Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hangover 2

The Flick: The Hangover 2

The Perps: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Barta, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti, Mike Tyson, et al.

The Dealio: OK, OK, so I probably shouldn't have gone to see this one, since I didn't like the first one. But, see, I had this date, and he indicated that he was interested...so, there we were. First let me say that Prendie really did enjoy this movie. It was scene for scene, as close as the writers/producers/director could get to the original without just doing the original again. Starts with Phil up on a roof somewhere, fielding a call from the more responsible adults, awaiting the arrival of certain key personnel (like, the groom) at a wedding. And guess what?! (You will never see this one coming) they did it again. They got drunk or medicated or some thing or the other, and woke up in a trashed-and trashy- room, with no recollection of what happened, where one of their party has gone and how to get back in time for the wedding. This movie has gone to the extreme of photo-copying most of the scenes from the original in all but locale. Last time, Vegas hosted the happy lot. This time, the underbelly of Thailand fills in. Mistaken identity, that tribal facial tattoo (Hey, I am not giving anything away; you see that much in the newspaper ad), some wiener exposure, drugs, and so on. Been there, seen that. Didn't want the tee shirt.

The Grading Session: -0.001 pengies out of 5. I will confess that, for me, the idea of waking up in a strange place with no recollection of how I got there, in a trashed room, with one of the members of the party missing, vagrant body parts festooning the room, and cops yipping at my heels is definitely not my idea of a grand time. That's just me. What isn't just me is the clear chutzpah of slapping together a carbon copy of the first and daring to call it a sequel. It's not a sequel, peeps; it's a rip off. Clearly, I am in the minority, since this flick is on schedule to eclipse the first in box office haulage. But, it is hard to say which offended me more: the unfunniness of this particular film, or the arrogance of those involved who could not be bothered to come up with something at least a tiny bit unique or new. Hey: take our money and run. We give you permission.

Lessons Learned: The biggest takeaway is that the movie-going public will allow- indeed, embrace- lazy film-making. The next biggest is: know your tolerance, and avoid The Hangover 3. Aw, come on...you know that's already in the pipeline. It would be stupid not to wrench as much buckage from the movie-going public as they will allow...which is clearly substantial. I just won't be a party to the next...party hosted by this merry lot.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Hunger Games

The Book: The Hunger Games

The Writer: Suzanne Collins

The Dealio: In the dystopian society of Panem- what used to be the US of A- the food gettage is so tight, and those in power, so motivated by revenge, punishment and lesson-teaching-that the entire nation is forced to participate in The Hunger Games. During the Reaping, two members, one male, one female, aged between 12 and 18, from each district are randomly chosen to compete, to the death, for the rewards of being the sole survivor...literally. With this comes untold riches and a life of comfort...if you win. Otherwise, future to look forward to? Not so much. Katniss, our hero, is a woman from the poorest of the districts. Sharp, feisty and adept with tracking, hunting and bow-and-arrow, she steps in to take her younger sister's place in the Games, and begins a strange and unique relationship with Peeta, the baker's boy, the other participant from her district. Are they a true team, caring for each other, and plotting to find another way to beat the system? Or, is something more underhanded at play (um...yep).

The Grading Session: 4.01 pengie3s out of 5. Granted that this is a YA book, and the first of a trilogy, I still felt the story sucked up far too much time getting rolling-(the creepy immediacy of the hunting-to-keep-from-starving setting in the beginning of Child 44 did it so much better, snagging my attention from the first paragraph). The adults were, almost without exception, either bullies or impotent moths, battering away at the failing light that was once a great nation. The scenes of the actual Games were bloody, extremely violent (there is a scene of unspeakable brutality towards the end involving 'dogs', of a sort, that made me quite nauseated). Yet, there was great tooth and grit to Katniss, as she feels her way along unfamiliar territory- including emotional involvement as well as the pain of loss. Couldn't help but root for the team from District 12.

