Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Office (DVD)

One of the most refreshing new comedy series on TV, The Office catalogues the inner-workings of a fictional Pennsylvania paper company called Dunder-Mifflin. The name itself alludes to some sort of bureaucratic labyrinth administered by dunderheads, and in reality, it is. Unfortunately, what makes The Office so hilarious is the ability of viewers to relate to the onscreen office culture. The branch office of Dunder-Mifflin viewers are privy to is managed by the politically-incorrect, borderline lunatic Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Using twisted logic to set company policy, worn out clichés as a substitute for leadership, and an endless array of corny group activities to lift employee morale, he creates an office atmosphere that makes the career of Dilbert seem desirable in contrast.

Carell, star of the recent box office hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, shines in the role of the nutty and eccentric office manager, and his talents are well complimented by Rainn Wilson who plays the part of Michael’s butt-kiss, rule-Nazi lackey, Dwight Schrute. Dwight’s over-the-top antics conflict with the rest of the office, particularly co-worker Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) whom Dwight would like to fire. A charming unspoken office crush between Jim and Pam Beesley (Jenna Fischer) makes for an interesting and recurring subplot. Both Jim and Pam epitomize the remainder of the cast of Dunder-Mifflin employees who come across as logical, well-reasoned, and normal individuals. Normal people stuck in a bizarre world where idiots like Michael and Dwight preside over their working hours. Similar in theme to the equally funny feature film Office Space, The Office provides us with a much more excitable Bill Lumbergh lording over an army of Peter Gibbons-like worker bees. For creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who first experienced success with the concept in the UK, it’s a recipe for pure, unadulterated laughter.

The Office (Season 1) DVD features six hilarious episodes including the season premiere in which a camera crew arrives at Dunder-Mifflin in order to film a documentary. Naturally, Michael tries to portray himself as a brilliant steward of office productivity, while office enemies Jim and Dwight engage in a series of desk battles. Viewers also get a glimpse of the regular flirtations between Jim and Pam. Other notable episodes include “Diversity Day” in which Michael engages in a feeble and half-hearted attempt to shed light on office diversity, while alienating most of his employees in the process, and “Health Care” in which Michael, afraid of bearing bad news, delegates his authority to Dwight who creates an utter fiasco of the company health care plan.

Below is a list of episodes included on The Office (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Pilot) Air Date: 03-24-2005
Episode 2 (Diversity Day) Air Date: 03-29-2005
Episode 3 (Health Care) Air Date: 04-05-2005
Episode 4 (The Alliance) Air Date: 04-12-2005
Episode 5 (Basketball) Air Date: 04-19-2005
Episode 6 (Hot Girl) Air Date: 04-26-2005

Sunday, May 28, 2006

My Name Is Earl (DVD)

One of the best new shows of the past several years, My Name Is Earl follows the life of Earl Hickey (Jason Lee), a man who discovers karma while lying in a hospital bed. Celebrating a $100,000 scratch-off lottery ticket, Earl gets hit by a car and knocked unconscious. His lottery ticket escapes in the wind, and Earl is hurried to the hospital where a revelation from Carson Daly hits him like a ton of bricks. Convinced that his bad luck is the result of bad karma, Earl compiles a list of everything he’s done wrong from grade school to the present, and he’s intent on fixing every bullet point on his list… Nominated for two Golden Globes in its first season, My Name Is Earl won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New Television Comedy. Created by Gregory Thomas Garcia, creator of the popular Yes, Dear, the series is certain to be a favorite for years to come with its eccentric characters, brilliant writing, and infinite episode possibilities (no doubt the list will grow as Earl tackles each thing on it)…

Joining Earl on his quest are his dim, yet innocent brother Randy (Ethan Suplee), friend and illegal alien hotel maid Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), Earl’s trailer trash ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly), and Joy’s new husband Darnell “Crabman” Turner (Eddie Staples). Also along for the ride is $100,000 in lottery winnings. Even though Earl lost the lottery ticket when he got hit by the car, his newfound dedication to the principles of karma pays immediate dividends when a gust of wind places the missing ticket right in front of his feet. With the money at their disposal, Earl and Randy dedicate themselves full-time to the task of crossing things off Earl’s list. It’s a quest that makes for some of the most interesting and comedic moments in television history…

