Saturday, May 20, 2006

American Dreamz (Wicked Little Critta)

Initial Reaction: “Ok…”

The American Dream. As I sit here eating my Wendy’s grilled chicken sandwich, I reflect on what the American Dream was, and what it has become. And, after seeing it about two weeks ago, I think that I finally understand what the movie American Dreamz was trying to say.

We all know that it was meant to poke fun at our country. If any of you have seen or even heard of the American Pie movies, also directed by Paul Weitz, you’ll be able to figure out that much. American Dreamz does make fun of America, and it’s funny—because we Americans know what it’s talking about. Inside jokes are always funnier from the inside, and as an insider, I thought the humor was great. I’m sorry, as disrespectful as it may be, I’ll be honest with you: I loved Dennis Quaid as President Staton. He portrays our president a southern, fairly conservative, Christian man whose facial expression most often conveys a sense of “I can’t help it…” or “Who, me?” in dealing with publicity and public issues. I think my favorite line of his was when he earnestly says to his advisor: “Did you know that there are three types of Iraqistanis?”

The film focused on three themes: politicians, the American entertainment industry, and terrorism. A fantastically creative mix, in my opinion. The politicians are either clueless or crooked, the entertainment industry demonstrates an attitude of “do anything and hurt anyone to achieve fame,” and the terrorists? Let’s just say that Omer, a terrorist on a “mission” in America to take out the president, ends up being the most likeable and unscathed character in the entire movie. Why? Maybe American Dreamz is pointing out the backwardness of our American Dreams.

So, what do we take away from this? At first I wasn’t sure. It’s point (assuming I’m on the right track here) was a bit nebulous at times, trading in clarity for more laughs, as Dr. Worm and Stormy Pinkness both talk about in their reviews. But the more I think back on various scenes and quotes, the more I see it: We’re ridiculous. I even felt ridiculous after I saw the movie, and I wasn’t entirely sure why. The characters are caricatures, but they were done fairly well. Each character shows this in a different way, and all of these ways are prominent in our American culture. Mandy Moore plays diva Sally Kendoo who is almost impossible to like. Since I’ve seen Moore in other roles that are essentially the same, I’m beginning to wonder if this is her true personality, or the only role she can play. Hugh Grant plays Martin Tweed, a selfish TV show host who also only wants success for himself at the expense of others. I really don’t know what to say about Grant playing this role, except that his character was convincing. Chris Klein plays Sally’s fiancĂ© who, no matter how evil Sally is, only wants to be with her because they’re “in love.” Klein pushed this character, named William Williams, to the edge. He seemed so crazily lovestruck throughout the film that I feel like if I asked him how many fingers I was holding up, he’d have no idea what I was talking about.

President Staton is oblivious to pretty much everything, and whines that—even though he’s the president—things just don’t go his way. Complementing this character, Willem Dafoe plays the president’s Chief of Staff, who clearly has a hidden agenda and jerks President Staton around like a marionette.

Its faults lie in many areas. For one, there are too many stories to follow to actually understand its point. Maybe if the movie were adjusted so that there were two main characters, it would have been stronger. But this movie seemed too wrapped up in the “do stupid stuff to make people laugh” approach. This style is very distracting when you’re trying to make a point. *SPOILER* Also, there’s no redemption in the end, so you spend all that time watching terrible people do terrible things, and that’s pretty much all you get. The resolution, if you can call it that, is unexpected and a bit…unresolved. Sometimes this works really well, but I didn’t like that style matched up with this movie. *END SPOILER*

Almost the entire cast demonstrates an aspect of the ridiculousness of our culture, and it makes us love the character who represents the most anti-American force we can currently imagine. The movie develops a distaste in its audience for 80% of its main characters, which can tend to rub audience members the wrong way, so I’m not too surprised that this movie wasn’t as huge as it could’ve been. It’s also very likely that strong Bush supporters (you’re out there, right?) will not be going out to buy this movie on DVD.

But should we all smash our TVs with hammers, defenestrate our politicians, and make friends with terrorists? I doubt it. But let’s not take ourselves too seriously. I mean, c’mon, look at us.

