Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #45 Arthur

Here's a sentence I never thought I would utter: Russell Brand made me cry. I did not see that coming,but there it is. I should state up front that I only have seen portions of the 1981 Dudley Moore original, so apart from knowing the general gist of the story, was able to take this remake on its own terms.

Same general story, richer than rich, eternally childlish, alcohol-soaked playboy must marry to repair the family reputation, but falls in love with poor but principled girl from the other side of the tracks. Will he do as he's always been told or man up and choose what's right? Classic plot right there, so the potential for originality is going to be in the interpretation and performances.

I have long had a soft spot for Englishman-in-New-York stories, so combine that with a lively, engaging performance by Russell Brand as the big little boy, with Dame Helen Mirren and Luis Guzman as his nanny and chauffer, only friends in the world and perfect foils, plus the new-to-me Greta Gerwig as Arthur's love interest, Naomi, an unlicensed tour guide with a passion for the little known sights of New York, and I found Arthur a fun, touching and pretty darned satisfying experience. Though I wouldn't count myself a Jennifer Garner fan, her character, Arthur's would-be wife, Susan, came across as clear and relentless as Susan's quest to nab Arthur's name for her own. Wind in the Willows references are a bonus. "She's my Toad," said in an earnest British accented male voice can be incredibly romantic.

Again, Russell Brand made me cry; that's worth saying twice. I'd expected the madcap insanity of Arthur's typical hijinx, taking the Batmobile out for a spin, outrageous partying, and depending on his lifelong nanny, Hobson to coddle him from the realities of grownup life. I hadn't expected the touching moments, like emptying Grand Central Station so he could give Naomi the fantasy date he'd fabricated earlier, or the love and care he puts into becoming Hobson's caregiver, reversing the roles in the most dependable relationship he'd ever known. The aborted wedding reminded me slightly of Four Weddings and a Funeral, a big favorite of mine, and Arthur and Naomi's next scene after that struck me as both tragic and hopeful that Arthur would accept the wakeup call for what it was.

The grand romantic gesture that is one of the conventions of the romantic comedy has its place here, and I was surprised to find it a more subdued version than I had expected. Then again, Russell Brand does really well when playing off children, so I'm not going to object on this one.

What I am going to object to is one of my pet peeves. Naomi may start out the movie as a tour guide, but what she really wants to do is write children's books. Publishing. Does. Not. Work. Like. That. Naomi's picture book goes from a haphazard bundle of notes, to fully illustrated manuscript popped off in a manila envelope, to Naomi telling Arthur she'd sold her book in such short order that the only explanation is that she sent it via Tardis. Sure, Arthur bought the publishing house and told them to publish the book, but my big question was, how did they find the ms in all that slush? Then again, if Naomi really can go from idea to publishable ms complete with her own illustrations that are professional quality in a couple of days, that's a smart business decision. Get her under a lifetime contract, pronto.

I also want Naomi's publicist, because they were able to get her a reading and signing at the New York Public Library less than six months after she first sent her book out into the world. I'll settle for the DVD of the movie instead.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy Dance Friday #59 - Let's Hear it for the Girls

In our family, we have a custom of, when more than one good thing happens at the same time, of asking "is it Christmas?" That certainly applies here. Covering two weeks of awesome in one blog post is a tall order, so again, we'll hit some of the highlights. Have to say that Melanie and Sasha are still neck and neck for my favorite female, and I'm glad I'm not going to have to be the one to cast the deciding vote, especially after this:
How do you...I don't even... oh heck, girls rule.

My appreciation for the terpsichorial magnificence that is Pasha Kovalev only grows when each of my favorite gals from this season gets their turn with the gentleman.

