Archive for Alicia Witt

Two Weeks Notice

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews, Romantic with tags , , , , , on July 3, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

A woman finds herself attempting to foil one office romance while debating if she should take a chance on another in this romantic comedy. Lucy Kelton (Sandra Bullock) is a top-flight attorney who has risen to the position of Chief Legal Counsel for one of New York’s leading commercial real estate firms, the Wade Corporation. However, Lucy’s job has one significant drawback — George Wade (Hugh Grant), the eccentric and remarkably self-centered head of the firm. George seems entirely incapable of making a decision without Lucy’s advice, whether it actually involves a legal matter or not, and while she’s fond of George, being at his beck and call 24 hours a day has brought her to the end of her rope. In a moment of anger, Lucy gives her two weeks notice, and George reluctantly accepts, under one condition — Lucy has to hire her own replacement. After extensive research, Lucy picks June Carter (Alicia Witt), a Harvard Law graduate determined to make a career for herself. Lucy soon begins to suspect, however, that June plans to hasten her rise up the corporate ladder by winning George’s hand, leaving Lucy to wonder if she should warn George about his beautiful but calculating new attorney — and whether she should tell George that she has finally realized she’s in love with him.

What people are saying:

“Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock basically play their patented movie selves in this overly familiar romantic comedy about corporate greed, social responsibility, personal promises and budding love.” 2 stars

“A familiar plot and typical Bullock flick. Woman intellect meets scatterbrain man, fall in love (neither one knows it), a falling out, and they supposedly live happily ever after. Grant always plays the somewhat down founded man and Bullock is always somewhat of dimwit. Also, there’s a cameo appearance (with a four-liner speech) by a certain billionaire, who could have been edited out and his appearance forgotten. Recommended to Bullock and Grant fans.” 3 stars

“Its only relevance is as a sign of its times. Really it’s no worse than Rock Hudson Doris Day movies, and maybe someday it will be misviewed as a classic as those movies are. There’s little pep to the proceedings, but plenty of star power.” 2 stars

“A rom com about a shallow and obscenely rich playboy (when he said he was calling for a lift, he meant his private helicopter) and a brainy cause-fighting attorney (she can rattle off names of General Counsels when suspected of concussion). Grant and Bullock deliver their cheeky wordplay (“I think you are the most selfish human being on the planet.” “Well that’s just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?”) with impeccable comic timing and adorable chemistry.” 4 stars

“This is one of those rom-coms that does something unique: it actually gets you to care about the characters who are supposed to be together. The way this movie does it is by having these characters actually be good people, despite their differing ideologies, an achievement that is difficult enough to manage in real life, let alone in a movie. There aren’t any memorable lines, but the charm of both Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant is enough to make this movie worth watching.” 3 1/2 stars

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Revisited: Mr. Holland’s Opus

Posted in Movie Reviews, Revisited with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1965, Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a professional musician and composer who has been relatively successful in the exhausting life of a musical performer. However, in an attempt to enjoy more free time with his young wife, Iris (Glenne Headly), and to enable him to compose a piece of orchestral music, the 30-year-old Holland accepts a teaching position.

Unfortunately for Holland, he is soon forced to realize that his position as a music teacher makes him a marginalized figure in the faculty’s hierarchy. He comes face to face with how seriously he is outranked by the high school’s football coach, Bill (Jay Thomas), who ultimately becomes his best friend. Administrators, such as vice principal Gene Wolters (William H. Macy), dislike him, while others, including principal Helen Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis), remind him that he should not teach just because of financial reasons. It is Mrs. Jacobs’ scolding that helps Holland turn a corner. He starts to use rock and roll as a way to help children understand classical music. Reluctantly, he begins seeing his students as individuals and finds ways to help them excel.

When Iris becomes pregnant, Holland uses the money saved up for his orchestrating to buy a house. Their son Cole is born sometime during the summer after his first year of teaching. Holland is then assigned to be in charge of the school marching band. Bill helps him in exchange for allowing football player Louis Russ (Terrence Howard) to play the drums for academic credit.

The film marks the passing decades with newsreels about Vietnam, corresponding to the tragic combat death of Louis, and the death of John Lennon in 1980. The passage of time and the mysteries of personal growth are a frequent underlying theme in this film.

Holland’s lack of quality time with his wife becomes problematic when their son, Cole, is diagnosed as deaf. Holland reacts with hostility to the news that he can never teach the joys of music to his own child. His wife willingly learns American Sign Language to communicate with their son, but Holland learns at a much slower rate, causing further estrangement within the family.

