The Big C:: Another Twisted Showtime Woman

Don’t get me wrong, I love the twisted women of Showtime: Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) of Weeds, Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) of Nurse Jackie and Tara Gregson (Toni Colette) of The United States of Tara.  Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) is in very good and very well written company.  They all have their reasons for throwing sanity to the wind, Nancy has had a hard time of it since her husband died, Jackie is a New York City ER nurse and drug addict and Tara has dissociative identity disorder and teenagers.

In The Big C, Cathy Jamison, a school teacher, has skin cancer (cancer being “the big C”).  As of the second episode (third one airs tonight), she has yet to tell anyone in her life about her diagnosis.  Instead she’s kicked her husband, (Oliver Platt), out of the house for being a big kid (and not in a good way), banned her bratty teenage son, (Gabriel Basso), from soccer camp so she can spend more time with him, tried to give her crazy, homeless brother, (John Benjamin Hickey), money and taken a fat and sassy summer school student, (Gabourey Sidibe) under her wing in an effort to get her to stop smoking and lose some weight by paying her $100 for every pound she loses.  She even tries to befriend a cranky elderly neighbor, (Phyllis Somerville), after calling her the C word for calling code enforcement on the construction of her pool.

Although I like Laura Linney, I have found something a little weird in her performance.  It’s not quite smugness, although there seems a little bit of that too.  It’s this air of effort that seems unnecessary, like she’s pretending to act.  It’s this gently superior smile that is ever so condescending.  She laughs in a slightly unnatural way sometimes and other times she is raw and real.  This weird element in her acting comes and goes and when it’s gone she’s light as air.  However when it’s there, my stomach churns and I start to feel an eye roll coming on. She is alternately bemused by having cancer and devastated by it (although precious little of the latter).  She is alternately loving toward her family and then strangely cruel.  I feel the writers are getting away with her erratic mood swings by saying, “she has cancer, all normal behavior is off the table.”  I’m not in disagreement with that, but I am in disagreement with the fact that they never showed us what she was like before so all of her rebel actions just seem like what she’s really like.  We needed to see uptight Cathy before crazy Cathy came out to play.  She seems far too at home in the let loose world that she claims to have missed out on.  Even the opening credits of her swimming fully clothed while her husband and son watch her with shrugged shoulder looks on their faces are designed to make you think she’s “gone off the deep end”.

I will keep watching though, I like the premise.  I just hope that these snags are just products of the show trying to find it’s feet, although the other shows in the twisted women brigade had no such trouble and were aces from the start.


The Switch:: Very Sweet and Funny

At the Arclight Pasadena an usher introduces the movie.  At all Arclight theaters they do this, but I saw The Swith at the Arclight in Pasadena because I live in Pasadena.  Our usher told us that she’d seen The Swith and liked it much more than she thought she would.  I thought, “Really?  Because the ads look pretty straight forward.”  I was right.  Fortunately, I expected to like it and I did, very much (but not more than I expected to).  It was charming and funny and realistic despite a fairly unrealistic premis: guy and girl best friends for six years, she wants a baby and hires a donor, guy gets really drunk at the incemination party and accientally dumps sperm of said donor and has to improvise.  It was well written and Jason Bateman walked that thin line of bieng a loveable pesimistic weirdo.  He wasn’t really that weird, but a lot of characters in the moive seemed to think he was.  Which I find odd because Jeff Goldblum was in it.  A lot of the time Mr. Goldblum is wonderfully crazy and other times he’s just plain crazy.  There were a couple of times I felt he was just doing a Jeff Goldblum impression, it was so over the top.  But still I only rolled my eyes once.  Jason Bateman’s character was cynical, pesimistic, uptight, repressed and a hypocondriac.  I think he only smiled like three times in the whole movie.  I loved him.  I related to him more than her in the movie, but I kinda think you are meant to.  A lot of quirky characters don’t actually act quirky, the other characters in the movie just keep calling them that.  But Bateman was complicated and you get why he’s not been snatched up by a woman yet.

Jennifer Anniston was adorable and has aquired this lovely saddness and maturity.  She is no bubble head, she has depth and I really like her for it.  A suprising realization I had was in a scene with Jennifer and Juliet Lewis.  Know what it was?  Juliet was once engaged to Brad Pitt.  In fact he was her date to the Oscars the year she was nominated for Cape Fear and wore those hideous corn rows.  I wondered what it was like on set.  Did they ever talk about it?  I can’t imagine why they would, but still I found myself wondering.

I can’t stand overly cute kids in films but this little guy just breaks your heart with that serious tone that he talks with and those HUGE brown eyes.  He’s also really tiny, adding to the comedy of his seriousness.  At one point Jason Bateman very solemnly tells him what hypochondria is and the child looks shocked and upset, “(gasp) I have that.”  As cliche as that line could have been the child delivers it unlike an excitable child, but like an adult realizing that there is a name for how he feels.

