I’ve decided to discontinue this blog and move my discussion of TV/movies to my regular site. If you care to move with me, or just read more about why I came to this conclusion, please see:
Okay, this isn’t on Netflix yet, but maybe it will be someday. (You hope.)
Let’s start with the obvious:
Yes, the men are hot, and the dance numbers are fun. “Sexy” is arguable, though. Because of the strip club setting and the cheesy costumes, I found the routines to be comical more than anything else. Especially in comparison to, say, the routines in the Step Up movies, which are slick, smooth, and technically impressive. To me THAT is sexy.
In Magic Mike, only Channing Tatum is capable of that level of dancing. (And it’s no coincidence that he was the star of the first Step Up film, which catapulted him into the Hollywood spotlight.)
As for plain old sex, there’s some of that too — mostly implied. What I appreciated, actually, was the movie’s casual, comfortable attitude toward the human body. No character was judged for their nudity or their sexual activities — on stage or off. That includes the women. In fact, Olivia Munn’s character is perhaps the most overtly sexual in the whole film, but she is not reduced to the stereotype of a slut, or to the “does it like a dude” mentality. She is neither needy/clingy/weak, nor a bitch. She is simply (as Mike finds out) a real, full person with a strong sexual appetite but also a life outside of the bedroom.
I haven’t seen a lot of Steven Soderbergh’s work, so I don’t know if he always tries this hard, but there were definite “style” choices that seemed to strive to validate this “male stripper movie.” The audio for one scene would start before the video of the previous scene had ended. There were long, yellowy shots of the city. Awkward pauses and stuttering were left in. Sexual activity was sometimes shown upsides or sideways, as if it was too real to be given to us straight.
While I was wary of all this “style” at first, part of me thinks it probably WAS necessary to balance out the campy strip club stuff, and to prepare the audience for the real story of Magic Mike.
Yes, there is a real story.
It’s simple, but “deep.” Basically it’s about the American dream. About using a means to achieve an end — and then realizing that the means is becoming the end. I thought the way that Mike and the Kid intersected, paralleled, and then polarized was a clever way to illuminate this for both Mike and the audience.
So yeah, women looking for 100% mindless entertainment aren’t going to find it in Magic Mike. The film strikes a pretty good balance between the fun and the serious — but it’s funny how my yearning for those reversed. At first I felt like the story was interfering with the dancing; then I felt like the dancing was interfering with the story. In the end, I was fairly satisfied with the mix.
Fun fact: I went to school with these two hotties! Well, not WITH them. But I went to the same school a few years later. Carnegie Mellon pride, baby.
Also, I didn’t realize Adam Rodriguez (from CSI: Miami) was in this until the day of. Yum.
The other day, I happened to catch a rerun of TNG on television. (Thanks, BBC America! Should be available on Netflix too, though.) The episode was “Reunion,” in which Worf is — pardon my obviousness — reunited with his mate, K’Ehleyr. Also with their lovechild, Alexander, who Worf didn’t know existed.
Anyway, it’s a pretty good episode, and I particularly loved Suzie Plakson’s portrayal of the half-Klingon, half-human ambassador K’Ehleyr. As a halfie and a feminist, I couldn’t have asked for more from her character. She was tough but sensitive. Intelligent but not superior. Feminine and motherly, but also commanding and ballsy. Whether the battle is diplomatic or physical, she doesn’t back down.
And as an ambassador for Starfleet to the Klingon Empire, she is an expert in both her cultures — a bridge and an emissary between them. Yet she refuses to be bound by either. She rejects the more brutish elements of Klingon tradition, but she knows the ins and outs of their history, customs, and glory. She abides by Starfleet regulations, but she would “take the oath” with Worf while making no mention of getting married in the human sense. She doesn’t allow either Starfleet or the Klingon Empire to define her success or her worth; she is confident in her choices, and in her mistakes.
Maybe it’s cherry-picking; maybe it’s embracing the best of both worlds. Maybe that’s the balance we all need to find.
I first heard of Empire Records in 7th grade Spanish class. I have no idea why we were watching it — in English, no less. Maybe Ms. Clark had a headache. We were good at giving her those.
Anyway, I didn’t pay much attention at that time, because everyone in my class seemed to think it was the greatest movie ever, and I am predisposed to hate things that are hyped up like that. Fast forward a decade or so, and now I finally gave this movie a chance.
Good decision. It was great.
The movie is quirky, rough around the edges, and much deeper than it initially appears. Yes, there are a lot of characters, but they are quickly distinguished from one another through clever dialogue and subtle details. AJ, the sensitive artist. Corey, pure and perfect. Lucas, devious screwup. Gina, free spirit / slut. Mark, puppy-like stoner. Debra, dark and twisty and sad.
These are the core 6, led by their boss / father-figure Joe, and all of them (including Joe) contribute to the movie’s theme of misfits chasing dreams and depending on music for nourishment, connection, and understanding.
Sidebar: I noticed a couple Gin Blossoms songs on the soundtrack. Andy really likes that band.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Joe reaches the peak of his frustration and has to hammer it all out on his drum set. Lucas and AJ put the music on the store’s speaker system for everyone to enjoy. Then they rock out, dancing and singing like loons, releasing all their own nervous energies.
