around great guy.

Hugo Weaving and Tommy Lee Jones make for a terrific supporting cast since they’re just that awesome. Hayley Atwell is classically hot. Chris Evans did a fine job. As a whole, I think I’d put this movie above X-Men: First Class, just below Iron Man, maybe tied with Iron Man 2. It’s a promising advertisement for next year’s Joss Whedon blockbuster.

The forced culturally-diverse team of badasses was a bit stupid though.

10 July 2011

The Troll Hunter

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Norway’s pretty cool. It’s the home of black metal, Kvelertak, and a bunch of fjords, and it’s got probably the best average quality of life on the planet. Oddly their movies don’t seem to pop up on the global radar much though; this is the first I’ve heard of one. I’ll certainly be on the lookout now.

This is a kind of muckumentary/shakycam thing, a bit more like Cloverfield than anything else. It’s supposedly a bunch of footage that was discovered in some way that’s explained in the opening text, and it’s all just been put together into a movie. Originally it was supposed to be a documentary about bear poaching, made by a group of college kids, but it turned out the poacher wasn’t hunting bears. Trolls are real and they’ve been wandering outside their territories, and somebody’s trying to cover it up with fake bear attacks. One man is given the task of keeping the monsters in check, and the intrepid group of college kids are eventually allowed to tag along and document the atrocities.

The biology and diversity of the trolls is taken from legend and folklore. Not everything made the cut; the more fanciful bits like speaking human language and playing games of wit were thrown out in favor of making the trolls into massive, dumb predators who eat rocks or whatever else they can find. The film has pretty blatant environmentalist undertones. The destruction of the trolls is an affront to nature and the preservation of Norwegian history, all that sort of thing. And yet, the film maintains a not-quite-that-serious vibe, bringing on laughs once in a while and not really prompting that much reverence for the creatures; that’s directed more on the beautiful landscapes.

The trolls themselves are of course computer-generated, and they look great. The animation isn’t perfect all the time, but it didn’t matter that much considering the strangeness of the several different kinds of trolls. The most grating aspect of the film was the shakycam. I remember there being a lot of fuss over people getting sick at Cloverfield screenings; those people should avoid this one at all costs. It gets pretty brutal with the shaking. Also, since it’s supposed to just be raw footage spliced together instead of a professionally edited movie, the cuts are frequent and often jarring. The sound was probably the best part though. It made the scale of the creatures much more believable.

To top off the goodness, the closing credits were accompanied by a track off of Kvelertak’s self-titled release from last year, which is an incredibly fantastic album and extremely appropriate for this movie.

A bit about the theater. We went to the E Street Cinema in Washington DC. This is the first time I’ve been there and it certainly won’t be the last. They show lots of great limited-release films, and had posters for a whole bunch of movies I hadn’t even heard of. Once we got into our theater, which was very small but still had semi-stadium seating, we were treated to a live, albeit somewhat nervous introduction by one of the staff who seemed genuinely happy to see so many people in attendance for this movie in particular. The crowd was cool, the sound was great, and the screen was just fine. It was just an all-around great time.

Didn’t think I’d write this much.

21 June 2011

Game of Thrones – Season 1

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Winter is coming yo.

So this is show is awesome. HBO is good at making stuff. Of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s based on one of the most highly praised fantasy book series ever, and the writer George R. R. Martin is a producer and wrote one of the episodes. It also has a fantastic cast, and a pretty decent budget.

It’s a story of family ties, honor, idiocy, betrayal, scheming, war, and a little magic. The several houses of Westeros vie for the throne for different reasons while a gathering darkness threatens everyone’s existence in the cold North. A host of interesting characters, including the inimitable Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, have long conversations about their idea of how the world works and make lots of mistakes; unlike in a lot of other shows, these mistakes come with definite prices. Much like in The Walking Dead (the comic, not really the show), no one is safe. It lends a sense of danger unlike I think I’ve seen in television before aside from shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad.

