You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2009.

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My research into the new A Christmas Carol rip-off for the rom-com demographic, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, yielded one very interesting tidbit of information—director Mark Waters received a “special thanks” on the production of Requiem for a Dream. No disrespect to the man as I’m a big fan of Mean Girls and have wanted to check out his Spiderwick Chronicles, but how does he know Darren Aronofsky? This has all of a sudden taken over my complete interest pertaining to the new Matthew McConaughey vehicle, (and yes girls, he does eventually have his shirt off, it just takes a little longer than expected—we had a bet going on before viewing in which I said he wouldn’t, but alas, a short five minute span ruined my victory). While sadly this is actually how my mind works, letting an innocuous fact about someone in relation to one of my favorite directors overshadow the issue at hand, I did seriously enjoy my time with Ghosts. Sure it was derivative; yes it was obvious; oh lord did it have a horribly orchestrated homage to Ebenezer Scrooge awakening to toss a coin to a young boy out the window in order to buy the Cratchits a turkey; but I literally had a smile on my face for the duration.

On the scale of one to ten as far as originality goes, this thing is below one. Usually that would fill my heads with preconceptions and premature hatred, so call me surprised that I unsuspectingly had a good time. It isn’t that the story of unrequited love between McConaughey’s Connor Mead, (I’m a bit perturbed that it never does get explained why Uncle Wayne calls him Dutch), and his childhood love Jenny, (Jennifer Garner), resonates at all—sadly it doesn’t—but because of the cornucopia of supporting players that outshine the story itself. Mead is a Scrooge when it comes to the conquest of women. He doesn’t believe in marriage or even love at all, stemming from a broken heart as a naïve middle-schooler watching Jenny dance with a ninth grader when he choked in asking her himself, and needs the cajoling of three ghosts armed with the reality of the loneliness his future holds to finally open his eyes to what’s right in front of him. Years of building a façade over his true feelings start to chip away as the fantastic cast works their magic.

I hate to say that the main plot thread is the least enjoyable part of the film, but it’s true. I never believed the connection between Garner’s successful, romantic doctor and McConaughey’s smarmy, reprehensible glam photographer, as the chemistry just wasn’t there. Well, I lie; it was noticeable in one scene at the end when she is locked in a car and he outside. There reactions, done in close-up without the other present in the frame, make you feel their love … only it could be a love for whomever, as they aren’t looking directly at the other. Now, I know that their relationship is the impetus for the entire production—he must overcome the indoctrinated ways of the lothario Michael Douglas’ Uncle Wayne instilled in him to win her back—but I could have cared less whether they got together or not. It’s the journey that kept me in my seat: the one-liners, (loved Douglas’ “ten pin” quip), priceless facial expressions, and all around craziness excels. Even absurd moments like the inclusion of an Olympic archer, (used twice!), are so out there that you have to chuckle at least a little bit.

The effects were nicely orchestrated, but again wholly unoriginal. You can’t help but reminisce about the brilliant Bill Murray film Scrooged at every turn. From Douglas’ ascot wearing partier, (like Murray’s once dapper boss), to Noureen DeWulf’s ghost of girlfriends present punching and abusing Connor, (exactly like Carol Kane), to the ghosts watching and waving through the window at the end, (although here they do add some laughs with Douglas attempting to pick up the three ghosts … no matter their age), it’s a carbon copy. But, like in Scrooged, the ghosts add so much levity to the proceedings. Emma Stone is fantastic as the geeky, braces-wearing, frizz-head who acts as the ghost of girlfriends past. An attractive actress, as seen in the likes of Superbad, she really sinks into the obnoxiousness and juvenility of being a sixteen-year-old outcast. And DeWulf, in a role that seemed a throwaway at the start, adds some sophistication to the world of Connor Mead as the one woman in his life he has not tried to bed—his assistant.

Rounding out the rest of the cast is Breckin Meyer, (more subdued than usual, I would have liked to see more from him), as Mead’s brother getting married; Lacey Chabert as the bride, having fun with many over-the-top sequences and reactions; and her parents played by Anne Archer and Robert Forster. Archer steals a couple scenes as the sexy older woman, partaking in a very funny moment with McConaughey at the bar, and Forster is a riot as a Korean War vet utilizing his wartime commands in the wedding rehearsals. Even the three slutty bridesmaids create some laughs on the outskirts of the otherwise boring main plot. It’s not that Garner or McConaughey are bad, they just play their roles as though themselves. With all the hustle and bustle going on, the story slowed to a crawl when focusing back on them. I literally sat through their tale in order to see the subplots continue on and the jokes surround them. So, brave the mediocrity of the overall in that you may enjoy the hilarity working on the fringes. It’ll be worth the visit even if you won’t be completely satisfied. But then I’m sure you didn’t really expect to be.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past 6/10

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[1] Connor Mead (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY) desperately tries to save the wedding cake from disaster in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, also starring Jennifer Garner. Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema
[2] Connor Mead (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY) and Jenny Perotti (JENNIFER GARNER) reminisce in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema

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Steve Miner’s film My Father the Hero, a remake of French film Mon père, ce héros that came out just three years earlier, is definitely a film that shows its age. It exudes mid-90s aesthetic from its music, clothing, and overacting, but surprisingly still becomes a gem of a film almost two decades later. The only reason I can say that is because of the wonderful performance from Gérard Depardieu. In a role that asks him to play the fool at every turn, even to partaking in a John Candy/Great Outdoors type water-skiing incident, the Frenchman goes for it completely and as a result benefits the entire production. Caught inside a lie that he is unaware of—a lie that his daughter has been spreading, saying she and he are lovers—his reactions to the disgust of the other vacationers in the Bahamas are priceless. Completely oblivious to what he sees as absurdity on their part, Depardieu steals the show and makes what would otherwise be a throwaway film worth a rental. And thankfully so, because its other draw would be seeing a young Katherine Heigl before her, in my opinion, unwarranted explosion of late, post-“Grey’s Anatomy”. If that were the only reason to see it, I’d have said stay far away.

Okay, maybe that was a bit too harsh. In all actuality, this may be my favorite role by Heigl. She plays the spoiled rotten, bratty fourteen, (and a half), year old to perfection. You will hate her character as what starts as cute precociousness morphs into ambivalence to those around her and your want for this selfish girl to get hers in the end. Heigl’s Nicole makes a complete buffoon out of her father, the one person who actually cares about her, (from what we see at the beginning concerning the relationship with her mother, I don’t think I could say the same for them), and begins to make a mockery of all those around them with lie after lie. I’ll admit to hoping that something tragic would befall her, maybe even the death of Depardieu—after she lies that he is dying of heart failure—to finally get her to understand the consequences of her actions, but alas, this is an innocuous family film, so it will all work out in the end somehow.

