Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'm Feeling Very Olympic Today

I love the Olympics. I mean, really love them. This was instilled in me by my parents as we would watch them, my first memory of watching them being the 1984 Olympics in LA. When it was announced that the Winter Olympics were coming to Salt Lake, I had friends call to congratulate me as it meant that I could actually go. When the individual tickets for Salt Lake went for sale, I sat on the phone hitting redial over and over to get a ticket, which I ended up getting to ski jumping. Now this is where the story gets a little sad.  I flew down to Salt Lake from Washington State, only to have ski jumping be rescheduled due to weather. Unfortunately for me, it was rescheduled for AFTER I flew back, so I never got to see it. The bright note was that my sister and some friends and I sat outside the Opening Ceremony in a kind of obscure place and got to see the parade of nations, so that was cool. But yes, my quest to see the Olympics continues.

With that in mind, I am very excited for Friday when the Olympics start. In honor of that, here are some of my favorite Olympic moments from both the Winter and Summer Olympics. (Last night they did a top 30 best Olympics moments on NBC, which I DVR'd but have yet to watch. I'm sure that I am missing some but these are the top 5 off of the top of my head.)

5. Greg Louganis hitting his head on the diving board--and still winning the gold.
I don't get as into watching diving anymore. But back when he was competing, I would watch. And this was amazing.

4.  Dan Jansen finally winning the Gold Medal
After his sister dying and all the mistakes and then him finally winning in the race that wasn't his best--it was fabulous. I'm still think it's sad that he and his wife ended up getting divorced. 

3.  Figure Skating

I love watching figure skating. In fact, if I had to choose only one event to be able to watch, this would be it. I watch all of it. I could have picked any number of years to show....if I could have found a cool picture of Oksana Baiul doing that cool spin, I would have put that one. In the end, I'm putting the most recent. I loved that Evan Lysacek one, and that Joanne Rochette, the French-Canadian skater whose mom died before she skated, got the bronze.  When Scott Hamilton is crying while commentating, you know it's a good Olympic moment.

2.  Michael Phelps
I had three favorite Phelps races from last Olympics.  The relay where Jason Lezak came from behind to win, the one where Phelps beat the guy by a fingertip, and the last race to win his 8th. I was at a party with some friends, and we actually left the party to be able to watch Phelps race that last one. 

1.  The Kerri Strug vault
I worked as a cashier at Shopko at the time, so I missed this happening live because I was at work, but my family had recorded it for me. So when I got home we put in the VHS tape and watched the whole event culminating in that vault. And then watched it again a few other times. I still get excited when they show it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Brave: Be Careful What You Preview

In the preview for Brave, the latest Disney Pixar full length animated film, you see Princess Merida as a fiercely independent young girl being forced to host possible and acceptable suitors at a Scottish tournament. The preview reflects her independent desire to not be subject to 'games' for her hand - when she herself would rather participate with her amazing archery skills, than sit idly by and clap.  By the end of the preview, it isn't clear what the picture is about - but it seems like it is another Princess movie about ending up 'happily ever after' -which would include a Prince (albeit one that accepts and understands her independence).  After enjoying Disneys last triumph, Tangled, so much I was excited to see it.

The movie isn't about what the preview leads you to believe.  AT. ALL.  Well, yes, Princess Merida is faced with a tournament to win her hand - but that is just a springboard for a fable about mothers and daughters.  One that can get far too scary for the 8 and under type.  The fable involves magic, a witch and transformation...and scary moments with a bear - and oddly - far too many bare animated behinds (is there such thing as just enough cartoon butt?  I say one is too many - and this one had several).  The dialogue is old fashion story-telling  - not the quippy comedic dialogue that entertains both Adult and child we have become accustom to in the animated features in recent years.  The tale is not a bad one, just a weird one and definitely an unexpected one.  It was too scary for several of the tots I went with and I was a little bored.

