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2011/11/27

The Amateurs

By Jav Rivera

When a film gets it right, it doesn’t matter what subject it focuses on.  The Amateurs, a film about a small town trying to make a porno film, is a perfect example. Writer/Director Michael Traeger’s feature debut has a lot of heart, a lot of comedy and a lot of great performances. 


The strongest aspect of the film is the ensemble cast, and more so because the cast is made up of several actors who are rarely given the amount of screen time their talents deserve. William Fichtner is especially superb as Otis, a custodian with no immediate goals to better his career.  It’s Otis who seems to have more insight on women than anyone else on the filmmaking crew and whose inherit intuition helps keep the production moving forward. 
L-R: Patrick Fugit, William Fichtner, Jeff Bridges, and Tim Blake Nelson
And it’s each character’s reason for wanting to make the porno that produces most of the film's charm.  Jeff Bridges’s character, Andy, wants to prove to his son (and himself) that he can have a successful career.  Barney (Tim Blake Nelson) has a lack of worth until this project comes alone. Some Idiot ( Joe Pantoliano) wants to put the skills he's learned from various night school courses to use.  Young filmmaker Emmett (a grown up Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous fame) uses his camera skills as a means to prove his worth within the small community.  And of course there’s Ted Danson’s closet character, Moose, who uses the porno to overcompensate for his homosexuality.

L-R: Ted Danson (Moose), William Fichtner (Otis), Jeff Bridges (Andy), Tim Blake Nelson (Barney), Joe Pantoliano (Some Idiot), Patrick Fugit (Emmett) 
None of the characters are stereotypical, which help make an unrealistic premise believable.  Danson is especially sensitive to the generalization of a closet homosexual by making Moose sympathetic and real.  The love among the film’s cast shines vividly onscreen through the closeness of their characters.  It may be a small town trying to make a porno flick but it’s also a group of people extremely tolerant of each other’s quirks.  It quite simply makes you want to live in a place with that much love and support.

The Amateurs Trailer

Jeff Bridges leads a group of “know them by face” character actors who all finally get their due credit.  There are several laugh out loud moments, but it’s the love between characters that really makes this film work.

For more information about The Amateurs, visit their official IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405163/

TRIVIA:  The film was originally called The Moguls and was released under that title in the United Kingdom.

Starman

by Tony Ramos

Even though it takes place in a science fiction universe, if you're looking for a great romance story mixed in with a little adventure, humor, and drama, I suggest the film Starman. Starman, I feel, is one of the best love stories ever put on film. However, because it does take place in a science fiction world, perhaps many "romance" film lovers may have missed it. It's directed by John Carpenter, a director best known for Halloween and other chiller/thriller types of films. Trust me, however; Carpenter makes Starman work as a romantic movie.



Apart from having a very capable director, this film also has other positive factors working for it. First of all, the script is well developed and will have you laughing, tearing up, and sometimes cheering throughout. Starman also has a soundtrack that is well paced and jumps in and out at the most perfect moments. The soundtrack is never overbearing nor distracting. Instead, it only helps a moment in the movie or a conversation be more touching or tender. Its soundtrack will stay with you even after the film is over. Of course the most important and positive factor working for this film, apart from its director, is its actors. Its two main leads, Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, have to carry the film, and they are both outstanding.

Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) and Starman (Jeff Bridges)
The film begins with an off screen announcement of the launch of the space probe Voyager 2. We follow the probe into space, which carries a golden record (phonographic disk) containing music, images, and natural sounds of the planet Earth. This record also contains spoken greetings in fifty-five languages and is intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or future humans, to discover some day. In the film, the probe is intercepted by aliens who then send out a spaceship to Earth to investigate. Upon entering the Earth's atmosphere, the spaceship is quickly shot down by U.S. armed forces and crash lands in Chequamegon Bay, Wisconsin, near a grieving widow, Jenny Hayden's (Karen Allen) home. The crashed alien makes his way, or you could say, floats, his way to Jenny's home. While she sleeps, he clones himself into a version of Jenny's recently deceased husband from a strand of his hair she keeps in a photo album.

Jenny is awakened and manages to see Starman's (Jeff Bridges) transformation into an exact replica of her late husband. After her initial shock, Starman is able to communicate to her that he needs to get to Arizona within three days to rendezvous with a rescue ship or he will die. Mostly out of fear, Jenny is at first reluctant to help Starman and tries to escape from him several times. As their journey continues and they are pursued by the U.S. Military, she finally realizes he means her no harm and simply needs her help to return home.

