Saturday, January 01, 2011

What I Watched in December

I tried to keep updating with what I've been watching from one week to the next but I soon found myself unable to remember what I had already posted about, what I had yet to write, and what I had forgotten to post altogether.  Sooooo . . . I am going to try to create a single post (a very long one, no doubt) in which I share the dvds, streaming movies, and television programming I watch during the month.  One post.  Very long.  Feel free to skim.  


Also, I will move all reviews, including video reviews to the other blog after this one goes live.  



National Geographic:  Nefertiti and the Lost Dynasty


I hate to start with a disappointment but this was the first thing I watched during December and I learned nothing about Nefertiti, her life, nor her death.  It is my own fault, I suppose, for already knowing too much but when I watch a documentary I have a hope that I'll learn something, anything, about the topic.

It began with Allen Drury's books A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes.  These novels are out of print and, as with most historical fiction, their accuracy is probably far off the mark so I studied a great deal about Akhenaton, Nefertiti, etc.  The books are now out of print, which is unfortunate.  They were quite good.  I read them as an adolescent.

8 Mile


Every now and again, a movie choice will obviously be Rob's.  But this one barely blurs the line because I love Brittany Murphy and I really wanted to see this just because of her.

But Rob really wanted to see this so we finally saw it.

Not a terrible movie.  If you hate rap, you will feel like you're suffering through every second of this film.  And the plot is predictable.  Rocky with rap.  And good performances throughout.  I confess, I may not like what Eminem (Marshal Mathers) has to say but how he says it brutal and poetic all at once.  I still love Brittany Murphy.


Christmas Classics Volume 1


Some very old cartoons from the 30s and 40s which, to be honest, occasionally do not age terribly well.  There are some overtly racist moments, most especially evident in a cartoon that features Little Audrey, although there are other offensive moments.

I probably wouldn't want my young child to watch this but I can absolutely see how I might want to introduce these cartoons to an older, more discerning child, and discuss with him/her some of the issues.  My children have long chuckled over the sexism of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and I seem to be the only one who has issue with what I believe is a line that the screenplay writers added in which Ron mutters how something is about to burst out of Eloise Midgeon.  Hopefully, there will come a day when we look upon such remarks with the same horror, dismay, and distaste as we now do these racist moments in our previous generations' cartoons.

(For those interested, in the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4), Ron says he would rather go alone to the Yule Ball than go with Eloise.  Coming to her defense, Hermione Granger says that Eloise's acne has cleared up and says she is very nice to which Ron replies that her nose is off center.  Nowhere is it suggested, as it is in the movie version, that she is overweight and yet, when Professor McGonagall says that inside every girl is a swan waiting to burst into flight, Ron says "Something is about to burst out of Eloise Midgeon, but I don't think it's a swan."  The girl shown for a brief moment is somewhat overweight and I was appalled by the choice of the writers to do this.  Not as appalled, say, as writers adding a rape scene to a film adaptation but I reiterate that I hope someday these things will not be found amusing and we'll look back on that line with an appropriate cringe, which I do every time I watch that scene.)

Monarchy with David Starkey, Part 2


In the first part, Starkey's emphatic enunciation quickly grew tedious but apparently he learned to tone it down by the time they filmed this second part of the series.  It wasn't until after the Tudor era that I really began learning some new things but I enjoyed the entire series very much.  I would love to know if there is a third part that carries the story of the British monarchy forward to the present.

I definitely want to know more and so much happened going into the turn of the century and into the twentieth century that there could easily be a third part.  And there should be.  And if Starkey decides to revert to his emphatic enunciation then that's okay.  Good information is still interesting even when it is shared with an intense precision.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3


Okay.  Not the first time I've watched this by a long shot.  I didn't clarify or say that I'd only share new things so I guess I'm being honest in saying I watched at least part of this show's third season during December.  This is up there as one of the better seasons, in my opinion.  This is also the season the children and I began seriously watching the show.  Eliza Dushku as Faith infused such energy into the show.  It's a shame that they didn't get her own show off the ground (because she'd already committed to another show).  And farewell to Angel, who moves onto his own show. I could blabber on and on about how clever the writing is on this show and, after seeing later seasons, I appreciate all the more the foreshadowing one finds upon re-viewing these episodes.  Whedon rocks!


Fame


Why did I do it? I knew better.  The minute I heard they had done a remake of this I knew it would be a watered down version of the original with most of the bite and grit completely removed.  I wasn't mistaken.  And yet, I watched this.

Ummmm . . . yeah . . . don't do what I do.

Trust me.  I didn't even love the first one but after watching this version I have to say I like it a lot more than I did before.



Bourne Identity


I know.  Remarkable that I'd never seen any of the Bourne movies before.  What with Clive Owen and Julia Stiles both being in this first one.  Oh well.  I finally bought into it and watched.  The romantic interest in this one, Franka Potente, reminded me of my friend Jorin Burr.  Something about her face in certain angles just made me think about her.  It was strange.  Nice but strange.