The music was predictable, but still liked it very much.  Most of the movie was predictable, even the end, but I still liked all of it very much.  I even laughed out loud a few times, despite the fact that I rarely do that at this type of movie.  This isn’t the kind of movie you go for if you want a surpise ending, it’s one you go for to see these characters, hear the funny lines, and to have your heart warmed, so to speak.  I think that’s why romantic comedies, aka chick flicks, get so little respect.  They aren’t about surprising you or at least not plotwise, which might make them seem pointless.  Maybe they surprise the heart, you feel things watching them.  My husband always gets on my case for imagining that songs are relating to me, or my current situation when we listen to music together.  I think that is how a lot of us women experience art, by imagining ourselves in the places of people in the art we are experiencing. I usually identify with the woman, but I think I was Jason Bateman in this movie.

There was a little trick I have always enjoyed where they pan across the city and we watch the sun rise and set really fast, seasons go by and suddenly it’s years later.  I’m not being sarcastic here, I really do love that.  The movie was set in New York and they filmed for the most part in the big apple, but there was one scene that had to be LA, because I recognized an extra from back in my background acting days.  A sweet older gentleman named Bob who has been on Scrubs for years, known affectionately as “Colonel Dr.” for looking like Colonel Sanders.  Had to give a shout out to one of my uncredited peeps, what up Bob?!

I do recommend this movie, but only if you don’t care about knowing the ending from the previews or enjoy incredibly funny dialogue or find Jennifer Anniston or Jason Bateman charming, because they are that in spades in this movie.

Hot Tub Time Machine:: Yeah, I liked it (but I didn’t love it)

If you are a child of the 80s like I am, you may like this goofball comedy.  I enjoyed parts of it, although I’m not sure that I was their target audience.  Although much of the jokes were 80s related , there was much humor that was locker room related.  I like a crude joke as much as the next person but this was just gross for gross’ sake.  It seemed specifically aimed at 13 year old boys, which is odd because they are one demographic that cannot remember the 80s, and nostalgia was the platform for most of the movie.

Having said that I liked that the science of the time travel was loose and unconsequential, I also liked that Chevy Chase was the mystical janitor that may or may not have known what was going on and I loved the nod to Better Off Dead, one of my favorite movies and the reason that I love John Cusack.  It’s subtle, see if you can find it.  There were many moments when they out and out made fun of the movie that they were filming and there was even a message: be true to your friends.  It was also ripe with the idea of “if you havd it to do all over again, would you make the same choices?”  Not so much a message as someting to ponder, since doing it all over again isn’t really an option…yet.

It was no The Hangover, but it had it’s moments.  The bottom line is that it worked as what it was: a goofy, crude, time travel movie that gave an opportunity to laugh about the 80s and our youth.  This review is short because there is really not all that much to say about Hot Tub Time Machine except maybe that John Cusack is still adorable.

Inception:: A Well Crafted Movie

I like movies that reflect my life, I think we all do.  The only way in which Inception reflects my life is that, like the main characters, I too dream.  None the less, it is a facinatingly riviting movie.  It’s Ocean’s 11 set in the world of the subconscious.  I predict that it will be nominated for several academy awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Special effects and writing.  Although the acting was superb, I don’t imagine that it will get any nods, but at this point in the year, that’s a really hard thing to guess about.

The story is complex and yet very simple.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt play “dream pirates”, if you will.  They are paid to go into someone’s dream and mine their subconscious for marketable ideas.  Then one of their clients asks if it is possible to plant an idea in someone’s head making him think it was his own, “inception” in other words.  The concept is facinating and the complications are mulled over much like one would in a complicated heist movie.  Except here the take is someone’s free will in a way.  It’s logical, as well as fanciful, the right balance between realism and imagination. The science is barely explained, but that seems on purpose somehow.  The whole movies comes across like a very detailed dream.

We learn precious little about the characters, but it hardly seems to matter.  I was 75% of the way through the movie’s two and a half hours (which fly by, believe me) before I realized that I had no idea what DiCaprio’s character was even named (IMdb says it’s Cobb, but I could have sworn it was Tom, Tom Cobb maybe?), I laughed, because I honestly didn’t care.  This movie is written like a symphony and paced like a world class opera.  It has highs and lows in all of the right places.  Although it is fairly serious, there are some good comedic moments.  The cinematography is like a work of art, a work of M.C. Escher art.  The special effects are dazzling without being showy, and that is an insanely thin tight rope few movies have walked well.

The whole cast is stellar with a small role for Michael Caine.  The cast works well together even if the characters don’t.  There is a nice little gem of characterization in which Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, Arthur, and Tom Hardy’s Eames, don’t really like each other.  A rich history between them is hinted at but never revealed and I found it very funny and more realistic than everyone magically getting along.  Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard area wonderful additions to this pile of men that are the main cast.  Ellen plays the perfect balance of innocence and wisdom, while Cotillard is mildly sinister in a way only a gorgeous french woman can be.

