November 26, 2009

This one goes out to Natalie Merchant.

Tomorrow, over 100 guest will descend on us for 4 days of Thanksgiving Family Camp. It's been a whirlwind of preparation, and it wasn't until tonight that I really thought of it as being Thanksgiving - one of my favorite holidays in the world - tomorrow. Thanksgiving kicks off the best time of year: the holiday season where you have an excuse to tell people how much you love them, all while eating a ton of good food.

So, to get in the spirit, I spent some time tonight while making stuffing getting all teary-eyed thinking about all that I'm thankful for, like:
  • Amazing friends who supported a life-changing decision to quit my job and make a cross-country move.
  • A sister who impresses me everyday with her ability to keep balance in her life AND find time to call me regularly.
  • A new city to explore.
  • A cat who makes me laugh at least once a day.
  • Supportive, smart, amazingly considerate parents.
  • A husband who is smarter, funnier, more considerate and better in every way than every romantic lead in every movie out there.
  • This new community that I work and live in, which is full of diverse, supportive and kind people.
  • A Grandma who, at 95, is in complete control of her mind and getting spunkier every year.
  • To have in-laws that I don't think of as in-laws, just as family.
  • Time to sit around thinking about all the things to love about my life.
  • And also: avocados, campfires, Entertainment Weekly and Ellen Degeneres.
I figure this can also act as a mantra: Tomorrow, as things get really crazy, I will think about this list, and a million other things I could add to it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

November 25, 2009

Movie Review: The Big Chill

I've always associated 'The Big Chill' with 'Diner'. Possibly because of its release date and large ensemble cast, more likely because they were next to one another in my Netflix queue for years.

While entertained enough and even occasionally moved by the film's depiction of aging friendships, I wasn't blown away. It hasn't aged particularly well, and not just because of its outdated plotlines (like a woman trying to seduce her male friends in order to get pregnant). The thing that put me off the most was its use of self-taped video confessions and conversations. This is a dated device that drives me crazy: Especially in the 80s, filmmakers used it as an attempt to comment on the voyeurism of their characters, but it rarely doesn't feel forced and insincere.

Most of the time, I was wishing the ensemble cast featured other actors, like Andie MacDowell instead of JoBeth Williams, and anyone else except Jeff Goldblum who was clunky in his role as a writer for People magazine who's more ambitious career plans involve opening a club (How noble?). I feel like Glenn Close was only nominated for an Academy Award because she cried, naked. And I won't even bring up Tom Berenger, since I'll never forgive him for not being Tom Bergeron - host of 'Dancing with the Stars' - which cost us a trivia victory. William Hurt & Kevin Kline (though the latter used a totally unnecessary Southern accent) really held the ensemble together.

All this being said, I can see where this film might fit into a film major's curriculum. I especially liked that the filmmaker really used the soundtrack as a storytelling device: While all of the movie takes place in the 80s, it relies on the audience understanding the characters' 60s-based backstories. The soundtrack - jammed full of 60s hits - serves this purpose.

7.5 Twix bars!

November 12, 2009

Movie Review: W.

When talking about movies, I try very hard to talk about more than its plot. I tend to think that if a major motion picture (which I was willing to see) got made, its plot is likely interesting/worthy, so if the movie is lacking in some way, there's probably another aspect of the filmmaking process to blame. But it's awfully hard to keep plot out of it with 'W.'.

It shouldn't surprise you that 'W.' - released a month before Barack Obama was elected as successor to George W. Bush as president and directed by the notorious government conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone - was a bit heavy handed. In case you didn't know Stone's angle beforehand, as soon as the movie starts (once you get past the too-oft-repeated just plain dum' baseball metaphor scene), the point is clear: George W. Bush is dumb. He's mostly good intentioned, but rich, privileged, needy, defensive, arrogant and surrounded by evil doers (whose names rhyme with Rainy and Stove) who only care about power and oil. These people are to blame for anything and everything bad that happened in America between September 12, 2001 and today. Except, you know, in a light-hearted satirical kind of way. I'm on board with all of this, and it still felt like a bit much, so that should tell you something.

One major issue I had with the film is how dated it already feels. Barely a year after its release, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are painfully and frustratingly front-of-mind, the focus was too much on how and why we got into Iraq without contributing anything new to that discussion.

Let's move beyond plot before I go to lefty on you.

