Friday, September 19, 2014

Thoughts on Qantas In-Flight Entertainment from Johannesburg to Sydney and Back Again

What would any long-haul Qantas flight be without white wine, hot chocolate and in-flight entertainment?

Maleficent
I loved the general themes of the Angelina Jolie-headlined retelling/retooling of Sleeping Beauty: Romantic love is not the only true love. Maternal love reigns supreme. Sisters are doing it for themselves. Loving well, not getting even, is the best revenge. And love, not hate, will conquer all. Plus, Jolie is almost always watchable, even when her movies aren't. But the whole thing is so cartoonish (I almost think it would have worked better as an Enchanted-style mix of live action and traditional animation), and I couldn't figure out whether the camp was intentional.

Also, it was clearly created as a 3D spectacle, so my aisle seat in coach on Qantas flight 64 probably wasn't the ideal viewing space. I could see distracting evidence of the 3D effects on the miniature screen. It was like watching a sleeping beauty who fell into her deep slumber before she had a chance to wash off her make-up.

Shameless
Having recently completed a marathon viewing of several seasons of Weeds (1 to 3 and 8), some of them nearly a decade belatedly, I'm not sure if I am up for another dysfunctional-family comedy-drama from Showtime. I wasn't bored watching the two season 4 episodes of Shameless, and I love Emmy Rossum's gritty side, but will someone please explain to me why a couple who is having trouble conceiving would even consider having the husband screw the wife's mother so that they could possibly be the proud parents of the wife's sibling?

The Immigrant
Love her and leave her has never applied more than it does to Marion Cotillard and Oscar after she won Best Actress in 2008 for La Vie en Rose. If Cotillard were Jennifer Lawrence and she gave the performance she gives in The Immigrant, she would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Speaking Polish no doubt boosted Meryl Streep's Oscar appeal in Sophie's Choice, and as far as I could tell, Cotillard pulled it off masterfully as The Immigrant's titular character caught between two cousins (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner) and, like Sophie, having to make a difficult choice. She does tortured and conflicted so effortlessly, fooling you into thinking she's not even acting. But I'm fully prepared for the Academy to overlook her yet again.

The Normal Heart
Julia Roberts made me cry. Matt Bomer broke my heart. Alfred Molina made me look forward to seeing his work as John Lithgow's lover in Love Is Strange. Jim Parsons made me wonder if he's only capable of doing variations on The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper. Taylor Kitsch made me wish he'd send me a message on Grindr, which had everything to do with how the actor looks and nothing to do with how he acted here, which, frankly, was somewhat generically. (In his defense, he was playing the dime-a-dozen closeted "straight-acting" gay hunk.) Finn Wittrock, whom I've loved since he was Tad Martin's long-lost son on All My Children, confirmed my long-held suspicion that daytime soaps were just the beginning for him.

Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo, an engaging actor of whom I'm quite fond and the human crux for which The Normal Heart beats, impressed me because he's sexy even when he isn't trying to be. For the most part, though, his performance didn't move me. His fake weeping as he watched his lover succumb to AIDS didn't help. Tears -- actual tears -- may not be enough to save starving children, but they are needed to really sell a dying-too-young scene. See Oscar nominee Bruce Davison in Longtime Companion to see how the living side should nail it.

My biggest problem with Ruffalo's Emmy-nominated performance in The Normal Heart was how mannered and self-conscious it seemed. He lacked the natural quality of other straight actors who have played gay in leading film roles in recent years (Sean Penn in Milk, Colin Firth in A Single Man), perhaps because Ruffalo's character, Ned Weeks, was pretty much a stand-in for Larry Kramer and Ruffalo played it that way. Ruffalo appeared to be trying too hard to capture Kramer specifics instead of just embodying the fighting spirit of the real-life activist and the film's screenwriter, on whose play the movie is based, and letting Ned be his own man.

I bought Ned's anger and righteous indignation, which, like villainy, are not the hardest things to sell from an acting standpoint, but because of all the anger and righteous indignation, when Ruffalo's Ned should have been making me feel, I mostly didn't. After a while, the performance became exhausting for me to watch. Ned was one of the good guys, but his compassion was too angular. (So was Julia Roberts', but it worked better for her satellite character.) His moral compass needed a little less hard edge and little more soft vulnerability in scenes where he wasn't caring for his dying lover (Bomer). During the one in which Ned slammed the milk against the wall, Ruffalo was doing all of the capital-A acting, but I couldn't take my eyes off of Bomer's quiet, helpless response.

5 Things I Realized While Watching The Other Woman
1. As a daytime soap fanatic, I love a good catfight, but there is something so engaging about women working together to vanquish a common enemy (in this case a serially cheating spouse). The First Wives Club this trio of other women were not, but then who is.

2. Cameron Diaz is a Hollywood rarity, an actress who made it largely on the strength of her physical appearance (not that she didn't eventually prove her acting chops) but seems to be allowing herself to age normally. She doesn't look freakishly twentysomething, or like she's trying to be. She looks like a fortyish woman who is still smoking hot.

3. Leslie Mann is every bit Melissa McCartney's comedic equal, and I wish she were better known as that than as Judd Apatow's wife who occasionally appears in his films. Though the spoils weren't all that great, she stole The Other Woman from a top-billed Diaz and made it mostly her movie.

4. At sixtysomething, Don Johnson is still Miami hot.

5. Why aren't more people talking about Taylor Kinney? I've caught glimpses of him in the glimpses I've seen of Chicago Fire, which I'd glimpsed mostly to catch a glimpse of Jesse Spencer. I might be tuning in for more in the future.

Surviving Jack
Admiring Christopher Meloni's physical gifts could only preoccupy me for so long before I started to realize how not funny Surviving Jack was. (No offense to Meloni, who nicely sent up his hunkdom on Veep last season.) I'd never heard of the Fox sitcom until it showed up among the in-flight entertainment options, and after the very first scene, I knew it couldn't possibly still be around. (Indeed, Fox axed it on my birthday this year after only a few episodes had aired.) Memo to future comedy writers who want to create something about the spiteful side of parenthood: Do it with a little bit of love. (See Damon Wayans comically toeing the line between parental affection and contempt in My Wife and Kids.) Being nasty is not inherently being funny.

The Millers
I love the cast, but during the four back-to-back episodes I watched, I couldn't stop wishing they were on a better show. If I ever sit through it again, it'll definitely be for Margo Martindale, who basically does here what she did last year in August: Osage County only more broadly. I'd gladly watch her watching paint dry because she'd no doubt find a way to crack me up while doing it.
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