Friday, December 30, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

The One You've Been Waiting For: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Why an American film version?

Boy, talk about your hotly debated remakes. Firstly, the Swedish film version of 2009 was quite popular in the U.S., so I don't hold with all the talk about Americans being too lazy or stupid to deal with subtitles. If some people find that having to read subtitles detracts from the full film experience, that makes them neither lazy, nor stupid. It's simply an experiential debate, in my opinion. Anyway, plenty of us lazy, stupid Americans managed to read the subtitles for this film. I don't think the remake was in any way meant to pander to Americans who dislike subtitles. Actually, I think the popularity of the Swedish film, combined with the popularity of the Steig Larssons's book, is largely what drove the remaking of this movie. It's an opportunity to make money. It's also an opportunity for filmakers to have their way in interpreting the source material. Have at it, fellas. Why not an American version?

The Inevitable Comparison

I feel as though I won't be able to fairly compare the two films without watching both this version and the Swedish version one more time. However, I am not going to do that right now, so this unfair comparison will have to suffice. I'll start with the pet peeve.

When I first heard that Daniel Craig was cast as Mikael Blomkvist, I was concerned that he would be too athletic, too macho, and too damned good-looking to portray the middle-aged journalist. Lisbeth Salander is the action hero of this story, not Mikael Blomkvist. I must say, though, that Craig did a fine job with the role. He gave a controlled, believable performance. However, they did him no favors by dressing him so well.  He can't help that he has a very taut body (or actually, maybe he should've tried to gain a few donut pounds), but the wardrobe director did not have to make it so obvious. Did you get a load of how his clothes fit? Puleeeez. I guess Swedes get even their down jackets tailored.

For the general public, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth seemed to strike the bigger casting controversy, but I have to say, I think she was fine. I think the Swedish film did more to enable the audience to understand Lisbeth's character, but I thought Mara did well with the road traveled in this version. I think she could actually be great in the 2nd and 3rd films, which I presume (and fervently hope) will be made. Not taking anything away from Noomi Rapace, though, who was fantastic in her own right.

Apparently, some folks took issue with the length of the almost 2 3/4 hour American film. I actually loved the pacing and loved the detail. I'm probably in a minority, but even 3 hours would have been fine with me. Some thought the piece at the end (after the mystery is resolved) was unnecessary, but I found it useful. All except the bit at the the very end. I don't think Lisbeth had any romantic expectations of Mikael, and I don't think she would have been the least surprised, much less bothered, by his spending time with Erika, his longtime lover. More true to Lisbeth's character: Walk right up and hand him a gift in front of Erika.

As with all great stories, understanding the motivation of key characters is critical. I feel the Swedish version did a better job with this. Prime example is the plotline involving Lisbeth and her public guardian.

Why would Lisbeth, a hard-as-nails survivor, allow any man to force or manipulate her into doing anything she did not want to do? You would expect her to say 'f*ck-off' and thrust her knee into his crotch. What on earth could he do or say to force a different reaction? The Swedish film made it very clear, both in set-up and in action, that he had her truly cornered. He had something she could not do without. We understood that, and also understood that Lisbeth was somehow accustomed to getting nasty jobs done in order to get what she needed.

Another example is the relationship between Harriet and Henrick. There was a lot of love and support in that relationship; that was clear. Why would an adult Harriet not inform her uncle--and the police, for that matter-- about the events of her youth? The Swedish film did a much better job of detailing the grisly nature of events, the abject terror that ruled Harriet's young life, and the guttural pain and lasting fear that would lead a person to completely put away that part of their life forever---even at the cost of the lives of others.

Other little things in the film were also missing, for me. I think it makes for a more effective mystery if you cast suspicious light on a number of characters. This version, I felt, did less of that. We needed more contact with Harald and the other Vangers. They were all apparently horrid people, so the guilty party could have been any one of them, or any two or three of them. Let us have a chance to look at them with suspicion.

All in all, though, this was a good film. Very engrossing and a perfectly legitimate take on the story. The greater thing that will come of this, I hope, is that the 2nd and 3rd films will be made. The Swedish made-for-tv versions were okay at best---not even close to the quality of the first film. The lazy, stupid Americans have a great opportunity here to do justice to those stories. I can hardly wait!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Golden Globes and Other Notes....

The Golden Globes Nominees are out. Sadly, I have seen only one of the films nominated for Best Picture/Drama. I did really enjoy the one that I saw. It would be very hard not to enjoy The Help. Despite some faults, it was, in the end, a beautifully shot, well-acted, touching film. 

I did see three of the five films nominated for Best Picture/Musical or Comedy.  I didn't love Bridesmaids as much as some folks, but there were a couple of hilarious moments. Melissa McCarthy definitely gave the breakout performance of that film.  I am surprised she was not nominated.  I also saw 50/50, and enjoyed that quite a bit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is hard not to love. But the winner for me? Midnight in Paris. I enjoyed that so much that I'd hop in an imaginary car at midnight and go see it again. As far as the best actor award in the same category (musical or comedy), I'd give it to Ryan Gosling for Crazy, Stupid, Love. He was quite awesome playing a truly yuck-o, lounge lizard for the new millennium. 

And the big nominee for me? Best Television Drama: American Horror Story. Now I am not saying that it should win (because I can't entirely argue with some critics who have called it a big ole mess), but I completely understand those who love it. This is the most entertaining, "ohshi*didthatreallyjusthappen" show on television.

