Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Year 7, Day 45 - 2/14/15 - Movie #1,945

BEFORE: Friday was another day spent recovering, trying to merge my body with the recliner somehow, dehydrated from zinc tablets and cough drops and subsisting on the occasional ramen soup or glass of apple juice.  The TV lineup included "The Seven-Percent Solution", "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "The Birds", "Talladega Nights" and the first two episodes of Marvel's "Agent Carter" series.  Finally, after midnight came this film, neatly timed for Valentine's Day - the original plan was to watch "Crimes of the Heart", but in the end maybe this is more appropriate.

"The Heartbreak Kid" begins with a wedding, so it's a nice tie-in (and I've got more wedding-themed movies coming up later in February), but I can't recall the indirect linking that prompted me to put this film here.  Cybill Shepherd was also in a film called "Expecting Mary" with Lainie Kazan, was that it? (or was it Doris Roberts voicing a character in "The Secret of NIMH 2" with Andrea Martin?)

THE PLOT: A young Greek woman falls in love with a non-Greek and struggles to get her family to accept him while she comes to terms with her heritage and cultural identity.

AFTER: We live in an age of cynicism, when everyone is in doubt of how "authentic" things are.  Perhaps when a respected newsman fudges details about his experiences in a war that was questionable in the first place, there's a need for such inquiry.  I just saw two commercials, one where McDonald's felt the need to explain the meaning of "100% all-beef patties" and another for a chocolate company offering "really real" chocolate.  As opposed to what, exactly?  

Of course, you don't expect a romantic comedy to be held to high standards of realism, it only needs to tell a good story.  But when ethnicity is involved, and it's so easy to fall back on cultural stereotypes, I have to wonder how authentic something like this is.  I admit I didn't know much about Greek culture before this, other than the names of a few foods like spanakopita and dolmades, but according to the stereotypes, they have large families, drink ouzo and shout "Opa!" a lot, and this film does nothing to dispel those stereotypes, choosing to showcase them instead.  

I don't mean to harp on this, but what if the film had been called "My Big Fat African-American Wedding", and it depicted a large family where everyone drank malt liquor and ate fried chicken and watermelon?  Not cool, right?  Or what if it was "My Big Fat German Wedding", and everyone wore lederhosen, ate sausages, drank beer and listened to oompah music?  Sure, stereotypes might come from something real, but reducing an ethnic group to a bunch of cartoonish characters doesn't seem like a fair deal.  So I wonder if Greek people are offended by this film, or if they think, "Yeah, that's what my family is like!" 

That said, it's a fine romance depicted here, but as a chick film it also resembles what I call "porn for women".  Which doesn't mean it's x-rated, I mean it shows a fairly shy, frumpy woman who comes out of her shell, and then meets a hunky guy who falls head-over-heels for her, to the point where he's willing to put up with her obnoxious family and even convert to her religion, so they can get married and have an ideal life.  I won't say it couldn't happen, but it also smacks of fantasy - like those old ZZ Top videos that were aimed at teen boys, where a muscle car would roll up with three leggy women inside, grabbing a teen away from his gas station job for, one assumes, a wild week of sex and debauchery.  Hey, that band knew their audience. 

But hey, anyone who's gotten married can understand the differences between two families, especially when religious or cultural differences are involved.  I just think the film got too specific in that sense.  We spent a couple years going out to my brother-in-law's in-laws' place for Thanksgiving, and they're straight-up Sicilian, so I get some of the stuff about cultural differences.  I can even say a couple of really nasty curses in Sicilian now.

Also starring Nia Vardalos (last heard in "Larry Crowne"), John Corbett (last seen in "Tombstone"), Michael Constantine, Louis Mandylor, Andrea Martin (last heard in "Anastasia"), Gia Carides, Joey Fatone (last seen in "The Cooler"), Ian Gomez (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), Bruce Gray, Fiona Reid.

