Friday, July 31, 2009

Ryan Gosling, or How am I the only one who's wondering what he's up to?

I saw these pics here and couldn't help posting at least one of 'em:

Which led to wonder: what has he been up to and when can I see him onscreen next? I mean, was Lars and the Real Girl (2007) his last film?

Damages or How 'iconic much?'

I just finished the first season of Damages (yes, I know! I know... I'm behind: I'll be catching up with season two as soon as I can) and I gotta say it's one of the most electrifying pieces of Television I have ever experienced. Not only is the acting top-notch (no surprise there since you have an Oscar-nominated actress headlining and Cheer-y TV royalty providing supporting work), but it is also one of the most tightly wound scripts I have encountered (especially considering it is - at its core a procedural, and those are usually so lazy). In a way, it is - if nothing else - a master class in "How to Use Flashbacks Effectively" mainly because instead of providing tiresome "and this is how it all happened", the use of flashbacks in every episode works to at once frame and reframe what we're watching. It is an editing and writing triumph that never lets you off the hook (it consciously rewards studious and attentive audience members rather than indulging your lack of attention by giving you answers).

But there was one thing I wanted to showcase and that's the use of iconic costumes/accessories. While contemporary TV shows may not consciously draw attention to their crafts (take as an example, how the costumes and production of design of Mad Men seem to become a character onto themselves whereas something like Law & Order... not so much. The clear exception here would be something like Sex and the City but that's a whole different ball game, y'know?) - Damages (in a mere 13 episode season) managed to create two iconic pieces: Patty Hewes' sunglasses and Ellen Parsons' green trench-coat:

This iconicity is not only because of their recurrent use (after all, Ellen is wearing the trench coat in the opening scene and therefore becomes the image we have of her as relives that dreadful night in Patty's apartment, whereas Patty just seems to stand outside a lot and therefore needs sunglasses) but because they so clearly embody and represent the characters they adorn.
Are not sunglasses and trench-coats the (albeit cliched) garbs reminiscent of secret rendezvous in alley ways and undercover meetings? This is the world that Patty and Ellen survive in, but we can also look at Ellen's done-up trench-coat and see how guarded and uninviting she's become, and Patty's sunglasses as another way in which Ms Hewes stays in control, never revealing more than she needs to. In a way, combined, these two iconic pieces embody the sole truism that the show advocates: "Trust No One."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"The Red Queen" or How I love me some big-headed Helena

Say what you will about the trailer for the upcoming Burton-helmed Alice in Wonderland (too much Depp/Mad Hatter! obvious 3D gimmicks!) but it looks amazing. The little pieces of Wonderland we see are colourful, mad-cap and just Burton enough to titillate me, but in particular I was blown away by the character design for The Red Queen, played by Burton's signature muse Helena Bonham Carter: I love the gigantic head, the heart-shaped lips, the receding hairline, the little scepter... pretty much I'm in love with how she looks and she'll undoubtedly be one of my favorite parts of the film which (here's hoping!) doesn't end up being another Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (a self-indulgent, wondrous looking children's tale with an edge and with a white-faced Johnny).

Will she want off with our heads? We may just have to RSVP to this "important date" and find out...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dollhouse's Echo/Epitaph One or How this is fearless TV at work

Dollhouse's 'Lost Episodes' (read: the original pilot 'Echo' - which got scrapped, and the thirteenth episode 'Epitath One' - which FOX refused to air in the Spring but which will be available when the Dollhouse DVDs make their way into shelves everywhere) make for great bookends to what was arguably a shaky start to Joss Whedon's provocative new show. Careful: SPOILERS AHEAD.

More so than its aired brethren, 'Echo' and 'Epitath One' carefully distill the moral ambiguity and bleak-toned originality of Joss's premise:

Echo is part of"a member of a group of people known as "Actives" or "Dolls". The Dolls are people whose personalities and existence in the outside world have been wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas—including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language—for different assignments (referred to as engagements)" (So Wikipedia summarizes it).

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

If the aired pilot functioned as a way to introduce gentle viewers into this complicated world (with a ransom story more akin to Law & Order than to a Whedon show), 'Echo' doesn't shy away from plunging us deep into the core of the show's premise: what is the real purpose of the Dollhouse? (a question keen viewers might remember from Echo's encounter with Paul Ballard late in the season and which 'Epitaph' will pick up in full force). The episode guides us through the Dollhouse's process: we see Echo in several assignments as Adele explains that the Dollhouse gives its clients not what they want, but what they need. And so we follow as Echo gets given a mission to throw Ballard's mission off target (having gotten Caroline's picture just as in the aired-pilot and following fake tips from 'Victor', Ballard is getting quite close at finding the Dollhouse it seems) - culminating in a moment as shocking and well-executed as the Echo/Paul fight from 'Man on the Street', showing how well Eliza and Tammoh actually work against the other.

