Silver Linings Playbook – 2012
Written and Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, Anupam Kher, Shea Wigham, John Ortiz, Brea Bree
Pat: How old are you?
Tiffany: Old enough to have a marriage end and not wind up in a mental hospital.
I can’t be serious about this film. The movie is incredibly funny, and it deals with some really serious stuff.
“Why,” my wife grins and asks early on, in the relationship between Pat (Cooper) and Tiffany (Lawrence), “Would you set your sister up with someone who is so deranged?”
Unsurprisingly, I had no wisdom to give, “Well, maybe it’s because the sister is a nut…”
My wife then looked at me quizzically, looked back to the screen and laughed once more.
Tiffany: I was a big slut, but I’m not any more. There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself. Can you say the same about yourself fucker? Can you forgive? Are you any good at that?
The conversations between Pat and Tiffany, in their cadence and vocabulary, are unlike anything we have heard in recent memory. They go all the places anyone who’s ever loved and lost might want to go. And then they change their mind. In the midst of the lunacy, we are gifted with the most unlikely of romances. It’s so unlike anything else in the field of romantic comedy, it deserves to be remembered.
Pat is on his way back after a brief stint in a mental health facility. His wife’s infidelity led to a breakdown that left her suitor in a hospital and Pat diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. The thing is, some of the things that he notices, like the positioning of the pictures of he and his brother, are things that anyone might notice. Or, maybe it’s just me.
He is introduced to Tiffany, the sister-in-law of his friend. She lost her husband recently, and her job even more recently. Their introduction acts as a powder keg, with the potential to destroy a lot of lives. So, of course it works.
Pat Sr.: Yeah have Ernest Hemingway calls us and apologize to us too.
Joining Pat and Tiffany in their journey is Pat Sr. (DeNiro), whose OCD tendencies have caused issues for Pat’s poor mother Dolores (Weaver) long before Pat had his breakdown. Pat Sr. gave all the attention to his older brother. He knew his younger son had problems all along, but who the hell knows how to deal with that, especially when he has issues of his own?
Dolores spends most of her time trying to negotiate between father and son. Their lives are a whirlwind that swallows her up and pushes her to the side. She gives it everything she’s got. That is not even close to enough, and she knows it. She knows what normal is, and she wants everyone to meet her there. Instead, they drag her ass over to the other side.
Then there is an assortment of Eagles fans. All of them nuts, including his therapist.
Tiffany: Humanity is just nasty and there’s no silver lining.
The basic components to the film are as contrived as any comedy:
Will they get together?
Will the Eagles win?
Will they make the big dance?
The glory of Silver Linings Playbook is how the acting and script color the basic premise and make it an original masterpiece. Cooper and Lawrence elevate their game to an incredible height, more than a match for DeNiro and Weaver. More importantly, they are perfectly matched on screen, living out a chemistry that is visceral, funny and scary as hell.
DeNiro is back to acting, after many movies that made money but squandered his talent. Weaver shows that Animal Kingdom was no fluke. Even Chris Tucker, making a return after a 5 year absence in which no one missed him doing Rush Hour movies, makes an indelible mark. His talent for handling Russell’s dialogue like a master linguist and still making him human is a pleasant surprise.
The ending is a wonderful, real performance that is even better because it is feels real. Imagine, a romantic comedy about insanity that is better than all the straight films out there. David O. Russell has never been considered a stabler director, but skilled work like this is almost impossible to find.
“I like this,” my wife says as tears escape her eyes, “I can understand now why it won so many awards.”
It won my wife’s approval, and that’s even harder to do.
(***** out of *****)
Director J.A. Bayona
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pedergast, Sönke Möhring, Geraline Chaplin
Screenplay Sergio G. Sánchez
The Impossible is a simple story covering the most incredibly horrific event one could ever imagine happening to a person, a family or community. In this story, we see the Bennett family, on a vacation to Thailand during the time to 2004 Christmas tsunami struck. The family, who are all in the vicinity of a swimming pool at a resort, is split into two groups. This story is about not only their journey, but a demonstration of the spirit of humanity that can rise to the occasion afterwards.
The details are devastating on an interpersonal level, and the visage is bereft with carnage. The interactions between survivors, however, bring warmth and hope to the viewer. As with any tragedy, there are those affected, those who run from it, and those who run to it, looking to help. The latter, we understand, is the hight of human potential.
Seeing the journey through the eyes of the children give an even greater effect on the watcher. Lucas (Holland) is the oldest boy, finds himself pushing forward as he is inundated with challenges and events that force him to make huge decisions. Holland’s acting is impressive and compassionate right in tune with his years. Watts, herself nominated for Best Actress, takes a back seat to the boy playing her son, as she spends much of the film incapacitated.
