Toy Story 3

If I had a vote with the Academy I would nominate this for Best Picture. Not Best Animated, Best Picture.

So many movies today are bout the technology (e.g. 3D and/or computer enhanced action scenes) or about stars. Most of these movies forget the basics of a great  script, interesting characters you care about, and the right combination of storytelling combined with acting and cinematography.

Toy Story 3 has all the good and none of the bad movie stuff. By bad stuff I mean wacky or stupid characters put in for an attempt at a few laughs unconnected to the main story, at best one or two good lines, a few weak themes repeated throughout the movie, characters that bore you to tears and a plot that is totally unbelievable and not in a Sci-Fi.

I just watched a story about the secret life of toys and the plot was soooo much more believable than that of “Management” with Jennifer Aniston that we rented last night! This was a movie with a “star” but had all of the bad movie stuff referred to above.

Toy Story makes you laugh; provides action, suspense and excitement;, has multidimensional characters; pulls at your heartstrings; demonstrates values and just plain makes you feel good. The characters (toys remember) face problems with courage and cleverness, good triumphed over evil and all was right with world at the end. This was a great movie that was modestly enhanced by 3D, not a movie that succeeds because of the technology.

Unlike other late entries in movie  series,  TS3  improved upon while paying homage to the first two. The characters added new facets (you MUST see Spanish mode Buzz Lightyear). It provided a clean ending to the series without shouting to the world that there would be no more unlike another animated series.

It was such a sharp contrast to Management which we had just watched the night before as well as so many movies that have made in the past several years.

The ultimate tribute to this movie is that my 19-year-old son went with us. It was his second time in less than a week.

Toy Story 3, you got a friend in me.

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Say It Again Sam

Real things said by real people and too good not to share.

  1. If today was tomorrow we would be good to go.
  2. I am all about Jack The Ripper
  3. I think people who love each other have to have fights sometimes otherwise they don’t understand each other very well
  4. I have a fat man living inside of me
  5. As long as there is a cold one and a TV out there
  6. Puting on latex gloves and sticking your finger up your ass twice a day is not as much fun as it sounds
  7. Hello, I must be going

I wanted you to first read them straight. Here is where they came from.

  1. If today was tomorrow we would be good to go. I love the pseudo-zen sound of this one. It almost makes enormous sense, sort of.  It was spoken by a male flight attendant. There was a two-thirds full regional plane waiting to go from Charlotte to Tri-Cities in TN. (the tri being  Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol of course). The passengers were wondering why the plane was waiting for people coming from another flight rather than leaving them behind as has become the norm. The FA explained that on Mondays and Tuesdays this was now the last plane to the TriCities for the day. Tomorrow, Wednesday there would be a later flight and this one would have taken off rather than waited. Therefore, …
  2. I am all about Jack The Ripper. A friend and her husband had just spent 5 days in London. In addition to the excitement of seeing Verne Troyer (MiniMe) and damaging their rented Jaguar after driving all the way to Dover and back and being within blocks of their hotel, they did a walking tour of Jack The Ripper sites. When asked why, the response was …
  3. I think people who love each other have to have fights sometimes otherwise they don’t understand each other very well. An 11 year old was being interviewed by her father for a piece that eventually made it to NPR. It was clear from the story that while the father and mother loved each other there were many things that got in the way, finances– or lack there of– being one. I can only imagine an 11-year-old trying to sort things out in her mind. This 11-year-old was very wise. If all couples thought this way then the pain of fights would be less and last not as long.
  4. I have a fat man living inside of me. Click on the link to read the story by the original author. In short, this was spoken by a 16-year-old man-child who had just turned down a second portion of main course for more salad.
  5. As long as there is a cold one and a TV out there. A friend from the west suburbs of Chicago told me that he is traveling to s small town in TN for Thanksgiving. His wife has family in the area. One sibling has a house on many acres in this somewhat remote area.  After he told me how nice it was there I said that I did not see him as such a country boy. His response was…
  6. Puting on latex gloves and sticking your finger up your ass twice a day is not as much fun as it sounds. This one has not actually yet been said out loud. It has been in my head for a couple of months. I have a literal pain in the ass and the choices were surgery or applying an ointment two times a day. I chose the latter and have been waiting for the right time and audience to use the line. Still waiting.
  7. Hello, I must be going. This was not actually said by a real person but by a character played originally by Groucho Marx in the play, and then the movie, Animal Crackers. The Goodman Theatre staged an extremely enjoyable version which we watched a few weeks ago.  The actors playing the roles originated by the Marx brothers were all very good with Joey Slotnick, who played Captain Spalding/Groucho being outstanding. And now, I must be going.

