Blurbs: Special Edition 2

I know, I know, where did I disappear to?  I'm back, this time with a vengeance.  I'm going to have some 2010 wrap-ups and polish off a few articles I didn't get around to posting.  First up, a super-long edition of Blurbs (really long this time out).  Without further ado:

THE KING'S SPEECH (Tom Hooper, 2010)
A movie that really hinges on the performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and completely delivers on both counts.  The story's plot is nothing spectacular: the King of England has a stammer and seeks speech therapy so he can lead the nation in proper royal capacity, but the screenplay has some of the best dialogue in recent memory (along with THE SOCIAL NETWORK it holds a place with me for making an uninteresting subject interesting just because of the ways in which people communicate and find importance in communication) and Tom Hooper's direction is refreshingly restrained and classical in style.  I enjoyed the off-center shots of the two leads, and it's nice to see something that's not quite so flashy.  Even the fog-shrouded exteriors seem subdued and refreshing in their simplicity.  One of the smaller cinematic pleasures I had this year is watching the bickering back and forth between Rush and Firth, two fine actors in a fine film that may not be the best, but which is still deserving of one's time.

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (John Sturges, 1955)
One of my favorite films of all time, I recently watched this after having not seen it in about six years and was re-enamored with it.  Spencer Tracy's portrayal of hard-as-nails Macreedy, the one-armed veteran come to Black Rock with a mysterious purpose.  Met with a town hiding a dark secret and the determination to do whatever to make sure it never comes to light, Macreedy faces this opposition head on.  In an iconic performance, Tracy takes on the whole town, populated by a superb cast playing the townspeople: Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan and the inimitable Lee Marvin.  A social tirade against racism and igorance, A BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK manages to hit all of its intended notes and rattle some nerves in a meager 81 minute run-time, which is more than most other films could ever dream of.

SEASON OF THE WITCH (Dominic Sena, 2011)
While not a total waste of time, the film's improbable (and horribly computer-generated) final twenty minutes almost dismantle the enjoyment I had of watching a mostly-reliable B genre picture starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as two Knights on the lam escorting a witch to her trial at an abbey several days away.  Honestly, I think this film falls apart based on the direction alone, making choice after choice, from the overall tone, which waffles between camp and seriousness, to the aforementioned CGI-laden debacle of the finale.  Dominic Sena has made exactly one film worth a real look (KALIFORNIA) and as bad as I wanted it to, SEASON OF THE WITCH does nothing to further a sub-genre of horror/fantasy I feel is due for a comeback.  I guess TRUE BLOOD's upcoming witch-filled storyline will have to keep my hopes up for the time being.

Producer/Creator/Writer Shawn Ryan has already seen one of his best creations cancelled by FX (the best show of last Fall, TERRIERS), but he's giving it another go with the so-far-so-good cop show THE CHICAGO CODE.  Following a group of officers and detectives banding together to take down a corrupt politician, there are shades of THE WIRE at play, though things are starting to widen a bit, growing to show a more subjective view of various characters through voice-over narration and small throwaway moments that might be trimmed from a show not on a network production scale (though this season will feature only 14, there are normally 22 episodes a season as opposed to half that number).  Aside from surface level comparisons, though, the feel of the show is much more in tune with Ryan's work on TERRIERS and THE SHIELD, albeit a little less gritty and featuring a police department actually fighting for justice, which is a welcome change to the current television procedural climate.  Fantastic performances from Jennifer Beals as the department's superintendent and Jason Clarke as a detective determined to make the case buoy the show and really propel it into the must-watch realm few shows reach for me.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Chris Weitz, 2007)
I didn't mind this film, though I could tell as someone who hasn't read any of Philip Pullman's trilogy that it glosses over a WHOLE lot of stuff.  But, I think as a non-fan audience member it worked for what it was: an epic start to a trilogy that there's no way to condense into a single set of three films in the first place.  That, in a nutshell, is the problem of adaptation in general for the fantasy genre.  The very nature of the beast requires a fair amount of condensing from an often bloated, world-creating novel that spares not a single chance to describe small and seemingly inconsequential scenes in oft-excruciating detail.  Fans of the books do hate this movie, and probably with justified reasoning.  But, it is what it is, and if you want to see how bad film adaptations of really good and highly revered works of children's lit can turn out, you might want to try THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING from the same year.  Yeesh.

