Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Lovely Bones

Myy thoughts on/ review of Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. Today I'm experimenting with the format again, which I'll keep doing. And I'm totally dispensing with writing original plot summaries, and so I shall continue to plagiarize Berardinelli from, because he does a good job writing them. Today's format is, perhaps ironically, brought to you by a Sergio Leone movie that I haven't seen.

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones is the second movie directed by Peter Jackson since LotR, after 2005's King Kong. Based on Alice Sebold's novel (which I have not read), the film was released during prime Oscar bait territory in December 2009, but was widely panned by critics, ending up a fairly terrible 33% on RottenTomatoes. While there are some problems with RT that go beyond mere concerns of elitism, I still went into it with low expectations. Much to my surprise, I ended up really liking it, enough that I added it to my all-time top 100 (currently at spot 83). But it also has some legitimate and fairly large flaws. So before I got into a few specifics, be warned: this is one that I liked but a lot of much more knowledgeable people did not. Disclaimer over.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mamma Mia by way of Across the Universe

Today, a review (sort of ) of Mamma Mia, but in a little different style than the last ones. I'll probably keep experimenting with these from time to time.

When you think about it, the concept behind Mamma Mia is a little strange. It's a fictitious story that is told through ABBA music, after all. But it isn't the only member of its weird little sub-genre of musical, which I'll call a One Band Musical, or OBM for short (not to be confused with the OMB, although I hear Jacob Lew has a lovely singing voice). The first OBM was probably Yellow Submarine, which featured the music of The Beatles. Which leads to the other movie I want to talk about, the prominent and somewhat polarizing 2007 film that also features The Beatles music, Across the Universe.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The 5 Levels of Serialization

No, not that kind.

Welcome to the first installment of the one-part series, 'Paul's Pet Theories'. In this one, I talk a little about the structure of tv shows.

Television is the least self-contained of any of any narrative media. If it lasts, a show can easily have twenty hour-long episodes for six or seven years, while a movie series is considered long at four installments. But the way that the showrunners choose to use this time varies wildly. Some have but one long story they want to tell. Others tell a different one every episode, while still others fall somewhere in between. This is the concept of serialization, and, in my opinion it falls into five main categories*. The essential question that I use to figure out where a show falls is this: how much will what happened last episode affect what happens in this one?

(*)Anything that reflects true reality (as opposed to reality television) is not included. I.e. sports and news.

Level 1:
These are the shows that offer the lowest barriers to entry and, as such, are quite popular on networks. A viewer can start watching in season four without having seen it before and understand perfectly what's going on. While no show is ever truly free of continuity, the members of this group try. Many cartoons, whatever their intended age group, fall here. The other most populous level 1 subgroup are the procedurals. A level one crime procedural would, for example, have a new case every week (with perhaps the occasional two-parter) with very little connection between them. We'll learn about the characters' backstories, but they will typically serve only to flesh them out and have little actual bearing on the plot. These shows always have a status quo that, some level of cast change aside, rarely changes. If Kenny can die in one episode and be back the next with no explanation, or just never dies at all unless his character is 'written out' of the show, it's level one. Reality shows, for obvious reasons, are rarely level 1, but most game shows are.

Family Guy, South Park, Futurama, Modern Family, Saturday Night Live, Robot Chicken
Spongebob, Animaniacs
Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, MythBusters, Iron Chef
CSI (LV, NY, & Miami), Law & Order, Cold Case, Without a Trace

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Drawing the Line

Over the last couple of days, it began to strike me just how much good television there is out there. Too much, really, for me to follow all that I would like. There are a dozen channels putting out original scripted content in the United States (plus BBC), including all of the various cable services. While there is a lot of crap, to be sure, most of the networks have multiple shows I am interested in, and that's not even getting into programs that have finished their run. It's too much.

In a lot of ways, we are living in a golden age of television. While the age of shows that are watched by everyone in America is over ('Seinfeld' and 'Friends' were probably the last of that breed), the rise of cable has compensated many times over. Cable shows have a number of competitive advantages over their network brethren, not the least of which is expanded potential content. Even the basic cable channels can have more mature and sophisticated material then the broadcast networks, to say nothing of the premium channels. A show that twenty years ago seemed edgy (like 'Miami Vice') now seems quaint compared to 'True Blood' or 'Dexter'.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Movie Review: Meet Joe Black

I should note that the plot summary here was lifted verbatim from I don't much like summarizing, especially for bad movies. I think I deserve some credit for not making even a small pun on the director's last name. Trust me, it was a battle.

