November 7, 2011

Weekend In Reviews

It doesn't take much to make me happy. I like cold weather, warm clothes, yummy food, good books, and TV and movies of varying levels of quality.  This weekend made me very, very happy. 

Chicken Tortilla Soup - I make the best chicken tortilla soup in the world. You don't have to believe me but it's true.  And nothing tastes better on a cold, grey, rainy day than a big bowl of soup.  Thick with chicken, hominy, black beans, tomatoes, and corn.  Spicy and hearty, topped with sour cream, cheese and tortilla strips.  My mouth is watering just talking about it.

Mockingjay - If you haven't read the Hunger Games series of books by Suzanne Collins, you're missing out on something really special. I don't believe I've ever read anything that so captured my imagination and my heart. Collins' writing style is economically vivid and emotionally intense without being manipulative. Mockingjay, the third and final book in the series, was my favorite. It was a satisfying, if heartbreaking end to the story of Katniss Everdeen and the country of Panem as well as an exciting adventure in its own right. 

Every book in the series brought me to tears but none more than this. With happiness, with grief, with worry and with relief I wept for these characters whose fates I genuinely cared about. 

I read these books because the people who had read them before me seemed to love them so much.  Because the casting for the movie had people so vocal. Because I have heard from so many different people how fantastic they were.  That's the sort of buildup that can lead to disappointment.  When you go in expecting something truly amazing it is often impossible for the product to live up to the hype.  My every expectation was met and, in fact, exceeded. I will now recommend these books, above all others, to everyone I know.

Prom - I love me some high school-set romcoms. Actually, if you make a movie or a TV show that involves teenage romance in any way, I will watch it at least once. And the chances are solid that I'll end up loving it on some level no matter how bad it is. 

Prom is not bad. Prom is just...not good. The movie follows a handful of random people in the weeks leading up to their senior prom. Nothing special about it necessarily. The main focus of the narrative is Nova (Aimee Teegarden), the head of the prom committee, who's somewhat obsessed with throwing the "perfect" prom. When the boy she likes asks her to go "as a friend" and then bails, she ends up falling for misunderstood bad-boy Jesse (Thomas McDonell).

Other stories include the nerdy stoner kid and the girl who doesn't believe he's bringing the "Canadian" "girlfriend" he's told her about; the prom queen finds out her king is cheating on her with a gullible sophomore and dumps him, going to prom alone, looking gorgeous, and showing teenage girls everywhere that you do not need a boy to be awesome. Especially if he's a cheating dickhead; the kid who never bothered to make friends in school who's determined to take this last chance and asks nearly every girl to be his date before taking his step sister; the perfect couple who end up fighting when she acts weird rather than just tell him that she isn't going to college with him as they planned; and the sophomore boy with a crush on the king's strumpet-on-the-side. 

The movie had a metric ton of shit going on and it mostly did a fine job weaving it all together but it seemed to me like it all could have been more interesting if it weren't trying to squeeze it into the 2 hours a movie provides.  This would have made a much more interesting ABC Family series than a movie.

Take Me Home Tonight - I guess it's a post-college, transitioning-to-adulthood, coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the mid-'80s but mostly it was one '80s pop culture reference and pop hit after another that made a fine 90 minute soundtrack to doing laundry and dusting. 

Topher Grace is reliably cute and likable and Chris Pratt was funny, slightly douchey, and completely idiotic in that way that he has which is impossible not to enjoy. But Anna Faris was practically a non-entity, Teresa Palmer was blandly forgettable, and Dan Fogler was unappealing bordering on appalling.

The movie seemed to want to be a throwback to the Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science days but it only made me miss John Hughes, who didn't have to try this hard to be entertaining.  Like the story that Faris and Pratt repeat several times during the film, Take Me Home Tonight is intended to be funny but comes off redundant and tired. Skip it and watch the three I just mentioned instead. Maybe throw Can't Buy Me Love in for good measure because who doesn't enjoy the African Anteater Ritual, you guys? Come on.

