Monday, June 10, 2013

Cinema Babble: Abra-cadabra, baby

The Flick: Now You See Me

The Peeps: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Four street-magicians receive an offer they can't refuse: go into training with a mysterious (as in, they never meet the person) benefactor, who is grooming them to take on Vegas, baby! Each has a specialty and a past. Each is longing for the big time. But what is really behind all the magic? As world famous debunker and ex-magician, Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) puts it 'Look closely, because the closer you look, the less you see.'

The Grading Session: 4.79 pengies out of 5. The laws of physics simply do not apply within the confines of this flick. And, as long as you are cool with that, you won't find any  flaws in this movie. The special effects awe and make you scratch your head. Isn't that what magic is supposed to do? But, in the end, perhaps it is best to look at this- literally- as  a caper-movie, dressed up with amazing segues and frustratingly inexplicable change-ups. I, myself, adore a good caper film, and this one dovetails nicely with my current library of faves. The cast plays to their individual strengths- no one does all-knowing and mysterious better than Freeman, or slow-burn, skeptical Everyman better than Ruffalo. But each gets to chip in their unique spin on their role, and that makes it a treat to the eyes and the funny bone.

Lessons Learned: Oh, you mean, aside from the Freemanism above? Well, how about this coat-tail rider: what you see is not necessarily what you  get. Then this: time does nothing to erase the desire for payback. On the contrary, it tends to whet the appetite even more with the passing of time, adding little tiddly-pums and curlyques...which the paid-back will definitely not enjoy.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Biblio Babble: Very...Out There...But Intriguing

The Read: What The Family Needed

The Writer: Steven Amsterdam

The Dealio: Initially, it is really hard to say what the dealio is here. We are introduced to an extended family. One part: comprised of mom, Ruth, (AKA Queen of Drama), her daughter Giordana and son Ben. The other half is made up of Natalie and Peter, (the 'rents) and Sasha and Alek, their sons. From the first moment this family is reunited, it is clear that turbulent waters surround each and every member. Alek is the most obviously...untypical. His first question, upon reuniting with his cousins is, 'OK, if you could have one super power, would it be flying or invisibility?' The cuzzes go along with it. And that's apparently that. Until Giordana finds herself able to render herself invisible. Over time, all sorts of powers appear and are developed, custom-chosen for each recipient. Just when they are most needed. Do they then run around, using their new powers to fight crime and right wrongs? Nope. OK, well, Ben does try, but with no satisfactory results. But what they do get is exactly what each needs most.

The Grading Session: 4.12 pengies out of 5. Heavily downgraded from 5 pengies solely because the sudden transitions in time, character and place are diffcult to follow. Part of that, no doubt, has to do with the fact that I did not read read this novel, but listened to it on MP3, which tends to cut off portions of lead-off words. But, in the home stretch, everything begins to fall into place, and a sweet sort of sighing acceptance as all the wonder settles in for a stay that lasts until the last words.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes people are heavily medicated into pathology. Not through any malice aforethought, but simply because the peeps responsible just do not know what else to do. Also this: a gift is given with the hope that it is used, developed and employed wisely. Try to remember this- especially around the holidays. Lastly this, as my brother Gregg once said, 'Family is everything.' Thanks, Gregg, for the reminder.

Cinema Babble: Absolutely Stunning Art

The Flick: Epic

The Voice Talent: Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Jason Sudeikis, Chris O'Dowd, Aziz Ansari, Pitbull, Beyonce Knowles, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Based on a book by William Joyce (and, OBTW, I am an absolute sucker for both the art and the storyline of this writer's entire catalogue of works) The Leaf Men and The Brave, Good Bugs. This is the story of a girl, MK, who, upon the death of her mother, returns to the middle of nowhere, where her estranged dad lives alone and -in full mad scientist mode- spends his time exploring the microscopic life of the adjacent forest. To the exclusion of all else, may it be said. Her arrival makes a barely perceptable ripple in his existence, although he has thoughtfully made plans for MK to join him in his hunt for the wee creatures who inhabit the countryside. When a weird quirk of fate reduces MK to the size of the aforementioned creatures, she finds herself equal parts Dorothy in Oz and Amelia Earhart. And she- and her dad- are forced to experience the pain and loss of ignoring one world for another.

