Friday, July 29, 2011

Recommended: Cable TV's I Survived...

I'll be upfront, if cliched: life gets tough. I've posted here suffering from assorted problems, injuries (e.g., to an eye), change of jobs, & lots of personal/professional "drama." I don't write about it much, but I'm not talking "reality tv" drama (anything on MTV basically) - I get the real deal. So how do I get my balance back?

Sometimes, I take advantage of A&E (through the Biography channel) and its long-standing series called "I Survived..." Using a few pix, some narrative text, and face-to-face interviews, the show goes back-and-forth between the stories of 3 people who faced death and lived. The show's concept is excellent, while the tragedies that unfold are tastefully-handled.

Your kids were scared to hug you?! Also, someone please fire biography's music guy.

A teen pilot's tiny plane runs into a sudden storm, then gets trapped in power cables. A snowmobiling vacation gets un-fun fast when a guy sees his brother fall through cracked ice; they get separated, each nearly freezing to death. An Australian town suffers a fire that sounds as destructive as the aliens from "Independence Day;" it leaves a young woman and her father seek first temporary, then permanent, safety, uncertain if the rest of the family (her mom/his wife, and her daughter) are even alive.

I watch this, in part to remind myself that even if I've faced imminent death, others have been through lots worse; also, to remember that life can just suddenly go wrong, and so many things help decide the result. Finally, it's a serious, sorta-therapeutic look into how people overcome their problems, as well as the emotional aftermath of these kinds of events.

Are you pissed that someone stood you up for a date, or your roommate finished your milk? A woman got raped and stabbed multiple times; another was hurt so badly her surgically-repaired face is... spooky; each said that she decided to let go of all her anger. Try bitching about your milk now. I have no experience with shrinks, but I guess this works like group therapy. & I don't care that "IS..." can be grim, horrifying, and uncomfortable. I'm glad to have watched a dozen eps of this show; I appreciate its perspective.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Great Review Duo, Batman 89 Thoughts

A while ago, with 2 hours' downtime, I noticed that 1989's Batman was available for streaming. I remembered loving it as a kid, & finding the later movies unwatchable. It did not hold up well; I was surprised by how rough, senseless, and OTT Tim Burton's picture was; also, the tone was all over the place.

It's already clear that I loved the Nolan pictures, but not because they're stories about "Bruce Wayne:Dashing Vigilante." BB and TDK are just great movies that tell great tales. And I had no idea that the Nicholson-Keaton original was made so poorly.

Fortunately, just a bit later, I came across two funny, smart, observant reviewers who set out to tackle every film in the Batman Universe. For the last two months, one pair of guys have run through the films in chronological order, a feature they call "Remedial Batmanology." (nice, right?) Soon, they will tackle Catwoman, then move on to the 2005 reboot.

Most of all, I think I was lucky because I found someone who could help break down and explain exactly what is wrong with Burton's Batman. I was even luckier to find two people who would do that enthusiastically, in a really witty and down-to-earth way. As an alternative, you can read Todd Alcott's solo review of the same material, but that's not what this post is about.

Chris Sims and David Uzumeri are bigtime comic geeks, yet they know how to review pictures from the perspective of someone who just wants a good flick as well as from the outlook of a comic fan. Best of all, they have a great rapport, which they show off by using alternating paragraphs to cover a movie. The result is film review by way of conversation, and the effect is just super.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Fog of War - a must-see documentary

For once, I get to review a movie with worrying about a 1000+ word count. Fog of War, the 2003 documentary by Errol Morris is an exceptional film, and I don't have to recount a plot or describe actors or anything like that. This time out, I can just tell you about a great picture and suggest it. And FoW will surely make you think about war, death, and how close we are/were to nuclear destruction...

Errol chose a unique man to interview, one pivotal to 20th Century American history: Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ. Film fans will already be familiar with him from Thirteen Days, as he's Kennedy's closest advisor. In the end, Fog won both an Oscar and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary, and still holds 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's available for free on Google Video, and I suggest you take advantage of that.