McGregor makes a choice early on that he spends much of the rest of the film debating. His decision was debated in our house too, giving a prime example of how hard it is for anyone to be certain of their choices in the chaos and aftermath of disaster.
The storytelling and direction is worthy of the story and it is respectful to all of those involved. People are treated as equals and with much decency, which gives each character an amount of depth that is often hard to attain in drama’s based on true events.
If you have a hard time watching tense disaster films that lean heavy towards the real, this may be a tough one, even with it’s PG-13 rating. If you do stick it out, you will be rewarded.
(***** out of *****)
P.S. – After watching the deleted scenes this morning, it is more understandable why some of the decisions that were made. I think it would have made the movie better to add a couple of the scenes, but it worked as it was just fine.
Bully – 2011
Director Lee Hirch
Written by Cynthia Lowen
“Pretty much a good day for me would be people leaving their hands off of me.” – Bullied student
If I could write a letter to my 15-year-old self, I would have a lot to say. The first thing I would say is to hold on. I came from a family where I was picked on by an older brother. When I would tell my Dad about it, he told me something that forced me to humanize my aggressor. He had been teased himself, my Dad said, and he looked forward to having a brother he could play with. It didn’t quite work out that way.
If that wasn’t enough, my Dad also never told me to avoid sticking up for myself at school.
“If you get into a fight,” he advised me, in all seriousness, “You better make damn sure that you end it. You don’t want that person ever coming back for more later.”
This method worked well for me in elementary school, but I think it may more have been that I was the biggest kid in K-6 from 4th Grade on. I was not in many fights. When I did, fight, it was to protect my sisters. I walked to school, so there were no busing issues at that time.
Everything changed in 7th Grade. The schools had been rezoned so that I was bused to a school half way across town. I can still remember the tension of that first ride into my Junior High. It was a palpable sense of oppression and extremely depressing.
When I got to school, the change was even more profound. In my very first class, I noticed that there were about 3 kids in the class that were just as tall as me. One of them, named Cliff, made a B-line for me, before the first bell even rang, and challenged me to fight. I managed to avoid a fisticuffs, because I was startled, scared and did not want to make sure I had to “end it.” The experience was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It set the pace for years to come.
For about a year and a half, I avoided confrontation by expanding my personal skills. One of these was avoiding speaking out when things did not seem fair. This happened mostly on the bus. There were always one or more kids that were singled out, but only one at a time. Some were just going through an awkward growth spurt. Some just looked different. Some just happened to be the object of someone else’s affection.
“I see you guys laughing over there.” - Bullied Student
Soon enough, the spotlight turned onto me. Two boys decided to enroll me and another honor student in their school of hard knocks. At first, we ignored them. Then I tried to convince one of them I was not worth their time. It was not physical abuse we were subjected to. It was a straight up homosexual fantasy mixed into a KISS-type band, called, surprisingly PIZZ. The story was replete with pictures and lurid details. Neither of these ever found their way into the hands of school officials who cared. Finding one of those would be like finding a needle in a haystack, though. There were several teachers who had anger issues in the school, and issues like recently got Rutgers coach Mike Rice fired happened routinely in our sports practices. It was enough to kill my love for most games.
The story went on and on, throughout the 9th Grade. Every class I shared with the two antagonists, or even those who laughed at their antics, words and pictures was agony. For the other boy subjected to their attacks, it was just as miserable. We had been friends since 7th Grade, but this pushed us apart, to avoid snickering. It was not easy to avoid him, though, because we both had a lot of the same classes. Nonetheless, we limited our exchanges.
Time moved slowly, and every bus ride seemed like fresh torture. Everyone who laughed was an object of my suspicion. One of the two storytellers had a wonderful time carrying on about PIZZ to anyone who would listen. I couldn’t figure it out. Why did he do this to me? We never really had been friends, but I could not recall ever doing anything to him. My mind worked overtime at all hours trying to figure out how I could get out of this mess.
“People think that I’m not normal.” - Alex
Every feeling of helplessness I have ever felt was unearthed when I started watching Bully last night. Incredibly, my memories were not as much for myself as they were for those who I had avoided standing up for when they grew up. Some of these occurrences were before I was targeted, some of them during, less of them after. They were people I tried to avoid, because I had not wanted to bring attention to myself.
