Friday, January 28, 2011

The Wedding Singer

by DionysusPsyche

The Wedding Singer is so classic it's been turned into a musical. It came out in 1997, which makes my review "retro" or "rent it and stay home."
At the beginning of the film, Robbie meets Julia. We see that they are both sweet, romantic people in serious relationships. At a closer look, we see both relationships are in trouble. Robbie gets stood up at the altar. When Linda comes over to talk to him about it, we see that Linda and Robbie have dated so long, that Linda is in love with who Robbie used to be as opposed to who he is today. This is understandable since he lives in his sister's basement and plays low paying gigs where he gets paid in meatballs. No, I wasn't joking. Yet despite Robbie's dead end career, we can see Robbie, as per his last name, has a lot of “heart.”
Julia is having relationship issues too. She has been engaged for years and has even moved to the same town to be with him. Glen gives in to Julia's desire to get married, not because he wants to get married, but because he doesn't want to break up. I've seen this happen in real life too. As the movie progresses, we begin to see that no one approves of Julia's choice, except her mother, who only sees the charm that Glen presents within her company and the fact that he is loaded.
Both relationships have problems for absolutely real reasons. In Robbie's case, he and Linda are together because Robbie wants a family and is a born romantic. For Linda, she wants Robbie to become famous and leave their hometown for better things. In Julia's situation, Glen works long hours. She doesn't get to see the REAL him, and he doesn't want her to. Glen is with Julia, because he can consistently lie to her while he ignores her to be with other women. She is his pawn.
Robbie goes through mourning in a hilarious manner that involves a lot of singing and comparing himself to other hapless losers who also believe “love stinks,” because they “will never find true love.” Julia, who works with Robbie, comes to his aid by both being his friend and making him her personal wedding comrade. Robbie mentions it, but lets it pass when he asks where Glen is, and why he doesn't want to be a part of the planning process. Robbie is the only one...that she can count on to do wedding activities with.
Ladies, if your man is completely happy letting you do everything alone, don't be Julia. Please question it. Glen takes the old school approach of being willing to “show up” while continuing with his regular life. Meanwhile, he makes a horrible mistake. He lets Julia spend all of her time with Robbie.
For the two, it makes perfect sense. Robbie knows everything there is to know about weddings, and he goes along to make sure Jules gets the best deals. Plus, they get to spend time together and become closer friends. Pretty soon, everyone begins to see it. Robbie and Julia are meant to be. Of course, Glen doesn't want to lose Julia, and Robbie's ex makes a haste decision that brings her back to his door.
It's easy to see that the things that Julia and Robbie both want in a mate are things they find in each other. Robbie even risks taking a job he would hate in order to provide a better life for Julia--not something we see him do for Linda. Fortunately for Robbie, Julia loves him for exactly what he is.
Like all good romances and fairy tales, it ends happily. However, this film has excellent actors, an amusing/warming script, some great eighties cameos, and references. One of my personal favorites is the “time to make the donuts” reference. I don't even remember SEEING this commercial, but they show it early in the movie so you get the joke later on. Hence, even the most pop culture devoid (aka Brendan Frasier from Blast to the Past) will find something to chuckle over.
I would like to say that even audiences who shun Adam Sandler's outlandish performances find him at the very least tolerable in this film. I know my mom does. Barrymore is very much herself in this. Sandler's onscreen chemistry with Barrymore is even reunited in 50 First Dates. They even won MTV's "The Best Kiss" that year! Their onscreen friendship and gradual yet predictable love remind everyone of The One or at least someone they would love to be with.
In conclusion, this movie is wonderful. If you don't care for rom coms, you may find the cameos great or the unforgettable eighties paraphernalia or Adam Sandler's wig amusing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is one of my favorite movies, hands down. Every time I've seen it, I appreciate it more and more, and it is a rare movie that can do that for anyone.

