Saturday, December 31, 2011

have a bubbly new year's eve

Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart raise a glass
Jack Lemmon jams with his warlock friends at the Zodiac Club in Bell, Book, and Candle
Cary Grant watches Katherine Hepburn's back in Bringing Up Baby
Rita Hayworth with Glenn Ford in Gilda
Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart out on the town in In A Lonely Place

Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, December 30, 2011

new year's movie meme

The Girl with the White Parasol has posted a New Year's Movie Meme, which I thought would be fun to do. I write about books and television and lots of other things that come into my head, but my love of pop culture originated with watching old movies with my parents. These days I watch them with my daughter.

Feel free to pass on the meme or post your answers to the ten questions in the comments section.

Happy New Year!

1. What is your all-time favorite Grace Kelly costume?

The woman could wear clothes like few others, but my favorite is the first fabulous gown she wears in Rear Window, when she sweeps into Jimmy Stewart's apartment, and Hitchcock just lets her get closer and closer as she goes in for a kiss and fills the camera screen. The audience can't help but immediately fal in love with her. The dress is as wonderful as its wearer. It's the ultimate '50s glamour look, with cinched waist, full skirt, and accented with red, red lipstick and pearls.

2. What classic film would you nominate for a remake?

This is a tough one. I generally don't like remakes. It's not exactly a classic, but Dune might benefit from a remake. The David Lynch version is just gross and cheesy. With today's special effects it might be a pretty cool sci-fi film.

3. Name your favorite femme fatale.

Its hard to top Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessey in The Maltese Falcon. She isn't the typical voluptuous figure that we might first think of with the term femme fatale, but she uses her mind and her feminine wiles and leaves a trail of sorry males in her wake.

4. Name the best movie with the word "heaven" in its title.

Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait, with Steve Martin's Pennies from Heaven a close second.

5. Describe the worst performance by a child actor that you’ve ever seen.

I know people love this movie, but I'm not that fond of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (he's great in A.I.) I also can't stand the forced cuteness of Jonathan Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire. It's less the kids' fault than the roles they play.

6. Who gets your vote for most tragic movie monster?

I think Irena (Simone Simone), from Cat People is the most tragic. She so wants to live a normal life and fall in love, but she can't deny her feline impulses and heritage. Violence stalks her.

7. What is the one Western that you would recommend to anybody?

I don't consider myself a Western fan, but thinking about this question made me realize that there are a lot of great Westerns for non-Western fans to enjoy. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is probably the one I would recommend to anyone, as the charming combination of Paul Newman and Robert Redford is hard to beat. But other non-traditional Westerns that are great movies are Bad Day at Black Rock with Spencer Tracy, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, comic western 4 for Texas with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and the recent animated Rango, featuring Johnny Depp.

8. Who is your ideal movie-viewing partner?

I've had many. My movie buff dad was my first. He let me watch everything — horror films, epics, gangster movies, epics. In my 20s my best bud Mary and I were great movie watching companions. These days I like watching my daughter discover Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and lots of other favorites.

9. Has a film ever made you want to change your life? If so, what was the film?

I don't think a specific film has made me want to change my life, but there are some that have had an almost visceral effect on me (A Clockwork Orange, Vertigo). Movies have always been a huge part of my life — watching, talking, and now writing about them.

10. Think of one performer that you truly love. Now think of one scene/movie/performance of theirs that is too uncomfortable for you to watch.

I love Gene Kelly, and although he had nothing to be ashamed of, Xanadu didn't need to be made.

11. On the flip side, think of one really good scene/performance/movie from a performer that you truly loathe.

It's hard to think of an actor or actress that I loathe — that's such a strong word. I'm not a huge fan of Christian Bale, but there's no denying he's good in the Batman films.

