Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Football, Ballet, and the Wild, Wild West January 19, 2011

Filed under: Movies,Television — Emily @ 3:20 pm
Tags: , ,

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?

Advertisements
 

2010: Year in Review January 1, 2011

Filed under: Books,Fringe,Glee,Lost,Memories,Movies,Music,Television — Emily @ 5:24 pm

2010 was a year that marked the birth of my second son, which has made it decidedly more difficult for me to maintain this blog. Perhaps one of my new year’s resolutions will be to post more frequently. We shall see. Blame it on pregnancy ditziness, blame it on newborn phase sleep deprivation, but whatever the cause, much of 2010 is a blur, especially the entertainment world. I do remember saying goodbye to, and shedding some tears for, one of my all-time favorite shows. I also remember the wrong person winning American Idol, the soap opera I grew up on coming to an end, and Christopher Nolan continuing his movie-making magic. Here’s a bullet point list of the best of times, worst of times of 2010.

  • Good Reads
    • Stieg Larsson’s Girl trilogy – I read all three of these books in 2010 and found them completely riveting. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a satisfying blend of suspense and mystery revolving around the enigmatic Vanger family. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was a conspiracy-filled investigation to clear the name of the wrongfully accused, and The Girl Who Played with Fire was a satisfying ending to the trilogy with its expose of a secret organization and Lisbeth Salander finally finding some peace. I have watched the Swedish movie adaptations of the first two novels, and they were surprisingly good (meaning the transition from page to screen was pretty accurate). I hear there are American versions in the works, but since the trilogy is set in Sweden, and so much of the plot revolves around Swedish politics and culture, I don’t think they will be as good.
    • Eric Larson’s The Devil in the White City – I don’t usually read historical non-fiction, but I was fascinated by this book, which blends the story of an infamous serial killer with the city of Chicago’s efforts to prepare for and host the 1893 World’s Fair. Larson knew when to elaborate and when to summarize, to make this a quick and interesting read. Word on the street is that there is a movie in the works, with Leonardo DiCaprio set to play serial killer H.H. Holmes. Should be a good one!
  • Good Movies
    • Shutter Island – Speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, he has completely redeemed himself for Titanic. Yeah, I guess I should have gotten over that about ten years ago, but I lost over three hours of my life to that movie!! It took me a long time to forgive him for shouting “I’m the king of the world” and such. This year, he only impressed me, starring in two of my favorite movies. One was Shutter Island, adapted from the Dennis Lehane novel. I knew it would be good when I saw that it starred DiCaprio, along with Mark Ruffalo (one of my favorite character actors) and Ben Kingsley. This one was terrific in the theater: the scenery, the music, the everything. The ending surprised (and disappointed) some people, but Martin Scorsese did a great job with every single detail, from beginning to end, and I was impressed.
    • Inception – The only person who outdid Scorsese this year was Christopher Nolan, who continues to amaze me with his ability to intrigue and entertain. Inception is the last movie I saw in the theater before my son was born, and I haven’t been back to the movies yet! What a terrific experience that movie was: the sights, the sounds, the story… the whole package. I look forward to giving it a second look soon.
  • Good Music
    • Mumford and Sons – Their Sigh No More is the only complete album I purchased in 2010, and I love it. From the mainstream hit “Little Lion Man,” to the solidarity of “Timshel,” to the poetry of “The Cave,” everything is worth listening to and enjoying.
    • Glee – Nothing is more fun to listen to than songs from Glee. They are fun to sing and dance along to, in the car, the kitchen, or anywhere else. The second season has been a little lackluster, but I’m still enjoying last season’s hits – most notably “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Borderline/Open Your Heart,” and “Alone.”