Brave is an animation amazement.  Scotland looks amazing...and Merida's red hair has a personality and life all its own.  The voices are great - its fun to have them all be Scottish.  And its always fun to listen for John Ratzenberger (who has voiced at least 1 character in all of  Pixars full length animated features) - and he was in there.  But, all in all - I felt let down. I did not feel particularly inspired by the story. I really do like the unexpected - and in theory should love the fact that this is not a typical princess  'happily ever after', but I don't.  In fact, I missed the Prince.  I wanted the story to take a more traditional turn after all the weird magic fable stuff.  I really wanted her to find a fantastically independent Scottish Prince AND make peace with her mother.  But, alas it was not meant to be and after all the hype - this is really not the picture the preview hints that it is. 

See it before taking your young ones.  Sadly, Red Box this baby.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman "Casts" an Enticing Web

I read a review on Rotten Tomatoes that started: "Spiderman goes all cutesy-pants on us" (Bob Grimm) - True. He meant it as a bad thing.  I think its a good thing.  In fact, cutesy-pants(a less frivolous term may be endearing) is probably why I loved it.

I love Andrew Garfield.  I love Emma Stone.  I love Martin Sheen.  I love Rhys Ifans.  I love Sally Field.  And I have come to love Denis Leary.  I also love C Thomas Howell and Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, who have smaller roles in this one - yet I was still so happy to see them. The cast of Spiderman is a perfect mix of players for me.  I really enjoyed this movie.  The story is typical spiderman fare.  I'm not familiar at all with the comic book or the 'real' spiderman story - is Gwen Stacy part of that story?  I thought Mary Jane was his counterpart.  Not that it matters.  Andrew Garfield is funny, empathetic, angry - perfectly simmering and he has great chemistry with real life love Emma Stone.  There is something so soothing in Martin Sheens voice - I find him to be a really great choice for Uncle Ben.    The point is - I really love this cast.  This cast made me love Spiderman.  Great storytelling, great acting.  First time I actually felt this story.  Though the story was not strikingly different than the retells before it - it had a different villian and I just really, really enjoyed it more.  More emotional - I like it! This cast plus the amazing CGI effects in this movie - wowza- made this an unexpectedly enjoyable and enticing movie experience. 

Here's to cutesy-pants Andrew Garfield and this lovable cast!  Full price.  Big Screen.  Check and go to the showing in the biggest theater with the most upgraded sound.  Summer Movie Delight.

PS - couldn't do the typical movie poster pic - had to get the cast hi-lighted!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Movie moods: Rock of Ages and Battleship

A lot of things can affect my experience watching a movie and can oft times color my opinion of the films.  Sometimes - if there are physical distractions - the theater is hot or loud - other people are obnoxious - the film gets interrupted - you are watching at home and fall asleep...etc can all be determining factors on how or if the movie is enjoyed.  For me - if I walk into a movie in a particular bad or funky or sad or disappointed mood - the movie has an uphill battle to impress me - and I usually find myself distracted or hyper-critical.  My movie moods sometimes have caused me to not enjoy otherwise enjoyable films - all because my tempermant was off.  But, I LOVE movies - and am always willing to think it through and give many flicks a second chance.  Mood and outside circumstances greatly affected my viewing of these two movies.

Rock of Ages: Not for Me

Movie Mood:  I was out of town.  I went with my little brother.  The theater itself was not crowded and actually awesome.  I was in the desert where it was hot and had been really hot, but then went into a really cold theater...and was freezing.

My overall reaction to this movie is a general sense of ick.  It felt more rated R to me than PG-13 - mostly because my little brother was with me and I felt sensitive to every strip club scene and over-the-top-exposed-tongue-makeout -scene.  I felt a little bit like I thought I was taking my little brother to a hamburger joint - but found out after we had ordered that it was actually a strip club.  I'm fully aware that I was overly sensitive to these things - because of my movie mood. 

That said - wow - this show was a train wreck.  Adam Shankman, known by most as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, directed this  and also previously directed the movie-musical Hairspray.  In Hairspray - the numbers are intended to be amped up and shiny - high energy and big smiles.  It seems he encouraged the same kind of amping up in Rock  of Ages - but the material - sex, drugs, rock n roll - 80s -didn't lend itself to amping up to this degree or in the unintentionally shiny way it was intensified.  It made the show feel campy instead of sincere - but perhaps that was the point. And while most of the cast amped up 100% - Catherine Zeta Jones amped up 1000% - playing an overly intense politicians wife with an agenda to rid the city of its Rock 'n Roll center - the Bourbon Club owned by Alec Baldwin.   Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand run this club where Stacy Jaxx (Tom Cruise) started his career and returns to play. 

