Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - TV EDITION: Superheroes/Super Powers

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling everyone a bit about them!

Another month, another TV Edition of Thursday Movie Picks, so my apologies if you were coming here looking for movie recommendations. They're not on the menu at the moment. Please, though, come back soon!

This week, we're looking at the small screen's superheroes. And it took me about five seconds to come up with my favorite:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) It's one of the stranger things in recent memory that an utter failure of a forgettable teen movie was later turned into one of the All-Time Great TV shows by the film's own writer. But that's just what happened with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the story of a butt-kicking California blonde who is a mystical "chosen one" who was chosen to rid the world of vampires (and other supernatural beasties). Setting our heroine's high school on top of something called The Hellmouth (trust me, it's exactly what it sounds like), was a stroke of genius, allowing creator Joss Whedon and his writing staff to externalize all the myriad internal adolescent issues we've all experienced as quite literal demons. And he set the template for every other great serialized drama that was on air after. All hail.
Favorite Episodes: "Hush" (S4.e10), "The Body" (S5.e16), "Once More, With Feeling" (S6.e7)

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997) Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher were the Clark Kent and Lois Lane the '90s needed, okay?!? This probably isn't a great show, really, but good lord I wouldn't have been caught dead missing an episode back when I was ten years old!

Arrow (2012-present) Darker and more emotional than your average superhero tale, this television adaptation of the Green Arrow comic was appointment television for a while for me, and not just because of star Stephen Amell's body of work. The hook (bilionaire playboy returns home after having been thought dead for years, bent on taking revenge on those who wronged his father and his city) is pretty irresistible, and the quality of each episode is outstandingly high. Complex characters and brilliant performances made me keep tuning in long after the storyline itself changed focus and lost my interest.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Shakespeare Adaptations

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. If these posts seem like fun to you, play along! All you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme, and tell us a bit about them. Couldn't be simpler!

Oh, Wanderer.

You have no idea what you've wrought this week.

You see, I'm a bit obsessed with the adaptation of stage plays to film. And I'm more than a little obsessed with the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. Ever since I read a VERY abridged version of Romeo & Juliet when I was in fourth grade, I've loved him. I took several courses on him in college, and worked for an Off-Broadway theater company focused on Shakespeare and classic drama for five years. Shakespeare adaptations are kind of my thing. So I'm going to go a little bit crazy this week. Please, bear with me. There's LOTS to talk about.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Prodigy/Genius

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them - it's fun, promise!

I am sitting in my warm apartment watching the snow blow around outside, and I must admit that I feel very content. This is my favorite thing in the world, especially with a mug of hot cocoa (check) and a fire in the fireplace (not happening in a one bedroom in Manhattan, unfortunately). Next to movies, of course, which is why I haven't moved from the couch all day.

But it's Thursday, which means I have some picking to do! This week's TMP theme is geniuses. I'm not one, although I do have my moments! The point being, I should be so lucky to do something so brilliant as these people that I get a movie made about me.

Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984) One of the greats. A movie about the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a bona fide genius, and Antonio Salieri, an almost genius. The Best Picture Oscar winner of 1984 (which made it my favorite film sight unseen for a long time - I was born in 1984) is deliriously entertaining, one of the best films to win Best Picture. And F. Murray Abraham's performance as Salieri is one of the all-time great performances.

Searching For Bobby Fischer (Steven Zaillian, 1993) An ordinary man discovers that his seven year old son is a chess prodigy. He and his wife find a coach for the boy as he goes and plays in the park against random men. Except that in the hands of writer/director Zaillian, this is so much better and more complex than that plot sounds. This is easily one of the best films of the '90s.

Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997) Will Hunting is a math genius, wasting his days as a janitor at MIT and his nights hanging out with his buddies on the south side of Boston. One day, a professor posts an impossibly difficult math problem in the hall, and Will solves it. Naturally, the professor wants to work with his brilliant mind, but Will has a lot of issues, so he must go to see a therapist (played by Robin Williams in an Oscar-winning performance). I love this movie so much. Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and it's kind of amazing that they haven't written anything since, although it's clear from their performances here that they were always movie stars.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Awards Contenders In Brief - Hell or High Water

True sleeper hits feel like a total rarity these days. So when a film becomes one, it feels like a bit of an event. David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water was a genuine sleeper hit this summer, which could have been because the Summer of 2016 was a pretty dire time for movies, let alone completely original stories, let alone westerns. So it's pretty big that this film stuck around like it did, made the money it made, and made it all the way to the Oscars with four nominations.


