qualified but not certified

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This is No Time for Singing: Most Awkward Musical Moments

Back in the 1940's and 1950's (and a bit of the 60's) when musicals had their heyday, things were good. People believed in the magic and glitz of Hollywood, and reveled in its singing and dancing stars. Audiences were high on life. Then in the 70's, real drugs came along, and watching Gene Kelly tap dance on a chair just wasn't enough anymore. People were angry with the government and the world and they had questions. Questions that a brilliantly choreographed dance number and Julie Andrew's perfect soprano could just no longer answer.

Since then, musicals have struggled to find their place in cinema. I attribute this to the fact that today's audiences just can't condone a promising storyline being suddenly interrupted by inexplicable music. For some reason we praise "reality" and "truth" and "profundity" and other such made up concepts.

Yet, some brave souls are desperately clinging on to the glory of the musical's past. Some have found success, like TV's "Glee," which parodies itself enough to be almost bearable, and 2006's Oscar grabbing "Chicago," which smartly justified its musical numbers as being part of the main character's imagination. Yet those that weren't clever enough to give reason to the involuntary outbursts of song suffer from some pretty awkward moments.

5. Moulin Rouge: Your Song

Like "Chicago," "Moulin Rouge" is a contemporary musical that understood the old conventions of film and theater musicals just don't fly anymore. With a storyline that centers around a dying prostitute, vibrant eye popping visuals, and a repertoire of songs that cover classic Rock and Pop ballads, "Moulin Rouge" attempted to make the musical accessible to modern cynical audiences. For about half of us, its quirky originality truly resonated. Everyone else thought it was a decadent spectacle or a superficial load of vomit. But, c'est la vie.

Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that it's never not awkward to break out in an Elton John song when a hooker is in the middle of trying to seduce you, and she's doing it by growling like a tiger and writhing around in a fur rug, even if you are Ewan McGregor. And although its awkwardness is intentional, I thought it had to make the list.

4. Sex and the City 2: Liza Minnelli sings "Single Ladies"

This movie may not be classified as a musical (most critics classify it as a giant pile of shit) but it does throw a bone to its gay musical loving fan base by way of a Liza Minnelli cameo. A tired and completely unfunny line about how having so much gay in one room will cause Ms. Minnelli to simply manifest, is supposed to serve as an explanation for this scene, which is so lame it's a bit offensive. I did really want to give props to the musical icon for getting up there and shaking it as she does, but I just can't. It's all so...wrong.

3. Mamma Mia: Dancing Queen

"Mamma Mia" clearly embraces the fact that it is just an annoying, campy, poorly sung bit of fluff. And that's fine. It might be a giant waste of time, money, and Meryl Streep's talent, but that's fine. What's not fine is forcing Ms. Streep to do a slow motion cheerleader toe-touch while jumping on a bed. NOT okay.

2. Rent: The scene where she dies and then comes back to life.

If I were on my deathbed with a room full of people who claimed to be my friends, I would want them to enlist the help of some kind of medical professional, rush me to the hospital, or take my last will and testament. The last thing I would want them to do is break out into song. Awwwkwwward.

1. Cop Rock: All of "Cop Rock"

To anyone not yet acquainted with "Cop Rock," prepare to be severely enlightened. Back in 1990, television producer Steven Bochco was fresh off of some of TV's greatest successes, like "LA Law," "Hill Street Blues", and "Doogie Howser, M.D." Having truly proved his worth as a series creator, he did what any self respecting producer would do: take advantage of the network's trust to make a purely self-indulgent, completely ahead of it's time cop drama/musical. Due to it's excessive cost (almost 2 mill an episode) and low ratings (the general public will never be prepared for something with such a high caliber of awesome), "Cop Rock" was pulled after 11 episodes, not even making it through a full season. But I think if there's anything to be learned from this lesson in awkwardness it's:

Let's be careful out there, and when shit gets rough, let's harmonize.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Red Riding Hood

Dir. Catherine Hardwicke
Starring. Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke

Many of us may a feel overwhelmed by the giant wave (or tsunami if you feel like you want to add a little tastelessness to your day) of live action fairy tale remakes coursing through Hollywood. If you haven't been keeping up, this includes three different Snow Whites, a Hansel and Gretel, the already released Beauty and the Beast modernization "Beastly", and a few Peter Pan prequels. No news as to whether or not my Little Miss Muffet screenplay has been optioned. I will keep you updated.

Red Riding Hood is just the beginning of what promises to be a quickly exhausted studio trend. If I had any hope that this fad was going to turn classic tales into darkly foreboding masterpieces in the vein of 2006's "Pan's Labyrinth," "Red Riding Hood" was first in line to dash those hopes to bits.