Through three decades, Holland becomes closer to students at John F. Kennedy High School than he is with his own son. At one point in the film, he is briefly tempted by the shining talent of a young female student, who invites him to leave his stressful, unsatisfying life and run off to New York City with her. When Holland expresses to Cole the assumption that he cannot understand what music means to his father, Cole lashes out and reveals that he does appreciate music but needs his father to reach out to him. The incident encourages Holland to find different ways for Cole and other deaf children understand music, and he puts on a concert for them during which he sings and signs Beautiful Boy, directing the song towards Cole.

Holland addresses a series of challenges created by people who are either skeptical of, or hostile towards, the idea of musical excellence within the walls of the average middle-class American high school. He inspires many students, but never has time for himself or his family, forever delaying the composition of his own orchestral composition. Ultimately, he reaches an age when it is too late to realistically find financial backing or ever have it performed.

In 1995, the adversaries of the Kennedy High music program win a decisive institutional victory. Holland’s longtime adversary Gene Wolters, assigned school principal when Jacobs retired, works with the school board to eliminate music, along with the rest of the fine arts program, in the name of necessary budget cuts, thereby leading to Glenn’s early retirement at the age of 60. Glenn is a realist who realizes that his working life is over. He believes that his former students have mostly forgotten him.

On his final day as a teacher, Iris and an adult Cole (who is now a teacher himself) arrive to help Holland pack up. Feeling despondent over his self-perceived lack of achievement, Holland is led to the school auditorium, where his professional life is surprisingly redeemed. Hearing that their beloved teacher is retiring, hundreds of his former pupils have secretly returned to the school to celebrate his career.

Holland’s orchestral piece, never before heard in public, has been put before the musicians by his wife and son. One of his most musically challenged students, Gertrude Lang (Alicia Witt as a child and Joanna Gleason as an adult), who has become governor of the state, sits in with her clarinet. Gertrude and the other alumni ask the retiring teacher to serve as their conductor for the premiere performance of Mr. Holland’s Opus (“The American Symphony”). A proud Iris and Cole look on, appreciating the affection and respect that Holland receives.

REVIEW:

I don’t know where I’d be without the music teachers in my life because, truth be told, the only thing I was ever any good at was music. Well, I was decent at ROTC stuff, but major dad (not the show) took care of that. Mr. Holland’s Opus reminds us all of how important music teachers are in the lives and development of their students (that is not to say that other teachers aren’t as important). The question here is, why is this something that deserves a movie and is it worth watching?

What is this about?

Decades pass after a musician takes a high school teaching job, thinking it’s just an obstacle to reaching his true calling: writing a historic opus.

What did I like?

Say it ain’t so, Coach. A popular stereotype is that the “band geeks” and “jocks” can’t stand each other. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that this comes from coaches and band directors hatred/disdain for each other. I know that’s how it was for me in high school, even though there were a few that burned the candle at both ends. Surprisingly, though, this film throws that out the window. On Mr. Holland’s first day, as he is standing in the lunch line, the P.E. coach comes through, tells him teachers don’t wait in line and a lifelong friendship is started. This is the kind of thing we need to see more of, don’t you think? Coaches can’t always be complete dumb jocks who never grew out of that bully stage of their lives, now can they?

Music in our schools. Sadly, the film’s final act is prefaced with the nightmare of every teacher who isn’t a (football) coach or core curriculum instructor…budget cuts. I don’t need to tell you what got cut, do I? Yes, the music department. Well, all the arts apparently. As an advocate for music in our schools, I could go on some long diatribe about how this happens everyday in our country, but this is not the place. However, as I said with Music of the Heart and Our Song, this brings the plight of our youth, and what is being taken away from them, to the public eye. Richard Dreyfuss has a line in this scene that sums it up best, “…you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”

High school. Nine times out of ten, when it comes to films about high school, the focus is on the horny and/or overdramatic teenagers. Am I right? Yes, there will be a subplot involving certain teachers, but only just. What is different about this film is that is focuses solely on Mr. Holland and 2 or 3 other faculty members throughout the entire film. As far as students go, there is one that is focused on for each year the film chooses, such as a young Alicia Witt struggling with her clarinet, or Terrence Howard (in his film debut) trying to find the beat, or the lovelorn Jean Louisa Kelly, who brings down the house with her rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me”. Those three are important, yes, but they aren’t central to the film’s plot, even though Alicia Witt’s character returns for the finale.

