Saturday, December 31, 2011

The (new) Movies I Saw This Year (in order of appreciation)

So this isn't a true top of the year list by any means, but what you see below is a list of every film that I saw for the first time this year (including ones that came out in other years - many go decades into the past) and the order in which I enjoyed them.  Full disclosure - I didn't go into a painstaking thought process with this list, and if I were to make this list tomorrow there's a good chance that the order might shift in places here and there.  (I do think the top ten is pretty solid though... shame Moneyball and The Muppets didn't sneak into there though ;-) ).  Also keep in mind that I'm terribly behind on a lot of new films, so you'll probably see those in my next year's list :)

Top Ten
Blue Valentine
Crazy Stupid Love
Midnight in Paris
Love and Other Drugs
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part II
The Whistleblower

Everything Else
Easy A
127 Hours
Crazy Heart
The Muppets
The Road
Where the Wild Things Are
Win Win
About Last Night…
The Freebie
Breaking Upwards
Nights & Weekends
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Cowboys & Aliens
The Proposal
My Flesh & Blood
Good Hair
Beauty Day
The Hangover: Part II
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father
The Blind Side
No Strings Attached
Our Idiot Brother
Red State
Blast From the Past
Take Me Home Tonight
Going the Distance
Tiny Furniture
The Virginity Hit
Nice Guy Johnny
Scream 4
How to Lose Your Lover
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
At Home… By Myself… With You
Horrible Bosses
Paranormal Activity 2
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Sidewalks of New York
The Business of Being Born
The Myth of the American Sleepover
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
Dinner for Schmucks
Pirate Radio
Return to Me
Morning Glory
My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
Repo Men
Party Girl
Good Dick
The Baby Formula
Valentine's Day
Bride Wars
Taking Woodstock
Death Wish
Starter for Ten
Four Christmases
Year One
Naked in New York
Cop Out
Couples Retreat
Then She Found Me
Prom Night (original)
Public Enemies
Confessions of a Superhero
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Leap Year
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell
The Ex
Grown Ups
I Love You Phillip Morris
Guess Who
The Box
Outing Riley
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

1673 - Bridesmaids

I caught this when it was in the cinema, but I was happy to find the bluray in a discount bin (WTF?!) at the grocery story.  The bottom really is falling out of the home video market when a film like this ends up going on sale for $10 just a few months after it's release.  Bizarre.
I don't think I need to regurgitate the storyline of this film since it was a pretty massive hit when it came out, and rightfully so.  It's a damn funny film.  It's got a great cast, but the story and the writing is pretty stellar as well, and I think that a lot of that comes from the mentorship of Judd Apatow.  I think I mentioned this in my first little review of this film, but I think that anyone looking to study comedy writing really needs to study this film, in particular the first part of the second half of the film.  Once things start going poorly for Annie they go really poorly.  The film carefully sets up her life and then absolutely crushes it in one massive sweep - that is how to deal with a character in a comedy - you punish the shit out of them, and all the while you keep the audience smiling.  I think that has a lot to do with why this film is such a success - sure it's funny and a tad raunchy, but as with most Apatow projects, the story is pretty damn solid.  He understands that your first job as a writer is to punish your characters as much as you can - put them through a shit-storm.
I look forward to watching the special features on the disc - the line-o-rama features on Apatow's discs are a really great insight into how they work the comedy and come up with some fantastic alternate material.  (helps to cast really funny, smart people :) ).
So if you still haven't see this, and you aren't a stick in the mud, do yourself a favor and get on it!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

1672 - A Christmas Carol

So this is probably the last "holiday" film I'll watch - unless I can think of a solid New Years one - but either way I figured I'd go out with one of my favorite stories, and this is also the third iteration I've covered this season - the first being the Muppets, then Scrooged, and so it's interesting that it ends with something that is, more or less, aiming to be faithful to the source material (of which I've never read... I should do something about that...). 
What makes this version unique is the motion capture CGI and Jim Carrey playing Scrooge as well as all of the Ghosts.  For the most part the motion capture and CGI are welcome additions, making the story visual in a way that's just not possible otherwise.  There's an opening sequence that really gives us a sense of the city - I loved the opening scene with him taking the coins from Marley's eyes - great set-up to the character.  This is clearly designed to be a showcase for Carrey as an actor, however the real scene stealer here is Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchet.  Oldman brings you to tears in the scenes following the potential death of Tiny Tim.  He's phenomenal. 
The medium lends itself to give this story a really cinematic flow, allowing the characters to morph into one another to dramatically illustrate points, and that works very very well.  However it also feels sometimes like Zemeckis just might be showing off a tad with a few little action set pieces that do little to add to the emotional and dramatic impact of the film, they're really just there to add to the visuals, which is a shame since Zemeckis is clearly talented to do both at the same time - shame he doesn't. 
I really quite liked this - far more than I thought I would, so it's easy enough to recommend - however this is not a film for small children - the treatment is almost horror film quality in moments and I'm sure it could easily give kids nightmares, so there's that.  It's a gorgeous looking film and a solid argument for the advancement of technology in certain stories.  I'll do my best to read the source material as well over the course of the next year!

