Forget Not That I Am An Ass

The 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has always been a favorite of mine. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson were a flawless Benedick and Beatrice, and 99% of the supporting cast did a stellar job as well. There was just that one thorn in the paw, and I'll bet you can guess what it is. I don't have a big, overall problem with Keanu Reeves. When he's in his wheelhouse, like in Speed or The Matrix, I'm more than satisfied with his performances. Shakespeare...is not his wheelhouse. I'm not sure what was hoped to be accomplished by casting him as Don John, but if they were aiming for anything but two decades of ridicule, they did not succeed.

Despite my loyalty to that "original", when I read that Joss Whedon was going to do a new adaptation, I was extremely excited. I only had two concerns, one of them minor. This movie was made in only twelve days, and at Whedon's house. If another director had pulled this, I'd be pretty suspicious that making this movie was an excuse to get financing to hang out and party with his friends for a couple of weeks. Whedon has never given me cause to think he'd pull that kind of stunt, so I dismissed that concern, though I wondered what effect such a rushed production would have on the final product. My other possible issue was adapting a Shakespearean story and Elizabethan speech to a modern setting, which can be jarring (I hated Romeo + Juliet). How can we watch characters who exist in the United States in 2013 casually discussing locking down a bride on someone else's behalf, or that a woman who isn't a virgin is better dead than wed?

Happily, my fears were quickly put to rest, because this was a terrific movie. It's beautifully shot in extremely crisp black and white. The staging within the house of an obviously wealthy but not ostentatious family worked perfectly for this play (HGTV fans, there is some serious real estate porn going on here). Far from ruining the movie, its setting in modern times allowed for some pretty clever adaptation changes. The conquering prince and his friends come home from a "war" that's implied to be corporate, rather than military. Conrade is no longer just Don John's henchman, she's now his girlfriend. And speaking of Don John, Sean Maher imbues him with a sexy menace that actually makes him a little intimidating, rather than a whiny cipher that the character often reads as. The update didn't get everything right. Alexis Denisof was a fine Benedick, but overplayed the big eavesdropping scene to the point that it was actively hammy. Also, I'm now pretty convinced that no matter who stages this story, and who is cast in the role, Hero will never be anything but a total drip. Some friends have suggested she's written that way on purpose, to make Beatrice and Benedick spark all the more. That would be an interesting debate to have, but as far as this movie goes, she's as big a drag as ever.

That's about it for complaints, though. Overall, this was a really fun, vibrant version of a terrific play, and unlike a lot of recent movies (even ones I enjoyed), I'm anxious to see it again at some point. People will no doubt be performing Shakespeare's works for the rest of humanity's reign, and for fans of the Bard, this is an eminently worthy member of the club.

Much Ado About Nothing: A-

Song of the Summer 2013 Contender: "Closer"

Listen, I know the odds-to-win I give at the bottom of these entries is a cheat. Probability doesn't much enter the equation when I'm choosing something based purely on taste. I just thought it'd be a fun way to compare how these songs are battling for dominance in my brain. I get the feeling that Too Beautiful To Live won't pick the same song as their top choice as I will, but that's why I get a little corner of the internet to myself. And speaking of top choice (at least so far), check out the "odds" for "Closer", performed by Tegan and Sara.

I just can't get enough of this song. Unless a usurper swoops in at the last minute, it's quite likely to snag not only favorite song of the summer, but of the year. To my mind, it nicely straddles the line between the catchiness and danceability of a pop song, and the thoughtfulness and deliberation of an indie track. "Somebody That I Used To Know" did the same thing for me last year, and it easily crushed the competition.

At first blush, "Closer" shares a lot of musical DNA with other songs about just wanting to bang someone. But there's actually a lot of underlying sentiment about the chemical spark that passes between people before they wind up rolling around in bed together, and it winds up being pretty sex-positive without being overly raunchy.

Like I said, it's entirely possible that a dark horse will leap into the contest and give this song a run for its money. But until that happens, "Closer" is ruling the roost.

