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2016/08/07

Ghostbusters: I Ain't Afraid of No Reboot

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


I usually go at least a little bit retro when I choose topics to write about here on 2FL, but this time, I'm spotlighting something very current that's just hit the theatres in the U.S.: the new Ghostbusters movie, directed by Paul Feig.

I've been looking forward to seeing it since trailers for it started popping up months ago. I was a kid when the original movie was released back in 1984, so there's a certain nostalgia at play there. I'm a fan of the four main cast members too (Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig), and I'm not going to lie--seeing four women in strong leading roles definitely was a draw. And fine, in the interest of full disclosure, I really didn't mind that Chris Hemsworth is part of the cast too.


As soon as the publicity for the movie started though, so did the backlash. So. Much. Backlash. It seemed to center mainly on the two reasons I wanted to see this film in the first place: nostalgia, and the all-female leading roles. I'm going to do my best to not give any spoilers, but I have to shake my head at the people who are flinging those points around as reasons against the movie. To me, it's the opposite; they're the reasons that you should go.

So, nostalgia for the first Ghostbusters. Believe me, I know--it's a powerful thing. I'll be the first to admit that I've been right where the naysayers who are digging their heels in are: I've written here on 2FL about how much I love The Neverending Story, a beloved movie from my childhood. I firmly refuse to see the second film. The same goes with the talk that's flown around about a possible new The Crow movie; for me, Brandon Lee will always be Eric Draven, and I don't want to see anybody else try to fill those shoes. As far as the new Ghostbusters though, fans of the original don't have much to worry about. This is a reboot, so it's not following the same story line as the 1984 flick. But, the movie is full of nods to the first film, so get ready for nostalgia to hit you like a blast from a proton pack. Some of them are subtle, others a little more pronounced, but the new movie knows what an emotional tie some people have to the original, and it respects that. Cameos are another big thing. You'll see plenty of familiar faces, especially those that will bring a smile to your own. And I do have to give you some friendly advice--don't leave the theatre when the credits start rolling. Stay a little bit longer or else you'll miss an important cameo appearance.


Then there's the whole discussion about the new cast being female. I'd almost say, "Don't get me started...," but I'll try not to get too long-winded. I saw a picture online the other day of two little girls at the movie's premiere, beaming up at Kristen Wiig as she high-fived one of them. In the film, most of the female leads are scientists: I might have missed McCarthy's character's title, but I did catch that Wiig's character has a Ph.D. in physics; McKinnon's character, Holtzmann, is a nuclear engineer. There's been a lot of controversy that Jones' character is the only one who's not a scientist, and I can understand the points that some are making, but I'll leave that discussion to others. I didn't enjoy her role any less because her character didn't have a specific title attached to her name. I'm happy that young girls (like the ones in the photo at the premiere) can see strong women portrayed in this movie. Not only that--I'm happy that boys will also see the same. My son was just as excited to go see Ghostbusters as I was, maybe more so. And it's not just the physical bad-assery they display as they sling around ghost-fighting weapons and face down the supernatural. They battle plenty of doubts about their legitimacy and their capability because of their gender and deal with some Internet trolls. Trust me, the controversy swirling about this reboot wasn't lost on the filmmakers.

I found myself laughing out loud throughout the movie, and one of the main reasons for that was McKinnon's portrayal of the wacky Holtzmann. Don't get me wrong; all four leads did a good job with their roles. For me though, Holtzmann's eccentricity was really brought to life by McKinnon's facial expressions, gestures, and timing. Where McCarthy is often a physical actor (which works so well and adds to the comedy), and this film is no exception, the subtlety that McKinnon adds in some scenes just ratchets up the effectiveness of her character. Hemsworth's character is meant to be played for laughs, but he, too, does a good job of adding a few touches that enhance that.


While I'm not sure that this new Ghostbusters will reach the near cult-classic status that the original has, I don't regret plunking down my $11 to see it, and I'd likely do it again. If you're on the fence about seeing the movie because of all of the nonsense discussions that have been swirling around, don't let that stop you. It's currently showing in theatres in the U.S. and many other countries.

2016/07/03

The Boondocks

by Jav Rivera

Around the fall of 2005, I saw an ad for a show titled, "The Boondocks," in one of the magazines I was reading. I mentioned it to a friend and he stated that it was probably going to be bad, for such and such reasons. At the time I held his opinion so high that I let him convince me to completely ignore it.

I never thought about the show again until sometime in early 2016. A different friend kept telling me about certain scenarios on the show and each one made me laugh. One weekend he showed me an episode and I was totally on board. From there, I watched one to two episodes a day until all four seasons were complete.


