Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Frances Ha - Beautifully written movie about becoming an adult, figuring out where you belong and being surrounded by people who seem to have things figured out.  There is a lovely performance from Greta Gerwig, even though I have issues with the character, the audience will relate to her loneliness and uncertainty. The issues that I have are highlighted throughout the film, so it's clear to me that these were intentional traits (narcissistic, self-absorbed, clueless, needy etc), however, it doesn't make her any less annoying - like how she acts like she's poor (another thing that was intentional - as one character calls it "an insult to poor people").  It sort of reminds me of the same style that Lena Dunham has - this "please feel bad for me because I have so many problems, even though I'm white, upper-class, educated and I have a family that loves me" - sorry, just because you don't have your dream job or your dream relationship, doesn't mean your life sucks. Get over yourself. Sorry for the rant, but it's just so frustrating. And now my rant is making it seem like I didn't like this movie, but I actually really did! Her problems are real, and I do have sympathy for her, I just feel the need to put things in perspective. I loved her relationship with her best friend; it reminded me of my best friend (and once roommate).  Their conversations were so familiar ("we're like a lesbian couple who don't have sex anymore", "don't pick your face"). When we "separated" it was like the END OF AN ERA! (Friends references are hard to avoid).  I loved the black & white shots of NYC and the lightness of the story. I just wish there was more substance, something real to grasp, something memorable.

2. White House Down - The big question seems to be - which is better, this or the "Gerard Butler saves the White House" movie? I would say that they are pretty much equals, but White House Down is a slightly better made movie.  The effects are better, the dialogue isn't as cheesy, and the story is more interesting.  However, both of these movies make it seem way to easy to take over the White House, rely on one man to save the day, and have scarily predictable villains.  I like Channing Tatum, but got tired of the endless shots of him jumping over furniture trying to avoid gunfire.  Overall, it's one of those movies that is just meant to entertain and it did just that.

3. The Hangover Part 3 - I was expecting so much worse. The second installment was widely criticized for re-hashing the first one, so this one threw out the formula (that worked fine, in my opinion), and was still universally criticized.  I'm not going to pretend this movie is good, but it's certainly not as bad as people claim.  I laughed a few times, the plot was much darker but it moved rather quickly, and Bradley Cooper is fucking sexy. That's enough for me to be entertained.  Ken Jeong is funny in very small doses, so his increased involvement in the story became grating (I feel the same way about his character on Community, the episodes that feature him more are the worst episodes).  There are some parts that are groan-worthy (like the after credits scene) and unnecessary plot holes, but not enough to make me hate the movie.  I'm not sure why John Goodman is dressed like my great-aunt Wendy, or why his character is so boring.  Also, I'm pretty sure that the person who writes the Netflix descriptions didn't actually watch the movie, as she/he describes the plot as "the gang will have to rescue Alan from a mental institution". Actually, thinking about that makes me laugh harder than anything in the movie.

4. People Like Us - I watched this movie because of the cast - Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer and Olivia Wilde.  Plus, it was written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (writers behind Alias and Fringe).  I was interested in seeing something that wasn't science-fiction based from them.  Surprisingly, as sappy and melodramatic as it is, I really enjoyed it.  Sure, if you throw in a Christmas tree, it could have easily been a Holiday TV movie on Lifetime, but there is just something so likable about it.  As expected with the talent, it is written and acted extremely well.  I've never liked Chris Pine in anything...until now. He's fantastic in this, as is the little wise-ass boy.  I appreciate that it is a story about finding family; instead of a traditional "love" story.

