Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Whoa.  They don't make a lot of movies like this.  Set your adrenaline meters to 11 and hold on.  Tony Scott is a master director, and although I don't always like his movies, they are always well constructed.  With Unstoppable, Scott assembles a talented cast and tells a good story at high speed.

The plot is simple: due to a combination of bad judgment and bad luck, a long train with dangerous cargo heads toward a densely populated Pennsylvania city with no engineer on board.  Dashing engineer Denzel Washington and barely adequate Chris Pine (the new James T Kirk) try to catch up to the runaway on another train.  Thrills and spills happen, yada yada.

What I liked was that the movie didn't cheap out.  It explained the inner workings of railways enough so that the audience knew the stakes, and fleshed out the characters enough so that we enjoyed their company.  I was happy to overlook the implausibilities because it over-delivered everything else.  For example, in some of the scenes where the train is supposedly going 60-75 mph, it doesn't look like it's going anywhere near that fast, or, for the entire length of the train's run, a railway guy in a red pickup is keeping tabs on it.  They make it look like he's been driving along side the train most of the way rather than on the nearest parallel highway, which is more likely.  Whatever.

Think of Unstoppable as a worthy companion to 1994's Speed.  Unlike 1997's Speed II.


On a person note, that's number 90 for the year.  10 to go to hit 100.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I didn't now anything about Catfish going in other than what I learned by looking at an insert in a NetFlix mailing. The insert had a bunch of rave blurbs (of course, even a bad movie can round up a passel of rave blurbs) and a warning "Don't let anyone tell you what it's about."

In the spirit of the distributor's wish, I will write no review, because to write a review would be to spoil the experience. However, I will say this: Catfish is a documentary. Not a dry, after-the-fact sit-down docu, but a let's turn on the cameras and see what happens documentary.

If the surprising and unexpected is what you like, Catfish is worth seeking out.


Friday, October 15, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story

It's Kind of a Funny Story was sold as a farcical comedy, but it's really a basic drama with a few laughs thrown in. A depressed teenager checks himself into a psych ward, spends a few minutes there and realizes he doesn't belong there. He meets some colorful crazy people (straight out of central casting), becomes the catalyst for breakthroughs for other patients and starts dating Emma Roberts.

It's not bad but it's not really good, either.  Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan are wasted as the kid's parents, and a running joke is a guy who quotes a Bob Dylan song claiming it as his own, but it's such an obscure song that it took me almost a minute to find a reference to it on Google. It's Kind of a Funny Story plays like the kind of video you would show to people in a psych ward.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is good science fiction movie in the classic mold. The rules of science fiction are simple: set the story in a time or place where events that are not possible in the real world can happen; then set forth a story, often a parable or allegory. I need to avoid spoilers here, so I'll be circumscript. Never Let Me Go follows three children in a private school in England that are being raised for a specific purpose. The three are joined at the hip, but, inevitably, grow apart as adults.

The setting is pretty sweet - it doesn't exist in the real world for technological reasons but the story is set in the recent past, making the contrast even more stark. Before you know it, the sci fi part of the movie gives way to moral and ethical explorations.

It moves a little slowly, but I liked that. It allowed the human and sci fi parts to soak in. Two guys were loitering at the box office when I bought my ticket. When they heard that I was going to see Never Let You Go, they asked who starred in it. When I said Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, their glances were as vacant as if I'd said "an apple and an orange." I hope they didn't follow me in. Utter disappointment would follow.  They'll be first in line for Transformers 3, no doubt.

During a particular emotional scene, the multitasking part of my brain started comparing Never Let You Go to other sci fi movies. I was struck that most of what we call science fiction is really future fiction, and really isn't science fiction at all. It's car chases with cars that fly, fist fights with slow motion and gun fights with ray guns. I'll take thoughtful stories about the human condition any day. And a futuristic shoot 'em up once in a while.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network is an engrossing film ostensibly about the first years of Facebook, but it could be about any company. The film moves quickly, cutting between the creation events and depositions in a current-day lawsuit. I take historical dramas with a grain of salt, so I don't care if it was accurate or not, but it was fun. When the credits rolled, I couldn't believe almost two hours had gone by.

I don't know much about Facebook, but if the movie is anywhere near accurate, everyone involved with it, save one guy, are complete douchebags. Sean Fanning, founder of Napster, is presented as a douchebag extraordinaire and I had no idea he was involved with Facebook whatsoever or that he was so sleazy. For the sake of politeness, let's assume there were liberties taken with personalities for dramatic effect.

The Social Network was written by Aaron Sorkin, the master of quick back & forth dialog. His resume includes writing The West Wing, Sports Night and The American President. Perhaps, ultimately, Sorkin's greatest contribution to pop culture is writing the line "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men but for great lines, I recommend any of the first season episodes of Sports Night (1998-1999), all of which were written by Sorkin.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Town

The Town is an amazing movie. It tells the story of a bank robber, making him a sympathetic character, while not omitting any of the nitty-gritty of the world in which he exists. Director Ben Affleck and Movie Star Ben Affleck worked together to craft a story that slowly draws you in until you abruptly realize that the good guys aren't good guys and the bad guys are actually FBI. It's not something you see every day.

I missed Affleck's first directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, but it received great critical acclaim at the time and it's at number five in my Netflix que at the moment. I hate to make this comparison, but I thought I was watching a Clint Eastwood move at times. Eastwood is known for telling gripping stories at a deliberate pace and not making protagonists too clean nor antagonists too cartoonish. That's exactly what The Town does.

A word of warning, though. Besides the liberal use of F-bombs, The Town is set in Charlestown, Massachusetts and was obviously filmed there. The characters all have seriously thick This Old House accents and I missed a few words here & there as my midwestern ears just couldn't keep up with the speech of the Bay Statahs, doncha know. Fer sure. Charlestown isn't far from where my beloved niece, Belle, is going to grad school. Maybe I should get used to the accent just in case she picks it up while she's out there.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Countdown to 100

I've seen a lot of movies in the theater in the past couple of decades, let's say it's in the neighborhood of 2000. Seeing movies in the theater is something I – obviously - enjoy. Some of my readers have probably seen that many or even multiples thereof on home video so I'm not bragging, just stating a fact.

I likes my movies.

I also like insignificant trivia. Today, for no good reason, I'm going to combine the two. I've seen 69 movies in the theater so far this year. I want to see 100. No real reason – I just want to.

It's been a while since I've seen 100 movies in the theater in a year. 2006 to be exact, and it was exactly 100 movies. 107 the year before; 113 the year before that. What about years since then? Well, I relocated in 2007 (81), so that killed a lot of movie slots. In 2008 (72), even though I bought my house mid-year and have a built-in excuse to not have seen movies the latter part of the year, it's actually the first half of the year that shows a low count. I think I was so depressed from subletting that hovel on Ford Road that I couldn't muster the energy to see what movies were playing. In 2009 (89), I think it's just that there weren't that many good movies out there.

So I have to watch 31 more by December 31, 2010, to hit 100. Not undoable – there are 103 days left in the year, so I only have to hit one every 3 days or average 2.1 per week to hit the goal. It can be done but consistency is difficult for me. I'll probably have to cram a few in late December.

If the release schedule cooperates, I could try to recreate my Iron Man feat from 2003. I saw thirteen movies in thirteen days between April 19 and May 1, 2003. I would love to try it again sometime, if only there were thirteen movies worth watching in a thirteen day period anymore. In the last seven years, the Big Hit mentality has become even more the modus operandi of the theater owners. More screens showing multiple copies of the same movies. Not very many independent movies or also-rans get shown. In addition, they move the big movies out faster than ever. If you don't see a new movie in its first two weeks, you might miss it. I've missed dozens over the years by dawdling.

So we're off and running - 31 movies to watch by the end of the year. Don't count on me blogging every one of 'em – see the dawdling comment in the previous paragraph – but I'll do what I can.

Easy A

Where to start? With Easy A's crisp dialog, natural pacing, funny story that doesn't play like it was written by a sitcomputer, perfect cast, or Emma Stone? All facets worked and are worthy of note. Let's start with Emma Stone.

The charismatic Emma first hit my radar in a short-run TV series called Drive in 2007. After that, she hit the big screen in Superbad. In Easy A, she carries the movie herself, being in virtually every scene. Her screen presence is amazing, giving us a high school heroine that is hot when needed, common when called for and smart constantly. This is one up & comer that, with good career choices, could be the next Sandra Bullock (no pressure, Emma).