12. And finally, since it will be New Year's soon, do you have any movie or blogging-related resolutions for 2012?

I would like to write more in-depth, detailed pieces on some of my favorite films. I've actually just started to do that. My first one, On Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart, will run on January 2.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, December 29, 2011

plots are overrated — ondine and the station agent

Movies are a great form to tell stories, but some of the best out there forgo traditional narrative for a slice of life. These films offer glimpses into people's lives; lives that seem full and real and would go on whether the audience was in the theater or not. There may be a love story woven into the film, and dramatic scenes, but the romance isn't the point of the movie, nor is the drama engineered so that the characters learn some valuable lesson. They live and we watch them.

Syracuse and the catch of the day
Two great movies of this sort are Ondine and The Station Agent. Both movies, apart from letting us spend time with some great characters, are also set in places that are off-the-beaten-track. They feature people who live outside of big cities, whose lives don't center around plots involving saving the world, or seeking revenge, or getting the girl (or boy).

I have to admit that besides the great acting, a big appeal that these films have for me is their total lack or need of anything big or big city about them. I love to watch a blockbuster movie, but not all the time. I also love big cities, and have lived in two (New York and D.C.) and visited many (London, Paris, Cairo, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, Amsterdam) but at this time in my life the lure of a big town is about null. 

When I was young and in my twenties being somewhere with a lot of visual and aural stimulation was great. I wanted all of that noise: "You've got to try this place, see this show" and so on. Being in the navel of the world, feeling that everything is happening in your town, can make you feel not just that your finger is on the pulse, but reassured. You're never alone. There are so many others there for the same reason, after the same, indefinable "it" experience. But now that I am more removed from that sort of hustle and bustle other things take more precedence. I notice nature more. Have time to shoot the breeze with total strangers. Get caught up in nuance. These films touch on that type of experience.

In Ondine, Syracuse (Colin Farrell), nicknamed "Circus," is a recovering alcoholic and fisherman. He is divorced and devoted to his only daughter, Annie (a very good Alison Barry). His life is pretty basic. trying to spend as much time as he can with Annie, make a living off the sea, and stay off the booze. His friends and neighbors aren't convinced he isn't still a drunk, but he is a man who is trying hard to live a better life. Annie is on dialysis, due to serious kidney problems, and must frequently use a motorized wheelchair. They have a close relationship, which can handle some teasing banter.
Annie, "You sure it's not some kind of wish-fulfillment kind of thing?"
Syracuse, "Where did you learn words like that?"
Annie, "I go to school."
Syracuse, "And I didn't ..."
Annie, "No. Let's be honest, you didn't. You move your mouth when you read."
As the film opens, Syracuse fishes a young woman (Alicja Bachleda) out of the sea. She tells him her name is Ondine, like the water spirit. When he tells Annie a story about a fisherman who found a woman in his nets Annie does a little research and becomes convinced that Ondine is a selkie. The movie strikes just the right tone between real life, despair, and fantasy. The setting, County Cork, Ireland, is gorgeous, as are the actors. It's a fairytale, but never twee — a lyrical film from the great Neil Jordan.

Alison Barry and Colin Farrell
In The Station Agent Peter Dinklage plays Fin — quiet, handsome, and a dwarf. A train enthusiast, he has inherited the station house in a small town in Newfoundland, New Jersey, from his recently deceased closest (and only) friend. He wants to keep himself to himself, but he can't help getting involved with four of the locals.
Fin, "You said you weren't going to talk to me if I sat here, Joe."
Joe, "I haven't said anything in like twenty minutes."
Fin checks his pocket watch, "Nine."
Joe "You timed me? "
Fin, "Mm-hmm."
Joe, "That's cold, bro."
One, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), nearly runs him over as he walks down the road (twice). She has her own troubles — her young son died two years ago and she is separated from her husband and is trying to sort out her life. Another, Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a loquacious food truck vendor, as soon as he meets Fin is determined to be his friend whether he likes him or not. The third, Emily (Michelle Williams), a young woman who works in the local library, sparks his interest. And the fourth, a young girl named Cleo, shares his love of trains and wants him to come and talk to her class at school. Fin has spent so much of his life dodging stares and stupid "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" remarks that he is unprepared for people who like him for himself, aren't put off by his stature.

Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale

Fin, "I'm retired, actually."
Emily, "Aren't you a little young to be retired?"
Fin, "No, dwarves retire early. Common fact."
Emily, "Yeah, lazy dwarves."

Writer/Director Thomas McCarthy has assembled a great cast. Dinklage is wonderful, as are his costars, in this slice of life about love and grief and loneliness and friendship.  They all make Newfoundland, New Jersey a great place to spend some time.

If you like to get caught up in nuance, or would like a break from the latest animated extravaganza, romantic comedy, high-tech thriller, or zombie apocalypse, I highly recommend a slice of life film. Ondine and The Station Agent are two great places to start.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

sherlock holmes and the cult of personality

How much of our love of movies and television is based on some indefinable desire, or connection, with certain actors? We may get excited by certain themes and characters and genres, but usually what gets us into the seats are the actors.

Holmes and Watson share a drink
I really enjoyed the latest Sherlock Holmes movie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with Robert Downey, Jr. He is more over-the-top than ever in this steampunky, semi-anachronistic, but always fun action movie mash-up. The camera loves him, whether he is in drag or sporting a completely (deliberately) transparent disguise. There are some great action sequences and snappy dialogue. The other actors are all top-notch, too. Jude Law returns as Dr. Watson and he and Downey, Jr. still have a wonderful rapport. Director Guy Ritchie is happy to give them plenty of opportunity to banter between and during the highly choreographed fight sequences.
Watson watches Holmes take a drink, "You're drinking embalming fluid?"
Holmes, "Yes. Care for a drop?"
Watson, "You do seem ..."
Holmes, "Excited?"
Watson, "Manic."
Holmes, "I am."
Watson, "Verging on ..."
Holmes, "Ecstatic?"
Watson, "Psychotic. I should've brought you a sedative."
Rachel McAdams is also back, albeit too briefly, as Holmes's bad girl love interest, Irene Adler. Stephen Fry gives Downey, Jr. a run for his scene-stealing money with his version of Holmes's smarter (and apparently nudist) brother Mycroft, who calls his brother "Sherly." Noomi Rapace is appealing as the Gypsy Simza and Jared Harris is excellent as a very sinister and sociopathic Moriarty. But what is best about the film, what the film is truly about, is Downey's performance. That is what brings the most joy, why tickets and popcorn were purchased.

"You know, he's nothing like as slow witted as you've been leading me to believe, Sherly. "

Downey Jr. is not only helping to give Ritchie the directing career he has always wanted and for which he showed promise, but his surprise success as Ironman has also revitalized (for better or worse) super heroes at the movies. It's as if the world has finally discovered this charismatic and humorous actor, although he has been doing impressive work for years (Chaplin, Restoration, The Soloist, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Due Date, Tropic Thunder, etc.) He is comfortable in both leading and supporting roles, but there is no denying that Downey Jr. is an actor that people will go to the movies expressly to see. Ritchie has cannily combined Downey Jr's watchability with a character that also has a built-in audience, Sherlock Holmes — jackpot.

Downey Jr. as Iron Man
So how much of watching and loving movies and television is tied up with the cult of personality? When I think of some of my favorite actors I have to admit that although they are different from role to role, there is something, some element of their personality, that is also always there, and that I just like. I like them. And if the movie or television show or theater piece that they are appearing in sounds halfway decent (or even if it doesn't) they are usually enough to get me there. I would watch Derek Jacobi in anything. Or John Hurt, Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, Sean Bean or Steve Buscemi. Luckily for me, they have showing up in some amazing pieces lately, Game of Thrones (Bean), Boardwalk Empire (Buscemi), The Iron Lady (Streep), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Oldman and Hurt). I want to see Johnny Depp's new movies, even the awful misfires he's been making lately with best bud Tim Burton. I'm still trying to erase Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter from my memory. They better not screw up Barnabas Collins in the upcoming Dark Shadows. Some other personalities that I keep an eye out for are Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Owen Wilson, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson and Helen Mirren.

