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A tender story about a young woman's coming of age
Shopgirl is about a young 20-something woman, Mirabelle (Claire Danes) who works selling gloves at Saks Fifth Avenue in L.A. She spends most of her day behind the counter with not much to do and at night she goes home alone to her apartment in Silverlake, with only her cat to keep her company. She dreams of being an artist and of a man who will one day sweep her off her feet and awaken her drab and lifeless existence.
Later on she meets two completely different men. The first one she meets is Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), who works as a font designer for a company that sells amplifiers to rock bands. Jeremy is hopelessly clueless about the nuances of romance, naive, bumbling, and goofy. However, Mirabelle does plant the seeds of ambition in his mind to go out and do something significant in his life, which he does in going out on the road with a rock band. Toward the end of the movie, we see that Jeremy has changed for the better, and he evolves as a person as well. He was very funny and the surprising comic relief in the film. The scene where the gold-digging rival shopgirl Lisa (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) mistakes Jeremy for Ray Porter was especially funny.
The second one is Ray Porter (Steve Martin), a handsome, rich, sophisticated older man who meets Mirabelle at Saks and buys a pair of gloves from her. He then sends her the gloves as a present and asks her out to dinner. Mirabelle is intrigued by Ray and decides to go out to dinner with him. She thinks it is flattering that he has noticed her. Once she gets to know him, she falls in love. Ray thinks he makes it clear to her that he isn't looking for a serious commitment. Mirabelle, however, is serious about Ray and loves him completely. This is where the complications ensue in their relationship.
Martin's performance was smooth, polished, and charming, but also emotionally detached, as his Ray Porter character struggles not to become emotionally involved with Mirabelle, but it was evident in the things that he does for her that he cared her for almost in a paternal way. I never thought of Martin as a dashing leading man, but he excelled in his role. No one else could have played Ray Porter, as it was his story and he understood the characters better than anyone. Martin and Danes exhibited a kind of wonderful chemistry together, a special kind of sexual tension that crackled on the screen, especially in the scene where she is waiting on his bed for him nude and they make love for the first time or when Mirabelle puts on the gloves that Ray has bought for her and she is wearing nothing else.
The character of Mirabelle is a girl one would consider a "plain jane", not the most physically beautiful, but Danes's performance conveyed a kind of inner beauty that radiated from within, very much a spiritual beauty. Especially in the scenes with Martin, she had a sensuality of a woman who really experiences passion and love for the first time in her life, and pain.
Throughout the movie we can see the kind of evolution that takes place from a woman who is shy, timid, and almost emotionless to someone who is more confident, more grown-up and self-assured. Why Danes was not nominated for a Golden Globe or an Oscar is beyond me. She was completely convincing and believable as Mirabelle and brought the character of the lonely, troubled, beautiful young woman to life.
However, this movie is not without flaws. One of the biggest is the score. I believe the score was meant to be like an homage to the old Hollywood movies of 30s & 40s, but it was intrusive, over-the-top, and very melodramatic. I believe less would have been more in the case of a movie like Shopgirl. Another flaw was the narration. Martin's narration of the scenes in the movie were self-explanatory and completely unnecessary.
Overall, the movie was excellent, wonderful, funny, sad and very faithful to Martin's novella. I would recommend reading the novella first before seeing the movie, as the novella is also very good. It is a good romantic date movie. Good performances by all, especially Ms. Danes. It took an interesting perspective on the May/December romance, through the eyes of a female protagonist, even though the story was written by a man. It also said a lot about what men and women expect from relationships, and how love can be heartbreaking and painful, yet wonderful and beautiful at the same time. It is also about a woman discovering more about life, love, and most of all, herself. Highly recommended.
Funny, delightful, witty, charming, excellent film
Sideways is one of those rare movies where I read the book and then saw the film afterwards. It is one of those stories that translate seamlessly from the novel to the big screen due to the effortless direction of Alexander Payne and his attention to the nuances and subtlety of the descriptive narrative of the book, such as the sharp, witty dialogue, and the human warmth of the characters; it did not lose its warm and wonderful flavor when it was translated to the screen. In fact, while I was watching it, it never felt like I was watching a movie, which is a good thing. I never felt the actors were "acting". I felt like I was actually watching a documentary of these four peoples' lives.
Two buddies, Miles and Jack, venture off for a week-long trip to the California wine country. You could not imagine two more unlikely men being friends. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a failed writer who has a novel that he is trying to get published. He is also trying to get over a divorce and his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is quite the opposite, a happy-go-lucky ladies man who is engaged to be married. However, Jack is on the prowl for his last hurrah with Stephanie, played by Sandra Oh. Miles also meets up with a warm-hearted waitress named Maya (Virginia Madsen), who is also trying to get over a divorce.
