Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Wackness

There are a lot of great movie titles out there – names you really have to think about, or names that sum up the entire story in one word without giving anything away. Good writers should put just as much effort into their titles as they do their scripts. The Wackness is one of those perfect names where at first you think, “Well that’s different, but it’s kind of vague, I wonder what this movie is all about?” And then you watch it and realize, that title is freaking perfect.

The Wackness is the often funny, sometimes sad story of Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) and his best friend/psychiatrist, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley). Luke is a recent high school graduate dealing with some sadness in his life and dealing marijuana on the streets of New York City. He visits Dr. Squires on a regular basis, not only for therapy sessions, but to sell him weed. Over time, the two of them become very close. They even make each other mix tapes.

Luke characterizes himself as a loser, and it sounds like he’s been one his whole life. He’s never had a girlfriend and the only friends he has are his clients. His home life is nothing spectacular either – his parents act like children and Luke needs to assert himself as man of the house. Dr. Squires is also a loser. His wife no longer loves him and he’s heavily medicated. His life is dull and he craves the excitement of adolescence. The Wackness is the classic story of two friends who both want what the other should have at their age. The theme isn’t exactly new – old guy teaches kid and kid teaches old guy – but the characters and the story are refreshing. This is not Tuesdays with Morrie.

Luke is played by Josh Peck, an actor previously associated with Nickelodeon shows like Drake and Josh. I’ve never seen the show, but I have a feeling that Luke Shapiro is a far cry from any character Josh has played before. At first he appears to be a little shady and perhaps womanizing, but we come to know him as a sensitive young kid in an adult world. He’s just looking for love. Josh plays this character so perfectly, the audience understands exactly what he’s going through. Another actor may have portrayed Luke in a Jay and Silent Bob kind of way.

Ben Kingsley’s performance is even more incredible. I’ve really only seen him in serious roles so Dr. Squires was definitely a surprise. He’s not an average psychiatrist to say the least. He’s off-the-wall and hilarious and he wants to experience everything that Luke does. His simple view of the world is na├»ve and charming. I love the way he talks to Luke and his one-liners are fantastic. Like a kid, he just doesn’t care if his actions get him into trouble and that makes for some pretty funny scenes.

There are so many pieces of this movie that just make you feel good. I loved some of the sequences and animations that take place in Luke’s head. My favorite scene is when Luke is just so overwhelmed with love he channels his inner Michael Jackson. Even when things look bleak for these two guys, you come away with a feeling that even though things might suck right now, those things only make you better.

The Wackness is just a fun movie that made me feel good. Some may come away with a totally different perspective because the subject matter is pretty adult and there are several tense scenes. But I think the point here is that we encounter sadness in our lives everyday, it’s part of life. We have to take the wackness with the dopeness.

4 mix tapes

Friday, December 11, 2009

Movie Franchises That Confuse the Hell Outta Me.

When I was a boy, I spent quite a bit of time at my cousins’ house. We rough-housed, broke things, and told on each other for a variety of offenses. On the occasions that I slept over, we were confined to the basement, and we watched USA’s Up All Night. One night, USA aired one of the Conan movies. I thought it was pretty cool. But then, one of the bad guys dies in the most horrific way I’d ever seen. He gets trapped by this huge rolling circular door and he screams and cries until the door finally rolls over him completely. Since then I’ve had this image burned on my brain and I’ve developed a phobia of rolling circular doors. Anyway, I plan on elaborating on all those villain deaths that traumatized me at a later date. For now, I want to talk about movie franchises that confuse me. Stay with me, I’ll get there. I could never remember what Conan movie we were watching. So every time there’s a Conan movie on TV, I have to watch, hoping that I finally see that scene. For whatever reason, I never see it. Yesterday… I SAW IT! The rolling circle door death happens in Red Sonja. The weirdest thing though; Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the movie, but he doesn’t even play Conan – he’s some other dude that looks just like Conan. And this brings me to…

Movie Franchises That Confuse the Hell Outta Me.

Conan the Barbarian / Conan the Destroyer / Red Sonja
Since I’ve only seen bits and pieces of each one, to me, these are all kind of one big movie. I’m not even sure if Red Sonja is supposed to be part of the Conan franchise, but it looks the same. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in it, only his name is Talidor. Really? These can’t be two different characters - they are identical! Talidor just wears more clothing. You can’t paint stripes on a donkey and call it a zebra, ok? I’ve been to Tijuana and the zebra-donkeys are not convincing.
I’ve seen enough of these movies now that you’d think I knew the plots. But I don’t. I don’t even know who Conan is or why he’s all barbaric. I don’t know where they are or what time period it is. All I know is that the older sister from Wonder Years is in one of them and she is hot. That’s all I got.

It's good to be the Governer

Mad Max / The Road Warrior / Mad Max beyond Thunderdome
This is another franchise that I’ve seen in parts. I’ve seen enough to know that it’s the end of the world and people drive around to find gas. Why don’t they stop driving and save on gas? I also know Thunderdome is the final movie and it stars Tina Turner. My problem is that I don’t know which came first, The Road Warrior or Mad Max. They look exactly the same to me, and the names give no clue as to which is the sequel. Every time Mad Max or Road Warrior comes on, I try to watch to get a better idea of the story. But all I see are some people driving around and some people blowing up.

Couldn't find a funny picture from the movie... so... enjoy the mesh.