Misery Loves Company…Or Is It Just For The Sex

Despite what Ben Bernanke recently declared, the economy is still in the crapper. People are unemployed, companies are struggling and I already know that my bonus will be dramatically lower than last years’ number.

I do find some comfort knowing that others are troubled too. This article from The Economist highlights another industry that is struggling and the impact on its specialized workers has been particularly dramatic and is in a part of the Country hit particularly hard by the recession, Los Angeles.

This article titled, “Hard Times” addresses a large industry currently on its knees. Actually, on  knees or back is common in the industry. Here are a few exerpts from the article.

EVEN Nina Hartley, who became a pornographic actress in 1984 and continues to be one of its most sought-after performers at the age of 50, is feeling the recession. “Last year I did a scene a week, this year I do a scene a month,” she says. As a sex celebrity, she has not dropped her fees, charging about $1,200 for a “straight boy-girl” scene.”

“Pornography had been immune to previous recessions, so the current downturn has come as a shock.” (Bold added by this author for affect–or is it effect–I can never get that right.)

If the Valley used to make 5,000-6,000 films a year, says Mr Kernes, it now makes perhaps 3,000-4,000.(Why would we need  3 thousand new porn films a year let alone 5 thousand. It isn’t like one is all that different than another — or so I have heard.)

For the 1,200 active performers in the Valley this means less action and more hardship. A young woman without Ms Hartley’s name-recognition might have charged $1,000 for a straight scene before the crisis, but gets $800 or less now. Men are worse hit. If they averaged $500 for a straight scene in 2007, they are now lucky to get $300. (First of all I am shocked at the reverse gender bias in the industry. Second, $1,000 per scene!!)

Pornography in general has become “like potato chips, everywhere and cheap, to be consumed and tossed,” says Ms Hartley. It’s not the same as in the golden age…( I love the potato chip analogy. As for the golden age, what is as good as it once was?)

Celebrities In My Midst

I felt a bit like Dian Fossey as I stealthily observed the habits of a strange species. I found myself within arms length of three celebrities within 48 hours.

First William Petersen, best known for his role as Gil Grissom on CSI. He is currently starring in a play at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago but stopped in at intermission to visit someone at the Steppenwolf Theatre on Wednesday night. My buddy Bill obviously did not see me since he walked right past me twice. He looked good. Fit and trim. In the last season he was on CSI they had him looking frumpy and old.

Second was Dionne Warwick. Before she shilled for the Psychic Friends Network she had over 50 charted hits. Now 69 and looking her age she was standing with a small crew on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in NYC. I walked over to get a closer look. One of her party was a late 50s blond who looked good but very plastic. I had to believe that her boobs were enhanced and the skin on her face had been stretched more than once. I could not tell if she had some fame of her own.

The last celebrity is my wife. She was in a cooking segment on The Early Show, CBS’ morning show. They were filming the show in the plaza outside the CBS building which was across street from our hotel. I recognized none of the hosts. So what was my wife’s role on the show? She had the job of standing behind the woman doing the demonstration and the host who I did not recognize. (After all it is the #3 morning show.) You can see my wife here.

