Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

In my post about Cloud Atlas, I hinted at a broader theme: I'd like to see more ambitious movies with an interesting point to make, even if they're not entirely successful. And hey, I just happened to watch an ambitious movie with an interesting point to make, even though it wasn't entirely successful. What fortunate timing!

The Perfect Host is a small thriller that came out in 2010, and I don't remember it making much of a splash. The plot intrigued me, though, so I gave it a whirl. Clayne Crawford plays a bank robber who's looking for a place to lay low while the police are hunting for him, so he charms his way into David Hyde Pierce's place, where DHP's character is preparing for a dinner party. When the thief's story breaks down, he turns to violence to threaten DHP into compliance. But things soon take a strange turn when we discover that while we never know what's behind the facade of the person knocking on our doors, they don't know what's behind ours, either. There are dangers far more chilling than some guy who threatens you to get your money.

I won't spoil the twists; suffice it to say that the movie entails two people trapped together by circumstance - each trying to outwit the other in order to ensure their freedom and even their lives. As I said, this is a very intriguing premise, but it unfortunately falls apart a bit in the execution. The parts are well-acted, but the filmmaker's insistence on piling twist upon twist makes the movie feel contrived and artificial. A well-designed twist can pull the rug out from under the audience, but suspension of disbelief can only stretch so far. And besides, there's plenty of drama to be mined from adversaries chipping away at each others' defenses. There's no need to pull a GOTCHA!! every ten minutes.

I'm glad this movie got made, and I'm glad I watched it. It feels weird to say that I think more movies like this one should be made, even as I give it this grade, but here we are.

The Perfect Host: C+


Head in the Clouds

I'm not even going to attempt to capably sum up Cloud Atlas. In its pre-release phase, critics were all over the map as to how they felt about this adaptation of six interweaving storylines and time periods. I was conflicted to the point that I probably would have let it pass without making an effort to see it. But when a friend called and invited me to go to an IMAX showing, I thought it would be a good idea to see it before too much critical and audience response seeped into my consciousness.

Thank goodness he called. This movie is an incredibly ambitious epic. As I said, six different storylines are explored, each of which employs the same mix of actors, made up to be wildly different characters. White people as Asian people. Black people as Indian people. Asian people as Latina people. Men as women. Women as men.

With a nearly three-hour running time, this movie had the potential to be a bloated, confusing mess. It's definitely got a few issues. The themes are not subtle, and they're often spelled out a little too explicitly. With six stories to tell, it's unavoidable that some will be more successful or more interesting than others. Although I was never bored, you definitely feel the running time (this movie does not fly by like the equally lengthy Dark Knight Rises).

Those issues are minor, though. This is a gorgeous movie, the score is fantastic, and all of the actors are fully invested in all of their roles - I don't think Halle Berry has ever done better work. This is not a movie that will earn blockbuster dollars at the box office, but it's a deep, complex, thoughtful piece of work, and unlike a lot of films I see these days, I'm still thinking about it a day later.

Cloud Atlas: B

Fall Movie Preview: November 2012

Woo! We're deep into autumn now! Shall we see what will be available at the local picture show next month?

November 2:

Cafe de Flore: In the present day, a DJ is torn between his girlfriend and his ex-wife. In 1960s Paris, a protective mother watches over her child with Down syndrome (who is developing feelings for a friend who also has Down syndrome). The movie builds to the revelation of how the stories are linked. I just accidentally spoiled myself on what that is. Thankfully so, because it is twee and annoying. (Pass)

The Details: Elizabeth Banks and Tobey Maguire obsess over the raccoons that are ruining their lawn. Bleh. (Pass)

Flight: A pilot (Denzel Washington) lands a failing plane and becomes a media hero, until his alcoholism comes to light. John Goodman, Don Cheadle, and Melissa Leo fill out the supporting cast. This is one of those movies that could veer off in a bunch of directions, from gripping to tedious. (TBD)

