Friday, September 28, 2007

Movies opening this week

The Game Plan (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Madison Pettis, Roselyn Sanchez, Kyra Sedgwick, dir. Andy Fickman)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Maybe I was a little too hard on this movie, which admittedly is not as vulgar or offensive as many alleged "family" films. But it's still really, really annoying and unoriginal, and Pettis is such a smarmy kid star that I seriously wanted to punch her in the face the whole time. I was rooting for Johnson's football player to just dump her in an orphanage. Something about these movies that imply that no one's lives can possibly be fulfilling unless they have children just really bugs me. Wide release

The Kingdom (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, dir. Peter Berg)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I've been a little surprised at the accusations of jingoism that have been lobbed at this movie by so many critics. Maybe it's just unexpected that a movie dealing with the current situation in the Middle East is not a self-serious drag, but I liked that this took the action-movie approach to the conflict. No, this is not how things really are, and, yes, there is a certain wish-fulfillment element to going over there and kicking some terrorist ass (or at least finding certain specific terrorists responsible for one isolated act), but this film is not simply a gung-ho pro-America fantasy. It shows all that ass-kicking and terrorist-stomping, and then wonders how satisfying it all really is. It questions our wishes even as it fulfills them, and manages to be a decent action movie along the way. And at this point, I'll take car chases and explosions over endless sober reflection on this topic anyway. Wide release

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back on the air

After a longer-than-expected time away, I'm returning to the radio tomorrow, on Vegas station Xtreme Radio 107.5-FM. I'll be on the Xtreme Disorder show at around 6 pm Pacific time to talk about movies opening this week, in what I hope will be a weekly gig. For those outside of Vegas, you can listen at the station's website.

TV premiering tonight: Big Shots

I ran out of time yesterday to post on the four new shows that premiered last night, so, briefly: I hated Private Practice possibly more than I hate Grey's Anatomy, which is saying something - you can read my entire Las Vegas Weekly review here; I liked Bionic Woman despite its sometimes obvious sci-fi tropes, and plan to stick with it; I thought Life was a bland procedural saddled with a random collection of quirks and another lame overarching mystery, and none of it fit together very well; and I was a little disappointed in Dirty Sexy Money, one of the shows I was most anticipating this season - it was campy but not all that funny, seemingly unsure of whether to be serious or goofy, and it comes with yet another unnecessary slow-burn mystery that really annoyed me. But since I do love soaps and there was enough there that had potential, I'll give it another shot.

I'm glad I have time to post today and warn people away from one of the worst new shows of the season, the vulgar, sexist and lamely predictable Big Shots, which makes out like it's Desperate Housewives for men but doesn't even achieve that past-its-prime show's level of intelligence and depth. Despite an impressive cast that includes Michael Vartan, Dylan McDermott and Joshua Malina, it's just a bunch of cliched misogyny, pathetic soapy twists and unearned moments of sappiness. The dialogue is terrible and the characters are hateful, no matter how likable the actors may be. Cane and Dirty Sexy Money may have their flaws, but at least they're not insulting, and anyone looking for a fun soap should focus their attention elsewhere and let this one just fade away. ABC, Thursdays, 10 p.m.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dynamo 5

Jay Faerber's new Image Comics series Dynamo 5 has become an unlikely hit, which pleases me, since I've been following Faerber's work for some time now. He's a solid old-school superhero writer who for whatever reasons missed breaking into the big leagues at Marvel and DC, and instead of conceding defeat or continuing to knock on closed doors (although for all I know he's sending pitches to the two companies every other day), he just went off and created his own superheroes himself. With Noble Causes and now Dynamo 5 (as well as occasional one-shots and miniseries), Faerber has carved out a nice niche for himself at Image, proof that you don't have to work at one of the big corporations if you want to tell classic superhero stories, and you don't have to stay away from that genre if you want to create a successful indie comic.

Actually, Noble Causes continues to struggle; it's about to go on hiatus for five months and then launch with a five-year time jump and a new direction. But the reason it's getting this extra push is because of the success of Dynamo 5, which has completed seven issues that will be collected into a handy trade in stores the same day as issue eight. It's such a success that it's doing something nearly unheard-of in modern comics: lowering the cover price, as of the next issue. Faerber's solid writing and the dynamic, fluid art of Mahmud A. Asrar have no doubt kept people's interest, but what brings them in in the first place is simply a great hook.