Baldwin and Brand fully surrender to the ridiculousness of their moronic characters and this silly show.  And when they sing "I can't fight this feeling" to each other and Alec Baldwin was twirling Russell Brand on an empty disco floor - I was impressed with their commitment to the comedy and laughed outloud.  I was sad to see Mia Michaels did the choreography - who is amazing on SYTYCD - I really didn't enjoy her work in this - mostly because of that overly amped up feeling of the whole movie. Hit Me With Your Best Shot was particularly troublesome and cheesey over-the-top and over literal.   I like Julianne Hough on Dancing With The Stars - in this...she's a great dancer...I really find her vacant in the acting department and adequate to decent in the singing department.  Diego Boneta is somewhat enjoyable for me - especially when they had him dressed ridiculously and joining a boy band.  I did a little bit love that this movie morally equated boy band-ery with stripping.  It is amusing to watch this talented and unexpected cast in the musical environment. At one point I leaned over and said to my little brother, "Is Paul Giamatti SINGING?" Tom Cruise is the most intense presense in the film, but I felt he was performing a master class in physical rock star movement.  In most scenes I was distracted by his specifically bent back and body - to appear stoned and aloof? He is the best thing in this film and did embody - the nuances of (I'm assuming) Axyl Rose.  Most of his singing was fine, but when his scenes turned particularly campy - in his scenes with Malin Ackerman, he lost some of that presence and decent singing ability.    

I will say that the movie does  have retro active effects on those of us who lived and enjoyed the big hair band - rock music of the 80s.  It does effectively conjur up fond memories of fun music - and I think that is the intent - to make us forget the story and enjoy the music and the flash of hideous clothing and characters from long ago.  I did enjoy seeing a group of protesting rockers that included Debbie(Fine, Deborah) Gibson (Sorry - she will always be Debbie to me) Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme), Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon) and Joel Hoekstra (Night Ranger).  Also fun to see Constantine Maroulis, who received a Tony nomination for the Diego Boneta part in the stage show - in a brief cameo.  Go American Idol!   I know we are supposed to be loving the return to cheese - but I just didn't. I was particularly affected by my movie mood on this one - and could not surrender to the silliness and the camp.  Because this is a movie version of a broadway/stage production - I think the adaptation was too literal and some of this campiness that I hated would probably work in a live production with moving scenery, a live band and a lesser known cast.  For some reason I was thinking this show would work on both stage and screen like The Wedding Singer did - and I love both the movie and stage productions of that show.  The stage show is more cheesey and yes, campy - but that genre really lends itself to it.  I think it must be easier to adapt from screen to stage than from stage to screen. 

I say wait til the edited version shows up on cable or listen to the the 30 seconds snippets from the soundtrack on iTunes for free. 


Movie Mood:  Saw this late at night at the dollar movie.  My mood was tired and a little uncomfortable.  I walked in not super excited to see this - but (with Rachel) felt the need to support my Friday Night Lights friends - Peter Berg, Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons

Immediately following this movie - I had only negative things to say about it - It felt long - aliens, snoozefest of an action movie?! But, when I sat down and thought about writing this - I think I really liked this one.  I loved its use of and hi-light of the Navy.  Taylor Kitsch is great...Liam Neeson is great.  Even Rihanna - great.  Jesse Plemons - funny. And I am always delighted to see Hamish Linklater anywhere - and found him to be his usual dry and perfectly sarcastic funny self. I love the relationship between the Japanese ship and the main ship and their commanding officers. It is a clever way to bring the Hasbro game to life.  The story mostly made sense even though it included aliens.  I love the real life touches -  specifically real life war hero Lieutenant Gregory D Gadstone - a double amputee.  He was amazing.  Purposefully loud and flashy and big, it is a great film for what it is intended to be - action adventure summer movie fare. My movie mood totally threw me off on this one - and my tiredness and less desirable locale (though great company) made me struggle through it a little - unnecessarily so. 