The My Name Is Earl DVD features twenty-four hilarious episodes including the season premiere in which Earl sets out to help a former grade school classmate he used to pick on relentlessly, Kenny James (Gregg Binkley). Learning that Kenny is gay and lonely, Earl works overtime to find Kenny a partner… Other notable episodes from season one include “Stole Beer From A Golfer” in which Earl and Randy must pay back a golfer (Johnny Galecki) who they cheated out of free beer (a difficult task once they realize their actions have ruined his life), and the season finale, “Number One,” in which Earl sets out to rectify the number one thing on his list: “stole ten dollars from a guy in the convenience store”. But #1 becomes the most difficult item on Earl’s list when he realizes the guy he stole the ten dollars from would have used it to buy the $100,000 lottery ticket. In order to placate karma, Earl must not only give back the $10, but the entire $100,000…

Below is a list of episodes included on the My Name Is Earl (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Pilot) Air Date: 09-20-2005
Episode 2 (Quit Smoking) Air Date: 09-27-2005
Episode 3 (Randy’s Touchdown) Air Date: 10-04-2005
Episode 4 (Faked His Own Death) Air Date: 10-11-2005
Episode 5 (Teacher Earl) Air Date: 10-18-2005
Episode 6 (Broke Joy’s Fancy Figurine) Air Date: 11-01-2005
Episode 7 (Stole Beer From A Golfer) Air Date: 11-08-2005
Episode 8 (Joy’s Wedding) Air Date: 11-15-2005
Episode 9 (Cost Dad The Election) Air Date: 11-22-2005
Episode 10 (White Lie Christmas) Air Date: 12-06-2005
Episode 11 (Barn Burner) Air Date: 01-05-2006
Episode 12 (O Karma, Where Art Thou?) Air Date: 01-12-2006
Episode 13 (Stole P’S Hd Cart) Air Date: 01-19-2006
Episode 14 (Monkeys In Space) Air Date: 01-26-2006
Episode 15 (Something To Live For) Air Date: 02-02-2006
Episode 16 (The Professor) Air Date: 02-09-2006
Episode 17 (Didn’t Pay Taxes) Air Date: 03-02-2006
Episode 18 (Dad’s Car) Air Date: 03-16-2006
Episode 19 (Y2K) Air Date: 03-23-2006
Episode 20 (Boogeyman) Air Date: 03-30-2006
Episode 21 (The Bounty Hunter) Air Date: 04-06-2006
Episode 22 (Stole A Badge) Air Date: 04-27-2006
Episode 23 (BB) Air Date: 05-04-2006
Episode 24 (Number One) Air Date: 05-11-2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Just Friends (DVD)

A somewhat hilarious and charming romantic comedy, Just Friends explores the innermost depths of the infamous “friend zone” of male/female relationships. Directed by Roger Kumble, the brains behind the widely lauded film Cruel Intentions (1999), the film has a novel premise, and although not the funniest comedy to hit the big screen in the past few years, it does have some really funny moments. Adam ‘Tex’ Davis makes his debut as a screenwriter after extensive work in cinematography and TV writing, and his efforts are above average, but Just Friends is not in the same league as similar themed contemporaries such as There’s Something About Mary (1998) and Meet The Parents (2000). Nevertheless, it’s a film well worth seeing…

Just Friends follows the life of Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds), a formerly obese New Jersey high school student in love with classmate Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart). However, Chris long ago fell into the “friend zone,” and although, he spent much of his adolescence bonding and building memories with Jamie, she never saw him as anything more than a friend. At their 1995 graduation party, Chris vows to reveal his true feelings, but his well-intentioned attempt blows up in his face when a jerk classmate humiliates him in front of his peers. Enraged, Chris vows to leave town and “become somebody”.

