Archive for September, 2010

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Easy A (2010)

September 28, 2010

Plot: Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) makes up a story about losing her virginity to a community college student instead of admitting what she really did all weekend: sing along with her Hallmark card. After her story circulates around school and her reputation changes, other students come to her and ask her to pretend like she hooked up with them to improve their images as well.

If you can look past the fact that a high school girl losing her virginity isn’t really a big story in any high school I’ve ever heard of, Easy A is actually a pretty funny and charming movie. If nothing else, Emma Stone should come out of this as a legitimate leading lady. I see some real success in her future and she proves she can carry a movie by herself. Lisa Kudrow seems out of place as the school counselor on some Mary Kay shit, but the rest of the adult cast is phenomenal. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are particularly hilarious as Olive’s parents. The cast of teenagers isn’t nearly as strong. Outside of Olive, none of them are memorable, except for her best friend’s rack… it’s a beauty! I didn’t even realize Amanda Bynes was in this movie until it was over. She plays the uber-obnoxious leader of the school’s Christian group and is virtually unrecognizable. Did she put on some weight? Overall, Easy A is a solid, but not remarkable high school comedy with a breakthrough performance from Stone. It was funny, but not as good as I was hoping it would be. A DVD rental in my opinion.

Grade: B-
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Comedies have a tendency to grow on me over multiple viewings, so maybe this will too. Right now, I’m not sure I’d watch it again.
Sequel Potential: Pretty unlikely.
Oscar Potential: None.
Nudity?: None.

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Glee: Season Two premiere

September 27, 2010

I don’t feel like writing up a long post on the last half of season one, so I’m just going to sum up my feelings here briefly. I really thought the second half of the season took a big nosedive. The writing was already worrisome, but it got progressively worse throughout the season. There weren’t as many stand out musical numbers either, and the poor writing and ridiculous arcs on the show started to overshadow awesome performances. I enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris in his episode and the episodes devoted to Lady Gaga and Madonna, particularly Jane Lynch’s rendition of “Vogue” (“Will Schuester, I hate you!), but I wasn’t doing nearly as much rewinding. As obsessed as I became during the first thirteen episodes, I found myself getting bored and irritable finishing the season. How many times do we have to see an episode close with a musical number and watch these kids set aside their differences for a moment, come together as a group, smile, and exchange meaningful looks? They even ended the season by giving Sue Sylvester a heart, which is not a good look for the future, as her crushing criticisms and constant sabotages were the one non-musical pieces of writing I always looked forward to.

Season two opens with a new potential villain–for both Will Schuester and Sue Sylvester–as Coach Beiste (pronounced Beast), an extremely large and butch woman, takes over the football team and the school shifts focus to sports, threatening the budgets of both the Cheerios and New Directions. I’m tired of hearing about budget cuts on this show. It’s hard to believe that a Glee Club constantly facing budget woes has the financial freedom to pony up for new (and expensive looking) outfits and elaborate sets for every new musical number they do. Seriously, where is that money coming from? Lazy writing, that’s where.

I did like the way the season started with high school blogger, and nerd, Jacob interviewing various members of the Glee Club with loaded questions. He asks Will Schuester: “Did you know there’s a forum on my blog begging you to stop rapping?” A good question! It was a rare moment when the white people on Glee did hip-hop and my face didn’t look like this —-> : / It’s obviously a montage meant for the writers to respond to some of the negative feedback people have posted about the show online. Rachel is asked if she is difficult to work with, which mirrors similar real-life rumors that actress Lea Michele is the same way. It’s good tongue-in-cheek humor with a bit of self-deprecation. Kurt tops it off by giving a big “Fuck You” to the blogosphere. It’s good that they are self-aware and don’t really care about the critics, but seriously, no one on this show can rap.

