Sunday, November 29, 2009

Movies + Mail = Magic

I've mentioned before that I'm married to a major technophile and that we share a mania for movies. Well, those two obsessions have found the perfect marriage in Netflix and its PS3 Watch Instantly feature. Though we have discussed a Netflix subscription before, we've never joined. Steve (in true Steve form) wanted to wait until Netflix opened up their Watch Instantly site to the PS3 Network, and (as usual) he was right to wait. It's amazing! While we receive Blu-Rays in the mail as fast as we can watch them, there is, of course, a two-day lag as we wait for the next flick. With the Watch Instantly feature there are tons of movies that we can watch right on our tv without paying any more money! Do I sound like a commercial? Yes. Do I care? Not so much. As Steve likes to say, "It's a good time to be alive." No more trips to the video store. What's next - flying cars?

So here's the rundown on some of our Netflix viewing (both Blu-Rays and Instants). I won't do extensive reviews, but I'll tell what was a winner and why.

Bottle Rocket - Yay for finally getting to see Wes Anderson's first film! I must admit I'm a little obsessed with Wes Anderson and his movies (I've probably seen Royal Tenenbaums a couple hundred times.) So my opinion of this film may be a bit biased. Suffice it to say that if you didn't enjoy any of his other films, you probably won't like this one either. I, on the other hand, thought Owen Wilson was his usual brilliant self in the movie that he helped Anderson write. The set and costumes had the same not-quite-real look and feel of Anderson's other films, and the plot meandered deliciously from one offbeat scene to another. And last but certainly not least, the soundtrack was pitch perfect. While this isn't my favorite Anderson film, I didn't feel a bit cheated by my first Netflix rental, and I will be adding this Criterion Collection Blu-Ray to my Christmas Wish List.

Away We Go - This film stars Maya Rudolph and John Krazinski (The Office) and follows two lost souls as they tour the country looking for the perfect place to raise their unborn child. The movie was directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and, as I found out in the Blu-Ray featurettes, was a "green" film where environmental impact was considered throughout every aspect of the filmmaking process. This movie featured some of my favorite comic actors, such as Catherine O'Hara and Allison Janney, and they didn't disappoint with fresh performances that kept me laughing and cringing (in a good way.) Rudolph and Krazinksi were both charming as the world's most unprepared parents, and I was left feeling entertained despite a few brief forays into sappiness. Overall, there was a indie feel without the depressing indie ending.

Star Trek - Yes, I caved. I wasn't sure I wanted to see this movie since I simply didn't trust J.J. Abrams (of Lost fame) to reimagine my precious Star Trek characters, so needless to say, I went into this rental with very low expectations. Perhaps I should make this my new policy when watching movies since I was so pleasantly surprised by this film. Yes, it was more of an action flick than anything Gene Roddenberry ever created, and yes, changes were made. Any inconsistencies in plot, however, were explained away with a clever twist that allowed Abrams far more latitude than I would have imagined. The relative unknowns who played the iconic Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Checkov, Scotty, and Bones all did admirable jobs of following in their predecessors' footsteps. The "new" Kirk did drop the William Shatner halting over-the-top delivery, but he stayed true to the spirit of Kirk, which was more important to me. Nobody can be Shatner, and it would have been pointless to try. Like Lucas' Star Wars prequels, the film did suffer from the whole better-technology-when-the-prequels-get-made malady making it hard to believe that the Enterprise was actually less advanced than in the tv show, but the rest of the movie was good enough that I forgave Abrams this small sin.

Funny People - This movie was hyped so much on The Tonight Show (I swear Conan interviewed every single cast member at some point during the film's theater run) that I had fairly high expectations for it, and it didn't disappoint. That is not to say, however, that this movie was what I expected. I went into to it expecting the usual Apatow fare (that's not a bad thing, by the way), but what I got was a much darker film with a bit of an indie feel. Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen were hilarious together - especially the scenes where they are writing stand-up material. I was also happy to see one of my favorites, Jason Swartzman, and he was funny (and weird) as ever. Jonah Hill was entertaining, though nothing about his performance was particularly new or different. I hate to declare the man to be a one-trick pony, but alas, I think I may hear the glue factory calling.