The Grading Session: 4.919 pengies out of 5. This film is simply one of the most beautifully-executed ever. No detail is too tiny to be fine-tuned. No expression or transition is left to just happen. And the storyline is an important one, too. Alternately, Dad is frustrated by the daughter's skepticism: 'Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.' Daughter, in turn,  is discouraged and saddened by her father's focus on the minuscule creatures of the forest, when she, mourning the loss of her mother, just wants to find her pain eased and be comforted: 'I am right here, Dad! Right here!' Both have much to learn, as do the small ones. Especially the small ones.

Lessons Learned: Ooooh, here's a goodie: 'We are like leaves on a tree: each individual, but all part of the same creation.'  Another one I liked is this: just because you are a slug does not mean you can not act like a Leaf Man. And, lastly this: there is beauty to be found wherever we look...if we only look.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cinema Babble: Whoa!

The Flick: Star Trek: Into Darkness

The Peeps: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto,  Zoe Soldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, etc, etc (etc).

The Dealio: Starting right off with a bang, Kirk and (extremely unintentionally), Spock, violate the primary directive during what is supposed to be just a fact-finding mission. Thus begins a nearly unstoppable action-packed sequel to the Star Trek reboot. Authentic to the brand, with all the gates and touchstones that make Star Trek a legend, even among- or maybe especially among?- those who never saw the TV original, STID flings itself headlong into a perilous and misbegotten series of adventures. Once again, Klingons figure as the main baddies, but there is much more going on here than that. The  addition of Cumerbatch as Khan ratchets up the intensity- but also the involvement of the audience- as he slings himself around the universe, seemingly super-powered and indestructible. A scene where Kirk punches him is classic: both amusing and horrifying at the same time. Everyone has his/her chance to sell it, and most do a really great job. Underutilised is Soldana's Uhuru, though and I do wish that Urban got to do more than offer the occasional snarky punchline. But, I quibble. This is a good and faithful, referential and respectable addition to the Star Trek canon.

The Grading Session: 4.871 pengies out of 5, for the above-mentioned reasons. And, yes, I am looking forward to others in the line-up. As always, your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: If a character walks, talks and acts like a duck, then that person, most def, is a baddie. Um, duck. And, then, too, even Vulcans can make, break and save friends and friendships. It just doesn't look like what we are used to seeing in these instances. Lastly this: what would you do, if you could  put yourself into the place of your friend, and act as he or she would have acted in the same circumstances? I am dizzy just thinking about thinking about this! But the results might be really epic. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cinema Babble: If you only see one movie about the fall of the White House...

The Flick: Olympus Has Fallen

The Peeps: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Ricvk Yune, Dylan McDermott, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, etc, etc.

The Dealio: The White House is taken over and the President is being held captive, while things go from bad to worse throughout the greater DC metroplex. With absolutely no one able  to affect a rescue and with fear and hopeless ruling the day, disgraced former Secret Service agent, Mike Banning (Butler), finds himself the only surviving member of the team to actually be on-site. Driven by the twin demons of failure earlier in the administration, and the desire to save both the President and the country he loves, Banning becomes a one-man spoiler, the monkey in the wrench, the fly in the ointment- as another pain in the butt cinematic law officer once said. Along the way, there are many eye-rolling moments, but also some grippingly tense and engaging ones, too. So, why, do you suppose we need other similar flicks (Summer's White House Down and the now-playing and also available at Walmart mention GI Joe: Retaliation- which we also saw)? Clearly...we don't. So, pick, but choose wisely, because those are two hours you will never get back.

Lessons Learned: Beware the disgruntled former employee, for therein lies the concealed serpent's tooth, which will surely strike when least expected. Also this, learning a subject inside out, upside down and backwards- as we were taught in elementary school- actually can come in handy. You just never know when. Lastly this: if someone is torturing you to learn something you are reluctant to give up, but you think you will survive if you do, just let them kill you outright, 'cause that's how this is always going to end. Always.

