Category Archives: Movies

Dispatches from Cinematopia: And So Begins the Summer of My Discontent – Men In Black III and Prometheus

As I had mentioned before, I was cautiously optimistic about Summer 2012 films.  Sure, I loved The Avengers.  Maybe that lulled me into believing that this would be a completely kick-ass summer for movies.  Then I saw Men In Black III and Prometheus.  You hear that sound?  That’s me, banging my head on my desk.

Now I should have stuck to my initial assumptions about Men In Black III.  That is was going to be 1) As craptacular as MIB II, 2) A movie that didn’t need to be made, and 3) Horrible based on the trailer.  Even though I had these assumptions, the film got some decent reviews and somewhere in the dark, jaded film-goer’s heart of mine, I hoped that it would be as good as the first Men in Black.  Let me return a minute to MIB II, a film that was so bad that it diminished my enjoyment of the original.  How many films manage to that?  This one did.  It’s almost as if I was a little embarrassed to even enjoy the first film after laying eyes on the disastrous sequel.  So, here along comes part 3.   I won’t belabor the plot points since it has been out for quite some time, but it was pretty lame.  Biggest issues:

  • Why is Will Smith still playing J as some punky 20-something?  It just felt sad.
  • Tommy Lee Jones totally phoned it in.
  • Jemaine Clement and Emma Thompson were totally wasted.  I like both of these actors, but they were given hardly anything to work with
  • Oh and enough with all the aliens.  At least make them important to the story.  But that would be too difficult since it’s much easier to CG a bunch of creatures than actually write them into a coherent story.
  • Speaking of story, it was completely predictable

One shining bit:

  • Josh Brolin playing a younger Agent K.  He was great though the screenplay got a bit carried away with all the name calling: Slick, Cochise, etc.  We get it.  Enough.

I didn’t walk out of Men In Black III angry.  Just a bit disappointed, though I should have just trusted my instincts.  Now Prometheus . . .

Oh what can I say, aside from, “WHY?!?”  I know.  I shouldn’t have had such high expectations.  I should have learned my lesson by now.  But I love Alien so much and the trailers for Prometheus looked so cool.  And Michael Fassbender.  And Noomi Rapace!  Alas,  none of it mattered.  Prometheus felt incomplete and ill thought out in terms of story and plot.  I won’t even go into all of my issues.  It makes me too depressed.  I really, really wanted to like this movie, but instead I felt a bit punk’d.  So much pseudo-coolness but for what?  Characters that behave ridiculously?  A story that is at best meh and at worst incoherent?  Viral marketing videos that were far, far better than the film itself?  Sigh.

Well, at least there are still some other films that I am looking forward to this summer (I’m looking at you, Dark Knight Rises).  I’m going to dial down my expectations, but all I have to say now is – Moonrise Kingdom, you better not let me down!

Dispatches from Cinematopia: (Not) Dark (Enough) Shadows

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to see an advanced screening of Dark Shadows.  Having watched a few episodes of the original 60s/70s show, I was interested when it was first mentioned that a film version was in the works.  The show was an interesting, if sometimes melodramatic mix of the supernatural and paranormal – something unprecedented when it aired.  I guess I was hoping that Tim Burton‘s new film would be in that gothic vein.  The trailers that I have seen in the past few weeks were disheartening in that it looked like the film was a broad, almost slapstick comedy with Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) as a fish out of water in the early 70s.  The good news is that it wasn’t that bad.  The bad news is that it still wasn’t all that good, paling in comparison to the original show.

The film does follow some of the general plot lines of the original show, namely the main conflict of the film, Barnabus’s spurning of the witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) and her subsequent revenge (though even that seems to be played rather broadly).  The set pieces  are quite beautiful with the interiors of Barnabus’ home, Collinwood, being way more elaborate and detailed than the original low budget soap opera version.  Overall, the cast was quite good (particularly Chloe Moretz as disaffected teenager Carolyn Stoddard and Helena Bonham Carter as the pill popping alcoholic Dr. Julia Hoffman); though I felt  that Depp and Green were a bit hammy and over the top in their performances. I don’t know how the late Jonathan Frid would feel about Depp’s Nosferatu-eque caricature of Barnabus Collins.  Frid’s Barnabus was the original vampire crush of many girls and women in the 60s and 70s, not unlike what we see today with a certain pale modern vamp.  If given the choice, I would choose the cool Barnabus as played by Frid over the lame, sparkly Edward any day.

