Sunday, November 7, 2010

First runs: Due Date misses the deadline

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios.

This is one of these films where I came out of the theater, went home, sat in front my laptop and ran my fingers through my hair because I really don't know where to start with this one. It's not as bad as the Clash of the Titans remake, of course watching bread rise is better than that.

Due Date, simply put, is a weird film. It actually made me nervous. Like, oh my god, oh my god, what horrible thing is going to happen next kind of nervous. I'm not sure that's really how you are supposed to feel during a comedy. Director Todd Phillips, who did amazing work with The Hangover, is known for his extreme, over-the-top gags. But in that film, you had four, fine comedic actors (not to mention the ever-foxy Bradley Cooper) that each brought something fresh to each scene and to one another. Having a full-force of Zach Galifianakis, trotting out again his weirdo-loser persona from The Hangover, is just a bit too much, thank you very much.

The premise is a clear riff on the "buddy" comedies of old featuring Dean Martin (sexy straight man) and Jerry Lewis (doofy goofball) carrying on together through wacky hijinx and despite being polar opposites, learning to love one another in the end. Or at least mostly tolerate. This time around, Robert Downey Jr. plays the Dean Martin type whereas Galifianakis is Jerry Lewis, but both are on a far more dangerous and yes, on occasion, actually SCARY road trip after they are thrown together under the most unusual circumstances.

The gist: Peter (Downey) ends up losing his wallet and getting kicked off a plane with Tremblay (Galifianakis) and Peter needs to make it home, doing whatever it takes, to witness the birth of his first child. The film did have some very funny moments. But it also had some moments that were supposed to be funny and just ended up being close to frightening. There was not much you had to tweak about this film to make it some kind of psycho thriller because basically, Tremblay is the devil incarnate. Props for Galifianakis for trying so hard to make this completely awful human being a poor, well-meaning dope, but every time you start to get warm fuzzies for this guy, he does something so hideous, so unbelievable, and so insanely selfish that you are just as happy when SPOILER poor Peter finally loses it and decks him.

It reminds me of an even worse film that came out years ago with Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Pullman called Mr. Wrong. Touted as a comedy, it is actually an extremely disturbing film about a woman who falls in love with a guy and then finds out he's actually a possessive wacko who ends up kidnapping her and taking her to Mexico. And this is supposed to be funny?

SPOILERS AHEAD just FYI, in case you actually want to pay money to see this. (For reals yo? Believe me, wait and Netflix it.)

For instance, there is a touching moment near the end when Tremblay spreads his father's ashes across the Grand Canyon, which Peter is generously taking time out to let him do even though the clock is ticking. Immediately afterwards, there is a jaw-dropping revelation that Tremblay has had Peter's wallet, with all the IDs, money, EVERYTHING in it, in his pocket the whole time. The lack of a proper ID and money is, of course, one of the reasons why Peter is stuck on this road trip from hell with this guy. Tremblay's excuse for putting this poor, decent man through hell? He's lonely.

And yet, after all this, they end up being the best of friends and everything works out. No consequences, no worries, just a nice, happy ending. I'm not sure what kind of message this film is putting out. So we should be kind to the people that treat us like total shit and put us through unimaginable anguish for days on end because they have "issues" and are "lonely?"

Nice try, Mr. Phillips, but I think I'll hold out for Hangover II to come out on Netflix next time. I think I've had enough Tremblay for a long while to come.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Rare beauty is found in Sita Sings the Blues

Image downloaded courtesy of

Every once in awhile one gets a chance to experience a film that's truly rare and compelling. I had such an experience this past weekend while attending MangaNEXT, a Japanese anime convention held in East Brunswick, N.J.

There are several things that are downright awesome about Sita Sings the Blues. First off, New York City resident Nina Paley created this movie on her home computer over the course of five years. Secondly, this film is free for anyone to watch by clicking here. My advice: go watch it now and have the next hour and a half of your life illuminated. Read the rest of this review afterwards. This is the stuff that Disney wishes it could aspire to. I found myself in tears at the end of the viewing because due to the fact that for reasons I will get to later, this film has never had a commercial release and therefore will never be able to win an Oscar, although it is utterly deserving of one.

The movie is based on the tales about Rama and Sita from the Ramayana (all Indian folklore, fyi). Sita is at first embraced by her husband, but after a series of misfortunes, is shunned, and then ultimately redeemed by the gods (and goddesses). Woven within the story is Nina's own tale of how her marriage dissolved but ultimately led to her doing this very film. What is so captivating is Nina uses four different animation styles to tell various parts of her stories. The funniest parts of the film go to the three narrators of the stories of Rama and Sita, whom Nina recorded and then animated based on their conversations, which often involve them arguing about "what really happened."

What you get is an exquisite tapestry of color, animation, and humor, as well as music! Sita indeed does sing the blues (1930s and 40s blues sung by Annette Hanshaw, in fact, to add a twist) in various montages that reflect her current situation.

Having Nina actually there to answer questions about her fabulous work was a real treat. She's an incredibly kind and patient person who also happens to be a super genius when it comes to animation. In Nina's own words: "I'm just an ordinary human, who also can't make her marriage work. And the way that it fails is uncannily similar to the way Rama and Sita's [relationship fails]. Inexplicable yet so familiar. And the question that I asked and the question people still ask is, "Why"? Why did Rama reject Sita? Why did my husband reject me? We don't know why, and we didn't know 3,000 years ago. I like that there's really no way to answer the question, that you have to accept that this is something that happens to a lot of humans." (quoted from the movie website with permission.)

Having the film completely free to watch was something that Nina decided after she found out how expensive it would be to buy the rights to use the music in a commercial setting, and that it would take her years to earn back the money. As it is, Nina explained at her panel she is making more money having the film - and everything about it - free and open to the public. In a sense, we are all giving her free publicity, myself included, and I'm proud of that because it's a damn good movie.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is is Sita. And I dare you to find a more exhilarating and soul-filling moment than the sequence that comes at the end of the "intermission", which is a treat all by itself. Look for Ravana wandering off with several cokes for each of his several heads.

Well, what are you waiting for? Be inspired!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Critic BOOK Special: SNL vet Jim Breuer comes clean in "I'm Not High"

Jim Breuer is known for a lot of things: Joe Pesci, Goat Boy, that stoner guy in the movie Half-Baked. I was ready for a lot of silly comedy in his latest book, "I'm Not High". What I wasn't ready for was the deep spirituality that resides in the man and comes through in the pages.

This is by far one of the most compelling memoirs I've read lately - I simply could not put it down. Breuer writes with a kind of raw honesty that makes you want to cry and laugh all at the same time. Being a writer, there is nothing more frustrating to me than a memoir that is poorly written, or spends a lot of time trashing other people, or worse yet, is begging the reader to be uber-sympathetic to him or her for all their foibles and mishaps.

Breuer comes completely clean in his book. He's really not high, although he's been high in the past, multiple times, and certainly LOOKS high. But he's also just a really decent guy who uses laughter as a tool for healing.

This book is a lot of things. A collection of funny stories, a case for the power of prayer, a confessional, a diary. It's definitely never boring. Breuer takes us through the highs and lows of his childhood, the long road of breaking into fame and all the heartbreaking disappointments and temptations that come with it. But the message Breuer comes through with time and time again is to never lose yourself in success. Never think you are invincible, or that fame and fortune can replace love and family.

