Archive | June, 2011

Mercy Mercy Me

30 Jun

In Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts team up to save the world from an invasion of alien robots. And it’s all in 3-D! No, not really. In this modern-day dramedy, Hanks stars as the title character, who gets laid off from his job at a Target-like big box retailer because his lack of a college degree makes him unpromotable (he opted for the Navy when he was 18). To right the wrong, and help his future prospects, he enrolls in a community college, where he meets (and falls for) his speech professor, played by Roberts.

I call Larry Crowne a “modern-day” dramedy because the film has a plot that reflects the current reality of so many people who’ve been laid off from their jobs. And yet, Larry Crowne also feels like “The Bad Economy for Dummies,” because it is such a feel-good, accessible film that you don’t really worry about the main character because you know everything’s gonna be alright. As if that’s not enough, there are lame references to “new media” and use of terminology like “knockers.” Plus, you’ve got Hanks and Roberts in the leads (and on a motor scooter) and a soundtrack that’s heavy on boomer-favorite Tom Petty. Oh, and there’s a happy ending too where (spoiler) the two main characters fall in love. Suffice it to say, this isn’t Up in the Air or The Company Men.

I know I’m not exactly the target audience for Larry Crowne. The film’s definitely geared more toward people like my parents, and they will love it. That’s not a bad thing. I mean, despite all I just said, this isn’t exactly a bad movie. It’s definitely better than the trailer made it seem. Hanks exudes a winning charm, as always, and even though the love story between him and Roberts’ character (whose name is Mercy, by the way) seems forced and contrived, the two have a nice, easy chemistry together. It’s always enjoyable to watch Tom and Julia on screen, despite your resistance, whether they’re alone or together (as with Charlie Wilson’s War).

Still, as noted, the film just feels so middle of the road and safe that it’s hard to get too engaged. And for God’s sake, hide your eyes during the totally ridiculous, cheesy, and unnecessary closing credits. Larry Crowne may not be “spectacular” entertainment, but it’s a pleasant (if long) 90 minutes. I’m giving it a B–.

Conan the Destroyer

27 Jun

Last year, when Conan O’Brien was (unfairly) fired as the host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, he didn’t take it very well.

Viewers saw that in the days and weeks leading up to his last show, as he piled on the jokes at his soon-to-be-ex-employer’s expense.

And those of us who saw O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour got a taste of that too, as each show included a few jabs at NBC and a bunch of self-deprecating jokes about the situation.

But behind the scenes was an even angrier person, and in the new documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, we get a chance to see a little more of that side. Continue reading

The Big Man Was a Friend of Mine

19 Jun

Clarence Clemons was known as the Big Man, largely because at 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 270-plus pounds, he was literally a big man.

But the nickname was appropriate because on stage, Clarence had a presence that was bigger than life.

He wasn’t showy or over the top like some other rock stars — including his bandleader and friend, Bruce Springsteen. But he was always cool, always just to Bruce’s right, waiting to pick up his sax and do his thing.

And when Clarence got up to play … Wow.

This man of few words, this gentle giant, let his instrument do all the talking. When Clarence took center stage for one of his solos, it was a transcendent experience.

Every time you heard “Jungleland” live, it was awe-inspiring. Stunning. Powerful. An out-of-body experience.

One of my favorite parts of any Springsteen show.

So it goes without saying that the loss of Clarence Clemons Saturday night, due to complications from a stroke one week earlier, was a huge loss — for the music world and for me personally. Continue reading

Those Good and Crazy People

16 Jun

The truth is, I’m not anti-marriage. One day I hope to find someone I love enough to want to spend the rest of my life with — and hopefully she’ll feel the same way about me. But until that happens, I’m a perpetual third- or fifth-wheel. And admittedly, I go back and forth between being alright about it and yes, being lonely. Kind of like Bobby, the lead character in Stephen Sondheim’s Company. The classic musical, one of my all-time favorites, was recently revived in New York with a cast including Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, Patti LuPone, Jon Cryer, and Christina Hendricks, and for a brief time, you can watch a recording of those performances on the big screen.

