On The Same Page

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I have to say that I am rooting for little Ellen Page. I love all Canadian actors (and hold an extra special place in my heart for ones that still live here, Rachel McAdams!), and it’s nice to see them land increasingly high-profile roles and accolades (like marrying Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Reynolds!).

I recently, along with the rest of the world, tuned into Christopher Nolan’s mindbending ‘Inception’ which featured Ellen Page in the odd-named role of dream architect, Ariadne (Are-ree-ahd-nay), a role Evan Rachel Wood turned down. Page seemed like a slightly odd choice given her age, and her glibness, next to the other characters, but she performed well enough and added a new genre and type of role to her belt. The role was a bit thankless at times – Ariadne had to be the one to deliver a ton of exposition as the newest member of the pack – but in general I found myself relating to her as a fellow noob to the world of dreamwalking.

That being said, I think Page is a bit of a polarizing character. Like Kristen Stewart, a lot of people don’t necessarily dig the way she shys away from excessive media attention, ditto to her tomboy persona (and those lingering ‘is she gay?’ rumblings). Ariadne, relatively speaking, was a departure for a girl who is best known for playing smart-talking upstart teenagers with funny names.

Cases in point? I loved Juno, where Page played the title role of Juno MacGuff. Diablo Cody’s hipper-than-thou script was a bit ‘much’ sometimes, but not so much that it ruined the film for me. In fact I felt like Page was born to play this character – the words tumbled so naturally out of her mouth it never felt as contrived as it would if you were just sitting there and reading the screenplay. A lot of my contemporaries however, particularly ones over the age of 35, shared less than rosy feelings towards the film. They argued the love story between Juno and Michael Cera’s character was unbelievable (no chemistry, they said, sparking the first of the lesbian rumours), the screenwriting was irritating, and the story wasn’t particularly original. I disagree on the last point in particular – show me another American-made film that so deftly handles teenage pregnancy as heart-warmingly and honestly as this film does.

Page also played an upstart Republican to the extreme in Smart People (with the relatively normal name of Vanessa), an indie-princess-turned-riotgrrl named Bliss in Whip It, and a handful of other indie film roles. Part of me kind of groaned when I heard her character names in Whip It and Inception. There’s no better way to foster that pretentious indie reputation than by listing Juno, Ariadne, and Bliss on your resume.

Still, I’m on team Ellen. Regardless of whether she’s a lesbian (“Why can’t I just hug another woman with my legs in friendship” a la SNL), plays cutesy indie types for the rest of her life, or tentatively ventures into grand-scale arthouse fare a la ‘Inception’, I’m rooting for this Canadian girl and her niche place in the industry to keep on rolling. Girl has already done WAY better than the last major indie hilarity better known as Napoleon Dynamite (as portrayed by Jon Heder) and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. So jump on the Ellen Page train with me people!

- Britt’s On

All My Movies: American Beauty

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American Beauty
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening
Costarring: Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher, Allison Janney
Times Watched: In the 7-10 range
Genre: Drama / Black Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 88% / 86

Road To Ownership: I remember there being this endless pool of buzz about this movie when it came out. My sister and I were late to the party, but loved it. I bought it as a two-pack with Almost Famous several years later. Unsurprisingly, when the boyfriend and I combined movie collections, this was a double.

The Plot: Lester Burnham is going through a mid-life crisis. His marriage is a sham, his uptight wife Caroline forever obsessed with image over substance. His daughter Jane won’t speak to him, as she becomes involved with their new drug dealing neighbour. And his job is a total joke, and ready to boot him out the door. So he does whatever he wants. He yells at his wife, he tries to reach out to his daughter (and by extension, harbours an intense crush on her friend Angela), quits his job, and basically starts living – in a series of events that ultimately leads to his death. That’s not a spoiler by the way, it’s established in the opening scene that he’ll be dead by the end of the film.

The Good & The Bad: When you’ve watched this movie – or any movie, really – frequently enough, you begin to stop getting absorbed in the story and instead start slotting in the scenes in your head. You know each scene so well, you’re already thinking ahead to the next one, versus being as immersed in the dialogue and action of the current one. So, admittedly, last night’s viewing wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the first few thrilling times I watched the movie.

That being said, the fact I’ve watched this movie as often as I have is a testament to its quality. The casting and performances are pitch perfect, with a well-deserved Oscar win for Kevin Spacey. Every single character is just so ‘right’ (including the heartbreaking performance by Allison Janney), but in an almost cartoonish satirical way. Actually watching this movie now reminded me of the first (brilliant) season of Desperate Housewives, with Caroline being the proxy for Bree Van De Kamp. It’s also nice to see a small, smart film get such honours. In regards to that, the writing is pretty solid. It’s a clever mixture of black, glib comedy and heartbreaking delivery (particularly in the house of Fitts). The thing I appreciate about this film is the fact that every scene is meaningful in the overall conclusion of the film. It’s a backwards murder mystery with an incredibly surprising but not out-of-character result. The fact that Mendes is wise enough to leave some things out (via dialogue) and let you see them via Ricky’s camera is also a brilliant choice in a film that’s all about misguided perceptions.