What is most impressive about Breuer's book is how he can talk about his faith in God so freely and not make the reader uncomfortable or make himself sound like some sort of evangelist. It's clear the writing comes from the heart, and that's what makes Breuer so likeable, even when some of his experiences could be speculated to have just been coincidence rather than divine intervention. This book made me think a lot about my own life and what I should be grateful for.

The Insatiable Critic meets Jim Breuer

I would like to mention that seeing Breuer live in New Haven earlier this month is an experience I will never forget. The man is freakin' hilarious. Even the way he laughs is hilarious - I always thought it was just part of his characters but that's actually just the way he is. And having heard him tell some of the tales in the book live, while doing voices people such as Dave Chappelle, it made the book all the more enjoyable because I could hear his impressions in my head as I read through the chapters.

And honest to God, he's just a great guy. After his stand-up routine, we all lined up to have a copy of our book signed. When I came to him, I told him how much I had loved him on Saturday Night Live back in the 90s. He said to me, "Wow, that really means a lot to me. Also, I saw you laughing so hard in the second row there. I'm glad you were really enjoying yourself." And I could tell by the look on his face that he really meant it.

If you are looking for straight-up, honest and funny writing, look no further than "I'm Not High."
Come for the humor, but stay for the heart.

For more about Jim and his upcoming tour dates, click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DVD Spotlight: Clash of the Titans remake needs to get over itself

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. and downloaded here.

A few weeks ago, my beloved and I did a back-to-back marathon of Clash of the Titans, the remake and the original, in that order. I can safely say that the original, in all its cheesy glory, was way, WAY better.

Its pretty sad when filmmakers can't make a decent remake with all the access they have nowadays to computer graphics. This new film really should've been called "Clash of the Poorly Laid Out Plot and Underdeveloped Characters" because it was barely recognizable to the original movie.

Keep in mind I had not seen the original so I was trying to appreciate this film in its own right without getting caught in the critic quicksand of "Weelllll they didn't do this like they did in the FIRST movie...."Guess what kiddies: it was still crap.

How do I even begin to dissect this deplorable mish-mosh of Lord of the Rings meets 300 only both done shoddier? Well, let's start with Liam Neeson as Zeus. I'm sorry, but the last time I cracked "Mythology" by Edith Hamilton, Zeus was supposed to be a bad ass. Neeson plays Zeus like a sympathetic father who only wants the best for his world, and yeah, humans are flawed, but that doesn't mean we should kill the little buggers off. Plus, Greek women are just too damn hot. But he lets Hades, played by Ralph Fiennes, who I'm sorry to say is given John Travolta's hairdo from Battlefield Earth, push him around and convince him to start a war between humans and gods. Both actors do their damndest with the sad lot they are given, but when you've got a bad script and a bad plot, it's hard to rise above that no matter how good you are.

Also, the gods of greek mythology did not wander around wearing clunky, 12th century European armor that somehow sparkles of its own accord because uh, THEY'RE GODS. THEY DON'T NEED ARMOR. They wear helmets because it makes them look that much cooler, and that's about it.

Meanwhile, our hero of the hour Perseus, played by Sam Worthington (of James Cameron's Avatar fame) spends an inordinate amount of time whining about having to be half god and half man. Damn buddy, if I had the abilities of a god and my Dad was Zeus, I'd be pretty stoked about it. Also, the sword his Dad leaves for him looks way too much like a light saber for my measure.

From there, the plot gets more and more incomprehensible. There's some stone guy who helps them out but I'm not even really sure what he's doing there, and a woman named Io who follows Perseus around being somewhat supportive but why her character even exists is pretty much beyond me. We finally get to something that makes sense: Hades is going to release the Kraken, a big ugly beastie that's going to lay waste to everything and Perseus has to cut off the head of Medusa in order to turn the Kraken into stone. Medusa's character design was pretty well done. It was nice to show her as being attractive - considering the reason they claim for her existence in the film is a jealous goddess punishing her for being too beautiful.

But one character being well done does not a movie make, although if you are going to do one thing right, it might as well be Medusa. The director Louis Leterrier, whose credits include The Incredible Hulk, overloads the plot with too many characters that he doesn't have time to develop meaningfully and thus, kills them off or just lets them hang. Plus, he takes non-sensical liberties such as making Pegasus, who is classically white and pure, black. Why? To make him look cooler? We'll never know. And really, by the end, you don't really care.

Watching the original was like having the scales fall from my eyes. So THIS is what this movie is supposed to be about! Other than the plotline with Medusa and the Kraken, the movies are completely different. Yes, the special effects are pretty campy, but I'll take a decent plot that makes an ounce of sense over the previous mess I just watched. Laurence Olivier -now there's a Zeus. He's rude, pompous, and is looking out for his own, a far cry from the sniffling pushover that Neeson portrayed. Also, we actually get a look at the power of the goddesses, who are hardly given a nod in the remake. Perseus, played by Harry Hamlin, is elated to discover he has the powers of a god and proceeds to go on an awesome quest to find an awesome babe. No Hades, no war between the gods, no politics. Just a good solid adventure story that doesn't take itself too seriously. And let me tell you ladies, some of the outfits they put Perseus in don't leave much to the imagination, which is an awesome plus.

This is a classic case of a director trying to take a fun-loving, semi-campy adventure story and making it into "SRS BZNS EPIC TALE," when that's not what it is, nor what it ever will be. The presence of Bubo, a quirky mechanical owl that Athena makes in defiance of Zeus when she refuses to give up her own owl, embodies the fun-loving aspect of the film. But sorry folks, this remake is just too serious to have a character as silly as Bubo in it for more than just a mere scrap of a reference to appease the die-hard fans of the film, provided they had not left the theater already. Even though we've got giant scorpions and winged horses and a Jedi knight-type sword. Yeah.

Leterrier, just a small piece of advice for the future - if you don't want to continue to make spectacularly awful films, get over yourself.

On that note, I leave you with this charming and incredibly well-filmed snippet about what Bubo has been doing with his time since the original Clash of the Titans you can see here.

Toby sez: Clash of the Titans remake:

Vs. the Original:

Friday, October 8, 2010

A curve in the road

First of all to all my loyal readers I am sorry for not having updated this in a long time. Things have been busy. And by busy I mean....I lost my job.

It wasn't a total surprise, gentle readers, but it was hard to deal with and on some level, heartbreaking. Many of us grow up with the concept that if we work really hard and try our best, that things will turn out all right in the end. The bitter pill that life makes you swallow on occasion is that your best isn't enough. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you. And then you find yourself on a path you never dreamed you'd be on, trying to make the best of it all.

After the axe came down last Friday, I dived right into the job hunt and have been busier in this past week than I ever thought I'd be. Some people need time to collect, to lick wounds, etc. For me, the way I deal with a bad situation is I start working as fast as I can to fix it, and with every click of the button on my laptop that sends off my resume to a possible job opportunity my heart and soul feels a little bit better.

One thing I am infinitely grateful for is the parting of the ways from my previous employer was very civil and there is no bad blood between us. My bosses told me they have no problem with me using them as references. I don't think anyone really wanted it to happen, but it is what it is and they did their best to help me out by giving me a very decent severance package.

I have been humbled and awed by the unbelievable amount of support my friends and family have sent my way. They always say in times of crisis you find out who your real friends are - boy, do I have a lot of them. To those people who have offered me food, lodging, job opportunities, or even just notes of encouragement and love in the digital realm as well as over the phone and in person, I can't thank you enough.

