Mar 28, 2014

Hit Or Miss: Quick Movie Reviews 6

Hello once again.

It's time to crawl out from under the Veronica Mars rock where I've been staying to look at some of the other movies that are currently out in the universe. And, since I'm blessed with an inordinate amount of free time on the weekends (take that, people with kids and/or friends), I have basically seen all the movies. Since I know that some of the readers do not have all the time to skulk around theaters, Phantom of the Opera-style, I have compiled a helpful list of movies that are worth HITting the cinema for, and movies that can be MISSed. That's right, 'tis time once again for a little Hit or Miss!

Muppets Most Wanted
It's not easy being green.
The Story: Directly following the events of the first movie, the Muppets head out on a European tour. It isn't long, though, before Kermit is replaced by the villainous frog and Kermit doppelganger Constantine, the most wanted criminal in the world. While Kermit tries to escape a Russian Gulag (and becomes chummy with guard Tina Fey in the process), Constantine and his cohort Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) carry out successful museum heists while hiding under the alibi of the Muppets tour. Things get complicated, songs get sung, feelings get hurt, and Miss Piggy sings a sad duet with Celine Dion. You know, totally normal Muppet stuff.
Pros: I loved the first of the new Muppets movies, but one thing that it was rightly criticized for was focusing more on the human characters than the Muppets themselves. In this sequel, it's back to Muppet Classic, with humans adding color to the movie but not driving the plot. Ty Burrell and Ricky Gervais have interesting parts, but Tina Fey is really the only important human in the movie, and she's great. Like, really great. There are some other cameos (I won't spoil anything) that also add to the fun. The music, while not quite as great as the songs in the previous movie, is undeniably catchy. The movie is also incredibly fun and goofy, and some of the large plot holes are explained away by a general positive vibe. It's a feel-good delight. Plus, in my opinion, any time spent with the Muppets is time well spent.
Cons: While the film is generally great, it's also incredibly meta. As an audience, you're never allowed to forget that this is a movie, and that none of it is real. The Muppets make mention of it consistently throughout the movie.  Also, I'm a little tired of wondering whether or not Miss Piggy and Kermit are married (I've seen at least 2 weddings), which is a major plot point of the movie.
Consensus: It's funny, it's light-hearted, and it's a fun addition to the recent spat of great kid's movies (Frozen, The LEGO Movie, etc.). Also, you get to hear Tina Fey say "Good night, Danny Trejo" in a Russian accent.
Hit/Miss: HIT this movie up. it's a fun time.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
At The Grand Budapest,
everyone is checking out.
Like, they're being murdered.
The Story (Or, rather, the story within the story within the story): Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is a concierge at a super swanky hotel. When he is framed for the murder of one of the hotel's ultra-rich clients (Tilda Swinton), it's up to a young lobby boy to clear his boss's name and break him out of jail (and effectively woo a young pastry chef played by Saoirse Ronan). Along the way, they run into a who's who of Wes Anderson mainstays, including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Adrian Brody, Jason Schwartzman, and MORE!
Pros: Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's movie previous to this one, also happened to be one of the best movies ever (not The Royal Tenenbaums good, but still). This movie's not quite at that level, but it is the most Wes Anderson-y movies that Wes Anderson has ever Wes Anderson-ed.  That means audiences get cracker-jack pacing, blunt and direct dialogue, great actors hanging out and being great, and a beautiful and rich color palette. Also, it's good to see Ralph Fiennes being funny and with a normal-looking nose.
Cons: Again, it's the most Wes Anderson-y movie in the history of movies, and the director's twee sensibility can be a bit much at times. Also, the plot involves a lot of murder and quasi-Nazis, and sometimes it's difficult to watch your favorite actors get murdered, be murderers, and/or be kind of Nazis (in the movie, the fascist group is called The Zig-Zags). Also, something bad happens to a cat, and it's either the funniest or most frightening thing you'll ever see, depending on how you feel about cats.
Consensus: If you like Wes Anderson movies, you will like this movie. If you don't, then this movie isn't going to win you over.
Hit/Miss: Again, I really enjoyed this movie, and it's a delight, but you can probably MISS it for now and catch it on DVD.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1
The Story: After being beaten and left in an alley, sex addict Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) and nursed back to health. While resting, she recounts her many tales of sexual deviance in a somewhat clinical manner, and her rescuer compares said sexual encounters (some of which involve Shia LaBeouf) to fly fishing, classical music, and the Fibonacci Sequence. The film, which is part one of a two-part film, is both strikingly forward and maddeningly snooty.
Pros: Despite the film's premise and its 'we're going to show you more vaginas, penises, and butts than you've ever seen on-screen before' attitude, the movie is incredibly funny, and often that's on purpose. Stellan Skarsgard is quite funny as Seligman, a man who is gentle and unassuming but who will porbably turn out to be a monster in Vol 2. Uma Thurman is scrumtrulescent as Mrs. H, the cuckolded wife of one of Joe's paramours; I honestly wish that the movie was just about her. Also, the actress playing Young Joe, Stacy Martin, is impressive in basically her first acting role. Also, possibly a Pro, there are a number of fairly explicit sex scenes that kind of hint at the strange banality of sex while still being fairly hardcore. Still not sure how to feel about them.
Cons: The movie, and the director Lars Von Trier, tries so hard to be daring and bold, and it feels like everyone is trying to hard. It's like when a teenager smokes in front of her parents, daring them to call her on it, "I'm not your little girl anymore" practically screaming behind her eyes. But really, all those boobs and butts and dongs just feel kind of silly, and it feels less like Von Trier is trying to get at a universal truth about the human experience and more like he's trying to justify his own demons. Also, Christian Slater and LaBeouf try unsuccessfully to have some sort of accent in the movie, and both of their attempts are laughingly bad. Also, this movie is so pretentious. It's "using a bidet while Queen Elizabeth II spoon-feeds you caviar and reads the New Yorker out loud" level of pretentiousness.
Consensus: I'll wait until after I see Vol 2 to fully form my opinion, but right now the movie is more spectacle than substance, and I could have done without the strange PowerPoint presentation of sad wangs.
Hit/Miss: I'm going to go with MISS for right now, but maybe the second half will win me over. Also, be sure you're 100% comfortable watching this movie with other people. It can get a bit weird at points.