Melanie and Pasha, performing my favorite ballroom dance, Viennese waltz, with an angsty theme and sparkly lights:

Sasha and Pasha, giving off the old Hollywood vibe with their quickstep. From the first shot of Sasha's opening stance, I immediately thought "Josephine Baker," and that certainly carried through the entire dance, with a deft touch of zombieriffic posturing here and there, which put me in mind of an art piece I saw last October and still drool over (that's for another time, but the theme for that piece was "Gatsby's Ghosts".) Best seen for oneself:

Also on my wish list was a Sasha/tWitch pairing, which certainly delivers. I don't know if Sasha has any acting training or experience, but I do know tWitch is a fine actor in his own right (usually credited as Stephen Boss) with a burgeoning movie career, so Sasha gets extra points for keeping up with a professional dancer and actor here, because we do see the story they play out. No words needed.

The "have you been reading my diary?" award, (phrase borrowed from comedian Gary Gulman)however, is going to have to go to Melanie and Neil's contemporary routine, because Bonnie Tyler's rendition of Jim Steinman's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (can only be beaten by Meat Loaf performing it live) never fails to get me, and if Melanie is dancing to it, partnered by Neil, even better. Then, when I think it can't get any better, (flying leap at 1:17) bam, they hit me right in the heart at 1:38. Spotlight on Melanie, on the floor, Neil stands in darkness but still in her line of sight, and they are acting the parts. Even in darkness, Neil is giving Melanie what she needs to play off to complete her character's story, and the audience feels it. Glorious.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy Dance Friday still to come

Funny Pictures - Cute Kittens
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Top ten SYTYCD review still to come, but it's 102 degrees and our entire family has melted. Off to wipe down kitty with wet towel and infuse cold drinks into self. Blogging to resume when heat wave ends.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #44 Red Riding Hood

This movie came out the same time as Beastly, which I talked about last week, and my brain has always kept them linked. Both visually stunning, both fairy tale retellings with definite individual flavors, and both didn't quite do it for me.

Red Riding Hood is a difficult one to describe. Though there are differences, if you're familiar with the Brothers Grimm version and can reframe it as a werewolf story, that's pretty much the essentials. I can't fault the cast, though I can't remember most of the actors' names one week after viewing, and hadn't been sure until the closing credits if the heroine, Valerie, were played by Amanda Seyfried (which was correct) or Heather Graham (or was it somebody else I was suspecting?) and character names, apart from Valerie, her love interest, Peter (get it?) and antagonist Father Solomon. Which is about what I need, as it's pretty straightforward.

There's a werewolf attacking people in the town where our story takes place, a medievallish European burg. Usually, the animal sacrifices pacify the wolf, but apparently not this time. Something to do with the moon. Valerie has loved Peter from childhood but is promised to marry Some Other Dude, who was apparently her dead sister's beloved and sister may have done herself in over this prospect. At any rate, there is angst. Secrets involving paternity of someone no longer with us and the wolf is a constant threat when it's dark, which it usually appears to be.

The visuals and atmosphere are the real stars of this movie, the dark overall tone reinforcing the threat of the wolf attacks and the mounting paranoia amongst the villagers, and the stark black, white and gray tones are definitely inspiring for the artistically inclined, including my art crush, Michelle Ward. Which may make it fitting that my memories of this movie tend toward the sketchy. The visuals were gorgeous, and though there is violence, the gore is left to the imagination, which can be far more horrifying as it lets us imagine what isn't shown.

I find myself remembering more what I wish the movie had been. I did like Valerie and Peter's relationship but wanted more of it and the nice surprise that Valerie's fiance is a decent guy, willing to step aside when he accepts that Valerie truly loves Peter. Beyond that, he's the one who suggests he and Peter work together to rescue an imperiled Valerie. I would have liked to have seen that unlikely friendship develop and how the three of them would relate to each other as young adults. Also more of the issues with Valerie's family as well.

Unfortunately, other issues kept me from having the sort of experience I'd hoped with Red Riding Hood. The character of Father Solomon, the werewolf-catcher, came across as one dimensional. Priest in a horror movie? I called it right off that he'd turn out to be stupid or evil, and no surprises there, alas. By the time he departs the story, we've already heard him confess to killing a woman, seen him kill one of his African associates, and torture a mentally challenged person because obviously that person's condition meant they needed killing. Sorry, Father Solomon, I have no sympathy for you.

