Saturday, September 29, 2007

Review: Jacob's Ladder

A year or two after its theatrical release in 1990, Vicki and I watched Jacob's Ladder as a video rental. We both came away from that experience with a positive impression of the film, but a decade and a half later, neither of us could've given even a cursory plot description of it. Fortunately, I recently recorded it, and tonight we had our second viewing.

I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it - or, like us, doesn't remember it! - so I won't give away the final reveal. Suffice it to say that what's shown in the closing ten minutes or so puts the preceding events in a completely new light... and then does it again! It's the sort of finale that is likely to have you talking, and thinking, about it for awhile afterwards. But even if, for some reason, you weren't able to see the end of the story, you'd still have been quite entertained up to that point.

Jacob Singer, played by Tim Robbins, seems to be rapidly losing his mind right before our eyes. He's a Vietnam vet whose connection to reality is slipping away with each new bizarre experience he has. From subway stations that are mysteriously locked down - with him inside! - to a Brazil-like scene in a hospital-from-Hell, Jacob's often not sure what's real, and what's not. And of course the viewer is put in exactly the same position! Is he really being hounded by demons, has he wandered into some dark dimension, or is he simply going cuckoo for Coco-Puffs? Finding out the answer turns out to be quite the ride!

Besides reminding me of the aforementioned Terry Gilliam classic from 1985, I also spotted a possible homage to James Whale's Frankenstein - in a chiropractor's office, of all places, as a zany Danny Aiello implores his patient to get up from his adjustment platform and "waaaaalk!" - as well as a shot of a pile of severed arms that has to strike a chord with anyone who's ever seen Apocalypse Now: specifically, Colonel Kurtz's famous description of the village where he and his men had gone to inoculate some children against polio. And I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge how thrilled I was to see lovely Elizabeth Pena again, who'd later go on to shoot the lights out in Lone Star. And that response wasn't just because of all her nude scenes here, although that sort of thing never hurts!

Oh, and if you're a Macaulay Culkin fan - and who isn't? - he has an uncredited part in the film as Jacob's ill-fated son Gabriel. And even in that small a role, he still manages to grab your heart-strings and show some impressive range! (Hey, I'm only half-joking here!)

Jacob's Ladder is a pretty smart film, both in its use of images to make its audience uncomfortable, and in the way it fairly foreshadows its ending... both of them! I now remember why I liked it so much, but who knows if I still will fifteen years from now! Maybe by then it'll be time to watch it again anyway...

Rating: ***

Friday, September 28, 2007

Is it Grey's Anatomy or Greys' Anatomy?

Now that there's a second Grey in the hospital, shouldn't it be Greys' instead of Grey's? Or would it be Anatomies instead of Anatomy?

Oh, and I do not like this show. I do not like this show.

Well, there is one good reason to watch this show...

...anyways - like I was saying - I do not like this show.

(if i keep repeating it, does that make it true?)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Review: Bionic Woman

There are implants, and then there are implants.

A million years ago, when I was a pre-teenager and there were only 12 channels to choose from on TV and you had to get up off your ass to change them, a show premiered that amazingly seemed like it was being made just for me. After all, there really weren't superheroes on TV back then, unless you counted cartoons (or later, campy offerings like Greatest American Hero). So when The Six Million Dollar Man debuted, and featured a man who could run as fast as a car, jump several stories in a single bound, punch his way through a two foot thick stone wall, and see with a little bit of Superman's telescopic vision, I was practically beside myself. And when, a few years into Steve Austin's TV career, his lost flame Jamie Sommers was introduced, I was practically in love. Except minus the practically part. Forget about Chuck & Di! Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner were the royal couple back then, as far as I was concerned!

Fortunately, I haven't seen the original Bionic Woman, or The Six Million Dollar Man for that matter, since they ended roughly thirty years ago. Because of that, I have very fond, untainted memories of how great they seemed. I'm not sure I ever want to know how great they really were... or weren't. It's just better this way. Trust me.

And now NBC has dusted off the concept, updated the story, and reimagined Jamie Sommers for a whole new generation. Inflation's caught up with her, though, and she's now a Fifty Million Dollar Woman, if I heard that piece of dialogue correctly near the end. I guess that makes sense, as comics were only about 25 - 30 cents back then, and they're an easy $3.00 today.

So how was the new Bionic Woman? Well, it's in the mold of so many shows these days: full of mysteries, continuity-heavy, and much more in love with the greys than the blacks and whites we were so used to back in the 70s. The ultra-secret agency that upgraded Jamie after a life-threatening auto 'accident', it turns out, is where her boyfriend works, as well as being the goons who put together the 1.0 model - no, not Lindsay Wagner, way back when, but Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff in a pretty nice villainous turn here. Jamie 2007 also has an overwritten kid sister, who's a - wait for it - computer hacker or some such, because she's been banned from "connecting a computer to a phone line" (I guess she's OK to use wireless?) Some parts definitely worked better than others, including the special effects - no more slow-motion super-speed, for God's sake! - but it'll take some doing before I can get to the point of thinking the sister's anything other than a plot device. Or the show will get cancelled before then.

I guess I really just want to keep watching long enough to see if either of the two super-chicks ever figure out how to use their pairs of super strong legs in a fight, as apparently neither of them have had that particular shoe drop just yet. I'm thinking a super-kick really ought to knock an opponent through a wall or two... wouldn't it? No, really, wouldn't it? Now that would be great TV! Or something.

