Sunday, November 29, 2009

Family Horror Films

In between baking turkeys and pumpkin pies, and enjoying a really good football game between Stanford and Norte Dame, I decided to use up my Tower Theatre Movie-Lovers Pass to take in what could be contenders for Best Picture at the Oscars next year.
Both were about family, and dealing with situations that are scarier than Freddy Krueger, Jigsaw or Spiedi even trying to make a movie starring them.
They're also not exactly feel-good movies of the year, but are still worth your time.

The first is The Road, about a father and son trying to survive a post-apocalyptic road. Now, I have heard that it's very dark and depressing, but this isn't The Road Warrior. It's a realistic portrayal of how we'd revert back to being animals ten years after the world we know collapses in every way. Forget 2012, and its message of hope and convenient arks. This is what would really happen.
The cinematography is incredible, as it shows a world without animals, sunlight or hope. We see humans literally regress, and even resort to cannibalism. A Reaver would be sick to see something like this.

At the center of it all is the Man, played by Viggo Mortensen, and the Boy, sensitively played by Kodi-Smit-McPhee. They're trying to get to "the coast", hoping things will be better. The Man is just concerned about making sure they keep going. He's armed with a gun with only two bullets. It's used to defend themselves, but also as a last resort if they lose all hope. It's interesting the Boy has never known what the world was like before the disaster because he was born after it happened. He represents hope in a world that has none. He's there to make sure his dad doesn't lose his humanity.
Also, look for small but interesting roles by Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall. Even Garret Dillahunt, best known as Cromartie/John Henry on Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, is there. I didn't recognize him in the movie.
This is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, also known for No Country For Old Men. It's a tough movie, but well worth your time.

As tweens and teens pack theaters showing the latest Twilight movie, their parents are checking out Precious, a movie that has received the seal of approval of Oprah Winfrey and several film festivals. Naturally, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. As most people know, it's about a pregnant 16-year old girl with a very difficult home life trying to survive. Again, it's a tough movie to see. The scenes between Gabourney Sibide and Monique are really tough. They play Precious and her mom Mary, respectively. Precious doesn't have a lot of ambitions because Mary makes sure she doesn't have any. All she cares about is that Precious go apply for welfare. She's very abusive, especially physically. Precious is also pregnant with her second her father...and still in junior high school.
When life gets too tough, Precious imagines herself living as a famous singer, or having a loving boyfriend. Those fantasies are much brighter that her harsh reality.

She finally gets help from a teacher an an alternative school. She's played by Paula Patton. While this part of the story may be a familiar plot to anyone who has seen similar movies, Patton does a great job as a woman who won't give up on anyone with potential. Inside the large downtrodden teenager, the teacher sees hope and potential.

When it first premiered in Los Angeles and New York, the movie houses were filled. he showing at the Tower was just about full as well, and I heard a lot of gasps from the crowd as the plot unfolded. Safe to say, Sibide and Monique are incredible as the mother and daughter, as in Patton.
You may have also heard Mariah Carey is in the movie, totally de-glamorized as Mrs. Weiss. She's also great here. If she wanted a movie career, she should have started with this rather than Glitter.

For the record, I will be looking for ligher fare are the parade of holidays movies starts its march. Up In The Air with George Clooney looks like a winner, and Disney's return to traditional animation, The Princess and the Frog, also looks like a winner only because in this version, one kiss won't be enough to solve everything (proof that they've learned something from Enchanted).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

After the Salute Is Over...

It was a great three days in Los Angeles, although I wish it was a bit longer.
The Sereniy Salute attracted a lot of fans, but Creation Entertainment admits it's not as popular as it used to be. That's why any future con that doesn't include cast members from Twilight (aside from Bella, Edward and Jacob) will be bunched together into mega-conventions. That makes sense because you save money in the long run, and there's hope we can a Whedonverse con a year from now. This will be good news for Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible fans, or should be.

This was also my first experience with LAX for the first time since the Wolfram and Hart Revue. My difficulty in trying to get to my hotel made me miss Adam Baldwin (darn it!), but I think I should have scheduled an earlier flight to get more time to get to the con. If I can afford it next year, I will remember that. My hotel, a renamed Travelodge, was great. It was a bit fancier than my usual place, a Super 8 near Ralphs on Hollywood Boulevard, but it lacked a mini-fridge and microwave that Super 8 does provide.

