Sunday, December 16, 2007

Romance & Cigarettes

Romance & Cigarettes is an unusual musical where song and dance appear unexpectedly in a working class neighborhood. But the movie isn't exactly a musical. Sometimes it's a comedy. More often it's a drama. In truth, it's all over the map, but instead of making it a mess, that actually lends it a lot of its charm.

The basic plot revolves around Nick (James Gandolfini), his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon), their three daughters, and Nick's mistress Tula (Kate Winslet). There are very interesting dynamics at play between all of the characters as they show the different faces of love that they all have for each other. The story goes through the predictable developments, but spices them up with scenes of wit and subtlety.

Of the many musicals that have come out over the past year, this one certainly has less polish. That may be because it was originally released in 2005 and has only now found distribution. However, I think that works in its favor, since it makes you believe the characters are just singing what they feel. Overall, it's a very interesting movie. Maybe not great, but definitely worth a look.

My rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Ebert's rating: 4 stars (out of 4)
Tomatometer: 49% - Rotten (as of 12/16/07)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is a fantasy movie about a young girl and her adventures in a strange world. The world is strange because even though it looks and sounds like early 20th century England, there is magic, fantastic steam-punk contraptions, talking polar bears, and people's souls are on the outside in the form of different animals, which they call daemons. It is that last bit that has created such controversy.

The source material for the movie was the first book in a trilogy referred to as His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. The books apparently have a very anti-Christian lean to them which becomes more forceful (and less metaphorical) as the books progress. Fortunately, I have not read any of the books, so I was not predisposed in any direction toward the film.

The plot, as mentioned above, basically follows Lyra, the young heroine, as she learns about her world, flees the evil Miss Coulter, and attempts to rescue her friends. Along the way she has various encounters and meets a multitude of interesting characters. Lyra also possesses a precious device called an alethiometer, which allows her to see the truth of things. This is the golden compass of the title, and although it was important and much sought after in this film, I imagine its real significance will come later.

Overall, I found the movie to be surprisingly boring. The dialog was rather stiff, and there seemed to be a great deal of explaining, even though by the end there were still several things which I would have like to have explained. Visually, it was beautiful. The objects and machinery of their world was fascinating to look at. The talking CGI polar bears were interesting, but they never came close to looking like real polar bears. Perhaps that wasn't the intent.

As for the controversial bits, I suppose they were still there but certainly toned down to make them more palatable to a wider audience. The Magisterium, the bad guys in the film, want to suppress the truth and tell everyone what to do and think. Typical goals for evil. But no mention is made of the Magisterium being a religion in general, or Catholicism in particular.

My rating: 2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Ebert's rating: 4 stars (out of 4)
Tomatometer: 44% - Rotten (as of 12/13/07)

This review needs a lot of work, but I'll post it now anyway just to get it done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One More in the Universe

Crap! How did this happen already? I have about three posts (in my head), and yet it's been a week since my last one. DAMMIT! How in the world do I learn the habit of posting every day? Sigh.

All right. Well, this isn't the post I meant to put out, um, last Friday, but that one will have to wait I guess. I want to do movie reviews, but I'm having trouble getting the graphics together for what I want. It shouldn't be that hard-- mainly I just want to put stars right under the title reflecting my review. But I haven't found stars I like and my HTML skillz are much lacking. (Speaking of which, I would really like to get rid of that red box around my Netflix movies and left-align them. But that's a different story.) Additionally, I'd really like to have widgets that not only linked to Roger Ebert's and Rotten Tomatoes' sites, but also reflected their rating. Bah. I don't think what I want would be too difficult, but I'm burdened by my nearly Neanderthal comprehension of all things Web. Tomorrow I'll put up a rough version that says stuff like "If I were cool, here's where the cool graphic link would be."

Anyway, none of that has anything to do with today's topic. I'm a big Beatles fan, and I really liked the movie Across the Universe. I liked the choreography and I liked the arrangements (mostly) of the songs they used in the movie. One that particularly struck me was "Help" "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as sung by the character Prudence (T. V. Carpio). The slower tempo and the specifics of the character really changed the meaning of the song, which I thought was great.

Now, the character of Prudence actually plays a very minor role in the movie. Her sub-plot almost seems "tacked on" because there's so little of it. However, the other day an early Beatles' tune popped up on my iPod, and all I could think about was how perfect it would have been for her character to sing. I don't know if it would be necessary for a tempo change (although it wouldn't hurt), but the lyrics fit seamlessly. If they originally had more about the Prudence character, I can't imagine that they didn't use this song.


