Friday, December 30, 2011

Should old Acquaintance be Forgot....Some Hopeful Pop Culture Events for 2012


Revenge-After watching the first nine minutes of the first episode in 2012 I hope the show continues on it brilliant soapy path it started with in the fall.

Community-I just hope NBC realizes what it has with this show, cancels Whitney, and brings this show back, and stops this quick hiatus.

30 Rock-  I hope that Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin realize that while I love this show it may be time to pull the plug after at least year 7.  I do not see the show going much further, I think they should end after this year, but I do not think that will happen.  Who knows maybe season 6 will bring back the glory days of this show.

Mad Men-After almost two years of being off the air, I am excited to have this show back in my living room.  I want more Don Draper in my living room.  This great show has taken too long to come back, thanks a lot for drawing out the contracts AMC.


Meryl Streep-Simply put, I have not seen Meryl in her new film, but I want to see her win her third Academy Award this year she deserves to have a third Oscar on her mantle.

The Amazing Spiderman, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises-These three comic book films look promising.  Spiderman needed a reboot after the mess of Spiderman 3, and I think Andrew Garfield will be a better Peter Parker, although this looks to be taking the franchise into a darker place.  The build up to The Avengers has all the chess pieces in place, we have seen every film so character development does matter as much.  I think the story and action look awesome!  The Dark Knight was/is the best comic book film of all time so it will be tough for the final installment to live up to its predecessor, but I think Nolan is up to the task,  I hope all three of these films knock it out the park.

The Post Oscar drought -From February to the end of April the movies fall apart for me every year.  The only two films I want to see are The Hunger Games and  potentially 21 Jump Street.  I hope there are some diamonds in the rough that emerge out of nowhere.  There better be or I will be in trouble.

Magic Mike- A movie about male strippers that includes Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Bomer,  and Joe Mangamiello better have some full frontal-that's all I am saying.

Movie musicals-Rock of Ages and Les Miserables will most likely both be released in 2012.  They both better be good.  Rock looks fun, and Les Mis has so much potential.


U2-I have heard this may be their last major CD release for a VERY long time, in fact they are potentially talking about doing each of their projects.  If this is true I am hoping that this CD surpasses their last album, and makes me forget about Bono and the Edge writing Spiderman the musical.

The Stage

More original shows not based on films, television shows, etc..  I want more shows like Next to Normal. Plain and simple broadway needs to find a balance, and stop creating haphazard shows that they think will make money.

Star Making Roles Part 1: Gary Marshall Edition

Ironically the night before I return back home to Boston after coming home for Christmas I am watching Pretty Woman with my family.  If you follow me on here, I watched this movie with my family the night before I went home on Thanksgiving.  This made me think about something different this time, while Pretty Woman was not Roberts first film but this movie made her a huge star. Everyone starts somewhere, sometimes some one's first film rockets them to super stardom while with other actors/actresses it takes one, two and sometimes many more films to make it big.  Gary Marshall's film had the magic with Robert's career.

Julia Roberts-Pretty Woman (1990) In the 80s Julia Roberts was the younger sister of the much more famous Eric Roberts; she had a few acting gigs on television shows like Crime Story and Miami Vice.  In 1988 Robert's landed her first major film role in the small film about a pizza place called Mystic Pizza.  One year later she scored a prime role in with an all-star cast in the film Steel Magnolias.  This film starred three academy award winners,Sally Field, Shirley McClaine, and Olympia Dukakis, the film also had the acclaimed Dolly Parton, and another ingenue Daryl Hannah.  Robert's role Shelby was the only Oscar nomination for the film; she landed a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.  While landing an Academy Award nomination pushed her in the right direction it was her lead role opposite Richard Gere  made Roberts a huge star.  Gary Marshall's film utilized her smile, charm, and great comedic timing in order to make her one of the biggest stars of all time.  Roberts was nominated for her second Academy Award for this film, but did not win until 2000 with her film Erin Brockovich.

Marshall seems to have been the master of catapulting leading ladies in the limelight.  I have rarely seen a man help stars become massive stars so quickly.  Not only did Marshall direct Roberts in her star making role in Pretty Woman, but he also directed Anne Hathaway in her first major film, The Princess Diaries (2001).  Anne's career took a lightening bolt ride making her sought after by many directors.

Anne Hathaway-The Princess Diaries (2001) In 2001 a young girl awkwardly turned from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan before our eyes, in the film The Princess Diaries.  Hathaway had the grace, presence, charm and wonderful comedic timing that launched Julia Roberts into being a major star.  Hathaway has gone on to star in numerous films with many major stars.  At the beginning of her career Hathaway was on the path to be pigeon holed into the similar roles; she was going to always play the innocent young leading lady.  Hathaway's next two films proved this trend, they were Ella Enchanted, and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.  Ann broke her good girl routine by baring it all and taking an incredibly dramatic turn in the Oscar winning film Brokeback Mountain.  Since then she has had a versatile resume which included The Devil wears Prada, Get Smart, Alice in Wonderland, Love and Other Drugs, and landed a Best Actress nomination for her performance in Rachel Getting Married.  In 2012 Ann will kick but as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, and will prove what a wonderful singer she is in the musical film version of Les Miserables.

I love watching actors/actresses becoming stars, and it has been fun to watch these two women's careers grow blossom (they have hit sour notes of course), but these women are legends.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an Edgy Tale with Rooney Mara stealing the film

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (3 1/2 out 5 Stars)
Directed by David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club, Se7en)
Written by Steve Zallian (Moneyball, Gangs of New York, Schindler's List)
Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, and Christopher Plummer

I can hear the groans already, another book being made into a movie. Wait, what?  Stieg Larson's book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was already made into a movie?  There was a Sweedish version?  I can hear even more groans from people stating "Hollywood is going to take another foreign film and remake it for American audiences."  This is a double whammy that could have proved disastrous.  I think the opposite happened.  While I did not love the book, and the Swedish film was solid, but this may be the best version of this story.

