Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year in Review

Can you believe it folks? In just a few hours, 2009 will be upon us. You know what that means; time to reflect on the year that was. A year of highs (Robert Downey Jr! Barack Obama!) and lows ("The Love Guru"! The economy!). Despite a failing economy, the box office was better than ever, with "The Dark Knight" nearly outgrossing "Titanic" and even "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" getting to make a few bucks (unfortunately, so did "High School Musical 3" and "Twilight"). A good explanation for this could have that in these dark times, escape was needed. And movies this year provided the perfect paradox of both escaping reality and having us examine it at the same time. 2008 was also the year in which politics more than ever vastly shaped pop culture. Thanks to the election, "Saturday Night Live" suddenly shot back into relevance while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert further proved themselves to be the voices of this generation. Without further adieu, here are some of the things that shaped the year that was 2008:
Entertainer of the Year: With three Emmys, a hit movie, a brilliant TV show, and a brilliant impersonation, this year all but belonged to Tina Fey. Her "30 Rock" provides the best showbiz satire and example of imagination on TV. Most notably though, was her Sarah Palin impersonation on "SNL." She captured the less fine qualities of the Alaskan governor/Northern Exposure extra by simply taking many of Palin's words verbatim (with a little tweaking) and doing a spot-on voice impersonation. When comparing real Palin to fake Palin, it's impossible to tell who the real thing is. Now, that's good entertainment.
Other Contenders: Robert Downey Jr., Jason Segal, Russell Brand, Sarah Palin, Heath Ledger, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Sarah Silverman, Rob McElhenney & Kaitlin Olson
Best Movie*: This was quite a fantastic year for movies, but after much thought I realized the award goes to "Slumdog Millionaire." This tale of a boy from a Mumbai slum who went on an incredible life journey to become a contestant for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" is virtually flawless in every way. It contains a great portion of laughs, cries, and thrills that all coincide to create a perfect whole. Plus, the film's great editing and beautiful cinematography make it stunning to look at. Even though the audience might know Jamal's fate from the very beginning, "Slumdog Millionaire" proves that a film is more about the journey, than it is about the conclusion.
Other contenders: Tropic Thunder, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, In Bruges, Dark Knight, Iron Man
Best TV Show: "The Office" and "South Park" both had their ups and downs. I have given up on "Family Guy." Season 3 of "30 Rock" has unfortunately not lived up to season 2 (but I have faith in Fey. "Lost" was at the top of its game, but the true best show of '08 is perhaps the most underrated: "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." The fourth season of this daring comedy about five of the most self-centered people on the planet went to new lengths to show just how desperate and pathetic (yet...ambitious) these people are. Yet in their misdeeds, creator Rob McElhenney gives us a sort of sympathy for the characters and something so lovable about them that it's hard to change the channel even if they are planning on eating someone or abusing a homeless guy. For it's audacity and sense of humor in the absolutely ridiculous, "It's Always Sunny" earns my love, and hopefully yours too. And one day, maybe the Emmys will finally tune in.
Best Song: No contest. M.I.A's "Paper Planes" was quite possibly the most listened to song on my iPod throughout this year. I am not great at analyzing music, but the upbeat tune had me ready to face anything after listening to it. And it went great in the "Pineapple Express" trailer and in "Slumdog Millionaire." M.I.A has described her music style as being "other" which is exactly what it is, a mix of hip hop, punk, etc. It's a style of her own, and "Paper Planes" defines it.
Saddest Death: The shock of seeing rising star Heath Ledger's name in the obituaries just months before his finest performance in "The Dark Knight" was tragic. But the death of Paul Newman got to me most. I have lived in the same town as him all of my life and even though I never met him, I feel a special connection to him for that very reason. Mainly though, he was just a good man who devoted his life to helping people and forever changed cinema with performances like "Cool Hand Luke" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." His coolness will never be topped, nor will it ever be forgotten.

So what were some of your favorite things in 2008. This is your last chance to let me know before 2008 concludes. Until then, happy new year and thanks to all who have continued to read my blog throughout the year. A whole new year of posts is yet to come.

