Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

“Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!” Once again it is time for some piratey goodness. Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest finds us in the world of Captain Jack Sparrow and his wacky adventures yet again. We are wrangled into a setting of pirates and propriety that are always fighting each other for prominence.
The movie opens as a bride is sitting in the rain (it actually kind of reminded me of some of the Guns N’ Roses: “November Rain” video.) As the camera focuses, we see that it is Elizabeth who's the wet bride. One can only assume that she was waiting to marry Will Turner, whom she chose at the end of the first movie. However, the audience is soon set right that no marriage can happen. Both Elizabeth and Will are in grave danger from having helped Captain Jack Sparrow and must find some way to avoid the noose. A shrewd businessman comes to Port Royal to make a deal for their freedom. Will must retrieve a certain item of Jack’s if he is to live until his wedding night. He sets off on this adventure to save his love and himself. Elizabeth however, not one to sit around and wait for her man, takes matters into her own hands.
Jack in the meantime has once again escaped from a prison and is back sailing on the Black Pearl. His bliss is short-lived, however, as he is soon reminded of a debt he owes to Davy Jones, the legendary pirate who rules over an army of enslaved sailors. When I first heard this name in the movie I expected the old Monkee to come out and start singing, however, I was sorely mistaken ;). An old friend shows up on the Black Pearl to remind him of his debt. That friend's name is William Turner. Yes, boys and girls, William Turner Sr., the dashing Will Turner Jr.’s father. Jack tries several ways to get out of repaying his debt, including offering Will Jr. as a replacement. Young Will tries to find a way to destroy Davy Jones, if he can just find his vulnerable point. Elizabeth is not far behind and rushes along with Jack to save Will. For anyone who has seen the first movie, the dashing Commodore Norrington does appear in this installment, but in somewhat of a different form.
OK. First of all, I have to say how excited I was that this movie was coming out. I had seen The Da Vinci Code and X-Men: The Last Stand, both with entertaining results, but felt a mourning for my summer that would go by without any more big blockbusters. In come my heroes, Johnny and Orlando, to save the day. As I anxiously awaited this movie’s premiere, I read some reviews written by the people who were lucky enough to see it early, which left me rather bummed. None of the reviews were good. “Oh, no!” I thought, “I didn’t think my boys would let me down!” Then D-Day came (Debut Day). I braced myself for what I was about to see, and two hours and 45 minutes later I was walking out of the theater with my group of friends.
During that walk so many things were bouncing around in my head. “That was so entertaining!” My brain was yelling at all the critics who had bashed the movie. What did they expect? A moving piece of cinema that rocks the very foundation of our society? Or maybe they were hoping for something showing that the world may have gone off kilter but it would right itself soon enough. Ok, what about the concept of a PIRATE movie did these people not understand? I didn’t go to this movie to be challenged, I came to be entertained. Pirates achieved that goal in stellar form. It was not about this movie meeting me where I was in my life, it was about pirates (although not as cool as ninjas) still being really cool and able to entertain, love, betray, and pilfer without too much alienation. I do not know what these critics were expecting, but I think they might be spending too much time at the movies (yes, there is such a thing) and not enough time on their personal lives. This could be causing them to try to have movies double as fulfillment in their lives and also their livelihood. You’re bound to be dissatisfied when you’re trying to live vicariously through movies.
The movie has amazing special effects. One thing I would really like to congratulate the movie on was the ability to use jokes from the first movie, but not to a point of exhaustion. Otherwise, I do not know what else to say about this other than, “It's entertaining.” Some movies are made to change our lives. Others are made to show what we need to change. However, some are made to remove us from reality for a bit of relaxation. The night that I saw this movie, I was definitely in need of the latter. I don’t care what the critics say. I liked it!
I ran through several different ratings in my head trying to figure out what would be the right one for this movie. I came up with a set of requirements that the movie had to meet, and I would rate it accordingly to how it met my expectations: 1) Was it worth the money I spent to see this movie? Definitely. Therefore, the movie already starts at a ten, since that’s the amount that I spent. 2) Did I have any need to hurt the directors or producers of this movie? (note: I have sometimes felt like that when I have seen a sequel that they totally ruined) No. That brings the movie to a 12. 3) How much did I enjoy this movie? Very much; I didn’t go to see something deep, I went to see some pirates. Good job, movie! Way to stick it to the man! My enjoyment of the movie bumped it up another 4 points. Bringing the total to 16. No matter what, I suggest that you go and see the movie for yourself and see if you enjoy it or if it reminds you of really bad eggs.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Cowboys and fishing trips and homosexuality, oh my! Considering all the Oscar buzz and controversy surrounding this movie, I was preparing myself for a great movie-going experience, or at least an intense one. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal kissing is bound to ruffle a few feathers, and so many people were up in arms about something as masculine as the cowboy lifestyle being crossed with homosexuality. Needless to say, my interest was piqued. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I feel sort of gypped.

