My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Posted on March 24, 2016 at 5:46 pm

The original “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a charming surprise, a fresh, honest story about a young woman trying to find a way to be true to herself despite her loving but overwhelmingly intrusive Greek-American family. This 15-years-later sequel is an overstuffed, undercooked cash grab, operating at the low level of a basic cable sit-com with a juiced-up laugh track. There’s a big difference between finding it funny when a family has what therapists call boundary issues and bombarding the audience with overshares. Or, as Toula tells us just to make sure we understand, “We see no difference between hugging and suffocation.”

Copyright Universal 2016
Copyright Universal 2016

The original was an exaggerated but affectionate portrayal of family dynamics that are familiar to anyone who struggled to find a distinctive individual direction despite family expectations to the contrary, which is pretty much everyone. The sequel is grotesque caricature, repeating and coarsening the humor of the first one, with repeated clunky set-ups for each of its obvious twists. The first one was a sleeper made for a shoestring that became one of the highest-profit films of all time, released in the same month as a big-budget special effects flop, “Pluto Nash,” with a mirror image record-breaking balance sheet — it lost almost as much as “Big Fat Greek Wedding” made. This sequel won’t set any records in either direction. It has some appealing characters and mild humor. But it devalues the franchise so badly that it is retroactive, diluting any remaining affection for the first one.

The couple who had the titular nuptials in the 2002 film were Toula (screenwriter Nia Vardalos), the daughter of Greek-American restaurant owners who dreamed of working with computers as a travel agent, and Ian (John Corbett), a WASP-y vegetarian teacher. At the engagement party, her parents brought a battalion of cousins named Nicky. His parents brought a bundt cake. An adorable culture clash! Is this a great country or what!

Fifteen years later, Toula, Ian, and their 17-year-old daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris, lovely even in ghoulish makeup) live next door to her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine), who still believes that the Greeks invented everything and Windex can cure anything, and Maria (Lainie Kazan), who still lets him think he runs everything. Toula tries hard to make everyone happy as she is sandwiched between a daughter who needs her less than she wants her to and parents who need her more than she wants them to. “Just when my daughter doesn’t want me around anymore, my parents need me more than ever.”

All the relatives live right nearby and everyone is up in each other’s business all the time and Hollywood Greek-Americans John Stamos and Rita Wilson, who produced the film, show up for an obvious gag and can the Stamos character, a TV newscaster really have a tagline involving shooting a finger-gun?

Toula’s big fat Greek family is supposed to be loveable, but they are just shrill and annoying. Either Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) is going into excruciating detail on her sex life or her medical quirks or Gus is trying to find a nice Greek boyfriend for Paris to marry so she can have lots of Greek babies. Ian is now the high school principal and Tula is back where we first met her, working in her parents’ restaurant and even has to don her old glasses. They want Paris to stay near them in Chicago when she goes to college. Like Toula in the first film, Paris wants more independence. Like Toula’s parents in the first film, Toula and Ian do not want to let her go. Meanwhile, their focus on the family has led Toula and Ian to lose touch with one another. So, hey, why not another makeover for Toula?

And this is a Big Fat Greek Wedding film, so there must be another wedding. It turns out that Gus and Maria’s marriage license from half a century ago in Greece was never signed. So, Gus has to persuade Maria to marry him all over again and that means giving her the wedding of her dreams. Opa!

It is filled with the kind of stereotyping that would elicit howls of protest from anti-defamation groups if not made by Greeks themselves. That doesn’t prevent the ugly stereotyping of non-Greeks, all portrayed as thin-blooded and snobbish, except for Ian and the real-life Ian, the actor husband of Vardalos, as a kind-hearted cop who married into the family. A revelation about a family member who is gay could have led to some interesting moments, given the family’s very narrow concepts of masculinity, but it is too busy with jokes about how gross an old man’s nudity is. Even Gus would agree that this is beyond the powers of Windex.

Parents should know that this movie has some crude humor, sexual references, and a non-explicit situation. There is some scuffling, a non-serious medical emergency, social drinking, and tipsiness.

Family discussion: Ask family members about how they handled parent-child conflicts about independence — and weddings. Why was it important for Maria that Gus propose to her?

If you like this, try: the first film and another film from Vardalos, “Connie and Carla”

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Comedy Family Issues Romance Series/Sequel

Does This Police Dispatcher Sound Familiar?

