Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Smart and Stupid

I did a movie night this week and saw two very different films: Smart People and Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay. I liked both films, but for very different reasons.

First, H&K. Well, what can I say about a film that includes some seriously base toilet humor even before the opening credits, but then goes on to have tons of smart political satire. I suppose the clearest thing I can say is: I laughed embarrassingly loudly a few times. Hard to argue with that. I feel like I can't say much about this film without spoilers... but just wait until George Bush comes onto the scene. Killed me. And Neil Patrick Harris on the unicorn. Too funny.

Smart People I liked, too, but didn't work quite as well, even though it's probably the "better" film. It's a story of a decidedly dysfunctional family and a woman who comes into their lives, and in spite of some occasional dark humor, it was so not a comedy. Not at all. Once again, I think the ads and trailers for this film have been misleading. They were hoping, I'll bet, to get some of the audience from Juno to come out, just because Ellen Page is in it.

And Ellen Page was fabulous. And in a character very different from Juno, but just as believable. Thomas Hayden Church was great, too, and well cast. And I think the film was well written. There were four distinct character arcs and an overall storyline linking them (the lead character's arc), and it fit well, together. My problem was in the casting of the two other main characters. And I'd be willing to guess the filmmaker had pressure to cast "names" in these parts whether or not they were right for the parts. (Anyone watch Project Greenlight?)

Sarah Jessica Parker was fine, but too old for her part. Something didn't make sense about that and it kept bugging me. She was supposed to be 10 years past her undergrad days... no, ten years past being a freshman. And sorry, Jessica, it's more like 20.

But the bigger problem for me was Dennis Quaid. And I LOVE Dennis Quaid. But I just couldn't believe him playing an intellectual.

Some actors can pull off portraying characters who regularly use words the actor doesn't know the meaning of... but Dennis isn't one of them. He was supposed to be pompous and highly intelligent. And he flipped between sloppy and lethargic, to channeling his performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire. Maybe that's the only pompous he can do. Talented pompous. He sure didn't pull off academic pompous.

This would have been an entirely different film if Jeff Daniels had been cast in that role. At least he's the first actor who popped into my mind, probably because of his role in The Squid and the Whale, which you should see if you haven't. Rent it. Or perhaps even if the two males were reversed. Yes, sure, Hayden Church does an amazing slacker. We know that. And he was good in this film. But I expect he could have played the professor, too, and lord knows Quaid would have done a good slacker. But the professor part was the "lead" so they cast Quaid and I think that's what made this film less than stellar. Oh, now that I wrote that, I am CONVINCED that reversing the male casting would have made a better film. I don't want to post a huge spoiler... warning... but the Ellen Page character hits on her uncle (played by Hayden Church) and this, too, would've been even more believable if it had been Quaid playing the part. What girl (even a seventeen year old) could resist his devilish (even in his fifties) grin.

Plus, as I said... Sarah Jessica Parker was supposed to be way too young for Quaid and, yes, she's at least 10 years younger than him in real life, but I expect the screenwriter wrote a film intending there to be more like 20 years between those two characters. Casting just didn't work.

At least not for me. Your mileage may vary. But I sound like I didn't enjoy it. I did, mostly.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Card counting and eyelashes

Well, I went to see the film 21 tonight. I actually wanted to see SMART PEOPLE, but got drawn in by the promise of looking at Jim Sturgess' eyelashes for 90 minutes. The eyelashes did not disappoint.

The film, on the other hand, did.

I feel like I've seen this exact story before, I'd even guess the film I'm thinking of was based on the same book, but I can't seem to remember the name of the film. It might have been a made for TV thing just shown in Canada. Ah, I finally found it on IMDB. The Last Casino. It did have virtually the same plot. And was a made for TV Canadian movie.

But my point... is the overall plot didn't fascinate me. And I had trouble with the motivation for the Kevin Spacey character, and perhaps the Larry Fishburne one, too, and the so-called romantic sub-plot was extremely poorly developed. Why even freaking bother?

The other thing was I just couldn't stop thinking about the entire card-counting phenomenon and this idea that people who do it get beaten up. Okay, I am fully aware that I am completely ignorant of how things work in Vegas, and I am not completely ignorant of the fact that organized crime is or at least has been involved in Vegas... But I also know that the gaming commission or whatever they are called are fairly strict... And not all the cops in Vegas can be corrupt. So that's where I take issue with these stories. Card counting isn't against the law. It isn't even cheating. It's just playing the game of blackjack extremely well, at a level most of us could never hope to. (And at a level where the player has an advantage over the casino.) So... if someone gets beaten for counting cards... wouldn't they just go to the cops? They didn't do anything wrong. The people who assaulted them did. It just doesn't make sense to me.

And even Jim Sturgess' eyelashes couldn't distract me from this.

Speaking of eyelashes... I'm in the middle of watching tonight's episode of LOST (have the DVR on pause) and looking at the actor who plays Ben, I am so glad I'm a girl. Why you ask? Because I can wear mascara and eyeliner to help disguise the fact I have transparent eyelashes. He can't. Too bad. He might look less freaky with eyelashes, and stronger eyebrows, too. But I guess while playing this Ben character, freaky is kind of the point.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Okay, I'm so not a cat person, but I must be an engineer geek person because this really cracked me up. It's kind a long.. But very funny.

I think I'm a bit in love with the one named Paul. Do you think he's single? Of course he's single. **Maureen slaps head** He's an engineer who owns 3 cats. Paul, if you can lose the cats, call me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stop-Loss and In the Valley of Elah

I saw Stop-Loss last week and what it really got me thinking about (in addition to the obvious political questions) was why In the Valley of Elah didn't 100% work.

