Two Terrific New Books About Show Business by Judy Greer and Carol Leifer

Posted on April 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Two smart, shrewd, and very funny women have written books about their lives in show business. Judy Greer has played the heroine’s best friend in romantic comedies like “13 Going on 30,” “27 Dresses,” and “Love Happens.” She has made memorable appearances in “Arrested Development,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Modern Family.” In small parts in “The Descendents” and “Love and Other Drugs,” she showed exceptional range and sensitivity. She is one of those familiar faces. And so she titled her book I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star, a dishy, just-us series of essays about her life in and out of show business.

Carol Leifer is a comic, actress, and writer who was the inspiration for the character of Elaine on “Seinfeld.” Her book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying, is her story about what she’s learned.

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Actors Behind the Scenes Books Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Carrie

Posted on October 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm

The remake of “Carrie” is not a bad movie; it’s just a completely unnecessary one.  The 1976 original is a horror classic, directed by Brian de Palma and the first film based on a novel by Stephen King, just 26 years old when he sold the rights for $2500.  Both of its stars were nominated for Oscars, almost unheard of for a genre film, and it is number 46 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 thrillers.Carrie poster

The idea of updating the story of the bullied high school girl to the era of Facebook and YouTube had some intriguing possibilities, especially directed by Kimberly Peirce, whose extraordinary “Boys Don’t Cry” had an insightful authenticity in the portrayal of young people who felt like outsiders.  But there is nothing especially timely, revealing, or surprising in this remake.  The performances are not up to the level of the original and even the special effects do not seem much better than those in the version that came out when Gerald Ford was President.

Less than a moment into the film, we are already immersed in blood.  We hear screams and we see a Bible.  Margaret White (Julianne Moore) is in bed, the sheets all bloody, moaning and praying.  She thinks she is dying and she thinks it is because she is being punished.  But the pains she feels are contractions and she is shocked to find a baby emerging from her.  At first, she wants to kill her new daughter with her sewing shears.  But she loves the newborn too much to hurt her and, as we learn, she sees the baby as another chance for her to be pure, to be kept safe from the predations of sin and the devil.

We then see Margaret’s daughter, Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz of “Kick-Ass” and “Let Me In”), a shy, repressed, somewhat backward senior in high school and ignored or insulted by the other girls.  She gets her period for the first time in the locker room after PE and becomes hysterical.  Like her mother, she has no idea what is going on with her body and she thinks she is dying.  The other girls are horrified that she is so ignorant and make fun of her, throwing tampons and sanitary napkins at her.  Chris, the ringleader (Portia Doubleday) gets it all on her cell phone camera and uploads it to YouTube.

Margaret seems to think that if she had been able to keep Carrie “pure” she never would have gone through puberty.  She locks Carrie in a small closet under the stairs and tells her to stay in there and pray.

But puberty seems to have unlocked some special powers in Carrie, powers that seem tied to her emotions.  As she sits in the principal’s office, his water cooler bubbles and then explodes. Carrie gets books on miracles and telekinesis from the library and begins to see what she can do and how much she can control.  For the first time, she begins to sense some independence and to rebel against her mother.

Sue (Gabriella Wilde) feels guilty about her role in making fun of Carrie and asks her boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort, soon to be seen in both “Divergent” and ‘The Fault in Our Stars”) to invite Carrie to the prom.  She says no at first, but then accepts, and his kindness and courtesy make her feel appreciated for the first time.  Until….

And that’s the thing.  Everyone knows what happens at the prom.  It is one of the most famous images in cinematic history.  This replay adds nothing new.

Moretz is a thoughtful and serious young actor, but she is better at playing a precociously sophisticated and capable character like Hit Girl or even the friend of the Wimpy Kid than she is at trying to show us the innocent and vulnerable Carrie.  More at fault is the script, which fails to provide a consistent emotional truth for the character. Like the Hulk, her powers are rooted in fury.  King, even in his 20’s, knew how satisfying that would be for everyone who has been picked on (that is everyone), and Moretz is at her best when enjoying the sense of righteous revenge.  To make the movie work, though, that would need to be balanced by an underlying sense of the character that is never there.  The same goes for Margaret. In 2013, the thoughts of a religious fanatic open up some possibilities worth exploring but Peirce is more interested in re-creating the original than updating it.

