Archive for the '2011 Movies' Category

My 2011 in Movies

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

No links or italics here, sorry. Links are in individual entries in 2011 Movies link on the right.

Favorite Things I Watched: Bridesmaids, Thor, The Wire Season 4 (my favorite thus far), Captain America, Moneyball, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Slings and Arrows, Spaced

Good to Watch Again: Die Hard, 16 Candles, Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters, North by Northwest, Stand by Me, Out of Sight, Ocean’s 11, Iron Man,Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Shop Around the Corner

Good with the kids: Ponyo, Nausicaa, A Christmas Story, The Muppets, The Muppets Christmas Carol

Not so good with the kids: Kung Fu Panda 2, Tangled, Megamind

Kind of hated: Dark Crystal, Black Swan, The Illusionist, Ghost Writer, Weird Science, Rio, 500 Days of Summer

2011 Movies:

Die Hard
The September Issue
A Prophet
True Grit (2010)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Real Genius
High Noon
Ghost Writer
Spaced (television series)
Hamlet (BBC, David Tennant)
16 Candles
Weird Science
Groundhog Day
Night Train to Munich
The Kids Are Alright
The Man Who Knew Too Much
North by Northwest
The Three Musketeers (Gene Kelly one)
Fahrenheight 451
Stand by Me
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Kung Fu Panda
Jane Eyre (2011)
Kung Fu Panda 2
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The American
The Secret in their Eyes
500 Days of Summer
The Town
Slings and Arrows S1 and 2
Hamlet (Ethan Hawke)
Donnie Darko
The Fighter
Fair Game
The Illusionist
The Hours
The Muppets Take Manhattan
Easy A
Black Swan
Out of Sight
The Good German
The Informant!
The Social Network
Ocean’s 11
Iron Man
Iron Man 2
Ocean’s 12
A Knight’s Tale
Captain America
Let the Right One In
Murder My Sweet
The Muppets (2011)
The Dark Crystal
The Wire S4
Bridget Jones’ Diary
The Shop Around the Corner
A Christmas Story
The Lemon Drop Kid
The Muppet Christmas Carol
While You Were Sleeping

More Christmas Movies & Shows

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

And the hits just keep on comin’. I have very much adopted the 12 days of Christmas as the boundary for the holiday, since I often don’t get my act together till about 11pm on Christmas Eve.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). 8yo Drake and 5yo Guppy had to be cajoled into this, but both enjoyed it a lot by the end, unlike Emmet Otter, which only Drake and I enjoyed. G. Grod slept through much of it. An interestingly faithful adaptation.

Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe (2011). Good, not great. It felt like current show runner and writer Stephen Moffatt was protesting WAY too hard that Women Are Smarter, perhaps in response to the many critics who say that his writing along gender lines isn’t exactly forward thinking. But Matt Smith does funny doctor very well: “I _know!_”

While You Were Sleeping. Recommended by Connie Willis in her collection of Christmas stories, Miracle. Sandra Bullock is a lonely singleton who accidentally gets enveloped by the family of a man in a coma. Released in ‘95, it looked and felt more like an ’80s flick. Hokey, with a terrible and manipulative soundtrack, it’s strangely winning, largely due to Bullock’s and Bill Pullman’s charm.

Let the Christmas Viewings Begin…

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Christmas season, and time to break out the Christmas books and DVDs. Our collection and things we borrow from the library gets a little longer each year. Like the “5 Gifts” post, I will try to post this earlier, say after Thanksgiving, next year.

Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. A Muppet production based on a favorite book from my childhood by Russell and Lillian Hoban, who also wrote the Frances the badger books. The video adheres closely to the story and the Muppets are a perfect fit. 8yo Drake and I enjoyed this. 5yo Guppy said he hated it, and my husband G. Grod slept through much of it, as he does every year.

Bridget Jones’ Diary. Not for the kids, and not exactly a Christmas movie, but it starts and ends at the holidays, and I love it. I love the casting (Hugh Grant and Colin Firth), the soundtrack and timing, the humor. I feel like I might be a bad feminist for loving it so, what with Bridget only redeeming herself in the end by getting the guy, having humiliated herself yet again, by racing around town in her tiger-striped undies. Don’t care. Love.

A Charlie Brown Christmas. Guppy got to pick this one. He and Drake both loved it, though I’m not sure they’re reliable critics, as they also loved the lame ass sequel on the DVD.

