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 »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

TV Shows »Girls

on HBO

Girls. It’s about hipsters. It’s about millennials. Of course there’s a rage filled backlash against its hype and popularity. No two peoples are more scoffed at on the planet.

I expected to be thoroughly annoyed myself. I know these girls. They crowd restaurants in the weekday afternoons. They dress like Blossom. They never give a seat to a pregnant lady on the subway feeling more entitled to rest their own feet. They make me feel old as they spill out of Bedford Avenue bars – and make me feel good about being old. It’s not that I hate them, I just assumed that watching a show glamorizing their bankrolled lifestyle wouldn’t be my idea of fun.

And fun its not, but Girls is in its own way rather smart and interesting. It’s not glamorizing but quite self critical, often cringe inducing (reminding me of Todd Solondz). Creator Lena Dunham knows her subjects well and thrives on the old adage “go with what you know”. Her characters are realistic, horribly flawed (but not in that script writing class “fatal flaw” kind of way) and more interesting for it. The only exception is the character Shoshanna who comes of as an over the top improve character delivered by a girl who hates other girls. Some empathy and subtler acting could have gone a long way here.

The pilot was better that the second episode which focused on sex in a desperate and often icky way (realistic? Possibly for some. Enjoyable to watch? Eeh.) and whether the entire season can hold my attention remains to be seen. More Chris Eigeman wouldn’t hurt.

I will say Girls surprised me. And at the very least, it’s a very welcome point of view compared to the often veiled sexist crap that litters premium channels (just try to watch the horrendous House of Lies to get an idea of what I mean).

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Posted on April 27, 2012

Movies »The Servant

directed by Joseph Losey (1963)

The quietly strange film The Servant grabbed my attention with subtle and indefinable tension. For an hour or so, I couldn’t quite tell why I was so intrigued.

This complex take on class struggle based on the novel by Robin Maugham, written by Harold Pinter, concerns an oblivious upper class young man named tony who has vague plans to make lots of money clearing Brazilian rain forests but can’t pour his own brandy.

Enter Hugo Barrett, a seemingly devoted manservant who slowly becomes integral to Tony’s existence. Bogarde’s performance is key to the movies success. he plays a soft spoken servant hiding the cruelty of a master manipulator. He’s both creepy in his surprising viciousness and alluring in his brazenness. Even naked in silhouette he’s fascinating to watch.

Inventive Cinematography, great use of music (“All Gone”, sung by Cleo Laine), and constant visual and palpable tension make this movie more than a mere social class allegory. It’s also quite beautiful, quietly homoerotic (though this might only be my interpretation) and one of those films that really gets under your skin.

On Netflix instant.

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Posted on October 12, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Hart of Dixie

Thumbs Hated Having to Spend Time Writing This

I’ve been trying to come to terms with the idea of spending the time to write about Hart of Dixie, CW’s desperate attempt to reach “real” Americans via good old boy stereotypes (they love the simple life and teaching uppity women lessons), big city career women stereotypes (they’re bitches that wear Chanel and need to learn a lessons from aforementioned men), references to Carrie Underwood, outlandish Southern accents, and a token black guy (really, just one guy?)

I decided I’d been punished enough just having to watch it.

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Posted on October 6, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Prime Suspect

Thumbs Ask Where Helen Mirren Is

Why didn’t they just call this “Tough Lady Cop”?

While I like that Lynda La Plante is getting paid, naming Prime Suspect after her groundbreaking series is an insult to all of us that loved it.

To be fair though, I had expected Bello’s performance with that god awful hat to have all the subtlety of a one woman play (picture woman thumbing her nose, sittin’ on a chair backwards and saying “ya know whaddimean?” in a New Yawk accent) and she was better than that.

But come on, they didn’t even learn the lesson from original – that actual, frustrating and realistic police work is far more interesting than tidy crimes that get wrapped up in 40 minutes.

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Posted on October 4, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Unforgettable

Thumbs Bored

It’s probably not fair to dismiss a show because I don’t like the way the lady purses her lips.

But here we are.

Have you seen a cop drama with a “strong” female lead haunted by her past? What about one where she and another cop used to bang? What about one where she goes to a warehouse alone to catch the real killer only to be saved by said cop? You have? Then you’ve pretty much seen Unforgettable.

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Posted on September 25, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: A Gifted Man

Demme Makes It As Good As It Can Be

I’m not going to like anything that could be described as ghost whisperer meets ER no matter how good it is.

