Archive for April, 2014

Escape from Tomorrow

Posted in Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

On the last day of a family vacation at Walt Disney World Resort, Jim White (Roy Abramsohn) gets a call from his boss, informing him that he has been laid off. He keeps the news to himself in order not to spoil the family’s remaining time at the resort. As he and his family take the monorail to the park, he sees two teenage French girls and his interest in them increases as their paths cross repeatedly, either by accident or design, throughout the morning. Jim begins having disturbing visions during the rides, such as the audio-animatronic characters’ faces changing from friendly smiles to sinister scowls and his wife and children looking scary. After a fight with his wife Emily, springing from his decision to take his son Elliot on Space Mountain (which gives Elliot motion sickness) in order to keep up his pursuit of the French teens, he takes his daughter Sara to the rides of the Magic Kingdom and continues tracking the girls while his wife and son return to their hotel room.

Later, the son of a wheelchair-bound man, whom Jim had spotted earlier from afar, shoves Sara, who scrapes her knee and requires a visit to the park nurse. The nurse, while treating his daughter, seems extremely unsettled by the “cat flu” apparently spreading through the parks’ patrons, noting “You may be a carrier and not even know it.” Jim and Sara meet a mysterious woman and Jim becomes entranced by a glimmering amulet necklace the woman is wearing. He briefly blacks out, and the film flashes forward to Jim coming back to consciousness mid-coitus with the woman. Afterward, she claims that the parks’ wholesome, costumed princesses are actually part of a secret prostitution ring that services “rich Asian businessmen”. Growing increasingly unnerved, he quickly makes an awkward exit with Sara and eventually joins his wife and son at the pool. There he again encounters the French teens, and his mounting obsession makes him bolder, as he attempts to talk with one of them while his wife is busy applying sunscreen to his daughter.

His family returns to Epcot, where the seething tension between Jim and Emily comes to a head after Jim drinks heavily and eventually vomits while on the Gran Fiesta Tour. Spotting the French teens, Emily confronts Jim about his obvious interest in the girls and, in her anger, lashes out at their daughter. Embarrassed, she decides to return to the hotel with their son and leaves Jim with Sara. They ride the Soarin’ attraction, where Jim finds that a beautiful naked woman is superimposed over the ride’s video footage of landscapes. When he emerges from the ride, he spots the French girls once again. One of them approaches him and, after an encounter, the substance of which is unclear because of Jim’s increasing hallucinations, spits in his face. He realizes that he has lost track of Sara during the encounter and is knocked unconscious by park guards.

The word “INTERMISSION” flashes onscreen for 5 seconds; then the film resumes as Jim awakens in a secret detention facility under Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, where an interrogator discusses Jim’s flights of fantasy and imagination, telling him that he has been part of an experiment since he first went to the parks as a child, his boss is in on the conspiracy, and his firing was all part of the plan, as was the closure of the Buzz Lightyear ride just as he and his son approached the boarding area, much to his son’s distress. A helmet in the shape of the Epcot dome manifests around his head and scans him. He escapes, and in doing so discovers that the interrogator was an animatronic robot. Disoriented, he searches for Sara during the nightly fireworks celebration. He again encounters and now attacks the wheelchair-bound man, then returns to the mysterious woman’s room, where he discovers that she has kidnapped Sara and is reenacting Snow White, in costume. The woman begins to ramble about her time as a Disney princess and again entrances Jim with the amulet, until Sara smashes it and Jim becomes free of her power. He returns to his hotel room and puts his daughter to bed alongside his wife and son. Suddenly, he begins to have severe digestive distress and then begins to vomit up hairballs. He begs Elliot for help, but Elliot closes the bathroom door and in the morning, Jim is found dead by his wife. He is covered in blood, as is the bathroom, his eyes have transformed into cat’s eyes, and he has a huge grin on his face. Disney cleaners swoop in on the scene and clean up all evidence that a death occurred, and take Jim’s body away in an unmarked van. While they are loading with it, another van pulls up and from it emerges a man who looks exactly like Jim, the fantasy woman from the Soarin’ ride, and a young girl, presumably their daughter, ready to check into the hotel.

REVIEW:

It is kind of funny that I’m watching Escape from Tomorrow right now. About this time last year, it was released and I took a trip to Disneyworld. Sunday, I watched something else Disney related, Saving Mr. Banks. Also, one of my very good friends is taking a trip to Disneyworld in the coming weeks. Not really sure what all that has to do with anything, but it is a nice coincidental chain of events.

What is this about?

On the last day of a family vacation at Disney World, Jim White learns that he’s lost his job. Soon thereafter, he begins to lose his mind, wandering through the artificial phantasmagoria and becoming obsessed with two perky French girls.

What did I like?

Disney. I’ve long been a huge fan of all, well, most things Disney (not counting the parade of whores they’re churning out of there these days and the subar programming on Disney Channel). Long have I been a fan of Disneyworld. I’ve been there 3 times in my lifetime, and hope for more. In spite of what this film’s primary purpose was, it still can be viewed as an advertisement for Disneyworld, as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center are on full display, as well as the hotel/resort where the family was staying.

