Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Potter has hormones, but where is Voldemort?

After reading many an article on the latest film installment of the lit-sensation Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I feel compelled to include my two cents. My dear friend, The Drive-Thru Academic, rides his high of just having seen the latest film and claims its his favorite of the series. Another colleague, The Culture Warrior, has yet to see the latest film, but recently reviewed his marathon of films 1 through 5. Many others are quick to say this is the best adaptation, and some dare say it falls short.

I must put myself on the latter side of the fence and disagree with Charley's excitement. HP6 was entertaining, and indeed the heightened hormones lighten up an otherwise extremely dark story. But director David Yates disappointed the Potterphile-me and the cinemaphile-me, in equal measure.

The script actually does a good job editing the book all in all, but the PG rating makes the complexity of the tale and the dread of who's on what side watered down and a minimal part of the film. As Charley states, the eponymous character - the Half Blood Prince, is more or less ignored in the film. It is pushed aside to a mere fleeting question until the film's end, when it is as tidily answered as it is posed.

Of course, Yates can put together a beautiful image. The film visually exudes the unease of the times, the ominous threat surrounds near every shot, just as it does the characters within the story. However the tone does not remain so consistent. Instead, it jumps from dark and treacherous (or an attempt at such) to humorously teenage fluff. Don't get me wrong, both are huge parts of the book, and deserve equal respect in the cinematic version. And while this film allows the growing skills of the young stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, to really shine, their acting cannot hold up the poorly written script. Unfortunately, the teenage romance is handled like a B-high school flick, with none of the grace and ease the web of danger was given throughout the other books. And Bonnie Wright, who plays Ginny Weasley, comes off very bored and unstudied.

While amusingly light-hearted and enjoyable (to a certain degree), the focus on lifting the mood through bumbling love potions and poorly hidden affections hinders the drama of the central story at hand. The climactic scenes between Harry and Headmaster Dumbledore are handled so quickly and simply that I, perhaps the most quick to cry in a theater, didn't even get misty. Life-changing moments, character-defining events, are not given the proper pace, tone, or direction. They suffer so we can all giggle at the plentiful awkward sexual innuendoes.

This film is by no means my least favorite of the series. In fact, it sits right in the middle. Jim Broadbent was a fantastic addition to the famous featured British actors. And Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood is again spot-on.

I think my perspective suffered from having just re-read the book, completing it a mere few hours before going to the theater. Perhaps too immersed in comparison the first time around, I look forward to giving it a second try once the finite details of the text have evaporated from my memory.

David Yates' latest addition to the Potter series is, I will agree, a good platform for the final book and films from which to spring board off into hopefully more fearless drama and PG-13 violence, like Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban or Yates' Order of the Phoenix. What makes #3 and #5 better than #6? They aren't afriad to stand alone as good films, separate from the series that made them popular. #6 is good, but more than a good film in and of itself, it's just a good base for The Deathly Hallows. And a good base does not a great film make.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back in the Office: Mad Men and Me

After a months-long hiatus, I'm back on line and ready to expel some observations and opinions, most particularly today on one of the most recent DVD releases - MAD MEN: Season 2.

Released this past Tuesday, July 14th, we the public got to celebrate both the anniversary of the French Revolution and the subtle chipping away of the submissive woman of 1950s America all in one great 'Encore!' of a day.

As a francophile who's "gone mad" (as the show's ad campaign goes), Tuesday was a day to look forward to. And sure enough, while I didn't particularly celebrate Bastille Day in any style, I could not help but retain some renewed faith in media's style when I picked up the latest at-home installment of one of the most artistically-centric shows on television.

From the case to the menu, every detail of the product reflects the integrity of the show. As the first season released a special-edition box shaped like a lighter, this year's packaging is a boxed business shirt from none-other than Season One's featured retailer - Menken's. The box around the disc slides open like a gift box, allowing access to both the included swag of a Mad Men tie-clip and the DVDs within. It shows my supreme nerdiness that I smile a little every time a DVD case opens with style instead of your typical pop-open plastic case.

The detail-oriented art direction of the case mirrors that of the program itself at every level. From the stellar richness of the images to the wood-effect and Sterling Cooper logo that back the DVDs, every inch of the casing was considered. And if the cover of the box wasn't enough to remind you that the show is all about image, this season features disc labels not with various character line-ups, but instead with close-ups of the life forces of the era - the fashion, liquor, and cigarettes. The feminine and masculine, the sex and power.

And of course, the meat of the matter. Special Features. This season features audio commentaries for every single episode with cast and crew- a fantastic perk, that I will review in a later post, along with the three featurettes - "Birth of an Independent Woman" covering the 'rise of female independence in the MAD MEN era,' "An Era of Style," and "Time Capsule" which honors events and peoples of the generation that inspired the show.