Jack & Diane: Two teenaged girls meet and hook up. A relationship begins to develop, until one reveals that she's moving, and things unravel. I have zero interest in this one. (Pass)

The Man With the Iron Fists: "Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA raised $20 million for his directorial debut..." Thanks, you can stop there. (Pass)

This Must Be the Place: Sean Penn plays a middle-aged, retired rock star who decides to seek out the Nazi war criminal who tormented his late father. If Frances McDormand weren't in this movie, I wouldn't give it a second glance. Now I've glanced again, and I still doubt I'll want to see it. (Pass)

Vamps: Amy Heckerling and Alicia Silverstone reunited! The plot summary, which involves vampires desperate to stay young and sort of alive, looks pretty interesting. This is one of those movies I'd like to see critical and audience response to before I decide on it. (TBD)

Wreck-It Ralph: Yes! Yes, yes, yes! A nostalgic comedy with in-jokes about some of the cherished video games that filled my childhood? I am so there. I'm almost ashamed by how interested I am in what is ostensibly a movie for kids. (Must-See)

November 9:

Chasing Ice: A documentary about melting glaciers. I've mentioned how picky I am when it comes to documentaries, and this one doesn't pass the sniff test of overly-depressing and preaching-to-the-choir message movies. (Pass)

Lincoln: No movie in any month has this one beat for Oscar buzz. Spielberg is directing, and Daniel Day-Lewis is nothing if not a meticulous actor. This will definitely be one of those required-viewing movies if I'm to have any hope of navigating awards season. (Must-See)

LUV: Common is an ex-drug dealer trying to forge a new life. Nope. (Pass)

Nature Calls: Patton Oswalt takes a bunch of TV-obsessed scouts on a hiking trip. If it looks at all promising, I'll toss it on the Netflix queue. Otherwise, it should be easily avoidable. (Pass)

A Royal Affair: A historical drama that focuses on the budding romance between Denmark's queen and the royal physician. I like a lot of period pieces, but this one looks kind of dull. (Pass)

Skyfall: From what I've seen so far, this newest James Bond movie appears to avoid all the pitfalls of what made the last one so interminably boring. I'm looking forward to it. (Must-See)

November 16:

Anna Karenina: All of the advance press I've read about this adaptation is that it puts a new, creative spin on the traditional story. That makes me concerned that I should read the book before I can really appreciate this movie, but I'm tempted to take my chances. It looks interesting. (Rental)

Rust and Bone: Also known as "That movie where Marion Cotillard gets her legs bitten off by a whale". It's gotten some good buzz from the European festival circuit, but unless it gets superb word of mouth Stateside, I'll probably skip it. (Pass)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2: ENNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNND, ALREADY! (Pass)

November 21:

Life of Pi: As with Anna Karenina, I can't decide if it's necessary to read the book before I can appreciate the movie. The description I've seen over and over is that it involves a boy trapped on a boat with a hungry tiger. How does that work exactly? Ang Lee has made some of my favorite movies, so that's promising, but I doubt this is something I have to catch while it's in the theater. (Rental)

Red Dawn: A remake of the 1984 film, but with North Korea standing in for the Soviets. I'm not very interested in it, despite the actors involved (Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson) so while it's not impossible that it may land on my Netflix queue someday, I'm letting it slip by for now. (Pass)

Rise of the Guardians: An animated movie with Alec Baldwin voicing a gruff, tattooed Santa Claus, who hangs out with badass versions of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and such. This sounds really fun, though not anything I have to see in the theater. (Rental)

Silver Linings Playbook: It has a terrible title. Bad news! It stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Good news! David O. Russell has a very spotty record with me. News that could go either way! In other words, I'll have to see how this movie lands before I make any decisions. (TBD)

November 30:

The Collection: A horror film involving kidnapped partygoers and booby-trapped hideouts. This one sets off my Gore Alarm. As well as my Not Interested Alarm. (Pass)

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning: Old Action Movie Retread: Day of Not Watching (Pass)

Gone Baby Gone

I was looking over the list of books I've read in 2012 (to be posted at the end of the year!) and was feeling vaguely disappointed. There have been a few bright spots, but this hasn't been a stellar year for me in the lit department. Fortunately, I was able to borrow my sister's copy of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which has injected some much-needed excitement into the mix.

