Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cinema Babble:ba-da daDa, duh daDa! Bond, back.

The Flick: Skyfall

The Peeps: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Craig's Bond is back, and so are a raft of nods to Bond's 50 years in Her Majesty's Secret Service. From the intro, complete with Adele's soaring song, the pyrotechnics-laden opening shot,  trad touches abound. This time out, Bond is killed before we even get through the credits. No spoiler here, you know that would make a heckuva short movie. Besides, it's in all the trailers. When his country and MI-5 need him the most, there ya go, he is back in the game- not shaken, but definitely stirred to action. In a cat-and-mouse game of terrorism on the home turf, M and Bond are not sure who-if anyone-can be trusted. Public outcry demands M step down and her boss (Fiennes' Mallory) is willing to give in to the demands. Of course, you just know she ain't gonna just go quietly. Reluctant though she is to pin all her hopes on the recently resurrected agent, you know that, in the end, M will call on Bond to take a quiet hand  in sorting this mess out. Into the mix comes the uneasy feeling that the perp (or perps) either have extensive insider knowledge and expertise- or actually are insiders at MI-5. Well? Which is it? The next two-thirds of the flick spool out spinning us back and forth, around the globe, with barely a moment to catch our breath(s). Car chases, bike chases, foot chases and, natch, a plethora of uniquely choreographed devises, plots and plans (No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die...slowly and tortuously, over the next 48 hours) have us alternately rolling our eyes and hitching forward in our seats. And what's up with Bardem's Silva's weird hair. Does Bardem have a fierce attraction to roles requiring  odd-ball rugs?  We also get a glimpse of Bond's back story and finally figure out the meaning of this film's title. Not bad for a single day's viewing.

The Grading Session: 4.87 pengies out of 5. The pic did go on a taddy bit too long. So, again, editing is king. But the casting remains spot-on, the ol' 007 we have come to know and love is back and, even though the spy world is rife with change, as many would say: change is good. Here, it is jolly good, indeed. Already looking forward to more Bond gigs.

Lessons Learned: The bad guys, despite all the advanced weaponry at their disposal, still shoot like Imperial Storm Troopers. When will they ever learn that the firing range is free and open seven days a week? Practice, dudes. Practice.
Also this: Reason #5,004 why I would make a lousy secret agent: I simply can not countenance having a gun battle slash chase across the 2000th floor of a Hong Kong high rise. Or any other 2000th floor highrise, for that matter. Can't these folks ever just duke it out at street level?
Lastly this: it is damned near impossible to keep a great 007 down. There. I've said it. Your mileage may vary.

Notable Quotables: Gareth Mallory to M: Eleanor, be sensible. Retire with dignity...

M: Dignity! To Hell with dignity! I'll retire when my goddamn job is finally done.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cinema Babble: A Unique View of a Familiar Man

The Flick: Lincoln

The Peeps: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Gloria Reuben, etc, etc.

The Dealio: The year is 1865, and the Civil War has worn and beggared and exhausted both sides. That means that peace overtures will soon be headed to Washington City. But, before he entertains any proposal that would return the South to the flock, Lincoln realises that he's gotta work fast to get an emancipation amendment through and into the constitution. With that urgency on the table, and time running out, Lincoln must do what he can to make this happen: mollify, modify, improvise, charm, hector, invoke the wartime powers he is not entire sure he possesses, and, yep, even buy the votes he needs. This is not the  Lincoln we are used to seeing: aloof and staid, quiet and self-effacing. Almost a saint. What we get here is a Lincoln, though still folksy, humble, quaint and compassionate, is also passionate,  unyielding and, if needed, severe.  And, as time dribbles away, we find ourselves hoping that he does, somehow, prevail (while knowing that, of course, he does) and that, somehow, that he will wind up being far too busy or involved in affairs of state to go to Ford's Theatre. It says a great deal for a movie that moves you along familiar paths, but surprises you by a totally unpredictable detour. This film takes you on exactly such a journey.

The Grading Session: 4.991 pengies out of 5. Spielberg does not disappoint. Marvellously cast- down to the tiniest role, beautifully crafted and written, it is at times unnerving to see what uncanny images Day-Lewis evokes both in looks and speech, as he pulls us along with him in his frustration, grief, humor and empathy. But, Field's Mary also shines, as a woman torn between overwhelming grief and overwhelming love. No one dimensional cut-out, she is a living, breathing, spiteful, cautious, concerned and fully human participant. This is a masterful movie. And not just in the grand, sweeping scenes. Even the smallest, throwaway pieces are precious and attentive to detail, evoking shivers and nods of recognition. One scene has a very tired Lincoln, sitting  in a chair, his arms extended along the chair's arms, his fingers bent and held in the exact pose as the seated Lincoln  of his famous Mall memorial. Now, that's attention to detail. I can see I will have to go see this movie again. Then get the DVD. The Elite Edition...of course.

Lessons Learned: Just when you think you know everything about a famous person, you quickly learn that you have no idea of the demons and challenges that drove and tortured them. Too, if you were expecting to see a beatification of the man, you would be disappointed: Lincoln was a real hero, but hardly a saint. As he would be the first to admit. Lastly, this: if we can not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Let's never repeat this type of war again. Ever.

Noteable Quotables: (Thaddeus Stevens, in response to a knoock on his door): 'It opens!'

(Lincoln to his cabinet, advisors and others in the telegraph office): 'I suppose it's time to go...but I'd rather stay.'

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Biblio Babble: Shades of a YA Lisbeth Salander

The Book: Don't Turn Around

The Writer: Michelle Gagnon

The Dealio: Sixteen year old Noa wakes up strapped to an operating table, IVs running, and a powerful pain in her chest. Looking around, she discovers she is not in a hospital, clinic or doctor's office. She appears to be in a warehouse. She can remember nothing after leaving the metro in Boston, and is suddenly seized by a feeling that she is in very grave peril. Tearing loose from the table and sprinting for an exit, she is immediately surrounded by guys in black. With guns. A spectacular chase ensues, and, realising she can not head to her place, Noa heads for the hills, toting her faithful laptop, setting  out to reconstruct the time that was erased from her memory, figure out what has happened to her and locate a safe bolthole. Obviously, the first thing she is going to do- when she finds a spare minute- is to check things out on the internet where, as a hacker supreme, she aims  to get to the bottom of this hair-raising adventure. Along the way, she will meet Peter, the  young   proprietor of a hacking alliance dedicated to 'bringing down the mighty bad guys.' Well, Noa has a few who could use just such an intervention.

The Grading Session: 4.78 pengies out of 5. OK, this is a YA novel, but I found it immediately absorbing, intricately plotted and filled with that dystopian dread which has no real name or identity. Which makes it all the more threatening. The supporting cast is eclectic, but interesting (Peter's girlfriend is a bit of a drip, however), and the thought that this is the first in a series intrigues me. Your mileage may differ, natch.

Lessons Learned: When someone emails you 'Get out. Now.' and doesn't use slammers (!!!) what the message says. Also this: has the comment, 'Who's going to make me?' ever had a good answer? Or even one that didn't involve the letting of blood? So, drop it. Now. Lastly this: if someone is trying to get into a dorm and is using crutches and making frustrated noises, remember Ted Bundy, and call security to help the poor, locked-out person. If s/he is truly innocent, security can help. If s/he is a perp, this will give you the chance to get away clean, while the security guard dukes it out. Which is what security is paid to do, no?

Cinema Babble: Aca-pretty okay movie

The Flick: Pitch Perfect

The Peeps: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Meet the Barden College Bellas, an all-female a cappella group poised on the brink of either resounding greatness or total flopatude. Beca (Kendrick) is the daughter of a Barden prof.  She dreams of being a DJ, and is only going through the motions at school as part of a deal with Dad. If she gives an honest effort, he will bankroll her LA dreams. Wilson's self-titled 'Fat Amy' is a Tasmanian wonder who is fearless, funny and really not at all into cardio. A motley group of misfits and wannabes make up this oddball group, trying, straining, paining for the big time..but, ultimately, not at all convinced that they are ever going to make it.The Bellas face some stiff competition with the Barden  all-male acappella group, headed by the self-absorbed and cruel-humored Bumper. It is only once the Bellas accept the idea of moving away from the traditional routines and numbers they have retooled and refined until they have absolutely no flavor or texture whatsoever, that they begin to make waves, better music - and gain some fame in the pursuit.