I had two big issues with the film, the first being the plot – or lack of one.  Like so many big budget films these days, I didn’t really feel like it had a strong plot.  It was more of scenes that were strung together for entertainment’s sake, but nothing cohesive comes out of it.  At no point did I ever really feel compelled by the story.  Sigh.  This is more the norm than it should be in cinema today.  At least I didn’t pay to see it.

My other issue was that it seemed like it wanted to be a dark comedy but didn’t quite make it.  At times it reminded me of one of my favorite dark comedies, Death Becomes Her (1992).  Though it wasn’t adored critically, it remains a guilty pleasure of mine with a perfect mix of pitch black comedy, the supernatural, and camp.  Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith seemed like they weren’t comfortable going full throttle dark comedy, relying on the source material alone for the darkness.  Despite the melodramatic nature of the show, the film did not go that route either.  Again, if Burton had hearkened back to some of his earlier work like Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands, where there was definitely a gothic bent, but there was strong characters and a true genuine sense of oddness and glee, Dark Shadows could have been a success.  Latter Burton films just seem artificially weird.  And though I still like Johnny Depp, I feel like so much of his work as of late is him as some sort of oddball character (Jack Sparrow/Mad Hatter/Willy Wonka/Sweeney Todd/Tonto) chewing scenery under tons of make-up.  If you dig that sort of thing, you may like Dark Shadows; however the best thing I can say about it is that the 70s soundtrack is quite groovy and that it has made me want to watch more of the real Dark Shadows on Netflix.

Dispatches from Cinematopia – The Avengers Assemble!

Like so many other people, I saw The Avengers last weekend.  I went in pretty cautiously optimistic , because I have to honestly say I wasn’t too excited.  I know.  I should have been itching to see this film.  Joss Whedon? Of course.  The Avengers? Well yes.  But for some reason I had been left cold by the trailers.  Perhaps it had to do with being utterly disappointed with Thor.  OK to be honest, I saw Thor opening weekend in 3D (ugh) after a couple of Mint Juleps (getting my Kentucky Derby on), so maybe that had something to do with it.  I also was pretty lukewarm on Iron Man 2. If you asked me what it was about, I couldn’t even say.  It was THAT forgettable.  I did like Captain America a fair bit.  But then again, it could have just been Chris Evans’ abs blurring my perception.

The trailers did little to whet my appetite as well.  I just couldn’t get excited about The Avengers.  Despite this, I wanted to see it to make up my mind before the hype machine went into overdrive and my expectations grew.  And guess what?  I liked it.  No, I LOVED it.  Maybe it was due to the fact that I saved my Mint Juleps until AFTER the film this year.  Or maybe it was just that good.  So good, that about 30 minutes in, I thought, “Hmm when can I watch this again?”  This truly was the culmination of all the other Marvel films that came before it.

Some of my favorite moments were those when  Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk),  Robert Downey, Jr (Tony Stark/Iron Man) and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) were in the same scenes.  Ruffalo and Downey killed it with their jargon-y banter while Evans plays Cap with an earnestness that I adore.  The fact that all three are easy on the eyes is not to be underestimated as well.  I feel like Chris Hemsworth makes a decent enough Thor, but in my opinion, he was given little to do in the film besides look good.  The same could be said for Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.  I’m not a huge fan of hers, but I felt she was OK in the film.  I’m guessing that Whedon had to dial down his desire to make her the ass-kicking hero of the film.  As a fan of Jeremy Renner, I had hoped for a bit more Hawkeye, but overall I enjoyed his performance.  By the time he had his hero moments, I felt he had been Legolas-ed (hang around until there is something awesome to do with a bow and arrow).  I don’t want to leave out Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and the always entertaining Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) as they were all pretty damned awesome.

The strength of this film (and what I often find lacking in other blockbuster type films) is that it had a snappy, well-written script.  Thank Odin for that!  I know I should have trusted that Joss Whedon would deliver, but as I get older my tendency is to not get my hopes up, else I’ll be disappointed.  Of course my expectations are rather high for Prometheus.  Maybe too high, but if The Avengers is a harbinger of what’s to come, I have a good feeling about this summer.

