Monday, September 26, 2011

Incoming: One for the Money

Katherine Heigl plays Stephanie Plum, the star of a series of lighthearted crime novels by Janet Evanovich. I'm pretty sure I read one of these at some point, in some situation in which I was surrounded by paperbacks. I'm thinking Italy. The apartment I stayed in during the first half of my junior year abroad was full of English language books, and I think that's when it was. Now they've turned one of the Stephanie Plum books into a movie, and I like the look of a cute, curly-haired Jersey girl turned gun-toting bounty hunter.




Pros: Katherine Heigl looks like she may have finally found a role that's a good fit for her. In the movies, that is. I can't say much about her work on Grey's Anatomy because I've never seen it. I like her accent in this. Also, I think this character was originally written in a feminist vein and it looks like that probably is translating in the movie...most of the way. Using her boobs to distract a bad guy...empowered or objectified?

Cons: We're treading in stereotype territory with what I'm seeing of the other people on the screen. Charmingly daffy grandmas, crazy nudist dudes, sassy black ladies, handsome rascal burglars... but I don't always hold that against a flick. If there's enough originality in the writing, I might be able to give it a pass.

It's a great idea for a studio to start up a franchise like this (which extends from One for the Money all the way to Explosive Eighteen), and I'm particularly excited to see a potential franchise starring a woman. I'm trying to remember the last time that happened besides Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We've also got the upcoming Hunger Games series. Congrats, ladies. We're getting more women in blockbusters right around the time Saudi Arabia decides women might be able to vote three years from now.

In other Sneaky news, I watched the Breaking Bad pilot this week (I know, I know - I'm as behind the times as a Daffy Grandma). It's seriously one of the best pilots I've ever seen and it's quite shocking that AMC, the same network we can bow down to for serving up Mad Men, is the one that harbors this one, too. What's in the water over there?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kid Stuff: Tangled and Toy Story 3

L-R: Bearista (he's from Starbucks), Max (with me since age 8), and Gromit.
I don't know if I'm feeling nostalgic for childhood or if kids' movies are just really on their game these days, but a few weekends ago I watched Toy Story 3 and Tangled, then watched them both again the next day. I almost never do that. If I watch a movie, I generally don't want to watch it again for another year, at least. But not so, with these. Literally, I laughed, I cried, I felt hope for humankind.

Let's start with Tangled, which was so cute, it could have been a cupcake and I gobbled it up. Not only was the style of the movie a real throwback to the feature-length animated movies of Disney in days gone by, but the themes and tone were updated just enough to feel appropriate. Yeah, the girl still needs a guy, but that's what the princess movies are all about. A girl falls in love and has an adventure and ends up happily ever after. I'm okay with that. What I would LOVE to see is an animated movie aimed more at little boys in which a young prince falls in love and ends up happily ever after. Disney is good with showing the guy fall in love a little, but it's never quite so goo-goo. You know, Lightning McQueen falls in love with that Porsche, and all, but it's way more goofy than saccharine. It kind of mirrors gender norms in sitcoms in that way. But Disney's not far off the mark, I'll give them that. Can you imagine the day when they make a movie about a boy falling in love with another boy?? Do you think it will happen in my lifetime???

I like Rapunzel's chameleon sidekick Pascal. At first I was a little put off, like why the heck would a chameleon live in fairytale land and not a tropical jungle? But, whatever. He was cute. Maybe they were sick of drawing squirrels and mice at Disney. I also liked the songs, although Rapunzel said "like" in a few of them in a way that made me go...princesses don't say "like." But it made it kind of relatable and it almost made me wish I knew some 11-year-old girls I could babysit and watch this with. Mandy Moore did a great job with the voice. And the stuff with the thug Viking dudes - the "I Have a Dream" song? - BRILLIANT. Lots of opportunities for the more mature viewer to laugh her butt off. I also liked the art - literally, the murals Rapunzel paints inside her little tower are quite lovely and reminiscent of art nouveau and Gustav Klimpt.