But I have to say, if you stories about like ghosts (which are really just golden hearted secular angels) and mean, rich men learning how to love impoverished Hispanic children, then The Gifted Man is probably the highest quality version you can find.

It’s directed by Jonathan Demme, so it actually looks like a professional show (something I’ve found shockingly lacking this season) and the cast is largely stellar. She channels Meryl Streep, he balances a tough roll, but I was most happy to see the wonky eyed entomologist from Silence of the Lambs back on screen.

Almost skipped this one entirely (like I did H8R).

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Posted on September 24, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: The Playboy Club

on NBC, but not for Long

The success of Mad Men, which let’s face it, is the only reason this thing exists, yielded many lessons.

To name a few: people appreciate a fine attention to period detail, audiences can deal with deliberate paced and unconventional plot lines, that characters don’t have to be stereotypes to be interesting.

The only thing The Playboy Club seemed to gleam from it though was to get someone who sounds exactly like Don Draper. Close your eyes and listen – that guy must have listened to nothing but those Mercedes Benz ads for weeks to prepare for the role.

Otherwise, this is drivel. Young girl with big dreams, mobsters, a narration by Hugh Hefner from beyond the grave. No doubt the creators saw Scorsese in their ideas. More accurately, they brought Burlesque to the small screen without the camp and wagon wheel watusi. Which is a truly boring thing to see.

Van turned it off several times. Even babies aren’t impressed and they light up when a Pillow Pets commercial comes on.

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Posted on September 23, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Ringer

Thumbs Down

Dull. Predictable.

Horatio Hornblower looks like The Fantastic Four sapped his life force.

A grimacing Buffy is uninspired without witty banter and apparently refuses to do boat shoots…

Leading to the most hilarious and shockingly bad effects I’ve seen on TV since Gatoroid. Watch here.

But Richard’s there, so there’s that.

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Posted on September 15, 2011

Movies »Bluebeard

directed by Catherine Breillat (2009)

I have been curious about the work of controversial Frenchwoman Catherine Breillat for some time and was excited to find her Bluebeard available on Netflix. (This may be one of her less controversial films with none of the uncomfortable sex scenes I anticipated – but warning for the squeamish – there is a chicken with it’s head cut off scene).

As you can see by the stills, this film is gorgeous. Any fan of cinematography or photography will be smitten. And the costumes! If you’ve ever been to the Renaissance Faire and wondered what it would look like if everyone there was as fashionable as you, then you must see this movie. The many ways floor length can look incredible in the out of doors is alone worth a viewing.

But beyond the aesthetics, this is an interesting take on the traditional Bluebeard tale. With a stylized telling of the gory fairytale juxtaposed with two gingham pinafore dressed sisters in an attic reading the tale, Breillat is clearly but subtly capturing the uniquely female experience of being a young girl: When you are dimly aware of sexuality and adulthood, with impressions of love and death, but still a child at heart. A phenomenon described in the film as having the innocence of a dove but the pride of an eagle.

On the fairytale side, two striking young girls become fatherless and the younger one is married off the the ogre of a man, Bluebeard. Not since Lord of the Rings has desperate size been as effectively used on screen. The bride is as tiny as a bird, whereas Bluebeard, in a feat of perfect casting is hulking and gently monstrous.

The other narrative features bickering sisters who, as only sisters can, fight as they cuddle and scare themselves with the bloody story. Something surreal happens in this narrative, but without spoilers, I’d argue that is may not have really happened (if you watch it, maybe we can discuss.)

Between this and recent Brixpick, The White Ribbon, I sense there is something quite remarkable and fascinating going on with the period piece movie in global cinema. If only Hollywood could get so inventive and artistic with theirs – I can’t tell you how boring it all is to see the same corset blandness season after season.

Click here for the rest of Bluebeard

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Posted on May 27, 2011

Movies »Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (2010)

I know I am late to the Black Swan parade, but since Darren Aronofsky is pretty much a bad word in our house, this recommendation is for those, who like me, were hesitant to believe the hype because they just hate Requiem for a Dream so much.

After watching the stylized sexual thriller, I was both elated and initially a little disappointed. The first half of the film surprised and floored me with it’s incredibly haunting mood, subtle creepiness, and paranoid tone. It reminds me of the best work of Roman Polanski or Ken Russell.

About half way through, though, when everything breaks apart and the more traditional horror movie events come into play, I felt betrayed that the subdued artfulness had gone out the window. However, once I had finished watching it all and looked back at it for what it was, not the movie I expected or wanted it to be, I realized the somewhat repetitive “gotcha” part felt like it had passed in a few seconds and effectively felt like some fever nightmare.

