Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Hate Valentine's Day

Year 3, Day 50 - 2/19/11 - Movie #780

BEFORE: "Sixteen Candles" starred Anthony Michael Hall, who was in "Vacation" with Chevy Chase, who was in "Foul Play" with Goldie Hawn, who was in "The First Wives Club" with Sarah Jessica Parker, who was in "Sex and the City 2" with John Corbett, who is in tonight's film. That took me a while - damn, there must be a shorter path. (EDIT: Yes, Joan Cusack was in "Sixteen Candles" and also was in "Raising Helen" with John Corbett or I could have gone through John Cusack, who was in "Serendipity" with Corbett.)

THE PLOT: A love story set in Brooklyn, where a florist who abides by a strict five-date-limit with any man finds herself wanting more with the new restaurateur in town.

AFTER: The IMDB got it wrong, the plot there says the film is set in Manhattan. The characters clearly state they're in Brooklyn several times, plus the characters eat at Terrace Bagels, a noted Park Slope eatery that I used to frequent. Check your facts, IMDB!

Perhaps I should have watched this next to "Valentine's Day", since both films feature characters who are florists. But this also has a lot in common with "(500) Days of Summer", since both films feature female characters who don't believe in true love or long relationships - and this film also covers a particular time-span, in this case a year between two February 14ths.

Tonight's florist, Genevieve, played by Nia Vardalos (last seen in, umm...nothing) believes that the best part of a relationship is in the first 5 dates, so she agrees to end every relationship at that point. Ridiculous? Or...genius? I can see this working if the dates aren't going well, but there seems to be a gap in the logic if things ARE going well. Besides, if she clues in her dating partner on her formula, wouldn't that make date #5 really sad, knowing that it's going to be the last one?

As you might imagine, there's a psychological reason why she doesn't let things go past the fifth date - but if she were a man, we'd just say he had a fear of commitment, and let it go at that? Why does a woman with the same fear have to be portrayed as broken somehow?

Even more annoying, Nia Vardalos seems to be one of those actresses who's been convinced that she only looks good from a certain angle, so she's always sure to face the camera at JUST that angle - it's the Streisand syndrome.

Another problem is that the movie is overly concerned with both Genevieve's rules, and dating rules in general. I would like to see a story about two people, not a universal dating guide. But damn, the movie sucker-punched me at the end.

Also starring Rachel Dratch (last seen in "Click"), Judah Friedlander (last seen in "Meet Dave"), friend of the blog Jay O. Sanders (last seen in "Half Nelson"), and Mike Starr (last seen in "Born on the Fourth of July"), with cameos from Ian Gomez and Dan Finnerty (of the Dan Band).

RATING: 4 out of 10 cups of sake

Sixteen Candles

Year 3, Day 49 - 2/18/11 - Movie #779

BEFORE: Yup, it's Molly Ringwald's birthday, which I believe was a national holiday for a few years back in the 1980's, but she's a little older than 16 now. She'll have to share Birthday SHOUT-out #15 with the late John Hughes. Tough to link from last night's film, but not impossible - Zooey Deschanel from "(500) Days of Summer" was also in "Yes Man" with Terence Stamp, who was in "Valkyrie" with Tom Cruise, who was in "The Outsiders" with Emilio Estevez, who was in "The Breakfast Club" with Molly Ringwald.

THE PLOT: A young girl's "sweet 16th" birthday becomes anything but special as she suffers from every embarrassment possible.

AFTER: This was the first film John Hughes directed, and though it kicked off the teen-comedy wave of the 1980's, it clearly feels like someone's first film. It's got a lot of people acting stupidly, and most of the jokes don't really land. Why was this so popular? I must be missing something.

There are a lot of miscommunications and awkward moments, but no one ever seems interested in straightening anything out. So instead of detailing the ins and outs of teen romance, instead it devolves into something like slapstick.