During this time, I have had some very powerful signs come to me. Yes, as hokey as it sounds, I believe in signs. Recently my friend gave me a purse charm that is a moth in lucite; a few days later my Dad had a dream that he was in my apartment with my mother and moths were coming out of cocoons, drying their wings and getting ready to fly. Our dear family friend Janie tells me that in Native American lore, moths are symbols of transformation and new beginnings.

Sign number two came today at a job interview for a part-time position at an audio books company. One of my all-time favorite blogs is The Daily Coyote, written by a woman named Shreve who left her fast-paced city life behind her to live in Wyoming and raise her ever-expanding "farmily", which includes a coyote, Charlie. She is an amazing writer, photographer, and woman and I have had the great opportunity to talk with her not only over the phone but over email as well. Although I hardly know her personally, she is very dear to me. She came out with a book called "The Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming" in 2008 and I have an autographed copy of it. During my interview today, they showed me one of their most recent audio book covers that had one of the employee's dogs on the front of it. The dog looked so much like Charlie I started talking about Shreve and the site, and they said to me, "Oh actually, we've produced her audio book!" I couldn't believe it. They handed me a copy and told me to keep it.

Now of all the thousands of books in the world and the numerous audio book companies out there, what were the chances, really?

As I drove home, I popped in the first disc, and a clear voice read out the first line of the book. "The jewels in this life are the events we do not plan; at least that is how it has always been for me."
I felt my eyes fill with tears. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And in that moment, in my car driving down 95 on my way back home, there was this cosmic sensation that all of this has been woven into the fabric of my life forever. That I really am exactly where I need to be right now. People always say things happen for a reason, but it wasn't until I heard and felt what I did that I really believed it.

I promise that there will be a real movie review blog coming soon, but I felt that you all deserved to know what the hell was going on. Thank you for your patience and stay with me - after all, I am insatiable!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bring on the feedback!

A dear friend notified me that it was rather difficult for non-Google users to comment on my posts, but now I have made it easier! You can now choose the option of OpenID or just add your name and a URL if you so choose and voila! Your comment will appear below. You can also choose to remain anonymous, but then we'll all wonder what you have hiding up your sleeve...hmmmmmm. ;) No more snarky word verification nonsense!

Next up, a review of Clash of the Titans remake! (hint: it's beyond terrible.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Special Talk Like a Pirate Day DVD Spotlight!

Image be courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (no pirating of images here, matey)

Avast, me hearties! In honor of International "Talk Like a Pirate Day" I take it upon meself, Captain "Cutlass" Ellis, te write a review about o' the best pirate movies of all time: Cutthroat Island.

Now to be sure, not all landlubbers will like this film, because not all of ye squid-faced sons of sea rats like pirates. And you know what happens when people don't like pirates - they walk the plank! Well, more likely they just don't watch the movie. Anyway, back to my heading.

Geena Davis plays Morgan, a pirate captain who must recover a lost treasure as her father's dying wish. Matthew Modine, the eventual love interest (aye matey even pirates need a little love) is the unwitting con man who gets dropped in the middle of the high seas action. The ever-sinister Frank Langella plays Dawg, Morgan's uncle, who will stop at nothing to get the treasure.

There's plenty o' steel, guts, and even a rather annoying monkey, but even though the film got a baaad reception with audiences at the time, it is still a ripping good time, even 15 years later. Pirate queens never do get their proper credit, arrrgh! Ye can tell much of Pirates o' the Caribbean took its inspiration from this film.

I owe my discovery of this film to me best hearty, Libby Cudmore. The DVD edition isn't exactly a treasure trove of special features, but the archival featurette on the making of the film includes swashbuckling interviews with the cast, including the notorious Geena herself.

So today, cast off yer landlubber status, pour yerself some rum and step aboard the Morning Star for some good ol' fashioned, buccaneer high seas adventure!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

DVD Spotlight: Taking a blind date with Date Night

I happened to see Date Night quite by chance at my friend's house not too long ago, and was pleasantly surprised.

There's a little something called a screwball comedy that Hollywood seems to have forgotten the significance of, but Date Night brings it back with a vengeance.

There is something delightfully forgettable about Date Night. It's like a glittering glass of champagne you had at the beginning of the evening, and the next day you can almost remember what it tasted like, and yet not enough to readily identify what the brand was to buy it for next time. Date Night has no real need to actually exist; it just happens to be a whole lot of fun.

Steve Carell plays Phil Foster, a decent guy with a hardworking wife Claire (Tina Fey) and a couple kids living in New Jersey. Claire has a demanding job as a real estate agent, but in an effort to keep some of the romance alive, they have a date night every week. However, even that has become dull and routine. Phil, determined that he's not going to let the spark die out completely in the monotony of their lives, decides to take Claire out to New York City for dinner at the most posh seafood place in town. When they can't get a seat, they take someone else's reservation. They get mistaken for criminals, the chase is on, and hilarity ensues.

Could there be a more perfect pairing of great, talented comedians? What is so charming about watching Fey and Carell act together is you can actually believe these two people would be married to one another. It is comedy with a razor-sharp edge - jokes about infidelity, c-sections, and the like are thrown around with wild abandon. And the few heartfelt talks about marriage sprinkled here and there are sincere without slowing down the film's momentum. And Mark Wahlberg is brilliant as Grant Holbrooke, the swaggering, hot macho guy who hates shirts and becomes an integral part of the poor Fosters getting their identity back.

The only shame is that it all goes by a bit too fast. I got to the end of the film and wondered if there could've been a slightly more coherent plot, but perhaps you're not supposed to think too hard. The genius is in the moments where Claire asks for her husband's coat and he gallantly lends it to her, believing she's cold, only to see her wrap it around her fist and punch her way through a glass door to enter a locked building. To which Phil responds, quite reasonably, "Who ARE you??"

It is interesting to see how this film is a throwback to the capers such as "A Fish Called Wanda" and yet uses a brand of humor that is reflective of people's current tastes now - many of the jokes are so funny because they are so true, and as an old friend of our family once said, "If we weren't all laughing, we'd be crying."

The kind of bawdy, over-the-top humor so indicative of successful films in the 90s (such as Ace Ventura, Pet Detective) has stepped aside in this case for a more sarcastic, edgy humor that tries to put a wry grin on the face of cold reality. In other words - it hurts so good.

Date Night reminds us that win the shit hits the fan, all we have is each other. And that's something no one should ever take for granted.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Consorting with the enemy - a chat with Jessie from Team Rocket!

Image downloaded from

Hello all! Saturday counts as the end of the week, right? So sit back and enjoy my interview with Michele Knotz, a voice actress whose best known for the voice of Jessie from Team Rocket, the (semi) villains of Pokemon!

Many thanks to the staff at Connecticon for letting us use their staff room as interview space, to Dylan Ferrara for holding the camera steady, and of course, to Michele for agreeing to do the interview in the first place!

Also, thanks to Laura Robida, member of She Eats Planets, for letting me use their song "No Time At All" as part of my ending credits. You can find more about the band here.

The music used under the video, "Amanda" by Aisha Duo, was a free download that came with my Dell laptop. More information can be found about the group here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A new banner and a guest reviewer!

I would like all of you to just take a gander at the top of this site. Even the short guy in the corner over there. This is the shiny new banner that the amazingly talented Tina Pratt, the mastermind behind one of the funniest webcomics out there, made for me. Tell me - is it not EPIC???

No, you can't tell me it's not because the unabashed awesomeness of it denys - nay - wipes the very thought from your mind.

