Saturday, December 8, 2012

Movie Guy: Women We Love

I should really just stop apologizing when it takes me a while to get back to my blog. I do this for fun: to share my love of films and other silly things with those of you interested in reading about them. So, I'll write when I have the time and the interest to do so. I suppose that's what casual blogging is all about, anyway.
Zoe Kazan. See? Now don't you wish you'd watched
The Exploding Girl like I told you to?
As usual, I have a number of accumulated movie views to share with you - some old favorites, some new to me - and, as usual, that number is a bit much for one post.
Esquire magazine has their "Women We Love" issue, and - since a few of the films I've seen lately have featured some of our favorite women in film here at Superfluity central, I thought that would be an appropriate theme for today's blog.

Ruby Sparks (2012) 
The women: Zoe Kazan, Alia Shawkat, Annette Bening
"In this script - written by you, my girlfriend - I play a writer
who writes the perfect woman - played by you, my girlfriend.
And you're crying anyway. I can't win." 
A novelist (Paul Dano) writes about his fictional perfect woman (Zoe Kazan), and she appears. Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan and playwright Molly Kazan, and daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord) wrote the screenplay for this film, and actor Dano is her real-life main squeeze. It is an interesting film, and Kazan is an absolute delight as the title character. Dano's neurotic writer is a little hard to like, however, and this fantasy romantic comedy has some trouble settling on its voice. It is certainly not the most original premise in Hollywood cinema. Slightly reminiscent of an 80s teen sex comedy (with less gratuitous sex), it felt like a less witty remake of a Woody Allen film. The thing is: Woody Allen never made this film, but one feels that if he had it would have been shorter, funnier, and a little more self-aware.
Still: this is a pretty good movie, and I expect that you will be charmed by Kazan's story as well as her performance.

One For The Money (2012)
The women: Katherine Heigl, Debbie Reynolds, Debra Monk, Annie Parisse
"The sequel will be better.
What do you mean, "It doesn't
work that way'?"
This film flopped at the box office, and the critics were pretty harsh in their reviews. Nevertheless, I quite like Katherine Heigl as both an actress and - from what I have observed - as a person, so I knew that I would eventually get around to this movie in spite of its reception. Here's my take: Heigl is good - if a bit miscast. I never quite bought her as a "born and bred" Jersey girl. I think that Annie Parisse - who plays the smaller role of Mary Lou - would have been more believable as novice bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. I haven't read any of Janet Evanovich's novels, and - if this movie was a faithful adaptation - I don't think I will. The story is like "Elmore Leonard lite" - without any real sense of why Elmore Leonard's characters and stories are fascinating. I'm going to have to go with the wave of public opinion on this one and say, "Skip it."

Outlander (2008)
The woman: Sophia Myles
"I am King of the Vikings. You are my daughter. After I die, do you
know what that makes you?"
"Yes, Viqueen. You need some new jokes, pop."
This one is fun. Imagine if Predator had taken place during the time of the Vikings. That's an oversimplification, but it gives you an idea of how cool this movie is. It also happens to be considerably smarter than Predator with more complicated characters. The only thing I knew about this film going in was that it featured one of my favorite actresses: Sophia Myles. In fact, that was my only reason for putting it on my to-watch list. Now, because of Sophia Myles, the rest of the cast, the story, action, and really cool monster, I'm telling you to put it on yours.
One gripe: that "blood splattering on the camera lens" effect is intended as callback to low-budget 70s slasher films in which fake blood actually did splatter on the lens and there wasn't enough in the budget to do a second take. The digital recreation of this effect is already overused in modern slasher flicks, and it really doesn't belong in a slick sci-fi film like this one.

The Raven (2012)
The woman: Alice Eve
"You must chill! You must chill!"
I was really looking forward to this one. Edgar Allan Poe (!) played by John Cusack (!) hunting a Poe-inspired serial killer (!) in 19th century Baltimore (!) during the mysterious last days of his life (!). Also starring Alice Eve (!!!).
The only thing that didn't let me down in this film was Alice Eve. (And I doubt she ever will.) The whole thing was just way too heavy-handed. Everyone was yelling. All the time. They were even breathing intensely. I described the film to someone, and they said that it sounded like the script was written in all-caps. I could not have put it any better.

"Hey, I wonder if she means old Ben Kenobi..."
Brave (2012)
The women: Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters
I have said this before and I will say it again: I could (and would) happily listen to Kelly MacDonald read the phone book, so when I found out that she would be providing the voice of the latest Disney princess, I could not have been more pleased. I wish I could say that I enjoyed this film more. I can't put my finger on it, but there was just something a bit disjointed about the whole thing. This could be because the original director and screenwriter, Brenda Chapman, was replaced by Mark Andrews abou two-thirds of the way into production. However, I am grading the film a bit more rigidly because it is a Pixar production, and I am accustomed to a higher quality of storytelling from that studio.

Whip It (2009)
The women: Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis, Ari Graynor, Alia Shawkat
"... And the cat says, "Great! I didn't know you had
Meals on Wheels up here.' Get it?"
I wrote about this film way back in 2010 on my old blog, and it remains a favorite that I can watch again and again. This is, simply-put, a well-made film. It would have been easy to take this movie way over-the-top - a tendency that director Barrymore too often employs in her acting choices - but this little symphony hits all the right notes in all the right places.
If you haven't seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and rent it this week. I noticed that it has found its way into Redbox kiosks again.

