Movie Review: Quickie Edition XI

What Happens in Vegas: Look, I know this is the kind of movie you’re supposed to hate if you’re any sort of movie buff, but I didn’t totally hate this. The plot: Kutcher and Diaz meet in Vegas, get hitched, win $3 million, are forced to wait 6 months for a divorce to split the winnings. They attempt to devise ways to drive each other nuts, only to (spoiler!) fall in love (no wait, that’s no spoiler – that’s a duh). Despite the hackneyed, predictable plot, it maintains a fluffiness that makes it a great popcorn movie. ★★★

Watching the Detectives: It’s little wonder this movie went straight to DVD – I’m not quite sure what I saw in the trailer that made me want to watch it, but I regret it now. It’s ostensibly a rom-com, but it really is neither. Cillian Murphy (of Scarecrow in Batman Begins fame) is a video store owner (shades of High Fidelity here) who falls head-over heels for a girl who wanders into his shop, Lucy Liu. She defines the term “psycho girlfriend”. This movie is trash, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that I didn’t pay for it, I’d be asking for my money back. ☆

Duplicity: Clive Owen, Julia Roberts pair up in a movie that’s kinda hard to shoe-horn into a genre. Is it comedy? Not enough laughs and slapstick. It’s not a romance by any means, and nor is it a drama or a spy thriller. Is it a heist movie? Not quite, but that’s fairly close to the mark, I guess. The film also doesn’t know what genre it is, as it tries to cover too many bases and inevitably ends up covering none. For all the plot machinations, it left me somewhat unsatisfied. ★★☆

Easy Virtue: Period piece set in the inter-war period starring Colin Firth and Jessica Biel – mostly Biel – about an American who marries into an upper class English family. Inevitably, the newcomer clashes with the stiff-upper-lip establishment and arguments ensue, as she tries to drag the family into the cold light of reality. Based on a play by Noel Coward, this reimagining does a great job at keeping a good pace and tight focus, albeit all too short. A few laughs, a few touching moments, and Biel in a smokin’ hot dress. ★★★

Star Trek: At risk of indulging in some 20/20 hindsight, Star Trek was a series I always wanted to see from the start, if only to find out what it is about this series that exerts such a hold on its fanatical followers and has had a significant cultural impact. However, there was something about picking up a cheesy sci-fi series from the 60s that embodied the image of “nerd” that was a little… off-putting, shall we say. It was a relief to find then that Star Trek was being re-booted by J. J. Abrams, he of Lost and Cloverfield fame (though the second did give me pause).
Turns out, it’s not all that bad – or at least in this imagining, it’s been given a jolt of credibility, along much the same lines that Batman Begins and Spiderman did. The new Star Trek tells the origin story of the crew of the Enterprise, particularly Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto, of Heroes fame), and really those two are the focus of the movie far more than the bad guy (Eric Bana, under a lot of make-up and flat dialogue). The support characters are mostly one or two dimensional, and some of the plot points are mere McGuffins to keep the story moving (A liquid which creates an instant black hole? The rings of Saturn having a detector-blocking-but-teleport-allowing magnetic field? Yeesh), but then this is a blockbuster, and you didn’t come to think too hard. ★★★★, despite all its flaws.

Teevee

I was having a look at recent posts and noticed I hadn’t really mentioned all the TV I’ve been watching lately. Years ago I was a total anime fanatic, and that occupied most of my time and attention span for stories. Over the years I fell out of love with the whole anime universe as stories became cliched or entirely disconnected to believability, unable to sustain a coherent plot over a season.

This coincided nicely with a resurgence of proper TV shows, as reality TV is exposed for its vacuous emptiness. The only “reality” show I give any credit to is The Amazing Race, which is more of a competition than the artificial realities of most comparable shows.

That aside, there’s some quality around. Here’s a list of TV shows I’ve been watching, to varying degrees:

The Brilliant Ones

  • Mad Men: This show is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Mad Men is set in an advertising agency, Sterling Cooper, in Madison Avenue, New York. Starting from 1960, the show depicts an America at its cultural peak, just as society starts to change. Sexism is rampant, racism entrenched, and political correctness unheard of. Men are men and women are damsels at best. The sensibility of this show is very much movie-like, with camera work, lighting, and pacing all very unlike the usual stuff you find on TV. This show doesn’t muck about – the story moves with pace, characters change in reaction to events, and the twists are occasionally brutal. It’s pure drama and well worth the effort to get in to. Currently showing on SBS, Thursdays.
  • 30 Rock: A complete 180 from Mad Men is the chaos of 30 Rock, a comedy set on the set of a Saturday Night Live-style show. Starring and created by the genius of Tina Fey, 30 Rock is like a fine wine – you can enjoy it as a quick route to getting drunk, or take time to savour it – there’s the headline laughs, and the far more subtle ones. There’s usually three plot-lines going at any one time, and the show builds on both its own universe and very topical references from the real world week to week. Great intelligent humour, but unfortunately neglected on Australian TV, relegated to late Monday nights on Channel 7, in the slot formerly occupied by Scrubs (now moved to a more reasonable time).
  • The Hollowmen: Australian Political Satire at its finest. This series, created by the brilliant team from Working Dog Productions (Santo Cilauro, Rob Sitch, Tom Gliesner and Jane Kennedy, of Frontline and The Panel fame), started shortly after Kevin 07 charged into Canberra and captures a very Yes, Minister vibe, set in the “Central Policy Unit”, an advisory team created by the Prime Minister (never seen on screen) essentially to manage PR and spin. It’s completely opaque in its style, appearing to be a documentary with all the characters played with a straight face and realistic grounding – I can certainly believe it’d be based on a true story. It’s also something completely opaque to those not interest in Australian politics. Can’t wait for the next season.
  • Entourage: I’m pretty late coming to this party, by the looks of things – after all, there’s been 5 seasons of this stuff, and it’s got to the point where it’s lost some of it’s edge and freshness that it had early on. Still, that doesn’t stop it being a great mix of both comedy and drama, all set in the glam of Hollywood. While I’ll admit to being annoyed a little by the repetitive plot threads (Vinny misses out on the sleeper hit again? E sacrifices for Vinny again?), I think the last couple of episodes in season 5 sealed the deal. I’d just like to see more of Debi Mazar as the no-nonsense PR agent. Kick-ass.
  • The Daily Show: Must. Watch. Go, now.