This manic explosion of insanity did have some truly stunning parts – like a particularly cringe inducing scene involving Portman’s legs and the absolutley exquisite final dance where we see her internal transformation into the black swan flawlessly displayed externally in a feat of special effects and amazing costuming.

Still, it’s the slower paced eerieness that sets the tone perfectly and promises a conclusion more complex and strange than we get.

Portman is very believable as a frigid, scared young woman who seems constantly falling victim to the few people she’s let into her life.

One of those people is her mother, played with tight lipped, quiet obsession by an unsung Barbara Hershey. Another is Vincent Cassel‘s predatory director – a role that could have easily fallen into parody in the hands of anyone less French, oddly handsome, and confident in his lechery.

Mila Kundis doesn’t get much praise, maybe because her role is simpler than Portman’s, maybe because she is, after all, some girl from That 70’s Show, but she is effective and necessary as a foil to Portman’s pent up anxieties. It’s also fun to see Winona Ryder as an aging ballerina, even if I didn’t totally buy her wobbly, cocktail spilling performance.

The Tchaikovsky score is, of course, beautiful and Rodarte lends their ethereal touch to the great costumes.

A surprising and very strange delight.

Click here for the rest of Black Swan

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Posted on May 16, 2011

Movies »The White Ribbon

directed by Michael Haneke (2009)

The White Ribbon very much reminds me of a classic “man’s inhumanity towards man” novel taught in high schools and is far more interesting than all the bratty kids reading it will give it credit for. It questions whether man is inherently evil and if you’ve ever seen a Michael Haneke movie, you’ll not be surprised that his answer is yes.

I can even envision the reading comprehension questions at the back of the non existent text book:

1. Who do you think committed all the crimes? And what was their motive?

2. Is the narrator correct in his accusations?

3. What do you think happened to the midwife and her son? What about the Doctor and his family?

All questions I’ve been pondering and frankly wish I had a classroom of people who’ve seen it to discuss.

Several disturbing acts of violence erupt in a small German village before the break out of World War I. From torture to arson, the crimes are as heinous as they are confounding and Haneke, once again proving he’s one the most compelling and daring film makers working today, isn’t as forthcoming as he seems. These troubling times are told through the eyes of a kind school teacher as he falls in love with a local governess, lending a small glimmer of benevolence among the cruelty.

The film is absolutely beautiful, not only is the cinematography stunning and sweeping, but the details of costume and set are superb. This is a cold, severe, yet elegant take on the themes we love so well in Nick Cave’s “The Curse of Millhaven”, Village of the Damned and Lord of the Flies. The children are impeccably cast.

It is available on netflix instant and I hope that will allow it to find a wider audience despite it’s deliberate pace.

Click here for the rest of The White Ribbon

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Posted on May 8, 2011

TV Shows »The Borgias

on Showtime

While in Colorado I caught up with my premium channels and discovered that I liked some things I expected to like (Game of Thrones – more on that soon), hated other things I expected to like (Mildred Pierce – why are you so painfully, obnoxiously boring and ham-fisted?) but I was most surprised by how much I enjoyed the bloody soap opera that is The Borgias. Although, ever since a short stay in Rome in my college years, I have had an interest for Italian history so I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It’s so juicy and tawdry and fascinating and The Borgias gets all that drama just right.

The cast is perfection. Even though Jeremy Irons bears no physical resemblance to Pope Alexander the Third, his portrayal of the corrupt Patriarch who manages to think himself virtuos and wise by making others do his dirty work is a joy to watch. Without him lending his gravitas and subtle humor, the tone of the show wouldn’t settle right. But he is not even the best character!

I have to admit I have a huge crush on the Cardinal son, Cesare (who my mom pointed out has a passing resemblance to Jim if he were dark) and his right hand assassin, my favorite character is portrayed by Sean Harris – who some of you might recognize as a very, very bad police man in the Red Riding Trilogy. Looking every bit like a nightmare and quite a lot like Vincent Van Gogh, Harris has found the role of a lifetime, custom suited to his creepy gaze.