And there's more fun stuff coming - by the end of this week, I will have one of the video interviews I have promised you with voice actors of Pokemon talking about their favorite anime series and movies.

But for now, I must share this thought-provoking review of Eat Pray Love, the recent film starring Julia Roberts. It is written by a brilliant woman named Amanda who runs this gem of a blog. I'll leave you with the first part, and if interested the rest you can read on her site, which is well worth looking at. You may not agree with everything she writes but I appreciate her honest writing and reactions. This has been linked and copied by permission from the author. (P.S. Thanks Ro for linking me to this site!)

Movie Review - Eat Pray Love

My brother won tickets to an advance screening of a new movie, and he was kind enough to offer them to his mother and little sister. Awwww. What a nice guy.

Except the movie being previewed was Eat Pray Love.

Oh. Well, he’s still a pretty nice guy, I guess.

So now that I’ve watched Julia-Roberts-as-Elizabeth-Gilbert prance self-centeredly through crowds of foreigners trying to find herself, what do I think? Here’s my brief summary of Eat, Pray Love, as reported on my Twitter feed:

Hi! I’m an upper middle class white woman who doesn’t like her husband. I’m going to let a bunch of cute people with accents change my life. Fix me, brown people! Your poverty & inability to escape your problems centers me. Me. Meeeee. MEEEEEEEEEEE! Now I’m centered. I’m going to go marry Javier Bardem.

Read the rest of the review here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gettin' our freak on

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

So I am patiently awaiting the DVD arrival of the best cult classic animated series of the 1990s and perhaps the best cartoon of my youth.


Thank goodness for the Amazon gift certificate.

To those of you not in the know, it was a series that permanently warped me in the best possible way. It took the idea of a superhero and turned it completely upside down. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, the series was "Too weird to live, and too rare to die."

Sprung from the minds behind Tiny Toons and Animaniacs, Freakazoid ran for two seasons from 1995 to 1997. While I enjoyed all three series, Freakazoid had an acerbic wit that was a little sharper and more bitter than its contemporaries. It was the kind of comic genius that couldn't quite capture the minds of the kiddies and not fully engage the attention of adults. EDIT: my Dad actually remembers more of this show than I did now that I have the DVDS in my clutches. For some reason I remember him not liking it very much, but apparently he did...huzzah!

The plot (on the occasion it had one) revolves around Dexter Douglas, who gets sucked into the Internet and is given all of the information from the worldwide Web (which was even back in its earliest days was a pretty weird place), which in turn, makes a wise-cracking, fast-talking superhero out of him.

The episodes pulled punches, making fun of nineties pop culture and politics with a kind of wild abandon. If Animaniacs pushed the envelope in that regard, Freakazoid tore right through it. One memorable episode shows Freakazoid hunting down a fellow driver just to tell him his tail light is out. When Freakazoid tells him he has to give him a ticket, the man takes it and it reads "One free admission to the Jerry Springer Show" which causes the man to be rather traumatized. Executive producer Steven Spielberg even makes an appearance at the start of one episode (in his animated form) when the group of writers can't figure out what the hell they should make the episode about.

I look at today's Adult Swim shows, particularly Venture Bros., and I realize the creators must have all watched Freakazoid a million times over. This show made random weirdness in cartoons hip long before Adult Swim even existed, and unlike many shows or movies, it can actually make me laugh right out loud. In its fun, likeable way, it held the world of the mid-90s accountable for all its crazy, silly actions. It's as if Freakazoid exists to say "Hey guys, I'm acting really strange and weird over here, but look at what YOU guys are doing!"

It's a shame the show was cancelled, but perhaps if it had kept going it would've been too hot to handle. Can you imagine a show's cartoon theme song today ending with "He's here to save the nation, so stay tuned to this station. If not we'll be unemployed, Freakazoid!"

Being cut a little close to the quick is not for everyone, and I understand that. But for those who can appreciate the artful balance between genius and insanity, this is the show for you.

I can't wait until Friday when I blitz myself into a papaya-induced hallucination.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shooting for the Moon: Despicable Me aims high

Image courtesy of Universal Studios and downloaded at

Every once in awhile, a movie exceeds the expectations set by the trailers. When I first saw the clips of Despicable Me last fall, Universal Studios' first foray into the computer-animated realm, I thought to myself: what is this piece of crap?

I had no intentions of seeing it. Another kids film that demeans its adult audience and insults the intelligence of our children, I thought. Also, the previews didn't give a very clear picture of what precisely the film was even about. Villain against villain? Stealing the moon? But where do these cute little girls come in?

If the trailers, like the movie posters, had shown more clips of the adorable minions, perhaps I would've been more intrigued. Which is why I was surprised when the reviews of Despicable Me, directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (Ice Age films)showed that it was not, in fact, despicable.

Well. Being the critic that I am, it was up to me to get to the bottom of this. With my $13.50 in hand and my brain primed for pure analysis, I went and saw what there was to see.

Turns out there was a lot. So much, in fact, that I didn't feel comfortable doing a full-on review of this film until after having a second helping. One welcome change was seeing 3-D that was purposefully done, not a gimmick tacked on as an afterthought to satisfy the latest craze (i.e. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.) I'm not sure the sheer giddy joy of Despicable Me could be properly replicated without it, as minions bounce through the air, rockets go off, and all manner of colorful gadgetry crawls toward you, freed from two-dimensional bonds. But paying twice for good 3-D is something that I can only bring myself to do if the actual plot and characters of the film are compelling.

Gru is voiced by the ever-versatile Steve Carell, who gives the villain with the soft heart a very thick accent, somewhere between Hungarian and Russian. There are elements of the Addams Family in his look, style, and certainly in his house - he might be the third brother of Gomez and Fester. Repulsive in some respects but rather debonair, like any good villain, there is something irresistible about Gru. His minions, which easily could have become annoying vapid fodder to satiate the kiddies, have individual personalities, an evil edge, and are rather sophisticated for being cute-as-a-button medicine capsules in overalls. The way they love Gru and come to love the little girls that come into his life is sincere and altogether, heart-melting without becoming soppy.

There are details a-plenty to look at that take a second viewing to really see and get, such as the "Gru-ray" logo on the sound system that one of the minions operates towards the end of the film. And groan-inspiring puns become devices for fun sequences, such as when Gru's associate Dr. Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand) makes a series of "Boogie robots" rather than "Cookie robots." And the level of detail, particularly to the textures of clothes and hair, is stunning.

The voice actors in this film (Julie Andrews makes an appearance, and I dare you to spot her) are so far into their characters it's impossible to pick them out, which allows for further enjoyment of being immersed in this little world that very quickly goes other-worldly.

There are moments where Despicable Me walks the knife-edge, almost dipping into the realm of cloying over-sentimentality, but in those moments the words ring so true we can allow ourselves to inwardly go "awwww" rather than "oh brother." And the back story - a young boy with a dream who wants to have the moon for himself - compliments the tale rather than hindering it with yet another stale child back story. This time, we actually CARE.

Do yourself a favor and go see something fresh and original. And tell me if you don't want to just take one of those little minions home with you by the end of the film!

Stay for the credits, and be sure to download the IPhone App (if you have one of those things) to translate what the minions are saying. If you don't have one, it's still hilarious.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DVD Spotlight: The Soloist has heart and soul

Image downloaded from and courtesy of Universal Studios and Dreamworks Pictures.

It's hard to make a good film based on a true story without it being cloying or over-sentimental. So often, they end up being soupy, sappy messes (I'm looking at you, Patch Adams) that tend to induce the gag reflex rather than warm the heart. The Soloist, under the direction of Joe Wright, is one of those rare gems that stays true to real life while still remaining upbeat and - dare I say? - joyful.

