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The Lorax

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Adapting Dr. Seuss for a feature film is a challenge. The movies can capture his whimsical drawings and mischievous humor but they fail when they pad his storylines and jettison his rhymes.  Dr. Seuss had a genius for saying a lot with a little, which is one reason the half-hour animated television versions of his stories hold up so well.  But more is less when it comes to adapting Dr. Seuss, and in this latest, as in too many before, most of what is added is unnecessary, distracting, and nowhere near the quality of the original.

The Lorax applies all of the latest tools of technology with great skill and imagination and never match the standard of Dr. Seuess’ paintbrush on paper.  It is beautifully designed and makes great use of 3D. Unfortunately, it weighs down the story of the book, becoming something Dr. Seuss never was — heavyhanded.

The legendary Dr. Seuss wrote the story of The Lorax as a cautionary tale about environmental pollution and corporate greed in an era when the country was newly awakened to the dangers confronting our fragile ecological system. In the age of hippies and “flower power” and yearning for a return to nature, The Lorax fit right in.

In this expanded version of the story, twelve year old Ted (Zac Efron) has grown up in the town of Thneeville, where everything is “plastic and fake.” There is not one living tree, or even any place to plant a tree because the dirt has been covered up with plastic. The richest man in town, Mr. O’Hare, (Bob Riggle) makes his money selling bottled clean air (aided by large ruthless bodyguards and a corporate propaganda campaign). Mr. O’Hare believes that trees are a threat to his corporate profits because “trees make air for free.”

Ted daydreams of the beautiful young Audrey (Taylor Swift), and when Audrey wishes on her birthday that she could see “a real tree” rather than the plastic replicas in Thneeville, Ted sets out on a quest which gets him into all kinds of trouble and leads him on all kinds of adventures. (“If a boy does the same stupid thing twice, it’s usually for a girl.”) His exploits in the sewer system of Thneeville and outside the city limits are beautifully done. Ted’s quest takes him to an ancient hermit, the Once-ler, (Ed Helms) who tells the story of his long ago encounter with a strange woodland creature, the Lorax (Danny DeVito) who “spoke for the trees.” In a series of flashbacks the Once-ler explains how the trees were all killed off. The rest of the movie involves Ted, Audrey and Ted’s grandma battling corporate spies, security cameras and a brainwashed mob to see if trees can be restored. In a scene reminiscent of the recent animated classic “Wall-E,” there are wild chase scenes for the one last remaining seedling.

The Lorax is at its best when the animators are able to escape from the more heavy-handed aspects of the plot. Three singing, break-dancing goldfish provide a delightful background chorus to the action. The underground sewer system of Thneeville is a marvel of cartoon engineering. And there are some nice moments with Ted’s family, which seem to be inspired by the family in Carol Burnett’s old “Mama” skits from her variety TV show.

There is plenty of room for more animated parables sensitizing today’s young audiences to the importance of ecological concerns. However, Dr. Seus’ The Lorax would have been a better, more artful movie if its makers had exercised some artistic control and moderation over Dr. Seus’ manifesto from the opening salvos of the environmental wars.  The book itself emphasizes sustainability so that natural resources will be around for production of goods.  The film over-complicates the plot but over-simplifies the message.

Parents should know that this movie includes mild peril and themes of environmental destruction. Small children may find some of the exciting chases or the scenes of pollution a little intense.

Family discussion: Why did the Once-ler break his promise to the Lorax? Why did the citizens of Thneeville dislike trees? Would you be brave enough to do what Ted did?

If you like this, try: “Wall-E” and “Robots,” the Dr. Seuss book and the earlier and superior animated version with Eddie Albert as the narrator.

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3D Animation Based on a book Comedy Environment/Green For the Whole Family

Free Tickets to Special Screenings of ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I’m very excited to be able to give away FREE tickets to special screenings of “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” in select cities before it opens next week. The movie stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt as a government fish specialist and an aide to a wealthy sheik who take on the title project. Directed by Lasse Hellström and with scene-stealing appearance by Kristen Scott Thomas as the Prime Minister’s press aide it is an inspiring, heartwarming film

Cities and times are listed below.  If you want a ticket, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Yemen in the subject line and tell me which city you are in.   If you win, you’ll get the details by email.  Good luck and enjoy!