Song of the Summer Odds: 1:1

Apocalypse Now

The line between clever egotism and insufferable egotism is a thin one. Movie stars are often convinced that they're so lovable that audiences would be thrilled to pony up $12 just for the opportunity to watch them hang out with their friends or family for a couple of hours. Bleh. But there is a clever way to tweak your own image in a way that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence. The guest stars on Extras did it all the time. Apparently, the trick is to play an outsized version of yourself. Then, if people don't like the "character", it's not you they're coming after at all. And what do you do with this outsized version of yourself? Well, if you're Seth Rogen, you put yourself and your buddies through literal Hell.

I've been curious about This Is The End since I first heard about it. Rogen and a bunch of other celebrities gather at James Franco's house for a party, during which, whoops, the End of Days just happens to kick off. All of the world's worthy citizens have been raptured up into Heaven, and the people remaining have to face Armageddon. 95% of the cast immediately bites it, and the small remaining group of survivors has to hole up and face demons, dwindling supplies, and each other.

I had a few reservations going in. First, it certainly had the potential to be too much of what I call a DudeBro movie. Judd Apatow didn't have anything to do with it, but most of his usual stable of actors is in it, and the dialogue is certainly in his style. That style can be amusing, but it can also be overly impressed with itself. Secondly -- and we've been over this before -- I was very worried about the gore level.

The first problem turned out to not be a problem at all. Maybe it's because this movie is more plot-driven than character-driven, so the usual lengthy brotastic conversations are constantly being interrupted by fresh disaster. The second problem... Well, it was a problem. That's not the movie's fault, though. I'd say there were two isolated incidents of gore that I could have really done without. The rest of it was bearable.

Of the main cast, Craig Robinson really steals the show, although everyone else does a fine job as well. All of the actors making cameos as themselves were game to play jerks or cannon fodder, and I enjoyed the movie's ultimate message that selflessness and altruism are the qualities that really matter when it comes to our ultimate salvation. Still, you have to judge comedy on how funny it is, and while This Is The End provided plenty of smirks, it wasn't particularly hilarious. I'm really glad I saw it, and if someone asked me if I could recommend it or not, I'd say yes. But it's not something I'll ever want to watch again, and not just because of the panicked soccer game with a man's bloody head.

This Is The End: B-

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Even when I subscribed to a cable package, I've never had the funds to pick up HBO. That's usually fine, because I've found that HBO shows are often best enjoyed after the season has been released on DVD so I can shotgun it. Sometimes, though, a property will sound so intriguing that I make an effort to seek it out. Say, for example, a Steven Soderbergh movie about Liberace that was deemed "too gay" for theatrical release, and that stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon?

Some friends and I decided to meet in an HBO household and make an evening of it: Play with a new puppy, eat some amazing local pizza, and delve into the camp and drama of Behind the Candelabra. Now that's a recipe for a successful Monday! I've never had much exposure to Liberace. I know who he was, of course, but my knowledge was limited to:

1) Played piano
2) Flamboyant
3) Gay (and somehow fooled the public into thinking he wasn't)
4) Died of AIDS

That's it. So I was depending on Behind the Candelabra not just to entertain, but to fill in some informational gaps for me. The movie was adapted from the memoir of Scott Thorson (Liberace's lover, portrayed by Matt Damon in the film), and is utterly fascinating. Liberace is perfect for the biopic treatment, blending massive amounts of talent, money, ego, and pathos. At times, he could be kind of a monster, always chasing the young and beautiful, to the point that he cajoles Thorson into getting plastic surgery. But for those who basked in his love and attention, his generosity was bottomless.

Though there are some parts of the movie that drag a bit, the acting is stellar from beginning to end. It actually took me a while to process that I was watching Michael Douglas - he really commits to this role. And special mention has to be made of Rob Lowe as the skeezy plastic surgeon. In three or four short scenes, he almost steals the entire thing. Even if you don't wind up seeing the movie, do yourself a favor and look up some of the Rob Lowe GIFs.

Ultimately, I'm glad this was released on television instead of theaters. It really benefited from watching in a group setting; being able to discuss it in real time and rewinding so that we could watch must-see moments again made it more enjoyable than I feel like it would have been in a dark room at the Tivoli. I now know a lot more about a cultural touchstone, enjoyed a vastly entertaining movie, and had a terrifically fun movie night with friends. What more can I ask?

Behind the Candelabra: B+

Mini Movie Review: Man of Steel


-2:00 PM
Meeting up with Dad before the movie.