The film starts with Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) walking out of court after he loses a libelist case against a major business tycoon.  Blomkvist works for an independent magazine called Millennium; he tells his business partner and love Erika Berge (Robin Wright) he is going to be stepping away from the magazine.  While this is happening Blomkvist is being investigated by a third party named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) because Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) wants him to help him solve a murder mystery.  Blomkvest takes the the case and finds himself surrounded by despicable people on a dark and twisted path to find a killer of women.

Fincher was the right man to tackle this film.  I can think of no other director who could handle the subject matter better; he knows how to construct films centered around dark subject matters.  Fincher has found found musical soul mates in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  Reznor and Ross composed one of the best original scores for The Social Network and their score creates an eerie wonderful composition for this film.  The score sets the mood perfectly for this film and is one of the best elements of this film.  Fincher knows how to construct stories, and enjoyed the work he did here.

The interesting part of this film was knowing the book and the differences from the book to film.  The subject matter of this book is deft, there are 465 pages worth of material.  Most adaptations need to trim the fat, and change things for the screen.  This film version did both.  There are moments in the film where I was glad they cut things, or changed things up a bit.  The biggest change is the ending.  Many fans complain when the ending of a book is changed, it works here, but I also think it works because it makes things less complicated.  Zallian's screenplay while not amazing makes the material sharper and concise for the silver screen.  In the book Lisbeth is a major character, but the main focus seems to be Mikael.  This film uses one of the darkest heroines well, and integrates her story into the film seamlessly.

Lisbeth's portrayer Rooney Mara is fantastic in this role; she plays a girl with no emotions perfectly.  As Lisbeth is still a ward of the state at 24 she has been seen as a menace, but she refuses to be a victim to societal norms.  Mara plays this role with great ease and conviction as though it comes natural to her; she has not had many starring roles, but I would imagine her strong performance in this film will catapult her into stardom.

This dark tale is not fun holiday material it is a solid piece of work. This film proves that even with a second coming there can be a worthwhile vantage point for new audiences.  While there are moments when this film feels a bit impersonal, where the secondary characters seem out of the loop the the Vanger family whom this film is somewhat about.  People will also question the connection that builds between Lisbeth and Mikhael, how does it form, where does it come from?  There are some holes that screenplay does not cover up.  These flaws in screenplay come because adapting this sometimes off putting book into something better is a chore.  I give the team behind this film props for making me like a film about a book I did not care for.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011's Best in Television: The Shows, the Episodes, the Performances

Top Ten TV Shows

1-Parks and Recreation-Rarely do these lists name a comedy as the best show of the year (that's not why I am picking it), but this show was flawless this year.  Season 3 which took place entirely in 2011 was a perfect season of a comedy.  With cast additions like Rob Lowe and Adam Scott the tone of the show has never faltered.  I love Leslie Knope and I am glad they moved away from creating Michael Scott part two.  This is one of the best ensembles.  I could go on an on about Leslie, April, Andy, Tom, Jerry, Donna and of course Ron freaking Swanson, but that would fill up a huge amount of space.

2-Breaking Bad-The best show everyone is starting to watch now.  This show is like a fine wine, it gets better with age.  When I watched the third season of this show I thought, this is the best season of this show, then came the fourth season.  This show continues to get better and better.  Vince Gilligan is a genius, and has made this one of the best dramas on television ever!

3-Homeland-The best new show of the year!  This taught cat and mouse game centered around the CIA, a soldier returning home being missing for eight years, and terrorism is one of the best thrillers.  Claire Danes and Damien Lewis have amazing chemistry and have given phenomenal performances.  I just finished this series, and from beginning to end with so many twists and turns I am ready for season two to start.

4-Game of Thrones-Another show with a great first year. While there were moments were the pacing of this show is quick, and I had to re-wind to make sure I got every detail this show is amazing.  You better not get attached to any character though because they will kill him or her off with the snap of your fingers.  The show is not afraid to push boundaries, and bring a fantastical world to life.

5-Louie-This show is beyond sarcasm.  Louis CK has made his dark twisted life into a brilliant comedy series.  While the first season provided some great awkwardly funny moments, the second season of this show kicked it up a notch.  The show provided even more awkwardly funny moments, and showed depth to Louis CK while interacting with his children.

6-The Good Wife-This show is the onion of television shows. Of course the show does not stink, but like Shrek says "onions have layers."  This is one of the best shows because it peals away revealing the layers of the different characters while intermixing a procedural court case.  The show is also not afraid to shuck those layers and start new.  This is one of the best shows on television and CBS made a huge mistake moving this against Monday night football.

7-The Walking Dead-While season two followed the hunt for a young girl, this show took the context of the zombie analogy to a whole new level.  Are these "walkers" people?  I thought this season was strong, and provided not only new directions but showed that even in a show about the walking dead there is life.

8-Curb Your Enthusiasm-I have never seen a show where is season 8 the quality has not remotely decreased.  CYE was at the top of this game in a post divorce world for Larry and a change in location to New York.  I have two words for everyone, Palestinian Chicken.  "Palestinian Chicken" is the funniest episode I have seen in a long time.  Watching Larry easily giving up on his faith and his people to eat chicken from a Palestinian restaurant is hilarious.

9-Modern Family-There is not much to say but that this show still remains steady with the laughs.  Whether the kids are catching Claire and Phill having sex or we watch Mitchell and Cam in their search to get another baby this show while not at as great as its first year still is one of the best shows on television.

