Friday, September 23, 2011

Series Premiere: PRIME SUSPECT

Prime Suspect
Where: NBC
When: Thursdays @ 10PM

I'm not sure what compelled me to tune into this show last night. Based very closely on the British show of the same name (starring Helen Mirren), "Prime Suspect" is the new procedural cop drama lead by Maria Bello as Jane Timoney, and my first thought was that there couldn't be a whole lot that would separate this from all the other case-of-the-week detective shows out there. And I'm perfectly content watching "Castle" every week, thank you very much.

Well, let me start this off by saying: this show sure as shit ain't "Castle." Or "SVU" or "The Closer" or "The Glades," etc. No, "Prime Suspect" brings a grittiness that I haven't seen on primetime in quite awhile, and a lot of that credit is given to Bello, who not only looks like she can throw a few punches, but that she can take some as well (which the pilot makes sure to exhibit graphically.)

The crux of the show centers around Timoney and her fellow homicide detectives, who we quickly learn are very much not on her side. She's blonde, she's hot, and she doesn't belong there. Period. Therefore, these foul-mouthed, misogynist, Irish cops can only assume she slept her way in. With battles like that to fight, Timoney has her work cut out for her.

Mario Bello slips into this role with such grace and power, I really couldn't look away from her. Her years and maturity show on her face, and it adds legitimacy to the character. She's beautiful, but not because her hair is done or her makeup is perfect. It's because she's a bad-ass.

What I also love is the level of vulnerability she exhibits. Already, we can tell there's a lot going on in this story, and the show does a fantastic job dropping the viewer into a "world already in progress." Dynamics are established, relationships are already complicated, and Timoney already has a lot of shit she's dealing with, so don't get in her way. And her tough-as-nails attitude is then softened in a scene where she returns home from the precinct, takes off her clothes, and tells her boyfriend to be quiet and hold her - and she just cries. Not melodramatically, but necessarily. Very strong.

While much darker than most procedural shows I tend to be drawn to, I know I'll be tuning in every week. There's so much rich character development already, the dynamics can only get better. Of course, with a Helen Mirren vehicle as your inspiration, how can you go wrong?

****/4 stars

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Series Premiere: THE PLAYBOY CLUB

The Playboy Club
Where: NBC
When: Mondays @ 10pm


I totally get it. "Mad Men" is a throwback to a time and place that few of us remember or were even alive to experience. And maybe it's time for other networks to cash in on the phenomenon. With ABC's "Pan Am" and NBC's "The Playboy Club" both hitting primetime this Fall, there is no shortage of 1960s fare to choose from. And considering one of my favorite guilty-pleasures of all time is the original "Girls Next Door" series, I knew I couldn't resist watching anything Playboy Bunny related.

In NBC's surprisingly dark new drama set in 1960s Chicago, "The Playboy Club" tells the story of just that: The infamous club where only key-holders were granted access to the decadence, style, and sin that only Playboy could offer. Featuring opening and closing narration by Hugh Hefner himself (wonder how long that will last), the world is painted with rouge, pastel satin, and flowing liquor. Sexy, right?

Leading the fluffy-tailed pack is veteran Bunny and lounge-esque singer, Carol-Lynne (frequent Broadway star, Laura Benanti - who I was lucky enough to see in "The Wedding Singer" over 5 years ago), who quickly finds that being the queen of the nest also means the years may be starting to show. Her back-room romance with frequent patron and influential Chicago lawyer, Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) is threatened when Dalton witnesses the Club's newest bunny, Maureen (Amber Heard) accidentally kill a man in self-defense [fighting off a rape attack with a heel to the throat will do the trick.) That attacker turns out to be the dangerous head of a Mafia crime family, and with Dalton's help covering up the crime, and web of intrigue begins to form.

I was a little shocked by the seriousness of the show, and how dark (so quickly!) it turned out to be. Maybe that's what I liked most - it wasn't expected. Murder, crime syndicates, and politics all seem like heavy fare for show with Playboy as a backdrop, but somehow, it works. The Club isn't treated like a joke or a kitschy farce, so we don't view it like one.

The most noticeable thing is that it seems to be trying a lot less hard than its 60s-era counterparts. The costumes aren't as exaggerated, the language isn't as "Hey, look! We're in the 1960s! Things were different then!" - and I as a TV viewer with more than a few brain cells in my head, I greatly appreciate the effort.

Eddie Cibrian fits this period well, and he's believable as a likable "playboy." In turn, Amber Heard's Maureen is a wonderful lead, who may fall in and out of the period on occasion, but it being only the Pilot, I feel confident she'll find consistent footing. The B-characters are also richer already than I would have expected from episode 1, from the slew of Bunnies and various key-holders, to the Bunny husbands/BFs and the Mafia henchmen (Troy Garity!)

