Thursday, November 29, 2007

Morpheus Makes a Poor Film Critic: All The Things That I Have Seen

1. Beowulf (2007).

I fell asleep halfway through it so I can't really give it an honest review. None of the elements, however -- including Angelina Jolie's famous nude scene -- made me regret falling asleep, though.

2. No Reservations (2007).

Mi novia saw more of this film than I did and she enjoyed it. I fell asleep halfway through this one too, but I saw enough of it to admit that I wouldn't mind a second viewing. (And not just because of its star Catherine Zeta-Jones.) However, it's not a film that's high on my list to review.

3. Perfect Stranger (2007).

I kinda wish I had fallen asleep during this one. The premise was so dumb -- and worse yet, dated. The idea of one movie character posing for another on the Internet already seemed shamelessly old-fashioned when it was used in Closer a few years ago. Now? Well, the idea hasn't exactly improved with age...

4. The Grudge 2 (2006).

Perhaps High Tension wasn't so bad, after all. Not if dull horror flicks like this are the alternative. This film managed to be even worse than the original Grudge. The two female leads seemed to give better acting performances when they were promoting the movie in interviews than when they were in the actual movie.

5. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006).

I could do a whole article on why I hated this film, and some day I might. For now, I'll just say that I found the film to be seriously unfunny and not quite as daring as fans of its rude humor would think. And no, I don't say that because I'm a Bush fan. (In fact, I'm anything but a Bush fan.) I would have loved to jump on the “Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius” bandwagon, but in order to do that, I would have had to have been impressed by ideas that I hadn't seen a hundred times before on shows as derivative as American Dad!, and unfortunately, there are no such ideas to be found in this film.

6. Little Miss Sunshine (2006).

Mi mejor amiga liked only one scene toward the end. I liked a bit more than that but not enough to recommend it. I did love the fact that actress Toni Collette is still getting work. I was not so crazy about the others in the cast, though.

7. Enchanted (2007).

Not to be confused with Ella Enchanted, which came out several years ago. One film I definitely did not fall asleep during. But did I like it? Well... I thought it was ok. But not much more than that. On paper, it must have seemed a perfect idea. In a world in which almost everyone parodies Disney, why can't Disney parody Disney? Besides, it is not like the movie's premise (an animated fairy tale character gets magically transferred to the “real” world) has ever been done before.

And yet, once one gets past the cast (Amy Adams is cute, James Marsden is funny, Susan Sarandon makes a fine evil queen, etc.), there is not a whole lot here that was not better done in, say, Splash (yet another movie about a make-believe creature journeying in the real world).

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Shocking News of the Week

Oh my God, I just found out that actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, former star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is 30.

Where does the time go?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More Things I'm Thankful For

1. The fact that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is back (even if it's in comic book form):

2. The fact that one of my favorite published authors, Shanna Swendson, had another book published this year:

3. The fact that I finally caught up with this movie (which is proving to be one of my favorite musicals):

4. The fact that I caught up with this flick as well:

5. The fact that this book finally came back into print this year after being out of print for all too long:

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Quote of the Week

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.
--W. Somerset Maugham

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Black Friday Blues

And no, that's not a reference to a certain Steely Dan song.

Read this.

Yes, I suppose such out-of-control consumerism is the price we pay for living in a capitalistic society, but geez, people. How about showing a little restraint for a change?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Things I'm Thankful For

1. My mother. She hasn't had a good year, and I'm grateful that she is still hanging in there and in good health.
2. My girlfriend and bride-to-be. (No, they aren't two different people.)
3. My siblings, who have been more patient with me this year than perhaps they should be.
4. Mi mejor amiga, who has been more patient with me this year than I would have been in her place.
5. My health. (Never a thing to take for granted at my age.)
6. My job. (Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job this time of year.)
7. My co-workers. (Especially mi amiga M____, the old movie buff who patiently has allowed me to bend her ear regarding various personal problems. And mis amigas D_____ and J____, who have given me lots of valuable advice in regard to women. Or is that vice versa?)
8. My sister's daughter, who has taken to my bride-to-be with a warmth and affection I would not have thought possible had I not seen it with my own eyes. Already, my bride-to-be is an aunt as far as my sister's daughter is concerned, and I'm not about to disagree with her.
9. My relatives in Detroit, California and Washington, D.C., who as always, continue to inspire me far more than they will ever know.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Christmas -- The Holiday That Never Ends

Oh, geez. It wasn't even Halloween yet, and already most local stores had their Christmas decorations up.

Every year it seems that the Christmas season starts sooner and sooner.

Even mi novia is getting sick of it. She had the opportunity to see Fred Claus with me last week but she and I chose to see No Reservations instead. Why? Because she thought it was too darn early in the year to be watching Christmas movies. And I agree.

