Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mini movie review: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom is one of those movies that I really enjoyed but am having difficulty articulating much about it.  Colorful, sweet, charming, just this side of precious due to the adult characters' sadness tempering the sweetness of the children, this is a very Wes Anderson movie, stacking right up there with The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore (I haven't seen The Fabulous Mr. Fox yet).  The adult cast is loaded, with Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton, and the two young leads playing Sam and Suzy are perfect.  The story is straightforward - 12-year olds Sam and Suzy run away together to escape their less than happy domestic situations and the locals rally to find them before the storm of the century sweeps in - but the quirky characters and their complicated interrelationships fill the 93 minute running time to bursting.  If you like Anderson's other films, you'll love this one.  If you don't know Anderson's films, what are you waiting for?   Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mini book review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Man oh man, don't I just love me Joe Abercrombie's books.  No other fantasy writer I've read - and I've read a lot - writes action like he does.  The world he's built is populated with fascinating, deeply flawed characters who have a propensity for violence and adventure.  With Red Country, Abercrombie has added yet another great book, taking place some years after the events of The Heroes, which was after Best Served Cold, which took place after the First Law trilogy.  When Shy South's brother and sister are kidnapped and taken west, into the Far Country, she and her stepfather Lamb give chase.  Shy is a tough cookie, struggling to forget the evil deeds of her youth. Lamb is a giant Northman, quiet, scarred and with only nine fingers.  Shy thinks he's a coward.  She's going to change her mind about that.  As they follow the trail of the kidnappers, they join a wagon train heading to the wild west town of Crease.  Red Country has a  Western flair - quite different from the Mediterranean aspect of BSC - and the wagon train's journey brought Lonesome Dove to mind, while the nasty little settlement of Crease makes Deadwood look like Paris.  Like Abercrombie's other books, Red Country is full of great characters, several of whom have appeared in previous volumes: Captain-General Nicomo Costa is there, with the cleaver-wielding Sgt. Friendly and assorted other of his mercenaries; Caul Shivers and Glama Golden have cameos; and the mysterious Mayor of Crease seems awfully familiar.  The wild West tone is slightly jarring compared to the previous books but Red Country is great fun and a solid entry in Abercrombie's bibliography.  I'm starting to think I should buy these books.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Books, in brief

I'm still churning through Spartacus: Vengeance, hence the not much of anything new here.  I like it and Liam McIntyre is doing a fine job but I still miss Andy Whitfield.  I've read a couple of books as well:

This Book is Full of Spiders - Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It by David Wong.  I think I liked this sequel to John Dies at the End better than the first book.  I found it easier to follow, the story moving much more linearly.  David inadvertently unleashes a plague of parasitic spider monsters that turn the townsfolk of [Undisclosed] into zombies, for all intents and purposes.  Then he, John, Amy and Molly have to stop the spider-zombie apocalypse before it spreads to the rest of the world.  Funny, fast-paced and pretty gruesome/gory in spots.

"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket.  I am a big fan of Mr. Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books (Full disclosure: I went to college with Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket's alter ego, and he is every bit as brilliant, funny, articulate and talented as you might imagine).  "WCTBaTH?" is the first book in a new series, "All the Wrong Questions" - a children's noir series.  This first book follows young Snicket in his first apprenticeship as he tries to solve a mystery and, in doing so, asks wrong question after wrong question.  It's a good start but I think it's been a little more challenging for Handler to find his voice here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I. Am. Watching. Spartacus

I guess I've just been in the mood for sexy, sweaty gladiators these days.  Can you blame me?  I just finished Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, the six episode prequel, set five years before the events of Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  In this prequel, we get to see backstory on many of our favorite characters:  the doctore, Oenomaus, was happily fighting as a gladiator and happily married to a lovely girl slave before he was forced into management; Crixus comes to the ludus, unwashed, unshaved and unable to fight; Ashur had the use of both his legs and although he was still a schemer, he had hopes of honor in the arena.  Barca had a much more butch boyfriend.  Best of all, Quintus Batiatus and Lucretia - the wonderful John Hannah and Lucy Lawless - are there, young and ambitious but not yet corrupt; we get to watch as Batiatus's daddy issues force him into poorly planned schemes and Lucretia battles for her husband.

New characters add fun to the mix too.  Jaime Murray plays Gaia, Lucretia's BFF, a gorgeous Roman lady on the prowl for her next husband.  She introduces Lucretia to opium-fueled three-ways, encourages small orgies to court favor with important Capuans and inspires some awesome revenge.  The champion of the ludus is Gannicus: handsome and cocky, he is close friends with Oenomaus and his wife Melitta.  Gannicus doesn't have the charisma that Andy Whitfield's Spartacus did but he's fun nonetheless.

GotA is in a tough position because having watched the first season already, you know what's going to happen to many of the GotA characters.  Still, amid the over-the-top violence and sex, there are plenty of heart-wrenching moments that make you feel for these people, and that's what makes these Spartacus shows good.