Balls. In this day and age, taking a random person’s picture is sure to cost you because everyone wants to make a buck. Disney is no exception. They are very protective about their product, but allow YouTube videos and such because that serves as advertisement for the park. Why can’t other companies and such feel the same way? At any rate, the people behind this film had to have some balls to go in and film this without the Disney people knowing about what they were doing. We all know how much power the Mouse wields. If you don’t, well, just watch the final scene of the film where a character is killed and a cleanup crew comes in and wipes everything clean before anyone can notice.

Cast. As this is an independent film that was made without the consent of Disneyworld, it should come as no surprise that this is a largely unknown cast. I think one of the French girls has appeared on some FX show once or twice, but that’s it. No complaints from me about using unknowns, though. Each and every one of our favorite actors, musicians, and other people of fame were unknowns at some point, too. So, perhaps this could be the start of something bigger, or it could just be a small project that has a decent cast.

What didn’t I like?

Cat flu. Maybe it is because the mascot for Disney is a mouse, maybe there is some cat flu rumor going around Disneyworld that I just had never heard of, or perhaps it could be that this was just some made up stuff they used to make the film more interesting. Who knows? What I am aware of, though, is that they snuck it in, forgot about it, then made it a pivotal part of the final scene. Seems to me that it would have been more effective had they chose to develop the cat flu angle a bit more, but that’s just me.

Kids unleashed. The kids in this film are horrible. First off, there is the sweet little girl, who isn’t too bad, except when things don’t go her way, she stomps her feet, screams, and starts pouting. A little boy in the park pushes her down, causing her to skin her knee. Was this on accident? No, the bully looking little boy did this on purpose. Finally, there is the son who seems to have a thing for looking at his father and closing the door on him. In the opening scene, he locks him out on the balcony. In the final act, he does something similar, but I won’t say what, for fear of spoiling things.

Shrew. The wife in this film is so unlikable, no wonder her husband was obsessing over the two young French girls. She just seemed to be the consummate nag, never having anything positive to say. How can anyone become so jaded and unfeeling towards a person they have devoted their life too, I wonder? Had she been a loving wife, perhaps this would have been a different film, for better or worse.

Escape from Tomorrow is not a film to watch if you’re expecting to see a nice little family film that serves as a sort of guide for Disneyworld. As a matter of fact, it does everything but that. While it doesn’t go so far as to be anti-Disney outright, it does show that it might not be the so-called “happiest place on Earth” that it claims to be. I loved my time down there last year, though, so I guess it depends on the person. Do I recommend this film? If you’re a fan of Indie films, then this is more your speed. If not, then it is quite possible that won’t enjoy this film as much as others. I know that I was expecting something more along the lines of Westworld, but that didn’t happen. Still, no reason why you shouldn’t at least give it a shot.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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The Errand Boy

Posted in Classics, Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Paramutual Pictures decides that they need a spy to find out the inner workings of their studio. Morty Tashman (Jerry Lewis) is a paperhanger who happens to be working right outside their window. They decide that he is the man for the job and hire him on the spot. He bumbles his way through a series of misadventures, reporting everything back to the corporate executives.

REVIEW:

In all the classic films that I’ve seen, can you believe that I have never come across Jerry Lewis? The other day, I came across The Errand Boy on television and started to watch it, but I was overruled. Of course, this means, I automatically added it to my Netflix queue until I got around to moving it up to a higher number. Well, guess what made it up the list this week?

What is this about?

Hired to spy on the employees of a major movie studio, well-intentioned but disaster-prone Morty Tashman wreaks havoc on Hollywood as he wanders into a string of mishaps at the Paramutual Pictures lot, looking for infractions to add to his report.

What did I like?

Jazz. Today is International Jazz Day, which somehow slipped by me. Luckily, there is a nice jazzy soundtrack to go along with this film. Now, it isn’t the likes of Basie, Ellington, Miller, etc., but it is some nice big band sounds that you would expect from a film of this era. The scenes in which it is used fit seamlessly, especially the one where Jerry Lewis’ character is mouthing to the music. It just goes to show what a great score or musical cue can do for a film, especially when there are long sections of the film that have no music at all…more on that later.

***correction. It has been brought to my attention that the pantomime scene that Lewis uses big band music for actually features “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” by the Count Basie Big Band (how could I have not picked up on that!!!). So, I was mistaken****

Clean. Here is a novel idea, comedy that everyone can watch and enjoy. I can’t think of any comedies these days that can pull this off. For some reason, comedy now has to be risqué, offensive, and sex driven. Perhaps I’m just in the wrong time period, but is it too much to pine for some good, clean comedy? Not to get on a soapbox, but to see a clean comedy, even for a classic film such as this takes me aback.

Genius. I have never seen anything with Jerry Lewis in it, except for occasional bit of his Labor Day telethon. Most, if not all, of my knowledge of Lewis is from parodies of the guy on Animaniacs and similar shows. I have to say that watching him for my first time he is a true comedic genius. Many of today’s comics owe this man. As I sat and watched him not only do physical comedy, but also deliver funny lines, there was nothing left for me to do but bow down to this man’s greatness.

What didn’t I like?