A new season and a new school year means new students and potential new cast members. What’s the deal with discovering male vocal talent in the showers? It was weird the first time and now it’s just creepy. Fortunately, Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) can sing. He doesn’t join the glee club in this episode, but we all know he will, and his number shows that he’s going to contribute to the show in a good way. Charice also joins the cast as Sunshine Corazon and her confrontation with Rachel in the bathroom doing Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” was the highlight of the episode. She shows right away that she’s got a good voice and later proves that she has some serious pipes, announcing herself as legitimate competition with Rachel for best singer in the group…. so naturally, she’s lured away by Vocal Adrenaline by the end of the episode.

It was a better premiere than I was expecting after last season’s lackluster run to the finish line. The new cast members are great additions and all the musical numbers were excellent with the exception of Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mind,” which featured more of that questionable rapping. After briefly teaming up against Coach Beiste, Sue & Will are enemies by the end, which is good because a friendship there doesn’t help this show out at all. Sue is definitely at her best when she’s stirring up trouble for everyone… but “poop cookies?” Really? Come up with some better gags. A solid premiere episode that has me a bit more optimistic about this season than I was a few days ago.

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Revisiting 1990: Misery

September 26, 2010

“I am your number one fan.”

Considered For: Top 5, Top Horror Film

Plot: Successful author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) traps himself in his car after getting in an accident during a blizzard. He is saved when Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) pulls him out and lets him recover in her home. As Sheldon lies crippled in a bed, Annie slowly starts to unravel and show her true colors, especially after she discovers that Paul plans to kill off his famed heroine Misery in his latest novel, and the author realizes that his life might be in danger.

I can’t think of a Stephen King adaptation I like more than Misery, but that is because none of those films had a performance as strong as Kathy Bates was in this movie. Kathy Bates is this movie. Outside of James Caan, who is pretty limited considering he’s confined to a bed for most of the film, and the sheriff and his wife, there aren’t many characters in Misery to speak of, so Bates really had a lot riding on her performance and she carries that burden like a badge of honor. Deserving of an easy Oscar win, Bates channels her inner psychopath as her character Annie Wilkes goes from happy-go-lucky hick to deranged, violent batterer in sheer seconds. I saw this movie when I was a kid and the only thing I remembered about it was Wilkes taking a sledgehammer to Sheldon’s legs, a testament to how iconic and powerful that scene was. This movie is the epitome of suspense and will have you on edge the whole time. I’m considering it for my top horror movie of 1990, but I’m not really sure if fits my definition of a horror movie. I’d place Misery in the suspense/thriller category and it’s a top notch effort. Highly recommended and a must see for Kathy Bates going completely insane.

Grade: B+
Viewings: 2
Replay Value: Worth revisiting every several years or so.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscars?: A win for Bates
Nudity?: None

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Revisiting 1990: Darkman

September 26, 2010

“Don’t look at me.”

Considered For: Guilty Pleasure

Plot: Scientist Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is in the midst of developing technology to duplicate healthy skin for burn victims when he is brutally scarred and left for dead by a crime lord (Larry Drake) looking for an incriminating memo in possession of Westlake’s girlfriend (Frances McDormand). Westlake uses his skin process to return as Darkman and seek revenge against those that ruined him.

I imagine in my quest to find the best guilty pleasure in various years I’m going to run across some true stinkers. Despite a solid crew that features respected actors (Neeson and Oscar nominee McDormand) and the director that brought us the Evil Dead trilogy and Spider-Man, Darkman still manages to suck. Even if you can look past the ridiculous plot, the number of holes in the script are enormous and laughable. In the beginning of the film, Westlake discovers that his created skin will only hold for 99 minutes in the light, but can maintain its composure infinitely in the dark. You’d think this discovery, combined with a film title of Darkman would indicate our vigilante would do most of his work at night, but Darkman operates during the day time. In fact, rather than using this knowledge to his advantage, our brilliant scientist finds himself wearing a mask, sitting on a bench in broad daylight, and acting shocked when he realizes his 99 minutes are up any second. Seriously? How stupid is this character? If you have a mission you can only carry out in the daylight, plan ahead! If you know it’s going to take more than 99 minutes, bring a second mask (that’s all it is anyways, right?), store it in a bag that keeps out the sunlight, and switch faces at a convenient time that doesn’t jeopardize your task. But seriously, you can be whoever you want, however long you want at night, so why are you even fucking with daylight hours? Also, did anyone ever notice how fucked up Darkman’s hands are? We see that the faces Darkman wears are simply masks, so I’d have to assume the hands he wears are merely gloves and there is no way he’s fitting his mutilated paws into those things without getting some double takes.