Easy A is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, using the novel both as inspiration and cautionary tale. A rumor spreads about our heroine, which she encourages at first, which later takes a life of its own. The movie is funny, breezy, never loses perspective and, much to my great joy, never delves into body function humor! Look out for the punchlines inside and outside of the bookstore (Literate humor! Who knew!).

The casting is perfect all around, with supporting roles played by Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Malcolm McDowell and Amanda Bynes. There was some scenery chewing going on but it was all in good fun. Aly Michalka and her breasts played the self-absorbed best friend. Michalka and her breasts star in my Fall-TV season guilty pleasure Hellcats.

You know how I frequently say negative things about the style of today's comedies? Easy A is the antidote to those comedies.

An Open Letter to IMDB.com

Dear IMDB,

I hate your site's redesign. You've taken an intuitive, easy-to-use and ultra-informative site and made it icky. It's now a cluttered screenhog that is a chore to navigate and hides the most useful content.

Please fix it. I don't care that you return to the original design, but there are thousands of sites that provide entertainment industry hype with no useful information. Now, thanks to you, there's one more.



Friday, September 3, 2010

More From the Newsletter Archives

From 2001 through 2006, I wrote a movie column for the company newsletter, known by several names, notably The Onquirer and The Be...Connected Newsletter. I found many of my reviews archived on the Onvoy LAN, in draft form for some and in final form for others, and I posted 170-some in July, 2009.

Not all my reviews were archived electronically but I have printed copies of every issue of the newsletter (I think). I said last year that when I get enough gumption I'll scan the hard copies and post those reviews. Apparently, today is the day when my gumption hit critical mass because here are the scans.

I've attached a comment for a 2010 perspective to each of the reviews. I think you'll see a couple of patterns emerge, which can be summarized with the words Keira Knightley and marine mammals. If Keira ever appears in a movie with dolphins, I may disappear into a singularity of perfect happiness.

If you have trouble making out the detail in any of the scans that follow, click on the scan and it will zoom out to a larger size.  Enjoy this trip back through time and enjoy the movies.

Whale Rider - August 2003

I posted a version of this review in July 2009, which turned out to be a draft version. This published scan is different in a couple of places.

I rewatched Whale Rider a few weeks ago. It is still a delight to watch. The Kiwi accents are pretty thick, so when you watch it - hint, hint - closed captions might be a good idea.

Bend it Like Beckham - August 2003

You'd think that my two previous mentions of Bend it Like Beckham would've been enough, but I found this third one. I showed great restraint in not mentioning Keira Knightley in any of them - I had a huge age-inappropriate crush on her back then. The DVD is in my stack of evergreens to rewatch sometime in the near future. Just thinking about Bend it Like Beckham makes me smile. Like Whale Rider, the accents are thick, so don't be timid about turning on the captions.

As a side note, BiLB co-star Archie Panjabi won an Emmy for The Good Wife last weekend.

Seabiscuit - August 2003

I haven't given Seabiscuit much thought since seeing it in the theater. When I've wanted a feel-good horse movie in recent years, I turned to Dreamer, with Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell. I've been seeing commercials lately for a movie about Secretariat, a superhorse that was running when I was in my teens. I suspect that Secretariat will have a lot of the same elements of Seabiscuit, which isn't necessarily bad. I think I'll toss Seabiscuit into my NetFlix que for future revisiting.

Spy Kids 3D - August 2003

I don't remember much about Spy Kids 3, but I remember being wowed in a few places and bored silly in a few more. I like the crack about Whale Rider, which still applies today.

Le Divorce - September 2003

Le Divorce is a almost? Didn't the newsletter have a proofreader? Oh, wait, that would have been me.

I recall mentioning the Kate Hudson thing because she was the face of the commercials and previews. They made it sound like this was a movie about her character, so I had a distinct feeling of being baited and switched. Nonetheless, Le Divorce was one of the last Merchant-Ivory films and the only one set in the modern day, so it was unique and mostly enjoyable (the ending is a little wacky).

Open Range - September 2003

Some people are reflexively down on Kevin Costner, but I prefer proof that his films suck before I say they suck. Open Range didn't, but it wasn't great. I remember Costner being pretty good.

Truth be told, I shouldn't have used the comparison to Dances with Wolves - I've never seen it. Heard a lot about it but never actually seen it.

Still in Theaters - September 2003

The Italian Job had a longer review posted in July, 2009. I watched it again two weeks ago. It's still fun. Everything in that movie worked, from start to finish. I think the 'preeminent' reference was a passive-aggressive whack at Ocean's 11, which was more about the glitz than the caper. I shudder to think how (deservedly) mean I would have been if I had Ocean's 12 or Ocean's 13 in mind.

I didn't have room or time for a long Freaky Friday review when it opened, so its only mention in the newsletter came in this capsule. It's the shortest and most direct review I've ever done, save for my Not Recommended review for Legally Blond 2. Freaky Friday is in my stack of DVDs to rewatch. I hope the disappointment I feel in Lindsay Lohan for squandering her talent doesn't reduce my enjoyment of the movie.

Yes, that's another mention of Whale Rider. I was doing my best to encourage people to see it. Have you seen it? Well?

Under the Tuscan Sun - October 2003

I didn't pay attention to Diane Lane when she was the 20-year-old 'It' girl. For me, she's always been 40ish and playing smart/funny women. And she does it well. Under the Tuscan Sun was the first movie I'd seen with her in the lead and what an introduction! It's a pleasant chick flick, if you'll allow me to use that term.

The Rundown - October 2003

I hate professional wrestling and professional wrestlers as well, so saying something nice about The Rock did not come easy to me. I'm very glad I was right about him, but I don't see any need to rewatch The Rundown, if for no other reason than co-star Sean William Scott drives me nuts.

Out of Time - October 2003

I hadn't given any thought to Out of Time since I wrote this review. I guess since Denzel is both prolific and consistently good, I've had no need to go looking for old stuff, since there's always new stuff handy. I think I'll throw it in my NetFlix que and see if it holds up.

Matchstick Men - October 2003

Can't really add anything to this one.

School of Rock - October 2003

I was a bit prescient with the "a little Jack Black goes a long way" remark. I much prefer him in supporting roles, so much so that I don't even bother seeing movies with him in the lead anymore.

King Arthur - July 2004

I watched King Arthur again a few weeks ago. I'm going to stand with my previous comment that the movie would work better if they changed all the names (including the title, I suppose). I can't believe I didn't mention that Keira Knightley was in it - I was pretty high on her back then.

It seems interesting to note that I own a copy of King Arthur, while I haven't given Brad Pitt's Troy even a single thought since I wrote that review six years ago.

Anchorman - July 2004

I've seen Anchorman a couple of times since. It doesn't hold up extremely well to repeat viewing but I will stand with my review for the first couple of times you see it.

Dodgeball - July 2004

Saved! is still hilarious, by the way.

Dodgeball had the benefit of the novelty factor going for it. I had never seen Vince Vaughn in anything before, not even stand up, so his quick, snarky delivery was new and funny to me then. I don't see him quite that way anymore. I'll still give Dodgeball the nod as the funniest movie of 2004.

And two more words about Dodgeball: Julie Gonzalo.

Home Video Update - July 2004

I had to look up Secret Window in IMDB before remembering it. Wait, nope, even after reading a summary I don't remember the contents of the movie but I do remember attending it. Not sure what to make of that.

Eurotrip is still funny. And Scotty still doesn't know.

I'm still a little bitter about having wasted one hour and 21 minutes of my life watching The Big Bounce.

I liked 50 First Dates more than I let on. It's a cute, comfort-food kind of movie and Drew Barrymore was just adorable as the amnesiac.

Master and Commander doesn't hold up on repeated viewings but it's a good thriller once.

In case I wasn't clear, Cold Mountain is not a happily-ever-after kind of movie. I think I'm still a little depressed after seeing it - six years ago!

The Triplets of Belleville is a very stylish, animated movie in French. It doesn't need subtitles so much because it's almost like a silent movie - no dialog silent - with musical accompaniment.

If you work at Onvoy and have ever had a cube near me, you have heard me quote at least one line from Blazing Saddles every day for the past 12 years. Every day. Yeah, I have about five go-to lines that I use over and over, but I've spouted pretty much every line from that movie at some point. If you've never seen it, rent it now. If you have seen it, isn't it time to watch Blazing Saddles again? Now, excuse me while I whip this out.

