February, 2012 Archives

Extremely Long & Incredibly Crammed

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February 23rd, 2012

Rodney’s favorite films of 2011 My hair and makeup are in the final stages of completion. My Armani tux is back from the tailor. My driver has brought around the limo (the black one, not either of the other two). My stunning date has been CGI’d. It’s just about time for me to walk the […]

Rodney’s favorite films of 2011

My hair and makeup are in the final stages of completion. My Armani tux is back from the tailor. My driver has brought around the limo (the black one, not either of the other two). My stunning date has been CGI’d. It’s just about time for me to walk the red carpet.

Or vacuum the carpets; the dog hair has been piling up as I unrealistically fantasize about my life among the glitterati. It’s far easier to spend Oscars night in old sweats, munching popcorn, than in the above scenario hobnobbing with the 1 percenters. Nevertheless, I get to pretend — yet again — that society cares what I think about movies.

Each year I like coming up with a new angle on the awards. One time I even Photoshopped my torso onto an Academy Awards statue and called myself an Oscars Grouch. Thankfully no one has to endure that scene this time around. Since I didn’t feel like there were any clearly dominant films this year, I decided to mirror the Academy and pick my nine favorites. And since there actually are people out there who follow my list and rent the movies I suggest, I came up with another 15 that are DVDable or stream-worthy.

My Top Picks (or Pics):

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rc5050.jpgJoseph Gordon-Levitt shaves his head with Seth Rogen’s clippers that have shaved “other places” in 50/50.50/50
Given my circumstances over the past few years and my love of Seth Rogen, there’s really no other choice I can make for my favorite movie of 2011. Written about a real-life buddy of his who was given a 50/50 shot of overcoming cancer, the film hit all the right subtle notes. While honest dialog was always important and relationships were portrayed without mincing words, the humor was what really won me over. I hope to one day be as creative and funny about my own war. This is one of my wife’s favorites and when my cousin saw it, he said he couldn’t stop thinking about me. High praise indeed. I think the Oscars missed the boat by not nominating it. This comes with a guarantee from me to you: if you don’t like it, I’ll reimburse you all the money you’ve spent reading my blog.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcMidnight.jpgMarion Cotillard and Owen Wilson spend a wonderful Midnight in Paris, but in which decade of what century?Midnight in Paris
It’s been a while since I’ve been “all-in” for a Woody Allen movie. But he brought me back with this time-traveling literary homage. I have always felt a kinship with Owen Wilson, never more so as he plays a writer searching for better days only to find the people of the past wished for other better days. You’ll like this film and since things like this are situational, it didn’t hurt that I saw it with my eldest daughter who’s a literary savant and could explain some of the more obscure references to me. This is the first of my picks that the Academy picked as well. It just shows they have good taste!

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcDescendants.jpgPlaying father and daughter, George Clooney and Shailene Woodley are a few of The Descendants of Hawaiian royalty.The Descendants
George Clooney had a great year with this and Ides of March. I’m not sure if it was the bonding process between a dad and two daughters or the slower pace of the movie, but I liked it on different levels. The film doesn’t make Hawaii (a state which could easily be nominated as a best supporting actor) look like, well, our Hollywoodized vision. Instead we see a very real struggle between a man, his family, his heritage and even another man. Like in all good cinematic offerings, his problems become the audience’s. And no matter what happens, you’re there as a player alongside he and his daughters, even if you don’t like the schmaltz.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcHarryPotter.jpgEmma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe star in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the very last Potter film.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Here, I’m sure, is where many of you will scoff, leave this blog forever and go over to facebook to rip me apart. This, however, was the best of the Harry Potter franchise. The books and movies are an enormous dynasty in world-wide culture. It seems silly to ignore the movies because they are ostensibly for kids (although I wouldn’t recommend this movie to the younger set and, indeed, the earliest Potter fans have grown up just like the characters and are in their 20s now). If the last Lord of the Rings movie won Oscar gold, this film should at least be considered for something other than the technical awards it’s nominated for. Besides, man, it was really good! 20 points for Gryffindor.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcExtremelyLoud.jpgThomas Horn plays around with puzzle-master father Tom Hanks in a scene from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