Faerber introduces a dead Superman archetype named Captain Dynamo, who fathered at least five illegitimate children, each with one of his primary powers. The children, who only learn of each other and their unconventional parentage after their father's death, are recruited by Captain Dynamo's widow to form an unlikely team of heroes. It's a unique and instantly grabby premise, far more immediately gratifying than Noble Causes' "superhero Kennedys" (which I think is a pretty good concept as well, though, and I'm disappointed that they're getting away from it). Faerber does a good job of marrying the more mature superhero storytelling of books like Powers (the philandering, inconsiderate hero who only seems like a "good guy") to the time-honored, iconic style of the Marvel Comics tradition (colorfully attired heroes beat up goofy villains, angst over their personal problems). It's modern without seeming cynical, classic without seeming quaint, and rife with possibilities. Faerber has already put his soap-opera chops to good use by introducing yet another illegitimate half-sibling, forced amnesia and a character falling into a coma - and that's just in the most recent issue!

You'd never refer to anything that Faerber does as groundbreaking; he's no Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison. But he's also nearly in a class all his own, writing old-fashioned superhero yarns that manage to feel fresh without engaging in jaded deconstructionism. Dynamo 5 is a fun, smart book with stories told in bright colors and broad strokes, and it's proof that creativity and innovation can still exist in the superhero genre, without having to either resurrect old icons, or tear them down.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

TV premiering tonight: Reaper & Cane

These are both shows that I'm sort of on the fence about, and if I have time I'll try to catch one or two more episodes of each beyond the pilot to see if they're worth watching. Reaper (The CW, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) has a premise very similar to that of NBC's Chuck, with a sardonic retail employee finding himself inadvertently caught up in a large-scale battle between good and evil. In this case, he's drafted to be a bounty hunter for the devil, tracking down souls who have escaped from Hell. Like Chuck, this show mixes humor and action, but it's not quite as effective, and some of the subject matter in the pilot (the main character's parents selling his soul to the devil, threats against his life and that of his mother) is a little bleak to be taken so lightly. If they can balance the tone better, it might end up being an entertaining show.

I'm a little more wary of Cane (CBS, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.), one of two sprawling family soaps that weren't as good as I was hoping they'd be. Focusing on a family of Cuban immigrants who run a massive rum business in Florida, it has all the familiar soap elements but is a little too bland and conventional to offer any new twist on them (the race of the characters may be different but their behavior is pretty much the same). There was a pretty sinister plot development at the end of the pilot, and I think the show's future success will depend on embracing that dark tone and not just trying to become the Latino version of Brothers & Sisters.

Monday, September 24, 2007

TV premiering tonight: Chuck, Journeyman & The Big Bang Theory

I've been sort of remiss in posting about new fall shows, although I've seen nearly all the pilots; anyone interested in my overall thoughts can read my Las Vegas Weekly fall TV preview here. Tonight sees the premiere of my favorite new show of the season (Chuck), as well as my least favorite (The Big Bang Theory), so I suppose it's a good time to get back on the ball with these previews.

Although Chuck is certainly the best new show of the fall, it didn't blow me away in the manner of pilots like Lost or Friday Night Lights or Smith. It's a fun, endlessly entertaining show with a rather convoluted premise about a slacker computer geek who ends up with a head full of government secrets and two federal agents as his handlers (as many people have remarked, it bears numerous similarities to the short-lived but well-loved UPN series Jake 2.0). There's nothing terribly innovative here, but the cast is winning, the writing is sharp and the action is fast-paced. This is one of two good new shows from The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, the other being Gossip Girl, which is darker and obviously much more soapy. I'm not gung-ho about proselytizing for this show like I have been about others in previous years, but I do think it's well worth checking out. NBC, Mondays, 8 p.m.