Changing gears, Bad Santa or the DVD edition Badder Santa is a hugely funny black comedy. I'm partial to subversive comedy, so I liked this one a lot.

Mystic River is a laugh-riot compared to Cold Mountain, but it's still a sad movie.

Manchurian Candidate - August 2004

Can't really add anything to this review, either.

Catwoman - August 2004

McG has gone on to direct We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation, so he's not a good representative of this rule anymore. Pitof, on the other hand, has only directed one made-for-TV movie since Catwoman.

The Village - August 2004

I may have considered Shyamalan a master in 2004, but I got suckered in to see The Happening, so I've since reconsidered his masterfulness, TO PUT IT NICELY.

While The Village was a misfire, a few things stuck with me. Bryce Dallas Howard was wonderful, for one. The Village also contains one of the coolest scenes in modern movie history. The people of the village are at a social event one evening, a dance perhaps, when they are spooked by the "monsters" from the woods. People run about higgedly-piggedly, but Miss Howard plays a blind woman. She remains calm and sticks her hand out in front of her, like she's reaching for something. From off camera, her love interest steps in front, grabs her hand and leads her to safety, as she knew he would. It's an amazing scene. That the love interest was played by Joachim Phoenix, we will not discuss. Ever.

Thunderbirds - August 2004

You've heard me say that most movies or TV shows just aren't begging to be made into modern motion pictures and Thunderbirds was one of those, but I couldn't resist seeing it or talking it up. I've seen it a few times since this review and I get more enjoyment each time thinking about how inferior it is to the TV series, but I'm a little warped. If you have no idea what I'm talking about (ie, you're not part of the cult following), there is no need for you to ever rent this movie. Watching an episode from the 60s TV series could be fun, though.

Recently Released DVDs - August 2004

Confessions was a teen comedy with Lindsay Lohan before she turned sleazy. I own a copy but I'm not sure I've ever watched it. One of the co-stars was a young Megan Fox. The other was the lesser known Allison Pill, who will probably have a great and long career as a supporting actress (currently playing the drummer in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, recently the oldest daughter in Dan in Real Life).

I hope I'm being clear about The Big Bounce.

The Perfect Score was the last non-starring role for Scarlett Johansson before she become an 'It' girl. Kind of funny but nothing spectacular.

As for Peter Pan, I said "sensually charged" when I wanted to say "romantic" or "erotic," but didn't want to have to explain that Peter and Wendy are 13 in this version - not a conversation I wanted to have in the office. I saw this version on DVD a couple of years after seeing it in the theater - it still worked and was still "sensually charged."

Hellboy had a sequel, so you either know everything you need to know about it or you're blissfully ignorant. I skipped the sequel.

13 Going on 30 was Jennifer Garner's first lead role. There was a lot of publicity about it at the time, but it was a small, light comedy, and all the hype might have kept people away. I liked it but I haven't seen the need to watch it again.

The guy who wrote the Hidalgo quip sure has a way with words.

Since this review, I have watched Kill Bill, Vol 1 and 2 in succession. As with all Tarantino movies, once you've seen one, you know you've seen a Movie.

Friday Night Lights - October 2004

Dang. Sounds like a pretty good movie. I'll have to rewatch it someday. I've never seen the TV show based on this movie but I hear nice things about it too, so I'll check it out sometime.

Shark Tale - October 2004

Still haven't seen this movie. Still no desire to do so.

Mr 3000 - October 2004

Sure, I knock Bernie Mac and then he goes and dies, making me look insensitive. What a lousy break for me.

Vanity Fair - October 2004

This capsule review was pretty much spot on.

The Forgotten - October 2004

I had to look up The Forgotten at IMDB before remembering it, no pun or irony intended. Now that my memory has been prodded, I will go ahead and say you can skip this one.

I also remember that the previews/commercials had a big spoiler give-away, but even so, I don't think watching it unspoiled would have saved this movie.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bring It On - Tenth Anniversary

It's the tenth anniversary of Bring It On, which I saw for the first time on August 26, 2000. Opinions will vary but Bring It On has to be considered by most to be one of the great feel-good movies of all time. I decided to watch it again on this, its tenth anniversary.

The plot is simple. A high school cheerleading squad with a history of winning national tournaments hits a few difficult patches and agitates a rival team, whom they meet in the finals.

It's been a few years, maybe five or six since I last watched it all the way through. With fresh eyes, the memory of seeing it many times, having watched the bonus features and listened to the director's commentary, I noticed something right away: Bring It On has no business being as good as it is. The story is clearly a basic teen formula and the dialog is peppered with lingo that was  dated even ten years ago.  Yet...

Judging by the deleted scenes and director's commentary, the movie was intended to be both more of a drama and more vulgar.  Up & coming starlet Kirsten Dunst wasn't known for comedy and probably wouldn't have been anyone's first choice for Bring It On as a finished product. Bring It On, then, must have been saved in the editng booth. It's a trim 1:34, including credits, usually a sign that lots of stuff was cut.

No matter. Why is Bring It On such a great movie?

It's fun, plain and simple. I dare you to watch and not smile all the way through. From the simple touches, like the high school's name, Rancho Carne, and the lead's obliviousness to her obviously gay (and overcompensating) boyfriend, to the toothbrushing scene, where Dunst and the new love interest flirt and advance their relationship - wordlessly - in a way I've never seen before or since (genius!). Any serious romantic comedy should be so lucky as to have a scene like that (I'm talking to you, Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson and Amy Adams).

Then there's the cheerleading routines. There is something primal about music and movement that draws a person in. The most serious and cynical person can get drawn in by musicals.  It's probably genetic, as our ancestors would have have had nothing else for entertainment but singing and dancing around campfires for millenia until the modern age. Even now, musicals do well in plays, movies and TV (Glee, anyone?). Bring It On gives us dance set to 11.

We don't even see a real cheer routine until 54 minutes in but once they start, the movie kicks into high gear. The plot points get advanced quickly and get out of the way of the routines. Although I don't believe the movie has a moral or a message, it's very uplifting the way the competition ends, fences are mended and the final scene devolves into a very effective crane shot of all the teams celebrating.

Then, there's the credits. If you don't feel good at the end of the story, the credits add a fun music video featuring outtakes and a little vamping for the camera. Like I said, a great feel-good movie even if it should have been nothing more than a B movie.

The cast featured a core of talented young actors that have been working solidly since. Superstar Kirsten Dunst, of course, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union and Faith/Echo herself, the wonderful Eliza Dushku. Oddly, I didn't discover Buffy the Vampire Slayer until after its network run, so Bring It On was my first real exposure to Eliza. She's always been Missy Pant One for a fraction of a second whenever I've see her in Buffy, Dollhouse or wherever. The supporting cast is less well known, including Nicole Bilderback, Nathan West, Huntley Ritter and Bianca Kajlich, all people you'd recognize even if you don't recognize their names. Lindsay Sloane chewed the scenery as the outgoing captain. Her career started with Sabrina the Teenage Witch and was most recently in She's Out of His League. Rini Bell had a recurring role on Gilmore Girls (Real first name: Honorine.  How cool is that?). A year after Bring It On, Clare Kramer would find cult TV immortality as the ubervillain Glory on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Minions!!!

Other things of note. There are almost no adults in the movie. A little guidance from teachers, parents or a cheer coach would have saved the kids from a lot of bad decisions but that would have killed the movie. During one viewing, years ago, I started imaging that the writer drew inspiration from Charlie Brown (wah wah wah).

If you know me, this next part will come as no surprise. I time every movie I see from the first studio logo until the end of the entertaining part of the move (usually when the credits roll). My watch easily toggles from clock to stopwatch and when I stop the stopwatch, out of habit, I flip the watch back to being a clock. At the end of Bring It On, on August 26, 2000, I clicked the stopwatch at the end of the music video/outtake part. 1:34:01. I flipped to the clock. The time was 1:34:01. I had to watch the seconds change to understand what I was seeing. The movie had to have started at exactly 12:00:00. It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. And would you believe it happened again this month? When I watched The Kids Are All Right on the 10th, the 11:55 start time was pushed by previews to noon, so at 1:42, when the movie ended, the stopwatch read 1:42, although the seconds didn't match. Still.

