Saturday, June 17, 2006

More Movies

Took the daughters to see X-Men 3 at the local googleplex.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big comic guy ... what's that? ... oh, uh, sorry, "graphic novel" guy. My interest in comics wore out with Richie Rich in the fourth grade. But I did see X-Men 2 -- sort of, anyway, I saw it in about 10 different pieces at different times on cable over the past couple of years -- and found it rather entrancing. Particularly Famke Janssen's hair. And bod.

Anyway, the point is that I was pretty primed to like this movie.

I didn't.

With the exception of brief shot of a nude, raven-haired Rebecca Romjin-(sic)-no-hyphen-no-Stamos, there wasn't a whole lot to like about it. Maybe the most interesting part of the movie was trying to remember who the Birdman of Alcatraz was (no kidding, he's a mutant bird-boy who swoops onto Alcatraz to save his father who's about to be hurled to a plummeting death). Turns out it was Russell from Six Feet Under. Of course.

Combine a wispy-thin plot with mind-numbing special effects, throw in a bedraggled-looking Famke (WTF? Why would you want to bedraggle Famke?) and the same fight scenes over and over and over and you wind up with a mess.

And that's X-Men 3.

On the little screen, we rented The Squid And The Whale. Still not sure about this one. My sense is that it's worth a couple of viewings (or more), but is so unrelentingly depressing that I could only make it through one by force of will.

Jeff Daniels plays essentially the same character he played in Terms Of Endearment, an English professor cum failed writer with a roving eye and an utterly annoying personality. Laura Linney is his newly ascendent writer wife who soon becomes his ex-wife. Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline play their increasingly troubled pair of sons, Walt and Frank.

Teenager Walt seems on a path to replicate all of his fathers worst traits -- deceitful, haughty and utterly lacking in humor. He improbably passes off a Pink Floyd song as his own at a school talent show, and when eventually confronted with his deceit he claims that he could have written the song, and thus it's as if he did write the song. Rationalizations which you could see Daniels' character make just as easily.

Younger Frank, on the other hand, seems on a path straight to hell. Swiggin' beers (later whiskey), cutting himself, cussing like a sailor on shore leave, etc., the kid is a complete mess and his parents (especially his father) just can't quite seem to see that.

Essentially a coming-of-age tale in the age of divorce -- it's said to be basically autobiographical of director Noah Baumbach and is set in the mid-80's -- it's numbingly depressing to know that there may be people like Daniels' character out in the world.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Had a little VinceVaughnathon with the wifey this weekend. That is if you can call two movies an -athon. I'm calling it.

Friday we went to see The Break Up at the local megalopoplex. It's a c0uple of weeks into the run, but still a pretty full theatre, so good for you ... Jence? Vinnifer? We'll call it Vinnifer.

The movie starts out with a full head of steam. Soon after a quick recount of their cute meet at Wrigley Field we watch Vinnifer explode in a fit of ill will and recriminations. Gary (that's Vince) is a bit of a slob who doesn't help Brooke (that's Jen) with ... anything. Brooke is a bit of a control freak who won't let Gary get a pool table. Seriously.

The breakup scene itself is a really quite realistic portrayal of how things can get out of hand so rapidly that you quickly find yourself saying things you soon wish you hadn't, but which you can't stuff back into your mouth and unsay.

So anyway, that's it for them as a couple. The problem is the choice bit of real estate that is their jointly-owned Chicago condo. Neither will just hand it over, and neither can buy out the other -- so eventually they're forced to sell. In the meantime, of course, they're still living together -- albeit in separate rooms -- and busily trying to get the other to be the first to admit to the breakup regret that they both feel.

In the end, neither is able to saddle up and tell the other that they're sorry and want them back, so they go around and around and around, then eventually sell the condo and the breakup is complete.

Well, maybe. A tacked-on little coda leaves the door open for a future reconciliation -- even though things won't work out any better then. Fact is that these two are an unlikely pair, and both would have been better off just breaking up and moving on. But that ending wouldn't be quite enough like every other movie you've ever seen that is exactly like this.

Part II of the Vaughnathon was a rental last night of Wedding Crashers. I know, I know, I'm probably the last person in the world to see this movie, but what the hell -- now everyone has seen it, OK?

Can one of you other six billion tell me what all the fuss was about?

Wedding Crashers in two words? Not funny.

