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February 2010 Review Roundup

A slow month as busy schedules for my girlfriend and I kept the movie viewing to a minimum and we fit in TV episodes of Dexter S2 and Mad Men S1 (on Blu-ray).

Feb. 1 - The Lovely Bones (5/10)
Feb. 7 - The Blind Side (7/10)
Feb. 8 - Precious (8/10)
Feb. 12 - The Lookout (8/10)
Feb. 21 - Crazy Heart (7/10)
Feb. 28 - Where The Wild Things Are (5/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 6
Previously Unseen: 6

Year-To-Date: 17
YTD First-Timers: 17

YTD Theatrical: 3
YTD Home: 14

"Where The Wild Things Are" Review

Somehow I managed to make it though childhood without encountering (or having a strong memory of reading) Maurice Sendak's classic Where The Wild Things Are. In fact, before the movie opened last year, I stopped at Borders and took a couple of minutes to read the ten-sentence long tale of Max, a bratty kid who apparently drops acid causing his room to melt into a jungle where he meets weird creatures and then after he comes down, finds himself back in his room with his dinner waiting. I suspect that stoned college students are the primary audience for this book.

Co-writer/director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has attempted to flesh this slight storyette into a hundred-minute long feature film and while he gets the look of the wild things down (executed by a combination of large costumes by the Jim Henson Creature Shop and CGI animation), the story seems grafted on to cover Jonze's issues than expand on the book.

Max (Max Records - that's the actor's name, not the place where Jack Black worked in High Fidelity) is introduced chasing the family dog with a fork. The product of a broken home with an aloof sister and a busy harried mother (Catherine Keener), Max is an aggressive, "acting out", punk who needs a spanking more than anything. One night, while wrecking his mother's date night, he bites her and dashes into the night, finding a tiny boat which he sails across the stormy seas for a couple of days before landing on the island where the Wild Things are. (Well, that covers the title.) Max then proceeds to make every one of these fantastical creatures miserable until he decides he's done enough damage and goes home. Thanks, kid.

Little more than a collection of loosely connected vignettes, I was more interested in imagining at what point parents, taking their rugrats to the show for what they assumed would a "kiddie flick," started to freak out at the noisy and upsetting situations depicted. (Parents I know who took their kids reported no problems and the kids liked it, but we'll see what happens when their spawnlings take off seeking Wild Thing Island in a boat.)

Visually interesting and true to the source, I never got into the story or characters much despite the solid performances. I had nothing invested going in because I didn't have a history with the book and the film didn't grab me either.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

Or better yet, watch the totally awesome (and totally inappropriate for kids) Wild Things, which this movie, unfortunately, is NOT a sequel to.

"24 S8.9" Recap – “CTU. CYA. WTF? BFD!”

24 S8.9 – “CTU. CYA. WTF? BFD!”

• We kick off this week with a touching father-son moment between Das Boot and Sark. “Son, come back with the rods and you’ll be safe.” Sark says, “OK, Dad….BANG!!!! OH, SH*T!!! I’M DEAD!!!”
• Jack calls Agent Red and quotes Sonny and Cher to her. Man, he’s looking good for someone who was stabbed an hour ago and electrocuted a half-hour after.
• Bubba and Prez Cherry’s weasel CoS turn CTU into CYA. Someone’s gonna have to take the fall and that’s Red.
• Damp Boi has Drone Boy find Starbuck and goes AWOL after her, cuz it’s more important to see what your fiancé is up to than, you know, FINDING THE F*CKING NUKE FUEL!!! (Buffy married and spawned with this loser?)
• Starbuck has her gonna-kill-my-ex face on. Still Lifetime. [sigh]
• Red is getting set up for the screw job. Chloe pouts. Jack’s gonna be pissed.
• Schwartzman’s sidekick, Dante Hicks, takes him and the rods to yet another convenient work site to learn the latest Big Plan: dirty bombing the Great Satan. Sounds like a plan to him.
• Dexter is doing Dodge voiceovers. Does this mean I should buy one to carry my dead bodies around?
• The Justice Sistah leans on Red and makes her cry. Meanie!
• Jack figures out instantly that Red’s getting set up and in one of the odder badass-to-pwned moments first jacks a red shirt and then gets captured by them. Huh?!?!
• Schwartzman escapes from Dante, but isn’t bright to clobber minions in the head to keep them from telling what you’ve done.
• Jack and Bubba square off and when it’s learned that Damp Boi is AWOL, Bubba doesn’t think to have Jack help some more. Nope, tosses him out. Bleah. Is there a maximum IQ you’re not allowed to exceed in order to get an upper management gig?
• Schwartzman calls in to CTU looking for help. Little. Bitch.
• Starbuck gets ready to cap the Yahoo Twins by the lake – where the heck are they? – when Damp Boi shows up and screws up everything. Nice couple. They have a future.
• Bubba preps CTU Rookie for the mission even though he’s still waiting for his nads to descend. Jack is smirking. Bubba agrees to let Red off if Jack commits fully to kick ass for the United States of America. [cue “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”]
• Damp Boi and Starbuck have a heart to heart and….oh, crap, this plot is just the worst of the worst. Katee Sackoff is wasted; Freddie Prinze Jr. makes us wistful for the throbbing manliness of Ricky Schroeder – whatever happened to Chase?; the Yahoo Twins end up dead and it’s all just sucked from beginning to end.