1671 - Tangled

This came highly recommended and despite the fact that I've always liked big epic kid films, since Ephraim doesn't watch a lot of television yet (just starting to introduce him to television and whatnot) I haven't watched many outside of PIXAR lately.  Of course I was at my sister's and the twins picked this up halfway through, so I caught the back half, then when I got back to the farm I noticed that it was on netflix, so I was able to pick up and see the whole thing.
The quality of this is, I believe, in no small part to the fact that John Lasseter is now the CEO of Disney and oversees their production slate.  The film is gorgeous, and despite the use of CGI animation it really feels like it pays homage to the old Disney fairytale films that made that place such a powerhouse. 
I think that they did a really lovely job of taking the foundation of the Rapunzel story and turning it into an epic tale.  I liked what they did with the magic and the hair and it's connection to the witch, I thought that was really smart.  And I liked how connected everything was to the main storyline of her being a lost princess.  The characters were really excellent, particular the non-speaking roles of the horse Maximus and the little chameleon dude.  Eugene and Rapunzel are a really fantastic pair and you really root for them.  The fact that she beats the hell out of him when he climbs up his tower really sets the tone for the flick (wonderful reoccurring gag with the frying pan as well).  Mandy Moore is delightful as our heroine and you develop a bit of a crush on her as the girl, and then you're downright smitten with her by the time she has her transformation at the end.
I thought that this was a really great flick and it's the kind that I look forward to showing my kids once they're old enough for it.  I'm looking forward to whatever else Disney kicks out under Lasseter's direction as well. 

1670 - Frosty the Snowman

Got up this morning and Ephraim wanted to watch something, so I took the chance to introduce him to this.  I remember it from my own childhood, but... well... I guess some things age really well and some age just okay.  There are some cute little moments for the adults, but for some reason I just remember this seeming like a much more grand adventure.  Little things that drove me nuts were the inconsistency of what Frosty knew about and didn't.  He had no clue about traffic lights, etc... but he seems to be well aware that there's such a thing as a President of the United States.  I realize this is just a 'silly little kids film' but come on, have some consistency of character.
Ephraim seemed to like it, so by children's standards I think it still holds up just fine.  Not sure I ever need to revisit it again myself though.  If you've never seen it... I don't know... your call :)
The DVD we have features a sequel with the voice talents of John Goodman and Elisabeth Moss (way before Mad Men) so I might watch that just based on them being in it. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

1669 - Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

It's been a long long time since I've seen this and I watched it with my nephews last night.  Ephraim got it, along with some other great classics for Christmas, so I'm sure I'll revisit this and those at some point as well.  I'd seen this so many times as a kid that the story, songs, and characters are really etched into my brain.  I love the dentist elf, love the island of misfits, and just the claymation style in particular.  This is one of those classics that if you haven't seen, and especially if you've got kids, you really need to check it out.  It's not on netflix, sadly, but I think you can find a copy on DVD fairly easily, and they play the hell out of it on television around the holiday season.  Might still be able to find it this week actually...
And believe it or not there is a Wii game of this film.  Here's a review for it here.  Apparently it's terrible :)

1668 - Dreamworks Holiday Classics

Ephraim was up at 4:30am on Christmas morning, and while I don't agree in using television as a babysitter I'm more than happy, from time to time, to curl up with him and watch something that will keep him occupied in the wee hours of the morning and me not having to think too much :)  Given the morning that it was, this seemed like a pretty good option.  Four in the series, my thoughts below:

Merry Madagascar
I've only seen the first film in this series, but what I thought was particularly impressive was how they were able to weave this story into the continuity of the series - play to their big goal while ending in a place that puts them exactly where they started.  This is actually a really solid companion piece in addition to being a nice little Christmas short.

Donkey's Christmas Shrek Spectacular
This was kind of lame, and easily the worst of these four by a wide margin.  I don't think they even bothered to try to string together a storyline, mostly just a few clever sight gags.  Should Ephraim be interested I could revisit the others in this series, but much like Coppola's installment in New York Stories, this is the one I'll skip on repeat viewings. 

Dragons: Gift Night Fury
I've only seen bits and pieces from How to Train Your Dragon but enough to know that they did some pretty wonderful things with the world here.  Much like the first Madagascar one they did a really great job of telling an awesome story that really fit the themes of this world, and still being able to return it to where the story was when we first came in.  Makes me want to try and watch the entire film.

Madagascar Penguins
I know that the penguins were some of the break out characters of this series, and I enjoy them but never loved them the way that some do.  This one falls under the good, not great category. 

