Sunday, October 02, 2011

Hola, loyal readers! It appears I've been M.I.A. for a while. Truth is, I'm now writing for Cinema Sentries and TV Geek Army along with many other former Masked Movie Snobs.

You can find my latest reviews here:

Sombrero Grande @ Cinema Sentries

Sombrero Grande @ TV Geek Army

R.I.P. Masked Movie Snobs. Long live the Cinema Sentries and TV Geek Army!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review by Muchacha Motorista

Do you love babies? Are you expecting? Do you have a toddler? Are you willing to risk your head exploding from cuteness overload? Then I fully recommend the new Focus Features film: Babies.

The film is a simple and brilliant idea: follow four babies in very different environments throughout their first year. Add some background music. No narration, no translation... no speaking at all except for adults now and then quietly in the background away from any microphone. Each of the babies is insanely adorable, and just gets cuter as the year goes on.

Bayar from Mongolia comes home from the hospital tightly swaddled and carried on the back of a motorcycle (with Dad, Mom, and brother on the same bike). The baby is constantly surrounded my animals, be it a rooster on the bed, a goat drinking from the bath water, or cows trying to step over the new crawler.

Mari, from Tokyo, lays in a bassinet that rocks her to sleep overlooking a view of city lights. She gains increased manual dexterity by holding the tiny stickers (found in any stationary shop in Japan) and practicing sticking them on paper.

Ponijao from Namibia gets his first haircut by a sharpened knife (I'd never trust myself to be steady enough, but his mother knows what she's doing!). He learns to walk quickly, and run too, and plays a motor skills game of balancing a piece of wood or bone on his head while walking.

Hattie, from San Francisco, plays in the spa with her mom and takes showers with dad. She looks through her books for pictures of animals, giving the sounds that animal makes.

All this to say, the common theme is the four babies growing from newborns, still and fragile, to sitters, crawlers, standers, and sometimes walkers... in their own way, and in their own families, and in their own corners of the world.

My son, Sombrerito, is just rounding off his second year, so this movie made me especially nostalgic for the excitement of seeing our own little one grow into himself. In fact, he even watched some of the movie with me (he says, "watch babies!"), and when he did it felt suddenly like one of the infant programs they have on DVD where it's basically a video of babies hanging out, going to the farm, etc. Some of the babies and mothers appear naked, but nothing vulgar in the least. As for his movie review, he liked when Bayar says, "Mama! Mama!" for the first time (he pointed to me and gasped, as though shocked that this other baby knew me too), and when Hattie takes her little trike over the wavy slide in the park.

There are only two Bonus Features, each around three minutes long. One is a slideshow of "Everybody Loves... Your Babies Sweepstakes Winners," which is just alright, though the kids in the pictures are very cute. But the other is worth any blockbuster film's hours of extra footage... "The Babies--Three Years Later" is a short little wrap-up. The director comes back to visit each family and the children (now aged 4), and show them the finished film. It is just touching to see them healthy, happy, and growing, and see the family's relive the first year so tenderly.

It all comes down to this: Babies is a fully sweet and delightful movie. HOWEVER, I suggest you watch the preview first, as the movie is an hour and nineteen minute version of that exact thing (in this case, the preview is completely accurate). If you find the preview adorable, you'll love the movie. If it left you bored then it isn't for you.


I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Grapes of Wrath
Review by Muchacha Motorista

To review The Grapes of Wrath, I have to be transparent about two things. First, John Steinbeck is my favorite author of all time. Second, the book The Grapes of Wrath, assigned reading in 11th grade, was the one that got me hooked on him. Take from this what you will. Already, before watching the movie, I loved the story and the ethical premise. But also, it would take an excellent movie to do the novel justice. For example, the most recent film adaptation of the book Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men starring Gary Sinese and John Malcovich more than do the book justice. The old James Dean film adaptation of Steinbeck’s epic East of Eden doesn’t even come close.

The Grapes of Wrath has such wide scope and depth that it remains as relevant now as ever. There are so many levels to the story, which is more than a family’s desperate struggle for survival, or their road trip from Oklahoma to California for work. It is even more than the broader story of early farm-workers unionizing. It is an examination of good, evil, and especially the sins of omission. The landowners (and others) who cheat desperate people are evil. The common working-man tends to be the good guy here--if not a classic hero at least a sympathetic character. But the treasure and meat of the movie are in the folks in between the two extremes. The waitress at the cafe is technically justified in charging a fair 15 cents for a loaf of bread, but when she finds out it is for an old woman who only has 10 cents to spend, will she sell it under-priced? The officers at the California checkpoint have a duty to unload trucks and check for produce, but will they shirk their duty because of the sick person needing to hurry to a doctor?

