Archive for April 2012

Filling the Gaps: Practical Magic

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Welcome back to Filling the Gaps, our little series on films we should have seen, but didn't.

Now, you may feel that Practical Magic may not be a gap that necessarily needs to be filled, but I suspect it's more of a personal gap. No movie classic, it has nonetheless hovered in my brain as something I know I'd love (I loved all supernatural shows on the WB...even Charmed). And guess what? I did.

As if there was any chance of failure, with a cast that not only includes Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, but Dianne Wiest, Stockard Channing and Aidan Quinn. And of course a terribly homely European named Goran Visjnic.

I'll be honest, I expected a sort of "quirky romantic comedy," so I was pleasantly surprised at the dark undertones present from the start, and how quickly things veered completely off the rails. Well done, Bullman (seriously, can we have more Nicole Kidman/ Sandra Bullock movies? I'm overcome by the CHARMINGNESS of it all).

If you're on the fence about seeing this, I can only recommend this scene of total insanity (and coconuts):

THOUGHTS

The intro pretty much sums up the entire film: "La la la, I know the music's exceptionally jaunty, but really, there's quite a serious curse that killed your family," said Mother Goose-witch. "There may be no males, but you can have all the sweets you want! Da ha!"

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There can never be anything more delightful than Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest trading barbs in strange Southern accents, like a cantankerous old married couple that can cut you down with a yeehaw spell. They spark wonderful conversations like this:

"Oh good, we can take them to the summer solstice!"

"Fine, but I don't want them dancing naked under the full moon."

"As you remember, nudity is completely optional!"

There was this great period in the mid-90s where children weren't always portrayed as cloying, but actually a bit intelligent, and sort of interesting in their own right. I miss those days. I also miss the days when said children morph into insanely hot Sandra Bullocks.

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The movie's not perfect, by any means. But I forgive everything for this piece of dialogue:

"She just keeps going through all these guys!"

"One day, a guy will go straight through her."

[Cue Nicole Kidman's character, weeping into her ovaries.]

Practical Magic reminds me that another thing the 90s had was Faith Hill, teaching pop-country fans everywhere about centripetal motion and perpetual bliss. Which explains why the movie sometimes feels like an extended remake of one Amy Grant video you may recall:

In more serious news, Nicole Kidman's a remorseless psychopath, which is kind of a nice twist for this sort of movie to take. I sincerely love how Sandra Bullock plays the bookish, uptight sister, while Nicole Kidman plays the wild one. We forget today, but Kidman once made quite a career as a firecracker before she became a "serious actress."

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Favorite thing in the entire movie: Bath salts that transmit Joni Mitchell through the air! Ok, I wouldn't turn that down. Nicole Kidman, why don't you know the lyrics to your magical crystals?

Overall Verdict: Some kind of plot happens, but really, who cares? It's a fun romp that takes some unexpected twists, and Sandra Bullock is utterly charming. It's a shame she hasn't made more movies over the years. But I guess she's ruling the film world in her own way, which is pretty awesome too. Also, it passes the Bechdel test, again and again. If only more movies would realize that female relationships don't revolve entirely around men...

The Good Wife In Review: "The Penalty Box"

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Today we tell the story of a man whose self-regard is torn to shreds. You may wonder which man I refer to: the same could refer to Cary Agos, Peter Florrick, Will Gardner or even the protagonist of this episode, one Judge Cuesta.

Everything's connected; you may recall that Cuesta's the one who gave Alicia her first break, way back in the pilot. He gave her leniency because he respects Peter. If we remember that, we already know that his high opinion of himself is...scarcely deserved.

In a season that's been all about retribution for past mistakes, it's unsurprising that even the robed gods fall into the fray. And they're implicated by exactly the same biases and relationships that affect our protagonists. Some say that the season's been all over the place, but I feel like there's been one uniting theme: those who take shortcuts find their victories short-lived.

  • Alicia embarks on a relationship with Will even though her personal life isn't in a place to support it.
  • Cary assumes the road to success is quick, honest and free of tough decisions.
  • Will and Kalinda, cross-gender doppelgangers, are finding their lives dogged by past sins. There's been a suggestion that Will's are well behind him, but in walks Lemond Bishop, reminding us that certain things never change. And as for Kalinda? Read on, Macduff.

Only Diane rises above the fray. It's impossible not to punch the air when she tells Cuesta off, then Howard, then Will. "Little children, why do you torment me?"

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In Which Kalinda Meets Herself

Oh Kalinda. This is such a Kalinda episode. I've read a few other reviews, but there's only so many times I can read the word "fingerbang" without beginning to giggle, so I'll focus on the other girl-girl action in the episode: Kalinda meeting her future.

Kalinda shows a rare moment of sincerity with Lana (or does she?) as she comes face to face with her mortality. But that's nothing compared to what comes next. A wine merchant who still relies on her own sexy boots of justice plays the ghost of Kalinda's future, warning her against something that's not exactly clear.