The story is set in a mythical 17th century-ish Japan where Asian gods and humans live alongside one another. Well, actually, that would imply friendliness and a sense of peace. Instead, we see a world where conflict is rife; humans fight gods and demons for lands, humans fight each other for power, gods squabble amongst themselves, and demons manifest to randomly tear shit up. It is not a happy world, but it certainly is a beautiful one. This is, by far, one of the prettiest animated features I've ever seen, particularly in terms of complexity. Motes of reflected light sparkle in the water, individual blades of grass wave independently of one another. You really get the sense that you are seeing a real world; it is animation made as detailed as it possibly can be in order to give this impression.

Prince Ashitaka

The story follows one Ashitaka, exiled prince of an exiled tribe, who is forced to leave his people when he is cursed by a demon. Told that his death is inevitable, he goes out into the world and tries to find a way to cure the curse. In his journey, he encounters many people and their respective sides, as well as the conflicts that have arisen over time. Part of his journey lies in doing good for everyone he can, and so Ashitaka goes to enormous effort to try and put the world at peace.

I can't emphasize enough how interesting the situation is that Ashitaka finds himself in. Unlike most stories, there is no clear-cut villain here. Each of the factions that Ashitaka encounters have stories and viewpoints of their own that make them sympathetic. The people of Irontown, led by Lady Eboshi, seek to make a living for themselves in a hostile wilderness by mining iron ore. The spirits and gods of the forest oppose this (led largely by the wolf god, Moro, and her adopted daughter, Princess Mononoke), trying to preserve the forest and the wildlife slain by the town's encroachments. As if this were not enough, a powerful warlord tries throughout the story to seize Irontown so as to profit from its wealth. AND there is the wild card of Jigo, who wants to acquire the head of the Forest Spirit in order to claim immortality.

What makes the story even more complex and interesting is that even those factions have 'mini-factions' of their own. Lady Eboshi claims to watch over the people of Irontown out of the goodness of her heart, but it is clear that she is after something more. The wolf god, Moro, has views on how to treat the humans that are different from those of the ape gods and boar gods. And who even knows what the hell the Forest Spirit is thinking with all this insanity.

Long story short, one of Princess Mononoke's great strengths as a story is this ethical complexity. Who do you root for? Who is evil? There are no clear answers, and, as hard as he tries, Ashitaka is often unable to bring peace to everyone. He has the strength of a demon, the courage of a lion, and the patience of a saint, but even he encounters great difficulty when trying to get everyone to stop killing each other. It is very reminiscent of the conflicts of today and throughout history. Thus, one of the themes of Princess Mononoke is that the "us versus them" mentality is one that is hopelessly flawed and short sighted, yet incredibly difficult to break free from.

Mononoke Hime

One aspect of Princess Mononoke that is hard for me to pass judgment on is the prevalence and growth of the love felt between San (the titular Princess Mononoke) and Ashitaka. Parts of it are very touching, and both characters are incredibly determined people, which helps to show their compatibility. They are strong-willed and passionate, and the scenes that they have together are often compelling. Thus it is that, behind the conflicts of the story, romance blossoms between the two that is enhanced and magnified by the ongoing war.

However, I also found the romance to be, at its core, a bit unbelievable. San is the adopted child of a wolf god, a position that has her attacking and killing the humans of Irontown constantly. For at least the first third of the movie, San is actively trying to kill Ashitaka whenever he gets in her way. By contrast, Ashitaka is the pacifistic prince of a human tribe who is continually trying to get all the sides to stop killing each other. On top of this, he seems to fall in love with her at first sight; particularly odd considering how this 'first sight' is of her sucking poison out of a wolf's wound. She turns to him, face smeared with blood, and tells him to go away. Romantic, no? Thus you can see why, occasionally, the romance that blossoms between them seems odd.


On the whole, though, Princess Mononoke is a magnificent movie. The music is incredibly moving, helping one get an 'epic' feel from the film. The English voice actors are fantastic; featuring actors such as Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, and more. The story itself feels original, a quality no doubt lent to it by my unfamiliarity with Japanese mythology and storytelling.

But make sure to be a little cautious. Though the movie is animated, it is by no means a children's movie. People die, animals are slain, and the atmosphere itself is on the dark side. There is a happy ending, but it is a victory that is a bit Pyrrhic.

