Saturday, December 17, 2011


The Flick: Hugo

The Peeps: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, etc.

The Dealio: When Hugo's (Butterfield) dad- a very innovative and diligent clock-maker, dies, Uncle Claude (Winstone), an alcoholic con-man with a grudging sense of duty, takes the orphan in. 'In' meaning into the clock tower in a metro station, where he is the duty clock watcher. It is for him to wind and maintain the various clocks, including the huge one at the centre of the action in the little station. Once Uncle Claude has taught Hugo all he knows about the duties of clock-watcher, it is actually Hugo who learns all the ins and out, the hidden passageways- and equally hidden lives- of all the denizens of the station. Hugo is, increasingly, left to his own devices- and gradually assumes all the responsibilities for the clock tower. In the meantime, he occupies his spare time with working on a project his father had poured endless hours into- and crushing on a girl who shows up every day at a confections and games/toys stall. All of this occurs under the grim, merciless eye of the chief security officer of the station- a man who has made it his life's work to round up and incarcerate orphans. Can it be long before our Hugo catches his eye?

The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. The opening shot- and many others, besides- features the signature Scorsese elongated pan, moving about in spaces not meant to hold a human- even a small one- bird's eye and trains' eye views, sweeps and long beats of uninterrupted 'who's doing what' moments. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Wish You Were Here! There is also the tang of regret, grief, temptation and the sweet realisation of love, found in the most unexpected places.

Lessons Learned: Paris, seen at night, from above, is a gorgeous, breath-taking almost heartbreakingly moving sight. Also, this: there truly is someone for everyone. Finally, this: film-makers, folks of vision, endless creativity and insight are fighting an uphill battle. But, when they win out over their obstacles, oh, my, what inspirational art results. I am humbled by such inventiveness.

Notable Quotables: Hugo Cabret : I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Descendants

The Flick: The Descendants

The Peeps: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Kraus, Beau Bridges, Michael Ontkean, Matthew Lillard, etc.

The Dealio: Clooney's Matt King, reeling from the jet-ski accident that rendered his wife comatose and likely to never recover, discovers that she was having an affair. In turns hurt, stunned, and angry, at heart, he is simply scrambling to hold his family together, minimise the damage and help his daughters heal. But fate is not done with Matt King. Another one-two punch connects when land his family has owned for over a century becomes a bone of contention in his expansive and acquisitive family. Here's the dealio: he - as executor of the estate- must either give into the pleas of most of his family and sell the land to developers, or let it revert back to the Hawaiian people in seven years. Most of the family is pulling for the sale because, well, they are almost out of money. Matt doesn't really need the money and a minority of his family wants the land to be returned to Hawaii. Alternately flummoxed and desperate, King struggles to be the rock- the optimistic rock- to his youngest daughter (Amara's passive Scotty) and encouraging, bracing and disciplining to his rebellious older daughter- the subtly evocative Woodley's Alex- who is , at 16, already in a 'school' for teens with substance abuse problems. Into this mix comes the obliviously upbeat Sid (a fresh-faced, don't-quite-get-it-but-OK Kraus), Alex's side-kick. No filter here, folks. He is of the gumball-machine theory of thought: it's in his mind, then rolls down to his lips, and out shoots the thought. Everyone quick! and cover.

The Grading Session: 4.83 pengies out of 5. Clooney is comedic, touchingly gruff, bewildered, then as ferocious and territorial as a griz. He is able, in other words, to play a fully fleshed out and realised character. Never better. But the real revelations are the three young actors who play his daughters and the goofball with a heart of gold, Sid. They are either naturals or really quick studies. Maybe both. And, Clooney has a natural easiness with them that is generous- letting them shine when they take the foreground, and supporting them when he shares the screen with them.

Lessons Learned: Hawaii is beautiful. But it is not Paradise. Also this: never judge a book by its cover (or a seemingly clueless teen by his chirpy, dramatically not-with-it affect). There can be unplumbed depths to such. Or not. Lastly: who says blood is thicker than water? Certainly not the King family when gazillions of bux lie in the balance.

Notable Quotable: "Paradise? Paradise can go eff itself. "

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When All Else Fails, Lie Your Butts Off and Make The Public Pick Up The Slack

The Flick: Margin Call

The Peeps: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simpn Baker, Demi Moore, Mary McDonnell, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Over the course of one night, lots can happen. Including what transpires in this movie: in the midst of a thorough cleansing of a large brokerage firm (read 1 out of 10 will survive this 'maintenance'), an outgoing, high level employee (Tucci), who has just learned some alarming info, passes his suspicions about the actual state of the firm's assets along to a young coworker (Quinto), who will be spared the purge. At least, for now. Being the basic, nose-to-the-grindstone-genius type, Quinto's Peter Sullivan works out the deets of the sitch passed on to him and comes to a shocking conclusion. Next step? Rally the troops and figure out how to paper over the damage before the firm loses its collective shirt. Lots of late night return-to-work calls, lots of helos landing on the roof, lots of pots of coffee being made. It is a thriller without a drop of blood being shed. Compelling...but scarily real.

The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. There are so many tiny performance gems from so many big names, willing to do their tiny bit. Moore, not among them, sadly. Whether you like these characters or think they are jerks, you will not be able to look away. Sort of like a train-wreck. But the only bleeding here is the money of ignorant investors. Scary thing, that.

Lessons Learned: How do I know an investment counsellor is lying? Easy. His/her lips are moving.

Standing in for Robert B. Parker

The Book: Killing The Blues

The Author: Michael Brandman (for Robert B. Parker)

The Dealio: Well, as any follower of this blog knows-and many who don't- one of our all-time faves (Parker) died last year. The talented author of several diverse 'lines', his characters have been picked up and taken on by others. And, I couldn't help wondering whether this would work or not. True fans of RBP know that he, himself, completed a Phillip Marlowe mystery, and even wrote one entirely on his own- Poodle Springs. But, I must admit to feeling some...concern about whether this transfer would, um, stick. The answer is, of course, yes and no. Brandman has picked up the storyline of Jesse Stone, late of LA, now the sheriff of tiny Paradise, MA. He receives word from an old boss that a criminal with whom he had brangled - and whom he had grievously injured while under the influence- is now out of jail and out for revenge. As if Jesse doesn't have enough to deal with, he then begins to experience a series of unsettling car-thefts, one of which devolved into murder. This, as the resort town gears up for the big summer season. Then weird things begin to happen that just shouldn't in a town that depends on tourism for its livelihood. Re-assuming his best LA approach to criminal behavior, Jesse sets out to establish himself as a force for law and order to be reckoned with- as well as dealing with the blow-back from the earlier incident, for which he feels great guilt and remorse.

The Grading Session: 4.03 pengies out of 5. This was not the best Jesse Stone novel ever, nor the worst. A coupla remarks: why did Brandman feel duty-bound to turn Jesse (in the RBP books, he cohabits with an orphaned Golden Retriever) into a 'cat man'? Also-ly, I clean do not understand why Molly had to be turned from a gentle, good-natured but able-to-hold-her-own in the law enforcement biz type into a humorless and angry individual who seems determined to put Stone in his place. These two always enjoyed a great relationship. That, unfortunately, did not survive the transition. That said, I was so happy to have Jesse back that I do not consider this a deterrent to those who love the series. And, I will buy and read the next.

Lessons Learned: It is possible to make the transfer from one author's take of a beloved character to another. But there are always the distinguishing fingerprints left behind. They may be good, they may be bad. But, in this case, they just are. And I am okay with that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tower Heist

The Flick: Tower Heist

The Peeps: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda (does he ever play a good guy anymore?), Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Pena, etc.

