Monday, October 26, 2009

Movie versus TV Review Ratings

Good Movies:

10 – A great movie, one of the top films of the decade
9 – A great movie, one of the top films of the year
8 – A good movie
7 – A good, yet flawed, movie

Ok Movies:

6 – An entertaining movie, but not much there
5 – A movie with some good, but mostly overshadowed by the bad

Bad Movies:

4-1 – Degrees of not goodness

Good TV:

10 – A great episode, one of the best of the series
9 – A great episode, one of the best of the season
8 – A good episode

Average TV:

7 – An average episode, not great but not terrible
6 – An ok episode, a little weak, i.e. watchable

Bad TV:

5 – A weak episode, but with some redeemable qualities, i.e. barely watchable
4-1 – Degrees of not goodness

Zombieland (2009) – Review

Zombieland is like a rollercoaster at the fair, fun, if not exciting, the first go round, but likely dull upon revisit. The premise, much like every other zombie movie, is people running away from, killing, trying to survive zombies – pretty straight forward – but this film has a twist, or so it would seem, maybe more like a new perspective on the zombie movie, which is comedy (comedy through somewhat tired jokes, a sarcastic yet sweet V.O., slow motion, and captions) – only the comedy twist has been done before and better (see Shaun of the Dead).  Take away the zombies, and the film is about a young adult (doing his best Michael Cera impersonation at times) finding a family – family coming together from a ragtag group that grows to love and depend on each other along the journey (not exactly new terrain). However, even with the film being a rehashing of fairly played out ideas, it is still fun and enjoyable upon the first ride – there are thrills and spills (and gore, it is a zombie movie after all). Director Ruben Fleischer, making his feature debut, shoots the film in a more or less straight forward manner, using more slow-mo than Michael Bay in the process. He gets what he needs and moves on, a style that has worked well for Brett Ratner and will likely get him future gigs, there is not much art, but in an adequately superficial film, that is fine. The cast works well in their roles, with great expectation reversal bit parts involving Amber Heard and Bill Murray.  It is nice to see Abigail Breslin take a break from kids’ movies and get back into another R comedy; she has a lot of potential. From a technical aspect, like the directing, the film is cut and dry, but again, it did not need to be anything more – the film is about spectacle, not artistic expression. The soundtrack works well in fitting with the motif of the film, and the references to Ghost Busters (indeed) are pretty awesome and fun. All in all, Zombieland is a fun movie experience, more so for some than others, for this type of movie, a viewer sort of has to be in its intended audience to fully enjoy it, though do not expect the fun to thrill upon repeat go rounds. 6/10

Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 4 – Belonging (2009) – Review

Belonging engages, examines and enthralls – not only that, it also features artistic style and fine performances. At the heart of the episode is the nature of morals, and how they transcribe action within a person (or inaction); do morals only suit us when they are easy, can they be justified away just as easily – these  are among the tough questions that Dollhouse is constantly exploring, and what makes it a captivating series, despite its issues. Here, Topher and Adelle must question their own morals and motivations to why they work at the Dollhouse, questioning their justification and then determining their course of action in the face of what they must do. The episode is also alive with touching moments juxtaposed to violating, if not disturbing, moments – wrenching the viewer in, almost mandating attention – strengthening the viewer’s attachment to the characters. While this chapter does not push the story forward in buckets, Echo still remains on her awakening, it lets us get a chance to see the characters a little better, to know them (which the viewer needs to legitimately take a real interest), while setting up what is to come. Character development, especially that of the dolls, is an issue the writers have been working through, and getting to see the back-story of Sierra give a lot of insight into her and allows us to make more of a real connection. The writing team of Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (co-writers of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) turned out a wonderful script and Jonathan Frakes (that’s right, Commander Riker!!) excels in the director’s chair. Often, on TV, directors coming into a show to direct an episode (aka they are not part of the regular crew or production staff) are limited in their creative options as the show has a set tone and style, and even worse a mandated broad appeal, which leads to episodes being done in a straight forward manner (not to say there is anything wrong with it, rather to say that artistic creativity is stifled a bit). With Dollhouse, though there certainly is distinctive tone and style to the show, the show has an abundance of freedom, which (oddly) comes from the show’s small budget and dedicated, if not small, fan base (as it is made cheap for a specific audience of fans with viewers outside this assumed base being a bonus), as well as Joss Whedon’s desire to push the boundaries a bit. Frakes does take advantage, as he shoots quite a beautiful episode despite the nature of the material. He succeeds skillfully at connecting the emotion on the screen with the view through his visuals (the shot of the silhouette against the painting is perfect). In the darker scenes, there is almost no color (minus the painting); gone is the gloss (righteousness) of season one, welcome to the next in the series of events that leads to the downfall of humanity (the world of Epitaph One). The performances continue to get better on the show; in Belonging, Harry Lennix, Olivia Williams, and especially Fran Kranz are terrific. Episode star, Dichen Lachman, is given more work and handles it admirably, furthermore Vincent Ventresca is strong in his guest appearance (he does scary well), as is Keith Carradine in his brief scenes (but what else would anyone expect having seen him in Deadwood or Dexter). The score of the show continues to be solid and there is a song (which sounds to be) composed by Jed Whedon for the episode that works well. Belonging is about choices, what motivates those choices, and relationships – and to this end, it is phenomenal in its execution. 10/10

Dollhouse can be seen Friday nights on Fox (starting December 4th); episodes are also available on