Rating: 8

American Dreamz was funny, interesting, and just the slightest bit eye-opening. I give it an 8 on the -22 to 22 scale. Quite entertaining and creative, but lacking some direction and clarity. Not bad.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

American Dreamz (Stormy Pinkness)

Imagine, if you will, Hugh Grant playing a completely narcissistic celebrity who NEVER learns the error of his ways. Mandy Moore playing a character that you pretty much dislike almost from her introduction in the movie. Chris Klein playing a lovesick dope who cannot see things that are clearly in front of his face. If you can imagine this, you can pretty much imagine American Dreamz.
American Dreamz is a movie that is based on today’s society’s tendency to choose entertainment to escape life and the world instead of facing it. At first you are introduced to Martin Tweed (played by Hugh Grant). You then realize that he is the host of the show “American Dreamz.” Next you are introduced to Sally Kendoo, played by Mandy Moore. She is a lower-class singer who dreams of making it as a star and has the type of personality and heartlessness necessary to achieve that goal. Along with this you meet another contestant, Omer, who is a terrorist in training when he is sent away to America to prevent him from further embarrassing the terrorist camp. While in America, he is selected to appear on “American Dreamz” along with dozens of other American hopefuls, including a Jewish cantor who likes to rap.
The second story line of the movie involves President Staton (played by Dennis Quaid). We meet him on the morning after he has been re-elected as he is woken up by his Chief of Staff, played by Willem Dafoe. Staton’s Chief of Staff is eager to get the President going and started out strong on his second term. However, the President instead decides to stay in and read the newspaper. It soon becomes clear that this president is nothing more than a figurehead who knows nothing about what is going on in the world. Shocked by this realization, he is thrown into an obsession to find out what is going on. Due to his absence—caused by his obsessive reading of the newspaper—people start wondering about the President’s mental state. His Chief of Staff decides to put him on a “publicity blitz,” including being a celebrity judge on the TV show “American Dreamz.”
When I first heard about this movie I was thoroughly interested in seeing it. Finally, a movie was going to show what is wrong with America, that people are more interested in things that entertain them than the things that actually affect their lives. American Dreamz touched on this subject, but not in the way that I was hoping. It seemed to be flaking about the point it was making, and it seemed afraid to offend anyone. But why? Why not show people what they look like through a foreigner’s eyes? I went to this movie looking for a strong statement about today’s society. I did not think that this was too demanding a request. What I found was a movie that was so afraid of offending viewers—thereby cutting into its profits—that it said, “Here is the very toned-down version of the point of the movie. Now look at all these funny people!”
The movie was more entertaining than it was good. However, Hugh Grant plays Martin Tweed very well, although we all know that Hugh Grant can play a complete jerk. Mandy Moore also does well at playing Sally Kendoo, who thinks she is the best thing ever and doesn’t really realize that she is actually a horrible person. Sam Golzari does exceedingly well as Omer, who is the most loveable show-tune-singing terrorist I have ever seen. While I laughed many times throughout the movie, I wanted it to stand up for itself and say, “Screw it! This is our point! If you don’t like it then too bad.”
. The acting in American Dreamz was good and there were not any glaring mistakes that caught my eye. But since the movie did not want to offend anyone by saying what it really wanted to, I became very frustrated and disillusioned with it. I give it a 7 on a scale of -22 to 22. Why do people not say what they mean? I know that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but why does that always mean giving way to the majority opinion? If you want to make a point, don’t soften the blow just to save yourself. Say what you mean, and it will feel so much better!

~Stormy Pinkness

Saturday, May 13, 2006

American Dreamz (Dr. Worm)

For those too busy to read an entire review, I’ll sum up American Dreamz in just one word: schmatire.

To break that down for those of you still reading: satire is defined as a “work in which vices, follies, stupidities, abuses, etc. are held up to ridicule and contempt.” And the “schm-” prefix indicates that the word it is affixed to should not be taken too seriously.

In it’s dealings with the president, for example, American Dreamz is a satire with all the cutting edge of a feather. Dennis Quaid plays President Staton—the name is really the only thing notably different from our current commander-in-chief. As the movie opens, Staton has just been elected to a second term. But instead of rushing out the next morning to triumphantly greet his constituency, he decides he wants to stay in his pajamas and—apparently for the first time in his life—read the newspaper. When this continues for several weeks, the public starts speculating on President Staton’s condition, while his right-hand-man Wally (Willem Dafoe channeling Karl Rove) decides that the president will appear on the wildly popular show “American Dreamz” in order to improve his sagging poll numbers.

Which brings us to satire target number two: “American Idol.” Here, Hugh Grant becomes Simon Cowell (renamed Martin Tweed in the movie) by reprising his self-interested-bastard role from About a Boy. It is here that the movie really shows its satiric claws. Whereas Quaid’s President Staton (Bush) is a lovable bumpkin—slow, but good-hearted—Grant’s Tweed (Cowell) is, for lack of better words, a prick. But, like Cowell, he’s a prick that’s fun to watch, so long as his prickliness isn’t directed at you.

