Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Muppets

My short list of movies from back in July is almost complete, especially after seeing The Muppets on Sunday. Movies I’ve made it to in the theater recently just keep getting better and better and, if I had my own anything-goes version of a certain awards show that airs each February, I’d pick The Muppets as a best picture contender.

Why? Because it’s the perfect mix of what Muppet fans have missed of late and enough fresh material to hook any newcomers into the creation of Jim Henson.
Jason Segel is to thank for that and a motion picture complete with a stellar cast of humans and Muppets, musical numbers, and jokes that cover the bases to satisfy adult audiences and the kiddos.
I went into the movie cold, not knowing what type of plot Segel created to bring to life the Muppets again or about the host of surprise celebrity cameos. Segel stars in the film as well as Gary, the brother of a new Muppet in town named Walter. Amy Adams is another of the top-billed actors in the role of Gary’s girlfriend Mary.
The story centers on Gary, Mary and Walter traveling to Los Angeles from Smalltown, USA and you can only imagine who they might find there. 
Outside of enjoying 90 minutes or so of nostalgia to what I watched during my childhood, I appreciated Segel’s ability to poke fun at his own adaptation and transform actors of all backgrounds to be a part of a lovable, happy story.
As critics indicated, the idea to bring back The Muppets could have gone in the wrong direction. Luckily, Segel started his project as a dedication to growing up watching the furry, talking characters and wanting to extend their story to mass audiences.
Box office reports show The Muppets is doing well, and if I can help at all I’d see it again in the theaters in a heartbeat.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene

It doesn’t get much better than discussing movies over a couple beers on a Saturday night, for me anyway. So I was thrilled when my sister Carla and brother-in-law Jack wanted to go to the movies last weekend. After much debate (OK, mainly on my part because there are so many good movies out right now) between Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Descendants, we decided there will be plenty of time to see the Oscar-buzzed George Clooney release.
Elizabeth Olsen (yes the sister of Full House twins Mary Kate and Ashley) stars as Martha, a young woman who just escaped from a cult and calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) out of the blue for help. From there the story is told in a series of flashbacks between Martha’s life at the cult and staying at her sister’s house, ultimately to mirror her difficulty interpreting what’s reality and what isn’t.
Sometimes that style of a film can take away from the meaning, but here I feel it draws the audience in more and provides a platform to think through what Martha is experiencing and why.
The longer Martha stays at her sister’s house in a “real environment,” the more difficult it is for her to escape the memories of the cult and behaviors she developed there. And, she even fears the cult leaders have found her.
I remained interested in the plot throughout the film and, while the ending was a little anti-climatic, felt it stayed true to the story. It’s most fun (again, at least for me) if you see this movie in a group to discuss the little plot clues left by writer/director Sean Durkin and to figure out their place in the big picture of Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Olsen’s performance is all the rage right now and I’m sure it’s just a sign of what’s to come.
 Supporting cast John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Paulson, Hugh Dancy (as Lucy’s husband Adam) and the other young cult members deserve equal credit in telling this multi-faceted story.

From what I’ve read, this film has received favorable feedback from the critics so whatever it takes to get  more attention from audiences at the box office, I hope it happens.

Joan Rivers – A Piece Of Work

The documentary about Joan Rivers is a real piece of work, but in a good way. It is a unique documentation of a woman and comedian I knew little about and it seemed as though Rivers was taking an inside look at her own life as much as the people behind the camera.  
I’ve only seen Rivers on Letterman and, while not offended by her vulgar jokes and politically-incorrect puns, never really understood why she went that route to try to be funny.
Now, I do. Because, as Rivers said on camera in A Piece of Work, it’s comedy and she’s actually not out to offend anyone, just make them laugh. And often times Rivers is poking fun at herself with jokes about age and plastic surgery. I feel audiences shouldn’t criticize, which they do when it comes to Rivers, someone who is willing to take it as well as dish it out.

If you’re unsure about going to one of Rivers’ comedy shows, just watch this documentary first. It may not be for everyone, and I don’t know if I’d ever go, but Rivers leaves no surprises for her fans.
What I liked most about the documentary was its peek into Rivers’ career upbringing, from the Johnny Carson show to the ups and downs of launching her own performance empire. It doesn’t always work and Rivers talks candidly about her fear of not being on stage one day with a blank calendar, which she shows the camera early in the documentary.
Overall, I appreciated Rivers’ candor and watching a documentary that the subject wanted to be a part of as much as its creators. Rivers said she is living her dream and will keep on doing it forever. Love her or hate her, I believe her.