What's really amazing is that RSM's most famous job post doesn't limit him to rehashing Vietnam or the Bay of Pigs. In 1940, Robert was the youngest, highest paid-prof ever at Harvard, having received an MBA there only one year before. He ran Ford Motors, and lead the World Bank after leaving Johnson's cabinet. Clearly, we're dealing with a capable man who could do anything greatly.

Some of the most interesting statements are about what he did between teaching and running Ford. During World War II, McNamara taught business analysis techniques to the US military, then joined the Air Force as a Captain. Working in the USAAF's Office of Statistical Control, he was responsible for helping bombers become more effective on their attacks in Japan.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Recommended: With BBC's Misfits, Hulu Strikes Back

Yes, yet another streamable UK series gets my recommendation, but it's not on Netflix this time. I suggest foreign stuff because I like different locations, accents, themes, and details. UK TV is welcome in part because of quality and part for lack of familiarity. This time out, I got "slacker/rebel superheroes meet a modernized John Hughes film."

If X-Men happened to NYC schoolkids, Wolverine might use his healing power to just prank people. The blandest couple ever, Jean and Scott, would probably trash rooms by abusing their powers during sex. The xteam would get into a lot of fights and make huge mistakes. So, I guess London's the same, but they curse using "the hard 'C' word" a lot (it's a slightly different meaning, but still...). And that's Misfits.

It's a misdemeanor community service version of "The Breakfast Club," only these screwups get struck by lightning. While a freak storm gives one guy the power to turn invisible when he's ignored, their probation officer becomes a strong axe-murderer and attacks them. So 5 kids with criminal records kill a guy in clear self-defense, then realize: they have no credible alibi and thus are screwed.

Misfits is full of foul language, nudity, and offensive behavior. The series has a very "punk" mentality that makes it both energetic and incredibly fun. It's irreverent, with heroes that might stumble at any time, or villains that might be hysterically-lame. Like the quick theme song by The Rapture, tho, it may get very old the 7th-8th time around...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Iron Man 2 is um...

Updated as of 1:30 this afternoon: sorry, but a 2nd-to-last draft was posted by accident this morning. Sometimes I prefer to do my last editorial pass after I publish, because it's easy & I don't think anyone reads these right away; this review was missing whole paragraphs, tho - sorry. Let's go over the film now...

I was really taken by the first "Iron Man," as was almost everyone else. I like Robert Downey Jr. a lot, and I laughed hysterically alongside my brother at the Ziegfeld Theater. I didn't seen it coming, but "IM" was very much a slapstick superhero movie, and it all worked beautifully. Now I've seen its sequel, which uses all the same beats while upping the action. So why does it feel inferior to the original?

"Iron Man 2" picks up soon after the first movie: Tony Stark, a wealthy genius/mechanic/physicist/weapons manufacturer has built a suit of armor that's strong, fast and powerful. He's using it to stop unlawful armed combatants and militant terrorists around the globe. But he's got problems: the US gov't wants his tech, his main competitor will do anything to one-up Stark's business, and the hero himself is despondent as he's being poisoned by the device that powers his machine and protects his injured heart. Wheh!

Too much? Yeah.

Into all this steps Mickey Rourke. His introduction, as Ivan, is ludicrous and clich├ęd - in Moscow, Rourke holds his dying father and a bottle of vodka. No joke, Ivan's actually holding a bottle of "wodka" while his pops dies. That's not Russian, dude, that's straight-up alcoholic! And while that would actually be thematically correct, what wins out here is another theme of this Iron Man pic - "family loss is just a plot device."

See, dying daddy leaves "his knowledge" to his child. It's not hockey statistics, either - it's knowledge that lets Rourke build a super-weapon to attack Iron Man. Whole parts of Ivan's story are barely addressed or handled in 2 sentences. This fourth element, added to everything else, is too much for our metal hero.