Boston: Monday, March 5th @ 7:00pm

Chicago: Tuesday, March 6th @ 7:00pm

Los Angeles: Tuesday, March 6th @ 7:30pm

New York: Wednesday, March 7th @ 7:30pm

Philadelphia: Tuesday, March 6th @ 7:30pm

San Francisco: Tuesday, March 6th @ 7:30pm

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Contests and Giveaways
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Interview: Katie Wexler of MVP

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

Katie Wexler is one of the stars of Most Valuable Players, a sensational new documentary about three high school teams competing to win the Freddy Awards for theatrical productions.  The Freddys are like the high school version of the Tony Awards.  The movie shows that musical theater can be as thrillingly suspenseful and wildly entertaining backstage as it is from a front-row seat.  Katie answered my questions about her dream role, her biggest challenge, and the best advice she ever got about performing.

What’s your favorite role that you’ve played and what’s one you wish you could play?
Picking a favorite role is tough! I always equate working on a show to gaining a best friend in the character you’re playing, and then never getting to spend time with them once the show closes. It sounds mildly morbid I guess, but that’s the kind of bond I form with the leading ladies I’ve played. I think I’d have to say I had the most fun playing Dot in Sunday in the Park with George. She is fiesty and hilarious and the range of growth she experiences throughout the show is tremendous, challenging, and an incredible ride for the actress on board. I am getting ready to work on Reno inAnything Goes in the spring time and she may give Dot a run for her money in the feisty department, so we’ll see how I feel come April!
Now dream role? Well, that’s every actor’s favorite question! No brainer. Eva Peron in Evita. And not the movie-Madonna-stuff…I mean Patti LuPone-Tony-Award-winning stuff!
Do you have a favorite musical?
I pace back and forth on the favorite musical spectrum between Sweeney Todd and1776. So, either a vengeful-murdering-singing-barber or singing-dancing-founding fathers. See? How can you not love musical theatre?!
What surprised you when you first began to learn about Broadway musical theater?
Hmm. “Broadway” musical theatre is such a teensy tiny microcosm of the art form ‘musical theatre’. There are brilliant musical theatre productions both old and new being mounted all over the United States in regional theatres, even some that tour through it! Broadway is only the tip of this wonderful iceberg. The regional theatres that adapt, engineer, and re-engineer timeless favorites, as well as invent new pieces that may make their way to Broadway, all over the country are the unsung heroes of the musical theatre world, I think.
What has been your biggest challenge as a performer?
Letting go. And whatever ‘letting go’ means on that day; whether it’s leaving behind stress, a terrible day, letting go of preconceived notions of what is ‘silly’ or feels uncomfortable. Letting go of insecurities and trusting yourself, fellow actors, and directors is so important. There’s really no room once you’re in the rehearsal space for anything else but letting go to the show or the piece and letting the work have an untainted life of its own.
What’s the best advice you ever got about performing? 
Embrace your own uniqueness. The sooner a performer is ok with who they are; I mean fully come to terms with flaws, insecurities, weaknesses, strengths, and skills, and like it. Love it! Our job is to honestly portray humans on stage and what a better well to draw inspiration from than the life you know best—your own!
Do the Freddy Awards create too much pressure or do they inspire kids to do their best?
As far as my experiences have informed me, there are no negative consequences of the Freddy Awards. Of course some people will take competitive situations to the next level, but that’s any situation in life. It’s no different from kid’s pitting rival sports teams against each other in high school, it’s another way we motivate ourselves to do better. I know concerns had been expressed that theatre was such a different medium than sports that to “judge” and “win” were somehow bad words to qualify an art form, but from my experiences in the theatre both at the college level and professionally, it is painfully competitive out there just as much for actors as it is for professional athletes. High school thespians deserve their moment in the limelight for all the heart and time those kids put into the productions, and the Freddy’s has done a great job at giving it to them. If a little competition brings the community into the process and pushes these young artists to work harder, I say no harm no foul!

Tomorrow: An interview with Producer/Director Matthew Kallis.

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Documentary
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