RATING: 4 out of 10 bottles of Windex

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

Year 7, Day 44 - 2/13/15 - Movie #1,944

BEFORE: I'm sick at home today - the cold hit yesterday on my day off, so since I couldn't think straight and had the need to nap every few hours, I spent the day on the recliner, watching movies I'd seen before to kill time.  I re-watched "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America", then found the episode of "Inside the Actors Studio" with Robin Williams, then it was "When Harry Met Sally", Mel Brooks' one-man show that was taped for HBO, "City Slickers 2", "The Big Lebowski", an episode of "Portlandia", the finale of "Top Chef" and the first three episodes of "Celebrity Apprentice".  So at least I was well entertained during my convalescence yesterday, and then after midnight I finished off with Friday's film.

This was a last-minute addition to the February line-up, since TCM ran a ton of films written by Neil Simon during January - I'll watch most of these later this year in a Jack Lemmon-fueled chain or the Robert Redford chain, but I decided to drop this one in here, because, improbably, against all rational thought, it shares an actor with "Young Adult" - someone named Joel Thingvall had an uncredited role in "Young Adult" as a businessman, and another uncredited role in this film as a college student.  Another bonus, parts of "Young Adult" and this film are both set in Minneapolis.

THE PLOT:  Three days into his Miami honeymoon, New York Jewish Lenny meets tall, blonde Kelly. This confirms him in his opinion that he has made a serious mistake and he decides he wants Kelly instead.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Heartbreak Kid" (2007) (Movie #408)

AFTER: This brings up what I was saying the other day about "Head in the Clouds" with regards to Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz - I couldn't understand how a right-thinking man would rather go fight in a war than live together with those two beauties.  The flipside of that is, and I'm not excusing bad behavior here but merely explaining it, it's somewhat possible to understand what Charles Grodin's character does when he is approached on his honeymoon by the lovely and very flirty Kelly, played by Cybill Shepherd.

That said, spending time with another woman while on your honeymoon is not a very nice thing to do. Even if you factor in the possibility that he leaped in to marriage before he looked, or the fact that he didn't realize that he'd be annoyed by her terrible singing voice and obsession with egg salad sandwiches, plus her constant need for reassurance in the relationship, it's still assholish behavior, and there's really no excuse for it.  

I remember on my first honeymoon, my wife ate some bad seafood and spent the first night of our vacation throwing up.  That sort of thing happens, and it didn't give me the right to go flirt with another woman, and it certainly wasn't grounds for divorce.  (No, that came a few years later...)

So I'm left wondering why the central character of this film is such an asshole, though obviously such people probably do exist, but why put his bad behavior on display in such a manner?  He can't possibly be seen as a sympathetic character, even if you factor in his naivete and allow for bad timing.  My theory is that this was made just 5 years after "The Graduate", and someone was trying to recapture a bit of that magic, by portraying a young man who's sort of adrift in life, and who gets caught between two women.  (Certainly sleeping with your girlfriend's mother is sort of similar assholish behavior, no?)

I went back and read my review of the 2007 remake of "The Heartbreak Kid", which I rated as a 5.  On TCM Ken Levine introduced this film and called the remake "awful", but I think he's got it sort of backwards.  At least that film was occasionally funny, and this one isn't (unless you count this as dark comedy, and I'm not sure it qualifies) - the original just seems very mean-spirited, like how can we keep making this guy's life worse?  How many extremely awkward situations can we put him in?  It's a fine line between a black comedy and a series of just plain miserable complications with awful human beings. 

Plus, it looks terrible.  The cinematography is altogether awful, in the end it resembles one of those 1970's Miller Lite or Coke commercials that they show on those "Best Super Bowl Commercials" specials, where they have to put black bars on the top, bottom and sides because that ratio is outdated, and it looks like the film wasn't stored correctly.  

The ending is very noncommittal - because this lead character has been Kelly's family for so long about his intentions, it's tough to determine if he feels at peace after finally achieving what he wanted, or if his assholish nature will reassert itself, and he will soon be feeling once again that the grass is greener somewhere else.  By all rights, he deserved to have someone jilt him, after the way he ditched his first wife. 