A festival scene could have been plucked right out of generic medieval burb and plopped into a modern night club, complete with girl on girl dirty dancing to attract the eye of a desired male, and did take me out of the story for its duration.

The identity of the werewolf could have been handled better, and more backstory on how that person became afflicted could have made for a richer experience, though I can't fault the acting in the scene where the wolf's motivations are disclosed. Valerie, as well, proved to be a strong heroine in the end, insisting on doing what was right no matter the cost, but again, I wanted more. I don't normally grade movies, but the best way I can describe my experience with this movie is to give the visuals an A+ and the content a C.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy Dance Friday #58 - Two Weeks of SYTYCD and Emmy stuff, with a plethora of clicky links

i iz in kontrolz!
see more Daily Squee
DH had control of the remote last week, so I didn' t get to see the top 14 perform until much later in the week, and Happy Dance Monday didn't have the same ring to it. Since my brain whimpers at the thought of trying to recap two weeks at once (bad idea, will not attempt that again) we will go with general impressions....and many, many links. You may want to grab a beverage and sit down for this one.

First, the guest judges. I like seeing different people on the panel and getting different input, but I also prefer when the guest judges have more dance cred. Carmen Electra may have had some valid comments to make, but I didn't hear them; I was thinking "Carmen Electra is a dancer? Really? How? When? I remember Baywatch." :headscritch: Don't watch Modern Family, so Jesse Tyler Ferguson is new to me (and congrats to him on his Emmy nomination, though I will use this space to protest the fact that Neil Patrick Harris was robbed. Basketball hoop scene, people. Gaaaaah. I can quote dialogue from that scene and it knots my gut. :flail: Reining this back onto topic, NPH is apparently slated as a guest judge at some point in the near future? Awesome.) I know Lady Gaga will be guest judge at some point as well, and I'd say she'd be appropriate, as her music has been used on the show, and she employs a fair number of dancers with whom she works, so she does know something. But stars with hidden dance backgrounds we may not have heard of at all? Ehhhh, not so much. If I'm asking myself why Judge X is a judge, that detracts from any merit their comments may have (and please, please, please, Guest Judges, do not let your comments contain the phrase "I don't know," especially when the next judge is Travis Wall, who breaks down the performance by specific moves and technical terms and offers constructive criticism as well as praise.)

Next, Emmy nominations. I did actually squee when I read that Cat Deely was nominated for best host in a reality show or competition. Since she is up against Jeff Probst from Survivor, among others, this will have me biting some nails. Congratulations also to Travis Wall, Mia Michaels, Mandy Moore (the choreographer, not the singer) Stacey Tookey, and the husband/wife team of Napoleon and Tabitha D'Uomo. Tight, tight competition there, and good review of everyone here. I find it interesting that the nominations this year are for the body of work instead of the individual routines, and any other year, I would have said Mia Michaels should win, no contest. This year, I'm putting my money on Travis Wall because he is freaking incredible and there are times when the student surpasses the teacher, blabbity blabbity blabbity. This may inspire me to do a favorite routines cage match after the finale is over.

On a semirelated note, Denise Wall needs to be named official dance mom of the century, because one of her other sons, Danny Tidwell, like his brother, a runner up for SYTYCD champion, is now a soloist with the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. If that's not enough, another son, Scott Ross, seems to be a pretty decent musician. I want to drop by on family entertaiment night because it would be the best night ever. (Yeah, HIMYM link, but I had to, and seriously, no Emmy nomination for Jason Segel either? Bah. :stomps off in a pique:)

But back on topic. They announced the all-stars, whom we will see next week. I am very sorry to hear Alex Wong sustained another injury, but fingers crossed he will take good care of himself and be able to serve as an all star another year. We get more Pasha, Stephen "tWitch" Boss, and get to see some other favorites return to partner with the current crop, so this is going to be a season to remember. Already scouting out venues for the upcoming tour, because I do not want to miss this one.

