Ever since Netflix decided to charge us for the "Watch Instantly" feature (which I promptly cancelled—greedy capitalists), I've spent a lot more time watching actual DVDs. I've also started listening to vinyl and bought a rocking chair for my front porch. Come to think of it, I just had another birthday—maybe I'm getting old.
Anyway, one such DVD I watched the other night was Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal (hate spelling that guy’s name). Nothing special. In a mashup of Avatar and half of the Tony Scott movies ever made (see: Unstoppable, Deja Vu), pretty boy Jake plays a mutilated soldier whose mind is used as a vessel to stop terrorist explosions from happening. The best thing about the movie is that Jake is sent back into the same situation about ten times, which means we get to see a lot of explosions. And explosions, as we all know, never get old. Unlike me.
Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut is a one-of-a-kind violent, profane, macho epic. When a discreetly-planned robbery gets botched, newcomer Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), professional Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), stern Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), dying Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), and vice-mastermind Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) agree that there is a mole in the group, and start a bloody guessing game to unveil who it might be. Reservoir Dogs, in all its filthy glory, is cleverly and humorously written. The cast, despite being a sausage-fest of an ensemble, delivers tough, believable, solid performances. The story, despite being slightly complicated, is unique, smart and innovative. And Tarantino, despite being renowned for having a fetish for brutality, brings a plentitude of class and thrill to the film—from the stylistic opening to the jaw-dropping ending. An almost—if not completely—perfect masterpiece. HD Available.
For decades, summertime was the time for TV reruns. If you missed a few episodes of your favorite network sitcom in fall/spring, you could catch them in July. Or you could go out and play Frisbee. But these days—what with the proliferation of new cable TV stations and broadcast networks expending extra effort to create original summertime programming—reruns are hardly the hot topic. September is fast approaching, and summer is almost gone. We’re just weeks away from the debut of the fall 2011 TV season. What better time to ask the question, “What have we been watching all summer?” I’ll give you one big hint: There ain’t a lot of scripts involved.
NBC started out strong with the Stanley Cup finals back in June, but the network’s ratings petered out over the course of the summer with no decent follow-through until the start of preseason football. NBC’s only other ratings-grabber of the summer has been “America’s Got Talent.” It’s a weekly chart-topper, but it’s not enough to lift the network out of a virtual three-way tie for the bottom. ABC, NBC and CBS all averaged a measly 1.3 weekly Nielsen rating this summer. (A single ratings point represents one percent of the total viewing public, or about 1.1 million people.) ABC’s “The Bachelorette” gave the network a major seasonal hit, while “Wipeout” rounded out the top 10 for most of the summer. FOX gave ABC a run for its money, with the two networks trading the best ratings in the 18-49 demographic most nights. (Although the difference was frequently less than 10,000 viewers.) The double shot of “Hell’s Kitchen” and “MasterChef” helped FOX score solid ratings most of the summer. FOX also got good numbers for its run of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Interestingly, FOX managed to squeeze out the only scripted TV series to pop into the top 10 over the summer months: occasional repeats of “Family Guy.” Airing “Big Brother” three nights a week gave CBS its only respectable ratings presence over summer. A new season of “60 Minutes,” though, is giving the Eye network a late-season boost.
Cable is a different story. Or not. The season debut of HBO’s vampire drama “True Blood” surged to the top of the charts, landing higher ratings than a lot of network shows. Since the show’s fourth season premiere, however, ratings have leveled off, making room in the top spot for the current No. 1, MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers,” along with A&E’s “Storage Wars,” frequently topped the summer charts, proving cable’s love for “junk buying” shows. MTV’s “Teen Mom” and Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch” are the other reality shows consistently meeting-or-exceeding cable’s magic 1.4 ratings (representing a respectable 3 million or so viewers). WWE over on USA was usually strong enough to wrestle its way into the weekly top 10. Although they were in the serious minority, scripted cable shows like “Burn Notice,” “Suits” and “Royal Pains” (USA) and “Rizzoli & Isles,” “The Closer” and “Falling Skies” (TNT) managed to get bigger ratings than a lot of network fare like “Friends With Benefits” or “Love Bites” (both dead from the summer heat over on NBC).
Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) and Vanessa Paradis (The Girl on the Bridge) star in director Pascal Chaumeil's feature directorial debut. Alex (Duris), an indebted con artist who breaks couples up for a living, is hired by a rich entrepreneur to prevent his daughter Juliette (Paradis) from marrying her fiance. The expert heartbreaker then struggles through the hardest challenge of his career, as he slowly realizes that he has already fallen in love with his subject. Not just your regular chick-flick, Heartbreaker features an original story and compelling performances from the leads. Duris' gentlemanly mojo perfectly complements Paradis' independent spirit. The scenes are also cleverly written and shot, with stylish lines and catchy sequencing. But most exceptionally, Heartbreaker isn't showered with generous amounts of cliché and cheesiness. That's like lifetime achievement for a rom-com. In French with English subtitles. HD Available.
Long before Brokeback Mountain, Chinese director Ang Lee was making films that explore traditional society's norms and depict how people break away from them. In Eat Drink Man Woman, Lee tells the story of a Taiwanese master chef and his three daughters, and how they transcend conventional Chinese thinking through their unusual love life’s. Using food as a metaphor, the movie excels in delivering a deeply philosophical message in a fairly simple manner. The script, with all its subtle humor and wit, develops the film's homey feel. The plot, although not the most elaborate element in the film, is unpredictable. The actors' standout performances catch the audience off-guard and can break the toughest of hearts. And the cameos of food, schools and streets give us a glimpse of the colorful Chinese culture. Overall, a film that would fill empty your stomach but fill your heart, and leave you feeling so damn good.
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Lovely, Still follows the life of eighty-something grocery store employee Robert (Martin Landau) as he strives to get through another Christmas by himself. Luckily, he meets Mary (Ellen Burstyn), a white-haired woman of the same age, and as they embark on a bumpy relationship, Robert learns—or rather, remembers—secrets about his past.
The film has a genuinely touching vibe, and Landau and Burstyn produce performances that are both tear-jerking an believable. The script has a few moments of awkward misdirection, but the simplistic dialogue also adds a nice sentimental touch and transcends the thin line between drama and reality on which the film sits. Not to mention the must-see ending. Overall, a one-of-a-kind cinematic treat.
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