If you haven't seen Bring It On, go rent it. If you've seen it, you know it's worth seeing again. Don't wait until the 20th anniversary.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ramona and Beezus

Let's do this in reverse.  Here is my conclusion: Ramona and Beezus is the sweetest, cutest movie I have seen in ages.  If you're looking for a great feel-good movie, see or rent Ramona and Beezus.

I was planning on skipping Ramona and Beezus after seeing only one promo for it.  After all, it screamed "Kid's movie" and even my inner child is acting pretty old these days.  But after the movie opened, I glanced at a few reviews.  It may seem odd - I only read reviews of movies I DO NOT plan on seeing - it's a way to avoid spoilers.  Some critics that I trust - and there aren't too many of those - said this movie was pretty good even for adults.  That wasn't quite yet enough to send me to the theater.  Then my sister-in-law CJ said she loved it, so I had to go.  CJ never steers me wrong.  She never goes to see the movies that I recommend to her, but she never steers me wrong.  I'm not bitter.

Ramona Quimby is a whip-smart and imaginative nine-year-old klutz who tries hard and carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Beezus is her not-too-tolerant 15-year-old sister (and there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for her odd name).  As movie families go, the Quimbies are genuine and warm, and not at all too perfect, except in the looks department.  When the father loses his job, Ramona takes it upon herself to save the family finances and wreaks all kinds of...  Well, you can guess.

Like I said, it's a terrifical feel-good movie.


Charlie St Cloud

I was not prepared to like Charlie St Cloud as much as I did.  After all, the promos made it look like a typical tear-jerker with supernatural overtones, so I was actually going to skip it.  Then something Tony Scott of the New York Times said made me reconsider.  Plus, I'm on vacation this week, so I'm attending one movie a day, whether I need it or not.  Oddly, I needed Charlie St Cloud but didn't know it.

Teen heartthrob and generally underestimated Zac Efron plays a high school graduate who is planning on leaving a beautiful seaside town for college on a sailing scholarship (how cool is that?) but whose life collapses when his 11-year-old brother dies in a car accident.  Charlie can still talk to young Sam, and stays in town so he can play catch with his brother every day.  Creepy, yes, but as Buddy Lembeck said in the fourth episode of Charles in Charge, "Man, that guilt's a killer."

Everything is normal, if a bit gothic, in Charlie's world until Tess shows up.  She's an old classmate who was his gender opposite equal in the sailing department and is preparing for a solo race around the world.  Tess tempts Charlie to leave Sam for about a minute, which shows you just how pathetic Charlie's life is, because Tess is a knockout and she has the coolest boat.

Some stuff then happens, Charlie and Sam reach a kind of closure and some people live happily ever after.  I think it's the mood of Charlie St Cloud that drew me in.  It's a gorgeous movie, set on Puget Sound with many scenes happening around sunset (indirect lighting is good lighting for actors).  I especially liked how the movie just followed Charlie around for a while, letting us get a feel for his constrained and unsustainable life.

The movie is based on a novel and I'll bet the novel is very detailed.  I could tell that some minor characters must have had more importance in the source material but that is the nature of adaptations.  Efron played his role convincingly and maybe a little understated (that's a big complement from me).  Amanda Crew was wonderful as the sailbabe, being genuine and natural and did I mention a knockout?  Although the category of Supernatural Romance has been a little crowded in recent years, don't let that wave you off of Charlie St Cloud if you like the genre.  This one is a cut above.


Warning: Spoiler Alert for the comments.

The Kids Are All Right

Don't believe the promos.  The Kids Are All Right is not a comedy.  There are funny parts but it is not a comedy.  Nor will you hear any songs by The Who.  Having said that, it is a good, even great movie.  I'll categorize it as a light drama.  Believe the rest of the hype - go see it.


Toy Story 3

I saw Toy Story on December 9, 1995.  I enjoyed it, I guess.  The guys at the office, all of whom had children at the time, liked to quote lines from it - ad naseum - but it didn't realy stick with me.  I saw Toy Story 2 on Febuary 13, 2000.  Again, I thought it was good but it didn't stick with me.  They were just good movies and I've not seen them since.

So what are we to make of Toy Story 3?  I had to go see it but it's been better than ten years since the last.  I didn't remember much of the precursors.  Well, it turns out memory is optional.  Toy Story 3 is a good movie on its own merits and after a few minutes, I knew exactly who the characters were and what they were up to.  Plus, the opening scene was almost worth the price of admission itself.

I understand that Toy Story 3 is promoted as a kids movie, but like all Pixar movies, I think it's an adult movie that just features kid-friendly plots and props.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Catching Up - Broken Computer Edition

After extended periods of not posting, I sometimes give you little excuses for my absence. I hope I don't have to use this one ever again: My computer broke. It was in the shop for two weeks and then my usual laziness kicked in to make it a full month between posts. I'm sure I'll be using the laziness excuse again sometime. Probably soon.

Here are capsule reviews of some of the movies I've seen since my last post.


A decent adventure flick using some familiar villains. Dropping humans onto a Predator moon was a nice touch ("It's a game preserve and we're the game!"). The ending is kind of a cheat but at least it kept the movie from running too long. Good for renting.

Ever since The Pianist, I've not cared for Adrien Brody. Even if he won the award for Best Actor, that movie sucked. Period. Almost surrealistically, I had flashbacks during Predators, where I thought I saw a classically trained pianist being chased through a Warsaw ghetto by unstoppable aliens. Worth the price of admission right there. Brody earned a few points back last year in the amazing movie, The Brothers Bloom. Be sure to rent that movie sometime, too.



I kind of missed the party on this one - everybody's been talking about Inception. I'll just say that I enjoyed it a lot but it ran a bit long and there were too many conventional gun battles at the end. Still, a must see.


The Sorcerer's Apprentice

A movie conceived by Disney executives to grab a piece of the Harry Potter franchise they don't own. SorcApp has no real reason to exist and offers nothing new or interesting. In fact, the ending is pretty ridiculous.



Now Salt is an interesting movie. Is she a double agent or not? Is she trying to commit a crime or prevent one? How does she do all these death-defying stunts without breaking any bones or even a sweat?

Angelina Jolie shows why she is a Movie Star and Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ojiofor show that they are among the best side-men in the business. Salt is a thrill-a-minute movie that keeps you entertained for every minute of its running time and leaves you wanting more.

Despicable Me

An animated movie that gets a little sappy at times but is very visually stimulating and never really drags.


Twilight - Eclipse

I avoided the first two Twilight movies, mainly because they were promoted as teen romance flicks. But since they just won't stop making these dang movies, I thought I would check them out. I rented the first two, Twilight and New Moon, then went to see Eclipse in the theater.

I was surprised at how enjoyable all three Twilight movies are. They tell an interesting story with interesting characters and great visuals. I didn't get wrapped up in the romance thread but I found plenty of opportunities to snarkilly wonder why the werewolves weren't naked more often since they shredded their clothes when they morphed.

I'm actually looking forward to the next installment of Twilight, due in about a year. And for the record, I'm on Team Jacob. But tell the guy to put on a shirt, please.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I just did a count and, one day late last month, I saw my 800th movie at Willow Creek Theaters in Plymouth. 800! Wow! And you thought I couldn't commit to anything.

Well, I loves me my visual entertainment and for eight years, 1999-2007, I literally lived across the parking lot from Willow Creek. Convenience has been a big factor in my continuing attendence. And it's a decent theater - clean, well maintained, comfortable seats, employees old enough to shave. Did I mention convenient location? One block away from work and about a mile from my current home.

But still, 800. That's a lot. I wonder if anyone else patronizes the establishment as often? Possibly. Funny thing, in the 16 years since I first went to a movie there, those 800 moves are less than half of my total viewings (47%ish). Of course, I lived in Georgia and Florida for three and a half of those 16 years, so that skews the stats a bit. For the last 10 years, though, I've seen 757 movies at Willow Creek; about 1.5 per week. That really doesn't sound like a lot on a day-to-day basis.

Despite the impressive attendence figure, I have got to be one of Willow Creek's worst customers. I almost always hit a matinee showing, which is about 2/3rds the cost of an evening ticket. I almost never stop at the concession stand. In fact, of the 1054 movies I've seen at all theaters in the last ten years, I stopped at the concession stand exactly 15 times. Five of those times were at the old Oak Street revival theater. I figured that if they were going to show me The Producers, Ghostbusters and Caddyshack for only $2 each, I should buy some high-markup popcorn from them. I don't feel the same about first-run theaters charging $6.50 for a matinee ticket.

