Oh Set Me Up With The Spirit In The Sky

TITEmovieposterAll right, all you haters, I’m saying this first to get it out of the way: I like Seth Rogen.  I like Seth Rogen and James Franco and Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel and all those other Judd Apatow boys.  I liked them in Freaks and Geeks.  I liked them in Undeclared and I’ve liked them in every movie they’ve spawned from Knocked-Up to I Love You, Man.  Honestly, I wish that I knew these guys in real life and could hang out with them on the regular.  So, before you read this review, just know that I am already their fan.

This Is The End is a story about the end – as in, the end of civilization as we know it, the end of the earth as it stands now.  It’s the story of what may happen to Seth Rogen and his boy Jay Baruchel should the apocalypse occur while they happen to be attending a house-warming party at James Franco’s new Hollywood mansion.  These guys (and so many others) play themselves.  Well… exaggerated, semi-ridiculous versions of themselves.  Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride round out this sausage-heavy sextet who fill nearly every scene.  There are cameos galore, dick and ejaculation jokes out the wazoo and a fifty foot tall Satan sporting one seriously intimidating boner.  That’s right – in this apocalyptic flick, the apocalypse is REAL.  No zombies, no flesh-eating plague, no nuclear war.  Just the earth opening up to swallow all the sinners, fire and brimstone kind of apocalypse that the Bible has promised us.  Or at least, as writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg imagine it.

And it is raucously funny.  It isn’t deep or complex by any possible definition.  There is no greater religious or social meaning, no intricate plot to be found.  The story is nothing more than what these guys imagine might happen to them should the apocalypse suddenly, finally, come.  What ensues is an hour and 45 minutes of shenanigans.  The good news, I laughed for a solid 90 minutes of that 105 min. span.  Say what you will about these fellas, they are funny.  Yes, their jokes are absurd and juvenile and I freely admit that dick jokes can and most certainly do get old.  But they can also hit the mark and in this flick, with this cast, they do, over and over again.  Of course, they aren’t all dick and cum jokes, but a great many of them are and they are, somehow, consistently funny.  Honestly, I kept waiting to get tired of them, to start yawning instead of laughing but it just didn’t happen.  These guys take some of the most inane and predictable material and deliver it in a way that makes people laugh.  A lot.

And there’s something about watching actors play themselves in a self-deprecating, mocking way that just amuses the hell out of me.  When I first saw the trailer for this, I wondered if it would feel self-indulgent.  Like, ‘hey look how much money we’ve got now, we can make any ol’ stupid, shallow movie we want!’  But that never came through, not one bit.  Rather than stroke their own egos, they poke fun at themselves and instead of feeling like a voyeur on the lives of the rich and famous, you just feel like you’re in on the fun.

The cast is great, exactly what we’ve come to expect from this crew.  Rogen and Baruchel play the leads and their chemistry as old friends whoThis-Is-The-End-all-six may have slightly out-grown each other works perfectly.  McBride is every bit the selfish, insensitive jerk I imagine him to be in the film’s most villainous role (other than that of Satan, of course) and even Franco is capable of making fun of himself by playing on the rumors that he’s awfully full of himself and unhealthily attached to his boy, Seth.  Jonah Hill is actually more likeable here, playing himself, than in his earlier roles as the self-absorbed douche bag and each and every cameo will leave you smiling.  (Some more than others – ahem, Channing Tatum.)  The stand-out in this gang is Craig Robinson, who is simply delightful.  He has perfect comedic timing and can do everything from deadpan (The Office) to absurdly silly (Zack and Miri Make A Porno) and he’s hilarious at it all.  For real, Robinson belongs in ALL the comedies.

If you hate this crew and have never liked any of their work, I’d say this likely won’t change your mind.  But even if your feelings toward them are luke warm, I’d bet you’ll enjoy this.  It won’t win any awards or earn a place in cinematic history, but it certainly is one fun gigglefest of a flick.