Despite this, this is a movie well worth seeing, particularly if you've never seen it before. It is one of my favorites for certain. And, being the nerd that I am, I'm listening to the soundtrack right now!

This American Life

Written by Joe the Revelator

The 6-episode series, based on a Chicago Public Radio program also called This American Life, first aired in June 2007 on Showtime. It featured an interesting mash-up of journalism, documentary style filming, and first person narratives to tell stories about Americans and the choices we make throughout our lives. Hosted by Ira Glass, TAL lasted two seasons, until in 2008 the creators asked to be removed from television due to the scheduling difficulty involved in composing each show. Although the entirety of its career on Showtime consisted of 12 shows over two years, it won three Emmy's and is currently re-airing on TV and Netflix.

Host and producer Ira Glass, who looks like a well-adjusted Buddy Holly on nerd pills, has a voice made for grabbing attentions and keeping it. The greatest strength of This American Life are the narrations done by Glass. He points to important, easily overlooked facets of life; shows us the extraordinary behind the norm, and manages to do it without sounding pretentious. There are several other talented narrators throughout the series, usually reserved for the longer single-story episodes, but Glass's sympathetic comments resonate the most influential.


The bulk of the episodes begin with a short glimpse into oddities which have cropped up in American culture; like the group of Christians who gather every week to photograph the sun so they can speculate on divine symbols they see in the bloom effects. Or a pair of scientists who started to receive heartfelt requests for the chemical treatment they stumbled upon, a treatment to wipe a subject's memory clean. After a short introduction the show's theme is revealed and a couple of 20-minute stories are presented to the viewer following that theme.

Episode one, Reality Check, talks about people whose dreams have run far ahead of their reality, and are snapped back into focus in bizarre ways. A family of Texas farmers clone their beloved pet and prizewinning bull when he dies of natural causes, creating from Chance's DNA a bull calf named 'Second Chance', who amazingly turns violent despite the original Chance's Ferdinand-like demeanor.

Later in the same episode, a little-known rock band who has gotten used to playing to empty crowds, find a bustling nightclub full of fans who know their lyrics by heart. Later they discover over the internet that their fans were frauds, and all part of an elaborate prank from an acting troupe, some who went so far as to memorize their material and print out groupie T-Shirts before attending the NY show.

The Finale'

If you're not a fan of public radio, don't be afraid to turn This American Life on the TV and leave it in the background while you're preparing breakfast in the morning, or dragging yourself onto the treadmill for ten minutes. But I guarantee you'll be sucked into the program soon enough.

Each consecutive episode is as quirky as the first, and almost feels like a Ripley's Believe It Or Not of life lessons. Some of the stories sound bizarre enough to be fiction, yet still ring true as only reality could. And with each freakish situation or confusing twist is a seed of humanity. If I could pick a television series that best illustrates the human condition, This American Life would be it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Other Guys

Written by Joe the Revelator

Some time during the last decade the gods of comedy divided our world of laughter into three movie spheres. In one of these dwell the raunchy Seth Rogen flicks and their ilk, which lean heavily on foul bachelor humor and the assumption that men’s IQ have a direct relation to the content of weed they smoke. The other sphere consists of precocious indy comedies and awkward teen flicks that would be great date movies, if only they were funny. The ones that make you sound smart when you tell your friends about them.

The third branch of funny, and the hardest to get onboard with, spawned like lightening out of the stormcloud that is Saturday Night Live. Stars of SNL frequently break from sketch comedy to find movie vehicles for themselves; Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, Mike Meyers, Tim Meadows, Tina Fey, etc. One of the most recent and highest grossing stars of the SNL phenomenon is Will Ferrell, whose movies frequently feel like 10-minute character sketches that were stretched to fill an hour and a half of screen time (Anchorman was great, Step Brothers should have been incinerated).

The Other Guys, a buddy cop movie starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, balances slapstick, raunch, and over-the-top action, with flair rarely seen in today’s comedies. It looks like just another Ferrell bit on the surface. But between the ridiculous gunfights, Samuel Jackson’s berating of the unassuming secretary, and Wahlberg’s impotent tantrums, The Other Guys strikes a funny chord that keeps humming all the way to the end.

