Archive for July, 2011


It’s the end of July (holy chronometer, Batman, where does the time fly?), so it’s time for another movie report card.  It’s also an opportunity to wax eloquent about movie-watching in general.

There’s shifting in the Movieverse of Zu.  I finally got me a wi-fi enabled blu-ray player, which I adore. It streams Netflix, Amazon, CinemaNow, and more. And now come the decisions.

The first is the pending decision about whether to continue subscribing to Netflix. As many will have heard, Netflix, the haven of watchers of unusual, classic, cult, foreign, and documentary films, has announced a change on September 1 that basically raises prices and changes services in a way that makes it tough for some of us to decide what to do. For example, I currently subscribe to getting two DVDs at home at a time plus unlimited streaming, which runs $14.99 plus assorted taxes. The new price for this plan is $19.98.  That’s an increase of over 30 percent!  So, now I have to decide whether to go with JUST streaming for $7.99 (seriously cutting down on the selection available to me and thereby negating one of the main resons I signed on with Netflix in the first place) or streaming plus one DVD at home for $15.98 – still an increase in price over my current plan and a decrease in DVDs.  A third alternative, of course, is to scrap Netflix altogether for this bungling of plans and rely on the new options available to me.

Decisions, decisions.

And now, back to movies. I’ve been working like a madwoman the past few weeks – er, months, actually – so I needed something to give myself as a reward and help me relax with at least a couple of hours of leisure each weekend.  So, what better reward for the Movie Freak than to go see a movie at the theater?  So far, so good.  I love it when a plan comes together.

Here are the recent highlights. These are, by necessity of limited time, very brief reviews, but I had to take these first three out of the report card table, if only so I could include the gratuitous eye candy.

Captain America: The First Avenger

A

First Avenger, hellz yeah! (Yes, it’s true … I am a comic-adapted-to-film nerd.)

Drumroll please, my latest heartthrob is Chris Evans (always liked him — in Fantastic Four, The Losers, Push, Cellular, and Scott Pilgrim — like him even more now). Among the excellent cast, Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene he’s in, IMO. And Hugo Weaving is appropriately menacing as Red Skull.

The story provides well-paced background about the first Avenger, and the final post-credits scene makes Marvel geeks everywhere salivate for May 2012.

The film does an excellent job of immersing viewers in the WWII era and introducing the Captain from his humble beginnings. Though I’m not super-excited about CGI in live-action films, the talent behind the film did an amazing body-shrinking job to make pre-serum Steve Rogers appear short and scrawny.  Of course, post-serum Steve (the real buff physique of Chris Evans) needed no special effects enhancements.

 

Limitless

A

This splendid mind-bender with super cinematography and terrific talent opened to less-than-stellar reception.  It’s hard to say why, though it may have something to do with the fact that the story itself is somewhat bendy. Our good guy is quite the antihero. Conclusions about ethics and the means to reach an end are open to viewer interpretation. It’s not all wrapped up in a neat and shiny bow at the end, and that tends to rattle audiences used to having everything, inclusive of character motivations, ironed and folded.

The film features some amazing cinematography, with sequences that zoom viewers through the streets, alleys, and dwellings of New York in seemingly uninterrupted shots. Made me dizzy … seriously.

And then there are Bradley Cooper’s amazing eyes.  0_0  Um, sorry … what was I saying?

 

Cowboys and Aliens

B+

Well, I may be guilty of being too hyped up on the marketing to give this one a fair shake, but it seemed like a hot mess to me. Oh, it has its moments, and it boasts a terrific cast, bad-ass aliens that are unequivocally baddies, and some awesome Wild West scenery. I really wanted to love this movie. I was waiting to get blown away by it. The storyline is excellent — a real throwback to the feel of old comics that threw together completely implausible combinations in amazingly workable mixtures. But as much as director Jon Favreau talked about it being both about the characters and their relationships and about breathtaking FX and shootouts, it seems somewhere in between to me.  The scenes that are supposed to be heartfelt come off as a bit contrived to me; the action, on the other hand, is stymied in deference to that supposed character development. Something intangible is missing, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  What I can put my finger on, however, is that some of the reactions of the supposed frontiersmen to being attacked by aliens is less than realistic, and that’s one way in which credibility could certainly have been built.

It’s definitely worth seeing, and I am certain to add it to my collection. Perhaps repeat viewings will change my tune about some of the details. Nonetheless, this is my first reaction … I wished I’d gone to see Captain America again.

Here are some other flicks I watched over the past couple of weeks.  Looking forward to hearing about your movie-watching adventures!

