Friday, August 27, 2010

Ratings without Reviews

Unfortunately, I haven't had time this week to finish anything for today's review. But I promised you a new post each day this week, so here are ratings for some movies/books I’ve read this summer that weren’t on the Daily Show.

Toy Story 3: 5/5
Despicable Me: 3/5
Dinner for Schmucks: 4/5 (P.S. How was this not on the Daily Show? He always has Steve Carell and Paul Rudd on.)
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: 5/5 (Please, go see this movie. It’s different and fun, and it’s not doing too well. You’ll enjoy it)

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen: 3/5
Fool by Christopher Moore: 2/5
Things My Girlfriend and I have Argued About by Mil Millington: 3/5
Diary by Chuck Palahniuk: 4/5
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: 5/5
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: 5/5
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: 4/5

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Losers

I will admit from the outset that The Losers is definitely not my type of movie. That being said, I didn’t hate it. But I didn’t like it either.

Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the leader of a Special Forces unit made up of himself, Jensen (Chris Evans), Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada). While on a mission, the five find themselves framed for a crime by a man they know only as Max. They are presumed dead and are hiding out in Bolivia when Aisha (Zoe Saldana) appears saying she will smuggle them back into the US if they will kill Max. They agree, and the majority of the movie is spent tracking the guy down.

The Losers seems to be like any typical action movie, though this is just a guess on my part. There’s fighting and guns and a heist. To me, though, these things are boring when there’s not much of a story to go along with it. It was nice that the characters’ motives for tracking Max were explained, but I would’ve liked to have a little more substance to the story. Of course, this probably wouldn’t fit well with the movie’s genre.

The Losers is based on a Vertigo comic of the same name. I’ve never read the comic, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I still appreciated the film’s attempt to represent the comic form. It took advantage of freeze frame images during battle sequences and extreme close-ups that brought to mind comic frames.

All in all, though, I didn’t enjoy The Losers. I’m giving it a 2/5. But if you’re an action movie fan, you might enjoy it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Zoe Saldana

Buy the DVD

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right is the second of this year’s three movies dealing with sperm donations (sandwiched between The Back-Up Plan and The Switch) and is probably the best of the three, though I will admit I’m basing my opinions of the other two solely on their trailers. But even without the others to make it look good in comparison, The Kids Are All Right would be a movie worth seeing.

I saw the movie with my friends Brodie and Caroline, and afterwards, we spent time discussing it, so some of the ideas in this review originally came from them—I will do my best to give them credit. (For example, it was Brodie who pointed out the trend of sperm donor movies).

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a lesbian couple who had two kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) using the same sperm donor. At the request of her brother, Joni tracks down the donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), and the movie depicts his entrance into the family’s lives. Paul’s presence causes tension both between Joni and her mothers and within Nic and Jules’s own relationship.

The acting in The Kids Are All Right is spot-on. Bening and Moore do an excellent job making their characters’ relationship believable and natural. As Caroline pointed out, they manage to get the audience caring about the couple quickly, so that when things start to become strained, we care. Ruffalo plays Paul with such charm, winning the audience over the same way Paul wins over the kids. I will not make a pun about Wasikowska’s and Hutcherson’s performances. Instead, I will tell you that they were fine.

One of the things I love about watching less mainstream movies like The Kids Are All Right is that I never know where they’re headed; one of the things I dislike is that they often don’t wrap up enough at the end. That was one of my few complaints with The Kids Are All Right, though I won’t tell you what I wanted to know more about because of spoilers. Due to that and the few spots where it lost my full attention, The Kids Are All Right gets a 4/5. But, as Caroline said to me yesterday, “The more I think about The Kids Are All Right, the more I like it.” Maybe if I had waited a little longer to write this review, it would have gotten a five.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Julianne Moore

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


It bothers me that the Revolutionary War doesn’t interest me; for heaven’s sake, without it, I certainly wouldn’t be here. So, when I picked up Jack Rakove’s book, Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, I was determined to put extra effort into appreciating what I read Unfortunately, this massive book wasn’t really about the Revolutionary War at all. Instead, it gave countless details about the founding fathers’ lives and the forming of America while hardly touching on the war itself. It was terribly boring.

One of the things that I struggled with most while reading Revolutionaries was that other than chronology, there was no through-line; Rakove would spend much of a chapter talking all about someone like John Dickinson and then never come back to him. I wasn’t able to connect with anyone he talked about.

Rakove won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997, which caused me to expect meaningful writing. As a whole, I was disappointed, but in two brief sections, Rakove drew me in. The first was a discussion about Americans’ difficulty reconciling the good things Thomas Jefferson did with the fact that he owned slaves (and the terrible way he treated them); the other was on the 3/5s compromise.

Those two moments, and the fact that a Revolutionary War buff would probably like the book, cause me to give Revolutionaries a 2/5. But, read at your own risk. I am not a fan.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Jack Rakove

Buy the book.

