MOVIE REVIEW: Crazy Heart

The familiar hellholes Bad plays in is reminiscent of the familiar, easygoing and peaceful characters Bridges has played in the past.


Strange. I saw Crazy Heart back in March, in the theater, just before the Oscars, and was going to write about it then, but couldn’t find the right angle. Then I figured that the next movie I saw would motivate me to finally write about it, but I haven’t SEEN a film since then, aside from a partial one. Now it’s three months later, the movie’s available on video. I was going to say at the time that it was a good rental rather than necessary to see in the cinema, but now I’ve waited so long, that’s about the only way you’re likely to see it.

As you probably know, Jeff Bridges won the Best Actor Oscar for playing rundown country singer Bad Blake, an alcoholic on the downward slope of his career, forced to play small venues such as bowling alleys. He manages to hook up with his female fans as he travels from town to town. His former protege, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), makes it known through Bad’s manager that he wants buy some of Bad’s songs, but Bad’s hidden pain blocks his creativity. Meanwhile, a roving reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) falls for him.

The familiar hellholes Bad plays in is reminiscent of the familiar, easygoing and peaceful characters Bridges has played in the past. It’s a good role, and he plays it well, but it is not groundbreaking cinema, and the award, I suspect, is as much a reward for lifetime achievement as for this particular performance.

It’s not that I didn’t like Crazy Heart – I did – but it had a certain “I’ve seen this before” feel. And I didn’t quite buy the hookup between Bad and the reporter, though, oddly, I did believe the relationship subsequently.

Oh, for Christmas 2009, I got the soundtrack for this movie, which is quite good. But it’s better once you see the movie and understand the context. Both Bridges and Farrell do their own singing, and they’re quite competent.

MOVIE Demi-REVIEW: Despicable Me

I’m no fan of 3D for 3D’s sake – I submit this would have been fine in 2D

I get a phone call Friday night asking whether I wanted some tickets to see a sneak preview of the movie Despicable Me the next morning at 10. I must admit I have zero idea what that film was. But, since The Princess and the Frog disaster, I figured a movie with that title would be a no go for the Daughter, and declined. For some reason, I told her about it and she said she wanted to go. I looked up the word “despicable” in the dictionary, but since the defition was unuseful (“worthy of being despised”), I didn’t belabor trying to explain it any further.


So Saturday morning, we took the bus to Crossgates Mall. I must note that I almost never go there, in no small part because the place is just too damn big for my taste. Astonishly, we actually found the theater, screen 4 of 18, and took our sdeats behind a young man of about 10. Unlike most of us, he was wearing TWO pair of 3D glasses. Eventually, his mother returned from wherever, and he gave her a pair.

The story is about Gru (voiced with some vague Eastern European accent by Steve Carrell), a mean supervillain type who has competition in the criminal world by Vector (Jason Segal), though adored by his minions. Continue reading “MOVIE Demi-REVIEW: Despicable Me”

VIDEO REVIEW: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs


Here’s an interesting experiment; go with your spouse and child to an elementary school gym, along with four dozen other elementary school kids and their parents to see a 2-D version of a 3-D movie based on a 30-page book. That’s what we did a couple Friday nights ago as we viewed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

I had no preconceived notions about this film. I hadn’t read the book, first published in 1978, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. In fact I never even heard of it until the film was being promoted.

This iteration tells the story of Flint Lockwood, science nerd, whose mother (Lauren Graham) believes he’ll be someone special; she dies early on, and his monosyllabic, unibrow fisherman-father (James Caan) believes in more practical efforts, wanting his son (Bill Hader) to work at the sardine store with him. Everyone on the island of Swallow Falls eats sardines.

Flint is tortured by an annoying character, Baby Brent (Andy Samburg), who was famous as the Gerber baby, and keeps milking his fame. (Independently, my wife and I thought he was very much like the character in the Back to the Future movies who kept harassing Marty McFly’s father.)

Flint, undeterred from his dream, manages to invent a machine that converts water into food. Needing to hide his creativity from the local policeman (Mr. T), he accidentally launches it into the atmosphere. Instead of rain, food of every sort starts falling from the sky. This phenomenon inspires a television station to send a weather reporter trainee (Anna Faris) to cover the phenomenon.

I laughed out loud several times in the first half of the movie at lines that probably went right over the heads of the purported target audience. At least once, I swear I was the ONLY person laughing.

At some point, the movie becomes some illustrated cross between the movies Twister (which I saw) and 2012 (which I did not). This part was less interesting to me, though not without its charms, and frightened the daughter some to boot.

Still, I enjoyed the intelligently-made film overall, and it reviewed well enough. Within the film of writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were none-too-subtle digs at the food industry (processed foods with no connection to the source, a la Fast Food Nation), gluttony (see also: the latter part of WALL-E), environmental destruction, and sexism in the entertainment industry.