Thoughts: Really, WTF has any of this been about? NINE HOURS of non-stop stupid and it appears that we’ll waste some time next week with some couples therapy over body disposal. Gah! Are we going to have to watch them work out their relationship for the next 15 hours? Pffft.

Hardcores: No one. (Jack would’ve gotten his usual if he didn’t get tased so easily.)

Little Bitches: Schwartzman, Red, Me (for having to watch Lifetime Starbuck.)

Up Next: Something. It’s getting harder to stay engaged.
Episodes Score: 6/10.

JBBC: Throat punches, while vicious, don’t count. Holding at 8.

"Crazy Heart" Review

Jeff Bridges is finally going to win an Oscar for his performance in Crazy Heart. The story of an aging, run-down, alcoholic country singer, it travels the well-worn roads of the genre with a few twists in its desert highways. Fueled by an authentic whiskey-soaked batch of songs by T-Bone Burnett, it's at its best when it sticks to the music, especially his tangled connection with a former sideman now big star in his own right. (I'm not saying who plays him because it's a surprising bit of casting.)

Not as good is a slow patch midway in after he's laid up and dallying with Maggie Gyllenhaal, a reporter who looked at this shambling wreck of a man and thought, "Yeah, I need some of this in my life." Her attraction to him is never really explained or motivated, so her reaction to one defining incident is more annoying than justified. However, I do give the film credit for not ending the way you'd expect a drunken-burnout-seeking-redemption movie would end.

In the end, the reason to see Crazy Heart is for Bridges remarkably uncliched performance in what is a tailor-made piece for Oscar-whoring. Fat, drunk, sad life? Check, check, and check, but it still seems fresh in Bridges hands. Some think this makes up for not getting nominated for The Big Lebowski; I think it acknowledges over 35 years of good work in films like Fearless and The Fabulous Baker Boys. I abide Jeff getting the gold.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"24 S8.8" Recap – “Palm Pre: On Sprint’s Pow-Pow Network”

