Archive for the ‘The Big Screen’ Category

The Common Problems of VPs and Prime Ministers

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s new HBO comedy Veep premiered last night.  I’ve been waiting for this since the first time I heard about it sometime last year.  But now that it’s come (and Episode 1 has gone), the question is: do I have anything unique to say about it?

Maybe.

But first, let me say what I’m sure many others have already stated today:

  • I like Ms. Louis-Dreyfus very much and usually like anything she does (including Watching Ellie);
  • I enjoyed the show and the supporting cast;
  • It’s great fun to hear her swear like she’s in a Kevin Smith movie.  (One has to assume that she relishes this as well.  Way back in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Season 1 episode The Shrimp Incident, she sat with Larry David and mused wishfully over the profanity potential of an HBO show.)

Like I said, you could read these pleased-but-typical comments like those above anywhere.  But where, I ask, can you see a comparison of this breezy Sunday night comedy and 2011’s Oscar-winning The Iron Lady?  (Well, I’m hoping only here.)

During my recent hiatus from blogging (spurred on mostly, I admit, by the fact that I was really, really, tired), I went on quite a movie spree.  I watched DVDs; I went to the theater; I have any number of half-written (or at least half-contemplated) blogs about them.  For the second year in a row, I was able to see nearly all of the major 2012 Oscar contenders.  One of these was The Iron Lady.  And it was good.

After it ended, though, my wife and I concurred that we know nothing whatsoever about English politics (including America’s role in English politics).  While some background would have been helpful, the film moved us on an emotional level because of its portrayal of more common themes.  Generally, family life.  A little less generally, married life.  Specifically, the attempt of one spouse to cope with his or her own life once the other is gone.  It is a deal that we all accept (consciously or not) when we marry: that you will build a life together and, at some point, one of you will outlast the other and somebody will be left alone.  Margaret Thatcher was one of the most powerful people on the planet.  And in her last years she had issues with failing health, her family, and her end – and not necessarily the better end – of that bargain.  Just like most of us.

Selina Meyer, the main character of Veep, is also troubled by issues common to us all.  Yes, the running joke seems to be that she is a particularly powerless powerful person, but she is still the (fictional) Vice-President of the United States.  Even so, her office, and she in particular, is subject to the incompetency and nonsense that plagues your workplace and mine.  A “Making-Of” feature claims that the physical set of the show is a faithful replica of the VP’s chambers.  I’ll have to take their word for it.  But in real life, is there really such comic drama over greeting cards and coffee makers in Washington D.C.?  You know what?  I bet there is.

I can’t imagine that those involved with either of these projects were particularly threatened by the production of the other (although it is amusing to picture Julia Louis-Dreyfus in pre-production of Veep colorfully cursing Meryl Streep’s Oscar campaign), but even on the surface, there is a big similarity: both contain main characters who are female politicians and who have attained positions at the summit (or near summit) of their governments.

The common ground on which both projects succeed, however, is not that; it is their universality: the sense that its powerful characters experience many of the same issues that we commoners do; it is the ability of each to touch its audience with situations – loss or humor (or, in at least one case, both) – that they can relate to, regardless of whether that audience knows anything about the Falklands War or what Joe Biden’s office looks like.

Random Trailer Watching – Wanderlust

On a visit to IMDB this morning, I watched a trailer for a movie called Wanderlust.  It was center on the homepage and showed a picture of Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, but there was only one reason I was particularly interested in clicking on it: I had never heard of it before.

I like both stars.  Paul Rudd has a now well-defined tendency to play not quite against his good looks, but to use them well in some off-center roles.  And, while not particularly a Friends fan, I have always found Jennifer Aniston appealing.  Her recent role in Horrible Bosses has certainly boosted her comedic reputation and, hopefully, will broaden the parts she is offered.

As shown in the Wanderlust trailer, these two play married, successful, and straightforward professional types who wind up in a commune.  Before they get there though, comes the first real positive sign: Ken Marino as Rudd’s obnoxious brother.  I’m happy anytime I see an alumnus from The State in a high-profile movie.  And what I’ve learned is that if there’s one member of this troupe around, chances are that there are probably more.

A minute later, Joe LoTruglio arrives – stark naked.  Soon after comes Kerry Kenney.  A check of the movie’s details turn up that it was written by the fore-mentioned Marino with David Wain, and directed by Wain.  (It also notes a release date of February 2012.)

