Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ironic truth is stranger than ironic fiction

Below you will see a picture of Britney Spears and her little sister Jamie Lynn from 2002. Jamie Lynn is now 16 and pregnant.

Lynn Spears (mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn) was writing a book on Christian parenting, due out in the Spring of 2008. The book has been indefinitely delayed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cross Promotion

Andrew and I also post on The Moviedrome, which features film reviews and analysis from across the globe. Click below to check it out...

I got a chance to see advanced screenings of Juno and The Kite Runner on consecutive nights. It is nice to see movies before the reviews and trailers give too much away. And as you read on, allow me to take away that pleasure from you!


If you have seen the trailer, or even just the poster, you pretty much know the plot: a teenager gets pregnant, decides to have the baby and give it to an adoptive couple, and laughter and tears ensue. It is the kind of movie where your enjoyment will be based on how much you like the characters and the humor.

The ensemble cast is strong, with standout performances by Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, and J.K. Simmons. Cera was one of the leads in Superbad, but I was introduced to him and also know Bateman best from their work on Arrested Development. I knew they could do comedy, and was really impressed by their subtlety in dramatic moments. But J.K. Simmons really surprised me. You might remember him in cartoonish roles like the thief with irritable bowel syndrome in The Ladykillers, or as the crotchety newspaper chief in Spiderman. But his performance in Juno is actually understated, sweet, but still funny. Everyone in the film is a supporting character to Ellen Page, the actress who plays the leading role of the impregnated Juno.

Apparently Page was impressive in Hard Candy. I have not seen it, so this was my first exposure to her. She definitely has personality and flair, a charisma that carries the film. But it is almost despite the script, not because of it. The character of Juno is practically a stand-up comedian, with almost every line being a sarcastic zinger. Juno’s wit kind of strains credibility as coming from a 16 year-old, especially with her constant cultural references that would seem to be more appropriate coming out of the mouth of someone older (like, say, that of 29 year-old screenwriter Diablo Cody). Don’t get me wrong, there are many funny lines and moments, and overall I enjoyed the experience.

I caught Juno at USC, and director Jason Reitman was there for a Q&A. He seemed proud to mention that he attended USC as an undergrad but was NOT a film major, apparently to convey that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become a working director. Having a father who directed Stripes and Ghostbusters might help compensate for the connections and access most hope to get by becoming a film major.

The Kite Runner

I definitely have poured plenty of money into the Arclight in Hollywood, and was happy to receive an offer for a free advanced screening of The Kite Runner. Well, mostly free, it did require driving into the Valley to see the movie at the new Arclight in Sherman Oaks. There was cheap wine and hors d’oeuvres, as well as the chance to get your book signed by author Khaled Hosseini. The theater itself was perfectly nice, except that one whole side of the lobby is made of windows that reveal…traffic on the 405 freeway! I guess there was a certain schadenfreude in watching people stuck in traffic, but it was a kind of bizarre way to create ambiance.

The Kite Runner powerfully shows Middle-Eastern Muslims as very relatable human beings, something that should be common sense, but is rarely portrayed in American media coverage (particularly regarding the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). For that alone, I hope many Americans find their way to this movie. Maybe this film will have the power to make some people feel less cavalier about our current or future aggressions.

This film also has a strong cast. The two children who play the younger versions of the protagonist and his best friend are fantastic. These kids are extremely charismatic, while still giving naturalistic performances. However, I expect that the Academy Award nomination will be coming for the protagonist’s father, played by Homayoun Ershadiss. He is a captivating presence in a wonderful role, whether affluent in Afghanistan or scraping by in America. I was also pleased by the casting of Said Taghmaoui, who I thought stole the show as the Iraqi interrogator in Three Kings.

I often enjoy films that are set in unfamiliar locations. I am not sure where they actually rolled film, but the portrayals of Afghanistan and Pakistan felt vivid and well realized. There is also beauty in the landscapes. The kite flying sequences were playful and exciting, although at times a little too dependent on CGI.

My problem with The Kite Runner is the obsessive need to have plot points, props, dialogue, and characters come full circle. I think this was done to make the storytelling satisfying, but the effect for me was that upcoming scenes started getting predictable. It started feeling like you were watching a screenwriting chapter on planting and payoff in action.

Juno ***
The Kite Runner

Monday, December 03, 2007

I am a lamp - Burgess Meredith