Saturday, April 16, 2011

Knocked Up

Year 3, Day 105 - 4/15/11 - Movie #835

BEFORE: Damn, I knew I should have watched this right after "Adventureland" - the two films share a whopping 3 actors. Instead I have to link back from "The Breakfast Club" - Judd Nelson was in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" with Will Ferrell, who was in "Anchorman" with Paul Rudd. And let's send a big Birthday SHOUT-out (#33) to former dough-ball Seth Rogen, born 4/15/1982 (last seen in "Zack and Miri Make a Porno").

THE PLOT: For fun loving party animal Ben Stone, the last thing he ever expected was for his one night stand to show up on his doorstep eight weeks later to tell him she's pregnant.

AFTER: Have I now seen everything that Judd Apatow has directed or produced? It sure feels like it.

There's actually a lot going on here, between the stoner friends and the married friends, and the tribulations of dating, balancing work vs. family, internet start-ups, etc. etc.

But the two main characters, coming from different backgrounds, with different lifestyles and values, end up taking a long time to figure out what they each want out of the relationship, and a long time to figure out how they want to move forward. There's a lot of back-sliding and second-guessing - and if the characters don't seem to know what they want, it's difficult to tell what the movie (and by extension, me) wants for them.

Unwanted pregnancy? That's bad, right? No, wait, it's good. Then it's difficult, so maybe it's bad again? Marriage is not an option, but then maybe it makes sense, but then it doesn't again. You should probably tell your boss you're pregnant - no, wait, that's a bad idea, but then it's good again. (And what kind of boss, even a TV producer, doesn't realize their star reporter isn't pregnant until she's 7 or 8 months along? An idiot, apparently...)

I'm sure it's a very real, real-life situation, but it's not one that I know much about. So I'm going to recuse myself from commenting on most things baby-related. Though I did plan to watch them in a row - "Baby Boom", "Baby Mama" - now I'm revising the plan. Heck, "Juno" was like movie #3, and look how long it took me to get back to the topic.

Also starring Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd (last seen in "Role Models"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "Stealing Harvard"), Jason Segel (last seen in "I Love You, Man"), Jay Baruchel ("She's Out of My League"), Jonah Hill ("The Invention of Lying"), Martin Starr (last seen in "Adventureland"), Bill Hader (ditto), Kristen Wiig (ditto), with cameos from Harold Ramis, Joanna Kerns, Ken Jeong ("Role Models"), Alan Tudyk, Craig Robinson (last seen in "Miss March"), BJ Novak ("Inglourious Basterds"), Steve Carell ("Date Night"), Adam Scott, James Franco, Andy Dick, Ryan Seacrest.

RATING: 6 out of 10 pregnancy tests (how many do you need to take, already?)

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Breakfast Club

Year 3, Day 104 - 4/14/11 - Movie #834

BEFORE: As long as I'm thinking about coming of age in the 1980's - I couldn't fit this one in after "Sixteen Candles", so I'll drop it in here. It sorts of messes up my linking, but fortunately I can link from Ryan Reynolds through the film "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" to David Krumholtz, who was in the film "Bobby" with Emilio Estevez. (Alternately, Ryan Reynolds was in "Dick" with Will Ferrell, who was in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" with Judd Nelson.)

THE PLOT: Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.

AFTER: There's something very Pirandello-like about this film, I'm particularly thinking about his play "Six Characters in Search of an Author" - which inspired the Twilight Zone episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" that featured a ballerina, a clown, a soldier, a hobo and a bagpiper, who awaken in a strange, metal cylinder (twist ending - they're all dolls in a toy chest!)

For those not up on 19th century Italian drama, there's something very Gilligan-like about this plot: people from different backgrounds stuck together and forced to interact, getting on each other's nerves as they try to pass the time. We've got the brain/professor, the jock/Skipper, the redhead/redhead, the ummm...other girl, and the deliquent/beatnik screw-up. Yes, I realize I just linked Bob Denver and Judd Nelson...

