Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Attend the NY Premiere of ‘The Song of the Little Road’

*UPDATE* I've been informed that the NY screening may be pushed back from April 8, so I'll post the new date once I hear. In the meantime, you can still get a pair of free tickets at ItsJustMovies.com.


The craft of filmmaking has developed in leaps and bounds over the decades, so it’s sometimes easy to forget just how precarious a process it used to be. Not too long ago reels of highly flammable and easily damaged film were spliced together using a knife and glue, then stored on shelves in canisters where they would proceed to decay. Countless films have been lost in this way before they could make the conversion to digital, and several current filmmakers are determined to stop this from happening.

In the documentary The Song of the Little Road, filmmaker Priyanka Kumar takes a look at the films of renowned Indian writer/director Satyajit Ray, whose best-known work, the “Apu Trilogy,” was nearly lost due to disintegrating film. Modern-day cinema icons Martin Scorsese, Ismail Merchant, and Ravi Shankar provide insight on the importance of film preservation and what goes into creating a masterpiece.

The Song of the Little Road is premiering in New York City on Thursday, April 8 at the Tribeca Cinemas at 7:00, and producer/director Priyanka Kumar will be participating in a Q&A after the film. Advance tickets can be bought online here, or you can win a free pair of tickets over at ItsJustMovies.com. See you there!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trailer Review: Mother and Child

Release Date: May 7, 2010

Website: Official Mother and Child site

Starring: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits

My Review: I know that parent-children relationships can be complicated, but this is crazy. There is so much going on in the trailer for Mother and Child, so you better be on your toes:

A surprisingly old-looking Annette Bening pines for the child that she gave up years ago and never had any contact with. But then she has a flirtation with Jimmy Smits, which is bound to cheer anyone up.

Naomi Watts is a woman who doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long, possibly because she quickly runs out of men to sleep with, as she beds both her married neighbor and Samuel L. Jackson (um, what?) in the course of the two-minute trailer. She then finds herself pregnant, but she’s not sure by whom. Jackson declares that if the baby is his, he wants her to commit to staying with him (again: um, what?).

Kerry Washington is desperate to have a child, but she and her husband are having problems conceiving. They decide to go the adoption route, which is problematic in its own way as the woman carrying the child she wants to adopt is very demanding. Then her husband starts to have second thoughts about raising a child that isn’t biologically his, and that’s never going to lead to good things.

Whether these three stories connect in any way or not is up for debate. At first I thought Watts was supposed to be the child Bening gave up, but after watching the trailer a second time, I’m not sure that’s the case. In truth, I’m just too distracted by the possibility of Naomi Watts and Samuel L. Jackson having a sexual relationship (um, what?) to really focus on anything else that’s going on.

Would I Pay For It?: No. I might rent it, or just wait until it shows up on Lifetime. Or just skip it altogether and watch some of the less melodramatic movies that all these actors have appeared in.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Broadway Bodies: Dance 3, Looks 10

To even the most casual reader of my site, it’s pretty clear that I am a massive theater geek. Unfortunately, my theater geekiness stops short at being merely a fan of the performing arts, as my singing voice is no better than average, my acting abilities would probably only suit a David Mamet play (given my quick to anger temperament and my sailor’s vocabulary), and my dancing abilities are practically nil thanks to an inherent physical awkwardness and a love of carbs, candy, and chocolate. But I discovered a new class that not only allows me to be a theater geek, despite my lack of talents, but it also works to get my lazy ass in shape. Aces!

Broadway Bodies is a dance workout set to show tunes, including “Defying Gravity,” “Seasons of Love,” and “One (Singular Sensation).” Which probably sounds like one of the circles of hell to some people, but to us musical-loving freaks, it’s a perfect fit. There are a variety of classes on offer, including a basic core workout with a different theme each week, a Monday night class that focuses on the moves of Michael and Janet Jackson, and special programs, like the recent series that taught the entire choreography from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video (which I hear was, like, the best video of all time). There’s even a Broadway Bodies 101 class for newbies to learn the basic steps used before taking the plunge into a real class (and as a still quasi-newbie, I definitely recommend this primer, because the real classes move FAST!).

My main fear—and probably the main fear of any non-performer considering Broadway Bodies—was being in a class full of professional dancers and looking like a total fool. But the classes have a good blend of people, so there’s plenty of regular people (aka, not performers) just looking to have some fun with their fitness routine. Of course there are a handful of dancing divas in their tight bodysuits and dance shoes, but the majority are in shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers, clumsily, but gamely, following the instructor (all of which have been very kind and patient, so far).

