Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dinner and a Movie-XD Style

Come movie award season, Meg and I try our best to see all the nominated films. To do this, we have to get creative with our time. The girls typically spend the night with Meg's parents about once a month, and in Dec/Jan/Feb, we use that time to get in as many of the films as possible. We used to do two movies in a night: a 5:00 show, dinner, and then a late show. This year we came up with a new strategy. For Meg's birthday, we had dinner first, went to the 7:00 showing of Up in the Air, finishing the night at home, mindlessly watching cable. We slept in until 8:00 and then went to a 9:00 am showing of It's Complicated. We both found this new strategy rather brilliant-clearly we were made for each other.

The girls spent Saturday night with their grandparents, so Meg and I put our new plan into action for the second time. We saw Avatar Saturday night and Crazy Heart this morning. The big movie/small movie combo wasn't intentional, but in some strange way, they complimented each other perfectly.

I wouldn't say I'm a big James Cameron fan, but I do think Aliens is an all-time classic. While I thoroughly enjoyed Avatar, I'm not sold on the 3D. The colors in this movie are so vibrant, but those glasses mute them too much for me. I know 3D is all the rage these days, but it's a gimmick I can do without. The plot is pretty basic, arguably uninspired, but the special effects and action sequences are so brilliant, they easily make this a must-see. Meg isn't a big action fan, and she did fall asleep once, but even she had to admit the visuals are stunning. This is definitely worthy of a best picture nod, even if there were only going to be the standard 5 films. The audacity of the thing just can't be denied.

Crazy Heart is a small, character-driven film, powered by a spot-on performance from Jeff Bridges. Many will say this is the best work of his career, and while his portrayal of Bad Blake is indeed stellar, nothing will ever top the Dude in my eyes. It feels like a foregone conclusion that Bridges will win an Oscar for this role, and that recognition is certainly long overdue. I'm not a big country fan, but the music is great, kudos to T-Bone Burnett. This is ultimately a movie about redemption. It's never easy and there's no age limit; watching Bad figure this out is compelling stuff. Just goes to show, sometimes you need tons of money to make your vision happen, and sometimes you just need a good story and a great actor.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Two Cents on Favre

I'm not going to lie, when the Packers pushed Favre out the door, I was beside myself. I thought it was the wrong move then, and a big part of me still does. Clearly, Aaron Rodgers is a great player, and who knows, he could wind up winning more Super Bowls than Favre, but looking at these past 2 seasons, I think the Packers would have been a better team with Favre at the helm. I know there are plenty of people who vehemently disagree, but i just can't shake that feeling.

Despite these feelings, I am a Packers fan-period. I was rooting against the Vikings like I would any other year, Favre or not. The Vikings have always had great players: Moss, Carter, Randle, McDaniel, the list goes on and on. I respected their game, but I cheered against every one of them as hard as I could. Same rules apply to Favre. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Brett Favre as a football player, but if he's not playing for my team, he's just another guy I cheer against.

One of the problems I have with the whole Favre thing is the emotional attachment to a guy, who quite frankly, his fans know nothing about. Oh, I'm sure many people think they know the real Favre because the way he plays the game must tell us something about what kind of person he is. I disagree. I respect Favre the football player. Sure, from what I know of Favre, he seems like a good guy, but I thought Steve McNair was a good guy, I thought Tiger was a good guy. I'm not saying Favre is like those two, but you have to concede the point-being a great football player doesn't necessarily mean you're a great person off the field. So now that Brett is on a different team, whether I agree with the decision or not, I turn my attention to other great players on my team-the Packers. Charles Woodson is a first ballot hall of famer himself, Donald Driver and Al Harris are as tough as Favre any day of the week. How about what Chad Clifton went through after the Sapp hit? Just because Favre is gone, that doesn't mean we should lose sight of the great players that still struggle every day just as hard as ole Brett.

It's weird to watch Favre play for the Vikings. I thought long and hard about skipping the two Viking/Packer games this year, but in the end, this whole melodrama has reaffirmed my love of the GBPs. In a strange way, I have Favre to thank for that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Looks like this is headed for a best picture nom, and deservedly so. If you are responsible for bringing Point Break into the world, obviously you are a great filmmaker, but Kathryn Bigelow will certainly be nominated for best director, earning some long overdue respect. Jeremy Renner should be nominated as well; he's excellent as Will James, the adrenaline junkie explosives expert. He reminds me of a young Russell Crowe: rugged masculinity, expressive face, get this guy Ridley Scott's phone number. Great ensemble cast in this movie. I had no idea I'd be seeing Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse in bit roles, but their performances were great, and really added to the intensity of this film. I think that's a really good word to describe this movie: INTENSE. There are multiple scenes of James and his team dismantling bombs, and they will have you on the edge of your seat. On its surface, this movie is a kickass action flick, but there's a lot more to it. Bigelow makes her intentions known right off the bat with the opening quote, but it's the execution of the many intricate scenes of the soldiers doing their job that ultimately makes her point. Will James is a metaphor, his personal addiction is our collective addiction to war as a nation. When James can't give it up, Bigelow is questioning whether our society can give it up. Bigelow has crafted a brilliant action movie that challenges the way we think about war without preaching.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What the Dog Saw

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest book. The girls gave it to me for Christmas, with a little guidance from Meg of course. This one is a collection of Gladwell"s favorite magazine pieces from his years at The New Yorker. I enjoyed every one immensely. Gladwell has a truly unique and amazing knack for making the complex easily understood and entertaining. He takes these seemingly mundane topics and makes them freakishly captivating. I think Gladwell should host some kind of contest, where his readers vote on the most boring topic imaginable, and then Gladwell has to find a way to make it work. My money would be on Gladwell. I have to say, at this point in my reading career, there might not be a writer I enjoy reading more, fiction or non. Gladwell challenges a lot of conventional thinking, not always to debunk, but just to make us realize that there is often more than one way of looking at things. This guy makes you think. If you haven't checked him out yet, you most certainly need to, your life will be better for it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Golden Globes

