I spent $258 at the movies last year.

Actually, I probably spent more.

You see,  in early 2009 I decided to start saving all the tickets stubs from the movies I went to see.  I have a notoriously bad memory, so I wanted to keep track of the films I saw, in the hopes that at year end, I would be able to reflect on these films and come up with the list everyone does.  The Top 5 Film List.  I am a woman with a limit budget, though.  I have to choose my films wisely.  Every now and then I’ll go crazy and splurge for the random film just because a bunch of friends are going and I want a night out, but for the most part I only see films that have somehow persuaded me to open my wallet and give up my precious cash.  Here is a list of the films I choose to do that with this year.  What does this list say about me as a person, as a film-goer? Let’s look at the list and see.
Click to jump to the list

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This Week’s Top 5: Favorite Movies of 2009

Mariola


  1. Summer Hours – This was definitely my favorite movie of the year.  I return to it regularly in my mind, and recommend it as often as I can. A complex, lyrical and passionate question mark about the state of culture, what is it and what does it mean to us. Of course the setting is France where these kinds of reflections have always been nurtured and contemplated. The film is a beautiful mirror of our expanding global culture and the unstable place of tradition and history within that ever-changing horizon.
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Charming, fun, pure cinematic enjoyment. Wes back in form. And Jason Schwartzman stole every moment.
  3. Bright Star – A beautiful and lush look at a woman whose inner life and creativity rivals that of one of the most famous poets of all time. I did not want to leave the world created by Jane Campion.
  4. Adventureland – Funny. Melancholic. Terrific soundtrack. Its only missed note was the casting of Ryan Reynolds.
  5. An Education – I am happy to see two films on my list about women and directed by women. another woman’s life whose intellectual curiosity finds an equal partner in her own desires and passions, and who was willing to risk tradition for a life lived.

Jenni


  1. The Hangover – I can’t remember the last movie I laughed so hysterically at.  Every scene had some piece of genius in it, not just the scenes used in the trailers that typically give away the funniest parts of a movie.  I loved the way this movie unfolded: the reverse (and uncharacteristic for a comedy) chronological order of waking up in utter chaos and using the rest of the movie to make sense of the chaos.  Of course it never hurts to have a cutie-pie leading man (Bradley Cooper).  I already own it on DVD.
  2. Where the Wild Things Are – Regardless of whether you are a Dave Eggers fan (he seems to polarize people), I thought this film was lovely and Eggers did a great job of taking an amorphous story and transforming it into a concrete screenplay.  The costumes were superb and amazingly resembled the drawings in the book.  The story was sad but not tragic and the characters were flawed but loveable.
  3. Whip It – This movie didn’t seem like it got much hype at the box office, but it was a lot of fun, it has a great soundtrack and features an all-lady roller derby team!  Directed by Drew Barrymore, she established a definitive style throughout, from the hand-held filming to the opening/closing credits.  It was also refreshing to see Ellen Page play a role other than her normal sassy, sardonic teenager.
  4. Up – A love story at heart, this movie is so sweet and playful it’s hard not to like it.
  5. New Moon – This was my most anticipated movie of 2009.  Okay, so probably not one of the top five movies of 2009 in terms of acting quality or special effects, but it was just plain scandalous entertainment.  Of course, I’ve read all the books, I’ve pitted myself on “Team Jacob” and I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Mariela


  1. Inglorious Bastards – Tarantino combines comedy and tragedy in epic style.  The steady and quiet opener is a master class in building tension, and the final theater scene is beautifully choreographed.
  2. Up in the Air – I love that Clooney stepped outside of his comfort zone here to play the old, lost guy.  The movie is subtle and very well paced, and when did you last see two great starring roles for women in such a movie?  I Love how Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga stir things up, evolve and surprise.
  3. Let the Right One In – This is unlike any vampire movie I’ve ever seen and the book is next up in my reading queue (thanks, Wendy!).  This quiet movie brings incredible sadness and loneliness to the life of a child blood sucker.
  4. 500 Days of Summer – This fulfilled my need for a solid rom com in 2009.  My favorite moment is when they discuss their former relationship on the park bench and she says to him:  “I woke up one morning and I just knew…What I was never sure of with you.”  A very straightforward answer to a topic that is never very straightforward – relationships.
  5. The Class – I love how this is like peaking into real life.  I love how it shows how people’s loyalties can turn on the toss of a dime.  I love how it shows that everyone has shades of grey.

