Movies,TV Shows »Behind the Candelabra

behidn1Directed by Steven Soderbergh (2013)

Wow. I did not expect to love Behind the Candelabra so very much but I found it to be one of the most likable and intriguing things I’ve seen in some time. Soderbergh, with this and Magic Mike (another film I was surprised by but haven’t reviewed because I never saw the last third) has really hit on something interesting.

Both films center around people on the fringe of “normal” society, who are rarely protagonists and even more rarely represented as more than caricatures. With a Michael Douglas’ incredible performance (which has been overshadowed by cunnilingus) as Liberace -”Mr. Showman” – we feel that this is a real, flawed, complex person not just an iconic flamboyant performer. (Same can be said for Channing’s good guy stripper).

Both films also largely play out with low tension and stress. Jim thinks this is an interesting development in movies – that maybe life is so stressful and people are drawn into stories about people’s lives rather than formulaic tension. Of course, the story of poor Scott does spiral into tragedy (that one sees coming a mile off) but Matt Damon’s performance keeps last chapter of the movie from feeling too much like Boogie Nights lite.

Still, predictable blurry hand held cocaine fueled scenes aside, it’s an exceptionally entertaining trip with incredible costumes, sets and a fantastically creepy Rob Lowe.

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Posted on July 21, 2013

Movies »Berberian Sound Studio

bss1Directed by Peter Strickland

Highly recommended by a friend, I settled into a strange, uncomfortable little horror movie called Berberian Sound Studio last night. While the title is forgettable, the film lingers in your mind. A Creepy, claustrophobic little homage to Giallo – it was a welcome change from the children’s programming that makes up my days (you know you’ve gone deep when you curse to yourself “Cinders and ashes!”).

Toby Jones plays the celebrated but private and meek sound man Gilderoy who, it would seem, has rarely left his pastoral boyhood home. After accepting a job, he finds himself unable to speak the language in more ways than one when he’s trust into machismo world of horror film making in Italy. The film he’s come to work on is “The Equestrian Vortex”, which he quite naively expects to be horse film similar to the nature movies he’s known for. Instead he finds himself listening to blood curdling screams on loops, stabbing heads of lettuce to folly torture scenes, and recording countless fruits splattering on the ground to simulate smashed brains.

Exactly what happens is somewhat open to interpretation. Unlike the graphic violence of the film within the film, all the horror we experience is implied. Tension and unease are created with sound and silence in stark contrast to the nasty bit of exploitation featuring witches, goblins and blood that slowly gnaw at Gilderoy’s subconscious. While we hear descriptions of the movie and the sounds of terror, we only ever see its opening credits (which are perfectly done – Giallo fans will get a particular kick out of them.) Oppressively, we are locked inside tight, smokey sound rooms and tiny recording closets, only once in a jarring turn seeing the outdoors. It’s very unsettling – a mood second time director Peter Strickland paints masterfully.

While there’s a moment it rather lost me and the conclusion could leave one unsatisfied (I truly haven’t decided if I wanted more or less explanations or if he got the balance just right) the journey is an interesting one with extremely innovative sound design that gets under your skin.

BBS is in theaters and available to rent at Amazon prime.

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Posted on June 18, 2013

Movies,TV Shows »The Wallace and Gromit Collection

WallaceGromitby Nick Park

It’s no secret that most stuff made for children is garbage. Real gems, like the Nick Park Wallace and Gromit shorts and films are the exception and I am so thrilled that Van is a huge fan. The contraptions and inventions of the hapless Wallace and his best pal pup Gromit are mesmerizing for a little boy obsessed with machines, pipes and wheels.

The first set of shorts include the noirs A Close Shave and The Wrong Trousers as well as the moon adventure A Grand Day Out. They were followed by the feature Curse of the Wererabbit. The hand sculpted characters are not only charming – what they are able to achieve with the painstaking technique is remarkable.