The Dealio: Wall Street bigwig/investor Arthur Shaw (Alda) is indicted for fraud on a grand level. He is put under house arrest in his sumptuous penthouse in The Tower until his trial (flight risk like a Topgun grad). Along the way, and prompted by manager Kovacs (Stiller) to invest on behalf of the supremely coddling staff, Shaw has managed to 'lose' 100% of their retirement. When Kovacs discovers that Shaw continued to play and spend hearty- even when he knew he was bankrupt- using their investment's so ON. Although lacking the skills, knowledge, devious nature and even the ability to lie convincingly, the staff-organised by Kovacs- decides to pull a heist. First step, recruit a known felon with experience in this particular area. Enter 'Slide' (Murphy). Subsequent steps involve recreations of the heist locale using building blocks and tapping into arcane knowledge about movies, elevators and surveillance. Equal parts slapstick and hubris (Alda's Shaw slitheringly slices Kovacs to ribbons with a bland smile on his face and nary a regret or show of emotion), cutesy planning sessions and unique opportunities for each player to have his/her moment in the limelight, this is a textbook example of voluntary suspension of belief because the audience actually likes the characters and is willing to grant them some space to make their cases.

The Grading Session: 4.57 pengies out of 5. And it sure is nice to see Leoni back in action...literally. This is a far from perfect movie- I wanted a slightly different ending- maybe along the lines of Ocean's 11 (I dunno. Something like) ? But it sure was satisfying on a light and airy level. As stinging social commentary? Not so much.

Lessons Learned: Crime may not pay, but for a while, it provides, in influence and power-brokering, a pretty good ride. Also- never under-estimate the force and vector of wronged peeps seeking restitution and revenge. Lastly this: great to see Murphy back doing what he does best.

Notable Quotables: Kovacs: 'I did this because I was promised a threefold return over traditional investments.' Odessa:'Did I ask for three times as much return?' And this one: 'You passed the bar only 3 days ago?!' 'Yes. Sharks are born swimming, sir.'

Saturday, November 12, 2011

J. Edgar

The Flick: J. Edgar

The Peeps: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts (great mouth make-up!), Judi Densch, Armie Hammer, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, etc, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Quite simply, this is Clint Eastwood's take on the J. Edgar Hoover mythology, with a script by Dustin Lance Black (Milk). Told in exhaustive detail, the saga is told with a cross-cut of scenes from Hoover's way-back sack that sprint to catch up with the progress of man at the current stage of the tale. This can be maddening, in a way, because we spend huge gobs of time on one era, then leapfrog through several presidents - not necessarily in order- then slip back to Hoover's childhood, to finally jet ahead to his current place in the tale. The film ends with a catch-up statement or two about the major players. Which I always appreciate. But (SPOILER ALERT!), I think I knew that Hoover was dead.

The Grading Session: 4.19 pengies out of 5. DiCaprio was outstanding in every scene, capturing, perfectly, the warring divisions within the man: the steely-eyed determination to be of service to the country he loved, as well as the mean-spirited egotist who can not bear for someone else to get the credit, or love and devotion of the public. It is important to note that he was responsible for some great innovations- bringing science, forsensics and fingerprints into the fray between law and justice and the accused. But he was also responsible for the paranoia and wholesale blurring of legal and moral lines during pivotal periods in our country's history. When asked by a friend, 'Isn't that illegal?', he puffs up like a fugu and stoutly intones, 'Sometimes it is necessary to bend the margins of legal and illegal to protect the country's best interests', thereby establishing a place for himself as a self-elected dictator and the only one who apparently knows what is the country's best interest.
Plus- stop me if you've heard this before- but a little bit of editing would have made the movie more endurable. When I asked Prendie to catch me up while I had myself a lil ol' powder room parade, he whispered back, 'Don't worry, we're telling this story in real time. You'll only miss what he ordered for lunch.' This is two hours and seventeen minutes that felt like years.

Notable Quotables: 'This is Agent---, from Dallas. The President's been shot.' 'Does anyone else know?' 'No one. I'll keep a lid on it.' ( OH? Reeeeeeeaaaaaallllllyyyyyy?! How'd that work out for ya?)

Lessons Learned: Didn't need to learn this one, but it bears repeating anyway: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Also: if a tiny, little person with a tiny, little spirit, wants to make something great out of themselves, there are two ways. But really, being a tiny, little person with a tiny little spirit, the method of choice is, inevitably, to tear down everyone else around them and stand on their wrecked remains. It is simply too hard and unappealing to do any actual work at building themselves into an actual better, bigger-hearted and greater-spirited person. Lastly this: even Clint, as talented a movie maker as he is, occasionally needs the services of a fearless, public-spirited editor. Your mileage may differ.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scandinavian Thrillers/Mysteries:'Sup With Them?

The Books/Their Authors: Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series, Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander series, Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series.

The Dealio: There is a very basic template to all of these, with slight departures in each. This whole, dark thaang started with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Initially, I was too chicken to read this one. Peeps immediately began weighing in on what they felt was a strong anti-woman vibe. Then there were the movies to contend with: first the reality of the Swedish movies, then the promise of an American remake (of, at least, the first). Just couldn't stand it any more. I had to see what all the chatter was about.
And, I liked them. Mostly. And with reservations. I have seen the original movies and now plan to see TGWTDT. When I finished the Millennium Trilogy, I began casting about for something similar. When someone recommended Kurt Wallander, I started off on a new pathway, through a coupla Henning Mankell's novels, propelled, no doubt, by both the sheer number of them, and the fact that the Beeb had produced some movies based upon- and starring Kenneth Branaugh as Wallander. Liked those pretty well, too.
When an article ran in EW or Newsweek or some such, about Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole mysteries, I selected one, and steamed on, full speed ahead.
Being not the quickest study in the fantiverse, a pattern slowly began to emerge. And, even as I continue to intersperse my other reading/listening with selections from this bounty thriller exotica, I realised that I had fallen into a rut...a very dark, icy, broody, malicious rut. Mental palate cleanser, if you please! (Enter Just My Tyoe, on which, more in a later entry).

The Grading Sessions: All of these fall within 4.0 to 4.6 pengies territory. They are involving, they are full to the bursting with side plots and complexities that take years and years (and years) to unwind. There is also a thick and barbed strand of 'the lost girls' in each. The violence is uncommon and explicit. Women are placed in high position - either within law enforcement and/or the law, itself. In the case of Larsson's trilogy, as anyone who takes a news or entertainment mag, owns a TV or has been to a movie in the past ninety days knows, his Salander is both an outlaw and a computer genius. In every case, there is great attention to back story and details. And, at bottom, there is a miasma of distrust of those assigned- in one capacity or another- to protect and serve the interests of public safety. These are exciting and onvolving to read/listen to, but, at heart, they- like their heroes, are also deeply flawed and semi-tragic. Sometimes, ya just wanna put on sandals and run into the sunny beauty of a San Diego summer. So, you do.

Lessons Learned: Every hero of each of these series has got a drinking problem, marital problems, commitment problems and anger management problems. Each represents the side of truth and justice and finds both by bending- or hacking to bits- the law to their purposes. All are bitter and depressed- must be the winters, because, even when the story is set in summer, it is painted in dark and stormy and cold and threatening strokes. None of these heroes are good-looking (in fact, most of them, their creators go out of their way to emphasise, are downright homely). They are huge, muscle and/or fat bound creations, and yet...are absolutely irresistible to any/all women with whom they come in contact. Incredible. And then, there is the graphic, high-grade violence. Usually, this is focused on the females in the books, but our heroes also come in for their own extended kabuki with the staffs of many ERs.
So, what is my lesson? Well, it's very basic, actually: if you pen the story, you get to make even the least likely folk come out champion of all they survey and possessing all the perks/qualities you wish you, yourself, had. But do not.
Also this- do not listen to this stuff via audio book, in your car, alone, while driving home from a distant place. Especially when you are enjoying your very own dark and stormy night. That's a killer.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Ides Of March

The Flick: The Ides Of March

The Peeps: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, etc.

