Wimbledon (***)

Posted on September 6th, 2004 in Movie Reviews by mynagirl

I had pretty much written this movie off my possibility radar — I really like Paul Bettany (those of you who don’t recognize him might remember him from A Beautiful Mind or Master and Commander, playing second violin in both to Russell Crowe) but I can be hot and cold on Kirsten Dunst. Normally she’s okay, but the ads for this movie looked a little too sappy chick-flick, and it looked like her character was just a little too simpering for me.

However, in looking for a good post-dinner-and-coffee film with a girlfriend the other night (we even went jewelry shopping, so I guess we were looking for a chick flick), Wimbledon lined up correctly in the genre/theatre/timing category and there we were. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised! I was expecting at best a guilty pleasure and at worst a cringe-worthy moosh-fest with all the worst that Hollywood can serve up (so to speak) in a romantic comedy. Although I guess maybe it isn’t “Hollywood” crafting this movie, since it came from the team that put together Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, both clever and decidedly British comedies. I should’ve had more faith in that pedigree!

First of all, Wimbledon was much more of a Tennis Movie than I was expecting. Bettany’s character is Peter Colt, whom the announcers (great cameos by John McEnroe and Chris Evert Lloyd, by the way) constantly refer to as a ‘journeyman tennis player’: a relatively unknown Brit who’s been to Wimbledon 13 times, currently ranked 127th at 31 years of age, although in his younger days he was once ranked as high as 11th. He’s decided this is his last hurrah at tennis; he’s old (for a tennis player) and ready to retire to reluctantly become pro of a local club where he can be ogled by the rich old ladies in their tennis whites. His status in the tennis world is so marginalized that even his announcement of retirement is lost as the reporters turn to interview another younger, hotter player who enters the room during the press conference.

To make this in part a Tennis Movie, the filmmakers actually make excellent use of something I normally dislike — the athlete-psyching-himself-up-while-performing voice-over. Because they introduce it right from the beginning and it’s used consistently throughout, it actually adds to the movie rather than being a pesky fly buzzing at me during an otherwise enjoyable scene. And it makes the movie very much about the character of Colt and his tennis odyssey.

Well, not entirely. Enter Lizzy Bradbury, the young (but hopefully not too young, since Bettany’s character is 31) hot American tennis star. A mixup in hotel keys upon arrival at the Wimbledon’s primary hotel leads to Peter seeing Lizzy in her shower, and she seeks him out for flirting on the practice courts and private dates in her hotel suite after that. Cue standard pleas to keep their dates

Shaun of the Dead (***)

Posted on September 2nd, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Shaun and Ed are flatmates in London. They have been best friends since primary school. Shaun has a brain-numbing job as a salesman in an electronics store, and Ed pretty much just sits around the house playing video games and not taking phone messages. They have a third flatmate, Peter, who is an officious prig who harangues Shaun about the fact that his friendship with Ed is holding him back in the world.

Shaun and Ed spend most evenings down at the Winchester pub, which is a sort of long-standing, dingy neighborhood watering hole. Shaun drags his upwardly mobile girlfriend there each evening, too, much to her dismay. Shaun and Ed spend each day in a semi-drunken, stuporous torpor, going about their soul-sapping, lower-middle-class lives as numbly as possible.

However, one effect of their self-induced sensory deprivation is that they fail to notice that their neighborhood (and all of London, based on the snippets of news shows we see as they channel-surf past them without absorbing content) is slowly transforming from one filled with zombie-like worker bees to one filled with zombies. The zombies move slowly, and so don’t really catch their attention, such as during Shaun’s daily walk down to the local convenience store for beverages. During his first trip we see his route, and the people along it, all going about their dull, pointless lives in a trancelike haze. During subsequent trips, the camera clearly shows that more and more of his neighbors have stopped being zombie-like and started being zombies, but Shaun is too self-medicated, self-absorbed, and closed off from reality to take any notice.

That sets the stage for Shaun of the Dead, which is being (accurately) characterized as a zom/rom/com (zombie romantic comedy). Shaun and Ed end up leading a plucky band of survivors against the ever-growing zombie population, and as with all zombie flicks, some survive and some die. But, unlike most its zombie-film predecessors, Shaun of the Dead is first and foremost a comedy, and a very funny one at that.

To set expectations, this isn’t an Airplane-like spoof, but a comedy that happens to be set in London during an outbreak of zombie-ism. As played by Simon Pegg, Shaun is a loveable loser with surprising resourcefulness when the chips are down. Ed, played by Nick Frost, sails serenely through their fight for survival with equanimity, courage, and a bit of wind. The rest of the cast plays their parts well, with most of the characters balanced on the precipice of caricature, but just real enough to keep the movie enjoyable.

