Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DVD Munch: 17 Again

*After recently watching "Peggy Sue Got Married" I thought I would enjoy a revamped version of the idea with this one. Unfortunately, it just didn't cut it...read on to see what I mean...

I don’t fully understand the want to return to high school. I actually enjoyed high school, but that doesn’t mean that I want to re-live being a teenager, it’s just so awkward. But films will continue to be made, all with the premise of returning to the past to change something. “17 Again” is no different, although the modern twist on an old story doesn’t make it as enjoyable as I remember.

We begin in 1989 with Mike O’Donnell (the young version played by Zac Efron) shooting hoops, getting ready for the big game that could get him a scholarship to college. When he finds out that his high school girlfriend is pregnant, he walks out of the game and we are flash-forwarded to the present day Mike (played by Matthew Perry). Now his life is a mess—no job promotion, on the verge of a divorce and no relationship with his kids. Paying homage to “It’s a Wonderful Life” Mike runs into an old janitor that magically transforms him into his 17 year-old self. It is then up to Mike to figure out what he needs to do to transform back.

The modern high school is shown as a breeding ground for disrespectful, over sexually active teenagers. Not to say that this is not what all high schools are like, but “17 Again” chooses not to show anything about going back to high school. Mike doesn’t want to relive high school to change his future; instead he realizes that this is the time to reconnect with his kids and to somehow win his wife back.

It is most humorous when young Mike interacts with his wife (played by Leslie Mann). She swears that he looks like her husband and the flirtation that plays out is almost uncomfortable but it works. Also, for those Zac Efron fans out there, he even dances and plays basketball in the film. I don’t know if he will ever grow out of this “High School Musical” role.

The fun of movies like this is to see our character react or interact with his new surroundings. The film fails to capture the heart of being a teenager, only making jokes to how fast their metabolism is and how they can exercise easily. Although young Mike does have an inside view into his kid’s lives, their interaction is very sterile and unbelievable. He coaches his youngest son at basketball, while he still gets to take the glory of being a better player and he preaches to his daughter about making bad choices. If he gets to be 17 again to connect with his kids, the relationships seem forced.

When Mike finds himself back where he started, he realizes that he had made the right choices, he was just absent from most of his life. Now he gets the chance to pay attention. Mike’s inside look into the lives of his kid’s and wife is an interesting twist on an old idea. But the fun of watching films like this is missing because our lead actor isn’t enjoying himself. There is no use in re-living high school for that.

The DVD includes Widescreen and Full-Screen options, along with language choices. Bonus features are not included.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Small Munch...or perhaps a rant: The Ugly Truth

First of all, let me say that I love a good romantic comedy. There is something so pleasing about watching good looking people on screen argue or have something between them that can't be fixed immediately and then have them kiss at the end of a film, making the perfect couple. The predictability is so satisfying.

That being said, this was an awful romantic comedy.

This does not mean that I can skimp on writing something about it- because something needs to be said about this film.

We are introduced to the lovely Katherine Hiegl as Abby, a successful, attractive perfectionist that produces a morning news show. Of course her life is not complete because she does not have a handsome man in it. When ratings start to fall on the show, her boss decides to bring on a new segment, "The Ugly Truth", and its commentator, Mike (played by Gerard Butler). Apparently Mike knows everything about men and women and their relationships, and rants about their problems on his own show, all while not having a relationship of his own, of course. And Mike and Abby hate each other until...

The challenge: Mike will prove that he knows what he is talking about by setting up Abby with the guy of her dreams. I'm sorry to give away the ending, but as you could probably guess, Mike and Abby end up falling in love. This doens't annoy me so much, I like the good looking people falling for each other, remember? It's just that Abby begins as this character that stands for something, I don't really know what she stands for, but she at least has an opinion about Mike's sexist view of women. That is until Mike tells her to wear tight clothing "because men are visual creatures," to get extensions in her hair because no man likes short hair, to masturbate and to lie. To top it all off, she does all this and gets slapped in the ass by Mike multiple times just for fun. She will do anything to get her man.

