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waitress adrienne shellyWaitress

Funny, touching, tough: three words that truly describe this vastly underrated 2007 comedy-drama, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly.  Starring Keri Russell as a pie baker in a terrible marriage, this film is really about standing up for yourself and what is important in your life.


WARM-BODIES_510x317Warm Bodies

There are few films that boast a truly original premise, but Warm Bodies is one of them.  What genre is it?  Well, it’s the only zombie romantic comedy I’ve ever seen.  Written and directed by Jonathon Levine, it stars Nicholas Hoult as a zombie boy who falls in love with a human girl, played by Theresa Palmer.  Great fun!


we_bought_a_zoo_pWe Bought a Zoo!

We Bought A Zoo! is a friendly little movie released in 2011, based on the memoirs of the same title by Benjamin Mee, who bought his own zoo in England.  Starring Matt Damon and Scarlet Johansson as Benjamin and his Zookeeper, the movie features an amazingly cute performance by Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Benjamin’s daughter Rosie.


Words and Pictures Juliette BinocheWords and Pictures

Which is more important: words or pictures?

This is at the core of this powerful 2013 film about education and artistic expression.  The script by Gerald DiPego is extremely well written and the direction by Fred Schepisi is outstanding, but the real reason for this movie’s success is in the two great performances by Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as the two teachers who inspire their students to understand and to achieve more than mere talent can produce.


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 Across_the_Universe_3lgAcross the Universe

Conceived, produced and directed by the eclectic Julie Taymor, this film is a romantic musical that incorporates parts of 34 songs composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and the three of them plus Ringo Starr (“Flying”).  Most of the songs are sung on-screen by the characters, though there are some instrumentals.  This places the film in the category of old-style musicals where people seem to burst into song as a part of the story.  To everyone’s credit, it actually seems to work very well indeed.


1-adjustment-bureau-copyThe Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, is a far-fetched, but very engaging film.  David Norris (Matt Damon) is a Brooklyn politician who meets a fascinating woman, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) on the night that he has just lost the Senate election.  When she runs away, he is motivated to give a galvanizing concession speech that will reenergize his career.


AdventurelandAdventureland

Adventureland is a funny and moving teen romance written and directed by Greg Mattola about a group of teens working at a summer carnival.  The main character, James Brennan, is a student who has just graduated from a small college and is saving up his money to go to the Columbia School of Journalism so he can begin a career in travel writing.  Played with both humor and angst by Jesse Eisenberg, James is trying to find romance, but his own geekiness stands in his way.


All is Lost RedfordAll is Lost

A man sleeps peacefully aboard his small yacht when it suddenly bangs into some sea debris, tearing a hole in the side.  This begins a great survival story where one problems piles upon another as he is tossed across the Indian sea toward shipping lanes and possible rescue.  But he must first face storms, sharks, and other menaces.  And even when he reaches the shipping lanes, will anyone see him?


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Amadeus

A terrible way to triumph over God.  These are the words of 18th Century Italian composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) referring to his murder of the brilliant, meteoric Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ((Tom Hulce). He tells the story to Father Vogler (Richard Frank) who has come to hear his confession at the insane asylum to which Salieri has been confined following a suicide attempt.


 american-hustle-posters-sonyAmerican Hustle

Loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM sting operation, this 2013 film was written by David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer and directed by Russell of The Fighter and  Silver Linings Playbook fame.  Bringing along Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook, he has created a brilliant sting comedy that takes place at the height of disco mania, 1978.


Art of Getting By3The Art of Getting By

In The Art of Getting By (2011), George (Freddie Highmore), a high school senior living in New York City, falls into a fatalistic funk.  Although he is a gifted artist, he realizes that he’s going to die some day and asks himself: What is the point of trying?  Seeing no point, he gives up working on his school assignments, skips class and tests and just skates by as a loner.  Facing this failure, he is placed on academic probation.


Austenland PictureAustenland

The heroine of the movie, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a disheartened Jane Austen fan. Obsessed with the writer, she looks at her own life and sees failed relationships, a dead-end job and no future, so she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to England to resort called Austenland

 

Waitress

waitress keri russell with babyFunny, touching, tough: three words that truly describe this vastly underrated 2007 comedy-drama, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is an amazing pie-maker in some unnamed southern town. She works at Joe’s Pie Diner with her friends, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), under the management of Cal (Lew Temple) and the ownership of Joe (Andy Griffith).  She’s married to a domineering redneck man named Earl (Jeremy Sisto), who takes all of her tip money and bullies her relentlessly, but she’s been hiding away some of the money and she hopes to enter a pie contest where the prize is $25,000–with the intention of leaving him as soon as she can.  This plan gets derailed at the very beginning of the movie when she discovers she’s pregnant.

waitress I don't want earl's baby pieThis brings on the inspiration for her to make tomorrow’s featured pie, the “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie.” Dawn remarks that she shouldn’t probably write that on the menu board, so Jenna changes the name to the “Bad Baby Pie,” a quiche with Brie cheese and a smoked ham center.

waitress I hate my husband pieShe considers making an “I Hate My Husband Pie” made of bittersweet chocolate–unsweetened–made into a pudding and drowned in caramel. Deciding to keep the baby, she goes to see her doctor only to find that her gynecologist has gone into semi-retirement and most of her cases have been taken over by young, attractive Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).  When he congratulates her, she tells him that she doesn’t really want the baby, but is having it anyway, so please don’t be all happy for her.  “It’s not a party.”

