Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review of Moneyball

Great book, OK movie. It helps if you don't know anything about baseball. I remember the 2002 Oakland Athletics having both the MVP and the Cy Young Award winner on their roster, not to mention a great starting rotation. Bennett Miller happily ignores those memories. No one led the team to glory!

You can enjoy my review for "The Weekender," delightfully free of baseball nerd jargon, right here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Your Road to Success Includes a Polyester Uniform!

I took this shot at a movie theater lobby in Sedona, AZ.

You know who also gets to watch free movies: studio execs, actors, movie critics. Everyone is in the same caste. Brad Pitt still has to work the nacho station at the Warner Brothers commisary. The Weinstein Brothers routinely vacuum their own screeing rooms. Roger Ebert works on holidays and weekends for minimum wage.

Give me a break. Unless you're 18, a retiree looking for a very aggravating way to kill time, or recently paroled, then work at a movie theater. As someone who spent six months ringing up ticket sales for "Men in Black" and "Titanic" trust me.

I would have preferred this slogan for the poster: "Obama's jobs plan looks pretty dicey. Pick up an application before the Japanese buy us."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Hometown Movie Theater: Bow Chicka Wow Wow...

This is one of my favorites. The absence of letters leads to two beautiful names.

Take the "i" away from "Midnight in Paris" and you get MD Night Paris or Dr. Night Paris, which sounds like the character in a movie that requires a locked bedroom door and hand lotion for proper viewing. The confusing replacement of the "y" for an "i" in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" creates one of the best stripper names of all time. It's right up there with Blaze Starr and Tempest Storm.

What's most confusing: How the almost-lousy "Midnight in Paris"--not the sexy, younger, and far superior "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"--is Woody Allen's highest grossing film in years. The only good thing about this is that it may expose a younger audience to his earlier, far better work.

Dr. Paris would agree with me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Hollywood Ending


I can't wait to see what the sequels bring.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Etc.--The Value of Browsing, Plane Rides, Stevie Wonder

A few weeks ago, my friend introduced me to his Kindle, a nifty device that has brought him untold pleasures. It's a kick-ass device, but it left me with a weird feeling, like I was in a science-fiction story where the ending had yet to be written.

As an adult, I've always lived near terrific libraries. When I lived in Raritan Borough, the headquarters for the Somerset County Library System was in nearby Bridgewater. That cavernous, cozy library had no holes. East Brunswick's was first-rate and included a terrific DVD catalogue and an annual used book sale that was so big it had to be held at the town mall.

Libraries offer the pleasure of browsing. Everything now is about options and ease. You type in a title and get exactly what you want, or you download your entertainment. There's something to be said for not being paralyzed by limitless options, for being open to the process of discovery. So much of our lives is spent in a rush and IM, emails, and everything else ensure that. Being able to drift is quickly becoming a forgotten joy.

The other thing is this: Libraries provide an invaluable social component. Right now, a giant portion of my life is spent in my office where I sit in front of a laptop screen. A trip to the library breaks up my day, forces me to communicate with people, and reintroduces me to the outside world.

Th technological ease of entertainment, wonderful as it is, threatens to isolate us. As much as I like solitude, I don't want my books and my poetry to cocoon me.

*The only downside of my honeymoon was that I had to take a redeye flight back to Pennsylvania, which only reaffirmed my hatred for plane travel. I sat next to an obese woman whose gelatinous right thigh squirmed into my seat, and a guy who pushed his seat back before the flight took off.

During the trip, the aforementioned space-stealer pushed his seat all the way back, which made sleeping impossible since in order to be comfortable, I had to adjust my body to an angle only found in geometry books.

Maybe there's a better way to travel on airplanes, instead of feeling like being on a cattle car with wings, but I severely doubt it.

*Before boarding our cross-country bus with wings, the wife and I spotted Stevie Wonder at the airport, which easily became my number one celebrity encounter. We wanted to take a photo, but were shooed away by his escort.

It's actually better that we didn't meet him, because if I had mustered the ability to say anything it wouldn't have been something he hadn't heard before--unless I referenced some scene from his appearance on "The Cosby Show"? And the photograph would have been nice, but what would have been accomplished from the encounter?

Seeing Stevie Wonder at the airport was important, because it had been a long time since I'd seen a celebrity as a fan. It's nice to know that that my reporter's skeptical facade can be suspended every once in a while.

*Over the last two months, two friends of mine, Danny Fox and Sarah Donner, have released albums. What's even nicer is that the albums are really good. This is such a relief, because there's nothing worse than having to sugarcoat someone's misguided artistic endeavor right to their face. I probably spent half of my twenties suffering through people masquerading as artists when they should have been going to graduate school.

*If "What to Expect When You're Expecting" can be adapted into a movie, so should William Zinsser's "On Writing Well."

*Recommended reading: David Carr's "The Night of the Gun," Derf's "Punk Rock and Trailer Parks," and James S. Hirsch's biography of Willie Mays.