Drive (2011)
The women: Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks
"Hey, girl: it purrs like a kitten now, but what do you say
we just go for a walk along the beach?"
I very much enjoyed this film (even if I did keep hearing the Ryan Gosling "Hey Girl" meme in my head), but I found the extreme violence to be downright baffling. It did not - in my opinion - further the story. In fact, the effect was somewhat Brechtian - maybe that was the point. Ninety percent of the movie feels like a Michael Mann film: all-encompassing driving but ethereal score, sparse dialogue, characters absolutely dripping in cool. It is the other ten percent of Cronenberg-level violence and gore that sucks us immediately out of this neo-noir music video fantasy world into real shock and repulsion.
Is director Nicholas Winding Refn trying to tell us something about our entertainment choices or is he just another entertainer? Either way, this film knocked me out.

See you next time, gang. Until then, here's a video and two links to help you with your holiday shopping ideas:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Movie Guy: The Quantum of Soreness

Hey, time for some more movies!

Nobody’s Fool (1994)
". . . and that was when McQueen suggested we'd stay warmer
if we huddled under the same blanket between takes. . ."
This is one of those movies that I just never seem to get tired of watching. Paul Newman as the hard luck ne’er do well Sully Sullivan is perfect. Perfect. This was far from Newman’s last movie, but I often look upon it as a sort of a capstone piece for his career. Twilight (1998) while certainly better than the sparkly vampire book and film series of the same name that would follow is just not on par with this film. Cars (2006) was Newman’s last film and one of my favorites, but we only get to enjoy his voice in that. Much of the rest of the feature films near the end of his career either wasn’t great material or didn’t feature Newman enough. Nobody’s Fool also includes Bruce Willis, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Walsh, and Jessica Tandy in her final film role. See it. You’ll like it.

21 Jump Street (2012)
". . . so the guy says, 'I call it The Aristocrats!'
Get it?. . . Okay, I'll tell it again. . ."
I never watched the original Fox TV series. We couldn’t get Fox where I grew up. For a while, we couldn’t even get CBS. It was weird. Anyway, I do know that it wasn’t a comedy, while the big screen “remake/sequel” most definitely is. I have mentioned previously (my review of Dark Shadows) how I think it’s a bad sign when the producers of a film do not trust in the source material enough not to feel the need to spoof it. I maintain my position on that, but I will acknowledge that this movie may be the exception to that rule.
I laughed my butt off, and – in a role-reversal that parallels some twists in the film – I believe that Channing Tatum may be the funniest part of this movie, and not unintentionally so.

Swinging With the Finkels (2011)
And other stuff.
I like Mandy Moore. I really do. Every time I see her in an interview I think she seems like such a charming, intelligent, and creative woman. It pains me, then, to watch her act on film because I can always tell she’s acting. She never fully inhabits the character and her line delivery always suggests that she’s saying the line the way that she thinks her character would say it rather than simply pretending to be the character and saying the line. It seems like a subtle distinction, but it shows. It particularly shows when she is surrounded by actors like Martin Freeman, Melissa George, and Jonathan Silverman. This script needed as much help as it could get, frankly, and Mandy – while I do really like her – just isn’t up to the task.

Biutiful (2010)
"De profundis clamo ad te domine." (This one's tricky, kids.)
If you’ve seen this film, then I don’t need to tell you why people should see this film. If you haven’t seen this film, then I am actually afraid to tell you anything about it, because I risk spoiling the experience of this film for you. I would say that you should take everything you know about wealth and poverty, life and death, beauty and ugliness, and love and hate, put them into a jar and just set them aside for 148 minutes. Let Javier Bardem and director Alejandro González Iñárritu take you on a journey, and – at its end – see if you even want the jar back anymore.
"We gonna rock down to Electric
Avenue, and then we take it higher."

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
I’ve heard people say that Wes Anderson movies are “an acquired taste.” Well, I’m not sure that I agree with that, but – if it is – acquire it. However, I wouldn’t start with this tale of two young misfits running away from their small New England town in the sixties. I’d start with The Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore. Then I’d end with this one, because it’s just that good.

Skyfall (2012)
"I'm too old for this sh-"
Okay this one is the biggie on this entry. I’m a Bond fanatic, or I was. I lost my taste for the films after Pierce Brosnan was unceremoniously fired from the franchise after revitalizing it for a new generation. (He found out from a magazine reporter.) When it was announced that the series would be re-launched with a younger Bond taking over the role and the stories pre-dating Dr. No in continuity, I was still annoyed at the studio’s treatment of Brosnan, but I got a little excited. A mid-to-late twenties Bond learning the ropes and developing his unique style of espionage sounded intriguing. Would they set the films in the late 50s? Would they cast at-the-time Hollywood favorite Orlando Bloom or go with an unknown? Who would play M?
Then the news came. Daniel Craig would play Bond. Cool! Layer Cake was awesome, wait – how old is he? Isn’t he much older than Sean Connery was in Dr. No? Judi Dench is playing M? Again? But, how can she be M for the later James Bond and the M for the first James Bond? You guys must be abandoning the prequel idea. You’re not? What the actual f&%#?
Once I got past my continuity issues with the new films (okay, I never got past my continuity issues and I never will), I really quite enjoyed both Casino Royale and The Quantum of Solace. I did, however, scrunch up my nose and utter the phrase “It’s not really Bond,” any time the films came up in conversation.
When MGM floundered, and it looked like there would be no more Daniel Craig Bond films, I hoped that we might see the re-launch I had envisioned earlier, but EON studios rallied and Skyfall went into production.
And it’s dull. The opening sequence – the “grabber” scene – features a car chase, a motorcycle rooftop chase, and a slugfest atop a moving train as it goes into tunnels and under bridges. Where was the runaway stagecoach, guys? Nothing very new, innovative or "grabby" here.
The underwhelming opening sets us up for lots of talk about how Bond is getting too old for this kind of work and how he’s just so tired of it all. (Wait. Aren’t these the prequels?)
"I asked my stylist for the Christopher Walken circa
A View To a Kill. Do you like it?"
Really, the movie doesn’t get very interesting until Javier Bardem shows up, which is, sadly, not for quite a while. Then, also sadly, after a brilliant entrance, Bardem’s villain devolves into a clichéd 80s movie psychopath.
Now, I’ll admit that in the Bond films of the past the villains have always been over-the-top. Well, that’s because the movies are a bit cheesy. That’s why we love them. If you’re going to re-vamp the films and give them a more serious, gritty feel, then a typical Bond villain is going to stick out like a sore thumb.
One character shows up late in the film, and I thought, “They wrote this role for Connery. Thank God he didn’t take it.” Turns out I was right, but it was the producers who wanted Connery. Director Mendes thought it would take us out of the film to have Sean Connery show up in a Bond movie playing someone other than Bond. I agree, and I’m glad that the producers didn’t get their way.
Overall, Skyfall isn’t a terrible film, but, and I’m sorry to have to say this again, “It’s not really Bond.”

