Monday, January 29, 2007

American Dreamz (2006)

I've never watched American Idol, except for one special episode where they showed a bunch of people who didn't make it onto the show. (I kind of forced Ivy to watch that one with me; it was spectacularly horrible.) American Dreamz is a satire of the show, but also of so much more. For the first few minutes of the movie, as the scenes switched from the expected American Idol satire to a befuddled president of the United States to a middle-eastern terrorist training camp making a “training video,” complete with a terrorist director yelling, “Cut!”, I was afraid I’d found something too Saturday Night Live-esque, but it turned out to be fairly good. (I like Saturday Night Live, but their sketches should really never last longer than a few minutes.)

I liked Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of the president (with a Southern accent and creative words like “Iraqiites”, he's a gentle satire of our present commander-in-chief), who decides to start reading the newspaper, suspecting that he’s been a puppet of his vice-president (Willem Dafoe with a paunch and mostly bald head). Marcia Gay Harden is the first lady, genuinely interested in her husband’s health and happiness. Both are simple-minded but sincere and actually change and grow in the course of the movie. There’s an Arab-American family that’s hilarious—teen son and daughter do nothing but shop and otherwise indulge themselves. When their cousin shows up straight out of the terrorist training camp, awaiting his orders, the beautiful daughter says to him, “We are going to party like (singing) rock stars!” Terrorists watch American Dreamz from their tents and vote with their satellite phones. I did not like the Jew who appears on the show singing suggestive rap songs, though I did like Hugh Grant’s line when they’re looking for contestants: “Get me an Arab! Get me an Arab and a Jew!” And one of his minions responds, “How about an Arab-Jew?”

It’s not exactly light-hearted comedy, but it was funny.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

All the King's Men (2006)

I haven't read the book by Robert Penn Warren, and I haven't seen the 1949 film, which is supposed to be great. I found this movie interesting and well-acted, although the only actor to keep up his Southern accent was Sean Penn.

But what's really interesting is the Louisiana politician the book and movies are based on, Huey Long. I didn't know anything about him before--he sounds like a pretty fascinating guy, probably more so than Willie Stark, the fictional character inspired by him.

Also of interest was the Louisiana State Capitol, where the movie was filmed. Huey Long had the capitol built from 1930–1932; it's the tallest capitol building in the United States, and it's pretty weird-looking.

Eating Chocolates and Dancing in the Kitchen by Tom Plummer

Jon and I both had classes from Tom Plummer at BYU. I had a couple of German literature classes from him, and Jon took a memoir class taught by him and his wife Louise Plummer, who is a writer and professor of English at BYU. They are both delightful people. This book is a little gem, full of funny stories about their life together. This time through (I read it a few years ago), I was slightly disturbed by the impression that Louise was always having to school Tom in the “right” way—I’m not a fan of the popular portrayal of the wife as smarter than the husband (Everybody Loves Raymond, for example)—but it may just be the best way to write about marriage when your spouse is still living. Maybe Louise would write what she’s learned from Tom. Anyway, it’s worth reading and very quick.

Duplex (2003)

Not amazing but also not completely insulting, this was mildly entertaining.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Arrested Development, Season One (2003)

I really enjoyed this and even started to feel a little addicted to it by the end. I like watching TV shows on DVD—it’s great to have no commercials and to be able to watch as many episodes as you want. Although this can also be detrimental if you watch six or eight episodes and find it’s 1:00 am when you finally force yourself to stop. Anyway, “Arrested Development” is very funny. All of the characters are hilarious and well-acted, and one of them rides a Segue! Shouldn’t more people be making fun of Segues?

I’m looking forward to seeing the second season, but I don’t know if we can bring ourselves to buy it. We like to leach off of other people for our DVD needs, especially when it comes to TV shows.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I'll Do Anything (1994)

The best part of this movie is when Nick Nolte's character is ranting at some movie executives and he accuses them of "posing for pictures nobody is snapping." That's a great line.

But there was also a hilariously honest secondary character named Nan, who says things like, "I couldn't help overhearing you because I was intentionally eavesdropping."

Oh, and the ex-wife, who only appears briefly, is also hilarious, though perhaps more subtly so.

I guess it was a pretty good movie.

Church Ball (2006)

This was different than I thought it would be, for which I am grateful. I enjoyed The RM and The Singles Ward for their silliness, but I don't need to watch many more like them in my lifetime. Church Ball was a little less overt and obnoxious. I think it helped that the main character was pretty laid-back and low-key, unlike Kirby Heyborne, for example. (Kirby's funny, but I don't want to see him in every LDS comedy.)

