Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Devil Wears Prada Movie Review

The Devil Wears Prada is one of those Hollywood productions based on a best-selling novel, cast with big name movie stars, filled out with great production values, all in service to a lifeless script.

The screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna is based on the novel (unread by me) by Lauren Weisberger. The basic plot is thus: fresh-faced college graduate Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) seeks idealized position writing articles for a publication such as The New Yorker (it seems no one told Andy that in 2006, print publications were going the way of crank-start cars and anyway, big-time magazines generally don’t hire inexperienced 22-year olds as writers). She gets a (sort-of) lucky break getting hired as the junior assistant to Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep), a fashion maven and editor-in-chief of Runway fashion magazine. It’s a job “a million girls would kill for” and if Andy can last a year she’ll have her pick of great magazine jobs.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Life Is What I Do Between World Cups

Another month-long World Cup tournament is finished and I have to return to a normal schedule that doesn't involve waiting for the next match to start or thinking about who's going to win or worrying if the USA is going to lose to Ghana.

Thankfully at the start of September qualifying begins for the 2012 European Championship. But I'll have to wait nearly 2 years before the USA plays anything related to Brazil 2014.

Time to start saving money for a holiday in Brazil in 4 years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Going Away

I'm off to Switzerland for 2 weeks, then Italy for a week, then back to Seville for 2 days and then back to teaching English to kids at summer camp for the month of August. So it's unlikely there will be too many posts through the end of the summer.

I'll try to get something up occasionally, but see you back in September. If there's anyone even there.

Classic Movie Review: The Graduate

Watching Mike Nichols’ classic The Graduate for the first time in about ten years or so I was struck by several things: Dustin Hoffman’s performance seems like preparation work for Rain Man; Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson was sexy and brilliant; the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry is bitingly funny at times; Benjamin Braddock is not nearly the cultural revolutionary that I remembered him to be (or that he seemed to be in the 60s). While the film is undoubtedly a classic, it is hardly great.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mother and Child Movie Review

The Colombian director Rodrigo García is something of an Alejandro González Iñárritu-light. Not in the sense that his films are worse than Iñárritu’s, but because they utilize a similar approach to interconnected narrative threads without the same gravity. It should come as no surprise then that Iñárritu served as executive producer on García’s Nine Lives and his most recent film (and subject of this review) Mother and Child about the realities of adoption and the consequences imparted on all parties involved.

Three women figure in three stories joined thematically. Annette Bening is Karen, a middle-aged woman so fixated on the daughter she gave up for adoption after becoming pregnant at fourteen that she has never allowed anyone to get close enough to have a meaningful relationship. She is full of regret and there’s an unspoken animosity toward her elderly dying mother who, the movie makes implicit, forced her into her decision. Naomi Watts is Elizabeth, the now grown daughter Karen gave up 37 years earlier. Karen is a career lawyer, working her way up the ladder hoping for a future Appellate Court appointment. She keeps nothing to tie her down to one place, no lasting relationship, adopted parents gone. Kerry Washington is Lucy. She is unable to bear her own children so she and husband Joseph (David Ramsay) have decided to adopt.

This Is How Democracies Behave

Not that I think this will go any length toward silencing critics, Israel has done what any responsible democracy does when its soldiers commit war crimes or engage in misconduct in a war zone - they handle it internally, fairly and justly.

For all the blather from the "International community" and from the ridiculously biased Goldstone report about Israel's atrocious actions in Operation Cast Lead, the 2008 military incursion into Gaza as a result of a year of constant rocket attacks and the cross-border kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, these indictments demonstrate that Israel is serious about conducting itself appropriately. This is more than can be said for the terrorist organization Hamas, which now controls Gaza, who committed such war crimes as stashing munitions in civilian locations like schools and mosques, hiding behind civilian shields, and disguising themselves as civilians. Lest we forget, these are all crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

But no one ever talks about war crimes committed by terrorists. The reason is that democracies and the UN know they have virtually no control over such groups. They would reveal themselves as feeble by drafting a resolution against Hamas because Hamas is going to pay absolutely no heed to it. However, drafting resolutions against Israel and accusing them of war crimes gets the attention of lots of people and serves to delegitimize Israel as a sovereign nation until people have this backwards idea that Israelis are the "real terrorists" in the Middle East and Hamas is a democratically elected government just trying to survive and bring peace.