What you don’t discover until the conclusion, however, is that the film isn’t about Heigl and her evolution, but instead about Depardieu’s Andre. The title doesn’t refer to how Andre becomes Nicole’s hero; it speaks to the fact that the movie is about him being that hero. The homage to his turn as Cyrano de Bergerac, (Steve Martin’s Roxanne for you people unaware of the French original), is a nice touch, coaching his daughter on the way of love while also reeducating himself, opening his own eyes to what needs to be done in order to win back his girlfriend in Paris, (a character shrouded in secrecy until the end, revealed as a well-known English actress). My Father the Hero is about Andre growing up to become the father he thought he was. In his mind he had been there for his daughter the past five years, but soon discovers that he was far from being by her side, even skipping her thirteenth birthday. An error in judgment for which she found out about while bringing him soup under the impression he was home sick. What we assume was a selfishness learned from her mother is realized to be a stubbornness and guarded armor against the man who let her down when she needed him the most.

Andre is also coached along in the ways of a young girl’s quest for her first love by the fantastic Faith Prince as Diana, a divorcee looking for her rich Italian future husband, but willing to settle for a Frenchman if she can. The cheesiness in her role works splendidly, infusing some nice comic relief playing off Depardieu with aplomb. Her inclusion is a welcome break from the headshaking lies and all-around brattiness Heigl brings, adding a good feminine influence to the film. She opens his eyes to Nicole’s cry for help, how the girl is lying to win over the boy that she thinks she won’t get unless appearing more adult than her barely high school age portrays. Also, Diana’s “advances” and genuine friendship towards Andre allows for the acknowledgement that Isabel, in Paris without him, is the one he can’t live without.

So, in the end, amongst what could be some pretty creepy moments of pedophilia, love is definitely in the air. Laughs are had all around, with confusion adding to the dynamic between pretty much everyone on the island versus Andre, and we get some nice slapstick moments to go along with more verbal subtlety. The music will get you grooving in that nostalgic, am-I-grooving-because-its funny-or-because-I-want-to way, and Depardieu will win you over as he attempts to protect the love of his life and be the father and hero she deserves. Whether, by the end, you decide she does in fact deserve that kind of man in her life—it’s a tough question to answer, I know—you can’t help but smile at the outcome of all the shenanigans that occurred. If you can laugh about a situation where people think a fifty-year-old is dating a fifteen-year-old—because it is honestly utilized for laughs—and just want a nice check-your-brain-at-the-door evening, My Father the Hero can get the job done.

My Father the Hero 5/10

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Director Joe Wright’s new film The Soloist seemed an odd follow up to his great Pride and Prejudice and Atonement adaptations. To go from a period drama to a WWII romance to … the discovery of a homeless Julliard dropout on the streets of LA isn’t quite the trajectory I had envisioned him on the path towards. However, once seen, you can’t help but acknowledge his stamp all over it. With a deft use of stunning visuals, the inclusion of a couple trademark long takes and tracking shots, as well as a layered aural composition, (this time the voices in Nathaniel Ayers’ mind as opposed to the mesmerizing typewriter-as-instrument in Atonement), Wright proves once more that he is one of the best young directors working today. Steve Lopez, the LA Times journalist whose story this is based, walked into the tale of this cellist on accident, creating a series of editorial pieces that ultimately became a novel. Was it necessarily one worthy of a big screen conversion? At first I might have said no, but with the Wright’s handling and the stellar performances from both Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., life was breathed into the words, creating an unexpected delight amongst the squalor of LA’s hellish Skid Row.

I absolutely loved the opening credits. It all keeps us off-balance enough to enter the story without expectations. A voiceover narration from Downey Jr.’s Lopez is placed over imagery of him biking around the streets of LA, interspersed with quick cuts to a newspaper being printed on the Times’ giant press. It’s a rapid-fire sequence showing us Lopez as he takes a header into the street, ending up in the hospital surrounded by the bustle and craziness his city contains, while also slowing things down, (an interesting descriptive, I know, considering the speed at which the paper flies through the press), showing us the credit names amongst the black and white paper vignettes. It all leads us to Lopez’s desk, cluttered and small, as he returns, bloodied and bruised, to an office that contains his ex-wife as boss and the inevitable layoffs the company is facing. Uninterested in a fluff piece about giving blood, (his fear of the needle and a freakishly goth Jena Malone causing the trepidation), he decides to take to the streets and see what stories may be out there. A self-proclaimed occupational writer, Lopez has discovered that his love of the written word and why he became a journalist is all but gone. The awe of an amazing yarn, woven with detail, touching those who read it deeply, is replaced by a paycheck and deadlines—that is until he hears the sound of a violin, drowning out the boisterous subway he sits near.

The other end of that sound is Nathaniel Ayers and his two stringed violin; playing his music for his idol Beethoven, a statue that simply flabbergasts him for being placed there in a city park. A conversation strikes up between these two men and the discovery that Ayers had been to Julliard perks Lopez’s ears into thinking he may just have a story. The legwork begins as research and interviews with the musician and his family leads to a series of articles that touches the city in a very real way. An arthritic woman donates her cello to Ayers when she learns the violin he plays now is not his first love and even the mayor takes note by allocating 50 million dollars into helping the homeless of Skid Row. There is no way that Lopez could have imagined the impact this story would have on the community, nor its transformative powers to himself. By looking into the face of Ayers as he plays, seeing the splendor and effect an intangible thing like music can have on such a troubled soul, Lopez’s fervor for life and his own art is reinvigorated. The shell of a man he had become—selfish, money-hungry, and out for fame—soon dissolves as he finds himself propping up this new friend, sticking by his side no matter what problems arise, problems that would alienate any lesser man.

There are a lot of supporting roles in this piece, many of which are played by recognizable faces. However, most are so small and inconsequential, you wonder why they didn’t go cheap and hire lesser-known actors. Rachael Harris and Stephen Root are barely onscreen, half of Root’s minutes are spent in the background as he drunkenly sings karaoke at a bar; Nelsan Ellis, my favorite character from “True Blood” Lafayette, is so unlike that part here that it took me half the film to realize it was him, the head of Lamp’s community for the downtrodden of LA; Catherine Keener is wasted in a role that serves no other purpose then as a mirror to Downey’s Lopez, showing him what he had lost as the years went by; and even Tom Hollander, as Ayers’ cello coach later in the film, is fun if only for his weird Jesus/Lord comments to a man who doesn’t care, because Lopez becomes his living God. The one supporting role that added some true depth to the film comes from Lisa Gay Hamilton as Ayers’ sister Jennifer. She partakes in some very heart-wrenching scenes opposite Foxx, both in a startling flashback that reveals some answers to his fractured mind as well as a redemptive moment towards the film’s conclusion.

