Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Justified: Fixer

As the "rookie" of the team (he has 17 years of experience with the marshals), Raylan is handed the reigns to local snitch Arnold Pinter. He provides Raylan intel on where to find an escaped convict named Tiny. After apprehending Tiny, Raylan goes back to Pinter to give him the reward money. Pinter isn't there and something about the setup makes Raylan's neck hairs stand up. With good reason too, as Pinter's leg breaker Curtis and one of his clients, Travis Travers, have teamed up to take all of Pinter's cash.

One thing I'm not sure of. Early in the episode, Pinter is seen as sort of a hazing ritual for newbies in the marshal's office. It's not clear to me why. Pinter seemed like an intelligent guy and he and Raylan got along well together.

The bad guys in this one were fun. Travis was dumb, but trying to be smart (like most Leonard villains). Curtis got taken down because he was distracted while trying to be cool.

Overall, I don't know about this one. It wasn't as tense as the pilot and it wasn't as funny as the second. The villains were better than "Riverbrook" and we're starting to get hints of the larger world (Raylan falling for Ava's charms and references to his father).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Maltin's Movies: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Bitter, funny, fascinating, and a late-career tour de force for Gloria Swanson, SUNSET BOULEVARD is the legendary Hollywood black comedy about faded silent-film star Norma Desmond, living in the past with her loyal butler (Erich von Stroheim), who shelters her and smothers a hack screenwriter (William Holden), who becomes her kept man.

Black comedy, yes. But also a solid film noir. Great performances by Swanson and Holden. A punchy and quotable script from director Billy Wilder. Who doesn't know "I'm ready for my closeup" and "I am big. It's the pictures that got small."? If you haven't seen it, RUN out and get a copy.

Below is a clip of the movie's opening scene:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Steve McQueen

Today would've been the King of Cool's 80th birthday. So many great movies: The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, Bullitt, The Getaway. Even in movies that I didn't love (Papillon, The Thomas Crown Affair), he was a presence.

I'm tempted to watch my favorite McQueen movie (that would be The Magnificent Seven), but I might watch one I haven't seen before: The Cincinnati Kid.

Justified: Riverbrook

The second episode of "Justified" was good, but not as good as the first. After transporting Dewey Cox to prison, Raylan gets a call that two prisoners have escaped while performing in a prison bluegrass band. As is a marshal's job, he's tasked to bring the two to justice.

Lots of good banter in this one. Lots of fun moments with Raylan. While not as crackly as the pilot, the writers do seem to be getting Elmore Leonard's style down.

I don't know if it was just me, but if this was a movie, I'd say a reel was missing. I couldn't figure out how Raylan made the connection between Riverbrook and the escaped convicts. Anyone else have that issue?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Trigger City, by Sean Chercover

"Facts are not truth."

Following shortly after his debut in Chercover’s Big City, Bad Blood, Chicago PI Ray Dudgeon is back with another case. Joan Richmond's death looks straightforward: a deranged co-worker, Steven Zhang, shot her in her home and then committed suicide. Dudgeon is hired by Richmond’s father Isaac, a retired Army colonel, to discover the truth behind Joan’s death – and life. He quickly finds himself embroiled in a web of deceit, cover-ups, and foreign intrigue.

Chercover once again does a stellar job portraying Dudgeon as a flesh and blood person, not just a character in a novel. Dudgeon is still dealing with the physical and emotional effects of going to war with The Outfit in Big City, just as any real human being would. He is as quick with a wisecrack as any of his PI predecessors, but typically goes for a more human response.

Dudgeon: "The pain was a houseguest you never invited, who doesn't know when to leave and insists on retelling the story of how you met, over and over."

As can be expected in a modern novel where a military contractor features heavily, there are times where Dudgeon (and Chercover) toe the line about how the Constitution is being shredded by the evil military-industrial complex. The first half to two thirds is awesome PI story but the ending is dragged down a bit by tedious politics that can be found in the pages of dozens newspapers and on hundreds of left leaning websites.

That being said, the strength of the writing and the depth of characters are enough to pull any reader through the wearying parts.

Trigger City and Sean Chercover get another recommendation from me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Maltin's Movies: Henry V (1989)

Kenneth Branagh made his mark around the world by directing and starring in HENRY V (stepping into the formidable shoes of Laurence Olivier, who did the same thing forty years earlier - an incredibly vital and meaningful rendition of the Shakespeare play.

After seeing Branagh's HAMLET, I heard about his version of this play and sought it out. Branagh gives a stellar performance and rises to the challenge of Henry's rousing St. Crispin's Day speech (where the phrases "we few, we happy few" and "band of brothers" originate). Also of note are the extraordinary battle scenes - which are all the more impressive since the film's total budget is estimated at around $9 million. Definitely worth a look.

Friday, March 19, 2010

MST3K Friday: The Final Sacrifice

Since this movie was included in the latest MST3K DVD set, I figured it would be a good time to show some clips from it.

"Rowsdower!" "Somebody's breaking shredded wheat biscuits!"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Justified: Fire in the Hole

Last night was the premiere episode of FX's "Justified". I'd say it was rather good. With a story from Elmore Leonard, Tim Olyphant and Walton Goggins, and created by Graham Yost ("Boomtown"), there wasn't much doubt that it would be good.

Olyphant play's Dutch's Raylan Givens well. Goggins is great as his old buddy Boyd Crowder. The producers probably liked him too, as they (spoiler alert!) slightly changed the ending of the source short story "Fire in the Hole". There were a couple other minor changes, but these were done primarily to set the story up as a series.

There were a couple flaws, but nothing to distract me too much. Some of the dialogue (those bits not taken directly from the short story) was a bit too on the nose. And did we really need that flashback after (another spoiler) Raylan shot Boyd? The writers already established several times that they worked in the mine together, so that segment was superfluous.

