Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Descendants and Once Upon a Time


The Descendants 

The Descendants is about Matt King (George Clooney), a real estate lawyer, whose wife is in the hospital after a boating accident.  He has to reconnect with his two daughters Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) and also make a big decision about his inherited family land.  

I had the pleasure of watching this movie last weekend.  It's a fine, grown up adult movie with really great performances.  Clooney, who just keeps getting better and better, is excellent in this.  I was also very impressed by Woodley and Miller.  It's nice to see children not depicted as cliches or stereotypes.  

All in all, a really intimate story that felt immensely personal.  There are moments from it that you stick with you long afterwards, in particular Matt's final exchange with his wife.    

Once Upon a Time 

Once Upon a Time is a new series on ABC about fairy tale characters trapped in the quaint town of Storybrooke.  Emma Swan, a newcomer to the town, is the only one who can break the spell.  

I love fairy tales so I was really excited about this show.  I like that it has leaned more towards the darker elements of the stories instead of just going for the candy coated Disney versions that I loved when I was a kid.  Both can be done well (see Enchanted for the later).  

So far, Once Upon a Time is interesting.  There are overarching mysteries and characters that you really want to root for: Emma, her son, Snow White, the Prince, and even Rumpelstiltskin who actually plays a large role.  There've been a few moments that have just blown me away and I'm really hoping to see more of those  moments, like the ending of the pilot when the clock starts ticking or the Snow White and Prince Charming story.   A few weak points: their version of Cinderella has so far been the weakest of the stories and also sometimes Regina, the queen just falls flat.         

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Godfather

So I finally watched the Godfather (I and II only).

Some thoughts:

  • As a big Simpsons fan, I watched some of the episode commentaries. At one point, someone said that they'd done so many parodies of the Godfather that they could probably do a Simpsons version of the Godfather with just Simpson clips.  After watching the Godfather and having those awesome "oh that's where that reference comes from," it looks entirely possible.  
  • On the note of those classic moments- those very famous scenes and moments- they are all completely worth it in the Godfather Part I.  Even though I knew roughly what was going to happen (e.g. what the movie producer would find in his bed), it didn't take away from how great the scenes were. 
  • Part I >>>Part II.  
    • There's the storytelling where I liked how they kept certain aspects of the story ambiguous throughout so that there was always that mystery, whereas, early on in part II, we find the answer to one of the big questions so it's not nearly as satisfying as it should be when we see the characters finally figuring it out.   
    • Brando.  Brando. Brando.  In a lot of ways, he really made part I.  After watching part I, I just wanted to snatch up all the Brando movies I could find and watch them.  Part II really felt like it was missing something and even though we got to see Vito Corleone's early days (by De Niro who does very well), there wasn't quite enough of Vito.  
    • I experienced the Benjamin Button effect watching part II.  Let me explain, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Forrest Gump but not nearly as good) is an okay movie, but the last 20 minutes or so are really quite good (compared to the rest of the movie).  I'm not sure if I would have thought the last 20 minutes were good on their own, but having gone through the whole 2 hour long + movie, it really was a good ending.   
    • In part II, the flashback at the end to the Corleones when they're all still back in New York was fantastic.  My favorite scene of the movie hands down.  It really makes you miss how things used to be and it was nice to see some old faces again and quite sad to see how things have changed.  
    • In some ways, the Godfather is an awesome Thanksgiving movie.  It's about family and there's constantly food around and...anyhow, I'm stretching it.   Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    On TV Shows: Underappreciated

    Party Down:

    Party Down was a fantastic show on Starz (Wait Starz has TV shows?  Yes, apparently.) that only lasted 2 seasons, for a total of 20 awesome episodes.  Party Down is about the Party Down catering company- a group of aspiring Hollywood hopefuls (many of them delusionally so) who half-assly cater various parties.  There's Henry Pollard (Adam Scott who's now on Parks and Recreation) a failed actor who's known for his one line in a commercial, aspiring comedian Casey (Lizzy Caplan), always trying his best caterer manager Ron Donald (Ken Marino), blindly optimistic Constance (Jane Lynch), nerdy sci-fi writer Roman (Martin Starr), and dumb blonde Kyle (Ryan Hansen) who's in the "handsome business."  Lydia (Megan Mullally), a single mom, joins the second season.  

    Party Down starts falling into a great groove three episodes in.  Everyone is funny and  likable.  It's TV-MA so it can and often does do a lot of great raunchy humor.  The characters really meld well together and they establish a really great dynamic and rhythm.  Scott and Caplan also have fantastic chemistry, and Henry and Casey probably fall on my list of all time favorite fictional couples.  It's also a treat for former Veronica Mars fans b/c a lot of the characters make guest appearances on the show.  Hansen and Marino were consequently characters on Veronica Mars.    

    Party Down is a really great show.  It's one of those shows I still get excited about when I hear that someone has watched it before.  Catch it on Netflicks sometime.  


    There's recent news that Community is probably not going to get a 4th season.  I can see how Community is a unique comedy that doesn't appeal to everyone- it's quirky and very meta, but it is a really great show.  I've rarely seen a show that's delved so deeply into the meta and done it well.  