Also possibly worth the time is Journeyman, completing NBC's Monday geek-friendly lineup (along with Heroes). Its Quantum Leap-esque premise (about a guy who spontaneously travels to the past and has to right certain wrongs) didn't really grab me at first, but the characters have interesting complexity, and a twist toward the end of the pilot pointed toward a potentially rich future. I plan to give it at least one or two more episodes to fully engage me, and if you like sci-fi, it's probably a good bet as well. NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m.

But no one should go remotely near The Big Bang Theory, a horrid, unfunny, insulting, badly acted, poorly written piece of sitcom trash that made me ashamed to be a TV viewer. This is the kind of show that's leading to the death of the three-camera, laugh-tracked sitcom. It's every awful cliche you can think of played up to the hilt, with horrible stereotypes about geeks, men, women and foreigners and a generally nasty, unpleasant tone throughout. If NBC is embracing the idea that geeks are cool with its Monday lineup, then CBS is doing the opposite here, giving them a metaphorical wedgie and telling them to fuck off. In a just world, not a single person would watch this show. CBS, Mondays, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Movies opening this week

Eastern Promises (Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel, dir. David Cronenberg)
I sort of pine for the days before Cronenberg became this respected prestige director, because as much as I liked this movie, I miss the bizarro gross-out Cronenberg horror films of yore. He's been in and out of the mainstream for years, though, so I hold out hope that he'll get back to something dirty and twisted soon enough. In the meantime, there's this very well-crafted thriller, which is not as successful as A History of Violence but is still pretty brutal and engaging. Some people have criticized the film for coming off as too cold and detached, but that's Cronenberg's style, and the aloof tone actually makes some of the horrors in this film seem even more despicable for how matter-of-factly they're presented. The script by Steve Knight (who wrote Dirty Pretty Things) doesn't offer Cronenberg as many opportunities to indulge his more perverse tendencies as his past work has, and at times it almost seems like he's at odds with the material. But most of the time he simply brings out its inner darkness with more grace and fluidity than Stephen Frears displayed in Dirty Pretty Things, but also less compassion. Mortensen is powerful as the Russian-mob hitman with a secret, and Watts does her usual stellar work, subtly indicating so much with her facial expressions. The plot ultimately is rather conventional, and I would say this is probably minor Cronenberg, but it does have some major moments. Opened limited Sept. 14; wide release this week

In the Valley of Elah (Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, dir. Paul Haggis)
As much as I hated Crash, I tried to approach this movie with an open mind, and I will say that it is not nearly as bad as Crash, and certainly not worth the energy of hating (especially since the mixed reviews and muted buzz hardly seem to indicate it as a likely Oscar candidate). Haggis is still very taken with the idea of himself as someone with something important to say, and there are plenty of heavy-handed, manipulative moments in this film about a father trying to solve the murder of his just-returned-from-Iraq soldier son. One thing that plagued Crash, overacting, is thankfully absent here, as both Jones and Theron bring restraint and subtlety to their parts (perhaps because they've already won Oscars and aren't angling for more). Poor Sarandon gets nothing to do other than cry, though, and even the strong acting can't generate enough interest in the weak murder mystery. When the killer was finally revealed, I couldn't even remember which character they were naming, which is never a good sign. Haggis' messages about soldiers coming back from war are simplistic and not particularly insightful, and he drains too much color from the procedural story for it to be exciting. In trying to make his audience feel guilt, or pity, he only succeeds in making them feel bored. Opened limited Sept. 14; in Las Vegas this week

The Ten (Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder, Ken Marino, Gretchen Mol, Liev Schreiber, Rob Corddry, dir. David Wain)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Although this movie is much more offbeat than the other recent comedy from former members of The State, Balls of Fury, it's not really much funnier (I may actually have laughed more at Balls of Fury). As always, the various State alums show up to support each other, and there is a sense of goofy fun when they get together. It's too haphazard, though, which is the problem with a lot of post-State projects, and the jokes just aren't there, unfortunately. Still, I'm happy to see these guys continuing to work, and I hope they hit on the right combination for a truly great movie sometime soon. Opened limited August 3; in Las Vegas this week

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gilmore Girls season two

Thanks to a co-worker lending me her DVD sets of Gilmore Girls through season four, I've been able to devote my Netflix queue to other shows and watch the Girls amid various other programs. My initial giddy excitement over discovering the show (way, way later than everyone else, I know) has worn off, and there were moments during this season that I was rather disappointed in the show's direction (sort of amplified by having a vague sense of where it went in the subsequent seasons that I haven't watched yet). But overall I still found it really entertaining and even quite affecting in its best moments, and the two central characters that Amy Sherman-Palladino has created are so wonderful that it's hard to imagine ever not being interested in what's going on in their lives.