Something Borrowed - Where to begin? I don't recall ever watching a movie with such loathsome characters. From the very start of the movie, when Kate Hudson's Darcy is throwing Ginnifer Goodwin's Rachel a birthday party, I was filled with rage. Darcy is repellently full of herself, obnoxious, rude, and not at all self-aware. She repeatedly mentions how attractive she is and why she "totally gets" people loving her.  When her best friend Rachel quickly falls into bed with Darcy's fiance, Dex (Colin Egglesfield), I didn't feel bad for Darcy at all but I also didn't think much of Dex for having dated and gotten engaged to Darcy in the first place.

In theory, I guess we're supposed to find Rachel the most likable because she's the self-deprecating, nice-girl heroine but...not so much. She has spent a lifetime humoring Darcy and letting her have everything she wants. Having horrible friends means you either don't think enough of yourself to believe you deserve better friends or that you're secretly horrible yourself. And she's been mooning over her best friend's boyfriend since before Darcy and Dex even met. That's not uncommon in romcoms but in this case, Dex was so obviously into Rachel (as we're repeatedly shown in flashbacks) but Rachel's non-existent self esteem made her believe that he could never like her over Darcy so when Darcy showed up and flirted, Rachel practically FORCED the two of them to date.  Dex gave her numerous opportunities to pick up the hints that he'd rather be with her but she willfully ignored them all.  It's hard to like someone who doesn't like herself at all.

Still, of the three of these people, Rachel might be the most affable because in addition to carrying on a years-long romance with a wretched beast of a woman he doesn't seem to even remotely like, Dex also doesn't have the balls to live his own life or make a single decision that his father doesn't dictate for him. I don't care what he looks like, I can't find a spineless man attractive. Especially not one who'd rather cheat on his fiance/wife forever than admit he doesn't love her, or want to marry her just to mollify his parents.

Once they've front-loaded the picture with the worst people you can imagine, you meet the secondary characters - Marcus (Steve Howey) is a douchey, frat-rat type who thinks "charming" and "vile" are the same thing. He's full of himself, too loud, and just plain too much.  How does he fit into the picture? He's a friend of Dex's. Ew. Claire (Ashley Williams) is Darcy's friend who can not take the hint that Ethan (John Krasinski) is not interested in her. She is up in his face, she's all over him, she's gross and clueless.  Ethan has been friends with Rachel and Darcy since they were all children though it's pretty clear that Darcy and Ethan merely tolerate each other the way you tolerate that awful cousin you are forced to see at family holiday gatherings.

Ethan is likable. He's funny and charming and normal when everyone around him is the worst kind of fake and put-on. He's the only person in the entire movie who deserves better. He deserves better friends, better love interests, a better life and a MUCH MUCH better movie.

It wasn't just that I didn't care what happened to these characters - whether or not Dex dumped Darcy for Rachel or married her and lived a miserable, loveless life; whether Rachel found happiness with Dex or continued believing that she didn't deserve love; whether Darcy ever learned how to love someone without making every bit of the relationship all about her - it was that I actively wanted terrible things to befall these characters.  I wanted Dex to be alone, miserable and loveless forever. I wanted Rachel to settle for someone awful that she would never love who would never love her because that's all she thought she deserved. I wanted Darcy to be hit by a bus.  I hated these people and even now, a day later, I am angry that this movie exists and that I've seen it.

And goddammit, if John Krasinski is cast in another movie wherein he does NOT get the girl, I'm going to fucking riot.

Party Down Season 1 - Like Veronica Mars minus the drama plus extra comedy and foul language, this show was a gem that's just different enough to be strange without being absurd.

The characters are sketches based in a darker reality than most comedies venture into and most of the humor comes from misery rather than levity. Adam Scott and Martin Star are outstanding straight-man comedic actors who can be in the middle of the most ridiculously humorous moment without ever cracking a smile, Ken Marino and Jane Lynch excel at being the wacky, insane butt of the joke, and Ryan Hanson is simply adorable as the well-meaning, good looking, semi-doofus. Lizzy Caplan, for my money, is perhaps the least compelling member of the cast but that might be because her character has the least to do. Sometimes being the love interest when everyone else gets to be funny is the worst job there is.

So far, nearly every episode has featured a Veronica Mars alumnus (or, rather, an additional alumnus besides the three that star in the show), giving me a burst of joy with every familiar face because Veronica Mars is a show that I love so much I literally want even the smallest bit players to be wildly successful.  I look forward to laughing my way through the second season before being disappointed in the state of television that yet another terrific show was gone too soon. Sigh.

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