There’s Blood in the Water

This past Sunday marked the 4th season return of True Blood (hallelujah!), one of HBO’s most popular shows, and like everything that tons of people love, it gets a lot of hate.  And like everything that I love, I gotta defend it to everyone, as I’m surrounded by haters.  I’ve deduced that most people are divided into two groups:  The obsessed freaks who eat up the books (Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries series) and want to bang the shit out of Eric Northman (err, I mean, Alexander Skarsgard), and those who hate hate HATE the show with cobra venom.

I fall somewhere in between – I read a couple of the books, and found I liked the show more.  I prefer Bill to Eric.  But I also love love LOVE the show with a fiery passion.  It’s got everything.  Camp?  Check.  Cheese?  Check.  Goofy-looking special effects?  Check.  Sub-par vampire makeup?  Check.  But do I give a shit about vampires??  Not really.  Do I like to ogle the ridiculous male eye candy?  Check-erooni.  Is every episode packed with endless storylines, action, assloads of characters, blood, gore, nudity, crazy-hot and just plain CrAzY sex?  CHECKKKKKKK.

I don’t watch True Blood to be inspired into pondering life, love, family, our place in this world, blah blah deep shit.  I watch True Blood to hang off the edge of my couch in anticipation, horniness, laughter, or squirmingoutofmyskin-ness.  It’s ENTERTAINING.  It’s full of super, super, SUPER, SUPER-studly, unbelievably hot men (there’s somebody to suit anyone’s taste, it’s truly amazing).  It’s what Twilight would be, if stuff actually happened and it was pornographic.  It’s trash, but it’s high-quality refuse.  True Blood is a sparkly, shiny, ferocious, shameless, promiscuous way to spend the day of the lord.  And I’m not going to apologize for loving the hell out of it. :)

~Annie

Is This Love? Is This Love? Is This Love? Is This Love That I’m Feeling?

So, I’ve never been a big Ben Affleck fan.  I’ve never particularly disliked him either; I guess I just haven’t had strong feelings about him either way.  I loved Good Will Hunting back in the day and was super impressed that he and Matt Damon wrote that when they were, like, 25 years old, but the majority of his work as an actor is merely luke warm, in my opinion.

I began to see him in a more favorable light in 2007 when I saw Gone Baby Gone, which he co-wrote and directed.  This was based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name and it kind of blew me away.  It wasn’t perfect- parts of Casey Affleck’s performance seemed over-acted to me (though, overall, I thought he gave a decent performance) and it felt a tad slow at times.  But its redeeming qualities, of which there were a great many, more than made up for anything lacking.  Amy Ryan gave an outstanding performance and, though I still haven’t seen Michael Clayton, so I can’t say anything about Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning performance, I do wish Ryan had won.  This flick also contains one of the most intense, heart-stopping scenes I’ve ever seen, which made me discover some things about myself that I hadn’t known before.  The plot was well-paced and engaging, and the feel of the low-class Boston neighborhood was dead on.

A couple of nights ago, I finally got around to seeing The Town, the second major motion picture Affleck has directed.  Also one of its writers and the lead star, he managed to solidify the notion I came away with after seeing Gone Baby Gone: that his talents as a writer and director are, by far, his greatest strengths.  Maybe it’s just because he’s all grown up now, but he has really come into his own.

The Town, if you haven’t seen it, focuses on a small group of career criminals who rob banks and armored trucks.  That’s right, they are far from petty thieves.  Rather, very cunning, skilled men who seem to love the thrill of the crime as much as the monetary reward.  Affleck artfully plays the lead, Doug MacRay, who falls for the primary witness in one of their robberies, bank manager Claire Keesey.  Rebecca Hall, of Vicky Christina Barcelona, gives a mediocre performance as Claire, as does the only other female in this flick, Blake Lively.  Or maybe they simply suffer by comparison, since the men- Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, Slaine, Chris Cooper, and Titus Welliver- are all at the top of their game.

Affleck nailed the feel of the neighborhood, Charlestown, apparently the bank robbery capital of America, and portrayed the two male leads, MacRay and Jim Coughlin (Renner), as far more than one-dimensional criminals.  He captured their friendship and history without blatant explanations or flashbacks, something not easily done.  The suspense and severity were aptly depicted without being overly dramatic.  It wasn’t perfect, I would have liked better chemistry between Affleck and Hall and a little more screen time for Renner, who gave a seriously impressive performance, but it is definitely one of the better movies I’ve seen in a few years and one of the best crime thrillers I’ve ever seen.