I never do well with the type of jerky camera work that was used in this film and my son assures me that the same technique is used throughout the films so it's just as well that I didn't try to watch them back-to-back or something.  I felt dizzy after watching the first one and needed to lie down.


Cheri


I had a collection of Colette's novellas when I was young but at the time I was in the midst of my ancient history novels frenzy and was reading all about ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  The book went unread and has since been lost or given away.

This movie is lovely.  The costumes and performances are all just wonderful to watch. A sheer pleasure.  Michelle Pfeiffer is luminous and Rupert Friend has the chiseled features and elegant mannerisms that ease him beautifully into the past.  Truth is, I expected not to like this movie.  But I did.  I didn't love it but if you are home one day and need a light distraction, this one would suffice if only to appreciate the gorgeous costumes.


Dexter: Season 5


After Season 3, I was beginning to have second thoughts.  Season 4, however, blew me away.  Season 5 lived up to the previous season all the way until the final two episodes.  Then things felt a little contrived, a little forced, and a lot less fulfilling.

I won't say more because I don't want to give anything away.  Suffice it to say that Deb does something in the final episode that is, to say the least, disingenuous.  Her character's raison d’être was dropped completely in favor of giving the viewers a neat little package tied up on a narrative bow that, for me, simply didn't fit.  This is the second time that the writers have disappointed.  I hope there won't be a third.  The actors deserve better!

(An aside.  During one episode, the actor who play Quinn said something and both Rob and I said, "NY."  I did a quick search and . . . Desmond Harrington was born in Savannah, GA?!?!?!  WTF???  No.  Wait.  Born in GA but his parents moved to the Bronx NY when he was 3.  *whew*  I thought Rob and I were losing our touch.)



Lennon Naked


Great performances.  I would expect nothing less from a BBC production but . . .

the use of symbolism has all the subtlety of The Matrix and seems to buy into all of the hostile gossip that surrounded Lennon's leaving his wife and son for Yoko Ono.

I would give this 2 out of 5 because, really, it is more propaganda than truth.  One star for good performances and another for looking at Lennon's life through the spectrum of fatherhood. Ultimately, however, the story ends where it emotionally begins.  There is more to this story and the ball was clearly dropped.



Sex and the City 2


Rob and I finally got around to watching this (yes, I said Rob and I because he is the one who introduced me to this show when we were first dating).  Anyway, it was good enough up until they went to Abu Dhabi and then the whole thing sank into sit-com silliness and stereotypes.  The characters long ago became clichés of themselves and this movie didn't do the actresses any justice.  I'm genuinely surprised that they agreed to make this movie but then I'm assuming they read the script before signing on the dotted line.





Lost:  Season 6


And I finally got around to seeing the final season of Lost.

I am content.  I had heard murmurs of discontent from people who found the ending unfulfilling.  Did they watch the same series as I did?  Or maybe they saw a different final episode because what I saw was spot on and precisely what I had hoped to see.

It doesn't really matter.  Most shows do not do a final episode well (*cough*Angel*cough*) while others do it brilliantly (Six Feet Under comes immediately to mind.)  This is not quite the best ending but damn near close.  I hope to see most, if not all, of these actors on other shows sooner rather than later.  Good stuff across the board.


The Snowman plus 7 Holiday Classics


This one is just dreadful.  The first cartoon, "The Snowman," is actually pretty frightening.  It is followed by a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic "The Tin Soldier" but the ending is changed.  Then there's this barely recognizable version of "The Wizard of Oz."  Most of the cartoons on this dvd are the same as the ones on Christmas Classics Volume 1 so if you have the one you don't need the other.  But really, why would you even want, let alone need, this one?

Blech.




Elf

Sometimes it takes me a surprisingly long time to watch something and this movie just wasn't on my "to be watched" list because I doubted that I would enjoy it.  I mean, Will Ferrell isn't very high on my list of woohoo actors.

So color me oh so delightfully surprised by an utterly silly movie that charmed me to the bone.  I giggled often, even laughed aloud a couple of times.  

Okay so there's a predictable ending. It's a Christmas movie.  I expect no less.





The Santa Clause

The children and I went to see this movie as our Christmas Eve movie once upon a time.  I liked it (although in the back of my mind I also kept thinking of the Marx Brothers skit about there being no such thing as a sanity clause).  

I'm not a huge Tim Allen fan but I liked him well enough in this movie.  And I'm a sucker for a heart warming story about a father reconnecting with his son.  I also love the elves--Bernard and Judy.  Rob would say I only like them because they have glitter on their face and they sparkle.  Who am I to argue?  

So cute movie.  Utterly ridiculous.  With a little family bonding to boot!  Oh, and a really great song.

Holiday Inn

It's hard to go wrong with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  I suppose you could really really try.  Yes, there are some uncomfortably racist moments.  I try to remind myself about the audience then and when these movies were made and then another delightful Irving Berlin song comes along and all is forgotten as I'm humming and singing and even bouncing along to the next song.