    Community is about a group of friends who all go to the same crazy community college.  I still like Season 1 of Community the best.  Every episode was balanced funny and touching aspects.  The show features very unique characters you don't often see featured on TV shows like a senior citizen (Chevy Chase) or a nerdy athlete (Donald Glover) or a movie nerd who potentially has Asperger's (Danny Pudi).  The characters grew over time and by the end of season 1, all of them have become quite likable- you buy them as a group of friends and each of the characters are funny in their own way.  I'm still very impressed with how they really do try to get all the characters to interact with each other.    

    Season 2 felt very experimental- the show went off and tried lots of different tones.  Some worked well like the fake documentary episode and the fantastic Dungeons and Dragons episode, while others had more mixed results like the more serious the Group takes a trip to the bar episode.  It was still fascinating to watch, and even got into some uncomfortable territory when the Group starts excluding one of its own members.  

    Season 3, so far, seems more balanced than season 2 and features one of the best Alternate Universe episodes ever.  Here's to hoping it doesn't stay off the air for too long.    

    Better Off Ted 

    Better Off Ted is another short lived comedy that was canceled just after ~26 episodes.  It was really funny, entertaining, featured a really strong cast of characters (including Portia de Rossi), and had an insanely cheerful score.   

    Better Off Ted is about an evil corporation- Veridian Dynamics.  There's the protagonist and moral center of the show, Ted (Jay Harrington), who as one reviewer described perfectly, is a cross between Woody (Toy Story) and George Clooney.  There's also his super aggressive boss Veronica (really great performance by de Rossi), adorable meek scientists who are joined at the hip (figuratively) Phill and Lem, and rebellious product tester, Linda.  

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    A few trailers

    I'm procrastinating so here's a quick update:

    Here are three of the best trailers I've seen in the past few months.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo : One of the best trailers I have seen in a long time.  It's eye catching- the cutting and the music (I cannot wait to listen to the full version of that song- it sounds amazing) are really well done.  Although watching the trailer again after watching the original Swedish version of the film, if you know the story, I feel like you can place the scenes you get quick glimpses of really quickly.  I thought the original film was fine.  It was a solid movie with an interesting mystery, but it was definitely one of those movies that relied more on plot than characters.  There are various reasons why I'd rewatch a movie, but I can't imagine myself wanting to go out of my way to rewatch this one (not that it was a bad movie, it was interesting and solid) since I already know what happens.        

    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: There's a newer trailer for this one floating around online but I far prefer the first one.  It really uses the music well to establish this great, taut, tense mood.  I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie.

    Take Shelter: this looks intriguing.

    Also a kudos for the Muppets for their parody trailers.    

    Here's to hoping there're good movies as well.

    Monday, September 12, 2011


    I work in a pretty technical field so I don't think about art, in the general sense often.  I still remember in one of my literature classes as an undergraduate, one of the most striking things I learned was the power of art.  My professor gave a simple example: in World War II, after both of the atomic bombs had been dropped, there were the devastating statistics, of course, of just how many people died and how many people would continue to die much later from radiation poisoning. But it really wasn't until she and many other people saw this picture, a school girl's tin lunch box where the peas in her lunch had carbonized that they really connected to something human and emotional about the bombings.  (see here)

    In light of a recent decade anniversary, here is a youtube video from Story Corps.  I've seen a few of Story Corps videos and they are fantastic.  They are a national project to record people's stories and memories.  There's some really moving stuff of the site.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011


    They don't make em like they used to.  I've been getting into older stuff lately.  I've been watching black and white films and episodes of the The Twilight Zone that I hadn't seen yet.  I watched Sunset Blvd and The Apartment recently (aka my Billy Wilder kick) and they really made me miss how much more dialoguecentric films used to be.  Of course I think it's awesome that film-making technology has advanced so much, but in a lot of ways, that has also made films a lot more visual, which is fine but I do miss smart, sharp, banter.  On that note, one youtube movie reviewer I've enjoyed watching is The Blind Film Critic, who really provides a pretty fresh perspective on movies.  The explosions in the old movies really had to come from the words and the characters and not the special effects.  I was pleasantly surprised that I could take bathroom breaks while watching the movie and not miss out on too much when I came back and that if I wasn't looking at the screen the whole time, I could still get a general sense of what was going on.

    Sunset Blvd

    Sunset Blvd is a film noir about young Hollywood screenwriter, Joseph Gills (William Holden) and his relationship with aging, former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  Gills is struggling financially when he first encounters Desmond and ends up becoming employed by Desmond. You've probably heard one of the many famous quotes from this movie or seen clips of this film at some point.  It's dark and Desmond is one of the most ambiguous characters on film ever.  I can't remember deciding whether or not I wanted to hate, pity, or like a character so much since watching Gollum in Lord of the Rings.  There are also so many little things in the movie, little details (the funeral, the story of that movie Desmond plans to star in, the unlocked doors) that make the whole movie intensely creepy- and that what we get to see in the movie is only just the surface.  All in all, it's a classic and definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of movies.  
    The Apartment 

    The Apartment is about CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a businessman who tries to get ahead in his company by letting executives at his company use his apartment for their own private affairs.  It's humorous in the first half or so but then suddenly turns quite serious when we learn more about the elevator girl that Baxter likes, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).  
    A little bit of trivia: The Apartment (1960) was the last black and white film until the mostly black and white Schindler's List (1994) to win the best picture Oscar.