The Broadway Bodies website lists their entire class schedule and allows you to reserve a space in the class(es) of your choice. Most classes don’t require a reservation and you can just drop in (the multi-part series classes being the exception), but each week there seems to be more and more people showing up, and with the dance studio space being limited, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to move to reservations-only soon. Most classes are $15, and you can save a few bucks if you buy a multi-class card or one of their dance series. Hopefully once they’ve been around a bit long, Broadway Bodies will have a better payment system in place, as that’s the one area they’re really lacking in right now. You can pay with cash or a check when you arrive for a class, or you can pre-pay via PayPal. As one who hates carrying cash, hasn’t written a check since online banking was invented, and thinks PayPal is kind of shady, I’m looking forward to the day when I can tell Broadway Bodies to simply charge my credit card for a month’s worth of classes.

A quick warning before you sign up for a class: Broadway Bodies holds their classes in Chelsea Studios, which is a legit performing arts space with multiple studios, so rehearsals and auditions for any number of plays, musicals, and dance exhibitions may be going on at the same time as your class. So don’t be deterred if you enter the lobby and see a bunch of actual artists who seem to know what they’re doing. Just look for a group of average-looking people in sneakers and you’ve found Broadway Bodies.

*Disclaimer: In case it wasn’t obvious, Broadway Bodies is only available in NYC, so if you don’t live here, sorry you just read all that.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Trailer Review: Eat, Pray, Love

Release Date: August 13, 2010

Website: Official Eat, Pray, Love site

Starring: Julia Roberts, James Franco, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis

My Review: Eat, Pray, Love was an insanely popular book a couple of years ago, and if you didn’t read it, chances are several women you know did. Written by Elizabeth Gilbert, the book is a memoir chronicling the soul-searching time she spent traveling in Rome, India, and Bali after she realizes her life needs a new direction. Many found her story inspiring, many found it patronizing. Now many will find it in theaters, starring Julia Roberts.

I have not read Eat, Pray, Love because I find the premise irritating and a shining example of how out-of-touch with reality some people can be. Practically everyone at one time or another has been completely frustrated or disappointed with their life’s direction, and felt the need for a change. Practically no one has the resources (be it time, money, or support) to just pack up and leave everything behind. Gilbert was able to leave her entire life behind for a year to have a whirlwind adventure in three exotic countries without a care for anyone else but herself. Nice work if you can get it, I guess, but the rest of the world has commitments, obligations, and bills to pay. So we’ll just have to take up knitting, instead.

As a memoir meant to inspire those without Gilbert’s resources to live life to the fullest, Eat, Pray, Love was a total turnoff for me. But as a movie, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it would be a fun escapist movie, where you could watch it, marvel at the gorgeous locations, fantasize to yourself “if only…” for the two hours, then get on with life. When I heard that Julia Roberts would be starring—queen of the escapist movies—I thought it sounded a bit more promising. Then the trailer was released, and my revulsion for Eat, Pray, Love was born anew.

Apparently we’re meant to feel sorry for Roberts, a sad, overly-privileged woman who married the wrong man and now has no idea how to make it on her own. But rather than facing her problems head-on and figuring out how to be an adult, she takes off for her pretentious pilgrimage, which involves gorging herself on genuine Italian pizza and getting it on with Javier Bardem. So there’s a great life lesson in there for all of us: When this old world starts getting you down, just shirk all your responsibilities and run away, and everything will turn out just fine. And if Italian pizza and Javier Bardem are out of your price range, there’s always Papa John’s and the flirty delivery guy to make your life complete.

Would I Pay For It?: No. Eat, Pray, Love makes me want to vomit, curse, hate.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Conan O’Brien: Matinee Idol?

Even if you’re not a fan of Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, or late-night TV, you would have to have been living under a rock the past couple of months to not know about the kerfuffle that went down at NBC. And whether you’re Team Coco, Team Jay, or Team Don’t Care, the rules are the same: Leno is back hosting The Tonight Show and, as part of his hefty severance package, O’Brien is banned from appearing on television until September 2010.

Luckily for Team Coco, television isn’t the only entertainment medium available.

After taking a couple of months off to do whatever a major celebrity does after being fired from their dream job, O’Brien announced that he would be taking his former staff on the road for a live tour, aptly dubbed “The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour.” What exactly this live show will entail is anyone’s guess—it could just be two hours of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog telling poop jokes—but that didn’t stop O’Brien’s legion of loyal fans from snapping up tickets the instant they went on sale. The tour kicks off on April 12 (in Eugene, OR, of all places) and will go for three months, making stops in several major (and some less-than-major) U.S. cities.

