Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Got Justified?

Only halfway into its second season, FX's JUSTIFIED has been picked up for a third season. The more Raylan we can get, the better. And I think anyone that knows me and reads this column knows that I hope we can keep Walt Goggins on a weekly basis as well...

Read the story here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.3

Raylan is put on the case when an illegal bus of oxycontin gets hit. Meanwhile, Raylan confronts Ava about Boyd and a face from the past makes a big mistake when he impersonates Raylan.

Look, this is just a warning, but the longer you people in Kentucky make Boyd Crowder stew, the bigger he's gonna blow. I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.10

Crews and Reese act as neutral parties while investigating the murder of a Sheriff's deputy on an Indian reservation.

Probably the funniest episode of the run, several pieces of information get revealed in awkward ways, and we get a lot of really nice moments from the actors.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.2

Raylan and Tim track down a pregnant prisoner, after losing her at the doctor's office. Raylan visits Boyd.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.9

Crews and Reese investigate the shootings of a drug dealer and an elementary teacher, who also happens to be a cop groupie.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend TV: Justified 2.1

Raylan's back!

Picking up where last season ended, in the aftermath of the shootout at Bulletville, Boyd is still on the run and the Miami cartel is still in play. Meanwhile, when Raylan returns to work, he and Deputy Brooks chase down an anonymous tip on a released sex offender.

It looks like this episode sets up a long arc that we'll follow throughout the season, with a lot of likeable actors, including Jeremy Davies and Brad William Henke. It also displays the laid-back attitude and patient story-telling that made the first season such a stand-out. I'm looking forward to the next 12 weeks.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.8

Crews and Reese investigate a murder in a mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. Then the body disappears.

Nothing noir in this episode, unless you want to count the advice Charlie gives a suspect near the end, about lying to the police. And even that was presented as a greater good, so between that and the fact that it provided spoilers, I decided not to include it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Movie Day

Back in 2003, I came up with what I thought was a cool concept. I'd take a day for myself every year and dedicate that day to films. And, to make it more interesting, for every additional year I did this, I would commit myself to watching an additional film on that day. So, on my half-birthday in 2003, I watched CASABLANCA. In 2004 I watched CONTACT and THE CONTENDER. In 2005, I went up to three films: JAWS, HIGH AND LOW and PULP FICTION. In 2006, it turned out that I couldn't take that day off, so I put it off a year. In 2007 I moved to a day "around" my half-birthday and watched RHAPSODY IN AUGUST, BATMAN BEGINS, 'TIL THERE WAS YOU and RUSHMORE.

In the intervening years, it has been increasingly difficult to take a day off in early September, as school is starting up at George Eastman House and my own kids have started going to school. So for three years I've waited to continue my solitary tradition. And finally the time has come. I asked myself why I was waiting for a day near my half-birthday. If I wasn't going to do it on a day of significance, I'd rather do it near my real birthday. And now that day has come. Today, March 10, 2011, I will watch five films. It won't be a record for me. Some day I'll tell you about that long April day at Loew's Webster back in 1990. But it will be the continuation of a tradition I like.

I don't know exactly what the titles will be. I like it that way. I've got several possibilities in front of me. There are some movies I need to catch back up with. There are some movies that are borrowed. There are some that are expiring soon. And there's always the possibility I'll go out and see a movie. You never know. But I'll try to keep you updated.

And wish me luck.

Robin Hood (2010)

Why: Oh, come on, it's Ridley Scott, right? And I borrowed it from my brother-in-law.


I decided on the longer director's cut. I dunno. Maybe it was a bad choice. I think what they were going for here was the behind-the-castle-keep kind of political intrigue that worked in A Song of Ice and Fire (or the upcoming HBO series A Game of Thrones). There were several characters we were following in the first half-hour, to the point that I was wondering if Robin Hood was actually the main character, and if not, if the country of England was the main character, as seen through the eyes of several different characters in different positions. But that wasn't the case, either.

The concept was to explore the origins of the Robin Hood character. Unfortunately, the origins provided much of the backstory for the Robin Hood we know and love. So, as the film begins, we get a cypher of a man, the generic war veteran, ashamed of what he's done and only wants to get home, if only he knew where home was and where he belonged, other than in England. In the course of getting home, several things happen to him that push him in several directions away from his goal of running away. But they actually push him toward his real home, you see? Is that fate? Or convenient storytelling?

