Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Leviathan Computer, and a New Passel of Movie Reviews

I finally got a new computer over the weekend, and this is what I picked up. That's right. I've finally come over to the other side.

So far so good. The screen is frickin' giant, for one which is good. But at 24" I kind of have to strain my neck to look up at it (and that's not really an exaggeration), but it's bright and crisp and lovely. All day at work, I wanted to be home with it.

But anyway, so I've got a blog-enabler again, and so here I am again.

I've seen three movies since my last entry, so I thought I'd give each a brief run down and call it a post.

1.) Year One. The thing that excited me most about this one was the fact that Harold Ramis directed it. As you know, he did Groundhog Day, a modern classic and one of those rare comedies that hasn't aged over the years. But I forgot that for every Groundhog Day, there are a few not-so-great movies, like, say, Multiplicity. No one's really thinking too much about Multiplicity these days, and I'm thinking in a couple weeks, no one's going to be thinking too much about Year One. Wasn't really bad. But it didn't try for very much. Mucho Libre, I thought, was a very bad comedy, but I think it only attained 'really bad' because it was really trying for something grander, which is darn admirable. Year One isn't aiming for anything higher than the comic stupidity of Caveman, that Ringo Starr starrer. I actually saw Caveman as a double feature at a Texas drive-in in 1981. They'd paired it with Clash of the Titans , so it was oddly fitting I'd see another goofball comedy about prehistoric hijinx at another drive-in theater 28 years later.

Year One stars Jack Black and Michael Cera as a hunter and gatherer respectively, who embark for some reason (not sure why because I was visiting the facilities when this was explained) onto a search for some dumb thing or another. Not worth recounting. But Oliver Platt is a genius in this movie. Who knew that guy was so damn funny? Not sure it's worth sitting through the rest to see how funny Platt is, but if you'd rather, you can take my word for it.

2.) Land of the Lost. This was the 2nd bill in our double feature. For me, much funnier than Year One. Will Farrell's got some hilarious moments in it (like when he mouths the words "F**k you" to their ape friend Chaka, for whom he has a weird, pathological hatred for), and Danny's given some room in this movie to be really funny, but if anything was holding this movie back, it was that it was based on a TV show that no one actually had a whole lot of nostalgia for in the first place. Probably because it wasn't a very good show. So, kudos to Brad Sieberling and the writers and Will and Danny and the British chick who seemed very nice for making a decent movie out of some sub-par source material. (Special note: Be sure to keep an eye out for a Ben Best cameo.)

3.) Away We Go. Was really not looking forward to this one, but wifey wanted to go and Lord knows I deserve to get dragged to some movies for all the movies I drag her to, so away we went to Away We Go! (And there you have my Gene Shalit moment. No more of those, I promise.) Actually, very good. Written by McSweeney's kingpin and (sigh) pretty good writer Dave Eggers and his wife, also-novelist Vendela Vida, and directed by Sam Mendes, Away We Go is either a.) a movie that is trying very hard to be a generation-defining movie, or b.) a movie that actually kind of defines a generation. Or at least part of it. Still not sure on that point, but I'm having some trouble kicking it out of my head.

John Krazinski and Maya Rudolph play Burt Farlander and Verona de Tessant, a young couple with a baby on the way. They live in a ramshackle house out near Burt's parents (in what looks like Wyoming or somesuch) and both work from home. He sells insurance over the phone, and she's a medical illustrator. When Burt's parents (a very funny Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) decide to forego the whole grandparent thing and move to Antwerp for 2 years, Burt and Verona find themselves unmoored to any particular geographical location. They decide to shop around for a new city to put down roots and this search provides the basic structure of the film. They visit friends and relatives all over the country and so the film gets chopped into little vignettes about where other young- thirty-somethings find themselves 9 years into the 21st century. The film becomes a kind of examination of different types and intensities of unhappiness, and what feel like basic truths are uncovered but without seeming corny, self-righteous or preachy. Not an easy trick. The secondary roles are done uniformly well by actors like Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan and Paul Schneider (who's just plain good in this), and the tone, which is so important a part of this movie, hits that quirky, real, bittersweet funny/sad sweet spot that a lot of movies are looking to hit but often don't.

So, in other words, pretty darn good. Mark that one a recommend.

Since I'm not so good with photos yet on this thing, I'll just stick with the one computer image at the top and call it a night.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Photo From the Beach

To make up for my photo-free reference to my beach vacation in yesterday's post, I'm including a photo my brother took of me (and my dad in the bg) that captures some of the feel of the week. Sitting and reading was the order of the day, which suited me fine.

If you look, you can see on my right arm the weird streak of paleness shooting through sunburn. I had a few of those. I've never tanned great, but I never used to tan in splotches and streaks. Weird.

The book my dad's reading is "Gone Tomorrow" by Lee Child (the latest Jack Reacher novel, I'd finished it the day before), and I'm reading "The End of Overeating" by David Kessler. I was hoping I'd find directions on how to get rid of the also-pictured gut without exerting a single foot-pound of effort or eating so much as a calorie less. Alas, no luck.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back from Vacation! Movie Reviews! No Accompanying Photos!

Hey y'all. Sorry for the totally weak blog action of late. I feel like I just put that "Road" post up and it's actually been about a month. I should just put dead blog on this thing and save my dignity, but I'll keep on keepin' on.

From May 30th to June 7th I was in Florida with my family for a big ole vacation. No email or cell phone or Facebook or internet at all for a week. Just sitting in a camp chair under an umbrella that sometimes launch out of the sand and fly, reading new Jack Reacher, looking up periodically to confirm the Gulf was still there, and taking ladylike sips from canned Corona Lights (because they won't let you take bottles to the beach, understandably). I've never really been on a proper, take-time-off-work vacation before, and it was pleasant and relaxing and all of that, but I had to concentrate to keep from turning it into a sad countdown to a return to the workaday. But I think I did all right on that score.

I've seen a shitload of movies since last I posted. Here's a rundown:

1.) Star Trek. I think JJ Abrams is trying very hard to be the next Steven Spielberg. I wouldn't say he's got the chops to do it, I don't see that yet, but he's sure got Stevie's ambition. This movie was almost disturbingly tailored for the broadest possible audience. Fuzzy sidekicks, slapstick humor at every turn, even Tyler Perry was thrown into this thing to give it the best possible chance to succeed at the box office. And even with all of that calculated mainstream profit-driven thought pushing its way into this movie, it works. They made a fun movie that, to my mind, is as fun and mindless as Star Trek IV was, and Star Trek IV was pretty good. I'm not sure I'm into the whole alternate Trek universe thing Abrams started here, but the actors are all appealing and I'm interested to see sequels, so I guess everyone's happy. Except the haters.

2.) Terminator 4: Salvation. For the first 2/3rd of this movie, Terminator 4 rocks it as hard as T2 ever did. It even brought JD Salinger out of seclusion! The shots! Camera locked on John Connor from ground, to helicopter, to airborne helicopter, to downed helicopter, no cuts. The sequence! You know the one I mean. The one that begins with the giant terminator attack on the gas station hideout and ends with Marcus scudding across the surface of the canyon river. That was good enough to make me forgive McG a.) his name, and b.) Charlie's Angels 2. Unfortunately, after John Connor and his black friend successfully field test the signal on the big hunter-killer, the screenwriters apparently suffered massive head-trauma but kept writing through the pain. McG, clearly not knowing his writers had been close to blacking out with life-threatening concussions when they wrote the 3rd act, just shot what had been written. He's a director, not a writer! How was he supposed to know the ending was so bad? And so, in the dumb 3rd act, John Connor walks into SkyNet city without a.) a single problem, or b.) a moment's suspicion about how he's walking into SkyNet city without a single problem. Worse than all of that, it just gets boring and lets the audience out of the story too much. But even with the weak ending, T4 is still a worthy addition to what I thought was a dead saga, and makes me interested to see more.

3.) Up. What a downer! An uplifting animated film about an old man coming to grips with the death of his wife? And his own impending death? What? Kudos to Pixar for keeping it different, and not letting any received wisdom about what an animated movie can or should be dictate which films they make, but this movie was sad, y'all! But besides that, Up is more of the same Pixar genius. Brilliant animation, brilliant shot selection, brilliantly drawn characters. There were some moments where whimsy crossed the line into sheer ludicrousness (dogs flying biplanes?), but I'm just not especially enthusiastic about lump-in-the-throat movies made by people who've set out to get people to cry, and I kind of think they did with this movie, more than any other Pixar movie to date. But even with all that said, I'm not sure I'd want them to have changed any of that stuff. It was all very well done, but just not what I'm down for these days. Or should I say... up for?

4.) Drag Me to Hell. Stephen King used to run-down a spiral of diminishing returns when writing horror novels. First, if you can get it, go for terror. If you can't get that, try for horror. If not that, go for a cheap shock. And if you can't get any of that, "go for the gross out." I think Sam Raimi knew right off the bat he wasn't going to get any of the first three, probably had no intention of attempting to get them, and focused his energy on the gross out. He doesn't do too badly on that score, but it's kind of a low bar he set for himself. Drag me to Hell was more of a diverting exercise -- a chance for Raimi to show himself and his fans that 3 Spider Man movies hadn't killed the Evil Dead in him -- than a real honest-to-God horror film. Things I liked: 1.) Allison Lohman. Easy on the eyes. 2.) The cinematography. The colors were really popping and it managed to capture some of that LA-sunlight quality that seems to elude other filmmakers. 3.) the last 10 seconds. Not in a gut-level way -- it's not emotionally satisfying -- but intellectually it makes sense. I wish the set up for the ending hadn't been so obvious though.

5.) The Hangover. Funny stuff. I never felt I was travelling on the same current of humor as this movie was, but it had a good number of laughs. I liked the Rain Man shot a lot, I liked the shot in the taser class where the kid gets up to tase Zach and it goes into slow-mo, and I liked the easy comraderie. The tone was good too, which is an easy thing to discount but always hard to get right. And the photo montage at the end is, of course, genius. But I'm not thinking right now that this is an amazing comedy, just a really competent one.

I'd add some photos to pretty this beast up, but it's late, and the Man demands I return to work tomorrow.