It's the story of an unraveling marriage, told from the point of view from both the husband and the wife. Unlike general marital unhappiness stories, though, this one takes a dark turn when the husband (Nick) comes home on the couple's fifth anniversary to find his house ransacked and his wife (Amy) gone.

As the novel progresses, we learn that neither Nick nor Amy match the personalities they prefer to present to the public, and that despite how poisonous their relationship is, there is just as much keeping them entangled. This book has innumerable twists and turns, and the reader is never quite sure who, if anyone, we're supposed to be rooting for.

This story could have easily spun into contrived melodrama, but Flynn's meticulous writing makes scenes that would usually come off as ludicrous seem completely feasible. Every time we think we know which way the story is heading, it veers off into another direction. I can't say much more, for fear of spoiling it, but Gone Girl is definitely in the running for one of the most intriguing books of the year.

Gone Girl: A-

Guilty Pleasure: Hocus Pocus

With a lot of guilty pleasures, we are accursed to suffer in silence. Who will sit and watch Midnight Madness with me? Not many. But some guilty pleasures catch on with a mass audience, and we can revel in the wretched glory together.

Halloween is almost upon us, which means for it's time for the 1993 movie Hocus Pocus to light up our television screens. Is it fine cinema? It is not. But I love it unironically, and each year, I learn of legions and legions of other fans who also can't get enough of the Sanderson sisters.

I'm not sure why this is. There isn't much to the story, or the acting, or the production design, or the script, or anything. But it's such silly fun, I can't help but get swept up in the enthusiasm. Hocus Pocus gets me into the Halloween mood faster than any Friday the 13th movie ever could, and I don't have to worry about averting my eyes for any gory bits. Best of all, it has contributed a quote that works wonders in the daily lexicon.

So get out there and light some black flame candles, you virgins. I put a spell on you. Soon you will join me in my inexplicable love for this cheese-fest.


(B)umpkin Pie

I... Where do I even start with this one? I knew that starting an enterprise in which I select essentially random pop culture to consume was brimming with the possibility of disappointing properties. I had no idea just how much crap my usual system of selecting things filters out. But I'm getting ahead of myself. For the second chapter of the ABC Project, I went to my local library, and pulled down the first "B" book that looked even the slightest bit interesting - Batter Off Dead by Tamar Myers. It was published in 2009, and hooked me with the following phrase on the cover: "A Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery With Recipes". Huh? What a strange assortment of descriptors. That oddity carried with it the promise of something new and interesting.

I should have been sufficiently warned by the flap description:

"At the Beechy Grove Mennonite Church's annual pancake breakfast, Minerva J. Jay, known for her prodigious appetite, slumps over dead after ingesting stacks and stacks of hotcakes. Police Chief Chris Ackerman wonders whether the serving of the fatal flapjacks is a case of assault and batter. Magdalena has her own bun in the oven, but that doesn't stop the chief from asking for her help with the investigation.

Before Magdalena can begin, however, she has to make a special delivery of her own....

But being a new mother doesn't mean Magdalena is going to quit her sleuthing - and it won't stop her from grilling the members of the Men's Club, who organized the breakfast as a fund-raiser. And just when she thinks she's found her number-one suspect, he turns up dead, squished flatter than a pancake by a driverless cement truck. Now, to stop the killer from cooking up another crime, Magdalena has no choice but to jump from the frying pan into the fire."


Or the acknowledgement page, which makes sure to single out a friend of hers for helping to come up with the title. Yes, this woman needed help coming up with a stupid food-related pun, when the one that heads this blog post took me about seven seconds. Have I mentioned that this is her seventeenth book in the series, all of which have food-related puns?

But perhaps I'm being unfair. I mean, it's not as if I can judge this book yet - I haven't read a single word of the actual story. I should really give it a chance before I start ragging on it. Yeah, I was tired of it by page 3. I know I'm prone to hyperbole, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say that this is easily the worst book I've ever read in my entire life. I almost can't even detail the reasons, because there are so, so many. Let's give it a whirl, anyway.

1) All of the characters speak with the identical voice. There is absolutely no tone differentiation between old Mennonite ladies, young gay policemen, middle-aged Jewish men, or anyone else.

2) The protagonist is an idiot. In most mysteries, the suspects are intelligent, and the hero/heroine has to be that much smarter in order to outfox them and crack the case. In this book, the problem of the idiotic heroine is solved by having everyone else be stupid to the point of brain damage. They may as well carry clubs and say nothing but "Duuuuuuh," so that Magdalena looks even somewhat capable by comparison.

3) The unbearably twee writing style. What's that? Don't believe me?

"I nodded reluctantly. We'd actually made a killing on breakfast, no pun intended. The mixes were generic and had been about to expire, so I was able to pick them up for a song at Pat's IGA in Bedford. I mean that literally. When I saw the dates on the boxes, I took them up to Pat and began to sing the opening aria by Aida from the opera by that name (it is something the Babester has forced me to listen to after you-know-what). At any rate, my singing voice has been compared to a cross between nails on a chalkboard and a basset hound in heat. Pat gave me not only three cartons of pancake mix, but as much generic syrup as I wanted as well."

The entire book reads like that. Let me reiterate that. This character uses fake swear words and calls her husband "The Babester" for the whole...fucking...book.

4) As alluded to in #1 up there, Myers attempts to write about Jewish and gay people, and fails miserably at both. She is inept almost to the point of being offensive.

5) Did I mention that Magdalena is a raving idiot? Well, it bears repeating. I haven't even gotten to the part where a character talks to her from up on the roof and she thinks she's hearing the voice of God.

6) It doesn't work as a mystery. Or as any kind of story. Apart from not being able to write people in any sort of believable way, the plot is so thin as to be see-through.

7) There isn't a single sentence devoted to Magdalena's newborn that would not look entirely at home on STFU Parents.

8) And it would be one thing if all of this was meant as a joke or satire. Nope. We're meant to be rooting for this adorably plucky woman instead of finding her completely insufferable.

In a way, this book is to literature what The Room is to cinema. It's so terrible that it works its way around to being kind of horrifyingly fascinating. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 covered books in addition to movies, this would be number one on the riff list. I was committed to immersing myself in this property, though, so I decided to try one of the pancake recipes strewn throughout the pages. These recipes were mined from a pre-existing cookbook that Myers dug up, just in case you thought she was too busy double-checking flour ratios to devote any time to stupid things like character development or a plot based in any kind of reality. I chose the Sour Cream Banana Pancakes with Cinnamon Maple Syrup.

They weren't bad. Nothing I couldn't have gotten from Allrecipes or a halfway-decent cookbook. As to Batter Off Dead, what's left to say? The fact that this series sells to actual people is gobsmacking to me, but there's no accounting for taste. If you take nothing else from it, take a newfound sense of hope if you're an aspiring author. If crap like this somehow gets published, then there's no reason on Earth you can't get your story out there.

Batter Off Dead: F

Mini Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

-1:40 PM
Well, I missed my chance last week to see this with the Rum Group, but here's a second opportunity. To the Esquire!

-1:47 PM
I'm in the ticket line ahead of a lady and her two small children. Aw, that's nice. She's taking them to see Frankenweenie or Hotel Transylvania.

