Monday, June 10, 2013

Cinema Babble: Abra-cadabra, baby

The Flick: Now You See Me

The Peeps: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Four street-magicians receive an offer they can't refuse: go into training with a mysterious (as in, they never meet the person) benefactor, who is grooming them to take on Vegas, baby! Each has a specialty and a past. Each is longing for the big time. But what is really behind all the magic? As world famous debunker and ex-magician, Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) puts it 'Look closely, because the closer you look, the less you see.'

The Grading Session: 4.79 pengies out of 5. The laws of physics simply do not apply within the confines of this flick. And, as long as you are cool with that, you won't find any  flaws in this movie. The special effects awe and make you scratch your head. Isn't that what magic is supposed to do? But, in the end, perhaps it is best to look at this- literally- as  a caper-movie, dressed up with amazing segues and frustratingly inexplicable change-ups. I, myself, adore a good caper film, and this one dovetails nicely with my current library of faves. The cast plays to their individual strengths- no one does all-knowing and mysterious better than Freeman, or slow-burn, skeptical Everyman better than Ruffalo. But each gets to chip in their unique spin on their role, and that makes it a treat to the eyes and the funny bone.

Lessons Learned: Oh, you mean, aside from the Freemanism above? Well, how about this coat-tail rider: what you see is not necessarily what you  get. Then this: time does nothing to erase the desire for payback. On the contrary, it tends to whet the appetite even more with the passing of time, adding little tiddly-pums and curlyques...which the paid-back will definitely not enjoy.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Biblio Babble: Very...Out There...But Intriguing

The Read: What The Family Needed

The Writer: Steven Amsterdam

The Dealio: Initially, it is really hard to say what the dealio is here. We are introduced to an extended family. One part: comprised of mom, Ruth, (AKA Queen of Drama), her daughter Giordana and son Ben. The other half is made up of Natalie and Peter, (the 'rents) and Sasha and Alek, their sons. From the first moment this family is reunited, it is clear that turbulent waters surround each and every member. Alek is the most obviously...untypical. His first question, upon reuniting with his cousins is, 'OK, if you could have one super power, would it be flying or invisibility?' The cuzzes go along with it. And that's apparently that. Until Giordana finds herself able to render herself invisible. Over time, all sorts of powers appear and are developed, custom-chosen for each recipient. Just when they are most needed. Do they then run around, using their new powers to fight crime and right wrongs? Nope. OK, well, Ben does try, but with no satisfactory results. But what they do get is exactly what each needs most.

The Grading Session: 4.12 pengies out of 5. Heavily downgraded from 5 pengies solely because the sudden transitions in time, character and place are diffcult to follow. Part of that, no doubt, has to do with the fact that I did not read read this novel, but listened to it on MP3, which tends to cut off portions of lead-off words. But, in the home stretch, everything begins to fall into place, and a sweet sort of sighing acceptance as all the wonder settles in for a stay that lasts until the last words.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes people are heavily medicated into pathology. Not through any malice aforethought, but simply because the peeps responsible just do not know what else to do. Also this: a gift is given with the hope that it is used, developed and employed wisely. Try to remember this- especially around the holidays. Lastly this, as my brother Gregg once said, 'Family is everything.' Thanks, Gregg, for the reminder.

Cinema Babble: Absolutely Stunning Art

The Flick: Epic

The Voice Talent: Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Jason Sudeikis, Chris O'Dowd, Aziz Ansari, Pitbull, Beyonce Knowles, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Based on a book by William Joyce (and, OBTW, I am an absolute sucker for both the art and the storyline of this writer's entire catalogue of works) The Leaf Men and The Brave, Good Bugs. This is the story of a girl, MK, who, upon the death of her mother, returns to the middle of nowhere, where her estranged dad lives alone and -in full mad scientist mode- spends his time exploring the microscopic life of the adjacent forest. To the exclusion of all else, may it be said. Her arrival makes a barely perceptable ripple in his existence, although he has thoughtfully made plans for MK to join him in his hunt for the wee creatures who inhabit the countryside. When a weird quirk of fate reduces MK to the size of the aforementioned creatures, she finds herself equal parts Dorothy in Oz and Amelia Earhart. And she- and her dad- are forced to experience the pain and loss of ignoring one world for another.