Besides Wright’s stunning visceral assault—the compositions are always interesting, holding faces in the corners and blurring unnecessary information; the close-ups of the bow on the strings of the instruments causing graphic abstractions; a Fantasia-like sequence of color bursts swelling to the music; and even the clapping of pigeons’ wings as they fly through the numerous aerial shots of Los Angeles—the real story becomes Jamie Foxx. Downey is great, but really plays a straightforward character looking for redemption. Foxx, on-the-other-hand, has to work as a troubled soul who at times doesn’t know where or what he is. It’s a role that could have potentially become comical and degrading, (see Sean Penn in the horrid I Am Sam), but Foxx instills heart and compassion. His ramblings are unceasing, his ability to play is realistic, and his childlike glee when it comes to the music—those moments of his face in close with only his eyes and nose visible—showing his inner being finding that peace he remembered from his youth. It is a stunning portrait of a man amongst the demoralized and beaten street dwellers, (many of which are so realistic I thought they were non-actors, especially a moment of Downey Jr. cracking up from a woman’s tale about chickens on the street), in a story that truly surprised me with its message and singular voice. It may not be the most captivating of Wright’s work, but it does still deserve a spot next to them on the shelf.

The Soloist 8/10

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photography:
[1] Jamie Foxx stars as Nathaniel Ayers in DreamWorks’ The Soloist (2009) Copyright © DreamWorks Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Robert Downey Jr. stars as Steve Lopez in DreamWorks’ The Soloist (2009) Copyright © DreamWorks Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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Can expectations ever be high for a romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl The answer from this guy, who was even low on Knocked Up, is no. Coming from a script by screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, she of abysmal Laws of Attraction and mediocre Devil Wears Prada fame, I can say I went into 27 Dresses very low, with only the stalwart adoration of my viewing partner keeping me from not even giving it a chance to prove itself. A day later, I am glad she got me to watch it because, upon reflection, it wasn’t that bad. With a scene of impromptu karaoke featuring Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”—bearing similarities to another rom-com I abhorred despite its own brilliant use of song, My Best Friend’s Wedding—a fun cast, and some entertaining moments, (the opening cab scenes as Heigl’s Jane attends two weddings in the same night is inspired), I have to admit I didn’t hate it. Are the obvious clichés and plot evolutions that seem recycled in every film of this genre at work? Yes. But even so, those “been there done that” moments carried enough interest to keep me from throwing the movie out as complete waste.

It’s that old adage, “always a bridesmaid and never a bride”, at work. Jane is a career woman who gives herself completely to those around her, whether friends, boss, or family. She will do anything for Edward Burns’ George because she is in lust with him, her idyllic image of the perfect man for which she can be the perfect employee and hopefully trick into falling for her; she’ll organize and break her back in order to give all her friends perfect nuptials, killing herself in the process and taking up her closet space as she keeps each dress for the memories they contain; and loves her sister Tess so much that even after having helped raise her when their mother died, she decides to keep her mouth shut while watching a web of lies spin out of control, resulting in baby sis getting the guy she always wanted for herself. If it weren’t enough to watch a selfless patsy make everyone around her happy while she devolves deeper and deeper into a self made depression for laughs, add in cocky, wise-guy wedding editorialist Kevin, (the always stellar James Marsden), and you get that perfect piece of abrasive sandpaper to get under Jane’s skin, even though you know his volatility only exists to eventually be overcome with burgeoning love.

You know how this tale of unrequited love and love unknown will end, so it is up to the filmmakers to keep it interesting enough so that your butt doesn’t leave the seat. The best way to do so is by creating some humorous moments to alleviate the clairvoyance-induced boredom you’d otherwise be feeling. A scene like the drunken karaoke is priceless as a result. It’s unexpected, forging the first glimpse of romantic bonding between Kevin and Jane, two opposites that appear to have more fun mocking each other than finding what they have in common deep down. Adding a morally ambiguous best friend in Judy Greer’s Casey helps as well, infusing the proceedings with some crass fun to counteract the wholesomeness Jane exudes. Even Malin Akerman as sister Tess does a good job at playing the puzzle piece to throw everything out of whack, in other words, the reason there is even a conflict to create a film at all. While not the greatest actress in the world, Akerman excels as the beauty turning heads and causing a wholesale upheaval of her sister’s world.

27 Dresses cannot rely on its supporting cast to carry it though. Oftentimes, these periphery players come and go quickly, showing face to advance the plot, disappearing when their job is done. While not necessarily a bad thing, being that none of them really have a fully-fleshed out role, (Akerman sort of does and Ed Burns maybe, despite his very one-dimensional dreamboat humanitarian façade), their comings and goings mean that Heigl has a lot of work to do. I think anyone asking whether she would be up to the task is correct to do so. After all, she only has two lengthy television credits and a whole lot of forgettable theatrical roles to her name. Can Izzie from “Grey’s Anatomy” carry a big budget rom-com expected to bring in huge money? I will never lie in saying I’m a big fan, she doesn’t quite have the looks and most times comes across as bitchy in the parts she gets, but I give her a hand here for doing an admirable job. I do believe Marsden carries her many times, stealing some moments with his charm and comic timing, but Heigl holds her end well, especially since she is on screen close to 100% of the runtime.

The premise is ripe for quality comedy pertaining to something we all know, that insane pomp and circumstance of wedded bliss manufactured to be more “party of the year” than the moment when two people’s love manifests itself into a union of kindred spirits. Once you get beyond the convenience of having our two leads meet coincidentally at a wedding—the down on her luck bridesmaid and the jaded wedding writer who’s flowery words no longer match his feelings about the “big day”—you will enjoy the comedy their meeting creates. Besides the opening yellow cab changing room sequence and karaoke extravaganza, there is one more crucial moment. It is the scene that encapsulates the entire film, Marsden’s discovery of Heigl’s closet of memories. This one scene has every emotion that director Anne Fletcher is looking to portray. It’s the embarrassment of having been in so many without a love for herself; the genuine smile on her face as she remembers the good times had in each; the morphing of his mocking smile to one of understanding as he sees the true worth of each dress; the devastating expressions of both when he takes that final photo of her sad face. His is so apologetic, both for taking the photo and knowing what it is he will be doing with it. The rest is all fluff, leading up to the conclusion we played in our heads an hour before we saw it. Thankfully, amidst all that window dressing lie a few moments of truth where all involved got it right. They may not make 27 Dresses a resounding success, but they do make it ever so slightly relevant and worth a glimpse.

27 Dresses 5/10

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I will be the first to admit that I was brainwashed by the Hollywood machine and never had an interest to check out the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory”. Its marketing campaign billed it as another stupid sitcom to bring in money and entertain the mindless hordes of America. Why would I want to sit and watch 21 minutes of a half hour block filled with nerdy twenty-somethings and their lame attempts at getting women? To me this was a show about Sheldon, (Jim Parsons), and Leonard, (Johnny Galecki), as they temper their physics love with the attractive females that cross their paths. I expected to witness “pick-up lines” and rejections and all-around awkwardness grasping at straws to create a laugh; probably even finding each episode to just be a rehash of the one before it, slightly altered to show some form of progression. After watching, however, besides the moments of redundancy, (it is mostly about a guy and his wanting of the pretty girl across the hall so repetition is unavoidable), this is actually a very well written and orchestrated prime time show. There is a reason it came back for season two and I’d like to think that it’s because of high-brow America catching a glimpse behind the curtain of the intellectual rather than the downfall of the country’s IQ looking for soulless entertainment without a need to watch every week.