Over-all it's the first Madagascar and Dragons that are really quite good and worth seeing if you're a fan of the films that inspired them.  The others, sure if you've got the time and interest.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

1667 - Scrooged

This is one of my favorites and has been since I was a kid.  It's funny, I grew up watching this on television, which was edited down for time and so now that I've got the DVD of it, it still feels odd to see the extra scenes - like they aren't supposed to be there.
This film has a wonderful darkness to it and it really is one of the great dark comedies.  I love how accurate they stay to the Christmas Carol story and yet how free form they are in their interpretation.  Bill Murray is fantastic here - a joy from start to finish.  Carole Kane is probably my favourite amongst the ghosts.
It's probably too late given that tomorrow is Christmas, however if you've never seen this film you really owe it to yourself to check it out - as much as it's a Christmas classic, it's just pure classic as well. 
Happy holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2011

1666 - Tiny Furniture

I remembered there being some buzz about this film when it was first being released so I was pretty excited to see it end up on netflix.  This is my first intro into Lena Dunham, but she seems to be doing pretty well for herself - on top of this successful indie she's got a series in the works at HBO with Judd Apatow.  No small feat.
It's hard to describe this film without resorting to the cliches - it's a coming of age story about a girl who thinks her life is far more tragic than it is.  Now that sounds like it's terrible but it's truly not.  Dunham is always aware whenever her character is acting a little out of sorts and the scenes play accordingly.  She has absolutely no issue making herself the butt of the joke - all to our pleasure.  This could have been a terribly pretentious film but thanks to the vision of the film it actually works quite well.  There are loads of stuff that's never truly resolved and it's got a, more or less, anticlimactic and somewhat unsatisfactory ending, but there's some really lovely stuff in and amongst all of that.  Dunham is also exciting as an actress and you really do find yourself falling for this woman as the film goes along. 
If you're not into somewhat arty films you won't like this at all, and if you're into really arty films this might not be your bag either.  If you live somewhere in between those two than you might just want to give it a try.  I'm glad I did.

1665 - Community: season one

I'm late to this show, clearly, but it's without a doubt one of my favourite television comedies.  The writing on this show is pretty goddamn amazing, and it features what is probably the strongest comedy ensemble cast currently on air.  Each character on this show is absolutely dynamite and no matter what the combination you put them with, pure gold comes out of it.  I could write a paragraph on each of them but I think that the surprise stand-outs are Abed (Danny Pudi) and Troy (Donald Glover).  And I'd by lying if I didn't admit to having a massive crush on both Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie.  And it's not just because they are both extremely beautiful ladies, but more so because their comic timing is absolutely impeccable.  Both stand-out stars in every regard.
One of the running things I love about this show is it's use of vintage pop-culture, but also it's style of comedy - it's extremely self-aware, more so than any show I've ever seen.  As the show went on they got more free-form with the style and starting importing other genres in to play around with - it looks like they get even crazier with that as the show continues on. 
I'm really looking forward to catching up with the rest of this series.  That is the one benefit to coming to a show late is that you can really indulge in a pile of greatness as opposed to having to wait week after week.
If you love good solid comedy there might not be a better series than this for it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

1664 - The Muppet Christmas Carol

It's funny, having revisited a lot of the Muppet collection recently this may very well be one of my favorite among them.  I think the original is still tops, but this might be my second favorite (will confirm that when I revisit the newest film...).
I was a teenager when my mother passed away at Christmas time and so it was always a bit of a gloomy time of year for me, but if nothing else this was one of those films that could always put a smile on my face and get me into the holiday spirit.  I really do need to find a DVD version of the film as my VHS is starting to get a tad worn...
If you've never seen this it's a real treat - it stays extremely true to the Dicken's story and is easily the Muppet's best (and probably only good) adaptation of a classic work.  Full of catchy and delightful music, and a really solid performance from Michael Caine, this is a holiday classic that you just can't miss.  I love it to pieces!

Fables #16: Super Team

I'll be honest, I hate the title for this volume - I get why they use it, but it just feels odd for the Fables universe to go here in the superhero parallel - mostly because it opens up a bit of a hornet's nest to me... because how Fables works is that the characters are from works of fiction that runs the gamut and the globe - anything and everything is up for grabs so long as it's a created character, really... so technically Superheroes are Fables as well in a way... am I right?  I don't think that Fables are subject only to fairy tale characters... although I guess it's pointless to hang onto this... I digress...
So this volume finds our friends getting ready to take down Mr. Dark for once and all, and Pinocchio takes a page out of superhero comics to assemble the perfect team to do so.  There's some fun to be had in it, but it doesn't really amount to anything and it's really just a way of filling time until the (anti-climatic) show-down.  Being that this is the sixteenth book of a series I think I'll have to throw down the SPOILER WARNING and talk more in depth about the volume below...

