Sunday, May 17, 2015

Drummer Boy

Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Released: October 10, 2014

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Birdman)
Best Supporting Actor - J.K. Simmons (won)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Damien Chazelle (lost to Graham Moore for The Imitation Game)
Best Film Editing (won)
Best Sound Mixing (won)

Think of the music teacher in Mr. Holland's Opus (whose name was Mr. Holland, coincidently!) and just take the complete antithesis of him and you have Terrance Fletcher, the music teacher in Whiplash. Played by J.K. Simmons (who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year), Fletcher is the intense conductor of a jazz band at the competitive music school, Shaffer Conservatory, where nineteen-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first-year student. Fletcher sees Andrew drumming one night for practice and invites him to his class the next morning. Andrew knows who Terrance Fletcher is and is very excited and honored at the prospect of getting to work with him, although when he first sits in during his class, I'm sure he has a change of tune...pun intended! While observing the class, Andrew quickly realizes Fletcher is a huge jerk. Someone's instrument was out of tune and he told them that this person better speak up so they can stop wasting everyone's time, but nobody says anything. He starts attacking this overweight, timid student and makes snarky comments about his weight and asks him if his instrument is out of tune to which the student says yes and Fletcher makes him leave the class. Just as I suspected, that student did not have the out of tune instrument but Fletcher said it makes it worse that he didn't even know.

He is brutal to Andrew when it's his turn to show Fletcher what he's got. He is either too slow or too fast for Fletcher's liking and never seems to get the exact beat he is looking for. I gained a lot of respect for drummers after watching this movie - apparently, it's a lot more difficult than I thought! I thought Andrew was doing a good job, but since Fletcher picks up a chair and throws it at him, I guess not! I did laugh when he asks Andrew, "Do you know why I just threw a chair at you?" Sheesh, somebody needs to watch Mr. Holland's Opus to learn how to be a music teacher! But let's be honest, this movie was way more entertaining than that one!

Andrew eventually gets the rhythm right and he is invited to join in at a local jazz competition, but only as an alternate in case the other drummer can't do it which is what happens when Andrew loses the sheet music (Fletcher gets mad at the other boy who gave it to Andrew as it was his responsibility to make sure nothing happened to it) and has to play since the other boy doesn't know the music by heart and Andrew informs Fletcher that he has Whiplash, the name of the piece, memorized and can fill in. Even though Andrew saved the day and even though their jazz band won first prize, Andrew does not become the core drummer like he thought he would and instead Fletcher invites the redheaded kid from Andrew's entry-level class (who I thought was one of the Scavo twins from Desperate Housewives, but he's not) to try out and he is given the spot of core drummer. Andrew is outraged by this and Fletcher agrees to let him be the core drummer at the next competition after both boys have auditioned for hours well into the early hours of the morning. However, on the day of the competition, his bus brakes down and Andrew has to rent a car. He forgets his drum sticks at the rent a car place and is rushing to get back to the auditorium because he only has a few minutes left and his car is hit by a truck and flips over! Who didn't see that coming? Even though he should have been dead, or at the very least, critically injured, he runs across the lawn with blood pouring down his head and makes it with seconds to spare. Needless to say, the performance does not go well and he is suspended from the class.

To be able to concentrate more on becoming the best drummer of his generation, he breaks up with his girlfriend, Nicole (played by Melissa Benoist who played Marley on Glee) who he had recently met and asked out. Needless to say Nicole is pretty angry about this and even though when Andrew realizes he may have made a huge mistake and later invites her to attend one of his shows, she says she might be busy with her boyfriend. Ooh, burn. But good for her for moving on. Andrew was a total jerk to her.

The movie ends with Fletcher trying to get back at Andrew and humiliates him in a crowd of people when he is fired from his job after a student has made a report on what an abusive and horrible teacher Fletcher was, but it turns out Andrew gains his respect with a drum solo that goes on forever. I mean, it was really REALY impressive, but if I had been in that audience, I would have been like, damn, is this kid ever going to stop drumming? Great movie; I highly recommend it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cougar Town

How Stella Got Her Groove Back
Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
Cast: Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, Whoopi Goldberg, Regina King
Released: August 14, 1998

I had not read the novel by Terry McMillan or seen the movie until now, but I was pretty sure I knew how the plot went: Stella is a forty year old woman who's had a bit of a bump in her life. Perhaps she's just lost her job, perhaps she's just gotten divorced....I don't know, just something where she needs to get her groove back! So she goes to Jamaica for a little pick-me-up where she meets a younger guy (not any younger than 26 though!), has a fling with him and comes back home as a more confident woman and meets a businessman her age and they fall in love and get married. We-ell, that's not exactly what happened! 