The Grading Session: 4.35 pengies out of 5. You know they're gonna get dinged for one too many barf scenes dwelled upon in glorious detail. But this is a fun, bouncy, engaging- if flyweight late summer flick. The new twist on the music is terrific, the singing, likewise and, of course, there is a lovely moral at the end of the story. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned:  There truly is nothing like an old-fashioned father-daughter chat to warm the cockles of the heart...unless it is a nice, old father-son chat.  Too, you truly can not judge a book by its cover. (Yep, Lilly, I am looking right at you). Lastly this: always check the gas gauge, even after a 'fill up'.

Notable Quotables: Anything from Lilly. Examples: 'I have lungs like fish gills' and 'I ate my twin in utero' and ' I just spent three months in county for arson.' All pronounced with a voice slightly, but only slightly, louder than a  star-fish's  voice. What?  You never heard a star fish? What'd I tell ya?

CinemaBabble: Just like fiction. But it's not. Mostly.

The Flick: Argo

The Peeps: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Behind the scenes of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, something is afoot: a plan to spirit six American embassy workers, who are seeking refuge in the Canadian Embassy, out. Based-with embroidery, I am sure- upon the story of one EXFIL (exfiltration expert), Tony Mendez, this story tells how it really went down. Mostly. An unusual blend of humor, snarkiness, almost unbearable tension and high drama, Argo is a nearly perfect concoction that just will not let you remain uninvolved. Even though the events unspooled over 30 years ago, there is a timeliness, a depressing familiarity,  about the entire tale. You know how you want it to turn out, you know how it did turn out and yet, all still seems brand new and immediate, with everything   hinging  on a nuance or chance event. This is what makes it such good film-making. That, and, of course,  Alan Arkin.

The Grading Session: 4.998 pengies out of 5. A scintilla of a pengie off for a needlessly draggy mid-section. The casting, however, was spot-on and clearly, a great deal of effort was made to keep the portrayals as close to the originals as possible. Also, that creeping sense of fear, contagious panic, tension and horror was as real as if watching a news report. As always, your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: There is literally no such thing as a bad idea in intelligence. Or, apparently, an unintelligent one (Bikes? In winter? Across the mountains? Really.). Then this: no matter what people tell you, you can get a movie package together in less than a week. You just need to have it  underwritten by the CIA. Or the State Department. Or, well, you get the picture. l
Lastly this:There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home.

Notable Quotables:  A toast, a reply, a theme: 'Argo Eff Yourself!'

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cinema Babble: The Anti-Moneyball

The Flick: Trouble With The Curve

The Peeps: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Widower Gus is an old-fashioned baseball scout with a great track-record on 'finds' and failing eyesight. His track-record with his daughter- indeed with all those who care about him- is decidedly less successful. Mickey, his daughter, now a power attorney with a large Atlanta firm, is angling for a partnership, trying desperately to avoid committing to a significant other and struggling with her prickly relationship with the dad she adores, but doesn't really 'get'. Rubber-hits-the-road time (literally) poses an interesting dilemma for father and daughter: there is a mega-huge prospect down  North Carolina way, and Gus wants to check him out in person. And  eyesight is only one of the problems Gus has to face: at work, with only three months left on his contract, the man who vowed never to retired is being marginalised by a younger, computer-driven up-and-comer, (Lillard's snotty, sneaky and condescending Phillip), who just wants to seal the deal from the front office and divest the team of the traditional scouts. The adventures start, not only for Gus and Mickey, but also for Johnny 'The Flame' Flanagan, an ex-pitcher scouted by Gus and now looking for a way into the broadcast booth in Boston. Who happens to be scouting the same prospect.

The Grading Session: 4.82 pengies out of 5. I am a total fool for sports movies with a multigenerational thorny problem to figure out and a chance to balance the scales. Therefore, when you add Eastwood- always interesting to watch, Adams, a fine and feisty Mickey, wearing her tender heart on her sleeve and a certain tentative proud/angst-filled attitude towards her gruff, but overwhelmed father, plus the always up-for-it Timberlake to the mix: ta-DAH! It's a decent way to spend a hot afternoon. The middle third dragged a tiny bit, when we we in perilous danger of going real-time with the scouting. Then, at one point, my date leaned in and asked, 'Are we starting another movie here?' But, after about 20-30 minutes of meandering, we course-corrected and headed for the bigs. Your mileage may differ...less usual commute miles.

Lessons Learned: While you can teach an old dog new tricks, it is both hard, and, perhaps, not entirely necessary. I found it interesting that, in one scene, a youngster is talking about Gus, and says, 'Computer?! He couldn't even turn on an electric typewriter!' and then, in the very next scene, we are in Gus' house, and there, sitting on the credenza, is an electric typewriter, which does look well-used. Next this: what qualifies as 'the cheap seats' varies considerably, depending on what it is you are trying to see. Lastly this: how hard is it to clog, if Justin Timberlake can pick it up in under two minutes?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not A Job For The Faint Of Heart...Or Body.

The  Flick: Premium Rush

The Peeps: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, etc.

The Dealio: Gordon-Levitt's Willee, a bike messenger extraordinaire,  is asked by the roomate of his gal pal (Ramirez) to deliver an envelope to Chinatown. In 90 minutes. A creep with anger/impulse issues, (Shannon), is apparently trying to stop this from happening. The entire story is told in a series of flashbacks, rapid recalculations of possible outcomes and stomach-churning-literally-  wind-sheer sharp action sequences that will leave you wrung out and begging for mercy- and maybe a massage and an aspirin-by the end of the film.

The Grading Session: 4.29 pengies out of 5. The stunning action scenes- which are the foundation of this plotline- are almost crippling in their extreme manipulation of time and motion. While this was certainly an exciting movie, it was also very, very, very improbable. Very. The major idea upon which this plot hinges is as paper-thin and needlessly complex as an old 007 movie or a Rube Goldberg infernal device. Sheesh, gimme the job. I can get it done in about 5 seconds and no one gets beaten, kicked, run over, thumped repeatedly, thrown from a moving vehicle or loses a tooth. But then, that would be a short movie, wouldn't it?

Lessons Learned: I was never meant to be a bike courier. Don't look good in the second-skin shorts, can't dispense with brakes, can't find my way around my own naybe, let alone NYC. And, too, thump the melon 10-15 times and I am totally out of the action. Seriously.  Lastly this: in what weird alternate universe can an out-of-shape cop outrun/keep pace with/be able to run back to his cop car and catch up with a guy on a bike? Without brakes.

Cinema Babble: This Is Your Marriage On Automatic.

The Flick: Hope Springs

The Peeps: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carrel, etc.

The Dealio: Kay and Arnold are a couple who have already raised their kids but are not yet ready for retirement. But they- especially Kay- is ready for something. Their life together has become one great slide into a stylised kabuki: filled with rituals and the barest amount of actual interaction and physical contact. When Kay learns about a couples' therapist in Maine, (Steve Carrel, in a muted, but so graceful performance),who offers a week-long intensive workshop, she realises that this, this now, is what she needs. What they both need. Problem is, Arnold doesn't see anything wrong with the way things are going at present. Now what? Well, if you've seen the trailer, you know that Kay is going, no matter what; but she truly does wish Arnold would go, too. So, reluctantly, angrily, fussily, spluttering off into stoic silence- he does. But you can't make him like it.

The Grading Session: 4.56 pengies out of 5. First of all, this movie is marketed as a comedy. It is not. Are there funny moments? Yup. But most of the attention-grabbing scenes are anything but funny. These are two actors who bring an authenticity to their performances: Jones' Arnold, with his saddle-leather, lived-in face seems the  average stuck-in-a-rut middle class businessman of a certain age. And then, his eyes flicker and you see usually-masked emotions: love, fear, anger, frustration, self-doubt. Streep's Kay owns the tiny gesture or moue that speaks volumes and makes you move forward in your seat. It is almost as  if each of these gifted  peeps are about to involve you in what is going on behind their stiff expressions and squelched emotions. Carrel, too, contributes a finely crafted performance that is far more challenging, I think, than his broader charactisations, because of the exquisite skill required. So, why not more pengies? Editing. We both felt that the movie could have ended five different times.  This is not a good feeling, once you have invested so heavily in the characters. Tune-up, please! Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Apparently Arnold-despite his many problems- doesn't have to worry about cholesterol: eggs and bacon. Every. Single. Morning. Then this: I will never look at corgies in quite the same way again. Thanks, Carol ('I can only handle three! Three is my limit'). Thanks, Arnold ('Yeah. Carol. With the corgies.'). Lastly this: love is often hard work, but always worth the labor to keep it green and growing.  Can I get an amen?

Biblio Babble: Our Lady Of The Ladle Rides Again. Sorta.