This picture would be overwhelmed with problems if it didn't have such a reliable cast, as well as consistent, well-defined characters. The characters are defined way too bluntly, but I'll give the film credit. Let's look together, shall we?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eat a duck, Netflix. Eat a bag of ducks.

A week ago, I worried about finding a topic for my 12th July post. The other 11 weren't fully written, but I knew what they would probably be and had a rough schedule. That was all before I received an email confirming that Netflix is really, definitely gonna be a jerk about its success. Also, that they seriously want to go Streaming-only and ditch DVDs.

Before we even get there: That lovely "suspend account" button would be wise to use when August comes around, & it's a great way to voice your complaint. You won't be charged while it's suspended, nor will you lose your data or queues. If enough of us complain about these one-sided changes, you know Netflix will finally cave in. Or look at it this way: what will they change next, and how soon?

A 1-2 week Netflix strike would be easier to survive than you'd think. I've already given you tips to watching free videos online (and legally), and as I'll explain below, this whole problem is really about the Streaming service. So: go to youtube and watch motion pictures there; take a free 1-month Amazon Prime trial and watch the hell out of that; grab the 1-week Hulu+ trial, and marvel at how many shows are not actually available on it, because I guess 6 year old "House" episodes are the holy grail. Or you might even try reading a book.

The picture above pretty much says it all: instead of paying $9.99 each month for all-you-can-eat instant viewing and all you can eat (but one at a time) DVD rental, Netflix has graciously chosen to start charging me $15.98 per month for the same privilege. Or I could pay $7.99 for either one. Netflix' email was mirrored by a post on its blog, and other news sources picked up the announcement; current Netflix "members" (that's what we're called) got about 50 days' notice before the changes take effect.  F you very much, Netflix.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Friends With Benefits, a good new romantic comedy?

And I'm as confused by it as anyone else. My friend Rachel invited me to an advance screening of "Friends With Benefits," wherein Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are two close friends who settle on... call it what it is, screwing without obligations - or, as Will Smith might say, without "geddin up in each other's bidness." Hijinks ensue.

Does that come with vision and dental?
I expect new romantic comedies to suck hard, lacking chemistry, humor, and/or plausibility, but I chose to put that aside last Wednesday. I didn't try to find out anything about the screening - I actually thought I was in for Natalie Portman's similarly-titled "No Strings Attached." I only learned about 5 minutes before that I was in for "that other movie" with Kunis as the female lead. She's a hottie, and a respectable one for her work on Family Guy and Robot Chicken (still haven't seen "Black Swan," won't watch "70's Show").

I also found out the male lead is Timbo, which I call him because his name reminds me of a boot brand. I've mocked Justin's music and videos before, but I kept an open mind because "D!ck in a Box" actually earned Timberlake a lot of credit in my book.

I figured, "this could be un-painful, it could be ok." Instead, I got a comedy that was so funny, I wouldn't notice or care if it did suck. "FwB" might not be perfect, but it does everything it's supposed to, and does it well. I hope the movie cleans up at the box office when it's released in 10 days, because now I have hope where once I had none.

Monday, July 11, 2011

And now I really have to see Downfall

because it's unfair to laugh this hard at something without watching the source material. Also, 2004's "Downfall" is supposed to be an excellent movie about the final days of The Third Reich in hitler's gradually-collapsing command center. The end result is comedy magic!

I know these vids are old, but (a) I don't care and (b) you might not have seen these before. The clip just below is 4 minutes long, but if that's too long for you, skip to the one after (just 1:18 long).

hitler, who apparently owns the Vikings, reacts to the Randy Moss trade

The above video is a good example of what you get. Most of the parodies center on the leader's big meeting with his military officers. The map is supposed to represent the advance of Allied forces, which leads to him reaming out the top brass - 'dolphie knows he's lost the war. You can see why creative people on the net used this scene - and the surprising effect is that I really want to watch the movie now.

hitler contacts his Internet Service Provider's call center

I suppose this also makes me think a bit about parody and what is or isn't offensive.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Star Trek Streaming, Netflix/Hulu Gripes

And Netflix is coming en espanol y francais? I told ya'll some time ago about Netflix' super-deal to bring many series to its site. Well, that deal seems to be in full effect now, as all of the Star Trek series have become available to Watch Instantly, all in the last two days (just 4 months later). I was in the middle of noting its absence (see below), when I decided to check - and they're now up.