Stella (Angela Bassett) is a 40-year-old successful stockbroker in San Francisco raising a ten-year-old son. Her ex-husband is Chief Weber from Grey's Anatomy (James Pickens Jr.) and her sister has set her up on a date with a perfectly fine and respectable judge (played by Carl Lumbly who you probably know as Dixon from Alias). Speaking of Alias, Victor Garber (Spy Daddy!) plays her boss. You know, Angela Bassett had a recurring guest role on the last season of Alias. Do you think Victor Garber told J.J. Abrams, "Hey, you know who you should get for this role? Angela Bassett. We've been really good friends since our days on the Stella set." Probably not, they probably got her because she's a big name. And I'm pretty sure Abrams had all his attention on Lost by this point. Anyway, I'm getting completely off topic as you can see I didn't care for this movie!

Stella has two sisters: Vanessa (Regina King) and Angela (Suzanne Douglas, who I wasn't familiar with). That had to be confusing on the set with an actress named Angela and a character named Angela!

Angela's best friend, Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg) lives in New York and after Angela calls her spur of the moment after seeing a tourism commercial for Jamaica and suggests they go there, she agrees to the idea. The two friends meet up on the island for two weeks of fun and relaxing. Before Stella has even checked in, Dee has already met two obnoxious ex-football players who have really let themselves go. If I went on vacation with a friend and she met two unappealing guys and wanted us to hook up with them....ewww! I would be so mad! And, of course, Stella is not thrilled with this. Her "man" is especially unappealing when he whips off his shirt...and pants and all he is wearing is a speedo. Dear God, nobody needed to see that!

Even though Stella is (the ancient age of!) 40, girlfriend looks hot. She works out and she is buff and toned. She catches the eye of a younger man when they're eating breakfast outside the hotel one morning. He sits next to her and they start chatting. He is Winston Shakespeare (stupidest fake name ever!) and he is 20 years old. He was literally only a teenager one year prior. I  knew this was about an "older" woman having an affair with a younger man, but I had no idea he was only 20! I thought he was no younger than 25 or 26. Taye Diggs was 26 or 27 when he made the movie, so he's not as young as his character. Obviously, being a model, he's a very good looking guy. Did you know he's 44? I think he looks better now than he did back then. Of course, I can't take him seriously in this movie because he wears all these bright red and yellow boardshorts and t-shirts and has a ridiculous Jamaican accent and this was his first major role and he's acting opposite Angela Bassett. He serves his role well as the man candy, but he's definitely gotten better with the acting as he's aged.

Stella tells him several times she's old enough to be his mother after he invites her to a dance party (which was the weirdest party ever as everybody took off their tops so all the ladies were dancing with their breasts hanging was like some freaky orgy!) Once she gets over the weirdness of the age difference, they start having a fling...which is what I thought it was just going to be, but no. Not exactly. They start having a relationship. She flies back to Jamaica with her son and niece (I'm not sure why her niece came with them...I'm not even sure which sister her niece belonged to!) so Winston can meet her son. There's a really awkward scene where Winston "surprises" (more like pisses her off!) Stella when he takes her to his parents' house for lunch. His mother is only a year older than her. Awkward!

When Dee dies from cancer (and that just seemed like a total after thought that they randomly threw in there because they thought the movie needed something sad...I'm guessing this plot line is a lot more flushed out in the novel!), Winston flies to  the U.S. to be with Stella and attend the funeral. He ends up moving there and moves in with Stella.

Okay, I'm sorry, but there is no way in hell any self-respecting, successful and attractive woman like Stella would have a relationship with a freaking TWENTY year old. He may not be a baby like Stella informs Winston's mom, but it's still pretty damn young. I don't care how good-looking the guy is. There's a scene where Stella loses her job because of....something....and I know they just did put that in the script because they didn't want anyone thinking Winston was after Stella for a Sugar Mama...because that's what I was thinking! But Stella begins to find out pretty soon they barely have anything in common. Duh, you think? They go to the movies and see a juvenile comedy and run into her sister and brother-in-law and another couple which includes the good-looking (and age appropriate!) judge Stella could have been set up with who had just come from seeing a more serious movie. Stella and Winston get into a fight after he wants to pay for dinner and says that she always does and he wants to contribute to and she goes, "Well, why don't you help with the mortgage?" Ooh, snap! Then she bitches that he never does anything when she asks him to do it and I'm thinking, OMG, it's like you're talking to your child! So they bitch and fight for a few days, then have hot shower sex and then Winston tells her he's moving back to Jamaica because he wants to go to school to be a doctor, but she beats him to the airport and tells him he should go to Berkeley and then he proposes and....omg, it is so bad! There's no way in hell that relationship is going to last!

