Admission Gets A “Passing” Grade

Courtesy:  Focus Features/Universal Studios

Courtesy: Focus Features/Universal Studios

Tina Fey’s latest starring vehicle, Admission is a surprisingly entertaining movie for a romantic dramedy.  The movie is on the surface just another typical boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end story.  But on a deeper level, it’s more than that.  Presented in this story, audiences are introduced to a woman who is quite the go-getter of an admissions officer at Princeton University, one of America’s elite universities.  She has no husband.  But she does have a long-term boyfriend.  And surprise surprise, she also has a long lost child.  Here’s where things get really interesting.  The identity of said child becomes just one of a handful of twists that no one would have ever seen coming.  And it is those twists, along with Portia’s own personal revelations that make this the surprising story that it is.  The movie’s cast is just as much to thank for the story’s enjoyment, too.  The current slate of sequels and otherwise brainless flicks that have polluted theaters this year only serve to heighten the enjoyment of this movie.  They heighten its importance and work with this last factor to explain even more why Admission is both a romantic dramedy and general movie worth at least one watch.

The main star of Admission is not so much any one member of the cast, but the writing.  Writer Karen Croner’s story was largely panned by critics and general audiences alike when it debuted in theaters in early 2013.  The seemingly common thread between the movie’s criticisms was its casting.  There’s no denying that the pairing of Tina Fey and Paul Rudd didn’t work.  Fey should be commended for making the effort, though.  That’s because she did in fact pull off her role relatively well.  But that will be discussed at a later point.  At this point, the movie’s writing takes center stage so to speak.  As touchy as the casting was, Karen Croner deserves some credit for having crafted a story that turns out to be anything but the standard romantic dramedy.  Sure, the boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end story.  And there’s even a reference to the far too over used romantic airport finale, even that turns out to be quite the surprise.  As the near two hour movie progresses, audiences learn that the movie is less about Portia’s growing romance with John and more about her own personal growth.  The main story is centered on Portia’s personal growth and having to come to terms with her past and how it is directly tied in to the woman that she had become.  The story takes a very realistic element of life and mirrors it in her life in this movie in a fashion that both entertains audiences and moves them.

There are plenty of laughs along the way over the course of Portia’s personal growth.  At one point, she even offers to go toe-to-toe with one of her co-workers over the file of a young man whom she believes to be her son.  The co-workers is one with whom she is competing for the chance to take over as Dean of Admissions at Princeton since their boss, Clarence (Wallace Shawn—The Incredibles, Chicken Little, The Princess Bride, The Cosby Show) is retiring at the end of the academic year.  It’s one of a handful of funny moments that is included throughout the story.  And Portia’s dialogue with her co-worker is what really makes the moment so funny.  She asks her co-worker if she wants to go outside and see just how touchy she is as she throws up her fists.  It’s a wonderfully hilarious moment that once again really exhibited Fey’s comic chops.  This scene is sure to get plenty of laughs from audiences.  By direct contrast, the more emotional moments written into the movie really hit hard as Portia begins to realize what she really gave up when she gave up her child for adoption.

The story’s more emotional moments are wonderful additions to Admission’s script.  They are a good juxtaposition to the more comical moments peppered throughout the story.  And Fey’s interpretation of those more emotional and comical moments plays right into another of the movie’s positives. She does an impressive job of interpreting the scripts in her acting, which is another of the movie’s positives.  She had already proven herself when she starred alongside Steve Carell in Date Night.  Now she’s taken her acting chops up a notch this time out.  This is even despite starring alongside Paul Rudd.  Rudd does next to nothing to enhance the movie.  This is the case even in scenes placing him alongside Fey.  By contrast, her partnership with Carell in Date Night worked far better.  Whereas Paul Rudd didn’t work by himself or even with Tina Fey, his young co-star, Travaris Spears, is a joy to watch.  Thank goodness for his inclusion in the story.  Both in his comedic moments and slightly more serious moments, Spears shines as John’s adopted son, Nelson.  Some of his best lines come with Portia.  Audiences won’t be able to help but laugh when Nelson makes jokes at Portia’s expense about her being dull and predictable.  There’s just something about his delivery that makes these jokes worth every laugh.  By comparison, his more serious moments are just as powerful.