It's DEAR Day. So Drop Everything and Read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Remember Me

Back in March, when previews for Remember Me were on TV all the time, I commented that I couldn’t figure out what the movie was about, but I knew it was something I wouldn’t want to see. And then Robert Pattinson went on the Daily Show. So on Friday, I spent two hours watching the movie, and, even after finishing, I couldn’t really tell you what it’s about.

Here’s my best shot. Tyler (Pattinson) is a depressed young adult dealing with his brother’s suicide, his rocky relationship with his father (Pearce Brosnan), and general malaise. After Tyler gets in a fight with a cop, his roommate Aidan (Tate Ellington) dares him to ask out the cop’s daughter, Ally (Emilie de Ravin). Tyler does, and the two begin a relationship.

The thing is, throughout the entire movie, I was trying to figure out what story they were trying to tell. The sappy piano heavy score and Pattinson’s brooding made it clear they were going for a Notebookesque vibe, but there was no real plot. In the last 15 minutes of the movie an attempt was made to justify why these people’s lives were important, but it didn’t succeed. The twist seemed gimmicky and was a cheap way to get people emotions.

Even taking account that they were not given much to work with, the actors certainly did not impress me. It was abundantly clear that the actors with the three largest parts (Pattinson, Brosnan, and de Ravin) were all foreigners putting on American accents. Patinson’s was good and Brosnan had only a few slip-ups, but de Ravin’s was just horrible to the level of distraction.

As you may expect, Remember Me gets a 1/5. Though making fun of it is enjoyable, it’s not enough to make it worth watching.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Robert Pattinson

Buy the DVD

Tune into the Daily Shill every weekday this week for a new review. Still to come, my thoughts on Revolutionaries, The Kids Are All Right, Losers, and (probably) The Big Short.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Other Guys

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t think I was going to like The Other Guys. As much as I love Will Ferrell, the previews made it look stupid, and not in a good way. I was pleasantly surprised last week, then, when my family saw The Other Guys and realized it was quite funny.

The premise: Partners Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) are detectives with the NYPD who, rather than going out and getting bad guys, are stuck in the office doing paperwork. Gamble loves this lifestyle; Hoitz hates it. He also hates Gamble. But after the deaths of the department’s star crime-fighters (the perfectly-cast Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson), Hoitz sees an opening and manages to get Gamble to join him in investigating a jewelry heist. Of course, everything is not what it seems, and the two become wrapped up in a corporate fraud case.

Ferrell, as to be expected, is a delight – practically everything out of the man’s mouth makes me laugh. And Wahlberg stood his own, not only as a straight-man, but also making jokes of his own.

One of the things I appreciated most about The Other Guys was that its jokes were not directed to a particular demographic: there were broad laugh-lines, silliness, and smart jokes. The lines that made my family laugh were different than the ones that made the people behind us laugh, but we all found the movie funny.

Though The Other Guys is clearly meant to be a comedy about action movies, rather than an action movie itself, it doesn’t let that stop it from having plenty of car chases, fights, and explosions. The movie lost me a bit in those sections – I would choose comedy over action in a heartbeat – but I can see why others would enjoy it.

Though I would never describe The Other Guys as a political movie, it does comment on the irresponsibility of Wall Street. Within the movie are a few digs at the SEC, and over the closing credits, graphics illustrate statistics of the misuse of bailout money and the disparity between CEOs and other workers. I never would have guessed that The Other Guys would remind me so much of some of the economy-centered books that I’ve read this year.

In the end, I’m giving The Other Guys a 3/5 (though it’s on the higher end of the “3-scale”). It’s worth seeing once, but not more than that.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Will Ferrell

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Sebastian Junger, over the course of 15 months, took five trips to observe and live with a platoon fighting in Afghanistan. He made a documentary, Restrepo, based on his time there, as well as writing a book, War.

War is unexpectedly politics-free, which allows the focus to be on the soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan rather than on an argument about whether or not they should be there in the first place. By emphasizing the brotherhood among the soldiers and showing their day-to-day life (the fighting and the boredom), Junger presents a new perspective on the soldiers fighting for the US.

The book is loosely organized into three sections: “Fear,” “Killing,” and “Love.” To tell the truth, I couldn’t see how many of the related incidents fit into those categories (particularly in the “Love” section), but it didn’t complicate the reading. Despite his jumps in chronology and subject, Junger avoids choppy narration, and, somehow, the entire book seems to flow. My one complaint is that he doesn’t define many of the military terms he uses, which sometimes made it difficult for me to understand.

War is a gripping book, a quick read, and one that I definitely recommend, particularly for people like me who don’t know much about what a modern soldiers life is like. It gets a 4/5.

Watch Jon Stewart's interview with Sebastian Junger

Buy the book

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Coming Population Crash

The Coming Population Crash and our Planet’s Surprising Future looked like it was going to be a book filled with doom and gloom about how we were all going to die. That was not the case. Fred Pearce, the author, presents a warning about how our planet may not be able to continue to support us, but also shows how we could prevent this from happening.

