June 24, 2009

Movie Review: State of Play

I really shouldn't make it a habit to review movies 6 weeks after seeing them, but I took actual notes about ‘State of Play’ and don't want that to have been a waste.

‘State of Play’ is a political/journalistic thriller about a Senatorial aide who is mysteriously killed, leading to all sorts of questions about her boss, the committee he’s running, corruption in Washington, etc. Ben Affleck’s the Senator, and his old college buddy, Russell Crowe is an investigative journalist for a Washington Post-like newspaper. Helen Mirren is the paper’s editor, who lets him cover the story, thinking he’ll get the inside scoop. Rachel McAdams is the decidedly-not-a-journalist blogger who’s interested in only the salacious (Read: sexy) details of the story.

There are dark alleys and mysterious photographs and, of course, history between Ben Affleck’s wife (Robin Wright Penn) and Russell Crowe. In neat bookends (which made for good trailer clips if not much else), it also sort of tries to be about the death of the printed word, and there may or may not have been commentary on war. I'm going to try to leave this spoiler free, because there are a lot of twists and turns and that's definitely where the fun of this movie was. But, to be honest, I'm not sure I could spoil the movie if I tried because I'm not entirely sure what happened – that's how knotted up everything winds up in the end.

Some miscellaneous points:
  • Helen Mirren's character, a hard nosed editor, well aware that in this day and age journalistic integrity means less than selling newspapers, was written as a male. It doesn't seem like they changed the script one bit with casting (At one point, she tells a belligerent Russell Crowe to suck her balls) and I really respect that.
  • Ben Affleck's character was named Stephen Collins. This is the name of the actor who played the murderous father that forced Keri Russell, a high school diving phenom, to dive out of the attic window to escape him in that Lifetime movie. You know, Father Camden from 7th Heaven. For some reason, this really bothered me.
  • Another thing that really bugged me. Ben Affleck is 8 years younger than Russell Crowe (wouldn’t you think it’d be more?), but they were supposed to be college friends?
  • I apparently also had an issue with Jason Bateman in this movie, because my notes read: "Michael Bluth? Really?", but it probably says more that I no longer remember what his significance was to the overall plot. I do remember that he wore eyeliner.
The movie was fun – and because we saw it in Seattle at a theater that was also a bar, I really enjoyed being able to have a glass of wine while we watched – but I was also frustrated by the too twisty turns and the ultimate conclusion. I’m not sure it would stand up to repeat viewings. 7.25 Twix bars!

June 23, 2009

Seeing Seattle

Like most urban dwelling liberal 20-somethings, at one point or another, Trevor and I have discussed packing it all up and transporting ourselves to Seattle or Portland or Austin or Denver or San Francisco... With a surprise party in the works for my California-based in-laws, we had a built-in reason to plan a West Coast visit and check out the vibe of Seattle & Portland, and so at the beginning of May, we found ourselves settled onto JetBlue and bound for the city of 'Grey's Anatomy.' What follows is a recount of the ensuing events.

We arrived close to midnight on a Saturday and took a cab into Seattle proper, bound for this adorably hip boutique-y hotel that wanted us to pay only $99 a night, in exchange for using very large and clean bathrooms that just happen to be shared. I'm in. By the time we settled in, it was 4am according to our bodies, so we called it a night.

First stop the next morning was our hotel's continental breakfast which included fruit and granola (this was Seattle after all) and Make-Your-Own waffles (What an unexpectedly welcome flashback to dorm life!). For the day we had two distinct goals: Trevor wanted to make it to the Sounders game (Do you know about the Sounders? In the 2009 season, the MLS introduced a new franchise. The city, recently abandoned by David Stern and the NBA, immediately latched onto the team, selling out of season tickets and every game so far.); I wanted to see the first ever Starbucks. Off we went to Pike Place Market , which, possibly because it was Mother's Day, or possibly because everything in Seattle is always covered in flowers and love and pink, was absolutely overwhelmed with bustling flower stands. We didn't see any fish being thrown, but we did recite the opening to The Real World 5-10 times and see a psychic cat.

Early on in the day, we achieved my goal – here I am in front of the original Starbucks (We were headed to a soccer game – I felt channeling by 14 year old self with French Braided pigtails made sense.):

Trevor had read about a pre-game Sounders rally where the faithful fans meet and parade to the field. We set out on a mission to find the rally and when we did, it didn't disappoint – Sounders green as far as the eye could see, a band to lead everyone in song and then a 4 block walk to Qwest Field. It was the most festive and pumped up fans that I've ever seen for a regular season game of any sport.