Even though the movie sets you up to root for and focus on 2 particular storylines — the salvation of Empire Records, and the AJ/Corey romance — I thought the more powerful subplots were in the female relationships. Corey, Gina, and Deb make an interesting trio, because none of them really fit together, and yet by the end of the film, all of them understand each other and connect. Bonus points for accomplishing that without the story devolving into a major cheese factory. Corey stays frustratingly clueless; Gina keeps her short skirts; and Deb holds on to her tough girl attitude and sassy mouth. They are true to themselves but also learn how to be true to each other.
Perhaps it goes without saying that I was hugely impressed by the performances of all 3 actresses — Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger, and Robin Tunney. (Renee and Robin in particular.)
Also, Johnny Whitworth is hot. Why is he not more famous?
I’ve also seen Ethan Embry in other things and thought he was cute. That held true in Empire Records. And even Rory Cochrane was attractive in an unexpected way.
What I loved most about his character was the implication that maybe, just maybe, Lucas had planned for things to go this way all along.
AJ: What’s with you? Yesterday you were normal and today you’re like the Chinese guy from the Karate Kid. What’s with you today?
Lucas: What’s with today today?
Corey: Do you have a plan?
Lucas: No. Not a comprehensive plan.
Corey: I think you do.
Joe: You knew, didn’t you?
Lucas: About what?
Joe: Everything. About me, what I wanted to do.
Lucas: I knew you weren’t happy.
Fun fact: In the credits, you’ll see Tobey Maguire’s name. Apparently he filmed several scenes but they were all cut, supposedly because he left the movie (for personal reasons, perhaps related to his pursuit of sobriety).
There are a few actors who are pretty much guaranteed to give me a good movie, and Leo is one of them. (Sean Penn used to be, but it’s been awhile so I’m not sure if that still holds. Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender are currents. Channing Tatum does pretty well too.)
Also, Dennis Lehane books seem to adapt to film well. Mystic River definitely did, and I’ve heard good things about Gone Baby Gone.
Lastly, my boyfriend liked Shutter Island. He’s hard to please, movie-wise, so that was a good sign.
And I did indeed enjoy Shutter Island. As much as you can “enjoy” a dark, sad movie like this, anyway.
Actually, my boyfriend had already spoiled the story for me, but that was about a year ago (maybe more) so I forgot whatever he told me. I mean, I knew there was a twist, but I couldn’t remember exactly what it was. Not that it really mattered. Throughout the movie — from the first moment, even — you know that something isn’t right. That everything isn’t what it seems. Like, what’s up with that bandaid on Leo’s head?
(Hm, I don’t think that’s ever explained…)
The movie is a bit long, at 2 hrs and 15 min or so. But it’s certainly well-made and compelling. My hypothesis for much of the film was that Leo’s character had multiple personality disorder or something, and most (if not all) of the other characters were different versions of himself. So as not to ruin anything, I won’t say whether or not I was right, but I will say that you get the truth about 30 min from the end of the film, and it’s tough.
The last two or three lines make the movie, IMO. (Or cement it, at least.) They’re so impactful, and sad, and beautiful in their way. They are the finishing touch, without which this might just be a cheap, thrilling trick.
Leo, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams were all excellent (as per their usual). I didn’t know Mark, Ben or Michelle were in this, but seeing their names in the credits made me glad. And Leo’s role reminded me of his character in Inception, since they’re both haunted by their wives and tortured by some mystery in their past.
One aspect that kept sticking out to me, strangely, was the music. At first the melodramatic “score” was kind of annoying — especially that foghorn — but by the end of the film, I liked the way it grated on me, the way it pushed viewers to the edge of their comfort.
Reason for the quotes around “score”: Interestingly, none of the music is original. According to Wikipedia, the composer is a longtime collaborator with Scorsese and just found/repurposed a bunch of music to fit the story. It worked, and I really liked the song in the end credits, but I thought that was an interesting choice. It’s not like the director/stars/studio couldn’t command the budget for original music.
Based on the cast alone, I’ve been interested in Brothers, but from the trailer and the marketing, I was worried it was going to be some kind of love-triangle horror film. False. It’s a family drama, and a pretty good one at that. Lighthearted? Not even close. But sinister or cheap? Not even close.
What Netflix says this movie is about: When traumatized Capt. Sam Cahill returns home from a military mission in Afghanistan after he is presumed dead, he becomes obsessed with the idea that his brother and his wife have a relationship.
What I think this movie is about: Two brothers — opposite in nature but similar at the core — and the woman who helps them become better men. War and love. The way we change when things get tough. Betrayal. Forgiveness.
It’s not a short movie, and a good amount of time is spent showing the family’s home life before Sam even goes to Afghanistan. Tommy’s delinquency. Grace’s dislike of Tommy. Tommy’s tension with their father. The oldest daughter’s strong personality.
Sidebar: The two daughters were well-drawn and well-acted. So often in movies, kids are used like props instead of characters. I was impressed with both the writing of these girls and the performances of the little actresses.