Posted on March 24, 2016 at 8:00 am

The official description: Police Radio: Calls Received Through Radio From Female Dispatcher With Static And Squelch Pops; Close Perspective

Here is what it sounds like:

Dale Eisinger wrote about being haunted by this clip in The Daily Beast. Like the Wilhelm scream, it is in countless movies and television shows.

Her voice is so distinct. The countless iterations of CSI, basically every episode of Law and Order, many episodes of The X-Files, the dystopian Bruce Willis/Brad Pitt banger Twelve Monkeys, the Nic Cage car chase classic Gone in 60 Seconds, the animated series Batman, the Grand Theft Auto video games series… seemingly anything produced in the ’90s and beyond with some kind of police presence, this woman’s on that tape.

Eisinger’s efforts to track down the elusive voice, while unsuccessful (so far — if anyone has information about it, let me know), are fun to read about and very enlightening about the way sound is created and assembled for movies and television.

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Behind the Scenes

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
Copyright Warner Brothers 2016

After the refreshing superhero palate-cleanser that was “Deadpool,” it’s tough to get back into the ponderous, self-important, choir-of-angels soundtrack, too long by at least 45 minutes. Even the title is much too long. Do we really need another scene (and then ANOTHER scene) of Bruce Wayne’s parents being shot in a comic book movie? But that is not going to daunt director Zack Snyder, who lives for this sort of thing, and so here we are. The movie is literally and metaphorically murky, with muddy cinematography that turns every character’s eyes into pupil-less, drone-looking pools, except for the guys who can make theirs glow, via effects so retro they could have come from the old Flash Gordon serials. The storyline is secondary at best, just a series of setups for action sequences. It’s no secret that if you want to have a human fight Superman, you have to find some kryptonite to make him susceptible to human weapons. But then when we need him to be back to full strength, there he is. At a crucial moment, the turning point is simply ridiculous. So much of the chaos could have been circumvented if a couple of the characters ever had a conversation — or a cell phone. And everything stops when character takes the time for a detour into computer files that do nothing but set up the next movie. Isn’t that what extra scenes after the credits are for?

Batman and Superman have a lot in common — they were both orphaned as children and long before Spider-Man learned that with great power comes great responsibility, they were both living that credo, standing for, as the Superman radio and television program said, “Truth, justice, and the American way.” Indeed, they had a long comic book bromance going until the 1980’s, when they began to be at odds, focusing on what separated them. They are, after all, literally from different worlds. Brooding loner Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is a vastly wealthy industrialist, his only confidant the trusty butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), was sent to Earth from Krypton as a baby, then found, adopted, and raised with a lot of love and support on a bucolic farm by the Kents. When he grows up, Clark Kent works as a reporter alongside the woman he loves, Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

An alien attack on Gotham destroys Wayne Enterprises’ headquarters building in a brief action sequence more arresting and visually striking than the ones that follow. Wayne, watching Superman up in the sky and suffering devastating loss and guilt over the deaths of his employees, is not sure whose side Supe is on. After the attack, Superman is treated as a hero, but Wayne is not the only one who is suspicious and threatened by someone so powerful that no earth laws could stop him if he decided to go rogue. Later, when Lane is captured, Superman’s rescue operation ends up with many people dead and many questions unanswered.

Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, enjoying his twitches), as rich and powerful as Wayne, seems to be behind various nasty ventures, and is very, very interested in getting hold of some kryptonite, despite the objections of a Kentucky Senator (Holly Hunter). So, a lot of people here are concerned about power — how to use it, how to constrain it, how to balance it — and that would be a great issue to explore in a superhero movie in 2016, but this one is more interested in whether a rich guy with a utility belt can beat a guy with super-strength, invulnerability, laser-vision, super-speed, and the ability to fly, and then whether anyone can defeat a big monster who bursts from Kryptonian primordial ooze.

Any Batman movie has to have an elegant society party. This one is, hosted by Luthor, and a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot, by far the best part of the movie) shows up to tantalize Wayne with her beauty and steal the very data he was there to steal himself.

And any Superman movie has to have a trip to the Fortress of Solitude, so that happens, too, and all I could do was wish I was there instead of watching this film.

Parents should know that this film includes constant comic book style fantasy violence with many explosions, and massive destruction, nukes, supernatural and military weapons, scary monster, characters injured and killed, some strong language, alcohol including drinking to deal with stress, and non-explicit nudity and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: How would/should the world respond to a real-life superhero who could not be subjected to our laws? Or to a vigilante like Batman?

If you like this, try: the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan Batman movies and the comic books

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Fantasy Series/Sequel Superhero
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