Thursday, September 29, 2005

Amazing Race: Family Edition - Episode 1

I've been concerned about the new season of The Amazing Race since I heard that it would be featuring four-person teams that included children. I had visions of squealing kids ruining what was probably my favorite show. Well, Tam and I watched the first episode last night, and I was right to be worried.
While not all the teams include children, there are at least a couple of teams that include kids under 10. Their inclusion really weakens the show. I guess there's a chance that I'm in the minority, and that most viewers will find the kids' antics endearing or "cute", but I sure as heck don't. Watching two tykes sing "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain" as they are pulled by their parents in an Amish buggy just about made me want to puke.
I don't ask a lot of the Amazing Race. I just want to watch different personality types deal with no sleep and difficult conditions, all the while being treated to some of the most breathtaking locations on the planet. By increasing the team size to four, the inter-team dynamics have been overcomplicated. Instead of being able to say "That's Colin and Christie. They are intense and he possibly has a personality disorder and rage issues", you now have to take into account each players relationship with three other family members. Reality television is all about caricature. You need to give the viewer easily identified personality types, so they can pick favorites (and more importantly, least favorites).
Also, apparently the producers felt that, for logistical or emotional reasons, the Family Edition race should be confined to North America. This is the biggest problem I have with the show. The Amazing Race needs to be global. Are they seriously having a season where we won't get to watch the teams fall apart as they are brought to their knees in India (otherwise known as 'the widowmaker')? That's a damned disgrace.
I might just be over-reacting, though. It does usually take at least an episode or two to get into the swing of the race. I just found this episode kind of boring. New York to Pennsylvania? *yawn*
On the positive side, they did get rid of one of the "little kid teams". And the little kids cried, which was awesome. I'm evil.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Tease

Just a short post, to let you know what movies are on my radar for the next week or so...

I picked up the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, so I'll definately be watching that one (probably tomorrow at the latest). Hmmm, Where Eagles Dare is looking pretty likely... and I wouldn't be surprised if I end up popping in Grosse Pointe Blank.

So, there you have it. I think that looks like a quality line-up. Plus, I'll probably end up discussing tonight's Amazing Race: Family Edition premiere. Because I suspect it may suck. But, I hope I'm wrong. Because if you can't trust Phil, who can you trust?
God bless you, Phil Keoghan!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tamar Wants to be on the Internet

So Tam has complained that, although there is a very non-flattering picture of me in the sidebar of this page, there has not been any pictures of her on the blog. (I don't think she understands why not having pictures of herself on the internet might be the safe move). I am nothing if not responsive to constructive criticism, however, so I present to you the single greatest picture ever taken!

This picture was taken New Year's Eve, 2004 in Cuba. Tamar spent the night drinking, dancing, and collecting streamers to put on her head. I think this picture really captures the sheer awesomeness of that decision. God bless you Tamar!

And in the interests of fairness, here's a picture of the two of us. I'm wearing a Xmas gift from Tamar, further proof of why she is the coolest chick ever.

Hopefully she'll wake up soon, because I'm getting a little bored out in the living room by myself. I should teach the cat sign language or something.

Actually, bad idea. Mischa's withering glare of disgust is already bad enough. I don't need her signing obscenities at the same time.

Dinner with (odd) friends

You know, I've really been kind of slumming it with my film choices lately. There's nothing wrong with the movies I've reviewed thus far, but they don't really have the "film-snob" appeal that I intend to radiate from this blog. So, in the interests of raising the pretentiousness level in these here parts, I offer the following Movie I've Watched Recently: Melvin Goes To Dinner. It's directed by Bob Odenkirk, half of Mr. Show, which is a good sign right off the bat. I loved Mr. Show, so I was looking forward to seeing what kind of film he would craft. Also, to raise the prestige of the project, it's based on an L.A. stageplay, and reunites the four leads from the production.

Melvin (the man, not the movie) is your basic indie movie oddball. He's antisocial but intensely verbal, he hates his job, and he's dating a woman his sister refers to as "poison". After accidentally calling an old friend he hasn't seen in months, he agrees to meet up with him for dinner that night. The basic structure of the movie is the dinner, as Melvin and his friend, along with two women who join them, talk their way through countless bottles of wine.

