Thursday, December 29, 2005

Capsule Reviews 12/29 -- The 'Berg Double-Bill

Movie: Munich
Director/Studio: Steven Spielberg / Universal
10 Word Review: Impressive, even for Spielberg. More impressive, I think, despite Spielberg.
Best Thing About It: I honestly didn't think Steven Spielberg, he of the tacked on happy endings that seemed almost pathological, had it in him. But he really does tackle the moral ambiguity of the terrorism/vengeance cycle that has encompassed Israel and Palestine for as long as I can remember. I had always been of a mind that the masterminds behind the Black September attacks at the Munich Olympics had it coming to them when they were later tracked down and eliminated by the Israelis. Munich manages to put that quest for justifiable revenge into a perspective in which no side gets off easy.
Worst Thing About It: Falling back on the "innocent child in danger" plot device is a needlessly cheap ploy in a movie that otherwise opts for a tougher route.
Best Performance: Eric Bana is phenomenal as the lead Mossad agent, doing that whole range-of-emotions thing that kept me from liking him in The Hulk (though his tendency to be all growly man-god in Troy was actually endearing).
Grade: A

Movie: Rumor Has It
Director/Studio: Rob Reiner / Warner Bros.
10 Word Review: Promising family comedy devolves into tepid, boring May / December duo.
Best Thing About It: Honestly, the supporting cast is so good. Mark Ruffalo comes to play here, taking the ever-thankless "safe, buttoned-up cuckold-to-be" role and bringing his unique brand of rumpled adorableness to it. Richard Jenkins we'll get to in a minute. Even Mena Suvari is wonderful, nailing down her flighty character. And may I say how much mainstream romantic comedy needs to have Shirley MacLaine around? When you need a boozy, brassy broad of a certain age who has seen a thing or two and isn't afraid to dish some pearls of wisdom over a highball, accept no substitute.
Worst Thing About It: The middle third of the film, which focuses entirely on the flat, chemistry-free duo of Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner. The entire time we're watching his aged ass and her not-young-enough-to-be-scandalous ass romping around the wine country, the audience is impatient for things to get back to Shirley and company.
Best Performance: So, for real this time: how invaluable an asset is Richard Jenkins? How many times to I have write the sentence with "In a relatively small role, Richard Jenkins brings it home"? Because he does, every single time. He's funny, he's folksy, and he packs the film's one true emotional punch. The man deserves his own honorary Oscar.
Grade: C+ (though a B+ for the supporting cast)

Movie: War of the Worlds
Director/Studio: Steven Spielberg / Paramount
10 Word Review: Perfectly passable blockbuster fare undercut by lame acting, lamer ending.
Best Thing About It: As always, when Spielberg envisions something we've never seen before, he can really deliver it. He impressively stomps his tripod monsters actross the eastern seaboard with efficient suspense and action.
Worst Thing About It: The ending. It's just so bad. Beyond the usual tacked-on Spielbergy happy family bullshit, it's also crazy abrupt, with a deus ex machina that even had Signs going "bitch, is you crazy?"
Best Performance: This one's a tough call. Tom Cruise is (and probably will forevermore be) supremely annoying to even look at. Tim Robbins is embarrassingly slobbery. I'll be deep in the cold ground before I recognize Dakota Fanning. I suppose by default I'd have to go for Justin Chatwin as the believably bratty, yet poorly written son Robbie.
Grade: C-

Movie: The Family Stone
Director/Studio: Thomas Bezucha / 20th Century Fox
10 Word Review: Warmly acted dramady endears, yet takes too many narrative shortcuts.
Best Thing About It: I don't know what this says about me as a person, but for the duration of that film, I wanted to be a Stone. Loved the bitchy sister, loved the deaf/gay brother, loved Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson as the mom and dad. They were mean, but they were also protective. In a lot of ways, they reminded me of my family, though my mother would sooner die than use the phrase "popped her cherry." But the more I saw my family in the Stones, the harder the emotional punches hit me. This was a sadder movie than a comedy for me.
Worst Thing About It: The characters, though likeable, are largely one-note. And the story kind of sandbags them whenever it wants to shortcut its way to the next plot development. Case in point: the dramatically crucial, yet ultimately false Christmas dinner scene. You'd think a lifetime of being a Stone would prevented deaf-and-gay Thad from being wounded by freaking Sarah Jessica Parker's clueless words. Apparently not in this scene.
Best Performance: Rachel McAdams, who is the most charismatic thing on screen at all times.
Grade: B

