Posts Tagged ‘films’

DVDs:

Bride and Prejudice: A Bollywood take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with lots of dancing and singing. Austen is a perfect fit for an Indian make over, and I think I prefer it to the monsterification which is the latest trend for Austen’s work. It’s a definite improvement on the Joe Wright – Keira Knightley flick which took it’s self far too seriously.

Valentine’s Day: Slightly embarrassed by this rental. It was bad, so very bad. But I was in need of a chick flick, and I thought it would be passable but it was a pure mortgage flick for all concerned. The tangled love lives of a bunch of pretty LA inhabitants as they celebrate or mourn their way through Valentine’s Day. It’s only saving grace was the 3 minutes of screen time that Bradley Cooper was given.

Stephen Fry in America (2 discs): A couple of years ago Stephen Fry drove a London cab through all 50 states and made a documentary about it. I was actually disappointed by the documentary – there were some interesting bits (like at the Body Farm). But in comparison to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations gastro-travel docs it came off as slow and dullish.

The Big Bang Theory: Season 1 (3 discs) We’ve completely fallen down the Sheldon et al  rabbit hole (or should that be black hole?). Love ’em all, and their quarky quirks. I started dipping into TBBT this year. Then thought we should go back to the beginning not that it really matters as you can dip in and out but it’s fun seeing how all the characters developed and their adventures. (Planning on doing a longer post as it has become apparent that I have married Sheldon-lite.)

Castle: Season 2 (1 disc) Again this is series I started watching this year, and have gone back to watch the first and now second season. On the surface it’s a fairly standard police procedural but it has Nathan Fillion on full charm offensive. What can I say?

Instants:

TV: The Good Guys (pilot episode), Top Shot (season 2 – 13 episodes) & The Glades (season 1 – 13 episodes)

Let’s skip over The Good Guys, and concentrate on the total awesomeness of The Glades and Top Shot. I have a soft spot for police procedurals especially quirky ones that aren’t too forumalic. The Glades fits that bill.  Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore) is a Chicago cop who is forced to relocate to a different police force after an unfortunate run in with his boss and he choices Florida for the good weather, and golf. Matt Passmore is so charming as Longworth it is delight to watch him solve crimes, and flirt with Callie (Kiele Sanchez) the nurse slash medical student slash single mother slash jailhouse wife. I’m not quite sure how Callie manages to juggle everything but she is not annoying and you find yourself rooting for her and Jim to get together.  What I like the most about Callie is that she doesn’t whine. One of the reasons I stopped watching Nip/Tuck was that Joely Richardson’s character Julia McNamara drove me mad with her constant moaning about wanting to go back to medical school (amongst the many other things she moaned about), not doing anything about it, and then when she takes a pre-med class she ends up dropping out and goes back to moaning. Ugh.

I know that a reality TV show centered around gunman-ship is not everyone’s cup of tea but Top Shot it is one of the few skills-based reality show competitions. It’s really interesting as you learn about the history of different weapons and see the contestants pushed to their limits with difficult challenges. Generally the contestants are fairly respectful of each other there is bickering, and some plotting but you are saved drunken hot-tub antics.

Films: A Private Function, Possession, Maybe Baby, You Again, Weather Girl & I Capture The Castle

I’ve seen A Private Function many times over the years, and couldn’t resist this dry comedy of social climbing in the small northern town when I spied it on Netflix Instant. Possession is again a film I’ve many times – there is something about Aaron Eckhart and Gwynnie Paltrow as academics on the hunt for missing historical letters that I find charming. The Da Vinci Code this is not but a gentle romantic story unfolds with our academics, and the subject of their obsession.

Maybe Baby is a Brit infertility rom-com. Despite a strong cast the premise is as bad as it sounds. You Again is an awful awful rom-com and it makes you want to stage an intervention for Veronica Mars. What went wrong? Why does she get no decent roles? Weather Girl on the other hand is a quiet indie flick that went straight to Netflix Instant (I think). It’s slow in parts and overly earnest in others but a refreshing change from all the crappy rom-coms chocked full of stars doing mortgage flicks.

