Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Help Goes Above the Subject Material

The Help (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Directed and Written by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain, and Sissy Spacek

The film starts out with Skeeter (Stone) asking Abileen (Davis) questions about her perspective as the help, and specifically "what it's like to raise white children when your own children are left to be raised by someone else." The film the goes back in time to Skeeter back from college at Ole Miss and playing bridge with her friends Hilly (Howard) and company.  Through working on her advice column at a new job Skeeter gets the idea to write a book from the point of view from the help, and meets and develops a friendship with Abileen, and Abileen's best friend Minny (Spencer).  Meanwhile Hilly works towards the concept of separate but equal while making her maids go to the bathroom in an outdoor bathroom facility.

I read the book the film was based on by Kathryn Stockett, and it was decent, but took a while to build the emotional connection between the three main characters.  The film casted three wonderful actresses in Stone, Davis, and Spencer who had amazing chemistry.  Davis is a terrific actress, and she commands the screen and plays Abileen with such power and conviction.  I felt the struggle she had as she raised another woman's child and could not save her own son.  Meanwhile Spencer adds depth to the Minny character with her wit, humor, and frank character portrayal.  Stone does a great job as Skeeter, but the film makes you connect more with Davis and Spencer.  This is a film about the acting, and Tate (the writer/director) who is a newer to writing and directing created a wonderful emotionally deep adaptation.

In a recent article I spoke about seeing the struggle of black people through the eyes of a white person, and this film and book actually do address this issue.  I still think that using this common representation in film and literature is problematic.  How does the audience reconcile this?  This film works towards stating there is a black point of view, and even though they are considered "the help" they have a point of view and a perspective,  This message makes the film better.  Minny struggles with Skeeter telling her point of view, but realizes she needs to speak her mind, and Skeeter's book will help.

In the end this is a solid entertaining film, and better than I expected.  I think the casting was the best part, they captured every character spot on, and allowed the audience to be pulled into the world of Jackson, Mississippi as the Civil Rights Movement began. The emotional heft of the subject matter and the story was captivating and provided an enjoyable end to my summer movie experiences.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

September Movies: What to Watch and what you Should Avoid

Well I was so busy this August, and did not get to the movies that often.  I still have to see The Help (to see all the the hype) but that was one of the few movies that had caught my attention this past August.  Now that August is coming to an end it's time to take a look at September's new releases, and how they measure up.

August and September are usually dud months with filler films.  For some reason executives will place films to be released during this time where the either know they can capitlize on the slower box office, or they don't trust their marketing strategy.  Here's a tip, people like good movies all year round.

September 2nd: One big skip!  Films Being Released: The Debt, Shark Night 3D, and Apollo 18

I am glad I have new student move-in this weekend.  This weekend is also Labor Day weekend, and the movies should not be on your agenda.  Helen Mirren's The Debt has the most potential, but not a film I am dying to see.  The Debt is being released on August 31.  Then there are two more gems Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18 which both look like some of the worst films being released this year.  Enjoy the sun (if you have it) and for my fellow east coasters, enjoy a weekend without Irene!

My Advice: Stay at Home and BBQ or Head to your local beach

September 9th: Oh the Possibilities Films being released: Contagion and Warrior

After a terrible start September could bounce with two films that have the potential to be good.Soderbergh's Contagion boasts another all star cast with his film about a airborne virus that rapidly spreads throughout the world.  I think this will be a solid film.  Warrior looks kinda been there done that.  The preview has not appeared to make the movie look special to me, but this could be quality and of the two major releases this week, this film has more potential to be bigger at the box office.

My Advice: Contagion (right now)

September 16th: The Year of Ryan Gosling! Films being released: Drive, I Don't Know How She Does it, Straw Dogs, and Restless.

Ryan Gosling is on fire this year; he had a great role in the film Crazy, Stupid, Love and now his film being released this week in September looks pretty amazing.  Nicholas Winding Refn the the director of drive won the Best Director award at Cannes, and I am sold after watching this preview that this is my most anticpated film being released in September.Straw Dogs is a remake that should never have happened.  I Don't Know How She Does It?....yea I really don't know how Sarah Jessica Parker keeps picking these awful films.  Restless has great young stars to watch out (it only opens in NY and LA this weekend) but with director Gus Van Sant at the helm, this could be one of the small films that is a tiny gem.

My Advice: Drive (Pick of the month)

September 23rd: Hmmm? Films being released: Moneyball, and Abduction

Moneyball will be a clear box office hit for Brad Pitt it combines baseball and Brad Pitt.  I am not sure if I am going to waste my time with another hokey sports film, but this one looks different.  The there is Abduction (key word ab).  Taylor Lautner is doing his first post Twilight film, will he flop like Robert Pattinson's films have?  My survey says yes.  Taylor is pretty to look at, and so I think I will just look at him on the cover of a magazine instead of paying ten dollars to see his abs.

