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Trump, this is on you
This is the first Emmys broadcast that I've ever watched. I knew that a lot of the show was going to be swipes at Donald Trump, especially with Stephen Colbert hosting. The brief appearance by Sean Spicer naturally drew a lot of controversy, since Spicer helped Trump lie to the country. Maybe Spicer wants revenge on his erstwhile boss for firing him.
Otherwise I liked what I saw. I should admit that of all the nominees, the only shows that I've seen consistently in the past year are "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee", "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver", "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", "Real Time with Bill Maher" and "Saturday Night Live". I've also seen "The Wizard of Lies", "Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors" and scattered segments of "Late Night with Seth Meyers". I liked that John Oliver, Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon won (although I would've been inclined to award Leslie Jones; she's the best person on SNL right now). My one real complaint was that the In Memorian segment omitted Dick Gregory.
All in all, I liked what I saw. I hope to see "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Big Little Lies" soon.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
not a masterpiece but still enjoyable
The toys are back for another adventure, but the context this time is that Andy is about to go off to college and has to decide what to do with his playthings. When they accidentally get sent to a children's daycare, they find both a new obstacle and a dark story behind some of the toys.
I wouldn't call "Toy Story 3" a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I understand that there's a fourth movie planned. If so, then it will be missing two of the original cast members: Jim Varney died not long after "Toy Story 2" and his role got recast in this movie, while Don Rickles just died a few months ago.
And as I always do when discussing one of these movies, I have to discuss the cast. We all know who Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Estelle Harris, Michael Keaton, Bonnie Hunt and Whoopi Goldberg are. Wallace Shawn is best known for "My Dinner with Andre"* but also played Vizzini in "The Princess Bride". John Ratzenberger is apparently best known for a role on "Cheers" but I only know him from this franchise. Jodi Benson voiced Ariel in "The Little Mermaid". Timothy Dalton played James Bond in the late '80s, and his Bond is known as the worst (although personally I think that Sean Connery was the ONLY good one). Kristen Schaal and Jeff Garlin are standup comics. Laurie Metcalf plays Sheldon's mom on "The Big Bang Theory" and recently won a Tony for a Broadway performance. R. Lee Ermey is best known as the brutal drill sergeant in "Full Metal Jacket".
Anyway, you'll probably like the movie.
*My parents met him and Andre Gregory around the time that it got released. The four of them had dinner in a small restaurant and had a philosophical conversation about the movie.
Yes Man (2008)
give an answer
One of Jim Carrey's many silly movies features him as a man who decides to answer yes to everything, no matter how banal. "Yes Man" is essentially a gimmick comedy like "Liar Liar" or "Bruce Almighty", but it's a funny one. It's one of those movies whose purpose is just to be funny, and it succeeds. I suspect that they probably had a lot of fun filming it, understanding that a few scenes - namely one involving Fionnula Flanagan - were very likely awkward to film.
In the end, it's a fun movie. I guess that they could've expanded Zooey Deschanel's character, but the movie makes no pretense about what it is. Enjoyable one. I think that you'll like it.
"Yes is the answer and you know that for sure/Yes is surrender/You got to let it, you gotta let it go"
- from John Lennon's "Mind Games"
102 Dalmatians (2000)
bow wow woe
Bearing only a tenuous connection to the original, "102 Dalmatians" is a cynical attempt to make money. Like many sequels, it's just a caricature. Glenn Close still puts on a neat performance as Cruella DeVil, making her like Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada", but that's it. Probably the most ridiculous scene is when Disney gives itself a plug: the dogs watch "Lady and the Tramp". The cast members who didn't return were lucky to have not returned. Completely bland.
As for work since then, Kevin Lima directed "Enchanted" (starring Amy Adams as a princess sent to New York).
The Sopranos (1999)
Frank Vincent, RIP
I can't believe that it took me this long to get around to seeing "The Sopranos". I had heard a lot about it, but I can affirm that with this show, "Six Feet Under" and "Game of Thrones", HBO revolutionized TV in the 21st century. A gritty look at a mob boss and how he tries to balance his work life and family, this show pulls no punches. One of the points that it makes is that there aren't really any "good" or "bad" characters. People do what they think best serves the family.
I don't know if I would go so far as to call it the greatest show ever - my personal fave of HBO's series is "Six Feet Under" - but the writing, acting and direction combine to make something that you won't get on the networks or basic cable. If you want to understand some of the best that TV can provide, then you owe it to yourself to watch "The Sopranos". Great show.
Too bad that James Gandolfini, Nancy Marchand and the recently deceased Frank Vincent are no longer with us.