Hollywood. A bit of a surprise, actually, that a film that takes place at a Hollywood studio has little to no star power. The cast of Bonanza makes a passing cameo, but that’s it. Now, it should be said that this doesn’t take place at a real studio, but they could have still made for some interesting situations to have a John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, etc. show up, or a character that is based on them.

Music. As I mentioned earlier, there are stretches in the film where there is no music. I’m not talking about scenes where Lewis is doing his thing, but, for example, where he is driving through the lot. It seems to me that rather than having painful silence (possible film pops in the original version, but we don’t get that anymore, unfortunately, thanks to the restoration process), some light traveling music, if you will, would have worked much better. Maybe I just need to get over my not liking silence, though.

Little Clown. There was this really cute with a little clown hand puppet that brought the film back up when it seemed as if it was going nowhere. A little while later in the same storeroom, or whatever that was, the little clown was nowhere to be seen, but a southern talking puppet replaced him. The gag of someone back there using these things to talk to Lewis’ character is great, don’t get me wrong, but two things kept going through my head. Who and why were they doing this? Unless I missed something, this was never answered either.

Talking to some of my friends  that are more familiar with the works of Jerry Lewis than I am, they all said that The Errand Boy is probably one of the best films to introduce the audience to his works. Will this be the start of many more Lewis films that I watch? If they all are as manic and entertaining as this, then yes. I found myself smiling at nearly everything about this film. The few complaints that I have are minor and I really am questioning why I didn’t watch this when it was on TV the other day. Do I recommend this film? Yes, emphatically so! If for nothing else than to see what comedy is without all the raunchiness it has devolved into these days. Give it a shot, why don’t you?

5 out of 5 stars

Revisited: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Posted in Movie Reviews, Revisited with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

One Thursday morning, Arthur Dent discovers that his house is to be immediately demolished to make way for a bypass. He tries delaying the bulldozers by lying down in front of them. Ford Prefect, a friend of Arthur’s, convinces him to go to the pub with him. Over a pint of beer (as “muscle relaxant”), Ford explains that he is an alien from a planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and a journalist working on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a universal guide book, and that the Earth is to be demolished later that day by a race called Vogons, to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Suddenly, a Vogon Constructor Fleet appears in the sky and destroys the planet. Ford saves himself and Arthur by hitching a ride on a Vogon ship. The two are found and forced to listen to poetry. They are then thrown out of an airlock, but are picked up by the starship Heart of Gold. They find Ford’s “semi-half brother” Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy. He has stolen the ship along with Tricia “Trillian” McMillan, an Earth woman whom Arthur had met previously, and Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Zaphod explains that he is seeking the planet Magrathea, where he believes he can discover the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything to match with the answer “42” given by the supercomputer Deep Thought. Zaphod stole the Heart of Gold to use its improbability drive to get to Magrathea through trial and error.

During one of these attempts, they end up on the planet Viltvodle VI. Zaphod decides to visit Humma Kavula, his opponent from the election. Upon learning of Zaphod’s plan, Kavula announces that he has the coordinates to Magrathea. He takes one of Zaphod’s two heads hostage and demands they bring him the Point-of-view gun created by Deep Thought, which allows the target to understand the shooter’s point of view. As they are leaving the planet, Trillian is captured by Vogons. The others travel to rescue her from the Vogon home world bureaucracy, facing long lines and frustrating form processing. Trillian is outraged to learn that Zaphod signed the authorisation for the destruction of Earth thinking it was a request for an autograph.

The Heart of Gold is chased by the Vogons, led by Galactic Vice-President Questular Rontok, who is attempting to rescue Zaphod from himself. As the Heart of Gold arrives in orbit above Magrathea, Arthur triggers the improbability drive to avoid the automated missile defence systems. The missiles transform into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale.

On the planet, Zaphod, Ford, and Trillian take a portal to Deep Thought. When they ask the computer whether it has calculated the ultimate question, it reveals that it designed another supercomputer to do so—Earth. When the trio finds the Point-of-View gun, Trillian shoots Zaphod, making him understand how she feels about the destruction of Earth. She also finds out how much she loves Arthur. Arthur and Marvin miss the portal and encounter a Magrathean called Slartibartfast, who takes Arthur on a tour of the construction floor where Earth Mark II is being built. Slartibartfast takes Arthur home, where the others are enjoying a feast provided by pan-dimensional beings who resemble a pair of mice. Arthur realises he has fallen into a trap. The mice, who constructed Deep Thought, used the supercomputer to build an even larger supercomputer, the planet Earth, to determine the Ultimate Question. Believing Arthur, the last remaining supercomputer component, may hold the Ultimate Answer, the mice attempt to remove his brain. Arthur kills the mice.

As the crew regroup outside the house they are surrounded by Vogons and take shelter in a caravan as the Vogons open fire. Marvin is left outside and shot in the back of the head, and uses the Point-of-View gun on the Vogons, causing them to become depressed and unable to fight. As the Vogons are taken away and Questular rejoins with Zaphod, Arthur chooses to explore the galaxy with Trillian and lets Slartibartfast finalise the new Earth without him. The Heart of Gold crew decide to visit the Restaurant at the End of the Universe while Marvin points out they are going the wrong way.