I Capture The Castle is one of my favorite books, and I love the film adaptation as well. An eccentric family living in a crumbling castle in the 1930s, and the cast is so good: Bill Nighy, Romola Garai, Rose Byrne and Tara Fitzgerald. Love it!

Stats for August: DVDs (8) & Instants (33)

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Since my monthly Netflix payment is going up, and I need a push to review the stuff I’ve seen I figure that a monthly review is a good way of making sure I am still getting value for money from Netflix.

DVDs:

Nights in Rodanthe – Awful, awful film. It’s all about “old” people finding love post-divorce and medical malpractice suits in the midst of storm. I honestly only rented it because James Franco was in it but he is barely present. It’s one of his homeopathic films where you just get essence of Franco, and frankly it is not enough.

Just Go With It – An Aniston-Sandler rom-com that isn’t actually as bad as it should be, and the kid actors are the least annoying I’ve seen in a long time (they are actually clever, manipulative and funny).

Macross: Vol. 3 – This was an Alex rental so I dozed through it.

Leverage: Season 3 (disc 2, 3 & 4) – More adventures from our con men with hearts of gold. Still not as good as the first season but helped me dodge the heat.

Battle: Los Angeles – LOVE IT! All those reviews trashing it were obviously expecting a sci-fi movie rather than a straight up war film. It is really good war film. The soldiers methodically figure out how to defeat the enemy (aliens).

Mamma Mia! – What can I say I needed a hit of Greece and ABBA. Blue skies and catchy lyrics made not being able to go on vacation this summer bearable.

Unknown – AWFUL! I thought this was going to be cool fightie film like Taken instead it’s dull. There is zero chemistry between Liam Neeson and January Jones before, during and after amnesia.  Avoid it like the plague as you will never get those hours back.

The Adjustment Bureau – Not bad. It is of course based on a Philip K. Dick short story than the powers that be decided to romanticize.

Source Code – Definitely one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Kudos to Duncan Jones for producing a solid follow-up to Moon. It’s so much more than “Jake on a train”. It is a much smarter and layered film than the trailers had presented. Like Moon I don’t want to give any thing away but by the end you will be craving coffee and donuts.

How Do You Know – Terrible film about a women (Reese Whitherspoon) with low self esteem who is still playing soft ball professionally into her 30s (or is it late 20s I forget when women are over-the-hill), and then gets cut from the national team or something. She dates a man who treats her badly, and Jack Nicholson keeps randomly appearing but doesn’t really aid the plot.

Instants:

TV: Hoarders (1 episodes), No Reservations (6 episodes), Firefly (2 episodes), Farscape (1 episode), Sherlock Holmes (3 episodes), Coupling: Season 4 (1 episode), and Sports Night: Seasons 1 & 2 (33 episodes)

Wow I watched a lot of Sports Night last month. I must have been on a serious Dan Rydell and Aaron Sorkin high after all of that. No Reservations is Alex and I’s go to Instant on the weekend when there is nothing to watch, and Bourdain’s adventures are always amusing. Everything else I watched must have been whilst I was overheating on the sofa is something of a blur.

Documentary: Art & Copy

In honor of Alex going to work for a branding agency we thought we should watch this documentary about movers and shakers of the industry and how it’s evolved. It’s pretty interesting and worth a watch.

Films: America’s Sweethearts, Blue Crush, & Blue Juice,

These were “vacation” substitute films. America’s Sweethearts is set in a lush hotel, Blue Crush is in Hawaii (again with a lush hotel), and Blue Juice is set in Cornwall (the Hawaii of the UK). Roll on next year when we can have an actual vacation – even if it is to my mum’s in Scotland.

Stats for July: DVDs (12) & Instant (51)

Looks like July was a really heavy Netflix month thanks to the soaring temps and limited mobility. Source Code and Battle: Los Angeles were definitely the best things.

