Romantic Comedy

"Stranger than Fiction" is a Funny & Smart Film

Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is writing her latest novel.  She has a case of writer’s block, and doesn’t know how to kill off her main character, lonely IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell).  Little does she know that Harold Crick is a real person.  He starts hearing a mysterious voice that narrates his life, and one day that voice states that Harold Crick will die.  With the help of Professor Jules Hibert (Dustin Hoffman), Harold tries to find out what story he is in so he can save himself.  Along the way he meets a smart, sassy, and beautiful woman that is being audited (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that he begins to fall for, and develops a friendship with his co-worker Dave (Tony Hale of Arrested Development).  For the first time in his lonely life Harold starts to live his life, all the while with the narrator and the knowledge of his impending death looming over him.

Will Ferrell as Harold Crick

Harold writes down tick marks into columns of what his story is “tragedy” or “comedy.”  We are left to wonder this ourselves.  With drama and laughter, we find a moving film that is quirky and fun, while deep and meaningful all the same.

The life of Harold Crick is not only narrated.  Graphics pop-up to accentuate how he lives his life measured out precisely.  But it is just when his life gains chaos that it starts to really make sense.  This is an intelligent film that speaks to the audience, not above the audience.  It is a sweet and touching and soulful film, with humor and brilliant awkwardness that reminds us “you’re never too old for space camp.”

This film was directed by Marc Forster.

More information:  Official website

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PenelopePenelope is a modern fairytale which redefines the genre for a new millennium.  Unlike the traditional princess tale, this modern reimagining features the strong princess, a contemporary setting, and a prince that is not exactly in shining armor.  While fans of Enchanted and Ella Enchanted will likely love this tale, I prefer Penelope for the positive body image storyline, which is a great change for young women.  This is an untraditional fairytale love story about learning to love yourself no matter what your short-comings may be.

Penelope (Christina Ricci) is born into a high-society family.  The world should be at her feet, but she due to a strange curse on her family, she is born with a face like a pig (and no, it can’t be fixed with plastic surgery).  The only thing that can reverse it is for a blue-blood to accept her as one of their own.  Her parents fake her death and keep her hidden away to protect her from tabloid reporters, specifically one named Lemon (Peter Dinklage) that almost got a picture of Penelope as a baby.   Once she is old enough, her mother (Catherine O’Hara) arranges to use a match-making service dealing only with high-society clients.  The suitors all come for the sizable dowry, but run once they see her.

Penelope & MaxEverything changes when she meets Max (James McAvoy); a handsome, charming, and down on his luck gambler.  He is hired to get a picture of the “hideous pig faced girl,” but Max and Penelope fall in love.  Our unlikely couple are a wonderful match, but when the truth is revealed, Max leaves and it devastates our heroine.

Heartbroken, Penelope strikes out on her own for the first time in her life.  Along the way to finding herself, Penelope makes friends including a spunky bike messenger (Reese Witherspoon), and she learns to love herself.  She is able to really live for the first time in her life.

This story is an amazing example of a modern, likable princess that does not fit the traditional mold.  I cannot recommend this film enough.  The breathtaking beauty of the shots and amazing use of color is reason enough, but when combined by the moving, yet hilarious, story of this young woman you have a film that will stand the test of time.

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Molly Ringwald, 80's It Girl, as Andie Walsh

Molly Ringwald as Andie Walsh in "Pretty in Pink"

John Hughes defined the teen movie in the 1980’s, and no more so than in one of my favorite John Hughes films “Pretty in Pink” (written by Hughes, produced by Lauren Shuler, and directed by Howard Deutch).  Even today, the characters and the story works.  It is pretty impressive that I still care if Andie chooses Duckie or Blane in the end.

“Pretty in Pink” has all the qualities that a good 80’s movie should.  First and foremost, it stars 80’s It Girl Molly Ringwald.  Ringwald is cast here as a fashion forward high school senior that makes up for lack of wealth with the smarts to get a scholarship to a preppy school.  Andie (Ringwald) is so cute and fun and completely out of place that it is easy to identify with her. The role literally was written for Ringwald, but shockingly they were considering “prettier” actresses.  Ridiculous! This part was not just meant for her, but she actually was the age of the character which helps the realism of the film.  Molly Ringwald is Andie Walsh.

Andie’s mom left, a fact that Andie and her father, Jack Walsh (Harry Dean Stanton), deal with over the course of the film.  He clearly was devastated by the abandonment and Andie has become a caretaker to her father.  Andie and Jack’s relationship is a highlight of the movie.  But the real story here is one of young love.  It seems that a “richie” (a rich kid), Blane, is crushing on Andie just as much as she is on him.

Andrew McCarthy (Blane) with Ringwald

Blane (Andrew McCarthy) making eyes at Andie

Blane is just the kind of kid a girl like Andie would like, passionate/awkward kissing and all.  Apparently, they originally wanted a “hunk” instead.  The men involved in the film wanted the classic jock type, but Ringwald threw her 2 cents in for Andrew McCarthy.  She knew that McCarthy was more the type than Andie would fall for.

