Thursday, March 26, 2015

DreamWorks' "Home" is not Where the Heart is


In the end (yes, I'm starting there), as I have said before, the best movies for kids are enjoyable for parents as well. DreamWorks' latest film, "Home," certainly will please young audiences, but it may do less for the older crowd.

Starring Jim Parsons as the voice of Oh, a member of an alien race called the Boov, "Home" is about an alien invasion which finds the entirety of humanity—or nearly the entirety—relocated. One plucky young girl, Tip (Rihanna) has managed to escape the Boov repopulation and, with the help of Oh, embarks on a quest to find her mother's whereabouts following the repopulation.

Directed by Tim Johnson, the movie is bright, colorful, and loud. It is full of easy jokes, a few heartwarming moments, and just a little bit of fear. It also repeatedly passes up the opportunity to truly explore anything and ends up feeling much more like a series of bits thrown together rather than a single cohesive movie.

The Boov, who are by default purple, change colors to express how they feel. They go red when they're angry, green when they are lying, etc. It seems like, particularly when the movie has a lost child at the center, a child who ought to be absolutely terrified about what's happening all around her but isn't, that an exploration of emotions would be easy to have. After all, you have a kid in extraordinary circumstances who has to be feeling all sorts of new and different feeling things and creatures who outwardly expresses their emotions. Plus, Oh is an outcast Boov who can never seem to do anything right and is responsible for an action that may wind up causing the extinction of his entire race.

It is a tale fraught with emotion. Or, it should be.

It isn't. There is no deeper understanding of emotion ever reached, nor really even discussed. Instead, the movie focuses on a flying car, pretty colors, and lots of jokes based on misunderstandings. It is a decision made infinitely more frustrating by the fact that "Home" is perfectly organized to do so much more. Watching it unfold on the big screen, you will big able to pick out the moments where Johnson and company should have gone for a deeper understanding, where they should have pushed the story to have greater resonance.

So, there you have it, the biggest problem in the movie. On the upside, there is the voice cast. Parsons and Rihanna are joined by Jennifer Lopez and Steve Martin, who play Tip's mom and the leader of the Boov, respectively. While the former isn't given terribly much to do as the film never really strives to reconcile emotion and Tip's mom's story involves her desperately wanting to be reunited with her daughter (a necessarily emotional tale in a movie that eschews emotion), Martin is utterly hysterical. Unfortunately, Martin is hysterical in part because he plays the leader of the Boov and the character is completely incompetent. That would be okay except that the Boov are insanely advanced technologically speaking and clearly hugely intelligent… except that they are not. Each and every Boov the audience meets is, to some degree, a fool. How could they possibly have all this technology? How could they possibly have gotten as far as they have? Did the Boov steal and repurpose all the technology they have from other alien races? There is a story there which isn't told and while kids won't be troubled by it, adults most certainly will, it leads to too many holes in the story.

Yet, despite all its shortcomings, it is impossible to walk away from the movie without a least the smallest hint of a smile on your face. Tip and Oh make a great pair and their interactions are enjoyable even if they never go as deeply as they ought.

"Home" is, in the briefest sort of summation, a road trip comedy with a pair of opposites at the center. It looks great and offers a number of laughs, but it really should have been more. It is an easy and successful comedy for kids, and no worse than a mild disappointment for adults.






 photo credit: DreamWorks Animation

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My "Terminator: Genisys" Set Visit Hits the Web


Today, if you head on over to HitFix, you can read of my visit to NASA-based set of the new "Terminator" last summer.  Yes, I was there for some of the filming of "Genisys," spoke to the cast including Arnold himself, and learned everything that they were willing to tell us about the upcoming return of the franchise.

So, go, read, and enjoy.  It was just one of the many fantastic things I did last year.

photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"Lass is More" - Minisode 4: Blockbusters vs. Smaller Fare


I want to see every movie (except the horror films, they scare me) that get released this year but, obviously I will never achieve that goal.  I have to make choices about what it is that I go and see at the movies.  Those choices, in turn, tell Hollywood what I, as a consumer, value.  It is true, it is inescapable, and I'm just not so comfortable with it.