  • Good TV
    • Breaking Bad – After three seasons of it receiving awards and accolades, we finally jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon, zooming through the first two seasons on DVD. Now we are anxiously awaiting season three, and hope it will reair on AMC before the dvd release. Bryan Cranston is truly amazing in this role, one that is about as far removed from the dad on Malcolm in the Middle as you can be. I’ve had several people tell me they don’t want to watch the show because it sounds depressing (actually, I think I was one of those people before I watched it!), but the show balances out the heavy themes (cancer, drug addiction, deception, etc.) with lighter moments. We so enjoyed this show that we decided to try out AMC’s other original series. We quickly lost interest in Mad Men (well made, yes, but no likable characters!), but immediately took to the new zombie drama The Walking Dead (too bad there were only six episodes in season one…). I was also interested in Rubicon, but since it was canceled after one season, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it.
    • Fringe – I continue to love this sci-fi investigative show. The story arcs are imaginative, the characters well drawn, and the details thorough. This season has been all about this universe vs. the alternate universe, and I appreciate all the little details that the writers throw in about alt-universe (JFK was’t assassinated, they no longer use writing pens, avocado are a rare fruit, etc.). This show even inspired the name that I eventually chose for my son (Peter).
    • Lost – I couldn’t do a year end post without mentioning what is probably my all-time favorite show. I throughly enjoyed the final season, although it took me awhile to come to terms with the way it ended. The show had a great run, though, so I don’t miss it now. Too much other tv to watch anyway.
  • Good Sports
    • The Saints won the Super Bowl! – After years of embarrassment, followed by some years of “almost, but not quite,” the Saints finally had their moment of glory as Super Bowl champs, by winning a handful of crazy games. It was oh so sweet to celebrate with them after all those depressing Sunday afternoons growing up in Louisiana, watching the ‘Aints.
    • Duke wins the NCAA championship! – What a rare thing, for two of my teams to win championships during the same year! I have been a Duke fan since 1991, the year they won their first championship. I’ve followed their ups and downs ever since then, and was pleasantly surprised when they were the only #1 seed left standing for the Final Four last season, and added another championship to their collection. Go Blue Devils!
  • Disappointments
    • Velva Jean Learns to Drive – This book was okay, but I was really unhappy with how it ended.
    • The Event – I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from NBC, since their action/suspense shows usually fail, but this show was just one, big convoluted and implausible mess. I tried to watch it, but gave up on about episode 5 or 6. I suppose it will last for awhile, but I won’t be tuning in to this failed hybrid of 24 and Lost.
    • So You Think You Can Dance: Season 7 – When I first heard that the show was mixing things up by pairing new contestants with all-stars, I was super excited. And as much as I loved seeing Pasha, Mark, Kathryn, etc., their presence made it nearly impossible to pick favorites among the newbies. We couldn’t enjoy power couples, and I was usually too busy watching one of the all-stars do their thing to notice how the actual contestants were doing. Throw the ridiculous number of injuries in, and the uneven number of guys and girls during the second half of the season, and it was an epic failure. There were still a few memorable performances, but none that I can think of right now.
    • Lee beating Crystal on American Idol – Every year I only half watch the spectacle that is American Idol, and last season, my one eye open quickly pegged Crystal the only one with the total package amonst the weak top ten. As much as I liked Lee (he was a nice guy, after all), he wasn’t nearly as talented or comfortable on stage as Crystal. Like all previous contestants, their post-Idol successes or failures will determine the real winner (a shout out here to the one and only Jennifer Hudson, who was voted off way too soon on her season of Idol).