And lets circle back to Mendes, a favourite director of mine and the boyfriend’s (in fact we own all his films). His cinematic style is developed here with the slow-moving zooms, a likely product of his background in theatre where you are always taking in the whole scene versus close-ups. The imagery is stunning throughout, particularly the continued symbolic use of the colour red and the roses. And Thomas Newman’s brilliant score, one of the best in recent cinematic history, punctuates every scene perfectly. In fact I’m flabbergasted Newman didn’t win best score at the Oscars. Who remembers the Red Violin score? NO ONE. Anyway, the harmony of beautiful, unique cinematography with the pitch perfect score makes a small movie become a sensational one, especially in the final montage of whodunit scenes.

There are a few notes for improvement of course. Many people mock the plastic bag video scene, and to be fair, Ricky’s acting in it is pretty stilted, ‘So-much-beauty’. Also the large gap without Angela makes Lester’s behaviour sort of random when you’re originally led to believe he’s doing what he’s doing to attract her. And upon rewatching the film at an older age, I found Ricky’s behaviour downright scary. I always found him a bit creepy, but if I were Jane I wouldn’t be gobbling it up, nor would I run away to New York with him.

Best Scene: I’ve always enjoyed the scene when Caroline comes home to find Lester has sold his Corolla for a Firebird and gets her foot run over by a remote control car. ‘I Rule!’

Worst Scene: Although I find the score and the video of the bag enticing, the writing in the plastic bag scene is terrible, and Ricky has no hope of delivering it particularly convincingly.

Best Character: Although her part is decidedly small, I’m tempted to say Allison Janney. I think she’s the unsung portrait of what life in the Fitts household is like. Really though, every character is fantastic.

Worst Character: Peter Gallagher as Buddy, the real estate king. Those eyebrows! That smarminess! Although well played, I feel squeamish when he’s on screen.

Soundtrack of our Lives: One of the best scores in motion picture history. Beyond that, a bunch of suitable Americana classics that are used in memorable ways.

If You Like This You’ll Like: Road to Perdition (also by Sam Mendes and Thomas Newman), Life As A House (a bit more heavy on the sentiment), and season 1 of Desperate Housewives.


A Sense Of Place in Pixar

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It was about a year ago that I saw Pixar’s tenth effort, Up!, their first 3D feature film that surprisingly ranked pretty low in my overall rankings of all Pixar movies. Watching it again in February I am still firm in my convictions that it’s not quite as strong as other Pixar movies. Although the story of Carl (the old man) was bittersweet and well played, and there was plenty of comic relief, much of the film is a little wacky to the extreme. The combination of giant elusive dodo birds, chatty boy scouts, floating houses, lost blimps, talking dogs, and venomous adventurers was a little obscure for my ultimate tastes.

I was a tiny bit nervous in the year leading up to the release of Toy Story 3. I had the same hesitant feelings going in that I did when Ratatouille came out. The pre-film buzz and industry news was that the films were wrought with drama behind the scenes. TS3 was delayed several times as horrible scripts were rewritten. Ratatouille sidelined the project’s leaders in an attempt to salvage it. And you know what? Both films were incredible. By the time I actually walked into the theatre to see TS3 I knew it was going to be good, and I wasn’t let down (as Pixar never does).

Entertainment Weekly has written at least one piece about TS3 in the month since its been released, and I’ve been keeping on top of it online through reviews, box office takes, and news. There are only 3 negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes at last check for the film, and I bothered to read one of them, on what felt like a hack website (seriously RT, you’ll include El Random internet writer and not the big newspapers in every major Canadian city?) called Movie Martyr.

I was surprised to find that I agreed with a couple of points the reviewer made. Mostly, he drew the quite similar parallels between Toy Stories 2 & 3. He argued that Lotso Huggin Bear was a retread of Toy Story 2’s ‘Stinky Pete’ – the forgotten, angry, manipulative toy. He focused on the fact that the plot of being left behind and growing out of toy ownership was the exact same between the two films.

After contemplating this last point in particular, I agree. However, unlike the writer, I disagree that TS3 was an unnecessary sequel to TS2 (or for that matter, TS1). The issue at hand in Toy Story 2 was that Woody could give up the emotions and love of being played with now in exchange for admiration from afar forever. Woody decided by the end of the film that he wouldn’t give up being played with by Andy for anything, and opted to return home.
Toy Story 3, in contrast, plays out this last point. Although Woody is fully aware in TS2 that an inevitable time will come when he just won’t be played with anymore, he still accepts it, even in the heartbreaking opening scenes of the movie when the characters resolve themselves to a life in the attic. What transpires from there is a serious look at how to resolve the emotional attachments we have to our youth (the toys serving primarily as a metaphor) as we grow up and move on.

Had Toy Story 3 never existed, I doubt the majority of us would have ever thought about that day when Andy would give up his toys. We would have been to content to with the happily ever after in the blissful frozen state Andy was in at age 8 when we last saw him with Buzz, Woody and the gang. But Pixar sagely revisits things for the few that question “What about when he gets older?” and manages to find a bittersweet ending that resolves that question, and brings things full circle.

If Jeremy Hielman really had a problem with the overriding linking themes between the Toy Story films, he probably doesn’t like Pixar films in general. Why you ask? Because at their core, Pixar films are about a very similar topic that is bent and reshaped in so many different directions, it’s hard to call them one-trick ponies.

That theme is ‘a sense of place’, or home. Every single Pixar film tackles this, often creating ‘adventure’ stories that see their primary characters leaving home as they know it to find a place for themselves in a bigger social system. Cases in point (with the exception of A Bug’s Life, which I can’t comment on since I still haven’t seen it!):

Toy Story – Woody’s place is threatened by Buzz, so he eliminates him. When he does so, he realizes his place is further jeopardized and leaves home to try to save his position as most favoured toy in Andy’s life, and amongst the other toys. When he comes back, he realizes he doesn’t need the top dog spot exclusively, as long as he belongs to Andy.