The Dealio: Candidate Morris (Clooney)- war hero, Democrat, sitting guv, family man, solid citizen who can reach the young, etc, etc- is locked into a primary battle in the state of Ohio and is pulling out all the stops in order to win the coveted berth at 1600 PA Ave. One of the very best tricks he has up his sleeves is whip-smart, young, incisive gunslinger and press-tamer Steven Myers (Gosling, with his patented dead-eyed stare and thin-lipped disapproval ratcheted way up to 11). Just when it seems the two candidates are deadlocked, the two campaign managers on opposite sides of this battle, both make a play for Steven. And the house of cards begins to disassemble. What happens next is hardly original, although Clooney- who also directed and co-wrote the piece- leaves the final denouement up for grabs (don't you just hate it when Probst says that every week?).

The Grading Session: 4 pengies out of 5. A little too long, a few too many cliches, but an engaging and involving movie, this film could stand a little off the sides and neaten up the back. So to speak. The frozen, gimlet-eyed demeanor of Gosling's Steven is becoming a bit too standard- I got bushels of it in Drive- and would welcome a change-up with a bit more of a look inside the man betrayed. Or betraying?

Lessons Learned: Kinda cliches in their own right: never trust a politician. Especially one who says, 'Don't vote for me, in fact.' This is the guy who would outfit his parents with cement overshoes for 10 electoral votes. Then call himself a lone orphan in order to scoop up the remaining EVs. Then, too, this: the press is not your friend. Don't ever make the mistake of confusing avidity for the story with interest in you and your well-being. A reporter is as interested in your well-being as you are in his/hers. Lastly this: if you think you will be left standing, unharmed, when you bring down everything around you, consider, long and hard, the destructive nature of the earthquake. And think again about what is about to be destroyed.

Notable quotables: To Steven:'We are not friends. We are on opposite sides of the same story. It benefits you to let me shape the news. It is in my best interest to be the first one to get my hands on the news.' (Later, the same character will ask Steven, 'Aren't we friends any more?' To which he responds, 'You are my best friend.')
'There is nothing, nothing, I value more than loyalty. I thought you knew that about me.' (Said, by one campaign manager, to justify betraying someone and throwing that person to the wolves).

Saturday, September 24, 2011


The Flick: Moneyball

The Peeps: Well, Brad Pitt, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Nick Searcy, Arliss Howard, etc.

The Dealio: The-mostly, I'm sure- true story of the GM of the Oakland A's, Billy Beane, and his quest to prove that great baseball can be found at a discount. After watching how the deal is made behind the scenes- with an unknown quantity of Peter Brand, Pitt's Beane decides to follow that self-same UQ by taking on the newbie, a recent Yale econ grad, as the person most likely to turn this team around. And, maybe, just maybe, turn baseball on its ear.

The Grading Session: 4.951 pengies out of 5. No demerits here for the soundtrack, but hellfire, this was a long movie. Coulda, shoulda, woulda benefited from a taddy bit of editing. Not every word is as sacrosanct as every other one. Y'know? But, all in all, I must say, this is a must-see. I loved the worn-in, baseball glove weariness of Pitt's face, the naturalness of his relationship with Hill's eager-to-succeed, yet tentative about his skills Brand, and the intrigue of what goes on behind closed doors. I am always appreciative of behind-the-scenes scenes. From the fencing training in The Duellists, to the on-the-spot workshop on customising a suit in The Tailor Of Panama, it is always a jolt of adrenalin to see behind the mystical curtain. C'mon. You know what I mean: what the ordinary person doesn't get to see. The VIP Isn't that what we all crave? I know I do.

Notable Quotables: 'These are baseball players. Just tell them up-front what is happening.' Also this: 'So, you and Google Boy sit there making decisions about this team, while I have 29 years experience, and that's...what? nothing?' Lastly this one: 'It's like the Island of Lost Toys. They are largely unknown guys who have something that the American public may not want to see. But they can win games. And they are in your price range.'

Lessons Learned: Wow. So many. First of all, for America's fave sport, there sure is a lot we never get to see. And, maybe that's for the best. I am not sure we are ready to look beyond the smoke and mirrors. And this: always bothered me that players of a sport got way more bank than those protecting our lives and our futures- like police, firemen, military. Baseball is a sport. A great sport, but it is a sport, when all is said and done. Why the huge pay-bump for these folk? Why do we think this is okay? The fact that fielding a team- a winning team- for a tenth of the standard operating cost is not only possible, but practical, in this economy. And this is something the leaders in the arena of sports need to fully and rapturously embrace. Hey! Attention baseball player shoppers! Start now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

The Flick: Our Idiot Brother

The Peeps: Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones, Shirley Knight, Adam Scott, Hugh Dancy, etc.

The Dealio: Rudd plays Ned, the idiot brother of the title. His three sisters: smug, shrill, self-righteous and bigger idiots than Ned, feel a sense of amused botheration when(ever) Ned gets himself into a bind. When he sells dope to a cop who is 'having a really bad week and needs something to help lighten things up', Ned goes to jail, losing his job, his woman and- most heartbreakingly-his doggage. The rest of the movie is about how Ned manages to cut to the heart of every sitch as it crops up, while his sisters, operating from a position of possessing every advantage- manage to mess up their lives, their jobs and their relationships by the numbers. Pity poor Jones, stuck in an underdeveloped, thankless role, who persists in bringing her A game to a D level championship. Ditto Knight, who in movie after movie shows real star power and the ability to rise above the material. She rules as the voice of the no nonsense, but easy-love Mom, who, none the less, cuts to the chase every time and winds up winning the day. Will Ned succeed in finally getting the respect a nature boy who can not tell a lie (No, I mean it. He really. can. not.) rightly has earned? Whaddaya think?

The Grading Session: 4.01 pengies out of 5. There is a good heart at the core of this film. It just doesn't belong to any of the smug, shrewish women who sit in judgement of their brother. If persistent stereotypes annoy the living crap out of you- this is not the flick for you. Try Starman instead: a much better film and vintage Jeff Bridges to boot. Or, no. Wait: The Big Lebowski. Yeah. Either of those for the naif innocent persisting in a world gone horribly brutal thaang.

Notable Quotables: "Do you think these remelted candles are sellable?" "Did you know that he has to strip to interview her? That's how shy she is."

Lessons Learned: Dogs know with whom they belong. If you want unconditional love, it's either a newborn or a dog. Or a newborn dog. Also this: sometimes people so totally do not deserve the benefit of the doubt.


The Flick: Drive

The Peeps: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, etc.