My Advice: See Drive again...or Moneyball (if it ends up being good)

September 30th: 50/50-Your Chances of seeing a Good Film.  Films being released: 50/50, Dream House, What's Your Number?, and Margaret.

The film 50/50 has one of my favorite actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and I think this could be the movie to see this weekend, sure it looks like Funny People (which was awful, and both have Seth Rogen), but I think this looks better.  Dream House looks like a version Amityville Horror, but with talented actors and a good director.  I think Anna Farris is funny, but What's Your Number looks like a loser.  Margaret, is Kenneth Lonnergan's follow up to You Can Count on Me, a film that has been delayed a long time.  The premise of following a girl (Anna Paquin) after he dealings with a traffic accident and how it affects her could potentially be great.

My Advice: 50/50...the odds are the same as the name of the film.

Monday, August 29, 2011

VMAs Leave me Puzzled, Feeling Old, and Unsure why this Award Show still Exists

I was debating last night between two different things on television, one of of my favorite television shows in one of their best seasons, True Blood or the MTV VMAs which I know to be pretty craptastic lately.  My decision was to watch True Blood then catch the second hour of the VMAs (wise decision).  I briefly saw Lady Gaga come on stag as her male alter ego Joe Calderone, and then it was on to True Blood.  If you missed last nights True Blood for this awful award show, watch it now!

As True Blood ended my friend switched the channel and it almost felt like it was a sign for me to tune in at that moment.  Katy Perry was on stage (in a very unflattering purple dress) and she announced that the next singer would be Adele.  Adele gave me chills with her amazing performance of "Someone Like You."  After this moment it felt as though her brilliant performance was misplace because it was beyond the talent of of most of the artists who either won or performed.

The show was full of moments that appeared to make presenters, award recipients feel uncomfortable or they looked incredibly awkward.  As I watched Just Bieber receive his award he thanked not only God but Jesus too.  I know that Bieber is younger, but that moment made me think about Will Ferrell when he prays in the film Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, and he prays to the baby Jesus and tells his family they can pray to whatever for of Jesus they like.

Britney Spears did win the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, and this award has had such past
winners as Michael Jackson himself (they changed the name of the award after this honor him), Madonna, U2, The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson and many others.  I know the award is "more about the music video now" but how does Britney Spears fit into this category; she has stopped performing at a top notch level, and can't even truly perform all of her music live because she is not a true performer.  I digress, Lagy Gaga came out drunk as Joe Calderone, and present a group of dancers who performed to a mash-up of her videos.  Then Gaga stated she had pleasured herself to Britney's posters and when Britney came up to accept they almost awkwardly kissed and Britney said "I've done that already."   The moment was far more uncomfortable than funny, especially it seemed for Britney.

After Britmey accepted the award she announced Beyonce, and she did a great job with the song "Love on Top" which harkened back to a more traditional R&B style, and of course she trumped everyone by announcing her pregnancy, in true Beyonce style.

The best new artist (one of the four awards I saw presented) was given to Tyler the Creator who gave advice to the kids who wanted a moonman too; his advice was "bleep, bleep with bleep etc."  The bleeped out acceptance speech did seem the most genuine of the evening and his mother sure was excited he won the award.
The most awkward award show presenter combination in the history of all award shows, EVER, was the pairing of the ladies of the Jersey Shore with Cloris Leachman.  This was supposed to used as a gag, but the guidettes are just awkward, and not meant to present at award show.  Stick to chasing after juice heads ladies.  Even the ever talented Leachman could not make this moment funny.  The presented the best female video to Lady Gaga for "Born this Way."

In my second favorite moment of the evening Russell Brand walked on stage to pay tribute to one of his good friends, Amy Winehouse.  Brand stated"When I first met her, she was a daft, dopey person. A little bit crazy." "But," he continued, "she was a genius. When a talent like Amy Winehouse comes along, it affects all of us." I have never seen this man heatfelt or genuine in real life, but in this moment I had felt like he had lost a friend and that it had hurt to talk about someone he cared about so much.  Tony Bennett also paid tribute to and her brassy voice; he like Brand compared her to Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald, and highlighted their upcoming duet from his CD Duets II.  To close out the the tribute Bruno Mars gave a great perfomance of Winhouse's "Valerie."

To close out the evening Katie Holmes; she is the big celebrity they got to announce video of the year,  I wonder how much Tom Cruise paid to have that happen, presented the award to Katy Perry for Firework.  Lil Wayne also closed out the show as his album was dropping soon after the award show was ending.  After this mostly painful hour (I decided I would skip mention Chris Brown all together-waste of typing) I decided two things.  I am 95% sure I will not be watching this award show next year, and I may be potentially past my MTV generation years.

In the end this show only provided me with two great moments and they both had to deal with Amy
Winehouse and Adele, two performers who MTV rarely highlights.  The new MTV generation would rather watch Teen Mom, than music videos, and like their music auto tuned as opposed to actually having depth and meaning.  I like Britney, when I go out and want to dance, or workout but beyond that her relevance has faded.  I applaud Beyonce's latest effort with her latest album; she did her own thing.  Music is about the product not the artist, and I just can't get behind that.  Honestly I still do not understand how MTV has kept their name-this award show is the most they have talked about music all year. 

