I could easily say that Curb Your Enthusiasm is the best sitcom currently being made, but that doesn't say much being that the competition is so poor. Believe me - I didn't expect to like the show at first - it just didn't look especially appealing, but it turns out to be brilliant. If I had to describe it, I'd say Curb Your Enthusiasm combines the neurosis and talkativeness of a Woody Allen movie with the cynicism and hint, hint,wink, wink celebrity appearances of The Larry Sanders Show.
Adrenaline Drive is highly derivative of existing genres: the on-the-run-from-the-mob-with-a-sack-full-of-money heist movie combined with a teen romance, but throws in such great slapstick humor and endearing characters that make the film completely entertaining to watch. It's got a sense of humor reminiscent of Beat Takeshi's films, but more lighthearted and broad. Everyone on the cast shows great comedic skill. My personal favorites are the pack of ditzy nurses who spend all their time slacking on the job, and Suzuki's boss, who taunts him relentlessly. The actor who plays Suzuki is quite a hottie, by the way.
My main disappointment with the storyline was the transformation of the main female character from a mousy wallflower into the sassy chick after she gets a makeover and a new wardrobe. It was the loss of a great sight gag - the skinny, nerdy girl facing off against the mafia. Oh well. All in all this is a FUN movie. Even though you can probably predict the ending, every minute is worthwhile to watch.
Dancing in September chronicles a year in the life of a TV writer (Nicole Ari Parker) as her show debuts with great success and later becomes another victim of demographics. The film is ambitious in making a statement about the struggle for African Americans to not only gain a place in the entertainment industry, but to be able to produce quality shows without network tampering.
Nicole Ari Parker gives a great performance (as always) as her character starts off being a creative young woman with strong convictions, then loses sight of her work as she gains money and status, and is later mournful about compromising her show because of network demands. The role could have been very cliche, but Parker pulls it off perfectly and authentically - you can see her character gain confidence and become a little arrogant through success, but it is never exaggerated. All the actors in this movie, even the ones with only a brief amount of screentime, give strong performances.
There are some clever bits, like when the writer coins a catchphrase, "You gotta keep it real!" for the sitcom, which becomes ultra popular. But as the show gets altered, the writer herself struggles to "keep it real" and that catchphrase begins to lose its cache. There's also one scene in which the young lead actor of the sitcom complains about people expecting him to be Will Smith. Meanwhile, the man who plays his father in that sitcom is James Avery, who also played the father figure of Will Smith in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
My one major complaint is that there are way too many different elements crammed into this one movie. There's the modern romance between the two leads, the dark comedy about the TV network, some gritty violence concerning a boy from the streets, and a strange documentary-style commentary interspersed throughout. I assume the director did this to explore all aspects of the characters involved, but it ends up being kind of messy, like it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. The best way I can describe it (and I'm sure there are better examples out there) is "Hav Plenty" meets "The Player" meets "Menace II Society". Still, "Dancing in September" is a good achievement and because of its unconventional style and criticism of Hollywood, I can only assume that it must have been hard to get greenlighted. Oh yeah, there's some nice camerawork in it as well.
I was lucky to catch Syomuni on FujiTV, and from what I gather, the show is about a band of girls who work in the basement of a huge corporate office building doing janitorial duties. The show plays them like a band of superheroes: Makiko Esumi is the leader of the pack; each girl has her own "personality", they all wear perfectly crisp, matching uniforms and prowl the hallways, battling with the corporate goons of the office. The show is just pure slapstick comedy, with frenetic camerwork that gives it an ultramodern feel. It's one of the funnest series I've ever seen on FujiTV. If only I understood Japanese...
Best in Show is not as subtle as Waiting for Guffman or Spinal Tap, but it is absolutely hilarious and deserving of being placed amongst those other two movies in the comedy pantheon. The humor is built-in because of the concept of satirizing dog shows, and makes you wonder why no one's ever thought of doing it before. Best in Show brings back just about everyone who was in Waiting for Guffman, and it's fun to spot each actor as they make their appearance to see how they're paired up this time around. My personal favorite characters are Parker Posey as a perfect yuppie who spends every moment seething through her braces, and Guest, who again renders himself unrecognizable as a sweet, simple man with a rambling southern drawl. Also notable is Jane Lynch as a supercompetitive lesbian dog handler. A funny tidbit: you might remember Lynch in a similar role in a Frosted Flakes commercial that was also done up in pseudo documentary style. My only complaint about Best in Show was that it seemed to end abruptly, but maybe that was just because I didn't want it to end.
