Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Treat your friends like your enemies and your enemies like your friends"

Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Robin Williams, Joan Cusack, Michael Gambon, Robin Wright, LL Cool J
Released: December 18, 1992

Oscar nominations:
Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration (lost to Howards End)
Best Costume Design (lost to Dracula)

I said I would have another holiday movie review for you and I have delivered on my promise. Well, sort of. While Toys begins and ends with a Christmas song called The Closing of the Year (a song that I love, love, love and is probably one of the only good things about the movie!), the rest of it really has nothing to do with Christmas. It's been at least a decade since I've seen it, so please forgive my memory. You would think a movie that came out in December and has TOYS in the title would have something to do with Christmas! So I'm glad I at least gave you a true Christmas movie review with the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. Next year I will just have to make it up by doing THREE Christmas movies! 

I really don't know how to describe this movie. It is a flustercluck, for one thing! I feel like I am doing disservice to the late Robin Williams by this being his first movie I reviewed since his passing. I will have to make that up by watching and reviewing one of his better movies in the future. This one is just  weird with plenty of moments where you might go, WTF? 

Williams plays Leslie Zevo and Joan Cusack plays his sister, Alstatia (I'm still not sure how you pronounce that!) Their father, owner of Zevo Toys, a company that manufactures and sells toys, dies and his brother (Michael Gambon) takes it over. Why his brother, a stern, no-nonsense general, is the beneficiary of the toy company and his fun-loving and child-like son is not is because he doesn't think Leslie could be a successful leader. 

Mr. Zevo must have made a fortune selling his cheap toys because his children live in a house that pops out from a story book (and there's even a dollhouse replica in the living room) and they have their own butlers, maids, and Leslie drives a Cadillac. Mr. Zevo even has his own wind-up (life size) ambulance to take him to the hospital for God's sake. I have no idea how he made such a fortune selling such crappy-looking toys, but it apparently worked so well that he was able to afford tons of workers who just sing and dance to a song called "The Happy Worker" (sung by Tori Amos) while they wait for large, colorful machines to spit out toy parts so they can assemble them. He can even afford to pay some guy whose job it is to hold a "Ducks Crossing" sign so people stop to let TOY duckling cross the street, I am not kidding you. The movie never states when it takes place. I was thinking maybe it was the '50s because most of the toys are those plastic wind-up toys of yore, but MTV and video games are also featured so therefore that makes it in the "present" day...or at least in the '80s as I was listening to a podcast (How Did This Get Made?....I highly recommend listening to this one, it's from September 2013) and they mentioned it took Barry Levinson ten years to write it! 

Another way they waste money (but still seem to have overloads of it!) is that they make a lot of joke toys (large attachable ears, fake vomit, hand buzzers, smoking jackets (those are jackets that literally smoke), etc...) and they pay people to research them. There is a really long scene where Leslie and the others are wearing white lab coats while going over different kinds of fake vomit and they are taking it seriously! Now the joke is that while they are discussing vomit, the room they are in is getting smaller because the General needs more room for a project he is working on. I don't understand the appeal of any of the toys that are created at this place. I can't see any kids wanting to play with them. The only visual appeal to the movie is the house they live in and the rolling green hills where they live. (Which I thought was filmed in England, but that was actually filmed in Rosalia, Washington.) 
Levinson must have had his heart set on very particular actors because this family doesn't make any sense at all. The General has a British accent, but everyone else is his family is American. They do sort of address this by him blaming his father for raising him in Britain and that's why he sounds different from everyone else. His (now deceased) wife was a Jane Fonda lookalike and yet they have a son named Patrick who looks like LL Cool J.... I'm guessing he was adopted? And then there's Alstatia who is just an odd character. She eats sandwiches with vitamins or applesauce (ugh!) only between the two slices of bread. Patrick makes a comment that she always looks the same age whenever he sees her. We later find out (spoiler alert!) that Alstatia is a robot that Leslie's dad had built for him because his mother died when he was young and he wanted to make sure Leslie had somebody to take care of him. So many questions! Why did Leslie's father make his son a grown up sister? (Remember, Patrick commented how she never ages, so it wasn't like Mr. Zevo built a robot every year to grow up with Leslie). And why is he selling all these crappy, cheap toys when he can make robots that look like real human beings? Just think how much richer he could have been...and he made a fortune selling crappy toys and paying his employees to pretty much do nothing! 

The General wants to make war toys and video games to train kids for war in the's so weird. And then there's a toy war with the General's toys against the Zevo Toys. It is the stupidest thing! There was a funny line where Leslie says, "Let's fight fire with marshmallows!" because all the General's toys come equipped with guns while you just wind up the Zevo Toys. He does give an amusing speech to his "troop" of toys where he begins with, "Four stores and many Christmases ago..." the speech has some clever dialogue, but it goes on way too long. And another question concerning Alstatia, why didn't they use her in the toy war since she is a freaking robot and can just be rebuilt. I guess since we find this out AFTER the toy war (I cannot believe I just wrote that!) ended, they didn't want to ruin the surprise for the viewer. 

While this movie is called TOYS, it is not for children! Not just because some innocent toys become victim in the toy war, but because Robin Wright plays Leslie's love interest (she was hired by his father the day before he died because he wanted them to get together, which is really creepy if you think about it) and there is a really awkward scene between them where you can't see it, but you  can hear it because the General has his men spying on them and her bra is covering the small robot that is their eyes. And they have one conversation and are pretty much in love the next scene, it is so ridiculous and stupid! 

This entire movie is ridiculous and stupid! The only good thing about it is the "Closing of the Year" song. And that's the only Christmas thing related to it! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Classic Remake

Miracle on 34th Street
Director: Les Mayfield
Cast: Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, Richard Attenborough
Released: November 18, 1994

Last year I reviewed the original Miracle on 34th Street for my holiday movie review. I wanted to review this remake at the same time, but last year, for some reason, this one seemed to be difficult to find. So that is why I am reviewing it this year and I do plan on having another holiday movie in the near future.

In this version, Mara Wilson plays Susan, the young girl who is skeptical about Santa Claus being real. This is because her mother, Dorey (played by Elizabeth Perkins), told her he wasn't. Although she does talk like an adult, I didn't find Wilson's Susan as irritating as Natalie Wood's Susan. The most annoying moment for Susan in this movie is when she tells her mom's boyfriend, Bryan (played by Dylan McDermott), that she's trying to cut back on sugar when he offers her a candy cane. But that's not as bad as original Susan telling Kris Kringle that she refuses to pretend to be an animal because she's a girl and she can't have an imagination! Ugh!

The movie is very similar to the original and starts out with Dorey firing the Santa at the Thanksgiving Day Parade because he is intoxicated and hiring a man who calls himself Kris Kringle (played by Richard Attenborough) who happens to be available and tells him to be "himself." He is so good at the job of portraying Santa that he is hired as their Santa at the department store she works at, Cole's, which is a fictitious department store. Now if you remember, the original was set at Macy's, but apparently Macy's did not want any part in this remake so they didn't get their permission to be used. Ouch. And just like the original, Santa tells parents where they can find toys if they can't find them at Cole's or where they can find toys for cheaper if they are too expensive. The rival store in the original was Gimbel's; the rival store in this one is called Shopper's Express. Shopper's Express, really, writers? Couldn't think of anything more original?

Alison Janney has one scene where she plays a shopper who asks the manager if he knows that his Santa is telling customers to shop at other department stores. She has a very strong Brooklyn accent (I'm guessing...I'm not very good with East Coast accents, but whatever it is, it is very exaggerated. I did find one source saying that her character is from Long Island). I wasn't really aware of her until 1999 when she was in Ten Things I Hate About You and American Beauty, and of course, probably best known for The West Wing when it premiered that year, so it was amusing seeing her in a small role five years before she become really well-known. Speaking of people who were in this movie before they became more known, Jennifer Morrison from the TV series House and Once Upon a Time plays an elf at the Cole's Santa display. She was probably around 14 or 15 at the time and I didn't even recognize her and it wasn't until I was looking through the cast on IMDb that I saw her name and looked up to see who she played.