I liked it. I'll be turning in for the foreseeable future.

Side Note: Harper Collins has put the entire text of "Fire in the Hole" online. If you haven't read it yet, you can do so here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hidden Treasures: Roberto Fonseca

I haven't done one of these Hidden Treasures entries in a while. Kind of forgot about this feature.

On my way to work on Friday, I heard a great song on WBGO. It is called Lo Que Me Hace Vivir and it's from a 2009 album by Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca. I liked the song so much, that I went out and bought the album that night. Very good. Very Latin. Click on the song title above to take a listen to the song which is a dazzling display of Fonseca's piano chops. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Barbara Stanwyck

Last week Kim Morgan, film writer/blogger, posted two notes about the great actress Barbara Stanwyck and her must-see movies. The ones I've seen are Sorry Wrong Number, Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve, and Ball of Fire. All great movies. As with most people, I think of Stanwyck as a great dramatic actress and standard of film noir. So when I saw her in Howard Hawks's Ball of Fire opposite Gary Cooper, it was a revelation. She could do screwball comedy with the best of them.

Read Morgan's notes and rent some of the movies to re-familiarize yourself with this unfortunately almost forgotten femme fatale.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

NHL Trade Deadline 2010

This post will probably be updated throughout the day with my thoughts on some of the deadline deals (not all, because, well, not all of them are going to make a big impact).

Jordan Leopold (Florida) to Pittsburgh for a pick. Ray Shero obviously believes you can’t have too much depth on the blue line. I like this trade for Pittsburgh. Leopold showed what he could do a couple years ago with Calgary in the Cup Finals, but hasn’t performed up to that level since. In Pittsburgh, he doesn’t have to be the go to guy, so he should be able to play his game. Good skater and good first pass out of the defensive zone. This move makes Martin Skoula expendable.

Alexei Ponikarovsky (TOR) to Pittsburgh for Luca Caputi & Martin Skoula. I like this trade, but am not wild about it. Ponikarovksy is solid player and a legitimate 20+ goal threat every year (he has 21-21-18-23 in the past four years and 19 already this year). He has garnered the reputation of occasionally dogging it, but, well, nobody’s really tried that hard in Toronto for the past couple years. Caputi is a big piece to give up. A prototypical power forward, Caputi has been ranked in the Penguins top 10 prospects for the past three years. Caputi was projected to give the Penguins size and scoring from the wing, which is something they need considering they’re so deep down the middle. Skoula is pretty much a throw in to get the Penguins under the cap.

Andy Sutton (Islanders) to Ottawa for pick.
Sutton’s a physical, shot-blocking defenseman. Kind of surprising move since Ottawa already has a couple d-men with the same profile.

Update #1: 11:45
Throw-in Skoula is on the move again to New Jersey for a draft pick.

The Bruins are re-making their defense after a mostly disappointing year. Derek Morris is out (to Phoenix) and Dennis Sidenberg and Matthew Bartowski (both from Florida) are in.

Carolina sends Aaron Ward to Anaheim. Ward had the second worst plus/minus on Carolina with a -17. He only has 11 points on the season.

Update #2: 1:00
Capitals get Scott Walker for a pick. Washington gets some extra grit up front with Walker. I still think they need some defensive help.

Phoenix gets Wolski from Colorado for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter. Both Wolski and Mueller are good young playes who had massive rookie campaigns for their respective teams (Wolski with 22g and 50 points in 06-07 and Mueller with 22g and 54 points in 07-08). Wolski still produces about 40 points a season, while Mueller had 36 his sophomore year and only 17 this year. A change of scenery could do both players some good.

Update #3: 2:50
Ten minutes left, and Bufalo's been busy. They picked up Raffi Torres from Columbus for Nathan Paetsch and sent Clarke MacArthur to Atlanta for picks. Torres makes sense. They're strong on defense and have an all-world goalie in Ryan Miller. Torres's 19 goals automatically makes him their top scorer (Thomas Vanek is having a really of year). Not sure why they traded MacArthur except maybe to make up for draft picks they've traded away.

Update #4: 5:30
Capitals re-acquire Milan Jurcina from Columbus and get Joe Corvo from Carolina. The fire sale in Carolina continues. Washington needs defensive help, but neither of these moves addresses their major problem. Corvo is a good d-man, but known more for his offense. He is prone to defensive lapses and too many turnovers.

Ryan Whitney (ANA) for Lubomir Visnovsky (Edmonton). Not bad for either team. Both are offensive defensemen, but Visnovsky is producing a lot more this season than Whitney is. Whitney can still be a #2 d-man in the league, but needs to return to the form he had during the Penguins' Cup run of two years ago.

At first blush, the winners of the deadline are Phoenix, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. I'd say Carolina is a loser, but can you really lose if your goal is sell sell sell?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Brick (2005)

Since Friday was a snow day for much of New Jersey, I took the time to watch the movie Brick. It is an homage to classic film noir set in a modern high school.

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Third Rock from the Sun", "The Lookout") is a teenage loner who gets a mysterious call from his frightened ex-girlfriend Emily (Emile de Ravin, "LOST"). Emily disappears and later ends up being murdered, sending Brendan along a path of drug dealers and high school cliques.

Very well done and a very engaging performance by Gordon-Levitt. There are lots of tips of the cap to classic films, including some of the slang the characters use. There were some stylistic flairs that reminded me of a David Lynch movie, and they temporarily took me out of the story. Also, some of the music cues were too obvious and should've been toned down, letting the performance and words convey the feeling to the audience.

Overall, I enjoyed it. If you're a fan of film noir, I say give it a shot.