Monday, July 25, 2011

Twitter favorite

There are very few tweeters with the skill of being consistently funny in 140 characters or less. I should say deliberately funny since some Twitter users, especially pro athletes, manage to be unintentionally funny on a regular basis.

Perhaps my favorite funny Twitter feeds belong to Mindy Kaling, Jonah Hill and the like. They're professional comedians, so I guess that's about what you'd expect.

But I've been stunned to find out over the last few months that my friend Ashley (www.twitter.com/ashleydevin) has a feed that measures up favorably to the pros.

For example:

AshleyDevin Ashley Chilton
I had a dream that I was pregnant and that one of my students was carried away by a buzzard. Both are equally possible.

AshleyDevin Ashley Chilton
Nothing like getting a band aid wrapper in the trash can on the first try to make you feel like you'll be okay in life.

AshleyDevin Ashley Chilton
It would be really weird if my hidden talent was that I was just really amazing at drawing the sultan from Aladdin.

It's been especially refreshing for me to have Ashley become funny again since for a several months she was dating this guy and her tweets became markedly less hysterical.

She keeps her Twitter private, but tell her Nate sent you and I'm sure she'll grant you a follow.

From the Netflix Queue: Cedar Rapids, The Adjustment Bureau, Enemy at the Gates, The Lincoln Lawyer

Cedar Rapids
For the latest humorous take on how jacked up suburban life can be, check out the consistently funny, but weirdly dark, Cedar Rapids. Ed Helms was already carving out a nice career as a middle-class funny man before his starring role as an insurance salesman who's never left his small Wisconsin hometown. Between the Office and the Hangover franchise, Helms has proven he can play "that guy" we all know from our jobs, our our friend group or what have you. Coming from a small midwestern town myself, Cedar Rapids was easy to identify with. It manages to make fun of and pay tribute to small town American life and be consistently hilarious throughout (thanks in no small part to John C. Reilly). The mere act of leaving his hometown for booming Cedar Rapids was terrifying enough for Helms' character. So you can imagine how things have spun out of control when he winds up smoking crack and partying with a prostitute. This was a well-made movie that managed to pull off satire and real-life equally well.
Four stars

The Adjustment Bureau
Another chapter in the long-line of Matrix-y movies. Instead of a super computer running the universe, the Adjustment Bureau's reality is run by spiritual superpower referred to as the chairman. Modern day angels clad in trench coats and fedoras affect our destiny with modest acts of intervention like making sure Matt Damon's character misses the bus or spills coffee on himself so as to ensure the chairman's plan stays on course. It's really a convoluted way of weighing the centuries-old debate about free will and destiny. The plot was a little choppy, but the movie was fun throughout.
Three stars

Enemy at the Gates
Rotten Tomatoes may not be the end-all-be-all of a film's worth, but it's a useful tool to gauge critical acclaim and audience popularity. Usually believe it or not, moviegoers and critics tend to agree on films. Toy Story 3 was awesome. Battle Los Angeles was not. The Human Centipede was something else altogether. Anyhow, I was surprised to see such a huge discrepancy between what audiences and critics thought of Enemy at the Gates. It seems audiences liked the movie (RT score of 86) while critics disliked it (59). The film is flawed in its depiction of Russian military history, apparently, and it over-simplifies and even glorifies war. Those black marks may be well-earned, but Enemy at the Gates has something that viewers, like me, found appealing. It is suspenseful and fun to watch with great acting by dueling snipers Jude Law and Ed Harris. If it got some historical facts wrong, American audiences are likely to forgive Enemy at the Gates since Russian military is not something most of us know anything about. I'll agree a war movie can be better done than this, Saving Private Ryan and the Hurt Locker are good examples. But if you want to sit on the edge of your seat while watching two snipers fight to the bitter end, then this is one worth seeing.
Four stars.