This is one of those strange movies that is even better than the tremendous book it’s adapted from. There were things I didn’t quite understand when I read it that popped right out while watching it on the big screen. That’s extremely rare and incredibly … okay, sorry. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn are all fantastic in this story about a boy with Asperger’s who goes on a quest for clues to a puzzle he’s sure his father — who died in the 9/11 attacks — left him around the city.
 
http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcTheArtist.jpgJean Dujardin is The Artist and Uggie is the Jack Russell Terrier who also appeared in Water for Elephants this year.The Artist
When I saw this at one of my favorite theaters, I didn’t realize it would be their last film before being sold and turned into a commercial venue. That’s so symbolic and too coincidental to ignore. This movie, on an elementary level, is about movies changing from silent to talkies. Adapt or die (hmm, sounds like another industry I’m all-too-familiar with). But there’s far more to the story. What’s the meaning of it all? Why bother? Are dogs really that cute? The big questions. Everyone likes this movie. Even the Academy. The ending is perfect Hollywood, 1920s or 2012.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcTheHelp.jpgThe Help, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, stake out a grocery store in Civil Rights era Mississippi.The Help
White people were such idiots. Some would argue we still are. Any film that shows the hypocrisy of racism or the cruelty of the Jim Crow south is tough to swallow. Having a group of heroes that you can root for makes this movie more enjoyable. There’s no arguing that Viola Davis rules the screen; she was brilliant in Extremely Loud too. But it was Octavia Spencer who served up the most riveting performance like a fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate pie.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcMyWeek.jpgMichelle Williams was stunning as the iconic temptress in My Week with Marilyn.My Week with Marilyn
No, that’s not Norma Jean up in that picture; it’s Michelle Williams channeling the legendary actress. Yes, the movie is fun to watch and yes, it was cool seeing Hermione all grown up, but the real reason to watch this film is to marvel (and drool) over Williams’ performance. She was Marilyn, no ifs ands or, ahem, buts. You can even enjoy the story from the psychological standpoint of a woman teetering on the edge. Other performers seemed to have a blast with their roles too. One of my long-time favorites, Kenneth Branagh, played Sir Laurence Olivier with great reverence and humor.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcBridesmaids.jpgMelissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne star in Bridesmaids. Bridesmaids
This film was left at the altar, even though other awards shows walked it right down the aisle. Yuck, I can do better than that. Even though this movie will always be a bridesmaid … nope, I guess I can’t. Regardless, it was fantastic to see it get some serious love this awards season. Melissa McCarthy was painfully perfect and definitely deserves her Supporting Actress nomination. One day soon, though, Kristen Wiig will get all the accolades she has coming to her. Until then, enjoy this girl power movie and say a fond goodbye to the late, great Jill Clayburgh.

These next ones are fine movies to rent on a Friday or Saturday night if you happen to pass by Red Box, you’re able to figure out streaming or if Netflix hasn’t reconfigured its business model again. If you’re like me, God help you. No, if you’re like me, you despise plunking down in front of your favorite flatscreen only to realize ten minutes into the show that there are no redeeming qualities and you have 3/4 of a bowl of popcorn still in front of you.

The movies I’ve listed below are a cut above the ordinary and really deserve your rental dollars. Heck, some of them almost made it to my top picks list. Even if you try them out and they eventually disappoint, you’ll be able to appreciate their merits over something like, say, the incredibly pretentious Tree of Life which I chopped down in an earlier post.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is crazy, stupid good. I love Steve Carell and there are some great twists and turns in this fun, star-filled movie.

Carnage seems to have been shot in one continuous take. Four powerhouse stars show what happens when polite society breaks down completely. Oh, and there’s vomit!

Source Code Can Jake Gyllenhaal get there before it all blows up? It’s a unique premise with enough action and romance to appeal stereotypically to both men and women.

Moneyball Men and women both seemed to enjoy the movie for different reasons. I liked the inside baseball aspect, my wife liked watching the lead actor, whatever his name was.

The Ides of March Supposedly about an Ohio presidential primary, a lot of this was filmed in Michigan. My buddy Neal Rubin makes a cameo and that’s good enough for me.

Cedar Rapids What happens in Iowa, stays in Iowa. Or does it? Comedy with a purpose, even if the purpose is sometimes a bit corny.

Paul Seth Rogen plays a motion-captured alien as two British comedians tour famous UFO hotspots in America. Think Wallace and Gromit meet Close Encounters.

Beginners Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor were fabulous in this very quiet, subtle film about a dying or already deceased father who comes out of the closet after years of marriage.

Super 8 This isn’t your typical suspense, science fiction film. With production by Mr. Steven Spielberg, you’d expect nothing less. It didn’t always hit every note, but it was still worthwhile.

A Better Life Even though you’ve probably never heard of him, Mexican actor Demian Bichir has been in movies since 1983. I hope to see more U.S. roles that showcase his talent.

The Company Men They didn’t release this until 2011 although it technically came out in 2010. The movie resonated with me having lost my job to a dying industry (yeah, just like in The Artist).

One Day Nothing more than a romantic drama, it’s still fun to watch Anne Hathaway do the best she can with a script that seems as though we’ve seen it before. Nothing wonderful, just pleasant.

Win Win Paul Giamatti is a high school wrestling coach who stumbles onto a star athlete. The problem is, he doesn’t want to be a star athlete. Nicely done and easy to sit through.

Limitless Don’t expect a ton; what you see is what you get. My wife and I waited a long time to watch this and were pleasantly surprised. It’s a perfect Bradley Cooper movie.

Horrible Bosses This isn’t for everybody, but the dark comedy was really funny and showcased a strange mix of popular actors. I loved the movie even with its silly boss-killing premise.

That’s about all he wrote. If you’ve made it this far, you’re either my mother or responding to a dare. To see how badly I did last year, you can check out my 2010 reviews here. If you’re still interested in other possible rentals, here’s one I reviewed last Spring. If you want to buy an ostrich, go here.

Hello Memories

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February 15th, 2012

A photo series showing Rodney saying hello like he did back in 7th grade I learned sign language so I could talk with the cool girls in junior high. They used the one-handed alphabet to communicate behind the teacher’s back and since I’d try most anything to fit in, I borrowed a pamphlet from the […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcsignlanguage.jpgA photo series showing Rodney saying hello like he did back in 7th grade

I learned sign language so I could talk with the cool girls in junior high. They used the one-handed alphabet to communicate behind the teacher’s back and since I’d try most anything to fit in, I borrowed a pamphlet from the library and taught myself.

I thank those long-ago girls for teaching me a valuable life skill. Deaf people pretty much scoff when I whip out an H-E-L-L-O, so I just use it to this day as a memory aid. Conversations are fleeting things and if I don’t spell something out in my lap, I’m bound to forget it. Especially since the chemo, the transplant medication or the simple truth that I’m aging has robbed me of my once miraculous memory.

Let me qualify that. My long-term memory is still pretty much what it always has been. I can remember theme songs to long gone television shows as if I were still sitting in my jammies on my parent’s living room floor. Did you know there were two different opening songs to Happy Days?

My cousin Chris was the first to point out my crazy memory. I was telling him stories about the 1960s and 70s while he sat with his mouth literally agape. I shared these memories with him many years ago. I know because I remember remembering. Truthfully, I think my recall is so sharp because I was the youngest of five cousins (six actually, but I don’t like remembering when we lost Russell).

Everything that happened around my brothers and cousins was amazing to me, so it’s only natural that I’d remember things like the many different and intricate whiffle ball fields we set up (including the soon-to-be-left field fence we stole from Antioch College during their campus-wide general strike).