The Dealio: Ryan Gosling is the (unnamed) Driver. See? Getting all QT up in here already. By day , he is alternately a cipher of a stunt driver/auto mechanic. But he doth also moonlight as the wheel man on various adventures, most of which occur under cover of dark. His brass tacks line is 'I give you 5 minutes. During that time, I am 100% yours. One minute in either direction, and I am out of there. I don't carry a gun, I drive.' So, there you have the set-up.
Then he runs into a neighbor (Mulligan's Irene) and her impossibly adorable son- whose dad is in jail. And don't you know, just as things start perking along, Irene's ex is released from the lock-up to return home and pick up where he left off. Of course, he is chastened and trying hard to do the right thing, but you know this state of grace is flat out not gonna endure. In order to protect his fam, he is drawn back into the life, and winds up dragging Gosling's Driver right along with. Naturally, it is a fool-proof gig, and naturally, things go south with all due dispatch once the Driver signs on. There follows an incredible amount of high-grade violence, without the nuance and commitment to character development- nor the compulsory drawing of the viewer in, to take sides with our anointed heroes. Here's a tip for ya: if we just don't give a brass farthing for anyone involved, least of all the main character, this simply isn't going to pan out for us. If you had told me, at the start of the movie, that I would care about the outcome for Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction, I would have thought you were nuts. But, of course, I did. And I was not alone in experiencing this bond. Drive...not so much.

The Grading Session: 3.51 pengies out of 5. Please see above for the reasons behind the grade. BTW- Brooks was a real revelation as the duty bad hat. Check out the new career vector on him!

Notable Quotables: " get to clean up after me." 'Sorry. My hands are a little dirty.' "Mine, too." Both from Brooks. See? What'd I tell you?

Lessons Learned: Well, for starters- don't mess with Brooks; he proves that you really don't have to shout to be heard and feared. A simple, poisonous purr will get the job done just as well. Maybe better. Next: you never really get to back away from poor lifestyle choices when you think you have learned your lesson and are intent on putting the past behind you. Lastly: if something is a sure thing, it really, really isn't. And if the gig is fool-proof, ditto.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop

The Flick: Exit Through The Gift Shop (Non-fiction)

The Peeps: Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Rhys Ifans (narrator) et al.

The Dealio: When Thierry Guetta, a shopkeeper and self-confessed photo-addict, becomes enthralled with the graffiti world in France, and then in the US and the UK, all sorts of mayhem results. Eventually, the self-proclaimed, but untested Guetta becomes something in the nature of an underground phenom himself. Suddenly, he is the director of a studio which mass-produces 'works of subversive art'. He has a sold-out show, which nets him tons of lettuce and notoriety. Where will he venture next?

The Grading Session: 3.79 pengies out of 5. Although fairly short, the film became repetitious. But you should definitely call it up, if you have a weekend with time on your hands and an excruciating need to be entertained and transported out of yourself. This is an intriguing and involving commentary on the world of underground art.

Notable Quotables: "So, the lesson for me was 'never try to help someone out with a quote.'"

Lessons Learned: Sometimes it is possible to simply stumble into success. Otherwise, it is probably worth your while to look into a thing before you leap. Or invest. What strikes you as innovative and unique, may just have been reproduced en masse in a storage loft. Does it make it any less art? No. But, with art, as with many other things, you should probably only invest in what you love.


The Flick: Contagion

The Peeps: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, etc.

The Dealio: In the beginning, Paltrow's Beth is cheating on her husband(Damon). She is travelling to Hong Kong on business and 'picks up' with an ex. She is already exhibiting symptoms of some sort of flu-like thaang- coughing, runny eyes and achiness- which she dismisses as jet lag. And then the bods start to pile up: people going about their daily lives- peeps who, on the surface, have nothing to do with each other- are dropping over, then dropping dead. And so it goes. Wot's the dealio?! In a race to discover what all these clusters have to do with each other, scientists- Cotillard, Fishburne and Winslet, as well as Law's journalist/blogger- begin to look into the background of those who were the first to bite the dust. And, what do we discover? Nothing simple, that's fer shur.

The Grading Session: 4.1 pengies out of 5. Too much left unresolved, too much creepiness, too ambitious, without living up to the potential of what seemed to me like a lesser Crichton tale.

Notable Quotables: 'But, we're not sick! We're healthy!' "So, we're sorry, but she didn't make it. Despite our best efforts." 'OK. So, when can I talk to her?'

Lessons Learned: Here's the biggie: WASH YOUR HANDS. Also this: it's OK to feel paranoid, if everyone around you is kicking the bucket. For further advice, please see lessons learned, #1.

Dawn Patrol

The Book: Dawn Patrol

The Writer: Don Winslow

The Dealio: 'Boone' Daniels- ex-cop, surfer since before he was born (really), sometime PI and all-around wise-ass is the lead in this ensemble book, the first in what I hope is a long- and very rapidly multiplying- series. Why? Well, for starters, it is set in Pacific Beach, my second home, and the first place I lived when I moved to SD. Along the way to solving the mystery and getting the bad guys where and what they deserve and belong, there are wonderful insights into SD history, sociology, geographic snobbery and, of course, surfing. I am more than halfway through the second- and so far, last- in the series and cannot wait for several things to happen: #1- more books. #2-get those books made into flicks. A worthy hero in the mold of such not-quite-comfortable-within-trad-cop-shops folks as Kinsey Milhone, Spenser and Elvis Cole, these are detective stories for those who like a little knowledge and fun with their mysteries. Aaaaand, he lives at Crystal Pier, one of our fave stay-cation locales. Choice.

The Grading Session: 4.988 pengies out of 5. A smidgeon off the sides and back for the recommendation of Jeff's for the ultimate burg- which turned out to be the ultimate let-down. But only a smidge, since everyone has their own hallmark for the best burger evah. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Everything tastes better in a tortilla(this is one with which I happen to heartily agree). Also this: never, never, NEVER turn your back on the ocean.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Love

The Flick: Crazy, Stupid Love

The Peeps: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone (havin' a moment), Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Josh Groban (yeah, that Josh Groban), etc.

The Dealio: While Carell's Cal is thinking 'What a perfect life I have', Emma, his wife of over 20 years is thinking divorce. Meanwhile Gosling's Jacob is hectically playing ladies' man extraordinaire, except that his usual magic is not working on the one lady he can't get out of his mind-or into his bed. Hannah (Stone) is hoping for a twofer: passing the boards and getting a proposal in the same week. Which she does. But not exactly as planned. And, Cal and Emma's son is heavily smitten with his babysitter, who has her eye on someone else entirely. Oh, I'm sorry, should have warned you to spreadsheet all this.

The Grading Session: 4.33 pengies out of 5. With more than a glancing nod to such previous films as Love, Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, CSL is still one that stands out in a crowd. At times silly, melodramatic and frothy, it is also one deeply romantic movie, that is unafraid to show the bittersweet edge of romance. The cast is very strong-although Tomei ratchets up the way-too-hungry-ex-lush thaang a notch or two too many on several occasions. Still, it is nice to see her work. And there is a typical ending in which is couched a deeply felt, but almost cliched declaration of love. But, even as I was sort of shaking my head at the lack of originality of the whole thing, I suddenly felt very...moved and emotional about what was happening on the screen. And not only to the person speaking the lines. Nicely done.

Lessons Learned: If someone says they will jump out of the car if you do not stop talking...take them at their word and put a sock in it. Also- Ryan Gosling totally looks photo-shopped. Sorry, but he does. Finally, this: love is inconvenient, goofy, nonsensical and just plain crazy, not to mention stupid. But it is also worth all of that if it possesses the real stuff.

Notable Quotes: 'You are better than the Gap!' 'OK, normally, I would tell you to just be yourself. But, on this occasion, my advice to you is to be the exact opposite of yourself.' 'You're David Lindhaven?' (followed by loads of piling-on).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Change Up

The Film: The Change Up

The Peeps: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Leslie Mann, Alan Arkin, etc.

