Sunday, September 26, 2010

“Life As We Know It” (Movie Review)

The Fall Semester of my movie class has begun with this morning’s bonus screening of the romantic comedy “Life As We Know It”, starring Katherine Heigl (whoalso took an Executive Producer credit) and Josh Duhamel.


When a womanizer and lonely single woman are paired to be foster parents for their mutual friends’ recently orphaned infant, they are forced to change their lifestyles for the best interests of the baby – but after they find that their personalities are incompatible with each other, can they somehow find a way to put their differences aside in order to be responsible caretakers of the child?


Holly (Heigl) and Messer (Duhamel) are set up via a blind date arranged by a husband and wife who are their mutual friends – the couple’s belief being that these two are perfect for each other.  Unfortunately, when Messer shows up an hour late and Holly’s inflexibly stiff personality prevents her from going with the flow, the date doesn’t get off to a very good start – in fact, the date doesn’t come off at all when she refuses to ride his motorcycle and he makes a booty call on his cell phone during the date.  While they are determined to never see each other again after this disaster, this becomes impossible due to the fact that they share friends. 

Things take a turn for the worse for all involved when the couple who pair them up in the first place die in an automobile accident, leaving their only child, an infant named Sophie, an orphan.  Much to everyone’s surprise, their good friends Holly and Messer are named in the couple’s will to be the ones to take care of their baby in the event of their untimely death.  With neither one of them particularly well - equipped to be part of a couple – much less a parent – they attempt to attain an uneasy truce for the sake of the child.  Since each of them intensely dislike the other and are both very career – driven – he as the Technical Director for the Atlanta Hawks televised basketball games and she as a baker with her own store in the city – neither seem especially prepared to make the necessary sacrifices in order to do what is the best for this little girl. 

With Holly having a crush on Sam, an obstetrician who happens to be a regular customer in her bakery, and Messer continually adding another notch in his bed post with one one-night-stand after another, neither seem to be mature enough to be able to settle down and provide the type of stable environment in which Sophie must be raised.  This becomes an area of great consternation for the Social Worker assigned to their case by the state’s Child Protection Services.  But by the time the Social Worker has to provide the state with her final report on these two, will Holly & Messer be able to convince her – and each other – that they are the best choice possible to raise Sophie?


In setting us up for this movie, our instructor characterized it as “a confection”.  I suppose that would be a polite way of describing “Life As We Know It”; my characterization of it, however, would be more like “a contrivance”.  While I don’t want to take the easy way out and summarily dismiss this movie for the formulaic Hollywood fluff it clearly aspires to be (and largely succeeds, I must say), I do have to admit that it would be an easy target upon which to unload for its unsophisticated approach and cloying sentimentality.  For better or worse, however, the fact of the matter is that major Hollywood hits often succeed precisely because they have found a way to conform to a particular formula that is known to work; it then becomes a business matter of determining who is the demographic to which such a movie is targeted and how best to appeal to its members.  One issue of a technical nature that was interesting from a filmmaking standpoint was the fact that if you check the credits, you will notice that there were actually three babies used in shooting this movie; our instructor made a point of mentioning that the filmmakers used triplets instead of twins when casting the role of Sophie.  Normally, movies that feature a baby cast twins because children are limited to the amount of hours they can work on a film; in this case, the filmmakers cast triplets, allowing them even lengthier shooting days with the adult stars of the film. 

As with many formulaic movies of this type, if you buy into the premise, then you buy into the film as a whole.  So, the central question then becomes whether or not you buy into the premise.  If you don’t buy into a movie’s premise, then you tend to fall out of the story rather early and start noticing certain details that you might not have picked up had you bought into it from the start.  I was unable to buy into this movie’s premise and as a result, started noticing things that many people who enjoyed the movie either didn’t notice, or subconsciously noticed but chose to ignore simply because they appreciated the movie more than I.  Examples would include such items as my inability to suspend my disbelief in the idea that the couple who named Holly & Messer as their child’s caretakers chose not to discuss this rather crucial matter of their baby’s upbringing with either person; both of them were taken aback when they learned of this.  Another thing I found hard to believe was the fact that many of Holly’s telephone conversations took place on a land line when most of today’s late-20-somethings and early-30-somethings have done away with land lines in favor of strictly using cell phones.

In my class’s post – screening discussion, the overwhelming majority seemed to really enjoy the movie quite a good deal.  Then again, I suppose that you have to keep in mind that most of the students in this class are women (and older women, at that).  So, if that’s the demographic into which you fall – female, and especially, those over 40 – then this might just be the kind of film you’d appreciate.  To me, it really does seem like the type of thing that is best suited for a “Girls’ Day Out” – perfect post – brunch viewing for women on a weekend afternoon.  But as a date flick?  I don’t know about that one – the men in this particular audience (including myself) seemed considerably less than enthusiastic about “Life As We Know It”. 

Monday, September 06, 2010

“Laughing On The Outside” by Martin Knelman (Book Review)

Laughing On the Outside:  The Life Of John Candy by Martin Knelman

I just finished reading this book, which was published a couple of years after the death of comedian John Candy – an unauthorized biography by Canadian cultural journalist Martin Knelman. 

At the time he broke loose of these mortal coils, John Candy was an endless partier – someone who not only ate too much (330 lbs. at the time of his death but was, reportedly over 400 lbs. at one point, with a waist measuring in excess of 60 inches), but also. a man who drank far too much, worked more than he needed (as might be easily observed by his poor choice of scripts) and stayed up way too late, attempting to cajole newly – found friends and business partners. 