I expect the finale to throw some light on our Indian lady of mystery. Who may or not want men on her deserted island.

And a private squee for the most important moment in any tv show this year:

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And thusly we find ourselves with only one episode left. Stop crying, Judy!

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The Good Wife: "Pants On Fire"

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At last, Jackie's malevolence comes front and center. As much as I've focused on Alicia and Diane as the opposite poles of feminine choice, I've ignored what came before: those who find total validation through manipulating the men in their lives.

She's a character as old as time: Jackie's the end product of Great Expectations and the Manchurian Candidate. She's every wicked fairytale stepmother, vengeful Greek goddess and Miss Havisham, all rolled into one. She's Betty Draper, with even more ambition.

But even when doing her worst, Jackie still has to pretend she's motivated by something greater than herself, that she's acting on behalf of her family. It's transparently false, but the fact that she has to make that lie says something about who she is.

She stands in direct contradiction to Kresteva, who doesn't even pretend to justify his subterfuge. He lies, and he loves it.

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Even Peter, the closest we've had to a real villain on this show, lies to protect some image of himself as a family man and a just litigator. Kresteva's truly heartless, a cynical practitioner operating in service of chaos and entropy.

He isn't guided by the goodness of his heart or the assurances of his head or even the failings of his libido. He's a marvelous addition to the show, throwing everybody off of their games. In some ways, he's Kalinda, if she actually achieved the lonely heartlessness she (and Will) claims to desire.

But Kalinda's thirst for power finds direction through love, love of Alicia. Kresteva's lies inside of himself, taking over his entire being. He has to be defeated, because he's a black hole.

And that's why, despite a hundred objections, I'm firmly behind Alicia teaming with Peter to defeat Kresteva. It's gratifying that all the turmoil of the season has finally found a focus: preventing total entropy. Whether it's Jackie or Kresteva, the sociopaths must be stopped. And if they have to work together to defeat them, so be it.

OTHER STUFF

Kalinda and Alicia are friends again! I'll stop mentioning it when it stops making me grin from ear to ear.

Angry Peter is the sexiest Peter. It isn't difficult to see why Alicia was blinded by him for so many years.

Meanwhile, Will's become the legal equivalent of the star athlete struck down by mono, totally impotent, but still pretty convinced of his awesomeness (it's Will, so let's face it, he's justified).

Eli does something related to something tangentially related to the plot. That's all I'll say about that.

Also, there's a case. I think.

5 Reasons We're Glad Revenge is Back

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Revenge isn't a show I regularly recap, because quite frankly, I wouldn't even know where to start (I will kindly refer you to Hello, tailor, who has written an unmissable post on the fabulous sartorial stylings of one eccentric billionaire, Nolan Ross: http://hellotailor.blogspot.com/2011/10/new-style-crush-nolan-ross-in.html).

But don't mistake my wordlessness for a lack of interest. Here are 5 reasons we should all be grateful for the return of Emily Thorne and her various doppelgangers.

1. Jawdroppers - I rely on Revenge to bring me the gasps that The Good Wife inspired in its second season. Anything goes, and that isn't just a marketing ploy. I still worry whether its relentless pace is sustainable, but to be honest, I've been worrying about that since episode three, and 15 episodes later, the writers haven't disappointed.

2a. Music Part 1 - The ridiculously over the top classical music (usually cello) that accompanies 90% of the DRRRRRRAMA. I feel like like this old promo says it all:

2b. Music Part 2 - The wonderful female covers of traditionally masculine songs that accompany the remaining 10% of the DRRRRRRAMA (let's face it, it's Revenge. There's nothing but drama). Yes, folks, that's a Metallica song below.

3. Nolan Ross - What on earth would we do without his bizarre non sequiturs? In a show that often plays like an even darker version of Veronica Mars, he's the one true friend, the one who gets himself mixed up in the darkness, knows it, and still comes back for more. And always with a sly wit.

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4. Madeleine Stowe and Emily van Camp - What would this female-driven show be without its leading ladies? Revenge takes a lot of stick for its overt genre trappings, but at the end of the day, these are two of the most complicated, well-developed female characters that have ever graced the tv screen. Neither of them fit neatly into the heroine/villain tropes, and we wouldn't have them any other way.

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5. Eye candy - No one on this show's gonna break any camera lenses, but there's an uncommonly attractive cast of characters. Emily van Camp's a heartbreaker, of course, but I personally cannot choose between her two loves (narratively speaking, though, Daniel has to die. Let's see if this bears out). I'll let my 14 year old self stare at Nick Wechsler until she works it out. Play along in the comments. Preferable with pictures.

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Mad Men: Season 5 To Date, or, Mad Men: The Sitcom

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I've meant to do comic recaps of the show like I did last season, but as I've pointed out elsewhere, it's hard to create comic recaps of a comedy. And even if Mad Men isn't striving to be a comedy, persay, it now lives in a vaudevillian space, with real human emotion transformed into grotesques and American history as paranoid horror.

