Three Final Weeks of Movies

I was a little inspired after seeing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and I thought it would be a cool to ask myself–and all of you out there–the following questions:

What movie would you watch if you had only 3 weeks left to live?

Dodge and Penny had only 3 weeks left, and obviously they didn’t watch any movies. Look, I get it. If you had three weeks left to live, you would probably be spending it with friends and family, not watching movies. But let’s take all other factors out of the equation–if you had only three weeks left to watch any movies, which ones would they be?

What would be your final 3?

Looking at the upcoming 3 weeks on the calendar, which theater movies would you shell out cash to see?

I think back to an early episode of The Office when Ryan started the fire, and the whole office had to wait outside. Jim started a game of, “If you were on an island, what movies/book/etc would you take with you? Dwight typically doesn’t get involved in these childish games, but when Jim questions him about what book, this is Dwight’s response:

Dwight is all about survivor mode. Good for him.

OK, here are my answers:

What movie would you watch if you had only 3 weeks left to live, and why that movie? 
Well,  I’m not all about “survivor mode” like Dwight, so I’ll be far less conventional and just pick a film I love: Elizabethtown. (For regular readers, this is no surprise.) I would have chosen (500) Days of Summer, because it currently sits as my favorite film. However, since I’m pretty close to death, I’d like to end on a happier note. And those of you who have seen (500) Days know that it does end kind of on a happy note–one of hope. And that’s a little ironic considering there’s little hope left if a meteor were to crash into the earth.

What would be your final 3?
If I had to choose 3 movies as my last 3 movies to ever see, they would be The Artist, Inception, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Looking at the upcoming 3 weeks on the calendar, which theater movies would you shell out cash to see?
This is an easy answer–The Dark Knight Rises, of course!

OK, people, it’s your turn. There are no wrong answers, so don’t be shy. Dr. Horrible is one of my final three, so you have no reason to be embarrassed by any of your answers! What movie would you watch if you had only 3 weeks left to live, and why? What would be your final 3 movies you could watch? And looking at the upcoming 3 weeks on the calendar, which theater movies would you shell out cash to see?

Ten Reasons I Enjoyed Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

1) Kiera Knightly played a modern-day person.

From playing Elizabeth Swan to Elizabeth Bennet, Kiera Knightly has played every period-piece role under the sun. Some, good; some, not so good. Finally, someone–specifically first-time director Lorene Scafaria–decided Knightly could take another stab at playing a character set in modern time (yes, I know Knightly’s had a few other roles in “current” time, such as Love Actually and that teen soccer movie). I was a big fan of Knightly being just another everyday person.

2) The soundtrack.

The soundtrack is quirky and fun, and has only one score song (which I still recommend buying!), and completely fitting for the film. It makes me wonder what would be playing on my iPod if it were the end of the world. The trailer song, “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads, is worth the $1.29 on iTunes alone. Other favorites included “Stay With Me Baby” by The Walker Brothers, “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies, and my absolute favorite, “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

3) The use of vinyl records.

I appreciated the irony of using something considered age-old in a modern-day, end-of-the-world flick. Kiera Knightly’s character, Penny, plays this quirky girl who–of course–must love records. But the use of vinyl playing in the film, and the way the music filled the theater made me appreciate the beautiful sound that you can get only from listening to a record.

4) The non-fake-out ending.

Some people will feel the complete opposite I do about the ending; that’s perfectly fine. I fully appreciated the ending, [SPOILER] in that it was what the movie set out to be–the end of the world. If the end of the world were to hit in the way the movie presented, it would be very similar (in my mind) to dying. Instant. Sudden. Lights out. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World didn’t try to be some sci-fi, open-ended film, but be exactly what the title describes it as–seeking a friend for the end of the world.

5) The really funny dude who keeps popping up T. J. Miller.

T. J. Miller cracks me up. In SAFFTEOTW, he plays a hilarious waiter. Watch the trailer below to catch him in action (1:58). His voice is instantly recognizable, and from what I’ve seen him in, he’s on screen to fulfill one purpose: make people laugh. And this isn’t even his first end-of-the-world flick. He also played the “camera man” in Cloverfield, the first movie I remember him from. Miller has also played funny, minor roles in She’s Out of My League, and most recently, a hilarious scene in Rock of Ages.

6) Sorry, and what he represents.