I saw on IMDb that Affleck is currently directing another flick, something called Argo, due out in 2013, and I hope he maintains the high standard that now, after seeing Gone Baby Gone and The Town, I’ve come to expect.

~Nikki

It’s Just Me and My Sawed-Off Shotgun

It seems to be a fact, really, that Joel and Ethan Coen are very talented filmmakers.  Their films can be polarizing, but their skill and artistry is never in question.  I’ve found their work ranges from really not my taste (The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading) to totally awesome (The Big Lebowski, Intolerable Cruelty).  I never saw True Grit during Oscar season, and now, watching it on Blu-ray six months later, I found that it falls into the awesome category for me, which is surprising, since I don’t really care for westerns.

A young, spitfire of a girl (the excellent Hailee Steinfeld), who has lost her father, tries to hunt down his killer, and uses wise-beyond her years wheeling and dealing skills to gain the assistance of the drunk, hygiene-impaired, and ruthless U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).  They reluctantly team up with Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf, a ranger who is also trying to track and bring to justice the same man, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  Their journey takes them out into the desert, where they meet up with dead bodies, crazy outlaws, and lots of guns being fired.

The cast apparently is incapable of sucking, just across the board.  Damon, Brolin, and Bridges are all effortless excellence – I swear it’s in their DNA, even through Bridges’ at times incoherent mumbling, as though his mouth is constantly stuffed with Milkduds.  Newcomer Steinfeld so captured the strong-willed, loyal, and determined young girl, that I feel kinda sad now that she didn’t win an Oscar.  She spoke so well, and was able to use such an old-fashioned cadence, I can see why the Coens cast her.

Also on the list of Academy Awards I’m sad this film didn’t win is cinematography.  My god, was this movie breath-taking.  Of course the west is “big”, but Roger Deakins, the frequent Coen brothers cinematographer collaborator (that’s a mouthful) at times made things look small, and I mean that as a compliment.  Scenes of silhouettes against the night sky, against a sunset, against a grove of dead cottonwood trees with a single body hanging from the highest branch – it’s all stunning and feels more intimate than immense. I’d love to have stills of certain scenes to just hang all over my house.  The final, single shot, as a certain character walks off into the distance, is so classic and simple, it was almost heartbreaking.  I fully believe that Inception deserved it’s win for cinematography last year, but True Grit was equally astonishing, just in a more natural way.  Rarely have I felt so in awe of the images on my television screen.

I’ve never seen the John Wayne original, but I’m certain the Coens constructed a faithful remake, while also leaving their indelible mark.  I laughed, cried, gasped, even covered my eyes a few times.  This was the kind of film that I found I like even more, as each day goes by.  Without question, the Coens are masterful, and have surrounded themselves with people equally up to the task of greatness.

You Can’t Write If You Can’t Relate

In Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a gold-digger of a teacher looking to quit her job and leech off of her rich soon-to-be husband.  However, the movie opens with said fiance dumping her in the presence of his overbearing mother, effectively ruining Elizabeth’s every aspiration.  She returns to her 7th grade teaching job, where she plays films like Stand and Deliver and Lean On Me instead of actually teaching.  She meets a new substitute, Scott Delacorte, played by Justin Timberlake, who is cute, appallingly dumb and the heir to a wrist-watch fortune.  Elizabeth immediately begins trying to con him but soon learns he’s attracted to big-breasted women.  Refusing to let this one slip by, she tries desperately to collect $10G for a boob job while skating through her classes, rebuffing the advances of Russell the gym teacher- the charming Jason Segel- and dodging the creative efforts of the sickeningly sweet/clearly unstable “across-the-hall-mate,” Amy Squirrel, played by the very funny Lucy Punch, who’s trying to get her sacked.

That, my friends, is the entire script.  What’s sad is they could have done so much more with it.  If only it were a bit worse, it could have really worked.  Diaz played her role well but her character was too awful to be likable and not quite bad enough to be hilarious.  Instead, she was mildly entertaining and occasionally funny.  No explanation of how she even ended up being a teacher was given and her back story consisted of nothing more than she was dumped be her fiance and now lives in a crummy apartment with a loser roommate she found on Craig’s List.  (The loser is played by Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet, who got a few laughs but was greatly under-used.)  They could have seized the opportunity to delve into Elizabeth’s personal life on Christmas break, when she goes on a booze-run and bumps into one of her students and his mother (Molly Shannon in an underwhelming cameo), who invites her to join them for their holiday dinner.  Instead, they went for a couple cheap laughs and cut the scene short.