Since I probably should include something about the recent episodes, I am now declaring favorites.

Jess is the guy I'm watching (and very sorry to bid adieu to Alexander) most closely:

For the gals, it's a dead heat between Melanie:

and Sasha:

I know this is only scratching the surface, but what a surface it is. Phew!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #43 Beastly

No book vs movie on this one, so I'm sure I'm missing elements that are in the original novel by Alex Flinn that may have worked better for me, but I didn't find enough new in this retelling of Beauty and the Beast to make me seek out the book.

Though I've always liked fairytale retellings, it was the visuals that drew me to Beastly. One of my favorite horror comics from years ago was a haunted house story set in the penthouse of an abandoned NYC skyscraper (I really want to say it was a DC comic, and published before 1976) so when I saw the main character, Kyle, living on his own in an empty but well appointed apartment after his transformation, I was sold. Add in the rooftop greenhouse filled with roses and I am there. Extra points for the makeup artists who worked on this movie, but....

If the entire point of the story is for Kyle to be transformed from a traditionally handsome blond teen to something, well, beastly, what we see above does not qualify that. Kyle's search to find a young woman who found him appealing might have been easily solved by visiting an alternative club. A few piercings and tattoos do not a beast make, but it certainly is an intriguing image. Maybe it's my own taste or maybe Alex Pettyfer's bone structure, but I couldn't find Kyle's appearance beastly, which did affect my enjoyment of the story. Similarly, Mary-Kate Olsen's makeup as Kendra struck me as having more gothic flair than anything that would attract ridicule. Vanessa Hudgens' presentation as heroine, Lindy, doesn't strike me as a girl who would go unnoticed by someone who values physical beauty, but again, maybe this is my personal taste, and I'm certainly not a teenage boy, wealthy or otherwise.

The story is pretty straightforward to those familiar with Beauty and the Beast, and translates well to the modern setting, especially with the hero starting out as a prince of his world - the handsome, popular big man on his high school campus. Hubris is his downfall, and Kendra uses his beastly transformation to teach him a lesson about inner beauty, which he does learn, hitting expected story points along the way.

Neil Patrick Harris ran away with this movie with his portrayal of Will, the blind tutor hired to oversee Kyle's schooling. Paying a character with a physical challenge can be, well, challenging for an actor, but as always with Mr. Harris, well played. I would have happily watched another two hours of his character's story, which brings me to the ending.

While we have a classic story here, with certain elements the viewer is going to expect; Kyle's redemption, hero winning love of heroine, etc, and those all delivered, plus a chilling something extra of Kendra ending up as Kyle's snotty father's new assistant (we all know what's ahead for dad, in that case) other elements fell flat. The resolution between Kyle and Lindy felt rushed, and I wasn't sure what the future would hold for a couple this young. Are they each other's one true love or is this something that will play out and they go their separate ways when college begins? Will's regaining his sight, as well as the out of nowhere immigration status change for the housekeeper's entire family seemed tacked on and wouldn't have changed the rest of the story if those elements were removed.

All in all, I'm glad I watched Beastly, and I would consider watching it again, but most likely stick to the scenes that affected me most: Kyle's "embrace the suck" speech; the empty apartment montage and the visuals of the greenhouse. Okay, and scenes with Neil Patrick Harris or Mary-Kate Olsen. 80s child stars for the win. I would be interested in seeing Alex Pettyfer in something else, as I'd love to see what he does with different material. Recommendations welcome.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #42 - Interview With The Vampire - Book vs Movie

I hadn't planned to watch Interview With the Vampire at all, but there it was on BBC America while I was catsitting, so I hit record and let it sit for a while. Neither Brad Pitt nor Tom Cruise are actors whose work I seek out, and I will admit that it's difficult for me to watch either gentleman's performances without their tabloid exploits edging into the frame. So that may have colored my experience to some degree, and then there's the author's impressions of this casting choice. I'll give my standard response to the question of who I would have cast - have a cattle call audition and whoever gives the best reading gets the part. Character descriptions to be taken from the original manuscript, and please prepare a monologue from same. Best readings of each role go on to read a scene so we can get the right chemistry. At least that's how we do things at Hypothetical Studios.