In a way, this 'lost pilot' gets quicker at what the season one as a whole works to develop: it intertwines the Paul/Echo story much faster, gives away the Victor/Doll mystery right away and - this is most glaring in the last scene - Echo whispers 'Caroline' before falling asleep, suggesting Echo's ability to remember past her wipes (This if we all remember is the last scene of 'Omega' though it fits much more beautifully here)

In particular (and given the amount of scenes spliced straight into the aired pilot) I wish the Boyd/Topher conversation had been kept intact as it illuminated (much less didactically than what actually aired) the tensions within the Dollhouse in regards to the Dolls:

Topher: Does that tie keep you warm?

Boyd: Uh... no.

Topher: It's just what grownup men do in our culture. They... ah, put a piece of cloth around their necks so they can assert their status and recognize each other as non-threatening kindred.

Boyd: So what is this? The 60s? We're going to burn our draft cards?

Topher: You wear the tie because it never occurred to you not to. You eat eggs every morning but never at night. You feel excitement, companionship when rich men you've never met put a ball through a net. You feel guilty, maybe a little suspicious every time you see that Salvation Army Santa. You look down for at least half a second if a woman leans forward. And your stomach rumbles every time you drive by a big golden arch even if you weren't hungry before. Everybody's programmed Boyd.

In a sense, despite being the first episode, 'Echo' feels much more like an episode from the second half of the season (post-'Man on the Street', if you will) which suggests Whedon & co. only hit their stride once they realized this was less a show about 'who's Eliza gonna play in this episode?' (read: a Network friendly action of the week type deal) and more of an intricately woven adult premise dealing with human trafficking, body/soul metaphysics and tech morality.

Epitath One
Written by: Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon
Directed by: Joss Whedon

We start in an LA we might only recognize because we've seen the Terminator films: it is dark, flames envelop the background and we are told it is 2019 and these 'actuals' (humans who we presume can't/haven't been 'printed') we meet are afraid of any tech as they seek refuge. Where do they end up? Inside the Dollhouse of course.

This is not your regular Dollhouse; for this Whedon & co. came up with a framing device that might have seemed hokey if it did not work perfectly to retell the 'Dollhouse' mythology (following it through past what the season finale showed us) tracing it through what is arguably one of the most fascinating characters on the show: Adele DeWitt. While the rag-tag pack of survivors find a way to survive inside the Dollhouse (battling an unseen murdering force and finding a creepy haunting-like Whiskey/Dr Saunders) we get fragments of Adele's memories that explain how the technology that gave people 'not what they want but what they need' ended up causing the mayhem we witnessed at the start of the episode where remote wipes and reprinting is now not restricted to Dolls but to anyone walking the streets.

This is fearless storytelling not least because Whedon & co. have pretty much mapped the direction of the show (or, not just mapped it but showed the audience said map: we see snippets of romantic pairings, we see the Dollhouse as a safe haven from above, we see Boyd fleeing, Whiskey/Dr Saunders scarless, we hear about 'what happened to November'). In short, this is an episode that functions just as powerfully as an 'ending' (which it almost was) and as whetting titillating flash-forward: I am even more excited now for season 2 than after seeing 'Omega'. This is Dollhouse we were all waiting for, with a sprawling mythology, a deeper purpose, and an array of well-grounded characters. That said, it might say something about the show as a whole that, being this its strongest entry, it showcases the least amount of screentime from Ms Dushku: albeit, she is more than capable and believable as Caroline than she ever was as Echo, but the episode instead finds itself weighing heavily on two of Whedon's regulars: Amy Acker and Felicia Day, and on Dollhouse's boss-lady, Olivia Williams, all capable thesps with Joss at the helm.

Overall, these make for great bookends to Whedon's new show and I'm glad they are being released to the public for not only do they enrich the stories and characters we got to know in this first season, but they also set up wonderfully the world and the tensions which will populate season 2. Brava Joss, brava indeed!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Harrry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, or How Hogwarts keeps growing up

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Directed by David Yates
Adapted by Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham-Carter, Bonnie Wright and Maggie Smith.