By far one of my favorite premieres so far, perhaps because it was the one I expected the least from. Already, I'm curious where this story will take us, and I'm definitely loving the dynamic backdrop and melodramatic intrigue. Hats off, Bunnies! Here's hoping you're here to stay!

Pilot rating: ***½/4 stars

UPDATE, 10/4/11: "Playboy Club" cancelled... Sad day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Series Premiere: 2 BROKE GIRLS

2 Broke Girls
Where: CBS
When: Mondays @ 8:30PM

Tonight was the first big night of premieres for the new fall season, and I'm going to attempt to review a handful of pilots that I feel inclined to watch. Maybe even a few that I'm reluctant to see. (a few have even been added before this entry to coincide with their premiere dates...)

First show that I cued up just happened to be "2 Broke Girls" - one of two sitcoms created by comedian Whitney Cummings (the other one being "Whitney" on NBC.) Other than the fact that the charming and sardonically funny Kat Dennings was one of the 2 broke girls... I didn't know anything about it before tuning in.

The story centers around a sarcasm-addict named Max (Dennings), who takes her waitress job at an inner-city diner very seriously - so seriously, in fact, she very clearly appears to be the most competent person to ever set foot in the place. And she works hard to remind everyone of that. The inciting moment comes when, despite Max' protests, another waitress gets brought in to carry some of the load.

Unfortunately for Max, this "experienced" waitress turns out to be a disgraced socialite, Caroline (the stunning Beth Behrs), who is now struggling with the realities of being broke in her once pearly white, diamond-encrusted world. After a bit of feigned sympathy, Max realizes she has the power to help the pathetically clueless Caroline, and invites her to live in her run-down - and unrealistically massive (ahh, sitcoms) - apartment.

What surprised me most about the show was not that it was funny. Dennings and Behrs have bubbly chemistry, and their differences only enhance the situational humor between them. So that wasn't a shock. What was shocking was just how DIRRTY the jokes were! "Cum" and dry vagina jokes within the first 3 minutes? A woman getting wildly and loudly screwed before the opening credits even roll?

Maybe I underestimated you, CBS. Smart, filthy, and clever. Well played. For now.

Hopefully it doesn't get too shlock-y. Towards the end of the pilot, there was a feeling of JOKE SET-UP, punchline. JOKE SET-UP, punchline... Almost giving up on making it feel organic at all (this is my major concern for NBC's new comedy "Whitney"... but we'll get to that when it actually airs.) However, any lines that seemed forced were smoothed out by the two leads, who were immediately engaging and clearly sharp-witted - it gives the comedy more depth and weight than it may deserve.

I will be returning to this show, for sure. The premise seems sustainable and straight-forward (Can 2 broke girls find a way to crawl out of their financial holes?), and if they maintain the dynamic, I'm 100% on board.

Oh, and word of advice for the show: don't litter too many 1-dimensional side characters in there (who the hell was that uptown, rich-bitch mom?? I didn't get that at all!) You don't need it. You've got solid leads. Work on building up some equally dynamic characters around them.

***/4 stars

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Series Premiere: THE SECRET CIRCLE

The Secret Circle
Where: the CW
When: Thursdays @ 9PM

It's been awhile since I've gotten sucked into the world of teenage melodrama that the CW (and its predecessor, the WB) has to offer. Considering my proclivity for angst, love triangles, and gorgeous high schoolers stricken with supernatural abilities, it's a shocker that I've been able to keep myself away. But after hearing some positive reactions to early viewings of this pilot, I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it a shot.

Taking a page from "Twilight" (isn't everything these days?), "The Secret Circle" centers around Cassie, a young girl who is forced to move in with her grandmother after the - she thinks - accidental death of her mother. Of course, she is the new girl in town, which happens to look a lot like Forks/Port Angeles, Washington (it's called "Chance Harbor, Washington"... what better place for romantic angst than the Pacific Northwest?), and it's not long before Cassie realizes her mother may have been keeping some secrets from her.

Namely, that she's a full-blooded witch. And so are five other (gorgeous) teens at her new school, who all seem to know more about her than she does. According to the legend involving all of their families, the possess unlimited power when brought together (*cough*The Covenant!*cough*) - but in order to wield it, they must "bind" their circle, which could illuminate their individual powers.

What I really enjoyed most about this debut was not just the stellar production value (CW clearly invested their money well), but more to do with the richness of the world, and seriousness with which they take the story. There's a lot to laugh about here, if you let it linger too long, but the writers give a lot of substance to the characters, big and small. Their antics are relateable (even if it involves conjuring up a raging hurricane to show off - hey, they're teenagers!), and their emotions are believable. All six of them have suffered the loss of at least one parent - time, I'm sure, will tell us what happened to them.