The movie didn’t go for shock value, which is good. It didn’t look at a homosexual relationship as something entirely normal, either, which is good, too. But that doesn’t leave it with very much room to go to. It would have been nice, I think, if the director made some sort of comment, even a miniscule one. Instead of making a statement and then letting the audience members make up their own minds, Ang Lee cut off his own tongue before he even got to that point.

The plot of Brokeback Mountain involves Ennis and Jack, two cowboys who find an interesting way to keep warm during cold nights on the prairie. The time period of the story is 1963 and back then, this type of thing was just not done. Even in this day and age, it would be met with acceptance but a few raised eyebrows. As unsettling or unusual as the subject matter is, the movie doesn’t really seem to care. The tone through the entire first act is one of voyeurism, with no energy put forth to make us like, sympathize with, or even understand the characters or their actions. The actions and reactions of the characters (at least in the first part) seem random and inexplicable, and the movie doesn’t even try to explain them. Things happen, and we as the audience feel like intruders, watching events that have nothing to do with us. Not that I’m callous, but why should I care?

It took awhile for the story to introduce a character I could really get behind, but it did with Alma, Michelle Williams’ role. I totally felt for her as she watched her husband have an affair. I get the feeling that I would have had sympathy for Anne Hathaway’s character as well, if she had had more screen time. Jack and Ennis were the two involved in the relationship that was the main focus of the film, but the story I found much more involving was what happened with their respective wives. I wish a movie could have been made from their perspectives. The other supporting performances (Randy Quaid and Linda Cardellini) added great touches, being fully realized characters with very limited screen time.

Brokeback Mountain was supposed to be a big movie, as it received a lot of hype and generated a lot of controversy. Honestly, I don’t see what all the fuss was about. While it’s true that it was strange to see two big-name actors (that were both men) having sex with each other, the tone of the movie encouraged non-reaction instead of the opposite. The cinematography and sets were very good, but the story had a messy resolution. Thumbs up to Michelle Williams for making a character that I could really believe in, but as for the rest of the movie, I could really take it or leave it. I imagine the novel is a whole lot better.

Iconic lines:
“Brokeback got us good, don’t it?”
“Texans don’t drink coffee?”

22 Rating: 2

Particle Man

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada (Wicked Little Critta)

The following is a true story* about John and Jane, your average American movie-going couple.

John and Jane headed out one drizzly, humid July evening to the Centerville Cinema to catch a movie. Neither one really knew of any movies in theaters, but John was confident in the possibility of some variation of a race car/horror movie starring The Rock, and Jane was comforted in the knowledge that John would be more than happy to accommodate her preferred movie tastes. After about 15 minutes of meandering through a packed stadium-sized parking lot, they eventually landed in what some might call a “parking space” from which they were pretty sure they could see the theater in the distance. They headed in and hopefully scanned the movie listings and show times. Just as John’s suggestion of Fast and Furious IV was on his lips, Jane exclaimed with glee: “OH! The Devil Wears Prada is playing! I’d forgotten about that one…” she turned to John as though he’d be interested: “You know, the girl from Princess Diaries, and um, Meryl Streep! I’ve wanted to see this. I forgot it was playing!”

And so, John shelled out about $20 on tickets for The Devil Wears Prada, a movie starring women, about women’s fashion, and another $20 for popcorn, soda, sugar-free Mike and Ike’s, and a bottle of water. Jane got in line for the ladies room.