The Grading Session: 4.919 pengies out of 5. This film is simply one of the most beautifully-executed ever. No detail is too tiny to be fine-tuned. No expression or transition is left to just happen. And the storyline is an important one, too. Alternately, Dad is frustrated by the daughter's skepticism: 'Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.' Daughter, in turn,  is discouraged and saddened by her father's focus on the minuscule creatures of the forest, when she, mourning the loss of her mother, just wants to find her pain eased and be comforted: 'I am right here, Dad! Right here!' Both have much to learn, as do the small ones. Especially the small ones.

Lessons Learned: Ooooh, here's a goodie: 'We are like leaves on a tree: each individual, but all part of the same creation.'  Another one I liked is this: just because you are a slug does not mean you can not act like a Leaf Man. And, lastly this: there is beauty to be found wherever we look...if we only look.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cinema Babble: Whoa!

The Flick: Star Trek: Into Darkness

The Peeps: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto,  Zoe Soldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, etc, etc (etc).

The Dealio: Starting right off with a bang, Kirk and (extremely unintentionally), Spock, violate the primary directive during what is supposed to be just a fact-finding mission. Thus begins a nearly unstoppable action-packed sequel to the Star Trek reboot. Authentic to the brand, with all the gates and touchstones that make Star Trek a legend, even among- or maybe especially among?- those who never saw the TV original, STID flings itself headlong into a perilous and misbegotten series of adventures. Once again, Klingons figure as the main baddies, but there is much more going on here than that. The  addition of Cumerbatch as Khan ratchets up the intensity- but also the involvement of the audience- as he slings himself around the universe, seemingly super-powered and indestructible. A scene where Kirk punches him is classic: both amusing and horrifying at the same time. Everyone has his/her chance to sell it, and most do a really great job. Underutilised is Soldana's Uhuru, though and I do wish that Urban got to do more than offer the occasional snarky punchline. But, I quibble. This is a good and faithful, referential and respectable addition to the Star Trek canon.

The Grading Session: 4.871 pengies out of 5, for the above-mentioned reasons. And, yes, I am looking forward to others in the line-up. As always, your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: If a character walks, talks and acts like a duck, then that person, most def, is a baddie. Um, duck. And, then, too, even Vulcans can make, break and save friends and friendships. It just doesn't look like what we are used to seeing in these instances. Lastly this: what would you do, if you could  put yourself into the place of your friend, and act as he or she would have acted in the same circumstances? I am dizzy just thinking about thinking about this! But the results might be really epic. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cinema Babble: If you only see one movie about the fall of the White House...

The Flick: Olympus Has Fallen

The Peeps: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Ricvk Yune, Dylan McDermott, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, etc, etc.

The Dealio: The White House is taken over and the President is being held captive, while things go from bad to worse throughout the greater DC metroplex. With absolutely no one able  to affect a rescue and with fear and hopeless ruling the day, disgraced former Secret Service agent, Mike Banning (Butler), finds himself the only surviving member of the team to actually be on-site. Driven by the twin demons of failure earlier in the administration, and the desire to save both the President and the country he loves, Banning becomes a one-man spoiler, the monkey in the wrench, the fly in the ointment- as another pain in the butt cinematic law officer once said. Along the way, there are many eye-rolling moments, but also some grippingly tense and engaging ones, too. So, why, do you suppose we need other similar flicks (Summer's White House Down and the now-playing and also available at Walmart mention GI Joe: Retaliation- which we also saw)? Clearly...we don't. So, pick, but choose wisely, because those are two hours you will never get back.

Lessons Learned: Beware the disgruntled former employee, for therein lies the concealed serpent's tooth, which will surely strike when least expected. Also this, learning a subject inside out, upside down and backwards- as we were taught in elementary school- actually can come in handy. You just never know when. Lastly this: if someone is torturing you to learn something you are reluctant to give up, but you think you will survive if you do, just let them kill you outright, 'cause that's how this is always going to end. Always.

