Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Retro Movie Review: Purple Rain (1984 – R – 111 minutes)

Prince passed away very suddenly last Thursday at the age of 57. In a year where we have lost far too many brilliantly talented people, this was a particularly hard one to deal with. 

I was fortunate enough to see Prince in concert – something that I am now really grateful for.  My two closest friends and I drove down to the United Center in Chicago in 2012.  The concert started promptly on time with no opening act – he played for two and a half solid hours, then did 5 encores.  And by he, I really mean they – there was a fifteen piece band (seven of which were horns), that Prince conducted throughout the concert, so that if he suddenly felt like changing the playlist, the band went with him.  He had a rack of 12 different guitars, and I think he played all of them.  He took a short break only once, to change out of his bright yellow high-heeled boots into more comfortable bright yellow high-heeled wedges.  He pulled Jennifer Hudson on stage to sing Nothing Compares 2U with him – and yes, while you may know Sinead O’Connor’s version (which is lovely), find a version of Prince singing it – it’s so much more amazing when he sings it.  In any case, it remains the best concert I have ever seen, it was amazing to watch him perform, because you could really see how much he loved the music and the fans.  My favorite memory from the night is when about halfway through the show went Prince headed over to the piano on stage to play a stripped-down version of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, a woman in the row in front of us screamed, “He’s going to the piano – HE’S GOING TO THE PIANO!” while running up and down the row.  Exactly the right reaction.

I can’t tell you when I first loved Prince’s music – he just seemed to always be there and always be amazing. His first album was released in 1978, and he basically released an album a year since then.  I was particularly fond of the 1989 Batman soundtrack (tell me you didn’t love Batdance – everyone did).  However, when looking at one movie to review in his honor – there is really no other option than Purple Rain.

Released in 1984 and directed by Albert Magnoli, Purple Rain is a semi-autobiographical movie starring Prince.  He plays the Kid – or just Kid, and the movie begins as he’s already a pretty established performer in Minneapolis with his band, the Revolution, spending most of his time rehearsing and performing at the First Avenue nightclub (I was also lucky enough to get to go to the First Avenue club one night while visiting some friends in Minneapolis, not when Prince was doing one of his many pop-in performances, though).  

The Revolution isn’t quite pulling in the audience like they used to – and a rival band – The Time (headed up by Morris Day) is getting more popular.  Morris is even trying to talk the club owner – Billy Sparks – into replacing the Revolution with a girl group he is creating. 

Two band members in the Revolution – Lisa and Wendy – have written music that they want the Kid to approve, but he’s more interested in only playing his own music.  

He’s also dealing with his parents, and his father routinely abusing his mother. One night, a lovely young woman from New Orleans (Apollonia) comes to the club, wanting to be a singer.  She and the Kid start up a romance, but she also finds herself somewhat pulled to Morris, as he has promised her the lead of her own band.  She buys the Kid a guitar, but tells him she is joining Morris’s band, and he reacts by hitting her – which causes him to be terrified that he’s turning into his father (also a failed musician).  The Revolution has another sketchy show at the First Avenue, while Apollonia’s new group debuts to a great reaction. Billy tells the Kid they have one more chance, but when the Kid gets home - his father shoots himself in the head – severely wounding himself. After his mother accompanies his father to the hospital, Kid has a bit of a breakdown in the house, and stumbles across a pile of music his father wrote.  This serves as the wake-up call – and he turns some things around.  He decides to use Wendy and Lisa’s songs with some that his father wrote. 

The Time has a great set – causing Morris to taunt the Kid – but the Revolution takes the stage, and Kid announces they are going to do a song dedicated to his father, written by Lisa and Wendy, which of course, is Purple Rain.  The emotional performance brings down the house, and the Kid runs off the stage at the end, intending to ride off, however, he realizes the crowd is still reacting, so he comes back in - recommits to Apollonia, and brings down the house at the club, with several encores.  

The plot is really not that complex and the acting is questionable since there are only three actors in the movie (everyone else is a musician), but let’s be real – that’s not why you’re watching this movie. You’re watching for the music – and for Prince’s sexy motorcycle riding.

  • Prince plays the Kid – or a version of Prince, and he’s actually not bad in terms of the acting.  In particular, the scenes between the Kid and his father are really touching and well done as the Kid tries to connect to this man who has become a depressed monster.

  • Apollonia Kotero plays Apollonia, in a role that was originally supposed to be Vanity playing Vanity. She’s sufficient as a woman who really wants to hit it big – and is a little surprised when she falls for the kid.  Also – that bit about her jumping in to not Lake Minnetonka is still hilarious.

  • Morris Day plays Morris Day – and Jerome Benton plays Jerome.  They are pretty hilarious as rivals, and the “who’s on first” style bit about them determining how to alert one another when Apollonia arrives in the club cracks me up.  Prince and Morris were friends in high school and actually had a band called Grand Central prior to Prince starting the Revolution and Morris heading up the Time – both of which were really Prince bands.
  • And here's a photo of Morris and Prince in high school - just because.

  • Olga Karlatos plays The Kid’s mother, and she does spend most of the movie crying or getting hit.  She does seem to love both her son and her husband, but doesn’t really factor into the storyline much. Apparently she had some scenes that were cut out. Clarence Williams III – yes, from the Mod Squad – plays the Kid’s father.  He’s very tall and intimidating, and more than a little frightening as a man completely on the edge.  There’s never really any extensive background given, we just know he’s a failed musician.  Again – the scenes between he and Prince are very good.

  • Everyone else in the movie is playing themselves, Billy Sparks is probably the one who gets the most lines.  And those are all about telling the Kid to step it up and get his life together.