I do not blame Diaz or any of the actors for the film’s shortcomings.  The cast did the best they could with the lackluster script.  Timberlake and John Michael Higgins, who played the dolphin-obsessed principal, effectively served their characters’ purposes but failed to really shine.  Lucy Punch and Jason Segel were the stand-outs in this flick, and, together, they carried most of the movie.  The writing was clearly to blame along with the movie’s director, Jake Kasdan (of Orange County and Dewey Cox fame), who could have really pushed the envelope with this and made it a raunchy, jaw-dropping black comedy (think Bad Santa), but instead left scene after scene a missed opportunity.

Overall, I’d give this a 3 stars out of 5 rating.  It did make me laugh several times and I thought Diaz, Punch and Segel did the best they could with the material given them.  I guess I just left feeling disappointed that with the talented cast and cameos (Stonestreet, Shannon, and Thomas Lennon, of Reno 911), it wasn’t the riot it could have been.

~Nikki

Wait Until I Come I’ll Take Your Soul – Part 3 of 5

Is the title of this post a tad dramatic?  Maybe, but in all honestly, the 5th and 6th films (two of the most important, foreboding, and enormous of the books) in the Harry Potter series were total failures on many levels, and I need to get it off my chest.  These films are like knives in my gut.

Part 3:  The Blasphemous                                                                                                                                                                  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix & Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Both of these books begin to unveil the labyrinthine truths behind everything that has ever happened in the series, and guess what?  Said truths focus on the adult characters, their pasts, their sins, and Harry begins to discover and learn facts that change him forever. This is one of my major problems with the films once David Yates took over as director – the adult characters were relegated to the background, and their storylines trimmed to, in some cases, nothingness.  For instance, Snape’s fairly prominent role in Order was somehow turned into about 4 minutes of screen time, McGonagall is almost entirely omitted, and everybody remembers what happened to her in the same book.  I’m WELL AWARE that everything on the page cannot be transferred to the screen, but since Order, it has felt like the filmmakers purposely tried to diminish these vital aspects of the story, because they just wanted to focus on the main trio, apealling to the masses of youngsters who love the franchise.

Some of my many problems with the fifth film are that it’s boring as shit, terribly paced, and overall, the story is just hacked to pieces with an ax.  SO many events of importance are omitted to the point where it’s just like, why the fuck did you even bother to make this movie?  There were ONLY two good things featured in this installment:  Umbridge (Imelda Staunton nailed the uptight, prissy terrorist), and the final, surprisingly awesome battle scene between Voldy and Dumbledore.  Someone named Michael Goldberg wrote this screenplay (this is the only film without Kloves penning the script) and this may be the most unfortunate thing to happen to the franchise.  He’s the first person who trimmed so much fat (that turned out to be lean meat), I honestly don’t know how Rowling didn’t go after this guy with weapons of mass destruction (I know, I know:  Her hands are tied when it comes to the films, and she continues to state that she loves each one).  I wondered what else Michael Goldberg had ever written and guess what I found?  He’s one of the co-writers of the current Green Lantern film, which I have not seen, but is getting decimated by critics, and the poor writing is one of the main complaints.  So, cheers to you Michael Goldberg.

In my opinion, Half Blood Prince was much gloomier than Order – shit gets BAD.   And there’s lots of meaty information divulged.  But here, inexplicably, Kloves/Yates and company have decided to make this a PG rom-com. The book’s side plot of Lavendar hearts Ron has been brought to the fore-front, and the kids hormones and teeny-bopper love issues (which were nothing of great importance in the book) are the main plot.  !   What.  In the.  FUCK.  Were they thinking?  Honesty, how can they live with themselves?  When Lavendar Brown has more screen time than Snape ( I apologize that my irrational Snape love colors all my posts, but he’s the most complex, interesting character in the books and if you can’t agree with that, go fly a kite – in a lightning storm) something’s definitely rotten in Denmark.  The filmmakers have said that this is the darkest film, blah blah blah, you know what’s dark?  The color scheme.  Everything is so grey/blue/cyan-ified, unless my house is pitch-fucking-black, I can hardly see what’s happening on the screen.  I give them credit for trying to make the thing look unique, but when I saw the 6th film in theaters (at this point still not having read a single page of any book), I remember being really angry that Dumbledore’s death was less poignant and intense than Cedric Diggory’s.  That hurts, on a cellular level.