One problem I often have with "filmed plays" is that the dialogue can easily seem a bit (for want of a better word) staged. Melvin, however, quickly pulls you in past any artificiality with the great writing, and genuinely comfortable pace of dialogue. You don't get the sense that the actors have read their lines hundreds, even thousands of times before. There's an immediacy to the dialogue, like the participants are really listening to who's speaking, and honestly reacting to what is said.

The change from stage play to film, however, has allowed for the insertion of various flashback sequences throughout the film. I realize these were probably necessary from the perspective of "opening up the play", but I often found myself a little bored during these segments. The actors have such great energy during the conversation sections of the movie, that any cutting away from the dinner party was disappointing. These four actors were clearly comfortable with the material. Their deliveries and cadences mixed well, and the interplay between actors was a lot of fun to watch. The topics of discussion spanned all the typical "dinner with wine" conversations: relationships, religion, sex, etc., but the give-and-take of the characters made the dialogue crackle. I found myself siding with one character over another, then changing my mind after hearing a bit more of the conversation. That's actually a bit weird, now that I think of it. But that's my problem, not the movie's.

The great thing about this movie is how true to actual dinner parties it seemed to me. Just like in real life, the characters were at times interesting, flirty, dull, and obnoxious. It's damn near impossible to be in top form through an entire multi-hour conversation, and these people are no exception. They all had quirks and imperfections, which were slowly revealed over the course of the film. While some of the "plot developments" (such as they are) are a little over-the-top with coincidences, this movie never concerns itself too much with plot. Melvin is about conversation and debate, and the filmmakers were never confused about this point.

It's a short film, only about 83 minutes long, but it's really nice to sit down and watch a movie without having to pack a change of clothes (I'm looking at you, Troy). The movie would lose some steam if it went on too long. As it is, Melvin stayed sharp throughout, and left me actually wishing it had been a little longer. I can't remember the last time I felt like that.

There's also a dynamite uncredited cameo from Jack Black. A lot of people are sick of JB, now that he's all over the place, but not me! And while I can see how some might find his constant peak level of manic energy a little grating, he's put to effective use here, showing up for a few minutes to inject a little spice into the proceedings. Tam hates Jack Black. But (luckily) she was working while I watched this movie, so she escaped exposure to the "sweaty little man" that she finds so unappealing.

You know, I'm going to have to write something soon that involves an actor that Tam actually likes, otherwise people are going to start thinking that she's some kind of film-hating culturephobe. I just haven't seen any really good Antonio Banderas films lately (kidding, kidding!).

Melvin does make one major misstep, however. There's one character in the movie that feels like she was imported from another, much worse, movie. The waitress at the restaurant behaves like she's in a bad sketch from Saturday Night Live (the Anthony Michael Hall period, even!). I cringed everytime she walked up to the table. Apparently she is not the actress who played the role during the play's run, so maybe she was a little unclear on the intent of the piece. Regardless, she was jarring and out of place.

However, she's in very little of the movie, and if that's the harshest criticism I can find, then you'll be wanting to have dinner with Melvin real soon! That's terrible, I just did that to see if anyone was actually still reading. I apologize. It showed contempt for my audience, and for that, I'm sorry.

Oh, the other dude in the movie looks like Tobey Maguire's chubby older brother, so if that kind of thing interests you, it's just one more reason to check out this movie.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Are you f**king with me, kid?

So, mixing things up a little bit, I watched a movie on my lunch break today. Or at least, I finished watching a movie I started a few weeks ago and forgot about. That movie? Bad Santa.

Um.. I really thought I'd like this movie more than I did. It's just so vile. I mean, I understand that he's a Bad Santa, but watching him drink and belch and piss his pants just got a little exhausting. I can't complain about the casting, though. Billy-Bob Thornton is such a skinny lech that I didn't for a second wonder if anybody would actually be capable of such incredible debauchery. He makes it look like he probably does it himself in real life, just for kicks.

There's just a pretty serious disconnect between the Thornton character and the plot he's thrust into. Billy Bob does such a great job of establishing the sheer self-absorbtion and depravity of Bad Santa that I couldn't believe for a second that he would actually stick around long enough to befriend a weird little fat kid.

And while were on the subject of this kid... yipes. He really gave me the heebies. I hope he made some good money from this movie, because it must have been tough to watch with his friends after...

