Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MovieWatch: "W [red period]"

"W [red period]"
Director: Oliver Stone
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 43
In a Nutshell: [Apologies for the long time between posts. I was unexpectedly called out of town for family matters and getting back into the writing swing of things these past few days has been a struggle.]

Oh Oliver Stone, you gloriously tricky bastard!

News comes out that you're making a George W. Bush biopic and everybody assumes it will be a leftist hatchet job. You [or your people, or your people's people] leak the script to said movie and everybody becomes *convinced* that it will be a leftist hatchet job. You release a trailer that's so bizarre and confusing that everybody decides your movie will actually be an unintentionally hilarious leftist hatchet job.

Then the movie comes out and it *isn't* a leftist hatchet job and it *isn't* really all that unintentionally funny.

Thus, thanks to the wonders of the ol' bait-n-switch, some critics, confused that "W [red period]" wasn't the thing they feared it might be, were fooled into thinking it's actually a good movie.

Full review after the bump, of course.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

10 Baseball Postseason Thoughts for 10/14/08

I'm not sure I have anything to say about last night's scripted television, but I probably have some thoughts on the baseball I've been watching for seemingly 12 hours a night all month.

Ten of them, in fact... Cuz it's a round number.

1) Some folks in Red Sox Nation are getting antsy about going down 2-1 to the Devil Rays. I say, "Bring it on!" If a very superficial gloss of recent history has taught me anything, it's that the Red Sox are incapable of *making* the World Series, much less winning it, without making a miraculous comeback from 3-games-to-1 down. The last time the Red Sox even made the World Series without overcoming a 3-1 deficit was, of course, 1975. And the last time they *won* a World Series without doing it was 1918. You may have heard about that one. In 1986, the Sox came from 3-1 down against the Angels. In 2004, of course, they came back from 3-0 down (and therefore also 3-1 down) against the Yankees. And last year the Sox won the World Series after digging out of a 3-1 hole against the Indians. So it's all part of the plan, Nation!

The rest of my thoughts after the bump...

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Start Making Sense: Thoughts on "My Own Worst Enemy" and "Life on Mars"

When the phrase "suspension of disbelieve" is tossed around, folks often exclude the first part of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's literary term, that being the "willing" part of "willing suspension of disbelief."

*Any* tv show, movie or book can ask its audience to suspend disbelief, but that doesn't mean we're gonna. And we're fickle, too. Like in the first season of "Friday Night Lights," there were cliches and contrivances aplenty, but because I was so wrapped up in the show, I almost never got into the sort of obsessive nit-picking that I usually get into. I didn't want to ruin the moment. Then when the show went off the rails, suddenly all of those affectations began to annoy me. Was the second season of "Friday Night Lights" less realistic -- Killer Landry aside -- than the first? Or was it just a case in which I felt as if my willingness to suspend disbelief had been corrupted and, with that contract in violation, I refused to play along any more? The latter I think. Many more people have experienced the same feelings with "Lost" in its second season or with "Heroes" in its second and third seasons. If the spell gets broken for a single second, it's something really hard to re-cast. Credit "Lost" for having mostly succeeded. Pity "Heroes" for not standing a chance.

Anyway, these thoughts came to my mind while thinking over the freshman dramas "Life on Mars" and "My Own Worst Enemy," two shows that ask an awful lot of their viewers.

My early read on "Mars," which premiered on ABC last Thursday, and "Enemy," which premieres on Monday (Oct. 13) on NBC, after the bump...

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

MovieWatch: "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"
Director: Peter Sollett
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 69
In a Nutshell: Although it's a movie about high school kids and it features stars of several successful high school movies, "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is a teen romantic comedy that isn't really intended for teens. It stars actors who look like 20-something hipsters reading dialogue that sounds like it was written by 20-something (or 30-something) hipsters. The movie is sweetly innocent, but not in a way that speaks to or reflects genuine innocence so much as a nostalgic yearning for an innocence gone by. It's principle sentiment is "John Hughes Meets 'After Hours,'" so I guess I'm saying it's a movie about the young at heart made by and for people who may not be so young themselves?

There's nothing wrong with that, but I have reason to believe, based on the audience reaction around me, that "Nick and Norah" is a movie that doesn't play so well to the audience it's been targeted at and yet may not have been properly targeted to reach the audience that would actually find it to be a pleasant relief.

More thoughts after the bump, as I balance sports on television with a review I should have written a week ago...

