F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 20, 2010)

20 08 2010

It’s the one-year anniversary of the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column!  I thought the best way to celebrate that milestone would be by featuring one of my-all time favorites, “Almost Famous.”  It’s not exactly little known given its pretty devoted following and its awards season haul, which included an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Picture.  Although it was criminally snubbed by the Academy for a shot at the top prize, it is still more than worth your time.

The movie, written by director Cameron Crowe, is semi-autobiographical.  As a teenager, he wrote for Rolling Stone and had the pleasure of touring with bands like Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Jealous, anyone?

Young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) discovers music after his rebellious sister (Zooey Deschanel) flees the tyrannical reign of their mother, the strict fundamentalist Elaine, played with brilliant propriety by Frances McDormand.  As a young boy, Elaine thought her son to be so smart that she moved him up two grades in school, thus socially crippling him.  His sister leaves behind a giant record collection, and William’s obsession with music begins.

Not unlike myself, he begins writing about his passion.  We differentiate, however, in the fact that William’s work gets picked up by Rolling Stone.  The industry-leading magazine asks him to follow Stillwater, an up-and-coming rock band, on their tour and write an article on them.  He meets an interesting crowd aside from the band, who are always skeptical of his intentions, particularly lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee).

The most intriguing figure by far and away is the so-called Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), whose name, age, and intentions are always clouded in mystery.  Penny is a different kind of groupie, offering herself to help the band more as a muse to inspire artistic inspiration than to satisfy lustful desires.  She and William, both in their teen years, form a very interesting relationship while on the road.  Hudson, only 21 at the time of the movie’s release, gives an absolutely masterful performance, and her virtuoso turn is only made more astonishing by her age.

But the movie’s real heart and soul comes from William’s friendship with guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup).  It is he who teaches the young journalist to enjoy the ride and love every minute of being able to do what you love.  Indeed, we watch “Almost Famous” with the same sense of wide-eyed wonder of William on the road, and the movie is an exciting experience that inspires our own fantasies of living out a childhood dream.  Even if that doesn’t involve music, Crowe’s true masterstroke will still be able to delight your latent aspirations.

REVIEW: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

4 01 2010

I know my legitimacy will be seriously tarnished by this statement, but I cannot be ashamed to say it.  The “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies are kind of a guilty pleasure.  Dare I say it, those dastardly little rodents are actually kind of adorable.  I think it springs from repeated viewings of “The Chipmunk Adventure” on TV when I was a child.

Don’t get me wrong, you won’t catch me saying that “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is something great, because it isn’t.  I found the sequel’s main triumph to be that it was fairly bearable for me.  My 9-year-old brother and the rest of the theater found it absolutely uproarious, so mission accomplished where it matters the most.

Props to Jason Lee for figuring out a way to minimize his role in the movie by breaking his leg and passing off custodial duties (unknowingly, I must add) of the rambunctious chipmunks to the lazy gaming loser played by Zachary Levi.  The singing sensations have more on their plate than bad guardianship.  They have to deal with (a dismally stereotyped) high school, where they are met with unfamiliarity and hostility among the guys.  Attraction and rivalry mix when they meet the Chipettes, a group of singing female chipmunks trying to take down the male trio.  The Chipettes have the aid of Ian (David Cross), the Chipmunks’ former manager who was cruel and manipulative.  Crazy antics ensue, but I must say that I was very proud of the filmmakers for only having one crotch hit!  Who knew that family comedy was possible without it?  (I do have to add that seeing Anjelah Johnson from the YouTube video “Nail Salon” seriously made my day.  Thank you, casting director.)

It’s unfortunate that the Chipmunks have come to popularity once again in the YouTube era.  If a singer releases a song nowadays, there’s a chipmunk version on YouTube within minutes.  Ranging from Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” to, reprehensibly, the tunes of “Les Miserables,” these technical sorcerers render the official Chipmunks’ covers increasingly irrelevant.  Nevertheless, it excites the kids, and if you are taking them to see “The Squeakquel” instead of some other child-safe movie, clearly you don’t care about your own entertainment.  C- /