~Nikki

I Am The Police

endofwatchmovieposterThe found footage style of film-making has largely been a mistake.  Few films that employ it do it well and more often than not, it hinders the narrative and annoys the audience.  Its shaky and unstable camera-work are a nuisance and the trite, contrived reasons given for its being filmed in the first place almost never work.  Rarely, though, we do see it used appropriately.  And the cool thing is, if used sparingly and done well, it really does accomplish what it’s supposed to – it makes it feel real.

Such is the case with End Of Watch, the 2012 police drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as Brian Taylor and Miguel Zavala, respectively, two LAPD rookies who stumble into something too big to handle.  End Of Watch is mostly told via Taylor’s camera.  In addition to being a cop, Taylor is also a pre-law student and films his experiences while out on patrol as part of a project for one of his gen-ed classes.  It’s mostly told through Taylor’s camera (or cameras; in addition to his handheld, he pins one to his chest and one to his partner’s) but also intermittently through more conventional shots.  Writer/director David Ayer doesn’t limit himself to the found footage alone.  Ayer freely uses whichever best serves the narrative, interjecting broad views of the city into Taylor’s filmed sequences without explanation.  Or shots of one of the cops alone after work that are meant to look like the images of a handheld camera but there’s no logical answer to who’s holding it.  Ayer doesn’t bog himself down with these explanations because they aren’t relevant to his story.  He uses the found footage where applicable and provides his own shots when needed.  And the result it a gripping story so well-told, you forget you’re watching a movie.

The film’s pace adds to the realism as does the natural banter between Gyllenhaal and Pena.  Ayer doesn’t rush this story nor does he fill it with death-defying stunts or overly developed bad guys.  I know it sounds weird that I’m advocating an under-developed villain here but for a flick like this, it’s necessary.  This movie is entirely Taylor and Zavala’s story, the lives of these two cops, and in the real world, we don’t know every bit of background about the “bad guys.”  Honestly, cops sometimes get a rap sheet on the guy they’re chasing, if there is one, or maybe they’ve heard some rumors around the neighborhood about them, but they don’t have the guy’s life story with all its fucked-up details.  They know a few things – he has a gun, he’s in a gang, she’s on crack, they want to kill me.  This is what a cop typically knows when facing a criminal and nothing more.  Ayer gives us a few shots of the bad guys in action but very few, just as much as we need and not a minute more.  Because he doesn’t want us to be away from our main characters for too long.  We see this through their eyes.  The effect it creates is that we are Taylor and Zavala, we ride along on patrol, we watch as they find ways to entertain themselves (a cop’s life can be quite boring, at times), as they struggle to stay awake on an overnight shift, as they walk into the house of a missing elderly woman and know immediately that there’s a dead body inside, as they run into a burning house to rescue the small children trapped in their bedrooms, as they face dangers most of us cannot fathom.  We live it through them.

Ayer effectively orchestrates this realism but he also knows enough to get out of the way of his characters.  He epitomizes the idea that a story is best shown, not told.  Taylor and Zavala aren’t perfect nor do they always make the best choices.  Like every cop I know, they occasionally End of Watchoverflow with testosterone, with that invincible feeling that accompanies authority.  But they are human and they react to stress and danger like any flesh and blood person would.  And the bond between these two partners is expertly showcased in those quiet moments that follow a harrowing encounter.  Kudos to Ayer for not holding back.  It’s rare to see masculine tenderness like this onscreen.  After a traumatic and dangerous encounter during which, together, they pull three children from a burning house, Taylor is so shaken, he refuses to allow the fire fighters even to touch him.  But his partner, also shaken and hurt, cannot be pushed away.  He grabs onto his friend and literally cradles and rocks him until Taylor calms down, creating a moment so real, you almost feel intrusive for watching.

I can’t justify why End of Watch didn’t get more hype from the media.  I remember seeing the trailer, thinking it looked good but then didn’t hear much about it.  Now it’s available to rent or instantly stream on Netflix and it is well worth your time.  For all its realism, it still is a tense police drama, rife with action and violence, but with much more heart than we’re used to seeing from this genre.