Biggest surprise of the night? "Queer as Folk"s Gale Harold makes a welcome appearance, immediately establishing himself as the "bad guy," and cause of Cassie's mother's death - and he might just show up somewhere else unexpected, as well. So with that, and without being able to help myself, I got sucked in and now can't wait for the pulsing melodrama to continue.

Why do these shows always make me wish I was back in high school?

Rating: ***/4 stars

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Series Premiere: RINGER

Where: the CW
When: Tuesdays @ 9PM

All I can say is this: Buffy is back on Tuesday nights, primetime. Exactly where she belongs.

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was a huge part of my life. From age 11 to 17, I was heavily immersed and hugely influenced by the Joss Whedon-created world in Sunnydale, not to mention its many stars. Namely, the phenomenal Sarah Michelle Gellar.

But this isn't a review about "Buffy" or a recounting of the effects it had on my life. No, this is a look at Ms. SMG's first television venture since going off the air as the Slayer 8 years ago.

"Ringer" is the CW's newest dramatic thriller, one which doesn't hesitate to aim for an older, more mature demographic. And I say, it's about time, CW. All of the kids who once swooned over Dawson and his pals at the Creek are grown up and looking for something a bit more sophisticated. And Manhattan teenage socialites just weren't doing it for us anymore (sorry, "Gossip Girls.")

Taking a page out of the Bette Davis ("Dead Ringer"/"A Stolen Life") playbook, the story centers around Bridget, a stripper-turned-fugitive who seeks refuge with her estranged twin sister, Siobhan, in the Upper West-side of Manhattan. Both roles are delightfully played by SMG, who I look forward to seeing flex her acting muscles again while sharing the screen with herself ("I Was Only Made to Love You," anyone? Sorry, just can't shake the Buffy comparisons.)

Anyways, little does Bridget know that Siobhan is hiding some dark secrets of her own, and in an attempt to outrun them, fakes her own death and retreats to Paris. Bridget, thinking her sister is truly out of the picture, takes over Siobhan's identity out of desperation. But being Siobhan may bring her more problems and dangers than were haunting her as Bridget.

This pilot does a lot to establish a history, that will eventually unfold and reveal a lot of skeletons to be dealt with. But expertly, the writers provide hints without being obvious, and conflicts without feeling the need to explain why. Nothing bothers me more than blowing an exposition-load all over the 1st 40-minutes of a TV show - show some restraint and build a complex narrative!

My own personal preferences aside, the show has a lot of potential. Motives are unclear, but clearly there, while the past is a mystery to not only the viewers, but most of the characters, as well. Add in the cast of side characters (including Ioan Gruffold as Siobhan's husband, Kristoffer Polaha as her lover, and Nester Carbonell as the FBI agent searching for Bridget, just to name a few), it gives viewers a lot to look forward to.

Hopefully, the CW will give the show enough money to improve the production value (awful CG/VFX/green screen) - it definitely deserves better. "Ringer" has a lot to offer, and I'm sorry - I just can't resist seeing Buffy 2.0. So sue me.

***/4 stars

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bera's Cheese Steak Food Truck

We had a little surprise last Friday at work. Apparently, we have a huge fan of Philly Cheesesteaks in our office, and because of that, the newest fad in dining showed up in our parking lunch aroun 12-noon.


But this wasn't just any food truck. It was the Circus-painted magnificence that is Bera's Custom Cheese Steaks! With plenty of praise stating it has the best Philly Cheese Steaks to offer this side of the 5 Freeway, we were granted a lengthy lunch period to linger in the parking lot (surrounded by the salivating employees of 4 other companies!) to buy, eat, and for many, buy and buy again.

For me, one full-size was enough. And don't give me lip, Web-verse, but what I got wasn't a cheese steak at all -- it was the indescribably delicious #2: Thai Chicken Steak. I can't even describe to you how yummy this sub was... The bread was so soft and fluffy, the chicken was perfectly cooked, the cheese and veggies all melted together... *sigh*...

I could go on and on. But I will say that I'm loving this Food Truck phenomenon. Sure, there are bad ones out of the bunch, but with this new world of Twitter and FB, trying to figure out where your favorite Truck will turn up is half the fun! And just because something is trendy, doesn't mean it's bad, am I right?

And rumor has it that Bera's might be making a regular stop in our company lot. Now I just need to remember to bring cash every day, just in case.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It started with a chair...

Is there anything you can't use a Juno quote for?

There are certain wants that fade with time. They are strong, but they are momentary. Then there are those that never go away. As stupid as it sounds, I have one that has only grown stronger since it first set in.

It may be the first inanimate object I ever truly wanted as an adult. I sat in it - no... sank into it - for the first time, and I knew: one day, the Anthropologie Astrid Chair would be mine.

