Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Thousand Pardons Owes Readers No Apologies

A Thousand Pardons, by George Plimpton's former personal assistant and Pulitzer Prize finalist Jonathan Dee, had me hooked from the first chapter.

Stay-at-home parent Helen Armstead waits for long-time husband Ben to arrive home from his job as a partner at a New York law firm. They tell their adopted 12-year-old daughter Sara that they are going out for their regular date night, which is actually their trip to the ever more and more venomous couples therapy.

Soon Ben finds himself having a ridiculous and career-ending affair with a young underling at work. It goes horribly wrong and Ben and Helen divorce. The long-jobless Helen stumbles a little unbelievably, but so what, into a crisis-communications PR job. Some of these scenes are pretty entertaining as she makes a name as the go-to expert when one-percenters in New York mess up and need to make a public apology.

The story weaves through some strange plots, like the relationship Helen builds with a childhood friend who subsequently becomes a major film and tabloid star and the uphill trek Ben takes to get back into the lives of his former wife and daughter.

Jonathan Dee
The sections focused upon the three-person family are the most enjoyable. None of them seem to care much about anything, but their unpredictability keeps it interesting. Some of the other characters are pretty weak, and there really is no moral or take-away from A Thousand Pardons, but for an easy and quick summer read, author Dee owes us no apologies.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Friends With Kids: Bad Idea in Many Ways

For a movie with so many of my favorite actors, Friends With Kids could easily be considered a stinker.

Granted, Jon Hamm of Mad Men plays an unlikable and unhappy father stuck in a relationship with Kristen Wiig, but they are both given little to work with and don't particularly shine in their key scene, when Hamm's character is drunk and tells the film's main characters that having a baby while remaining friends instead of a couple will never work.

Adam Scott, as the male lead, plays a jerk who we never quite care enough about to cheer for, and Jennifer Westfeldt is squirrelly, kind of plastic looking, and not very interesting as the female lead who goes from being "happy every morning" to conflicted about the decisions she's made to become a single parent.

Chris O'Dowd, Edward Burns, and Megan Fox are all cool enough, but they each seem detached from their performances. Really, only O'Dowd and Maya Rudolph seem at all convincing as harried Brooklyn former-hipster parents.

The star power captured my attention throughout the film, but other than that, Friends With Kids is a bad idea in concept as well as in execution.

**1/2 out of ***** stars (being generous)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Danny McBride Saves the World in This Is the End

It's been a while since I've watched Danny McBride's HBO masterpiece Eastbound and Down, so the new film, This Is the End, turned out to be a real treat for me.

McBride steals the show in a show with lots of comic actors who could have done so. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Jay Baruchel each have their moments, even if they have less-consistent barrages of funny lines than McBride.

Nobody is as funny as him, the uninvited outcast of a party being held at the real Franco's house when, all of a sudden, the world ends for most of the people on the planet. That is, except for these boneheads, who take self-deprecation and celebrity egocentricity to a new level.

Many of these actors were in the very-good Pineapple Express, and This Is the End turns out to be a bit of a sequel, with several inside jokes and a storyline based on that movie about Rogen and Franco on a wild drug trip.

The wacky, world-ending premise surprisingly doesn't take anything away from the movie, which is satisfying, often hilarious (most often thanks to McBride), and even probably a bit better than Pineapple Express.

A nice little summer 2013 surprise.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Paul McCartney Plays the Perfect Show at Nationals Park

The only way that Friday night's Paul McCartney show at National Park could have been any better would have been if John, George, and Ringo showed up for one of the three encores.

That said, Paul's crack five-piece band might be unbeatable. They started an hour later than expected, but then kicked in to "Eight Days a Week," which has apparently not ever been played live by any of the Beatles until this tour.

That was great, but I literally started to tear up and feel emotional on the next two numbers: jaw-dropping versions of "Junior's Farm" (always one of my very favorite songs by Wings) and "All My Loving."

While there wasn't a stinker among the 2-hour, 45-minute, 38-song set, notable highlights included:
  • "Paperback Writer (one of my favorite songs period)," 
  • "The Long and Winding Road," 
  • "I've Just Seen a Face," 
  • "Your Mother Should Know (with its Magical Mystery Tour background projections, a part of the show that was awesome before the show and throughout the night),"
  • "All Together Now (a kids song never before played by a Beatle live until this tour),"
  • "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (a John song with an intense laser show),"
  • "Something (a George song with Paul starting it off with a ukelele and a story about how Frank Sinatra always said it was his favorite 'Lennon/McCartney' song),"
  • "Band on the Run"
  • "Live and Let Die (with its startling fireworks that amazingly didn't leave the band charred)," and
  • "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" to end it.