In the last 3 weeks of its life (and the world’s life), a dog–who remains nameless to viewers–assumes the new name of “Sorry” when Dodge wakes up with the dog sitting nearby and a piece of paper taped to him with the one-word message of “sorry.” It’s a pity and a sad thing that someone would be heartless enough to leave a dog to fend for itself in the world’s remaining days, but Sorry added to the overall realness of the film. Accompanying Dodge and Penny on their journey, Sorry serves as a reminder that there are still helpless beings alive and in need of care, even in the world’s last days. And I suppose it is the selflessness of characters like Dodge who choose to care for the Sorrys left to themselves, even in the world’s last remaining weeks, that make us thankful for the Dodges in the real world.

7) Steve Carell tried to drink window cleaner.

Carell has mastered so many different levels of funny, from being Michael in The Office to his other hilarious roles in Date Night, AnchormanThe 40-Year-Old Virgin, and his voice work in Despicable Me. Carell also somehow manages to tug heartstrings in other movies like Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, his character doesn’t deal with the impending news of the end of the world at the beginning. While others are killing themselves or partying like crazy, he sits motionless and unresponsive. Finally, after a great deal of frustration builds up after having his wife run out on him, he resorts to return to the place where she left him–a park–and while clinging onto a new bottle of window cleaner he has just purchased for his housecleaner, decides to open the bottle and swig down a big gulp. Of all the ways to consider taking one’s life, I couldn’t help but find the humor in this action, even though the context was serious.

8) The odd pairing of Steve Carell and Kiera Knightly.

You would think that placing Carell and Knightly opposite one another would be a formula for disaster. In the strangest way possible, however, they really do work well for this movie. I tend to be attracted to a film that, while it follows a linear structure, somehow is able to turn a story on its head and be different without appearing as if it’s trying too hard. In my mind, SAFFTEOTW achieves just that, starting first with its two protagonists. The movie is whimsical and light while also balancing heavy and dark moments, and the odd mixture of Carell and Knightly fills out the film well with that combination of quirky oddness, reality, and endearment.

9) The questions the film provokes you to think after viewing.

I’ve hit on this point in the previous numbers, but I have to say, I really do enjoy a movie that demands some kind of thought after viewing it. Maybe not every end-of-the-world movie gets you thinking, but I think it’s safe to say that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World achieves the goal of making people ask themselves what they would do with their lives if they had only 3 weeks left to live (and consider those 3 weeks to not include flights to anywhere or cell phones to communicate). What would you do? Who would you spend your time with? It’s a striking thought when you consider that things like clothes and cars and all material things cease to matter in a world that doesn’t exist in three weeks, isn’t it?

10) It’s Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut.

Lorene Scafaria is one of those screenwriters who has worked and worked and worked and written and been turned down numerous times. I’m excited that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World finally got her a much-deserved break that has placed her name into the mainstream. Although she’s known more for the screenwriting bomb of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was her ninth screenplay and her first adaptation, I believe that a movie like SAFFTEOFW is an excellent directorial debut for Scafaria, and that it shows off her great potential for both writing and directing future films.

OK, has anyone else seen this movie yet? If so, what did you guys think of it? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Oh, and if you had only 3 weeks left to live, what would you do with the time?

Backstage Spotlight: Dan in Real Life Bonus Features (2007)

Bonus features, special features, extras–whatever you want to call them–are usually on most movies you end up renting or owning. I find them particularly fun to watch, if I have the time. What’s crazy is that I’ve seen Dan in Real Life a handful of times over the past 4 years, yet I never took the time to check out the bonus features until last night.

Let’s break it down.

Behind the Scenes

Writer-director Peter Hedges’s ultimate goal, it seems, is to make films that are different. That’s one of his big points in the “behind the scenes” featurette on the DVD. Dan in Real Life  supports his idea of being different by really being its own movie. Hedge has written a few films across the board throughout his career, from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) to About a Boy (2002). Hedge acts as director and co-writer for Dan, bringing to life Pierce Gardner’s writing. That cast had only great things to say about Hedges (of course!), but many of them noted that he was much different than the typical director in that he was very down to earth and was always bringing something different to the table.

One really interesting thing I caught from the featurette was that the entire cast, spare Steve Carell, came onto set a week before shooting to rehearse and hang out in the house where the majority of the movie was filmed. As much as I’ve seen the movie, I really felt like the cast was a family. It’s now only evident that the week they spent getting to know one another paid off in the end product.

About the Score: Sondre Lerche

This segment of the Bonus Features was my favorite. Typically, there isn’t anything expressed in detail regarding the score of a film listed within the special features, especially with someone considered less known, like Sondre Lerche. Dan in Real Life introduced me to this impressive, one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter-composer. No doubt there are a million other Sondre Lerche singer-songwriters floating around, but Lerche separates himself from the rest with his added talent of film composition. Before Hedge contacted Lerche, he had never heard of him, much less could pronounce his name. Hedge’s goal was to bring the film and soundtrack together by finding music that represented the title character, Carell’s Dan. In a nutshell, Lerche fulfilled that goal for Hedge, and a fantastic collaboration was born.

