Month: August 2009
Pitch Perfect: Review for “Glee”
I am a self professed theater geek. A “drama-rama”. Or, now, a “Gleek”. Fox’s new show, Glee, created by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck), is my kind of dream show. It brings together all the clichés of high school life and makes the viewer care less that there are so many of them. There’s the shrewy cheerleader, the gay fashionista, the paraplegic outcast, the girl who loves herself but is unanimously hated by others, the jock hiding a secret passion, and the jock-ass. These stereotypes are brought together by a string of excellent songs, ranging from theater geek-tastic show tunes like “Mister Cellophane” from Chicago and “On My Own” from Les Miserables, to classic rock and roll tracks like “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, and contemporary pop like Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. A little weird? Too musical for you? You won’t even notice.
Mr. Schuster (Matthew Morrison from the original Broadway cast of Hairspray) is a Spanish teacher struggling financially and being pushed by his wife to work as an accountant. His passion is teaching; he doesn’t care about money, yada yada yada… That storyline is admittedly the weakest part of the show, because, in real life, you may just have to take that job if it means you’ll be able to feed your family, no matter if you love teaching or dancing or whatever you please. After the Glee Club president is fired, he decides to take it up himself, and is met with dismay from most of his co-workers. “High school is a cast system. You have your jocks, cheerleaders, cool kids-they’re all up at the penthouse. The nerds…are all on the first floor,” the cheer coach says venomously. Schuster asks, “And the Glee kids?” “Sub-basement.”
Well, a few kids do join. Rachel Berry (Lea Michele from Spring Awakening) has a great amount of talent. Only, no one could care less. She’s a huge star in her mind, but bragging about it comes with consequences: being one of the most reviled kids in the school. But there is sweetness about her, even if she says that “the most important thing these days is fame and nobody is just going to hand it to you”.
Finn (Corey Monteith), the football quarterback is one of those guys who will gladly drop you into a dumpster. Well, at least until he looks inside of himself and realizes that he doesn’t want to be that kind of guy. Hiding away from the other football players is a really good voice. He sings “I Can’t Fight (This Feeling Anymore)” a capella in the shower while Mr. Schuster is listening. And to get him to join Glee Club he…blackmails him. He does so by pretending to find pot in his locker and telling him that if he doesn’t join, he’ll have to serve 12 weeks of detention. What does he do? He joins and sings a duet with Rachel from Grease, entitled “You’re the One That I Want”.
Other characters inhabit the main clichés and are warm and welcome throughout the show. The main goal of the Glee Club is to win the Nationals. Jayma Mays, who plays the timid Emma Pillsbury, the guidance counselor with OCD, and she plays her character with perfection. She, much like Charlie Brown for the Little Red Headed Girl (only reverse the situation), has unrequited feelings for Will Schuster. Jane Lynch is perfect as the vicious Cheerios coach, nailing every one of her lines with sardonicism that is unmatched in the world of comediennes.
The musical performances are really quite spectacular. It is a very nice way to bring classic rock standards and famous shows tunes and have them exposed to a new kind of audience. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a showstopper and everyone who sings has a really great voice.
This is a very fun show and I hope that the rest of the season is an exciting and spellbinding as the first episode. It is really quite a gem in a series of rather dull shows that revolve around crime and hospitals (which seem to be making a comeback).
My Compliments to the Chef!: Review of “Julie & Julia”
Julia Child is a giant and how they could get a 5’6” actress to play a 6’2” icon doesn’t really surprise me. Not, at least, when it’s Meryl Streep in the role as the warbley chef. Julie & Julia is based on Julia Child’s autobiography published in 2005, My Life in Paris, and Julie Powell’s memoir Julie & Julia: 524 Recipes, 365 Days, 1 Tiny Apartment. To say the least, this movie is food porn. Succulent beouf bourgeoning and delicious almond-chocolate cakes are on screen for a good part of the film. But enough about walking out of the theater starving let us move on to the film itself.
Julie Powell is a 29 year-old cubicle worker dealing with the post 9/11 aftermath of thousands of sobbing bereaved individuals. Her life is going nowhere fast. She worked as an editor at a magazine, wrote half a novel, and has a mother in Texas constantly reminding her of how short her shortcomings have been. Jealous of her rich and successful “friends” (I say this in parentheses because she really hates them), she has sort of an epiphany. She decides that she will write a blog and go through Julia Child’s world famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the first French cookbook to be published in English.