Like most people I am not a fan of price hikes. Every time I book a flight back to the UK I weep for days because I remember the time when I could fly there AND back for less than $400 (and you wouldn’t land hungry). But, there is not much I can do as the prices are comparable across all airlines flying that route, and there aren’t any other viable transportation options. I just have to suck it up, and try to fly in the cheapest periods.

Earlier this month Netflix announced that they were separating out their streaming and DVD rental businesses and this re-shuffle would have an associated price hike. And oh my the internets and the twitter went bat shit crazy about the $6 increase (based on if you had unlimited instant and one disc rental), and how Netflix Instant is not worth $7.99 because of its limited offerings.

My plan (unlimited streaming plus two discs) has gone up to almost $20 per month, and whilst there are other things I could spend that $6 on (three bags of Haribo cola bottles or two iced lattes or 3.4 trips on the PATH train) I’m okay with the price hike because it’s still great value for money – especially when you compare it to the alternatives (e.g. premiere cable, movies on-demand, etc).

In an average month we’ll get through 10-14 DVDs, and umpteen hours of Netflix Instant. (Am too scared to look up this exact figure otherwise Alex will tell me off but I’m at home and pregnant during the hottest months of the year so by 3pm AC and collapsing on the sofa look good.) So for our household Netflix is still great value for money especially when you consider that three years ago we quit premium cable and said bye bye to $60 a month, and then a year ago we quit going to the movies and said bye bye to $24 for two tickets (and that’s the cheap end given the horrible trend for turning crappy movies into even crappier 3D movies).

I don’t care about seeing films when they open (or premiere cable shows when they air). I’m happy to wait a couple of months and see them in the comfort of my own home cinema where I can watch ’em when I like,  pause ’em for pee breaks and eat my own snacks that aren’t going to induce adult onset diabetes or drain the cylons’ college fund.

With Netflix DVDs I manage our list like some people manage their stock portfolios. Pushing the new releases to the top, and alternating with the TV series we are working through. I always try to make sure we have some that Alex will watch come the weekend.  But really he loves Netflix Instant because of all the documentaries they have on offer, and the access to back seasons of No Reservations, Top Shot and StarTrek. Also, using Netflix Instant on Apple TV is a dream so much better than via the XBox 360 or DVD player.

Sure I’d love for there to be more new content on Netflix Instant, and I’m excited that they are going to develop their own programming but all this costs $$$, and I am sure this is where the price increase comes in. There is a lot of competition in this space but as far as I am concerned Netflix is still the best value for money and has a great user experience.

I really did not enjoy ‘Black Swan‘; in fact I will go as far as to say that I do not understand how it got nominated for so many awards (actually I do and that makes me depressed so I feign ignorance), and I am guessing that Natalie Portman won for her sheer hard work at transforming herself into a ballet dancer. She was probably so distracted by all the choreography that she didn’t notice the lackluster script and plot (shame I didn’t have that option). The scuttlebutt that I’d heard about the film was that you think you are going to watch a ballet drama but actually it’s a scary, psychological thriller. Ha! In reality it is neither. It doesn’t push the boundaries enough as a drama nor was it in the least bit scary.’Splice‘ was a much better film (slick plot, character development and it left you shaking whereas ‘Black Swan’ left me yawning), and dare I say Sarah Polley much more deserving of Best Actress nods in this instance.

In a nutshell it’s a re-interpretation of Swan Lake as a ballet-within-a-ballet. Nina (Portman) is a serious ballerina in a New York company who is given the opportunity to dance the lead in Swan Lake however her general East coast up-tightness means that she can dance the White Swan with her eyes closed but she must tap into her “dark-side” to dance the Black Swan. It’s this journey to unlock her “darkness” that forces her to explore the duality of her own identity**. Along the way she has to break away from over bearing mother, flirts with bad girl ballerina Lily (we know she is a free spirit because she has a big back tattoo and has joined the company from San Francisco *wink wink*) and has a run in with the soon-to-be retired principal ballerina (Winona Ryder) of the company. (Note: if you enjoyed Ryder’s throw away cameo in Star Trek then you’ll love her even more disposable cameo here. It’s a lazy, and less enjoyable, hybrid of Miss Haversham and ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’.)