I guess it's a big deal for some, and it represents an addition of 400 or so episodes of (culturally) popular television to the online viewing library. Given that, I figured I'd mention it in the title and note it up front.

Also, Netflix is expanding beyond the USA and Canada. It will soon arrive, for Streaming only, to South and Latin America, as well as the Caribbean. To accommodate the tangled web of languages caused by scummy European Colonialism, vids will be available in English, Spanish, and French. Anybody up for "There's Something about Mary" or "Die Hard" in SAP?

The rest of the article has little to do with that, so I figured I'd note that upfront...

Do people like to complain more today? Is there just more to complain about? Are these issues to discuss in a movie blog?

I won't tackle any of those questions, unless someone wants me to. What I will do is list a few basic flaws in Netflix and Hulu.

1 - login issues

Since around the time of The Great Instant TV Section Makeover (that I totally predicted), I find that if I type in the name of an actor and click on the link to their filmography, I have to sign in again. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but imagine deciding to look up every picture with Penn Jillete, then Bill Murray, then Jennifer Jason Leigh. Whether I tried to pick films in common or not, I'd find myself having to log in every single time I wanted to look up someone's cinema cv.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Double Dip #1, Inception: Suicide, Nina Simone, & Bad Girls

Yes, I still love "f yeah strutting leo."
I announced the "Double Dip" category in March, for pretty good reasons: I could write more than one article (or even review) for films like Memento, Walkabout, Blue Velvet, and The Matrix, among many others. In fact, it's sort of hard to "touch all the bases" sometimes without losing focus or going on for far too long.

And, as I watched certain movies and directors for the first time, I realized I'd want a special category for pix I mean to go back to. I also like the idea of writing a first review that's spoiler-free, then following that with a no-holds-barred piece. In fact, posting my "Inception" review before Oscar night made me decide to pull the trigger: I wanted a chance to write again with no fear of spoilers, & I knew I wanted to write about the music in the film.

"Inception" obviously got a bit of attention for its musical score. In fact, people were wildly touting a lot of the instrumental segments for weeks before someone noticed that a lot of the "dreamworld music" is the Edith Piaf song, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," but slowed down or altered tremendously. That nearly caused an orgy of musical praise!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Amazon's in the original content biz

Sorry for the old news, but maybe you missed it too.

Let's go back to November 2010, when I didn't notice at all that Amazon created "Amazon Studios." I'm surprised I didn't catch it, nor hear about articles in Wired, The Hollywood Reporter, and Tech Radar; well, not too surprised - I don't read any of those regularly.

Although I found its existence surprising, it shouldn't have been unexpected; digital cameras are so plentiful that receiving submissions would be guaranteed with even a minimal prize. Also, youtube has truly demonstrated how desperate for attention many people out there need little motivation to execute their ideas, inventively and cheaply.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Michael Bay in 60 Seconds

52 seconds technically, but the people at the College Humor site are accurate. I can't say I like the voice used for the voiceover, the focus on "Transformers" or how few examples are pulled from "Bad Boys" and other films, but it's quick and it's funny. Here's what I'd add to this "distilling" of MB. Do I hate his movies? Yes, but I'll keep it brief:  You shouldn't ever forget the basic element of Michael Bay's work - a truly pornographic, leering, total lack of respect for women,
at the 1:50 mark, we learn Bay's thoughts on gender topics.
and the "superfreak" role that lets an actor ham it up to the nth degree, in all caps,