As such things go, Bionic Woman wasn't terrible. I'll come back a few more times to see where it goes. Or to find out it got cancelled (still bitter about Drive last season? Me? Sir no sir!)

Rating: ** 1/2

Spider Sense Tingling....Did someone call for a Wall Crawler??

Due in part to A) the public shaming which was actually PRECEDED by a private shaming and B) another viewing on an August weekend, I thought I would add 2 cents (CAD) on my personal favourite movie of the franchise so far: Spider-Man 2.

The 2nd installment sees our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man now in college, and doing a pretty lousy job at keeping his grades up, keeping his job as a pizza delivery boy, and for crying out loud keeping his friends! He's definitely struggling with trying to balance life as a super hero with normal "Peter Parker" life.

Meanwhile, in an effort to provide a renewable energy source for the world, Doctor Otto Octavius attempts to demonstrate his ability to create, and sustain, a fusion reaction. Because no normal human could actually enter his machine, he developed intelligent "actuators" which are "impervious to heat and magnetism". He controls them via nano-wires that are connected directly to his cerebellum.

Of course, the experiment goes wrong, and the special chip he developed to ensure the artificial intelligence in the arms don't control him is destroyed, leading him to obsess over doing the experiment ANY cost!

As if losing his friends and his pizza job wasn't enough, now our hero finds himself losing his spider powers!! He can't figure it out. By gosh, it's a lot of pressure for a college student!! He decides that MJ is more important than upholding justice and quits.

But any true fan knows that it's not long before a smart kid, a know-it-all Aunt, and the fact that his girlfriend has just been carted off by a guy with 4 EXTRA arms would bring him back.

So he dons his costume once more, with complete focus and all of his spider abilities to fight the evil! Does he win? Does he get the girl and red & blue tights to boot? All is revealed!!

Typically I find that sequels are nowhere near as good as the first film. In this particular instance, the 2nd film was far better (and the first was great).

Rating: *** 1/2

A New Day is Not Dawning

And McNulty is drinking again:

The Wire comes back in January for its fifth and last season. For a Wire junkie like me, this teaser is perfect, giving nothing away yet stoking my wish to see seasons 4 and 5.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Review: Journeyman

More by chance than design, Vicki and I ended up watching NBC's premiere of Journeyman last night. It just sort of started after Heroes wrapped up, and since it was about Time Travel - a favourite topic of both of ours - I didn't switch away from it. (I then had to prove to Vicki that it wasn't based on a book that we'd both enjoyed - The Time Traveller's Wife - despite the fact that all the two works had in common was a time traveller, and a wife!)

One of the odder aspects of the show, for me at least, was that the lead actor (shown here) seems like he ought to be playing James Bond, as reimagined by Daniel Craig, rather than a somewhat domesticated journalist with a wife and a (piano-playing) young son. I kept finding myself thinking, "He's an action hero, right? No, wait, he's a newspaper guy with no special talent for getting out of tight spots!" It didn't ruin the experience, but I did wonder about the casting.

The story was engaging, though: our man starts flipping uncontrollably back and forth through time, always staying in the same general area geographically, but ping ponging from 2007 to 1987 and back again (and several points in between). In each instance, he bumps into, seemingly by chance, the same stranger: a black man whose life he saves the first time they meet. Why are their paths continuing to cross? What force is making him move through time like this? And what happened to his former fiancee - who he also keeps running into in the past - that has left him so screwed up where she's concerned?

There was also an interesting dynamic between the hero, his current wife, his brother, and the aforementioned fiancee, who by episode's end we've discovered had died 8 years ago... or had she? As is the norm in our Lost-influenced TV landscape, many mysteries were introduced and most weren't answered in the premiere.

The drama featured a moment, at the end, though, that I personally appreciated. The tension between the time traveller and his wife had been growing steadily throughout the episode, with his inexplicable disappearances driving a wedge between them, not the least bit helped by his attempts to honestly describe what he'd experienced ("I've been in the past, visiting my former lover! Umm, I mean...") I feared that this would be a recurring motif for the show - and it still could, I suppose - but the final scene paid it all off with the leading man doing something very clever to prove his story, and his not-a-bimbo wife realizing that everything he'd said was true... ending in a long-overdue embrace. Ahhhh...

Journeyman is no Lost, and no Heroes (Hell, it's not even The Wire!)... but it was entertaining, and I'll watch another episode or two, at least. (Vicki, on the other hand, is probably hooked... just like what happened with Grey's Anatomy and Men in Trees!)

Rating: ** 1/2

Chuck: "Pilot"

Every now and then a new show pilots and you think "hey - this might actually be good". Anybody remember Little Mosque on the Prairie? Yea, me neither... (they can't all be winners)

Anyways, tonight I watched Chuck. Fearing the show was going to be as boring as its name, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Ally had it dog-eared as one of the shows to record in the fall lineup - since we didn't have conflicts with the other recordings tonight, Chuck happily made itself some room on my PVR.

I'm not really sure how to describe the pilot - it might be brilliance, but it might be coincidence, too. The show has an Alias meets The Office sort of vibe to it, which is very sexy and geeky at the same time. I actually had to do a double-take - I thought that Chuck himself was being played by John Krasinski for a minute - as Chuck has a very Halpert sort of way/look about him.