First off, I quite liked this volume.  I liked the story between Bigby and his father and the set-up to what's to come down the pipe, however I feel a bit cheated... if the North Wind could have come in and defeated Mr. Dark so easily at any time, why did it take this long?  It feels like for all the set-up and devastation that it was a really easy fix.  Although who knows... maybe that story isn't quite over... after all the (now smoking hot) Mrs. Spratt is still kicking around and maybe she's got something up her sleeve.  I'm still enjoying these books but I can't help but feel like we're getting to a point where they're not going to have anywhere interesting to go... I hope that Willingham has some new core-conflict up his sleeve to propel us into the next big arc(s), but it's feeling like it's going to start retreading.  Gepetto is going to try and start another uprising, etc... Right now the series is quite good, but I want it to be great again... Here's hoping...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent

There is something about Brubaker's writing in this series that is just so silky smooth.  It feels effortless, perfect even.  Not being up on all the top crime writers I can't imagine that Brubaker isn't high among them.  He plays the noir genre like his instrument of choice and even though we know the rules of the game, he still delights us with his turns.  This volume is about a man who decides to murder his rich, cheating wife and pin it on another man.  Now we know that in the world of noir crime never pays, but Brubaker likes to take liberties with the rules, and he doesn't always make people pay in the way you'd expect…
And what they do in this particular story is telling a really fucked up version of Archie, really.  If you're familiar with that gang you'll see how each of those characters translates to the characters here and it's really quite well done - even down to the imitation art work used to show the flashbacks. 
I absolutely love this series and I hope that Brubaker has many many more of these in store.  I know that someone is currently adapting the first trade of Criminal into a film, but I'd love to see the whole world done up properly. 
If you're a fan of noir, crime fiction, or just solid writing in general, do yourself a favour and read this series.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Walking Dead - Vol 15: We Find Ourselves

I can't lie - I much preferred it when I was behind on his series and I could read it in spurts.  It's painful having to wait for each new trade to come out.  And if Kirkman is telling the truth about wanting this series to go all the way to issue #300, then we've got literally decades to go with this story.  That's twenty-five years at the rate this comic gets published.  Boggles the mind.
So this particular volume comes on the heels of a great catastrophe wherein the "secured village" was overrun by Walkers and despite an awesome battle, almost no one was lost on the human side, and in true Walking Dead fashion the ones that did died did so in ways that were wonderfully horrifying. 
There's a lot of criticism that this issue didn't have a lot going on.  And to be fair, it didn't.  I think that the whole thing takes place over the course of a single day, but it's also very much a hallway to whatever's going to come next.  The writes of the television series would do good to study this issue to see just how well they deal with the psychology of everyone and how they function within the group. 
I liked this issue a lot - while a shortage of truly exciting set pieces I was happy enough to spend time with these people as they try and figure out just what kind of life they can and should rebuild.  How they should and shouldn't feel about certain things… 
I have no idea where they'll go next, but I'm super excited that Kirkman already has several years worth of material to pour through.  The next volume can't come fast enough for my liking.

Monday, December 19, 2011

1663 - Dexter: season six

So we're six seasons in, which means that this review is going to be extremely SPOILER HEAVY.  If you want to know my thoughts on previous seasons, click the link at the bottom of this.
Let's get the worst of it out of the way… this was a terrible season of Dexter.  I'll defend the last (Lumen) season quite a bit, but I have a hard time doing so here.  That's not to say that the entire thing was worthless.  Mos Def was a great addition to the cast - shame he wasn't used more - and there was a lot of fun in having Dexter's deadly brother take over for Harry as his voice-over partner in the middle of the season.  I don't know about others, but I hate the Harry character (he was absent in the season finale - thankfully), he seems to be there just so that the writers can fill in bad exposition.  Often they misuse the voice-over to do the same thing. I don't like to think that the writers think we're idiots but… well… you listen and tell me what you think.
The big-bads this season was pretty lame.  I like the idea of tackling a religious fanatic, but it was pretty clear, pretty early on that Gellar was not alive and just a figment of Travis' imagination.  But it treaded along and then tried to shock us with the reveal, which was just kind of sad by that point.  I think that they tried too hard to make Dexter feel a personal connection to the killer, whereas other seasons it was quite organic.  This felt like a stretch, and a majority of this season felt like filler.  There were some great moments - the four horsemen, etc… but all-in-all it felt like they were treading water.
Have I written the show off?  No.  Because they've made a great move at the end.  First, I'm curious as to where they're going to go with creepy Louis.  But, as everyone is, I really can't wait to see how they deal with Deb having witnessed Dexter killing Travis.  On one hand she's going to be relieved that the DDK case will be closed, but on the other hand, she's just found out something about her brother that's going to change their relationship far more than them hooking up romantically.  Rita's death was a huge shock, and a great one, but this is actually a far better game-changing-ending for the season.  Lots of different ways that it can go, so it'll be interesting to see what they do with it.  This could be a chance for the show to return to greatness, putting Dexter under intense pressure, or they could just as easily screw it up the way that they have the rest of the season.  We'll have to wait till next fall to find out.  With at least two more seasons left the show has an opportunity to go out on a great note, or just slowly die.  Hopefully it's the former. 
If the writer's are reading this I have but one request for next season - kill Quinn - and make that annoying asshole suffer.  LaGuerta can go too if you'd like.  Oh, and find a purpose for that new detective 'cause he just kind of stood around this season.  Boring.  Touch Jennifer Carpenter and we'll have issues - I'll probably stop watching.  She annoyed me when the series began, but over the last few seasons she's shown how talented she is, especially in this season finale when she's battling her feelings.  I'm fine with an incest subplot so long as they keep Carpenter around.
So all in all, a very very bad season, but I think that there could be light at the end of the tunnel.  Or it's an on-coming train.  We'll see...

