Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And the winner for best Slumdog Millionaire goes to Slumdog Millionaire

You know, it's funny. I love movies, I could say that I've loved them ever since childhood. And yet, I hate Hollywood. I hate all the hype, the backstage politics, the preconceptions and stereotypes Hollywood often introduces into the media, and so much more about it.

But nevertheless, I look back on the fallout from Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony a couple days after I've cooled down, and I can't help but think about just how pointless it is at this point to even complain about them.

It baffles me how people can still be mad over certain movies or actors or directors or whatnot winning over the ones they liked. There are still people who are moaning about Marisa Tomei winning Best Supporting Actress. There are still people who whine about the most surprising upsets, like Shakespeare in Love winning out over Saving Private Ryan, or Forrest Gump beating out Shawshank Redemption. There are even still people complaining about Crash winning Best Picture a couple of years back, and Juno winning for Best Original Screenplay last year, and about Return of the King winning 11 awards. It's so tiring listening to these people come up with all these crazy theories and voicing their opinions on why this film should have won over that one. It's exhausting mostly because some of these people are truly crazy (check this out if you don't believe me), but also because all the wailing and gnashing of teeth is incredibly futile.

What happened Sunday with Slumdog seems to be an ongoing annual trend with the Academy. While I'm admittedly not all that well-informed about their voting process, it looks more than likely that they find one movie that they really love, and shower it with awards for the rest of the night, whether it is deserving or not. It's because of this that I'm not really sure if the long-standing notion throughout America that the Oscars are an accurate assessment of quality in filmmaking will hold steady for much longer. For many people, that notion has probably already flown out the window.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's not that I think Slumdog Millionaire wasn't deserving of some of the awards it got. When I saw it in theaters, I thought it was a great film, a fairy tale amidst a modern setting with a fantastic happy ending. But yeah, it was probably iffy of the Academy to think that it deserved two song nominations, or that it had a better score than WALL-E (No, I don't care that it's a "kiddy" picture, and honestly, if you let trivial stuff like that prevent you from enjoying a great film, then I just don't know what to say to you). They're both films, however, that stand out on their own merits, regardless of which one is percieved to be "better" than the other.

Mickey Rourke giving what some people are saying is the performance of his life in The Wrestler is wonderful and all. Also, I'm just as sick as everyone else is of Sean Penn and his political soapboxing (although I agree with him that Prop 8 is terrible). Does that necessarily mean that Penn is less deserving of the Best Actor nod than Rourke is? Chances are there are a lot of filmgoers out there that saw his performance in Milk and thought he was pretty much a shoe-in. To be honest, while I found it a little disappointing, it really wasn't a big surprise.

The point is, I have copies of WALL-E and The Dark Knight at home, and I can watch them anytime I want. And when The Wrestler comes out on DVD, I will most likely buy it. As far as I'm concerned, a movie doesn't need to have earned a bunch of expensive golden statuettes to be considered quality in my eyes.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"I've liked you for a thousand yeeeaars, a thousand yeeeaars..."

Being a fan of the original graphic novels, Edgar Wright's new project has me excited. Really, I've been completely giddy about this ever since the property got optioned by Universal a while back.

Aren't they just the cutest couple ever drawn?

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, the upcoming movie here is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It's Edgar Wright's newest film, based on the property created by Canadian artist and writer Bryan Lee O'Malley. The screenplay was written by Michael Bacall, with Wright directing it, and let me tell you, it is just marvelous.

Basically, Scott Pilgrim is a series of books focusing on a bass player in his early to mid twenties named Scott Pilgrim. He is just coming off a bad breakup, and his band is just getting started. Soon, he meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers. But get this. In order to date her, he has to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. The boyfriends aren't your average jocks, either. One of them's a ninja, and another is a vegan with superpowers. I know, it sounds absolutely nuts, right? Well, the story is made enjoyable by featuring some solid drama, as well as some fantastic dry and goofy humor and extravagant action scenes. It's kind of quirky, yes, but it's also really hip, not to mention just an all around good read. The first book in the series was admittedly kind of meh, but they got better and better with each volume and it was really cool seeing O'Malley's art and storytelling improve gradually. Really, the stuff that the man puts in that book amazes me.

Anywho, they've pretty much got the full cast all ready to go, with Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead filling in the two main parts of Scott and Ramona. I couldn't find a better cast roll, so I'll just use the same image the rest of the blogosphere is using, here, from the Blog Next Door:

Pictured here are, in no particular order, Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Kieran Culkin, Brie Larson, Ellen Wong, and Allison Pill.

Some are unknowns, and some have been in every teen comedy under the sun, but all in all I'd say it looks solid (Brandon Routh is playing the vegan guy, and anyone who read that volume knows he's perfect for that part, you know, considering he was Superman and all). The only one I'm a little worried about is Cera. From reading the books, it's easy to see that Scott is a sympathetic character, a goofy, sensitive guy that makes mistakes from time to time. This is why I'm really hoping that Universal isn't just typecasting Cera again in to the role of awkward doofus that he plays in stuff like Arrested Development, Superbad and Juno. But then again, there's hope that Cera can show some range as an actor and break out of that shell. Not to mention the fact that this is Edgar Wright directing here. I mean, come on, he made this, didn't he?:

"How's that for a slice of fried gold?"

