DVD Review: In Time

Hi all!

Have you seen those films where you walked out wondering if it was a waste of time or not? Sometimes you hate a film and sometimes you love it. But in that gray area somewhere in the middle you wonder if it made any impact at all.

In Time, written and directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War), offers an intriguing concept. What if your lifetime became currency? Sure, you stop aging at age 25, but you only get one more year to live and you have to use that time to pay for goods and services. You can work to earn more time, but the cost of living continues to rise. Not only would this solve the overpopulation crisis, but it offers potential immortality for those who can afford it.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to identify with some of the characters in this film and it devolves into a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde rehash. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, Friends with Benefits, Bad Teacher, The Social Network) is struggling to make ends meet while his mom, Rachel (Olivia Wilde, Cowboys & Aliens, TRON: Legacy, TV’s House M.D.), is struggling to pay the loan on the house. One day Will meets a millionaire, Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer, TV’s Chuck and White Collar), and helps him escape potential doom with a group of thugs in a bar. In return, Henry gives Will more than a century and tells him not to waste it…

Along the way we meet Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy, Inception, The Dark Knight, Sunshine) who’s job it is to apprehend Will for having too much time on his hands, Borel (Johnny Galecki, TV’s Big Bang Theory) who is Will’s best friend and an alcoholic with a new family, Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried, Red Riding Hood, Letters to Juliet, TV’s Big Love) who is a spoiled rich girl looking for a way to get more out of life, and Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser, TV’s Mad Men and Angel) who is Sylvia’s father and a big time banker. Each of these offers a different perspective on the whole “time as currency” idea, from maintaining a world order based on the rich wanting to live forever and the poor paying for it to just trying to live in the moment.

Ultimately I didn’t hate the film, but feel that In Time tried to fit too many tropes into one basket. We’re all going to run out of time eventually, but if we don’t try to live while we’re here it’s a waste. The rich profit from the plight of the poor. You can’t keep a good man down. Live each day like it’s your last. There’s even a bit of Robin Hood in this one, with Will and Sylvia stealing time from the rich and giving it to the poor. The list goes on…

It’s not a bad film and has some fun special effects scattered throughout, such as the car crash where Timberlake and Seyfried roll a car traveling at speed into a concrete culvert with hardly a scratch. It’s also quite stylized, with a stark contrast between the poor sections of civilization and the rich.

I’m still not convinced that either Timberlake or Seyfried can act. And the fact that everybody in the film, rich or poor, happened to be attractive and young really made the whole age aspect of the movie seem very one-dimensional to me. It’s just not something I would consider seeing again, but if you’re interested in seeing most of the hot young actors and actresses in a movie, In Time should be in your queue to rent.

Feature-wise, this was a very light DVD. It includes the theatrical trailer, a collection of deleted/extended scenes, and a bunch of trailers for other FOX projects. None of the deleted scenes really added much to the viewing experience, so I was glad they weren’t added to the nearly two hour running time for the film.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.


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DVD Review: The Big Year

Hi again!

Who knew that bird watching, or “Birding” as it’s called by those who pursue it, was a cutthroat pursuit? We have quite a few birds in Colorado, but I have to admit that beyond knowing the difference between some of the birds of prey (Red Tailed Hawks have red tails!) I’m pretty uneducated as far as the different species locally, let alone nationally or internationally.

That said, The Big Year (released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, January 31, 2012) is as much about educating people about the birds as the people who follow them. Narrated by John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python’s Flying Circus), the film shifts between “documentary” mode and regular “movie” mode with the characters in motion. The film stars Steve Martin (The Jerk, Father of the Bride), Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda), and Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) as birders all pursuing “The Big Year” – a year-long quest to spot as many different bird species in a single year. And each of the characters comes from a different place in their life.

Black plays Brad Harris, a character in his 30s at a crossroads. In a job he hates with a string of failed relationships, he’s passionate about one thing – birds. Can he complete a “Big Year” and get some self confidence back?

Martin plays Stu Preissler, a character at the end of his career pondering retirement and enjoying time with his family and hobbies like birding. He keeps getting pulled back into the business he built because it “won’t survive without him,” which interrupts his retirement plans over and over again.

And Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, a character with multiple failed marriages and another one dying on the vine. He has to choose between his wife who wants to start a family and staying at the top of his game with the most bird species spotted in a single year.

This trio of birders manage to explore some of the most gorgeous parts of the country – Florida, Alaska, East Coast, West Coast, they really racked up the frequent flier miles. Beautiful scenery and bird footage (both real and CGI) along the way make it as much a travelogue as anything else.