The Boondocks is an animated series that focuses on the Freeman family, a trio of characters made up of Huey, Riley, and Granddad. After Huey and Riley's parents died, Granddad decided to take their inheritance to move to the wealthy (and prominently "white") suburb of Woodcrest. Just that alone makes for fun writing -- a clash of cultures being the main storylines for several of the episodes.

But before I get into more of the actual show itself, let me express my love for Asheru's music and lyrics (listed below) for "The Boondocks" theme song. Though the song was a remix of Asheru's tune "Judo Flip," the song still matches the show seamlessly. Not only does it complement the egotism of the show's characters, but it gives so much more dimension to the strength of their backstories.



The Boondocks Theme Song
by Asheru

I am the stone that the builder refused
I am the visual, the inspiration
That made Lady sing the blues

I'm the spark that makes your idea bright
The same spark that lights the dark
So that you can know your left from your right

I am the ballot in your box, the bullet in the gun
The inner glow that lets you know to call your brother son
The story that just begun, the promise of what's to come
And I'mma remain a soldier till the war is won

[Judo flip...chop chop chop]

L-R: Uncle Ruckus, Thugnificent, Riley, Huey, Granddad, Tom, and Stinkmeaner
And while we're on the subject of the characters and their backstories, let's talk about one of the best features of the series: the way each character is introduced is almost the same way people in our lives are introduced. We get a first impression and we typically categorize them. Over time we get more insight into their personality. "The Boondocks" slowly explore their characters in the same manner. 

Aaron McGruder
Creator Aaron McGruder based the show on his comic strip, and was able to get an excellent cast, starting with Regina King as both Huey and Riley. King has been acting since an early age, with an impressive list of shows such as "227" and "Southland." She thrives as a dramatic actress with good comedic timing. Seeing her name in the credits was a bit unexpected, but it makes sense after viewing all four seasons. Playing both characters utilizes both drama and comedy. Huey is a leftist radical black revolutionary, while Riley is more laid back with dreams of living a gangsta rapper lifestyle.

Comedy great John Witherspoon (Friday and "The Wayans Bros.") plays Granddad. Don't be fooled though; Granddad is not your typical elderly character. He dates, he blows through money, and he has a rich history in political events. Often I think that Huey and Riley are his shoulder angels. Granddad seems to have a mixture of both of their traits and can be swayed to do good or bad, depending on which of his angels is more convincing (or convenient) at the time.

Outside of the main trio is a collection of very odd characters. The show boasts a roster of great actors, including Cedric Yarbrough, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Asner, Charlie Murphy, Mos Def, Xzibit, Fred Willard, Snoop Dog, Busta Rhymes, Cee-Lo Green, and Katt Williams.

Uncle Ruckus
One of my favorites is Uncle Ruckus (voiced by Gary Anthony Williams), someone you love to hate. Every time he's onscreen his theme music comes on, and it's not a flattering theme at that. Sometimes we hear the music just before he gets onscreen which makes his impending appearance all that more enjoyable. I'm always surprised when he appears because he pops up in random places. Since he has about 32 jobs that he works throughout a week, you never know where he is at any given time.

Ruckus is often found supporting white people, claiming that he himself is white and that he has "the opposite skin condition that Michael Jackson had" (vitiligo). Ruckus is truly a character. Though he gets the Freemans in trouble, you wouldn't want an episode without him.

Another aspect that I get a kick out of are the multitude of references and homages. Sometimes it could be a historical event (recent or past), sometimes a scene is picked straight out of other movies or TV shows (like "Breaking Bad" for example), and sometimes it could be a character design. Side characters/bit parts are made to look exactly like someone from an old show, usually from an African-Amercian based show. There's even a character that looks exactly like Pearl (played by Helen Martin) from "227." In a season 3 episode titled "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy," Stinkmeaner is joined by three other characters, all of whom have very distinctive designs. Crabmiser looks like Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx's character on "Sanford and Son"). Gripenasty looks like Aunt Esther (from the same show), and Pissedofferson is an obvious take on J.J. from "Good Times."

Stinkmeaner, Lord Rufus Crabmiser, Lady Esmeralda Gripenasty, and George Pissedofferson
The show is more than just a series of goofy jokes though. There are also cultural messages. Though "Boondocks" has been given a lot of beef over its use of the "N" word and its representation of races, there's still a lot to gain from the humor. Much like Dave Chappelle's show back in 2003 ("Chappelle's Show"), poking fun at stereotypes and misinterpretations of cultures makes understanding more accessible. After all, it's easier to relate to a point of view through a funny story than an argument.