But it's increasingly clear as the show goes on that Lorelai and Rory's relationships with each other and with Lorelai's parents are far more interesting than the romantic entanglements that seem to form the central driving force of the show. In the first season, I was sort of indifferent to Max and Dean, the respective love interests, but this season I found almost all of the relationship stuff infuriating. Max was dispatched with rather quickly, but I didn't mind since it was obvious that they weren't going to marry off the lead character. So most of Lorelai's love life this season consisted of her endless will-they-or-won't-they flirting with Luke (which drives me even crazier knowing that it gets dragged out until the end of the sixth season) and possible reconciliation with Christopher, the only love-interest character on this show I find remotely appealing. His relationship with Lorelai seems realistically complex as opposed to the parade of contrivances that mar her relationship with Luke.

Lorelai's love life is far more tolerable than Rory's, though, especially as much of this season finds her vacillating between two almost equally annoying suitors. Dean sort of faded into the background in the first season, and served more as a tool for Rory's social development than an actual character, but the decision to keep their relationship going after the effective break-up arc of the last season proves disastrous here. The quick reconciliation in the first-season finale seemed a little rushed to me, and in this season the characters demonstrated no chemistry or interesting interactions. Dean's blandness was balanced by the supreme annoyance of new love interest Jess, a stereotypical bad boy played broadly by Milo Ventimiglia. I couldn't stand almost any moment Jess was onscreen, although later on he had a few nice moments with Rory when the bad boy facade fell away. Still, the prospect of watching her bounce between these two for another season (or more) is disheartening.

The quirky townspeople got a little more well-rounded in this season, and the dialogue remained as sharp as ever. Along with the main characters, that's the primary appeal of the show, and as long as those elements stay strong, I'll keep watching (even in occasional frustration). I've already started on season three.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

2007 catch-up

I was on vacation last week, watching various movies and TV shows and sleeping odd hours, and one of the things I did was start trying to catch up on notable 2007 movies that passed me by for one reason or another, in anticipation of the inevitable awards-giving and list-writing mania that comes toward the end of the year. It's an impossible task, of course, but this is a start.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesal, Angela Goethals, Kate Lang Johnson, dir. Scott Glosserman)
Okay, so maybe in the overall critical community this wasn't a particularly notable release, but it was a relative sensation among horror fans, and I am always looking for a good risk-taking horror movie. Sadly, this is just the same tired meta-humor that's plagued horror for the last decade, taken to an annoyingly useless extreme. It's a mockumentary set in a world in which slasher-movie villains like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers are real, and the title character aspires to follow in their footsteps. A naive film crew follows him around as he plans his massacre, gleefully deconstructing genre tropes as they apply to his "profession." But these familiar elements only make sense as motivations for filmmakers; as motivations for serial killers, they are entirely nonsensical and counterintuitive. Thus this movie is sort of smart about horror movies (although its insights are a tad obvious), but completely dumb about how its characters might actually act. Then the last half-hour just abandons the mockumentary concept and becomes the same kind of predictable slasher movie it's been sending up, and it's not particularly scary since we've just been told in detail what's about to happen. I loved this meta trend when Wes Craven kickstarted it with New Nightmare and Scream, but now I'm just looking for a horror movie that prizes scariness over self-awareness.