Darkman has some solid actors and is mildly entertaining at times, but the writing in this movie is terrible. Definitely the worst movie I’ve watched in a while.

Grade: D
Viewings: 2+
Replay Value: Very limited
Sequel Potential: Spawned two sequels that I imagine are equally as bad, and probably worse.
Oscars?: None
Nudity?: None

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Glee: Season 1 – Part 1 (Episodes 1-13)

September 25, 2010

Premise: Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) takes over as head of the Glee Club at William McKinley High School, a once popular school program that is now hanging by a thread and likely to be axed due to budget cuts. A large portion of the school’s budget is being used by the Cheerios, McKinley’s nationally recognized and dominant cheerleading program headed by the ruthless Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). As Glee Club gains momentum under Schuester’s tutelage, the enormous budget of Sylvester’s program is threatened and a heated rivalry is born between the two teachers and their respective clubs.

I had written Glee off as a corny high school show that probably featured its cast bursting out into random musical numbers in mid-conversation. The TV spots and the few times I skimmed by Glee while it was on the air, did nothing to quell this assumption. After receiving a ridiculous amount of Emmy nominations (including a few wins), a lot of attention for the Sue Sylvester character, and good word of mouth over the summer, I found myself excited to be adding it to my Netflix queue.

With the popularity of singing-based reality shows, the premise for Glee couldn’t come at a better time. The question was: how can you turn a TV show into a musical without coming across corny? Glee succeeds because there is nothing random about the musical numbers performed. Since the characters are part of a Glee Club, all the performances are premeditated and performed as part of their after school activity and only once during the first thirteen episodes did a character seem to start singing out of no where. While it takes some getting used to the fact that all the vocals are prerecorded–creating a sense of detachment from what’s happening on screen and the feeling the actors aren’t really singing (oh, but they are!)–it’s a necessary process. We get to hear these kids at their best instead of struggling to catch their breath while singing and doing demanding choreography sequences at the same time.

The cast is tremendously talented and the casting directors should be lauded for managing to bring together a group of relatively unknown actors that possess such amazing skill. Leading the pack is Lea Michele, who plays Rachel Berry, a character that constantly reminds me of Tracy Flick played by Reese Witherspoon in 1999’s Election. While Michele’s character is an obnoxious know-it-all hell bent on her own success before others, her talent is undeniable (a fact the Glee group reluctantly has to swallow constantly). Watching the pilot episode, I found Rachel only mildly attractive… and then she started performing, and suddenly I was declaring my love on Facebook. This is a woman that would probably be a hands down favorite in almost any American Idol competition, and from what I’ve seen, her range knows no boundaries. Glee is just going to be the first big step (Michele is a noted Broadway actor already) into a wildly successful mainstream career for this enormously talented actress/singer.

Jane Lynch is the other standout in this cast. Even after Lynch won the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Emmy, I was pretty skeptical when I read a couple online articles that separately declared Sue Sylvester the 18th best character in pop culture over the past twenty years and one of televisions greatest all-time villains. That’s some pretty lofty praise for a character that has been on air for less than a year… yet, it was all justified by the end of the first thirteen episode arc. Sylvester gets all of Glee’s best lines and Lynch delivers them with confidence and hilarity. Sylvester’s obsession with bringing down the Glee Club provides the series’ most laughs and her constant feuding with nemesis Schuester is almost always laugh-out-loud funny, especially her constant references to his hair. There were moments when I thought Sylvester might simply become a petty enemy, but by the close of the first half of season one, she has cemented herself as truly evil and Lynch is worthy of all the accolades showered upon her.