The Book: Dearie

The Writer: Bob Spitz

The Dealio: Julia McWilliams Child's 'remarkable life', told from the viewpoint of a writer who admits he always had a crush on her. Julia- an indifferent student, a self-described 'social butterfly', one-time clerk (registry manager, if you please) for the OSS, and, finally, arguably the most original and authoritative culinary voice in America, was a mass of contradictions. But she was never boring. Perfectionistic, bossy (a true Leo), Julia started as a non-cook and evolved into an authentic antidote for the TV dinner, the can-opener cookery movement and the emphasis on staying out of the kitchen as much as possible. Along the way, she codified French cooking in a way that anyone-ANYone-could understand. But, if you  think of Julia only as embodied  by Dan Ackroyd's woobly-tippy-toed voiced on SNL-which, BTW, she adored, and made friends watch when they visited- you are rather missing the point. Once Julia found her niche-in teaching, writing and especially on that newfangled invention the television-she set about kicking down the obstacles and stereotypes of what people wanted to see, how people wanted to cook and how they wanted to both entertain and be entertained. Two weeks ago was Julia's 100th birthday, and what more fitting tribute than a brand new books all about the grand dame of cuisine media?

The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. This was a behemoth of a book. Agreed, she had almost 92 years of living an extraordinarily populated life to relate...but, please, let's do some editing. I don't think we need to hear 15 times that she loved men her whole life and was constantly on the look-out for a 'real he man'. Also, I confess to becoming depressed - as Julia surely was- by the last few chapters' thumping litany of deaths of those near and dear. I get it. Truly. I do! Now stop that, right now. I did so enjoy the book, and, if you think you really knew pretty much everything about Julia (I have read about 5-6 books on the subject, including the excellent My Life In France, so thought that I did), get ready for some surprises. And, not all of them will be pleasant. Such is her remarkable life. As always, your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: First of all, for all her seeming natural personna on the small screen, every single detail- including where utensils, ingredients and comments were to be placed-was mapped out in advance in excruciating detail. Next- and this I learned the hard way (bitter experience, mostly)- let's hear it for  Julia's # 1 tip for successful cooking: read the recipe through all the way to the end first! Would have saved me some really...interesting results. And, having been ignorant of that  tip, I should definitely have  gotten hold of tip #2: never apologise. Lastly this: Julia despised Meryl Streep because of the actress's stance on  Alar on apples. Kind of ironic when you think about it. Kind of mean-spirited, when you think about it again.

Notable Quotable: 'Remember, if you are alone in the kitchen, no problem,' said when she dropped a roasted chicken on the floor.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cinema Babble: Well, really, who doesn't

The Flick: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The Peeps: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, etc.

The Dealio: This doc highlights 85 year old Jiro Ono, who operates arguably one of the finest sushiya in Tokyo. After looking at his past, we  get to see his relationship with his son and heir, Yoshikazu. We are introduced to those chefs who have been influenced by him, inspired by him, and even felt driven from  the business entirely, based on their experiences with this perfectionist. Unlike most celebrated Western chef-personalities, Jiro is a quiet- not a publicity-seeking- man who holds everyone who works with him to excruciating standards. Standards from which he does not exempt himself. Whether it is the detail of using the wrong shoyu or spending too much for the fish, no detail goes unnoticed. And there is a price to be paid for this level of perfection. Don't believe me? Check out this movie.

The Grading Session: 3.98 pengies out of 4. It absolutely drove me full goose looney that the captioning was white on white background, which made it, for large lengths of time,  very difficult to make out. Jiro and company are not exactly cut from the Jim Carrey school of profound facial expressionism, so this made the job of following  the discussions pretty challenging. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Don't tick off a man who is tremndously talented with  large knives. Also this: if, when it is right, you just know, too, when it is wrong, you know that , too. Lastly this: ten points to Griffendor if you can name Jiro's other son. And, yes, there is one.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not Jason. Not Bourne. Not Bad.

The Flick: The Bourne Legacy

The Peeps: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Matt Damon's photo, Edward Norton, etc, etc.

The Dealio: In one sentence? 'There was never just one.' Told in a series of inter-slashing scenes that ricochet between the past and the present-and even uses scenes from the last Bourne installment- this is the story behind the story. Jason Bourne was not a one-off. But, there is a taddy bit of a blast from the past in the very first scene: a man is seen floating, spread-eagled, in the water, (an exact duplicate of a scene opening both the original book on Bourne and the first movie). This time around, we focus in on super-strong and -strategic loner, Aaron Cross (Renner), how he came to be part of the mysterious Outcomes program and also, what all of this has to do with a series of inexplicable-and violent- events in disparate parts of the globe. Weisz' Dr. Marta Shearing is another piece of the puzzle, and witnesses a terrifying shoot 'em up, barely escaping with her life. And, then, things get really chaotic. Someone, somewhere (my money is on DC), pushes fast-forward and the game is afoot. But what, exactly, is the game? What are the stakes? And why are all these people such terrible drivers?

The Grading Session: 4.78 pengies out of 5. A worthy successor to the Jason Bourne stories/films, this tale has both roots in the past and growth in its future. Renner goes from zero to ninety, emotionally, in the space of a single conversation. The support cast is well chosen- but I would have wished for an actress as doughty as Weisz is, to have been allowed to show a little more gumption earlier on in the movie, vice saving it till the last quarter of the film. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: If a two-person team shows up at your door unexpectedly, keep your eye on both. Also this: wolves are not simply doggies in the wild. Forget this at your own peril. Lastly this: apparently, no matter where you live, work, eat, shop, escape, no matter how off the grid you think you are, there are literally TONS of cameras/satellites/eavesdropping and filming devices ready to be re-tasked to reveal your every freckle, grimace  and syllable. AKA: the Person of Interest plot is real, man!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Biblio Babble: The Non-Fiction Book You Wish Was Fiction

The Read: Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

The Writer: Katherine Boo

The Dealio: Set smack up against the incredible beauty and modernism of Mumbai Airport, and flanked by high-rise hotels of unimaginable luxury is Annawadi, a makeshift slum (undercity, in local terms),  populated by people who feel privileged to have pulled themselves up to this crown jewel of undercities. Alternately dedicating  long, hard hours goudging out a living from the trash and cast-offs of the airport and hotels located just there, and trying to work some sort of a deal that will catapault them, effortlessly, into the high life, these people are full of life, hopes and mordant reality. And Boo brings them to us in an almost motion-picture  immediacy. As the citizens of Annawaddy watch a ticking clock intent on the distruction of their slum, they also spin dreams and hopes and plans that see them moving up, and eventually, away. Abdul is a  teenager of few words, but many ambitions, seeing a future of success, built upon his entrepreneurial efforts with trash. Meanwhile, Asha, a woman who yearns to be a voice, a representative, but more than that, a real power-broker in Annawadi, operates behind the scenes of every major event in the undercity, to cement her role as 'the ultimate fixer'. At turns amusing and horrifying, we open the tale with a woman dousing herself with gas and setting herself on fire. Why? In order to embroil neighbors she perceives as more affluent, in the justice systems which may provide some financial relief to her and her family. The events begin to unspool at a hectic rate, interspliced with peeks at the justice system, the pay-offs ('facilitation fees') that bankrupt families, and the yearning of all to live a better life.

The Grading Session: 4.89 pengies out of 5. This was a very difficult book to read-several times, I put it aside to read other, more lightweight ones- because the scenes, all very vividly recounted, made me feel, at once, scalded by their violence, and ashamed of myself for my petty complaints about  my day-to-day inconveniences. However, it was a book that was also hard to put down. Boo spent over three years living in and around Annawadi, researching the book, getting to know the  undercity dwellers and their struggles and victories, as well as the unspeakable, grinding tragedies that were a part of their everyday world. If you are looking for a book with a great, uplifting finale...pass this one on by. But do so at your own peril. You will miss a hell of a story. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Wealth is a relative term. For those who live in the undercities, it means having an actual wall between you and your neighbors. Having the money to get medical care. Being able to go to school. Not worrying that you will be unable to keep rats out of your kids' cribs and having water that will not kill them, if they survive the infected bites. It really does not resemble anything you may have seen on My Super Sweet Sixteen.
And, lastly, if superhuman effort were enough, several major players in this story would be wildly successful and set for several lifetimes. Unfortunately, it is not.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cinema Babble: What you think about this flick probably depends on your age

The Flick: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Peeps: Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel, etc.