On the other side of the film, Julia Child and her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci, so excellent from The Devil Wears Prada) are stationed in Paris by the OSS (yes, the master of French cooking was a spy…sort of). Bored of having nothing to do, she tries taking up various hobbies, from making hats to joining a Bridge club; she finally decides to go with her passion of French food, only recently discovered, and takes classes at the internationally renowned Le Cordon Bleu. At first, she has a little trouble in a class full of men. But she then begins to master cooking, chopping a mound of onions, as if one had ticked her off and she had vowed revenge on all of them. She begins to make friends with the future collaborators of her famous book.
Amy Adams as Julie Powell is quite a choice. Thus far, she has not made a mistake in her roles, from Junebug to Enchanted, to more dramatic roles in Doubt and Sunshine Cleaning. She is quite excellent in the film. Her character, however, is extremely whiny and narcissistic. She checks her blog for comments-every hour. Her relationship with her supportive husband dissolves throughout several scenes. But her exuberance for her passion is enlightening.
Meryl Streep is perfect as always, perfecting Child’s exaggerated…uh, accent. She is an amazing actress who can transform into anyone. Anna Wintour (The Devil Wears Prada). An angry wife (Heartburn, Kramer vs. Kramer). She is the epitome of an actress and will remain so for a very long time,
The film, directed and written by Nora Ephron, is an extremely enjoyable meal. We know she can give us a good love story, like her films Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally… But this film isn’t a traditional love story. It’s about two people in love with food. Cutting back from main character to main character, each scene is a compliment to the other. If one is moving to a new apartment in Queens (Julie), the other is moving into a new apartment in Paris (Julia). If one is learning how to cook properly (Julia), one is learning how to be patient and kill a lobster (Julie). Such a reflective style can get confusing in a different film (prime example: La Vie en Rose), but the breathless and easy way of the film transports you with no turbulence. A highly enjoyable experience, I highly recommend the film! Just don’t go on an empty stomach.
Gangster Paradise: Review for “Public Enemies”
John Dillinger had a very obvious suaveness to him. He liked cars, movies, and could woo a girl in no time. He is one of the most famous bank robbers. And his career, if untimely short, has been put on the screen. The director is a very able one at that. Michael Mann knows how to direct an action flick. With smashes like Heat, he was certainly the Mann for the job to direct Public Enemies. Johnny Depp plays Dillinger, embodying his spirit and his mind set, and he does just a fantastic job doing so. Marion Cotillard plays his love, Billie Frachette. She, I think, gives the best performance in the entire film. She won the Academy Award in 2007 for her turn in another biopic, La Vie en Rose as Edith Piaf. Christian Bale, who has lately been choosing roles in which no one can hear him speak, plays the conniving and efficient Melvin Purvis. In this time, 1934, the FBI is just starting and J. Edgar Hoover is as corrupt as can be. The film works very well not only as a historical docudrama but also as an action film and as a character driven film. Great performances and spectacular authenticity. The film has a very glossy feel about it; replicas and props that look as if they came out of Grandma’s closet, cars that Clyde Barrow would be envious of, and spectacular picture quality. The Collateral director chose to film the movie digitally and in high definition, which means that though it looks like you could poke the chin of J. Edgar Hoover, there are a few “blips” in which the pixels are a little misplaced. Another problem with the film is that it feels as if the cameramen, in the intent of getting an “in-your-face” view of the Dillinger gang, used handy-cams. The shaky feel, depending on the viewer, makes you feel closer to the characters or simply distract you from the story. An otherwise excellent film, we should be seeing an Oscar nomination for both Depp and Cotillard.
It has been extremely hectic lately and I am so sorry, Faithful Readers, that I have not posted in a long time. So, I will just write what I have seen and provide a capsule review of each.