That stuff is easy to enshrine in my mind. Some of the stuff I conjure up is just plain weird though. I can barely remember what I saw in some of the world’s greatest museums, but I can easily recite the names Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marsha, Jan, Cindy, Mike, Carol, Alice and Sam the Butcher. God, I just did that in a few seconds. I didn’t even know that type of critical information was living upstairs. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.

The information that skips in and out of awareness is more of the short term variety. If I desperately want to remember something when I get home, I’ll spell the first letter with my fingers and hope I remember what it stands for when I walk in from the garage (honest, officer, I couldn’t keep both hands on the wheel because I wanted to remember 2% milk and you can’t very well do that while making an M with your right hand).

My doctors tell me my flash memory will probably come back. All the silly and bizarre transplant complications have made even my word retrieval an issue. Sure, sitting here and typing stuff out gives me time to ponder what exact phrase I’m searching for. As an example, I’m not at all certain “flash memory” is the proper terminology, but give me a pass on that one, please.

I can live with a sparky recollection of immediate things. Some may argue that I could live without the Brady Bunch characters on their tic-tac-toe board in my head as well. But I had a killer ending to this train of thought and I think I lost it when I uncurled my fingers and began typing.

That’s my excuse and I’m… um…

You Can Skip This Oscar Pick

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February 6th, 2012

Hunter McCracken and Jessica Chastain in The Tree Of LifeI should apologize ahead of time for this review. I am in a snit, a tizzy, a bit of a funk and maybe even a little jealous. It’s all because I watched The Tree Of Life as the final missing link in my Oscars viewing. That’s […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcChastain.jpgHunter McCracken and Jessica Chastain in The Tree Of LifeI should apologize ahead of time for this review. I am in a snit, a tizzy, a bit of a funk and maybe even a little jealous. It’s all because I watched The Tree Of Life as the final missing link in my Oscars viewing. That’s two hours and nineteen minutes of my life that are gone for good, evaporated.

Nominated for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Picture, I was certainly intrigued. But I should have listened to my inner critic who remembered the handwritten sign at the Main Theatre (when the film played there for about a day or two) “Refunds for The Tree Of Life will only be given within the first ten minutes.”

I will do my best to summarize the movie so you don’t have to see it. Sean Penn is the grown-up son of a 1950s Brad Pitt. He gets on an elevator because he’s depressed or distracted about something but apparently it’s not about the upcoming 15-20 minutes of the universe’s creation. Imagine an impressionistic view of the Big Bang, moving forward through the outer reaches of the galaxy coalescing into earth. Then water, volcanoes and plant life happen. It all culminates when a weird looking dinosaur runs up and puts its foot on another dinosaur’s face, off and on for a minute or two.

Then it gets weird. Brad Pitt is married to Jessica Chastain (the cool white lady who’s ostracized in The Help) but he’s a bully to his kids. So Chastain gets to alternate between floating in the backyard, sitting around looking ethereal and fighting Pitt physically or psychologically. And she basically does it all without talking.

Three young unknown actors play their children; at one point Penn and his younger self show up in the same scene (SPOILER ALERT: it’s in Eternity, but I had to look it up online because it just looked like a bunch of the actors at a wrap party). The time-space continuum is abused so badly, it files for a restraining order and eventual imprisonment for director Terrence Malick.

Throughout the movie, a quiet voice whispers existential questions that are supposed to sound profound and lead you to knowing in your gut why a boy blows up a frog or sneaks into a neighbor’s house and steals her nightgown only to release it in a nearby river. At the end, the earth gets consumed by the sun and Sean Penn gets off the elevator and looks up at either his office building, a tree of life or the closing credits. We think even he’s glad the film’s over.

Like the Main Theatre, Netflix had its own warning ahead of time. It told us to turn up the volume on our BluRay player so we could hear all the subtle nuances. Consider this blog entry my own version of a warning. You will more than likely not finish watching it. If you do, you’ll probably hate it.

