Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Movie Blogger Survey

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Have fun, guys.

Friday, September 3, 2010

In defense of Two and a Half Men

The Internet's most unpopular title card.

I can feel the bullet wounds already.

Somewhere between the time Two and a Half Men became the highest-rated sitcom in America and to the time Two and a Half Men remained the highest-rated sitcom in America, it has become cool to hate the show.

In a recent bout of depression, I finally watched a rerun in its entirety. I pretty much live on syndication. And it wasn't too bad. In fact, I watched other episodes and they weren't completely horrible either. I don't even remember why I hated it so much in the first place other than the fact that, while channel-surfing, it seemed really stupid. I am about to swallow my words.

Let's acknowledge what most of the Internet (15 to 35 year olds) and I agree about this show: It's not brilliant, it's not groundbreaking, it's not special, it's probably aimed at ordinary, middle-aged men and 10 year boys (your parents and your baby nephew), it's surprising that it's the number one sitcom in America, and it has more cheap potty humor than it should have.

But here's what we disagree on: I find it rather endearing, entertaining, full of potential, and occasionally, very funny. Shoot me, please.

I don't understand how anyone can fault the actors in the show because they are not the problem. The Emmys seem to agree with me.

Sheen was painfully bland in his Golden Globe-winning (?!) performance as Michael J. Fox's replacement in Spin City, but in his own vehicle, he is a reliable lead. His acting style epitomizes the title of Jason Alexander's book in the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, Acting Without Acting. Having said that, Sheen does a very good, effortless job of playing himself, minus the more controversial aspects of his real-life self. Comedians have been playing caricatures of themselves for years and while Sheen is not a comedian, he is pretty funny in the show by being a self-centered, often drunk, irresponsible, lazy bastard, commitment-phobe jingle writer with some sort of questionable heart.

Considering all the negative reaction to Jon Cryer's Supporting Actor Emmy win last year (and nomination this year), I wonder: Has anyone actually seen Jon Cryer's performance in Two and a Half Men? Cryer, as Alan, Charlie's divorced chiropractic brother, is technically co-lead, but submitting himself in the supporting category is basically a stroke of genius. While the point of being a "supporting actor" is to impress the audience with limited screen time, Sheen will always be seen as the real "star" of the show. Especially since Cryer's paycheck is almost half of Sheen's.

So back to my original question: Is the quality of Cryer's performance really so much worse than Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Tracy Morgan (30 Rock), Kevin Dillon (Entourage), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), and Rainn Wilson (The Office)? I've seen all the performances except for Dillon's in Entourage, and Cryer's doesn't pale so much in comparison. While Harris was widely considered to be robbed that year, and yes, Harris is a fine actor, but his performance doesn't strike me as so much more superior than the performances of his fellow nominees. Harris now has two Emmys, anyway.

However, Cryer's performance conveys all the anguish of a desperate, self-pitying, middle-aged loser trying to cope with the dating scene and the antics of his playboy brother. A George Costanza with morals.

Angus T. Jones as Alan's son, Jake, is very good. In the earlier seasons, Jake is pretty much there to be confused about the sexual double entendres, but he watches and learns. Is that appropriate? Well, Jones' parents seem to approve. Jones is much more natural than most Disney child stars and has chemistry with all the actors in the show, except that as he ages, he seems to lack an essential father-son rapport with Cryer. As Jake ages, his dialogue is dumbed down to miserable potty humor, but Jones manages to surprisingly deliver his lines with an odd deadbeat charm.

This show has often been criticized by many for its portrayal of women. Yes, the women who comes in and out of Charlie's life are often shown as bimbos. Guess what? Bimbos exist. And there are also men who objectify women. Charlie is one of those men. And these women voluntarily, willingly sleep with Charlie. Those kind of women also exist and those kind of men certainly don't mind.

But the other regular female characters on this show are far from being bimobs. Yes, they are flawed, but again, who isn't?

Judith (Marin Hinkle), Alan's ex-wife, is probably the most unsympathetic recurring female character. Judith divorces Alan because she's questioning her sexuality and after the divorce, she makes Alan pay for everything because she doesn't seem to have a job. But besides her obvious bitchiness, she does seem like a good mother who cares about what is best for her son.

Evelyn (Holland Taylor), Charlie and Alan's promiscuous mother, is a strong, independent woman. Evelyn's dominance of the Harper household--after her husband's suicide--is probably what sways her sons to weaker, more docile women. It makes sense. Taylor's multiple Emmy nominations are due to the fact that she's a masterful scene stealer. Her false attempts to spend time with her grandson, only to roll her eyes at an episode SpongeBob SquarePants and proclaim that "Life's too short" is the stuff comedic wonders are made of.

Berta (Conchata Ferrell), Charlie's housekeeper, is also a strong, independent woman who is able to get the job done and keep the family in place. And some people believe Berta's character is demeaning because she's a unpleasant, overweight maid. While she's not a young hot thing, she's sensible and cuts all the bullshit. Ferrell adds a dose of magic to even the simplest line readings. Even to something as simple as "Bite me."

I am particularly impressed with Melanie Lynskey's performance as Rose, Charlie's stalker and Jake's occasional babysitter. While Rose is probably one of the most manipulative, disturbing characters that has ever graced television, I don't think I can ever hate her. Lynskey plays her with such innocence, sweetness, sharpness, and wonderful comedic timing that it's a surprise that the writers never bothered to expand her role. Every time she is on screen, she brings the best out of all the actors. Lynskey (and this show) manages to make a stalker work as a character and a potential love interest.

The story lines for the episodes has often been criticized as being "unoriginal," "repetitive," and "formulaic." Here are some sample story lines:

- Charlie meets up with an old flame, only to find out that she has undergone a sex change (and is now Chris O'Donnell). They agree to be friends. When the ex-girlfriend--now a man--meets Evelyn, they end up dating. Charlie and Alan need to decide how to break the news to their mother.

- Chelsea, Charlie's girlfriend then fiancee, sets Alan up on a blind date. Charlie and Alan soon realize at the restaurant that Alan's blind date is Rose. Rose proceeds to pretend that she doesn't know the men and Charlie and Alan play along.

- At first, Rose's father (Martin Sheen) seems like an authoritative man. When he becomes too attached to Evelyn, Rose comes in and deals with her father, who seems to show the same mental instabilities that Rose possess.

These are arguably solid sitcom story lines. Sure, these story lines aren't complex or clever, but they're mildly creative, simple, and fun.

The jokes are a different story. Some of the jokes are sometimes just tasteless, many are predictable. There is a conversation in the season seven finale where Jake describes what he does to his butt and compares it to a hot dog; Sheen's disgusted reaction looks extraordinarily genuine.

Creators Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn are above that kind of humor. I know that because the story lines are occasionally creative, the dialogue is occasionally witty and sharp, and I see random bursts of brilliance in this show all over the place. But its good qualities are not being embraced or harvested. It's like CBS comes in and tells Lorre and Aronsohn that the show is a big hit with a particular demographic--the mainstream blue collar/middle-aged men and 10 year old boys--and as condescending douchebags, they convince Lorre and Aronsohn to add in a penis joke here and a fart joke there. Because apparently, the mainstream cannot live without those.

But I don't know what 10 year boys like. Maybe 10 year boys do like fart jokes. I don't know.

The thing about Two and a Half Men is that it's one of the few network sitcoms right now that's not "cute." It doesn't aspire to be cute, unlike Lorre and Aronsohn's other project, The Big Bang Theory. Two and a Half Men appeals to the beer-drinking, working class forty-something and the sons of those beer-drinking, working class forty-somethings. That's a large part of America, if ratings prove anything.

Still, it breaks my heart seeing all the potential go to waste. This is a show that could be about a goofy, modern family unit that could only exist in sitcom-verse--the matriarch, the polar opposite brothers, the son of an unconventional family, the ex-wife, the ex-wife's husband, the maid, the stalker, the occasional new girlfriend, etc. While the show isn't clever, it certainly has a clever set of characters.