I was not necessarily a friend to the aggrieved, I never did have an issue with any of them, because, as you might guess, they were usually quite meek. The moment always seemed larger than I was. Seeing Alex wandering through a day in the life of a bullied child, I wish I could just hug the beautiful boy. Similarly, I wish I could tell myself in that letter to go grab the aggressors and shake crap out of them. Then I would turn to their victims and hug them.
Everything I have accumulated in the passage of time has created a person filled with courage, wisdom and compassion. I don’t feel small anymore, not since the moment my wife said “I do.” There is a feeling of peace that goes through you once you are aware that God has a plan for your life, and the bond between God, my wife and I brought that peace to me.
Alex, and several more kids like him, have no such feeling of contentment. He is silent most of the time, and when he does speak, the words come out all wrong, all the time. He wants friends so desperately he is willing to think of those hitting him, choking him and stabbing him as his friends. It’s the only thing that he feels like he has. Born at 26 weeks gestation, life has been a challenge enough for him already. It’s only cruel irony that the first setback paves the way for the next.
There are many subjects to this story, and they arrive at the same torturous place. The reasons that they are brought to such misery are not emphasized, except for one girl who had the courage to admit to her world (a small town in Oklahoma) she believed that she was gay. One saving grace for her is her friends. It even gives her enough confidence to think about standing up for herself and others like her.
Bullying people for being gay is a horrible thing that is getting more widespread notice these days. The great thing about this documentary is that it shows the illogical horror is not limited to those who feel the need to express themselves. It can happen to anyone, for any reason. The one thing most of them have in common is the feeling that they are alone, that their problems are unworthy of notice and that somehow they must deserve to be in the position they find themselves in.
Something has to give, of course, and often times something does. Several of the kids in this story decided to kill themselves, one decided to pull a gun on the kids on her bus. All of these actions brought attention to well-meaning, but to that point, ill-equipped parents. The parents are then motivated to work for change to prevent this from happening to others.
Many tears are shed watching this film. Many moments are spent wishing there were a way to interject. The movie does its subjects a great justice in that, for once, there is no concerted effort to get to know the bullies. There is a passing glance at the cluelessness of the mostly well-meaning administrators. Too many attempts have been made to understand those who would do others harm.
This is perfectly exemplified in Bully when one kid caught tormenting another is corralled. Instead of just calling the brute on his tactics, the administrator makes a foolish attempt at conflict resolution by making both parties shake hands. The jerk has no problems here, reaching out a hand with an Eddie Haskell smile. The target balks, and finally relents. Then, as the other boy walks off scot-free, the kid who was assaulted is ineptly lectured about his role in “causing” the discord. His face tries unsuccessfully to hide his chagrin that we have no problem understanding. The administrator is ill-equipped for this kind of work. No doubt her doctorate in education did not emphasize conflict resolution.
The importance of this film is that it draws you in completely to the humanity that many of us have tried ignoring as we walked through life. While we see how important they are to the ones that love them, it dawns upon the viewer that these are not “throwaway” people. In contrast to their small stature in public, these kids have people who know their value. They are cherished, and rightly so.
Bully is not into demonizing. There are no words aimed at adding character traits to anyone. The camera fills in any gaps without editorial gimmicks. There is a point when we feel Alex is heading towards disaster when the filmmakers interject by showing film evidence to the parents and administrators. It feels like a reprieve, until we see the talk between Alex and his mother.
“Friends are supposed to make you feel good,” his mother tells him, “That’s the point of having them. It’s someone else on the planet you can connect with. Your only connection with these kids is they like to pound on you.”
“You…If you say these people aren’t my friends,” he responds quite logically, “Then what friends do I have?”
The question is met with a long silence. Her heart is breaking, just like our own.
If there is a solution to this crisis for the American child, it isn’t an obvious one. Hirsch was a victim of bullying himself, and he alludes quite strongly that the communication lines for children are not at all obvious to them. The refrain he was given was in essence “get over it.”
This reminds me of my father’s own confusing words to me when it came to my own occurrences of bullying. My Dad was a busy man, with many problems in his task of heading a house of 8 children. If I could not reconcile a solution to my own problems, what kind of kid was I to spurn his advice and bother him? What was worse, my Mother took my side in some of my problems. I appreciated that she understood, but it caused friction with Dad. The older half of the family took to the notion that I was a Momma’s boy. This is a reputation that lives with me to this day. The “consensus” of them then, as it has been recently reiterated to me, was that I wanted people to feel sorry for me.
Leaving me alone would have been better . Their take is irrelevant to me now. I have learned to find value in myself and others who seek to find value in themselves. I have made it past the threshold.