Kirsten Dunst, though, kicked child actor tushie as Claudia, and I understand why Movie!Claudia was about double the age of Book!Claudia. The role looks to me like it would be too much for a younger actor, both in amount of work and content of the material. We at Hypothetical Studios do not intentionally traumatize our actors of any age. Though I read the book after watching the movie, I found it very easy to create my own images of Louis and Lestat as I read, and neither bore any resemblance to the film's actors.

For the actual book vs movie comparison, I 'll go straight to the heart of the matter: book. By about a mile. I do appreciate that Anne Rice adapted her own work from novel to screenplay, and if a novel is to be adapted, that's the way I prefer it to go. Let the one who told the story tell the story, but at the same time, transferring from one medium to another is going to require some changes.

I do think it says something, though, about the adaptation if a viewer who has not read the book can tell what was changed or left out of the movie version. While I do understand why Anne Rice made some of the changes she did - changing Louis' brother to wife and infant, for example, omitting Lestat's father entirely, or assigning one of Gabrielle's discoveries from The Vampire Lestat to Claudia in this film) for me, the original format gave me a deeper experience, which is what I'd hoped to find.

The film was gorgeous, and the use of light and dark fit the story beautifully. The fact that I had to sit down and write out several pages of notes afterwards does say something about the effectiveness of the movie version, but the clincher was that I had to find the book so that I could get the real story. For me, in both, Louis is the central figure, his humanity even in the face of his undeath making him a memorable and unique character.

For me, the book gave me a more intimate view into Louis' essence, and that's what tipped the scales. His conflicted nature, self doubt, and different attempts to come to terms with the changes in his life (and death) left an impression on me and I can see where this would be a role many actors would find challenging.

My favorite part of the movie were the opening and closing bits, with Louis and Daniel (again, the book wins here; I prefer Daniel being referred to as only "the boy.") I found Brad Pitt's performance very effective in those scenes, as though Louis were still weighing how much to share, and then ultimately his frustration that Daniel Did Not Get The Point.

While I've appreciated Sting's music for quite a while, I didn't connect "Moon Over Bourbon Street" to Interview With The Vampire until I'd discovered the story for myself, and have to add myself to the fans who think it should have been included in the movie. Still good, though, and I can play it before rereading the book, so all's well there.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy Dance Friday #53 SYTYCD season 8

Well. Were it not for computer power issues, I would have addressed the Shocking Developments in the results show for episode one. Surprising choices for the bottom three - Jess? Really? Do the voters have eyes? Deadlocked judges. Repeated solos. Still deadlocked judges. NO ELIMINATION for that week, but double elimination the next. Oh. The. Dramaz.

Oh the outrage as well, as we had to say goodbye to Iveta, for crying out loud. Sure, world ten dance champion, who needs that? :snarl: The mere thought of there being no ballroom dancer in the competition from this point on makes me grumbly. Farewell as well to tap dancer Nick, jazz dancer Missy and breaker Wadi. They will all be missed, but this is the nature of the business and in the end, as in Highlander, there can be only one.

This week proved yet again that we're in for a spectacular season. Do not show Sasha and Alexander's contemporary to a romance writer and not expect a story seed to start germinating:
The hands at the end, oh they kill me. Beautiful.

This week was also amazing with the guest dancers on results night.
Eric Luna and Georgia Ambarian:

And Axis dance company, which had me speechless:

Really not much I can say after that, because I am rendered mute by the sheer beauty of the guest performances, so I will hush. I love when a dance tells a complete story without any language at all, and that is definitely true in all three above clips.

Miranda and Robert, we will miss you both, but it was lovely to have you when we did.