Fast forward ten years to 2005, where Chris is a thin, romantically smooth and wealthy record executive living in Los Angeles. He lives in a multi-million dollar house, drives a flashy sports car, and dates a string of beautiful models. Against his wishes, Chris is forced to watch over one of the company’s hottest pop artists, the ditsy and annoying Samantha James (Anna Faris). En route to Paris, their jet becomes grounded in New Jersey, and Chris is left with no alternative but to return home. While there, he’s reminded of his lifelong crush on Jamie. With newfound confidence, Chris sets out to win over Jamie, but in so doing, he doesn’t act like the real Chris, and his actions have the opposite effect. Meanwhile, a rival suitor from high school, a guitar-playing nice guy named Dusty (Chris Klein), enters the picture. His courtship threatens to ruin Chris’s latest pursuit of Jamie, but in the end, the only impediment to Chris’s lifelong dream is himself…

Cut from a formulaic genre, the resolution of Just Friends is rather predictable. But moviegoers don’t watch these types of films for suspense; they only want to laugh. And anyone who enjoyed Ryan Reynolds in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder is going to enjoy his performance in this film as well. Although not as well-written as the aforementioned film, Reynolds helps prop up the script with a well-cast comic persona akin to Owen Wilson and a straight-face delivery that would make Leslie Nielsen jealous. In fact, Just Friends is a good pick for those hoping to just laugh out loud. Two particularly hilarious scenes come to mind, one in which Chris makes an unexpected return to the ice rink after busting his lip, and one in which he receives an unexpected hand-hold while watching The Notebook. The latter is especially hilarious, and Adam Davis deserves extra credit for creating this classic and original scene. In the end, Just Friends will never garner the status of all-time comedy cult classic, but for the present day, it more than fulfills its promise to create laughter…

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In Her Shoes (DVD)

One of the best date films of 2005, In Her Shoes is a dramatic relationship comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Directed by Curtis Hanson, the hand behind such films as 8 Mile (2002), LA Confidential (1997), and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992), the film is successful in a genre where so many of its peers have miserably failed. The casting is superb, and the onscreen interaction between the various characters creates a realistic impression of wavering love and conflict. Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner, it weaves a tale of two sisters with differing lifestyles and a lifetime of personal baggage…

In Her Shoes begins with the latest installment of an ongoing personality clash between sisters Rose (Toni Collette) and Maggie (Cameron Diaz) Feller. When the shy and reserved Rose is approached by the most eligible bachelor in her law firm, the two hit it off quite nicely. But Maggie ruins the affair when she shows up on Rose’s doorstep and steals the man away with her unrelenting flirtations. After constant feuding, Rose kicks Maggie out while contemplating her own future. She takes a leave of absence from her law firm and contemplates dog walking as an alternative career path. Along the way, she encounters another colleague from the firm, Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein). The two strike up a romantic relationship, but Rose’s past threatens to ruin the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Maggie discovers the two have a long-lost grandmother, Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine), who lives in Florida. With no one left to leech off of, Maggie heads straight for Ella’s retirement community. But Ella has no intention of being a human punching bag, and for the first time in her life, Maggie meets someone who won’t put up with her perpetual self-centeredness and grossly inconsiderate behavior. It’s a stand-off certain to change the lives of everyone involved…

Toni Collette is outstanding in the role of the responsible and untrusting sister, Rose. She portrays an overachieving, yet somewhat socially awkward, individual sick of playing the part of parent to her wild and rebellious sister. Her actions are understandable and believable; her reluctance to see Maggie in a new light is well-paced. On an equal note, Cameron Diaz fits the part of the irresponsible, yet likeable, Maggie. Yearning for approval, her arrested development transitions to adulthood in the face of unconditional love.

The strength of In Her Shoes is almost solely attributable to the various performances of the cast and the screenplay itself. This isn’t a plot-driven movie, and the slightest bit of awkwardness between cast members or the least bit of forced dialogue could wreck the whole film. Luckily, the audience experiences neither, and most viewers will walk away satisfied with their experience. Kudos to screenwriter Susannah Grant whose portfolio includes box office hits like Erin Brockovich (2000), Ever After (1998), and Pocahontas (1995). Grant’s vast expertise in manufacturing high quality scripts provided the cast with a firm foundation from which to deliver their lines. Overall, In Her Shoes is not a blockbuster titan of the big screen. It has few memorable one-liners, but from an entertainment standpoint, it works well. It whisks its audience away to another place and time without leaving them empty handed, and that’s what all good movies are supposed to do…