In this new minisode, I explore that very problem in an oh-so-brief four minutes and change.  I will tell you now that I reach absolutely no conclusions except that I am uncomfortable with the process.

What can you do?  You can vote up the question itself by listening to the stream below, telling your friends, and subscribing to "Lass is More" on iTunes.  The brilliant bit of doing this is that it won't cost you a dime.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Watching "The Walking Dead," but not Knowing why

Quitting a television series isn't something I find easy. After a while with a series, I feel as though I have invested so much time in it that I may as well stick around to see how it all ends. There are a few examples out there of my quitting a show (like "Desperate Housewives" right before the final season), but those are few and far between.

I tell you all this because I just don't like "The Walking Dead" all that much. I don't see myself deleting the season pass on my TiVo for the series (see above), but my goodness, I just don't know why I watch anymore. My issues with the series exist on multiple levels as well. There isn't just one thing about the show I dislike.

First off, the characters and the choices they make. I understand that not living in a zombie apocalypse it is hard to predict what I might do in such a situation, but I know this – Rick and his crew regularly do reprehensible and/or just plain ridiculous things. The entire skepticism that they have this season surrounding the town and its people are a part of that. We are supposed to understand that they have been burned one too many times, but they have approached this entire relationship as though it is doomed to fail. Why be there at all if that's the case? The answer isn't safety, because they feel like they're not safe. There is, from the stance they have offered, no reason for them to stay in the town but they have… for now. We all know the relationship is doomed, we have known it from the beginning, but we're still forced to endure the telling of the tale.

That leads right into point number two, there doesn't seem to be a purpose to the overall story, nor is it clear that any sort of final destination exists (whatever it may be). Every season can pretty much be summed up by explaining that Rick and his crew go somewhere they think they might be able to stay for the rest of the apocalypse, but it all goes to hell and they have to leave worse off than they were before. The CDC, the farm, the prison, Terminus, and now with the town – the specific reasons they flee change, but at some level they are all interchangeable locations.

Part of the reason for this is the lack of a great villain or great enemy – the real fight that our heroes face is how to stay human in the face of the zombie apocalypse, and that's a fight that the show regularly fails to tell well and which the characters are losing (this last bit is absolutely understandable and just fine). You might say to me that I'm wrong about the show not doing a great job depicting that struggle, but there again I only see variations on the same theme told over and over and over again (example: Carol does something awful which seems unforgivable and she is clearly sinking into the mire but wait, it all kind of makes sense even if you disagree with why she did it).

Now, the show did have one great villain, The Governor. Unfortunately, he was so great—and the producers must have known this—that they had him stick around far too long. I lost count of the number of times people around him should have killed him or Rick and company should have taken him out or he deserved to die for some other reason, but it happened again and again. Then, finally, when we all thought he was gone for good, he popped back up in severely weakened form in order to attempt to terrorize once more. By that point, however, he was just another storyline that the show drawn out for far too long.

This coming week we will get the season finale of the show. I will watch, some of it may impress me, but most of the time I have a feeling that I'll be let down by the telling in the same way that I have felt let down for years. Then, I will go without it for months and when it returns this fall (presumably this fall anyway), I'll sit down and watch the new season unfold in roughly the same fashion and wonder all over again why I continue to watch.

Here is the thing though, I'm sure I'm going to continue to watch. I just don't see a way in which I won't be there when the new season starts. Maybe next year will be my last though. Probably not, but maybe.

photo credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Quick Thoughts on the Second Season of "Broadchurch"


I always worry about the second season of a television series, especially when the first seems like a closed book. There are a multitude of potential pitfalls that series regularly find when reopening a story or telling a new one with the same characters or adding new characters, etc. I am not the only one who feels this way either – the term "sophomore slump" did not originate with television, but is certainly used with it now.

This isn't something I really want to dwell on for a thousand words (put another way, expect this to be short), but the second season of "Broadchurch" seems to be doing a stunning job with the season two transition. In fact, they're firing on all cylinders. There will be slight spoilers below. You've been warned.