Ultimately the kids are supposed to remain silent and write essays - but how cinematic is that? So the screenwriter had to think of ways to change the rules and get the teacher out of the room - so the movie essentially abandons its own premise a few scenes in. In that way, the film resembles "Hogan's Heroes" - because watching a show about soldiers in a German P.O.W. camp would be depressing, so they gave them the ability to sneak out and romance Nazi-resistance frauleins in Berlin.

It's a well-known fact that the most accepted way to maintain order in a high-school in the 80's was to force kids from different social groups to spend hours together - sadly, the Saturday Detention Program lost most of its funding due to education cuts in the early 90's.

NITPICK POINT: Shouldn't this film be called "Lunch Club"? I never saw anybody in the film eating breakfast.

NITPICK POINT 2: Why was the principal going through the school's staff files? What was he up to? The film never explained, and just sort of dropped this. Was holding detention on a Saturday the only way he could access these files without interruption?

Mostly, I found the film very boring, I don't think it's held up well. I fell asleep after the first hour, tried a second time, and fell asleep again - so I had to finish it the next day at the office after work.

However, I could justify a remake of this film someday, provided they update the social archetypes. They need to add a goth type, a PETA-championing hippie chick, a hip-hop playa, and change the "brain" to a geek (Yes, there's a difference.) Then you just need one of the original actors to play the principal, as a grown-up version of their earlier character. Judd Nelson's character would be the most ironic, but any one of the five would work.

Also starring Molly Ringwald (last seen in "Sixteen Candles"), Anthony Michael Hall (ditto), and Ally Sheedy (last seen in "Only the Lonely")

RATING: 3 out of 10 pixie stix

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Year 3, Day 103 - 4/13/11 - Movie #833

BEFORE: Another film with a geeky/awkward teen coming of age - that's three of those in a row. This one is set in 1987, not the 1960's - music should still be good, though. I think I've been watching a bunch of films that were released in 2009 lately - mostly because those are the newest films running on the premium cable channels. So I've managed to watch 50 of the top 250 films of 2009, I think that's pretty respectable. By contrast, I've only seen 5 or 6 films so far that were released in 2010. And I'm linking tonight from "Taking Woodstock"'s Liev Schreiber, who was also in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" with Ryan Reynolds (last seen in "The In-Laws"), who plays an amusement park maintenance techie here.

THE PLOT: A comedy set in the summer of 1987 and centered around a recent college grad who takes a job at a local amusement park.

AFTER: Another little slice-of-life film, and again I'm not sure if I should take this as a comedy or a drama, it's sort of right down the middle. But trying to please everyone sometimes means that you end up pleasing no one.

The film does manage to convey the awkwardness of growing up, working one's first job and having the first few dating encounters, but I'm at a loss to explain why it's set in 1987 - other than a few songs like "Rock Me Amadeus", there's nothing about the plot that demands it be set in that time period.

There's a character here who is on summer break from NYU - and in 1987, I was in the same situation, and I went back to Massachusetts and worked another summer in the stockroom of a retail store. The following summer, I went back to MA but worked in a movie theater, which felt a little closer to my intended career path. I manned the concession stand with a ragtag bunch of crazy teens, sort of similar to the group depicted in this film. But since I was over 18, I was one of the few people who could work the late shows on Friday and Saturday. Benefits that summer included all the popcorn and lemonade I wanted, and free movies - but I didn't watch many movies, because I worked so many hours there, on my time off I just wanted to be somewhere else.

The best part of this film for me was getting a behind-the-scenes look at the tricks behind the carnival games.

Also starring Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "The Village"), Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr (last seen in "Stealing Harvard"), Kristen Wiig (last seen in "Date Night"), Bill Hader, Wendie Malick (last seen in "Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel"). Cameo from Michael Zegen, who's now on the FX show "Rescue Me" and used to appear on the Letterman show as "Dwight, the Troubled Teen".

RATING: 5 out of 10 stuffed animals.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taking Woodstock

Year 3, Day 102 - 4/12/11 - Movie #832

BEFORE: Let's keep the rock music going - I don't want to wait for summer to celebrate the "Summer of Love". I seem to have put together a "coming of age" theme for the week as well. Linking is easy, since Emma Thompson from "Pirate Radio" was in the movie "Nanny McPhee" with Imelda Staunton, who appears here.