5. Girl Most Likely - This could have been a good movie, if it weren't so damn boring.  The beginning starts out as a bit of cliche about another self-centered woman who is dumped by her boyfriend and has her world suddenly fall apart (blah, blah, blah), but it is much darker than your average chick-flick.  She isn't quite convinced that her boyfriend isn't in love with her.  To convince herself that she is right, she writes a poignant suicide letter, scatters some pills around her and calls him to "threaten" taking her own life - completely expecting him to show up and "save" her. Things don't turn out the way she plans, instead she ends up in the care of her "crazy" mother back in her hometown of Ocean City, NJ.  Sounds interesting...right? It has the whole "confronting your demons" themes, but it just doesn't explore any of these demons for any meaningful purpose. The only thing it really proves is that everyone has a "talent"; everyone deserves to be appreciated or "famous" for their talent, but, in most cases, everyone ends up a "nobody"(deeeepressing). Also, it's clear that the writer has a hatred for New Jersey.  From the way the movie is written, it felt like a really personal hatred, but she's from California, so I really don't understand where her anger is coming from. While the movie is really long and really dull, at least the cast is excellent - Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon and the highlight, Blaine from Glee. I say he's a highlight because I've never seen him outside of Glee and he was unexpectedly great. His Backstreet Boys performance is the best part of the entire movie.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

3 Thoughts on 12 Years a Slave

1. It's brutal, difficult, heartbreaking... - As you would expect, a film about slavery is very difficult to watch.  I can't say that I've seen many (aside from Django Unchained, the last one I remember is Amistad).  12 Years a Slave is a story based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film does not shy away from the horrors of slavery and the existence of true evilness. I didn't cry while watching the movie, probably because I was expecting the brutality, but I did have to look away from the screen a few times.

2. It's stunning, beautiful, inspiring... - This movie will be in my top 10 of the year (possibly top 5).  Steve McQueen made an absolutely stunning film.  The story tells itself, I think it would be hard to make a bad movie out of it.  McQueen, however, did something that is uniquely "him".  He juxtaposed some of the most horrific images you will every see, with some of the most beautiful images of America.  He inserts his style into the film and gives film geeks something to smile about  Just like he did with his 12 minute single take shot in Hunger, and his breathtaking tracking shot of Brandon running in Shame, 12 Years a Slave has several moments where I inhaled deeply and went "wow". Most notably were the awkwardly long moments focused on Solomon that forced the audience to absorb his situation. During one focused shot, someone in the audience yelled out "really, come on". While some audience members sat watching a historical drama, I was watching the new Steve McQueen movie and I was in awe.

3. Why is Brad Pitt in this movie? - I have one complaint. Ok...maybe two, but they are related.  Brad Pitt is the worst casting decision ever.  I say this as a HUGE Brad Pitt fan.  First, by the time he shows up, the audience has forgotten that he is in it, so it breaks the attention span of the audience.  Seriously, he appeared and suddenly I heard whispers all around me "that's Brad Pitt!".  Second, he was awful.  My friend argued that he felt out of place because he is "supposed to be Canadian" (haha), but I argued that he felt out of place because he was out of place.  My second (minor) complaint  is Michael Fassbender.  I'm not as crazy about him as most girls are (gasp!! I know). He's excellent in previous McQueen movies, but he wasn't the highlight here.  The southern accent is hard to do (especially to make it sound natural and not a caricature), and he struggled with it.  I could hear his Irish accent peaking through almost every word and it was really distracting.  The rest of the cast is flawless.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible. He is definitely the front-runner for best performance of the year.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Midnight's Children - I don't think I can express into words my love for this book. In college, I took a course on South Asian literature, simply because it fit into my schedule. I heard that it was a tough class and that the professor was intense, but I didn't really believe it (I went to a state college because that's all I could afford, and no offense, but none of the classes were particularly "tough") The first book we read, The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy had my interest because it was so different than anything I've read before. Coming from a public high school in Upstate NY, I can't say that I had much exposure to South Asian literature.  We had to write a paper at the end of each book, and on my first paper, I received a C. I admit that I hadn't put much effort into the paper, but I was still baffled by the C.  I asked the professor why the grade was so low and she said "I looked into your background, the paper is an A if I compare it to other students, but it's a C if I compare it to what I think you're capable of ". I was super pissed at this answer - it's not fair to hold someone to a higher standard and I gave many excuses (I worked a full-time job and a part-time job to afford school, rent, food etc.  I didn't have time to give my best effort). Then, we started reading Midnight's Children and I was absolutely blown away.  It helped that my professor was so passionate about Salman Rushdie and the history of India.  She would explain the significance of every word, the structure of every sentence, and how every inch of the story related to historical events.  I suddenly realized how lucky I was to have a professor who actually cared about what she was teaching, and invested time in her students.  I owed it to her (and myself) to give my best.  I've never put so much effort into anything as I did with my paper for Midnight's Children (and I only got a B+, with the comment "now I need you to start participating in class". Although, I received an A as my overall score.). This experience changed the way that I read books. Now, when I read something that I'm not familiar with, instead of glossing it over, I engage with it. I do background research, I look up cultural significance, etc.  I was happy to hear that they decided to make a film version, and that Rushdie was involved with the screenplay.  I thought seeing the story, visually, would be a moving experience.  It's an epic story about a man inherently linked to his nation, but for some reason it just doesn't work on-screen.  The pace was a little slow, the characters weren't fully developed and it doesn't feel as personal and as magical as the book did.

