Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Welcome Back to the Runway!

Welcome back to the Runway, boys and girls! As you know in reality television, one season, you're in, the next season, you're out.

This season's challenge for Project Runway is to revitalize itself as the watercooler show it once was back on Bravo before it switched to Lifetime. It has failed at this challenge for the past two seasons, both becoming snoozefests despite actual talent (well, last season, at least. Season 6 was really quite bad) because of a lack of drama.

This season, they've ramped up the drama, eliminating three contestants in two episodes, handing the win to the same designer twice in a row in those first two episodes (unheard of until now), and emphasizing any and all personal conflicts.

Now that you know the challenge they face, let's meet the most intriguing contestants of the season so far.

Sarah has been declared safe in both of the past two challenges, but her design aesthetic is very edgy and appealing. She also seems to have a "don't fuck with me" attitude that I really enjoy. She's definitely one to watch, and possibly my favorite under-the-radar contestant of the season.

Christopher seems like a sweet guy, and has also flown under the radar for the past two challenges. You know what else he's done for the past two challenges? Crank out some of the best clothes there. He is like Sarah in that he can avoid the drama and not get called out and yet still create a good reputation for himself. Another one to watch closely.

Gretchen didn't deserve her win this week, but she completely deserved it last week. She is definitely channelling Leanne Marshall as another hippie chick from Portland, Oregon, but she seems a little more full of herself and a little brassier.

A.J. is also brassy, and loves his haute couture, punk rock styling a little too much, but he knows how to do bold designs, and that's a key skill in this game.

Valerie, the CLEAR winner this week to anyone not named Heidi, Nina, or Michael, definitely knows how to do consumer-friendly fashion very easily. She also knows how to do detail very well. If she can keep it up, she can definitely rival Gretchen for judge love.

Who are you impressed with so far? Is the show any better? Leave comments!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception: Sweet Dream or Beautiful Nightmare?

...go with me here. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I feel about Inception. Now don't get me wrong: I loved it. A lot. But what I really can't figure out is this: if I were to take a step back and look at the film critically, how would I rate Inception.

I got nothing. Seriously. I've never been so at a loss for opinion of a film. This might be a long one, so brace yourselves.

On the positive side of things, there is no filmmaker more visionary and innovative today than Christopher Nolan. The director who showed exactly how good comic book films can be, and how great a performance can be, really takes an intriguing concept and completely fleshes it out to the point where everyone can see it, if not understand it. (More on that later.)

But to the critics who are bashing Inception as being "not a masterpiece," I say: so what if it isn't? The fact is that Nolan took serious risks on this screenplay and on this movie, and I applaud him for all of them.

Inception succeeds in being both an auteur's film and a big summer blockbuster, something that hasn't been done since, oh, gee, I don't know... The Dark Knight? I really don't know of any filmmaker who can do exactly what he wants to do, make his film as smart as he wants his audience to be, and have the people of America and all around the world come in droves to see it.

I won't bore/spoil you with plot synopsis. It's not required for this piece anyway.

Leonardo DiCaprio is aggressively passionate and wonderful in his role as antihero Dom Cobb, a Danny Ocean for the smarter set. While Ocean's Eleven and its poorly planned offspring were always, to me, a bit hindered by the smugness of the cast, this group has a seriousness of purpose with moments of humor. No one character is more serious than Cobb, however, and no one actor is more committed than DiCaprio.

The other actors range from fine to fantastic in their roles. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page, both more commonly associated with their humorous, quirky roles (from the films (500) Days of Summer and Juno, respectively), are both perfectly understated here, but don't get a lot of room for grandstanding. Tom Hardy as a shapeshifter is humorous and a good foil for Gordon-Levitt's ultraserious character. Michael Caine cameos as a father-in-law type as only Michael Caine can. Marion Cotillard (who beat Page in the 2007 Best Actress Oscar race for her role in La Vie En Rose) is mysterious and antagonistic in her role as Mal, Cobb's wife. And Cillian Murphy, obviously a Nolan favorite (remember him as the Scarecrow from Batman Begins?), is a centerpiece of the plot and plays his role with aplomb.

So if the acting is solid, the writing is good, and the direction is amazing, what could be bad about this movie? Well, in truth, nothing is BAD, just...unfinished. All of the characters except Cobb are paper-thin and without any real development. The plot is sometimes rushed, and the reasoning behind the big heist at the center of the film is murky, to say the least. And the climax is far too long. I feel like there was climactic music going on for at least half an hour.

These things will not bother you as you watch Inception, as they should not. Nolan has crafted the perfect popcorn movie with a brain. You'll be confused, you'll be intrigued, and you'll want to watch again. But you won't be disappointed. Inception is grade-A filmmaking, and, along with Toy Story 3 and The Kids Are All Right, surely one of our Oscar nominees for Best Picture come January.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Isaac and Ishmael

Sorry for the lack of posting as of late. Blame 40 hours a week of work.

I just finished watching the de factor Season 3 opener of The West Wing, "Isaac and Ishmael". It isn't the greatest episode ever, and it is definitely preachy, but it also has a really important message about this war we're in against terrorism that when the episode first aired had just started.

The entire episode makes a lot of great points, but perhaps the greatest is made by First Lady Abbey Bartlet. One of the students the White House staffers are with during a security breach asks how Islamic extremism and the resulting terrorism started. This was her answer.

"Sarah... God said to Abraham, "Look toward the heaven and number the stars and so shall your descendants be." But Abraham's wife, Sarah, wasn't getting any younger, and God wasn't coming through on His promise... Sarah was getting older, and she was getting nervous because she didn't have any children. So she sent Abraham to the bed of her maid, Hagar, and Abraham and Hagar had Ishmael. And not long after they did, God kept His promise to Sarah, as He'd always intended to, and Abraham and Sarah had Isaac. And Sarah said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of the slave woman will not be heir with my son Isaac." And so it began: the Jews, the sons of Isaac. The Arabs, the sons of Ishmael. But what most people find important to remember is that, in the end, the two sons came together to bury their father."

I'll keep this brief, because to me, that particular piece of prose speaks for itself. But whenever anyone thinks the problems in the Middle East can be solved with just a war or a bomb, remember exactly how far back this entire conflict extends.