While it is a sort of high fantasy, there is very little in the way magic, and I’ve seen no elves or dwarves anywhere. There’s a lot of dragon talk but you’ll have to watch the show to find out how that works out. There is some sorcery, but it happens behind closed doors and is regarded by pretty much everyone as something that should be avoided at all costs. It’s kind of refreshing to see something this realistic in this setting.

These past ten episodes have ranked up near the top for me, and I can’t wait for more. I’ll probably break down and read the books before the next batch comes around.

20 June 2011

The Tree of Life

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I haven’t seen any Terrence Malick films before this, but I probably will do so in the future. It’s pretty obvious this guy really cares about what ends up on the big screen, and puts everything he has into it. Although I can’t say I enjoyed watching this as much as something like Super 8, I can definitely respect the film; it’s a beautiful, heady trip of a thing.

There’s a bit more of a story than I was led to believe in other reviews, but it’s definitely presented differently than in most films, and not very linear. The main character, played by Sean Penn in adulthood and Hunter McCracken as the child, doesn’t really lead that much of a special or interesting life; it’s just a life. He has problems much like most kids, and his parents have problems like most parents, they just happen to be very strong characters. His mother is the embodiment of grace, and his father a man who tries his hardest to be the best father he can be, which is much different than society’s current idea of the fatherly blueprint.

The story is told with gorgeous shots, limited dialogue, and barely any exposition. Surrounding the main plotlines are a few extended segments portraying the creation and destruction of everything. These segments are incredibly beautiful and I wouldn’t at all mind seeing them in IMAX. The thing is, I’m not entirely sure what Malick is getting at with them; they must relate somehow to the story of the boy, but in keeping with the lack of exposition, this is never really laid out. There are a fair number of whispered voiceovers, but they’re mostly cryptic. I’d probably need to watch again and listen more closely to glean the meaning. Right now it’s just left me a bit mystified.

It’s a monster of a movie, and Malick is planning/working on making a six-hour version too. I’m not sure I’d be able to watch that, at least not all at once.

13 June 2011

Super 8

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Put ET and Cloverfield in a blender, and you’ll get Super 8. I’m pretty sure that’s what JJ Abrams was going for from the start, as evidenced by getting Spielberg to produce it, and making the primary cast mostly kids; I’d say the formula worked pretty damn well.

A small group of kids with various kinds of family problems are trying to make a zombie movie on their Super 8 camera when a train crashes in frame and leads to a bunch of weird, scary stuff that the kids end up understanding better than most of the adults. It’s a definite formula, but done right it really resonates with the nostalgia centers of our brains, especially when the kids doing the acting know what they’re doing, which certainly seems to be the case here. The small group of distinct, likeable characters creates an atmosphere of caring and curiosity unlike anything I’ve seen in quite a while; I should probably watch The Goonies at some point.

The monster part was very well done too. I really liked Cloverfield, and figured from the start that this movie would have some similarities given JJ Abrams’ involvement. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s presented in much the same way, just a little bit at a time until the end, where we still don’t get long looks but enough to get a general idea. I thought the CGI was good too.

It might not be the most plausible of stories, and there are definitely a bunch of moments requiring a healthy dose of disbelief-suspension, but it’s just such a likeable movie that going on about its faults is a pointless venture. You want to see this movie.

05 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

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Kick-Ass was a pretty great-ish movie, so it was pretty cool that Matthew Vaughn got to do an X-Men movie too. For some reason though I never had very high hopes for this, probably because of the last two X-Men movies, III and Wolverine: Origins, neither of which could be called good. Hearing that the production was being very rushed didn’t help either, and although January Jones is positively smokin’, her acting career outside of Mad Men (and sometimes in it) hasn’t been stellar. Aside from Kevin Bacon the cast is mostly unknowns or just relatively new actors, whereas the first trilogy had the powerhouses Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. None of this could really ruin the movie but I still had my suspicions that it might not be the greatest thing ever.