24 S8.8 – “Palm Pre: On Sprint’s Pow-Pow Network”

• We kick off with the bestest storyline this season, “The Life and Times of Lifetime Starbuck,” as she continues to violate CTU’s no personal phone calls/abetting white trash larceny policy to talk to the Yahoo Twins as they call from the strip club. They sure got there fast. Buford tells her they aren’t letting her off the hook. Didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see that coming, did we?
• Damp Boi says that Agent Red is a mess. Ya think?
• Chloe covers for Starbuck’s screwing up. This will result in payback methinks.
• Das Boot and Sark chat over some cooking. Why do bad guys always stop to get their chef on in the middle of their capers? “While I’m waiting to find out if this guy at the garage is a cop, I shall make some of Grammie Babushka’s carrot and ox hoof soup.”
• Jack gets the Mel Gibson in…well, just about half his movies, treatment.
• Bubba calls Prez Cherry. Something about her treaty falling apart, blah-blah-woof-woof.
• Schwartzman gets a call from minion with a well-trimmed goatee. I’m going to have to name this guy next week, aren’t I?
• Das Boot tells Schwartzman that perhaps he should take his weird hair elsewhere to wait for his rods.
• Red has to give a statement and realizes that she’s screwed everything up and Jack’s in trouble because of her. Der!
• Starbuck tries to tell Damp Boi about her secret, but he says that he doesn’t care. Um, perhaps you should find out what your hayseed baboo has to say first. She says she knows what to do. Hopefully this will lead to a blood-soaked Starbuck standing over the machete-hacked bodies of the Yahoo Twins.
• KAZZAP!!! I told ya Jack was gonna kill whoever tortures him so hard!
• Fajita confronts Regis. Oh, gee, she’s banging the help. Regis forbids it. (What about his Blonde Ambition?)
• Jack breaks free and whacks four minions in one segment, but are we supposed to believe that Das Boot is killed by a table? Huh? (OK, he’s just stunned.)
• Awesome Old Spice commercial. “I’m on a horse.”
• Starbuck is out the door again to reboot her life.
• Jack’s got a Palm Pre, like me! Does that mean I can kill like a Horseman of the Apocalypse, too?
• Just as Geoffrey Fieger can’t sue for less than $100 million, no one makes a deal on this show for less than full immunity. “Why not give him a parade down Broadway?”
• Drone Boy shows Damp Boi an out-of-context screen shot of Starbuck and Buford and now he’s concerned.
• Hmmm, he buckled the rookie’s harness. Rookie’s gonna die, isn’t he?
• Whoops! The rods are gone and Sark’s got them on the way to Schwartzman.

Thoughts: About time for Jack to get his Jack on, but the prospect of chasing nuke fuel doesn’t thrill me.

Hardcores: Jack.

Little Bitches: Various Ruskie redshirts.

Up Next: Nukes on the loose and Starbuck gets her gat on.

Episodes Score: 6/10.

JBBC: Jack whacks a quartet to hit the 8-ball mark.

"The Lookout" Review

This little caper drama has been sitting on my shelf unwatched for quite a while; I vaguely remembered it was supposed to be good and I bought the darn DVD, so it was high time to give it a look. I'm glad I did.

The story is simple: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (aka the kid from Third Rock From the Sun) is a young man whose life is radically altered after a dumb auto accident leaves him brain damaged, but fairly functional. He rooms with a blind man, Jeff Daniels, and works as a night janitor in a rural Kansas bank. Targeted by a manipulative con man and his moll girlfriend (Matthew Goode, unrecognizable from his Watchmen turn as Ozymandias, and Isla "Mrs. Borat" Fisher), he gets roped into a scheme to rob the bank. Hijinks ensue.

What writer-director Scott Frank does well is fill The Lookout with well-observed and underplayed character touches. Since he's not working from previous sources as he did with Minority Report, Out of Sight, and Get Shorty, it's interesting to watch how he takes what could've been really flat stock characters and fleshes them out. Even the 3rd string accomplices pop with detail.

It's easy to see how a little film like this can fly under the radar at the box office or even on cable, but if you like well-acted quiet dramas, keep on the lookout for The Lookout. (Ooof! 1000 Gene Shalit Horrible Review Pun points for me!)

Score: 8/10. Rent it.

"24 S8.7" Recap – “Some Things Slap Chop Won’t Work For”