Toy Story 2 – Woody debates whether it’s better to be admired from afar forever, and loved intimately for now. He decides the latter and heads back home to spend another carefree couple of years with his best friend Andy.

Monsters Inc – The introduction of a human child he’s contracted to scare has Sully the monster questioning whether what he’s made a proud life doing is really ‘right’. He leaves his post as top monster to try and find an alternative while subverting the system he’s grown so accustomed to, and like Woody, manages to find a compromise.

Finding Nemo – Emotionally damaged by his own defect, Nemo heads into the deep sea to prove his friends wrong. When he’s captured, his own cautious-as-can-be clownfish father must brave dozens of different sea environments to rescue his son, and realize no matter how hard he tries, he can’t protect Nemo from everything, and that perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

The Incredibles – After years of fitting into a restrained place in society assigned to them, a family of superheroes flexes their super powers to see whether they can publicly mitigate their private strength with their public lives.

Cars – After spending his whole life dreaming of nothing but being a champion race car, Lightning McQueen learns to appreciate the simple things when he makes a wrong turn too many in life.

Ratatouille – Growing up in a colony of foraging rats, Remy knew his love for fine cuisine was abnormal. When a chance encounter separates him from the pack, he embraces the opportunity to get his paws into cooking, in a world that traditionally wants him to have nothing to do with their food.

Wall-E – Being designed for one simple purpose, to clean up Earth, Wall-E evolved to be a curious and empathetic robot. His exposure to the slick, glossy life beyond the grim realities of Earth reveal to him that despite the destitution that awaits, the possibility of a brighter future for Earth is enough to fight hard to save it.

Up! – Carl always dreamed of being an adventurer with his wife Ellie, but life always seemed to get in the way. He embarks on the great adventure they never took, only to realize through Ellie’s eyes their actual life was the greatest adventure they’d ever need to embark on.

As you can see, all of these stories involve a journey to self-discovery, and finding a way to negotiate who you were and who you should be. They often involve subverting a system of 'the way things are' to find alternatives and compromises. I believe Toy Story sagely took the three movies its story spanned across to create one collective message on this: it’s not about how many people who love you, or even (to a degree) who, it’s simply about being loved and appreciated.

I heart Pixar. I hope their move to two movies per year doesn’t over saturate the market or hurt their storytelling abilities, as Hollywood continues to gape at the longest-running hit streak in movie-making memory, but from what I’ve heard and know about the Pixar wizards, I imagine they’ll be producing nothing but magic for years to come.

I feel like I could write a University paper on this, but there you have it: my Pixar thesis in blog form.

- Britt's On

All My Movies: Almost Famous

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Almost Famous
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup
Costarring: Jason Lee, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frances McDormand, Zooey Deschanel, Jimmy Fallon, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin
Director: Cameron Crowe
Times Watched: About 4 or 5
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 88% / 90

The Road To Ownership: I wanted to buy American Beauty really badly (ironically, the next movie in my roster) and HMV had a twopack sale on - $20 for two movies. Almost Famous, which I knew my parents loved, was sandwiched in with AB.

The Plot: William Miller is perpetually uncool, in part because of his libertarian mom's socialist views, but also because he's crippled by being two years younger than his fellow classmates. When his sister gets fed up with their mom, she hits the road - but leaves William her record collection. Soon he unlocks the the key to coolness - if only internally - through his passion for music, and begins writing articles. A chance run-in with the band Stillwater while attempting to write about Black Sabbath launches his career as Rolling Stone asks him to write an article on the band, which involves him touring with them for awhile. Soon William is thrust into the crazy world of 1970s rock and roll, complete with groupies, drugs, and infighting.

The Good & The Bad: I find I enjoy this movie the more I watch it, but I still hold by my essay that Jerry Maguire is Cameron Crowe's best film. That being said, the hallmarks of what makes CC such a great writer/director/maestro of the cinema is well in play here. To wit:
- Fantastic casting. This is how you use an all-star cast to your advantage. Dress em up and reinvent them. Make them into the characters, not into a parade of celebs. Use character actors and make them special. Conveniently, also make fun of being rich & famous.
- Great soundtrack. Along with Zach Braff, Cameron Crowe should just produce mixtapes for me to make me happy. The soundtrack here is pure classic Americana rock - from Elton John and Simon and Garfunkel to Zeppelin and Bowie. Stillwater's tunes slip in seamlessly, as does Nancy Wilson's always impeccable scoring.
- Amazing vibe. The thing I appreciate MOST about Cameron Crowe films is the fact they don't fall into the classic pattern of beginning/middle/end. There are many downfalls and hardships for the characters, to the point where you almost ask yourself when is it going to end? HOW is it going to end? Happy or sad? Bittersweet?

Crowe's movies are first and foremost about the vibe, and he completely 100% successfully draws you into an authentic-feeling rock and roll scene through the eyes of a naive, uncool, bright-eyed wannabe journalist poser - a voyeur so hapless, yet someone we still feel jealous of compared to the blank-eyed shots of the fans that are farther removed from the action. A good CC film masters the art of vibe, and Almost Famous is perhaps Crowe's best film for it.