The Dealio: One night, after a particularly frustrating day, buds Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman), express a keen desire to switch lives while peeing in a fountain. Well, of course, as these things always go, this was no everyday, ordinary fountain, but one with a sharp sense of humor. Sure enough, each awakens to find he has swapped places, but not bods, with the other. For dedicated, but harried dad-of-three-married-to-the-hot-wife Dave, this is like summer vacation. For about three minutes. Then, the reality of being a type A professional stuck in a slacker, irresponsible dude's body, hits him like a 30 pound halibut to the melon. For playboy, occasional lorn-actor Mitch, it is a trip to Hell without any possibility of detour or parole. Any one who doesn't know how this is going to play out, raise your hand now. You're excused. Go check out 13 Going On 30, Double Trouble, The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday or any similar cinematic dissertation on the ramifications of swapping places with someone you think has it all figured out. SPOILER ALERT: turns out, they do not.

The Grading Session: 3.901 pengies out of 5. As I said in the tripline: do not go see this movie with someone like me. The scenes with Dave/Mitch interacting with his twins were excruciating for someone like me! Listen, I know it is totally unfair to bring my professional life to the movies with me, but I can not help myself. Full marks to Prendie for not gagging me after the first two outbursts: 'OMG! No powder for the babies! What is he thinking!? ' And, 'Dear God! Tell me he is not heating up the bottles in a pan or microwave! I can't look!' I had to actually step into the lobby to stop my hyperventilation when the babies started playing with knives. No. Seriously, it was an acceptable movie of its kind, and seemed like the cinematic version of summer comfort food (mashed potatoes with lite margarine, versus butter): easy to digest, very familiar and not liable to change your life-outlook,. Or your cholesterol count.

Lessons Learned: Two very appealing leads can only carry a flick so far. A fresh-eyed script should definitely come first. Also, be prepared. Start right this minute. Against the possibility of such a thing ever actually happening in your life, rehearse phrases, words and questions that would cue in your significant others that there has been a total body transplant. Prendie and I are already prepped for such an eventuality. You should be , too.

Notable Quotable: Well, this one always makes Prendie laugh out loud, so I'll spring for this one: 'Oh, no you don't! Don't go backing that thing up into me. I can't believe you'd come at me guns hot.'

30 Minutes Or Less

The Flick: 30 Minutes or Less

The Peeps: Danny McBride, Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Fred Ward, Nick Swardson, etc.

The Dealio: Based upon a real-life event (with much less upbeat ending), this is the story, like so many others, about a slacker-Eisenberg's Nick- and his marginally more achievement-oriented bud, who wind up pulling a robbery at the behest of two wastrels who have strapped a bomb to Nick's chest. This is billed as a comedy, but, from the first time someone gets shot, you know that, if this is comedy, it is of the depths of a moonless night variety. Violence, toilet talk and the low road to every punchline are the hallmarks of this 'buddy flick'. By the time you get to the man on fire- and not in a figurative sense, you almost want to smack everyone concerned. See how blatant violence breeds the violent response. Well. Maybe just in me. Sorry 'bout that.

The Grading Session: 2.0001 pengies out of 5. This is time I will never get back. Damn it.

Lessons Learned: Well, for Danny McBride, who rocks supporting roles, perhaps he should go one of two routes, from here on in: either read thoroughly before taking the money. Or, just a thought: go back to the supporting roles, where you have had notable success in the past. For me: I have outgrown stoner-driven movies.

Quotes of Note: 'Well, officer, you just brought a gun to a bomb fight.' And, 'I loved that bear. You...I don't even know.'

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Read It Or Listen To It, Then See It. What're You Waiting For?

The Flick: The Help

The Peeps: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Alison Janney, Cecily Tyson, etc.

The Dealio: Based on the 2009 Kathryn Stockett novel (she also wrote the screen adaptation), this is the story of 'colored maids' in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, interpreted through the words of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. Skeeter is a misfit: too tall, too awkward, too unclassically pretty, too smart and liberal for the tastes the the Junior League world of Jackson. Frustrated by her inability to wedge her way into a journalistic job, she accepts a post with a smaller paper, writing a cleaning column. Not much of a cleaner herself, Skeeter seeks the advice and council of Aibileen Clark, the maid for one of her sorority sisters, and the breathing, loving heart of this tale. What she winds up getting is a glimpse into the everyday lives of the black women who raise the babies of the white society folks. She also gets an education into the far-reaching repercussions of the law-mandated injustices of the time.

The Grading Session: 5.61 pengies out of 5. I was utterly taken by the charms and skilled vocal portrayals of the audio version of this book- imagine my surprise when I noted that Octavia Spencer, one of those involved in that audio, actually was cast to play the same role (Minny), in the movie! Bonus! From the start, this movie held the entire audience in its thrall: people-and yep, there were men in the theatre, too- were on board from the very first scene, laughing, cheering and crying in turn with each development. The soundtrack tapped into the vivid popular music of the time to set the table appropriately, so a real feast ensued. Oh, dear. Am I gushing? Well, yes. Yes, I am. Go see this one, and you will gush, too.

Quote Picks: "So bring all your old commodes to the Holbrook home." "You is kind, you is smart, you is special." "Some Mexican cocoa and a very special ingredient."

Lessons Learned: A terrific book CAN be made into a terrific movie. How 'bout that?!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

The Film: Cowboys and Aliens

The Peeps: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, etc.

The Dealio: Time? Post Civil War. Place? The Western Territories of the US. The Set-Up? Into the town of Absolution staggers a wounded, fuzzy-headed, much-the-worse-for-wear c'boy...wearing an enigmatic expression. Oh, yeah, and a bracelet that apparently is able to track interplanetary spaceships and knock them from the sky. So far, just your basic horse opera, right? Riiiiight. In short order, the cowboy-Jake Lonergan- has run afoul of the obnoxious, spoiled and violent son of Woodrow Dolarhyde, the ex-military man who holds the whole of Absolution and everyone and thing in it- in his iron grasp. Lonergan also encounters a strangely reticent barkeep called 'Doc' and a 'strapped', comely female who insists that he must help her in her mysterious quest. Problem #1: Lonergan has no idea who he is, where he came from, how he got his wound and what that danged thing on his wrist is. Then, on a quiet night, ripped apart by peculiar animal behavior and flashing lights, the cuff chugs to life, and rapidly dispatches two flying menaces. While the town is trying to figure out what just happened, many more of the flying vehicles swoop in low, lasso-ing men, women, children- even livestock. Now we need a posse. And some cooperation. Good luck with that.

The Grading Session: 4.53 pengies out of 5. Very action-packed movie. Favreau is at his fanboy best with this one. My official commentator on all things military was...oddly silent during the run of this film. Everyone turned in well-tuned, tiny, gemlike performances. I was a bit jarred by the gorgeous Ella, in minimalist, Wild West make-up, wearing a very imposing shootin' iron, front and center, over her gingham dress. But, I nitpick. There was only one cool hat in the entire show- and Craig's Lonergan scored that one, lifting it from the head of a renegade bandito he's just blasted to smithereens with his wrist-activated RPG. Recurrent themes that are beloved of Favreau were all represented: fathers and sons, loyalty and unity in the face of an outside threat, and redemption through self-sacrifice. This was a great summer movie with enough diversity to suit every one's needs. And, of course bug-lizard-Alien-and-Predator-style bad guys. What IS it with the insect aliens? Have film makers decided that this is the ultimate scary-unknown? Get over it; ultimately scary is US, but mutated, invisibly.