10-Revenge-As much as you may laugh, this is one of the most entertaining shows of the year.  The show provides a soapy/exciting experience for viewers.  This show reminds me of the days of Dallas, Knotts Landing, and Dynasty.  Those show were never taken as serious as they could/should have been.  Revenge tells the story of basic human emotions in fabulous clothes in the Hamptons.  Emily Van Camp and Madeline Stowe work together flawlessly.

Top Five Episodes (In Alpha Order)

Each of these episodes were not only quintessential to the show, but were classic television episodes that will have a lasting impact on television.

Game of Thrones-"Baelor"
Wait what just happened? No, I mean did that just happen?  This episode was a game changer for the series, and made this show turn a corner few other shows have turned.  This episode defines this show.

The Good Wife-"Closing Arguments"

The moment fans have been waiting for!  An episode with a compelling court case, and where Alicia finally moves on from Peter and kisses Will.

Friday Night Lights-"Always"
One of the best series finales.  The show always had heart, and made a show about football more than a show about football.  This episode won an Emmy for directing, and provided a perfect emotional ending for Coach Taylor and crew.

Modern Family "Caught in the Act"

Who thought walking in on someone else's parents having sex would be so hilarious.  This is by far one of my favorite episodes of this show.  Thinking about how horrifying this moment actually would be, and then watching it in a TV show, is the reason why this show is still one of the best. (no clip)

Parks and Recreation "Flu Season" and "The Fight" (tie)

I could not pick, it was my Sophie's choice of this year.  "Flu Season" was Poehler's "Vitameatavegamin" when she comes down with the flu and in the eleventh hour convinces people to invest in the harvest fest.  Then there is of course Leslie and Ann's big fight while everyone gets drunk on Tom's Snake Juice in "The Fight"  Two pitch perfect episodes.

Outstanding Performances

Damien Lewis as Sergent Nicholas Brody and Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland-The cat and mouse game of the year! But who is who?  These two have so much chemistry, and whether they are sparring in the the interrogation room or the bedroom there is no stopping this dynamic duo.  Picking just one person would be a tough thing to do, both of these actors are at the top of their game in this show.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones-Tyrion is not only a great character but he provides so much more than the serious context of the other characters.  Tyrion is constantly referred as the the "halfling" but his character is the most redeemable in the entire Lannister family, and is has some pretty funny moments.

Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt and Amy Poehler Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation- These two have amazing chemistry.  This is dork love at its finest.  Leslie lives on waffles, and Ben dresses up in a Batman costume.  Of course these two are meant to be.  While many love Ron Swanson (I do too) these two are just great, and make me laugh, cry, and make me proud to be a dork.

Giancarlo Espostio as Gustavo 'Gus' Fring on Breaking Bad-The man mixes his dark and "good" side effortlessly.  Esposito brought Gus to life earlier as a more one dimensional character, but as this show continues to become more, characters like Gus become phenomenal.  I think most of the credit has to go to Esposito, and his brilliant performance.

Game of Shadows is Entertaining but Lacks the Drive and Wit of the First Film

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Snatch, Rock N Rolla)
Written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney (Paper Man)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris and Noomi Rapace

While watching the first film, I know I asked myself the question, why isn't Sherlock Holmes facing his mortal enemy Professor Moriarty?  Well the team behind this film series including Guy Ritchie planned for this to be successful and did not want to delve into the rivalry right away.  Smart move!  The first film set up the second, and made audiences excited to see the rivalry play out.  The big question is was the pay off worth the wait, I would say somewhat.

The background of Game of Shadows centers around 1893 Europe, and the tension rising between France and Germany.  Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) believes that Moriarty (Jarred Harris) is at the center of the tension between these two countries and Holmes with his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) are on the case to prevent Moriarty from sending the World into the first World War.

While Ritchie knows how to pack a punch with slow motion action sequences, they almost become stylistically obnoxious.  The problem with this film is that while yes it was entertaining and funny it loses the center of gravity from the first film.  Holmes going on adventures in other countries was fun, but I missed his bantering with Chief of Scotland Yard, and the way that the cases did not have take him on such a grand scale adventure.  I have not read all of Conan Doyle's books, but in the few that I have I love that Holmes mysteries brought out the great character, while this film just seems to want to bring explosions.

Law and Downey Jr. have great chemistry, and I am glad they kept the homoerotic undertones of their relationship.  This to me is one of the best parts about how the writing explores their characters.  Harris was a solid Moriarty, and I appreciate that they did not go over the top with him.  Rapace was merely window dressing to this entirely male driven story.  The real beauty of this film is the art direction and the way Niall Moroney and her team construct the beautiful scenery. This film provided some laughs and entertainment, but was a letdown from the first film.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Time is Here...Lot's of Time for Holiday Films!

After my family opened their presents together, and had breakfast together, we sat around the TV to find something good to watch.  Surprisingly, we ended up watching two movies that had nothing to do with Christmas, Bend it Like Beckham, and Despicable Me.  I know that TBS has A Christmas Story on on a 24 hour rotation, and ABC Family has Christmas shows on TV, but other than those two places there were no classic Christmas films on TV.  NBC and their other counterparts had Meet the Press and other news shows.  Where is the Christmas spirit on Christmas day?  I know man networks counted down and show films prior to today, but I want to watch them today.  I sound like a bratty young child who says to his mother "I want it now."  Here is a list of films I would like to see today:

Elf (2003) Finding a modern film with the elements of a classic Christmas tale and the sarcastic wit of the modern day is tough to find.  Will Ferrell plays Buddy the Elf who was born to humans but is raised as an Elf in the North Pole.  When Buddy finds out he is a human and not an elf he makes the trek on a patch of ice to New York to meet this father, played by the Christmas grump James Caan.  This movie is hilarious and has done what most holiday movies could not do this decade.