*Note: A list of the 10 best films of 2008 will be coming soon, after I get to see Benjamin Button, The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road, Gran Torino, and any other Oscar bait only playing in big cities. But, that's what I get for living in the suburbs.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Movie Review: Marley & Me

Is a dog truly man's best friend? What does that saying even mean? I wondered this after walking out of "Marley & Me" last night. It shows a family dealing with the "world's worst dog", but despite the chaos the dog may cause, it is still someone who keeps them company and makes them happy in times of trouble. A companion always by their side. A man's best friend.
"Marley & Me" is based on the best-selling memoir written by John Grogan. In the movie Grogan is played by Owen Wilson. He has just married Jenifer (Jenifer Aniston) and is settling in to a new job at a Florida newspaper and preparing for married life. The first step? Get a dog. That dog would be "clearance puppy" Marley. He doesn't seem like much at first but within weeks the dog has destroyed the entire garage, ripped apart couches, and eaten dry wall (he doesn't just chew, he eats it). 
The rest of the film chronicles the Grogan's married life. It goes through their ups and downs, good and bad, and children. All of these years of marriage are traced through the life of Marley.
You don't have to own a dog to fall in love with "Marley." It teaches lessons about life and brings laughs that anyone can feel. 
The movie, for the most part, stays very true to the source material. Some key scenes had to be either taken away or shortened but director David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada") still handles them well. Unfortunately, what is lost is a lot of Grogan's witty narration and commentary on the scenes that made up most of the book. A lot of his observations have been used in ways to show the scenes, so in that way Frankel does the book justice. The film does display a great use of montages. Montages with Grogan reflecting on the past day for newspaper columns (most including Marley causing trouble) and instructing a dogsitter how to watch the dog are brilliantly done for a great comic effect.
The stylistic techniques used in a film like this are miniscule compared to the actual story. And what a finely told story it is. As a dog owner myself, I could connect with many of Marley's most troublesome acts. I may not be able to name my dog "world's worst dog," but that doesn't mean I've had to wake up to her barking on numerous occasions at 4 am on a school night. But in the way that Grogan can get over the destruction Marley caused, so can I. It's because a dog doesn't seem to understand anything its doing but can truly understand when their owner needs a friend.
I may have said this before but I am not much of a crier during movies (a few exceptions include "Life is Beautiful," and a few sniffles during "Slumdog Millionaire"). I warn you, bring tissues, napkins, or what haveya when you see "Marley & Me." The film is about the life cycle of a dog and it ends exactly where you think. And if you think I'm giving something away believe me, I am not. The concluding act of the film is heartbreaking yet heartwarming, because we've grown to love Marley and the rest of the characters so much that the loss is devastating. 
A large part of what makes this movie works are the central performances by Wilson and Aniston, who manage to be so convincing as a struggling married couple. In the last few moments, Wilson absolutely shines. You can feel the emotion of his connection between him and the dog. In that moment, the connection between the two goes from an animal to human connection to a human to human connection. This is the message that Grogan intended.
When I first heard that "Marley" was being turned into a movie, I hesitated. I greatly enjoyed the book but when I thought of dog movie the first thing that popped into mind was a bunch of dancing chihuahuas. But "Marley" is far from that. It is a serious human story filled with hilarious moments of a dog simply acting like a dog. 
"Marley & Me" is the rare movie for the family that anyone of any age can enjoy and feel something for. It shows that a dog's will love you, no matter what you do to it, so why not love each other the same way? "Marley & Me" will give a new reason to give your dog a treat, just maybe not a "who's a good boy?"
Other Great Dog Movies: All Dogs Go to Heaven, Homeward Bound, Oliver & Company

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What to do on Christmas if you are a Jew (or any religion)...

...Watch the best holiday movie ever, "A Christmas Story" on TBS. And there's no way you can miss it, because you have at least 24 chances to watch it. That's right, 24 hours of "A Christmas Story." And don't feel weird watching it more than once, it's totally acceptable.

Warning: Maybe not too many viewings. You'll shoot your eye out...kid
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008: The Year in Quotes

The best way history can be remembered is through the things that people say. Conversation is how the thoughts and ideas of the time are truly communicated. Here is a list (in no particular order) of some quotes from movies, tv, and reality that made 2008 unique:

"My videogame is the most provocative thing since the War on Terror. Yes, I am provocative."
-Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), 30 Rock

"Wildcard B*****s!"
-Charlie (Charlie Day), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

"If reality TV has taught us anything, it's that you can't keep people with no shame down."

-Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), 30 Rock

"I can see Russia from my house!"
-Sarah Palin (Tina Fey), Saturday Night Live

"I'm the mayor, I can do whatever I want until the courts tell me I can't."
-(The real) Sarah Palin 

"Yes, I did have three xanaxes and a silver bullet. I'm outta here in a few months so screw it."
-George W. Bush (Will Ferrell), Saturday Night Live

"So what?"
-(The real) George W. Bush, after having a shoe thrown at him

"I watched Boston Legal nine times before I realized it wasn't a new Star Trek!"
-Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), 30 Rock

"The slumdog's got bite."
-Slumdog Millionaire

"I don't break character until after the DVD commentary is recorded."
-Kirk Lazurus (Robert Downey Jr.), Tropic Thunder

"He told me... that after I left the island, some very bad things happened. And he told me that it was my fault for leaving. And he said that I had to come back."
-Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), Lost

"F**k you, Miss Daisy."
-Ronnie, Role Models

"Dominique, you banged me, like right away, I hardly had to do anything. Tabatha you did the same. But most importantly you banged each other...and you let me watch. AWESOME."
-Mac (Rob McElhenney), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

"I would not — I would not be an American worthy of the name should I regret a fate that has allowed me the extraordinary privilege of serving this country for a half a century."
-John McCain

"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."
-Barack Obama

What other quotes defined 2008? And can anyone tell me verbatim what Sarah Palin truly said about being able to see Russia from her house?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Someone Answered My Prayers...

A few months back, I reported that Michael Bay's production company was planning an extremely unnecessary remake to the 1968 classic "Rosemary's Baby." Reasons were that the producers behind it couldn't think of a fresh angle to make the movie by. Well, that's partly because the original "Rosemary's Baby" is as fresh and frightening today as it was 40 years ago. Then again, I'm pretty sure Bay can make anything fresh and original just by adding a few explosions to it. Am I right? Am I? (Crickets churp)

Note: This photo represents Mia Farrow's reaction once she found out that "Baby" was being put in the hands of the guy who blessed us with "Transformers."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Best Political Satire this Year

In an unusually good year for Saturday Night Live, which was boosted by the presidential election, the entire cast really delivered on the political satire. Especially with some help from Will Ferrell and Tina Fey. This sketch here satirizes everything from McCain trying to distance himself from Bush to Sarah Palin to the Asian stock markets. Laughs all around. Please, enjoy this sketch and this very snowy weekend. And please, pray the SNL will do okay even with Amy Poehler leaving...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Best Scene on TV This Year

Well, now is about the time of year when I reflect on the best things to come out of 2008. However, it is difficult to write a final consensus on movies since all of the so called Oscar flicks are too good for the suburbs and are currently only playing in NY and LA. However, you can watch a television show anytime, no matter where you live. So while I wait to report this year's best movie, I'd like to present the year's best TV moment.
I had a wide range to choose from, but I decided to go for a now legendary moment from the season 5 premiere of "The Office" entitled "Weight Loss."
You guessed it; it was Jim's (John Krasinski) proposal to Pam (Jenna Fischer). Not just the fact that it was one of the most anticipated moments of the show since Jim first laid that smooch on Pam at the end of season 2, but the brilliant way it is filmed and approached.
First off, rather than setting the proposal in some typical, romantic, cliche setting like a five star restaurant or tropical resort, this special proposal is set on a dark, rainy day at a gas station off of the highway somewhere in between Scranton and New York. It's not filmed right in their faces, but instead off in the distance, as if the camera is spying from a safe distance of this moment.
"Hey! This is not halfway," an overexcited Pam states.
The rest of her words are hard to determine.
Amongst her excitement, Jim just stands there, silent. Is he angry? Sad? Suddenly, he gets down on one knee, and the viewer's heart races a few beats.
"I couldn't wait...will you marry me?" Jim says.
"Oh my God," Pam repeats. And so does the audience.
Of course she says yes. But, that's not the point. Everyway this scene was approached made it so original and so surprising. Everytime I watch it, I get chills and a big smile on my face.
Paul Feig (creator of "Freaks and Geeks"), who directed this episode, has become the Hemingway of television comedy with his simple and honest approach to such complex events, making them all the more powerful.
Long time fans will cry when they see this, and even people who've never watched "The Office" once might feel something.
Here is the clip in all of its glory:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Man Who Reports the News Right: Jon Stewart