Why it works:

Everyone in the cast of The Other Guys is utilized to their utmost, giving each actor the freedom to play an extreme version of the characters they’re known for. Samuel Jackson, as the intensely angry black man, and his muscled partner Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, fight petty crime with all the prejudice and tenacity of a bundle of lit dynamite. As the fantasy cop duo they wreck up the city and reap the public accolades, while ‘the other guys’ stuck in the office take care of all the paperwork.

After a freak jumping-off-a-skyscraper accident proves fatal for the real heroes, the ludicrous crime fighting torch is passed to the spineless paper pusher (Ferrell) and an irate, love-starved benched cop (Wahlberg). Their quest for justice takes them deep into the underbelly of...more paperwork. Each big break in the case leads to more evidence of a cashflow scheme- one that’s so nefarious it taps into cop retirement funds and the revenues of public servants.

The unlikely pair remain combative with one another throughout most of the film, despite uncovering several shocking truths about each other. Such as a history of pimping college co-eds in a quirky prostitution ring. Or Wahlberg’s macho character having extensive art and ballet training, which he only used to mock the queer artsy kids from his old neighborhood, so he claims. The hatred between these two, especially near the beginning, make the Odd Couple look pleasant and well adjusted.

After the leaflets settle:

Not every line delivered in this movie is gold, and some of the jokes fall flat. But one of the hardest parts of comedy is accounting for everyone’s sense of humor. In a horror movie it’s a safe bet that your audience will be frightened by the same things; events or monsters that threaten the protagonist’s mortality, something we can all sympathize with. Comedy, however, hits everyone differently. Some people can’t stand puns or wordplay, while others love redneck or potty humor. The Other Guys manage to consistently stir a good chuckle without pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Another note I’d like to make about this film is its subtle message about white collar crime. During the movie Will Ferrell comments on the amount of money stolen through major corporation heads compared to the insignificant value of most drug and property offenses. There is even a series of charts and animations that run during the credits, depicting simplified versions of the big money schemes we’ve seen in the media. It may be misplaced in its attempt to educate the audience after a slapstick blockbuster that dwells heavily on the subject of hobo-orgies, but I applaud the effort nonetheless.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I know what you are feeling right now. You read the title, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you think to yourself, "This show sounds really stupid." The premise sounds equally preposterous; we follow the travails of a young girl and her friends as she progresses through high school and deals with boys, vampires, parents, and saving the world. It makes the brain want to turn off. Nothing else could sound so unappealing.

However, I'm here to make the argument that there is much more to this series than meets the eye. I'm here to tell you that the effort to make it sound cheesy was deliberate. And I'm here to explain that, if you are willing to give it a chance, you will see in Buffy a TV show with an astonishing amount of depth and perhaps the greatest amount of character development I've ever seen.

The Hokey Premise

Buffy is a Slayer. This means that she was born with the power to fight vampires, demons, werewolves, and all creatures of the supernatural variety. She has a Watcher, which is someone who is appointed to a Slayer in order to keep them informed as to how to fight effectively. And she has friends who, while often having no powers of their own, are able to help her out emotionally and support her when times are toughest.

Now I would point out that this part of the premise, by itself, is insufficient to carry the show by itself. It sounds nerdy as all hell and largely unoriginal. How many times have we heard tales of people fighting vampires, especially today? Media and bookstores are filled with these stories: Twilight, True Blood, Blade, Interview with a Vampire, and many many more. Vampires are a dime a dozen these days. What does Buffy have to offer that these other sagas do not?

A big part of it is humor. Buffy the Vampire Slayer knows that the premise is absurd, and thus takes concepts that we are familiar with so as to turn them on their head, just to see what will happen. Through using the infinite possibilities of a world where all sorts of monsters can exist, we can see hypothetical scenarios that often allow us to learn more about the characters themselves.