And, Jen Mae’s Top Five Movies with a twist:  The ones she wishes she’d seen if she didn’t have a beautiful two-year-old at home.

  1. An Education – I’m a sucker for a good coming of age story, especially one with a female protagonist.  Looks a little sappy, but I’m o.k. with that. This one didn’t make it to a theater in my area, so I have to wait for the DVD release.
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – I really wanted to watch this with my daughter, but after several unsuccessful trips to the theater, I decided against it. I think it’s funny that Bill Murray is the voice of a badger in this film.  After years of acting alongside burrowing creatures, he finally gets to play one!  Of the few children’s movies we did make it through, Up! was my favorite.
  3. Men Who Stare at Goats – Come on! George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges? Looks like a movie I could watch over and over again.  My husband saw it and compared it to Raising Arizona.  Now, those are some big shoes to fill.
  4. Where the Wild Things Are – Almost made it to this one… I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’m trying not to make any judgments ’til I see it myself.
  5. Up in the Air – I know, I know. Clooney overload!  When movies are hyped up like this, I’m usually disappointed, but the optimist in me says this could be different.

Charlie Day Time! Season 2, Episode 7: Hundred Dollar Baby

This episode opens with a nod to Rocky IV, which the male Gang members call “the greatest movie of all time.”  But, in this version, Charlie plays Rocky Balboa as “Clown Baby,” a hooded and hopped up basement fighter who does his best when he is beyond drunk.

His best involves: being surprised with a garbage can to the face at 11am; getting rammed on the back by a chair and a large, wooden stick; and taking a beer bottle straight to the nose.  These training exercises, along with the “performance enhancement supplements” he’s been swiping from Dee-as-Hillary Swank, cause Dennis and Mac to remark that they’ve “turned him into an animal.”

I must agree.  As Charlie sits on a Paddy’s high table devouring a pre-fight meal, he resembles “The Dark Crystal” Skeksis that give me the willies.

Those of us crushing on Charlie might feel jipped by this episode.  Despite clear direction by Dennis and Mac and the final Charlie/Dee face-off where he explodes with “I’m going to take one second to take my shirt off…and then you’re going to die,” the shirt never comes off.  They end up in jail and we end up pretty sure that, had Charlie fought as Clown Baby instead of Mac, he would have won.  After all, we’ve already made the case that Charlie is one tough dude.

Posted by: Mariela

The Ultimate Grease vs. Grease 2 Song Off

This weekend, we decided to pit Grease and Grease 2 in a duel and judge each song individually – free of bias, emotional attachments and story and character development.

This was not an easy task. After repeated childhood viewings of Grease 2, my friends and I knew every single word and every single dance move.  I was a Pink Lady (and possibly still am at heart). Michelle Pfeiffer was one of my heroes. Our obsession led us in fourth grade to be called into the office of Ms. America Novas, our very big and intimidating elementary school principal whose asthma spread across the loudspeakers every morning during assembly, for a lecture about the fact that “gangs” would not be tolerated in our Catholic school.

This didn’t mean that we ignored the original.  It just didn’t connect on a meaningful level – Olivia was no Michelle and never would be.  Believe me, I know these are controversial opinions – that Grease is held in incredibly high esteem and most people blow off the sequel as a joke.  In fact, that very difference of opinion resulted in this song off.

The results are below and averaged from a careful analysis by a male Grease fanatic and, well, me!

GREASE

Grease: C

This is like being asleep at the wheel.  Not a great way to kick off the movie, and, in retrospect, probably one of the reasons Grease has always been judged inferior by my “gang” (as a fellow member recently said).

Summer Nights:  A


A fun-filled he said/she said with humor and heart.  It pulls an A for the ending itself – John Travolta’s dramatic sigh (“but…’oh”). Just, please, accept that this song is a karaoke killer.

Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee: B

A quick and funny ditty proving that girls can bite, too.  Stockard Channing shows off her ballsiness with a badge.  Still, this feels more like an interlude than a full number and because of that fades away.

Hopelessly Devoted:  A+

Agreed to be the King of All Grease Songs and, really, the only one that can stand alone – melodically and lyrically – apart from the musical.  If we’d heard this song on the radio and never seen the movie, it’d still be a hit.  I dare you to listen to this once and not get it stuck in your head for days to come.

Greased Lightnin’:  B-

You think you like this song but you really don’t.  The words are too fast and Travolta’s voice too deep.  No wonder I don’t know (or care about) half the lyrics.

Beauty School Dropout:  C+


Our initial reaction was to fail this one because …who ever cared about Frenchie?   Yet, we both had to admit that it is a decent tune that we’d love to listen to on vinyl.  Still, the questionable intro and outro chain it to mediocrity.

Sandy: B+

Our notes refer to the “explosive chorus” and the Beach Boys-reminiscent castanets.   Travolta’s voice is much better suited to this pace.

There are Worse Things I Could Do:  B+

Again, we both cringed when this one started and then realized this is a solid 50s girl power ballad and a starring vehicle for Channing.   I want to hug and high five her after this performance, which is the perfect length and has the perfect flow.  Someone should cover this (Kelly Clarkson?  Lady GaGa?) and give it new life.

You’re the One That I Want:  A


Not only catchy, but powerful, fun and sporting great harmonies.  Raise your hand if you’ve tried to master the little hand-in-the-pocket shimmy when they walk down the stairs.

We Go Together:  A-

This is a party I want to be invited to!  A rambunctious way to end the movie and a surprising follow up to You’re the One that I want; instead of winding down, the movie ramps up and you speed off the cliff into the sunset.

GREASE 2

Back to School Again:  B-

The energy of this opener kicks Grease to shame and it does a great job of introducing all the major players and personalities.  Still, the song suffers from overindulgence.

Score Tonight:  A-

This is a Latin-rhythm infused good time with a killer breakdown – “You bowl me over!”  Here, you notice what a superior singer Lorna Luft is compared to her peers and can’t help but chuckle at Adrian Zmed’s screeching, over-the-top, on-his-knees howl.

Cool Rider: A-


Pfieffer achieves total coolness in her black-outfitted, solo performance.  If just one more voice was introduced it wouldn’t have worked as well – a rare moment of subtlety for the sequel.

Reproduction:   B

Grease 2s version of the he said/she said with the raunch factor turned up.  Could have been cut short in both length and number of vocal parts, but the bass turnaround point (“Where does the pollen go?”) is a good one.

Who’s That Guy:  C


The chorus far outshines the verses here.  The Cycle Lords’ group singing is laughable and, again, there are just too many vocals that suffer even more from awkward transitions.

Let’s Do It for our Country:  A

This cohesive and catchy tune would have been doomed by second character indifference if it weren’t for this face off.  What we uncovered was a great melody that overcomes the silly lyrics and plot.  Please, keep an open mind.

Prowling: C+

While it’s nice to have a little bit of Rock & Roll representation, the verses are too weighed down.  This sounds like stomping your feet in mud.

Charade:  C-

This could have (should have?) been sung by Jack Wagner.  It seems like the producers weren’t even sold since the song just sort of sneaks into the scene as if wasn’t welcome to begin with.  Super boring, cheesy and out of place.

Girl for All Seasons:  A

This is probably the most fluid of the Grease 2 offerings and a great example of how various vocal parts can work when done right.  But, damn the producers for cutting it off with…

Turn Back the Hands of Time:  C+


Sorry, this is just too much cheesiness for one song to bear.

Rock-a-Hula-Luau: B

It’s like the producers decided to rip off and split off Grease’s We Go Together.  The first part is this Luau, which just begs you to hand jive and drink a daiquiri.

We’ll Be Together:  B-


Part II is the weaker rip off.  It starts off strong, but should never have slipped into secondary character territory.  The lyrics are embarrassing: “I like what you got.  I guess it’s ok, if you want to show it.”  Or:  “Will I ever score?  There’s nothing wrong with just liking each other.”  And the electric guitar is cringe worthy.