There are some problems with the film however. It gets a bit draggy and disorganized in the last third, although watching it this time around, I sort of appreciated that a bit more. If the film is truly meant to be wide-eyed William's story, the film is successful at sweeping you away in the mayhem and magic of rock and roll in the beginning, the good times. The last third of the film, in contrast, feels like a bit of a dragged out hangover, the sparkle lost (as it has been for William). Suddenly the myth is broken down and you feel a little lost as well.

Sometimes the film gets a bit over-exaggerated with its minor characters, but all of Crowe's films do that (Susan Sarandon in 'Elizabethtown' comes to mind). I also get really distracted by the fact that I still don't know to this day how old Penny Lane is supposed to be. Is Kate Hudson - who is perpetually frozen in time, making it harder to determine her age - playing with William? Or is she genuinely tour jailbait? I always felt like the Band Aids were around the 20-year-old mark. Old enough to feel like they created the rules of the road and had been allowed to leave their parents, but young enough to not know any better. I don't know, it always bothers me, because if you're going to cast a kid like Patrick Fugit, your other characters that are supposed to be his age better LOOK it.

I guess my problem with this film is that for as much as it gets right, for the length, I just want MORE. I want more resolution, more detail, more depth, more of everything. The movie just feels fragmented a bit in the end, and after the two hours and long emotional journey, I always feel, as I said, like I just came off a bit of a bender and am recuperating, and not entirely loving the investment I just put into watching the film (or to use my metaphor, getting hammed). Although I will say, this latest go-round provided a few casting Easter eggs. Namely, Rainn Wilson as a decked out Rolling Stone exec!

Best Scene: I kept on trying to figure this out as I watched the movie, and it was really hard. I like the actual acting in the plane scene, but the horrible FX of the whole thing bother me. I enjoy Jason Lee's t-shirt hissy fit but that's cause he's awesome. I like William's first entre into the world of rock & roll, backstage at his first Stillwater concert. I love the house party William and Russell attend. I enjoy pretty much every little bit from Rolling Stone. Gah. I'm going to go with the tee hissy fit. It's just a brilliant piece that lets you see more than a snippet of the loose ends amongst the members.

Worst Scene: The whole Penny/William bathroom/pee scene is just a big no. Same with the devirginizing melee right after.

Best Character: Jason Lee is my fave. He's a great actor, especially when playing the chip-on-his-shoulder frontman / villain (see: The Incredibles). I can't get enough of his self-serving shallowness in this movie, although I also miraculously sympathize with him. It's like Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump!

Worst Character
: Maybe it's the horrible hair they give him, or the fact I feel squeamish whenever they talk about his magazine, but I never liked Philip Seymour Hoffman's 'Lester Bangs' in this movie. He plays a good smarmy, holier-than-thou former loser, but given that I can't stand those dudes, he drives me nuts.

Soundtrack of our Lives: As said earlier, great soundtrack from the legendary Cameron Crowe. The music is used as both emotional cues, plot devices, and background filler in perfect harmony.

If You Like This You'll Like
: Any Cameron Crowe movie.


All My Movies: Baby Take A Bow

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Title: Baby Take A Bow
Starring: Shirley Temple, James Dunn
Costarring: Claire Trevor, Alan Dineheart
Director: Harry Lachman
Times Watched: 1, but potentially 2
Genre: Comedy

Road To Ownership: I used to watch Shirley Temple movies a LOT as a child. My parents were always taking me to the video store to rent them, and I was beyond delighted when I came across one that wasn't available at my local video store. I did away with my VHS tapes some time ago, and came across a 10-disc special gift set at Costco a year and a half ago which included Baby Take A Bow. Now...I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it before, but not 100%. I'm being swayed by the trailer at the beginning of all my VHS tapes that had the title line of this movie as the opening scene to it. Hm.

The Plot: Eddie is an ex-con that has been straight for six years - married to Kay, with a five-year-old named Shirley. He's also been dogged by a hack job investigator named Welch, who has kept the family from their dreams of owning a custom-built house in Yonkers. Another ex-con named Trigger Stone wants to work with Eddie and his fellow ex-con on getting rid of some recently lifted stash, but Eddie protests. Trigger still gets his way by pawning a set of pearls onto Shirley, who proceeds to play hide and go seek with them in a cat and mouse game between her, Welch, Eddie, and Trigger.

The Good & The Bad: It's so hard to watch these films with an objective eye because this was really the birth of filmmaking. It reminded me of playing 'The Movies' and how crappy the movies you make are in the beginning of the game - very plodding pace and predictable. The earlier Shirley Temple features (I've also seen 'Stand Up & Cheer') - the ones that served as prototype and training grounds for the child star - tend to be the most boring because they're able to do 'less' with Shirley, and focus more on the adults. The hallmarks of a ST film - dance numbers, singalongs, fantasy sequences, fun costumes, etc. - are few and far between here, with just one lame rooftop father/daughter number (where the title line comes in), a snippet of Shirley in a dance class, and a random exercise scene with her and Kay. Shirley's storyline just feels mashed in with the actually relatively compelling and humorous (were it handled differently today) storyline between Eddie, Welsh, and Trigger. It's like a caper film gone wrong basically. It just wasn't particularly spectacular at the end of the day.

Best Scene: By default, Shirley's rooftop birthday party because it's the only part that contained a musical number. Plus Shirley's birthday dress was cute, and iconic. Fun to see the film in colour in this instance at least.

Worst Scene: I was going NUTS in the scene when Eddie realized he had the pearls and was trying to figure out where to stash them. Logically, he should have kept them right in his pocket since Welsh had already rejected the idea that the men were carrying them on them.

Best Character
: Shirley of course.

Worst Character: Welsh was just annoying. If they had established a Javert / Valjean rapport between them earlier on more clearly - perhaps that Welsh had been 100% responsible for sending Eddie to jail under wrongful terms, then it would have been a bit more spicy. It didn't make sense for him to have been as hung up on the guys as he was.

Soundtrack of Our Lives
: god this movie could have used a score. The only musical number as I said, was a father/daughter tune sung and danced to on the rooftop, although Shirley had a surprising amount of trouble keeping up compared to what I'm used to.

If You Like This You'll Like
: Other early Shirley movies, like 'Stand Up & Cheer'.


All My Movies: (500) Days of Summer

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(500) Days of Summer
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel
Costarring: Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler
Director: Marc Webb
Times Watched: 3
Genre: Romantic Comedy
RT / Metacritic: 87% / 76

Road to Ownership: I had a precognisant notion I would love this movie, and I did when I saw it in theatres. I convinced my dad to go hunting for it at the video store one night just so I would hang out with my parents a bit longer when I was over for dinner. And finally I scored it on eBay for about 30% less than I would have paid otherwise, and it arrived in my mailbox this week. Seeing as how I just finished the #'s section of my DVD collection I thought it only appropriate to watch it ASAP.

The Plot: To quote the narrator, the movie is a tale of ‘Boy Meets Girl’, but it is not a love story. Indeed, within minutes of the opening scene, you are transported to the day the love story is over. Tom is a hopeless romantic working as a greeting card writer when he meets the enigmatic and aloof Summer, a perpetually independent type of gal. The movie takes you through the 500 days Tom is preoccupied with Summer on one level or another through a ‘flipbook’ style that jumps back and forth at different points in their relationship to point out the bitter, the sweet, and everything in between.

The Good & The Bad: I have so few bad things to say about this movie. It’s original, so original in fact, it almost feels mean to give it the nasty Romantic Comedy label. The flipbook format allows you to see the writing parallels in the rise and fall of a relationship. In fact, the brilliance of the flipbook lies in the fact it's very representative of how our memories DO work when remembering the pitfalls and peaks of our relationships. The leads easily carry the film on their shoulders: regardless of how you feel about Zooey Deschanel as one of Hollywood’s most polarizing actress, she fits the role of Summer so well it’s hard to tell if she’s really even acting. The film isn’t afraid to go off on silly tangents like the intro to Summer and what makes her spectacular, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s showstopping musical number, or the little documentary-style interview session towards the end, or the random film noir in the middle.

What else? The writing was wicked, the wardrobes were spot on, the setting and locations used inspired (I saw a new, real side of LA), and the cinematography was beautiful. I commented last night that watching it this time reminded me of the way wedding photographers shoot things. They find beauty in the ordinary things in life, but also know what shots to include for capturing that magic moment perfectly. The use of blue throughout to remind you of Zooey's distinctive eyes was also magical. Although there were certainly some fantastical moments in the film, overall it felt very genuine, especially compared to the more-real-than-most premise of the last flick we watched, ‘All About Love’.

I’m racking my brain for things to dislike about the movie. Some people might not appreciate the complicated flipbook format and having to keep track of what happened when. Others might not like the indie hipster vibe of the leads and the film as a whole. I guess my only issue with the film is the timeframe post-break-up for Summer’s life. It all feels a little fast for the girl she purports to be at the beginning of the story, although by the same thread, she does explain herself pretty well by the end.

Best Scene: I’m partial to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s musical extravaganza. It’s catchy and he totally pulls it off – unlike some of the other tangents, it doesn’t take away from the ‘reality’ of the story, it simply serves as an amazingly hilarious and entertaining metaphor for Tom’s feelings, in comparison to the glimpses of much more restrained feelings we get from Summer.

Worst Scene: Really none, although the film noir is a bit random and distracting. It plays for good laughs at least, but unlike the other sidebars, it makes you go “WTF was that?” versus “Brilliant!”

Best Character: Chloe Moretz is a bit of a scene stealer in this film with her tough little sis attitude. I love Tom & Summer but I can’t pick, so I’ll go with Chloe’s character.

Worst Character: Tom goes on a blind date in the film with Rachel Boston, who I liked on American Dreams. However her character in this movie is pretty implausible, as the way too tolerant but still straight talking chick of eternal patience, until it’s just too, too much in one of the other more awkward scenes of the film.

Soundtrack Of Our Lives
: I’ve been thinking of doing a post on my fave movie soundtracks, and last night solidified this one as definitely being in contention. Predictably for a movie with two characters that are quite hipster, the soundtrack follows suit with a bunch of great tunes. However part of what I appreciate most in a good soundtrack is the actual use of music in a film. (500) Days expertly uses all of the music to allow you to have recall of each song’s place in the movie when you listen to it. Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bookends’ and the dual-use of Temper Trap’s ‘Sweet Disposition’ come to mind in particular. One knock though – where the hell is Jack Penate’s brilliant ‘Have I Been A Fool’ which is used throughout one entire scene? Hmph.

If You Like This You’ll Like: Other movies that subvert the rom com label…About A Boy and Juno spring to mind.

Final Grade: 4.5/5

Chew Them Up & Spit Them Out

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I am a fan of old school 1960s teen dream Disney. I wanted to be Hayley Mills when I was a kid, and Pollyanna and The Parent Trap ranked as two of my most-watched movies as a kid, along with the uber-bizarre Babes in Toyland starring Annette Funicello.

For awhile it seemed the Disney factory stopped producing ready-made stars, the closest thing being the explosion of teenagers in the late 90s that had all once, coincidentally, been on the Mickey Mouse Club together. You’ve heard the names before, but Britney, Christina, Justin, Keri Russell, and Ryan Gosling are just some of the famous alums.

These days though, it seems like the gears are greased and the factory is working at maximum capacity to churn out an endless spew of young starlets – starting back about a decade ago with Lindsay Lohan (who got her start in Disney’s remake of ‘The Parent Trap’) and Hilary Duff (who defined the Disney preteen genre with her starring role on ‘Lizzie Mcguire’).

Both stars burned out relatively quickly. Lohan seemed poised to go far beyond her Disney days with the hugely successful ‘Mean Girls’ and a handful of other half-decent movie roles in youth-friendly films like ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’. The tides quickly turned however, as Lindsay got caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle…and well, you know the rest. Girl got sentenced to spend some time in prison this week! Duff managed to avoid the majority of the party girl controversy, but earned headlines for her clandestine relationship with Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden (papa to two kids & husband-to-be of Nicole Richie) when she was a minor, and a relatively flat music career. Duff appeared on ‘Gossip Girl’ for a stint this fall, but other than that her ship seems to have sailed. Don’t worry about Hil though, she’s engaged to a Canadian NHL hockey player. Cha-ching!

I remember my friend Danielle complaining that all of these starlets were unfairly blessed with good lucks, decent acting skills, and mysteriously, singing voices. I’ve heard stories about how terrible most of these kids actually are at singing and that Disney processes their voices as much as their hair, but it’s important to note that all Disney darlings (and their counterparts on The N! and ABC Family) tend to have vocal abilities.

Since the Lindsay/Hilary reign of the early 2000s, we’ve been treated to an endless litany of superstars – some which rise to greater heights than others. Call it our short-term attention span or what, but all of a sudden the 15 minutes for these kids seems to be shortened to 5 or 10 minutes.

Consider the Jonas Brothers. Last year (and for a couple of quieter but still buzz-filled years before that), the Jo Bros were THE hottest ticket in town. They churned out a few albums, went on sold out tours, and braced themselves for the inevitable Hanson-esque backlash. And yet they remained relatively untouched. Other than a few jabs at their purity rings, the only logical explanation for the decline in popularity of the band is the fact one of them got married and another one dated Taylor Swift (and everyone in Hollywood) and got revealed as a Mini-Mayer, both of which are good reasons to give parents pause when it comes to their OCD daughters falling over themselves for this group.

In one short year, the Jonas Brothers have been dethroned by a fifteen-year-old Canadian moppet named Justin Beiber. The same hysteria surrounding Bieber is exactly what defined the Jonas Brothers – screaming, hysterical girls of a certain age, sold out tours, and limited proven ability at a very young age. The only question is whether Beiber will be able to translate his current success into longevity – a harder move than one might think, as Justin Timberlake can attest (as the sole survivor of the boy band era).

Take another example: High School Musical. The franchise spawned two television movies and a big screen outing in just three short years and took over the dreams of tweens everywhere (and a few eagle-eyed teens and young adults that spied one Zac Efron). It also opened the door for more adult-oriented shows like “Glee” to make their move. Despite skyrocketing the young stars into the public eye, it has proven relatively fruitless for the gang so far. Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron, the most predictably successful of the bunch, have continued on quietly with starring roles in B-grade movies (save for Zac’s ’17 Again’, which I enjoy), Ashley Tisdale got a nose job and continued doing voice work and kiddie shows, and the rest of the cast basically fell off the deep end – along with their price-slashed merchandise. I have no doubt Hanna Montana, now that it’s off the air and Miley Cyrus is branching out in a Britney sense, will suffer the same fate.

My point is, there is a disturbing trend at work here. It seems like every week there is a new mini-star on the rise. I could name them, but I couldn’t tell you what they’ve done, what show they’re on, or how their music career is going. Demi Lovato. Selena Gomez. Jamie Lynn Spears (teenage mama). Miranda Cosgrove. Anna Sophia Robb. I’d like to meet the parents that think it’s okay to encourage their young ones to be thrown into an overgroomed, overworked spotlight like this when the results are debatable at best.

It’s nothing new – kid stars in the 30s and the 60s (the last big booms) were famously overworked and overexposed as well – but it’s disconcerting to think that one day I’ll be a parent shelling out for flavour of the month branded backpacks and binders, at the expense of a young person that doesn’t know what they’re in for, to the benefit of a company that knows how to manipulate and mastermind frighteningly successful branded people.

It’s just a hard thing to swallow.

- Britt’s On

All My Movies: A Lot Like Love

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A Lot Like Love
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet
Costarring: Taryn Manning, Ali Larter, Ty Giordano
Times Watched: 5-ish?
Genre: Romantic Comedy
RT/Metacritic: 40% / 48

Road to Ownership: I went to the theatres to see this movie with incredibly low expectations – especially as the theatre was virtually empty. I left feeling pleasantly surprised at the charming performances of the leads, the sly jabs at the 90s, and enjoying the update of When Harry Met Sally.

