Football. Books adapted into movies. Oscar nominees. Here’s how I’ve been entertaining myself during the winter hiatus that most of my tv shows are in.
- Friday Night Lights: Seasons 3 and 4 – I am so in love with this show. I’m ashamed at how non-committal I’ve been to it all these years. I’d watch, and really enjoy, a few episodes, but then let ten pile up on my Tivo, end up deleting them before I watched them, etc. Not really sure why I didn’t just sit down and watch every episode I could get my hands on. It’s so, so good! This time around, I fell in love with Tim Riggins, a bad boy with a good heart, and even found myself welcoming new characters with open arms (I’m usually resistant to change when old characters are replaced with new ones). From Eric and Tami Taylor’s realistic marriage and parenting challenges, to Matt Saracen’s struggle to deal with his dysfunctional family, I enjoyed every aspect of these two seasons. Apparently the fifth and final season is still airing on Direct TV, so I’ll have to wait a few months to see how it all ends.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire – In a recent post I talked about how much I enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s trilogy about the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander. So I was pleased when I discovered that the Swedish film adaptations of the first two installments were available on Netflix Instant Watch. The first one, Dragon Tattoo, was just as thrilling as the book. It was a great translation from page to screen. The second, Played with Fire, was equally entertaining, but was a little rough around the edges. (Some of the important plot points were rushed through or skipped, and it seemed pretty low budget.) Apparently I am far from tiring of this trilogy, since I am looking forward to the American movie version, directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Social Network), which will star Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Christopher Plummer as the Vanger family patriarch, and newcomer (at least to me) Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Should be a good one!
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – This movie taught me a lesson that I should have learned a long time ago: I am not a fan of movies based on graphic novels. Let’s review the earlier hints I should have taken: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – What a silly, silly movie; A History of Violence – all I remember about this one is the ridiculous cheerleader scene; 300 – No amount of slow and/or fast motion battle effects could impress me enough to finish this one; Watchmen – three of the most miserable hours I’ve ever endured (accidentally watched the extended version…), and I was completely puzzled by the story. And so we come to the Michael Cera action comedy about a slacker musician who can only date the girl of his dreams if he defeats her seven evil exes. I was so overwhelmed by the clever recreation of a comic book and homage to video games, and so underwhelmed by the plot and dialogue, that I turned this one off after 40 minutes. Obviously I did not fall into this movie’s target demographic, particularly since I’ve never even glanced at a graphic novel. I really thought I would like the movie – I can appreciate movies that are “different” (say, for instance, Stranger Than Fiction, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but this one was just too busy – all bells and whistles, no substance.
- Black Swan – What to say about a psychological thriller set in the world of ballet? It was everything I hoped it would be: a magnificent, frightening, beautiful mess that deserved a standing ovation as the credits rolled. Natalie Portman was terrific as dancer Nina, who slowly unravels under her enormous desire to be perfect in the starring role of Swan Lake. And Barbara Hershey was almost unrecognizable, but fantastic as Nina’s controlling mother. She sent chills down my spine with a subtle shift of her eyes, and made me gasp with some of her creepy interactions with her daughter. The music was beautiful, the effects were appropriately weird, and yes, there were some shockingly graphic scenes that helped establish Nina’s spiraling emotional/psychological state. It’s one of those movies that blurs the line between “real” and “imagined,” which gave it a dreamlike quality. Should it win Best Picture? The subject matter seems a bit too campy for such high accolades. But it’s definitely deserving of some sort of recognition for setting a new standard of quality for psychological thrillers.
- True Grit – Now here’s a movie that has Best Picture written all over it. Strangely, though, there’s been little Oscar buzz about this latest product of the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men, Oh Brother Where Art Thou). I don’t even like westerns, but I loved this movie. I fell under its spell from the moment an orchestral version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” started playing in the opening scene. It’s a beautiful old hymn, and its lingering presence, in different forms throughout the movie, helped create a very satisfying tone of quiet resolve. The song also matched the rugged beauty of the Indian territory that Mattie Ross, Rooster Cogburn, and Laboeuf traversed on their hunt for Tom Chaney. I was very impressed by all of the actors. Hailee Steinfeld was terrific as 14 year old Mattie, carrying herself like a young woman with more maturity and intelligence than her age would suggest. Jeff Bridges proves, once again, that he plays drunken, past their prime heroes very well. Matt Damon really surprised me with his unusually funny role as a Texas ranger who was a little too proud of himself and his home state. These three also had great chemistry (as well as some great dialogue to work with). Josh Brolin used an unusually high-pitched voice as the villain, and it made him even creepier in the role. Like some of the Coen brothers’ previous movies, this one was a strange mix of heavy themes and oddball humor. The result: not your typical Western, but a perfectly entertaining and epic drama. And it’s much more than just a revenge movie – it’s a beautifully told story of persistence, endurance, and camaraderie.
I’ll be taking a big step down in quality when I watch my next Netflix movie. Yes, The A-Team is far from Oscar material, but I’ll give it a look since Bradley Cooper (my beloved Will Tippin from Alias) is in it. I also hope to watch a couple more of the Oscar hopefuls before that awards show airs – perhaps The King’s Speech, The Fighter, and The Social Network. What movies have you loved or hated lately?