Jenny (Allen) and Starman (Bridges)
What I loved most about this film, and what makes it funny and touching, is the dynamic teacher/student relationship the two main characters have. Even though Starman comes from an alien race that is much farther advanced than humans are, he's essentially a little boy learning and questioning everything. Jenny, of course, becomes Starman's principle teacher but also learns from him. When Starman constantly asks Jenny to "define" certain words or human actions, Jenny must come up with the best way to answer him. In doing this, Starman unknowingly forces Jenny to re-examine herself and what those words or actions really mean. There is a scene, for example, in which Starman is about to eat food for the first time. When he goes to eat his Dutch apple pie dessert first, she tries to correct him telling him that one does not eat that first, but last. When he questions why, she is dumbfounded and doesn't really have an answer. In a more touching moment a little later in the same scene, Starman asks Jenny to "define love". She hesitates for a moment, before giving him her touching definition of love, as she no doubt is remembering her late husband when she speaks. He is a willing student and she a willing teacher, thus creating a relationship that can only grow in love and admiration.

Jenny (Allen) and Starman (Bridges)
Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actor category for his portrayal of Starman, and it was well deserved. He plays the character like a curious, innocent child, eyes always wandering about, his walk like a newly born horse or deer getting around on shaky legs in its first few days of life. Starman's attempts to mimic facial expressions and later hand gestures will give the audience some funny moments. Yet despite Starman being a fish out of water character, he is very intelligent, and when he focuses on Jenny to make a point, you can see this intelligence because of Bridges' incredible acting.

Meanwhile, Karen Allen also shows extraordinary range and acting ability. Jenny Hayden is a character that has essentially lost everything to live for after her husband passed. She is a sad, lonely woman who, by meeting and interacting with Starman, learns how to let go of her husband, accepting that he will never come back. Since this is a very heavy character with a deep hurt, the actress playing Jenny Hayden needed to portray a character with a lot of pain while not becoming a character that an audience might come to see as tiring, thus losing all sympathy for her. Allen does her job well, and anyone who has seen her as the spunky, full of energy Marion Ravenwood in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, will be able to see the great range she possesses when comparing both of these roles. She also should have been nominated for an Oscar, I feel, for her portrayal of Jenny Hayden.

George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) and Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith)
The cast also showcases actors Richard Jaeckel and Charles Martin Smith. Jaeckel plays George Fox, an NSA chief who leads the military forces looking for Starman and sees the visiting alien as a threat. Smith portrays Mark Shermin, a more understanding scientist who works for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and does not wish Starman, whom he views as an invited guest, any harm.


As I stated above, this film is a romantic story. It is a story that demonstrates how teaching and learning, giving and receiving, no matter where you come from or you are, could eventually lead to love. The character Jenny Hayden learns how to cope with her depression and loneliness, while Starman gets to better examine, up close and personal, what makes human beings special despite their weaknesses. More importantly, the character Jenny Hayden learns to love again, while Starman discovers how it feels to be human and how humans love.

For more information visit there IMBD page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088172/


2011/11/20

Capturing Beauty: The Photography of Joe Barr

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Like so many things in nature, I’ve often just given flowers a passing glance, enjoying their beauty but not stopping long enough to look more closely. Photographer Joe Barr is the antithesis, capturing the intricacy of flowers and other plants with an exquisite eye for detail.

Joe Barr
Raised in a small town in Ohio, Barr first became interested in photography around age twelve, when his family moved into a home with a small darkroom down in the basement. Though he says that he “discovered a new world of wonder” through this new hobby, it stayed just that--a hobby. As an adult, Barr went on to earn an engineering degree from a Big Ten university, working for an international corporation after graduation. Not finding this work terribly challenging, he delved into sales and marketing, a field that Barr says gave him an “opportunity to meet and learn from a world of bright and interesting people.” When health issues led to retirement on disability, Barr returned to his childhood enjoyment of being behind the lens of a camera. “My coordination is mildly impaired. In my case, it presents mainly in my speech and walk. The effects are controllable to a degree. They become most obvious when my concentration and energy level waver. My speech becomes notably thicker, and Ginger would no longer mistake me for Fred”, Barr quips. But, “the lack of an occupation has allowed me to reinvigorate an old, old hobby. A recent first step into the world of digital photography with its inherent rapid feedback has helped me sharpen some rusty skills.”