REVIEW:

Everyone has those movies that they can watch over and over again, no matter what mood they are in or how good or bad the film is. One of these films for me is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I loved the book and the film, while a bit of a departure from the source is ranked among my all time favorites. Will it be one of yours?

What is this about?

After learning his house is about to be leveled to make way for a bypass and that Earth is about to be destroyed to clear the way for an interstellar thruway, jinxed Arthur Dent survives by hitching a ride on a passing spacecraft.

What did I like?

Zooey. I believe this is the film where I fell in love with Zooey Deschanel, or maybe it was Elf. I’m not 100% sure, but at any rate she has always been a cutie in my book. This character she plays, Trillian, is a bit more grounded and serious than we are used to seeing from the quirky and free-spirited Deschanel, and yet she makes her a likable character who may actually be the deepest character in the film.

Guide. For those that haven’t read the book, fret not because the guide, voiced by Stephen Fry, is read to you in animated vignettes and voice overs. The very first time I saw this film, I had not read the book and the voice-overs not only helped me keep up with everything, but also inspired me to go read the book. I’m sure that I’m not the only person to have that urge, nor will I be the last to have the inkling.

Devices. Any fantastical sci-fi film is sure to have great gadgets and devices, right? Well, no exception to that rule here. Two such devices stand out above everything, the Improbability drive which changes things to the most improbable objects (there is also an Infinite Improbability Drive which allows the ship to travel faster than light speed) and the point of view gun which allows the person holding it to send their point of view to someone else. I’m sure there are more than a few women who would love to shoot this at their husbands!

What didn’t I like?

Best of the best. Some of the best parts of the film are the parts that don’t get as much, such as Alan Rickman voicing Marvin the Robot. As much of a downer as Marvin is, you can’t help but want to see more of him. John Malkovich’s Humma Kavula was darkly odd and he basically is nothing more than a cameo. Perhaps they were holding him off for a bigger role in the sequel that never happened, or more scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast was also of note. While he wasn’t the best character, Night is always entertaining. These are just some of the examples of underutilized talent.

Towel. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t believe the importance of the towel was ever discussed. If such a big deal is going to be made over having a towel while hitchhiking across the galaxy, shouldn’t we know what is so important about it? Other than being able to chase Vogons away with it, I don’t think any reference was made to its use. Would it have been too much to ask for them to tell us why is it necessary?

Pacing. At times, the flick slows down, which is fine, I guess, but it does this at the most inopportune times. Just as the audience is getting into one story, such as the Vogons addiction to paperwork, it just prattles on with filler until the next big scene. Perhaps this is a British thing, but my American sensibilities didn’t quite jibe with the pacing.

What else can I say about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? The mix of sci-fi, comedy, action, and a hint of drama make for quite the enjoyable film, if I do say so myself. Sadly, this overlooked film never got the sequel it deserved because it didn’t make as much money as the studios would have liked. So, do I recommend this film? Do you really need to ask? I highly recommend this gem as a must see before you die! Check it out and enjoy!

5 out of 5 stars

Mean Girls

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Cady Heron is a 16-year-old homeschooled daughter of zoologist parents. They have returned to the United States after a 12-year research trip in Africa, settling in Evanston, Illinois and having Cady attend public school for the first time. New classmates Janis and Damian warn Cady to avoid the school’s most exclusive clique, the Plastics, who are led by queen bee Regina George. The Plastics take an interest in Cady, however, and start to invite her to sit with them at lunch. Seeing that Cady is slowly becoming one of The Plastics, Janis hatches a plan of revenge against Regina, using Cady as the infiltrator.

Cady soon learns about Regina’s “Burn Book”, a notebook filled with rumors, secrets, and gossip about the other girls and some teachers. Cady also falls in love with Regina’s ex-boyfriend, Aaron Samuels, whom a jealous Regina steals back at a Halloween party. Cady continues with Janis’s plan to cut off Regina’s “resources”, which involve separating her from Aaron; tricking her into eating nutrition bars that make her gain weight; and turning Regina’s fellow Plastics – insecure rich girl Gretchen Wieners and sweet but ditzy Karen Smith – against her. In the process, Cady unwittingly remakes herself in Regina’s image, becoming spiteful, superficial, and abandons Janis and Damian.

Cady hosts a party at her own house one weekend while her parents are away. While intended to be a small get-together, a large number of people show up. While waiting for Aaron to show up, Cady drinks too much punch before finally finding him. She explains to him how she was purposefully failing math just so she could have an excuse just to talk to him, but this only angers Aaron, saying that Cady’s no better than Regina. In a moment of panic, Cady vomits on Aaron due to the excessive amount of punch she had earlier. While chasing after an infuriated Aaron, Janis and Damian show up, who are upset that Cady lied to them about not being able to attend Janis’s art show that day. Cady tries to explain her motives, but Janis states that Cady has become worse than the Plastics by hiding a spiteful personality behind her cute and innocent facade.

