Friday, December 31, 2010

True Grit

The Film: True Grit

The Actors: That Jeff Bridges fella, Haillie Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, etc.

The Dealio: Stepping into John Wayne's venerable boots, Jeff Bridges portrays Ruben 'Rooster' Cogburn, a dipsomaniacal, eye-patch-wearin' law man, hired by Steinfeld's Mattie Ross to find the man, (Brolin's Tom Chaney), who kilt her daddy. Damon is put forward in what is widely referred to as 'the Glen Campbell role' (though, thankfully, Damon is not required to sing), Texas ranger LaBoeuf- or La Beef, as he prefers. Trotting through Indian territory, this trio of constantly bickering rugged individuals parts ways, makes up and rejoins the hunt and, along the way, learn that how they feel about the bigger issues in life are more alike than not- although their individual methods of pursuing their goals could not be more different. Each also discovers more than they probably cared to about what it takes to survive in the rough and tumble, and then, to go home and live, at peace, with what they had to do to earn that survival.

The Grading Session: Well, if you are looking for a head-to-head taste test of this version against the original, you are bound to be disappointed. I did not see the original, and could not get past the Glen Campbell part when I got it from On Demand. So- for this version, and strictly as a stand alone: 4.81 pengies out of 5. In my book, you just can not get any better than Jeff Bridges, who, most assuredly, will not score a statuette for playing a drunken cowboy two years in a row. But he surely was great. Haillee Steinfeld made a staunch, sassy and somehow, very modern Mattie Ross and was a delight to watch. Hope to see more of her. Damon is always reliable and puts a dandyish, pompous and yet, touchingly vulnerable spin on his officious and vain Texas ranger character. If there were some fractions of points deducted, this was probably because Brolin's Chaney did not make any sense, and remained a blank slate throughout the flick. That, plus the fact that Prendie claims there would not have been enough time to reload a gun in a certain scene. And who would know better than he? So...debit there, Coens. But, otherwise, loved this movie.

Lessons Learned: Hire someone who knows arms to counsel you when you make a movie involving these, so that you can get it right. Also- man! do Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin have horrible teeth! Here's hoping this was effect. Lastly: when have the supreme efforts of two (single) cowpokes ever been a match for one wily, determined 14 year old girl whose mind is made up on something she feels she simply has to do? Well...that'd be, like, never.

The Fighter

The Film: The Fighter

The Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Christian Bale, and an assorted melange of colorfully authentic local peeps.

The Dealio: Micky Ward (Wahlberg) works repairing roads in Lowell, Mass. His real calling, though, is as a fighter. What is referred to as 'a stepping stone'- his in-the-ring encounters result in him kissing canvas while his triumphant opponent moves up a notch in the rankings. His older half bro, Dickey Eklund (Bales), AKA "The Pride of Lowell", is a meth-head brawler and ne'er-do-well who scored one glorious moment by knocking out Sugar Ray (or, as some claim, sharing the ring with Sugar Ray when he slipped and fell). He is also Micky's trainer- when he can pull himself away from the dope and his similarly occupied buddies. Into the mix comes an HBO crew, filming a special. Dickey and his mom believe the subject is the comeback of Dickey to the ring What it actually is, is a cautionary doc about what meth addiction does, not only to the addict, but also to his family- and the small, working-class town that sees him as a chance to spruce up their spotty public image. Adams plays the bartender with some college education, but as messy a past as Micky's present circumstances. Into this highly volatile mix, throw Micky's six sisters, all squarely in Dickey's corner and united in their dislike for 'MTV girl' Adams, (who responds to their label with the pungent rejoinder, 'What the eff does that even mean?'), committed to her man, but also able throw an efficient punch herself, if the occasion calls for it.

The Grading Session: 5.12 pengies out of 5. Based on a true story, this one hits all the benchmarks of a really well-crafted film. It is anchored by outstanding work by Bales- not even recognised by Prendie until the end of the flick- and Leo. Bales amps up the whoo-who! I'm a nutter! side of the character, but also sneaks in touching, tiny grace notes. His quiet persistence in whispering his brother's 'theme song' in his ear as they approach the ring-to choruses of boos from the hostile crowd-was remarkably moving, but so subtle that you could easily miss it if you weren't paying attention. This sort of modulated performance only comes from a truly great actor. But no one here puts a foot wrong; all are riveting and stunning in their turn. And the music is good, too. You should see this one.

Lessons Learned: If HBO shows up at your doorstep, wanting to follow you for a 'special'...find out, first, what, exactly they are documenting. Also- moms really, on average, do not make great managers (Hello? Paging Dina Lohan!). Lastly- do not pick a fight with a fighter's sisters or his girl. Cuz, I promise you this, my friend, you are so goin' down for the count!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The King's Speech

The Flick: The King's Speech

The Actors: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Eve Best, Anthony Andrews, Timothy Spall.

The Dealio: After decades of being regarded as the son with no possibility to inherit the throne- and something of an embarrassment, due to his stutter- "Bertie" assumes the throne of England (very reluctantly, and with the utmost dread) upon his older brother-David's- abdication. Cue "The Woman I Love" speech, which always struck me as being ever so slightly self-indulgent and selfish. Did I say that out loud? My bad.
This is a story with something for everybody. For those Anglophiles, glom on to loads of minutae about the Brit monarchy and richly textured bits and pieces about the jealousies, insecurities, indulgences, and unspeakable-literally-histories of the royals. The entire situation unfolds, very rapidly, at the knife's-edge of WWII. I also like the slyness of the title. Very well done, indeed.

The Grading Session: 5.27 pengies out of 5. If this movie was only enjoyable because of the intriguing-and true- story, that would be plenty. But there is so much more here- not the least of which is the sumptuous joy of seeing Firth and Ehle together on the same screen, where once they caught fire as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.But there is so much more here: the complexities of the post-Victorian British royal family, the push and pull of heart-felt emotions and what the law would permit (most definitely NOT marriage of the next king of England to a twice divorced American!). And, has Rush ever played a boring character?
This movie was a delight from start to finish- wry and sweet, touching on the bonds- and strife- of father and son, the tenterhooks of class distinction and the tenderness of parental- and spousal- love. The casting was absolutely spot on from start to finish- I especially appreciated the great attention to detail in the casting of the children. Wondrous!

Lessons Learned: First that yelling at someone does not necessarily help cure a stutter...but that, oddly, the stutterer yelling-even cussing- at someone- does help minimise the stammer. Next: that I would not have enjoyed life in the limelight of the run-up to WWII. At. All. Lastly: that it is possible to be a loving parent and an excellent king- although, apparently, few have tried both. Lastly: it is touching and yet oddly encouraging to see a man of action, a potential king, feeling uncertain and questioning his ability to lead- even as he steps into the breach and manages to calm a country and lead them with the energy and resolve most people never felt confident he even possessed. Stay calm and carry on; this was the message and it was gorgeously conveyed in this film. You should see this.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


The Watch: Faster

The Perpetrators: Dwayne Johnson (he who used to be The Rock and has since graduated to his real-reel?- name), Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino and a whole bunch of other peeps of varying fame.