The Dealio: Several Brits 'of a certain age' decide that their retirement funds will go a whole lot further if they are only willing to transplant to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In India. While each person who elects to relocate has a different reason for doing so, all have the same mixed feeling of anxiety, fear of the unknown and excitement at their daring, at this point in their lives. Their ability to settle in and make a new life for themselves, however, is highly dependent on their flexibility and unstaunchable Brit 'can do' attitude. Some have it in spades (Wilkinson's Graham in particular has nothing but positive enthusiasm and relish  for the changes), others are finding this a real mistake (Wilton's Jean is appalled at every turn by what she sees as a total breakdown in the privilege and culture she has come to rely upon in England). What will happen next? Simply put: everything.

The Grading Session: 4.23 pengies out of 5. This was a really good flick, but not a  really great one. I think the world of Maggie Smith, but I found her attitude change, in particular,  to be a bit...incredible. Not unwelcome, just hard to buy. I thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench to be delightful and enjoyable in nearly every scene- talk about chem and riveting acting! Although fairly predictable and finally, a bit too pat, I did enjoy this movie and felt the participants did a wonderful job of distracting me from the meringue-weight lightness of the entire endeavor.

Lessons Learned: Apparently, having something of weight to do is all the distraction I will need once I am of retirement age, to make me forget what doesn't work as automatically as once happened. Also this: if you are a fish out of water- get back into the water. You will never figure out the knack of breathing air. Lastly this: all manner of short-comings can be swept under the (non-existent) carpet if a host is charming and engaging enough.

Notable Quotables: Just one. And it is a honey: 'We have a saying that all will be right in the end. If everything is not all is not yet the end.' I need to remember that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cinema Babble: 'Sup in Your Naybe

The Flick: The Watch

The Peeps: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, I swear there is Billy Crudup in there as 'Paul', Rosemary DeWitt, Will Forte, etc.

The Dealio: When Costco manager Evan (Stiller) discovers his night security guy has been murdered on site, he decides to organise a neighborhood watch to figure out who dunnit. In response to his very public plea for recruits, three men respond: gadget-crazy Bob (Vaughn), police department reject (for cause) Franklin (Hill) and newcomer to the area, Jamarcus (Ayoade). After only a few hours together, Bob has co-oped the entire watch, Franklin is armed to the teeth and Jamarcus is...well, hoping for a connection with a gorgeous, scared Asian housewife. Then, (and this is not a spoiler, since it features hugely in the trailers), something decidedly off-planet occurs and the men are convinced they have to save their beloved town from peril at the hands of, well, planet-decimating Aliens. What to do, what to do? Well, what do you think they elect to do? First of all, they begin to look at everybody with suspicion and calculation. Next, they decide to arm themselves. Lastly, they decide they need to come up with some sort of plan. Naturally.

The Grading Session: 3.79 pengies out of 5. What did you think you were going to get with Vaughn, Stiller and Hill front and center? Well, that's exactly what you get here. The music is  a pretty apt match for the spirit of the thing. The tale, while familiar, is about right for this part of the summer, hammocked neatly between 'think and rethink about it' movies and 'what the aitch is this dreck?' movies.  One more thing- and I know you have heard this from me before- but, if movie-makers are going to repeat themselves, I feel I also have free rein to do this as well, no? Why, oh why must we have the archetypal Aliens- replete with spiny appendages that renders every casual swipe deadly, with poly alloy endo-skeleton, dripping green blood and KY jelly? OK. True, this iteration does have one anomaly, upon which a major plot development hinges, but...really? This is as far as we have evolved, Aliens-wise since the original Sigourney Weaver vehicle?  Which is to say, scarcely at all? Can we work on this, peeps?

Lessons Learned: Sometimes the creepy neighbors /townspeople are just that. Although them being Aliens, as well, would certainly explain a lot-  like  the group visits to your front porch to announce that water from your sprinkler is falling on their lawn. (Folks, what about all that nasty rain? Does that not also...oh, never mind).Next this: isn't it the job of the neighborhood welcoming committee to report...suspicions about  newcomers? I am pretty sure it is not all about the muffin baskets. Those are simply  a ploy to lull us into complacency, before we reveal our true selves. Lastly this: for all the talk of off-planet Aliens, don't we also tend to look at our nearest and dearest as Aliens as well: don't understand the way they dress, talk, think, their music and their enthusiasms. And we definitely do not get how to communicate with them. Your mileage may differ.

Notable Quotable: Evan(fingering some green glop): Wait a minute! I've seen this before. I saw it near Antonio...' Franklin: 'Had he just won a Kids' Choice Award?'

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cinema Babble: Why reboot, you may ask...

The Flick: The Amazing Spiderman

The Peeps: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Marin Sheen,  Sally Field, Campbell Scott, etc.

The Dealio: The back story: Teenager Peter Parker, (Garfield), is the  son of a pair of remarkably gifted parents who...just disappear one day, leaving him in the care of Aunt May (Field) and Uncle Ben (Sheen, aging with the help of a wardrobe of rugs that would turn Shatner green with envy). After the obligatory spider bite, he discovers a lot about both himself and his parents, before embarking on a one man crusade to right wrongs. Into this tsunami of change and revelation wanders Gwen Stacy (Stone), a fellow student at their high school, who has been on Parker's radar as a  sort of impossible crush for quite a while. Against the backdrop of the standard superhero exposition comes a wisp of fresh air in the form of life as a teenager coping, not only with high school life as one of the disenfranchised: the brainy nerd who snaps photos for the school paper, but is still the butt of scorn and ridicule from the king-jocks. Like being a teenager isn't enough of a challenge, right? And, then, he begins to exhibit some very impressive physical capabilities. As we fly (sorry, had to be done) towards the climactic cross-town web-swing-a-thon, we are left with several strands of plot we want to see resolved: will he thwart the grandiose and malignant machinations of the evil Lizard? Will he find out what happened to his dad and mom? Will he ever figure out what branzino is? And, most importantly of all: will he get the girl?

The Grading Session: 4.91 pengies out of 5. I know, I know: why all the pengies? Well, I deliberately put off seeing this flick for a week or so, because I wasn't sure I wanted- or needed- a new Spiderman. Well, I did. Just didn't know it yet. I was especially impressed with the terrific chem between all the leads. I loved that there was a grounding in the science- as well as the violence- that led to Parker being sans parents. I appreciated the way he not only fully embraced his nerd-dom, but also used it as a springboard to place himself into the path of people who may have some 411 on his parents and their work. And, I vastly  admired the effort to make this a story told with emotion, ebullience (yep, I said it) and spirit, in a world that was not always, unremittingly, sepia-toned and dark, drear and dank. Even our villain was buffeted by  the wind-sheers of conscience, self-interest and megalomania.  This was a really well-balanced and engaging entry into the super-hero genre. Welcome, Amazing Spidey! Glad to meetcha.

Lessons Learned: First: Do not mess with Ma Nature. You will not like the results, even if, at first, the powers are pretty bitchin'. Next this: you can not have a super hero rise without a launching tragedy. It is only the superior stories which do not get bogged down here, but rather, use this as a springboard rather than an anvil around the neck of the story. Lastly this: if you see a guy's eyes turn lizard-like, and you have a few moments to decide between sticking around to see what happens next (out of, say, intellectual curiosity) or running like Hell...pick the latter. You can always catch up on the former in the paper.

Noteable Quotables: 'Thirty-eight of New York's finest versus...a guy in a unitard?!'
'We're having branzino.' 'Oh. Yeah. Branzino. Um...' 'It's a fish.' 'Riiight.'

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cinema Babble: Make Up Your Mind About What Kind of Flick You Want to Be

The Flick: Magic Mike

The Peeps: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Joe manganiello, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matt Bomer, etc.

The Dealio: Mike, (Tatum), does pick-up work, and hatches money-making schemes by day. But, by night, he is the star of an all-male stripper revue, run by Dallas, (McConaughey), himself an ex-stripper with schemes of his own. Into this pretty self-explanatory life comes The Kid, (Pettyfer),  an 19 year old ne'er-do-well who sleeps on his sister's, (Horn), sofa and bumps along from one  ill-fitting job to another, shedding each on the flimsiest of excuses. Mike takes the troubled Kid under his wing and, almost by accident, the younger man is soon part of the revue, albeit a extremely chaotic one. You begin to see that, sooner or later, cops- real cops- will be summoned. The Kid begins a downward slide that combines strange women, drugs, money problems and crimes. All of which makes it difficult for Mike to get as close as he would like to The Kid's older sister. Dangerous waters surround the whole lot of these folks.