If a romantic comedy with zombies was possible, then an action/romantic comedy with superpowered college-age kids should be a cakewalk, right? Okay, so that's kind of a baseless theory. Nevertheless, the fanbase has faith that the guy knows what he's doing, and he has O'Malley's blessing, so that makes things easier. It's getting close to shooting time, so production photos are starting to come out of the woodwork. You can check them out on Edgar Wright's photoblog here. Also, O'Malley continues to update on this movie and other things Scott Pilgrim related here, on his own website. I'll probably post later with a rant on last night's Oscar ceremony.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Makin' up a post about Coooooraliiiine...

"...it's yum-yum-yummy, in your tum-tum-tummy."

A horror movie for kids. Sounds like a crazy idea, doesn’t it? Apparently it’s not too crazy for writer and director Henry Selick and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman. It’s a good thing they went through with it, too, because what resulted from the undertaking was a very visually impressive, creepy and awesome stop motion treat.

The story concerns a spunky, needy little tween named Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning). She moves to a large old house in Oregon from Michigan, with her father (John Hodgman) and her mother (Teri Hatcher). Her new home is fairly dull, there isn’t a whole lot to do around there except hang out with a pair of aging showgirls (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) and a beet loving Russian mouse circus ringleader named The Great Bobinsky (Ian McShane). She feels neglected, since her father and mother are both journalists for a gardening magazine and are in a hurry to meet their deadlines. Also, unlike her old hometown, she doesn’t really make many friends in the area except for a strange, science obsessed boy named Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.). While exploring around the big old house, she finds a small door, concealed behind some wallpaper. She goes through it, and walks into an eccentric new world, with a more attentive Other Mother, an Other Father, and a whole lot of fun and good times to be had. All she has to do to make the good times last forever is sew buttons…on her eyes. Things start to get a lot less comfortable from there, and when the Other Mother and Father kidnap her real parents, it’s up to her and Wybie’s mysterious talking cat (Keith David) to set things straight.

Some would argue that stop motion animation is a dying art form in the wake of CGI, but this movie definitely argues against that idea. Selick, of course, is a master of stop motion, having helmed The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Monkeybone, so it’s safe to say that he knew what he was doing with the direction here, and it shows. The facial expressions, blinking eyes and limbs all move fluidly, and although some frames do get choppy in some scenes, it doesn’t impede the quality of the movie at all. As for seeing it in RealD 3-D, while some would say that it’s unnecessary, I definitely think it enhances the experience quite a bit. In the theater, at the beginning when the sewing needle is in the middle of the screen, I couldn’t help but notice some viewers actually moving their heads back a little, myself included.
This adaptation of Gaiman’s story is a delight, actually improving on it a little. The addition of Wybie and the cat, which may seem superficial to some, was a creative way to deal with all the internal monologuing in the original story, and the way they handled the ghost children helped to soften some of the additional creepiness that probably would have made it off-putting. Coraline isn’t a perfect protagonist, but I think that near the end of the story she starts to get over her neediness and “me first” mentality, and starts to look at things from other people’s perspective a little more. The other characters living in the house were also hilarious, and the villainous Other Mother was appropriately creepy.

Lastly, there’s the music. Unfortunately, They Might Be Giants only get one song in this movie, but it was fantastic.

This song is definitely a lot creepier than it sounds. "Our eyes will be on Coraline..."

The rest of the score had a theme of eerie faux-innocence that was so appropriate considering the story and plot of the movie.

While this movie might be a little too intense for younger children, the older tweens and, hey, even the adults will definitely get a kick out of this seriously spooky spectacle.

Oh, yeah, i should mention that this is only one of what will be potentially more movie reviews being posted here. You can also read them in the UMass Lowell Connector.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lowell's Top Sub Dogs

It is a really busy lunch hour. The lighting is slightly dim, with the added touch of the bluish white glow from the TVs, usually fixated on either local news or ESPN. The sound of sizzling red steak on the griddle can be heard from over the counter, although it almost seems to be competing with the sound of chatter from chefs and clerks behind the counter and talkative students carrying on all kinds of conversations. Then, of course, there is the savory smell in the air that signifies fresh pizza.
There are two restaurants in Lowell that have this sort of atmosphere. Both of them are similar to each other, but there are also differences that define them.

Suppa’s Restaurant, the brainchild of namesake Jamie Suppa, has been in business on 94 University Avenue for almost eight years now. Since those years have passed, the place has enjoyed a continued popularity among students and citizens alike, although beginnings were humble.

Jamie Suppa, owner of Suppa's Restaurant, is busy behind the counter.

