Sunday, November 29, 2009

Movie Reviews IV

As is my grand tradition around this time of year, I'm doing anything and everything other than what I'm supposed to be doing. I filmed my final production project yesterday and everything went well as far as I can tell from the rough cut I put together today. As for my expanded narrative of my screenplay and my research paper...I'll get back to you. Now, on to reviews of the many movies I watched last week.

Talk to Her/Hable Con Ella (2002) (class assignment)
Two men hold vigil over the women they’re in love with, who are both in a coma. Marco watches over his girlfriend Lydia, a matador who was gored by a bull. Benigno works at the hospital facility and watches over Alicia, the woman he was in love with from afar but only actually met once. Marco and Benigno become good friends, but things take an interesting turn when Marco gets some bad news and Benigno gets himself into trouble. I liked this movie, it was interesting. It takes an interesting twist at the end…except I wouldn’t really call it a twist, because it’s much more gradual than that. Very much like life.

The Double Life of Veronique/La Double Vie de Vèronique (1991) (class assignment)
Two women are cosmically connected to each other, unbeknownst to them. When Weronika dies suddenly, Véronique begins experiencing strange feelings of loneliness. At least I think that’s what was going on. This one was ok. It felt somehow disjointed to me. Like the story points never really connected. I guess I just thought it was a really interesting concept, but it fell short of my expectations. I think my professor wanted me to watch it more for the camera work. There was one shot where my friend and I both started to comment on the nice camera angle, when the old man on screen suddenly and randomly flashed himself. Awesome. In addition to wanting us to see interesting camera work, we also think our professor just likes to think of us squirming while we watch these movies.

Downhill Racer (1969) (someone else's class assignment)
A cocky downhill skier (Robert Redford) with hopes of making the U.S. Olympic ski team spends four years trying to prove himself to his coach (Gene Hackman) and his teammates. Again, I think this one was assigned to my friend so he could see some different camera work. And I imagine this camera work was very new and interesting in 1969. The movie was ok, but to me it felt like it ends very abruptly. They set it up as following his professional skiing career and some aspects of his personal life, but they only really resolve the skiing storyline without any mention of the other plot lines. But Robert Redford’s pretty awesome.

A Christmas Carol (2009) (personal time)
I love Christmas. I love A Christmas Carol in almost all of its incarnations. And I love Jim Carrey. You do the math. There’s really not much more they can do with the story itself, so it would seem that Robert Zemeckis just made the decision to make the visuals amazing. Win. And I saw it in IMAX 3D, so the visual aspect really was amazing. Jim Carrey was great as Scrooge and as all three ghosts. They made him look different enough as the ghosts that, even though you knew it was Jim Carrey, it wasn’t distracting. I will admit that whipping through 3-dimensional Victorian London at high speeds made me a little motion sick at times, but that’s just the price we pay to be able to see 3D pimples on young Scrooge’s face. The other thing of note is that parts of the movie are actually a bit scary, in a ghosts-and-skeletons-jumping-out-at-you sort of way. Which was good, I think, because the story is actually a little frightening when you think about it. Get in the holiday spirit and go see it. Perhaps avoid 3D if you're prone to motion sickness.

Young Frankenstein (1974) (personal time)
If I had to pick a favorite movie, this would almost certainly be my pick. It was written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks…and I could end my review right there. But I won’t. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), the grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein, cannot deny his familial destiny to reanimate the dead. With the help of his trusty sidekick Igor (Marty Feldmen) and beautiful lab assistant Inga (Teri Garr), Frederick is able to bring a man back from the dead (Peter Boyle as The Monster). The Monster of course runs amok and hilarity of course ensues. Also featuring Madelaine Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, and a cameo by Gene Hackman. Also also featuring my undying love. Well, it doesn’t really feature that, it just gets that. From me. Forever.