But why stop there? Let’s take this to the movies! Now that the tour has proven to be such a lucrative move, there’s talk of making it into a documentary feature. Talks are still in early stages, but apparently there is a studio interested in providing the financing and a director interested in, well, directing. It looks extremely likely that we’ll eventually see The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour: The Movie (in 3D?!).

Clearly, if anyone knows how to take lemons and make lemonade, it’s Conan O’Brien. Losing his hosting gig on The Tonight Show had to be both devastating and embarrassing, but he’s making the most of the cards he was dealt. It’s also admirable that he hasn’t forgotten that he’s not the only one who lost his job; his entire staff did. By taking his show on the road, he’s giving opportunities to writers, actors, and musicians who were given the boot with him, and hopefully a movie will offer work to his technical crew.

Now all he needs is his own radio show to truly prove that television isn’t the only place he can be funny. May I suggest an early-morning talk show with sidekick Andy Richter for all the commuters out there? “Coco and the Marshmallow in the Morning” sounds both hilarious and delicious.

And Mr. O’Brien, when the time for your book deal comes, I am available for ghostwriting. In the meantime, I’ll see you and your hair at Radio City Music Hall on June 1.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

Rated: PG

Website: Official Alice in Wonderland site

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, voices of Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen

My Review: Alice, oh Alice. I wanted to love you. I was predisposed to love you. I love your original stories, your 1951 Disney animated classic, and especially your trippy 1985 made-for-TV series. But alas, I do not love you. Though, I do not hate you. I do not anything you, because you are about as mediocre and run-of-the-mill as you could possibly be.

For those who, like me, were instantly excited about this new version of Alice when they thought they would get to see Tim Burton’s darkly weird take on the classic tale, prepare for disappointment. Rather than retelling the familiar story, Burton has created a new story for Alice. She’s now 19 and quite dissatisfied with the stuffy upper-class adulthood she’s being pushed into. Once again, she follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole to Wonderland (or “Underland,” as it’s supposedly actually called, though never clearly explained why). All the familiar characters are there (and some less familiars, taken from the less popular Alice book, Through the Looking Glass), but Alice doesn’t remember them, and is convinced it is all just a dream that she’ll soon awaken from.

Her spotty memory is a bit of a problem, as everyone has been anxiously awaiting her return. Since she left her original visit to Wonderland, the evil Red Queen has taken over, decimating the land, and causing everyone to live in a state of constant terror. A prophetic scroll has appeared from somewhere, deeming Alice to be the only one who can save them all and restore Wonderland to its former glory. Naturally, not believing that any of it is real makes her a bit hesitant to get involved in the saving of Wonderland, causing an upset for the locals.

I find myself hard-pressed to find anything to say about this new Alice in Wonderland, because I feel like precious little actually happened in the movie. So much time is spent on Alice wandering about in a daze, wondering “is this real, is it not, have I been here before, etc.” and on various Wonderland characters arguing with each other over whether she’s the “right” Alice or not (the Mad Hatter says ‘yes,’ the Dormouse says ‘no’). With such a merry band of weirdos to work with, I don’t understand why Burton turned the movie into a drawn-out meeting of a high school debate team.

There are also several bizarre character directions taken (and I mean nonsensical-bizarre, not Burton-bizarre). As the White Queen, the Red Queen’s nicer sister and the true ruler of Wonderland, Anne Hathaway looks stunning, but acts like Snow White on acid. She speaks in a lilting little-girl voice, while constantly floating her arms around, as though she’s mesmerized by their existence. Every scene she appears in is strangely distracting, in the worst sort of way. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is also taken in an odd direction. Rather than appearing loopy and, well, mad, he’s more like a manic depressive who forgot to pick up his prescription. And I hate the costume choice that was made for him; the pale face, orange fright wig, and wonky green contact lenses did absolutely nothing for me.

The best parts of the movie seem to involve the non-human characters. The Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) is fantastic, as he smoothly melts in and out of scenes, dispensing his own special brand of nonsense wisdom. Alan Rickman’s hookah-smoking Caterpillar is underutilized, but is a standout when he does appear to offer insight in the form of riddles. I even enjoyed the appearance of the Bandersnatch, a snarling beast in the Red Queen’s army who has no voice, more than most of the speaking characters. At least the Bandersnatch actually does stuff!

