Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 - DVD Review


Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Michael Rispoli and Annjanue Ellis.
Directed by Tony Scott.

It's slick, it's solid, it's faithful to the original yet changes things up, and yet it doesn't really do enough to justify its existence. It features some good cerebral cat-and-mouse dialogue between Washington and Travolta, and I liked Gandolfini as the mayor, but for some reason, director Tony Scott has a giant car crash in the middle of the movie which I'm assuming is there for the movie-trailer people to use. He also makes some logical leaps in the third act to make it more actiony, which undermines the first hour. (Let's just say the original had a better ending).

Best TV of 2009


1. NBC THURSDAY - Four quality comedies, and they're all ensembles. Community is buoyed by Joel McHale (good enough to be at least the next Greg Kinnear) and Chevy Chase, finally ready for prime time. Parks & Recreation has found its voice and greatly improved in its second season. The Office continues to be a must-see. The Jim-as-co-manager subplot has been uneven, but I look forward to the new direction now that Dunder Mifflin has been sold. And even though it gets all the awards, I like 30 Rock, but I look forward to the other three shows more.

2. BIG BANG THEORY (CBS) - The conventional sitcom lives, and while everyone around him is good at what they do, Jim Parsons as the egg-headed man-child Sheldon, once described as "one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain," steals the show.

3. MODERN FAMILY (ABC) - Nice to see Ed O'Neill back. In fact it's nice to see everyone in the mocku with a heart. Different cast members get a chance to shine each week.

4. BETTER OFF TED (ABC) - This tragically underpublicized comedy combines the absurdity of The Office with the soul-crushing corporate soullessness of Dilbert. It resulted in hysterically wrong situations. They should put this in the Wednesday line-up, so the quality of ABC Wednesday can truly rival NBC Thursday from the 1980's and 1990's, but the ratings are too low to justify that. Alas, poor Ted, I knew him well.

5. CHUCK (NBC) - Adam Baldwin's John Casey is the coolest sardonic tough-guy on TV since Jayne Cobb. Hm... I love the hijinks of the BuyMore crew, the off-kilter chemistry of Chuck & Sarah, and especially the multi-episode arc of Chevy Chase (!) as that Steve Jobs-type villain.


1. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (Syfy) - One of the best sci-fi series ever went out with class and finality. Most questions were answered, each cast member got their moment, and geeks of the world (and others who can appreciate good drama) can sit back and wait for the next big thing.

2. MAD MEN (AMC) - I started watching this season one, episode one, before all the hype. I can see people getting overhyped for this. But there are so many layers to it, and the season-ender was one of the best springboard episodes yet.

3. DEXTER (SHO) - The fourth season lived up to the first three, with John Lithgow as the disturbing family-man Trinity Killer. And just when it looked like Dex might be able to give up serial-killing, he has his world ripped apart.

4. LOST (ABC) - Here's looking forward to the last season helping this season make sense. Probably won't happen, and I'm okay with the jumbled time-shift thing, but wow, how are the pieces going to get put back together now? Probably with the deaths of many more characters, but hopefully at least some couples will get to live happily ever after. (Jin & Sun at least?)

5. V (ABC) - The remake is faithful to the spirit of the original while reinventing aspects of it that really fit into these modern times. Elizabeth Mitchell carries over her Lost mojo, and I appreciate that this show actually dares have a priest be one of the main good guys. I don't know how Morena Baccarin does it, but she looks like a beautiful woman who's secretly a lizard underneath.

And Other Things...

POLIWOOD (HBO) - Barry Levinson's documentary examines the overlapping relationships of politics and celebrity thanks to the age of Big Media. Even though it covered familiar territory, I learned more than I thought I would. Candid interview with and between celebrities and media pundits made them seem like real people. Which they are, but it's easy to forget when you just see them on TV.

SHATNER'S RAW NERVE (BIO) - I'll take an intimate 30-minute chat with William over any other host out there.

SURVIVOR (CBS) - In the spring, country boy JT was the sly charmer that kept people on his team when it was obvious at the merge he was a biggest threat than Coach the Delusional Dragonslayer. In the fall, Russell pulled a Dr. Will by being so devious and cunning that he became fun to root for. If he'd just been a little less cocky, he would have won.