The sixth installment of J.K. Rowling's famous boy-wizard saga gets the cinematic treatment at the hands of David Yates who gave us Order of Phoenix (and will give us Deathly Hallows in two installments). Along with screenwriter Steve Kloves, Yates manages to slim down Rowling's sprawling penultimate chapter and center it around three (at times competing) narratives: the blossoming of teen love amongst our heroes, Draco Malfoy's plot to fulfil the Dark Lord's plan and Dumbledore's quest to find a crucial memory that'll help him know more about how to defeat Lord Voldemort. This probably explains the low-simmering pace of the first two thirds of the film, as Yates brings us back to Hogwarts for Harry's sixth year at the magical school (now heavily guarded against Dark forces after the attack on the Ministry) giving us some love woes courtesy of teen awkwardness; some Quidditch matches to fulfill fans needs; some random attacks on students and a rather peculiar Potions book ("property of the Half-Blood Prince") that helps Harry ace the class. All in all, the film moves slowly but surely towards setting up two crucial events: the death of a main character and the revelation of who the eponymous 'Prince' is - both of which fall limp (no pun intended) given the action-less climax during which they take place. Yates and his cast succeed at creating wonderfully nuanced quiet moments (Hermione and Harry at the bottom of the stairs, Harry and Slughorn in his office, Tom Riddle's two memories) but - and this seemed to be a consensus around me in the theater - the two climactic 'battles' at the end of the film (Dumbledore versus the Inferi and the attack of the Death Eaters on Hogwarts) fell short (especially given the wondrous adrenaline-rush of the Ministry-attack in Order of Phoenix). The sight of Dumbledore surrounded by fire (giving us a wonderfully Biblical image) is stunning but the pacing of the scene suggests no real urgency while the Death Eaters rampage through Hogwarts (given how much was stripped from the book) feels needless and aimless (thank god for Ms Bonham-Carter who - providing her own wardrobe and hair, I'm sure, manages to give this scene some spunk). But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise well-accomplished film which depends (quite rightly) on the strength of its cast (both the young trio and the slew of accomplished British thesps proving supporting turns).

Overall this sixth installment did/does what it needed/needs to do: mainly, set up the last (two) chapter(s) in the Harry Potter story. If the action sequences felt muted (or needlessly unthrilling) it might be because this is indeed the calm before the storm, so even if I would have liked to see more crazy Bellatrix, or a more rabid Greyback (really, was the attack on the Weasley's really necessary as a plot/story/action device?) I was happy to see that the dramatic (and comedic - god bless Jim Broadbent!) aspects of the franchise have found its footing in what is arguably one of the most visually stunning and lushly art-directed and -produced installment in the series since Cuarón directed (my #1 HP film) Prisoner of Azkaban. A-

Best scene: Harry after drinking the "Liquid Luck" potion. Who knew Mr Radcliffe could play for comedy so earnestly?
Best scene 2: The mourning wands dissolving the Dark Mark - if only because of the way Maggie Smith can emote without even trying and still out-acting anyone around her.

Crush Next Door, or How I <3 Aaron Tveit

I can thank/blame Vance over at Tapeworthy (via Twitter) for letting me know about these pics of Aaron Tveit (who I've seen recently in Wicked and in Saved!: The Musical) all dressed up as Frank Abagnale Jr in the upcoming Broadway-bound adaptation of the book/film Catch Me If You Can:

Needless to say, I'm excited to see how the show looks once it arrives at the Great White Way. If only to crush s'more on Aaron (who I'm still waiting for before I head out to see Next to Normal).

[photos via]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Emmy Love! or How they got SOME things right, at least

So the nominations came and went without much fanfair, but now it's on to some analysis. There were some good things (Two and a Half Men ceded its "CBS comedy spot" to How I Met Your Mother in the Outstanding Comedy Series lineup) and there were some not so good things (Battlestar Galactica has now joined Buffy as one my favorite shows that can boast the label "Emmy overlooked critical darling"). Some categories look thrilling (Guest Actress in a Comedy Series has Betty White, Tina Fey, Elaine Stritch, Jennifer Aniston, Christine Baranski and Gena Rowlands duking it out!) while others just look pretty much the same (Lead Actor Drama, anyone?). On the plus side, no Jeremy Piven in the Supporting Actor Comedy category might just mean that NPH will have the night of his life hosting and potentially winning his first Emmy!