Lessons Learned: This one: when I read a book because I hear it is being made into a movie...I usually wind up disappointed. I am curious about the word-of-mouth, but seldom feel the talk around the campfire lives up to the hype (Yeah, Twilight, I'm lookin' at you!). This one was no exception. But Harry Potter and the Sorcerers' Stone was! So, on the off-hand chance that another such could be in the cards for me, I have no plans to change my current M.O.
Here, I feel I really must comment on how successfully the process seems to work in the opposite order: Water For Elephants, The Help, The Glass Castle and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks : these stories absolutely have engaged me. And I have been on tenterhooks waiting for the films to show up on a screen near me. More fodder for the blog. So, stay tuned.


The Flick: Bridesmaids

The Actors: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jill Clayburgh (miss you!), Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, etc.

The Dealio: Secure in the knowledge that she is not the last singleton on Earth as long as her BFF, Lillian, remains single, Annie takes the news of Lillian's engagement as well as may be expected. That's to say: with equal measures of happiness for her friend, and panic on her own behalf. Asked to be the maid of honor (dis-honor, as the position is later labelled), she of course agrees...then the panic turns into the female version of The Hangover...but, with, ya know, a pinch of class and good taste. But only a pinch, mind you.
Every cliche known to, um, woman, is trotted out, but with such zest, humor and good-will, you don't mind too much. And, even though the road to this particular wedding is mined with every imaginable potential for explosions (and some that are quite unimaginable- like the scene in the couturier house where the entire party goes to be outfitted in their bridal finery. After a hearty meal at a Brazilian churrascaria of ill-repute), we know that everything will turn out just fine. With a little help from Wilson Phillips.

The Grading Session: 4.51 pengies out of 5. Debits include a too-lax hand on the editorial wheel. McCarthy's Megan steals the show with in-your-face-nutty-but-nice done right. John Hamm appears as -hello? typecasting!-Annie's caddish, commitment-indifferent lout of a lover. And, let's face it, not every scenario pans out. But for a rough, rowdy, but sweet-at-its-core summer movie, this one is hard to beat. It will not change your life forever, but it will tickle you. That's something that can not be said about, say, Something Borrowed.

Lessons Learned: Well, for starters, how about never visiting a churrascaria located right next to a check-cashing store, accessible only through an alley full of vagrant dawgs? Then this: a wedding is not a competition. Realise that, with very rare exceptions, (right, Cammi and Steffan?), you will not please everybody; someone will take offense. So- suit yourself, make it fun and remember that this day, at least, it really is all about you two! Lastly this: where would our lives be without that friend from the early years? I am talking about that one who knows us better than we know ourselves and still has our back. The efforts we make to keep those friendships alive are worth it, and will carry us through the less-than-perfect times. Like struggling to juggle wedding-planning and hanging onto one's sanity in the process. Priceless.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three Cups of Deceit

The Tale: Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian, Lost His Way

The Writer: Jon Krakauer

The Dealio: This is the first of a possible series of non-fiction presentations on Kindle, meant to be read in a single sitting. Which I did not do. Hope I didn't break some sort of Kindle law and don't wind up going to the Kindle hoosegow!
This story was also related on 60 Minutes in April of this year, which motivated me to download Three Cups of Deceit.
Read the original 'source material', when it first came out. In hard cover, no less. Right away, I got a vibe. A scent of- at the very least- self-glorifying writing. Never could figure out whether it was Greg, himself, who was putting forth the propaganda, or his co-writer. But the fact that I truly wanted to believe that here was a man who was making a visible, important difference- providing opportunities for education to empower a disenfranchised, often invisible group-made the sense of uneasiness even greater.
Krakauer- already established as a writer of weight, (Into Thin Air and Into The Wild, to name two)- was one of the earliest supporters of Mortenson's Central Asia Institute. Like many others, famous and anonymous, he had contributed lavishly to the effort of providing funds to build schools for the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan, often in the most inaccessible of locales. Now, this, I thought, is some kind of great guy!
As the story proceeded, Krakauer began to see that certain small, very basic facts did not line up: dates were contradicted, locales were muddied, people were misidentified. Upon closer inspection, Krakauer discovered a complex mesh of tiny cracks in the story: misinformation- at the very least- and perhaps worse, fraud and misrepresentation of the mission, the methods, the accomplishments and the use of funds. Now, keep in mind, this is a man who got kids in grade schools all over the US to start collecting pennies to support the building of schools. He appears to have been on the road almost constantly, and, as Krakauer discovered, people who paid huge fees to address them in person, were underwriting, not the CAI, but Mortenson himself and his book sales. Further, many of the funds collected for turning Stones into Schools (his second CAI-themed 'novel'), wound up being used to provide Mortenson with first class airfare, pretty nice accommodations and other such unrelated-to-the-cause items.
Karakauer crisply describes the frustrating process of trying to interview Mortenson, the unanimously sad, and sadly negative input of highly-regarded people who had once worked for/with CAI but had come to the parting of the ways- sometimes at their insistence, sometimes due to a Mortenson-inspired climate of toxic paranoia. Most importantly, he presents a carefully researched and stomach-souring tale of a great ideal gone madly awry.