Here's a quick plot synopsis that doesn't really give anything away... Chuck works at Best Buy Buy More as the lead geeknerd/supervisor for the Geek Squad Nerd Herd. Parodies aside, Chuck comes across as your average nerd, preferring to spend more time with motherboards than on dates and has his own unique awkward/uncomfortable sense of humor. Unfortunately, Chuck happens to find himself in possession of some pretty secretive information. Information that certain individuals don't want public. Information worth killing for. I'm betting Chuck wishes he marked that email as spam ;)

The pilot was a really well executed and thought out episode - I think NBC might have another winner on their hands, here. Chuck is blessed (or maybe cursed) with having the lead slot to Heroes, too. That's sure to pull in a viewer or two!

According to NBC's website, Chuck is getting a replay on Saturday night at 9pm... I suggest you schedule your PVR, because this one might just work out.

Rating: (7.3512+π)/11.333

Monday, September 24, 2007

Anime that I like

I was asked about what anime I liked in a comment to my Ghost in the Shell review. It was starting to get too long to reply there, so here it is.

I find Ghost in the Shell to be an excellent example of the genre, one that shows the art and intricate story without getting too wrapped up in either Japanese culture or anime culture. Some of the TV series can be very self-referential, doing parodies of other series. I've watched a few of them and it can be very funny, but requires a lot of background.

It's been a long time since I've seen Akira and I only saw it once. If I remember correctly, it is something like 2.5 or 3 hours long, so the details have become fuzzy. I remember that I liked it, but I can't recall details.

There have been other anime movies that I've liked. There was "Metropolis" which was a remake of the classic 1920's film and pretty much anything by Hayao Miyazaki. I liked the sequel to this film called "Ghost in the Shell: Innocence" but I'm planning to write a review of it sometime soon.

I just checked the credits for "Princess Mononoke" which is my favorite Miyazaki film and found out that Niel Gaiman did the English adaptation. I really liked the English version - it is much better than most I've heard. One great thing about Miyazaki (and his Studio Ghibli) is that the distribution rights to the films was purchased by Disney - and championed by John Lasseter, and he only agreed if Disney would not change the films. Lasseter did this while working at Pixar and before he was brought into the studio executive because he loved Miyazaki's films so much. All his films revolve around young characters, going through a big change in their life. One of the best Studio Ghibli films is "Grave of the Fireflies", by Isao Takahata (who is Miyazaki's partner in Studio Ghibli). This is a difficult film to watch, about a boy who struggles to keep his sister alive near the end of WWII after their mother is killed in an air raid.

One thing I really like to do is to watch them in Japanese because the mere sound of the dialog fits better. There is something compelling about the different intonation, voices and urgencies done in the original language. As I said above, "Princess Mononoke" is one of the best adaptations I've heard, preserving the sense and feeling of the original. Sometimes you have to wonder at the voices they choose (I didn't really like Gillian Anderson as Moro - the Japanese actor is much more ominous). I liked the "Ghost in the Shell" translation as well, but as it didn't have too much dialog, it could be done well.

Enough rambling for this evening - I intend to post more reviews of anime that I've enjoyed. I just hope that people don't get hung up on "Sailor Moon" or "DragonBallZ". There are films that well done and leave a completely different impression.

“Why shouldn't I play a neurosurgeon?”

Reading the obituaries section of the Globe and Mail this past week and noticed that Percy Rodrigues had passed away at 89. Without an in-depth knowledge of Star Trek character actors, it is hard to recognize that name, yet we should. Rodrigues was Canadian, from Montreal, and broke some fairly substantial racial barriers in Hollywood. Besides being Commodore Stone, in one of hammy Star Trek scripts that called for Captain Kirk's Court-martial, Percy was the first black actor to break into the world of daytime TV, playing Dr Harry Miles on Peyton Place.

"Television didn't have its equivalent of Jackie Robinson - there wasn't that one moment when the race barrier was broken. But Percy was one of a very small army of actors who were in a relatively quiet way beginning to get these roles that television was very reluctant in the 1960s to give to black actors” - Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University.

I bet you all immediately recognized him without knowing his name, as did I, but reading about such a person, who built his own house, was the sparing partner for Joe Louis before the Max Schmelling fight and possessed the definition of a booming voice, I can't help but feel we've really lost a pretty great human being.

Besides, I swear he was the model for the Simpson's Dr Hibbert. I swear...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chinese-Attack Bots Unite!

Although I know contributor Tim will blame it on Chinese-attack bots, the readership of this blog site has been rising all week long! Check out these stats:

Sept 15th: 30 visits
Sept 16th: 32 visits
Sept 17th: 48 visits
Sept 18th: 54 visits
Sept 19th: 62 visits

It's almost like more and more people are discovering The Studio and the magic we weave here... or maybe it's just Chinese-attack bots!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blu-Ray Vs HD-DVD: Let's Call It A Draw!

Gamespot is reporting that lost sales due to the current DVD Format War by studios that only offer one format or the other will soon mean that everyone will provide both. I'm not 100% sure I buy the logic quoted there (sourced from Screen Digest) but what I really want to know is:

Will we soon get to the point where all DVD players that handle one HD format also handle the other?

Because when that happens - if in fact there isn't a clear cut winner between the two formats - then I really won't care which one I buy, and would in fact probably just opt for the cheaper or more readily-available one on a per-DVD basis. Right now spending money on Blu-Ray DVDs just seems silly.