Great, this is just great.

The realization is supposed to hit her when she removes her extensions before she is about to sleep with the guy that she thought that she wanted. But it's not that she realized that she doesn't need to change herself to get a guy, she does this because she loves someone else. I'm so glad she came to her senses (that's sarcasm, if you want a relationship I don't think you are supposed to do that either).

So Mike and Abby end up in love and you are not really sure why. In fact, you are never sure if they really know each other at all. I like romantic comedies, I always will, but it's films like this that make me wonder about how far the romantic comedy has really come. True to form, there was a predictable kiss at the end of the film but the reassuring satisfaction never followed.

Small munch: Funny People

It saddens me that the advertising campaign behind this movie is pushing it as a "funny, new comedy-drama from Judd Apatow"...this movie is so far from funny.

"Funny People" is a serious look into what makes people happy and it is not always pretty. Adam Sandler plays washed up comedian, George Simmons, who is diagnosed with a deadly form of leukemia. He brings on the young comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogan) to write jokes for him and be his personal assistant. Together they both realize that money and fame cannot bring you happiness, especially if you cannot forgive yourself for your past mistakes.

The films is definitely worth seeing, although it seems a little drawn out and long at some parts. Perhaps the length and the pace of the film allow it's message to settle over the audience: even funny people have problems.

Julie & Julia...only semi-delicious

“Julie & Julia” is a film about two women and their joy of cooking, unfortunately one of the woman’s story is more interesting than the other, making it only entertaining for part of it, or maybe it’s better to say that you are left only half full.

The screenplay is adapted from two books, which gives the feeling of even more separation. First the autobiography of Julia Child, entitled My Life in France and the book based on a popular blog by Julie Powell called Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (this is the paperback title given). Director and writer Nora Ephron has taken on an ambitious project by taking on two different stories while trying to connect and condense them into only one feature film.

We are introduced to Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, amidst all her problems, which include her job, her living situation and her loving and supportive husband. None of this seems really that bad but she needs to put herself to some sort of task. She turns to cooking and proposes to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking while blogging about the experience. The parallel story follows the lovely Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, as she discovers her love of cooking and follows her journey that brings her to writing and publishing one of the most famous cookbooks to date.

Streep is perfectly cast as Mrs. Child. She brings a buoyant fearlessness and joy to all of her passions within the film, whether it be food or her husband. Streep never holds back with the character, making you feel like you are given a glimpse into the world of Julia Child. Her husband, played by Stanley Tucci, compliments her nicely; physically Julia towers over him, but there is no sense of intimidation within their relationship, only love.

Adams is not given much of a character to develop. Powell is mousey and trying to find her own voice through Julia Child. You can tell that Powell truly loves food and cooking, but it is overshadowed by her need to figure out her own sense of identity. She doesn’t take pride or joy in what she has accomplished along the way, as she only looks towards a deadline.

But even the way the film is shot, Ephron seems to favor Julia’s story. The colors and costumes give a real sense of what France was to Julia. Her story takes her out of the kitchen, to the streets, to parties, to walks on the bank-to her everyday life. For Julie Powell, the contrast is so claustrophobic; she is stuck in a small apartment, with no real friends, slaving away in a kitchen.

This is not to say that there aren’t wonderful moments that happen for Powell. The audience can connect nicely with her, being that she is cooking in the modern kitchen. We get to laugh and watch as she tries out all of these different recipes. We all can relate to a fear of cooking live lobster and the scene about it will make you jump in your seat. But in contrast Child shows love for every recipe, it’s almost as if you can taste how good her food really is when she brings a spoon to her lips and smiles.

Perhaps the end title card sums it up the best. The film fades up and text comes to the screen explaining how influential Julia Child’s cookbook became and when she passed away. It then says that Julie’s blog was turned into movie…yes, I think we all realize that, we had just watched it. What a strange taste to be left with.