Every year Meg and I watch the Golden Globes, hoping a celebrity or two gets drunk and does something ridiculous. We're usually disappointed, and last night was no different. Julia Roberts sounded a little hopped up before the show, but "who's Natalie" isn't much to get excited about. Tina Fey cracked a nice joke about Mariah Carey, but that was about it really. Ricky Gervais was funny, but there wasn't enough of him. I loved the tribute to Scorsese. I don't know if Leo wrote his part, but I really liked what he said. I agree, Scorsese is a Picasso, a Shakespeare, his impact on film is that large. After Hours and The Color of Money, two of my all-time favorites.

The awards themselves were quite interesting. I was surprised that The Hangover won for best comedy/musical, but even more surprised that Avatar won in the drama category. I was pretty sure Up in the Air would win that one. Jason Reitman looked a bit stunned himself. It was a bit too quiet when Cameron was making his speech; I have a feeling he's not the most well-liked guy in the room. The Hollywood Foreign Press probably voted for him because you can't deny what a global phenomenon Avatar is right now, and that group would appreciate the global impact more than others. It will be interesting to see if Cameron's American peers reward him at the Oscars. My money is back on Up in the Air.

The best part of the show for Meg and I was Jeff Bridges winning best actor. The Dude is finally getting some love, and I hope it continues at the Oscars. The guy's had a brilliant career, very underappreciated. Clooney is Hollywood royalty, so I wouldn't be surprised if he took the statue home, but I will be pulling wholeheartedly for Bridges. The Dude abides.

I would have liked to see Karen O win in the song category. Here's hoping she performs at the Oscars. Good for Sandra Bullock. She's not my favorite, but I respect her success. Meryl Streep continues to impress. I loved both of her nominated roles, but I was even more impressed by her spot-on acceptance speech. She is such a class act.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

First Book of the Year

I finished Jonathan Lethem's new book, Chronic City, last night. I haven't read Lethem before, and I can't say I'll be going on a run of his other books any time soon. Don"t get me wrong, I did enjoy the book, but if I'm being honest, the writing is a bit too pretentious to recommend to the average reader. Chronic City is essentially the story of a band of eccentric New Yorkers trapped in a slumping Manhattan. The characters have great names: Chase Insteadman, Perkus Tooth, Oona Laszlo, but I didn't find any of them particularly likeable or nearly as quirky as Lethem probably does. I think Perkus is supposed to be heroic, and I wasn't buying that at all. There are some extended metaphors going on, but I felt inadequate trying to make sense of them. I will admit, I'm not the most refined reader, so the fault may be mine. I can appreciate having to do a little work to figure things out, but it felt like Lethem may actually enjoy having us not figure it out. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing. My guess is that Lethem is one of those New York City countercultural snobs writing for that very same audience-not that there's anything wrong with that. Lethem's writing is strong and fluid, so he's able to provide a window into a world I am quite removed from. When an author can keep you interested in a narrative of characters that aren't your cup of tea, I think that speaks volumes about the author's skill. That's the thing, Lethem is clearly a talented writer, with a distinct style. I guess the problem boils down to what makes a good story, and that's where Lethem and I may not see eye to eye all the time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not What I Expected

Let me start by saying that Michael Mann is one of my favorite filmmakers. Manhunter and Collateral are two of my favorites, movies you don't turn off when you come across them on late night cable. That said, I didn't love Public Enemies. I know people love Depp, but I didn't buy him as Dillenger. Cat was hardcore and that's not the vibe JD projects for me. The romance angle seemed forced, and Melvin Purvis was left undeveloped I felt. Mann dropped his suicide in the ending update, and I couldn't help feeling that character wasn't in the movie I just watched. Lots of attention to the details of various shootouts, but I would have rather seen more attention paid to his conflict with the mob and their fledgling gambling operation. Now don't get me wrong, a 2nd rate Michael Mann film is better than most, but imagine my surprise when I had to admit to myself the following evening that I had more positive things to say about The Proposal.

It could be the effect of seriously low expectations going in, but I can't deny that I enjoyed this one. Other than Speed, I can't recall liking a Sandra Bullock movie. I do have to give it to her though, she puts asses in seats, and more than ever in her 40s-good for her. I do like Ryan Reynolds, and I think his best work is yet to come. The two of them together were quite enjoyable, but I do think there should have been at least one Demi/Ashton joke to address the age difference. I did find myself chuckling a number of times at how perfect everything looked, that kind of design/fashion porn Hollywood loves to peddle. But you know what, every once in a while it's nice to escape reality, and this movie got me out of my head, willing to just role with it and have a good time. I didn't love this movie by any stretch, and as much as it pains me to say this, if it's a choice between The Proposal and Public Enemies on a Saturday night with the Mrs., I'd say go with Bullock on this one.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

First Movie of the New Year

Watched District 9 on New Years, but haven't had a chance to sit down and comment until tonight. This is one of those classic didn't hate it, didn't love it deals. A lot of positive feedback from family and friends might have elevated my expectations for this one. I did enjoy the whole riff on aparteid, and the creativity on a budget is truly impressive. I think I'm more impressed by the idea of this movie, the idea that this thing came out of nowhere and surprised people. The director, Blomkamp, is clearly one to watch, so I would recommend checking this out, if for no other reason than you always want to get in on the ground floor with a new voice.