Pieces of April (2003)
feed the family
Family gatherings and the unpleasant things resulting therefrom are a common theme in cinema. "Pieces of April" features this theme but branches it out to also look at social isolation. April (Katie Holmes) has lived in this apartment in New York for some time but hasn't gotten to know the other people in the building. Upon finding her oven broken, April has no choice but to try and get to know people. Meanwhile, her family's conversations reveal old wounds.
The movie is shot in a naturalistic style to give a sense of realism. And quite frankly, that's the only thing in April's dismal world (both from her residence and her family). All sorts of bad things are happening with each group (April, her beau, and her family). And the movie pulls off everything perfectly. This is exactly what a movie should be. I recommend it.
Also starring Patricia Clarkson (who received an Academy Award nomination for the role), Oliver Platt, Alice Drummond (the librarian in the original "Ghostbusters"), Derek Luke and Sean Hayes.
London in the raw
Mike Leigh has spent his career focusing a lot on the United Kingdom's underclass. Another characteristic of his works is the slow pace, so as to help acquaint the audience with the characters. Both of these are apparent in 1993's "Naked". The movie shows a stark contrast between the working class and ruling class, as evidenced by David Thewlis's and Greg Cruttwell's characters. But this isn't simply a story of who's good and who's bad. These are multidimensional characters. Basically, it's a look at the bare reality of life for large numbers of British citizens, while also touching on issues like alienation and misogyny. Thatcherism had eviscerated the ideals of the '60s, leaving people hopeless (and we can see many of the characters living in cramped spaces).
I don't know if I would call it Leigh's best movie - he's made a number of good ones - but it offers a good look at the desperation felt by large numbers of the UK's citizens in the wake of Thatcherism. The protagonist's conspiracy theories sound like something that Charles Manson would dream up.
Anyway, good movie. Also starring Lesley Sharp and Katrin Cartlidge (who later starred in the Oscar-winning "No Man's Land" but died of blood poisoning shortly thereafter).
I Want to Live! (1958)
death is on the line
The story of Barbara Graham is not one that most people in the 21st century would recognize, but it was a major story in the 1950s. Robert Wise's "I Want to Live!" is based on articles written about Graham, who got convicted of taking part in a murder. Susan Hayward plays the protagonist, depicting her as a sorry character whose whole life pretty much conspired against her.
There have been questions as to the accuracy of Graham's depiction in the movie. Whatever the case, Hayward puts in a fine performance as the woman whose case almost certainly fired up emotions on both sides. The jazz soundtrack helps to drive the movie, emphasizing the gritty world that Graham inhabited. We might never know the full story of what happened, but it's still a good movie.
Also starring Simon Oakland (the psychiatrist in "Psycho"), Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on "The Beverly Hillbillies") and Dabbs Greer (the older version of Tom Hanks's character in "The Green Mile").
Lemmon and Matthau: always a reliable team
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were one of cinema's most notable teams. They co-starred in a number of comedies over the years, always entertaining audiences. But there was also a time that Lemmon stepped behind the camera. The result was "Kotch", based on a book by Katharine Topkins. Matthau plays an elderly man in the LA area who feels useless in the changing world. His son and daughter-in-law consider him a nuisance, but he would rather not spend the rest of his life in a retirement home. But his life takes a new turn when he hooks up with a young pregnant woman.
We're used to seeing Matthau play curmudgeons, but here his character gets a new outlook on life. There's a scene towards the end that's a shocker (let's just say that Walter Matthau is the last person whom you'd picture doing that). All in all, a good movie. Not a masterpiece, but I still recommend it.
Carmen Jones (1954)
Is there anything not to love about a production involving Harry Belafonte?
I suspect that it was risky for a notable director to release a movie with an entirely African-American cast, but Otto Preminger pulled it off with this adaptation of the musical based on Georges Bizet's 1875 opera. Dorothy Dandridge plays the vivacious title role with Harry Belafonte as the soldier who falls for her. We could make the argument that "Carmen Jones" was considered "acceptable" because it showed African-Americans singing and dancing (one of the stereotypes of them), but even so it was still a bold move, and the result is an impressive one.
It was around this time that Harry Belafonte was becoming known as a calypso singer (co-star Brock Peters sang backups on Belafonte's most famous song but is best known as Gregory Peck's client in "To Kill a Mockingbird"). Since then he's always been part of social justice movements. Dorothy Dandridge died young, and we can only speculate on the direction that her career would've taken had she survived.
Anyway, I recommend the movie. Good one.