And I love that some of my least favorite songs on album ("Hey Jude," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Get Back," and "Let It Be.") are so powerful in an arena.

I can die happy knowing that I saw Sir Paul in Indianapolis in 1989 and in an even more perfect show Friday night.

***** out of ***** stars

Eight Days a Week
Junior's Farm
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It
Paperback Writer
My Valentine
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I'm Amazed
I've Just Seen a Face
We Can Work It Out
Another Day
And I Love Her
Here Today
Your Mother Should Know
Lady Madonna
All Together Now
Lovely Rita
Mrs. Vandebilt
Eleanor Rigby
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hey Jude
Day Tripper
Hi, Hi, Hi
Get Back
Helter Skelter
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hunger Games Could Have Been Better Movie

The Hunger Games is the perfect reality-TV book for our times. I greatly enjoyed the "sophomoric," as I called it, book when I read it a year ago.

I finally got around to watching the movie. It's not as good as the book because too many scenes unfold way too monotonously slow.

That said, if you don't want to commit 10 hours or so of your life to the book, 2 1/2 hours devoted to the film is well worth it. The premise is excellent, the actors are fun to watch, and the production is pretty fantastic. The filming in Western North Carolina presents beautiful background scenery for the tournament to the death of all but one contestant.

Had the producers cut about a third of the film's 142 minutes, this could have bordered on a classic. But it's way too snooze-inducing in way too many stretches.

*** out of ***** stars

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Top 90 Favorite Movies of All Time

In honor of Entertainment Weekly's excellent lists in the new issue of the top 100 movies, books, music, and others, I thought I would list my favorite movies of all time. 

Which ones did I miss? Which ones do you intensely disagree with? And, heaven forbid, do you agree with my highly subjective list?

90. South Park
89. The Untouchables
88. Braveheart
87. Rain Man
86. Young Frankenstein
85. Donnie Darko
84. The Amityville Horror
83. Stand by Me
82. Into the Wild
81. Forrest Gump
80. There Will Be Blood
79. Point Break
78. No Country for Old Men
77. Dog Day Afternoon
76. Silence of the Lambs
75. Play It Again, Sam
74. Good Will Hunting
73. Reservoir Dogs
72. True Romance
71. The Graduate
70. Jackie Brown
69. Hotel Rwanda
68. Slumdog Millionaire
67. Django Unchained
66. Avatar
65. Scarface
64. Memento
63. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
62. L.A. Confidential
61. Vertigo
60. Love and Death
59. City of God
58. American History X
57. Double Indemnity
56. North by Northwest
55. The Shining
54. All the President's Men
53. Network
52. Midnight Cowboy
51. Unforgiven
50. Friday the 13th
49. Notorious
48. Dazed and Confused
47. Fight Club
46. Mississippi Burning
45. The Doors
44. Rushmore
43. A Clockwork Orange
42. Dr. Strangelove
41. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
40. Halloween
39. Saving Private Ryan
38. Manhattan
37. Annie Hall
36. Schindler's List
35. The Empire Strikes Back
34. Wet Hot American Summer
33. Airplane!
32. Fletch
31. Boyz n the Hood
30. A Hard Day's Night
29. Blazing Saddles
28. Caddyshack
27. It's a Wonderful Life
26. Rear Window
25. Dirty Harry
24. Escape from Alcatraz
23. American Beauty
22. The Warriors
21. Out of Sight
20. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
19. Citizen Kane
18. The Godfather
17. Raiders of the Lost Ark
16. The Maltese Falcon
15. Deliverance
14. Platoon
13. The Big Lebowski
12. The Hangover (also see my list of the top 60 funniest movies ever)
11. Rope
10. The Shawshank Redemption
09. Gone With the Wind
08. Star Wars
07. The Wizard of Oz
06. Planet of the Apes (the original)
05. Casablanca
04. E.T. The Extraterrestrial
03. Jaws
02. Pulp Fiction
01. Psycho