Also starring in the reality-show story line are: Mandy Moore as Sally Kendoo, a white-trash girl desperate to become famous; Chris Klein as William Williams, Sally’s amusingly simple and genuine boyfriend, and Sam Golzari as Omer, a terrorist and the only legitimately likeable person in the film. His ineptitude, combined with his love-of-show-tunes, gets him sent away from his terrorist training camp, but when he gets cast as a contestant on the titular show, his terror cell decides to use him to get to the president.

Golzari is one of the few characters in the movie not guilty of what a former director of mine called "schmacting" (note the schm- prefix). Schmacting—in this case—refers to overplaying or caricaturing your character. It's a good way to a quick, cheap laugh, but it also weakens a character, making them ultimately less interesting to watch.

As I mentioned, Golzari avoids schmacting. So do Hugh Grant, Willem Dafoe, and Jennifer Coolidge (playing Mrs. Kendoo). Seth Meyers, as Sally Kendoo's agent, does an excellent job of being funny without schmacting. Chris Klein comes dangerously close, but still stays just on the right side of the schmactor line. But Mandy Moore? She does some major schmacting. As does Dennis Quaid as the President, and Marcia Gay Harden as his wife. And Tony Yalda as Golzari's cousin? Schmactacular.

In the end, I think that's what prevented the movie from being all it could be. Whether it was the director's choice or the actors', I don't know, but the recurrent overplaying of characters and jokes—in essence, telling the audience "laugh now, this is supposed to be funny!"—really weakened a movie that had the capacity to be much, much sharper.

With a bit more restraint, the movie could have been a ten. But, because it frequently lazily opted for a cheaper laugh, that ten is really just a schmen (which, translated into layman's terms, is actually just a five.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006


What lies beyond once we shuffle off this mortal coil? Is it heaven, or hell, or earth again in a different body, or just a black inky nothingness? It’s a great question, and perhaps the fact that it cannot be answered is what makes it great. There has been lots of conjecture on the subject over the centuries, and a few people have even claimed to have experienced it and come back. Wouldn’t it be interesting to definitively answer the question forevermore, figure out a piece of God’s puzzle and become more God-like, and in the process get filthy rich?

Wait a minute, this is sounding like a movie plot. Oh yeah, Flatliners! This is now a pretty old movie (it seems weird that a movie made in 1990 would be considered old, but that was 16 years ago), and it is certainly not the only movie made that explores the questions of death and eternity. But an important point is that this movie does not claim to have the answers. Four people “die” in this movie, and they all experience something just a little bit different. This movie is based on the question, not the answer.

It involves five medical students who are like typical medical students: bold, ambitious, competitive, and incredibly arrogant. One of them (Kiefer Sutherland, AKA Jack Bauer) is so arrogant that he takes fantastic risks with his own life and those of others. He proposes an experiment to see the other side of death, an experiment that has great potential to end very badly. The others are reluctant at first, but when it works, most of them are bucking to be the next guinea pig. And they keep up-ing the length of time they’ll be technically dead.

Whether or not this movie is medically plausible, I don’t really care. It thinks it’s medically plausible, and executes the idea with a modicum of competence, so that’s enough. All five of the principal actors are pretty good. This is an all-star cast that would surely command an astronomical budget nowadays, but the movie was filmed when these actors weren’t really the huge names that they are now. Arguably, the star is Kevin Bacon as David. At the beginning he is a professed atheist, but by the end he is the only character to address God directly. He often lets his ambition get the better of him, but he’s good-hearted and passionate, and does something relentlessly till he gets the result he wants. Julia Roberts is ho-hum as Rachel, as she is just supposed to be the token female character who sleeps with the main character and is seen in a bra. She does great things with a character the script doesn’t really have time to develop, though. William Baldwin is very good as Joe, the likable scumbag. He’s a rake, but he’s genuinely sensitive as well. He carries these two character traits with grace and subtlety, and doesn’t over-play them, as would be easy to do.

What eventually happens because they played with death is interesting, but has the potential to be incredibly cheesy. Luckily, the movie avoids this by having all the actors be totally sold out to the idea. I also really liked that as godless and arrogant as these characters are, they cannot escape God. They conduct their experiments in an abandoned church, where stained-glass windows and divine statues are all around, and what started out as their experiment quickly spirals out of control. The religious imagery in this movie is very strong, a little too strong at times, but it brings up a very good point. I’m very glad this movie didn’t do the typical Hollywood thing, which is to remove God from all the proceedings, as other movies about this same subject have done. What Flatliners brought out for me is that God is a lot smarter than we are, and try as we might, we can’t out-do him.

Iconic lines:
“Hoka hey.” (today is a good day to die)
“Philosophy failed. Religion failed. Now it’s time for medical science to try.”
“Good thing I didn’t flatline. My 350-pound babysitter would be chasing me for the half-eaten pastrami sandwich I stole from her.”