2. Iron Man 3 - I actually got really excited about this movie once the great reviews started pouring in - some claiming that Shane Black revived the Iron Man movies (after the super boring second one), but I'm going to have to disagree with the critics on this one.  It's only slightly better than the second one, and miles away from the awesomeness of the first one.  I hardly see Black's influence at all.  I found most of the movie annoying - Tony Stark having anxiety attacks, the Mandarin "twist", the stupid ending.  There were some bright spots - some of the action sequences, James Badge Dale (love him!) and of course, Downey Jr. is perfection.  Overall, I can't say that I'll remember any of it in a few weeks time (and I honestly, barely remember anything about the second one either).

3. Maniac - Movies about serial killers are scary enough, but when you add the adorable Elijah Wood as a creepy psycho it's bound to cause me nightmares.  The movie is a remake of the 1980 movie Maniac!, which is a super creepy horror movie about a guy who kills women, scalps them and then uses their hair for his creepy mannequin dolls. The remake stays true to some of the original in plot, but it updates the story by shooting the film using only POV shots from the serial killer, still creating that personal insight into a killers mind (the original uses dialogue to do this; the killer has conversations with himself as well as mannequins).  Because of the shooting style, you only see the killer through the use of reflections and mirrors.  I both like and dislike this concept.  It's a cool idea, but it gets repetitive.  Plus, you need to fully commit to the idea and this movie falters a few times.  Elijah did a fantastic job, but he is a much different version than the original version (younger, more attractive - I fully admit, if Elijah Wood approached me, I probably wouldn't be scared. The original guy, however, I would ignore him and walk as fast as I could away from him).  Also, the girl in the beginning drove me insane. First, she was way too old for the teenager outfit combined with the baby talk, I could not wait for her to die a painful and gory death.  Not sexy at all. The movie is obviously misogynistic, as most movies about serial killers are (you know, he kills women because his mom was a whore), but it was a little too obvious.

4. The Woman in Black - I am a bit surprised that I enjoyed this movie.  Actually, I really only enjoyed the last half of it.  The first half is booooooring.  It's atmospheric and creepy, but it's not scary at all.  The second half, however, is really great.  It starts with the haunted house sequence and then continues the quick pace until the end.  Then, the ending was the best (which is rare for horror movies; I'm usually severely disappointed in the ending - most recently with Mama).  I'm really not a fan of Daniel Radcliffe.  I've only seen him as Harry Potter (I don't know which one that I watched) and he was absolutely terrible.  Watching it was one of the most upsetting experiences I've ever had watching a movie in the cinema.  I know the series has a massive fan base, but I really don't get it.  Most of my issues had to do with the acting, however Daniel did a much better job in this movie (he didn't really have that much to do, though).  I wish the beginning was better, so I could call this movie "great", but I have to downgrade it to "decent". 