The Grading Session: 4.08 pengies out of 5. First of all, this movie is about 20 minutes longer than it really needs be. Next: there is a schizoid quality to the entire enterprise, which first rears its ugly head about halfway through the movie; apparently, it is not enough to have a pretty entertaining comedy on the screen. Somehow, the writers decided to turn this into a cautionary tale, replete with falls from grace, unreasoning violence, and a total lack of understanding of consequences that grow like kudzu from off-the-wall actions.  This is a most unwelcome dash of reality in the midst of what is, face it, a fantasy/comedy summer movie. Make up your minds about what you want to accomplish- and be realistic about your goals, here. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Apparently the revue in Magic Mike belongs to the Flashdance school of staging: set in a small, rundown strip mall (sorry for that...had to be said) strip club, it cartainly looks like the sky's the limit, and all sorts of effects, props, outfits and routines can actually happen. Riiiiiight. Next: every golden opportunity has, beneath its surface, a huge vein of fools' gold. You would be wise to remember this before signing on the dotted. Lastly this: let no good deed go unpunished. This is the other possibility when lending a hand-up to someone you really do not know.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not Exactly What You Think

The Flick: Brave

The Peeps: Given that this is an animated film, the talent is all about the voices. And those are: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, John Ratzenberger, etc.

The Dealio: Merida, (Macdonald), is a free-spirited princess, from the tops of her sproingy red curls to the tips of her dainty, boot-wearing feet. This situation is viewed with much pride and indulgence by her da, the king, (Connolly), and wry despair  by her straight-as-an-arrow mum, (Thompson). But, as her birthday approaches, the entire cycle of change speeds up: she is now of marriageable age,  and it is the fond desire of her 'rents- especially mum-that she make a fine match. Except....that Merida is not at all sold on the idea. She would rather be off, bow in hand, tromping through the woods and honing her fightin', fishin' and frolickin' skills.
 In an ill-conceived brainstorm, Merida makes a really, really ill-conceived bargain with a witch:  a spell that will change her parents' ideas about her future. She wants them to really see her in a new light. Okay, she does get her wish. It's just not the one she thought she requested. Before you can say 'Rumplestiltskin', the entire kingdom is turned upside down. Now it really is time for Merida to show how truly brave she can be. 

The Grading Session: 4.59 pengies out of 5. Pixar has really come a long way from the days of the dead eyes and inhuman-looking skin. Merida, especially, is a riot of colors, textures and glorious red hair. But even the bears, hounds and horses get their time to shine, as well. The storyline gets bogged down towards the last third with some tiresome repetition, but, as a whole, this is a valiant effort. I am especially impressed by the outcome of the love story. It is definitely not what you think. But it  is definitely more than you might expect from a little, animated flick.

Lessons Learned: You may think that you know those around you down to the very tiniest eyelash, how they will react, what is on their minds and what they are really thinking. You would be so wrong. And, hopefully, you might be able to figure this out before it is too late. Lastly this: How is it possible that those we love the most have such power over us? Easy: re-read the beginning of that last sentence.

Notable Quotables: If you had the power to change your own fate...would you?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Biblio Babble: My First Murakami

The Book: 1 Q 84

The Writer: Haruki Murakami

The Dealio: Well, I would like to say 'Beats me!' But that would be a cop-out. I received this book-in audiobook format- from  loved ones.  And I can imagine that the thought was, 'I know she is crazy for things Japanese. This is a shoo-in.' Not so fast. This book clocked in at almost 1000 page book, and the audio was on almost 40 CDs- I found out 'round about CD #36 that the last 2 were MP3s. None the less, this was a story very expertly voiced by the three readers. The story kept me company for hundreds and hundreds of miles over 3 months as I drove to and from sites for work. Late night and early morning, this book was a steadfast companion, and I will always have a soft spot for both it and the loving couple who gave this to me for Christmas. However...this was my first Murakami, and is not a particularly easy companion. Sort of like having the mom who taught you to drive a car with you for every trip thereafter...and not a bit inclined to hold back. Murakami has constructed a complex tale involving many, but focused mostly on three main characters: Tengo, a math teacher and would-be writer of fiction, Aomame, a fitness trainer and sometime assassin and Ushikawa, a creepy but savvy PI. Along the way, we pick up a mythology of Little People, two moons-which only certain peeps can see, a charismatic, but ultimately despicable cult leader, a galvanising, best-selling  first book and multiple threats to the sanity and safety of the main characters. And its readers? Perhaps.

The Grading Session: 3.72 pengies out of 5. I should actually rate it a bit higher, because, although this story had a tendency to make me say (repeatedly) 'Oh, come ON, now!' I could not leave it alone. There was an extreme amount of repetition. Not just a Tarentino-esque device of seeing the same scene from other participants' viewpoints. Nope, repeated repetitions of the same sentences, using the same words, and coming from the same peeps, but without any additional insight or clarification. I do believe, (and those who read my movie chat will groan and say, 'Not again!'), this book could have been at least half its published length without losing a scrap of import and tension. I also could have done without the terribly written sex scenes and the fullsome and very repetitive descriptions of Aomame's breasts. I get it: they're small, she hates them. Move along, folks. There's nothing (new) for you here. You might imagine that clocking in at almost 1000 pages would mean every.single.possible. plot thread would be dealt with in the book. But, not so fast: instead of resolving the issue of Tengo's 'older girfriend's ' disappearance, we wind up hearing more about Aomame's breasts. There are about three more dropped plotlines, but are you the one who is going to write to Murakami and tell him to put pen to paper again on the matter of 1 Q 84? Not I, said the little red hen. Not even  for two moons.

Lessons Learned: At a certain point in a successful writer's career, he has reached such stature and status, that even his/her editor is loathe to trim even a solitary word. Murakami has reached just such a point. Unfortunately. Next this: do I regret the book or the time devoted to it? Nope. I just think I needed to either read the abridged version, if such a critter exists, or I need to try an earlier Murakami and watch what happens. Your mileage may vary.

Cinema Babble: Gimme A Head With Hair

The Flick: Rock of Ages

The Peeps: Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, Malin Akerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamnatti...and a whole slew of slightly, um, vintage rockers.

The Dealio: In 1987, innocent girl from the country (Hough) meets innocent boy from the country (Boneta) in heavy metal LA Club Bourbon. All sorts of complications ensue, set, naturally, to the soundtrack of all manner of heavy metal standards.

The Grading Session: 3.601 pengies out of 5. Much has been made of both the amazing voice and the zero per cent body fat of leading man Cruise. But I did not find the voice to be so splendiferous, and did not care about either the body fat per centage or his omnipresent bare cheeks.  Yes. I get it: daring, out there, you're in great shape. Now put your pants back on, son. While it was great to hear some of the old familiars again, something about the carry-through just didn't charizz me. Maybe it is just me. Probably, it was just me. Also, I felt that there was little or no chem between our two young lovers. Hough did a fab job with the material given, but Boneta, to me, was as appealing as a younger, dark-haired Jay Mohr...whom I can not abide. Every time the camera was on him, he looked as deer-in-the-headlights as a high school lead about to burst into his side  of 'I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen' with Hough.

Lessons Learned: First, and most importantly, it was great to be reminded of the inextricable bond between heavy metal and mega hair. Every single major player in the place had at least one indelible hair moment. Literally: can. not. look. away. Next: Sometimes it is not enough to stuff a musical about heavy metal with heavy metal songs. You actually have to pick the pairings rather carefully. Lastly this: heavy metal wasn't the downfall of civilisation as we know it that we thought it would be. Like, also, rock and roll was not the  yadda, yadda, yadda.

Notable Quotables (that weren't in the flick but should have been): 'Hey, kids, I know! Let put on a show!' save our, well, you go ahead and  fill-in-the-blanks.

Cinema Babble: Who Knew

The Flick: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

The Peeps: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Maron Csokas, Jimmi Simpson, Erin Wasson, etc.

The Dealio: A.Lincoln (Walker), our 16th prez apparently had quite a backstory. As a young boy, witnessing several NQR (not quite right) events, a turning point came when he realised that he couldn't simply pass his time  felling trees, studying  into the night and desperately searching for a meaningful way to support  and to better himself. A chance meeting- in a bar, of all places- offers him a tempting alternative: get a little bit back on those who 'done him wrong' and, at the same time, cull the apparent herd of vampires currently aprowl amongst unsuspecting non-vamps. Under the tutelege of Henry Sturgess, Lincoln enters  a sort of vampire-slayer bootcamp and, eschewing the more trad anti-vamp weaps, modifies his trusty axe to do the trick. One draw-back to this master plan: Sturgess gets to pick the  targets (in a plot device reminiscent of TV's Person of Interest) and only when Sturgess okays it, may he exact his ultimate revewnge. All the rest is basic-if revisionist-history.