As for Instants, we've been watching everything from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to the first and second seasons of Dexter. Steve's also been loading up on all his guilty favorites, cult classics from his childhood, some of which I have watched and some I skipped. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen? Not bad. I mean, how bad could a film be that features cast members from Monty Python and Robin Williams playing a disembodied head? I managed to skip Krull (saved by a Sunday afternoon nap.) I've added a few Instants of my own to the queue, and I'm hoping to watch some of them this week while Steve's at work and I'm taking a break from schoolwork. After all, I don't think I can convince Steve to watch Monsoon Wedding or Smart People. The poor guy is already having to put up with a crazy pregnant lady, and every man has his limit.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We Were Hollywood - A Veteran's Day Tribute

In honor of Veteran's Day, I am posting a couple of poems I wrote based on the Library of Congress Veteran's History Project interview of my grandmother's late husband, Scheller Garlock. Scheller served our country in both WWII and the Korean War and retired from the Army as Major. He was a wonderful and amazing man, and I am grateful for the years my family had with him.

The two poems I am including are from different parts of a poetic sequence that follows Scheller's military career. "We Were Hollywood" is about his time in the Army War Show, a traveling show that demonstrated the great warm machine and sold bonds to support the war effort. "Sons of Bitche" is in reference to a German practice of impersonating dead American soldiers in order to get behind enemy lines. Bitche is a town in France. After the Americans took it back, the men involved in the mission started calling themselves the Sons of Bitche. Scheller was proud to be among them.

We Were Hollywood

Picked for our looks, we played war
to earn money and recruit men - with out tanks
and guns loaded on trains, we occupied cities from
Baltimore to Milwaukee.

Stadiums shook with explosions
and applause while the Master of Ceremonies -
some famous guy I can't remember - announced
each act to the audience.

Dressed in starched uniforms, we fought
off the girls who thought
us famous - movie stars.

Plying our Uncle's trade,
in front of thousands, each night
we rehearsed the part we would soon play
and told them this was war.

Sons of Bitche

Stuffed in G.I. uniforms like a hand in a puppet,
they wore the dog tags of the dead
from further up the line. Pilfered identities
could not hide their butchered English,
and discovery always meant death.
An unforgivable blasphemy,
to wear the clothes of the dead,
they were punished for their heresy.
Stripping them of their American skin,
so we could kill the German heart.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Room of One's Own

The final deadline for the final packet of semester is quickly approaching (I need to get it mailed by 2 days.) I'm slowly plugging away at the work - slowly being the operative word. The new room/desk is helping. I may have waited 7 years to have my own desk again, but it was worth the wait (nevermind that I had to get pregnant in order to get it.) What's not helping? The large, purring cat dancing around in my lap, the doctor's appointments, the dinner that needs to be fixed, and that ongoing struggle to keep what's left of my brain from leaking out my ear. I think I know what I want to do with my story now (which helps), and I've gotten some more reading done while waiting at the doctor's office (so that's something.) Looks like a couple of days' cramming is now in order.

I am reading Best American Short Stories 2009 for part of my packet. I have to write 2 to 4 pages about current trends in short stories. So far I'm struggling to find a common thread/element between the stories I've read, but I still have one and a half more to go. That's not to say that the stories aren't wonderful. It was such a smart move on my part to take a break from Charles Baxter to read a few of the stories from this book. I was starting to get bogged down in writing theory. I have found, however, that when one is not running on all eight cylinders (is that how that saying goes? Not a car is a car metaphor, right?), it can be paralyzing to your writing to read a lot of theory and rules. I'm not saying that Baxter isn't brilliant or that I don't love the book, just that my confidence is barely hanging on by a thread. I need to steer clear of sharp object, writers, and observations to avoid it being severed.