Things I love about the Emmy nominations:

- Tina Fey nominated for her turn as Liz Lemon (yay) BUT ALSO for her "spoof" of Sarah Palin on SNL! (Guest Star Comedy)

- John Hamm also got a double nomination for his Don Draper (yay!) BUT ALSO for his Liz-love interest, 'bubble-inhabiting' Dr Drew from 30 Rock! (Guest Star Comedy)

- Jeanne Tripplehorn may have missed on a nod as Lead Actress Drama, but got some love for her turn as Jackie O in Grey Gardens

- Pushing Daisies garnered some love for its techs but also for its Suppporting Lady Ms Kristin Chenoweth!

- Amy Poehler and Kristin Wiig both got in as Supporting Actresses in a Comedy Series for their SNL (array of) characters!

- Flight of the Conchords and its leading man Jemaine Clement got some love!

- Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer broke their respective lineups (is there any surprise in the fact that 30 Rock led the nominations with 22?)

- Elisabeth Moss! John Slattery! Love for Mad Men!

- United States of Tara's Toni Colette got a nom (though the show was overlooked elsewhere other than in stuff like "main title" and "title song" and "casting"...)

Random Thoughts/Trivia

- Big Love only got one nom (!) ... but it was in the Best Drama category. Weird, but welcome.

- Battlestar Galactica may have missed on big noms (sigh) but it still gathered one of the coveted "Best Directing" spots.

- Mad Men (in Drama) and 30 Rock (in Comedy) got 4 out of the 5 "Best Writing for..." spots!

- The vampire-curse lives on: no top noms for HBO's ratings-hit True Blood

- Did you know there was an "Oustanding Special Class Short Format Live Action Entertainment Program" category? And that it nominated Joss Whedon's Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? Yep and yep!

- Name the category that pits Justin Timberlake against Oscar's host Hugh Jackman against Xmas Muppets against Flight of the Conchords against Colbert against the 2008 ESPYS... no? It's "Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Education, or How quickly this became one of my Must-See Films of 2009

An Education, penned by Nick Hornby and directed by Lone Scherfig has definitely caught my attention. With a cast to die for (Alfred Molina, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson) and a much-buzzed about screen presence (Carey Mulligan) I can't wait to see this:

EMMY Hopes, or How will the Noms please me on Thursday?

Emmy nominations come out this Thursday with a ballooned 6 nominees per category in the top comedy and drama series categories as well as in the lead and supporting thesp categories for each, leaving more room for me to be hopeful that some of my faves will make it in, but most likely making room for more of the same (I swear, if Boston Legal gets more Emmy love, I don't know what I'll do with myself...).

But, wanting to be hopeful and stay optimistic I have ransacked my brain, and tried to focus on the season that just passed to come up with several happy scenarios that will make the usual Emmy blunders (their love for Entourage, for Charlie Sheen and his CBS comedy, for example still boggle my mind!) a bit easier to swallow.

And so:

10 Things That Would/Will Make Me Smile Should/If They Happen:

[In order from most likely to least likely]

10. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore nominated for Lead Actress in a TV Movie/Miniseries for their wonderful work in Grey Gardens.
The Oscar Winner and the child-star wow in this HBO TV movie, perfectly capturing the quirky personality of the two reclusive Beales (Drew's "cutting her hair" scene and Jessica's "tea for two" scenes are both Emmy-worthy and I do think it's their Emmy to lose.

9. Returning champs Mad Men & 30 Rock leading the pack of nominations.
Arguably the best Drama and best Comedy on TV respectively should return stronger this year. Mad Men should garner some great tech love for their lavish and beautiful production while 30 Rock will probably dominate the Guest Star categories yet again (I mean you try choosing between Oprah, Jen Aniston, Emmy Winner Elaine Stritch, Alan Alda, Will Arnett, Roger Bart, etc. etc...)

8. NPH reaping yet another nomination for his hysterical Barney Stinson (and hopefully riding the wave of good-will from hosting the show all the way to a win!)
Here's hoping the industry hasn't forgotten about Mr Jeremy 'Sushi' Piven's stunt and give NPH the cherry on top of what has been an amazing year (what with the TV Land Awards, the Tonys and the great ratings-boost HIMYM garnered this season)

7. United States of Tara getting some love (in the Comedy lineup and/or in the acting races)
I've already stated my love for Diablo Cody's suburban comedy, and while Ms Collette is the most deserving, the supporting work from Brie Larson, Keir Gilchrist and Rosemarie DeWitt is also worthy of recognition.

6. Amy Poehler joining her friend Tina Fey in the Lead Comedy Actress category.
Sure, Parks and Recreation is no 30 Rock (or The Office for that matter) but Ms Poehler shined in every episode, showing us what we already know: that she can carry a comedy all by herself.

