Monday, March 09, 2009

Reviews

I am feeling a little better every day. Today I actually don't feel very well, but I stupidly drank a Coke Zero at nine o'clock last night so I couldn't get to sleep for a while and then I don't think I slept too well. I think it is a sad thing to turn the corner to be one of those people who can't have caffeine after a certain hour. This is a new thing for me. Anyway, the whole thing about recovering from pneumonia is how very tired I am. That is why time changing and caffeine issues just won't do. But I have had plenty of help from the wonderful people in our church this last week. We had meals coming all week and help with the children from Monday to Saturday. So today is my first day to be on my own with the kids. So far it is a free for all- I have extremely low expectations. I probably shouldn't pick this morning to be my first time to post, but they are playing so nicely with the Legos, and I really don't have the energy to mop the floor, so blogging it is. And later on, we'll see if we can't start working our way back into the home school world after a month's break!

It really has been a month since the sickness hit our house. I feel like a hermit. I have been doing much more reading and movie watching than usual. I haven't added the reading to my sidebar because, besides magazines, everything I have finished reading has not been worth recommending. But I figure you can all use the warning, and can also even allow that we might not all share opinions on these things. So without further ado, reviews on books and movies I have taken in during my month as a shut in.

Books

Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. I hate to write a bad review for this. My husband, who has a Masters in Divinity, loved it. He wrote his own blog post about how outstanding it was. He actually required me to read it because he thought it would help me. I don't know if y'all have issues with understanding Jesus like I do. I think that anyone with a history of hurtful pastors, teachers, or even parents who taught them from Scripture in a less than gracious way probably has a little bit of the trouble I have. I struggle with understanding Jesus in Scripture, his tone and even his audience. I always fear that he is angry or worry that he doesn't understand me. I have said often that a book called Love Walked Among Us really helped me in this regard. I think George thought this would help me even more. He likes that it is in the proper historical context and setting, that Rice really did her homework and got the time of Jesus right. I understand that if we better understand the context of his life, we can better understand him. But the tone of the book is creepy to me. The setting is eerie. I don't know if it's because she has always been a vampire writer before or if it's just because it was a scary time, but I just didn't like the book based on the creepy factor. It had a dark and hopeless feel. But I will say that I didn't finish it. I read about half of it and just couldn't stomach anymore. Perhaps it gets better?

Mr. Darcy's Daughters by Elizabeth Aston. Have you ever wanted to read some of the modern day sequels to Jane Austen's works? I have always been a little interested, but there were so many, I never knew how to choose what might be the best ones. George went to Barnes and Noble while I was in the hospital and perused the Jane Austen knockoffs display in order to bring me a fun read to help pass the hours. He settled on this volume because the author had done several sequels which seemed to indicate that she was good at what she does. But no. I know that no one is going to be Jane Austen, but I was shocked at how short this fell. Perhaps there are others who do it better? I am pretty sure I could. This book had Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy raising five daughters, two of whom turned out to be exactly like their aunt Lydia and one of whom bore a striking resemblance to their Aunt Mary. Now tell me, how likely is that? Mr. Darcy is really going to allow the silliness in his home that was so repugnant to him in Lizzy's? Lizzy is going to allow it?! The book has Mr. and Mrs. Darcy on a trip abroad with their five daughters behind in London under the care of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who you will remember is Darcy's cousin, and is wife. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who have risen to great wealth and now have a daughter who is betrothed with a dowry of ninety thousand pounds (the Darcy girls each only have fifty thousand), also share in the care of the Darcy girls and find themselves in a remarkably similar situation to the one they found themselves in twenty some odd years before, traveling to a large city in search of a young family member whose elopement threatens to bring her family to ruin. And again, a dashing and wealthy man, in love with the miscreant's sister, beats them to the punch and helps save the whole family from public humiliation. Honestly, it was that bad. The only good thing was that the author had enough respect for Miss Austen to spare us from dreadful attempts to predict what her main characters like Darcy or Elizabeth would do in specific situations- they were not actually present in any part of the book. However, she does take liberties with the Gardiners, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Lydia Bennett, and Caroline Bingley. Besides that, that the Darcys would produce such ridiculous children shows a real lack of understanding of the original book and characters to me. But do let me know if you have read anything actually worth reading after this fashion.