And, the leftovers I like...

Simon Baker on The Mentalist (CBS), Julianna Marguiles on The Good Wife (CBS), Jeremy Piven on an otherwise stale season of Entourage (HBO), the urgency of 24 (FOX), the whimsy of Cougar Town (ABC), the "Sister Christian" shoot-out on FlashForward (ABC), the group numbers on Glee (FOX), the explosions on MythBusters (DISC), the sightseeing of The Amazing Race (CBS), the dark turns of Breaking Bad (AMC), the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO), pretending to be a judge of song (Fox's American Idol) or dance (MTV's America's Best Dance Crew), and the summer splashes of Wipeout (ABC).

Worst TV of 2009

I reviewed my 2008 list to make sure I didn't repeat anything.

1. BEN LYONS on AT THE MOVIES (Synd.) - Ben Lyons, E! host, and Ben Mankewicz, TCM host, were horrible choices to fill the balcony chairs once occupied by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. "Mank" actually might have been acceptable if he sat across from A.O. Scott, but Ben Lyons had zero credibility. I'm grateful the producers came to their senses and put real critics back into those seats.

2. SPENCER PRATT on I'M A CELEBRITY... GET ME OUT OF HERE (NBC) - There are plenty of people out there who think they can have it made if they could just become a villain on a reality show. This vain rich-boy was a jerk to everyone just so he could make headlines, and then he tried to quit the show repeatedly until an actual medical condition made him and wife Heidi leave. In two years, I predict him showing up on Celebrity Rehab, just trying to get the other contestants to fall off the wagon.

3. ARTIE LANGE on JOE BUCK LIVE (HBO) - Never has a talk-show debuted with a more boorish, energy-sucking guest. Buck didn't even have a commercial break to bail him out so he could kick him off the set.

4. LEVI JOHNSTON on THE JOY BEHAR SHOW (HLN) - Oy. Even people who hate Sarah Palin have to feel sorry for her that this is the guy who knocked up her daughter. You can tell he's just auditioning for his own reality show. It didn't help that Joy's line of questioning made Larry King look probing and skeptical. Of course, if Todd & Sarah get divorced next year (as Levi kept saying how bad their marriage is) or if Sarah really isn't Trig's mother, I take it all back.

5. MICHAEL JORDAN on NBA HALL OF FAME INDUCTION (ESPN) - Everyone knows MJ is the best, but instead of being gracious or humble, he kicked sand in the face of anyone who's ever entered his life so he could get in one last "I'm better than you." It certainly shed some light into why he's not been a good front-office guy.

6. SHREK THE HALLS (ABC) - I saw it for the first time this year and was appalled. Apparently we're going to get this lump of mucus-covered coal every winter.

7. BROTHERS (FOX) - Good supporting cast stuck with a non-actor lead and punchlines that make it sound like the live audiences is laughing under physical duress. 'Twas a bust from the get-go.

8. HANK (ABC) - Unfunny Kelsey Grammer vehicle wisely avoided by Nielsen families despite the other-wise strong line-up ABC has on Wednesdays. Grammer deserves better.

9. THE PRISONER (AMC) - I only watched the first half-hour, but everyone I've talked to assures me it never got any better. Pity to waste Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen like that.

10. NBC EXECUTIVES - Their mistake was forcing out Jay Leno to keep Conan O'Brien, but that was a mistake announced in 2004. But by giving The Jay Leno Show five hours of primetime, they've killed their already-bad ratings for years to come. They say they're saving money this way, but they're killing everyone. Sunday Night Football and The Office are their only ratings bright spots. They should just let Conan go and move Jay back to The Tonight Show, then get Law & Order: SVU back to one of the 10/9 spots and probably pick up whatever dramas CBS decides to cancel to fill the other four. What's sad is that there are good shows on their line-up, but if nobody watches them, do they exist?