Among the things that I didn't find funny: a bride on painkillers acting weird, playing the theme from "The Godfather" to imply an Italian family is part of the mob, trashing a house during a teen party, wrecking a Rolls-Royce, and something close to date-rape. Plus the very notable racist portrayal of an Asian exchange student.

Also starring Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Dooley (last seen in "Hairspray"), John Cusack (last seen in "America's Sweethearts"), and Justin Henry (last seen in "Kramer vs. Kramer")

RATING: 3 out of 10 beer-can pyramids

Friday, February 18, 2011

(500) Days of Summer

Year 3, Day 48 - 2/17/11 - Movie #778

BEFORE: It's looking like the rest of February will be devoted to films about dating, and all the complications involved therein. Birthday SHOUT-out #14 goes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, born 2/17/81. Happy 30th to the kid from "3rd Rock From the Sun"...

THE PLOT: An offbeat romantic comedy about a woman who doesn't believe true love exists, and the young man who falls for her.

AFTER: I've been railing against films that jump around in time as a narrative trick, or a screenwriting cheat - but this film is designed to show different days in a relationship out of order - for purposes of comparing/contrasting. So that's a little different - or is it? Certainly if the days were shown in a linear fashion, we'd miss out on seeing connections between certain events - but would the story really suffer?

Surprisingly, I didn't hate the effect here - maybe because I've taken to the concept of numbering my days, and looking for connections between the films I watch on consecutive (and non-consecutive...) days, and also connections between the films and what's going on in my life - so really, this is right up my alley. I also sympathize with the main character, since when I look back on my first relationship, which spanned almost 7 years, it's really as a collection of days, or moments - and I'm less concerned with the exact order of events, but like Tom, I've scanned through them looking for signs of the impending disaster that perhaps I should have seen coming.

I'm not really giving much away here, since the end of the relationship is seen before the beginning - so we all know what's coming, or more accurately, WHEN the what is coming. Let's face it, every relationship ends, it's just a question of when, and how. I suppose "WHY?" is a big question, but often an unanswerable one - part of the WHY here is that the two people have different ideas about the nature of love. One believes it exists and the other doesn't, and you can't really change someone's mind about that (or can you?).

If you do believe in love, the film details quite directly the ecstatic feeling of having it, and the terrible feeling of losing it. By allowing yourself to love, you're automatically putting yourself in a position of vulnerability, where your life is now affected by another person's opinion on the subject - if the object of your affection doesn't believe in love, or doesn't believe in love with YOU, it's the worst feeling in the world.

The film also makes some interesting points about the very concept of love - how much of it is real, and how much is a construct that comes from movies, pop songs and greeting cards? (NOTE: This Valentine's Day, Hallmark ran a commercial that prominently used a tagline identical to one of the fake greeting cards seen in this film - life imitating art?)

And when you look back on the arc of a relationship, will you focus on the good days, or replay the not-so-good ones, over and over? And in the end, will doing either make any sort of difference? Do our relationships help us become who we're supposed to be, or do they hold us back?

I'm not expecting any film to have all the answers - but I respect a film that raises some very solid questions. And it might seem easy to make a film about a very specific romantic situation, but trickier to find some universal truths about ALL relationships by depicting one - it took some nimble footwork, but I think this film accomplished that.

Also starring Zooey Deschanel (last seen in "The Good Girl"), Geoffrey Arend, and Chloe Moretz.

RATING: 8 out of 10 parking lots

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shallow Hal

Year 3, Day 47 - 2/16/11 - Movie #777

BEFORE: I'm bumping this one up a few days on the schedule, because I think it might fit thematically with last night's film - both films feature under-developed man-children, who need to learn to grow up and have adult relationships. I'm also playing my own version of the "Kevin Bacon" game by not typing in a film's name at, but trying to navigate from one film to another by only clicking on links - for example, moving from "Wedding Crashers" to the page of Owen Wilson, who was in "The Royal Tenenbaums" with Gwyneth Paltrow, who is in tonight's film. (and Gwyneth was in "Se7en" with Brad Pitt, who was in "Sleepers" with Kevin Bacon. Could also have gone through "Hook" to Dustin Hoffman, also in "Sleepers".)

