Thursday, July 26, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Spies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies (or TV shows, as the case may be) that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Let's get down to business (to defeat the huns). TV spies... GO!

Get Smart (1965-1970) Maybe my favorite "classic" TV show, I used to live for whenever this would show up on Nick at Nite or TV Land. Maxwell Smart is the most bumbling secret agent who ever lived, but he still has a job because somehow he always ends up saving the day. There are so many wonderful gadgets in this show (who doesn't want a shoe phone?), marking it as a near-perfect parody of the James Bond movie franchise. It's just goofy good fun, and when I'm feeling really down in the dumps, an episode of this will always set me right.

Alias (2001-2006) I was OBSESSED with this show when it started. Sidney Bristow is just a regular college student, approached by the CIA with a job as an agent. Her job? A field agent for a secret "black ops" division of the CIA known as SD-6. But she (stupidly) tells her boyfriend that she's a spy, and SD-6 kills him. She then finds out that not only is her father, Jack, also an agent for SD-6, but SD-6 isn't part of the CIA at all! So she becomes a double agent, working to destroy SD-6 from the inside. The action sequences on Alias were unlike anything seen on TV before at the time, and most of them still hold up, mostly because of the driving force of star Jennifer Garner (who has rarely been better). The plotting got WAY more convoluted down the line, but the action sequences and amazing cast (Victor Garber! Ron Rifkin! Michael Vartan! LENA OLIN!), not to mention Garner's mind-blowing array of disguises, keep it entertaining.

The Americans (2013-2018) This year, we said goodbye to the best series on TV (with an episode fittingly titled "START"). Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are superb as married Russian spies living undercover as model American citizens.... they own their own business (a travel agency), they have two kids, they have a nice house in Fall's Church, VA... and their new neighbor across the street just so happens to be an FBI agent. At height of the Cold War. Amazingly suspenseful, the series revels in "old-school" spycraft and period trappings, but at its heart is the story of a marriage, and how secrets can unite and destroy us. For such a thrilling show, it's often very quiet, but that's part of what makes the show work - those quiet moments cause us to feel for these characters even more, so that when the suspense sequences come, we're even more invested and on the edge of our seats. Superb on every level, The Americans is required viewing.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Bad Parents

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Growing up, my parents were pretty good, actually. Oh sure, they did some things that annoyed me and my sister, and they were hardly perfect people, but they were loving and caring and supportive and never treated us badly. So I don't really know from bad parents, but the movies sure have given us some monsters, haven't they?

Mommie Dearest (Frank Perry, 1981) Regardless of your feelings on Christina Crawford's memoir that inspired this Faye Dunaway-starrer, I think there's certainly enough evidence over the years that Joan Crawford was.... not a particularly nice person. To think that this transferred over to her parenting isn't much of a stretch, even if Christina's motives are a bit suspect and much of what she describes beggars belief. But regardless of your feelings on this film (I think it's not QUITE the camp masterpiece that I had been led to believe it was), you can't deny that Faye Dunaway gives a tremendous, ferociously committed performance as Joan (or Christina's version of Joan).

Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998) If you've not seen Happiness, I'm sure as hell not going to spoil it for you, except to say that it's quite brilliant, and that you'll never be able to look at Dylan Baker the same way again after watching it. More or less centering itself around the lives of the three Jordan sisters (Trish, Helen, and Joy) and their lives in a New Jersey suburb, Solondz puts his characters through the ringer, but somehow makes it really funny. Which can be a turn-off when dealing with such icky subjects as pedophilia, adultery, and depression, but it's done incredibly skillfully, and played by an absolutely tremendous cast.

Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009) In the annals of terrible movie mothers, Mary Jones has to rank at or near the top. A vicious predator who occasionally sees her own daughter, Claireece (the "Precious" of the title), as a threat, she is prone to lashing out violently. As long as no one's looking. But when social workers and government employees come around? She's just the nicest, most normal woman you ever did meet. Mo'Nique's justly Oscar-winning performance is astonishing to behold, as is Gabourey Sidibe's Oscar-nominated (and shoulda-been winning) performance as Precious. The film is occasionally harrowing, but thrives on showing how light can seep into even the darkest of places.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Characters Magically Aging Up or Down

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

I don't think we're really spoiled for choice this week on Thursday Movie Picks, but MAYBE one of mine won't be a consensus pick! Which one? READ ON TO FIND OUT!

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Jack Clayton, 1983) From that short period of time where Disney decided the direction forward for the company would be to make movies that would freak kids the fuck out, but then freaked out themselves over how scary all their movies got. This adaptation of Ray Bradbury's seminal novel was famously re-shot, re-edited, and re-scored by the studio in an attempt to make it more family-friendly. It's still plenty creepy, mind you, especially in the person of Jonathan Pryce's mysterious Mr. Dark, proprietor of a carnival that pulses with dark magic, but it's not quite great.

13 Going on 30 (Gary Winick, 2004) A little "wishing dust" grants 13 year old Jenna's wish to just skip over her teenage years and be an adult already. We've all been there. But now Jenna actually has to live it, a 13 year old in a 30 year old fashion magazine editor's body. Jennifer Garner is beyond adorable in this, and frankly should have gotten an Oscar nomination. And the rest of the cast is ideal: Mark Ruffalo as the love interest and Judy Greer as the best friend... who wouldn't want all that?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008) On our most recent podcast episode, Matt and I discussed our favorite films of the 10-Year Reunion class of 2008. This one didn't make either of our lists, but at the time I remember being really liking it. I've had very little urge to revisit it, though, partially because it's long and slow (i.e., a bit self-important and self-indulgent). But it's certainly absolutely gorgeous to behold, and I'm not just talking about Brad Pitt's getting younger and younger as the movie goes on. The cinematography by Claudio Miranda is especially great, as is Alexandre Desplat's score. And to say nothing of the film' groundbreaking visual effects, which believably age and youthen Pitt and Cate Blanchett's faces and bodies as she ages normally and he ages backwards throughout the early 20th Century.