The symptoms of weakness are undesirable in many societies of man and animal. The mere perception of it can wreak havoc in certain situations. Many people who feel like they are weakest link are desperate to throw the others off of the scent. Sometimes this leads to the prospect of seeking someone else to transfer the target. I have done this in my childhood, and I regret it to this day. I have sought some of these people in a wish to make reparations. Thus far I have been unsuccessful. My letter to my 15 year-old self would tell me to hold on to them and tell them they were more important than anyone who sought to do them harm.
My memories of my teasing fade to the background in light of this. My wish now is heightened awareness and proper vigilance. My kids are a few years away from Jr. High, and I am not sure when or if we ever will have them take the bus. In the meantime, I can only try my best to listen to them, hold them close, never be too busy for them and make sure they know my wife and I love them. They will not be getting a letter from their middle-aged self. This will be our stand to make sure they are never alone.
I am thankful to Lee Hirsch for taking the time to remind us of this.
(***** out of *****)
Argo – 2012
Director - Ben Affleck
Starring - Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Victor Garber, Philip Baker Hall, Kyle Chandler, Michael Parks, Chris Messina, Titus Welliver
Screenplay - Chris Terrio
Alan Arkin is remarkable. He’s been doing the same shtick for 50 years. You would think it’d get old by now. It hasn’t. It’s a credit to him that he has pulled it off, but it’s as much a credit that directors believe in him. The director of the real movie of Argo, Ben Affleck, has not only placed his faith in Arkin, though. He has shown, in the span of three films, that he is willing to place his career in the hands of many. The key for him is his ability to stay silent in front of the camera and let everyone else fill the screen. In Argo, the talent behind the screen is equal to the talent in front of it, this includes the director and actor Ben Affleck.
A story about the embassy diplomats that were not taken hostage in Iran, it was the less famous of the stories coming out of the revolution, even if they already made one movie about it. The story is weighted by significance, yet the transitions from scene to scene is constantly tense in the most invigorating way. Given that, in typical Hollywood fashion, only about 35% of the film is correct, it still stands for entertaining fare, and a Reader’s Digest Drama In Real Life snippet of history.
What we get to see is, in essence, the American version of the story, where most of the heroes and ideas come from the U.S., with a Canadian Ambassador holding the house open for guests for one long weekend. For this, the film deserves some fair criticism. There is glossed over and downright misleading representation for some countries (Britain and New Zealand), to an extent that New Zealand’s representative government wasted time condemning the way they were treated. There are several invented close calls, including a downright silly trip to the Bazaar which only could happen to ramp up the drama in a film. The amount of contrivances are enough to push the film into ABC Movie of the Week category…if not for that sterling cast and the sense of space in the film.
Most of the dramatic license is for the economy of making movies. You have to want to watch. If every country other than Iran is nice, and the close calls aren’t close, and the U.S. isn’t the underdog, then who would want to waste their time? It would be like watching the Hobbits make their way to The Prancing Pony. Sure, there was a little tension, but they made it relatively unscathed and in, like, one day. We need Ben Affleck the director to throw a spanner in the works, and the actor to stand there, looking pensive, wondering how he is going to remove that spanner from, you know, the works.
He does both things well. One of my favorite aspects to Argo is watching Affleck’s voiceless countenance watching, really watching, the other talent on the screen. The ability to look like one comprehends the information in front of them is the hallmark of a good actor. He is getting there by leaps and bounds, and I really think this is due to the time he spends framing things in the lens. We get to see Ben’s CIA Agent Mendez watching, while Goodman’s John Chambers, Arkin’s Lester Seigel and a few rotten million Iranian revolutionaries chew up real estate. The effect is chilling, and it makes his few words well worth hearing, even if they are not all that remarkable on paper.
Affleck smartly relies on Goodman and Arkin to carry the momentum of the remarkably chilling opening chapter of the film, providing a one-two punch that allows the last half of the film coast through clichéd crisis after clichéd crisis. And we buy it, for the most part, without question. The saddest thing about this is once you are past that part of the film, you realize that even though the depiction is based on the true risking of life of real people, it is effectively the meringue on top of the pie. The escape, in and of itself, is not enough to thrill an audience, according to the studio research. Well, either that, or its too hard to tell the story intelligently and truthfully both. This is where good acting can usually win the day, and this is where Argo succeeds.
Affleck has made an American staple story here, and one can see why it won the awards that it has. Hollywood, just like Seigel says to Klein, wants to be bullshitted. In that respect, we all got our money’s worth with Argo.