Very soon I shall be seeing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. And, yes, despite my concerns about Daniel Craig being too good-looking and too testosterone-y to play Mikael Blomkvist, I am very, very excited.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

HOLY SMOKES!! My Latest TV Discovery

Look, here's the thing: I don't have cable, or a dish, or anything else which would allow me access to a lot of tv channels. It's sometimes sad when I don't know what's going on in the world of the Kardashians---just kidding---but the lack of tv channels is probably a very good thing for me. I can become a little engrossed, if you know what I mean. (Yes, I do have a problem dragging myself away from the Law and Order marathons.)

So, today I was perusing the internet when I came across the name of a newish tv show that piqued my interest: American Horror Story. Does any one remember the tv show American Gothic? Fun stuff. So, in the interest of discovering new diversions (i.e. work-avoidance), I decided to watch the pilot. Which resulted in my watching all the other episodes available. HOLY SMOKES.

There is a truckload of stuff going down in this series, and I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say there's Jessica Lange at her crazy-Southern best, Dylan McDermott sans pants, the lady who played the mom in Six Feet Under, Vera Farmiga's little sister (Taissa)---who has some serious acting skills, teen romance, a lovely creepy house, spooky old photographs, dead babies, deformed children, body parts in jars, and a considerable amount of sex.

Yeah, and that's only the tip of the turret.

I really don't know if they can keep this up and still keep it compelling. Sometimes when there is too much going on, there isn't enough character development and you get into a situation where you don't give a crap about these people because you don't know them well enough to care. So far though, that is not a problem. There are quite a few interesting plot turns and you definitely want to find out more of the backstory of these characters. 

I was glued to my computer, so much so, I had a hard time removing myself to watch Once Upon a Time on television. American Horror Story kinda knocked my socks off. It's got a very strong cast to boot. If you aren't faint of heart (or faint of stomach), I'd say give this a shot. It's a wild ride; so far so good.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


"If it had provided me with nothing else, "Tower Heist" would have afforded me the sight of a solid gold automobile being lowered from the penthouse of the Trump Tower with Matthew Broderick dangling from it. Sometimes you appreciate such simple human spectacles. To be sure, Trump Tower has been renamed "The Tower," and the man dangling from the car isn't the Donald, but this is an imperfect world."  ~ Roger Ebert

Look, the plot is ridiculous, but who cares? If the plot had been more clever, would this have been a better film? Sure. But this isn't that kind of movie, and nonetheless, it was still entertaining and funny.

First off, the whole penthouse lifestyle (as in rich---not as in naked) is fun to imagine for those of us who have never had, and will probably never have, the opportunity to go inside one of those high rise apartment buildings occupied by the NYC elite.  It sure would be fun to spend a weekend there. 

Next, the cast was enjoyable: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch, Michael Pena. I didn't care too much for Gabourey Sidibe and her Jamaican accent, but everyone else was pretty funny. For some reason Matthew Broderick as a middle-aged sad-sack particularly struck my funny bone. He just looked funny. Tea Leoni, was also likable, even though I'm usually not crazy about her. 

The movie moves along at a quick pace. There were couple of slow spots for me (oddly enough, during the actual heist), but overall it kept me engaged.

I hate it when critics write a review and most of it is actually a synopsis. LAME. So, you won't get that from me. You can look up the synopsis at IMDB or Wikipedia or something. Consequently, this review is short, but you get the point. Tower Heist is a glossy production---nonsensical, but amusing. And that's fine as long as you weren't expecting something more.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random Snippets (TV and Whatnot)

I missed the last episode of Grimm. I heard it lacked a fairytale thread. Is that correct?

Once upon a Time 
I am really enjoying this show. But I didn't enjoy the actress they chose for Cinderella. The non-love also probably had to do with the way the role was written and directed. Here's my idea of  Cinderella:

That's Dianna Agron from Glee.  Of course, she already has quite a good job, but they should hunt around for someone like her.  You should like Cinderella, not be irritated by her. And frankly, she should be really pretty. Speaking of  which, I love Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White. Perfect casting. Also she's damned adorable in her pixie haircut. She looks like she's gonna sprout gossamer wings and pointed ears.

And of course, there's Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold. Creepy in the most delicious and charming fashion.

Dancing with the Stars
Felt really bad for JR. He looked bummed-out. I still think he'll beat Ricki Lake. He's just more fun to watch. Also, Rob Kardashian has done a bang-up job on the show. He was great last night. He manages to look natural and authentic in his expression, plus he's quite light on his feet for a big guy.

Random Notes
They have an option on this blog site to have a warning for adult content. They're talking about naked pictures, right?  I mean, I don't think my occasional spicy language counts---that's just my literary style ;)

About the movie Tower Heist : I heard from one of my sources that it was very fast-paced, funny and entertaining. Even though director Brett Ratner is apparently a d*ck. Oops--there goes that spicy language thing again. But, but, but he said some really nasty things in a recent interview. Only a total tool would say that stuff.

Crisis Alert: The company that owns Chevy's (my heroin (aka chip) supplier) has filed for bankruptcy.  They need to get their financial act together. People's lives are at stake. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011


This is a compelling movie: 4/5 stars. The 'whys' are coming, but first I need to confess something. 

I am a colossal ignoramus when it comes to finance and economics. It's not that I am dumb; it's more that my brain steadfastly resists information which it does not find immediately beneficial. This boils down to me being able to absorb movies and not news. 
Movies=entertainment/stress relief. 
Movies are immediately beneficial.