The four characters are very well-developed. Never once does the action lag in the storyline. It has a great pace and rhythm. There was quite a bit of dialogue I recognized from the novel and many scenes from the novel that Payne did keep in that were integral to the storyline of the film that I was happy with. The movie is very faithful to the book. Of course, since I read the novel first, I noticed there were some plot changes to the original story, but I recognize and respect Payne's decisions as to why these changes were made and these changes actually made the movie stronger as a result. The split screen montages of Jack and Miles traveling through the wine country are reminiscent of cinema from the 60s or 70s.
Even though the story is very dialogue heavy, do not mistake this movie as something slow and boring, as some human interest films tend to be. No, you will not only be laughing hysterically, as it is one of the best dark comedies I have ever seen, but don't be surprised if it moves you to tears at times. The scene where Madsen's character Maya talks about the life inside a bottle of wine is probably one of the best monologues I have ever seen on film. This film will definitely make you think and it is one of those you will be recommending to your friends. However, I would recommend you read the novel first because it will put the story into perspective more. Excellent ensemble cast, first-rate directing, and wonderful cinematography. Its nomination for Best Picture was very much deserved. Recommended highly to all.
Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)
The perfect movie to advocate birth control
"Yours, Mine, and Ours" is obviously a predecessor of "The Brady Bunch", only this time Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda play a widow and widower who fall in love, get married, and try to bring all 18 (can you believe it, 18!) of their children together so they can raise their family as one. Cute idea, right? It had promise, but this movie annoyed me very much. All those bratty kids made me want to give them a good smacking. The scene where Lucy gets drunk because the kids spike her drink was meant to be funny, but instead I felt it was sad and pathetic. Definitely NOT the hilarious Lucy I know! Although, I did like the speech that Fonda gives to one of his daughters on what real love is and why she should date someone other than her current loser boyfriend who's pressuring her to go all the way.
Yes, the movie has definitely aged, very much a 60s movie, despite being made in 1968 when so many of the movies in the late 60s reflected the rebelliousness and counterculture instead of family values. Not one of Fonda's or Lucy's best. The end was very predictable and *mild spoiler* I knew Lucy's character would get pregnant again. Heck, they have 18, why not add one more, I say? Ha ha. Average. Recommended only if you think the movie will be cute or if you think bratty, snotty kids are funny.
Nine to Five (1980)
Cheesy 80s fun!
"Nine To Five" is one of those classic 80s comedies which was what made the decade so fun as far as movies go. Jane Fonda plays Judy, a recently divorced housewife who lands a secretarial job at a corporate office. Lily Tomlin is Violet, the beleagured supervisor at the office who shows Judy the ropes on her disasterous first day. Dolly Parton is Doralee, a secretary whom everyone at the office thinks is using her - ahem - "assets" to get ahead by sleeping with the boss.
Soon these three become best friends and team up after they've gotten fed up with their chauvinistic and smarmy boss Mr. Hart, played to the hilt by Dabney Coleman. Sure, it does delve into zany corniness, such as the scene where they all get high on pot and share their fantasies about how each of them would like to knock off the boss (the funniest is Violet's "Snow White" coffee one, which uses cartoon animation and live action) or the scene where Violet thinks she accidentally poisoned Mr. Hart's coffee with rat poison and tries to steal his supposed dead corpse out of the hospital! This is the kind of movie where you check your brain at the door and take it for what it is.
There are some great one-liners like the one where Fonda tells her ex-husband, who thinks she's having a kinky S&M affair with Mr. Hart, something along the lines of, "If I want to do M&M's, that's fine with me!" The office they work in is reminiscent of the one in "The Apartment". Three very clever characters, great comedic acting from Parton as Doralee and Tomlin as Violet. Jane Fonda, who I never cared much for, was good as the naive Judy. Sterling Hayden has a great cameo at the end as the "Chairman of the Board". A funny revenge comedy about Every Office, U.S.A.. You gotta love the theme song, too. Most recommended!
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Average Hughes Movie
I was a little disappointed by "Some Kind of Wonderful". In fact, I am in the minority here judging by all the positive reviews that I felt I had to write a review to the contrary. SKOW has been compared as a reverse "Pretty In Pink", of which it definitely is. Eric Stoltz plays Keith, a working-class guy who has a crush on a popular girl in school, Amanda Jones, played by Lea Thompson. His best friend Watts is a drummer/tomboy, played Mary Stuart Masterson, who secretly falls in love with Keith.
The acting was good and there were some cute scenes. It was funny that Keith had made friends with the "tough guys" from the detention hall, a nod to "The Breakfast Club". Thompson was sexy as Amanda, on the surface she seemed like the typical, shallow, popular high school princess, but toward the end she added a lot of depth to her character. Masterson was cute, sweet, and pretty. She had a wise intelligence that seemed to fit the personality of Watts. Stoltz was also good as the sensitive young artist Keith who longs for the unattainable Jones while seemingly not able or willing to see the true person who truly cares for him.
I felt the ending was contrived. I have mixed feelings about SKOW. It recycles a lot of Hughes's previous storylines/characters: working-class guy, best friend in love, antagonizing parents/teachers/siblings, high school hierarchy, smarmy rich boyfriend, rich vs. poor, etc., but of course, this was the Hughes style and he was the premier teen movie director of the 80s. Probably the scene between Thompson and Stoltz at the Hollywood Bowl was my favorite in the whole movie. It's funny, but I thought Watts and Keith were better off as friends, but that's just my opinion.
While I definitely enjoyed "Pretty In Pink" more, despite being disappointed by that film as well, SKOW is worth watching if you are a John Hughes fan, but it wasn't one of my favorites.
Irma la Douce (1963)
Not one of Wilder's best
I really tried to like Billy Wilder's "Irma la Douce", I really did, but I was disappointed. Once again Shirley Maclaine and Jack Lemmon are teamed up romantically - she playing the title character, a Parisian prostitute, and he a policeman. In this particular section of Paris, the prostitutes, pimps, and policemen are all in league with each other - the girls work the streets, the pimps get the money from the girls, and the policemen get paid by the pimps. Everyone looks the other way - until Lemmon comes along.
Unfortunately after Lemmon raids the Parisian neighborhood, he loses his job. He falls in love with Irma and becomes her protector, or "pimp". Once again we see Lemmon playing a "nice guy" who puts up a front of dishonesty so he can protect the woman he loves. He has to resort to working in the meat market during the day while Irma sleeps and pretending to be a wealthy Englishman, Lord X, in order for other men not to have sex with her. Sounds muddled? You bet it is!
However, the story did have its moments. Jack was funny as always playing the policeman-turned-pimp Nestor Patou and the dual role as Lord X. He did some fantastic physical comedy, such as the scene where he beats up Irma's pimp in the bistro. Maclaine was sweet, cute, and sexy as Irma. Notice how she predominantly wears green in the movie ("green with envy").
There were a couple of sexy scenes, like the one where Patou first goes to Irma's apartment and she's watching him undress while she smokes a cigarette in bed, or when Irma's telling Lord X a fantasy about a harem in Baghdad. Other than that, it was an okay movie, average. I was surprised to see an unwed pregnant character in a movie that was made in 1963, when it was still unheard of. I'm sure this movie must have been quite racy and provocative in its day. This movie was a bit overlong as well.
Want to see a far better Maclaine/Lemmon/Wilder comedy? Watch the classic movie "The Apartment". "Irma" is only worth watching only if you are fan of Lemmon, Maclaine, Billy Wilder movies, or old movies in general. I rate it 6 out of 10.
Fun 80s dance movie
"Footloose" is one of those fun movies from the 80s that has a rocking soundtrack and great dancing. The story is about a young man named Ren, played very well by Kevin Bacon, who moves from the big city to a small town where dancing is outlawed. Of course this is absolutely ludicrous to Ren, a guy who enjoys rock music and loves to dance. The law was passed after a group of kids were killed in a car accident after they had been out dancing and drinking.
I liked the performance of John Lithgow as Rev. Shaw Moore, the iron-handed preacher with his rousing God-fearing speeches on morality. I had seen him at the Hollywood Bowl in "My Fair Lady" this past summer, and he is an excellent actor. There is Ariel, who plays Lithgow's daughter and Ren's romantic love-interest, played by Lori Singer, who secretly rebels against her father. Although, her character annoyed me a bit at the beginning for some unknown reason, she grew on me once she and Ren get to know each other. I also liked Chris Penn as Ren's friend Willard, whom he teaches how to dance.
I have a problem with one scene in this movie. Early in the movie, Ariel goes off for a joyride with her friends after church and her boyfriend pulls beside them in his truck on a country road. She manages to climb out of the window as they're driving and she actually balances on both the truck and the car while they're driving side by side! Unless you're an Olympic gymnast, there's NO WAY someone could pull such a stunt. Sure, this scene is meant to show how crazy and rebellious Ariel is, but they could have done a better job in portraying her rebellion. It doesn't move the story along in any way, but despite this unrealistic scene, the rest of the movie was very enjoyable.