Meet Joe Black


13 October 2010

Rating: 5 Bad

Meet Joe Black was the last picture directed by Martin Brest before he helmed one of the most derided films of the last decade, 2003’s Gigli. Brest has not had a job in the movie industry since, and it is not hard to see why. He somehow manages to stretch a script that might justify a two-hour movie into a three-hour mess, stretching a few promising ideas well past the point that they become tiresome. His work here could be Exhibit A in a case that studio interference is not always a bad thing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Atlantis: The Lost Empire Review

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

More Than Second Viewing, 10 October 2010

Rating: 8 Very Good

Atlantis: The Lost Empire, despite being less then a decade old, is already quickly becoming one of Disney’s lesser-known animated pictures. When it came out in the summer of 2001, it received mediocre reviews and a lukewarm reception by viewers. Its box office, while not a catastrophe like Treasure Planet the next year, was more than a little disappointing to Disney’s executives. So the Great Mouse in the Sky decided to bury Atlantis with Disney’s other disappointments. No merchandise, no TV show, no theme park rides, no strange “Disney Vault” advertising. Atlantis, like The Black Cauldron before it and Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, and Home on the Range after it, is already fading from pop cultural consciousness.

Ninja Assasin Review

This was also written in a McDonalds in Matamata. I had some time to kill, clearly

Ninja Assassin

First Viewing 31 August, 2010

Rating: 5.5 Bad/Acceptable

A film that makes no pretensions of quality, Ninja Assassins uses an entirely parenthetical plot to showcase some slickly produced (if occasionally muddled) action sequences that make full use of a budget that clearly wasn’t high. While no one who watches this movie expects a Chinatown-level screenplay, the writing isn’t actually as bad as I expected going in. In all, Ninja Assassin is a passable motion picture that entertains even as it is forgotten.

Aladdin (1992) Review

This is the first review (of three, so far) that I wrote using a longer and somewhat more standardized format, modeled after James Berardinelli's reviews at The basic structure goes something like this: title, information about the circumstances and date of the review, rating, some information about the film coupled with a very brief summary of my thoughts, a short plot summary, then a more expansive exploration of what I thought about the movie, followed by a brief conclusion. These are also longer, between 700 and 1100 words depending on how much I have to say.

Incidentally, this was written in a McDonalds in Matamata, New Zealand.


First Viewing, 29 August, 2010

Rating: 7.5 Good/Very Good

Aladdin was one of the core releases during the peak of the “Disney Rennaisance” (a period generally considered to consist of The Little Mermaid in 1989 until the Atlantis/Treasure Planet flops at the turn of the century, and to have peaked with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King in the early 1990s), and for good reason. The movie is a classic family film—short and simple enough for young children, with enough material thrown in for their parents (or siblings) to enjoy.

Aladdin is the story of a destitute street rat who gets in over his head. The story begins (after a brief and mostly musical intro) with the villain Jaffar using a dupe to get a magic lamp for him from the Cave of Wonders. The cave, however, is none too pleased, and states (yes, it can talk) that only the “diamond in the rough” may enter. Turns out this “diamond” (a plot point that is subsequently mostly ignored) is none other than our titular hero, whom we meet as he is on the run from the law for stealing a loaf of bread. After meeting disaffected princess-on-the-lamb Jasmine, Aladdin in abducted by Jaffar and tricked/persuaded into entering the Cave after the lamp. Things go awry, however, and Aladdin is trapped within. There he meets the bombastic Genie (voiced with aplomb by Robin Williams), who promises to grant three wishes.

The Lives of Others Review

Here is the last of the three reviews I wrote last year. I suppose I should mention that, although I try to avoid spoilers for these reviews (which I won't do if I write any sort of other essay), I'm more successful with some movies than others. It's the nature of the medium. That said, if I mention any major plot point that takes place more than halfway through the movie, I'll put a warning up.

Das Lieben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

27 November, 2009

Rating: 7.5 Good/Very Good

The Lives of Others, the German entry and eventual winner of the 2006 Best Foreign Picture Oscar, is a film that reaches for but does not quite achieve greatness. It has some pacing problems and can begin to feel contrived at times, but the impeccable acting and insightful, thought-provoking take on the “voyeurism” sub-genre of film raises it well above the threshold of mediocrity



Reviewed May 12, 2009

Rating: 8.0 Very Good

Joss Whedon’s Serenity is an unusual film. It is a movie continuation of a cancelled television show (Firefly), and fits snuggly into a genre that I’m fairly certain it is the only member of: the Western Space Opera. It certainly is a new take on the classic space adventure, and a refreshing one. The film is ambitious, and mostly succeeds. This is one of the better Sci-Fi movies in recent years, and you need not be familiar with the source material to enjoy it (the first time I saw it I wasn’t, and I did).

Serenity has a lot going for it. For an epic sci-fi with a relatively small budget, the effects are top notch. It is not at all difficult to accept this as a possible, if not entirely desirable, future. The cinematography is impressive, managing to convey both a past (Western) and future (Space Opera) feeling within the same movie, and sometimes within the same scene. The story, a combination of escape-the-authority and mystery, is interesting and, for the most part, cleverly written. It manages to be more thought provoking than some of its peers and, while arguably heavy-handed at times, its message is effective. Some of the dialogue, especially the captain’s, is masterful. Of course, as a Joss Whedon picture anything less would be a surprise.