The Dealio: Our 'hero' is a guy who is being released from prison after ex number of years. His bro and a motley group of his usual miscreant buds decide to rob a bank and need a wheelman. Bro asks Dwayne- famed, apparently, near and far for his wheel skills- volunteers to help a brother out. Unfortunately, several slimeoid types twig to the plan and boost the haul and, upon the orders of 'the boss', elect to kill off everyone of the original gang. That would be the 'good gang' as opposed to the 'bad gang', or, as I would prefer to call them, 'the scavenging gang'. Intersperse this whole gloopy melange with the flimsiest of plots, and pepper with oodles of gun violence (and some-from a medical standpoint- totally impossible recoveries) and high speed races/chases/escapes/tails, the entire motorised vehicle encyclopedia of mayhem. If you do not figure out who the boss is, and what is going on within the first 15 minutes, I would be shocked and dismayed. I just kept waiting for those who actually participated in the film to cotton onto what was going down. But, no!
OK, so, to sum up, now, out of jail, Driver is bent on revenge and tracks down all the participants in the post robbery bloodletting and elimination of our 'good gang'. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The Grading Session: 1.73 pengies out of 5. There, that's not too terrific, is it? The flaw is not in Dwayne's acting- it is at least on par with Aahnold's and this bonbon , seems, at first blush, custom-tailored to his unique talent-set. The soundtrack was negligible, the characters rife with cliches and stereotypes. No new stuff here. Not even a new twist or spin on the old stuff. Simply a paycheck, I'm guessing.

Lessons Learned: Well, the obvious one would be not to take recommendations from this particular person any more. And also to assure that she gets out more to see, like, some actually good flix.
Next: if early on, someone announces that they have reached the peak with their present employment opportunity and need to look for something that offers a bit more of a rush...and that person is, like, 25 years old: watch out! You are either in the theatre watching The Social Network (wish!), or you are looking at a bad guy who is on shaky territory re: his own personal future. Run out of the theatre, because, with this very self-assessment, I spy yet another yawner of a cliche skimming along the horizon.
Lastly: Dwayne Johnson is, I believe, a capable actor who has done some fine work in the past (Get Shorty, anyone?), but he needs better material and more opportunities to flex his acting versatility, not just his guns. Pronto.

Friday, December 3, 2010


The Read: Atlantic

The Writer: Simon Winchester

The Dealio: OK...I admit it: I have got this huge cerebellum-crush on Simon Winchester. Pretty much everything he writes turns me into cream cheese (exception: The Man Who Loved China). This time, his attention, which is ferocious, is turned towards the mama of all oceans: the Atlantic. Although Winchester cruises through the history of the ocean, and gooses it to life with some lovely 'insider stories' about its misspent youth, this is a tale fully realised. Drama, warfare, the sciences, the arts: it's all there. And I dare you to fine a boring passage throughout.

The Grading Session: 4.91 pengies out of 5. This is a wonderful tale- what I am used to expecting from Winchester: solid research into the historicity of the story, plus the romance, adventure and surprise of what we absolutely think we know about this familiar topic...and do not! PS-The soundtrack is terrific. Kidding. Just checking to see if you are still awake!

Lessons Learned: Numero Uno is that we, humankind, all of us, are totally messing up our natural resources, starting with the Atlantic. Then, too, is the sitch involving the desperation with which our governments are willfully turning a blind eye on our folly. Lastly this: would you go for a lovely fillet of tooth fish or slime head? No? How about Chilean Sea Bass and Orange Roughy, respectively. Never was an advertising campaign waged more effectively to get people out of their seats and buying fishes which were in abundance, but, for some reason, got mis- and unappealingly- labelled.

Friday, November 26, 2010


The Flick: Burlesque

The Peeps: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Kristin Bell, Stanley Tucci, Julianne Hough, Alan Cumming, etc.

The Dealio: Small town orphan-girl moves to big city and is instantaneously enthralled by the setting of Burlesque, a small club which features very well attired, nicely choreographed old school Burley-cue style entertainments, in which a rainbow of feisty gals cavort in gorgeous make-up and pretty snazzy- not to mention skimpy- clothing as they lip sync their way through vintage tunes.
Although it appears that maestro Cher- who appears in every show, singing like, well, Cher- has a winning sitch here, she is apparently bleeding money and has refinanced twice in an effort to save the place from the avarice of her ex-spouse ( Peter Gallagher) and the acquisitiveness of a businessman(Dane) with an eye for development opps and hot tomatoes who do the risque for a living. Yep, Alli ( Aguilera) is hired, and proves to be such a spectacular draw she is saving the place singlehandedly. But, wait: there are a few dusty, time-honored cliches which have not yet been dusted off and tossed into the mix. But they will be. Oh, yes. They. Will. Be. Add in the good hearted dancer who is pregnant by her ambivalent BF, the good-hearted bar keep who is a closet song writer and, of course, let's not forget the soon to be overshadowed feature dancer, who is a lush and malignant in her contempt for everything that isn't, well, her. But, she, too, proves to be hiding- and very well, indeed- a good heart. Oh. Puh-leez.

The Grading Session: 2.17 pengies out of 5. Serious point debit-age for the lackluster, hackneyed and basically coma-inducing soundtrack. Too, if there is a worse crime than wasting Alan Cumming, it must surely be the flagrant misuse of Stanley Tucci (Can't SOMEthing be done about my obsession with this man? I swan, if I had to pick my fave in a duel between Tucci and Richard Jenkins, I simply would have to opt for door number 3- Justin Beiber. Sorry. Had to be said).
While I can not deny that Cher and Aguilera have incredible voices, it did them a disservice to force them to warble the tripe that passed for 'inspired genius' in this flick. The plot was threadbare, the setting lackluster. However, the costumes, make-up (OK, I admit, I had to laugh out loud when Cher had to teach Christina- Christina!- how to apply make-up!) was phenomenal. Barb- my authority on all thing maquillage- states that it is Smashbox, so, if you are inspired by anything in this flick, it would most likely be the make-up, and, well, folks, it's Smashbox. Aaaaand, the costumes seemed rather luxe to me for a place that is about to go under for the final time...but, what do I know?

Lessons Learned: Well, that this idea was done earlier and better in Singin' In The Rain. Also-great voices and great actors are not enough: writers, directors, honey. Please! You have got to give 'em something with which to work.
Am I sorry I saw this movie? Not really. Am I disappointed and let down by lack of imagination and originality? You betcha.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1

The Flick: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, (Part 1)

The Peeps: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Bill Nighy,Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, etc.

The Dealio: The end of this particular saga is almost upon us! Harry - along with Hermione and Ron- are well-clear of Hogwarts in this, the first of two parts endeavoring to bring the cycle of Harry to completion.
Instead of being on old, familiar turf, the entire wizarding world has been thrown completely topsy-turvy: acknowledged witches and sorcerers are being rounded up and tortured into spouting(usually false) testimony about families, friends- even their own pasts. Death Eaters and 'Snatchers' prowl about in packs seeking fresh victims to drag before Delores Umbridge and others of her persuasion. Voldemort's stock is on rise and growing more powerful by the day. It seems inevitable that a cataclysmic showdown between He Who Must Not Be Named and The Boy Who Lived is on the horizon. Beloved, familiar characters put in appearances, then, suddenly, without warning, disapperate. This is not a brave, new world- this is an exceedingly dark, threatening and grim one where evil appears to wield the upper hand. Oy.