Uh-huh. Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Classic Movie Review: 12 Angry Men

When you consider Sidney Lumet’s body of work as a feature film director (Serpico; Dog Day Afternoon; The Verdict; Network), so much of it can be traced back to his debut film 12 Angry Men. This simple little courtroom drama (which has only one scene take place in an actual courtroom), in which a single jury member bent on voting not guilty slowly convinces the other eleven to change their votes, paved the way for his career directing films about justice.

The film is based on a teleplay by Reginald Rose, who also wrote the screenplay. It is certainly idealistic in its moralizing and tub-thumping for the American Way. It’s a film that is in love with itself for representing the idealized version of our justice system. And although some of the scenes feel very stagy, it’s Lumet’s direction that makes the film rise above it all to achieve genuine greatness.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Age of Innocence Movie Review

Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence, has not really received its due praise. Perhaps because at the time it seemed such a departure for the director of quintessential New York stories of Italian Americans, often involved in crime. Now that 17 years have passed and Scorsese has gone on to create a body of work with much broader settings and themes (Kundun, The Aviator, Shutter Island), it’s fair to say there is little unusual about seeing it as very much a Martin Scorsese Picture.

Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is one in a long line of Scorsese male protagonists trying to escape from the clutches of a world not of his own choosing. Consider Charlie in Mean Streets coming to terms with his lack of faith; Travis Bickle trapped in a sewer of crime; Jesus of Nazareth wrestling with the forces pushing him; Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island a prisoner of his own psychosis.

Knight and Day Movie Review

Knight and Day is absolutely the kind of cheap (and I’m not referring to the budget) mindless entertainment I should hate, but there was something about this Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star vehicle that was really quite enjoyable.

The film is directed by James Mangold from a script by Patrick O’Neil. Mangold is establishing himself as a good action director whose indie roots with films like Heavy and Cop Land taught him not to lose sight of character development. His 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma is probably his best film, but I still think he has a substantial, if not great, film in him yet. He’s got a great feel for action pacing. Clocking in at 105 minutes, Knight and Day is a breath of fresh air from the bloated excess of the 2 hour plus action films that normally come from the big studios.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Some Exciting Soccer Today

Let's forget my knockout round predictions which have been blown to hell by both Brazil and Argentina having spectacular flameouts. Also, I had picked Spain to win the World Cup, but after seeing Germany dismantle Australia, England and now Argentina and seeing the struggles of Spain to defeat Paraguay, I can't say I'm hopeful for La Roja to take down Germany on Wednesday. In the rematch of the Euro 2008 final, I'd say Germany has the upper hand.

First there was Germany tearing apart Argentina. Germany got that early goal and then nothing much happened through the rest of the first half. But in the second half, with Maradona's boys all out of ideas for how to crack through the German midfield and their defense falling to pieces, Miroslav Klose struck twice and Friedrich once to give Germany a smashing 4-0 victory. That's the third match in this tournament in which Germany has scored 4 goals, a feat not accomplished in the World Cup since 1970 when Brazil defeated Czechoslovakia 4-1, Peru 4-2 and Italy 4-1.

A Restaurant Where You're Served by Ninjas

Surely everyone I know in NY will have that typical blase attitude when they read this, "Oh, yeah, I've known about that place for years. It was popular 3 years ago, but now no one goes there." I love NY, but I really hate that culture of trendiness that pervades the people.

Ninja New York is a restaurant where the waiters are ninjas!! This is not a joke and I can't believe I've been in Spain missing it the entire time it's been open.

My question: If you don't tip your waiter, does he cut your head off? If not, then he's not a real ninja. In fact, I might go so far as to say no real ninja would ever condescend to serving other people. You serve the ninja, or else he cuts your damn head off.


Friday, July 2, 2010

It May not Be the Bright Future They Promised

Megan McArdle has a useful post on how the future of health care reform might look.

Contrary to popular liberal belief, the conservative objection to national health care reform is not about lack of sympathy for poor people who can't afford insurance (and let's not even get into families with 2 cars, 3 televisions, mobile phone plans for their 10 year olds, 2 dogs and a gym membership who "can't afford" insurance), but about real fiscal conservatism. As in, "How the f--- are we going to pay for this?" This question becomes especially salient after you take a look at what's happening in Massachusetts with people gaming the system only a few years after health insurance reform took effect.

There are also those who have legitimate ideological objections to the individual mandate. But of course, without the mandate, national health care reform wouldn't work.