Movie: King Kong
Director/Studio: Peter Jackson / Universal
10 Word Review: Unnecessarily overlong, but once it gets going, it's wondrously impressive.
Best Thing About It: Everyone has already said it, and better than me, but the Kong/Ann Darrow "relationship" succeeds well beyond the chances I gave it. The scene on the frozen pond is so touching.
Worst Thing About It: Dudes, this is three difficult hours to get through. Action scenes just go on and on and ON (and the only one that should have was the T-Rex battle, because of its importance). Even the Empire State Building scene. I don't think audiences wanted to be thinking "just DIE already," but they totally were. Shave off a lot of that first hour and a half or so, and you have a much, much better movie. Much as I love Jamie Bell, his entire side plot was ultimately a waste and never paid off.
Best Performance: It's not really a performer's film, and it's not my favorite of her performances in her career, but Naomi Watts brings it home. Hers is no easy task, and she pulls it off.
Grade: B+

Movie: Cinderella Man
Director/Studio: Ron Howard / Universal
10 Word Review: Well-made, seriously desperate film fetishizes the Depression in unseemly ways.
Best Thing About It: The boxing scenes. For real. Stellar camerawork and editing there. Everything tended to come together in the ring.
Worst Thing About It: From the opening title cards, Howard's film seems utterly desperate to seem "important." Everything is so grave, every character so noble. It's more of this easy kind of "Greatest Generation" boot licking that, at this point, seems way too easy.
Best Performance: Much as I really don't care for the guy, Russell Crowe is really in his element here. He embodies the role both physically and emotionally, and he even gets me to look past the working-class vocal tics that are laid on so thick with everyone else.
Grade: B

Monday, December 26, 2005

Low Res Caption Contest No. 006: Happy Holidays!

Just to prepare you all, the man in the photo below is Pope Benedict XVI, the current pontiff. Think y'all can manage something to tickle the ribs? I think you can. Enjoy!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Friday, December 23, 2005

For the Rest of Us!

Far be it from me to crib an idea from ESPN Page 2's truly loathsome Dan Shanoff, but I have to admit when the dude beats me to a good idea. In his "Daily Quickie" column, Dan partakes in the Festivus tradition of the Airing of Grievances. Which is most definitely a holiday tradition I'm interested in perpetuating. So let's get this started. I've got a lot of problems with you people! And now you're gonna hear about it!

Tom Cruise, you haven't done anything crazy in months. I can't live off the Oprah couch incident and the water-squirting picture forever. Plus, I watched War of the Worlds last night, and I kept wanting to punch you in the face. Speaking of which …

Steven Spielberg. You might want to learn how to end a movie. You've only been directing movies for thirty years, after all. Don't just end shit. And don't make that ending lamer than fucking Signs.

Johnny Damon. I hate you, I hate your Jesus face, I hate your stupid book, and I hate your stripper wife. It took me a long damn time to warm up to Clemens and A-Rod. It's gonna take you even longer.

George Bush. Stop listening in on my phone calls! Perv.

ABC Family Channel. If you're gonna show those stop-motion Rankin/Bass Christmas specials all day, every day, you mind tossing me the Heat Miser every once in awhile? Instead of Rudolph's Shiny New Year? Oh, and stop airing 7th Heaven every time I want to watch a Gilmore Girls episode. In fact, just stop airing 7th Heaven.

Brett Ratner. You're ruining Wolverine for the rest of us. And your "X-Mas" card looks ri-goddamn-diculous.

Peggy Noonan. I swear to Jeebus, if I see you on TV one more time hawking your stupid John Paul II book and talking about what saintly crusaders for humanity effing Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were, I'm going to … change the channel, again. But angrily.

Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney. Annulments are for when you marry your fiance's twin brother by mistake. Not for when you realize your husband is gay and you're too anorexic to bear children. Because y'all would have known that if you'd spent more than seven minutes together before getting hitched.

Michael Kors. I've got your Barefoot Appalachia Lil' Abner Barbie right here. Raymundo was awesome! Okay, the dress was ass, but he deserved a second chance. Especially over damn Andrae. I hope Nina Garcia punches you in the balls.

Craig Bierko. You were so, so, SO horrible in Cinderella Man. Like, worse than you usually are. And close your mouth, dude. You're catching flies.

Tyra Banks. Just, stop. Stop. Stop talking. Please.

Old Man Winter. Wake up, pops! It's a day until Christmas, it's raining here, and everything outside looks brown and sludgy and gross. I don't want snow for the next three months, but it'd be picturesque to have it for the next three days. Get to work.


Now, since Festivus is nothing if not a communal holiday, I urge all of you to air your own Festivus grievances. While you do that, I'll retrieve the aluminum pole. And prepare for the feats of strength.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Nip/What the Fuck?

An e-mail from a concerned and dedicated reader goes as follows …

Joe,

I think I speak for everyone when I demand that you blog about the revelation of the Carver, and possibly about the entire season of Nip/Tuck. At the very least send me a detailed email.