The story revolves around journalist Steve Lopez, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, and his chance encounter with a homeless musical virtuoso named Nathaniel Ayers. Lopez, played by the ever-versatile Robert Downey Jr., is immediately intrigued and wants to do a story on the kind-hearted, but mentally scattered Ayers (Jamie Foxx), but finds himself quite literally having to hunt down Ayers to try to interview him. Being a journalist myself, I appreciate and relate to the lengths we writers have to go through to capture a story that is really worthwhile (i.e. the woman from Juilliard abruptly hanging up on Lopez as he is trying to confirm Ayers's attendance there). His growing friendship with Ayers plunges him deep into the heart of being homeless in the city, but Ayers never asks Downey to pity him - he says this is a life he has chosen, for his own reasons, as well-placed flashbacks tell us.

Downey is still wise-cracking and slick, but in a very different sort of way. The jet black slicked hair and well-groomed goatee of Tony Stark are replaced with a scruffy, graying beard and short, low-maintenance trim. He looks like the average, hard-working joe who's gotten successful based on his talent, and though his posh home in Los Angeles is impressive, he is still plagued by raccoons digging up his yard every night. Wright directs the film with a kind of deftness, like the well-tuned cello Ayers plays he knows how far to take the heartfelt encounters but still keep a pulse on what real life is like - without breaking the delicate strings of the storyline.

Perhaps what I appreciated the most about The Soloist is that it does not have the traditional happy ending, or even an overly sad ending. The ending is just life. Wright has a confidence in the viewer's intelligence and doesn't feel the need to spoon-feed some sort of trite moral lesson. He delivers, and we take from it what we will.

The only true weak point of the film was including Mary Weston (Catherine Keener)as the estranged ex-wife of Lopez who still works with him...not really the best idea, guys. Her emotion for him seems forced and frankly, even at the end, Downey acts like he could care less when she tries to be the good friend to him after Ayers's mental illness reaches a critical peak.

But no matter. What counts is that the story between Lopez and Ayers rings true, and the message of knowing how far you can go to help someone before you have to let go is an important one and definitely not stated enough. Wright shows us the extent of homelessness in America but doesn't harp on the awfulness of it, which makes it all the more poignant. And when an older woman reads Lopez's article and is moved to donate Ayers her cello that she can no longer play due to arthritis, it shows the power of the press and the capacity for kindness in the human spirit. My editor at work always tells me as a writer when telling a story to "show, don't tell" to get maximum effect. This is exactly what The Soloist achieves.

Be sure to watch the DVD special feature that interviews the real Mr.Lopez and Mr. Ayers. Hearing the story from their point of view is just one more bonus to this wonderful movie.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Great Connecticon Caper and hooray for Totoro!

Dear friends, thank you for being so patient. Interviews with the lovely Miz Michele Knotz and Mr. Bill Rogers have been accomplished. Videos will be going up, I hope, this weekend after I've had time to toggle and edit them a bit.

Connecticon this year was probably the best I've ever been to. Being only 40 minutes from me, it has always been the kind of convention that if it weren't so close, i probably wouldn't bother with it. But it was apparent this year that the convention has really come into its own.

One very interesting panel included Michele and Bill (voice actors well-known for their roles as Jessie and Brock in Pokemon) talking about their favorite anime and movie series. You'll see a tiny overview of that discussion in my interviews. Afterwards, they opened up the floor to allow the audience to join in what their favorite series were. I jotted a list down, enough to keep me in what looks to be quality anime fodder for some time now. The list includes:

The movie Five Centimeters Per Second
Last Exile
And the manga series Future Diary

My mission during the con was to find a copy of Heat Guy J, a cop buddy series with a sci fi twist created in 2003, and thankfully due to the eagle eye of my friend Dylan, I found all 26 episodes for $30, quite the deal! If any of you have ever seen Escaflowne, it's the same design team. Neo Tokyo has decided to build themselves their very own private eye android, whose construction is a combination of old-school steam power and high-tech gadgetry. Much like the antique look of the mecha in medieval Escaflowne, it incorporates the same mash-up of genres, but in the most intriguing way possible. I've just seen the first few episodes and it seems pretty solid. Of course, The Insatiable Critic will always give you the proper lowdown upon completion!

Another great panel I went to was on Hayao Miyazaki's films and the common themes that run through them. For those of you not anime-inclined, you probably know him because of Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle, both of which had a wide release in the U.S. I have just recently seen one of his great masterpieces called My Neighbor Totoro, which was created in the late 80s and I'm glad I saw it because it was discussed a great deal in the panel. It is such a sweet, simple story premise but it is far deeper than I expected it to be. Two young girls move into a new house with their father, an anthropologist, and discover several spirits that are living in and around the house. One of these spirits is Totoro, who I have been told makes an appearance in Toy Story 3. Maybe I'll actually have to bite the bullet and check it out. The two girls, Satsuki and Mei, try to make the best of their new home while their mother is in the hospital. Mei, who is about four, ends up meeting Totoro, a big, fluffy grey creature who is known to be the king of the forest. What happens after that is pure magic. What really struck me about the film is when Mei tells her sister and her father what she has seen, they don't pooh pooh her - they believe what she is saying and think it is wonderful she has had that experience. Seeing the adult world paying homage to the child's world did my heart good.

The movie explores an ever-constant message in Miyazaki's films of man's role in nature and the responsibility that goes with it, but it also explores the joy and strength of childhood imagination. It was so incredibly moving and delicately sad that I had tears in my eyes by the end of the film. It will make you believe in the goodness of the human spirit and take you on a spiritual journey without you having to leave your chair. That is the power of Miyazaki's films - they are not just animated eye candy, they are a voyage for the mind and the spirit. I can't say enough about it. Just go see it. And make sure you have tissues handy for the last incredibly touching sequence.

Also, I have a new love, and it's name is I can't tell you how glad I was to run into this in the artist's alley in Connecticon. Hooray for twisted history!

Til next time, stay classy cyberpeeps!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The long-awaited update

Dear Friends,
I am sorry I never did actually get around to watching and reviewing The Soloist yet - believe it or not it is actually still sitting on my coffee table waiting to be watched. The muse hasn't been in me to watch and review it just yet, and I've been crazy busy with other responsibilities that pervade my life.

However, your wait will not have been in vain. This weekend I will be attending Connecticon and interviewing two voice actors - Michele Knotz who is most famous for the voice of Jessie in Team Rocket on Pokemon, and Bill Rogers, who does the voice of Brock, on what their favorite movies and anime of all time are. Stay tuned for a special post of The Insatiable Critic!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sex and what City?: I'll pass and review The Soloist this weekend

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios.

I seriously considered reviewing Sex and the City 2 film for my blog, but after some thought, I'm going to stay home and watch The Soloist.

A devotee of the TV series, Sex and the City has surprised me multiple times with its wit, humor and - dare I say - depth. I didn't start out with a very good impression of the series or the movie, but having watched the DVDs of both I can say that they all bring something meaningful to the table.

So when I heard that another film was coming out, I had my doubts, but having avoided the first film in theatres only to have it charm me later with its biting commentary on the ridiculousness of the wedding industry in the U.S., maybe I should cut this one a break. Watching the girls do their version of a road trip movie might be fun.

That was before I saw the full-length trailer.