Dismiss him as nothing but a comedian all you want, but "The Daily Show"'s Jon Stewart deserves to be the most trusted name in news. He truly knows how to report the news and not just that, but dig deep into it and get true, thought provoking answers. For proof, watch his interview with Mike Huckabee last night. Stewart challenged Huckabee on his strong opposition to gay marriage and nearly left the man speechless.
See parts 1&2 of this fantastic piece of investigative reporting through interview here:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Exhilarating. Enthralling. Heartbreaking. Stunning. Shocking. Breathtaking. Heart-stopping. These are all cliches. The words journalists loathe and hope their readers do too. However, I unfortunately have a thing for using cliches, and everyone of these words represent "Slumdog Millionaire."
Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" is brimming with energy. Every shot, every second, invokes the highest amount of different emotions. Whether it's shock, suspense, sadness, or laughter; "Slumdog Millionaire" takes every emotion up to eleven.
"Slumdog Millionaire"'s flashback flash to present is barely new, but Boyle plans to pull it off in an innovative way. The movie begins in Mumbai, India in the present day. A teenage boy named Jamal (Dev Patel) has for whatever reason, been granted a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete in an Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." How has he gotten zero question wrong. Did he cheat? Only the flashbacks can tell.
The rest of the film traces Jamal's story through flashbacks that come from the questions he is asked. He began as nothing but a boy in the slums (a "slumdog") with his brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail). The two go from destitute orphans to traveling con artists making money off of tourists and such. Along the way, Jamal falls in love with, and then loses a beautiful girl named Latika (Freida Pinto). He devotes the rest of his life toward finding her again and somehow ends up competing for 20 million rupees on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." How does he get there? How does he find Latika again? Only the past will tell.
The best way to describe the style of "Slumdog Millionaire" is Tarantinoesqe. It is told in a way that the flashbacks come together to form some sort of coincidences in the future/present and all together fate in the end.
The entire film takes place and was shot in Mumbai. Mumbai is a city that holds over 13 million people crowded into one space. Much of it, are the poorest slums you'll ever see, the kind you could never imagine. Boyle captures the shoddy slums perfectly in stunning air and tracking shots which capture the slums close-in and see the mass scale of them from high above.
As I said, the poverty level is beyond anyone's wildest imagination. For a film about such poor and terrible social conditions, you'd think the director would've chosen a much more gloomy and depressing tone. Maybe something along the lines of "The Constant Gardner." Instead, it's shot with lively colors, a hip soundtrack ("Paper Planes"!!), and fast-paced cinematography. Even the subtitles are bright. Because of this, the movie is never boring, and Boyle shows us that even some of the worst places still have the potential to be alive with energy and optimism. Especially after the very recent terror attacks in Mumbai, that city could some optimism, and this movie would bring it to them. Not to mention, it also has a much bigger sense of humor than I expected. Yes, a movie that has the potential to be a Best Picture nominee contains one of the funniest poop jokes I've seen in a long time.
"Slumdog" is not all joyous however. Along with the brutally honest images or poverty terrible living conditions there are also extremely disturbing stories of violence, sacrifice, and corruption. Boyle manages to mix this together and you can feel the bad morphing into the good. It is that which makes this one of the most uplifting (in a non-schmaltzy way) movies I've seen.
Here is the paragraph where I should say that "Slumdog Millionaire" is far and away one of the best movies of the year and no doubt deserves a best picture nomination. Both of these things are very true. But I don't need to tell you this; you should be telling yourself this, and you will be as the final credits role. 
In these dark times, "Slumdog Millionaire" offers the definition of escapist entertainment for it allows us to escape yet makes us face the real world at the same time.

Recommended for Fans of: City of God, GoodFellas, The Constant Gardner, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Snatch, Mean Streets, Born into Brothels