Poor Josh Brolin - over the last three years, he's been in 'Milk' (assassin), 'No Country for Old Men' (cuckhold), 'American Gangster' (corrupt cop) and this (punchline); he's finally becoming legitimate as an actor (Previous credits include: 'Hollow Man,' 'The Mod Squad' and 'Bed of Roses') and all these characters are so darn unlikable!

The movie was prettier than I expected. All those scenes of powerful government figures, walking outdoors so their conversations don't get bugged, were full of light in all the right places.

It pains me to say it, because I think she is out-of-control beautiful and a very underrated actress, but Thandie Newton was distractingly bad. Her attempt at Condoleeza Rice was so focused on the voice that it seemed like she was playing her in an SNL parody. This stood out especially in comparison to the void of an accent from James Cromwell, who was playing George Bush Senior. Clearly, George HW Bush has an accent; Cromwell chose to play him without one. Fine, but then an accent imitation shouldn't be the main focal point of any other character.

Here is something I don't often pick up on: The score. There was nothing out of the ordinary with this movie's score until an hour and a half into it: We're in a pivotal scene, a war room of sorts - Lines are being drawn, speeches are being made...and horribly ridiculous piano notes start coming from nowhere. They crescendo as Jeffrey Wright's Colin Powell finishes a powerful speech about not going to war (remember how I called the film "heavy handed"?) and then die out...just to pick up again as Richard Dreyfuss, an almost painful Dick Cheney doppelganger, gives his most obvious villainous speech. Later in this same scene, there's a Bush speech where the painful piano notes are replaced by guitar plucking. Totally unnecessary, this awkwardness continued for the rest of the movie.

To be honest, I'm probably going out of my way to critique this movie because I don't want to feel like I'm just fulfilling my liberal duty by signing off on it with a big stamp of approval Overall, it was too preachy and too long, but pretty funny and definitely well made.

7.25 Twix bars!

November 9, 2009

Man of the Month: November

In addition to learning how to bake really soft cookies, one of my initiatives for this year at camp is to watch all 7 seasons of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' on DVD. In case I haven't mentioned it before, 'Buffy' is definitely my favorite television show ever to air, but when you call something your favorite for long enough, it can become habit instead of fact. I wanted to make sure that this wasn't the case with this, so I have started from the beginning.

And it's working. I'm just about halfway through the first season, but it's even smarter & funnier than I remember. Now that I'm not jealous of my high school crush's crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar, I'm finding her oddly charming, and the supporting cast is practically perfect. And David Boreanaz, as the title character's first love and eventual spin-off lead, is every bit the kind of sulking (I'm sorry, but there's no word for it) dreamboat that deserves to be Man of the Month.

Sure, he's achieved way more mainstream success with 'Bones', but, I think I'll always prefer to Google Image search for '1999 David Boreanaz'.

Movie Review: Defiance

'Defiance' is the based-on-a-true-story account of four Jewish brothers in Belarus who, in 1941, started a camp in the forest to hide themselves, their families (however extended) and, eventually, over one thousand Jewish refugees.

The movie wasn't great. First off, nothing annoys me more than movies set in foreign lands where they speak English with that country's accent. Worse, when then, inexplicably, another language warrants subtitles. Aggravating. Secondly, the three main characters happened to be played by James Bond, Billy Elliott and the guy from Screams 1-3 - that's a little hard to look beyond.

(Speaking of casting, Trevor has no recollection of 'Good Morning, Miami' - if only I were so lucky. A major supporting character was played by the guy from that, who has also appeared on every mediocre television show of the last 10 years. Putting glasses on him doesn't make him any more believable as a Socialist intellectual.)

There were a few points brought up (in a very surface-level kind of way) that I found interesting, since they're atypical for novels & movies on this subject, particularly class issues within Jewish society.

The movie really jumps right into it, taking the brothers to their farm to discover their parents have been murdered, and showing a mass grave within the first five minutes. My first thought was that it was too much, too fast, but I'm now thinking it worked best this way. If there's one subject in world history that maybe doesn't require elaborate set-up and backstory, it's probably the Holocaust.

While the locations and sets were beautiful, the action sequences weren't particularly believable and there were some awkward montages, bizarre editing and one disastrous decision to try to make two men into comic relief (because nothing calls for humor like the Holocaust?).

7 Twix bars!