When Regina is finally made aware of Cady’s treachery, she responds by spreading around the contents of her Burn Book, quickly inciting a riot. To avoid suspicion, Regina inserts a fake libel of herself in the book in order to blame the only female students not mentioned in the book, The Plastics. Principal Ron Duvall soon quells the riot, and ends up sending all the girls in the school to gather in the auditorium. Math teacher Sharon Norbury, whom the Burn Book slandered as a drug dealer, makes the girls mentioned in the book fess up to the rumors and apologize to the other students and teachers. When Janis’s turn comes, she confesses her plan to destroy Regina with Cady’s help and openly mocks Regina with the support of the entire school. Pursued by an apologetic Cady, Regina storms out and gets hit by a school bus, breaking her spine.

Without any friends, shunned by Aaron, and distrusted by everyone, Cady takes full blame for the Burn Book. Her guilt soon dissolves and she returns to her old personality. As part of her punishment for lying and failing Norbury’s class, she joins the Mathletes in their competition. There, while competing against an unattractive girl, Cady realizes that mocking the girl’s appearance would not stop the girl from beating her. She then realizes that the best thing to do is just solve the problem in front of you and ends up winning the competition after her opponent answers incorrectly. At the Spring Fling dance, Cady is elected Queen, but declares that all her classmates are wonderful in their own way, whereupon she breaks her plastic tiara and distributes the pieces. Cady makes amends with Janis and Damian, reconciles with Aaron, and reaches a truce with the Plastics.

By the start of the new school year, the Plastics have disbanded. Regina joins the lacrosse team, Karen becomes the school weather reporter, and Gretchen joins the “Cool Asians”. Aaron graduates from high school and attends Northwestern University, Janis and Kevin Gnapoor begin dating, and Cady declares that she is now herself. Regina walks past Cady and smiles, showing that they made peace with each other. Damian witnesses the new “Junior Plastics” walking by, but they are immediately hit by a bus. It turns out, however, that this was only a humorous figment of Cady’s imagination.

REVIEW:

Anyone that went to high school or junior high (middle school), is more than aware of how clicks and factions can form and, more or less, live to torture and abuse those that aren’t in said group. Mean Girls was obviously made to remind us of those days, show us how ridiculous these groups were, and showcase a then super cute Lindsey Lohan (who was experiencing her career heading upwards at this time).

What is this about?

After growing up abroad, brainy teen Cady Heron moves to Chicago and haphazardly joins her new high school’s most powerful clique. But there’s hell to pay when the ex-boyfriend of the clique’s menacing leader shows interest in being Cady’s guy.

What did I like?

Lilo. With all her personal problems, we have forgotten that Lindsey is actually a capable actress. The transformation she goes through from awkward girl who is setting foot into school for the first time in her life to a popular girl who dethrones the “queen bee” (not intentionally), and then back down to the awkward girl, but still with the popular girl look. Lohan manages to subtly change her personality so well that you don’t even notice it until a big moment happens and you see that she has a different look and attitude about her.

Plastics. A group of girls who talk about everyone, spread gossip, and demean the rest of the school in every way, including the teachers, run things, and they do so while looking hot. This sounds very similar to Jawbreaker, but they don’t kill the leader. Instead, these girls are very flawed. For instance, Rachel McAdams’ character wants to lose 3 lbs, Amanda Seyfried is an airhead, and Lacey Chabert is insecure. These character flaws make them more relatable, especially for the alleged antagonists of the film.

Debut. Making her big screen debut as a writer, Tina Fey knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. Not only is it apparent that Fey is a brilliant comedy writer (look how Saturday Night Live dropped in quality after she left), but she also penned a film that was female centric. Take notice of how Lohan’s character is not a slut, but just your average high school girl who has a crush on a guy. Also, she has a brain, one that is very good in math, of all subjects. Also, Fey’s character is one that is a strong female character, as shown in the junior girls assembly that she takes over.

What didn’t I like?

Burn book. For such a major plot device, the burn book, which is filled all types of rumors and other mean-spirited things, is sort of forgotten until Rachel McAdams’ character pulls it out and decided to use it in a plot to get revenge on her “friends”. In high school, I wasn’t popular enough to even be mention in a book like this, as far I know, but I still feel uncomfortable that such a book exists. Tine Fey has been quoted as saying that she pulled in many of her high school experiences for this, as well as the book on which this is based, so I wonder whether it was her or the author that has issues with said book. That point aside, this book should have been a major part of the film, in my opinion, but instead, it is just a plot device that appears when it is convenient.

Not Meg. Lacey Chabert is one of those actresses that has been around for a while, but you don’t really know why she hasn’t become a bigger star. Chabert’s insecure character, Gretchen, doesn’t really have anything to do but smile and look pretty, whereas Seyfried and McAdams have quirks that make them memorable. This is not to say that Chabert gives a bad performance, but rather than her character isn’t as interesting as her friends are.

Grounded. How can you be a parent and now know the rules of being grounded? That’s exactly what happens when the father of Lindsey Lohan’s character grounds her and then lets her go out. Questioned by his wife about it, he says, “is she not supposed to go out when she’s grounded,” or something to that effect. Now, this is a guy who looks like he probably grew up in the 50s or 60s, and I would imagine he was grounded his fair share of times or has friends that were. So, I ask again, how do you not know the rules of being grounded? This seemed a little too convenient for Lohan’s character to get out of the house with no trouble.