Catherine Hardwicke, who has been embarrassingly hailed as the most successful female director in Hollywood, helms this bland re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf in which Red is a pouty, wide-eyed, teenager, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), and the baddie is a werewolf terrorizing her village. When Father Soloman (Oldman) arrives on the scene, he informs the villagers that anyone of them could be the wolf, including either of Valerie's two handsome-ish suitors, thus inciting a paranoid witch hunt. This could have made for a fun twist on the old tale, but the whodunnit nature of the story just feels tired and fails to produce any actual twists.

Hardwicke is clearly milking her undeserved Twilight success for all it's worth, by once again portraying a young girl experiencing a sexual awakening that is fueled by danger and supernatural powers, starring a lot of pale people in a world that is overly color corrected to an unnatural blueish green. Unfortunately, this is a very poor attempt at recapturing whatever it is about Twilight that managed to ensnare the imaginations of women (and possibly men) of all ages the world over. It so completely misses the mark, it just feels like a desperate shot in the dark by someone who never fully understood what it was she was aiming for in the first place.

I can't imagine even the most prudish of teens will find this particularly sexy. The few kissing scenes just felt awkward. I found myself wondering if the actors were somehow related in real life (they aren't). Instead, it is just a case of the well cast Seyfried desperately trying to spark some chemistry, while her male counterparts just seem a bit lost or possibly harmfully restricted by their tight leather pants. It makes for a passion that is lukewarm at best.

Overall, this film is shallow and ridiculous and vastly misdirected, but ultimately harmless. Let's just hope everyone else with fairy tale remakes on their agendas are taking notes on what not to do.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sucker Punch

Dir. Zack Snyder
Starring. Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone

I've seen a lot of films in my day. Some make me laugh. Some make me cry. But very rarely does a film ever make me angry. Yet, somehow, 'Sucker Punch' managed to leave me seething with anger at its own pointlessness. I'm a bit ashamed to say that. Eliciting such a strong reaction out of me gives this film too much credit.

I don't know what happened. What's not to love? A bunch of hot chicks in lingerie running around imaginary CGI worlds that are like visual orgies, while totally kicking ass in slow motion fight scenes, until they return to real world where they are whores/mental patients? Awesome! Oh, wait. That's right, I'm not a horny 15 year old boy who spends all his time watching internet porn and playing Xbox. Nor am I Zack Snyder.

That must be why the fantastic story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her lovely cronies didn't sit well with me. Baby Doll is a youngish girl whose mother sadly dies in slow motion. It's extra sad because she lives somewhere where it rains every single day. She has an angry looking Step-Dad that turns out to be a heavily made up priest. They like to play hide and seek but he's always 'it' and she's not very good at hiding. She shoots a light bulb because light gives her headaches and she was trying to sleep. Then she discovers her sister fell asleep in the closet in the middle of the game. But actually no, she's bleeding so she might be dead. Also in slow motion. Baby Doll's secret priest-Step-Dad sends her to a mental institution where a bunch of other mentally insane but super hot girls live with stripper names like Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung). But the mental institution is actually a brothel that's actually a portal into 'Kill Bill,' 'Lord of the Rings,' 'I, Robot,' and 'Dead Snow.' So the girls have to watch all those movies before they can escape. Or something like that.

You'll find I've put just about as much thought into that summary as Snyder did the plot of the film. An eye for an eye, mate.

I'm trying to imagine a world in which I would have been okay with this film. Maybe if it had some character development. Or maybe if it didn't try to throw some pretentious poetic meaningful theme into the mix and accepted that it was just a ridiculously self indulgent bit of eye candy. Maybe if it was a completely different movie. But no, it is what it is. And as if having to sit through it wasn't bad enough, Snyder adds insult to injury by claiming that I, a woman, should feel empowered by it. Maybe I should be. But I'm just a woman. I don't even know what empowered means let alone how to feel it. I'm far too busy curling my hair, going shoe shopping, and doing sexy dances in my underwear to have time for such advanced emotions.

Fun fact: this is the first film that has actually broken a law of physics. In it's creation it has also created a lack of creation. A giant vacuum in the universe. An empty void of stupidity. A black hole of mindlessness. Sounds pretty cool right? Even if it doesn't make any sense? See Mr. Snyder, I can do it too.

Killing Bono

Dir. Nick Hamm
Starring. Ben Barnes, Robert Sheehan, Pete Postlethwaite

Talk about a winning title. I mean, that's all the marketing you need, really. Who's going to go see something called 'Source Code,' which sounds like a computer programming movie about the invention of binary code, when they could see something that promises the attempted murder of the worlds most self satisfied rock star. Brilliant.