My Best Friend (Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet, dir. Patrice Leconte)
I've become a big fan of French director Leconte thanks to his last two movies that made it to the U.S., Intimate Strangers and The Man on the Train, although I haven't seen much of his earlier work (I did watch The Widow of St. Pierre a while back). This movie has been described as a more mainstream, predictable effort from Leconte, and indeed it does have a lot of elements of stupid Hollywood buddy comedies. It's thankfully a little subtler than something starring Ben Stiller might be, but it's still got plenty of cringe-inducing moments and a pretty paint-by-numbers plot. At the same time, it does explore some of the same themes as the two Leconte films that won me over recently, primarily the way that two strangers of seemingly opposite temperaments can come together via odd circumstances and form a surprisingly strong bond. And Leconte is good at portraying the relationship of the mismatched main characters convincingly, which almost makes up for all the contrivances.

Red Road (Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Martin Compston, dir. Andrea Arnold)
It was interesting seeing this movie right on the heels of The Brave One, since it deals with similar subject matter in a much more interesting, honest and complex way. That's not to say that the actions of this film's lead character are easy to understand or even completely realistic, but they do flow naturally from how Arnold establishes her as a person, and resonate emotionally even if they aren't entirely logical. Dickie gives a wonderful performance with a minimum of dialogue, conveying her character's anguish and detachment following the tragedy she's endured (the nature of which is unclear through most of the film). It's a slow, methodical build, but it's never not interesting, and in the end its long takes and longer silences say far more about grief than a bunch of vigilante nonsense ever could.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Movies opening this week

The Brave One (Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, dir. Neil Jordan)
I like Neil Jordan, and I think he has a talent for making something artful out of a basic genre piece like this, but he doesn't manage to pull it off here. This is basically your average dirty exploitation movie (the kind of thing Steven Seagal made his name on) with all the dirt scrubbed off and replaced with crying and Sarah McLachlan songs. Foster is a good actress, but she hits only one note as the nice liberal public-radio host who goes all Charles Bronson after her fiance is murdered. Literary quotes and sensitive narration aside, this is just a dumb, plot hole-filled vigilante flick that thinks it's better than its audience. Jordan and Foster should both be above that. Wide release

No End in Sight (documentary, dir. Charles Ferguson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I have said before that all these Iraq documentaries are not my thing, but as I was going on vacation this week this was the only movie I could review in time. It's a fairly cogent, calm analysis of what's gone wrong over there, although despite its parade of credible talking heads I still don't think it's going to convince anyone who isn't already convinced. I generally prefer the movies that focus on illuminating one small, human aspect of the war rather than encompassing the whole thing with statistics and policy analysis, but for what it sets out to do this movie is a success. Opened limited July 27; in Las Vegas this week

Friday, September 07, 2007

Movies opening this week

3:10 to Yuma (Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Logan Lerman, Ben Foster, dir. James Mangold)
I haven't seen the 1957 original, so I can't comment on how this compares, but on its own it's a sturdy, entertaining Western that doesn't go for any fancy reinvention. Although the ending doesn't entirely make sense, this is otherwise consistently exciting and well-acted, with Crowe getting into his bad-guy role, and Foster offering up a very good, very evil supporting performance (which didn't strike me as homophobic, but here's an interesting disagreement). Westerns for some reason often get positioned as awards contenders these days, and I think that's what Lionsgate is trying to do here to some extent, but I was glad that Mangold didn't seem to be trying too hard to make a big statement or tell an epic story. He's just made a solid genre movie, which is exactly what this rarely attempted genre needs. Wide release

The Brothers Solomon (Will Forte, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, dir. Bob Odenkirk)
I don't know why I went to see this movie, which I didn't have to review, but I guess for some reason I thought it would be funny. It was instead painfully unfunny, a thin concept stretched barely to feature length, with annoying performances, sloppy writing and a cheap, ugly look that made it seem all the more like a sketch gone awry. I know people love Arnett from his days on Arrested Development (which I only watched a handful of times), but in everything I've seen him in he's playing the same smarmy, overenthusiastic character, and I don't think he's bearable for more than a few minutes onscreen. This movie makes Balls of Fury look like the funniest, most sophisticated comedy of the year. Wide release

Hatchet (Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, dir. Adam Green)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
People who aren't fond of cheesy, trashy horror movies will probably have no patience for this, but I found it entertaining enough, and refreshing for its honestly simple ambitions. I'll probably forget it in a week or two, but coming right on the heels of the overdetermined Halloween remake, it was a nice change of pace. Limited release