Love Actually (2003) Ironically there were two films this decade both from 2003 that captured the holiday spirit in a different way.  Love Actually knows and understands that this holiday time captures the elements of togetherness, and how love matters above all.  Not just romantic love, but friendship.  This film makes me happy inside, and shows that there love actually, all around.

Home Alone (1990) When your parents are go on vacation around Christmas to Florida, and they leave you behind at eight, what do you do? You order pizza, watch R rated movies, and of course stop Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci from breaking into your house. Macauley Culkin became an overnight childhood star, and this film gave family a new meaning.  When you are younger you always wish to be grown up before you are ready to be.  This film is filled with some great laughs and shows that being with family at this time of year is special.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) There is not much you can say about this Christmas film, but that is probably one of the funniest holiday films ever!  Chevy Chase knows how to make everything go wrong as Clark Griswold.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) What is the meaning of Christmas?  Charlie Brown is feeling angst around the holidays and feels as though things have become too commercial.  This was back in 1965!  Imagine if good ole Charlie saw Christmas today.  This special is timely and my favorite animated film around this time.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Is Santa real?  Does it matter?  A man who works as Santa at Macy's goes on trial and his sanity is questioned.  The film proves that whether you believe in Santa or not should not matter.  This time of the year is about the magical moments that bring people together.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) What more can I say about this film?  This old film is Christmas, and until NBC (foolishly) replaced the showing of this after the Thanksgiving Parade with the Westminster Dog Show, this was the film that kicked of the holiday season for years.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Travels with Kevin Part 4: I'll Be Home for Christmas

Well tonight was Christmas Eve, and I celebrated with family and friends at my grandmothers house.  There is something to be said for this time of the year.  Many people will complain or state that this is a depressing time of the year because they have no one to celebrate with.  I have to say as I get older it is nice to celebrate with my mom, dad, and sister.  It is also nice to celebrate with my cousins as we all get older and I get to see them have their own families.  In fact my cousin Amy is pregnant with her first child and her sister Caitlin is getting married in July.

While at my grandmothers I there was holiday music on in the background, and football early in the day.  As football ended and the music started to fade into the background I noticed that It's a Wonderful Life was on TV.  While many people obsess over A Christmas Story (which I hate), I love the Jimmy Stewart classic.

I love watching It's a Wonderful Life, while it can be a depressing story the end message of the film captures one of the most wonderful qualities of this time of year, generosity of spirit.  People come together and share their lives even if everything is not great.  Throughout the the last act of this film George Bailey sees that he had such an impact on everyone he interacted with.  Even in the worst times we still have to realize that our life matters, and that even the smallest actions matter.

Being home for the holidays provides an opportunity to spend time with family.  I live in Boston and my family lives in Albany, NY.  I only get home a few times a year, and during this time even I become gloriously jaded with the holiday spirit.  I put aside the things I hate about being in Albany and just enjoy spending time with my family.  While being home I often remember some of the bad things, but at this time of the year, I sit back and realize just wonderful life can be.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Young Adult Seethes with an Edge of Piss and Vinegar thanks to Charlize Theron

Young Adult (3 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air)
Written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer's Body)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswalt

In 2007 small film named Juno was released during the month of December from a writer/director pair that was not as well known.  Flash forward five years in the future where Jason Reitman is a hot director and is fresh off being a double Oscar nominee for writing/directing Up In Air.  Diablo Cody won an Oscar for her Juno script and she helped develop a television show on Showtime named the United States of Tara.  This year this team has collaborated on a film that solidifies their ability to create.  Together these two have created one very dark comedy.

Young Adult centers on Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) who is in her words an author, not a writer of "young adult" novels in the big city, Minneapolis.  Mavis is from a smaller city, Mercury which is also in Minnesota.  While checking her e-mail she receives an e-mail from a former flame Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) about the birth of his baby and she decides to return home to try and steal him back.  When she gets back home Mavis heads to the local shit hole bar in hopes to get Buddy to come meet her for a drink.  Buddy can't meet Mavis because he is taking care of his child, but Mavis runs into a loser from from her high school days Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt). 

While Reitman's direction is solid enough, this is his weakest piece of work I have seen to date.  Diablo Cody's screenplay while a bit stronger.  While watching this film this is so obviously the Cody's work.  This film just sounds like her.  Mavis even loves Maker's Mark the same drink she writes as a joke in Juno.  There was some brilliant dark comedic moments in this film like when Mavis's cousing jokingly refers to Mavis and Matt as Will and Grace.  The screenplay also does a strong job of highlighting a woman who will never be more than a young adult.

The best part of this film is the convincing job Charlize Theron does portraying this broken alcoholic woman who never grew up.  Mavis writes young adult books, she obsesses about her old high school boyfriend, and while living in the "big city" she still does not do the things there she mocks people in Mercury for.  Theron's beauty is apparent but she is one talented actress.  Theron has great chemistry with Oswalt.  They create one of the oddest and darkest duos of the year.  Oswalt gives a very strong performance as well.

While this film has it flaws, the road to the third act becomes a bit jumbled and more awkward than it needs to be.  This film bring dark humor to a different level.  This film proves that not only Theron a true bombshell, but that she can carry a variety of different material.

What Happened to Sequels in 2011?

While on the train from Boston to go to my families for Christmas I watched The Hangover II.  I had not seen the second film in theaters.  I saw the first film three times in the movies.  The Hangover was this movie that came out of nowhere with no true major celebrities, and it was hilarious.  The script was off the wall crazy, chronicling a bachelor party gone wrong.  While on the train home my face never changed, and I rarely cracked a smile or laughed while watching the sequel.  The Hangover II took away the fun of the first film.  The film felt as though it were close to being a shot for shot remake of the first film just set in a different country, and centered around a different characters wedding.  Todd Phillips has turned his characters into caricatures that are just awful people.