Movies

Burn after Reading. Oh gosh. This was so bad. Rotten Tomatoes has this as 77% fresh. How? How was this movie enjoyed by anyone? I wish I had more words. It was boring. And not funny. And I haven't seen a whole lot of Coen Brothers, so I just think I am not really a fan in general, but this was not good, no likable characters, or even sympathetic ones, just a bunch of yucky, selfish, stupid people. George didn't even finish watching it. I believe he said it should be called Burn Before Watching. That sounds about right.

Brideshead Revisited. Oh dear. Again, this was so dull. I think this is truly the worst movie I have ever seen. When would it end? Soon, please let it be soon. Do we really have to visit Brideshead again?! Rotten Tomatoes has this as 64% fresh. Again, how? It was rainy and grey and full of unhappy people. I have not read the book, but I can only imagine my disappointment would have been greater if I had, because surely the book would not have been made into a movie if it were this wretched.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. If you read Jon's blog, then you saw that he absolutely abhorred this movie. I completely understand why. There is a lot of flamboyant teenaged homosexuality that is fairly hard to stomach. There is also a lot of inappropriate teenaged partying and (shall we say?) "sexual activity." There was an element to it, however, that struck a chord with me. I think the whole idea of driving around downtown all night long, meeting new people, looking for something to do, listening to music, and thinking anything could happen is something that epitomizes my own high school experience. However, I don't encourage anyone to duplicate my experience, even though I was a pretty good kid for my set. Due to the presence of the aforementioned inappropriate behavior, these kids really weren't good kids, and as Jon said, "there are no adult characters, and presumably few adult fans." As an adult viewer, one is left feeling that these kids are all in desperate need of parental interaction, but that they will likely need to continue contenting themselves with the best they can find from their peer group- an unfortunate truth that seems to often be just as much the case in real life. And, in regard to that, Nick and Norah seem like they will at least be nicer to one another than most of their other friends are, which doesn't say much. Incidentally, this movie was rated 72% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Made of Honor. Okay, so what did we expect? This was just something George picked up at the library for me to watch during my down time. I forgot about it and we ended up watching it on Saturday night. We didn't expect much, but this was truly dreadful. First of all, the title annoys me to no end. The main character was a male maid of honor for his best friend, who he was, of course, secretly in love with, and was in no way honorable, and therefore by no stretch "made of honor." It was a horrible title. Just call it Maid of Honor. Back to the dishonorable main character, he was the disgusting male slut character that we are somehow supposed to be rooting for to win the heart of the girl. This is the old When Harry Met Sally story line, and while we fell for it with the original, because we were fourteen (or however old you were when you first saw it) and Harry is so funny and likable in spite of being morally depraved, we cannot allow it, twenty years after the original, with anyone who merely shares Harry's knack for sleeping with anything that moves. Patrick Dempsey is not funny or charming or even likable in general. How could we wish him on anyone? Add to it a predictable and ridiculous last minute bursting in on the wedding ceremony on horseback and giving a very short and trite speech that somehow wins the formerly unpersuaded heart of the girl scene, and you have the worst romantic comedy ever made. The worst? I don't know, there are so many bad ones, but pretty near it.

After the dreadful experience with Made of Honor, I decided to do a little research and find some more satisfying romantic comedies. There are quite a few that we have skipped lately because they are often so disappointing. I felt determined to find at least one that could take the bad taste out of my mouth from our Saturday night experience. With the help of Rotten Tomatoes, I found two on Redbox.com that were just down the road and looked like they would at least help me pass a sleepy Sunday afternoon with mild enjoyment.

Definitely, Maybe. This one was rated 72% fresh by Rotten Tomatoes which really surprised me. It is a good idea, I suppose. The story was much too adult themed to actually be telling a ten year old as the movie pretends to do. The basic idea is that the dad is telling his daughter about the three women that all sort of criss crossed through his life in the years leading up to marrying her mother. He doesn't tell her which one her mother is, and the daughter is left to guess based on the story. Unfortunately, the parents are in the throws of divorce, so the telling of the story borders on tragic. The reason all hope is not lost is because it seems that one of the women was "the one that got away" and steps might still be able to be taken to win her. Obviously, this is all an unfortunate situation, and even the "happy ending" does not really make up for what really happened in the story. The little girl ends up cheering for a woman other than her mother for her dad, and it just doesn't set well.

27 Dresses. This only received 40% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and will actually be my only positive review. So that teaches us, if we didn't know already, not to really depend on Rotten Tomatoes. And I won't say that this movie was spectacular. But it was cute and well done. There were definitely things that could have been done better, particularly the resolution scene. I always have trouble with the resolution scenes in romantic comedies- you know, the part where the people forgive and understand or finally see the light and decide to live happily ever after? Sometimes this is so absurd or unbelievable in a movie that it ruins everything else. Sometimes it is that bad, but it is par for the course, so it just confirms that the movie is dreadful. Sometimes, often actually, it is choppy and a little bit of a stretch, but forgivable. And sometimes, but only every once in a great while, it is seamless. I wish I had examples. But when you find yourself wondering how we are supposed to believe this or why that would make him change his mind or why those words would finally convince her, you know it's been badly done. This movie's resolution was not seamlessly done, it was even rather silly to a point, but you knew what they meant, and you understood why. Does that make sense? It wasn't the story that was flawed, it was just the onscreen execution of getting from point A to point B. And it was forgivable. The characters were likable and the story was interesting. It didn't feel contrived, and it would have been very easy for it to feel that way. Mostly, it just felt happy and lighthearted, a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening just taking a break.

11 comments:

Jandy said...

Burn After Reading certainly isn't the Coen Brothers' best film, and I think coming so soon after the very serious No Country for Old Men hurt it a bit. But taken on its own, I though it was a great over-the-top farce, in the vein of Raising Arizona or Fargo. You weren't supposed to like the characters - you're supposed to laugh at how ridiculous they all are. But you didn't even like J.K. Simmon's FBI boss? He was fantastic, even in his short couple of scenes. But I also speak as a huge Coen Brothers fan - probably my favorite directors currently working.

And the Rotten Tomatoes scores are based on the number of binary like/dislike scores. That is, a 77% fresh rating means that 77% of the reviewers were basically positive about it, not that the reviews were 77% positive. All of those 77% could've just barely liked it. Don't know if that makes a difference. Generally RT seems to get the pulse of the critical community better than most other measures.

e.c. said...

We just saw Burn after Reading, and Bobby fell asleep pretty quickly(which we tend to do in movies these days), but I watched it all the way through. I agree with Jandy...although it wasn't the greatest, and certainly no where near the calliber of No Country for Old Men, I did think it was funny, and laughed out loud more than a few times...Brad Pitt's character was hilarious...I agree with you on Definitely Maybe...after watching it, Bobby said, "Definitely Not!" And 27 dresses wasn't a masterpiece, but it was enjoyable. Brideshead Revisited...I saw that in the theater...very weird, and definitely a downer, but my friend Jennifer loves the book(has read it like 4 times), so the book does intrigue me...apparently, religion plays more of a redemptive theme in the book.

Fittsy said...

Stephen and I both liked Burn After Reading, though I found it hard to stomach the brutality. So many of the characters were hilarious, great parodies of real life! And I haven't seen the new Brideshead, but I've read the wonderful book. (It may be more of a guy book, as I know LOTS of guys that LOVE it.) But it's a great picture of the Gospel. And supposedly the '80's movie with Jeremy Irons is top notch.

e.c. said...

Also, I did love the Anne Rice book....I thought it did a GREAT job depicting Christ as He probably was/may have been...a way I don't think we're used to thinking of him as. Of course, the fact that she used to be a vampire writer doesn't bother me now that I've read the Twilight books :)

Abby said...

so i feel like i have really weird tastes now. and i forgot i was in the presence of greatness- jandy is totally destined to be some big wig in hollywood :) i guess i don't "get" the coen brothers. i'm more inclined to enjoy wes anderson and the wilson brothers :) but, i definitely got the point that the characters were supposed to be ridiculous, i just didn't think their ridiculousness was funny. the ridiculousness of steve zissou or margot tenebaum is funny, but i really just couldn't stand john malkovich or brad pitt. i will say that jandy is right about juno dad. i enjoyed his small role. but other than that, sorry. on the other hand, i haven't seen no country for old men and probably won't. also, believe it or not, i have never seen all of fargo, raising arizona, or the big lebowski. i've seen parts of each, but they just don't interest me enough to sit through or deliberately rent and watch. so, i guess the only coen brothers movies i have watched and enjoyed are o, brother where art thou and intolerable cruelty. does this mean i have a bad sense of humor? or how am i going about the coen brothers experience wrongly?

George Edema said...

Good reviews, Abby.

Here is my two cents. Hold on to your hats.

Burn After Reading was a total bust. It wasn't funny at all. The characters in Fargo were kind of funny and these guys weren't even close to being the Fargo characters. These characters were boring, obnoxious, and one dimensional. Brad Pitt was the only one that kind of had me laughing (twice) but that only lasted a few minutes then there wasn't anything left but more of the same. The plot wasn't worth a movie, the setting was dull and uninspired, the dialogue was very poor, and their wasn't a shred of humanity to it (except for the guy that gets axed) The Coen brothers usually do so well with setting and dialog. They ought to be embarrassed about this film. To those who like the movie, I am having second thoughts about even being friends with any of you.

Nick and Nora was somewhat hard to watch because of the depravity. But it also did a great job of capturing that high school sense of "what is going to happen? and whatever it is it will be really important to me." And, as Abby noted, the parentlessness of it that made it hard to watch also made the search for meaning in others all the more intense. In other words, it made sense as an accurate picture of the dramatic experience of kids in that kind of lost situation. I was rooting for them, even if it meant rooting for something that couldn't help but be a shadow of what they ought to have been getting from a wise and loving family.

Made of Honor isn't worth typing about.

Definitely Maybe was pretty well done. And even though I knew the sappy ending moment (Why do movie studios put key parts in the previews and ruin the dramatic force of the viewing experience?) I still got a little teary-eyed. Its basically a dad trying to help his daughter deal with their divorce by opening up about what relationships are all about (via his own story of love). As Abby said, the stories are to "old" for the girl's age, bur Abigail Breslin plays a old-for-her-age girl so the movie mostly gets away with it. But the story is well told and except for failing to make one of the women likeable enough to make sense that the girl (or the audience) would like or hope that she might be the one, I thought it made sense and built tension and interest well.

If Made of Honor was a formulaic catastrophe (and it was. it is almost worth watching to see how atrocious it was. Like a dark comedy where instead of being amused at the ridiculousness of the characters you can be amused at the ridiculousness of the writers, directors, producers, marketers, editors, etc. All you Burn After Reading fans might enjoy it.), 27 Dresses was a formulaic success. It was entertaining and fresh enough wile also being predictable in all the right ways. It doesn't break into the ranks of the best romantic comedies, but it is solidly in the "hold your head high" category.

jennifer h said...

Only one I've see is Definitely, Maybe. I think I agree with George's review.

Abby, feel honored that Jandy commented on your blog. You are interacting with the material, and that is the sign of a good reviewer.

Also, I am glad you are coming out of your long period of sickness. I am sorry I wasn't able to do anything to help, but I have prayed for all of you. We look forward to seeing you again at church.

Jandy said...

Jennifer, ha. There's little honor in that. But I gotta represent whenever the Coens are taking a beating. ;) Unless you're talking The Lady Killers or Intolerable Cruelty. I try to forget they did those. (Sorry, Abby, you may be the only person I know who liked Intolerable Cruelty - I'm glad someone did.)

Abby, the Coens are their own thing - you're either going to like their quirky, darkly humorous (I even thought No Country was quite funny in a lot of places), ironic approach to things or you're not. I've never been successful at convincing people who don't like their films that they should, so I'm not going to try. That said, O Brother Where Art Thou is my favorite film of the past decade, so maybe that's their universally appealing film?

George, you're not wrong about the obnoxious and one-dimensional characters. And sure, you can not like it because of that (a lot of people, including excellent film critics, felt the same way), but I think the character are that way intentionally. It's basically a cartoon, but with live people. You don't criticize Looney Tunes because Foghorn Leghorn is obnoxious and one-dimensional - or maybe you do, I don't know (and it's something of an unfair comparison, because I'd actually rate most Looney Tunes shorts over Burn After Reading anyway). My point is that if you approach Burn After Reading as anything other than a one-off cartoon farce, you're asking the Coens for something they didn't intend to provide. I didn't love it, and there's no way it compares to Fargo (which is sheer brilliance), but I enjoyed it.

I could mention other films you reviewed, I guess, instead of just coming of as a rabid Coen fangirl (though I am one)...I enjoyed Nick and Norah, because I'm enough into the hipster scene that I think driving around all night looking for a secret show by my favorite band sounds awesome (and Bishop Allen, who appeared at the beginning, are one of my favorite bands). But I did wonder where their parents were through all of it. Oh, and I haven't seen the others, because I avoid romcoms like the plague if I can (and period dramas aren't so much intriguing me these days for whatever reason). Although I think Definitely, Maybe might be worth checking out. Sorry, I can't bring myself to try 27 Dresses. The trailer alone made me want to swear off Hollywood.

Abby said...

Jandy, I am laughing out loud thinking about you reviewing romantic comedies. You are so way too smart and artistic for that. For some reason, I always am looking for there to be a smart and artistic one (like Norah Ephron's fare) in the genre. But it is usually a waste of time. While I am probably smart enough to watch a lot of other stuff, I watch TV mostly to turn my brain off. I can't help that it isn't completely suspended in apathy, so I still get really critical, but I also don't want to be alert and sharp every time I watch a movie. It could be a phase though- a mom thing- because my favorite movies from right after college and before I had kids were much smarter. Now, I mostly just want to laugh. Give me a Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson buddy comedy and I am a happy person.

I also think your comparison to a cartoon helps me more appropriately place my expectations for Burn After Reading. Thanks for that.

Oh, and I am honored :) I mean, why in the world would you even bother to read what random Abby has to say?!

Also, I liked the elaborations George made about Nick and Norah.

And Jennifer, thanks for your prayers. I am much better now.

Jandy said...

There are romantic comedies I like! Like, um...Waitress, Enchanted, Love Actually...okay, that's all the recent ones I'm coming up with off the top of my head, and they kind of all had other things going for them. Not sure you could actually call Waitress a romantic comedy, now that I think of it. And yeah, Nora Ephron's stuff is better than most. The thing is, if you look back in the 1930s-1960s, there were TONS of great romantic comedies. So it is possible to make good ones, we've just forgotten how for some reason.

Heh, Owen Wilson and I have an on-again-off-again thing. Sometimes he does really great stuff, but he annoys me more often than not. Same with Stiller (who I liked in Royal Tenenbaums and Zoolander, and that's about it; Tropic Thunder had its moments, but most of them were Downey Jr's or Jack Black's).

I read most of the stuff you have to say. I just don't usually have any comments worth making, because this is the only subject I can adequately discuss. ;)

George Edema said...

I know that the characters were intended to be that way. I just think that it is a bad idea. It is poor story telling to tell a story with nothing going for it except that it has nothing going for it. Where is the art in that? Give me a camera and I can film that right now. Seriously, I could. And I'd at least make the setting interesting and the dialog unique. I mean, come on, Coen brothers, its like you didn't even try. Just because you get Clooney, Pitt, and Malkovich to star in your film doesn't mean you can mail it in and snootily bill it as a "dark comedy" (I don't recognize this as a valid genre so I will henceforth use quotation marks when I type out "dark comedy").

For the record, I loved O' Brother Where Art Thou?. I also liked The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski (even though I have only seen it once because it has an obscene amount of obscenities in it), and Fargo.

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