Mathan


Let it never be said that I am deaf to the cries of my readers. Now, run along, little Nip/Tuckians who've got the season finale unwatched in their TiVo. I'm spilling everything.

So. The finale. After a season and a half of the Carver being one of the more legitimately frightening killers on television, Tuesday night we find out the identity of the serial rapist/killer/torturer/anti-beauty activist … and it was the guy we figured it was all along. Dr. Quentin Costa -- who was brought on to the show right about when the Carver attacks began, was the most glaringly obvious of the usual suspects, and who has spent this season being systematically dismantled as a character, becoming less human and more like a coked-up, leering, sexually deviant (as all bisexuals on television naturally must be) wretch. Hard to believe this guy could be a killer, huh?

Of course, having your serial killer be the guy who made most sense as a serial killer isn't exactly a bad thing. It was the ways in which the 2-part finale tried to lead us in other, last-minute directions that was irritating. And, yes, I'm talking about the "Quentin has no penis" part. Uh, what?! He … WHAT?! And this is coming from a guy who had no problem with any of the season 2 revelations (Ava is a man! And is screwing her son!) that seemed to offend so many. But Dickless Quentin seemed like such a desperate ploy for misdirection. Everything after that part just seemed to get worse and worse (hauling out Liz's strap-on? Un! Comfortable!), topped off by the rather tacked-on reveal that Kit was Quentin's creepy-incestual co-killer sister. God. I hate the co-killer gambit so much. Though I did appreciate how Rhona Mitra was able to drop her English accent at the end there. It just seemed so kitchen sink. Like they had painted themselves into such a corner with the Carver having to be a male, but they wanted to do the femme fatale thing anyway, so … sister! Bah.

As for the season as a whole, I'd say it was disappointing. Season 2 ended on such a high note. I'll agree with the prominent criticism of the season that it wandered too far away from its central storylines. I didn't mind Julia opening up the recovery spa, because that served as a nice furthering of her mega-arc, as well as Liz's. But the whole "Beady-Eyed Anne Heche on the run from the mob" plot? Such a loser. And it lasted three episodes! And then there was that overwrought episode with the plane crash where nothing actually happened. At least the tranny Matt beat up made her way back into the story, lest that be just another of the seemingly endless plot strands left hanging. Like a lot of people, I liked the storyline Matt got into with the neo-Nazi family toward the end. Although, racism/homophobia/hate in this country is usually insidious and doesn't always take the face of a snarling Aryan princess, and it might have been nice to have taken the subtler road in order to get to a deeper truth. But this is Nip/Tuck, the show that had Joan Rivers rubbing spooge on her face and loving it (a high point of the season -- and what is it with Grandma Skeletor factoring into so many of one show's best moments?), so maybe I'm expecting too much. As it was, I was glad that Cherry and Matt had the balls (so to speak) to off Daddy Hatebucks at the end. Of course, the timeline got dicked-up at the end there, where it looked like Matt had his long, dark night of the soul, his two dads cart off to the nunnery to investigate Quentin and Kit, they return, and the Matt comes home, all "maybe a home-cooked meal will wash away this murderous taste in my mouth." It seemed lazy, like a lot of the third season.

Which is too bad, because it's still a pretty damned compelling show. I mean, try and pry me away from it next season. But still: crappy season, overall.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Capsule Reviews 12/16: The Oil, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe

Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Director/Studio: Andrew Adamson / Disney
10 Word Review: Gorgeous, imaginative storytelling. Falls well short of LotR greatness, though.
Best Thing About It: It really does look amazing. From the set design to the visual effects, Narnia is a fine creation. Also, I thought any and all scenes between young Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) were standouts.
Worst Thing About It: Sadly, the flaws aren't few. You never once get the full scope of Narnia as a land and all the different creatures in it. There are almost no emotional connections beyond the children. The major battle just sort of ... happens. And the ending was crazy abrupt, and doesn't leave you hanging on for a sequel at all. Also, not having read the books, I was bracing myself for a two-hour long Christian allegory, but it's (thankfully) really not that at all. HOWEVER, once the allegory does crop up, boy howdy it is not subtle.
Best Performance: It's a dead heat between MacAvoy's endearing sweetness and Tilda Swinton's strike-a-pose posturing as the White Witch. Congratulations, Tilda, you're still in the running towards becoming Narnia's Next Top Model.
Grade: B-

Movie: Syriana
Director/Studio: Stephen Gaghan / Warner Bros.
10 Word Review: Depressingly accurate oil drama succeeds by not hiding its complexity.
Best Thing About It: I loved that it didn't try and simplify things for the viewer. Not because it made me feel smarter for understanding it (truth be told, trying to keep track of which law firm worked for who was a battle I surrendered early on), but because the Arab oil situation really is complex, and giving audiences a sense of the murkiness of it all was important.
Worst Thing About It: Throughout most of the film, Gaghan and his cast decline to hit the audience over the head with messages or characters, which is why the lobbyist (I think he's a lobbyist) played by Tim Blake Nelson stands out so much with his "yee-haw, I'ma git me some undue Congressional influence!" vileness. Not subtle.
Best Performance: George Clooney might take the Oscar for his turn as a CIA agent, but Alexander Siddig and Matt Damon run circles around him. It's their scenes together when the film comes most alive.
Grade: B+