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code (DVD)

The Da Vinci Code as a novel is an international bestselling phenomenon, but The Da Vinci Code as a movie is bound to be long forgotten by year’s end. Directed by Ron Howard, the Hollywood veteran behind such memorable films as A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, this adaptation of Dan Brown’s religious thriller is 149 minutes of monotonous exposition and tedious European spy thriller clichés. What makes Dan Brown’s novels so popular is the narrative background on such subjects as cryptography, secret societies, religious orders, and alternative history. But it’s difficult to translate such ideas to the big screen, and it’s here that The Da Vinci Code fails as a commercial thriller. Entire scenes are composed of lectures on the history of Christianity and the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Michael Crichton has a similar style of writing that focuses on scientific breakthroughs and cutting-edge technology, but his novels adapt better to the big screen. Whereas Jurassic Park briefly lectured audiences on the inner-workings of DNA, then quickly jumped to two hours of dinosaurs terrorizing people, The Da Vinci Code keeps explaining, hypothesizing, and lecturing only to leave its audience hanging. The ideas are intriguing, but they make for a far better novel than silver screen blockbuster. Minus the interesting conjecture, the film is nothing more than a poorly written 1970s drugstore spy thriller…

Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of religious symbology lecturing in Paris. When Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), curator of the Louvre, is found murdered and strangely positioned in his famous museum, local authorities initially consult Langdon for his expertise. But the professor soon learns from Sauniere’s granddaughter, government cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), that he and the prime suspect are one and the same. Creating a diversion for the police, the two discover a hidden trail of clues created by Sauniere in the moments before his death, clues that just might lead them to most elusive treasure in human history – the Holy Grail. With InterPol hot on their trail, and the true murderer still at large, Langdon and Neveu enlist the help of Grail historian Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) to teach them the history of the Grail’s protectors, The Priory of Scion, and to help them uncover the endless clues that promise to unravel a 2,000 year mystery…

Despite the remarks of most critics, Tom Hanks’ performance is not atrocious. Although his character is bland at best, he wasn’t given much with which to work. Robert Langdon’s lack of development is more attributable to poorly written dialogue and poor choices in direction. Ron Howard tries to cover up some of the excessive dialogue with visual images, but narrative is still narrative even with flashback sequences. Audrey Tautou delivers her lines well, but suffers from the same constraints as her Academy Award-winning screen partner. The only shining performance is provided by Ian McKellen as the eccentric and charming Grail expert, Leigh Teabing. Some of his one-liners add a bit of comic relief, but they’re only band-aids on the gushing head wound that is this film. In the end, The Da Vinci Code is a lesson on the distinction between two differing mediums. Movies haven’t replaced books, or vice-versa, for a reason. Sometimes, it’s just better to read the book. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, this is one of those moments...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Coach (DVD)

Nominated for 16 Emmys and 4 Golden Globes, Coach delighted fans of all ages during its celebrated nine-season run. One of the most underrated sitcoms of its era, the series covers the exploits of fictional Minnesota State Screaming Eagles college football coach Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson), the quintessential male chauvinist pig. But unlike many of his politically-incorrect brethren, Hayden has a heart of gold. It’s this softer side that appeals to successful anchorwoman and girlfriend Christine Armstrong (Shelley Fabares). In the locker room, Hayden is joined by assistant coaches Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) and Dauber Dybinski (Bill Fagerbakke), the perfect compliments to the coach’s oftentimes sketchy logic. Between his estranged daughter Kelly (Clare Carey), her less-than-manly boyfriend Stuart (Kris Kamm), nagging athletic director Howard Burleigh (Kenneth Kimmins), and ladies basketball coach Judy Watkins (Pam Stone), Hayden is always dispensing sarcasm, trading barbs, or being aggravated by someone.

