Sunday, March 29, 2015

Life Itself - Documentary Review

Greetings Pups,

Is it "meta" that I am going to review a movie about a reviewer? Maybe. I suppose I'll get an answer if anyone can figure out what "meta" actually means. Anyway, let's talk about the documentary, Life Itself.

Life Itself is a 2014 film about Roger Ebert, which was based on his memoir of the same name. So, being based on a memoir, it takes us through his whole life and career, the highs and lows of each. And, trust, there are plenty of both. It actually intersperses old footage from interviews and clips from his show, At the Movies, with the documentation of his struggle with cancer and everything that went along with it. There really are no holds barred in this thing, which is why I like it so much.

If there is one thing I hate about some documentaries about famous people, it is that they can occasionally be quite fluffy, shall we say? I think that is particularly the case when said famous person is highly involved. Yeah, don't try to fool me into thinking you're that awesome. However, with Life Itself, Roger Ebert was involved quite a bit, and yet it was very balanced. Of course, it showed all the great things he did to support film and film makers and the arts and how great he was with his family, as well it should have, because that's all true. But it wasn't afraid to show him in maybe not the best light all the time. He wasn't always super-nice or agreeable, and he was very, dare I say it, critical of others. It shows the volatile relationship he had with his longtime professional partner, Gene Siskel, even including clips of that infamous behind the scenes argument they had. That, by the way, is exceptionally priceless. If I could use one word to describe Roger, it would be honest. And he honestly was not afraid to show all these often less than flattering sides of himself.

Now aside from all the "bad" stuff, there was plenty of praise given to him by several of his colleagues. Despite the aforementioned troubles he had with Gene Siskel, we also see how much love and respect they actually had for each other. We also hear from some of the film makers who owed him a huge debt of gratitude for bringing attention to their work. In fact, this documentary is directed by Steve James, who also directed Hoop Dreams, a film to which Ebert gave massive amounts of praise. I have to say, that is what I liked most about Roger Ebert. I can tell that many critics relish in the idea of destroying films that they don't like, which can be fun, I admit it. I may have enjoyed giving bad reviews to bad movies right here on this blog. But Roger, like myself, seemed to take his greatest pleasure in sharing amazing movies that he saw and spreading the word to audiences that, otherwise, may have never heard of them. He knew that, in order to ensure us having great cinema, we must elevate the good as much as we crush the bad.

Okay, now I have to talk about something difficult. I wasn't planning on bringing this up so specifically, until I read some of the comments about this film on Netflix, of all places. There was quite a bit of "I really liked this movie, but..." And the "but" had to do with people talking about seeing Roger in the way we had to see him in the last years of his life. I have to be honest. This movie does show fairly graphically what happened to him physically due to the cancer. Look, I understand that the viewers may not want to have to see this. I mean, did I WANT to see him like that? Absolutely not. Do I think it was necessary for him to be seen that way in this film? Absolutely. It has such a powerful effect to see him going through this overwhelmingly difficult time and seeing what his body is dealing with, but, at the same time, he has such a positive attitude, still making jokes and keeping everyone else in good spirits. It's rather amazing. Seeing the hard times together with the way he handles it is rather perfect.

Speaking of those who surrounded him at this time, I'd say my favorite aspect of this movie is seeing Roger and Chaz, his wife. She was and is such an incredible woman. I know most of us say that we will always stick by those we love, for better or worse, but maybe when things get extremely worse, we can't. But she definitely stuck with him, through all the good days and bad days, no matter what. Yes, it seemed to take a toll on her, as it would on anyone, but she stayed right there, because she loved him. Still does, I'm sure. And THAT is what true love is. It's not all romance and dates and all that. Those things are part of it, but real love is what comes through when things aren't going good. And we can measure it by what we do in those times. Well, the love that these two had was unbelievable and very real.

