Film Review: Sucker Punch

'Sucker Punch': Amped Up

"Though we follow five girls, two—Amber and Blondie—are mostly props. Sure, they all look striking and sexy while fighting robots and dragons in short skirts and piled-on makeup, sauntering into battle, guns in one hand and samurai swords in the other. Just don’t ask why they’re there or what they’ll do if they ever gain their freedom.

The movie often brushes the girls’ stories aside in favor of major battle sequences. Amped up and exciting, these images have all of the trademarks of Snyder’s tricked-out style, slow motion at times and blended to look like long tracking shots at others. They’re set to loud music. They take place in far-off worlds and they’re incredibly fun. Much as the girls believe, escape into fantasy is its own reward."

Read the rest of the review at PopMatters.com.

914 Inc Premiere

My contributions to our recently launched business magazine:

Our Power Dozen: Catherine Marsh

Profiling a nonprofit leader for our "Power Dozen" cover story: "Philanthropy is hard. There’s deciding what kinds of organizations you support, vetting them for legitimacy, and setting up a payment plan, not to mention all of that paperwork. Catherine Marsh, executive director of the 30-plus-year-old, five-employee Westchester Community Foundation, makes philanthropy easy—and possible for people who wouldn’t be able to do the legwork otherwise...'It’s one thing to give away fifty thousand dollars,' she adds, 'and it’s another thing to say, "Where can this fifty thousand dollars have the most benefit?"'"

A Picture of Success in Tarrytown

How one local performing arts institution has been successful during the recession: "In tough times, economists say life’s little extras—like tickets to concerts and plays—are the first things slashed from the family budget. Maybe those economists should study the Tarrytown Music Hall. Today, when many arts organizations are pulling back, the historic Main Street theater is growing. The Music Hall saw an increase of 31 percent in paid attendance from 2008 to 2009—just when Wall Street was hitting its roughest patch—and those numbers have held steady for 2010. Look back further, and the picture gets even rosier: attendance has grown more than 400 percent since 2005."

February and March Issues


Westchester: Off-Off-Off Broadway?

How Westchester is becoming a destination for emerging theater: No doubt, playwrights, directors, and producers benefit from trying out their new material on an audience of regular theater-goers. 'When artists do these kinds of readings in the city, industry professionals, critics, and bloggers show up,' says Anna Becker, curator and founder of the Insights & Revelations Performance Series, which has brought new works to the county since 2005. 'That’s exactly the kind of pressure that you don’t want when figuring things out. In Westchester, the audience is intelligent and savvy, but they’re not as critical as industry insiders. It’s the perfect place to try something out.'”

First Kisses—Remembered

One artist's Valentine's Day performance work: "What happens when you think about your first kiss? Do you smile sheepishly? Blush? Cringe? Marcy B. Freedman, an artist and art historian from Croton-on-Hudson, wants to know. She’s collecting these stories for a work of performance art titled First Kiss Remembered, which she will perform on February 12 from noon to 3 pm at the Peekskill Coffee House—right across the street from her art studio. We caught up with her to talk about the state of kissing in the county."

Pet Events

Where to party with Fido and Fluffy: "Your pup appreciates the finer things, but never gets invited to cocktail parties—until now. The SPCA of Westchester’s Top Hat and Cocktails gala invites people and their pets to put on their best duds and venture out together. After your portrait is taken by a professional pet photographer, take Spot to the doggie ice-cream bar while you enjoy drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and live and silent auctions."

Teaming with Excitement

Looking at a recent expansion to a local children's bookstore: "The [bookstore] is expanding—taking over the adjacent storefront, previously held by a rug seller—and nearly doubling in size. With the increased space, the shop is adding a tea salon with an assortment of teas, French-press coffee, hot cocoa, pastries and scones. 'I’m thinking of moms at three o’clock, when it’s too early to go home and start making dinner, and the kids might be getting a little fussy,' says owner Francine Lucidon. 'Instead, they can come here, and Mom can have her tea and the kids can have hot chocolate, and everybody can read their books together.'”

February Cultural Highlights

Anthony Bourdain, Jim Breuer, Step Afrika, etc.

March Cultural Highlights

A Woman's Life, Bernadette Peters, Randy Newman, etc.

February Home Theater

It's Kind of a Funny Story, Let Me In, Monsters, and A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop.

March Home Theater

TV shows: Mad Men, Treme, and The Walking Dead.