Speaking of Heroes

Want an episode-by-episode recap of Season 1 but no time to watch your DVD set before Season 2 begins?

Well here you go.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Which Hero Do You Prefer?

I know my preference! Not sure how many people are hiding under that peach thing. And now back to your regularly scheduled non-fashion blog.

(PS. Don't get too 'dirty old man' on me, please boys. )

Best And Worst New Shows? All You Had To Do Was Ask!

Ain't It Cool News polled 41 critics, where each was asked to name their best and worst new shows for the fall season. The results? Well, since you asked so nicely:

The voting for best:

63% Pushing Daisies (ABC)
15% Reaper (The CW)
12% Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)
5% Bionic Woman (NBC)
5% K-Ville (Fox)

The voting for worst:

51% Cavemen (ABC)
15% Viva Laughlin (CBS)
13% Big Shots (ABC)
13% K-Ville (Fox)
5% Carpoolers (ABC)

Bionic Woman finishing 4th on the Best list gives me some hope, especially considering that, unlike K-Ville, it didn't also show up on the Worst list!

This kind of affirms my belief that it's not a particularly strong year for good new TV series. No new Heroes or Lost appears poised to join the ranks of those shows, I guess.

Review: Rounders & Bounders

According to this film, a "rounder" is a person who makes his living playing cards (or something like that). A "bounder," on the other hand, is British slang for a cad, or a person of low moral standards. Each term seems to apply equally to at least one of the leading men in this movie... and possibly both.

Vicki and I had put Rounders on our Tivo Wishlist a year or more ago, because it kept getting mentioned on many of the Poker programs that she loves to watch. I don't log nearly the number of hours following poker that she does, but I've seen enough to at least understand the popular No-Limit Texas Hold'Em and appreciate some of its subtleties. Interestingly, one of the earliest scenes in the movie involved Matt Damon's poker savant betting all of a considerable pile of savings - going "all in" for those who know the game - on a hand where it appeared that he was all-but-certain to win. Since I enjoy that aspect of cards - thinking about the combinations - I hit Pause and offered up my observations on the situation, deferring to my poker-savvy wife in terms of validating my assumptions. After a minute or two of discussion, my initial view, which was that there was only one possible scenario where Damon would lose, was confirmed by Vicki and we proceeded to watch it all play out. And wouldn't you know: that one hand was exactly what the other character had! I'm quite confident that, had we viewed Rounders when it first came out in 1998, neither of us could've so quickly sussed out how Damon was going to lose his stash.

And that was about the best part of the movie, as far as I was concerned. The rest of the plot was serviceable enough, involving the obsession of Damon's character with proving that he could play with the Poker Gods, as well as his dubious best friend (played by Edward Norton) who was more interested in cheating his way from rags to riches. None of the supporting characters, including fetchin' Gretchen Mol as Damon's girlfriend, John Turturro as a Turkish bath operator and John Malkovich sporting an over-the-top and sometimes incomprehensible Russian accent, really lent much weight to the proceedings, as it was Damon and Norton's show to carry or drop. And I suspect each viewer's response to Rounders is probably dependent on how much he or she cared about the outcome of the boys' struggles. Me, I wasn't terribly invested in any of it. I was at least gratified that Mol had the good sense to leave Damon long before most movie girlfriends would've!

What little poker they actually showed, was well done. But as had been the case in Good Will Hunting, Damon's superhuman abilities here pushed beyond incredible and into unbelievable territory. The scene where he correctly identifies the two cards held by each of a foursome of judges, after only casually observing them for a minute or two, may play for those who don't know that much about poker. The reality is that correctly calling what your opponent is holding is the sort of thing that's impressive if it's demonstrated once in a hand during a tournament featuring some of the greatest poker stars of the day, so how are we to accept that someone could pull it off that many times, with that degree of precision, in a matter of minutes? That, and some of the gonzo acting by Malkovich and Norton, took me out of the story a few too many times.

Not a bad film, especially if you like poker, but also not a great one.

Rating: ** 1/2

Saturday, September 15, 2007

My Most Anticipated Film from TIFF

One film that received great buzz from the almost-finished Toronto International Film Festival is Juno, a quirky story about a young girl who gets pregnant and decides to give the baby to an eager couple (played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) that she found in the Penny Saver.

It's the second film from the director of Thank You For Smoking, and the unusual screenplay was written by a former stripper. The trailer has some funny moments and hints that this is more than just Knocked Up Jr. You can watch it here, if you are so inclined. The lead actress you might recall from the last X-Men movie (or perhaps all of them? I've only see the one); she's actually a Canadian actress and looks very good from the 2 minutes I've seen!

It's great to be in Toronto during "good movie season" where I might actually get to see movies like this one!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Review: Ghost In The Shell

Like many things, I was first exposed to Anime in university. And I did inhale - it was quite good. I have always liked animated shows and when I found movies and series that had depth, sophistication, subtlety and, above all, did not "dumb it down", I was hooked. Ghost in the Shell was released in 1996 and I saw it (in English overdub) on IFC a couple of weekends ago, so I thought it was time I got off my fingers and started reviewing!

First off, I'm not going to talk about the plot. If you watch the movie, you'll understand. The meaning and symbolism isn't hidden - just well laid out. The opening credits set the tone with a striking choral arrangement. The visual images make you understand that it is a future where mankind can produce machines that look like humans. Like good science fiction, the setting isn't splashed about, it simply is.