Also starring Charles Grodin (last seen in "The Great Muppet Caper"), Cybill Shepherd (last seen in "Alice"), Jeannie Berlin, Eddie Albert (last seen in "The Concorde: Airport '79"), Audra Lindley, Doris Roberts.

RATING: 3 out of 10 beach towels

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Young Adult

Year 7, Day 43 - 2/12/15 - Movie #1,943

BEFORE: Charlize Theron carries over from "Head in the Clouds", in what looks to be another complicated romantic situation.  Hey, all types of love are represented here in the countdown, including misguided obsessive love.  Though I think I'll save "Monster" for later in the year, it just wouldn't fit in this month.

THE PLOT: Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now happily married and has a newborn daughter.

AFTER: As long as I'm confessing things, I can attest that after getting divorced, it's only natural to look up some exes, or people you might have had a shot at, or even a few that you didn't, to see what your options are.  But this character takes things to the extreme, to the point where she drives back to her hometown to get her high school boyfriend back, even though he's clearly moved on and she's somewhat delusional.  Remember that astronaut lady who drove across the country wearing diapers in order to kidnap or injure another astronaut's girlfriend, after she'd had an affair with him?  Yeah, it's no coincidence that all went down about a month after she split with her husband.  You gotta work through the pain, girl, but try not to inflict any on someone else. 

I think it's another case where women haven't been empowered for very long, culturally speaking, so I don't think we've seen how far off the reservation some of them are capable of going.  Lots of men may just shrug their shoulders and go find another girl, but women tend to hold grudges for a long time.  

Also, I think it's natural to reflect back on one's life, maybe target a couple of spots where different decisions could have been made, but it's an easy trap to regard one's marriage as a mistake, regardless of how long the marriage was.  Two months, two years, twenty years - it doesn't matter.  You made the best decision you could make at that time, given the information that you had.  People change, situations change, and you have to change with them, or you get left behind. 

In the case of this character, who writes Young Adult novels, mostly based on snippets of conversations she overhears from teenagers in fast food restaurants, you have to wonder if her job may have affected her outlook, and by extension her marriage.  A woman spending so much time writing (or reading) romantic fiction is bound to be disappointed by the reality of marriage - it's like porn for women.  

After a few of the most awkward situations, since she and her ex are clearly not on the same page, eventually she learns that you can't go back, you can only go forward.  Relationships are like time-travel in that regard - currently there's only one direction and one speed.  You can write messages and communicate with your future self, but you can't answer back.  

Also starring Patrick Wilson (last seen in "The Alamo"), Patton Oswalt (last seen in "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas"), Elizabeth Reaser, Mary Beth Hurt (last seen in "Interiors"), Jill Eikenberry (last seen in "Arthur"), Richard Bekins, Collette Wolfe, and a vocal cameo from J.K. Simmons (last seen in "The Words").

RATING: 5 out of 10 custom action figures

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Head in the Clouds

Year 7, Day 42 - 2/11/15 - Movie #1,942

BEFORE: Another indirect link tonight, two actors from "Circle of Friends" link to Stuart Townsend from "Head in the Clouds" - Sean McGinley and Geraldine O'Rawe both co-starred with him in a film called "Resurrection Man".  That's the best I can do tonight, and it helps me get back to direct linking starting tomorrow.   Other indirect linkings are possible, but I only need one to keep the chain going.

THE PLOT: A sweeping romantic drama set in 1930's England, Paris, and Spain. Gilda Bessé shares her Paris apartment with an Irish schoolteacher, Guy Malyon, and Mia, a refugee from Spain. As the world drifts toward war, Gilda defiantly pursues her hedonistic lifestyle and her burgeoning career as a photographer.

AFTER: There are two main reasons to watch this period piece, as I see it.  One is Charlize Theron playing a sexually free liberated woman, and the other is Penelope Cruz playing a model/burlesque performer.  If that doesn't float your boat, then you and I clearly have different ideas about what makes movies interesting. 

