Sunday, August 14, 2011

Out With the Old, In With The New

Blu-ray DVD players have been around for ten years, but have become more reasonably priced in the past couple of years. I've been tempted to make the big jump to blu-ray, except I like to record stuff on my DVD recorder. That's why I usually buy plain DVDs rather than the fancier blu-rays.

Anyway, since blu-ray seems to be the way to go, I decided to finally join the 21st century and get a player. Thanks to a 50 dollar Target gift card, I got on for 40 bucks net, but also had to get Paul and Super, too (the regular version). Now, the next problem: what blu-rays do I get? Sci-fi? Animation? Should I get gently used blu-rays? Seems to be the way to go, aside from the going out of business sales happening at Borders stores. I might get a blu-ray or two come Labor Day. I certainly won't try to replace the DVDs I have now with a blu-ray version. I'm hoping they'll still play great.

Now, with the addition of new technology, and yet another reason why I should get a flat-screen once my current TV finally fizzles, that means I will have to make the final break with my VHS recorder. Remember those, in the days before TiVo? It also means converting some of my old VHS tapes to DVD. This isn't much of a problem, except I have two really good ABC Sports VHS tapes I can't convert to DVD because they have macrovision on them. It's a pity because of one them has a really good history of ice skating from the 1950's to the late '80s, while the other one looks back at Wide World of Sports in the 1960s. As long as there's a chance I can convert them, I am not letting them go. The VHS recorder, however, is another story.

So, this week, I'm getting rid of the last of the tapes I can convert. They have old Japanese TV shows, subbed of course. Basically Kikaider and Kikaider 01. After that, it's off to Goodwill, and the new blu-ray player will take its place. The only ting left is teaching myself to switch to blu-ray, but not necessarily get rid of the plain DVDs I already have. Some are homemade, and thy also include the Whedon library. I should have it done by the end of the month.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We All Need Some "Help", and Some Trailer Talk

When a movie house does a midnight showing, it's usually on a Friday morning. The film is usually the latest blockbuster, from Harry Potter to Iron Man, and that means a full house.
So how come the Century Downtown 7 decided to be the first to show The Help on a Wednesday morning? That usually happens just before Thanksgiving. I was almost expecting a bunch of women with their own copies of the book, checking to see if the movie followed the book to the letter.

No such luck. About ten people were inside with me, but it was well worth it.
You know the story: a white girl just graduating from Ole Miss decides to risk a lot to write a book about what it's like for Black maids to work in White families in 1962. We get some interesting viewpoints from Skeeter, the author and Aibileen and Minny, two of the maids.
Risks are taken, and there is a fair amount of loss, but there are also rewards in the end.
The movie does start with Skeeter interviewing Aibileen, but it's really the story of people finding their voice, and making sure they are heard...and it's not just the maids. Aibileen may be the narrator, but she is just part of the story.

We start with Skeeter, played by Emma Stone. After being in Zombieland and Easy A, this is her most serious role yet, and she does a great job. After getting a job at the local paper writing a housekeeping column, she befriends Aibileen (Viola Davis). After a while, Skeeter thinks about writing a book about her and the other Black maids. We also meet Minny (Octavia Spencer), a sharp tongued maid who's been fired from every household. Even with all that bravado, though, life away from work is anything from perfect.
We also meet the social queen bee, Hilly Holbrook, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. Now, she may be well-known as a vampire in Twilight: Eclipse, but she is even scarier here. She is the Ultimate Southern Housewife, who believes in good Christian values including building a separate toilet for the Help. She also has a special way of getting rid of maids she doesn't like. Skeeter is expected to fit into this society, but is very reluctant. She even wonders why her family's maid has suddenly left.

So, Skeeter tries to get the maids to hell their story. First Aibileen does, followed by Minny. Soon, others tell their story, too. We see that Aibileen is proud of how she and the other maids take care of the white children in Jackson, and how they grow up to be their new bosses a few years down the line. She is also scared about the emerging civil rights movement, especially the death of Medgar Evers. She knows her place because it's the only place she's allowed to exist. It's that tension, however, that also convinces Minny to help out with the book.