I say - dollar movie is great for this one - if you miss it at the dollars - definitely red box it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Yes!: People Like Us

I don't want to say too much about this film - because I just want you to go enjoy it, especially if you have siblings.  I thought so much about my brothers and sisters while I watched this film, about the bond we share and why.  I was in a great mood going into this movie - having snuck away from work in the middle of the day  - exhausted and eager to be anywhere else.  I was ready to escape and I did.  I escaped into the great performances by Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde and the amazing, young Michael Hall D'Addario.  I love the subtle, retro quiet look of this film, the direction, the story.  I really did fall in love with this film.  All I can say is Go See It!  Pay full price.  See it with your siblings, if you can.  Or maybe you will just want to call and say hi afterward.


PS- Chris Pine is really pretty.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Writers Revisted: Bunheads and The Newsroom

 I love words.  I am particularly invested in pop culture writing and have some favorite writers.  Aaron Sorkin is by far my favorite TV/Movie/Play writer.  BY FAR.  He writes a lot of words, a lot of conversation - all of it with a certain rhythm that is identifiable solely to him.  Sports Night, in my mind, is the best show that has ever been on television.  West Wing is in the top few.  And I don't know what everyone was complaining about, I loved Studio 60 on the Sunset StripThe American President stands as one of my all time favorite movies - and I usually cry at the end.  A Few Good Men, Social Network and Moneyball are also favorites.  All Sorkin.  All Beloved.  Amy Sherman-Palladino also writes a lot of words - with her own, different rhythm.  And while I do not have a Sorkin-sized love for her (The Return of Jezebel James - just didn't work) - Gilmore Girls is probably in my top 15 series ever on TV.  I have watched the entire series multiple times - and I still DVR it every day on ABC Family and rewatch  - I like to put these shows wth a lot of words on to listen to in the background whilst I'm doing anything mundane - cleaning, paying bills, organizing - etc.  The rhythm of all the conversation keeps my mind occupied - and I enjoy this.  So, I know all of these TV programs well.  Really well.  I could probably quote entire monologues of both Gilmore Girls and Sports Night if I tried.

All of this said - Aaron Sorkin(AS) and Amy Sherman-Palladino(ASP) introduced new series this month.  I was excited to watch both. 


 Set in a (another?) small town called Paradise, the premise has Sutton Fosters Michelle, a classically trained dancer, wasting away as a Vegas showgirl.  She marries a man on a whim just to change up her life.  She arrives in 'Paradise' only to find that the man she married still lives with  his mother (the amazing Kelly Bishop) and runs and owns a dance studio.  Spoiler Alert - in the first episode - Michelles husband dies in car crash - and she inherits  the home, dance studio, frustrated mother-in-law and the on looking ballet students.  These ballet students are  not fully formed characters,  They are being revealed slowly - but I honestly couldn't tell you one of their names. 

 In many ways Paradise is very akin to Stars Hollow.  Both small towns with lots of quirky residents and a place where everyone knows everything about each other.    I really can't watch Mr. Mitchum Huntzberger (Gregg Henry) as a hippie bar owner.  Weird.  I understand that Sean Gunn is soon to guest star - who played the quirkiest and weirdest of the Stars Hollow residences on Gilmore Girls and hasn't done anything since - so I feel a worry about what they will do with him. And while I would really watch Kelly Bishop do ANYTHING - her character on this show is VERY similar to Emily Gilmore.  Its like running into Emily's cousin, Fanny Flowers and being entertained by how like my good friend Emily she is.  Sutton Foster is one of my all time favorite broadway stars and voices - and she just won a Tony for her amazing dancing and singing in Anything Goes in 2011.  In my mind - this is perfect casting for this role.  Perhaps it was the story - but initially I wasn't in love with her.  In fact, for a moment, I just wondered if only Lauren Graham could achieve the expert level in ASP dialogue delivery.  But, after three episodes - I have been charmed.  She is much, much drier in her delivery than the GGs - but it works - especially now in the series - where the whole town (and us viewers) are watching her to find out what she will do next with her new found inheritance.  She is the odd man out in this small town - and she, with us, is taking in all the nuances of Paradise.  She isn't quite sure what to think.  Well, the viewers aren't sure what to make of it either.  I'm sticking it out for awhile with this one.  It is really like the whole show is GGs long lost cousin and I really am entertained by continually noting how akin to my dear Stars Hollow friends they are. Here's the thing, I really, really, really want to love this show, but as of yet I really don't. Because of my sheer love for ASP, Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop - I'm still watching, but the jury is still out.  I say if you liked Gilmore Girls, you will like this.