Seriously, though, this film set out to capture the interests of both sexes - for the women there's the romance plot, set against the historical backdrop of the early days of World War II, and for the men (or women who dig women, obviously) there are lots of scenes of dressing, undressing, bathing and other activities which, umm, naturally follow such things.  You know what I mean.   

I can believe a young man, just out of college, falling for a rich, liberated woman who turns him on to the free-wheeling lifestyle, and also turns him on in general, and being confused at times by her attitude toward relationships, which seems decades ahead of its time.  

What I can't believe is a young man finding himself in a relationship with not one but TWO attractive women, who are into him but also seem quite into each other, boggling the mind with mathematical love-making possibilities, and having that man say, "Well, enough of this, I need to go fight in the Spanish Civil War, even though I'm not Spanish."  I mean, props for wanting to go defeat Fascism, but he must be daft out of his mind.  And to his credit, the three of them live together in Paris for, what, a year?  

What happened after a year?  Did the personalities of one woman or the other drive him nuts?  Did he have too much sex, forcing him to go fight a war just so he could get a good night's sleep once in a while?  Was it too much of a good thing?  Or was his desire to fight the good fight really so strong?  Either way, I'm just not buying it.  

Maybe I'm biased - I never had to go fight a war, thank God, and the draft was never implemented during my lifetime.  I remember when Gulf War 1 + 2 came around thanking my lucky stars that I was a bit too old to be drafted - not that the U.S. Armed Services would want me anyway.  (Let's hear it for being out of shape and uncoordinated!)

But I also remember getting out of college and considering my options - I could have moved out to California, I suppose, or back to Boston, but that would have felt like a step backwards.  But I was getting laid regularly for the first time in my life, and that surely affected my decision to stay in New York.  Even though I denied that was the case, it was.  Guilty as charged.  

So far this February, happy endings are outweighing depressing ones, 8 to 3.  I'm counting enduring love vs. non-enduring love - I think "About a Boy" might have been a wash.

Also starring Charlize Theron (last seen in "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion"), Penelope Cruz (last seen in "To Rome With Love"), Thomas Kretschmann (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), Gabriel Hogan, Steven Berkoff.

RATING: 4 out of 10 art galleries

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Circle of Friends

Year 7, Day 41 - 2/10/15 - Movie #1,941

BEFORE: It's already time for me to start planning my annual trip to San Diego Comic-Con, I just booked my flight and started looking at hotels.  I'm later than usual on this, since I like to have my hotel locked down by November, but the hostel I've been staying at for 5 years may be closing, so they're not taking reservations for July, at least not yet.  Sure, that place is kind of dumpy, so this may be a blessing in disguise - but I'll never find another place 3 blocks from the convention center at that price, so now I've got to convince my boss to increase my hotel budget. 

I love San Diego, but it's a small city masquerading as a large one, so as a result I've come to realize that it's designed all wrong.  (What moron put a convention center next to a freeway and two sets of train tracks, with no pedestrian bridge?  It's like nobody realized that thousands of people need to enter the convention center every day on foot...)  I did learn how to use the trolley system two years ago, so I figured I could find a cheap hotel anywhere along the trolley line and ride to the convention center each day.  Nope, that's not an option, because I looked at nearly every stop on all three trolley lines with Google maps, and couldn't spot a hotel in the vicinity of any of them.  It's like no one thought that maybe someone from out of town would also need to get around somehow - see what I mean?

I've got to rely on indirect linking tonight - Jason Patric from "Your Friends & Neighbors" was also in "Sleepers" with Minnie Driver (last seen in "Goldeneye").  It's not ideal, but I've got only two or three indirect links in February, and once I get past those, actors will carry over in a cascade that will take me to the end of the month.