Company has no real plot. It’s basically a collection of anecdotes strung together as 35-year-old Bobby (Harris) goes from couple to couple, each of them either doting on him or too wrapped up in themselves to notice Bobby’s not comfortable being around them. None of the couples presents a real good example of why Bobby should want to be married, and yet they all feel sorry for him because he’s not married. What does Bobby himself want? He doesn’t seem to know, nor does he seem to be in any rush to figure that out. As a result, he continues to be emotionally detached, watching everyone live their lives while he is essentially watching from the outside. As one friend tells him on her wedding day, “I’m afraid to get married, and you’re afraid not to.”

The show is awesome for a number of reasons, one of them being Sondheim’s songs, which at times have such a contemptuous attitude toward married people, and at times hit the single person’s conflicted attitude toward settling down right on the nose. The show is funny, thought provoking, insightful, and not the typical “jazz hands” kind of musical. And as a 37-year-old singleton, I can identify with a lot of it.

The last time I saw Company, five years ago, the show left a real impression on me. So any future productions get measured against that one. This one just didn’t have that same effect. Produced by the New York Philharmonic, the draw here was certainly the cast. However, the talent across the board was mixed. Harris makes for a truly charming Bobby; it’s not hard to see why all these people would love him. He’s more than capable of carrying the show, and his performance is eager to please. The problem is that while Harris has a fine singing voice, it’s just not as strong as the character requires. For example, “Marry Me a Little” was fine, but “Someone Is Waiting” sounded like it was more of a challenge.

Among his co-stars, the acting was good, but again, singing was the real problem. Songs like “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” sounded off, and, well, Cryer, Colbert, and Hendricks aren’t known for their singing anyway. Better were Martha Plimpton and especially Kate Finneran, whose “Not Getting Married” was one of the show’s highlights. And then there was LuPone, whose performance was the best of the lot, not surprisingly. “The Ladies Who Lunch” was definitely the show’s peak.

In addition, the show felt long and it dragged at times. I seem to recall the 2006 revival using an abbreviated book, and this production had no such tweaks. Also, the recording was basically a video of the show and not a high def film, which made watching the show on screen instead of live less engaging and fun. It wasn’t exactly a home video, and it wasn’t a film either. I never knew if I should be applauding, even though that seemed to be the natural reaction.

So is it worth finding a theater showing Company in the next couple days? Perhaps only if you’re a devoted fan. Otherwise, check out the well produced DVD from the much more elegant 2006 revival.

Six Degrees of Mutants

15 Jun

The superhero prequel X-Men: First Class imagines a reality in which mutants, led by Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), played a critical role in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Fascinating stuff, and a pretty cool concept. It’s the execution here that’s the problem, and I hold Kevin Bacon to blame. Cast in the role of scientist and fellow mutant Sebastian Shaw, Bacon is worse than a villain; he’s someone you don’t even like watching. Oscar nominee (for Winter’s Bone) Jennifer Lawrence has the opposite problem; she doesn’t make much of an impact as Mystique, the shape-shifter who will grow up to look like Rebecca Romijn. The action and special effects here are cool, and I did like the revisionist history angle. But the metaphors were less a turnoff when they were more subtle, like in the second X-Men movie (seems no one learned from the last X-Men film). So I’m giving X-Men: First Class a B.

Super, Indeed

13 Jun

The next time you hear someone say, “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to,” tell that person to go see Super 8, a throwback movie so retro that you may think it was made 25 years ago (even the poster gives you that impression).

That’s intended as a compliment, of course, as is the fact that writer/director J.J. Abrams has made a movie reeking with old fashioned Spielberg-ian charm, in the best way.

After all, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Continue reading

Life and Death, and Dinosaurs Too

8 Jun

You know the classic Burt Bacharach song “Alfie?”

Well, after seeing Tree of Life, you may be asking, “What’s it all about, Terrence?”

The film, written and directed by Terrence Malick (Badlands, The Thin Red Line), is a meditation on fathers and sons, the meaning of life, what it means to be a man, and probably a whole lot of other stuff too. (You get that sense from the poster.)

Actually, instead of a movie, it’s more like a two hour and 15 minute tone poem: There’s little dialogue (no kidding, two characters never speak to each other for the entire first hour of the film), lots of atmospheric shots, little to no plot, short monologues (delivered in a whispery voice over as if they’re a prayer to God), and a whole lot of choral and swelling orchestral music on the soundtrack.

Throw in Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and some dinosaurs too (yes, really), and the whole thing feels like an exercise in filmmaker indulgence. (Or hubris, depending on your preference.) Continue reading