With bad production value this award show was unwatchable.  The lighting, sound, and editing were terrible.
Also having no host added laugh out loud moments, although neither did Chelsea Handler last year.  Jessie J. in a mood "sang" songs to lead the show to commerical and bring the show back to commerical, and I would cringe every moment she was on the screen.  I no longer can say "I want my MTV" anymore.  I think it's time to be done with that network. 

Katy-PerryFull list of winners:  
Video of the year: Katy Perry, "Firework"
Best new artist: Tyler, The Creator
Best male video: Justin Bieber, "U Smile"
Best female video: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
Best hip-hop video: Nicki Minaj, "Super Bass"
Best pop video: Britney Spears, "Till The World Ends"
Best rock video: Foo Fighters, "Walk"
Best collaboration: Katy Perry feat. Kanye West, "E.T."
Best video with a message: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
Best choreography: Beyonce, "Run The World (Girls)"
Best editing: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep"
Best special effects: Katy Perry feat. Kanye West, "E.T."
Best cinematography: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep"
Best art direction: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep"
Best direction: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"No Time, there's Never Any Time": A Tribute to Jessie Spano, Saved By the Bell and Stress

A few weeks ago (back when I had some free time in my life) I watched the episdoe of Saved by the Bell (1989-1993) when Jessie Spano was trying ace geometry so she could get into Stanford.  In order to stay awake Jessie got addicted to caffeine,and  drank copious amounts of coffee in order to do well in class, do student council, and perform in one of the worst music videos ever with Kelly and Lisa (sorry the video is bad but it had to be put in here!)

In the past of I have mocked this show for going the "Full House" or "7th Heaven" route by using caffeine pills as a metaphor for being addicted to harder drugs, but maybe this show had it right (don't judge).  I now know how Jessie actually feels.  I am in the middle of one of the busiest times in my current job as a Resident Director, new student move-in.  I am always excited for new students and my RA staff to move-in but there is an added stress in making sure that everything gets done in order to make everyone happy on all levels.  I have found myself drinking more coffee and caffeine than ever before.  Do I need an intervention, probably not. Stress happens, but managing that stress and finding balance is important....thanks Saved the Bell.

I love that television shows and movies go deeper into drug issues, like getting addicted to cough medicine, weeds, cocaine etc. but sometimes we miss the obvious stress in our life.  I like to take a step back and realize I have people on my side who want me to succeed. I am gratful I have people who call and check up on me, and people who truly care about me. 

Saved by the Bell is beyond over the top with their acting, and I love it Elizabeth Berkley who played Jessie was just so melodramatic and made this issue something that made me think so much deeper (I mean I'm writing about it write now).  The clip below is possibly one of my favorite bad/hilarious moments in television history, and I have to say "I am so excited ...I'm so so scared."  I am laughing typing that.   Tonight I am going to be the anti-Jessie.  I am going to take time for myself, relax and realize I cannot solve all my problems or prevent things from happening.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where are the Great Roles for Black Women?

I have wanted to post on this topic or a similar topic since the release of the film The Help almost Huskies for Hunger: Feeding Children Everywhereweeks ago.  The first topic I was going to post on was in regard to the subject matter of both the book and the film.  Sascha Stone from commented on a post from the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) and their problem with the common portrayal of black women as subservient to white women.  The ABWH also took issue with the fact that the film portrays the struggle of "the help" through the vantage point of the main white character, Rita, who is trying to advance her career and write a book based on the struggles of Abileen, Hilly, and the other black maids in Jackson, Mississippi.

In the book the story is told from three different viewpoints, and the reader gets to see what the three characters experience.  I have not seen the film yet, but based on word of mouth, and the fact that people are debating Viola Davis's characters category placement, the main focus in the film is Rita's point of view. I will not pardon the book because like the ABWH states black women are and have been more than maids in history, and their common representation in literature and film has been as the caretakers for white children.  I have not been able to see the film yet to judge for myself because my job has kept me chained to my desk working 12 hour days, but I will soon be judging for myself.

I think the ABWH has a point in regards to common portrayals which can influence the outside perspective of audiences.  White audiences are used to a Gone with the Wind type representation with black women.  The character in Gone with the Wind was called mammy who was played by Hattie McDaniel, and she was the first black person to win and Academy Award (she won in the Supporting Actress category.)  In her post Gone with the Wind career McDaniel was pigeon holed and even though she was an Academy Award winner she was never offered better roles.

Gone With the Wind was of course released in 1939 when much of the country was still embroiled in the debate of separate but equal, Jim Crow, and a time when McDaniel was scared to go to the premiere of the Gone with the Wind in Atlanta because of fear of violence.  Even after the Civil Rights Movement the number of varied roles for black actors was limited, or the same actors have been overused and because of their popularity it prevents other actors from becoming bigger stars (examples Denzel Washington, Will Smith).  This is a trend with black males, and I am by no means blaming Washington or Smith.  I blame studios for not taking the risk to develop better stories. 

