Monday, January 31, 2011

Snowmageddon 2011 Update

The "blizzard watch" has been upgraded to a blizzard warning.

Everyone feel free to panic.

My Month at the Movies: January 2011, Part 2

In the midst of a busy weekend and before Snowmageddon 2011 begins, I did manage to sneak in one more film for the month of January, keeping my moviegoing streak alive at five weeks in a row. How unfortunate that said movie was...

The Green Hornet. This was one of those projects that had been "in development" for ages--in the past, George Clooney had been attached to star and Kevin Smith to write/direct--but it took Seth Rogan, star of comedies such as Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, to push it into existence as executive producer/co-writer/star as Britt Reid, crusading newspaper publisher who moonlights as the title vigilante with the help of mechanical genius/coffee maker Kato (Jay Chou).

Was it worth the wait? Not really.

Director Michel Gondry stages the action sequences nicely, and the film boasts a strong supporting cast (Tom Wilkinson as Britt's dad, Edward James Olmos as the dad's best friend, Cameron Diaz as the potential love interest, Christoph Waltz as the main bad guy).

Unfortunately, the only fully developed character is Britt himself, and he turns out to be the kind of obnoxious, loutish, insufferable jerkwad you wouldn't want to spend five minutes, much less a two-hour movie. Even after his father dies and Britt takes to the streets to beat the crap out of L.A. criminal scum, he remains an unrepentant, spoiled asshole, talking down to everyone from Kato to Lenore (Diaz) and babbling non sequiturs nearly nonstop.

(Much of Rogan's yammering sounds improvised. If that's the case, the director should have reined him in. If it was actually scripted like that, the screenwriter should have been fired on the spot...oh, wait...Rogan co-wrote the screenplay, didn't he? Never mind.)

Fortunately, I saw The Green Hornet in 2D, rather than the much-more-expensive 3D. My headache afterward would have been so much worse.

Also? The Green Hornet, which features numerous acts of violence (beatings, shootings, stabbings, crushings, etc.) is rated PG-13 by the MPAA, while The King's Speech, which no beatings, shootings, stabbings, crushings or anything untoward except a few expletives from the mouth of Colin Firth, is rated R by the same board. Ratings fail, MPAA.

Snowmageddon 2011

According to multiple reports, the biggest snowstorm in some time is headed toward Chicago, which was already experiencing an above-average winter snowfall total. I wish staying in and watching it from my living room window was an option, but I have to work Tuesday and Wednesday. Let's see how that goes.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/31/11

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Month at the Movies: January 2011

As I noted recently, I saw more movies on the big screen last year than I ever had before (32), and my goal for this year was to beat last year's total.

So far, so good.

Last year, I didn't get to the theater until January 24, when I went to the Music Box to see Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (which I commented on here). This year? I saw my first movie on January 2. More importantly, despite the cold and snow--nothing like the East Coast is experiencing this year, but still more of each than normal for us--I've managed to get out to the movies once a week, exclusively going to matinees at budget theaters like the Davis (seen above) and the New 400 (seen below). (It's a lot easier to see four or five movies a month when you're paying less than half the typical ticket price.)

So, what have I see thus far? here's the rundown: Tron: Legacy. When I saw the original Tron at the (late, lamented) McClurg Court Theater, I was impressed with its production design and then-revolutionary CGI effects, but thought the plot was boilerplate adventure film fare: Go on a quest, save the girl, etc.

This sequel/reboot also boasts impressive special effects and production design, but suffers from the same overly familiar storytelling: Go on a quest, save the girl, etc. This time, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of long-missing computer whiz Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges, repeating his role from the original), gets sucked into "The Grid," the computerized landscape created by his dad and best friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner, also repeating his role) and goes on the dual quest of finding his father and a way back to the real world.

Tron: Legacy does toss in a couple of tweaks to the formula, like giving Kevin Flynn an lovely and lithe apprentice (olivia Wilde), a thoroughly unnecessary digression into a Grid nightclub, where Michael Sheen does his best "Joel Grey in Cabaret" impression, and a younger, evil version of Kevin (who looks like Jeff Bridges circa 1985, but with the same dead eyes that all motion-capture figures seem to have). Otherwise, it's pretty much the same as it was 28 years ago. That's not a terrible thing, but not a terribly ambitious or compelling thing either.