The Grading Period: 4.899 pengies out of 5. This is a good, solid addition to the line-up, and the three key players have become highly nuanced and intuitive in their roles. Rupert Grint especially, gets an opportunity to do more than moon about looking fatuous or goofily uncomprehending. At which, he is rather gifted.
This is also supremely dark- more so, even than Prisoner or Chamber of Secrets. I saw people filing in with 2-4 year olds (thank God, they and I hadn't opted for 3D or the kids-and I- would have been scarred for life, IMHO). Yo! 'Rents, check out the rating, and use your melons, please! There are some scenes which are extremely graphic and terrifying. However, there are also some beautiful rendered sequences, too (one, during the recounting of a child's fairy tale, employs old fashioned shadowed silhouettes of very Indonesian looking cut-out puppets to tell the tale). The art direction throughout is superb.
The soundtrack is about what you would expect from past HP movies. However, there is a very sweet scene between Harry and Hermione which uses a musical background to spark a very moving little bit of business.
A nice job all around; could have used a tiny bit of pruning- for example, in the area of what's goin' down at Casa Malfoy, and the blogosphere is agog at certain edits which they feel went just a taddy bit too far. But I did not miss those and felt fully involved.

Lessons Learned: Never under-estimate the power of both the written word (the entire line of HP books) and word of mouth with regards to pumping up an audience for a movie. I sat in a capacity crowd auditorium with folks who began cheering and applauding with the very first scene, featuring Bill Nighy's eyes! And the empathetic reactions never stopped. It was at once heartening (these folks have all read these books!) and a bit distracting, if you must know.
Next: if someone you have just met only wants to speak to you in parsel-tongue, and you are not currently working at the Snake House of a zoo...get out of there pronto! If you can.
Finally: Magic can only get you so far in the muggle world. Out there, you are on your own to know how- and what - to order in a cafeteria, for example or where safe spots might exist that are not comfort-zones- or even known- by those who are both evil-wizardly and hot on your trail. For that, you're gonna need a Hermione.
OK, having said all that, let me say this: I am so totally ready for HPATDH Pt 2. Like, next weekend. K?

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The Flick: Unstoppable

The Actors: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Supplee and Kevin Dunn (played any cool guys lately, fellas?), and Lew Temple.

The Dealio: 'Inspired by a true story', Unstoppable recounts the classic race against time scenario- this time, pitting two railroad employees having a worse than usual first day as partners, against a runaway train, loaded with toxic waste, and hightailin' it towards a densely populated town. The old hand (Washington) and the newbie(Pine) with the family connections, but scant real life experience, are forced to find some common ground and put their heads together to find a way to avoid an incident of catastrophic proportions. Aiding and abetting them is the yard supervisor- a spirited and irreverent Dawson- who doesn't mind the head honcho overhearing himself being labelled a jackass, as long as he eventually comes to his senses and takes action that might actually have a shot at rsulting in the survival of the 'little people' caught in the impact zone.

The Grading Session: 4.899 pengies out of 5. The soundtrack was totally forgettable. All the actors do a creditable job, but one rather secondary character ('Ned' as portrayed with hellacious elan by Lew Temple) really sets the bar for everyone else. He is never 'off' or 'down' or at a loss for what to say or do. OK, some would say he high jacked this movie, while others would dismiss his role as a throwaway comic relief valve. But I literally could not pull my eyes away whenever he shared the screen: whether ordering coffee, serving up some innuendo, taking over a press conference or cussing out some slovenly railroad employees, Ol' Ned really sparkles up t he screen. This is the kind of a movie where I never felt the back of my chair once. Edge-o-the-seat-ville, baybee! If you favor that sort of thaang.

Lessons Learned: In certain arenas, like brain surgery and railroad/airline prep, procedure and management, there is simply no room for cutting corners or skipping steps. This always (repeat after me: 'Always!') leaves behind a tab you really don't want to have to pick up.
Also, how interesting is it to learn the specialised jargon of a very small culture- like that of the railroad biz?
Lastly, while watching this film, I had to visibly suppress my anger at the media- specifically, the portrayal in this show of how the news chopper fleet consistently appeared to be getting in the way, even making things worse. When, finally, about three minutes from the final denouement, the Feds loud hail the chopper chumps and shoo them away, I felt like yelling, (in typical NJ fashion), 'Hey! Where the aitch were you guys over the last 50 minutes!?'

Monday, November 8, 2010


The Film: Megamind

The Voice Talent: Will Farrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, David Cross(stellar as 'Minion'), Justin Theroux (!?), J.K. Simmonds, Ben Stiller and two of Ben Stiller's kids.

The Dealio: This was heavily promoted as a 3D film, but, as is typical of me, I did not see it in this mode- but I'll betcha I could tell you exactly which scenes featured the 3D effects. I do not mourn not seeing this in all its visual splendor, since I don't know that I missed anything essential. OK, so...let's do this thaang!
This is your basic nature vs nurture story, animated and turned-ever so slightly- on its ear. Two babies, born far apart geographically, at a time of dire crisis, are placed into space pods by their parents and sent to a safer sector of the universe. The one who would become Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt, but, yes, as he suggests in interviews, resembling no one more than Pitt pal, George Clooney), bounces into the front yard of a richedy-rich-rich-rich family, deflecting the inbound pod containing baby Megamind, who then sets down roots in a penitentiary. Throughout school days, Metro shows his colors as the savior of all who are in danger, but with a more-metro-than-thou sort of 'tude on display, all the while. Meanwhile, lil boy Mega, is the designated outcast, not only because of his huge, teardrop shaped blue melon, but also because of his shyness and lack of self-confidence. Finally a youthful demo of acting out sends Mega off to the pen- but this time, as an inmate. And, upon his release, adults now, Metro and Mega wage a never ending series of skirmishes designed to settle supremacy once and for all (Metro, pause for a bow, takes the prize).
One thing both guys have in common is their interest in reporter, Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey, as always cute as a bug's ear and twice as plucky): Mega in kidnapping her, Metro in liberating her afterwards. I gotta say- Mega seems the more actually interested in Roxanne the person, rather than in the idea of 'saving' her.
And then, something unthinkable happens: Mega gets the upper hand on Metro. Life in Metro City ( or, 'Metrocity' as Megamind pronounces it) is turned upside down.
What will happen next? Will good, once more, triumph over evil? Will a resistance arm rise up to restore order? Will Roxanne get the scoop?

The Grading Session: 4.89 pengies out of 5. This soundtrack truly rocked. My fave? Bad. El perfecto. This is one of those times when parents in the aud were laughing as much as the kiddies. Also- excellent use of voice talent in support characters. I jumped on the sly sight jokes as much as the essential sweetness of the story. In a year that brought such terrific animation/storytelling as Toy Story 3, this one can hold its own. TS3 would have to be at least 5 pengies, but this one can hold its head up with pride of accomplishment.

Lessons Learned: We still do not know which is more important or leaves the more indelible fingerprints on a child: nature or nurture. Also, just because you may have seen a similar plot before, the sheer zest, enthusiasm and diligence with which the creators crafted this film make it stand out and shine. Lastly: sometimes heroes lurch in the most unexpected places.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Half A Life

The Book: Half A Life

The Author: Darin Strauss

The Dealio: 'Half a life ago, I killed a girl.' This is the opening line of the book Half A Life. The author, who has written other non-fiction previously, now turns his focus to an event that happened when he was a high school senior. While driving to a chip 'n' putt, a young girl on a bike suddenly swerves into traffic right in front of the author. For the bulk of his life, he grapples with trying to understand what happened, and what his fair share of the guilt must be. It is only when he and his wife have a child that he realises something must change, and he is driven to write about the episode which happened half a life ago, but left him forever changed.