Then there was the first black actress who won an Oscar in Best Actress category, Halle Berry for Monster's Ball.  Berry plays an inarticulate poor, "bad mother" whose husband is on death row at the beginning of the film, and she needs the love of a good white man to help her out.  The context of this role is awful.  Berry gives a great performance (again I cannot discredit the actress).  Was this representation of black women really the first performance that deserved to win this award?  I think Hollywood executives need to challenge the common representation and work towards carving out roles that portray black women in the different roles they play.

Going back to the recently release film The Help and star Viola Davis, it came to my attention that is she  were nominated for an Academy Award for this performance she would be only the second black actress to be nominated for two Academy Awards (her first nomination came in 2008 for the film Doubt).  The only other actress who has two Academy Award nominations is Whoopi Goldberg who was nominated The Color Purple (1985) and Ghost (1990); she won for Ghost.  Why is their only one black actress with more than one Academy Award nomination?  Goldberg was great in both of those films and I am happy she is an Oscar winner, but the fact that she is the only black actress with multiple acting nominations is problematic.

Here is a list of the black actresses nominated for Academy Awards

Lead Actress (8 nominations and 1 winner)
Dorothy Dandrige-Carmen Jones (1954)
Diana Ross-Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
Cicely Tyson-Sounder (1972)
Diahann Carroll-Claudine (1974)
Whoopi Goldberg-The Color Purple (1985)
Angella Bassett-What's Love got to do with it? (1993)
Halle Berry-Monster's Ball (2001)-Winner
Gaborey Sidibe-Precious (2009)

Supporting Actress (15 nominees and 4 Winners- 3 of within the last 20 years)
Hattie McDaniel-Gone with the Wind (1939)-Winner
Ethal Waters-Pinky (1949)
Juanita Moore-Imitation of Life (1959)
Beach Richards-Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967)
Alfre Woodard-Cross Creek (1983)
Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey-The Color Purple (1985)
Whoopi Goldberg-Ghost (1990)-Winner
Marianne Jean-Baptiste-Secrets and Lies (1996)
Queen Latifah-Chicago (2002)
Sophie Okenedo-Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Jennifer Hudson-Dreamgirls (2006)-Winner
Ruby Dee-American Gangster (2007)
Viola Davis-Doubt (2008)
Taraji P. Henson-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Mo'Nique-Precious (2009)-Winner

Now the Academy Awards are not the final say on quality film, but within the film industry they are regarded as the award that means the most and is the most well known worldwide.  The amount of nominees and winners shows the true barometer of the portrayal of black women in film and the quality work available.  Throughout the 83 years of the Academy there have been 10 actresses nominated each year (making 830 actress nominations) and only 23 of those nominees were black women (percentage wise that is only 3 %).  That percentage is abysmal.

Looking at the statistics it is clear that "good roles" for black women are often supporting.  The proof for this is in both the nomination and wins in each category.  15 nominations in the supporting category, and 8 nominations in the lead category, this number is cut in half.  Hollywood executives are much more comfortable with placing black women in supporting roles as opposed to making them lead characters that carry a film.  In the lead category, The Color Purple is the most popular film, made the most money, and is probably the most well known (and that is in part because the director was Steven Spielberg.)

Viola Davis is brilliant actress, give her more to do Hollywood!  Davis is more than Julia Roberts best friend in Eat, Pray, Love.  I know The Help is a divisive film for many groups, and I agree.  There needs to be more films out there that provide black women with a different voice.  Hollywood is powerful, and the images they create have lasting impressions. I hope that Hollywood takes more risks and tells the different stories of black women, but with The Help being successful I fear that executives will continue to tell the same story, that black women were once the help.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Great Television Episodes: Comedy Edition (Can there be just One?)

Last night after a long long day at work I laid down in bed to watch Friends.  I have had the longest days waking up at 7:30 am and finishing up work stuff at 9 pm at night.  I am a Resident Director at a school in Boston, and we are in the middle of RA training and getting ready for our buildings to open.  In order to relax every day after work I have been either watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Friends.  Last night I watched my favorite episode of Friends, There are some episodes in a television series that are just phenomenal.  When it comes to great comedy I have my favorite shows and my favorite episodes.

In the Friends episode "TOW Everyone Finds Out" Monica and Chandler have been secretly dating and Joey and Rachel have found in previous episodes, but at the beginning of this episode Phoebe sees them having sex in through the window across the street.  Phoebe and Rachel play games with Chandler in order to for Chandler and Monica to finally admit they are in love, add Ross sitting with ugly naked guy (naked himself) and you have my favorite and the best episode in the history of Friends.  The hands down star is Kudrow, who in my my mind was the thing that made every episode brilliant.

