Meet the Fockers

 

When Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) says, “I’m going to be Pamela Martha Focker! Yes, I know how that sounds!” it pretty much says it all about this sequel to the money-making machine, the 2000 Meet the Parents.

 

By now just about everyone who wanted to has seen this film starring Robert DeNero, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Blythe Danner, has done so. Pam and Greg (Stiller) accompany his parents, the Focker’s (DeNero and Danner), to Florida in an armored deluxe mobile home, to meet her parents, the Byrnes (Hoffman and Streisand). The Focker’s take their grandson along – supposedly as an excuse for Grandpa Focker to strap on and use his rubber breast set to feed the little guy. And so on and so forth go the gags, unlikely manufactured situations and body parts and functions double entendres that continue until the wedding.

 

Meet the Fockers is funny; you can’t help but laugh. And Hoffman and Streisand make a good acting team in this comedy which truly is so much ado about nothing.

 

I tend to mix up Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller because their movies are  pop entertainments; in other words, they are not about deep thoughts that keep you awake until 3:00 in the morning – nor are they funny enough to keep you laughing much beyond the parking lot. I am not trying to make a distinction between high and low culture here, I’m just observing that people like different kinds of movies.

 

At the end of the day, however, I tend to like Ben Stiller’s movies more than Sandler’s which play heavily and frequently on our need for occasional mindlessness – Spanglish being an impressive and notable exception for Sandler. 

 

The good thing about Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers is that they are films about parents who love their kids and want the best for them. This, the world can use. The rest – you decide.

In Good Company

Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is a 51-year old family man and ad executive for a national sports magazine. He is enjoying his success when a huge multinational media corporation buys the magazine and he is replaced by an upwardly mobile and successful executive from the cell phone division of the corporation, 26-year old, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). Though Dan is not “let go” (the euphemism the corporation used instead of the offensive word “fired”), he is dismayed by the changes and wants to leave with all the people he hired. But his wife’s (Marg Helgenberger) pregnancy and his oldest daughter Alex’s (Scarlett Johansson) transfer to New York University from SUNY, mean he needs the money. So he stays.

 

Carter knows he is out of his depth but plunges ahead. His wife cannot endure his workaholic habits and divorces him. Carter becomes so desperate for some kind of life outside the office that when Dan unwittingly invites him home for dinner, the younger man readily accepts.

 

Carter and Alex become friendly, and then start an intense relationship. Then just when Carter and Dan start to get along well at the office, everything starts to unravel, beginning with Dan’s discovery that Carter and Alex are sleeping together.

 

But what is In Good Company really about? It’s about corporate greed and inhumanity and how individuals and families deal with it, react and respond to it. What I really liked was the part when Teddy-K (MalcolmMcDowell) the mogul, gives a speech about how a corporation is the new democracy, something that operates like a country. You know, held together by synergy. Dan speaks up and says that a democracy takes care of its people, corporations do not. Hear, hear. Like the 1987 film Wall Street and last year’s documentary The Corporation, the audience is very clearly being invited to reflect on the role of money in our personal lives – and how impersonal and inhuman capitalism is as an unstoppable force unless people decide to claim their humanity and morality.

 

In Good Company is funny and warm. Quaid, Grace and Johansson give engaging performances. The film calls our attention to the fact that while capitalism, “the corporation” is not going away, neither is our search for transcendent meaning in our lives and the need for family. If we want to lead meaningful lives, then it is up to us to give capitalism a conscience and make its function a means to an end, not an end in itself.

 

 

Are We There Yet?

When sports memorabilia seller Nick Persons (Ice Cube) spots the lovely divorcee Suzanne (Nia Long) standing outside the party store where she works in downtown Portland, OR, he is smitten. He has just picked up his new late-model Lincoln SUV and is feeling good indeed. But he finds out from his colleague Marty (Jay Mohr) that she has two kids and loses interest. But on the way home, Suzanne’s car breaks down and Nick stops to help her. This leads to Nick bringing Suzanne to and from work as her car is repaired.

 

Suzanne’s children, Lindsey (Aliesha Allen; School of Rock) and Kevin (Philip Bolden), are on the lookout for Mom’s boyfriends and pull all kinds of stunts to get rid of them. They still love their father and don’t want anyone to get in the way of a reunion. So, when Nick turns up, they play their usual pranks, even though he makes it known he doesn’t think much of kids in general and feigns a lack of interest in Suzanne.

