January 4, 2010

Holidays in Reviews

The holidays are over and I'm going to stop spending my work days napping at my desk and get back to spending my time at work posting on my personal blog like I should be. So let's talk about all the things that I read and watched over my holiday hiatus.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Betty Smith) - An excellent book. I really enjoyed both the story and the writing. A book worthy of being called a classic, I thought that all of the characters were compelling and multi-faceted so as not to seem like simply the story of a little girl struggling with poverty in the early 20th century but rather the reality of life for a great many people in that place, at that time as told through the eyes of one girl and her family. For all the ways that life was incredibly different 100 years ago, there are so many other ways that it is just the same. I was struck by how many pederasts there were in the book - the junk man who pinched the little girls, the candy store owner who took girls into the back room, the school principal who made the boys take down their pants when they were spanked but let the girls keep their clothes on, and the child rapist and murderer - because people so often make the argument that the problem of pedophilia is bigger now than ever before. Judging by the number of them that Francie came into contact with in the 17 years that this book spans, I'd have to guess that the problem is just as big as it ever was and merely receives more publicity with each passing year.

Four Christmases - I watched this one the weekend after Christmas and in the 9 or so days that have passed since then, I've mostly forgotten everything about it. I think that pretty aptly demonstrates why this one gets a big fat "meh" from me. The thing is, I actually really like Vince Vaughn and his whole shtick which, let's face it, is essentially the same in most of his movies (the only one I've seen where he dialed the shtick way down was A Cool Dry Place which, incidentally, is a movie I really like) and I guess it would have been fine here too but for the complete lack of chemistry with Reese Witherspoon (who, like Vaughn, was fine on her own) and a series of ridiculous, boring and pointless scenes that added up to nothing in the end. That said, I probably will think of Vince Vaughn every time I hear the word swaddle from now on.

Extract - I wanted to like this because I love Jason Bateman as well as nearly everyone else in the supporting cast, especially J.K. Simmons, Kristen Wiig and Clifton Collins Jr. But unfortunately this movie was just a whole lot less funny than the sum of it's parts should have been. Bateman was as delightful as he always is, Simmons and Wiig probably could have been given more to do but Collins was great. David Koechner and Beth Grant were terrific. Mila Kunis was tasked only with being attractive and she can certainly hold up her end of that bargain, so there isn't much to say about that. Ben Affleck was pretty good as the stoner friend and Dustin Milligan was downright funny as the moronic gigolo. Matt Shulze probably would have been forgettable in his microscopic role as the dealer if not for the fact that I noticed for the first time that he's insanely hot. See? All the parts are great but they came together into a mostly uninteresting 90 minutes.

All About Steve - Well, having developed a crush on Bradley Cooper during his tenure as Will on Alias and possessing eyes capable of appreciating his exceptional attractiveness, I can say that I understand why a person might become instantly smitten if set up on a blind date with him. However, there are no circumstances under which I can fathom how anything else that happens in this movie could possibly come to pass. Sandra Bullock's Mary has a genius IQ and apparently no common sense whatsoever. She never stops talking and she never misses an opportunity to show those around her how much smarter she is than them. So, Mary takes one look (literally) at Steve (Cooper) on their blind date and instantly decides that she's in love with him. Just as they've gotten into the car outside of her parents house to start their date, she jumps on him, rips his clothes off and starts to have her way with him. Because he's a man and Mary looks like Sandra Bullock, he's into it...until she just will not shut up and begins to really freak him out. That's when he halts the proceedings with a faked phone call from work, gets her out of the car with some faux niceties and drives away. After that 4 minute date, she proceeds to stalk him around the country. The part of the story that makes perfect sense to me is when, in the end, Mary and Steve do not end up together. The only thing about this movie that I genuinely liked was DJ Qualls. If you haven't seen this yet, skip it. Trust me.

State of Play - A perfectly adequate movie that probably should have been a good movie had it not been just a little too pleased with itself. Ben Affleck is surprisingly perfect as a US Congressman (Stephen Collins) whose lover is killed forcing him to enlist the help of his college roommate, journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe). The murder turns out to be tied to the murders of at least two other people and then to a Blackwater-esque company that former war hero Collins is presently interrogating in a Congressional hearing aimed at deciding whether or not to keep throwing money at the company while simultaneously not holding them accountable for their many atrocities. Cal tries, much to the chagrin of editor Helen Miren, to help Collins but eventually has to team up with fellow reporter (or rather blogger) Rachel McAdams to get to the bottom of what the hell is going on. I didn't mind the added bit of drama that came from a past affair between Cal and Collins's wife (Robin Wright-Penn) but a red herring that actually wasn't with the final twist that everyone was guilty in some way seemed a bit unnecessary as did the pregnancy revelation that begat the final twist. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed Jason Bateman's cameo as the sleazy pimp-like friend of the deceased. It reminded me ever-so-slightly of the weird lawyer he played in Smokin' Aces, though I'm not entirely sure why.

(500) Days of Summer - I really, really liked this movie. The slightly disjointed back-and-forth of the timeline was, at first, a little bothersome for me but eventually I began to appreciate how it added to the comedy. It isn't a love story and there is no happy ending except that it actually is a love story and there is a happy ending - though perhaps not in the way that movie goers are used to. While the character of Summer is meant to be both a pure delight and easily loved she's also not terribly hard to dislike if, like me, you have completely fallen for Tom Hanson during the course of the movie. Fortunately they've cast Zooey Deschanel as Summer and it's virtually impossible to believe that Summer did anything maliciously because Deschanel's portrayal of her is so sweet, honest and un-phony. The best thing (in a sea of great things) about the movie is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I know I've mentioned my affection for him before and have noted here how much I've enjoyed him in other movies but this is the movie that has prompted me to fill my NetFlix queue with all of his movies that I've not yet seen because he's so fantastic and so incredibly cute. I don't understand how Summer managed not to fall in love with him. I changed my mind...I think I love this movie.

That's it for movies (I think) but I also watched a smattering of TV shows, though nothing necessitating a review. Oh, but as long as I've got you here, I do want to air a grievance - on one of the DVDs I watched this weekend was a trailer for Smokin' Aces II. A prequel to the ridiculously violent Smokin' Aces that features one of the assassins from the first movie as well as a whole passel of mew ones all out to kill one guy...again. Here's what chafes my hide - the movie was called Smokin' Aces because the assassins were all out to kill - or "smoke," if you will - Buddy Aces. So if they're all out to kill - or "smoke" - another guy entirely, shouldn't it be called Smokin' Another Guy Entirely rather than Smokin' Aces II?

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