After John had made all of his purchases, memorized all the movies coming out in the next three months, and played a game or two in the arcade, Jane joined him. They were early enough to get fabulous seats.

They waited. Ate 80% of their food, did some word scrambles, and watched previews. The movie starts.

Jane: Wow, Anne Hathaway looks great!

John: Hey, that girl isn’t bad looking. Maybe this won’t be total torture.

Jane: Oh my word, my boss is just like that! Get out now, Andy!

John: What a b*tch. Just punch her!

Jane: Hey! That girl was in Rent!

John: …

Jane: Those clothes are soooo gorgeous. What I’d do to wear Gucci…

John: Umm, is that actually clothing? I mean, is it even wearable?

Jane: (giggles) The gay guy is so funny!

John: That gay guy is pretty funny.

Similar thoughts ran through their minds as the movie continued. They both learned a number of things. Jane learned that doing what one is told to do is always a choice, and a person is responsible for his or her choices. She also learned that size 6 is the new 14, so she had some dieting to do. John learned that there’s a lot of money in the fashion industry, that there are more than five colors, and that it’s never cool to put work ahead of the people you love. Finally, they both learned that sometimes a person needs to give up one good thing to get an even better thing.

All in all, a good movie experience. On the -22 to 22 scale, they rate it a solid 10. Tune in next time when Jane and John watch Fast and Furious IV.

* True, as in “probably happened.”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada (Dr. Worm)

So The Devil Wears Prada is actually pretty good. This is not what I expected when the TMBC Illuminati suggested it as our next movie of the month, but I was pleasantly surprised.

My initial hesitation probably stems from the fact that this movie is marketed almost exclusively to females, which I took to mean one thing: chick flick. And I can appreciate a good chick flick as much as the next reasonably sensitive guy -- I enjoyed My Best Friend's Wedding, for example -- but in general the prospect of chick flicks doesn't set my heart racing.

You can imagine my confusion, then, when -- sitting beside fellow critics Wicked Little Critta and Stormy Pinkness (both girls), in a movie theater filled with women -- I actualy found myself enjoying this movie. In fact, that very idea frightened me a little bit. Would I soon prefer salads over beef? Would my interest in sports start waning? In short, were my testicles shrinking?

I'm pleased to report, however, that none of these fears were warranted. I didn't enjoy the movie because I was becoming a chick; I enjoyed it because it's not a chick flick.

Now I understand that some of you may balk at this. How can a movie in which the two leads are female and which is almost wholly concerned with the fashion industry not be a chick flick? Well, here are three big reasons why The Devil Wears Prada does not fall into the "chick flick" category.

1. Chick flicks are obscenely predictable. The Devil Wears Prada is not. I'm not saying it's an edge-of-your-seat, keep-you-guessing thrill-ride, but at least you don't know the ending just by looking at the movie poster.

2. Chick flicks are typically pretty shallow. Really, they're just about biological urges. Sure, they claim to be about "true love" and all that, but they're really about what every female wants: to find a partner with the best genes possible so as to pass favorable traits on to her offspring. The Devil Wears Prada, however, is not shallow at all--shocking for a film that centers around fashion. Instead, The Devil Wears Prada asks relevant and cutting questions about human mutability, about the nature of commitment, and the all-important (for this generation) quandry of how to balance career and personal life.

3. Chick flicks tend to be dishonest. The insidious message that chick flicks send is that each human being has a perfect match out there, so if you are unhappy in your current relationship it's because you're with the wrong person. This sentiment, I believe, is largely responsible for our society's staggeringly high divorce rate, and chick flicks have for many years contributed to the acceptance and prevalence of this myth of the "perfect match." I could go on here, but I really only mention this to compare it to The Devil Wears Prada, which is a surprisingly honest movie. There is a seemingly "perfect" guy in the mix to tempt our heroine, but much to my relief this movie didn't dabble in the aforementioned dark arts of chick flicks (and that's all the spoiling I'll do on that topic.)