The Grading Session: 4.53 pengies out of 5. Delicately overwhelming writing pushes you forward in this tale, tracing, along with the teen Darrin, followed by the coming-of-age and adult Strauss his struggles to put the most life changing experience of his young life into some sort of sense-making order. Job well done. However: some debits? Really cannot stand it when an author populates an entire page with a meager 1-5 lines. Perhaps, the writer is going for emphasis in an artsy-fartsy sort of way. Hasn't he ever heard of exclamation points!? Other times, (so sorry to say this, because I lovelovelove Robert B. Parker's entire body of work, but....if the shoe fits, buy it in every color and tromp around in it), this ploy is clearly meant to up the number of pages to an approved amount (say 188-200), then shuttle that puppy off to ye olde publisher. Come on, folks. It is what it is: if this particular story takes 55 pages to unspool, that's, literally, all she wrote. This is from someone who has, in the past, written a one word chapter. But I now see the error of my ways and am left with the thankless task of pointing this error out in others'.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes it is not simple teen-aged paranoia: everyone really is staring at you. Also this: no matter how many times you rerun the mini-film of something earth-shifting which has happened to you, you can never separate out what actually happened from your emotional responses to the event. Lastly: it is possible to be haunted, feel guilty and yet, still be inspired by tragedy. All at the same time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The Movie: Conviction

The Actors: Hillary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo, Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher, Loren Dean, etc.

The Dealio: In this true-story-based indoe, Betty Anne Waters goes to law school-sacrificing what her children describe as 'your whole life!'- in order to defend and, hopefully, free the younger brother she just knows was railroaded by an overburdened justice system.
Almost from the very start, we're meant to see that Kenny ('Muddy') Waters is and always was, trouble with a capital T. That's not exactly how his sister sees it, but surrounded by small town prejudices and mired in poverty and desperation, it takes a Jiminy Cricket of a friend (Driver's Abra), to help Betty Anne focus her energy where it can do the most good. I was especially charmed by Abra's throw-away line 'Hey! That's the other old lady in my class,' (Been there, been that).
People in the theater where I saw this film started crying about 15 minutes into the show, and just never stopped. While I am so sentimental I can sob until I am speechless (which Prendie would verify hardly ever happens) at the drop of a Hallmark ad on TV- but not here. More, I was appalled at the rush to judgement (no surprises there, really) and then the grandstanding and posturing that occurs- designed strictly as a sort of political CYA. Meanwhile, the hapless pawn in the entire game is left dangling by a thread. I know, I know: it is not perfect, but our justice system is the best over 200 years have been able to evolve. I am also aware that there are good, brave, smart people sweating bullets to improve things every day. Just hurry up, wouldja!?

The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. The three main characters were all that a person-that I- could hope for: Hillary is intense, loyal, self-sacrificing as the little sister. Rockwell does his patented wild man with an unexpected streak of tenderness and his own sense of very canted loyalty. Minnie Driver gets to be both pert and caustic as the loud, irreverent heart of gold sister from a different mother. I always love it when a 'based on a true story' movie takes the time to catch us up with what happened next- although everybody in the theater gasped at the summing up of one pivotal character's trajectory. As a bonus, to me, personally, I'm sure, they included pictures of the real peeps involved.

Lessons Learned: Ain't no justice like small town justice.
Also- with all this newfangled science at our disposal, it is still possible to get away with murder.
Finally: there are simply no limits to what an obsessed, positively motivated person can/will do, if they feel their cause is righteous.


The Film: Hereafter

The Actors: Matt Damon, Cecille De France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Derek Jacobi, etc.

The Dealio: Clint Eastwood- the director, Clint Eastwood- fashions a pretty thoughtful, and thought-provoking, film from the question below.
Three very different people come together on that point, and it changes the way they will continue their lives, once they are forced to confront the answers.
Damon plays George, a socially inert blue-collar worker, once a bonafide seer. His specialty, if you can call it that, resulted from a childhood illness. He is quick to remind those who yammer on about his 'gift' that, no, it is not a gift- it is a curse. He clasps hands with a stranger, and immediately, there is an arc of visual and emotional connectivity. In the past, the severity of his reaction to these connects caused him so much pain, he responded by shutting down, in every possible way, and sought relief in the least demanding of jobs.
DeFrance is Marie, a French journalist and media darling, vacationing in a tropical paradise (let's just call it 'Thailand', shall we?), when a tsunami hits, with widely publicised results. Caught in the throes of the wave, and presumably dead for several minutes, she surfaces to find that pretty much everything she thought she knew, valued and wanted for herself as been swept away in the wake of the gigantic, destructive wave.
Marcus is one half of a pair of physically all-but-identical twins of about 10 years, who is struggling desperately to figure things out without his dominant older brother.
All three who are desperate for answers, receive the usual socially acceptable response by would-be helpful others, 'It was meant to be', 'They are in a better place', 'There is nothing you could have done', 'They would have wanted you to move on,' etc. None of them are willing to buy any of this, and therein hangs the tale.

The Grading Session: 4.59 pengies out of 5. High marks for the trademark avid devotion CE puts into his soundtracks. This is one I will buy in future.
The work all the actors turned in was impeccable- although, in the first few encounters with the grieving, bereft Marcus, I felt a certain hesitancy and stiffness not noticeable when the twins interacted. Perhaps this was due to lack of experience, or maybe it was direction (as in, 'your character would find it very difficult to deal with adults after such and such an experience. Go with that'). This kvetch disappeared as soon as I got into the story and allowed myself to be swept along in the current. There were, also, numerous grace notes that I really savored: the cooking class was one such and added immeasurably to the texture and depth of the characters.

Lessons Learned: There appears to be a societal shelf life to grief and grief recovery: people will give you only a limited amount of time to 'get over it' before they lose patience and are ready to give your discomforting and messy emotions a wide berth. And then they, themselves, do move forward.
Next: No matter how secure you think things are, that security is an illusion: there is always another flavor of the month queued up, ready to roll over you, leaving you scrambling to find level ground again.
Lastly: Martha Keller is still making movies. Who knew?

What's Goin' On Before The Show

For the past few weeks, when I go to see a movie (but, oddly, never when I see one with Prendie), I have been treated to scenes from True Grit, version 2.0. Prendie has been hearing a lot of buzz on the SASS site and related blogs about the movie, and I am purely pumped to see that Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon feature largely in this. I felt so-so about the original, so maybe I am the wrong person to even comment on this, but I can not wait to see this one! I suppose part of it is seeing Damon doing what is commonly referred to as 'The Glen Campbell Part', but, I think that more than this, I am pleased with the selection of Jeff Bridges in the starring role. So- let's get moving, already; I feel a Christmas day outing to the movies comin' on. Who's with me?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ape House

The Book: Ape House

The Author: Sara Gruen

The Dealio: Gruen returns to a topic clearly close to her heart: the place where human experience intersects with animal existence. In this case, the animals in question are Great Apes (bonobos), who share a language lab in Lawrence, Kansas with a team of researchers and volunteers. The scientist closest to the bonobos is Isabel, a young woman with a toxic family history who considers the Great Apes at the lab to be her real family. A few pages into the story, the idyllic world of the language lab is literally blown apart- and Isabel is severely injured, by an explosion. The remainder of the book deals with the aftermath of the bombing, and what it means to all the characters involved- including the great apes who call the place 'home', Isobel, John Thigpen- a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer (or 'the Inky', as it is called here), the other scientists and volunteers, even the protesters who line the drive of the lab daily, completely misunderstanding the mission of the place.

