Tag Archives: Oscar-nominated

Morgan Spurlock’s “30 Days”

Ever since we first saw his Oscar-nominated documentary “Super Size Me”, Christine and I have been huge fans of writer/director Morgan Spurlock. So much so that when the third season of his kick-ass show “30 Days” premiered on FX two weeks back, we were kinda glued to the Tivo.

If you haven’t watched yet, the concept is deceptively simple, each week someone is chosen to live in another person’s shoes for 30 days.

Spurlock has appeared in several episodes himself — most recently in this season’s first episode which found him working in a Virginia coal mine for 30 days — but usually he picks someone whose lifestyle and belief systems are exactly opposite of the life they will be living for 30 days.

Previous seasons have seen a born-again Christian living in a Muslim household, a homophobic straight man living with gays in San Francisco, an outsourced American tech worker living in India and working in a call center, and a hard-core minuteman from Texas living with a family of illegal immigrants in Los Angeles. If you think that sounds like a juicy set-up for a show…you’re right!

But while most other networks would tart everything up for the sake of the drama, FX has pretty much given Spurlock free reign to make “30 Days” into something truly unique. Not so much a show as a series of insightful, funny, and sometimes enormously-moving one hour films, “30 Days” is not to be missed.

Some people have criticized Spurlock for injecting himself into the drama too much and becoming kind of a Michael Moore-lite, but I could not disagree more. I mean, sure, sometimes Moore’s presence in his own films is distracting and tends to turn the proceedings into the Michael Moore show, but Morgan Spurlock has the exact opposite effect onscreen.

Whether it’s his goofy, everyman quality, or the fact that he just seems more likable than Moore, Spurlock has way more soul as a “character” and lacks the obvious political agenda that drives Moore towards some of his more outlandish stunts. That’s not to say Spurlock doesn’t try to steer the proceedings a bit — which of course, he does — but the thing I like about “30 Days” is that it just feels more heartfelt and real than anything Moore has churned out in recent years.

And better yet, Spurlock never tells you what to think, but rather presents the information to you “as is” and lets you decide what you think, which, hello, is kind of what a documentary is supposed to do, right?

Future episodes this season tackle such hot-button issues as gay families, anti-gun activism, life on an Indian reservation and this Tuesday’s episode which finds a hard-core hunter from Chapel Hill, NC moving into a home of Peta-loving vegans for 30 days.

While those all sound kind of awesome, I have to say that last Tuesday’s episode — which featured retired pro-football great Ray Crockett confined to life in a wheelchair for 30 days — was probably one of the best hours of television we’ve seen in years. If you can find it in repeats, WATCH IT!

Crockett’s struggles adjusting to life in the chair are one thing, but the wheelchair-bound people he met and befriended during his 30 days were just amazing. The paraplegic counselor working with the recently paralyzed, the tough-as-nails wheelchair rugby team featured in the documentary “Murderball” and most poignantly, the young girl recently confined to a wheelchair after a horrible accident.

The look on Crockett’s face as he sits in on the girl’s rehabilitation sessions is heartbreaking, and I defy you not to cry when she pulls herself up in bed for the first time since her accident. I’m not kidding, folks, this is cable television at its finest…really beautiful stuff.

The first two seasons of the show — which I highly recommend — have recently been released on DVD and the third season of “30 Days” airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX. Spurlock was quoted recently in Entertainment Weekly as saying that this Tuesday’s episode (the hunter/vegan family) is the best one of the season, so…what better time to check out “30 Days” for yourself?

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Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd”

Finally saw Tim Burton’s rocking version of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” over the weekend and let me tell ya, it’s bloody good…emphasis on the bloody. Seriously, I haven’t seen this much spraying, operatic bloodletting since the first volume of “Kill Bill”, and that time, the bloodiest scenes were in black and white.

Well, not so here, amigos. Tim Burton’s bright, comic-book-red blood flows freely and often…and it couldn’t be cooler!

Johnny Depp as “Sweeney Todd” (Dec. 19, 2007)

Save for the standards “Pretty Women” and “Not While I’m Around” — which are way darker in the context of the show than they are as stand-alone songs — I wasn’t that familiar with the original musical, but wow, it’s good. Christine found some of the numbers a bit stagey and claustrophobic, but I really dug the musty intimacy of it all.

Set in and around a gloomy, beautifully dank Victorian London, the movie and the songs are as dark as can be. And while the ads make it look like quirky, Tim Burton-lite, this movie is one of the darkest things he’s done in a while.

I found the songs and humor to be funny as hell, but I should warn the uninitiated that this “Sweeney Todd” is not for the feint of heart.

Johnny Depp singing in “Sweeney Todd” (Dec. 19, 2007)
Anchoring the movie and proving once again that he can do almost anything onscreen, the always-astonishing Johnny Depp rocks in his first full-blown musical. Ditto for “Borat’s” Sasha Baron Cohen (as Depp’s hysterically oily rival, Pirelli), Alan Rickman as the villainous Judge Turpin, and the incredible little boy who plays Toby (newcomer Ed Sanders).
Johnny Depp & Helena Bonham Carter in “Sweeney Todd” (Dec. 19, 2007)

But fans of the musical know that the dark heart of the show has always been that wily scene-stealer, Mrs. Lovett.

I read somewhere that Stephen Soundheim loved her character so much that he actually demanded (and got!) final approval for the casting of Mrs. Lovett. And though Helena Bonham Carter wasn’t the best singer he auditioned, she was by far the best actress. And lemme tell ya, Soundheim was right. Helena Bonham Carter is spectacular in the role.

I’ve been a huge fan since I first saw her in “A Room With A View” and Carter has continued to amaze me ever since. If you haven’t seen her in “Fight Club” you haven’t lived. Not only did she blow Brad Pitt and Ed Norton off the screen, but her twisted, manic performance as Marla Singer is one of the great screen characters of the 1990’s. Really amazing stuff!

Helena Bonham Carter in “Sweeney Todd” (Dec. 19, 2007)

Here again, Ms. Carter — who gave birth Saturday to her second child, a daughter, with Tim Burton — rips into a really juicy part with a vengeance. And like her co-stars, I’m happy to report that Carter’s singing here is top notch. More traditionally Broadway-ish than Johnny Depp’s rock-infused vocals, Carter’s scrappy, Cockney-accented singing really steals the show.

And though the content of her “meat pies” would turn even my hearty stomach, I gotta say if Carter’s saucy Mrs. Lovett was selling them…I’d be the first in line!

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