As always: feel free to disagree with me in the comments.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Exploding Awareness

Today, I'm going to divert from this blog's intended focus of unimportant drivel to talk about something that is decidedly not superfluous. (I will probably do this from time to time. Even goofballs care about stuff sometimes.)
November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. November is also the awareness month for many other good causes - and I may get around to those as well on this blog - but, for today, I just want to talk about epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects over two million people in the United States. It is "characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures" as the CDC puts it.
Epilepsy can affect anyone of any age, but it most commonly begins in children under age 2 and adults over age 65.
There is no cure at this point, but early diagnosis and management are key.
I saw a really great movie a few months ago called The Exploding Girl, which opened my eyes a bit about living with epilepsy. Now, the movie isn't really about epilepsy, but the lead character - played wonderfully by Zoe Kazan (love her!) - is a college student who has epilepsy, and it affects the way she navigates her everyday life and how she thinks about her future. It's worth a look, and what better time to raise your awareness than during Epilepsy Awareness Month?

So, how can you help? Well, first, you can raise your awareness about epilepsy, and here are a couple of resources on the web for that:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Epilepsy and Seizures

Epilepsy Foundation: Now I Know

You can also increase your readiness to help someone having a seizure with first aid tips from the CDC. For example, the whole risk of swallowing one's tongue thing is a misconception, so you should never, ever put something in the mouth of someone having a seizure. More tips here:

First Aid for Seizures

The next thing you can do is lend your financial and/or vocal (and digital) support for organizations like  these:

The Epilepsy Foundation

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy

So, check out The Exploding Girl and tell your friends, or - better yet - watch it with some friends. Read a few facts from the websites I listed and start a conversation with some co-workers. I'll bet you that know-it-all guy at work doesn't know about the tongue-swallowing myth. Trust me: I'm that know-it-all guy, and I only just learned about it.
Mention something on your Facebook status or send out a tweet. Post a link to this blog or write your own.
Next, I want you to take a second and think about how much you're budgeting for your (ugh) Black Friday spending or holiday spending in general. Then subtract ten bucks. (More if you can. Up to you.) Donate ten dollars to one of the organizations I listed (or another one you're aware of) instead. But do it now, because we both know you'll spend it on something frivolous if you don't. If you want, you could even donate money in place of buying a gift for someone. Make your Grandma a card (Grandmas love that stuff) that says "Because you are such a giving person, Grandma, I decided that the best gift I could give to you this holiday would be to help someone else, so I donated to the Epilepsy Foundation on your behalf! Happy Holidays!!" She will love it! (Unless she was an English teacher, in which case she'll probably throw you some shade about that run-on sentence.) You get the idea.
Spread the word. Give what you can. Make a difference.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Movie Guy: Playing Catch-up

I've been experiencing some buggy hardware issues, so that's why I haven't updated in a week or so. Now the movies that I've watched since I started doing these "movie guy" posts has grown such that it would take up several blog posts at five or six movies per post to get us up to speed. (I really do watch quite a few movies.)
So, instead, I thought I'd just try a rapid-fire approach to catch up. Strap in.

The Lorax (2012)
Cute. Funny. Kind of a re-telling and a sequel of the original story. Never really bought Danny Devito as the voice of the Lorax, though. Too streetwise. Not "mystical" enough. Still, worth a look.

The Samaritan (2012)
"I am the Lorax, I speak for the - hey!
Wrong caption!"
Samuel L. Jackson is always intriguing. This story has kind of a strange premise with a very icky plot twist in the first act that oddly becomes the MacGuffin of the whole film. Then it ends with an equally strange denouement. I kind of wish I could "unsee" this except for the performance of the very watchable Ruth Negga.

Catch-22 (1970)
Released the same year as the better-known anti-war, satirical black comedy M*A*S*H, Mike Nichols's film of Joseph Heller's novel is far more satrical, decidedly blacker, and pulls no punches in its lambasting of the American war machine. Maybe not for all tastes, but I think it's an important film.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Love. Love. Love this. A smart, touching look at the effects of war on veterans returning home. See this. Really.

That's My Boy (2012)
I like Adam Sandler films, but probably not for the reasons that most people do. His raunchy, frequently sophomoric humor is what draws audiences to his movies, but what really sells the story is the heart injected into these films - some more than others. This movie is all raunch and no heart, and the R rating is simply an excuse to push the envelope for crude humor and f-bombs. Disappointing.