I mentioned before that I think Willow Creek could make me a good customer by giving me an unlimited pass under the condition that I buy the equivalent of the ticket price's value in food or drink. It's the same out-of-pocket for me but moves their revenue from the low-profit box office to the high-profit concession stand. It's still fraud, but I can live with it.

800. All right. Arbitrary milestone acknowledged. Moving on.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

I was expecting a farce or maybe a road comedy but Get Him to the Greek was a misfire. A schlubby record industry drone is sent to London to escort a drug-addled rock star back to the States for a concert. A lot of stuff happens; some funny; most not. The rock star character, played by Russell Brand, was in 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall and was a good part of that movie. He should stay as a supporting character.

The drone was played by Jonah Hill, whose breakout was in Superbad, which, coincidentally, I rewatched last week. Superbad sucked the second time around and much of it was because Hill played a whinyboy you just wanted to slap. The fun of Superbad was not knowing where it was going, so I don't blame Hill for playing a character that doesn't hold up but, like Brand, in 2010, he's not up to carrying a movie. And don't get me started on Sean Combs as the record company owner. He sucked the life out of every scene he was in and he had more than a cameo.

Get him to the Greek and get me to a better movie.


Robin Hood

Having rewatched Gladiator in March of last year, I was stricken by how similar Robin Hood was to Gladiator. Including star Russell Crowe, director Ridley Scott, and being set in the European dark ages, it's the same movie: professional soldier shows bravery; gets the shaft; just wants to be left alone; gets dragged into someone else's problems; shows up the King; blah; blah; blah. A technically well done movie, Robin Hood doesn't really serve a purpose - it's not historically accurate, it's not a great thriller, it's not a great swashbuckler; it's not a great romance; the comic relief is more silly than funny; and it's half an hour too long. I wouldn't even bother renting it.

I, do, however, recommmend searching out When Things Were Rotten, a Robin Hood comedy that ran for a few months on ABC in the mid-70s. It was produced by Mel Brooks and made about the same time that Brooks made Blazing Saddles and feels very similar. Need I say more?


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Knight and Day

I have a general expectation of an inverse relationship between hype and quality. That is, the more a movie is promoted, the less good it will be. For the last couple of of months, I've been seeing all kinds of promotion for Knight and Day. I avoid commercials and don't watch entertainment news programs, so I don't see a lot of hype. For me to have seen promos for Knight and Day, there must have been a ton of them.

By all rights, or at least my expectations, this movie should have sucked.

It didn't.

Knight and Day is not a great movie, but it's a good one. It's actually kind of small - no saving the world or anything, just spycraft and car chases. It's really a good companion-piece for the recent Killers, as both have minimal plot and rely on the leads to provide chemistry. Knight and Day does that in spades, with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz chewing the scenery and essentially showing us why they are bankable movie stars.

At the beginning of the third half, I got the feeling that the film-makers were fatigued, as they hit the CGI shop pretty hard. Among other shortcuts, they had Cruise and Diaz running with CGI bulls in Seville. They even had obvious CGI cars in the car chases there, although I suppose rigging stunts in a historic town like Seville would have been prohibitive. Still, a computer generated car being gored by a computer generated bull while pursuing a computer generated motorcycle that ducks between two computer generated trains seems more like a video game than a movie.

Like I said, Knight and Day is a good but small movie, more of a romantic comedy than a thriller. One final note - I never figured out the title. The 'and' implies that Cruise and Diaz are the Knight and the Day, of course. He has a connection to Knight, which is fine, but I never saw anything to make her be the 'Day.'  There is a little dialog about not waiting for 'someday,' but that's not the same as 'Day' in my book.  Either I missed something in the movie, or they tacked a focus-group inspired title onto this little movie. Statistically approved hype, I guess.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Hmm... The Karate Kid (1984) wasn't exactly a movie begging to be remade, refreshed or rebooted. In a way, it was perfect all by itself. No, I'm not kidding. Think about it - the story had a good beginning, middle and end. The karate tournament was a great climax. It didn't need one sequel, much less two, and certainly not a Hilary Swank gender-bending semi-sequel (which I didn't bother to see, truth be told). And who can forget the catch phrases? "Wax on, wax off," "Daniel-san," "Sweep the leg," "Balance."

Which brings us to the modern The Karate Kid. It's got problems but let's start with the good parts - there aren't as many. China has never looked better. The ending, when you're expecting the kid to do what Daniel-san did to win the 1984 tourney, he does something else - and it's cooler! I doubt that even Nastia Liukin is flexible enough to pull off the stunt without special effects, but it's still cool.

Now the bad. It's too farging long - two hours, 14 minutes. It was produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, and stars their 12-year-old son, Jaden. Nepotism usually not good in a merit-based business. Young Mr Smith is not quite up to carrying a movie yet. China financed the movie, which explains the extra 45 minutes - it's partly a tourism video.

And the inappropriateness, as in, a lot of stuff set off my "whoa" detector. The 12-year-old kid has a romance, at least the beginning of one. That's a bit young. The 12-year-old girlfriend did a dirty dance that gave me the willies. The modern Miyagi character, Jackie Chan, saves the kid from a beating by 13-year-olds. A 60-year-old guy beating up a bunch of kids who can't yet drive. Yikes! The physical transformation that the kid goes through in a few weeks of training -that can't be good for a growing boy. And finally, the bad-guy coach instructing his students to permanently injure a 12-year-old kid. That just made me queasy.

My advice? Rent the original 1984 The Karate Kid and enjoy the campiness.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

The A-Team

Shoot 'em up-porn at a high level, The A-Team is thoroughly enjoyable as a stand-alone movie or as an homage to the TV series, which last aired 23 years ago (23 years!). It's all tongue-in-cheek, as it should be, with plenty of gunfire, explosions, and wisecracks.

The casting was spot on, with Liam Neeson being a carbon copy of George Peppard's Hannibal Smith, maybe even better, given the magic of hindsight and a $100 million budget. Pretty boy Bradley Cooper provides comic relief and serious action chops when needed as Faceman, but I still picture him as Sydney's friend on Alias and the chef on Kitchen Confidential. It took me a few minutes to recognize Sharlto Copley as Murdock. Not a household name, he was the guy rounding up aliens in 2009's District 9. They covered up his South African accent by having him do funny accents from around the world. Only an overthinker like me would notice.

The plot is a throw-away, providing a minimal structure for the next stunt. There were a plethora of villains and they all were pretty good, with very little dipping into caricature (When the heroes are escapees from military prisons, at some point, everyone is a bad guy so it pays to have good ones). The interlocking of bad guys from the Army, CIA and Blackwater was a bit confusing until I remembered that I didn't care, then the movie was totally enjoyable thereafter.

I have a quibble, of course. The hot, talented and hot Jessica Biel plays an Army Intel officer (and Face's ex) who leads the manhunt for the A-Team Her name is Charisa Sosa Yes, Charisa with an 'h' and a missing 's.' Shouldn't her name have been 'Decker?' Or maybe Amy Allen? Everything else was spot on, why mess up her name?


Monday, June 7, 2010


Katherine Heigl is perhaps the bravest woman in the history of female vanity.  Killers opens with an extreme close-up of Heigl's face.  So close you can count her pores and if she had any blemishes, well...  I was both impressed and a little spooked.

Killers is pretty much exactly what the commercials promise.  Ashton Kutcher plays a former spy who didn't tell his wife what he did for a living before they met.  It's a very funny movie because it takes itself - and the audience seriously - but starts to fray in the third half, when they try to force some humor.  The great chemistry between Heigl and Kutcher is worth the price of admission.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

May Amnesty

Writing up reviews in a timely fashion doesn't seem to be my strong suit, yet I hate to have seen a movie and not give you the benefit of my experience. So, mainly to help you during your home video grazing, here are some moves I've seen lately. This will allow me to start out June with a clean slate.

Letters to Juliet

Highly recommended for chick-flick lovers (like me)

A Romance with a capital 'R.'  Amanda Seyfried, who is in danger of being typecast as the spunky, intelligent romantic lead is perfect as a young woman who stumbles on a program sponsored by the city of Verona, answering letters that the lovelorn send to Shakespeare's Juliet.  She gets involved in the life of a girl who sent her letter over 55 years earlier.