Parents should know that this film has extensive and graphic peril and violence with many characters brutally killed, disturbing and bloody images, sexual references and situations involving teenagers, a graphic childbirth scene, teen drinking, and strong language.

Family discussion:  Why were the girls so mean to Carrie?  How has bullying changed since the story was first written?  How did Carrie feel about her powers and why?

If you like this, try: the original film and some of the other Stephen King adaptations like “The Shining” and “Sleepwalkers”

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Based on a book High School Horror Remake Stories about Teens Thriller

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Posted on March 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references and some drug use
Profanity: Constant very strong, explicit, and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drunk driving, and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 16, 2012

Of course Jeff (Jason Segal) lives at home.  Just about everyone lives at home; that’s what “home” means.  The thing about 30-year-old Jeff, though, is that he still lives at the home he never-quite grew up in.  He lives in the basement of his mother’s home, and while he tells her he is busy when she calls from the office, he really does not do much but smoke pot and watch movies, certainly nothing by way of education or employment.  We first see him dictating his thoughts on yet another re-watching of M. Knight Shyamalan’s deterministic alien invasion movie, Signs.  In tight close-up, there is almost a rapturous expression on his face as he recounts the way that seemingly random events and choices turn out to be essential.  That enlightened insight about interconnectedness seems to have no relationship to Jeff’s being on the toilet as he discusses it.

Jeff’s mother asks him to go to the store and get some wood glue so that he can repair a broken slat in the shutters.  And it is her birthday.  So like heros in epics from the earliest days of storytelling, Jeff undertakes a journey and a quest.  He makes a rare excursion away from home.

Jeff may be going out for wood glue, but in his heart the quest is for meaning and connection.  The wrong number asking for “Kevin” he received that morning could be a sign of some kind.  And so, when Jeff sees a guy on the bus with “Kevin” on the back of his basketball shirt (Evan Ross, son of Diana Ross), he follows him off the bus instead of staying on to get to Home Depot for the glue.  After some misadventure — and a pick-up game — he runs into his older brother, Pat (Ed Helms of “The Office” and “The Hangover”), who has been drowning his troubles at a Hooters after surprising his wife, Linda (Judy Greer of “The Descendents”) with a Porsche they cannot afford.  Pat and Jeff get into the Porsche so they can buy the wood glue but once again a number of detours lead them astray, after they see Linda out with a man they don’t recognize.  Meanwhile, their mother (an enchanting Susan Sarandon) is receiving flirtatious overtures from an anonymous admirer somewhere in her office’s nest of cubicles and finding herself flattered and intrigued and nervous.

Writer/director brother team Jay and Mark Duplass (“The Puffy Chair”) are often credited or criticized for creating the genre of “mumblecore,” a category of 21st century independent characterized by inarticulate and often aimless characters ineffectually grappling with the transition to adulthood.  But it is a mistake to underestimate the strong structural foundation that underlies this film.  Both Jeff and Pat are immature and inclined to numb their feelings (with pot or a Porsche).  But the essential debate they (sometimes inarticulately) have about meaning and connection is nicely echoed in the seeming coincidences and randomness of their journey and the way they rediscover their own connection.

 

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references including adultery, drinking and drug use, and some peril and scuffles.

Family discussion: Whose life changes the most by the end of the movie?  Why did Pat and Jeff respond so differently to the loss of their father?

If you like this, try: “Daytrippers” and “The Puffy Chair”

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The Descendants

Posted on November 17, 2011 at 6:08 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language from adult, teens, and child
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, teen gets drunk, references to teen drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Tragic fatal accident (no graphic images), grief and loss, discussion of taking someone off of life support, sad parental death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, homophobic insult as evidence of crass, bullying behavior
Date Released to Theaters: November 16, 2011
Date Released to DVD: March 13, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B004UXUX4Q

Just because he lives in Hawaii, don’t think he’s in paradise, Matt King (George Clooney) warns us.  No one is immune to life.  The first Alexander Payne film since “Sideways” gives us another damaged hero at a crossroads and as the King whose crown lies very uneasily on his head Clooney gives his most vulnerable and sensitive performance.