The Coming Population Crash begins with historical information about previous fears of overpopulation and birthrates of the past. Pearce then continues to give portraits of various countries’ current fertility rates and struggles with population (whether it be too high or too small), and finishes the book with various ways our future could turn out.

What I liked best about The Coming Population Crash is that it taught me things I didn’t know, but, unlike many of the other books that presented new information, I felt like I understood what I was taught. Pearce writes in a style that can be understood by all, and he avoids “science talk” even though his subject could certainly be discussed in that vernacular. Rather than sticking solely to the big picture, Pearce makes his points by focusing on particular countries, using individual people’s stories which make the problems much more tangible.

A book simply about population sounds like it might be boring; I certainly thought it would be. But a book about population also means a book about eugenics, about birth control, about one-child policy, about feminism, about poverty, about environmentalism, about immigration. And those things are all interesting.

I liked The Coming Population Crash a lot. It not only made me think, but it also made me want to keep reading. I was planning on rating it 4/5, but then I asked myself, “What kept it from getting a five?” and I had no answer. So, 5/5 it is. I recommend it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Fred Pearce (It's a good one!)

Buy the book

Monday, August 9, 2010

Repo Men

Typically, I try to avoid reading reviews of the movies that I know I’m going to see for the Daily Shill; I don’t want to go into the movies with my expectations skewed by another’s opinion. But when my dad set aside the Detroit Free Press’s review of Repo Men for me with a post-it sarcastically reading, “Looks like your kind of movie,” I had to read the review. It wasn’t a flattering one, and its headline “Gruesome Slice of Life” fit the film. Repo Men is disgustingly violent, and though its premise had some potential, it was poorly executed.

In the future world portrayed in Repo Men, scientists have discovered how to create artificial organs so that those who need replacements do not need to wait for a donor. However, these organs are incredibly expensive, and most who need them are forced to participate in installment payment plans with high interest rates. If these people are unable to keep up with their payments, the company who sold the organs returns to repossess them. This is where Remy (Jude Law) the protagonist comes in. Originally working as one of these repo men, Remy is forced to accept a synthetic heart when some of his repo equipment backfires. He is unable to keep up with his payments, and soon finds himself hiding from the repo men. He flees with Beth (Alice Braga) a woman who herself has several organs up for repossession.

Though the violent story was certainly not to my liking, what bothered me the most was how little I cared for the characters. Even though I’m writing this review less than 10 minutes after I watched the DVD, I had to look up all of the characters names because they didn’t stick with me. The romance between Beth and Remy seems to come out of nowhere, and it is never really clear why Remy cares so much about her.

Additionally, though Repo Men’s concept seems like one that should have a deeper message, it doesn’t succeed in conveying one more sophisticated than “the United States is capitalistic.” I wanted more.

One thing I did like about the movie, though, was its heavy use of vocal jazz standards in the soundtrack. The sharp contrast between the violent futuristic world and the familiar, romantic tunes of the past worked for me.

Repo Men wasn’t as bad as Cop Out or Tooth Fairy, so I’m going to give it a 2/5. It’s not something I’d recommend, particularly if you are at all squeamish, but there are worse things you could watch.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Jude Law

Buy the DVD

Friday, August 6, 2010

Within Our Reach

Rosalynn Carter’s latest book, Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis is an easy one to get through. It’s not long, the print is big, the spacing is wide, and it is incredibly clear. However, it also reads like a high school term paper (albeit a very well written one).

Within our Reach is separated into eight chapters, each dealing with a specific topic within the mental health field, such as the stigma associated with mental illnesses and children with mental disorders. Each chapter is further divided into multiple subsections, and it is this fragmentation, combined with the “list-several-statistics-and-then-an-example” formula, that made me think of term papers.

Carter (along with her co-authors Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade) succeeds in relating the problems associated with America’s perception and handling of those with mental illnesses. However, it does not give a good indication of what the reader can do to help solve the problem. I can see how Within Our Reach could help to change the opinion of someone prejudiced against those with mental illnesses, but it seems unlikely that those people would pick up this book.

I give Within Our Reach a 3/5. Though I would’ve liked more from the book as far as solutions go, it does an adequate job of educating its readers.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Rosalynn Carter

Buy the Book.

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been in a bit of a rut as far as the Daily Shill goes. It’s been difficult for me to focus my reading solely on the books I need to review for this blog.

I have a wonderful job working at the circulation desk at the Chelsea District Library, where I see hundreds (maybe thousands? I have a terrible concept of numbers) of books each day as they are checked out and returned. When I check in books, I am tempted to take many of them home and read them myself. Though I’ve done a decent job of resisting, it’s not a 100% success rate. And so my reviews have been coming in a little slower, but I promise to get back on track this month.