Dishonorable Mentions:

FIXED CELEBRITY REALITY SHOWS - From Donald Trump picking his pal Joan Rivers as the winner of Celebrity Apprentice even though she walked off the show and kept calling her opponent Hitler, to Hulk Hogan picking his old tag-team partner Dennis Rodman as the winner of Celebrity Championship Wrestling even though two or three other celebs were clearly better, celebrity contestants on shows with celebrity judges need to understand that whoever deserves to win probably won't.

DISNEY/NICK TWEEN SHOWS - I am so not the audience they're aiming for, but while in a waiting room I once endured two episodes of Wizards of Waverly Place in a row, and I felt like I'd just sat through a marathon of Small Wonder and Saved by the Bell: The Next Class.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Julie & Julia - DVD Review


Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond, Mary Lynn Rasjkub, Jane Lynch, Frances Sternhagen and Vanessa Ferlito.
Directed by Nora Ephron.

Had this just been about Julia Child, it would have been delightful, buoyed by Meryl Streep's beaming performance. But there is this other half based on blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams), and Julie Powell is not as interesting as Julia Child. But sitting through the Julie scenes is worth getting to the Julia scenes. After all, there is good food to be made!

The movie parallels their lives, the small successes, the minor letdowns and obstacles, and it's a tribute to their wills to persevere despite whatever's thrown in front of them. In that way it's an ideal movie about American individualism. Streep deserves another nomination for her work here (and maybe she just might finally win her third Oscar for this), and Adams, let's say, does her mousy best.

The Cove - DVD Review


Starring Ric O'Barry.
Directed by Louie Psihoyos.

One caption this documentary can't claim: that no animals were harmed in the making of this film.

Ric O'Barry trained the dolphins on the TV show Flipper. He has spent the rest of his life regretting it. There's high demand for dolphins at Sea World-type amusement parks all over the world, and in the town of Taiji, Japan, fishermen can earn up to $150,000 per dolphin. What about the others they capture but do not sell? They kill them. By the thousands. Every year.

This is a closely guarded secret, and O'Barry, Psihoyos and their activist friends are determined to expose it, and this admittedly one-sided doc takes on an Ocean's 11 feel. They gather the experts then pull off the heist, except the heist is to plant some hidden cameras so they can capture what's really going on in that cove.

Unlike other activist docs where you get the feeling the makers are exaggerating or leaving key facts out, this one present its case very well. Dolphins are second to only humans as the smartest creatures on Earth. Dolphins have a poisonously high amount of mercury in their meat, and yet a DNA scientist takes samples from a Taiji grocery store and shows that dolphin meat is being labelled as something else and sold to the public. Japan is fighting to not only keep dolphins off the protected list from the International Whaling Commission but to lax it up on whales because "they eat too many fish."

Do they get the cameras hidden? It wouldn't be much of a movie if they didn't, and the sight of that blue water of the cove turn red with dolphin blood is one of the most memorable scenes of the year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Terminator Salvation - DVD Review

Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter, Common, Jane Alexander and Michael Ironside.
Directed by McG.


Oh, come on! It was kinda fun. Why did so many critics hate this? Maybe it was a letdown to those paying full theater prices for it, but it was better than the Sarah Connor Chronicles. That's thanks to the star-making turn by Sam Worthington (Avatar) as Marcus Wright, a human/machine hybrid who only learns halfway through the movie he's not all human.

Is it as good as the James Cameron flicks? Of course not. But McG is really good at staging action sequences and being true to the Terminator mythology. Cameron's, anyway.

Judgment Day has happens. The humans still alive are fighting to survive the terminators Skynet has dispatched. John Connor (Christian Bale) leads the resistance, kind of. He listens to tapes his mother left him and knows he has to find Kyle Reese, a teenager now but a man he needs to find so he can send him to 1984 to impregnate his mother.

Meanwhile Wright, a man sentenced to die in 2003, finds himself alive in 2018, having not aged a day and a little hazy on the past fifteen years.

Their stories run parallel for a while, then Wright stumbles upon a scrawny survivor named Kyle (Star Trek's Anton Yelchin).