I even have a corner in my apartment cleared for it. Anxiously waiting to be complete. It's been 3 years, and I still can't let go of the idea that I will be able to afford it and have it as my own. Sure, I've shopped for other chairs. IKEA, Home Goods, Urban Home... even Pier1 had a sorry excuse for a knock-off version that I nearly walked out with (a good $1,100 cheaper than my dream one.) But I just can't do it. Some things aren't meant to be settled for. And when it comes to that PERFECT CHAIR, it might just be worth the wait.

If I can still find it, of course.

Friday, May 27, 2011

‘As If!’ to ‘Honest to Blog!’:
Why Audiences Shouldn’t Scoff at ‘Hip’ Teen Films

It seems that over the past several years, there has been a growing popularity around off-beat, independent feature films.  Littered with dry wit and a quirky cast, it’s no surprise that mainstream audiences have warmed to features like Thank You for Smoking (2005), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and more recently, the critically-acclaimed Juno (2007).  

Massive blockbusters still dominate the box office, so it can be refreshing to see small charmers push through the ranks to make their mark on the year’s films.  Encouraging, even.   Big budgets and innovative CGI don’t have to be the standard, and audiences can expect more for their buck (or at today’s ticket counter, $10.50) with clever narratives, fun dialogue, and down-to-earth direction.

Even more interesting is when a film featuring – and directed to – young people gets significant critical attention.  Every year, studios churn out high school comedies, trying to make a mark on the overly opinionated and increasingly snobby youth market.  One film in 2007 managed to do just that: Juno, the Jason Reitman directed follow-up to his 2005 hit, Thank You for Smoking.   The former centered on a 16-going-on-40 teenager, Juno MacGuff, who finds herself in the sticky predicament of teen pregnancy. 

Wasting no time, Juno, with the support of her family and best friend, makes preparations to carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption “to a family that, like, totally needs it.”  Juno, not one for pleasantries, expels zingers and clever, pop culture-infested anecdotes without missing a beat.  The script, from first-time screenwriter, Diablo Cody, was lauded by most critics as hip, fresh, and charming.  Such praise also landed on the film’s young star, Ellen Page, who turned the archetype of the “teenage girl” on its head by portraying Juno as a tough, complicated, imperfect tom-boy, not to mention one filled with irony.

The subject matter, teen pregnancy, is another notable aspect.  A topic usually considered taboo or melodramatic in the teen genre is handled here with care, humor, and subtle sensitivity.   Juno’s exclamation while calling a clinic that she’s “calling to procure a hasty abortion” is steeped with urgency, light-heartedness, and even a spot of denial.

This is not your typical teenager.  Juno’s rough exterior serves to repel common conceptions about teenage girls: not all are sappy, whiny, or co-dependent, and Juno will make damn sure you don’t think she’s any of those things – whether she is or not.

In the end, the film garnered four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and walked away with the prize for Best Original Screenplay.  Universally praised as one of the best films of 2007 (with a 94% “fresh” rating on online film site, Rotten Tomatoes), such adoration couldn’t occur without just a little bit of backlash.  And in the case of Juno, that backlash came strong and hard.

Just as popular as the evolving genre is peoples’ penchant for cutting these films down.  Following the release of the film in December ’07, criticism from film audiences began to seep out.  As the movie grew in popularity, the negative critiques piled on thicker.  The reason?  Well, I asked myself this question many times over the past 6 months, taken aback by the vitriol and hatred that seemed to, almost instantly, turn young audiences away from the film.

Then I found one of the likely rationales:  just like when underground bands rise from obscurity, only to have one of their songs played on the most recent episode of “The Hills,” die-hards turn their backs in disgust.  How dare their favorite band, who they’ve loved since they saw them play in that grungy bar on that corner that one time, go and get popular without their express permission?  Don’t they know you’re supposed to stay ‘underground’ in order to be good?

It’s a sense of entitlement that many people, not just those in their youth, have towards cultural favorites. Juno, as a result, suffered from its popularity.  Screenwriter, Diablo Cody, became the butt of every Juno-related jab, poking fun at her overly “hip,” trying-too-hard-to-connect jargon, as well as her tendency to have her characters make obscure pop culture references.

As I’ve found out, Juno’s off-handed remarks about everything from gore-king, Dario Argento, to ‘50s comedian, Soupy Sales, rubbed many critics and viewers the wrong way – the more they thought about it, that is.  More than once, I have heard people in their late teens and early 20’s criticize the film for bringing something they loved into mainstream culture. Whether it be the funky soundtrack by underground sensation Kimya Dawson or the faux-punk fashion styles, original lovers can’t bear to watch as *insert trend here* is trivialized and revealed as something everyone can enjoy.

Claims were made on popular gossip sites such as Oh No They Didn’t and JoBlo that the film tries “too hard” to be appealing, laying on the banter and repartee too think.  One reviewer noted that Juno felt like “Hollywood’s desperate bid for the fickle attention of the YouTube generation.”¹  Further criticism stems from the assertion that “today’s kids just don’t talk [like Juno]!”²  Well, god forbid someone younger than eighteen speak like a wise-cracking adult, or they might risk attack from people carrying stereotype-manuals and a bucket of tar.