Dad: "How are things? Financially and such? Are you holding your own?"
Limecrete: "I'm not flourishing, but things are OK."
Dad (looking me over): "I see you're eating well."

Fathers' Day!

-3:00 PM
The previews kick off. The sound is turned waaaaaaay up. Dad rips off part of his napkin and stuffs wads into both of his ears, so there are now tufts sticking out from his head.

-3:11 PM
Why are there previews for both Despicable Me 2 and World War Z? Who do they think is in the audience?

-3:28 PM
Apparently, people have time to hold military tribunals when the planet is literally on the cusp of exploding.

-3:50 PM
Oh, for fuck's sake. I don't like shakycam at the best of times, but at least I understand it when you're in the arena and there's a girl throwing a knife at your face. When two characters are simply sitting around exchanging dialogue, it is inexcusable.

-4:14 PM
Russell Crowe may be dead, but that doesn't stop his hologram from standing around as an exposition dump and hectoring people.

-4:20 PM
Hey, it's a Dollhouse handler reunion party! One is head of the military. One gets a single blink-and-you'll-miss-it line.

-4:46 PM
My dad is a lot more forgiving than I am, but the movie manages to lose both of us in the span of ten seconds when Pa Kent stops Clark (whom he knows has super-strength and invulnerability) from saving a dog from an impending tornado, and instead runs into its path himself. So he dies for NO REASON.

-5:01 PM
If throwing someone through a building is entertaining once, it must be a hundred and six times as entertaining to do it a hundred and six times. That's just math.

-5:14 PM
If the citizens of Metropolis (New York) are the most sophisticated people on the planet, they need to stop wordlessly gawking at invading alien ships, and run already.

-5:33 PM
A mini black hole opens, sucking in everything nearby, except Lois Lane, who keeps on falling away from it. I guess she needs to lay off the donuts.

-5:50 PM
The world is saved! Or at least the four square blocks of it that the aliens attacked.

I was never expecting much from this movie, and it lived down to my lack of excitement. It was really more of a loose collection of scenes than a movie. Henry Cavill is scorching hot, and there were a couple of scenes that legitimately drew me in (mostly involving General Zod's second-in-command, who played stone-cold evil to the hilt). But if this is the tentpole that is holding up the summer of 2013, we're in for a rough season.

Man of Steel: C

Are You Mocking Me?

HBO shows tend to lend themselves well to the shotgun-a-full-season-in-a-week type of viewing, so I rarely feel like I'm missing out by not being able to watch them live. I do, however, wish I could watch Family Tree, which is Christopher Guest's latest offering, and stars Chris O'Dowd, who is all sorts of fun. Mining genealogical roots is rich source material for Guest's signature style, and it got me to thinking about his previous mockumentary movies, and how they stack up to one another.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

It would be a crime to exclude this movie just because it was directed by Rob Reiner. I was too young to truly appreciate it in 1984, but enjoy it very much now. I'm not sure if it was the first mockumentary-style movie, but even if it wasn't, it was definitely among the first, and certainly the most influential. All of the Guest movies focus on a topic that's ripe for satire, and the antics of a rock-and-roll band was an inspired first choice. It perhaps comes across that the filmmaking style wasn't fully-baked yet, but it's damn close. The powerhouse trio of Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer is a grouping that continues to pay dividends to this day, and even if I don't find this one as eminently quotable as a couple of the later movies, we'll always have "These go to eleven."

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone has their favorite Guest movie, and this one's mine. It adds Bob Balaban, Michael Hitchcock, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, and Parker Posey to the group (and elevates Fred Willard's role), and the resulting skewering of small-town community theater is hysterically funny. One of the hallmarks of Guest's movies is that it pokes fun at the all-too-familiar character types, but not too much at their expense. Their hearts are in the right place, and they're never outright humiliated for the audience's benefit. So while the characters may be out of their gourds to ever think "Red, White, and Blaine" would go anywhere near Broadway, the show is actually quite entertaining for a Missouri town festival.

To anyone who chooses anything but the hilarity of this movie as their favorite, I just hate you, and I hate your ASS FACE.

