Saturday, July 18, 2009

On Vacation

Hey all - I'm on vacation for the next week and will have limited access to the internet, so I probably won't get any more posts in until I'm back. In the meantime, enjoy the Bruno review I just wrote from Bolt Bus (yay wireless!) and go see Harry Potter (like you haven't already).

Bruno Gets a Nisht-Nisht

Grade: B-

To be fair, I should tell you that I spent a healthy percentage of my time watching Bruno laughing. Maybe not Hangover level, but still, it did have a lot of laughs. If you respond well to crude and uncomfortable humor, you'll be in for a good time. Yet unlike Borat, I found the more I thought about what I saw the less I liked it, to the point where I questioned why I was laughing. So does it entertain? Sure. Is it a disappointment? Absolutely.

Now, Bruno doesn't disappoint solely for failing to live up to Borat's high expectations. That would be unfair. It disappoints for failing to even attempt it. Bruno's function isn't too different from Borat's - he's there to act dumb and encourage people to say stupid things on camera that they should know better than to do. Where Borat exposed anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and misogyny in average Americans, Bruno was supposed to bring out all the latent homophobia. But as easy a task as that may seem in a country that won't permit same-sex partners to marry, it somehow doesn't work out that way.

For those who didn't see him on Da Ali G Show or see any of the numerous trailers the past few months, Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a gay Austrian fashion reporter, and on the show always played third fiddle to Ali G and Borat. But here he has the chance to shine, a chance he relishes more than the others. After being kicked out of the Austrian fashion circuit for a velcro-laced faux pas (the second time in a century Austria has banished its greatest citizen, he tells us), he comes to American in search of celebrity. Somehow that leads him from LA to the Middle East, Africa, and the South.

The unifying theme on all his anecdotal misadventures is that it's all about him. Whether in the multiple sex scenes full of inventively-used dildos or in his self-produced TV pilot (which prominently features a still shot of a penis), the focus is solely on Bruno. Which makes this one feel at times like a long SNL sketch. Crude sex jokes are funny to some extent, but they're also easy laughs. Borat's naked wrestling scene worked because it was unexpected and isolated. Bruno is more like an entire movie of naked wrestling.

Not to say that Bruno is completely devoid of Borat's more socially-conscious style of humor. Whether fortunately or frustratingly, it has some scenes of absolute brilliance that hint at the stronger movie this could have been. While many of Bruno's victims knew better than to take the bait (Ron Paul emerges unscathed), Paula Abdul was not so fortunate, humiliating herself by falling into Bruno's trap. You can also see Sacha Baron Cohen's glee behind Bruno's mask as he questions mothers about what atrocities they would allow to be committed to their babies for the sake of a photo shoot. Not to mention some hilariously bungled German (in which Brad Pitt becomes Bradolf Pittler).

You also have to give Cohen credit for being willing to go farther for his comedy than probably anyone else out there. In the course of the movie, he interviews an actual terrorist, lets a woman beat the hell out of him with a whip for a good 3-5 minutes, and repeatedly offends people carrying guns. He takes on anger, pain, and the possibility of death without ever breaking character for a second.

Which makes it all the more disappointing that he couldn't sustain the idea for the 87 minute running time of the movie. Maybe he's too well-known post-Borat to find as many people willing and able to fall for his tricks. Maybe he just had bad luck in the people he chose. But as for any debate about whether the movie is pro-gay or anti-gay - it's irrelevant. There's no social agenda here, just silliness. There's far worse things a summer movie could be. But from a comedian like Cohen, I expect better.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Emmy Nods: More is Better

Like the upcoming Oscars, this year's Emmy Awards also saw an increase in nominees-per-category (albeit smaller and far less publicized). Instead of the normal five nominees, this year went up to 6. And with the nominees announced yesterday, many categories saw as many as seven nominees. I had feared more nominees would mean the same snubbing of good shows, just more bad shows getting on instead. I knew How I Met Your Mother would again be ignored, only for something like Family Guy to take its place. Thankfully, I was only half right.

With more nominees in each category, this might be the happiest I've ever been with the Emmy nomination selections. Long-running Emmy favorites that nobody I know watches (Two and a Half Men, Boston Legal) finally (somewhat) cleared out in favor of shows I actually watch. There were still some glaring omissions, but overall it's a good crop. Let's hope the Oscars work out so well.

Best Comedy
As I said, I expected the worst in this category, especially since there's really very few good comedies on TV. But thankfully they got most of them on here, giving How I Met Your Mother its first well-deserved nomination, along with an even more surprising pick, Flight of the Conchords. 30 Rock and The Office of course were there, of course, and there was probably no stopping way way past its prime Entourage (why do they still like this show?) and slipping-in-quality Weeds, but I'd take both of those over thankfully missing Two and a Half Men. But Family Guy? I guess all Emmy voters are secretly 13-year-old boys.

Best Drama
Largely a repeat of last year's strong line-up, I have no real complaints here. Lost, Mad Men, Dexter, and Damages all made it on, so I'm happy. And I'm sure Big Love and Breaking Bad fans are happy to see their shows get some love too. Maybe if I was further into True Blood I'd care, or have any hopes Battlestar Galactica would be recognized for its fantastic final season, but I don't. 6th nominee was House, if there was any question of that.

Acting - Comedy
Some nice surprises in supporting actor comedy, where 30 Rock double-dipped with Tracy and Kenneth, and Jeremy Piven was surprisingly left off (though since he's the absolute only reason to watch the show, it makes you question that best comedy nod even more). With Piven out of the way, this has got to be NPH's year. Do you think he'll give the award to himself? Also yay that Kristin Chenowith made sure Pushing Daisies got something, but where was the rest of the cast?

Acting - Drama
These sections were a bit more of a mixed bag for me, as some nice picks were balanced out by some disappointing snubs. For instance, great to see Elisabeth Moss recognized for Mad Men, but where were January Jones (who really shined this season), Vincent Kartheiser, and Christina Hendricks? Always happy to see love for Michael Emerson's Ben from Lost, but how could they fail to nominate both Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell, who were really the heart of the season? And while this isn't the Emmys' fault, why was Jimmy Smits submitted as guest actor for Dexter when he was in every episode and had a way bigger part than most of the regulars?

Anyway, those are just my gut reactions (posting a day later than most of this was written). What about you? Did you think this could have been BSG's year? Mounting a campaign for Family Guy to win comedy? Or are you boycotting the show because they left off Chuck, Blair, and Hannah Montana (and yes, every one of them submitted themselves this year)? Let me know in the comments.

It's Official...I'm in Love with 500 Days of Summer

Grade: A

Is a sleeper still a sleeper if everyone knows it's going to do well? Because I won't try to claim any originality in stating that 500 Days of Summer (opening Friday) is the small indie gem of the summer of 2009, the one friends will make their friends go see as they did Garden State five years ago (not that the two movies have anything else in common).

Still, at first glance, there's nothing about this movie that seems like it would be special. It's about as basic a story as you get. Boy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets girl (Zooey Deschanel). Boy believes in love; girl doesn't. Boy loses girl. Boy is sad. Outside of possibly the now accepted modern-day norm of "guys are the new chicks," it seems like your basic romantic dramedy, right?

Yet somehow the movie never feels familiar. Creative storytelling certainly helps. The romance is told out of sequence (enough to remind you of Eternal Sunshine without seeming too similar), there's a fantasy dance number (that's awesome), and there are plenty of other neat little tricks that keep the movie feeling fresh.

Mostly though it's just really well-executed. Both the leads are immensely likable, so much so that you totally get why he would fall so heavily for her, and you stick with him no matter how much time he spends moping. And unlike most of these type of movies, it actually does work as both a comedy and a drama, cause you really do feel for them the whole way through.

Watching Top Chef: Masters tonight, I saw a ton of trailers for this and each time thought, "you know, I kind of want to see it again." Certainly can't say that for Bruno (review to come, but it was disappointing). So don't be like those people who hate Garden State because they saw it long after the hype took over. Go in with expectations in check and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Outdoor Movies: 7/13 - 7/17

Hey guys, sorry for getting this out late today, and if my delay caused you to miss How Green is My Valley, then my apologies. As for the rest of the week...

Wednesday, July 15th
River Flicks (Hudson River Park)
For a higher level of attractiveness than Whatever Works.

Wednesday, July 15th
Summer on the Hudson (Riverside Park South)
Greed's not so good anymore.

Thursday, July 14th
Movies with a View (Brooklyn Bridge Park)
America, meet Bogart.

Friday, July 15th
River Flicks for Kids
Pretty self-explanatory title.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Technological Problems / Free Stuff to Do

Sorry for the lack of posting this week, but this time I've got an excuse: after five years of faithful service, my laptop has died. This will soon be remedied however: today I plan to go to the Apple Store and get myself a long-needed replacement. That's right, I'm going Mac. So now the question is just whether I'll be able to recover my old files. Is it weird that, after my music of course, what I'm most concerned about losing is all my little lists of movies to see and books to read?

While I'm in transition, I thought I'd let all the New Yorkers know about some of the fun summer opportunities this week. I'll do my regular breakdown of the outdoor movies within the next few days, but there's even more going on.

First off, this Sunday is Bastille Day, and that means a big street fair on 60th Street from 5th Ave to Lex. If you find yourself craving crepes and can-can dancing, it's the place to be. More info  

Next, as the picture above shows: FREE New York Philharmonic in Central Park. TWO chances to watch: Tuesday and Friday (though Friday has fireworks). If you're more of an outer boroughs type, you can also go to Prospect Park on Wednesday or Van Corlandt Park in the Bronx on Thursday. More info

Lastly, restaurant week starts Monday (and goes through July), so make your reservations now if you want to enjoy $24.07 lunches and $35 dinners at some of the city's nicest restaurants. Full list of restaurants  

Monday, July 6, 2009

Trailer Alert: Jennifer's Body

Is it just me, or does this actually look kind of awesome?

I know you think it's cool to hate on Diablo Cody, but come on: Amanda Seyfried in another dark-comic teen movie, Megan Fox being creepy (but still hot), Adam Brody there....for some reason, and a good dollop of camp. I'm in.

Outdoor Movies: 7/6 - 7/10

It's here! The week when all the non-Bryant Park outdoor movie venues begin their summer schedules. So if you've been looking for the right movie to lure you outside, now you've got options.

Bryant Park
Monday, July 6th
Dog Day Afternoon
Attica! Attica!

River to River Festival (Movies on the Elevated Acre)
Monday, July 6th
The Seven Year Itch
Where Marilyn Munroe met that subway grate

River Flicks (Hudson River Park)
Wednesday, July 8th
Iron Man
When everyone started loving Robert Downey Jr. again.

Summer on the Hudson (Riverside Park South)
Wednesday, July 8th
The Age of Innocence
Scorsese goes 19th century.

Movies with a View (Brooklyn Bridge Park)
Thursday, July 9th
Raising Arizona
The Coen Brothers give Nicholas Cage a wacky mustache.

River Flicks for Kids (Hudson River Park)
Friday, July 10th
The Wizard of Oz
Something about a rainbow...