Back when Ghostwriter was on PBS, I never missed an episode, and was disappointed when it went off the air. Now when I catch it on Nickelodeon and Noggin (and educational children's channel), the show is just as good as I remember it. The best thing about Ghostwriter was that it never insulted the intelligence of its viewers, even though its targeted viewing audience was about 7 to 12 years old. Each mystery took four episodes to complete, and the plot was always complex and interesting enough to justify the continuations. It seemed like the writers never cut corners just because this was a children's show. Another great thing about the show was its setting in New York City. It was obvious that the show wasn't shot on some fake urban soundstage in Hollywood. The characters run around the city in an area called Fort Greene, and the community is portrayed in a warm and authentic way. A huge credit to the show was its great young cast. Even though their acting skills weren't great, they each managed to adhere a strong personality to the characters.
Special props go to Joey Shea, who was hilarious as Calvin Ferguson, the smarmy kid who was the de facto arch nemesis of the Ghostwriter team. Overall, the show was always entertaining and funny.
'American Cuisine' tries to do for French cuisine what 'Big Night' did for Italian cuisine and 'Eat Drink Man Woman' did for Chinese cuisine, but it lacks what those two films had - a plot. The movie is about a young American chef named Loren who goes to France to work in the kitchen of his idol, the famous Louis Boyer. It is meant to be a fast paced romp, but ends up a mess as new plot devices are thrown in every other minute. For example, Loren goes from being the slowest chef in the restaurant to taking charge of the operation when Louis Boyer goes mad. That is another implausability -- Boyer is eccentric at best, but certainly not crazy enough to shut down his restaurant or tear apart his family. No matter though. The movie's purpose was to show off the excitement of French culinary art, and it does that well. Plus, the performances by Eddy Mitchell as Chef Boyer, Irene Jacob as his daughter, and Isabelle Petit-Jacques as the nerve-wracked partner of the restaurant (was she also Boyer's wife?) are very charming. Jason Lee, on the other hand, seems to have been miscast. His performance was a bit amateurish. Still, the movie is worth a watch if only to see the food.
I remember watching Running the Halls on NBC's Saturday morning lineup a few years back. It was about a group of high school students living at a boarding school, and it was genuinely entertaining. The actors were all quite talented, and they established the characters with unique personalities, unlike today's teen shows where the actors are pretty much interchangeable. Standouts include Trevor Lissauer, Senta Moses, and Richard Speight Jr. (who you can't turn around these days without spotting him on a commercial - he's the Zippo guy). The charm of Running the Halls came from its knowing campiness. The camerawork had a different, blurry look, similar to the way British television is shot, and the laugh track was very obviously fake. The show made no effort to be trendy or modern - I guess that's why it didn't last.
After months of resisting the hype for this movie, I figured, hey, I like Sam Mendes's work - maybe American Beauty will turn out to be better than it looks in the previews. Unfortunately I was wrong. American Beauty really is just the same old recycled view of suburban family life wrapped in a slightly more intense package to grab the audience. I don't see anything about Lester and Carolyn Burnam that is different from the various frustrated husband and wife roles that have come before. The film's only saving grace is Wes Bentley and the concept of the intensity of life's beauty. But that concept only surfaces a couple of times in the movie and is only *talked about* by the characters. It is never supported by any events or by any of the characters. It's as if American Beauty was just a very mediocre story about an unhappy family, and somehow the writer managed to throw in a very 'deep' quote. Perhaps that plastic bag floating in the wind deserves the Best Actor nod - it was the only figure that really inspired.
Ghost Dog is a highly entertaining movie, however, there are moments when it lacks originality. When Forest Whitaker's Ghost Dog practices his 'way of the Samurai', it sometimes seems like he's taking himself way too seriously. And it's definitely a very Americanized way of looking at the Japanese philosophy -- quite simplistic and stereotyped. Not to mention the Italian goombas in the movie, who are stereotyped to the point of seeming like a parody of the Italian gangsters we've seen on TV and in the movies. But besides this, the movie really is quite charming, especially the ice cream man.