    It's been a while since I've watched a movie where I found myself wondering and genuinely caring if everything was going to be all right for everyone in the end.  You're really not sure how things are going to turn out in the last act.  While the movie got more serious in the second half, I did appreciate the levity they  incorporated.  I'm still a bit torn about the ending and I wonder where the director, Billy Wilder, would have chosen to end the film if there really weren't any rules.  Also features one of my favorite creative uses of a tennis racket.  (see video above)

    Twilight Zone

    What's there not to like?  It has one of the creepiest opening sequences ever, great acting, fantastic writing, and stories that are relevant regardless of the time.  It's like reading really great short stories.
    I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites.
    • The After Hours- This was the first twilight zone episode I'd ever seen.  I saw it during one of the Sci-fi channel's yearly marathons and even though I was reluctant to watch something in black and white, the story really drew me.  The After Hours is about a woman who is looking for a special thimble in a department store.  She ends up on a strange, non-existent floor in the store.  The suspense and atmosphere in this one is really fantastic.  
    • Lonely - This one breaks my heart, and it really makes you think about how people define what constitutes life.  Lonely is about a prisoner who is imprisoned on an asteroid.  His only company are the guards who deliver supplies to him four times a year.  After a disappointingly short visit, one of the guards gives him a female robot to keep him company.  The space suits are goofy but don't let it distract you from the rest of the story.       
    • The Shelter- I'm surprised that fewer people cite this one on the notable twilight zone episodes.  It doesn't have any sci-fi elements, it's about a suburban neighborhoods that has just received a potential nuclear bomb threat and only one family on the street has a proper nuclear shelter.  The episode really hits at the core theme of many twilight zone episodes-fear bringing out the worst in people.  Definitely more believable and better executed than the more famous, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.  
    • Other notable episodes:
      • The Eye of the Beholder and Number 12 Looks Just Like YouThe Eye of the Beholder is the quintessential Twilight Zone episode and if you haven't seen it, it's a really great place to start.  It does what Twilight Zone does best: twists your perception of things.  Both are about beauty and the importance that our society places on it.  Number 12 is thematically quite similar to Eye of the Beholder about a girl who refuses to go through an operation that will make her "pretty" and look like everyone else around her.  It really hits hard when she realizes that no one understands her desire to keep her looks so that she can preserve her identity.       
      • A Stop at Willoughby and Walking Distance: Some of the two more "realistic" twilight zone episodes.  Both are well told and highly relatable.  I'm sure that everyone at some point  has just wanted to escape into their fantasy land as the overworked, stressed businessman in A Stop at Willoughby wishes to do or wanted to go back to the past, where another businessman actually gets to do in Walking Distance.         
      • Perchance to Dream and Twenty Three: Two really great, haunting episodes about dreams.  Both are taut and suspenseful.  
      • One for the Angels: I initially thought this one was a bit on the cheesy side, but the characters really grow on you.  It also gives you a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling at the end which is rather rare for the series.   Death comes to tell a salesman that he is going to die at midnight but the salesman opposes- he still has a lot he wants to do!  Namely he wants to make a fantastic sales pitch.  Death makes him a proposition: he will not collect the man's soul until he's completed the pitch.    
      • The Silence: I keep thinking about this one, because it gets under my skin and reminds me of "The Gift of the Magi", that frustrating short story you probably read at some point in grade school , about the couple that buy each other presents by sacrificing something extremely precious to each other to get those presents.  The Silence, I think, is the polar opposite of that.  In The Silence, an older member of a country club gets annoyed at an extremely talkative young member of the club and makes a bet with him: if he can go for a whole year without talking, he will receive a large sum of money.      

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Summer 2011 Movies: Super 8 and Harry Potter 7.2

    Most of the movies I write about in this blog tend to be a bit older, but in the past month, I've had a chance to watch two good films currently in theaters.

    Super 8 

    Super 8 is about a group of friends who witness a mysterious train crash as they are filming a movie.  Super 8 refers to 8 mm film, which is the film that people used to use to film movies.  It really plays up the nostalgia factor, which it does effectively some of the time, to try to be this generation's ET.  Even the score by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Ratatouille), who is quite good, is a bit reminiscent of ET.  Both scores convey a sense of mystery and innocence.

    There is a lot to like about Super 8.  For one, it is one of those movies about kids, in this case, 12-13 year olds, that treat the kids with respect.  All the kids in the movie are believable and their interactions and dialogue very real.  Elle Fanning, as Alice, is, in particular, fantastic and I was surprised that she is actually only 12 because she portrays Alice with such poise and maturity that you'd think she was much older.  There are a lot of little things that make me love how well they fleshed out the kids characters: at one point, Alice refuses to drive the protagonist, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) to their filming site b/c his dad is the sheriff and his first reaction isn't to persuade her to drive him, but to be surprised that she actually knows who he is.  In a tenser situation, when the kids are doing some important research, one of them starts playing video games.  There's also a great scene where Alice and Joe talk about their friendship and you can't imagine it happening in any other way.

    It's unfortunate then that the movie doesn't do the same with the adults, who are one-dimensional cut-out characters.  The general main plot of the movie, while it does a great job with the build up (why are there appliances missing?  why are all the dogs running away), it wraps up tepidly.  Besides the beginning train sequence which is fantastic- it is one of the best old school action scenes I've seen in a while, the other action in the movie isn't great.  It relies too much on the same sort of suspense sequence.  While I didn't mind that they did the cliche "mysterious creature approaches as unobservant townsperson goes about their business until they notice something amiss", it got old pretty quickly.