Blane is sweet and someone I can see Andie with, but I for one fell in love with Jon Cryer in this film and I would prefer Duckie any day (although I understand her crush on Blane). How could I not love The Duck Man?!  Duckie is Andie’s bestfriend and not-at-all-secret admirer.  As much as I love Andie and her budding romance with Blane, Duckie steals the show and I can’t help but to pull for him to get the girl.  Throughout the film his unrequited love for Andie is hilarious and heartbreaking and you really want Duckie to get some lovin.’

Jon Cryer (Duckie) looking fantastic with Andie

Duckie (Jon Cryer) looking fantastic with Andie

Some of the most memorable lines from the film are lines Cryer came up with himself (“candy machine” and “Blane!?  It’s not a name, it’s a major appliance!”).  And don’t even get me started on his dancing to Otis Redding.  Fantastic.  Can’t forget that he made Iona’s “thighs go up in flames!”

Speaking of Iona, Annie Potts gives a wonderful performance as Andie’s quirky and hip boss that owns a New Wave record store in Chicago’s Chinatown.  She fills the role of friend and mentor in the absence of Andie’s mother.  She is like a big sister, worldly in the ways of men and “wishful makeuping.”

And what movie would complete without a villain.  Steff is the perfect rich jerk to counter Blane’s sweetness and gentle-pushover attitude.  James Spader plays a jerk so well it is hard to imagine hating anyone more.  He is rude to Andie and is a horrible bestfriend to Blane.  As much as the snotty rich girls are annoying, it is Steff that really works to screw things up.  The fight scene is fantastic.  I’ll say it again.  He plays a jerk perfectly.

Steff harassing Andie

Steff (James Spader) harassing Andie (Molly Ringwald) for a "date"

I haven’t even mentioned yet the awesome music, a score composed by Michael Gore.  It probably is part nostalgia, but the 1986 music is such a huge part of the film that I can’t write this without mentioning it.  Of course the soundtrack features “Pretty in Pink” by the Psychedelic Furs.  “Wouldn’t it Be Good” by Danny Hutton Hitters  is almost as iconic for fans of the film when you listen to it. The prom song, “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark  brings a rush of emotions and seriously who can forget the high drama of Duckie on his bike with “Shellshock” by New Order playing?  He isn’t going to ride by her house anymore.

Pretty in Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition

Pretty in Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition

I would highly recommend the “Everything’s Duckie Edition” of the film.  “Zoids and Richies” is a look back at the casting of the film with interviews.  “Volcanic Ensembles” is about the work of costume designer Marilyn Vance.  There is even a lengthy discussion about the original ending of the film.  Even though it is a disappointing to only see grainy shots and you don’t actually see the original cut, it still was interesting to hear that in the original cut she ends up with the other guy and their reasons for changing it.  That said, it is a wonderful film and as far as DVD extras go, this DVD is mostly entertaining and fun.  Other extras included are the making of “Pretty in Pink,” a feature all about Molly, prom stories, favorite scenes, commentary by the director, a wrap-up, and a photo gallery.

Rest in peace, John Hughes.  You made some pretty fantastic films.

*Note*  Last week there was no posting because I was finishing my degree at UIUC.  Congratulations to all my fellow graduates!


Pushing Daisies: Ned and Chuck

Pushing Daisies: Ned and Chuck

A bitter-sweet moment came in the mail for many “Pushing Daisies” fans as their pre-ordered copies of the second, and final, season of the Emmy award winning television series arrived this past week.  I certainly hope that a movie comes along, since there is much more to be said in the world of “Daisies.”  There may be graphic novels in the fall, but as much as I would treasure those, it is not the right format for this truly cinematic show.  The fast and literary dialog has a special quality when performed by the cast and the look of the show can’t be captured in another medium.

The world of “Daisies” is a fantasy about a pie-maker, but it is more that that.  It is a contemporary fairytale that, not surprisingly, reminds one of films such as the French film “Amelie,” that use vivid and highly saturated colors and creative camera and editing techniques.  The shot construction often mirrors classic Hollywood (including many references to Alfred Hitchcock and even “The Sound of Music”).  It is a fantastic hard-boiled murder mystery combined with the film “Big Fish” on the small screen…and then some.  The sets and props are brilliant examples of pure imagination explosion.  When Brian Fuller (creator and executive producer) and his crew put something together they go all out.

Pushing Daisies cast in The Pie Hole

Pushing Daisies cast in The Pie Hole

The facts are these…
“Pushing Daisies” is the story of a pie-maker named Ned (Lee Pace) who owns a pie shop (The Piehole).  Ned can wake the dead with his touch, but only for a minute.  If he doesn’t touch the dead thing (or person) again in that minute another must die in its place.  He may never touch a once dead thing a second time or they will die for good.  Ned has teamed up with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), “a man named for a poet and a fish,” (ep. 6, s. 2) to solve the murders of the dead by waking them up and asking who killed them.  Then everything changes when lonely tourist Charlotte Charles (Anna Friel) is the victim.  Charlotte (or “Chuck”) is Ned’s childhood sweetheart so he hasn’t the heart to redead her.  But the lovebirds can’t touch or she will die, this time forever.  Toss into the mix Olive Snook (Kristen Chenoweth), a feisty waitress at The Piehole and you have a bizarre love triangle.  In addition to these colorful characters add Chuck’s aunts Lily Charles (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian Charles (Ellen Greene), the former synchronized sister swimming act, The Darling Mermaid Darlings.  And let us not forget Digby, the once dead dog, and later the pig — aptly named Pigby.