What didn’t I like?

Time lapse. So, the film takes its time going through the later half of the 60s, but fast-forwards through the 70s, stops in 1980 to honor John Lennon’s death, then skips the rest of the 80s and end is 1995. I wouldn’t have such an issue with this, except that is seems as if this was done just to save time. There is no real reason to suddenly skip through all those years, especially since the film moves so slow through the 60s!

Performance. First off, with the exception of the final performance, and maybe the one at the school for the deaf, it seemed as if the band/orchestra selections were played by high schoolers, rather than a college band or professionals in a studio *COUGH* Drumline *COUGH*. However, they still didn’t convey that they were actually playing. As a trumpet player myself, it is easiest for me to pick them out, especially when they’re holding the horn with the wrong hand and pressing down multiple keys in rapid succession when only a single note is being played. My other issue is with Richard Dreyfuss’ conducting. It doesn’t matter if you’re left-handed or not, the baton goes in your right hand and your left is used to emote, cue, etc. I give kudos for trying to make it look authentic, but that is a major detail that whoever taught him failed to mention.

Long gig. Man, when Mr. Holland woke up that first day in 1965 to start this teaching gig, I’m sure the last thing he thought was that he’d be doing it for 30 years. The guy was a professional musician. Oh wait…was he? From what we can infer, it seems like it, and the gigs just dried up, but the film never specifically says that is what he was. I don’t really know why, either. All it would have taken is one line to say what he was doing before he started teaching and that’s it, but no, guess that was too much.

Mr. Holland’s Opus has a special place in my heart, and always will, because it shows that teachers make a lasting impression on their students, whether they realize it then or down the road. It also has a great variety of music from its trip through time, including a Gershwin revue, brings up issues that are still relevant today, and takes some chances with tropes that have been popular since tropes began. For me, there isn’t much wrong with this film, except for a few nitpicky things. I highly, highly recommend this as a film to see before you die! So, go check it out!

5 out of 5 stars

Last Holiday

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), an employee in the cookware department at Kragen’s Department Store in New Orleans, is a shy, unassuming woman who longs to cook professionally, and who records her dreams of a better life in a journal labeled “Possibilities.” It is the Christmas holiday season. While flirting with a co-worker Sean Williams (LL Cool J), she bumps her head on a cabinet door and is taken to the store’s health center for a CAT scan. There she is told by company physician Dr. Gupta (Ranjit Chowdhry) she has several brain tumors resulting from a rare neurological disorder called Lampington’s Disease. Since her HMO plan will not cover the exorbitant cost of an operation, Georgia resigns herself to the fact she has only a few weeks to live, quits her job, liquidates her assets, and sets off on a dream vacation at the deluxe Grandhotel Pupp in the spa city of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.

Free of inhibitions and determined to live life to the fullest, Georgia checks into the Presidential Suite, buys a designer wardrobe in expensive boutiques, makes extensive use of the hotel’s spa facilities, attempts snowboarding and base jumping off of a dam, enjoys succulent meals prepared by world-renowned Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu), and wins a small fortune playing roulette in the casino. She impresses the hotel’s staff, with the exception of cantankerous guest services manager Miss Gunther (Susan Kellermann), with her naive manner and forthright kindness, and mingles with some of the other guests, including Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), a self-help guru and coincidentally the owner of the store where she works; his assistant/mistress Ms. Burns (Alicia Witt); pandering Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) from her home state of Louisiana; and prominent Congressman Stewart (Michael Nouri). Kragen is skeptical about Georgia’s origins and suspects her of trying to sabotage his business, but the rest are charmed by her free spirit.

When Kragen bribes Miss Gunther to dig up information about Georgia’s background, she finds a letter Georgia has written providing instructions for the disposal of her remains after her death. Miss Gunther is moved by the letter and realizes Georgia’s self-confidence and sunny optimism have touched everyone who has met her since her arrival. She confesses to Georgia she found the letter and urges her to return home and spend her last days with those she loves. Georgia takes Miss Gunther’s advice and heads for the airport, only to discover an avalanche has blocked the road. Unbeknownst to her, Sean – having learned of her diagnosis and ready to acknowledge his feelings for her – is in a taxi on the other side of the snowdrift, trying to reach her at the hotel.

Georgia returns to the hotel, and Sean starts across the snow on foot. At a New Year’s Eve party that evening, Kragen exposes Georgia as a saleswoman in one of his stores. Georgia tells them that Kragen is right and reveals that she’s going to die. Kragen’s colleagues, disgusted by Kragen’s insensitivity, embrace her and abandon him. Dejected and embarrassed, Kragen goes up to an upper floor of the hotel and sits on the ledge contemplating suicide. Georgia tries to persuade him to come down, suggesting if he were nicer and less driven and greedy, he would be a happier person.

Sean arrives at the hotel and joins Georgia and Kragen on the ledge. In the lobby, Miss Gunther finds a fax from Dr. Gupta, in which he tells Georgia she was misdiagnosed due to X-rays generated by a broken, outdated CAT scanner. Miss Gunther rushes up to the ledge to announce the good news. Georgia and Sean return to New Orleans to get married and open a restaurant, where they are visited by Chef Didier and Georgia’s long-time inspiration, Emeril Lagasse.

REVIEW:

It may seem that with a title like Last Holiday, this is a film that I should have held off for the holidays, but that isn’t the case. Well, it does climax on New Year’s Day, but does anyone really consider that one of the “holidays”, seriously? At any rate, what makes this worth watching, if anything at all?

What is this about?

Given the news she’s terminally ill, Georgia throws caution to the wind, breaks out of her shell and takes a no-holds-barred European vacation. While she’s celebrating her last hurrah, she touches the lives of everyone around her.

What did I like?

Don’t sass me. Throughout most of Queen Latifah’s career, she has been relegated to playing sassy characters, but she gets a chance to break out of her comfort zone and give a soft, subdued performance the kind of which we don’t get from her very often, even though she clearly has the acting chops for such. That point aside, she does offer a wee bit of sass, just enough to fit the character and the scenes in which she uses it sparingly.

Feel. There is a feel of those old comedies from the 40s and 50s going on with this film and I liked it. As can be told by many of the films that are featured in other posts, I much prefer the older films, as opposed to the sex joke driven, CGI laden, lifeless schlock that studios churn out these days. With the retro feel, in terms of writing and comedy, the audience can really get invested in the characters, laugh at the situations, and not feel offended or uncomfortable with the joy that this film delivers.

How far they’ve come. Queen Latifah. LL Cool J. Will Smith. Ice Cube. Ice T. What do all these actors have in common? For the younger generation, they are all actors, but for those of that grew up in the 80s and early 90s, they were rappers. Seeing Queen Latifah and LL Cool J star in a film that has nothing to do with their genre of music shows how far they’ve come over the year. Hell, the Queen even has an Oscar nomination. The two of them have some nice chemistry that you just want to see more and more of. Perhaps some casting director will watch this and decide they need to be paired together again.

What didn’t I like?

CAT scan. A faulty CAT scan machine leads to a false diagnosis. This leads Queen Latifah’s character to spend money like its going out of style, even flying to Europe and staying in some fancy hotel. Since this is a movie, there isn’t much in the way of consequences, but one has to wonder had this happened in the real world, how big would that lawsuit have been. Truly, there is no reason for there to have been spots on the brain scans, and it should not have taken that long to find out that something was wrong.

No one likes you. As one can imagine, there is one bad apple who wants to be liked so bad that he goes out of his way to make sure that Latifah’s ruse is found out, even though she never really lied to anyone, just never said what she did for a job or that she was dying. I suppose for the purpose of his character, Timothy Hutton does a good job of being a douche, but to be so smug about revealing her secret. All his friends, including his mistress (or whatever she is) leave him. No wonder he went out and tried to kill himself!

Cooking. I love the setting of New Orleans. I happen to drive an hour east just to visit every chance I get, but there seems to be a trend happening with films set in this great city. Does every one who lives there have to end up opening a restaurant? The most notable of these that I can think of is Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. While I’m speaking of cooking, it is never really mentioned that she wants to open a restaurant. Yes, it is implied, but just like Roadblock in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, it seems as if it is a plot point that is forgotten until the writers realized that it was an important part of her character.

Last Holiday is a feel good movie that is sure to please everyone. Not everything has to be dark, depressing, violent, and/or moody to be successful and this proves that point. No, this isn’t the greatest picture in the world, but at least it is memorable, especially Queen Latifah’s performance as a meek sales clerk who has been diagnosed with a fatal disease. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! This is the kind of flick you can watch over and over again without getting tired of it, so check it out!

4 1/3 out of 5 stars