Examples are countless:

  • A witch's love spell backfires, causing all the girls in the school to fall for Xander. The episode shows that forcing someone to love you is ultimately meaningless compared to the purity of natural love.
  • A monster causes Buffy to be able to read minds. The episode shows how this ability, while revealing, would take all the mystery out of life and be more of a curse than a blessing.
  • A 'magical candy bar' is produced that causes adults who eat it to act as they did when they were rebellious teenagers. The episode shows us a side of some of the characters that we haven't seen before, and also how perhaps they need to relax a bit, as they did when they were young.

Growing Up

But what makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer particularly attractive is that it is a show about growing up. Monster slaying is merely a framing device for this overall theme. Every season of Buffy has the characters aging in the story; for the first couple seasons the show is set in high school and then it moves on to college. As this transition occurs, the characters change as well. Some choose not to go to college and have to deal with the distance that is felt when your friends are in a different stage of their lives than you are. Others have to get used to not being able to rely on those friends that they did before. Independence and growth has to occur, whether wanted or not.

The show has great appeal, even if you've already gone through these stages of life. For, much of what was applicable then is applicable now. Have you ever felt as if you could not contribute to both friends and society? So does the character of Xander in Season 4, constantly wrestling with feelings of inadequacy. Have you ever felt as if you were never lucky in love? So does the character of Buffy in Season 3, unable to reconcile that the man she is with is not the right one for her. Have you ever felt as if you were stuck in a rut and unable to find a job or get back into the role in life you were used to having? So does the character of Giles in Season 4, no longer officially Buffy's Watcher, unemployed, and trying to find what he wants to do with life now. The examples are beyond count.


All of these factors are what give Buffy the Vampire Slayer a staying and memorable power. You will watch and be entertained, and in the back of your head you will feel startled by the familiarity, thinking to yourself, "I remember when I felt like that. I remember that part of my life." Because of the wisdom of the show's creators, the show is often unpredictable, the dialogue smart. This accentuates the life lessons that the characters go through, making them feel realer than most and allowing you to find much in common with what you've gone through and their own odysseys. The monster slaying is an oft humorous framework that helps to add a lighthearted feel to the surprisingly mature themes.

It is hard to add much more than to say that I was astonished as to how awesome the show is. I've only watched four out of seven seasons, and it continues to progress upward in quality. Like any TV show, some episodes are better than others. But, with Buffy, the 'meh' episodes are few and even those are still enjoyable; you still get to see the characters you love doing great and hilarious things.

The only caveat I have to point out is that you have to go into this with an open mind. Try and give it some time so you can get used to the odd premise and its combination of monster hunting, high school shenanigans, and mature life lessons. I would say that it was halfway through Season 1 that I really got into it, and I would hope that someone willing to give this a try will go at least that far, if not further. It is definitely worth it and one of the most rewarding television shows I've seen thus far.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sleepwalk With Me