Stepping away from the craze and fervor surrounding the movie, it’s hard to really comprehend the extreme hate these critics and audiences continue to direct at this harmless comedy.  Haven’t they seen the iconic movies that paved the way long before Juno hit the big screen?  Don’t they remember that the same remarks of “lack of authenticity” and “too mature, witty dialogue” were made constantly over the past several decades about teen classics such as Heathers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless, and Can’t Hardly Wait, not to mention most of the “Brat Pack” movies?

Those films went on to represent a generation of high school kids, and it’s fruitless to blame Hollywood for that representation.  Aren't all teen movies stylized and “hipped-up” to one degree or another?   A slice of teen life captured on film through a world of heightened fashion trends, popular music, and slang?  Immense enjoyment comes from watching a movie like Juno after a decade or two has passed, absorbing the visual and social highlights that generation had to offer.

The best comparison to Juno I can cite to make this argument has to be one of, if not the, most loved – and stylized – teen films of the ‘90s:  Clueless (1995), written and directed by Amy Heckerling.

Like Juno, Cher walks through life filtering trends, making statements, and, most notably, creating a dictionary of slang terms that has since become a part of youth culture.  Popular Valley Girl phrases such as “whatever,” “as if,” and “totally buggin’” are bandied about at lightning speed, while characters reference everything from Marky Mark to Tony Curtis to Monet.

When I watch Clueless, it’s hard to argue that all that much is truly “real” about the film.  Characters go around completely unsupervised, drive expensive cars without licenses, talk on their cell phones during class, and fast-talk themselves out of everything from bad grades to sexual assault.  Nose-job bandages are as popular at Cher’s high school as Converse footwear is at Juno’s, which gives the film a very specific period, with a style and tone that says: “This is the world these kids live in – deal with it!”

Cher talks and acts like a grown-up, regardless of how immature and in need of life lessons she is, and watching Cher is eerily similar to watching Juno – 12 long years later – dealing with all the shit life throws at them.  

Sure, the plots are drastically different (I might even argue that Clueless doesn’t really have a plot at all), but the concepts are still the same: whether we’re in Beverly Hills or the Midwestern American suburb, teens create a culture all their own and it’s the adults’ job to keep up.  Youth culture can’t be pigeonholed, so it’s a safe bet that films will take some creative liberties in representing each ever-changing generation.

As critics today look back at past films, now being released on special edition DVDs and Blu-Ray, I’d be curious to find out just how “clichĂ©” and “hip” those critics of Juno might consider Clueless.  Would they make claims that Amy Heckerling was trying too hard to appeal to the ‘90s teen demographic?  After all, she was over 40 years old when she made that movie, older than Diablo Cody was when she wrote Juno at a youthful 30 years of age.  Surely she didn’t live as a teenager in 1995, so how could she know how they talked and interacted?  She must have been making something up!  Perhaps she wanted to capture elements of what was popular at the time and represent teens in a fun and unique way.  Would that be so bad?

Regardless of her age or motives, Heckerling produced a film that became a phenomenon, and has turned into a nostalgic look back at the fantastical world of high school in ‘90s Beverly Hills, not to mention any place else that tried desperately to emulate the world as she saw it.  Cher’s life is unlike any teenager’s I ever knew growing up, but that doesn’t make her story any less valid or her dialogue any less entertaining.

Juno takes a page from that same playbook, creating a stylized version of the “every-high school,” and future decades will be able to look back on this cinematic creation to catch a glimpse at what teens were like during the ‘00s – or at least how they should be remembered:  image-crazed, over-saturated, media-driven, and just a little bit indifferent.  Hey, wait a minute… that sounds like some people I know.  Maybe Juno - and Diablo Cody - weren’t so far off the mark after all.

¹ Thomas Peysor. “Little Miss Rain Clouds,” Style Weekly (Dec. 19, 2007)
² Berge Garabedian. “Juno,” JoBlo’s Movie Reviews (Feb. 22, 2008)

Friday, April 15, 2011

"You're the Angel of Death."


Something amazing happened last night while I sat watching the midnight screening of Scream 4: I was scared. And I was surprised. A lot.

After 11 long years, Dimension has released the long-awaited, highly anticipated follow-up to the 90s/00s Scream trilogy, and they brought back everyone who made the originals such a stab-tastic success! Director Wes Craven and original writer Kevin Williamson reunited the gang to brave the blood, horror, and pop culture references just one more time.

I have to say before I get started... These movies make me very nostalgic. So going into movie #4 was bound to be a roller-coaster of emotions. So that aside, I will try to be level-headed about my analysis. Obviously, I'm going to try to avoid going into too much detail, because it really was a delight to see not knowing which direction it would take. But WARNING: some themes and plot points are discussed, so take that into account if you continue reading!