Movie: Happy Endings (DVD)
Director/Studio: Don Roos / Lions Gate
10 Word Review: Hilarious, unexpectedly endearing, and brilliantly acted. Top ten, for sure.
Best Thing About It: I can't say as I get Don Roos. He can make pure pap like Bounce, but he can also do wonders with wicked black comedy like The Opposite of Sex and this movie. He's got a talent for making morally suspect characters endearing, and I wish he'd use it more.
Worst Thing About It: This overachieved in so many areas, I can't think of anything bad to say about it. Even Tom Arnold is pretty good. Which is weird.
Best Performance: It's a tough race. Lisa Kudrow is excellent. Jesse Bradford, Steve Coogan, Amanda Foreman -- all fantastic. But Maggie Gyllenhaal is the real standout. It's the Christina-Ricci-in-Opposite of Sex performance, except meaner, tougher, and with a wicked cool singing voice.
Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

2005: The Year in Radio Pop

I'm a nerdy list-maker by nature. I won't bother to deny that. It's probably a big reason why I'm so easily drawn to things like predicting the Oscars, and why the NCAA basketball tournament is my favorite sports post-season. Give me something cataloged and listed and seeded one-through-sixteen and I am dorkily enthralled. Top 10 best breakfast cereals of 2006? Yes, please. It explains why I've taken to creating iTunes playlists cataloged by the year the song was released. So far, I've got lists for 2005 back through 2002. iTunes does half the work for you, but it's still fun to browse through the library and remember that the month you graduated college, "Dirrty" was the hot jam. Then, you can boil said lists down even further, so that they fit on one time capsule of a CD.

Thus, in the spirit of time-specific now-stalgia and anal-retentive list-making (and also in the spirit of the hyphen, because would you take a look at that sentence?), I present to you the latest CD I've burned: 2005: Retrospecticus. Not necessarily my very favorite songs from the past 12 months, but the tunes that I think of when I think "2005."

** As always, the eternal disclaimer: I have terrible taste in music. I know this. I'm happy with this. Keep your snooty comments to a minimum.

01 The Killers -- "Mr. Brightside": This was probably my favorite song of the year. And it's caught its second wind with me, too -- that point where you love a song, then it gets kind of played, but now enough time has passed where you love it again. That's where I'm at with this song. Plus, it sure is one purty music video.

02 Kelly Clarkson -- "Since You Been Gone": "Brightside" may be my favorite song of '05, but this was the song that I heard almost every day of this year. God help me, but I do love Kelly Clarkson. I couldn't tell you the mechanics of what goes into making a perfect pop song, but I strongly believe this is one.

03 Ciara f/ Missy Elliot -- "One, Two Step": Weird thing about "One, Two Step": when it was brand new, you could not get away from this jam at the clubs. One night it played four times. Y'all, we were not drunk enough to not notice. So I really, really hated this song, up until two months ago when I gave it another listen. Turns out, it is a fucking stellar dance tune. Plus, Ciara gets bonus points for "My Goodies."

04 All-American Rejects -- "Dirty Little Secret": Not my favorite All-American Rejects song ("The Last Song," I still love you best), but it's still the cream of the pop-punk crop. By which I mean it doesn't make me want to go down to Hot Topic and start punching fifteen year olds.

05 Fall Out Boy -- "Sugar We're Going Down": Completing the pop-punk twin bill. This song had to grow on me, but once it did it tended to define the summer.

06 Gorillaz -- "Feel Good Inc.": Aww, man. This was my jam this year. Fucking incredible in every way. Catchy and weird as hell, which is a fine combination for me.

07 Gwen Stefani f/ Eve -- "Rich Girl": Had to include some Gwen, because she was all over the place this year. But I'm at the point with "Hollaback Girl" where I kind of want to stab my eardrums out. Which is too bad, because I used to love it. "Rich Girl" has the following advantages: 1) Eve, with her "COME together all over the world" hook, which is catchy like bird flu; 2) The phrase "my fancy house in London town"; and 3) The mental image of Gwen in Jewish peasant garb doing "Fiddler on the Roof."

08 Jennifer Lopez -- "Get Right": Club jam second only to "One, Two Step" in terms of dancey goodness. Jenny and I have a turbulent relationship, but '05 was an "on again" year for us.

