My Week 53: Magic Mike; Moonrise Kingdom

Magic Mike (Stephen Soderbergh, 2012)
If "Haywire" was so expertly crafted around the way Gina Carano moves, much of "Magic Mike" is crafted around the way Channing Tatum moves, and holy hell can that boy dance. Instead of Soderbergh's usual bait-and-switch using A-list casts with uniquely selected side players and tantalizing stories to lure audiences in to less-accessible-than-expected affairs (not that this tendency is a bad thing in my opinion, considering my thoughts on his prior three career-crowning features), The director strikes a perfect balance between his ever daring "indie" characteristics and his more crowd-pleasing mainstream sensibilities to create a film that really earns its merit as a spiritual successor to "Boogie Nights" (it hits just about all the same key plot points, becoming particularly good when it veers toward more bitter material) and a "girls' night" phenomenon. Of course the A-list cast is still present - after this whirlwind year Tatum is surely close to being considered as much, and meanwhile Matthew McConaughey delivers one of his better performances in an opporunity to one-up Matt Damon's notoriously hilarious "Late Show" immitation - and we have a unique cast of supporters indeed, from up-and-comers such as the superb Cody Horn to recognized faces like Gabriel Iglesias and Kevin Nash. And speaking of girls' nights, I do have a slight bit of a personal investment in this film now. I have been working around the clock to create a premiere event for the cinema I work for (the first of many - "The Dark Knight Rises" midnight premiere being the next), and so far it has been a major success (one more day to go!). Big thanks go out to my former editor-in-chief Julie Rabbani with Threads & Feathers, Pierre and Sexy D at Retro Fitness, Kurt and Matt our models, Danielle at NBC, Kathy, Alisa and Brittany at the local paper, and of course everyone I work with at the cinema for helping make this thing a hit. Thank goodness it's centered around a good movie!
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
Like his contemporaries - others of the young group that took the last decade by storm - Paul Thomas Anderson and Sophia Coppola, with his latest Wes Anderson seems to be taking a step of maturation. Thing is, while I do greatly like films like "There Will Be Blood" and "Somewhere", they don't represent what I like about their creators. Now, with precise blocking in carefully composed shots, signature dialogue stylings and parent/child themes directly relating to expression through material belongings, "Moonrise Kingdom" is very Wes, no doubt about it, but it seems to subdue what we love about the man's work in effort to find middle ground between his stranger (IE "The Life Aquatic") and more grounded offerings (IE "The Royal Tenenbaums"). I suppose it's cute that the film becomes an action/adventure flick (complete with Bruce Willis as the cop) only in the robes of a quaint Boy Scouts summer camp, and it is certainly not without its uniquely relatable moments of puppy love or affecting characterizations (Bill Murray's hopeless father as a standout), but upon first viewing "Moonrise Kingdom" is not, for me, in the realm of Wes' best. Then, that best is an immensely high standard to be held to.
Total: 2
Rewatches (3): The Darjeeling Limited (W. Anderson, 2007); Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete (Nomura, 2009); Rango (Verbinski, 2011)
Episodic Television (1): Up All Night (Pilot - Working Late & Working It)
- There seems no end to the repetition of new parent humor in entertainment media, but I've really got to hand it to "Up All Night" - something particularly relatable has been tapped in to here, generating winningly hilarious results for modern parents. Maya Rudolph continues to be one of the best comedic actresses working today.
Episodic Television Rewatches (3): 30 Rock (The Break-Up - MILF Island); Community (Basic Lupine Urology); Louie (Travel Day/South; Bully)


My Week 52: Shame

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
What can I say? From open to close I was utterly hooked - deeply involved in this gorgeous, gorgeous film and willing to go wherever it might take me. An instant favorite. If anyone asks what I look for in a movie, I can just answer, "Shame."
Further first-time viewings:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov, 2012)
What we have in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a film that never should have been more than an idea for the direct-to-DVD market. We have a film that doesn’t seem to know what to emphasize, what to merely imply and what to assume the audience already knows, that thereby leaves a vague semblance of an unworthy and often blindly backwards story amidst a monotonous onslaught of poor, in-your-face action and mislaid style. We have a film that wastes the solid talents of Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Alan Tudyk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson and Marton Csokas. If only the 100-minute running time felt as trim as it is. Up next: barrier-breaking baseball star fashions bat in to stake to battle nocturnal beasts in: “Chocked Full o’Guts: The Jackie Robinson Story”. Full review at Reel Time.
Total: 2
Rewatches (1): Haywire (Soderbergh, 2012)
Episodic Television (1): Community (A Fistful of Paintballs - Introduction to Finality)
- Even if season 3 of "Community" is a little more settled in to its groove and not as consistently excellent as S2, it has more than its share of highlights ("Basic Lupine Urology" being an instant fave). An observation: while at first I felt the characters were too vicious with one another for the sake of mean "humor" (a primary reason I did not continue watching after a few episodes when S1 first aired), as much of S1 focuses on each individual really does fill a key archetypal role that fleshes out a group-reliant social ecosystem... everything would be so honky-dory if they'd all quit projecting flawed ideas on one another.
Episodic Television Rewatches (3): 30 Rock (Pilot - Tracy Does Conan; Christmas Attack Zone; 100); Community (The Science of Illusion; Modern Warfare; Epidemiology); Futurama (Fry Am the Egg Man; The Tip of the Zoidberg)