The River Wild (1994) (personal time)
I think we’ve discussed this before, but just in case you forgot – I love Meryl Streep. Now that we’re all caught up, Meryl Streep plays Gail, mother of two and wife of workaholic Tom (David Strathairn). Gail’s an outdoorsy type from Montana who now lives in Boston with her bookish architect husband. Gail wants to take her son Roarke (the annoying kid from Jurassic Park) rafting in Montana and Tom reluctantly comes along. They meet up with some suspicious folks, namely Kevin Bacon and Michael C. Reilly. Things get rough, threats are made, hostages are taken, Meryl Streep waits for the exact right moment then kicks some serious ass, etc. etc. Overall, it’s a decent thriller. You know exactly what’s going to happen, but the gorgeous scenery and the unique action make it worth a watch if you’ve got a free afternoon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

You're All a Bunch of Pregnant Gerbils

Sorry for the lack of update-age.

The last few weeks have been crazy trying to get a jump-start on final projects while also planning our massive potluck Thanksgiving dinner. My sisters (2 out of 3 at least) and a friend are also in town for Thanksgiving/vacation, so things will be busy, but fun!

I watched a gazillion movies last week but haven't had time to write up the 7 reviews yet. Imagine that.

Until next time, here's something to tide you over:

I read an article that addressed the fact that American sitcoms have never done particularly well in England. The author commented that the combination of the "blatancy and breakneck speed" was too much for British viewers. He then quoted a British TV exec who stated that "Americans must have the attention span of a pregnant gerbil."

Oh, British people.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Used To Be With It, But Then They Changed What "It" Was

Seeing as I don’t have classes on Wednesdays, I usually go to bed on Tuesday nights with the most sincere intentions of spending all of the next day at the library working on my research paper, my story for my final production project, my weekly screenwriting assignment, and/or my final screenwriting project.

So this past Wednesday I got up, enjoyed my coffee and breakfast, watched a little TV, and…went to the beach.

I know I briefly mentioned some time spent at Venice Beach back in October. To quote myself – Venice is an interesting place...we decided that it was sort of like being transported back in time. Remember those days of the hippie-revival in the early-mid 90s? Still going on in Venice, CA.

Honestly that’s really the best way to sum it up. Imagine the early 90s grunge/skater look, existing peacefully alongside the current punk/skater look (skinny jeans, chunky skater shoes, weird hair). So just put all those things together in your head – skateboarders weaving through crowds of people, school-age children with no parental supervision in sight, barefoot hippies, Muscle Beach, persistent musicians trying to sell you their hip-hop cds, and the smell of pot wafting on the breeze and voilà! Venice.

The image of Venice as a throwback to bygone years was only solidified when my friends and I heard a song blasting from a nearby store and found ourselves instinctively responding - “Heyyyy, must be the moneyyyy.” Oh, Nelly…it's 2009 and apparently we still want to ride wit you.

As we sat outside our favorite spot (the place with hand-dipped corndogs, obviously), there were several things going on.

I was stealing glances at the hippies who had set up camp at the nearby intersection of the boardwalk and a path to the beach. Among their signs: “will work for marijuana,” “help a punk buy drugs,” “anything helps - even just a smile, namaste,” and my personal favorite, taking a turn for the entrepreneurial, “kick me in the ass for $1.” Also, the lone female hippie was literally wearing a bandanna for a top.

The other group catching our attention was a band of young teenage skaters, probably 13-14 years old. They were laughing and talking loudly, trying like teenagers do to own their little bit of space in a place crowded with personalities. When this group left, they were replaced by a slightly younger group of tween-age skaters. Skinny jeans, v-neck shirts, lovingly tattered skate shoes, and hair hanging over their eyes (with the exception of one, who had a downright magnificent mane of beautiful curly hair). They were scarfing down slices of pizza in the way that only boys that age can.

My friends and I are all in the 24-27 age range and sitting near these kids made us realize something a little shocking. We have apparently reached the age where we feel strange around teenagers. We weren’t scared, we didn’t get up and sit somewhere else, we didn’t think they were going to cause trouble or anything silly like that. We were just very aware of their presence. I guess what struck us most was that, rather than feeling like we identified with them, we were wondering where their parents were.

I guess we're getting old.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Movie Reviews III + Bonus TV Reviews

I realized that I haven't done movie reviews in a while. I haven't been watching too many lately, so some of these are movies you've all probably seen already. Get over it.

As an added bonus, I'm including reviews (or rather overviews) of my three favorite new TV shows of the season.