Does it mean much? No. I'd put it on par with Terminator 3. Bale's performance features a lot of shouting, and there were secondary characters that never really seemed to do anything. (Why was Bryce Dallas Howard hanging around?) But I credit Worthington, McG, and every penny of its budget on-screen for making it a decent rental.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Invictus - Movie Review

Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.


I'll start with my quibbles. The movie made me wish I'd brushed up on my knowledge of Nelson Mandela and the rules of rugby beforehand.

This is beyond a typical sports movie. Nelson Mandela is a triumphant figure, and he deserves no less than Morgan Freeman to portray him, and he does so with depth and layers. Everything about this project says it should drown in cliches, and yet it doesn't. The South African scenery, the old neighborhoods, the rugby arena, the black and white bodyguards trying to work together, all lend complimentary details to the story.

It is fortunate that this movie isn't so much about rugby as it is Pres. Mandela's attempts to unify his nation. I get the feeling a lot of South African history was whitewashed to streamline the story. Maybe its lack of box-office success is due to The Blind Side absorbing the sports-drama audience (or being about the much more American sport of football) but this deserves an audience in its own right.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Susan Sarandon & Tim Robbins split

Even not getting married couldn't keep them together after over 20 years.

Goldie Hawn & Kurt Russell - still together.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Actor noms almost sewn up

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus

and then there's one more...


Sharlto Copley - District 9
Daniel Day Lewis - Nine
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man

I think Renner's most likely to get that fifth spot, but the other four seem guaranteed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Public Enemies - DVD Review


Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Jason Clarke, Rory Cochrane, Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Davis, Stephen Lang, David Wenham, Giovanni Ribisi, Lili Taylor and Leelee Sobieski.
Directed by Michael Mann.

Few directors are reliable as Michael Mann to produce a good-looking picture. Set piece after set piece is a beauty to behold. It recalls the glossy fun of Brian DePalma's The Untouchables while still taking on some melancholy meditation a la The Assassination of Jesse James.

Johnny Depp is solid as John Dillinger, the notorious bank-robber who became a Robin Hood type anti-hero as he robbed banks and gave some money back to the poorer folks. There's just enough menace there to know this man has no problem killin', but he's in it for the money.

Hot on his heels is FBI man Melvin Purvis, played with blank honor by Christian Bale. Purvis becomes the face of the newly-formed FBI after he cpatures and kills Pretty Boy Floyd, much to the delight and later jealousy of J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup).

Mann's experimenting here with some scenes, the camera swooping and jerking at times. The gunfights feel realistic and the mannerisms period.

It isn't always historically accurate (for instance, Pretty Boy Floyd was killed a month AFTER John Dillinger) and emotionally it may be closer to Miami Vice than Collateral, but sometimes it's nice to watch a talented guy at work.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Surrogates - Movie Review

(Saw this at the $1.50 theater.)


Starring Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames and Boris Kodjoe.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow.

Surrogates is a smart idea dumbed down. There's so much potential here for it to be the next Blade Runner, and it settles for not even being the next I Robot. Looks like it hedged its bets on budget too.

This is a future where people can stay in their homes and live their lives through surrogate robots, and we get to the point in this future where almost everyone has a surrogate. There's less crime, less death in this world, but there's also those crazy protesters who think surrogates are killing humanity. For some reason they're mostly rednecks, and they're given their own territory in east Boston to live, like a native American tribe.

Bruce Willis plays a cop who must investigate the first murder in years, where someone's concocted a device that'll kill the user of a surrogate if they "kill" the surrogate. Naturally he accidentally uncovers corporate espionage in his investigation.

Jonathan Mostow films most of the movie as claustrophobically as U-571. We get off-balance close-ups in many scenes which never really made sense to me. And while it's not really the movie's fault, it bugs me when the trailer gives away the ending. I spend the second half of the movie going "Well, I know we still need 'this' scene so there's only two possible ways this movie can end."

I don't know what sausage-grinder this screenplay went through, but it came across as the third draft of the third team who butchered whatever original cleverness may or may not have been there.

Why Nine and It's Complicated?