Matt’s wife Elizabeth, glimpsed briefly but vibrantly as she is out boating, is in a coma following an accident on the water.  “If you’re doing this to get my attention,” he says to himself as much as to her, “it’s working.”  All of a sudden he has to pay attention to a lot of things.  He’s the one who gets called in to school when his 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) brings in photographs of her mother in a coma for show and tell and the one who has to drive her to apologize after she insults a classmate via text.  “I’m the back-up parent,” he tells us, “the understudy.”  He was.  Now he’s first-string and the game is on the line.

Matt and his family live on his income as a lawyer but everyone knows that he has inherited land of almost unimaginable value and that he is about to decide whether he will sell it for a lot of money or for you-can’t-count-that-high money.  The land is owned equally by Matt and his many cousins, all descendants (hence the title) of Hawaiian royalty and the son of missionaries.  For legal reasons they cannot continue to hold it indefinitely.  For financial reasons, the poorer relatives are pressing to make a deal.  But Matt is the sole trustee.  He has the authority to decide, and is trying to do what is best for everyone.

He impulsively takes Scottie to pick up his older daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), who has been away at boarding school because of problems with drugs and overall bad behavior.  When they arrive, she is out after curfew, drunk, and hostile.  At home, she tells him why she was so angry at her mother — Elizabeth was having an affair.  And the doctor tells Matt that Elizabeth is deteriorating and there is no hope.

Matt begins to understand how little he knew and how little he has control over.  He is clear, methodical, and deliberate on removing Elizabeth from life support, informing her brusque father (an excellent Robert Forster), her mother with dementia (Barbara L. Southern), and their friends and family about what is going on and urging them to visit her to say goodbye.  He brings depositions to Elizabeth’s bedside so he can keep working.  But in other areas he goes on instinct and impulse, taking Scottie, Alex, and Alex’s dim-witted, awkward boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) to track down Elizabeth’s lover, all of them more sure that they need to do it than they are sure what they will do when they find him.

Alexander Payne (“Election” and “Sideways”) has a gift for life’s messiness, the mash-ups of pain, humor, anger, terror, and longing that collide in the midst of big moments and domestic dailiness.  A man wants to get somewhere urgently so finds himself running in shoes that slip and with lungs that no longer let him forget he is getting older.  A thoughtless teenager says the wrong thing to a tough old man and gets popped in the eye.  There is an awkward encounter with the man who drove the boat in the accident (played by an actor who looks like he has lived his whole life on the beach because it is surfing champion Laird Hamilton).

But moments of grace that come from the wrong people and at the wrong time can still brighten spirits.  Payne is also an actor’s director who has consistently given underrated performers a chance to show greater depth and breadth.  This film is filled with beautiful performances from Clooney, Woodley, Forster, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges, and, as a character who does not even appear until about 3/4 of the way into the movie, the always-wonderful Judy Greer.  Too often relegated to best-friend roles for whatever Jennifer and Jessica are in the latest forgettable romantic comedy, Greer is an actress of impeccable honesty and timing.  At first her character seems like a nice person who has never needed or wanted to be anything else.  But then Greer brings to the small but essential role a dignity and resolve that are unexpectedly touching.

There is a lot of crying in this movie, and not movie crying with one perfect sparkling tear welling up in the corner of one perfect eye.  There is some messy, ugly crying.  And there is messy, ugly behavior.  This is a terrible, painful situation and people are fraught and scared and angry.  Matt tells Elizabeth that even in a coma she can still be difficult.  But he finds his way to some clarity about some of the problems that were making him feel powerless.  And we recognize that acknowledging the messiness may be the closest to clarity anyone can get.

(more…)

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