Bottom Line: Surely not the worst version of Alice in Wonderland out there, this is still a far cry from the best. And it’s quite possibly one of the least Tim Burton-y of the Tim Burton movies, which does is a great disservice. Given his early-career love of the dark, twisted, and macabre, Alice seemed like it would be right up his alley, but his direction went astray somewhere. I don’t know if he tried too hard to make the story his own, or if he lost his edge in keeping everything family-friendly, or what the hell happened, but this trip to Wonderland was one I wasn’t disappointed to discover was all just a dream.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2010 Oscars Post-Mortem

Yes, I am way late on this and you’ve already read dozens of Oscars re-caps and are completely over the whole thing. That’s what I get for having the audacity to go on vacation during Oscar week. So I’ll keep this brief since it’s time for us all to move on with life.

As far as my predictions go, I didn’t score 100% like last year, but getting 5 out of the 9 categories I guessed is respectable enough. At least it is for me, I don’t particularly care what anyone else thinks. I’m thrilled to have been wrong about Avatar taking Best Picture and James Cameron for Best Director, which is where all the early buzz was, until The Hurt Locker pulled into the lead. I still don’t know if I would consider The Hurt Locker the best movie to come out of 2009 (I honestly wasn’t that jazzed about most of the 10 nominees), but anything winning over Avatar is fine with me.

I’m very happy for Kathryn Bigelow’s director win for several reasons:

  1. She expertly crafted a very difficult movie and deserved to win.
  2. She took a huge step for women in entertainment by being the first female director to win (you know, in case you hadn’t heard).
  3. She got to beat James Cameron, who I have always thought was kind of an ass (yes, the man produces quality films, but he is kind of a dick).

Having Barbra Streisand present the award was annoyingly staged and the whole buildup of “this could be the first year a female or black director wins…” wore thin as the night went on. I’m sure the three white men who were also nominated felt that their recognition was a bit slighted, and rightly so. Then the orchestra played Helen Reddy’s girl-power anthem “I Am Woman” as Bigelow walked off the stage, and I wondered when we could stop focusing on her being a female director, and just recognize her as a talented one.

I can’t even get into Sandra Bullock winning. I like her most of her movies well enough, and she seems like a very nice, down-to-earth lady (by celebrity standards, anyway), but she is not an award-winning caliber actress. The fact that she won over Gabourey Sidibe is kind of a crime. So…yeah…she did look pretty, though.

On the whole, I didn’t dislike the ceremony as much as most other critics and movie bloggers did. I thought Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were OK (not the best, though certainly not the worst hosts in Oscar history). I found their stagey awkward banter with the audience at the beginning kind of funny, and the shot of them in a dual Snuggie later on cracked me up. (I still find Snuggie jokes amusing. I will not apologize for that.) I do agree that the night went on way too long and certain elements could have been cut. For example: I was under the impression that the performances of the nominated Best Songs were cut to save time…then some dance troupe unnecessarily performed to the nominated Best Scores. And I’m saying that as a huge fan of musical theater, but the Oscars are not meant to be musical theater.

My advice to the Academy for next year’s show is pretty simple:

  • Go back to only nominating 5 movies for Best Picture. The whole 10 nominees thing was just ridiculous.
  • Start recognizing that comedic actors are worthy of awards, too. Have you not noticed that they’re the only ones who can read from the teleprompter, yet not sound like they are reading from the teleprompter?
  • If you’re questioning whether a particular segment will be a superfluous time suck, then you’ve already answered your question.
  • Get Neil Patrick Harris to host. In fact, all awards shows ever should get him to host. When time travel becomes possible, we should go back in time and have him host past awards shows.

And one last request, but this one is for all the filmmakers out there: Make more compelling movies. 2009 was kind of a weak year for dramatic movies, and until Oscar starts looking at some of the great comedies that come out each year, the dramas really need to step it up.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

Rated: R

Website: Official Hot Tub Time Machine site

Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke

My Review: I was lucky to be able to attend an advanced screening of Hot Tub Time Machine, and a studio rep informed us that the movie we were about to see was not the final cut, so it’s a bit unfair for me to review it already.

Anyway, here’s my review:

So there’s this hot tub…but it’s also a time machine…and much in the vein of Snakes on a Plane, you know from the title alone what you’re going to get from the movie. And if you find yourself wondering why such a blunt self-referential title is used, you’re already thinking way too hard.