Chinatown (1974) (class assignment)
Private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) discovers a potentially large-scale scandal during his investigation of the murder of a prominent member of the L.A. Water and Power Department. He of course gets involved with the widow and then has to add saving her life to his already difficult task of solving the murder. Also, he has to deal with Roman Polanski calling him kitty cat. And almost slicing his nose off. That’s a bad day. I’m not really into noir, whether traditional or neo-. I’m not sure why exactly, something to do with the pace I think, but who knows. I’m generally ok with slower-moving dramas, but noir just doesn’t do it for me. I recognize the general overall quality of the film though.

Nights of Cabiria (1957) (class assignment)
Cabiria is an Italian prostitute who is trying to come to terms with her life and profession, albeit without actually revealing or addressing her fragile inner feelings. When she finally starts to let her guard down, it looks like she might finally have the chance to overcome her demons and have a better life. It’s kinda like the original Pretty Woman. Only not. I really liked this movie. Cabiria is a very complex and, despite her profession, very relatable character. This was my first Federico Fellini film and I enjoyed it.

Jaws (1975) (personal time)
A giant shark terrorizes a small New England town during the busy summer season. A drunken boat captain (wouldn’t be New England without ‘em)(Robert Shaw), a persistent marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss), and the reluctant sheriff (Roy Scheider) set out to catch the pest and run into a few problems that always seem to interrupt their male bonding. Man-eating sharks have no respect. This is just a plain old great movie. I’ve never really liked horror movies that much because they always feel hokey and forced. Jaws is a great example of how to create real suspense and real terror. This movie can make an entire audience sit on the edge of their seats by…panning across people having fun swimming in the ocean. I’ve seen the movie before, but when I watched it the other day I still tensed up at the beach/ocean scenes.

Jurassic Park (1993) (personal time)
Santa Claus…I mean Richard Attenborough…plays God and all hell breaks loose. Dinosaurs + people + Jeff Goldblum = bad news. We were talking about Jurassic Park in class last week and the professor brought it to our attention that, even though everyone knows the movie is about dinosaurs, they don’t actually show a live dinosaur until over a half and hour into the film. But you still watch it. Excellent build up. Also, excellent raptor-on-British-guy action. And lastly, several gratuitous shots of Jeff Goldblum’s chest shining brilliantly beneath his unbuttoned shirt. Great movie.

My three favorite new TV shows:

Glee (Fox)
I’m not usually into musicals, but I really like this show. Perhaps its because they generally keep the random outbursts of singing in typically non-singing-related locations to a minimum. The show is about a high school glee club, obviously the dredges of the high school social hierarchy, trying to get their act together and win the regional competition. It’s fun and it feels different than most of the other stuff on the tube. There are of course several subplots, about 50% of which revolve around pregnancy at the moment. Good show. Even if you don’t like musicals, I’d say give it a shot.

Modern Family (ABC)
I love this show. I did from the first episode. It’s not really groundbreaking or overwhelmingly original, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Or funny. Hilariously funny. If you’re not aware, it’s about three families – the father (Ed O’Neill) (yes, Al Bundy) and his much younger Columbian wife and her 10 year old son; the daughter (Julie Bowen), her husband, and their three children; and the gay son and his boyfriend, who have just adopted a baby from Vietnam. Best line so far: “Excuse me…Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice. She’s perfection. Whether she’s divorcing Kramer, whether she’s wearing Prada, don’t even get me started on Sophie’s Choice…”

Community (NBC)
Another great show with a big cast, although I think they’re still working out the kinks of using a big cast to its full advantage. Things seem to be falling into place though and the last few episodes have been hilarious. The show is set at a community college and revolves around the diverse members of a Spanish study group (although they very rarely study Spanish). Please imagine: Chevy Chase in a Beastmaster costume huddled inside a fort built out of chairs during a bad trip. Awesome. Another highlight for me was an exchange between Troy, a young black student who was a big football star in high school but lost his chance at a scholarship after a kegstand-related injury, and Jeff, a disbarred lawyer who has returned to community college in hopes of someday returning to his former glory. Witness the rapid-fire convo as Jeff tries to convince Troy to join the community college football team:

Jeff: I’m saying you’re a football player. It’s in your blood.
Troy: That’s racist.
Jeff: Your soul?
Troy: That’s racist.
Jeff: Your eyes?
Troy: That’s gay.
Jeff: That’s homophobic.
Troy: That’s black.
Jeff: That’s racist.
Troy: Damn.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Good Morning, Quint. We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat.