There are plenty of parts of the book that I miss in the movie, the main one being the complete disregard for Tom Joad’s brother, Noah. Not only is Noah given a mere one line, he disappears before the movie hits its halfway point! As Ronald Fields writes in his article “Complexities of Noah in The Grapes of Wrath” (1), “His departure is not discussed or portrayed in the film in any way. Ford’s film shows Noah Joad simply disappearing along the road to California, with no explanation, and the family does not mention him again.” However, the story and themes are there, and that’s what people really need to see.

The struggle between doing good or doing nothing is of great interest to me. Doing nothing is often justifiable, and so much easier, which makes doing the right thing all that more noble in my opinion. (This is something I touched on when I reviewed Amazing Grace several years ago. As the director of the documentary on that disc says, “There are no heroes or villains. Life is gray and complicated, but there are great things that have to be and can be done.”)

The movie The Grapes of Wrath was made in 1940, so it is likely that most people have seen it (or are aware of it) already. The dashing Henry Fonda plays Tom Joad with proper brooding and shuffling, and Jane Darwell won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Ma.

This release includes a few extras, but nothing like the ones we get with current movies (now that studios know ahead of time they’ll need to fill DVD features). The supplemental material ranges from the technically interesting (a segment on the film restoration process with a side-by-side comparison), to the educational (an A&E Biography on producer Darryl Zanuck, who also ushered in “talkies” with The Jazz Singer, helped launch Shirley Temple’s career, and started 20th Century-Fox). There are Studio Stills, but the most interesting are clips from Fox Movietone News on the 1934 drought, with “outtakes” of the living conditions of those displaced by the national disaster.

If you haven’t seen or read The Grapes of Wrath, I suggest watching this film classic. If you’re a fan of the movie, this would be an affordable way to get a copy. As part of the Literary Classics line of DVDs, it comes with a bookmark. However, if you already own it, I doubt any of the extras will make replacing your current copy worthwhile.

(1) FIELDS, R. (2009), The Complexities of Noah in The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck Review, 6: 53-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1754-6087.2009.01027.x


I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Big Bang Theory: Season 3
TV on DVD review by Sombrero Grande

Typically, when one thinks of a laugh-track-laden sitcom, the idea is that the laugh track is there to cover up the fact that no viewer is actually laughing. This is not the case with The Big Bang Theory, one of the smartest and funniest sitcoms on TV. Oh sure, there's a laugh track in the show, but viewers probably won't notice it much because they'll be too busy laughing themselves.

While the third season of the show, now available on DVD, isn't quite as strong and hilarious as the stellar second season, it's still exceptionally good. This season, Leonard (Johnny Galeki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) finally become boyfriend and girlfriend, and though it's typical for sitcoms to start going downhill when the couple that's meant to be together finally does (like Niles and Daphne on Fraiser or, to a lesser extent, Tim and Pam on The Office), the show feels oddly strengthened by their pairing due to the superb writing and continued outstanding performances.

You see, Leonard and Penny don't have the kind of fairy tale "happily ever after" dating life that drags down so many other sitcoms, but their genuine affection for each other comes across so real that even though they hit some really rough patches, you still want to see them together even though it seems unlikely that things will ever reach "happily ever after."

Howard (Simon Helberg) also gets a girlfriend this season, though his relationship with Bernadette (Melissa Rouch) is a little less thought-out, as her eventual departure from the show is merely handled with a comment about breaking up after several episodes find her character absent.

As for the rest of the main cast, Sheldon (played to comedic brilliance by Jim Parsons) continues to be a eloquent, obsessive and immature while Raj (Kunal Nayyar) remains unable to speak to women without liquor flowing through him.

Some of the highlights of season three include a sleep-deprived Sheldon hiding from Leonard in a kiddie restaurant ball pit, Howard going goth, Raj getting a shirt that plays music and sound effects, Leonard watching football with Penny's friends, the guys getting stoned while camping and Sheldon facing off with Wil Wheaton in a fateful game of Mystic Warlords of Ka'a.

In my review of the second season, I remarked that one of the first season's flaws (that of Sheldon not being allowed to appear vulnerable) was thankfully rectified, yet the problem of bafflingly obscure and too-clever titles for each episode continued unabated. In season three, things look to be slowly getting better with episode titles like "The Wheaton Recurrence" obviously about Sheldon once again facing off against his nemesis, Wil Wheaton, and "The Large Hadron Collision" about the problem Leonard faces when attempting to take Penny with him to Switzerland to see the Large Hadron Collider instead of Sheldon. That doesn't mean that every episode has a clear title, though. Take for example, "The Pirate Solution" wherein the title refers to a throw-away comment deep within the episode or "The Gorilla Experiment" about Sheldon attempting to teach Physics to Penny, which he compares to teaching Koko the gorilla sign language.