Lessons Learned: When a character in a movie is suddenly in possession of super-powers or super-weapons, the learning curve seems to be very tiny: one minute, the possessor is fumbling along, singeing him/her self with the damned thing. The next minute, they are battling aliens, doing major surgery and whipping up a chocolate souffle with the thaang. That's the kind of a deal I want to own. Might be worth a few singeing incidents...if I can manage a souffle, after all is said and done. Then, too, this: do not look into the light. Ever.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

The Flick: Captain America: The First Avenger

The Peeps: Chris Evans ( both regular and mini), Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Hugo Weaving, Neal McDonough, Toby Jones, (What? Nothing for Andy Serkis?!), etc.

The Dealio: This film takes us back to WWII, and the sort of 90 pound weakling who used to get sand kicked in his face at the beach. Nowadays, those are the guys who create things like Microsoft and FB. But, back then, well, there was a war on, and it was seen as the duty of every red-blooded man (and some women, let's face it) to come to the aid of their country. And, they did. In droves. Except for Steve Rogers, who couldn't pass a draft physical to save his soul. After the ninth unsuccessful try, Steve unburdens himself to his BFF, who just signed up. If only he could have the chance. He knew, just knew, he could do something grand. While Steve is spinning his tale of woe, he is unaware that he has been overheard by a quiet little anonymous man, loitering around the queue. That little man is none other than Dr. Abraham Erskine, once a leading scientist in Germany. Erskine's heart goes out to the earnest, if decidedly, um, unimpressively built Rogers. And, naturally, he has a plan. He sells Rogers on the idea of being an experimental subject in the quest to manufacture the world's most perfect fighting machine. Seems Erskine was very close to a break-through, when the political climate- as well as the goals of the radical Johann Schmidt- became too threatening. Erskine moved his ops to the good ol' US of A, and now, is recruiting a totally new sort of fighting man: power with empathy, ability with compassion. He sees what no one else does in Rogers- including the military boss in this project, a fairly apoplectic (as apoplectic as Jones can allow himself to become) Colonel Chester Phillips. Will Rogers become the nation's best hope of ending the war? Well, lemme see...what's the name of this flick? You got it. And, don't worry; Rogers has got our back.

The Grading Session: 4.91 pengies out of 5: everyone was totally on board with this mix of history, action, sci-fi and a touch of romance. The music was a great, accurate fit and- although we did not see the film in 3D, the money invested in the FX seemed well spent. A few debits for the flummery of the costumes (I know, pre-ordained by the comic. Noted. Still.....that mask. That shield!)

Noteworthy Quote(s): Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! New Feature Alert! This movie inspired me to add a new feature to the reviews. Quotes. Sometimes, they will be from the book or movie itself. Sometimes, they will be harvested from the 'overheard bin'. So. Shall we begin with one from this last category? Yesssss. Overheard walking out of the theatre: 'Wow! This movie sure makes me proud to be an American!' 'I know! Who knew we were able to do all that way back during WWII.' OK, folks. Reality check: you did know this was fiction, did you not? Based on a comic book? Am I right? So, new question on the table: what the tarnation did the same peeps think of Inglourious Basterds?

Lessons Learned: Never underestimate the power of film to sway an audience. To sweep them up into the action and even to melt their nerve endings to the point where they cannot separate fact from really, really creative fiction. Also this: What if Napoleon has a B-52? Incredible amount of history rewriting required, no? Lastly this: even without all this scientific hocus-pocus, never kick sand into the 90 pound weakling's face. You just never know where he/she will turn up next. Maybe even opposite you in a job interview? Think about it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The Flick: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The Peeps: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, etc.

The Dealio: Quick question: are you a Potter fan or not? If you are, know the dealio. If you aren't: read the books, people. Read the books, then prepare to go on a cinemabiblio journey the likes of which you have not encountered in, well, 14 years. If for no other reason than the marvelous-ness of bringing kids- and their elders- back to reading- this entire journey would be worth the sadness of saying farewell. We knew it was coming. We knew the outcome of any battle to the end between the Boy Who Lived and He Who Must Not Be Named. OK, maybe we didn't have all the grace notes. But, in our hearts, we knew. We have sat on the sidelines- though it often felt that we were actually part of the roster- as Harry and Co. grew, matured, assed-off the way teens will, and finally, finally, found themselves. It was a magnificent tour de force. Now that it is over, there are tears as well as cheers. But, mostly, there are generations caring. That has got to be worth something. And, to me, it definitely is.

The Grading Session: Overall: 4.791 pengies out of 5. HPATDHP2: 4.967 pengies out of 5. Many have said that strong story lines were deleted (agreed. But did we actually want a 6 hour movie, or a HPATDHP3?). But for sheer no-character-left-behind, this movie excels. The special effects were wondrous, scary, elegiac and beautifully executed. I do not truck with two things: dawdling service and 3 D, so this was seen in standard movie house fare-type 2D. And I did not miss a thing. And the wonderful lagniappe of the whole deal was that we got to catch up with the people in whom we had invested so much time and energy. How did they turn out? Well, like the books and the movies: wonderfully. Go see this movie. But, really? You haven;t read the books? My niece read the books before she was a preteen! You definitely owe it to yourself. Get thee to a library, bookstore, eReader or audio book. (I can not recommend the audios enough. Jim Dale rules- creating a library of distinct voices. You owe it to yourself!). But don't take my word for it...

Lessons Learned: There is simply no substitute for an engaging cast of characters, a wonderful, flowing story line and a tremendous commitment to follow-through. Oh, yeah, and this: Harry and crewe rock!

The Tiger's Wife

The Book: The Tiger's Wife

The Author: Tea Obreht

The Dealio: This is a story ostensibly about one little child- and her grandfather. However, what this actually is, is a collection of short stories, strung like pearls in an Ethiop's ear, lucient and beckoning, scrumptious in description and spun as finely as the very highest grade silk. But. Still, short stories. The author- who is 25 years old. At twenty five, she is as poetic and lyrical a composer as any I have encountered, and spins a web of sheerest gossamer. Then, she moves on to another time, another starring character and another world. Either you buy into the conceit, or you do not. I wantedwantedwanted in desperately. But, for me, this did not happen. I got one-third through the book before I lost patience and...well, I moved on.

The Grading Session: 3.981 pengies out of 5. For sheer lusciousness, you can not beat the prose in this story. But, for me, this would have been better served as poetry. I -at my advanced age- refuse to commit more than 200 pages, less my age, to any book. Unfortunately, this one did not meet my curmudgeonly standards. If you like short stories, and adore delicious turns of phrase- this, certainly, is the book for you. For all others, maybe something with a longer string may be more what you desire.

Lessons Learned: Beautiful phrasing and elegantly descriptive flights of fancy may carry the day for many. Maybe even the majority. But for the rest of us, let us have something into which we can sink our teeth, our energies and our devotion. If you are here for 25 pages, then- POOF!- evaporating into thin air...well, I pass. Catch you the next time around. Or not. Depends.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why

The Book: Thirteen Reasons Why

The Writer: Jay Asher

The Dealio: Clay Jenson comes home from school one day to find a wrapped shoe box, containing 7 cassette tapes, leaning on his front door. He soon learns that the tapes were made by Hannah Baker, a girl on whom he has an enormous crush. Here is what she says: 'If you are listening to this tape, that means that I have killed myself. And you are one of the 13 reasons why.' What follows are 13 stories, told from Hannah's perspective, about people who touched her life, and then cornered her in such a way that she felt driven to end it. The vehicle for telling the story is mainly call and response between Hannah's taped messages, and Clay's real-time reactions to her tales. But this is no mere Scheherazade, staving off her certain demise by weaving tales of fancy and fiction. This is the last, desperate restating of events , hoping for an eleventh hour reprieve. As such, it is gut-wrenching.