There are sitcoms that are as good as they ever going to get. This show could be so much more than the cheap, disposable humor wasteland it sometimes is. Take away all the potty humor and here's a show with tons of potential. Yeah, I like this show for what it could be more than what it is. But haters can hate. And I know there are a lot of you guys out there.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Being sentimental about 'North'

Elijah Wood is the outstanding, but neglected child in North. Photo courtesy of an Elijah Wood fan site.

When I was younger, my mom told me this great bedtime story. It was about a bunny whose mother made her a homemade backpack for her to bring to the first day of school. But when the bunny saw some other animal's backpack (they're all anthropomorphic animals, I guess), the two traded backpacks. And the bunny keeps trading backpacks and she's still unsatisfied. She goes to a wise, old anthropomorphic animal and he helps her to get her original backpack that her mom made for her back.

Okay, the story was better coming from my mom. And I was five, so I wasn't too difficult to impress.

Anyway, I've always loved that story because I love the fact that the bunny was able to get her original backpack back in the end. Regrets can be reversed. I wished the real world was like that.

So even though my mom told me bedtime stories (I think that is the only one she's ever told me) and I lived in the suburbs (could've been worse, right?), I eventually had this phase where I wanted different parents. Now, I understand that most children don't really want different parents; they just want their original parents to be different, like, you know, not as annoying and demanding. You know, the usual. But I was 10. I didn't know the difference. I just wanted my parents to be different--different attitudes, different personalities, different jobs, different people, if that's what it takes.

It's a selfish, horrible thought, but a thought indeed.

Which brings me to Rob Reiner's 1994 family film, North. A critical and financial failure, the film tells the story of a young boy, North (Elijah Wood) who wants to emancipate ("divorce") himself from his parents (Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus--OMG I KNOW GEORGE AND ELAINE) who just don't appreciate him like everyone else does. He's an excellent student, athlete, and actor--so why can't his parents just stop screaming at each other at the dinner table and pay some attention to him?

After North is emancipated, he goes on a worldwide, two-month search for new parents. He goes to Texas, Hawaii, Alaska, an Amish community, China, Africa, France, and New York. Let the ethnic stereotypes, celebrity cameos (Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Dan Aykroyd, John Ritter, Faith Ford, etc.), random Bruce Willis appearances (as some sort of mentor who dresses for the occasion), nervous laughter, and "what the f---"s run loose!

Back at home, his parents are comatose and are displayed at the Smithsonian. Children across America are threatening their parents: if the parents don't fulfill their wishes (one kid commands him mom to clean his room for him), they will, like North, emancipate themselves.

This revolution is led by North's journalist friend, Winchell (Matthew McCurley), who is like 10 or something and he's this expert stalker (it's his job!) who gives these Hitler-esque speeches on podiums across the nation. I wonder what his parents think about that? Anyway, Winchell works with North's lawyer (Jon Lovitz) so they can take over America. Or something like that.

When North begins to have second thoughts (I don't want to actually spoil anything), Winchell tries to murder North because North getting new parents is the key of Winchell's success. The kids are listening to Winchell, and in turn, their parents (who are being threatened) are listening to the kids. Winchell even hires a hitman. Yeah, that's right, KIDS STUFF. I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE.

And why is North named North? Because that's a really, really strange name.

It's probably cliched if I wrote about all the problems with this movie and how horrible it is. So I won't do that. Mainly because I don't hate this movie and I don't even think it's horrible? The reason I wanted to see this movie for the longest time was because of Roger Ebert's infamous review. I bought the VHS from Amazon for $3 plus shipping. But good thing I ended up liking it, right? Sorry, Roger Ebert!

Honestly, I would be lying if I said I didn't like it. I actually think it's a very funny, sweet, touching movie, minus the jokes about the dead fat kid, dying old people, ancient Chinese hairstyles, barren wombs, Jerry Lewis dominating French television, the Amish, and topless African women. There are also weird sex jokes and unnecessary shots of prostitutes? I DON'T KNOW. The ethnic jokes are often awful and awkward, yet pretty harmless. However, I totally understand why many people would find the jokes offensive.

But I connect with the movie's message, which is pretty much that you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it. And that message is very personal to me. I guess I'm just being sentimental, but who said criticism was objective?

The opening scene conveys a sense of wonder that I haven't seen in recent children's films. Elijah Wood is particularly wonderful as North; he's just so natural, authentic, and convincing. Matthew McCurley is entirely too convincing as the full-blown evil mastermind in a child's body, but he manages to be very funny. And this movie is basically non-stop entertainment; even when there's a terrible joke being uttered, there is still something going on in the movie (the terrible joke being uttered). It's never boring.

So I like North. I also like Batman and Robin and Gigli. Oops? JUST BEING HONEST.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How I wanted to care

A few months ago, writer/director Joe Leonard sent me a screener for his film, How I Got Lost. (Thanks! Free movie!) Yesterday afternoon, when I was sitting around doing nothing, I thought, well, why not watch it?

Here is another film pondering the meaning of life and what it's all about. Why is it that the filmmakers of my generation and the generation before mine so obsessed with that topic? And why haven't any of those filmmakers been able to provide an original, thoughtful answer?

It's all about going wild! Getting out of your comfort zones! Doing something different! Be spontaneous! Be what you really want to be! Be yourself!

Before we get too excited about all this, let me introduce you to Jake and Andrew, denizens of a post-9/11 New York.

Jake (Aaron Stanford) is an aspiring novelist, which is the best profession when you're pondering the meaning of life. It's always nice to ponder the meaning of life with a typewriter too, even though it's 2002 and everyone else uses a computer. I realize this is an artistic choice, but seriously though!

However, he has an unsatisfying job as a sports writer who covers women's basketball. To add insult to injury, his girlfriend just broke up with him. So not only does he have a job that he absolutely hates, he is suffering from heartbreak and has yet to discover that computers are much more useful than typewriters.

But images of his break-up continue to haunt him. With sappy music and cheesy dialogue.

Andrew (Jacob Fishel) works at Wall Street with a bunch of phonies. He just recently got out of a brief stint in jail and is Contemplating Life Through Alcohol.

The two frequent local bars and after one too many drinks, Jake and Andrew decide to embark on a road trip. First, via taxi. The New York cab driver gives them a free cab ride to Philadelphia if Jake just gives him his shoes. Lucky them. Second, Andrew goes to his mother's house to pick up a car so they can drive to the funeral of Andrew's father in Ohio.

During the "road trip" part of the film, we get more insights about how Jake and Andrew view their empty, disillusioned lives. Andrew hates sucking up to the big guys on Wall Street. He just wants to be the kind of person he wants to be, man!

There is a gas station scene where we are all supposed to believe that a young girl would be left alone at a gas station and give a ride to two grown men back to the middle of nowhere where their car is located. I think it's supposed to be comedic relief, but I'm not really buying it.

When Jake and Andrew finally arrive in small-town Ohio, they attend the memorial. Andrew finally cracks and throws a tantrum in front of his father's friends. The next day, Andrew is ready to leave, but Jake decides to stay in the town to plan Andrew's father's funeral. Wait, doesn't Jake have to work? And seriously now, what kind of person arrives at a memorial, humiliates his dead father, and leaves all the details of his deceased father's funeral arrangements to his friend?

No matter. Jake soon meets a waitress, Leslie (Rosemarie Dewitt), and they share an instant connection. Maybe offering to help Andrew's father's funeral arrangement was a good choice after all! But still!

How I Got Lost is ultimately a story about dealing with grief and friendship. It's about trying to find what's important and what's not underneath the phony exterior of everyday situations. It's about confronting reality and moving forward. It's the kind of film that has been made and made again. The message is getting old, cliched, and predictable. You have to be quite a brilliant mind to be able to make an excellent film about "finding yourself" because it's been done to death. It's almost Mission Impossible.