Hot Tub Time Machine is a bawdy comedy about three 40-something guys who have been friends since childhood, but now their lives kind of suck. Adam (John Cusack) is a control freak who can’t make a relationship work. Nick (Craig Robinson) is a failed musician who now works at a doggy day spa. Lou (Rob Corddry) is a raging alcoholic, and that’s probably the least of his problems. In an attempt the cheer themselves up and recapture some of the glory of their youth, they head out to a ski lodge (with Adam’s 20-year-old nephew, Jacob (played by Clark Duke), in tow) where they spent a great weekend together in 1986.

Unfortunately, much like their lives, the ski lodge they remember so fondly also kind of sucks. But one soak in an unknowingly time-bending hot tub sends them back to that infamous weekend in 1986, Jacob included (who technically shouldn’t even exist at that time). Hopes of changing their pasts to improve their present lives are quickly dashed when a mysterious repairman (a Chevy Chase cameo) appears and warns them that changing just one thing could screw up everything in the future. So they set out to recreate the events of that weekend—with Jacob acting as a sort of barometer of how they’re affecting the present time—and eventually make their way back to 2010.

The entire movie is basically a love letter to cheesy 1980’s comedies, and the people who adore them, clichés and all. The comedy is pretty much as lowbrow as you can get (there’s a gross-out sight gag for every possible bodily fluid), and the couple of plot twists are pretty weak and easy to see coming, but that doesn’t keep Hot Tub from being a fun way to spend 90 minutes. There are references to tons of ‘80s movies, including most of Cusack’s own past works, the soundtrack is as good as that “Hits of the ‘80s” mix tape you have in your car (don’t deny it, we all have one), and there are a lot of moments that are simply laugh-out-loud hilarious (like a running gag involving a severed arm).

The three leads couldn’t have been cast any better, and they all look like they had a blast making the movie. It’s been years since Cusack has starred in a full-blown comedy, and after seeing him in this, I hope he continues the trend. Robinson is probably best known as Darryl the warehouse worker on The Office, and he makes the most out of the opportunity to be a lead player. Corddry excels at playing angry losers, and expertly makes Lou a character you would pity, if only he wasn’t such a jerk. Newcomer Clark Duke (who IMDB tells me has done most of his work on the TV series Greek) holds his own well when pitted against these three powerhouses, especially in the multitude of scenes where he plays the straight man to Corddry’s insanity. All he needs is a quirky comedy with Michael Cera to really make his name known.

Bottom Line: Hot Tub definitely isn’t for everyone, and you have to be in the right sort of mood to find it entertaining. There are plenty of flaws to pick out if you want to: Minor characters are introduced and then vanish without explanation, dates and character ages are played with loosely (using Hot Tub math, 1986 is 20 years before 2010), the same outdated Michael Jackson joke that’s in the trailer is still in the movie (I hope they cut that out before the theatrical release), and while I’m no prude when it comes to using colorful language, the f-bomb is used so often as an adjective/adverb, I began to wonder if the screenwriters knew any other modifiers. But as a fun, vulgar, and preposterous comedy that never takes itself too seriously, Hot Tub Time Machine is a great time. And you certainly can’t accuse it of misleading advertising.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Trailer Review: The Joneses

Release Date: April 16, 2010

Website: Official The Joneses site

Starring: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Glenne Headly, Lauren Hutton

My Review: The Joneses answers the question of why the grass is always greener on the other side: Because it’s specifically marketed to be that way!

David Duchovny and Demi Moore star as “married” couple Steve and Kate Jones, who move into an affluent neighborhood with their two perfect teenage kids. Everything about their family is enviable; they have the right clothes, cars, gadgets, electronics, sporting equipment, etc. And they gladly share all their swell stuff with their new neighbors, making the Joneses the toast of the town and the one family that all the other families aspire to be like.

Too bad it’s all fake. Steve and Kate aren’t married, and their kids aren’t theirs. They’re all employees of a gonzo marketing corporation who finds the best way to sell expensive non-necessities to the upper middle class is to make them envy what someone else has. There are several Jones families who move from neighborhood to neighborhood—and rotate family members—all in the name of creating “I gotta have it” fever.

The Joneses looks like it could be a both hilarious and biting satire about product commercialization and rampant American consumerism, which is why I’m a little disappointed that a romantic comedy element is thrown in. During their time playing the perfect family, Steve develops real feelings for Kate, while she is all about the job. So Steve sets out to woo Kate, and some wackiness ensues. Which is all well and good, but let’s hear some more about those golf clubs.

Would I Pay For It?: No, because then I would be no better than the crazy consumers in the movie. OK, that's a lie. I just don't think it'll be worth $12.