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

TV Shows »Top of the Lake

topofthelake by Jane Campion, on Sundance and Netflix

I am usually hesitant to recommend a show after seeing one episode, but I was so taken with Top of the Lake, I have to share. I’ve long been an advocate for Jane Campion’s other mystery, the unloved and much more explicit In the Cut. Here the master of mood takes us to another world that is at once exotic and strange but is never trite or unbelievable

The series begins with an angry young girl walking into a freezing lake. We soon learn that she is pregnant and visiting Detective Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) becomes involved in the case. The young girl’s father is a dangerous and compelling man that lives in the woods surrounded by equally dangerous family and guard dogs. Near his compound a caravan of damaged women seeking the guidance of enigmatic GJ (a silver haired androgynous Holly Hunter) have come to escape their demons.

It’s easy to compare to shows with similar premises – I’ve read that it’s The Killing meets Twin Peaks, but that denies the unique ambiance of the show which is incomparable and feels like you’re watching a complex novel.

Here I truly hope the series is as engaging, fascinating, and haunting as the first episode. All are available to watch on Netflix. I kind of can’t wait for tonight when the kids are asleep and I can watch more.

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Posted on June 26, 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 »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

TV Shows »House of Cards

house-of-cardson Netflix

Alright, alright, I’ll admit it. The House of Cards remake is addictive, beyond that, it’s actually quite good. Look, I’m one of those indignant people that saw the original, (thank you very much!) and the idea of Smug Spacey taking the place of world’s most charming bad old man, Ian Richardson, well it was not something I was prepared to embrace.

When I began the series, it was a guilty pleasure. I mocked Spacey’s ‘Our Town’, folksy asides and I still laugh at the “hip” political blog office where extras must have been paid to gleefully roll around the desk-less room on office chairs for days. But when it’s all said and done, despite its flaws, House of Cards is taut, clever, enjoyable, and very well written.

The cast is mostly great. Corey Stoll and Robin Wright stand out for adding dimension to their tough roles while Kate Mara just teeters on the edge of being annoying enough to ruin a good thing.

I love that Netflix is capable of producing quality programming and embrace that they make the entire series available at once – especially in comparison to, say, HBO who guards their content, even to paying subscribers, as if it were gold.

I’m very looking forward to the next season and have even more high hopes for Arrested Development when it returns in the same fashion.

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Posted on March 17, 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

Laughs,Songs »Oppa Gangnam Style

by PSY (2012)

Ok, some of you are going to find this Korean club hit annoying. I’m not even sure why I’m liking it so much. It’s undeniably catchy (just try walking away from it with Heeey sexy lady not playing in your head). Plus the over the top video, complete with awesome silly dance is quite compelling.

It’s apparently becoming a viral sensation (so, you’ve likely already heard about it from your mom or co-worker) and artist PSY says he’d love to take his horse dance to the states. We should be so lucky!

Refinery 29 is to thank/blame for introducing me. Oh, And Van loves it. Like really really loves it.

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Posted on August 9, 2012

Songs »Rains of Castamere

by The National (2012)

Being away I just got caught up with the “Blackwater” episode of Game of Thrones and what an episode it was! A modern take on the Rains of Castemere was a perfect song to end such epic awesomeness. And now I can say I’ve heard The National.

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Posted on May 30, 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

Books »The Hunger Games Trilogy

by Suzanne Collins (2008, 2009, 2010)

I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about and besides a young adult romance set in a dystopian future where kids are forced to kill one another sounds exactly up my alley. There’s a prevailing and annoying habit of people, mostly men, around my age to flat out despise anything too popular (usually without ever having read or seen the offending pop hit) but I like to read before judgement (I even gave Twilight a chance) and found The Hunger Games spectacular.. Mostly.

The first book is riveting with well written action (usually hard to write and the part in most books that loses my interest) and the romance is nothing short of brilliant. I can totally understand how this captured the hearts of teen girls everywhere and frankly, it left me feeling a bit like a teen girl myself.

The plotting is smart, the heroine is complex and pishaw! to those complaints about similarities to the Korean gore fest Battle Royale. I’m a big fan of that too but feel they’re very different. Besides I ask you to name one sci fi theme that hasn’t been explored by more than one author.

