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.