But the movie is in fact quite honest in showing our herione to be, like everyone else in the movie (and the world), a flawed human being. And she behaves the way a human being might in her situation. Characters in this movie don't overreact to petty offenses for seemingly no other reason than to throw a wrench into the plot, and there are no absurd twists based on miscommunications (both chick flick staples). When you see the movie, you believe the events in it could really happen--even though some of the characters are comically farcial. But I suppose that's because the novel that spawned the movie is based on real events from author Lauren Weisberger's life.

I suppose no two words better describe this film than "exceeds expectations." If there's any exception to that, it's the acting, but that's no dig. Anne Hathaway is charming as Andy Sachs and Meryl Streep effortlessly chews scenery as Miranda Priestly, Andy's boss. But both actresses have impressed before, so seeing them succeed here is expected. But for the plot, the script, the supporting cast, and the suprising freshness the movie demonstrates, "exceeds expectations" is a perfect modifier.

And it's especially apt for the title. I first read the title as, "Okay, her boss is really mean, so she's the devil, and because she works in fashion she wears Prada." Fortunately, the title is much deeper than that. It refers instead to the Faustian offer that Miranda presents for Andy: Work for her, and Andy will soon be able to do anything she dreams of, careerwise. But, as Andy learns, she may just lose her friends, her humanity, and her soul in the process.

And if I had to condense all these thoughts into a single number, I'd condense them into the number 9.

The Devil Wears Prada (Stormy Pinkness)

“Wait a second! You want me to do what? Are you so lazy and incompetent that you cannot manage to do one simple task by yourself?” Pretty much every secretary on earth has had these thoughts at one point during those long, eight-hour days. The life of a secretary or assistant is usually one of non-existent thanks, long hours, and passive-aggressive behavior. With all this in mind, it is time to discuss The Devil Wears Prada, starring Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, and Stanley Tucci.
The Devil Wears Prada tells the story of Andy Sachs, a young journalist who is willing to do anything to start her career. Finally, she interviews for a job as an assistant to Miranda Preistly, who is basically the be all and end all of the fashion magazine world. After, seeing people run around like chickens with their heads cut off to please this woman and after a rather strange interview (personally, if I had been in Andy’s position I would have run the other way rather than taking the job), she gets the job that every girl who loves fashion would die to have. She soon realizes that there are sacrifices and challenges that she will have to face in this job and in her life. She will have to learn how to deal with her demanding new boss, who has a great amount of clout in the publishing world, and she will also have to balance her work life with her life with her friends and her boyfriend.
Anne Hathaway entertains in her portrayal of Andrea Sachs. She has just graduated from college and needs a job, so basically anything that has even the slightest thing to do with her chosen field would be great. She soon realizes that this is not as easy as she originally thought, until she finally receives the job as Miranda’s assistant at a fashion magazine.
As someone who works as an assistant/secretary, I thought that she portrayed the role believably I don’t know how many times I have been confused by vague instructions, or passive-aggressively completed a job that my boss thought was impossible and silently gloated after doing so.
Although Anne Hathaway did a good job as the assistant Andy, nothing could top Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Miranda Preistley, the Evil Fashion Dictator. The moment she showed up on the screen she made me feel like I should be doing work instead of watching a movie—I felt like I should pretend to be busy so I wouldn’t get in trouble. Streep’s character is someone who knows she is powerful and uses that to get anything she wants.
Throughout this movie, Andy is faced with a number of decisions that she needs to make. She continually tries to be true to herself and not end up like her boss, who is characterized as the epitome of evil. However, even though she goes through the movie doing everything with the best of intentions, it soon shows that people can change without even knowing it.
Immediately after the movie ended, I was not too impressed. I thought it was too long. However, as the days passed, my opinion of the movie continued to improve. Overall, it was not an awful movie. It was entertaining and had an enjoyable cast. After going back to work, a few days after seeing the film, my appreciation for it grew as I went through the same tasks that Andy does and also dealt with some of the same challenges.
And now for the moment that everyone has been waiting for: the rating. I would give this movie an 8. It was something I related to and the acting was very believable. I have heard complaints that the movie was not true enough to the book, but if you feel that then stick to the book, because last time I checked movies and books were different.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada (Particle Man)

When I was about 13, we got a kitten. We hadn’t had a cat for a period of about 6 months; quite sometime for us to go without a cat. We had a dog and a bird, but it just wasn’t the same. We got this kitten that was all white except for a small black mark on her head. We named her Sasquatch, initially because she was all white. We later found out that the name was entirely appropriate because she was a total monster. On the other hand, she was so cute she could peel the paint off an ocean liner. Seriously, I think cuteness of that magnitude is illegal in some states.

