Sunday, February 24, 2013

It's Oscar Night

As I sit here watching the newest Oscars, I figure now is as good a time as any to update this blog not with my continue collection of books that I have been reading, but instead of my first love: The Movies.

I don't really post much about movies much these days, mostly because I have been less into them then in the past, but there was a time when that was all I cared about.  Confession: I always hoped to work in the movies, but the lack of talent, determination and guts pretty much put a stop into that.  But I applied to Miramax and Lions Gate out of school and didn't get the gig.  Although it's never too late, the chances seem less and less likely as I get older.

But I must say in the past month, I have been on quite a streak of watching a ton of movies.  Some good, many bad.   This is going to be a quick checklist and update of all movies I've seen in no real order since I don't have a list like I do my books.

Turner Classic Movies have been playing the Oscar movies as they do every year and I have been DVRing them as they catch my interest.  I woke up this morning and watched the 1980 movie The Stunt Man.  I have always heard this was a great satire and a quirky, fun movie.  After watching it, I think it doesn't hold up.  It seems to be a satire/commentary on the Vietnam War as well as Hollywood, but either the jokes were lost on me or they simply were lost in time.  I found it terribly acted and more boring than anything else.   I was shocked that Barbara Hershey used to be cute though.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Last night I threw on the movie Looper.  The premise is actually much better than the movie turned out to be.  Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a younger Bruce Willis that is assigned to kill himself and other criminals from the future.  Everything seemed like it was going to be really cool, but the movie took a left turn at Alburquerque and changed directions.
Where it went was still a fun movie, it just seemed like a different movie than the one that was marketed and that I signed up for.  

Another classic movie that I had never seen before this weekend.  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a great movie, made even better by the behind the scenes trivia about how Spencer Tracy dies just 17 days after filming this movie and how Katharine Hepburn never watched this.
Honestly, I understand the history that comes with this movie and 100% admit that Sidney Poitier killed it in this role.  He was powerful and amazing and although he never showed any humor, the integrity his character has is inspiring.  Even though I don't think it's in my nature to ever be that serious and "manly" about anything, it was an amazing performance.

I watched Singin' In The Rain last week during a movie marathon with Aubrey.  It was my first time watching this ever.  I was shocked at how much fun and how many of the songs I had already known.  It was definitely a fun movie to watch and much funnier than I expected it to be.
On top of that, I have an awful habit of going to the TRIVIA section of IMDB after every movie that I watch.  This one had some of the best trivia about how much the cast and crew hated Gene Kelly.  Feel free to read them all here.

Also, who knew how cute Princess Leia's mother was?

I will probably always be a sucker for good High School movies and The Perks f Being A Wallflower is one of the better ones I've seen in some time.  It perfectly captures the alienation that everyone feels as a teenager and the solace that we all turn to in our friends and into music.  No outcast ever looks like the actors in this movie, but you have to take that bit with a slight grain of salt, (after all it is still a Hollywood movie) but the content is 100% accurate.
There was a slight twist in the movie that, having never read the book, completely surprised me but was impressed by how a first-time director perfectly made the tonal shift and looking back at the film, even gave hints of the twist throughout the first three-quarters.
And the soundtrack was virtually perfect.

This movie may have hit a little too close to home considering what I've been up to the past oh... 8 years or so.  But this was mostly a cute movie with some likable actors.
Although the movie did go on a little too long, I guess it kind of makes sense in a movie called The Five Year Engagement, and the point is these two characters found every excuse possible to prolong or just not get married that there was bound to be some treading of water.

Is there anything better than going into a movie that you have no expectations of that turns out to be a damn good time?  21 Jump Street is a remake of a terrible TV show that I watched virtually every episode of.  I watched it because people told me it was fun, and I was shocked that everyone that said so was right.  I am shocked that I find Jonah Hill to be funny and he seems to make great career choices.  Between this movie and The Sitterwhich is on HBO everyday, I have to say I am becoming a fan of the guy.  Not to mention his insanely funny cameo in Django Unchained which may be the funniest scene of any movie of the year.

Another movie that may not be on anyone's radar, but is worth the 85 minutes of your time.  I found Safety Not Guaranteed to be a clever, fun movie.  I don't want to give anything away in this mini-review.  But this is currently available on Netflix Streaming and will say anyone that likes Aubrey Plaza on Parks and Recreations and quirky sci-fi comedies like Bubba Ho-Tep will probably enjoy this.  I found myself smiling throughout.

My parents saw Beasts of the Southern Wild about a year ago and couldn't stop talking about it.  Not only were they impressed with the little actress, but they were impressed by the young director as well who is from a town close to where I grew up.  He hosted a Q&A with my parents after the screening and they came away as fans to the point that my dad even made a bet on the young 9 year old actress in Vegas for her to win the Oscar at 500-1.  So I'm rooting for her tonight.

I watched the movie a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, but probably not as much as them.  I mostly loved the music and am rooting for the score of Beasts to take home Oscar gold today since that is what jumped out the most to me.