Laughing On The Outside” chronicles the tumultuous rise and fall of one of the great comic actors of TV and movies, the late (and sorely missed) John Candy.  Candy, who came up through the Toronto branch of the Second City comedy group and later gained fame through the syndicated television show “SCTV”, went on to become a major American movie star, despite many ill – conceived flops throughout his career.  Perhaps because of his likeable quality and apparent vulnerability, Candy was always able to transcend even the poorest of scripts to appeal to the common folks who could relate to the average guy he portrayed in most movies.

While generally well - written, the book collapses mostly from the fact that it is, at its source, admittedly an unauthorized biography.  By that, I mean simply the fact that many of Candy’s closest allies – his family, friends and collaborators – were most reluctant to participate in contributing to this work.  Why?  Well, for one thing, this book was published only two years after the comedian’s death – perhaps too little time had elapsed for loved ones to be able to remain objective about his life.  As a result, the few who did contribute – distant friends and business partners, mostly – gave (at best) second or third – hand tales about the book’s subject that may not necessarily have been the most insightful, albeit, arguably, the most objective.  Therefore, the book suffers from this absence of intimacy into the life of Candy – without the observations of his closest friends and especially his family, the book lacks the value a biography of this type could possibly have – the real explanations behind the tragic, untimely demise of this warm and wonderful comic actor who kept so very many of us enthralled in such movies as “Trains, Planes And Automobiles” and “Uncle Buck”. 

Perhaps another shortcoming if this biography is the fact that it was written such a brief time after Candy’s death.  John Candy died in the early spring of 1994 while shooting the movie “Wagons East” – the book was originally published in late 1996.  Would it have been a better book if written longer after his death?  Who knows?  It definitely would have been a different book – that’s for certain.  There is the saying that “time heals all wounds”; if this had been taken into consideration, maybe more people who knew Candy most intimately would have felt comfortable contributing to a piece on his life.  As it is, however, this work stands as something that was assembled in a superficial, hastily – written way.    Maybe someday, something more substantial will be published about the life of this magnificent comic that gave so many of us an incredible amount of entertainment – until then, however, fans will be left to speculate about both his fatherless upbringing and his premature death at the age of 43. 

Friday, September 03, 2010

“Three Sheets” by Zane Lamprey (Book Review)

Three Sheets: Drinking Made Easy! 6 Continents, 15 Countries, 190 Drinks, and 1 Mean Hangover by Zane Lamprey

Promoting his cult hit TV Show “Three Sheets” (which appeared on such TV Channels as Mojo, The Fine Living Network and The Travel Channel), host Zane Lamprey wrote this book in part to try to find a new home for the show (and someone who’d finance a 5th season) as well as to publicize the new show he’s hosting on Mark Cuban’s HDNet channel, called “Drinking Made Easy”. 

For those of you who never saw the “Three Sheets” show, it was a drinking show that might best be described as an international pub crawl – Lamprey traveled the globe in search of new cocktails and to educate viewers on drinking customs from cultures around the world.  Although “Drinking Made Easy” won’t debut until this fall, my understanding of the difference between the two shows is that “Drinking Made Easy” will be shot only in cities around the United States; as a matter of fact, during Lamprey’s recent nationwide comedy tour to promote both the book and the new TV show, many new episodes for the show were shot in each of the cities included in the tour. 

“Three Sheets” the book is basically a compilation of many (but certainly not all) of the best episodes from the four seasons the TV Show “Three Sheets” was on the air.  The book is divided into four major sections based on the continents Lamprey visited during the course of the show – namely, Europe, The Americas (North & South), Asia & Oceania and Africa.  Each chapter within the sections focuses on a different country that appeared in an episode of the “Three Sheets” show during seasons 1 through 4. 

The section on Europe includes chapters on Ireland, France (specifically, the Champagne region), Scotland, Belgium and Poland.  The Americas section has chapters on Mexico (the state of Jalisco, the episode for which focused on Tequila and Mescal), Argentina, Jamaica, St. Martin/St. Maarten and Las Vegas.  In Asia & Oceania, he visited Taipei, New Zealand and Japan.  Finally, Africa’s section includes only two chapters – Tanzania and South Africa. 

I’m not exactly sure why Lamprey didn’t include a chapter for each one of the episodes of “Three Sheets” – maybe because he didn’t have enough material to justify an entire chapter for the other countries, maybe because he’s planning a second edition in the event that “Three Sheets” gets picked up for a 5th season.  We’ll see, I suppose.  In any event, while many of my favorite episodes are included in this book, there are a few that are omitted – specifically, the episodes where he visited Belgium (where he was upstaged by some guy who goes by the moniker of The Beer Hunter), Kentucky (trying different kinds of bourbons) and Chile (which, most gratefully, introduced me to The Pisco Sour). 

On the plus side, each chapter of the book contains some material that – for one reason or another – didn’t make it into the TV episode when it aired.  Just like each episode ends with a hangover remedy, so does each chapter – the difference in the book being that he rates each remedy on a scale of one to three sheets (one sheet being the worst and three being the best – you’ll have to read the book to find out which remedy Lamprey rated at an astounding four sheets!).  Where I would be critical about the book is with respect to its placement of sidebars; while the sidebars themselves were generally informative and interesting, they were often misplaced.  Sidebars, in order to work and be relevant, should be placed within the heading specific to that particular topic; far too often in this book, they were not – instead, the sidebars were frequently placed either before or after the appropriate heading, which was a little confusing while reading the book. 

All in all, the book “Three Sheets” – not unlike the TV Show “Three Sheets” – is simultaneously informative and amusing as you learn about various wines, spirits and beers.  If you were a fan of the TV show and don’t have access to the old TV episodes, this book will recall many fond memories from the show.  On the other hand, if you never saw the TV show, the book will give you a good idea what it was like, but by no means can ever be a complete replacement because much of the humor was so visual.  In case you’re curious about the TV show, you can buy DVD’s from previous seasons on Mojo’s Web site or view them online at Hulu.