"Boondocks" homage "Breaking Bad"
The show has too much to cover in one article, but needless to say, I'm a fan. It's another lesson to make my own decisions on what or what not to watch. Try it out yourself and discover a show unlike most.

For more information, visit their official site: www.boondockstv.com


TRIVIA: The music that plays when Uncle Ruckus appears is a variation of John Williams's "Jabba's Theme" from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).





2016/06/05

Detectorists

by Jav Rivera

There's so many times when I think to myself, "That guy is such a great actor. It's a shame that he only gets small parts." I wonder why some actors aren't given the praise and opportunities they deserve. They're usually bit parts that appear bigger because of their onscreen presence. And though many of these actors are underrated, sometimes they get a chance to take center stage.

In 2014, actor Mackenzie Crook took things into his own hands and wrote, directed, and starred in the BBC series, "Detectorists."

Toby Jones & Mackenzie Crook
Though Mackenzie Crook has had plenty of acting work, he's mostly known for his portrayal of Gareth on "The Office" (the original UK version). Gareth was the basis for the Dwight character (played by Rainn Wilson) on the US version. Crook may also look familiar because he had a recurring role in the Pirates of the Caribbean films; he played Ragetti, the pirate with the wooden eye. And yet, despite these high profile projects, he never seemed to get his due recognition.

Mackenzie Crook as "Andy"
His "Detectorists" co-star, Toby Jones, has had a similar career. Looking at his extensive list of projects you might think, "Oh! He was in that?" I admit I overlooked him in earlier films too. I first took real notice of Jones on Captain America: The First Avenger where he played Dr. Arnim Zola. I was instantly engaged by his presence, so much so that I decided to look him up. I found a brilliant film titled Berberian Sound Studio in which he stars. The film is uniquely odd and at times unsettling. Jones deservedly won a Best Actor award from the 2012 British Independent Film Awards.

Toby Jones as "Dr. Arnim Zola" in Captain America: The First Avenger
Being a fan of both Crook and Jones I was so happy to see their names listed on a the show "Detectorists." I didn't even know the show existed until December of 2015 when I saw it on Netflix. I've only watched season 1 so far, but I love it so much that I've already watched it twice!

From the title of the show I had expected some kind of detective series that involved two blokes and their metal detectors. It turns out I was half right. There's definitely two blokes with metal detectors, but it has nothing to do with crime-solving. Instead the series focuses on Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones), two friends with a passion for metal detecting. They live in a small, fictional town in Essex, England and are surrounded by eccentric locals.

They each have simple lives and deal with everyday issues, be it at home, work, or within their detecting group, the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC). And there's plenty of content per episode because Crook was smart enough to create an excellent cast of characters. And perhaps it's because of his insight to background characters, or maybe it's just because he's a great writer, but "Detectorists" boasts an excellent cast.

L-R: Orion Ben ("Varde"),  Laura Checkley ("Louise"), Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook,
Gerard Horan ("Terry"), Divian Ladwa ("Hugh"), and Pearce Quigley ("Russell")
Crook also combines subtle humor with well-placed drama. The relationship between his character and Becky (played by Rachael Stirling) feels authentic. Becky doesn't understand Andy's hobby, and often pokes fun at him about it, but at the same time she accepts him for who he is. They're not a perfect match and they each bring flaws to the relationship, but that's what makes it real. 

Crook ("Andy") and Rachael Stirling ("Becky")
There was a part of me that was worried when the Sophie character was introduced because it looked like the stereotypical love triangle scenario. Fortunately, Crook didn't go that route and what he did instead should further justify his work behind the camera. And I'm sure Aimee-Ffion Edwards, who plays Sophie, was pleased because it gave her role much more dimension. The love triangle is such an old gimmick that actors probably roll their eyes anytime they get the part of the "affair." This, again, makes me think that Crook has played enough side characters to understand the lack of quality side players usually get. Additionally, Crook wrote strong roles for the women on the show. It never feels like a "guy" show with women. It feels more like great actors playing great roles.

Jones, Crook, and Aimee-Ffion Edwards ("Sophie")
Crook even makes "crazy" seem natural. The Larry Bishop character, played by David Sterne, could have easily been written to be as bland as most "crazy old guy" characters. But instead Crook gave Bishop something more than nonsensical dialogue. In fact, I wonder if "Detectorists" may have had some influence from the excellent '90s show "Northern Exposure." It would make sense, considering the amount of characters who, alone, seem unusual, but together, all seem to fit.