I liked some of the actors in the film. I've never been a big Russell Crowe guy, but I like Cate Blanchett. And I'd never seen Marc Strong before, but I see why people talk about him. And it was good to see William Hurt, Kevin Durand (this generation's Adam Baldwin), Mark Addy, Scott Grimes, and the lead singer of Great Big Sea, Alan Doyle. But ultimately I just didn't care. And that's death for a 2 1/2 hour film.

NetFlix rating: **

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tom Brown's Schooldays (1971)

Why: I became interested in TV miniseries throughout the years, and this was the first Emmy winner for this format back in 1973.


I'm no big anglophile. Oh, I've spent hours watching Doctor Who and Monty Python, and I've read a few Agatha Christies, but I couldn't tell you royal succession beyond Elizabeth II. So, why would I watch this? Well, I started to wonder about the TV miniseries after reading more about events like Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. I went back to look at miniseries beginnings and decided to check out some that were nominated for Emmys back when they started to be recognized. This was the first winner.

So, I went into this DVD set not knowing a thing about Thomas Hughes or Tom Brown's Schoodays. Apparently, it was a poorly-disguised memoir about Hughes' time at the famous Rugby public (read: private) school in England. He was the son of a judge who sent him to Rugby when Tom's previous school is shut down due to an outbreak. The main tension in the story comes from Tom's struggles with a bully at school, the son of a lord whom Tom caught abusing a servant girl at his house.

I actually quite liked this film. The acting is uneven, but the narrative is compelling, as a young man tries to find his way, struggling with his taught morality in the real world as he matures, finding his way as he becomes a man. The bully character, Flashman is sufficiently evil, and yet somehow realistic in his position and actions. Coincidentally, Charles Benoit tells me the character was adopted by author George MacDonald Fraser for a series of 19th Century adventure novels.

NetFlix rating: ***

Moon (2009)

Why: Filmspotting's 2009 Golden Brick winner/ expiring from my NetFlix instant queue. Plus it's a drama on the moon that has some science basis to it. I mean, come on!

On: NetFlix streaming.

David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones, is the writer and director of this neat little sci-fi psychological thriller. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole employee at a moonbase that oversees the harvesting, conversion and export of a new energy source contained in the rocks of the moon. He is nearing the end of his three-year contract when things start to happen. Hallucinations and medical problems are compounded when another version of himself appears, calling his sanity and his existence into question.

Oh, man, do I have a problem. I love film. I love the whole experience. I love re-creating the experience and sharing it with people I care about. But I don't get to do it as much as I used to. I'm not pointing any fingers, it's just a fact. I still like to keep plugged in, though. And therein lies my problem.

This "plugging in" features the upside of remaining current on things cinematic, but the downside is that sometimes things will build in my imagination further than they're meant to go. And I found that this year, catching up on some of the Oscar nominees that had made it to DVD. ANIMAL KINGDOM, WINTER'S BONE, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT were all fine, good even. But by the time they had been nominated, I was expecting much more than they could deliver. And maybe that's the case with all such things. Once a certain amount of praise gets heaped on a work, the expectation of its quality goes up, creating a greater opportunity for disappointment, whereas a film with no approbation from respected critics might have lower expectations and a greater chance for a surprisingly pleasant experience. Or maybe my reaction wouldn't have been any different, but it makes you think.

In correlation, the films that were my favorite from last year - INCEPTION, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, TOY STORY 3, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON - I got to see them all in the theater. Now, were the experiences enhanced by the theatrical atmosphere? Or were they films that I was attracted to in the first place, and thus films I was more likely to enjoy, and made the extra effort to see them in their best possible light?

Well, the same is true for MOON, which has been much-talked-about on Filmspotting, one of my favorite podcasts. It even won the sole award they give out, a self-congratulatory title they bestow on a film people went to see based on their recommendation. And while it was good - I think the set design and photography are beautiful, and Sam Rockwell gives a really nice performance (or two), and I really dig the concept - it didn't quite live up to the build-up of the last 18 months. The film is short at 97 minutes, but there were still sections that seemed long. And I get that it underscores Sam's isolation, I do, but I don't think it's that difficult a concept to get. Perhaps this review should stop before it gets too far along, as everything I feel like saying will simply have a "but" attached. The fact is the film is good. I would recommend it, depending on the audience. It's just that that's all there is.