 

Suzanne’s ex is supposed to take the kids for New Year’s so Suzanne can go to Vancouver and host a huge party. As Nick drives her to the airport, the ex-husband calls and says he is sick. Suzanne almost cancels the trip to be with the kids, even though she may lose her job over it. But Nick steps up and says he will bring the kids to Vancouver to be with her.

 

Thus starts a hilarious kid-trip from hell, an updated family version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, if you will. You can add in horseback, too. And that beautiful late model Lincoln SUV that Nick thinks is the most important thing in the world? Toast.

 

Are We There Yet? is a funny, touching story about two really smart kids who have  been abandoned and lied to by their dad. Nick is reluctant to get involved at first, but realizing how lonely the kids are for a father and how unwilling they are to trust another man, he steps up to the plate – right along with his bobblehead baseball muse, Satchel Paige (John Witherspoon), who gives more or less good advice all along the way.

 

Are We There Yet? is an enjoyable movie for the family with pro-social themes of  steadfastness, character, and renewing faith by being there for one another. The four main characters all learn something as they journey along. Some of those lessons are learned in pretty darned funny ways, too, think typical kid scenarios. The audience loved it (they screamed with laughter a couple of times, but you’ll have to see it to find out which parts those are). One of our nuns went to see it twice. Now, that’s an endorsement.

 

Some media literacy notes: the Lincoln SUV product placement is very obvious; it would seem that the company wants us to think it is rated combat ready (is that the same as kid – proof?) from the treatment it gets here. Nevertheless, as product placement becomes more and more part of our movie-going experience, it’s good to notice what’s being sold to us even by suggestion, and to talk about it. On the other hand, the analogy of Nick’s attachment to the car and the lifestyle it represents is obvious, and it works. In order for a love story of any kind to work, the characters have to sacrifice something for the other. The loss of his high style ride symbolizes Nick’s transformation into a caring adult (if cars are truly the extension of man, then what happens to the car, happens to the man in one way or another.)

 

The cultural diversity represented in the film is refreshing as well.

Golden Globes 2005: Who I think will win (and who I want to win)

Golden Globes 2005: Who I think will win

(see below for the list of those I would like to see win)

Best Motion Picture Drama
Million Dollar Baby

Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Sideways

Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda

Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Jamie Foxx, Ray
 

Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake

Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Annette Bening, Being Julia

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Thomas Haden Church, Sideways

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Natalie Portman, Closer

Best Director
Alexander Payne, Sideways

Best Screenplay
Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Best Foreign Language Film
House of Flying Daggers
China

Original Score
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

Original Song
”Accidentally in Love” from Shrek 2

TV

Best Drama TV Series
Nip/Tuck

Best Actor in a Drama Series
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
 
Best Actress in a Drama Series
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Best Musical or Comedy TV Series
Desperate Housewives

Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Series
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Series
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie
Nicollette Sheridan, Desperate Housewives

MINISERIES or TV MOVIE

Best Miniseries or TV Movie
Iron Jawed Angels

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Patrick Stewart, The Lion in Winter

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Hilary Swank, Iron Jawed Angels

I would like the Golden Globes to go to:

MOVIES

Best Motion Picture Drama
Hotel
Rwanda

Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Ray

Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda

Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Jamie Foxx, Ray


Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake

Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Emmy Rossum, The Phantom of the Opera 
 

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Jamie Foxx, Collateral

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

Best Director
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator

Best Screenplay
David Magee, Finding Neverland

BestForeign Language Film
The Motorcycle Diaries,
Brazil

Original Score
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland

Original Song
”Believe” from The Polar Express
 

TV

Best Drama TV Series
Nip/Tuck

Best Actor in a Drama Series
Denis Leary, Rescue Me

Best Actress in a Drama Series
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Best Musical or Comedy TV Series
Desperate Housewives

Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Series
Zach Braff, Scrubs

Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Series
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie
Nicollette Sheridan, Desperate Housewives

MINISERIES or TV MOVIE

Best Miniseries or TV Movie
The Lion in Winter

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Patrick Stewart, The Lion in Winter

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Glenn Close, The Lion in Winter

HOTEL RWANDA: Most Significant Film of 2004

Hotel Rwanda is certainly the most significant film of 2004. I want to single it out for its witness to courage and the power of one person and his family, to step forward and do what needs to be done to save the lives of others – sharing the same risk of death.