In a year filled with with a continually struggling economy the movies have felt the impact, and sequels were hit hard.  Ironically The Hangover II while being critically panned was one of the highest grossing films of the year, and proved to be financially successful.  Domestically the film is the fourth highest grossing film of 2011 and has made 254 million dollars.  What is even more impressive is that this typically "American" film has made even more in in foreign markets grossing 327 million dollars.  The total gross for this film is 581 million dollars.  While this was a terrible film, this was a huge success at the box office.

Even though the film was a huge hit this raises a problem for future films in this series.  I would imagine both Warner Brothers (production company) and Todd Phillips will want to make another film making this a trilogy.  With the cost of movies going up audiences are paying attention to the quality of films more than ever.  People are not willing to pay 10 dollars at an actual theater to watch a bad film.  Sure there were enough people who went to see the Jack and Jill but that's another story.

This December 16th through 18th (2011) weekend helps to prove that sequels are losing traction.  Three major sequels opened up in theaters, two of the openings were major letdowns, while the third had a surprise opening and will be seen as a hit.

The number one movies at the box off was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  The first film in the series had decent reviews, but divided audiences on the quality of the film.  The first film still had opening weekend of 62 million and eventually grossed 209 million (domestically).  The sequel opened at  a lower opening rate of about 35 percent.  The film opened at 39 million dollars.  For the film to be seen as a success during this crowded holiday season Holmes needed to match the opening of the first film.  As of right now the film is being outdone by Mission Impossible and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Holmes will most likely come in third this weekend and lose a lot of ground.  I hope Robert Downey Jr. starts to walk away from these series and starts to go back to acting in better smaller films.  Sherlock Holmes is a bankable series name but this film will not match the 209 million.

The number two movie at the box office this past weekend was Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.    Now it is no surprise that three of these films always get slammed by critics and viewers go to see them as more of a family outing.  The first film was released in 2007, and surprised many, grossing 217 million dollars domestically and 144 foreign.  The sequel or as they called it the squekquel grossed 219 million domestically and 223 foreign for a total of 443 million dollars.  I think many box office gurus expected this film to either be just as successful or if not a little more successful than its predecessor, but surprisingly it was not.  The film only had measly opening of 23 million, when it was expected to have double that.  With so many films opening this weak the Chipmunk films sliding back there is no way this film will make it to the theaters again.  I see straight to DVD in their future.

The third film at the box office was the smartest and the reason why some sequels succeed and others do not.  Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol opened in only 425 theaters with IMAX technology.  Watching this film on an IMAX screen was a truly awesome experience, and the film itself is pretty damn good!  When JJ Abrams took over producing the third film I knew this franchise was on the upswing.  Abrams knows how to  put together quality films and television, because he cares about the subject material.  With such great buzz about the IMAX experience fans are coming back to this series and are going to make this the number one film during the holiday weekend.

The truth of the matter is that quality matters (most of the time) and it can have an effect on the outcome of a films ticket receipts.  How do I explain the Transformers and Twilight box off numbers?  Easy.  Both film series have such avid fans that even if the films are bad they will show up, and they will show up several times to watch Megatron or Bella give birth to a gross vampire baby.  The same can be sad for the Harry Potter series.  The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the highest grossing film of the year.  Fans will also turn against a series, like with comic book sequels.  Iron Man 2 did not do as well as it was expected to do because the film was a bit of a letdown.  Audiences are not always stupid.

The truth of the matter is that sequels will always be around, but I hope that companies see that they are not always as bankable as they seem to be.  Films like Bridesmaids (169 million), The Help (169 Million), Super 8 (127 million) and even Midnight in Paris (57 million) prove that there are success stories in original work.  I hope that studio executives see that they do not always to try and go for a brand, but that they can recognize that there is merit in working with original films.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011's Best Music: The Albums and Songs

The Grammy's really don't know their stuff.  Here are my picks for the best albums of the year and the best singles.  This is my my first list of the "best."  The list of the best TV shows, performances in TV, and TV episodes of the year is up next!

Best Albums 

It's hard to find people who do not love this album.  I have one friend who does, but his argument is he does not like Adele's voice ( I am baffled).  From start to finish this album is beautifully flawless.  Their is pure raw energy and talent.  This is one of my favorite albums of all time
Best Track "Someone Like You"

2-Bon Iver-Bon Iver
The music on this album is hauntingly beautiful.  The songwriting and tone of this somewhat soft pop is terrific.  One of the most soothing albums, while his voice may be unmistakable, there is something about the way his music lulls you into believing you are surrounded by nothing but beauty.
Best Track "Holocene"

A lot of people wrote off this album, but I think this is one of Beyonce's strongest albums.  This did not have a lot of success sales wise, but sometimes the best material does not.  Beyonce has put her heart and soul into this album and it shows!
Best Track- "Countdown" 

4-Jay-Z and Kanye West-Watch the Throne
The combination of these two performers could have been explosively bad, with both of their egos.  Yet the music speaks for itself with songs that go into deep subject matters like racism, this album takes hip hop to another level.
Best Track-"Otis"

5-The Black Keys- El Camino
This album keeps up with the trend of their music have an influence with the blues, but also finds inspiration in rock.  The album is their first that has found the best balance in going beyond their overtly sad, and finds more upbeat sounds.
Best Track-"Dead and Gone"

6-Florence + the Machine-Ceremonials
There is no sophomore slump here, in fact this disc may be better than their first.  The music is haunting, and with every track their is new discovery of the talents within this group.  Florence's vocals are some of the best of the year, her voice is just perfection on these tracks.
Best Track: Seven Devils

Best Singles of 2011


2-Adele-"Rolling in the Deep"

3-Nicki Minaj-"Super Bass"

4-Foster the People "Pumped up Kicks"

5-Britney Spears-"I Wanna Go"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Favorite Holiday Songs

Last night I went to see the Boston Gay Men's Chorus, they put on an excellent show!  Seeing the chorus finally put me in the holiday spirit, and made me think about my favorite holiday songs.  There are of course different versions of different songs, and everyone has their own favorites. Here are my favorite holiday seasons with the specific artist.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"-Judy Garland-her brassy voice makes this song soulful.  This song gives me hope that even in the most difficult times things can better.

