June 29, 2011

Cedar Rapids

June 30, 2011

I probably liked this movie so much because I lived in Iowa for four years. I thought it was a little gem.

Ed Lippe (Ed Helms), the main character, an idealistic and naive insurance salesman in small-town Wisconsin, goes to the big city, Cedar Rapids, for a regional conference in hopes of securing for the third year in a row the Three Diamonds Award for his company. The man who was originally supposed to attend the convention died suddenly in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident!

Although his boss has warned him to stay away from one particular attendee, Dean Zeigler (John C. Reilly), Ed naturally ends up rooming with “Deansie” and Ronald Wilkes (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.), an African-American man whose skin color initially shocks the sheltered Ed. The three men also hook up with a female insurance agent (Anne Heche).

The plot is predictable. Overgrown adolescent Ed loses his ideals and learns that the convention and the award are shallow, hypocritical, and downright corrupt. He becomes a man.

I’ve seen this story lots of times before. Why does this version work so well?

First of all, the entire cast seems to be having fun, especially Anne Heche, who, whenever she's on TV or in the movies, acts like she wants to be somewhere else. Ed Helms is the perfect straight man-child. Even after his illusions about the award he covets are shattered, he manages to extricate himself in a way that reinforces his essential goodness and innocence.

However, the real star here is Deansie—the right actor in the right place at the right time with the right lines to say. Dean is also a familiar type, the anarchist who just happens to be the most honest man around. He’s a loud, foul-mouthed, fat, divorced, alcoholic wastrel who burps and farts his way through the movie. Yet he’s more upright and moral than Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), the “respectable” prime mover behind the convention who’s not above taking bribes.

Ed believes that, in the past, Dean has poached clients from his boss. But when Dean, who easily confesses to drinking, smoking, and eating too much and to pinching too many women’s behinds, swears he would never steal a client, Ed takes him at his word. Why? Because he’s already admitted to his failings. He has no reason to lie. His fundamental decency fits not only the person we’ve come to know but also the situation he’s in.

Finding the best mix of good and bad in a character is devilishly hard to do. Think about Sue Sylvester on Glee. A fun character portrayed by a wonderful actress who’s been let down pretty consistently by bad writing, feeble attempts to humanize her and round her out that don’t gel with her increasingly manic and unsympathetic outbursts. Her behavior would surely result in, at the very least, her being fired from her job if she weren’t on television.

Not so here. Dean helps Ed but never once stops spewing four-letter words or being totally outrageous—including one of the very last scenes while the credits are rolling when he manages a feat I’d read about in my college newspaper but never really thought was possible.

I’m not going to tell you what it is. See the movie for yourself and find out, while spending an hour and a half with characters who are hilarious, flawed, and utterly real, thanks to joyful acting and even better writing.

June 26, 2011

Where Did the Time Go?

June 26, 2011

I’ve neglected this blog for months now, even though whenever I check the stats, as I do every few days, I’m pleased that plenty of people are still reading what I have to say. So, everyone out there, thanks for your patience while I’ve taken a little break.

Where have I been? At home.What have I been doing? A few things.

February 3, 2011

The King's Speech

February 3, 2011

If you follow movies at all, you surely know by now that “The King’s Speech” received 12 Oscar nominations. They’re well deserved.

On one level, the film is a “bromance” of opposites. Prince Albert (Colin Firth), father of Queen Elizabeth and soon to become George VI, King of England, suffers from a debilitating stammer that court physicians haven’t been able to cure. The future Queen Mum (Helena Bonham Carter) asks speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help. Logue is unorthodox, not the least because he’s from Australia. In the end, he wins the future king’s trust and enables him discover the power of his own voice.

January 29, 2011

Remembering Challenger

January 29, 2011

Friday was the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, one of those awful where-were-you moments I remember as if it happened only yesterday.

I was working as a systems analyst for McDonnell Douglas at the Johnson Space Center. I was attending a training session, when one of the technical support people interrupted our class to make the announcement. At first, I thought he must be kidding. It took a minute to sink in.

January 6, 2011

True Grit

January 6, 2010

I have to admit that I approached the remake of “True Grit,” the Coen brothers current version of the 1969 John Wayne film, with some trepidation. The original is a classic, so why tamper with perfection?

The new movie is entertaining and, though not as good as the earlier one, altogether better than I thought it would be.

December 17, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

December 16, 2010

Years ago, whenever a Woody Allen film opened, I was first in line. These days, not so much. That was why I waited until this one reached the dollar cinema before taking the plunge. I’m glad I didn’t pay the full price.

The plot, such as it is, involves the lives of two British couples living in present-day London, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), the parents of Sally (Naomi Watts) who is married to Roy (Josh Brolin). The elders have divorced because Alfie, like his namesake in a classic 1966 film and its 2004 remake, has serious issues with women and himself.

December 14, 2010

Says Who?

December 12, 2010

Lately, I’ve been revisiting one of those novels of mine that I thought was finished but really isn’t. Editors want to see much more of the main female character.

Okay, I thought. I’ll change Sophie (that’s her name) from third- to first-person. Simple enough.