Don Cheadle’s performance as hotel mamager Paul Rusesabaginais is Oscar worthy, and it would not surprise me if Sophie Okonedo as his wife Tatiana gets a nomination as well.

When the world refused to help and looked the other way, Paul Rusesabagina stayed. Hotel Rwanda tells the story with grit and grace.

Racing Stripes

When a baby zebra falls off the back of a circus truck in rural Kentucky, Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood), a former horse trainer, picks him up from the road and takes him to his farm. His 16-year old daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) names him “Stripes” (voice of Frankie Muniz) and he joins the farm animal community as a little beast who is just a little different. His time in the pasture is spent well.  Everyday he races the mail truck down the lane to the delight of the mail carrier. Stripes can run very fast for his small size.

 

One day Channing’s motorbike gets a flat so she decides to ride Stripes to work at the local race track instead. When her father learns of this he is upset. His wife, Hayden’s mom, died after a fall from a horse and now he has quit training horses and he is afraid to let his daughter ride. When Stripes sees the thoroughbreds run at the track, he decides he wants to be a race horse, too. But the thoroughbreds in the neighboring pasture make fun of him and are determined never to let Stripes win.

 

The other barnyard animals, as well as a stray seagull named Goose (Joe Pantoliano), encourage Stripes. Goose is on the run from the aviary mob on the Jersey shore and adds his own two cents to preparing Stripes to run against the race horses. Meanwhile, Woodzie (E. Emmet Walsh), an old friend of Nolan’s, clocks Stripes and realizes he really can run fast. He convinces Nolan to actually start training Stripes for a special race against the horses of the famed Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick) who used to employ Nolan as a trainer. She wages Nolan: if he loses, he has to go back to work for her. As Stripes trains for the race, two horse flies, Buzz (Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (David Spade) start hanging around, and the fun really begins.

 

Racing Stripes is adelightful film that will entertain all audiences – and it deals with some of the same themes as films like Babe or Finding Nemo: grief, fear for one’s children for one character, and growing up different and following your dreams for another. 

 

Racing Stripes is a great way for families to start the year at the movies. Writer David F. Schmidt, a former major league baseball player, like director Frederik Du Chau and actors Joe Pantoliano and Steve Harvey, all admit that they made this project with children in mind because it tells the story about diversity, community, striving for a goal, teamwork and developing self-confidence. Harvey and Pantoliano in particular mentioned at the press junket that they wanted to be part of a film their own younger children can watch now. Steve Harvey, the voice of Buzz, told of how much he enjoyed working with David Spade, the voice of Scuzz, because he was always trying to “lift him up” so to speak from the dung hill around the race track. There is talk of a cartoon spin-off for the two fly characters that are said to have adlibbed liberally during the taping of the sound track. The horse flies are very, very funny indeed.

 

Racing Stripes was filmed in South Africa so that the filmmakers could have access to zebras for the filming. While no animals were hurt, of course, during the making of this movie, zebras are not very compatible with thoroughbreds. Racing Stripes is fantasy and fun – a movie where everyone learns a lesson for life, laughing all the way.

 

My Top 12 for 2004

Let me begin by saying that 2004 was not a great year for the movies – at least not like 2003. However, some of the 88 films I saw this year (out of 250 top earning movies released in the US) do rise to the top.

 

My criteria for the top 12 are

 

         excellence in filmmaking

         how well the film tells a story

         transcendence

         or the ability of the film to launch conversations about things that matter, beginning with human dignity

         how well the film entertains

 

 

These criteria do not mean that I endorse the POV of the film per se; my top 12 selections reflect mostly how much it got my attention and made me think – or smile. In no particular order, my dozen are:

 

Spider-Man 2

Fahrenheit 9/11

The Corporation

Maria Full of Grace

Garden State

Napoleon Dynamite

Spanglish

Finding Neverland

Hero

Vera Drake

Million Dollar Baby

The Passion of the Christ

 

(My reviews are all available in this blog.)