Veronica Mars
She's got a taser and a camera,
and she's not afraid to use 'em
The Story: Okay, I said I was going to forget about this movie for a while, but I also just realized that I never actually reviewed it. So, here we go. Veronica Mars follows a young woman (the titular Mars, played by Kristen Bell) and former private detective as she returns home to a life she left behind in order to clear her ex-boyfriend (Logan Echolls, played by Jason Dohring) of murder charges and attend her high school reunion. She's tried for 9 years to leave her old life behind her, but the past has a way of sneaking up on old Veronica Mars.
Pros: If you're a fan of the television show of the same name, then there's a good chance you will like this movie. So, let's just talk about Pros for newbies. If you're going into this movie with fresh eyes, there is still a lot to love: tortured romance, big brawls, explosions, noir-style detective shenanigans, and more. The real reason to see this movie, though, is Kristen Bell, an actress who has never found a role quite as good as the damaged youth she played for three seasons on TV. Bell, like other TV stars before her, hasn't quite found her niche in film, though she's admirably shuffled through cheesy rom-coms that Katherine Heigl would turn down and delightful indies that nobody saw. This is her big-screen chance to play a fantastic character, and she doesn't disappoint.
Cons: The movie can be hard to get into as a non-fan (here's a helpful primer for people who haven't seen the series), but even as a fan there are plot points and character notes that are difficult to swallow. The central plot moves along nicely, but so much of the story involves plot points that are never resolved, in a way that makes the movie feel like the first episode in a much-longer series. Also, there is a clunky 'addiction' metaphor laced throughout the film, and it's super heavy-handed. We get it – Veronica, like her mother, battles with an addiction, but, unlike her boozy mama, Veronica is addicted to... solving murders? Or something?
Consensus: This movie is important, and I hope it does well so that other 'gone-but-not-forgotten' television series have some sort of life, be it a movie, or a comic book, or a spinoff musical.  What's dead may never die.
Hit/Miss: I mean, HIT. How often do we get to see complicated female characters on screen?

Well, that's it for this edition of Hit or Miss. Go forth and watch movies. You'll be glad you did.

Mar 20, 2014

'Veronica Mars': A Primer for Noobs

I want Veronica Mars to be a success, so here is my attempt to get butts in the seats. While it's true that the movie is mostly for fans of the television series, I sincerely believe that it can be enjoyable for everyone. You've got a great, noir-esque feel, a simple and engaging mystery, and a leading lady with all the right moves. Also most of the movie is pretty accessible from a non-fan perspective, and the first third is devoted to getting everyone caught up. Still, there are a few things that just don't make sense if you haven't seen the show. Below is a catch-up tool to make sure that nobody enters the theater without the proper knowledge. Dropping knowledge in 3...2...1...

Mar 13, 2014

The Veronica Mars Movie Is Upon Us, And It's Important

March 14th might well go down as one of the most important dates in cinematic history, and nothing major is happening. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt aren't sitting down with Oprah to discuss their (seemingly decades-spanning) divorce. George Clooney won't reveal that his whole career has been one long prank, and he's really a married father of two from Topeka. Alfred Hitchcock probably isn't coming back from the dead, ready to declare war on the blondes and homosexuals that he loves and hates so much. No, Friday, March 14th is the official premiere date for the little Kickstarter movie that could: Veronica Mars.

Now, I don't mean to be hyperbolic, but the Veronica Mars movie is a genuinely important touchstone in film and television history. Over the last decade or so, there has been a power shift in the way fans of shows are treated by the general public and by the very people and shows that they are fans of. It used to be that die-hard fans were relegated to the sticky floors of Conference Room B, desperate for a view of a C-List actor at whatever half-hearted convention was being thrown.  Filmmakers like George Lucas derided the fans' input (he has since  wisely  recanted on his earlier beliefs), and there was shame even among the fans themselves. Carefully homemade Star Trek uniforms were shoved to the back of closets, their owners frightened that anyone outside of a 'con' know of their existence (requisite

Mar 6, 2014

Olivia Pope is definitely Sydney Bristow [Scandal/Alias]

Scandal and Alias spoilers are in this post. 
Do not read if you are more than a few weeks behind in Scandal!

Whatever the problem, Olivia handles it.
Scandal is obviously the water-cooler television show of the moment. Everybody's talking about it. Open up your window right now  you will hear faint whispers in the wind:
  ...what's the deal with quinn...
                 ...i can't believe olivia allows fitz to eat her face like that...
                                             ...mellie is the best....
The show is poppy, it's fresh, and it finds surprisingly interesting ways to introduce plot twists without feeling tired or try-hard. Plus, it's hella fun.

In case you don't watch the show but are still reading this article, the series follows Olivia Pope and her merry band of Gladiators as they squash scandals both large and small, all while having sexy liaisons with a variety of politicians, soldiers, and terrorists (cyber, destructive, and emotional). In Season 2, we all had the opportunity to meet Olivia's mysterious father, which meant that Season 3 introduced Mama Pope, the supposedly dead matriarch of the Pope clan. And not only is she alive, but she's also a crazy, dead-eyed terrorist. So, obviously, I thought of my other favorite series where someone's mother turns out to be a crazy, dead-eyed terrorist: Alias. Over five seasons, Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) had to take down a never-ending cavalcade of money-and-power-hungry terrorists and thugs, but there was nothing more difficult for her to deal with than her parents, two super-powerful, morally ambiguous super spies with both love and heartache to give in spades. She's Olivia Pope but with amazing wigs. Or, rather, Olivia Pope is turning into Sydney Bristow but with a more enviable wardrobe and wine collection. So, let's take a look at the many ways Sydney and Olivia are totally sisters from another mister, including a look at their signature looks, family travails, and bangs:

Played by Kerry Washington Jennifer Garner
Series Scandal Alias
Number of Seasons Almost 3 (So Far) 5!
Profession Secret Fixer/Handler Secret Agent
Executive Branch CIA
Main Female
Herself, Mellie Grant,
Her Mother
Lauren Reed, Anna Espinosa,
Her Mother
Main Male
Cyrus Beane, President Grant,
Her Father
Arvin Sloane, Julian Sark,
Her Father (emotionally)
Good at 
Pretty Good, but Prone to
Emotional Outbursts in
Times of Distress.
Great, but Prone to Emotional
Outbursts in Times of Distress,
Usually around Arvin Sloane.
The real-life pregnancy
of actress was...
hidden with handbags,
coats, and peplums.
written into the show/
Occasionally Rocks 
some Sweet Bangs?
Heavy Bangs in Flashback,
Side-Swoop Occasionally
Bang-a-Palooza in
Seasons 3 and 4
Stern Father that's
Secretly Super
Yep Yep
and he pretends 
to be a(n)...
Smithsonian Curator Airplane Parts Supplier
but really he's... the former head of a
shadow, pseud-gov't
organization (B-613).
an ex-CIA Agent, then a part of
a shadow terrorist
cell (SD-6), then a super spy.
Mother Secretly
Yep Yep
Everyone knew her as... Maya Lewis (Mama Pope) Laura Bristow
but really her name is... Marie Wallace Irina Derevko
and she's clearly... a super-skilled terrorist. a super-skilled terrorist.
So, Mother Issues? Oh yeah. Understatement of the century.
Susceptible to Crying 
Jags that Don't Undercut 
but Rather Reinforce Her
Femininity and Power?
Yeah, but usually
in private.
I mean, that's a loaded
question, but yes
What Makes Her Cry? The President, Her Family,
Arvin Sloane, Her Family,
Alcohol of Choice? Red Wine Tequila
Snack of Choice? Popcorn Ice Cream, but don't give any
coffee ice cream to Francie.
Strange Sartorial Choice
in the Home:
Diaphanous Loungewear
Comfy Sweaters, Turtlenecks.
and Sleeveless Turtlenecks
Strange Sartorial Choice
in the Office:
Indoor Winter Coats Wigs! Burkas! Overly Complex
and Revealing Costumes!
Love Triangle? Prez Fitzgerald Grant
/Jake Ballard
Michael Vaughn/Will Tippin
Trying to Do Good? Mmmhmm Oh, yeah. Big Time

Maybe they're not twins, but they are two incredibly strong female character who are allowed to have faults without compromising their strength, who both gain and lose power through the influence (both direct and tangential) of their parents. And, until the conclusion of this story arc, it'll be difficult to know just how similar Olivia really is to Sydney. Still, as soon as Mama Pope helps deliver Olivia's baby in a closed bank while being held at gunpoint, though, I'll be the one triumphantly shouting "TWINSSSS" out my window. Listen for the whispers.
I can't even tell them apart anymore.

Mar 3, 2014


The glitz! The glamour! The weird interludes where Ellen didn't seem to know what she was doing!
And, of course, the selfie heard 'round the world:

Looking at this photo, I'm mostly happy because Angelina Jolie, a woman who takes herself way too seriously, got in all the goofiness. Even Kevin Spacey's dopey face won't keep me from enjoying that.

I was going to talk about the REAL WINNERS AND LOSERS, but the ceremony was kind of neutrally fine. It didn't ruffle anyone's feathers, Spike Jonze won for writing Her, 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, and Gravity won pretty much everything else. It was a good time.
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