It’s set in the 60s, so that’s pretty cool. We get to see more Nazis and Commies and clips of JFK, but sadly I didn’t really feel like what I was watching happened 50 years ago; probably just because there wasn’t really any apparent effort made to make it look like a movie from the 60s, more like somebody with a modern camera went back and made some shots. Imagine what a Tarantino X-Men movie would look like. Now that would be something.

Naturally since it is the 60s, and it’s called First Class, the story involves Professor X and Magneto getting together and starting the X-Men. Everybody’s young, hip, and aside from the leads, pretty bland. Kevin Bacon kind of makes up for the large cast of lamers by being himself, probably ending up as the best character next to Michael Fassbender as Magneto. I know I’ve seen that guy in stuff but even when I look it up I can’t remember his characters. I just now read that Mystique was played by Jennifer Lawrence; I knew I recognized her but her appearance and character here were so extremely removed from her role in Winter’s Bone that I just couldn’t make the connection. Sadly she’s far above the material she was given; Mystique worked much better as the silent morphing-supermodel.

I know I’ve been mostly negative so far, but it’s not a bad movie, just a pretty good one with a bunch of problems. People who are lauding it as the best of the series though are probably forgetting the first two. There were some darn cool scenes and some fun dialogue from time to time, and a pretty hilarious cameo of sorts half-way through. I just think the sadly necessary inclusion of so many characters hurt the film, probably because there was so little time to really develop them. Those who were given the most attention were good enough. The story wasn’t anything to go crazy over, as it seems to be with most prequels.

I’d say it’s about what I expected. I just wish it had been given a bit more time to stew.

04 June 2011

Concert Review: Man Man at Black Cat, 2011-06-03

The Show is the Rainbow

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Although not the worst opener I’ve ever been subjected to, the one-man rap-artist The Show is the Rainbow has the honor of the being the most retarded. The music wasn’t too bad, but being prerecorded I didn’t have much respect for him; in my limited research of the lineup before the show I saw hints that he had a band at one time, but they split. It doesn’t take much to imagine why. This guy is a wacko, pathetic pot-head. Most of the stuff he said between songs was about how great pot is and that he has no fans. Thankfully he was only “on stage” for about half an hour.

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers

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To me, this band was an experience similar to Secrets of the Moon; a band I’d never heard of that tore up the stage without the benefit of rabid fans, and had me transfixed. They’re definitely not the same sort of music of course, there was no metal to be had this night; still, the intensity and power that Shilpa threw into that microphone was pretty staggering for such a small person. They do a sort of jazzy punk-rock with a lot of soul and plenty of punch. All of the players were great. The guitarist’s sound was wonderfully distorted and colorful, the bass was clear and punchy, the drummer was the most animated person on stage all night, and Shilpa’s dynamic voice owned me. Possibly even more interesting was the strange instrument she was playing which is apparently a harmonium. They got a CD purchase out of me.

Man Man

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This band could be one of my favorite bands one day. As it stands though I haven’t heard enough of their music enough times for it to click with me. They have a lot of the elements I enjoy, including frequent time-changes, quirky vocals, some pretty heavy bits, and just general strangeness, but for some reason up to this point they haven’t grabbed me. I heard a bit more Tom Waits influence on their recorded stuff than I did in the live setting, which was a bit disappointing.

The main problem for me though was situational; the fans were here to party, and party they did. I was pretty near the stage and a mosh-pit broke out almost as soon as the band started playing after their somewhat ridiculous and prolonged abandonment of the stage after setting up their instruments, presumably to get into their uniforms and face-paint. I’m not a fan of moshing. Since I’m a short guy, moving away from the stage obscured the band from my view, so I just went to the back of the club to sit down. After that the music was okay but a bit muffled.