Admittedly, you don’t necessarily need to keep up. This isn’t “Lost” or “Heroes” or another serial drama such as those, however, it does make mention of events that occurred in previous episodes, rewarding those who stick with it without alienating those that don’t. I recommend watching in sequential order, though, to fully comprehend everything going on because the show does delve into the intellectual construct. One must watch the activities and idiosyncrasies of each character to create a well-rounded opinion of them. Before watching the show I had an idea of what the term “gifted” meant, but after viewing the premiere season, I think that idea has evolved. To me, “gifted” didn’t mean a whole lot; heck, I was anointed with the term growing up, but all that meant was a day away from school for more stimulating work each week, (ie. fun with Apple computers, performing plays, and solving tanagram puzzles for stickers in elementary school, extra work in middle school, and the ability to succeed in AP classes during high school). Did the experience help me in any way? Sure, probably, especially since my predilections were towards the art sphere. The problem solving skills and acceptance of alternative ways of life—learning the arts and how math and science and history help hone them—were something I may never have gotten just sitting in class with all the other students. Was I or am I at the level of the four stars of “Big Bang”? Absolutely not, those guys are on a plane all to themselves.

This show ends up enhancing my perception of the term by portraying its many heads. Yes, all four geeks are in the science realm of experimentation whether physics or engineering, but they manifest their intelligence in completely different ways. I use terms like nerd or geek, not with malice, but with endearment. I think most would carry those names as a badge of honor rather than anything else. It’s the terms like loser or retard, (come on, many are the epitome of social retardation), that cause pain and internal suffering. Nerds can supercede their own minds by seeing the world and allowing themselves to be a part of it, yet many of the more highly advanced tend to have too big of an ego to do so. Why belittle yourself by speaking with an inferior when you could be playing videogames with others of your intelligence? Most normal people would say human interaction is a good reason, but sadly these “gifted” folk seem perfectly happy staying alone. Look at Sheldon and his absolute ambivalence to the female sex for pleasure or relationship. His mind is so hardwired in creating the next Nobel prize-winning whatever that his libido is shut off. Pretty girls have no effect on him, but with his lack of a verbal filter, inability to lie, and unwillingness to show compassion, they shouldn’t mind too much.

“Gifted” in the true definition of the word applies to many different people, spanning multiple occupations. A gifted artist might not be able to add 2 plus 2, but can paint a masterpiece that could potentially bring even Genghis Khan to tears. The ones used here are in the very stereotypical sphere of high intellect and enjoyment of fantasy and science fiction above real life. Face it, these are the guys you yourself called losers growing up, whether to their faces or in your heads. We all do it because that is what we are taught to do. One thing we can’t understand growing up is the fact that our country, and the world even, will be run by these nerds that we all but instilled a life-long hatred in towards us. I by no means even touch the mind power of these creatures, but even I experience the weird encounters almost ten years past high school of seeing those who didn’t generally bother with me in school try their hardest to say hello and “catch up”. These guys have their own fraternity—Trekkies and Star Wars fanatics—to shield them from the “cool kids” that wouldn’t show them the time of day. One might say that they could learn a lot from a “normal” person, like how to interact in the world or how to succeed in getting women, but truthfully, it is the “normal” soul that could use some educating. They may rule the world when they are young, but many soon find out that success is not gained by popularity, (there are exceptions to this rule, yes). The “gifted” kids always look toward the future and see what they are capable of achieving—their social life can be honed and learned over post graduate years—an education and acceptance of people different from you, well that’s a hard thing to discover when you’ve trained yourself so fully in close-minded bigotry.

But I feel weird calling Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, (Kunal Nayyar), and Howard, (Simon Helberg), “gifted”. Gifted is just a word, a label used way too often and for so many reasons. My own mother used it to describe a mentally handicapped person because she didn’t want to be mean; many of my friends were gifted but also jocks and screw-ups. Not all kids singled out will even become the people they have potential to be. Some may take the alienation as harmful and then begin to act out against it, to wipe that stigma from their identity by any means possible, ruining their lives in order to fit in and be “normal”. It is a sad reality. Therefore, to continue talking about “Big Bang’s” leads, I must label them as geniuses, because that is truly what they are. Society will call them assholes, inconsiderate, buzzkills, selfish, and they may very well be. But what society doesn’t understand is that they call us stupid, petty, and materialistic fools. We can all learn from each other; intellectual bigotry is still bigotry and if you aren’t willing to treat those different from you as equals, you aren’t better than them. That goes for both sides.

And here is why I find “The Big Bang Theory” to be so enjoyable. With the four guys we get the absolute polar end of intellect, but with Kaley Cuoco’s Penny, we get the opposite end’s pretty girl that likes pretty things, simple jobs, impossible dreams, and muscular men. So, rather than my initial reaction to commercials, thinking this would be about nerds getting rejected by beauties, what we get is the slow evolution of the human condition. We see a materialistic hottie find out the benefits of having nerds for friends and see those nerds discovering human interaction in a way they have never been exposed to. This show is a melting pot of the minds, putting a mirror in front of ourselves to see every fault and insecurity, realizing that no one has it easy; we just all fail in different ways depending on who we have chosen to become.

There is some real biting commentary included in the daily exercise of life that these five souls share on screen. Beyond the stereotypes that a girl like Penny will never become romantically involved with a guy like Leonard, (or will she?), and the general geekery going on, (NES belt buckle anyone? How about an original “Battlestar Galactica” flightsuit?), many laughs show the fallibility of both sides and make us as an audience reevaluate how we treat others. While Sheldon may possess no tact whatsoever, many of the things he says are spot-on. If I were to compare myself to one of the creatures in this sitcom cage, I’d probably say Leonard, (I mean I don’t want to be one of the other three who can’t connect with the outside world), but truthfully I find myself relating to Sheldon much more. The things he says—the biting, sardonic, matter-of-fact observations, (they are not insults, he is just brutally honest)—are oftentimes exactly what I think, yet I have this thing called a conscience and self-control, allowing myself to repress the impulse to alienate myself from the rest of the English-speaking world. When he watches Penny buying vitamins at the supermarket and tells her she is purchasing what will become very expensive urine, or when he guesses her weight and she cringes to which he replies, “I’m sorry, does your body mass have some connection to your self worth?” I can’t help but smirk and tell myself that Sheldon is the most awesome character ever.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Penny’s reactions to his babbling intellect and confusion concerning topics and events that we “normal” people deal with on a daily basis show his faults as well. The difference between the two, however, is that when Penny has her flaws thrown into her face, she gets angry as she knows he is right. When Sheldon’s are tossed his way, he just manifests a blank stare because he doesn’t understand the error of his way. I believe that a discussion to start one of the earlier episodes brings up a valid point—is Sheldon a robot? His lack of any attraction to females, his monotone speech, and intricate use of the English language, (I have to applaud Jim Parsons for being able to recite the many long and complicated monologues he has week to week without cracking up. I’d love to know how many takes each needs), could very well lead to that conclusion. A cyborg is in our midst and his name is Sheldon Cooper.