"Blue Iris"
© Copyright Joe Barr
Seeing Barr’s striking work firsthand, one might describe it as anything but “rusty”. Now living in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Barr does photograph other subjects besides flora. He has a section on his website entitled “Faces”, with candid shots of people he knows and runs in to around town, and also photographs landscapes and other images as he runs across them. For me though, it‘s his flower photographs that I’m captivated by the most. They offer a birds’ eye (or perhaps bees’ eye) view that we’d normally not be privy to. Maybe it’s Barr’s engineering background showing through, but the graceful curves of leaves or petals, the diminutive architecture of stems and filaments--each one is immortalized beautifully and clearly on film.

"Veteran's Poppy"
© Copyright Joe Barr
Barr also writes, and has furthered his visual study of flowers by partnering with a fellow writer, Suzanne Simonovich. Born and raised in Chicago but now a longtime Kenosha resident too, Simonovich is “The Voice of the Flowers” on Barr’s site, adding poetic captions to the photos that Barr posts. Describing her process, she says, “I look at the flower carefully, sensitive to the texture, color and light that is each flower; I close my eyes, at times I whisper a prayer, and then amazing things happen. Words become more than a phrase or a sentence; they are the actual message portrayed, as each flower takes on their own personality.”

Suzanne Simonovich
Barr has won numerous awards for his work in art shows, and it is displayed in galleries throughout Wisconsin. He sells prints, as well as several series of notecards featuring his photographs.

"Kenosha"
© Copyright Joe Barr
“I can’t paint. I can’t sculpt. I sure can’t sing, and I am retired from dancing. I am unable to create beauty, but from time to time I am able to capture some of the beauty around us. I think it satisfies some frustrated creative instinct. I enjoy the process”, says Barr. Luckily, for those of us who experience Barr’s photography, we get to enjoy the process too, through the viewpoint of his lens. To see more of his work and to read Simonovich’s imaginative captions, visit http://joebarrphotographer.com/.

2011/11/12

They Call Me Baba Booey

by Jav Rivera

I learned several years ago that I mostly prefer reading biographies.  I love literature in general but nothing interests me more than someone's story and it hit me the other day why: I love learning people's reasons for making the choices in their lives.  It's intriguing to learn people's passions and what leads them to do certain things at certain times.  And it's also interesting to learn what they think of their previous decisions and whether or not they would do it again if they knew then what they know now.  Often is the case that they wouldn't have it any other way because it's what made them who they are today.

A recurring theme for me is that life is learning from the art of mistakes.  And be it good or bad, all the mistakes in one's life is what makes them real.  I suppose reading biographies reminds me that even successful celebrities make as many mistakes.  And it teaches us that it's okay to follow our dreams even if we fumble along the way.

Gary Dell'Abate, better known to the public as Baba Booey, has been producing for Howard Stern's radio show for nearly 30 years.  The experiences he shares in his book entitled, "They Call Me Baba Booey," are great examples of someone following their dream and falling down more times than anyone would like to admit.  But it's more than an underdog story, it's also about a family man who's traumatic childhood helped create a man with strength, character, sensitivity, and most importantly a sense of humor.


Gary's biography/memoir is quite simply a story of a boy trying to work in broadcast radio and all the challenges he faced.  He doesn't hold back on the many embarrassing moments in his life.  Be it throwing a terrible first pitch at a Mets game or being constantly teased on the radio by Stern and company, it's almost too uncomfortable.  But it truly makes you wonder how you would have reacted if you were in his shoes.  And because of that, Gary succeeds by inspiring you to look at your own challenges and determine which battles are worth fighting and which should simply be shrugged off.

Among so many other situations, Gary jokingly tells us about his mustache phase which made him look very similar to John Oats from 1980s duo Hall & Oats.  And instead of succumbing to the teasing, he laughed it off and moved on, an attitude that would so often help propel him to bigger and better opportunities.

Daryl Hall and Gary
And in the grand scheme of things, it was such a tiny bump in the road.  The book tells us of his mother's bipolar-like behavior, his brother's homosexuality and eventual death from AIDS and his father's struggle during his unemployment.

We also learn of his compulsive-like behavior that has seemed to help him more often than inhibit.  After a brief interview for a position as a traffic assistant early on in his career, Gary quickly and systematically learned the main roads and highways of New Jersey just to win over a traffic reporter.  A trait that no doubt came from his father's integrity and determination.

Gary with his parents Sal and Ellen
The book is laid out with a broken timeline.  One chapter focuses on his childhood and the following chapter jumps several decades to tell the story of his early career in radio.  It's an effective way to format a book with parallel themes: a challenging family life vs. a challenging career path.  And by doing so, it explains very subtly how he was able to overcome specific obstacles in his career because of what he had to deal with at home.