In my review of the original, I questioned whether or not they had any scenes where there is actual proof that Santa IS actually Santa, but even though he owns a Santa suit, claims his name is Kris Kringle, and gives an explanation of how he can visit every child in one evening, there is no proof that this movie takes place in a universe where Santa Claus really does exist. And tell me, why would he be giving advice to parents on where to find toys for his children when his elves make them, hmmmm?

The bad guys from Shopper's Express team up with the guy who was Cole's original Santa (and apparently this is the only gig he has....I wonder what he does in the off season?) and it is soooo obvious that they are bad guys by the way they talk and look. The ex-Santa harasses Kris and even makes a comment about him liking the kids a little too much. Whoa, family movie remake of a beloved classic Christmas film, did you really just go there? Kris is arrested for assaulting and hurting the man and is sent away in handcuffs. In the absolute worst scene of the movie and probably the worst scene of just about any movie in history, we see a shot of the ex-Santa who opens his eyes, then winks right into the camera to let all the young kids watching know that he is okay and is faking being hurt. OMG it was sooooooooo bad. SO TERRIBLE. I cringed when I saw that. It just catered to all the little kids out there and apparently someone thought they were too stupid to know that it was all just a set up so they had to have the actor wink into the camera. I wouldn't have minded if he just opened his eyes to let them know he was faking being unconscious, but my God that wink was just truly horrible film making. Seriously, if I were reviewing this movie on a podcast, I would tell everyone that this movie loses a star just for that scene. It is that bad. And the movie actually isn't too bad, but that one little scene just ruins it for me. If you're going to break the fourth wall, you need to be more clever about it and this movie wasn't that kind of movie to do that. Just awful.

Kris is released, but he has to pass a sanity test but doesn't since he still firmly states that he is Santa Claus. Bryan plays his lawyer and must prove that Santa Claus does exist and the man he is defending is him for Kris not to be sent away. This movie was good practice (hehe...pun!) for Dylan McDermott since he would play attorney Bobby Donnell in The Practice three years later. Do you think David E. Kelley took Michelle and the kids to see this movie and when he saw Dylan McDermott defending Santa he knew he had to have his next TV show be a courtroom drama and McDermott was going to play one of the lawyers. Totally fanfiction, I know, but it's amusing to think that's the way The Practice came to be.

I thought it was a smart move when Bryan questions the prosecutor's wife because when asked if she has told her children that Santa is real, she says yes and since she is under oath, admits that it was her husband who first told them that he is real and that the Santa their kids visited at Cole's was the real Santa. Let's be honest: the old man can't prove he's Santa. The prosecutor questions a man who has been to the North Pole and he claims he has never seen any sign of Santa Claus living up there and Kris bursts out indignantly, claiming that of course he has never seen anything because his workshops are all invisible. Please. A reindeer is brought into the courtroom. (Where do they find reindeer in New York? Where do they find reindeer in the United States? Aren't they only native to, like, Norway and the North Pole? My parents visited Norway and my mom said she had reindeer at a restaurant they ate at. I was very appalled. And this was when I was 14 and knew Santa wasn't real and I was still appalled!) Anyway, Kris is asked to make the reindeer fly and he laughs and says they only fly Christmas Eve. Oh, how convenient! I'm not buying for one second that this guy is Santa Claus, but good on him for wanting to make Christmas a wondrous, magical time for children. There is a nice little montage where people all over the city display signs of saying they believe which may or may not have gotten me a little teary-eyed. It was scenes like that that made me like the movie.

The judge receives a one-dollar bill from Susan in a Christmas card with the motto "In God We Trust" circled and comes to the conclusion that even though the court can't prove that God is real with any real evidence, they still believe in him and that means people can still believe in Santa even if there is no evidence (or very weak evidence) that he is real. So he is allowed to be a free man and everyone is happy.

As in the original, Susan tells Kris that she wants a family and a house. She gets this when her mother marries Bryan on a whim (I don't understand why they just didn't get engaged, but whatever) and find out the house Dorey plans on using for a catalog has been set up for them to purchase by Kris. Nothing like paying for your own Christmas present, especially when it's a house! Personally, I thought the house was ugly with its ridiculously slanted roof, but it does have a gingerbread house feel to it so I can see why it was chosen for the movie. Inside, was a different story (hey, I made another pun!) as all the rooms were lavishly decorated. We are left with the implication that Dorey is pregnant as Susan has also wished for a baby brother.

And it's been twenty years and we have not yet seen another remake, but I'm sure we will get another.

Monday, December 8, 2014

That Bitch Ain't Right

Gone Girl 
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missi Pyle
Released: October 3, 2014
Viewed in theaters:  November 6, 2014

Hmmm....better safe than sorry, right? SPOILERS AHOY! 

Back in early 2013, I read the massively popular book (which I first heard about from the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast as Linda Holmes raved about it several times) which I was fortunate to read for free and without having to wait for it at the library because my mom's book club was also on the pop culture bandwagon and read it for their book club so my mom bought the book and I was able to read it after her. I enjoyed the book, but in a way, I wish I hadn't read it because it would have been interesting to see the movie not knowing what happens because there are lots of twists and turns. Nevertheless, knowing full well what happens, I still enjoyed the film very much and thought the adaptation from novel to script was flawless, although it probably helps that the author, Gillian Flynn, also wrote the script. She is a former writer of my favorite entertainment magazine, Entertainment Weekly and not surprisingly they loved both movie and book. But I think that has more to do with that they're both legitimately good and they're not trying to kiss one of their own's ass. Although that would have been awkward if they had hated the story and had to write a negative review.

Nick and Amy Dunne, a couple married for four years are played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Now I'm sure everyone already knows that Reese Witherspoon bought the rights for the movie and was going to play Amy, but David Fincher said he didn't think she was right for the role and cast Pike instead. Although Witherspoon is the much bigger name (I only recognized Pike from that forgettable Tom Cruise movie a couple years ago, Jack Reacher, in which she plays a forgettable character), I think it was a smart decision. I don't know if Witherspoon could have pulled off ice queen as well as Pike does, and I don't think she and Affleck would have complimented each other as well physically since she is so tiny. Also, having two huge stars might have been a little distracting.  

Luckily Amy is anything but an unforgettable character. She is the daughter of wealthy New York parents who made their fortune writing a book series called Amazing Amy which is based after their daughter and the character grows up with her, except that she always seems to be one step ahead of the real Amy. She and Nick were both writers for magazines and moved to Nick's home state, Missouri, when his mother became sick. Amy is unhappy and bored. She finds out Nick has been cheating on her with one of his creative writing college course students. On the day of their fifth wedding aniversary, Nick comes home to find not only that Amy is gone, but that it looks like there has been a struggle in the house and the police find a lot of blood that has been mopped up in the kitchen. Needless to say, Nick becomes suspect #1 in his wife's disappearance. Now if you hadn't read the book, you would have no idea if he was innocent or guilty. There are little clues that seem to indicate that he is guilty such as he is trying to throw the police off a trail that leads to his father's house that a clue Amy left for him (something she did every year for their anniversary) that leads him there. However, the police on the case (played by Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) are keeping a sharp eye on him and find a journal there written by Amy indicating that she is fearful of her husband and afraid that he is going to kill her. It is found in a furnace, partially burned. Nick is painted even more guilty when he is shown smiling at a press conference held for Amy's disappearance (you have to feel bad for the guy; he was told to smile!) and he is ripped apart by Missi Pyle's Nancy Grace-esque TV national news reporter. He becomes harassed by the reporters and can't leave his house with running into them. Even his twin sister, Margo (played by Carrie Coon) questions whether he had anything to do with Amy's disappearance when she finds out he's having an affair.

Affleck hires a New York attorney who is famous for winning difficult cases for his high-profile clients. He is played by Tyler Perry and so I'll just insert my joke about Ben Affleck really needing the Tyler Perry Hidden Immunity Idol that nobody will get unless they watch Survivor.


