Archive | October, 2011

A Teacher and a Leader

31 Oct

Creepy, unnerving, well acted, and just plain ole beautifully made, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a must-see movie that you won’t soon forget.

That’s mostly because of the subtle, heartfelt, and heartbreaking performance by Elizabeth Olsen (who has the unfortunate luck — for now, anyway — to be best known as Ashley and Mary-Kate’s younger sister).

It’s the same kind of performance that made Carey Mulligan a star in An Education two years ago.

Thanks largely, but not completely, to that fine work, MMMM is one of the year’s best movies. Continue reading

Wegmans Is No Stew Leonard’s

30 Oct

According to some of my friends, the opening of a Wegmans store in Northborough was akin to the second coming, or the Cubs winning the World Series.

Getting excited about the opening of a supermarket is not a foreign concept to me, but apparently, this was different.

“It’s not a supermarket,” they said. “It’s an experience.”

Cool, I thought. I grew up in New York, and shopped often at Stew Leonard’s, where there are samples around every bend, and whimsical touches like singing/dancing food help make the shopping experience more fun for shoppers of all ages.

So suffice it to say, I know what it’s like when a store goes above and beyond to make grocery shopping different and a more enjoyable experience.

Would Wegmans be anything like that? Continue reading

The Smell of Bastards and Truth

27 Oct

Attractive to look at but not particularly exciting to watch, The Rum Diary finds Johnny Depp in one of his more personal projects, one that won’t likely find a large audience — and deservedly so. Based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, a close friend of Depp’s, the film tells the story of writer Paul Kemp (Depp), who relocates from New York to Puerto Rico, where he hopes the lifestyle will be less stressful and the drinks more plentiful. There, he meets Sanderson, a shady businessman (Aaron Eckhart), who involves Kemp in a deal of questionable legality. As if that’s not enough, Kemp is distracted by Chenault, Sanderson’s beautiful fiancée (Amber Heard, sexier and more alluring here than she ever was on The Playboy Club).

In development for more than 10 years, Rum Diary is like a lukewarm beverage: It’s got some taste, but it’s certainly not refreshing. Other than Heard, the only other notable thing about this overly long film is the often beautiful cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, who captures Puerto Rico in all its seedy and glamorous charm. Not even Depp seems all that interested in what’s going on; it’s almost as if he signed onto the film (and produced it) as a favor to his late friend, just so it would finally get made. If Depp’s not interested in what’s happening, then why should we be? And that lack of engagement is what helps makes Rum Diary, to borrow a line from Richard Jenkins’ character, “vividly average.” So I’m giving it a C–.

Clooney for President?

17 Oct

That all in politics is not as it seems is hardly breaking news. Alas, in the film The Ides of March, that’s exactly the theme. In George Clooney’s latest writing and directing effort, Ryan Gosling plays Stephen, the junior campaign manager for Presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney). Over the course of the week leading up to the Ohio primary, Stephen goes from devoted fan and supporter of Morris to, well, let’s just say he gets a reality check. Young but hardly naive, Stephen is a fast-rising player in the political arena, and his drive to get ahead and protect his candidate leads to some less than ideal decisions. As a result, Stephen’s boss, Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), begins to question whose side Stephen is really on: Morris’ or his own.

A taut political thriller, Ides of March doesn’t tell a completely new story, but its twist on a familiar theme is told well, with a top-notch cast that includes the aforementioned actors, plus the always reliable Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood. To his credit, Clooney (in his acting, writing, and directing) makes Morris a less than perfect candidate, but not a guy you can’t support. (Also notable is the irrelevancy of his political party.) Morris is a complex character, but he is not the focal point of the film. That would be Stephen, and as the real lead of the film, Gosling gives yet another great performance, his third of the year (after Crazy Stupid Love and Drive).

As election season moves into high gear, Ides of March provides an excellent and entertaining complement. It doesn’t make any grand statements about politics, or the people behind the scenes, but no matter. The action moves swiftly and the film overall is engaging. I’m giving the film a B+ … and despite what we see here in the character he plays, I’m also giving Clooney my vote (but then, I’m already biased).

Gotta Dance

14 Oct

I don’t know who it was that asked for a remake of the seminal Kevin Bacon film Footloose, but it sure wasn’t me. Nevertheless, we now have one in theaters. But before you all get your panties in a bunch and gasp in horror about how Hollywood could possibly do this to one of the greatest movies of our childhoods, I’ll ask you to calm down, take a step back, and remember this one very important fact: The original film wasn’t very good. It may have gained sentimental value over the years, and some people look back on it now with great affection, but Footloose won no awards in its day — not even for its soundtrack. (I know. This is a harsh truth. You’ll thank me later.)

So it’s a mixed blessing, then, that this new Footloose is in many ways a carbon copy of the original, from Kenny Loggins’ title song playing over the same foot-focused opening credits, to the teaching Willard how to dance scene, to the choreography of the final dance, which takes place while Blake Shelton’s countryfied cover of the song plays. Does that mean the film is short on creativity? Sorta. But does it matter? I don’t think so in this case. I mean, like a decent cover version of a beloved song (Shelton’s “Footloose,” for instance), it’s still a good song, even if it’s missing a certain je ne sais quoi and doesn’t sound exactly the same. And that’s pretty much what this Footloose is: A decent cover version of a beloved movie.

If you grew up in the 1980s, then you know the basic plot of the film: City kid Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald, bravely and gamely taking over for Kevin Bacon) moves to Bomont, Georgia, a town where dancing and rock music have been banned (in 2011, that a town could or would ban music seems a bit hard to believe, but oh well). Ren’s rebellious spirit shakes up the town, and catches the attention of the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), whose own rebellious spirit gets her into some hot water with her father (Dennis Quaid). Some of the details of the plot have been changed (for example, Ren is now from Boston, not Chicago, and his mother is dead), but nothing too significant. It’s the same movie with a fresh, sexier coat of paint. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. (I’d rather watch Hough shake her tail feather any day than watch Lori Singer. Wouldn’t you?)

Like the original, this Footloose is by no means a great movie, but it does have its moments of fun. Hough and Wormald make a very attractive couple, and those songs you loved in the original still sound great (I’ll admit that my feet and hands were tapping during the opening and closing numbers, and at various other times too). Will you smile when Ren calls out those same bible verses in the city council meeting? Sure. Will you giggle with recognition when Ren throws up the confetti at the end and yells, “Let’s dance!” Totally. If you answered “no” to either of those questions, then this new Footloose isn’t for you. But if you can stomach some awkwardness and tolerate a whole lot of similarities, and if the original film occupies a sweet spot in your memories, then you may just have a surprisingly good time watching this remake. I’m giving Footloose a B.

Insanely Great Jobs

6 Oct

Many, many people will write tributes to Steve Jobs today that will be better than mine, so I’m not going to compete with them.

But I wanted to take just a minute to recognize his passing by recalling one of my most memorable Steve Jobs experiences.

It was in January 2007, on the day the iPhone was first introduced to the world. Continue reading

6 Things I’m Not Going to Apologize For

4 Oct

It’s the week between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.

The custom is you’re supposed to spend this time repenting for your sins and apologizing to people for anything bad you may have done to them during the year so that on Yom Kippur (which begins Friday night at sundown), you have a clean slate.

But I’m not the apologizing type, so I’m not gonna do that.

In fact, here are a few things I’m not sorry for: Continue reading