I think the main reason people claim the band is better live is their theatrics. There was much standing on top of things and being strange, and the instruments themselves were all decked out with plastic fingers and bicycle pieces; pretty neat to see but it didn’t add much for me. It was nice to see Shilpa help out with the vocals a couple times.

This was the second time I’ve been to Black Cat, and it’s a pretty nice venue. It’s quite cave-like, a lot like Sonar but a bit more friendly seeming. The area in the back is quite nice thankfully, a raised platform with chairs, tables, and even a couple couches. The sound’s pretty good and the alcohol is apparently pretty cheap for the area. I expect to be going back there a bunch in the future.

31 May 2011

Bridesmaids

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I’ve never really liked Kristen Wiig’s characters on SNL, but that might just be because it’s SNL. In the context of a film she has a lot more time to get things right, and she’s not inhibited by the one-note characters written for her. I’m not saying she’s a completely different person on the big screen but she’s a lot less annoying when she doesn’t have to be. At least she’s a good writer.

Bridesmaids is a movie that definitely looks like a “chick-flick,” but isn’t. It has many of the same basic building blocks; a bunch of female characters with relationship problems, a love interest, and OMG A WEDDING OMG. However, unlike the films advertised in the previews before this movie, it’s something that anyone with a good sense of humor and a strong enough stomach can enjoy. Being an Apatow-produced movie it’s not much of a surprise that there’s going to be some pretty raunchy comedy.

It’s the story of a largely unsuccessful woman with a newly engaged friend, and her seemingly endless self-destructive behavior and pity-parties. In her quest to compete for her best-friend’s attention, she manages to give the wedding-ladies food poisoning, get thrown off a plane, destroy a bridal shower, lose her job, and almost destroy a promising relationship with the Irish guy from The IT Crowd, jeopardizing the very friendship she was fighting for in the process. It’s a bit painful to watch at times, but being a comedy there’s plenty to keep it from being entirely depressing.

And what a comedy it is. This movie made me laugh more than any new funny-film has in the last few years. It’s gross, it’s irreverent, a bit shocking, awkward, and just a bit genius. The scene I’ll probably remember the longest didn’t even have any dialogue; Kristen makes a pretty neat cupcake and takes a bite, and then the camera just stays on her while she chews just a bit longer than would be expected as she makes unflattering faces. That sort of understated humor isn’t repeated a whole lot but the intelligence of it is prevalent.

The rest of the cast does a great job. There are a lot of great actors, some of which I recognized, including the awesome Jon Hamm as a fantastically awful person, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show fame as the silent fiancé, and the adorable Ellie Kemper from The Office as an innocent newlywed.

Once in a while the movie does kind of relax into the framework of a chick-flick, but never for long, and not in a way that made me want to stop watching it. It’s really funny.

24 May 2011

Some TV Stuff

Well, I haven’t seen any new movies in a  bit, and I’ve been kind of neglecting TV on here for a while. Not many of the shows I’ve been watching have really inspired me enough to write a full post. I could probably do it for a couple of them, but I think it’s easier just to do a little for each one here and be done with it.

The Event

key_art_the_eventSince I just finished watching last night’s finale, I figured I’d start with this, possibly the most interesting failure of the last batch of Lost clones. I initially had no interest in it based mostly on the name, which reminded me of The Happening. Not a good selling point. Anyway, there were a few semi-positive previews on some blogs I read so I figured I’d give it a chance. It focuses on a few characters in government and a cool, extremely earnest hacker/genius/hero type dude who are faced with alien invasion not too dissimilar from that of V, except here the aliens don’t actually look like lizards, they don’t have a spaceship, and they don’t want to eat us. Instead they just want to move in, which might require a substantial trimming of our population. Also they’ve been here for 60 years already and can make shiny portal things.

