There Are Places I Remember…

I have to admit that I’ve strayed from the classics lately.  My reviews of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Metamorphosis are on their way but since finishing them, I have derailed a bit.  I’m nearly finished with World War Z (and loving every word!) and have also read the latest from author Neil Gaiman, you know… the reigning king of science fiction.  His work is typically dark and loaded with symbolism, not to mention supremely well-written and somehow, I managed to get my hands on his latest novel, a lovely little read called The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

TOATEOTL coverLike most of his fiction, TOATEOTL is part sci-fi, part fantasy, part fairy tale.  Steeped in myth and mystery, it will transport you to that precocious time in life when you were too smart to be called a child yet too naive and inexperienced to be deemed a young adult.  Told through the eyes of a 7 year-old who is depicted like a real kid, not a tiny adult or an unrealistically innocent dunce, as children are often portrayed in books, Gaiman hooks you on page one with this clever, nostalgic, naive, yet never-too-simple narrator.  Like real children, he’s a kid who at times, shows deep maturity and at others, childish innocence.

It is set in Sussex, England and begins with the narrator as an adult, returning to his hometown to attend a funeral.  While there, he wanders back through his old neighborhood and eventually visits an old farm on which his childhood friend, an extraordinary girl called Lettie Hempstock, lived with her mom and grandmother.  What he remembers is a story so remarkably strange and exciting but also dark and frightening, it’s a wonder how he ever forgot it.  I will say no more because as wonderful as this story is, a very big part of its charm lies in discovering it, page by page.

I breezed through its 180 pages within three days, hardly able to put it down.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a delight to read, making you remember what it felt like when you were old enough to know certain things about the world but still young enough to believe in endless possibilities, when every corner of the earth held more mystery and wonder than your imagination could keep up with.

~Nikki

Let’s Do This…

AMC released the full-length trailer for The Walking Dead season 4 at Comic-Con and whatever you may think of the show as a whole, there’s no denying the awesomeness of their trailers.

Sounds like they may be channeling 28 Days Later with that radio broadcast, which might actually serve the show well.  I have long considered 28 Days Later to be the best zombie flick ever made.  (Some argue that it isn’t a true zombie flick because the zombies became zombies by infection rather than reanimation after death.  Whatever.  Splitting hairs as far as I’m concerned.)

Plus, it appears that Daryl gets loads of screen time and anyone who watches knows that more Daryl = happiness. 🙂

~N.

I Just Can’t Control My Beats

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Confession: I have watched Pitch Perfect at least five times now and all within the past couple of weeks.  It’s like I just can’t stop.  I saved it on my DVR and have been watching it in pieces ever since my first full viewing more than two weeks ago.  It’s gotten to where I fast-forward through the non-singing parts, repeatedly watching the song performances, especially the final two.  I never watched Glee, not for any particular reason, so I am unable to make the obvious comparison there.  But I do generally like musicals and Pitch Perfect manages to combine some really excellent musical numbers with a plot as aloof and relatable as that of Bring It On.  Just as any non-cheerleader could enjoy the shenanigans of Bring It On, you need not be an a capella enthusiast to enjoy Pitch Perfect.  It’s a sweet, feel-good flick with likeable characters and some really fun music.

The Sing-Off got me into a capella (well, not counting those years in junior high when I adored Boyz II Men) and generally primed audiences across America for this movie.  It centers around Beca, played with irresistible charm by Anna Kendrick, a college freshman who has no actual desire to attend college but is giving it a shot to appease her father.  She wants to move to LA to start paying her dues in the music industry, hoping to make a career out of DJ-ing.  With much coaxing by her dad and a senior named Chloe (the adorable Brittany Snow), she reluctantly auditions for the Bardon Bellas, an all-female a capella group on campus who have an intense rivalry with the all-male group, the Treblemakers.  Beca earns a spot with the Bellas and slowly brings new life to their stale routine.

While Kendrick is undoubtedly the star of this flick, it is very much an ensemble movie.  Senior and leader of the Bellas, Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp), Chloe and Beca probably get the most lines but supporting characters Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson stealing the majority of her scenes), anna-kendrick-rebel-wilson-hana-mae-lee-pitch-perfectCynthia Rose (Ester Dean) and Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) hit every mark… and note.  (Sorry – couldn’t resist.)  The boys make the most of their screen time as well, especially Beca’s love interest, Jesse (Skylar Astin), his nerdy roommate Benji (Ben Platt), and two of the Treblemakers, Bumper and Donald, played by Adam DeVine (of the hilarious series Workaholics) and Utkarsh Ambudkar, respectively.  There’s competition, friendship, romance and loads of music but there is also an abundance of humor.  Pitch Perfect never takes itself too seriously.  In fact, it gets rather silly at times.  The vast majority of jokes land and there’s even a big throwback to a certain ’80s icon of pop culture that warms the cockles of my heart.

Of course, as I’ve already hinted, the music itself is what drives it home.  The lulls between songs are relatively short and each performance not only plays a relevant role in the central plot but adds a guilty pleasure level of enjoyment, leading viewers like me to watch repeatedly, never tiring of the actors’ unprocessed and natural voices or the fun, practiced choreography.  There are even a few cameos the likes of Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins and Donald Faison.  That’s right – Turk makes an appearance and anything that lets me watch Turk sing and dance is okay by me.

There isn’t anything terribly original or unpredictable about Pitch Perfect but every minute is amusing, there are loads of laughs and at least 30 solid minutes of fun musical performances.  Need more?  30 Rock writer Kay Cannon wrote it.  I knew that would hook you.  😉

~Nikki

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