In I Love Lucy like always Lucy wants to be a part of Ricky's show and take part in a commercial in the episode entitled "Lucy Does a Commercial."  Lucy gets to do a television commercial for a product called Vitametavegamin but she has so much that she gets drunk slurs her words, and is just plain hilarious.  I love Lucille Ball's comic timing, but she shines more than ever in this episode, and this is just classic television.

Will & Grace had up its highs and lows but there was no better episode than "Lows in the Mid Eighties." My favorite characters in the show were always Jack and Karen; they had the chemistry and provided way more laughs than the central characters, but in this episode there is no weak link.  In this flashback episode we get to see Will and Grace dating (and telling her he's gay), Will meet Jack (and Jack tell Will he's fat), and Karen meet Rosario (and turn down a female tennis player).  Grace's haircut alone is amazing.

There are of course Friends fans who will save their favorite episode is where Rachel kisses Ross after she sees the prom tape, or Will & Grace fans who think the best episode is where Jack's mother comes to Thanksgiving and does not know he is gay, or when Lucy meets John Wayne.  These are all great episodes.  Good television is hard to come by and making not only one good episode that makes people laugh can be a challenge, but these shows captured magic that will be revered forever!

On the other hand, after writing about these three episodes, I thought and thought about the different comedies I watch like The Office, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Seinfeld, and many more (I watch a lot of comedies) that picking one episode from each of these shows was incredible difficult. My favorite episode of The Office would be a tough call either "Casino Night" "Gay Witch Hunt" or "Niagara." The great thing about shows like 30 Rock, and Arrested Development are that narrowing down one great episode is difficult I enjoy all of them!  I like to think that most of the shows i have watched throughout the years were incredibly well rounded.  In today's writing comedies are less about the situational aspect.  I would consider the newer shows today to be versions of the sitcom, but stylistically they are far more advanced and take comedy to a whole different level.

I took a pop culture class last spring on the sitcom, and I do not think it is dying, but I think it is evolving from the older days where those truly great (classic) episodes in one season, to being good all the time.  Seinfeld set the bar for this, and was a sitcom about nothing where every moment was just funny, and it made it hard for people to pick just one moment or episode that highlights the shows greatness.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer 2011 Hits, Misses, and Quality Films

The Summer 2011 movie season is just about wrapping up.  August is coming to an end, and then comes the push for Oscar movies (with some boring months like September and October in the middle).  There were some films that did great at the box office and others that should have done better.  The quality of Summer films was on the low end of the spectrum as well, with only a few glimpses of hope.  Some films that did great at the box office were utter garbage in my opinion, so it is only fair to separate those two types of films. There were a handful of decent films that were both good movies, and did well at the box office.

Hits (in quality and money)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2Movies that Go Boom!:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was a great way to end the series at the box office and in regards to quality film making.  Right now the film is the highest grossing film of the year, and will most likely max out at around 380 million domestically.  The film had great reviews and there is talk of a best picture nomination, but I do not think this film will catch the Academies eye in any of the major categories.  While I did not LOVE Super 8, it was a pretty great film, and it did better at the box office than I expected it to do.

Comedy Hits: Bridesmaids a movie a movie I saw three times, I just had to keep going back was a huge sleeper hit that gained great traction and scored a whopping 167 million, a great feet for an R rated comedy driven by women.  This was a hilarious and well crafted film also.

Comic Book Movies (that did well and were good too!) Who would have thought the God of thunder, Thor would hold the title for the highest grossing comic book related film of the year (I sure did not).  Thor was not only my favorite comic book movie of the summer, but it also had the highest box office number, 181 million dollars (domestically). Captain America: The First Avenger like Thor did very well and helped build the excitement to the The Avengers film, which will be released in 2012.  I would qualify X-Men: First class as a modest hit.  The film was certainly the best in the series (fighting it out with X-2), but the numbers were weaker, mostly because X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine were so awful.

The Small Films that Chug Along: Midnight in Paris was Woody Allen's highest grossing movie to date, and it was a great film in my book.  This film earned 50 million dollars (domestically) and proves that a well written film can still draw people in during the explosive summer season.  The Help was at the the top of the box office, and strong word of mouth will make it into a moderate hit.

Hits (at the Box Office)

The Hangover Part-II 1080p & 720p & The HangBad Movies that Just Make Money: Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon looked like it was almost going to be the highest grossing film of the year, but that was prevented by HP 7p2 (Thank Potterheads!).  This film was another loud noisy obnoxious film in this series that made my skin crawl with revulsion.  The Hangover Part II made a lot of money but it also made people rethink their dedication to the franchise, because of the fact that the movie had almost the exact same jokes as the first film. Disney has made it clear that they care more about quantity (aka dollars) over quality and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides is proof that they are reaching the bottom line without quality films.

Animated Films (one stale summer):

The summer of animated sequels brought about big box office numbers with both Kung Fu Panda and Cars 2, but I will be sad if either of these films contends for the Best Animated Film at the Oscars.  That category has become boring and pointless.  There are many films that missed out on Oscars because that category did not exist, but it has also helped to reward worse films.