Beautiful People offers a slice-of-life type look at the messy lives of people in London who are somehow affected by the war in Bosnia. Their stories are kind of interconnected, but in a natural way, not at all contrived. It was refreshing to see how the film combined gritty, realistic stories (the doctor trying to handle his two young sons in the midst of a separation) with some more surreal comedy (the junkie dropped in the middle of war), however, there was one ending that I found to be too unbelievable and not satisfying, and I won't give details of the ending, but it involves the man who was shot in the leg. The movie could have also done without the scene with the thugs reading to the boy -- it was predictably cheesy. Other than that, it a great film, and delivers a really strong message in the end, which explains the title, Beautiful People.
Cradle Will Rock's problem is that it tries way too hard to 'teach' us a lesson, and falls flat on its face. John Cusack, Susan Sarandon, and Vanessa Redgraves' characters were horribly one-dimensional characters that didn't resemble anything like human beings. If only Mr. Robbins had used some subtlety in telling this story, it wouldn't have ended up a lame, melodramatic propaganda film. I actually felt embarassed for the couple of people in the theater audience who clapped after seeing the final scene. The movie uses cheap, obvious tactics to sway the audience -- kind of like a Spielberg movie. Bill Murray's ventriloquist character was its only saving grace.
The real miracle of Princess Mononoke is the design of the creatures. From the giant oozing demon in the beginning to the gray blind boar and the Spirit of the Forest (which looks like an antelope with a smiling human face), Miyazaki was able to tap into something very deep and provoking. The creatures are at the same time beautiful and terribly ugly. Like the race of the little white ghosts that inhabit the forest. They are some of the most achingly cute characters ever made (in fact, I saw dolls of these characters at a gift shop in Little Tokyo), but at the same time a little disturbing once you realize that their heads are like skulls and their bodies like Pillsbury Dough Boys. I found myself flinching in terror at the sight of the blind boar with blood gushing out of his eyes. On that note, I think that the violence of this movie really propels it to another level. It was the one thing that really got reactions from the audience. And I'm not talking the kind of gratuitous violence in action movies. The violence in Princess Mononoke is quite extreme, but it does so to portray the brutality of human (and animal) conflict.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the voice acting in the American adaptation. It was really a mixed bag. Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, and Gillian Anderson in particular were fabulous, but I felt that Billy Crudup and Claires Danes did some typical cartoon overacting. Many may disagree on me with this, but I found it to be distracting and cheesy at times.
I would also like to comment on the current popularity of anime. With the slew of violent action movies being brought over to the states (Ninja Scroll, Gundam, etc.), people get the misconception that the appeal of anime is the mature content. But the real beauty and success of Japanese animation is in the way the artists are able to convey the smallest details of real human life. Hayao Miyazaki's work (My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service) is a prime example of this. Such as in Princess Mononoke in a scene where a leper, completely covered in bandages, talks about the tragedy of his life. You cannot see his face or tell by his voice that he is crying, but rather from the bandages over his eyes, where dark circles appear as his tears soak the fabric. It's scenes like this that make the film so impressive.
Thank goodness for Bravo, which is airing Smack the Pony in the U.S., otherwise I would never have gotten to see this hilarious show. The actors of Smack the Pony's cast are somehow able to act each part with deadpan perfection, and the writing is always unpredictable and hilarious. One particularly nice feature that Smack the Pony has taken advantage of is that each sketch is short and to the point, UNLIKE other sketch comedy shows (one in particular with the initials S.N.L.) that just drag on and on, wallowing in their own stupidity. It's no comparison, really.. P.S. Americans might need to watch the show with closed captioning turned on occasionally.
This movie is pleasant and charming to watch but, in my opinion, overrated. The concept of the missed subway train and the parallel lives of Helen is fairly original and well executed, but beyond that there was nothing much clever about the plot. Once you've begun the two different lives of Helen, it's too easy to make any kind of plot twists where the two lives intercept. That is, I think it must have been easy for the writer to take Helen's life and fork it into two different paths and seem thought-provoking. Only an incredibly unique ending would have done justice to the film, and I don't think they achieved that. I would rather have seen more of a comparison of Helen's thoughts in her two different lives rather than have big cliched events happen to her, etc.
I saw this movie on TV without much expectations, but it turned out to be worst than I could have imagined. In fact, S.F.W. is possibly the worst movie I've ever seen. Both the plot and the characters are completely cliched to the point where it's almost painful to watch. It seems like this movie was made just for Stephen Dorff to act self-important in and appeal to the not-so-bright kids of the grunge generation.