Wham-"Last Christmas"-While this song is one of the sadder Christmas songs, it has always been one of my favorite songs.  Even though this is one of the sadder songs it still has remained one of the most popular Christmas songs for those thinking loving the wrong person.

Mariah Carey-"All I Want for Christmas is You"-This is one of the best Christmas songs ever!  This song makes me happy, and was an instant classic.  This also reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas movies, Love Actually.

Eartha Kitt-Santa Baby- Classic and sexy (even though she is singing about Santa), this is one of my favorite Christmas songs, and Eartha Kitt's voice is just wonderful!

Chris Colfer and Darren Criss-"Baby It's Cold Outside"-Althought this song sounds a bit like date rape (which I am not condoning) I always thought this song was cute when I was younger, and the Glee version between Kurt and Blaine helps to keep up this allusion.

Andy Williams "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"- The holiday season would not be complete without Andy Williams (for me) and this is my favorite song of his.  

Bing Cosby "White Christmas" Finally Bing Cosby's White Christmas which is such a beautiful version of this song.  Hearing this song just puts me in the mood.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a fun filled Action Adventure Ride

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant,The Incredibles, Ratatouille)
Written by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg

I have a confession to make.  I went to see Ghost Protocol in IMAX to see the The Dark Knight Rises prologue. Whew!  Now that the weight is lifted off my shoulders I can say, aren't film franchises supposed to get stale once you get to the fourth film?  While I still think the third Mission Impossible film is the best this film is just as good!  When I saw the preview for this I thought this franchise is going to get stale.  J.J. Abrams directed and produced the third film, and just helped produce this film.  This man has the golden touch, and he has made the third and fourth films better than the first two films-this is rare!

Ghost Protocol starts with another mission gone wrong and a cameo from none other than, Josh Holloway an alum from Abrams TV series Lost.  After the mission fails Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (Simon Pegg) go to break Ethan (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian prison, cue the theme song.  Ethan and his team have to infiltrate the Kremlin, but this fails too when Kurt Hendricks sets off a massive explosion and frames Ethan. Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and the Secretary of Defense (a Tom Wilkinson cameo) tell Ethan IMF is shut down and team has to carry out their mission, hence the term Ghost Protocol.

This film is just plain entertaining.  There are the typical beautiful location shots in countries like Russia, India, and Dubai.  The action is off the wall!  Watching this film in IMAX was worth it.  The scene where Cruise scales the building is one of the coolest actions scenes I have in a long time.  Brad Bird has done mostly animated family films, but transitions nicely into live action films.  Bird is a great auteur, and like with his other films provides an incredible experience for the audience.  Simon Pegg was a standout for me as well; he is hilarious and make this movie well rounded.

While my intention were to just watch the prologue of The Dark Knight Rises, I was pleasantly surprised by this film.  Going to a movie should be an enjoyable experience, and this film provides nothing short of that.  Make sure you get a true IMAX experience and see this film. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Academy Awards Best Picture Revisited: Sideways (2004)

Today I watched another film from one of the directors in contention for the Best Director prize this year.  I realized today I watched David Fincher's 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; he has The Girl  with the Dragon Tattoo this year. In 2007 Jason Reitman directed the crowd pleaser Juno and this year he has the film Young Adult. Then I watched 2006's The Departed from director Martin Scorsese; Scorsese directed Hugo this year.  Finally this weekend came the film Sideways directed by Alexander Payne, who directed The Descendants this year.

Four different, yet brilliant directors.  Only two directors have a chance this year at being nominated and winning, Martin Scorsese and the director of Sideways, Alexander Payne.  Payne's first bigger film came in 1996, Citizen Ruth.  While Ruth put Payne on the map somewhat, it was his 1999 film Election that helped add fuel to his career.  Election is the dark tale of a teacher who tries to prevent his know it all student from becoming student body President.  This film put Reese Witherspoon on the map.  Three years later Payne collaborated with one of the greatest living actors Jack Nicholson in the dark comedy About Schmidt.  Payne's films are known for their mixed tones, they blend comedy and drama well.  In 2005 Payne created one of his strongest films, Sideways (more on that in a few).  Six years later Payne released the film The Descendants, this is is weakest work, but still is a solid film.  Payne direction style is big on character and letting his written word do the talking.  Payne has written for all of these films, and the writing of these films is some of the strongest I have seen in years.

Sideways focuses on a loser high school English teacher, and failed novelist named Miles (Paul Giamatti) who is accompanying his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a brief vacation before Jack gets married.  The film centers around Miles and his love for wine, and how wine has such an interesting life.  Miles meets up with a woman he has seen before named Maya (Virginia Madsen) and they connect while Jack tries to escape his pre marital status with Stephanie (Sandra Oh). The ensemble works together flawlessly.  Together these actors provide strength and depth to Payne's strong script.  This film and the ensemble provided an interesting addition to the awards season.

Sideways was nominated for 5 Academy Awards.  Paul Giamatti who should have won the Best Actor award was snubbed of a nomination, this is the worst snub of the 2000s.  The films nominations included, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen), Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Haden Church), Best Direction, and of course Best Picture.