~Nikki

Intelligence Is The New “Little Black Dress”

Russell_Brand_MSNBCI don’t know if you feel this way but there are few things sexier than a high IQ.  Well, a high IQ coupled with the ability to speak coherently, to express oneself with a relative amount of poise and grace.  Add to that a healthy dose of humor, and that’s what I call the jackpot.

Case in point is a celebrity I’ve never found particularly attractive but who recently demonstrated his intelligence by responding gracefully to the rudeness of a few talk show hosts.  I’m speaking of Russell Brand and if you don’t already know about this incident, don’t feel bad – neither did I until earlier today.  I’ll fill you in.  About a month ago, Brand was out promoting his new stand-up tour and interviewed with the folks on “Morning Joe” over at MSNBC.  Five minutes into the segment, the three hosts began talking about him as if he weren’t sitting at the table with them, referring to him in the third person and talking about his accent and his outfit rather than, you know, interviewing him about the tour he was there to promote.  They were obnoxiously rude and Brand rightly called them out on it.  And he did it with style, with humor and wit and a little commentary on the absurd topics that can be called “news” by the media.  He spoke intelligently, revealing to anyone listening his sharp wit and clever mind and for the first time ever, I found myself attracted to the man.

He spoke so well, I think he embarrassed and maybe even somewhat intimidated host Mika Brzezinski, who became so nervous she could barely form a sentence.  If you want to get right to the rude bit, skip to minute 5:00.  Otherwise, if you have 8:34 minutes to spare, I suggest watching from the beginning.

See… he looks kind of hot now, doesn’t he?  I said it before and I’ll say it again: there are few bigger turn-on’s than intelligence.

~Nikki

10 Funniest Women of The Past Decade

Vanity fair pic

After reading IMDB’s list of the “Top 10 Funniest Actresses of the Past 10 Years,” I thought it was a joke.  The list definitely includes some women who belong on it, women like Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Anna Faris.  HOWEVER, Sandra Bullock?  Sure, she was cute in Miss Congeniality and The Proposal was all right but I certainly can think of several actresses who are funnier.  And Emma Stone in the no. 3 spot?  Emma Stone, funny?  She’s adorable and charming and beautiful and a truly talented actress, but she isn’t a comedienne.  And guess who got selected as the 2ND FUNNIEST WOMAN: Meryl Streep!  Yeah, you read that right.  Look, I love Meryl Streep.  LOVE her.  She’s amazing and exceptional in countless ways but she hasn’t exactly made a career out of comedic roles.

I wouldn’t care about Bullock, Streep and Stone making this list if there weren’t several comedic actresses who really do belong on it.  But there are.  So, I made my own list of women who should have been on that list and weren’t:

Mindy Kaling, The Office, The Mindy Project

Angela Kinsey, The Office

Maya Rudolph, SNL, Bridesmaids, Friends With Kids

Jenna Fischer, The Office, Blades of Glory

Sarah Chalke, Scrubs

Wendi McLendon-Covey, Reno 911!, Bridesmaids

Betty White, countless comedic roles over the past 60 years

I rest my case.

~N.

Can’t Get You Outta My Head

I don’t have much to say today except that I am increasingly distracted by the summer time weather and the knowledge that I have a beach vacation coming up soon.  Like, within weeks.  I take a vacation with family every year to some beach or other and I must confess that roughly 5 or 6 weeks beforehand, every single year, I turn into a teenager on the cusp of Spring Break – unable to concentrate, always daydreaming, completely apathetic to the demands of my daily life.  I just want to goooooo…

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I’ve been all over the east coast, from Maine to Key West.  This year, I’ll hit two beaches.  Oh, you read that right – TWO different beaches!  First, Myrtle Beach for a few days and then on to Holden Beach (North Carolina) for a week.  I haven’t been to either before and am so exceedingly eager to see them, to feel their sand in my toes and swim in their warm, salty water, I can hardly stand it.  My regular old existence feels dreadfully boring with such a trip on the horizon.