So what were the best and worst moments in 2010 entertainment for you?

 

Mixing Things Up with Netflix Instant Watch November 4, 2010

Filed under: 1980s,Memories,Movies — Emily @ 3:36 pm
Tags: , , , ,

While we have had access to Netflix Instant Watch for over a year, we didn’t really start using it until this past summer. This week I fell even more in love with it after discovering tons of children’s programs that appeal to Benjamin (namely Dora, Caillou, and his latest craze, The Backyardigans). I’ve also developed an interest in the PBS news program Frontline, since Netflix offers several of its episodes via instant watch. Here’s a run down on the various instant watch titles we’ve been watching over the past few weeks:

  • Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – I had already watched this once, when it was available on Hulu, but it was worth checking out again. It reminds me how talented and funny Neil Patrick Harris is, and how much less interesting the tv landscape is without a Joss Whedon show.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – My biggest complaint about this movie is that it was simply too long. Surely the director/editors could have figured out a way to trim the middle section by a half hour or so. I was fascinated by the first hour (seeing “old man” Benjamin learn to walk/talk/read, etc.), bored by the second (almost to the point that I gave up on the movie), and satisfied by the last 45 minutes (especially the way Benjamin grieved the impending loss of life as he knew it, since he would soon be a child). It’s definitely an unusual story, and I wasn’t sure what it would look like for someone to be born as an old man. They way the story was written made it all make sense. This movie is entertaining because of its concept (a man who is born old and goes through life aging backwards), but it felt like they were trying to make it into a Forrest Gump type of epic. So on that level, it failed – that is, it didn’t feel grandiose enough to me. The acting and writing¬† weren’t that great either. Still, Brad Pitt’s old man to young man make up was rather convincing, and I was emotionally invested in the story enough that I cried at the end. If you have nearly three hours to spare, this one is worth watching. I had to watch in three or four installments, but I’m glad I finished.
  • Frontline: Digital Nation – For the past couple of years, ever since I joined the Facebook culture, I have been fascinated by this topic of how technology is affecting the way we communicate and interact with one another. So I thoroughly enjoyed this report on just that – how smart phones, Facebook, online gaming, etc. are changing our relationships and daily lives. As a college English teacher, I was interested in the segment about how students are “multitasking” in the classroom – texting, Facebooking, and googling while also taking notes or listening to a lecture. It was interesting that a research study found that these students weren’t as good at multitasking as they thought. Doing so many things at once greatly diminishes their ability to retain information, to concentrate, etc. I also enjoyed the segment about online gaming. It focused on the way that gamers form online communities and friendships, and sometimes evenmeet their future spouse in the game. I do wish the reporters would have investigated how these online relationships affect these individuals’ “real life” relationships. Something just seems wrong about being so absorbed in a fantasy world, even if you are “meeting” the same people there every day. Doing so makes them miss so much of the physical world around them!
  • Teen Wolf – Yup, a classic Michael J. Fox ’80s movie. I’m pretty sure a teenager watching this movie today would think it was awful. I must admit it is pretty bad – maybe “campy” is a better word. But if only for nostalgia’s sake, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. One of my favorite thing about watching old movies is getting on IMDB and finding out what the actors have done since. In the case of Teen Wolf, most of their careers fizzled out by the end of the ’80s (it was released in ’85 – the same year as The Goonies). Doug Savant of Desperate Housewives had a minor role as one of teen wolf’s basketball teammates, but other than him and Michael J. Fox, no one else has had much success since. It was interesting to learn that Jerry Levine (the wolf’s goofy sidekick Stiles) has gone on to a successful career as a tv director, working on such shows as Life Unexpected, Monk, and Everybody Hates Chris. Who knew that someone who started out car surfing in Teen Wolf would go on to succeed behind the camera?
  • Babies – This documentary was surprisingly fascinating. I expected it to be cute, but it also managed to provide a lot of insight into the similarities and differences of babies in different cultures – all without a single line of narration. A camera crew followed the lives of four babies from birth until they were about one year old. The babies lived in the San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia, and Namibia. There was a recurring contrast of the U.S. and Japanese babies’ sterile, perhaps overprotected environment, and the Mongolian and Namibian babies’ less structured, more “anything goes” environment. Of course, you can’t base your view of an entire culture’s way of raising a baby based on one family, but still it was eye opening to see things like the Mongolian mother cleaning her baby’s face with breast milk and the Namibian mother putting mud on her baby’s head.It was strange to see families living so “in the wild” even in our modern world. The Mongolian family seemed to be farmers, and they lived in a one room hut in the middle of their fields. The baby would crawl right out the opened door and hang out with the cattle. One time he was sitting in a basin for a bath, and a goat walked up to the door and started drinking the bath water! The Namibian mother was always shown sitting with other mothers and children, outside, with dust blowing around them and flies buzzing around. She was shown nursing the baby and her older child at the same time, and the atmosphere was very relaxed. They let the babies put rocks in their mouth, crawl around in a stream drinking from shallow water full of sediment, etc. Such a stark contrast to the hippie San Fran parents who were taking their daughter to some kind of New Age music class (“The Earth is our Mother and provides for us all…, or something like that), or the Japanese mother taking her daughter on play dates at the park with all the other moms/babies/strollers/baby wrap. This was a fun movie to watch with Benjamin. He was just as fascinated as I was!
  • The ‘Burbs – This Tom Hanks comedy/horror movie from 1989 is one of my favorites from that decade. I have watched it so many times, and yet I still thoroughly enjoyed it this time. First of all, it is simply funny. Sure, there are some cheesy moments, but the predicaments that these curious/paranoid neighbors find themselves in are very awkward and amusing. Secondly, there’s a lot of truthful commentary here about how things really are in the suburbs. People often wonder about the “Boo Radley” of the neighborhood – the one who doesn’t mow his lawn, take out his trash, ever go anywhere, etc. (Yeah, we have one of those.) It’s fun to see characters in a movie actually do the investigating that most people would never actually do in a real life situation. Tom Hanks has had tons of success as a dramatic actor, but I really prefer his older comedy movies (Big is another of my favorites). And if these reasons aren’t enough to love The ‘Burbs, just remember that it features Corey Feldman and Carrie Fisher, as well as that creepy red-headed kid (Courtney Gains) from the original Children of the Corn! I don’t know how anyone could watch this movie and not like it. Please leave a comment if you disagree with me.

So that sums up what I’ve been watching lately. I have about 40 more titles in my queue, many of them documentaries and episodes of Frontline. But my favorite instant watch titles are those that take me back to my younger days (in addition to the ones listed above I’ve watched Flatliners, Soapdish, and Interview with a Vampire, and have Clash of the Titans, Police Academy, and Clueless in my queue). I hope that Netflix will continue to add new ’80s and ’90s movies to Instant Watch. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will enjoy revisiting them! Let me know what you’ve enjoyed viewing on Instant Watch.