I'm sure there's very few people who haven't read the book or seen the movie (or both), but I want to cover all my bases! After all that wondering over whether Nick is guilty or not, we go back to the day of the disappearance, only from Amy's POV because she is very much still alive and driving away from her old life and telling the audience that she has set up her husband to take the fall for her "death". Although maybe I shouldn't put that word in quotes since her plan is to eventually commit suicide and have her body found in the river. However, she keeps putting off that little task. She has gained weight and changed her appearance so nobody recognizes her since she is all over the news. Since deciding not to kill herself, her plan changes. She has money, but it will eventually run out...although it runs out much quicker than she anticipates since she is robbed. She seeks help from an ex-boyfriend (played by Neil Patrick Harris) who has a creepy obsession with her and used to stalk her. We find out that Amy has had other interesting conflicts with ex-boyfriends in her past and that she is a master manipulator. In fact, the more we learn about Amy, we find out she is basically a sociopath. In the end, Amy (after killing Doogie Howser who she blames for keeping her captive and was the one who kidnapped her) goes back to Nick and keeps on manipulating him and they continue being a married couple.  This one is sure to get a few nominations come Oscar season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"This is disorder"

Director: Joon-ho Bong
Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Alison Pill
Released: June 27, 2014

Spoilers ahoy!

After hearing about this movie on the many movie review podcasts I listen to and after seeing the trailer, I knew I had to see it. I mean, don't you want to see it too after watching this:

It was Tilda Swinton who sold me. Yes, that woman with the large glasses, buck teeth, and funny accent is Tilda Swinton.  She plays one of the more higher-class citizens who lives on the train known as the Snowpiercer, and as you saw from the trailer, likes to keep everything in order. She believes everyone has their place on the train and that they should all stay where they are.

The movie takes place 17 years in the future and the whole world has iced over due to a government experiment...I honestly don't remember why or what happened, but basically, whatever they did, it caused the entire globe to become a popsicle. (Well, at least Elsa from Frozen would love it!) Most of the world's population died, but the few who were left, boarded the Snowpiercer. It is captained by Wilford (Ed Harris) who built the train's everlasting engine. In a propaganda video we see, the train (I don't know how many cars there are, but it's a fairly long train) travels along a track that goes across the entire world (it helps when the oceans are frozen to do that, I suppose). They have set it up so that  the Snowpiercer crosses a certain section of the world on a certain holiday each year. This way, when they pass a certain landmark, they know it's the New Year and can celebrate another successful year aboard the train.

Now before we get any further, I have to nitpick about a couple of things. The first being, how did the people on the train get chosen to be on the train? Were there not that many survivor that they were all allowed on it? Was there a lottery system? Also, how in the hell did they build the track, especially when it goes over the ocean? Did they do this after the world froze over? (Well, they must have). But that doesn't make sense because they say that anybody who goes outside dies instantly as is evident whenever they pass a bunch of frozen people outside who escaped from the Snowpiercer and didn't make it 100 yards before they froze and died! And how long did it take to build this track? We are not provided with any of these questions. We get a two minute backstory of what happened 17 years ago, then we jump into the "present" on board the train with our characters.

There is a caste system on the train. The wealthy, more affluent people live near the front of the train, which has the nicer, plusher cars while the lower class citizens live in the "slums" of the train, the very rear. They are all crammed together with bad lighting. Everyone is dirty and wears tattered clothes. They are given what are called protein bars to eat and they look like the most disgusting things ever. Imagine a brick of black jello. They even have that jell-o texture. I would probably puke if I had to eat one of those! I would rather starve than eat one of those! We later learn that they are made out of ground up insects so if you thought they were already unappetizing...
Captain Snowpiercer!

Our protagonist, Curtis is played by Chris Evans. Can I just say that as an emaciated (okay, obviously Christ Evans is not emaciated, but Curtis is probably suppose to be on the skinny side since he doesn't get fed very much!) guy with blood and sweat on his face throughout most of the movie, he is much more better looking than he is as the buff, blond, blandy mcbland Captain America? Like 10000 times better looking? I think it's the facial hair. And the fact he looks (much!) better with darker hair than blond. Blond hair is not our friend, Chris Evans! Curtis boarded the train when he was 17, so he has spent 17 years living in the outside world and 17 years living on the train, so after doing a quick sum in my head, that makes our hero 34 years old. Curtist leads a revolt to take over the train from Wilford. He is a mystery to the viewer and we only hear little snippets about him. The characters played by Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt are also part of the revolt. Tanya (Spencer) wants to go because her son has been taken by the people who work for Wilford. Now you may be wondering why people are allowed to procreate on a train that can hold so many people, but young children, as we will see later, are very vital for the success of the train.

Many people want to stop them from getting to the front of the train and therefore ensues many bloody battles (and deaths!). After a quick stop at another car near the back of the train, they recruit Kang-ho Song's character who built the train's security system  and can get them through the doors. He and his seventeen year old daughter (she looks more like she's 12 to me!) join them. They are both addicted to a drug called Kronole which Curtis offers them in service for their help.

They capture Tilda Swinton's cartoonish, Harry Potter character-esque character, Mason, who is Wilford's right hand (wo)man and make her lead them to Wilford. What I like is that we go through all the cars in the same order as our characters: from the back and onward to the front. The movie never jumps from the back, then to the front, then to a random car in the middle like I thought maybe it would. So we're seeing each train for the first time as are our characters. (Well, the ones who survive....we lose a few key players along the way). My favorite car was the aquarium car, complete with a sushi bar. There's also a classroom car (Alison Pill plays the teacher with the propaganda video and gun hidden in a basket of eggs...don't ask...), a dance club car, a sauna car, a beauty shop car...pretty much anything you can think of.


Now I knew Swinton was going to get her comeuppance, but she dies much too soon for my liking. And Jamie Bell dies really early in the movie...once they start the revolt, he was one of the first to get killed. That made me sad. I like Billy Elliot! And Tanya dies and it was sad because she never got to rescue her son. Soon it's only Curtis and the Korean father and daughter. Curtis finds Wilford and it is revealed that Curtis and the other low-class citizens had to engage in a bit of cannibalism to keep everyone alive. He says babies taste the best as he ate baby Billy Elliot's arm and killed Billy Elliot's mother (which Billy Elliot never knew). Curtis felt guilty about that and that's why he took Billy Elliot under his wing. He also feels guilty about never having the courage to cut off his arm or leg  to feed to the others as many of them had.  We find out that Wilford has been keeping Tanya's son under the train to keep the train going because only small children can fit in there. Curtis rescues him and in the process, his arm gets all messed up because of the mechanisms.

Meanwhile, the Korean father and daughter blow up the train because Kronole is not only a drug, but also an explosive! Everyone aboard the train dies except Korean daughter and Tanya's son. They go outside and see a polar bear so we know it is possible that life can live outside the Snowpiercer. So we have a 17 year old girl and 5 year old boy who are suppose to repopulate the earth? Or you're probably what I was thinking: That bear is going to eat those kids.

This movie starts on the right track, but starts to loose steam towards the end. Yes, those puns were intended.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jungle Love

Gorillas in the Mist
Director: Michael Apted
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Bryan Brown, Julie Harris, John Omirah Miluwi
Released: September 23, 1988

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Sigourney Weaver (lost to Jodie Foster for The Accused)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Anna Hamilton Phelan and Tab Murphy (lost to Christopher Hampton for Dangerous Liaisons
Best Sound (lost to Bird)
Best  Editing (lost to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)
Best Score - Maurice Jarre (lost to Dave Grusin for The Milagro Beanfield War)

(I have never even heard of Bird or The Milagro Beanfield War!) 

Despite scenes with cute baby gorillas, this is a pretty horrific film. It's about the true story of Dian Fossey (pronounced Diane even though she's missing the e!) who was a big advocate for gorillas and studied them in Rwanda in the '60 - '80s. I had heard of this movie, but I wasn't familiar with was Jane Goodall who I was always aware of. I wasn't sure what to think of Dian. She was very passionate about her cause, but they sure did make her unlikeable or just kinda stupid at times. When she arrives in Africa for the first time, she has a whole suitcase just packed with make up. Seriously, you are in the jungle studying wildlife...why do you need make up? She starts in the Congo and is given an assistant in the form of an animal tracker (John Omirah Miluwi) who will help her track the apes. Her time in the Congo is very short lived as she is forced to leave by Congolese soldiers who destroy her research site and accuse her of being a foreign spy.

She and her team relocates to Rwanda. She gets very up close and personal with the apes, often just sitting with them. She gives them names and becomes quite attached to them. She does get some human affection when she begins an affair with an attractive (but married!) Australian photographer (Bryan Brown) from National Geographic comes to take photos of Dian with the apes for the magazine. He is there for a few months and offers to leave his wife for her, but his job does not allow him to only stay in one place and Dian refuses to leave so they end their relationship when he has to head off to a new location.

Sadly, many of the apes become victims of poaching and Dian makes it her life's mission to stop it. There was one instance where she steals back a baby ape whose entire family had been killed for the poachers to be able better to get to it. With the baby gorilla in her arms, she marches into the dining room of a hotel where the man who wants the baby ape for his zoo is eating and pretty much berates him in front of everybody for what he did. She tries to take care of the baby herself, but in the end, she has to let him go to the zoo to get her deal for what she wants for protecting the apes. A government minister allows her an anti-poaching group consisting of three men. Gorillas were being poached just for their heads or hands just to make tacky gorilla hand ash trays (I don't even want to know what they did with the heads!) which is just horrible and gross.

There was one ape in particular, Digit, who she had a very close bond with. Needless to say, Dian becomes nearly inconsolable when she discovers that Digit has been beheaded and arms cut off by poachers. She becomes very short with the students who have come to study with her, almost blaming them for Digit's death (because if she hadn't been with them, she could have stopped Digit's murder) and burns down the poacher's camp and probably would have even gone on to kill them if she hadn't been stopped. As a viewer, you become attached to the apes too and while you don't see Digit actually being killed, you do see his limbless body and it is very horrific.

The ending was very odd as we see Dian going to bed after looking at many photos of Digit and we see a shadow creep into her room and attack her with a big knife. Supposedly her death is a mystery and nobody knows who killed her. The happened on December 27, 1985 when she was 53 and the movie came out in 1988, so they didn't waste any time making her story into a movie!

The film ends with upbeat African drums as we see Dian is buried next to Digit, which is actually quite sweet. But I was a little confused by the upbeat music! I guess we were suppose to be happy that Dian and Digit were reunited?

Friday, September 26, 2014

I rank The Cosby Show theme songs

Thirty years ago (!!!!) this month, The Cosby Show premiered on NBC. It aired on Thursdays until 1992 so it was "Must See TV" before "Must See TV" was a thing. (Remember that?) I watched this show when I was younger. I have not seen it in AGES so I don't remember any episodes except the one where Rudy (she was my favorite because she was my age) and her chubby friend are hungry and want to make something to eat (and I'm sure Vanessa was probably baby-sitting them, but was too busy talking on the phone to make them something), so they get out the blender and just make a huge mess in the kitchen and Rudy gets a scolding, then a hug from her mother. Now I could be totally making this up as, like I said, I've not seen an episode of this show in forever but I swear that was an episode!

Anyway, this show used the same song for its theme song, but it had different title openings and a different version of the song for each season (well, two seasons shared the same theme song), so I thought it would be fun to rank them. I'll start with my least favorite and work my way up to my favorite. Here we go!

7. Season 1, 1984

So in all the opening sequences except for this one, all the actors dance (we know how the Huxtables love to sing and dance...remember that show they put on for their grandparent's anniversary? - Hey, that's another episode I remember!) This is also the only opening sequence where it's photographs of the actors in different action shots. It reminds me of the first season opening titles of Beverly Hills, 90210 where those were so different from the ones that were to come. Here we see the Huxtables enjoying a day at the park. It's kinda boring. And it's so '80s. Notice that Phylicia (I could have sworn it was Felica!) Rashad is Phylicia Ayers-Allen. Also notice Sondra is not here but she was a recurring character the first season because I think her character was thrown in as an afterthought. 

6. Season 8, 1991

I went from the first season to the last! It's weird because while I remember the other opening titles, this one, not so much. Apparently they didn't use it for the entirety of the last season because there was some kind of legal dispute with the mural that is used in the background. The mural is very cool, but I prefer the clean, solid color background they often use. I read another ranking of theme songs (I'm not the only one to do this) and the person, who ranked this dead last on their list, said this was the most dated of the opening titles and I have to agree. Especially if you look at their clothes. Yikes! What is Vanessa wearing? And WTF is Raven Symone wearing? And since when did Theo get glasses? I never remember him wearing glasses! That said, I kinda love Sondra's outfit. And who is that woman at the end? I don't remember her at all! It's crazy to see how much older Vanessa and Rudy look compared to the other opening titles.

5. Season 2, 1985

This is when they began their dancing and the following opening titles would follow this format. Much better than the season 1 format! Notice that Phylicia Rashad is not yet Phylicia Rashad, but I believe she will become Phylicia Radshad during this season. I like Theo's dancing the best. I like the "are you serious" face Vanessa makes. Her sweater and Cosby's look like they came from the same designer! Nothing really stands out in this opening title so that's why I put it towards the bottom.

4. Season 4, 1987

This version was done by Bobby McFerrin and I'm not a huge fan of it. I like Sondra's dress, but she is totally wearing the wrong shoes for it! She should be in heels! Vanessa looks like a flight attendant with that hat. The end with Cosby holding up a picture of Lisa Bonet was interesting. I know she left the show for awhile, but maybe she was a recurring character so that was to remind us that she was still around? IDK. The things that do make this middle-of-the-road opening titles not be at the bottom is Theo checking his watch, Vanessa's mouthed "Dad!" exclamation, Claire's dress, and Cosby's top hat...because a top hat always makes everything better! Oh, and the last note.

3. Season 5, 1988

This is the most interesting as it's the only one where all the actors are dancing together instead of each getting a turn with Cosby. Now if I were an actor on this show, I would not be happy because my name would appear when everyone is in the same shot so nobody would know who you were (good thing they did this in season 5, I guess!) unless they knew which actor played which character. I do love the thematic music and dance number. The Caribbean style and backdrop is a little odd since the show took place in New York...I don't think they ever went on an island vacation! But it's something different and you gotta give them props for that. 

2. Season 3, 1986

 I'm not the biggest fan of Latin music (don't listen to it that much (or at all) to be honest), but in this case it works and I like it. The dancing isn't anything too impressive, but once again, I love Vanessa's "are you serious" face to Cosby's dancing. She has the best reactions. And I swear, I had a dress just like the one Rudy wore in this! And I like how Cosby kicks his leg over her because she's so small. The music alone puts this in the top 2. 

1. Seasons 6 and 7, 1989 and 1990

Even the show agrees with me that this is the best opening sequence as they used it for two seasons instead of only one! It's very sleek and smooth. Everyone has had four years to prefect their dancing and it shows. Well, maybe not Sondra because she dances exactly like me! Lisa Bonet is working it with those pants. Theo and Rudy have some awesome moves, but it's Vanessa who's killing it! Vanessa, the one who's always too cool to dance! Who knew that girl had some moves in her? And love the end where Cosby says, "This is the best elevator music I've ever heard." 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my ranking of The Cosby Show opening credits!

So I found that episode I was talking about earlier on YouTube. It's from season 2 and it's a juicer, not a blender that Rudy, and her friend Peter (who was chubbier than I remember!) use to make a snack. I was right that Vanessa was watching them (and was on the phone - I have an awesome memory), but Cliff was home (he was talking to a maintenance guy about a water stain in his office) and so were Theo and Denise (they were outside). Claire was the only one who wasn't home because she had gone to the post office. Rudy and Peter are bored and Vanessa tells them to go make a snack so they decide to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but there's no jelly so Rudy decides to use the juicer to make the jelly and puts grapes in it. Now I remember the mess that is made being much more massive than it actually was. Rudy didn't get a scolding to by her mother (that was Vanessa for not keeping an eye on the kids), but she did get a lecture about using appliances while getting a hug from her mother. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Breaking Bad Tribute Video

As a huge fan of Breaking Bad (I often cite it as "my favorite show ever" and/or "the best show ever!"), I made a tribute video with songs that were featured in the show at one point or another. This Monday, the 29th will mark a year since it's been off the air! Enjoy the video, but be warned: there are spoilers so if you're like my parents and haven't seen the show (and what are you waiting for?!), don't watch this until after you've seen the entire series! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Music Class

Mr. Holland's Opus
Director: Stephen Herek
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, William H. Macy, Olympia Dukakis, Jay Thomas, Terrance Howard, Alicia Witt
Released: December 29, 1995

Oscar nominations:
Best Actor - Richard Dryfus (lost to Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas)

This film, about a music teacher, expands a time span of 30 years. Richard Dreyfuss plays Glenn Holland, an aspiring composer, who takes a job as a high school music teacher to make ends meet while he writes his composition in his spare time. He teaches at John F. Kennedy high school in Portland, Oregon. Okay, follow along with me here for a second: the first class he teaches is the class of '63, which means that he started in the autumn of 1962...JFK didn't die until November 1963 so they kind of jumped the gun on that! And I suppose they could have named the school after him while he was in office, but does that ever happen? I'm certainly not aware of any Barack Obama High School that may be lurking out there! And even if they did, the school would have to have been brand new since Kennedy began his Presidency in 1960. All I'm saying is that they should have chosen another president to name their fictional school after. The timeline just didn't match. 

He is not thrilled about being a teacher and is exasperated with his students because they fail the tests and are horrible at playing their instruments. His teaching method is just to have the students read the text book and give them a quiz at the end of each lesson, but soon realizes that's not working for them. He starts playing records for them and tells them that rock and roll music and classical music aren't so different from each other and plays cords from famous songs of both genres on the piano. His wife, Iris (Glenne Headly) tells him to hang in there for four years and then they'll access their situation to see if he can work on his compositions full time so he can become rich and famous, except it doesn't exactly happen like that. 

Iris becomes pregnant and gives birth to their son, Cole (his full name is Coltrane as he's named after John Coltrane and he's lucky they could shorten it to Cole because Coltrane is a horrible first name!) who is deaf. It's not until he's well into his first year that they don't notice there's something off about him when they're at a parade where a loud siren goes off and everyone is covering their ears and babies are crying, but young Cole remains oblivious in his stroller, asleep. Unless Cole became deaf right that second, I'm a little confused. Didn't they notice there was something wrong with his hearing within the first week of his life? Even though babies can't communicate, they usually look at you if you're talking to them. My cat looks at me when I make a noise! They take Cole to a specialist who tells them not to use hand gestures with him. Obviously this was a time when sign language was uncouth and that specialist was an idiot because Iris finds it very difficult and frustrating to try to communicate with Cole while her husband spends most of his time busy with his work and students. 

We see a few of the connections he makes with his students. The first ever was with a student from the first class he taught, the class of '63. Gertrude (speaking of horrible names...) is a redhead (played by Alicia Witt) who needs help with the clarinet. I think he gives her good advice and bad advice. The good advice is when he tells her to just have fun when she's playing the clarinet after he plays her a record of "Louie Louie" and asks her what's the first thing that comes to her mind and she says, "They're having fun." The bad advice (and bad screen writing) was when he asked her what her favorite thing about herself was and she replied her hair because her dad told her it reminded him of the sunset and he said, "Play the sunset." What does that even mean? That doesn't make any sense. But maybe it wasn't bad advice because as soon as he said that, she nailed her solo. It was still cheesy, though. 

Another one of the students he mentors is a football player who has trouble keeping the beat played by a very young Terrance Howard...who would later star in August Rush, another movie about love and appreciation for music. When the '80s roll around, his son is now a teenager (and attends a school for the hearing impaired) and there are hints that he and his wife are having marital problems. Rowena is a girl from the class of '80 who is part of the spring musical production. She has aspirations of going to New York after she graduates (like, literally right after) to make it big there and she and Mr. Holland develop a near bordering creepy relationship. She invites Holland to run away with her and while he does meet her at the bus stop and give her an incredibly awkward kiss, he declines the invitation. He is working on a new composition that he has named "Rowena" and when his wife sees it and asks who Rowena is he makes up something about her being a mythical goddess and when Iris is at the school's production she sees the name of the main singer is Rowena and how many people are named Rowena? Plus Rowena is looking right at Holland when she's singing "Someone to Watch Over Me" so it doesn't take much for Iris to put two and two together, but she never mentions it to her husband. The movie is 2 hours and 25 minutes and if they had dropped this entirely pointless plot line, it would have been two hours. 

The death of John Lennon brings Holland and his son closer together. I was listening to a podcast review of this guy had seen it before and the other hadn't. The guy who had never seen it made me laugh when he commented, "Did people really treat John Lennon's death like it was 9/11?" Obviously he was exaggerating a tad, but I do see where he was coming from. It was all over the news, which was understandable...I remember the next morning after Michael Jackson died, the radio was playing a tribute to him, but the characters in the movie acted like it was one of their own family members who had died. Cole wants to show his dad something when he comes home from work, but  Holland tells him he's not in the mood because somebody died and that Cole wouldn't understand and then Cole tells him he knows who John Lennon and the Beatles are and Holland realizes that despite his son being deaf, he can still understand and know about music. At a music function Holland puts on for his son's school, he sings a John Lennon and Yoko Ono song for Cole called Beautiful Boy. I had never heard of it until I listened to it on the soundtrack. Holland apologizes in advance for his singing ability and let's just say this song sounds better when John Lennon is singing it. It's a sweet sentiment, but I can't think of too many teenaged boys who would be thrilled to have their dad singing such a sappy song to them! At least Cole couldn't hear his dad's awful singing!

The make-up department did a great job with aging Richard Dreyfus. He was 48 when he made the film. At the end of the film, Mr. Holland was 60, so they aged him down and up for the role. They didn't do such a great job with aging William H. Macy (or W.H. Macy as the opening credits has his name) who plays the assistant principal to Olympia Dukakis's principal, then the principal when she retired - he has the same buzz cut and glasses throughout the entire movie. It's as though the entire movie's make up budget went into aging only Dreyfus! When the movie wants to skip a few years, it will show clips of famous events that happened in those years. The only jarring part is when it skips from 1980 to 1995 without any clips. This is the biggest gap that the movie passes through and apparently nothing happened in the entire decade of the '80s! Nothing at all! I also have to laugh at how hard they're trying to make the 1995 class look so cool. Oh, look, there's two boys holding hands - we have gay students at our school now! It just felt like they were trying to hard to try to be cool with the times. At least in '95 it makes sense to have a school called John F. Kennedy High School! 

Mr. Holland is forced to retire because the school is taking away the budget for the music and drama classes. The school has put on a warm reception for him where many of his students from pass classes - including Gertrude, who is now the mayor, have come to perform one of his musical oeuvres. 

While a bit saccharine at times, it's an uplifting story. I would recommend watching it, but feel free to fast forward through all the scenes with Rowena! 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sail Solo

All is Lost
Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Robert Redford
Released: November 7, 2013

Oscar nominations:
Best Sound Editing (lost to Gravity)

Back in 2010, I started reading the blog of Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old Australian who sailed around the world by herself. She started her voyage from Sydney in October 2009 and returned the next year in May. It was really interesting to read her blogs (which took me a few weeks to get through them; after all she had seven months of entries!) She talked about everything from describing how things worked on her boat to writing about her food supply and what she had for dinner and she often put up photos she took. Now while she sailed by herself, she wasn't exactly unassisted as she could call her family or the people who were assisting her with this journey on her radio and she often talked with them everyday. Of course, if she did get in any trouble, it would still be a pretty scary thing because she's out in the middle of nowhere! She roughed a few storms, but she made it home safely. 

While watching this movie, I was reminded of her, although it seems she didn't have as rough of a time as Robert Redford's nameless character...who is the only character in the entire movie. We as an audience don't know anything about him, except he is out sailing the ocean. I presume he's a retired man with a dream to sail the open seas. The film shows us he is an experienced sailor as he is shown doing everyday maintenance with the boat and knows how to pump out the water when his boat becomes flooded (which looks like a tedious and painful process!) 

Redford's character encounters a violent storm which results in his boat turning over a couple times, which, for me, was just scary watching...I can't imagine being in a scenario like that! He has to resort to using his lifeboat with his survival supplies because his boat is ruined and he watches his boat that you know he put a lot of time and effort (and money!) into sink beneath the water as he sits in his raft.  