Along the way these folks interact with some very colorful characters played by an all-star cast. Joel McHale (TV’s Community) and Kevin Pollack (Red State) play lawyers from Martin’s firm. Jim Parsons (TV’s Big Bang Theory) plays a blogging birder who writes about encounters with other birding aficionados. Angelica Huston (50/50) plays the captain of a tour boat that caters to birding expeditions. Brian Dennehy (The Next Three Days) and Diane Wiest (In Treatment) play Black’s parents who eventually understand their son’s passion. Anthony Anderson (Scream 4) plays Black’s boss. Rashida Jones (TV’s Parks and Recreation) plays a fellow birder who Black pursues romantically…

Though I enjoyed the film, I can see why this film didn’t do very well at the box office. The trailers portrayed it as more of a comedy and it ended up being a dramedy/documentary mix with a few comedic moments and a lot of character drama. With three big-name comedic actors in the movie and little comedy I suspect that word of mouth may have killed ticket sales.

That said, I think this film on DVD, Blu-ray, and on demand will get a fair amount of play. The great cast and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) worked well to tell three intertwined stories and explore the realm of bird watching in a fun way.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with the lack of special features on the DVD. Two versions of the film were included – the theatrical version and the extended version. The Blu-ray seems to have many more features, including a Gag Reel which I would have liked to have seen on the DVD.

Overall, I recommend The Big Year to anyone looking for a bit different viewing experience. The great cast, beautiful scenery, and a bit of education makes the film work great.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.


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Music Review: Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer – Seed of a Pine

Hi all!

Why did it take so long to come to my senses and discover Americana and Bluegrass? Now in my forties, with a childhood where my father and I would play old folk songs on guitars at home, you’d think there would be a natural progression from those days to an appreciation to the folk- and country-infused traditions of these musical styles. But until the last decade, I thought Americana was Country and I didn’t want to listen to that Country “twang”…

I’m older and wiser now, which is why I was thrilled when Mandy Fer contacted me and asked if I’d mind listening to her new album, a collaboration with Dave McGraw called Seed of a Pine. So I checked it out online and listened to a few tracks. I think before I was done listening to the first song I sent an e-mail back saying I’d love to listen to the rest of the album. And it didn’t disappoint.

The stripped down arrangements – minimal guitars, piano, fiddle and voices – works beautifully to share the feel of a particular track without over-engineering any song. Each tells a story that doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as it does in much of the pop and R&B music played on radio stations nationwide. These songs manage to intertwine a deep passion between the notes of the harmonies composed by McGraw’s baritone and Fer’s soaring and sultry vocals. Accompanying the duo are acclaimed musicians Peter Mulvey, Po’Girl songstress Allison Russel, and Chicago’s JT Nero (of JT and the Clouds).

What’s funny is that I usually find it easy to pick three or four songs to focus on, but no matter how many times I listen to Seed of a Pine, it’s impossible for me to choose. The tracks run from more traditional folk with simple melodies (“Seed of a Pine”) to more Blues-influenced (“Serotiny (May Our Music)”) to the Spanish-infused (“Comin’ Down”) and many that defy categorization. But that’s part of the Americana tradition – weaving styles as suits the story.

“Waking the Dreamer” has to be one of my favorites. It reminds me a bit of some of the songs from The Swell Season (duo Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) on the Once soundtrack. There’s a rise and fall, and a hope about the lyrics “Waking the dreamer / for you for you…” amidst the steady drum beat and the pairing of electric and acoustic guitars.

Within the melody and hopeful words of “Western Sky” there are some echoes of Bruce Springsteen‘s “I’m on Fire.” A simple guitar strum pattern with the entwined voices of McGraw and Fer tell a story of love and support. “This time I’m really coming home.” You know that feeling when you know you’re going home to stay for a while? Or when you find the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with? “For you took this heart of mine and you placed it in your eyes / you gave me peace of mind and with it I’ll decide / that you will be the one when I lay my body down…” I’d be surprised if this didn’t become the wedding song for more than a few people in 2012.

And “Serotiny (May Our Music)” starts with a Blues beat that wormed its way into my head while talking about the landscape of the heart and memory. Though I’m not sure if the couple in the song are playing music to the gods as an offering or the offering is between the pair of them, but they want to be heard. As they play guitars in the field, “play for me your favorite song, pull me up into your sky / where the thunder speaks in crazy tongues / and the gods do not decide.” The melodies soar through this one, tugged along by the steady guitars.

I could talk about all of the songs on this album until the cows come home. Honestly this is one of those Jerry Maguire albums which “had me at hello.” If you’re a fan of modern folk and Americana, you can’t go wrong with Seed of a Pine. The album releases tomorrow – February 15, 2012 – so keep your ears open. For more information, check out the album website, plus Mandy Fer’s website and Dave McGraw’s website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.


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