Jack and Jill (2012)
Also not great, but definitely better than the above Happy Madison production. What is essentially an excuse for Sandler to run around in drag is actually a nice story - if somewhat disjointed - about the importance of family. Pacino steals the show as himself. If you don't spend much on this movie, you may find it worth the price.

The Great Rupert (1950)
Fluff, but good fluff featuring Jimmy Durante and a stop-motion dancing squirrel.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Mirror Mirror (2012)
"I am smiling."
Leave it to Hollywood to make two big budget adaptations of this Grimm fairy tale in the same year. How does one not put them up against one another for comparison?
Mirror Mirror has the good sense not to take itself too seriously. Huntsman is just dreary. Lily Collins is a delightful Snow White. Kristen Stewart is, well, she's riding on the Twilight wave. She's not a bad actress, really, but she has a limited range. Aloof to morose. This does not make for a charming princess. Huntsman's dwarves are more famous actors "shrunk" to dwarf size, while Mirror made use of some of Hollywood's best diminutive actors. I think I preferred the latter interpretation. Honestly, the saving grace of Huntsman is Chris Hemsworth, and, frankly, if you want to see Chris Hemsworth, The Avengers holds up to multiple viewings.
If you see only one Snow White adaptation this year, see Mirror Mirror. If you see two, see Mirror Mirror twice.

At War With the Army (1950)
Mostly just a vehicle for Dean Martin's singing and Jerry Lewis's screwball antics this film manages to take some very clever pokes at military life. Fun.

I Don't Know How She Does It (2011)
A filmed treatise in defense of the working mother, this got blasted by critics. My long-standing crush on Sarah Jessica Parker notwithstanding, I'm going to have to disagree with this film's detractors. I liked it.

Albert Nobbs (2011)
Yeah, this should really be hotter.
Great performance by Close. Great make-up. Dull, depressing film. I would have liked it better if there were more revelations about the title character's motivations, but he/she remains tragically enigmatic.

The Flying Deuces (1939)
Laurel and Hardy silliness just as it is supposed to be.

John Carter (2012)
Silly, but not in a good way. If Disney really is going to give us the next installment of the Star Wars franchise, I hope that they won't be using this as a model for galactic storytelling.

Puss In Boots (2011)
Fun and funny. Maybe not quite on par with the best of the Shrek movies, but that's a pretty high bar.

Wanderlust (2012)
This movie had potential but devolved into gross-out humor implausible character development. Too bad.

The Mighty Macs (2012)
I will admit that my main reason for watching this movie was Carla Gugino, and - from a getting-to-watch-Carla-Gugino perspective - I wasn't disappointed. However, this (based on a) true story of a struggling Catholic college's girls' basketball team having a Cinderella-story season would probably have been a better film if it focused a little more on the athletes' stories and a little less on Gugino as their coach. Comes across as a little hollow.

Actually, never mind.
I loved this movie.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
I wanted to watch this again to see if I could put my finger on just where this movie went off the rails, and I think it just suffers from the problem of "too much." Too much mugging from director Favreau as Stark's intrepid bodyguard. Too many daddy issues. Too many villains, or, really, just too many foils, since not all of them turn out to be villains. It's not a bad superhero movie, I think it just tried to cover too many storylines.

Contraband (2012)
This movie lifts the premise of Gone in 60 Seconds and transfers it from grand theft auto to international smuggling, then makes it more violent and more salacious, and that's really just about it. Not a terrible movie, just not very original. So much so that I'm not even going to feel guilty about throwing out a two-word spoiler about one surprise in this story: Jackson Pollock.

The Interview (1998)
Very moody, clever film. Hugo Weaving (sporting his actual Australian accent) is a man dragged into an interrogation room to answer for a crime he didn't commit. Or did he? I found this film to be very Hitchcockian in both its storytelling and camera work. Good film.

Syriana (2005)
If you are dependent on foreign oil (and, guess what? You are), then you should see this film. It's well-made and eye-opening.

A Thousand Words (2012) 
When I saw the trailer for this film, I said, "I already saw that. It was called Liar Liar." Well, the trailer may not have done full justice to the movie, but, mostly, I was right. The heart of this film is a powerful story about forgiveness, but the filmmakers are too timid to stick with that for very long, preferring to make use of Murphy's comic mugging. Call me an idealist, but I think that Hollywood fails when it underestimates its audience.

Big Miracle (2012)
"Phoooone hoooome."
"Yeah, you're hilarious, Shamu."
I thought that this was going to be a homogenized, light-hearted tale based very loosely on the true plight of three whales trapped in a frozen inlet in Alaska in the late 1980s. Actually, it's a reasonably accurate recounting of the story with multi-dimensional characters. Good family movie. Just be aware: if you'll recall, this story didn't have a completely happy Hollywood ending, so younger audience members may find parts of the movie a bit upsetting.

The Inspector General (1949)
Danny Kaye was inarguably a very funny, very talented performer. What he needed, in my opinion, is a director to rein him in so that his facial mugging and other physical bits don't become tedious. On this film, he did not have that.