The Grading Session: 4.01 pengies out of 5. Let me start by saying that I absolutely loved Gruen's last book (Water For Elephants, which is being made into a movie, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon). This time around, all the Gruen-esque touchstones are there- highly adorable creatures, moments of thoughtless and automatic animal cruelty, lessons in an arcane and minuscule segment of society (animal language labs in this case, circus life, in WFE), redemption in doing the right thing against all odds and adversities. But, where we were given real, live characters to root for in the last book, this time around I found myself losing patience with pretty much all of the humans- although I continued to enjoy our interactions with the bonobo 'family' to the very last word.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes, it is simply impossible to go back to the same- or a similar -well and squeeze out one more evocative tale. I am thinking here of Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Wall, which would have made a wonderful first look at the author's family, but felt both anemic and reckless coming, as it did, after The Glass Castle. Ape House suffers from the same situation. Perhaps, if I had never read Water For Elephants, I would have been in raptures over Ape House. But...probably not.
Next: If you think someone can be cruel and unfeeling towards animals, then be kind and caring towards humans, well, I have a bridge near NYC I can letcha have cheap.
Lastly: forgive me if I have said this before, but it bears repeating: editing is the most blessed of all careers; if done with style, appetite and care, it can transform a story- written or scrolled before our eyes, in a dark movie theatre- from everyday to extraordinary.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


The Film: RED

The Actors: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker, Karl Urban, John Malkovich, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfus, Julian McMahon, Brian Cox, etc.

The Dealio: Retired (Extremely Dangerous) CIA agents are being killed off with extreme prejudice. There is a long lead-in to the why of it all, but along the way to there, we get to meet assorted agents who have pitted their own necessary accommodations with on-coming years and their desire to keep their hands in, doing what they did best. Think of it as The Expendables with good actors. Yeah, I know. I know! Willis was in both. But in TE, he got a minute here and there to smirk and sidle into and out of the flick. Here, he was actually given some dialogue and plot with which to work.

The Grading Session: 4.31 pengies out of 5. Was Goldfinger a better spy movie? Um. I'm gonna go with a yeah on that one. Did Goldfinger have as much fun? Well. That depends. Have you ever wanted to see Queen Elizabeth handling a RPG? In a white silk formal? Okay, then. I'm just sayin'.
Improbable, fantastical, top-loaded with action and contrasted with a sprinkling of tenderness and unexpected sweetness in some of the interpersonal relations, this film was never boring, but never high art, either. In short: Don't be so intellectually snobbish and demanding: go see an entertaining film that showcases some highly talented actors playing against type...and having a...well, a blast. Literally.

Lessons Learned: Apparently, you will know that your spy-significant-other loves you if (s)he shoots you three times in the chest, instead of going for the more trad double tap to the melon. Not to mention that Mary Louise Parker apparently has about 12 more muscles in her lips, which she uses to extremely wonderful effect throughout. Wait...did I just mention it, after all?
Also: retirement may sound great, but often is simply a matter of not doing the things you used to be able to do before. With panache.
Lastly: although it is largely a fantasy, it surely is suh-WEET to think of a bunch of retirement-aged old dogs putting young pups in their places. Suh-weet, but ultimately, not jolly likely. Or is it? What is that saying? Something along the lines of: Age and deviousness will always out-trump youth and vigor. Make it so.

Waiting For Superman

The Film: Waiting For Superman

The Peeps: Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, George Reeves, Bill Gates, Anthony, Daisy, Emily, Bianca and Francisco.

The Dealio: The state of public schools in America gets ready for its close-up in this documentary which interweaves the back stories of representational children from across the US with facts, figures and lots of talking heads. If you are looking to be lifted up by film's end- this is not the movie for you. If you are looking to be shaken AND stirred, look no further.
The film makers introduce the viewers to 5 very different kids. We, who are watching, become invested in this one or that. Then comes the (repeated) moment of truth when the almighty, moment of truth lottery drawings are played out, against the backdrop of various venues. There are tears - of joy and relief, and of bitter disappointment. Swooping in close to the face of one little girl- fingers and arms crossed and tears running down her face- I wanted to scream in frustration for her agony and tenuous hope.

The Grading Session: 4.09 pengies out of 5. This earnest little movie really needed a bit more editing, as some of the sequences went on for far too long, re-explaining concepts that had already been driven home quite smartly minutes before. The soundtrack was fine, but I felt myself bristling at the use of An American Idiot during an early sequence, then wondered if I was being overly sensitive.

Lessons Learned: Lots of visionary people, in high viz positions, are trying to put things right in the arena of public education, using innovative and game-changing strategies.
Also: am I the only one to experience tentatively rising hope from the rapid-fire photo gallery of prominent people- including Presidents, presidents of companies, artists, astronauts and scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, public figures and bona fide geniuses- who all went to public school.
Lastly: apparently, the #1 reason our schools are in such dire straits (sorry, Dire Straits!) is that unions appear to be using tenure to protect bad teachers' and principals' job security. Whether this is actually true or an unjust over-simplification, I defy you to watch this portion and not feel your blood begin to boil.
Is there anything we, the concerned, can do to help? There is always something. A suggestion? Start by voting all the issues- but only after getting some education on them.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Book: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Author: Aimee Bender

The Dealio: This book starts out as- to me, at least- a YA version of Like Water For Chocolate (loved, loved, loved). Young Rose Edelstein, you see, is suddenly aware that she can taste emotions. Whether it is the touch of surly with overtones of bitter resentment in a bag of potato chips born in a co-op, or the lemon cake baked by her mom for her birthday (sadness, loss, frustration and loneliness), Rose is literally buffeted by the vagaries of what she eats. School becomes a particular trial for her. Lunches from home reek of her mother's despair and isolation. But the food proffered from the lunch line also begins to take on the threat of shark-infested waters. Here be dragons. And not the good kind. Her family clearly does not get what is going on with her: dad is busily providing food and shelter, but is distracted by everything else. Mom is climbing out of her skin, but recognises that something is wrong; she is just not sure what to do about it. Brother Joseph- the family genius- appears to literally float above and beyond the family unit, with increasingly brief and occasional pit stops to interact glancingly with family members.
This was a story into which I could not wait to leap with both feet. My interest continued for the first 3/4ths of the book. Then....what happened?!

The Grading Session: 3.97 pengies out of 5. Serious debit-age for the last quarter of the book. I have heard that the author explained this severe right turn in the midst of a lyrically mystical and involving tale to drag in inexplicable scenarios, never resolved- as 'a widely acknowledged psychological condition' as well as a way to 'allow the reader to reach his/her own conclusions.' Well, I will just have to disagree with you: this wondrously evocative tale was totally trashed by the ambiguous, bated-breath aspects of the end-segment. I believe that I deserved better return on my huge investment in this story, these characters and the possibilities which were smooshed flat by the 'wind-it-up-quickly' syndrome. Sigh. Such a shame.