The cast, played exclusively by B-list and below stars, is great. Three characters in particular stand out, and it is a credit to the enjoyability of this movie that they are probably the three most important roles. Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played lovingly by Nathan Fillion, exudes bundles of attitude, and perhaps something deeper. River Tam (Summer Glau), is enigmatic and pulls off a feeling of both vulnerability and intense danger. Finally special commendation goes out to Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose Operative is one of the more complex and interesting science fiction villains we’ve seen in a long time.

One problem that arises on occasion is screenplay contrivance. A few times I wondered why exactly characters were behaving as they were, and there is a deus ex machina during the climax that, while not movie-breaking, is annoying. There are also a time or two where the acting stumbles, and it is clear that some of these actors belong on the small screen. Jewel Staite (Kaylee) in particular seems to be a little self-conscious with her character at times.

Firefly is a highly enjoyable science fiction adventure that, while not perfect, is more than solid. No matter how new to the source material you are, this one is worth your time.

A Little Content

I figure I'd actually add something here now. Crazy, I know. Over the last year or so I've written a small handful of movie reviews, just trying my hand. I might as well post them, so I'll go in chronological order of when they were written. Warning: none of these, but especially the first three, are well written or edited. At all. They were written quite quickly, and I'm still refining what exactly I want my technique and voice to be. After a few, I decided to start inexpertly modeling the format of my reviews after those of James Berardinelli (of, who is fantastic and I highly recommend. So here goes:

Step Brothers

First Viewing 5 May, 2009

Rating: 6.5/10 Acceptable/Good.

Step Brothers, another Will Ferrell misadventure, is pretty much what one would expect. As Ferrell comedies go, it’s about average, better than a few (Semi-Pro, Kicking and Screaming), and worse than others (Elf, Talladega Nights, Anchorman).

This is the second film that pairs Farrell with Nights buddy John C. Reilly, and as they demonstrated in the previous movie, the two work well together. Some of the scenes that the two shares are genuinely hilarious, and as long as both are on screen the movie works well. Adam Scott has a nice comedic turn as Ferrell’s douchebag of a brother Derek, and Seth Rogen has a short but memorable cameo. As in all movies like this some of the jokes work better than other, but on the whole a high enough percentage hit their mark that you’ll be laughing more than enough to justify a viewing. Some of the better bits involve a character being buried alive and the epic bungling of bunking a bed. Importantly, Reilly and Farrell sell us on the prospect of two forty-year olds acting like five-year olds. This movie could be (more) ridiculous with lesser actors.

The movie is a bit uneven though, especially when one of Reilly or Ferrell is not on screen. In particular, a fling between Derek’s demented wife Alice and Reilly’s Dale does not work well, and some of the jokes are more uncomfortable than funny. The parents, Nancy and Robert, seem a bit out of place at times.

Ultimately, this is a Will Ferrell Movie™, no more or less. If you like his comedy, you’ll quite enjoy Step Brothers. If not, you won’t as much, although Reilly is good enough that it may be worth a watch anyway.

That was a failed little experiment, wasn't it?

So it's been about thirty months since my first and last post. I know you all have been waiting with absolutely baited breath. Well, here I am again, two years older and none the wiser.

Why am I back? Well, I suppose to revisit the concept of the online journal, or more accurately a bully pulpit. I want somewhere to write at a bit more length than twitter if and when I have the urge, and here is the perfect opportunity. Or at least an opportunity. I don't want to just throw around the word 'perfect' willy-nilly. It's reckless.

So what will I write here? Judging by past precedent, probably nothing. But if I do indeed keep updating, here's what I imagine it looking like. First, there will be a lot of content related to media. Movies, television, books, videogames, and maybe even music every once in a while. It's what I'm interested in, and I like to write about it. I'll be posting some movie reviews (of dubious quality), as well as some discussion of television, books, and videogames on occasion. We'll see exactly how that works out

I'd also imagine that some sports-related posts will pop up. I'm a basketball fan, both professional and college, as well as an erstwhile football and tennis fan. So that will happen. I'll try to avoid angsty posts about my beloved and recently deceased Supersonics, but I don't know how successful I'll be. I consider myself a sports widower, and the fact the corpse of my dearly-departed lover has been reanimated by dark magic and is currently whoring around in Oklahoma is something of a sore subject. To put it mildly.

There also may well be a few cultural, religion, and/or politics posts. I'm a non-confrontational sort of fellow so these probably won't be common, but it may happen. I'm a fairly radical social libertarian and an economic moderate, and I usually identify with the Democratic Party in the United States. I also happen to be a Deist. Which I might or might not talk about.

Other than that, really anything is potentially fair game. I don't generally lead a very interesting life, so I probably won't talk about it much. But I'm okay with that.

Au revoir, and see you in early 2013. Or sooner. And by you, I mean me.

(Is writing to myself better than talking to myself?)