(**** out of *****)
End of Watch – 2012
Written and Directed by David Ayer
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Natalie Martinez, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera, Cody Horn
End of Watch is one of the most gripping police dramas made in many years. Its power is in an immediate filming style which uses primarily smaller digital cameras for a variety of reasons, not all of which make a lot of sense. The story centers around two officers, Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Peña) who are gung-ho, but very good and mostly conscientious of their duty (give or take a fistfight here and there). There is a precision to the tale which is augmented by the the occasional hand-held camera by bad guys. Why this happens, I cannot tell, but the acting is immediate and the dialogue feels real enough that these thoughts of inconsistency fade.
As the cameras follow the two, the interactions between all the police officers are presented in the least dramatic way of any buddy cop film ever. There are no huge clashes between any of the characters, no outlandish screaming matches with the commander and no melodrama whatsoever. This is so incredibly rare, it added dignity to the story and allowed it to breathe as well. There are cops they don’t get along with, but, like life, they find a way to work well together.
The chemistry between the two is excellent. While Gyllenhaal is always good, his ability to act with his eyes is without peer. His character range, going from Marine to playboy, to intellectual and enthusiastic but honorable officer is all done with an economy of exposition. He is an Oscar waiting to happen.
In the “should have been nominated” category is Peña, who gives a propulsive, spontaneous and altogether convincing performance. He has done much great work since his breakthrough role in Crash. Since then, he’s done many different projects, but every time I see him, I wish he could hug my kid the same way he did then. His role as the plumber Daniel is such a landmark, it would have been understandable if he had fallen into that role for the rest of his career. As Zavala, he is in the same vicinity, but he could not have executed it any more differently.
Many of the events of the film are shocking, almost to the point that it makes one question what kind of world we live in. One thing’s for sure, they did no favors for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. One such event would be enough to make most cops give up, but these guys push on, through humor, a love for humanity and the strong belief that their partner has their back. Indeed, the counter measure for the horrors witnessed is the understanding that there are people out there, in force, who are there to support us.
This film makes me want to support them.
(***** out of *****)
Liberal Arts – 2012
Written and Directed by Josh Radnor
Starring Radnor, Elizabeth Olson, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Zac Efron, Elizabeth Reaser
As a 35-year-old college admissions officer in New York, Josh Radnor has the face that crosses most people after they’ve been gone from college for long enough to realize that this is all their life has become. Fortuitously, he gets a call from his favorite college professor, asking him to come back to Ohio for his retirement. His professor (Jenkins) could be considered an age-progressed version of himself. Neither has anything to show for where they are. Then there’s Zibby (Olson).
There is an attraction, of course, and there is little resistance at first, except for Zibby’s wish for ritualistic dating. She gives him a Mix CD, he really gets into it, and they start a letter writing relationship. He starts working with numbers, and hoping it could work. The whole thing is very quaint. Until he makes a return trip.
Meanwhile, his professor has second thoughts on his retirement. There is another professor (Janney) that he enjoyed and somewhat fantasized about. And then the depressed but brilliant student (Magaro) and a deceptively brilliant dippy non-student (Efron). Each of these characters add something to the story, and, wisely, something to the character.
For Radnor, this is an impressive work. He shows a subtle understanding of many aspects to the life of his character, Jesse. He is a guy who always must carry a book, lives in his mind, and has a fundamental misunderstanding of life. That he can show his character’s weaknesses and still give him charm, charisma and a willingness to learn. All the while, he adheres to his own sense of morality. The best part of his journey is his mission to recognize and shed himself of delusions. In this trip, he finds some people ahead of him, and some people behind. Age is not the deciding factor. For Jesse, there is no deciding factor, except for what you choose to do and not to do.
Olsen gives a great performance of one who might seem wise, especially if one is looking to move in on her. There was a point to the film where I thought Radnor was going to cruise in that direction, to live out some Woody Allen type of lie. If he had, the film would have been entertaining, but ultimately a disappointment. Since he doesn’t, Olsen is allowed to become a full person, instead of some winsome whore. Great move.
The rest of the cast is spot on as well. By keeping the characters in an arc around Jesse’s story, they seem richer than they would had they gone through to their own conclusions. He allows his characters to teach each other along the way in life, much like improv, as one of his character says. This is the work of a talented filmmaker, but more importantly, it is the work of a conscientious human being. We need more people like this.
(***** out of *****)
Knocked Up – 2007
Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Charlene Yi, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Iris and Maude Apatow, Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, Alan Tudyk, Harold Ramis, Joanna Kerns, Craig Robinson, B.J. Novak
The first thing that one notices when re-watching Knocked Up for the first time is the sheer amount of talent that is on the screen. It’s not a real graceful talent, but the cast has pretty much dominated the comedy scene since it was released. A prime example would be Wiig, who has less than 5 minutes of unforgettable screen time, and she is about 15 down the credits list.