24 S8.7 – “Some Things Slap Chop Won’t Work For”

• Name change update: Agent Red’s Ruskie Baboo will henceforth be called Leoben.
• Great bunch of lines in a row: “Do you look like someone in a position to make demands?” “The driver looks worried.”
• Leoben doesn’t like it when someone calls his whore a whore. Ironic.
• Starbuck finds it difficult to give directions to rednecks who can’t tell their left from right and manage four-digit numerical strings. These yokels can’t remember their Social Security numbers, can they?
• You know what goes good with vodka and macho posturing? Some bread and meat stick!
• Das Boot wants Radiobro given a dignified funeral to go with this radiation sickness and gunshot wounds. Nice. He then sings a Bryan Adams song to Sark. How sweet.
• Leoben calls Das Boot and gets lied to about the rods. Make sexy time with Red then and…oh, gotta make more calls. Fine.
• Regis is rocking some Elvis Costello glasses, all the better to see the conspiracies against him with! Lying to Prez Cherry and his aide Scarforehead. Ohnohedint!
• The Yahoo Twins get stuck in the evidence lockup and Starbuck has to drop everything to get their dumb asses out of there. When do Chloe and Drone Boi catch on?
• Regis’ daughter, oh let’s call her Fajita – that’s and Arab chick name, right? – and Scarforehead are upset about Regis. Knock, knock, more loyal lackeys at the door.
• Leoben strikes out, but Red can’t let him stop trying. Nag, nag, nag, goes Red. Punch, punch, goes Leoben. STABSTABSTABITTYSTABSTABSTAB, GOES RED!!!! ZOMG!!!!
• Whoops! Jack forgets that coming up behind a woman in the middle of a crying and stabbing jag isn’t advisable.
• No matter! BANGBANGBANG! One down! Pull the knife out of your own gut and throwing it to kill another – a move you do in Modern Warfare 2 – for the double-kill. About fraking time! Plus two on the JBBC!
• Awwwww. Jack is able to try and soothe and reassure Red that everything’s gonna be alright. I dunno about you, but the last time an emotional chick stabbed me in the tummy, I was less than sympathetic toward her needs than Jack was. Seriously. You want a hug? DON’T FRAKING STAB ME FIRST!
• Bubba’s unhappy: “He’s violent? He’s dead on the floor.” He’s also slowly noticing that Starbuck isn’t paying attention. Guess what, Sparky? Some people aren’t chipping in for the coffee.
• Ruh-roh! The Ruskies have snuck Jack out thru the tunnels. Jeez, these guys must be badass if the CHUDs didn’t nab them.

Thoughts: OK, this is much better while not quite attaining the expected level of quality we want from 24. They’ve managed to make the lame stuff not so lame that I wanted to scream (like last week), but it’s still pretty lame. Thanks to some serious badassery from Jack and Red – the only thing that’s been fairly solid this weak season – it was a pretty tense hour. Keep improving, kids.

Hardcores: Agent Red, Jack.

Little Bitches: Leoben (why’d I bother renaming him?)

Up Next: Starbuck fesses up to Damp Boi and Jack gets the Mel Gibson treatment. (Yo, dude with the electrodes, he’s gonna kill you so hard.)

Episodes Score: 7/10.

JBBC: Finally bumps up to 4, but this is still an anemic .5 kills per hour. Get cracking, Jack!

"The Lovely Bones" Review

Partially because I don't have time to read fiction - the last novel I finished was Snow Crash. In 2000. I'm not kidding - and mostly because I believe movies have to stand alone from their source material - oh, wait, I read the 1st Harry Potter book before the movie came out in 2001, like that's more recent - and...wait, where was I? Oh yeah, The Lovely Bones, the latest from Peter Jackson, maker of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a book I tried to read, found craptastic, but thoroughly enjoyed the films.

The story is pretty simple: Susie Salmon ("Like the fish," she says) is a 14-year-old girl on the cusp of blossoming who is murdered by her creepy neighbor (Stanley Tucci), her body stashed away, leaving her family with no sense of closure. After her death, she finds herself stuck in what's called "the In-Between," a surrealistic world where elements of her life are recomposed into some breathtaking tableaus.

Played by Saoirse Ronan (pronounced "sur-shuh"), whose big blue eyes seem to float in the milky sea of her skin, Susie's life - well, almost afterlife - watching is poignant until the film's halfway mark where Jackson has a pair of head-scratchingly awful sequences which throw the film's tone out the window. Starting with Susie's cavorting with another dead friend thru settings that look like Saturday morning commercials, then having Susan Sarandon's blowzy drunk grandmother slapstick around, The Lovely Bones never really recovers its footing after that. When the identity of the killer is finally discovered, something so stupid happens that allows him to get away that it's not until the film's final ending that something even dumber happens. (Suffice to say, there is no way in hell that parking lot could exist in that place without a freaking guard rail.)

I'd heard a lot of teeth-gnashing from the fans of the best-selling novel about how Jackson had deviated from the novel, especially that the rape and murder of Susie isn't shown. Since the lead-up to the crime is so gut-wrenching as it is, what do these ghouls think would be gained by watching it happen? We get that she's in trouble and know that it ends badly for her, but have we devolved to the point that the shower scene from Psycho is unsatisfying because it's not as graphic as a Saw movie? Yeesh.