Anyway, there is a point in the movie where the CEO of an investment banking firm asks a young analyst to explain their dire financial situation to him as though he were "a five year old or a golden retriever". Don't get your hopes up too much here. My golden retriever brain still did not get half of what he was saying. BUT, that did not make the movie any less compelling.

It's a taut story. The financial world is about to be turned on its over-inflated head. Fortunes will be lost, careers will be torched, lives will be ruined. And how long after the fuse is lit will the bomb explode? A matter of hours. Tick-tick-tick. As long as the director handles this right, it's gonna keep you tuned-in. He does and it does. Plus, it's a good-looking film: the sharp and shiny reflection of affluence. 

It's got a big cast, lots of people you know. The opening scenes with Stanley Tucci (a favorite of mine) tell you right off the bat that this is gonna be a good flick. He's perfect, as you would expect, and the scenes are oddly relate-able (anyone else recently experience the sudden disappearance of your co-workers?). It's just even more sordid here---I guess you have to consider the source.  

Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley all give solid performances. Demi Moore is okay, like always. (Hey, I like her, but in my experience, her acting, while not bad, hasn't shown a whole lot of depth or nuance). Kevin Spacey is great, as always. Remember Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze? One of the all-time favorite performances, that one was. But I digress.

The surprise performance, for me, was by Zachary Qunito. Since I didn't see the new Star Trek films, I only know him from the tv series Heroes. This role is a big departure from that. He is very convincing, very believable---great expressiveness in his face, great line delivery. 

Apparently there really are people whose lives are driven only by the need and desire for wealth. So, if you had a few minutes with these guys what would would you want to know? 
How about:   How does it feel to be a soulless bastard? 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How's About a Grimm Cinderella Episode? Here's My Version

Seen the new tv show Grimm? Here's a taste of my idea for an upcoming episode.

Script By Jules 

Scene One - At the police department

Hank (Nick's partner): Nick, check out there girl over there. What's your take on her

(Note: Nick is known for his ability to pinpoint a lot about a person within the first minute of seeing them).

Nick: Judging from her clothes, and the fact that she looks like she hasn't had access to a shower recently, I'd say she's living on the street. Not picked up for prostitution though, looks too innocent--doesn't have that hard look in her eye. She's a beautiful kid, huh? Even under all that grime.

Hank: Ha! Got ya on this one. She's living with her family. And according to Captain, the mom and the sister came in all decked out. Rolled-in in a silver Jaguar. He said those shoes the mom was wearing go for about eight-hundred bucks. Kid's got the supermodel looks and dresses like a dumpster, and the rest of the family dress like tv stars.

Nick: Why'd they bring her in here? Shouldn't she have been taken in to Juvy?

Hank: Nope--Genessa is eighteen. Get this: they brought her in because sister number one claims that this one cut off a good-sized piece of sistah's big toe. 

Nick: What?

Hank: Oh, yeah. They brought in a prom shoe full of blood for evidence. Oh, and that's not all. Here's where we come in. Sister number two?? Missing since last night. Prom night. 

Nick: And Genessa is our perp?

Hank: Apparently, so. Accordingly to her family, that is. Seems there was some big fight between the three sisters over the Prom King. Got pretty ugly, I'd say.

Nick: Can't wait to meet her family. Have we brought in the Prom King yet?

Hank: Nope. I figured we'd get to him after we checked out Supermom and her dysfunctional cheerleaders.

Nick: What else do we know about our perp?

Hank: Straight-A student; quiet, not much of a socializer. Held back in school a year---can't figure that one out. She's apparently very bright. 

Nick: And the Prom King?

Hank: Andrew Rocklin

Nick: Rocklin. Rocklin? Like Rocklin Estates, Rocklin?  

Hank: That would be correct.

Nick: Nice. Ultrarich boy dates dumpster-diver. Okay, well, let's go meet Miss Genessa.

I know you're just dying to hear the rest of the story. That's one cool thing about Grimm's plotlines. They have threads of the original fairytale, but you know the episode always has a different twist.

Monday, October 31, 2011

TV Review: And the winner is....

And the winner is....Once Upon a Time.  "Winner of what?", you say? Well that would be in reference to the debate that some folks are having as to which is the better new series: Grimm or Once Upon a Time. It's not quite fair to compare the two, as they really aren't the same genre (Grimm definitely came off as a cop-show in the first episode), but the fact that they both incorporate fairytale characters obviously leaves them open to comparison.

If you had a chance to read my review of Grimm, you may recall that I liked it, but I thought the writing was weak. This is where Once Upon a Time trumps Grimm. The writing is definitely sharper and less like Script-Writing 1A. While the production value in both series is strong, it's a bit strong-er in Once Upon a Time. The pacing and direction in both shows is good. They both held my interest.

The bigger win is in the cast. Once Upon a Time has a bigger cast, but it is also a very strong cast. Ginnifer Goodwin, Lana Parrilla, and Jennifer Morrison all give strong performances. The "kid" part is played by a very engaging Jared Gilmore. I look forward to more of Robert Carlyle (Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold) who's shaping up to be a lot of trouble for everyone in town, and a lot of fun for us in the audience.

Speaking of how he's already shaping up, brings me to my next point. We're only into the second episode and  already have a good amount of character development. We have a strong sense of who these people are, but also a sense that there is more to them than meets the eye, and unexpected complications and twists of character will arise. And that, my friends, makes us want to watch and find out more.

So, as with Grimm, if you are open to some fantasy mixed in with your drama, give this a shot. Two shots would be good. I was even more into it after the second episode. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

New TV Show: Grimm

Okay, if creepy stories and/or fantasy tales aren't your preferred genres, then this ain't yo thang. If you like that stuff, or are at least open to trying it, you may enjoy Grimm. I enjoyed it, and I don't like fantasy. I was not into Buffy, and Grimm is brought to you by some of those Buffy folks. (For those of you living in a cave, Buffy was a high school girl turned monster-killer. Out of necessity, of course--somebody had to save the town from all the monsters). Anywho, Nick, Grimm's protagonist, is suffering from Buffy-syndrome: he has to save the town from all the monsters.

The writing is up and down. Mostly, it's not great. The production value and the pacing, though, are quite good.  At one point, I was concerned that the burden of all this monster-killing would be too much for Nick, and he was going to need a confidant-slash-assistant. Voila! He meets a reformed Bad Wolf (nice job by Silas Weir Mitchell) who provides assistance, and a little comic relief. I was tense at times, and a little creeped-out at other times. That's a good thing. Had they run back to back episodes, I would've watched the next one. That's also a good thing.

Ya know, those Grimms compiled some pretty gnarly tales. If the show's writers dig into the real stories (not the cleaned-up versions), there is some great material there. I'd love to see what they could do with, say, One Eye, Two Eyes, and Three Eyes. That was a great story. I'd even enjoy Cinderella's stepsisters performing a little self-mutilation ( yes, they did---read the story).

So, if I happen across Grimm again, I'll definitely give it another shot.

Oh, and let me leave you with some parental advice : Don't send your six year old daughter out in a red hooded jacket. I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dancing With The Stars (and why it's so popular)

The other morning, I was listening to the Alice morning radio show (Sarah and Vinnie). They were talking to two other morning show staffers, all of whom apparently do not understand the huge popularity of Dancing with Stars. I think, if they watched it for maybe three weeks in a row, they would get it. Maybe they still wouldn't like it too much, but they would understand why so many people get into it. 

There are some obvious reasons people might enjoy the show. For instance, some people like watching dancing. Some people like light fare/variety shows. Some might watch for the leggy women in sexy costumes (although, funny enough, my cousin said one of the reasons she didn't  like the show was because of those "slutty outfits"). But those would only account for a small sample of folks; it wouldn't explain the huge ratings. I know why the show is so popular because, although I wasn't the least bit interested in the show to begin with, I got drawn in with the multitudes. 

Here's what happens:

You are watching this show, maybe there is some athlete or soap opera star or someone else you recognize. You think, "Hey, I gotta give this guy/gal credit. It takes a certain amount of guts to get out there in front of the world and potentially make an ass of yourself." Then the next guy comes along, and you don't know who in the hell he is, but he's overweight and awkward and working very hard. You think, "Hey, I gotta give this guy credit because he is really out on a limb." Then you see the clips of the how hard everyone works for 8 to 12 hours each day, getting their butts kicked, and you think, "Geez, I give them all credit for working their tails off and putting so much heart and effort into this." And THEN you start to love someone like Hines Ward. I did not know or care who Hines Ward was, but after a couple of weeks watching this guy work his ass off and then lay it all down there on the floor, I was a fan. 

Here's the thing. You get to like these people. Chaz Bono is a very portly female-to-male transexual. He is also, from all appearances, a genuinely nice guy. The fact that he is willing to sweat it out in training all week, and then put on some shiny pants and shake his buns out there for the TV cameras, makes him pretty darned gutsy. And, I'll be damned, he's getting better at it!! You just have to give these people credit; it takes balls.

When Kelly Osbourne was on the show a few seasons back, she underwent some kind of pivotal life change. You see that happen in some of the contestants. Kelly seemed to go from being a snarky, chubby, insecure girl to a lovely, gracious, young woman. Somehow, she morphed from bratty rockstar-kid into Grace Kelly. And she stayed that way...she's still that way. And it all started with Dancing with the Stars.

So, that's why it is so popular. You really end up rooting for someone...or multiple someones. Sure, it's fun, colorful and amusing. But the real draw is seeing hard work and improvement. You like it, you admire it, and, sometimes, you are rewarded with seeing a real-life caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

NEW REVIEW: Take Shelter

Take Shelter received a 94% critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes website. But, watch out. This movie may not be for you. Or, maybe, you will find it brilliant, as many critics did.

Wow. Unsettling. Eerie. Disturbing. These are the words that buzzed through my brain after seeing this movie. Many people go to the movies to have a good time. This isn't one of those kind of films. What it is, though, is the kind of film that people who appreciate and understand filmmaking will enjoy.

Personally, I don't know anything about filmmaking. Even so, it's obvious that to make a film with such an unusually narrow focus, and be able to maintain tension over a more than two hour time period, is a directorial feat. There isn't so much a story here; it's more of a festering idea. I won't share what that idea is.

The main character, Curtis, has the job of keeping you connected and interested throughout the film. Actor Michael Shannon does a terrific job with this. You genuinely like and admire Curtis as a strong, hard-working, backbone-of-America sort of guy, who is lovingly committed to taking care of his wife and daughter. When circumstances in his life go increasingly awry, you feel truly terrible for him. Most of the performance is characterized by subtle expressions and gestures which pull you in close to him. It seems meant to be painful to endure, and it is. This will probably be an Oscar-nominated role.