While by far the most interesting dynamic of the show—Penny and Sheldon—the relationships between the others intrigue as well. Leonard and Penny’s frightened and unaccepted love for each other respectively is the most obvious connection, and, as a result, the least interesting. You can infer that one day they will finally get together, but watching the uncomfortable struggles each week can become redundant and cringe-worthy at times. I enjoy Raj’s inability to speak with women unless inebriated—it causes some good laughs—and Howard’s futile attempts at wooing women with his foreign languages, including the language of love, can cause a chuckle or two as well. In the end, though, it once again falls to Sheldon and how his three friends interact with him. Leonard, Raj, and Howard, while dorks, are not oblivious to the ways of civilized society. They have their idiosyncrasies building walls to separate from the “cool kids”, but they can overcome them. Even these nerds acknowledge the fact that Sheldon is of a different universe, teaming together when they know their friend is on an impossible train of thought. When he is ill, the trio have set protocol on how to avoid him; when he is going stir crazy after losing his job, they call the one person able to snap him back on course … his mother, (a wonderful cameo by Laurie Metcalf, one of two Roseanne alums to join Galecki, Sara Gilbert being the other); and when he refuses to join a physics trivia team, they gang up to destroy his ego and try their hardest to instill some sort of human failure in him.

I credit this all to the fact that Parsons’ Sheldon is the most extreme version of the “gifted”/genius this world has to offer. He is so far out there that everyone else must exist in contrast to him. Even those we come across on a daily basis deemed eggheads are “normal” when compared to this boy wonder. I wait with baited breath for the next time Sheldon dresses down an opponent unintentionally because that is where “The Big Bang Theory” truly excels. You may come into the show believing that Galecki’s Leonard is the main character, the star of the show, but I think that after a few viewings, you will discover that Parsons is actually at center stage. Like Metcalf says, “that science stuff … that’s from Jesus.” Sheldon is the epitome of divine intervention, the perfect mix of brain atoms to create a superior mind. The other characters live and die by their insecurities while he is the test subject control they all evolve from. Leonard, Raj, and Howard are slowly moving from Sheldon status to Penny status, mutating into these hybrid beasts of brains and social skill while Penny learns to deal with the fact that Sheldons exist in the world. The only person to never change, (Parsons), is therefore the show’s sun in its heliocentric universe, the other leads simply planets fluctuating away from, yet always being brought back to, the center after failure or insecurity reverts them to their starting points.

My favorite aspect of the show, however, becomes the fact that I start to become one of those planets as well. I join the dance as I begin to relate to Sheldon and move closer and closer to his cynical, emotionless ways. I start to watch the show so I can see creator Chuck Lorre’s vanity card after the credits, pausing the screen to read his humorous rants. I read that one was censored and feel the need to google and find out why, (his website has the answer by the way), and even look so closely that I find a typo in #191, “I would’ve have”. I begin to wonder whether Raj’s slip of “Good Story!” in episode #13 to Penny, without the ingestion of alcohol, was scripted or a happy accident left in. I even hear Sheldon tell Leonard, when the issue of money arises, that he can “always sell blood or semen”, and wonder if this is a continuity error since the show debuted with the two of them leaving a sperm bank after deciding they couldn’t do it. I get so involved that, between the laughter bringing my planet to the outskirts of the sun’s orbit and just having a good time, I slowly get drawn in by the allure of Sheldon’s mechanical perfection, looking to find imperfections in the stories to prove I’m smarter then the writers.

And I guess that right there is why “The Big Bang Theory” is a success. It allows you to not only relate to each character involved, seeing a bit of yourself in them all, but to also join them on their journey of self-discovery and evolution. We as an audience start to feel the need to be smarter while also relishing in the normalcy our true lives give us. Complete with stellar pop culture references, making we who catch the inside jokes feel even geekier, this show does succeed on its own merits. It is definitely more than just a sitcom catering to the lowest common denominator of society, while also not being so full of itself that it turns that faction off of it. Lorre has crafted something that spans all intellectual boundaries, making us want to learn and accept those around us for whom they are, hoping they open their minds to doing the same for us.

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The very candid, funny, and intelligent Chilean author Isabel Allende ushered in a new era for the Babel series. Being the inaugural show at the event’s new headquarters of Kleinhans Music Hall, there were even more people in attendance, many additional students, and a lot more parking closer to the venue. It is interesting that out of the first eight speakers in the series’ two year existence, I have only come in twice without any knowledge of the story, whether from reading the book, seeing a theatrical version, or both. The first time was the premiere’s Orhan Pamuk, and the second tonight with Allende. Thankfully, like the previous instance, she ended up being more of a political activist, outspoken about her views, rather than someone looking to interpret her novel. She said she just “wasn’t in the mood for an academic conversation tonight,” and instead talked about joy, the one common emotion and state of being that is completely necessary despite these hard times making us forget its importance.

Allende is a very intelligent woman with a fantastic sense of humor. She had the audience eating right out of her hands with her quips, even taking a shot at our city with the line about how our economy was always dismal, “the rest of the country is just catching up”. While her jokes were funny, I couldn’t bring myself to be totally won over at first. The speech was scripted beforehand and read aloud as though one of her books. Each joke came out without so much as a smile, only a pause allowing for the inevitable laughter, and there was plenty. Fortunately, her timing and quick wit stayed in view during the Q&A, only this time she had to speak off the cuff, reacting to questions that were not read to her previously. I really wish she could have done this the whole night, because when she improvised for a laugh, her face lit up and she began to have fun with the moment. As someone who admits to not having a rigid structure when writing, a woman who allows her tales to evolve organically as she writes without a pre-devised outline, I’m surprised she came in with such a rigid, almost canned, speech.

But don’t take my disappointment as saying she failed. Her anecdotes and personality were definite winners. She could come across as a bit full of herself at times and her diatribes about feminism and how the machismo and testosterone of the world’s patriarchy were ruining humanity got old fast, (the same joke rephrased and told inside a new story doesn’t make it original again), but overall she was the consummate entertainer, playing the audience to perfection. Everything she said carried the underlying theme of how precious life is. With losing a daughter at 29 and then a step daughter a couple short years later, living through a governmental coup in her home country, and seeing her mother marry her love after 60 years just a week ago, (there is no divorce in Chile so her husband had to wait until his first wife died before being wed again), one would realize how tangential our existence is. “To live fully is a choice,” she says, “you can choose to love or kill love… choose the unbearable lightness of being or drown in pettiness”. Allende has most definitely chosen a world of joy; living with risk, but not fear.