5. The women of Mad Men (Ms Jones, Ms Moss and/or Ms Hendricks) managing to crack the Lead/Supporting Actress Drama lineups.
From Betty's struggle to keep her dignity in light of Don's indiscretions to Peggy's newfound independence to Ms Holloway's heartbreaking rape, Season Two of Mad Men was all about the women and to see them called out on Thursday would be divine.

4. Pushing Daisies garnering some nostalgic noms despite being cancelled.
Last year, despite missing out on the Comedy Series nom, ABC's "forensic fairytale" garnered 11 nominations (the most out of any ABC show that year) and won 3! - it clearly struck a note with voters so here's hoping the technical wizardry and witty writing of this show (not to mention the wonderful acting) gets the recognition it deserves.

3. Jane Krakowski cracking the Supporting Actress Comedy category finally!
Okay so we all know and love Tina and Alec, and clearly the guest-stars have a 100% chance of getting nominated (unless your name is Jerry Seinfeld) but where is the love for the supporting cast of 30 Rock?

2. Jeanne Tripplehorn (and/or Chloé Sevigny & Ginnifer Goodwin) representing some love for Big Love.
Even in what I consider an uneven show, the three women at the center of it all bristle with dramatic stamina and carry the emotional anchor of a show that could easily drown under the weight of its many competing storylines.

1. Critical darling Battlestar Galactica reaping more than mere tech nods (maybe some love for Mary McDonnell?)
Once you win a Peabody Award and gain a spot in the SciFi cultural unconscious, you really shouldn't be worried about gathering Emmy hardware, but I still find it hard to believe that one of the greatest SciFi shows ever to grace the small screen has yet to crack any of the top categories: will the goodwill for its last season help its cause?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hello Dolly! or How Barbra is a Diva!

Blogging has been stagnant lately, so I decided to create another one of my 'blog series' to keep me entertained and interested. The topic? Divas! And how much we love them (take that "we" as you please, of course!) But not just any Divas ... we'll be discussing singing Divas. Why? A) Because this is MY blog and my word is law, but B) because Divas are so much easier to isolate in the realm of musical theatre!

Where to begin? I'd be lying if I said I didn't already have an idea as to what my first post was going to be about: I recently watched Hello Dolly! for the first time! (I know, WALLE would be SO disappointed!) and this became a no-brainer. I should probably do Funny Girl, but since I'm focusing on characters and not necessarily actresses (though in cases it'll get a bit of 'chicken/egg' situation - mainly to be able to double up and see different diva-hood coming through different performance) I might (re)visit it soon enough to type about it.

So without further ado:

Diva (n.) A celebrated female singer. Derived from the Italian/Latin adjective diva for "divine female person." The basic sense of the term is "goddess."

Diva: Barbra Streisand as Mrs Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! (1969)

First let's do a simple checklist, a good diva needs:

1. A powerful entrance.
Nothing says "diva" like capturing the camera's attention from the moment you're on screen.

At the start of Hello Dolly! the camera follows New Yorker's feet as the go about their days before we start following what turn out to be Mrs Levi's feet and as the camera starts to pan out, we simply follow her from behind, never once seeing her face until the camera stands still, giving us a close-up of (what else?) her hat:

And then, turning around, the film gives us the first glimpse of Barbra as Mrs Dolly Levi as she smirks coyly, and gives us her first line: "I have always been a woman who arranges things: for the pleasure (and the profit!) it derives." The entire scene is crafted so as to make Dolly's entrance as powerful and effective as possible: I mean, who's not charmed as we meet Dolly and then follow her around the train station handing out business cards?

But, not being content with just giving us one diva-like entrance, Hello Dolly! offers us a much more "clichéd" diva-entrance near the second half of the film with a long staircase, a golden outfit and an even more outrageous headdress (with feathers!). After the film settles into the Harmonia Gardens for what promises to be the moment where all the dangling storylines and Dolly's conniving will collapse, we keep hearing about Dolly's anticipated arrival. It's no surprise then that when she arrives, the camera lovingly lingers before it settles on a beautiful (golden-tinged) tableau vivant, where the restaurant attendees, the wait-staff and the audience itself find themselves marveling at Mrs Dolly Levi:

2. A great wardrobe (including an amazing headdress!)
I mean, what better way to capture anyone's looks than by drawing attention to your body?
Ms Levi's/Streisand's outfits are eye-catching, there's no denying that (whether you like them or not, or whether you find them a wee bit over-the-top or not, seems to be besides the point). But then again, these Oscar-nominated frocks came from 5-time Academy Award winner Irene Sharaff who gave us the iconic outfits from West Side Story, the sumptuous dresses from The King and I, not to mention Liz Taylor's outfits for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cleopatra so we shouldn't be surprised that Dolly's attire makes her stand out, whether because of her bright colours, her grand head-gear or - as in the Harmonia Gardens scene - her beautifully golden fitted dress ("Do you think you have the sort of figure for that sort of get-up?" she is asked, "That is for others to say Mr Vandegelder" she snaps back). For someone who tells us she's not one of those "women with enough time to dilly-dally with seamstresses" she sure knows how to pick a dress to turn heads.

3. A loving entourage (read: a lovely audience)
What's a diva without an adoring fan-base?
It's true, no diva is complete without an audience. And oddly enough, this adoring audience usually takes the form of an accompanying dancing chorus. How to detach Dolly's diva-like power from her eager customers from the first scene or from the adoring wait-staff who can't wait to see her again and celebrate her return to Harmonia Gardens with the title-song "Hello Dolly!" I mean, when Louis Armstrong misses you and serenades you, you know you have a place in the world and can wield the power that gives you to your will (in a positive "I want to get re-married" sort of way not in a superhero-villain sort of way, of course).

But above all else, being a diva requires a commanding screen persona and few woman do so as effortlessly as Ms Streisand. Her Dolly is a relentlessly entertaining woman, who never takes no for an answer (it might help that she rarely stops to catch her breath) and who can charm anyone in her path. Her personality is magnetic and for that, I'd join in line to say "Hello Dolly!"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Away We Go, or How Mendes + Maya = :D

Away We Go
Written By: Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alison Janney, Melanie Lynskey... (and the list goes on)

There must be something that Mendes does that I instinctively react to (when, everyone else seems either indifferent or blasé or full-out disappointed). Away We Go, which is basically a bookend of sorts to two of Mendes' previous works (American Beauty & Revolutionary Road) is a meditation of marriage and parenthood (and wouldn't that make a great essay worth writing...). Early on we meet Burt and Verona - editor's note: why must all indie™ characters have quirky names? - one of those 'fuck up' couples everywhere who don't quite have everything figured and decide to roam around the country (Oh, and Canada's Montreal) to 'find themselves.' Okay, so if the setup sounds a bit hokey, it is; but there was something about Mendes' film that worked for me despite the road-trippy structure and the (at-times over-the-top) acting that populates the film. This probably stems from (quelle surprise!) the main actress in the film. Just as Anette and Kate shined in Mendes' earlier attempts at tackling American marriage, Maya Rudolph is a revelation here, grounding the film and making it believable... relatable even. As a sworn fan of Ms Rudolph in her SNL days (oh how those Donatella Versace skits crack me up!) I was completely thrown aback by the skill with which she took on this clearly aimless and vulnerable female and made it work. Everyone else might get the laughs, but it is Rudolph who gets the heart of the film, with her rotund pregnant figure and with just a few looks and smiles. Mendes is a great actor-director, so this should have come as no surprise, but to see such a wonder of a performance is always rewarding. (Oh, and to see Ms Gyllenhaal as a hippie Feminist mom and Ms Janney as white-trash, end up being lovely pleasurable asides). A-

Thursday, July 2, 2009

She-Wolf, or How is Shakira digging for blood?

Okay, so Shakira's new single has 'leaked' ("Loba" in Spanish... "She-Wolf" in English) and let's just say I need to let it sink in for a bit, but for now I'll just say it's a bit different (read, funkier and loungier?) than what I'm used to (I'm a personal fan of her rock-roots). Maybe it'll grow on me.

Here's the official artwork for the single. More Madonna circa 'Hung Up' than Shakira circa anything, but I'm intrigued:

And then here's artwork from her myspace which I like more:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Half of 2009 over?! or How Let's Assess...

I'd be lying if I said I was planning on writing this regardless and didn't credit James for inspiring me to emulate him (highest form of flattery, remember!), but reading over his post just made want to jump on the bandwagon and choo-choo away!

Wait, 2009 is halfway done?

Why do I always feel like the first half flies by while the latter half just stretches on and on? Maybe it's the fact that for me "the year" doesn't end til AMPAS hands out little golden men, yet the midpoint of the year is still mid-summer... which just makes for some crazy calendar calibrating. But I digress. We're halfway there and we must use this opportunity to crank out lists:

Top 5 TV Shows
... that premiered during the Spring Season
(or in one case, was previewed and will return this fall)

Honourable Mentions:

Flight of the Conchords
(Oh those crazy Kiwis! The Michel Gondry episode alone made the lackluster second season worth it)

Big Love (reruns - Season 1 & 2)
(Okay so the whole 'Mormon' political power-grabbing storylines are starting to tire me, but the 'family' drama is utterly gripping. Also: Ginnifer + Chloe + Jeanne = A holy trinity indeed.)

