Friday, February 27, 2009

Movie Review: Coraline 3D

Rated: PG

Website: Coraline official site

Starring: voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, and Ian McShane

My Review: OK, I’ll admit it; like most other late 20-somethings, I decided to see Coraline because of my love for The Nightmare Before Christmas (which I loved way back in the 1990’s, before Hot Topic was even a glimmer in every emo teenager’s eye). Plus I got to wear super-cool 3D glasses (see above). But despite having the same director and a similar artistic design (no, Tim Burton has nothing to do here), Coraline is missing most of the elements that made Nightmare so magical, like memorable characters, a unique story, and a hero you want to root for.

The story is somewhat reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland: Young Coraline is bored with life in her dreary new home with parents who are too busy to pay her any attention. So when she discovers a small door that leads to a parallel world where everything is brighter and there’s a second set of parents who dote on her, Coraline thinks she’s found paradise. But of course nothing is as good as it seems, and when her Other Mother decides she should stay in the other world forever, Coraline has to fight for her freedom and to save her real parents.

While the stop-motion animation is a marvel, and some of the 3D elements are particularly impressive (like the mouse circus in the other world), the bottom line is that the movie is kind of dull. The house that Coraline’s family moves into is filled with what are meant to be outrageous characters, like the aging starlets voiced by the British comedy duo French & Saunders, but none of them are outrageous enough to stay with you once the movie is over. And most of the time Coraline’s parents come across not as busy and preoccupied, but neglectful and mean, and Coraline herself as a whiny brat; a new character not in the original book by Neil Gaiman is added to the movie for her to be friends with, but all she does is scold and insult him throughout the film. So by the time the movie came to its big climax (and it’s a slow buildup, at that), I didn’t particularly care if Coraline vanquished her evil foe or not. Maybe some time trapped in the other world would improve her attitude and make her real parents stop being such selfish jerks.

Bottom Line: If you’re a huge fan of the original book or of stop-motion animation, then you may want to check it out in the theater. If not, just wait to rent it. And if you have kids, think twice about letting them watch it; there are a lot of dark elements, and it’s a very slow-moving story that will just bore young children. Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s a kids’ movie.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quest for the Best: Doughnut Plant Review

As anyone who knows me (or at least the size of my ass) personally knows, I have rarely met a pastry or baked good that I didn’t like. So I’m on a quest to find some of the best goodies New York City has to offer.

Location: 379 Grand St. NY, NY

Website: Doughnut Plant

Price: Each doughnut is around $2.25

Atmosphere: Definitely take-out only. The store is beyond tiny and basically consists of just a counter where you place your order.

My Review: While the doughnuts at Doughnut Plant are tasty, I failed to see anything so remarkable about them to warrant the price. If it’s just a doughnut you’re craving, and any doughnut will do, you can get cheaper at any Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. Doughnut Plant’s claims to fame are the unique flavors they offer, like blackberry jam-filled with peanut butter glaze and crème brulee, and the fact that they use no preservatives, artificial flavors, or eggs in their products. So perhaps they’re a healthier alternative to traditional doughnuts, but if you’re having a doughnut, is nutrition really the first thing on your mind?

As for flavors, I tried the tres leches and the much-lauded coconut cream doughnuts. The tres leches (that’s “three milks” for those who took French in high school) was basically a denser version of a glazed doughnut. It’s cake-like and apparently made with three different kinds of condensed milks, which really just made the cake moister than a typical doughnut would be. The whole thing was coated in a basic glaze, and was tasty overall, but not as remarkable as I was anticipating.

After being heralded in Time Out New York, the bigger disappointment was the basically flavorless coconut cream doughnut. The doughnut part was as basic as can be, and the cream filling didn’t really taste like coconut; it was more like a bland custard that they forgot to add the coconut part to. The whole thing is coated in a coconut glaze which was the only place I got any sort of coconut flavor from. Again, it wasn’t bad, but a bit of a let-down when I was expecting some sort of coconut nirvana.