Dispatches From Brewtopia: Off-Centered Film Fest 2012 Part 2 – Great Food, Leone, and More Beer (Oh My!)

Though it has been almost two weeks since I attended this event, I couldn’t go without a blog post on it even if it is a bit belated.  I have mentioned that I like good drinks, good food and good films, often at the same time.  The Once Upon A Time In the West Dogfish Head Beer Feast is a prime example of some of my favorite things all wrapped in a delectably decadent night.  An epic Sergio Leone western with a six course, Italian themed feast?  Yes!  With eight beer pairings? Yes, Yes, a thousand times Yes!  The film-crazed, foodie, beer aficionado in me was like a giddy child on Christmas Eve in the days preceding the event.  I studied the menu imagining the deliciousness to come.

Finally, the night of the event was upon us.  Seated in the theater, we waited as a western-themed pre-show played on the screen.  Soon, the first beer appeared, Ta Henket, a brew from Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series.  Light and refreshing, Ta Henket was a perfect introduction for the evening.

The first course, Roasted striped bass in fennel broth with leek & tomato, along with the second beer of the night, 2010 Burton Baton, arrived just as the opening credits of the movie unspooled.  This pairing was interesting, though I felt like the Burton overwhelmed the delicate fish in a light broth.  On its own though, the beer was sweet and boozy (10% ABV) with a nice woodiness that came from being barrel aged.  Taken separately, these were both very good, but I felt as a pairing, it missed the mark.

As with the first course, by just looking at the second course, you would think it was an odd pair: Raison D’Etre with a grilled oyster topped with goat cheese, crushed red pepper, and moscato.  Raison D’Etre is a robust, sweet, Belgian-style brown ale which I thought would overpower the oyster.  Of course, I did not consider the element of goat cheese.  The oyster itself had a nice briny flavor, but the addition of the goat cheese elevated the dish to go head to head with the paired brew.  Overall, a successful pairing.

Next, the rather rare 2010 Olde School Barley Wine appeared in front of me. Fermented with dates and figs, this heady 15% ABV brew lingered on my palate. The pour was only a couple of ounces, so I wanted to savor every sip.  And it was a good thing I did as I found it paired extremely well with the third course, cured duck breast, cherry white balsamic vinaigrette, grilled rhubarb confit, Gorgonzola on a pine nut crisp.  Yes, a whole lot going on there, but oh how it paired with the complex, fruity barley wine.  The cured duck breast was smokey and salty which played against the sweetness of the brew.  The tart, creaminess of the Gorgonzola tied all of it together.  A second beer was paired with this course, Indian Brown Ale.  This is one of the most common Dogfish Head beers, and since I am not much of a fan of brown ales and it paled in comparison with the Olde School, it served as a palate cleanser.

The fourth course was my favorite overall: 2011 Immort Ale with lamb meatballs and semolina-artichoke gnocchi in truffle cream.  Ooh la la!  Even a week and a half later, my mouth waters just reading the description.  The Immort Ale, like so many beers served at the feast is an unusual, strong, slightly sweet brew.  Paired with the gamey-ness of the lamb meatballs and the creaminess of the truffle sauce, it was near perfect.

Bitches Brew, the very unusual brew inspired by the Miles Davis masterpiece was paired with Spaghetti Carbonara for the fifth course.  Bitches Brew is a combination of an Imperial Stout with an African style honey beer.  The result is something very unique.  While many of the earlier courses were small plates with a couple of bites each, this was a full on bowl of very tasty pasta.  However beautiful this dish was, I was nearing maximum density in terms of food (there’s always room for beer!)  The pairing was OK, but I felt the beer was truly the star this course.

The final course included one of my all time favorites from Dogfish Head, 2011 120 Minute IPA, paired with a ricotta-rosemary cake with almond meringue and candied strawberries.  Again, I felt despite the very tasty sounding description, this dish played second fiddle to the hoppy nectar that is the 120 Minute IPA.