The guys working security were pretty cool. I was trying to click a picture of my wife and they let me get fairly close to the demonstration. Normal working people are often good guys.

As for celebrities, the study continues.

Bye Bye Birdie

My son finished his successful off, off, off  Broadway run in Bye Bye Birdie. These are a few of the videos we took with our cheap digital camera (which is my way of making excuses for the quality).

These videos are from the March 21 and 22 productions. They speak for themselves.

IT’S SHOWTIME!

What a weekend. I spent Friday night being entertained by a brilliant young actor in his first stage role followed Saturday by a veteran performer who sang and danced like she has been on stage from birth.

And all this talent lives in my our house.

My son D took auditioned a few months ago for his first theatrical production. Everything outside of school has been athletics. I was thrilled that he stepped out of his comfort zone.

The play is Bye Bye Birdie. Honestly since he had no acting experience, no formal dance lessons and while he sings constantly in the house only about half the notes are in tune. Our expectations were that he might make the chorus. Not my son.

Hugo Peabody. For those who have seen the movie this role was played by teen idol Bobby Rydell. He is the boyfriend to Kim MacAfee, played by Ann-Margret. This is the fourth biggest male part in the play.

In this production, Hugo acts and dances but does not sing. He does do a handspring early in the first act. With D  burning the candle at both ends, starting most days at 6 am for baseball workouts and finishing rehearsals at 11 pm, for weeks now I was not sure how he would react to the pressure of opening night. What pressure. From his first line to the handspring to his dance with Kim (including a lift) and every other moment on he was on stage he was on fire. 

I know I am playing the role of the adoring parent but those that know me know that I am prone to brutal honestly and can be a touch critical. There was nothing to criticize, just a performance to enjoy. He delivered his lines with the air of a jealous high school kid, which is what his character is. He moved naturally across the stage and executed his dance number like a pro.

Right up there with the joy of watching my son was watching my son with a bunch of his buddies. Joey, Richie, David, Asher, Jon, and Mark and several others have been hanging around our house for years and years. What fun to be seeing them all act and dance on the same stage.

Several parents came up to me after the show, as well as one couple in a restaurant the next night, to tell me how well he did. I am proud. I am happy for him. He may or may not avail himself of opportunities to be on stage again. As one who believes in multi-faceted people I hope he does. And then I get to go to another show.

And this was just Friday.

Friday night people were asking me if my wife was at the show as well. No, my wife was in a performance of her own. Fortunately her show started last weekend and ends this weekend. D’s started Friday and runs next weekend as well.  So she will see the remaining 4 performance of his show–like a true mother. (Tickets still available if you are interested.)

Saturday I saw the closing night of my wife’s show.  Evey year The Women’s Club of Evanston produces a musical comedy review as a fundraiser for a local charity. My wife has participated for about 10 years. This year’s show was titled “Not Tonight Dear, I Have A Haddock”. Thirty three numbers in all.

My wife starred in such numbers as “Brain” in which she was a beautiful Zombie and “Fugue For Cyberchondriacs” in which she plays a nurse to people who self-diagnoseusing the Internet. She had a singing solo in “We All Live In The World…” in which people wistfully remember the days before recycling. Unfortunately she had some of the worst lyrics to sing including the words, verklempt, monkey snot and toe jam.

Overall, the lyrics were clever, the singing of high quality, the men had their annual dress as women number and the laughs came frequently and the dancing dazzled. Not bad for a group of amateurs.

At one time during the weekend as I told the story of my talented family a comparison was made to the Von Trapp family of Sound Of Music fame. That must make me the odd “Uncle Max”. No on stage talent in me.

Fortunately I will be able to retire as soon as talented my wife and/or talented son are discovered and become stars.

Groundhog Day: A Classic

Not the holiday, the movie!  To quote a line from the movie, the actual Groundhog Day is “A thousand people, freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.”

The 1993 movie on the other hand is a masterpiece of romance, comedy and philosophy with the emphasis on philosophy.