5. The Purge - Fantastic idea, not fully executed.  The concept is interesting - there is one day a year that "laws" don't exist, so humans can "purge", therefore allowing an outlet for anger.  The problems with the movie are simple ones that could have easily been fixed - first, the filmmakers needed to decide what message they were trying to convey; they went back and forth between saying that violence was "American", but it is also "human nature".  There is a lot to be said about violence in America, but if they were going with the "human nature" element, then they needed to reference the world and the human race.  Second, if the story took place with a family that wasn't part of the "one percent", then the audience would be able to relate to them better. Instead, we are forced to root for spoiled, wealthy people who, in reality, could have easily used their wealth to create a panic room to survive in for 12 hours. I would rather see this story from someone who couldn't afford protection.  Third, the story could have used some subtlety - it was incredibly obvious that the neighbors would be actively involved in the story.  I heard they might make a sequel, if these things are fixed in it, then it could very well be a terrific thriller.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Holiday Movie Preview: 7 Films That I Am Excited About

1. Inside Llewyn Davis (12/6) - The Coen brothers have created movies that I love (No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading), movies that I loathe (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers) and some movies that I simply like (Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy).  I still haven't seen The Big Lebowski (I know!).  I've already heard some good things about Inside Llewyn Davis, plus the trailer is just perfection.  The Bob Dylan song, the clips of insanely good dialogue, the cat, the supporting cast.  I'm hoping it's on the "movies that I love" list.

2. American Hustle (12/13) - Holy fuck....this looks amazing.  I was trying to avoid the trailer, but it showed before 12 Years a Slave and I couldn't look away.  David O. Russell movies usually end up in my top 10 of the year lists, and this seems to be the case for this movie as well.  I can already picture the entire cast up for Oscars - especially Christian Bale, who once again, becomes unrecognizable for a role.

3. Her (12/18) - I already listed this in my "Fall Movie Preview", but the release date was pushed back. You can read about my excitement here:

4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (12/20) - I'm not as excited as a lot of people are about this sequel to Anchorman and I have to admit I'm a little surprised at the support that it is receiving.  However, Anchorman is probably the last time I've laughed at a Will Ferrell movie (although I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Guys, but more because of Mark Wahlberg), so I am hoping this is a return to form for Ferrell.

5. Labor Day (12/25) - Is it weird that when I first heard about this movie, I assumed it was a Valentine's Day/New Year's Eve type movie? Fortunately, it's not. Instead, it seems like an intense drama featuring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. The part that has me most excited, though, is that it is Jason Reitman's new film!

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (12/25) - Again, this movie was featured in my "Fall Movie Preview", the gist was "HOLY SHIT, THE TRAILER IS FANTASTIC".  I've never been to the movies on Christmas Day, but this is pretty enticing.

7. August: Osage County (12/25) - I really wanted to see this on Broadway, but my laziness knows no bounds.  It's much easier to wait for a movie version.  Of course, the big draw is Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, but the supporting cast is incredible: Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper. The trailer and the poster make it seem like a dysfunctional family comedy, but I've heard that it's supposed to be very serious and depressing.  So now I am completely unsure of what to expect (which I like).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on 11 New TV Shows

1. Dads - I don't really find this show as offensive as most people criticized it for. It's no more offensive than Family Guy. However, it's really not that funny. Seth Green fits the role perfectly, but Giovanni Ribisi is a misfire. Ribisi is superb at the awkward, geeky, loner roles (like Frank Buffay Jr. on Friends) which is what I was expecting, but instead he plays the more serious, married, business guy who is really boring.  It just doesn't fit him at all.  Also, when did Vanessa Lachey begin an acting career? She is terrible. I watched a few episodes, thinking it may find its groove and become decent, but no such luck. My DVR stopped recording the show, so I took that as a sign to stop watching it. I expected the show to get cancelled rather quickly, as did most people, but it was renewed for a second season! That's just crazy! It shows how desperate the networks are for comedy.