Tina Fey and Travaris Spears are the real stars of Admission in terms of its cast.  That’s not to say that leading star Nat Wolff didn’t do a good job as Jeremiah.  His role was integral in the story.  But it felt difficult to connect to Jeremiah on an emotional level.  Thankfully his chemistry with Fey’s Porta offset that lack of connection, and helped audiences connect even more to her.  To that end, Wolff was a good choice to fill Jeremiah’s shoes.  His was a choice that along with Tina Fey and Travaris Spears, helped to make Admission more bearable than it could have been.

Admission is a movie that is worth at least one watch, whether one is a fan of rom-coms and romantic dramedies or not.  That is thanks in large part to the story’s writing and to its casting.  Sure, not the entire cast was too well cast.  But having Tina Fey and Travaris Spears on board was the right choice.  Their interpretation of the scripts really helped to move the story along.  There is one more factor to consider in this movie’s success.  It is a comparison of this movie to the rest of the movies that have been churned out so far in 2013.  Considering that most of the movies that have come to theaters in 2013 have been either sequels or generally dumbed down flicks, Admission actually holds its own quite well against them.  It’s a romantic dramedy.  But it’s less romantic dramedy than it is a story of one woman’s personal growth and revelations.  It doesn’t play out to the far too perfected formula of so many other movies in its genre.  That’s probably another reason that it was panned by viewers and critics.  But it’s also exactly what makes it so much better than its counterparts.  It doesn’t fit nicely into that mold.  Because of that and the acting and casting combined, it becomes a movie that is worth at least one watch whether alone or as a couple.

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Monsters, Inc. Proves Again Why It’s A Modern Classic With BD/DVD Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Disney-Pixar

Courtesy: Disney-Pixar

Disney/Pixar’s fourth cg-based family film, Monsters, Inc. is one of the biggest hits from the two companies.  The pair has taken one of the most common of childhood fears and turned it into a big, soft fuzzy memory that kids and adults alike will love to encounter again and again.  Monsters, Inc. isn’t the first time that Hollywood has tackled the issue of things that go bump in the night.  Though, in comparison to the 1989 movie, Little Monsters, Monsters, Inc. it is far more memorable.  And now that Disney and Pixar have re-issued this modern classic on Blu-ray/DVD and 3D BD/DVD combo packs, audiences can enjoy it all over again.  Those who still have yet to add this flick to their family library are rewarded for having waited, too.  For the most part, this latest re-issue carries everything that was on the movie’s original double-disc DVD release right down to the audio commentary.  There are some new additions though.  And of course, the clarity of the picture is that much better this time around, too.  So is it worth picking up if one already owns the DVD set?  That’s up to the general consumer.  But for those who have yet to own it, this is a wonderful reason to finally do just that.

The latest re-issue of Monsters, Inc. is largely carried over from the original 2002 double-disc DVD release.  However, included in this new re-issue is a second disc that includes some extra entertainment for kids.  One of the best of the new inclusions is “Roz’s 100 Door Challenge.”  This bonus Blu-ray trivia game requires young audiences to answer trivia questions in order to open all of the doors put before them in order to become a Monsters, Inc. employee.  The questions come in sets of ten at a time.  So at one hundred doors, this game will keep young audiences engaged and occupied for quite some time.  This is great for parents who are looking for a way to distract their kids and get some time for themselves.

“Roz’s 100 Door Challenge” is not the only extra bonus included with this latest re-issue of Monsters, Inc.  But it is a nice addition.  Just as entertaining as the noted bonus game is the included Toy Story short, “Party-saurus Rex.”  The entire original cast from the Toy Story franchise has come back for this short in which Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn – The Incredibles, The Princess Bride) is accused of being a party pooper.  But then he ends up surprising them after the toys’ new young owner takes him to the bath with her.  He ends up becoming the life of the party.  This is a wonderfully entertaining short from this fully solidified franchise.  As entertaining as it is, it’s even more of a bonus in that it shows should Disney and Pixar ever decide to re-visit the gang in a larger sense, it is one franchise whose sequels or even reboot would be welcomed by audiences. 

The new bonus features do a lot in making the new Monsters, Inc. BD/DVD combo pack a good addition to any family’s home library.  The story itself plays just as much of a role in its success, too.  The story includes no less than two very important lessons for all of its viewers.  The first of those lessons centers on stereotypes.  It tackles this subject matter right from the story’s opening moments, presenting the monster world not as a dark and evil place, but just as happy and sunny as the human world.  And even the monsters themselves are crafted in an equally family friendly fashion.  Just as “Boo” calls him, Sully (John Goodman) is a big, mean looking monster.  But underneath all that fur, he’s just a big fuzzy “kitty”…or whatever animal one might want to use in comparison.  Both the kids and monsters believed stereotypes of the other that had been handed down and passed on.  But in giving Boo a chance, Sully and Mike prove that the stereotyped belief of children being evil, life threatening to be just that.  And Boo in her own way proves to her own self that not all monsters are bad as she grows closer to Sully in a sort of surrogate parent-child relationship.  It’s something of a tangent, but in presenting this relationship, Disney and Pixar have once more crafted a story that continues Disney’s long running tradition of emphasizing family in its movies.  Getting back to the original statement, what this movie’s writers have done is they have sent a message that it doesn’t matter who one is.  Unless one has proof of stereotypes, then one shouldn’t simply automatically believe said stereotypes.  Rather, one should take the time to find out for one’s own self how much truth they have, and not let them prevent friendships in the mean time.  It’s one more positive to what is already a fun, family friendly movie.    

In relation to the emphasis on family, Monsters, Inc. also presents the message of the importance of a child’s laughter.  Sure it’s an exaggeration.  But that a single child’s laughter could power a whole city really is a wonderful metaphorical illustration.  It illustrates how one child’s smile and laughter can brighten the lives of so many.  Yes it is a bit schmaltzy.  But the world needs something positive for young audiences.  And that’s exactly what this message and movie is.  For that and the rest of the positivity in this new re-issue, it is a movie worth adding to any family’s home library.  It is available now in stores and can be ordered online at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/monsters-inc.html

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The Princess Bride Still Timeless After A Quarter Century

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/MGM

Twenty-five years ago, audiences were introduced to a movie that has become one of the greatest and most beloved romantic comedies of all time in The Princess Bride.  This cinema classic has stood the test of time.  It’s still just as enjoyable today as it was when it originally debuted in theaters in 1987.  Whether one is a fan of the comedy drama or fantasy and romance, The Princess Bride is able to appease audiences of all three genres.  So what is it that makes it such a timeless work?  It all starts with the writing.  It’s a simple love story with more than enough romance, sword fighting, and satire to appease both male and female audiences.  Along with the writing, the acting of Cary Elwes and Robin Wright (and their supporting cast) and the directing of Hollywood legend Rob Reiner play their own role in the movie’s success.  And now in its twenty-fifth year as one of the movie industry’s greatest movies, the bonus features included in the latest re-issue make it that much better.The writing behind The Princess Bride is one of the biggest factors in the success of the movie.  This movie isn’t the first time that a movie has ever been adapted from a book.  That the story would actually be told from the book in the movie itself is in itself a funny joke.  [Rob] Reiner doesn’t mention anything about this in the additional commentary, but one can’t help but laugh at the thought that here is a story being told on screen within the context of a movie that has been adapted from the same book being read to the then very young Fred Savage.  Staying in that same vein, the movie does change a few things here and there.  But for the most part, it makes a valiant effort to stay true to author William Golding’s book by the same name.  Knowing this serves to make the movie that much more enjoyable.

The writing behind The Princess Bride is enjoyable as it tries to stay so close to the original book by William Golding.  Add in the acting of an all-star cast and the movie becomes even more enjoyable.  The chemistry and comedic timing of Cary Elwes and his castmates makes for so much laughter throughout the course of the movie’s near two hour run time.  Those laughs brought on by the cast’s acting are clean laughs.  As Reiner notes in the commentary, it’s clean enough for audiences of all ages to enjoy, which is part of the reason for the story’s longevity.  Audiences will also thrill at Rob Reiner’s comment in the bonus feature, “True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon” that no one but Cary Elwes and Robin Wright could play the roles of Wesley and Princess Buttercup.  And audiences will agree with that sentiment, too in watching the new interview included in this new edition.

Reiner’s commentary and his sit down with Elwes and Wright add so much more context to the acting and the writing that makes The Princess Bride such a wonderful adaptation.  His sit down with Elwes and Wright are new additions to this newest edition of the classic flick.  Along with it, this edition also culls the special features from the movie’s previous DVD releases for the first time.  There’s also a new feature title, “Love is Like a Storybook.”  It offers a more in depth look at specific elements of the story, making for that much more appreciation for the whole thing.  All combined, the bonus features and the commentary make this classic story that much better.  Add in great acting and equally impressive writing, and it goes without saying that The Princess Bride will continue to be a fan and family favorite for another quarter of a century.

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Mia And The Miggo Excellent Tool For Visual Art Students

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Thank goodness for hand drawn animation.  So many of today’s “animated” features are really just CGI based works that try to masquerade as actual cartoons.  While this reviewer personally is not a fan of anime style artwork, the newly imported French movie, Mia and the Migoo is a work that did impress.  Forget the fact that this movie carries a very heavy handed environmental message (one that may be too strong even for some younger audiences). The real star of Mia and the Migoo is its animation.  Audiences will appreciate the animation even more in watching the movie’s “making of” featurette.  It is, for the most part, just another “making of” featurette.  But there is one moment in this bonus feature that makes it all worth the near half hour watch.

One individual who is interviewed for the feature notes that bringing a movie to life using actual hand drawn animation gives the movie a more “human” feel versus the use of computers.  He states that animated features created through CGI are done mathematically.  It’s as if he was saying in a roundabout way that CGI animation is cold and really has no life.  That couldn’t be truer.  That this young artist has such an appreciation for the art of drawing, rather than sitting in front of a computer to make art makes Mia and the Migoo that much more enjoyable in hindsight.

Mia and the Migoo is a beautiful work of art, in terms of its animation.  But there is no denying that the movie’s content may not be suitable for some younger audiences.  The movie does get intense at times.  Audiences see Aldrin’s father use a mortar launcher to destroy the sacred tree.  The result of his actions is pretty intense.  Some younger viewers might be unsettled by this.  Also early on, while Mia is riding a bus to the construction site where her father works, the bus breaks down.  A heavy set woman on the bus proceeds to take off her shirt, and drench the bus’s engine in her sweat.  She is wearing undergarments.  Now while this is probably more socially acceptable in other nations’ cultures, some American audiences may find this not as suitable for younger audiences.  Thus, the mark on the DVD’s cover of being “Family Approved” may again be more aimed at audiences other than those in the United States. 

While some of the content in Mia and The Migoo may be unsuitable for certain younger audiences (parents should use their own discretion to determine if it’s too intense for their own children in other words), but that doesn’t mean that it’s inappropriate for all audiences.  Because it is such ha beautiful work of art, this movie serves as a wonderful teaching tool, believe it or not, for students studying the visual arts.  As noted in the press release for the now American release of the movie, the artwork in the movie will conjure thoughts of Van Gogh, Monet, and even Cezanne.  The colors throughout each scene are that rich and vibrant.  And the characters themselves are very much in the vein of anime legend Hayao Miyazaki.  For that, it is a movie that deserves its own praise, and at least a single viewing.

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