Reviews

Apr 162012
 

Thanks to Netflix, we spent Saturday night trying to figure out what to watch. After browsing for a while (and a few, “Just pick one already, damn it”) we ended up watching “Religulous”, a “documentary” by Bill Maher. Now, both J. and I think Bill Maher looks suspiciously like a penis, but he’s often funny and espouses a certain viewpoint that’s occasionally interesting. So his movie was on our to-watch list at some point, but not high enough on it to merit going out of our way to watch it.

We lasted maybe 30 minutes before we turned it off. We both appreciate a well done documentary, even ones that obviously have a bias (take Michael Moore’s films, for instance.) But Religulous is mean to the point of hitting you over the head with it. I’m sure there are better parts that we didnt watch, but it was just too annoying. A lighter touch would have served the movie so  much better. In the scene we watched before we turned it off, he was interviewing a leader of a church in Florida. Bill’s sharp enough to interview him well and trap him in his own hypocrisy at times, but every time he did so we got a comic clip that was the film equivalent of a pratfall or an applause meter. I can’t help but think in other hands an earnest interview of someone who takes himself seriously but doesnt realize he’s being skewered would have been so much more meaningful (and funny.) Ah well.

We turned it off and ended up watching a documentary that I had heard about on NPR – “Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey”. It was fascinating, and even J. stayed up to watch the whole thing. It’s hard to imagine that a working class black man is the spirit behind Elmo, but the story is fascinating and uplifting. It’s somewhat light and short on criticism (his divorce is barely mentioned and glossed over at best, you can’t help but think his role as Elmo had something to do with it) but that’s a mild rebuke to a wonderful film.

 

 

Apr 122012
 

Saw “The Hunger Games” last week with Jyotsna.  I liked the books – Jyotsna liked them better – but they weren’t life changing or anything, so I wasn’t *dying* to see it. And I think that attitude carried over into my reaction to the movie – more “Meh” than anything else, although they did a fair job of sticking to the book and bringing the story to life. I suppose I thought Jennifer Lawrence was only marginally effectual as Katniss, and the actor who portrayed Peeta was totally blah. (He reminded me of that annoying kid that surfaced toward the end of “Facts of Life”. Remember him? )  It’s a tough job to pull off the conversion of a book to film, especially one where most of the interesting stuff (to me)happens inside the character, rather than the plot. The book, for example, makes the love triangle believable, and Peeta is a much more complex character, rather than just a wink and a smile.  The scenery and the visuals were considerably less than what I expected, which was disappointing.

One thing I didn’t expect though: How affecting it was to watch children killing other children. In the book, it didn’t bother me as much. Maybe because it’s easier to escape the reality of it in the book, but I was shocked watching it. Maybe it’s because I have kids now, but I find myself noticing violence in general more than I used to.

On the other hand, I read a fantastic book called “State of Wonder”, by Ann Patchett. She wrote Bel Canto a few years ago which I loved as well, and there are remarkable similarities in the books. Her writing jives with me, engaging, descriptive and occasionally revelationary. Both books offer plots that border on the surreal, but somehow make sense given the characters. A surprise and a pleasure. I need more of these book experiences, too much schlock.

 

 

Nov 292011
 

Why do I do this to myself? I promised I’d never do it again, after I started reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I started the series almost 10 years ago, got through the first six or seven books (many thousands of pages, mind you)  and then discovered that the series was incomplete. (10 years later? Jordan died and the final chapter is still unpublished.) Given such a complex series, I knew that I’d have to go back and reread to refresh my recollection of the details, and I didn’t want to do that repeatedly after each book came out. So I put those books away and I’m still waiting for the final book so I can go back and reread the entire bloody thing.

So, I pick up “Game of Thrones”. I started it a few times, but found it really difficult to get into. But something clicked recently and I’m now almost finished book one. Only to find myself in the same boat – a fantastically complex and deep series that’s yet unfinished. And with an aged author that’s notorious for taking years between books.

I am *such* a masochist sometimes. But I’m having difficulty stopping.

Mar 102011
 

In a more shallow vein:

We are caught up with “Modern Family”, which is the funniest series we’ve seen in quite some time. I love how it’s genuine and sweet at its core, with characters that you actually *like*.

On the opposite end, Oh my god I can’t wait until Big Love is put out of it’s misery. The series is seriously bad now. There aren’t any characters on there that you care about, and it’s a bit sad to see some decent actors try to make sense of an inane plot. We simply watch it just because we want to see how it ends, not because we actually enjoy watching it.  It’s a shame because the series held a lot of promise at the beginning of the last season, and I think they squandered some good story telling. There have been some interesting moments (Lois’ end of life scenario with Frank is actually interesting to me), but the shark needs to circle around and gobble this one up.

I watched the entire first season of Boardwalk Empire last month. This was seriously good, can’t wait for Season 2.

I’ve also been somehow been able to get a lot of reading done these days, usually over the break I give myself for lunch or in bed at night.  If possible, loving my Nook even more than I used to, depsite a couple of dead pixels on my e-Ink display. It’s already been replaced once, and I dont want to replace it again for such a minor nuisance.

May 242010
 

Arrrgh!

What a frustrating ending. Unlike a lot of other people, I’ve kept an open mind on this last season, and I did have faith that some of the story elements that seemed haphazard and random would eventually make sense.  Sci-fi and fantasy always has to strike a balance between what’s possible and what’s not. You’re always asked to provide a willing suspension of disbelief on certain elements, but as long as the universe is self-consistent, you can let go (heh) and enjoy the ride. It’s when the universe that you’re visiting violates it’s own rules, or when the story jumps for the sake of the story rather than unfolding naturally that you get jarred out of your enjoyment.  In the interest of good story telling, I could have easily have dealt with some of the major questions not being answered, but they not only disappointed in that regard, the wrap-up disappointed on so many other levels.