My family was never a “good morning” sort of family. Growing up, I was arguably the only morning person of the five children. The other four were typically somewhere just barely past the line between sleepwalking and being awake. I wasn’t exactly chipper at 5:45 a.m., but I was usually slightly more coherent. But no matter what state of mind we were in, I don’t ever remember saying good morning to my siblings, unless it was in a sarcastic sort of way, i.e. when a sibling has woken up cranky and it’s your duty to subject them to a ridiculously perky “good morning, sunshine!!”

I never liked being rushed in the morning before school, so I would usually get up with enough time to shower, get dressed, and have a cup of coffee and breakfast while reading the comics. Since I was up earlier, my dad was usually still home by the time I sat down to eat. I don’t think we ever said “good morning” to each other. It wasn’t rude, neither was ignoring the other, I think it was more just an unspoken acknowledgment that it would be ridiculous to speak at that ungodly hour of day, as well as something else…which brings me to my point.

I don’t understand why some people feel the need to say “good morning” to everyone they live with every single morning. At several points in my life now I’ve been in situations where I have a roommate who feels the need to say “good morning” every morning. And for some reason, it really really bugs me.

Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe it’s not the “good morning” itself but the person saying it. When you’re visiting with someone and you wake up and go into the kitchen for breakfast and your host says “good morning,” that’s different. That I can deal with. When you go into work and people say “good morning,” that’s also acceptable. And I’ve never minded if my mom says “good morning” to me every day, but then again, she is my mother.

But in other situations, it gets to a point where it just feels entirely forced. There’s this feeling that they’re only saying “good morning” because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do when they see someone in the morning.

I still get up relatively early on a daily basis. I usually sit on the couch and work on my class readings while everything is still quiet. Every morning, my roommate wakes up around 9:30 or 10, shuffles through the living room on the way to the kitchen, and says “good morning.” And it drives me crazy. Not only do we live in the same apartment, we share a room. Our beds are five feet away from each other. We know when the other is awake. We don't need to call attention to it.

But still, she feels the need to constantly acknowledge that we’re either both in the apartment or that one of us is leaving the apartment. She goes to the gym most mornings. She says “good morning,” she eats, she says “see ya,” and she goes to the gym. She gets back after about an hour and says “hey.” Every. Day. Just because we’re in the same room doesn’t mean we have to say something to each other. The other day, she came and went about four times in as many hours, and she said "hi" to me every time she came back into the apartment.

I tolerate this on most days. But today…today… the mixing of pet peeves.

I don't like when people talk to me while I'm watching TV or a movie. My sisters and mother can attest to this.

We were talking about the movie Jaws in class last night and, having not seen it in a while, I really wanted to watch it after our discussion. I don’t own it, nor do I currently have the money to buy it. So imagine my joy upon seeing that it was on TV at 9:30 this morning.

Do you know why people watch Jaws? They watch it for the suspense. They watch it for those two notes of music that will make anyone tense up. They watch it to see Sheriff Brody react to that first up-close look at the shark – the expression on his face, his slow backtrack into the cabin, cigarette dangling loosely from his mouth. THEY WATCH IT TO HEAR BRODY TELL QUINT “WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BOAT.”

Did I get to hear that this morning? No. No, I did not. If I hadn't seen the movie before, I wouldn't know that they were going to need a bigger boat. Do you know why I wouldn't know? Because someone walked in from the gym, saw me sitting in the exact same position she left me in, and felt the need to say hi to me, barely an hour after saying “good morning” and “see ya.”

As a comparison, my other roommate woke up not long after the first came back from the gym. The "good morning" conversation between roommate two and I:

R2: Jaws?
Me: Yep.

Maybe I just don't like the forced pleasantries because I feel like I have to respond, when really I just want to read/type/watch TV. I don't need someone to know what I'm doing all the time, and I certainly don't need to know what the people I live with are doing at every moment of the day.

Maybe...I'm a jerk.