The Grading Session: 4.83 pengies out of 5. Newcomer Walker is remarkably apt in his portrayal of younger and not-so-young Lincoln, who is played as, first, a wide-eyed idealist, and later, as a heavy-hearted, hyper-stressed dignitary. What you also get to see is A. Lincoln's evolution into a bona fide bad ass. But, more on that later.
 As always, I felt  compelled to shave off a few scraps of pengie-points to reflect on the unnecessary length of the film. What is this trend? Is it that film makers are unable to leave a shred of film on the floor? Or is it a consistent lack of confidence in their product? Whichever, it certainly is both universal, and tedious.
Except for Sewell (and a more consistent Bad Hat I have yet to meet cinematically) and Mackie, most of the other players are, to me, at least, recognisable by face, although not necessarily by name and rep. Grand job, though, throughout, in the casting.

Lessons Learned: First: much of what I thought I knew about vampires- and Lincoln!- was vastly over-estimated by yours truly. Next, to cop a phrase from Juno: 'Who knew he had it in him?' ' I know...right?' Lastly this: apparently Lincoln had only one child-Willie. Gee, I guess that means no Presidential Death Mascot, (see Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation for both a great read and the source of this last reference. Lincoln, of course, had three sons. See any history book or biography to source this statement).

Notable Quotables (that should have appeared in this flick, but  didn't) :
A Lincoln: 'I'm gonna need my wallet back, too.'
Bad Guy: 'Okay. Which one is it?'
A. Lincoln: 'It's the one that says Bee Ay Em Eff on it.'

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cinema Babble: When the Baddie Steals The Show

The Flick: Snow White and the Huntsman

The Peeps: Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, etc.

The Dealio: OK, for those unacquainted with the very scary fairy tale, here goes: Snow White (Stewart) is the princess in a very dicey household. First mum gets sick and dies, then dad falls under the spell-literally- of Ravenna, a power- , youth- and beauty-obsessed woman of incredible hatred and vanity. For reasons we are meant to understand, even empathise with (which), she has a deadly, and I do mean deadly, vendetta against all men. Except her very creepy bro. Having gotten the duped king to fall for and marry her, Ravenna assassinates him on their wedding night and then- going strictly against character- allows Snow White to live. True, she does isolate her in a tower, where SW sees no one except her jailers. But she still grows up into, well, a battle-hardened Kristen Stewart. Having figured a way out of her cell and into the enchanted forest- where all fear to tread, save she, SW next rallies a band of eight- not seven- dwarves  and various forces of nature. Object?  To make an end-run on the queen, dispatch her and her like and bring sunshine and birdsong back into the kingdom. Well, Ravenna is having none of that, realising that, in order to remain young and beautiful and in power, she must snatch SW's beating heart from her chest and devour it. With this in mind, she managed to locate the one man who, alone, has no fear of the forest, nor reason to remain among the living. The Hunstman (Hemsworth, again, making the most of hand tools), having lost everything of value, decides that, he will get SW back for Ravenna, upon the condition that the duplicious queen bring his wife back to life. Ravenna agrees, but has no intention of doing so. But I think you must have seen that one coming, no? Alrighty, then. Off to the enchanted woods we hie.

The Grading Session: 4.73 pengies out of 5. Stewart was the short pole in the tent, not convincing as either the fully grown sweetie pie nor as the Joan-of-Arc-esque maid of battle.  That's fine, though, as Hemsworth (with whom Stewart has scant chem) and Theron have charisma and swash to spare. I must say that if the effects and the costumes on this one don't take a prize or two, I will be stunned. The breath-taking scene where Ravenna morphs from a crone to a flock of, well, ravens, to a slough of oily residue, to a silk, satin, feather and velvet gown-wearing virago is in-effin'-credible. And so is her over-the-top performance.

Lessons Learned: Say it with me: if the sitch seems too good to be true....just walk away, Rene. Oh, yeah, and this: if a person has just threatened to kill you, then offers you a great deal (of money, power or promises), please see the above sentence for instructions. Follow them.

Notable Quotables: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Biblio Babble: Stepping Into The Shoes of a Master

The Book: Lullaby: A Spenser Novel

The Writer: Ace Atkins steps in for the late, great Robert B. Parker.

The Dealio: Sharp-talking, Southie-dwelling 14 year old Mattie Sullivan  is Spenser's latest client. What she wants is justice and some closure in the matter of  her mother's murder  four years ago. One hapless mook is in the joint doing time on the rap, but Mattie, who witnessed her mom being hustled into a car by two well known drug dealers  the same night she was killed, knows, just knows, that they got the wrong man. She  hires Spenser (for the price of a dozen doughnuts: six chocolate glazed, six cinnamon-topped) because he looks like a tough-guy. But, Mattie is tough, too and used to handling things herself. Naturally, she has to add one condition: she's gonna  be in on all the important stuff. Much in the manner of True Grit, but without Rooster Cogburn, the couple heads up a mismatched crew including Hawk and all the usual players, hell-bent on finding out what really happened that night. And why both Mattie and Spenser are suddenly the focus of a long-dormant crime family. Good stuff, this, with lots of snap and sassiness, irony and smart-aleckiness. Welcome back, Spenser. You have been missed.

The Grading Session: 4.79 pengies out of 5. It is wonderful to have Spenser back again. Although many carp that Atkins is not letter-perfect, I find loads to like about this incarnation of Spenser and company. I look forward to more. And not very patiently.

Lessons Learned: No one will ever replace Robert B. Parker, but Ace Atkins fill-in role is as  sleek a fit as a broken-in just right Braves cap. Also this: it is such a pleasure to listen to these stories on audio CD. Joe Mantegna has done Spenser in the past- and I hope he continues to read these tales. Perfecto!

Cinema Babble:Hate The Book...

The Flick: What To Expect When You're Expecting

The Peeps: Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Cameron Diaz, Brooklyn Decker, Dennis Quaid, Anna Kendrick, Chase Crawford, Chris Rock, Ben Falcone, Matthew Morrison, Roderigo Santoro, Thomas Lennon, Joe Manganiella, etc, etc.

The Dealio: This incomprehensibly best-selling book was turned into a sort of RomCom for the nesting set. Every stereotype related to the expectant state is brought out, dusted off and played for laughs. Of course, you also know that there will be moments of poignancy, loss, crude humor, over-wrought daddies-to-be and new daddies, hormonally amped mommies-to- be and new mommies, and lots of boob jokes. That's about it. Heck, yes, I brought a date.

The Grading Session: 2.0009 pengies out of 5. Questions? Please see above. I have history with this particular book, as I was a labor and delivery and complicated OB nurse in my past professional life. I have seen seemingly normal, intelligent women and men turned into raving loons by the competition amongst those in their cohort to whom this book  is a bible. If you don't a) read this, cover to cover, and memorise every syllable, and then b) incorporate every nuance of the recommendations therein into your daily life as a new parent...then you clearly don't care to bring your A Game to the party. The parenthood party. Folks, stop the madness and grab the reins. This is only one of many sources of 411 and needs to be approached with some sort of balance and perspective. Making it into a RomCom, (and not a terribly intelligent one, at that), is about the best fate I can think of for it. Stuffed to the gills with a New Years' Eve/Valentines' Day sort of ensemble cast placing all the Hollywood types into cute, trendy and popular relationships, this one seems familiar because it is! My date spoke, thusly, thirty minutes into the thang: 'You had about enough?'. But, no, I was oddly fascinated by one of the very minor stories, involving  the two youngest peeps in the film- Anna Kendrick's Rosie and Chace Crawford's Marco and ex-high school crushes who are now competitors in the local food-truck scene.  Their story alone seemed to have a sweet, tender and yet angsty touchiness to it that appealed to both of us.

Lessons Learned: (Already knew this one, but worth passing along): never lose focus when making homemade caramels. And don't even think about trying to taste-test  when at the molten stage. You'd think the name of that stage alone would warn you of the dangers. But they smell so heavenly, and...just a little taste? Next thing you know, you have no fingerprints.
Also this: there is no such thing as the magic unicorn of pregnancy, so stop wishing that this could happen to you. You've heard of the expression 'only in the movies'? Yup, that one you can take to the bank.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not Really, It Just Felt That Way

The Flick: The Five-Year Engagement

The Peeps: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, etc, etc.