Now. Toy Story 3. The Schindler's List of Pixar. But with a happy ending. But Jesus, do they take us to some dark and emotional places, if only for a second or two! That moment when all the toys are facing the end together and they start reaching out to hold each other's hands and paws? Oh god, it was like Bambi's mom was shot in the forest all over again! It turned out just fine, but I gotta say, I was shaken. BUT. To make up for making us all want to call our mothers and give teddy bears to orphans, Pixar threw in so many gut-busting laughs, I really have to hand it to them. You know the writers have to be parents and know what it's like when your kid wants to watch the same movie 27,000 times in a row. So if you can throw scenes of Ken trying on outfits for Barbie in the Dream House, hardened toys playing poker in the top compartment of a vending machine, Mr. Potato Head using a tortilla for a body and narrowly avoiding death by pigeon.... oh lord, it's worth the price of admission. Plus, that's Michael Keaton as the voice of Ken. I want him to do more movies. Mr. Keaton? Please, come back. Love, Claire.

Both movies are on Netflix Instant right now. You don't have to be a kid, have kids, or even like kids to get a kick out of them. Trust me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

10 Years Later

Last year in September, I watched three movies about 9/11. The events of that day inevitably had an impact on all Americans and our way of life. But it's hard to feel involved. I didn't live in New York, didn't directly know anyone who saw what happened first hand, so it's one of those great human tragedies that I've had to teach myself about to really feel. I recommend listening to This American Life's series of shows from the month of September 2001 and the months shortly after. I also recommend going to a memorial of some kind, if you can. I know people who are singing Mozart's Requiem next Sunday, and I think that's a fitting way to spend the day. If you're in the LA/OC area, check it out here.

UPDATE: The NY Times has posted the 9/11 tapes, audio and transcripts from ground control staff and airline call centers. It's pretty chilling, but worth a listen.

The Smithsonian's collection of 9/11 artifacts from Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pa., is amazing.

Here are some excerpts from my Film Fest of Tragedy last year:

World Trade Center 

While United 93 stuck strictly to the facts, World Trade Center went all Hollywood on us and put stuff in soft focus, dished out contrived dialogue, made children and non-white people the sources of wisdom and all the other usual schlock we hate to have to put up with in big blockbuster films. And it just sucks that someone had to go and do that to the story of 9/11. This movie embodied my fears about 9/11 movies.
Reign Over Me
Go ahead and make a movie about someone who experiences tragedy that makes him go crazy. But why base it on 9/11, which was such a serious and damaging event, so that riffing on it artistically borders on disrespect?
United 93
This was the first major Hollywood film to draw its plot directly from the 9/11. Since then, there have been about six more and around 11 or 12 based on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. FAA national operations manager Ben Sliney, who was on his first day on the job on Sept. 11, 2001, plays himself. It was Sliney who gave the order to shut down American airspace that day, grounding 4,200 planes.

What is particularly affecting about this movie is that it's not entirely unlike action movies we've seen before. In fact, the plot - with an altered ending - probably would have made for a good action movie. But, as we all know, this plot was real. From the very opening sequences showing the hijackers preparing to leave their hotel room for the airport, I was thinking, no... no... no, no, no, because of what I knew was coming.
 ------
Since writing the review of United 93, I've gone back to watch the final scene, which several people have posted on YouTube, if you're interested. It still gets me very worked up. Amazing movie.

Here's something especially fitting for a movie blog: a supercut featuring the World Trade Center twin towers as they appeared in movies. Such iconic buildings.