Bottom Line: The doughnuts are tasty enough, but not really worth the price or the trek to the Lower East Side. If you already live in the neighborhood, and are jonesing for an unusual-flavored treat, then Doughnut Plant isn’t a bad place to visit. But I’ll probably just grab a glazed cruller from the Dunkin’ Donuts down the block for half the price and be just as happy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Post-Mortem

The 81st Annual Academy Awards were certainly a mixed bag. Hugh Jackman did OK as a first-time host; his “budget” opening number was amusing, but what was up with the salute to musicals he did with Beyonce? I love, adore and obsess over musicals, but that was the most horribly jumbled, aimless, and pointless thing I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen Cats! Cats, people, CATS!). None of the night’s winners were surprising, but I still walked away with some lasting impressions:

  • The former actor and actress winners doing tributes to the new nominees either worked really well, or was a total disaster. Robert De Niro giving clearly heartfelt accolades to Sean Penn was actually touching. Then there was Nicole Kidman woodenly reading off the teleprompter when saluting Angelina Jolie. Now Nicole, I think Angelina is pretty overrated too, but couldn’t you have found the time to memorize that 90-second speech and practice putting some emotion behind it?
  • The “In Memoriam” montage should really not be messed with. It’s traditional to play a slideshow of the past year’s dearly departed with sweeping instrumentals playing over it. But this year we had Queen Latifah singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” live while the montage played, causing all sorts of confusion for the camera operators. Should they focus on Latifah? Focus on the screens showing the dead people? Unable to decide, they kept swooping around the stage, giving us some Latifah and some bad angles of the montage, making it difficult to see who was being saluted. I hope next year they go back to the old way. It’s more respectful to those who have passed, and less nauseating for those at home who suffer from motion sickness.
  • I really missed the clips they used to show from the five Best Picture nominees. I had seen all of this year’s nominees, but in years past I loved watching those clips throughout the telecast and deciding which ones I wanted to see and which ones I could skip. If they had cut the aforementioned salute to musicals, there would have been time to show clips from the five nominated movies.
  • Comedians really do need to start getting more respect for what they do. Year after year the Oscar nominees are 95% dramabombs. Then Oscar night comes, and all the dramatic actors in attendance behave like well-programmed cyborgs. Why is it so hard for well-trained and acclaimed actors to present an award with any sort of presence? Take a look at the horribly stilted presentations done by Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, and that kid from that vampire movie all the tween girls love, then look at the great stage presence of Tina Fey, Steve Martin, and Will Smith, and tell me which ones are the better performers. Hell, the best moment of the entire evening was the Judd Apatow-created skit saluting comedies:

Told You So

Who has two thumbs and was 100% correct in her Oscar predictions? This guy!

Now that they're over, if anyone has seen my life laying about, could you please tell it to report back to me ASAP?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Letter to ABC and Shonda Rhimes

Dear ABC and Ms. Rhimes:

I understand that it must be very frustrating for you both to be involved in the creation and production of Private Practice. It’s a truly terrible show and for once, the American viewing public is showing good judgment by not watching it. But you made the decision to take Kate Walsh off of Grey’s Anatomy and give her her own spin-off series, so I really feel that it’s your responsibility to own up to the fact that this experiment was a total failure, and stop creating “cross-over events” that trick the Grey’s Anatomy audience into watching the pile of televised garbage you call Private Practice.

I’m actually loathe to admit that I watch Grey’s Anatomy, but you were lucky enough to suck me into that show when it first aired and it was an amusing and sometimes touching soapy drama. But the quality of the show has been steadily decreasing over the past few seasons, and while I’ll still admit to watching it, I don’t respect myself in the morning anymore.