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

MovieWatch: "Body of Lies"

"Body of Lies"
Director: Ridley Scott
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 63
In a Nutshell: [I feel like I've already over-blogged today. I mean, if I get this posted by the end of the evening, that'll be three posts in one day. Who do I think I am, Sepinwall? Even if it doesn't get posted til tomorrow, it'll still be excessively prolific. And I still won't have done my week-old review on "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." Oh well. What I'm saying is that this may be a short review.]

"Body of Lies," which I saw because you're supposed to see Ridley Scott movies on the big screen just in case they're any good, isn't a bad movie. What it is is a movie with no imperative reason for existing. It's a movie that Ridley Scott made between other projects he wanted to do more simply because the script and cast were in place. It wasn't a movie Scott made because he had a story he needed to tell. It wasn't a movie he made because he had a desperate desire to work in a new genre or a new part of the world. It was just something to do. And that lack of urgency is tangible in the movie.

There are great directors who can still make great movies even with a lack of personal urgency. Scorsese's done it. Spielberg's done it. It's just not Scott's M.O.

Heck, Ridley's brother Tony has made a whole career out of simulating urgency that didn't otherwise exist, out of forcing so much visual frenzy onto a movie that you only sometimes notice that there wasn't a darned thing for the movie to hang its hat upon. OK, actually you often notice that there's no steak, only sizzle in Tony Scott's movies, but at his best, he distracts you.

So I guess that with "Body of Lies," Ridley Scott has actually made a pretty decent Tony Scott film. Of course, Tony Scott made his version of the same movie in 2001 when it was called "Spy Game."

Full review, as short as I can make it, after the bump.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

MovieWatch: "The Express"

"The Express"
Director: Gary Fleder
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 35
In a Nutshell: The story of Ernie "The Elmira Express" Davis is the stuff that a great underdog sports movie is made of. Perhaps, though, Ernie Davis was actually the stuff that too many great underdog sports movies are made of.

With screenwriter Charles Leavitt incapable of deciding the story he wants to tell, director Gary Fleder is unable to put the proper emotional emphasis on a single foot of celluloid. As a result, I sat in the theater constantly frustrated by all of the things I knew should be powerful or exciting that the filmmakers were botching.

Full review of "The Express" after the bump...

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Notes on Bob Dylan, Ray Guy and the Nobel Prize

While I was atoning for one or two of my sins on Thursday (Oct. 9), some random Swedish people announced the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. I didn't expect to win, so I wasn't disappointed. Ever since my former semi-neighbor Eudora Welty passed away, I haven't expected anybody I know or pseudo-know to win, so I wasn't disappointed.

And I can't really feel embarrassed that I don't really the work of the man who *did* win, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. It sounds like he's an interesting enough guy and I'm sure he's a superior writer.

But I was listening to NPR on Wednesday and one of the anchors was telling people not to expect an American to win, going through the odds from some betting house that said that Phillip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates had the best chances. And the newsreader noted that way down the odds list was Bob Dylan at something like 50:1 and the anchor closed with a snort and said something akin to "We don't know why he's on the list at all."

What now? Snobbery is a built-in expectation when you listen to NPR, but that's ridiculous. Why *shouldn't* Bob Dylan win the Nobel Prize for literature?

My thoughts here after the bump, along with a REALLY strained analogy or two...

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Friday, October 03, 2008

MovieWatch: "Blindness"

Director: Fernando Meirelles
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 38
In a Nutshell: In college I took a sociology class titled "Deviance and Social Control." If they still teach it at Penn, I strongly recommend it. But anyway, one of the things that came up in that class was the old cliche that "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Our professor didn't buy into that at all, making it clear that the one-eyed man would, essentially, become the ultimate outsider as the blind developed their own coping mechanisms, their own way of life outside of the sighted world. He point? In the land of the blind, it would suck to be a one-eyed man.

That idea is carried through in the new theatrical release "Blindness," Fernando Meirelles' rather dismal adaptation of Jose Saramago well-regarded novel.

"Blindness" is being marketed with imagery that would seem to imply that it's a cross between "Children of Men," "28 Days Later" and "The Miracle Worker." It's a misleading ad campaign, but it's actually brilliant. People are much more likely to see "Blindness" thinking it's some sort of badass zombie flick or political thriller than if they knew the truth of the matter, which is that it's a thuddingly obvious allegory spiked with moments of pretentious artiness and very little actual soul.

A full review after bump...

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