The three extras on this DVD set include the typical Gag Reel, a dumb MTV Cribs-style "Set Tour with Simon and Kunal" and a featurette called "Takeout with the Cast of The Big Bang Theory." The latter is essentially a question and answer forum, set in the unique manner of having the cast open fortune cookies that contain the questions inside.

While not for newbies to the series, season three of The Big Bang Theory is sure to be a hit with fans. It chiefly serves up "more of the same" compared to the seasons before, but when you're talking about a show as delicious as this one, that's far from a bad thing.


I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period.

Article first published as DVD Review: The Big Bang Theory - The Complete Third Season on Blogcritics.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Glee: The Complete First Season
TV on DVD review by Muchacha Motorista

The only thing I knew about Glee when I started watching Glee: The Complete First Season was what my friends told me: mainly how excited they were before each episode. Aaaaaand... that's it. But with only that, I decided to give it a try.

The show surrounds an Ohio high school Glee Club with members ranging from talented egotists and outcasts, to football players and cheerleaders. As one would expect, there are romances and unrequited love, identity crises and inspiring speeches about being true to yourself. The musical aspect of the show, with relevant usage of fresh songs, helps to make it unique. I found the pilot somewhat slow, kind of cute, but not highly intriguing. By the second episode, though, the characters were pulling me in. And that seems to be the main draw of the show-- the characters (and their multi-faceted actors). They turn out to be as important as the music (or moreso). Overall, the show is a little cheesy, extremely cute, genuinely sweet... and pulled me in much quicker than I expected.

Obviously, those considering purchasing Glee: The Complete First Season are not coming to it from the same angle as I did. You were probably more like my friends, looking forward to each episode last season, excited to hear the music and find out how romances and rivalries would play out. So you're likely wondering if it is worth getting the entire DVD set. What else will it add to your "Gleek" experience?

The bonus features on this 7-disc set are numerous and appear on two of the discs (4 and 7), so that those on disc 4 don't give anything away from the end of the show, and disc 7 does include clips from the entire season. If you're a Glee superfan, you won't be disappointed. The first extra, "Welcome to McKinley!," is funny in a Check it Out! way; a mock entrance video for 8th graders presented by the principal and made to look low-budget and amateurish in a cute way. The "Glee Music Video," is essentially a long commercial, but the focus of finding "someone to love" is endearing nonetheless.

There are full-length (in-show) audition pieces from Rachel and Mercedes that showcase their amazing vocal abilities (but where are the others characters' auditions?). There are two extras one after the other for Jane Lynch, who plays the unlikeable and hilarious Sue. One is "Jane Lynch, A to Glee" and the other is "Meet Jane Lynch." The latter has her discussing her character with an interesting perspective but I have no idea why the two aren't combined. There are a number of "Things you don't know about..." pieces that are not only uninteresting, but puzzling as to why they are on here. Jayma likes cats, Cory likes blue, Amber likes pizza, and Chris has a blue car. That adds a lot, huh?

There are other extras, based on dressing like the characters, how they learned the dances, a sing-along karaoke section, etc. My two favorites are the Glee Music Jukebox, perfect for those who are just enamored with the songs, and the Fox Movie Channel's Casting Session. The casting session segment is very interesting, and really brings a lot of depth to one's understanding of how the show came to be. Gary Newman, Chairman of Fox says, "The idea of a musical on television, well, it's just rarely been done and almost never successfully," when talking about how the show was pitched. I thought Kevin Reilly (President of Entertainment at Fox) had a perfect explanation of why the show works as a musical: "That is the distinction between doing a musical and a comedy with music. This is not something where characters spontaneously break out into song. They sing in an organic setting... it is very sweet and yet it is snarky."

So for people who've never seen it, rent it... or rent the first disc or two and decide if it is your cup of tea. If you're not sucked in by the end of the first disc (first four episodes), then the show is probably not for you. But if you like it, you'd do fine to consider buying the hearty 7-disc set and take your time savoring it. And if you already consider yourself a Gleek, then hey, do something nice for yourself (you deserve it), and get Glee: The Complete First Season to enjoy again and again. Maybe you can even lend it to friends and bring them into the club.


I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period.

Article first published as DVD Review: Glee - The Complete First Season on Blogcritics.

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