Being a film influenced heavily, and overtly, by Romeo and Juliet, they couldn't resist putting in a balcony scene towards the end. It feels like the unnecessary gag it is, but fortunately is over quickly.  The rest of the film is pretty spot-on.

Letters to Juliet is a gorgeous film, shot mostly in Italy and with a warm light that makes every vista and landscape look like a renaissance painting.  I had a little trouble liking the male lead at first, but that might be because he was playing the standoffish but redeemable jerk character.  The actor was played by Christopher Egan, which is a swell name but of no significance to the movie, only to people with my last name.


Just Wright

Decent, more romance than romantic comedy

Queen Latifah plays a physical therapist who rehabs the knee of a star NBA player and they end up falling for each other. That's not a spoiler - you'll know that within the first five minutes of the movie. It's HOW they get to the end that is important and Just Wright works pretty well.  There are points where the movie can't decide if it's a romance, romantic comedy or sports movie but it gels fairly well.


Hot Tub Time Machine


With a name like Hot Tub Time Machine, you can't really take the movie seriously, but it's a serious comedy. There's plenty of laughs, some from characters, costumes, good set-ups and, of course, some cringe-worthy body-function jokes.


The Losers

Unbelievably enjoyable

The Losers is a cliche-fest, with caricatures, not characters, fill-in-the-blank dialog and a plot so stupid it was probably written by using a dartboard and keywords.

But with all that, hear me clearly: The Losers is one of the most enjoyable shoot 'em up, blow 'em up movies you will ever see.  It is Zen with its brainlessness, and in that unencumbrance, finds its genius.


The Runaways

I gave you a pre-view of The Runaways three months ago. I was afraid that the movie would be simplified and scrubbed. Nope. It was down and dirty, and even the film stock was a little grainy. Based on a book by Cherie Currie and with Joan Jett as Executive Producer, they hid from nothing.

I generally liked the movie, especially the way Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart inhabited their real-life characters, but you could tell the film-makers cut a lot out at the screenplay stage and even more in editing.  Case in point, third billing went to Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Whip It!). Alia is becoming a go-to actress for young supporting roles, yet, in The Runways, she had literally one sentence of dialog.  I can see how she might take a smaller roll to work with Stewart and Fanning, but her roll had to be bigger when they started. Snip.

A decent character movie and the music isn't bad, either.


Green Zone

A good companion piece to The Hurt Locker, but different in focus. Green Zone is more of a geo-political thriller confined to a small geo. Matt Damon is in full Jason Bourne mode as an Army officer chasing down WMDs and then chasing evidence of a conspiracy, but the movie is a little late to the party. All you have to do is look at a newspaper to realize that no one is being prosecuted for starting the Iraqi occupation under false pretenses - the movie's conspiracy - so you kind of have to enjoy modern war movies for their own sake to truly enjoy Green Zone.


The Ghost Writer

They don't make many movies like The Ghost Writer these days. It's filled with smart, believable characters and has a labyrinthine plot that kept me wondering where it was going. Plus, it's in my contract that I have to like anything with Olivia Williams in it.

One downside is that The Ghost Writer was directed by Roman Polanski, which I didn't know going in. I've often said that I don't care what entertainers do in their off time as long as they give me a quality entertainment product. Well, I guess I've discovered that statutory rape in a guy's off time makes me queasy. Good movie, though.


Oh, and another thing.  Polanski still owes me $5.00 and 143 minutes of my life back for a piece of crap called The Pianist.  I watched it on March 1, 2003, and I'm still annoyed at how bad that movie was.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Use the Search Function

Off to the right of your screen, you will now see a Search function for this blog.  I haven't been writing the blog with keywords, so you'll have to search by film or actor name, but it's better than paging through the archive titles.  Surprisingly, for a Google function, it's not perfect.   For example, it only finds two of the three times I mentioned Leelee Sobieski in a review, but the price is right.  I just love saying that name.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 suffers from a severe case of sequelitis.  It simply had no reason to be made, so much of the plot and even more of the style make no sense.  In addition, as is the fashion lately, IM2 borrows heavily from the palette of the graphic novel, much to its detriment.  It's a fairly flashy and technically well-done movie, but you could skip it entirely and your life would be just fine.

The movie is a basic established hero being tested by a new villain formula.  We met Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark two years ago - he's the same as before.  The supporting characters are about the same as well, although Gwyneth Paltrow's role was amped up and I don't remember her looking quite as radiant two years ago.

Then there's Mickey Rourke.  I'm sure he's a decent person but his appearance just bugs me.  In case you haven't heard the story, he was a pretty-boy actor a generation ago who took time off for a boxing career.  Not a good idea for an actor.  He needed some reconstructive surgery and it didn't go well.  The guy just looks gross and I may make it a rule to not see movies he's in anymore.

As to the sequelitis, here are a few other things that didn't work.

The bad guy is the son of Stark's father's partner from 40 years ago.  When the old guy dies, his son takes out 40-year-old blueprints and a soldering iron and creates a weapon that can take down Iron Man.  Waitaminute.  If the father had all this information and ability, why did he die penniless and leave the revenge up to the son?  See, a plot that makes sense only because they need it in order to make a movie.  That's sequelitis.

A sequel needs to have twice the chaos of course, so IM2 has two villains.  Sam Rockwell plays a Tony Stark-wannabe and chews up the scenery but doesn't add much to the mix.  He looks like he's trying to channel a smooth Brad Pitt but he comes off mainly like a petulant fifth grader.

Samuel L Jackson plays some sort of Justice League mayor who is in two scenes.  I don't recall him being in the first Iron Man but he drops by and acts like he owns the place.  Very odd.

Jackson's right-hand is played by Scarlett Johansson and it's a totally superfluous character, existing simply to provide a couple more action scenes, as she gets to beat up a passel of henchmen and otherwise be an extra with dialog.  Scarlett also played Jackson's right-hand in 2008's The Spirit, although they weren't good guys in that movie.  She kept her Catwoman suit zipped up in IM2, but her breasts could easily have been given co-starring credit in The Spirit, as they were on display as much as her face.  That's an observation, not a complaint

All-in-all, Iron Man 2 delivers what it promises, but as a sequel to a flash-bang movie, the bar isn't set terribly high.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Catching Up, with an Explanation

It's been a few months since I've done a major movie blog update and that's a long stretch, even for a slacker like me.  Am I just lazy or is there more to it?

More, of course.  Would I ask if there wasn't more to it?

I am admittedly a slacker but I have also cut down on movie viewing a little in order to watch some TV series sets on DVD.  Some have come from Netflix, while others are from my own inventory.  I have a different perspective on old TV after watching all or part of nine series in the past year.  It's also a tremendous timesuck, hence the decline in the number of movies I've blogged about in the recent past.

Veronica Mars (3 seasons, 64 episodes, 2004-2007)

Before starting my Veronica Mars watchathon, I had already seen every episode at least once.  I caught the first season on DVD after hearing critical acclaim, then watched the second and third seasons as they aired on the network.

I loved Veronica Mars the first time it was on.  Veronica is glib, witty and off-the-charts smart.  She is driven to figure out any mystery that appears in front of her, sometimes to her own peril.  And, of course, she's played by uber-babe Kristen Bell.  This run-through, as you might expect, didn't provide the gut-wrenching surprise factor that is key in several episodes but I still consider it to be a wonderful show, holding up on repeat viewings.

Here is the one-paragraph synopsis: Veronica Mars is the daughter of a small-town private eye who inherited the curiosity gene.  In most episodes, she is solving a mystery for a friend, her father or a fellow student.  Underneath all that, however, are season-long life-or-death mysteries for her to solve.  In the first season it was who raped Veronica Mars and who killed her best friend, Lilly Kane?  In season two, it was who sabotaged the school bus and killed seven students?  In season three, Veronica is off to college.  Who is the Hearst College serial rapist and who killed the Dean of Students?  Did I mention that Veronica Mars alternates between comedy and tragedy?  Quality writing all the way through.  I especially like the use of "The Big Bad," a technique perfected by Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.  Every episode, no matter how seemingly unrelated, drives you to the big dust-up at the end of the season.

