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. :)


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.


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.