Tangled. A cross-pollination between the storytelling and scoring of a traditionally animated Disney movie (think Beauty and the Beast and the more hip, glossy computer-animated movies of late (think the Toy Story movies), Tangled features the voice of Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, stolen from her parents as an infant and kept in a tower by an evil witch (Donna Murphy), who wants the baby for her youth-giving hair. When Rapunzel hits 18, though, she wants out of the tower and plots to escape using her famously long tresses as climbing. In comes a handsome rogue (Zachary Levi), who steals a priceless tiara from the king and queen and, almost by accident, Rapunzel's heart. Much dashing about ensues, with traps, escapes and Alan Menchen musical numbers.

Nothing groundbreaking or challenging, but nothing dull or pop culture-obsessed either, Tangled is a pleasant diversion. The kids in the theater enjoyed it. So did I.

The King's Speech. This may be one of those Oscar-baiting British movies with stiff upper lips and persevering through adversity and royal intrigue and all that, but it happens to also be a very good one, with Colin Firth as King George VI of England, who had a frightful stammer, and Geoffrey Rush as the unconventional speech therapist who helped him get over it well enough to speak to his subjects without choking to death on his own words. They're ably supported by an outstanding cast--Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom--but this is really a two-man show, with both Firth and Rush excelling. It's a shame that Firth is nominated as Best Actor and Rush as Best Supporting. They're equal performances--co-leads, really--and deserve equal recognition.

(Also: This movie, which features no sex or violence, is rated "R" strictly for language, specifically a scene in which Firth lets forth a string of expletives as part of his speech therapy. Way to protect the moviegoing public from, um, words, MPAA.)

The Fighter. I'm usually not a fan of Mark Wahlberg's reserved (i.e., wooden) acting style, but it perfectly suits his introspective, conflicted character in The Fighter, the based-one-a-true-story of boxer Micky Ward, who has loads of potential, but is hampered by his domineering mother/manager (Melissa Leo) and crackhead brother/trainer Dicky (Christian Bale). Mom keeps setting up fights that leave Micky mauled, and Dicky, a former boxer who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, is too busy getting high to show up on time and train his brother properly. Micky's new girlfriend (Amy Adams) encourages him to break away from his family and get proper training and management, but can Micky turn his well-muscled back on his family (who, despite their incompetence, truly do love him), especially when Dicky gets busted and winds up in prison?

Bale and Leo give very showy performances, and even the luminous Adams is louder than usual (all three are Oscar-nominated for their roles). but Wahlberg's performance (which was not nominated) at the center of The Fighter hold it together--if we don't care about Micky's fate, nothing else will matter. But Wahlberg makes us care, conveying the frustration Micky feels at being caught between what's best for his family and what's best for himself with subtlety and quiet strength. Suffering doesn't always mean shouting. Sometimes, it means a glance, a shrug, a wince. That's acting, too.

There's still one more weekend to go in the month, and I'll try to catch one more movie, if only to keep the streak going. What will it be? Come back here Monday and see.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/28/11

It's a cold morning. Joan Collins would like you to have a hot cup of coffee.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/25/11

For some reason, this photo makes me think of stumbling out of a smoky bar where Dave Brubeck's "Take Five"is playing on the jukebox, just barely audible above the din of late-night drunken muttering and clinking glassware.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Yesterday was the 26th anniversary of the single coldest day in Chicago history (at least as far as the weather records, which date back to 1871, are concerned). The air temperature that day dipped to -27; we will not even discuss the wind chill.



As if to celebrate the occasion, Mother Nature decided to send an arctic front through the city late in the evening, sending the thermometer plunging well below zero, where it remained until this hour. (Now? It's at zero.) As chilly as it has been this winter in the Windy City, this was the first time it had gotten so brutally cold. Time to break out the serious gear.

As I've mentioned before, my Dad was a switchman for the railroad and thus was out in the cold often. He was also a fisherman and had gone ice fishing many times, though I did not join him for any of these excursions. (I don't like seafood and I've never trusted frozen bodies of water, so the combination of the two? Hell to the no.)

My point: The man knew how to dress for the weather. He had a good winter coat. He had leather mittens that look like welterweight boxing gloves. And he had the hat you see above.