So, there you go: 24 movies in one blog entry. We're all caught up now.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Guy: Rom-Com Phooey

Okay, I didn't mean for it to take a week for me to get back to the blog. I'll have to start planning better.
Before I get back to the movies, I want to say that I hope everyone on the east coast is now and continues to be safe in the face of this monster storm. You all certainly appear to have managed to keep your sense of humor about it:

That's my friend Amanda Van Nostrand, New York actress, comedienne, and star of the Astro-Cons web series. (Yep, I totally just name-dropped.) My thoughts will be with Amanda and many others today. (And I will be referencing Amanda again later in this blog.)
Okay, back to the movies:

Love Actually (2003)
I do, actually, love this movie, despite the fact that I fully recognize that it is deliberately manipulative and, at times, a bit silly. I'd call it a guilty pleasure except that I don't really feel guilty about having watched this film multiple times. I do wish that the director had chosen to excise the cartoonish, one-joke, and - compared to the rest of this film - aberrant Colin (Kris Marshall) storyline in order to flesh out (no pun intended) the cute story of movie stand-ins John and Just Judy (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page). However, it isn't my movie, and I'll just take the not-as-good moments with the I've-seen-this-film-a-dozen-times-why-am-I-still-giddy-when-Aurélia-speaks-English moments.

New Year's Eve (2011)
I passed on this and its earlier companion, Valentine's Day, because I felt that they were both simply going to be unsophisticated attempts to capitalize upon the Love Actually's formula for success: take several storylines that are insufficient to sustain a full film on their own and tie them together thematically into one movie. (And, yes, I know Love Actually is far from the first film to utilize this formula.) After a recent re-watching of said British rom-com, I decided to give Garry Marshall's recent effort a second chance.
"Dude, I was 7 when 'Slippery When Wet' came out."
Turns out my suspicions were correct. More a parade of stars than a cohesive film, this film's blatant manipulations just don't pay off in a way that I was willing to forgive them as I do with Love Actually. A storyline about a rocker hearththrob reconnecting with the girl he left behind seems like a natural fit for Jon Bon Jovi until you remember that he has to be able to do more than sing. What little chemistry there is between Bon Jovi and Katherine Heigl (seventeen years his junior) is provided entirely by the oft-maligned but truly wonderful Heigl.
There is one really intriguing storyline that has bike messenger Zac Efron (meh) bribed by frumpy (?) secretary Michelle Pfeiffer to help her complete all of her current year's resolutions before the start of the new year. This one does not fit the formula, and it really probably could have been expanded into its own feature (with some re-casting).

You've Got Mail (1998)
"Black 10 on red Jack, Hanks."
"Good dog."
This is another one that I can - and do - re-watch frequently, but it had been a while since I had last seen it. This time I found myself far less forgiving of Meg Ryan's choice to let her character bounce and flit through the movie. I may have actually yelled, "Sit still!" at the screen. I think this helped me to understand why my favorite scene in the film is when Ryan's character is home sick with a cold. She is much more grounded in the scene, and - as a result - much funnier. She reminded me very much in that moment of the aforementioned Amanda Van Nostrand, whom I had met sometime after my previous viewing of the film and who now lives in New York City. (Be safe, Amanda. Batten the hatches or hatch the battens. Whichever.)

Two Weeks Notice (2002)
Worst. Ventriloquist. Ever.
Shouldn't this be "Two Weeks' Notice?" I guess a contextual argument could be made for the absence of the apostrophe. I think about these things. My friend Erica and I argue about whether or not The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother is misusing its apostrophe. (I say it is.)
Anyway, this was another re-watch inspired by recent viewings of Love Actually and About a Boy. I wanted to watch another Hugh Grant movie, and - while I remember not being blown away by this one the first time I saw it - I decided to give it another chance.
Hugh Grant is funny and charming. Sandra Bullock is funny and adorable. For some reason, though, the chemistry (and the motivations) just feels a bit forced. Not a bad movie, really. Just not a great one.
It is worth noting, however, that this film was almost going to be shot in Canada to save on production costs, but producer Sandra Bullock insisted that a movie about New York must be shot in New York. The movie's production was a big shot in the arm for the city in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That context sort of smooths out some of the rough edges of the film.
We're all big fans of Sandra Bullock over here at Superfluity central.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
"Yes. I know who you are."
This movie boasts a handful of Orders of the British Empire - those bestowed upon Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, and Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith - so it sets the expectations pretty high. That's a tough position for a really nice, charming, but not terribly thought-provoking film to be in, frankly. I liked it, but I just can't rave about it the way that others have. It's a cute film that combines the idea of the elderly discovering that their lives are far from over with a fish-out-of-water tale in exotic India. Given the talented cast involved, it was a slam dunk, so I think I'd have liked to have seen the writers make it a little harder for them.

I think I'll leave it at that with the pledge that future blogs will occur more frequently. In the meantime, why not check out Amanda Van Nostrand and company in the animated web series Astro-Cons, as mentioned previously?
Here. I'll start you off:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Movie Guy: Frogs, Cancer, and Killing Captain America

I decided to return to the blog after - whoah! - after about three months. Interesting how life can do that to you.
Anyway, someone referred to me the other day as "a movie guy" - not in a disparaging way, just as a means of identification. I do watch a lot of movies. I guess I tend to think in terms of the movies I haven't seen yet (nearly 10,000 - I'm a list-maker) rather than the few thousand I have seen. Included among the films I haven't seen are several classic and new classic films that people I regard as movie experts say I "must see." (They're on the list. I'm getting around to them. I'm going to go watch The Best Years of Our Lives when I finish here today.) This is why I always talk myself out of starting a podcast about movies. I don't feel that I'm quite "expert" enough. Still, I do watch a lot of movies.
I'm also one of those people who likes to discuss a movie after I've seen it - preferably with someone other than my cat - but that opportunity doesn't always present itself.
So, as a precursor to a possible movie podcast somewhere down the line, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about a few of the movies I've watched or re-watched in the last week or so.
(This may be a two-parter.)

