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.