And to the credit of the actors on "Detectorists", they've all embraced their parts, Sterne being a great example. What I really enjoy about the Bishop character is that as mad as he may be, it's never overplayed. And though he's clearly out of his mind, he still has enough sense to understand the difference between good and evil, allowing some room for emotion.

David Sterne as "Larry Bishop"
That brings me to the evil duo of the so-called Simon & Garfunkel. Simon Farnaby (who has a standout performance in the little-known film Bunny and the Bull) plays Art, and Paul Casar plays Paul. They're both connected with a rival detecting group named the Antiquisearchers. They tend to use detecting laws and regulations to their advantage, specifically to take over land that has already been claimed. It's a great rivalry between the DMDC and the Antiquisearchers, and any time I see Farnaby's frizzy hair in the distance I grin because I know I'm going to have a laugh in the near future.

Simon Farnaby ("Art") and Paul Casar ("Paul") aka Simon & Garfunkel
It would seem that Crook didn't just give the best bits to his character; each of his co-stars have enough content to head their own series. Toby Jones, for example, takes on a character with closure issues. He lets himself get taken advantage of by his ex-wife Maggie and her new -- much younger and more fit -- beau, Tony, played by Lucy Benjamin and Adam Riches respectively. Their characters have so much dimension that you could see why Maggie and Lance were once together. The history of their relationship doesn't need the use of flashbacks. It's all there in their performances.

Adam Riches ("Tony") and Lucy Benjamin ("Maggie")
There are so many interesting characters that I would imagine the show could go on for years and years. This article is just a blip on the metal detector. There's so much more to uncover. I haven't even written about the Detectorists club members, nor the secret behind Lance's yellow 1977 Triumph TR7. And keep in mind that I've only addressed season 1 of the show. There's just so much detail in the show, so for now this'll have to do.

When you first watch "Detectorists" you may be taken back by its pace and style, but give it a few minutes and hopefully you'll understand why I fell in love with it. After a few days watching it the first time around, I took a step back and realized that the show seems to be comprised of background characters that happen to be put to the forefront. And if that's true, then Mackenzie Crook truly was the best man for the job. It's about damn time someone paid attention to those background characters!

For more information visit their IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4082744/

TRIVIA: "Detectorists" is Mackenzie Crook's directorial debut.





2016/05/01

Isn't That Remarkable: Truth Versus Illusion in American Theatre

by Dave Gourdoux



One of my favorite moments in all of literature is the scene in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman where Biff Loman finally breaks down and breaks through a lifetime of lies and delusions and makes his father, Willy Loman, understand that he loves him. It’s the same scene where Willy famously exclaims, “I am not a dime a dozen, I am Willy Loman …” Willy’s response to the breakthrough is three simple words: “Isn’t that remarkable?”

I’ve read only a handful of great American plays, but one theme that seems to consistently run through them is illusion versus the truth. The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, opens with the following speech from Tom, the younger brother of the play’s main character, Laura:

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

The entire play is about the struggle between truth and illusion, responsibility versus escape. It’s a theme Williams continues in his most famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire, which becomes an all-out war between the cold and violent truth, represented by Stanley Kowalski, and the fragile dream world of illusion represented by Blanche Dubois.

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"
We also see the same conflict in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, about a group of drunken dreamers who are awaiting the annual arrival of their friend Hickey, the iceman. Hickey arrives, but he is sober, and honest, and he confesses to the murder of his wife. The harshness and violence of Hickey’s sober truth shatters the shallow dreams of the drunks. Truth is again shown to be harsh and violent and destructive, while illusion is shown to be weak and wasteful.

These themes continue in almost all great American plays. Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is about a night with an alcoholic married couple playing a twisted game of deception and lies on their young guests until the light of dawn reveals the tragic truth they’ve been trying to hide.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Why does this theme show up so often in American theatre? I think it might be because it’s at the center of our history, the core of who we are and who we wish we were. The illusion of America is that it’s that shining city on the hill, where all men are created equal, and where life, liberty and happiness are guaranteed to all, and where anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard can make it. These illusions cover up an uglier truth of genocide and corruption that have, since the beginning, been at the core of our history. It took the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, who came to this country to escape religious persecution, less than four generations before they were burning “witches” at the stake. While the ink was still wet on Thomas Jefferson’s self evident truth that “all men are created equal,” slavery was a major part of our economy and would remain so for another eighty-nine years. Our westward expansion wiped out the natives who’d been here for hundreds of years, through a combination of disease, pestilence and war. It was actually documented government policy to exterminate the great herds of buffalo that roamed the great plains, thus crippling the primary source of food and clothing of tens of thousands of Native Americans.