She is a very practical woman, speaking of her work as just that. “It’s just a book,” she says, nothing more. All these students and scholars write theses about House of Spirits and what each part means metaphorically and in conjunction with others. One even wrote about what the true meaning of the dog was. She dispels any speculation though by saying “he is just a dog”. Admitting herself that she had no idea what the novel was about until seeing it on screen as a film, Allende was too close to the stories she wove. Beginning as a series of letters to her dying uncle, proving to him that she remembered each familial anecdote he ever told her, she began to mix her history with fiction, creating the Truebas family from the raw clay of her own. It was a perfect mirroring of her own talk tonight—one full of asides and stories, bringing in her own anecdotes to keep the message she believes in and expressed to us fresh and interesting. Even an audience member joined the fun by telling a tale himself about how he had recently wrote an Allende quote in the men’s room stall of a Williamsville restaurant. Yes, Buffalo loves Allende and she returned the favor, volunteering to sign whatever came her way after the event, spreading her infectious joy with the dreary citizens of the city who came out to be enlightened and uplifted.

Babel’s 08-09 season is now on sale. Buy your tickets today.

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I feel like Hollywood just remade Big a few years back. It was called 13 Going on 30 and it was an inferior product; but what wouldn’t be in comparison to Penny Marshall’s classic? This year sees the industry go back to that well again with the Zac Efron vehicle 17 Again. It comes from director Burr Steers whose debut was the critical darling Igby Goes Down, so there was potential. Complete with a cast of notable faces and a stellar soundtrack featuring The Virgins, Santogold, and The Kooks, my initial trepidation was pushed aside as I decided to go into this “spiritual journey” mish-mash with an open mind. I’m glad I did, because there are some genuinely funny moments along with a sweet and touching overall message. However, when you look deep into the work you will not find much to grasp onto below the surface. It’s been seen before; the relationship between young-again father and his high school children gets beyond creepy; and everything happens just as you’d assume it would. There are no surprises, but did you really think there would be?

The film is all about Mike O’Donnell, a soon to be 40 year old who has been looking back on his life with regret. As the star basketball player in high school, he chose love and family above a chance to play in, or even go to, college. The past twenty years have been a chore of responsibility he never could own up to despite his beautiful wife and two children. When divorce proceedings commence and he sees once and for all how little his kids see him as a father figure, he comes in contact with Brian Doyle-Murray’s janitor who sends him back, in body not time, to rediscover why he made the choice he did. What is initially looked upon as a chance to be the hero on the court again becomes an opportunity to help his kids against the angst and horrors of high school—becoming a hero in his home life, the path he chose back when he was actually seventeen.

It all begins enjoyably as we see this hotshot kid, (Efron’s young Mike to Matthew Perry’s adult version), do pretty much whatever he wants—he is the most popular boy in school—even being best friends with the biggest dork their age. I’ve only seen Efron in one other film, Richard Linklater’s criminally unreleased Me and Orson Welles, and he was very good in it. What worked in that film is my one criticism of him here, and that is the fact that he looks like he is acting. For a very theatrical role in Welles, it fit perfectly, here, however, in a world that is supposed to be natural, he just doesn’t quite have the skills yet. The ability to be good in a few years is there, but right now I believe his charisma carries him. And that isn’t a bad thing. I actually really enjoyed the moments when his “adult self” came through in his actions and speech after the transformation takes place. The kid is definitely enjoyable to watch.

The real success, though, are performances from Thomas Lennon and Leslie Mann. Mann is in her element with this role; very similar to those her husband Judd Apatow usually casts her to play. Something about this woman just works in portraying the attractive mother any guy would be insane to let get away. As for Lennon, well his absolute crazy absurdity steals each scene he is a part of. As the grown-up version of Mike’s friend Ned, he is a rich computer programmer that collects and lives in the fantasy/comic worlds he grew up idolizing. When Efron’s Mike comes in the house unknown, the two partake in a massive fight scene complete with mace and shield as well as a fun lightsaber dual. But where he really shines is in interactions with high school Principal Masterson, played by “The Office’s” Melora Hardin. Once we discover her true internal workings and Lennon ceases his “peacocking”, the two of them cause massive laughter in their creepiness.

But that is the “good” creepiness. There is a lot of bad to go with it, much to the detriment of the movie. The inherent problem of having a father become the age of his children and try and help them make the basketball team, (Sterling Knight), and practice abstinence, (Michelle Trachtenberg), is that he will become best friend and/or love interest to them respectively. Then there are the pedophilic tendencies of Mann’s mother towards Efron, (even though they are technically married), and what is unavoidable becomes used front and center for jokes. Unfortunately those jokes are of the uncomfortable kind, the audience can’t get their heads around the fact a seventeen year old is hitting on a forty year old or a daughter trying to make out with her father. That’s right … creepy.

Couple that awkwardness with the sheer predictability of it all, 17 Again becomes just a run-of-the-mill teen comedy. I did really like the message at its core, that selflessness and the ability to love outweigh any dreams of grandeur for financial or popular success. Sometimes it just takes longer for some—I’m not sure twenty years is a credible length of time, but the writer did need to make the kids of age—or an event to push them back into the reality of how great their life is. I also liked certain scenes like that of Efron verbally abusing bully Stan, (“Weeds’” Hunter Parrish), in the lunch room, as well as his trying to help the Health teacher get her point across after passing out condoms—there are funny moments. I even enjoyed the filmmakers’ knowledge that they were ripping off so many movies that came before. The allusions to It’s a Wonderful Life, (the greatest “spiritual journey” film in existence), like on the bridge, are great, as is the homage to Back to the Future with Efron’s supposed awakening from his dream to be with his daughter much like Marty McFly wakes to his mother. In the end, though, its weaknesses win out. While it is reasonably harmless, there are just too many other quality alternatives to recommend.

17 Again 4/10

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photography:
[1] (L-R) ZAC EFRON as Mike O’Donnell and THOMAS LENNON as Ned Gold in New Line Cinema’s comedy “17 Again,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. The film also stars Leslie Mann, Michelle Trachtenberg and Matthew Perry. Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.
[2] MATTHEW PERRY (center) as the adult Mike O’Donnell in New Line Cinema’s comedy “17 Again,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. The film also stars Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon and Michelle Trachtenberg. Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.