So, to wrap things up, I am recommending Life Itself. Whether you were a fan of Roger Ebert's or not, it is a very interesting look at his life. And despite that I didn't always agree with him, be it when it came to movies or other things, I still have to give him some respect for what he did. He loved all the art involved with cinema, and he made sure that the people who made that great art were appreciated, even if he had to sift through a ways to get to them. He was willing to do that, because he cared. And as someone who is still pretty much unknown as a writer, I surely appreciate people who care enough to put forth such an effort to help. No way can I not be grateful to him for that.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Expedition Unknown VS. Destination Truth

Greetings Pups,

Sometimes good things go away and the only thing that comforts us is something else very similar coming along to, in a way, take its place. Some of you may recall that I did a Top Ten list of my favorite "Half-isodes" of a show called Destination Truth. Go back and read it, if you'd like. I really loved that show, mostly due to all the amazing people involved, especially the main man, Josh Gates. Go and read the book he wrote, which I also reviewed. Anyway. After a lengthy hiatus of sorts, wherein we, the many fans of DT, were constantly asking for its return, we found out that it would be on the air no longer. Of course, it got cancelled. Because it was good. And television only has so much room for nonsense like that these days. But, thankfully, something new came along that kind of reminds me of Destination Truth in a lot of ways.

If you don't know, Destination Truth was a series on the Syfy channel wherein people went searching for the truth about strange things all around the world. They went ghost hunting, monster hunting, bigfoot seven times. Yeah, apparently, every neighborhood in the world has their own version of bigfoot. Good for them. For me, personally, I was less interested in the actual hunting aspect and more attracted to the time they spent learning about whatever country's culture in which they happened to be immersed at the time. So much so, I thought it would have been more suited to the Travel Channel. Speaking of which, after DT's official cancellation, we did get a similar show, airing on said Travel Channel, and also starring Josh Gates, called Expedition Unknown. So, how similar are the two shows? And which, if either, is better?

Well, obviously, Mr. Gates is back, but he's on his own this time. Yes, he does have help from the locals on his searches, but the team we DT fans were so used to are not along for the ride anymore. And the things for which he is searching are a little less...SyFy-y, for the most part. The first episode was about the mystery of Amelia Earhart, and he has since covered things like Jesse James and Captain Morgan's Gold. It's actually more of a treasure hunting show of sorts, which now makes me think it might be better suited to the History Channel. Darn it all! In all seriousness, I do really like this new show. It is different, but it has a very similar feel to it. I'd say that's mostly thanks to the fantastic charisma of Josh Gates.

So, to answer my previous question, which of these two shows is better? Well, I do hold a special place in my heart for Destination Truth, and if I had one complaint about the new show it would be that I miss the team. Yes, I heartily miss people like Mike and Gabe and Rex and the first lady of DT, Erin Ryder. I just miss the fun comradery that took place with them all. It was a wonderful part of the show. But I am certainly happy to have Josh Gates back on my TV, even if he is all by his lonesome. So, since I have five seasons of history with DT and that show had a larger quantity of cool people, I suppose I would pick that as my favorite of the two. However, those are really the only reasons why. So, it's more of a technical thing. I am not taking a single thing away from the awesomeness that is Expedition Unknown.

In fact, I have come to truly enjoy this new show. We are only a mere ten episodes in and I can already see the potential for this to last for a while. We're learning things in a way that makes it feel like not actually learning, which is something that I bet a lot of people like. But I think that's Josh's specialty. He would be like that cool teacher that everyone likes, where you're having such a good time in his class and before you know it, you think 'Oh, crap! I'm learning stuff, aren't I?' Good times. Anyway, I've always been a big admirer of his, and I'm fine with having just him for now. Although, fingers crossed that he decides to bring some of his former teammates along for some future adventures. Maybe once that budget starts going up. Here's hoping. In the meantime, give Expedition Unknown a watch.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Proof - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

So, math is just about the worst thing ever, am I right? Okay, I'm probably saying that because I have never been good at it. Yes, I know the four basic food groups of math, but once letters and other things shimmy their way in, no, thank you. So, what on Earth would I have any use for a movie that has a lot to do with the evil math? Let's talk about Proof and find out.