Walks With Men

It's pretty random how I decide to read a book.  Sometimes it's recommended or loaned, but by and large it's because I saw it on a list somewhere and decided to throw it on my library list.  Most often I'm wonderfully surprised (books usually end up on lists for a reason, right?)  But I can't recall how this book got on my list, nor anyone else's… To be fair it's by no means terrible.  The writing itself flows quite nicely, and luckily it's more a novella than anything else, clocking in just around a hundred pages or so, but it's a story that I would classify under "first world problems".  It's about a lazy writer who is uninspired and two relationships she has with men who couldn't be more different.  If that doesn't get you super excited I'm not surprised.  It flows along, has some interesting thoughts, but that's about it.  And even at it's short length I find it hard to recommend.  The author has a slew of books, so I assume that she has a following of some kind, but I found this pretty uneventful and unnecessary.  I can't say that I myself write anything that's life-changing or vastly important, but I was hard pressed to even find a story within these pages.  Felt more like a random selection of scenes cut out of the life of someone who wasn't all that interesting to begin with. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

1662 - Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy

Having been an Apple nerd for as long as I even knew that it was an option to be so, I know the history of the company, the great quotes, etc... so I wanted to watch this to see if there was anything new, some amazing new insight...
Not so much.  The tv-doc often yadda-yadda's through what appear to be some of the more interesting aspects of the stories, and ultimately it only feels like the coles notes.  Never really focusing on anything, outside of the theory that it's that he kept to his hippy roots that made him the success that he was - and perhaps that's true - but it's no big amazing moment to reveal such a thing.
If you're a casual Jobs admirer than this might interest you and give you more to learn about - but if you're an Apple nerd chances are that you already know more of the stuff that they discuss in here.  Not a terribly television documentary, but nothing amazing - mostly feels like they're cashing in.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

1661 - The Family Man

It's been a good many years since I've seen this film, but decided to watch it while doing some Christmas wrapping since it has a vague connection to the holiday season.  For those who haven't seen it it's about a workaholic who magically gets to experience what his life would have been had the one-that-got-away, not gotten away, and he not been a workaholic.  It never hurts when your wife is played by Tea Leoni either.
There's an awful lot to like about this film from the performances to the themes.  In terms of logic and plotting, just let that slide - it's a maturation plot type film so that's the key here.  The chemistry between Cage and Leoni is really quite excellent and there are some sequences with the daughter character that, while potentially cheesy, are pretty damn warm and lovely. 
If you've never seen it, it's worth your time to check it out - it's up on netflix as well, so no excuses people!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I couldn't help but use the above photo to represent this book because it's exactly how I felt about it.  Oh how I loved the beginning of this book.  It starts out as the story of a twenty-something who ends up having to raise his young brother after both their parents die within weeks of one another.  A great premise - one that I'll borrow thank you very much - and the first hundred or so pages are really quite wonderful.  But then as the book moves along it starts to become a lot more about Eggers and his desire to start his own magazine and how that will work, he tries to get on The Real World San Francisco, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I don't care about because what I really truly cared about in this book was the story of the family, and so whenever that was absent, so was I.  There's a lot of really fun self-referential stuff going on in the style of the book, but my problem is that as he's mocking himself for being a tad pretentious, he comes off as absolutely pretentious in such a bizarre way.  I absolutely loved the first half of this book and absolutely had to force myself to continue through-out it's second half.  Don't get me wrong, Eggers is a talented writer, he's able to keep you going and the man knows how to turn a phrase, but this book lacks focus and it's poorer for it, which is a shame since it's first half shows such promise.  It's a hard one for me to recommend to be honest, but I wouldn't tell you not to read it should you be interested.  How's that for being slightly passive-aggressive?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

1660 - The Myth of the American Sleepover

I remember having seen the trailer for this some time ago and being intrigued.  It's an ensemble piece following a group of teenagers on their last day of summer before school resumes.  It's a very subdued style and it takes it sweet time.  Like teenagers themselves it's a tad bit moody and mysterious.  Lots of restraint here. 
Without going into details and spoiling anything I'll say that the film is full of a lot of really great performances by an unknown cast, however I was far more connected to some stories than others.  Not to say that it's hit or miss by any means, it's just not the kind of film where you're gung-ho for anyone in particular.
If you like coming-of-age stories this one is pretty decent.  It's the kind of film Altman might have made if he'd be interested in teenagers.  It's on netflix should you be so inclined. 