But what about the film?  I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t seen Leone’s 1968 masterpiece before this screening, but the opening sequence won me over  immediately.  It was the kind of film, that despite being nearly three hours long, felt just right in length.  Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, and Jason Robards were particularly incredible.  As I mentioned to my husband afterwards, the sixties really were the golden age of beautiful Italian women in film.  Claudia Cardinale is simply gorgeous as Jill McBain.  And to think, she was 30 when this was released!  If you haven’t seen it and you have any interest in Westerns, see it now.  DVD and BluRay versions are available and relatively cheap.

NOTE – For those of you expecting pictures of courses and beers, I’m sorry to disappoint.  No food porn here.  The Alamo Drafthouse has a strict no talking, no cellphones out during screenings policy.  This is something I really appreciate and it is a prime reason for choosing the Alamo Drafthouse to see movies. Of course, some folks in the audience couldn’t control their urge to take a snapshot and repeatedly took photos during the service.  This wouldn’t have tweaked me so much if there hadn’t been a completely badass movie playing and the repeated flash behind me was quite distracting.  I complained at the time and was given a couple of rainchecks (that did not cover the full ticket cost) but I will think twice about attending a movie themed feast if some idiot has to take a picture of his food and drink throughout the night.  I get it.  Lots of people blog/facebook, etc but if everyone who has a camera on their phone took a picture of their food, the flashing would never end. 

/steps off of my soapbox.

Dispatches from Brewtopia: Off-Centered Film Fest 2012 Part 1- Schnitzengruben & Local Brews

This past weekend here in Austin was the 5th Annual Off-Centered Film Festival, a most perfect union of Dogfish Head Brewery and the Alamo Drafthouse. This is like the Reese’s cup of events.  Two great things that go great together.

While the festival itself celebrates short films referencing Dogfish Head beer made by folks from around the country, there are other events that have become part of the yearly festival. Thanks to the kind folks at Do512, I received two passes for the Fest’s opening night event – The Blazing Saddles Quote-Along Beer Party. OK so not only is Blazing Saddles one of my all time favorite comedies (tied only with The Jerk), but there was plentiful special brews from all of my favorite local breweries.

The pours were small (roughly 4oz) and were $3 each benefiting the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. Before you scream, “Rip-off!” understand that not only were many of these beers rather potent and special, but this was an event to RAISE money for a very good cause.   If you know anything about craft breweries in general and the uphill battle they have been fighting in Texas with the Texas Alcoholics Beverage Commission (TABC), you would think it worth the price and then some.  I actually liked the small pours since it gave me the opportunity to sample a few.  Here they are in no particular order:

Jester King/Mikkeller Beer Geek Rodeo – Imperial Oatmeal Stout, roasted malt, chipotle peppers and Vietnamese Civet coffee.  Jester King is one of my favorite breweries for a number of reasons, not least of which are their repeated collaborations with the Danish Gypsy brewer Mikel.  Smoky, deliciousness, not much more I can say except that I loved it and can’t wait to have more.

(512) Brewing Company Pecan Porter with Toasted Coconut and Dried Cherry – Though not as delicious as the Whiskey Barrel aged Double Pecan Porter (sigh), it was an interesting brew.  Very nice cherry aroma with hints of the coconut which went nicely with the usual nuttiness of the Pecan Porter which is my favorite regular brew from (512).

South Austin Brewing Saison d’Austin – Saisons are my Belgian brew of choice these days, and this was a nice one.  While it is one of their standard brews, it was my first taste from this new Austin brewery.  Lovely fruitiness and a spicy aroma make this 8% ABV go down a little too easy.

Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling Strawberry Milk Stout – Before you think of strawberry Quik beer (yuck), let me tell you, this beer was amazing.  Complex and not cloyingly sweet as one might expect with a slight real strawberry aroma.  And to make it even better, they used locally grown Poteet strawberries, making it a true farm to pint beer.  Can’t wait to have this brew again.  So unique.

Thirsty Planet Brewing Jittery Monk Smoked Coffee Dubbel – While many of the readily available brews from Thirsty Planet are solid straightforward brews (Buckethead IPA is a fave), there are some adventurous beers to be had when you visit the brewery’s tasting room on Saturdays.  A Basil Melon Wit and an Acorn Squash IPA have been on tap when I have visited, as well as other brews that don’t make it outside the tasting room.  Jittery Monk is definitely different and in the best way.  It has a very strong coffee character, but because it is a dubbel instead of the usual porter or stout, it was even easier to drink.  Needless to say, I was glad to find out from the Thirsty Planet folks that it wasn’t just a special experimental brew will be available around town in May.

