Funny People

The notion of what is funny on film has changed over the decades from the time of Chaplin to today.  Back then, ol’ Charlie would just find the absurdity of life in small things.  As movies moved into talking pictures, verbal gags began to overtake the physical, but the true masters still found a balance (i.e Abbott and Costello or The Three Stooges).  The 60s and 70s saw movies entering into the world of double entendres and sex – and we never looked back.

So what happens when the kids raised on the comedies of the 70s and 80s grow up?  They continue the trends in the movies we see in the late 90s and 2000s.  The American Pie series helped our raunch needs, but a new comedy trend was on the rise.  Those of us who were kids in the 80s were now adults and we wanted a mixture of the raunch with adult humor.  We also wanted some dark humor.  Ben Stiller led the charge and opened the doors for a steady stream of dependable comedies.  Behind the scenes was Jud Apatow.

Apatow, much like Joss Whedon, struggled to find broad audiences for his material on TV, but he made some great cult classics.  With his films, he has taken an aspect of life and looked at the details and absurdity of it.  He doesn’t try to be raunchy; rather he lets the material stand with no apology.

So, opening day for Funny People had me meeting Heather, Lisa, David, and Ben at the AMC Altamonte for an afternoon matinee.  The trailers were decent, as were our seats.

Funny People is about a comic (Adam Sandler) who has a terminal illness looking for a way to survive and an up-and-coming comic (Seth Rogen) who ends up taking care of Sandler.  Yet the story was even more complex.  Apatow chooses to also explore lost love and professional jealousies, and does so without cheating any of the subplots.

What really works is the amount of attention to making this as real as possible.  By using footage of Adam Sandler’s early years and some of Leslie Mann’s first commercial gigs, the audience is able to have an instant connection with the characters.  What could have been improved is the pacing of the second half – it was significantly slower than the first half.

My advice:  good afternoon movie, full price if you have already seen Harry Potter……

The Plaza Cinema Cafe

A new feature here at TAM will be the periodic review of movie theaters, primarily focusing on those in the Central Florida area.  The first one to be reviewed happens to be the latest to open in Orlando: the Plaza Cinema Cafe.

The Plaza is a return of movies to downtown Orlando and a first for me since I moved here in 1995.  Imagined as part of a large living/shopping conglomerate of three buildings in the Church/Orange block where Terror on Church Street and SAK Comedy Lab once called home, the Plaza almost never came to pass.  The developer who put together the complex, like many others, ending up filing for bankruptcy when the real estate bubble burst.  Over the course of three years, rumors swirled that Regal or AMC were going to still put in a theater.  AMC came the closest, but the deal fell through at the last minute.

Enter a private company that wanted to bring “experience” back into the term “movie experience.”  With so many chains trying to pass of fake IMAX screens, the plaza chose to go for luxury and comfort.  As you walk in, you notice a silence not found in the big chains.  Somehow, a lot of people found ways to carry on conversations without screaming.  The concession stand has the usual offerings, but what is very nice is the availability of sandwiches and other “foods” that could make a decent meal if you had to rush to the theater.  One note is that a “Large” in popcorn or drink is equivalent to a “Medium” or “Small” at AMC and Regal.

In addition to the main concession stand, there is a bar located at each end of the theater.  Between the three stations, one can get beer and wine to enjoy during the movie.  The decor overall is that the Plaza is meant to be not just a place to see movies, but also a place to meet and socialize.  The staff I encountered was very friendly and able to quickly answer any questions I might have.  It also appears that the Plaza has overcome its early difficulties of posting correct showtimes on its website.  The only negative that I have is that the audio in the theater I was in was abnormally loud; the proof not being a preference issue, but a “it’s so loud that the speakers are buzzing and popping” loudness.  Unfortunately I did not see anyone after the movie that I could inform.

The reason for my particular visit was a program that I hope the Plaza continues: featuring arthouse and independent movies.  I had received a weblink to see The Brothers Bloom for free.  Even though admission was free, I still supported the theater by purchasing concessions (where the real profit margin is).  A theater complex that can balance having independent movies as well as current hits is one that will be around for a long time.

My advice: Take in a show and enjoy the experience…

The Proposal

Ryan Reynolds has been doing a great job of moving away from his crazier “Van Wilder” days into more leading man roles befitting his age and range.  Last year, he jumped in the romantic comedy waters with Definitely, Maybe; he does it again here with Sandra Bullock, an actress that does many of them with few home-run successes.

The plot revolves around a professional woman who needs a husband so that she can stay in the country.  Enter Reynolds, her executive assistant.  As a way to get to know him, she accompanies him to Alaska to meet the family and hijinx ensue.  The movie is cotton-candy fluff wrapped around predictability.

What saves this movie is the casting.  Craig T. Nelson playing the gruff father character he mastered while doing the show Coach; Mary Steenburgen as the mother trying to hold things together; and Betty White as the grandmother who almost steals the show.  I say almost because Oscar Nunez from The Office is the true show-stealer, hands down.

My advice:  dollar theater or matinee; full-price date movie if you need one – otherwise, DVD is fine…

State of Play

I missed seeing this movie when it first came out, but ended up catching it at the dollar theater one night when I was bored.

The movie is a political thriller starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, and Rachel  McAdams.  The plot centers around a mysterious shooting the potential links to a “private security” firm being audited by Congress for suspicious activities (think Blackwater).  What follows is a decently-paced thriller that, while somewhat predictable, is enjoyable to watch.

What was of personal interest to me was one major scene taking place at an apartment building in DC.  I know, lots of buildings in DC people are familiar with – why this one?  Well, it was where I visited some old friends while on business in 2002 and of the two buildings, it was the exact one I was in.  So, Oscar and Julia, your building was in a movie.

My advice:  Catch this one on DVD – worth the couple of hours…