The Plot: Oliver, a relatively fresh college grad, is on his way to NYC to visit his brother when he observes a young alternative-looking woman named Emily at the airport in the midst of an emotional meltdown. She pounces on him during their flight and they join the mile high club, but is relatively cold-hearted afterwards. A series of chance encounters continue to put the couple together over the years which is enhanced by their undeniable chemistry, but something always seems to get in the way as you watch them grow up and grow apart over the next six years.

The Good & The Bad: I get why this movie doesn’t have a higher critical score – it doesn’t have an original bone in its body. Even the name screams GENERIC! The ending is pretty much predestined and feels a little rushed even when you know what's happening. That being said, I always enjoy watching this movie because unlike most repetitive rom com’s out there, it’s never mean, the 90s humour is awesome, and the leads turn in such good, charismatic performances it’s hard not to like them, especially together. It has a good cast of supporting players that fit into their little boxes quite neatly (although Taryn Manning must’ve been peeved that 4 of her 10 lines in the film were ‘You’re such a dick!’) but still provide some comic relief.

There’s also a fair bit of realism mixed in with the fantasy elements that dominate romantic comedies. The fact that things never go quite swimmingly for either character, or that neither one is a particularly strong ‘catch’ other than what they see in one another. There is heartbreak, betrayal, loyalty, friendship, and a general sweet sentiment that carries the film.

Like I said, admittedly this is not a showstopping film, especially with repeat viewings. But it’s Ashton Kutcher at his finest – putting aside his cocky bravado and embodying a kind of dorky but still pretty smoking hot guy that wants more than he can achieve. Plus I always like Amanda Peet and it was nice to see her in a starring role.

The final reason why I look favourably on this film is that, looking at my movies, I rarely own this sort of chop shop romantic comedy that infiltrates the market these days. If I own something called a romantic comedy it’s debatably so – Adventureland or Love Actually as examples. This is one of the few ‘lazy rom com’s’ that I think are worth watching, never mind owning.

Best Scene: I always liked the silent scene when Oliver and Emily go out on New Year’s Eve. Emily walking into the glass door is also choice.

Worst Scene: There isn’t really a majorly cringe-inducing scene, although the 90’s-era Oliver makes me squeamish.

Best Character: I actually like how Ashton Kutcher plays Oliver, but I have to say Ty Giordano steals every scene that he’s in. “Did she just honk? Why?” he says, as Oliver’s deaf brother.

Worst Character: Emily’s horrible boyfriend Peter that dumps her right before New Year’s.

Soundtrack of Our Lives: Super great soundtrack, kicking off with ironically classic 90s tunes from the likes of Third Eye Blind and Smashmouth and progressing to wonderfully representative 90s lite indie rock like Aqualung.

If You Like This You’ll Like: When Harry Met Sally, Boys & Girls

Final Grade: 3/5

This Is An EPic Post

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I’ve been listening to Timbaland’s ‘Shock Value II’ lately, subtitle: “Anyone Can Be A Star With Autotune!”, and I have to say, I’m impressed. Along with the Black Eyed Peas will.i.am, few producers out there can consistently churn out such annoyingly innovative, diverse, and catchy insta-hits.

While Timba’s vocal talent is questionable at best, his choice of guest stars is inspired and diverse – from pop starlets Miley Cyrus and Jojo to unexpected collaborations with Chad Kroeger and Drake to familiar faces like Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, the album manages to subvert the negativity that can come with banking on your guest star prowess to make a good album.

In actuality, Timbaland has a nice symbiotic system set up. If you work with him, you’re pretty much guaranteed a top 20 hit. In fact, looking at singles released from SVII, Carry Out (Justin Timberlake), If We Ever Meet Again (Katy Perry), Marchin On (One Republic), Morning After Dark (Nelly Furtado and SoShy) all reached the top 10, while his collaborations with Miley Cyrus hit 63 (and was only on the chart for one week) and Drake hit at 23. Plus, if you’re someone who is taking time off from the gruelling rigors of touring and promotion, it’s a simple way to keep your name and mug on the charts. Timba in turn gets street cred by proxy, actual vocal talent, and establishes relationships with stars who might hire him down the line. Genius.

This brings me to the rise of the EP. Several up and coming stars, and I mean really up and coming, have commented that the EP is the way to go. Consider the pros of this model. It allows you to produce new material more often to satiate your fans, and continually boosts album sales – you can charge more than half the cost of a CD for a 4-5 song disc. It reduces the use of ‘filler’ to round out an album, earning you higher reviews. It allows you to experiment with a new style of music or sound. It reduces the pressure and strains of having to release a new album and reinvent yourself entirely (see: Christina Aguilera). It plays better with the iTunes generation because the constantly refreshed content is a u-pick operation. If your EP spawns a huge hit, even if the other tunes aren’t smashing successes, people will be less likely to call it a ‘one-single’ album (see: Smashmouth and Sugar Ray), and more likely to shell out the extra few bucks to see what else you’ve been spinning in the studio. It gives you an opportunity to promote singles instead of entire albums, which is way less work. It gives you new material to integrate into an existing tour concept. It tides your fans over till you’re ready to do a full-length album (see: Death Cab for Cutie). It gives record companies the chance to test an uncertain star (see: Drake). It can still propel mini-tours – hitting the big cities or cities tied to a certain theme (ex: if you’re doing blues, hit some of the more industrial, earthy cities, or only go to festivals) by allowing you to integrate some new material with the classics people will most desperately want to see.