09 Green Day -- "Holiday": By far, my favorite of the American Idiot songs. Billie Joe does go all Godwin's Law on us by comparing Bush to Hitler, but that last "this is our lives on holidaaaaaaay" makes up for it. Bonus Joe trivia: Green Day were my first concert ever, at the tender age of fifteen. My parents were not waiting for us in the parking lot, but my friend's parents were.

10 Howie Day -- "Collide": If you know me, you know that any playlist will have one puss-rock song in it. I liked Howie Day from way back when he used to open for Tori Amos. This song was stuck in my head for almost a month, and it only got dislodged when it was used as background filler for that awful Jason/Jessica "swear on our relationship?" convo on Laguna Beach. That did the trick. Because: shut up, Jason. But also, even more: shut up, Jessica!

11 My Chemical Romance -- "Helena": I know. Believe me, I know. First of all, I want to rename them The Baby Fat Toy Goth Band. Second of all, the song is about his grandmother. But, honestly, I really, really liked the song. And there was choreographed dancing in the video, which has been catnip for me ever since the days of Janet Jackson's "If." Still, I can't seem to shake the fact that underneath the goth makeup, these guys are secretly the West Memphis Three.

12 Coldplay -- "Speed of Sound": Yeah, it's a letdown from the enduring excellence of "Clocks," but this was a tune that grew on me. Chris Martin has that rare falsetto that doesn't weird me out. He's very comfortable way up there. Almost good enough to make me forget he named his daughter after produce.

13 Kanye West -- "Gold Digger": Jamie Foxx annoyances notwithstanding, this song is so very, very cool. I especially enjoy Kanye's spasm-like dance move when he's all "get down, girl, go 'head, get down." Clever lyrics on this, even if I do feel a little bit guilty for so cheerfully singing along with the "leave yo' ass for a white girl" line. Sorry, Mathan.

14 Song title omitted due to the extreme embarrassment of having this song on my CD. I will never, ever tell.

15 Lifehouse -- "You and Me": Continuing the tradition of me burning a disc for myself with one song that I don't actually like on it. I never seem to realize this until it's too late. But it does remind me of 2005, if only because it's been used on more TV shows than any song this side of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah."

16 Garbage -- "Bad Boyfriend": This one is a bit of a cheat, since it wasn't a hit song or anything. But it was released in 2005, and it rocks hard, and it's my girl Shirley Manson. I can't not include it. Shirley does scary/sexy so very well.

17 Carrie Underwood -- "Independence Day": I had to somehow commemorate the first season of American Idol that I watched straight through. I'd have included something by Anthony Fedorov, but that would have been a bit too queer, I think. And by the end, I really did like Carrie a good deal. But there was no way I was going to put her "Jesus, Take the Wheel" song on here. I wish I was kidding on that song title. I am not.

18 Kelly Clarkson -- "Behind These Hazel Eyes": That's right. I like her so much, she's on my CD twice. What of it? If I had really wanted to push it, I'd have included the song where she cries real tears in the video and then yells at her own mom for getting beat up. But that's more a visual phenomenon -- hence the absence of any R. Kelly goodness here.

Speaking of R. Kelly … just stay tuned to Low Res in the coming weeks, is all I'm saying.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Golden Globe Predictions

So, the Golden Globes announce their nominees Tuesday morning. In the interest of keeping my stellar (*ahem*) predictive abilities on display, here's who I think will be nominated, for all to scoff at come tomorrow. Enjoy.

Best Picture - Drama
01 - Brokeback Mountain
02 - Munich
03 - Good Night and Good Luck
04 - The Constant Gardener
05 - Capote
alt.: Crash

Best Picture - Musical/Comedy
01 - Walk the Line
02 - The Squid and the Whale
03 - Mrs. Henderson Presents
04 - Pride and Prejudice
05 - Casanova
alt.: The Producers

Best Director
01 - Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain
02 - Stephen Spielberg - Munich
03 - George Clooney - Good Night and Good Luck
04 - Noah Baumbach - The Squid and the Whale
05 - David Cronenberg - A History of Violence
alt.: Fernando Mierelles - The Constant Gardener

Best Actor - Drama
01 - Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Capote
02 - Heath Ledger - Brokeback Mountain
03 - David Strathairn - Good Night and Good Luck
04 - Ralph Feinnes - The Constant Gardener
05 - Terrence Howard - Hustle and Flow
alt.: Russell Crowe - Cinderella Man

Best Actress - Drama
01 - Felicity Huffman - Transamerica
02 - Charlize Theron - North Country
03 - Joan Allen - The Upside of Anger
04 - Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener
05 - Scarlett Johansson - Match Point
alt.: Vera Farminga - Down to the Bone