The performances are all good, even Marky Mark as the distraught, obsessed father, but the show rests on Ronan's shoulders and she keeps The Lovely Bones afloat as best as she can despite Jackson's missteps. Considering he was able to snip and bend LoTR into a coherent form from an unreadable book, I'm not sure what went wrong here, but despite some striking visuals and heartfelt moments, there just isn't enough meat on these Lovely Bones.

Score: 5/10 - Catch it on cable.

"24 S8.6" Recap – “The One Where The Air Never Gets Into The Balloon”

24 S8.6 – “The One Where The Air Never Gets Into The Balloon”

• Jack wants Agent Red pulled out of the mission, but Bubba overrules him. Jack says he’ll get the info his way, but Bubba reminds him that “we don’t play that” (paraphrasing) and blah-blah-woof-woof. Yeesh.
• Lifetime Starbuck continues to grind our patience. Someone take her Palm Pre away; she doesn’t deserve a cool phone when she’s such a doormat. Give her a Storm. Buford and Bubba are just gonna sneak into an evidence lockup and get the cash? Uh-huh.
• Red and Ruskie Baboo are doing a lousy job recreating that Moonlighting sexual banter.
• Sark and Radiobro are at the…oh, who the f*ck cares?!? Really? Sark’s threatening the doc in case his brother dies when some things aren’t curable. Stupid. Worse than Lifetime Starbuck’s crap.
• Ruskie Baboo apologizes to Red for smacking her up. Awwww, he’s sensitive. Maybe we’ve misjudged him and, whoops, no, he’s gonna double-cross Jack and gank the cash and kill him. ORLY? Who wants to bet Jack effs up the flunkies sent to get him?
• Prez Cherry is hand-wringing over Regis’ crackdown. Yawn again.
• Regis is cracking down on his nearby flunkies. Yawn.
• Lifetime Starbuck gives B&B the keycards to the lockup. Sing it with me….YAWN. Oooh, Arlo – is that his name? – sees what she’s up to.
• Ah, some life from Chloe! “Why don’t you stare at my ass while I walk away?”
• Ruskie Baboo is crowding Red’s personal space. Even knowing that she’ll probably get to kill him real hard doesn’t do much for the ick factor.
• The way Jack’s had to listen in on this stuff is somewhat interesting, but since we don’t really know what their relationship was between seasons, it’s not sticking.
• Regis’ delegate gets ganked, but something’s up with the minion and Regis’ daughter.
• Radiation illness is transferable thru bodily fluids. Well, Sark better not blow his bro, yo.
• Aw, jeez, was it necessary to whack everyone in the clinic? This doesn’t make the Ruskies seem badass.
• Jack’s showing off of his Berlitz training was cool, but what’s with the glasses? Is that supposed to make him seem more arms dealerish?
• More ick: Red looks like she feels dirty.
• Baboo tells Red that he’s gonna gank Jack – maybe you shouldn’t have toss your comms, eh, Renee? – and she tries to talk him out of it. (Looking hawt in that tank top, Red!) Fortunately, Damp Boi was on deus ex sniper duty and able to pick off the red shirts. Come on, can’t Jack whack someone?!?
• Das Boot caps Radiobro – is killing a lying dead man really killing? – to express his displeasure at Sark’s disobedience. (I guess no dessert wasn’t harsh enough punishment.) At least that ends this sucktabulous storyline.

Thoughts: Simply awful. What the hell is this crap? While the occasional placeholder episode has been an inevitability from time to time on 24 before or after major plot climaxes as they move players around the board, this was simply airless. Other than Agent Red’s nihilism and Jack’s angst, there isn’t much to care about. Regis was a soft touch for Blonde Ambition a couple of HOURS ago and now he’s rounding up dissidents. All the Lifetime angles are just freaking weird. Where is this going?

Hardcores: Agent Red, Das Boot.

Little Bitches: Agent Red, Starbuck, Radiobro, Sark.

Up Next: Who the hell knows? I’m almost afraid to suspect it’s going to be boring.

Episodes Score: 2/10 – Kim getting menaced by a cougar – no, not Courtney Cox – and Johnny Drama in S2 wasn’t this lame.

JBBC: Still only 2. Egad, Damp Boi has tied him.
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