Summer Misses:

Movies that go Boom!: Conan The Barbarian, this re-make never had the publicity or the legs to get big box office numbers, and who thought Arnold would have made a superior film.  I hate to say "I told you so" but I knew Cowboys and Aliens would be a huge miss and that it would not find a stable audience.  Even Harrison Ford could not save this sinking ship.

Mr Popper’s Penguins Movie 2011 original PosterComedies that Did not Muster Up the Laughs: Friends with Benefits was hurt by a film with the same premise released in January, and Timberlake could not scare up enough ladies and gay men to come see him in this film.  30 Minutes or Less had a great cast filled with funny men like Aziz Ansari, Jesse Eisenberg, and Danny McBride, but good comedians and a bad film could not scare up a good box office.  Big stars just don't mean big numbers anymore; Jim Carrey couldn't save Mr. Popper's Penguins and Kevin James did not have his magic Paul Blart touch with Zookeeper either.

No Scary Movies till October!: Fright Night was another re-make that should never have happened, and it looks plain awful.  Wasn't the last film called The Final Destination?  Why did they make a fifth?  Scary movies never fair well during the Summer, the best time for them is during the month of October.

Independent Movies that Make You Think too Much:The Tree of Life was not meant to released during this summer season.  This film was far too ethereal for the summer months.   Malick's film would have done much better if it were released in November or December.

Overall there were some fun moments in the summer months, but also some pretty forgettable films that will not have any lasting impact.  This summer was plagued with bad sequels, re-makes, and stupid comedies that prove why box office numbers are down, and more people are waiting to see the movies at home rather than waste ten dollars to see them in the theater.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I am Going to Judge Movies on the Content of their Character (Disney is on the Naughty List)

While looking around the different blogs I read I stumbled upon a story where Disney executive Andy  Hendrickson stated the following:

"Profit equals the ability to capture more than the average share of viewers. A tentpole film is one where you can seed the desire to see the film to everyone in every distribution channel. It's the only kind of film you can spend $100 million marketing. It's all about the story? When you're making tentpole films, bullshit. [Take Alice inWonderland], the story isn't very good, but visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn't hurt."

[Alice+in+Wonderland.jpg]I have a tremendous problem with this statement.  I will cite movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Alice and Wonderland because they were mentioned by this executive, and I will agree with him on one point they "look" stunning, and are visually marvelous.  Didn't Andy learn anything from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his "I Have a Dream" speech.  Dr. King stated "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." 

 Now I do not want trivialize the words of Dr. King, but I think they can apply to film.  Mr. Hendrickson wants to make movies that only make money because they "look" a specific way not because the content is actually good.  The statement he made is extremely problematic, and why I think executives ruin films, and the industry they are trying to keep a float. Andy criticizes films made by his own company and the people who work on them.

The inner critic within me says "Bravo" criticizing these films is a great (because they are bad), but why couldn't the poor writing be fixed?  Was the studio too concerned with the flare of the look of the film to forget there was a story attached.   I know people who watch films to see something intentionally bad, but when films are marketed and intended to be good, and they fail, and you know they will in regards to content, why not strike a balance? I think producers are so consumed with the bottom line that the creativity in Hollywood is at an all time low.  Alice in Wonderland is a live action version of another film (different plot) and Pirates is the fourth in a series.  Disney like other companies wants things they can market, and the brand matters more, because it will get people to their theme park.  Guess what Disney?  People will go to your theme park anyway!

I am tired of Hollywood and companies like Disney treating quality films like the girl in a movie who people see as less desirable because she is wearing glasses and has a ponytail.  Personality and content matter.  In looking at box office numbers for this year, people have been more discerning with their money than ever before, and they are not going to always waste their money on bad films.  Bad word of mouth will prevent a films success, for example Green Lantern.  Green Lantern was a bomb in quality and in box office numbers.  This past winter and spring saw some terrible box office numbers, those two seasons also had very few quality films available for audiences.

What about when what Andy says is true, like with Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon (second highest grossing domestic film of the year) or Pirates (huge international box office with a take of over a billion dollars.  What does that mean?  Well it means branding works and people just can't give up on things.  It makes sense that both these series of films would have large box office numbers like their predecessors.  Then there was Avatar one of the single highest grossing films of all time (not with adjusted inflation) which also follows this trend.  Avatar is in concept poorly written, but is visually stunning.  Avatar, while not one of my favorite films, is not an awful film.  So what does this mean?  There needs to be a balance and executives and the teams that work on the movies need to find a balance so that better movies are made.