Lessons Learned: Many maladies can be cured by learning to cook well. Also, apparently, many maladies-especially of the psychic type- can be expressed and soothed through cooking. Why, it is almost as if the very nature and inspiration (breath?) involved with creating food is...magic. But Amy? I bet you already knew that.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Accidental Billionaires

The Book: Accidental Billionaires

The Author: Ben Mezrich

The Dealio: This is the tale of the evolution of Facebook, as envisioned by Ben Merzrich. The author goes waaaaaaay out of his way to attest that, while most of what he has written was culled by endless hours of interviews with the actual peeps involved, certain pivotal moments had to be recreated from what his best about the events du jour would have been. Gotcha. However, could've done without a pants' load of florid prose like this: 'No one really knows what he was thinking, where he was or with whom, but it must surely have gone something like this...' Now multiply this breathless assertion by about a doz.
For those of you (all 3 of you) unfamiliar with the saga, it goes a little something like this: Harvard genius-boy seeking to meet girls and totally uninterested in moolah, creates a social networking site while at Harvard. Joins forces with- and is bankrolled to start-up by- fellow geek he met sophomore year. Next up? A congo line of crashed servers, troubles with Harvard, goggle-eyed meets with idols, the joining of forces with idols, inevitable acrimonious split with geekoid Harvard bud, then, of course, splits with idols, the assumption of neatsy-keenoid status as nonchalant billionaire, and, hot off the update presses: the donation of $100 million to the Newark, NJ public school system. Along the way, much intrigue, back-stabbing and general over-indulgence on the part of all concerned.

The Grading Session: 3.099 pengies out of 5. While an interesting and engrossing story, do we really need to hear 17 times that Mark Zuckerberg almost always eschewed a coat and tie. Or hated shoes. Or was totally absorbed in computers (duh! didn't we know this, going in?). Once more, I say unto you: 'there is nothing quite so valuable, either to a film maker or writer, as a truly great editor. Word.

Lessons Learned: If you think you can rely on the friendship and good intentions of your fellow man but can not understand legalese, 1) do not sign on the dotted and 2) run, nay, race, at full tilt towards the nearest you-friendly lawyer with aforementioned legal verbiage in tow.
Also, this: just because you are a genius, doesn't mean you have the proprietary right to treat everyone around you like anonymous lifeforms placed into your pathway for the sole purpose of serving you and furthering your agendas.

Friday, September 24, 2010


The Book: Room

The Author: Emma Donoghue

The Dealio: This is-basically- a novelisation of the Jaycee Dugard story. Told entirely through the observations of a five year old boy who has known nothing but one 11' by 11' room, his 'ma' and, occasionally, almost incidentally, 'Old Nick', the man who kidnapped his Ma when she was just 19 years old. When the world collapses down on itself to include-for the most part-only two, it provides a unique opportunity to see things- everyday things-from the perspective of an explorer in a strange, new land. This is the perspective Room allows us.

The Grading Session: 4.899 pengies out of 5. Now, any of you who know me at all, right about now would be checking for a stem at the base of my skull. I must surely have been body-snatched if said that I am going to recommend this book. Heck-you might be tempted to do that if I even told you I had read this book. Of my own free will. However, I did have to deduct a smidgen of a pengie for the occasional lapse in narration, when our hero, Jack, suddenly begins to talk like William F. Buckley, Jr. Or, well, at least Christopher Buckley. But Donoghue, overall, does a first rate job of conveying the ways in which children so readily adapt to things that are presented to them as 'just the way things are'. There is beauty, and hope, dread and desperation in this book, and I found it as compelling, as horrifying and as smile-inducing a story as I have read in a long time. NOTE: Yes, the central theme is as horrifying a premise as I can imagine. But there is no graphic depiction of the kidnapping, nor what came after.

Lessons Learned: Never give up hope. Also, don't assume that children don't know what is going on. They, mostly, do, and simply fill in the empty spots with their-fertile- imaginations. Lastly, in a world composed entirely of two, a mother and a child, who is really helping the other survive?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Book: The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Writer: Richard C. Morais

The Dealio: This is a story, narrated by Hassan Haji, of the evolution of a chef. The grandson of an Indian 'tiffin nabob' in post World War II Bombay, a horrific tragedy sends the entire Haji family racketting off, first, to cold, friendless London, then, to Lumiere, tucked away in the French mountains where their car serendipitously dies. There, and under the disapproval of the maitress do cuisine of a century-old restaurant, the Haji family really comes into its own. A pivotal moment, a flare of temper and an ugly accident transforms many lives, while it sets young Hassan on his way to becoming a legendary, innovative and celebrated chef.

The Grading Period: 4.13 pengies out of 5. This story was so deliciously told that it had me hankering to experiment with a raft of new ideas about sauces, spices and rococo combinations of flavors. I adored the notion of young Hassan as the chef du maison of his family's restaurant, as well as the joyous and strident portrayals of the family members. But about three-fourths of the way through, I felt the story began to lose steam and zest for the telling. The last quarter was rather subdued and heaped sadness upon sorrow upon regret. Although I was still involved enough to continue, it was a bit of a let-down after the sheer bubbling happiness and eager pandemonium of the rest of the tale.
This would make a remarkable movie- and I have heard whispers around the campfire that such is a possibility. I am already casting in my brain.

Lessons Learned: As with any other undertaking, there are some folks who are just born with an innate ability or talent in a certain area. This is not something which can be taught- or even should be taught. But, whenever this does happen, it is something which should be led, carefully guided through the evolutionary process. Without this guidance, what results are genius-despots who can not see beyond their own egos. (And, no, this is not just about cooking).
Next: I do not think that I really would enjoy the 'molecular cooking' which swept the cuisine-world about 10-15 years ago, and just as suddenly was GWTW. Oyster foam? Cream Essence? How about Meat Vapor? Blech.
Lastly: To all you natural-born geniuses out there: there are plenty more where you came from, so widen your horizons before it is too late and let a few less-than-genius beings into your world. They will give your existence undreamed-of flavor and spice. I promise.

Easy A

The Flick: Easy A

The Actors: Emma Stone, (still wonder about her being cast as Miz Skeeter in the film adaptation of The Help...but we shall see), Amanda Bynes, Penn Badgley, Patricia Clarkson, Stanlet Tucci, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, etc.

The Dealio: Emma Stone's Olive Penderghast (no relation), is the ultimate in invisibility at Ojai High School: bright, quick, a good student and no troublemaker. That all comes to a screeching halt once Olive tells a white lie to help a fellow misfit. The entire thing sproings out of control at record speed when Olive's English class begins to study the Scarlet Letter. Olive begins to see parallels between the fate of Hester Prynne and her own victimisation at the hands (and messaging fingertips) of her gossipy fellow students. This is when Olive has a great (or, as it turns out, not-so-great) idea of capitalising on her notoriety by proudly flaunting the legendary Big, Red A.