-1:48 PM
As I head into the theater, I hear "One adult and two kids for Taken 2." Sigh. The Esquire, ladies and gentlemen.

-1:50 PM
I enter the lobby to find one of my friends in a deep discussion with some lady about how the theater isn't even trying to pass off that goo as butter, labeling the machine as "Popcorn Topping".

-2:00 PM
The trailers start. As with many of the disposable, pure-fun movies I see here, the movies previewed ahead of time look wretched.

-2:06 PM
Like this one. Ugh.

-2:10 PM
And, I mean...what?

-2:12 PM
Oh, and this next one, wherein Catherine Zeta-Jones is an ESPN producer who thinks what Americans are really desperate for is more soccer coverage. Sounds like a winner!

-2:13 PM
Oooh! Les Miserables! At least there's one promising thing to look forward to.

-2:17 PM
I've really enjoyed Anna Kendrick in every movie I've seen her in.

-2:19 PM
That said, her character is kind of snotty for no perceptible reason.

-2:36 PM
And while we're talking of no perceptible reason:
1) Why a capella groups rule the social hierarchy at a college.
2) Even accepting that premise, why a butter-faced jerkoff would be the unquestioned ruler of the reigning clique.
3) Why the dopey good guy immediately falls for and begins wooing our grumpy heroine without exchanging a single word of conversation with her.

-2:45 PM
Anna Kendrick (Beca) wants to drop out of school and become a successful DJ. Sounds like an excellent long-term career plan.

-2:48 PM
Although I will say that the mashups she (that is, the music producer for this movie) puts together are really good.

-3:00 PM
So, if you've seen Bring It On, you get the gist of this movie right away. Free-thinking spirit joins staid group with rigid rules and attempts to shake things up.

-3:02 PM
The rest of the crew that makes up the girls' a capella group is a mixed bunch, but the show is totally stolen by Rebel Wilson (as Fat Amy, a girl who voices every thought that passes through her brain), and Hana Mae Lee (as Lilly, a girl so timid that the entire audience had to lean forward and strain to hear her, but whose every word is gold).

-3:14 PM
John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks throw some Christopher Guestification up in this movie as commentators. Yeah it's totally derivative of Best in Show, but they're so good that it totally works.

-3:22 PM
For a movie that's supposed to be about a capella, the songs aren't particularly memorable. The electronic mashups are far more impressive.

-3:55 PM
The grumpy girl learns to love. Aw.

In a word, this movie was fine. The performances were fine. The music was fine. The plot was fine. I'm glad I saw it, but it didn't really bring anything new or exciting to a well-worn genre. Next time, we should definitely bring the rum.

Pitch Perfect: C+

The Pantheon: Carmen Sandiego

Most pop-culture properties start out on a single platform and stay there. It may seem that all our favorite TV shows eventually become movies (and vice versa), but in the grand scheme of things, it's actually pretty rare. It's even more rare for an expansion into another platform to be successful. And even if it is successful, that doesn't mean I'll like it. (Transformers movies, anyone?) There are only a few wide-ranging franchises that really capture my attention, and the one that has possibly lasted the longest is Carmen Sandiego, which continues to enchant me to this day.

First, of course, was the computer game, which I immediately became obsessed with when it was released. I loved the geography and the mystery aspects equally, and spent hours happily tracking down Carmen's henchmen. When I finally caught the lady herself, I considered it one of the defining accomplishments of the year. Like any junkie, I needed more product to get my fix, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? was soon joined by Where in the USA..., Where in Europe..., Where in Time..., and Where in America's Past..., all of which I played the shit out of.