It’s not really a bad show. It’s miles better than FlashForward and V, and at times it’s almost gripping. The problem is that the characters don’t have much dimension, and are never given the opportunity to adjust to new circumstances, as whenever some seemingly game-changing thing happens, the resolution always involves replacement of characters and basically just going back to normal. I realize this is a common trait of network TV shows, but if you’re going to replace Lost you’d better try a bit harder. The Event will not be returning this fall, and I’m okay with that, especially after the perfectly ludicrous closing of the finale.

Castle

castle-fillion_l I’ve been keeping up with this show for one reason: Nathan Fillion. He’s a funny, charismatic dude, and he does have some input in the show, but it seems great actors need good writing and direction too. If only Joss Whedon could take it over. Nathan’s role as a successful mystery writer helping out a homicide policewoman is sometimes fun to watch, and occasionally the other characters make it bearable as well, but Castle is probably the most formulaic show I’ve ever seen, putting even House’s cookie-cutter plots to shame. It really becomes a chore to sit through the same beats over and over without any real progress in the overall story arc. There have been a couple interesting episodes but I can’t really remember them. I probably even missed a few because I couldn’t bring myself to give it my full attention every week. I’ll probably watch next season’s premiere to see how the cliffhanger turns out, but if it resolves as I expect it to then I don’t think I’m going to stick with it.

Chuck

NUP_111042_1145 Chuck is a stupid show. Almost every decision the lead characters make is idiotic, they never learn anything, and the insistence on involving unbelievable relationships in every episode’s plot is just tiresome. Still, it’s a show that panders to my nerdery, the characters usually have a kind of likeability, Yvonne Strahavski is incredibly gorgeous, and Jayne Cobb is in it. When I first tried the show while the first season was still airing I dismissed it after a few episodes. I later came back to it and fell in love; now that I’ve been watching it as it airs since somewhere in the second season, the appeal has died a bit, but not enough to make me abandon it for the final season coming up. I hope the writers can come up with an actual conclusion now that they don’t have to keep stretching things out in hope of renewal.

House MD

Watch House Season 7 Episode 10 - Carrot or Stick

Sevens seasons is a lot. Any show with this longevity should expect to be losing its edge, and I think that was very evident in last night’s finale. Every season-closer I can remember before this one was something of an event, almost a triumph of drama and character development; this time it was more like any other episode, with a half-hearted attempt at shock value. It was laughable. There was far too much reliance on House’s relationship with Cuddy this season. It worked sometimes but it was mostly just retreading the same issues that we’ve seen before dealing with House’s inability to do his job when he’s happy. Olivia Wilde’s absence from the cast for most of the season definitely hurt the show in my eyes, but I’m quite happy that she’ll be in a number of the movies I’m looking forward to because of it. There were a few episodes that broke from the usual formula, and I wish they’d do it more often, but the addictive quality that used to be there seems to be gone.

The Office

the-office-season-3-7 Now we start getting closer to something that might be considered quality. The Office has been around almost as long as House, but it’s managed to do that without relying on formula quite as heavily, to its benefit. The characters are still great, the comedy has lost most of its edge but remains charming, and the rather major upheaval in the loss of Steve Carell was handled pretty well, although the real fallout is yet to be seen. There were some very funny episodes amid the usual kinda-funny stuff up until the last few which were mostly very fun to watch. I really enjoyed Ellen and Gabe’s breakup and the ensuing feud between Gabe and Andy, which brought about some of the best line deliveries of the season. Will Farrell's brief stint as manager wasn’t the greatest but worked well enough. It’s still a good show after all these years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if next season is its last.

Fringe

fringe-s3e2-the-box-03-550x380 Much like Chuck, Fringe is a show that I initially dismissed after watching some of it, but came to love later. In my last post on the show I wrote about how I happened to drop in on an episode that basically blew my mind, pulling two universes on top of each other with fascinating results. The third season continued the storyline in an admirable fashion, with the two realities taking turns episode by episode with the alternate versions of the characters we’ve come to love. Sometimes it got a bit silly, what with the soul-magnets and whatnot, but for the most part Fringe remains a solid sci-fi-ish show with likeable characters and interesting plotlines. The monster-a-week formula has been mostly discarded in favor of a larger story, and it’s been working pretty well. I’m definitely looking forward to the season that we all expected not to happen.