This is real-life Survivor...there is no Jeff Probst, no tribal council, and no hidden immunity idols! And there is definitely no food reward challenges as he has to ration his canned foods and use his fishing gear in his survival pack. When he sees a large cargo ship, he uses a flair to catch their attention, but it doesn't work. He does this until he only has one flair left which you know is worth life or death. There was one scene where, when he's fishing, a shark pops up and grabs his line and Redford falls back into the raft. I was a little worried, that, excuse the pun, the film was going to jump the shark at this point and have a shark attack which wouldn't fit the tone of the film. Luckily, such a scene didn't happen. There are no attacking sharks, sorry to ruin that for you. We just see a swarm of sharks under his raft at one point, but nothing becomes of it. 

The movie is very sparse on dialogue. The most amount spoken by Redford is at the beginning when he's giving a voice over monologue. We later learn that's what he wrote in a letter he put in a glass bottle that he tossed out for somebody to find. Other than that, the only time he speaks is when he's calling for help on the radio and when he curses when everything goes to hell. And he says the word that anybody would say in that situation! There is something very cathartic about dropping the f bomb when you're really furious! Even with his near-mute acting, Redford gives a very riveting and captivating performance and you definitely feel for him when he is desperate to survive. If you were to ask me, I would have taken out Christian Bale for American Hustle from the Oscar nominees and put in Redford. It's been awhile since I've seen Redford in a movie (I think the last one was the movie he made with Brad Pitt?) and I couldn't help thinking, He looks like such an old man! But he is 77, so he is up there in age! I remember watching All the President's Men in my government class in high school and the girl who sat next to me and I both agreed he was pretty hot "for an older guy", lol.

In elementary school, we all learned the three major literary conflicts: man v. himself, man v. man, and man v nature. The last one is a definite theme in the movie, but I would also say man v. himself is prevalent as well. In the end, it's up to him about whether he wants to survive or not. I won't give away the ending, but it's not an ambiguous one where you're not sure what happens to know for sure whether he lives or dies, but it does keep you guessing to the very end.

I actually think it would be kind of fun to sail around the world...only if I knew what I was doing and only if the weather was perfect the whole way through. (Like that would happen...doesn't it storm in the ocean like 99% of the time?) I think a lot of people would balk at the idea because the solidarity would drive them crazy (even if they did have a phone and Internet access). But Jessica Watson said there was always some maintenance or cleaning to do and she would blog, watch a DVD, or read books in her space time. See, that's what I would like: I have a pile of books I need (and want!) to read, but I don't always have time to just settle down and read them. I would love to have seven months of solitaire just to read books and watch movies and catch up on TV shows. Of course, I'd probably think, This is great! for the first week or so, then I'd probably want to get back to land! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Let's Make Lots of Money

The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey
Released: December 25, 2013

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to 12 Years a Slave)
Best Director - Martin Scorsese (lost to Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity)
Best Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio (lost to Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actor - Jonah Hill (lost to Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Terence Winter (lost to John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave)

My city's newspaper movie reviewer liked this movie, but he commented that he saw a few walkouts and the article got a few feedback letters from readers saying they walked out of the theater. Now I have seen a few movies in the theater I wish I had walked out on mainly because they were long and boring. This movie is long (three hours) but it is not boring. But I'm doubting its the length that made those people walk out. This movie is not for everyone. Let's just say it earns its R rating. There is plenty of vulgar language, nudity, and drug use. If people are going to be bothered by that, then they shouldn't see an R rated movie about a self-centered rich guy! What are they expecting?!

Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) adopts the Gordon Gekko motto of "Greed is good" and makes riches as a stockbroker earning something like $49 million a year. I had never heard of this Belfort character and didn't realize he was a real person until this movie came out. I enjoyed DiCaprio's performance of him, but would not like him if I ever met him in real life. He was a bit of a smug jerk, but I suppose most rich people are smug jerks...I would probably be a smug jerk if I were rich! The film breaks the fourth wall with Belfort talking to the audience. I love the bit at the beginning where he's  walking out of his mansion, talking to the camera as he sips on a mimosa and tosses the glass flute and the rest of the unfinished drink in a bush behind him. I thought little moments like those were great.

Belfort tells the audience that that he made $49 million last year, but it pissed him off because "it was just 3 shy of a million a week." Now the line delivery is hilarious, I won't deny that, but seriously? If you're complaining that you're not making a million a week, you really need a tall glass of STFU. I would be happy if I made one percent of what he made!

Matthew McConaughey has a small cameo as the executive who takes a young Belfort under his wing and molds him into the stockbroker he will eventually become. When he is forced to quit his job because of Black Monday, Belfort, desperate for anything, takes a job at a small Long Island firm that sells penny stocks. He impresses the crew there with his charming salesman tactics...he was someone who could sell ice to an eskimo. There's a great scene where he's making a big sell to some unassuming schmuck and everyone is gathered around him as he's making the deal. Belfort teaches the others how to scam people out of their money and soon they are lucrative and Belfort starts his own firm called Stratton Oakmont where they make even more money...because now they're conning rich people into paying lots of money for worthless stocks instead of average Joes. One of the people who Belfort takes under his own wing is Donnie (Jonah Hill), this socially awkward weird guy who lives in the same building as Belfort but notices that Belfort drives a nice car and wants to know what he does.

Everyday is a party and spectacle at Stratton Oakmont. They bring in strippers, monkeys, marching bands, bet people to shave their heads, and don't forget the drugs. There were a lot of people who worked there and they all seemed to be making millions of dollars which I didn't really get. How are all these people making so much money? Wouldn't Belfort want all that money? I have no idea how stockbroker firms work anyway...which is probably why I'm not rich! There's an amusing scene where Belfort's dad (Rob Reiner), who manages the firm's expenses yells at Belfort for spending thousands of dollars on a business meeting dinner.

Before he acquired his riches, Belfort was married to a woman named Theresa. Having already seen his future, you know they do not stay together because he's married to a blonde bombshell. I figured he was going to dump Theresa as soon as he started raking in the dough, but that's not the case. He meets Naomi, the blonde (Margot Robbie) and cheats on his wife with her. His wife catches them together and they get a divorce. I think he does feel bad for hurting his wife, but after five seconds he realizes he has a more beautiful woman and marries her...then starts cheating on Naomi!

If there's anything that Belfort loves more than women (well, then besides his money), it's his drugs. He is a hard core drug user and one of the most memorable scenes involves him and Donnie taking something called lemons which is a quaalude that doesn't exist on the market anymore. They both take one, but after thirty minutes (and watching an entire episode of Family Matters without laughing), they decide the drugs have lost their effect and take a second one...and after that they take a third! Well, turns out these drugs need 90 minutes to kick in...which seems like an awful long time to wait! Or maybe it was 60 minutes, I don't remember...that's still a long time. Belfort gets a call from his dad telling him to use a different phone because the feds (led by Kyle Chandler) are onto his scam and have tapped his phone. He drives to the country club in his Lamborghini and the drugs don't kick in until he's talking to his dad on the pay phone and suddenly can't speak and looses all function of his muscles. He wants to get home quickly to warn Donnie and his wife and thus begins a hilarious segment of him having to crawl down stairs and into his car. I heard this scene lasts about 25 minutes! It does go on for awhile, but I guess since I was so entertained by it, it didn't seem that long to me. I felt a little unsure whether I should by laughing or not because here was this guy who was totally impaired by drugs and could have killed someone by getting into the car. Luckily he didn't. In fact, he's so out of it, he only remembers driving very slowly and not hitting a thing and his car being in perfect shape, when in fact, later a police man comes to give him a ticket for reckless driving and we see his car as being totaled and wrecked beyond ruin.

I knew that scene was played for laughs when later we get a very serious scene involving Naomi telling Jordan she wants a divorce and he tells her he's not going to take his children away from him (I didn't know why he said "children" when I think they only had one daughter...?) and he then attempts to kidnap his daughter and nearly kills both of them when he almost crashes his car.