by DionysusPsyche
Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories is a new book by comedian, Mike Birbiglia, that came out in October 2010. Mike Birbiglia has been on such programs as Comedy Central, This American Life, and The Bob & Tom Show (it pays to read the inside cover!). He does a pretty great skit called, “What I Should Have Said Was Nothing,” and his book is based on his stand up “Sleep Walk With Me.” His new show is called “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend,” and that comes out this year at the end of the month. He also has a Secret Public blog.
Watching comedy is a special kind of experience. We get off work from our jobs where our boss exacts judgement, we get accosted by customers, and fry our brains and hands to come back to our castles (or if it's Friday, out to a club) and emotionally pass out while someone, usually the television, entertains us. Sometimes it's a comedian. Then we look to our friends and significant other and say, “He has got it SO easy! All he does is make people laugh. You know, I could do that.” If the stand-up is bad, we say, “I could do better than that.”
Until I read this book, I was like the rest of the average American audience. I crack up during an opening or a show and think, “I should quit my day job and do this. Or, keep my day job and do this at night. This isn't work. This is easy.”
The truth is, comedy is an illusion that just looks easy. It's like a magic trick where the magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat, and you think, “that was awesome!” However, you're not thinking about the audiences he's disappointed or the rabbits that have...well, kids, let's just say that they were all unhappily put into early retirement on a special farm for rabbits previously owned by magicians.
Being a comedian takes guts, perseverance, and self-belief. They are not born, they are made. Not to mention a lot of convincing. Mike convinces us that you have to be a certain type of crazy in order to not only transform yourself into a successful comedian (it's not just being funny), but you have to give it your all. All the time. Even when your parents want you to become a doctor or a lawyer.
Effortless in his pursuit to entertain us (I will chalk this up to the A.D.D he claims to have), Mike tells of us his adventures in comedy clubs, subsequent disasters, and success. He claims to be no good at anything. He talks of his childhood dreams of becoming something, even if that something is a break dancer. We laugh at his nicknames, his friends, some bear, his ex-girlfriends, but mostly we laugh with him.
Mike Birbiglia starts where everyone starts. Childhood. He refers his family in his skit and book as “Olive Garden” Italian. His father is by far my favorite character in his book, and the parent I'm afraid to become (well, minus his job description). From there it gets better. We hear about his hero, and how he finally breaks into show business. I think there was one chapter where I started to get bored, but it was early on. Additionally, the great thing about Mike is that he's just as easily bored as I am. So I didn't have to wait long to be amused again.
While Mike is revealing his past to us, he also tells of his ongoing insomnia. Said insomnia is made worse by hectic schedule, late nights, food binges, and long drives across the country in pursuit of success. Like millions of people across the globe, Mike's medical issue starts out as a complaint, and increasingly becomes dangerous and worrisome. However, Mike has experienced fear and medical issues (his and family members) before, and he's not about to let that get in the way of his daily life. It's getting more and more serious, yet Mike reassures his audience that really, it's still pretty funny.
Finally, the breaking point happens. I was literally bawling on the couch next to my concerned husband, when Mike turned around and made me laugh again. He gets his sleepwalking under control, and continues to make us laugh. His humor doesn't just affect your funny bone, it also gets to your heart.

I have read books by various comedians, and I'll admit, they're not all funny. Oftentimes, I will get half a chapter to a full chapter in and the horror and trauma of their life will overwhelm me. I'll put down the book and say, “Damn, no wonder they made people laugh. It's the alternative to slitting your wrists or a mental asylum.” Not the opposite of a mental asylum, mind you, just an option. Sometimes they are so unfunny, I wished someone had been honest with them.
Mike Birbiglia is the perfect blend of anecdotal stories and humor. To fully experience the book, I'd recommend watching a bit of his stand up first. He has a great grasp of pacing, which is how his book is written as well. Sleepwalk is definitely the best book I've read this year, and my favorite book by a comedian thus far. He's not too dirty, he's not too innocent, he's just right.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Going the Distance...or Going Nowhere?

by DionysusPsyche
“Hi, I can't commit to women.” “Nice to meet you. I really want to get this job, and I live on the other side of the United States.” “Do you want to have a relationship?” “No.” “Me neither. Let's date!” “Okay!”
What happens when two people with no chemistry go on a date? I know what you're thinking. They say good bye. The movie ends. They date other people. You rent another movie. In the movie, Going the Distance, they decide to take that concept and go the other direction with it. Don't change the dvd. Stay with me here.
Erin is in New York for a summer internship for a job that she really, really wants. Garrett meets her at a bar. They have a fling that turns into a relationship.
When it starts out, Garrett and Erin go on some dates, develop a boring contrived attachment, and decide to have a long distance relationship. Both of their friends and family try to talk them out of it in a really vulgar, disgusting sort of way. If you can get through the first half of the movie, you might like it in the end. That is a pretty big “if.”
At an early point in the movie, Erin tells Garrett “I don't remember your name,” and I thought, “I don't either.” I'm not sure why Justin Long and Drew Barrymore pretend to like each other. This is how two people who have an ongoing bet with their friends are supposed to behave in a movie. The only thing I can think of is that Justin Long's character enjoys trying to prove to his friends that he can spend time in a grown up relationship. Which apparently means having sex with your girlfriend on her sister and brother and law's table.
I watched Justin Long and felt like he was reading cue cards off Drew Barrymore's head. They're not even good lines, they're reject lines that other writers threw out.
After about halfway through, the tables turn. Erin and Garrett start becoming...actual people. And then it gets real. They get lonely. Develop jealousies. Experience communication problems. Drink too much. Become sexually frustrated. Have work or lack of work fiascoes. Somehow, Garrett and Erin get to a point in the movie where they stop fighting the distance and begin fighting with each other.
I do think parts of the movie were good. Mostly the message that long distance relationships suck. The movie excels at one thing, and that is its only strength. Its ability to demonstrate the emotional trauma about relationships where the couple involved can't be together. How it exacerbates the hardships in one's life. How eventually the couples stop complaining about the distance and start pointing fingers saying, “If you cared more, this wouldn't be happening. This is all YOUR fault.”
Going the Distance says in the title: you have to change the situation by overcoming the distance if you want to stay together. Or you have to break up. Maybe both.
The soundtrack was fantastic. Garrett's friends are funny. I enjoyed the comedian cameos. I felt relieved when the movie underwent surgery. Yet, it wasn't enough to cure the movie.
I knew the film might be terrible when the main characters announce their favorite movies. However, I ignored my instincts. “No, no, no,” I thought. “You're just being a snob. Stick this out. It'll get better.”

They love to romp idiotically into the sunset together.
I would like to say that prior to this movie, I liked Justin Long. Drew Barrymore has started making a comeback, and I've been truly impressed by her more recent movies. You can still watch this, but I would definitely recommend picking up something else. Unless you have a friend seriously considering attempting a long distance relationship, in which case you definitely should torture them with this movie. Then follow it up with The Break Up. The cards are in your favor that they will change their mind.

(500) Days of Summer

In a fit of masochism, I decided to rewatch (500) Days of Summer. This is a movie that chronicles a failed relationship. Depressing? It is on some levels. However, it also is a movie that does an excellent job of portraying the learning process that the main character, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), goes through just as the viewer does, reminiscing over the memories of his entire relationship with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Thus, surprisingly, it is not the failed relationship itself that is the key focus of the movie. Instead, the spotlight is upon Tom and his own personal growth as he realizes what he did, failed to do/understand, and how he can use those lessons to become a better person in the future.

The Failure

Watching the relationship blossom and then burst into flames... This was a painful thing to watch. However, the movie does an excellent job of balancing the seriousness with humor. Both Tom and Summer have funny qualities to them, and the parts where Tom is emotionally brutalized are offset by the amusing extremes to which he takes them. A diet of Twinkies, orange juice and whiskey? Confiding in his younger sister, Rachel, who is astonishingly mature and helpful despite having near zero relationship experience? The humor helps to make this film truly comedic, and helps to lighten the emotional blow that comes with watching a relationship become torn asunder.

For, unlike just about any romantic comedy I can think of, the relationship does not end in victory. The guy doesn't get the girl. There is no deep kiss cheered on by a plethora of enthralled strangers. Instead we see a man who, though totally devoted to a woman, is forced to learn that not everything is meant to be. Force of will and an undying belief in another can only be sustained if the other person is just as willing to share their life with you, as you are with them. And, in (500) Days of Summer, we see that Summer just simply is unable to reciprocate.

The reasons are complex and many. The movie drops hints as it goes, from her up-front statement about not believing in true love to her difficult childhood of divorced parents. It is clear that, despite his best efforts, Tom is unable to understand this side of her. He believes utterly in true love. Fate. The One. But she can't; she just isn't ready on an emotional level to respond with such devotion. Consequently, to a certain extent, their relationship is doomed to fail from the beginning. It just takes time for them to realize that.

Growth after Loss

But this is not to say that the relationship is pointless and never should have been. As is made clear by the end of the movie, both of them needed it. They needed that relationship to happen, the good times and the bad, in order to learn something about themselves. For Tom, he comes to realize that his view of Summer was idealized to the point of blindness. He learns from the relationship that, while the aspiration toward finding your true love is a good one, it is a view that has to be tempered by common sense. You can't let the feeling consume you. By contrast, Summer discovers that Tom was right in the end. True love is possible. The sad part is that, for her, it is something that she can't have with Tom. It is only after they separate that she is truly able to find that.

It is hard to judge whether this particular relationship was ever possible. It is something we ask ourselves after our own failures and our own losses. With this one, one could argue that they were just at different points at their lives; Summer had not yet overcome her emotional wall; Tom had not yet discovered how to regard relationships rationally. Perhaps if they had gone into it with those issues resolved, they might have worked out in the end. But, in the end, this isn't a movie about what ifs. It is a movie about moving on, living with the consequences of other people's actions and your own, and learning from loss instead of dwelling on it.


Clearly this was a movie that struck a chord with me. This wasn't unexpected; the first time I watched it, it evoked a hostile reaction from me. It should resonate with anyone who has loved another but, for whatever reason, things just couldn't work out. So long as you are prepared for the onslaught of memories that may ensue, this is one of the greatest "romantic comedies" ever made. The first time, I wasn't, and thus the movie felt almost like a personal assault. But that was then, and this is now.

It is a movie that illustrates how to take those memories and grow from them, and it does so in a manner that is both humorous and honest. What more can one ask for?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dragon Age: Origins - Witch Hunt

Written by Joe the Revelator

Ferelden, not Salem.

I don’t often comment about downloadable content for games since I consider them part of a whole, although most DLC comes at a small price nowadays, separate from the on-shelf version. But Dragon Age: Origins has been releasing a constant flow of extra material since its initial launch, bridging the financial gap to their next project, Dragon Age II.

Warden’s Keep, The Stone Prisoner, Return to Ostagar, Darkspawn Chronicles, Leliana’s Song, and Golems of Amgarrak were all released between late 2009 to 2010, containing a few additional hours of gameplay per DLC package. The cost of these packages range from 5$ to 15$, and are playable as either separate smaller campaigns, or as side-quests within the primary module Dragon Age: Origins.

With so much content, why focus on Witch Hunt? Because it’s a weak offering.

Witch Hunt picks up where Dragon Age Origins left off, importing your character from either DA:O or the Awakening expansion. Morrigan, the cynical witch with abandonment issues, has run away after the final battle with the Arch Demon, possibly carrying the god-child of one of the Gray Wardens (depending on your choices in DA:O). It is up to you, nameless hero of one-of-three potential races, to bring her back, although I’m not exactly sure why.

Nor does the game know why you’re chasing the wayward party member. In your first dialogue with a new, shallowly fleshed-out companion, you’re questioned about your reasons to pursue her. Your options, respectively: A) I want to kill her. B) I want to love her. C) I don’t know why.

So, with your character’s motivations firmly resolved, you set off through a series of quests to unexplored lands, against horrors unseen, discovering new and frightening monsters…

Just kidding, it’s all stuff you’ve seen before. Witch Hunt rehashes old maps from the Origins campaign and from the other DLC’s, shaking them up like an etch-a-sketch and filling them with the same old Darkspawn you’ve mowed down before. Instead of fighting a giant dragon in the Dragonbone Wastes, you fight a giant bug. Instead of finding clues about golems in Cadash Thaig, you find clues to an ancient mirror. In Flemeth’s hut you don’t encounter Flemeth, you encounter an elf. Witch Hunt feels like a racing game in which you run the same old tracks in reverse.

And if you aren’t playing for the content alone and feel truly invested in the story, again you may be disappointed. The only familiar characters we see from Origins are Morrigan, in one brief scene where she tells you ‘adios’, and Sandal, the enchantment-happy halfwit. Oh, and if you started as a human noble in DA:O, you also get your Mabari hound back.

When the spells fizzle:

DLC’s are a great way for bigger game titles to stay afloat while they produce new content, and until now Dragon Age has had a good run. But if you want to know how Morrigan’s side of the story resolves, look up the end cinematic on youtube and send Bioware a check for five bucks. It’ll save you an hour or two.