Biblio Babble: The Best Book I Ever HEARD

The 'Read': The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Writer: Muriel Barbery

The Dealio: Have you ever heard any book described as a 'coming of age book'? And has that ever referred not only to a 12 year old, but also, and even more movingly, about a 54 year old? May I present The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I came to this book through one called The End of Your Life Book Club, a non-fiction work by Will Schwalbe. And, for reasons I can not now recall, I elected to give this a go as an audiobook. REALLY the best decision, where this book is concerned, because the spoken words, in the talented hands (er, voices) of Cassandra Morris and Barbara Rosenblat was a things of such incredible beauty, humor and intensity, that I am not at all sure just the written word would have had the impact on me that listening in definitely did. OBTW, this was made into a movie in 2011. Which I intwend to investigate pronto.
The story is, on the surface, that of two wildly disparate residents of 7 rue de Grenelle, both of whom are harboring secrets. Twelve year old Paloma Josse is a brilliant, precocious, inwardly rebellious girl who is planning to kill herself on her 13th birthday because life seems to have no meaning. The 54 year old Renee Michelle is the concierge at number 7, and proudly covers her sharp, philosophical agile mind (she is a proud 'auto-didact') behind the very conventions of her job: dull, fat, ugly, plump, stereotypical  and uninspired. Through the course of this beguiling tale- interspersed with reams of philosophy, which can tend to pinch and pluck at the story's progress- we come to find out that these two actually have much in common. Much more than they- or anyone else in the building- could ever believe. But it is the arrival of the mysterious M. Ozu which suddenly throws electricity into the mix prompting all sorts of changes and revelations all sorts of revelations. Barbery is such a beautiful writer, with some great elegance of her own in her graceful and sumptuously delicious  turns of phrase. It was such a treat to listen to her moving and amusing plot lines spool out as the miles whipped by while I drove from locale to locale, that I often found myself  idling in the driveway or parking lot just  to 'finish up' a chapter before going inside.

The Grading Session: 4.997 pengies out of 5. It would have been more, but for the lengthy discourses on philosophical schools of thought that tended to slow the story down a bit. However, I was both unwilling and unready to let this story end.  It was exactly that addictive.

Lessons Learned: Um, you can't judge a book by its cover? How about this, then: it is both unfair and silly to assume you know everything about a person based upon their job or their appearance. Also this: there is much joy in the simplest of things:home-made  madeleines, Japanese films, a cat who listens to you pour out your heart and soul, then goes back to ignoring you once the crisis is past. Lastly this: I simply love it when one book nudges me in the direction of another. Or others! True lagniappe!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cinema Babble: Opening some doors for others...at a cost

The Flick: 42

The Peeps: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford,  T. R. Knight, Nicole Beharie, Christopher  Meloni, Lucas Black, Alan Tudyk, John McGinley, Max Gail, etc.

The Dealio: Branch Rickey (Ford) decides to deliberately integrate the Brooklyn Dodgers. After 'scouting' numerous candidates from the  Negro League,  his attention settles on Jackie Robinson. But this is more than an interesting historical film, or an  involving sports story. This is a chance to slide a not-so-distant event under the microscope and, just maybe, learn how far we have come...or not come. At times, undeniably sugar-coated and anachronistic, the movie has a great heart and some absolutely splendid acting- not least of which came from a person I had never heard of before: Chadwick Boseman (Jackie). An admitted baseball nut in my youth, I recognised so many of the names, and it was fascinating to see them on the screen: living, breathing, scrapping, standing tall,  even being just plain wrong-headed. But, this time, seen without the accepting veil of childhood observations.

The Grading Session: 4.73 pengies out of 5. Is this a perfect movie? Well, I can't think of a single example of that. But, this I do know: here is a film well worth seeing, whether you love America's Sport or break out in hives at the thought of enduring another season under the sun. There is so much to  this story, so many people who played a part- positively or negatively- into making, not just sports, but America, what it is today. Go see this one and learn from it.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes valor lies in not fighting injustice with force and  fists, but with honorable behavior and great strength of character that shames your adversaries by comparison. Also this: if you have achieved much, it is absolutely vital that you pay it forward. Lastly this: if you do something right, but for the wrong reasons, does it count? What do you think?