Hobson (my cat) must have sensed my need to buckle down and get things done. She came upstairs for moral support. Despite her brief attempts at distraction, she has now curled up happily on my lap and is purring loudly. Nothing quite so soothing (and potentially literary) as that!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Unoriginal Sin: A Review of The Plan and V

Coming off the glorious ride that was Battlestar Galactica, I have been in a Sci-Fi downward spiral ever since. First there was the disappointment that was The Plan, a Battlestar Galactica straight-to-DVD release that chronicles the story from the Cylon perspective. This was followed closely by the spanking-new show V (I say that tongue-in-cheek, since everything is a remake these days). While I'm certainly not putting these programs in the same category (V could only dream of being of the quality of The Plan), I will say they both are rubbing elbows in the disappointment department.

First there was the greatly anticipated The Plan. The DVD was Argument One for never reading the online buzz and director comments about a film beforehand. Edward James Olmos may have declared this the be-all, end-all of Battlestar Galactica movies that will redefine how fans view the series, but methinks he exaggerated. Just a bit.

First of all, I was expecting revelations, explanations, Cylon history, SOMETHING for crying out loud. What I got was a glorified clip show. You know when sitcoms do those annoying programs that feature clips from the past four seasons strung together by the thinnest of plot lines? Well, that was pretty much The Plan. You're telling me that the Cylons' plan was to kill the humans? Gee, thanks. I pretty much got that from the PILOT! Cavil was the "bad" Cylon? I was able to grasp that from the series. Where there could have been back story on the "Five" or a further explanation of the "Angels" (the supernatural element was one of the most intriguing elements of the series, after all), there was simply a rehashing of the downfall of the 12 colonies with a few new Cylon scenes thrown in.

So Mr. Olmos, you may have been the quintessential Adama, but you should, perhaps, keep your directorial mouth shut on the DVD extras where you made those sweeping statements about the new film. The new movie does not, in fact, make me want to go back and re-watch the series in a whole new light, though, I may re-watch it in order to banish the mediocrity that was The Plan from my mind.

I was only semi-recovered from my traumatic BSG experience when I started seeing previews for ABC's "new" program V. I asked my personal source for geeky, sci-fi information, Steve, about the program, and he informed me that it was a remake of an older series. How shocking. Are we completely incapable of coming up with anything new in American television or cinema these days? Must we either steal the ideas of a previouly successful show/movie or bastardize the work of our friends across the pond?

So suffice it to say I was skeptical about V, but Steve wanted to check it out. I tried not to be the cynical one and added it to my DVR's to-do list. We watched the pilot last night. If it hadn't been for Steve, I probably would have deleted it twenty minutes in, but for his sake, I kept plugging away. The pilot opens with a technique that I usually favor - they jumped right into the action. Bam! The aliens have invaded. The problem? The writers/director felt no need to build any suspense, whatsoever. It was almost as if they had a meeting and said, "Hey, you know what? Everyone saw the original, and they know the aliens are coming and what they want, so let's just fudge that part. It's not that important anyway."

Fast forward to the acting. First there was the appearance of some sci-fi regulars, such as Joel Gretsch (The 4400), and I even noticed Rekha Sharma of BSG. This isn't necessarily a problem, just thought it was interesting. What wasn't interesting was the acting itself. Of course, maybe I'm being too hard on actors who can only work with what they're given. I'm not talking about their God-given talents, but rather...the script. Not even Alan Tudyk could rescue lines like, "The medical examiner says he was tortured before he was killed," a line delivered after finding a dead guy wearing a bloody shirt and tied to a chair in a secret bunker. Really? You needed the M.E. to suss that one out? I hate it when writers insult my (the viewer's) intelligence. In a fiction workshop, you would get flayed alive for that sort of information dumping in dialogue. It doesn't work on the screen either.

Then there's the predictability factor...and I don't mean because it's a remake. I've never seen the original. Don't need to. I was able to predict nearly everything that happened - with ease. When I watch a program and say, "I could have written that!" I don't mean it as a compliment. As for originality, it really is true that things come in groups, and it seems to be apocalyptic programming's turn. Funny that the "groups" even occur on the same network (Flash Forward, anyone?)

Surprisingly, I'm giving V one more chance...against my better judgement. Steve seemed to be pulling for the show in an uncharacteristic burst of pie-eyed optimism. But that's all those hacks at ABC are getting from me. What's the tired old saying? "Fool me once, shame on you..." Well, I have a feeling that next week, it'll be shame on me.