I finally got around to reading the book this week, and while there were nods to the source material (food as rafts, yellow Jell-O, and of course a spaghetti storm), the movie is a whole ‘nother animal altogether. Friends of friends of mine who are devotees of the book often HATE the movie because it’s not the book; I think the movie should be appreciated on the merits of what’s on the screen, NOT based on how it is or is not true to the source material.
***
The movie trailer.

ROG

Theater Review: Spring Awakening

Lust. Domestic violence. Sex. Abortion. Questioning authority. Suicide. Rape. All of these are elements of the book Spring Awakening, written by German writer Frank Wedekind in the early ’90s. The 1890s. This may explain why the book was banned in Germany and in English-speaking countries for decades.

Most, though not all, of those same elements, plus a large dollop of indie-rock written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, appear in the 2007 Tony winner for Best Musical, Spring Awakening, playing at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady February 16-21.

The wife’s Valentine’s Day present for us was a pair of tickets to the opening night this past Tuesday. Really, all we knew of the show was what we saw on the Tonys, and that was almost three years ago.

So we got a babysitter and hoofed it over a few blocks to Central Avenue in Albany to catch the bus to Schenectady. We had gotten 5.3″ of snow that day, the most the city had received in 2010. For the record, CDTA got us there (and back) quite adequately, thank you.

Before the show begins, I am awed by the set. There is no curtain so it’s just there. You can see snippets of it in the Tony performance, but it hardly does it justice. Bleachers are both stage left (two rows) and stage right (three rows) and people are already sitting out there when the principles come onto the stage to sit with them. So the excellent, eclectic band is likewise on the stage from the beginning, everything from keyboards and drums to a cello? But it works.

As for the technical aspects of the performance, I was also wowed by the choreography. Not just dance per se, but how the players moved about the stage, passing off or getting microphones. The lighting was also first rate.

The fist three songs advanced the story quite well, high energy and great entertainment value. Yet the core action at the end of the first act, which involved a couple of the aforementioned elements felt, for want of a better word, stagy.

Somehow, the second act redeemed it for us, with the best song in show, the tune that got the biggest audience reaction, and the one that my dear wife says we all feel now and then, Totally F***ed (I’m serious here: NSFW or for sensitive ears, big time.)

If you see it, and you should, then it will help to know that two people play all the adult roles; in the production we saw, both actors appeared in various episodes of the Law & Order franchise, which is no surprise. Spring Awakening is ultimately “a cross-generational phenomenon that continues to transcend age and cultural barriers,” as the promos suggest, and I am thinking that a greater knowledge of the plot will help the novice theater goer appreciate it more.

Something I didn’t know until recently: Lea Michele, who plays the annoying but talented Rachel on the TV show Glee, was the lead in the Broadway production of Spring Awakening.

And now the musical will become a movie. Not sure just how that’ll play. I can’t really imagine it, but then I couldn’t fathom M*A*S*H being a weekly television series, either.

A review of the Wednesday’s performance suggested a small-than-expected crowd. We felt the same way about Tuesday’s performance, but I had attributed the smallish crowd to the weather. I theorize that, despite its awards, it’s pretty much an unknown commodity, relatively speaking; I mean, it’s not South Pacific.

ROG

MOVIE REVIEW: Invictus


When the South African rugby team, the Springboks, played in Albany, NY in September 1981, 1200 people braved the torrential weather to protest the apartheid regime that the green-and-gold represented; almost certainly the bad weather tamped down the number of protesters, as there were nearly as many law enforcement folks as picketers. The singer Pete Seeger was there and so was I.

If some Americans were opposed to the Springboks, the black South Africans loathed them, routinely rooting for the foreign opposition when the Springboks played. So when apartheid ended, and Nelson Mandela was released from prison 20 years ago this month, and subsequently became President of South Africa, there was reason to believe that the minority whites would be purged from their government positions and that the Springboks would be disbanded. But former prisoner 46664, who spent over a quarter century in a small prison cell, had a different strategy, one honed by observing his captors. Vengeance was anticipated; instead, he disarmed his former foes with compassion.

Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood, for the longest time feels like a “conventional movie”, maybe a little too deliberately paced, complete with the “big game”. It’s not until near the end that you internalize the awe-inspiring wisdom that was Mandela. I must argue with those who suggest that the final match was anti-climatic; it’s not the game itself that matters, it’s the people’s reaction to the game that counts. Oh, and while I learned far more about rugby than I thought possible, I’m still slightly mystified what constitutes an infraction worthy of a penalty kick.

The South African leader was played by Eastwood’s old friend, Morgan Freeman; he’s already played God, so this is a slight step down. Still I understand why he got his Best Actor nod. Matt Damon, as captain of the Springboks, was good, but I’m surprised by his Best Supporting actor nod. Actually, I was more taken by other characters in the piece.

Nowhere is religion specifically mentioned, to my recollection. Yet there is a powerful message of faith that one can draw from this movie, partially summarized in the 1875 poem for which the movie is named.

I saw this movie Saturday afternoon at the Spectrum in Albany in large part because it’s the last week it’s playing; I’m glad I did.

ROG