Friday, February 20, 2009

Alexandra Pelosi

Daughter of San Francisco Senator Nancy Pelosi, Alexandra calls herself a New Yorker. She recently had some success creating some documentaries, two of which I caught on HBO. I thought both were excelent.

The Trials of Ted
The Trials of Ted is a series of brief interviews with Ted Haggard, the evangelist who fell from grace. Ted fell from the highest of highs in the Televangelist community when it came out that he was having gay sex with a male prostitute while high on meth. Prior to this he was able to command audiences with US Presidents, world leaders, and giants of the business world. He filled a huge stadium several times a week and was televised to millions of loyal viewers.

Pelosi did what I believe is an honorable job on this work. She does not inject herself into the story. She mostly asks some basic obvious questions to Ted and lets him give honest thoughtful answers. Of course she has the god-like power of editing, but I think the result was very fair. It is not a hatchet job exposing Ted's blatant hypocrisy. It really just shows a sad and broken man who lost everything, who is trying to find work to support his family. He seems to have a very realistic and reasonable outlook on his situation, and seems honestly sorry for his actions... not just the fact that he got caught. While his bigger than life persona is no longer projecting from the pulpit, he generally still keeps the bigger than life smile on his face. He still believes in God, believes in the Bible, believes that homosexuality and drug use is unholy and wrong. He does admit that he continues to struggle, on occasion, with same sex attraction. Unlike every other time I saw this guy, when I thought he was lying through his teeth, in this work he is completely believable. I wory that he might kill himself, and after seeing this, I would be sad if that happens. Now I see him as a person, not a characature of the Religious Right.

Right America: Feeling Wronged: Some Voices.
Remember toward the end of the presidential race when the McCain rallies were getting more rowdie and unmanageable? This documentary takes you into the heart of "Real America" during the height of those last few weeks. Pelosi asks random people at the McCain rallies some basic questions like "Why won't you vote for Obama?", "How will you feel about America if McCain looses?" and some simple follow ups like "What's the 'Real America'?" when it comes up in their answer.

She was kind enough to begin the documentary with a disclaimer saying that the following oppinions don't necessarily relfect the entire Republican party. And once again, bear in mind she is the final editing deity. So at first it is easy to assume that this one IS a hatchet job. The people are blathering on about the most ridiculous stuff imaginable... he's a Muslim, he works for Ossama Bin Ladin, He's not a full blooded American, and yes... he's a nigger. Several times, you hear Pelosi say "people are gonna think I hand picked the worst comments", and she askes people "do you think your view is extreme, or is this common around here?" I'm convinced that what she put on screen are all fairly typical reactions. Of course she's gonna put on the more flamboyant characters, but I don't think she really stacked the deck much. However, I don't think the deck was necessarily shuffeled in the first place being these were mostly people at a John McCain rally.

I think she puts herself into this moreso than in the Ted Haggard piece. She doesn't argue her point of view, except to the extent that she sometimes asks a follow up question that sometimes challenges the prior answer. But mostly she just lets the camera run and lets the people speak their mind.

Going back to Cali

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yet another movie review

OK, I know I'm reporting on a lot of movies, but I had to report on this one. In contrast to the complaint I had to Roadside Prophets, I just saw it's polar opposite.

Last Summer in the Hamptons
This movie was a tribute to method acting. It is performed by method actors and is also about method acting. The premise is that a matriarch of the cinema, who co-stared opposite Errol Flynn and Ronald Regan, has raised her family in theater. The entire family is composed of actors, directors, and playwrites. They all converge on her estate in the summer time, which becomes a sort of actors workshop. So it's sort of a snake eating it's own tale... the characters in the movie are playing actors who are working and talking about acting. To make it interesting, and ultra-realistic, this family of actors are all completely screwy. Not madcap screwy, but full of vices, insecurities, and self-centeredness that is so common among theater people. And just to add to the mix, there are a few characters from outside the family visiting the estate who similarly have their own screwed up agenda and vices. Everybody seems to be preying on somebody else, and manipulating the situtation as best they can to achieve their own goals.

While this may be too "Inside the Actors Studio" for most people, the acting is truly remarkable. The characters switch between their roles and their roles within roles flawlessly.

More Movies

I'll try to keep my movie reviews skewed toward positive. I'm sure nobody really wants to know what movies NOT to see... especially if they are obscure movies that you are not likely to stumble across. Well, I'll start that practice AFTER this posting. I've got two bad, one great, and one good.

Roadside Prophets
A 1992 indi-flick, I was hoping this would be cool. It had a good look and a good cast. David Horovits (yes, the Beastie Boy), David Caradine (yes, Qui Chang Kane), Woody Guthrie (yes, Alice's Restaurant), Timothy Leary (yes, LSD guru), John Cusack (yes, the guy from whatever the heck he's in)... several others... this should have been awesome. The plot could have worked as a vehicle for all this talent... a factory worker biker meets a guy for a few hours when he dies a sudden and bizzare death. So the biker tries to honor his last request by taking his ashes to some location in the Navada deasert. He has trouble locating this place, but meets some strange people on the journey. Unfortunatley the acting is mostly terrible... almost every character is un-believable. Nobody is "in the moment"... they're all acting. You know the basic rule... don't ACT like your smoking a cigarette... SMOKE the cigarette. Well in this movie everybody is ACTING like they're smoking the cigarrettes. The journy leads up to a big let down, and then peeters off from there. On the one hand, this tried to be "Easy Rider", on the other it tried to be "Repo Man". But the characters where not believeable or likeable like "Easy Rider", and the bizzare surreal obscure nature did not rise to "Repo Man".

I will say, there were two encounters that actually did work. There's the black hotel guy who shares a bottle of Wild Turkey... he gave a believeable and poinient performance. Also the meat seller... a bizare character in the middle of the deasert who sells meat. Again, a believeable and poinient performance, dispite the obscure situation.

Don't waste your time on this one. Not worth the big waste of time for about three minutes of good acting... which is a shame because the whole thing could have been great.


I should have seen this comming. I'm so done with comedy based purely on stupidity. But at the very least, the stupidity should be clever... like Black Adder or Faulty Towers. I was hoping for more from Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butthead fame)... especially since he has done some clever things, like Daria. But this was just pure stupidity with a scoop of dumb on top. Mya Rudolf (of SNL fame) was cute, but this did not show off her great tallent for comedy. Don't wast your time. Watch C-SPAN... it's funnier.


Being John Malcovitch
YES YES YES !!! I know everybody else in the world has seen this movie, and have told me many times that I HAVE to see it. Well OK, I finally saw it. This was fantastic. I didn't want to see this movie until I had seen John Malcovicth in some other movies first, because I didn't think I'd GET it. Well I finally did catch him in a few others, and felt comfortable watching this. Well it turns out that part of the gimmic in this movie is that most people don't really know what JM was in anyway... so there was definitely no need to wait. By now I had already known the basic plot... you go through this little door and start to see and feel everything that JM sees and feels... so you actually get to BE JM. But the cool part is what the DO with this bizzare situation. They use that a jumping off point to explore self identity and personal realationships. And the whole idea of the puppetteer expressing his deep feelings through some of the coolest marionettes EVER was fantastic. They probably milked the concept a bit much towards the end when the old dude and his friends were all trying to be John Malkovitch, but I guess it tied everything up in a nice bow... though I don't know if they really HAD to do that being it was such a bizzare situation in the first place.


Roger Dodger
I like this one, but I realize it's not for everybody. No big budget, no special effects, no action... just an indi-flick using NYC as a backdrop and some interesting dialouge. It might be a little to wordy for some, but I kinda like that. It's basically a male chauvanist who is too smart for his own good, and tries to impress everybody with his hyper-knowlege of women. Despite the fact that he seems to know everything, he is clearly unhappy and lonely. It gets more interesting when his 16 year old nephew shows up, and in one night he tries to teach him how to get laid. He spends the rest of the movie giving him advice on how to score, and the kid gets amazing amount of action for a 16 year old nerd right off the turnip truck. It ends with an interesting "leave it up to the audience" sort of cliff hanger. Well, baybe not a cliff hanger, but something akin to a cliff hanger. Good performance by Isabella Rossilini, who I like, but I don't now why some people think she's the most beautiful woman in the world. I do like the fact that she does indi-films, fantasy roles (like Merlin?), and even dresses as a Bumble Bee in a documentary about the sex lives of insects. It makes me think she's down to earth, dispite the fact that some people would put her on a pedastal.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday Night Fox Lineup

I'm pleased with the action based lineup on Friday nights.

Sarah Conners
OK, I'm a bit confused. Last thing Sarah saw a helicopter landing w/ three lights underneath. Now she wakes up in the hospital. Did the copter pick her up? Was there a copter? Who owned that warehouse? I guess they had the supply of the metal used to make the Chromarty style robot? Oddly enough, Garbage Terminator Chick took out the whole facility. Why? What IS her deal???

Sarah hallucinated Reese who talked her through a difficult time... that's pretty cool for a woman who is clearly beyond the brink of madness. Uncle scruffy takes out most evidence of Sarah's existence... except they still have her cell phone. Abused female doctor was willing to patch her up, and now she's not sure if anything Sarah said was true or not. And special guest appearance by TRIP from Voyager. At fist you think he's a good cop, turns out he abused doctor chick and got his come-up-ance.


Doll House

I like the concept. What other Sci-Fi story dealt heavily with not knowing if your past is real or just memory implants? It's been bugging me, but I just remembered it was Blade Runner. I'm sure there are dozens of others, but that's the one I was thinking of.

OK, I can see how you could mess w/ somebody's eyesight by scrambling their brain functions, but asthma? Sounds a bit more physiological to me... and even if you COULD do it mentally, does the inahler help?

Tech boy in the lab reminds me a bit much of Bionic Woman from this year... only lasted about 5 weeks. Too bad, I liked that show.

Not sure what was going on at the end, though. Some dude was watching video of her from before she was wiped? Who is he? What does he want? I'll stay tuned.

Ignoring minor flaws, it was a cool show... cool concept, good execution, hot chicks, and lots of action.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Next Two Movies

These two looked good, so I snapped them onto the DVR. Now I want those 4 hours back. Sorry I can't give you any "Must See" recomendations at this time. Just take these as a warning...


With an all star cast staring Robert Downy Jr., and with enticing plot elements such as hedonism and The Black Plague, I really wanted to like this movie. Set in the 1600s under Charles II, Robert Downy plays an undisciplined physician who is frustrated by the ineffective state of medicine at the time, and spends his time drinking and whoring. However, he just so happens to be the best damn healer in England. At several times during the movie, this is shown by him telling patients "Get some rest, and let nature take it's course." And as these several patients seem to gasp their last breath and close their eyes forever, he says "That's it... there's nothing more I can do." (thus admitting his failure) Each time, a few seconds later, they start breathing again, as it cuts to a scene were the patient has recovered completely. Oh, and one of those patients was the King's DOG.

The King rewards him with a large estate equipped w/ servants and concubines, fine royal gardens, and all the carnal pleasures a man could want. Then the King requires that he marry the King's mistress, but not touch her, so he can keep tabs on her at this remote location.
Yadda yadda yadda... King gets mad, takes estate from him, he's out on his own and goes back to doctoring. Joins up w/ some Quakers who run a mental hospital, and he decides (Patch Adams-wise) to cure the mentally ill with music and dance, rather than blood letting. Really. Seriously. Music and dance.

He knocks up Meg Ryan who was not necessarily crazy, just mad at her dead husband. They split the Quaker sanitarium and go back to London just as The Plague is hitting. Oh, and somewhere along the line, there's a scene where they play Three Card Monty. Huh? What? Why in the world did this movie need a Three Card Monty scene? It didn't make any sence. It had NOTHING to do with ANYTHING. They just thought that they should stop by a camp in the woods for a few games of "Find the Lady". Eventually he has to perform a C-section on poor Meg, who doesn't survive. So it's now Robert Downy and his infant daughter and the entire city of plague ridden London.

Finally, surprise surprise, he saves the Kings mistress (not from plague, but from whatever ailed her) and King gives him back the estate. Half of London burns, thus curing them of the plague. (Huh? Really?)

Sir Ian McKellan, Hue Grant, Meg Ryan, and probably eight other HUGE names, plus all the production value in the world couldn't polish this turd. The costumes, the fine jewelry and crowns, the elegant English gardens, the patient with a hole in his chest so RDjr can touch his heart... all technically perfect. But the movie was just plain old stupid.

Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You

I've been meaning to catch this for a long time. Set in Rome in the height of the sixties, this madcap farce was definitely one of the sexiest movies at the time. There was a combination of sexual inuendo and just blatent sex... though by today's standards it would hardly even rate PG-13. Nudity was limited to one instance of a woman's bare behind and lots of cleavage. It's a comedy of errors involving a playright who is cheating on his wife with several women. It reminded me of the old Pink Panther movies... except not really funny. Some of the comedy was based on non-reality... like his typewriter decides to eject his paper... so there's a long scene where he keeps trying to put paper in, but it keeps pushing it out. He yells at it and threatens it. Then the typewriter types out "This machine will self destruct in 5 seconds" as the Mission Impossible music kicks in. Oh, and there was a gorilla who says "I love you".

With some old sixties movies, at least you get a good sound track. Maybe something from the realm of psychedelia. Sorry, this had madcap comedy versions of Tom Jones type music... including "What's New Pussycat" (Burt Bacharach). The sound track was total squaresville. Stuff that some wanna-be THOUGHT was groovy, but NOBODY in San Francisco would be caught dead listening to. There was one groovy psychedelic discoteque scene (one of my favorite movie cliches), but it was more like an episode of Laugh In where they play music, then cut to somebody telling a joke.

Finally a big chase scene at the end, and they milked it... and milked it... and milked it. They used the same gag over and over... the whole entourage is in a horse drawn wagon running away from the police through a movie set... then there's two shakesperian swordsman... and they whole crew breaks right through their scene. OK.. funny. THEN there's two mexicans in the street having a shootout... and again, crew breaks through their scene. THEN there's two knights having a sword fight... same thing. I was begging for it to be over.

Also, this was another example where half the movie is clumsy people bumping into each other and falling on the floor. Who ever thought that was funny?

I was hoping for Mad Mad World... or Wild in the Streets... or Wonderwall... or Head... but nope, this movie was NOWHERE. A real stinker.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Big Bang Theory

You can see my objections to sit-coms in an earlier post. These all apply to Big Bang Theory as well. But let me add one more horrific construction employed by many sit-coms... the laugh track. If you need a recording to tell you when to laugh, then something is wrong. It is especially heinous on The Big Bang Theory. That canned laughter is so unnatural... it's uproarious laughter for about a quarter of a second, then back to silence. I find it completely distracting.

Some shows have done away with the laugh track, and may have suffered for it. The public has been trained to laugh when they hear laughter. Shows like Sport Center, 60 Sunset Strip, and others just let the funny lines hang out there and you can decide if the joke was funny or not. Personally, I prefer that... but I suppose the funny lines better be funny enough, or it might sound awkward.

Anyway.... Bing Bang Theory is definitely a funny show. Once again I'm embarrassed at how all the jokes are about how geeky these guys are... but they seem almost normal to me. Tonight it seemed like they were playing Talisman. The board was definitely the same size, shape, and layout as Talisman, but the pieces were different than the onese we use. They were cutouts shaped in the silouette of the characters, not all rectangular cards. It was hard to see the characters, but there was definitely one big huge frog. They also said "We're penetrating the region of fire to get the crown !!!" And one guy drew a card and said "Hey, I got a sword."

Great Batman Movie

I always liked the Batman Beyond series where Batman is old and sends out young Terry McGuinness in the high tech batman suit. This new Batman has appeared in some of the other DC cartoons like Justice League and Justice League Unlimited (when they do time travel into the future).

Well Cartoon Network ran a movie length special, Batman Beyond: The Joker Returns. Fans of Batman Beyond won't be disappointed with this. It was totally evil with a surprising amount of death and destruction. But even cooler, they go into some back story. The series already expanded on the Batman mythos, but this one filled in some gaps. I wonder how consistent it is with the comic books.

Arrested Development

So while looking at Juno on IMDB I noticed that the adoptive father and the nerdy boyfriend were both in the sit-com "Arrested Development". I checked out and found they have three seasons of it. Hey, it lasted 3 seasons at least, so I figure it might have some merit to it. I watched the whole first season and I'll give it a good grade.

It started out with a few strikes against in in my book. I guess I'm not a fan of the sit-com genera. The general formula is so damn played out. This one is very typical in a lot of respects. The name of the genera says it all... situation comedy. They make some contrived situation, introduce you to the several peronalities, and then each week show how each personality will react to the situation. Basically I see right through the character and see an actor playing that character. I can almost hear them saying "How would Lindsay react in this situation?"... "What would George say now?"

Strike two is that I came to the realization a few years ago that too much comedy is based on stupidity. What would a stupid person do now? How would a stupid person react to this? It's been done to death in "Black Adder", "Faulty Towers", "Three's Company", and a bazillion others. While it could still be funny, I think it's just lazy. Instead of thinking of something really clever, you just have to think of something stupid instead... and pretend you're being funny.

And finally, if the characters are so unrealistic that I just can't relate, then I loose any interest in them. Who cares what predicament they get themselves in... it's all just completely fake anyway. No, I need to be convinced that this situation is, on some level, at least possible before I can get attached.

This show has all that going against it, yet they still manage to pull it off. Each episode has well scripted plot with twist, turns, and irony. They do all sorts of call backs... punch lines to earlier situations are used again in completely different situations. Different characters keep using the phrase "I made a terrible mistake" in very different situations. Lots of situations where a character will say something completely inocuous, but it comes back as a central them later on. Also, each episode ends with "Next time on Arrested Developement..." and they show one or two short clips as if they were from the following show, but they never are... they're just sort of punch lines that were set up during the current show.

They have a great cast, too. You keep seeing people popping up that you know from various comedy venues... like Amy Poler (SNL, Upright Citizen's Brigade), Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall), Tony Hale (Mr. Show, Upright Citizen's Brigade), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld) and lots of others. The only other disapointing thing was that they son played almost the same character as he does in Juno... soft spoken, nerdy, un-confident kid. Makes me wonder if he can act.

All in all, I would say give this show a try.