2. The Blacklist - I really wish they would start this show over with a different female lead. The rest of the show could use some improvement, but I think it will get there eventually. Unfortunately, Megan Boone, as Elizabeth Keen, is a big part of the series and she just gets worse with every episode. She has a sort of "dead behind the eyes" look to her; no personality, no wit, nothing. I appreciate that they were going for a "strong female" character (modeled after some of my favorites - Olivia Dunham, Sydney Bristow) but there is just no comparison. Olivia and Sydney were never boring; and they certainly never relied so much on being rescued. Elizabeth has been in way too many dangerous scenarios and never seems to know what to do. James Spader is excellent as Red Reddington, one of the FBI's most wanted, who has surrendered and is now giving intel about other criminals. However, most of his dialogue feels forced, like everything he says is just a quote to use for the commercials. There is a mystery about how these two people are related, but instead of being intriguing, it's just annoying. JUST TELL US ALREADY! It's like watching a really boring, dragged out episode of Alias. To be fair, I gave up on Alias, when it first aired. I think I only watched 3 or 4 episodes, but this was back in the day (you know, before DVR's and online streaming - HOW DID I SURVIVE??!), so something had to be amazing for me to stick with it. My cousin convinced me to give me another chance, so I did and I loved it. It's in my top 10 favorite shows of all time. I would love for something to be that good, but I don't think The Blacklist is going to ever come close.

3. Hostages - I think this is my favorite of all the new shows this season, which is sad because I don't love it. It's ridiculous, but like other ridiculous shows (ahem...The Following), it's incredibly entertaining.  The cast is a big part of my enjoyment. I adore Toni Collette - she is fantastic in everything she's ever done, Dylan McDermott is really strong as a bad (?) guy, and I'll always love Jimmy Cooper (The O.C. fan for life!!).  I didn't know how they would extend the plot for an entire series, but they are doing a great job at keeping me intrigued.  I figure the season finale will reveal that killing the president is actually a good thing (not sure how, but it seems like it relates to healthcare reform), which will be predictable, but an incredible twist.  I'm not sure I would have made the same choices as Ellen - if it's a choice between saving your kids and saving your husband, there shouldn't be any hesitation. Also, Brian hates chocolate? Um...PLOT HOLE! Nobody hates chocolate. I do really hate his whole "affair" plot-line. Hilary Burton is better in the role than I expected her to be, but the character is just pathetic.  If you date a married man, don't expect to be a priority; if you're not ok with that, then don't date married men. Easy peasy.

4. Mom - I hated the first episode, but have grown to enjoy it.  It reminds me of 2 Broke Girls, but not as vulgar. I also hated 2 Broke Girls for the first few episodes, and now I like it (although there are still some things that are overdone and stupid).  Mom reminds me of that show with Reba McEntire (Reba?), even though I've never seen an episode, for some reason I feel like it is about a dysfunctional family and a teenage mother? Anyway, I like the dysfunctionality of it - it's a more modern look at families.  I thought it would be easy for me to relate to it (since my mom was a teen mom), but I still find it vastly different from reality (her house is ginormous - for a single mom, working as a waitress and raising two kids. At one point, my mom worked three jobs - one as a waitress, and we still lived in a very tiny, rundown apartment).  I like that I can't relate to it though, because instead of it bringing up bad memories, I can laugh and enjoy it as the cute comedy that it is.  Anna Faris is perfection. Allison Janney is a bit over the top in her role, but I can already feel them dialing back her character.