Mean Girls is one of those films that everyone knows, but it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves, I feel. This little teen comedy was a nice starring vehicle that helped Lindsey Lohan’s career, introduced us to Amanda Seyfried, and furthered the career of Rachael McAdams (she followed this up with The Notebook). Do I recommend this film? Yes, very much so. A lighthearted laugh is something we take for granted and the film delivers many of them.

4 out of 5 stars

Saving Mr. Banks

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In London in 1961, financially struggling author Pamela “P. L.” Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly agrees to travel to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) at the urging of her agent Diarmuid Russell (Ronan Vibert). Disney has been courting Travers for 20 years, seeking to acquire the film rights to her Mary Poppins stories, on account of his daughters’ request to make a film based on the character. Travers, however, has been extremely hesitant toward letting Disney bring her creation to the screen because he is known primarily as a producer of animated films, which Travers openly disdains.

Her youth in Allora, Queensland in 1906 is depicted through flashbacks, and is shown to be the inspiration for much of Mary Poppins. Travers was very close to her handsome and charismatic father Travers Robert Goff (Colin Farrell), who fought a losing battle against alcoholism.

Upon her arrival in Los Angeles, Travers is disgusted by what she feels is the city’s unreality, as well as by the naïve optimism and intrusive friendliness of its inhabitants, personified by her assigned limo driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti).

At the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Travers begins collaborating with the creative team assigned to develop Mary Poppins for the screen, screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and music composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively). She finds their presumptions and casual manners highly improper. She meets Disney in person, and he is jocular and familiar from the start, but she remains unfriendly.

Travers’ working relationship with the creative team is difficult from the outset, with her insistence that Mary Poppins is the enemy of sentiment and whimsy. Disney and his associates are puzzled by Travers’ disdain for fantasy, given the fantastical nature of the Mary Poppins story, as well as Travers’ own richly imaginative childhood existence. Travers has particular trouble with the team’s depiction of George Banks, head of the household in which Mary Poppins is employed as nanny. Travers describes Banks’ characterization as completely off-base and leaves the room distraught. The team begins to grasp how deeply personal the Mary Poppins stories are to Travers, and how many of the work’s characters are directly inspired by Travers’ own past.

Travers’ collaboration with the team continues, although she is increasingly disengaged as painful memories from her past numb her in the present. Seeking to find out what’s troubling her, Disney suggests the two of them go to Disneyland. The visit to Disneyland, along with Travers’ developing friendship with her limo driver, the creative team’s revisions to the character of George Banks, and the insertion of a new song to close the film, help to soften Travers. Her imagination begins to reawaken, and she engages enthusiastically with the creative team.

This progress is upended, however, when Travers realizes that an animation sequence is planned for the film. Travers has been adamant from the start that any animated sequences would be unacceptable. She confronts and denounces a protesting Disney, angrily declaring that she will not sign over the film rights and returns to London. Disney discovers that Travers is writing under a pen name. Her real name is Helen Goff, and she’s actually Australian, not British. Equipped with new insight, he departs for London on the next flight, determined to salvage the film. Appearing unexpectedly at Travers’ residence, Disney opens up—describing his own less-than-ideal childhood, while stressing the healing value of his art—and urges her to shed her deeply-rooted disappointment with the world. Travers relents and grants him the film rights.

Three years later, in 1964, Mary Poppins is nearing its world premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Travers has not been invited because Disney fears that she will give the film negative publicity. Goaded by her agent, Travers returns to Los Angeles, showing up uninvited in Walt Disney’s office, and finagles an invitation to the premiere. She watches Mary Poppins initially with scorn, reacting with particular dismay to the animated sequence. She slowly warms to the film, however, and is ultimately surprised to find herself overcome by emotion, touched by the depiction of George Banks’ redemption, which clearly possesses a powerful personal significance for her.

During the end credits, a surviving recording of one of the sessions between Travers, the Sherman Brothers and DaGradi plays out.

REVIEW:

Mary Poppins is one the most beloved films in the Disney cannon, but how much do we really know about the making of this great film? Did you know that it was based on a book? I did, but I wasn’t aware there was an entire series of them. Saving Mr. Banks takes us on a journey during the adaptation from book to film, and all the bumps on the road along the way.

What is this about?

When Walt Disney sets his sights on obtaining the rights to the children’s classic “Mary Poppins,” he reaches out to the book’s author, P.L. Travers, only to find that she proves a tough nut to crack.

What did I like?

History lesson. As much of a Disney freak I am, admittedly, I know very little about what went on in the making of this film. Obviously, liberties were taken with the events and whatnot, but to know that it took Disney 20 years to secure the rights to Mary Poppins and then had to deal with this uptight, grumpy British lady who doesn’t believe in happiness, making her the antithesis to Disney, himself. Seeing her oppose every idea for this film they come up with and stand toe to toe against Walt Disney was intriguing, as well. I can’t help but wonder how much of this was real and how much was fabricated.