2004's five nominees for Best Picture were The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, and of course Sideways.  Of the actual nominees there were only three serious contenders.  Finding Neverland, the tale of JM Barrie writing Peter Pan, never had a chance.  Ray was seen as a vehicle for Jamie Foxx, and recognition for him was the recognition the film would receive.  Sideways was the critical favorite and won the ensemble award at SAG.  The Aviator was Martin Scorsese's most optimal chance to finally win, and it took home Best Drama at the Globes and the BAFTA award for Best Film. Then there was Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby.  Baby did not come out of nowhere but in a divided field came in to scoop up the honor of being named the Best Picture.  Eastwood's direction was being honored regularly by both the the Director's Guild and the Globes, and Hilary Swank was winning numerous awards, so the film came along for the ride.  Sideways peaked to early, and was not as accessible so it got the consolation prize, Best Adapted Screenplay.

What should have won Best Picture this year?  The film that should have won is the film that inspired the title for this blog, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Michel Gondry's film is one of the best films of all time, but had to settle for only a few nominations, and just one win in the Original Screenplay category.  I will not go on a rant about my favorite film, but I will say that this Best Picture category was one of the most boring in years.  Of the nominated films, the strongest film is Sideways, but there were much better films not nominated.  The Aviator was one of Scorsese's weaker films. Ray and Finding Neverland would have barely made my top 20 list.  2004's nominees should have been Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Incredibles, Sideways, and I go back and forth on this, but the winner Million Dollar Baby.

I hate to say it but 2004 and 2005 had a couple of my favorite films of the decade, but there were both incredibly weak years.  I am glad a small film like Sideways fought through the bloated typical Academy Award fare to make it into the race and be deemed one of the Best Picture nominees this year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shame is an Addicting Tale

Shame (4 out of 5 stars)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen
Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan

Shame received an honor few films get today, the film was rated NC-17.  Some will define this film by this rating.  In a way this makes sense, the films centers around an addiction to sex.  The film was rated NC-17 because of the amount of nudity and the representation of sex.  I think Shame could change the face of the NC-17 rating.  Most NC-17 films get the black ball, meanwhile Shame has a nice release progression.  I live in Boston and assumed that only the small independent theaters would house this film, and that the release would be staggered, not the case.  Shame is being played by a major theater company, the AMC Loews chain.  AMC has a branch called AMC independent which makes a commitment to bring independent films the mainstream public. Even with such graphic scenes I am proud of this major company for taking a risk on this film.

Shame opens on a crowded New York City subway and Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) starts to smiling at an unknown woman on the subway.  The film builds up this potential sexual tension glancing back and forth between the two participants.  The shot focuses on the woman's wedding rings as she gets up to leave and the train, and Brandon getting up to follow her.  Sounds romantic.  This moment is not about romance, nor is any aspect of this film.  Shame focuses on the the dark world of sexual addiction and effect it has on every aspects of a persons life ranging from work to family.  Brandon's sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him because she gets a job in New York, and this interrupts the flow of his daily sexual routine.

This film experience is primal.  McQueen's direction is precise and direct in its focus.  McQueen has moments where he loses grip on his own tale, but as the film drawers to a close it brings the story a realistic place.  Joe Walker's editing is spectacular, and constructs Brandon's sexual encounters spectacularly.  The circular motion of the opening sequence with Brandon's daily routine displays the focus of the film well.  Harry Escott composed the score for this film and the music builds an incredible climatic experience.  Escott leaves the audience feeling the raw emotional weight.

These three aspects would be nothing without Fassbender's performance.  Michael Fassbender has given four phenomenal performances this year, but this is his best.  Fassbender does a brilliant job using his facial expressions to convey both the bliss and agony of his sexual addiction.  Brandon has many moments that make him unlikeable, but as he interacts with a secretary at work (whom he seems to like) there is a moment where you get lost in the depth of this character.  This is one of my favorite performances of the year.  Mulligan is strong in the film as well playing Sissy who has never got her life together on the outside or inside; she is emotionally wrought.  While Brandon puts on a brave face to those around him, Sissy let's her personal baggage own her.  Mulligan's performance shows strength.  These two play off each other well and make each other give a better performance.

This film's realistic nature helps construct something very dark.  The film is a journey into the pain, agony, and pleasure of sexual addiction.  Shame take the concept of erotic intimacy and does what other films don't dare to do.  The film opens up wounds and strips the characters bare, and exposes all of their flaws.  Wonderful film.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Award Shows: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

oscar digital vote Oscar Votes to Be Done ElectronicallyAt the moment we are the middle of the busiest season for award shows.  This week the nominations for three major film awards are announced: the Broadcast Film Critics, Screen Actor's Guild (SAG), and the Golden Globes.  Starting January 15th the Globes will kick this off.  Mixed in the month of January and the winter months is the People's Choice Awards, and the Grammy Awards.  Most of the time people who do not follow award shows ask the question, "How do they pick the nominees?"  Each Academy or group has their own process, and some award shows are better than others.

I have always been a competitive person, and I usually jockey for my favorite films, performers, TV shows to be nominated, or win.  I would prefer win, but I can't always get what I want.  Many critics and award show experts state within their respective area of experience that there are some years when these Academies or group get it right, and other when they get it wrong.  I think award shows are incredibly interesting for several reasons 1) they highlight some of the best work in music, film, television etc (most of the time) and I love the arts 2) competition is fun! In the end the reward for the people involved should be intrinsic, and when actors or musicians feels as though they do their best they are motivated to do more and continue their "best" work or advance themselves further.  The reality is that award shows exist and here is what some of them do well and not so well.

This past year at 2011 Emmy Awards I was both pleasantly surprised with the Emmy nominees and the winners.  The role of an award show should be too honor the best, not the shows with the highest ratings like NCIS, but quality programming.  There were a few people who should have made the cut, but overall this was a solid list.  The Emmy's have continued to uphold this strength within the last few years.  How do they do it? According to the Emmy website "The members are divided into peer groups, determined by specific areas of expertise within the industry. For example, performers are in one peer group, makeup artists and hair stylists are in another, and camera and videotape operators are in another."  Once these groups narrow down the nominees the people in the major categories submit tapes and people watch and vote for the winners.  Seems simple, people watch the material and vote on it, thus providing everyone insight into both television shows and performances.  Sounds simple, right?  Well sometimes thing do not work out that way.