I have no idea how to organize a description of this classic movie so I am going into stream of consciousness mode. (This technique was first employed by Édouard Dujardin (1861-1949) in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupés(1888) and was subsequently used by such notable writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner.  So stream of consciousness is a valid literary technique. I am sure most regular readers are trying to figure out when I use any other technique. But I digress.)

To me, Bill Murray is Cary Grant without the devastatingly good looks. Both have brought broad and dry comedy as well as dramatic acting to their work.  Murray has the relative disadvantage as a leading man in that he does not look like Cary Grant. Therefore he needs to work harder to make it believable when he  wins over the beautiful woman as he does with Andie MacDowell’s character.  He has to transform that man-child cuteness into a beautiful soul. Harold Ramis, the c0-writer-director, provides the dramatic technique of repeating  the same day over until the transformation occurs.

Is there humor? Mais oui. It is a Bill Murray vehicle. The humor though is generally dry and does not overwhelm the movie. This is not a joke-off. For me this is the type of humor Murray does better than almost anyone. It manifests from his vocal tone and  facial expressions.

But it is the philosophy combined with the humor that makes me love this movie. How would you react if you were doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over again never knowing if there is an end? What would you do if you had one day to do anything you wanted to do? Would you use the time to become a better you?

Ramis and Murray take us on a magic ride of emotions. First, disbelief. Next annoyance. Then the  first major breakthrough. Phil, Murray’s character, realizes the sense of freedom that comes with knowing there are no consequences to what you do today. This leads to wild risk taking. However after several days even the thrill of car chases and death defying stunts becomes ordinary.

Phil moves on to excess for the sake of excess. There is a great scene where he has platefuls of food in front of him and he stuffs pastries in his mouth between puffs on a cigarette. Worried about cholesterol? Of course not.

Next comes days of anger, in which a montage of alarm clock destruction occurs. Then comes the second breakthrough. While the rest of the world resets, he remembers what he has learned. Knowing that he can use information learned on the last repeated day to your advantage in the next one first leads to the equivalent of parlor tricks by an amoral man. He picks up an attractive woman, he allows someone to step into a deep puddle he had been stepping in, and then finally tries over days to win over Rita, Andie MacDowell’s character.

Phil sincerely wants Rita but he is still an amoral jerk above all else. Each day uses something he learns about Rita to make it further with her but ultimately his lack of true sincerity means that every day ends with a slap in the face. Slap after slap after slap.

Next comes the suicides. electrocution, jumping off a building, being hit by a truck and the piece de resistance. He steals Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog and after a long car chase does a Thelma and Louise off a cliff–and gets a laugh.

The final breakthrough is when Phil finally pays attention to an old beggar man that he had passed every day. After an act of charity, his first, the man dies. For several repeat days Phil tries harder to avoid the death but to no avail. This seems to set him off on a quest of self improvement and helping others that leads to the final Groundhog day. I will not attempt to describe all that happens that day other than to tip my hat to Ramis and Murray. This day needs to be seen. I guarantee many smiles. At the end of the day Phil’s transformation is complete.

Beyond the philosophy and humor, Ramis brings several cinematic structures to the film that demonstrate advanced movie making. There is the quick cut repetition from day to day that strings together days into a single scene. There is the filming of the digital alarm clock as the numbers turn from 5:59 to 6:00 am signalling to Phil and to us the rebeginning of another Groundhog Day.  He also makes each day seem the same and yet just a little different. You begin to feel Phil’s personal hell.

Andie Macdowell is attractive as always and her minimalistic acting style is the perfect counter to Murray. My favorite Andie MacDowell moments are when she begins to smile, pulls it back and then smiles again.  

Clearly in 1993 Bill Murray is somewhere as an actor between Meatballs/Stripes/Caddy Shack and Lost in Translation. This is some of his best work as an actor and comedian.

It is a movie that you can enjoy watching over and over and over again.

4 Stars.