Conveniently located next to Qwest Field is one of the brew pubs for the Elysian Brewery, and since there was still a good hour (and it was now respectably past noon), we stopped in for our first of many vacation craft beers. The space was awesome, and the beers delicious. We enjoyed Dragontooth Stout and a couple of IPAs. Shocking we didn't take advantage of the stellar guest beer option:

Then we made our way into the stadium. First things first: Our seats were impossible to find. We wandered the stadium, up and down ramps for over 20 minutes, following the incorrect directions from any number of stadium employees (unless “left” actually means “right” in Washington State). We eventually made it and settled in with the crazy crowd, which included this guy:

Yes, a Sounders fan so devoted, he has his own GOALIE GLOVES. The Sounders were playing a Beckham-less Galaxy team and the game eventually ended in a tie, a fact that should surprise no one (The Galaxy's record so far this year is 2-2-9. That would be 9 TIES).

After the game, our mission was to find a bar showing the Lakers game. At this point it was Game 4 of the Rockets series. Do you remember that game? The Lakers were down by 30 at one point – Yeah, we weren't there long. We powered back from the painful loss for the night with a trip to the Space Needle, great pizza and salad, then a bottle of wine with 'Drillbit Taylor.'

Day 2 was a big one. We were nervous it was going to rain, but, somehow our 3 days in Seattle were all rain-free. We'd planned to hit up the Seattle Art Museum, but discovered it is closed on Mondays. Plan B: A trip to Bainbridge Island! Though I had watched Harper's Island (sort of), I was able to convince myself that we would not, in fact, get inexplicably trapped on the island and murdered, so we boarded the ferry for a lovely afternoon of walking around, gorgeous city views and chocolate chili ice cream.

We returned to the city in need of an afternoon snack and found our way back to The Pike Pub back in the Pike Market for a sampler and some amazing nachos. Pike Brewery is cool because it was a family-owned brewery that was sort of bought out and then, like 10 years later, bought itself back.

After Pike's we went on a long walk through Seattle's downtown, bound for a bus that would take us North of the city to a bar that, in honor of Seattle Beer Week, was having a Victory Brewery Tasting. We got there about an hour before the kegs showed up, and were able to snag a place at the soon-to-be-very-in-demand bar.

After the tasting, which included an introduction by the Victory brewery founder, we headed back into the city, where we had earlier passed a movie theatre that is also a bar. We were too curious to pass it up, even if it meant seeing 'State of Play,' with the dreaded Russell Crowe. Review still to follow (no, really), but movie theaters where you can also have a glass of wine are okay by me.

We only had a couple hours the next morning before our train to Portland, and we passed the time at the Olympic Sculpture Park, before packing up, saying goodbye to Andre the Giant, and making the cross-town walk to the train station, bound for another (hopefully awesome) Pacific Northwest city.

All the details on Portland in a few days!

June 22, 2009

Movie Review: Away We Go

There's a problem with great movie trailers – it's almost inevitable that the actual movie can't live up to the promise. This was the case with 'Away We Go, a trailer that I've been swooning over since it debuted early this year. Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie – a lot – but, like when a single is the best song on the album, I couldn't help but feel a little let down.

'Away We Go' could almost have been two separate movies. The first half is knee-slapping funny, telling a road trip story about an almost-loser couple (Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski) redeemed by their love for one another, searching for a new place to settle down and raise their first child. As in a classic road trip story, we meet quirky characters, like the boozing middle aged couple that takes their kids to the greyhound racetrack. Allison Janney and the brother from 'My Boys' were seriously hilarious. But it's the second quirky character that really stole the show – Maggie Gyllenhaal's LN (Ellen). She's a wacky liberal professor, who we first meet with two children too old to be breast feeding doing just that. We learn that her family doesn't believe in strollers and all sleep in the same bed, and they dismiss the idea that one must "make a living” - it's just the right amount of over-the-top to be laugh out-loud funny (And if you don't believe me, just ask the guy behind us in the theater – I'd hate to hear how loudly he guffaws during actual comedies.).

Alternating with the funny characters, there are some real poignant moments. We meet Maya Rudolph's sister and learn that their parents died when she was 22. We meet the couple's college friends, who have an amazing marriage and a big, ol' happy family of adopted children – and learn that they've suffered through 5 miscarriages. We meet John Krasinksi's brother, whose wife has just left him and their young daughter. As the movie meanders along, the quietly uplifting sobriety of these plotlines takes over, leading to a final 3 minutes that are completely (and satisfyingly) dialogue-free.

Aside from the brilliance of Maggie Gyllenhaal and some truly beautifully framed shots (the movie was directed by Sam Mendes, who must have really needed a Happy Couple story after the disaster that was 'Revolutionary Road.'), Maya Rudolph is insanely likable in the movie, and I was almost able to forget the John Krasinski is Jim Halpert (I won't go into the details, since it'd be a multi-tiered spoiler alert around the last season finale of 'The Office' and the movie, but there were two minor plot points just too close to the Jim and Pam relationship for me to ignore).