Now, here's something that hurt the movie for me, but might be a selling point to other viewers: the presence of Gilmour Girls' Lauren Graham. I can't stand her, which I fully understand puts me in the minority of male pop culture enthusiasts. I can't stand the Girlmour Girls, and I cringed through both of her appearances on Celebrity Poker. Yeah, I watch Celebrity Poker. So what? I find her line delivery to be stilted and awkward, and she is neither trampy nor attractive enough in this film to be believable hooking up with Billy Bob Thornton's character.

You know, I loved Buffy. I'm a huge Veronica Mars fan. I even watch the craptastic OC. But I can't force myself to sit through more than 3 minutes of the critically-lauded Gilmour Girls. And don't even get me started on watching it with Tamar in the room. The fire of her hatred for Gilmour Girls in general, and Lauren Graham in particular, is biblical in proportion. And dammit, this time (unlike the Kirsten Dunst incident) she's right to hate.

Okay, in the interests of complete honesty, there was one scene in Bad Santa that made me laugh out loud, but I'm not proud of it. Really not proud of it. It involved genital punching. I don't want to talk about it. Sigh. I'm easy like Sunday morning.

So, Bad Santa? Sadly, you will not be knocking the immortal The Ref off top spot on Joel's "anti-holiday movies that are actually cleverly disguised pro-holiday movies" list. And if you don't think I have such a list, I say to you,"prove it, sucka!".

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Win One for The Looper

Because of my grace in allowing Tamar to pick Friday's movie, I was allowed free reign to pick a movie on Saturday night. I decided to cash in those "good will points" and make Tam watch something I thought she would like, but that she would almost certainly veto under normal circumstances. That's right people, it was time to dim the lights and watch the Bad News Bears !

This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. I think I honestly must have watched it 20 times or more.

The Bad News Bears stars Walter Matthau as Buttermaker, a washed up ex ballplayer who drinks too mmuch and cleans pools for a living. Tatum O'Neal plays a little girl with a killer fastball that he ropes into joining the team.

This movie is crude, but hilarious. If you think little kids swearing at each other is funny, you'll love the Bad News Bears. And if you don't, then I just don't understand you. Plus, (SPOILERS!!) --

..any movie where a ragtag group of misfits make it to the title game through a combination of hard work, creative play, and luck... only to lose to a better team, is a movie that I'm going to respect. Tam was completely fooled by this movie, she really thought that group of "booger-eating morons" was going to win the championship. Poor girl.

She admitted after the movie that she really liked it, although I think what she really liked was watching her 29-year old fiance choke back tears as Timmy Lupus finally made a catch. *sniff*
What, like you're so tough?! Leave me alone.

God bless you, Bad News Bears!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Late Night Sob-fest

So Tam and I watched a movie last night... The Way We Were. Clearly, this was not my pick, but in light of the fact that I dictate roughly 95% of the movies we watch, I didn't feel like I should squawk too loudly.

All-in-all, it wasn't too bad of a movie. It's a Streisand movie from before she went batshit crazy, and started insisting that the camera lens be slathered in vaseline every time it was pointed at her. She does her New Yawk hyper-active thing, but at least it was a defining characteristic, and not just needless scenery-chewing.

Robert Redford, however, comes off as errily wooden. He relies far too heavily on his amazingly white teeth (which are indeed very white), and doesn't seem to be very engaged in the story. He phones it in, which is not something I associate with Redford. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is one of my favorite movies, but in this movie he didn't connect. I can see how that might be intentional, given the storyline, but it damages the romantic narrative when one half of the couple outshines the other so completely. I was left wondering what the heck Katie was doing with Hubbell in the first place, and I can't believe that was the film's intention.

There was also a heavy-handed subplot dealing with the HUAC hearings, but it's used mostly as a tool to contrast Hubbell's passivity and compromise with Katie's passion and integrity. If you're looking for a movie about the Commie witchhunts, I'd go with the Front or the one Clooney's got coming out.

Tam liked this movie more than I did (not a shocker). I was surprised at how well it flowed, though. It seemed like a pretty short movie to me. The ending is a massive bummer, but you can see it coming from a mile away.

The movie does, however, feature a young, creepy James Woods, so bonus points awarded there.