But it's also film with its heart in the right place. The performances are quite good--Stanford and Dewitt are lovely. But it's Fishel that manages to be warm, funny, tortured and interesting. But the film has serious pace issues--it's much too slow, drags too much, and doesn't seem to have any sort of end-point. It's a character piece, for sure, but the characters' motivations are so thin and incoherent that it's impossible to know where they're going. Yes, we want them to be happy again, but how? I wish I knew them better. C-

Souls on a verge of a romantic breakdown

MacNicol, Streep, and Kline sitting carelessly on a Brooklyn roof. Being romantic and stuff.

Meryl Streep. Sophie's Choice. Keep freaking out about that performance but...

Sophie's Choice is an extraordinarily uneven film about the lives of three extraordinarily uneven characters.

Stingo (Peter MacNicol) is a naive young man from the south with dreams of becoming a writer. He arrives in Brooklyn, New York in 1940s to fulfill that romantic dream.

At his boarding house, he meets Nathan (Kevin Kline) and Sophie (Meryl Streep), a couple who is complex and fun-loving, volatile and exciting, chaotic and romantic. Nathan and Sophie are unlike anything Stingo has ever seen. They dress up on Sundays, have spontaneous trips to Coney Island, and impromptu celebrations in their room. The film, for that brief period, very much become the American version of Jules and Jim.

Stingo worships Nathan, a man who claims to be a biologist on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. But at the same time, Stingo falls for Sophie, a Polish Holocaust survivor who is more than meets the eye. Nathan, who suffers from periods of paranoia, begins to suspect an affair brewing between Stingo and Sophie.

When Nathan becomes completely unreasonable, Sophie still stands by him. He saved her life upon her arrival to the U.S. He was there for her. She loves him and she knows that, deep down, he loves her, despite his angry accusations.

More is revealed about Sophie's past in the flashback scenes--stories Sophie narrates to a curious Stingo. She was in a Nazi concentration camp and suffered extreme heartbreak. Memories that she could never, ever let go. Memories that made her who she is today.

Except that the Sophie in the war and post-war scenes do not quite connect. Sophie makes similar decisions, thematically, and clings desperately to hope, but she is not a character who rapidly evolves. She, like all the dreamers of 1940s Brooklyn, is a hopeless romantic and has probably always been one. Yes, she suffered many unimaginable hardships, but there is little to indicate that she has changed into a stronger person who can and will stand on her own.

Streep's performance in this film has become legendary. And yes, she is, indeed, very good, but not exactly "the best performance of all-time" material. She takes on a Polish accent, yes, but I have no idea whether or not it is authentic. But Sophie is not a passionate or admirable character. In fact, Sophie is surprisingly passive, dependent, and, in a way, a weak character who hopes for the best, but takes no action to assure the desired outcome. I understand there are many people like that, but here is a woman who has gone through so much and seem to have learned so little.

The harrowing scene near the conclusion is also legendary. But that scene, while wonderfully directed, heartbreaking, and features a spectacular performance by the child actress (Jennifer Lawn) who portrays Sophie's daughter, comes much too out-of-blue to be considered a strong scene in the context of the film.

Kline is full of enthusiasm and bursting with energy. His Nathan boasts of this primitive, romantic nature of a classic bohemian lifestyle. Nathan is an interesting character, but sometimes, it feels like the film just only scratched the surface of his poor, artistic soul. There is more about Nathan than meets the eye, and thanks to Kline, a glimmer of that is revealed.

MacNicol's Stingo, the bland Nick to Nathan's adventurous Gatsby, is passive, boring, and the very last person I would like to hear this story from. Stingo wants to experience life, but he is so two-dimensional and blandly eager, that he comes off as childish and self-pitying. He writes a story about his mother's death and by Nathan's reaction in a moment of insanity, he seems to feel more sorrow for himself than his dead mother. That is Stingo in a neat little nutshell.

The film, weakly woven together by director Alan J. Pakula, yet beautifully shot by Nesto Almendors and features a glorious score by Marvin Hamlisch, is a mixed bag of sorts. There are times where the film almost achieves what it hopes to achieve, which is a expose about the hopelessly romantic and their tortured lives, but the result is a barely beating heart of three hopeless, unfortunate souls who sought solace in the most questionable places. C

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Seinfeld vs. Friends vs. Frasier

30 Rock and The Office may be critical darlings, but are they Must-See TV material? They got nothing on the powerhouses that are Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier. Just sayin'.

When you're an unemployed recent high school graduate, like myself, you will most likely be spending your weekday nights watching syndicated reruns of Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier on your local FOX affiliate, instead of partying it up with booze and blowing your parents' money off at the local cineplex. Right? Yes, absolutely! Nineties sitcoms are so in!

Moving on from socially acceptable norms, I want to talk about what I've been doing to occupy all the free time I have. I've been doing mostly nothing but mindlessly watching television and filling out applications for minimum wage employment. The former is much more enjoyable and a better topic for discussion.

So every night from 9pm to 11pm, I watch Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier, in that order. It is arguably the most amazing two hours of comedy on television right now. In a way, it's almost like a time capsule that brings the golden age of NBC's Must-See TV to 2010. Unfortunately, this comparison would be much more clever if Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier ever aired on the same Thursday night (only Friends and Frasier did).

I'm just living in the past and I'm not ashamed of it!

It is only natural to compare these shows. In my world where nothing is ever fair, there is always a clear-cut winner.

For anyone following my Twitter, they know I love the f--- out of Seinfeld. So there's already no competition. But I'll try to keep the discussion alive the best I can.

Greatest show ever...if you're part of the Baby Boomer Generation or Generation X. Or you're just part of it in spirit.

Seinfeld is one of the most original, unique, inventive sitcoms I've ever seen. In the last twelve years since it has gone off the air, no other show has had such a spectacular cultural impact or an eye so keen for clever social commentary. It relies on no reliable formula. It's completely unconventional. The characters are all bursts of wondrous comedic creativity and so brilliantly played by Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander (ROBBED SO BADLY FOR AN EMMY). It's so witty, so quotable, and almost always hysterical.

Not only do I tune into Seinfeld at 9pm, but also at 7:30pm, and sometimes at 11pm, where they rerun the episode that aired at 9pm. There are some episodes that are so funny that they demand to be seen twice in one day.

It hasn't always been like this, though. I used to find Seinfeld loud and obnoxious, unfunny and unamusing, and generally tasteless. But, for some absurd reason, I would always tell my fellow friends that I preferred Seinfeld over Friends. I think that was the rebel inside of me at work, trying desperately to be different. But truthfully, as much as I enjoyed Friends, I've always found it overrated--more on that later.

I sympathized with Seinfeld, though, even though it's a show with complete and utter cultural relevance and is one of the most successful television sitcoms ever made. But I sympathized with it because my dear ol' Generation Y just didn't get it. I, for one, wished I did.

That was just fate at work, of course, because after my numerous declarations of a preference for Seinfeld over Friends, I actually began to enjoy some of the episodes that I would often catch while channel-surfing. (I guess this is a prime example of becoming what you say you are.) I remember thinking that "The Handicap Spot" and "The Bizzaro Jerry" are absolutely hilarious and brilliant. The episodes that truly got me hooked were "The Fusilli Jerry," "The Pitch," and "The Engagement." There was no turning back after seeing those episodes. The structure is brilliant--everything just ties together in the end, in the most unique, unpredictable way possible.

Seinfeld is notorious for being a self-labeled "show about nothing." And in a way, yes, George Costanza knew what he was talking about. But in the finale, George sums up the show perfectly by telling the NBC executives, "I really don't think so-called relationship humor is what this show is all about." And surprisingly, George is once again correct. While Friends is about marriages, divorces, hook-ups, break-ups, pregnancies, babies, and other genuinely emotional life events, Seinfeld is about muffin tops, pudding skins, soup, man-hands, puffy shirts, big salads, and ultimately, itself.