 

Quick Thoughts on Summer Entertainment September 5, 2010

Filed under: Movies,So You Think You Can Dance,Television — Emily @ 2:28 pm

You may have noticed that I’ve been MIA for most of the summer. I was kind of busy being miserable in the Texas heat during my third trimester, and then figuring out how to handle two kids once I had my baby boy in early August. I’m starting to regain control of my schedule again now, so I thought I’d start off my latest attempt to get back into this blog by giving a recap of my summer entertainment – tv, movies, plays, etc.

  • Spring TV Catch Up – Somewhere along the way in May and June, my husband and I fell way behind on our regular tv shows. It took us most of the summer to finish out the seasons of Glee, Fringe, 30 Rock, Community, etc. As much as we love Glee, it was the last show that we finished watching. Maybe we couldn’t stand the thought of no new episodes for three whole months! I am happy to report that we have cleaned out our Tivo’s Now Playing List, except for one episode of Parenthood and the second half of V’s first season (we’re not even sure if we’ll continue watching this show, so it doesn’t really count).
  • Parenthood – Speaking of Parenthood, I am officially in love with this new show. It has been my comfort TV for the past month. I am so glad that I saved all the first season episodes, even though I had never gotten around to watching them during the regular season! I plan on writing a separate post for this show – it very much deserves the attention! I am excited about the second season premiere, which is just around the corner.
  • Supernatural – Over the past year or so I’ve been catching up on this WB/CW show, which I originally stopped watching after season two, when there were simply too many choices on Thursday nights. I have thoroughly enjoyed Sam and Dean’s continuing adventures. I still have four episodes left to watch from last season, but I should finish them in time to enjoy the new season’s episodes without having to wait for them to come out on DVD. I’m sure there will be a big cliffhanger that will make me happy that I only have to wait a few days to see resolved. I see that the CW is banishing the show to the dreaded Friday night time slot, so I am guessing this will be the final season. It’s been a good run, and I will probably follow the show to the end now that I’m this far in.
  • So You Think You Can Dance – After several seasons of faithfully blogging about my favorite reality competition, I simply couldn’t keep up this summer. I managed one measly post, and then had trouble even tuning in every week. Even though my interest has waned from what it once was, I still think this is a great show. While this season’s contestants didn’t wow me like some in the past (Pasha! Jakob! Katee!), I was especially impressed by the choreographers’ creativity. Tabitha and Napoleon outdid themselves, and Sonya Tayeh, Travis Wall, and others did some equally stellar work. It made me wish that the producers would develop a spin-off along the lines of “So You Think You Can Choreograph.” They could even have SYTYCD all-stars perform the routines. How fun would that be? As for this season, the all-star gimmick kind of fell flat, especially since so many of the girls were ousted early on, leaving the all-star guys without much chance to perform. Still, it was very nice to see some old favorites like Pasha and Twitch, be reminded how good others were (Mark, Katherine), and be introduced to a fantastic season two contestant (Allison). The question of who would be sent home each week was highly predictable, but I think Kent and Lauren were the deserving top two, and that Lauren completely deserved to win. It was nice that things went the way they should for once on a reality show! (I still think that Crystal was robbed last season on American Idol, and am still bitter about Jakob not winning on last season of SYTYCD…)
  • Movies – I haven’t watched a ton of movies this summer, but here’s a short list of the ones I did see
    • Inception – The payoff of this movie was so worth sitting through 2 1/2 hours and risking being uncomfortable as I neared the end of my pregnancy. The special effects, the sound, the intricate plot, the all-star cast, etc. This is one of those rare films that I would love to see again in the theater – it’s that impressive and entertaining. My parents would disagree. They had trouble accepting the “shared dreaming” aspect of the plot that held the movie together. This surprised me, since I didn’t think twice about it. Christopher Nolan’s movies do seem to appeal more to the under 40 crowd than to our parents.
    • Iron Man 2 – While this movie had some glaring plot holes or unclear developments, it gave me another chance to see one of my favorite actors on the big screen. I’m talking, of course, about Robert Downey, Jr. He was looking good in that iron man suit! I was highly entertained by the whole movie, but could have done without the confusing/campy Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson subplot. Say what? I felt like they jumped into the movie from a bad X-Men imitation.
    • Whip It – I’d been wanting to see this movie ever since I first saw the trailers, and it’s just about what I expected: a chick flick with attitude. I thought Drew Barrymore did a great job in her directorial debut, and the roller derby girls were well cast.
    • Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog – This was my second time to view this fun Joss Whedon creation, and it was just as entertaining this time. I’m still surprised by the bittersweet ending, but I shouldn’t be, knowing Whedon’s history with shows like Angel and Buffy – well, really any show he’s ever made has had a bittersweet finale. The songs are catchy, the lyrics clever, and the cast entertaining. Neil Patrick Harris can do no wrong!
  • Theater
    • Black Pearl Sings – This was a local production starring Liz Mikel, of Friday Night Lights fame. It was an excellent two-person show set during the Great Depression, featuring acapella folk songs and spirituals. I don’t go to many plays, but my positive experience with this one makes me want to keep my eyes open for more good ones.
    • Wicked – I finally saw this Broadway production that everyone raves about. I was skeptical, but was quickly won over by the charming cast, songs, set design, and story. Glinda and Elphaba were the real stars, as one would guess. The actresses who portrayed them had tremendous voices and good chemistry as the unlikely friends. My only complaint is that this musical lacks a grand finale. The first act blows you away before intermission, with the moving “Defying Gravity” scene, but the show ends with one tiny song, and some dialogue to wrap up loose ends. I was looking for something more awe inspiring. Oh well.