The Grading Period: 4.39 pengies out of 5. BTW-the soundtrack is dominated by pretty decent covers of bits and pieces from those of '80's 'teen com' movies. A pleasant surprise, and I don't wish to carp, but they could have been rounded out with some original stuff.
Prendie talks a lot about movies that take place in 'The Land With No Adults', but this is not a complaint to be made about this movie: adults are represented, but most are so loopy and over the top, they read as almost more immature than the actual teens.
Stone's Olive is grounded, level headed and sweet...with an undertow of tart lurking just beneath the surface. Neat job. Haden Church nails it as that really memorable, inspired and inspiring teacher each of us had at least once in our educational past; the one who seems just that tiny bit too cool for, well, school.
It's clear Stanley Tucci is having a blast- but, then, he always seems to revel in the cards with which he has been presented. Gotta love that appetite and enthusiasm in an actor. Bynes does the weirdly contradictory goody-goody she has done before; and we all know it for the mask cloaking her selfish and superior inner wee-yoch that it truly is. I can easily see her as the very first accuser in The Crucible, the little self-righteous liar who ('eyes on me!') causes an entire society to begin to unravel, as it turns in on itself.
For a lightweight, late summer offering, I say: good job with extra effort taken in the crafting.

Lessons Learned: Well, believe it or don't, but some people actually read The Scarlet Letter- and more than once.
Also- it is great fun revisiting some of the more engaging John Hughes movies, (Sixteen Candles, Say Anything and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, among them), as minor characters in a current-day movie .
Lastly this: too much time is spent during the average school day, texting and recording the detritus of your average, very ordinary days. Get outside, get some fresh air, look around you at the rest of the world. Enjoy. These are the days you will look back on and think of as the high point of your life. Or the worst of times. Ever.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Town

The Film: The Town

The Actors: Ben Affleck (also directed), Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Pete Postelthwaite, etc.

The Dealio: Based on Chuck Hogan's book, Prince of Thieves, this is one of those stories which seems at once familiar (think Michael Corleone in the Godfather) and yet, very alien. Doug (Affleck) is the brain-power behind the 'no mess-up crew', as Hamm's FBI agent calls the band of local hoods who routinely -and embarrassingly successfully- knock over armored trucks and banks. During one such bank attempt, things go awry when one of the crew grabs the bank manager- a young woman from the neighborhood- as a hostage. Leaving, of course, the ultimate in unanswered questions: allowed to live, could she finger any of the robbers? Doug volunteers to 'check it out' and begins to fall for the woman (Hall), strengthening his resolve to 'put the old neighborhood and all this in my rear view mirror after this one last job', leaving behind the complex tightrope/spiders' web of loyalties, owed allegiances and tricky paybacks. But, as is usually the case, the 'one last job' turns into another, then another. Each one is more hurried, less well-planned and therefore, more risky, than the one before. It seems only a matter of time before this incredibly shaky house of cards comes tumbling down around Doug's ears.

The Grading Period: 4.799 pengies out of 5. This is a movie that stays true to the letter and the spirit of the source material, and still bears the unmistakable stamp of a skilled and invested director. For those who felt that Gone, Baby, Gone was a fluke, well, as Ben, himself would say, 'How'd'ya like me NOW!?' When I listened to this book on CD, a couple of years ago, I had to stop it several times to catch my breath and to break the tension. It was just that involving. The movie translation bore all the same elements: for the last 30-40 minutes, I could. not. sit. back. in. my chair. The pacing was swift and sharp and smart. I read somewhere that, again, Affleck had gone with real neighborhood peeps for extras and cameos. And all the deets were pin-point accurate- right down to the tiny chip out of one of Dougie's front teeth.
PS- I like you fine, Ben. Just fine.

Lessons Learned: Apparently, you can be a deadly killer and a florist (thinking here of De Niro's Jack Burns in Meet The Parents). Also- you can take the boy out of Boston; but the other way just doesn't seem to work as well. And thank God for that.
Lastly-finally! a use for those old Skeletor masks...just not one I could ever employ.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Tillman Story

The Film: The Tillman Story

The Peeps: Amir Bar Lev (director), narrated by Josh Brolin.

The Dealio: On April 22, 2004, ex-footballer and Ranger corporal , Pat Tillman, was killed 'in the line of duty', during a fire-fight. His family members- and the country- were told that he had died in an act of heroic self-sacrific. He then became a symbol for all that was right, and true and patriotic in our military. And, now we know that the entire tale, the myths, the legends, were all part of a cover-up, intended to wring some sort of positive message from the meaningless loss of his young life. His family, speaking on behalf of their loved one, who could no longer speak for himself, decided to buck the system, find out what actually happened and set the record straight. This doc is the result.

The Grading Session: 4.51 pengies out of 5. Editing, once more, would have turned this into a 5 pengie doc, but the movie still had plenty to say...and said it: about life in the modern military, people's reactions to grief, tragedy and subterfuge, and, mostly, about how divisive and corrosive these wars are to all who touch or are touched by even the tiniest brush with them.

Lessons Learned: It is not valuable, meaningful, or even necessary to see members of the military as either heroes or traitors, patriotic or reluctantly compliant, wildly opinionated or moderately sedated by rhetoric. We are all just mini-glimpses at America's society as a whole. So there is as much reluctance as heroism in each of us. As a vet, myself, I have seen this first hand. I am proud of my service to this country, but do not consider myself either heroic or particularly self-sacrificing. Neither did Pat Tillman. What I think is this: labelling is the lazy person's first and easiest response and does no favors to anyone. So let's stop leaping to conclusions. As in, right now.
Also- Donald Rumsfeld is an ill-mannered, boorish jackanapes and needs a good butt-kicking for his smirking, self-laudatory, inappropriate performance before the good ol' boys (and gals) in the Senate who patted his back and kissed his tuchus for deigning to appear before them. Shame on you for your treatment of this grieving family. Blog out.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Versus The World

The Flick: Scott Pilgrim Versus The World

The Actors: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Keiran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, etc.

The Dealio: Scott is forced to battle the seven evil exes of his would-be new love interest, Ramona Flowers (Winstead) in a cinematic hybrid of video game/anime style fights and set ups, sometimes aided/hindered by his roomie, a bored, detached Wallace, who always seems to have more important fish to fry. Along for the ride, and totally oblivious to the danger swirling around Scott- or the temporary nature of his interest in her, (seeming to echo Wallace's inertia about the whole Scott predicament), is the chillingly named (though oblivious Scott doesn't pick up on this until far too late in the game), Knives Chau...AKA 'The High School Girl'.

The Grading Session: 3.28 pengies out of 5. I am sorry. I so wanted to lovelovelove this quirky little film. But, seemed to me, everyone involved in it was already so impressed with themselves, and how clever they were being that it soon simply annoyed me. I could almost picture all the moving part-ners watching rushes and high-fiving themselves over their sly cleverness. You want a film that actually was slyly clever? Fantastic Mr. Fox, for one!
Plus, I can see absolutely no earthly reason why this film had to be so long. Editing. I've said it before and I will say it again: film-makers, notte bene: get the best editor money can buy. Then listen to her or him. I am saving lives here.

Lessons Learned: Apparently, one can get stuff delivered by, like, overnight? I mean, I have heard rumors of such things....Meanwhile, Prendie is still waiting for his two cans of rhubarb pie filling to be delivered in the blood-oath sworn '3-5 business days.' Sigh.
Also-I totally under-estimated this whole Vegan super power thing. My bad. But, on the positive side, I am always open to learning- even from movies like this one.