The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. It absolutely breaks my heart to even blog on this, because of the enormous sense of being conned, while trying to do something fundamentally life-changing and positive. Shame on you, Greg!

Lessons Learned: Nothing new under the sun, here. But it does bear repeating: good-hearted, generous people, some of whom gave all they possibly could to a cause they believed in, need to read this, and approach with caution when the next ballyhooed, game-changing charity comes along.
I am also thinking about the lessons learned by the children who saved their pennies, energetically canvassing neighborhoods and donating their spending money. I suppose it is never too early to learn the ways of the world are often deceptive and misleading...but, oh! how I wish the adults of tomorrow didn't have to learn this one lesson quite so early.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Conspirator

The Film: The Conspirator

The Actors: Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Klein, Tom Wilkinson, Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, etc.

The Dealio: As the War Between The States winds down, there are still Southern sympathisers aplenty, and some of them have begun to meet at Mary Surratt's lil ole boarding house in the District. At first, their plan is to kidnap the President of the United States. But, after a buffoonishly ridiculous misadventure in this area, local actor and all-around bright spark, John W. Booth, comes up with another plan. Think we all know what that plan was. And also think we are familiar with what is supposed to have happened to the major players. But one area of the entire thaang always bothered me: that image of Mary Surratt being executed, with several of the alleged conspirators. Well? Did she or didn't she? I have read a great deal about the era, the assassination and the drama surrounding the manhunt that led to the captures, trials and final disposition of all who were felt to have played a role in the murder of Lincoln. Still, not many of the histories shine much light on Surratt. Well, stand by, 'cause Robert Redford is going to change all that.
Wright is Mary Surratt, and (in sort of a weird throwback to John Adams' defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre), McAvoy plays the Union hero selected to provide her defense.
The true beauty of the entire exercise is that we watch McAvoy's Aitkin evolve. Antagonism and a vengeful fury gradually change, with his encounters with this mysterious, silent and contradictory woman. By story's end, Aitkin has become an introspective, curious ferret-er-out of secrets, who is now unwaveringly certain of her innocence.

The Grading Session: 4.29 pengies out of 5. This was an exquisitely acted, beautifully faithful representation of the era and the national temperature of that time. Prendie informs me that the SASS wires are burning up with kudos for the excruciating attention to historical detail -especially the clothing, the settings of the events and, naturally, the arms used throughout. I found McAvoy and Wright were especially noteworthy in their roles. Not so sure about Justin Long (!?), although I do applaud his willingness to try something new. Stretch a taddy bit.
Some points needs must be deducted based on the extremely obvious parallels made by director Redford between the rush to judgement of that chaotic time, and what appears to be happening now, with regard to such modern mutations as Extreme Rendition and modified justice in another time of great national stress and fear. As with his Lions To Lambs, though, I felt assaulted, myself, by the intellectual bludgeoning which was as ever-present as the soundtrack in this film. Sorry, but no need to hop to the extreme strong-arming: I get it. It's a metaphor. For 'Now'.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes, justice is on the chopping block in the interests of 'teaching a lesson', in 'the national interests' and 'for the public good'. Sometimes, it actually gets the chop because of things we can not- and never will- know or understand: power grabs and money, for example. Most importantly: we are no closer to knowing the full extent of Surratt's complicity and active, willing participation in the assassination now than we were as it was happening. Cooler heads may now prevail, but the cushioning, swirling passage of time continues to obscure an authentic view of the events surrounding this event. Oh to have been a fly on the wall.