The Grading Session: 4.803 pengies out of 5. First of all, this is a strong, powerful, evocative story. But- as is usually the case with adolescence- there is so very much drama and eventfulness, that it is, at times, too-too-too. That was my first reaction. Then, I thought back to my own teen years, and began to recall how everything is as urgent, as important,as life-and-death as everything else. There doesn't seem to be any sort of sliding scale at work. And then, the book began to lose that sense of hysteria and breathlessness for me, and began to ring so-unfortunately- true. Context is, after all, a valuable thing. I also was pleased with Hannah's final words. I got the impression that Clay was one of the few (maybe the only?) one to actually hear them.

Lessons Learned: Never, ever would I want to be a teenager- or even a preteen- again. Next this: it doesn't take much to give a person in peril and pain a reason why not. I often think about a similar situation my son experienced: a classmate told him she wanted to kill herself over the weekend. His response? 'I really wish you wouldn't! I would miss you so much!' Of course, he came home and told us, and I, narc that I am, gave the info to the school and asked them what the plan was (counsellors like you read about on site the next AM ).
Finally, this: evil grows when good people do nothing. So- if you don't like what you see, if what you see worries something. Say something. It really does matter. You really do matter.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Transformers 3: The Dark Of The Moon

The Flick: Transformers 3: The Dark Of The Moon

The Peeps: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, John Malkovich, etc.

The Dealio: The Toys With Attitude R Back. With a bigger budget. The (Earth- and Earthling-friendly) Autobots become aware that a spacecraft- the Ark- that carried an Autobot leader, (the Leonard Nimoy-voiced Sentinel Prime), to swing the outcome in the final battle for supremacy on home planet Cybertron, was hit by enemy fire and crashed on the Moon. Now, there is evidence that not only was the crash site was uncovered by astronauts during the first lunar landing, but also, that pieces recovered at the crash site were brought back to planet Earth. And, of course, placed in hyper-secrecy, in some sort of ultra-safe, Health and Human Services urban storage facility slash car-impound lot. In downtown Chicago. Well, at least it's not NYC or LA.
Fast-forward to present day, when our hero, Sam, is being a) supported by new hot-babe-GF, Carly, b) hounded by his RV-wheelin' folks to just get a job and c) fighting jealousy of Carly's multi-millionaire-boss, Dylan, who, clearly, is after his girl.
After failing to land job after job, Sam wanders into the madhouse masquerading as a high-tech firm run by Malkovich's Bruce Bezos. He is offered a a mail-room attendant. Which he accepts. Chaos ensues as he is sought out by a weird- and weirdly paranoid new coworker (the frenetic and vastly amusing Ken Jeong) and given a cache of documents outlining some strange doings afoot in the great Chicago metroplex. Before you can say 'Autobots, transform!' Sam and Co. are back in the Decepticon-hunting biz.

The Grading Session: 4.00612 pengies out of 5. Where do I start? OK, how about here: what did you think you were going to get when you walked into a theatre offering a movie called Transformers 3? Most of the special effects were decent. The soundtrack was clever and well-placed. Everyone got to shine for a few moments, and that can be challenging when you have to act to a blue/green screen. Face it, no one chews scenery better than Malkovich (OK, sorry, Christopher Walken. You do, sir). Turturro returns as conspiracist-in-recovery Seymour, and McDormand does her blandly-threatening bit as Sec Def. But this movie was still waaaaaaay too long. There is no excuse for this to go on so long that even viewers who roared with approval when the theme music came up in the beginning, began to grumble in their seats.

Lessons Learned: Again with the aliens/alien spacecrafts-as-bugs? Come on, peeps, let's get a little more creative. Next, in the words of Tyrese's Chief Epps: 'Why do the Decepticons always get the best ess-aitch-eye-tea?' Please see my rantique of X-Men: First Class. For the life of me, I can not see how the good guys ever win in these deals where they are out-gunned, out-finessed and out-numbered by the bad guys...until they do. This seems to be a historical template, dating back from Star Wars. Maybe earlier. Lastly this: Do not go to work for a guy who will not let you have red coffee cups on a yellow floor. This way lies madness. And, maybe, doing battle with some bug-esque creatures.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


The Flick: Buck

The Peeps: Buck Brannaman, Robert Redford, et al.

The Dealio: This is the non-fictional account of the true horse whisperer. He who provided the background, the body double and the heart and soul of the inspiration for the book and the movie of the same name. Buck, as one half of a team (his older bro was the other half) performs a trick rope handling act that propels the duo to the forefront of country and western entertainment. But there is a darker side to the teamwork, the professional performance and the abilities: while the boys are still very young, they are being abused by their father, 'a man with a vicious temper'. This was a man who brooked no less-than-perfect outcomes, and beat his children until they were nearly unconscious to make a point. As a result, Buck (real name, Dan) seeks mentorship from a series of patient, slow-talking and slow-acting empathetic men. By the time he was removed from the situation which has caused so much damage to his young self, Dan/Buck has already established himself as a talented and capable performer. But he feels that something is lacking in his life. Then, he is placed with a family which, eventually winds up fostering or adopting over two dozen young men. This family becomes Brannaman's inspiration, motivation and refuge. And he begins to learn something very important. About kids and about horses: respect is all.

The Grading Session: 4.87 pengies out of 5. This is a very fine- if not perfect- little indie. Anyone who loves horses, or kids, or touching tributes to the unvanquished spirit of the Wild West- this is the flick for you. Although the music only really melds with the film after the credits begin to run, there is much to admire and to become choked up about (which). And, always, there is the spectre of possible failure floating above the entire enterprise. Touching, but bittersweet.

Lessons Learned: A kind, but firm, word and consistent treatment will rule the day. Also this: sadly, not everyone is redeemable. Lastly this: 'you have a choice to make: you can do what was done to you. Or, you can make a change. But, you do have a choice.' Yep: true dat.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Lock Artist

The Book: The Lock Artist

The Writer: Steve Hamilton

The Dealio: Michael would like to tell you his story. No. Really. He would like to tell you his story, but he can't. He hasn't spoken since, as an 8 yr old, he experienced something so traumatic, it rendered him, literally, speechless. So, Mike, now 18 years old, and behind bars, is going to write his story and allow you to arrive at your own conclusions about him. Oh, and why is 'our hero' behind bars? Well, it's an interesting story, told-written- by leap-frogging between the past and the present. We learn that 'Miracle Boy' Michael has grown up to become a 'box man': a safe-cracker extraordinaire. And along the way, we bump into characters whose names read like a blend of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and something out of Dashiel Hammett ('Sleepy Eyes', 'The Ghost', 'Fishing Hat' and 'Shark Eyes' to name a few). As Michael slowly begins to unspool the events- and the people- who diverted him into his current residence, a creeping sense of dread and emergency begins to stir, then stalk. We sort of know how this will end, because of the way it began: Michael, in jail, mute and pining for the one who got away.

The Grading Session: 4.81 pengies out of 5. This was an engaging and involving story, and several times, I found myself turning it off (yep, another audio book. What can I say? Have audio book, will travel), in favor of Jack Johnston or Elliott Smith, my anxiety over Mike's sitch so snagged my empathies. Also, the uniqueness of the story- we become privy to the man's- and boy's- thoughts, as if we were inside his brain. Everyone else in the tale has to guess and hope for the best. At times, so much detail about the science of cracking a safe was tedious- hence the yanking of a few percents of points. But, overall, this is an ambitious and compelling story, well executed.