The show hasn't lost its energy, but that energy has been rocketed in a million different directions, creating a season that might charitably be described as a mess. An entertaining mess, to be sure, but a mess nonetheless.

With a few exceptions, the characters have lost their humanity and have become enslaved to Matt Weiner's machinations, plucking at the bolts of their lives with as little agency as Ken Cosgrove's sad little robot.

It makes a certain amount of sense that Don's become static, and there's an inherent tragedy in what's happened to Roger, but Pete's so fickle that he hardly seems like a real person anymore.

Pete's desperation for Don's approval has become more than a little tired. It's difficult to sympathize with his struggle to establish his manhood, because his idea of what manhood ought to look like is so nonsensical in the first place. Trudy certainly hasn't emasculated him, and he has a powerful position at the firm.

He's the John Updike character in a show that always had more of a Richard Yates or John Cheever flavor, searching for petty pleasures rather than clawing at the world to find a path to humanity.

That said, how could I object to anything that leads to this?

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All punching aside, the strongest stories in this new Mad Men involve those characters who are still forging ahead to create their own destinies, fighting the tides: Megan, Joan and Lane.

And where our old guard remains interesting is how they respond to the new fire within these three characters. Take, Don for example.

He has officially become your curmudgeonly Grandpa, more content to sip scotch while sitting in his boxer shorts and watching a ball game than horror of horrors, socializing.

Don's  life has become epitomized by the incurious "why":

  • "Why do we have to go out on a Saturday night?"
  • "Why can't I just stay in with you?"
  • "Why have you dressed me in the sartorial equivalent of a hurdy-gurdy?":

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He allows himself to be railroaded to a certain extent, because it's what he wants at this stage in time. Like most men who've encountered their share of angst and self-destruction, what he longs for in the end is a measure of peace. That's why his own personal nightmare involves the most dramatic destruction of that peace possible, where his entire ability to make decisions for himself is challenge by animal fears.

For the terrors that the world brings cannot ever match the terror he feels in his heart, the fear that he can never settle down and stop destroying his own life. Dick Whitman's more terrifying to him than Charles Whitman could ever be.

So while I'm tiring of the repeated sensationalism of this season and the necessity to insert not just one but usually two contemporary set-pieces into the cozy SCDP world, I feel like those events are meant to reflect what's going on inside of Don. But the lens has grown too large.

Play along in the comments, and I'll be back next week!

A Female Director for The Hunger Games?

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Over at Women In Hollywood, a fantastic blog on women in the movies, Melissa Silverstein wonders whether there's potential to hire a female director now that Gary Ross has stepped down/been pushed out/whatever.

We all know the state of female directors in mainstream movies (be honest, can you name more than one off the top of your head?). Nonetheless, it would be fantastic to see a triumph of female strength like The Hunger Games be helmed by, well, a woman.

So I'd like to open the floor to you, dear reader. Make your case for the perfect director for Catching Fire and Mockingjay (yes, you can nominate a different director for each).

I'll get the ball rolling: my vote goes firmly to Jane Campion. I recently saw The Piano for the first time, and have been haunted its portrayal of brutal violence (I won't spoil it for you here, but it's probably the first thing anyone thinks of when they think of this film). Campion masterfully gives voice to a woman who has none but her instrument.

Katniss is similar to Ada McGrath in many ways. She may not be mute, but she remains totally insignificant, a bit player on the universal stage, but retains her humanity despite circumstances that conspire to destroy it entirely.

We can only imagine what Campion would have done with the first movie, but we can hope (against hope) that she becomes involved at some stage.

Runner-up: Mary Harron, who directed American Psycho.

And the floor's open!

Beautiful Stop-Motion Film of "The Old Man and the Sea"

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I'm no great fan of Hemingway (frankly, apart from In Our Time, I can't understand the appeal of his work whatsoever), but The Old Man and the Sea was a particular bugaboo. I had to read it no less than 5 times over the course of high school and college, and each time, I wanted to put a bullet in my brain. The narcissistic obsessions of men who've lost sight of everything that makes life worth living don't tend to excite my interest (see also: Dick, Moby).

But part of my issue with Old Man is that like Santiago, the writing, too, is lifeless. Add to that the fact that every creative writing professor I ever had in college insisted that the only correct way to write fiction is to model oneself on Hemingway's style (aka bloodless and devoid of beauty), and you have all the makings of an Oncoming Hate.

But this, this is beautiful. A German film-maker turns the story into 4 minutes of stop-motion gorgeousness. Watch and marvel.

the old man and the sea from Marcel Schindler on Vimeo.

Movie Stars In Their First Roles

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This is pretty amazing. Some kind soul has created a video featuring the earliest roles of some of our big stars today. My main takeaway: it's possible that Jack Nicholson has actually become less creepy over time. And Zach Braff in a 1980's Woody Allen movie? What?

I am a bit surprised it didn't include Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Goldblum in Annie Hall, but I guess you could make an entire video just of debuts in Woody Allen films.

Enjoy!

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