The next thing that stands out for me every time I watch this film are the cityscapes. The animation is realistic and subtle, but the detail in this imagined future city is exquisite.

There is very little dialog in the movie - there can be long scenes were nothing is said. This is another signal of a great movie for me. The director doesn't feel they have to fill up spaces with exposition, voice-overs, dialog.

The movie begins as an action-type film, but then switches to be a full-blown examination of humanity and the meaning of life.

This is an excellent film to introduce someone to good anime. It runs about 82 minutes (no Akira) with a story that isn't embedded in a particular culture.

Rating: ****

8 Minute Abs

Since our readership seemed to enjoy Namaste yoga so much, I wonder if they'll appreciate the benefits of 8 Minute Abs! This classic workout comes to you courtesy of early 90s cheesy exercise production teams, and youtube. Beware of neck injuries if trying to simultaneously complete the movements and watch the TV.

For The Stats Fans Out There

Google Analytics tells me that this site averaged 25 visits per day over the past week, with yesterday being the high mark (35) and last Saturday providing the low (7).

The average length of a visit appears to be around 3:15 (m:ss) although I believe that's over the past month, rather than just the past week. Recently that average appears to be slightly higher.

Just over half (51.99%) of the visits have been 'new' with the rest being 'returning.'

Canada provides the most visitors (not surprisingly), with the U.S. not too far behind (about 1/2 as many), followed distantly by Italy, U.K., Argentina, Germany, and many others.

Among the more popular articles found via searches were the Season 3 Weeds review, and Tim's Namaste Yoga post.

Just in case anyone was interested...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Weeds: "Bill Sussman" (S3E05)

The latest episode of the superb Weeds was my favorite of the third season thus far.

What happened:
- Nancy attempted to remove a mass amount of blood from her backseat (she was inadventerantly involved in a hilarious drive-by shooting)
- But, she remains calm because she has nerves of steel
- Shane is sent to Christian summer camp where abortions are murder mysteries
- Silas expands his clientelle to include the old folks home
- Andy, after witnessing a pal murdered by the government, goes into hiding and adopts the title alias
- Celia, in a subplot I nearly forgot, gets a house
- Nancy's nerves of steel go shoddy when she finds a present waiting for her in the garage

Overall I thought this was a great episode. Many hilarious moments and the plot progressed nicely. Even though Nancy's world just got a bit darker, it wasn't really a depressing episode like some of the earlier ones in the season have been. Next week, Mary-Kate Olsen joins the cast ... not sure how I feel about that, but I'll wait to actually see it.

I like to rate individual TV episodes out of 10 (I find this suits the shorter, less comprehensive format better - but feel free to complain). I would never rate movies out of 10, don't you worry.

Review: The Wire Season Two

I keep mentioning the The Wire only to be met with blank stares and the occasional question 'Don't you mean Homicide: Life on the Street or Law and Order: Chesapeake Bay?' I don't.

The HBO drama is about to enter its 5th season always being the poor cousin to the Sopranos. The Wire follows the downward career path of Baltimore cop Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West, above), but saying the show is about one character, plot or story-arc is an extreme over-simplification. The Wire requires that the viewer absolutely start at the beginning, understand a number of different accents, and pay very close attention to the relationship between characters. An org chart is initially needed to keep the actors straight.

Why do this? Why would one invest the time needed to enjoy this particular show? Well, the short answer is 'Trust me, it's worth it'.

'The American obsession with police procedural and crime drama usually only allows for villains - in large part, black and brown - who exist as foils, to be pursued and destroyed by cop heroes. We're addressing ourselves to where the 'villains' actually come from, and whether we have any right to regard them as somehow less human than the rest of us.'
- Series creator David Simon.

The second season is slightly better than the first; all 12 episodes contain classic scenes written exquisitely:
  • The Baltimore Police, the Port Authority, US naturalization and the Coast Guard all arguing about under whose jurisdiction the murders of 13 illegal immigrants fall. Except each doesn’t want the case and use every excuse available to get out of the investigation.
  • Greggs and Daniels switching responsibilities to tell each other’s wives they are back on the detail.
  • The police surveillance van being stolen, packed in a container, and then having a photograph taken as it travels the globe, Amilie-style, sent back to Major Valchek.

The tragic figure of Frank Sobotka is probably my favourite. Every episode, the pressure he is under builds; Frank is breaking the law but definitely not a villain.

The show receives praise inversely proportional to its popularity. This quote from the New York Times, was posted not in Arts and Leisure, but in Op-ed, the section usually reserved for the War in Iraq and criticism of the Administration :

'If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would watch “The Wire,” unless, that is, he was already writing for it. The pay-cable television series is the closest that moving pictures have come so far to the depth and nuance of the novel.'

Heady stuff. And David Simon clearly does not give a hoot about who watches, goading viewers with these comments:

My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.'

The closest example of TV this good, requiring the viewer to pay rapt attention was probably the BBC production of Smiley's People. As with that min-series, the investment one makes, org chart and all, pays off and The Wire is the best thing currently airing.

Rating: ****

Jon Stewart to host Academy Awards

Just recently announced, Jon Stewart has signed on to host the upcoming Oscars in February.

I think Jon's performance a couple of years back was verging on brilliant - not quite as good as some of the early Billy Crystal performances, but certainly better than some of the other hosts we've seen recently (like Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, ...)

As long as we don't have a repeat of the Letterman appearance. I can still hear the train wreck noises from his "Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah" jokes. Oh, but to fail in a spectacular way!

I wonder if Stewart's politically charged commentary will really make it's way to the show or if he will (be) show(n) control ... it *is* an election year, after all. Heh, I can almost hear it now ... Obama, Rudy. Rudy, Obama.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Get Yer Fall Previews... Here!

Thanks to a link that I followed from somewhere, I stumbled on this TV Guide site that has brief little previews for all of the New Shows and Returning Shows for this fall TV season. It just saved me the cost of 2 issues of the paper version of TV Guide! I love it!

You Know You Want Some

Just try telling me that this doesn't look like fun!

And I have to give them credit for using "the song." Even though I'm not a fan of it, the band (Sabbath) or its lead singer (Osbourne), I'm impressed they used it, nevertheless.

Indiana Jones and the WTF???

Apparently the newest Indy movie has recently received its official name. It has been titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Is it just me or does that sound more like a Harry Potter title than an Indiana Jones one?

I've been looking forward to this movie for a long time, ever since it was first announced. So here's a little note to the director: Hi Steve, thanks for reading. On behalf of all of us who have enjoyed this movie franchise - please, please don't let us down. For my money, this title sucks. I can overlook that though, as long as the movie doesn't suck, too. Please don't let the movie suck. TIA!

Today I Met One of My Heroes

Fate was shining on me when Mom stumbled across a newspaper ad indicating that Roger would be signing copies of his new book, Awake in the Dark, at a bookstore that is a mere 5 minute walk from my apartment.

I headed out today, a bit nervous about both potentially meeting him and the line situation, to find that there were only about 15 people in the one-room store. The intimate setting allowed me to talk to him for a few minutes (he's not able to speak yet, but was writing notes and his wife filled in the rest) and get a photo. I kept the gushing to a minimum: so glad he's writing again, looking great, etc. He's really enjoying the Film Festival so far. This is what he inscribed on my book:

For Tammy,
Movie lover.

Roger Ebert
TIFF 09/10/07.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Preview: Honeydrippers

As was likely evident from my glowing Lone Star review recently, I'm a big John Sayles fan. I've seen nearly all of his movies - exceptions: couldn't make it through his debut feature, Return of the Secaucus 7, and have yet to see the almost-as-early offering, Baby It's You - and as I recently commented, a bad Sayles movie is generally "only mildly interesting" (praising with faint damnation, as it were). Most of his movies aren't bad, though, with Lone Star being the crown jewel so far, although Eight Men Out - chronicling the 1919 Chicago 'Black Sox' scandal, and starring John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn and even Sayles himself - is probably a close second. Also excellent are Limbo, Matewan, The Secret of Roan Inish and Sunshine State, just to name a few.

All of which simply means that I get excited every time I hear about a new Sayles movie on the horizon. At the moment, that's Honeydripper, which is set to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival tomorrow (Sep 10). Today I stumbled across an excellent interview with the film maker at Ain't It Cool News, obviously conducted by someone very familiar with Sayles' filmography. Among the many fascinating nuggets from the Honeydrippers writer/director/editor:

[On choosing a locale for the story to take place in]

"The second consideration is the culture or cultures of the people who live in the place. I've always felt like race is an illusion but culture is real, and an incredibly important factor in how you see the world and react to situations."

One thing you notice as you watch more Sayles films is that each one seems to have been written by a different person, as clearly The Secret of Roan Inish was the work of a lifelong inhabitant of Ireland, while the note-perfect history, mannerisms and tone of Lone Star just had to emanate from the brain of a Texan.

[On why so many high quality actors want to be in a John Sayles movie, despite the lack of a big paycheque or wide distribution]

"I think we can offer a few things. One is that they are three-dimensional characters. I always tell my actors in these ensemble pieces that when they exit frame we should feel like the camera could follow their character and we'd have an equally interesting movie. I like to hear audience members say, 'Oh, I wish there'd been more scenes with so-and-so.' Because we don't make a movie without controlling the final cut, an actor knows that what they see on the page is pretty close to what will be on screen - focus groups and studio executives don't get to mess with what they've thrown down on the set."

It's nice to know that while the studio may have a few notes, director John Sayles, at least, ain't paying any attention to them!

You can read the entire interview, as well as see the trailer for Honeydrippers, right here.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

TV Premieres 2007

For your reference, a fairly complete list of the fall premieres is below. I've tried to bold some of the shows that I know either Matt or I watch (and Ugly Betty for Mike!).