Some examples of why Grey’s Anatomy is no longer the show it once was:

  • Meredith Grey is the most annoying and least likable character…but she’s the titular character! She’s always been a bit whiny and self-involved, but lately she’s been totally unbearable. She has everything she’s ever wanted: a successful career in medicine, a gorgeous man who puts up with all her immature nonsense and actually fought to be with her, a stunning house that she doesn’t have to pay to live in, and a group of coworker-friends who continue to stand by her side despite her always being too full of herself to help them with anything. Someone who has so much going for her really has no right to be so moody and brooding all the time, so please have her get over herself or finally succeed in killing herself so that everyone else in the cast can move on from her personal conflicts. Oh, and I don’t know what’s going on with those bangs of hers that she’s apparently been letting grow out forever, but she really needs a new haircut. Stat.
  • Nearly all of the female characters have become utterly retarded. Aside from Meredith “Woe Is Me” Grey, there’s Izzie, who’s gone from being the somewhat naïve but sensitive one to sort of crazy and overly whiny, almost to a Grey-esque level. Meredith’s half sister, Lexie, is immature, unreliable, ridiculous, and way too old to still go by “Lexie.” Would you trust a doctor called “Lexie” with your life? Me neither. And Callie, who used to be an awesome, brassy, and ballsy woman (remember when she told off Izzie for sleeping with George because it was an insult to all women to sleep with another woman’s husband? Awesome!). But now Callie is a maybe-lesbian who is too scared and timid to do anything about it. I don’t particularly care if she’s gay or not, but she has no chemistry with any of the potential female lovers that get thrown into her path oh-so conveniently, so just accept that the storyline isn’t working and bring back brash Callie.
  • Characters who weren’t utterly retarded are taken off the show. First Addison left for the aforementioned crapfest, Private Practice. Then Brooke Smith, who played Erica Hahn, was abruptly fired. Hahn was the one woman in the hospital who didn’t spend 99% of her time fretting over her personal life and hopping into bed with anyone willing, so naturally she was an outcast from day one. And apparently someone decided that her character was too much like a real person and might actually be a decent role model to viewers, so she had to go. Now there’s all sorts of rumors flying about T.R. Knight (George) leaving the show, and while he’s one of the few likable people left, I can’t blame him for wanting to move on, since we’re forced to spend too much time delving into Meredith’s insipid past to actually give him anything real to do.

So as you can see, ABC and Ms. Rhimes, I’m getting very close to dropping Grey’s Anatomy from my television viewing lineup, and I’m not your only viewer who feels like this. So it would be in your best interest to stop creating lame cross-overs to get us to watch both of your crappy shows (parasitic brain worms? really?), and call a spade a spade, and give Private Practice the axe. Then you can focus all of your time and energy on improving Grey’s Anatomy and not have to rely on lame tricks like bringing back beloved dead fiancés to get people to watch.



Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Bet I Can Pick More Oscar Winners Than You

The 81st Annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, and for the first time ever, I’ve actually seen all of the movies and performances nominated in the major categories. (OK, I have yet to see Frozen River because Netflix has a “Long Wait” on it, but it’s not going to win anything, so I’m still claiming my nominee viewership at 100%). So this therefore qualifies me to claim that I can pick more Oscar winners than you. My winner picks are:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor: Sean Penn for Milk

Best Actress: Kate Winslet for The Reader

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Animated Feature: WALL-E

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Original Screenplay: Milk

Mind you, these are my winner picks, and not necessarily my personal picks. Can you out-pick me? I’d like to see you try, plebian!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Farewell to Conan O’Brien

Unless you live under a rock, or are my mother, you’ve no doubt heard that this is the final week for Late Night with Conan O’Brien. It’s not a complete tragedy, since Conan will be back on TV in June hosting The Tonight Show at the earlier hour of 11:30, but it will mean the end of random Conan sightings here in New York since he’ll be moving to LA, and the end of certain juvenile (yet hilarious) bits from his Late Night show (somehow I doubt masturbating bears and dog puppets that threaten to poop on everything are allowed on The Tonight Show).