In actuality 'Killing Bono' isn't about a calculated assassination attempt on Bono as one might hope/suspect. It is a film based loosely on the true story of the McCormick brothers, Bono's schoolmates, who started a band around the same time he did and struggled endlessly to find success while U2 swiftly rose to fame and fortune. Older brother Neil (Ben Barnes) is the frontman and maker of the bands decisions (almost always bad ones) and guitar playing younger brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) is left to face the consequences and lament on missed opportunities.

Killing Bono is often silly, occasionally funny, mostly ridiculous, but all around fun, exactly as a good hearted Rock 'n' Roll film ought to be. It doesn't miss a beat, as the McCormick brothers are constantly trying to catch a break, failing miserably, then getting back up and trying again. Their story reminds me a bit of Anvil! but somehow much less heartbreaking.

My only complaint of this film is that I found it hard to believe that anybody who truly wanted to succeed at something could manage to make literally all of the wrong decisions in their journey of trying to achieve it. Neil is a difficult protagonist to get behind because we know every time a good opportunity is about to come up, he will inevitably blow it, usually because of his wounded pride and jealousy over Bono's success and his own failure. Luckily the talented Sheehan makes Ivan a worthy antidote to Neil's frustrating stupidity and stubbornness. Also Martin McCann is so charming and winsome as the eponymous rock star, it almost made me like the real Bono, consequently. I said almost.

But possibly the star of the film is the stylist. It's truly a hilarious history lesson in Rock fashion as the McCormick brothers desperately and whole heartedly buy into every trend and movement the rock genre has gone through. One scene they are dressed punk, the next Glam rock, then heavy metal. Before you know it Ivan is donning a curly mullet and a trench coat. I don't even know what genre that fits into, but it was awesome. It is in this identity crisis that one can try and find a bit of a message in the film. Maybe they didn't succeed because instead of creating their own identity they tried to mimic whatever trend was the success at the time...so without confidence in yourself and your own image, you won't succeed...or something like that.

Don't think too hard about it because this film is just meant to be enjoyed and unlike its two main characters, it knows exactly what it is, and strongly succeeds in being it.


Dir. Tim Hill
Starring. James Marsden, Russell Brand, Hugh Laurie

So, you're looking for a good Easter film, huh? You could go with 'The Passion of the Christ,' but let's face it; is that really the film you want to be watching when your family's gathered around the living room exhausted from the battle royale-style Easter egg hunt, nursing chocolate bunny induced stomach aches, itching to get out of their Easter Sunday best clothes? No! You want a silly movie about bunnies that poop jelly beans, and adorable chicks with silly voices, and a magical candy factory hidden in the mouth of those statues on Easter Island. You want 'Hop.'

'Hop' features the voice of Russel Brand as animated rabbit E.B., son of the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie), and next in line to take over all Easter duties. But, once E.B. hits his rebellious teenage years, he decides to denounce his inheritance and run away to Hollywood to pursue a career as a drummer. He hooks up with Fred O'Hare (James Marsden), an unemployed failure-to-launch 20-something with father issues of his own. E.B.'s antics undermine all of Fred's attempts to get his life in order, especially once the Easter Special Ops team, the Pink Berets, come to kidnap E.B. and take him back to Easter Island.

Not to be that annoying person who over analyzes a kid's film....well no, that's exactly what I'm going to do. There seem to be some important plot elements that were overlooked. First of all, they never gave much thought to the issue of how people would react to a walking, talking, drum playing, rabbit. At first you think they might go the route that only Fred can actually see E.B., but then other people start to interact with him (and not just blind people and the Hoff) without blinking twice. Then there's the EasterMobile which appears to be powered and flown by a flock of chicks. Chicks can't fly. It is completely illogical and not even cool looking enough to excuse the gross breaches in the laws of physics. Not to mention Hershey's Chocolate Kisses™ and Peeps™ would never be manufactured in the same factory due to brand conflicts. Come on.

But yeah, yeah, I hear you; it's a kids movie. Most children would never notice nor care about these sorts of details. I only point them out because it's a symptom of the entire film, which is to assume that cuteness and candy and bright colors are all our kids need to be entertained. Who needs plot when you have dancing baby animals, right? Well, having seen it in a theater crawling with little ones, I can attest to otherwise. There were very few, if any, laughs from my audience, which is surprising considering everyone was all hopped up on (pun intended) frosted cookies and juice. Maybe they had so much fun at the screening's pre-party, the film was just anti-climactic. I don't blame them. It's hard for an animated rabbit in a plaid shirt to hold your attention when there is a pen filled with real bunnies just outside the theater (seriously, live bunnies. Oh. Em. Gee.)

Hop's assault of cuteness is just too shallow and too cliche to be at all engaging. These are our kids. Let's give them some credit. We can't stop bragging about how gifted they are to the neighbors, so let's put our money where our mouths are and give them a film with some substance. They shouldn't have to settle for this heaping pile of...jelly beans.

Oranges and Sunshine

Dir. Jim Loach
Starring. Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham

Historically based films can be very powerful. In many cases, there are parts of our history that are hardly known, and would never gain enough attention to really be known until a filmmaker comes along, stumbles onto the story, and puts it on screen. That is quite possibly the case with 'Oranges and Sunshine.'

This is the story of Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) a Nottingham social worker who one night in 1987, encounters an Australian woman claiming to have been deported to Australia from the U.K. as a child. Humphreys soon discovers other people with similar histories, most of whom were in childrens' homes until they were told that their parents had passed away and were promised better lives in Australia. In reality, the Australian government didn't have much of a plan for these children either, so many faced worse lives there. Humphreys worked tirelessly to uncover the truths about these migrants, helping them to learn about their origins and in some cases re-unite them with families they never knew they had. The film covers her discovery of the migrant schemes, and the progression of her work with those affected. As her involvement in their stories and her relationships with them grow, she struggles to balance her work with her personal life; trying to keep in touch with her own family as she works to unite strangers with theirs.

It seems that although many people are aware of this rather recent history, they don't know much about the scale of the organized deportation, the effect it had on many peoples lives, or the story of the woman who uncovered the schemes. Because of that, 'Oranges and Sunshine' tells a fascinating and heartbreaking story. It opens our eyes to a history that may be painful to accept. It wasn't until 2009 and 2010, that the British and Australian governments issued official apologies to the child migrants, finally accepting responsibility.

Emily Watson plays Humphreys with a subtle grace and strong determination. Margaret is an inspiring woman and Watson truly portrays her ability to keep composed in the face of the horrors she uncovers, only to later be almost consumed by them. Hugo Weaving is also exceptional as Jack, a troubled man desperate to find his mother. He is a tragic example of how difficult it is to know who you are, when you don't know where you came from.

It's an incredibly interesting story, but the film struggles to tell it in a consistently interesting way. Although there is nothing wrong with divulging from traditional story structure, 'Oranges and Sunshine' can't seem to settle into a working structure of its own. After the first act, it loses its momentum and starts to feel like a heavy, lengthy, melodrama.

Had it been a bit shorter, and a bit more focused, it would have really been a memorable film. But as is, it's just a historical drama about an inspiring woman that makes for a somewhat less inspiring film.

Source Code

Dir. Duncan Jones
Starring. Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan

We begin with a classic scenario. A man wakes up to find he doesn't know who he is, where he is, or how he got there. It's an excellent start to any story. Instantly we are interested. We are with this character 100%, trying to get answers. And it is in those first few minutes, that Source Code has us hooked. The problem then, is keeping us on the line.

Eventually we find out that Captain Colter Stevens, (Jake Gyllenhaal) has just woken up in another mans body on a train to Chicago, because he is part of a government experiment which allows him to relive the last 8 minutes of this man's life. After these 8 minutes, the train blows up. Stevens is continually sent back into this scenario, each time to make a different attempt at finding out who bombed the train, so that the terrorist can be caught and prevented from future bombings. He is working to protect the future, but he soon begins to wonder: can he also change the past?

As you can imagine, it doesn't make for the most original plot structure. It's a bit like Run Lola Run and Groundhog's Day had a baby with Quantum Leap. Fortunately the idea of the technology behind this time loop tale and the specifics of its behaviors are original enough to keep an audience interested. And just in case your mind does start to wander, there's a big explosion every 8 minutes. BAM! You're right back in it. It's a clever device that I wish I could use to keep audiences interested in my reviews.

BAM! Keep reading.

Director Duncan Jones, who previously proved his ability to master the Sci-fi genre with 'Moon,' seems to get caught up in the conventions of the blockbuster here. Or perhaps the difference is simply that he was the writer of 'Moon,' a credit which he does not claim with 'Source Code.' Either way, the story fails to take off or expand from its original idea, and by the end it all feels a bit too Hollywood cliche to warrant a 'must see' rating.

Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable action-packed movie that really grabs you from the start. It just has a bit of trouble holding on.