Sorry folks, but I'm a Mr. Big fan who (SPOILER ALERTS FROM HERE ON OUT) is the man that Carrie marries at the end of the first movie. I liked Aidan as a character but it was clear from the first go-round he and Carrie were never going to make it for the long haul. I didn't buy the fourth season DVD set because I didn't feel like rewatching them go through their SECOND go-round. So when I saw Aidan in the trailer, it stopped me dead in my tracks. How many times are we going to beat this dead horse? The do I want Big do I not want him...get real people. Even worse, am I really going to spend $10.50 to watch Charlotte complain about having children after she spent six seasons talking about wanting children?

We have come to the end of the line. While I don't typically judge a movie by its cover, I do when it comes to either paying for it in theatres or waiting to rent it later when it comes out on DVD in three months. And from the synopsis I've read, Aidan is just the tip of the iceberg - now, we don't even have the city anymore, the notorious "5th star" of the show. At a running time of just over two hours, apparently the audience only gets a brief glimpse of NYC. As the wonderful A.O. Scott says in his review, "Is Manhattan really that over?"

It's as if we had a cake that was made beautifully, then the movie was the icing. Now this seems to be dumping the cake and the icing, rolling it in fudge, and dumping champagne all over it until the cake itself is barely recognizable.

The girls finally get all they want - and now they are not even happy with that. They want more - but that doesn't mean I do or audiences in general do.

But I invite you all to prove me wrong - if anyone can give me a convincing argument to see the film then I'll happily go - and conversely, if you are going to see it, let me know if my fears are justified.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

DVD Spotlight: Bringing Down the House, can't you color me blind?

Image courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment and downloaded here:

I've been on a Steve Martin kick ever since watching "It's Complicated", so I decided to try something from the not-too-distant past: the 2003 comedy "Bringing Down the House" by Touchstone Pictures.

Being someone who likes Queen Latifah and Steve Martin, it seemed like an odd combination but possibly one of those unlikely sparks that will make a film something special.

Well homeslices, this film didn't quite shizzle my nizzle, dig?

It wasn't an awful movie but that's not to say it was a good movie either. The amount of incredibly outdated racial jokes were pretty shocking, considering this movie was filmed in 2003 - not exactly ancient history. It simultaneously manages to offend both black people and white people: the black community is a bunch of partying, drinking convicts and the whites are all country club racist yuppies. Though this particular vein of the film is thin and manages to be tempered by Queen Latifah's good nature and the presence of a budding mixed race romance - it still exists.

There are some fun moments, mostly supplied by Latifah, who plays Charlene, a smart savvy woman who breaks out of jail after doin' time for a crime she didn't commit. When she shows up at Peter's Sanderson's (Steve Martin) door, who had been IMing her sight unseen and thinks a romance is about to begin, he doesn't even try for one second to reconcile the woman he met online to the woman at his doorstep.

Sweet, funny Steve sadly gets absolutely nothing to do with his bland as unbuttered toast role as Peter. He's the straight man while Charlene runs the show, which is fine if you like Latifah, as I do, but not so much if you are hoping for a balanced chemistry between the actors. In fact, beyond a small, almost indiscernible spark of mild respect for one another, you wonder how on earth these two ever hit it off in the first place online. Eugene Levy as Howie is brilliant and though he gets less screen time than Peter, he steals every scene he's in as the love-struck stuffed shirt who thinks of Charlene as a "Coco goddess." In fact, I wonder if it would've been a better film if Steve and Eugene had switched roles...

No big spoilers here: Charlene's name gets cleared and all is well, with Peter going back to his bland wife and Eugene getting the Coco goddess he so rightly deserved. There's something about an heiress and Peter's kids, but that's just filler. A part of me secretly wanted Peter to be able to make it with Charlene, but he's so damn boring that he really deserves to be with his equally boring wife, who makes such little impact on the film that I can't even recall her name. Basically, everyone gets what they deserve in the end.

One absolutely hilarious scene is the down-and-dirty girl fight that happens between Peter's venomous sister-in-law named Ashley (Missi Pyle) and Charlene. You don't often get full-fledged cat fights in films and this one is a doozy - it's also nice to see Ashley's self-righteous white butt get pummeled by a sista.

But in the end, blind eyes cannot be turned from the truly outrageous racial commentary that is meant with kind hearts but executed in very bad taste. If you like Latifah, rent it if there's nothing else in the hopper for movie night. If you are a die-hard Steve Martin fan, you can do better.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Let's get metal!

Image was downloaded from and is property of Marvel Comics and Paramount Pictures.

It was hard for me to view Iron Man 2 with an unbiased mindset. Having loved and adored the first film, so much so I actually shelled out the extra cash for the special edition metal DVD case copy, it was hard to not set the bar high for this film as well.

The beauty of the first Iron Man was that it was great fun and yet it sent a powerful message about militarized weapons, and that combination creates a repeatable, enjoyable experience. Also, the number of treats thrown in for Marvel comic fans (i.e. Stan Lee's cameo as Hugh Hefner) didn't hurt either. Iron Man 2 was still a lot of fun, but what it wanted fans to walk away with is anyone's guess.

Let's start with the positives. Robert Downey Jr. didn't skip a beat. It's like Tony Stark is a suit in his closet that he slides into when he needs to. He's still the swaggering anti-hero we've come to know and love, bursting onto the scene in a cheezy, Broadway-esque way that's more leer than sneer. What Downey is able to do with Stark, which is not always successful in sequels, is remain true to what the core of the character is while creating more depth; showing us more angles. Jon Favreau, who helmed the first movie, takes care not to let us forget that Stark was taken down in a terrorist camp, and that experience still haunts him.

Don Cheadle steps in as Rhodey in place of Terrance Howard, doing such a great job that we really don't miss Terrance at all (sorry man.) Gwyneth Paltrow takes another spin in the vertigo-inspiring heels of Pepper Potts, and the chemistry between her and Stark is just as vibrant and inspiring as the last - seeing their relationship deepen as she exhaustively tries to keep it all together is one of the reasons this film is worth seeing.

The other major reason to see this film is Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. He is crude, rude and just plain doesn't give a damn. He is the heartbeat for the minimal plot line that keeps the film going and his sheer lack of regard for what anyone thinks is scary as well as inspiring.

There are fun tidbits aplenty: the portable Iron man suit wrapped up in the red pimped-out suitcase was pretty freakin' cool, as is the usual slew of Marvel references that will beg the DVD viewer to stop, pause, and zoom in.

Now for the things that don't work: too many unnecessary rock 'em sock 'em fights, too little Nick Fury, and too much Sam Rockwell. A particularly entertaining scene where Stark gets wasted in his Iron Man suit at his lush home in California is cut short by Rhodey crashing the party in one of the extra suits Stark's got lying around and the ensuing fight proceeds to break everything. The scene is necessary but completely overblown (no pun intended.) Also, how does Rhodey know how to work the suit? Is he just that cool? Really, Favreau, I think we could've had a better plot transition here.

And uh, what happened to Nick Fury? Besides getting one of the best opening lines of any character ("Stark, I'll have to ask you to exit the donut") you don't get to see much of him. I'd take out at least three scenes with Hammer, the unctuous rival weapons manufacturer who talks...and talks...and talks. I was waiting for Whiplash to put him through a wall at some point, but no. I know the guy is not supposed to be likeable, but Rockwell, come on. Overacting much?