Luckily, I got to attend a taping of Late Night a couple of years ago. The guests he had for that episode weren’t the most exciting: Darryl Hammond from SNL, Andrew W.K. (who I thought was some sort of musician, but talked about some motivational speaking tour he was on), and an emo goth band that I’ve already forgotten the name of. But Conan was just as bizarre and hilarious in real life as he is on TV, and all the audience members got Late Night with Conan O’Brien t-shirts with “Audience Member” stitched onto the sleeve, which comes in handy. That way, if someone were to see my shirt and stop me to say, “OMG, were you on Late Night with Conan O’Brien?!”, before I started waxing poetic about how I was a guest on the show and am kind of a big deal, I would only have to glance at my sleeve to confirm that, “No, I was just an audience member.” Embarrassing situation avoided!

And yes, Conan is actually about nine feet tall in real life. And about seven of those feet are all leg.

So farewell Late Night, have a safe move out west Mr. O’Brien, and I look forward to seeing what you do on The Tonight Show (lord knows you can’t make it any lamer than it is now).

For your enjoyment, here’s one of my favorite Conan moments: The Walker, Texas Ranger lever.

Conan O'Brien and Walker Texas Ranger

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TV on DVD: Spaced

Somehow, despite all my media geekiness, I managed to never hear of the British television series Spaced until its recent release to DVD was mentioned in Entertainment Weekly (it originally aired in England back in 1999). Being both a lover of most things British and the off-center humor of creator/star Simon Pegg, I immediately added it to my Netflix queue.

Pegg himself (creator and star of the comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) describes Spaced as, “a cross between The Simpsons, The X-Files and Northern Exposure.” Throw in a comparison to Friends--before it sucked-- and that’s a pretty spot-on description. In a nutshell, the show revolves around the comedic misadventures of 20-something friends Tim and Daisy, who pretend to be a couple in order to rent an apartment that’s advertised as looking for a professional couple. Joining them are their tortured artist downstairs neighbor, Daisy’s weird friend who works in “fashion” (aka: a dry cleaner), Tim’s war-obsessed friend, and an alcoholic landlady, making each of the 14 episodes that compose the entire series unique and hilarious in a completely different way. Pop culture references fly at rapid fire (almost at a Gilmore Girls pace), so you have to be on your obscure reference-catching toes to get every joke that whizzes by.

As soon as I devoured the entire series, my first instinct was to place an order on Amazon for a set for me to have and to hold forever. But then I realized, there are more important things in life I need to waste my money on right now. Of course that didn’t stop me from adding it to my already in progress wish list for next Christmas. Don’t disappoint me, fat man!

Image courtesy of Flickr/ewen and donabel

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Oscar, Schmoscar: What’s the Real Best Picture of 2008?

As usual, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences chose to bestow Best Picture nominations on heavy dramas and biopics. But what was the real best picture to come out of 2008?

My pick would be Pixar’s WALL-E. The movie had pretty much everything you could want from a movie: a main character you could root for, a story with a message that isn’t overly preachy, a touching romance, plenty of comedic moments, and it’s stunning to look at. And the fact that all of this was possible in an animated movie about robots that had very little dialogue is amazing. I may be a bit biased, because like WALL-E himself, I’m a movie musical lover, and have seen his beloved Hello, Dolly! many times. So when WALL-E opened with the strains of a young Michael Crawford singing the “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” number, I was already sold.

But whether you got the Hello, Dolly! references or not, I can’t think of another movie in recent memory that was more engaging, heart-warming, or just outright enjoyable than WALL-E. I had my fingers crossed that it would cause a last-minute upset and be nominated for Best Picture, but alas, I’ll have to be satisfied to see it win Best Animated Feature and know that it really was 2008’s best picture. If Pixar continues to crank out movies of this caliber, I won’t have to start feeling weird that I’m getting too old to enjoy cartoons.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Reader: Book vs. Movie

Being a truly awesome person (aka: total dork), I like to read the books that are made into movies, then compare and contrast them, and usually bemoan the fact that the book was so much better than the movie. In most cases, it’s preferable to read the book first, otherwise you have a preconceived notion of who the characters are, what the story will be, etc., that you got from the movie. Circumstances being what they were, I wound up seeing the movie The Reader before reading the book (do as I say children, not as I do).