THE PLOT: A shallow man falls in love with a 300 pound woman because of her "inner beauty".

AFTER: It's an interesting premise - we see mostly through the eyes of a conditioned/hypnotized man (Jack Black, last seen in "Year One"), who's been programmed to see her beautiful soul, so to him she looks like Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "The Talented Mr. Ripley"). Yet in the real world, she's still packing on pounds and breaking restaurant furniture.

The problem is, the film's internal logic makes no sense. In order to see a worthy "soul", he would need to get to know a woman, and learn that she does volunteer work, or donates to charities, etc. But the main character here instantly recognizes a beautiful soul before talking to them, and that's just not possible. Not that any of this is possible, but it's not even plausible according to its own rules.

In addition, the film seems overly concerned with humans who have physical irregularities or odd features, which is the very thing that it takes the main character to task for. While saying that the man needs to look below the surface, the movie is preoccupied with doing exactly the opposite. It might be noble to include actors who have disabilities, but I'm not prepared to make that call.

Also, I'm not sure I'm OK with the notion that only fat or less attractive people have noble souls, which the film falls JUST short of saying - it's certainly suggested. By extension, all beautiful people are selfish or self-absorbed, and therefore less perfect. Another broad stroke that I'm not willing to subscribe to. Even worse is the suggestion that by intentionally dating an overweight gal, he's making some kind of noble sacrifice.

NITPICK POINT: At the same time, Black's character is trying to get ahead at work, and finagles a meeting with the company executives to pitch a proposal - which we, the audience never get to hear. Now that's cheating - or just sloppy scriptwriting.

Also starring Jason Alexander (last seen in "Blankman"), self-help guru Tony Robbins, with cameos from Molly Shannon, Bruce McGill (last seen in "A Perfect World"), and Laura Kightlinger.

RATING: 4 out of 10 milk shakes

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wedding Crashers

Year 3, Day 46 - 2/15/11 - Movie #776

BEFORE: Birthday SHOUT-out #13 goes to Jane Seymour (last seen in "Somewhere in Time"), born 2/15/51. And Bradley Cooper carries over from last night's film, as I continue the transition from films about awkward relationships to films about awkward dating.

THE PLOT: A pair of committed womanizers who sneak into weddings to take advantage of the romantic tinge in the air, find themselves at odds with one another when one meets and falls for a cabinet member's daughter.

AFTER: Well, the first half of the film is solid, the premise is comedy gold as these two D.C. area guys work the wedding circuit. The theory goes, single women are at their horniest and most desperate at wedding receptions - plus there's alcohol, dancing, food and good times. What could go wrong? All these guys need is a cover story and a mental playbook, and they can romance a different girl every night.

But the third act moves to the vacation home of the bride's father, as the two men try to romance his other daughters, and that's where their plan (and the movie) starts to unravel. I guess there wasn't enough conflict or dramatic opportunity at a wedding reception - but in leaving the party circuit, these Don Juans break their own rules.
Things get more muddled and less comedic (except for some very violent slapstick), and the crazy family is just TOO crazy.

Further offenses include what seems to be a great deal of improvised dialogue, not a good thing when Vince Vaughn is involved. I'm pretty burnt out on Vaughn after watching "Four Christmases" and "Fred Claus", and now I have to decide whether to add "The Break-Up" and "Couples Retreat" to the list. Hmmm, let me get back to you on that, Vince.

Points for using Will Ferrell in a small role, but essentially his bits go nowhere. Still, being funny, or at least amusing, goes a long way. And there is some character development once these guys realize that there is more to a relationship than dining, dancing and romancing. Both eventually learn to have grown-up relationships outside the reception hall, which is a moral that sort of ties in with last night's film.

NITPICK POINT: References are made to "wedding season", which one would assume to be May and June - but we all know that weddings can happen year-round. Nice try, though.

NITPICK POINT #2: It's a bit of a cheat to have an obscure numbered set of rules that these guys have memorized - what do you know, there just happens to be a rule for every possible situation!

Also starring Owen Wilson (last seen in "I Spy"), Christopher Walken (last seen in "Catch Me If You Can"), Rachel McAdams (last seen in "The Time Traveler's Wife"), Isla Fisher, with cameos from Henry Gibson, Dwight Yoakam, Rebecca DeMornay, James Carville and John McCain. Oh, and Ellen Dow (last seen in "The Wedding Singer"), 87 years young at the time - still getting work!

RATING: 6 out of 10 bottles of champagne

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day

Year 3, Day 45 - 2/14/11 - Movie #775

BEFORE: I added a couple of these "anthology" romance films to the list, this is a trend from Hollywood that started up a few years ago, where the movie is packed with stars and love stories, with the theory that more is more. This movie might be a bit too much on point today, but what better day would there be to watch it?

As a New Yorker, I wouldn't dream of going out on Valentine's Day - fighting the crowds in a fancy restaurant on the busiest day of the year? No thanks, the missus and I both prefer to spend a quiet Feb. 14th at home, after exchanging gifts and candy, and we'll step out on the town later this week - it's the smarter move.

THE PLOT: Intertwining couples and singles in Los Angeles break-up and make-up based on the pressures and expectations of Valentine's Day.

AFTER: Wow, everyone is connected to each other, and only we, the audience can see all the connections! So, it's like "Crash" re-imagined as a romantic comedy.

And more IS more, for the most part - but by focusing on everyone at once, it's close to impossible to fully develop any of the characters. It's like someone tried to cram so many situations and so many broad stereotypes into one film, that they didn't bother to consider how all of the pieces would fit together, or whether any coherent points could be made from the combination.

There's a loose structure to it all, and it's a somewhat interesting idea to center on a florist's shop on Valentine's Day, but some of the connections aren't revealed until the very last minute - and that makes things feel a little forced. It's more like a re-shuffle as couples break up and reassemble - and everyone pretty much ends up where you might expect. And this ALL happens in one day? Are there 40 hours in a day now?

I've got a few dozen Nitpick Points, the most glaring of which involves a character who gets on a flight to San Francisco, then is next seen at a hospital in L.A. - but there was no scene of her getting off the plane (which would have been against F.A.A. regulations at that point...).

Also, I don't believe there is a "Florist's Code". But even if there were, our florist character breaks the rules pretty quickly. And if there's not, why bring it up?

The bottom line is, people in L.A. are all self-absorbed - everyone is worried about their jobs, their images, what the relationship means for them, and then they all wonder why their relationships fell apart - it couldn't be because you were all just thinking of yourselves, could it? AND, nobody seems to learn anything from their mistakes, so that means they're going to continue to be self-interested, and they'll probably screw up their new relationship as well, and then wonder why.

Actually, there are two valid points that the movie makes - and they come from the two long-time married couples in the film. One married man says that the secret to a happy marriage is to "marry your best friend", and I have to agree. Or be best friends with the woman you marry, it's just as good. The other married couple learns that you have to take the good with the bad, and accept the little things you might not like for the sake of your relationship.

So a very special Valentine's Day shout-out to Michele, my partner and best friend, the person who understands what I'm all about, and for some reason, stays with me anyway. Happy Valentine's Day #15, but who's counting?

Starring Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner (last seen in "Catch Me If You Can"), Julia Roberts (last seen in "Closer"), Jamie Foxx (last seen in "The Soloist"), Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Get Smart"), Jessica Alba (last seen in "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"), Jessica Biel (last seen in "Blade: Trinity"), Bradley Cooper (last seen in "The Hangover"), Queen Latifah (last seen in "Chicago"), George Lopez, Hector Elizondo (last seen in "Dear God"), Shirley Maclaine (last seen in "Terms of Endearment"), Patrick Dempsey (last seen in "Mobsters"), Eric Dane, Taylor Swift, and Taylor Lautner. Cameos from Kathy Bates (last seen in "Fred Claus"), Larry Miller (also last seen in "Dear God"), Joe Mantegna (last seen in "Thinner"), Kristen Schaal and Paul Williams as the DJ. Whew!

RATING: 4 out of 10 hurdles (physical or emotional?)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Good Girl

Year 3, Day 44 - 2/13/11 - Movie #774

BEFORE: Back to Jennifer Aniston for this one, something of a last-minute substitution.

THE PLOT: A discount store clerk strikes up an affair with a stock boy who considers himself the incarnation of Holden Caulfield.

AFTER: This felt like a film that would have done well at Sundance (just checked - sure enough, it premiered there in January 2002) because it's just a little bleak, a little edgy, with a couple of off-center stars. Not including Aniston, of course, but she still had only been in a handful of films before this one, like "Leprechaun" and "Office Space". Oh, and a couple of romantic-based films like "She's the One" and "Picture Perfect" - of course, now she's like the queen of rom-coms, starring in 2 or 3 a year, but mostly films I'm trying to avoid adding to the list.

At heart, this is a pretty basic film about an unsatisfied woman who has an affair with a co-worker, and for the most part it proceeds pretty logically - at least we get a WHY for how the affair starts. I'm torn, however, over whether this was set up as some kind of morality play, or it's just meant to be a slice-of-life look at the staff of a discount store somewhere in the South.

Events spiral out of control from there, but it's in a fashion that mostly makes sense, right up until the ending. Once again, it feels like a screenwriter set up the situation, and then wrote himself into a corner, with no exit for the story. So things got wrapped up, but a little too quickly, and a little too neatly for my taste.

Also starring John C. Reilly (last seen in "Chicago", playing essentially the same character, the cheated-on husband), Jake Gyllenhaal, Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "The Incredible Hulk"), Zooey Deschanel (last seen in "Yes Man"), John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Face/Off"), and Deborah Rush (last seen in "Bad Company")

RATING: 6 out of 10 nametags

The Ice Storm

Year 3, Day 43 - 2/12/11 - Movie #773

BEFORE: And Birthday SHOUT-out #12 goes to Christina Ricci (last seen in...ummm...Casper?) - born 2/12/80.

THE PLOT: 1973, suburban Connecticut: middle class families experimenting with casual sex, drink, etc., find their lives out of control.

AFTER: I suppose it's to be expected, after watching so many movies, that I seem to be hitting a streak of films that I'm very ambivalent about - they neither thrill me or disappoint me, they just sort of are what they are. Maybe it's a form of movie burnout, something has to go far in some direction to get my attention at this point.

That's not to say nothing happens in this film - quite the opposite, a lot takes place. People have affairs, young people experiment with sex, and college-age kids get stoned - but what does it all add up to? If there's some over-arcing message or some brilliant symbolism, I'm not seeing it.

OK, I suppose it's a snapshot look at the 1970's, an admittedly interesting decade that introduced concepts like "swinging", and the film became famous for its notorious "key party" swapping scene. But the decade also brought horrible things like waterbeds - how was THAT ever a good idea?

And like "Closer", the film seems to delight in highlighting awkward moments - like finding out your spouse is having an affair, or catching your kid involved in a make-out session with the neighbor's kid. OK, so life is filled with awkward moments - so what?

Starring Kevin Kline (last seen in "De-Lovely"), Joan Allen (last seen in "The Bourne Ultimatum"), Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Alien: Resurrection"), Tobey Maguire (last seen in "Pleasantville"), Elijah Wood (last seen in "Everything Is Illuminated"), Jamey Sheridan, Katie Holmes (last seen in "Thank You For Smoking"), Allison Janney (last seen in "Miracle on 34th Street") and David Krumholtz (last seen in "Walk Hard").

RATING: 5 out of 10 comic books