I also found out there was a Metro Rail stop a half mile away, which solved my transit problems. I was able to go to Conan O'Brien and the Cartoon Dump revue with no worries about when my next ride was coming from.

Tonight Show Parking

Now a few words about Conan O'Brien....the studio at Universal isn't that big. I'd say it's the same size as Jay Leno's old digs. I was luck to get a seat above Andy Richter's podium, and a nice view of Taylor Lautner. Max Weinberg was back after he was with Springsteen for a few weeks. His band rocked the house again, including Pinder's "Hold That Note" trick. In fact, it was even better than when Conan was in San Francisco a couple of years ago.
I'll come back when I get a chance. I did ask for December 9th, but I'm guessing they won't choose my request this time. I could go standby, but I already asked for a ticket to Jimmy Kimmel for that date. When I found out William Shatner was coming in a couple of weeks, I had to jump at the chance. I'm already confirmed for Bonnie Hunt for the next day, followed by the Santaland Diaries.

It's also getting close to Christmas, and the major shopping places, especially the CityWalk and Hollywood and Highland have their Christmas tress ready to be lit. For me, I'll settle for the tree lighting ceremonies back home. I will say there are some incredible holiday trees near the Staples Center. If I had more time, I'd visit them, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Scrooge in 3-D Is Quite A Different Animal

Instead of seeing my 49ers disappoint me again, I decided to see the newest way to tell an old story...and to finally get rid of 15 dollars in Imax Cash.
In some ways, Robert Zemeckis structured his version of A Christmas Carol as a 3-D ride not unlike those you'd see at Universal Studios. I got that feeling when I saw the camera whoosh around Virtual London in 1843, and Scrooge whooshing around his past...and an unpleasant look at his future. The only different is your seat didn't move, but you felt like it was.
The real motion-capture the best way to retell a classic Christmas story? Maybe not, but you have to take steps to make it unforgettable, and measure up to previous ways to tell the story, whether it's Alistair Sim in the gold standard 1951 version, or Mr. Magoo in the '60's or George C. Scott's version on TV, or the one-man version that Patrick Stewart pulls off.

On that mission, Zemeckis pull this off in spades. If you want to see the definition of no Christmas spirit at all, it's how they desgined Mr. Scrooge. Right from the start, we see he has no heart or compassion. It does right now to the character detail: angry face, sharp nose, stooped posture. It's just incredible. I thought the design of Bob Cratchit was too Lord of the Rings-ish, but I did like how they drew Fred and Belle, Scrooge's lost love. They were also faithful to the original source, even bringing passages to life. Again, I thought it got out of hand in a couple of spots, namely the Christmas part at Fezziwig's (his wife's dancing, specifically), and how Scrooge gets chased all over London in his "future".
As for the spirits, Zemeckis reminds us about one fact about this's a ghost story. Therefore, we must have scares. The way they bring in Marley will really get you off your seat. Still, it's necessary in the major renovation of Scrooge's soul. They depict the Ghost of Christmas Past as an Irish flame, and Christmas Present as a jolly Scotsman.
There were parts of the movie that did remind me of other versions. The movie starts with the book itself, and its words, just like the 1951 version. There was also a nod to the 1970 musical, namely when Scrooge sees what could happen if he doesn't repent.

Given that, how does the star, Jim Carrey, do?
Well, it's too bad there's no Academy Award for voiceover work. The Golden Globes had its own version for Robin Williams for Aladdin, but it was probably to get him over there. After this, though, the Oscars should consider creating a new category, especially when animated films are getting more attention.
Carrey owns this movie. He is just incredible as Scrooge, Marley and the Spirits. He gives each one a unique character all there own. I was also impressed with the scene where Scrooge and Belle break up. You can see how Scrooge's voice and attitude change from the happy clerk at Fezziwig's to the hard-hearted man we know in the story. He's going to be as well-known as Sim, Magoo or Stewart every holiday season.

I saw this movie at the Esquire Imax for 15 bucks, which really isn't that bad if you compare it to a regular showing at a Cinemark or AMC movieplex. I would think it would cost at least nine bucks for the first showing, including 3-D fee, or 13 dollars for an evening showing. That's for a regular screen. If you want to see it close-up, Imax is your best bet.