    I would have not minded if they down played the main plot of the movie.  I liked the character development of the kids more and would have preferred to watch a movie more focused on them- about them making their movie.      

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

    It's the very last one, and it's a good one.

    A major part of Harry Potter culture is waiting in line with fellow fans.  For this last movie, we definitely weren't disappointed in that aspect.  I went to a Friday night (opening night) showing and even though we got to the theater an hour early, there was already a very long line.  I dressed up as did quite a few other people for the show.  

    Over the decade of Harry Potter movies, I've learned to manage my expectations for the movies.  I still think that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are the two best Harry Potter movies, mainly because they can stand on their own and there were extra elements that distinguished them from the books.  In POA, it was seeing the time travel paradox in action and seeing my favorite rendition of Hogwarts: messy, old, but very much magically alive.  In HBP, it was seeing the characters actually be friends with each other, added humor, the Draco plot making a lot more sense, and the characters be in many ways, much more likable then their counterparts in the book.  Harry, for example, is actually extremely focused on his task to get that memory from Slughorn.  

    On the other end, there was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which really just seemed like a collection of the major scenes from the book put together in a movie.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 7.1, while it followed the book closely, and did maintain some semblance of plot, it really did not flow well and was too bleak and hopeless.  The first half of the Harry Potter 7 book was super hopeless and dark, but even that had more levity than the movie.  If I'd made the movie, I would have included the Wizarding Wireless Network, all those words at Godric's Hallow cheering Harry on, and Harry pulling out the Maruder's Map just to see Ginny's dot on it.  Also, you can still make a perfectly good movie about dark times without filming a movie completely in bleak, gray tones (See Lord of the Rings.)

    (*SPOILERS start here*)

    HP 7.2 is a much better movie than HP 7.1.  It flows better, is more focused, and the soundtrack is really great- much better than 7.1.  The movie doesn't incorporate too many additional scenes, but instead amends some of the existing ones.

    The trio's Gringott trip is a fun one as Hermione uses Polyjuice Potion to become Bellatrix Lestrange.  Helena Bonham Carter does a great job pretending to be Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix.  It really bothered me in the books when the good characters used any of the Unforgivable Curses.  I'm glad they took most of that out in the movie, but I still cringed when Ron uses it on the teller in Gringotts.

    They do touch upon Dumbledore's past and his penchant to keep secrets, but it's so brief that I think it would have been better if that had all been taken out all together.  They also downplay how terrible Hogwarts becomes after Snape becomes headmaster- they do hint at it in the beginning but shrug, the movie can only be so long.

    The beginning of the Battle of Hogwarts is well done.  The scene where the Hogwarts professors cast a  protection spell is a welcome addition and then there's a scene where the trio runs through the battlefield and there're magical spells being cast all around- the music swells beautifully, and it's really an amazing scene- the scene to rewatch from the Battle of Hogwarts.  

    I'm glad Neville is semi-featured in this movie.  In the books, it was amazing and really moving to see him grow, lamentably in the background of course, from this shy, clumsy awkward kid to the badass de-facto leader of students at Hogwarts who chops off Nagini's head in a moment of complete despair when everyone thinks Harry is dead.  On that note, I'm disappointed in the way they amended the Nagini's death scene.  I understand that they wanted to do it concurrently with Voldemort's defeat, but I thought it was handled more  aptly in the book.  In the movie, Neville still shows that he's brave but he does it Samwise Gamgee style and Samwise did it better.

    There is, also, of course Snape.  The Prince's Tale is one of the best chapters in the whole book series.  In the book, you actually get to meet Lily, see her friendship with Snape, and see that despite everything, she and Petunia still cared for each other.  In the movie, it's just glimpses in Lily and since it's all from Snape's perspective, you do really wonder if they'd been more than just friends.          

    Anyhow, it's a decent movie and a great way to end the series.  Also has a fantastic soundtrack- a great improvement on 7.1.

    Goodbye Harry and friends- it's been a fantastic ride.

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    A Change of Pace: On Fan Fiction

    Fan Fiction and Harry Potter

    An article from Time about fan fiction and Harry Potter.  How very appropriate because Harry Potter has one of the largest, if not the largest, fan base that I have seen online.  I used to be involved in the fan fiction world myself, mostly as a reader, and I still peak back at it sometimes.

    I think the article does a good job with giving a good overview of the fan fiction world, but I wanted to add a few things:
    -One very positive thing about fan fiction is that it helps a lot of people write.  A lot of times, it's about the community of writers and readers that you encounter.  You have these characters that everyone knows and so you already have an audience (encouragement for writing and good for feedback) and also, characters you can flesh out and explore.  Writing about characters that exist is much less daunting than characters you create on your own.
    -What about the fictional books that are based on famous novels?  E.g. I have seen quite a few books out there that do an alternative take on Jane Eyre and lots of sequels to Pride and Prejudice.