The pity is that the raw material for something better was there to work with. An hour into the finale, we actually turned to each other and said that things were actually pretty cool. We were getting excited in the sideways timeline, as it seemed that the theme was “Better to have Loved and Lost”, as each person remembered the Island and their lives when they touched their own true love. Both Claire and Kate having  the birth of Aaron as the touchstone seemed especially poignant, although the lack of Charlotte and Daniel’s epiphany seemed odd. There was hope that the sideways story was going to have a reciprocal effect on the “main” story. Maybe the Losties in the sideways world would get together, and somehow repopulate the light on the Island that was snuffed out or was dying out. Or that the two worlds would merge, and that the better of each losties lives would prevail? Or some other dovetailing that was significant? That would have made the hours and hours we spent in the sideways world worth it. But having the sideways world serve as a vestibule to some other place before they move on? What? Really? REALLY??

The story in the “real” universe was just as unsatisfying. I like Jack’s sacrifice – that made sense, given his character – but why was the Island necessary at all? Desmond uncorked the bottle, and Locke/Smokey died, but what did that really mean? And the cork went back on, and the Island survived …so? We were led to believe that the sideways timeline was born out of the choice made to detonate the bomb back in 75. (Turns out that’s not true at all, the sideways world has nothing to do with that.) So that whole bomb thing in Season 5 meant nothing? But even if the two timelines did diverge back then due to the power of choice over destiny, then the destruction of the island resulted in a universe that seemed to be just fine. Bah!! I am fine with them not really explaining the meaning of the light and the cork and all that, but C.J. (I mean Allison Janney) said something about the light being a little part of every person in humanity a couple of episodes back. It was a logical conclusion that the smoke monster was somehow then the little dark bits of people, a duality that seemed to play into one of the major thematic elements of the series. The black/white stones and the scale was imagery they played with the entire season, so you’d think that would play into the final drama somehow.

And take the dramatic airplane escape. Jack ended up saving the Island, but Desmond was still there. It was implied that Hurley and Ben would simply send him home. Fine, but that makes the drama of jumping into the water and getting over there and getting the plane ready all really moot at the end of the day. Time they could have used to tell a story that they could have really satisfied.

Then there’s nitpicky stuff about how they did choose to end it. In the church, why was Aaron a baby? If he was truly deposited there after dying in his “real” life, then he should have been older. What was the criteria for the inclusion of people in the church? Oceanic folk? (Nope, Juliet was there.) People that they cared about? (Really? Boone over Miles or Daniel or Charlotte or Rousseau?) We’re supposed to believe Sayid’s true love was Shannon?  Quibbles, to be sure, but stuff that still grates.

I will say this about the ending: the strength of the series has always been it’s deep characterizations and relationships, and this episode capitalized on the feelings that we have for them over the years. It just seems a real shame that they didn’t leverage that into something better.

One could say that whatever ending that was written would be unsatisfactory to some. That’s true. I’m one of the odd ones that actually liked the murky ending of the Sopranos (after yelling at the TV, thinking that my cable cut out). To me, the series finale of “Six Feet Under” is the high bar that a series needs to meet to end something satisfactorily. The ending of that series is absolutely, friggin’ perfect.

I still love the series. They played with powerful, primal archetypes and stories that was really compelling. The characters all were really interesting, all of them shades of grey to some degree or another. I just wish they took those thematic elements to a different place than where they did. Story (the capital S kind) is really what happens when the characters and the plot work together. The characters *always* worked in the series, the plot seemed to be cobbled together lazily.

Okay, to sleep.

 

 

 

 

Feb 182010
 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so I’ll start with something frivolous: movies that I’ve watched recently. In no particular order:

Watched “GI Joe”  on the plane over to India. It was actually somewhat better than I thought it was going to be, mostly on the strength of nostalgia. The cartoon was a staple of my childhood growing up (that and Transformers) so remembering some of the characters as I’m watching was fun. It wasn’t a “good” movie by any means, but it was fun to watch. Once. On a 16 hour flight.

The best movie I’ve seen in a long time is “500 Days of Summer”. I was completely and utterly bowled over by how much I loved this movie. Probably because I identify so strongly with the central character (I probably could have written some of those scenes as autobiography) , and the story is one not told too often. As it says, the movie is about love, but not  exactly a love story.  And the last moment , while probably predictable in hindsight, caught me off-guard and had me exclaim with surprise. An almost perfect movie, complete with a musical dance number by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt. Highly highly reccommended. Will be buying this one for sure.

“Away We Go” was also one of those small movies that we really enjoyed. Not nearly as much as “500 Days”, though. I had quibbles with the ending, but the story of searching for where to raise their child struck an obvious chord.

“Julie and Julia”: Quite charming, and my slight crush on Amy Adams grows. (Even if she does play the same character in every movie, it seems.) And to watch Meryl Streep channeling Julia Child is a bit eerie. Wow.

On Netflix live (or whatever you call the watch instantly thing) I saw “Dear Zachary: A Letter to A Son about his Father”. If you decide to watch this, do me a favor and don’t read ANYTHING about this film before you do. It’s a documentary, and the less you know about it going in the more shocked you are going to be about the events. It’s really really well done (although a bit heavy handed with the editing in two or three spots, minor stuff) and a monumental effort of love on the part of the filmmaker. I challenge you to watch it and to have a dry eye at the end. Go on, I dare ya.

Jay Leno: Glad he’s gone.

Conan O’Brien: Never watched him on any consistent basis.