Shoot 'Em Up (Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, dir. Michael Davis)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It's disappointing that this really distasteful movie is getting positive reviews of the "it's just mindless fun" variety, since it seems to have such contempt for its audience. At least something like Crank was visually inventive and had a clever sense of humor even as it ran out of steam after an hour and exhibited some disturbing sexism. This film has all those negatives without the positives, with poorly shot action and lame one-liners that display almost no effort at all. Sad to think that action junkies will happily pay to be insulted at the movies this weekend. Wide release

Them (Olivia Bonamy, Michael Cohen, dir. David Moreau and Xavier Palud)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Another simple horror movie with small ambitions, although it didn't work as well for me as Hatchet. In one way, its ambitions are too small - the characters aren't really fleshed out, so it's hard to care about what happens to them - and in another way they are too big, with an ending that tries to make a statement about society but falls short. Still, I think horror fans will probably mostly dig this one as well, and better to check this out than the odious Shoot 'Em Up. Opened limited Aug. 17; in Las Vegas this week

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Summer TV round-up: New shows

Burn Notice (USA, Thursdays, 10 p.m.)
I was a little cautious about this show in my initial review, possibly because I had been so enthusiastic about USA's last new snarky-guy-solves-mysteries show, Psych, only to have all my interest peter out after only a few episodes. But Burn Notice has not only stayed strong, it's also gotten better, and it's maintained a very effective balance of mystery-of-the-week stories with a more long-term ongoing plot. It's still light and inconsequential, but it's almost always fun to watch, thanks to mostly snappy writing and an endearing cast. Jeffrey Donovan makes the lead character charismatic and likeable even when he's doing questionable things, and Bruce Campbell is his typically delightful self in the sidekick role. I've even warmed up to Gabrielle Anwar as the love interest, a character who's gone in an interesting direction from her initial "will they or won't they?" set-up with the lead. My only worry is whether they can sustain the momentum of the larger storyline as time progresses (already as season one winds down, a lot of questions have been answered), but for now this is breezy fun, and quite possibly the one show I look forward to most each week.

Damages (FX, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.)
I think it was this week that this show finally offered up one twist too many and descended into complete silliness. Not that this means I won't keep watching it, or that I won't enjoy it, but it's turned into one of those shows where every single character is running an angle, has a secret or is in on the central conspiracy. And I don't think quite this level of complication is necessary - there were plenty of mysteries set up just in the first couple of episodes to sustain the entire season, and all these new wrinkles just make it harder to keep track of what's going on. But at the same time the ludicrous twists are generally pretty fun and juicy, and this show is not at all afraid to turn itself into total pulp trash. It's also got some strong performances from Glenn Close, Ted Danson and Tate Donovan (those last two not necessarily people you'd expect to be strong dramatic actors), even if main star Rose Byrne is sort of bland. I have a feeling this is the sort of thing that if it were all compressed into a two-hour movie it would be easily dismissable as some dumb thriller filled with plot holes, but the serialization works well for creating suspense, and gets you tuning back in for the next absurd twist. I can't see how they could ever make a second season of this work, and I hope that they won't try to, instead piling on all the twists they can and resolving the story in the most over-the-top manner possible, which would be consistent with the tone so far.

Mad Men (AMC, Thursdays, 10 p.m.)
A lot of people have anointed this as the new greatest show on TV, and while I remain impressed with a lot of things about it, I think my appreciation is a little more muted. I have a regular blog reader and correspondent who is infuriated with what she sees as the period inaccuracies of this show (as well as its misrepresentation of the advertising business), but other commentary online seems more divided about whether or not certain details are accurate. Having neither lived through the 1960s nor worked in advertising, I can't really say, but I think what is important to me is that I believe the show's own world in itself; that is, the details seem consistent, and they paint a full picture of an environment that I can buy into. There are still moments when the producers seem to be trying too hard to hammer home the idea that, "Look! Things were so different back then!," but I think they've toned that down enough to where it's not too noticeable. What annoys me more is the development of a mysterious backstory for main character Don Draper, which just seems extraneous and unnecessary. I don't need a mystery to solve in every show; this one is very good just as a character drama about the corporate world of 1960. But so far at least that storyline has been handled subtly enough, and I'm fascinated by what's going on with almost all the other characters. I love Vincent Kartheiser's desperate sliminess as Pete Campbell, and Christina Hendricks is marvelous as the sexy, conniving bitch who knows all the office secrets. I'm not ready to proclaim this show brilliant yet, but it is doing a lot of things right.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Slings & Arrows