Maybe I'm a harsher critic on movies that seem to get glowing reviews from everyone, but I didn't love Argo.   Don't get me wrong, it was a well made, well acted movie about an interesting true story that I had no knowledge of before watching it.  But my biggest problem was how convenient all the close-calls the all of the hostages and Fed agents/Hollywood actors.  After the fourth time I started getting annoyed and found it played out.
My favorite part of the entire movie was the first two seconds where they showed the old Warner Brothers logo to make the movie feel more 70s:.  It made me feel like a kid going to the movies for a split second.

Probably the best movie I saw this year, I actually saw back near the end of 2012.   I've loved Tarantino since the first time I saw Reservoir Dogs when I was 15 years old.  Although this isn't his best, Django Unchained is quintessential Tarantino, showing his love for dialogue, his respect for the history of cinema, and his over-all joy that he is able to pump into his movies, no matter how difficult the topic he is presenting may be.
Tarantino gets a ton of honors and awards for his scripts, but I've been mostly impressed by his directing in his last few movies.  No one builds tension better in their movies then Tarantino.  I will never forget an old quote of his when he was talking about what he considers a great movie.  It's simple: When you're watching the movie you forget that you are living, you forget you're breathing.  You are just in the movie.
I often notice that I forget everything the first time I am watching a Tarantino movie.  Some of his scenes are so intense that nothing else matters.  Also, I'm hopeful that Christoph Waltz continues to show up in everything Tarantino does since he steals every scene he's in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More books get read

2.  Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn (419 Pages) - B
My constant reader knows that I am in a book club and joined it about 4 years ago.  We try to read about 10 books a year, but last year we hit a sort of rough patch.  The books we picked were not well liked and although we always have fun when we get together, the book aspect of the book club has sputtered a bit.
This time I decided to revitalize our book club by picking a popular age turner that I was sure I would read eventually.  I had heard that this book was getting a lot of buzz and chose this for our next read.  We met last week and my fellow readers seemed to hate this tale of a missing wife more than I expected.
I agree it was hokey at times, and virtually all of the characters were deplorable and unlikable, but I found it mostly fun, albeit mostly unbelievable.   Aubrey had the best insight to me about how since both of the main characters were writers, the author kind of cheated and used them to try and show off her writing style.  Gillian Flynn definitely was trying to showcase her ability to write such different styles and even cheated a little by offering more than two narrators, but I don't want to ruin the fun of this book here.  No matter what you may think of the book, no one can dispute that it's a fun read.

2a. Creatures of the Night - Neil Gaiman/Michael Zulli
I'm pretty sure I've mentioned how much I love Neil Gaiman (and I may say it again before this post is over).  But not only do I love Neil Gaiman's writing, but I really do.  Not only do I love his writing, but I especially love his comic book writing.  This short book took two of his short stories and had the amazing Michael Zulli illustrate it.  He is the same man that illustrated the final few issues of Sandman which made me more excited to read this.
Michael Zulli's drawings
These stories were typical Gaiman.  beautiful prose describing a typical "day in the life" that ended up really being about the battle of good and evil featuring animals (in this case a cat) and their role in protecting their human masters.  I wonder why this book struck a chord with me?

3. Inside a Dog - Alexandra Horowitz (302 Pages) - C+
My life changed forever back in April.   After 30 years of hoping and wanting one I "adopted my new best friend" and got an amazing, shelter dog who I eventually named Renly.
Anyone that has met Renly will agree that I got beyond lucky with a first dog.  He is well trained, sweet, quiet and simply of the most loving animals I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.  Granted, I am biased, but it's also a fact.
In order to better understand all of the strange things Renly does on a daily basis, I saw this book in the bookstore and decided to pick it up.  It's written by a dog psychologist who has spent years watching and studying dogs in order to better understand why they do the things they do.  My only problem with the book is that it seems the book was more written for people that have never had a dog then those that do.  Once in a while there was some insight and I especially enjoyed the history lesson of how these wolves eventually became domesticated and (d)evolved to being the dogs that we have living in our homes from the wild animals they used to be, but otherwise the book was filled with common observations that me as a dog-owner for less than a year have figured out.
I'm happy I read the book because I have a little bit of a better understanding of why my dog my lick my face until it's raw, or attempt to bury a bone I give him in the couch until his nose bleeds, but mostly I just want to enjoy the amazing base fun that Renly provides me.  (And I'll take the doggy kisses when they come, even if the book tells me he's just waiting for me to vomit up food for him like a mother of a pack).

4. Stardust - Neil Gaiman (285 Pages) B-
Remember when I said there would be more Gaiman in this list?  Well, I've read almost all of his books, but I had not read this novel although I had seen the movie.  I don't know why it had taken me so long to read this.  Maybe it was the Faerie aspect that kept me away since that was always the part of Sandman that I didn't love.  And even after watching and enjoying the movie, I still never got around to reading the book.  Now that the novel has reached its 20th anniversary, a new version was released, so I just bought it.
This was not his finest story, but still had all of the classic Gaiman elements.  This is a very simple fairy tale quite similar in tone and content to The Princess Bride.
It's a sweet story, but since this was originally published as a graphic novel, I think it reads better in that style than in the classic prose that this version came in.  This seemed like it was forced into more description that I'm sure came across better with Charles Vess' drawings in the original.    One day I will update with my comparison of the two versions.  Until then, I'm off to the library to pick up more books.