50/50

Today was a long day at work. I am sure everybody can say their job is draining sometimes, so I don’t claim to be unique there, but today was just one of those days. I’d like to say I just write, write, write all day long, but at a newspaper it takes a lot to get to the point where you can actually start to construct a story for print. The process is what’s draining, but I do love my job and to be able to have the opportunity to tell people’s stories at the end of the day.
I hesitated to start a blog in fear I wouldn’t keep up with more writing, but I find this therapeutic. Plus, I can just focus on the words I want to say and be done with it (after reading the post out loud a few times).

With, 50/50, which I saw tonight at the Hopkins budget theater, I found a film that would be a platform to marry my career and my blogging hobby. I’ll do my best to review the story played out on screen, but if I could I’d really like to interview those who lived and created it.
50/50 is inspired by the true story of Will Reiser, who at 27 found out he had a rare form of spinal cancer. He had a 50/50 chance to live or die and judging by the sniffles in the theater (mine included) the authentic portrayal of the film’s co-writer hit home. Reiser, played as Adam by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is friends with Seth Rogen, who is a producer and co-start of the film.
Rogen brings his real life to the role as Adam’s best friend and rounding out the cast are Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick, and Angelica Houston. I didn’t realize it until I saw the credits online, but Reiser has a role in the film as a character named Greg.
So, knowing that, I’d ask him: What was it like to be a part of telling your story on screen, both writing it and then joining the cast?
Continuing on, I’d ask, did you have any hesitation about making your life into a film?
How did you contribute to the casting and with your character, Adam, how did you work with Gordon-Levitt to prepare him for the role?
Assuming Gordon-Levitt graciously accepted my interview request, I’d ask how he used Reiser’s input to develop the role and about what other resources he found helpful. In The Lookout, for example, I know he spent time with people who had suffered a brain injury, so I wonder what approach he took to get to the levels he did as Adam.
I won’t ever get the answers to those questions first hand, but I do know there is a lot of heart behind 50/50 and hope everyone takes the opportunity to see this film. It is hard to watch, it will make you laugh and cry, and you’ll leave with a true glimpse of the ups-and-downs of life.
Acting-wise the cast is flawless and I felt Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick, as Adam and his therapist, had some of the most telling scenes. Outside of that and some of Adam’s moments with his mother (Houston) Gordon-Levitt alone created some of the real tear-jerkers.
No matter how much viewers know about 50/50 before seeing it, the film and performances will surprise audiences and I’d be surprised if it and Gordon-Levitt aren’t the subject of Oscar-season buzz.

The Rum Diary

“Let us leave this confusion and all this illusion behind,” swoons Dean Martin in the opening credits to The Rum Diary as a plane weaves through the sky. Enter Johnny Depp as wayward American journalist Paul Kemp waking up in his Puerto Rico hotel room after a night of too many cocktails.
The movie, based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, follows main character Kemp as he writes for the San Juan Star under the spotty leadership of editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) in the 1950s. He meets and bonds with photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and an alcoholic religion and crime reporter Moburg, played by Giovanni Ribisi.

Kemp’s purpose of being in Puerto Rico is a bit of a mystery as he spends his time writing horoscopes for the Star by day and exploring some of the darker side of the island with Sala and Moburg by night.
Kemp tries to almost make a life there as well, rubbing elbows with business-savvy Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) on a development proposal.
But does he want to live the high life by not always following the rules, or continue to write for a struggling paper and expose the real story?
I didn’t read The Rum Diary before I chose to see the movie, but when I do pick up the novel know I will enjoy matching the moving images of the story with Hunter S. Thompson’s words.

Depp’s performance is honest and humorous and the cast of characters help create the “illusion and confusion” referenced by Mr. Martin as Kemp tries to find his purpose on the island and in life.

Rispoli and Ribisi play Kemp’s sidekicks well and Aaron Eckhart, while I’m not a big fan, is a perfect match for Sanderson’s slightly villainous character.
Starlet Amber Heard as Chenault is the final piece to Kemp’s purpose puzzle. Does he find romance on the island, or not?
I saw this movie a week ago today and feel it is one I could watch at any time, on any day. Of course the story focus on a journalist (and Johnny Depp as the main actor) drew me in, but I stayed for the escape into another life and another world. Isn’t that what it’s all about?