Lynch and Michele are definitely the stars of Glee, but the rest of the cast is pretty talented too. Although relegated to background duty most of the time, Amber Riley (who plays token black girl Mercedes) is almost as talented as Michele. She gives Jennifer Hudson a run for her money with her rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” and stands out in several other numbers as well. Matthew Morrison is probably the best actor of the bunch (outside of Lynch) and has some good singing moments as well, particularly his mash up of “Young Girl” and “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” when the teacher is trying to keep Rachel’s feelings for him at bay. Chris Cofler, the gay kid, while over-the-top with his flamboyance a lot of the time, actually can sing too. He kills “Defying Gravity” in a “diva off” with Rachel. On top of the great individual performances, it’s when the entire Glee club comes together to perform a number that the cast is at its best. I might be as gay as Kurt Hummel for admitting this, but the first time I heard them do Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” I actually got chills.

The performances and talent on Glee are great, but the writing seems to have a hard time keeping up. The moments in between musical numbers and Sue Sylvester appearances can be excruciating. Outside of the Sylvester vs. Schuester drama, the major conflicts of the first season center around the pregnancies of Will’s wife (she’s faking it) and Quinn Fabray (the gorgeous Dianna Agron), the head cheerleader and lead male vocalist Finn Hudson’s girlfriend (she’s pregnant by his best friend Puck). Rather than drive the story forward, these conflicts just cause annoyance. Will Schuester is made out to be a blind idiot married to a woman that has absolutely no admirable qualities and the love triangle between Finn, Puck and Quinn is equally obnoxious, as they trade loyalties like baseball cards and go from throwing punches to smiling and hugging in a musical number a few scenes later.

Speaking of relationships, there’s not a single couple on Glee that you’re rooting for. It seems like we’re supposed to want Will to hook up with guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), and she is somewhat adorable, but she’s also a complete wacko. Between her obsessive compulsive disorder, phobia of germs, and some ridiculous decision-making, it’s hard to believe this is someone we want our main protagonist to hook up with. There’s a similar vibe for Finn and Rachel, which is understandable when they’re performing together, but off stage these characters lack any sign of charisma: Finn’s a self-conscious moron and Rachel’s obnoxiousness is often taken to extremes. Maybe the writers think they are making an accurate depiction of high school life, but none of these kids have any consistency and constantly walk the line between lovable and repulsive. The lone exception is Sue Sylvester and it’s odd that the writers can always display such brilliance with her dialogue and arcs while being so messy with the rest of the characters. If they could learn to apply that writing ability to the rest of the show, Glee might be able to elevate past an awesome novelty and turn into something that can be taken a bit more seriously.

Now here’s a list of the best numbers from the first 13 episodes (search for them on YouTube):

New Directions – “Don’t Stop Believing”
Will Schuester – “Young Girl”/”Don’t Stand So Close To Me” mash up
Rachel & Finn – “Smile”
Rachel & Kurt – “Defying Gravity”
April Rhodes & Rachel – “Maybe This Time”
Mercedes – “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”
New Directions – “Push It”
New Directions – “Look At All The People”

Grade: B+

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The Town (2010)

September 18, 2010

“Not only do you harass women, you have to fuck them too? That’s your thing?”

Plot: A tight knit group of professional bank robbers in Charlestown, Massachusetts find their operations compromised when their leader Doug Macray (Ben Affleck) becomes romantically involved with the primary witness of their most recent heist and the FBI closes in on the foursome.

Ben Affleck is still trying to shake off the affects of starring in numerous shit fests earlier this decade. Between his tabloid romance with J-Lo and some seriously questionable roles, the formerly respectable actor has become somewhat of a joke in Hollywood. Gone Baby Gone (directed by Affleck) was a great movie, but it did nothing to help the status of Ben Affleck, the actor. The Town is a film that should start erasing those bad memories…fast.