Lucrezia is played with charm and a mischievous streak by the adorably named Holliday Grainger. It’s nice to see former Mrs Val Kilmer Joanne Whalley who I think I last saw in The Singing Detective as the mother and new comer Lotte Verbeek is appropriately lovely to look at as Giulia “the Beautiful” Farnese. Even less central characters are a thrill to see like Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius), Nicholas Rowe (The Young Sherlock Holmes – which I loooved as a kid), Gina McKee (from Mike Leigh movies and Soames’ suffering wife in Forsyte Saga) and Stephen Berkoff (the bad guy from Beverly Hills Cop and a former Brix Pick hunk). The other son? Eh – I just can’t get over his bad hair I guess.

While the show may not be completely historically accurate, much of the intrigue, scandal, plots, murders, affairs, assassinations, and conspiracies did happen; making the poster’s claim “The Original Crime Family” not only a desperate attempt to grab former viewers of The Sopranos but true as well. And really, there is no need for The Borgias to be desperate, even if it gets a slightly slow start, anyone with a penchant for this kind of thing will become an instant fan. I can’t wait to see what wickedness comes next – and even went ahead and ordered Showtime to find out.

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Posted on April 27, 2011

Books »The Looking Glass War

by John Le Carre (1965)

At this point I really shouldn’t be shocked that I share a common interest: a love of John Le Carre, with those greying men in neckties and with golf habits I always hear about but it still surprises me (Does this mean they’re right about Clive Cussler too?). Le Carre is a magnificent story teller, his world of spies and espionage is uniquely intriguing in that is doesn’t include gadgets, studly men and super villains but rather muddled intelligence, old men with often tired or unforgiving wives, and enemies that are vague at best. In The Looking Glass War, the vagueness couldn’t be more pronounced. Set during the Cold War in a department known only as “The Department”, some sketchy intelligence leads to even an even sketchier mission.

The “heroes” are men who thrived during the War and knew exactly their roles within it but who are now feeling ignored, confused and washed up against the less obvious tactics and rules of a War waged without guns and maneuvering. Out of date on the newest technology, flailing when it comes to covert operations and desperate for the honor and respect their previous positions use to garner, the Department headed by Leclerc is overly zealous to send a man into Germany to investigate some blurry photos with possibly significant implications. The recruited agent, a Polish, well dressed ladies man named Leiser also had his heyday years earlier but is completely unaware that he’s putting his life in the hands of those equally rusty and clumsy. After spending time with the men as they prepare for the mission one can see that tragedy is inevitable.

Le Carre always provides a realistic portrayal of spying, but apparently the frank banality of this one made it less popular than his other novels. I found it compelling and a great study of characters. Even our favorite, George Smiley makes several appearances.

It was adapted into a movie in 1969 starring Anthony Hopkins. In my usual habit, I cast it in my mind with James McAvoy as the young Avery, any actor that looks similar to Marco Pierre White as Leiser, Stephen Frye as Woolcroft, Michael Gambon as Haldane, since Alec Guinness has passed, Sir Ian McKellan as Smiley and for some reason I could only see Magnum PI’s John Hillerman as Leclerc.

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Posted on April 20, 2011

Movies »Pale Flower

directed by Masahiro Shinoda (1964)

From the Japanese New Wave movement emerges this hard boiled noir. Pale Flower, of the gambling noir sub genre, is tough, cool, and stylish. Shot in such stark black and white that only slivers of the action are often visible, it takes us on a cold journey to the Tokyo underworld where addiction, desperation, skewed loyalty, and failed redemption run rampant.

It follows yakuza gangster Muraki who has just been released from prison for murder to find his old life changed. His gang’s in a truce with his rivals, he no longer yearns fpr the woman that waited for him, a young man enters his life unexpectedly, as does an strange, beautiful and mesmerizing gambling addict named Saeko.

Muraki is played with calm gravitas who barely registers emotion whether he’s falling in love or some one attempting his assassination. His contorted pain finally reveals itself in a surreal nightmare sequence that will have you wondering if Polanski saw this before making Rosemary’s Baby.

Saeko is equally enigmatic. Wildness and lunacy stir quietly behind her doe eyes. It almost makes you wonder if she were simply perfect casting for her inherent madness or if Mariko Kaga is one fine actress who does more with her vacant eyes than all the smizing in 100 cycles of ANTM (yes, I’ve taken up watching again.)

It’s funny, I usually scoff at remakes, but I often cast them in my head as I watch classics. In this case, I’d move the story to Las Vegas, focusing on rival meth gangs. Titus Welliver would be my lead with Juliette Lewis as his former lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt as his new young friend and, if she can lose the vampiness, Evan Rachel Wood perhaps as the degenerate gambler though I’d consider Amanda Seyfried or Angela Bettis.


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Posted on April 18, 2011