Film Grade Comment
Deep Red (1975)

A-

Dario Argento classic horror film, often considered his best. David Hemmings (Blow-Up) is an expat musician in Italy pulled into a mysterious series of murders. Though some of the acting is melodramatic and the random dubbing/subtitles can distract, it’s an engaging psycho-drama and mystery with plenty of creative kills to satisfy horror fans.
Rango (2011)

A+

Brilliant satire!  There’s enough “animated movie” here to please the kids, but this most definitely a film with plenty of material for adult sensibilities. Ostensibly an underdog-hero tale, Rango rattles the cage of everything from Old West heroes to water conservation issues. Awesome cast and amazing graphics; the uncut version is a must-see!
The Iron Giant (1999)

A

What can I say? Even with today’s mind-boggling advances in animation, this movie remains a gem.
Dark Harbor (1998)

C

Um, I had seen this before and “forgot” – as one forgets things one would like to unsee.  Naw, it’s not THAT bad … it’s just slow as molasses for a while, with a surprising yet oddly creepy crescendo. But like I’ve said many times, I will watch anything with Alan Rickman in it.
Deadtime Stories: Volume 1 (2009)

D

What saves these crappy short flicks from being a complete F is that the stories are actually interesting in an old-fashioned comic-book horror kind of way. But the truly horrific production values make this compilation painful to watch.  Perhaps narrator/producer George Romero didn’t suspect the end result; then again, maybe he didn’t care.
Barney’s Version (2010)

B-

Meh. I kind of didn’t get it as a story, except as a John Irving-esque “here’s a life” portrait (but without Irving’s marvelous life lessons, except maybe the lesson “try not to be an asshole”), but the performances are fabulous. Paul Giamatti is awesome as usual, but I wish he’d quit playing only such sad-sacks and get back to his comedic roots.
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A surprisingly massive horde of shoppers descended on my local Borders store yesterday, after the mortally wounded chain announced the start of its close-out sale. Everything must go, and judging by the turnout, go it will. Many shoppers were expressing to the harried clerks how sorry they were that the store was closing … it made me wonder how long it had been since these patrons had last had shopped there, possibly preventing the current state of affairs. It made me wonder if I, too, should have made an effort to come in more often – but that was a fleeting, nonsensical thought. Read on, and I’ll tell you why.

In case you live under a rock, the current state is that the Borders book store chain is closing its doors.

“It’s not pining, it’s passed on! This [bookstore] is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late [bookstore]! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies! It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-[bookstore]!”

My apologies to Monty Python, and my condolences to Borders lovers everywhere.

I (Unwittingly) Helped to Close Borders

I can tell you quite candidly that I am one of “those people” who loved having a Borders around (yes, I am a card-carrying Borders Rewards member) but rarely set foot inside it. Why?  After all, I read a lot.  I thrive on having books all around me.  And Borders has so many lovely amenities and some marvelous merchandise.

It all comes down to practicality: time and money.  I might meet a friend at Borders about once a year for coffee and browsing, I’d always stop there pre-Christmas, and I would check out a special sale or author’s book signing now and then.  But my time is so limited that most of my book shopping is done online.  I order, and my book arrives in two days without me having to spend time and money to go get it. And guess what?  I actually pay LESS for that privilege. The fact is that whenever I compare pricing in brick-and-mortar stores and online sellers, I can always find books for less online.  Don’t even get me started on the merits of my Kindle.

Now listen carefully: these are the musings of a traditionalist reader who’d like nothing better than to sit each morning (or at least once a week) in a coffee shop attached to a book store, then peruse the shelves, chat with clerks about recommendations, and purchase precious volumes from its shelves. I even dreamt (and often do still) of owning an eclectic book-store/sweets-and-coffee-shoppe in my pseudo-retirement years *sigh*. But I’ll tell you, I don’t know many people in my circle of RL or cyber friends in a far-flung radius who have either the time or the money to partake of such luxuries. We’re all working harder, not smarter, it seems, and quick downloads, borrowing from the library where possible, and cheap paperback purchases with two-day delivery to the front door are a sign of these times.

But I am not discouraged in the least. It’s all part of the fuzzy plan, and the pendulum keeps swinging.

A Brief History of Bookworm Evolution

Unquestionably, I count myself among the bookworms of the universe. Yet I am feeling ambivalent about the whole Borders going-under thing. Here’s why: if you take the long view, perhaps it’s just a matter of bookworm evolution.

The advent of books, with the invention and proliferation of the printing press, turned reading from a pastime of wealthy and pious snobs into the edification and entertainment of the masses. Availability of books shaped literature itself. Supply and demand, demand and fulfillment. This model evolved and grew for over five hundred years (yeah, well, pre-technology evolution is languorous).

Then came innovations like audio books and e-books and e-readers and brain-embeddable microchips with the entire Library of Congress on them. OK, I made up that last one, but really, how far-fetched is it?