The Chicago Code

Chicago_Code_CastI haven’t seen any other Shawn Ryan shows like The Shield or Terriers, but from what I understand they’re all similar in a few ways; the characters are complex people with the desire to do good while not really doing it all in a way that’s generally accepted as good, and the shows themselves are incredibly solid. Both hold true for The Chicago Code. It’s the story of a new lady police superintendant, Teresa Colvin, who has a strong desire to clean up the Chicago government, which is traditionally plagued with corruption. She puts together a small taskforce of cops she trusts, including our hero Jarek Wysocki, to find the dirt she needs to put away the evil one politician at a time. The trio of Teresa, Jarek and the despicable Alderman Gibbons are very well drawn, and all three of them fit the bill of good intentions versus questionable methods, to varying degrees of violence. Gibbons in particular is an interesting case, as he’s definitely an evil man, but he does seem to have the betterment of Chicago as his main goal, or at least that’s what he thinks; it may be he’s just serving himself. Jarek is fantastically played by Jason Clarke as a good police through and through while wrestling with his demons. Teresa, played by Jennifer Beals, initially seemed a bit unbelievable to me but eventually became more of a human character with an uncompromising method.

Aside from the cast, the show is just gorgeously filmed; it’s probably the best HD programming I’ve seen on network TV, with constantly crisp and vibrant colors in every shot. The use of voiceovers might be overdone sometimes but here it’s used well, especially in the first episode, which involved the moment that really hooked me into the show. It’s an extreme shame that it’s been canceled, but the finale really worked as a series closer.

Community

jim-rashs-dean-pelton-on-community-nbc-gets-our-prize-for-most-underappreciated This show is made for people like me. So many episodes are dedicated to parodying over-used tropes or honoring great films, and doing it hilariously with a great cast of loveable, unique characters. Oddly some of the faults I burned Chuck with count as merits for Community; no one ever really learns anything. They remain the same people after every episode. It works here for some reason. Anyway, the film-culture jokes are great, Abed continues to crack meta in the best moments possible, and the paintball episodes kick ass. By far the best comedy currently on TV, at least that I’ve seen. Can’t wait for more.

Now that these seasons have ended, I can now get back to some Netflixing when I’m not watching excellent shows like The Killing and Game of Thrones, and maybe write a bit more than I have been. I watch too much TV. Now let’s count all the grammatical errors I made, because I suck a proofreading!

DONE.

09 May 2011

Thor

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“I’m Thor.” “You’re Thor?” “Well it hurtth.” (not taken from this film)

I don’t know much at all about the comic-book version of Thor. My knowledge of Viking lore is mostly gleaned from Neil Gaiman books. Still, this movie seemed like it could be fun, and the reviews are pretty good. Having both Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman in the cast certainly can’t hurt.

Thor is the son of Odin the Allfather, king of Asgard, which is seemingly a planet or something instead of a spiritual realm as in the mythological version. The inhabitants of Asgard are a techno-magically advanced, powerful race of superhumans/aliens who’ve been trolling Earth for the past few millennia, posing as gods. Odin and his brother Loki are vying for their aging father’s throne, and Thor’s brash ways bring him to restart an age-old war with the Frost Giants, another alien race on another planet. This affront to peace makes Odin very angry; he summarily grounds Thor until he learns his lesson.

This brings us to Earth, where Thor the disenfranchised meets the lovely scientists Natalie and Kat stormchasing with their old-man co-worker. For a while Thor oddly thinks that he’s still the big man, but eventually figures out that he’s been a bad boy. This realization marks an almost immediate change in his attitude, and after a selfless act he’s given back the hammer and goes back up the rainbow bridge to kick some brotherly ass.