Craig T. Nelson is brilliant in his portrayal of the opinionated and overbearing, yet multidimensional Hayden Fox. His onscreen rapport with co-star Shelley Fabares creates the believable illusion of a true romance. But Coach boasts a cast replete with star power. The series is given a charming comic angle by the underappreciated and long overdue breakout role of Jerry Van Dyke, brother to Dick Van Dyke, who plays the role of Luther Van Dam, the stuttering and kind-hearted bungling best friend of Hayden. Jerry had a few guest appearances in the decades before Coach that were absolute show stoppers (both The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show come to mind), but Coach put his talents to use full-time so all the world could see just how funny this man really is. Overall, Coach is a fun and oftentimes brilliant comedy, and the first few seasons are by far the best. So grab yourself a chair and some official Minnesota State Screaming Eagle merchandise and enjoy watching one of the best comedies of its time…!

The Coach (Season 1) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “Kelly and the Professor” in which Hayden learns that his daughter Kelly, a student at Minnesota State, recently went out on a date with a professor. The revelation drives Hayden crazy, and he’ll go to any lengths to uncover the identity of the guilty faculty member… Other notable episodes from season one include “I’m in Love with a Boy Named Stuart” in which Hayden is introduced to Kelly’s new boyfriend, Stuart, his future arch-nemesis, and “I’m Sorry I Told You My Wife Was Dead” in which Hayden compromises his integrity in an effort to coerce a widow into handing over the massive donation her dead husband had promised the Minnesota State football program.

Below is a list of episodes included on the Coach (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Kelly and the Professor) Air Date: 02-28-1989
Episode 2 (Love Me Tender) Air Date: 03-01-1989
Episode 3 (Kelly, Meet Christine) Air Date: 03-08-1989
Episode 4 (I’m in Love with a Boy Named Stuart) Air Date: 03-15-1989
Episode 5 (The Loss Weekend) Air Date: 03-22-1989
Episode 6 (Gambling for Meat) Air Date: 04-05-1989
Episode 7 (19 Candles) Air Date: 04-12-1989
Episode 8 (Parents’ Weekend) Air Date: 04-19-1989
Episode 9 (I’m Sorry I Told You My Wife was Dead) Air Date: 04-26-1989
Episode 10 (Define Romance) Air Date: 05-03-1989
Episode 11 (Whose Team is It, Anyway?) Air Date: 05-17-1989
Episode 12 (Hoot, Hoot Hike) Air Date: 05-31-1989
Episode 13 (Dauber’s Blow-Out) Air Date: 06-07-1989

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Wings (DVD)

Created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, all producers of the critically acclaimed Cheers and writers for its hit spin-off Frasier, Wings shares many of the same attributes of the popular bar “where everybody knows your name”. Just as each episode of Cheers mostly took place in the Beacon Street pub, each episode of Wings takes place in Nantucket airport. Cheers maintains a friendly rivalry with Gary’s Old Towne Tavern, while Sandpiper Air has a friendly rivalry with Aeromass owner Roy Biggins. And just like Cheers, the strength of Wings is built upon great writing and eccentric, well-developed characters. From the moment you hear the memorable and soothing Schubert theme song, you’ll want to be transported away to this quiet island of lovable and hilarious characters…

Wings centers around the lives of two brothers, Joe (Tim Daly) and Brian Hackett (Steven Weber), who run a fledgling airline on the northeast vacation island of Nantucket. The two are assisted by sarcastic stewardess Faye Cochran (Rebecca Schull) and oddball mechanic Lowell Mather (Thomas Haden Church). Responsible and dependable, Joe attempts to keep the struggling business afloat in the face of fierce competition from chief rival Aeromass and its seedy owner Roy Biggins (David Schramm). But compounding Joe’s problems is the unreliability of his younger brother Brian who is more of a free spirit and spontaneous adventurer. The terminal lunch counter is owned by the Hackett’s childhood friend Helen Chapel (Crystal Bernard), an aspiring cellist with a quick wit. Superbly written, Wings is at times nutty and absurd, but it’s always funny and the characters will quickly earn a place in your heart. It’s by far one of the best situation comedies of its era…