Speaking of the main character, throughout the movie, I kept saying to Jon, "That guy sounds exactly like Owen and Luke Wilson." I'm sure I said it too many times, but I want to make sure I'm heard. Then we watched a "Making of" thing (like it's really difficult to make a movie like Church Ball and they're eager to show us all the secrets behind the special efffects; these Making-of things have become ubiquitous in our DVD world, and many of them are completely unnecessary, but we still can't resist watching them. And this one did have some interesting details. Like this one that I'm about to reveal!) and there he was with his name under him: Andrew Wilson. Turns out he's the oldest of the Wilson brothers. Who knew? Well, I'm sure someone did, but I didn't.

Also, it was kind of weird/entertaining to see Gary Coleman in something. I think it's the first time I've seen him in anything since the days of "Diff'rent Strokes." Although there is a newspaper ad for a restaurant in our vicinity called Thai Me Up that features a photo of David Hasselhoff, Gary Coleman, and Kit. Yes, Kit, the car from "Knight Rider." It's a really good restaurant.

Update: Jon has informed me that Michael Knight's car is named K.I.T.T., which stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand. He wanted me to change it, but I thought it would be false advertising to pretend that I knew that. Because I certainly did not, even though I did watch the show.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Look at Me

I picked this up in the comedy section at the library. I don't really know why it was in the comedy section. And I had no idea it was going to be in French. In fact, I got it to watch while I was folding about 6 loads of laundry and ended up not being able fold at all because I had to stare at the screen to read the subtitles! :) (No, I didn't choose to do the laundry instead of watching the movie like a responsible homemaker.)

I enjoyed watching it, but like a lot of foreign films (French, especially) it sort of went on and on with all these detailed, complex relationships and then it just ends. American movies resolve things. There's usually some sort of ending that makes everyone live happily ever after. This one just ended. Oh, well. Not a reason to not like it. It's just different, that's all. I liked the characters, the relationships, the complexity of their lives. I liked the fat, unappreciated daughter who is trying to win her father's affection, but never really does. I liked that she ends up with pretty cool boyfriend (sort of happily-ever-afterish).

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

What a fun book to read. We read this for book club and then watched the movie (which wasn't necessary since we've all seen it so many times we were quoting the whole thing). It is better to know from the beginning that Goldman wrote it all, there is no S. Morgenstern. You feel less duped. I thought it was really obvious that Goldman is the true author (his humor is the same throughout, there's no way the language is from the era Goldman claims it is from), but, I do remember thinking it really was an abridgment when I read it in high school or junior high. And a lot of the ladies at book club didn't know the whole thing is fake either. Some decided they didn't like the book just because they felt deceived by the author.

It is so funny though. And you get all this background information about Inigo, Fezzik and Buttercup. I love the way he tries to place the book in time... "This was before Europe," then later he talks about Paris. Also, when he describes the great kisses since the first kiss was discovered and then says "Before then couples hooked thumbs." The whole thing is funny.

At the end of the newer edition, there's a chapter of the supposed sequel "Buttercup's Baby," along with a bunch of explanations about it. It went on and on... I couldn't even finish it. It was too irritating. Should never have been added, in my opinion.

5 Children and It

I got this movie for my kids from the library. It looked like it was going to be pretty dumb. There's a picture of a boy (the actor who plays Charlie in the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie) and then this weird alien or monster thing. It looked like it would be about as good as The Neverending Story or Flight of the Navigator. In other words, cheesy and lame special effects.

Well, it ended up being a lot better than I expected. It reminded me and the kids a lot of the new Narnia movie. Same setting: kids evacuated from London during the war, go to big mysterious house, find a secret door which takes them to a different land...

Anyway, it was pretty good. The kids and I enjoyed watching it. Having pretty low expectations is probably key to me liking it.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Emmanuel's Gift

It's estimated that 10% of the population of Ghana is disabled; those who reach adulthood (mothers of disabled infants are encouraged to let them die or even to kill them) end up begging on the streets to support themselves. This is a documentary about a Ghanaian man with one leg who is trying to change his country's perception and treatment of the disabled.

Emmanuel was born with a severely deformed right leg but overcame all expectations and learned to walk, run, climb coconut trees, and play soccer using crutches. (The other kids wouldn't let him play with them until he earned some money, bought his own soccer ball, and proved to them that he could really play.) Emmanuel's father abandoned him and his mother when Emmanuel was born, but his mother raised him to do everything he could to fit in and taught him that he should never beg. He could have made $10 a day begging, but instead he shined shoes in Accra and made $2 a day, with which he supported his mother and other family members.

In an effort to raise awareness in Ghana and change the widely held view that disabled people are cursed, Emmanuel rode a bike across Ghana. Since then, he's become a kind of hero there. He was also brought to the United States by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), where he rode in a publicity ride, met other disabled athletes (including an amazing 14-year-old boy with no legs who does triathlons with prosthetics), and had surgery that allowed him to have a prosthetic leg. He is still working to bring opportunities to disabled people in Ghana.

Emmanuel's Gift isn't the most well-executed film ever, but it's fascinating because of its subject. Well worth seeing.