I haven't seen them yet, so I can't speak with authority, but last I checked, Nine had a 47% RottenTomato ranking and It's Complicated had a 36%. So why are they getting nominated for all these awards? Did any of the nominators see these movies first?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 SAG Award Nominees

Male actor in a drama series
Simon Baker, "The Mentalist"
Brian Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Hugh Laurie, "House"

Female actor in a drama series
Patricia Arquette, "Medium"
Glenn Close, "Damages"
Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: SVU"
Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"
Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"

Ensemble in a drama series
"The Closer"
"The Good Wife"
"Mad Men"
"True Blood"

Female actor in a comedy series
Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"
Toni Collette, "United States of Tara"
Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"

Male actor in a comedy series
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Steve Carell, "The Office"
Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Tony Shalhoub, "Monk"
Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men"

Ensembles in a comedy series
"30 Rock"
"Curb Your Enthusiasm"
"Modern Family"
"The Office"

Male actor in a TV miniseries
Kevin Bacon, "Taking Chance"
Cuba Gooding Jr., "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story"
Jeremy Irons, "Georgia O'Keeffe"
Kevin Kline, "Great Performances: Cyrano de Bergerac"
Tom Wilkinson, "A Number"

Female actor in a TV miniseries
Joan Allen, "Georgia O'Keeffe"
Drew Barrymore, "Grey Gardens"
Ruby Dee, "America"
Jessica Lang, "Grey Gardens"
Sigourney Weaver, "Prayers for Bobby"

Male supporting actor in a movie
Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"

Female supporting actor in a movie
Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
Diane Kruger, "Inglourious Basterds"
Mo'Nique, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Male lead actor in a movie
Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth, "A Serious Man"
Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"

Female lead actress in a movie
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"

Ensemble in a movie
"An Education"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 Golden Globe Nominations

Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical):
"(500) Days of Summer"
"The Hangover"
"It's Complicated"
"Julie & Julia"

Best Motion Picture (Drama):
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Up in the Air"

Best Director for a Motion Picture:
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Clint Eastwood, "Invictus"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"

Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical):
Sandra Bullock, "The Proposal"
Marion Cotillard, "Nine"
Julia Roberts, "Duplicity"
Meryl Streep, "It's Complicated"
Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"

Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical):
Matt Damon, "The Informant!"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Nine"
Robert Downey Jr., "Sherlock Holmes"
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "(500) Days of Summer"
Michael Stuhlberg, "A Serious Man"

Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama):
Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Tobey Maguire, "Brothers"

Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama):
Emily Blunt, "The Young Victoria"
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious"

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture:
Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture:
Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
Monique, "Precious"
Julianne Moore, "A Single Man"

Best Screenplay for a Motion Picture:
Neill Blomkamp, "District 9"
Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker"
Nancy Meyers, "It's Complicated"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"

Best Animated Movie:
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"The Princess and the Frog"

Best Foreign-Language Film:
"Broken Embraces"
"The Maid"
"A Prophet"
"The White Ribbon"

Best Television Series (Drama):
"Big Love"
"Mad Men"
"True Blood"

Best Television Series (Comedy or Musical):
"30 Rock"
"Modern Family"
"The Office"

Best Actress in a Television Series (Drama):
Glenn Close, "Damages"
January Jones, "Mad Men"
Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife"
Anna Paquin, "True Blood"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"

Best Actor in a Television Series (Drama):
Simon Baker, "The Mentalist"
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Hugh Laurie, "House"
Bill Paxton, "Big Love"

Best Actor in a Television Series (Comedy or Musical):
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Steve Carell, "The Office"
David Duchovny, "Californication"
Thomas Jane, "Hung"
Matthew Morrison, "Glee"

Best Actress in a Television Series (Comedy or Musical):
Toni Collette, "The United States of Tara"
Courteney Cox, "Cougar Town"
Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Lea Michele, "Glee"

Best Miniseries or Made-for-Television Movie:
"Georgia O'Keefe"
"Grey Gardens"
"Into the Storm"
"Little Dorritt"
"Taking Chance"

Best Actor in a Miniseries/Made-for-Television Movie:
Kevin Bacon, "Taking Chance"
Kenneth Branagh, "Wallander: One Step Behind"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Endgame"
Brendan Gleeson, "Into the Storm"
Jeremy Irons, "Georgia O'Keeffe"