The rest of Lerche’s band flew in from Norway to sing and play in the background of the end scene in the film. Sondre Lerche might not be everyone’s cup of tea (such as Roger Ebert, who specifically called the film out on it!), but in my opinion, his music fit Dan in Real Life nicely, and didn’t come across too literal.

Deleted Scenes

Dan in Real Life might hold the record for the largest number of deleted scenes. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but viewing 11 new or extended versions of scenes got exhausting and boring fast. There was only one deleted scene I might have even appreciated in the film, and it wasn’t even memorable. Each of these scenes–and probably a few more from the final cut–deserved to be on the cutting board.

Do you ever watch the Bonus Features on your favorite films? What did you think of Sondre Lerche’s score? Did you notice that Office alum Amy Ryan costarred in the film with Steve Carell?

AEOS Double Review: Win Win and Warrior

Last weekend, I got to see two GREAT movies that probably would have made my top 10 list for 2011 (or very close to it), had I not already made the list days earlier.

Win Win and Warrior are incredibly different movies, but the one thing they share in common is fighting. In Win Win, Paul Giamatti plays a frustrated high school wrestling coach. Warrior features Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as estranged brothers, both with past mixed martial arts skills who enlist in the same fighting tournament.

WIN WIN

Paul Giamatti, in like every other movie he plays any type of role in, shines, playing a guy named Mike Flaherty who’s a struggling attorney and coach of a pathetic high school wrestling team. He and his wife, Jackie, played by the lovely Office alum Amy Ryan, have two daughters. Mike is well aware that his job is not paying the bills, and that he needs to do something, and fast. One of his clients, Burt Young (Leo Poplar), is without a guardian and will be forced by the state to stay in a retirement home. The catch is that whoever is Young’s guardian is in for a nice sum of money each month. Mike convinces the judge that he’s the man for the job, and takes the title of Mr. Young’s guardian. The only problem is that Mike doesn’t have time between his jobs and family to watch an elderly man, so he enlists him in a retirement home anyway–convincing him that this is what the judge ruled–while still cashing in the checks.

Not much later, Young’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), meets with Mike, and a whole new set of actions take place. Kyle takes up residence with the Flaherty’s, enrolls in the local high school, joins Mike’s wrestling team–and becomes the star wrestler–meanwhile, Mike is continuing to cash Young’s checks in secret.

It all comes together in the end, although as a viewer, I wondered how that was going to be possible as it seemed to get messier as time went by.

I really enjoyed this movie. The actors all looked like regular, every day people, and in part, made it such a believable story. The relationship between Mike and Kyle grew, almost claiming a father/son-like relationship. Mike provided for and encouraged Kyle, while Kyle gave Mike a reason to believe in wrestling again.

Thomas McCarthy both wrote this brilliant script, as well as directed the film. He’s played a variety of small roles, but his most well-known accomplishment is his screenplay for the Pixar success, Up. Win Win is only his third movie to have directed. I hope to see more from this guy in the near future.

While the story was exceptionally strong, a lot of credit has to go to the actors for developing and playing out strong characters. Bobby Cannavale, who played Mike’s best friend, Terry, was especially humorous in scenes, breaking the drama up a little bit. Giamatti and Ryan worked well together as husband and wife, and parents wanting to always do the right thing, but sometimes failing. Alex Shaffer might have been the stand-out in the cast, playing a realistically troubled, yet kind and grounded teenager.

Win Win was a highly underrated movie for 2011. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Win Win = 4/5 eyes on screen.

WARRIOR

Initially, I wasn’t going to see Warrior. I didn’t fine The Fighter from 2010 entirely compelling, and wasn’t up for another fighting movie. But from the excellent reviews I was reading on the movie, I decided to give it a chance, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

I am officially a Tom Hardy fan. I’ve seen him in Inception and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and his role in Warrior is exceptional–and surprisingly left off awards lists. Between an incredibly convincing American accent, and playing such a complicated character, Hardy went in for the kill in Warrior. Stripped of any kind of happy demeanor, being estranged from both his now sober father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), and older brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Hardy’s character Tommy comes home and announces to his father that he’s interested in taking up fighting again. He gets his dad to train him, but reminds him that there would be only training–no affection, connection, familial ties, forgiveness–just training.