So there’s the list of tv, movies, and plays that have entertained me this summer. What were you watching?

 

Spring Movie Roundup May 21, 2010

The tv season is winding down, but since I’m having trouble collecting my thoughts about shows like Lost, 24, and Fringe, I’ll share my thoughts on some movies I’ve watched recently:

  • Rain Man – This Oscar-winning movie from 1988 was fun to watch, as much for the 80s cultural references as for the well developed story. Since I was only ten years old when the movie was released, I’m not sure I had ever watched the whole thing before. It was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Dustin Hoffmann won best actor, and the movie also won Oscars for best picture, best director, and best screenplay. Most people these days still associate Tom Cruise with his “crazy phase” from a few years ago, with the sofa leaping on Oprah and whatnot. I don’t have much of an opinion about Cruise as a person, but he has been in a lot of good movies that represent a variety of roles. Some of my favorites include Collateral, Minority Report, and A Few Good Men. In this movie, Cruise and Hoffmann are a great team with good acting chemistry. The 80s cars, clothing, music, billboards, etc. were a nice backdrop to a story that would work well during any time period: self-centered Charlie discovers he has an older, autistic brother – Raymond – and during a cross country journey the two brothers develop an unlikely bond and Charlie’s perspective on the situation changes. If you’ve never seen this movie, I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s also worth a second look.
  • Soapdish – This campy comedy has been on my rewatch list for awhile, since my appreciation for all things Robert Downey, Jr. has increased over the past couple of years. The character Downey plays (a spineless producer for the show) in this soap opera parody isn’t very likable, but the movie is entertaining and represents the flavor of early 90s cinema (it was released in 1991). It features an appropriately histrionic Sally Field and Kevin Kline, a fresh-faced Elisabeth Shue, and a pre-Lois and Clark/Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher. The convoluted story, which involves a power struggle between soap divas, a love triangle, and a surprise paternity revelation, is understandably ridiculous – as it is a soap opera parody, but the main characters are just likable enough that it also works as a romantic comedy. I watched this through Netflix Instant Watch – if you are home one night with no tv shows to watch, this is a fun way to pass the time.
  • An Education – This movie caught my eye only because author Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay. I always enjoy his books, which include About a Boy and A Long Way Down, so I was curious to see how his knack for creating interesting characters and situations would translate to the big screen. While the movie lacked appealing characters, it definitely presented flawed, complex individuals. The story centers around a 16 year old girl, Jenny, who falls for a much older man, David (he must be in his late 30s). The disturbing thing to me is that her parents actually encourage the relationship. David is a charming guy who sweet talks his way into Jenny and her parents’ lives, and the audience spends most of the movie uncertain about his true intentions/motivations. The title of the movie refers to how this experience affects Jenny’s world: she certainly learns some life lessons, and she also begins to question the goals that had always been straightforward before meeting David – to finish at her prep school, make it into Oxford, and study English. After becoming involved with David, she comes to regard school as boring and leading to a dull future, and regards life with David as exciting and full of possibility. If this movie were set during modern times, it would play out a lot differently (for example, Jenny’s parents would probably have David arrested instead of inviting him over for tea!). But, I can only assume that things were different in 1960s England, which is the time period during which we see Jenny’s story unfold. This is not a feel good movie, but it’s not a complete downer either. It’s worth seeing for the excellent writing and acting, and because it makes you think about the expectations society places on young women when it comes to getting an education and finding someone to marry.
  • The Proposal – I was surprised how much I enjoyed this movie. It’s far from Oscar worthy, but its entertainment value is off the charts. I smiled or laughed just about all the way through it. The story is your typical cliched romantic comedy fluff: New York editor Margaret forces her personal assistant, Andrew, to agree to marry her when she finds out she’s about to be deported to her home country of Canada. The business arrangement soon turns into something more as they take a weekend trip to Alaska together to share the “happy news” with Andrew’s family. Not surprisingly, we learn that Margaret isn’t the evil witch that everyone thinks she is, and she learns that there’s much more to Andrew than she had given him credit for. The real fun in the movie can be attributed to the “fish out of water” aspect of city girl