Sunday, January 29, 2012

One A Week Reviews #4: Horrible Bosses

The crude comedy Horrible Bosses succeeds on two levels. On one, it's a showpiece for likeable film actors with comedy chops to shine. But on another level, it succeeds as a wish-fulfillment outlet for so many people who're laid off, fired, or feeling trapped in their jobs by this crappy market and horrible economy. As a kind of wish-fulfillment, this triumvirate take on "Strangers on a Train" satisfies. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudekis play office drones manipulated by bosses who have them by their proverbial short hairs. Feeling out of options, they eventually strike a plan to knock off each others' bosses in a round-robin of "have mercy" killing.

Bateman's Nick works for Spacey, a paranoid, selfish, power mad manager who delights in reminding everyone whose in charge. Kurt (Sudekis) loses his great boss to a heart attack, winding up under the thumb of Farrell as the useless, coke-head heir apparent. Dale (Day) is stuck suffering the (equal parts objectionable and far fetched) harassment at the hands of the sexually aggressive Dr. Julia (Aniston). They're all miserable, pretty much trapped, and decide that their situations are no longer tenable. Botched murder-planning and a running gag about being on the sex offender list are part of this bad-taste comedy's aspirations to be black comedy gold. It's more a silver, but a good time as complications ensue. Things wrap a bit pat.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Out of Touch With Oscar

While I love writing about movies, I generally restrict it to those I can screen at home. I also tend to prefer the lower profile ones. Every year, the Oscar Nominations come out and, even as they increase the number of titles nominated, I find I've been moved to see fewer and fewer titles. Generally the show is lousy, bloated, and self-congratulatory, though I'm the first to defend that this is part (nay, most) of it's fun. I prefer to skim Twitter that Sunday night for real-time, #Oscars-hashtag-baiting snark and look at the outfits and list of winners the next day. Excellent time management, and I don't stay up 'til after Midnight to see which people I will probably never, ever meet won what.

While I knew I was this out of touch, I was surprised to see that out of this year's list of nominees, I’d only seen ONE of the movies on it.

No sweeping art films about War, or childhood, or family dynamics. Nah, just the one with poop and pee jokes... and I loved it.

I guess it gets all my votes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

One A Week Reviews #3: Valkyrie

Sometimes, a boy who loves cheap little B-movies of ill-repute and varying quality must curl up with a big-budget stab at "Historical Epic." To class up the joint, ya know...

At least I picked one with Nazis in it.

Valkyrie is based on a real-life WWII conspiracy by a group of high-placed Nazis lead by one Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg to overthrow Adolph Hitler and take over the Third Reich. Bryan Singer followed up the brilliant X2 and the wildly uneven Superman Returns with this lavish, well-paced period piece that builds real tension out of events that we know going in didn't succeed. The co-conspirators attempted a handsomely-filmed coup to rescue Germany from Hitler's extremism with subtle special effects. (It only takes 70-plus years for film to play Nazis as individuals with conflicted consciences, and even then you're not that empathetic because, um... Nazis). A plan put in action at around the film's midpoint actually had me engaged to the point where I wondered if it would succeed. That's the sign of a well made thriller. The "Operation Valkyrie" section of the film is a fascinating race against the clock, while you wait for the other shoe to drop the entire time.

Tom Cruise plays the lead and, since no one is putting on garish German accents here, the other Nazis are pretty much all English actors. It is a movie truism that all bad guys have British accents, right? Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy counterpoint each other, the first now-doughy and the other resembling a sternly greased skull. Eddie Izzard and Tom Wilkinson, both barely recognizable when first seen, round out the conspiracy. Carice van Houten, so exciting in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book again enters the WWII film-fray as von Stauffenberg's wife. Sadly, she was only been given a series of meaningful looks to play in lieu of a actual, developed character and fades out early on. (Seriously, check out Black Book. It's awesome.)

(Now we talk about the big Movie Star, after the break...)