Best in Show (2000)

This period was really the strongest for the Guest movies, because if Waiting for Guffman is my favorite, this one runs a very, very close second. More than any other topic taken on by one of these movies, the relationship between people and their dogs (especially show dogs) is the one most ripe for a good mocking. Notable cast additions Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch both almost steal the entire damn movie, but the competition is stiff, as this film is wall-to-wall awesome. Guffman may have the bigger heart, but Best in Show undoubtedly takes the prize for Most Quotable. There is no faster way to make a friend than by watching delight dawn on someone's face when you say "We both like soup..."

A Mighty Wind (2003)

The Guest stable of actors is very musically adept, so it was a natural fit to do a movie about folk music, although the social relevance of the topic may have been a bit past the sell-by date in 2003. This is an enjoyable movie, but mostly because all of the songs are such a hoot. The stories surrounding the musical acts that gather to put on this grand folk music show are less interesting.

Nothing can match the wit and creativity of the tunes concocted for this movie, but the jokes suffer a bit by comparison - The I'm-a-crossdresser-now gag in particular is a really lazy grab for low-hanging fruit. No pun intended. I'm always happy to watch this movie when I stumble across it, but in the bell curve of Guest movies, it represents the beginning of the downslide.

For Your Consideration (2006)

This is the most recent of the Guest movies, so it should be freshest in my mind, right? Wrong. I'm struggling to remember much about this movie at all. No quotes spring to mind. I recall that it was the most narrative of the movies, coming across as having more of a plot than the interview-based structure of the previous ones. It's disappointing that this didn't strike more of a chord, because the ego-drenched competition for Oscars is perfect fodder for the mockumentary genre. I saw this movie in the theater, and I remember liking it just fine, but when stacked against the rest, it clearly stands out as the weakest. I think I'd like to watch it again, and see if it improves in my estimation, gets worse, or remains the biggest shrug of the bunch.

This is Spinal Tap: B
Waiting for Guffman: A+
Best in Show: A
A Mighty Wind: B+
For Your Consideration: B-

Song of the Summer 2013 Contender: "Q.U.E.E.N."

It's imperative that a Song of the Summer have some groove to it. Based solely on that criterion, it's not hard to see why "Q.U.E.E.N." (performed by Janelle Monáe, featuring Erykah Badu) has muscled its way into contention. It's not the most imaginative song I've ever heard - the tune is pretty repetitive, and I can't see the lyrics becoming embedded in my brain like a lot of other combatants in this particular contest do.

But honestly, who cares? I love both Monáe and Badu's voices, and every time this song kicks up, my shoulders get to popping. I doubt this tune will win either the podcast's contest or the one taking place inside my heart, but even if it doesn't, it's guaranteed to make me want to jack the volume up every time it comes on.

Song of the Summer Odds: 4:1


As I just said in the latest Shorties entry, I like to get through the first five episodes of a new TV show before I decide how I feel about it. The SyFy show Eureka, which ran from 2006 to 2012, had been lingering on my Netflix queue for a while, and just muscled its way to the front, frankly because I needed an "E" for this category. I'm glad it did, though, because it turns out to be a pretty entertaining show. In fact, by the time I sat down to write this, I'd already gone beyond my five episode quota, and am now up to the tenth.

Eureka is set in Oregon, in a fictional town inhabited almost entirely by geniuses, be they chemists or engineers or physicists. The bulk of the town works for Global Dynamics, a secretive research facility that continually makes technological breakthroughs. Advanced technology is risky, though, and you never know when your experiment will cause time rifts, birth a cloud of aggressive nano-robots, or reactivate a long-forgotten doomsday device. Enter Colin Ferguson as the town's new sheriff, Jack Carter. He's no genius (he and his daughter stumble upon the town by accident, and he's offered the job when the previous sheriff meets with a disfiguring mishap), but he's intrepid and resourceful, and has a lot more insight into human nature than a lot of the smartypants he serves and protects.

By the fifth episode, the secondary characters are developing nicely. There's the by-the-book deputy, the harried Department of Defense official shaping up to be Carter's love interest, Carter's mischievous daughter, and so on. The show's universe is growing in a believable way, even if said universe involves a talking, partially-sentient house. It's also nice to watch a television show with intelligent characters. That's not to say everyone is nice; plenty of the townspeople are greedy, power-mad, or supercilious. But nobody is an outright moron, and that's a refreshing change of pace.