Friday, December 5, 2008

Movie Review: Wall-E

The empire has been established for almost two decades, but not until I saw "Wall-E" which was just released this past summer did I realize that Pixar is officially the greatest creator of animation in Hollywood since Walt Disney. And with "Wall-E" they have created their most adult film, for kids.
"Wall-E" takes place over 800 years into the future but takes the queue from other classic dystopia films and makes the future, maybe unrecognizable, seem frighteningly like the present.
In these 800 years into the future, Earth is unlivable and has been completely abandoned by humans. All of the green fields and blue oceans have disappeared and the skyscrapers of giant cities have shaped into giant piles of garbage and the remains of a giant Wal Mart like corporation.
Humans have left Earth on a giant space station called Axiom that's a dystopian utopia. Humans have now gotten so obese and lazy that they can't even walk anymore and instead move from place to place via hover chair. Human interaction is sparse and thanks to robots, you don't even need to get out of bed. All of this is thanks to the Buy N Large, which provides meals to everyone via giant cups that looks like something you'd get at Robeks. Hmmm, this seems relevant.
Back at Earth, the only living things are a few cockroaches, and a robot named Wall-E. Wall-E is a robot that was part of a failed project to clean up the Earth. He now wanders the deserted planet, compacting trash and watching old videotapes. He wanders the Earth in agonizing loneliness until one day another robot named EVE (religious undertone, perhaps?) comes to Earth for unknown reasons. Wall-E immediately falls in love.
Pixar has always been great at giving life to the inanimate and to animals all while dehumanizing people. The toys of "Toy Story" could speak and interact and the mice of "Ratatouille" could outsmart the people around them. The robots of "Wall-E" can love while humans can't even move their legs. However, by the end, "Wall-E" ends up showing sympathy for humans which plays a part in its ultimately hopeful message.
But with all of the religious and political themes, the true heart of "Wall-E" lies in its love story. Director/writer Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") creates a love story between two robots yet makes it seem human by pumping it with life, energy and humor. I am not much of a crier when it comes to movies but the story of Wall-E and Eve nearly had me reaching for a tissue box. Making a relationship between two people in a movie seem believable in a movie is difficult. But making a love story between two robots seem believable, well, takes a lot of talent.
The character of the title, Wall-E, is truly the most lovable part of the movie. In one of the best sci-fi films in years, the robot is quite possibly the most endearing sci-fi character since E.T. No surprise, Wall-E's voice sounds like a mixture of E.T. and R2-D2. Also, like "E.T," "Wall-E" proves that the science-fiction drama isn't all about aliens, predators, and terminators. There is a large amount of room for heart, even if a robot doesn't have one.
"Wall-E" is innovative in everything from its extremely realistic animation to its irregular story structure. It drops the witty banter that is typical of a Pixar film and replaces it with extremely long silences. Most of the time, it feels more like "2001" than "Finding Nemo." Despite the long, dialogue-free sequences, the movie never feels boring. In fact, it is the imagery that makes the movie captivating and where it finds most of its humor. Pixar has found a way to make intelligent humor out of slapstick and visuals. Genius.
"Wall-E" is a definite nominee in the Best Animated Feature Oscar (and probably win) but is good enough that in a perfect world, it would get a Best Picture nomination. Why? Everything. The writing, the story, the characters, and the political messages. It is hard to say which film about the future will become most accurate, but I believe "Wall-E" will come pretty close. And this is coming from a generation of children's films that include such glaring historical inaccuracies as "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."
"Wall-E" may be rated G but it will probably appeal more to adults than kids. But the message it teaches is crucial to the audience of children it should attract. In fact it is a message universal to any person of any age. It proves that love can exist between any two things, and the promise of hope is very real. Yes, even in an unforgivingly consumerist culture.
The same production company that's poisoning our country with "High School Musical," Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers is also responsible for a film that could maybe make our world a little better. Maybe they should make more films like this because after all, kids are capable of being mature enough to see a film that doesn't involve a bunch of high school kids dancing and singing.
For sure I can say this: "Wall-E" has earned a true place in my heart. And less your heart is made of nothing but wires and computer chips, you will love it too.
Recommended for Fans of: Toy Story, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Monster's Inc, Star Wars, E.T., Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, Children of Men, 2001: A Space Odyssey 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

For Your Consideration

During the months of December and January, I will post some people/movies that deserve Academy Award recognition in February. So, if any Academy members are viewing this blog, please take this post into consideration...

With my first "For Your Consideration" post I decided instead of starting big, I'd start small. That's why I'm starting with a category often overlooked: Best Original Song. While it may unfortunately be passed over in all of the main categories, here is the Academy's chance to honor "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." It offered not one, but three fantastic, hilarious, and catchy songs. Oscar is never kind to comedies in the categories that matter, but they have often been kind to them in the song category (ex: "Blame Canada" from "South Park Bigger, Longer, and Uncut").
Here are the three songs from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" worthy of a nomination:
Dracula's Lament
We've Got To Do Something

Inside Of You