*Can someone tell me why the person who decided to mount televisions onto treadmills hasn't been awarded a Nobel Prize yet?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book of the Month: Sept. 2011

I love books. They're fun, educational, and they don't have any of those pesky commercials.

One movie I want to see is Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion." It's not released until next Friday, but there's a book that can tide you over until that day.

Though it's not as dramatic as "Contagion," Jeanne Guillemin's "American Anthrax" details the country's response to the antrhax letters that emerged after the events of September 11, 2001. Guillemin, an expert in anthrax who teaches at MIT, writes about how uninformed and unprepared the government was in its initial response. Things, she attests, have not gotten much better.

It's a riveting book that is alternately eye-opening and unpleasant because we realize just how ignorant authority figures can be in times of crisis. As civilians, we're all walking on a tightrope without a net. Ignorance really is bliss.

If you want to learn more about the book. Read the review I wrote for "BookPage" here.

Until next time, read in peace.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Big Review: Our Idiot Brother

The last review that I submitted as a single man, for whatever that's worth. Kind of a lazy, half-committed affair--the movie, that is.

Also, no round-up for this month, but October will be a different story completely. On tap: The regular goodies, plus an interview with one of my favorite journalists, one who just happens to have written a new book.

Oh, the suspense!

This review was originally published in ICON and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)


*********************

Our Idiot Brother, Jesse Peretz's comedy-drama, is enjoyable and pleasant but spends too much time finding its place. The movie resembles its title character, Ned (Paul Rudd), a hippie farmer with a heart of gold and a brain of tin. Ned annoys the hell out of his family, but it's the meandering plot that will cause audiences consternation.

While manning the stand at his local outdoor market, Ned sells weed to a uniformed police officer whose sob story dissolves any common sense. After eight months in prison, Ned departs as hardened and skeptical as a Smurf. It's fitting that his longtime girlfriend Janet (the indispensable Kathryn Hahn) throws him out of his own place, keeps his beloved dog, and takes up with a younger, spacier boyfriend (T.J. Miller). But there is a ray of hope. Ned's replacement paramour says that the goat shed out back is available. If Ned can put together two months' rent—no worries, Janet will be cool with the new arrangement—the space is his.

Only family could endorse such an idiotic plan, so Ned bounces among his three infinitely more grounded sisters. Liz (Emily Mortimer) enlists Ned to lug film equipment for her pompous documentarian husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan), and watch their prep school-bound kid. Ned also serves as a chauffer during a big assignment for overly ambitious journalist Miranda (Elizabeth Banks). Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), an aspiring stand-up comic with seemingly a dozen roommates, recruits Ned as a nude model for her artist friend (Hugh Dancy).

Ned's good-natured, trustworthy attitude makes him a rarity in New York City, but it also leads to an array of problems. Ned discovers Dylan in a compromising position with his film's ballerina subject, which exposes Liz as a rapidly aging dishrag. His rapport with Miranda's interview subject leads to a shocking revelation and exposes Miranda's duplicitous nature. And when Ned reveals Natalie's malleable sexual tendencies to the aforementioned artist, it threatens her very serious relationship with a lesbian lawyer (Rashida Jones).

The problems created by Ned's organically grown logic disrupt the ladies' lives while improving them; they're forced to face their real selves. That's the main focus of Our Idiot Brother. It's not the right one. Husband and wife writers Evgenia Peretz (Jesse's sister) and David Schisgall invest way too much time constructing outlandish scenarios that lead us to that realization while more compelling elements escape their attention.

This includes how the three sisters interact with each other. It's an odd move to say the least. Mortimer, Banks, and Deschanel excel at comedies and dramas; you can make the case that Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl, Lovely & Amazing) is the most underrated actress working today. The three have a scene where Miranda and Natalie bemoan Liz's diminished hotness that is so natural in its loving combativeness that you wish the movie had five more just like it. The family's shaky dynamic gets abandoned except in brief flashes, like when Ned unleashes his true feelings during a game of charades. How did everyone get to this point? And where's dad in all this mess?

Plot architecture is swell, but not at the expense of character development and storylines. What's so aggravating about Our Idiot Brother is that abundant comic possibilities also get underutilized. There's plenty here for a splendid goofball comedy, especially with Rudd leading the way. Hahn and Miller are great as the two nimrods who turn Ned's domestic dispute into a farce, and Adam Scott shines as a nice guy who loathes Miranda's bitchy fa├žade but falls for her anyway. These performances don’t feel tied to the film, which is content to wander here and there like a Lollapalooza attendee. If something is funny or stirs you, that's a bonus. We're just gonna have Ned stumble into revelations and see what happens.

Director Peretz (The Ex) and his writers are enamored with options, but they never choose anything. (That notion is reinforced with a cast whose size is almost wasteful.) With the level of talent involved, Our Idiot Brother is guaranteed to be fine unless your director doesn't know the difference between "action" and "cut." But a great cast and an idea with this much potential shouldn't come attached with excuses. And it certainly should be better than a lazy afternoon distraction. [R]