Pirates of the Caribbean
Now, here’s a franchise of which I’ve seen every movie. The Curse of the Black Pearl was a phenomenal film. Then things got really weird. The sequel didn’t make a lick of sense, and the third movie made even less sense. Both movies were so confusing to me, and I’m an adult – sort of. I’m not sure how a child is supposed to figure it out. So tentacle dude is cursed to find souls to operate his boat? Again, why not just stop driving the boat and save on souls. Relax and enjoy the afterlife my friend; I’m sure there are some mermaids somewhere that really dig those tentacles. I wasn’t sure who the voodoo lady was either and really hoped everything would be cleared up in the third flick, At World’s End. But I was wrong. Jack Sparrow is now running around the afterlife hanging out with lots of other Jack Sparrows. Interesting. And then there’s a bunch of other pirates getting involved and they all have pieces of eight? Pieces of eight what? And watch out guys that one lady got crabs. The plot is so convoluted and the movie is so long, I stopped paying attention.

"Love, weren't you a girl in the last movie?"

Freddy kills to avenge his own murder. Jason kills to avenge his mother’s murder. But what’s Michael Meyers’s problem? Why does he care so much about killing his sister? I think they tried to answer that in the 5th or 6th movie, but that seemed like a stretch. And how does he keep coming back to life? Freddy and Jason live in an uber-supernatural universe where they both have the ability to return and the audience believes it. But Michael seems somewhat rooted in realism, so I’m not sure how bullets don’t kill him. And also – is it just me or does the mask look way more weinery with every sequel.

"Shut up. They had a mask sale at Walmart."

Lord of the Rings
And these movies are four hours long, why? I’ve only seen the first half of the first movie and I refuse to watch anymore. So – can someone tell me what happens? Kthxbye.

Yeah, can I have my precious half-hour back?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Blind Side

How did the American sports movie become synonymous with crying? It seems like every sports movie released lately induces my man-tears. I’m not ashamed to cry during a movie – I do it all the time. I get very emotionally involved in any movie I watch, so the slightest key change in score, or a hug from a dad, will set me off. And then my wife makes fun of me the rest of the evening.

I love a good sports movie, especially the football variety. Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, Invincible, Varsity Blues; they’re all great movies. Some say Rudy is the best, but I have to disagree. There’s no better football movie than Lucas. Lucas made the slow-clap a sports movie classic. Did you know that the slow-clap was invented by hand model Pierre Von Clap? It was actually ridiculed in its early days - why clap slow when you can clap fast, and finish in time for tea? Lucas came along and just tore that logic up.

One could argue though, that these football tear-jerkers are becoming formulaic. It’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad movies. When I first saw the preview for The Blind Side, I thought, awesome – definitely seeing that one – what could be better than a true-life football story? But after repeated commercials and hearing the line about never having a bed, boo-hoo, over and over, I worried that The Blind Side would be overly emotional – schmaltz for the sake of schmaltz. I also worried that Sandra Bullock’s thick southern accent (“You kin thank me lateRRR”) would drive me crazy. I almost gave up on this movie when the commercials claimed that Bullock was sure to win an Oscar.

It was my wife’s turn to pick the movie last weekend, and she picked The Blind Side. And I’m really glad she did. It’s a little bit schmaltzy, but overall, The Blind Side is a pretty good movie.

The Blind Side is about the early life of Ravens tackle Michael Oher. He spent most of his childhood running away from foster homes and sleeping on any couch he could find. His teachers, when he had them, wouldn’t work with him and kept passing him to get rid of him. Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, eventually welcomed him into her family’s home.

I’m not convinced that Sandra Bullock will win any awards for her performance but she did a fine job. Her accent wasn’t that annoying and it was subtle for the majority of her dialogue – I barely noticed it at all. The real standout performance here belongs to Quinton Aaron, the actor playing Michael Oher. He did a really good job for his big debut. His sadness was believable as was his compassion.

Despite the dismal life Oher comes from, The Blind Side isn’t constantly depressing. There are several funny moments and I wouldn’t consider them cheap comic relief at all. The little brother is hilarious and some great comedic situations arise with Oher being in a new living situation. Overall, The Blind Side is mostly positive, upbeat, and moving.

In reality the Tuohy family experienced some controversy. Many people thought Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy brought Michael into their home to convince him to play football for their alma mater, The University of Mississippi. The film doesn’t shy away from that controversy. The Tuohy’s are not portrayed as angels and I appreciate that. Leigh Anne doesn’t fight back, she actually questions her motivations. The film feels more authentic this way.

There was a part I didn’t like and actually thought about this for a long time after. Leigh Anne has lunch regularly with three well-to-do women similar to herself. They get a little weirded-out when Leigh Anne tells them about Michael. Leigh Anne jumps on the ole high horse and says, “Shame on you.” I didn’t believe this part at all – it just seemed like petty chick-flick vilification, like when Julia Roberts tells off the snobby sales clerk in Pretty Woman. Up until that point we don’t see Leigh Anne as a better person than her peers. She’s a decent person and cares about people, but we don’t see any evidence that she isn’t a snob or a racist like her friends. So her shame-on-you line seems hypocritical. Maybe the writer wanted her to seem hypocritical - but that irony was just lost on me.

The Blind Side is a pretty decent movie. There are emotional ups and downs but it’s not overly done. There are lots of laughs and some great football action on the field as well. I don’t remember anyone breaking out the slow clap though.

3 Rebels and half a Raven


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