If the first movies represent the pinnacle art of stop motion claymation, the later short A Matter of Loaf and Death shows that old techniques don’t have to be abandoned for new, that computers, which were used can actually inhance the animation and make for quicker production. I’m hoping that eventually means more Wallace and Gromit some day even though most of the original claymation figures and sets were destroyed in a fire years ago (sob).

Beyond the meticulous designs and techniques, these films are well written and as entertaining for adults as they are for children without being crass or stuffed with pop culture references.

I know I am very lucky that my son has taken such an interest in such a great series. I’d gladly chat about what happens in Curse of the Wererabbit a thousand times than have to sit through one Barney. You can find them on Netflix instant with the exception of Curse of the Wererabbit, available for purchase on iTunes.

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Posted on June 7, 2013

Movies »Anna Karenina

ak1directed by Joe Wright (2012)

Anna Karenina is a sexy movie. Not necessarily for the soft close up nude romping (though it answers a few questions about how Aaron Taylor-Johnson was able to woo and bed a much older woman in real life) but rather, it’s sexy for us that get hot and bothered over exquisite jewelry, lavish ball gowns, and lush set design.

Is it style over substance? Perhaps – but that’s perfectly alright with me.

The literal staging (the film is shot moving in and out of transforming set pieces and stages) is almost distracting at first but undeniably beautiful. Fields of white flowers, ornate walls that had me buzzing with lofty ideas for a new house, diamond necklaces to drool over, and one particularly breathtaking chartreuse gown were backdrop to lots of pursing lips (a Kiera Knightly signature), rugged handsomeness, a couple pairs of piercing eyes care of Taylor-Johnson and Jude Law.. even the supporting cast, an impressive list of recognizable British beauties and dashing men, were more like living props with a few lines of dialogue to move the plot along. The lovely Cara Delevingne doesn’t have much more to do than titter at a distance.

There is emotion to be found, mostly and surprisingly in form of the stiff and nearly autistic suffering husband Jude Law. While Taylor-Johnson was quite convincing in his obsession, Knightly almost becomes too shrill to elicit sympathy as she careens out of control. The high schooler in me, who surely would have loved this, wanted to identify with a woman so committed to passionate, romantic and scandalous love, not get annoyed with her.

For a story so steeped in drama, it didn’t exactly move me, but I will be dreaming of tulle, gems, wainscotting and satin for weeks.

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Posted on March 25, 2013

Movies »Dredd

Dredd-1directed by Pete Travis (2012)

Well, what do you know!? Those shockingly good reviews for the blood splatter B-movie Dredd were right. It’s pretty darn good, in a gritty early 80′s way. There’s a fine line that the ultra violent film toes nicely: it takes itself seriously enough to be straightforward – not winking to the audience but has enough fun with the genre so as to not be mired down in pompous seriousness that plagues superhero movies these days. It’s not easy to manage the balance, if it were more popcorn movies would satisfy more often.

I’ve heard this one is very loyal to the original comics, and maybe that’s where the genius lies – someone adapted something the liked and was smart enough not to change it completely once they got their hands on it.

Dredd is played by hunky Karl Urban (not that you would know with his gruff one liners and never removing his helmet) and his lady sidekick, Olivia Thirlby is surprisingly good, empathetic even, as she blasts her way through the movie.. but it’s Lena Headley who has the most fun as a psychopath king pin named Mama.

Get the kids out of the room, settle in for some blood soaked action and enjoy.

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Posted on February 27, 2013

Movies »The Queen of Versailles

qvby Lauren Greenfield (2012)

The Queen of Versailles, dispute it’s reality tv appearance, is a thoughtful documentary that doesn’t get in its own way. It’s a perfect portrait in many ways of what is wrong in America.

Don Siegel, who could be a poster boy for the greed of the top 1% (he recently made headlines threatening his employees to vote for Romney and suing the film maker of this documentary for defamation) begins the film building the biggest single family home in America with his trophy wife Jackie.

She elicits much more sympathy than her husband but if he symbolizes corporate greed, she is a symbol the insatiable consumerism that effects most Americans rich or poor.