What I enjoyed most about the movie was being put directly into the middle of the couple's relationship. We didn't have to learn how they met, or watch them fight and realize that they're in love, it was a given that this was the real thing, and I really enjoyed that rare-in-the-movie-world stability. 7.75 Twix bars!

June 19, 2009

In better shape than the Phoenix Coyotes

I haven't always been Phoenix's biggest fan - I tend to associate them with their "weirder" stuff from the 'Lost in Translation' soundtrack. which gets me thinking about nepotism, and how their songs were on that album because the lead singer's married to the movie's director, Sofia Coppola, and eventually I wind up getting mad at Francis Ford Coppola for giving us Nicolas Cage - but over the last few weeks, in preparation for their concert on June 18 at the Paradise, I've been studying up. And I like what I hear - it's upbeat without being too sugar poppy, and there's some really addictive percussion (keyboard counts as percussion, right?). Their new, wicked highly acclaimed album 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' gives me some of what I love about Delta Spirit - music you just have to move along to - and also a slight tinge of Modest Mouse, maybe?

Anyway, I'm clearly not a music critic, and I couldn't tell you what most of their songs are called, but it was a good time. HOWever, they were also guilty of two of my biggest concert pet peeves:
  • A backdrop advertising their new album
  • A reserved area for family & friends, way too large for the amount of people there, and filled with chatterboxes who couldn't be paying less attention to the music that the rest of us spent good money to get in to see.
It's just so not necessary. What else do I hate at shows? Well, funny you should ask, I just happen to have made a list. Aside from the pretty unavoidable (ticket fees, wrist bands that pull at your arm hair, overpriced beer and when the band doesn't play my favorite song), here are the things I really can't stand:
  • When, un-beckoned by a band member, people clap along to the music.
  • All forms of canoodling by fellow concert-goers.
  • People who yell out requests for obscure songs from the band's unreleased first EP to prove how they're such big fans.
  • When the band makes zero attempt to interact with the audience at all (I'm talking to you, Jack White).
  • The lingerers who stand exactly two inches behind you just waiting for you to make any move that might let them step closer to the stage. Seriously, if I can feel your breath, you're too close.
  • People who don't turn off their digital camera screens.
How nitpicky am I being? I'm curious about the rest of the world - what really gets on your nerves when you're at a show?

June 16, 2009

Going wild

I have been really looking forward to the upcoming (October) 'Where the Wild Things Are.' As most do, I have very fond memories of this book, both from my childhood and from reading it with some of my favorite babysitting kids. The announcement of a collaborative adaptation from dormant-for-much-too-long Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers literally gave me chills. Then, the trailer was revealed and I might have done a little tearing up. Check it out for yourself (this is the only embeddable version I could find - the actual preview begins at :26):

Now (thank you Entertainment Weekly!), come to find out that Dave Eggers is releasing a "tie-in" novel to the classic children's tale, also due out in November. I've been getting more into the updates-to-classic-books thing lately (See: March, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, etc.), and this one might take the cake.

What do you think? Is this beyond exciting, or is it blasphemy?

June 10, 2009

Movie Review: Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

I haven’t seen any of Roman Polanski's movies, which isn’t too shocking, since ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ strikes me as the most terrifying premise for a film ever (And I don’t do scary.), and I really try to avoid movies about the Holocaust. (Yes, you’re talking to a one-time film major who has never seen ‘Schindler’s List.’) But I know what an important figure he is in our times, and was curious to get perspective on why. Enter ‘Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,’ a documentary that originally aired on HBO about a year ago.

Because of his notoriety, I expected this documentary to be truly illuminating, and was disappointed that it really only told part of the story - it seemed like they were assuming we already knew the rest. This is a man whose wife was 8 months pregnant when she was murdered by members of the Charles Manson cult. While I realize this is probably a well-ingrained piece of knowledge to people who were alive in the 70s, the movie left it up to everyone else to connect the dots to get that piece of information. Glazing over this tragedy, as well as his childhood as a survivor of the Holocaust, and spending very little time on his actual career, the majority of the film was spent on the ins and outs of his trial for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, which, of course, led to him fleeing to France to escape further jail time.

The movie was distractingly heavy-handed, trying to tell viewers what happened during the trial to lead to his fleeing. (Hint: it was the judges’ fault). Outside of Michael Moore’s more recent work, this isn’t what I expect from documentaries. (Also distracting, Polanski’s creepy British friend who spends all his time trying to convince everyone what a nice guy Polanski really is, with a giant smile on his face while he talks about rape and murder.). The music was strange and overdramatic, as were the clips from Polanski’s films they used in an attempt to draw parallels to his life.