1659 - Red State

I have to say that if I hadn't seen the credits for this film I would never guess that it was made by Kevin Smith.  Once you deconstruct it it starts to make sense to some degree - the religious commentary, the long-heavy handed speeches, but visually and performance wise this is nothing like a typical Kevin Smith film.  For those who don't know, it's the story of a Fred Phelps type cult and the random events that lead to them being taken down. 
There is an immediacy to this film that we haven't seen from his other work.  And it's refreshingly non-predictable.  It could go anywhere at any moment and it feels extremely true to life.  We're not following a character so much as we're following the details of a situation. 
The cast here is pretty damn impressive, and most of them are gone as quickly as they come.  We've got a lot of televisions best performers here in quick roles, but no one steals the show quite like Michael Parks (John Goodman isn't too damn shabby himself).  Parks is the character and as much as you despite him, you're enthralled.  The real beauty of this film is how you emotionally shift perspectives while watching it - no small feat. 
While completely different from most of Smith's work, it's something that really shows us how goddamn great he could be - especially coming off of such a stinker as Cop Out.  He's reportedly retiring in the very near future, which is sad considering how strong of a filmmaker he's becoming.
I wasn't expecting to like this film at all, but it's quite good.  It really grabs you and pulls you along for a ride.  Well done, Smitty.

1658 - Louie C.K.: Chewed Up

It was an early morning in my house.  Our newborn was not wanting to sleep so I took the little bundle of joy into the man-cave and as she dozed away in my arms I noticed that netflix had one of Louie's older specials, so I dove right the hell in!
I've seen a lot of this special over the years from clips here and there, a lot of them are on YouTube.  A lot of what I could say here I already said in the review I did yesterday for Louie's newest special.  Louie is my favorite stand-up because I think he speaks to me, and he represents me in a way that no other does.  In the way he talks about the horrible things that he thinks, the way he acts or doesn't act.  How he realizes how awesome it is to be a white male, to the way he worries about his children.  If there's a funnier, more thoughtful comedian working today please let me know, 'cause for my money, Louie is the tops.  I'll watch absolutely anything he does.

Monday, December 12, 2011

1657 - Louis C.K.: Live At The Beacon Theater

Readers of this blog will know that I've got a lot of love for Louie CK.  He is without a doubt my favorite stand-up, and he currently has what is probably my favorite television series.  As a creative force Louis CK is more or less untouchable right now and I for one sure as hell hope it stays that way.  He's a man who is unafraid to work his ass off - to throw away an entire years worth of material and start again each year from scratch.  He's a true professional. 
Before I get into the meat of this particular show, know that Louis himself put up all the money for the show, he paid the crew, the theatre, and to distribute it he's doing it himself through his website.  And how much does it cost?  $5. That's right, by going around the middle men he's giving it to us for a low, low price (probably the profit he'd make from it anyway... actually that's probably more than he'd make from it).  A lot of his professional friends have given him shit and said that doing it this way will make it easy for people to torrent, but Louie is trying to see if people are given something they want, at a fair price, from the artist them-self, if they'll be decent and buy it.  I sure as hell did.  So if you want to as well, here is the link right here.  Please don't steal it, it's so damn cheap. 
Now, for the special itself.  It's fantastic.  The style of it is exactly in keeping with Louie's show, and uses that as his credit bed.  The material he covers is stuff that makes me feel like he's walking around inside of my head.  If I were a stand-up, I would cover similar material to Louie, I probably just wouldn't do it as well.  He talks about a kid that's in his daughter's class that he absolutely hates, how his grandmother donated her body to science, and how men have no choice but to be dirty pigs.  It's a burden!  And what's amazing about Louie's style is that he does all this as if the stuff is just coming to him.  He seems like he's pulling it out of thin air, while you know that it's a heavily crafted act - this man knows how to play an audience and a joke, he's playing a violin making it look like it's a recorder.  There is so much skill and thought put into it that, like a magician, you never see how the trick works.
When talking about him with a co-worker today they said that Louie CK is on his way to becoming one of the greats.  I disagreed.  I think that he already is one.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Book of Lost Things

I bought this book years ago, the cover drew me in and I think I skimmed the first chapter, and so I picked it up on a complete whim, and now that I'm on my mission to read all the books I've accumulated over the years, I've finally got to it!
So I should start by saying that it's pretty damn rare that a book gets me emotional at all, it's even rarer that it makes me cry, and not only did this book do that - but it did it on page six, on the subway.  Congrats John Connolly, that was no easy feat.
It doesn't hurt that the opening pages are discussing a teenage boy going through the process of watching his mother die to disease, which is a story I know all too well myself, but still the way that it's written is just pure beauty.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the author has a similar background in how he just nailed the honest emotions and thoughts of it.  It's truly amazing. 
On the surface this is the story of an angry teenager who ends up in a fantasy world and needs to find his way home, but underneath it's a book about a child becoming a man, and dealing with life and death and the feelings that come with it.  It is a powerful damn book, but it's also wonderfully entertaining.  The fantasy world is a hodge-podge of all the fairy tale characters that we know and love, but re-imagined in a way that so fits with the tone and style of this book.  It's not really a children's story at all, it's barely a teenager's story, although they would enjoy it.  It's a rare treasure and a treat and I highly recommend it.  The paperback version also comes with over a hundred pages of appendices explaining the research he did, and the back story to the fairy tales he used - pretty interesting stuff. 
If you love fantasy, you'll love this, and if you hate fantasy but love great coming of age stories, I don't think the fantasy stuff will bother you one bit.  It's a great read.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