I end up humming and singing these songs for days afterwards, mixed in with all of the other holiday songs I sing and hum at this time of year.







Oliver!


The songs from this musical start filtering into my brain every year at this time so I must associate this movie with the holidays on some level.  I am not sure what it is.  I don't recall seeing this as a child.  


Great songs.  Wonderful dancing and acting.  But let's be honest . . . a serious dose of anti-Semitic sentiment.  Fagin is a remarkable character and clearly supposed to be Jewish.  


I remember reading the novel, Oliver Twist, and I disliked all but the last few chapters.  It was all so tedious and unhappy.  Of course, the last ten chapters have a typically Victorian happily ever after ending full of convenient coincidences.  Nevertheless, a charming movie in spite of the codependent relationship and racism.



Shira, the Vampire Samurai


I don't even know what to say or how to explain this.  First, I should say that we used to go to see movies on Christmas Eve.  We saw all sorts of good movies, like The Santa Clause and even a few great ones like Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings and Toy Story.  


Since I can't go to action type movies without feeling very sickened by the visual stimulation, I thought I'd rent this dvd.  Why?  Because my daughter's name is Shira and I thought it would be amusing.  I like B movies well enough.  After all, how bad could it be?  


It could be so bad that if it hadn't been the Christmas Eve movie, we probably would have turned it off altogether.  There is so much bad about this movie, from stereotypes that are so insulting to the intelligence of the audience I would be surprised if the actor isn't utterly ashamed, and derivative content that references everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Blade.  And all of it bad.  Very very bad.



Christmas Story


I watched this because my friend Saila, whom I miss constantly, lives in Finland and this movie is from Finland.  I guess it was my small way of trying to feel a connection over the distance, without even knowing if she has ever seen this movie.


It's charming.  Sweet.  Heartwarming.  All the things would hope a holiday movie would be.  I wish the version I watched was subtitled and not dubbed but even dubbed it enchanted.  


I'll happily watch it again.  And again.  I wonder if Saila has ever seen it . . . ?






Avatar:  The Last Airbender


Rob and I watched the entire series over weeks and weeks, watching one episode here and there.  If I'd been left to myself, I'd probably have watched it all much faster but there were a couple of times we watched two episodes back-to-back.  


By the third season, we loved all of the characters, especially how they worked as a team, playing off one another.  The story line was complex enough to keep us interested and there were some very cute moments mixed in with the deeper, more emotional ones.  There are definitely some poignant moments and although some of the characters are two-dimensional and never really change, that is to be expected.  And running gags.  I'm a sucker for any show with a running gag.  



We actually watched the following sometime before Christmas but I forgot to record it in this blog post.  



Pretty Baby


Perhaps best known for controversy, this Louis Malle film is pretty.  Brooke Shields is lovely and every character is wonderfully cast and performed.  The story, however, is supremely distasteful, about a girl who is raised in a brothel where her virginity is eventually auctioned off to the highest bidder.  


There was some nudity in it that has apparently been modified by zooming in on the shots to remove the bulk of exposure and at the time there was an outcry that a then 12-year-old Shields was shown nude at all.  Her mother denied that her daughter was ever actually nude, saying she would never allow her daughter to pose nude.  Unfortunately, I had a friend whose father was in the advertising business and, as part of his work, he had many promotional materials from various modeling agencies, including one from the one that had signed Brooke Shields.  In this particular booklet, Shields and several other young models are shown in two poses, first as a child and then as a vixen.  So in one, a young girl is in her red footy-pajamas, her hair in blonde curls, all doll-like and wide-eyed innocence.  On the very next page the same girl is in front of a fireplace in a red silky nightgown, her face fully made up, her curls now tousled and wild.  The last pair of pages showed a child-like Brooke Shields in a bubble bath and then her standing in a dark marble bathroom, surrounded by steam, her glistening body rising from the dark water where she was exposed from below the knees up.  


Nothing left to the imagination.  And this press-release or promo-kit was something I saw before this movie was released.  So, in spite of her mother's vehement protestations, there were an awful lot of people that simply didn't buy it.  The fact that the modern dvd zooms in to hide as much of the child's nudity as possible reinforces the implication that a body double was never used.  


Time After Time


The premise:  Jack the Ripper finds a way to transport himself to 1979 where he can continue his reign of terror.  How a movie starring Malcolm McDowell doesn't cast him as Jack the Ripper is beyond me but . . . he is cast as H G Wells, which is supposed to explain how Jack moved into the present.  


This movie is so poorly researched as to be an insult to anyone who has studied Jack the Ripper and his murders.  The last murder shown before Jack's escape is obviously not the last one that has actually been credited to the man.  And although Mary Steenburgen is lovelier than I ever remember her being, her role is predictable and contradictory; a staunch feminist who behaves more like a damsel in distress or desperate to be remarried than a true women's libber.




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