I would not be surprised if this version of A Christmas Carol snags some Oscar nominations in a couple of months, or even battle Up and Coraline for Best Animated Movie. In fact, with a slew of movies this year, we may finally have five nominees in 2010.

Before the feature, they had a 3-D trailer for Avatar. It's basically the same as we've seen on TV or the internet. Somehow, I was under-whelmed by the special-effects of the trailer. It could also be due to the story: a soldier in a wheelchair uses an avatar to infiltrate the Navi so they can be "dealt with" in order to get a rare mineral. Some people have compared this to the plot in Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. They may be right, but I suspect people curious to know what the ultimate 3-D experience would be like will come see Avatar. The plot isn't going to excite them, even when the avatar-ed soldier decides not to go along with the plan after all. According to the trailer I saw, that guy will get some help.

Still, I am more inclines to see some plain 2-D movies like Precious, The Road, Up In The Air, and An Education. I'll also be looking forward to seeing the rest of Dollhouse, which seems to be the Road to Epitaph One these days.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

No Fun Without Dolls

It's been two weekends since Dollhouse closed down for November sweeps. It seems that Fox would get the same audience with fresh Dollhouse then it would with stale House and Bones reruns. Some may argue that it proves stale reruns are better than spending money on new dramas people aren't eager to see.
Of course, this would leave out one interesting fact....lack of promotion for said new drama. I still remember what ABC did to Pushing Daisies. It's easy to do when you're seeing another network do the same thing to another show.
In any case, the Friday reruns got Fox a higher audience, even more than the CW. Still, I bet the reruns got plenty of exposure thanks to Fox promotions.

Still, I am looking to an interesting start to my holiday season. I will be at the Serenity Salute, thanks to a free round trip thanks to Southwest, and a good discount staying at a Travelodge just a block away from the Marriott LAX hotel. I won't be able to squeeze in a trip to the Blank Theater to see Nick Brendon, our Xander, in a one-man holiday play. The first date I was hoping to go, the 21st, is sold out. So, I'll wait a bit longer.

What's ironic about this is that the guests are being more well-known for the shows they are doing now rather than Firefly. Morena Baccarin is now the "It" gal because she's the face of the Visitors on V 2010. Alan Tudyk is also on that show, but fans of another Whedon show are hoping he'll be back there, too. Nathan Fillion has Castle, which I am still reluctant to see just because I am still afraid it will get too Moonlighting for my tastes. Adam Baldwin will be back on Chuck, of course, and Mark Sheppard appears on lots of TV shows these days. While the classic space western is getting people to LAX in two weeks, their current jobs are also helping out with the turnout.

I am also guessing the new venue will mean a bigger room, and more people. That's why I spend the extra dough to get a reserved seat in the middle of the room. I have their autographs already, and I just want to see them in a comfortable vicinity. To see them up close and personal, there's always an extra fee.
I also hope Creation Entertainment remembers to mail my tickets to me this time. If not...again...I will have to show them my receipt.
Since I will there as a fan, not an official Whedonopolis correspondent, I will also try to get into the costume contest. I have an idea that can't possibly compete with the more expert contestants. I just hope to get in a protest for a good way.

After that, I did have plans to see a taping of Ellen Degeneres' show. That got stifled because they decided not to tape on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Thing is, I had to turn down a ticket to Conan O'Brien to see Ellen's show. I've re-applied for a ticket, but I doubt they'd give me a second chance. They might if I tried again next month. If that doesn't pan out, there is George Lopez's new show. I am sure they'll need audience members for that.
Thing is, I also found out Green Day has an outdoor concert for Carson Daly's show outside the Nokia Theater. While I REALLY like Green Day, I'll defer to the appropriate age group, namely people in the early 20's and their cool aunts and uncles who are about 15 years older.

I would consider this my last L-A visit for 2009....if not for Southwest deciding to sell $25 plane tickets to L-A. Since I am bored taking replacement holidays without a place to go, I had to go for this. Thus, I'll take a quick mid-week break early next month. I might go to Conan this time, and Bonnie Hunt (still missing from Sacramento TV). We'll see.