The paperback edition includes a bonus chapter entitled "Baba Booey's Afghanistan Journal" which brings a bit more insight to his children.  The chapter also helps reiterate the fact that Gary is someone who truly appreciates the benefits of his career and chooses to give back.

From his mother's bipolarity to his inexperience in professional radio, Gary pushed himself to learn what he had to learn to achieve any goal.  He took punches from the world and just kept going, without the need to fight back.  As he humbly explains it, he wouldn't have been able to achieve anything if it wasn't for the challenges he faced.  He wouldn't be Baba Booey, a man of strength, character, sensitivity, and most importantly, a man with a sense of humor.

For more information visit Gary Dell'Abate's official site: www.bababooey.com

TRIVIA: The name "Baba Booey" came from an argument with Howard Stern over the cartoon character name "Baba Looie", a donkey in a sombrero from the "Quick Draw McGraw" cartoon. Gary insisted that the correct name was Booey not Looie, and so, the joke (and nickname) began.

2011/11/06

Intermission

by Tony Ramos

You wouldn't think that a film full of characters that are depressed, angry, frustrated, and lonely could ever be funny. Yet, Intermission, a film directed by John Crowley, manages to be just that. Even though the film is classified as a Comedy/Crime/Drama, I feel this dark comedy will have you laughing more than anything else. Whether it's because of the funny situations the characters find themselves in or the way the actors deliver their lines, Intermission is one of the funniest films I've watched.


The film takes place in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, where it was filmed on location. It uses an ensemble Irish cast, although American audiences will surely recognize actors Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy. Like most ensemble featured films, Intermission has various story lines and runs the danger of an audience becoming confused with what's going on. With this film, however, that never happens because the story lines are clearly written. More importantly, the characters in this film are well developed and performed, thus allowing the audience to follow along easily.

John (Cillian Murphy) and Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald)
In the film, John (Cillian Murphy), a frustrated supermarket worker, has come to realize he's made a mistake in telling his girlfriend they needed a break (intermission) from their relationship. When he finds out that his ex is now seeing an older "baldy" fellow, he decides that he'll win her back one way or another. Meanwhile, John's faithful friend and co-worker, Oscar (David Wilmot), struggles to find his own personal happiness. The scenes with these two friends chatting about love or sex during work or at a bar are some of the most humorous but realistic. In one particular scene, Oscar makes a confession that only a true friend like John would understand or might even want to hear.

While these two fellows go looking for love or are learning to cope without it, we follow the story of John's ex-girlfriend, Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald) and her new "married" boyfriend, Sam (Michael McElhatton). Meanwhile, Sally (Shirley Henderson), Dierdre's younger sister, mourns her scorned past as she proudly wears a "Ronnie" (moustache) as a badge of shame. Henderson's performance as Sally is one of my favorites, although I'm sure it was a rather tricky one to pull off. She plays the character with obvious anger and hidden depression, yet she remains likable throughout, and that's a credit to her skills and charm as an actress.

Jerry Lynch (Colm Meany)
In other storylines, we meet a tough as nails cop, Jerry Lynch (Colm Meaney), whose only wish seems to be that someone recognize how important and good he is at his job. He ends up pairing up with filmmaker Ben Campion (Thomas O'Suilleabhain) who's tired of getting unfulfilling assignments and would rather film a darker film about Dublin's streets. Of course there is also Mick (Brian F. O'Byrne), a frustrated soul whose job as a bus driver seems to be his constant headache, while Lehiff (Colin Farrell) is a small time thief looking for a bigger score, all the while trying to evade Jerry.

Lehiff (Colin Farrell)
With this film, the director seems to have used a lot of hand held camera and really gets into the faces of his actors with plenty of close ups in various scenes. It works well, I feel, because it gives the audience a feeling of eavesdropping on conversations. Of course what I enjoyed the most about this film, and what I feel is its greatest strength, are the performances the actors give. A good example would be a scene where Sally meets her sister's new boyfriend, which quickly goes from friendly chatter to a nasty, uncomfortable interrogation. The looks on their faces and the way they speak to each other is a joy to watch. These guys can really act and neither of them mail it in nor ham it up. They simply act and feel natural.


The climax of the film nicely brings all the storylines together to a satisfying end. Intermission isn't a fast paced film, although the beginning of the film might have you believe otherwise. It takes its time, yet it's still enjoyable and never slow. It is full of many comical characters, funny facial expressions, and a heist that you just know will not end up well.

 For more information visit there IMBD page:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0332658/