Set in Affleck’s home state, with all sorts of Bean Town references throughout the film, The Town is one of the best heist flicks in recent memory. We get solid performances from Affleck and Rebecca Hall, who plays the bank manager Affleck’s character becomes involved with. Jeremy Renner, plays Affleck’s best friend James Coughlin, the wild card of the bunch, with a performance that’s even more animated and impressive than the one he gave in last year’s The Hurt Locker. For someone that was relatively unknown a couple years ago, he sure looks like a star in the making, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the Hawkeye character in 2012’s The Avengers.

The Town has a relatively long running time, but it gives the writers a chance to develop the three main characters while the pacing is still relatively quick. Aside from some really good action sequences, there’s enough humor and gully moments to keep the crowd interested. The bank scenes are definitely the best parts of the movie, with the post-heist chase after the second robbery being the highlight of the film, topped off by an awesome final showdown at Fenway Park. For all the flack you could give Affleck as an actor, his abilities as a writer and director have been remarkable so far. Between this movie, Gone Baby Gone, and Good Will Hunting, he’s batting a very strong three for three. Regardless of his acting resume, Affleck is an established star and if he wants to remain a serious player in Hollywood, the best thing he can do is keep making his own movies and start taking a closer look at the scripts other people are writing before deciding to star in those films.

Grade: A-
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Definitely would watch again… maybe good enough to own.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscar Potential: With ten nominees for Best Picture, The Town is definitely an easy shoo-in at the moment and might be strong enough to hold on for a spot. I’d give Affleck some play for Best Director depending on what happens in the last couple months and I think a writing nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay is likely. The acting in this movie is solid, but I don’t know if it will be award worthy. Jeremy Renner gets a shout from me for Best Supporting Actor for now. Cinematography and some of the sound work could get some love too.
Nudity?: None

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Revisiting 1990: Dick Tracy

September 13, 2010

Considered For: Guilty Pleasure

“The enemy of my enemy is my enemy.”

Plot: Popular detective Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) tries to put a stop to a mob headed by Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) while maintaining a healthy relationship with girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headley). Matters are complicated when he becomes a father figure for an orphaned boy and faces the seduction of a sultry singer named Breathless Mahoney (Madonna).

Dick Tracy was actually a pretty fun film. It reminded me a lot of Tim Burton’s Batman, released a year prior. The art direction definitely has a comic book feel to it and the make up of the villains is certainly campy. However, when comparing the two films, it’s not difficult to realize which one is superior. Batman has a much better story and looks waaaaaaaaaaay cooler, despite a lesser budget. I never read any Dick Tracy comics, so I don’t know anything about the mythology, but Warren Beatty couldn’t have been the best actor for this role. Sure, he directed the film, but his portrayal of Dick Tracy didn’t strike me as very suave or heroic… and maybe he’s not supposed to be. Al Pacino stole the show in this movie as Big Boy Caprice. It’s hard to believe he gave a performance as animated as this in the same calender year that he was so boring in The Godfather: Part III. It doesn’t even seem like the same person, which I guess is a testament to his range as an actor. He deserved his Oscar nomination for the role. Madonna channels her inner Marilyn Monroe as Breathless Mahoney, giving a sexy performance that combined solid acting with dainty singing. She is definitely a uniquely talented woman. The story here isn’t particularly interesting and the main conflict essentially boils down to Tracy deciding what’s more important to him: his career or his woman? Dick Tracy could easily have been a complete failure, but Pacino, Madonna, and interesting sets make it a movie worth remembering.

Grade: B
Viewings: 2
Replay Value: There’s a twist at the end that might make a second viewing worthwhile… or maybe not.
Sequel Potential: It grossed $100 million at a time when that was considered a blockbuster, but never got a sequel… the potential is there though.
Oscars?: Nominated for seven Oscars with wins for Best Make-Up, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Song. Pacino got a Supporting Actor nom.
Nudity?: You’d think not, considering the movie is rated PG, but you can clearly see Madonna’s nipples in one scene.