At the time Heigl was a rising star on a deplorable (even by her own account) show, Grey’s Anatomy and Rogen was fresh off another Apatow comic masterpiece, The 40 Year Old Virgin.
“Life doesn’t care about your vision…” says Ben’s (Rogen) father, Harris (Ramis) “Just roll with it, that’s the beauty of it all.”
In the midst of the talk about whether or not to “keep it,” the above statement is tossed off in a seemingly errant fashion. That is the thing about Apatow’s writing ability. He understands the significance of life is not in grand moments, rather, a collection of smaller, sweeter moments, including a series of videos of the child in each stage of its growth. This gives gravity to the situation that so many people want to ignore and make the characters much more appealing. These moments are perfectly accompanied with many moments of laughter and sadness.
“He’s playing fetch with my kid,” says Alison’s (Heigl) sister, Debbie (Mann) to her, while watching Ben’s pathetic attempt at playing with Debbie’s kids.
The look on Debbie’s face says even more than her voice. Leslie Mann’s role, along with Rudd’s Pete as her husband, give an essential ballast to Ben and Allison. They are the glimpse of a future. So crucial are the scenes between the older couple and their kids (played by Mann and Apatow’s own children, Iris and Maude) it helps to make much of what is unsaid between the younger couple.
“What changed for you,” says Debbie, in response to Pete’s response to a seemingly flippant statement, “What went out the window. What plans. You do everything exactly the same.”
The conversation veers from this point, and it goes into two directions, each of them real from the perspective of their gender. It’s funny, apt and kind of scary. There are so many differences between men and women, it’s amazing they ever get together in the first place. This leads into a segue where Debbie thinks Pete is cheating on her. Even though he’s not, it doesn’t help. Feeling like he has to lie to get away reveals a lot about what they are missing. He’s so worried about losing free time, he is almost willfully ignorant of the fact that his partner loses more than he.
This dovetails directly into the films’ big moment of crisis. It hits on so many levels, it cannot help but feel real.
“How did anyone ever give birth without a baby book?”
It could be a valid point, were it not for the fact that Ben’s behavior is moving in the same direction as Pete. Allison sees the same thing and makes a decision that needs to be carries as much logic as it does emotion.
Ben’s friends make a boorish version of a Greek Chorus. Baruchel, Seigel, Hill and Starr could have made a movie in and of themselves with Rogen, and it would have been funny as hell. The pink eye scene in and of itself would be funnier than any scene in most comedies.
Same can be said as Mann and Heigl. Rogen and Rudd, too. The key to Apatow is his ability to take many threads of what could have been good movies on their own and merge them into one super movie.
Ben: “Do you think they’ll take us back?”
Pete: “Yes, but I don’t know why.”
It’s a wonderful thing to see Apatow and his magnificent cast explore why. Heigl has never been better, and with her recent retirement, it’s a safe bet it will stay this way. Rogen didn’t have to stretch too far in his role…at least not until the end. Mann and Rudd nearly steal this movie. It is no surprise that the sequel was pushed in their direction. Even so, I can’t help but feel there will be much more to it than just Debbie and Pete.
(***** out of *****)
Akeelah and the Bee – 2006
Written & Directed by Doug Atichison
Starring Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Curtis Armstrong, J.R. Villareal, Sean Michael Afable, Erica Hubbard, Lee Thompson Young, Julito McCullum
Akeelah: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. (quoting Marianne Williamson)
Dr. Larabee: Does that mean anything to you?
Akeelah: I don’t know.
Dr. Larabee: It’s written in plain English. What does it mean?
Akeelah: That I’m not supposed to be afraid?
Dr. Larabee: Afraid of what?
Akeelah: Afraid of… me?
Akeelah and the Bee is an accomplishment beyond measure,. It is a fearless endeavor into a life worth living. It is a smart film about trying to be brilliant. That brilliance comes from within a person’s desire, and from working beyond all of the fears one has about success, as well as failure. Of all the roadblocks that one can see in the film, none are so big as those our protagonist has placed within herself.
Developed over many years by Atchison after seeing the Scripps Spelling Bee, he had a tough time getting a green light until the release of Spellbound. Having the makings of an ABC afterschool special, it rises above this by its honesty, natural flow and its purpose. The strength of this film is the way the script, pace and acting work together. Each of the elements are superb. The fear of success the weight of failure are intricately woven with each scene. It carries a load but never buckles from the load.