My alphabetical experiment is all about consuming entertainment with no preconceptions, which leaves a lot more room for terrible things to slip through - my filters would usually catch something truly wretched. But it also means that I'll occasionally stumble across properties that are far better than I ever expected them to be. Not that Eureka is a deep, complex show destined for Mad Men greatness in my mind, but as far as charming little Laundry Shows go, it's a keeper.

Eureka: B

Shorties #9

When it comes to entertainment consumption, I like to leap from topic to topic and genre to genre. Variety being the spice of life and all, I like to follow up a heavy drama with a fizzy comedy, or to tackle something new and exciting after settling in with a familiar favorite. This prevents me from getting bored, but carries an inherent risk of sinking time into a property that winds up being disappointing. So, with apologies for any whiplash you get from this next batch of wildly different types of entertainment (and grades), it's time to dive into some more Shorties.

#1: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Despite my geek leanings, I've never read the book. In fact, the only exposure I've had to Hitchhiker was playing the text-based computer game in the '80s. That game was ridiculously difficult, by the way. As soon as we got Internet access in the household, I instantly cheated my way through it. Anyhow, it gave me a good grounding of the plot, but watching this 2005 movie is the only other time I've interacted with this universe. I'm told that hardcore fans of the book hated the movie, but I liked it just fine. Martin Freeman always plays the bewildered-straight-man to the hilt, and Alan Rickman was great as depressed robot Marvin. This seems like a property people are pretty testy about when it's toyed with, so I'll just say I enjoyed it personally, and leave it at that. (Grade: B)

#2: Mirror Mirror: I'm not sure what I should have expected from a PG-rated movie produced by Brett Ratner, but boy, was this a slog. A retelling of the Snow White story with Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, there were two good things about this movie: The costuming is gorgeous. And Armie Hammer is cute. The rest is pretty dire. With uninspired writing, stiff acting, and a distinct whiff of focus group/studio interference, I can't recommend this to anyone but those studying fashion design. (Grade: C-)

#3: White Collar: I generally give a television show five episodes before I decide if I'm going to keep up with it or not. Shows that hook or repel me right off the bat are exempt from this rule, of course, but if a show is middling, but shows promise, Episode 5 is when my judgement is rendered. White Collar didn't pass the test. Some personality-driven case-of-the-week shows do wind up appealing to me, like Psych or Rosemary & Thyme. And despite the fact that Matt Bomer is charming and dreamy, I just didn't find the stories on White Collar interesting enough to want to watch more. (Grade: C)

#4: Jurassic Park 3D: When Kyle and I arranged to go see this in IMAX with some of his friends, I predicted it would be sold out. "We're seeing a 9:00 showing of a movie that came out in 1993," he said. "We'll be fine." Every seat in the house was taken. Not only could we not sit together, but one of our groups had to sit in the very front, and the other in the very back. There's good reason for that. Jurassic Park is pretty much flawless. Thank goodness this movie was made before CGI became much of a thing, because the practical effects are still beautiful today. The entire audience was rapt and silent from beginning to end. That never happens at a sold-out show, and certainly not at a movie that everyone there has probably seen before. At one point, I decided that I would run to the restroom as soon as an inessential, filler scene came on. That never happened, because there are none. My bladder may have suffered, but my brain was delighted. (Grade: A+)

#5: Idiocracy: I was content to let this 2006 movie pass me by when it came out, but every time I see it mentioned online, people start gushing about how good it is. Once word-of-mouth builds up like that, I get curious, and this one eventually wended its way to the top of my Netflix queue. I'm not the biggest Luke Wilson fan in the world, but he does a fine job as an average schmo who gets cryogenically frozen and awakens far in the future to find he is, by far, the smartest person on the planet. This is a comedy, but it does have a subversive point about how many babies stupid people have. Anyhow, it's a pretty amusing movie, and Maya Rudolph always livens up everything she's in. Justin Long also has a welcome cameo as a doctor, and my only really big problem with this movie is his seriously-delivered diagnosis: "You talk like a fag, and your shit's all retarded." Not because I'm offended. No, it's because it's taken root in my head, and now I'm afraid I'm going to be quoting that in all sorts of inappropriate situations. (Grade: B-)
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