Aging did not cure me of this obsession at all, and I've played at least three newer iterations of this game into adulthood. I'd happily play another one if it looked even the least bit promising. Then, when I was in junior high, a new game show based on Carmen Sandiego premiered, and I fell in love all over again. It was a well-designed show, and the only problem I ever had with it was some misplaced anger that I didn't get to be on it, and a bunch of idiotic kids did. Sometimes my anger turned to sympathy, because the final challenge could be as simple as identifying US states or as devious as differentiating the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Not only was the game show itself pretty amazing, but the theme song has been firmly entrenched in my brain for the past twenty years. It got to the point that I purchased an entire Rockapella album just so I could get my hands on the Carmen Sandiego song.

Towards the end of high school, yet another Carmen Sandiego property was released; this one was a cartoon show geared towards kids and preteens. Did that matter to me in the slightest? It did not.

I watched Where on Earth is Carmen Sandeigo? happily, and a few years ago, purchased the first season DVDs, which fills in wonderfully as a Laundry Show. I thought the matter would rest there until they finally make the movie I've heard whispers about or release a game for a new gaming system. But as I went about writing this entry, I happened upon a collection of all forty episodes of the cartoon for sale on Amazon. Yep, it's on the way. I will never outgrow Carmen Sandiego.

Les Miserables

Lots of books take on weighty subjects, and when they don't do it well, they tend to become overwrought Depression Porn that I just don't enjoy. At some point, I simply stop caring about the characters, and want the entire enterprise to be over as soon as possible. But when it's handled deftly, topics like death and depression are a lot more palatable.

I was able to borrow Jonathan Tropper's latest book from my sister recently, and since I enjoyed his previous one (This Is Where I Leave You) so much, I dove right in. This one is called One Last Thing Before I Go, and like that last novel, dives right into some pretty heavy material. It's about a shell of a man who played drums in a one-hit wonder band, but has nothing going for him since then. He's divorced and estranged from his only daughter, and spends his time commiserating over how terrible everything is with his fellow sad-sacks.

When he's told he needs heart surgery or he'll die, he purposely refuses it, figuring he doesn't have much to live for, anyway. No matter how displeased his family is with him, they don't endorse this elaborate suicide, and he resolves to spend his remaining time repairing all the relationships that have gone awry over the years. As he makes more of an effort to be there for his family, he begins to question whether or not the surgery is worth it, after all.

He's not the only character to question his own motivations. Everyone in this book uses the news about the surgery to do some intense self-examination. A less talented author would have turned this into an interminable slog, but as ever, Tropper turns a miserable set of circumstances into a pretty engaging read.

One Last Thing Before I Go: B

Shorties #4

Who's got time for long-winded treatises on pop culture today? Not I!

#1: Portlandia - Season 1: A friend showed me a couple of funny skits from this show, so I decided to watch the half dozen episodes available on Netflix Instant. It almost immediately became a fairly good Laundry Show - entertaining enough to have on, but ignorable enough so that I can pay half attention to it while I fill out a tax form or wrap a birthday present or whatever. As a tangential note, I enjoy the theme song to the point that I bought it on iTunes. (Grade: B-)

#2: Partners: It wasn't long ago that I mentioned how intrigued I was by this show, and though my predictions or premonitions about a show are often wildly off-base, I certainly called it on two aspects of this one. It's painfully obnoxious, and it isn't anywhere near as awful as The New Normal. After two laugh-free episodes, it earns the distinction of being the first show of the new season that I drop like a hot potato. (Grade: C-)

#3: How to Train Your Dragon: Despite the fact that I'm a childless, adult male, I enjoy well-made children's movies. This one didn't seem like anything special until I heard some reviewers rave about how good it is. I figured that was worth a rental, and I'm glad I did. This is a charming movie, and has a neat little hook about not just accepting as gospel other people's notions about who the bad guys are. (Grade: B+)

#4: Serenity: I've been diving into more Joss Whedon territory lately, and while I've never seen a single episode of Firefly, I thought it'd be fun to go to a midnight showing of this movie with a friend. While I did enjoy the evening, the movie itself was a letdown. It had an off-putting moral message (the antihero protagonist was more anti than hero, and the characters most in need of help were the least likely to receive it). The inclusion of 1850's-grizzled-prospector speech tics didn't help. Perhaps this particular franchise just isn't up my alley, or perhaps I would have liked it more if I were familiar with the TV show. Either way, it's unlikely I'll ever have the inclination to watch any more of this, so it may just have to sit at the bottom of the Whedon heap in my estimation. (Grade: C)