Sept. 11 (NBC) The Biggest Loser season premiere
Sept. 14 (FOX) Nashville series premiere
Sept. 17 (FOX) Prison Break season premiere
Sept. 17 (FOX) K-Ville series premiere
Sept. 17 (NBC) Deal or No Deal season premiere
Sept. 18 (CW) Beauty and the Geek season premiere
Sept. 19 (CW) America’s Next Top Model season premiere
Sept. 19 (FOX) Back to You series premiere
Sept. 19 (FOX) ‘Til Death season premiere
Sept. 19 (FOX) Kitchen Nightmares series premiere
Sept. 19 (CBS) Kid Nation series premiere
Sept. 20 (CBS) Survivor: China season premiere
Sept. 23 (FOX) Simpsons, King of the Hill and Family Guy season premieres
Sept. 23 (CBS) 60 Minutes, Cold Case and Shark season premieres
Sept. 24 (ABC) The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars season premieres
Sept. 24 (NBC) Chuck and Journeyman series premieres
Sept. 24 (NBC) Heroes season premiere
Sept. 24 (CBS) How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Rules of Engagement and CSI: Miami season premieres
Sept. 24 (CBS) The Big Bang Theory series premiere
Sept. 25 (CW) Reaper series premiere
Sept. 25 (FOX) Bones and House season premieres
Sept. 25 (NBC) L&O: SVU season premiere
Sept. 25 (CBS) NCIS and The Unit season premieres; Cane series premiere
Sept. 26 (ABC) Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money series premieres
Sept. 26 (CW) Gossip Girl series premiere
Sept. 26 (CBS) Criminal Minds and CSI: NY season premieres
Sept. 26 (NBC) Deal or No Deal season premiere
Sept. 26 (NBC) Bionic Woman and Life series premieres
Sept. 27 (ABC) Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy season premieres; Big Shots series premiere
Sept. 27 (CW) Smallville season premiere
Sept. 27 (NBC) My Name Is Earl, The Office and ER season premieres
Sept. 27 (CBS) CSI and Without a Trace season premieres
Sept. 28 (NBC) Las Vegas season premiere
Sept. 28 (CBS) Ghost Whisperer and Numbers season premieres; Moonlight series premiere
Sept. 30 (FOX) American Dad season premiere
Sept. 30 (ABC) Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters season premieres
Sept. 30 (Showtime) Dexter season premiere
Sept. 30 (Showtime) Brotherhood season premiere
Oct. 1 (CW) Everybody Hates Chris, The Game and Girlfriends season premieres; Aliens in America series premiere
Oct. 2 (ABC) Cavemen and Carpoolers series premieres
Oct. 3 (ABC) Pushing Daisies series premiere
Oct. 4 (NBC) 30 Rock season premiere
Oct. 4 (CW) Supernatural season premiere
Oct. 5 (NBC) Friday Night Lights season premiere
Oct. 7 (CW) Life Is Wild series premiere
Oct. 7 (ABC) America’s Funniest Home Videos season premiere
Oct. 12 (ABC) Men in Trees season premiere; Women’s Murder Club series premiere
Oct. 15 (ABC) Samantha Who? series premiere
Oct. 18 (CBS) Viva Laughlin series premiere
Oct. 25 (NBC) Scrubs season premiere
Nov. 27 (ABC) Cashmere Mafia series premiere

What Makes A Movie Great (For You)?

Many of us have recently posted "Top 20-ish" lists of movies - with or without mumbling and grumbling - and provided not only some insights into the sorts of films we really, really like, but also (as Vicki pointed out) put forth some great video rental ideas.

One thing that occurred to me as I read over other peoples' lists, though, was the question I'm posing here: what is it about a movie that's likely to land it on your favourites list? I'm sure everyone's criteria are different, and there's no right or wrong formula (it's personal taste, after all) but I thought I'd attempt to start a thread by offering up my own Litmus Test (of sorts).
  1. Is there anything in the course of watching the movie that takes me out of the immersive experience of being completely drawn into the story? This could be a scene that felt overly "written" or otherwise unbelievable, a really bad bit of dialogue, a boom mike suddenly being visible at the top of the frame, or anything that screams "look at how clever I am" or "look at how artsy I can be." Films that stay on my favourites list generally haven't had any of those problems (for me, at least).
  2. Does the movie get better with each successive viewing? This is one of my most important tests, and one I occasionally ignore - usually to my everlasting regret later. A story can seem amazing the first time you see it, and then quite boring every time after, simply because it turns out that the only real appeal was some dramatic twist, or shocking scene, neither of which will ever have the same impact on you again, since you know it's coming. One movie that I thought initially might fail this test was The Sixth Sense, seeing as it had such a significant twist to its story, and yet I've liked it more - for reasons having nothing to do with the big reveal - each time I've seen it.
  3. Am I emotionally involved with any of the characters? I know some people don't consider this important at all, and can love a film like In the Company of Men where the two protagonists are entirely unsympathetic (or, for that matter, any of a number of mob-related movies where everyone's completely reprehensible). For me, though, if I can't empathize with anyone in the story being told, chances are that I'm not going to invest myself that much in it, leaving me with a meh reaction.
  4. Do I find myself thinking about the movie for days after watching it? This can, of course, be a negative, in that you might be remembering the experience for all the wrong reasons, but usually a truly great movie - in my experience, anyway - is one that I continue to reflect back on days after I've watched it (or re-watched it for the nth time). It may even be troubling me, in some way, because I find some belief of mine being challenged. But certainly if it's "out of sight, out of mind" then chances are it's not going to show up on any Top Movies list of mine.
  5. Is there some aspect of the film that I think is exceptional? Probably because I tend to look at everything too critically, I'm often considering movies from the point-of-view of, what would I say about it in a review? (Ironically, thanks to this blog site, I get to do more and more of exactly that!) I'm not the type of viewer who'd simply say, "It's a great movie but I don't really know why I feel that way!" Generally something has caught my attention, sparked my interest or otherwise made me fall in love with what I saw on the screen.
  6. Does the movie express any sort of sensibilities that I admire? This is kind of an airy-fairy criterion, I'll admit, and not one I always use. But when I consider a movie like The Cider House Rules, for example, one of the aspects that I always find myself considering after watching it once again is just how closely the attitudes of many of the characters match my own. The people running that orphanage, and providing abortions to women who can't get them within the law, have a World View that I'm completely aligned with. Not only do they honour a women's right to choose, but they also provide a life-affirming alternative to anyone who'll take it: just leave the child here with us! That sort of thing earns it some brownie points with me, as a member of the audience.
So there's my list, as best I can describe it outside the confines of my own brain.