And can we just address one last thing? Stella never needed to get her groove back in the first place! She was already pretty badass. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

This movie is bulls***!

How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Director: Donald Petrie
Cast: Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Bebe Neuwirth, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Michele
Released: February 7, 2003
Viewed in theaters: April 20, 2003

Remember back in the early 2000s when Matthew McConaughey was in all these awful romcoms like The Wedding Planner, Failure to Launch, and Sahara? (Well, Sahara was more of an adventure romance). This movie is no exception to that list. It is just terrible! 

Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson and McConaughey places Benjamin Barry (the screenwriter sure likes alliteration...but so do I!) Andie lives in New York and is a writer for a fictitious Cosmo-like magazine called Composure. Andie's column is a "How to" column: "How To Talk Your Way Out of a Traffic Ticket", "How To Make Your Butt Look Good", etc. She would much rather write about things that are more important like politics, economics, and religion! She has no time writing about make up tips and clothes and dating advice even though she goes out with her friends to gossip about her dating life and has an array of great designer clothes, bags, and shoes. Gimme a break, this girl couldn't give a crap about religion, economics, and politics! Her boss (Bebe Neuwirth) tells her perhaps she can choose what topic she wants to write about when she delivers a stellar piece.

She gets the idea for the "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" column when her friend and fellow co-worker, Michelle (Kathryn Hahn), gets dumped by her boyfriend of one week. She doesn't understand because everything was going so well and even cried with emotion the first time they had sex. Andie is going to find some poor schmuck to date and drive him away with all the cliche mistakes women make to drive men away (being too clingy and needy, calling all the time, talking in a baby voice, making him do things he doesn't want to do) as she writes her article. Now I'm thinking, What women is going to see the headline "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and think, Oh, I need to read that because I want to get rid of the guy I'm dating! If you really want to get rid of a guy you were dating, you don't need to read a damn article on how to do it! It's not that hard! And Andie Anderson is at amateur hour here...please, ten days? Give me one day! Hell, give me two hours! Ten days is the given number because her boss wanted to give her a week to establish a relationship and the next issue was going to press in eleven days. Maybe if the article was called "How to Keep a Guy for More Than 10 Days", then I could see it being beneficial. 

Ben is an advertising executive who wants to pitch an ad for a diamond company. His co-worker, Judy (Michael Michele) is also trying to get a deal with the same company and thinks she will be a better fit for the gem that symbolizes love because Ben's relationships never tend to go on beyond a couple months. Ben says he can make any woman fall in love with him (because he has a charming Southern accents and looks like Matthew McConaughey) and Judy tells him if he can do that, then she'll back out of pitching her idea and let him have it. She tells him she'll pick out the woman for him to charm. Well, wouldn't you know, Judy had been at the Composure offices earlier that day and knows about the article Andie is writing and Andie is with her friends at the same bar trying to find a guy she can date and drive away. 

After they introduce themselves, Ben takes Andie out for dinner on his motorcycle and then back to his place. Um, there is no way in hell I would go on a motorcycle with some guy I just met, I don't care if he looks like Matthew McConaughey! I would probably end up dead as I don't know what kind of driver he is! Maybe Andie should write an article called "How To Not Go On a First Date"....which is the most awkward sounding title ever! They just seemed to move really fast, but I guess they both only have ten days to push the other person away/make the other person fall in love with them.

Now if Ben didn't have his own bet going, he might have stuck with Andie for a few days because she's an attractive blonde and he might have overlooked her being annoying at a basketball game when she asked him to get her a drink at the last minute of the game (and I was amazed that he didn't spill a drop of it when he sprinted back to her because that thing was FULL!) and then makes him go back because he didn't get Diet, but by the time she starts in with the baby talk and interrupting his nights where he plays poker with the guys he would have gotten rid of her. Even if those didn't deter him, he definitely would have sent her packing after she shows him a scrapbook she created with photos of their children - she had pasted photos of their faces onto the bodies of children. It was sooo creepy! Anyone in their right mind would have gotten the hell out of that relationship! Not to mention the fact that she was calling his mother and chatting with her without his knowledge!