THE PLOT:  Set in 1950's Ireland, the movie focuses on Benny Hogan and her best friend, Eve Malone as they enter student life at University College, Dublin. Here Benny and Eve reunite with their childhood friend, the ice-cool Nan Mahon, the 'college belle'. 

AFTER: This film had charm to spare, though maybe it just appeared more charming to me after watching "Your Friends & Neighbors", which was so abrasive.  I couldn't abide the opening sequence, where we see the three young girls and Benny narrates it all with, "There I am - Benny."  Nobody talks like that, saying their name over and over as exposition - but then, I guess most people don't narrate their memories for an audience.  And why did she say, "We were inseparable," when one of the girls moved away shortly after that?  That's not what "inseparable" means....

This is a peek at young love in a Catholic society, where teens had to balance their desires with their religious training - remember, Catholics somehow got it in their heads that chastity means holiness, even though the teachings of Jesus encouraged people to "be fruitful and multiply".  And if there were a God, why would he design humans with anatomy or feelings that he didn't want them to use?  It's so easy to trip religious people up with their own twisted logic.

Benny's got the classic problem where she's in love with one man, but her parents are encouraging her to marry another, for business reasons.  And the year this takes place is crucial, because before the 1950's, that decision probably would have gone one way, and afterwards women were probably more likely to marry for love than money - most of them, anyway.  It's weird, though, that her parents would allow her to go to university, but also be working to marry her off - do they want her to be independent or not?  

It's a slow build and I wondered if it was ever going to get somewhere interesting - eventually it did, and as things got complicated, then sorted themselves out, it almost felt like some scenes were missing, as there's a lot of people learning what's really going on, but this is not always seen on camera.

Also starring Chris O'Donnell (last seen in "The Three Musketeers"), Saffron Burrows (last seen in "Troy"), Geraldine O'Rawe, Alan Cumming (last seen in "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion"), Colin Firth (last seen in "Love Actually"), Ciaran Hinds (last heard in "Frozen"), Aidan Gillen.

RATING: 5 out of 10 rugby matches

Monday, February 9, 2015

Your Friends & Neighbors

Year 7, Day 40 - 2/9/15 - Movie #1,940

BEFORE: Catherine Keener carries over from "Enough Said", so the linking has led me here.  I've managed to avoid the work of Neil LaBute up until now, because I've read about how misogynistic his plays tend to be, but I've never watched one, or any film based on one of them.  

THE PLOT: Unhappy couples fall apart and hop into other beds with other people.

AFTER: Well, I said that this year's chain would be about the ups and downs of relationships, this one definitely focuses on the downs - it's a real downer, I guess.  None of the characters are happy, they all want to be sleeping with someone other than who they're married to or living with, and this ultimately leads to the fracturing of marriages and, one assumes, the dissolution of friendships.  This is ground that's been covered many times in the films of Woody Allen, except he remembers to include comedy in (most of) his films, and the music is much better.  

I'm paying careful attention here, because I would also like to write an ensemble story with 6 characters who come together, fall apart and come back together in various ways, except I would like to do it in a much more enjoyable fashion, if that's possible - mix the comedy with the tragedy.  People cheating on each other and separating from each other is serious business, sure, but it doesn't have to drag the whole film down, does it?  I mean, I get that you have to show people being annoyed with each other or sexually unsatisfied in some way to justify the infidelity, but do they have to be annoyed and dissatisfied all the freakin' time?  

I guess a story has to cover a long period of time if you're going to institute a progression, some sea change before which they're content, and after which they're discontent.  People do change, but it happens over time, so I'll have to think about this some more.  My story was going to try and compress my experiences over several years into just a few months, but now I think if there's going to be a radical change in the characters' outlooks, a longer scope might be better.  In tonight's film, there's no way to be sure how much time passes over the course of the film - not like in "Hannah and Her Sisters", where Woody threw in a Thanksgiving party every so often so we'd get a clue about the passage of time.  