Proof is a 2005 film, adapted by Rebecca Miller from David Auburn's play of the same name. Okay, so far, this is looking promising. Who's in this thing? Well, we've got Gwynth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal and the disturbingly underrated Hope Davis. Holy smokes! Is there anything wrong here? Oh, yeah. The math! Okay, to be fair, this film is not REALLY about math. It has something to do with it, of course. Look at the title. But it's almost incidental and the story goes so much deeper than that. It's about family and the choices we make and the ones that we're not sure if we are able to make. So, how about that actual plot?

Paltrow plays Catherine Llewellyn, a young mathematician living in Chicago, who has been taking care of her ailing father, Robert, played by Hopkins. All of their scenes together are in flashback, as he has already passed away in the present timeline of the plot. Relax. I am sometimes turned off by the "flashback" tactic, as well, but here, it is done very well. Anyway, Robert was also a mathematician, an extremely revered one at that, but he had also been dealing with major mental issues in his final years. Catherine is dealing with arrangements for his funeral when her sister, Claire, played by Davis, arrives from New York and begins to take charge in many ways, including when it comes to her younger sibling's entire life. All the while, Catherine has been developing a relationship with a former student of her father's, Harold "Hal" Dobbs, played by Gyllenhaal. He is also into the math, but at nowhere near the level that the Llewellyns are. Nor is he up to their level when it comes to owning composition books. Yeah, I know it's not a big deal, but Catherine and Robert both write in those black and white composition notebooks, and they are EVERYWHERE in their house. And that might be the same case with my own house. No wonder I like that trivial little aspect. Moving on.

After Robert's funeral, things begin to come to light about Catherine's life. Her personal troubles as well as triumphs are becoming known to those closest to her, as she continually thinks of her father. She wonders just exactly how much she has inherited from him, and how much of that she actually wants. Claire and Hal both show concern but in a way that almost offends Catherine, as their want to control her is making her own fears of losing control elevate.

And, really, that is about all I can say about that plot. I think because that, when it comes to the events of the film, it is certainly more about quality than quantity. A few things happen, but the weight of them is more than enough to carry the movie. The entire story is basically about looking back and looking forward and our protagonist deciding which way it is best for her to go. I know that doesn't seem like a lot, but trust, this story is told through some stellar dialogue (here's how you do exposition properly) and by way of some amazing actors. Oh, and you know how I only mentioned four of them earlier? That's because, aside from a few extras, these are the only people with whom we spend any significant time. And that is perfectly fine. Better, in fact. Everyone is on top of their game here, especially Paltrow, in what I think might be her finest performance. Yeah, I know she got an Oscar for that Shakespeare movie, but she should have gotten it for this instead. Sue me. As a matter of fact, though I know I said I don't think quite highly of said award anymore, I believe that all four of these actors should have been, at the very least, nominated. But what do I know? Back to the movie, itself. Proof feels like a play, which is, again, in this case, perfectly fine. I actually enjoy movies that are like that, even if they don't actually spawn from a theater production. It can't be easy to do, either way, but this one is translated into film quite beautifully.

So, despite my jokes about the math and my hatred thereof, I am actually recommending Proof, particularly if you love a story of simplicity and depth all at once. It is a house with a structure that is uncomplicated, and yet it is built with gold.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Welcome Back to the Community!

Greetings Pups,

Today is great for a few reasons. It's St. Patrick's Day, which means Shamrock Shakes are around. It's Gary Sinise's birthday, and anything about him is cause to celebrate. But we've experienced those two things before. Anything new? Oh, yeah, there is. COMMUNITY HAS RETURNED! Yaaaay!

Yes, that's right. One of my favorite shows has come back by way of Yahoo! Aren't they so sweet to do this for us? I woke up early and immediately got not one, but two, new episodes of Community. Not only were they new episodes, but it was also a new Community. At least, somewhat. But it kind of has to be. Things have changed, so things will be different.