DOGHOUSE (Jake West, 2009)
I have a soft spot for any sort of British horror-comedy.  This offering, following a group of men who attempt to cheer up their friend following a devastating break-up with his girlfriend by taking a holiday to a small town that boasts a ton of single women per capita, is a lighter affair that features some imaginative takes on zombification and some fun kills.  The should-be-more-popular fan favorite Danny Dyer and Stephen Graham headline as two of the guys up against a town in which all of the women have become the subjects of a secret military experiment that makes them aggressively pursue and kill all men in the area.  This one's fun for fans, and may even win a few converts.  Worth checking out.

Oh my word, this is brilliant television.  I've loved listening to Karl Pilkington on the Ricky Gervais Show podcast for the past few years, but I never imagined something like this would ever happen.  For those of you not familiar with him, his friend Ricky Gervais describes Karl as a "round-headed, ape-like moron," and while that may seem mean-spirited, it's not completely wrong as a description of the television personality we're given.  He's actually just an average man, uncomfortable around anything he's never been exposed to or has no previous notion of, and this leads to absolutely hilarious observations, non-sequitirs, odd-ball analogies and brilliant unscripted physical comedy.  This may be the best thing I've seen on TV since November, and it's definitely the best reality-based show to come along in a long, long time.

TRUE GRIT (The Coen Bros., 2010)
There's a lot to admire in this re-adaptation of Charles Portis' classic Western, but far and away the best aspect is the discovery of Hailee Steinfeld, the fifteen year-old actress who more than holds her own with some of the best actors ever to appear on celluloid.  As Mattie Ross, the plucky and determined daughter out to track down her father's murderer, Tom Chaney, she displays the same wisdom of an older soul her character has as well, and she really is amazingly talented.  And while it doesn't pack the same punch as their recent few films for me, this is another home run for the Coens, and again marks their place as one of the best filmmaking duos working today.

BLUE VELVET (David Lynch, 1986)
Upon multiple viewings, BLUE VELVET only becomes increasingly more disturbing and creepy.  Eventually I stopped paying attention to the thin plotting (and the intricate workings of the dream-like logic employed in the film) and began focusing on the nightmarish nature of every single thing in this film, from opening credits to the very end.  Seriously, even Laura Dern's character gives me the willies.  Another recent discovery: Dean Stockwell as Ben is an even more disturbing person than Frank Booth.  In just that one scene in which he lip-synchs Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" he walks away with the movie, and the whole vibe of the apartment, the retro-decor and fashions, the casual nature of the abusive relationships...it's almost too much to take.  I watched this a couple of times around my obsession with Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN and it was an illuminating experience for me.  The nature of dreams, nightmares, and mental breakdown swirling around us at all times, and the simple act of watching a movie in effect being similar - well, let's say I may still be a little too close to it all.  In any case, this is Lynch's masterpiece, and deserves to be thought about constantly by anyone who can stand to.

An amazing show about the problems facing adaptations of award-winning British comedies for American audiences.  Featuring a really hilarious Matt LeBlanc, and some razor-sharp writing, the story of Sean and Beverly, the creators of BAFTA-winning show "Lyman's Boys" watch in horror as their show is picked up for a pilot by network executive Merc and becomes the opposite of what made their show a critical favorite overseas.  After replacing the show's star with Matt LeBlanc, the show's entire story changes, becoming a sitcom about a hockey coach and being retitled "Pucks!"  It may hit a little too close to home for those of us who have seen this exact thing happen in reality, but it's still a fantastic show that pays off by building upon its previously introduced jokes and satisfying us with an appropriately awkward and bittersweet finale.

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