And really, if I'm being honest, it's pretty much perfect. Taylor Sheridan's screenplay is as notable for what it does as it is for what it doesn't do. It doesn't give us the whole story right off the bat, doling out bits and pieces of the plot throughout the entire running time. It doesn't provide any easy answers for us or for the characters, putting those that survive the main action (this is a western crime drama, you know there's gonna be some deaths) in a morally compromised position and not giving any real sort of closure. It also doesn't stay in one genre - it's a western, but feels modern; it's a crime story, but doesn't feel like a thriller; it's a slow, thoughtful drama, but it's also funny as hell. And it is perfectly paced. Sheridan, with help from director David Mackenzie, is also really good at social commentary - I don't think I've ever seen a film that so perfectly captures the desolate desperateness of America's more rural areas while showing exactly why conservative politics that put big business first are precisely what they DON'T need. This is easily one of the best screenplays of the year, an utter delight from start to finish.


But also, if I'm being honest, there's nothing particularly new or surprising here. Just a solid story told exceptionally well. There's a lot to admire in the performances - who would have guessed Chris Pine could make stoic masculinity so compelling? Props to the casting department, who made perfect choices all the way down the line - especially in how they slowly accumulate detail until it feels like we know these characters completely. It's an incredibly smart film that doesn't "feel" smart. It's just one helluva ride.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies About Artists

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

And now, back to your regularly scheduled TMP programming: MOVIES!

This week, we must pick movies about artists, specifically painters. I've tried to pick three movies as different from each other as possible for this, so... ENJOY!

The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (Raúl Ruiz, 1978) Look, I could describe the "plot" of this to you, but that really would kind of be beside the point. It's ostensibly "about" an art collector who six of seven canvasses of a legendary 19th century French painter who creates extremely elaborate tableaux vivants of each of the paintings he does have in order to try and figure out what the fourth in the series (stolen long ago) might have been. But really, it's about art itself, how we create it, experience it, critique it, and look at it. It's a viewing experience completely unlike any other I've ever had, and yes you may find it unbearably pretentious, but I don't care.

Frida (Julie Taymor, 2002) A bit of a mess, but then, could a film about the great, provocative Mexican painter Frida Kahlo be anything but? At least Julie Taymor's biopic takes risks most films would never dream of in both form and function. And Hayek, who nurtured this project from conception to completion, is great fun to watch.

Tim's Vermeer (Teller, 2014) Sometimes, life gifts you with a perfect story: Penn Jillette, one-half of the famous magician duo Penn & Teller, had a friend named Tim who was obsessed with the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, who many consider the greatest painter that ever lived. Specifically, Tim is obsessed with how Vermeer captured light so perfectly. So obsessed, that he builds a device that allows him to paint a perfect recreation of whatever is in front of him, like he believed Vermeer used. And Penn & Teller filmed it. It's an absolutely fascinating story, and watching it will make you view painting in a whole new light.

BONUS TV PICK
 "Vincent And The Doctor" (Doctor Who, 2010, S5E10) I didn't pick the long-running BBC program Doctor Who for our sci-fi TV edition of TMP last week, but I had to mention this episode this week, because it's one of my favorites. Our intrepid time-traveling Galifreyan and his spunky companion Amy Pond end up visiting Vincent Van Gogh, whose inner demons have been made thrillingly external as a scary black beastie. He is depressed because he is going through all these awful things and no one cares about his art, into which he pours his heart and soul. So in the end, just this once, the Doctor allows the person he helps to see his future, and this scene happens, and I turn into a puddle of tears. EVERY. TIME. Just beautiful.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - TV EDITION: Science Fiction

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

PLOT TWIST!

This year, Wanderer has decided that the last Thursday Movie Picks of each month will be a special Television Edition! While I'm excited for the diversity, I'm also kind of annoyed, because I've watched WAY less TV shows than I have movies, and I hate to pick things more than once. This might get difficult when we get to December...

But anyway, let's focus on the here and now, shall we? This week, we're talking Sci-Fi TV shows. I have to admit, the first two shows I immediately thought of I ended up discarding for various reasons, one of which being I'm sure everyone else will pick them. Bonus points if you can guess what they were. The ones I did pick this week are two shows from my childhood that honestly may not have been very good at all, and one SciFi Channel Syfy show that I really love.

Land of the Lost (1991-1992)  I'm SO SORRY. But I remember really loving this Saturday Morning TV Show as a kid. An update of the old Sid & Marty Krofft show from the 70s but with (slightly) better special effects, Land of the Lost is the story of a Dad and his two kids who get accidentally sucked back in time (or something) to a world where dinosaurs and cavemen run rampant, and have to survive or find a way back home. I remember liking the Swiss Family Robinson living-off-the-land survival elements the best, but other than that I really don't remember much. Except that I liked it.

SeaQuest DSV (1993-1996) My grandfather is a seafarer. He came to America from England working on a boat, and jumped ship when they got to New York, and he's been on or near the water ever since. Both of my grandparents volunteered at a local aquarium (my grandmother basically built their education program from the ground up), and they had a boat on Long Island Sound that we would go out on in the summer. So when this show, which is basically Star Trek under water, aired, it was appointment viewing for my family. Again, I don't remember practically anything about it, except that I looked forward to it every week. And that the cast, led by Roy Scheider, is pretty much all REALLY good-looking.

Eureka (2006-2012) The newest and BY FAR best of my picks this week, Eureka is the story of an average cop, who (along with his teenage daughter) stumbles across a city populated entirely by geniuses and, through circumstance, ends up becoming the town Sheriff. Naturally, since the town factory is a high-tech corporation run by the Department of Defense, something life-threatening (or at least, VERY weird) happens on a pretty regular basis, so Sheriff Carter has plenty to keep him busy. And while everyone around him may have a (much) higher IQ, Carter's street smarts and ability to connect with others makes him far better at the job than anyone expected, himself included. What started out as a more serious, mythology-and-mystery-driven show ended up becoming much more lighthearted in its middle-to-later seasons, so much so that even the objectively bad episodes were enjoyable just because the characters were so pleasant to spend time with. It's an incredibly endearing show, and I actually miss it quite a bit.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Featuring an Actor/Actress that Passed Away in 2016

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them. It's fun... promise!

Well, we all know 2016 was a bit of a downer on the whole "celebrities dying" front. So let's start celebrating them!

I'll be honest, I kind of want to make this just a celebration of mother-daughter duo Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, but that would be somewhat unfair to everyone else who passed away last year. And there were some great talents among them.

The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006) I ask you: Is there an actor better suited to play Nikola Tesla than David Bowie? He has the perfect presence for the enigmatic mad scientist, and he perks up Nolan's dour tale of dueling magicians something fierce. This is probably my favorite Christopher Nolan film, a perfectly realized vision of the male psyche and the way jealousy can consume your life and fester into something ugly. Top of the line performances from Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine in addition to absolutely gorgeous cinematography make this one of the best, most memorable films of the '00s, with one of the most brilliant endings.

Dogma (Kevin Smith, 1999) Honest to God, this may be my favorite Alan Rickman performance. As the sardonic, exasperated, perpetually soused angel Metatron, he is an absolute riot in Smith's assault against all things holy. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are perfectly cast "against type" as bad-boy fallen angels trying to get back into heaven, Chris Rock is a hoot as the forgotten thirteenth apostle, and honestly, Alanis Morissettte gives what is perhaps my favorite portrayal of God ever put on screen. Dogma is a sick dirty joke of a film, but it's one that makes me laugh EVERY TIME.

The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967) One of my All-Time Favorite movies, with one of my favorite performances. That performance being, of course, Gene Wilder's as the unbelievably neurotic accountant Leo Bloom, who offhandedly comes up with the perfect idea to make money on a flop Broadway show, which faded producer Max Bialystock (a brilliant Zero Mostel) takes completely seriously. The problem? Well, in their effort to make all the wrong choices, they inadvertently make all the right choices to create a camp classic: Springtime for Hitler. I just CAN'T with how funny this movie is.