In this new film, we finally return to Woodsboro, CA - the scene of the original crimes and the sole location of the original Scream film. There we find that our beloved Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) is once again policing the sleepy town, but this time as its Sheriff. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox-Arquette) is now Gale Weathers-Riley, lovingly married to Dewey, but resentfully living in the now uneventful Woodsboro. That is, until Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) comes back into town.

Returning for the first time since the massacre, perpetual survivor Syd has a new book to promote and a lot of wounds to heal. But as we all know, with Syd comes the inevitable reappearance of Ghostface. Oh, and the bloody and mangled bodies he leaves behind. And thankfully, Kevin Williamson has written some incredible (and some might say familiar) new characters into the mix, pulling from the long roster of young ingénues currently starring on every show on the CW and ABC Family. Front and center is Jill Roberts (played by Emma Roberts), Syd's teenage cousin in a very "Sydney Prescott in Scream"-esque role, who finds that her classmates' bodies seem to be piling up around her.

But let's not forget all the other loveable characters from the past! They can't go unrepresented either! Thankfully, we've got a Tatum (Hayden Panetierre), a Billy (Nico Tortorella), and even a couple of film-obsessed Randys (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen), all there to remind us that once again, the rules have changed.

While the original trilogy focused heavily on the rules and makings of a sequel and its counter-parts, this one takes it from a modern and rather prevalent perspective:

THE REMAKE. And what are the rules of a successful remake, you might ask? Well, you'll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Probably the most self-referential (or "meta", as the kids are calling it ad nauseum these days) of the series, it not only references itself on a continual stream, but is constantly citing or quoting the original trilogy and the 7 fictional Stab films that have been released over the past decade as the "film within a film." And while bringing attention to its flaws and over-used conventions could have been tedious and forced, it was shockingly refreshing, seemless, and oftentimes, hysterical.

Combining the old cast (who, btw, have never looked better) with the young was done very successfully. With so many faces and side-plots, it could easily have gone off the rails, taking too much time with people we didn't care about and forgetting about the ones we did, but it managed to stay on course, utilizing the freshness of the kids with the expertise and clear preparedness of the adults.

There were a few standouts among the masses, however. For me, at least. First and foremost, I truly believe the star of not only this movie, but the entire franchise, is Cox' Gale Weathers. Gale is a strong, sharp protagonist, and while the story may revolve around Syd, her inability to shake that "victim" stigma weakens her overall persona - no matter how many times she beats the piss out of Ghostface! It probably helps that Gale was given more dimension than the rest of the cast from the beginning and penned some of the best lines - and this time around, that hasn't changed. I didn't expect to care about the original 3 survivors as much as I found that I did - and Craven/Williamson don't let you lean back in your seat for even a moment from start to finish.

Another standout, surprisingly, was among the young cast: Hayden Panetierre. Playing the witty and clever Kirby, she delivered a stellar performance, ranging from funny to emotional in a single monologue. Very impressive (I still can't get over some of her perfect timing), and she wasn't alone. Most of the other newbies held their own, too - save Emma Roberts' momentary, but forgivable, breaks in character. It's pretty hard when you're up against veterans like Campbell and the Arquettes. Some slack must be given.

A few things didn't sit right with me, though. There's always something. While the movie did a good job about mis-directing your suspicions, it didn't spend a lot of time playing out some of what it set up. For instance, Gale's interest in getting back into reporting doesn't pay off the way that you'd expect, and while I understand certain things are cut for the sake of time and belaboring the point, it did feel a bit incomplete. A few others things are a bit too plot-sensitive to list here, but in general could have been fleshed out and handled with greater care. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, these issues seem minor in comparison.

In closing, I was remarkably pleased with this movie. I felt it not only did the characters justice, but the entire franchise. In my humble opinion, it sure as hell surpassed the 3rd, and matched the 2nd, landing in similar territory to the 1st (*gasp* blasphemy!) It mixed familiar motiffs with new and modern takes (oh, how phones and the internet have changed in 15 years!), and it managed to do what I least expected: Scare me.

Thank you, Wes and Kevin and cast. I expect movies 5 and 6 to be just as impressive. Don't let me down now that you've lifted me up.

Rating: 4/5 stars, ****

ps. The opening is hilarious. The ending is epic. That's all I can say.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bowling, Karaoke, and Ice Hockey - oh my!

These new working hours really are taking a toll. While the days tend to go by really quickly, I'm left wondering as I crawl into my bed at 11PM (boy! things have changed since college!): Where did the time go?? I used to have loads of free time; so much so, that I didn't really make an effort to do anything with it. It was always there! Why try to fill it with stuff when I can just make plans later?