So as I sit down to enjoy my return to the second installment of the disgustingly misogynistic but beautifully designed 1962 of Matthew Weiner and Christopher Brown, I already feel terribly under-dressed and under-liquored. And that's a great sign.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sex and Vegetables

New York Magazine's Vulture blog reported today NBC's decision to reject a PETA advertisement that sported scantily clad women aroused by vegetables, with the tagline, 'vegetarians have better sex.' Citing "rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin," "licking eggplant," and "screwing herself with broccoli (fuzzy)" as reasons to not accept the ad, NBC proved to be both liberally blunt with their choice of words and rigidly conservative in their rejection of a hilarious ad that certainly would spark conversation about healthy eating habits...among other things.

'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad

In all due fairness, as a "family affair" (which is a ridiculous assumption of traditional sex-less values), the decision not to have the ad during the Super Bowl is not surprising, but the ad is actually an ingenious take on the sexuality of advertising and the sensuality of food. No matter your opinion on PETA, this is yet another reminder of our nation's fear of female sexuality. And perhaps also PETA, as this is not the organization's first ad banned from the airwaves. For the rest of the videos, check out the PETA site.

In the midst of roughly four hours of men beating each other in sport, backlashes come out when a breast is exposed for a split second, so quickly most people probably didn't notice until it was in the news later. But the discussion about it burned it into our brains forever. Janet and her nipple accessory. If any child missed it, hir parents ensured ze got to see it over and over again during the aftermath. And now we can't handle women in lingerie with vegetables for 30 seconds.

Perhaps we would be a healthier, less violent, and more pleasant population if we embraced the natural and enjoyable necessity of sex instead of the Doritos-eating, Budweiser-drinking, Boob-Tube-watching, couch-potato-inducing events such as the Super Bowl. Alas.

While I could take the flip side of the coin and argue against the ad's objectification of the female form yadda yadda, I won't. Because as Ross aptly stated, "that is an ad." So while none of us will see it this Sunday during the game, props to PETA for their inventiveness in making vegetarianism never seem more enticing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Good Dick Better Movie

Good Dick
. That's right, it's a movie. And why yes it is referring to what you're thinking. And erotica and sex play large roles in the film, but it is actually a down to earth tale of a troubled, sensitive boy who courts a damaged, defensive girl. Written, directed, and starring Marianna Palka, the film is a gem of the indie world right now. Her co-star, Jason Ritter, performs the caring and needy guy to a tee. And different from many twenty-something movies recently, this doesn't feel contrived or desperate to seek attention.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Martin Starr, of such fame as the Apatow clan provides - most notably as Bill Haverchuck in Freaks and Geeks and Martin (the friend who doesn't shave) in Knocked Up. He can do no wrong in my book, and this film allows him an angsty character with great lines and a bit more screen time than some of Apatow's recent fare provided. I would love to see him star in a film soon. Perhaps one more along the lines of Good Dick than Superbad. Other co-stars include Tom Arnold and Mark Webber, aka 'Designated Dave' of the 90s classic, Drive Me Crazy.

(Not laugh out loud) Humorous and touching, Palka wrote a story that really captured the troubles of vulnerability and relationships many have. Her character frequently rents erotica from CineFile, the video store where Jason Ritter's character works. As he grows smitten, he tracks her down and begins stalkerly befriending her. After much hesitation, she finally gives in and he ends up crashing on her couch and trying to start a relationship based on their mutual appreciation for the video genre. However, for an undisclosed reason, Palka's character keeps her guard up, refusing to admit any attraction or even acceptance of him, even though her willingness to let him stay says otherwise. The film follows the two as he tries to break her shell and she tries desperately to keep it in tact.

Taking place in pretty much 3 locations - video store, apartment, and car - the gritty, extremely low-budget feel of the movie goes along very well with the acting and sensibility of the message. Honest, stylized, and realistic, I would recommend this over the mumblecore genre of films advertised as "so real its almost not a movie," such as the most recent, Nights and Weekends.

There are a few awkward moments and Ritter's character could have used more development, but all in all, the film unfolds very naturally, as though observing people in their typical daily routines, learning about their pasts from the first to last scene. No extreme events or atypical fantastical moments can be found here. Instead it is a frank, at times abrasive film about relationships post baggage, love post hurt, and how twenty-somethings learn to stand on their own two feet.

Unlike other movies I have seen recently, this is a film that spoke to me in my current twenty-something student soon-to-be unemployed, romantically frustrated state.

It was released in the U.S. October 17, 2008 in limited release. So check your nearest indie theater, and get yourself some Good Dick.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good Character Study or Puritan Warning?

Hounddog, the film "where Dakota Fanning gets raped," is definitely deserving of more press than its controversy. But how much I can't quite feel out.