What really caught my attention was the relationship Minny has with Celia Foote, played by Jessica Chastain. The other housewives see Celia as some silly woman who will never be part of their club. Minny soon discovers Celia can't even cook...and a few other things...but they help each other out. You get the feeling that eventually, Celia will soon get more respect than Hilly. This movie isn't about a white person "saving" Blacks. People either save themselves or each other..while others who need help just can't admit it.
Of course, a certain pie is involved in the story, too. Let's say it gives new meaning to the term "just desserts".

You may also spot Sissy Spacek as Hilly's mom, who clearly has more sense than her daughter, Alison Janney as Skeeter's mom who has a big fat regret on her mind, Cicely Tyson as the maid Skeeter misses, and Mary Steenburgen as the New York editor who's intrigued by Skeeter's book.

After weeks of super heroes, robots and super-smart apes, and a few rom-coms, it's nice to have a movie with good performances and a great story. If you want to hide from all the noise of the blockbuster, The Help will be what you need.

They also threw in some trailers, including Breaking Dawn and that overly-sentimental War Horse trailer while I hope reveals a movie that's just as good as the Tony Award-winning play. I'm also interested in Tower Heist, where Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy rob a Bernie Madoff-type of 20 million bucks. It better be good. There was also a trailer for New Year's Eve, sort of a follow up to Valentine's Day. Robert DeNiro's in it, but don't be fooled. There's some guy looking for the girl he thinks is his destiny, and Katherine Heigl's being pointless and annoying...again. There's also Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Susan Sarandon and Ryan Seacrest too. I do know Lea Michele is in it as a singer who's not as driven as Rachel Berry, but she might go places.

While I'm on the horn, I must talk about how they're promoting In Time, with Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, and Vincent Kartheiser as super-creepy Future Pete Campbell. First, you should see this movie when it comes around Halloween because it proves a Logan's Run economy won't improve our global credit rating. Second, the latest movie trailer features Olivia Wilde as Justin's mom too much. I'm guessing the scenes she's in are in the trailer. If you want a better taste of what this movie is really about, try this trailer..

Now THIS will have you counting the days on your wrist.
Until then, we still have a lot of interesting movies like Apollo 18, Attack the Block (please, by Labor Day), Abduction (maybe), Moneyball (a baseball movie with Brad Pitt), Fright Night and Contagion...among others.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

CGI Has Made a Better Monkey, and a Good Movie

Remember the old explanation of how the humans made apes their pets and helpers, but were attacked by them, creating the Planet of the Apes?
Forget it. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a more evolved version of the old movies from the 1970's and even the recent reboot.
They came up with a great idea: what if Man came up with a miracle cure for Alzheimer's, and it wound up making monkeys smarter, and eventually able to outsmart us?

In this case, the man is James Franco, who plays scientist Will Rodman. He has a personal stake in this because his father suffers from Alzheimer's. A prototype is tested on a monkey called "Bright Eyes" (the first of many callbacks to the original Planet of the Apes canon). The drug makes the chimp super-smart, but she is shot dead when she attacks someone at the lab. We see the properties of the drug is passed to her son, who is called Caesar. He is a chimp prodigy, who is able to communicate with Will quite well. However, the chimp has also inherited his mom's temper, and soon he's put in a primate prison. It's there that Caesar gets a hard education that will help him develop into Man's worst nightmare.

It's no accident that while the human actors are generic, although Franco has a wonderful relationship with Caesar, the chimp and monkeys are the most developed characters in this movie. Just look at the expressions Caesar have. You can see him evolving with one look. This is also due to the genius work of Andy Sirkis, who does a great job bringing Caesar to life. Some have said he should get an Oscar nomination for this. The Academy's reluctance to embrace a new type of acting, especially assisted with CGI, will probably keep that from happening. Otherwise, Zoe Saldana could have had a chance at a nomination for Avatar. It's still a great performance. When Caesar does something even more unlikely, I heard a lot of gasps in the audience.

They also have an orangutan named Maurice who's a dead ringer for a familiar Planet of the Apes character. That is no accident. Neither is a guy named Dodge, played by Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame. This guy sees the primates as his own objects of abuse. He's not too far off from Draco Malfoy.

Some may be a bit skeptical abut how quickly Caesar gathers his army against the humans, but the story is a starting point to how Earth could wind up being ruled by apes. When it ends, you wonder if it will become the PotA that we know from the original movie and sequels, or will go a different route.

As far as the trailers that came before the movie, the only one that got my attention was Contagion, about a doomsday virus. It's got an all-star cast, and I hope it can live up to its potential