The Shop Around the Corner. Not with the kids. Perhaps my favorite Christmas film, and one I love much better than that other Jimmy Stewart classic. Remade as In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail.

A Christmas Story. No one in our family had ever seen this, which some friends considered travesty, one we corrected this year. Enjoyable, funny, but I think it’s classic would grow with repeat viewings, which we haven’t had yet. Drake liked it; Guppy didn’t.

Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas (with Seasons Bleatings!) Guppy picked this, since he hated the last one. Both boys were delighted and cackled gleefully and often, as they always do with the Shaun DVDs. If you’re a Wallace and Gromit fan and haven’t checked them out, do.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. When Guppy was younger–two or three years ago?–we watched this and he hid his eyes and said he didn’t like the green guy. He’s acquired the taste though, and loved it this year.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Before watching, Guppy said he didn’t like it. After, he’d changed his mind. Both boys were confused by the shunning of Rudolph. I’m convinced that Hermie’s (why does it sometimes sound like Herbie?) dentistry is a deliberate metaphor for something else. And the defanging of the Bumble seems more cruel every year.

The Lemon Drop Kid. Recommended by Connie Willis in her MIracle and Other Christmas Stories. Bob Hope as a con artist who owes a gangster money by Christmas. Good, not great, but has him singing Silver Bells with his co-star. Worth it, if not must-watch for every year.

More to come…

“Murder My Sweet” (1944)

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

I found out about Murder My Sweet a while back in this article at Tor on Chandler adaptations. Since The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye (which gets wrongly dissed in the article) are two of my favorite films, I wanted to check out this, since Chandler claimed Powell was his favorite actor to portray Marlowe.

Marlowe is hired by a thug just out of jail to find his ex-girlfriend. He’s also asked to accompany a guy who is afraid he’s walking into an ambush. Surprise! He was. The guy is dead, the police suspect Marlowe, and all of a sudden there’s a vampy blonde and an earnest brunette, and things get complicated and shoot-y. Good stuff.

“Let the Right One In” (2008)

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

When I first got Let the Right One In (the Swedish original, not the American remake) dvd from the library, my husband G Grod pointed out an article that said it was flawed. Instead of the evocative translation from the theaters, where the film had been a surprise hit, the DVD used a looser, sloppier set of subtitles that fans said didn’t do the film justice. The studio said it would release a version that also had the theatrical subtitles. And it did, though this clarification isn’t on the package, but only on the menu. I can’t speak to the comparison of subtitles, but found this Swedish vampire film about a friendship between children spooky, not too gory, and even touching.

Even More Movies

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Continuing our home-movie binge:

Ocean’s 12 (2004). Some good bits but nowhere near as entertaining as its predecessor. (Rather like Iron Man 2 in that respect.) This blog post posits it’s because it’s not a heist film, but an art film. If you wonder, like the author, why so much of recent film has a blue/orange look, this article has a good take on it.

Zombieland (2009). Some good parts, and one part at the end that I would’ve liked even more if it hadn’t been spoiled (my fault for waiting so long to see it). Some clever takes on zombie tropes, and Woody Harrelson is entertaining.

A Knight’s Tale (2001). For the first hour or so, this weird mix of late 20th century rock and medieval story was bizarrely entertaining. Then, the movie dragged on to over 2 hours. Note to filmmakers: B movies should not be much more than 90 minutes.

Captain America (2011) on Bluray, which looked really, really good. The special effects of having Steve Rogers start small and asthmatic and transform into Chris Evans were impressive. Like Iron Man and Thor, a solid tentpole leading up to the circus that is going to be The Avengers. A solidly entertaining B movie.

My disappointment at the end of Knights Tale put me over the edge, and I’m now going to have to take a break, and get back to reading.

Many More Movies

Friday, October 21st, 2011

We’ve been on something of a DVD bender since getting a new DVR, high def TV, and Bluray player. While I’m not sure it was prudent, we did it anyway, and now might as well enjoy the fruits of our folly. The high definition takes some getting used to, as all movies now look somehow more like real life, whatever that is. But we figure, the more we watch, the more accustomed to it we’ll be. So it’s for our own good that we’re watching all these movies. Really.

The Social Network (2010) d. David Fincher. My husband declined to watch it, but I’m glad I did. No matter how much of it is really real, the story it tells is a compelling one, well acted, and intriguingly constructed and told. From IMDB trivia, some of the cameras used in production were lent by Steven Soderbergh, director of:

Ocean’s 11 (2001) My husband’s pick, and a continuation of our Soderbergh kick. We saw it originally in the theater. Cool, clever, fun and funny. An enjoyable and entertaining way to spend a few hours. That rarity: a well-crafted popcorn flick.

Zodiac (2007) d. David Fincher. WAY too long. Engaging in its focus on how the serial killing messed up a bunch of lives, instead of as a straight procedural and with good performances. Robert Downey Jr, much like Al Pacino, has come to a point where he tends to play a version of himself–a smart-ass, kind of crazy, substance abusing pain in the ass. He’s good at it, but I wonder if he’s able to play anything else, or if the public would pay to see him play anything else. And so…

Iron Man (2008) d. Jon Favreau. Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark, a womanizing, drunk, pain the ass. This is a solid execution of a superhero movie. Fun, funny, tense, but not overly so, and not overly long. Great performances by actors who seem to be having a lot of fun. The next film seemed obvious…

Iron Man 2 (2010) d. Jon Favreau. With Mickey Rourke as the Russian villain, and Scarlett Johannson as the undercover agent. A bit too big for its britches, it overplays its charms and explosions, but still has some fun moments and snappy dialogue. Don Cheadle ably plays Rhodie, which Terrence Howard did a fine job with in #1.

What with Thor as our first Blu ray purchase, my husband and I are geeking out on Marvel’s well-orchestrated buildup to The Avengers. Joss Whedon. The Avengers. Squee! And in general I’m much more of a DC babe than a Marvel one, so whoever is driving this bus is doing a bang-up job.

Slings and Arrows Season 2

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Slings and Arrows complete collection

A long-ago recommendation from Mental Multivitamin, Slings and Arrows is a Canadian television series about a Shakespeare company that’s led by a former mental patient who’s being haunted (or is he?) by the ghost of the former director. It’s a wacky ensemble piece in which each season centers around the production of one main play. Season One was Hamlet, Season 2 was Macbeth (aka the Scottish Play, yanno). Like my friend at MMv, my husband got me season 1 on DVD, which we enjoyed, but when we went to get season 2, it was cheaper to get the complete series of all three, which came with better extras. So we thought season 1 was so nice, we bought it twice. Then perhaps enjoyed Season 2 perhaps even more than Season 1. At only 6 hour-minus-commercials-long episodes per season, it is a lot of delight in a short amount of time. Its a great blend of funny, sad, bitter and sweet. Rather like the Bard’s own work.

Myriad Movies

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Here’s what we’ve been watching.

Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) d. Frank Oz. With the kids. Solid and sweet with great cameos. A worthy follow up to the original, which Muppets in Space was not. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming muppet film.

Nausicaa (1984) d. Hayao Miyazaki. With the kids. The first full-length film he directed, and one of his best. Based on his own series of graphic novels, this is one of the rare instances when the film betters the book, which was too long and repetitive. The story benefits from the compression to film, while color, motion, and voices bring the story to new levels. A princess in an ecologically destroyed future has to battle bad guys, giant robots, killer spores and rampaging insects. She’s cute, smart, tough, and compassionate. Now THIS is a princess.

Bridesmaids (2011) Again. On a date night with my husband. Because I love it. LOVE IT. Bawdy and at times brilliant.

Easy A (2010) The charming Emma Stone is a high school nobody who gains notoriety by pretending to sleep with gays and geeks. She gets noticed, they stop getting beaten up. It’s supposed to be win/win, but of course, then there would be no conflict. An homage to the John Hughes movies of the 80’s, brought up to date with social media and hardware. Funny, with a few nice surprises.

Black Swan (2010) d. Darren Aronofsky. What I hated about this film was it’s hatefulness. That’s not circular, even if it sounds like it. Yes, the film is interesting to look at, Portman can act, and the story is involving. But it’s bleak, hopeless, and says only cruel things about people and the world. As with his previous directorial effort, The Wrestler, I felt icky during and after watching this. I’m done with this director.

Edited to Add: Another thing that didn’t help me like the movie was how strongly it reminded me of an episode of Fantasy Island from my childhood. Annette Funicello played a nice-girl ventriloquist, whose sassy dummy seemed to be taking over her life. The dummy came to life in the form of sexy Maren Jensen (Athena on the original Battlestar Galactica) and they had a struggle to the death at the end to see which part of Annette’s personality would survive. I may be the only person who remembers this episode, but nonetheless, it was more than a little distracting to see many of the details in Black Swan.

Out of Sight (1998) d. Steven Soderbergh. Restored my faith in film making. I don’t care if you don’t like Jennifer Lopez. She’s great in this: strong, smart, sexy and just fun to watch. The non-chronological story, the chemistry with her and Clooney, the amazing work by supporting actors like Albert Brooks, Don Cheadle, and the hilarious Steve Zahn, the assured direction combine to make a great movie. Enjoyable and well-crafted, I concur with Dan Kois at Slate that this is a movie for the ages.

Bridemaids (2011) and The Hours (2002)

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Reviewing Bridesmaids and The Hours together? What could be similar about the raunchy Kristin Wiig comedy and the sedate Oscar winner based on a Pulitzer Prize winning book? Other than that they are both terrific in an apples-to-oranges way, they DO have a few things in common.

The Hours is a SERIOUS FILM with major stars including Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman (who won an Oscar for her role as Virginia Woolf) and Ed Harris. Like the novel it’s based on, it intertwines the stories of three women: Virginia Woolf who is writing Mrs. Dalloway; Julianne Moore as a 50’s housewife; and Meryl Streep as a lesbian whose best gay friend is dying of AIDS. This film was beautiful to watch, and while I felt it slow at the beginning, it gained momentum and I was weeping by the end. The Phillip Glass score was a little too loud, obvious, and full of itself, while the film also had some interesting and not-so-good departures from the book. Virginia was crazier in the film than in the book–more of a spectacle than the living, breathing, fascinating complex person she was in Cunningham’s novel. Moore was also more interesting in the book. She was the awkward outsider while her husband was a returning war hero, and it was more overtly about post WWII than about 50’s Americana, which the film took pains to portray, has less of a connection to the novel Mrs. Dalloway and is an easier target. Streep was terrific, and fun because she’s mentioned in the novel, a bit of synchronicity that Cunningham understandably enjoyed.

opens on Kristen Wiig’s character Annie having vigorous, prolonged and cringe-worthy but hilarious sex with Jon Hamm, perfectly cast in contrast with his suave, womanizing Don Draper character from Mad Men. Annie is single and in a downward spiral after her cake shop shuttered during the recession. When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), she finds she has a rival for Annie’s affections in Helen. As the two joust, Annie meets a nice guy, can’t deal with him, and thinks she’s hit bottom but somehow keeps digging. There is tons of over-the-top and uncomfortable humor, but it also possesses a solid thread of believability, especially in some of the female relationships and interchanges. Wiig is tremendously engaging, while Melissa McCarthy as the wacko sister of the groom steals most of the scenes she’s in. I saw this first with a girlfriend, and then with my husband. If you can handle the raunch, I highly recommend this. It’s funny, smart, with some truth and realism to it, plus some satisfying romance. I look forward to buying it on DVD.

Superficially, the films couldn’t be more different. Yet both included repeated images of breaking eggs and women kissing women. Both had scenes of a woman sneaking into bed with her lover pretending to have been there longer than she had. Both meditated on women’s friendships, and both had a challenging mother/daughter relationship. Both also had a panoply of female actors playing interesting and often out there characters. Both were shining examples of how good films can be when they pass the Bechdel test, which most movies don’t. (Though there’s a small but vocal minority who disagree about that, in an intriguing interchange in the comments.)

(One question about Bridesmaids, though. The character of Lillian’s cousin, Rita, who is blond, dissatified in her marriage and yet hungry for adventure (and thus the most cliche of the bridesmaids, apart from Helen), reminded me strongly of the bride’s sister in one of the first R-rated movies I saw, Bachelor Party. Does this ring a bell for anyone else?)

“The Fighter” and “Fair Game” (2010)

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Here are two more mediocre movies I’ve received in a crazy burst from the library. For the record, I did not expect either of them to be as mediocre as they were, but I’m reminded again that I should carefully vet the things I give my time to.

The Fighter is the one with Mark Wahlberg as the guy from Lowell MA whose older brother is a former boxer and his trainer. Melissa Leo plays his mother who is also his agent. There’s an embarrassing family (complete with an entourage of ugly stepsisters), a lithe lovely bartender girlfriend, and underdog tale, and will he/won’t he leave his family behind. I felt throughout that I’d seen this film before, and I have. It’s like Invincible (Mark Wahlberg as working class underdog sports guy with pretty bartender girlfriend, here played by Elizabeth Banks) with a smidge of Micky Rourke’s The Wrestler thrown in, as well as some of Ben Affleck’s The Town and Good Will Hunting about leaving behind the folks in working class Mass. who’ll drag you down. Not a whole lot happens over its almost two hours. Do you think Mark Wahlberg’s character wins in the end? Does he reconcile with his brother? The performances by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are strong, but can’t carry this by-the-numbers sports movie and its telegraphed ending. Police officer and sometime trainer Mickey O’Keefe is played by himself. Loved him in the film.

I wanted to rent Fair Game because I read decent reviews of it and it’s directed by Doug Liman, whose Bourne Idenitity I liked a lot. Moreover, the Plame/Wilson scandal was something that I totally missed after I had my son Drake in 2003 and then lingering health problems through that winter. I probably eschewed the news because I was feeling down and overwhelmed already, but it was an embarrassing hole in my current event knowledge that I wanted to address. And probably, this movie was not the way to do it. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are good, but not great, in the lead roles. Plot points feel like a checklist: here’s the scene we learn Wilson shoots his mouth off; here’s the scene where her loyalties are tested. The movie didn’t surprise me, or even interest me overmuch. Hints about Plame’s complexity were just that, and would have done well to be developed rather than showing a pretty blond actress running around the screen mostly looking pretty and worried.

“Donnie Darko” (2003) and “Inside Job” (2010)

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Can you tell I’m not managing my library dvd queue well? That’s how the I’ve-never-seen-this-cult-classic Donnie Darko and Inside Job, the recent documentary on the banking collapse came in at the same time. (Along with two others, and then two others. Why do they all come in at once? I don’t think I reserved them all at once, but maybe I did. Sigh.)

Donnie Darko is the teen-angst movie of the early 00’s, reminding me strongly of Heathers. I could see falling madly in love with this film if I were younger and more disaffected. As it was, I liked Jake Gyllenhaal’s weird guy with hallucinations of a creepy guy dressed as a bunny named Frank.

I was not disaffected, that is, until after I watched Inside Job. My husband G. Grod declined to watch it, saying he knew it would anger and depress him. “But it’s supposed to be so good!” I protested, pointing out the gazillion encomiums on the cover, all from reputable sources, not dodgy ones. Matt Damon narrates this explanation of the collapse of the housing bubble and banking industry in 2008. As far as I can tell, everyone is evil, and what are viewers supposed to think if Elliott Spitzer and Dominique Strauss-Kahn are on the side of ethics? I guess this is why Dante imagined levels of hell. Faugh. Made me sick to my stomach.

While I watched it, G. went out with a friend to see Green Lantern at the cheap theater with the really good popcorn topped with real butter. He didn’t think the movie was much good, but enjoyed the popcorn, hanging out with his friend and some of the movie. Draw your own conclusion.

“The Apartment” (1960)

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I was surprised and delighted again when I watched Billy Wilder’s The Apartment for a second time at a revival with a friend. The Dairy Queen chocolate/caramel sundae didn’t hurt, either. Jack Lemmon is a mid-level schmoe at a gigantic insurance company. He distinguishes himself by lending out the key to his cozy, nearby apartment to executives for extramarital affairs. His neighbors think he’s a lush and lothario, but really he’s just that guy, you know the sweet, kinda funny, kinda sad one. He has a crush on Miss Kubilick, played by an impossibly young looking Shirley Maclaine who sports an adorable pixie cut and sweet smile. When personnel, in the form of Fred MacMurray, figures out what’s going on, it looks like Lemmon’s in trouble. He is, but not in the way he thought. If you’re a fan of the show Mad Men, with its pitiless eye on the sexual power politics of the time, this is another window on that world. The Apartment the last black-and-white movie to win the Best Picture Oscar, is a sweet little gem, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Also, the group of executives is a cornucopia of “hey, it’s that guy” guys that those of us who watched TV and movies in the 70’s and 80’s will recognize.

An Odd Trio of Films

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

After watching Season 1 of Slings and Arrows, it was natural to want to watch a production of Hamlet. We recently watched, and didn’t love, the David Tennant one, which was an unpleasant hybrid of a stage production and a film. We watched Branagh’s completist Hamlet a few years ago. That one bugs me more than a little, as I don’t think the unedited, Frankenstein-ian full text was ever meant to be, or should be, produced in its entirety. And so we settled on, please don’t judge us, the 2000 film with Ethan Hawke. And we really enjoyed it. This modern-media overload version of Hamlet made some interesting choices, and ones that played to the strength of film, rather than just filming a stage-type production. Hawke was fine as Hamlet, as were Gertrude and Claudius. It is a rare production that portrays Gertrude as more than a pawn. I thought Julia Stiles did a fine modern Ophelia, and the casting of Bill Murray as Polonius was interesting, given his comedic past and dramatic present. Most memorable, though, was Liev Schreiber as Laertes. Often Laertes is portrayed simply as a weakling or fool. Not so, here. Schreiber brings a physical presence and palpable sense of menace to the role. Worthwhile if you are a fan of the play, and at less than two hours, a decent expenditure of time.

My husband has become increasingly enamored of local band Cloud Cult, so we snapped up a used copy of the documentary, No One Said It Would Be Easy. It’s charming, but slow and a little meandering at first, rather like the lead singer/songwriter Craig Minowa. But as the documentary continues, and the several band members and associates contribute their memories, art and interpretations, the documentary becomes rather like one of their songs–layered, auditory, visual, weird, beautiful and touching. There is one particularly sad part of the band’s history I won’t spoil here. Another coda to the dvd is that cellist Sara Young and her husband Adrian, their manager, chose to leave the band after the documentary was completed. On screen, theirs was a compelling story, as they talked about and were shown through the process of having two children while playing and touring with the band. It must have been a difficult change, as Sara had been with Craig through all the permutations of the band, yet I’m sure her work/life split will be far more balanced.

If you haven’t heard Cloud Cult before, give them a listen.

For a family film, I took 7yo Drake and 5yo Guppy to see Rio, no relation to the Angry Birds game. We saw it at the Riverview, a discount theater with delicious popcorn topped with real butter, and that was the best part of the experience for me. I was glad not to have paid full price or even standard matinee price. I didn’t feel bad about napping for the last 30 minutes or so of the film. Here’s a good guide to whether you would like the film:

Does the lost bird get found? He can’t fly at the beginning of the movie; can he fly by the end? Do the geeky scientist and awkward librarian fall in love? Do the male and female birds end up together? Does the villain have dark skin? Do the actors who voice the comic relief have dark skin, as opposed to those who voice the central characters?

If you hesitate over any of these questions, then you might not be as bored by Rio as I was. But the boys were delighted, and it was a fine way to spend a rainy afternoon on the cheap.

“Slings and Arrows” Season 1

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

A Canadian television series now available on DVD, Slings and Arrows was recommended at Mental Multivitamin. My thoughtful husband got it for me immediately, and then (as so often happens) it languished on our shelf, gathering dust.

(Oh, my, has it really be over THREE YEARS since that recommendation, and likely that long it’s been on the shelf?)

Last week we pulled it out, and went through the first season’s 6 episodes in quick succession. It’s about a Shakespeare festival theater in Canada, its struggles to make survive and put on a credible version of Hamlet. Oliver is the fussy director, Ellen is the aging actress, Geoffrey is the former-star-who-had-a-famous-breakdown, and Rachel McAdams plays a likable ingenue. It’s mostly funny, with some tragedy and romance thrown in for good measure. The cast is enormously engaging, as is the play within the show. I look forward to Season 2, which I’m waiting for from the library.

More Movies

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Continuing with the onslaught of movies from the library.

The Secret in their Eyes (2009) A Spanish-language film that won the Oscar for best foreign film. I liked it; my husband G. Grod loved it. A retired legal guy is writing a novel based on a case from early in his career. The story is told back and forth in the past and present, but is still clear in the tales it tells. Warning, this movie starts off with images of sexual violence and the plot moves around that, so if that’s not your thing, avoid this. But it has good performances and a compelling plot, as well as an amazingly suspenseful elevator ride scene. Very good.

500 Days of Summer
(2010) The relationship of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, the Summer of the title, is tracked over 500 days, going back and forth, sometimes overlapping. Rather than funny and clever, I found it cloying and unsurprising. I like both the leads, but the flat characters killed any charm the gimmick of back and forth in time might have brought me. A few funny bits, but overall, eminently skippable.

The Town (2010) Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, this Boston heist movie is solid. It’s anchored by good performances from Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm, the plot is fine, and though it covers ground many have been over before (one last heist, the good guy trying to get out while his sidekick gets more embroiled, the guy falling in love with the only witness, etc.) it does so in a way that was enjoyable, even if not surprising. Definitely worth renting.

Added later: My husband G. noted that The Town is essentially the same story as Good Will Hunting: smart local struggles to get out of stifling situation, meets higher class girl, feels dragged down by old local friends.

“The American” (2010)

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

The American was my husband G. Grod’s pick and he enjoyed it more than I did. George Clooney is an assassin hiding out, doing ONE LAST JOB BEFORE HE GETS OUT, providing a custom made gun to a FEMME FATALE. Even after his last “friend” died violently (at his hand!) he begins to FALL IN LOVE WITH A BEAUTIFUL HOOKER WITH A HEART OF GOLD. This bag of cliches weighed on me.

The film is beautifully shot in Italy, and Clooney gives a good performance as a quiet, terse, tired killer plagued by rightful paranoia. But the plot is thin, and full of holes: he ditches a cell phone so he can’t be traced, but keeps the car he was given. One of the people out to kill him has ample opportunity a few times, which makes the ending less tense. A person who’s supposed to be ambiguous wasn’t, really, to me. I was really bothered by the plot with the prostitute. Not without merit, but I wish I’d done something else with my hour and forty-five minutes.

Reviews from: A.O. Scott, Ebert, Michael Phillips, Rotten Tomatoes.

Many Movies

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

We’re in the middle of a movie bender because of the long Memorial Day weekend and a clump of requests that came in to the library from my reserve queue. I’m struggling to keep up with life basics (must remember: a shower is not a privilege, it is a SOCIAL CONTRACT*) so don’t have time to review each one individually. So.

Kung Fu Panda (2008). With the kids on DVD. They loved it. So did my husband and I. “There is no charge for awesomeness.”

Jane Eyre (2011). Moms’ night out. Loved how literally dark it was, and how strong and sassy Jane was. They did not use the famous line, “Reader, I married him.” Because it wouldn’t have made sense. Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax brought a minor character her due.

Kung Fu Panda 2
(2011). With the kids in a theater with extraordinarily expensive popcorn and pop. Total for one adult and 2 child tickets, 2 kid combos, a Fresca (mmm, ester of wood rosin) and a small popcorn: $37.50. Again, very entertaining. “I’m gonna need a hat.”

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) with my husband on DVD, part of a clump that came into the library from my request list. Weird. Fascinating. Fun to watch. More than a little head-tilting, though. Huh? What?

More to come. I’m not sure my movie/book balance is going to hold for long.

*Hat tip, LA for this phrase.

“Thor” (2011)

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

My standard apology for a lapse in blogging. I’ve had a bunch of articles due that I took way too long to write, and life seems to be crashing around me in waves, which are tremendous fun if I’m a little ahead of them, but instead I keep getting sand in my suit and swallowing the ocean.

My husband and I deemed Kenneth Branagh’s new Thor date-worthy, after it got some good reviews out of the gate. And I enjoyed it a great deal, but at least some of that may be due to how ridiculously handsome I found the guy who plays Thor, and I’m normally more drawn to Mediterranean looking guys, not Nordic ones. Some of this, too, has to be due to director Kenneth Branagh, who knows from directing himself as a young king in Henry V, how to made a young blond guy look good, as well as tell a compelling story about how he has to fight for his place on the throne, overcome the rashness of youth, and court an awkward, brunette foreign beauty. But it was the “villain,” the jealous sibling and trickster Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston who really made the film, I thought.

This is not A-list comic-based fare, like Spider Man 2 or The Dark Knight, but it’s up there with Iron Man as a solid, well-done, interestingly cast, entertaining flick.

“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (2010)

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

The documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work got good reviews when it came out, of the urging kind, as in “I urge you to seek out this film.” Eventually it was my turn at the library, and my husband and I watched it this week. And still, it surprised us with how good it was.

Joan Rivers, with her squawky voice and admitted predilection for plastic surgery, would be an easy target. But she steadfastly refuses this role. She’s 75 and not only still working, she’s disappointed in herself if she’s not doing more than one show or appearance a day. She’s happiest when she’s busiest, especially when she’s onstage and making people laugh. She’s shameless about her fear of not working and readily admits she’ll do anything (not just about anything) for money. This honesty helps balance out her raucous, oft offensive, jokes. She is simulataneously unafraid of saying or doing anything, but very afraid of being forgotten or ignored, or bombing on stage. She is fascinating, funny, offensive and though larger than life, still human. This was a fine portrait of an interesting person.