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.