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.

Eat Pray Love

The Film: Eat Pray Love

The Actors: Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis, James Franco, and, yeah, OK, Julia Roberts

The Dealio: Travel-writer and all-around emotional wreck, Liz, departs first a marriage (to immature, apparent ADD sufferer, Stephen), then, the arms of method actor, David, making a break for the border. Or, in this case, 'borders': talking Italy, India and Bali. In the book, the last was Indonesia, allowing helpful friends to say, 'If you are all into discovering yourself in places starting with the letter I, why not Indiana, Iowa and Illinois?' Plus, she gets her publishing firm to foot the bill- which is a great gig, if you can get it.
This is a woman who, by her own admission, has never spent more than two weeks unattached to a male. Her profile is that she becomes whoever the partner sees her as being- thereby losing her essential self. This is a plot device with which Julia has some experience (please see The Runaway Bride).
So, off she goes to eat (Italy), pray (India) and love (Bali/Indonesia). And, am I spoiling the denouement if I say that she is pretty successful in all three quests? Um. Sorry.

The Grading Session: 4.81 pengies out of 5. What? You're surprised? Let me justify. First: great soundtrack, which melds pop, old time rock n' rolla and the Brazilian sound (my all-time fave). Next, well, Richard Jenkins. Perhaps you read my review about RJ's back- which outperformed the entire cast of Dear John? If not- shame on you. As 'Richard from Texas', Jenkins steals every scene he is in, merging the aplomb of a guy who hears, 'You look just like James Taylor' pretty much every day, with the pathos and emotion of someone who has scrambled their priorities, lost everything, and yet, re-discovered their soul and happiness. Havin' a moment here, folks.
Javier Bardem is a wonderful mess of contradiction- minus that horrid haircut from No Country For Old Men: jocular, tender, romantic and vulnerable, fatherly and supplicant-sly.
Julia does a nice job on a characterisation which is not naturally very sympathetic (in my humble opinion).
Oh, and after leisurely making her way through the eat and pray portions of the gig, was it just me, or did the love portion seem a bit...rushed?

Lessons Learned: If he makes a mixed tape for you...that means he is serious about the relationship. Also- some people never grow up: I am pointing at Stephen and David, but it seems to me that Liz, herself, could use a few shots of human growth hormone, too. Lastly- editing rules...and a really smart soundtrack covers a lot of flaws. Kinda like the primer and foundation of the entire deal--not to have a Sephora moment over here.

Sayonara, At The Movies

For 28 years, members of the Corporation P+10 watched on Saturday afternoon to get the latest word on the latest flicks from a couple of Big City critics. But, sadly, At The Movies is no more. And I am sad for that.
Over almost three decades, we tuned in to hear about, contest, debate, nod along, and generally get a feel for what was out there in the dark: movies, films, flicks, roll'ems, dogs and delights. Each Saturday, they paraded past us like hope-filled beauty queens. Some were audacious and arrogant in their assumption of our approval, some, shy as violets in a thunder storm- hoping for survival, but unwilling to beg for what was needed to achieve it. Whether we agreed with the 'thumbs up' and 'thumbs down' verdicts the critics assigned to the candidates out to get our votes- and bucks- we were never bored, always entertained, treated like adults whose opinions mattered, too. And we kept coming back for more.
But that is now at an end, as today, the last ATM aired, then drew the curtain.
You will be missed.