Best Actress in a Mini Series/Made-for-Television Movie:
Joan Allen, "Georgia O'Keefe"
Drew Barrymore, "Grey Gardens"
Jessica Lange, "Grey Gardens"
Anna Paquin, "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler"
Sigourney Weaver, "Prayers for Bobby"

Best Supporting Actor (Television):
Michael Emerson, "Lost"
Neil Patrick Harris, "How I Met Your Mother"
William Hurt, "Damages"
John Lithgow, "Dexter"
Jeremy Piven, "Entourage"

Best Supporting Actress (Television):
Jane Adams, "Hung"
Rose Byrne, "Damages"
Jane Lynch, "Glee"
Chloe Sevigny, "Big Love"
Janet McTeer, "Sense & Sensibility"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Anvil: The Story of Anvil - DVD Review

Directed by Sacha Gervasi.


The real Spinal Tap.

This documentary shows the true story of Anvil, a heavy metal band from the early 1980's that was poised to be as big as Megadeth or Slayer or Iron Maiden, and they have rock icons like Metallica's Lars Ulrich and Guns N Roses's Slash testifying to such, but through bad luck or whatever, they never quite took off. But for almost thirty years, the two founding members still play together and still hope for that big break.

Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner are two sides to the same coin. One is the ultimate optimist/hissy-fit-throwing lead singer, and the other is the more stable/no-less-delusional drummer. When we first meet them at their day jobs, it felt like The Wrestler. Once they hit the road for a tour, it's Spinal Tap time!

Ultimately though, I rooted for these guys. I wanted them to find whatever slice of success they could carve out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Blind Side - Movie Review


Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Kathy Bates and Ray McKinnon.
Directed by John Lee Hancock.

Sports movies tend to come down to the last play with two seconds to go. Football movies tend to be about the quarterback, the running back, or the wide receiver. How nice to see a football movie that does neither. I don't believe I've ever seen a football movie about an offensive lineman. And while he's significant, it's just as much about his mama.

Based on the true story of Michael Oher, this movie's about a large homeless kid bounced around in foster care who's taken in by a Christian school (who eyes him for sports first, but he needs good grades too) and one wealthy woman who seems him walking alone in the dark and decides to take a chance.

This may sound like one of those Hollywood white liberal guilt movies where the white person saves the black person, but I didn't really feel that watching the movie. Sandra Bullock, in her best role in years, plays a tough Southern socialite who fixes whatever she sees needs fixin', and if you give her guff, she'll get back in your face. As she says to one thug, "I'm in a prayer circle with the D.A., I'm a member of the NRA, and I'm always packing." As she pats her purse.

Michael is a withdrawn giant, and it takes the efforts of this woman to figure out how to get him out of his shell and help him succeed. My hunch is the real Michael Oher wasn't this introverted, but maybe he was in high school and college is where he learned to truly fly on his own.

It hit all the right emotional notes at the end, and I came out satisfied.

P.S. Michael Oher still plays for the Baltimore Ravens, and in the Packers game I watched this week, I never saw Michael's guy make it to the quarterback.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

No 'Harvey' for Spielberg

After Tom Hanks and Robert Downey Jr. passed, Steven Spielberg has decided to abandon his remake of 1950's Harvey. The original starred James Stewart.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Invention of Lying - Movie Review


Starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis CK, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, Stephanie March, Christopher Guest, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jason Bateman.
Directed by Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson.

Saw this at the $2 theater. Used to be the $1 theater, but in today's economy...

Ricky Gervais (BBC's The Office) is a great writer and funny actor. As a co-director, meh...

The clever high-concept premise is to introduce a world where no human being ever has told a lie. They not only always tell the truth, but they also share whatever's on their mind at that moment. Also in this world, atheism is the true religion, which seems to make everyone calloused and shallow. I know the intent of the makers is to ridicule belief in God, but they wind up sabotaging their own point. And why is this the point of what is ultimately a rom-com?