Overall, it's a fun ride,and for all you guys out there you even get to see Scarlett Johannson do some Kung Fu. As a standalone film, it stands out, but as a sequel, I wish it had the same clear sense of intention like the first film. In Tony we trust, but hey Favreau, for the next go-round let's get Fury on board for most of the film instead of only 20 percent?

Oh yeah, and don't forget to stick around after the credits. Just sayin'.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Slight Departure from the usual: New Soundings Dispatches!

Wanted to give some props to my other life, staff writer for Soundings Magazine. Our newest e-newsletter features a daring rescue, a new boat feature and a hurricane story written by moi...what more could you ask for? And best of all, it's FREE!

To read my story click here:

Sign up for the e-newsletter here:

It's Toby-approved!

Monday, April 19, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon: Like Avatar, but shorter and less pretentious

This image has been downloaded from and is courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures.

I apologize for the massive lag in updating - the last two weeks were probably one of the toughest I've ever faced in my relatively short time on this planet.

How To Train Your Dragon was, in a word, beautiful. Wonderfully timed at an exhilarating hour and 38 minutes, it's just enough to keep the kiddies entertained and the adults captivated.

The story focuses around a young Viking named Hiccup, who is voiced by Jay Baruchel, bringing a perfect balance of nasal and flat-toned vocals to the pint-sized unlikely hero who cowers in the shadow of his father, Stoick the Vast. (The name alone brought quite a few chuckles to the audience.)Stoick is voiced in the gruff Scottish brogue of Gerard Butler, who can't understand why his son can't get started on a beard long enough to braid more importantly (though not by much) start slinging axes at the dragons that plague the craggy mountainous somewhere in the Arctic circle that they call home. As Hiccup says, "Old village, lots of new houses" just as a dragon torches a neatly constructed thatched cottage.

The dragons themselves just happen to be cute as buttons, despite the fact they are such terrible pests. So when Hiccup manages to down one of the most vicious of all, the Night Fury, he is determined to do his Dad proud and bring home its heart. But looking deep into the dragon's amber eyes, he realizes he just can't do it. And seeing as the dragon reminded me way too much of my own cat Toby, I'd have trouble doing him in too.

What follows is a tender tale of tolerance (how's that for a tongue-twister)for both Hiccup and Toothless, who the Night Fury becomes known as. Not only does the tale provide lush visual effects in the form of misty forests and sweeping landscapes, but it also shows the consequences as well as the benefits of doing what's right.

Perhaps the only sad part of the film is we don't get to find out too much about the backgrounds of the dragons. Hiccup says at one point that everything they know about dragons is wrong, but what we do find out about them - beyond the fact they are rather amiable creatures whose pillaged food from the village, as it turns out, is not for them - is precious little.

But perhaps it will give an excuse for an equally well-developed sequel. I wouldn't mind seeing more of the growls and warblings of Toothless, who looks extraordinarily like Stitch from the wonderful 2002 Disney feature Lilo & Stitch. No surprise considering the co-director of that film Dean DeBlois was the author of the screenplay for How To Train Your Dragon. I would be remiss not to mention Hiccup's cohorts, which includes Astrid, the beautiful Viking gal who despite her snotty demeanor is entertaining as a fiercesome warrioress, and Fishlegs, the good-hearted geek who makes some very funny Dungeons and Dragons quips throughout the film.

When you do see it, be sure to go 3D. The high-flying areal sequences alone are worth it.

So what are you waiting for? It won't be in theaters much longer! Go! Go!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

DVD spotlight: Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day proves all that glitters isn't gold

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is a charming way to pass an hour and a half if its pouring rain outside or dismally cold. Unfortunately the day I viewed this film it was neither.

Based on the 1939 novel by Winifred Watson which follows the whirlwind adventure of a rather plain, sour-on-life, and unbelievably poor woman who gets swept up in the socialite London of the pre-WWII glittering 1930s, the film stars Frances McDormand as the title role of Guinevere Pettigrew and an overly giddy Amy Adams as Delysia Lafosse, the would-be man-eating starlet that comes to depend on Miss Pettigrew to clean up her messes.

Delysia is presented as a free-spirited woman who dangles men on the end of a string in order to get ahead in life - somewhat shocking stuff to be writing about in the 1930s. In fact, Miss Pettigrew quickly discovers the apartment Delysia is residing in doesn't even belong to her, but rather a strong-nosed man by the name of Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong) who allows her to sing in a club that he owns. Then there's the good-guy pianist Michael Pardue (Lee Pace) who wants nothing more but for Delysia to realize he is the one for her and spend the rest of his life accompanying her on the keyboard. Finally, there's the young and silly Phil Goldman (Tom Payne) who it seems will cast whatever girl will give him the best sex in the lead role of his new West End play. All of these men, sad to say, are rather boring.

McDormand does an admirable job as playing the Ugly Duckling role while maintaining her rigid personality and morals - and it is indeed pleasant to see her be rewarded for being simply herself, just in better clothes. Adams, however, seems to be on giddy autopilot throughout the film, giving little to no variety from her virginal turn as the wide-eyed innocent in Disney's Enchanted. It's hard for me to even buy that her character has slept with all these men, like Adams is trying to apologize for Delysia's loose behavior by amping up the heart-of-gold aspect to her personality. She bounces through the honey-colored lens of the camera, but as a viewer I wasn't convinced she was having all the fun that she seemed to be having. A little more devil in the details would have spiced up her vanilla performance quite a bit.

However, the budding late-stage romance that forms between Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds) could be the only real thing that escapes from this overpuffed cream pie of a film. A quiet gentleman who just happens to run one of the most successful lingerie companies in England, his slow smile and gently persisting courtship of Pettigrew despite his engagement to the much younger and delightfully poisonous Edith (Shirley Henderson) make him loveable and endearing. I found myself unexpectedly falling for him in much the same way Pettigrew does.

The whole film could have easily been scaled down to a stage play. Most of the action takes place in Nick's apartment, and while there are overtones to the impending World War about to take place, all darkness is quickly brushed aside in the glitter of high society. The film goes down with the ease of a fine glass of white wine, but leaves an eager mind on an empty stomach.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Gettin' Tubbed

Photo courtesy of NY Times and MGM Studios.

Remember the worst dorm party you've ever had back in college. Yeah, that one where maybe you had a little too much of any particular substance that was being passed around and things went a little too far with some of the party's participants. Now, imagine if the movie Back to the Future was playing in the background. Put that whole situation in a blender and add a hot tub just to spice up the batch.

That's pretty much the experience of watching Hot Tub Time Machine, the latest collaboration between Steve Pink and John Cusack, the minds behind High Fidelity. It doesn't try to make sense and that's the key to its success, making for one hilarious, guffaw-loudly-in-your-seat experience.

A bit of advice to dear readers: if you Netflix the following films and see them beforehand, the movie will be a whole lot more enjoyable for you: Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, The Karate Kid, Better Off Dead and Back to the Future. And that's just the ones off the top of my head - the filmmakers did their research to try to cram in as broad an array of 80s culture as possible. The movie ends up depicting the 80s not as it was, but the 80s our culture at the time wanted it to be.

Right from the get-go the movie shows that it is going to be rude, crude, and tasteless. It is a rated R, and a hard R it truly is. The jokes are completely politically incorrect, which is a plus - its rare to see anything nowadays that has such a no holds barred approach to dumping on the face of any sort of common decency. What's not a plus is the amount of homosexual jokes that fly - I know we're trying to make this 80s, but note to director Steve Pink: let's not lose sight of the fact this is a 2010 audience watching this.