As I'm watching it the second time, I'm struck by Veronica's behavior.  At first, I considered her to be a heroine, but aside from solving murders and such, she really isn't acting heroic.  She's either doing it for money or to progress her big-picture investigations.  I wanted to call her a noir hero, as bad things are constantly happening to her or people around her (Lilly Kane, et al), but she doesn't neatly fit into the noir definition (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity) or even a modern interpretation.  No, I think Veronica Mars is an anti-hero.

Why an anti-hero?  Well, she's hardly innocent.  From making fake IDs for her friends to helping a fugitive escape the country, Veronica will follow or ignore the law as it suits her.  People around her die because of choices she makes and despite feeling guilt, she doesn't change her behavior.  Even in her close relationship with her father, she is constantly hiding things from him, lying to him and on several occasions, makes choices that hurt him about as bad as you can hurt someone and still leave them breathing.  By the end of the three-season run, Veronica Mars has used or betrayed every friend she has to some extent.  Yet, the show is about her.  Beloved by viewers and forgiven by the surviving characters, she is the anti-hero.

Despite the tragic undertones, Veronica Mars is a fun and engrossing program.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

Gilmore Girls (7 seasons, 153 episodes, 2000-2007)

I watched Gilmore Girls on TV starting with episode 1 and never stopped.  I tuned in at first strictly for Lauren Graham.  I had seen her in guest roles on Seinfeld, Caroline in the City and Newsradio.  There was something fetching about her but it was a limited run comedy called MYOB from the Summer of 2000 that really got me interested.  Graham played an uptight high school teacher that takes in her teenage niece.  Katherine Towne played Riley, a misfit and rebel without a cause.  The antagonistic banter between the two was a preview of what Graham would later do in Gilmore Girls, although in a more polite way.

Katherine Towne was a perfect Riley, all attitude and unforgiving.  MYOB was the last lead role she's had but is still working in supporting roles.  She has a lasting place in TV history, though, appearing in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, episode 4-1, and getting dusted so stylishly that they used a clip of it in the opening credits for a couple of years.

So what did I learn from watching Gilmore Girls start to finish?  It holds up rather well.  The quirky, pop culture-driven dialogue is still pretty funny and the relationships of the daughter, mother and grandmother are fairly timeless.  All-in-all, a good use of my recreational time.

Not all was perfect, though.  The seventh season just seemed wrong.  They moved Luke's Diner to a new location.  Do buildings just move?  And they broke up Luke and Lorelai... just because, it seems.  It would have been better to end the show after six seasons or have given it one more season in order to have a more reasoned conclusion.

I had opposite feelings for Rory's main boyfriends, Dean and Logan.  During the network run, I thought Dean was a cool guy next door and that Logan was a spoiled rich brat.  During the DVD marathon, though, I started disliking Dean from the get-go, probably because I knew how his arc would end (jerk).  Logan, whom I hated on the network, I liked this time from his very first scene.  He was a smart, fun, nice guy after all.

Gilmore Girls was a big time investment but overall, a good experience.

Dead Like Me (2 seasons, 30 episodes, 2002-2003)

I keep over 100 movies in my Netflix queue and it takes about a year for a selection to go from just added to top of the list.  It takes so long to get to the top that I often forget why I selected something and what appears in my mailbox is a complete surprise.  And so it was with Dead Like Me.  I still have no idea what inspired me to select it but whatever it was, it was a good idea.

Dead Like Me follows the afterlife of George, a morose 19-year-old woman who was killed by debris that fell from the sky after the re-entry burn up of a Russian space station.  The particular piece of debris was a toilet seat.  That pretty much sets the tone for the whole series.

George's afterlife involves a job, believe it or not.  She has to be a Reaper, someone who takes a person's soul at the time of death.  She hates her new job as much as the temp job she had at the time of her death, so her moroseness continued unabated.

George's situation was worse than for most reapers.  She was stationed in the same town she lived in, making it hard to let go of her family, particularly her little sister, Reggie.  Notice a theme with these names?

I devoured Dead Like Me one after the other and couldn't wait for the next disk to arrive.  It only went two seasons on Showtime and qualifies for associate membership in the too-good-for-TV club.  I suspect that the show would've gone down hill had it gone to a third season but we'll never know.  I highly recommend Dead Like Me if you're looking for well written, mature humor.

Eli Stone (2 seasons, 26 episodes, 2008-2009)

The premise of Eli Stone is that burnt-out mid-30s lawyer Eli starts having visions.  Of George Michael. Yes, THE George Michael of Wham.  These visions tell Eli what cases to take or how to win the ones assigned to him.

The visions also usually happen at very inconvenient moments and sometimes involve elaborate production numbers.  The gimmick might have gotten old had the show gone on longer, but it wasn't on long enough for me to get bored with it.  One episode had the real George Michael appear, which was funny for any number of reasons.

Eli was played by British actor Jonny Lee Miller, although I had no idea he was British until I saw him in a new version of Jane Austen's Emma a few weeks ago.  How is it that Brits can get American accents right, mostly, but American actors who do English accents usually sound ridiculous?

I highly recommend the first season and the second season with reservations.  At the beginning of the second season, they explained the why visions occur, which was inconsistent with the first season and in general, takes some of the fun out of it.

Arrested Development (3 seasons, 53 episodes, 2003-2006)

There aren't too many shows that can truly be described as too good for television, but Arrested Development jumps to the top of the list.  Bounced around from time slot to time slot during its network run and pre-empted for weeks at a time, AD never stood a chance.  I caught about 3/4ths of the episodes on its network run, so several were new to me.  A single camera 30-minute comedy, when it worked, it was wonderful.

If you haven't seen Arrested Development, I highly recommend it.  A few of the episodes in the second and third season went a bit off track, but the first season definitely stands as one of the best runs in television history.  Their use of running gags was amazing, from the mispronunciation of the oldest son's name to the brother-in-law's phobia, which included a joke set up in episode one and sprung about 10 eps later.  And just when you thought the parents couldn't get more insane, they would soon top themselves.

It took me two months to get through the 53 episodes.  I noticed they used a technique that may have made me enjoy the show more.  At the end of every episode, the narrator would say, “On the next Arrested Development,” and they'd show a brief scene, usually based on the episode just aired.  It would be side-splittingly funny and would definitely not be in the next episode.  Beats fading to black.

Arrested Development was produced by Imagine Entertainment.  You'll see their logo on every Ron Howard movie, as well as some other TV shows.  One of those shows was Sports Night, which I will be watching in the near future.  As much as I find fault with Ron Howard's movies, his company really makes great TV.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch (4 seasons, 97 episodes, 1996-2000)

Back in the day, I gave a lot of shows a chance.  Sabrina the Teenage Witch was one I didn't think would hook me but it did.  The first episode was so well written and constructed, I just had to keep watching.  Many of the first season's episodes were unbelievably funny.  I developed a Sabrina habit, looking forward to Fridays, when I could see what new zany misadventures the teenage witch and her aunts would get into.

So, the show has been off the air for a few years.  The first six seasons are available on DVD.  I started a Sabrina watchathon.


When they talk about shows that don't hold up well, Sabrina is now the prime example.  What was cute and funny 14 years ago is now cliched and stale.  There were still some good moments and even good episodes, but most of the episodes were kind of painful.  Ironically, the special effects still look good although you would expect today's CGI to be a quantum level better.  No, it's just that time has passed this show by.

I lost my enthusiasm midway through the second season. After cringing too many times, I made a strategic decision.  Sabrina jumped networks after the fourth season, moving from ABC to WB.  Back in 2000, I noticed a distinct difference in quality but was apparently in denial, trying to recapture the feeling the first episode gave me (I was an addict! They hooked me! The first episode was free).  I decided to stop watching after the end of the fourth season, even though more were available.  I don't think I could take it if the episodes from the 5th, 6th and 7th seasons were as bad as I vaguely remember them.

It's kind of sad, remembering how much I enjoyed Sabrina back in the day and knowing I can't get that feeling back.  I'm told that's sometimes what marriage is like.

Boston Legal (5 seasons, 101 episodes, 2004-2008)

Captain Kirk and the guy from Tuff Turf meet Murphy Brown.  That's pretty much what I expected when I started watching Boston Legal.  It didn't catch my attention on its recent network run but a couple of my friends heartily recommended it so I decided to watch on DVD.

Boston Legal is an amazing show.  The entire cast is top-notch, headed by William Shatner and James Spader.  I kept hearing about Shatner winning Emmies for BL but had no idea he could be so funny.  Every week, there would be some absurd court case, much sturm und drang, and then two guys smoking cigars on the balcony.

