Update

Greetings, Dear Readers!

Just wanted to let you know that I have been on vacation and otherwise engaged over the last couple of weeks, hence the shortage of new posts.  However, whilst the writing of reviews has temporarily ceased, the consumption of entertainment has not!  So rest assured, there are multiple reviews to be written that are waiting in the wings…

Keep an eye out for upcoming reviews on The Amazing Spiderman, Bernie, Magic Mike, and yes, even Katy Perry: Part of Me, to name just a few.

Hope you are all enjoying your summer and the entertainment summer has to offer!

~missy

Rock of Ages – Rocks You Like a Cheesy Hurricane

Who ever thought a cohesive narrative could be pieced together based on rock hits of the ’80’s?!  Well…it can’t.  Yes, the less than stellar ratings on Rotten Tomatoes should have been fair warning, BUT as a child of the 80’s, how could I resist checking it out?!  And insofar as the tunes are concerned, it was a fun (and nostalgic) trip down memory lane,  with 80’s classics ranging from ballads like Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”, Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is” and REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” to the hard-driving rock anthems such as Guns ‘n Roses’ “Paradise City”, Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock & Roll” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.  In addition, there are (deservedly so) multiple songs included by the likes of Journey, Pat Benatar, Styx and many more.  In that regard (along with the hairstyles and clothing), it was a bit like traveling back in time…to possibly the cheesiest decade in history.

Within the first 10-15 minutes, my (fellow child of the 80’s) friend and I were looking at each other with ambivalence, wondering aloud if this was going to be the biggest waste of an afternoon ever.  But then, an odd thing happened… It started to grow on us.  We laughed.  A lot.  Granted, half the time we were laughing because it was so bad, it was funny; the other half of the time because it actually was funny.  And frankly, it became harder and harder to decipher what was meant to be comedic and what wasn’t.  I began to wonder if it was really just ALL poking fun at itself ~ even in its more earnest, seemingly serious moments.  Regardless, I think the key was just giving ourselves over to the cheese.  Heck, the 80’s themselves were cheesy!  How could a movie exploiting them be anything but cheesy itself?  It just became a matter of embracing it in all its garish glory. Continue reading

Indie Love for Your Sister’s Sister

Your Sister’s Sister is just the kind of small, quiet, contained Indie movie that’s right up my alley.  I happened upon an interview with Writer/Director Lynn Shelton on Fresh Air the other night (this film is her sophomore effort, following 2009’s Humpday, also starring Mark Duplass) and my interest was piqued, by Shelton’s pleasant, unassuming nature, by the naturalistic dialogue i in the audio clips played from the film, and due to the three lead cast members ~ Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt ~ all of whom I like a great deal.  And so I treated myself to a Sunday morning matinée (my version of church).

Jack (Duplass) and Iris (Blunt) are best friends.  Iris sends Jack, who is still dealing with the emotional repercussions of the loss of his brother a year earlier, to her father’s cabin somewhere in the scenic Pacific Northwest in the hopes that some time away ~ and alone ~ will help him to “recharge”.  Upon his arrival, he finds he is not alone, as Iris’ half-sister, Hannah (DeWitt), is already there, escaping her own heartache.  After a comically rocky introduction, the two spend a tequila-fueled night discussing their problems…and then some.  Iris unexpectedly arrives the next morning and the inevitable complexities of the close-knit triangle ensue.  Continue reading

Moonrise Kingdom Rises & Falls

Whenever I see a Wes Anderson movie, I never know how I’m going to end up feeling about it.  Of those I’ve seen, I’ve loved some (Rushmore still takes the cake, in my opinion), loathed some (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), and have even been on the fence with others (The Royal Tenenbaums, which had elements I liked; others I didn’t).  Moonrise Kingdom managed to span from one end of that spectrum to the other all within its brief 90 minutes.

It started out on a high note, as I was instantly captivated by the fantastic opening credits sequence, which does a marvelous job of capturing the aura of the setting (1965 in a sleepy island called New Penzance somewhere off the New England coast) as well as of the characteristically eccentric characters ever-present in Anderson’s films.  The camera meanders through the charming home of the Bishops, from room to room, upstairs and down, observing the six family members as they go about their lazy late summer days at the aptly named “Summer’s End” cottage, all to the scratchy record strains of Benjamin Britten‘s “Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra“.  (Other of Britten’s work is visited elsewhere in the film.)  There is a story-book like quality to the whole sequence that I found clever, refreshing and a perfect introduction into the world of the Bishop family.  I felt I knew a little something about each of them before even a line of dialogue was spoken.  Its cartoon-like flavor even reminded me a bit of Anderson’s last feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox, his first foray into (stop-motion) animation (which I thoroughly enjoyed).