#5: V For Vendetta: I've seen this movie before, but there was no way I was going to turn down a friend's invitation to watch it again while kicking back with wings and beer. Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman both do an excellent job, and naturally, John Hurt is great in everything. As a corrupt high-chancellor in a terror-soaked Britain, he intimidates the hell out of me in this. The movie raises all sorts of interesting questions about acceptable levels of governmental intrusion, and the resulting violent push-back from a repressed citizenry. It can be difficult to discuss "acceptable terrorism" while sucking hot sauce off one's fingers, but we pulled it off. (Grade: B+)

Time After Time

Despite my efforts to avoid hype so that I can go into movies with no expectations to taint my reaction, watching Brick and perusing the Fall Movie Preview really got my blood pumping for Looper. This is Rian Johnson's third feature, and has been the center of online chatter on the sites/podcasts I frequent. After seeing it, Johnson joins the short list of filmmakers/producers whose work I will automatically be interested in, no matter what the topic (I haven't seen The Brothers Bloom yet, but I'm working on it).

A lot of the discussion surrounding this movie was concern that it would be an overly-dense time travel movie that prizes complexity over story-telling. Not that a movie like that could ever exist. They needn't have worried. This a story-driven movie that uses time travel as a framing device, not a time travel movie with bits of plot around the edges. It explores several topics and explores them well, from the needs of one versus the needs of the many, to how our present and future selves realistically have very little in common.

Looper is ostensibly about a group of assassins who murder people sent back in time from the future, and close out their contracts by taking out their future selves. Naturally, things go awry when those future selves don't feel like being shot and dumped in an incinerator. That's really just the basis of the plot, though, and it expands outwards into stories of economic disparity and protecting loved ones from assaults both physical and temporal.

It's been two days since I've seen it, and I'm still turning over scenes in my mind. It's extremely well-written and well-acted. Bruce Willis is always reliable as a stone-cold badass, and I don't think Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Emily Blunt have ever been anything but impressive. All of the character motivations make sense, to the point that the audience could reasonably root for any of them. I don't even really have any nerdy nitpicks about potential plot holes opened up by the time travel. Tons of care and thought went into this movie, and it shows. Now, if only I could pop into a time machine and see it with fresh eyes again.

Looper: A-

Have You Tried Turning It Off and On?

A few weeks ago, I had a date over to my apartment. We didn't have big plans to go out, so I suggested he pick something off of the Netflix instant streaming catalog for us to watch. Opening yourself up to an unfamiliar person's tastes carries all sorts of risks, and I was just hoping he wouldn't choose something I absolutely hated. He suggested that we watch a couple of episodes of the British comedy The IT Crowd, which I'd never seen before. Two episodes later, I was hooked. The next day, I started shotgunning episodes one after the other, and by the time I saw my gentleman caller again, I had watched the entire series.

The show is about two ignored geeks (and their computer-illiterate manager) who have to work in the sub-basement to provide IT support for the soulless corporation occupying the upper floors. As with any British comedy, there is tons of awkward situational humor, as well as physical pratfalls, but unlike programs such as Peep Show, you never stop rooting for these characters.

There's nothing that can't go wrong for this unfortunate trio. They're perpetually looked down upon at work, and their personal lives are complete messes. Their boss is a narcissistic corporate thief (and is later replaced by his narcissistic, sex-obsessed son). They get trapped under desks and their bras catch on fire. You know, the usual. It's an extremely charming series, and both the acting and writing are top-notch. I only wish there were more episodes for me to tear through obsessively.

The IT Crowd: A
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