So, star rating? Should you see it? If you like tense, slow developing, unique movies, focusing on a thought more than a plot, go see it. If you are looking for a fun time at the movies--a smile, a laugh, a thrill--this is not going to be your cup of tea. If you like the former, this may be a 5/5 stars for you. If you like only the latter, this might be a 0/5 stars for you.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Let's cut to the chase: 4/5 stars. Most of the credit goes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt for a stellar portrayal of 27 year old man hit smack-in-the face with a cancer diagnosis.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an excellent actor. He's been at it for a long time. Let's not forget, he spent several of his formative years playing an elder alien man living life on earth in the body of a teenage boy ( 3rd Rock from the Sun). That can't have been easy.  

In 2007, he portrayed Chris Pratt (The Lookout), a young man who was once the king of his high school, but after a tragic and foolish mistake, lives the difficult life of someone with permanent cognitive impairment due to traumatic brain injury. Although he'd had a steady career all along, this seemed to be the point when people really took notice of JGL as an adult actor.

In 50/50, he manages to play the role of "normal, nice guy", so incredibly well, you feel certain that he is, in fact, that guy. Interestingly, he was not originally cast in the role, but rather, filled-in after James McAvoy had to drop out. It's hard to imagine anyone capturing 'genuine' quite as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In both the 'regular guy' moments, as well as the 'devastation of cancer' moments, his expressions ring fully true.

As you've heard, this is a funny cancer-movie. Seth Rogan is funny. Still, you wonder, at some point, why this "nice" guy is hanging around with a guy whose maturation is about a decade delayed. But the movie is able to make it work. You don't doubt for a minute that Seth's character loves his friend, Adam, and will stick it out with him for better or worse---unlike Adam's girlfriend, Rachel.

There were a couple of things that I think would have improved the film:

I would have liked to have seen a few lines, early in the film, showing that Adam has concern for the terrible disease from which his father is suffering, and is aware of the toll this has to be taking on his mother. "Hey, Mom, let me hang out with Dad this weekend. You need to take a break---go have lunch with your friends or something." I would expect that from the conscientious Adam.

I also think the film would have benefited from a more sympathetic portrayal of  'the girlfriend', Rachel. Maybe there really are people who are that unlikable, but I doubt that Adam would be spending every night with one of them. It would be more realistic to focus on the fact that they were mismatched to begin with, she was not well-liked by his parents or his friends, and, sadly, both she and Adam felt stuck because it seemed like a bad time to pursue a break-up. Instead, she just comes across as a weak, shallow bitch ( i.e. not the type of person someone like Adam is likely to be involved with in the first place).

On the whole, though, it's a very simple, straightforward film, and in this case, that's a real compliment.

I'll be seeing a couple more movies this stay tuned.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Time Off

It's been a tough month on the home front. Back to work (blog-work) tomorrow. I'll be seeing the movie 50/50. Look out for my review.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NEW BOOK REVIEW: A Traitor to Memory

When it comes to books, I don't really think I have a favorite genre. But if I did have a favorite, it wouldn't be mystery/crime stories. It's not that I don't enjoy them. They are definitely good for a relaxing, diversional activity, but they almost never make me think, "Wow that was great!"

Elizabeth George is apparently some kind of stellar mystery writer, but if I am being completely honest, I wasn't particularly impressed. It was an entertaining story, but that's about it. And if that's all your looking for, as is sometimes the case, then it's fine.

The book is around 1000 pages, which is long enough to get quite a bit of detail. Unfortunately, I found the detail got a little boring. I found myself skimming along through some paragraphs trying to find something pertinent to advancing the storyline. When you start thinking, "Blah, blah, blah, just get to the point," that is not a ringing endorsement for the writing.

On the whole, though, the plotline held my interest. It involves a very dysfunctional family with some bigtime skeletons in the closet, and I enjoyed the way the connections between the various characters eventually came to light. However, New Scotland Yard didn't fare too well here. They were sort of dull and unimpressive. In some situations, dull and unimpressive works well because it seems to more accurately reflect reality. In this genre, however, it just makes it kind of a yawn.

Bottomline: Liked it; didn't love it.

( FYI : This is not a new book. It was published in 2002)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I know, I know, I am so late for the "A" train. Where in the hell have I been? Even my mother watches this show. I finally watched it when they re-aired the final two episodes of the second season the other night. My thoughts? Sure, I am always happy to share an opinion.

First, let me say, I loved it. I am apparently now in line with the many other critics and fans who think this is one slick, irresistibly entertaining production.  I can't even make "good" and "bad" lists (as I am usually so inclined to do) because it was all good for me. However, if you don't like slick productions, morally corrupt characters, or sexual drama, this may not be for you.

The acting is great; everyone is at the top of his/her game. The writing is great, storylines as well as dialogue. They do a great job of weaving shorter term legal case stories with the ongoing plotline. It's far from a novel formula, but damn, it's well done.

Favorite Persons:

Julianna Margulies  looks stunning in this show. She is gorgeous. Her performances in the episodes that I saw were riveting. There was one particular exchange with her mother-in-law that I would have re-wound and replayed if that were an option. ( Nope, no DVR for me). If you've seen it, you'll know exactly what I am talking about. 

Archie Panjabi is a lovely, and brilliant, provocateur in thigh-high black boots. She gets to play a fascinating character who appears very closed. As we see in these episodes, however, she may play it close to the vest, but she certainly is not devoid of deeply felt emotions. 

Chris Noth. Thank goodness he has had a steady career. Next to the beloved Jerry Orbach's portrayal of Lenny Briscoe, Chris Noth's Mike Logan (in the original Law and Order series) was the most believable cop-character on television.  Then he moved on to Sex and the City, where he was very believable as sexy big-shot, Mr. Big. His character on The Good Wife is reminiscent of Mr. Big in many respects, albeit far more complex, and he is perfect in the role.