So, what's the song? You've Got to Hide Your Love Away Lyrics reproduced here until I find a way to embed the song.

Here I stand head in hand
Turn my face to the wall
If she's gone I can't go on
Feelin' two-foot small

Everywhere people stare
Each and every day
I can see them laugh at me
And I hear them say

Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away

How can I even try
I can never win
Hearing them, seeing them
In the state I'm in

How could she say to me
Love will find a way
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say

Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Stevie Wonderful

Okay, so it's been two months since I last posted. When I started this project, I said one of my goals was to get back in the habit of writing. Yeah, well done there, eh? Well, screw it! What the hell is wrong with me? This shouldn't be that hard. Even the few posts I've made have been nothing more than stupid video clips I've found. What happened to all the movie reviews I was gonna write? I'm full of worthless opinions. I love to talk. Why the hell aren't I writing on here? Anyways, I really, really, really promise to make more entries from now on, and this time I really, really mean it.

So, last night my girlfriend and I saw Stevie Wonder in concert. It was awesome! He played for about three hours, and the show was amazingly personal. He talked to the audience on many occasions. He elicited audience participation a lot. He played great songs. The last half-hour was sort of a medley of all of his greatest/best-known hits, so even if he didn't play your song earlier, most likely you got to hear it here. That was true for me: my big favorite was Superstition, which he played in the medley (but for longer than most of the others). He would often interrupt his own songs to talk or incorporate other songs like "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells (from Houston) or even some James Brown. It was just a fantastic, fantastic show. Here's the Houston Chronicle's review.

Okay, now that I've given my review of the show, it's time for me to be cranky.

One nice thing about the show was that the vast majority of attendees were older. Not that young people aren't fun to see a show with, but there's just a totally different vibe between feeling like a parent of the audience or feeling like a child of the audience. Everything was more mellow, more subdued. I really liked that a lot.

Well, that wasn't cranky, but I needed to say that before I continued.

We were on the floor, pretty close to the stage. Not "special connection" close, but close enough to be excited about it. Now, being on the floor, everything is flat. You don't have the slope to lift your eye-level above the person in front of you. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem. However, two rows ahead of me was a blind guy with a walking stick. This walking stick, at the handle, is probably only 1 or 2 inches wide. But instead of folding it or laying to the side, he kept it up the whole show. It was perfectly in line between me and Stevie Wonder.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Is this guy really going to complain about a blind guy? At a Stevie Wonder concert?? Yes. Yes, I am. This blind guy is sitting down. What does he still need the stick for? I can just envision the conversation:

Me: Hey buddy, could you drop the stick? I can't see.
Blind Guy: I can't see either. What's your point?

I moved my head this way and that, but then you get people's heads in the way, you know. Every time I thought I had a good angle, that damned stick would be right there in the way.

Here's the point. We're all about treating people equally these days, right? Well, if everyone is equal, and anyone can be a jerk, then it's a given that even handicapped or "disabled" people can be jerks. If a sighted person had something that was blocking other people's views, no one would bat an eye if something were said. But here, because he's blind, I can't say anything. Is that equal treatment? I don't think so.

Okay, next rant. After the main show, some Texas state representative or congressman or something comes on stage with Stevie. He takes the microphone and makes a big announcement about how the governor RICK PERRY (the capitals reflect the enthusiasm of the speaker) has signed a bill making December 4 officially Stevie Wonder Day throughout Texas (this was at 11:00, so enjoy that hour, Stevie). Then he read the first paragraph of the proclamation, which was filled with senseless legalese just to say that today is Stevie Wonder Day. And this congressman/representative seemed so proud of having done this, and he's hugging Stevie. You just know that Stevie is thinking, "Yeah, you know, maybe instead of having some jive ass worthless day for me, you should call it Give Some Food To The Homeless Day or Be Kind To A Stranger Day." But of course, Stevie is too polite to actually say that. Luckily, I'm not. The way this stupid elected official was bouncing on the stage, you could just tell that really he just wanted some excuse to hug Stevie. It was sad and pointless.

Anyway, I had a great time at the concert. It was one of the best shows I've seen. I will try to upload a picture, but I'm not sure about my PhotoShop skills in order to get the look I want. We'll see.

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