Glee: Season 1, Episode 8 – Mash-Up (2009) - Review

Mash-Up is an episode about relationships – how we deal with stereotypes, power, and love, what is expected of us. The characters must find their place within the evolving dynamics of their world (which is never easy, and to the writing staff’s credit, they make it though for them). Glee has been a show built on spectacle, much like shows centered around high action or other purely external, if not superficial, emotional connections, rather than a deeper more meaningful nexus of viewer and program, and this was the where the show faulted early one in the season. However, lately the episodes have developed the dramatic interactions of the characters, which allow viewers to connect and take stock in not just a show with fun musical numbers, but a show with characters we care about, an absolute key to the success of any story. And it is here, that Mash-Up succeeds. While there are still five musical numbers (some working better than others), the drama, the viscera, has taken center stage, and the musical numbers, as they have been to a degree in past episodes, emote the feelings of the characters and drive both the narrative and character relationships forward, and are not their just for spectacle. The technical aspects of the show were a little up and down, with the camera working well sometimes and other times feeling awkward or forced, which can pull viewers attention, but overall the camera paced the action well, told the story, and created the narrative for the characters to live in (the use of both camera and score to chapter divide the story was a nice touch, with pleasant pay-offs along the way). The score of the show is used quite well in this episode, as the style assumes the form of Flight of the Bumblebee. The cast is really starting to come together and give engaging performances, Jayma Mays is wonderful in the episode. Mash-Up is the strongest episode of Glee to date, not musically (Hip-Hop does not seem to be the Glee Club’s forte), but dramatically, the ability to not only sustain the viewer’s attention with effective storytelling, but make them care about the characters. 9/10 

Glee can be seen Wednesday nights on Fox; episodes also available on

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (2009) - Review

Where the Wild Things Are is ambitious if anything - director Spike Jonze completely commits himself to the world, to the story of an adventure to a land inhabited by the fears and hopes of a boy dealing with growing up and all around him changing. The cinematography of Lance Acord is really the highlight of the film. His use of natural light and hand-held camera project not only the subjects, but the world as well, in a radiant spectrum encapsulating the emotion of the characters. And for that matter, the entire production team has done a fine job throughout. The collaboration between Carter Burwell and Karen O works well at times and not as well at others, but does overall capture the spirit of the piece. And yet, with everything so well crafted, the film is ultimately recklessly uneven, almost collapsing upon itself in its mission of authenticity. The film is split into two worlds: the real and the imaginary, and yet they parallel one and other both thematically and in visual stylization. The real world is composed of what Max (the main character) must deal with externally as his world changes, while the imaginary world deals with his internal emotions. Jonze has crafted a genuinely splendid film inhabiting the real world. The relationships between characters feel pure, especially that between mother and son. In the imaginary world, Jonze takes an unflinching look at almost raw emotion and it feels tedious, strenuous, and while at times fun or hopeful, the sheer dark energy of the characters and visual expression cause the viewer to disconnect from the experience, which is only helped along by the narrative structure not nearly being tight enough. As opposed to the real world, the imaginary world goes on too long at parts and is not paced in such a way to make it accessible to the viewer, and maybe that is the point, but it does not create that of an enjoyable experience. Regardless of content, films must be at the every least approachable for the intended audience, and the abrupt unyielding look into base emotions certainly does not harvest the trust of the younger audience, nor does the narrative structure make the film all it should be, what the wonderful production work should allow it to be, and so it falters under its own mission statement in a sense (the film's back story includes the studio interfering with Jonze's production for years, re-shoots, re-designs of concepts, and generally when productions are delayed and meddled with, they do not turn out well, to what extent Warner Bros hindered is unknown, and to what end is unknown, but notwithstanding, it is not a good thing for a production to go through conflicts of creative differences). The voice-cast deliver their lines just right within the stylistic choice for the world, which is to say, they feel real. Catherine Keener is fantastic in her small role as the mother and Max Records is perfectly adept in quite a weighty role as Max. Jonze should both be commended and condemned in his direction. His choices create a wondrous adaptation that fundamentally fails to work. 5/10

A Serious Man (2009) - Review

A Serious Man is story of a life seemingly in ruins - the process of which a man's life falls apart, nothing to be done, nothing to be understood, nothing to be helped - just a feeling of inadequacy, unmanageable disorder, to which can only be taken in (accepted, not with the sense that such untidiness is malleable through allowance, rather the understanding of utter feebleness). The Coen Brothers present such a scenario, both in prologue (which seems to encapsulate the downfall of man, at least for this purpose, to which the feature is a proof - at conclusion, proven just or not) and feature, through a well crafted script (but what else should be expected), a proof, in which a character must struggle in the confides of the affirmation, that once deciphered learning, growing, et al. attained. The answer lies in the ending (if not exaggeratedly). Frequent collaborates, Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell, photography and score respectively, (as per usual) contribute fine work that adds to the masterful direction of the Coen's (who belong to the current group of auteurs). In the film, the angle to which the camera approaches its subject is reflective of the emotional state (of character and story), and thus said angle is used to influence emotion in the viewer (visually!). Blocking both of actor and dialog also plays a key role in the influence of the response of the viewer. The Coens also use title cards the dictate the story, to an absurd heightening effect. The ensemble cast highlighted by the wonderful bewilderment of Michael Stuhlbarg is just fantastic, and perfectly fitting to the story. The film is specifically clever, employing the viewer as arbiter, and in this role, laughs, cringes and delightful deviousness. 9/10