Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Thanksgiving Theme

While there are many holiday movies with Christmas as their theme, and more produced every year, the Thanksgiving theme has only generated one or two films. The family favorite (though not necessarily family-friendly) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is the first that comes to mind. Steve Martin's torturous journey home from a business meeting with ne'er-do-well John Candy is famously funny. It captures the "everything that can go wrong, will" of traveling as well as the yearning for family and home we all experience once in a while. The late John Candy is the best part of this movie. A seemingly true loser, we all run into guys like this who perpetually and unknowingly create problems for the rest of us smart, successful types. We all identify with Steve Martin's buttoned-up businessman, but you have to wonder: are you the John Candy-esque troublemaker for some family member or co-worker?

Another true loser was the Holly Hunter movie Home for the Holidays. Holly Hunter's character travels home to her dysfunctional family for Thanksgiving, running into all the old craziness of parents and squabbling siblings. But most of these "all families are crazy" movies reveal that there really is love and closeness underneath all the mess. Not this one. All the mean-spirited antics and teasing in this movie leave you disliking the family as much as they dislike each other. And this just adds more fuel to the Hollywood fire that home and family are dreadful traps.

Which leads us to Woody Allen's Thanksgiving-themed film, Hannah and Her Sisters. With all the craziness of your typical New York family, this movie is rife with adultery, infertility, and catered cocktail parties. Actually, this is a funny, charming movie with Allen's trademark touches ridiculing modern art, rock music, and passive-aggressive wives. But as with all of Allen's movies, love isn't true love without illicit sex. Eventually the characters in this movie do come to grasp what the rest of us know: physical passion is all-encompassing for a while, but it won't get you to "happily ever after." In this film, as the family gathers for Thanksgiving, Michael Caine, the narrator, sees how family and home bring much more profound happiness.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tropic @*&#@!

What's a word for beyond offensive? Whatever it is, Tropic Thunder is it. And along with being shockingly offensive, it is extremely funny and well-crafted. Which sounds crazy, I know. While it's a parody of everything Hollywood, you begin to wonder: is Hollywood really like this? With jokes about every kind of ethnic stereotype, the money-grubbing producer, the merchandising, even special effects experts, we can all laugh at Hollywood itself. But jokes about the mentally challenged, Vietnam vets, and third world adoption are very tricky. But writer-director Ben Stiller, along with his numerous co-stars, pulled it off.

There are so many movies like this, funny but over-the-top disgusting in their humor, exploitation, and language, like Wedding Crashers, 40 Year Old Virgin, and the whole American Pie franchise. But none of those work as well as this one. And none of them have such a perfect cast. When you watch this, you can't imagine anyone else playing these roles. Ben Stiller, who is not one of my faves, really captures the washed-up action star, and Jack Black is the only actor who could've played druggie comedian Portnoy. Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel are two unknowns in this film, and even they are cast well and, lucky for them, given great lines in this hilarious and insightful script. But the most amazing actor in this film is Robert Downey, Jr. His portrayal of an Oscar winning badboy so into his Method that he changes his skin pigment is unlike anything you've ever seen Downey do. He's usually the cynical smartmouth with the sarcastic expressions. The way he plays a blowhard "serious" actor playing an African-American in this movie is astounding.

Fans of the usual crude comedies might not like this one: it's smart. If you think you can take the language, nudity, and gore, try it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Then She Lost Me

Then She Found Me, the latest from Helen Hunt, was disappointing. Such a great cast - Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, and Helen - what happened? Well, the movie resembles the book not at all. The novel Then She Found Me is low-key with lots of internal dialog. And it's own story is better than what they came up with: desperate 39 year-old wants a baby, but her marriage collapses as her adoptive mother dies and her birth mother contacts her. In the novel, even the threads work better than this screenplay. The adoptive mother in the novel is a Holocaust survivor, which obviously yields much more interesting character development for her and the daughter she adopts. And, with all due respect to Helen, she looks MUCH older than 39 in this movie. How old is she really? It's actually pretty hard to have sympathy for her, when she backslides into her failed marriage with Matthew Broderick while Colin Firth longs for her from the sidelines. Look, Ferris Bueller was cute, but he's no match for devastating Mr. Darcy.

Elinor Lipman wrote this novel, and of all of her books to turn into a film, this was not the best choice. I love her work, but it is usually too subtle for movies. Except for The Ladies' Man - now that has some really funny scenes and excellent one-liners. That novel could work as a movie.
There's so much chick-lit out there: The Spellman Chronicles by Lisa Lutz, Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Bridget Jones' author Helen Fielding, or nearly any of the Helen Wells books by Meg Cabot (so funny with a sexy heroine). Helen Fielding's Olivia Joules is hilarious, with a blockbuster climax as the Oscar ceremony receives a bomb threat. You'd think Hollywood would be all over this cameo-rich opportunity. But maybe they're afraid they'll give someone a bad idea. Seems like Helen Hunt got the bad idea with this one.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

French Bikini vs. American Bikini

Just watched a gorgeous film, Bonjour Tristesse. While it has a flimsy story, the cinematography is worth it. Set in the late 1950's on the French Riviera, the locations, the fashions, and the lovely French teenagers more than make up for the plot, which follows the summer adventure of a French girl and her morally casual father played by David Niven.

This is the French version of Gidget in my opinion. Although, they are two very different movies, both are quite in tune with teen desires and conflict. Strangely, it is the American Gidget who comes across as more mature, although certainly not more sophisticated. The simple plot of Bonjour Tristesse is driven by the temper tantrums of a lovely brat played by Jean Seberg, who is annoyed when her father's new fiance threatens her summer romance. Deborah Kerr, as daddy's new fiance, is quite startling: she plays a French fashion designer with remarkably strict moral guidelines. Who knew? Maybe way back in 1958, such things existed. Deborah Kerr's prudish fashionista was marvelously cast, as are all the roles. You can hardly blame our little teenagers: tiny bikinis, loads of free time, and you're FRENCH! Why wouldn't you make out in the sand?

While Bonjour Tristesse has the stereotypical European decadence, Gidget is the opposite. Little French teenager Cecile flunks her exams and takes her father's philandering in stride. All-American Gidget, however, makes surfing a skill and maintains high standards all day and far into those night-time parties.

And over the summer, wholesome, lovely Gidget works her magic, although she is completely unaware of it. Her natural innocence and girlishness is so attractive to these surfer dudes, they're inspired to do all the things they've forsworn in their beach-bum lifestyle: get jobs, go to law school, and be responsible citizens. Gidget inspires these losers to be MEN. Amazing. And she didn't even try to - it just happened.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Introducing MovieGirl - your full-service entertainment blog. Need movie suggestions? Let's face it, there are soooo many choices out there. So let's sort them out. I'll help!