On the recommendation of a fellow-critic friend, and thanks to positive online buzz, I Netflixed the first season of this Canadian TV series about the travails of a Shakespearean theater company (that is, one that performs plays by Shakespeare, not one that existed in his time). And while it was a pleasant enough diversion, I don't see why some people have become so enthusiastic about it. Perhaps it has something to do with a love for the theater; I've never been a regular theater-goer and I've never been involved in putting on a play (although I did take a couple of playwriting classes in college), so the thrill of seeing that world depicted insightfully may be lost on me. At the same time, it doesn't seem like the show really offers any exciting revelations about the theater; even as someone with little knowledge in that area, I didn't feel like I was learning anything new.

The characters are mostly likable and interesting, and there are some solid performances, especially from Rachel McAdams (who left to become a movie star after the first season) as a fresh-faced young actress and Jennifer Irwin as the conniving corporate shill who tries to turn the company into a tourist attraction. I actually found her the most sympathetic character on the show most of the time, which was probably not the point. The main character, a mentally unstable former actor brought in as the company's artistic director when the previous one dies, gets quickly annoying, and the show's gimmick, in which the deceased artistic director haunts his successor (who's also his old friend/adversary) is tiresome and a little odd in an otherwise straightforward dramedy.

There are some funny moments and effective dramatic scenes, but the storyline is fairly predictable and drags at times. Still, it wraps up briskly (the entire season is only six episodes), and left me mildly curious to check out more. Since there are only two more seasons of six episodes each, it wouldn't be a huge effort to give them a shot - plus, Sarah Polley joins the cast in the third season, which seems like it would be worth a look. Not in the queue yet, but it could be in the future, I suppose.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Movies opening this week

Balls of Fury (Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, dir. Robert Ben Garant)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Against my better judgment, I was actually looking forward to this movie, because I found the Reno 911! movie genuinely hilarious, and because this has such an endearing premise, and because I think Garant and Thomas Lennon clearly are talented despite all the Hollywood crap that they write. But maybe the Hollywood crap has infected them, because this turned out to be no better than your average dumbass comedy, even with Walken in a Fu Manchu get-up and David Koechner as a Reno stage act who duets with a bird. How you make that unfunny, I have no idea. Wide release

Halloween (Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton, dir. Rob Zombie)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Also against my better judgment, I was looking forward to this movie, too, since I think Rob Zombie is a talented and distinctive filmmaker who can bring something to the horror genre beyond what the typical music-video guys that they usually hire for these gigs have to offer. But this is an odd project for him, since it requires that he suppress his usual gonzo style in deference to slasher-movie conventions, and when he does put his own stamp on things, it fits awkwardly with the established formula. The decision to spend half the movie on Michael Myers' origin does not pay off, making the actual stalking-and-killing part feel like an afterthought. John Carpenter's original was about horror invading the placidity of suburbia; in Zombie's film, the horror's been there all along, and thus its presence is neither scary nor notable. Wide release

Self-Medicated (Monty Lapica, Diane Venora, Michael Bowen, Greg Germann, dir. Monty Lapica)
I am always excited when locally produced movies achieve any sort of success, and disappointed when they inevitably turn out to suck. This is by far the most successful local film that I can remember, and it's as competent and professional as any indie movie on its comparative level. So it's not as bad as the cheapo horror movies that usually do well from here, but it's still not a good movie, with a terrible lead performance from writer-director Lapica as a troubled teen, a treacly After School Special tone and a truly horrible deus ex machina in the form of a mystical homeless dude who teaches the hero about the important things in life. I interviewed Lapica for the Weekly, and he seems like a nice, humble guy, so I was happy we had an old positive review of this movie from CineVegas to run in the paper. But I still hold out hope for the day when some local feature will turn out to actually be, you know, good. Limited release