This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Interview with Maria Menounos

When I'm not writing on this blog, I write articles for Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Menounos, on the eve of her newest film, Adventures of Serial Buddies, being released on VOD. Her partner, Buddies writer/director Keven Undergaro, was also present, and they discussed the new film, past ventures and future plans.

1. Maria, let’s start with your upcoming movie Adventures of Serial Buddies. How did you feel about the storyline? Are you a fan of movie serial killers like Michael Myers and Hannibal Lecter?

Maria-The actual script, I thought was hilarious. Yes, I love Michael Myers and Hannibal Lecter, and I love Dexter. I don’t know anyone who’s not a fan of Dexter.

Keven-Yeah, the film can be described as Dumb and Dumber meets Dexter.

2. You did work for the From Russia With Love video game, which also had Sean Connery lending his voice and likeness as James Bond. You appeared at Connery’s AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony in 2006, but did you meet him during the making of the game?

M-Actually, no. He was in the Bahamas when I was working on the game. But I did see him later that year at the AFI ceremony, so that was pretty cool.

K-Yeah, it was an honor to present a life achievement award to him, so that was something off the bucket list.

3. You’re the only one who has interviewed the entire Obama family. Was interviewing the First Family as nerve-wracking as interviewing an actor or actress?

M-Well, originally, the interview was just supposed to be the parents. But when we got there, the kids just fell in love with Keven, so they joined the interview. As for preparation, it was really just 10 minutes of switching gears because the whole thing changed with the presence of the kids. You just wanted to ask questions a family would want to hear. It was the biggest interview I’ve ever done.

4. Zoe Saldana was your first interview on your podcast Conversations with Maria Menounos. Who else will you be interviewing on that show? Any specific celebrities you hope to interview in the future?

M-We have quite a few people lined up. John Legend is among them. People just enjoy the length of time with this format, because they are stories that fans want to hear. So it’s just a matter of getting people in the calendar.

5. Your book, The Everygirl’s Guide to Life, was a best seller. How long did it take to write it? Do you plan to write any other books?

M-The book took about two years to write. I was doing that at the same time that I was doing Serial Buddies. Keven and I have two books in the works now. One’s a health and diet book and the other is a recipe book. The health and diet book should be out next year.

6. Of your numerous television and film appearances, do you have a favorite?

M-On TV, One Tree Hill was my favorite because I spent an entire season with the show and my specific character. One of my favorite films was Kickin’ It Old Skool because it was my first starring role and I had a lot to do. I also liked Fantastic Four, which was my first movie and I made a lot of friends on that film.

7. So you’re a fan of superheroes?

M-Definitely. My production company is called Omega Girl.

8. What is the difference between hosting Extra and, say, the Today show?

M-There is a live audience on Extra, so they give energy you can feed off of. Extra is the entertainment version of Today.

9. Do you have any other movies planned in the future?

M-There are definitely some on file. But right now we are working on the book and our reality show, which will be on Oxygen. It follows my life with Keven and my parents and our crazy Hollywood adventures.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Funny Farm (1988)

"This is going to cost us a fortune."
"The $50 bonus was your idea."
-Andy and Elizabeth Farmer.

Not long ago, one of my colleagues wrote an article detailing the rise and fall of Chevy Chase. This goes through Chase's filmography and points out that Funny Farm was one of the numerous flops Chase is now associated with. This is ironic because it is actually enjoyable to watch. It is not laugh-free like Caddyshack II (1988), needlessly disgusting like Nothing But Trouble (1991), or schizophrenic like Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992).
Chase plays Andy Farmer, a sportswriter who moves from New York to Vermont with his wife Elizabeth(Madolyn Smith). He plans to write a novel amid the countryside that is now his new home.
But trouble arrives almost immediately when the movers are a day late, due to following a map Andy provided, forcing the Farmers to sleep on the floor of their new home. They also must deal with a mailman who drives super-fast, tossing their mail at them, as well as the body of a man buried in the garden of their new home.
The couple also deals with marital issues when Elizabeth expresses her dislike of a rough draft of Andy's novel before successfully getting a children's story she wrote published.
They decide to divorce when she learns that Andy attempted to pass off her work as his own. To speed up the process, they offer the townspeople money to help them sell their house.
But, as is often the case with married couples in the movies, they realize they really love each other and decide to stay in their new home, to the chagrin of those they promised to pay.
This film is more like Three Amigos (1986) and the original National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) because, for one thing, Chase plays a likeable character. Much like Clark Griswold, Andy finds himself tormented by outside circumstances, which makes it easy to feel sorry for him.
Other laughs include the Farmers buying a dog which simply darts off to parts unknown after they bring him home. That dog's replacement simply lays around the house (Andy asks if it's alive when Elizabeth presents their new pet to him).
I must also mention that bodily humor is successfully used in this film when Andy takes a liking to what he thinks are lamb cutlets, only to learn that they are from a different part of the lamb.
Maybe Chase's reputation for being a huge jerk had already set in with the public by the time this film came out (and this was before the horror that was The Chevy Chase Show), but Farm should be noted as a reminder that Chase can be fun to watch.
It's a shame Chase's ego has given us a reason to not exactly cheer for him again since his recent exit from Community.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Young Victoria (2009)

"I'm sure you're aware why I wished you to come here. Because it would make me happier than anything, too happy really, if you would agree to what I wish."
"And stay with you?"
"And stay with me."
"And marry you?"
"And marry me!"
-Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

I'd say the film that made me a fan of Emily Blunt was The Devil Wears Prada(2006). The viewer initially wants to hate her for what she says to Anne Hathaway's Andy, but, as the film goes on, you begin to realize that her character is actually quite pitiable.
The success of Prada boosted Blunt's career and one of her following films was this one, in which she plays Queen Victoria, who ruled the U.K. from 1837-1901 and remains its longest-reigning monarch.
The movie, produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, follows the queen from her early years in which she found herself constricted by an otherwise-luxurious lifestyle during the final years of the reign of her uncle William IV (Jim Broadbent).
Following his death, Victoria takes to first steps to becoming a strong force, despite resistance from some people such as the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong).
Belgium's King Leopold I (Thomas Kretschmann) sends his nephew, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) to England to seduce Victoria. Ironically, this eventually leads to genuine romance and marriage between the two.
It's the romance between Victoria and Albert which is the best part of the film, with both Blunt and Friend nicely illustrating the love and, at some moments, frustration shared between the two.
As with many historical period films, Victoria came under scrutiny for the liberty taken with some events. For example, Albert heroically takes a bullet for Victoria at one point in the film, although the real Albert was never shot.
But my wife, who has been to the U.K., was quick to point out that some of the sites depicted were not the real-life ones (for instance, although the film was shot in England, Lincoln Cathedral doubled for Westminster Abbey).
Despite this, the film does a great job at both capturing a piece of British history and for being a nice love story as well.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Good Grief, More Underrated Movies Lines

Here's the fourth in our series of lines from known films which aren't as quoted as often as I think they should be.

1. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984):
I can certainly understand why some would view this film as a copout since it revived Spock (Leonard Nimoy) after the character heroically sacrificed himself in the previous Trek film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). However, I still give this film a lot of credit for still being able to entertain and, like Khan, end on a bittersweet note, even though it was clear from the beginning that Spock would return.
Kirk (William Shatner) and the rest of the crew go through hell thanks to the Klingon Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) in order to get their pal back.
Once Kruge has been vanquished, they take Spock's body to Vulcan, where the Vulcan Priestess T'Lar (Dame Judith Anderson) begins a ritual which will restore Spock's mind to his body. When she tells Spock's father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), that this ancient ritual carries the risk of killing Spock, Sarek, while from a race that contains its emotions, replies with a line that is full of compassion:
"My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned!"
One person who was against Spock returning was Khan director Nicholas Meyer. But his dissatisfaction didn't stop him from co-writing the next film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), which Nimoy directed (as he did with Spock), and from directing and co-writing (again with Nimoy) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).
In his review of Country, Confused Matthew rightly called Nimoy and Meyer the dream team of the original Trek films. How wonderful it would have been if they had gotten their hands on The Next Generation films.

2. Basic Instinct (1992):
If I had to pick my favorite 'guilty pleasure' movie, it would be this one. The plot twists are absolutely ludicrous, but its stars and the nice Jerry Goldsmith score give it a lot of atmosphere.
When police detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is interrogated in relation to the death of a fellow detective Nilsen (Daniel Von Bargen), whom Curran was not on good terms with, he points out that it would have been foolish of him to kill Nilsen since he confronted him earlier that same day.
The interrogators then point out that the confrontation may have been insurance that Curran wouldn't be a suspect in the murder, which reminds them of their earlier questioning of Catherine (Sharon Stone), who wrote a book depicting a murder which, at the beginning of the movie, played out in the same way.
When one of the detectives asks what book they are referring to, another answers:
"Private joke, asshole!"
In a review of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), it is pointed out that overusing profanity causes it to lose its purpose, which, according to the reviewer, is to shock. I believe that profanity, when used sparingly, can also provoke laughter at certain times, and (while Instinct has a lot more profanity than this) this line certainly did that for me. A similar tactic was later employed in the movie...

3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999):
Stanley Kubrick's final film got mixed reviews, but I thought it ended on an appropriate note. When Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice (Nicole Kidman) are discussing the events which Bill has gone through in the movie's final scene, Alice states that their marriage is still intact and tells Bill that there is something they need to do as quickly as possible. That something is:
The screen then goes black and the end credits begin. I find it appropriate that the final scene in Kubrick's final film would raise one's eyebrows in such a subtle way.

4. Jason X (2002): As I've noted elsewhere, the last word I would use to describe the Friday the 13th series is 'good,' but it can be fun to watch if you are willing to turn off your brain for a while.
Apparently, the producers of the series started feeling the same way as it went on because, while the first Friday the 13th (1980) had a nice atmosphere to compensate for its plot holes, each sequel seemed to embrace the fact that the premise of a serial killer who keeps being resurrected again and again was nonsense and, as such, ran with that.
Perhaps that was never more evident than in Jason X, the 10th film in the Friday series, which sees Jason in space, where (you guessed it) he kills off a ship's crew, which is comprised of (mainly) sex-obsessed dimwits.
At one point, one of that crew, Janessa (Melyssa Ade), is hanging on for dear life when the ship's hull is breached. Just before she's pulled out into space, Janessa says what could be viewed as a perfect summary of the series.
"This sucks on so many levels!"
Granted, she is not the first movie character to give a smart remark while faced with certain death, but this film, like most of the others in the series, can best be described as 'dumb fun.' This contrasts it with another 2002 movie set in space, Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones, which was just plain 'dumb.'

5. The Dark Knight (2008): Needless to say, this film and its predecessor Batman Begins (2005) were everything both Tim Burton's and Joel Schumacher's Bat-films should have been. As a result, they match Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981) in terms of quality. In a sad bit of irony, the respective third films in these series-Superman III (1983) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)- proved less than satisfying.
Heath Ledger's posthumous Oscar win for playing the Joker was well-earned, but, unlike Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman (1989), he didn't dominate the proceedings at the expense of the other actors.
This is especially true of Batman (Christian Bale), who has nice moments in this film where he questions himself. During the climatic fight scene between these two characters, the Joker anxiously awaits the moment when one or both of the boats he's rigged with explosives will blow up. He had previously given the crews of both ships the means to blow up the other, or he would blow up both himself.
When neither ship goes up in flames, the Joker moves to carry out his threat until Batman gets the upper hand. He then asks the Joker:
"What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone's as ugly as you?! You're alone."
This reminded me of an exchange between these same two characters in the graphic novel The Killing Joke. In that story, the Joker paralyzes Gordon's daughter and then kidnaps and tortures the Commissioner in order to drive him insane. When Batman arrives, he tends to Gordon who, while shaken, insists that the Caped Crusader take the Joker in by the book. Batman then finds the Joker and tells him that Gordon is still sane and that the Joker may be the exception rather than the norm.