In addition to former State-ees, the preview showcased a number of other promising faces.  Only recently, while watching an episode of Parenthood, I wondered what Lauren Ambrose was up to (with her former television brothers from Six Feet Under both in highly visible and popular shows).  Well, here she is.  Also joining the crowd are Malin Akerman, Ray Liotta, and comedy royalty Alan Alda.  As far as pure trailer appeal goes, you can never go wrong with a little of Elvis Costello’s Peace, Love and Understanding.

The trouble with a lot of comedies out there is that they either play too close to the middle and you wind up with a pretty mundane ninety-minutes, or they strategically reach too far and end up with something shocking, but not really amusing.

 While the premise of Wanderlust seems to be of the standard fish-out-of-water variety, for those of you familiar with the talents involved here – and their clearly off-kilter sensibilities – you know as well as I do: this could be very funny.

How to Convince Your Kids to See The Muppets

Two words:

Mahna Mahna.

Here’s the backstory.  I’ve loved the Muppets from even before the episode of The Muppet Show starring both Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker.  (I still wonder how they managed to pull that off.)  I may have forgotten that adoration over the years, but deep down it was always there.  When my kids were born, I remembered and embraced it. 

We bought the original Muppet Movie and while my oldest did enjoy a few viewings of it, she moved past it shortly after (she was two years old at this point) and never really looked back.

In the few years since, I’ve tried to lobby for holiday viewings of The Muppet Christmas Carol and It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (both highly recommended, by the way), but to no avail.  So I watch them on my own and am content that the kids do enjoy the original Grinch cartoon and Elf.

When I heard that the Muppets were once again coming to the big screen, however, I knew there was some brainwashing to be done.

ME: (casually) Do you guys want to go see the Muppets in the movies?

THEM: No.

ME: We can get popcorn.

THEM: Can we have popcorn here?

Drat.

My wife, though, is a wonderful accomplice.  She convinced them to give me a Muppet-themed birthday dinner.  Since there are no Muppet-themed decorations (can you explain that, Party City?), she focused on gifts.  The first was a gift certificate to the movies to see The Muppets.  The kids couldn’t argue with that – but they didn’t have to be happy about it.  The second, though, was stealthier: The Green Album.  This is a CD with current artists doing Muppet classics.

For me, the album itself was a hit.  My personal favorites are Mr. Bassman by Sondre Lerche and, especially, Movin’ Right Along by Alkaline Trio.  Little did I know (though I’d hoped), that constant playing of it in the car would slowly open a Kermit-shaped window into my kids’ little minds.  Soon they were singing along.  And the one they really liked?  Mahna Mahna (emphasis on the “na”; both times).  Credit to The Fray for doing a faithful and, thus, very entertaining version.

So we’d sing it.  And then, we You-Tubed it.  (When the kids were very young, they thought every CD had an accompanying movie, or at least a video – that’s what you get when you only listen to The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Shrek soundtracks.  Luckily for me, this time they were right.)  And when they watched it, they loved it.

Now, if you’ve never seen this little skit (it’s been done several times with several variations over the years), here’s one of the earliest (though not quite the original): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N_tupPBtWQ.

Watch that and maybe we’ll see you at the movie too.

Poltergeist Revisited

It seems that my blog of October 28 has ignited the greatest controversy of Clapperboard Junkies’ long and illustrious history, all stemming from a description of Poltergeist as a nice, scary movie that “wouldn’t traumatize you.”  The sheer volume and intensity of this has left me a little shaken.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  Described more accurately, I had to answer to my wife, who, upon reading that line, said, “Won’t traumatize you?  Why do you think half of our generation is afraid of clowns?”  (I have a sneaking suspicion she was referring to one person from our generation in particular.  And that would be one who lives in our house and is not me.)  My sister, separately, said pretty much the same.  “That movie freaked me out.”

Was I wrong about this “happy” little horror movie?  I had to admit that I haven’t seen it since I was in my early teens.  Maybe it was scarier than I remembered.

I hadn’t really planned on re-watching it.  I had taken out a number of movies for the weekend but, with viewing time limited, I had Case 39 with Renee Zellweger and Darkness with Anna Paquin as my top priorities.  But now I was intrigued.

When I saw Paranormal Activity, I actively defended myself against death from fright by watching it in broad daylight on a Monday afternoon while eating a big bowlful of Cheerios.  With Poltergeist, I did the exact opposite: I put it on at almost 11:00 p.m. on Halloween night, sitting upstairs, alone in a dark room.

And it was . . . just as I remembered it. 

Poltergeist is a fun movie filled with scares, screaming, and a more-than-generous amount of goo.  A man picks his face down to the bone and a little boy almost gets eaten by a tree.  Such scenes, however, are alternated with plenty of sunlight, family sweetness, and humor; this latter essentially bookends the movie.  And so it all ends with a smile.

If you’re thinking that those were a lot of 2011 words expended on a 1982 movie, you’re right.  But sometimes it’s worthwhile to look back and see what influenced not only the entertainment industry or even a particular genre, but our own tastes and perspectives.  Thanks for the indulgence.

Oh, and about that clown? 

He was pretty creepy.

Tobe Hooper and Poltergeist?!?

I’m sure that the statute of limitations has long passed for being shocked by anything about a movie released in 1982, but . . .

Just yesterday I found out that Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist

Did you know this?  I’m still stunned.

I haven’t seen Poltergeist in years, but am debating watching it this coming weekend.  As I looked over the credits on the DVD case at the library (yes, I have NetFlix, but I’m still a sucker for browsing racks of actual DVDs), I saw it looking right at me: A Tobe Hooper Film.

Now I’m sure that Poltergeist was scary for its time and may be still (if I watch it, I’ll let you know next week), but, in my mind, I’ve always placed it in the category of “happy” horror movies: the kind that you loved when you were a kid, that made you jump but wouldn’t traumatize you, that you might consider showing your own kids as their first scary movie.

Tobe Hooper, on the other hand, might be a swell guy, but for me was always associated with only one thing: the soul-sucking, hopeless desert that is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that nearly did traumatize me as a teenager – and it did that in the first fifteen minutes.  It took me another two decades to see the rest of it, and even then only in pieces.  Regardless of those who claim there is missed humor in there, TCSM is a truly bleak and frightening film.

So, it was quite a surprise to see that its director was associated with anything else, especially a movie as accessible and mainstream as Poltergeist.  It’s kind of like a friend telling you that he invited Leatherface to his Star Wars sleepover party.  Credit goes to Mr. Hooper, though, for being involved in two such iconic films.

I’m going to check IMDB and see if he directed The Little Mermaid too.

The Steel in Real Steel

Yes, this post is about Dreamworks’ movie Real Steel, but no, it’s not a review.  You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking so, based on the title, but full disclosure is that I haven’t seen the movie. 

I could review the trailer because as so many trailers do these days, it tells me essentially the whole story.  Hugh Jackman, usually – and seemingly here – very charismatic, is Charlie, a former boxer in need of money.  He puts together a robot to fight in a future where “the fight game changed.”  Humans no longer get in the ring; the fighting is done by robots.  They are big and powerful and probably look great on the big screen.  The character is doing this for his son (shades of The Champ).  It all looks pretty entertaining and, to date, has grossed nearly $70 million (per www.boxofficemojo.com). 

The first time I saw a reference – a blurb in Entertainment Weekly, if I remember – for this movie, I automatically thought of an episode of The Twilight Zone.  It too referenced the metal – the episode was called just plain Steel – and starred Lee Marvin as “Steel” Kelly, a former boxer in need of money.  He owns an out-of-date (nearly obsolete) boxing robot and is desperate for the fee that he will earn if his own robot makes it through (or even to) a bout scheduled with a technologically advanced bruiser of a ‘bot.  This episode was written by Richard Matheson and based on his own short story. 

In the literary world, it’s been said that there are only two or three stories: someone goes on a journey, a stranger comes to town, or someone falls in love.  While I don’t buy this completely, I do believe that themes and characters and plots overlap and that there are times those of separate works tread in a very small pool.  Even so, these two (Real Steel and Steel) couldn’t be unrelated, right? 

Right.  A search of IMDB (under Connections) clearly states that the new movie is a version of “Twilight Zone: Steel (#5.2).” 

So, what’s my point?  

Could it be to give additional credit to a renowned author (Matheson) who is celebrated as a major contributor to one of the best television series of all time, has numerous books and stories to his name, and major motion pictures (including Will Smith’s I Am Legend) already based on his work?

 Why, yes, as a matter of fact it is.

 Like I said, you can find the connection between the original author and this second-generation descendant if you look for it.  But who’s going to do this?  (Besides me.)  An opportunity to tie a current moneymaker to, and deflect a little spotlight toward, such a distinguished ancestor is one worth taking.

 I will not compare the merits of the small futuristic (set in1974!) black-and-white drama presented by The Twilight Zone (I know, at that point: Twilight Zone, sans “The”) in 1963 and the massive futuristic movie on screens now.  I would be happy to sit and watch either, although I have a feeling (currently unfounded, mind you) that one might be a little heavier on effects than story.

 But I do recommend that if you enjoy Real Steel in the theater, then take some time to check out the “real” Steel on the small screen.

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