The Wings (Season 1) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “Legacy” in which Joe Hackett, owner of a small single-plane airline known as Sandpiper Air receives a letter from his recently deceased father. The letter calls for him to open a package in the presence of his estranged brother Brian. After jumping through a number of hoops, the two brothers realize how important they are to one another, and Brian (a pilot himself) agrees to stay in Nantucket and help Joe run the airline… Other notable episodes from season one include “All For One and Two for Helen” in which Joe grows jealous of what he perceives to be a romantic relationship between Helen and Brian, and “A Terminal Christmas” in which the gang from the Nantucket airport unexpectedly drops into Fay’s house for Christmas, only to find her grieving her dead husband and preparing to spread his ashes…

Below is a list of episodes included on the Wings (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Legacy) Air Date: 04-19-1990
Episode 2 (Around the World in Eighty Days) Air Date: 04-26-1990
Episode 3 (Return to Nantucket: Part 1) Air Date: 05-03-1990
Episode 4 (Return to Nantucket: Part 2) Air Date: 05-10-1990
Episode 5 (There Once was a Girl from Nantucket) Air Date: 05-17-1990
Episode 6 (All for One and Two for Helen) Air Date: 05-24-1990
Episode 7 (The Puppet Master) Air Date: 09-28-1990
Episode 8 (The Story of Joe) Air Date: 10-05-1990
Episode 9 (A Little Nightmare Music) Air Date: 10-12-1990
Episode 10 (Sports and Leisure) Air Date: 10-19-1990
Episode 11 (A Standup Kind of Guy) Air Date: 10-26-1990
Episode 12 (It’s Not the Thought, It’s the Gift) Air Date: 11-09-1990
Episode 13 (Hell Hath No Fury like a Policewoman Scorned) Air Date: 11-16-1990
Episode 14 (High Anxiety) Air Date: 11-23-1990
Episode 15 (Friends or Lovers?) Air Date: 12-07-1990
Episode 16 (There’s Always Room for Cello) Air Date: 12-14-1990
Episode 17 (A Terminal Christmas) Air Date: 12-21-1990
Episode 18 (Airport ‘90) Air Date: 01-03-1991
Episode 19 (Love Is Like Pulling Teeth) Air Date: 01-10-1991
Episode 20 (The Tennis Bum) Air Date: 01-24-1991
Episode 21 (My Brother’s Back and There’s Gonna Be Trouble) Air Date: 01-31-1991
Episode 22 (Plane Nine from Nantucket) Air Date: 02-07-1991
Episode 23 (Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places) Air Date: 02-14-1991
Episode 24 (Love Means Never Having to Say Geronimo) Air Date: 02-21-1991
Episode 25 (All in the Family) Air Date: 03-07-1991
Episode 26 (Mother Wore Stripes) Air Date: 03-14-1991
Episode 27 (Murder She Roast) Air Date: 03-21-1991
Episode 28 (Duet for Plane and Cello) Air Date: 03-28-1991

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Family Stone (DVD)

One of the surprise films of 2005, The Family Stone successfully navigates the often tempestuous waters of big screen family dramas. Quite often these types of family relationship films get lost in a deluge of dialogue, conflict, and argument. And although The Family Stone has plenty of the aforementioned, it hits the audience in manageable doses with well-placed comic relief and an unforgettable cast of eccentric characters. Written and directed by up-and-coming Hollywood talent Thomas Bezucha, the film is a mosaic of fun, laughter, sadness, and family relationships most people will find charming and endearing…

The Family Stone examines the vibrant relationships of the Stone family, a close-knit traditional nuclear family gathering for the holidays. Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton) and her husband Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) host their children for the holidays, but as with most families, conflict is abundant. Sarcasm, backstabbing, blame, and jealousy are evident in almost every encounter, but ironically, so are love and respect. When eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his current girlfriend Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet the family, her business-like demeanor and uptight mannerisms clash with the rest of the family, particularly Everett’s vindictive sister Amy (Rachel McAdams). Despite Meredith’s best efforts, the only family member she can impress is Everett’s laidback brother Ben (Luke Wilson).