RESULTS: GREASE (B+ ; 3.2); GREASE 2 (B; 2.9)

Yes, it pains me to write that.

Posted by: Mariela (with help from David)

Just Did It: A Streetcar Named Desire

In Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, the lustfully married Stella asks her sister Blanche:  “Haven’t you ever ridden on that streetcar?”  She’s talking about Desire, that “rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.”  But, the truth is, Blanche has seen more than her share and it disgusts her.  “It brought me here. Where I’m not wanted and where I’m ashamed to be,” she says

Well, I feel desire, too.  And it’s in the form of Cate Blanchett, Liv Ullman and the spectacular production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the BAM Harvey Theater.  I desire that all productions I spend money on be just as emotionally-charged, thoughtfully-directed and unselfconscious as this one.

We were treated to an artist’s talk with the cast immediately after the performance where we learned that this was a labor of love by Blanchett and Ullman, who originally wanted to bring an adaptation of “A Doll’s House” called “Nora” to the screen, and instead decided to concentrate on this very American play with arguably the most iconic characters and memorable lines around…but do it with a Norwegian director and an Australian cast.  Blanchett said she had always shied away from the role of Blanche and it scared her.  But, she admitted, she’s “always scared.”

Joel Edgerton, who played Stanley Kuwalski, chimed in:  “Marlon Brando made a lasting impression in people who haven’t even seen the play.”  After six weeks of rehearsals, the cast dropped their accents, conquered their nerves, liberated themselves from the past and “brought the play home.”

The set – mostly a studio apartment divided with tacky flowered curtains – enhanced the claustrophobic nature of the production and set the scene for one of the great showdowns in fictional history:  the town princess-turned “town character” Blanche vs. the “Survivor of the Stone Age” Stanley.  Clearly, a studio apartment just isn’t big enough for the both of them and the climactic drunken rape scene was devastating in showing just how lost these two really were:  him, stumbling around violently in his wedding night red silk gown; her, makeup smeared, dress ripped open and mumbling under a shroud.

Shrouds, darkness and corners played a major role in the production.  Blanche has much to hide.  She has fallen far from grace and love, which she feels is the only thing that can restore her to the confident Grand Dame she once was.  That’s why Russell Kiefel, who played the Strange Man who at the very end comes at Stella’s request to take Blanche away, was asked to play the role like “the man she’d been waiting for.  It was like setting a bird free.”

It’s true:  Here, a lingerie-clad Blanchett, skin and emotions bare of all pretenses, looking to the Strange Man for her rest.  “I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers,” she says with relief and with a light shining overhead.

Posted by: Mariela

This Week’s Top Five: Answers to the Proust Questionnaire

As we round up the year 2009, we here at Matterful thought we would take stock of ourselves with the age-old Proust Questionnaire. Named after Marcel Proust, the esteemed French writer who passionately answered these parlor questions time and time again, the Proust Questionnaire has been made popular by its back page inclusion in Vanity Fair magazine. Here are questions 1 through 5:

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Mariela:  The waves and a sunset

Mariola: Warm weather, a sunny beach, cocktails, all shared with people I love

Autumn: Half-awake on a Caribbean beach with sun on my skin and wind in the palms

Jenni: Watching a lovely sunset, be it in the Caribbean, Hawaii or Florida, with an ice cold cocktail in hand and family/friends close by

Jen Mae: Perfect happiness for me is being on vacation with my husband and daughter. It’s about 72 degrees outside, just brisk enough for a light sweater.  The sun is shining in a clear blue sky and we’re rolling around on a cool blanket of green grass under a blooming tree.  A Jacaranda or Saucer Magnolia would be nice. Something like this:

Lisa: Visiting a place I’ve never been with someone I love

2. What is your greatest fear?

Mariela: Losing a loved one

Mariola: Mediocrity

Autumn: My parents’ deaths

Jenni: Going grey, oh wait that’s already happening … I guess I’d have to say losing my son.

Jen Mae: I fear I’ll make the wrong decision.

Lisa: Developing a fear of death later in life

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Mariela: Too quick to react at times when I should take a breath and think

Mariola: My inability to network

Autumn: I am an immediate and harsh critic.

Jenni: Lack of self-confidence

Jen Mae: My indecision. These questions are killing me. I have several possible answers and can’t decide which to declare.

Lisa: I bad at admitting when I’m wrong.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Mariela: Disrespect, in its many shapes and sizes

Mariola: Cowardice

Autumn: Willful ignorance

Jenni: Pompousness … or back hair, it’s a tough call

Jen Mae: The inability or lack of desire to see through the eyes of another

Lisa: Insincerity, not following through

5. Which living person do you most admire?

Mariela: J.K. Rowling

Mariola: Joan Didion

Autumn: Agnes Varda

Jenni: Anyone who overcomes huge obstacles in life, such as substance abuse

Jen Mae: There’s no indecision here. It’s my husband.  He’s the only person I know well enough to truly admire.  He’s strong, forgiving, patient, giving, compassionate, witty, and intelligent. He inspires me to be a better person and I’m pretty sure I do the same for him. Cheesy? Maybe. But, it’s the truth, Ruth.

Lisa: Our president: smart, graceful and someone I am proud to have represent America to the world

Charlie Day Time! Season 2, Episode 6: The Gang Runs for Office

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Charlie care so much about anything before this episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” “These are, like, an investment. This is my future here,” Charlie says about his immaculately kept album of Garbage Pail Kids. It’s the first time, I feel, that he’s ever meticulously catalogued and taken ownership for anything.

I wonder if we’ll learn anything from this information.

[pol-i-ti-cian

definition 2b: a person primarily interested in political office for  selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons.]

I did not make up that definition. Merriam Webster did. “Selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons” seem to be the sole reason that The Gang does anything, so it was only time before they attempted to become politicians. Mac claims that they’re being ‘blasted in the ass’ by taxes and Sweet Dee’s retort is to go vote. This enrages not only Charlie, but the rest of the gang. Frank says ‘you have to be a real low life piece of shit to get involved in politics.” Think The Gang qualifies?

After being overpowered by both Mac and Frank as Dennis’ campaign manager, Charlie slips into the pub’s office to do a little backdoor wheeling and dealing to win Dennis over. He convinces Dennis with the flare of a 40s muckracker. Phase one complete.

While Mac is trying to solicit a bribe from union reps and Sweet Dee is getting all whored up to run too, Dennis and Charlie hit the mall to press the flesh of their constituents.

Then, in typical Charlie fashion, we find him embrace his demented, creative side while shooting an advertisement for Dennis’ campaign. Here is the speech he scripts for Dennis: “Hello fellow American.  This, you should vote, me.  I leave power.  Good!  Thank you. Thhhaaankk you!  If you vote me, I’m hot. Taxes, they’ll be lower.  Sun. The democratic vote for me is right thing to do Philadelphia, so do!” That coupled with the fact that Dennis is standing in front of two beach towels–one, a million dollar bill, the other an American flag–equals total political success, Charlie surely thinks.

It’s from this scene that we learn a few more things about Charlie: that he is dyslexic and that he shares the crusty ol’ futon with Dennis’ dad. It really just keeps getting better and better with him.

In obvious Deep Throat fashion, he meets with Frank in a dark parking garage to settle a bribe only to learn that the one thing he really cares about is at stake: his meticulous collection of Garbage Pail Kids. Charlie’s selfless side surfaces again because the next thing we see is Frank holding the album–Charlie gave it all up for Dennis! His dreams, his future! Whatta guy. Whatta idiot.

As soon as his hands are on the smear tape that Frank was holding over their campaign, Dennis just gives up on the campaign and we see Charlie finally flip. Like, for realz. He twitches, he pokes his head in and out like a lizard, he slams his shoe on the bar destroying the tape and he all around looses his shit. He gave up EVERYTHING, “my blood, sweat, tears… my Garbage Pail Kids.”

We have learned a valuable lesson about Charlie in this episode: he cares more about Garbage Pail Kids than reading, more about Dennis’ comptroller campaign than his Garbage Pail Kids and not at all about himself, his self esteem or the fact that he shares a couch with an old, sweaty bald man. Oh, and that he’ll always come out on the bottom of The Gang’s shit pile.

Class dismissed.