I liked the quick editing of the dance scenes in the film, it was very much like an MTV music video would have been back in those days. I love the intro of the film with all those legs dancing, a remiscent flashback of what people wore on their feet in those days, high heels with socks, leg warmers, loafers, boots, etc. The scene at the diner where Ariel pops a tape into her stereo and all the kids get down with the music is pure fun, and even a little sexy as well.
It has a good message about censorship and religious hypocrisy. During the 80s there were actually people who were rallying against the "corruption" of young peoples' morals because of rock music and music videos, so I'm sure this film must have hit home back then. The main message behind Ren's fight against the anti-dancing law wasn't so much about teenage rebellion, but also about the right for people to enjoy life. Without music and dancing, the world would be a dull and lifeless place.
A must for 80s film fans!
Pretty in Pink (1986)
One word: DUCKIE.
"Pretty In Pink" is not my favorite of John Hughes's movies, but I still like it nonetheless. PIP is about an unpopular high school senior, Andie, played by the "80s Teen Movie Queen", Molly Ringwald, who comes from the "wrong side of the tracks". Her father is unemployed and she goes to a school full of rich preppies. Her best friend is Duckie, played by the hilarious, wise-cracking Jon Cryer, who has secretly loved and admired Andie since they were kids.
Unfortunately, Andie falls in love with a dull, inept, boring character named Blane played by Andrew McCarthy, who is one of the rich preppies at her high school. I have to admit, Mr. McCarthy has never been an actor that I have liked ("Mannequin" was absolutely dumb and horrible and "Weekend at Bernie's" was even worse). It could have been because of this that I did not empathize with Blane at all, or because his part was written in such a way that was so painful to watch, even for all of Hughes's talent, he could not salvage such an uninteresting character.
James Spader was not bad as Blane's smarmy friend Steff who tries to destroy Andie and Blane's romance out of jealousy. Annie Potts as Iona - great! Especially at the beginning of the movie when we are first introduced to her, she wearing the spiky punk hairdo and the fantastic jet black 80s jumper. Way cool. I was kind of bummed out when Iona is "reminiscing" in her apartment about her prom back in the 60s, and then later when she "changes" to become more conservative for a man she is dating. I preferred the "80s" Iona much more, but Potts's Iona was a great character role and a perfect foil for Andie.
And of course, there is Duckie. Duckie, besides the lead character Andie, is probably the most interesting and likable character in the film. Sure, he seemed needy, desperate, and lonely at times, but in a very cute and sympathetic way. He seemed like a very quirky, funny, slightly nerdy, but fun person to hang around with, but maybe not necessarily someone who's a "babe magnet" like Steff or Blane, but he had the real charm. He was someone who was down-to-earth and not concerned with being an eye-candy stud whose main mission in life was to get a lot of girls. The lip-synching scene in the record store was classic. Personally, I thought Andie was crazy - who couldn't see that this guy was madly in love with her? Who wouldn't want a guy so devoted and romantic as he was? *sigh*
Of course I was upset that Andie and Duckie did not end up together, but perhaps they would not have been happy with each other. Andie only thought of Duckie as her best friend anyway, and even though Duckie loved Andie so much, perhaps she would have broken his heart because her feelings were not the same for him. I wish that he had only told her how he felt, even though she may have disappointed him by saying she didn't feel the same way, at least he would have known.
Blane was a coward despite his turnaround at the last minute. The peer pressure of high school can be a great influence, and in Blane's case it was for the worse. Hughes had said he changed the ending so Andie and Blane would end up together because he didn't want people to think poor and rich people belonged together. Sure, that's a nice idea, but I think maybe over time Blane and Andie would have not been happy either. They were from two different worlds. But who knows? Maybe it would have worked. It was a disappointment seeing Blane and Andie end up together anyway.
Worth watching if you are a John Hughes fan. The soundtrack is fantastic, as most music soundtracks from the 80s were. I give it 8 out of 10.
30 Days Until I'm Famous (2004)
Surprisingly cute and funny
I happened to catch this movie by accident on VH1. The story is a simple one. It's about a young Latina named Maggie (played by Camille Guaty) who is discovered by Cole, a young music talent agent/manager. (He was played by Sean Patrick Flannery, who I didn't even recognize until I saw his name in the credits. He is best remembered as the actor on the short-lived TV series "Young Indiana Jones"). He offers her $40,000 to be groomed as the next Latin pop sensation.