Do I have a favorite east coast beach?  Hard to say.  If you’re looking for waves, Virginia Beach will do, plus it has a fantastic boardwalk full of shops, restaurants and bars.  If you want a slower pace, Topsail, NC is perfectly lovely.  I’d also recommend New Smyrna, FL.  Its sugary sand and warm water sure were hard to leave.  If you want something more tropical, the Keys are gorgeous.  In fact, I married my husband in Islamorada, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  You won’t hear the waves crashing because the water is too calm, but the coral and tropical fish will dazzle you and the laid-back, relaxed lifestyle is too intoxicating to resist.

I’ve only ever seen one beach on the west coast – Steven’s beach outside of San Fransisco.  While stunning to behold, the water is too cold to swim without a wet suit. (And sadly, I didn’t have one.)  The beaches of Southern California are most certainly on my list, as is Hawaii.

As far as foreign seas, I have been to the Caribbean once.  Yes, the white sand and aqua blue water of Jamaica still calls my name.  Then, not really in the Caribbean but bordering on it, Cozumel, Mexico where snorkeling is a must.  A short boat ride from land sits a rather impressive reef home to countless tropical species.

Otherwise, the Mediterranean is high on my bucket list.  Experience tells me that pictures rarely capture the true beauty of a place and if that holds true in Greece, I cannot leave this earth without seeing it first hand.

I like to visit a new place every year, which means I’m entirely open to suggestions.  So, tell me: which is your favorite beach?

~N.

Enough To Make My Systems Blow

Lost-Season-6

My deepest apologies for having been absent for so long.  I know you’re feeling ignored.  (And rightfully so.)  Truth be told, I’ve kind of been ignoring everything lately.  You see, about 6 weeks ago, I hurt myself.  Nothing major – just a pulled muscle.  But it was enough to keep me off my feet for a few days and so I began an endeavor that I’d been putting off for some time.  A friend had been pushing me to watch Lost.  I’d never seen it – not a single episode – when it aired and with 6 seasons of about 20 or so 45 -minute long episodes each, I simply didn’t have time.  It seemed a daunting commitment.  And then I hurt my leg.  And for three straight days, I did all I could to keep weight off of it, to keep it elevated, to sit on the couch and rarely move.  If ever there was a perfect opportunity to consume HOURS of television, this was it.  And now, more than 5 weeks later, I have but one season left, much to the dismay of the great many things (like this blog, for example) that I’ve ignored in the meantime.  All for the sake of watching just one more episode!

The weird thing is, I can’t say I’m in love with it the way I loved Breaking Bad or Dexter or even Sons of Anarchy.  I don’t feel like I’m so damn eager to see what happens next that I simply must keep watching.  I’m not emotionally invested in any of the characters.  What I feel is more like a burning curiosity to see how it all comes together.  Which isn’t to say that the characters aren’t developed, because they are, or that the story doesn’t suck you in, because it does.  But there’s just so much going on – supernatural forces, The Others, the black smoke monster, Ben Linus vs. Charles Whidmore, alternate realities, flashbacks, flash-forwards, are they dead, are they alive, what the hell is going on???  This show is BANANAS.  There’s too much crazy to get invested in the characters or any single plot line.  What keeps me watching one episode after another is the consuming desire to finish the series so that I might finally get some answers.  I just want to know how they’re going to pull it all together and whether or not they manage to do it well.