We are then introduced to the Khaki Scout Troop at Camp Ivanhoe, headed up by the somewhat inept, but well-meaning Scout Master Ward (played by Edward Norton), where we discover that one of the scouts has unexpectedly “flown the coop”, instigating the first of a series of search parties intended to recover the missing boy.  We soon learn that the escaped scout, Sam, and Suzy, the only daughter of the Bishops (played by Anderson regular Bill Murray alongside Frances McDormand), have, via pen-pal letters to one another, hatched a plan to run away together, setting forth on a series of adventures.  Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman play Suzy and Sam, respectively.  Hayward (who calls to mind a younger, American version of the lovely British actress Felicity Jones, who was so appealing in last year’s Like Crazy) is fabulous as the stern, “troubled” eldest Bishop child and Gilman’s Sam is a nerdy, yet confident and precocious orphan struggling to find his place.  The pair of loners form an unlikely and touching bond that develops into sweet, young first love.  The scenes between them as they embark on their adventures together (some amusingly reminiscent of the French New Wave film Jules et Jim) are mostly engaging and tender, particularly a scene on the beach when they dance in their underwear to Françoise Hardy and end up experimenting for the first time with kissing (and some modest feeling up).  It’s winning both in its innocence and its awkwardness.  The two young leads are a peculiarly endearing fit as the oddly matched young lovers (a term I use very loosely here). Continue reading

IRIS ~ Cirque du Soleil’s Exhilarating Look Through the Eye of the Camera

My beloved father recently came to visit me in L.A.  Prior to his trip, as I’d been wanting to see it, I asked if he’d have any interest in seeing IRIS, the Cirque du Soleil show currrently running here, to which he gamely replied “Let’s go to the circus!” 🙂 And so we did!

IRIS, (a reference to the human eye and a metaphor for the camera’s lens) is Cirque du Soleil’s homage to film ~ a “Journey Through the World of Cinema”.  It is an audio-visual feast for the senses, fittingly being performed in the heart of Hollywood at the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theater, the current home to the Academy Awards, just a stone’s throw from Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.  It is a beautiful theater in and of itself, and it is extra special to be IN the space where the Oscars are held.  It’s great fun to browse the larger-than-life black and white photos from Oscars past that adorn the walls outside the theater entrances…and it’s easy to imagine the buzz of excitement there when the halls are swarming with the film industry elite every February.

The rest of the year (and for the next 10 years to come!), it is home to the magical, mesmerizing ~ and magnificent ~ IRIS.  For anyone who has seen a Cirque du Soleil show, you know that Cirque takes “the circus” to a whole new level.  I’ve seen two other Cirque shows, including “O” in Las Vegas, (which is water-themed and also quite amazing), but this was my favorite yet.  While I acknowledge, film lover that I am, that the theme of this particular show may have had something to do with that, I’m confident one needn’t be a cinephile to fully enjoy and appreciate it!

It is a combination of many elements that serve to make IRIS the uniquely spellbinding spectacle it is.  Chief among them are the mind-boggling performers.  The level of strength, control and skill they exhibit is astonishing, whether they are working in conjunction with one another to build sculptural human towers with their incomprehensibly strong bodies, gliding through the air on swings or wires high above the audience, contorting their shockingly lithe bodies in ways you never dreamed possible (they may indeed be super-human ~ that, or their spines are made of rubber), or balancing the entire weight of their body on a 3″x5″ rectangle atop a post several feet off the ground.  It very often defies belief at the same time that it takes your breath away.  They make it look so effortlessly graceful, so deceptively easy (but we know better).  The acrobatics never fail to stun, stupefy and scintillate.  For the majority of the show, both my and my father’s eyes were wide with amazement, our jaws dropped in awe.  There are numerous sequences I could watch over and over.  Standouts include a set of trapeze-artist twins flying and swinging gracefully through the air above us, the Snake Women (see photo above ~ living versions of Gumby, if you recall his ability to bend into any imaginable shape), and perhaps my favorite of all, the Film Noir/ Rooftops segment that incorporates trampolines into a set of L.A. skyline rooftops that is some of the most captivating, innovative and energetic choreography I’ve ever seen. Continue reading

Hunger Pains

Hunger is not a film to be enjoyed, but to be appreciated…for its artistic merit and for its unflinching portrayal of a period in relatively recent history.  It is primarily the story of Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), one of the Irish Republican Army members imprisoned in the late 1970’s in Northern Ireland for “political terrorism” (a divisive and debated term in and of itself ~ Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher claimed there was no such thing as political terrorism, only criminal terrorism).  In 1981, Sands led a hunger strike in protest of the British Government’s refusal (under Thatcher’s rule) to grant the IRA prisoners political status as well as of its failure to acknowledge the prisoners’ requests for more humane prison conditions.