The Muppets (2011)
Do a Google Image search for
"Kermit Goatse." Funnier than
this movie. Really.
I actually waited a little while to see this. I grew up watching the Muppets, so - like many others - when the first teasers for the the Muppet re-launch movie/tribute showed up, I was downright giddy, until . . . Jason Segel. I'm sure I will alienate many How I Met Your Mother fans (which will bother me for probably all of about seven seconds) but I just don't like Jason Segel. I didn't like him on Freaks and Geeks, and I haven't liked him in anything I've seen him in since. The only thing I like less than Jason Segel's acting is Jason Segel's writing, and - as a co-screenwriter on this film - his amateurish and forced sense of humor was evident throughout. And I'm not talking about corny jokes - corny jokes have always been a part of the Muppets in their subversive take on Vaudeville variety shows. I'm glad that Jason was a fan of the Muppets and pushed to bring them back into the public eye, but - as a storyteller - he's just no Jim Henson. But then, who is?
Hollywood has a tendency lately to take someone who has become a popular comic star (often inexplicably so) and simply give them carte blanche to work on whatever projects they want. Seth Rogen's insulting Green Hornet debacle comes to mind. I am disappointed that Disney decided to fall into the same trap in handing over to the Muppets to Segel.
It was nice to see the old gang again, but I'd suggest any one of the other Muppet films over this one - especially the first three.

The Sitter (2011)
"Man, I hope Elisabeth Shue doesn't see this movie."
I think Jonah Hill is a funny guy. Is he funny enough to carry a movie on his own? Sure, probably, but he needs a good director to make sure his improvisations don't go off-track or deviate from his established character, and he needs a good script that 1) helps to establish that character and 2) has him doing things that established character would do.
The Sitter is just flimsy on all counts and is basically a vehicle for Jonah Hill to run around and be Jonah Hill on a pretty thin premise that doesn't so much mix genres as bash them together.
Now, this is not a new concept by any means. I can think of a few Richard Pryor films in the 80s, Jerry Lewis films in the 60s, and Bob Hope films in the 40s that followed the same formula. They aren't great  films, either, but they do have a little bit of heart. So does The Sitter. Not a great film, but if you're a huge Jonah Hill fan, you'll probably be more forgiving.
I can think of one thing that - while it certainly wouldn't have fixed the issues with this film - would have made this film more enjoyable (and this is a note to all of Hollywood):
More Ari Graynor.
More, please.
My Favorite Brunette (1947)
"I'm being punk'd, right?"
This is one of those Bob Hope films that I mentioned above. Silly fun that is just a vehicle for Bob Hope's wackiness and more-miss-than-hit one-liners. Hope's brand of comedy worked better as the comic sidekick to Bing Crosby and in short sketches for NBC specials. I chuckled aloud once or twice during this film. For comparison: I'm usually holding my sides during a Marx Brothers movie - even one I've already seen.

50/50 (2011)
Look,  Rogen is good in this film, but if you thought I
would pass up an opportunity to post a picture of Anna
Kendrick on my blog, you're sick in the head.
I really liked Seth Rogen in Freaks and Geeks and then, really, in not much else I've seen him in since then. Pineapple Express and Paul. That's about it. Until this film. Here he is the crass but lovable best friend of the lead character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When Gordon-Levitt's character discovers early in the film that he has a rare form of cancer, Rogen's reaction is not forced and fits well in-line with his character. This movie has great performances all-around from Gordon-Levitt, Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard as the supportive but selfish girlfriend, Anjelica Huston as Gordon-Levitt's smothering mom, Anna Kendrick (I really like her) as a fledgling psychologist, and two of my favorite character actors Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall as fellow cancer patients. I also really enjoyed director Jonathan Levine's juxtapositional music choices that are neither prosaic to the scene (all too common these days) nor directly contrasting.
Good movie. Funny and touching. I recommend it highly.

The Three Stooges (2012)
I totally just forgot what this movie is about.
Oh yeah, it's - nope. Lost it again.
Unlike The Muppets, I was opposed to this update from the very beginning and then gradually warmed up to it. It goes off the rails a bit toward the end (which, actually, is more or less the case with all of the Farrelly Brothers movies), but this is actually both a very loving tribute to the slapstick trio and an updating that fits in line with what the Stooges were doing during their era. When Chris Diamontopoulus as Moe says to a zoftig woman at a fancy party, "Pardon me, Jumbotron," I thought "Classic Moe." Of course, the real Moe Howard may not have ever lived to see a Jumbotron. Will Sasso's Curly is a bit over-the-top even for Curly, but Sean Hayes is dead-on as Larry.
One odd thing: there's a scene where Moe says that Larry has a headache and Larry disagrees. Moe then hits him in the head with a hammer and says, "How 'bout now?" Larry holds his head and says, "Yeah, it's coming on." Hayes delivers the latter line in one way for the take used in the movie. The take used in the trailer is an altogether different delivery than the one in the film, and - in my opinion - funnier.
Why do studios show scenes or takes of scenes in the trailer that aren't actually in the movie? Anyone?

"Even like this, your girlfriend would
still dump you for me. Sucks to be
you. Sucks! Get it? I'm a vampire!"
Dark Shadows (2012)
I've only seen bits and pieces of the original Dark Shadows soap opera. I've thought about trying to watch the series at some point, but the 1,225 episode run seems a bit daunting. In any case, I'm not really qualified to compare the 2012 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake to the original article. I know that the original series wasn't a comedy, and the remake definitely is, so I can already see that there's a problem with the architects of the movie not fully trusting the source material. It showed. Dark Shadows the movie is uneven enough trying to incorporate elements of over a thousand episodes' worth of storylines (and character development) into a single feature, so adding comedy into the mix makes the film all the more wobbly. Setting the film deliberately in 1972 adds another element for the film to juggle and exacerbates the problem by adding the cheap gimmick of the 2012 Alice Cooper playing himself in 1972 (but bizarrely lip-synching to his old track. WTF?)
I guess Burton chose 1972 because it is 40 years in the past, but the actual Dark Shadows series ended in 1971. I don't know. It was just messy. Maybe Tim Burton was distracted with Frankenweenie.