My Week 51: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012)
In today's age, it seems a common feeling that most popular music of the 1980s is mockable novelty - a wave of kitsch now beneath us. I, for one, adore human spirit-championing hair metal and arena rock, and hearing that Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand were to star in a musical about that sadly lost era excited me greatly. The joyous "Rock of Ages" pays off on its premise in spades, celebrating the simultaneously unifying and individualizing power of '80s rock by holding it on high to be marveled at and enjoyed by all. "Why can't life be more like this," I think to myself while rocking out in my seat to a bunch of 20-somethings spontaneously seething as one to "Jukebox Hero" (given an awkward medley with "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" sung in part by a Brand who looks more like Joan Jett than Kristen Stewart did in "The Runaways"). Then the climax hits, but the movie never ends; it goes on, and on, and on, and on. You see, until after that early climax, "Rock of Ages" was never about story. Until after that climax "Rock of Ages" was about the music, and I couldn't have cared less that it was framed by the most clichéd clichés possible. A shift occurs, however, where the film wants us to really care about its frail stories, and here does it enter a realm of tedium. Plenty of fun remains to be had, yet it is sullied by rote and fraying yarns about censorship and puppy love. Dwelling on positives, the aforementioned trio indeed walks away with the show with Cruise's Frank Mackey-ish caricature of a headlining rocker being worth every ounce of anticipation and Baldwin getting perhaps the film's highest highlight early on as he croons the bridge to Poison's "Nothing But a Good Time". There are also a handful of surprises tossed in with what is essentially a greatest-of-the-greatest hits checklist chocked full of Foreigner, Twisted Sister and Journey, etcetera. Not that I have anything against Foreigner, Twisted Sister and Journey, mind you. On the contrary! It's just nice when a little Night Ranger and Skid Row can shine amongst the heavier heavies - otherwise it's all too expected.
Total: 1
Rewatches (3): Haywire (Soderbergh, 2012); Prometheus (Scott, 2012); The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
- I can't believe I didn't latch on to the groovy '70s-esque score of "Haywire" upon my first viewing. It is just one of the aspects that make Soderbergh's ode to Gina Carano one of the best of the director's career and one of the very best of the year thus far. Great, inspiring stuff, with some thrilling set pieces.
- A second viewing of Prometheus makes some of what can be labeled its narrative flaws more apparent, and also invalidates many of my theories, justifications and questions (those who recall the plot's details well would probably wonder what I was smoking when explaining these ideas and ponderings on the podcast). I'd like to think I was overwhelmed enough by the technical achievements on display that I failed to take note of important images or lines of dialogue. Additionally, certain scenes and subplots could have stood to be cut entirely, as well, without any impact to the overall piece. Makes me wonder even more what the impending extended cut has in store. Though my view of the film may be simplified now thanks to the revisit's gift of clarification, I still greatly enjoyed it and feel that dwelling in some of these narrative nitpicks would prevent me from fully marveling at how impressive the film is in so many ways. Really hoping for a sequel.
- Despite my negative opinions of "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight", the marketing campaign for "The Dark Knight Rises" has somehow managed to make me optimistic about this final outing for Nolan's take on the caped crusader. I figured I'd revisit "The Dark Knight" with this newfound optimism. Didn't work; movie's still terrible. It has some ideas that intermittently threaten to make it interesting, but they are accomplished in the most boring and technically dry ways.
Episodic Television (1): Community (Romantic Expressionism - Conspiracy Theories & Interior Design; Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas - Applied Anthropology & Culinary Arts)
- At long last I may finally be colored a "Community" enthusiast. I had seen 5 episodes on NBC before, but clearly I hadn't seen the right ones. Season 1 does take a while to hit its groove, and the characters still work to fill types in various stories rather than become living people we truly care about but this is per the progressively ingenius model of the show. Following the suit of what is far and away S1's best episode, "Modern Warfare" (though there are several other winners to be found in the season's latter half), S2 has been thoroughly brilliant with genre-benders like "Epidemiology" in which survival horror films are energetically honored, and mind-benders like "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" in which we view a meta imagination and are left to imagine the understood-to-be-false reality (trust me, it makes sense). And that's not to leave out other great episodes such as "Accounting for Lawyers", "Basic Rocket Science", "Messianic Myths & Ancient Peoples", "Aerodynamics of Gender" and "Cooperative Calligraphy". So, in short, I'm glad I finally quit resisting based on a handful of mediocre-to-poor episodes displaying a seemingly invalid cleverness that just came off as lazy, and gave "Community" a shot, because it's proving extremely well worth the while as it goes forth.
Episodic Television Rewatches (2): 30 Rock (The Moms - Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish); Community (Mixology Certification)
- It remains highly watchable, but "30 Rock" really feels fatigued in its 5th season, particularly toward the beginning. Nothing against the live episode and the 100th episode, of course. This fatigue seems to carry over in to the little of S6 that I've caught, but I will need to catch up soon to see how things go.
NIFF screening committee films I'm not allowed to talk about: 3