First, and most importantly, the producers of "Broadchurch" have managed to reopen the old, seemingly closed, story from the first season in fine fashion. We are now getting an interesting trial about the death of Danny Latimer and the supposed guilt of Joe Miller. I really didn't think it would be possible to discuss that case again in any sort of way that would make me excited to see it return, but I was wrong. Getting Joe Miller's confession excluded now seems like a complete no-brainer, but it has reinvigorated that storyline.

Second, there is this year's new case, which is actually an old case, the case that led Hardy (David Tennant) coming to the town in the first place. While as an audience we didn't have any real insight into Hardy's previous high-profile experience and the issues that came out of it, we knew in season one that something had happened in Hardy's recent police past to cause him some problems. Exploring that in season two makes sense – it was one of those unanswered things last year that never really needed to be explored but makes for interesting telling. Keeping it current in the new season by bringing in characters from that case also works. We have gotten a few flashbacks to what happened prior to the events of season one, but "Broadchurch" hasn't been mired in them. To spend an extensive amount of time there would be, potentially, very difficult.

Finally, there's number three, the addition of new characters. Fans of "Doctor Who" already loved the fact that Arthur Darvill was working with David Tennant and now bringing on Eve Myles of "Torchwood" fame only helps the "Who" synergy. Plus, Claire's husband, Lee, is played by James D'Arcy whom many on this side of the pond just saw on "Marvel's Agent Carter" as Edwin Jarvis. The additions of those two and Charlotte Rampling and Marianne Jean-Baptiste on the respective legal sides of the case enhance what was already a solid cast. These are characters who could easily have their own show but don't feel out of place here in any way.

I am, naturally, worried about "Broadchurch" sticking the landing in season two and have avoided all spoilers about what is yet to come. The first season wrapped up so well and I think the story to this point in season two has only gotten better that it all makes me rather concerned about whether or not they'll be able to keep it going. .

Time will tell, and when we do get a finale I imagine I'll be back to talk more about it and, perhaps, dig a little deeper into it.

 photo creidt: © ITV/Kudos

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jeremy Clarkson's "Top Gear" Suspension and the Bigger Issue Involved


Last night we ought to have gotten a new episode of one of my favorite series, "Top Gear."  As I wrote earlier this year, there is just so much I love about the show.  It does so many things so very well and is a success in no small part due to the chemistry amongst its three hosts – James May, Richard Hammond, and Jeremy Clarkson.

Now, as I said, "we ought to have gotten" an episode, but we didn't, and we didn't because Jeremy Clarkson has been suspended by the BBC for a "fracas."  We may not get any episodes remaining in the current season due to this and, naturally, rumors abound that things may change down the line for the series, but no one knows (at least no one talking does).  A petition to reinstate Clarkson has something around 940,000 signatures (as of this writing).

There is a whole lot to chew on here, but I'm looking at what I think is the biggest of the issues – that petition demanding he be reinstated.  That is an insane rush to judgment, and one done without actual facts.

Facts are, to be very clear, important.  They are important here, just as they important in discussing something like global warming or vaccines or really just about anything else.  Facts are not something to be dismissed when they don't fit your worldview, nor something to be glossed over if you simply happen to be without any on your side.

Yes, there are rumors about the specific event which occurred that led to Clarkson's suspension, but there isn't a single set of agreed on facts about what happened being disseminated to the public from those involved… actually, I don't think there's any set of facts being issued from anyone involved whatsoever.

How then can people suggest that Clarkson be reinstated?  Saying as much means that no matter what he did (and Clarkson has a long history of approaching and/or crossing the line depending on whom you believe), it cannot possibly have risen to the level of being suspension-worthy.  Even Clarkson himself, prior to this incident, has said that he's been given a final warning by the BBC.

I do not know what happened with this incident.  I do not purport to know nor do I claim any sort of involvement with anyone who does know.  I have not in any way been tipped off about anything. 

All I know is this – it is hypothetically possible that Clarkson did something which deserved a suspension.  In fact, that would be a possibility even if Clarkson didn't have a track record of pushing the envelope. 