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Let’s just say that The Daytrippers has just gone to the top of my must-see list of films. After the fun that was Superbad and now the heartfelt homage to summer jobs during college with Adventureland, Greg Mottola is a force to be reckoned with. His handle on ensemble casts is fantastic, getting some great performances, introducing new faces, and making each actor project authenticity. Superbad was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, lending it more of a raunchiness and absurdity, basing itself in a heightened high school reality, while Adventureland marks Mottola’s sophomore effort as writer. It is completely relatable, mirroring the audience’s experiences post college/high school, looking for the cash to go away for school. Each character is written so fully that even the periphery roles come off the screen as three-dimensional. The film may be about James Brennan and his quest to go to Columbia in the fall, but it is also a time capsule of the 80s and what it means to be on the cusp of adulthood.

Everyone is a child, at varying degrees of maturity—and age plays no factor in this statement. The biggest kids, to me, are actually Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s Bobby and Paulette. They run the titular amusement park with a penchant for fun, safety, and litter-free pavement. Depending on circumstances, Hader can go from serious conversation about the books and numbers to a crazed, bat-wielding bouncer protecting his employees without threat of recourse. This is his park and he knows the score—what the kids want, what the games should give them, and what immature punks need to be shown in order to behave. Hader is slowly becoming one of the best supporting comics in the business, I just hope he doesn’t get offered a mediocre starring vehicle with bad writing to “launch” his career further, he deserves better. Both he and Wiig show their love for each other as well as the park constantly, uncaring about how juvenile they may appear at times. They take it to 10 at every step.

The worst culprits on the scale of immaturity are the parents of the park employees. In order for a film like this to work, you need a reason for these kids to be working at a dead-end job for the summer. My one complaint about the film is the fact that Mottola relies on financial status to explain it. Jesse Eisenberg’s James must work there because he has had a golden spoon his whole life and now sees it disappear as his father gets transferred to a lower paying job; Kristen Stewart’s Em works there to fight against the money and status her lawyer father has given her and her mother-in-law lives for; and the others in this ragtag bunch of minimum-wagers are there either because they enjoy it, their families don’t have the money to keep them from it, or their dreams have been postponed to stay close to home and help out. I guess money isn’t the worst thing he could use to get them all together, this is the 80s after all, it’s just a bit contrived that you have two guys heavily influenced in literature, (one who reads Shakespeare for fun sometimes and another majoring in Russian with a love for Gogol), working together at a crappy job. But then one came from money and one did not, so it might not be as stereotypical as first thought.

Back to the parents, though, they are horribly selfish and spoiled brats. Never taking into consideration their children, each either ignore their kids, become oblivious to their actions, worry about their own finances instead of living up to promises, let their son take the fall for a bottle of alcohol in the car, of just plain not care at all. None of these “adults” have any redeeming qualities; they have ruined their lives and are all on track to ruin that of their offspring. Adventureland becomes a haven for all the kids to be themselves and experience more of a parental influence from boss Bobby then at home. It is a decade of greed and none are safe from it. While the adults pursue money, the kids pursue sex and drugs.

Mottola could have just made this film into the antics at an amusement park. While there are definitely instances of that, especially when the employees are drunk or high, he never cops-out from telling his coming of age story. For every moment of park games cheating, gluing googly eyes to plush bananas, or fights with the locals there are three plus instances of poignancy, whether they be joy or heartbreak, both common emotions for all twentysomethings. Love is on display at every turn in all its complicated glory. With lovelorn, sheltered guys like James; awkward intellectuals like Martin Starr’s Joel; virgin teases in dance-fanatic Margarita Levieva’s Lisa P; Stewart’s young woman in desperate need for attention and affection; and Ryan Reynolds’ marriage-trapped lothario, pain becomes a common factor. Feelings are trampled upon, ignored, and bolstered, mistakes are made and either regretted or redeemed. We all act like juveniles at times, wanting to be the center of attention, but with that comes those moments where we come together and stand up for those we care about.

The film itself is well shot and constructed, including many sequences of pure visual joy such as an extended bumper car scene. Complete with a stellar 80s soundtrack, (I could have done with less “Rock Me Amadeus”), Adventureland encapsulates a feeling of nostalgia for a time we all leave behind us once our careers begin. Some live out the dream and some hold on for too long knowing it will never come to fruition. This fact isn’t expressed more than with the relationship between Reynolds’ Connell and Eisenberg’s James. The two are on opposite paths, one constantly looking to the past for a love he can’t have in his marriage and the other looking towards the future for a world of complete happiness. They cross paths often, Stewart’s troubled and confused love interest in the middle, but rather than exploit the dynamic for over-the-top fireworks and violence, Mottola keeps both in character. By acknowledging who they are and what they stand for, the final confrontation between them could not have been more appropriate. Eisenberg is proving his worth as a deserving actor in Hollywood and Reynolds shows once more how nuanced and good he can be.

Adventureland 8/10

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photograph:
[1] Jesse Eisenberg as James Brennan, Martin Starr as Joel Schiffman Photo credit: Abbot Genser/Courtesy of Miramax Films.
[2] Bill Hader as Bobby, Kristen Wiig as Paulette Photo credit: Abbot Genser/Courtesy of Miramax Films.

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I can’t say enough about Danny McBride. The guy has been on a tear of late, even getting his own HBO show “Eastbound & Down”. Well, his star has risen in large part to his collaborator on that show, Jody Hill. Hill wrote and directed everyone’s favorite curly mullet in a little film called The Foot Fist Way, and it’s been all uphill since. I have yet to experience this inaugural turn—the film the Apatow gang saw before letting him join their posse—but have heard all good things. With that in mind, I was eagerly anticipating the new Seth Rogen vehicle Observe and Report. Hill was back as orchestrator, but this time he had an established star at the front. The trailer looked like it might cross over into dark territory and I was all for it. Unfortunately, when the tide does change, when imbecility becomes psychopathic, not only does the film become a tad uncomfortable and odd, but also slow and boring. There are some funny moments—even at the end—however, overall, the film just plain falls flat.

You don’t think much can go wrong with a simple premise about a mall security guard and a guy like Rogen leading the way. Heck, Kevin James made a killing with Paul Blart and that just looked like mindless stupidity. Something about this film looked as though it might be relevant. It had the chance to delve into the insecurities and masks that a twenty-something year old with responsibility in a joke of a job puts on to keep sane and important. Perhaps there would be an evolution, some growth from immature headcase to heroic hourly employee that gets the girl. Well, I’m here to say that Observe and Report is nothing of the sort. By using the inclusion of Rogen’s Ronnie Barnhardt’s prescription drug use, medication to help cut his bi-polar tendencies, as a cause for him to just go crazy, Hill takes the story to a much blacker place than expected. It only takes one seemingly innocuous exchange, the declaration that his life is going so good he doesn’t need to take pills anymore, to allow a slightly deranged, but in check—“let’s use our inside voices”—man become the rage hidden beneath his awkward exterior.