But I could be wrong. Obviously some people liked it. Word has it that Malick spent years working on this movie in various iterations. At one point he had a bunch of it shot in IMAX and spent millions on complicated CGI scenes. Supposedly he would only share certain bits and pieces of it with the studio until they demanded a coherent beginning and ending. Obviously their demands were never met.

For a film that purportedly ruminates on the meaning of life and spirituality, it feels like the director was simply trying to pull one over on all of us. I got the impression that the beautiful IMAX scenes were shot for one movie (which had no beginning, middle or end) and that the Brad Pitt scenes were for an entirely different movie which was only halfway done. Forget the Sean Penn scenes altogether; they appeared to be part of yet a third short film called either The Architect Rides The Elevator or A Man In A Suit Goes To The Desert.

For all my bashing of this film, I think Jessica Chastain did a wonderful job and was the highlight of the movie. The three unknown boys were also really good at playing the roles of three unknown boys. The cinematography, too, is fantastic but without a storyline or a point, it’s wasted.

This is where I get jealous. If I had access to 30-40 million dollars and some high wattage stars, I just know I could do better. I’d start with Chastain and Pitt eating waffles and arguing about WWI. They’d be joined by an overworked Penn in a waitress gown and they’d yell until they lost their voices. We’d title it War Hoarse. I’d even offer to pay back the audiences after 20 minutes instead of just 10.

Yes, you can call me a Philistine. You can say it’s poetry or I’m too dense to get it. I love movies though. I understand time warps as they occur in the wonderful Midnight in Paris or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. To prove my love to you, my annual Best Of list will follow in this space very soon.

But this film made me feel bad about myself. That just shouldn’t be. How come I didn’t like what “everyone” else loved. I think everyone is being hoodwinked on a massive scale. I honestly believe the Emperor is parading around without so much as a stitch of underwear and the Academy thinks he’s wearing Gucci. At least the devil wore Prada.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcSeanPenn.jpgSaid Sean Penn to the magazine Le Figaro, “A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, (director Terrence Malick) himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”

Tip Off

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February 3rd, 2012

Photo by ace photog MARCI CURTISI‘m not saying it’s because I did the ceremonial opening tip off, that the Troy Colts destroyed their opponent, 47-28. But I’m not saying it’s not. You can tell by the fierce intensity on the girls’ faces that this pretend jump ball was all business. I really didn’t quite understand […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcJumpBall.jpgPhoto by ace photog MARCI CURTISI‘m not saying it’s because I did the ceremonial opening tip off, that the Troy Colts destroyed their opponent, 47-28. But I’m not saying it’s not.

You can tell by the fierce intensity on the girls’ faces that this pretend jump ball was all business. I really didn’t quite understand the concept, having only seen people throw out the first pitch in baseball and maybe an honorary coin toss in football. In hockey do they do the same thing, then get the puck outta there?

But when Taylor’s friend Nicole asked me to be part of the honorary festivities for Cancer Awareness and said I’d be introduced as someone who beat the Big C, I thought, “heck yeah.”

Actually, it took a little convincing from Marci since I didn’t feel like being a poster boy. “Sometimes, it’s not about you Rodney,” she said. Seeing my daughters smiling and recording me in the stands, I knew she was right.

I was pleasantly surprised by the lady ref who lent me her pink whistle, in honor  of her friend who battled breast cancer. But when she coached me on the finer points of ball tossing, I was certain she was mistaken. Look, I’ve covered enough basketball games to know they throw it underhand. Sure enough, when the real tip happened, the ref did it the way I remembered.

I may have slam dunked cancer, but I’m not beyond feeling ridiculous for looking ridiculous. My horizontal stripes notwithstanding.

Each of the girls were playing in honor of someone they knew who were battling or had fought cancer. It was amazing to watch them run onto the court as the announcer read off their loved one’s names. And with the way they put a beat down on their opponent, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be any disease trying to play offense against the Lady Colts.