Monday, January 07, 2013

The Year of the Snake

I stopped making New Year's resolutions a while back. It's not that I don't think it's a nice idea, it's just that in my experience they have a way of starting off strong, then fading quickly. So I like to make a few quiet resolves, plan a little, keep it simple. Speaking of which, I have a new mantra. A wise man (and fellow writer) whom I follow on Twitter said this: "Writers write, while dreamers procrastinate." (thank you, Mr. Paul Inglis)  I should probably have that tattooed on my forehead, or at least inscribed with a permanent marker. ...And you have official permission from yours truly to quote that back to me if I haven't posted in a while.

A new friend of mine recently offered to teach me how to play the drums. I always thought it would be a blast and it occurred to me that I might actually be good at it. Maybe I've got it in me to be a female Dave Grohl...or Animal! It also occurred to me that there are many things I haven't tried that I might prove to be exceptional at. Perhaps I have a superpower that hasn't even been discovered yet. Granted, I might suck royally at any of the above, but isn't the thought of that unrealized potential and self-discovery exciting? Not unlike a brand new year stretched out ahead of you, full of hope and promise.

So I encourage you to be a little braver this year, try something new, volunteer somewhere awesome, listen more and talk less (I'm gonna work on that one), and do what you love.

It's a new year - make it a FANTASTIC one. :)

Now...without further ado, something I love...



Animal Kingdom -  This movie was stunning. An Australian crime drama centered around a teenage boy who suddenly finds himself in the midst of the potentially ferocious family his mother has shielded him from his entire life. Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) is charismatic and strong - the second coming of Russell Crowe, in my opinion. Jacki Weaver as the deceptively sweet matriarch with twisted maternal instincts, is the polar opposite of the mom she plays in Silver Linings Playlist and absolutely riveting. With a strong ensemble cast and the most influential musical score I've heard in a long time, this is a must-see. But be warned: it stays with you. ****1/2

Pitch Perfect - I saw this in the theater with a really fun movie buddy, which always helps. I then watched it again over the holidays and everyone in my family loved it - even Dad. Which is somewhat surprising, considering it's, as Chris Tookey put it on Rotten Tomatoes, "like a superior, wittier double-episode of Glee". Sharp writing, catchy tunes, lotsa girl-power and a strong cast, including stand-out, Rebel Wilson (I love this girl), help this one hit all the right notes. ****

In Theaters:

Silver Linings Playlist - This is about as close to perfect as a movie gets. Incredible performances. Bradley Cooper is going to knock people's socks off with his unflinching and seemingly effortless portrayal of Pat Solitano, a young man forced to move back in with his parents after a stint in a mental institution. He meets his match in Tiffany, an equally off-kilter young woman, played with unblinking honesty and brilliance by Jennifer "Katniss" Lawrence, who holds her own with Robert DeNiro and the amazing Jacki Weaver, no small feat. The two leads are so weird and wonderful and real, you can't help but root for them and be inspired. ...And man, they made me laugh. A lot more than I was expecting, and at one point, actually doubled over (that takes a lot, trust me). This is a true gem - see it now. I guarantee you'll be grinning from ear-to-ear. ****3/4

The Hobbit - I feel that the 'controversy' about the increased film speed in Peter Jackson's prequel to The Lord of The Rings is much ado about nothing. Personally, I was just delighted to be invited back to Middle Earth again, as dangerous and magnificent as I remember it (another love-letter to the diverse beauty of New Zealand). This time around we join Martin Freeman (our favourite, dry every-man from the BBC's The Office and Sherlock), a perfectly cast Bilbo Baggins, the exceptional hobbit who dares to leave the comfort and safety of his beloved hobbit-hole to embark on a grand adventure (haven't we all been there...?). He is joined by 13 dwarves, who are brave, loyal, and more than a little crafty. Just my kinda guys. They are led by the stoic warrior, Thorin Oakenshield, played by British actor Richard Armitage (or as I refer to him, the future father of my children). They are joined by Gandalf the Grey, who's a little more laid-back than Gandalf the White, and played by the consistently awesome, Magneto, er, Ian McKellan. They are up against no less than three foes, including Smaug the Dragon (voiced by the splendid Benedict Cumberbatch), who we will see a lot more of in the next two parts of this series, I predict. The talented Andy Serkis returns as Gollum, the pitiful yet menacing creature who challenges Bilbo to a nerve-wracking game of riddles, in one of the film's most memorable scenes. And while Thorin has great misgivings about Bilbo's part in their quest, the young hobbit ends up surprising not only his traveling companions, but himself - a heart-touching transformation to behold. A strong start to the series, but left me with an eagerness for greater things to come... ***1/2

Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino loves movies and it shows. From the perfectly-chosen tunes and old-school opening titles to the surprise cameos and garish cartoon-violence, he knows his stuff. The teaming of Jamie Fox's, Django (the 'd' is silent, thank you very much) and Christoph Waltz's, Dr. King Schultz (a delight from beginning to end) is a constant treat to watch, as is Leo DiCaprio, having a ball as the sunny and sadistic plantation owner, Calvin Candie. I also think Samuel L. Jackson, as head house-slave, Stephen, was scarier than any monster in recent memory. Funny, graphic, stylish, and surprising. Classic Tarantino.

Argo - Ben Affleck has come a long way. Another director who does his homework (did you know he majored in Middle Eastern studies in college and speaks Arabic?), tells the true story of a CIA expert who comes up with a plan to rescue 6 American embassy employees hiding out in Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis ('79 to '81). Taken in by the Canadian ambassador (veteran Canadian actor, Victor Garber) and his wife after eluding capture when Iranian extremists stormed the American embassy, their time avoiding detection was about to run out. That is, until a CIA consultant comes up with an unlikely rescue plan that just might work... In Affleck's own words: "[That's] one of the themes of this story: the power of storytelling, whether it's political theater, relating to our children, or trying to get people out of danger. Telling stories is incredibly powerful." With a strong supporting cast, including Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, Super 8), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), John Goodman, and Alan Arkin (whose turn as a jaded Hollywood rainmaker deserves every award nomination he gets), Affleck knows how to draw the best nuanced performances out of his actors, and never gets preachy or over-sentimental. This is also one of the most suspenseful films I've ever seen. I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat more than once, and anxiously gesticulating during one particularly harrowing scene. A superb piece of filmmaking from a talented director who is well on his way to becoming one of our generation's finest.

I'll be back soon with reviews of Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, and my take on this year's Golden Globes.

Happy New Year!