Part of the films success was luck. Had filmmaker Greenfield not been there when the economy collapsed and the Siegels lost nearly everything the story would not have been as fascited and fascinating but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s also a very well made film.

Many people like me are discovering this gem on netflix where topical docs abound but very few will be as interesting or thought provoking.

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Posted on February 4, 2013

Movies »Bernie

bernie-poster1directed by Richard Linklater (2011)

Bernie came and went quietly in theaters but more and more people are discovering it on netflix as a hidden gem.

Fans of City Confidential (one of televisions unsung greats) will rejoice in this based on a true story crime flick. Linklater wisely uses colorful real people from the town of Carthage, TX as the talking heads and pulls excellent performances from them as well as his veteran actors.

Shirley McClaine is perfect as a cranky old woman, delivering lines that sound like overhead real conversations while Jack Black is remarkably subtle. Usually over the top and obnoxious, here he makes the character Bernie likable and dimensional while having fun with the role. In a quieter year, or had the film gained more attention, it could have even garnered him his first Oscar nomination.

It’s not big, loud oscar bait though (but Black did receive a Golden Globe nomination). It fits nicely along side other infinitely watchable true crime films like To Die For, Fargo, and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (do I see a potential marathon line up).

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Posted on January 29, 2013

Movies »Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

directed by Thomas Alfredson (2011)

I sincerely wish I had the wherewithal, mind space and time to write the intelligent, thoughtful essay the newest adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy deserves … But as I spend most of my days singing The Hot Dog Song to entertain my son, making jam sandwiches and whistling through multiple dirty diaper changes, I do not.

I can say that despite my most sincere misgivings about them even thinking of remaking the original (which is phenomenal and boasts a performance by Alec Guinness that frankly out does Gary Oldman) I was floored by this smart production.

Not only is the writing and direction sharp, the cast is perfection (and includes the thinking woman’s ideal host of hunks including Colin Firth and Tom Hardy) and the art direction is truly impeccable. It takes a certain skill for a film to transport us to a place and time, in this case 1970′s London, without it playing false or costumey.

Make sure you have time to devote to watching carefully, its a complex movie but worth it. The best film I’ve seen in a long time.

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Posted on December 27, 2012

Movies,Style Icons: Male »Tony Scott

RIP

Shocking and sad news about Tony Scott. His films entertained millions. Personally, True Romance and The Hunger are huge favorites. Huge. What a loss.

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Posted on August 22, 2012

Movies »Smile

 directed by Michael Ritchie (1975)

I’d hate to spend this whole review comparing the small town pageant comedy Smile to the best of Robert Altman, which it so clearly drew inspiration from, so I’ll just say this: while it has the flavor of the fly on the wall film making which makes films like Nashville and Short Cuts among my most favorite, it does fall short.

Still it boasts a great cast, that no only includes Violet Beauregard (from Willie Wonka!), a young topless Melanie Griffith and Annette O’Toole and Kate Sarchet as extremely natural and likable contestants in the Young Miss pageant. You’ve also got Bruce Dern!

“Dernsie”, as we fans like to call him at first seems to be playing to type as a sleazy car salesman but he bucks his creepy type casting to play a decidedly optimistic man who fails to see anything negative (even if it hits him in the face) and lives for the joy of the annual pageant he judges.
Smile is often funny – the unusual “talents” like packing a suit case and thinly veiled stripping stand out, but it turns dark with the subplot of the town drunk and plays with themes of suburban ennui, adolescence, and the American Dream – like a good old American novel from the era.
It’s available to watch on Netflix and might just be worth a viewing for all the period maxi dresses and feathered hair.

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Posted on August 13, 2012

Movies »Into the Abyss

directed by Werner Herzog (2011)

Into the Abyss takes an unsentimental (is Herzog ever any other way?) look at a particularly senseless murder and subsequent death sentence.

In most hands the subject and people could be treated with pointed, tear jerking emotions, but with Herzog’s frank discussions (at one point he tells a murderer he has no intention of liking him) the people involve are allowed to be more dimensional.

