Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Descendants

Sideways came out in 2004, which was the last Alexander Payne feature film until The Descendants, which opens today. As much as I loved Election I was never clamoring for his return to the silver screen but this was a reminder of why Payne is such a crafted filmmaker.

His films are never flashy or containing camera moves that one can point to and say, “That’s so Payne.” Instead he finds a story that he finds personal and tells it to the best of his ability. He’s very much like Sidney Lumet in that regard, if Lumet was only focused on smaller stories. Despite filming in some gorgeous areas of Hawaii that could be used for cinematic escapades, The Descendants is a very intimate story about a father and his two daughters.

George Clooney tones down his charisma to play Matt King, a man stuck in many crossroads. His wife is in a coma after a boating accident. He is preparing to sell a large stretch of land that has been in his family for years. While he’s alone in trying to figure out what to do he comes to terms with how clueless he is.

With the dire state of the wife, it seems like this would be a movie about loss. Yet the characters are always looking backwards to the happy and difficult moments of their lives or wondering could happen next to them. They try to figure out what their full story entails. The rest of their family—the Kings of the past if you will—serve as examples for completed lives for better and worse. All Matt wants to do is to try and make a worthy one.

The film only takes place within about a week. The screenplay avoids any of the standard epiphanies commonly seen in these sorts of emotional journeys. Its realizations are small and often unnoticed by the characters. It’s not sure what will happen tomorrow but hopefully they can come to realize what they want the most.

The Descendants will be the Oscar-y movie that everyone will like. There isn’t a bad scene or a missed character. The cast is excellent especially Clooney and Judy Greer. The screenplay by Payne, Nat Faxon and Community’s Jim Rash is one of the strongest this year (even with voice over that only appears in the first 20 minutes). I’m now curious about what will be the next story Payne will lock in on; hopefully it won’t take another seven years.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I’ll get this right out of the way now: I’m probably too biased to write this review. This is coming from a guy who just finished gushing about how The Muppets are the greatest thing ever. Last year I gave a speech about Martin Scorsese because when reexamining his work I realized I like him so much as a filmmaker due to his obsession with cinema. Always the master of timing, Hugo is the movie that encompasses everything I raved about in that speech.

I adore film history. Reading about its early days with its battles over technologies and storytellers entering a brand new medium is captivating. Throughout silent films, brilliant men always tested ways to tell a story that couldn’t be done on stage or through a book. Some of that magic was gone once sound was invented but thankfully a lot of the works of F.W. Murnau, Charlie Chaplin, and Georges Méliès can still have an affect on any generation.

Scorsese made Hugo to prove that statement. A young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the train station during the 1930s. He hides from the mean station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) as he keeps all of the clocks well tuned. After upsetting a toymaker (Ben Kingsley), Hugo befriends a young girl named Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), which starts them upon an adventure like the ones read about in books.

Now the trailers of this movie will have you believe, they will go on a magical journey similar to Harry Potter or Narnia. There are plenty of scenes full of awe and wonder, but…it isn’t the same. Those films show literal magic; you wave a stick and fire appears. Hugo shows there is magic already around us.

All filmmakers are magicians. They transport you to a new world with every frame. The best ones can continue to amaze you even after you’ve seen thousands of movies. Scorsese has been making films for decades yet he continues to experiment and create spectacles. Hugo’s opening shot proves that in spades. Spoiling it—or anything really—is like ruining a magic trick so all I will say is that the scene is even better in 3D.

Yes, after way too many worthless and lousy films being post-converted to get a few extra dollars, Hugo is the only film where the 3D is essential. Not even Avatar really needed to be in 3D. Hugo does. A little girl during my screening kept chiming in with wonderful comments that proved this film will be adored by all ages. When the film references one of the first silent movies Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat and how audiences were afraid the train would hit them, this little girl said “It’s just like a 3D film!”

Correct! Scorsese is returning to a time when motion pictures were new and going to the theatre was a treat for the imagination. It’s a world void of product placement, jokes “just for adults” or the threat to make an empty sequel. People talk about how they saw The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars or even Pulp Fiction and that’s what inspired them to discover the rest of the medium. For me it was Abbott & Costello and Alfred Hitchcock. Hugo has the power to do the same for a new generation.

So it’s a damn shame the studio doesn’t know how to market this great movie. If this bombs, it’s a travesty.

The Muppets

When returning to the Hundred Acre Woods this summer for their new feature, I was amazed by how pure and unique all of the personalities were for all of Pooh Bear and his friends. I think the same for the Peanuts crew and the Muppets. Since they don’t fall into the simple character descriptions of “Hero”, “Best Friend” or “Love Interest”, they are more realized and able to endure throughout the ages.

It has been a long time since a proper Muppets feature length film. Ones like Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets in Space have some nice moments, but nothing too memorable. There have been a number of TV specials where the Muppets are acting out beloved stories like It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz. It’s been too long since the Muppets have been what they are best at: entertainers.

That is what Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, Bret McKenzie and director James Bobin really understood. The Muppets isn’t just a reunion of some of the most beloved characters in the past 50 years, but a reminder of their relevancy through the ages. No matter how cynical the world gets, Fozzie Bear’s jokes can still make you laugh…even though they are horrendous. Their songs are sweet and their spirit is contagious. The Muppets are there to make you smile, whistle and want to give someone a hug.

The Muppets uses some of the structure from The Muppet Movie to bring back an incarnation of The Muppet Show. A new Muppet named Walter travels to LA with his brother Gary (Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) to have a vacation and meet his beloved heroes. After so many years apart, Muppet Studios is in danger of being destroyed by the evil Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) unless The Muppets can reunite and raise 10 million dollars.

That means it’s time for a road trip, catchy songs, and plenty of celebrity cameos. Sure there are a couple of flaws in the structure but I cannot even begin to care. IT’S THE MUPPETS. When I wasn’t laughing, I was smiling ear to ear. When I wasn’t doing that it was because Kermit was singing “The Rainbow Connection” and that means it is your duty as a heart-pumping human to stare wide-eyed in amazement.

The only thing I can say (almost) negatively about this movie is that I’m ready for the big stuff in what’s next. So much of The Muppets is about reminding the world why The Muppets are still necessary that I now want a Muppets movie with wall-to-wall jokes and gags. Better yet, bring back The Muppet Show. Air it at 8PM so kids can watch it with their whole family. Looking at the number of celebrities more than happy to do SNL or a Sesame Street cameo, there will always be material for episodes. It doesn’t need to be about plugging a new movie; all you need is a group of people willing to make children of any age smile.

The Muppets accomplishes that goal and that is why I’m likely to go back to the theatres this weekend to see its magic.

Film Yap: Melancholia

There are certain things you have to come into with a Lars von Trier film. When looking at some of his major films including “Breaking the Waves”, “Dancer in the Dark”, “Dogville”, and his laugh riot “Antichrist”, it’s clear that his films will likely be draining and bleak. Yet his films are also completely fascinating and usually worth watching.

Due to Kirsten Dunst as the lead, “Melancholia” is getting a wider release than the rest of the films. That doesn’t mean this is more accessible. Reminiscent of the gorgeous yet demented begining of “Antichrist”, this opens with utter madness. The world is ending in slow motion with loud orchestra music guiding its equisetic scenes.

Then it’s right back to stark realism. A week before the planet will be destroyed, Dunst’s Justine is late to be married to Michael (“True Blood”’s Alexander Skarsgard). She is full of smiles when she’s around him, but that all seems to fade when she finally gets to the church. Surrounded by too many trivial things like a bean contest and unsupportive attendees, Justine starts to snap.

Snapping doesn’t include freaking out or self-mutilation (Dunst dodged that bullet). Instead she stops caring. She cuts herself off from her family and refuses to take part in insincere events. Yet in the minds of the movie, she’s the sanest of them all. Why should people pretend to tolerate rude speeches or empty formal dinners?

The stakes rise when a new planet is discovered hidden behind the sun and it seems to be heading right towards Earth. Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and her brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), react with overall denial of their impending doom.

On one hand “Melancholia”’s take on society never expressing their true emotions, even when they clash with the culture, is fascinating. When it takes the step forward and suggests that love, marriage, and most emotional relationships are equally frivolous it isn’t as convincing.

Overall there is odd beauty in all of the disaster. Dunst and Gainsbourg are brilliant together as sisters failing to understand their lives. Their pain and sympathy is what drives the film into such a compelling drama. As he’s evolved, von Trier has been able to use his dogma filmmaking and mix it with high style into an effective new blend of storytelling. Even though this isn’t as complex as some of his other efforts, this crazy Dane continues to captivate.

4 Yaps

Film Yap: Pixar Talk - WALL-E

Every week Austin is going to have a chat with Victoria Disque about a Pixar film. This is all leading up to a speech Austin will be giving about Pixar at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in Muncie on December 9th. Victoria is a producer of The Reel Deal and is currently majoring in telecommunications at Ball State University.

Austin: So for the second week in a row you watched a Pixar film for the very first time. What are your initial thoughts for “WALL-E”?

Victoria: I definitely liked “Ratatouille” more, but “WALL-E” was the first Pixar film I’ve seen that was just gorgeous. The animation is great for all of them, but that was the only word I could think of.

Austin: Which is so odd considering it’s a world devastated by trash.

Victoria: Exactly! I found it very ironic too.

Austin: I really was caught off guard because the level of detail for the robots is so good, I would honestly believed it was miniatures. That they just made a little robot WALL-E and filmed it on a little set. The other films had great texture and details to their fur and skin, but the machinery here looked insane.

I think so much of the believability came from the audio as well. Every little creak of the machines and them moving around on the dirt. Especially when you have the two main characters who only communicate through simple audio cues.

Victoria: I noticed the audio throughout and even though people were talking near the end, it still felt like an old silent film. It really reminded me of Charlie Chaplin because WALL-E seems like The Tramp and Eve is the beautiful younger woman who makes him super clumsy.

Austin: It’s clumsy, but he always pops back up with a smile. He’s wonderfully cartoonish and happy even when all of the shopping carts fall on him. They made it so you love the character so much, but you still want to see the carts hit him.

The character of WALL-E is so insanely adorable. The first half hour is just him looking at stuff, being entertained by small things.

Victoria: And I was entertained. I loved him looking through his little storage area. He has a space for lighters, he found a Rubix’s Cube, and he carries it all in a cooler. I would watch an entire based on what he finds.

Austin: I just love the very realized perspective he has. He finds a ring, but that has no value to him. He just loves the box and the little hinge it has.

Victoria: I laughed aloud at that part. He found a ring, but immediately tosses it aside.

Austin: It’s always about what entertains him. It’s so pure in that regard. Then there are the things he doesn’t like. I love him interacting with things he doesn’t like. I loved him playing with the fire extinguisher the first time where he keeps falling down. He hates it so he throws it far away.

I don’t know if I want a sequel to this, but I want a new short of this every year. Make it like Curious George where it’s like “WALL-E Goes to the Jungle” or “WALL-E Goes to Wherever”. I want to see a new place through his eyes.

Victoria: I was impressed like how we talked about with “Cars” how they weren’t animated the best way. You’d think that a robot would be even harder to feel for that character. It’s amazing how expressive they made his eyes, but they still so you can tell when he was sad. I love how when he was scared, he would shake. He seemed like such a person.

Austin: The story is that Andrew Stanton was at a baseball game with his son and they had binoculars to watch the game. At one point, Stanton stopped watching the game and started playing with the binoculars to see how he could make emotions from it. That was the start of the design.

Unlike “Cars” as well, their design has to be practical. This robot was built to pick up trash so it doesn’t need to look like a person because that’s not practical. It needs to be a walking trash compactor. It needs to look both ways so it’s a hero to us but a logical tool as well. Then there’s Eve who is a newer model and looks like an Apple product. I love how his goal is so insanely tragic. This is one of the most ambitious concepts for a kid’s movie. The world is destroyed by trash and one robot, for whatever reason, still is around to pick it up, alone on the planet. It’s such a depressing concept, but you smile the whole time because you have this scrappy machine who has possibly been there for hundreds of years as the guide.

It’s such a wonderful film. It’s my favorite Pixar and also one of the best films I’ve seen in years. It’s up there was one of the best of the last decade for me. Utterly charming.

Victoria: The only part I didn’t get was why the Autopilot didn’t want them to go back to Earth. Is it because he would be out of a job?

Austin: I think it’s a little bit of that. He was assigned to stay the course. It’s functioning on the rational decisions of “Earth isn’t safe. You’re not going to Earth.” All of the people have regressed to this childlike form. The Autopilot needs to take care of them and by doing that none of them can take care of themselves. Until WALL-E shows up, that’s when they have the inspiration to move forward.

He’s such a great catalyst to make everyone lives change. Even MOE the cleaner follows a very rigid path of the line of the floor. Then WALL-E shows up and MOE is able to get off the line. There are so many people who get off their “line” once WALL-E serves as a muse for them.

People think this film is very political and I feel that I’m the only one that’s arguing that it’s not.

Victoria: I don’t think that’s what they were getting at, but I can see where people would think that. It just shows that we’re all going to be fat one day if we keep eating the way we do. They show how we are polluting the Earth because it all becomes trash. They don’t make it seem like anything big happened like a meteor, it’s just that we screwed the world up so we had to leave. I got that, but I don’t think that’s what the movie was about though.

Austin: No, I see it more as a humanities thing than a politics thing. To me, politics should have at least two different sides for each ideology. There is no one “for” pollution. There is no one “for” obesity. The politics are formed about what should be done about that. This film is more about asking you to recognize what you’re doing, don’t just go for what’s easy and convenient. Always try to push yourself more.

Victoria: When they all get off their chairs, it was a such a great scene. Especially when the captain fights the Autopilot.

Austin: And that was their one direct pop culture reference, again, it’s the music from “2001”. The Autopilot already has the red eye of HAL. As the captain is walking, it’s like the evolution of man. Bum, bum, bum bum! Very fun.

Something I focused on this time was all of the other WALL-E models that broke down. You can tell at the end, they didn’t have the personality he did. They only picked up the trash. Our WALL-E had a personality and was looking around. They were only focused on their jobs. The human on the Axium is only on vacation, all the time. It means nothing because they are always relaxing. WALL-E is the middleman as he’s the really strong worker but will stop to play with the car keys. That was the push that had him help Eve. Don’t just focus on getting the plant, recognize why that’s an important thing. That drive helped the people to learn the value of working towards something. It could have ended with the Captain seeing that Earth is a dump, but he was inspired to fight and make it his own.

It’s amazing how they accomplished all of that while still being funny from beginning to end.

Victoria: I was surprised to realize how much I laughed during it because I heard going in that there is no speaking for the first half. I could see myself falling asleep, but there was so much cute humor that it always kept my attention. This is perfect for little kids. They can have so much fun with WALL-E.

Austin: People are always surprised how much they enjoy the silent portion. It’s not really silent because he says his few words and such. But it reminded me of Looney Tunes. Tom and Jerry is silent, but those are really easy to watch. They know good storytelling to keep you entertained through different ways. That’s what silent directors knew so well to entertain without using dialog. This did it so well that critics didn’t like it when they went up into the spaceship because they liked it so much.

Victoria: I definitely perfered the first half to the second half. It’s still good, but the first half is so much fun.

Austin: I think the second half makes for a richer film, but I can easily watch a three hour silent film of WALL-E just walking around the planet.

Victoria: If there was no spaceship, you wouldn’t get any sort of message or story. People would be upset about that.

Austin: They get some of that humor back when they just focus on WALL-E and Eve. Like the escape pod sequence is great because I like how expressive they are. He gets out of the pod and stubbornly sits down. Eve sighs thinking “Oh WALL-E” and puts him back. Then he gets out and she becomes frustrated.

Then there’s the dance sequence. He gets out of the pod before it blows up, he has the plant, they have a little robot kiss and then they dance around space. Just beautiful.

Victoria: I really like the scene when he first gets into space and he’s moving his hand through the dust. That was where it sealed it for me. It’s such a gorgeous movie.

Austin: He’s so adaptable; then again he’s not. He focused on helping Eve however he can but he can enjoy what’s around him. Even when he’s utterly destroyed, he’s still trying to help her or properly introduce himself to MOE.

You know so much of the film is about loneliness for him, but he doesn’t take loneliness as “woe is me.” It’s a guide for him to keep moving on and befriend a cockroach. He’s very grateful for the things around him as he tries to find someone to be with and hold his hand. One of my favorite scenes is when that’s incorporated by WALL-E showing Eve his home. It’s very much like a kid wanting to show your friend your room.

Victoria: I loved that scene. It reminded me of “The Little Mermaid” because Ariel is a hoarder and they both collect all of these little trinkets.

Austin: Exactly. He even has a collection of forks, but then it’s a great visual joke where he doesn’t know where to put the spork. Then Eve comes in with a new perspective to all of his things, like being able to make the light bulb turn on. Then his fascination is renewed. Then his perspective inspires her as she enjoys the bubble wrap.

Just talking about this now makes me want to watch this again and I just watched it yesterday. I love this movie.

Victoria: I agree with you, I hope they make more shorts. They did it with “Toy Story” and that worked well without ruining any of their main story.

Film Yap: Life in a Day

With the advent of social media, there has been a call against posting about every mundane activity. What benefit is it that your followers know that you have to do laundry or homework is annoying? A pinch of humor or commentary can make anything worth reading, but sometimes the purity of the act can stand on its own.

The documentary “Babies” just showed babies hanging out for the duration. It was such a simple movie that it may have posed as a screensaver instead of an actual film. “Life in a Day” defies everything I have written so far. The reason it succeeds is because its scope is more substantial than Twitter followers and four different babies.

Director Kevin McDonald (“The Last King of Scotland” ) teamed up with Ridley and Tony Scott to create this documentary experiment. They asked the world to submit videos of what they did on July 24th, 2010. People from 192 countries submitted over 80,000 videos, which resorted to thousands of hours of footage. Through an incredible team of editors, this was boiled down to a smooth 95-minute film.

The day is told chronologically as it begins with a montage of people waking up from all around the world. Its regularity is what makes it all so special. The various ways where people brush their teeth is irrationally amusing. Most of the movie is showing the connectedness in the world as similar tasks are done throughout the planet.

Some of the clips provide more of a context for the recorder’s life. The longest one is a youth who tells his female friend his true feelings about her. His optimistic narration provided a wonderful guide as love was seen from a variety of couples. It seems that the only questions McDonald asked the participants if “What do you love?” and “What scares you?” I don’t know what it is about a personal video recorder, but it allows people to become very vulnerable. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to imagine how many people will actually end up seeing their self-recorded ramble.

It isn’t just the mundane that is romanticized, but some people did fascinating things on July 24th. The skydiving sequence was breathtaking, the slaughterhouse was brutal, and no matter what day it is, there will be dancing. The only time the movie loses focus of focusing on the magic of individuals is when it tries to make a point with its editing. Cutting back and forth from riding a roller coaster to scenes of war seems to pass judgment on the different forms of fears.

Aside from those few moments of departure, “Life in a Day” is a delightful movie that highlights the wonders of the differences and similarities of the billions of people who surround us.

The extras include interviews with the filmmakers, a director’s commentary, an editor’s commentary, and additional footage. My disc didn’t have the bonus features on it, but I would be really interested in the editor’s commentary—something that isn’t often put on a disc but would provide great insight with this topic.

Film: 4 Yaps

Extras: N/A

Film Yap: The Change-Up

You know what kind of movie “The Change-Up” is? It’s the kind of movie where the heroes park their car in the front of every building, shut the doors without locking them, and they aren’t towed despite the fact the “No Parking” sign is accidently in the frame.

To do something like this isn’t just about being lazy, it’s about being boring. Usually the ability to park everywhere is just a magical part of Hollywood, but it is one of those clichés that everyone recognizes. This parking nitpick extends to the rest of the film where anyone who has ever seen a film can guess where ever scene is going.

Jason Bateman plays Dave who is a family man who has to wake up at 3AM to change diapers only to go to his successful law firm several hours later. What hell he lives in. Ryan Reynolds is Mitch who smokes pot all day and is incredibly crass. They envy each other’s lives, which means they will switch bodies so they can learn some stupid lesson.

This stupid lesson where they must recognize that their own lives are pretty great is so forced, the characters should start to become paranoid that planet Earth is reshaping itself to teach them this stupid lesson.

Q: Why was a magic fountain moved out of a park and into a location nobody has record of? A: For they need to learn to respect their old lives.

Q: Why does Mitch’s dad awkwardly want to have lunch with Dave—WHO IS SECRETLY MITCH BUT HE DOESN’T KNOW THAT—to talk about all the things he always wanted to say to Mitch even though it’s not clear that Dave and Mitch’s dad even know each other? A: Mitch needs to learn a stupid lesson.

Q: Why does Dave’s wife only talk about Dave’s life goals when she’s upset? A: So that Dave in Mitch’s body can learn a stupid lesson.

Q: How did Dave’s boss come up with a PowerPoint about Dave’s life covering his childhood and marriage but never talking about his job which is how he actually knows Dave? A: BECAUSE MITCH AS DAVE NEEDS TO LEARN A STUPID LESSON.

Everything is so contrived that it really makes more sense if they were part of a Truman Show-esque conspiracy where even baseball games are formed to make sure they learn a lesson. Every secondary character is irrelevant but the way this movie portrays women is irredeemable.

The women characters defy science by being zero-dimensional. Leslie Mann is a hysterical actress who seems embarrassed to say what’s written in the script. Anything that is wrong with their marriage is all about how Dave isn’t fulfilling his dreams, nothing about what she wants. When she is the most upset it is because Dave (BUT REALLY IT’S MITCH!!!) said she wasn’t attractive to him after an extended poop scene.

Olivia Wilde is a legal secretary who has a crush on Dave but then goes on a forced date with Mitch to save her job (It makes zero sense). Then she falls for Mitch (BUT HE’S REALLY DAVE!!!!). Then on the second date she changes all of the things she’s attracted to so she’s more interested in Mitch. This was only done so the leads can both have someone attractive at the end.

Hiring Wilde only to be attractive is such a common practice in these worthless shallow films that nobody raises an eyebrow. My eyebrows were raised when actresses were hired to be attractive and then their breasts (and in one case pregnant belly) were done in CGI. Instead of actual nudity, Mann and Wilde have CGI breasts exposed.

The CGI budget doesn’t end there. “The Change-Up” also wisely spends millions on some of the worst green screen driving, a CGI baby throwing a knife with super-strength so it can go through a door, and a CGI baby butt that propels CGI green poop.

All of this could have been excused if the movie just did one thing. (Well almost all…). It just had to be funny. Have jokes that landed. Instead this is just a pathetic extension of uncreative profanity, tired situations, and a movie that works hard to be a complete mess. I hate that I have seen this movie.

The extras are also stupid. There is a weird gag reel where it isn’t about actors laughing and ruining a take, but about how most of them didn’t bother to learn their lines. Then it ends with “Thanks for a great shoot!” implying this was made for the wrap party which is even weirder since they never showed it was fun to work on. There is also 5 more minutes added for an “UNRATED” edition, which is a bluff because it’s just worthless footage. There is also an unenthusiastic making-of and a feature commentary done only by the director, which I haven’t had a chance to hear, but I hope most of it is him saying, “Ryan and Jason said they’ll be here any minute…”

Movie: 0.5 Yaps

Extras: 0.5 Yaps

Film Yap: Pixar Talk - Ratatouille

Every week Austin is going to have a chat with Victoria Disque about a Pixar film. This is all leading up to a speech Austin will be giving about Pixar at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in Muncie on December 9th. Victoria is a producer of The Reel Deal and is currently majoring in telecommunications at Ball State University.

Austin: So you just finished “Ratatouille” for the first time, minutes ago. What are your first reactions?

Victoria: I loved it. Within the first half hour, I knew I was really going to like this movie. It never disappointed me.

Austin: This was Brad Bird, who directed this one and “The Incredibles” and “The Iron Giant.”

Victoria: I decided I really like him. I mean, I like them all like John Lasseter but I really like Brad Bird.

Austin: And he’s moving onto live action with “Mission Impossible 4” this winter. Every Pixar film goes through so many changes throughout its production. This one, Brad Bird was called in a little bit late on the process. This was Pixar’s first film after the legal debaccal of Pixar breaking away from Disney and all that madness. So this is their first thing on their own again. Yet it feels like a complete movie. It’s so smooth and a wonderful story.

Victoria: I almost almost thought, there was too much going on. Like I said, I loved this movie. There is the film critic to deal with it, there is the bitter ex-chef to work with, Remy tries to break away from his family, Linguini being Gusteau’s son. There was just a lot to take in. It all felt smooth, but it did feel complete.

Austin: There is a lot of plot, but I think one of the reasons why it worked was that they didn’t save it all for the end. Linguini gets the restaurant earlier than anyone expects. There’s even a montage where people think the movie could end. You see this more in French films, so it’s fitting that it’s set in Paris.

Victoria: Also Linguini gets with the girl earlier in the movie. Something else you’d expect to save for the very end.

Austin: That’s where you see what is the true point of the story. All of the Linguini stuff is secondary to Remy’s journey of finding his own place as a chef. I think they did a really good job of structuring that.

There are so many movies about “art”. There are so many movies about making movies or the romanticism of writing or painting. I like that Pixar decided to not do the obvious one and talked about the art of food. It’s probably one of the best food movies I have ever seen.

Victoria: This is probably really lame but I watch the Food Network all the time. There is something really relaxing about watching other people to make food. I didn’t expect that from an animated food. I loved the montage where Remy had to figure out exactly how to pull the hair to make the spaghetti. Even when he was making food as himself, I was surprised how much I was enjoying watching a gutter rat make food.

Austin: That’s the power of animation. Obviously we can’t smell or taste anything they’re cooking. It has to be entirely visual, basically. One way they did that was to create a great aroma of the kitchen, where he smells the soup. What I really loved were the sequences when he closes his eyes and we see the colors around his head mixing together as the tastes blends. It explains something very personal and difficult to convey. Really the best person to display that geeky enthusiasm is Patton Oswalt.

Victoria: I loved his voice. When the rat first started talking my mind went to him, but then it disappeared. Just like all the other Pixar movies, I never think of it again.

Austin: If I had to make an arbitrary list of the best casting from Pixar, I think the top two are in this film. Patton Oswalt is so brilliant. I’ve been a big fan of his stand up for years. Whenever he is enthusiastic about loving or hating a film, it’s always the greatest thing because he gets so passionate. So this character is an extension of him. Instead of yelling about “Star Wars”, he’s amazed about the taste of the food. It’s so genuine and perfect job casting.

Victoria: Who’s the other one then?

Austin: Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego.

Victoria: Oh yeah. That was a surprise for me. I never thought someone as legendary as Peter O’Toole would do an animated movie, but if you’re going to do it you better do Pixar.

Austin: He brought such gravitas to it. I love Peter O’Toole but he hasn’t had the best roles lately. He was pretty good in the “Casanova” miniseries and “Venus” was okay. But he was so good in this! Just look at the most talked about scene from the movie where he takes a bite of the ratatouille. That was pulled off because of what O’Toole had brought to the role before that. Such brilliant filmmaking.

Victoria: I was a bit emotional at that scene. I was a bit choked up during that part because they added so many layers to this critic who up into that part was just…a big meanie. You still don’t know why he is that way at the end, but he grew a heart at that moment. It was like the Grinch!

Austin: And his flashback is so brief. You immediately know what is going on at that moment.

Victoria: They are really good at stuff like that. They give you enough story without milking it.

Austin: Then the scene to accompany that was the review.

Victoria: I don’t know if kids understood a word of that but I loved it.

Austin: I first saw this in theatres and before every Pixar film I’m nervous. Kids are talking before it starts and I almost want to announce, “When the movie starts, you shut up.” But every time, my audience has been great. Everyone’s behaved because they love Pixar just as much as I do. During that scene, everyone knew how to respond. Even if you don’t know every word he’s saying, but they knew the Grinch grew a heart and it’s a good review.

So often you have films or storytellers talking about critics. More often than not, it’s negative towards them. Everyone’s had a bad review in their life, that’s what happens when you put something out there. They could have easily turned that into a speech against criticism. But it wasn’t that. It was looking at the emotions behind it. Earlier in the film there is a moment when someone says that he hates food, but he says that he loves food and that’s why he’s so harsh on it. In this scene he sees the potential and joy in food again. Sure he ends up losing his job because he was discredited when the restaurant was filled with rats. I think if that didn’t happen he would have stayed on as a critic and enjoyed the food more.

Victoria: Pixar never fails to surprise me. Any other animation company would go with the easy ending, the really really happy ending. There were two parts that surprised me in this. The first was when Linguini was telling all of the chefs that Remy was cooking. You’d expect them to stay and deal with it, but they all leave. Then all the rats help out, which I didn’t see coming.

Then I didn’t see the ending. I thought it would be happily ever after, but then the restaurant closes down. Then they have the smaller restaurant which is probably less stressful and the rats can eat there. So it seems like a sadder ending, but it works more for the characters.

Pixar is fantastic at taking something so unrealistic and then making it as realistic in that concept.

Austin: I think this is the most unrealistic of them all with having Remy pull Linguini’s hair and he movies. For that is impossible…and insane. So they should walk out because what he is describing is madness. I would stay to see it all play out because that would be entertaining. That is the most fantastical element of any Pixar films aside from talking animals and inanimate objects.

However it does it so well. It takes the metaphor of the puppeteer and makes it literal. Even though it’s incredibly unrealistic, it works out best for both of them. You don’t really get the vibe that Linguini wants to be a chef, but wants to be in the kitchen.

Victoria: It seems that he wants to be part of something. His mom is gone. His father he never knew is gone. He doesn’t have anywhere to really call his own. The one question I had in the whole movie is when he first gets the job, why does he add stuff to the soup when nobody was looking?

Austin: Oh, because he’s an idiot.

Victoria: You’re just taking random things and putting them in a pot!

Austin: I think he wanted to contribute more than just taking out the trash. Looking at what you’re saying, I think he wants to be part of a group. The kitchen is like a family. Aside from the crazy French Ian Holm villain, the kitchen is a very warming place for him. (TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: THAT WAS AN UNINTENTIONAL PUN.) He finds the love of his life, there are quirky other characters that support him, he has rat friends. It does work well as a community. I think he was just trying to get to that point.

I do like this film quite a bit, but I guess the only part I don’t like is Remy’s family storyline. Watching it this time, I really got the metaphor of rats are like criminals. Linguini always thinks that Remy is going to steal all the food and run out on him. Then there are the old “You can’t escape your past” and the “Mobster who wants to go straight” tropes that operate with this family. They are thieves, but in a more respectful light, they are animals. I know it was necessary for the plot, but when they opposed his lifestyle it seems awkward. It did pay off when it they came together, though.

Victoria: You know I saw this thing on my friend’s Tumblr that really sums up the differences between Pixar and Dreamworks. Pixar puts so much work into their stories where even if it doesn’t pay off, they’re trying really hard to make something special.

Austin: That is so awesome. You know, there really isn’t anything like “Ratatouille”. It has elements that are familiar, but it all blends together to be a completely unique movie. It’s really great.

Victoria: Loved it!

Film Yap: The People vs George Lucas

Okay, listen. I like “Star Wars” quite a bit. I wore my VHS down of the original trilogy, I played with the toys, I attacked my brothers with lightsabers, and of course I think Han shot first. George Lucas is the man behind the wonder while also being the man behind all the recent pain.

The prequels have caused the die-hard “Star Wars” fans to lose their minds. They hate them on such an absurd level that they say their childhood had a non-consensual metaphorical penetration. No, the prequels are not good movies—even “Revenge of the Sith.” Red Letter Media made these amazing and creative dissections breaking down why they all failed in basic storytelling. Those feature-length reviews are clever and self-aware with its humor.

“The People vs. George Lucas” needed that combination.

The way the geek community went from adoring one man to hating him is a weird part of pop culture history. This movie came out too soon because they didn’t have time to cover Lucas’s Blu-Ray alternations that further aggravate the fans. From Ewoks blinking to the random appearance of Jabba in “A New Hope” to digital Hayden Christensen to “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!”, there are enough criticisms of Lucas to warrant knocking him down from a god like status.

For 90 minutes an assorted number of fans just yell at the camera. Some of their points are valid, but then they talk too long to where the point becomes petty. When they scream at him for his bad edits and loss of joy, they aren’t looking at their own product. The editing and interviews for this movie are all over the place in quality. During the last five minutes, they attempt to say how they really still love George Lucas but it’s eye-rollingly insincere.

If they wanted to live up to their title, they should have had a better attorney for Lucas. I don’t know who can argue Jar-Jar Binks, but most people can argue against these fans. They have treated this as such a personal attack, which is perplexing. There are films and there are people. The interviews they have of Lucas show him as a bit socially awkward and overwhelmed by his creation. There is a point when the art is no longer the artist’s. All the things they loved about the saga is still there. Luke Skywalker is still here to rescue you, the AT-ATs will still fall, and Leia will still be dressed inappropriately in Jabba’s lair.

So by the end, they had the wrong reaction. I felt bad for George Lucas because his fans went out and made something like this to put in theatres. There was a film to be made about this experience and everyone involved was too emotional to see that.

2 Yaps

Film Yap: Pixar Talk - Cars

Every week Austin is going to have a chat with Victoria Disque about a Pixar film. This is all leading up to a speech Austin will be giving about Pixar at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in Muncie on December 9th. Victoria is a producer of The Reel Deal and is currently majoring in telecommunications at Ball State University.

Austin: We’ve hinted at it for weeks and weeks for my hatred of “Cars”. Do you have a hatred of “Cars”?

Victoria: No, I don’t have a hatred. It’s definitely not one of my favorites. I just think it’s ‘all right’, not terrible.

Austin: This is my first time watching it since the theatres. There were moments when I was thinking that I’ve been too hard on the movie. Then a second later, it reversed again. Like the movie starts off with Lightening talking with a black screen. He has this good voice over where he’s saying, “Speed…speed…” to pump himself up for the race. This is relatable and good. Then you realize he’s in a truck whose only design is to hold other cars and then I became immediately distracted trying to figure out that existence.

The movie is a weird balancing act. Every other Pixar film you get the world through their exposition scenes. I’m now two films in and I still don’t get this world and that’s weird.

Victoria: I don’t even think about that. I just focus on the characters. I don’t try to put together things like “If their wheels are hands, how do they build anything?”

Austin: Who builds the cars!?!?

Victoria: This is a kids’ movie. The others were aimed a bit more towards adults, but this is purely for the kids. My nephew totally buys the world.

Austin: Maybe I just missed the age when—nah, I was even a snarky kid. It’s odd. We’ve had inanimate objects from “Toy Story” and they’ve established Fisher Price makes the toys. Once they assemble, they exist and we get that.

In “Cars”, I question it when the movie addresses it. It’s not just me going, “How do their eyes make any sense?” But then again, their eyes don’t make any sense! They have characters who are romantically interested in each other. In “Toy Story” they were more looking for love and companions. Here Lightning and Sally try to kiss each other. And whenever Mater tows somebody, there is the shot of the car feeling violated like it’s a probing joke. It’s weird.

Victoria: Right. I don’t care about that. Now we’ve talked in the past about how Pixar has found the perfect actors for each character. With this one, it feels like they knew who they wanted already and then built a character around the actor. Like Mater, they had to figure they were already thinking of Larry the Cable Guy. From there it seems like they decided the rusty bucked-tooth car would fit him.

Austin: Yeah, it almost feels like they thought of a personality for the car and then the actor and then the character. What would fit for this car?

Victoria: In this, the lead voice is Owen Wilson. In the past, I recognized a lead voice and then moved back on to the story. Here, I only heard Owen Wilson. He doesn’t have the most distinct voice but I still only heard him.

Austin: So did I, the whole time. It’s odd because his major competitor in the racing world is voiced by Michael Keaton. I love Michael Keaton! He had such a natural voice, but right now I’m thinking Michael Keaton could have been the lead. Keaton could easily be the villain or the likable lovable Mr. Mom hero.

Victoria: I think Owen Wilson brought a younger voice to the character. As if he was in the early 20s.

Austin: That’s true. You need the age difference between him and Paul Newman.

Victoria: Paul Newman. It’s too bad this was his last movie. At least he ended on a Pixar film, but it’s sad this is the Pixar movie he ended on.

This is my nephew’s favorite movie. So I get a kick out of the parts he laughs at. He really loves the two Italian cars, Luigi and Guido. He also really loves the old car, the old Model T. She’s the one not right in the head. I love the supporting cars. Then there is the VW Bug that is selling their equivalent of weed? That’s just weird.

Austin: You know there was one bit of casting I thought was really easy. They cast Jeremy Piven as the agent who is always on the phone. It’s just the same character from “Entourage”. Come on Pixar! You can think of a cleverer pick than that.

Victoria: That was easy.

Austin: I think the weirdest character thing in this movie is that, unlike all other Pixar films, their heroes have flaws but the film doesn’t judge them for it. Woody is insecure, Flik is too eccentric, Marlin can’t let go, etc. But the characters aren’t constantly telling them those flaws. “Cars” was only that. The first half of the movie is everyone telling Lightning what was wrong with his life. His lifestyle is wrong. You’ll be fine by the end of the film, but now you’re wrong. That’s limiting because now you know where the movie is going because it’ll only be about fixing that lifestyle.

I really didn’t like that. It was lazier storytelling than we’ve come to expect from Pixar.

Victoria: I think that’s just it. This one seemed lazy in comparison of the other. Perhaps, they were just burnt out. This is still decent, but it’s not Pixar level.

Austin: Yeah, I’ll give it a C. It’s just an uneven movie. Also I might as well make this rant now. It’s the plot of “Doc Hollywood”. Which is not a great movie. Have you seen it?

Victoria: Nah.

Austin: The plot of “Doc Hollywood” is that Michael J. Fox is a plastic surgeon, but everyone judges him that he needs to be a proper doctor. One day on his way to Los Angeles to become a bigger plastic surgeon, he crashes his car into a small town and breaks their fence and other stuff. He’s not allowed to leave the small town until he fixes the fence and that’s where he learns how to be a true doctor.

Victoria: That sounds ridiculous. Maybe they were…inspired by “Doc Hollywood”?

Austin: I think they have carefully avoided talking about “Doc Hollywood” in every interview. Like how the cast of “Disturbia” weren’t supposed to talk about “Rear Window” during that press.

I was 16 when this came out. So I’m just outside the target audience, but even I’m in the theatre going, “Hey I have a public library. I’ve seen ‘Doc Hollywood’!” Having “A Bug’s Life” do their take on “The Seven Samurai”, considered one of the greatest films of all time, makes a bit of sense. Doing a take on “Doc Hollywood” is…how many takes can you do on that?

Hell, they should have just gotten Michael J. Fox for the voice of the lead! That would have been great!

Victoria: That would have been really good. He still sounds young enough.

Austin: Also he has the charisma to be selfish and still likable. Then again, this would make it too much like “Doc Hollywood” which is why they didn’t do it.

Victoria: Which would you say is better: “Doc Hollywood” or “Cars”?

Austin: “Doc Hollywood” because it has people in it so I understood it! Switching gears—eh!—what did you think of the racing scenes?

Victoria: I thought they were okay. Nothing really great, but I don’t find actual racing exciting. Yet I guess this isn’t like real racing. This is more like a foot race since they are cars. Lightning is the Usan Bolt of the car world. So if you look at it that way, then it makes sense the cars can jump over other cars that have crashed.

Austin: I think the weird thing here—and it’s worse in “Cars 2”—it’s difficult to see how hard they’re going. When you watch “Chariots of Fire” they are sweating and struggling. In this, whenever a car passes another it seems casual.

Victoria: They just say, “Oh man, they passed me.” Just go faster! But I guess it’s about how much horse power they have. How they were built. It’s not like they were working hard to go faster.

Austin: It’s like the metachlorians.

Victoria: (Blank look)

Austin: The readers will get that. So it’s better in this one, but in the big race here he’s down by an entire lap. It’s hard to figure out how much he needs to work to catch up. Then he goes to the pitstop to talk to Doc without getting anything changed. You have a headset! Just talk to him! You’re in a race!

Victoria: I did like the ending, though. The King crashes and he’ll be exactly like Doc if he doesn’t go across the finish line. So Lightning goes back and gets him after he grows a heart and forfeits the race. Classic Pixar.

Austin: I thought it was okay. It’s just really convenient. It’s just like Doc and it’s a moment to define yourself. It’s not as much as a sacrifice because everyone knows he won. It’s not like it’s a close race. Everyone has declared him the winner. History will remember him as the “real winner” because he made a noble effort. It just made him look really good. You need the moment, but it was the easy moment.

Victoria: I just don’t what else they would do there.

Austin: Neither did they! That’s why it’s in there. Anywho, do you find Mater funny?

Victoria: I guess so. He’s grown on me like the rest of the movie. Back when I was a Freshman in high school, he didn’t work. I don’t like Larry the Cable Guy’s comedy, but this character is endearing. He’s not just a stupid hillbilly. He’s more of a manchild.

Austin: The way Mater interacts with the town reminds me of Nick Frost from “Hot Fuzz”. He’s a bigger guy, bit dumb, but his heart in the right place. Mater is louder and more obnoxious than Nick Frost in “Hot Fuzz”, but I still like the character. He works as a supporting character.

Victoria: I didn’t hate “Cars 2” like everyone else did—

Austin: Just wait a few more weeks!

Victoria: But that was a mistake to make him the lead in that movie and Lightning the supporting. Mater works better as a supporting.

Austin: There is only so much you can tolerate with that dumb energy. He works as a cheerleader, of sorts, to Lightning. I’m not a big fan of the cow-tipping scene, but it is a nice moment to slow the plot down and the let the characters bond with each other. The film does that well quite a few times.

Victoria: You know, I don’t have a problem with the world as much as you. What does bug me is what are the odds that this small town that isn’t on the map ends up having two world class race cars in it? Lightning just happens to get lost in the town that has a car similar to him who won the Piston Cup. I know the whole world is a stretch, but that is also a stretch.

Like we said, it just seems very lazy. I still think it’s decent. If I see a line of Pixar movie, it’s probably the last I’ll watch but it’s still watchable.

Film Yap: My Afternoons With Margueritte

There are those who have had Tuesdays with Morrie and have driven with Daisy and their lives have been enriched from the encounters. Are old people the magical sages of the universe or is there something valuable in taking a break from your life?

Germain Chazes’ life doesn’t move that fast. He does some chores around his house, he does a simple job, he visits some friends at the local pub and he goes to see the birds at the park. However Germain puts very little value in himself. Throughout his childhood, Germain was bullied and abused, especially by his cruel mother. Without that love growing up, he feels empty even when he’s with his kind girlfriend, Annette (Sophie Guillemin).

One day he bonds with an elderly woman named Margueritte—a typo on her birth certificate that stuck. She sits on her red pillow atop the stone park bench so she can look at the birds. When Germain tells her the names of all of the birds and points of distinct personalities in their behavior, they become friends. They meet everyday to read.

Germain cannot read very well, but Margueritte says that reading is listening. Once you listen to the words, you will want to read them for yourself. And so he becomes addicted to a more pleasant lifestyle.

The stars, Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus, make the movie. Their sweetness together makes the park around them brighter. Sometimes they talk about gross and dark topics but they remain delighted for they have someone they can really talk to. Scenes without them are like the rest of their day, waiting for their next interaction.

That isn’t entirely fair since the way Germain spends the rest of the day is trying to learn from his last visit. His transition is very believable and honorable. The only thing that slows down the pacing are the too many flashback scenes to his difficult childhood. One may have been enough to back up his words, but really his words spoke volumes.

“My Afternoons With Margueritte” never overstays its welcome with a brisk runtime of 88 minutes. It avoids the obvious ending with something more fitting. This is one of those movies that will charm even those who are irrationally afraid of subtitles.

4 Yaps

Film Yap: Batman: Year One

There is an ad before the menu screen for “Batman: Year One” for a new video game called “Arkham City”. An unnerving voice over asks, “Have you ever considered this is all your fault?” The rest of the video game shows trying to defeat a plethora of old villains in a city that seems unable to be saved.

In “Batman: Year One” it is before Gotham has sunk that low. It is still described as hell, but it still appears as a city not unlike any other major metropolitan in the United States. Corruption plagues the police department and the politics. Violence and prostitution is routine after the sun goes down. Bruce Wayne (voice of Ben McKenzie) finally returns home with a new set of skills and a goal of what to do.

His parallel is Jim Gordon (voice of Bryan Cranston), a police detective who also knows how to throw a punch. Gordon’s narration is just as dark as Wayne’s view of the city. The noir wording fits because they are both characters who refuse to stop fighting regardless of how defeated they feel.

As the months go on, both men realize how they can accomplish their goals. For Bruce Wayne he recognizes the symbol he needs to strike fear. For Jim Gordon he finds out he is not alone.

The consequences start to have effect. As they try to stop the chaos, the chaos evolves. A greedy man in a suit like Carmine Falcone is easier to understand, but the creation of Batman leads to a new form of villain. Selina Kyle (voice of Eliza Dushku) becomes inspired by the slickness and the rogue attitude of Batman that she creates her own alter ego of Catwoman.

“Year One” is an origin story unlike any other origin story because it’s not optimistic. The use of the word “hero” is always dismissed by the man being labeled. These are men setting out what they think has to be done and perhaps by starting that they are creating a more dangerous world. There is no endgame in this story. Perhaps Gotham can never be saved.

The DC home videos always have a great set of bonus features. “Year One” only last an hour long, but it’s a fantastic story to own. They included another short starring Catwoman, which has plenty of seedy action but not much else. There are great sneak peaks at the upcoming “Justice League: Doom” and “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights” which aren’t just trailers. They sit down with the whole team to analyze the characters and the comic’s history. I don’t even know these characters very well and they always make me want to watch them. There is also a solid documentary talking about the importance of the original comic “Year One” in the character’s history and how it affected the live-action films. Also there are two full-animated episodes “hand picked by Bruce Timm”: “Batman the Animated Series” – “Catwalk” and “The New Batman Adventures” – “Cult of the Cat”.

I only wish they had more footage of this cast talking about the movie because Cranston does some amazing work. I would love to hear him and McKenzie talk about how they saw this story.

Film: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

Film Yap: Red State

Crassness has always been part of Kevin Smith’s films. Usually the vulgarity and obscene sexual references are by characters who are still innocent creatures. They are usually discussing trivial topics like employees of the Death Star or how to save a monkey. When he goes towards deeper subjects like complex relationships or religion, his characters still approach it with naivety as they fight for what’s good.

For the first time in his career, Smith is getting vicious. Most of his cast of characters in “Red State” are unredeemable in his mind. They are a thin metaphor for the Westboro Baptist Church and their leader Fred Phelps. The heroes have very little chance to be heroic because they are always being tortured or running for their lives. It’s a gutsy movie that doesn’t always succeed.

Smith has a knack for comedic dialog that offers plenty of surprises and laughs. Using that to forward a drama proves difficult. Most of the movie is filled with never-ending monologues that lack the pacing and wit from his previous ventures. It always feels like unnecessary exposition, especially when a teacher has to explain who the national celebrity is who lives in their small town.

The strength in the film comes from its surprises. This is a ruthlessly violent movie that won’t stop once it gets going—unless characters need to talk for a long time in panic. It is often visually exciting in a very grimy way. What Smith chooses to do in the last ten minutes is some of the most brilliant things in his entire career. Well, eight of those minutes are great and two are too indulgent.

There is a reason why this movie needs to be reviewed as a comparison to the rest of Smith’s filmography. “Red State” by itself is a forgettable B-movie with an impeccable cast—including Matthew Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Stephen Root, Matt L. Jones, Kerry Bishé, Anna Gunn, Kevin Pollack, and the mighty Matthew Parks.

Seeing this as a Kevin Smith joint shows something greater. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh tend to switch genres every other time at bat. Smith has felt comfortable since his breakout hit in 1994. “Red State” is such a radical departure in terms of story, visual style, and content that it hardly even feels like Smith was behind it.

So much like “New York, New York”, “The Beach” and “The Good German”, I appreciate the ambition in the project more than the end result.

The DVD includes a number of behind the scenes bonus features that give a really through look at the history of the project—including the now infamous Sundance speech, which kicked off his self-distribution goals. They are sometimes a bit repetitive, but they do capture a lot.

Film: 3 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

Film Yap: Heartland 2011 - Romantics Anonymous

I love French films. Love love love them. Every time I feel it’s silly to group a whole country of films together, another one charms me yet again. These films have a way of never letting you know how the story is going to end. Too many movies pull back and it’s easy to see what the full story is. It’s never fun when you know how the movie is going to end or what the message of the movie is before it’s had a chance to sell the point.

The best way to accomplish this is to create a set of completely realized characters who may not succeed. “Romantic Anonymous” is easily one of the best romantic comedies I’ve seen in years because by the time it was halfway through I was cheering for them to get together and wincing when they messed it up for each other, yet again.

The two poor unfortunate souls are Angélique Delange (Isabella Carré who looks like the French Maria Bamford) and Jean-René Van Den Hugde (Benoît Poelvoorde who looks like the French Peter Davison) (Peter Davison played the fifth Doctor Who) (“Doctor Who” is this—have I really not gotten you readers to watch this show yet?)

Angélique goes to an emotional relief group where she talks about her overwhelming insecurities. Jean-René talks to a therapist about his fear of women. The two of them meet when she enters his struggling chocolate shop searching for a job. She accidently gets a position as a sales rep instead of a chef.

The neurotic duo continues to interact under the most awkward circumstances. Their first dinner together is so painful to endure that more people will cover their eyes from embarrassment than attendants at a “Saw” flick. The reason why all of the scenes feel organic is because they never stray away from what the characters are capable of.

It’s never clear where the story goes next. Secrets are revealed earlier than expected, brilliant new ideas are introduced, and then it all ends in a place where it was always supposed to go. Every good story should let the characters drive it to its organic destination. The best ones are when you want to revisit the characters years later to see how their lives have changed. “Romantics Anonymous” is how to do the genre right.

4.5 Yaps

Film Yap: Heartland 2011 - My Last Day Without You

He’s a German businessman who flew to New York City to lay off a company. She’s a beautiful secretary fired from the company who writes beautiful music. They meet by chance and spend the day together before he has to fly away. What sort of day will they have?

It turns out a rather lousy day. That would make for an unexpected story, but the movie is insisting their day was incredible. From the chauffeur who won’t stop ranting about how this is the greatest romance he has ever seen to every new character the German meets insisting he needs to change his life. Instead of letting the characters speak for themselves, there is that judgment placed on them.

Niklas (Ken Duken) is criticized from beginning to end. He is not laughing like a Bond villain when he has to close a business; he is not obsessed with his expensive watch. All he has is a certain work ethic that placed him into a higher society, but this makes him an evil man. Even when he says that he doesn’t believe in the souls of the dead moving on, he is criticized.

Leticia (Nicole Beharie) starts off as a really sympathetic person. Her music is inspiration to the neighborhood and she has a loving relationship with her pastor father (Reg E. Cathey from “The Wire”). Then after she is unnecessarily cruel to Niklas for most of the movie, she lost my support. Yet, this is still the greatest romance ever witnessed despite no romantic scenes, only romantic shots.

Despite having a number of problems with the core relationship, the film shows New York City in a way rarely seen. They avoid all of the typical cinematic visuals and focus on a smaller community. Its church and streets have a more homely feel that separates itself from the busyness of the city. Co-writer/director Stefan C. Schaefer avoids using grand romantic gestures by allowing it to be more intimate between the two of them. It allows the world to stay within a more realistic grounding, but the structure betrays it at the end.

There are a number of ways their paths could have crossed and affected each other, leading to a number of different endings. This conclusion doesn’t seem to connect with where the characters were heading. It was going for a more topical version of “Before Sunrise” and it wasn’t just there yet.

3 Yaps

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Magna

Everyone has a mystery convention. We’re almost to the point where there is one for every weekend of the year. It’s exhausting. I’ve been to a number of charming ones, but the one I love every year is Magna cum Murder. It’s not because I work for it; it’s because I love it that I work here. So in true David Letterman fashion, here are the Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Magna.

#10 – We Don’t Have Any Awards

I love awards given out for art. I have never complained about the Oscar telecast length or being snubbed for an Edgar. (Seriously it’s not a big deal.) They are a fun celebration of stories done well, but there are too many of them. If we added another mystery award it would dilute what makes the others so special. When authors are nominated they say they aren’t thinking about the upcoming ceremony, but of course they are lying. (Don’t trust writers.) A weekend without competition allows everyone to just have fun.

#9 – One Book One Festival

Jim Huang started this a few years ago by telling everyone attending Magna they should read And Then There Were None before attending. There were panels, films and discussions over the Christie classic throughout the weekend. It was a great way to connect everybody in a common ground. The easiest way to start a conversation with someone at your table is to bring up the book. Since that year we’ve covered Except the Dying, Brat Farrar, The Steam Pig and next month it’ll be Death on the Nile. Many people comment on being thrilled to finally have the chance to read a classic they’ve been meaning to get to.

#8 – The Meals Are Delicious

Twice a day during a conference, it’s up to you to find some people you want to eat with and then figure out where you can walk to. It becomes a bit of a hassle if you hit a restaurant at the wrong time and it always ends up being more expensive than you attend. A nice trait of Magna is how we keep everything tight knit. We supply the meals and they are glorious. We have large tables at the convention center and very little assigned seating. That means if you thought John Gilstrap was hilarious on a panel and wonder he’s funny when he’s not behind a mic, you can sit at his table!

#7 – Less Business, More Fun

At Magna we have our fair share of editors, agents and publishers attending. They like to keep tabs on their authors. During a larger convention, there are deals going on or work being reviewed. Here people are just having fun. Even the staff of Magna who are working to sell merchandise or the book vendors all feel less pressure because of the friendly atmosphere.

#6 – Continual Conversations

The great Carl Brookins came up with this concept a few years ago. Three authors will sit at a table and talk about whatever they want to. Every 15 minutes, one author will leave and another will take his place. There are plenty of chairs around so people can listen or even participate. The conversations typically range from publishing trends, sports, and why the current season of Doctor Who is so awesome. Some authors are nervous on panels, so this is a more relaxing way to be naturally interesting.

#5 – It’s Small

People read mysteries where the private eye is running through the big city investigating all of its hidden layers. People also read mysteries about the small town that seems like a joy to live in—aside from the murder once a year. We’re the latter. There isn’t the anxiety of everything happening at once and everyone always seems busy. It’s so easy to meet an author you admire or a fan who is caring around a really interesting book.

#4 – The Community is Great

There are plenty of conventions all across the world ranging from the mainstream to the completely bizarre. Those who are excited to attend always leave happy. It’s because this is the weekend when we’re all cool. When you’re talking to your work friends, often times your nerdy references will go over their heads. I guarantee you this is the weekend where your Lord Peter Wimsey joke is really going to hit. You are surrounded by fascinating people who love the books you love. This is the time for great dialog, new recommendations, and wishing every weekend was like this.

#3 – We Have a Focus on Panels

Since we are a program devoted to fans and their appreciation for the genre, we work hard to make sure the panels are worth their while. We want the hour to be insightful and the way to do that is to give them something new. If the author is not reiterating their overdone thoughts on why humor can be done in a mystery or why they write about a certain city, they can become inspired. If the panel goes well, the author’s work can have greater understanding, a new favorite writer can be discovered, or you just laugh yourself silly. To quote A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: “We shall employ every device we know in our desire to divert you.”

#2 – The Authors Are Awesome

Oh sure, we’ve had some big names in the past. We’ve had M.C. Beaton, Mary Higgens Clark, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, and Charles Todd. They were fantastic! You know who else we had? Troy Cook. Troy wrote a hilarious book called 47 Rules of a Highly Effective Bank Robbers and I wouldn’t have discovered that if he didn’t attend Magna. Chatting with the lesser-known authors and discovering gems that deserve to be New York Times bestsellers is a treat all by itself.

#1 – Kathryn Kennison

If I don’t make this a more universal answer, I’m worried she’s going to cut this paragraph. The reason this festival is running is because of her. It’s because of her that people will travel from all over the world to come to Muncie, Indiana. Sure, part of the reason is because we’re all scared of her. The real reason is her passion for every single person who walks through the doors. She is the symbol for all of us behind the scenes. We’re not doing this to become filthy rich or internationally famous. We run this sucker because we love the genre and everyone involved in it. There is no greater example of this than seeing Kathryn welcome everyone to another year of Magna cum Murder.

Originally published in the Magna cum Murder newsletter