On the other end of the spectrum, Edgerton plays the dead opposite type of character–a high school physics teacher who’s married, has a family and friends. But with facing financial issues and the ugly possibility of his house foreclosing, Brendan, too, takes up fighting again, asking his friend Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) to train him.

Warrior is filled to the brim with spot-on performances, including both Frank Grillo as Brendan’s trainer, and Jennifer Morrison as Tess Conlon, Brendan’s wife. Nick Nolte hits just the right rhythm as the failed father trying to win back his sons. We feel for his character throughout the entire movie, even as we learn that his past is what drove both his sons from him. But he’s changed now and he wants his sons to know that–only they don’t care anymore. Paddy listens to self-help tapes and claims multiple times that he’s 1000 days sober, even turning down a drink from Tommy. Paddy again tries to connect with Tommy, only to be given one of the biggest verbal smackdowns of how he’s old and unneeded. He hits the brink of suicide, throwing in the towl. Tommy finds beer bottles all over the floor the next morning, Paddy crying while mindlessly chanting random lines from self-help tapes. It’s then that Tommy finally forgives his father.

The movie had a couple of those great moments, like when Tommy forgave his father, that brought Warrior full circle. The dramatic moments were well-paced and the fighting scenes were rough, but choreographed well enough to not appear like it was too easy or too hard to win.

Warrior is a moving, compelling, and heartwarming movie that relies not on the sport as its center, but a broken family struggling to mend itself together. It has a lot of heart, and a lot of great moments.

Warrior = 4/5 eyes on screen

Long vs. Short Character Arcs

Before we had technicolor filmstrips, composers, and some serious technological advances, film and TV competed against one another for viewers’ attention. Although people today don’t choose to be a fan of either one or the other, there are still interesting comparison/contrasts between the two entertainment media. Many actors prefer one channel or the other to perform in, while some like taking part in both.

Earlier this year, I was reading this interview in Collider.com with John Krasinski and Ginnifer Goodwin for their then upcoming movie, Something Borrowed. Krasinski admits that without a doubt, playing a character in a long-time running TV show, The Office, is far more fun than playing a character in a movie who has to let it all out in one scene.

I understand that TV shows allow actors to flesh out their characters, continually building on what they know and adding and taking away from characters they play. It’s fun for the actors. But what do viewers prefer? I never really considered this question before I read the article and thought back about how television and film used to compete for viewers’ attention. Film was the beginning, and since then TV has become a huge medium in today’s society. And most people you ask may prefer one or the other, but are typically not opposed to either. And that’s really what it is–a preference, not a “must have,” or “should be.”

If you look at Krasinski’s character on The Office, Jim Halpert, you know that eventually he and Jenna Fischer’s “Pam” will get together. But we also know that it isn’t going to happen right away, because why would there be a need for a television show then? No, it must be drawn out. In that particular case, it takes three full seasons for the inevitable to happen. In Something Borrowed, his character, Ethan, has an arc–but a very short one. In fact, he drops a big bomb on the main character, Rachel, in one of the last scenes.

Whether it be television or a movie, the characters always start at a starting point. That way, there’s room to grow, learn, and develop relationships. While a movie typically has two hours on average to get it all figured out, TV shows often have multiple seasons with as many as 25 episodes a season. So which is better–the short or the long character arc? I believe it all comes down to context. And if the character arc fits the time allotted to the medium, then it suits it well. Although today, both media have clearly lost their predictability all around. Today, a TV show’s main character’s relationship will inevitably reach some resolution between seasons 3 and 5. Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Glee, Psych, the list goes on. Everyone has to stick around for a later season to see the characters get together; therefore, there always must be a certain amount of relationship drama occurring in seasons 1-3.

In movies, typically something bad happens in the beginning of the film to the main character. Then, that character makes a life or environmental change to their situation. He or she is introduced to someone, and a new relationship begins, develops, deals with drama, splits, and inevitably comes together in the end. Many movies are exceptions to that rule, but this is a very common foundation screenwriters use for movies.

Jim and Pam

Obviously, this is all just my opinion on characters arcs in television and film. So here’s a pro/con list I came up with to conclude the topic:

Long Character Arcs (in television):

Pros: Well-developed character, more detailed, more room to be less predictable = possibility of more surprise, greater relatability

Cons: Ability to have over-written characters, drastic changes to characters can anger audience, space to be over-dramatized, repetitive

Ethan and Rachel

 

Short Character Arcs (in movies):

Pros: Challenge for actors to adapt, well-written characters, writer is forced to follow a direct path, typically less dramatic

Cons: Less originality, ability to have under-developed characters, less relatability, predictable story arcs, lacks in detail