Peace Like A river

The Book: Peace Like A River

The Author: Leif Enger

The Dealio: Narrated by 11 year old Rube Land, Peace takes the reader back to small-town Minnesota of 1962. Rube, his older brother, Davy, and their younger sister, Swede, live a quiet life with Jeremiah, their widowed school-janitor dad. Till the night two hoods with a fondness for bullying break into the Land house and are shot by Davy. In one moment, the small family's entire world is twisted inside out, first by the jailing of Davy, then, later, by the events that follow his escape from jail, and cross-country flight.
This is an astonishing book in its scope, sweep, down-to-earth-edness and sheer gorgeousness of spirit. Ever-entertaining, there are moments of sheer, poetic majesty, mysticism and gentleness, mingled with the urgency of both Davy's plight and the family's singular response to it.

The Grading Session: 5.01 pengies out of 5. This was a true gem of a story, and, oddly enough, although Rube is the narrator, we focus in much more closely to the soul of the tale: Swede, a tiny, determined, old-soul-in-a-young-body of a tomboy, who is so completely absorbed in the drama and grandeur of the Wild West, she spends her days- and nights- painstakingly crafting epic poems and stories about her own cast of good guys and life-and-death action plots. There is far more to this youngster than first meets the eye. And, I might say, the same goes for the mysteriously gifted Jeremiah. Check it out.

Lessons Learned: There are still amazing writers out there, capable of sneaking up on you with a story that will alternately break your heart and make you laugh.
Too, there is nothing like family, when you back's to the wall. And lastly- what a pleasure to explore unfamiliar terrain with someone guiding the way who truly loves and celebrates the setting.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Other Guys

The Film: The Other Guys

The Actors: Derek Jeter (yes, that Derek Jeter), Samuel L. Jackson (ditto), Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, Will Farrell, Eva Mendez, Michael Keaton, etc.

The Dealio: Farrell (as desk cop, Allen, whose heart clearly belongs to forensic accounting rather than crackin' skulls and arrests) and Wahlberg's Terry (playing a beat cop in line for a meteoric rise in the department, until, in the heat of the moment, he accidentally shoots Jeter during a play-off game) are partners. Allen has a lovely wife, brand new Prius, a glorious home-life, and out Pollyannas Pollyanna. Terry has lost pretty much everything, except his desire to be top dog again.
Allen uncovers some interesting book-keeping going on, but can get no one to pay attention to him. Meanwhile, Terry is trying to horn in on some of the action that falls so readily into the laps of the super cop duo played by Jackson and Johnson. Michael Keaton- tongue firmly in cheek- plays their long-suffering captain, who moonlights at Bed, Bath and Beyond, running the bath mat department with the brio of the desk sergeant from Hill Street Blues.

The Grading Session: 4.03 pengies out of 5. Here, you get what you pay for: a light as a souffle comedy/action-er just meant for the summer. Soundtrack operates on a wink-wink, nudge-nudge principle, inviting the viewer to chuckle or nod his/her head in agreement, as suits their personal musical prefs.

Lessons Learned: Someone in law enforcement keeps forgetting how Al Capone went down. And putting bad guys away, whatever the crime, still counts as taking out the garbage. Did no one learn from The Untouchables?!
Also- I would like to see Wahlberg doing more, so, whoever is in charge of such things, make it so.
Last: Will Farrell showcases so many natural, kid-style ways to get on a person's nerves- not just in this movie, but in many- that I can't help but wonder: is he just a wizard actor getting inside the character's skin or is this the way he was as a child, maybe still is? Or....da-da-da-DAAAAAAA: perhaps, both.

The Expendables

The Flick: The Expendables

The Usual Suspects: Sylvester Stallone (who, OMG! also directed), Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, and a coupla obligatory females.

The Dealio: A weaps-savvy, trigger-happy band of ex-military, operating out of the tattoo parlor of a former member (Rourke's oh-so-wholesome 'Tool'). They are the go-to elite for trouble spots 'n' sitches throughout the globe. For a price. But, of course you know, deep down inside, that they also want to help the widows and orphans, and hunger for the white picket fence and family routine. And they are ethical mercs, too: they will not take money for an unjust cause. Except for 'Shooter' (has Dolph Lundgren played a good guy recently? Like in the last 10-15 years?), who, high on life and with axes aplenty to grind is out to be- in the words of John McClane- the monkey in the wrench.

The Grading Session: This is gonna leave a mark: for the first time ever, in the history of this blog, I'm gonna hafta deduct pengies. So. Here 'tis: -4.79 pengies out of a possible 5 pengies. I can never get that hour back. Statham was the only character even vaguely interesting, and he was given far too little to do. One of the characters (OK, it was Eric Roberts) listens to someone explaining something and mutters, 'Yeah, yeah, bad Shakespeare...' To that, I have two things to say, Eric-baby (and ostensibly, Stallone et al, who put these words into his mouth):
1) No such thing as bad Shakespeare; and
2) You wish!

Lessons Learned: Do your homework: if you read that Stallone was the producer/director/writer, step away from the ticket office. No good can come of this.
Also-(to paraphrase Vincent LaGuardia Gambini) the laws of physics apparently ceased to exist within the confines of this movie: there is a scene -I swear, no spoiler inbound-where our two main heroes, overflying the bad guys, unleash an arcing stream of aviation fuel all over the place, and, while the stream is still expelling, use gunfire to torch it off. And yet, that line of fire never follows the stream back to the plane. Lucky for our guys. C'mon!
Note to those who write action movies: there is a deal more to action-ing than blowing up people and property and copious amounts of grievous bodily damage. Sometimes, we who love the genre would really like a plot and relatable, sympathetic characters for who we can root. Stuff like that. Promise you'll work on that? Then we cool.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Get Low

The Flick: Get Low

The Actors: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs

The Dealio: Old, neighborhood scary-dude (Duvall's Felix Bush) decides to throw himself the very best funeral party imaginable. And he wants to be there to enjoy it. He presents his case to the local undertaker (Murray's ever-so-slightly alcoholic undertaker Quinn) and his assistant, the shy, but surprisingly backbone-ful Buddy (Lucas Black). Hard up as they are for clients, Quinn and company take on the assignment. Which turns out to be a labyrinth, chock full of tricks, turns, stunts, betrayals, romance, mysteries, horrors and intrigues. It's like a Shakespearean tragedy without all those 'thee's' and 'thou's'... and tights.

The Grading Session: 4.27 pengies out of 5. Murray is a prize. Black is a surprise and so low profile that I surprised myself by how much I cared about him, and his ultimate success.
Robert Duvall: Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. Love ya like a brother. However. Is it just me, or is he beginning to turn in the standard 'crotchety-old-guy' schtick each and every time. Now, so happens I would turn out at Dog Park to hear him recite the Boy Scout manual of 1922...however. This 'YAAAAA!' 'PSSSSHT! RAAAAAAR!' thing that shows up constantly in his encyclopedia of expressed serious emotion is becoming something of a caricature. Here is a guy who wowed me with his low key consigliare, Tom, in the Godfather and Lonesome Dove's Gus McCrae. Where did that cool guy go? And, can we get him back? Please?

Lessons Learned: Things really were tough in '30's Tennessee, when people were even refusing to die as prolifically as in Chicago. Also- Has Bill Murray ever stubbed his toe in a role? I mean: Zombieland and Get Low, Coffee and Cigarettes, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Lost in Translation? C'mon! Let's show some love for the man.