Now people well-versed in techno-gadgets can absorb the same best-sellers as those who still belong to a book-of-the-month-club.  Geeks on the go can order their cyber-versions of books and begin reading instantaneously. Entire web communities have cropped up to discuss and disseminate the latest literature, which now includes genres our parents never could have imagined in their wildest dreams (or nightmares). Bookworms flourish! Only now they do so in cyberspace more often than under the fluorescents of the bookstore.

Is this loss of localized community sad? Certainly. But look at the big picture: Reading is alive and well. Literature flourishes and evolves in infinite new ways.  Readers flourish and multiply. It’s a brave new world!

Betting on Darwin

It’s sad that the dinosaurs are gone too. But evolution has its reasons and purposes. Some of the old must make way for the new. I guess I’m ready to go with the flow and see what happens next. It’s a dynamic universe, and its myriad mutations and adaptations result in the innovative strengths of survivors.

Al Capone: Chicago's King of CrimeAl Capone: Chicago’s King of Crime by Nate Hendley
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I won this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.

At first, this brief book read a bit like the biographical reports my students wrote in composition classes. But it picked up speed, and I was soon hooked on finding out the details it contained about Capone’s life, from its humble beginnings to its ignominious end. It’s not eloquent or masterfully constructed, but for someone who wants to learn more about the famous mobster, it offers a broad overview and some interesting details. I would definitely read more of Hendley’s condensed biographies.

Excerpt

“Capone remained in a cold fury during Frank’s funeral, which was held on April 5, 1924. With admirable restraint, he refrained from attacking the cops observing the funeral, some of whom had pulled their triggers on Frank Capone.

“The funeral itself was the epitome of gangster gaudiness — a mass display of grief bracketed by countless floral arrangements, all of which were provided by Dion O’Banion, of course. The Capone family decided to hold a wake at their home on Prairie Avenue. Thousands of people — friends, family, enemies, political allies, and the just plain curious — filed into the house to mourn and view Frank Capone lying peacefully in a silver coffin. Teresa Capone was devastated. She wept and mourned the too-early loss of her handsome young son. Capone consoled himself in a more direct manner. Shortly after Frank Capone’s death, he got into a heated argument with his political lackey, Joseph Klenha, on the steps of Cicero’s Town Hall. As if to underscore who was really in charge, Capone pushed Klenha off his feet. Once the politician went down, Capone began kicking him. Uniformed policemen stood by and watched but did not interfere. While Klenha was technically their boss, these officers were smart enough to know who the real power in town was.”

On Amazon.com

On Biography Ebooks

Report Card: Mid July 2011

It’s been a  good movie-watching month so far, and I hope to keep it up all summer!  Let me know what good flicks you’re seeing as you seek the AC inside those theaters.  I’ve been bringing a hoodie along every time I go — brrr!  But it’s all right if it’s cold as long as the movies are hot. Am I right?

Film Grade Comment
True Grit (2010)

A

Excellent adaptation. The original will always rule, but this is (one of least favorite terms but applicable here) an instant classic.  The Coen Brothers seldom disappoint, and Jeff Bridges abides.
Super 8 (2011)

A

Spielberg strikes again. Nothing new here, but fun and well-made. It’s a little bit Goonies, a little E.T., even a little Stand By Me … and it’s non-stop watchable.
Independence Day (1996)

A-

Watched on July 4, of course!  Fun, schmaltzy, “Aliens invade and humans band together” flick. Favorite line: Cpt. Hillen (Will Smith) telling alien invader “Welcome to Earth!” and then clocking him.
X-Men: First Class (2011)

A

A terrific addition to the X-Men films for all us Marvel geeks.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

A+

A perennial favorite!  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Thanks for the reminder.  Save Ferris!
The Breakfast Club (1985)

A++

One of my favorite movies EVER.  The defectives of Shermer High always entertain.
Cat Ballou (1965)

B+

Hysterically silly “western” worth watching for Lee Marvin’s performance alone.
Eagle Eye (2008)

B+

Rewatching this riveting thriller reminded me I’d liked it the first time, and I still do. Fun weekend entertainment … and Shia LeBeouf.
127 Hours (2010)

A-

Watched grudgingly, only because I’m a fan of director Danny Boyle. I didn’t go see this in the theater in last year’s Oscar rush because I don’t really see Ralston (real person the movie is about) as any kind of hero. But I’d be a big hypocrite if I didn’t separate eh film from the real-life story, and the film is good. Kudos to James Franco for his one-man show (thought only Sam Rockwell could do that, ha!).
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

A-

Johnny Depp maintains command as Jack Sparrow (er, sorry, there should be a Captain in there somewhere). I wasn’t expected that much, but this movie is very entertaining. Ian McShane is a hoot, and I’m happy to see more of Sam Claflin (The Pillars of the Earth).
Horrible Bosses (2011)

B+

Hilarious!  Didn’t blow me away, but great fun.
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