The characters are cookie-cutter stereotypes, and there seems to be a general fearfulness to cross over too much into the “dark side”. Sure there are some neat special effects that make you think Nina is loosing her mind but they always pull back at the last moment. I was hoping for a full-on Ovid-style metamorphosis.  I’m left wondering if it was a conscious decision to not go too fairy tale otherwise the film would miss out on awards buzz as genre movies generally do (*cough cough* Splice).  I did like the costumes (I’ve a weak spot for arm and leg warmers), and the behind-the-scenes ballet details like the ripping apart of the ballet pumps, etc. But, overall it was a lackluster film that couldn’t make up it’s mind if it was an art house European or a misogynistic Japanese fright fest, and all the plies in the world could not save it.

**The Irish film ‘The Tiger’s Tail‘ is a much better exploration of doppelgangers and identity (and scarier to boot).

If you ask any Formula 1 fan who the greatest driver in the history of F1 is they will all say Ayrton Senna. It doesn’t matter which team they support or if they’d never seen him race “live” Senna’s status is legendary. He was an amazing driver whose life was cut short in a fatal accident at the Imola Grand Prix in 1994, and that devastating weekend changed the sport forever.

It was incredibly well timed that the Ayrton Senna documentary got a limited release last weekend the perfect thing to cheer up Alex (not that he really needed cheering up but you know what I mean). So on Sunday afternoon after a good lunch at DBGB we trundled off to the cinema along with every other Formula 1 fan in the vicinity and some from further a field (the people behind us had driven up from Atlanta – 900 miles!). That really sums up Senna’s lasting appeal.

Using only preexisting footage Asif Kapadia, the director, weaves together a compelling narrative charting Senna’s early life in Brazil to the crash at Imola. It’s a spell binding tale, and we are privileged to see family videos and those from the FIA drivers’ meetings alongside more familiar clips. I really liked that Kapadia made the decision not to inter-cut the footage with interviews but instead used them as voice overs to help tell the story. The focus is solely on Senna and we are allowed no distractions. Even if you don’t know that much about Formula 1 it makes a compelling documentary: rivalries between drivers, internal politics and exotic locales. You can see why it has done so well on the festival circuit, and why 95% of the audience stayed in their seats until the final credits.

If it is showing near you, and you can get a ticket (it’s sold out its limited run in NYC) go watch it and you won’t be disappointed. Or at the very least add it to your Netflix list.

As my reward for finishing my essay I watched ‘The Social Network’ (in a hoodie no less for the full Zuckerberg effect). It’s been on my Netflix list for forever so I was excited to be finally seeing it despite my love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the entity known as FaceBook (I prefer Twitter). I did not know exactly what I would be getting from the film but I did not think it would be so dull, and miss the mark by so much. It is practically a Hallmark movie or a sub-plot for a TV procedural though with high production value – “You sent me an email saying you were working on my site but then you launched your own one that might or might not have the same functionality but different code.” Zadie Smith wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books about how David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin are the wrong generation to make this film, and this is probably true but they also focused on the dullest part of the story – the business. But that also reflects their general disconnect.

‘The Social Network’ is focused on the he-said-he-said of the founding of FaceBook. Its early days in Harvard and Palo Alto, and then the subsequent legal battles with Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevosses. But, given that they were resolved behind closed doors there is no “You can’t handle the truth” court moment just undisclosed settlements, and a sad portrait of Zuckerberg left friendless by the end of the movie refreshing his ex-girlfriend’s FaceBook page after he tried to friend her.  It is beautifully filmed and well acted, but the trademark Sorkin dialogue isn’t quite as sparkly as it once was, and it is overrun with stereotypes. Jocks, nerds, lawyers, programmers and Asian ladies are all vying to conform. Fincher and Sorkin get the Harvard clubs – the exclusivity angle but they don’t get that the “internets” turns things inside out.