Monday, January 16, 2012

The 2012 Project: Making Some Progress By Making A "T"

The space, as it started to look tonight.
On Friday night, I had to sit down and admit I wasn't where I wanted to be in my little "2012 Project." I'd whipped up chaos in my home office while trying to finally wrangle the kind of organization I maintain in an office... office. I also thought that rearranging this office would invite more productive, paying "work" in from the Universe. (This is as close as I get to Feng Shui.)

That disturbed whirlwind of clutter settled to ground as I turned my attention to the many other projects I'm juggling at the moment. Ten days between that post and the first, and all I'd done is make a mess. Work trumped my workplace, but I still want this to become a productive space for creating and freelance work. Also, as I let pictures of this mess I made out there into the world in some probably misguided belief that public accountability will motivate me, I knew I had to re-prioritize this task.

(So, what did I do? After the break...)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

One A Week Reviews #2: An Englishman in New York

After 34 years, John Hurt returns to playing Quentin Crisp in An Englishman in New York. It's a sequel, the follow-up to The Naked Civil Servant, where Crisp shared his story of becoming "one of the stately queens of England" through strife and the Twentieth Century. Here, we rejoin Crisp as he emigrates to America and we rejoin Hurt as he revisits one of the most marvelous characterizations of his career.

This film opens with a TV interview from the night in 1975 after The Naked Civil Servant aired, making Crisp a national sensation. He rises to the occasion and, when invited to the US on a publicity tour, he falls in love with New York and decides to stay.

Quentin Crisp excelled at the brilliance of honestly being one's true self. He gets an agent, played by Swoozie Kurtz in a why-is-she-here performance, who helps him become the toast of the town. At this point he's in his Seventies, but Hurt makes him seem like he's at the prime of his life. He gets a one-man show and a film review column, but his topic is his view of the world. His life of holding court at every invitation and singing for his supper must've gotten tiring after a while, but he pretty much lived on cocktails and crudites. He drifts into  becoming the toast of the art scene.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The 2012 Project: Where Does One Find The Time? (And If You Know, Call Me!)

There's a "Forest for the trees" message here somewhere...
To sum it up: "This week, I'm a movie reviewer who doesn't have time to watch a movie." I know this because my "One A Week Review" this week is going to be a day late and "One From The Vaults" (a backlog I was hoping to not have to tap into for a couple months yet...)

My 2012 Project got put on hold this week. I'm not proud of that. This attempt at taking the long view of my "New Years Resolutions" was supposed to ensure that "Slow and Steady" would "win the race." It isn't supposed to result in "um, this is just going to have to be done on Tuesday." It's now 10 PM on a Friday night and I'd love to unwind a bit. But I can't... instead, I'm straightening my head out with writing to explain how I made bold requests to be held publicly accountable for organizing and eating better lead to a week of silence.

Long story short, it got stuck this week and I'll be returning to documenting that first office project on Monday.

Long story long, I had some ups and downs this week: a couple great meetings - all with people whose company I genuinely enjoyed, some big disappointments, buggy software, and a jam-packed go-go-go set of errands and tasks to conquer. So busy in fact that I thought I was having a hallucination when I encountered this cross-walk light in Mt. Lookout that had been blocked by a pole, rendering it utterly useless. There's a "forest for the trees" message here somewhere, or at least a thuddingly good metaphor for the things that block our path in life. Excepting one evening in with my sweetie, I really have had no other downtime. Every other night this week has meant turning in late after working on this thing or that until 1AM or later.

I have work I want to do and work I need to do.While I'm not sharing details yet, I have several projects "simmering on the stove," and they're starting to come together. I have a real passion for the goals I have now. I've made promises to try and help friends accomplish goals as well, and I also want that to mean something. Each of these various goals, however, are making me work for it. (This is where, on Twitter, I'd plug in an emoticon. It's sad to realize that those will soon be acceptable in text to a large segment of the populace. Not my segment, but a segment.)  It's a lot of work,  but very positive. I'm also looking at a couple upcoming delivery deadlines.

Tomorrow night, after work, I'm going out with my sweetie to the Symphony. We got some free tickets as a Klout promotion, making for a classy (and affordable) evening of culture. The timing's also perfection as Sunday we mark an 18 month anniversary. (I've been busy enough that such a milestone nearly went by without my noticing. Catching it, I know I can still see the big picture.)

This is why, tonight, a half hour after I started writing this, I'm about to turn back to barreling through work. I'm mentally recharged now, and I thank you for taking the break with me. I'll keep going until midnight, or later, to serve my projects and goals. It's important I find the time and energy to accomplish that, because tomorrow night I want to be fully present. Isn't enjoying our time spent with loved ones what makes all this work worthwhile?

Friday, January 6, 2012

One A Week Movies #1: Curse of the Crimson Altar (the Crimson Cult)

Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, and Michael Gough? Yes, please!

The Curse of the Crimson Altar, known as The Crimson Cult in the US, is an old-school Sixties horror flick that must've felt racy at the time (Nudity! Psychedelia!) and remains charming today.

"...and drugs of this group can produce the most complex hallucinations, and under their influence it is possible by hypnosis to induce the subject to perform actions he would not normally commit. (Extract from a Medical Journal)"

Any movie that opens with that quote then fades to a green-painted Barbara Steele in a golden ram's headdress presiding over a topless woman in black leather pasties whipping another woman as part of a ritual to get a man to sign his soul away... you know is a treat.

When Robert Manning (Mark Eden) realizes his brother Peter, the man in the ceremony, has been missing for ten days, he heads off to find him. Craxton Lodge in Graymarsh, however, is the center of a Witches night celebration, which involves men in sportscars trying to run down women in body stockings. It also requires young adults holding the kind of seemingly-racy-but-actually-rather-innocent orgiastic party people only have in movies... unless I'm running with entirely the wrong crowd. The party's host, Mr. Morley, is a delightfully dry and withdrawn Christopher Lee. He, along with vixen niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell) and creepy butler Michael Gough, quickly seduce Robert into staying at their large manor home.

(Delicious camp and a green chick ripe for Captain Kirk's plucking... after the break!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The 2012 Project: New Years Resolutions (or: You've Gotta Make Clutter to Eliminate Clutter)

Two bookshelves, or " one more thing that needs organizing"
New Year's Resolutions. The umpteenth post you've seen on them in the last two weeks. I humbly beg your indulgence on what is to follow...

Every year I start right out of the gate ready to change. The plan is to improve every part of my life I have an issue with, turning it into some idealized, imaginary version. You can guess how well that works. Much like me, I'm sure you generally forget you resolved to attempt any changes by, oh, January 15th? (At least, I think that's the day all the new members stop going to the gym...)

This year, however, I'm going about it in a slightly different way. It's a quest that's as much about self-improvement as it is being responsible about completing the tasks I set out to do. I'm calling it "The 2012 Project," and I'm really the big project.

I used to make a big, long list of things I aspired to do in the new year. It was "clean the office, clean the basement, paint the basement, clean the medicine cabinet, reorganize the blah-blah-blah," all without rhyme or reason... and that doesn't work. I wind up overwhelmed by this laundry-list of minutia that doesn't really take into account how work gets done. If I wasn't doing it in December, why did I think I would do it in January?

So this year I'm going to share some of this with you, so we use the power of public scorn... I mean, "accountability," if I get off track. Yes, I bet a lot of people do do this, and no, I don't know how many of them succeed, but let's give it a spin.

First, instead of just a big list that you can't crack because it has no real organization, the hierarchy is in place with three umbrella ideas:
  • Business
  • Organize
  • Health
These then each drill down into some smaller goals. "Business" covers a few biggies, though, as far as "smaller goals" go: full-time work, ramping up my freelancing, and working on my writing.

Simple projects around the house and bettering my head fall under "Organize." This is everything from working on the office and filing to getting back into the habit of reading. It's a pleasure I cherish, and I've somehow lost the thread when it comes to doing it. Books are a pleasure, not just a stack of clutter in need of sorting.

(Embarrassing details about my life and home... after the break!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Teasing The 2012 Project

Just a teaser in regards to my first upcoming post in "The 2012 Project." It's a photo of my tidy, tasteful, comfortable and functional office from back in April of 2008. Sadly, you can't see the desk, but soon, you'll see some sadder pictures of what happened here... and hear what I intend to do about it...