It's a valid comparison, this film to "Hannah and Her Sisters", because the catalyst is the same - a man wants to have an affair, and the other events spiral out from there.  But I walked away from Woody's film liking nearly all of the characters, while still understanding that none of them are perfect, and with this film, I hate all of the characters, because they're all assholes.  Is that the point?  Is everyone, everywhere an asshole?  I might be inclined to agree, except I don't think that everyone's an asshole all the time, as LaBute's film seems to suggest. 

Wait, the names of the 6 characters are Mary, Barry, Cary, Jerry, Terri and Cheri?  I can't decide if that's too cutesy or just plain stupid.  The odds against 6 names forming 2 sets of rhymes like that are astronomical, I'm not buying it.  Similarly, what was up with each character being in the same art gallery, starting the same conversation with the same person?  Again, the odds are so against that happening that it just took me right out of the film's reality.

All I can say is, if these are your friends, then you need better friends, and if these are your neighbors, I'd seriously consider moving.

Also starring Amy Brenneman (last seen in "Daylight"), Aaron Eckhart (last seen in "Paycheck"), Jason Patric (last seen in "The Alamo"), Ben Stiller (last seen in "Keeping the Faith"), Nastassja Kinski (last seen in "The Claim").  

RATING: 2 out of 10 gym lockers

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Enough Said

Year 7, Day 39 - 2/8/15 - Movie #1,939

BEFORE: Toni Collette carries over from "About a Boy", and I'm rewarded again for re-organizing my February chain, because this puts two films about single parents on the dating scene right next to each other.

THE PLOT: A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she's interested in learns he's her new friend's ex-husband.

AFTER: If you think about it, families with divorced parents haven't been around all that long, at least not without the stigma that they used to come with.  Organized religion had a stranglehold for the populace for so long, and brainwashed people into thinking that divorce was unholy, it's really just in the last 4 or 5 decades that spouses haven't felt any pressure to stay in a marriage that wasn't working.  Remember when if someone was divorced, you wondered what went wrong?  Of course, now I think the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction, because these days people get divorced just because they weren't "feeling into it" any more. 

Look back on the great sitcom families, like the Brady Bunch.  We presume that Mike's first wife and Carol's first husband were deceased, because in the 1960's you couldn't do a story about divorced parents and have them remain sympathetic characters.  Plus the audience would always be wondering why Marcia and Jan never visited their biological father.  Then in the 1970's there was a flood of single-parent shows, like "Alice" and "One Day at a Time", where the fathers were noticeably absent, but rarely discussed.  Even assuming that TV's a decade or so behind the times, it still means that the rules for dealing with all this, in real-life as well as entertainment scenarios, are still relatively new.

The lead character here finds herself in a new situation, and is unsure what the proper rules are - should she inform her new friend/client that she's recently started dating her ex-husband?  Should she tell her new boyfriend that she happens to know his ex-wife through another channel?   What are the implications if she remains silent, and uses one relationship to gather information about what to expect from the other?  Yes, it almost seems like it stems from a sitcom-ish misunderstanding, but at least there are consequences stemming from her actions.  

At the same time, she's getting ready to send her daughter off to college, and that means working together with her own ex-husband to make sure her daughter is prepared, while her new boyfriend goes through the same process with his own daughter.  Plus her daughter's best friend is hanging around, seemingly in need of a mother figure of her own.  So it's a complicated set of circumstances with a lot of petty jealousies to go around.  But sometimes life is complicated like that, I guess. 

But what the film gets right is that people aren't perfect, so naturally neither are most relationships.  There are just ones with problems you can handle, and ones with problems that you can't.  And sometimes those little idiosyncrasies that you find cute at the beginning of a relationship become annoying later on.  That's just the way it goes.

Also starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus (last heard in "Planes"), James Gandolfini (last seen in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"), Catherine Keener (last seen in "Captain Phillips"), Ben Falcone (last seen in "Identity Thief"), Tracey Fairaway, Tavi Gevinson, Eve Hewson, Toby Huss.

RATING: 5 out of 10 mimosas