Naturally, Ben is getting fed up with Andie's behavior and does end it, but just when Andie thinks she's done her job, he suggests they try couples counseling. Andie gets Michelle to pretend to be their therapist and she suggests they visit Ben's family in Staten Island for the weekend. Why this will bring them closer together, I have no idea, but it does and do you know what happens that nobody could have possibly predicted in a thousand years? (Yes, that was sarcasm!) They fall in love! Imagine that! We know this because Chantal Kreviazuk was crooning "Feels Like Home" as Andie and Ben made love for the first time in the shower of his parents' home bathroom. Yes, you read that right. 

Andie tells her boss that she can't write the article but her boss tells her she has to because the cover has already been printed and has the article title on it. There's no going back now! She and Ben both attend  an event that is being held by the diamond company Ben is trying to get a deal with. They have all their diamonds on display and women are allowed to go up and try anything on and wear it for the rest of the night. They do have security guards everywhere, but I find it hard to believe any random person could just go up and wear these diamonds that cost thousands of dollars. Andie finds out that Ben was only dating her to use her for a deal and Ben finds out that she was only dating him for an article. In the most amusing scene of the movie, they both sing "You're So Vain" - neither of them can sing it correctly and are both horribly off-key.

Andie writes a very heartwarming article about how she fell for the guy she was planning to lose in ten days and quits her job to head to Washington to look for something with more substance, but Ben, after reading the article, stops her and confesses his love for her and she stays in New York to be with him. Such a terrible, piece of crap movie!

Oh, and they play the cardgame, bulls*** in the movie so that's where I got my title for this review! 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

'Wild' at Heart

Director: Jean-Marc Valle
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin
Released: December 19, 2014

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Reese Witherspoon (lost to Julianne Moore for Still Alice)
Best Supporting Actress - Laura Dern (lost to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood)

I really liked this movie, but I am a sucker for survival stories, although this is more about self-discovery, but there are definitely some survival aspects as it's about a woman (Reese Witherspoon) hiking the PCT on her own. I just assumed PCT stood for Pacific Coast Trail and I was right about the "Pacific" and Trail" part, but I did some research and found out it stand for the Pacific Crest Trail. Here are some interesting facts about the PCT which I gathered from the oh-so-factual site, Wikipedia: It's 2,663 miles long (she hiked over 1,000 miles) and obviously runs through California, Oregon, and Washington. It was classified as a  National Scenic Trail in 1968, but wasn't complete until 1993.

The movie is based on a memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed who is portrayed by Witherspoon, who bought the rights to the movie even before the book was published in 2012 (she also bought the rights to Gone Girl so she's a savvy and smart businesswoman - Elle Woods would be proud!). She walked the trail back in 1995, so only two years after it was officially completed. She wanted to walk the trail because she needed to sort things out for herself. Her mother (Laura Dern) had died only a couple years back from lung cancer and Cheryl, who had married at a very young age, started spiraling out of control as she started using heroin and sleeping with other men to make herself "feel better" and forget her pain. Cheryl was 26 when she hiked the PCT in 1995 and Reese just turned 39 in March so the movie took a little bit of liberty with that, but Reese looks youthful enough she can pull off playing a mid 20 year old. Of course they never mention what her age is in the movie! (Sidebar: did you know that Reese's first name is actually Laura? Reese is a middle name. I learned that from a trivia podcast I listen to called Good Job, Brain). 

The film begins in the middle of her hike as a little teaser and has what has to be the most cringe worthy scene of the entire movie: Cheryl has been walking for awhile and when she peels off her hiking boots and socks, one of her big toenails is all bloody and has partially come off. Lord, it's giving me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it! She's sitting up high and just rips off the sucker. I tried to remind myself this was just a movie and it was a fake toenail, but eesh! It reminded me of the scene in Castaway when Tom Hanks has to hit a rock at his mouth to knock out a bad tooth. The pain is so unbearable that she looses her balance and as she does so, one of her boots goes down the mountain (or maybe it was a hill? I'm not good with geological terms!). The point is, that boot is long gone as there's no way she can go down and get it and she throws her other boot down the mountain too! She still had something to wear on her feet as she had sandals, but still! Well, we later find out, when watching the movie in chronological order, that her boots were a size too small for her and she would be getting a new pair at the next pit stop she stopped at. (I don't know if they're actually called "pit stops", I have Amazing Race terminology in my head!) At these places, she receives care packages and letters with money from her ex-husband (Thomas Sadoski) and can stock up on water and food and get a good meal and meet up and converse with other hikers.