Margaret adapting to life in the Alaskan wilderness, whether she’s dancing with Andrew’s grandmother (scene stealer Betty White) in the woods as a tribute to the gods, trying to prevent a hawk from stealing her cell phone, or enduring special attention during a performance by the local male exotic dancer (Oscar from The Office in an unlikely and hilarious role). But Bullock isn’t the only thing to love about this movie. Everyone was well cast, and I was really charmed by Ryan Reynolds, an actor who I had previously written off as someone who specializes in a brand of silly movies I have no interest in. It turns out that in addition to being quite attractive, he is a pretty good comedic actor. The final thing I’ll say about this movie is that parts of it were filmed on location in Rockport, Massachusetts, where I went on vacation a couple of years ago. It is a quaint, scenic little town close to Boston, and I loved it. I recognized the red barn that is a Rockport landmark, in the scene where Margaret and Andrew climb into a boat to ride to his family’s house. Seeing familiar sites in the movie made me happy. As far as romantic comedies go, this one is a definite winner, and one I could watch several more times before tiring of it.
  • The X-Files: I Want to Believe – As an avid X-Filer, I should have watched this movie in the theater, but I heard so many negative reviews of it that I kept putting it off. It’s not that the movie was bad – it just wasn’t great. For me, it was enough to see Mulder and Scully together again, investigating a string of mysterious disappearances. It was nice to see them years after the events of the series finale, settled into a comfortable domestic existence, with Mulder “hiding out” from the feds and Scully working as a medical doctor. A supposed psychic’s discovery of a human limb buried in a field, and his insistence that he is having visions of a woman’s abduction, leads the FBI to enlist Mulder and Scully to help investigate a case that involves a serial kidnapper, black market organs, and a connection to the psychic network. Many fans of the show were disappointed that Chris Carter didn’t take this opportunity to provide more answers to the show’s many unresolved conspiracy theories and alien investigations, but I was entertained. I agree with a review I read that the movie played out like an extended “episode of the week.” Was the movie as memorable as X-Files: Fight the Future? No. Is it worth watching again? No. But it was comforting to revisit these old “friends,” so I’m glad that I watched it.
  • Where the Wild Things Are – What an odd little movie this was. When the trailers first surfaced on the internet, the buzz among people of my generation was crazy. We grew up reading this book, and now Spike Jonze, the mastermind behind Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, was bringing it to the big screen! When the movie actually hit theaters, the buzz turned into more of a shoulder shrugging, “eh, it was okay” attitude. I even heard some people say it was depressing. There was debate about whether this was a movie intended for kids, or a movie geared toward the 30 somethings who first made the book popular. It seems to be a mix of both. The shenanigans of Max and the “wild things” he meets on the island are very silly at times, but Max’s home life that leads him on his adventure, and his complex emotions about his life and relationships, can only be appreciated by the adult audience. Most kids’ movies don’t delve beneath the surface to explore the reasons that a child is feeling lonely, alienated, or neglected, and this movie did an excellent job of that. However, I think the movie would have been better if Jonze had chosen one specific direction rather than dividing his vision between the two extremes.
  • Up in the Air – I had been looking forward to this George Clooney movie for awhile, and was curious to see if it would live up to all the Oscar hype. It was very good, but not at all what I was expecting it to be. The writing, acting, directing, soundtrack, cinematography were all top notch. The story was clever and kept me completely engaged. My husband and I appreciated the business traveler aspect of the movie, since he travels quite often for work and is familiar with the never ending sequence of airport security checks, hotel key cards, airline/hotel/rental car points, etc. It was the tone of the movie that was a surprise. I was expecting it to be a dry comedy, and it was at times, but there was a persistent theme of loneliness, isolation, and even despair that made it difficult to watch, particularly as it neared its end. I wasn’t sure what to take away from such a movie. It left viewers with no hopeful message, and really no message at all. We weren’t sure what to think about where the main characters ended up. As the credits rolled, I just said “huh” and felt a little gypped. Despite my disappointment with the direction of the plot, there is much to appreciate in this movie, so if you can handle your comedy with some twists, turns, and drama, give it a look.

Next on my movie list are Dear Frankie, my current Netflix rental, and Iron Man 2, a necessity for me to watch since it stars my beloved Robert Downey, Jr. What have you seen lately?