The first book is intimate, exciting and heart breaking and left me very curious about book two, Catching Fire which surprised me by being equally great if not better. Collins moves the story forward in unexpected and inventive ways. After a whirl wind it ends in a cliff hanger which leads us to book three: Mockingjay and the downfall of the series.

I can’t help but wonder if Collibs was severely depressed while writing the final installment. With my love for dark material I’ll rarely say something like this but: couldn’t she have kept things a bit lighter? Given our beloved characters more satisfying justice and more romance? I mean really, this book is bleak.

Still, it’s worth reading the trilogy which takes about three days – you just may want to fabricate your own happy ending.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

Albums,Style Icons: Female »The Party Ain’t Over

by Wanda Jackson (2011)

I have Van to thank for introducing me to this album. He immediately started dancing to the infectious Shakin’ All Over (which played over the ending credits of Bridesmaids before the Game of Thrones premiere).

Always wanting to please the little guy, I found the song on spotify and we’ve spent several mornings getting pumped for the day to Wanda Jackson’s throaty rock and roll.

I blindly assumed The Party Aint Over was from her heyday – the rockabilly 1950′s – but something about it felt indefinably modern.
The fact that one song, You Know That I’m No Good, (one of the best tracks) is an Amy Winehouse cover would have been a clue to a less oblivious listener.

The album was actually recorded last year with Jack White at the helm who has an affinity for awesome but nearly forgotten songstresses (see his Loretta Lynn collaboration a few years back). Miss Jackson, whom I’ve grown a small obsession for, sounds fabulous at 73 years of age.

While not all the songs are exactly my cup of tea – I’m looking at you Dust on the Bible – Blue Yodel #6, Like a Baby, Thunder on the Mountain, and Teach Me Tonight are sure to get your spirits up and fighting.

I’m currently exploring the back catalogue of this ferocious and inspiring rock and roll pioneer who I is also quite the style icon. Sexy and rebellious she is nicknamed The Queen of Rockabilly and dated none other than Elvis himself – but her lasting influence is her music more than her romantic life.

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Posted on April 4, 2012

Books »That’s How!

by Christophe Niemann (2011)

Van loves books but none make him as excited as That’s How!: A charming book about a boy’s imaginative explanation for the way things work.

It features delightful illustrations that will make anyone of any age smile.

Christophe Niemann is fantastic. I can’t wait to get more of his children’s books for Van, though his clever I Lego NY book, which has been a hit with the blog scene is perfect for adults.

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Posted on March 27, 2012

TV Shows »Game Change

on HBO

Posters of Game Change have been promising that, at the least, the HBO movie will feature excellent makeup and costume. Ed Harris gets McCain’s creepy deep brown bat eyes and does a good job, but lacks the jowls and deep anger of John McCain.

Meanwhile, Julianne Moore makes a stunning transformation into one of my least favorite public figures, Sarah Palin. Beyond the up-dos, accent, and suit jackets, she is able to make the Vice President hopeful human and to my shock worthy of our sympathy.

While not exactly flattering, this portrait is much fairer and less parody than I expected. Though it probably is much more enjoyable viewing if you’re one of the many that howled with sad laughter at Palin’s Katie Couric interview.

Without transcending the tv movie genre, Game Change is a fascinating look at one of politics most recent dramas and reportedly was close enough to actual events to make some of the people involve squirm.

Makes the rather indulgent ordering of HBO worth more than the season of Game of Thrones we got it for.

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Posted on March 25, 2012

Movies »Bridesmaids

directed by Paul Feig (2011)

Call me Katherine Hegel but with a couple exceptions (Anchorman and Step Brothers) I’ve never been fully satisfied with a Judd Apato film… but sometimes magic happens when he works with Paul Feig.

Now, there’s no way I’m going to compare Bridesmaids to Freaks and Geeks, one of life’s most perfect pleasures, but I was pleasantly surprised by what was touted as a raunchy chic comedy.

There is vomit, pooping, and farting none of which is my go to for laughs, but there’s also some really smart writing, female characters who feel genuine, a sweet romance, and Jon Hamm at his dickish best.

I don’t get the chance to watch movies as much as in my freewheeling days, but I’m glad we chose one that was so enjoyable.

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Posted on March 2, 2012