There is an interesting story to be told about FaceBook and the rest of its ilk but it is not about financial settlements. Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials don’t care about the money or who had the idea first – the Baby Boomers do. In the last ten years our ideas about privacy have been re-defined. The internet, and social networking has changed the we live and communicate. The geeks have not only inherited the earth they’ve redesigned it from the ground up, and that is the story that I wish Fincher and Sorkin had delved into. Going to need more than a few vague references to coding and LiveJournal to make a movie that taps into the zeitgeist of the ’00s. Also, if it wins the Oscar then I will never, and I mean NEVER, ever bother to read about the nominations let alone watch the damn show (James Franco hosting or not!).

Just as an aside, I’ve been writing an essay about the Roman historian Tacitus who has the habit of inventing speeches for historical figures. You have to be wary about using him as a historical source because he has a flare for fiction and hyperbole, and unfortunately his figures don’t have the ability to speak up for themselves as Sean Parker does.

I’m focused on three things at the moment: keeping warm, studying & Netflix! You’d think after a zillion winters on the north-east I’d be use to the cold and the snow, and more cold and more snow. But, no. Sure the snow is fun at first, and since the UK got snow before us this winter my reality practically imploded. But now we’ve had lots of snow I’m bored of it. Unfortunately, the Weather Channel didn’t get my memo because there’s yet another snowstorm heading our way this week, and it will drop 12ft of snow or something like that in the next few days. The only upside of all this snow is that they keep salting the sidewalks so that should keep the demons at bay for a bit though the salters need to pay more attention to thresholds.

Studying is going well. It’s bliss being able to make it my main focus, and other than being a wee bit stressed over having three essays due next week I feel like things are falling into place. I guess we’ll see how frazzled I am next week.

So that just leaves Netflix. Ah Netflix, the auburn haired siren that tries to lure me from my studies everyday. Since I am on a extremely limited budget (beginning to feel like Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm who only has 100 pounds a year to sustain her in stockings and cakes) Netflix is my only way to consume films so I manage my Netflix list like a Wall Street trader. As soon as I read about a film I add it to my queue, and then regularly check my queue to see release dates, and move things up accordingly. It’s all about monitoring the markets… I mean the DVDs. There’s a few films I want to do proper reviews on because they really blew me away, but until I get to that here’s a few bullet points on what I’ve watch this month:

  • The Special Relationship: This is the third outing for Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, and this time the focus is on the “special” relationship between Blair and Clinton. It was an interesting trip down memory lane, and surprisingly puts Blair-Bush in context.
  • The Town: Loved it, and it gets it’s own post later this week.
  • The A-Team: In the spirit of the recent Star Trek re-boot this also nails it. Strong cast (especially Sharlto Copely as Murdock) that embrace the silliness of this franchise. A solid popcorn flick, and I hope they make a sequel.
  • Buried: I was blown away by this film, and it will get it’s own post because it’s a smart film that not many people have watched.  You think it’s a film about a man trapped in a box but it is actually a political statement about the state of the US economy and the war in Iraq. So clever, and thrillingly entertaining.
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Yes, it’s silly and Cage wears a very silly wig but it’s fun.
  • Dean Spanley (Netflix Instant): I don’t know how to describe this film but it is a gem of a movie. An Edwardian tale of stiff upper lips coated in whimsy. The gentle tale of a strained relationship between a father (Peter O’Toole – Yes Lawrence of Arabia in his best part in decades) and son (Jeremy Northam), and their quirky friends from the colonies (Bryan Brown and Sam Neill). Such a strong cast. They must have had a blast filming.
  • Love & Other Disasters (Netflix Instant): Aviod. Aviod. Aviod. Only watched this because Netflix had billed Paltrow on par with Brittany Murphy. Blatant false advertising as Paltrow only appears at the end of this hideous mess of a movie. Ugh.
  • Death at a Funeral (Netflix Instant): This is a remake of the 2007 British film of the same name that I watched a few years ago. It’s a scene for scene remake, and I fell asleep.