The Devil Wears Prada is like Sasquatch. At first look, it appears, cute, fluffy, and harmless. You pet it, play with it with a ball of yarn, laugh and smile, and it playfully attacks your hand. But after you’re finished, you notice that your hand is all scratched up and bleeding from the kitten’s little claws and teeth. And you think, “did that little thing really do all this?”

Anne Hathaway (no, not the wife of Shakespeare) stars in this little comedy as Andy Sachs, though Meryl Streep gets top billing. Part of me thinks that’s unfair, but then I think, “hey, it’s Meryl Streep.” Speaking of Meryl, I cannot say enough good things about her performance in this movie. Instead of making us hate her character through loathsome and instantly enraging acts, she instead chooses crushing indifference. The way she lightly says “that’s all” simultaneously implies apathy, condescension, and finality. She’s calm, cool, collected, and in charge, and she doesn’t let anything ruffle her. Well, almost anything, but I don’t want to give a spoiler.

This is not to impugn Anne Hathaway’s performance, or the many great supporting performances. Anne simply glows with that charm and appeal she radiates as second nature. Given the right role, she has the ability to draw you in, even in saccharine Disney movies like The Princess Diaries or its sequel. Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt are fantastic in their roles as scenery-chewing fashionistas, slaves to the whim of the almighty Miranda Priestly (Streep’s character). Even Adrian Greiner gives a competent performance as the boyfriend who stretches to ridiculous lengths in the wake of Andy’s transformation, but only so far.

The characters in The Devil Wears Prada aren’t one-dimensional or paper cutouts, as would be expected in a fluffy comedy like this one. It only appears fluffy, though. Like Sasquatch, it has unexpected claws. It ever-so-gently skewers the fashion industry, and you see the materialistic nature of it. Andy is definitely not a fashionista, but through working at Runway magazine, she starts to become one. The question that the movie presents is “does she want to advance in her job, or keep her integrity and humanness?” It’s a great job, but not one for her. We as the audience know that, but Andy at some point forgets.

This movie appears nice and quaint, and it is, but it also has barbs that you appreciate, mostly because they’re directed at the movie itself and not at you, the audience. Enjoy it, but be wary of its claws. It may be cute, but it’s really a Sasquatch.

Iconic lines:
“I’m on this new diet where I don’t eat, and then when I feel like I’m about to faint, I have a cheese cube. I’m one stomach flu away from reaching my goal weight.”
“That’s all.”
“The person whose calls you always take? That’s the relationship you’re in.”

22 Rating: 10

Particle Man

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Movie of the Month - July '06

The Devil Wears Prada

Stay tuned for our reviews coming up July 18th-22nd!
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 The Devil Wears Prada, and join in!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Superman Returns

Does the world need a Superman?