The Newsroom

If Bunheads and Gilmore Girls are cousins, The Newsroom and Sports Night are siblings...fraternal twins maybe...or perhaps if The West Wing and Sports Night had a love child, it would be The Newsroom.    What I like about the AS world is- his characters are noble and are giving angrily righteous speeches right and left about how things are and how they need to be better. His shows are always about a team of smart people - who are flawed but who are united in trying to do their best and champion the causes. I'm not always personally in favor of said causes or the politics - but I really like the idealistic notion of coming together and working it out and trying to do better.  There just isn't enough of that kind of carry through and support these days. Idealistic of me - yes, I know. Because at the end of the day in Sorkinland - everybody does make it better, makes the right choice and nobility and honor reign.   The Newsroom fits succinctly in this Aaron Sorkin world. 

The show is set in the newsroom (go figure!) of News Night, a cable newshow.  The series starts with an uprising and exit of most of the crew of News Night as its anchor, Will McAvoy (the perfectly cast Jeff Daniels) is understood to have 'sold out' to ratings - and is considered arrogant, unappreciative and an all around tool.  The head of the news division, Charlie Skinner (the amazing Sam Waterson) decides to fix whats broken and calls in Wills Ex MacKenzie MacHale (standout and amazing Emily Mortimer) to rebuild his show  (and Wills idealism) after the mass exodus of the unhappy crew.

Aaron Sorkins world has always been an idealistic one and a hyper - articulate one - both of which I enjoy and enjoy here...even if the critical masses tend to frown on both.  Emily Mortimer's British accent brings a different rhythm to the very specific and rhythmic Aaron Sorkin writing - it took me a minute - but I really like it and her.   Some of the references are dated - 'Punjab?' Really?  It may have been believable in 1998 (When Sports Night was on) that the brilliant producer MacKenzie would be confused by how to work e-mail - but its just not today.  Even their background 'newsroom talk' is filled with old references (I understand they are mispronouncing one of the acronyms for sound editing?) - All of these things present an air of regergitation.  Its as if AS did not update his research for this show and just pull out his old Sports Night file and said "I know how a news room works!"

This show is Sports Night...with an edge and a more serious tone - speckled with the politics and general feel  (and almost identical opening credits and main title/music) of The West Wing .  There are so many similarities I can not count.  Charlie Skinner is Isaac Jaffe.  MacKenzie MacHale is Dana Whitaker.  Maggie is Natalie and Jim is Jeremy with a hint of Leo McGarry.   Will is a grumpy combination of both Dan Rydell and Casey McCall with a dash of Toby Ziegler.  Neal is Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn all wrapped up together (Isaac, Dana, Natalie, Jeremy, Dan and Casey = Sports Night Toby, Leo, Josh, Sam = West Wing).  Is Sorkin only capable of writing this mix of characters for TV, only these specific voices?  How many times can these characters be reincarnated?  This should bug me, but it doesn't. The only thing negative about this for me - who is sooo familiar with AS work that every familiar/rehashed plot point, character and line is that it  has caused me to directly compare the actors in the similar roles.  I am loving Emily Mortimer - but Felicity Huffman really did a pitch-perfect job playing the brilliant-professionally -  yet flighty, daffy and not-quite-together personally EP.  Robert Guillaume versus Sam Waterson?  Yikes!  Its hard not to compare.  Nevertheless, I'm not complaining.  While I understand the critics - and I do see that there is probably a better - more updated - more researched  - less preachy show lurking beneath, it feels like the best kind of familiar - an old friend got a face lift - is a little more life worn - but is back and regularly stopping by to visit.  Aside from the fact that HBO clearly told them to amp up the edgy factor...and I'd like them to clean up their language - I'm happy to have them all over.