22 Rating: 7

Particle Man

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Initial Reaction: Did that movie have Steve Martin in it?

As the Shopgirl DVD was held in front of my face at Blockbuster, I was intrigued. Steve Martin and Claire Danes? Interesting… As I remember, the cover said something about it being funny, and I’ve never seen a Steve Martin movie I didn’t get a good couple of laughs out of. Sure, why not?

You ever meet one of those unlikable people that you like? No, I didn’t type that wrong, I’m serious. Have you ever met someone that bugs you in so many ways, and you could make a list of the reasons why you shouldn’t like them, but for some reason you do? They’re annoying. They never shut up. They always criticize you. They couldn’t chew any louder if they tried. Why do you like them? And yet, the next day you miss them and can’t stop yourself from calling them up.

I liked this movie, but didn’t want to like it. Even now as I write this review, I want to criticize it, inflate its flaws, maybe even create some. I wouldn’t see it again, and I wouldn’t even recommend it to many people. But for some reason, I liked it.

Let me explain. This wasn’t a funny movie, which totally derailed my movie train. Looking at Steve Martin’s face and not expecting to laugh took some getting used to, and even hearing his voice as the narrator made me smirk for absolutely no reason. But the mood of the film was not a comedic one. The silly, laugh-out-loud moments were few and far between, and I can only remember one of those parts involving Steve Martin’s character. Shopgirl had a very distinct mood. The music really did it for me, it painted this mood clearly and beautifully, filling me with a sense of bittersweet love and desire …

The movie Shopgirl went where most movies avoid going when it put two potential lovers in the life of its main character, Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes). These kinds of movies can leave people with a bitter taste in their mouths that “fate” might have absolutely nothing to do with finding love, and that actually being in true love is our own personal choice. (Perish the thought.) I actually appreciated this, but on the other hand I do understand the draw of a story whose lovers, no matter what the circumstances, will end up in each others arms in the end. I guess.

I really like Claire Danes. Maybe not the most versatile actress in the world, but I think she does what she does well. She plays the good-yet-tragic Danes character, and you can’t help but like her. She’s just an average young woman on her own, dreaming of having a love that is fulfilling and true. Not surprisingly, she gets put into the path of Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). This guy is a fool. I actually at one point pleaded with the movie to change its mind in the choice of romantic interest #1, because this guy is the least charming, least socially-polished guy I’ve ever seen play a romantic lead in a film. Plus, he’s not that attractive. He doesn’t seem to have much potential for anything, nevermind making it with the likeable Danes. I will say, however, that Schwartzman was amazingly successful in his role… I was actually genuinely embarrassed for him several times.

Alright, so Steve Martin? Very surprising. He plays the rich, older man who enters Mirabelle’s life and sweeps her off her feet. It’s really no contest at first, Mirabelle has her head on straight enough to see that Ray, a rich, gentle, caring and polite man, knocks Jeremy out of the ring. But who is right for her?

It seems obvious, but then it isn’t. Both men love Mirabelle, but she only wants one of them: Ray. Ray, however, is older and doesn’t want anything serious or long-term with Mirabelle. He basically wants to get laid whenever he’s in town. But he’s everything a girl wants in a man, and she believes that he loves her and will come around. Jeremy goes off on his own “quest” to try and find himself, and while he does change for the better in many ways, he still remains himself, and a part of himself is still crazy about Mirabelle.

Shopgirl made me uncomfortable because it focused on the fact that love can come from very unexpected places and people, and sometimes we don’t recognize it. It’s nice as an audience to just be spoon-fed a story and know that your expectations will be fulfilled. It’s a nice escape from a reality that always takes us by surprise. Shopgirl moved away from meeting expectations, and just evolved. Because of this, I appreciated Steve Martin’s honesty with us, it’s nice to not be lied to. But at the same time, I enjoy escaping reality sometimes. Reality, after all, is messy.

Rating: 6

In any case, I liked it, but I wouldn’t see it again and I won’t recommend it to you, unless you are intrigued by this review. If you are, go and see it, and let me know what you think. I give Shopgirl a 6 on the -22 to 22 scale. It was a good story that was well done and well acted, but seeing it was like hearing my mother tell me that my boyfriend is no good—a reality check I never asked for.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Movie of the Month - May '06

American Dreamz

Stay tuned for our reviews coming up May 15th-19th!
Lucky for you, They Might Be Critics hosts a regular movie of the month. During this exciting time, all (or most) of our critics post reviews of a chosen movie that is due to come out this month. We are all about providing a range of opinions and insights, and allowing for an open forum in which we discuss the film with each other and anyone who desires to participate. So, see American Dreamz, and join in!