As Charlie Chaplin
My cult of personalities doesn't just apply to current actors. I grew up watching black and white movies on television with the old man, who loved all the '30s gangster movies. I inherited his love of Humphrey Bogart — I never quite got to like Jimmy Cagney or George Raft — sorry, dad. I still love Bogie, who was both a great actor and a great personality. His Rick Blaine is a very different man from his Sam Spade or Captain Queeg or Dixon Steele, and yet all of those characters are somehow still Bogie, too.

I don't think my liking of the actor or actress diminishes their talent. Likability is what makes an actor a star, versus just a good actor. There are plenty of very good, talented actors out there, some who have even had Hollywood careers, but maybe never became big stars. Actors like Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra are all talented, but they also have that something extra that makes us connect with them as people. We like looking at them. One of the reasons different projects keep trying to capture Marilyn Monroe and can't quite completely is that she, her personality, was unique and special. Michelle Williams may get close, but she can't help but bring her own Michelle William-ness to her depiction. This applies to Downey Jr.'s excellent portrayal of Charlie Chaplin, as well.

Robert Downey Jr., through the force of his personality and likability, has gone from being comic relief in early projects like Back to School and Johnny Be Good and "actor's actor" movies like Chaplin to become a bona fide movie star. There is already talk of a third movie in the works. Bravo, Downey Jr. Looking forward to wherever your personality takes you and us next.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Article first published as Book Review: Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx, edited by Robert S. Bader on Blogcritics.

My dad was a huge Marx Brothers fan, and I grew up watching their movies with him on television. Their crazy antics were (and still are) funny and surprising to watch: Harpo, silent and subversive with his top hat and raincoat that held all sorts of humorous props, including a horn he could honk at inappropriate moments; Chico, constantly chasing girls and cracking wise; Zeppo, always the affable straight man; and Groucho, with his painted-on mustache, glasses, and omnipresent cigar, saying outrageously funny or simply outrageous things, and circling the perimeter with his trademark hunched-over walk.

The Marx Brothers, L-R: Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, and Chico
I bought my father an album one year, An Evening with Groucho, from a performance he did in 1972 at Carnegie Hall. He sang songs and told old jokes and stories about his family. Groucho had a distinctive personality, voice, and delivery, and while I was reading Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx I couldn't help but hear the funnyman's voice, much as I remembered him on that album.

We all know that Julius "Groucho" Marx made movies with his brothers and hosted the successful quiz show You Bet Your Life for many years, but many may not realize that he was also a prolific writer. It makes sense, as many comedians write their own material. Groucho and his brothers wrote many of their stage shows and movies, but they also had writing collaborators.

Editor Robert S. Bader points out in his introduction that because of the close relationship of Groucho with his writing partners, it was often difficult to determine the extent of some of their contributions. Groucho might have an idea and write something up, and then send it to friend and collaborator Arthur Sheekman for polishing. Whether you are put off by whether Groucho may have collaborated on any of the writings included in this book or not, they are undoubtedly in Groucho's familiar, comic voice.

Not only is the book full of funny anecdotes and Groucho's trademark humor, but there are lots of insights into his early days in theater, vaudeville, and movies, detailing how the Marx Brothers got their start in show business, with stories about their life on the stage (and on the road). Their mother got them started in show business and was also their manager, booking them in vaudeville venues and traveling across the country with them while their father stayed at home. From the chapter "Our Father and Us" :
"During our early years in the theater, when my mother was camping in the booking-managers' offices, informing anyone who would listen that her sons had got a lot of laughs in Aurora, or that they had taken four bows in Freeport, Frenchy was at home preparing a dinner."
He goes on to tell funny stories about his father Frenchy's fabulous foodstuffs and his not-so-fabulous attempts to start his own tailoring business.

Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx shows that Groucho was a sought-after and accomplished essayist, his pieces appearing in publications like The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Variety, and Hollywood Reporter.

There is also previously unpublished material in the book; letters and other ephemera, including family photographs. One of the more humorous, a letter he wrote to Woody Allen, with whom he struck up a friendship in the '60s:
"I've arrived at the age where I'm beginning to believe it's more fun to talk about sex than have it. When I say 'sex,' I assume you know what I'm referring to."
Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx is a book that is best enjoyed by reading an essay or two at at time, rather than trying to read it all at once, from cover to cover. Groucho was a funny man, and his self-deprecating humor was always observant. Readers may want to savor some of it before going along to his next joke, like this excerpt from "Bad Days Are Good Memories," a piece Groucho wrote for the Saturday Evening Post:
"For me, a happy experience does not necessarily mean a happy memory. On the contrary, I am sometimes jealous of my past."
Now who hasn't felt like that? Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales: Selected Writings of Groucho Marx is a great look into one of America's funniest voices.

p.s. Some of my favorite Groucho quotes:

Go, and never darken my towels again.

I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.

I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.

I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.

I worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, December 26, 2011

almost good — we bought a zoo

I really wanted to like We Bought A Zoo. It had a chance to be something at least fun for kids or quirky/interesting for adults, but director Cameron Crowe takes it so far away from its heart, about a grieving man trying to give his kids a better life, and instead opts to tell a trite and unbelievable love story, as well as trying to preach another one of his catch-phrasy messages at the audience, "All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage," which is supposed to pass for wisdom. People don't talk like that. I'm looking at you, Jerry Maguire.

Damon has more chemistry with a tiger than he does with Johansson
Crowe blows it, not only by pushing an unwanted romance, but also by undermining the built-in animal friendliness that was inherent in the real story of Benjamin Mee and his purchase and refurbishment of a dilapidated family-owned zoo. Crowe has his characters opine, "I like the animals, but I love the humans." Did he really make a movie called We Bought A Zoo and decide that he should push a point about humans being more important than animals? Sounds like hunters, not zoologists, would be the audience for that message. As Crowe told New York Magazine, "It’s got animals attached, and the animals end up being a metaphor for getting over grief."

Even if Crowe did shoot his own film in the foot, there are some bright spots. Matt Damon is completely convincing as a man who just can't get past losing the love of his life to a wasting illness. He has a nice rapport with both kids, the adorable girl that plays his 7 year-old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and boy who plays his troubled teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) with whom he spends most of the movie trying to find a common ground. They are both grief-stricken, and are believably awkward and tough with each other. He also connects with the animals, especially an elder dying tiger named Spar.

We Bought a Zoo also has some predictable, but still delightfully wacky characters in its motley crew of zoo staff, with Angus MacFadyen (Braveheart, Californication) and Elle Fanning (Super 8, The Nutcracker) as standouts. Thomas Haden Church (Easy A, All About Steve) is always welcome when he is on screen as Damon's cynical brother with a heart of gold. As is hard-assed zoo inspector John Michael Higgins. The movie could have been so much better if it had canned the romance and concentrated on the people and the animals. Why do movies always have to shove a love story down our throats? It's hardly an original plot twist, and in this film is out of place and hard to stomach. Did Crowe really want us to root for the guy who is tortured by losing the love of his life for 120 of its 124 minutes and then have him get over it find "love" with someone 14 years his junior in its last four?
They even look uncomfortable standing near one another
Which brings us to Scarlett Johansson. Damon and Johansson, who plays zookeeper Kelly, have zero chemistry. Johanssen, as usual,  is a bit of a negative presence on screen. She purses her lips in a half-smile in just about every scene, which is a step up, I guess, from her usual blank demeanor, but she doesn't convey much emotion besides the ability to smirk. The one exception is a scene she plays with just the kids. She orders them a pizza and talks with Dylan, and seems, for a few moments, really involved. But as a head zookeeper and a possible replacement love interest for Damon's grieving widower she is woefully miscast. It also doesn't help that the few scenes depicting Katherine, the deceased wife (Stephanie Szostak, Dinner for Schmucks), Katherine's character is so much more compelling than Kelly's.