The movie is laugh-out-loud funny, and the zombie portions are sufficiently scary and gory, although this is not a gore-fest. It is a zom/rom/com, and doles out all three with equal measures of screen time and skill. Well worth the price of admission.

How Now Mad Cow?

Posted on September 2nd, 2004 in Health and Fitness by EngineerBoy

I can’t quite figure out why there’s not more chatter and hubbub surrounding mad cow disease. I have theories, such as the fact that if the facts were made clear to everyone there might be massive public panic (plus the possible collapse of the commercial beef industry). For all intents and purposes, mad cow disease looks like it will be the AIDS of this century. We appear to be on the precipice of an epidemic, but nobody is talking about it.

What Is It?

Cows get something called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which is known informally as Mad Cow Disease. Diseased cattle can transmit the affliction to humans, where it manifests itself as something called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). In both cases, what happens is that malevolent particles, called prions, drill through the actual tissue of the brain, consuming grey matter and slowly eroding the function of the brain until the infected person (or cow) becomes a slobbering, staggering idiot with no memories, no higher brain functions, no voluntary (or involuntary, eventually) muscle control, no self-awareness, no nothing. In 100% of the cases the person finally becomes bedridden and then dies. Slowly. Painfully.

CJD cannot be positively diagnosed in a living person. The only way to make a diagnosis is by examining the brain of someone who has died. The brain will be riddled with holes, hence the term “spongiform”. Once you catch it, you are dead. Period.

How Do You Get It?

Humans contract CJD by eating the nerve tissue or marrow of infected cows. The disease is transmitted by particles called prions, which are an abnormal form of normal protein. Prions have the wonderful characteristic of not being alive, which means that they cannot be killed by any reasonable means, and so retain their full infectious power even in fully cooked or cured beef. I’ll repeat, you cannot cook beef to make it safe from mad cow disease. Any time you eat ground beef from the grocery store, fast food joint, or restaurant, you are playing Russian Roulette. There are no tests to determine that beef is safe before it is sold. There is no way to treat or prepare the beef to make it safe if it contains any infected nerve tissue.

Who Has It?

But who has this disease? Well, that’s almost impossible to tell, as it appears to have a long incubation period, measured in years, even decades. That means that there could be dozens, or hundreds, or thousands, or millions of infected people in the world today displaying no symptoms, unable to be diagnosed, and unable to be cured.

Why Should I Be Worried?

First of all, if you are a vegetarian, you probably have nothing to worry about (for the most part, more below the Conjectures section). Also, if you never eat ground beef from the grocery store, fast food place, or restaurant, then you’re probably okay (see Conjectures). However,

Best Moments from the 56th Emmy Broadcast, September 2004

Posted on September 2nd, 2004 in Television by mynagirl

This year’s Emmy awards offered a reality-show theme while skewering the format, with the wry smile and funny jokes that only Garry Shandling can deliver. It was such a joy to have him back in the driver’s seat, I really couldn’t wait for the show to be on, and I wasn’t disappointed. This year’s telecast offered some truly hilarious moments.

Great acceptance speeches:

Michael Imperioli accepting his supporting dramatic actor for The Sopranos: touching, thoughtful, and brief. Others could learn from him.
Drea de Matteo, too flustered to remember who to thank, just said she’d get off the stage before she started to “cry, choke, or puke”.
Kelsey Grammer’s speech, paying respects to John Ritter while also graciously signing off after 20 years of playing Frasier Crane.
Meryl Streep, accepting for Angels in America. She epitomizes the first lady of american acting, showing off the cuff humor and wit. “There are some days when even I think I’m overrated… but not todayyyy!”

Moments of weirdness:

Chris Noth’s strange marriage proposal to Sarah Jessica Parker. Was that scripted? If so, it was reeeaally lame.
Allison Janney convincing Mariska Hargitay to come up onstage with her during the Best Actress in a Drama acceptance speech.
Elaine Stritch’s acceptance speech… what a riot!! She might be my new favorite… whatever the hell she is!!

Moments of hilarity and great quotes:

All of Garry Shandling’s opening monologue.
The director of the Oscars accepting his Emmy while directing the Emmy broadcast from the control booth, including cutting to his parents sitting in the audience – completely adorable.
“I’d like to sing this now, if I may”. Mitchell Hurwitz, finishing off the tail end of his acceptance speech as the get-him-off-the-stage music begins to play.
“Alright, I have no jokes on Iraq cause I thought we’d be done by now.” –Shandling
“Don’t you know God? Couldn’t we have gotten a better joke than that?” Zach Braff to Amber Tamblyn after their scripted joke fell rather flat.
“Drea, killing you was the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do.. .and this is coming from someone who wrote on ‘The New Adventures of Flipper’”. –Terence Winter, winning for best writing on The Sopranos.
Conan O’Brien: “Joan Rivers couldn’t be here, she’s out protesting High Definition TV”.
And the all time best Emmy Moment: the spoof commercial for reality TV series “What’s In Front of Garry’s Door?” with David Duchovny reprising his role from the Larry Sanders show playing David Duchovny as a smitten paramour complete with a spanking ping-pong paddle. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to quit breathing. Brilliant. Freaking brilliant.