Meredith’s discomfort is compounded when she inadvertently makes a bigoted remark about Everett’s homosexual brother Thad (Tyrone Giordano), garnering the wrath of the entire family. Pushed to her breaking point, Meredith moves from the house to a nearby bed and breakfast, while Everett struggles with the idea of proposing to a woman his family obviously dislikes. Meanwhile, Ben helps Meredith to come out of her shell, and Meredith enlists the support of her younger sister Julie (Claire Danes) to smooth things over with the Stones. But the holidays take an interesting twist when unexpected relationships blossom and an unforeseen event takes its toll on the entire family…

The Family Stone certainly succeeds in creating a number of dynamic multidimensional characters, but it fails in a couple respects. The most obvious is the relationship switch that eventually takes place and is quite evidently in the making from the opening scenes of the film. One brother stealing another’s girlfriend is not in-and-of itself unbelievable, but the continuation of a normal relationship between the two brothers is. No awkwardness there? No jealousy? Plot twists are great, but keep them realistic…

The other aspect of The Family Stone that stands out is a bit more peripheral and makes the film teeter on the precipice of Hollywood cliché. Meredith is portrayed as an uptight homophobic bigot in need of a cure, while the Stone family is free-spirited and in touch with their feelings. In the end, Meredith grows because of her proximity to the Stones, but the Stones don’t learn anything from Meredith. It’s probably not a coincidence that Meredith’s views might be construed as conservative, while the Stones’ views are considered liberal (i.e. conservative evil, liberal good). This same theme was prevalent in Meet The Fockers when Robert De Niro’s character learns the error of his uptight ways and engages in the hippie lifestyle of his daughter’s new in-laws. But, of course, the Fockers never learn anything from De Niro… Not necessarily a movie killer, but a cliché nonetheless. Despite the flaws, The Family Stone is still a decent film. Above par dialogue and outstanding performances by a strong cast make it time well spent. Many moments will make you laugh; others will remind you of your own family…

Friday, May 12, 2006

The New World (DVD)

Directed and written by Terrence Malick, the talented artist behind The Thin Red Line (1998), great anticipation surrounded the release of The New World. The project was bold and ambitious enough to peak one’s interest, but unfortunately, the film could not deliver on its promise. Entire scenes drift by with nothing in particular being achieved to either advance the plot, the theme, or the premise of the film. Unfittingly, the soundtrack featured blaring snippets of concert music reminiscent of Richard Wagner, which would be great if The New World took place in 19th Century Venice instead of 17th Century America. Much more should be expected from James Horner whose brilliant work has enhanced such films as Field of Dreams, Braveheart, Legends of the Fall, and Titanic. The New World soundtrack is disaster almost on par with the latter film.

The rest of film isn’t much better. Although it vividly illustrates the limitless possibility of early Jamestown and the majesty of the unspoiled wilderness surrounding it, the visual images are offset by poor dialogue and what seems to be an overly zealous attempt to manufacture a poetic awe-inspiring masterpiece of a film. Nevertheless, The New World does manage to summon images of the first European settlers and the hardship they must have faced. From this standpoint, one can say it has some reflective value for those who appreciate human history…

The New World begins by following the life of Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell). Landing in the New World with a convoy of Englishmen, he happens upon the Native American kingdom of Powhatan (August Schellenberg). Of course, most of the world knows the basic plotline. Smith’s life is spared when his body is covered by Powhatan’s beautiful daughter, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Kilcher certainly displays the requisite physical beauty to portray the princess, but the script gives her little with which to work. Although a subject of controversy among historians, the film plays up the angle of a possible love affair between Smith and Pocahontas, but it accurately records her eventual marriage to John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and the couple’s celebrated trip to London. But The New World’s problems don’t stem from historical accuracy, but rather from the fact that the preceding paragraph is a detailed account of everything that happens in a tedious two-hour fifteen-minute snoozer. In short, it’s long and boring.

As much as the film failed to live up to expectations, this much can be said for The New World: it accurately portrays the landscape of southeastern Virginia. That alone makes it immensely superior to Disney’s Pocahontas which featured non-indigenous animals and forests peppered with waterfalls. Unfortunately, an entire generation of children gathered their personal knowledge of local geography from that film. From the perspective of set design, wardrobe, historical underpinnings, and the mere beauty of its images, The New World is a film to behold. However, from the standpoint of dialogue, plot, direction, and performance, The New World is an utter flop. Unless you’re a history buff, and specifically a Jamestown junkie, avoid the film at all costs…