That's the question that a lot of people have asked, and a lot of people just can't get behind the idea. He's "too powerful," "too much of a goody two-shoes," "not dark enough," etc. I am not one of those people. I think that Superman works as a character ... how else would he have survived the last 68 years? But people do have a point in that he seems an ill-suited character for these dark times ... a point that is negated by the argument that in darker times, you need a bright icon like The Man of Tomorrow. But ... enough rhetoric.
Superman Returns takes place 5 years after the events of Superman II ... we are told that astronomers discovered the remains of Krypton, and Superman went to see it, and had been absent for 5 years. He returns to Earth to find that his world has changed: Lois Lane has a child, is engaged to be married, and has written a Pulitzer-winning story called "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman." Lex Luthor has gotten out of prison, thanks to his gold-digging of an old widow, and Superman not being around to testify at his trial (oops). What follows is the story of Clark/Superman getting back into his old life, and overcoming the obstacles presented before him.
This film is more ... orchestral in tone that most of the other superhero films we've seen in the last few years, save the transcendent Batman Begins. Bryan Singer set out to make an epic befitting the Man of Steel, and he succeeds nicely. The film doesn't feel any longer than it's 2 hour and 40 minute running time, and there are no script problems save a minor one that a new character presents and that I won't go into here ... too spoilery. The special effects are among the best I've ever seen, and Superman's powers are rendered impressively. I was impressed by Brandon Routh, who exudes authority as the Last Son of Krypton, and hits all the right comic notes as the hapless (?) Clark Kent. Kevin Spacey chews scenery as the orginal bald genius Lex Luthor, leaving Gene Hackman's hopelessly dated performances in the dust.* Kate Bosworth and Frank Langella turn in serviceable performances as Lois Lane and Perry White, and Sam Huntington shines as the enthusiastic Jimmy Olsen. Parker Posey also shines in a patented Parker Posey (tm) performance, as Kitty Kowalski, the "new" Miss Tessmacher.
This movie may not do as well as it deserves to because of the daunting box-office performance of POTC: Dead Man's Chest, but it is well, well worth your time. I give Superman Returns an 18 out of 22** on the 22 scale.

*To be fair, this isn't exactly Gene Hackman's fault. The old Lex Luthor was written as more of a Prankster/Funky Flashman type character, not the cunning and intimidating genius that Lex was/is.

** 18 is the lowest score I would give to something that I would actually deign to own on DVD ... normally.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Amelie (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain)

Initial Reaction: *big smile*

Watching the movie Amelie (Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain) is similar to strolling along a bright sunny beach with a group of best friends while eating an ice cream cone and belly-laughing at the funniest joke you’ve ever heard. Or eating Thanksgiving dinner after your team has won the football game and you know they’re serving your favorite dessert. Or skipping through a field of daisies holding hands with the Easter bunny and singing like Julie Andrews. In any case, whatever your cup of tea may be, Amelie is thoroughly delightful and smile-inducing from start to finish.

The main character is Amelie Poulain, our heroine. She is a shy, socially-awkward young woman who is nevertheless incredibly sweet. Her life consists of her job as a waitress, visiting her father, observing the people around her intently, and dreaming of the many fantastic possibilities that the world holds. Amelie is completely captivating, and fascinates the audience with her childlike aura and unique approach to life.

In most ways her life is very ordinary, but all this changes when she stumbles across an old tin filled with children’s treasures in her apartment. When she realizes it belonged to a little boy who must have lived there years ago, she is overcome with a desire to return the treasures to their owner. She imagines the wonderful moment when he finds it, and thrills herself with the idea that she might make someone’s life better. After some detective work to find the man (now middle-aged) it belonged to, she is able to return the tin, and she is pleased with his reaction to being reunited with this long-misplaced piece of his past. At this crucial point, Amelie decides that she will devote herself to helping people around her. The scenarios that follow are sweet, hilarious, and surprising as she—for better or worse—gets involved in people’s lives to help, as well as punish those that steal happiness!

We follow our beloved heroine through all these escapades, and incidentally, through a developing romance as well. In a twist of fate, she manages to meet someone just as wonderfully odd as herself, but because she doesn’t really know how to interact with people, she gets pretty darn creative in trying to woo him. The whole thing is unbelievably funny and sweet, and she makes some interesting friends that help her along the way.

Rating: 20

This movie, as you might have guessed, is a French film. I will recommend (as I always do) getting the version with English subtitles. In my opinion, it takes so much away from the movie when you are unable to hear the characters’ true voices. And these characters are worth every second of screen time they have. Each one is perfect in his or her role. Some that stand out are Audrey Tautou (Amelie), Rufus (Raphael Poulain), and Isabelle Nanty (Georgette). The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, did an excellent job. The plot moved smoothly, but still kept me thoroughly involved. There were an incredible amount of creative touches that made the movie complete and unique, a work of art. I can’t rave enough about this movie. If you are currently a member of TMBC and haven’t yet seen it, don’t see it without me! ;)

Excuse me, Partical Man, for using your “Iconic Lines” section, but I couldn’t resist.

Iconic Lines: “If Amélie chooses to live in a dream-world and remain an introverted young woman, she has every right to mess up her life!”

“With a prompter in every cellar window whispering comebacks, shy people would have the last laugh.”

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Producers

Ever since I had heard it was coming to the stage, I'd been hoping to get a chance to see the musical version of Mel Brooks' 1968 classic The Producers. Unfortunately, it's impossible to get tickets. The multi-Tony-winning production is booked so far in advance, my best bet would be to order tickets now and then will them to my great-grandchildren, who could enjoy the show in 2116.

Fortunately, the makers of The Producers musical anticipated my plight, and selflessly made a big-screen adaptation of the Broadway hit that I could order from my Comcast On-Demand service for $3.99 and watch in my underwear on an idle Sunday evening in July.

But enough foreplay, onto the review. I'd love to answer the question of how this movie stacks up against its Broadway counterpart, but I'll instead have to compare it to the 1968 original, to which it remained commendably faithful. Of course, some changes are to be expected, since the remake is a musical and the original is not. As a result, we're treated to a few moments where characters reveal their thought processes via singing. (Audiences were forced to intuit thought processes in the original.) But the plot moves from point A to point B to point C in more or less the same way, with only a few major departures.

One such departure is the addition of a relationship between accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) and secretary/receptionist Ulla (Uma Thurman), who, in another departure, also has a role in the film's showpiece musical: "Springtime for Hitler."

If you haven't seen either version, I may have lost you by now, so here's a quick rundown. Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer; Leo Bloom is the accountant hired to do his books. When Bloom discovers a loophole in the system that would allow a producer to make more money from a flop than from a hit, Bialystock takes the idea and runs with it, dragging Bloom along with him. The pair set about finding the worst script, worst director, and worst actors they can find, eventually hiring a flamingly gay director to direct the neo-Nazi-written travesty "Springtime for Hitler." (In another departure from the original, the neo-Nazi (Franz Liebkind, played by Will Ferrell) ends up getting cast as the lead actor, only to be replaced on the eve of the show by gay director Roger DeBris (Gary Beach).) Needless to say, the audience mistakes the horrid show for a comedy and it becomes a hit, much to the chagrin of Bialystock and Bloom.

The whole show (both the original and the musical adaptation) is fused with Mel Brooks' not-so-subtle sense of humor. Physical comedy, ridiculous characters, and a whole lot of screaming are his comedic staples, garnished with the occasional one-liner or pun (always delivered with a big ol' wink, just to make sure no one misses the joke). But you know what? It's still funny. It's not sophisticated humor, by any means, but I still laughed out loud on more than one occassion.

Much of that is down to the quality of the acting, as the new cast does a fairly admirable job of living up to the standard set by the old cast. Leading the pack is Nathan Lane, playing a part that's probably better suited to him than it was to original actor Zero Mostel anyway. Both Lane and Mostel give excellent performances, and Lane to his credit walks that fine line between copying the original and making the part his own. Matthew Broderick is not as lucky, having to fill the shoes of the legendary Gene Wilder, andas Johnny Depp found out playing Willy Wonkathat's easier said than done. Broderick falls a good five or six steps shy of Wilder, but his performance is still passable (which I suppose is a testament to how brilliant Wilder's performance really was.)

Uma Thurman does a solid job as the female lead, not that her role is that taxing. She basically has to be tall, sexy, and speak in a ridiculous Swedish accent. Thurman's Swedish accent worked just fine, and I imagine it wasn't too much of a stretch for her to play tall and sexy. Will Ferrell gave a trademark over-the-top performance, but he's hurt by the fact that he's Will Ferrell. Watching him, you can't help but think, "Hey, you're not German! You're Will Ferrell!"

All things considered, though, I was quite satisfied with the musical adaptation of The Producers. It doesn't have everything the original had, but at the same time it brings new things to the table (i.e. songs). If you haven't seen the 1968 original yet, watch that first. But if you've seen and fallen in love with Zero and Gene, you won't be disappointed by Nathan and Matt. Zero and Gene gave unforgettable performances that netted the original an 8 on the 22 scale, while Nathan and Matt are just a shade behind them, earning the new The Producers a perfectly commendable 7.