Let's start, though, with the things that are the same. We're still at Greendale, even though I think they had to build a new set. No problem. And most of the cast has returned. We still have the arrogant, but awesome Jeff Winger, played by Joel McHale, the outspoken, overbearing, but still fun, Britta Phillips, played by Gillian Jacobs, the innocent and ambition Annie Edison, played by Alison Brie, and of course, who I consider the heart and soul of the show, Abed Nadir, played by Danny Pudi. That's all we have left of the core seven member study group that started the whole thing. Yvette Nicole Brown, who played Shirley Bennett, left so she could be on the remake of The Odd Couple, which I think is pretty good. Donald Glover, who played Troy Barnes, left so he could go and get a bunch of Grammy nominations. And Chevy Chase, who played Pierce Hawthorne, left because they killed him off. Also, because of reasons. I'd rather not talk about it, because I hear to do so is quite awkward. Moving on.

Anyway, in addition to the members of the study group, we also got back the crazy Dean Pelton, played by Jim Rash, and the even crazier Ben Chang, played by Ken Jeong. And that's not all. You will see some familiar faces of the other students of Greendale, such as Todd, Garrett, and, hallelujah, Leonard. Yes, things are good.

But since we have a new take on the show, we also have some new characters. Sadly, Jonathan Banks, who showed up as Professor Hickey last season, is not returning, as far as I know, but that's okay. We're getting Paget Brewster as Frankie Dart, and voice of Goliath the Gargoyle himself, Keith David as Elroy Patashnik. Again, yay! Now I'm not sure if they're both going to be regulars, as we've only had two episodes, but from what I've seen, they are here to stay. I hope I'm not wrong about that, because they are both adding something fun and new to the show, while not taking anything away from the past.

So, what about the new episodes themselves? Any good? Well, as excited as I've been, I went in cautiously. What with all the changes, I wasn't sure what was coming. But I am happy to say that I was quite entertained by what I saw. Yes, like I said, things are different. They have to be in this situation. But the spirit of the show is still there, and that is what made it special. And I love how the fans had so much to do with this comeback. People who watched and loved Community wanted it back, so the people who make and love Community, like the amazing Dan Harmon, worked hard to bring it back for us. Maybe if this kind of stuff happened more often we would have better entertainment out there.

So, as the hashtag states, Community Lives On. And I am very glad that it does.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rudderless - Music Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

I certainly do love movies wherein music plays a very significant role, which is one reason why I specifically label those reviews as such. Another thing I love is a directorial debut. I like to see where an artist starts and try to imagine where it is that they will go. Well, we've got a double whammy today with Rudderless. It is a film that has much to do with music and, at its helm, we have first time director, William H. Macy. Yeah, THAT William H. Macy. More on him and his directing later. Let's get down to business with the story of this film. Now it may seem like I'm giving spoilers, but I'm really not. Pretty much all of what I'll say is said in trailers and synopses. So, relax.

Rudderless is a 2014 film starring Billy Crudup as Sam, a father who is trying to deal with the loss of his college aged son, Josh. He begins the film as a suit wearing, strait-laced ad exec who clearly loves Josh, but it seems their relationship may have a bit of strain. After his son's death, however, he begins to turn his back on his former life, beginning to drink heavily, living on a boat and working for a contractor. After a couple of years, his ex-wife, Emily, played by Felicity Huffman, confronts him about his hiding away and basically pretending his way through life. Eventually, Sam does get out and goes to an open mic night at a place called The Trill Tavern, where he plays songs that Josh wrote, but he passes them off as his own. Because of that, he meets a young guy named Quentin, played by Anton Yelchin, who is enamored with the music and wants them to perform it together. Sam is reluctant, of course, but agrees, causing things with "his" music to build and build. However, this makes it more difficult for him to live with his secrets, and, as the film progresses, things are revealed to us as well as the other characters that seem to stop everything in its tracks. One thing in particular is revealed in such a way that I think should be taught to future film makers about how to properly and most effectively do a twist in a story. But we soon realize that everything coming to light is the only way that everyone will ever have a chance to move forward with their lives.