Eventually Jordan's scam catches up with him and he is caught by the FBI (while filming an infomercial, no less) and is sentenced to two years in prison. With all his extravagant things, Belfort didn't do a very good job of hiding his money from the IRS...even though he tried to put it in a Swiss Bank (although that did not go over very well), but I couldn't really blame him. If I had all that money, I would want to buy nice things too...even if that money was obtained illegally! I think that would be anyone's first impulse. Look at poor Walter White: he had enough money to last a lifetime (several lifetimes!) but the only things he ever bought with it was a nice bottle of champagne and a new car for his son. At least his money will go to his kids under the disguise of rich benefactors. But that would suck to have all that money and never get to spend it! So I can't blame Belfort for going a little crazy with it. So don't obtain money illegally!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remember when terrorism was funny?

True Lies
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Eliza Dushku
Released: July 15, 1994

Oscar nominations:
Best Visual Effects (lost to Forrest Gump)

True Lies is the James Cameron movie sandwiched between arguably two of his most well-known movies, Terminator 2 (1991) and Titanic (1997). True Lies leans more towards T2 than Titanic, though. They both star Arnold and are action flicks, though True Lies is an action-comedy while T2 is a little more serious.

While a fun action movie, True Lies is a bit of a hot mess. It doesn't have a coherent storyline. It's like there's three different stories in one movie. A lot of stuff that happens in this movie is really dumb. This movie was made for and intended for the male population, but you can still get a kick out of it if you are not of that camp. You just may roll your eyes more often!

Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) works as an undercover agent for the government in the anti-terrorism department called the Omega Sector. Because this is so top secret, his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and 13 year old daughter, Dana (Eliza "You gotta have Faith" Dushku) don't know about his real job and thinks he is a computer salesman who goes on a lot of business trips.

"Dad, this snow globe is totally not five by five!" 
There's a running joke throughout the first part of the movie that Helen thinks her husband's job is boring and she tells one of her co-workers whenever she needs to fall asleep, she'll ask her husband about his day and that will do the trick. Dana, the rebellious daughter, thinks her dad is really lame. Oh, if only they knew of what he really did and the exciting life he led when he was away.

Before and after:
Tom Arnold Schwarzenegger
Harry's partner is Albert (Tom Arnold) who accompanies him on all his missions. He's the brains behind the operations working with the computers and sound equipment. Harry is the guy who beats everyone up. Makes sense to me! In the first part of the movie they are after a terrorist. There's a big shootout in a public restroom, then Harry is on a horse chasing the guy on a motorcycle. They go through the hotel and into the kitchen, then the guy gets on one glass elevator (still on the motorcycle) and Harry gets on another glass elevator (still on the horse). You think this whole scenario is ridiculous? Just wait, it gets even more ridiculous! The terrorist, now on the roof, sees another hotel across the street and drives the motorcycle across the room, flies across the sky and lands in the pool. Uh-huh. Then Harry tries to do the same with the horse, but being a smart animal, the horse stops short of jumping off the roof and flings Harry off the side of the building, still holding onto the reins.

The terrorist guy is pretty much all forgotten about as we go into the second part of the movie. While going to his wife's work to see if she wants to have lunch with him, Harry stops short when her co-worker tells Helen she has a call from her "mystery guy". Harry eavesdrops and can only conclude that she's cheating on him. He tells this to Albert who in turn tells him, "Welcome to the club." He and Albert put a bug in Helen's purse, then spy on her the next day when she's suppose to meet her mystery man. He is Simon (Bill Paxton), a used cars salesman who is pretending to be a spy so he can hook up with lonely housewives. He invites Helen over to his trailer and tells her he has to fly to Paris on a mission and wants her to pretend to be his wife. By this time, Harry and a whole task force are surrounding the place and blow the roof off the trailer. It's a little ridiculous he has all this hoopla to rescue his wife from a smarmy cars salesman. After Harry and Albert give Simon a good scare, we never see him again. I know Bill Paxton is a Jimmy C favorite, but I don't think he was really necessary in this movie. Yes, we do get some funny moments (like when Harry imagines punching him in the face) and it does help set up the next (kinda pointless but still needed) scene, but it just seemed to be totally thrown in randomly.

Then we get to part two of the second section which is still focused on Helen. She is brought to an interrogation room where her husband and Albert are on the other side of the mirror and their voices are disguised. They ask her questions about her relationship with Simon and whether or not she slept with him and what her relationship with her husband is like. She understandably becomes angry and asks what that has to do with anything. They tell her to avoid going to jail, she must work for them and complete an assignment when she's called. Of course, this is all a ploy, but it spirals out of control as we'll get to in a minute.

We next get the sexy dancing scene which is in the movie to have an attractive woman dancing in lingerie. I don't know. It's a guy movie so you gotta have something like that in there. Helen gets her "assignment" where she's suppose to go to a hotel and pretend to be a hooker for a guy who just "likes to watch". After she bugs the phone in his room, they will be set. Now they have made up Jamie Lee Curtis as very conservative, wearing frumpy clothes, pearls, and glasses and has a "Mom" haircut. Her idea of a dress a prostitute would wear is that awful black taffeta number you would find a bridesmaid wearing, but she gets some sense and cuts off the sleeves and ruffles until it's a little black dress, shows some cleavage, wets her hair, puts on some lipstick and she is instantly changed. Who knew Harry was married to such a hot woman? He sure didn't when she stars sexy dancing for him. Yes, Harry is the guy she's dancing for (he's sitting in the shadows), so it's not so creepy that at least it's her husband watching her, although she doesn't know that, so it's still it a tad weird. She's wearing black lingerie when she's dancing and I'm sorry, but no woman who dresses like June Cleaver would own underwear like that! She lays on the bed and Harry tells her to close her eyes. She does and he kisses her and she, thinking it's some perverted guy, grabs the telephone and smacks him in the head with it. You would think she would be able to tell her husband's kiss (but I guess it's been awhile since they've been intimate!) This is the moment when she finds out her husband is a spy and as it so happens, at that exact moment the terrorist guy, along with Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere), the villain of the movie, capture them.

In the next part of the movie (which is part 3 of section 2 - the longest section of the movie) we get these gems:
-Harry, who is tied up and been given truth serum tells a guard that he is going to kill him by stabbing him in the throat, then taking his gun and shoot the other guards, and I don't know, it's this elaborate plan he has, but he's telling the truth because he does exactly what he says he's going to do.
- Helen sees a bad guy about to aim a gun at Harry who is preoccupied with other bad guys, so she takes a gun and starts shooting it, but she ends up dropping it and it falls down the stairs and every time it hits the ground and it pointed at the bad guy, it shoots and hits them, but she is miraculously never hit!
-Juno escapes and kidnaps Helen and they are driving across a long bridge over the water. Harry gets  the National Guard - or something like that - and they blow up a section of the bridge to stop the bad guys. Really? We're going to blow up the bridge? The guy driving the car Helen and Juno are in is shot, but his feet are still on the gas, so the two women have a catfight in the car and Harry, who is on a helicopter, has to rescue Helen before the car dives off of the bridge. Luckily, he does.
-There's a funny scene where the terrorist is making a video and the guy recording him sees that the battery is low, but the terrorist doesn't want to be interrupted and has to do his speech again when he is told the battery died.

So now we get to the third - and final - segment of the movie. I don't know about you, but I'm already exhausted and feel like this movie has a satisfying ending with Harry saving his wife's life, but nope! Now he's gotta save his daughter's life! Remember Dana, who we saw a few times in the first part of the movie, but had no screen time in the entire middle section? Well, the terrorists have found her and have kidnapped her. So Harry takes a jet (which of course he knows how to fly) and flies to the hotel she's at. Dana has escaped with the key that is meant to detonate the bomb (did I mention there's a bomb in all this?) and goes to the roof (why do people go to the roof when they're trying to ESCAPE?) and crosses some scaffolding. She's just like that little girl from Adventures in Baby-Sitting who escapes the bad guy by going out the top floor of a Chicago skyscraper. Smart, girls, smart. Meanwhile, Harry is in his jet and destroying everything in his wake....he is going to have one large bill to pay! He sees Dana on the scaffolding and tells her to "jump on the plane". Right. She does and the bad guy also does the same and and he and Harry get into a fight. The bad guy somehow gets strapped onto a missile and Harry says, "You're fired" before releasing the missile where it then flies right into the path of a helicopter that more bad guys are flying and they all burn in a fiery ball. It is so absurd. Harry manages to get himself and Dana down safety and the Tasker family lives happily ever after and Helen even becomes a spy.

There was suppose to be a sequel in 2002, but then 9/11 happened and Cameron scraped the project saying that terrorism just wasn't funny anymore and it's like, Huh? When was terrorism ever funny? But I do kind of get what he's saying. Obviously that was a sensitive time in our history and making an action-comedy about terrorism wouldn't be the best idea. But sometimes the best medicine is laughter in times like those, so who knows, maybe the public would have welcomed it. Or...maybe not.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beloved Novel of Our Time? Seriously?

The Prince of Tides
Director: Barbra Streisand
Cast: Nick Nolte, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, George Carlin
Released: December 25, 1991

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (what? - lost to The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Actor - Nick Nolte (huh? - lost to Anthony Hopkins for The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Supporting Actress - Kate Nelligan (who? - lost to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston (lost to Ted Tally for The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Score - James Newton Howard (lost to Alan Menken for Beauty and the Beast)
Best Art Direction (lost to Bugsy)
Best Cinematography (lost to JFK)

As you can tell from my snide remarks, I wasn't a huge fan of this movie. It wasn't the worst thing ever, but I was expecting something different. To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was expecting. I only knew two things about this movie: it starred Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte and it was based on a novel. When I saw the name "Pat Conroy" I assumed that was a woman, but no, it's a man. I'm probably being sexist because my mind immediately assumed it was a woman since while not a romance, it has elements of romance in it. Plus it just seemed like the kind of story a woman would write. (There I am being sexist again). The movie is melodramatic and schmaltzy, but even after two and a half hours I was left saying, "That's it?" According to Goodreads, the book is 679 pages so they obviously left a lot of material out or didn't embellish on it. Apparently the book spans forty years while the movie is maybe a few months with flashbacks. The DVD I had skipped at one point and I missed a good twelve minutes of the movie. This happened the first time Nolte's character goes back to South Carolina. But I'll back up a minute here..

Nolte plays Tom Wingo, a forty something Southern man with an unhappy childhood. He is so over the top and overacts in this and his Southern accent is just the worst! Don't get me wrong, he sounds Southern, but it almost sounds like he's doing a parody of someone with a southern accent. It has that stereotypical vibe to it. I knew this movie took place by the ocean, hence the title, but for some reason, I thought it was Cape Cod or Nantucket, I don't know, I was just getting this Massachusetts vibes, I guess, but no, I was way too north. It's South Carolina. Where, I have no idea, although he does mention he has to drive through Charleston to get home. The Goodreads summary says it takes place in the South Carolina low country wherever that is. But the majority of the movie takes place in New York anyway. Why? Well, because Tom's twin sister, Savannah, lives in New York as a writer and tried to commit suicide. (Not her first time). Her psychologist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Streisand), wants to talk to a family member to "fill in the missing pieces of [Savannah's] life" since she has blocked out many of her memories because a lot of them were pretty horrific. Now I am no psychologist, but isn't that a breach of confidentiality? Can a therapist just call a patient's family member and discuss things with them, even if (especially if!) the patient in question is unable to speak for themselves? (Savannah was in the hospital while Tom was talking to Dr. Lowenstein). I'm sure this is better explained in the book.

Like I mentioned, there are flashback, but there's only a handful and they only last about five minutes. It seems like most movies that go back and forth between present day and a flashback will have the flashback for several scenes. A good recent example of this is Saving Mr. Banks. Another good example is Fried Green Tomatoes. Those flashbacks actually seemed part of the movies and not just random clips they threw in at the last minute. The flashbacks in The Prince of Tides were just very quick vignettes; it all felt very jarring. From them, we learn that Tom and Savannah and their older brother, Luke, had an abusive and alcoholic father and a mother who copes with her husband's incessant screaming by feeding him dog food (clever, I'll admit) and sweeping things under the rug. It is mentioned that Luke is deceased but, unless it was mentioned in the 12 minutes of film I wasn't able to see, we never find out when or how he died. 

There's a flashback (that jumps to and from the present) that Tom tells Dr. Lowenstein and it's the first time he's ever told anybody about it. One evening when he and his sister were 13 years old and at home with their mom, three convicts who had escaped from a prison came in and raped all of them. Now I was not expecting this at all. The dark things about this movie had been a father who screamed at his family and a suicide attempt and then comes this very disturbing scene where little kids are getting raped? Where the hell did this come from?  And I was did these men get out of jail? Was this the first house they came across and it just so happened to be occupied by one defenseless woman and two defenseless children? It just seemed so...random. I have a feeling there's more to this story in the book. At least I hope so! Luke wasn't there when it happened, but he came home while it was happening and luckily he had a shotgun so he was able to kill two of the men while his mother stabbed her assailant. They buried the bodies and the mother told them to never speak of this incident. I can understand why they didn't tell the father (not sure where he was during all this) because he wouldn't care, but I don't understand why they never told the police. A few days later, this is the first time Savannah tries to kill herself. She moved to New York because she wanted to get away from the South (understandably!) and became a poet and author to express her pain through writing...or something like that.

I looked up the book's synopsis on Wikipedia and there was a paragraph about the rape scene. Tom and Savannah were 18 when it happened, which is still horrible, but it seems like the movie had them be 13 for the shock value. It sounds like they knew one of the guys who assaulted them before he went to prison so there is some history there and the older brother doesn't kill the men with his shotgun, but instead the family apparently owns a pet tiger and he released it on the men and they were mauled to death instead of shot to death. I'm almost kind of intrigued to read the book now.  It's gotten a lot of good reviews on Goodreads and not surprisingly everyone says it's better than the movie. (Well, duh!) 

Tom's wife back in South Carolina (Blythe Danner) is having an affair and Susan's famous concert violinist husband is having an affair and eventually Tom and Susan will have an affair with each other.  He stars flirting with her first, but she wants to keep things strictly professional. So she does this by inviting him to dinner at the most expensive, most fancy, most romantic French restaurant. Because that screams "business meeting". She also invites him to one of her and her husband's pretentious dinner parties at their fancy penthouse and the film doesn't even try to make the husband have any depth. He was just a one-dimensional jerk. I can only hope he's better written in the novel! He acts like he's better than Tom and insults him being Southern until Tom takes his one million dollar violin and threatens to drop it from the balcony unless he apologizes to him for the way he treated him and his wife for cheating on her. This is the last we see of the husband and when Tom and Susan's passionate love affair begins. Now I thought this is what the movie was centered around (from reading the back of the DVD box), but the entire romance lasts about ten minutes (maybe it was longer, but it seemed like ten minutes) and it's all done as a cliched montage: there they are making love in bed, there they are making love in front of the fireplace, there they are making love in a bubble bath, there they are having a picnic, there they are having fun outside playing football, there they are horseback riding. And end montage. (Okay, maybe some of those scenes didn't happen, but I can't remember if they did or not!) Then we get the scene where Tom goes back home and says good-bye to Susan and she cries and hugs him and then they go on with their lives. He returns to his wife and three daughters in South Carolina and I don't know what happened to Susan. She probably went back to her jerk of a husband for all I know. And then the movie ended and I was like, "Seriously? That's it?" 

Here's some other random tidbits about the movie: George Carlin plays a gay man who is a friend of Susan's and throws fabulous parties. It was really weird seeing him in this because I knew him as a comedian and while the movie may try to attempt to throw a funny line or two in there, it is no way a comedy. It just felt like very random casting.

There's a lot of screaming and yelling and shouting in this movie. My God, EVERYBODY SCREAMS AT EACH OTHER ALL THE TIME! IT'S SO OVERDRAMATIC! Tom screams at Dr. Lowenstein, she screams back at him; Tom screams at his mother, she screams back at him; Tom screams at his wife, she screams back at him; his father screams at everyone in the flashbacks. I bet that 75% of Nolte's acting is just shouting at someone! 

I cannot believe this movie was nominated for Best Picture. It is a hot mess! And Nick Nolte nominated for Best Actor is laughable too as he overacts in pretty much every scene. Skip this one.