Friday, January 4, 2008

DVD Update

I've gotten a little behind in my DVD blogging, but fear not, I've still been watching lots. Here are 4 that I've seen lately, from best to worst, and one is the worst.

The most recent Hairspray is based on a movie I didn't like very much. I've seen a lot of theater, and really wanted to like the original 1988 John Waters version (as a cinemaphile I feel like I'm going to get kicked out of some club for disliking it, but I found it trite and not very funny, and wishy washy on its themes of outsiders). So I resisted seeing the movie of the musical version with John Travolta and Niki Blonski, even though it got great reviews. However, I caved, and LOVED it. It was everything I wanted the original to be, in addition to being a terrific musical, the acting talents of all the actors were extremely well used to tell a good story about why being different in 1960s Baltimore was so hard. Of course, it's mostly a cotton-candy version of that story, but they still stick to the core of what they're doing rather than getting dragged (pun intended) into the gimmicks they have going. Nikki Blonsky was terrific as Tracy Turnblad, with her radiant smile, you actually believed she was more interested in dancing than in being popular. Her singing is wonderful and she actually carries the movie mostly on her own. John Travolta does a good job really making you believe he's a woman and not a man in drag. He and Christopher Walken have actual chemistry and make sense as a couple. All the supporting characters are terrific, and it's good entertainment that is expertly carried off. 5 of 5 stars. Also, I'm assuming from all the reviews that Juno will win the Golden Globe, but both Travolta and Blonsky deserved their nominations.

Next, The Namesake is a wonderful story of a father and son raised in different cultures trying to understand each other. I read the book before I saw the movie and the movie is very faithful to the spirit of the book, if taking a few things out of order for increased clarity. The father is a native-born Indian getting his degree in the U.S. The movie starts when he's returned to India to marry and bring his wife to the U.S. They advance in the world of academia struggling to maintain their familiar foods and customs while blending into the U.S. environment. They have a son, played very well by Kal Penn (from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and the most recent season of House, M.D.), who really wants to blend into American culture, and doesn't understand why his parents cling to their roots. It's a great story about the culture clash of generations and geography, and how sometimes the best things about someone can't be communicated across these boundaries. Also, the relationship between the parents is wonderful. They were raised in a culture of arranged marriages, so trying to have an "American marriage" is foreign to them, but they work on it, and in trying to have a better more modern marriage, they fall in love. It's a beautifully crafted film, by Mira Nair, of Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair). 4 of 5 stars.

The next movie I liked is also out of the mainstream, but still a fun, well crafted movie. I'm Reed Fish is about a young man who has a morning radio show that basically provides all news to a very small town, from trimming the town halls hedges to helping a guy with a flat tire just outside town. The main character, Reed Fish (a wonderfully geeky Jay Baruchel - the Led Zeppelin fan in Almost Famous), lives in the shadow of his deceased father and continues to the show in his memory. He's engaged to a girl he's known forever, Alexis Bledel (formerly Rory Gilmore), but his high school crush returns to town just before their wedding. Of course chaos ensues and he cancels his wedding, but because he's never had the chance to live his own life, he doesn't know how to commit to either woman or even to the radio show anymore. There are lots of fun twists and turns, and you find out the whole first part of the movie is actually a film of the story they're trying to tell, which continues both in film and in the movie within the film. It's quirky and fun, and definitely worth watching. 3.5 of 5 stars.

Finally, a movie I will not recommend because it doesn't actually add anything new that It's a Wonderful Life didn't already cover, Adam Sandler's Click. Sandler's character is given a remote control by Christopher Walken (who only appears as if he's on drugs, and makes no sense as the guide to Sandler's journey - Don Knotts was better in Pleasantville). The remote allows Sandler to view his life as if it's TiVo'ed. He can pause, rewind, fast forward, etc. However, the remote takes over and starts fast forwarding on its own once it learns what Sandler dislikes - so it fast forwards sex, being sick, traffic, etc. Within just a few minutes Sandler is on his death bed. He finally realizes you must take the bad in order to experience the good. It's a really trite movie, and Sandler never reaches the point where you like him enough to care that he screwed up his silly life. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife and it's a dreadful role, sucking up and being a good non-complaining wife. Overall, boring and not worth watching 2 of 5 stars.

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