Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Brothers Bloom

Short review:

Go see this movie.

Slightly longer review:

Go see this movie. Tonight.

Full review:

Our little ragtag "movie group" decided to see this movie mostly because a) it wasn't Transformers and b) it wasn't UP (my brother apparently hates old people and children). It was only showing at the Arbor, the local artsy fartsyhouse-type theatre, which usually means I'm not going to enjoy myself much.

However, enjoy I did. Quite a bit actually --I might have been embarrassed about how much/how loud/how long I was laughing, but most of the rest of the audience seemed to be having a wonderful time as well.

I say most because, for some reason, the other four people I saw it with were not as in love with The Brothers Bloom as I. In the interests of fair and balanced reporting, I will state that some of them found it "confusing" and "too long". . . and Jyan muttered something about "third act problems", whatever that means.

A fie on them, I say! I enjoyed this movie from start to finish, even though parts of it were heartbreaking (yes I'm a sap) and I did tear up a little (did I just admit that?) towards the end. The plot also had its cliched moments, but overall the story was interesting enough and the pacing strong enough that I never got board. There was a brief moment of "oh, really, argh" when I realized that the movie had another half-hour to go ... until the story perked up again.

The acting was very good, and the locations were just gorgeous. As, in fact, was most of the cast. I also loved that there was always something happening, keeping the scenes more dynamic. The brothers don't just talk for minutes on end: they talk while an escaped camel roams past in the background, or while one of them does magic tricks, or while a dynamite enthusiast shoots down a palm tree. I thought this was part of what made the film so much fun to watch.

If you're interested -- as well you should be -- you can watch the first seven minutes of The Brothers Bloom online.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Diane Birch: Fire Escape

I was excited to receive my copy of Diane Birch's debut album Bible Belt from the lovely women over at the One2One Network earlier this week. I hadn't heard much about her myself, but the free single I found online got me interested. As did this snippet from her biography:

For singer-songwriter Diane Birch, music was a refuge. Although Diane was born in Michigan, her childhood was spent on the move as the daughter of a preacher, living between Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia, before her parents finally settled in Portland, Oregon. When she was in her early teens, Diane absorbed a unique and cosmopolitan perspective on life that shines through her music and makes a simple categorization of it impossible.

Unfortunately, my dad had read a lot of buzz about Diane Birch, and he had heard the free mp3 of Fire Escape himself. So, he snagged the CD out of my hands the moment it arrived to give it a listen or two (or five) himself.

When I finally got Bible Belt to myself, I was quite surprised with the tracks. I must have listened to it a half-dozen times before I sat down to write this review -- while working, while playing Zuma, while checking my email. It works just as well to actively listen (did I mention that I love her lyrics?) as to put on for some interesting background music.

There's a nice mix of upbeat and slower tunes, and Birch's voice is beautiful throughout. The music isn't dated, by any means, but there's something about Birch's voice that reminded me of singers from decades past. In fact, I think Vanity Fair hit the nail on the head when they wrote, "she pays tribute to the classics too -- Motown, Delta Blues, old-fashioned pop -- without sounding musty."

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed all thirteen songs on Bible Belt, although my stand-out favorites were Fools, Rise Up, and Mirror Mirror.

Interested? If you are, you can check out Bible Belt and support a great cause, at the same time. As you can see from the widget below, your purchase could benefit Autism Speaks. Or, if you go to the Discover & Donate page, you can get a button to benefit another charity, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure or the March of Dimes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Massive List of Michael Caine Films, Part the First

Think of the first night as the dress rehearsal. If we can just get through the play once tonight - for doors and sardines. That's what it's all about, doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That's farce. That's - that's the theatre. That's life.

Here's how I tend to pick movies (other than new releases) to see: I select an actor and then watch my way through his/her filmography until I'm out of either films or patience, and then pick a new actor and start over. It's a good way to make myself watch a lot of movies that I'd normally ignore.

Interestingly, the start of my two-week free Netflix trial started around the same time as my decision to watch every Michael Caine movie I could get my hands on (why? Because he's awesome, is why). Funny how that works. Anywhich, it is now the end of week one of my free trial, and I decided to treat you all to a brief review of each movie I've seen so far. You lucky bums, you:

I started with Get Carter, since Netflix allowed me to watch it instantly online. Honestly, this is absolutely not something I would have sat down to see otherwise -- there's a lot of sex, and the story is ... well, it's not slow, but it's not as fast-paced as, say, Taken. On the other hand, Get Carter is a revenge flick, so there's plenty of murder and oh-look-I've-framed-you-for-murder happening. While there wasn't a single "good" female character in the movie, Caine's character (Carter) is fun to watch. One of the reviews I read accused Carter of being amoral, but this isn't exactly true; Carter just has his own, special set of morals. Which involve a lot of shooting, punching, sex, and drugs. I give this one an A for storytelling and actually having a couple of plot twists I didn't see coming.

Next came Noises Off, which I watched with dad. Absolutely, without a doubt, the funniest movie I have ever seen. Mom kept looking up from the computer, because dad and I spent most of the film making strangled noises of joy. Those of you who know my abiding love for A Fish Called Wanda (previously the funniest movie I had ever watched) will understand me when I say that this is my new "comfort film" to watch when I'm having a cruddy time. The pacing and timing are just fantastic, and the cast is literally all-star, though it was bittersweet to see Christopher Reeve, Carol Burnett, and John Ritter on the screen. A+

The Fourth Protocol
wasn't anything special. Really, I felt that only the performances by Caine and (an incredibly young-looking) Pierce Brosnan made the movie memorable at all, because in many places it otherwise felt like a run-of-the-mill spy/intrigue thriller. It was fun to watch, though, and the ending was much more satisfying than the end of Get Carter. B-

And then there was Quicksand. Forgive me, but if an actor is featured on the dvd cover, I expect him to a) show up before 30 minutes have passed and/or b) have more than 30 minutes of screen time. So, my first complaint was that Caine didn't actually show up for what felt like ages, which leads us to my second complaint: this one was really slow. It's definitely an action-y international intrigue movie, but the plot seemed to take a while to get exciting. Fortunately, the last third or so does pick up, and Caine does a great job as a washed-up old actor ("I am not past my prime!"). Unfortunately, I was so bored in the middle that I started checking my email. Also, it's never really explained how Michael Keaton makes the sudden transition from working in an office to stabbing bad guys in the neck with drug-filled syringes; it seemed like he knew more or less exactly what to do the moment the going got tough. I was going to give this one a C-, but then I remembered the scene where Keaton punches Caine in the face so hard that he (Caine) flips over a mattress. In his boxers. C

Without A Clue was much better. This slow-paced but enjoyable flim anwers the question, "what if Dr. Watson had been Ben Kingsley, who was actually the great detective, and had to hire a drunken, moronic Michael Caine to publicly play the part of Sherlock Holmes?" A question I have asked myself many times. While this was, as I mentioned, slow in places, it was funny throughout, and the two leads give believeable performances. The story is good, as well, and I'm just plain a Sherlock Holmes buff. Without A Clue gets an A- rather than an A only because they mucked around with Moriarty's character.

And, clearly, the Movie Fairies smiled upon me with The Wrong Box. After watching Without a Clue with the family, we left the tv on for a while as everyone went off to bed. The Turner Classic Movies channel was on, and I heard the host announce the cast of the movie before I could go off to sleep. You guessed it -- Michael Caine is one of the main characters. This movie is the oldest I've seen this week (1966), but I think it's aged well. The story, as with many older films, tends to take its own sweet time in unfolding, and in this case it's worth it. The Wrong Box is consistently funny and young Caine is, well, incredibly easy on the eyes. I particularly enjoyed the fact that everyone (and I mean everyone) in the movie is weird, with their own set of bizarre quirks -- like collecting rooms full of eggs or hoarding cats, as Peter Sellers' character does. There's a point near the end where the plot seems to unravel a bit, but overall this one was a strong A.