The Emmy Awards have continued to peak in terms of honoring quality material.  Television actors and shows are honored at both the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, but the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) has never relied on these nominations to determine who should become a nominee.  People like Margo Martindale from Justified and Archie Panjabi from The Good Wife never received  SAG or Globe nominations but went on to win their respective category for quality work.  The Emmy Awards are also held in September while SAG and the Globes are now both typically in January.

The Academy Awards have a similar process to the Emmy awards to determine their nominees.  According to the Academy website In late December ballots and copies of the Reminder List of Eligible Releases are mailed to around 6000 active members. For most categories, members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees only in their respective categories (i.e. only directors vote for directors, writers for writers, actors for actors, etc.); there are some exceptions though in the case of certain categories, like Foreign Film, Documentary and Animated Feature Film in which movies are selected by special screening committees made up of members from all branches. In the special case of Best Picture, all voting members are eligible to select the nominees for that category. Foreign films must include English subtitles, and each country can only submit one film per year." The Academy Awards have done a good job honoring the "best" films" and "best" work for a film, but unlike the Emmy's that have improved  throughout the last couple of years the Academy Awards have had good and bad cycles.

One thing I have notices that hangs in the balance every year within the film industry is that each precursor tends to have an effect on the Academy Awards.  Adam Waldowski at stated " The only film to win Best Picture at the Oscars without at least contending for Best Ensemble at SAG was "Braveheart" in 1995 (the first year for this guild award). Of the 16 SAG champs, eight went on to win the Oscar, including "The King's Speech" last year. Among this year's leading contenders, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "Hugo" and "War Horse" were shut out by SAG.  This statistic may mean the Best Picture winner is almost predetermined now.   Adam stated "SAG also does a good job predicting acting nominees as well.  Last year 17 out of 20 SAG contenders lined up with the Oscars -- only Robert Duvall ("Get Low"),Hilary Swank ("Conviction") and Mila Kunis ("Black Swan") missed out on Oscar bids -- while in 2009 all of the SAG nominees but Diana Kruger ("Inglorious Basterds") vied for Oscars."  The critics award set the stage for some films to gain traction, while the Globes, and the guild awards seem to help guide and rubber stamp some nominees.  

The problematic part of this is that it appears as though voters are less likely to determine their own nominees, and they will likely vote with a trend.  I see this happening with Jessica Chatain.  Chastain is great in all of her films, but I think she is going to be nominated for her weakest performance in The Help.  I think she deserves a nomination for Take Shelter.  This process of so many awards before the actual Oscars appears to have made voters lazy.   This has also made them more rebellious, and not in a good way.

An example of being more rebellious was last year's Best Picture winner The King's Speech.  While Speech is not a bad film, it was not the best film of 2010.  The Social Network was honored by many critics groups, some guilds, and the Globes as the best film of the year.  The older voting Academy members seemed tired of rubber stamping the critics winner and played it safe last year.  2010 was also the year of Inception, The Black Swan, and many other daring films that made a statement.  The King's Speech's win seemed to say we have the power to honor what we want (this is both a good and a bad thing).  I respect the Academy to a point because they have gone against the grain in good ways, like within the writing, acting, and technical categories.  I also think honoring films like No Country for Old Men shows progression.  I think this year will an interesting year which will define this award show for a few years to come.  At least the Oscars are not hitting bottom like the Grammy Awards.

The Grammy Awards feel lost.  This year's Album of Year nominations help to prove there is something missing. The nominees are Adele for "21",much deserved, and the rest are Rihanna's "Loud," Bruno Mars' "Doo Woops and Hooligans," Lady Gaga's "Born this Way" and The Foo Fighter "Wasting Light."  This category is supposed to represent the Best Albums not the biggest album sales.  Adele, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, and Lady Gaga albums were among the top ten highest grossing albums.  This could be a coincidence, it could be the recording Academy trying to stay with the times and compete with the Video Music Awards, or even catering to mainly younger viewers. 

According to the Grammy website nominations are determined through through this process: "record companies and individuals may submit recordings to be nominated. Nominations are made online and a physical copy of the work is sent to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Once a work is entered, reviewing sessions are held, by more than 150 experts from the recording industry, to determine whether the work is eligible and entered in the correct category for official nomination.The resulting list is circulated to all NARAS members, each of whom may vote to nominate in the general field (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist) and in no more than nine out of 30 other fields on their ballots. The five recordings that earn the most votes in each category become the nominees. There may be more than five nominees if there is a tie in the nomination process.Whereas members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are generally invited to screenings or are sent DVDs of movies nominated for Oscars, NARAS members do not receive nominated recordings."

Since people are not sent recordings it seems as though this system is the most flawed, and makes sense that most of the highest selling albums are nominated instead of lesser known artists or albums.  My main problem with this year's nominees is that not only are they not the five best albums, but they only reflect two genres of music rock and pop (and maybe some dance).  The Grammy's usually do a job of honoring the best of different genres, but this throughout the 2000s this award show has become a glorified concert with awards tacked on.  Of the major three major award shows this one is in the worst condition, and needs more than just quick fixes, like combining the male and female vocal categories in each genre.

Nothing can be perfect, there are flaws in every system.  Some worse than others.  Look at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and their nominating The Tourist for three awards, that's bad!  The problem is award shows become political either people win for wrong reasons, or they spend large amounts of money to achieve that win (that's another subject all on it's own).  As the beginning of the award season begins all I can hope for is some fun and excitement.