I highly recommend Boston Legal for a satisfying series to watch.  It'll take a while to get through but it ends with a Supreme Court bang.  And now, having seen Boston Legal, I understand what it means when my friends say, “We're flamingos.”

Space: 1999 (2 seasons, 48 episodes, 1975-1977)

You are reading the third draft of my comments about Space: 1999.  You don't realize it, but you are very glad I'm able to say, “Let me spare you the details.”

Space: 1999 was a British sci-fi show that ran for two seasons in the 70s.  It was not on a network but was a pioneer in first-run syndication, developing a broadcast model that Star Trek The Next Generation and Xena would later use, and is quite common today.

The plot of Space: 1999 is simple: An explosion pushes the moon out of the Earth's orbit, and it now drifts through the cosmos, coming near a new planet, space ship or space phenomenon every week.

It was stylish and futuristic, with great effects, costumes and interesting stories.  That is, for season one.  They changed things up dramatically (and negatively) in season two, presumably to find a wider audience, but they ended up losing enough of its already small following that the show ended after two seasons.

I started buying the DVDs about ten years ago but hadn't gotten around to watching them all the way through.  Come January last, it became time.

Here's where I'll save you about 1000 words of detail.  If you are a sci-fi person, you owe it to yourself to at least read up on Space: 1999, maybe even watch a few episodes of the first season. I recommend “Breakaway,” “Guardian of Piri,” “The Testament of Arkadia,” and “The Last Enemy.”

If you're really into sci-fi, watch the entire first season sometime.  If you're really into sci-fi and are a bit of a masochist, watch the second season as well.

My Boys (1 season in two parts, 22 episodes, 2006-2007)

I started watching JAG when it premiered in 1995 but dropped it in the middle of the second season.  When it left the air in 2005, I decided to catch the last few episodes.  Three of the last five were a backdoor pilot for a new version of JAG.  They brought in a new guy - we'll call him Harmon Rabb 3.0 - and a new Sara McKenzie.  Mac 2.0 - technically Kaitlin 4.0 - was played by Jordana Spiro.  A cutie, she caught my attention only a little at the time but four months later I would jump on her bandwagon for good.

In Must Love Dogs, Jordana was in all of two scenes.  She's John Cusack's ditsy date, the one who so misunderstands Dr Zhivago, you sort of wonder how she can even speak English.  When you ask people about Must Love Dogs, they'll probably mention the date scene before they say anything about Cusak or co-star Diane Lane.  Jordana was that funny.

In My Boys, which runs during baseball season on TBS, Jordana Spiro plays PJ, a tomboy surrounded by men.  She's a sports reporter covering the Chicago Cubs, plays poker with her male friends several nights every week and her brother stops by every night after work before treking home.  PJ has only one female friend, the ultrafeminine Stephanie.  PJ's world is 99% guys.

My Boys is a single camera, 30 minute comedy with no laugh track.  It doesn't need one, as the humor is fast and furious, usually from the friendly and competitive banter.  As funny as My Boys is, there is also a jazzy theme song and Jordana's amazing cuteness to complete the package.

The first season was aired in two parts and the tenor of the show changed a little during the second half but not enough to worry about.  Seasons two and three have aired but aren't out on DVD yet.  Season four will play on TBS this Summer.  Looking forward to seeing more of PJ and her friends.

Life (2 seasons, 32 episodes, 2007-2009)

I've already written a little about Life.  It was a buddy cop show, with a side of damaged hero.  The first season ran during the strike-shortened 2007-2008 season.  While I remembered the last episodes pretty well, I forgot some of the details from the first season, so I decided to savor the entire 32 episodes in one run.

Life begins with Charlie Crews having been released from maximum security prison, where he spent 12 years after having been convicting of killing a family.  A cop before he went in, Crews took a large cash settlement and a detective's badge when he was exonerated.  Life is what he was sentenced to, and life is what he got back.

Over the arc of the first season, Crews earned the trust of his partner, Detective Reese, and launched an off-the books investigation to find out who really killed his friends.  The second season gave us more weekly murders to solve and a bigger conspiracy to unravel.  The chemistry between Crews and Reese (played by the scrumptious Sarah Shahi) really gelled by the end, with no hint of a romance cliché.  It detoured a bit with odd b-plots in some episodes, but all-in-all, a really good show.  The last three minutes of the last episode truly rank as one of the great scenes in TV cop show history.

It took less than two weeks for me to watch all the episodes of Life.  I stayed up a few hours past my bedtime a couple of times, not wanting the wonderfulness to stop.  I would have liked to have seen another season of the show on NBC or a move to USA, but what can you do?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Retros at Willow Creek

I've written before about the retro movies Willow Creek Theater shows every weekend (see Back to the Future, December 2009). Every weekend, they play a blast from the past, some good, some not so, but I like movies so I go to see most of them. In recent weeks, I've seen Beetle Juice, Forrest Gump, Batman, The Blues Brothers, Silence of the Lambs, The Never Ending Story, Fight Club, Terminator II, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Reservoir Dogs, in addition to the movies mentioned in the December post.

At first, most of the retro movies were in an inferior digital format but they are all film now. It makes a big difference. Some of the prints show their age but most are pretty good. The prints for Jurassic Park and Terminator II were pristine. This week's showing is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which I will be skipping. I thought Temple of Doom was vastly inferior to Raiders of the Lost Ark and just kind of icky in its own right.

Next week, however, they are showing Jaws, the 1975 film that created the Summer blockbuster and redefined how the world views sharks, probably for the worse. The retro showings are Friday and Saturday nights at midnight and Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 AM. Being an old man who needs his sleep, I go to the early shows, usually Sunday. Willow Creek is easy to get to if you're in the Twin Cities metro, at the intersection of I-394 and highway 169. Onvoy employees already know this, as it's across the street from where we work. Check out future showtimes here.

Oh, a point of trivia, for what am I good for if not for trivia? The great white shark is the ocean's penultimate apex predator. What is the apex predator? The bluefin tuna. While the great white is big and voracious, it's a specialized eater, preferring easy to catch bite-sized prey like seals. It will leave most healthy aquatic animals alone. The bluefin, however, is faster and will eat anything, although mostly fish. It also hunts in packs and can grow to over 10 feet long and weigh 1000 lbs. Unfortunately, the bluefin is being over harvested and will likely be extinct in my lifetime. If you're ever offered bluefin sushi, just say no.

Clash of the Titans

Once again, concept beats execution.  Largely filled with computer generated imagery, Clash of the Titans tells an old story - a story that has stood the test of time, literally thousands of years old - and makes it boring.  It looks great but who really cares?

Six weeks earlier, I had seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Lightning Thief. That movie told almost exactly the same story - Percy Jackson was a contemporary Perceus - and told it with some style.  Percy Jackson wasn't a great movie either, but its fun quotient was a bit higher (can you say Uma Thurman as Medusa?).  You can safely skip both Percy Jackson and Clash of the Titans for home viewing.

She's Out of My League

I saw She's Out of My League a month ago.  It's already in dollar theaters and will be out on DVD soon, no doubt.  I wanted to live in the first third of She's Out of My League.  It was a warm, funny, genuine romantic comedy with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and several running gags.

Then it turned blue, with cringeworthy body-function jokes.  That is the way of comedy movies these days and maybe I'm becoming an old fogie, but I can live without the American Pie-ization of comedies.  Nonetheless, the chemistry of the leads and the predictable path of the story was heartwarming, occasional grossness notwithstanding.

The ending brought the magic back and turned the experience positive once again.  I recommend She's Out of My League for home viewing, especially if you're not afraid to fast-forward or look away here and there.

The she in She's Out of My League is played by Alice Eve, daughter of British actor Trevor Eve, who also plays her father in the film.  She's perfect for the role, mostly because she's basically perfect, but her English accent peeks through once in a while.  I expect to see more of her in lead roles in the near future.

Alice's business partner and best friend is played by Krysten Ritter, who steals every scene she's in.  Krysten, with pale skin, big doe eyes and a potty mouth provides necessary humor at a time when the leads are off falling for each other.  Krysten came into my sphere with recurring roles in Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls.  Lindsay Sloane has a thankless role as the guy's jealous ex.  She has to be anti-hot, but those of us who remember her as Sabrina the Teenage Witch's best friend or as Big Red in Bring It On know she was acting.  Acting quite a bit.