Of course, I wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing Fred Claus, but still...

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Things I Loved About Gold Diggers of 1933

1. The “We're in The Money” number.
2. That Möbius strip shot in the “We're in the Money” number in which the camera pans from singer Ginger Rogers to a chorus girl on her right, and then to the chorus girl on her right, and then so on until the camera gets back to Ginger Rogers -- without once going left.
3. The way Ginger maintained her dignity through that “We're in the Money” number despite having to sing one chorus in Pig Latin -- and while wearing apparently nothing below the waist save heels, a body stocking and a giant coin.
4. The pre-Code antics of the “Pettin' in the Park” number.
5. Ned Sparks's big speech about the Depression.
6. Joan Blondell's “Remember My Forgotten Man” number. Very easily the highlight of the movie, and deservingly so.

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Escapist Quotes from Gold Diggers of 1933

Because, of course, people of the 1930s knew nothing of real problems:

I was down on Times Square watching those men in the breadline... standing there in the rain, waiting there for coffee and doughnuts. Men out of a job, around the soup kitchen.
--Dick Powell, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

That's it! That's what this show's about! The Depression, men marching, marching in the rain. Doughnuts and crullers, men marching, marching... jobs, jobs, and in the background, Carol, spirit of the Depression. A blue song. No, not a blue song but a wailing. A wailing. And this gorgeous woman singing this song that'll tear their hearts out. The big parade. The big parade of tears.
--Ned Sparks, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

I hate starving in bed.
--Ruby Keeler, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

It isn't smart to make gags when girls are starving.
--Aline MacMahon, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

If you don't, God knows what will happen to those kids. They'll have to do things I wouldn't want on my conscience and it will be on yours.
--Aline MacMahon, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Remember my forgotten man.
You put a rifle in his hand.
You sent him far away.
You shouted, “Hip, hooray!”
But look at him today.
--Joan Blondell, “Remember My Forgotten Man” from Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Busby Berkeley: Social Realist?

The depression, dearie.
--Ginger Rogers, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Whoa! Where did that line come from? I thought good old-fashioned Busby Berkeley musicals were too escapist to mention anything as humdrum as the Great Depression.

And what's up with that “We're in the Money” number that opens Gold Diggers of 1933? Film anthologies cite that song so often as evidence of 1930s Hollywood's obsession with escapism that it is a bit ironic to note that that number ends with the local sheriff's men coming in to confiscate the singers' props and costumes in order to make up for all the producer's unpaid bills. I'm sorry but that does not seem very escapist to me.

You could argue that some of the movie's other numbers (“Pettin' in the Park,” for example) are a bit more escapist, but then you get to the show's big finale, “Remember My Forgotten Man,” in which young Carol King (played by Joan Blondell and not to be confused with the songwriter with a similar name) laments the fate of unemployed WW I veterans while receiving vocal accompaniment by Etta Moten Barnett, and suddenly this whole escapism argument seems at best dubious.

True, one is never likely to confuse any Busby Berkeley movie with the works of John Steinbeck. But they do not seem as disconnected from reality as one would expect.

And I, for one, consider that a good thing.

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They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Mall

Yes, I know. Smart Americans aren't supposed to wax nostalgic over shopping malls any more than we should wax nostalgic over disco, Nehru jackets or Elvis movies.

And yet the shutdown of a local shopping mall had my girlfriend so depressed that I could not help but share her sadness. After all, I had spent a lot of good times there too and though most of the places where I had the most fun (the mall movie theatre, the Orange Julius, the local Barnes & Noble, etc.) closed down a long time ago, I still found myself sad when it was announced that the mall would be permanently closed down and torn down in order to make way for a new Lowe's. Yes, all things must pass, but it's still surprising how fast they do.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Darkness Invisible: Robert Cormier's Fade

Wouldn't it be cool to be invisible? To be able to go anyway you want without anyone who might stop you being able to see you? To see anything you want without ever getting caught? Wouldn't that be neat?

Then again, maybe it would not be that neat. Suppose you ended up going places you didn't really want to go? Or seeing things you didn't really want to see?

As you might guess, Robert Cormier's novel Fade is based on the latter premise. His protagonist is a young French-Canadian kid named Paul Moreaux who lives in Depression-era Massachusetts. One day he discovers that he has inherited the gift of invisibility from his ancestors. His uncle Adelard -- who also has the gift -- tries to clue him in on the various drawbacks of the gift but, alas, the lesson does not quite go far enough.

Paul Moreaux quickly discovers the darker side of his “gift” and eventually discovers an even darker side to it when it gets passed on to an illegitimate relative. He tries to do the right thing but finds that that is not so easy to do. And then...