I’m sad the prophecy was never properly explained.  I’m sad Dumbledore got the shaft; there was no funeral to honor this beloved character.  I’m pissed Snape’s memory of getting terrorized by the marauders was chopped up into little pieces like it was at the mercy of Jigsaw.  I’m sad they dropped a grenade on the Tom Riddle memories – which has done a massive disservice to the entire franchise by relegating Voldemort (who in the books is a much more Hitler-like, complex bad guy) to the one note “evil for no reason except he’s fucking evil” villain.   Hmmmppff.

All I can say is, Half-Blood Prince is paced better, and if you don’t worry about the book, it’s a decent film.  That’s why it’s a few spots higher in my personal ranking. Phoenix however, (minus Umbridge and that final action-packed ministry scene) sucks as a film, and is an abortion of an adaptation.  I wonder if Goldberg had never written that film and planted the seed into the heads of the suits that you can cut most of the book out and still make tons of money, would the following two films have contained more meat of the story?  Did the suits tell Kloves (who wrote faithful, decent adaptations before his one-film break) post-Goldberg – “cut this shit down?”???!  I found this awesome little nugget on the interwebz, and you can see that films 1, 2, and 5 have a GINORMOUS disconnect between length of film vs. length of book.  Oh wow, the ones who match up approximately are decent films (6 is not a bad movie, it’s a bad ADAPTATION), and 5 is both the longest book AND shortest movie.  That is fucking warped and ass-backwards.  I’ll never be able to get over this.  Ever.

Current rank:

  1. Prisoner of Azkaban – the best :)
  2. TBA – although you can figure it out by now ;)
  3. Goblet of Fire
  4. Chamber of Secrets
  5. Half-Blood Prince
  6. Sorcerer’s Stone
  7. Order of the Phoenix – the worst :(

~Annie

The rest of the series:  The Trailer Test, Part 5, Part 4, Part 2.5, Part 2, Part 1

You Take The Breath Right Out Of Me

As promised, today’s post is dedicated to Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, which, along with HP and The Order of The Phoenix, is tied for my favorite of the Harry Potter series (books ONLY- I have yet to see any of the movies).

Deathly Hallows, for me, was so very long-anticipated that I feared it wouldn’t, that it couldn’t possibly live up to my absurdly high hopes for it.  But it shattered all expectations I had and far exceeded them.  Unlike the books that preceded it, no pages were wasted re-capping what had previously taken place.  It was nonstop action- intense, suspense-riddled action.  There were times I became so enthralled, I had to make a conscious effort to keep my eyes from darting ahead on the page.  Harry and Hermione in Bathilda Bagshot’s house, during which Nagini (Voldemort’s huge, deadly snake) erupts from the old lady’s corpse, Hermione being tortured by Bellatrix in the Malfoy’s living room, Harry, Ron & Hermione robbing the Malfoy’s vault in Gringotts and escaping by riding a DRAGON- it was almost more than I could handle.

Though I love the story itself, and the gripping way its many subplots are interwoven throughout, what impressed me the most was the impeccable character development.  This, in my opinion, is Rowling’s greatest talent.  The culmination of the slow, natural development of so many of the characters in this final book absolutely blew me away.  We always knew Hermione was smart -she studied constantly and aced all her tests- but that hex she instantly threw at Harry when they’d been discovered by some Death Eaters to make his face swell as though he’d had a bad allergic reaction, effectively disguising him against their enemies, was pure genius.  And Neville, the boy who could have been The Boy Who Lived, who gradually grew confident in his inferior abilities as a wizard, ended up vital to Voldemort’s defeat when he courageously slayed Nagini.  Professor McGonagall’s unwavering loyalty to Harry and Draco’s blatant cowardice, which we’d seen coming since the very beginning, it all came together with perfect timing.

If I had one complaint, it would be simply that Snape deserved a much more dignified end.  To be bitten by Voldemort’s snake and left to die alone is a sad, quiet death not befitting to the strong, bold character of Severus Snape.  I remember reading the end of the 6th book, HP and the Half-Blood Prince, when Harry chases after Snape upon Dumbledore’s death, eager for a fight, for vengeance.  And Snape brushes off Harry’s curses with the flick of his wand, making Harry’s best efforts look like mere child’s play.  I thought then that Snape would be a deadly enemy, or a powerful ally, however the chips might fall.  Reading his final scene felt so anti-climactic to me after all I’d come to expect of him.

I won’t comment on the epilogue other than to say that for me, it felt unnecessary.  I choose to ignore it and pretend the book ends with Harry, Hermione and Ron in the Headmaster’s office.  I need nothing else from this beloved story.