The Potentials

  • Castle: I’ll admit I’m not exactly up on my CSI or Bones universe, and this may well just be taking plot lines from there and bending that into Castle‘s universe, but dammit, it works. Nathan Fillion stars as murder mystery writer Rick Castle, who has just killed off his main character out of boredom, when he runs into Kate Beckett, NYPD homicide detective. There’s sparks, there’s sexual tension, there’s a black humour/comedic tone to the proceedings, and there’s a element of drama too. Rick Castle has a reasonably realistic life outside the three-word headline profile, something that seems to be missing from so many shows. Also, how could you go wrong with wisecracks and action? (Ch. 7 Sundays 9:30).
  • The Tudors: This is a literal yet-to-be-seen, as I’ve not had time to properly devote myself to a period piece, though by all reports it’s certainly not your typical period piece. Taking the story of Henry VIII (yes, the one with the 6 wives) and adding a splash of Showtime sensationalism (read: sex scenes, and how), it has some devoted fans amongst my friends and so comes as a suggestion.
  • Dollhouse: … meh, meh. Allegedly the latest from Joss Whedon, he of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog fame, delivers a show that it part sci-fi, part action, part-drama. It’s crossing too many right now, and the first few eps have left me mostly cold, despite starring Eliza Dushku for one and being a Whedon production. Perhaps he’s painted himself into a bit of a corner by relying on a main character who knows less than everyone else, hence none of the usual wise-ass chat that comes out of Whedon’s characters.
  • The Gruen Transfer: ABC’s Wednesday night show all about advertising. Hosted by Wil Anderson and featuring a weekly panel of advertising experts, this is a fairly good show to watch to get an insight into the (modern) advertising mindset. Can’t help but feel bits of it are a bit too stretched though, and sometimes you wonder if the advertisers are believing their own lies. Still, worth watching if only for regular doses of Wil Anderson.
  • The IT Crowd: I’m usually good with British comedies, but this one hasn’t quite grabbed me yet. Will give it a chance, as I’ve only seen one ep thus far.
  • Dead Like Me: For the anime affectionados out there, think Bleach Live Action. For everyone else, it’s basically that a girl dies, and becomes a grim reaper. I’ve yet to actually watch, but I’ve been given it by a friend and it comes highly recommended. Noted for the record.

The Relegation Zone

  • Lost: that shit got too convoluted. If someone can hand me a crib sheet when it’s all over, I’ll try catching up.
  • Heroes: lost it somewhere during the WGA strike, never properly came back.
  • Merlin: The BBC re-invent the legend of Merlin & King Arthur along the lines of their recent re-invention of Robin Hood… except they really cock it up. Arthur isn’t a nobody waiting to claim the throne, he’s an adolescent prince, son of King Uther Pendragon (Anthony S. Head btw, of Buffy fame). Merlin isn’t an all-powerful sorcerer, he’s a young boy, around the same age as Arther. Guinevere is Lady Morganna’s maid, and Lady Morganna (Morgan le Fay by any other name?) herself is a ward of the King. Lancelot isn’t a knight and can’t be one because he’s not of noble blood. Oh and Camelot is already well-established. Madness.
  • Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Started off with potential, diverged from the original material to the point where it became just another drama, with a bit of sex on the side.

Hall of Fame

  • Top Gear: I don’t think I need to explain this one much, eh? The Australian incarnation isn’t too bad either, finding its feet a bit more in the second season now, with a switch of presenters, though it still doesn’t have the same devil-may-care attitude of the BBC version.
  • Futurama: Another that needs no introduction. The latest tele-movies have gotten a bit… strange… but that shouldn’t diminish this show’s legendary status.
  • Numb3rs: Yes, the 3 in the title is a bit of a “wuh?”, but there’s something about the characters and plotting in this…
  • Hotel Babylon: brilliant British drama-comedy set amongst the staff of a fictional 5 star hotel in London.
  • Arrested Development: Oh, what I’d give to hear another “This is Arrested Development.” – this show was the definition of dry comedy. Love it.

This is Epic

So I’ve been watching NBA recently, thanks to the manna-from-heaven that is One HD, Australia’s first 24/7 Free to Air sports channel (NBA, IPL, AFL in Sydney… this channel defines awesome – clever move, Channel 10). And yesterday, the most amazing finish to a basketball game I’ve ever seen, or at least not through replays – Cleveland Cavaliers are down by 2 points to Orlando Magic, 1 second to go, home game, second of the best-of-7 semi-final. They’ve just called a timeout, and when the clock starts again LeBron James, MVP, the figurehead of the Cavs, steps up and lands a buzzer-beater 3 point shot that cements his rep as both MVP and “King James”.

This shit is epic, son: