Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trailer Review: The Town

Release Date: September 10, 2010

Website: Official The Town site

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively

My Review: Hey, Jon Hamm has a large role in a nationally released movie! Here’s my $12, and can you please direct me to the concession stand?

OK, fine. If Mr. Hamm’s chiseled chin isn’t enough to get you interested in a movie, The Town has a lot of other things going for it:

* It’s a twisty crime thriller, which is the best kind of crime thriller there is. There are bank robbers in nightmare-inducing nun costumes, there’s an FBI agent determined to catch them, and there’s a bank manager who is traumatized after being taken hostage. And when these three stories collide, it will be epic.

* It’s directed and co-written by Ben Affleck. Say what you will about Affleck’s acting skills, but he’s proven that he can more than deftly direct (Gone, Baby, Gone) and write (Good Will Hunting) a good movie.

* It stars actors who can act, rather than relying on big-name, but ultimately vapid, “stars.” Jon Hamm is famous for a TV series (Mad Men), Rebecca Hall does mostly indie flicks and smaller roles alongside bigger names (Please Give, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and Jeremy Renner just became known last year when he appeared in a small war movie that happened to hit it big (The Hurt Locker). And yes, Ben Affleck is in it, too (doing his beloved working class Boston accent), but hopefully when working in a movie that’s obviously a passion project for him, he’ll bring his “A” game.

* The trailer reminds me of The Departed. That may sound like lazy filmmaking, but The Departed was excellent, and striving for excellence is never lazy.

Would I Pay For It?: Yes. I’m surprised I haven’t pre-ordered already.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Quest for the Best: Sweet’s Salt Water Taffy

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Website: Official Sweet Candy Company site

Price: $3.99 for 8 oz custom mix boxes, or $6.99 to create your own 2.5 lb custom mix bag

My Review: So, I sometimes watch The Food Network when I’m bored or when they’re airing a show that focuses on desserts and candy. Because I REALLY like desserts and candy. So I was all about their new series Kid in a Candy Store, which is basically some guy going around the country to various restaurants, bakeries, and factories to sample and highlight unique and/or quality sweets. The host is kind of annoying, but in the first episode he visited the Treats Truck here in NYC, so obviously the show runners have good taste.

In that same episode he also visited the Sweet Candy Company factory in Salt Lake City, where they make salt water taffy in all kinds of crazy flavors. While talking with a factory manager, she claimed that their recipe makes the taffy less sticky than traditional taffy, and therefore less likely to rip your fillings out while enjoying it. So obviously hearing about taffy that comes in desirable flavors AND that won’t wreck my dental work gave me a serious case of candy envy. I needed that taffy, but I had no desire to go to Salt Lake City to get it (for a number of reasons).

Luckily for me, this is 2010, and anything you could possibly want is never more than a few mouse clicks away. You can order Sweet’s taffy right on their website, in either custom mixes that they put together, or by creating your own custom blend. The shipping cost was a bit steep (around $10 for ground shipping), so I figured if I was going to place an order, I may as well make it count, and I ordered what I assumed was plenty of taffy. But it turned out to be more like a ridiculous ton of taffy. Oops.

Thankfully, taffy doesn’t really go bad (does it?), so I now have a huge bowl of it in my apartment to slowly make my way through. I do find it less sticky than other taffies, and most of the flavors are pretty good. It’s definitely much better than the stuff that comes from Atlantic City (sorry traditionalists). Here’s my scientific breakdown of the flavors:

Old School Mix

Vanilla – Pretty good creamy vanilla flavor, not overly artificial tasting.

Chocolate – Kind of tastes like a Tootsie Roll, which isn’t bad, but kind of bland.

Strawberry – Pretty mild taste, so while not bad, it could use an extra kick of strawberry.