In Seinfeld's most thoughtful seventh season where George--the jackass, the loser, the Average Joe--gets engaged to a relatively decent woman, yet he spends the rest of the season trying to get out of the engagement so he could pursue other women. The show takes the entire relationship formula and throws it out the window.

But that is the core of Seinfeld: it's about selfish, miserable people whose plans often get destroyed by karma. That's why Jerry and Elaine were never meant to be, though they were perfect for each other (I'm not the only fan who thinks this, right?). But the characters are incredibly human and surprisingly warm (at times) to those in their inner circle.

Jerry Seinfeld said it best: "There's a great warmth beneath the surface of these characters. Just the fact that we forgive each other shows you that."

Those are all the qualities that made Seinfeld click with me, and perhaps the 76 million people that watched the finale (and the many that hated it). The show addressed things that are universal and often made it one giant inside joke for the fans that tuned in week after week (and oh how I wished I could have experienced that).

However, it's also a beautifully nihilistic reflection of the minituae. While some believed the show epitomized New York, it's a fine representation of misery, frustration, and disappointment from any part of the world. And there's the absurd humor ready to be dissected from it all.

There will never be another show like Seinfeld. Some people believe Curb Your Enthusiasm is the present-day Seinfeld and it's definitely comparable, being the brainchild of Seinfeld co-creator, Larry David, but it's a little too formulaic to be "better" than Seinfeld.

Seinfeld is inimitable. And I even liked the finale.

Greatest show ever if you're a fifteen year old girl. Just kidding!

Speaking of imitation, I believe that every generation needs their own Friends. I mean this is as a compliment. I believe that every decade or so, Friends should be remade. So while How I Met Your Mother is technically Friends, its unoriginal premise is not offensive because every generation needs a Friends! (But honestly, I can't care for How I Met Your Mother because I've already seen most of the last ten seasons of Friends. Does anyone else feel that way too? Or do you think How I Met Your Mother's quirks, wits, and Neil Patrick Harris make up for the fact that it's basically a pseudo Friends rip-off?)

I have a love-hate relationship with Friends, as you might have guessed. Friends is the first sitcom I fell in love with. My mom used to watch it in syndication and on Thursday nights on NBC. I would watch it with her and I thought it was relatively funny and cool because when you're ten, funny and cool pretty much makes a show gold.

Unlike Seinfeld, Friends is a certified "relationships show." The show often hinges on whether or not Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) get together in the end or when will the whole group find out about Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica's (Courteney Cox) secret relationship, etc. It's a show that centers its whole existence on the idea of life's great emotional events.

But that's exactly why it's popular. That's why it's still many of my friends' favorite show ever. I get it!

Watching Friends as an eighteen-year-old, it's like watching the show with a brand new pair of eyes. I notice the infantile humor, the unacknowledged, uncalculated, accidental emotional immaturity of the characters (Seinfeld's characters can be immature, but Friends' characters are just plain stupid sometimes), the unbelievably moronic tendencies of its male characters (I know girls like it when they feel dominant towards the opposite sex, but do you really like guys who just don't have a clue?), and the emotional manipulation. Friends feels like a chick flick exclusively made for fifteen year old girls.

Yet I feel incredible warmth when I hear the iconic "I'll Be There For You" theme song and see the cast frolicking in the fountain. I feel completely nostalgic whenever I watch an episode because here is a show I used to love--it's like visiting an old friend.

I saw "The One Hundredth" the other day and there was that moment in the end where Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) looks at her triplets and tells them how much she wishes she could see them everyday. And while I may hate Friends for its blindly cartoonish, immature antics, there are certainly some very sweet moments that just hits all the right notes.

I remember watching the finale live back in 2004. It is one of the most crowd-pleasing television finales I've seen. While the Seinfeld finale remains controversial to this day, the Friends finale left its fans with just the right amount of smiles and tears. I knew twelve-year-old me choked up at the sight of the empty apartment. At the time, I already spent the past three seasons watching Friends every Thursday night at 8pm. I actually feel chills just thinking about the last scenes of Friends.

Call it emotional manipulation or pulling of the heartstrings or whatever you want, but Friends has a damn good finale, which makes watching the reruns more satisfying because I know everything will turn out alright.

But then again, there's Joey, starring Matt LeBlanc. Which I find underrated, but still relatively lame.

Some say that there are two different types of people in the world: Those who prefer Friends and those who prefer Seinfeld. But I wonder if there is a certain type that prefers Frasier, or is Frasier the one show that unites all...?

Greatest show ever if you're a senior citizen. Or if you appreciate wisdom. Or both.

I just started watching Frasier a month ago, so I'm not a Frasier Expert yet.

Up until recently, I thought Frasier was a show made exclusively for old intellectuals who read Proust, Shakespeare, and Joyce on a daily basis. I've never seen an entire episode and every time it came on, I just switched the channel immediately. Well, I recently decided to give it a try and thought it was just hilarious. So lesson learned: Never judge a book by its cover.

While the so-called warmth in Friends can feel shallow and superficial at times, the writing in Frasier is so crisp, so clever, so witty, so touching that no wonder it's one of the most awarded sitcoms of all-time. While the humor is intellectual, it's not inaccessible to the ordinary person.

The sibling rivalry between Frasier and Niles Crane is often hysterical and they are even more hysterical when they have to work together. I was watching "The Show Must Go Off" the other day and the chemistry between Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce (who, along with Michael Richards, stole all of Jason Alexander's Emmys, but who can blame him?) is unbelievable. Not only do they have an uncanny resemblance, they really are convincing as brothers. And, of course, David Jacobi is excellent as an ex-Shakespearean theater actor turned sour.

The on-and-off relationship between Niles and physical therapist Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) really is the sweetest thing. While Ross and Rachel may be the king and queen of the television on-and-off relationship of recent times, Niles and Daphne are so endearing, so sweet that Ross and Rachel can't even hold a candle to their relationship. Niles' nerdy longing for Daphne is funny and heartbreaking, wonderful and romantic.

The rest of the supporting cast--Peri Gilpin and John Mahoney--are a charming pleasure.

I can definitely see Frasier as a no-contest favorite in the future, but for now, I am just enjoying the journey of spending my weeknights with these wonderful, funny characters.

But right now, Seinfeld is the clear-cut winner. Its warmth is subtle. Its frustrations and comedy are blatant and endless. For a show that lets all romantic relationships slip through its fingers, it's a show I relate to and feel for the most. It's the show I feel the most affinity for. And I'm not even a lifelong New Yorker, though I was born there. That must be why.

So I direct this question to those who trespass: Seinfeld, Friends, or Frasier? And why?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Love, loneliness, and the New India

They are just going to dance all day and not give a damn about what you think. Welcome to the new India.

Unless you have lived in the cave for the past several years and/or have absolutely no knowledge of modern Indian culture, I would assume that you are familiar with Bollywood, India's lively answer to Hollywood.

For those who are unfamiliar with Bollywood conventions, Slumdog Millionaire is sort of like the typical Bollywood movies. It has the fairy tale romance, the semi-admirable hero, and the endearing dance scene in the end. So, still very much inspired by the conventions that has made Bollywood such a crowd-pleasing success, not only in India, but world-wide. Naturally, the Danny Boyle film would go on to win an undeserved Best Picture award at the Academy Awards because unlike the usual Bollywood film, Slumdog Millionaire contains political undertones.

But Bollywood itself seriously caught my attention when I was channel-surfing and a local Indian program was counting down to Aamir Khan's best movies. I've NEVER heard of Aamir Khan before in my life, but I was soon informed that Aamir Khan is one of the most popular, highest-paid actors in India. My Indian and Hindi-speaking friends all happen to be in love with him and his movies. To them, he is not only a mere actor, director, or celebrity--he's a true artist who has brought the nation together through the wonders of great cinematic entertainment. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you get what I mean.

One of my friends recommended Dil Chahta Hai (English translation: The Heart Desires). Well, "recommended" is too direct a word. I was going through the films featured on the Khan countdown and Dil Chahta Hai seemed interesting. My friend said she loved it and even offered to watch it with me. (I turned her down.) But she, and many others, raved by Khan's most recent film, 3 Idiots, which is not yet available on DVD. So Dil Chahta Hai had to do. Besides, Dil Chahta Hai, like 3 Idiots, is also about three friends, so it couldn't be that much of a stretch.

So last night, I had my first taste of a real Bollywood movie. Dil Chahta Hai (isn't that kind of fun to say? even though if you have no idea if you're pronouncing it right or not?) about three best friends from middle-class Indian families. They're well-educated, modern, and looking for love. LOOKING FOR LOVE is a big theme, here, because most of the characters fall deeply in love with someone very quickly, even the guy who constantly claims that he doesn't believe in love. Just sayin'.

The film is told in a flashback. There has been some conflict in the friendship between these three friends, but it is not revealed until later. I feel like I am led to believe that the conflict was something very life-changing and terrible, but it is then revealed to be something that's not really a big deal? And the fact that they got into such a major conflict over it is kind of stupid? OOPS.


Sameer (Saif Ali Khan), who works at his father's computer company, falls in and out of love every two weeks. After disastrous break-ups from a total bitch and a conniving Swiss (also a bitch), he reluctantly goes along with his family's plans for a traditional arranged marriage. To his surprise, he falls in love with the candidate, Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni). But Pooja, as a modern Indian woman, is very against the idea of a traditional arranged marriage because she is already in love with another man. Sameer tries to convince her otherwise.

Sid (Akshaye Khanna), an artist, falls hard for an older, divorced woman, Tara (Dimple Kapadia), an interior designer who understands him. This romance creates some tension in Sid's life because of the disapproval from his friends and his mother.

Then there's Akash (Aamir Khan), the spoiled son of a wealthy family. He doesn't believe in love. At his college graduation party, he publicly proposes his love in jest to a very beautiful young woman, Shalini (Preity Zinta), but her finance, Rohit (Ayub Khan) takes offense to that. Months later, Akash, who is on a business assignment, and Shalini, who is meeting her uncle, meet on a flight to Sydney and form a bond. This relationship makes Akash question whether or not love exists.

Set to an energetic, fun soundtrack, with an awesome musical scene near the beginning, Dil Chahta Hai, for the most part, is a decent film, but could have been much better.

Sameer and Sid have the more interesting storylines. While Sameer's happy ending is tied in a nice bow, the ending to Sid's story feels like a cop-out. In fact, it feels that the film sacrificed good storytelling for the two other stories, which are much more interesting, to showcase the obnoxiously bland, predictable romance between Askash and Shalini. That storyline just drags to no end.

The film's attempts to be wise about the elusive subject of love feels shallow, superficial, and silly. A thirteen year old could have made those kind of observations.

But do you know what's the absolute worst thing about this movie? IT IS A THREE-HOUR ROMANTIC COMEDY. OMG. NOT COOL. I told my friend about this and apparently, it's totally natural for a Bollywood romantic comedy to be three hours long because of all the singing and dancing. Come on, really?

There are so many things that could have been cut that aren't musical scenes! They add nothing to the plot! There is the really long vacation montage of the three friends having fun! And it's not fun if I'm not physically there! Then there's that really long montage where Akash is feeling lonely (the lyrics in the song in the scene tells us so) because he realizes that he must confront his new-found beliefs in love!

As charismatic as Aamir Khan is, his co-stars are equally charismatic and deserves equal screen time. Despite the actors look much too old to play recent college graduates, they are quite convincing as the typical clueless, naive youth that exist in pretty much any culture. Saif Ali Khan is very funny as the goofy, lovesick young man and Akshaye Khanna delivers a wonderfully touching performance as a romantic artist who falls into the traps of a socially unacceptable romance.

However, Dil Chahta Hai does present the world with a different image of what the new India is. I'm not an expert on India, so I don't know how many Indians actually live so comfortably and, may I add, carelessly. While it may have been romanticized and commercialized into one marketable cinematic package, there's no doubt that Bollywood is a rising force in the film industry. Director Farhan Akhtar does a fine job weaving the stories together for the most part and cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran gives the film and its various locations (Mumbai, Goa, Sydney) a crisp, fresh look.

But did I mention this film is THREE HOURS LONG? And it's basically a ROMANTIC COMEDY? And its storylines are divided unevenly and some even ends sloppily? And how annoyingly predictable it is? And how its lessons about love are rather idiotic and cliched?

If Dil Chahta Hai ended around the two hours mark, it would have been a fairly enjoyable film about love and friendship in the new, modern India. But since it decided to drag on for another hour, it gave itself an opportunity to be extremely flawed and sloppy, yet its sentimental, feel-good mentality still stands. Fortunately for you, there are other sentimental, feel-good films that doesn't take over three hours of your life. C+

Sunday, May 30, 2010

If I Were a Rich Man

Andrew is hosting a musical blog-a-thon at his awesome blog, Encore's World of Film & TV. He sent me an e-mail several weeks ago informing me about it and due to some healthy procrastination, it took me a while, but here it is...

Bruce Springsteen once described hearing Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" for the first time as "somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind," and while I can't agree more, that's also precisely the way I feel about Fiddler on the Roof.

Underneath all that moronic suburban glitz I grew up with, I always had great respect for traditional values of my own and others. They may be wrong or right, but they exist. It's all very inevitable and very much in need of toleration.

That said, Fiddler is often tragically forgotten by movie musical enthusiasts.

While its professions of faith, family, and Jewish traditions may not be the rule of thumb of twenty-first century cynicism, there is a overwhelming warmth to Teyve's (Chaim Topol), the protagonist, eagerness to keep on living the way life has always been and when he realizes that life cannot always simply be, it's a moment of the cold, hard truth that is worthy of sympathy.

There are few films that combine humor and drama as brilliantly as Fiddler does. Teyve's conversations with God are funny, simply because they are so honest and so human. When Teyve rejects her daughter for marrying a Russian Orthodox, it's particularly heartbreaking because Teyve loves her so much, yet he feels a duty to preserve a tradition he cares so deeply about. He's not always right, but I feel for him.

The film is ultimately about love. The love between a father and his daughter. The love between a husband and his wife. The love between two young lovers. The love between a man and God--and that's touching, whether you believe in God or not. There is just something so pure and simple about the musical's message about love, and it's a shame that modern films seem to over stuff the love message with a glow of shallow boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses.

However, it's also a film about tradition crackling under the pressure of a escalating revolution. A revolution that is plagued by the sorrows of destruction and injustice. There's definite cynicism in the film, especially when homes are being destroyed.

Yet, in the end, there is hope. It's not overdone. It's not ridiculous. It's an authentic feeling of hope. People are forgiven. The future is full of endless possibilities. The film doesn't shove sentimentalism, but makes its point in a rather quiet, touching way.

Director Norman Jewison's musical numbers are not splashy, technicolor extravaganzas, but they are nevertheless electrifying. Topol demands attention. The camera is drawn to his powerful persona. This is most apparent when Topol must break the fourth wall--he's traditional and extremely personable.

And I'll leave with Topol's legendary "If I Were a Rich Man" scene:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bees in New York

Almost expected Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" before this happened. I mean, really now?

For anyone who has been following me on Twitter, I've been frequently fangirling Seinfeld and watching as much of the reruns as possible on television syndication because that's the best way for Seinfeld newbies to become accustomed to Seinfeld. It's pretty much on television four or five times a day.

I've never quite thought about it before, but it is arguably the greatest American sitcom ever. It's well-written, funny, compulsively re-watchable, wonderfully acted, and all that nothing has directly contributed to the nihilist and existentialist thought in pop culture's mechanical consciousness. Seinfeld is a grand "f--- you" statement to and about life but at its best, an oddly profound and instantly relatable collection of scenes from the awkward simplicities of living and breathing.

However, Seinfeld is woefully underrated in my demographic. While I did not grow up watching the new episodes, I did grow up watching the reruns and I'm sure others have seen it during their moments of channel-surfing. And it is certainly an acquired taste: Until one could actually get in touch with one's feelings of misery, Seinfeld will seem like a cruel, unsophisticated reflection of smug, selfish, superficial New Yorkers.

Yet everyone prefer Friends, which usually plays before or after Seinfeld on a one-hour or two-hour sitcom rerun block. Well, I actually love Friends, since I grew up watching it on a regular basis and saw the last three seasons when it was still on NBC. Yeah, I, too, would love to be one of the six, frolicking in a fountain and being cute and cheerful all the time, but as I know and you know, sometimes karma is a vengeful, inescapable cop.

This leads me in to the DreamWorks animated family movie, Bee Movie, which is honestly a ridiculous film that I would have never bothered to watch if I were not a Seinfeld fan. While I do realize Larry David is the main brainchild behind Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld has also co-written some memorable episodes and is a gifted comedian and, in my humble opinion, a fine actor. Seinfeld co-wrote, co-produced, and voiced Barry B. Benson, the hero of Bee Movie.

I am sorry to say that Bee Movie seems to take its inspiration from the weakest episodes of the ADD-induced world of Seinfeld's final two seasons (after Larry David left the show). It is a weird animated feature about a bee who recently graduated from college and has to find a lifelong job. As he explores the possibilities, he encounters a piece of the real world, the human world, I should say. He realizes that humans steal honey from humans and decides to sue the human race, with the help of a lovely florist. This all ends on a rather absurd, pseudo-socialist message and makes me wonder how the hell any child is supposed to enjoy the film.

Bee Movie reminds me of another semi-obnoxious DreamWorks product, Shark Tale, which is also another star-studded animated feature which boasts a voice cast that range from Will Smith to Martin Scorsese.

I don't personally know anyone who has seen Bee Movie, but I have a desire to have a discussion about it. Bee Movie has almost everything I dislike about some modern animated movies, aside from its unattractive animation. I can't say I hated it because I did laugh once or twice and I do praise its courageous appeal to the often loopy possibilities of animation, but I did hate how it tried so damn hard to appeal to the adult masses with self-consciously neurotic Seinfeld-esque dialogue and pop culture references.

In fact, Bee Movie is dressed to the nines with pop culture references that are amusing, but rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious or even necessary. This all starts with the title itself. Ha-ha?

Here we have Ray Liotta honey, a Sting cameo (get it?), a send-up to The Graduate and the downfall of the Saddam Hussein statue, a rather mean-spirited scene where Winnie-the-Pooh gets tranquilized, blatant sex and incest jokes, a creepy man-bee-woman love triangle, a possible sociopath, a Larry King cameo, and many other things that are borderline creepy and eye-roll inducing.

This makes me wonder how animated movies sometimes try really hard to cater to both children and adults, especially DreamWorks. I've heard some fantastic things about How to Train Your Dragon, which I haven't seen, but I've seen many previous DreamWorks animated features, and they are over-the-top with pop culture references that adults probably aren't even going to care for and young children will simply not understand. The beauty of Disney and Pixar is that they rely on the old-fashioned mechanisms of good ol' storytelling and great animation and in the end, there's a wonderful movie to be cherished by audiences of all ages.

I winced and squirmed throughout Bee Movie, though I do realize that it is ultimately a good-intentioned animated family comedy about the benefits of working together. However, being a fan only goes so far. C

Discussion: 1) What do you think about supposedly family-friendly animated movies that tries to cater to both children and adults? 2) Have you ever watched a movie you wouldn't usually watch just because it's somewhat related to something you love?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Astonishing visual triumph, but what was that?

A journey with the machines. What horror.

After viewing 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had several options: 1) Pretend I loved it and made up my own interpretations of what I thought the film meant. 2) Pretend I liked it and talk about how interesting the entire puzzling experience was. 3) Just say I thought it was boring and confusing and put on a bulletproof vest.

Well, I have a confession to make...

I will go with option three. I don't understand the greatness of Stanley Kubrick's so-called science fiction masterpiece. Yes, I realize that it's one of the most aesthetically gorgeous films ever made, with a classical soundtrack that I completely adore, but it is also one of the slowest, most sparse films I've ever seen, which I guess must be the point, if there is a point at all.

Of course, there is also the option of re-watching it. Not so soon, though. My brain is still trying to recovering from the massive what-the-bleeps I experienced throughout the entire film.

Spoilers ahead: The film begins with a couple of apes. They go seemingly batshit because of their newfound intelligence. There goes the story of the dawn of man. Jump cut into space. Adventure ensues. They find this monolith that the apes saw. It's loud and has unimaginable transformative powers.

Spoilers continue: Eighteen months later, these astronauts are traveling to Jupiter on a mission. The whole spaceship is controlled by robot HAL 9000. Hal is completely fascinating, though, despite the fact that he's a glowing, talking iPod-shaped antagonist. But all good things must end, which is probably why Hal gets DISCONNECTED half an hour before the movie ends. Which means there is half an hour more of this film without Hal. Then this astronaut travels through different colored lights, I guess. He becomes old, then becomes a fetus, and then becomes a gigantic, floating baby. The movie ends.

I think I'm missing something. No, I'm definitely missing something. I looked up different interpretations of the film and, yeah, I knew it was about life and death and all that good stuff. Some say the book is a good source for answers. But the film itself is certainly a long, methodical explanation for what could be summed up in one good paragraph instead of long scenes of pointless visual supremacy.

Roger Ebert's 1997 review does an excellent job at explaining the enduring wonders of 2001, but I continue to feel emotionally disconnected and disengaged about the film. Everyone scene and shot seemed to last forever. I still didn't turn it off, though. I wanted to see what would happen next. My curiosity is rather masochistic.

Though I'm all for art and philosophy. Just wished I understood them better.

Let's talk about this. It's therapy time. Please explain why this iconic science fiction film is deservingly revered. Or someone out there can be a kindred spirit.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You can't handle the star power

Cruise, Moore, and Pollak stare into the legal abyss. Serious business.

A Few Good Men
has numerous flaws, but I am willing to overlook each and every one of them because of how incredibly entertaining and energetic the film is.

Directed by Rob Reiner, who always manages to make films with such an endearing old-fashioned flair, this film represents the bare bones of what makes a conventional court drama riveting. Yes, it's entirely too predictable for a film of its nature, which is perhaps due to the structurally faulty script by Aaron Sorkin, yet the journey to the explicit revelation (that most capable audiences are fully aware of by the time that it is actually revealed) is surprisingly intense and enjoyable.

Though the script is structurally flawed, Sorkin's dialogue is consistently brilliant. The characters speak a language that is witty, biting, and wonderfully true to who they are and what they believe in.

Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a recent Harvard Law School graduate working in the U.S. Navy. He is assigned to defend two Marines accused of murdering a fellow Marine at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base because of his reputation for arranging plea bargins. Kaffee is assited by his co-counsel, Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), who hopes to carry as little responsibility as possible.

Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), who originally wanted the case, is instead assigned as the case's lead counsel, much to her dismay. But as time passes, Galloway begins to gain some respect for Kaffee and see beyond his razor-sharp cockiness. While Moore may not have been well-suited for the role, her unquestionable chemistry with Cruise, as shown in the scene where she awkwardly asks him out to dinner (no, this is not a unnecessarily romance, though it clearly could have been), complements the film extraordinarily well.

Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), the commanding officer of the two Marines, is a frightening force of nature that is almost impossible to reckon with. He believes in protecting his country and is serious about his duties, yet he relishes the power he has rightfully earned. Nicholson, who has limited screen-time, plays Jessep with a devilish edge and slyness that only Nicholson seem to possess. And, of course, there is that harrowing quote near the end of the film...

Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, K.T. Walsh also deliver strong performances in small, but significant roles.

But here is a quintessential nineties film that shows the very essence of star power. An epic battle of persuasion. There is so much high-charged energy radiating from the actors that the film becomes more than a typical courtroom drama. In fact, it's as thrilling as a quality summer blockbuster.

Cruise is particularly excellent here in a lead role that shows off his best qualities as an actor; he manages to give an arrogant hotshot a load of boyish vulnerability and charm, especially in the heart-to-heart conversation Kaffee has with his co-counsel. Kaffee's desperation to live up to his father's name is cliched, yet touching and effective as played by Cruise.

However, the modern film industry no longer depend on star power. Star power, which has been endlessly discussed, is a concept of yesteryear. While big stars are still a valuable asset to any film trying to get financing, it is no longer the primary ingredient to a box-office hit or Oscar winner. Recent box-office moneymakers are not led by an ensemble of big stars, but by innovative technology, word-of-mouth, and a captivating story. As it should be. But I miss the glorious days where star power made a film a must-see, though I bet a viewing of Ocean's Twelve strongly discourages that mindset.

A Few Good Men made me nostalgic for a time where an all-star cast was a prominent subgenre, though that subgenre has long since evaporated into pure silliness. I realize that this is perhaps a good thing, but I sure loved it while it lasted.

While A Few Good Men is admittedly contrived and flawed, its high-wire entertainment value is undeniable. I ignored some of its ambiguities and the obviousness of the inevitable revelation so I could sit back and embrace its awesome cast and stunning genuineness. A

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Teen Movie Trailer Showdown: Eclipse vs. Twelve

Since it's spring break, I have more time to spend my days viewing movie trailers that are relevant to the near-future of my generation.

I just finished viewing the trailer to Eclipse. Is anyone kind of annoyed that Taylor Lautner tells Kristen Stewart that he's going to fight until her heart stops beating? I mean, shouldn't he fight until his heart stop beating? If fighting means keeping her alive?

And is anyone kind of annoyed that neither Taylor Lautner or Robert Pattinson has enough charisma to burn up the screen in a swoon-worthy way? Yeah, I'm sure they go to the gym and work out enough to keep their jobs, but I don't feel any grand magnetism radiating off either of these boys.

Okay, whatever, girls. I didn't even bother to see New Moon, which I'm sure is a great romance about the kind of life-or-death supernatural love triangles typical teenage girls can easily relate to. And Kristen Stewart, I'm sure, is great eye candy, too.

There is also the new trailer to Twelve, a small film that premiered at Sundance to mostly negative reviews. It is directed by BISTF favorite, Joel Schumacher, who also made the unforgettably hysterical (and oddly touching) St. Elmo's Fire and is the brainchild behind the riveting hot mess that is Batman & Robin. However, not to ignore his legitimately finer works, which includes The Phantom of the Opera and Batman Forever.

I spotted the Twelve at a Gossip Girl LiveJournal community because it stars my favorite Upper East Side deadbeat, Chace Crawford. While in Gossip Girl, Chace Crawford plays a clean-shaven slut, in Twelve, he plays a not-so-clean shaven Upper East Side drug-dealer who seems to be constantly haunted by a moderately laughable narration by Kiefer Sutherland. Plus, Twelve is technically Gossip Girl, only darker and more about drugs.

Here, Chace Crawford is in love with Emma Roberts (uh, okay) and deals drugs to the kind of Upper East Side teenage slut that his character in Gossip Girl would love to date, but here, that girl has sex with 50 Cent (no, I'm not kidding) in exchange for drugs? And she gets high around her large collection of stuffed animals (she's so rich!!!), which can actually rival my large collection of stuffed animals? Oh yeah, Rory Culkin is also in this movie.

"Kids" by MGMT plays in the awful trailer. MGMT feels used.

Both Eclipse and Twelve are based on young adult novels.

Eclipse is the third book of the Twilight series (duh). The Twilight series was conceived when author Stephenie Meyer had a dream, which is actually kind of interesting because Mormonism, the religion that Stephenie Meyer is part of, is also conceived from a dream (or vision). Just an interesting parallel I realized, that's all. Completely insignificant to the rest of the post.

Twelve (the book) was written by a 17 year old. Awesome! This is what dreams are made of. I'm sure the book is better, though.

Eclipse will be released on June 30 (a Wednesday) and Twelve will be released on July 2 (a Friday). Of course, Eclipse will dominate the July 4 box-office, so there's no use trying to pit an unnecessary battle between two teen movies of completely different genres aimed partially at the same demographic, but not really.

Anyway. A gun to your head: Which movie (Eclipse or Twelve) would you rather spend your wonderful fireworks weekend watching and why?

Post ends. Just felt like blogging and asking a pointless question.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy 2nd Anniversary, BISTF!

Mozart is attending my anniversary party. That automatically makes me pretty cool.

I forgot to celebrate BISTF's first anniversary. I made an effort not to forget about it this year. I like being part of the precious film blog universe. It's fun and there are tons of awesome opinions floating around from the most dedicated, insightful people I will ever know.

March 22. Nice date to remember.

I had a particularly good day today, despite a two-hour blackout in the evening. Then again, I was accepted to UCSB earlier today, so that definitely lightened up my mood.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Comparison: The Age of Innocence vs. Dangerous Liaisons

A truly beautiful shot. I really wanted her to turn around.

I just finished watching The Age of Innocence for the first time. It is an achingly beautiful period piece about a romance that is simply not meant to be.

Director Martin Scorsese has once again proved (to me, at least) that he is a fearless director who possesses endless versatility. Whether it's a biblical epic or a gangster shoot 'em up, Scorsese seems to live and breathe cinema.

The Age of Innocence
is no different.

Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) are two very compatible people who can't live happily ever after because they fall in love in the wrong time and wrong place. However, Archer is engaged to the young, traditional May Welland (Winona Ryder) and the Countess Olenska is contemplating a socially unacceptable divorce from her Polish husband.

What results is an aesthetically gorgeous feast and a compelling and lightly satirical look at the romance and drama of those who dwell in the gossipy obstacles courses of New York high society of the late 1800s.

What a lovely cinematic couple. Day-Lewis and Pfeiffer should make another film together someday.

And, not to mention, Daniel Day-Lewis, in this film in particular, is incredibly handsome. I thought of how well he is able to wear the period garb in this film and how attractive he made those insane, flamboyant costume pieces in Gangs of New York look. If I were a man, I would want Daniel Day-Lewis' physique. Just sayin'.

Just looking at this picture reminds me of the electricity between Close and Malkovich. What chemistry.

But as I watched The Age of Innocence, I was reminded of another period film (and Pfeiffer flick), Dangeorus Liaisons, directed by Stephen Frears. Frears, for the most part, is almost as versatile as Scorsese but doesn't seem to get the same level of undivided attention.

In Dangerous Liaisons, you have John Malkovich, fearlessly and successfully tearing through a conventional lothario role with his unconventioinal looks. And that impeccable last shot of Glenn Close is simply haunting.

While The Age of Innocence takes place a century later in an entirely different continent, there is the same discreet, hush-hush mentality regarding uncontrollable feelings that deviate from the norm. Yet, strangely enough, everything feels so much more liberated in Dangerous Liaisons. Perhaps that's due to the naturally manipulative nature to the characters in Dangerous Liaisons, in contrast to the characters in The Age of Innocence, who, deep down, just want to do the right thing.

I personally prefer The Age of Innocence, yet I also adore the exciting games played in Dangerous Liaisons, despite the fact that the film does feel too theatrical at times. These films would accompany each other well in a double feature.

So, which film do you prefer: The Age of Innocence or Dangerous Liaisons and why?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The 82nd Academy Awards in a nutshell

Christoph Waltz receiving his Oscar for his amazing performance in Inglorious Basterds. While completely deserved, it is among a number of predictable Oscar wins of the night.

I was planning to write some sort of review of last week's Academy Awards much sooner (i.e. when people actually cared), but then I realized I just didn't have a lot to say about it.

The last time I truly enjoyed an Oscar ceremony was back in 2007. I would admit that Ellen DeGeneres was certainly not the best host, but that was one of the best-run award shows I've ever seen. Classic Hollywood elegance. Amazing montages. Five wonderful Best Picture nominees. The awesome image of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola presenting Martin Scorsese a Best Director Oscar. I couldn't have asked for more.

So, gorgeous stage. Glad they brought the blue crystals back. The show ran smoothly, though the editing felt a little sloppy at times.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin took some awkward, yet amusing teasing shots at the audience. Exactly what you'd expect from two well-known actors who are very much immersed in the inside jokes of the film industry. Far from my favorite Oscar hosts, though. From recent years, I much prefer Jon Stewart's traditional and gracefully comedic hosting style.

I know the Oscars are already longer than they should be, yet I still miss watching the Best Original Song nominees being performed on stage. The Best Original Score performance was pretty damn cool, though. How about that for some DDR?

I love how this time around, they actually brought out actors who are somewhat connected to the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees they are presenting. Last year's introduction of each of the actors by well-known winners of yesteryear is just about the most bizarre cue card session I've ever witnessed. And Forest Whitacker directed Hope Floats? Wow. And, one word: Oprah!

This is perhaps the most predictable Oscar ceremony of recent years. Yes, it was absolutely elegant, strangely random (a montage of...horror movies?), but I wasn't glued to the screen or on the edge. It was a lovely production, but the exciting glamor had been eclipsed by by-the-numbers conventionality.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

And the Oscar (blindly) goes to... (2010 edition)

Ten nominations. Ridiculous.

I rarely do award predictions on my blog because usually, I haven't seen enough of the nominated films to write a credible entry. But consider this a birthday treat to myself. It's not every year that the Oscars ceremony lands on your birthday, right?

The only nominated films I've seen are Avatar, Inglorious Basterds, Julie & Julia, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. So that makes me a piss-poor predictor. Anyway...

The bolded types indicate my official predictions.

I want to throw a tantrum when I hear people talk about how Avatar will win Best Picture simply because it has earned a crapload of money. Avatar is simply not worthy of all the ridiculous amount of critical acclaim it has received. It's a fairly well-made film that has deservingly dominated the technical categories, but it is hardly a original, memorable film. Far from Best Picture material.

The only other Best Picture nominee I've seen--Inglorious Basterds--is an astoundingly entertaining spectacle. Since I've never reviewed Inglorious Basterds, I would just like to say how I thoroughly enjoyed Quentin Tarantino's wild, alternate WWII vision, but it simply did not blow me away. Great performances, crackling script, beautifully shot, glorious soundtrack...but I didn't feel that deep, personal connection that I usually feel for truly great films. Perhaps I'm just suffering from being purely underwhelmed by a film that has been loved by almost every other person I've spoken to, but hey, that's a legitimate excuse.

I'd whole-heartedly rather have Inglorious Basterds win the Best Picture win at the end of the day over Avatar. But I have a disgusting feeling that Avatar will take away the top prize. While I haven't seen The Hurt Locker, it currently stands as the only other serious competition Avatar has in the Best Picture race.

Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) seems like the likely Academy choice for Best Director. Again, I haven't seen the film, but I have a feeling that Bigelow is partially being awarded because she's a woman with the ability to direct like a man, or at least, the ability to direct a testosterone-fueled one-two punch. And is it kind of ridiculous that Bigelow is being praised as one of the greatest female directors of all-time when The Hurt Locker is probably the only film that she has gotten any serious recognition for? Correct me if I'm wrong about any of the above.

Jeff Bridges (The Crazy Heart) will win because he's a Hollywood veteran, has multiple previous nominations (his first nomination was for 1971's The Last Picture Show), is beloved by his fellow actors, and seems to have delivered a legitimately great performance.

I will preface my prediction for the Best Actress race for bluntly voicing my confusion about the supposed wonders of Meryl Streep's performance in Julie & Julia. And this is coming from a fan who thought her performance in Doubt triumphs Kate Winslet's in The Reader. Streep's performance as Julia Child is certainly an adorable performance. Streep humanizes Child, yet she doesn't quite capture the nuances of the woman behind the French cuisine. I may easily be wrong since Streep has won numerous awards and garned plenty of praise for her performance.

Though Julie & Julia is a pleasant film. Well worth the rental. A film made by women, for women, and doesn't have romance as a primary focus. That's rare.

If Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) wins, which seems rather likely, I can already imagine people complaining how unworthy her win is for years to come, simply because she has been typecast for years in bubblegum romantic comedy roles and perhaps because of the predictable quality of the film she was nominated for. But I'm sick of predicting with the norm--I want to see Gabourey Sibide (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire) pull an Adrien Brody (The Pianist).

Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) is a lock for Best Supporting Actor. And it really is a devilishly charming, magnetic performance. This category seems to have quite a villain streak--I mean, Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) and Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)? Just sayin'.

Mo'Nique (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire) is the name most spotlighted out of the Best Supporting Actress category, so I'm guessing she'll take the gold as well. Though I can totally imagine Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) pulling a Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) and no one really having a problem with it. (While I should see Michael Clayton, I do love, love, love Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There. That's just a stunning performance, man.)

Let's cross our fingers and hope that the telecast won't feel like a terrible mess.

All nominations can be found at IMDb.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

If you want to be freaks, be freaks...

Nope, it's not Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson. It's Harold and Maude.

There are some films that I simply don't like. They leave a bad taste in my mouth. This happens when I don't like the characters and their motives or the general message of the film. Harold and Maude happens to be one of those films.

Yes, it's a beloved cult classic. If it were made today, it would probably premiere at Sundance and star big-name indie cred actors, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Patricia Clarkson, though I would like to think that any young man who can win a date with someone as gorgeous as Patricia Clarkson is extraordinarily lucky.

Harold and Maude has been compared to The Graduate, which is an unfair comparison, considering how superior The Graduate really is. The Graduate captures a time and place and a satirical mentality disguised by understandable human emotions. There hasn't been a film quite like The Graduate since its release back in 1967. The only comparable thing about those two films are their wonderful soundtracks; The Graduate had Simon & Garfunkel sing its existential blues and Harold and Maude had Cat Stevens sing its free-spirited hues.

That said, Harold and Maude is a film that doesn't know its purpose. Deep down, it wants to question life and death, yet it doesn't. Directed by Hal Ashby, who also directed Being There, a film I didn't particularly like either, Harold and Maude is another film that acknowledges confusion, desires, life, death, dreams, and despair, but it doesn't confront it. Instead, it prods along rather aimlessly.

The film chronicles the gentle friendship between twenty-something Harold and seventy-nine year-old Maude. Harold (Bud Cort) performs fake suicide acts (hanging, drowning, cutting his hand) to get his rich mother's attention. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is a free-spirited senior citizen who intends to live her life to fullest, which means stealing cars and posing nude for paintings. How odd! How quirky! Did I mention they meet at a funeral? Their relationship takes a romantic turn.

But the romance doesn't bother me. No, not at all. They seem like they genuinely care for each other, which is nice. Who am I to be against a loving relationship? What bothers me are the characters themselves. Harold is a two-dimensional, lovesick idiot who seems unwilling to actually do something with his life. He's just an unsympathetically spoiled, privileged kid.

Maude wants to live on the edge...by stealing other people's cars? What a good idea! I'm sure you can find so much fulfillment by doing that. Sure, she's lived an interesting life, but what she does as a hobby causes distress to many people. And no, driving dangerously is not funny. At all. I don't find little old ladies doing horrible things cute or likable, sorry.

And, of course, the stupid ending made me mentally roll my eyes and mumble, "Whatever." Sure, Vivian Pickles does great comedic work here as Harold's self-absorbed mother and the Cat Stevens soundtrack kicks major ass, but Harold and Maude is ridiculous on so many levels that it makes no sense why it has become a revered piece of cinema. C-