I am sure Andy cares about his films, but as executive his main concern is the bottom line.  So how can creative people in Hollywood push back?- The bottom line matters.....but people are smart and want quality films (most of the time).  Watching a bad movie can be fun, but I would rather have a movie where the writers, directors etc focus on the content more than look of the film.  With bad word of mouth the fifth Pirates film could suffer, or sadly people could continue to follow another franchise blindly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fall TV Preview: Time to Weed through the Crap

I am super busy with work, and may not get a chance to have much time to write about fall TV, but now is my time to write about some of my favorite returning shows, and some of the shows I am highly anticipating.  There are four returning shows I am anticipating, one of the four I may give up on.  There are also four new shows I am excited about, and hope they are big hits instead of huge flops.

Returning Shows: 

The Good Wife (CBS) :  Last season The Good Wife ended its season with a bang (literally), and a lot things being turned upside down.  Alicia finally walked away from her cheating and lying husband Peter (the DA) and made out with the partner in her law firm (her boss and former lover) Will Gardner.  Alicia and here "best friend" Kahlinda Sharma are at odds because Kahlinda had slept with Peter (much earlier) and never told Alicia.  Now that Alicia is walking away from her husband, what will happen now that he is the newly elected DA and going through a divorce?  What role will Eli Gold (Alan Cumming-the best character) take in the show, will he still be a consultant for Peter?  Will Alicia and Will keep going or will another road block be thrown in their way?  This show avoided the sophomore slump, and got better in it's second season.  I hope the show continues to achieve great character driven stories.

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope Parks and Recreation (NBC) : Leslie Knope and company return for season four and the show has hit its stride and come off their best season.  Tammy number one, Ron's first wife will be on the show and will be played by the amazing Patricia Clarkson; his mother the original Tammy will also be on the show as well.  Bring on the more Ron Swanson!  The supporting cast is great and I hope this show beats the curse that The Office faced as the seasons progressed.

The Walking Dead (AMC) :  With only six episodes in its first season this show had me hooked.  I am glad that AMC will be brining this show back for a long arc, and I am excited to see the direction this show will take.  There has been a lot of behind the scenes drama with show creator Frank Darabont leaving.  I am a bit nervous that this show will lose its cool factor and not be able to continue its creative energy.  I think this is one of the most realistic (as realistic as you can get) in regards to the portrayal of the zombie genre.  As the season ended with another bang (this time an explosion), we found our characters searching for a land of hope and realizing that no place may exist.

Glee (FOX): After a sophomore slump this show needs to do a lot to keep me watching.  Every year I give up on certain shows.  In the past the shows have been similar to shows like Glee, dramadies like Grey's and Desperate Housewives that are just cultural phenomenons that can not keep up with the quality of their first or second seasons.  Glee turned Jane Lynch's character into a shrew (I love Jane Lynch still), but Sue Sylvester was just an awful character this year.  The show forgets story lines and characters, and the show loses focus too easily.  I am going to give this show another chance, but this may be something I walk away from.

New Shows:

Terra Nova (FOX): This show just looks cool, but looks can be deceiving of course.  I am hoping to DVR this show and catch up on my weekends.  The premise of a family being transported back in time because the Earth's resources are drained is pretty interesting, and there is potential for long term story.  I just hope the show does not get bogged down in melodrama.

The Ringer (CW) : The last time Sarah Michelle Gellar was on this network (or this network as a combined version of the WB and UPN); she was on the cult hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it was amazing!  The plot has me hooked, and this is the new show I am excited about most.  I love Sarah Michelle Gellar and I think she is meant for great television, and I hope based on the preview below she will finally have another hit on her hands.

American Horror Story (F/X):  There is not much information about this show created by Ryan Murphy, but the cast is amazing with Connie Britton, Dylan McDermot, Frances Conroy, Dennis O'Hare,  Academy Award winner Jessica Lange, and the creepy trailer below, I am there!

Up All Night (NBC): Combine Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, and Maya Rudolph what should you get, an amazing comedy that will build up NBC's new wednesday night comedy line up.  I am hoping this show does more and is better than Samantha Who? and Running Wilde.  I am excited that this show will be doing more with Rudolph; she is comic genius and it is about time she find a great television role.  I have a feeling this show may bomb, but I have my fingers crossed it will be a big hit.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises....On My DVD Player

No, I did not get a boot leg of the new Christopher Nolan installment in the Batman, but I have been watching a lot of Batman while I have some down time before my job gets even busier than it is now.  I have seen a lot of video from the filming of The Dark Knight Rises online as well, with Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and some action shots.  This has put me in the mood to watch any and all Batman I can find.

I have been mainly been watching Batman (The Animated Series).  This show was one of my favorite cartoons growing up, and one of the best adaptations of the Batman comic book.  This series helped to create one of the best villains Harley Quinn, who if Heath Ledger had lived and they continued a piece of his story she would have most definitely been in the third Nolan film.  This cartoon also inspired one of the best films in theaters, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

Batman's transition from comic book to live action started with the 1966 camptastic adaptation starring Adam West as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Burt Ward as Robin/Dick Grayson.  This hilarious (and I believe intentionally funny) television series last for two and a half seasons, and also had a film version.  Between this and the animated series the list of villains who appeared was always entertaining.