We Bought a Zoo never really touches on why or how the little zoo existed in the first place. There was an interesting story here, with some potentially intriguing, offbeat people, but unfortunately, that's not the story that Crowe chose to tell.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, December 25, 2011

xmas comes (very) early

VERY early this morning (I think it was technically morning) the kid sneaked into my room and announced that Santa had come, because there were a lot more presents under the tree than when she went to bed last night.


I explained through muffled bed linens that I don't put my presents out until after she goes to sleep, so after a little investigating she found mine and an unlabeled gift bag full of goodies that she determined must be from Santa.


Of course opening one gift led to another and soon the cats even got to play with what was in their stocking (and all the wrapping paper) and my bedroom floor looked exactly like what it should on a Christmas morning. A total mess.


Merry Xmas!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, December 24, 2011

i believe in father christmas

My almost eight year-old has been asking me all month long about Santa. She was bugged that some of the kids at school were trying to convince her that he doesn't exist. A lot of her friends still believe, but she has asked me if I do, too. I answered unhesitatingly in the affirmative. And I'm not lying. That doesn't mean that I believe that a jolly man in a red suit will be coming down our non-existent chimney tonight. But I do believe that Santa, something magical, does exist in the world, most definitely in my daughter's world. When kids grow up and become parents they become Santa. They make magic for their kids. They pass the baton, so that their children can share in that same feeling that they remember from their childhood — a mixture of hope, anticipation, faith and disbelief — could it really be? And then the presents are there in the morning — magic!

I don't blame the playground kids. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs or disbeliefs. I first covered this topic two Xmas eves ago and still feel exactly the same way:
The whole world is magical to kids. They want to believe in Santa, Rudolph, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc. Kids don't live in a bubble. At five my daughter and her friends are already deeply discussing whether Santa, etc. exists. Some are trying to convince her otherwise, like kids tried back in 1897 to Virginia O'Hanlon. I'm in the "He's real" camp until she shows signs of not wanting to believe anymore. Kids can be cruel and just plain silly, but the "There is no Santa" schoolyard discussions seem to me less an attempt to blow a hole in the magic bubble, but an attempt to appear smarter, more knowledgeable of the oh-so-attractive grown-up world. Kids, if you only had the merest glimpse of the mundanity of many aspects of what it is to be "grown-up," you'd relax and settle back and bask in fantasies like Santa as long as possible.

I also think it is worth reprinting some words of Santa wisdom from one of my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith (originally printed in Parade):
Myths help us to get by. The day they all die and we tell our children exactly how things are, the world will be a poorer, less enchanted place. So don’t be ashamed to clap your hands at Peter Pan or act as if Santa exists. He stands for kindness and generosity, and those things are alive and will continue to be alive—as long as we believe in them.
I have some cookies to decorate for Santa — Merry Christmas!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, December 23, 2011

winter strings concert

The kid is in beginning violin and had her first public concert the other night. She did a great job and it was a thrill to watch her up on stage with her friends. Passing the baton can actually be quite enjoyable.

Tuning up before the concert.

One of five numbers, Ludwig Van's Ode to Joy

Apres concert, in the audience with mom and Grandma, watching the older kids perform.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

first day of winter ...

... Florida style.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

this is justin bieber

Article first published as TV Review: This is Justin Bieber on Blogcritics.

TLC premieres a special presentation featuring teen music sensation Justin Bieber, This is Justin Bieber, tonight, December 21 at 9 p.m. ET. Part holiday special, part mini-documentary, the special offers a glimpse into Justin's madcap touring schedule, as well as incorporating some biographical footage fans may recognize from his feature-length concert movie, Never Say Never.