THE PLOT: A man working at his parents' motel in the Catskills inadvertently sets in motion the generation-defining concert in the summer of 1969.

AFTER: I was a little busy in the summer of 1969, having been born the previous October - so I can't really comment on the truthiness of this story. I'm guessing they got some things right and some things wrong, and the attempt was more to capture the essence of the Woodstock festival. (Which, of course, didn't take place in Woodstock, but in nearby Bethel, NY. I guess Woodstock just sounded cooler.)

As in last night's film, the rock proceedings are seen through the eyes of a young man, who happens to be head of the local Chamber of Commerce, and working at his parents' motel, but otherwise seems a bit directionless. We later learn that he hasn't really gotten in touch with his sexuality - about halfway through I was saying, "Is this a gay film?" But hey, no labels, man, it's all groovy. (Far out...)

Did the deal really go down with Max Yasgur this way? Did a guy accidentally use the words "Free concert" in a press conference, sparking a hippie pilgrimage to upstate NY? Does it really matter? My main complaint here is that the film can't seem to decide if it wants to be a family drama, a dry comedy, or a historical re-enactment of a famous concert. Maybe it's OK to be all three, I don't know.

However, the background of the planning, execution and clean-up proves to be a fertile ground for these little slice-of-life stories. Immigrants, hippies, straights, gays, promoters, farmers, mobsters and stoners all come together for three days of festival, and as you might imagine relationships begin and end, people become self-aware, and the world becomes a different place afterwards - that much rings true.

My other complaint is that by focusing on the atmosphere surrounding the festival, the film ends up showing very little of the concert itself - I wonder if that was the intent, or if there's performance footage of people dressed up like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix that ended up getting scrapped. I suppose it's a good lead-in if you want to watch the concert film "Woodstock" - and this film even borrowed that film's use of split-screen and multiple images.

I tried to at least stop in Woodstock for lunch on our way upstate last fall, but my wife wasn't having it. I know people who work at the Woodstock Film Festival, so I imagine I'll make it up there one day - until then I'll have to be satisfied with Comic-Con (5 days of peace, costumes and comics).

Also starring Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber (last seen in "Repo Men", but appearing here as a transvestite, don't say I didn't warn you...), Eugene Levy (last heard in "Astro Boy"), Henry Goodman (last seen in "Color Me Kubrick"), Jonathan Groff, Dan Fogler, with cameos from Richard Thomas, Paul Dano (last seen in "Fast Food Nation"), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (last seen in "Watchmen")

RATING: 6 out of 10 Volkswagen vans

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pirate Radio

Year 3, Day 101 - 4/11/11 - Movie #831

BEFORE: From bootleggers to bootleg records, from rebel yells to rebellious DJs, and from a film filled with Southern rock to one filled with British rock. And linking is easy since Burt Reynolds was in "Boogie Nights" with Philip Seymour Hoffman (last seen in "The Invention of Lying").

THE PLOT: A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.

AFTER: Hard to believe, kids, but there was a time when radio and TV stations didn't broadcast around the clock - and we didn't have podcasts or iTunes or Pandora, and people had to rely on disc jockeys to tell them what songs were good. And in Great Britain, the BBC took a particularly long time to catch on to this craze called rock and roll, so people relied on underground radio to pass the time during the 22 or so hours a day when the radio didn't play the hits.

The film looks at the crazy lives of a bunch of rock spinners (plus news and weather people, for some reason) broadcasting from a ship anchored in the North Sea - and we see it through the eyes of a young man whose mother sent him there to keep him out of trouble. I know, it doesn't make much sense to send him where there's a ton of sex, drugs and alcohol, but then it does make sense later on.

Meanwhile, the upper-crust lawmakers in London are looking for loopholes that will enable them to arrest the radio pirates, and when that doesn't work, they start to change the law itself.

Meanwhile to that, the crazy mixed-up bunch of Brits (and one American) bond with each other, fight with each other, poke fun at each other, in a way that only a bunch of ego-driven men (and one lesbian cook) can do.

Maybe I'm coming off 4 or 5 really mediocre films, but I really enjoyed this one. It had a stirring ending and finished strong, didn't get all preachy about what it all means - except that music is the universal language, and rock will find a way.

And what a soundtrack! The Kinks, the Who, Jeff Beck, Small Faces, the Hollies, the Box Tops, Dusty Springfield, the Moody Blues and many more (all can be yours on this 3-record set, for just 4 easy payments...)

I may not have been an active part of the 1960's music scene (especially since I was busy not being born yet) but it's the musical era that I'm most drawn to. I came of age in a decade called the 80's, when We Built Our City on rock and roll (before realizing that bedrock and concrete is a much smarter move) but when I got to college in the mid-80's, I reverted to the Beatles, Stones and Led Zeppelin, as all college-age kids rightly should. Now the 80's music is retro too - but I still maintain that no good music has been written since 1990. Go ahead, name one song, I dare you. (Didn't think so....)

And for you youngsters, those round black frisbee-like things are called "records", or "discs" (hence "disc jockey"). Music used to be made of solid vinyl, not bits and bytes...

Also starring Bill Nighy (last seen in "G-Force"), Tom Sturridge, Rhys Ifans (last seen in "Little Nicky"), Rhys Darby, Kenneth Branagh (last seen in "Valkyrie"), Emma Thompson, Nick Frost (last seen in "Hot Fuzz"), and January Jones.

RATING: 7 out of 10 turntables

The Dukes of Hazzard

Year 3, Day 100 - 4/10/11 - Movie #830

BEFORE: All 5 Broken Lizard members carry over from last night (some making only cameo appearances, though) - and one of them directed this remake of the 80's TV series. Will it bring back fond memories of my childhood, or just make me feel old? (I'm guessing the latter.)

THE PLOT: Cousins Bo and Luke Duke, with a little help from their cousin Daisy and Uncle Jesse, torment the authorities of Hazzard County, Boss Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane.

AFTER: Any other TV shows from my youth you want to re-vamp, Hollywood? You got to Miami Vice, Charlie's Angels, the Brady Bunch, Bewitched, Get Smart, The A-Team and Fat Albert (OK, so I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid...) So where's "Three's Company" the movie?

I guess I didn't hate this one as much as I thought I might - though I resented the Jackass-ification of the Duke boys, by adding nut shots, crazy stunts and Johnny Knoxville. And they did pack in a lot of story, what with moonshining, a road rally, Boss Hogg's evil plot, and a bunch of the Dukes' ex-girlfriends.

But the only thing Daisy Duke can do is wear her namesake shorts and a bikini top and flirt with police officers? Wait a second, that's not exactly a complaint, plus I think that's all she ever did on the TV show too (the bikini top surfaced during ratings sweeps).

And they did make the villains leaner and meaner - Boss Hogg was famously played on TV by the rotund Sorrell Booke, and here he's slicker and played by Burt Reynolds (last seen in "The Longest Yard"). It's sad to think that he used to play the guy outrunning the cops in "Smokey and the Bandit", though. Sheriff Roscoe seems a lot meaner here too, but even though he seems more competent the plot demands that he end up as ineffectual as ever.

They couldn't get cameos from the original actors? At least the ones that are still alive? I can't believe that Tom Wopat and John Schneider are too busy - jeez, even David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser made cameos in the "Starsky & Hutch" remake...

NITPICK POINT #1: Part of the Dukes' southern charm is lost when their Georgia farmhouse is teched out with James Bond-style hidden rooms that hold their stills.

NITPICK POINT #2: We all know that the General Lee's doors were intentionally welded shut. In this film they don't open because the mechanic didn't have time to make them open - but the default setting for a car door is to be able to open, it shouldn't take a mechanic to make them operable.

Also starring Seann William Scott (last seen in "Role Models"), Willie Nelson, Jessica Simpson, Lynda Carter (last seen in "Sky High"), M.C. Gainey, David Koechner (last seen in "Extract")

RATING: 5 out of 10 armadillos