The plot is pretty simple: a bunch of depressed 40-somethings (plus one nerdy teen) decide to get away to an old ski lodge, jump into a hot tub, and after a night of hard-drinking and god knows what else, they end up at Winterfest 1986. Having the original 80s boy John Cusack playing the down-and-out insurance salesman Adam with poor taste in friends makes this movie on several levels. Cusack's ability to laugh at himself allows him to be both the straight man and the comic relief in this film. He also seems so happy to not be playing another "serious" movie role and just get to roll with the boys. Adam's pals include Lou (Rob Corddry) who becomes the hero in the weirdest of ways, and Nick (Craig Robinson) who are good foils for each other - Nick is the soft, sensitive man and Lou is the loud obnoxious jerk. One memorable quote from the film Nick says in regards to Lou: "He's an asshole, but he's our asshole." Chevy Chase has a small role as the jaw-droppingly unfunny hot tub repair man, who thankfully vanishes soon after he appears.

Beyond the feel-good nostalgia trips, from the music to the aforementioned movie and TV references, what I enjoyed most about this film was it showed people behaving as they truly are, for better or worse. Clark Duke, who plays Cusack's nephew Jacob, gets increasingly frustrated as he sees his elders acting like total idiots. Creepy old man Chevy warns the older guys they all must do exactly what they did during 1986 and not deviate from the path, lest the future be changed for good. As that plan goes out the window for each one of them, Jacob resigns himself to stop trying to make sense of it all, go with the flow, and hope for the best. I have often found myself in that very situation, trying to keep a group together when ultimately all the individuals want to go off and make their own bad choices.

We, the audience, are in Jacob's shoes as we watch this weirdly entertaining pastiche of 80s culture. Don't think too hard about what might be simmering in that hot tub. Just jump in and enjoy the ride.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

DVD Spotlight: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day all glitter and no substance

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is a charming way to pass an hour and a half if its pouring rain outside or dismally cold. Unfortunately the day I viewed this film it was neither.

Based on the 1939 novel by Winifred Watson which follows the whirlwind adventure of a rather plain, sour-on-life, and unbelievably poor woman who gets swept up in the socialite pre-WWII glittering 1930s, the film stars Frances McDormand as the title role of Guinevere Pettigrew and an overly giddy Amy Adams as Delysia Lafosse, the would-be man-eating starlet that comes to depend on Miss Pettigrew to clean up her messes.

Delysia is presented as a free-spirited woman who dangles men on the end of a string in order to get ahead in life - somewhat shocking stuff to be writing about in the 1930s. In fact, Miss Pettigrew quickly discovers the apartment Delysia is residing in doesn't even belong to her, but rather a strong-nosed man by the name of Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong) who allows her to sing in a club that he owns. Then there's the heart-of-gold pianist Michael Pardue (Lee Pace) who wants nothing more but for Delysia to realize he is the one for her and spend the rest of his life accompanying her on the keyboard. Finally, there's the young and silly Phil Goldman (Tom Payne) who it seems will cast whatever girl will give him the best sex in the lead role of his new West End play. All of these men, sad to say, are rather boring.

McDormand does an admirable job as playing the Ugly Duckling role while maintaining her rigid personality and morals - and it is indeed pleasant to see her be rewarded for being simply herself, just in better clothes. Adams, however, seems to be on giddy autopilot throughout the film, giving little to no variety from her virginal turn as the wide-eyed innocent in Disney's Enchanted. It's hard for me to even buy that her character has slept with all these men, like Adams is trying to apologize for Delysia's loose behavior by amping up the heart of gold aspect to her personality. She bounces through the honey-colored lens of the camera, but as a viewer I wasn't convinced she was having all the fun that she seemed to be having. A little more devil in the details would have spiced up her vanilla performance quite a bit.

However, the budding late-stage romance that forms between Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds) could be the only real thing that escapes from this overpuffed cream pie of a film. A quiet gentleman who just happens to run one of the most successful lingerie companies in England, his slow smile and gently persisting courtship of Pettigrew despite his engagement to the much younger and delightfully poisonous Edith (Shirley Henderson) make him loveable and endearing. I found myself unexpectedly falling for him in much the same way Pettigrew does.

The whole film could have easily been scaled down to a stage play. Most of the action takes place in Nick's apartment, and while there are overtones to the impending World War about to take place, all darkness is quickly brushed aside in the glitter of high society. The film goes down with the ease of a fine glass of white wine, but leaves an eager mind on an empty stomach.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alice, by any other name

This picture belongs to Disney and was downloaded directly from the movie Web Site at

There's been a lot of discussion swirling around about the new Alice movie as to whether it is any good or not, and I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring among others, if only as a writing exercise in a different venue.

I thought it was a fun film. I was entertained and even enchanted, which says something considering the glut of CGI films out there. What computer wizardry has been able to create with such relative ease has set the bar a little higher on originality, particularly when it comes to Tim Burton, who has struggled in recent times to create a film that is not a facsimile of his previous work in terms of weird characters running around in black and white stripes.

Burton does have the usual roundup of actors, with a wonderful performance by Helena Bonham Carter as the narcissistic Red Queen (a combination of the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass and the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland...not too much of a stretch) and Depp as, what else, the Mad Hatter. Depp doesn't do a particularly convincing job of being mad, but that is all right, because in this case he's a supporting character rather than the sun the movie revolves around - a welcome change, I found. In truth, it is the side characters that tend to carry this movie, with an absolutely irresistible Cheshire cat with a smile like Jack Skellington that almost splits his head in two, with luminous eyes that shine out of the night sky. He rolls in and out of the screen with a grace that is accompanied wonderfully by the velvety voice of Stephen Fry and has a penchant for disappearing in wispy strands of blue. Anne Hathaway also does a memorable turn as the White Queen, with her royal grace accentuated by rather neurotic tendencies (like potion-making), making her equally as lovable.

There is no dirth of strong female characters in this film, which is something that is particularly appealing to me. When Alice burst out of the Red Queen's palace on the back of the Bandersnatch, a great, large spotted beast that looks like a cross between an ocelot and a polar bear, the Cheshire cat inside of me smiled wide. Each character, no matter how small, is given heart, personality, and depth rather than simply being so much CG confection filling up the screen.

Alas, this is where the magic ends. Burton suffers from a lack of the big picture. His most successful works are close in, painfully detailed small stories that work in worlds that have boundaries and limits. Edward Scissorhands, one of his most beautiful pieces, is about a kind misunderstood creature plopped in a conservative Florida suburb. The entire story takes place in this suburb. The Nightmare Before Christmas takes place in very specific worlds with very specific boundaries - and the stop-motion creative process close in by its very nature.

Unfortunately that bodes ill for a place like Wonderland, whose only boundaries are one's own imagination. Underland, as Burton calls it, looks like a bombed out shell of its former self, save a few green tendrils Alice encounters on the way in. We don't really get to see much of the place and frankly there isn't much there to see due to the Red Queen burning the hell out of everything with her fire-spewing beast, the Jabberwocky. How much more rich the film could have been if only Burton could have looked up from his computer screen and tried to see his Wonderland from a bird's eye view. I also missed certain characters - I was hoping the talking flowers could have had more than a few moments in the sun before getting trampled over by death and destruction.

But setting aside all it could have been, what we do have still makes for a lot of fun. The story is well thought out and I liked the intensity of this older, warier Alice. and there is something to be said for a bold step in another direction. The title "Alice in Wonderland" is misleading because it is not the Alice we once knew. But the Alice we are given isn't so bad, either.