1656 - It's Always Sunny in Philidephia: season six

So I got distracted by life and totally missed an entire season of this show (and apparently missed comment on seasons four and five as well - my bad). So now I'm playing catch-up so that I can get to the seventh season to see what's going on with Fat Mac.
This is a show that's been described as Seinfeld-on-crack, and I don't think that's a terrible description of it by any means.  At one point I considered writing a spec for this series and all my ideas stemmed from title ideas, which are a highlight on this series.  This season included "Mac Fights Gay Marriage", "Who Got Dee Pregnant?", and "The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods" to name but a few.  I liked how this season had a few carry over stories, like Dennis getting married - Dee and Charlie working at the school - Dee's pregnancy.  The extra continuity adds to the fun, I think, even though this series works quite well in it's standalone nature. 
I've already written about the Christmas special which ended this season (pure wonderfulness), so click on the tags below for that.
There's a lot to like about this show and it truly is a unique and original show that takes from successful shows of the past and really makes it their own.  The FX comedy model is a great one and I think we'd do well to do a similar one here in Canada.  If you haven't caught onto this show yet and you like your comedy on the dark side of things, this is a no-brainer.  Check it out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

1655 - Talking Funny

Ricky Gervais has a pretty great career at this point.  He's in a place where he can, more or less, do whatever he wants and more importantly do things that amuse him.  He even says that in this special, that he's not an every man, but there are enough people out there that respond to what he does, that he's able to be successful at it.  And here he's assembled some of the top comedy minds to talk with him for an HBO special.  Clever man, doing something he wants to do anyway and get paid for it.  So as you can see above he's with Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and my personal favorite of the group, Louis CK. 
For something that is really just four people sitting around talking this is a very very fast moving hour long special.  What I especially love about these four is how individually gifted they are, but how much they respect each other's opinions.  I love the different sides of the different topics.  I love listening to them and how they work their material and how much care and craft they put into it.
For any lover of comedy, and especially students of it, this is absolutely required viewing. 

Monday, December 05, 2011

1654 - How to Lose Your Lover

One of my new favorite ways to pick which film to watch is to chose randomly via Netflix in the made-up-categories.  As a fan of both Jennifer Westfeldt & Paul Schneider it wasn't hard to get me to want this.  A guy gets tired of living in L.A. and so decides to destroy his life there, but on the way out of town he meets the seemingly perfect woman and decides to stick around to test her out and deciding to be his true self and see if she'd still want to stick around.
This really is quite the charming and sweet film, nothing spectacular but easy to recommend.  I even liked Tori Spelling in it!  If you want a fun alternate indie rom-com, you could do a lot worse than this one.  And if you can't find it under this title the alternate is 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

1653 - The Muppets Take Manhattan

Found the above photo and couldn't help but use it.  Ephraim and I got through these a lot faster than I thought we were, even though we watched them in sections.  I remember not being particularly fond of this one as a kid.  It's my wife's favorite, and I think it was the first film she saw in the theatre.  I guess for me it just didn't feel big enough - most of it takes place in a diner and the gang is more or less broken up for the majority of the film.  Not to mention they all disband and leave Kermit to carry the heavy load, essentially saying, "We're all going to move on with our lives, but give us a shout if you so happen to find a way to make us all rich and famous".  Kind of makes them all assholes, really... and there are just too many easy plot moves at the end.  Kermit's amnesia is great but them finding him is way too easy.  I know this is a kid's film, but I still think the storytelling was just a tad weak in this one.  Also... I kind of think Miss Piggy is annoying... there, I said it.  And so any time she's mad at him for being with another woman, I kind of like it... :)
I'm railing on this one a bit, but I still enjoyed it enough, it's just not a great film.  I still think that the first one is the strongest of the original three, and I've got a better appreciation of the newest one as well, which I'm going to try and revisit sooner rather than later...

Friday, December 02, 2011

1652 - The Big C: season two

The first season ended on quite the gut-punch that could have easily been a finale - it was ridiculously strong and made me weep like a child with a skinned knee.  This season ended on a different kind of kick to the gut - but I'll get to that.  And, clearly, here's your SPOILER warning up front. 

I think this show has improved quite a bit.  The first season was good, but this one really stepped it up a notch.  I like that their relationships are moving in new directions and that they don't just keep beating the same horse.  The stuff with the brother and the baby was solid and heartbreaking.  Wonder if we'll see the lovely Cynthia Nixon again.  I like her a lot.  I loved that we saw Cathy dealing with her cancer and getting involved in other patients.  I loved her relationship with her son and husband.  I was meh on the son's sexual issues and felt like the Parker Posey storyline died way too fast.  But the worst storyline, or worst two, come off of the same new character - Mick.  The storyline with Andrea was clearly obvious from the get-go and she was a smarter person than that for it to have never come up.  And the cocaine thing just didn't feel like it fit at all... In fact, if they really have decided to kill Oliver Platt off then they've made a seriously bizarre choice.  He's a great actor and addition to the cast.  Although it would create an interesting dynamic - everyone has been working to mentally prepare for Cathy's death, but it's a death that they weren't expecting that they have to deal with - that I think is quite interesting.  They've renewed the series for another go-around so I suppose we'll get to see how they play it out.  I'll be there. 