Again, I'm not saying he did something worthy of suspension.  I am just saying that we live in a world where, occasionally, human beings do things that they shouldn't and that said things should lead to suspensions.  Why then is it so impossible to imagine that Clarkson did just such a thing?

Not that he necessarily did.

I would like nothing more than for Clarkson to be vindicated, for "Top Gear" to return, and for the show to continue well on into the future even if it has to take some sort of "Futurama" turn where Clarkson, Hammond, and May are nothing more then heads kept alive in jars.  I think there's a lot of potential there with this last idea, just FYI.

That being said, I also think that it's ludicrous to suggest that he should return until the BBC has conducted whatever investigation they feel is appropriate.  Everyone knows that the show is popular, we don't need 900,000 people signing something to tell us that.  But that isn't even what the 900,00 are saying, they're saying that Clarkson should be allowed to return immediately, no matter the offense and that's patently absurd.

There is, of course, a far larger problem here – the world in which we live has pushed us all to demand answers now and to offer up opinions even when we are not qualified to do so.  Unless one of the petitioners was present at the event in question and has an objective point of view, zero of the 900,000 petitioners are in a position to accurately make the assessment that Clarkson should be back on the job.  They can only go on—at absolute best—conjecture and hearsay.  It is more likely that the decision to sign comes from wishful thinking. 

We ought to all just stop, take a breath, and think about it.  Then we should let the appropriate process unfold.  Once the facts do come to light, well then we can, maybe, debate about the right outcome.  I am still not convinced that we would have appropriate standing to do so, but at least we would be far closer than we are now.


photo credit: Ellis O'Brien, © BBC Worldwide

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Lass is More" Interviews "Walter" Director Anna Mastro

Today, "Lass is More" has an interview with first time feature film director Anna Mastro. Her movie, "Walter," stars Andrew J. West and is currently playing in select cities and VOD.

As I say in the opening of the interview, you will find some slight spoilers about the movie if you listen to the interview, but nothing that I think is truly detrimental to one's enjoyment of the film. And, if you avoid the interview due to those slight spoilers, swell, you'll miss out. The interview focuses heavily on what brought Mastro to directing, and what her experiences were as a first time director, and I think offers some interesting insights.

We will, naturally, be back with another "Lass is More" in the not-too-distant future and encourage all questions and comments to be sent to us at lassismore.podcast@gmail.com

Friday, March 13, 2015

"American Crime" it may Have Timothy Hutton, but it's Lost me


It had been my intention to come to you today and talk about ABC's new series, "American Crime." After watching two episodes however, I just don't think I can do that.

Of course, naturally, that deserves an explanation which means that I will be writing about "American Crime," but I expect it to be the first and last time. I wish that wasn't the case, I want to love the show, but I really don’t.

Airing Thursday nights at 10 and created by John Ridley, the series offers up a large cast whose live all come together when a heinous crime is committed. The show then seems to be about finding out the exact particulars of what happened and why, as well as the fallout.

This sort of thing ought to be up my alley, and not just in terms of a long plot with big questions. I am a huge fan of Timothy Hutton who leads the ensemble cast alongside Felicity Huffman. Also included on the show are the likes of Benito Martinez, Elvis Nolasco, Regina King, and Penelope Ann Miller. It really isn't a bad bunch of folks to see together on a weekly basis.

Honestly, if just Hutton is in a series, I'm going to give it a couple of episodes, because I find him compelling. I once actually suggested that if they were going to go "older" when casting the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman for the upcoming DC movies they look at him. I stand by that suggestion, not because it was ever probable, only because he'd be great in the role. He would be able to one up the Keaton version of Batman, and I love that idea.

But, getting back to the issue at hand, "American Crime." I don't have a problem with the bleak nature of the material. It is absolutely fine to do a "see how all these families are ruined by one tragic incident" story. The thing is, however, that really isn't a new concept, so if you're going to do it, have something to say about it. Offer up a new and different and interesting point of view, and through two episodes of "American Crime" we haven't seen anything approaching that.