She meets many people along her journey, some who are also hiking the PCT and some who are not. On her first week of hiking, she doesn't have the right equipment to use her cooking equipment and thus has to eat cold mush. She asks a farmer if he can drop her off at a motel so she can get a shower and some food and he tells her he can't because he has to finish plowing the fields, but she can wait in his truck and he'll take her. As she's waiting, she finds a gun in his car, but that wasn't what made him scary. Not even inviting (well, more demanding the way he said it) to his house so she can eat and take a shower was scary (but would make any young woman uneasy), but when he asked what kind of woman she was, I was thinking, this guy is going to rape her! Which is what the movie probably wanted us to think and even Cheryl is clearly uncomfortable and lies about her husband being up ahead and that they just got separated. But we find out the man is harmless and brings her back to his house where his wife has cooked a homemade meal and drives her to the store the next day so she can buy the right equipment.

However, she does meet two shady guys who are hunting later on in her journey. They don't hide the fact at all that they would rape her if given the opportunity and make really gross comments about her of them even spies on her when she's changing, eww! So she hightails it out of there.

Most of the people she meets are hikers, including another woman who she's relieved to meet because there are mostly men who are hiking. She meets one hiker (Kevin Rankin) and I get the feeling that she wanted to hook up with him. She did pack condoms! She finds out later that he quit hiking because he didn't want to deal with the snow that is part of the Sierras crossing. She also has to deal with extreme heat and dehydration, hopping across huge boulders, crossing rapids (which she falls into, so that couldn't be fun being wet for the rest of that day) and rainstorms. Luckily, she doesn't ever come across any bears, but she does come across a rattlesnake and as she was looking at it and walking backwards, I was so afraid she was going to accidentally step on another one! Her first night of camping, she is really scared because she keeps hearing a noise and we the viewers see it's just a rabbit eating. One night she feels something in her sleeping bag (OMG ewwww!) and rightfully freaks out and jumps out of her tent and turns her sleeping bag inside out. It was some kind of harmless (but big and hairy!) caterpillar. This was the same day she saw the rattlesnake, so she was still a bit shaken up (no pun intended!).

Towards the end of her trip when she was either just about to leave Oregon or had just entered into Washington, she comes across an old woman and her young grandson who had lost their llama and Cheryl had found it for them. The little boy was so cute and asked Cheryl about her mommy who told him she died because she was sick and the boy tells her his mommy is a music teacher and asks her if she wants to hear him sing a song and she says yes and he sings her a song which had both Cheryl and me weeping our little eyes out! The song was called "Red River Valley". Adorable little kids who sing inspirational songs in their sweet angelic little voices just make my tear ducts go into overdrive, but honestly, it doesn't take much to make me cry!

I would love to know how much her gear weighed because that looked very heavy. The first day of her hike when she's in her motel room getting ready, she has a hell of a time trying to get it on her back. Most of the weight looked like it came from her huge jug of water!  At one of the pit stops, a man gives her advice and tells her she should only pack what she needs and get rid of the extra weight. She does get rid of a few things she never uses (like a saw) or doesn't really matter that much (deodorant), but it didn't look like she lost any weight off her pack!

Throughout the movie we see flashbacks of happier times of her with her mom and her then husband and we also see what her and her brother go through when their mom gets diagnosed with lung cancer and the moment she starts to fall apart. By this time, the only person she has as a support system is her best friend (Gaby Hoffman) but she thinks Cheryl is going too far and is angry at her. Cheryl took this journey as a way to prove she's strong and find herself again. I have to admire what she did; not everyone can do what she did. I know I couldn't; I would be way too scared to go on an adventure like that on my own. Even if I were with a group of people, I still would be hesitant what with all the wildlife, crazy weather, and strenuous obstacles you would have to climb around. Now if I didn't have to worry about any of that and had a good meal and a hot shower and a good night's sleep at the end of every day, I would totally do it! Easy peasy!