All in all a solid season for a show that continues to improve.  Give it a whirl - both seasons are on Netflix.

1651- Melinda & Melinda

This is probably one of my favorite posters for a Woody film.  I don't know why I wanted to revisit this one, but here I am.  It really isn't one of Woody's finer films by any means.  The premise is very interesting - can a story (and therefore any story) be a drama or a comedy based on how it's told?  The film follows parallel story lines with only Radha Mitchell's Melinda carrying over from one to the other.  Great premise, years ago I thought about writing something like this, I think I still might at some point as my take would be a quite different.  I think the main problem with this film is the casting is wrong and, honestly, doesn't really work.  He'd originally planned it for Winona Ryder and Robert Downey Jr, and I think that would have worked a lot better.  The dialogue feels written and a bit stilted here, and I don't think it's overly different from the majority of Allen's writing, so I'm going to blame the cast.  This film came on the backend of a series of films that were not so successful for Woody and so he probably didn't have his usual situation where he could re-cast and re-shoot stuff if needed.  Luckily we're back into a golden age for Woody and shouldn't have to have those kinds of things hurting his films and process.
So this isn't essential Woody - it's got a great premise and a few enjoyable scenes and moments, but it feels cold and empty, sadly.  Not one of his worst films by any means, it hovers somewhere in the middle.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

1650 - Bullets Over Broadway

So for my second film of my Woody Allen birthday fest I've picked something from the same time period as the previous one.  Woody had his a stride around this time in the early-mid nineties with a lot of solid comedies.  I think he went through a period of wanting to do lighter material, perhaps in response to his personal life being a bit heavy - although, what's the point in assuming?  Let's talk about the film!
John Cusack stars as a pretentious playwright who opens the film declaring "I'm an artist!".  He's had two flops on broadway which were, obviously, the director's fault.  This time he's going to direct - but the only way that his producer can get someone to finance the film is if he's willing to cast a mobster's girlfriend in the show - and she just happens to be an absolutely terrible actor.  It's such a great premise and it's an even better film - especially once the bodyguard meant to protect the girlfriend turns out to be the only true artist and we see just how far he's willing to go to make a great piece of art.  It's chock full of phenomenal performances, great plot turns, and clever lines.  In terms of story it might be one of Woody's more clear-cut films - and perhaps that's more to do with his co-writer than himself, but it's a really great example of comedy through character and situation.  It's bizarre to think that this film is almost twenty years old now (probably because it just makes me feel old), but it's another one of the classic Woody films that if you haven't seen, you really owe it to yourself to check out.

1649 - Mighty Aphrodite

Today is Woody's birthday and so I'm celebrating with a little mini-fest - helps that we've got a newborn and we're kind of planted into the house.  I wanted to watch some of his films that I haven't seen in awhile.  I've got all of his films, but a good chunk of them are only on VHS, which I hadn't hooked up to my big TV since I bought it over a year ago, so this was a good enough reason.
This is the story of a man who has an adopted son that is amazing and wonders where the good genes came from, so he goes in search of his natural mother and discovers a "hooker with a heart of gold" played brilliantly by Mira Sorvino in her Oscar Winning performance.  And to boot the whole thing is narrated by a greek choir.  It's awesome.  I'm the kind of guy who always finds something to like in anything Woody does, however I can't imagine how people could trash this one - it's nice and light, but smart and ridiculously funny.  I'd never be able to do a Woody top-ten last (that would only be a quarter of his films), but this one easily ranks high amongst his pure comedies.  It's solid gold.  If you've never seen it do yourself a favor and check it out.  It's another reminder of why I need to fully update my Woody Allen collection to DVD/Bluray.

1648 - The Great Muppet Caper

One benefit to our two-year old being an earlier riser is that I can revisit some of my favorite childhood films, and he's really starting to take a shine to the Muppets, in particular Sweetums :) (no, I don't park my kid in front of the television as a first resort - and when I do I watch with him and we talk about what we're watching - which is even more fun to get the commentary from a small child).
I still prefer the original film to this one, but what this one does really well is steps up just what the Muppets can do and how they can function in the real world (almost to the point where it seems like they might be showing off just a little bit - nothing wrong with that). 
I've never been a Charles Grodin fan and he just feels awkward here.  He's probably the only weak spot to the entire film for me.  The songs here are really quite good.  I didn't get to really intensely watch the film as I was also playing with blocks at the time :)  But from the majority I was able to focus on it's still as good as it ever was.  Lovely to be able to revisit these films :)