Now? not so much. My free time has become a precious commodity, and after only a month at this new, fast-paced and challenging job, I'm realizing "letting loose" is a down-right necessity! Gretchen isn't the only one who needs to run her little ol' head off for a spell! By Friday night (who are we kidding? by Wednesday morning!), my sanity is on the brink and the only cure is to find fun and interesting ways to entertain myself.

And what better way to do that than to get a little silly?

Last weekend, I tagged along with a group of friends to engage in some of my favorite middle school pasttimes: late-night bowling, drunk karaoke, and bleery-eyed ice hockey! Okay, maybe that's not exactly how those all went down when I was 11, but hey! Being an adult has its perks! I'd wanted to try out the newly revotated Corbin Bowl in Tarzana since I moved to the Valley 2 years ago, and last Saturday night, not only was it "Retro Night", it was also Karaoke Night in the bar.


Let me just say, I rocked it. At least during the first game where I kicked major ass on the scoreboard (the later games don't count because I was considerably more on the inebriated side.) Not only did my score breach a whoppin' 100 (yay!), I was whipping that 10-lb ball down the lane like my life depended on it. I was mighty proud of myself.

As the night wore on, we dined on the wonder that is bowling alley food (for me? chicken strips and fries) and I downed some of the strongest and cheapest Fuzzy Navels I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. And nothing makes bowling more fun than flashing disco lights, blasting dance music, and a steady flow of liquor.

When the games came to an end, we made our way to the bar to enjoy the epic serenades occuring in the Karaoke lounge. And who are we kidding? It doesn't take all that much to convince me to get up there myself! Derick and I crooned our way through "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum, which suited the country-lovin' crowd pretty well.

Seriously, I don't know why I don't do karaoke more often. It's so scary in such a fun way! But honestly, the highlight of the night was the middle-aged black guy who whipped out one of the most impressive versions of "And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going)" from Dreamgirls that I have ever seen! Breaking out into FULL falsetto, this guy brought the house down, and I could not have been more wowed! I'd kill for a reaction from a crowd like the one this guy got. Of course, I'd probably have to be brave enough to belt it out and not care like him, too. But Derick and I rocked it, so I can't complain.

And did I mention that I tried DDR for the first time? Like the little boys that they are Ross and Derick stumbled into the arcade, and I couldn't escape without jumping around like a fool. It's probably not a good sign that I got out of breath during the 1st "novice" round, right? I'll just pretend everyone gets that winded.

I need more of these nights. More breaks from the reality of "responsibility" and the like... And I definitely plan to make a habit of it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park

I've felt so bad recently for the number of hours I've been working. It makes it tough, not just on me, but on my loving and patient furry family back at home. The cats, Bartleby and Loki, likely miss getting fed at a reasonable hour, not the mention the daily 6pm snuggles they used to receive. But hey, they're cats. They adjust. I know that no matter what, they will greet me at the door with purrs and a quick wrap around my ankles.

It's little Gretchen I worry most about. My 6-month old Miniature Dachsie still has so much to learn. And while I'm an avid believer in crate training (it's really doing wonders for her!), being in the crate for long periods of time isn't fun for any pup, even if all they do is sleep most of the time. But she's been so good, I felt that after a long week of being cooped up, it was time she got to run free! And what better way to make that happen than to take our very first trip to the nearby DOG PARK?

Surprisingly, the Valley doesn't have a lot of advertised doggie play areas, so I knew I would likely have to try out the largest and most popular location first: the Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park in Encino on Victory Blvd.

This vast expanse of doggie-play heaven is broken up into three sections: (1) Big Dogs, (2) Little Dogs, and (3) Timid Dogs. Each section was equipt with well-maintained grass, tables and benches for owners, and large water bowls and spiggots for the canines. The area designated for large dogs was very appropriately the biggest, but it was great to see that the small dogs were given a decent size space as well.

Let me just say, Gretchen was euphoric. A little tentative at first, it wasn't long before she started running up to groups of other doggies, most still significantly larger than her. Just like at home, all she ever wants is to chase and be chased. Of course, at home, her desperate pleas to engage the cats in a "catch me!" game tend to go unnoticed. But here, she was getting chased WHILE chasing and just couldn't have been happier!

Granted, I acted a bit like a worried mom, but tried to keep my distance and let her play. The gravity of the fact that she probably wouldn't come if I called weighed on me a little, but I knew that as long as the gate remained closed, she'd be safe and close by. The other dogs seemed to love her, and she even found the only other Dachshund in the place! She would run and roll, and change directions and roll again - she was a spitfire! I was so proud of my baby, she did such a good job.

And boy was she tired! Getting chased and continually humped will do that, I suppose. Her tiny tongue lobbed out the side of her mouth, and the second she got strapped into her car booster seat, she passed out. Mission: Accomplished.