Best Actor - Musical/Comedy
01 - Joaquin Phoenix - Walk the Line
02 - Jeff Daniels - The Squid and the Whale
03 - Heath Ledger - Casanova
04 - Nathan Lane - The Producers
05 - Bob Hoskins - Mrs. Henderson Presents
alt.: Cillian Murphy - Breakfast on Pluto

Best Actress - Musical/Comedy
01 - Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line
02 - Judi Dench - Mrs. Henderson Presents
03 - Kiera Knightley - Pride and Prejudice
04 - Laura Linney - The Squid and the Whale
05 - Catherine Keener - The 40-Year Old Virgin
alt.: Rosario Dawson - Rent

Best Supporting Actor
01 - George Clooney - Syriana
02 - Paul Giamatti - Cinderella Man
03 - Jake Gyllenhaal - Brokeback Mountain
04 - Matt Dillon - Crash
05 - William Hurt - A History of Violence
alt.: Kevin Costner - The Upside of Anger

Best Supporting Actress
01 - Diane Keaton - The Family Stone
02 - Maria Bello - A History of Violence
03 - Catherine Keener - Capote
04 - Amy Adams - Junebug
05 - Gong Li - Memoirs of a Geisha
alt.: Frances McDormand - North Country

Best Screenplay
01 - The Squid and the Whale
02 - Brokeback Mountain
03 - Good Night and Good Luck
04 - Crash
05 - Capote
alt.: Munich

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Netflix Files: Catching Up on Project Runway

A brief bit of backstory: I caught a grand total of two episodes of Project Runway this past summer when Bravo was running one of those all-weekend marathons. I had heard good things, but there's "heard good things," and then there's experiencing the particular combination of fascination/revulsion/joy that comes from spending some TV time with the likes of Wendy Pepper, Jay McCarroll, Austin Scarlett, and the rest of the Runway freakshows. It was lovely.

So, I had made the determination that I'd catch up on the entire series via DVD before the second season begins (Wednesday at 10pm). We'll take this disc by disc.

Disc 1

What We Learn:
The competition pits the following twelve aspiring fashion designers against one another:

Robert Plotkin – Smarmy, overly familiar, well-intentioned, would-be ladies man.

Wendy Pepper – Stripey-haired, middle-aged mother grasping fiercely at what she clearly sees as her last chance at making something of her life. Unnecessarily, and ineptly, Machiavellian. And, from the looks of it, sets her makeup gun regularly to "whore."

Kevin Johnn – The extra "n" is for "not a big part of the storyline, at least through four episodes."

Daniel Franco – Dykey-looking male designer obsessed with creating his own Harry Chapin-by-way-of-Tony Robbins story for the cameras. He's gonna be back for season 2, it looks like. Great.

Starr – The single-named result of what would happen if Karen Carpenter and Evanescence's Amy Lee created a perpetually trembling offspring.

Vanessa Riley – Raven-haired, Brit-accented, and kind of a crappy designer.

Jay McCarroll – Large, queeny, brilliant designer who blows right past obnoxious and lands safely in the hilarious zone.

Kara Saun – It aint Kara. It's Kara Saun. She generally kicks ass. She also generally doesn't care much for covering up her models' naughty bits.

Mario Cadenas – Self-conscious slacker who started off annoying, got cute real damn quick, and then got booted even quicker.

Austin Scarlett – The name says it all, as he's pretty much Scarlett O'Hara with Farrah Fawcett-Majors' (aka, Mrs. Steve Austin's) hair. He's ready for his closeup, Ms. Klum. Also: crazy/brilliant.

Nora Calguri – Teeny, sweet, talented, and reminiscent of America's Next Top Model winner Naima.

Alexandra Vidal – Silver medalist in the "Whose name would sound coolest spoken by Nicole Kidman on the red carpet" Olympics (Austin takes the bronze, Kara Saun the gold). Teeny, blonde, and subtextually attracted to Robert.

Oh, and there are also models who get picked each week by the designers, with one superfluous lass getting musical-chaired out of the show. None of them are interesting, aside from the one who was late and got dumped by her agency. And even then, it was like, "eh."


What Kicks Ass:

First off: the judges. Specifically, hostess Heidi Klum, who proves herself to be a) prettier, and b) unintentionally funnier than I ever expected her to be. The show's elimination catchphrase ("You're out.") gets beaten to death, resuscitated, and placed gently in a German children's hospital by Heidi's accent.

Michael Kors is the ostensible Simon Cowell, except (as far as I've seen), he's neither cutting, clever, bitchy, or devious. Thank god, then, that Elle fashion editor Nina Garcia comes through in the clutch with some choice bitchicisms. Man, did she ever hate Wendy Pepper's licorice dress.

The first challenge is to design a dress made up of nothing but what could be bought at a local supermarket. Genius. In between the wildly varying quality of dresses made out of aluminum foil, shower curtains, butcher paper, socks, and the aforementioned licorice whips, Austin rocks out a dress made out of corn husks and wins the challenge. Daniel Franco and his "follow your bliss" bullshit get tossed.