Lessons Learned: I would make a lousy lock artist; apparently, one has to have some math skills as well as a near photographic memory. Alas, I am apparently unburdened by either. Next (everyone, all together now): if the deal looks too good to be the other way. Fast. No, faster! Finally this: a safe is NOT just like a woman. I don't care what 'The Ghost' says.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In The Garden Of Beasts

The Book: In The Garden of Beasts

The Author: Erik Larson

The Dealio: As is his custom, Larson takes a non-fictional subject and casts a light on it. A light which seems to say, 'Listen, folks. I could not make this stuff up!' This time, his stompin' ground is Berlin in 1933. There is a new sheriff (actually, ambassador) in town, and his name is William Dodd. William is an odd fit: not part of the Harvard-bred 'Pretty Good Club', he was not even Roosevelt's third or fourth pick for the job. A scholar, writer and lecturer, Dodd was a man who valued the economies of life and struck a sombre chord with the decadent and indulgent social elite of '30's Germany. Along with his (mostly silent, at least in this telling) wife Marty, carefree, spoiled and scandalously unfettered daughter, Martha, and son, Bill, they hit Germany at about the same time as Hitler's rise to power. The entire family seemed, at first, to look upon Hitler's rise as a great step forward for Germany: all that building, all those fresh-scrubbed youth, healthy and jolly and so well-organised! But, a more ominous picture begins to emerge, as incidents of attacks on Americans and Germans alike are reported- for infractions ranging from failure to tender the Hitler salute, to being snatched up, off the street for 'protective custody'. Martha, alone, soars above the common fray, disinclined to see any threats from the Nazis, even sashaying around the German countryside with the first head of the Gestapo. But her father soon begins a series of frantic calls-to-action by his fellow ambassadors to Germany, and the State Dept back home. Naturally, everyone of weight seems to resent his Cassandra cries, and ignores him, redirecting his attention back towards the more important matters- such as obtaining payback for the various loans extended to Germany after WWI. Then, Dodd's predictions begin to turn into actual threats, serious enough that they will drag the US- and most of the rest of the world- into war. Again.

The Grading Session: 4.41 pengies out of 5. I was absolutely crazy for Larson's previous books, which I devoured at the speed of sound. I was so excited to get this latest, but wound up...disappointed. Harumph. I felt very little empathy for the major players in the story, true. But the greater sin, for me, was that the material was very repetitious, and could have used a great red pencil wielded by someone with a sense for streamlining. I also did not care for the long, drawn-out post-script. It was obvious to me that the State Dept career elite were anti-Dodd from the git-go, so why the need to harp on their reactions to his economies and persistent cries for action? Got it after the first 10 mentions. If the idea was for me to share in Dodd's frustration...mission accomplished. But, as I (often) say: an okay book by a really good writer is still worth the investment of time. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: First: you can't hit it out of the park every time at bat. Next: there are always those who are blind in the face of incontestable evidence. And, finally, this: Jeffrey Deaver (yay!) wrote a fictional book- Garden of Beasts, in 2004, which features an American 'button man' sent to Germany in the '30's to neutralise (or, at the very least, minimise) the Nazi threat. And I have ordered it. So, we can do the taste test right here...maybe.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Midnight In Paris

The Flick: Midnight In Paris

The Peeps: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cottillard, etc.

The Dealio: A family plus their daughter's fiancee pop over to Paris for a mix of biz and vacay. Wilson plays the Woody-Allenesque Gil, a seriously blocked writer, and tag along fiance, who is madly, passionately in love...with Paree. McAdam's Inez, the other half of this couple, is not so sure. But she admits to being thrilled to encounter ex-love interest and current obnoxious authority on, well, everything (Just ask him. He would be happy to set you straight). After a series of painful and annoying tours, narrated by Sheen's know-it-all Paul, Gil decides to take a breather, and wander through the streets, savoring the ambiance of long-gone eras. That's when the idea of seeing Paris through very different eyes takes shape. Just at midnight, Gil is approached by a luxe, vintage car and encouraged by the occupants to hop aboard. What follows next is an unpredictably personal encounter with luminaries of Paris in the Roaring '20's, a time when Gil feels Paris was the center of the creative universe. Imagine being able to pass your manuscript to Gertrude Stein, or Papa Hemingway for critiquing. Then, imagine trying to explain yourself to your present-day fiancee, a hard-headed- and hard-hearted- thoroughly modern woman of the 21st century. (Pause here to picture Allen fumbling through a series of misadventures and explaining them to a jaundiced, disbelieving Keaton).

The Grading Session: 4.88 pengies out of 5. This is a lovely return to Allen's comedic storytelling, updated with newer box-office candy in the form of Wilson, McAdams and their band of co-conspirators. This is a precise, and yet, intensely poetic homage to a city, to creativity and to inspiration, wherever it is to be found. Welcome back, Woody.

Lessons Learned: Everyone has a dream of the ideal setting in which to make the most of themselves and their dreams. And everyone else is absolutely sure that they alone have captured the identity of that perfect time and place. And absolutely sure that you are terribly, wretchedly mistaken. What is your perfect time and place?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8

The Flick: Super 8

The Actors: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, etc.

The Dealio: It is the '80's in microscopic Lillian, Ohio. Joe Lamb- and his deputy-father- are still stunned and stunted by the sudden death of Joe's mom in a mill accident. Joe's dad wants to send him to baseball camp. But Joe prefers to stay put, seeking distraction and comfort from the clutch of misfits whose major topic of conversation- and main focus during every hour of every day- is the completion of the zombie movie Charles- a self assured young man with an eye for the 'mint shot'- is constantly struggling to get onto film. If only they had a story.
One night, the usual suspects are joined by the latest addition to the script- 'the PI's wife' (Fanning in an incredibly moving performance). As they secretly film at the local rail station, the group watch, shocked, a horrendous crash, an explosion and a...what? Just before they scatter, the band is warned by another witness- this one, an adult- that 'if they find out you know, they will kill you and your families.' Naturally, the teens immediately agree to keep 'it' a secret. Easier said than done. Especially when weird things start happening: all the dogs in town disappear. Then people, too...then things like microwaves and washing machines, and...well, before the budding film-makers know it, they have got themselves some sort of really great, action-packed story. And a trunk-load of trouble.

The Grading Session: 4.85 pengies out of 5. I really liked this one, as you can tell. I admit that part of the enjoyment was in reliving the days when my own sons were running the area, scouting locales and recruiting neighbors to star in their very, very early indie films. That part truly touched this mom's heart. In addition, there was some pretty corny music that we uncool adultoids still find somehow endearing. Adults and juvies alike were all well-developed, multi-dimensional portrayals. Why not give it 5 pengies? Well, in the last 20 minutes, I started to feel a sense of 'Come on, wrap it up...but make it heartfelt and like that.' The conclusion was both over-hasty and over- simplistic, almost as child-like as the film-makers' assumption that they were making grand art. It just didn't quite fit in with everything that had come before. But I quibble.

Lessons Learned: I do not trust Noah Emmerich any time he has shown up on screen since Frequency. He has lost some ground with me and will have to earn that back. Also this: when did the ultimate in scariness (Starship Troopers, Alien, Predator) suddenly become...bug-like creatures? I think peeps who look and act just like us, but...(da-da-da-DUUUUUUUHHHH) some how aren't, are far scarier. Lastly this: if you are in the practise of leaving the theatre as soon as the show is over, you are gonna miss a lot of really cool stuff, my friend. So- a word to the wise? Just don't do that. Sit. Relax. Enjoy.