Skins (Series 1 & 2)
(Slowly catching up with this sexy, daring BBC "teen" show - those are quotation marks because it showcases more nudity, drugs, sex & cursing than ALL of US Network TV shows pooled together! Heck throw Showtime and HBO in there and you're still not there...)

After being shown only the first episode I can safely say I have found a new show to look forward to once Fall TV hits. Singing! Dancing! Witticising! It's all I ever dreamed would be in a good show (see 2.)

Joss returns to TV with his beloved (and beautiful) Eliza Dushku playing 'Echo' [and here I'm referring to Wikipedia for a non-confusing account of who she is:] "a member of a group of people known as "Actives" or "Dolls". The Dolls are people whose personalities and existence in the outside world have been wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas—including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language—for different assignments (referred to as engagements)." Despite a shaky start, it picked up steam and I'm aching for more already.

3. United States of Tara
Toni Colette plays a suburban mom with multiple personalities (a teen girl that goes by "t", a truck-driver called "Buck" and a Stepford Wife called "Alice"). Hokey? Maybe, but thankfully at the hands of Colette and written by Diablo Cody, Tara morphs into a compelling study of suburban family life. Add in a great ensemble playing a host of well-defined characters (including her teen gay son, her rebellious daughter, her weird-boobed sister, etc.), add in great pop culture references and you've got a pretty fine-tuned show. Also I did mention Ms Colette is amazing, right?

2. Pushing Daisies (RIP)
The show that couldn't be brought back from the dead (not even by our dear Piemaker himself) came back for its last three episodes, which - despite a rushed "last scene" that tried to wrap everything in nicely tied bows (damn you ABC!), bristled with the usual charm, wit, colour, outrageous murder scenes and surreal musical Chenoweth moments we had come to expect from this gem of a show. Sigh. Not a great sendoff but a lovely bookend that brought our heroes full circle and gave us at long last a Darling Mermaid Darlings show. Ned, you'll be sorely missed.

1. Grey GardensI considered including Grey Gardens under the Films rubric but since it aired on HBO and is a made-for-TV movie (therefore eligible for Emmys and not Oscars) I'd figure I'd let it top my TV list. Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange uncannily (re)create the Beales for us in this lushly executed docu-film, tracing the riches to rags story of Jackie O's relatives, inhabitants of the eponymous summer house in Upstate NY.

Top 5 Films
... released in the first six months of 2009
(in which I sort of cheat because I have seen two too many a film that haven't yet been released, but I don't care, really because it already reads like an mB list - what with animation, musical theatre, Julia Roberts and witty post-modern comedies all accounted for!)

Honourable Mentions:

Sunshine Cleaning (review B)
(give me Amy & Emily and I'm in)

Star Trek (A-)
(who knew I'd actually enjoy this - the only one I've seen - movie from this dead in the water franchise?)

& Away We Go (A-)
(because Sam + ensemble cast + a star turn by a Ms Maya Rudolph pays for itself).

5. Ponyo (review A)
Who knew Miyazaki could retell the 'Little Mermaid' story and make it his own? Okay so we all did. Mainly because we all know he's able to craft wonderfully entertaining films, full stop. Here, the simple premise from Hans Christian Anderson's story gets re-mapped with little kids and all the innocence and wonder they bring.

4. Every Little Step (review A)
If you love musical theater (and why wouldn't you?) and you love A Chorus Line (and why wouldn't you?... okay that's less rhetorical, of course) you'll probably enjoy this dazzling documentary following a couple of Broadway hopefuls as they audition for the 2005 revival of the classic musical about a couple of Broadway hopefuls as they audition for a show. So meta- it's amazing! Plus: singing! dancing! always a plus.

3. Duplicity (review A-)
My letter-grade would suggest it should be lower than on #3 but having been the only one I've seen twice in theaters and considering I'd probably revisit it more often than # 4 and # 5 I decided to bump up Tony Gilroy's sophomore effort, which featured a star-studded, crisply written caper-comedy featuring one of my favorite leading lady (Ms Roberts), a dashing Clive Owen and great supporting turns by Mr Giamatti and Mr Wilkinson.