Christine Baranski > love her. She totally nails her part as senior partner of a prestigious law firm. If she walked into a real board room and opened her mouth you wouldn't bat an eye---she embodies that smart, assured, uh-oh- it's-a-shark persona.

Big ups to The Good Wife.

Friday, September 16, 2011

NEW REVIEW: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

And speaking of martial arts films, I just caught this one in Berkeley. It's in fairly wide release, so it isn't too hard to find. It received an 84% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and although I didn't like it quite that much, I'd at least give it 3 out of 5 stars. Stars are easier to manage than percentages.

The story centers around the only female emperor of China. She is preparing for her grand coronation event, but a couple of mysterious deaths cast a worrisome light on the preparations. Empress Wu elects to release the infamous Detective Dee from prison to solve the case.

The Good

* Cool sets, costumes, and scenery depicting ancient China.
* An ultimately fun detective story with a very likable hero.
* A pretty woman doing some pretty bad-a** kung-fu tricks with ropes.
* Those mysterious deaths: gnarly.

The Bad

* Especially in the beginning, it had some of that classic goofy 'kung-fu movie' acting 
* It also has some pretty terrible ( i.e. cheesy) dialogue. 
   I never know if it's actually the dialogue or just the translation that's cheesy.
* There is a lot of that jumpy-flying around stuff. 
   I guess this could be considered a pro or a con, but it looks goofy to me most of        the time.  I try my best to just accept it as part of the genre.
* The story is fairly predictable.

I've got a couple more movie trips planned for this month, so I'll give you the skinny on those. Don't worry, neither of them is a kung-fu movie.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

HAI YA!!! Martial Arts Flicks for the Non-Martial Arts Fan

Oh, my, my, my, how I dreaded the horrible kung-fu movies---the awful dubbing, the ridiculous dialogue, the goofy characters. Now, a lot of these movies are old, low-budget jobs, and maybe it's just something you accept and how I love crappy television sometimes (okay, LOTS of times). I feel a little bad saying that I didn't really like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, even though I know it was a very well-crafted film which was highly regarded by the film-making community. Despite my general non-love for martial arts flicks, there later came to be a few martial arts films that I really did appreciate. One of them remains the single most visually stunning film I have ever seen.

You'll notice that Time Magazine called it "a masterpiece". That's a pretty good review, huh?

Like my previous martial arts movie experiences, I did not go to this one exactly willingly. Then along came a fight scene in the rain that was just stunning---the color palette, the sound of the rain drops, the camerawork. You coulda stuffed a big ole apple in my mouth when my jaw dropped open (although, I'd prefer a taco). Later, the movie went on to include exquisite color-themed scenes that were truly like watching live-action art. And to top it all off, Hero left a lump in my throat at the end. It is a tale about war and the hard question we'd often like to put off : Is it sometimes just and necessary to fight for the greater good?  

IMPORTANT VIEWING NOTE: To fully appreciate these films, they need to be viewed on a large, high-quality screen. Hit up your friends with the nice big tv or home theater set-up. Do NOT use the dubbing feature. Just put on your specs and read the subtitles. Dubbing should be banned.

Okay, so, House of Flying Daggers: No surprise that it is also a really beautiful movie since it is from the same director. It's an exciting tale, quite romantic, along with being action packed. The main character is portrayed by the gorgeous Ziyi Zhang, who is amazing to watch. And probably the part I enjoyed the most? The unexpected plot twists. Mucho fun.

The Kill Bill movies are not ( with a big N) for everyone. They are very stylized in that hokey 70's kind of way. More importantly, they are terribly violent. Did I enjoy the films? Yes, I did. Were there people that hated them? I am quite sure there were. How will you know if you can handle it? If you are okay with those grindhouse flicks, you'll be fine with these. These are like a cakewalk compared to those.

Hopefully, I've convinced you to give martial arts flicks another chance. Like me, you might really be pleasantly surprised! Don't try any of those moves at home, though (wink-wink).

PS. That Five Finger Exploding Heart move does not work, anyway. I tried it three or four times.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Stranger

I have zero literary expertise, so on that level I can only defer to the Man Booker Prize committee who thought highly enough of this novel to rank it as a finalist. I would imagine, though, when it comes to how your book-buying public reacts to your writing, the ultimate achievement would be for readers to say, "I could not put it down."  To Sarah Waters: Mission accomplished.

I received this book from my sister Saturday afternoon, began reading Saturday evening, very reluctantly went to sleep at 1:00am, up at 8:00am, and finished the book without leaving my bed. "I could not put it down" is often not meant literally, but not in this case. I could not put the darn thing down. I am not sure that I can even clearly explain why.

As far as being 'un-put-down-able', the first reason you might expect would be that it's terribly suspenseful, keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next horror to occur. But, really, it wasn't that at all. I mean certainly, it is a bit suspenseful, but it goes on for about 100 pages before much of anything really happens. ( Don't misunderstand, even in those first 100 pages you could not have wrestled the book out of my hands).

I might attribute the interest to the subject matter, a decaying stately English home and the decaying gentry class, which is certainly interesting, but not exactly page-turner material. It could be the characters that are so compelling, but no, it's not really them either. At least at the outset, everyone seems rather normal with the expected burdens of their life's lot. The writing style itself befits the subject matter, but it wasn't the kind of prose that made me think, "Oh, this writing is so beautiful (or clever or what have you)." 