Oh, and let’s not worry about writing in consequences or anything. The darkness includes heavy drug use, extended male frontal nudity, (there is a streaker on the loose after all), excessive violence at the hand of batons and flashlights, and a shooting that is so surprising and appropriate in its own strange way that I actually loved it. What is once a mission to gain respect and self-worth, the need to find a criminal who has sexually assaulted the girl of his dreams to prove to the real cops he has what it takes, spirals out of control. The absurdity of it all can be appreciated, and the turns it takes can be seen as bold yet fitting, but in the end, what was the point of it all? Loose ends are tied up, no one really suffers, and bad people remain very, very bad, if not worse. Maybe its all a commentary on the utter selfishness of consumerism and the people employed as cogs in its grand machine, whether they mall workers or customers, but I think that is giving too much credit. I believe all those shots of eccentric, possibly unaware real shoppers are there to serve as a mirror for society’s gluttony and greed. The actual plot and storyline, though, that’s just an excuse to get as crazy as you want and not have to worry about repercussions.

Observe and Report did attract some talent, so you have to believe all involved saw something that they felt needed to be expressed. Anna Faris plays pretty much the same character she does in everything, the bimbo slutty girl all the guys want, (I still can’t get past her lips and how ugly they make her look), and Ray Liotta takes another role that allows him to have some fun and collect a paycheck, something that appears to be par for the course at this point in his career. I really enjoyed John Yuan and Matt Yuan as the Yuen twins with their perpetual giddiness about destruction as well as Michael Peña’s turn as Dennis. His speech impediment and gangsta stylings are priceless, especially for a guy that is most known and praised for stellar dramatic turns. Definitely the highlight of the film, I laughed every time he opened his mouth, even when his character took a turn, much like the film, that was oddly appropriate if not completely out of left field. The true shining light, however, is Collette Wolfe as a coffee shop cashier in a leg brace. Her purity is on display in stark contrast to everything else, begging to finally be a catalyst to some event in Ronnie’s life. She was subtle and by far the most natural part of the movie, definitely the focal point we could ground ourselves with as the world of the mall is turned upside-down.

And that brings me to Seth Rogen. He is great in this role, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t know why he thought he needed to do it. Sure he gets to smack kids around with skateboards and push people over as he pursues a naked, chubby man through the mall, but it’s a thankless role as far as moral ambiguity goes. The audience can never feel as though he deserves anything. He throws away or is blind to all the good in his life and he falls pray to urges that will do nothing but harm him. I guess maybe the film works as a cautionary tale for parents to not raise their kids drunk and to push them into following their dreams. Unfortunately, through it all, not only does Rogen not reach his dreams, he shatters them and should be thrown in jail or an institution for the rest of his life as a result. Instead, though, what do you think happens? I’ll just pose the question: do you think he gets the girl, and if so which one? Maybe bad things do breed happiness.

Observe and Report 5/10

Oh, and back to Danny McBride … totally steals the entire film with a two–minute cameo as “Caucasian crackhead”—pure genius at work.

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photography:
[1] (L-R) ANNA FARIS as Brandi and SETH ROGEN as Ronnie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ dark comedy “Observe and Report,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Peter Sorel.
[2] MICHAEL PEÑA as Dennis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ dark comedy “Observe and Report,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release starring Seth Rogen. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

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Our screening of the original uncut 1940 Roadshow, 35mm Disney Studio Archive Print, (yes, it came from the “vault”), of Fantasia was introduced by Disney historian and author John Culhane. He relayed a story about when he spoke with Walt in 1951 and mentioned how great he thought this mix of sound and images was. Walt responded by saying, “but it hasn’t made any money yet”. And that was ten years after its release. He did say that Disney still held strong to his convictions that it was what he needed to make at that time. In 1940, he believed that showing a visceral experience like Fantasia was just what the medium called for; it was the natural evolution of animation in his mind. You have to respect that, no matter how much money he lost after its four-year creation process, employing thousands of animators, it was all about the craft. When you look at the state of the genre today, with about ten films a year from multiple studios, many of them drivel, it is definitely a treat to go back seventy years and see what actual hands drew for the world to see. Frame by frame, note by note, you really can’t deny the brilliance of this film, even if you probably will fall asleep at least once each viewing.

I remember the first time I had seen Fantasia, I was young and it was one of the few Disney films I had yet to experience. I hated it. It was the most boring thing I’d ever seen. Even when Mickey Mouse finally showed face, with that wizard hat I had seen in so many pictures, I could care less. Truthfully, I might not even have finished it, (when intermission came halfway through, I told my friend that I couldn’t even remember what else there was, all my memories had played in Act 1). But I kept thinking about the film each year later. As I grew older and started pursuing a career in the arts, it nagged at me that I didn’t appreciate the feat. Then Fantasia 2000 came out and I began to see what I missed in the original so many years before. So, when it was announced that Fantasia was coming to Buffalo’s premier theatre Shea’s, it was an invite that was tough to pass up.

Admittedly, I almost nodded off a few times during the two-hour duration. But that is not meant to detract from the wonder this film instills, not at all. From the narration amongst the Philadelphia Orchestra by Deems Taylor, in partial silhouette, complete with a prologue to each song, (whether they be the kind of music that tells a definite story, the kind that has no specific plot, or that which exists simply for its own sake), to the image of conductor Leopold Stokowski standing alone on his platform, to the animation onscreen, working from the music, telling its story, you will be transported to a different world. It is not for everyone—especially little children this day and age with no attention spans, (many parents left with their offspring early on)—but if you’re willing to let it wash over you, and enjoy the works of Bach, Tchaikovsky, etc., you won’t be disappointed. It’s a concert film above all else; you’re just watching animation rather than the musicians and their instruments.

And you cannot deny the artistry of it all, oftentimes harkening to future films Disney would be making. You can see the precursors to Tinkerbell in the naked fairies flying around as well as the donkey used that same year in Pinocchio. The abstract illustrations are intriguing, but my favorites are definitely the ones steeped in some biomorphic form. I absolutely love the “Nutcracker Suite” vignette, find the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” to be wonderful, and really get blown away by some of the finale, the combo of “Night On Bald Mountain” and “Ave Maria”. In that final sequence you get to see some amazing artwork in the devilish, winged creature as well as the architectural forms during the “light” moments at the end. At times you see frames with immense amounts of gradation and depth, moments where the stark flat colors usually seen, meld into still frames gorgeously painted as though works of art, not something to be seen for a fraction of a second. I’m not sure exactly what causes this, but those freeze-frames are my favorite part of the film.

So, is Fantasia a great film? I don’t really know how to answer that question. I can appreciate it for what it set out to do, and deem it a complete success in that regard, but would I rather watch it then the likes of Disney classics like Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, or Robin Hood? No. That said, though, I would recommend it to anyone out there with an open mind and ability to see past the commonplace and mainstream. Some may say you can only truly enjoy your experience if you are on drugs, that the creators themselves were at the time, but that is a disservice. Fantasia is a world that needs to envelop you and become your sole visual focal point for two hours. If you are willing to put in the time, Disney’s epic will not lead you astray.

Fantasia 8/10

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