2. (500) Days of Summer (review A+)
Oh to fall in love! And then to fall out of love because the person you love doesn't love you back, or maybe they do but they don't show it, and then you want them back but don't want to seem like you want them back... I could keep going, but I'd be giving out too much of the "plot" of this film. Yet, even though we all know the plot of this film (it is after all a romantic comedy of sorts) the charm of this flick is the way the story is told, one day of Summer at a time. Also: best closing line exchange ever!

1. Up (review A+)
To say "PIXAR has done it again!" is to sell the Emeryville-based animation studio short: why wouldn't they do it again, pray tell? Sure, WALL-E set the bar (way way) high, but this film about a grouchy old man, a bubbly wilderness explorer, a colourful bird, a talking dog and a balloon-lifted house is endearing, mature, wonderfully riveting and utterly charming (not to mention all-out sad and depressing - in the good way!)

Top 5 Reads
This is for books read in 2009, not "released" in 2009.
(It's like cheating, only not, since I do want to plug these books)

Honourable Mentions:

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
(The plurality of narrators in Diaz's novel make for a great ensemble narrative device that takes through generations of Dominicans struggling both in Santo Domingo - with Trujillo-as-Sauron in power, and in New Jersey - could have done with a more nuanced ending, though)

& Buffy Season 8 (continued) exec produced by Joss Whedon (assorted writers)
Dark Horse's successful run continued with more action-packed (and one-off) adventures featuring our favorite Sunnydale blonde and her cohort of slayers.

5. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
(Unabashedly morally ambiguous, this tale of a professor accused of sexual harassment follows him to rural South Africa where his daughter lives in a farm where one brutal night will change their lives forever. Sound too cliche? It's Coetzee, he doesn't know what that is.)

4. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
A family history told from the point of view of an unborn child? Add in the fact that said "child" grows up to be an intersex child of Greek heritage and you have a compelling narrator, an intricately woven family saga and an entertaining read all in one!

3. Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe (Vol. 5) by Bryan O'Malley
The first four volumes were hysterical, so it was no surprise that this fifth installment continues telling the story of Toronto-dweller, indie-band member and resident loser Scott Pilgrim who's been fighting his love Ramona's ex-boyfriends (and girlfriend) in order to earn her love. Plus: I'm already excited for the film!

2. Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton
Would you believe me if I told you you could tell a coherent story solely through objects? Well, that's exactly what Ms Shapton has done here. Through an auction catalogue, we follow the "love story" between Harold and Lenore. Intriguing premise? The execution is even better! Read my initial fanboy-ish thoughts here.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Couldn't put it down: all 326 pages flew by in three days! After his brain-teaser and scavenger-hunt aficionado dad perishes at the towers on 9/11, Oskar Schell, age 8, finds a key in an envelope marked "Black" while snooping around in his dad's room. Where does the key lead? What does it open? More than a simple enjoyable story, Safran Foer's book immerses you effortlessly in a funnily written and poignantly staged family history about dealing with grief and loss. Brilliant.

Top 5 Blog Posts
...because I'm not beyond self-publicity. No shame 'bout that, really.
(Can we believe that my itty-bitty reposting of a couple of Dustin Lance-Black's pics - no, not those ones! - was my most visited page throwing my page-count through the roof, actually... when will I ever get 1000+ hits in a single day again... sigh)

5.New inductees to "Everything I know I Learnt From Animation":
Oscar nominated Bolt & Kung Fu Panda, Oscar-winner (and modern masterpiece) Wall-E, and Disney classics The Lion king & The Emperor's New Groove
And after compiling them I realised I'm some sort of schizo who can love Dolly-loving robots as much as suburban train-wrecks and brassy drunks... what does that say about me? Find out for yourself!

3. I love the
ending to 9 to 5, don't you?
I have yet to see the Broadway version of this 1980s "work comedy" featuring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, but til then we can always revisit this comedic gem whose end-titles gave me something to write about for JD's blog-a-thon.

2. Did you know
Heavenly Creatures is Ms Kate Winslet's career to a tee?
To celebrate Ms Winslet's victory at the Oscars (and the Globes!), I revisited Kate's career through the lens of her screen debut (courtesy of Mr Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson!

Academic OscarsThese are the types of posts I enjoy writing: marrying my academic pursuits with my pop culture obsessions. Just in time for the February ceremony, we explored 'manliness' in the Best Actor roles, we found the Best Actress lineup was full of mothers, encountered a couple of crazies in Best Supporting Actor lineup and delved into 'desire' with the Best Supporting Actress ladies.