The illusions and the truth of America continue to this day. The land of the free is also the country with the largest percentage of its population incarcerated. The gap between the rich and the rest of the country is widening to cavernous proportions, shattering any idea that all men are created equal. There are sharper racial and class divides and deeper wounds to our psyche. We are the most violent developed country in the world.

But we still hang on to the illusion, to its ideals, and every now and then, we make the illusion reality. It was the belief in the illusion that allowed us to join together in World War II and defeat the most powerful evil the world has ever known, it was the illusion that landed a man on the moon, it was the illusion that granted women and minorities the long overdue right to vote, it was the illusion that has allowed men and women throughout the country to marry who they love, regardless of sexual orientation. Every now and then, we hold up our ideals to the mirror of reality and shame ourselves into action. The ugliness of the truth cannot disfigure the beauty of the dream.

Isn’t that remarkable?

2016/04/03

Short but Sweet

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Short films are, to me, the poetry of the filmmaking world--in just a small space, the creator of the piece needs to get their point across and make an impact. As a writer, I know how tough that can be to do on the page sometimes, so that's probably why I truly admire the shorts that manage to take on the challenge and not only run with it, but soar. Below, I've picked out five short films--in no particular order--that have recently made me smile, cry, laugh, or sometimes all three.

I found all of these on the always-excellent website Short of the Week, a treasure trove of short films spanning all sorts of genres. If you've never visited the site, I highly recommend it--there's bound to be something(s) that you'll enjoy.

Papa
Directed by Natalie Labarre


This little animated short tells a tale that any parent, or anyone who's felt like they might be letting another person down in any relationship, for that matter, will relate to. A dad tries hard to do his best with his little girl, only to fall short of perfection. When he comes up with a solution that he thinks will finally make his daughter happy, he finds out that flaws and all, he simply can't be replaced. Part of the charm of this film is that it relies on music and sound effects to help move the story along, which lets the viewer concentrate on the animation and discover other sweet nuances.




I Don't Care
Directed by Carolina Giametta


In this touching, sometimes funny short film, an expectant mother is adjusting to the news that her child could be born with Down's Syndrome. Not sure how to feel about this, a chance encounter in a store leads to a part-time job and the opportunity to spend time with a young girl with Down's Syndrome who has a vibrant personality and a big crush on Justin Bieber. One of the most poignant moments in the film comes when the two are looking at some of the little girl's family photos and they come to a collage of children with Down's Syndrome. "These all your friends?," the expectant mother asks. When the little girl says no, she asks again, "Who are these children?" "They're just children" the little girl answers.

(This short was inspired by a photography exhibit, Shifting Perspective, and stars the curators of the exhibit's daughter, who had never acted before this film.)





The Alchemist's Letter
Directed by Carlos Andre Stevens


The animation in The Alchemist's Letter is simply gorgeous, but it's not just that that makes this short worth every second of its five minute run time. The plot of the film is bittersweet: a son whose father abandoned the family finds that the legacy his dad left behind might not change the past, but it can help heal, and prevent history from repeating itself. If you're like me, you might get to the end of this short and think, "Wait--there's got to be more." Honestly, I think it would be incredibly easy for the filmmakers to take this short, expand it, and turn it into a full-length film. But much of the charisma lies in the way it's condensed down to a handful of magical moments, like many of the scenes in the film itself. Some things may be better left as they are.





Lost Property
Directed by Asa Lucander


Like Papa, there's no dialogue in this short; only sound effects and lovely, melancholy music. Day after day, an older man sits in the Lost Property Office. Each time the cuckoo clock strikes four, he's visited by an older woman who shows him a photo of something she's looking for--a different object each time. I have to admit that I didn't expect this charming film to end the way that it did, and when it did, it threw me for a loop in a sadly-sweet way.





Dotty
Directed by Brett O' Gorman and Mick Andrews


Any younger person who's tried to teach an older person how to use new technology will smile knowingly at the beginning of this film. As it progresses though, we see that the instruction from the woman showing a nursing home resident how to send a text on her cell phone isn't just an ordinary exercise in patience, but a heartbreakingly meaningful interaction. When I mentioned earlier that some of these films that I've highlighted made me smile, laugh, and cry, well--this was one that did. A tissue might come in handy if you decide to watch too.




What about you, readers? Have you seen a short film that left a lasting impression? If you have, please share by telling us about it in the comments.