Bieber first came to attention in 2008 after his mother posted videos of him performing songs on YouTube. Manager Scooter Braun introduced him to his idol Usher, who immediately wanted to help manage his career, and he was soon signed to Island Records with L.A. Reid. In just two short years he has become a major pop success story, including albums, videos, television appearances, and film. He is now poised to premiere his very first television special.

In This is Justin Bieber Justin performs several acoustic versions of songs from his recently released holiday album, Under The Mistletoe, including "Mistletoe," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and his own hip-hop influenced version of "The Little Drummer Boy," "Drummer Boy," with help from British rapper Tinie Tempah.

The special was filmed during a visit to London. Exhausted from coming off a multi-city tour, but always willing to please his fans, Justin is toured around London in a double-decker bus. Host Reggie Yates (Top of the Pops, Dance Factory) shows him all of the top tourist sights of London, but also takes him to perform for fans at a busy mall, light a giant Christmas tree, and visit the Chelsea Football Club, which is lots of fun for Justin, who gets to meet players Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres and even kick a few balls with them around the field. There are definite perks to being a multi-platinum-selling teen pop star. But the power of his popularity really comes through when he visits a teen cancer ward and lights up the faces of the residents as if they were front row at his concert.

There is plenty of music in the hour-long special, too. Fans will be pleased to hear live versions of favorite tunes like "Never Say Never," "Pray" (seated at a grand piano), and his cover of Usher's "You Got it Bad." This is Justin Bieber is a new sort of holiday special. Clearly inspired by The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, it shows how pop idols are still an important part of young girls' lives and obsessions.

Justin ends the show with his biggest hit, "Baby," closing with an energetic drum solo, a huge smile on his face. Part of his appeal is that he seems to be having as much fun as his fans, which comes through loud and clear in This is Justin Bieber.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


My family has always prided itself on their intellectual pursuits. We're all bibliophiles. We love to learn new things. We're perpetual students. So I'm finding it very hard at times to deal with my mom's dementia.

She was a schoolteacher. She's the only person I've ever known who would actually read a newspaper from front to back, every article. She taught me how to do crossword puzzles and the New York Times Magazine acrostic. And now she can no longer read. She can barely talk. She substitutes words now, as nouns and names are difficult. So has catch-all phrases like "your regular thing" to refer to any number of things. Because of context, I can understand most of the time what is it she wants to say. Or after a while I puzzle it out. I know her well enough to guess what she's referring to. But as she continues to forget things it gets harder and harder.

How does this happen? How can someone who used to love to read in French and English now suddenly not be able to read a children's book to her granddaughter? How do I deal with the fear that this could happen to me? Or my daughter? It's hard to imagine anything worse. I look around the house, surrounded by the biblio-evidence of her enthusiasms. My mother's, my daughter's, my father's, my own. Books collected through the years, preserved and loved. Of places we've traveled, mysteries we puzzled over and even solved, languages we've learned. And now for her that's all gone.

I try to help preserve what's left of her as best I can. We watch lots of movies together. She can still remember actors and actresses. She knows faces, thank goodness. At least for now. The names are gone, but if she looks to me and asks, I tell her the name and she remembers. Or maybe she doesn't. I'm not sure if the names even matter anymore. But the people do. And she loves to try to find their names in the credits.

Up to few months ago she still had enthusiasm for buying books. But I noticed more and more, that she never actually read the books that we bought for her. If we go to a thrift store or bookstore, she still loves to look at books. But now she says, "This would be interesting," meaning for me. She still wants to get books for my daughter.

I find myself reading and writing more and more, as she becomes involved with words less and less. I guess that's all I can say about this for now.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, December 19, 2011

a movie that needs both a colon and a hyphen in its title

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol opened in IMAX theaters last weekend with great results and will open wide this week. Studios are hoping that this week's word-of-mouth will encourage audiences to view it in IMAX, which is of course a little more expensive. But if there is any film that someone might want to see in IMAX, this would be the one, if just for the greatly publicized death-defying stunt that Cruise pulls as he rappels Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world. But that sequence, as spectacular as it is (and it truly is), is just the tip of the movie's iceberg. Icebergs are practically the only thing Cruise's Ethan Hunt doesn't go up against in this fast-paced thriller. He and his IMF espionage team break out of a Russian prison, and into the Kremlin all before his stunt in Dubai, which is just the first half of the movie.