“When we first bought it things were slow, it was called Giovanni’s Pizza,” said Cindy Suppa, wife of namesake Jamie Suppa and co-owner of the restaurant. “So we brought in our menu and we advertised it to the kids. Things really stepped up from there. This has always been his dream, he’s worked with food since high school.”

There are a lot of hot items on their menu, although their biggest selling item is their most interesting one.

“Our pizza’s extremely popular. The buffalo chicken’s a big seller. And for subs, I’d say the Fat Chicken,” she said.

For the benefit of those who have never tried one, the Fat Chicken is this; a large sub with a bottom layer of mozzarella sticks, another layer of chicken fingers and an upper layer of French fries, drenched in marinara sauce and sprinkled with a decent helping of mozzarella cheese. It is this item that has undoubtedly contributed to the success of the restaurant among students, and has become a trademark dish served there, along with several variants on the recipe. One might wonder how such a monstrously delicious idea as the Fat Chicken came to be.

“Jamie came up with the idea when he was fooling around in the kitchen. He was experimenting, throwing together different ingredients and all that. He’s good, he’s very creative with that stuff.”
This sub, along with the rest of their selection, were all conceived this way, with Jamie creating interesting combinations that the campus community came to love. Despite the onset recession, the restaurant seems to be thriving.

“Actually, we’re busier,” says Cindy. “Not necessarily the college kids, but the families are starting to come in more, because it’s cheaper eating here than at the 99 or an Olive Garden.”

About a year and a half ago, however, a new sub shop popped up a little closer to East Campus, which many thought would give Suppa’s a run for its money.

Enter the Hawk’s Den CafĂ© at 572 Moody Street. The place is smaller, but the atmosphere is pretty much the same, and they specialize in selling similar food as well. Of course, which restaurant has the better food is purely a matter of opinion.

This place is run by UMass Lowell alumni Gil Nason. His motivations for opening the place included the desire to make some extra cash as well as do something big, and the need to help out a friend in dire straits.

“I was in my final semester at UML, and I wanted to go to law school, which I’m trying to get in right now. My son and wife always said they wanted to do something, and I always noticed this building here, and I always thought it would be a great spot for a college restaurant,” Nason says. “My wife always wanted to open a coffee shop. At the time, I said, we weren’t gonna make any money. Plus I had a friend, Moe, who lost his job and wanted to help him out. He works for me, he’s co-manager.”

The staff at Hawk's Den, also busy at the register and in the kitchen.
This sub shop has been moderately successful in its own right, mostly due to its convenience to East Campus students and its food. Nason, along with his fellow sophomore chefs Nick Capello and James Peterson, have been fixing up some of their own unique menu items. One of their most popular include the spicy snack known to customers as Buffalo Poppers.

“I gotta say, when you come here, you gotta get the Buffalo Poppers,” says Capello. “They’re a house item.”

Nason can attest to their growing popularity.

“Buffalo Poppers. As far as I know, we ran out of ‘em and had to go to a supplier in New York. My supplier ran out of them, and that was the closest place that had them.”

Ideas for the menu pop up almost all the time, especially for the sandwiches. One of the newer ideas is a wrap known as the Jimmy, and a new sub known as the Capella Rodeo.

“It’s (the Jimmy) chicken, bacon, and ranch dressing on a white wrap. We like doing this stuff, it presents a challenge for us,” says Peterson.

Capello also has the honor of having a menu item named after him. It is a creation called the Capella rodeo.

“The Capella Rodeo is chicken fingers, onions, and barbeque sauce. It’s good on anything, but it’s best in the calzone,” Capello said. “We love to get creative in the kitchen. Come into the store, if there’s anything you want, we’ll make it.”

Although still a young business, the Hawk’s Den gets busy at times, with the most customers coming in on the weekends.

“I’d say on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you need at least two people in the kitchen and one delivering, as well as a cashier,” says Peterson.

It is arguable, though, whether or not one would consider the Hawk’s Den and Suppa’s to really be in any kind of competition with each other. Nason regards the question with respectful indifference.

“Well, he was already there, so I really don’t believe it makes much of a difference if he’s there or not. I mean, we’re in a really convenient location, the students love us, I’ve been a student myself. No, I don’t think so,” Nason says.

Cindy Suppa makes it clear that Suppa’s is also more concerned with serving up subs than forming rivalries.

“Yeah, he’s got his menus, and we got ours. A lot of his stuff is kind of similar to our stuff though (laughs), yeah, but for the most part, he’s got his business and we got ours” Cindy says.

Whether there’s any rivalry or not, it does not matter. As long as there are two places in Lowell to get a good meal.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First Post lol

Okay, I guess I should start off by saying that this is my first blog, and I'm writing about movies and stuff. I'm doing this for a class, so occasionally there might be stuff on here not related to movies, but for the most part there is going to be movie stuff here. This includes reviews and comments on important movie news, and I promise if there's a movie I like being reported on I won't go all Knowles on you people. Eh, whatever, more posts soon, probably next week.