So after all of those lovely beers, an outdoor Quote-Along screening of Blazing Saddles (complete with cap guns and free beans) was the perfect finish to the night.  This film, along with Young Frankenstein, are in my opinion, two of Mel Brook’s masterpieces.  Witty, often slapsticky, but both films are ultimately about outsiders trying to fit in.

Stay tuned for Off-Centered Film Fest 2012 Part 2 – Great Food, Leone, and More Beer (Oh My!)

Hate Expectations – My Turbulent Relationship with Movie Trailers

Once upon a time I enjoyed watching the trailers before a film.  They were tiny teasers of a film.  Not too much was given away, but it piqued your interest just enough to make you excited for the film’s release.  Watch a trailer from the early 80s to see what I mean.  Trailers have become spoilertastic, often giving away much of the plot before one even sets foot in the theater to see the film.

Needless to say, I was surprised and a bit saddened when I read about a recent UC San Diego study by the psychology department which concluded that people enjoyed stories with a twist ending more when they knew the outcomes. Do we not want to be surprised at what we watch or read? The largely negative audience feedback on The Cabin in the Woods aligns with this conclusion. Many people (not me) felt tricked or misled by the trailer and marketing of the film. I say, watch the trailer again and tell me you thought it was a straightforward slasher flick. If so, you must have been seeing what you wanted to see. I did have a large issue with a scene in the trailer that proves to be quite spoilery, but other than that I enjoyed the film. Perhaps more on that in another post at a later date.

Sometimes, trailers don’t spoil by giving away too much, but rather by giving away too little. I know, I said earlier that trailers should pique interest, but stay with me here. I like to call these trailers, “Whizz-Bang” trailers. Most of them are for action, scifi, or horror films. They usually consist of quick cuts and literal sensory overload of CGI. Think of the trailer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon – yeah that kind of trailer. The ones that have all kinds of cool CGI visuals without context, assuming that audiences will want to see it based on that alone. And maybe for some people that works. But for me, it usually means I quickly dismiss the film from my future viewing options (unless others really want to see it . . ahem Transformers: Dark of the Moon).

Considering this, I would like to offer John Carter as a film I nearly missed seeing based on the terrible trailer.  Knowing what I know now, maybe if the trailers had centered more around the adventure aspects of the story, it would have gotten through to more people. Instead, it seemed to alienate most potential viewers. It wasn’t kiddie enough to be a family film, and not adult enough for the rest of us to care (even with the Andrew Stanton pedigree).  Admittedly, my expectations were quite low.  The film  was deemed a flop within hours of its release and was widely panned by critics, but it was really the trailer that had almost sealed the deal. Oh and pretty much anything 3D is a turnoff for me. Higher ticket prices, often post converted prints, and a general sense of vertigo.  No thanks.  Gratefully my local theater almost always has 2D screenings.

So in spite of all of this, on the recommendation of friends, I went to see John Carter in 2D. I really could not believe how much I enjoyed it.  It hearkened back to the old fashioned adventures I enjoyed as a child and still enjoy to this day.  Sure it was pulpy, but that was part of the charm especially if you know anything about Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ work.  I remarked to my husband during the credits, “It’s sad that we likely won’t see another John Carter Barsoom film for awhile, yet we are guaranteed 2 more in the Hunger Games series.”  I don’t mean that as a total swipe at Hunger Games. I read the books and thought the story was OK and the movie was about the same. More than anything, I felt like I had almost been hoodwinked into avoiding this fun film by the horrible marketing and bad word of mouth.

I fear what the summer holds – The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, & Prometheus are coming out soon and although I won’t be covering my ears and closing my eyes (as a friend did for all the Inception trailers), I will hopefully see them relatively unspoilt.  (Hmm after seeing the Prometheus trailer again over the weekend, I’m not so sure.)  Will they live up to the hype of the trailers? Will they be spoiled by overzealous marketing campaigns?  I guess we’ll know in a few weeks.