 

Winter Movie Roundup April 7, 2010

I can’t believe it’s been nearly two months since I’ve posted anything! Was I despondent over the unusually frigid and lingering Dallas winter? Was I too baffled by this season of Lost? Was I going on hiatus just like most of my favorite shows? Is my pregnancy using up all my energy, leaving me with a nasty case of writer’s block? I suppose it could be all of the above, but now that spring has arrived, and since I just returned from a rejuvenating trip to Vegas, I am ready to get back into the blogging game. I’ll start small, with mini-reviews of all the movies I’ve watched over the past couple of months:

  • The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus – This movie was just “okay.” I didn’t know anything about it before I watched it, except that Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger were in it. I did enjoy Ledger’s character, and the visual effects were as elaborate and imaginative as they were advertised to be. What was missing for me was a solid, cohesive plot.
  • Shutter Island – This is the best movie that I’ve seen so far this year. Everything about it was well done and entertaining: the story, the musical score, the special effects, the character development, the acting, the writing, the setting… The suspense was riveting, the mysteries were perplexing, and a couple of the dramatic scenes even had me in tears. Martin Scorsese isn’t a film legend for nothing. He knows how to make a movie work on all levels. Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Leonardo DiCaprio were all excellent in their roles, as were all the supporting cast. I would watch this movie again as a rental, but it is best seen on the big screen. I may even read the Dennis Lehane book that it is based on.
  • The Wolf Man – The theatrical trailers for this remake of the old classic were very well done and had me excited about the movie. The actual film didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but it was still entertaining. How can you go wrong with Anthony Hopkins, Benicio del Toro, and Hugo Weaving? Vampires get all the media attention these days, so it was nice to see werewolves have a momentary return to glory. (Although, I’m guessing there will be a renewed interest in them after the third installment of the Twilight series hits theaters this summer…)
  • Away We Go – I originally saw this movie in the theater last summer, and enjoyed it enough to rent it for a second look. It’s about a couple(Burt and Verona) who, having recently found out they are expecting a baby, decide to hit the road in search of the ideal place to raise their child. Their journey takes them such places as Arizona, Miami, and Montreal. The first thing the movie has going for it is a screenplay by Dave Eggers, who also wrote the film adaptation for Where the Wild Things Are, and has written many well received novels. His quirky, refreshing style is very evident in the characters and the plot. The most obvious evidence of his influence is the characters themselves: Burt’s histrionic mother (played perfectly by Catherine O’Hara) and obscure art collecting father (Jeff Daniels); Verona’s obnoxious, highly inappropriate former co-worker (a hilarious Allison Janney) and her “glass half empty” husband (an extremely low key Jim Gaffigan); and Burt’s “cousin” LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is the most touchy feely mom you’ll ever encounter. And that’s only a few examples of the colorful cast. But this isn’t just a comedy. While the humor is plentiful, you really care about the main characters, and the story turns sentimental (in a genuine, refreshing way, though – not a sappy sweet one) at times. The soundtrack enhances the nostalgic, American road trip feel of the movie. I already listed several of the all-star cast above, and they are all great in their roles. I was especially surprised by how well John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph worked together. Burt and Verona are very different characters from their usual roles on The Office and SNL. This movie is definitely worth seeing, especially if you like quirky comedy-dramas.
  • Terminator: Salvation – After all the mixed to disappointed feedback I’d received about this movie when it was first released, I had very low expectations when I rented it. As a Christian Bale fan, I wasn’t going to skip it completely, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually rather good. It was much better than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. It was an intense action movie with impressive sound and special effects, and plenty of attractive actors flexing their muscles. Christian Bale actually had the less interesting role as John Connor – I was more intrigued by Sam Worthington’s tragic hero Marcus Wright. Worthington is still fresh on my radar after my introduction to him in Avatar. Now that I’ve seen him in Terminator, he’s on my list of actors whose movies I’ll always make a point to watch. In case you are wondering, others on that list include Christian Bale, Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Jackman, and Johnny Depp.
  • Supernatural: Season 4 – So, I know this isn’t a movie, but I invested a lot of time catching up on seasons 1 to 3 of this show over the last few months. While it’s not always the most well written or produced show, it is highly entertaining, and brothers Sam and Dean are two of the most fun characters you’ll see on a tv show. I plan to wait until the fall to watch season 5 on DVD, but after the huge season finale cliffhanger, I may have to watch some of those episodes online.

I think those are the only movies I’ve watched over the last couple of months. I’ve mostly been watching tv shows and college basketball. What movies have impressed or disappointed you lately?

 

Holiday Movie Roundup January 19, 2010

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, I watched several movies – some funny, some exciting, some nostalgic. From Chevy Chase to Robert Downey, Jr., from Christmas miracles to mastermind detectives, I enjoyed all of these movies:

  • Yes ManI enjoyed this Jim Carrey comedy more than I expected to. It had some hilarious moments, particularly those involving John Michael Higgins (Best in Show) as Carrey’s friend who had been transformed by the “Yes” program, and Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) as Carrey’s hopelessly awkward boss. It was also nice to see Bradley Cooper play a nice guy for once (he is also the reason that I will go see The A-Team this summer). The basic premise is that Carl (Carrey) has been living a pointless, lonely life, in which he makes excuses all the time in an effort to not have to do anything or spend time with anyone. After encountering an old co-worker, Nick (Higgins), who has been transformed into a Yes Man, he finds himself learning to leap into new possibilities. The story takes many interesting turns as a result of Carl’s newfound willingness to say “yes.” As with most male-centric comedies these days, there were a few unnecessarily crude moments, but aside from that, my only complaint is the age difference between Carrey and his love interet co-star, Zoey Deschanel. He is 18 years older than she is – practically old enough to be her father! Maybe Carrey was playing someone younger than his real life age of 47, but the age difference just made the pairing seem “off” to me. Despite this flaw with the casting, this is an amusing movie that’s worth renting.
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I watch this movie every year during the holidays. It is definitely my favorite Christmas movie, and I consider it a classic (as do many children of the 80s). Cousin Eddie’s words of “wisdom,” a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfuss playing the yuppy next door neighbor, the grandmother reciting the national anthem during the family’s mealtime prayer… What’s not to love? And as crazy and over the top as Clark’s lights display is (the entire house is covered in lights), it seems like these days people really do go to such lengths in an effort to outdo the neighbors. I hope no one ever tries to do a remake of this movie, because it needs to stand alone in all its comic glory.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceI’ve read all the books twice, and have seen all the movies, so it drove me crazy that I had to wait so long to watch this sixth installment in the film series. (We never got around to seeing it in the theater, for various reasons.) Well, it was worth the wait. I thought it was fantastic. The special effects, the adaptation from book to film, the acting… I was especially touched by the deepening friendship between Harry and Hermione, and the beginnings of romance between Ron and Hermione. These relationships worked because of good chemistry between the actors, and a good script for them to work with. I was also impressed by Draco Malfoy’s turmoil over the dark task he was assigned by Voldemort. It’s interesting to see these actors growing up on screen, and for the most part, their acting improves with each film as well. I look forward to the next installment!

Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were terrific as Holmes and Watson.

  • Sherlock Holmes – Color me impressed by Guy Ritchie. I haven’t always been a fan of his work, but his distinctive directing style worked very well for this fun update on the classic detective. Of course, all the credit can’t go to him. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were perfectly cast (and looked great!) as Holmes and Watson. It was fun to see a buffer, more rugged Holmes than the traditionally more subdued and proper one. The ending left things open for a sequel – I’ll go see it if it happens.
  • Avatar – We had hoped to see the movie that everyone’s talking about at the IMAX, but when we got there it was sold out. We “settled” for regular old digital 3D, and we weren’t disappointed. While the story didn’t wow me (it’s been called a rip off of Dances with Wolves or Pocahontascheck out this amusing comparison), the special effects and 3D amazed me. The picture was so clear, and the world of Pandora so richly and completely imagined, that I was mesmerized from beginning to end. I especially loved the night scenes, when all the plant life was glowing, and with the 3D effects, I felt like I was right in the middle of it all. This is definitely a movie that should be seen in the theater, and in 3D, to be fully appreciated. While I liked it, I don’t think it deserves the Oscar for Best Picture. Let’s not have another Titanic on our hands, where a movie is given the top honor because of great special effects, while ignoring some pretty big problems with other aspects of it.
  • Daybreakers – I actually just watched this movie last weekend. In case you aren’t familiar with it, it stars Ethan Hawke and is a vampire/science fiction movie. It’s set in the near future, at a time when vampires have become the majority in society. They control the government, they are news anchors, they run corporations; children go to school and the cities come to life during the night, while everyone sleeps during the day. The problem is that with the human race nearly extinct, the vampires are running out of their blood (aka food) supply. Thus begins a race to find a blood substitute, but Ethan Hawke and some other rebels hope to find a cure to restore the human race. The movie was entertaining, and the vision of a world run by vampires was interesting. It was much gorier than I had expected (lots of exploding bodies, spurting blood, flailing limbs, etc.), and the end of the movie was a bit too campy for my taste – not to mention that the plot kind of fell apart. So, if you are interested in the vampire/sci-fi genres, you should check this one out, but perhaps you should add it to your rental list instead of going to the theater.

What movies have you seen recently? Any thoughts on the ones mentioned here?