The Dealio: One year after meeting Violet (Blunt), sous-chef Tom (Segel) proposes. She accepts. And then follows a series of interruptions with their plans, during which this totally cute and root-forable couple descends into Rom-Com Hell, taking the movie- and us- with them. There are unfunny sequences involving loss of a toe, a child shooting an arrow into a woman's thigh, cheating and attempted cheating on both sides, really inexplicable facial hair, selfishness and ambition blinding one lover to the other's needs, unhappiness and sacrifices. Never has so much been done to so  promising a story to kill off any funny, any joy, any romance.

The Grading Session: This movie is totally undeserving of any pengies. So- it will be awarded the first-ever, dreaded Mackerel. Pengies eat mackerel.

Lessons Learned: Yes, it is possible to show a cute-meet one too many times. Or four. It is also possible to take totally likable leads with totally likable  personalities and turn them into hideous, thoroughly unlikable  stereotypes. It just shouldn't take more than two hours to get there. Lastly this: just cause a little bit of adversity brings forth some laughs and relate-ability does not mean that heaping it on makes it even better. Or even bearable. Your mileage may differ.

Cinema Babble: If Edgar Allen Poe was a PI

The Flick: The Raven

The Peeps: John Cusack, Brendan Gleeson, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, etc.

The Dealio: As if Edgar Allen is not having a bad enough year (or two)- out of work, money and favor- things just got a whole lot worse. Someone is killing people in Poe's own hometown of Baltimore, and using methods described in Poe's own tales. Naturally, the first suspect is (wait....wait...wait) the author himself. But with a series of alibis to match the dates of the killings, Poe is brought in to try to crack the case(s). Complicating the  situation even further, Poe has decided to make public  his secret engagement to the beautiful daughter of the one man in Baltimore who hates him a costume party where the copy-cat killer is vowing to make a huge, and very deadly statement. 

The Grading Session: 4.22 pengies out of 5. Cusack, on the whole, does a nice job of squelching his usual smart-aleck movie persona. But the   labored, depressing and grittiness-as-an-actual-character atmosphere of this movie is like lugging a damp, woolen blanket around town in summer. From the very first scenes of Poe/Cusack, sitting on a bench, staring up at the sky, as if seeking  a raven made out of clouds, we know that we will not be permitted to put that blanket aside for more than a few seconds. Whenever the going gets too frisky or  upbeat, prepare to witness yet another graphic atrocity committed in the name of plot-advancement. Still, a few very well placed glimpses into the workings of Poe's mind and imagination, as well as reminders of his surprisingly normal background (example? I remembered only after it was mentioned that he graduated from West Point. Yes, that West Point), kept me hanging in with the story till the very end. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: That really nice policeman/cohort who is behind you through thick and thin? He is either a dead man walking or the true bad hat. It's like a sort of rule. Also, Poe had a seriously disturbing imagination. No kidding! I keep trying to picture him switching genres to write a kids' book. Or, no! Wait! A  YA book. No, seriously, in that case, he would've  become a rock star among writers. Think about that for a moment. Lastly this: for a man with no money, scant friends and a (literally) hopeless attitude, how did Poe manage to rub shoulders with the high and mighty- and afford those nice duds? Answer: Hollywood!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not Exactly A chip Off The Old Block

The Flick: Dark Shadows

The Peeps: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Chloe Grace  Moretz, Jonny Lee  Miller, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Alice Cooper, etc.

The Dealio: When young, rich dude Barnabas Collins refuses to proclaim his love for servant Angelique Bouchard, she sets out to curse both his family and him. The curse begins with his parents dying in an Angelique-engineered 'accident', ruining the family biz (fish cannery), moves on to inducing his one true love to walk off a cliff, and then, finally gets around to turning Barnabas into a vampire, burying him in a chain-wrapped coffin on the edge of Collinsport, and then moving on with her life. 
Fast forward: In the process of tearing up some ground outside town, in 1972, workmen unearth his chained coffin, and, of course, are unable to observe any sort of caution. They cut the chains and unleash, well, you know. Next up to bat, (Sorry. Had to be said), we have the old fish-out-of-water gig. Supposing that the fish was of the vampire persuasion. Barnabas is poised to re-enter the world to find things much changed. But, not everything is different: the Collins family is still cursed by loss of wealth and standing, mysterious deaths and haunted apparitions. Much fun is made with the re-imagining of this Dan Curtis series from the late '60's and early '70's, but there is also a definite foundation of creeping dread that permeates the whole. 

The Grading Session: 3.07 pengies out of 5. As someone so devoted to this 'Gothic soap' (the only soap I ever got involved with. Which), I had my mom write me weekly letters catching me up with the plot twists and detours when I went away to college, I had such great expectations for this film. My excitement grew when I learned that Depp and Burton were re-teaming to bring this to the screen. But, sadly, my first  emotion was one of disappointment. Can't say exactly why I felt this way, but I definitely felt that the spirit (ha-ha) of the thing missed the mark. The blend of camp (yeah, OK, that was present in the original, but not really in a self-aware, heavy-handed way. It was just something there, in the background, like another character. A minor character that left an impression). Here, the campiness is very self-conscious and gets in the way of the other strands of the story: revenge, salute to monster movies, commentary on our times, etc. Simplify, peeps. Simplify. And focus.

Lesson Learned: Here's a whopper: apparently a witch can make a person into a vampire simply by wishing it so. As a longtime student of such, I always thought the touchstone for vampirism was the neck-nibble. Also this: it is not a great thing, make-up wise, when a far off pan-shot makes the dark charcoal etched cheekbones on Barnabas' face look exactly like, well, stark, black, charcoal-etched lines across and down his white face. The secret to great cheekbones (or so I am told)? Blend, blend, blend.

Notable Quotables: Barnabas: Love means never having to say you're sorry. However, it is with sincere regret that I must kill all of you.'  And Barnabas, to the TV, showing Karen Carpenter singing Top Of The World: 'Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!'

Cinema Babble: Super Heroes United...Sorta

The Flick:  The Avengers

The Peeps: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johanssen, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Jenny Agutter, etc, etc. Etcetera.

The Dealio: When Earth is threatened by  petulant demi-god (and adoptive brother of Thor), Hiddleston's  Loki , Nick Fury (Jackson), the apparent liaison between  the governing committee and the military/S.H.I.E.L.D., brings together a committee of his own: people with...distinct and 'highly developed, very specific skill-sets'. Total mayhem ensues as Iron Man, The Black Widow, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Captain America and Thor meet up en route to saving the world and, well, fight like a bunch of schoolyard toughs. The first 30-40 minutes spin out the set-up wherein an item called the Tesseract, apparently, the mother of all energy sources, has been stolen by Loki to fuel his goals of assuming control of Earth and everyone on her. More chaos, explosions, power-drains, mind-control and even a pan-dust-up among several of the Supes in order to sort out who is the baddest of the bad. Answer: Nick Fury, since he is the only one who doesn't get a mark on him from the interplay. Then onto the serious bidnez of  curbing evil, restoring peace and order and waiting for that always-entertaining, over-the-credits-reveal.

The Grading Session: 4.19 pengies out of 5. There is no earthly reason for this movie to clock in at over 2.5 hours. The mix of personalities should have delightful, enjoyable and loaded with tongue-in-cheek. Instead, the only time the dialogue seemed to snap and snarl was when Downey's Stark/Iron Man graced the scene. In addition to scoring almost all the best lines, he also seemed to be having the most fun with what he was doing (Hiddleston and Ruffalo got in a fair amount of satisfyingly engaging shots, though). Johansson and Jackson were completely underutilised and that's just plain sad. 

Lessons Learned: First of all,  it always has to be NYC or LA. Alien travel agents must be promoting the crap out of those two as must-destroy dream destinations. Next: OK, what am I not getting about gods? I thought there was definitely an element of immortality about them. But in movies of this sort, people- even other gods- are always trying to kill them. And this: in the immortal words of Axel Foley: 'I'm not fallin' for the old banana in the tail pipe trick.' Take note, all y'all: if the bad guys are trying to lead you someplace, just don't go. THIS IS ALWAYS A TRAP. Are you listening? ALWAYS. Lastly: if you are trying to fashion an alien force that will scare the scrambled eggs out of a group of citizens, you should definitely make 'em look like mechanised coelacanths, which totally would not be able to move and articulate, let alone fly. This here must be the stuff with which film-makers' nightmares are populated.