Biblio Babble: The Best Book I Ever HEARD

The 'Read': The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Writer: Muriel Barbery

The Dealio: Have you ever heard any book described as a 'coming of age book'? And has that ever referred not only to a 12 year old, but also, and even more movingly, about a 54 year old? May I present The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I came to this book through one called The End of Your Life Book Club, a non-fiction work by Will Schwalbe. And, for reasons I can not now recall, I elected to give this a go as an audiobook. REALLY the best decision, where this book is concerned, because the spoken words, in the talented hands (er, voices) of Cassandra Morris and Barbara Rosenblat was a things of such incredible beauty, humor and intensity, that I am not at all sure just the written word would have had the impact on me that listening in definitely did. OBTW, this was made into a movie in 2011. Which I intwend to investigate pronto.
The story is, on the surface, that of two wildly disparate residents of 7 rue de Grenelle, both of whom are harboring secrets. Twelve year old Paloma Josse is a brilliant, precocious, inwardly rebellious girl who is planning to kill herself on her 13th birthday because life seems to have no meaning. The 54 year old Renee Michelle is the concierge at number 7, and proudly covers her sharp, philosophical agile mind (she is a proud 'auto-didact') behind the very conventions of her job: dull, fat, ugly, plump, stereotypical  and uninspired. Through the course of this beguiling tale- interspersed with reams of philosophy, which can tend to pinch and pluck at the story's progress- we come to find out that these two actually have much in common. Much more than they- or anyone else in the building- could ever believe. But it is the arrival of the mysterious M. Ozu which suddenly throws electricity into the mix prompting all sorts of changes and revelations all sorts of revelations. Barbery is such a beautiful writer, with some great elegance of her own in her graceful and sumptuously delicious  turns of phrase. It was such a treat to listen to her moving and amusing plot lines spool out as the miles whipped by while I drove from locale to locale, that I often found myself  idling in the driveway or parking lot just  to 'finish up' a chapter before going inside.

The Grading Session: 4.997 pengies out of 5. It would have been more, but for the lengthy discourses on philosophical schools of thought that tended to slow the story down a bit. However, I was both unwilling and unready to let this story end.  It was exactly that addictive.

Lessons Learned: Um, you can't judge a book by its cover? How about this, then: it is both unfair and silly to assume you know everything about a person based upon their job or their appearance. Also this: there is much joy in the simplest of things:home-made  madeleines, Japanese films, a cat who listens to you pour out your heart and soul, then goes back to ignoring you once the crisis is past. Lastly this: I simply love it when one book nudges me in the direction of another. Or others! True lagniappe!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cinema Babble: Opening some doors for a cost

The Flick: 42

The Peeps: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford,  T. R. Knight, Nicole Beharie, Christopher  Meloni, Lucas Black, Alan Tudyk, John McGinley, Max Gail, etc.

The Dealio: Branch Rickey (Ford) decides to deliberately integrate the Brooklyn Dodgers. After 'scouting' numerous candidates from the  Negro League,  his attention settles on Jackie Robinson. But this is more than an interesting historical film, or an  involving sports story. This is a chance to slide a not-so-distant event under the microscope and, just maybe, learn how far we have come...or not come. At times, undeniably sugar-coated and anachronistic, the movie has a great heart and some absolutely splendid acting- not least of which came from a person I had never heard of before: Chadwick Boseman (Jackie). An admitted baseball nut in my youth, I recognised so many of the names, and it was fascinating to see them on the screen: living, breathing, scrapping, standing tall,  even being just plain wrong-headed. But, this time, seen without the accepting veil of childhood observations.

The Grading Session: 4.73 pengies out of 5. Is this a perfect movie? Well, I can't think of a single example of that. But, this I do know: here is a film well worth seeing, whether you love America's Sport or break out in hives at the thought of enduring another season under the sun. There is so much to  this story, so many people who played a part- positively or negatively- into making, not just sports, but America, what it is today. Go see this one and learn from it.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes valor lies in not fighting injustice with force and  fists, but with honorable behavior and great strength of character that shames your adversaries by comparison. Also this: if you have achieved much, it is absolutely vital that you pay it forward. Lastly this: if you do something right, but for the wrong reasons, does it count? What do you think?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cinema Babble: Would That That Were True