In 1950s South, Lewellen (Fanning) plays a young girl who, poor enough not to wear shoes in nearly every scene, is obsessed with Elvis and sings his songs to forget her troubles. And troubles she has plenty. As things gradually get worse and her religious grandmother's reprimands seep into her head, her childish antics begin to haunt where they used to free her.

Co-starring Robin Wright Penn and Daivd Morse, the narrative is quite heavy and left me wondering exactly what the message was. Bad things happen to "sexually" curious and liberated young girls? You need to suffer physical abuse and torment to properly sing the blues? Most men have the "evil snake" in them somewhere? (note: snakes are a heavily over-used motif - Biblical referent, yes; Freudian phallus symbol, yes)

Whether it is all or just one of these themes, the film ends on an unfortunately conservative, borderline regressive tone- the little red riding hood of our time, with race relations and white hegemony added in as a bonus.

These faults aside, director Deborah Kampmeier presents a beautifully shot film, full of rich yellows and greens and well paced, that depicts an interesting character study on a young girl who's forced to grow up in torturing ways. Fanning delivers an impressive performance, and while the narrative takes a bit of a nose dive towards the end, it has more to offer than the controversy leads on.

The film underwent a trial in North Carolina during shooting over the rape scene, which could have also attributed to the extreme delay in its theatrical release. Two years after filming and Dakota Fanning's numerous interviews on the subject, the film came out September 19th. But many of you may not have known it because AMC pulled it out of all its theaters due solely to the already infamous scene.
Plus side of this controversy, some people will see an independent film they may not have otherwise seen, which is always a good thing in my book. However, for me and those I went with, the knowledge of the scene coded our viewing experience. Clearly most people in the theater were waiting for the scene to occur, and each time a new male character appeared on screen, a tension came upon us all: is this the culprit? Thus, when the scene did occur, it was so anticipated that the horror of it was certainly subdued. Will the controversy then draw people to the theater but weaken their reception? Time will tell I suppose.

Those of you who have seen it, I would love to know what you think of the film's message and how the rape scene plays out to you in the context of the film as a whole.

BTW. Bryce discusses the film in his blog, I'm Feeling so Blahg, and as he ponders, "the real question is what do we think of the dad?" Discuss.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tina Fey is My Homegirl

I can't wait to vote for Barack Obama in November, but I will be severly disappointed to lose Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL when she is not voted for VP. Did John McCain select a candidate that looked like Fey's doppleganger on purpose?

As tragic as that would (and seems to) be, I will hold back political rantings in exchange for some Tina Fey lovin'. McCain's running mate makes for great comedy for all us liberals in support of that 'gotcha media' that likes to interview our candidates.

Thus, in honor of my fav political satirist, all you hockey moms and Joe Six-packs, sit back, relax, and enjoy repeated entertainment of the SNL skits in all their glory. *Pew Pew! Wink!*

The best and saddest part of all these skits? That not much original material had to be written. Thank you Tina Fey for being so amazing, returning to your stomping ground, and providing a few more people with perspective.

P.S. 'cause i can't hold back all my rantin'... WTF GOP? And to people who think she is legit, for shame. it's a terrifying and embarassing time when a person so inexperienced and unprepared can be presented as a solid candidate for VP.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bromance and the 'Barely Were'

So I know I usually talk about movies, but after immersing myself into the world of Carrie Brownstein's NPR Music blog, Monitor Mix, I would like to spend a minute giving props to NPR and their music coverage.

I have been an on-and-off listener of Bob Boilen's amazing podcast, All Songs Considered, for some time and after Brownstein's appearances on the podcast, I checked her out.
In her entries, she refreshingly connects the music nerd/NPR nerd in her to her daily life and gets non-music buffs to feel welcome. Yes, she name drops like crazy, but her youthful approach is never condescending nor pedagogic.

In a blog, and perhaps in all criticsm, I'm not looking for a teacher, but an expert-of-a-friend to tell me what her/his experienced self thinks about a topic. Knowledge of the subject (and the reader's education) is inherent in the review. If you read her stuff you'll certainly see what I mean. She makes no apologies for her knowledge, dropping obscure or off-the-radar artists at will, yet brings all these references and reviews within a more general, approachable, topic such as iTunes Genius' effect on the playlist or what makes a good cover song.

Maybe for the true Rob Gordon's out there, her blog is not erudite enough, but for someone just delving into the world of music on a serious level, she's a great stepping stone.


And as a side note, I'd really like to push the aforementioned podcast, All Songs Considered, as well. Bob Boilen is a wealth of knowledge on music, and with guests, interviews, and fun topics, this soothing yet truly educational podcast is a great way to learn about new artists. Note- most of the music is of the indie-rock/folk/altrock/eclectic won't find much hip hop, pop, or country here.

Also, Rob Gordon is the fantastically neurotic and music-obsessed character John Cusack plays in High Fidelity.