Gervais is the star, a screenwriter named Mark Bellison. How can there be movies in the future? Since everyone always tells the truth, no one can act or write fiction, so movies solely consist of charismatic readers reading history to the audience. (There are some funny commercials too.) Mark finds himself fired and on the verge of eviction when something in his brain clicks. He tells a lie at the bank to withdraw more money than he actually has. He has a new power.

Kudos to the cast and the writers for the first half. Pretty enjoyable. Then Mark sits at his mother's side as she is dying, and she is afraid of disappearing into an eternity of nothingness. So Mark, to bring her comfort, assures her there is life after death. The medical staff overhears, and Mark's fame quickly spreads.

So for the next half-hour or so, the movie hammers its point on how silly religion, particularly Christianity, is. And yet this is a world with no philanthropy and ugly people should just commit suicide. If emphasis is placed so highly on genetic appearance, it makes me wonder what eugenics or genocidal issues this universe has.

I laughed enough early on that I want to overlook its agenda, the weakest part of the film. I also go back to his directing style. 95% of the camera angles are close-ups on whoever's speaking, which doesn't give the film enough organic flow. So I guess I enjoyed the first half of the movie, before the wheels came off.

Angels & Demons - DVD Review


Starring Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Pierfrancesco Favino and Nikolaj Lie Kaas.
Directed by Ron Howard.

Having recently read Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol put me in a more cynical mood to watch a movie on Robert Langdon. Of the three Langdon books, I think Symbol's the weakest and Angels is the strongest, but seeing Brown dramatized really underscores some of his narrative flimsiness.

Tom Hanks is back as Prof. Robert Langdon, symbologist-adventurer. He has a better hair-cut this time around, and while the Da Vinci Code danced around the edges of a Catholic conspiracy, this one puts him right in the heart of Rome. The Pope has died, and before the new Pope has been selected, four cardinals have been kidnapped, allegedly by the Illuminati, a secret ancient organization.

Naturally, Langdon hooks up with an age-appropriate female expert at something (in this case, anti-matter) to help him race the clock, but Ayelet Zurer is no Audrey Tautou. There is decent supporting work from Ewan McGregor as the earnest papal assistant, Stellan Skarsgard as the devout police detective, and Armin Muller-Stahl as one of the hand-wringing cardinals. Muller-Stahl in particular is one of those actors who makes whatever scene he's in just a little more interesting.

Once the race is on, I got swept up by the action, and I credit the set design and cinematography for a lot of that. I also noticed toward the end they rearranged some plot devices from the book, for the betterment of the filmed story, though it's still pretty humorless.

Overall it was fine. But Ron Howard & Co. will have to change a lot more than a couple devices to make a good movie out of The Lost Symbol.

All Good Things straight-to-DVD

All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella, will be debuting on DVD later this month. It's from the Weinstein Company, so it'll likely get an exclusive Blockbuster deal before being available in early 2010.

Here's the plot summary from

"Set in the 1980s, the story centers on the scion of a New York real estate dynasty (Gosling) who falls for a beautiful girl from the wrong side of the tracks (Dunst). But the fairy tale ends when the girl disappears. As a down-and-out detective stumbles on info that may lead to the truth, the political stakes get higher and people close to the case end up dead."

National Board of Review Awards

BEST FILM - Up in the Air
BEST DIRECTOR - Clint Eastwood, Invictus
BEST ACTOR (tie) - Geroge Clooney, Up in the Air
BEST ACTOR (tie) - Morgan Freeman, Invictus
BEST ACTRESS - Carey Mulligan, An Education
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST - It's Complicated
BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR - Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
BREAKTHROUGH ACTRESS - Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
SPECIAL FILMMAKING ACHIEVEMENT - Wes Anderson, The Fantastic Mr. Fox

NBR usually kicks off award season in the first week of December. Over the next few weeks we'll get Golden Globes noninations and awards from different critics societies from all the major metro areas, and then the Oscar race will be on.

The biggest surprise to me was Woody Harrelson for The Messenger. This is a bit of a comeback year for him, when you add in the commercial success of Zombieland and 2012. I expect Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) to get an award or two soon in that category.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009