Friday, December 30, 2011

Swell Season - Movie Review

The Swell Season (NR) 90 Minutes B
The Anatomy of a Break-up

Starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

During the chaos that is my December, I saw this film weeks ago and forgot to post my review.  Swell Season is part musical doc, part break-up story.  As good as the music is in this film, all anyone really wants to know is, "what happened?"  Bandmates Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova seemed so perfect for each other.  Those who saw the 2007 classic, Once, would agree.  But The Swell Season is the amicable and subdued account of their quiet break-up. 

Ironically, these two fell victim to the very lyrics they so passionately sing.  There's no bad guy, and no one to blame.  Yet, as I watched the film it was apparent that Hansard was not completely present with Irglova.  While, she seemed a bit too submissive and occasionally misplaced (I never thought about their age difference until this film).  All of these things, and different approaches to fame, eventually ate away at their union.  The couple that once seemed so rocknroll perfect, were suddenly real, with real problems, and a real ending. 

This is a good film that is better if you are familiar with Hansard and Irglova.  It is a musical documentary that can't escape undertones of sadness.  When the closing credits rolled, everyone walked out of this one as quiet as a pack of church mice.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Movie Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (R) 158 minutes B+
Rebel Girl

Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorik van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Bengt Carlsson, Tony Way, Per Myrberg, Josefin Asplund, Eva Fritjofson, Moa Garpendal, Maia Bergqvist, Sarah Appelberg and Julian Sands

I have not read the novel (by the late Stieg Larsson); nor, have I seen the 2009 Swedish film adaptation. Yet, none of that is necessary to enjoy one of the best films of the year.  I would've given this film an "A" if the director could've figured out a way to make this film a little shorter without sacrificing quality.  With a running time over two and a half hours the film tends to feel long.  Nevertheless, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) is the biggest badass heroine since Evelyn Salt (Salt, Angelina Jolie) and Hit Girl (Kick-Ass, ChloĆ« Grace Moretz).  Matter of fact, Lisbeth might be one of the best in movie history.  The scene in which Lisbeth asks, "may I kill him?" is as memorable a moment as any I've seen this year. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo encapsulates much of what I seek in a good thriller- darkness, introspection, sexy time, likable characters and honest emotion.  By the end of this one I experienced all of that, plus a little fatigue.

Best viewed on the big screen.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas - Movie Review

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (R) 90 minutes D-
Dumb, and almost fun

Starring Kal Penn, John Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo, Isabella Gielniak, Elias Koteas and Richard Riehle

If you simply take A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas for what it is - a stupid, juvenile, stoner comedy...  It's not horrible.  But unless you're a fan of the aforementioned genre, don't waste your time.  Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was a fresh idea in 2004, Escape from Guantanamo Bay in 2008 was silly but permissible, and this latest installment jumps the shark. 

It isn't so much that it's offensive, it's just dumb and unfunny.  It's like the joke is on the audience for paying money to watch it.  John Cho and Kal Penn can do better.  Neil Patrick Harris (NPH), on the other hand, is the only performance worthwhile here. 

Skip A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, and rent one of these stoner comedies instead:  The Wackness (2008), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Friday (1995) or Dazed and Confused (1993).

The Working Poor and Other Realities (Book Review)

Nickeled and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich B+
Publication Date: May 2001

Writer Barbara Ehrenreich leaves behind the comforts of her middle class existence, and goes undercover as a low-wage worker. She's a waitress in Florida, a cleaning lady and nurse's aide in Maine, and a Wal-mart employee in Minnesota. This type of investigative journalism feels familiar nowadays, yet Nickel and Dimed still manages to be provocative, entertaining and relevent.

Out of the Fireplace and into the Fire (Book Review)

Out of This Furnace - Thomas Bell B
Publication Date: September 1941 (reissued June 1976) 

Now that I have finished Out of This Furnace, I feel like I should work harder and love smarter. This multigenerational novel explores the plight of Slovak Immigrants from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It's an eye opening look at their history, dreams and desires. Bell's novel (which is based on real-life events) exposes the early origins of America's cheap labor addiction.

This was my first foray into historical fiction, and I found these characters to be simple, yet inspirational. I was moved by their relationships, friendships and family dynamics. I was appalled by the evils that constantly threatened to ruin their dreams, take their lives, and keep them in a continuous cycle of poverty.

Out of This Furnace is as much about love as it is about the hardship of immigration; it's an easy read that will surprise you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Moneyball - Movie Review

Moneyball (PG-13) 133 minutes B
Swinging for the fences

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Royce Clayton

Moneyball is a solid baseball film based on Michael Lewis' 2003 bestseller, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.  It follows General Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) as he tries to redefine baseball by adopting a statistical/computer-based approach to obtaining overlooked and underestimated talent.  The players not only fit into a statical scheme, they are also affordable.  This allows a small market team to compete with the big market cash cows (i.e. Yankees & Red Sox) at a fraction of the price. 

Brad Pitt does a nice job in the film, as does Jonah Hill.  But much like their performances, the film is good not great.  Moneyball has succeeded critically, and seems likely to receive at least a sniff from Oscar.  Yet, this outing is more of a triple than a home-run.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Interesting Concept, Disappointing Result (Book Review)

The Homeless Channel - Matt Silady C
Publication Date: June 2007

The Homeless Channel is an interesting concept, and the illustrations are great. But ultimately, my interest waned as the story progressed. The characters fell flat, and it all felt a little contrived.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"B" List of New Releases (Music Reviews)

Take Care - Drake B
Release Date: November 2011
Thank Me Later was the most addictive hip hop album I'd heard in years.  I was afraid that Take Care would be over the top, over produced and crowded with too many guest stars.  Fortunately, my fears were mostly unwarranted.  The more I listen to Take Care, the more I like the songs I was initially less than impressed with ("Shot For Me" & "Make Me Proud") and still love the songs that stood out from the first listen ("Crew Love" & "Marvins Room").  However, I still hate the title track featuring Rihanna, and I can't help but feel like some of these songs are close to perfection, yet too overworked and glossy for my liking.  Nevertheless, Drake is still my boy and I dig his style.  File under Emo Rap. Favorite Tracks: Crew Love & Marvins Room
Crazy Clown Time - David Lynch B
Release Date: November 2011
 Much like his films, Crazy Clown Time is spooky, intriguing and weird.  The perfect album for cruising down a dark highway in the middle of the night- just you, your thoughts, and the twisted soundscapes of a Crazy Clown TimeFavorite Tracks: Good Day Today & Noah's Ark.
Modern Art - Matthew Sweet B
Release Date: September 2011
I remember when Matthew Sweet was poised to become the next big thing.  Modern Art is a reminder that he's still relevant as a solo artist and still on point.  This is not an easy listen, but ultimately I think it's refreshing and rewarding.  Sweet sounds like an man with nothing to lose, and Modern Art feels authentic and loose.  His best album (that I have heard) since 1995's 100% Fun. Favorite tracks: Late Nights With the Power Pop & Baltimore    
Ashes & Fire - Ryan Adams B
Release Date 2011: October 2011   
When I heard that Ashes & Fire was a quiet album I had mixed feelings.  I was still high from the surprising 2010 album, III/IV, and frankly I was hoping for more of the same.  Besides, Adams can crank out quiet albums in his sleep,  and at the very least they will be half way decent.  However, this one is more than half way decent.  Ashes & Fire is achingly beautiful, accessible and earnest.  It might be better than his last seminal low-key effort, 2007's Easy TigerFavorite Tracks: Come Home and Lucky Now.