The contrast of the two stories seem like they could pair nicely, like a great wine and cheese-they could be delicious on their own, but when paired together, they bring new flavors to the palate. Unfortunately, one of the stories carries more weight in “Julie & Julia”, leaving you wanting one more than the other.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Treat yourself. Going to the movies alone.

The other day I found myself in a conversation about movies (typical, right?). I was simply talking to an acquaintance about what movie she had seen when she admitted that she held off on seeing it sooner because she "would never go to the movies by herself" therefore she had to wait for a friend to go with.

This got me thinking...I go to movies by myself all the time.

There are two kinds of movie-goers. There are the ones that will never go to a film alone and then the ones that brave the theater solo. I am in the latter category and I find it necessary to try to remove the stigma that comes with attending a theater by yourself.

There is this fear of going to a theater alone. It is often considered "sad" or even "pathetic" to go to the theater by yourself. Like the girl I talked to, there was a tone of resentful pity in her voice. A theater isn't actually scary, nothing will happen to you and fingers will not be pointed in your direction, as if you are something to scoff at. Really it is this projected fear of what people might think of you. Maybe it's just me, but I don't pity the person sitting alone in a theater, they want to see the same movie that I want to.

I understand that conventionally, going to the movies is supposed to be an event. It used to be the premiere thing to do on a Friday night, the perfect date. But with so many films, ranging from the latest chick flick, to the indie drama to the post-apocalyptic war film there are just too many films to see-how do you come to decision with so many different tastes?

This is not to say that when I want to go see a film that I don't ask anybody. No, I don't only go to movies by myself. There are some movies that call for an audience of friends- "My Bloody Valentine 3D" would be a perfect example, it is something to laugh about and when you get uncomfortable you can grab onto a friendly arm. But if I really want to see a movie and no one can go with me, I gather myself and get to a local theater. There is also something about viewing a movie with no one around you that you are connected to, it becomes personal between you and the film. It is not something that can necessarily be explained, you just have to experience it for yourself.

All I can really say is don't knock it until you have tried it. Believe me, it's not as painful or "sad" as you may think. Really, how often do you watch movies by yourself at home? Do you consider that embarrassing? So why not break with convention? Do something crazy. Do something for yourself, by yourself. I now challenge the first group of movie goers- go sit in a theater and become a different kind of viewer. You might just enjoy yourself.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I can't tell you exactly why I decided to pick up this film again. Thinking back, maybe I was in the mood for Nicolas Cage with a goofy voice, maybe to see a little Sofia Coppola, or the fact that an old friend of mine once told me that they can relate to this film. Whatever the reason, I suggest going back in time to see this classic.

"Peggy Sue" was released in 1986 and has an amazing cast. Besides the luminous Kathleen Turner as Peggy Sue, the cast includes Jim Carrey, Joan Allen, Nicolas Cage and a young Helen Hunt. It was also made by a famous director, credited as Francis Coppola (no middle name credit on this one).

The story goes that Peggy Sue is attending her 25 year high school reunion when she ends up fainting and returning to high school, as if she had never left. Armed with the knowledge of her future, she goes about high school with a new attitude- doing things that she always wanted to do and trying to separate herself from her relationship with her high school sweetheart whom she ultimately marries and is so unhappy with, Charlie (played by Cage). You never know if Peggy's actions will actually change her future, perhaps it never really happened when she wakes in the hospital at the end of the film, but a book dedication makes you re-think this scenario.

However far-fetched the story may seem, it is so enjoyable. I simply love how classically it is shot; it is simple and clean. It is always nice to watch a strong female lead and Turner is perfect. She plays Peggy with such gusto that it is hard to see how she ever let herself fall into a bad marriage. She is the one with the power to change her future and she goes about getting exactly what she wants.

This movie is perfect at any time of day, with friends or without. Simply let its power of nostalgia wash over you as you are completely entertained.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflection: "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it"

At 59 Writer/Director/Producer John Hughes passed today from a heart attack. He is the mastermind behind such films as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "Sixteen Candles", "Pretty in Pink" and "The Breakfast Club".

Go ahead and try to say something bad about these films, I don't think you can. Hughes tapped into the 80s market with a fresh spin on the coming-of-age, high-school story. Of course, being a girl I just wanted to be Molly Ringwald, in every film that she starred in-like most girls my age.

When you think back to movies from the 80s, one or all four of the titles above will come up. Hughes let us fall in love with the girl next door again and made mischief cool. From having a best friend named Duckie to having a blast in detention, Hughes took familiar high-school territory and made it classic, cool.

The only thing I can suggest to do tonight is take a look at all of the great movies he has been a part of, then get to your local Blockbuster to rent one of the films he wrote or directed. The best thing to do in times like this, is remember. Hughes has left a mark in film history, writing some of the most quotable lines and recognizable scenes in the cinema of the 80s. Go ahead, enjoy- that's what movies are for.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

DVD Munch: The Soloist

It is sometimes a difficult task to bring true stories to the silver screen; the drama that must translate falls short of cinematic expectations. Simply put, real life is different than the movies. “The Soloist” based off the book and real life experiences of L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez and his friendship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr., touches on inspiring connections that are relatable but also falls slightly flat of pure satisfaction.

I must preface this by saying that I am a classical musician myself. Having this understanding and training did not necessarily enhance my experience with the film anymore than someone that simply loves music and the power that it has to move people. That being said, “The Soloist” brilliantly uses music as more than just a soundtrack, but as part of the film’s experience.

The story goes that while Lopez was looking for a new column idea, he stumbled across Ayers playing a violin with two strings in Los Angeles. After watching him play for a while, he introduced himself, interested in forming a relationship and a story idea. After doing more research, Lopez found out that Ayers had attended Julliard School of Music for cello and after he dropped out because of a mental breakdown, he has been living on the streets. His column on Ayers became a critical piece on the homeless situation in Los Angeles and brought Ayers a certain amount of fame and opportunity, including a cello from an inspired reader of the column.

The film is well cast with powerhouse stars Robert Downy Jr. as Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Mr. Ayers. Both act wonderfully together, really complementing their idiosyncrasies; the quirkiness of Lopez and the unpredictability of Ayers make a great duo.

The third character in the film is Los Angeles, herself. The classical music plays over sweeping shots of her freeways, of the buildings that make up downtown and the people that inhabit her streets, this being her homeless citizens. In Lopez’s struggle to help Ayers he sees a larger problem—all the homeless in Los Angeles. But here it falls short, we are exposed to the problem but never really dig any deeper; not giving the problem any attention, leaving the city feeling hallow.

Although the film is about two men and the relationship that forms, it would have been nice to see more of Nathaniel and his situation. Of course, this is difficult when the perspective comes from Lopez, but it is Ayers’ story that is so inspiring.

One of the most powerful and daring scenes in the film is when Lopez and Ayers are sitting in the practice hall of the L.A. Philharmonic. Director Joe Wright tries to bring weight and understanding to the music when he cuts from the two men sitting, to a black screen with colored light flashing to the music. Much like a moment from “Fantasia” it is a beautiful way to draw attention to the music and really force the audience into listening.

“The Soloist” is about the power of music and even the beauty that comes from passionately doing what you love. In the struggle to help one another, Lopez learns how to truly build a relationship that brings joy to himself and others and Ayers learns to let others into his world. The narration at the end of the film has Lopez saying that he doesn’t really know if what he has done has really helped Ayers at all. But if he helped him find music again, Aryes has found some sense of peace and that is all he needs.

There are some great DVD extras that should not be missed. Along with director commentary and a “Making of” segment, one of the most interesting is a live interview with the real Steve Lopez and Nathanial Ayers called “Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez”. It is truly remarkable to see them interact together. There are deleted scenes and another interesting extra is entitled “Beth” which is a short animated PSA film, narrated by a child, about a girl that becomes homeless. This ties nicely with the extra “One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in America”.