DVD Review: Futurama Vol. 5

'Futurama Vol. 5': The Branier Common Denominator

"Futurama‘s return to television has been a slow, strange process. Unlike Family Guy—which was cancelled and then returned to its original form, network, and night—Futurama had to spend some time in a return-to-TV-halfway-house. Comedy Central revived the series as four direct-to-DVD films which, after their debut, where chopped up into half-hour segments and aired in reruns as individual episodes.

Though the creators performed admirably within those limitations, it was not the most natural structure for a television show. Each movie had to have its own narrative arc, with a setup and a payoff befitting a feature-length film. Then, within each story, beats had to be doled out in half-hour increments so that, in reruns, the stories would make sense and feel satisfying as individual episodes. Finally, after the success of the DVD-to-TV experiment, Futurama was allowed to start making new episodes without any of those limitations, with the first of the new batch premiering on Comedy Central on 2010-06-24. 

To the show’s credit, the audience doesn’t often feel the behind-the-scenes machinations—the time restrictions, the unsteady sense of not knowing if the plug will be pulled again—in episodes themselves. 'You guys have gotten really good at writing episodes where you don’t know if it’s the last one or not,' creator Matt Groening tells his crew during the commentary for 'Rebirth', the most recent season premiere. And it’s true: The Futurama writers have mastered the art of finagling a satisfying conclusion with just the right amount of open-endedness.

Thankfully, Futurama Volume 5—which contains the first 13 episodes of the most recent, TV-only season—doesn’t have to concern itself with endings. The series picks up immediately after the last film, Into the Wild Green Yonder. The writing, gorgeous 3D animation, and vocal performances pick up just as quickly, as if the series never had to experience the interlude of cancellation and direct-to-DVD movies."

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

DVD Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Watch Out for the Moral Hazard in 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

"It’s especially interesting to hold Gekko up against the hedge-fund managers of 2008, when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps takes place. In the spectrum of villainy, where does he fall, especially since the Street has gotten so much hungrier and greedier in his absence? The only thing more fun that Gordon Gekko, Master of the Universe is Gordon Gekko the Underdog, trying to sleaze his way back to the top. (There’s just something humorous about seeing him ride the subway.) Unfortunately, though, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is not about that story."

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.com.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Worst Films of 2010

The Worst Films of 2010

No. 3: Sex and the City 2
"Of the many sins that Sex and the City 2 commits against its fans—and there are many in the film’s grueling two-and-a-half hours, including the minutes wasted on the endless tour of an Abu Dhabi hotel—it’s the sound, thorough beating of the series’ greatest romance. Carrie was our heroine. Big was her fairytale prince. John Preston is, well, just a guy. He likes to curl up on his couch and watch TV—not horrid by any means, but nothing to make you clutch your hand to your chest and breathe a heavy sigh. Sex and the City 2 shows that Big is all limousine with nothing inside, a revelation that actually goes back and makes the entire series a little worse. And when Carrie berates him for wanting to hole up with take-out instead of squiring her away to a fancy restaurant, it diminishes her, too. Forget their relationship to each other – it’s our view of both of them that the movie tarnishes."

No. 1: Skyline
"Skyline comes courtesy of the brothers Strause, a duo best known for its special-effects work in films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of Skyline‘s protagonists, is in fact—if you are able to parse it out—also in charge of special effects on a big-budget film. So, when it came time for the film to deliver its aliens-vs.-humans story, what, apart from budget concerns, possessed the directors to ignore a special-effects-heavy, military-on-alien explosion-fest in favor of a smaller, human drama? Not that the latter would be bad in the hands of others—Monsters, for example, handled similar themes with intelligence—but it’s clear that this type of constricted storytelling is not the Strauses’ forte. In the few scenes when fighter planes engage in an out-and-out battle with alien invaders, the movie is pretty enjoyable (and looks pretty great, to boot). Yet the film fails to find a believable way to explain why two characters would bring a third’s digital camera into a bathroom to document a secret tryst, and why a separate fourth character would come across the photos in passing. The fact that Skyline is mostly these kinds of machinations, taking place in an isolated apartment, makes us wonder if there was a better Skyline movie going on just outside."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Best Films of 2010

The Best Films of 2010

No. 24: Easy A
"How refreshing it is to see a smart, teenaged, female film protagonist talk like a smart, teenaged female. Easy A‘s Olive, portrayed lovingly by Emma Stone, doesn’t use texting terms or slang when she’s speaking. She isn’t dim, ditzy, or klutzy—nor is she uptight or anal-retentive. She grapples with real issues of sexuality and social perception. And, though the process is full of awkwardness and poor decision-making, she’s all the more likable for the smart way she goes about attacking these issues. (If only her male counterparts were as well-drawn and sharp, but we can’t have everything.) We’d say that filmmakers should take note of films like Easy A and Mean Girls and create more female-centered teen comedies with characters as smart and fully realized as the ones in those films—but, really, all romantic comedies would do well to follow Easy A‘s lead."