Despite the mixed reviews from the critics, I really enjoyed The Reader. Of all the movies up for Best Picture this year, The Reader was the one that really stuck with me a long time after seeing it. It’s filled with so many ambiguities and shades of grey, and a main character that, by all accounts, you should reprehend, but somehow I wound up feeling almost sympathetic toward. I found myself actually feeling relieved that I wasn’t a jury member at Kate Winslet’s character’s, Hanna Schmitz, trial, because I couldn’t come up with a clear verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty.” Then I remembered it was a fictitious movie, got over myself, and had some pie.

Bernhard Schlink’s novel The Reader is a decent read, though the text doesn’t flow as smoothly as it could, probably due to the fact it’s translated from German. But it’s a quick book to get through, and the movie, for once, stayed very faithful to the text. The one main difference I felt between the two mediums is that Hanna doesn’t seem as sympathetic a character in the book as she does in the movie. Since I had seen the movie first, I inevitably pictured Kate Winslet every time Hanna appeared on the page, but she still came across as much colder and more severe in the book.

The key moment of difference, for me, was during Hanna’s trial for her crimes during WWII. In both the movie and the book, she does a terrible job of defending herself and refuses to reveal evidence that may clear her of some accusations. But while the movie portrayed her as being confused and flustered by the proceedings, the book made her seem more stubborn and insubordinate than anything else. So when the final verdict is read in the movie and the book, I had a severely different reaction to each.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend reading The Reader before checking out the movie. Then after seeing the movie, you can ponder the ramifications of feeling sympathetic toward a Nazi war criminal while enjoying some delicious pie.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Revolutionary Road – I’d Like a Change of Address

I know I’m a bit late on this, since the Oscar nominations are out already, but I’m still reeling over the hype that Revolutionary Road was getting during all the pre-Oscar buzz. Did everyone who gave it a good review even bother to see it, or did they just see that it starred Kate and Leo and think, “Ooo…I really liked Titanic! Four stars!” When it was almost entirely shut out of the Oscar race (congrats to Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Shannon, the best part of the whole movie), and Kate Winslet was nominated for The Reader instead, movie critics everywhere were shocked. I was more shocked at the nonsense that happened at the Golden Globes: Nominations all over the place, and Winslet’s performance in The Reader was considered a supporting role.

In case you’re still not convinced, here are reasons for why Revolutionary Road is a lame movie:

  • It shows us nothing new: Life in 1950s suburbia is boring and isolating. Men in the ‘50s didn’t like working jobs they hated. Women in the ‘50s felt stifled and unfulfilled by being just mothers and homemakers. Unhappy people cannot make a marriage work. Unhappy people lash out and behave destructively.

    All of this may have been considered “revolutionary” before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, but since then, this sort of dissatisfaction with suburban ennui has been portrayed ad nauseum, and way better than this (check out Mad Men on AMC if you don’t believe me).

  • The most interesting part of the entire movie is Michael Shannon’s portrayal of a mentally unbalanced man, whose total screen time is less than 15 minutes. When the best part of a full-length movie lasts less than 15 minutes, something isn’t right.

  • There are unexplained inconsistencies, such as the random disappearance of Kate and Leo’s children.

  • It’s boring! And I love boring movies! Long, rambling movies that feature little action and lots of talking (think Merchant/Ivory films). But if I wanted to see unhappy married people yell about how unhappily married they are, I’d go visit any number of my high school classmates who got married right out of school. And I sure as hell wouldn’t stick around for two hours.