But to say much more is to spoil the story and Robert Cormier's story does not deserve to be spoiled. This novel was nominated for the 1989 World Fantasy Award and quite frankly, it deserves its nomination. It also received a recent shout-out on the Byzantium's Shores site so I felt obliged to give it a shout-out on this site as well.

I read this book over fifteen years ago and I still find the novel worth re-reading. Unfortunately, the book has never been made into a movie but then given the bizarre things Hollywood often does to great novels, that is probably more a blessing than a curse.

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Actually The Cisco Kid Was Not A Friend of Mine

Neither was his friend Pancho.

Some of my older cousins on my father's side sometimes watched their show but I never really got into it.

Oddly enough, the one Western hero I bothered to watch on a regular basis when I was a kid was The Lone Ranger. And given the type of reputation the Texas Rangers often had in the Mexican-American community, I can't help but find that ironic.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Truth Be Told”

In the last episode, “Seeing Red,” the identity of the mysterious Ice Truck Killer, a serial killer who has been plaguing Miami and teasing our favorite monster Dexter, was finally revealed.

I must confess that I had an edge when it came to guessing at least one of the Ice Truck Killer's secrets thanks to the book. But as I noted in my last post on Dexter, not everything in this series follows the exact same pattern as the book. Still the writers did a good job of keeping this particular audience member guessing as to the killer's true identity. I guessed it a few episodes before it was finally revealed, but hey, it's still nice to be proven right.

Anyway, in this episode, other people -- including Dexter's sister -- find out the Ice Truck Killer's identity as well. Unfortunately, they don't all find out in time to do anything about it, but hey, that's what season finales are for.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Father Knows Best” and “Seeing Red”

As one of the few people in America who read the Dexter books before the start of this show, I must confess to having an unfair advantage over most of this show's viewers in that I already had a rough idea which way the show's plot is going. True, they have changed things up a little. But all in all, they've done a good job of trying to be true to the spirit of the books while at the same time exploring facets of Dexter Morgan's character that were never adequately explored by the original author.

In any event, it was inevitable that the show would tackle the issue of how Dexter got to be the way he is and for that matter, reveal the fate of his missing parents. First, Dexter's biological father turns up dead in the “Father Knows Best” episode; then the show reveals what happens to Dexter's mom in “Seeing Red.” And given the fact that the show established early on that Dexter was an orphan adopted by a local policeman whose only known living relative is his foster sister Debra, even those viewers who have not read the books can guess that whatever happened to Dexter's mother was not a good thing.

And at the risk of posting yet another spoiler, it is safe to say that those viewers would be right.

In fact, describing the fate of Dexter's mother as “not a good thing” is an understatement.

After years of enigmatic visions, Dexter suddenly remembers the whole experience in “Seeing Red” and almost goes catatonic as a result. If you've seen the episode, you can guess why.

Even monsters can have mothers and even mothers can die in monstrous ways. Dexter Morgan finds all that out the hard way in this episode which contains one of the most emotionally powerful moments I've seen on a TV show this year.

And the bad times for poor monstrous Dexter are just beginning...

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

I Tried and Tried...

But I just couldn't bring myself to watch one entire episode of The George Lopez Show (AKA George Lopez). I had the perfect opportunity to do so recently when I was watching the ABC Family Channel at my mother's house but I just couldn't go through with it.

One would think that anyone like me who still owns a copy of George Lopez's Alien Nation comedy CD would have no trouble watching a whole episode of George Lopez's TV show. (Especially since it co-stars Constance Marie, one of my all-time favorite TV actresses).

But then Alien Nation was actually funny.

The George Lopez Show, unfortunately, was not.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Love American Style”

It's Dexter Morgan the immigrant avenger as America's favorite serial killer goes after an illegal immigrant smuggler who has a nasty way of reducing overhead.

Okay, this episode doesn't especially claim to have any unique perspective into the illegal immigrant problem, apart from the oh-so-brave position that people who smuggle illegal immigrants are not nice people.

But the series itself does have an interesting take on the whole vigilante issue that has been explored in so many recent movies.

On one hand, Dexter Morgan is a vigilante enthusiast's dream. A self-appointed vigilante who only kills “bad” people and who never ever kills an innocent by mistake.

On the other hand, his story poses unwelcome questions that most vigilante movies would rather not deal with. Questions like, what kind of person would want to kill such people in the first place? Is society really better off with people like Dexter Morgan around? Would any sane person want to encourage a real-life Dexter Morgan, and if so, why?

I'm not sure this show has all the answers to such questions, but at least the show's writers are posing such questions and not merely attempting to portray a right-wing wish-fulfillment fantasy.

More power to them.

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