A big reason for this is the performance of Akeelah Anderson by Keke Palmer. She is as beautiful as she is vulnerable. She walks the line with every step of the way and her face shares every emotion on that journey. We see the world getting larger before her eyes, and we are drawn into it with her. She is a relatively successful actress now, but she has the talent to be as good as the woman who plays her mother in the film.
“You know Akeelah, you ain’t short on people who want to help you.”
Angela Bassett has been one of the best actresses on film since her breakthrough Boyz n The Hood. Here she treads familiar ground, but that’s the point. When you need a clean up hitter, you get someone who can knock it out of the park. She is the epitome of someone carrying a burden with eyes nearly closed to the world. Seeing how her eyes are opened is anything but a routine scene. One can see the frustration turn to thought, and the thought processed into acceptance and a pride that any parent can feel. There are no short cuts to any of these points. The viewer goes on a real journey.
Laurence Fishburne, as Akeelah’s coach, Dr. Larabee, was opposite Bassett in Boyz…,and he is a counter of sorts here. At least at first. His coach is like many of his best characters: someone who gives and demands respect. The love in his character is intricately weaved behind the lessons that he shares with Akeelah. It’s a beautiful, multi-layered portrayal and one of the best of his career.
The ending of the movie, especially the spelling of the last word is so well expressed, it brings tears of joy. It’s a reward for taking every step with Akeelah, and realizing that it is love, not learning by rote, that pushes one to true intelligence. That is the true “manifest glory of God” we all are gifted with.
My daughters, upon seeing the credits begin to roll, immediately sought out dictionaries and started writing down words. Then they started sharing them with us. There is joy in their hearts with a love for learning. My wife and I are grateful to be able to give some of that back.
(***** out *****)
CPE: So, did you like this movie?
Em: I give it a 4 and 1/2 out of 5. Some of the scenes had bad words in it, like b-i-t-c-h. And Dad, I am trying to study.
CPE: Do you think that those words might have been put in there to prove a point?
CPE: No? What do you mean?
Em: Dad, I am trying to study my words!
CPE: So who is your favorite character?
Em: I’m studying!
CPE: Come on! Tell me!
Em: My favorite character was Akeelah. She is sweet and she never gave up on her dreams. She almost did, though.
Em took this moment to go off and continue writing words down out of the dictionary, something that El was doing too.
CPE: El, did you like this movie?
El: Yeah, I liked that Dr. Larabee started teaching her again.
CPE: Was the Dr. your favorite character?
El: Mmm: Akeelah and the Doctor.
CPE: Did you like how the Mother started helping her daughter?
El: Mmmhm. Did I tell you I like the Mother too?
CPE: No, but do you?
CPE: Was this a sad movie?
El: Kind of.
CPE: What made the movie happier?
El: She got happy.
Mrs. CPE: How did she get happier?
El: By hugging the doctor.
Mrs. CPE: Do we get happier by hugging our doctor?
El: Only a spelling doctor.
At this point, El went on about her business, writing down words out of the dictionary, too. They are like herding cats when they are spelling, too.
The season of the year has come where, despite football’s best efforts, it’s baseball’s time to shine. A few readers have been after me for a while to come up with a list of the best baseball films of all time, and one might think it’d be a bit easier than it turned out to be. For such a wonderful sport, there is a surprising dearth of real classic baseball films. Even my fifth choice would not be considered a classic. It is, however, better than anything 6 down. While I am under no illusions to pretend that my opinion trumps all, it is my website, so here goes:
5) The Rookie - 2002
Director John Lee Hancock
Starring Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Brian Cox, Angus T. Jones, Rick Gonzales, Angelo Spizzirri
Screenplay Mike Rich
Summary / Review: High School teacher makes it to the bigs, many years after his dream was dashed due to injury. The presence of Quaid and especially Brian Cox take away the general sanitized Disney feel to this film. This story is most remarkable because it is true.
(***1/2 out of *****)
4) Bad News Bears – 1976
Director Michael Ritchie
Starring Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, Chris Barnes, Vic Morrow, Joyce Van Patten, Quinn Smith
Screenplay Bill Lancaster
Summary/Review: The crowning jewel in Matthau’s (and, sadly, O’Neal’s) career, this is a vicious, wonderful and sentimental without being overly sappy. It gave little league baseball back to all kids, too. As good as Matthau’s Buttermaker is, he takes a second seat to the true star of the film, and its sequels, Tanner Boyle (Barnes). His foul-mouthed shortstop is the paragon of 70′s cinematic kid. In fact, I don’t think I have seen anything close to his character since. As Kelly Leak, Haley shows flashes of his immense talent, and his chemistry with O’Neal is adorable. He just didn’t look all that believable smoking a cigarette. Special props to script writer Bill Lancaster, who wrote a sterling script filled with great one liners and a wonderful ending. The late (died in 1997) writer had only 3 screenplays to his name, and one of the other two was the adapted screenplay to John Carpenter’s The Thing remake. If the 3rd Bad News Bears film had not been the other one, he’d have batted 1000 for his career.