~Nikki

Near, Far, Wherever You Are…

As a fierce movie lover, I also appreciate and adore a beautiful, moving score.  Plus, I’m in the mood to compose a list. ;)  I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, but these are my top 7, in order (!!).  Beware:  Everything described below moved me to tears.

7. Last of the Mohicans (Randy Edelman & Trevor Jones) - This film is magnificent, with music to match.  The sounds convey the terror, grandeur, despair, and hope that the film brings about.  The “Main Title” is stunningly ancient and epic-sounding, and makes my heart feel heavy.

6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Howard Shore) - When I hear this music, I feel safe.  There’s no other word to describe it.  As deservedly beloved and just freaking awesome as these films are, their score is every bit as wonderful.  Hopeful, yet dark, the music fills me with the sort of relaxed melancholy that I need to feel every once in a while in order to maintain my sanity.  The Enya tune “May It Be” is gorgeous, and fits with the otherworldly tone of the story.  Tracks like “Concerning Hobbits” immediately fill my head with images of the Shire.  My personal favorite is the graceful and exquisite “The Breaking of the Fellowship”, which never fails to deliver the most spectacular goosebumps.

5. Jurassic Park (John Williams) – Arguably the greatest composer alive today, and certainly the most recognizable and iconic, Williams’ score for this spectacular film (and personal favorite of mine) is, in my opinion, his most delightful and straight up gorgeous work.  I don’t really understand how he didn’t win an Oscar for this one.  It gets across the majesty, the awe, the wonder.  The final scene, as Sam Neill and company fly away from the island and watch the birds flying over the water as the sun sets while the main theme plays, stuns me each and every time.

4. Signs & Lady in the Water (James Newton Howard) - Howard is one of my favorite composers, and he has scored every M. Night Shyamalan film.  These two are the best, I think, although there are devotees for each of the Shyamalan movie soundtracks.  Honestly, the music is one of the very few reasons I liked Lady, but it was so damn arresting, I couldn’t help it.  I cry every single time I hear the disarming and elegant “The Healing.”  “Prologue” and “The Great Eatlon” are also excellent and have been known to activate the waterworks.  As far as Signs goes, I did love the heck out of that movie, and the music captured the “everything happens for a reason” message, and pretty much hit it out of the park.  “The Hands of Fate pt. 2″ PERFECTLY evokes a scene where everything makes sense, it all comes together, and you know everything will be okay.  Sweet lord, do I love that track.

3. How To Train Your Dragon (John Powell) - My love for this film is almost irrational, and the same goes for its accompanying score.  There’s no way John Powell could have captured the exhilaration of this story any more perfectly than he did here; it’s THAT GOOD.  “Coming Back Around” and “Test Drive” actually make me feel like I could f***ing fly, and “Romantic Flight” and “Forbidden Friendship” never fail to bring on the choke in the back of my throat.  Hell, I’d walk down the aisle to the latter.  It’s that touching/masterful/enchanting.

2. Rudy (James Newton Howard Jerry Goldsmith) - The only composer on my list to garner two spots, Howard’s Goldsmith’s staggeringly beautiful composition makes me feel that, just like Rudy himself, I can do anything.  Uplifting, hopeful, inspirational, without being sickly sweet or cheesy,  the ten tracks on this relatively short soundtrack all manage to evoke almost every worthwhile human emotion in existence.  He should have won a Nobel Peace Prize for this, or at the very least, an Oscar.  Sadly he got neither, but we, the listeners, are the real winners.  If “The Final Game” (especially the final few minutes) doesn’t make your chest swell with dreams and ambitions, check your pulse, you’re probably dead. *Edit*I was notified by a kindly commenter that I had the wrong maestro listed above; which is both utterly embarrassing and also totally annoying because I’ve had the actual CD since I was 17 and also wrote this post very late at night, in a complete and total daze. I apologize for the discrepancy. :)

1. Titanic (James Horner) - Go on and hate.  And then die.  I don’t care – because this stands as my favorite film score.  Ever.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard “My Heart Will Go On”; I’m pretty sure my heart stopped, and it’s one of those moments where you remember what you were doing, where you were, and so on.  I know it’s cheesy, and I know it’s got to be one of the most over-played (and despised) songs in the history of music, but it’s beautiful, plain and simple.  Horner won an Oscar for the song and the overall score, and I think it’s his pinnacle.  And he has quite the resume.  Equal parts tragic and magnificent, I don’t know that I’ve heard anything so hauntingly, devastatingly beautiful.

~Annie