The Lincoln Lawyer
Matthew McConaughey is not for everybody, and apparently he is not for me, since I find his acting predictable and grating. The Lincoln Lawyer is basically a comic book movie about a swashbuckling macho guy played by hilarious bravado by McConaughey. It's sort of a courtroom drama, but it could have been a Western or a cop flick or a sports movie. The real point is to ogle McConaughey, but if that's not something you're into than this one can fall flat at times.
Two stars.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

From the Queue: Country Strong, Barney's Version, Of Gods and Men

Country Strong
Gwyneth Paltrow spent much of her time during the filming of Country Strong gushing about how much she loved Nashville, its food, music, shopping and people. Even though she talked about the 600,000 person state capitol as if it was a tiny, undiscovered hamlet at times, I was intrigued by the film because of her affinity for the place I call home. I was disappointed, therefore, to find that the Nashville scenes are all too few. Yes, there are some obligatory shots of the honky tonk district on lower Broadway, but overall the film fails to capture the flavor of Music City the way Paltrow's blog posts indicated it would.
If I was disappointed by Country Strong's depiction of Nashville, I was even more disappointed by its dull, unrealistic plot, lifeless acting and bland musical sequences. I found it wholly unrealistic that a guy would go from playing on lower Broadway to opening for a national headlining act (Paltrow's character) before he ever had a recording contract, or had ever recorded a record of any sort apparently. Virtually every character is a caricature of one-dimensional stereotype. The alcoholic former star. The musical purist good ol' American boy. The girl-next-door beauty queen.
Perhaps the most unrealistic component of Country Strong was Tim McGraw's bizarre hair piece. If the actor playing the character is good looking enough to be a real-life country music star, then why, in God's name, would a director feel the need to change the way he looks? This is one of the worst toupees in cinematic history.
This film is bad in every way a film can be so. If you want to see a good film about the country music industry, I suggest Crazy Heart, featuring Jeff Bridges awesome performance from a year ago. If you've already seen Crazy Heart, watch it again and it will be more satisfying than Country Strong.
If you've already seen Crazy Heart so many times you don't want to watch it again, invite over some of your best friends, set up a flip cam, and record yourselves acting out the scenes from crazy Heart, and you'll still have a better film than Country Strong.
They say country music is heading in the wrong direction because it's been so glammed up, glossed over and dumbed down. Country Strong is sad proof that films about the industry are also heading in the same direction.
One star

Barney's Version
Alzheimer's disease is unquestionably the most depressing topic possible for a film, so give Barney's Version credit for taking such slit-your-wrists subject matter and making it intriguing, suspenseful and pretty damn funny.
Watching Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman play their son and father characters together was a joy in and of itself.
Barney's Version has so many layers. Relationship drama. A did-he-do-it murder plot. And it's pulled all along by one man, Barney, slipping sadly into the clutches of Alzheimer's. The acting is so good that you almost don't notice when the plot becomes mildly convoluted. The film is so unique, as most Giamatti films are, that it's strikes me as something viewers will be hard pressed to forget.
Four stars

Of Gods and Men
Why would nine Catholic monks entrench themselves in a war zone between Muslim extremists and a corrupt, incompetent government when they must surely know (as the viewer does when they watch Of Gods and Men) that they will die in the end?
Of Gods and Men is compelling because it gradually offers a sophisticated answer for why the nine monks stayed in the Algerian mountains to face their own demise instead of running for cover and fleeing the country. You see the men and their very human reaction to likely death, as they doubt their choice to stay and their faith in God. I came away impressed by their faith and moved by their conviction and devotion to the people they felt called by God to serve. This French film based on a true story is a must-see. It doesn't ruin the experience to know, as a Google search will tell you, that the monks are massacred in the end. The point of the movie is to find out why they bravely stayed in harm's way when simple logic and human instinct surely told them to leave.
Five stars.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

No. 24 Palisade

Palisade is the most out-of-place band on my list, because instead of indie or alternative rock, the group was a contemporary Christian vocal pop group.

To put it plainly, there's a lot about Palisade's music that frankly isn't my bag of tea. But I couldn't list my favorite all-time groups without including them since Palisade was founded by some of my best friends.

Traveling with the group to tiny churches across the country to watch them play their music and meet some amazing people remains one of the highlights of my time in Nashville.

It was nothing short of amazing to watch Jeremy, Brandon and Ashley come to Nashville with all the expected naivete of three pastor's children and within one short year sign a record deal. Things didn't work out fully the way they planned, but it was still a cool sight to see their CD in the music section at the Target in my hometown of Valpo.

As I said, their actual songs fell outside of my musical wheelhouse, but Palisade did have one musical trick up its sleeve that would give me goosebumps without fail. Their renditions of traditional hymns such as It is Well with My Soul and Old Rugged Cross were truly something to see for yourself. I saw Palisade bring entire church congregations to their feet with the final soaring chorus of It is Well.

Unfortunately, I don't have any recordings of those performances to post, but I certainly will if I figure out how to post an MP3 from my iTunes. In the meantime, the contemporary Christian music fans among you can check out their MySpace (MYSPACE!) page.