Twin Tower Cameos from Dan Meth on Vimeo.
Source: Dan Meth, danmeth.com

Now let's go out there and make the world a better place. Peace.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Becoming Jane: Suck & Suckitude

Movies in bed with very appropriate tea.
Over the last two days, I watched a four hour BBC miniseries on Netflix called Wives & Daughters. If you want to see how a real period piece should be done, the BBC usually can't be surpassed. This one is quite nice. There's a horrible, evil Mr. Preston, who is holding a young women's misguided love letters against her will to use as blackmail if she refuses to marry him. There's a young untitled gentleman with a secret French wife. There's a greedy stepmother. There's a noble, handsome Mr. Hamley abroad in Africa and in love with the wrong woman. And it all centers around Molly Gibson, the goodhearted young girl who knows everyone's secrets and loves freely without judging anyone. This is a great tradition of British Romantic literature. The main character is so purely good that you trust her and love her absolutely. You know her happy ending is coming, you just have to get through all her trials and the last few moments of suspense before she can have it. This is a very satisfactory experience.


However.


Becoming Jane was a stupid movie. It was so poorly written, the horrible dialogue and lazily executed plot overshadowed any good points it had going for it. I will say this - it was shot beautifully, and the music was passable and the costumes nice. James McAvoy in period garb and saying tender nothings is nice too. But it was just so BAD. Seriously, some plot points absolutely made NO sense. Characters did things that weren't believable. Some of it was just plain offensive.

Within the opening ten minutes of the movie, there's a scene in which we are introduced to Jane Austen's elderly parents--her father is played by the Farmer from Babe. They are in bed. Without knowing anything about them or what their relationship is like, they tease each other for a line or two then he goes under the covers to pleasure his wife. And now we are thinking about the genitalia of 60-plus-year-olds. Why is the writer taking us there in a movie that is ostensibly about "one of the greatest writers in the English language," as the end titles put it? It made no sense in the movie and the lack of effort was disgusting. That was one of the parent characters' maybe three scenes in the movie, total. In the other, they're bothering Jane about how she needs to get married because it sucks to be poor. Thus, we don't understand whether these are essentially sad or happy people. They have sex in the mornings, then spend the rest of their time in dire worry about their ostensible poverty and unmarried daughters?? It doesn't add up.

Let's just say that no character in this movie ever really does anything that makes sense for their character as he or she has been portrayed. Shoddy, shoddy writing. It never addresses Jane's motivation for writing or where her passion for it comes from. We see nothing of her education, nor the source of her love for words and storytelling. She sits at a table and mumbles to herself sometimes. In the scene in which she first meets James McAvoy's playboy character, she's reading aloud an interminable epic poem she's written in honor of her sister's engagement and he spends the whole time rolling his eyes. The way they shot it, it seems like anyone would be bored to death. She seems like a pompous neophyte, like an angsty teen at a coffeehouse open mic. He lends her a French novel full of sex. She's supposedly enlightened. But then he goes from snobbily looking down on her and her country ways to falling in love with her at a ball at the drop of a hat. I thought my DVD player had skipped a scene. But the time for them to be in love had arrived, whether we believed it or not.

The rest of the movie is spent in proving why we make movies of the books Jane Austen wrote, not biopics of her own life, which turned out to be quite boring. Her true love didn't have enough money to support them, so he left her for a rich chick and she never married. The last scene of the film swoops forward to the future, when she is famous, though there's no sign of how she got there or how her writing got good enough to make a living on.

Toward the end I started groaning out loud. Then I fast forwarded through parts. I just got so frustrated with the whole thing. Shame on you, crappy movie. I really suspect everyone involved was just doing it for a paycheck. I don't disagree with that practice, but when you can see through it all to the dollar sign, that's just sad.

I do hold out hope for Anne Hathaway. She needs to quit doing movies where she's supposed to be the ugly duckling or where she has to do an accent - she's terrible at it. But, I think she could be the next Lucille Ball, if she wanted to be. She has great dramatic chops, As Rachel Getting Married and Love and Other Drugs proved. But I think she's a brilliant comedienne just waiting to be let loose. Someone hire Anne Hathaway for a comedy! If someone does a new adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, I think she's make a perfect Titania or Helena. Or put her opposite Steve Carrell again, but let her be the funny one.
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