The second challenge is to convey "Envy," which Jay does with grafitto-tagged denim, Mario does with the illusion of homicide, and Robert does with the illusion of a penis. Oh, and Starr designs a dress with these bulbous tumors, which are intentionally supposed to be tumors, and yet she still doesn't get eliminated. No, it's Mario's nonchalance that gets him the boot. Which makes Jay cry because he lost his bitchy smoking buddy.

It's not even that the challenges are so compelling (though they're interesting enough). The beauty is in the cast who are either funny, crazy, cool, or some combination of the three. And I haven't even gotten to the point where Wendy's train jumps the tracks yet. Gooood times await.

Stay tuned for disc 2. And watch the second season. Maybe Michael Kors will actually do something interesting.

Oh, Hell.

After almost an entire year despairing about how bad the Brett Ratner-led X3 was going to be, here I go enthusing about the trailer. But it does look pretty cool, you guys. Halle Berry apparently kept her wig from the Catwoman set and streaked it. And after a few years on Six Feet Under, Ben Foster sure seems to clean up nice. And Famke Janssen looks wicked cool as Phoenix. Fuck, y'all, I'm setting myself up for one heck of a letdown.

Speaking of letdowns, last night's episodes of Arrested Development and Kitchen Confidential reminded me all the more how much I'm going to miss both shows. Like there aren't already too few actually funny comedies on TV right now. KC was really coming into its own, too -- and Harold from Harold and Kumar seemed to have joined the cast for real. Damn. The catastrophic loss of AD speaks for itself. And if it didn't, its sublime Charlize Theron Monster joke would have spoken for it. Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Capsule Movie Reviews: All Singing, All Dancing, One Sucking

Movie: Walk the Line
Director/Studio: James Mangold / 20th Century Fox
10 Word Review: Standard bio, buoyed by fantastic performances by Phoenix and Witherspoon.
Best Thing About It: It's almost impossible not to compare this movie to Ray -- they're so very similar to each other. I thought this movie bested Ray on at least two criteria: it was less dependent on Cash's stellar music to keep us interested. Ray tended to use Ray Charles's songs as a crutch. Also, I thought the haunted family past story arc was integrated far better in this story than it was in Ray's.
Worst Thing About It: It's still somewhat Bio-by-numbers. He's a kid, he moves out of daddy's shadow, goes to war, is poor, gets his break, career goes up, meets his lady, personal demons, career goes down, lady helps save his soul. Seen. It. Before.
Best Performance: Reese Witherspoon. Joaquin Phoenix is very good as Johnny Cash, but it's Witherspoon who gives the movie its life. I've been waiting to see her give this performance for a long time. Interestingly, with this role she steps the farthest outside her comfort zone, yet the role also makes the most of her most innate gifts -- her charisma and her (for lack of a better term) sweetness. Lady can sing country, too.
Grade: B

Movie: Rent
Director/Studio: Chris Columbus / Columbia/Revolution
10 Word Review: Earnest, enthusiastic musical whose winning performances trump fleeting boho annoyances.
Best Thing About It: The songs - they're catchy, packed with emotion, and belted by a uniformly excellent cast. The better ones have been playing in my brain all week.
Worst Thing About It: Oh, just the thirty or so times I wanted to yell "get a job, deadbeat!" at the screen. Maybe this is a function of the cast being ten years olden than when the play debuted, but seeing this collection of thirtysomething actors singing about not wanting to pay their rent and not wanting to "sell out" and get a job … shut up! I really should have seen this show back when I was in high school, I think.
Best Performance: Damn, this is a tough call. Jesse L. Martin is so good. Tracie Thoms crafts the most likeable character. Wilson Jermaine Heredia is a burst of energy. I was most partial to Rosario Dawson, though. I've liked her ever since 25th Hour, and she surpassed my expectations here in a big way.
Grade: B

Movie: Shopgirl
Director/Studio: Anand Tucker / Touchstone
10 Word Review: Lamely conceived romantic dramady that's neither romantic, comedic, nor dramatic.
Best Thing About It: It's really quite bad, but I enjoyed the chemistry between Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman while it lasted. Two very likeable people right there.
Worst Thing About It: Oh, man. I guess the primary blame goes to the script. Because what kind of story is this? None of the characters are believable from the beginning to the end. Tangents pop up out of nowhere (Jeremy goes on tour?!). Mirabelle pretty much needs to be nuclear-blasted before she figures some pretty obvious shit out. And Steve Martin is not in any way sympathetic. Plus, the voiceover is horrid and cutesy and confusing.
Best Performance: Danes, who is begging (begging!) for the script that will let her make the leap. This wasn't it.
Grade: D+