 I can only conclude that the success of the book is in the combination of setting, subject matter, characters and writing style which, while none particularly stood out on its own, as a sum total worked incredibly well. It completely and utterly draws you in to its world.

I won't go into the story detail, no spoilers here, but it's a historical, curious and melancholy gothic mystery.
And it doesn't like to be set to rest until finished!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Feeling bold? Just walk in and see whatever is playing in the next 5 minutes!

I really recommend trying this with an open-minded friend. It's a bit of a crapshoot, but also a bit of an adventure, which is great. I have done this on two occasions, both with my big sis. Amazingly, we really enjoyed it. There is one tip before you try it: each time we were at a Landmark Theater. I think it would be more risky at your local cineplex. You could end up seeing Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son (yes, that really is a movie). We were very fortunate and ended up with Vacation Movies both times! These are available now on DVD, so read on for my reviews to see if they might be something you'd like.

This is a 2009 film starring Patricia Clarkson (love her!) and Alexander Siddig (new to me, but loved him in this). It is a romance of sorts, but it's also one of those movies where nothing much really happens. It essentially just follows two people spending time together and getting to know and appreciate each other.

The scenes of Cairo are GOR-geous. Lemme tell ya, Ms. Clarkson's hotel room is outta this world...not creepy-gaudy like something in Dubai, but simply elegant with a stunning view. Anyway, you get to take a boat ride, see the pyramids, go to the desert, and attend a wedding. It's an excellent vacation, but a very subtle, slow moving one. Bottom line, if you aren't into subtle, this isn't for you.

The thing that was nonsensical in the movie? She's a New York editor married to a UN official, but her first day out in Cairo she walks around town in a sleeveless blouse and skirt (and ends up getting harassed by men). Given her background, I'd think she would have a little more travel savvy. Granted it looked like it was hotter than hell there, but they could have resolved that issue by having her put on a scarf/wrap in her hotel room, and then simply removing it outside with an obvious expression of feeling overheated. 

Minor complaints aside, I really enjoyed the movie and would be happy to see it again.

This 2008 film takes place in 1950's era New Zealand, and opens with three young Dutch women on a flight there to meet their new husbands.

This one's also a romance, but more of a dramatic saga that spans decades, taking you through marriage, childbirth, reconciliation and death. It reminds me a bit of one of those epic mini-series like The Thornbirds. I'd never pick New Zealand as someplace high on my list of travel destinations, but I really enjoyed this trip. Not picking it is what made it a fun adventure.

Funny thing happened at the theater, though. Rutger Hauer appears briefly at the beginning of the film, but we didn't know he was in it. Just prior to going into the theater, we were looking at a newspaper that had a little blurb about some movie called Hobo With a Shotgun starring a craggy-looking Rutger Hauer. We sat down to watch our movie, and there was Rutger. My sister and I turned to each other, each with big-eyes and an expression that said, "Cripes! We're in Hobo With a Shotgun. RUN for the door." 

Friday, September 9, 2011

NEW REVIEW: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

********SPOILER ALERT********

To My Family, Friends, and Anyone Else Who Might Be Mildly Interested :

If I get sucked into the ground through some hole in the basement filled with evil creatures, then would you PLEASE call the frickin' police, the X-Files unit, the wrecking-ball company, and the work crew to at least try to dig me out? Don't just pack-up and move, and then show up three months later for a one minute visit to the site of my disappearance. Geez.

Which brings me to my point: I think the major problem with this film is that it is not highly successful in drawing you in, nor in making you form an emotional connection with the protagonists. When a movie truly draws you in, you stop thinking outside the events of the story. This makes you less likely to ponder plot holes, and script issues, and unresolved storylines. 

I enjoyed the movie, I did feel pity for the little girl, and the Katie Holmes character was very likable. I just wasn't emotionally invested in them. I was a little on the fringes, free to let my thoughts wander and question things that didn't feel authentic or sensible.

There were some really good things about the movie:

1. Great-looking film.
2. Fantastic setting (both house and grounds) with some great set pieces, my personal favorites being a carousel lamp and a basement mural.
3. Successfully spooky atmosphere with good "jumps".
4. Good re-working of the original story.
5. It's an individual taste thing, but I really enjoyed the opening credits.

All in all, I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars. 

On a personal note, remember my post about spooky made-for-tv movies? This film is a remake of one of those movies. My little sister and I called the creatures from that version the 'monka-figs' because we thought they looked like a cross between monkeys and figs (yes--figs). And, sure, there might have been a couple of conversations about the monka-figs coming to take her away. Somehow, she was still happy to go see this version with me.

You wanna know the real scary thing that happened? She bought one of those fill-it yourself bags of candy, put in a small amount of Reeses Pieces and took it to the register. $11.96. No, I am not kidding.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

BATTER UP!! (Baseball In the Movies)

I have never really followed baseball---unless you count those couple of years when my home team was in the World Series, and every afternoon at school we got to close our books and turn on our classroom televisions. Catholic education definitely has its upsides. Anyway, despite my general lack of enthusiasm for actual baseball, I seem to thoroughly enjoy, and even be deeply moved by, a good baseball movie.

Eight Men Out

I've only seen this movie once, and years ago at that, but I remember clearly the strong emotional response that I had at the end of the film. During the last scenes when Buck Weaver is sitting in the stands, I felt that pit-in-the-stomach sense of sadness and loss. I felt it for Buck Weaver, for the sport of baseball, and for the country. It was very unexpected, and very moving. 