Now let me talk a bit more specifically about some of the cast. First, Billy Crudup. I think he's an actor who sometimes people forget how great he is, mostly because he's not in our faces all the time, like some people. But then, we see him in something like this and think, "Oh, yeah. He is rather amazing". I can safely say that I, personally, think this is his best performance ever. He had to carry so much of the film and run the gamut of emotions, and he did so pretty much flawlessly. Next up is his 'second-in-command', if you will, Anton Yelchin. Okay, to be honest, I didn't even recognize him at first, which I think is a good thing. It means he can become a character quite easily and convincingly, and he certainly does so here. Initially, I thought Quentin was going to be some kind of slight comic relief, but we soon see that, while he is fun, he does have his own problems to deal with. Then, we have Felicity Huffman, who clearly got this role thanks to nepotism, as she is married to the director. I kid. If she was awful, I would be serious, but no, she does a fantastic job in this part. Since she is also playing someone who lost a son but is not the central character, she has to convey her own anguish in a more compact way and with much less time with the audience. Somehow, she manages to do it. Though we, as the viewers, know Sam more intimately, we also feel her grief in a profound way. Next up is Laurence Fishbourne. He plays Del, the music store owner. You know, I can get behind Mr. Fishbourne in the more intimidating and, dare I say it, scary roles of his career, but I really do enjoy when he plays more lovable guys. That's the kind of person he portrays here. He's kind of like that guy you go to in the neighborhood when you need to talk, because he's a great listener. Also, I've always just assumed that Laurence Fishbourne gives awesome hugs, so why shouldn't he play roles like this? And finally, we have Selena Gomez, who plays Kate, the girl who was dating Josh at the time of his death. Okay, so here's the thing about Selena Gomez. As anybody who begins as a child actor tends to do, she has been spending the last few years trying to become a "grown-up" actress. And she has been, obviously, trying to do this through things like Springbreakers and Behaving Badly. If I may be so blunt as to say, THAT was not the way to do it. THIS IS! I'm not kidding. Selena was in only a handful of scenes in this movie, but, even in that limited time, I saw more potential in her as a maturing actress than I ever have. So, Selena, if you read this, keep going in this direction.

Of course, those were just the main roles in the film. However, all of the cast, even down to the smallest parts were very good. And not just because William H. Macy cast himself as bar owner guy. Hey, at least, he's humble enough to do that, and not cast himself as a literary messiah like I've seen some directors do. But I digress. No, all the actors, extras and everyone, do a good job. That's how you build a great film, I think. Take care with everything, even the things that some people believe don't matter. Because they do.

Okay, and now the music. The songs in this film were, I would say, very well suited to it. Considering what their origin is, they are pretty much what you'd expect, style wise, which is not a bad thing. But when you really pay attention to the lyrics of the songs, they fit even better, almost perfectly. I'm not sure if any of them could be something that would become a "hit song" at least not by the sub par standards of the charts these days, but maybe that's why I found them so appealing. They were personal, and, again, that is exactly what this film needed.

Alright, FINALLY, let's talk about our esteemed director, William H. Macy. I have loved this guy since I first remember seeing him in Mr. Holland's Opus as the Vice Principal and slight nemesis of the titular character. Oh, the beautiful irony of an actor, at one point, playing a man who tosses out a school's music program and then, directing a film where music is massively important. You know, as much as I enjoy directorial debuts, there is one thing that I notice sometimes. Some first time directors are way too ambitious and get in over their heads. Sometimes they recover; sometimes they don't. But I think it happens because they just might not know any better at the time. With this film and the directing of it, you can tell that William H. Macy is a man who has not only been in the movie business for a long time, but who has clearly paid attention and learned from the directors with whom he has worked. Mr. Macy has begun his directing career simply with a story about people and the lives that they are living. Yes, there is a depth to what is happening in the story, because people are complex, but it is presented in a way where we can watch and relate to it and wonder how we would react. Because what happens in this film will not happen to everyone, but it certainly could. When I speak of a film's simplicity, that is usually to what I am referring. And there is an absolutely beautiful simplicity to this story. I hope so much that William H. Macy continues to bring us this kind of amazing work as a director. We need it.