Cinnamon – This is one of my favorites, but I love nearly all things cinnamon (the fact that it’s becoming more and more difficult each year to find bags of cinnamon hearts at Valentine’s Day time is just making an already depressing day even more so). It’s not too hot, but definitely has that cinnamon candy taste to it, and is one of the more flavorful options.

Peppermint – Also a good one, it tastes like a palate-cleansing after-dinner mint. But not gross and gummy, like actual after-dinner mints.

Malt Shop Mix

Banana Split – Needs more banana, less split. There are actually three flavors mashed in here: chocolate, strawberry, and banana. The chocolate is a bit too dominate, the strawberry is barely there, and the banana isn’t banana-y enough, which I found disappointing since banana is my favorite flavor of Laffy Taffy.

Cherry Cola – This one is my absolute favorite. It actually tastes just like cherry cola (which is my favorite soda), and it almost has a fizziness to it. Yum.

Chocolate Shake – This one tastes just like the regular chocolate taffy, which is probably exactly what it is. Adding “Shake” to the title isn’t going to fool me, Sweet Candy Company. I’m a college-educated candy connoisseur, thank you very much.

Root Beer Float – Another good one, though the soda flavor isn’t as spot-on as Cherry Cola.

My Custom Mix

Bubble Gum – I like this one, but it could use more flavor. I was hoping for something really old school bubble-gummy, like Bazooka Joe or Hubba Bubba flavor, but it’s more mild than that.

Watermelon – This is apparently one of Sweet’s biggest sellers, and it’s a got a pretty good watermelon flavor, though I think most of the appeal comes from them making it look like an actual slice of watermelon.

Caramel – Tastes just like a soft caramel chew, and is less sticky than other flavors. One of the better flavors in my bunch.

Caramel Apple – Not bad, but could use more apple. The apple taffy is surrounded by the caramel taffy, so you get more caramel flavor than anything else. I would like this better if it had more of the apple tartness in it.

Red Licorice – I like this one, as it tastes kind of like a Twizzler, but less so. I’d probably like it more if it tasted just like a Twizzler, but then I guess I should just go get a bag of Twizzlers.

Bottom Line: So there you go; more information than you ever cared to know about Sweet’s taffy. If anyone wants to go in on my next order to split shipping costs, let me know. Knowing me and my sugar habits, I’ll probably be ready to order more by next week.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trailer Review: Never Let Me Go

Release Date: September 15, 2010

Website: Official Never Let Me Go site

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins

My Review: I watched the trailer for Never Let Me Go when it was first released a few weeks ago, and I immediately had to read the book that the movie is based on, because I had to know what was going on in that trailer and I wasn’t waiting until September (when the movie opens) to find out.

For the past few years I had seen stacks of the novel in book stores (it always seems to be on the ‘Recommended Fiction’ table at The Strand), but ignoring that sage bit of advice, I judged the book by its cover and always walked right past it. The cover, with its eerie child’s face, coupled with the sappy-sounding title let me to assume it was a story about having difficulties bearing children or about losing a child in some way, which—to put it simply—are not generally things I like to read about. So on the shelf the book remained.

Then I watched the movie trailer, and after those two and a half minutes I had a million questions. What was going on at that boarding school? Why aren’t the students familiar with the outside world? What are these “donations” that are mentioned? How can you tell if a person has a soul? Why is everything shrouded in mystery? These were all things I had to know, and I had to know now.

So I read the book, and of course it wasn’t about what I assumed it was about, because proverbs are always right (except that one about a watched pot; it WILL eventually boil, I promise). It’s hard to talk about Never Let Me Go without giving away major plot points, since everything is slowly revealed piece by piece throughout the story. But in a nutshell, it’s the story of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, three friends who attend a mysterious boarding school together in the isolated English countryside, but whose education is a bit unorthodox, since they know from a very young age that they aren’t like other people in the world. As they grow older and leave school they experience many of the trying life events that everyone does—unrequited love, a longing for a sense of purpose—but they have a fate that’s already been determined for them, and nothing they do is going to change it.

When watching the trailer again, I was really impressed with how everything looked and felt like it did in the book. The school, the characters, the overall tone, everything rang true to me. Which makes me cautiously optimistic that Never Let Me Go may be one of those rare endangered animals: A movie adaptation that remains faithful to its source. I just hope I’m not as wrong about that as I was about the book cover.

Would I Pay For It?: While it’s probably not necessary to see Never Let Me Go on the big screen to feel its full impact, there’s a good chance I’ll actually pay to see it in the theater, if not just to see a movie I think I’ll enjoy, then to support the future creation of movies that are good, and not just big and loud.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Trailer Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Release Date: September 24, 2010

Website: Official It’s Kind of a Funny Story site

Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola David, Lauren Graham, Aasif Mandvi, Jeremy Davies

My Review: If you ever watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and thought to yourself, “this movie would be so much better if it were more lighthearted,” then It’s Kind of a Funny Story may be the movie for you.

Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a depressed teen who checks himself into a psychiatric hospital in hopes that a brief stay there will help him get a grip on things. But he’s not hide-the-knives-depressed, he’s quirky-indie-movie-depressed, so don’t fear that this will be a total downer. When checking in, Craig is informed that the teen floor is under construction, so he’ll have to stay with all the adults, who are (naturally) an interesting band of merry misfits.

Leading the pack is Bobby (Zach Galifianakis in all his bearded glory), a man who on the surface appears to have nothing wrong with him, though he claims his children are better off without him. There’s also another teen staying there, Noelle (Emma Roberts), who catches Craig’s eye and starts to bring him out of his funk. Between forging friendships with the other patients and a budding new romance, Craig learns more about life and how to deal with it, hopefully in ways that will prevent any future self-imposed institutionalizations.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story looks like it could be a cute movie, though the blithe tone it seems to be taking with issues like teenage depression and psychiatric hospitals is a little…unsettling? Insulting? I’m not sure exactly, but for a movie that wants to be based in reality—and not a comical farce—it seems like it could touch on some of its themes with a bit more gravitas, rather then telling a coming-of-age story mental-ward style.

Would I Pay For It?: I’ll probably eventually rent it simply because Zach Galifianakis and Lauren Graham are in it, but the trailer left me with an overall feeling of ‘meh.’

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Bet I Can Pick More 2010 Emmy Winners Than You

The 2010 Emmy Award nominations were announced this morning, and it’s a nice grab bag of old reliables and new surprises. Glee snapped up all sorts of nominations, despite the fact that, while fun, the show is a hot mess of inconsistency and sloppy storytelling. Long-time fan favorite Friday Night Lights finally gets some recognition, as do the women of Mad Men. The Office is still considered a primo comedy despite its lackluster season (please, please end it when Steve Carell leaves), and someone still thinks Jon Cryer and Two and a Half Men are noteworthy. Which they aren’t.

Here are the (main category) nominees and my half-assed predictions on who will win on August 29:

Best Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Modern Family
Nurse Jackie
The Office
30 Rock

Other than Nurse Jackie, I actually watch all of these shows. I’m off to a good start! I’ve already detailed all the problems with Glee, and The Office just finished its weakest season. I still enjoy Curb, but its polarizing brand of humor probably doesn’t appeal to all. That leaves old favorite 30 Rock and new favorite Modern Family. Modern Family had a killer freshman season and is more consistently funny than 30 Rock, so I’d go with them.

Best Drama Series
Breaking Bad
The Good Wife
Mad Men
True Blood

Of these choices, I only watch Breaking Bad and Mad Men, so there goes my streak. (I’m slowly making my way through the seasons of Dexter, so yes I know how awesome it is, I just don’t get Showtime. So everyone can quit telling me how “freakin’ good” it is.) The final season of Lost was apparently kind of a let down (according to everyone I know who watched it, which is everyone I know other than myself). The Good Wife and True Blood just aren’t the same caliber as the rest of the nominees, no matter how good they may be. The last season of Dexter is touted as having “reinvigorated the series,” but the last seasons of Breaking Bad and Mad Men were phenomenal. Any of the three could win, but I’d pick Breaking Bad. That show just keeps getting deeper and darker and pushing the limits to how far it can go.

Best Comedy Actress
Lea Michele, Glee
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Toni Collette, United States of Tara
Tina Fey, 30 Rock

I’m going to toss out Lea Michele because her character is not funny, but annoying, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edie Falco because I can. That leaves the final three. Amy Poehler would be my choice, for helping to bring Parks and Recreation to new heights after a mediocre first season, but people apparently love Toni Collette in Tara. I wasn’t a huge fan of the handful of episodes I saw, but I also don’t think Glee deserves awards, so clearly I don’t know anything. Tina Fey has been here and done that, so Collette will probably win.

Best Comedy Actor
Steve Carell, The Office
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matthew Morrison, Glee
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Tony Shalhoub, Monk

So Monk is apparently still on TV… Nerds everywhere won’t stop going on about Jim Parsons, so maybe this will be his year. Because everyone knows the Emmy voters are a bunch of nerds. (OK, I don’t know that, but they probably are.)

Best Drama Actor
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Matthew Fox, Lost

Jon Hamm, I love you, and I love that you make me care about a character who is, beneath his well-cut suits and skinny ties, a pretty horrible man. And Michael C. Hall, I’ve loved you since your Six Feet Under days. But this award has to belong to Bryan Cranston. The rest of you…enjoy the buffet!

Best Drama Actress
Glenn Close, Damages
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU
January Jones, Mad Men
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

I’d love to throw my support behind Mad Men, since it’s the only show represented here that I watch, but January Jones is kind of awful (so is Betty, so she kind of works in the role, but I’m still not handing her an award for her awfulness). So I don’t really know here…maybe Glenn Close again. Or one of the other ladies. There’s a very good chance it’ll be Glenn Close, or one of the other ladies…

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
Sharon Gless, Burn Notice
Rose Byrne, Damages
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men

Now these are the Mad Men women I’m glad to see! I hope one of them wins, with Christina Hendricks as my personal favorite, but Elisabeth Moss as the more likely choice thanks to Peggy’s progress in the past season.

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
Jane Lynch, Glee
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Holland Taylor, Two And A Half Men

So everyone is in agreement that Jane Lynch is winning this category, right? OK, moving on…

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Martin Short, Damages
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Michael Emerson, Lost
John Slattery, Mad Men
Andre Braugher, Men Of A Certain Age

And Aaron Paul is finally going to win for playing the most sympathetic and heartbreaking drug addict/dealer ever, right?

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Chris Colfer, Glee
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Jon Cryer, Two And A Half Men

Chris Colfer, you are the best thing about Glee, but Modern Family had such a strong first season, I’ll bet one of them wins. But which one? I prefer Eric Stonestreet’s Cameron, since Jesse Tyler Ferguson is more of a straightman (no pun intended) and Ty Burrell often veers over the line of lovable quirkiness to utter stupidity. But the Emmy could go to any one of the three. And if it goes to Jon Cryer, I’m going to hurl my TV out the window and start reading those things made out of paper with words on them. You know, magazines…like TV Guide…oh dammit all!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Theater Review: Everyday Rapture

Location: American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42 Street, NY, NY

Website: Official Roundabout Theatre site

Starring: Sherie Rene Scott, Lindsay Mendez, Betsy Wolfe, Eamon Foley

My Review: Everyday Rapture is a one-woman show that just happens to feature three other people. Creator and star Sherie Rene Scott dominates the stage for 90 minutes, eagerly and breathlessly sharing the story of her personal journey from a sheltered Mennonite upbringing in rural Kansas to pursuing her dream of Broadway fame(ish). Well, she shares some of that journey, and just glosses over the rest. Too bad “the rest” would have been more interesting to hear about.