I'd heard that the first 45 minutes or so were kick-ass funny, and the rest kind of petered out. Not so much.

True enough that the last 1:15 wasn't that great (that's right, at least on the video this was a 2 hour movie). Trouble was that the first 45 minutes also had pretty much zero laughs.

Listen, I'm as big a fan of Owen Wilson as anyone else, but even he can't carry a movie like this if he's got nothing funny to say. Maybe he's just better off writing his own stuff. And if Owen can't pull it off, Vin's got no hope.

Once the pair is spirited off to Christopher Walken's estate (this is Christopher Walken doing a Christopher Walken imitation, b/t/w) the movie drags to a complete stop. Will Ferrell (of course) makes a quick cameo and provides a little pulse and some laughs as the uber-playa that taught Vince the trade of crashing-weddings-to-get-laid (he's since moved up to crashing funerals), but it's all in the service of no plot and no laughs so it's too little, too late.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ministry Of Cringe

So there have been at least a couple of occasions that I've been watching BBC America, and one or another member of my family has wandered by and asked, "Which one is Michael?"

Only I wasn't watching "The Office."

I was watching what is probably my new favorite show, "The Thick Of It."

British comedies -- not that I know that many -- seem to fall into two categories, acerbic or adolescent. Part of what made Monty Python so great was its ability to straddle and merge the two.

"The Thick Of It" is absolutely the most acerbic television show I've ever seen. It is the story of Hugh Abbott, the new Minister of Social Affairs (Social Affairs?), and his staff. The show revolves around their daily efforts to stay out of the papers, off the telly and especially out of the line of fire of Malcolm, the PM's chief politico and head torturer.

Now I'll admit that I've often had to watch episodes twice just to figure out what the hell is going on. As with any good Brit comedy, half the fun is figuring out what the hell they're talking about -- if you can understand the words themselves, that is. Malcolm is front and center w/r/t this. As part of the PM's "Scots Mafia" his specialty is the burr-inflected, profanity-laced tirade against whatever comes into his field of vision.

When the hurricane hits it is positively terrifying.

And hilarious.

Monday, June 05, 2006

So That's It, Is It?

So we now know why HBO and David Chase added 8 more episodes to the life of The Sopranos (due to air next January?).

If last night's episode was ever considered to be the last of the series, we can easily see why that idea was quickly nixed.

There would have been a riot.

When you think about it, Sopranos fans kind of have to put up with a lot in order to enjoy the show. To start with, of course, you have to pay for it. Worth every penny of course, but worth mentioning.

More importantly, we've had to put up with the spotty scheduling and the extended hiatuses (hiati?) between short (13 episode, or even 12 episode) seasons. In all, it's taken about 7 years to air 77 episodes.

Both problems are worth it, as the result has generally been a high-quality page-turner of a show.

This season, though, has been a bit more problematic. The story of Vito, the wide-guy/wise-guy turned Johnnycake-lovin' antiquer, was a source of endless mirth -- at least until his brutal death.

Likewise, the continuing tale of "just how big of a jag is A.J.?" provided some classic moments. The look on Tony's face when A.J. described the angst of clubbing with a two-bottle-of-Cristal-minimum hanging over your head was utterly beautiful.

But the focus of the season was on the "what is this crazy life all about" stories of Tony, Carmela and Chris-ta-fa.

Tony getting plugged by a crazed Uncle Junior was probably the most startling moment of the series, but little else in the "search for meaning" storylines was all that interesting. Tony-as-Kevin-Finnerty drove out to the beacon and was nearly coaxed by Steve Buscemi into joining the family reunion that never ends.

Meadow managed to lure him back into the land of the living, complete with a new outlook on life.

Well, sort of.

By the end of the season, he's gloating over Phil Leotardo's heart attack.

Carmela gets yanked around like a mindless puppet. Her relentless pursuit of Adriana's fate quickly short-circuited by the dangling bauble of a shoddily-built spec house.

And Chris-ta-fa makes a spur-of-the-moment jump into marriage, immediately followed by a spur-of-the-moment descent back into smack -- this time with Nurse Carol Hathaway. But it's OK, cuz they don't do each other when they're doing H -- and they don't use needles!

All of which means not a whole lot was resolved in last night's sixth-season-finale.

But my money's on a rally next winter, and we'll get our closure.