My Week 50: Prometheus

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
How exhilarating to see such an accomplishment on the big screen in excellent 3D (perhaps surpassing "Hugo" as the most impressive since "Resident Evil: Afterlife" and certainly the most immersive since "Avatar"), and how refreshing to see it playing in the extreme mainstream despite its merely minor and fleeting passes at attempting to carry "common audiences" through its thoroughly bold journey. With atmospheric echoes of the first act of Żuławski's incredible "On the Silver Globe", this expertly designed and superbly acted vision of innovative future technology and deeply intelligent sci-fi fantasy (this decade's "Minority Report"?) coats the viewer in a persistent sweat and doesn't let up until well after the credits have rolled. Exemplary quality is at awe-inspiring work in every technical and creative aspect from open to close, including astoundingly intricate and signature production design (including some yonic imagery surely geared to balance the notoriously phallic nature of "Alien") mind-blowingly original visual effects that flesh out the all-around breathtaking visuals, and an ensemble full of solid performances topped of course by Michael Fassbender's endearing yet eerie naïveté as the android David. I can see where the disconnect might be with many who are emerging disappointed with the technically ultra-cohesive picture. Where, say, "2001: A Space Odyssey" deals with similar questions about humanity using similar elements, it can come across as mysterious yet is directly applicable to any perception of the reality we explicitly relate to because we live it every day. The unanswered questions become satisfying through the inference of a world we are already familiar with. Contrarily, "Prometheus" fantasizes a creation theory practically implausible by today's science, its answers reliant on forms of narrative exposition. Certain aspects are up for interpretation, but only relative to the world they exist in, making the mystery a potential frustration with finite right and wrong ways of looking at it. Still, the film refrains from overreaching as it could so easily have done considering its concept, choosing to thrive on a more "Star Trek"-esque vibe that wisely sticks to a few primary locations in one general area as opposed to planet-hopping or developing connected Earth-based story threads, and ultimately the remaining mystery works. In short, unless you prefer your sci-fi with giant exploding semitruck-bots and the like, see "Prometheus" right now. It basically devoured my soul and vomited it back in to my brain through my eyeballs. In a good way.

Total: 1

Rewatches (1): Rocky II (Stallone, 1979)

Episodic Television (1): Community (Introduction to Film - Interpretive Dance)
- Finally do I give the cult sitcom sensation "Community" the ol' college try (beyond the spare lackluster episodes I'd seen when it premiered). I cannot say I'm loving it in its first season (from what I hear it becomes genre-bendingly excellent later) but I can say that although the self-awareness isn't as clever as it thinks it is I do appreciate some of the technical aspects of the writing, Chevy Chase's Pierce is consistently funny (not to say other characters are without their moments) and Alison Brie is possibly the hottest thing on the planet.

Episodic Television Rewatches (4): Parks & Recreation (Flu Season; The Debate), 30 Rock (St. Valentine's Day - Argus), Futurama (I, Roommate; Brannigan, Begin Again; A Bicyclops Built for Two; Amazon Women in the Mood; Bendin' in the Wind; Godfellas; Future Stock; Love & Rocket; Spanish Fry; Rebirth; Attack of the Killer App; The Duh-Vinci Code; Reincarnation), Community (Pilot; Spanish 101)

NIFF Screening Committee films I'm not allowed to talk about yet: 4


My Week 49: Snow White & the Huntsman

Snow White & the Huntsman (Rupert Sanders, 2012)
Though it may experience pacing issues that prevent it from consistently involving and lack a worthy score that could have helped it achieve comparability to "The Lord of the Rings", the never patronizing "Snow White & the Huntsman" should provide all types with something to feast their eyes on. The production draws inspiration from many places, from Emmanuel Lubezki to Han Solo, and displays occasionally lovely cinematography, lavishly intricate costume design and often astoundingly realistic visual effects. Charlize Theron creates a bitterly sympathetic antagonist - albeit one with a wonky accent - while Kristen Stewart delivers what could be her best performance yet as a Snow White who, in a nice allusion to Walt Disney's seminal classic, can "talk" with creatures of the forest. An ultimately rewarding if moreover middling piece of entertainment, "Snow White & the Huntsman" is the best cinematic telling of the legend this reviewer has seen, and certainly warrants further adventures with its characters.
Total: 1
Rewatches (2): Boogie Nights (P.T. Anderson, 1997); The Beast with A Billion Backs (Avanzino, 2008)
Television Rewatches: Parks & Recreation (Go Big or Go Home); 30 Rock (SeinfeldVision - The Collection; Episode 210 - The One with the Cast of Night Court; Generalissimo; Goodbye, My Friend); Futurama (Again, as opposed to attempting to list all the episodes I've watched and watched again, I'll simply state I've been watching far too much of this program to be healthy)