I don't wear the hat very often since, like Dad's winter coat, its condition is fragile. The top of its bill is worn, and the seam between the bill and the rest of the hat is frayed to the point that the bill's backing pokes through at the corner--straight into my forehead--making it not the most comfortable headgear.

However, when one considers that my forehead would be numb, if not outright frostbitten, without the hat, the mild discomfort of the poking is remarkably tolerable.

I made it to work this morning in relative comfort, and I'll make it back in the same condition.

Thanks again, Dad.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/21/11

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On the Way Home Last Night...

Moonrise over the Chicago River.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/20/11

Wow. Somebody was really pissed off back in 1996.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Saturday Night's Dinner

A skirt steak, perfectly prepared in the new frying pan Mom gave me for Christmas, with grilled onions and garlic cranberry cordial pan gravy ans a tall glass of Red Dog.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/17/11

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Year at the Movies 2010

I know. I know. We're nearly two weeks into the New Year, and I'm just now getting around to talking about last year's movies. Sorry. It's been busy. Work. Sleep. Repeat.

In spite of my work schedule the back half of 2010, though, I somehow managed to see more movies on the big screen than ever before, squeaking past my previous record by one. (True Grit, which I saw Christmas Eve, did the trick.)

Rather than going through all 32 movies, though, I'll just give you the highlights (and, where appropriate, the lowlights).

The best movie I saw last year:Inception. I know some people think this movie is overly, needlessly, hopelessly convoluted and complicated. (Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones started off his review by asking, "Does this thing come with a manual?") I didn't. I actually found its complexity compelling. It forced me to pay attention to what was happening on the various levels of dreamscape woven through exhilarating action sequences. A thinking-person's action film? Apparently, such exists.

The worst movie I saw last year:Jonah Hex. This was such a missed opportunity. Had the DC Comics character been adapted to the big screen as a straightforward western, which there seems to be a market for, given the success of True Grit (which also stars Josh Brolin), it might have succeeded. Instead, the character was transformed into a supernatural being with an insanely hot girlfriend (Megan Fox) and given more gimmicks than James Bond. Also? The film as released didn't even look finished. You can see my full review here.

The most underrated movie I saw last year:Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Michael Cera is badly miscast as the title character--his low-key acting style doesn't work in scenes that require declarations of love and/or cartoony action--but Edgar Wright's visual sense is so dazzling and witty and fun that I fargive the film Cera's underwhelming performance and happily went along for the ride. It still tanked at the box office, but seems to be doing well on home video, just like I thought it would. Nice to be right every once in a while.

The most overrated movie I saw last year:Black Swan. I can think of many more pleasant, fulfilling ways to spend an afternoon than watching Natalie Portman rapidly go self-destructively insane. There's no denying the intensity of Portman's performance--she's sure to be nominated for an Oscar and has a strong possibility of winning--but writer/director Darren Aronofsky tips his hand so early and obviously that I knew where this film was going within the first five minutes. That doesn't make Black Swan a bad movie--just a resolutely unpleasant one for me.

The movie I was most happy to see last year:The Complete Metropolis. When Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi masterpiece was last restored early in the 2000s, that was supposed to be the end of the matter, the best that film historians and restoration experts could do, even though 20% of the movie's original running time was still missing--and, it was presumed, always would be. Then, something happened: a 16mm safety print of a badly battered but more-or-less-complete print of the original cut of Metropolis had been discovered in Buenos Aires. The rediscovered footage is in rough shape--scratched, dirty and deteriorated--but it nonetheless fills the gaps in plot and character development that have existed for 80-plus years. It was something I--and damn near every other classic cinema fan in the world--thought I'd never see. Yet, there I was in the fabulous Music Box Theatre with JB and Scooter (oh yeah, and the Evil Bunny), witnessing the seemingly impossible.

And now, here we are in 2011. What's my plan for this year? Pretty much the same as it is every year--catch more movies than I did the year before. Only this year, I'll try to get more screenings in before the last quarter of the year, when my work schedule shifts from "challenging" to "insane."

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/14/11

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/13/11

In case you're wondering...Yes, that's exactly what you think it is: a White Castle hamburger-scented candle. And yes, it really does smell like a slider.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/12/10

Seen last night on the way home during a fairly vigorous snowfall.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011