Part memoir, part cabaret act, and all Scott, Rapture attempts to convey the various inner and outer turmoil that occurs when pursuing a lifestyle that goes against everything that’s been ingrained in you. Scott uses a variety of theatrical devices to tell her tale, including monologues (comedic and dramatic), songs (originals and covers), and multi-media presentations (Jesus slideshow). Some work better than others, but the problem with the show isn’t her presentation, it’s what she chooses to present.

Rather than sharing a full story arc, Scott tells a handful of very specific tales that happened along the way. But by leaving out other key elements, the contexts of these tales tend to get lost, and therefore lack the emotional punch they should have. Particularly disappointing is how she barely shares anything about the Mennonite religion (other than referring to it as “Amish-lite”) or what growing up in that culture is like. Presumably, the only people who know a lot about the Mennonites are actual Mennonites, and seeing how they’re scarce in New York City, the bulk of the audience would benefit from a brief lesson in Mennonite 101. Not knowing why the religion frowns upon those working in the performing arts makes it difficult to completely sympathize with the choice she had to make.

Scott also barely mentions her family, other than a story involving her favorite cousin who was shunned for being a homosexual. But there’s little mention of her parents or other close relatives, or how they reacted when she decided to come to NYC to make it as an actress. In fact, her entire trip to NYC is overlooked. One moment she’s a teenager planning how to make the big move after visiting the city during her rumspringa (which apparently the Mennonites practice), then in the next moment she’s a Broadway “semi-star” (her phrase) with an admirer posting fan videos about her on YouTube. So, how did you make the move to New York, Sherie? How did your family react? What were some of your early jobs? How did you struggle with your Mennonite upbringing in Manhattan? None of these questions are answered, or even touched upon, and any one of them would have been more interesting than the mawkish tale about her fabulous present-day life she ends the show with.

While a flawed show overall, there are moments in Rapture that truly shine, like the aforementioned tale of Scott’s beloved cousin and her youthful confusion over his condemned lifestyle. Her musical tributes to Jesus, Judy Garland, and Mr. Rogers are both hilarious and heartfelt, and the sketch with her young YouTube fan is fun, though runs a bit long. Her two backup singers—the “Mennonettes”—are a welcome sight whenever they appear, because not only are they talented performers, they also take some of the focus off of Scott for a bit (90 straight minutes of her bubbly babbling would be a lot to take, even for the most devoted fan).

The main reason I wanted to see Rapture is because I actually am a fan of Sherie Rene Scott. I saw her fabulous turn in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, have listened to her on the Aida soundtrack, heard she was the best part of the dismal The Little Mermaid, and even saw her years ago in a short-lived Off-Broadway musical comedy adaptation of Debbie Does Dallas (don’t ask). She has a great voice and impeccable comedic timing, so I was eager to learn about her crazy trip to where she is now. But not only was a disappointed in the gaping holes in her narrative, but in her herself. For the entire performance she was overly bouncy and twitchy, often feigning being scatterbrained and losing her place, as if to cry out, “Look at how charmingly befuddled I am!” I give her credit for maintaining the shtick for the entire show, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating. The only actor I’ve ever seen successfully pull off charming befuddlement is Hugh Grant…15 years ago. There’s something sort of desperate about a 40-year-old actor who feels the need to behave like a hyper teenager to endear herself to the audience.

Bottom Line: Everyday Rapture laid roots in an Off-Broadway production last year, but as a last minute replacement in Roundabout Theatre’s current season (taking the place of Lips Together, Teeth Apart), it’s proved to not be quite ready for a Broadway stage. Scott is obviously thrilled to be there, sharing a passion project that she’s poured so much of herself into, but her enthusiasm for the material never really transfers to the audience. It could be a case of a show that just needs some more reworking, or it could be that—much like therapy—memoirs are rarely as interesting to others as they are to the subject herself.