In conclusion, we watched the movie in 2 parts and I learned more about Roman Polanski from my time on Wikipedia in between these two viewings, than I did during the actual film.

6 Twix bars!

June 3, 2009

Man of the Month: June

Conan O'Brien is June's Man of the Month and he sure has earned it . He will make the Tonight Show watchable again and he's proven that you don't have to be a grump or a total buffoon in order to be successful in late night. You're welcome Craig Ferguson.

And now I have something controversial to say: I'm also appreciative of Conan for leaving his former slot open for Jimmy Fallon to fill. Let's be honest - with the exception of 'Fever Pitch,' which most people hate anyway (Not me. I don't buy that they cheapened the Curse-is-Broken Red Sox World Series celebration. Jessica and I went to the premiere at Fenway Park and I've loved its blessed little Boston blood beating heart ever since.), movie stardom wasn't kind to Jimmy Fallon. Getting him back on a stage in a live, joke and gag-based formula is a smart move for him - and we're all going to benefit.

And to the naysayers who just want him to fail, I say: Have you ever seen Conan's early shows? They redefined awkward. Right, back to Conan, our actual Man of the Month. He's smart, incredibly personable, and has an entire brand centered around his ridiculous hair. You can't go wrong. Congrats Conan!

June 2, 2009

Anyone watch 'Greek'?

This is my friend Megan:

We have been best friends since age 13, and there are 1,5711 things that I am grateful to her for (The surprise 17th birthday party she threw me, the shirt she lent me to wear at a party when I spilled all over mine, the whole bridesmaid thing, etc.), but these days I am especially appreciative of her because of the show 'Greek,' which she introduced me to last year.

'Greek' is the only show I watch that I am always happy after. (Other post-viewing emotions - 'Gossip Girl': Intrigued. 'American Idol': Outraged. 'Mad Men': Depressed. 'Fringe': Perplexed. 'Lost': Exhilerated. 'The Office': Sad [that it's over for a whole other week. No, really.]) 'Greek' is just always 100% a good time. Its creator is the first to admit that with this show he's not trying to make any big statement or teach anyone anything or be controversial - he just wanted to make a show about college kids having fun, and it's the greatest hour of lighthearted entertainment around (especially now that the CW stu-stu-stupidly canceled 'Privileged,' a show 2000% better than the new '90210,' and - I can pretty much guarantee - the upcoming new 'Melrose Place.')

Anyway. The only reason I am babbling on about 'Greek' today is because of this girl, Johanna Braddy:

She joined the show this season (just like the high-brow HBO shows, 'Greek' does 12-episode mini-seasons, so you get to still be watching, while everything else is on hiatus!), and I can't quite decide how I feel about her. But however I feel about her is the exact same way that I feel about Mrs. American Idol, because, seriously - How much do she and Kris Allen's wife look alike??

Movie Review: Drag Me to Hell

I think about people who like scary movies this way: They're the kind of people who, in a game of Truth-or-Dare, always picks the latter, because they're curious what the challenge will be, are truly up for anything, or want to prove they can. This isn't me – I much prefer Truth, and I don't typically do scary movies.

I made an exception this weekend to go see ‘Drag Me to Hell.’ Why the exception? Despite the fact that every time the commercial would come on, I'd find myself muttering "no, no, no," for some reason, I promised Sarah (that would be my Dare-devout, tried out for ‘Fear Factor’ friend) that I'd give it a chance.

The movie throws you right into it – there’s a gypsy curse that, quite literally, drags the person to hell 3 days after they are cursed – and it's pretty constant in-your-face-scares from the set-up through the conclusion. Here are 2 words to describe it: absurd and gross. Sure, it was also pretty fun, but it was SO gross that I had a lump in my throat for hours afterward. It definitely went for shocks over creepiness: We're talking multiple instances of fluid (be it bile, bodily or embalming) being expelled/projected onto faces, popping out eye balls, sacrificing cats, etc. It’s a catch 22: For my own psychological well-being, I prefer shock (I can get over bile, while I might never recover from something too realistically/quietly/psychologically creepy), but I know that there are smarter horror movies out there that one can also appreciate cinematically.

This isn’t one of them – the story was fine, if a little abruptly wrapped up, the acting was okay (bonus points to Trevor for pointing out that cleverly framed shot of Justin Long behind an iPhone) and the effects (once you got past the first scene, which I think was intentionally cheesy) were, well, effective. The most I can say about this movie is that I survived – and, hey, that’s actually something. 6.5 Twix bars!