That's Cruise, Tom Cruise
The plot is something about Cruise and Co. needing to stop a nuclear warhead being set off — why the villain (Michael Nyqvist) of the piece wants to do that is never adequately explained, but seriously, who cares? People are in the theater to see Cruise in his impossible, unstoppable form. While I was watching the movie I couldn't help but marvel at 49 year-old Cruise, truly a madman. Not in the mean-spirited sense that the internet likes to imply, but he is a fool for his art. The man will do anything to get people in the seats, to entertain them.

Why else would he perfect his trademark high knee, arms pumping running style (and be sure that he is always running)? Or make such a physically demanding movie when he could settle back and drink G&Ts by the pool, or just do comic cameos like he did in Tropic Thunder? Certainly he is his own worst critic — a lot of his stunts seem expressly designed for him to prove to himself he's still got it, but again with that main motivation to get us into the theater. I expect Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol will do just that. Its main box office opponent in the thrills department this week was the new Sherlock Holmes film, which didn't do as well as expected (although I'd like to see that one, too). When it opens wide next week it should clean up.

Pump those arms and legs, Tom, a sandstorm's coming
Cruise's fascinating adrenaline junkiness aside, what was most interesting to me was director Brad Bird's (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) seamless transition from animation to live action. It was Bird who insisted on filming in IMAX vs. 3D, God bless him. I am so sick of dull 3D and want to see its over-priced gimmickry go away. There's nothing wrong with a huge screen, like the old classic movie houses of yesteryear, especially for a film like this. Bird expresses this sentiment more eloquently:
"Part of the pitch of 3-D has always been “It’s more immersive.” And I agree that added depth perception is immersive, but you dim the image down and now I’m taking a step back. You put on glasses and now I’m taking another step back ... I feel like multiplexes and the shutting down of the grand old theaters have taken a lot of the showmanship out of presenting movies. There used to be a thing such as “first run.” The meaning of “first run” is gone now because on opening day you can see a brand new movie on a good screen but it’s more likely you’ll see it on a crappy screen. ... To me, the best example of showmanship now is IMAX. I pushed to shoot in IMAX, and Paramount went along with me ... the image quality – you can’t get that any other way … you really feel it when it’s in IMAX. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to do a whole film that way." — L.A. Times
The view from up here is spectacular
Almost 30 minutes of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was filmed in IMAX, including the thrilling shots in Dubai. But the script also has lots of humor, which is a very welcome counterpoint to Cruise's Ethan Hunt, who most of the time is required to be deadly serious, although even he is allowed a few well-placed one-liners. The comedy comes mostly from his team members Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner. The team is rounded out (and very curvaceously) by Paula Patton, who is much more than just a pretty face, as she quips and kicks butt as well as the rest of them. Fans of Lost will also enjoy a blink-or-you'll-miss-him cameo by Josh Holloway. Hopefully Hollywood will take note how very much at home he was in an action-adventure movie, albeit briefly.

There are quite a few visual set pieces besides Dubai — a car chase in a sandstorm, an automated multi-level parking garage in Mumbai (full of product-placement BMWs). There were also some amusing uses of technology. As the gang pulled off one maneuver after another, sometimes using just an iPhone I couldn't help thinking, "Disarm a nuclear warhead, track a bad guy in a sandstorm: they've got an app for that." But mostly Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is entertaining. It's not a "ride" — one of my most-hated Hollywood parlance used to sell a movie. It's a full-frontal assault on your senses. It's take-no-prisoners, full-speed ahead. Just like the character of Ethan Hunt, just like Tom Cruise.

Enhanced by Zemanta