(**** out of *****)
3) Bull Durham – 1988
Written and Directed by Ron Shelton
Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Robert Wuhl, Trey Wilson, William O’Leary, Jennie Robertson
Summary / Review: It seems like a silly joke to mix up the lyrics to Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness, but in the hands of Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh, its pure gold. Kevin Costner would only do better one more time in his career, as “player to be named later” Crash Davis. Davis is a catcher pushed all around the minors grooming pitchers with potential, like LaLoosh. As they work through the season, they battle over many things baseball and one thing (Sarandon) that loves the “church of baseball.” So many elements of Bull Durham are goofy as hell, but this is one serious love letter to the game. Ron Shelton made a career (after a minor league stint with the Orioles) off of this film, and even if he made good movies to follow (White Men Can’t Jump, Blue Chips and Tin Cup), he never would approach the magnificence or the simplicity of this masterpiece.
(****1/2 out of *****)
2) A League of Their Own – 1992
Director Penny Marshall
Starring Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Jon Lovitz, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Anne Ramsay, Megan Cavanaugh, Ann Cusack, Tracy Reiner, Bitty Schramm
Screenplay Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandell
Summary / Review: This film is a must for any family that loves baseball. The writers of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley use their immense talent to craft a touching tale from another era, that has humor that is refreshing and timeless. Geena Davis and Lori Petty as a pair of baseball playing sisters who get drafted into a women’s baseball league. Many male stars having been drafted into WWII, these women are targeted to fill the resulting empty stadiums. Davis is totally believable as a not only a ball player, but a catcher as well. In fact Marshall expertly frames many of the shots to make the women appear as viable athletes and players both. Even Rosie O’Donnell looks like she can run around the bases, and that is an accomplishment. Jon Lovitz has never been better on film. Tom Hanks is always good, but rarely this great, with “There’s no crying in baseball…,” becoming the rare speech that assuaged misogynists and supporters of equal rights the same.
(****1/2 out of *****)
1) Field of Dreams – 1989
Writer & Director Phil Alden Robinson
Starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Timothy Busfield, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Frank Whaley, Gaby Hoffman, Dwier Brown
Based on the original book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella
Summary / Review: What I have to say about this film cannot rightly be contained in the
space allotted in this article. This is one of the best films I have ever seen and some day I hope to write a review worthy of it. A man who finds himself a farmer at middle age hears a voice in his corn field, which leads him to make some drastic changes to the farm and to the life of his family. If you don’t know how this ties to his father, Shoeless Joe Jackson, the 1919 White Sox, “Moonlight” Graham or Terence Mann (in the original book, J.D. Salinger), I will not ruin it for you. Suffice to say, it is the most unusual story I have ever seen. And, oh, the most heart-rending conclusion…ever. “I’d like that.”
(***** out of *****)
Director Drew Goddard
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kanz, Anna Hutchinson, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver
Screenplay by Goddard and Joss Whedon
Cabin In The Woods is one of the coolest, most original horror stories every made. It’s Toy Story for the genre. All the most remarkable things one could imagine wrapped up neatly in boxes. It would have been an easy, if it weren’t for the cannabis.
Starting off with a normal work day for a couple of guys (Jenkins and Whitford) working in a sterile environment. Their conversation is unspectacular, but one can sense that they enjoy the work. Exit scene and we have 5 teenagers, heading out-of-town for the clichéd weekend trip to a creepy house in the woods. The five stereotypes are present: the jock (Hemsworth), the whore (Hutchinson), the brain (Williams), the virgin (Connolly) and the pothead (Kanz). At a gas station not far from their destination, they run into the crazy gas station owner. Things are progressing as you’d expect, then the eagle flies into the computer grid.
The story becomes a labyrinth at this point, and I won’t bother telling you that what’s in the cellar is the tip of the iceberg. There are hints dropped along the way, and the discerning viewer will have an idea from the time the credits roll, but that does not take away from the remarkable surprises that we are treated to in the last half-hour.
The acting is any sort of remarkable, and really, it does not have to be. The pot smoker delivered many of the best lines and with panache. We just need to see what is in store for all the characters.
There is nothing more that needs be said, except for anyone who has ever liked a scary movie of any genre needs to see this film. Good work was done here, even if it was all terrible for humanity.
(***** out of *****)