In true Christopher Nolan fashion the end of the movie lends itself to joyful frustration.  The whole movie is so wonderfully disorienting (much likeMemento) that when my husband and my father saw it together they found themselves feeling like they were still in the movie due to a surprise summer thunder storm that before they went into the movie was nowhere in sight.  I had a similar sensation when I saw Memento with my husband (then just a promising date).  I didn’t know then what I know now about the man I married, which was that he often silently wanders off.  So here I was in the lobby of the Leammle Santa Monica reading movie posters still feeling dizzy from the end of Memeto when I look up and see that I am alone.  I was genuinely convinced that I might have always been alone at that movie and just forgot.  He had wandered off to the bathroom and returned shortly, but I was very taken by how much Nolan had messed with my mind; and I loved it!

Inception is one of those movies that are better in the theater, but really, see it anyway you can.  It doesn’t teach you how to be a better person, it has very little in the way of a moral tale, in fact I don’t see how it would improve your life one bit, it’s just awesome.

Eat Pray Love:: A movie review of sorts

I was a huge fan of the book, Eat Pray Love,  so I was prepared to be disappointed. I was surprised though. I wasn’t surprised because I wasn’t disappointed, I was surprised by the way in which I was disappointed. In the book, and in the author Elizabeth Gilbert’s life, the collapse of her marriage was instigated by her realization that she didn’t want to be a mother, like she had previously thought. I really found her revelation to be liberating and soul bearing. As a woman who has also decided that kids are not what I want, I know it can be a rough road for any woman that announces such a feeling. The fact that they left it out of the movie altogether is insulting to a. women like me who are not the cold hearted bitches that some folks imagine us to be, b. the audience who wasn’t trusted to still like a character who makes such an unpopular choice and c. Elizabeth herself, who, after all, had her life up there on the screen for everyone to judge.

I think I am the most appalled that the folks who wrote the adaptation thought that the story still held up without this crucial detail.  So they chose to have us believe that Liz left her marriage because she just wasn’t in the mood anymore?  They really don’t think that showing her suddenly realize that she isn’t who she thought she was and thus has to leave her marriage because who she actually is makes it the wrong place for her now was a stronger choice?  Is the world that afraid of the childless by choice women of the world?  Oprah doesn’t scare them, so why should Elizabeth Gilbert?  I took this omission personally and not just because I am a woman without children.

I took it personally because I am a movie lover and this glaring omission made the movie lack the juice that the book had.  We childless aunties of the world, as Gilbert so lovingly calls our sisterhood in her follow up bookCommitted, did not come to this choice lightly.  There is much internal conflict about whether or not this is indeed the difficult path that we want to take.  While she traveled around the world, this struggle came up a time or two as she grappled with her choice and would have worked nicely as part of her unrest in the movie on her quest for peace.  The book also had some heartbreaking bits about her struggle with depression that wouldn’t have added much time to the movie, if that was why it was left out.

I found the joy and complexity of Gilbert’s book completely missing from the screen.  As much as I love Julia Roberts, she was the wrong choice.  She is too together as a person to portray the raw and struggling Liz that we met in the book.  I wanted someone with unrest in her eyes, until in India she finds it.  It’s hard to show a person on a quest for inner peace if you show someone who seem so much like they are faking being off kilter.  The whole time I read the book I kept seeing Rosemary DeWitt from Rachel Getting Married and The United Sates of Tara as my Liz, despite the fact that Rosemary is a brunette and Elizabeth Gilbert is a blond.

Mostly I want to know how my friend Liz Gilbert felt about the movie.  Because although she doesn’t know me, and I don’t really know her, she feels like a friend when you read her books that are about her experiences.  She speaks to you like she has known you all of your life and that intimacy was also missing from Eat, Pray, Love.  When the credits rolled I felt my heart saying, “Sorry Liz, your story was so much better than that.  You deserve more.”

How to read and write entertainment reviews

Seems like a simple enough thing to do, right?  We often ask our friends who saw a film or tv show before us, was it good?  I think this is only a helpful thing to ask if you know that you have the same taste as that friend, because that’s what it all comes down to, taste… for the most part.  A movie review shouldn’t say, “this was good” or “this was bad”, or at least it shouldn’t only say that.  It should tell you what type movie it was and tell you what else you would need to have already liked to like it.  It should describe the performances, direction, cinematography, music and writing incase any one of those factors are the most important part of a movie to one of it’s readers.  Knowing your own tastes is helpful, but sometimes the reader doesn’t know why they liked a certain film, so they don’t know if they will like another that is compared to it, simply because they don’t know what part is similar.  Again it’s the reviewer’s job to spell out as much of that as they can.

I’ll make you a deal: I’ll do my best to write these kind of informative reviews if you a. read them, b. tell me after you’ve seen a film if my review had been helpful and c. tell me what you’d like to read about.  Deal?  Good.  Read on then.