Quick, can anyone think of a product or service that individuals are required to purchase simply for breathing? Don't even think about naming auto insurance because that's attached to vehicles, not individuals. And there's no requirement that you own a car. I wonder if the individual mandate could actually stand up to a serious court challenge.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Toy Story 3 Movie Review: Trying Very Hard to Measure Up to a Bar Already Set in the Stratosphere

Pixar has a rule about sequels in that they won’t go near them unless they have a really good story, so it may seem suspect that they’ve released a second sequel to the film that got them started on world domination of animated features: the 1995 hit Toy Story. In the pantheon of Pixar features, Toy Story 3 figures somewhere between that first film and A Bug’s Life.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Those are two fine entertainments so how can I go wrong with this one,” and you’d be right. Woody and Buzz Lightyear (still voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) are back in another rollicking adventure. Whereas the first sequel dealt with the guilt of letting your childhood toys fall by the wayside, this one is about the sorrow of having to leave childish things behind when you reach adulthood.

Dorian Gray Movie Review: Where, Oh Where Has My Little Soul Gone?

This film has been released commercially in some European markets and will get a direct-to-DVD release in the US on 10 August.

In Oliver Parker’s latest Oscar Wilde adaptation (with a screenplay by novice Toby Finlay), Dorian Gray, Ben Barnes spends most of his time in the titular role standing around looking pretty. And that’s pretty much what Wilde’s original novel was about, wasn’t it? It was about this beautiful young man who stays beautiful.

No it wasn’t! It was a serious examination of the power of vanity on the human soul and the consequences of trading your soul for everlasting beauty. The novel was infused with Wilde’s classic wit, expressed mostly through the character of Lord Henry Wotton, mostly absent here except for the occasional biting comment expertly delivered by Colin Firth, who is the only actor in the film who seems up to the challenge of, you know, acting.

Who Cares What Janeane Garofalo Has to Say?

The Onion A.V. Club has an interview with Janeane Garofalo where, among other things gets into her ridiculous alternative career as a political pundit talking head on various TV programs.

Okay, I've never really found Garofalo very funny as a comedian. I have enjoyed some of the more dramatic stuff she's done, particularly her recurring role on "The West Wing". But what I can't stand is celebrities who think they have valid opinions on politics. Okay, her opinions aren't invalid, but what special knowledge or expertise does she have that qualifies her to be someone who goes on MSNBC or Fox to espouse her views? I probably have about as a strong a grasp on politics as she does, but I would never get a spot on TV expressing my opinions. How is her status as a political pundit any different than the right's love affair with Joe the Plumber? That's a serious question. The only difference is that Joe the Plumber was not a celebrity prior to his short-lived career as a political pundit.

The A.V. Club interview just serves to further the legitimacy of this kind of celebrity narcissism. And that's all it is honestly. Okay, her politics has some relevance to her career as a comedian because she more or less gave up stand-up during the Bush years because "there was so much stuff that broke [her] heart" and she couldn't find the funny in it. Sean O'Neal also lets her repeat the "stolen election" canard. Does anyone do interviews that challenge their subjects on facts? Okay, O'Neal is a celebrity interviewer and not a political reporter. But Garofalo asserts right there in the interview that the media just let the "stolen election" issue of 2000 go. Not to reopen old wounds, but several media outlets conducted independent recounts of the Florida votes only to find that if Al Gore had gotten the recounts he was suing for, George W. Bush would have won anyway!!!

By the way, she's also really disappointed in the Obama administration because he hasn't turned out to be the Great Liberal Savior that the left was wishing for after the Dark Years of the Eeeeeeevil and Dastardly George W. Bush. Wow! So Garofalo has discovered, but not acknowledged, that running a country is not as simple as waving a magic wand and giving everything to the right people and making the wicked suffer. It's actually about taking in relevant intelligence and information and coming to the best possible decision for the country as a whole. Perhaps Obama has appeared to be such a disappointment because once he entered office and was shown the actual intelligence by his military advisers he had a bit of an awakening and realized there's a hell of a lot more to the world than Janeane Garofalo led him to believe.


25 Years Ago This Month (July 1985)

Back to the Future opened in July 1985 and was the king of the summer box office, taking in $210 million during its run to finish at number 1 for the year and number 9 all-time. It's currently sitting at number 91 on the all-time list. This was one of my absolute favorites as a child and I watched it repeatedly. Michael J. Fox became a major film star as a result, although he'd already achieved big success on his television sitcom "Family Ties." He shot both the TV series and the film simultaneously, acting on the TV sound stage by day, and doing the film shoot by night. That "To be continued..." teaser at the end dogged me for what seemed like an eternity when in actuality it was only 4 years before the much-anticipated sequel was released. Of course, these days the sequel is planned and written while the first film is being shot so they can release it the next year or two years later. Because nowadays the first film is little more than an extended commercial for the sequel. How things have changed in 25 years.