Notable Quotables: (all come from Tony Stark. Of course): 'Clench up, Legolas.' (to Hawkeye). 
'No hard feelings, Point Break. Ya gotta mean swing.' and "Shakespeare in the Park?' (both, to Thor) and
 'OK, Reindeer Games' (to  Loki. NOTE: Seriously? You could have chosen any sort of get-up and this is what you chose? Geez.)  
'You might have missed a few things while you were being a Capsicle.' (to Captain America). And, from Agent Hill: 'When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?' Stark: 'Last night.'

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cinema Babble: Seems Familiar...But In A Good Way

The Flick: Safe

The Peeps: Jason Stratham, Catherine Chan, James Hong, Chris Sarandon, etc.

The Dealio: Reminiscent of various Bruce Willis adventure-thriller flix, Safe focuses in on Luke Wright (Stratham), an ex-cop, now working as a cage-fighter, and losing on a regular basis. Luke has managed to fall  afoul of not one, but at least two, mobs. On the run, and warned not to make friends with anyone whose safety he values, Wright witnesses a young Chinese girl on a subway platform, obviously hiding from men he knows are Russian mobsters. Through a series of events, and against his better judgement, Wright winds up on the lam with the girl, Mei. Along the way, he discovers something pretty unique about her, and pretty surprising about himself. 
Given that this is your standard Stratham flick, you will know to expect meager dialogue- at least from him- max car-chases, punch 'em ups and explosive gunfire. What you might not expect is the toughness of the petite, self-possessed Mei, (Chan is a natural... in two languages). Though not as  riveting as the chem between Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in The Professional, there is a lot to dig about this on-screen relationship.

The Grading Session: 4.81 pengies out of 5. Extreme, and -usually graphic- violence abounds. So, if this is not your cuppa.... As always, your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: First of all, don't tell any character played by Stratham what he can and cannot do. How many times do I have to say this?! Next: if someone is carrying a concealed weapon and thinks it is not going to be eventually used against them, they clearly haven't seen enough Bruce Willis movies. Or Jason Stratham movies, for that matter. Lastly: you must remember this: in this sort of movie- if not in real life- every put-upon dog will  have his or her day. And you may not be happy with the results if you are the one  doing the putting-upon (which).

Notable Quotables: Mei: 'What this means is bad business for you. Bad business for me, also.' File this one under classic understatements.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Flick: The Hunger Games

The Peeps: Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jack Quaid (yep, Dennis' son), Donald Sutherland, etc.

The Dealio: Read the first in the series. Not a huge fan. Went to see the movie to see what 'they' did with the material. For those who never read the book, briefly, 74 years ago, as punishment for an devastating uprising, once a year, every district in Panam is required to participate in The Reaping, when one boy and one girl (garnered from those between the ages of 12 and 18) are selected to enter the Hunger Games. These are a series of increasingly violent encounters between the tributes from each district. There can be only one survivor. That survivor wins a lifetime of luxury and indulgence for him/her self and some sort of benefit to their district, as well. The heroine of this story is Katniss Everdene, a tough, resilient and resourceful girl who has been the mainstay of her family since her father died and her mother took a leave of absence from her responsibilities in keeping the family in food, shelter and something to trade to obtain what is needed. In this daily struggle, Katniss is assisted by Gale, another experienced-beyond-his-years teenager, who offers her advice and support and accompanies her on her outings to locate and capture something for them to eat and barter. Gale approaches the idea of the Reaping with philosophical acceptance: he has put his name in so many times (42 times this year alone) to obtain food for his own family, that he knows he will be chosen. Katniss worries about her younger sister, Primrose, who, at 12, is set to experience her first Reaping. When Prim is selected in the lottery, Katniss volunteers to stand in for her. Then Peeta, a baker's son, who has nourished a long-standing crush on Katniss, is chosen as the male tribute from District 12. Aaaand, they are off to The Capitol to prep for and participate in the Hunger Games.

The Grading Session: 3.41 pengies out of 5. First of all, this movie is too long (stop me if you've heard this from me before). The casting was cracker-jack and everyone did extremely well with their roles. Question: Does Donald Sutherland ever play a nice guy, or even a semi-okay guy, any more? I did notice that, ahem, some of the more seasoned actors seemed to rush their lines a bit- very distracting. However, when I compare this film with the Twilight ones, I must say that I prefer the strong and feisty Katniss as a young female role-model over the simpering, I-am-nothing-without-my man(er, vampire), Bella Swan. Pul-eez.
I also found the musical selections quite intriguing. I saw Lawrence in Winter Bone (fabulous, harrowing. Another hard-scrabble role, so you know the girl can definitely bring it), which was set in the Appalachians. The sound track for THG had a definite, apt and sinuous Appalachian tang to it as well. Which I loved.
Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Well, here's a big and revealing one: apparently, defying common sense and science, CG and holographic conjurings CAN hurt you. In fact, they can pretty thoroughly kill you. And I don't mean by scaring you to death. Apparently, the laws of physics and reason cease to exist in the Arena. Also, this: it seems that the court (or at least the style of the court) of Louis XVI is alive and well in Panam.

Notable Quotables: 'Happy Hunger Games!' 'May the odds be ever in your favor!'

Saturday, March 10, 2012


The Book: Maphead: Charting The Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

The Writer: Ken Jennings (Yep, that Ken Jennings. The one who lasted over 6 months on Jeopardy!)

The Dealio: Ken Jennings is a maphead, and he not only doesn't care who knows it, he is proud to be so labeled. Whether you care about maps and geography (My name is Susan and I am a maphead married to a maphead) or not, this book pulls you into the incredibly secretive, intriguingly complex world of the cartophiliac. My own mapheadedness takes a peculiarly mild form: I love maps, love looking at maps, admiring especially beautiful maps, no matter the subject. But, be so ill-advised as to put a Thomas's guide in my hand and ask me to navigate to the nearest park...and forget it. Might as well ask a one year old for driving directions. One famous statement my husband still trots out from time to time is my instruction to him to 'Turn up! We're going north, so turn up.' He actually had to pull the car over so he could regain control of the steering wheel, his laughter was so volcanic. None-the-less, I dove into this book with great zeal. Starting with the National Geographic Bee (hosted by none other than Alex Trebek), and moving swiftly, almost seamlessly, through the history of maps, map trading, geo-caching and the evolution and widespread use of GPS, this is a wonderful, well, road trip book. Chock full of personal anecdotes, history and science, but rendered in a smoothly engaging way, this is more than a dry throwback to elementary school. It is a celebration of all things map-related. And you will be surprised, I think, by just how many things actually ARE map-related.

The Grading Session: 4.61 pengies out of 5. A few debits for too many "NOTE:" entries. I have both the audio version and the text version (well, you would, wouldn't you, in a product called Maphead? Gotta see those map-ages). My one quibble with the audio version is that the reader- who, overall , is pretty good- mispronounces a number of fairly common words. But, as I said, this is a quibble- and a minor one at that.

Lessons Learned: Geography is not just maps. It encompasses things as diverse as politics, war, science, agriculture, history, seasons, astronomy, finance, religion, art and even music. Who knew? Oh. Right. Geographers.


The Book: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

The Writer: Laura Hillenbrand

The Dealio: This true-life tale of Louis Zamperini reads like fiction: as a boy, Louie was the scourge of the neighborhood, scrapping, stealing, smoking and roving the area like an orphaned bear-cub. But an inspired idea from his older brother- running- changed all that, and Louis, forever. As a young man, he represented the US at the Berlin Olympics, signed on for the US Air Force as a bomber, was shot down, survived life on a raft for the longest period of time then recorded only to become a POW at a series of ever worsening facilities and endured being the subject of the particular attentions of a sadistic camp commander. Yet, through all of this, Zamerini remained defiantly unbroken. And still remains so to this day. At the age of 93, Louie continues to live his life with zest, grit and spirit. Now, thanks to Hillenbrand's book- which reads, at times, like a fictional thriller- you can get to meet Louie Zamperini, too.

The Grading Session: 4.99 pengies out of 5. A wildly readable book, at times there seemed a bit too much repetition and detail attached to some scenes. A totally unnecessary gilding of this particular lily, as Louie's story stands strong and proud on its own. I found that I simply could not put this book down. Every time I tried, it kept beaming me signals to just give in and read a few more pages. I so love this in a book!

Lessons Learned: One really big one: the human spirit is an unreasonably, improbably unsquashable thing. Then, too, this one: do not judge a book by its cover, or a person by their physical size: there is just as much room for courage, bravery and defiant spirit in a physically tiny person as in a muscle-bound giant. Lastly this: the desire for respect and dignity can drive a person to endure against all odds, once everything else has been stripped away. It is the hunger for those two things which gives us that extra strength to carry on.