NetFlix rating: ***

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Death at a Funeral (2010)

Why: It was on my wife's queue.


A farce based on a British film released just 3 years earlier, this film reached a decent audience when it was released last Spring. It opened fourth in a tight race behind KICK-ASS, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, and DATE NIGHT, at least two of which were better films, DATE NIGHT by a little, DRAGON by a lot. (I haven't seen KICK-ASS.) A farce in the classic vein, the action takes place in a single day when Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence's father's funeral is being held at home. The relationships in a family are always complex, which makes perfect fodder for farce. Rock and his wife Regina Hall are trying to get pregnant, but it's not quick enough for Rock's mother, Loretta Devine. Rock is an unpublished writer, while his 9-month-younger brother Lawrence is successful at publishing tripe. Cousin Zoe Saldana is engaged to James Marsden, who isn't good enough for father Ron Glass, who prefers Luke Wilson. Marsden accidentally ingests some hallucinogens created by Saldana's brother Columbus Short (from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). And so on and so forth. Add in the standard stranger with a secret and the friction heats to the boiling point.

It was a fun time. I laughed out loud more than once. I won't watch it again, but it was worth the 90 minutes it ran. What I really appreciated about the film is that, despite the mostly-black cast, it didn't rely on racial stereotypes and broad humor for effect. The humor came out of situation and execution from the very likeable cast.

NetFlix rating: ***

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Why: My son is into superheroes right now.


We've been catching up on Superman movies since I took the 7-year-old to see the first one on the big screen last June. I love that movie. I was seven when it came out originally, and I'm sure the nostalgia is a factor. When we went back and watched the second one, I was disappointed. You could clearly pick out the parts that Richard Donner had nothing to do with, and the series was already going to camp. By the third film, I was angry. I remembered liking it when I was a kid, laughing at it a lot, with Richard Pryor and Robert Vaughn. But the movie was really bad, I mean really bad, and by the time it was done, I was disappointed I had put myself through it again.

But I had never seen the fourth film. I knew that it was generally considered to be a real piece of crap. Maybe it was the atmosphere, sitting on the living room floor with my two boys, munching popcorn, but I didn't think it was as bad as the third film. But, maybe it was just that the film was so ridiculous that I couldn't take it seriously enough to hate it. I mean, there was just nothing to hold this film together, from plot holes to gigantic gaps in logic to a complete lack of character development. But, for all of that, it was kind of fun to sit and say "What?"

Like, "Why did Lex need the arms dealers in the first place?"

Or, "How can Muriel Hemingway breathe in space?"

Or, "If you're fighting a guy who is powered by the sun, and bother to take him to the moon, Superman, why not take him to the dark side of the moon, where the sun never shines? It's not that much further, dude, let's not be lazy."

Netflix rating: **

Weekend TV: Life 2.7

When a lottery winner ends up dead, all the suspects seem to come from a Lottery Winners Anonymous support group.

Just one little note in this episode, again about perception and how it paints reality:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.6

After an earthquake, an old friend from Charlie's past breaks out of jail and puts into play a complex plan of revenge, robbery and escape.

There are a couple of nice scenes in this episode, starting with this one where Crews has to bust Marc Rawls because of what he might do, and a realization comes to both of them. "I guess you really are a cop, aren't you?" Rawls asks. "I guess so." Charlie replies.

Of course, the cops aren't really who they appear to be, at least temporarily. Then there's this scene where Tidwell is the mouth for another generalization about convicts, compounding society's perception. And as we've discussed before, sometimes external perception can become internal reality.

At this point, Charlie seems to have overcome those perceptions, but Life isn't done with him yet.

Friday, March 4, 2011

35 Days of Me

It's been over a week now since The Noir Series 2011 came to a close. I had a great time, as evidenced by these photos:

But now that it's over, I'm trying to give myself a little space to breathe, a time to refresh and re-center. And I plan to do it watching a boatload of movies. I'll take about five weeks of time and catch up on TV shows and movies that I've borrowed, or that are expiring on NetFlix or Hulu, or knocking off a few notches on my queue or even catching up on things I've bought but haven't watched. And that doesn't take into account going to the movies. I'll try to keep you updated on what I'm watching, give you little reviews. The goal is 50 movies before April 1, but I'm already really behind. We'll see how I do. Meanwhile, watch the bar on the right to see what I've been seeing.