The Avengers (2012)
Hawkeye. Yep.
I watched this twice in theatres - the second time just to re-experience the ride that Joss Whedon had created for all of us fanboys (and to appreciate the fine artistry of Scarlett Johansson's wardrobe designer). I know that there are holes in the film, and some seriously gimmicky moments. It was cool to see Thor bounce his hammer off of Cap's indestructible shield, but - given that Thor didn't know that Cap had an indestructible shield at that point - it also makes the God of Thunder an attempted murderer.
Anyway, I couldn't resist a third viewing, and it was still a great ride even on the small screen. This time around I watched Ruffalo's performance more closely, watching it with the foreknowledge of his revealed "secret" near the end. It was a little like watching the dinner scene between Bruce Willis's character and his wife in The Sixth Sense after having already seen the film. See what I did there? If you've seen both films, you know what I'm talking about, and, if you haven't, you're still not spoiled. Of course, the whole hammer-on-shield thing was kind of a spoiler, wasn't it? Sorry about that.
I rarely watch a film three times in the same year, but - holes and all - The Avengers has been my favorite movie experience this year.

So that's seven movies. That should do for one entry. I'll share my thoughts with you about a few more movies next time, including this one:

Friday, July 27, 2012

But We Don't Want the Irish!

There has been some furor lately over who's a real "geek" and who isn't - stemming from a seething and immature CNN blog and an eloquent - if a bit naive - response. The resulting meme:
"Nobody gets to tell you if you are a geek."
Nice idea. If only it were truly so.
You see, right now, "geek" and "nerd" are really actually cool things to be - in some circles, and to varying degrees. As I said in a blog a few weeks ago, there are people becoming millionaires by appropriating the word "nerd," and there are supermodel/starlets who "confess" in men's magazines about what big "geeks" they are because they've seen every episode of Firefly.
"I've got heathens a-plenty here."
On the one hand, I'm glad that there is money to be made from embracing geek culture, and I relish the idea of sitting down with a starlet/supermodel and swapping theories about the true history of Shepherd Book. (I espouse the idea that he was a police detective in Greenwich Village for a time.) On the other hand, somewhere right now some brainy kid is defending himself against a physical attack by seven bullies who are calling him a "geek." Somewhere some socially awkward young guy has finally worked up the nerve to ask his crush to accompany him to a film festival screening of Serenity, and she just laughed in his face. Or maybe she was polite enough to say, "sure," knowing that she would cancel an hour before  the show. (Is it just me, or do girls seem to spend a lot of time washing their hair?) Somewhere some bookish young fellow just overheard his father on the phone complaining about his "weird" kid who doesn't want to try out for the football team.
These kids are being called "geek", "nerd", "freak", "brain", "spaz", "weirdo", "dork", and a host of other names that I can't think of right at the moment, because I seem to have misplaced my high school yearbook.
Don't get me wrong, here. I'm not endorsing Peacock's venomous attack on "booth babes." He is way out of line, and I suspect his tirade may have been sparked by being shot down at SDCC by a woman in a Harley Quinn outfit. However, I do understand from where some of that resentment originates.
At the same time, while I agree with Scalzi's indictment of the "geek hierarchy," I can only endorse with certain caveats his assertion that anyone who wants to can be a geek. (And I fully recognize that these caveats may reveal logical and/or emotional flaws on my part.)
When a former reality TV star builds a media empire on his nerd status but continually demonstrates his lack of knowledge about things like Doctor Who and Spider-Woman, I cannot help but bristle a little bit. When Hollywood's "it" girl of the moment goes on a late night talk show and talks about what a big nerd she is, I am keenly aware of just how thoroughly washed her hair looks.
Again, though, I recognize that these reactions are rooted in my own past experiences with the darker effects of geekdom. They are, however, experiences that have been and still are shared by many people in this world who embrace comic and sci-fi cons as opportunities to truly be themselves and as respites from a world in which they are either social outcasts or deeply and unsatisfyingly closeted.
My friend Jessica has a saying/hashtag that I really like: Own your dork. By that she means that you should embrace your geekiness - wear your nerd status like a badge of courage. I wholeheartedly agree.
I am learning to take those words and sentiments that were once hurled at me like weapons and forge them into a suit of armor - or at least a really cool hat. (By the way, if I can be permitted a further gush about Jess: she's wondrous. This is her blog.)
Scalzi is right that geeks should not be exclusive. We've been excluded so often ourselves that we really ought to know better. Peacock's blog post is vengeful, and we should not seek vengeance. So come on in! Come one, come all! We'll talk about Batman, Magnus Robot Fighter, and why Mary Tamm was such a wonderful foil to the Doctor as the 1st Romana. (You are missed, Time Lady. Greatly missed.)
There is no maniacal gatekeeper at a bridge of death who is going to test your level of geekness. You are welcome in this place. Here are your badges labeled "GEEK", "NERD", and "DORK." You can wear them one at a time or all at once, it's up to you. We've filed down the sharp edges, but - out of respect - we've not wiped them completely clean of the blood and tears. Wear them with pride. All that we ask is - before you put them on - you take a second to remember that there have been those who have worn them against their will.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Public A-Dress

Simon Pegg was at the San Diego Comic Con and posted a tweet with a picture that got him into a bit of trouble with a few female members of the cosplaying community. Here's the tweet:

The concern was that female cosplayers are dressing up to be a part of the geek community, not to be ogled by lascivious fanboys. This becomes increasingly difficult because - let's face it - female sci-fi and comic icons tend to wear rather provocative costumes. Wonder Woman - in most incarnations - is in a strapless one-piece swimsuit with boots. Catwoman is in a, well, cat suit. Uhura wore a minidress.  Whether overt or subconscious in the design, women in science fiction seem to be drawn and costumed with ogling in mind - even by female designers.
Often it becomes ridiculous: in the short-lived Star Trek prequel series Enterprise, the Vulcan T'Pol is not an official member of the Starfleet crew, so she doesn't dress like this:

She's a Vulcan, and Vulcans wear this:
Okay, Trekkie question of the day: why do Vulcans wear make-up?