More than anything, I'm just happy to see her socializing so well. She's got a great balance of dominant and submissive behaviors, meaning she's not agressive, but will definitely stand up for herself when other pups get a little inappropriate (little Malty-poo, I'm talkin' about you!) This was the perfect trial run before she starts Doggy Day Care, which will be a nice change from being holed up all day.

I think it also might be time to do a little more exploring to find even more parks to let her run loose.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force... a force!"


I'm trying to revisit classic movies that have had a profound affect on me. I took such a long break from film this past year... Not that I didn't see any, but I had a hard time paying attention or even reaching out to find new ones. Now, in 2011, I'm finding my way back. And that begins by re-watching some old favorites (and discovering that they may - or may not - hold up to my initial praise.)

Last night, I watched Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd, a movie I didn't actually see until a few years ago, but it immediately shot to the top of my all-time favorites list. A story about a gutsy female radio DJ, Marcia (played by the husky-voiced Patricia Neal), who brings her daily Arkansas radio show "A Face in the Crowd" to a local jail, where she encounters Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith in his first major film role), a charismatic drunk who has no shortage of songs or stories to share. Marcia dubs him "Lonesome" Rhodes and it isn't long before the local citizens, followed shortly by the country, fall under his spell. As his influence over the public grows stronger and his delusions of grandeur balloon, Marcia comes to recognize the monster that she's created - and, against her better judgment, fallen in love with.

This film is dark, much darker and more suggestive than other movies coming out during the late 50s. It's not too surprising, however, when you take into account the director, Elia Kazan, who was known for his dramatic and shockingly risque portrayals of flawed protagonists, i.e. Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire and Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, both of which came out well before this 1957 venture. Scenes exhibiting Lonesome's destructive alcoholism are controversial enough, but his blatant womanizing and suggestive dialogue are undeniably shocking. During a scene in which he leers at a young woman (played by a scantily-clad Lee Remick) competing in a baton twirling competition he's, of course, been asked to judge, a man leans over and murmurs "She's only 17." This revelation causes Lonesome's eyes to grow wider and brighter, as if that's the most enticing news he's ever heard.

In 1957, I can't imagine this film didn't just gob-smack movie-goers. Particularly considering how it not only portrays people in the south/mid-west as ignorant hicks, but also shows the entire country as easily-influenced sheep, raising "celebrities" to god-like status.

Beyond the incredible direction (Kazan directed 5 of my favorite classic films - needless to say, I'm a fan), the acting is what surprised me most upon my first viewing and wowed me again when I revisited it last night. This was Andy Griffith before he was TV's "Andy Griffith" - clearly a gifted actor with impeccable comedic timing and an untouchable charm, but I had never thought of him as someone with the ability to embody such a tragically amoral character. I can't get over just how impressive he is, and I'm proud of him that he was able to have a role like this in repertoire before being pidgeon-holed as TV's most wholesome father.

What makes the movie that much stronger is it's not just about Griffith's talent. Patricia Neal comes off as a 'country Lauren Bacall', with the whiskey voice and feminine strength that evokes a constant air of sex - but only on her terms. That strength is tested by Lonesome's continuous failings, and Neal's Marcia literally unravels before our eyes, fighting the inevitable truth that only she can bring down the megalomaniac that she loves, but who only uses her in return.

The words of wisdom seem only to come from the man who, in turn, gives Marcia love that isn't reciprocated. Walter Matthau plays Mel, Lonesome's hardly-used writer, and it is he who stands on the sidelines of Rhodes' rising fame, scratching his head wondering how that world doesn't see what he sees. He is also responsible for slowly pulling Marcia out of Lonesome's shadow and into the light.

I can't express how much I love this movie, and just how captivating the story still is. Perhaps it's because nothing's really changed in our society in over 50 years. The world is still transfixed with the influence of celebrity, no matter how mundane or flawed they might be (Charlie Sheen, anyone?), and we all get lost in the idea that "one of us" could achieve such elusive greatness.

If you haven't seen this movie, I can't recommend it enough. Even if you have an aversion to classic, or 'black and white', films, believe me when I saw you will not be disappointed. I'm now feeling a desperate need to revisit my other Kazan favorites. I think that a viewing of Splendor in the Grass may be in my future.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars, ****½

Monday, March 21, 2011

it's all about balance.

How do you find balance between life and work when you're still just figuring out it all out? It seems bound to get out of balance, right?

For the first time in my life, I'm stepping out into the unknown and taking a risk on a new job, in a new place - something that isn't just to "pay the bills," but is also meant to inspire and help me grow in a career.  This is all just the beginning.

And while I have blogged for many years in various places, I wanted to start fresh here at Through the Reels.  A place to explore all the twists and turns of life by writing about it and sharing with you all.  I write to maintain my sanity, and carve out borrowed time from everything else in my life in order to do it.

Thank you for visiting me in this small corner of the ever-growing blogosphere.  

(picture via magneticheart)
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