Gods of the Arena was filmed during Blood and Sand's hiatus in hopes that series star Andy Whitfield would beat his cancer.  He didn't, which is really, really sad, but before he died he told the showrunners that they should recast his part.  They did and I've just started Spartacus: Vengeance with Liam McIntyre as the new Spartacus.  McIntyre looks enough like Whitfield that it's only a small shock to see him in the role; he doesn't have Whitfield's spark quite yet, but it's still early and Whitfield grew into the role himself so there's plenty of time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mini book review: John Dies at the End by "David Wong"

On the book jacket, Don Coscarelli, director of Phantasm I-IV (I've seen the first one and quite liked it) and Bubba Ho-Tep (my review here), described the author of  John Dies at the End as a "mash-up of Douglas Adams and Stephen King." I'd say that's right on the money. This horror/humor hybrid is a lot of fun, moving readily from LOL guffaws ("jockstrappery" - you'll just have to read it) to squeemish squirming, sometimes in the course of the same sentence. I read it quickly over the weekend between Christmas and New Year's, perhaps too quickly because it sometimes seemed a little disjointed, but as the framework is an "autobiographical" account, written by author David Wong (a pseudonym), recalling a meeting with a reporter to discuss recent strange events - in other words, a story within a story within a story - I guess it's supposed to be a little disjointed. Also, Dave purports to have been under the influence of some otherworldly substance that allows him, along with his buddy John, to access dimensions other than our own. Also, they drink a lot. I'm not even going to try to explain the plot, but Dave and John are sort of the Ghostbusters crossed with Mulder and Scully (minus the government funding and personal hygiene). Very weird things are happening in their town and they seem to be about the only ones who can do anything about it. There's been a movie made of JDatE - apparently fairly well received at Sundance in their Midnight Movies series and it's supposed to be coming out in wide(-ish) release soon. I'm not sure how they filmed it without cutting out a ton of stuff - they would have to cut a TON of stuff - but I'm likely to see it. Also, there's a sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders - Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It, and I've just picked that up from the library.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Mini movie review: Our Idiot Brother

This one I rented hoping Mr. Mouse would like it. A 90-minute movie with Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Adam Scott and Rashida Jones? What could be wrong with that? Well, part of what's wrong with it is that Our Idiot Brother isn't funny enough to truly be a comedy but is too silly to really be a family drama (which is the other thing it wants to be). Paul Rudd is the titular brother, Ned, a good-natured, well-meaning, largely oblivious lost soul who gets arrested for selling pot to a uniformed cop. When he gets out of jail, his girlfriend has dumped him and kicked him off their organic farm; worse, she refuses to share custody of their dog, Willie Nelson, whom she doesn't really like anyway. Unsure of what to do, and needing both work and a place to stay, Ned crashes in turn with his three sisters: Liz (Emily Mortimer), a harried, overprotective mom married to a British documentary filmmaker/putz (Steve Coogan); Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a type-A magazine writer desperate to make a name for herself at her job; and Natalie (Deschanel), a free-spirit stand-up comedian (entirely unfunny) who isn't sure she's ready to settle down with serious girlfriend Rashida Jones (who sports some seriously awful eyeglasses). Unsurprisingly, Ned makes things worse for his sisters and then, when they really take a look at themselves and their brother, makes everything better. The story is pretty trite and unoriginal and there are too many cast members - Deschanel hardly gets anything to do. On the plus side, Willy Nelson is quite a cutie-pie.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mini movie review: Chronicle

I was really looking forward to Chronicle, a genre blend of sci-fi, superhero and teen-angst.  It had gotten pretty good reviews - interesting story*, engaging characters, good use of the now ever-present found-footage technique - and the genre mix is right up my alley.  It's the story of three high school kids, Andrew, the tormented loner, Matt, his smart cousin, and popular, athletic Steve.  The guys find a hole in the ground and, upon venturing in, discover some big crystal that imbues them with superpowers.  These powers reveal themselves slowly: first they can move Legos, then baseballs, then a leaf-blower, then themselves; their pure joy at being able to fly is contagious.  But Andrew, whose mother is dying and whose father is a drunk asshole (btw, if Matt is his cousin, wouldn't one of Matt's parents - who would be related to one of Andrew's parents, maybe step in to help with Andrew's terminally ill mother?), is a disturbed kid and he begins to use his powers in ways that he shouldn't.  Matt, who is the moral center of the film, tries to help Andrew, but things get way out of hand.  For the most part, I enjoyed Chronicle, but it lost me at the end when it devolved into a long scene of CGI effects and violence.  I feel that, given the time that was taken at the front end to develop Andrew, Matt and Steve, there could have been more intimacy and less smash to the boys' downfall.

*The thing about the story is that it's awfully similar to that X-Files episode ("Rush," S7E5) where the popular high school kids find a cave in the woods with a mysterious force field, get supercharged with super-speed, and then do bad things until Mulder and Scully can rein them in.