Looking back on it, I don't know if we've in fact seen much of anything over the course of these episodes. I get that a lot of shows don't advance things much in episode two, but I feel like episode one was really not even a full start either. Not only that, but you could have guessed many of the moments in the second episode based on the first if you were offered the hint, "what would the scenes be like if we barely nudged things forward at all." I might watch the third episode, but I dread that if I do, it's going to be a slightly remixed version of the first two episodes and I'll hate myself for tuning in.

I don't recall if they did it in the pilot, but in last night's episode they had more than one scene where they had let the camera roll (or appear to have let the camera roll) on a single take and then removed moments from the middle of that take, effectively creating short jumps in time from a single camera shot. It is jarring, and when used effectively, I think can be a strong way to highlight someone's emotions or their muddled thoughts or an important scene in general. When used four or five or six times as "American Crime" did last night, it no longer serves to highlight, only to annoy.

It works as a technique because it's different from the usual way stories are told on television or in film. You notice the abrupt cuts from a single shot precisely because it's different, when it becomes the norm it loses its power, and does so rapidly.

The thing is, I'd actually be okay with they're having done that if I had any sense that this was remotely a story I cared to hear about or had characters I thought would unfold well. Again, after two episodes, I see no evidence whatsoever of that.

What may be worse is that after these two episodes I feel like I have the characters pegged, and that I do because they're stock characters that could easily be dropped into any number of stories. That really is exceptionally upsetting because it makes me wonder if the point of the whole thing is to take stock characters whom you usually don't put together and put them together, not that anything interesting will necessarily take place, just to put them together in the face of a tragedy and see.

That last thought makes the series yet another foray into the lives of seemingly normal people to show how not normal they are and to make everyone in the real world feel better about their own personal foibles. More the fool me, because obviously that is exactly what the show is as the title "American" surrounded by the promos about the shattering of the lives of these families should have given away instantly.

It is a shame. The cast is too good to waste on that.

photo credit: ABC/Felicia Graham

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Hate Running, but it's Kind of Great


We will once more be travelling outside of our usual media confines today. Just go with it.

A few months ago, my wife forced me to start exercising, specifically running. There is some ridiculous logic she has about my being healthy tending to mean that I will live longer and that we will therefore spend more time together. I don't know; she's a doctor so I listen to her.

She promoted this notion of running by getting me to agree to sign up with her to do a 5K at DisneyWorld (you may already know that I have a soft spot for the place and harbor a none-too-secret desire to become an Imagineer). Naturally, she had been pressuring me to exercise before that date, but it was signing up for the race which finally got me moving (literally).

Now, a few months later, I'm on the treadmill five days a week, running three days and doing long walks two days, and I've come to a conclusion: it's awful. Really awful. I have no intention of stopping, but I hate it.

Runners will tell you of a "runner's high" or some such nonsense. They will argue that the more you run, the better you feel running. That is an utter load of hogwash.

This isn't sour grapes talking either, I have steadily improved my pace and can now do three miles in a very respectable time (faster than the wife, who has a tendency to run half-marathons). It is just the truth.

Perhaps the issue is that at this exact moment I seem to have developed some shin splints from doing a 10 mile walk yesterday and then a run today, but I don't think so. I don't recall ever feeling great when running.

The moment when I feel great is after I'm done running… because I'm done running. There is definitely a sense of accomplishment at having obtained a new personal record (this is called a "PR" in runners' parlance), but I don't think that's where most of my joy comes from. Honestly, I think it comes from the added hunger I feel after running and knowing that I will be able to eat more that day.

You see, I have always argued that if I didn't have a traditional fulltime job I would exercise more, and that if I did exercise more, it would be with one purpose in mind – the ability to eat with impunity. It may sound ridiculous, but that has always been a goal of mine, the world is full of delicious things.

I may have said above that we were going outside the world of media today, but that's not entirely true, and here's where I tie it all in. It's actually doing those long walks on the treadmill that I prefer, not the short runs.

Why?

Because I get to consume more, although not necessarily food-wise. Yesterday during my 10 mile walk I watched seven episodes of "Parks and Recreation." My marathoning of "Bosch?" Another event made possible by foolishly long periods of time spent on the treadmill.