    In honor of the last Harry Potter movie coming out (sniffle sniffle), I wanted to share a link to one of my favorite Harry Potter fanfics out there: Summer Holidays by Penknife.  A lot of people, myself included, were really frustrated with the epilogue in the last Harry Potter book after a decent ending in the last chapter.  While it was nice to see Harry happily settled down, their children have ridiculous names and the epilogue, as a whole, just seemed tacked on and *too happy*.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    The Others, Adaptation, and Se7en

    The Others 
    The Others is about Grace (Nicole Kidman, who is really great in this movie) and her two light sensitive children who live in an old, Gothic mansion- made scarier as it is constantly shrouded in darkness as a result of the children's condition.  When intruders start appearing in the house, Grace isn't quite sure what she should do.    

    I caught the last half an hour or so of this movie a very long time ago and have wanted to see the whole movie for a long time since.  I loved the ending but hate the way DVDs advertise it- come on- spoilers much?  The Others has a lot of truly eerie moments: the pictures of the dead, when Grace and her children finally learn the truth about the servants in their house, and the final sequence when your mind is literally blown away but you're also terrified by what's going on.  It's a decent movie, not really worth watching more than a few times.   I do applaud the movie for really creating a creepy, eerie atmosphere; it's so refreshing to see an actual horror movie based on genuine chills as opposed to another gory horror movie.

    Adaptation follows tormented, self-loathing Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) who is struggling with his adaptation of Susan Orlean (Meryl Strep)'s book The Orchid Thief.

    I really wanted to like this movie.  I really did, b/c I've liked many of Charlie Kaufman's other stuff. I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind- one of my favorite movies EVER, and really enjoyed Being John Malkovich - it's so out there but it's so much fun, but I just could not get into Adaptation.  I tolerated it up until they end up in Florida and people are trying to kill each other.  It's too much, too regular action movie for it to be believable in the realm of the Adaptation world.  Adaptation does contain some great quotes though and it has one of the best perspectives on love I've heard in a very long time.     
    Charlie Kaufman: How come you looked so happy?  
    Donald Kaufman: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn't have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.  
    Charlie Kaufman: But she thought you were pathetic.  
    Donald Kaufman: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That's what I decided a long time ago. 

    Speaking of Adaptation, one helpful screen writing tip that Adaptation offered was that endings really matter.  Even if you have a mediocre movie, if the ending is solid, then you have a good movie.  This really applies to Se7en, which I finally saw recently.


    Se7en is follows two police officers, world-weary Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and hot-heated rookie Mills ( Brad Pitt) as they try to figure out who has been committing all of these horrific crimes that follow the Seven Deadly Sins.   Even though I already roughly knew what happens, I was still very curious to see the movie.  Up until the last act, it was an okay film- mainly memorable for how gory and unique the murders are and a fine performance from Freeman.  The cat and mouse game between the detectives and the killer was intriguing, but certainly not the best that I've seen.  It was a bit frustrating to watch how rushed and excitable Mills was-makes him seem more naive than he should be and also, later on, how far behind the detectives really were.  Like Somerset says cynically, their job isn't to solve murders, it's to track down what happens and organize them into neat little piles.

    And then it got to the last 30 minutes of the movie, and I was absolutely blown away.  It's amazing how that final car ride changes everything, how the tension just keeps rising and rising as they get closer and closer to their destination.  And that's why Se7en's so memorable and talked about years after it's been in theaters.
    Se7en is a great film but definitely not for people who scare easily.

    Films Currently in Theaters

    I also recently wrote reviews for Horrible Bosses (good movie!  Lots of fun)  and Cars 2 (not so great...oh Pixar, you've let me down!).

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Kubrick and Nolan

    Two posts in two days?  I guess I'm on a roll.  (more accurately, I'm on a short break).


    Today I watched Christopher Nolan's Insomnia and now, I can proudly say that I have seen all of his movies.    It's interesting seeing brief glimpses of his future filmmaking style, like the brief flashes of memories in Insomnia, which are later abundantly used in Inception and Batman Begins.  Insomnia is a solid movie, a crime drama that takes place in a small, isolated town in Alaska.  Al Pacino plays Detective Dormer who goes to Alaska during the summer, so it's light outside all the time, to solve the murder of a 17-year old girl.  Supporting cast features Robin Williams and Hillary Swank.  Insomnia is like a long episode of old school Law and Order with  Detective Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach), and  starts getting interesting when you find out what the movie really is about.  Insomnia asks interesting questions about morality; does the end really justify the means?  And while it does twist the question around a bit, in a lot of ways, the ending took the easy way out.  It's certainly a solid movie with some genuinely suspenseful moments such as Dormer's interrogation of the dead girl's best friend and it's fascinating to see common Nolan motifs lightly touched upon in this movie that are more heavily explored in his later films, but I wouldn't say it's particularly memorable.

    There've been a lot of comparisons b/n Nolan and Kubrick, mainly b/c Nolan hasn't really made a bad film.  I had trouble getting into Following, but liked its intensity and really loved the first 20 minutes of it.  I love Inception and the Batman films.  I found Memento really fascinating and the jury's still out for The Prestige, but I definitely do want to see it again.  I think that Kubrick is really in a class of his own, but it's nice seeing a director out there who makes good action movies and makes fun, intelligent blockbusters.

    Lyndon Barry 

    On Kubrick, I have seen most of his films and am just *blown* away by how each of his films are in a different genre and how he nailed each and every one of them.  Eyes Wide Shut loses steam towards the end, but it's still filled with so many absolutely fascinating, memorable, cinematic sequences.  On that note, I also watched Lyndon Barry recently.  While I didn't like it as much as I liked The Shinning, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or A Clockwork Orange, it's a decent film, howbeit quite slow.  The DVD summary wasn't lying when is said that Lyndon Barry was like a slow-moving painting.  Lyndon Barry does have one of my favorite dueling scenes ever.  The incredibly tense scene is here, and it is imho, the best scene in the whole movie:

    I am fascinated by how much work went into the filming of the movie.  Some of the candlelight scenes in the movie were really *only* lighted by candles.  I didn't care much for the omniscient narrator, though I did like the necessary humor he added to the earlier half of the movie.  The movie picked up steam and started going somewhere after Barry meets Lady Lyndon, but ultimately, it was hard to really like or root for any of the characters.  Barry, while an interesting antihero, is really not a good person nor a particularly bright one.  Lady Lyndon is silent and placid and her son, who should by all means get loads of sympathy given his situation but is weak and whiney.  Overall, Barry Lyndon is for the hard core Kubrick fans; it has a few really fantastic scenes but is generally a very very slow movie.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    True Grit and Bridesmaids

    True Grit 

    LaBoeuf: You give out very little sugar with your pronouncements. While I sat there watchin' I gave some thought to stealin' a kiss... though you are very young, and sick... and unattractive to boot. But now I have a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt. Mattie Ross: One would be just as unpleasant as the other. 

    I finally saw True Grit and was pleasantly surprised by how much of an old school adventure story it was.  True Grit follows 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she seeks to bring her father's murderer, Chaney, to justice.  She hires US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track him down, and they are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon with a mustache!), who is also after Chaney.   

    From the action-packed, rather-dark trailer, I was expecting True Grit to be more like Unforgiven, but the movie that True Grit reminds me of the most is actually Miyazaki's beautiful Porco Rosso- both feature young girls who experience the adventure of a life time with fascinating characters (Rooster and Porco).  I haven't always liked Westerns, but one thing that made me really start to enjoy Westerns is that they slow things down (long horseback rides) so that characters have to interact with each other.  I like that the characters, despite their faults, are all decent people and that the main trio, Mattie, Rooster, and LaBouef genuinely see each other for who they are and truly respect each other in the end.  From the trailers, I thought Damon looked very silly with his Western get-up, but he's fine in the movie and disappears into LaBouef.  Bridges is decent, though he is oftentimes hard to understand (subtitles definitely needed).  At the heart of the movie, though, is Steinfeld, who rightfully won an Academy Award nomination for her actin.  She anchors the movie and portrays Mattie as one of the strongest, most sensible female characters I've seen in a long time.

    True Grit is less tense than I expected it to be.  It's a notch above the usual adventure movie, and I was especially surprised by how moved I was by the ending.  Definitely worth watching as an old school, slower paced Western.    


    I'm a bit late on reviewing this one, but Bridesmaids is one of the best "raunchy" comedies I've seen in a while.      It's refreshing to see a female-centric comedy that is not so much focused on romance but rather friendships.  In some ways it is the female version of "The Hangover" movies, but it's so much more.  

    Annie (Kristen Wiig)'s life is falling apart: she lost her dream business, has a super douchey f- buddy (Jon Hamm), and the only good thing going on in her life is her relationship with her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph).  Lillian makes Annie her maid of honor, but soon, Lillian's new friend, Helen (Rose Byrne) starts taking over her role as Lillian's best friend.   

    The performances are what really make the movie.  I haven't been a big fan of Wiig on SNL; many of her characters are outrageous and obnoxious.  Kristen Wiig is fantastic as Annie, though.  She's down down to earth and believable as a woman who is really hurting herself with her low self-esteem.  The supporting cast is fantastic, as well.  I especially liked Melissa McCarthy's insanely confident Megan, Wendi McLendon-Covey's weary mother of three Rita, and Chris O'Dowd as a cop and Annie's love interest.  Jon Hamm is also hilarious in the few scenes that he's in.  He IS Don Draper, of course, but it's always nice to see him branch out and do comedy.  

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Battle LA, Full Metal Jacket, and The American

    Even though it's the slow movie season (not yet summer and post-Oscar season), I've managed to see quite a few movies in the past month.  Also I haven't updated in a while so be prepared- there'll be a lot.  

    Battle: Los Angeles 

    I saw this movie today.  When I first heard about this movie, at the very best, I expected it to be along the veins of District 9 (gritty, more "realistic" look) and at the very worst, I expected it to take itself seriously enough that it falls just short of the being campy and the sort of movie "that's so bad it's good."  A recent movie that falls into this terrible category is I Am Number Four, which I reviewed recently.    

    I wasn't expecting much from Battle: LA since it got PANNED by reviews- rotten tomatoes gave it a dismal rating of ~30 %.   I was, however, pleasantly surprised by Battle: LA.  It's actually a pretty good solid movie.  It's entertaining, captures your attention, and is action packed.  Usually, I'm all for character development, but as it stands, in this movie, I really would have preferred less since everything back story related was terribly cliche and even maudlin at times. At times, the movie's almost a Marine's commercial.

    It was very refreshing to see a smart alien species attacking earth.  I'm probably one of the few people who actually *liked* War of the Worlds, but I was very disappointed by the very anti-climatic ending.  We should believe that invading aliens who were smart enough to get to earth but not smart enough to do their research on earth died naturally form disease?  Oh well.

    The Campy quote of the movie:
    "They're falling down like bowling pins!"  Michelle Rodriguez's badass character (but when does she ever not play someone badass) as they drive over aliens with tanks.      
    On the note of Marines, there's Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.  
    Full Metal Jacket
    Private Joker: The dead know only one thing: it is better to be alive.
    It's always fascinating seeing great directors take on movie genres and see them do something new, say something new with the genre.  There are a ton of war movies out there, and I've seen quite a few, but I don't think I've seen anything quite like Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.  

    I started on a Kubrick movie watch ~2 years ago when we got one of his box sets.  I've worked my way through it, leaving Full Metal Jacket for the end b/c war films aren't really films I go out of my way to see unless they're really good.

    In a lot of ways, Full Metal Jacket is a lot like Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo in the sense that the first half is flawless.  And while the second half of both movies are still very good, it doens't quite get back to how good the movies were during that first half.  In the first half of Full Metal Jacket, we see a group of new Marines go through bootcamp- essentially the drill instructor Hartman (R. Lee Ermey who is really fantastic) yelling commands at them non stop.  What really works well here is the environment- it's so insular and so closed off from the world that you can understand how the mantras, the patriotic songs, the insults can and do become the whole world to many of the soldiers like Gomer Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio).  In the second half, the soldiers ship off to Vietnam and encounter combat, and while it's still a very intense movie, it seems to have lost some of that earlier claustrophobic intense boot camp energy.  It's a fine film overall.  Features a badass younger Adam Baldwin (but seriously, he still looks exactly the same), fine performances all around, and of course, an incongruous, fascinating song mash up (Mickey Mouse against a warzone backdrop.)     

    The American 
    (the one with George Clooney in it)

    A common critique of modern movies is that they're insanely fast and too explicit.  The American has the opposite problem; the movie proceeds at a snail's pace and is extremely restrained.  I think it's better though to be slow and restrained since that can come off as classy and polished.  The American is about an assassin and custom-weapons manufacturer (George Clooney) who goes to a remote Italian city to manufacture a custom rifle for a fellow assassin.  The first five minutes of the movie are cold, brutal, and exciting but is really  misleading for the movie.  The next hour and a half is essentially about George Clooney doing nothing.  It picks up towards the end and last tenth of the movie is actually quite good and memorable.  Why couldn't the rest of the movie be like the end?  The cinematography is gorgeous in this film- it makes the whole film seem like a fancy European car commercial.  If you're short on time, just watch the last fifteen minutes or so of this movie- you'll get the gist of it.              

    Two upcoming movies to watch out for: 

    I saw the trailer for Bad Teacher before Battle: LA today.  Red band version here.  It looks promising.  It's refreshing to see Cameron Diaz play the role of a bad girl.  Or maybe I'm just a little bemused by a nerdy, shy Justin Timberlake.

    Sucker Punch since the graphics just look amazing.   

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Oscar Night!

    So it's Oscar Night again, and as a big movie fan I am moderately excited.  Only moderately excited b/c I've only seen a few of the nominated films.  I do like this new system of 10 nominated pictures since you get a broader range of movies/a better favoring of the critically acclaimed movies of the year.

    I refuse to see The Social Network, on principle, since come on, it's a movie about freaking Facebook.  I do want to check out some of the others like The King's Speech and True Grit (definitely going to check them out on Netflicks when they come out)- I have a weakness for period pieces. I have however, seen Inception (AWESOME), The Kids are All Right, Black Swan, Toy Story 3, and How to Train Your Dragon.  Even though Toy Story 3 is a great movie and probably will win, I actually am rooting for How to Train Your Dragon, mainly because it holds up better over multiple viewings and has one of my favorite movie scores in a long while.  Do sample Forbidden FriendshipNew Tail, and Where's Hiccup?  The Inception soundtrack is equally fantastic.  Sample Time and Dream Within a Dream - initially when I first previewed the soundtrack before the movie (I'm a big Hans Zimmer fan and was excited to hear his latest score) I found the music a bit jarring but after watching the movie, I found it to be one of the best soundtracks I've heard in long time since it just goes *so well* with the movie especially with matching the main theme to a distorted version of "La Vie en Rose".  See Inception Music Comparison

    Monday, February 14, 2011


    I just had the pleasure of watching Batman: Under the Red Hood.  It's been a while since I've watched an animated version of Batman and it made me remember my old high school days when we'd get an excellent block of superhero cartoons on Saturday nights.  As a quick disclaimer, I don't claim to be an expert on comics at all- I just watched the cartoons and learned about the comics through wikipedia.