Movie: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Director/Studio: Mike Newell / Warner Bros.
10 Word Review: Exciting, fantastic, and the best of the Potter bunch. Impressive.
Best Thing About It: Steve Kloves's script rises to a serious adaptation challenge and emerged almost unscathed. Of course, Newell acquits himself quite well, also, particularly with regard to the Quiddich World Cup and the introduction of the rival magic schools.
Worst Thing About It: In a cast this big (and getting bigger every time), there's increasingly fewer opportunities for folks like Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman to shine.
Best Performance: The three young leads are improving by leaps and bounds, but I was all about Brendan Gleeson's manic, oversized Mad-Eye Moody.
Grade: A-

Friday, December 02, 2005

Secret Not-Lady in the Possibly-Not-Water

So, okay, I saw the trailer for the new M. Night Shyamalan disappointment-to-be, Lady in the Water, last week before the Harry Potter movie. It was the most preliminary of trailers -- the movie isn't due to open until summer '06 -- but it certainly left an impression. To put it plainly, it's quite possibly the single most self-satisfied, self-conscious piece of promotion since the Cinderella Man clip groomed itself in front of our eyes around this time last year.

In the interests of providing you with the full Lady in the Water experience, I'm letting you in on the dialogue my brain had with itself while trying to process nearly two minutes of what the fuck? Enjoy!

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Well, we got people playing by a pool, so summer movie, I guess.
And crazy random shots of butterflies with an overbearing string accompaniment, so pretentious movie, I guess.
And, hey! It's every-shlub Paul Giamatti! And he's … plumbing!
His name appears to be "Cleveland," so you know he's all working class. Privileged white girls get named after states like Montana or Dakota. Blue-collar plumbers are named after cities.
Looks like he's the Super for this apartment complex. The violins make me think he's kind of a sad dude.
For real. If it weren't for the violins, that soul-crushed look on his hangdog face might not have been enough.
Damn, that is a nice-looking apartment building, though. He should be happy he keeps such a clean complex.
Oh, but look. He lives in a little hobbit home at the edge of the woods. He is sequestered away from the pretty condo because he lives in Frodo's house.
Sad!
And now the violins are doing some trilly thing which makes me think he's also a Russian immigrant. Like he's Fivel and he's looking for his family.
Doubtful. He's a writer, though. Like he was in Sideways. Bet he won't get Oscar nominated for this one either.
Well, not after that title card. "Once Upon a Time …"?
Yeah, not even Spielberg gets away with that shit anymore.
Oh, fuck! You know what this movie is?
What?
It's the new Shyamalan. He finds a mermaid in the pool. Watch.
Well thank you for ruining the last seventy seconds!
Just watch.
His name is Cleveland Heep?! Are they kidding me?
Sadly, no.
Oh, that's very Shyamalan. Because it goes for poignant, yet it comes off as …
Illiterate? Because of the Uriah factor?
Right, because I'm pretty sure Giamatti's not supposed to be making us think of prog rock or a Dickens villain.
Oh, no.
That's not …
Groban. Josh fucking Groban.
Singing in Italian.
Kiiiiiill me now.
Oooh! A splash in the pool. Is it human or fish?
Depends on how lonely Giamatti is.
Hiyo!
Oh, hell, who did I hear plays the mermaid?
Daryl Hannah?
No. It's some name actress.
Daryl Hannah is a name actress.
An actress whose name means anything in this, the 21st century.
Daryl Hannah was just in Kill Bill!
It's not Daryl Hannah! You're just thinking of Splash.
Well just wait a second and they'll show her.
Dude, this is Shyamalan. We probably won't see her until the final reel, when she's revealed to be a character from Uriah's children's book that he's writing.
Oooh! That's a good twist.
Shut up.
Whoa, that's the whole thing? A ripple in the water and a title?
Aint called a teaser for nothing.
Oh, wait. Shot of Giamatti from water-cam.
Yeah, that aint doing him any favors.
For real, dude. And bes- … Oh, you have got to be joking.
Wow. That was just … wow.
"A Bedtime Story, Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan"
Do you think he got that put in the contract?
"Director's name, credits, and pretentious description of movie get above-title billing."
His name seriously took up the whole screen.
Even Quentin Tarantino saw that trailer and was like "dude, you're being a little full of yourself."
"How many of you are there?"
Don't believe her when she tells you, Paul! She's setting you up for the twist!
She's secretly a fragile super-villian!
She's secretly dead!
She's secretly from the early 1800s!
She's secretly vulnerable to water!
Err.
Uh.
Oh, like that's gonna be any worse than what the actual twist is.
True. You wonder how many times he can go to the same we- …
Shh! Quiet, dude, it's the Narnia trailer!
Aww, yeah. Aslan like a motherfucker!