Mynagirl’s Fashion Report on the 56th Emmy Awards, September 2004

Posted on September 2nd, 2004 in Fashion by mynagirl

In general, there were no really horrific messes this year and not too many standouts. Mariska Hargitay wins top honors for best dressed at the Emmys in a gorgeous, gorgeous, absolutely classic outfit – a beautiful apple green Vera Wang column dress-and-a-train complete with a tropical flower in the hair. She just glowed and looked every inch the classic Hollywood goddess. (I guess being a newlywed helped, she was just smiling the whole time as well).

For the most part I liked:

Heather Locklear’s wine-colored goddess dress
Portia Di Rossi’s classic Givenchy with great Diane Von Furstenburg jewelry.
Marlo Thomas’s classy white column as she accepted her father’s Bob Hope Humanitarian Award.
Drea de Matteo’s beautiful and slightly renaissance-looking black and gold frock.
Kim Catrall in a simple but fun pink Pamela Rowland – her overall look was just so simple and effortless.
Jennifer Anniston’s gorgeous white tube dress from Chanel with a very Indian gold design.
Cheryl Hines in an absolutely gorgeous Norma Linay teal beaded chiffon halter.

I found very blah:

Laura Linney’s black knee-length Prada frock.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s unspectacular yet somehow fussy black ankle length Chanel couture.
Amber Tamblyn’s too-old-for-her garnet-colored fishtail gown.
I almost-liked Debra Messing’s beautifully cut and colored beaded gown, but it was a bit too short for her (and quite see through on the backlit Red Carpet).

I thought the following were horrible!! I officially want to outlaw keyhole gowns.

Cynthia Nixon’s unflattering brown jersey sheath with a ropes-of-turquoise necklace. Even Engineerboy noticed it was less than Emmy-worthy: “What’s with that turquoise?? Did she hold up Phoenix at gunpoint??”
Mary Louise Parker’s “Hooray for Boobies” brown keyhole dress.
Edie Falco’s unflattering black Randolph Duke tulle over beige going in several directions at once.
Melina Kanakaredes’ red silk keyhole gown – not even bias cut!
Patricia Heaton’s wacky multi-colored Elie Saab… the drape and cut were nice and fairly flattering on Patricia’s body, but the colors were just a little too out-there for me.
Jane Kaczmarek’s custom made weird Randy Rohm (sp?) dress … she really does make some strange choices. It had some weird embroidery and beading. If she had this custom made, that makes it even stranger for me.

Miss America 2005 (*)

Posted on September 1st, 2004 in Television by mynagirl

So, I have to admit, I always watch Miss America if I track that it’s on. It’s a spectacle of pure schmaltzy Americana that is truly impossible for me to pass up. The combination of fashion (or what passes for it on the pageant circuit), the opportunity for me to make bitchy comments (see previous parenthetical note), and how American women wrestle with their femininity in a decidedly unfeminist contest is like catnip to a girly girl and holder of a sociology degree. This year I had no clue it was on but was just closing the browser window for TV Guide when I saw Miss America pageant in the listings and got it queued up on TiVo just in time.

Of course, this is one of the new and weird Miss America pageants that they have now, where they rejigger the format every year to desperately try and please the audience that’s disappearing or doesn’t even bother to show up in the first place. But if this is a modernized Miss America, it’s just horrible. The music and lighting when they announce the ‘winnowing down’ rounds on the ABC telecast is straight from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The bikini competition (c’mon, none of the all-too-toned girls are gonna hurt their chances and wear a one piece) is sponsored by Speedo — the host mentioned Speedo’s name twice and the bikinis have a Speedo logo on the back of the suit (it’s a small logo, but it’s there).

New to the competition this year (or at least I don’t remember it, and boy do I think I would remember something this awful) was an awkward strutting casual wear competition. The girls start by being lined up and vogueing behind white screens — honest to god, they vogued behind backlit screens — it was so strange and embarassing. Then, one by one as their names were called, each made another quick vogue-y pose and came out on the runway for about 20 seconds like some kind of America’s Next Top Wal-Mart Model. I guess the girls were told to “act more natural” or “be themselves” or something, because they each girl did weird non-pageant-y things like shimmy her boobs or flip her hair with her hand while kicking up a heel to one knee. I mean, no one quite did the Elaine Benes thumbs-and heels-out dancing, but it some of it was really painfully non-choreographed and weird. Accompanying this strange parade were contestant voice-overs telling cute stories about bowling with nephews or how her mom gives her cookbooks as a good luck gift before each pageant.