Okay, I wrote A LOT here, so let me wrap this up. Definitely check this movie out. Rudderless is heartbreaking but also heartwarming in many ways. It's an exquisite portrait about life and how it can turn on us and force us to take the reins when we've just been going with the flow. You might cry; I did a little. But it was worth it.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Friday, March 6, 2015

Heads Up!

Greetings Pups,

I'm gonna have to be short and, hopefully, sweet again today. Mostly because I'm super busy trying to get my book together. Oh, and because my house has decided to turn on me. I'm talking about mechanical problems, not ghosts or anything, so relax. But, as someone who has been known to freak out at bad things happening on occasion, I'm actually surprised and pleasantly pleased that I haven't had a meltdown as bad as I thought I would. Perhaps, because it's so cold. To put it bluntly, I really need a new house, which would require something of a miracle, but I'm not giving up hope. I could, very easily, but I won't.

So, even while all of these, out of nowhere, unexpected, crazy things are happening, I have decided to keep my head up, hence the title of this post. And, yes, I know that "heads up" usually means something else, but whatever. I'm giving it a new meaning where my life is concerned. And since I have nothing of entertainment value to give everyone today, I thought I'd give a little encouragement to anyone who might need it. I know as bad as things are for me right now, they could be worse. I'm sure A LOT of people are dealing with bigger things than I am. So, if you're going through anything, better or worse, don't give up. Have faith that things will get better. In short, keep your head up!

This concludes my PSA for today.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Farewell to Leonard Nimoy

Greetings Pups,

As everyone knows by now, we lost an icon a couple of days ago, Leonard Nimoy. I am so sad about this, because I liked him very much. I know I complain a lot about Hollywood people, so when I can find a good one, I tend to hold on and not want to let go. I've been an admirer of Mr. Nimoy's for, quite literally, my entire life. Call me a Trekkie, if you must. Of course, I knew him as Mr. Spock from Star Trek and as a great actor in general, but I could also see that he was a pretty great guy outside of that. He just always seemed really nice, especially to the fans. Even the "crazy" ones. Oh, come on, we all know they exist. He even showed up at the conventions, apparently, which means that he probably made the day, possibly even life, for a lot of those people. And I think he appreciated all of them. I always said that, despite my love of Star Trek, I would never go to any of those cons. I almost regret that I didn't now.

As it turns out, though, there were some things I never knew about Leonard Nimoy until after he passed. Things I really can't believe I never knew. Most importantly, to me anyway, he was a poet. How in the heck did I not know this? It almost seems impossible. But, in the past couple of days, I read some of it, and he was amazing with words. Why am not surprised? I really wish I would have known about this. At least, now I have more ammo when people tell me how worthless it is to write poetry, and I do get told that. Now I can fire back with, "Hey, Leonard Nimoy was a poet." I don't believe they would have a defense.

Another thing I learned, and sadly this is related to his death, is that he was once a smoker. It was his smoking that led him to this disease that ultimately took his life. And he quite thirty years ago! So, he made it a mission to tell people, especially youngsters, about how dangerous it is, even after you quit. Better not to start, he probably told them. And, you know what? He didn't have to do that. But he did. That's the kind of guy he was.

Honestly, I feel like I'm rambling incoherently, because I don't even know what to say about Leonard Nimoy that would do justice to him or how I felt about him. I'm probably saying the same things that so many others are, as well. But that's because he touched so many of us in similar ways. He entertained us and taught us things. He was a wonderful example of how a person in the entertainment industry should be, which makes it even sadder that we've lost him. I suppose all I can really say is that I will certainly miss him, but I'm glad that we in the world had him as long as we did. He was an inspiration as an artist, but more importantly, as a human being.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer