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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Failure to Launch — Movie Review

I’m almost sure Failure to Launch was dubbed a comedy. In fact, it had to be considering how many punch lines were delivered badly after being set-up from miles away. The only thing more obvious than the oncoming “jokes” was the ending of the movie.

Matthew McConaughey starred as Tripp, a clichéd thirty-something single guy with a slight twist — he still lives at home. While he thinks milking his parents (played by Kathy Bates and, for reasons that escape me, Terry Bradshaw) adds to his cool-guy persona, they disagree. So, they hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), an “interventionist” who helps guys like Tripp essentially grow-up (and move out) by pretending to be their girlfriend.

Things eventually get complicated when one of Tripp’s buddies falls for Paula’s roommate, who spills the beans. Fearing Tripp has been through enough considering his fiancée died years ago, they let him in on it. Things unravel from there.

It was as if the producers figured out that the film wasn’t working as a comedy, and made up the twist with the fiancée on the spot. A young African American kid, Jeffrey (Tyrell Jackson Williams), whose sort of in and out of the film hanging out with Tripp, turns out to be the son of the fiancée. For more than half the movie Jeffrey’s presence is unexplained.

Aside from that, the whole revelation about Tripp’s past changes the tenure of the film — but not enough. It’s not as though a drama breaks out. Besides one touching scene between mother and son, which is mostly about the mother’s relationship with the father, the revelation is merely used as a device to move the film along.

The secondary relationship between Tripp’s buddy and Paula’s roommate, apparently meant to enhance the hilarity, is just goofy. Even with all of these flaws, I could’ve given this film a passable “watch it for fun while looking for something better.” Then I was forced to look at Terry Bradshaw’s naked ass.

Excuse me while I shudder. Again.

Failure to Launch is aptly titled for all the wrong reasons. It sucks.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

North Country — Movie Review

North Country offers a fictionalized version of the story behind the first class-action sexual-harassment lawsuit in the United States. Certainly an important story that deserved to be told, the movie just didn’t offer much that truly stood out.

When word gets out that the local mine is hiring women, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) decides to ignore the warnings against it and applies for a job offering significantly more than the single mother of two was making. Along with a hand full of other women, she endures everything from insults to threats to attacks from her male counterparts at the Minnesota mine. Even her father, who also works at the mine, wishes she had passed up the better pay. Despite everything, Aimes decides to fight back.

I don’t know if the story was too predictable, there was too much other drama in Aimes’ life, or what, but there was little to get revved up about with this movie. The harassment was real and constant, but I just felt like the men were losers from an area that was probably behind the times. (The film was set in the 1980s.) They were too easy to dismiss (for viewers, of course), as opposed to truly wanting them to suffer the consequences of their actions. In fact, most of the plot lines equated to men treating women badly. The same message over and over simply lost its impact.

The one exception to this was the lawyer, Bill White (Woody Harrelson), who pushes Aimes to get the other women to join her in a class-action suit because it was the only real chance to win. While it was good to see Harrelson in a regular-guy role, the character wasn’t quite enough to offer the movie needed depth. Aimes’ father, played by Richard Jenkins, eventually wakes up and supports his daughter. But, again, it just didn’t offer enough balance to film.

Possibly another problem was the location of the film &mdash the Minnessota mines. It’s such a specific locale and lifestyle that connecting to the situation was difficult. There wasn’t enough to relate to.

One of the DVD extras showed interviews with the real women of the lawsuit, and their reactions to the film. A rare worthwhile extra, it put more of a human face to their struggles.

While telling a story that needed to be told, North Country struggles as a film. You may want to watch it while looking for something better.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Comic Opening Eyes

I stumbled on to The Last Comic Standing last week, and was amazed to finally see a person with a disability on prime time television. Even more shocking, it wasn’t just someone in a wheelchair who otherwise looks normal. Josh Blue, one of the comics, has cerebral palsy complete with slurred speech and spastic motions.

I felt like one of the many black people I’ve heard talk about watching TV years ago, and waiting all week to watch that one show they found with a black character. I couldn’t believe there was finally a guy with CP on television!

A quick search of the internet revealed plenty of discussion on Blue, some disheartening, but discussion nonetheless. I was reminded that the last person on primetime TV with CP was on The Facts of Life for maybe one season — in the ‘80s!

I was also reminded (not that I needed it) that prejudice is alive and well. My favorite comments were from the idiots who try to mask their prejudice by being “honest enough” to raise the question of him possibly getting the sympathy vote. It never occurs to these people that the question instantly enters their minds because they’re incapable of just judging him as a comic. Other dumb comments were on the level of “how many CP jokes can there be?” (Gee, do fat comics doing fat jokes get asked that? Or black comics doing race jokes?)

The real question was quite simple — was he funny? To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed by the little of him I saw on the show so far, although he was ok. Then I found some of the earlier clips of him on the show from YouTube. The guy is at least the third best, behind the black guy and the one who won the roast.

But, the bigger point is, he’s on the show and people are getting to see a real guy with CP. People are discussing him and his disability. People are getting to see that we exist, can do things — sometimes better than others — want success, and on, and on.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. Then think about what the discussion would be like if the first [fill-in your group] in two decades appeared in primetime.

Regardless of what happens on the show, Blue has done something important and deserves our applause. Fifteen years ago a statement like that would have made my stomach swirl. Then I faced the ignorance of society day after day with my own CP. I’m just now starting to truly realize that guys like Josh Blue help erode that ignorance, even though others who are “honest enough” to worry about the sympathy vote, sadly, never seem to fade.

Monday, July 3, 2006

1776 — Book Review

David McCullough’s 1776 details the efforts of those who fought with General George Washington during the year that the 13 colonies declared their independence from England as the United States of America. While not a page-turner except possibly for those fascinated by the intricacies of the Revolutionary War and strategies of battle, this book offers plenty of insights into the most celebrated year of our nation’s history for the non-history buff.

The book actually opens toward the end of 1775 with King George III addressing Parliament about the “rebellious war” in America. With that starting point, McCullough offers a balanced look at how the war was viewed on both sides of the ocean. As someone with barely a high school textbook knowledge of the Revolutionary War, I found it eye-opening to read accounts of the war as anything less than a noble cause.

To see how the Declaration of Independence was basically scoffed at by England, though it makes perfect sense that it would be viewed with contempt, was interesting. I never really thought about how the whole war, which the British viewed as a nuisance at first, appeared to the “other side.” McCullough showed quite clearly that the men now held in such high regard by the United States were seen as incredibly unpatriotic and disloyal by their former countrymen in England.

In fact, the book’s ability to offer the casual reader (or casual historian) different perspectives on commonly held beliefs was the true value of the book for me. The mental picture many have of patriotic Americans marching off to war for the blessed cause of the suppressed colonies is simply destroyed by 1776.

McCullough uses seemingly endless research of personal diaries, letters, and other documents, to offer a view of the war from those who lived through it. According to 1776, plenty of colonists opposed the war, a steady flow of soldiers deserted for the other side or were more than happy to leave once their enlistment ended (sometimes leaving the army in dire straits), and the leadership of Washington was often rightly doubted.

It was also surprising how, at times, the focus of those involved in the war was on other things. For instance, Washington is portrayed as having written detailed letters to the caretakers of his home about things he wanted done, and suggested he’d be there before too long. Troops left the war after being away for a while to tend to their own homes. Clearly independence from England wasn’t always seen as a do-or-die struggle.

Aside from all of that, the book (or historical fact) makes it seem almost ironic that 1776 is revered by Americans. By the time I reached page 200 of 294, I began wondering if we actually won the war. Again, the image of a rag-tag colonial army beating up the strongest military in the world is revealed as fantasy. The British pretty much thumped the colonies for the entire year until Washington’s sneak attack across the Delaware.

Part of the problem I had, I think, was the focus on the one year, which leaves too many unanswered questions. The implication is that the attack that started Christmas night was the turning point of the war. No doubt it was, but the war went on for years. After reading about so many colonial defeats, I wanted a clearer understanding of how one attack changed everything.

To be honest, when I decided to read the book I thought it was more about the diplomacy of the time as opposed to the focus on the military activity. Historians seem to focus on wars to the extreme, which may be perfectly reasonable since the Declaration of Independence might be one of those tedious details of history had of history we lost the Revolutionary War. That said, the author’s focus on specific battles made for some tedious reading for me. I’d rather read about the debates over the Constitution than the war that let us write one.

Obviously, I’m not about to suggest McCullough’s Pulitzer prize winner is anything less than worth reading. But most will find 1776 slow reading.