What's yours look like?

Film Critic Movie Quiz

I probably could have done a little bit better - there were a couple that I just had no idea on.

80%The Movie Quiz
What's your movie quiz score?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Review: 300

In honour of the tale of 300, in which a small group of Spartan warriors, outnumbered by perhaps as much as 3000 to 1, nevertheless held their own for several days against a host of Persians before finally being undone by one of their own, I will likewise limit myself here to a mere 300 words, alone against the hordes of critics circling about me even now!

The film is fairly faithful to the Frank Miller graphic novel upon which it’s based, and Miller in turn took most of his cues from the 2500 year old histories of Herodotus. Having said that, both Miller and director Zack Snyder took liberties aplenty in the pursuit of a rousing tale, so don’t expect historical accuracy! What we get is an entertaining-enough uncorked bottle of testosterone, with no shortage of beheadings and other dismemberment.

As with my earlier viewing of The Last Samurai, I was reminded of the irony that we, the viewer, are asked to not just sympathize with, but actually root for, the sort of people who’d be held in contempt and hated were they to show their faces in modern society. Here, it’s the Spartans, who toss any imperfect newborn baby onto the growing heap of tiny skeletons in perhaps the most shocking example of genetic selectivity ever seen, with whom we find our feelings invested. That’s a pretty neat trick, just on its own!

As for the acting, I was constantly distracted by Gerard Butler’s toothiness as King Leonidas, although I suppose he carried it off well enough. Lena Headey is appropriate beautiful and defiant as his queen, even as she first spars with, then surrenders to, before finally killing the traitorous Theron, played with wild abandon by The Wire’s Dominic West. But then, who’s watching for the acting?

Rating: ***

Be Joyful! My Children Be JoyFul! Rock Plaza Central and Nanalan

I have never seen Nanalan. I played this video for Rock Plaza Central's Be Joyful this morning and Elizabeth and Jessie immediately recognized it. Nanalan, a pre-schooler's show on CBC, looks great and it seems to be right up there with the best in Children's TV:

'Hopefully you haven't forgotten the crisp cold taste of garden hose water or the mind-boggling excitement of giving a nut to a chipmunk'

Very fitting. Rock Plaza Central is also among the best indie bands at the moment and the collaboration goes together like Mona and her dog Russell .

The above video, directed by Mike Juneau and Plaza singer Chris Eaton does not really portray the strange sci-fi themes and end of the world tales of the group's Are We Not Horses, but what the hell. It's great!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Hey NBC, About That 150% Price Increase: "Greed Ain't Good!"

Apparently the geniuses at NBC have been taking Gordon Gekko's rants in Wall Street a little too seriously of late. As reported here, the network wanted to increase the cost of their TV episodes on iTunes - including the much-beloved Heroes - such that the price paid by the buying public would've risen from $1.99 to $4.99! That's right, an astounding 150% increase in the fee, at a time when inflation's been hovering around 3% or 4% forever. Brilliant!

Apple has responded by refusing to carry NBC's fares for the upcoming season.

Fall Movie Preview

Here's a selection of fall movies that I, for one, am looking forward to:

3:10 to Yuma (Sept. 7):

The Wild West makes a comeback in the form of Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. The plot synopsises (is that a word?) I've been reading are fairly vague but I've gathered that it's about a captured outlaw and an upstanding citizen and a battle of wills! Exciting stuff, I'm sure.

Across the Universe (Sept. 14): I've mentioned this one before, it's an epic, weird film set to a Beatles score. Kind of a musical, but mostly just tripped out. I'm not actually sure if I'll see it - the trailer is intriguing but I think there's a strong chance that it will be quite awful.

The Darjeeling Limited (Oct. 5): Wes Anderson's (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) latest film about three brothers who embark on a train trip across India in order to reconnect with each other. Things go wrong, hilarity (presumably) ensues.

Lars and the Real Girl (Oct. 19):

Ryan Gosling stars as a man who loves an inflatable doll. I kid you not. Doesn't that sound amazing?!!?

American Gangster (Nov. 2): Ridley Scott directs Denzel Washington as some sort of drug lord. Racial themes, probably.

No Country for Old Men (Nov. 9):

I'm not really a big fan of the Coen brothers (excepting Fargo, of course) but this looks like it could be a return to the quality of that masterpiece, if the early reviews are any indication. Basically it's about an old hunter (Josh Brolin) who finds a few dead bodies, a bunch of heroin, and 2 million dollars. That can't be good!

Mr. Magorium's Magical Emporium (Nov. 16): I first heard about this Willy Wonka-esque film when it was in production in Toronto (Natalie Portman staying mere meters from my Dad's apartment!) and it sounded cute and whimsical, if silly. I still don't really know what it's about, but the toys look cool!