The war scenes were hard for me. My boyfriend’s brother is a Marine, and while I know this is fiction and the situation in Afghanistan/Iraq is different now than it was when this movie was made, it’s still so scary and sad to me. I think about all the men (and women) — many of whom are still practically kids — who risk their lives and their sanity trying to do good things over there, but good is not an easy label to identify, and the things they have to do, the choices they have to make… Well, no one should have to.
Honestly, I hated the Spiderman movies so much that they ruined Tobey Maguire for me. Brothers has almost singlehandedly undone that damage. Tobey’s performance is powerful and nuanced. He walks the line between control and chaos perfectly. My chest was in knots as I watched him struggling to keep calm, to reintegrate with his family, to face the horrible reality of what had happened to him, and to forgive himself for getting lost.
Natalie Portman does a really good job as well, followed closely by Jake Gyllenhaal. Their characters are nowhere near as complex as Tobey’s, but still important and impressive.
One thing that drove me crazy was when Sam asks Tommy about what happened while he was gone, and Tommy won’t give a straight answer. To me, having characters withhold information is a cheap way of sustaining tension. BUT. The more I sit with it, the more I think it works here. Tommy’s character is that type — he won’t give you what you most need, no matter how much he loves you, because he’s still learning how to love himself.
Plus, when Sam later asks Grace the same thing, she tells him the truth right away. So it becomes clear that the screenwriter isn’t trying to play with the characters or the viewers; he’s just telling the story as it would really unfold.
Fun fact #1: The Brothers screenwriter, David Benioff, is also a novelist, and is married to actress Amanda Peet. Other projects he’s written: Troy, The Kite Runner, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and everyone’s current obsession, Game of Thrones.
Fun fact #2: Carey Mulligan is in this! For like three minutes, anyway.
The one thing I’m not sure about is the ending. Like, the very very ending. And whether or not it’s an ending at all. I suppose the last line / last moment is a sign of hope, and maybe that’s enough. But I wouldn’t have minded a bit more. It’s just that I know there’s so much recovery, so much uncertainty still to come. I got attached to these characters, and I want to know their fates! I want them to be happy.
I think that’s a sign that I enjoyed the movie.
Until a couple years ago, I never gave much thought to who was behind the high-pitched voice of our beloved Elmo. But if you had asked me, I would have guessed a woman. Probably a white one. And boy would I have been wrong.
Honestly, I did a double-take when I learned that Elmo was a black man. It didn’t matter to me; it just wasn’t what I had expected. And ever since I saw him (with Elmo) on YouTube, doing an interview on some British talk show, I have been intrigued by his story.
Being Elmo is a look at the life of Kevin Clash, the man behind the muppet who stole our hearts.
(There’s also a book called MY LIFE AS A FURRY RED MONSTER. I’m not sure if I feel the need to read it anymore, since I imagine much of the content would be the same as this documentary.)
I adored every second of this film. Unlike The Pixar Story, this documentary gives you a “character” to latch onto, to root for — and that’s what makes it stick.
We start with Kevin’s humble childhood in Baltimore, with parents who were surprisingly supportive of such an unusual endeavor. (Meanwhile his siblings didn’t get it, and many of his peers mocked him for it.) We laugh when young Kevin cuts up his father’s coat to make his first muppet. We marvel when he puts on shows for the neighborhood kids. We cheer when he gets his first job at a local television station. And we cry (or at least I did) when he goes to New York City to meet Frank Oz and Jim Henson.
Throughout the film, I felt SO inspired by Kevin’s single-minded focus. His passion. His work ethic. I found myself wondering if I could honestly say that I put in as much time, effort, and love to my writing as he did to his puppetry. (No.)
But then the film switches gears and reveals what Kevin sacrificed to become such a success: his family.
At some point he married the girl he had been dating since 19, and they had a daughter. But Kevin was always traveling, entertaining other children with Elmo, and becoming a bigger and bigger part of Sesame Street (writer, producer, director). Unfortunately that kept him away from his wife — they eventually divorced — and worst of all, from his daughter.
I don’t necessarily get the impression that he would go back and change things, but he did seem to regret that he couldn’t be more present as a father. That he couldn’t “have it all.”
That made me wonder about how I want to life my live. Do I want to become so dedicated to my writing that there’s no room for anything else? (No.)
But maybe that’s just what some people are destined for. Like, isn’t the work that Kevin was doing important enough to justify his absence? His family might say no, but when I think about all the children who benefit from Sesame Street — all the dying kids who just want a hug and kiss from Elmo — I have a hard time agreeing.
(I’ve seen this idea of personal sacrifice in other stories, albeit fictional ones. Like The Santa Clause with Tim Allen. Or the HEARTBREAKING romance between Olivia Pope and President Grant on Scandal.)
Anyway. All this is a really long way of saying that Being Elmo is an awesome documentary about a really interesting, quiet figure who has undoubtedly touched your life, even if you had no idea. Also, it shows you that there is SO much more to puppeteering than just sticking your hand in a muppet and making a funny voice.