Her mother taught her to bake as a child, singing this little song (written by Adrienne Shelly):

Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Baby, don’t be blue, gonna make for you
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Gonna be a pie from heaven above
Gonna be filled with strawberry love
Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Hold you forever in the middle of my heart.

waitress marshmallow-mermaid-pieEverything is about pie creation. She brings the doctor her “Marshmallow Mermaid Pie” that she created when she was nine years old.  She makes a “Falling In Love Pie” (chocolate mousse) for Dawn’s date, and she fantasizes about new pies night and day.  At one point, she considers making a “Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie” that would be a New York cheesecake brushed with brandy and topped with pecans and nutmeg.

waitress earl wants to kill me pie

“I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie”

Finding Dr. Pomatter irresistible, she begins an affair with him and considers making an “Earl Murders Me ‘Cause I’m Having An Affair Pie” made with smashed blackberries and raspberries in a chocolate crust, but decides it would be better to make an “I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie” with vanilla custard and banana–no–hold the banana. Among the other pies mentioned in the movie are the “Spanish Dancer Pie,” the “Naughty Pumpkin Pie,” the “Singing Tuna Casserole,” and “Jenna’s Special Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie.”

After she discovers that Becky is having an affair with Cal, she asks him, “Are you happy?” He answers, “I’m happy enough.  I don’t expect much, give much.  I don’t get much.  I generally enjoy whatever comes up.”  Dawn finds happiness with a little accountant named Ogie, but Earl continues to make Jenna’s life miserable, forcing her to have sex with him, slapping her around, and controlling her.  In fact, she conceives of the “Pregnant, Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie,” made of lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in and served flambé.

In spite of the comedy, the movie holds a very dark side. Earl, for example, though an ignorant bully, has unexpected depth.  He’s never really been loved and he depends on his control over Jenna to give meaning to his life.  Joe, the owner of the Pie Shop, is himself an old loser, but he advises Jenna to leave Earl and start all over.  “This life will kill you,” he says.  “Make the right choice.”

The script contains many unexpected depths and Shelly’s deft direction and control of the story arc keep the movie on point through its one hour and forty-eight minutes. Keri Russell is beautiful, with a big heart that makes you love and root for Jenna to find a way out of her mess.  Nathan Fillion is charming as the nervous, tender Dr. Pomatter.  Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly are funny and poignant as her waitress friends and Andy Griffith is terrific as Joe–again providing unexpected depths.

But the pies are magnificent. Every pie in the movie looks absolutely beautiful and each one acts like a Greek chorus, providing commentary on the action.

waitress adrienne shellyUnfortunately, Adrienne Shelly did not live to see her movie appear at the Sundance Film Festival or to see its critical success. Three months before it was due to open, Shelly discovered a thief in her apartment.  The man panicked and killed her.  A foundation has since been established in her name to help young female filmmakers fulfill their dreams and you man contribute at The Adrienne Shelly Foundation.

Everyone should see this movie! It’s a film that can be seen over and over again with a kind of sensual culinary pleasure, with laughter and tears, and lots and lots of love.

Funny, touching, tough.

Austenland

Austenland PictureAustenland is a movie whose premise holds great promise, but is ultimately disappointing.

Released in 2013, this movie is based on a novel of the same name by Shannon Hale. The film was written by Hale and director by Jerusha Hess. Sadly, both of these creators made some very serious errors in planning this movie.

I haven’t read the book, so it is impossible for me to gauge whether they screwed it up or if it is faithful and the novel simply failed on its own.

The heroine of the movie, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a disheartened Jane Austen fan. Obsessed with the writer, she looks at her own life and sees failed relationships, a dead-end job and no future, so she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to England to resort called Austenland where fans can dress like their favorite characters and act out with British actors hired to emulate such heroes as Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Even her life savings however does not qualify her for anything more than the “copper package” that gives her a tiny room and a disfavored status among the other tourists.

On the way there, she meets a rich and rather stupid American woman who introduces herself as Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) and they travel together. The resort is run by a lady named Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) who has a great disdain for those who bought the cheap plan, the only one of which on this trip is Jane.

Making friends with the groundskeeper/chauffer Martin (Bret McKenzie), she find it tough sledding with the men who play the aristocrats, notably Mr. Heny Nobly (JJ Field) and Colonel Andrews (James Callis). One can guess what happens.  Most of the men fall for Jane while she is making out with Martin.  There are all sorts of hijinks that are supposed to be funny and in the end, she discovers that Martin himself was only an actor, paid to have a romance with her.  Both Martin and Mr. Nobly meet her at the airport on her way home and she rejects them both.

Any serious Jane Austen fan will find that this movie missed the mark in many, many ways.  I really like Keri Russell and I’ve got to say she was more or less wasted in this effort. The script needed to be much more heavy on Jane Austen and less concentrated on trying to be funny.  It could have incorporated a great deal from each of the books and been really funny and witty, but instead, it concentrates on the people playing the parts and one opportunity after another is passed by.  I detest movies that beg for laughs and fits that category.

 If you have an hour and a half to fill, this will keep you entertained, but it falls far short of its potential.