As it turns out—and this really is the great part—exercising doesn't have to be done to get healthy, you can rot your brain at the same time (a term I use metaphorically). The amount of TV you can watch if you setup your iPad to block the display of the treadmill and have a big old cup of coffee with you is truly incredible. And, you're being "healthy" the whole time.

So, right now there's "Parks and Rec." When that is done, it'll be "Girls," and after that maybe I'll finally watch that last season of "Big Love." At some point, all that exercise will lead to an embarrassingly large steak dinner and a sub-20 minute 5K. Plus, as I'll be living longer, there will be even more time in my life for food, television, and the possibility of becoming an Imagineer.

It is all fantastic. If only I didn't hate it so much.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Loving and Hating "The Amazing Race": Are They Sinking Into a Cesspool?


I know we're in the second cycle of it, but I still have trouble wrapping my brain around Friday evening episodes of "The Amazing Race," and don't even get me started on random Wednesday premieres. These scheduling shenanigans caused me to watch the first three episodes of the season over the last two nights, and I have some observations which I'd like to share.

Spoilers. There will be spoilers. Surely you knew that, right?

Listen, I don't mind the "Race" doing the half-blind date and half-couple thing. In fact, I think it's actually something of a good idea. In the first three episodes it has proven interesting to see how the couples work together or don't. The most fascinating relationship to this point has been the doctor-nurse combo. They seem like they could be a really strong team if only they could get along.

Now, I say that they could be a strong team after they finished the most recent leg in second place as it feels like they're going to implode. The nurse was absolutely right there that if the doctor had listened to her, they maybe could have finished in first.

As I tell my children, she was right until she became wrong. You lose all ability to say you're right once you do the first wrong thing in the situation, then you're both wrong.

The doctor should have listened to her with the zipline food delivery. He was a fool not to listen. It was actually the second time she was right about directions, although the first time I don't recall her having proffered an opinion, just questioning his. With the food delivering, he just shut her down and was completely wrong.

Then, however, she couldn't let it go. She just kept needling him with it, and at that point contributed just as much to hurting their relationship as he had done by not listening in the first place.

Truth time – I would love to go on "The Amazing Race." I think it would be spectacular, but I would never want to do it with my wife. Why? Because I would destroy our relationship. It would be ugly, I would get so wrapped up in whatever task I was doing and any mistakes we made along the way that I would just keep pecking at them, and her, until I did serious damage.

I think you get one "See, I told you so" during the race, and I could never hold myself to that, just as the nurse didn't. Right now, that relationship looks seriously rocky. The doctor needs to listen better, but if he does listen next time and the nurse proves to be wrong, all hell could break loose.

Moving along, what I'm not sold on this season is the show offering up views of the sleeping arrangements. It is one thing to throw couples together and quite another for a series which doesn't really disclose the hotels/sleeping arrangements the teams have to offer views at them every night. It makes the "Race" feel like it's wading into a cesspool in order to attempt to tantalize/disgust viewers. Don't show the beds on any other season, don't show them this season.

Also abominable? The selfie cams. I am certainly insanely pleased that the selfie cam helped the least deserving team from the first two weeks get eliminated in that second week, but my god are the cameras themselves annoying. I have taken more than one selfie in my life, but the way in which they're being used on the show feels like poor filler or a terrible way to segue from one moment to the next (I am reminded of Homer and his star wipes).

I am convinced that teams have taken selfies before on the show—why wouldn't you, there you are at some fabulous place you'll be lucky to visit ever again—but why are you now including them on the show? It feels like product placement, but bad product placement because I couldn't tell you who makes the phone they're using to snap the pics. I could tell you that if I ever see one I'll be sure to not buy it, but that's it.

What truly concerns me however is that after three episodes this season, I'm not entirely sure who I'm rooting for yet which is a little troubling as I'm prone to snap judgments on these things. If doctor and nurse could get it together that would be great, but I don't see it happening. I can't root for the Olympians either because I feel like it's vaguely unfair to have two such great athletes on a single team. Right now, I'm leaning towards Team New Kid. They just might have the right stuff.

Wow, okay, forgive me for that one.


photo credit: Monty Brinton/CBS