He asks questions and focuses on details other film makers would ignore.

The result is more than a knee jerk reaction to crime, poverty and the death penalty. It provokes you to actually think about it.

Herzog is an incredible documentarian who usually takes on nature more than human drama. In a way, this is a quieter film from him that lacks the interesting scenery of his more familiar works but it’s certainly not one to be missed.

It’s available on Netflix instant and beats an Investigative Reports any day.

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Posted on May 24, 2012

Movies »Unzipped

directed by Douglas Keeve (1995)

I adore the documentary Unzipped. I have probably seen it a dozen times and all those times, seen it alone. Of all the passions and tastes Jim and I share, movies about the fashion industry just isn’t one of them so they’ve become a private pleasure.

With this Isaac Mizrahi ode to high fashion being on Netflix instant, I couldn’t help but indulge in another viewing.

Before Project Runway, before any of the many fashion docs, there was this movie. Its inside look at the creative process was truly inspiring and amazing to me as a young woman and still fills me with joy to watch. Mizrahi is charming, the show is excellent (looks as fresh today as then), the cinematography is beautiful and even the score is perfection.

I feel like this movie is almost forgotten and buried behind The September Issue and realty tv but any lover of fashion should see it right away. It’s divine.

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Posted on May 18, 2012

Movies »Ghostbusters

directed by Ivan Reitman (1984)

Recommending Ghostbusters, even as part of my ongoing “Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon” seems silly.

I mean, we’ve all seen it right? We’ve all probably even seen the disappointing sequel and the animated series The Real Ghostbusters (neither of which, let’s get clear, am I recommending).

Those that haven’t seen this classic, flawless comedy.. Come on!!

All others can rejoice in re-watching it on Netflix instant.
Did I ever mention the time I made a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in art class as a child or wanted to be Ray Parker Jr for halloween? Yep, I was (and am) a pretty big fan.

Rumors persist in a third installment but I’m not sure it will happen or if it’s a good idea if it does.

 

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Posted on April 29, 2012

Movies »The Shining

directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980)

As my “Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon” continues I give you the one movie I just can’t forgive you for not seeing.

The Shining is simply my favorite movie and that is all.

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Posted on April 15, 2012

Movies »Alien and Aliens

directed by Ridley Scott (1979) and James Cameron (1986)

When three adult, seemingly intelligent Jeopardy! contestants couldn’t name Alien as the film starring Ian Holm as an android I was appalled!

So, even though Alien and Aliens were set to make an appearance on my “Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon”, now it seems urgent to tell you to watch them straight away.

The first is cerebral, terrifying and ground breaking. The second defied the odds and became the best of block buster action science fiction (featuring the amazing line “Game over, Man!”) despite a new, different minded director. Together, they are simply the best films ever made in their genre, in fact – they define the genre.

I am cautiously excited about the prequel Prometheus because it’s also by Alien director Ridley Scott. Maybe it will succeed is capturing the brilliance of the series in a way that parts 3 and 4 have not.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

Movies »The Big Lebowski

directed by The Coen Brothers (1998)

Continuing my Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon, I give you the oft quoted, nearly universally loved Coen Brothers’ masterpiece The Big Lebowski.

There’s a reason everyone adores this movie. See it. It’s infinitely re-watchable with more unforgettable lines and characters in ten minutes than in the entirety of most comedies ever made.

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Posted on April 6, 2012

Movies,Spend a Couple Minutes »Rear Window

directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1954)

Some of my absolute favorite movies have never been recommended here because:

A. I assume everyone has already seen them and

B. They’re such known classics that there’s not much left to say except “It’s awesome”.

But I am recommending Rear Window regardless because no one needs me to say much anyways and I am always surprised at how few people have seen what I think are major classic films.

Hey, let’s make a week of it – I’ll call it my Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon.

And if you are already a fan of Rear Window and don’t need me telling you to watch it, check out this stunning time lapse video of the amazing set piece.

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Posted on April 4, 2012