It’s not what I’d call a really good movie, and while others are calling it the best comic-book movie since The Dark Knight, I’m not sure I agree. I think I enjoyed Iron Man 2 a bit more. It is indeed an entertaining film, mostly due to its self-awareness; the movie knows it’s a bit ridiculous, and piles on the funny. If not for that it would just be stupid. The only performance that I really thought was truly good from an acting standpoint was Loki’s, played by Tom Hiddleston. The rest were just silly. Likeable, but silly. The visuals were pretty nice but too plastic for my liking, and the action kind of fell into the same trap as Sucker Punch by having little or no consequence.

Still, the funny saves it. Thor’s time on Earth being a jack-ass is fun to watch, and whole rainbow-bridge thing just cracks me up a bit. It’s a fun movie, and you could do worse than going to see it in theaters; just skip the 3D if you can.

07 May 2011

Deadwood

Deadwood courtesy Doug Hyun/HBO
Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, W. Earl Brown and Sean Bridgers

This show is awesome. Can’t really boil it down any further. It’s up there in the skies with The Wire and Breaking Bad, and all those other shows that I haven’t seen yet. The reason it’s so awesome is its extreme focus on characters and squeezing tons of incredible performances out of its actors. The dialogue is some of the most difficult to understand yet wonderful prose I’ve heard in a televised program, and the episode/season structure is extremely satisfying without relying on contrived cliffhangers for almost the entire three-season run. The great shame though is that it had to end prematurely with a rather large thread left untied, and it seems that it will forever remain so.

Now that I’ve started with something that would better fit in the conclusion I guess I’ll write a bit about the plot. The show is loosely placed on a real place called Deadwood, in which the majority of the characters are based on real people who really were in Deadwood in the late 1800s. However, a lot of dramatic liberties were taken to better serve the story. Anyway, this guy Al Swearengen is the owner of a saloon, and basically controls the camp that will later become a town. He’s a very smart, foul-mouthed man with good intentions but an uncompromising method. He has many, very loyal friends who help him to control and protect the camp. Not among them, at least at the start, is Seth Bullock, a moralistic man with little control over his fiery emotions who uses his position as a sheriff to give himself some outlet for his hatred of evil men. These two men are at odds for the majority of the show’s run, making for some terrific battles of character. Eventually though, greater dangers than the clash of their own egos arrive, and compromises must be made for the preservation of their livelihoods.

I can see now that if I start listing the characters further, this will never end, so you’ll have to take my word that they’re all fantastic. So there’s lots of stuff dealing with conflicting moralities, racism, honor, dishonor, loss, love, and death, as you’d expect in a western. It’s so much more than just a western though; it’s more like an epic Shakespearean play with F-words every two seconds. One theme that I noticed cropping up a lot was the characters’ need for control; several would constantly lash out at their underlings whenever they felt a lack of control or that they were being belittled by others, making them seem both petty and human. There’s just so much emotion in this show it’s ridiculous.

As expected I can’t really do Deadwood justice. To do that I’d have to write a few essays, and I really don’t want to do that. I’m done with highschool, thanks. I’m just going to have to leave this at it is and fume in my chair cursing HBO for cutting this wonderful thing short before it was meant to end.

01 May 2011

Win Win

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I’m a pretty big Paul Giamatti fan. Before I knew who he was it was still a treat whenever I recognized him in movies. Now I kind of seek out his stuff, and so far this has been the one that took the longest to see after I heard about it, because it’s such a small movie. What’s really cool about it is that it’s written and directed by Tom McCarthy, the guy who did The Station Agent and some of the new Game of Thrones series on HBO, which are both fantastic. He even had some involvement in the writing for Up, which is a fine movie too. To top it all off it has Jeffrey Tambor from Arrested Development and Amy Ryan from The Office. Good people in this thing.