I’ve heard that the finale created a great divide among fans.  Passionately hated by many, yet genuinely liked by others.  I think that’s a good sign.  If it makes any real attempt at finishing the story, it will strike fury in the hearts of some while winning over others.  When the finale to a series is tolerably received by most, that typically means it’s too bland too either offend or seduce.  And I have no taste for “safe” writing.  Especially from a show like this.  A show that has been balls-to-the-wall insane from the very first frame.  That has introduced and developed more characters than its audience can keep track of.  That will spend 2 or 3 hour-long episodes developing a character just to kill him/her off before that season’s end.  That has more plot twists than a soap opera and is by no means bound by the laws of physics.  Polar bears live in Hawaii!  A conspiratorial experimental community lives in isolation, recruiting scientists and physicians for the purposes of… medical experimentation?  Social experimentation?  To satisfy the controlling needs of their sociopathic leader?  Who the fuck knows!  Plus, there’s a monster of the magical kind as well as an ageless immortal who can’t be seen by most people (but can by a select few) calling the shots as well as time travel and epic electromagnetic forces at play!  Seriously, how could a show that has twisted together plot lines and ideas of such OUTRAGEOUS PROPORTIONS play it safe at its finale?

Whatever happens, you know I’ll be back to talk about it.  In the meantime, thanks for being patient.  I swear, I haven’t forgotten you. :)

~Nikki

Slip Inside The Eye Of Your Mind

Brothers KaramazovThe second novel I’ve read as part of my Classic Literature Challenge is The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous last novel.  Russian literature is fairly new to me (I’ve only ever read one other, The Idiot, also by Dostoevsky) but because of its considerable influence on authors around the globe (Christopher Hitchens, Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein, to name a few), I felt I owed it to myself as a lover of literature to give it a try.  And while certainly not quick or altogether easy, it is a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.

The book begins with the scoundrel Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, a man of loose morals who has four sons between three different women, two of whom he married.  Both wives eventually died, leaving Pavlovitch to raise the boys they gave him, a task he passed off to relatives while he indulged in women and booze.  Little time is spent on their upbringing or on Pavlovitch’s misadventures.  The real story begins when the boys reach adulthood.  Dostoevsky tells every brother’s tale in turns, giving each their fair amount of time in the spotlight.  The oldest, Dmitri, enters into a doomed love triangle with his father and a disreputable woman whom one is never sure if she loves either father or son or is merely manipulating them both.  The middle son, Ivan, is a man of conviction and good sense and happens to fall in love with Dmitri’s ex-fiancee, the woman Dmitri scorned in favor of his father’s mistress.  And the youngest Karamazov, Alexey, is a kind, albeit naïve young man intent on entering the monastery.  Few who know him fail to love him, even Ivan, who is every bit as firm an atheist as Alexey is a true believer.  These two engage in long and interesting philosophical debates about their opposing views and while they add little to the book’s plot, they make for a provocative and entertaining read.  Fyodor Pavlovitch also has one illegitimate son, Smerdyakov, whose sad tale is told in detail and which plays a valuable role in the larger narrative.

With each of these men’s stories and that of a rather large subplot revolving around a young neighborhood boy, the son of a man Dmitri publicly shamed, who suddenly falls ill and seeks redemption in his final days from family and friends through Alexey, Dostoevsky paints a vivid picture of Russian life in the 19th century.  He explores themes and issues ranging from family to religion to social norms, even dipping a toe into political issues of the day.  His prose is easy enough to follow with the one exception being the interchangeable names of characters.  For example, Alexey is as often called Alyosha, Dmitri also goes by Mitya or Mitka, his mistress Agrafena is also called Grushenka or Grusha, and so on.  Almost every character has an alias or two that are used interchangeably and without explanation.  I admit it took some getting used to.  Otherwise, I had no trouble following the narrative.

Typical of 19th century Russian literature, The Brothers Karamazov is long-winded, sometimes exhaustingly so.  But it is also deeply philosophical, with a grand central theme suggesting that even our most minor actions can heavily influence the lives of others, and because of that, we are all responsible for one another.  I gave it 4 stars on goodreads because, though it is unnecessarily long and wordy, it is also extremely thought-provoking, dramatic and stirring.  If you’re looking for something to challenge your ideals and really make you think about what’s in the minds of others as well as your own, I recommend it.

~Nikki