She is given lessons on how to sound more "ethnic" by a Jewish vocal/dance instructor played by Mindy Sterling (who played Frau in the Austin Powers series), whom I also did not recognize until I saw the credits. Of course, being a total amateur, Maggie hilariously and painstakingly tries to play the part of Latin pop diva, while also trying to help support her family at the same time. Her rival is an incompetent lip-synching uber diva bitch named Daisy Fresh. Cole has a month to turn his Latina Pygmalion into a star.
This movie is like a new, updated "My Fair Lady" for the new generation. It's also a campy farce about the music business. It's fun, fluffy stuff. It is obviously targeted to young pre-teen and teen girls, but my boyfriend and I actually enjoyed this movie. Sure, there are the one-dimensional, phony Hollywood characters, and it is a little corny and cheesy at times, but it has heart. I had no idea who Camille Guaty is, but she is a very lovely young lady with talent. Physically, she looks like a cross between Frida Kahlo (minus the "uni-brow") and a younger Salma Hayek. Sean Patrick Flannery ain't no slouch either! Obviously, Cole and Maggie fall in love and the scene where they dance and passionately kiss and embrace is very steamy...muy caliente! Which goes to show you that you don't need a gratuitous sex scene to show sexual tension between romantic leads.
Plus, Ms. Guaty has a very nice singing voice and there was some good music in it too. The biggest surprise was one of the executive producers of this movie was none other than the biggest diva of all time herself, Madonna. If you happen to catch this on VH1 sometime, be sure to watch it for some lighthearted and campy humor.
Career Opportunities (1991)
The end of the John Hughes era
Career Opportunities has to be John Hughes's most underrated of all his "teen" flicks. Sadly, it was the last of his "teen angst" movies before he "sold out" (I'm only kidding, Mr. Hughes) and started to concentrate on more family-oriented fare. Yes, it features classic Hughes motifs (overbearing parents, annoying siblings, bumbling burglars that clearly ripped off "Home Alone", rich girl/poor boy fall in love, etc.), but it is a fun movie to watch nonetheless. Without these elements, you wouldn't have your classic Hughes movie!
Frank Whaley (an underrated actor) plays Jim Dodge, a high school grad who is known around his small town as "the town liar", who is idolized by the neighborhood kids who gladly eat up his tall tales about his supposed adventures and exploits. Jennifer Connelly plays Josie McClellan, the daughter of the richest man in town. Jim is also a slacker who aimlessly goes from one job to the next. He still lives at home with his parents and idiot siblings.
Jim's father pushes him to get a job at Target as a night janitor. There is a very funny uncredited cameo by the late John Candy, who plays the store manager who is interviewing him in the beginning of the movie. Jim gets locked in the store by his manager and unknown to him, Josie is also locked in as well. Naturally, you can imagine what happens when both of them get together.
I remember this one of the first films I had seen Connelly in (the other being "The Rocketeer") and I remember thinking she was the most talented actress I had ever seen at that point in time. This was way before anyone really knew of her. This movie is one of her best. I had also seen Whaley a couple of years later in the movie "Swing Kids" (also worth watching), where he gives another excellent performance. There is an excellent chemistry between Whaley and Connelly, especially in the scene where he makes a couple of microwave dinners for the two of them and he confesses he had dreams about her. Very good dialogue and how they actually listen to each other's lines and react to each other is great.
The story is flawed, however. Realistically, Jim would not be locked in the store all by himself. I used to work at Target and there is a whole cleaning crew working the graveyard shift. But this is a funny premise nonetheless. After the burglars arrive, from that moment on, the movie and how it ends is very far-fetched and unrealistic. The product placement for Target was a little distracting. Still, this is the Hughes Hollywood fantasy at its best.
Whaley's character Jim Dodge is a mix of Hughes's previous wiseguys like Duckie, Bender, and Ferris. It is pretty funny to watch what he does when he's all alone in the store. Think about it. You'd probably do the same things too. I have to envy the stylist who was in charge of Ms. Connelly's wardrobe. All her clothes were fabulous! Even though this film was released in 1991, the style was still very 80s. She was very chic and right away her clothes told you who her character was. And yes, I've read all the male reviewers' comments about "that white tank top", which is something men watching the movie will no doubt enjoy seeing. The soundtrack also has some cool and eclectic songs by obscure artists.
It's a good comedy about young people who are at a crossroads in their lives after high school and not knowing exactly what to do from there. A story for the "Jim" or "Josie" in all of us.