Pushing Daisies: from episode "Dummy" about Dandelion Car Company

Pushing Daisies: from the episode Dummy about the Dandelion Car Company

Every episode features bizarre and hilarious deaths and scenarios.  Season one features such gems as windmills and a bird with a Bedazzled wing (ep. 4), a scratch and sniff book that kills (ep. 7), and (possibly my favorite) the Dandelion Car Company (ep. 2).  Season two offers up more fun with a friend-renting service (episode introduces David Arquette as a taxidermist and love interest, ep. 4), widows making death dioramas (with glitter, ep. 9), and a deep fried murder of chef Colonel Likkin (ep. 8).

Also, the series has a great soundtrack.  Olive (Kristen Chenoweth) breaks into song a few times in the series, adding another special layer of surrealism to the show (Ellen Greene who plays aunt Vivian also gets in on the fun a couple times).  Sadly the soundtrack, which came out prior to season two, does not include Chenoweth’s ballad from Comfort Food which is hilarious (ep. 8, s. 2).  However, it does include the three songs sung in season one and the fantastic score composed by James Dooley.

Episodes are narrated by Jim Dale (a voice recognizable to fans of “Harry Potter”) which gives an extra special touch, like a story being read aloud.  Episodes flashback to the characters’ childhoods.  Ned is a lonely boy left at boarding school.  Chuck keeps bees as a hobby.  Emerson Cod is, as always, a modern day Marlow (the kid cast for Emerson is especially spot on). Olive is kidnapped as a child. And Lily and Vivian become the Darling Mermaid Darlings, forever strengthening their sisterly bond.

While the season finale wraps up the story as well as it could, it also says that it is not the end, but rather a beginning.  As a huge fan of “Daisies” I sure hope that is true.  I know that there is a lot more story to tell.  However, as much as I look forward to the rumored comics, this story is meant to be told on screen.


Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: movie

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: movie

“Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is an example of a rare case where the movie is very different from the book in some key ways, but both are insanely good.  What they do have in common is the main premise — the excitement of being young and looking for affection and great music — without the usual corniness of Hollywood.

Nick is the only straight member of a queercore band.  He has just been dumped by his girlfriend Tris, and by dumped I mean crushed into a squirming pulp of emo boy.

Norah would do anything to avoid talking to Tris and has been trying to get over her quasi-ex-boyfriend Tal, so, when Nick asks her if she will be his girlfriend for 5 minutes she plays along (in the movie Norah makes the first move).  This first kiss soon leads to a night of falling in and out of love, laughter, angst, and of course music that captures the frantic energy of this night (also heightened by being in NYC). If you are not young, it will make you wish you were again.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist book

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: book

Nick and Norah are straight-edge (label or not). However, I would be remise not to point out that there are many references to underage drinking and sex, but it is a story about teenage love after-all.

The book, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, switches back and forth between the title characters’ points of view (a chapter at a time). Unlike the pair’s “Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List,” which takes a similar approach, but fails miserably, this technique in “Nick and Norah” allows the reader to have a sense of intimacy with the characters and avoids it becoming a book that only one gender will enjoy (the “No Kiss List” is a sad disappointment in contrast). This back and forth is especially effective in the sexy scene later on in the book (no spoilers from me!). I will say that while both book and movie have versions of this…um… climactic scene, the book is much more saucy (see it pays to read kids!).

The movie has a wonderful cast that infuse the script with humor (including a running joke about a piece of gum…trust me). While clearly Michael Cera and Kat Dennings shine in the lead roles, it is also the supporting cast that make this film a must have. In the book Tris is more relatable, but movie Tris (Alexis Dziena) is deliciously hate-able. The book shows her in more of a humanized way. Speaking of humanized characters, one of the shining points to both reincarnations are the gay characters. Instead of being token, they are just characters (key characters). Their sexuality is obvious, but not anymore-so than the straight characters. Rafi Gavron (Dev), Aaron Yoo (Thom), and Jonathan B. Wright (Beefy Guy) are fantastic (and not too bad to look at either). Despite her troubles throughout, Caroline (Ari Graynor) also still manages to look smoking hot…most of the time. Her comedic instincts took the film to another level. Jay Baruchel is convincing as Norah’s ex. All I have to say is Tal “brings the Jew fire” and I can totally see where Norah was coming from dating him.

The movie rocks — as evident by the soundtrack that features artists like Vampire Weekend, We Are Scientists, and Bishop Allen. I would also suggest purchasing the soundtrack. It is a fantastic trio of materials for a YA collection.

Check out extras and read the first chapter of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan at:

  • Then watch the trailer, make a playlist, and search NYC for Where’s Fluffy at:

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