Film critic Roger Ebert, with whom I often agree, had this to say about the film:

It's an insider's movie, a baseball expert's film that is hard for the untutored to follow.

Balderdash! It is a fascinating true tale. As a viewer, it felt remarkably genuine, like being in a time-warp. The acting is strong, particularly by John Cusack, who seemed perfectly cast. This is a very good film, and not hard to follow, or at the very least, get the gist of enough to appreciate the impact. Luckily, the Rotten Tomatoes website called it " arguably the best baseball move ever made". So, someone over there was obviously able to follow it.

Sorry, Roger, you were mistaken on this one. I am amazed that you didn't feel like shedding a tear. I sure did.

Bull Durham

Another one that I saw only once years ago, but surprisingly enjoyed. This one sticks out in my memory as well, but the tears, of course, were from laughing too hard. Life in the minor leagues was apparently kind of a hoot.

Angels in the Outfield

This is a mild, funny, sweet-natured fantasy. Great movie for the kids; they'll love it. And if you're not a grumpy old movie snob, you'll enjoy it, too.

Field of Dreams

If you are like my sister, and fell asleep during this movie, tried to watch it again and couldn't get through it, then we are gonna have a problem. 

This movie is beautiful, and if you don't muster up a few tears when Ray chokes out, "Dad, you wanna have a catch?", then you need to have your heart examined. Granted, this is a big-time fantasy movie with a very spiritual feel, and both of those traits can be off-putting to a good many people. But to those people (of whom I am frequently one) I say, "Pffffftttttt." 

And on that note, I conclude the sharing of my extensive knowledge of baseball, America's pastime. I  think America should consider changing its pastime to watching movies. No? Okay, how about eating chips?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vacation Movies: Woody Allen Take Me Away

Don't let the title fool you; I am not a Woody Allen fan. At least not until recently. I am, however, a fan of travel itineraries for the financially-challenged. Sometimes you just want to be transported to someplace else. Care to travel on a budget of around ten dollars? Here are a few recommended destinations:

Midnight in Paris

Have I mentioned that I've never made a movie? Yeah, well, I can still have a judgement. I've made plenty of those. 

This film was truly charming, whimsical, and transporting.  This is one great Vacation Movie.

Great shots of Paris, terrific wardrobes, and unexpected travel companions will join you on your tour, led by your guide, a boyish and slightly befuddled Owen Wilson. 

Have a wonderful trip. I guarantee, you will wish you could stay in Paris a little longer.

Vicki Cristina Barcelona

Another fabulous vacation brought to you by Woody Allen. Who'da thunk? Certainly not me.

Chemistry 101:
Place three extremely sexually attractive people together in beautiful Barcelona, titrate with Penelope Cruz, and see if something explodes. 

This is one of those 'feast for the eyes' movies. It just has this airy, open, vacation-y feel. But, it's not for the kiddies. This is a humorous and titillating trip for adults. Be careful, you will be seduced.

Letters to Juliet

Remember how Stealing Beauty made you just want to to pack up and move to Italy? Oh, wait, that was me.

This is one of those super-lightweight romances, so just relax, quit being a stodgy snob, and try to enjoy yourself.

Again with the open air, and the eye-feast. I hate to be repetitive, but those are great qualities to look for in a Vacation Movie. Italy is so very photogenic. And it was so great to see Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero! I was so glad that they were able to make the trip with us.


Honorable Mention:  All those Bourne movies. Not very relaxing, but you get to travel around quite a bit.

And, sadly, this concludes today's journey. Please book with us again. We're running a special in April.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The '60's, the 70's and the Crappy, but Fantastical, Made-For-TV Movies

 Look, it's not like I've ever made a movie, so who am I to judge?  Still, I think it's fair to say that the made-for-tv movies of the 60's and 70's were kind of a cheese-ball fest. It's hard to take anyone wearing that much polyester seriously. On the other hand, whether you first saw these movies in reruns, or caught them on a first run back in the day, your childhood memory was indelibly imprinted with what might have been your first SCARY image ( and I am not referring to powder blue pants, although, obviously those send a shudder up your spine). Which brings me to this weekend.

I finally broke down and bought a new computer. Horrible experience. However, the newfound ease of watching videos, movies, and tv, without annoying stalls and buffering, makes it all worthwhile. So, I hit You Tube for some childhood reminiscence.

Picture Mommy Dead

Is that a great movie title or what?
Imprinted image from the movie: Some vague scary picture of a fancy house, a dead lady, a fire, and a grossly creepy song.
Memory of my childhood: Teaching said song to my little sister, and singing said song during a lengthy car ride with my parents. The worms crawl in the worms crawl out , through your stomach and out your mouth.
Until my mom said, "That's enough. Sing something else."

"Mommy" was portrayed by Zsa Zsa Gabor, which should tell you something right there. Something awesome, DUH.  As corny as it was, that movie made a big impression on me. It seems that, as a kid, most of my favorite movies were the ones that kind of got me spooked.

On the plus side with this film, it did not have one of those tv-movie endings which clearly identified the good guy and left things appropriately resolved.  It remained unnerving from start to finish.

Last night at midnight, I called my sister to sing to her. She was alone in a hotel room. Too perfect. She said something about us having watched things we shouldn't have been watching at that age. I disagree. Those scary stories were fun. Not much different than telling scary stories by the campfire. Not all kids enjoy being a little scared. Some kids get too scared. But for some of us? Goosebumps=Goodtimes.

Check out Crowhaven Farm. Features a super-creepy kid. Really.