5. Lucky 7  - Canceled already for good reason.  Nothing about it was worth watching.

6. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -  High expectations were not met. It's an average show, for now, with major potential to get better.  The first two episodes were downright terrible, but the third was a slight improvement and I actively enjoyed the next two - so that is a really good sign for a new show.  It seems that I am not alone in my opinion either, because most people that were excited about this show have been disappointed, while the best support for it seems to be that it "has potential".  The biggest problem (for now) is the characters - I really don't care about any of them. There was a lot of excitement about Agent Coulson being on the show, and I never really understood it. He's a fairly boring character (in The Avengers and on this show).  They are trying to create the mystery of "who" he is (robot, human, alien...), but I don't care. A lot of critics comment on the show filled with "pretty people", but I don't find any of them particularly attractive (probably because I'm attracted to personality and none of these characters have any).  I'm still glad it's improving with each episode and that I haven't given up on it yet.

7. Betrayal - This is another show that is having problems creating interesting characters.  The show is about an affair that is supposed to be raw and passionate, but so far it's just another boring affair. It's predictable, dull and melodramatic. What really aggravated me, though, was that they advertised one of the latest episodes as "the episode you've been waiting for" claiming it will shock and awe - and they flat-out lied to me!!  The beginning is a trick! That's a terrible thing to do to your audience.  I actually thought something interesting was going to happen, but it was probably the dullest episode to date. I really like most of the actors on the show but there doesn't seem to be any chemistry between them - especially the couple who are having the affair.  Their very first conversation was super-duper boring; I find it hard to believe they had an instant connection from that lifeless dialogue. Stuart Townsend reminds me of Colin Farrell for some reason. He's not nearly as hot, but he has that "mysterious" thing working for him.  Hannah Ware is really gorgeous, but I want to brush her hair. I'm a fan of the "just got out of bed hair", but it only works with certain hair types (not hers). That's just me being petty and harsh, but it can't be helped.

8. The Originals - The bad news: this show sucks. The good news: The Vampire Diaries is a thousand times better without the whole "originals" plot fucking it up! I can't really figure out why I'm not totally on board with this show. I really like the characters; I enjoy juicy vampire drama and I like the New Orleans setting.  I guess the biggest problem is the pace of the show because I find myself bored.  I'm not giving up on it because I think it could get epic - just hoping for it to happen soon!

9. The Millers - Really cheesy sitcom. I probably would have stopped watching it, if I didn't love all of the actors involved so much.  It's a cross between Everybody Loves Raymond and....I don't know what else, because I don't really watch those types of shows (my mother LOVES Everybody Loves Raymond, which I find super weird). I just wish they took this cast and created a different show. A funny one. I was unsure if I would continue watching but the "Time of My Life" dance scene really hooked me and then Eliza Coupe showed up as the ex-wife! I LOVE her.  I'm also glad Jayma Mays found something else to do aside from Glee (she deserves much more that what Glee is giving her).  I will keep watching this show, but I will hate myself while I do it.

10. Ravenswood - For some reason, my DVR recorded the pilot episode for this, then the Halloween episode of Pretty Little Liars, so that's the order in which I watched them. This explains why I was super confused as to what was happening (The PLL episode introduces Miranda and the reason for Caleb staying in Ravenswood).  I obviously had a hard time getting into the first episode, but then it ended in the best possible way.  I just had to watch the next episode to see who lived and who died. I like that it took the supernatural element from Pretty Little Liars (especially since we are getting non-supernatural answers on PLL ).  I was never a huge fan of Caleb, so I don't know how long his character will hold my interest.  I do like Miranda, but I'm not sure why she dresses like Madonna from the 80's.

11. Dracula - I only watched the first episode so far, but it's solid.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers is excellent, as predicted. He's so dramatic and flamboyant - perfect for Dracula. I'm not really sure about the actual "plot" of the show, yet, but they are setting up the characters nicely. Also, I wasn't expecting the fight at the end, but it was really poorly executed  - it looked like cheap video game effects. Hopefully, that doesn't happen again.

*Almost Human hasn't aired yet, but I'm super excited about it!*