Director & Co-Writer Steve McQueen

Hunger is British visual artist Steve McQueen’s (not to be confused with the actor Steve McQueen) directorial debut.  (McQueen teamed again with Fassbender for last year’s Shame.)  He does a strikingly effective job of portraying the inhumane and brutal conditions that existed within the infamous Maze prison in Belfast, as well the ways in which both the prisoners and those working within the prison were effected by the politically-sparked unrest.  It is harrowing to watch…yet, at the same time, McQueen has his supremely artistic eye on exhibit in every single frame of the film.  It is a wonder to behold…you could quite honestly hit the pause button at any moment in the entire movie and see a work of art.  That he is able to make feces smeared on prison cell walls look like a painting is a revelation.

Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands

McQueen is masterful at putting you THERE, through a sort of naturalistic audio-visual language.  He uses virtually NO soundtrack in the film, other than the organic sounds within a scene.  The long silences speak volumes (you feel the time ticking away in those lonely, cold prison cells); they also serve to create a marked contrast for the uncontrolled noise that erupts at other times, making it that much more jarring and unnerving when it does (such as the rhythmic thumping of the batons the prison officers use to beat the prisoners). There are many long, static shots in which we are simply observers of whatever “happens to happen” within the frame, which truly does seem to mimic being there.  You can almost feel the chill and smell the stench of urine, feces and rotting food (which made me incredibly grateful I wasn’t there). Continue reading

Breaking Bad, Season 2 ~ Darker Days

If you read my Breaking Bad Season 1 review, you know how much I loved it.  In its second season, the AMC series’ episodes increase from 7 to 13 (the 2007-2008 Writer’s strike cut the first season short), meaning twice as many episodes for us fans to enjoy, which is a very good thing.  It also means twice as many episodes to produce, which makes it twice as challenging to come up with consistently spectacular episodes.  However, given that task, an especially tall order after such a phenomenal first season, creator and head writer Vince Gilligan and Company do a pretty damn impressive job of keeping the momentum and excellence of Season 1 going strong.

Now while I was still very much engrossed in the show over Season 2, without giving too much away (in case there is anyone else out there as behind as I am in this series), from the very start of the season, I had a much harder time maintaining the empathy I felt for Walt in Season 1.  His web of lies is so pervasive, it becomes almost tedious.  Even Jesse, in perfect Jesse form, says to him at one point “Yo, lie much?”  Furthermore, some of Walt’s choices become increasingly difficult to understand and therefore (morally) support.  I realize that as Walt gets ever more embroiled in his new “life of crime”, it is inevitable that the stakes grow and the deceits must increase in kind.  However, the argument that Walt is doing it all for the good of his family begins to lose steam when it is his very family who starts to suffer the consequences of his dishonesty and erratic behavior.  His home life seems to be crumbling around him, yet he carries on, either unaware of its deterioration (most notably his increasingly strained marriage) or so intoxicated by his newly-acquired “power” and earning acumen that he becomes blind to it.  Walt’s actions and behaviors start to spiral out of control to the point of seeming disrepair.  That said, while some of the changes in Walt’s character are disheartening (especially when the vicious, evil side of him begins to rear its ugly and frightening head), I also fully acknowledge that it is all in deference to the role of Walter White, who has to be one of the most complex, multi-layered characters in the history of television…and which Bryan Cranston continues to bat out of the park (as evidenced by his second consecutive Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama).

In contrast, Jesse (Walt’s “partner in crime”) becomes ever more appealing and sympathetic.  Aaron Paul seems to be the superstar of Season 2 ~ and is certainly given loads of fabulously rich material with which to shine, spanning from his usual comedic moments (numerous doozies of which exist in Season 2) to some incredibly meaty, emotionally intense storylines that are wrenching and raw and truly display the full range of his enormous talent.  (Incidentally, Paul received his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama for his work here.)  Season 2 becomes as much Jesse’s story as it is Walt’s.  And the ever-shifting dynamics of their relationship make for some of the funniest AND most moving scenes of the season.  As wildly different as their characters are from one another, they begin to develop a genuine and caring bond with one another.  In fact, I found myself far more interested and invested in the father-son-like relationship that begins to form between them than I was in the relationship between Walt and his biological son.  It’s fascinating to watch Walt and Jesse’s interactions and what each brings out in the other.  I continue to love the scenes between them more than any others.  One of my favorite episodes of the season, “4 Days Out”, is almost entirely comprised of Walt & Jesse alone together.  It is exceptional both in its comedic and its dramatic elements.  Furthermore, the timing of the episode is perfect, in that just as I was struggling ever more with Walt’s choices and beginning to question whether the series was going too far, the show redeems itself by addressing precisely what I’d been thinking and feeling though Walt (finally) expressing regrets (“I deserve this…I had it coming”), even acknowledging that he can no longer keep up with his own lies.  In turn, Jesse reminds him that everything he’s done, he’s done for his family.  It is an amazing – and necessary – episode with a stunningly effective ending that packs a powerful (and literal) punch. Continue reading