Mike Flaherty is a rather down-on-his-luck family-man lawyer who is also a wrestling coach at the local high school. His luck starts changing when he finds out one of his elderly clients has a lot of money and needs a legal guardian to take care of him as he slips into dementia, which leads to Mike doing some shady things to get the money without doing too much actual work. Then his client’s estranged grandson comes into the picture and happens to be a great wrestler, unlike everyone on Mike’s team. Win win! Everything goes great for a while, but of course Mike’s misdeeds eventually come back to wreck his day.

It’s dramedy of sorts; very funny and also emotionally involving. Most of the characters are broken in some way, much like those in McCarthy’s other works. I really like movies like this where the characters are human and unsure of what they’re supposed to be doing. Kyle, the wrestler, is possibly the most human of all the characters because he’s not actually an actor; while his lines aren’t delivered with any sense of professionalism, it’s believable for his character and really works quite well. Mike’s slightly-better-off friend, played by Bobby Cannavale, plays a financially successful but familial failure of a man who just can’t seem to do anything without it seeming like sexual innuendo, and brings in most of the laughs while still being just about as broken as Mike. Amy Ryan, playing Mike’s wife, seems to have it a bit more together but is definitely ruled by her emotions.

One thing that was a bit weird but also kind of expected was the proliferation of product-placement. My friend and I counted at least five or six instances of it, sometimes more obvious than others; it was kind of funny how Wii Golf was shown a few times very quickly and mentioned in the dialog, with the delivery of the lines seeming to be almost begrudging of its inclusion, at least to my ears. I can understand why there was so much; it costs a lot to make a movie, even one as simple as this, and it still has a very independent feel.

It’s a very good movie. I’m not big on sports, but kind of like Crazy Heart’s use of country music, the wrestling in this film was easy to enjoy as it really had a lot to do with the story. Everything else was just really enjoyable because of the great character writing. You should go watch it if you get the chance.

11 April 2011

Hanna

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There’s been a respectable number of young-lady-centric movies recently, some of them good (True Grit) and some of them pretty awful (Sucker Punch). Hanna definitely falls in the former category.

The story is a little vague, but not too hard to follow. Hanna is the daughter of a rogue CIA-or-something agent who has grown up separated from civilization in a snowy forest-land, learning how to be the perfect soldier and not a whole lot else. She does manage to retain some wonder though, which makes her an interesting character. Once she is set free from her prison as a rite of passage deal, we’re witness to both her efficiency as a warrior and her quizzical, awkward side as she deals with attackers and newfound friends on a mission to avenge her murdered mother who she never knew. On the way, she discovers things about herself and her father that change her world forever.

Possibly the coolest thing about this movie is the soundtrack and how the rest of the film is entwined with it. Near the beginning of the movie Hanna asks her father what music is, and is given a dry, colorless definition that really has no bearing on what she really wants to know; when she first discovers music in an ugly Moroccan hotel, she’s enthralled. There are several scenes where the characters are doing rhythmic things that sync up with the music to great effect. The music itself is great. It’s the first Chemical Brothers music I’ve heard, and I think I’ll probably be investigating them further.

The second greatest thing I thought was the dialogue. Hanna herself speaks very strangely, mostly in a sort of rapid-fire fashion, especially when reciting her carefully memorized cover story to people who don’t really care. At other times she just says things that any normal person wouldn’t say, to the confusion of her audience. Another character, a young European girl who quickly befriends Hanna, says possibly even weirder things in her matter-of-fact voice that I found pretty hilarious. The adult cast’s dialogue is also quirky but not to the same extent.

The camera work is awesome, the characters are colorful and interesting, the dialogue is a joy, and it’s all just so darn fun. It does help that many comparisons could be drawn to The Bourne Identity without danger of being another Unknown. As far as female empowerment goes, I think this movie succeeds quite well. It’s not exactly what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t a disappointment at all.