Batman1966.jpgIn the animated series Mark Hamill aka Luke Skywalker voiced the Joker, with a hauntingly evil yet comic twist.  Catwoman was also handled incredibly well in the animated series, and the dual role she played as Selena Kyle.  The animated series did a great job of connecting the characteristics of their villains well from the comic books.  The live action television attracted some big named stars like Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshen, Julie Newmar, Cesar Romero, and even Oscar winners Art Carney and Cliff Robertson.

Batman turned to the silver screen in in 1989 with a live action film starring Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne, and Jack Nicholson as his antagonist Jack Napier/The Joker.  This film was directed by Tim Burton, and was a a wonderfully dark (looks wise) adaptation with a memorable score conducted by Danny Elfman.  Nicholson's Joker was at the time a masterpiece and one of the best portrayals any comic book villain.

After the first film Burton took at a stab at two other Batman villains, in Batman Returns (not an original title) with the Penguin, and Catwoman.  This film was not as good as the first, but was saved mainly by Michelle Pfeiffer's brilliant performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.  Burton was given complete control of the artistic direction of this film (that is obvious) and its somewhat cartoonish undertone along with lower box office, and conflicts in schedule pushed Burton away from the third Batman film.

The third Batman film, Batman Forever had a new Batman (Val Kilmer) a new director Joel Schumacher, introduced Robin, and had two new villains The Riddler/Edward Nigma (Jim Carrey) and Harvey Dent/Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones).  Carrey (even though incredibly cartoonish) was a great choice for The Riddler.  I felt like I was watching one big explosion of neon while watching this film, but nothing could have prepared me for the terror/camp of the fourth and final Batman (in this series).

Batman and Robin, what can I say?  Joel Schumacher laughably focused on rubber nipples, cod pieces, and butts in the opening sequence of his film, nuff said!  George Clooney seemed to be  a good pick for Bruce Wayne, but as Batman he was terrible!  Schumacher ruined Bane, used Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the intelligent Mr. Freeze, and started Uma Thurman's over acting as Poison Ivy.  This film is hard to watch unless I knowingly want to laugh at how bad this film was.

batman+and+robin.jpgI will say Burton was better at creating strong roles for women, that were capable (both the girlfriend to Bruce and the villain).  Kim Basinger's Vicky Vale was confident and strong, and like I said above Michelle Pfeiffer was dynamite.  Schumacher turned the woman of Batman into boring characters.  Nicole Kidman's therapist Dr. Chase Meridian was silly.  Schumacher made a laughable Batgirl out of Alicia Silverstone and ignored the history of Batgirl being Barbara Gordon; he also had Elle McPherson play Bruce's fiance and she barely spoke and was just there to be eye candy.  Schumacher took down this series quicker the sinking of the Titanic in ironically 1997 the year Titanic was released.

The eight years later like a phoenix from the ashes, Christopher brought Batman back to life with the film Batman Begins.  Batman Begins took Batman back to his origin.  Nolan was smart enough to realize that the audience wants to see the birth of the hero (this caused a huge trend in super hero films).  After Nolan introduced this concept several other films followed suit, and did not just start the super hero story in the middle.  After watching Batman Begins tonight, I can definitively state that Chris Nolan is a genius and has created two masterpieces centered around the caped crusader.  The second film The Dark Knight kept the majority of the cast (replacing the awful Katie Holmes) and of course helped birth the Academy Award winning role for Heath Ledger as The Joker.  Nolan knows how to weave realism with  comic lore.  I am excited for the Dark Knight Rises but Anne Hathaway playing Catwoman has me scared.  I hope to talk amore about Nolan's Batman as the film's release comes closer, but I trust Nolan will close his trilogy without using up one of his nine lives.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We Need to Talk About Me? ....Probably a Different Kevin

The French and UK versions of the the trailer for the film We Need to Talk About Kevin have been released, and I can't wait to see this film.  The film is based on the book by Lionel Shriver entited "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and focuses on Kevin a boy who does a school shooting.  The film will center on how his mother copes with her sons actions through writing to her former husband.  The trailer is dark and disturbing, and has me on the edge of my seat.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
The film stars the awe inspiring actress Tilda Swinton who has blown me away with her subtle work in films like Michael Clayton, Julia, I am Love, and The Deep End.  The father is played by the once only mainstream actor John C. Reilly who has a burgeoning indie film career on the rise with films like Cyrus; he also is a fixture in many Will Ferrell films like Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.  Ezra Miller plays the son and I am not familiar with any of his previous work in either Royal Pains (on USA) or in the Showtime series Californication, but a role like this could be a huge launch pad for his career.
When a film's trailer puts me on the edge on my seat I know I am sold.  I think that a solid trailer that is constructed like leaves enough to imagination while bringing intrigue is the direction more films should take.  Tilda Swinton is slowly becoming one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood; she has such presence and power and I am excited to see her talk about a different Kevin.