I am a huge fan of Paul Haggis, was so excited to see this film in the program book for the TIFF last year, and was thrilled to get a ticket to the premiere.

But the film didn't thrill me like I'd hoped it would. It's not that I didn't like it. It's not like the performances weren't excellent. It's not like it didn't have a powerful message, and it's not like the film didn't make me think afterwards...

But, something just didn't gel for me, like it had with Crash, a film of Haggis's that I love, love, loved.

And watching Stop-Loss that has a different but similar topic, I think I might have figured it out. The main characters in Stop-Loss are soldiers. The ones things are happening to. The ones who have served proudly, are ready to get out, and are dragged back in via a back-door draft. The ones who come home from Iraq violent and addicted to drugs or alcohol and generally messed up. War does that.

In In the Valley of Elah, the film was seen through the eyes of Tommy Lee Jones' character and secondarily through the Charlize Theron's. Tommy Lee Jones plays the father of a returned vet killed after returning home, and Theron a cop who helps him investigate the crime when the army ignores him and writes it off as a drug deal gone bad (which, of course, it so wasn't). Looking at the story through the eyes of a parent was an interesting way to take a look at the syndrome of young men turning into monsters when they return from war. (Certainly nothing new to this particular war.) But while it was an interesting way to do it, I'm not sure it was the most compelling way, the best storytelling choice.

, on the other hand, is told from the soldiers' points of view. In the Valley of Elah was based on a true story and I think Haggis might have done better to pick one of the soldiers involved, (or even create a fictional character to add to the group if none of the actual boys were sympathetic enough), and to tell the story through those eyes.
Not that the heartbreak of a father learning what his son has done and seen and gone through isn't heart wrenching... But I think it was more emotionally engaging to actually put ourselves in the soldiers' shoes.

Don't know... One way or another, both films are worth seeing. But I think Stop-Loss was the stronger of the two. Good performances. A subject all Americans, for sure, should know about. And it's not unpatriotic or even anti-war... It simply comes out against forcing people to do something -- particularly something dangerous and traumatic -- against their wills.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Fallen out of love

Okay, so my David Cook infatuation may have come to an end. I'm fickle that way. One bad performance -- he's out.

I hated his performance. The beginning was way too low for his voice... And I hated what he was wearing... Simon said he looked pretentious. I just thought he looked femme. And not in a good way. Yuck.

I also don't understand what the judges see in David Archuleta. Except maybe for the last fifteen seconds of the song... he sounded like what he is -- a little kid trying to do a Robbie Williams impression and sounding like a total amateur.

Why the hell do the judges want him to win? (which they so seem to) Do they really think people will buy the records he makes? I don't get it. Not at all. Then again, I'm not a 12-year-old girl... Perhaps his target audience. But even 12-year-old girls like their music to be more poppy and less schmaltzy, don't they? Maybe his target audience is actually eighty-year-old women. I'm not one of those, either.

Anyone a fan of his? What am I not getting? (And why am I watching American Idol anyway...)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spring has sprung

Critique partner and very good buddy Molly O'Keefe guest blogged about Spring Fever over on The Debutante Ball yesterday, well, today... but it's late in the day, now. But it wasn't only her funny blog post that got me thinking about spring. It was the weather. :-)

It's been in the double digits (Celsius) since Friday or Saturday in Toronto and boy is it welcome this year. What a crappy winter. While we had very few super-cold days, we had so, so, so much snow... I didn't hear in the end if we broke the previous record held by the infamous winter of 1938-39 (everyone remember that one? LOL), but we came close.

So temps in the teens were very, very welcome. And I took advantage. In addition to raking the 4 inches of oak leaves off my garden over the weekend, tonight I started an outdoor exercise class. A week or so ago, when I realized my bootcamp started in April I figured they'd have to cancel or move it inside, because, well, outside was still buried in snow. How quickly things change.

Today was a warm day... I was walking around in short sleeves midafternoon, but once the sun started to get low in the sky, the clouds came in, and it got really chilly. And yes, that was just in time for my "bootcamp" class to start at 7:00 pm. (An aside: very surreal to be doing crunches at the base of the CN Tower... I wonder what our doggie leg-lifts looked like from the observation decks in the tower?)

But I survived. I just hope it doesn't get really nasty again. Not sure I'm up for bootcamp in temps closer to freezing... (Fingers crossed.)

Here's hoping it's spring where you are -- which, unless you live in the southern hemisphere and it's fall -- or maybe in parts of the northern US midwest or in Northern Canada, or Alaska, or Siberia... I'm sure it is.

Happy spring, everyone!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Does this giraffe print make me look taller?

I've never been a huge fan of animal prints for clothing or decor. Can't really explain why. I know lots of people who can pull them off, but for me they either look really retro and cool or really trashy... and it's a fine line I've never felt brave enough to walk. Thinking about it, my aversion makes no sense. Why is making a print inspired by the coats of animals any stranger than say flowers or fruit or paisley?

But shopping a while ago I was desperate for a new top that was not too casual but not too dressy and tried on this bright blue and black top in a haphazard kind of polka dot silk. It fit (miracle). The colour was good on me. I liked it. It was on sale. I knew it looked animal printy, but couldn't pinpoint which animal so I decided it didn't fall within the parameters of my personal animal print boycott.

Then a day or two later, I spotted a giraffe on TV.

It's a giraffe print. I bought a giraffe print top. I'll bet most three year olds could have spotted it (no pun intended). I didn't. LOL.

But seriously, does it make me look taller? (I could really use a longer neck.)
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