The swimsuit competition sinks to a new low. Aside from the Speedo (TM) sponsored all-bikini factor (although I think Miss Arkansas would’ve worn a g-string if they would’ve let her), the actual live competition was preceded by five minutes of a pre-show swimsuit “shoot” footage. The girls were poolside, surrounded by candles

Mr. 3000 (***)

Posted on September 1st, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

So, I’m learning that Bernie Mac is an actual actor, in addition to being a comedic performer. We’ve watched The Bernie Mac show sporadically, and I’ve always enjoyed his performances, although I’m hot-and-cold on the show in general. He was engaging as the new Bosley in the second Charlie’s Angels movie, and in Ocean’s Eleven. I like that he seems to have doggedly kept doing his thing and waiting for the world to figure out he was talented instead of trying to remake himself or package an image that follows the trends of the day. I find his humor to be very funny and very real, and obviously derived from real life, which is where all of the truly funny material comes from.

And in Mr. 3000 he shows that he is not just a performer and a funny guy, but also an actual actor and a Hollywood star with the chops to carry a major motion picture as the lead (which he does so easily that I kept forgetting that he’d never done it before). The movie itself flirts with being a great, timeless comedy, but it’s been dumbed down just enough to make it semi-forgettable. This film could have joined films like Big and Groundhog Day in the pantheon of seriously deep comedies, but it doesn’t quite make it out of the park. It’s a long fly ball, though, and the fielder has to jump up and snag it off the wall to keep it from being a round-tripper. That fielder is the script, which has some trite, Hollywood-y parts that tarnish the potential greatness of this film.

Speaking of tarnished greatness, that about sums up Bernie Mac’s character in this film. He plays a former major league baseball player who was a big hitter, who when he gets his 3,000th hit immediately retires from baseball, leaving his club (which is involved in a tight pennant race) in the lurch. You see, he only wanted to get to 3,000 hits because he felt that would insure his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame, even though he was an unrelenting jerk to everyone (teammates, media, coaches, girlfriends, etc) all throughout his professional career.

However, after he’s been retired for 8 years he’s still not in the Hall, but it looks like this will be his year. It looks like he has the votes, finally, to achieve his dream. Unfortunately, on the eve of the final tallying, the record keepers at the Hall discover that a clerical error has accidentally given him three more hits than he actually had, meaning that he’s really just Mr. 2997. That doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, nor does it match the names of all of his post-baseball businesses, which all have “3,000″ in their name to capitalize on his fame. Suffice to say that he doesn’t make the Hall (by a landslide).

He decides that what he needs to do

The Manchurian Candidate (2004) (***)

Posted on September 1st, 2004 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

I used to like Denzel Washington a lot as an actor. But then he slipped into a fairly repetitive rut of playing himself in every role, and I lost interest. I didn’t see Training Day, but I heard he gave an interesting, non-Denzel-like performance. That piqued my interest in his movies again, to a certain degree. But then I heard that he was starring in a remake of The Manchurian Candidate. Now, I loved the 1964 original, and thought it was way, way ahead of its time. It was also one of those movies that (I thought) never should or would be remade, because what would the point be? How could one surpass the shocking bizarre-ness mixed with reality that caused the first one to perfectly capture Cold War paranoia? When I heard about the remake, I knew two things: first, that I would never see it, and second, that it could never measure up to the first.

Well, I was half-right. It certainly doesn’t live up to the gestalt of the first, because there’s just no way they could surpass the surprise of the movie and storyline springing into existence. But, after hearing endlessly positive buzz and reviews, I did go see it. And, I have to say, it doesn’t suck, and it is not the abomination that I was sure it would be.

The story has been updated, with the backstory occurring during the first Gulf War, and the primary story being told pretty much in the present day. The basic storyline is that during the Gulf War, a patrol of soldiers goes missing, and then turns up several days later with an amazing story about how one of them heroically and single-handedly saved them all during an attempted ambush. The “hero”, played by Liev Schreiber, is the well-born son of a powerful US Senator, played by Meryl Streep. Although he was born to the manor, he eschewed his rightful place as a moneyed magnate and volunteered for the Army just in time to ship out for the first Gulf War.

Upon his return he is nominated for, and receives, the Congressional Medal of Honor by his platoon commander (Denzel Washington). He then quickly moves up the political ladder (thanks to the maniacally Machiavillian machinations of his manipulative mother) to join his Party’s ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate.

However, all is not as it seems. After a speaking engagement, Denzel’s character is confronted by one of his former squad members, who rambles on about strange dreams of their lost days that don’t match his memory of what happened. It turns out that Denzel has been having the same dreams, and decides to approach his old (and newly politically powerful) friend (Schreiber’s character) to see if he’s been having the dreams or if he can use his political clout to try and figure out what really happened to them during their lost days.

Suffice it