Characters. Tom Hanks is a dead ringer for Walt Disney, or as close you’re going to without defrosting him from that hyperbaric chamber that holds him under Disneyworld. HA! Seriously, though, Hanks captures everything about Walt that we can see on video clips that we can see of the man, the myth, the legend. One cannot help but be impressed. Also worth mention is Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the crotchety old and bitter author who is stingy with the rights to her character. It is kind of ironic that the woman who brought Nanny McPhee, a character some have said to be Mary Poppins’ sister…among other rumors, to the big screen is playing the creator of Mary Poppins, and she does so with such emotional range and a dark comedic element that helps to make this an enjoyable flick.

Driving Miss Travers. How often have we seen a film where the chauffeur becomes as interesting a character as the main cast? Not very often, at least that I can think of. Well, Paul Giamatti’s character becomes one of the best and most interesting in the film. Not only because he is a happy-go-lucky fellow who looks on the bright side of life, but also because he becomes a friend to “Mrs. Mrs.” and has somewhat of a tragic family life, regarding his disabled child. With such gradual character development, and Giamatti’s natural likability, this guy becomes almost as likable as Hanks’ Walt Disney.

What didn’t I like?

Flashbacks. As far as the story goes, I can understand the flashbacks and their purpose. However, the random jumping back and forth without some sort of setup didn’t make much sense to me. I’m not saying we needed some sort of Family Guy cutaway, necessarily, but just a better setup would have been nice. Also, this is the best I’ve seen Colin Firth is quite some time. I guess since he’s done nothing but star in crappy remakes lately, his talent has been forgotten. Shame it gets buried since it isn’t the major plot.

Cameo. I was a little disappointed that, for all the behind the scenes stuff we saw and learned, we never learned anything about the filming. Part of this might be because no one can capture Dick Van Dyke and especially Julie Andrews’ characteristics. There was an actress who was cast as Andrews but all she had to do was get all dolled up to stand around and smile for the camera in the premiere scene.

Put the brakes on. Going into the final act, there is a time jump which I felt might have been better served to not be there. I say this because it sort of made the film feel like they were in a rush to get the scene showing Emma Thompson’s reaction to the film (and the whole frustration to not being invited to the premiere) in and wrap things up. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the way they chose to do it, especially since the film is already nearing the 2 hr mark. I just felt that they could have spent a few more minutes on the timeline, rather than bulldozing through to the end.

The best word I can think of to describe Saving Mr. Banks is charming. This comedy/drama biopic gives us laughs, a history lesson, great performances, and tugs on the heartstrings. All the kinds of things that critics tend to look for when they nominate films for awards, but this didn’t make the cut. You can argue whether or not it deserved nominations, though. Do I recommend this film? Yes, especially if you like films like A League of Their Own. If that sounds like something up your alley and you are a fan of Mary Poppins, you have to check this out!

5 out of 5 stars

Fast & Furious

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Five years after leaving Los Angeles, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his new crew, consisting of his girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Leo Tego (Tego Calderón), Rico Santos (Don Omar), Cara Mirtha (Mirtha Michelle), and Han (Sung Kang), are hijacking fuel tankers in the Dominican Republic. Dominic begins to suspect the trail is too hot, after Han informs him that one of his garages have been raided, forcing the crew to disband and go their separate ways. Realizing that he has to move, he packs his things in the middle of the night and leaves Letty behind in order to protect her from harm.

Three months later, Dominic is now residing in Panama City, and while there, he gets a call from his sister, Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), who tells him that Letty has been murdered after getting into a near fatal car accident. Heartbroken, Dominic heads back to Los Angeles in his red 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle over the Mexico border to her funeral to examine Letty’s crash and finds traces of nitromethane on the ground. He then goes to the only car mechanic that sells nitromethane and coerces him into giving him the name David Park (Ron Yuan), the man who ordered the fuel, and informs him that the car that uses nitromethane is a green 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport.

Meanwhile, U.S. F.B.I. federal agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is trying to track down a drug lord named Arturo Braga (Robert Miano). His search leads him to David Park, and using illegal modification record on his car, he tracks him down. Dominic arrives at Park’s apartment first and hangs him out of the window by his ankles before letting go. Brian, who was also on his way to Park’s place, saves Park and Park becomes the F.B.I.’s new informant. Park gets Brian into a street race through Los Angeles. Brian selects a modified 2001 Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 from the Impound Lot. Dominic also shows up to race in his modified Chevelle. Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), the liaison for Braga, reveals that the winner will become the last driver on a team that traffics heroin between the Mexico–United States border. Dominic wins by bumping Brian’s car, making him lose control. Brian uses his power as an F.B.I. agent to arrest another driver, Dwight Mueller (Greg Cipes), and takes his place on the team.

The following day, the team meets one of Braga’s men, named Fenix (Laz Alonso), and Dominic notices that Fenix drives the same Torino as the mechanic described. They drive across the border using underground tunnels to avoid detection. Brian had prior knowledge that, after the heroin was delivered, Braga ordered the drivers to be killed. However it was revealed to Dominic from Fenix that he killed Letty personally, and after a tense stand-off, Dominic detonates his car with nitrous to distract Braga’s men, and Brian hijacks a 1999 Hummer H1 with $60 million worth of heroin. Both Dominic and Brian drive back to L.A. and hide the heroin in a police impound lot, where Brian picks up a modified 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI, and they drive to Dominic’s hideout.

Later, Dominic finds out Brian was the last person to contact Letty, which results in him being attacked by Dominic before he could explain to him until he learns Letty was working undercover for Brian, tracking down Braga in exchange for clearing Dominic’s record. Brian tells his superiors that in exchange for Dominic’s pardon, he will lure Braga into a trap, forcing him to personally show up to exchange money for the heroin. At the drop site, the man who claims to be “Braga”, is revealed as a decoy, and “Campos” (John Ortiz), the real Braga, escapes and flees to Mexico.

Brian and Dominic travel to Mexico on their own to catch Braga. They find him at a church and apprehend him. As Braga’s henchmen try to rescue Braga, Brian and Dominic drive through the underground tunnels back to the United States. Brian crashes his car after taking fire from Braga’s men. He is then injured after being T-boned by Fenix at the end of the tunnel. Before Fenix can kill Brian, Dominic drives into and kills Fenix. As police and helicopters start approaching the crash site on the American side of the border, Brian tells Dominic to leave, but Dominic refuses, saying that he is tired of running. Despite Brian’s request for clemency, the judge sentences Dominic to 25 years to life while Brian resigns from the F.B.I. Dominic boards a prison bus that will transport him to Lompoc penitentiary. As the bus drives down the road, Brian, Mia, Leo and Santos arrive in their cars to intercept it.

REVIEW:

It seemed that after the dismal reception to The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift, this franchise was dead. Not so fast, my friends! Vin Diesel returns and the ‘the’ is removed from Fast & Furious, which should make this perfectly watchable and a cinema tour de force, right? Maybe…maybe not.

What is this about?

Fugitive ex-con Dom Toretto must team with his old nemesis agent Brian O’Conner and take on a common enemy in this full-throttle installment of the speed-racing franchise, which features pulse-pounding convoy heists and precision tunnel crawls.

What did I like?

Action. If there is one thing I love in an action flick, it is when they start with a bang. Starting with a caper similar to the stuff we say in The Fast & Furious not only makes us get the bad taste of the previous film out of our mouths, but also reminds of what this franchise was once capable of and that it know it needs to get back to those roots. The rest of the film doesn’t live up to the intro, but the successive action scenes are impressive in their own way.

The return. Vin Diesel left the franchise hanging and had said he wasn’t going to come back but, as we saw with that cameo at the end of the previous film, he did come back. The almighty dollar will do that, I suppose. It is great to have him back, and the producers must have felt the same way because they made him the focal point, even more so than in the first film. This wasn’t without warrant, either, as Diesel is perfectly capable of carrying the film on his muscular shoulders.

Reboot? In some ways, this could be considered a reboot or, at the very least, it could be a reignition of a floundering franchise. There is a shift in mechanics and the writing seems to be better, of course that isn’t saying much. Still, it was about time that there was some real direction with these films, rather than just some loose connections tying them together. Perhaps now they can create a real story and make this an honest to goodness franchise.

What didn’t I like?

Wonder why. I may be a little biased because of my opinion on her being cast recently as Wonder Woman, a role she does not have the look for, if you ask me, but Gal Gadot did nothing for me. On one hand, she is very wooden as an actress, especially with the handful of lines she has to deliver. On the other, I hear all the talk about how beautiful she is, and I just didn’t feel the same way.

Cars. The previous films have spoiled me, I suppose, because I was expecting to see lots of spectacular, pimped out street racing cars. Where were they this time around? Not really there, at least to the point that they are the focal point. I found myself wishing for more of those bright and fancy cars, but didn’t really get it, which was quite the disappointment.

Following the leader. For the most part, the plot is easy to follow, which is always a plus, but in the last act we get a twist that leads to an exciting climax, but loses the audience. For me, personally, if not for that tunnel chase scene, I would have checked out. Is it too much to ask for a film to keep one’s attention from beginning to end?

There are things about Fast & Furious that are obviously meant to build toward bigger and better things in successive films. Before getting to those things, though, one has to sit through the “growing pains” film, which is what I would say this is. It isn’t as great as the latest installments of the franchise, but it also isn’t as dry and serious as the initial entries. Do I recommend this? Sure, it can be a fun watch, so give it a shot!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 4/24

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags on April 24, 2014 by Mystery Man

Welcome to another edition of “Trailer Thursday”!

Most of you are more than likely not aware that April is National Jazz Appreciation Month, so I figured why not share the trailer from one of my all time favorite films, which happens to feature many of greatest jazz musicians of the time, A Song is Born.

I first saw this back in the day when A & E would actually show classic movies. I do miss those days!

Starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo, this film, which in some ways is a retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, is best known for its cavalcade of musicians including Mel Powell, Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, and the immortal Louis Armstrong, each playing themselves. Also, Benny Goodman has a role as one of the professors. Check out the trailer and if you like what you see, go watch and enjoy the film!