    I was a fan of Justice League (Season 1 and 2), more so the original rather than Unlimited (Season 3 and later).  Justice League featured all your favorite superheroes, Superman, Batman, and Wonderwoman, as well as Hawkgirl, Green Lantern (Jon Stewart- no not the one from Comedy Central), the Flash, and the Martian Manhunter.  I didn't watch Unlimited as much mainly b/c there were too many characters to keep track of and many episodes only featured a few of the main league members I was familiar with.  The show was fantastic- really good storylines, animation, and a kick ass theme song- all in all, they really did a good job with making things feel epic and crafting very mature stories.  Two episodes that I remember liking a lot:
    • Hereafter- where there's a big battle and everyone thinks that Superman has died except he's really been transported to the distant future where a super-villain, who's immortal, has destroyed the world and now regrets it.  I remember one of my high school teachers gushing on about this one.      
    • Wildcards- Pure entertainment.  The Joker has placed bombs in various casinos and is doing a reality show of sorts as the Justice League goes around to disarm the bombs.      
    And then, of course, there were the Teen Titans, my favorite at the time and a show I still have a soft spot for.  Teen Titans featured Robin (yes, Batman's Robin) leading a team of teenage superheroes, Starfire, Raven, Cyborg, and Beast Boy.   Animation-wise, it was done in an anime-ish style, but what really stood out was that it was a firmly character-centered superhero cartoon and that each character was well developed and likable.  Season 1 was probably the best overall since it had the most coherent arc, but seasons 2-3 were pretty great too.  Season 4, I watched less of, since again, they introduced many new characters and I think I'd gone off to college then so there was less time for TV.  
    A few favorite episodes:

    • Masks/Apprentice: Season 1 developed an arc in which Robin was slowly becoming obsessed with the Titan's mysterious arch-enemy Slade.  Essentially a 3-part episode that everything in season 1 was leading up to.  Masks was the very first episode I watched and I remember getting hooked right then and there.  Robin, in an attempt to get closer to Slade, tricks his team, and in the end, it's his effervescent, light-hearted best friend Starfire who's firm words bring him back to reality.      
    • How Long is Forever?: During a fight, a time-traveling villain causes Starfire to go into the future, and it's a dark, dark future w/o Starfire around.   
    • Nevermore: The first episode that really focuses on Raven and fleshes her out, who's quiet and sarcastic, but generally mysterious.    
    • Haunted: One of the darkest episodes of the Teen Titans.  Robin starts seeing Slade everywhere, but no one else can.    

    Which is a long winded explanation for, how I've heard a little about the various Robins.  Batman: Under the Red Hood is dark and has a lot of Nolan-esque elements.  It pushes the envelope- implied and explicit violence, and a few elements are slightly reminiscent of Dark Knight- especially this exploration of Batman's moral code and what it really means, which is always fascinating.  The Joker, while still humorous, is less the Joker from the Batman Animated Series, crazy, funny, and over-the-top, and a little more serious like Heath Ledger's Joker.  The voice-acting is generally fantastic and I actually thought that Kevin Conroy (the voice actor who usually does Batman in the cartoons) was voicing Batman in this one as well, but it was actually someone else (Bruce Greenwood).  I would have been happier if they hadn't featured the Black Mask as much, who wasn't all that interesting and just chewed up screen time.  (One question though- maybe it's b/c I'm so used to the Nolan voices but isn't it pronounced R-ah-s instead of Raz?)  Generally a good movie, although the ending left me a bit unsatisfied.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Black Swan and Moon

    Black Swan 
    Thomas Leroy: That was me seducing you. It needs to be the other way around. 
    Black Swan, as everyone probably knows, is about Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballet dancer who is cast as the swan princess in Swan Lake and subsequently loses it as she has a hard time mastering the role of the black swan, the evil twin of the swan princess.  I finally saw Black Swan in theaters last Sunday night and it was a treat, even despite how it's been massively parodied by SNL and others.  Black Swan is creepy and disturbing- not a good idea to see it at night if you get scared easily like I do.  I can think of a few scenes, in particular the second hospital scene and this other scene when Nina, post freaking out, buckles at the knees- her legs at odd, distorted angles that just haunt you for a long while afterwards.  

    That being said though, the performances really make the movie.  I'm not a big Natalie Portman fan at all.  I've never been terribly impressed by her performances in any of her movies, not even in Closer, which she was nominated for an Oscar, but I absolutely loved her in "Black Swan."  I remember reading a review somewhere about how you really end up rooting for Nina, wanting her to succeed so badly throughout the movie, and I think that's absolutely true.  Nina is shy and dedicated and within the first few minutes of the movie- you're hooked, you want her to succeed b/c she works so hard and she deserves it.  It is an insanely charismatic performance.  Mila Kunis, Lily as Nina's main rival, is also fantastic- Lilly is laid back and sexually unrestrained and completely comfortable with who she is.  Also, despite how sleezy Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the ballet company's creative director, is (I mean come on, "To prepare for the role you should go touch yourself etc etc"), somehow, probably b/c he provides some humorous lines to the otherwise very claustrophobic movie, is still entertaining and moderately likable.  Overall, great movie but I actually would say that you don't really need to see this movie in theaters (gritty resolution)- hold off and wait for it to come in netflix form.  


    I finally got around to seeing this movie, which I kept hearing lots of good things about.  Moon is about Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), a very lonely worker on the moon base who is going to go home soon from his three year contract.  Moon is a very neatly constructed film and Sam Rockwell is really captivating, carrying the movie mostly on his own with some help from the moon base robot GERTY.  Moon is a pretty clever movie- I like how they nonchalantly they introduced the main conflict in the movie and that the main conflict as well as the way they deal with it isn't what you were expecting at all- and that's all I feel like I can say without spoiling it for anyone.  One of the plot threads, I have to say- it was pretty obvious where they were going with it, but I did enjoy the questions of identity that Moon raises.  It's definitely worth a watch and pretty impressive given it's very low budget.  For scenes outside of the moon base, the graphics seem a little unreal and skimmed, but everything else inside the base looks great.