I could go on. Of course there are pros – marketing and otherwise – to sticking to full-length albums. It’s a lot easier to package an image, a brand, and an artist together when it’s hinged on a large album concept – you can have the Christina Aguilera ‘Stripped’ tour, merchandise, and general feeling from that era of her career. Britney Spears’ latest effort, ‘Circus’, makes a similar case for the packaging of a brand by album, not single – although Britney refreshed her tour halfway through with the release of her greatest hits and the #1 single ‘3’. Also Britney is one of the exceptions to the rule – the industry is so interested in working with her she’s able to more quickly roll out music than more artists, although the idea of her doing an EP is of interest.

That being said, I see the rise of the EP becoming a continual trend in the industry. I’m not the first person to say it and I won’t be the last, but it just makes sense for the music biz to embrace this change.

Circling back to Timbaland…his album works as singles, that are reminiscent of how EP’s work. If he were smart, he’d consider doing EP’s exclusively with one or two artists he’s really interested in developing – whether it’s ‘Timbaland Presents…’ or just taking the production credits to the nth degree, as he does. Or he would consider putting on his own two-day music festival featuring the artists he most frequently collaborates with, the ones he’d like people to learn more about, including him hopping on stage to join them, or headlining his own show during the festival and have all the guests there at once. It’d be massive.

My point about Timbaland, especially in terms of his lack of vocal talent, is that he is a music brand, and that works *well* in making EP’s successful. Dude should take advantage.

Just sayin!

- Britt’s On

All My Movies: Adventureland

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Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds
Costarring: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr
Times Watched: 2
Genre: Comedy / Dramedy
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic Score: 88% / 79

Road To Ownership: I caught this movie in theatres and had such happy vibey feelings about it I bought it previously viewed afterwards.

The Plot: Jesse Eisenberg’s James is a recent college grad with big plans to spend the summer in Europe before heading off to grad school at Columbia with his fellow academic pals. The hitch? His dad has taken a pay cut, and suddenly James is hung out to dry. After years spent in his ivory tower, James discovers he has no employable skills, until he decides to suck it up and take a job at Adventureland, a cheesy local theme park. There, James meets the enigmatic Em (Kristen Stewart), makes endless connections via his stash of joints, and does what he has to do to make his dreams come true after a summer from hell.

The Good & The Bad: Watching this movie for the second time last night, I felt the same way I did about it the first time. This is a movie that is pretty light on plot, but heavy on vibe. If ‘Best Pictures’ awards were given away for movies that can evoke a certain vibe and emotion to the nth degree, then Adventureland would take the cake. Although I haven’t worked at a theme park post-college in the 1980s myself, there is something weirdly nostalgic, familiar, and relatable about this movie, the characters, and the experiences they share. I guess it’s the idea of being on the cusp of adulthood, and having one last hurrah before seriousness sets in. By the end of the movie you feel like one of the gang.

The theme park setting definitely contributes to this, as much of the humour in the movie comes from encounters at the park, plus it sets up unlikely camaraderie between the characters were they in high school, college, or ‘the real world’. Despite how well the movie works at creating this slightly wacky commune of young adults, it does have its flaws. The characters are never quite as pushed as they could be. Which isn’t a terrible thing, because people never are quite as a OTT as movies tend to make them, but for example – Frigo isn’t as funny as the movie probably wants him to be, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s characters seem slightly too zany and wink wink next to the regular cast, and Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart’s whole thing felt a little uneven.

Despite being light on plot and having a kind of sucky (although semi-realistic) ending, this movie is heavy on genuineness, sentiment, and real life humour, which makes it worth watching (and owning). Jesse Eisenberg shows great comedic chops and makes seriousness sexy. Kristen Stewart works the angry but hopeful girl angle well. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader provide some wacky carnival humour (although at times it veers into cheesy). Ryan Reynolds fulfills the role of hot guy who peaked too early perfectly. And all of the other characters fill their roles perfectly - hot chick 'Lisa P' is the perfect mixture of normal looking but hot by theme park standards. Fellow nerd in arms Joel is good at presenting a less rosy view of the world. And all the other characters you catch glimpses of play their roles well and help strengthen this colourful but believable cast.

Best Scene: Tough call as the entire movie is a nice, big flowing experience. I like all the stuff at the theme park though, particularly the references to ‘Amadeus Amadeus!’ Post-weed cookies is also fun.

Worst Scene: Frigo peeing on the window? Not funny and not necessary. The dude is like Stifler circa ‘American Wedding’. More retarded than relatable.

Best Character: I quite like Jesse Eisenberg’s cleverly nerdy James Brennan. It’s a little Michael Cera but with a stiff, confident upper lip.

Worst Character: I’m going to have to go with Frigo here. His juvenile sense of humour doesn’t really mesh with how clever the rest of the film is. That's two movies in a row where the court jester is a big fail.

Soundtrack of our Lives: Great soundtrack throughout. It doesn’t do 80’s in an extreme way (ditto on the wardrobe department, big kudos) and shows there were some people who weren’t into the extreme use of electro-synth, as most OTT 80’s movies are.

If You Like This You’ll Like: Juno, Whip It (movies that are also great for the vibe)...and I know I'm missing something else. I'll add more later :)


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