The Flick: A Good Day To Die Hard

The Peeps: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Radivoje Bukvic, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Ol' bull-in-the-china-shop, John McClane is in Russia to rescue his son, Jack, from  going to a Russian jail- or worse. Turns out, Jack is not just a troublemaker gone wild, but a highly trained (um, yeah), CIA operative on a sensitive mission to prevent nuclear terrorism. Let me make this brief: in less than one day- a day, moreover, without sleep, eats or potty breaks- the two McClanes are involved in three separate rollovers, shot at, fall through about 25 ceilings, get a chunk of rebar stuck through the side, are beaten ferociously on the melon with the butt of a rifle, are kicked in the head and chest repeatedly, then exposed to radiation at Chernoble. And, by the end of that particular day, come out of it with one small bandage on the arm for Papa and one scratch and a wince-y walk for Junior.  I don't know about you, but for me, any one of the above would have been enough to put me out of action for the forseeable future. And that includes the 'no potty breaks' part. Really.

The Grading Session: 1.42 pengies out of 5. I think the world of John McClane, but, next time, can we ease up on the  ordinance expenditures and plow back a taddy bit of that into plot and character development. As my mom would say, 'Really, I am so disappointed in you.'

Lessons Learned: Not all Die Hards are created equal. And finally,  when the source material has so much in the way of zippy, zingy smarty pants repartee, the lack of same  in a retread is just. too. painful. by comparison.

Biblio Babble: If Flowers Could Speak, What Would They Say

The Read: The Language of Flowers

The Writer: Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Dealio: In tightly laced Victorian times, lovers conveyed sentiments to each other through the secret language of flowers. In this book, orphaned Victoria Jones, who really could not possibly care less about, well, anything, learns that there is much to learn, to enjoy, to love and to celebrate using the language of flowers to express herself. As Victoria grows from a bristly 10 year old into a fully grown, cynical, but very naive adult, she finally finds her voice, and her way, through flowers. If this sounds a little sappy to you, keep in mind that all is not sugared violets for Victoria, and along the way to understanding what her life is all about, she makes enough missteps to lose her way completely. But, oh, the lovely language of flowers.

The Grading Session: 4.91 pengies out of 5. This book really made a connection for me between the work I was doing with aromatherapy, and the hidden, secret and highly debatable language of flowers. I loved watching Victoria learn how to say what was on her mind...but, more, I loved the way she used her gift to reach out to others. Even when she is asking her foster mom, 'What is the flower for hate?!' she comes across as a tough little cookie with a very soft and delicate heart. This book launched me onto a total immersion course about flowers and their meanings. Such fun! I still chuckle when people make a revealing flower choice. But, indulgently, not meanly.

Lessons Learned: So easy, really: Make sure of what your desired message is before you try to bring it off with a floral offering. Lastly this: I am always amazed by how reading one very involving book can lead me into a veritable forest of similar reading, research and revelation. Yum.
The Flick: Django Unchained

The Peeps: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, etc.

The Dealio: Foxx's Django, literally in a chain gang, is liberated, then recruited, by German dentist-turned-bounty-hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) to help him ID, then kill, two miscreant overseers. Along the way, a deal is struck  whereby Django wins Schultz's training, expertise and entree into sophisticated plantation society, in order to rescue the ex-slave's wife (Washington). Much blood-splatter, excruciating 'slave-violence' and rewriting of history occurs. This is how you know you are seated in a Tarantino movie. At almost 3 hours, this is far too long an indulgence, but the story is a good one, well worth the telling and heavy on the attention-grabbing characters (DiCaprio's rotten-toothed and even more rotten moralled Calvin Candie and the always-watchable Jackson's creepy Stephen among the standouts). Still can't help but feel that everyone is afraid to tell Tarantino to edit down a smidge. Saw at least 3 places where we could have ended without any significant loss of payoff and ah-HAA! moments.

The Grading Session: 4.891 pengies out of 5. It's the editing, primarily which lost the smidgen of a pengie. Soundtrack was typically eclectic, semi-inspired Tarantino. Always picture him browsing through his music folio, and behaving like a French chef in the marketplace, selecting whatever is fresh, promising and just a little...twisty to pique the palate...and the ear.

Lessons Learned: Stop me if you have heard this before: do not bring your 2 year old to a Tarantino movie. You may think they don't get would be wrong. Next this: is there ever a role which Waltz does not savor like  fine wine or outstanding culinary masterpiece? It is amazing to watch him work: the tiny nuance, the small expressions changing, the timing! Lastly this: why are the rotters in a film worse shots than the Imperial Storm Troopers? Answer: because it is their lot in films to be so.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cinema Babble: I Dreamed A Dream Of Singing For 3 hours

The Flick: Les Miserables

The Peeps: Hugh Jackman (again), Ann Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sascha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, etc, etc.

The Dealio: This is the story of  prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman) whom we meet on the eve of winning his parole. After serving 20 years.  For stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's sick child. Falling repeatedly under the eye of his guard, the tenacious Inspector Javert (Crowe),  Valjean realises, early on, that Javert is simply waiting for him to violate parole. And eagerly anticipating his return to  Javert's relentless rule. Set against  post-revolutionary France, riddled with poverty, corruption, disrespect for human life and the unrest of the underclasses against what is perceived (and for a reason) as  the squandering of France's finances by the rich, entitled and idle. This story takes us through the many reversals of fortune  of the characters- including the  hapless Fantine, Valjean and even Javert. In almost every instance, the fickleness of their fates  depends on the tiniest of details. So frustrating. 

The Grading Session: 4.72 pengies out of 5. A lot has been written about how horrible Crowe's voice is- which I found to be an exaggeration. His voice was fine. But was a bit dismayed by how good Jackman's voice...wasn't. I've grown to expect more, but perhaps, he was remaining in character, and one can not expect a starving, exhausted prisoner to belt 'em out like Ethel Merman (there's a picture for ya). I also did not cry when Hathaway sang 'I Dreamed A Dream'...although, maybe I shouldn't admit that. I loved the confluence of voices tracking through their separate strands of thought and lyrics. I also felt that Hooper did a magnificent job of keeping all the balls in the sweeping tale, in the air at the same time. Not easy. I confess to growing weary of Bonham Carter's repetitious portrayal of the blowzy, slovenly, weirded out, tarted up harridan. Seen it a time or two too often for me not to feel this is a default setting for her. And finally, I did mow through a half-packet of tissues in the last 20 minutes of the flick. So sue me.

Lessons Learned: Nothing says Les Miz for me like a 15 minute refreshment break in the lobby. Look into it. Next this: if you are looking for a flick where almost every word is NOT sung, but still featuring a strong cast and the same story, you want the Liam Neeson version out a few years back, and available for streaming even as we speak. Lastly this: this is art. It is best to just let it wash over you...and not make such a big noise about Russell Crowe's headgear. It's not as though he picked it out himself, after all. Just let it go.

Cinema (and a little Biblio) Babble: When Myths Unite

The Flick: Rise of the Guardians

The Peeps: (voice talent) Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Law's smoothly shiver-inducing Pitch threatens the dreams of children everywhere by unleashing war on the mythological Guardians of Childhood: Baldwin's Chris North (AKA Santa), Fisher's Tooth Fairy, Jackman's E. Aster Bunny, and Pine's Jack Frost. The idea here is to make kids stop believing in these characters, causing them to lose their powers to protect children from nightmares. One of the most evocative characterisations, though, is Sandy (the Sandman), who does not utter a single word, but wields enormous power and has true presence in unfolding of this tale. Now, for the Biblio Babble: This film is based on a series of books I absolutely love. Created by William Joyce (if you want to hear the truly touching backstory, drop me a comment and I will provide). The artwork is so gorgeous, that I have bought about four of these and am itching to give them away to someone with kids who would really appreciate such  books. The artwork is stunning and the Hubs and I have poured over them several times, totally immersed in the world of finely wrought deets which Joyce has created. Now, here's some good news: in the Spring, a second Guardians-related flick- Epic- will come out and the book from which it springs is, I feel, the most beautiful of the ones we have. Can I get a YAY!?.

The Grading Sessions: 4.98 pengies out of 5. Could have done more with the music. Should have done more with the music. However, the art-effects were so spectacular, I feel the film-makers did justice to Joyce's work.

Lessons Learned: Wonderful movies  can be made from a children's book. Not easily, but can be done with care and intent. Lastly this: as long as someone believes in you, anything is possible, and you do become more powerful. Try it.