The John Patrick Shanley translates to the screen well mostly because of its stellar cast. Meryl Streep as the suspicious Mother Superior, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a priest accused of inappropriate behavior with a young boy, and the charming Amy Adams as the young novice who brought the “case” to Streep. Shanley’s direction is fine and the play itself is mesmerizing, leaving you at the end only with Doubt. Grade: A-
Mickey Rourke is back! An emotionally heart wrenching film about an aging wrestler and what would be his comeback appearance and his attempts to bond with his daughter. A fantastic film and having thought about, I think the Oscar should have gone to Rourke and not Penn. The performances are so raw (kudos to Marisa Tomei as Randy’s stripper love interest and Evan Rachel Wood as his daughter) that it’s not as if we are watching a movie, but a documentary about a falling star. More like plummeting. Grade: A
Oh, how the meek will inherit the earth. Unless the realists get to them first. A positively brilliant Mike Leigh film starring an irrepressibly optimistic school teacher named Poppy. Poppy has her bike stolen. Poppy is happy nevertheless. She decides she needs to learn how to drive and gets an instructor that is her polar opposite. Hilarity and heart warmth ensue. An extremely fantastic performance from Sally Hawkins, whom the Academy did not even nominate. She deserved to win. Odd ball and featuring one of the best performances of the year (2008, at least). If I had been the instructor, I would have pushed her out of the car. Grade: A-
An absolutely decadent cast (John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Uma Thurman) with an incredibly sumptuous plot. The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) calls on her partner, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich), to seduce the young daughter of her cousin, Madame de Volanges (Swoosie Kurtz), in order to have revenge on a former lover, the man to whom young Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) is promised in marriage. At first, Valmont refuses her proposition: he wants to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is spending time at his aunt’s house while her husband is abroad. With beautiful costumes and directing, a top notch cast, and an incredible director, Stephen Frears, this is one heck of a film. Grade: A+
Three short horror films from three Asian directors. What do they add up to? One hell of a terrifying ride! Dumplings, directed by Fruit Chan (what an ironic name! Hong Kong) is about a woman who starts to eat mysterious dumplings to restore her youth. The secret ingredient will make you more than nauseous. Cut, directed by Park Chan-wook (South Korea), is about a horror film director taken hostage by a berserk film extra. Effectively scary. Last but not least is Box, directed by Takashi Miike (Japan, famous for Ichi the Killer and Audition), a very enigmatic film about a woman hanuted in her dreams by the ghost of her sister, whom she murdered when they were little out of jealousy. While a little confusing, it is ultimately a very suspenseful film. Overall, the trios are great and do what they are meant to do: Scare the bejesus out of you! Dumplings: A Cut: B Box: B+ Overall: A-
Dangerous Liaisons for the Gossip Girl generation! Essentially the same plot of the classic film, if for more explicit language and sex. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe play the conniving characters, while the young virgin is played by Selma Blair and the virtuous girl played by Reese Witherspoon (both would be back together for Legally Blond). With adults, the story is erotic and sexy and classy, but with teens in a prep school-it’s just really icky! Really awkward and uncomfortable as well as gross. The acting is average and the overall point of the story is made less meaningful when you add teenagers to the equation. Grade: C-
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Overlong story of a man who ages backwards, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 20 page short story. Bloated in running time: 2 hours and 47 minutes. Brad Pitt is rather bland as Button not to mention that his Louisiana accent is a thin as paper. The CGI, while excellent, felt excessive at times for the character of Button. Cate Blanchette is excellent as Daisy, Ben’s love interest. The movie is constantly interrupted by scenes in a hospital (it is told to a young woman’s mother, Daisy, as a journal Ben left for her) which wouldn’t be as annoying if they were less frequent. The math of aging backwards isn’t quite right either. Ben ages very rapidly during the first 90 minutes and when he hits Brad Pitt age, he seems to slow down. Daisy as a woman also doesn’t age rapidly enough. When she’s twenty to when she is 45 she looks virtually the same, albeit the hair color fades a little. It isn’t until the final half hour or so does she really age. David Fincher is great as director. Good, but not great, film. Grade: B
Pixar’s tenth feature film about an old curmudgeon heading to South America with a young boy is very good. Though, I think it is Pixar’s most blatantly preachy film they have released so far. The animation is stunning as usual, but the story itself feels as if its message is being shoved in your face. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic film. The character of Russell just bursts with exuberance. I particularly enjoyed the short film preceded by Up, called Partly Cloudy, about rain clouds who create babies and other cure animals for storks. One certain cloud, a little rain one, ends up creating the most dangerous things and the poor stork who ends up having to take them away ends up with man an injury. Extremely cute and heart warming, it may be the highlight if you don’t like Up. Partly Cloudy: A+ Up: B+