No. 23: I Love You, Phillip Morris
"I Love You, Phillip Morris is another one of those strange-but-true tales: Con man Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a happily married family man, is hit with a car, decides to come out as gay man, turns to conning people to afford his lifestyle, gets caught and sent to prison, falls in love with another prisoner (Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor), and spends the rest of his life in prison, breaking out of prison, and breaking Morris out of prison so the two can be together. (Phew!) While the facts of the story speak for themselves, the tricky part is the tone needed to balance out all of the narrative’s wackiness—and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, together with Carrey, succeed in finding the perfect one. It acknowledges Russell’s strangeness without delighting in his misdeeds. It recognizes the humor inherent in Morris’ cons, but still manages to wring out lots of deep emotion when it is called for. When the film ends, you admire Russell—but you also kind of want to hit him in the face if you ever get a chance."

No. 6: Inception
"Director Christopher Nolan has spent his career toggling between big-budgeted action films and more thoughtful, cerebral fare. (Memento and Insomnia preceded Batman Begins, which was followed by The Prestige, which was then followed by The Dark Knight, and so on.) Inception is unique in that it succeeds at being both. At its core, it’s a heist movie, where a group of characters conspire to steal the most precious commodity of all: the ability to originate our own thoughts. And, like most heist movies, it comes with its own set of adrenaline-pumping action setpieces, with men with guns, car chases, big explosions, and perhaps the best fist-fight put to film this year. But Inception is so much more than a typical crime thriller because of its mind-bending structure. There is much to puzzle over after the film’s end. Whose subconscious were they entering? (Watch it again; it becomes clear.) Were those the same children at the end? (No, they were older and wearing different clothes.) Did that damn top continue to spin? (Well, that one’s not so cut-and-dried.) It’s this willingness to engage the mind—and the way that Nolan shows us worlds where city streets fold in on themselves, freight trains barrel through busy intersections, and hallways spin in space—that makes Inception more exciting than any close-call car chase could ever be."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Best TV Shows of 2010

No. 13: Justified

"Justified is ostensibly the story of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a U.S. Marshal transferred from glitzy Miami to his home town in eastern Kentucky after a (justified) shooting of a criminal. But it’s Givens’ chief antagonist in Kentucky, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who really runs away with the series. Taken from the textured world of Elmore Leonard’s short stories, there are few characters like Crowder on television. He’s certainly the villain, but one whose motivations are constantly hazy: Is he sincere and delusional, or faking it and sly?  Puzzling it out is the main pleasure in watching the first season of Justified. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that, while pursuing Crowder, Givens sure looks great in a cowboy hat."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: Top Guilty Pleasure Television

The Guilty Pleasure Television of 2010

No. 6: Say Yes to the Dress
"Brides-to-be tune into TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, a reality show that takes place at the tony Kleinfeld’s bridal salon in Manhattan, for the sheer thrill of seeing a barrage of thousands-of-dollar dresses paraded across the screen. Mermaid, fit-and-flare, A-line, and ball gown confections float across the screen, and home viewers have the guilty pleasure of critiquing gowns that they might never afford to try on in the first place. 'This one is too over-the-top,' you might think. 'The first one flattered her figure better.' Yet even after the excitement of seeing new Pnina Tornai and Vera Wang gowns has waned, it’s still mesmerizing to see the way that women sell to other women. Other television shows—The Apprentice, for example—celebrate the hard-hitting, hard-sell approach that men take with each other in business. It’s much more rare to see the approach that female saleswomen take with female clients, and observing those intricate operations is the true guilty pleasure of Say Yes to the Dress."

No. 3: 16 and Pregnant
"MTV’s docu-drama 16 and Pregnant evokes the guiltiest of all guilty pleasures: schadenfreude. 'No matter what troubles I’ve gotten to in my lifetime,' the viewer may think, 'at least I didn’t get pregnant when I was 16.' And, as callous as that may seem, it’s exactly the mission of the series. 16 and Pregnant doesn’t glamorize pregnancy and teen motherhood. Instead, it lays bare a thoroughly un-romanticized reality, full of painful labors, strained and broken relationships, the tedium and expense of raising children, and unrealized potentials and goals. Sure, the series regulars may become tabloid celebrities, but, given the choice, I’m sure that not many 16 and Pregnant fans would want to swap lives with one of its stars."

Though those are the entirety of my blurbs, you can read the rest of the lists by clicking through to PopMatters.