So, naturally, T'Pol dresses like this:
"I couldn't fit any emotions into this costume anyway."

The costume is designed to turn heads, and any cosplaying woman who chooses to pay homage to this character is likewise going to turn heads.
Mr. Pegg meant to offend no one, and he has said as much. Unfortunately, nerd culture is a culture in which female icons wear skin-tight or low-cut or short-skirted outfits or often some combination of all three. It doesn't make their characters any more powerful, tough, intelligent, or competent heroes, but it has - to a segment of the population - made them more appealing.
However, the proliferation and popularity of characters like Torchwood's Gwen Cooper, Firefly's Kaylee Frye, and Battlestar Galactica's Cally Henderson-Tyrol should be evidence that we sci-fi fans of the y-chromosome can admire - greatly admire - without requiring skin or curve showing costuming to ogle. (Of course, we ogle these characters, anyway. We still have a ways to go.)
Now, one final thought on Mr. Pegg's "gaffe": if the women in that photo were wishing to show tribute to one of the most iconic women in sci-fi history - Princess Leia Organa née Skywalker - they had a number of costumes over three films from which to choose.

The costume they chose was the skin-baring outfit she involuntarily wore while enslaved by a lecherous space slug.
Yes, I did make this picture larger than the others.

It's possible - possible - that these particular cosplayers weren't all that bothered about being ogled by Mr. Pegg or anyone else. Possibly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Senior Moments

I don’t think that what I’m writing about today counts as a “spoiler” per se, but I thought I should just go ahead and turn on the UNSPOILER 3000 anyway, just to be safe. I just got this and I’ve been itching to try it. I’m using the Charles Nelson Reilly audio file. It’s pretty cool. (By the way, don’t order the DESPOILER 3000 by mistake. Friggin’ thing ate all the peaches.)
Okay, so here we go **SPOILER ALERT!!** Yes, “Spoiler Alert.” Okay, so for those of you who have seen **SPOILER ALERT!!**
. . . I think I must have it on the high setting, just a **SPOILER ALERT!!** Um, I think there’s something wrong, I **SPOILER ALERT!!** What the Punky Brewster is going **SPOILER ALERT!!** Oh, for the love of **SPOILER ALERT!!** Seriously? 
Give me just a second . . . 

[Foley effects from Rocky Balboa v. Clubber Lang fight – the second one – in Rocky III. Sound of Nakatomi building roof exploding in Die Hard minus Bruce Willis’s teeth-grinding. Wilhelm scream.]

Alrighty then, let’s get on with this **SPURTY ALOT!!**
Well, that’s inappropriate. One more sec. . .

[That sound when Jerry hits Tom with a frying pan and leaves an impression of his cat-face. Yoko Ono’s second album. Darius Rucker gargling.]

Well, that probably voided the warranty. Okay, shall we go on?

*. . .*

Okay, so, for those of you who have seen The Amazing Spider-Man movie and stayed through the end credits, there’s a scene. Do you remember it? Don’t talk about it out loud in case there are people around you who haven’t seen it yet. Just nod your head if you’ve seen it. Okay, there are a number of theories floating around the internet at the – okay, you can stop nodding your head now. (Really?) Anyway, there are several different theories I have read on the internet regarding that scene, and, frankly, I disagree with those that I’ve seen and heard so far.

I won’t spell out my own two theories in too great detail in the interest of avoiding spoilers. [Looks sharply over shoulder at small plume of smoke in background.] However, I will present two character profiles from the Marvel Universe of two AARP-eligible baddies who have tangled with Spider-Man in the comic books.

Suspect #1:
Adrian Toomes was an electrical engineer who invented both a superhuman-strength-granting harness and a set of really awesome (and, frankly, implausible, but who cares?) wings. Turning to a life of crime to continue to fund his experiments, he became super-bad guy The Vulture, and engaged in some pretty spectacular aerial battles with the young web-slinger. Really, though, only one of them was wearing spandex in an age-appropriate manner.

Suspect #2:
Silvio Manfredi, a.k.a. Silvermane, was a criminal mastermind in the Maggia who also didn’t pay full price for coffee at McDonald’s, if you know what I mean. He forced Dr. Curt Connors (yes, yes, put your hands down) to create a youth serum for him leading to a confrontation with both Spider-Man and the Lizard. Later, he would have his internal organs transplanted into an all-powerful cyborg and became a formidable physical opponent to Spider-Man as well (albeit with his left turn signal on the whole time.)
Ew. Ew. Ew.

Anyway, if you’ve seen the end credits scene, you may see why I figure that one of these two characters factors into that scene and the probable sequel.
Let me know what you think in the comments, but - since the movie has only been out for a little over a week - watch the spoilers.
Also, does anyone know the exact wording of Amazon’s return policy for items that have been, um, struck with a xistera?