Overall, the movie is very entertaining, and pretty well put together – yes, some parts are cheesy, but hey – what do you want from 1984?  Prince was 25 at the time, and already a seasoned performance veteran.  The movie did win an Oscar for Best Original song for Purple Rain, and yes, Graffiti Bridge, which Prince directed, was a semi-sequel.  Breaking down the movie - I would say 9% of the movie is the motorcycle riding, 72% of the movie are wonderful musical performances, 6% is the Kid flirting with Apollonia, 6% is him arguing with his father, 3% is him not playing Lisa and Wendy’s music, and 2% is Morris Day and Jerome arguing about what the password is, and 1% is Prince talking to a puppet in a cup – or, listening to a puppet in cup. Seriously.

9 out of 10 – it’s a classic, and if you haven’t seen it in a while, or have never seen it – now is the time to track it down and check it out.  All the songs are amazing, and the Purple Rain performance at the end is fantastic.
Bonus - Prince performing at the SuperBowl - in the Purple Rain.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Movie Review: Criminal (R – 113 minutes)

Last year a movie called Self/Less was released – and while it cleverly used a slash in the title, I never got around to it.  Although, I never felt any pressure to see it, because the trailers seemed to show the entire movie. Essentially, Ben Kingsley played an dying billionaire who decides to undergo a suspicious new medical procedure that will insert his consciousness into a younger, more Ryan Reynolds-y body.  Upon insertion, he’s having a great time living it up in his younger body – but then the memories of the younger body start getting in the way, and the billionaire begins to realize that the procedure was maybe not all it was cracked up to be.

Criminal has a similar flavor to that idea. For some reason it also reminds me of the movie Enemy of the State. 

CIA agent Bill Pope is stationed in London, and has been living there with his wife and daughter.  He gets contacted by ‘the Dutchman’, a hacker who has taken over the American Military computer systems and is using them as a hostage to demand asylum.  You see, he’s just escaped the clutches of a Spanish Anarchist who wants the computer program the Dutchman created for himself. 
Bill is going to get the Dutchman out of London when his plan goes awry, and he gets killed by the Spaniard, prior to telling anyone the Dutchman’s location.  The CIA contacts Dr. Franks, a doctor who has been experimenting with memory relocation.  He’s been pretty successful in taking the memories from one rat and putting them in another, and CIA agent Quaker Wells (now that’s an action movie name if I’ve ever heard one), wants him to try it with the recently deceased Agent Pope. 

In order to complete the procedure, Dr. Franks needs a special subject as the host – someone with a frontal lobe injury.  Of course, front lobe injuries are rare, and apparently result in the person being a complete and total sociopath – or psychopath.  They find their candidate in career criminal Jericho Stewart (another great name).  Jericho has no sense of morality or right and wrong.  He’s killed a bunch of people, and is horribly violent. 

The procedure works – mostly, and so now both the Spaniard and the CIA need Jericho to remember where Bill stashed the Dutchman before it’s too late.

That’s really all I’m going to say about it, because I really enjoyed this movie and I think you should check it out.  It is directed by Ariel Vromen, an Israeli director whose last American movie was called the Iceman.  It’s shot with a lot of hand-held camera work, so it’s a bit unsteady here and there, but that does help add to the tension of the story. There’s also a lot of close-ups – especially on Kevin Costner, but again – that seems to serve the story pretty well.  The cast is what sold me on this movie, and was why I went even though I knew almost nothing about it.

  • This is definitely a Kevin Costner movie – and I will say that I haven’t seen him this good in quite a while.  He plays Jericho Steward and starts as an absolute villain of the worst sort. Basically, he’s ideal for the procedure because he’s expendable.  Costner is great as a bad guy and doesn’t do it nearly enough.  What is really interesting though is how he masterfully subtly shifts the performance as Jericho starts to be more and more guided by what used to be Bill Pope.

  • Gary Oldman is once again excellent as CIA agent Quaker Wells – he’s bound and determined to finish the operation and find the Dutchman, nevermind who gets in the way.  He’s driven and focused.

  • Tommy Lee Jones plays Dr. Franks and does a really good job of being quietly concerned almost the entire time.  It’s a really understated, scientific performance, which I really enjoyed.

  • Ryan Reynolds plays Bill Pope – but only for a few minutes of hastily running around London avoiding people.  I think that’s where the similarity to Enemy of the State came in – the beginning has a similar feel to the beginning of that movie.  It’s a lot of very tense action.

  • Jordi Molla plays the Spanish Anarchist, Xavier Heimdahl.  He’s a bit one-note as a crazy villain, but he’s sufficiently creepy to pull that off in an interesting way.  If you want to see him a little louder and crazier – check out Riddick.

  • Gal Gadot plays Bill’s wife Jill Pope.  She’s devastated when her husband died, but has to go through those emotions again when Jericho starts creeping around the house and telling her things he shouldn’t know.  She does a really good job – but I did want her to just kick his ass – Wonder Woman side-effect, I guess.

  • Michael Pitt plays the elusive and creepy Dutchman.  He’s also a bit one note – but his note is desperate, so it keeps him interesting.

Overall, perhaps because I wasn’t expecting anything – I was really impressed with this movie. It’s just shy of two hours, and I didn’t feel the length, which is always a good sign.  I will say that I was disappointed in the very last scene.  Personally I think the movie could have had a stronger ending had they chosen to go a different way.  You’ll probably get what I mean, but if you don’t – see it and let me know what you thought of the end!

8 out of 10 – a surprisingly tense little thriller. Gained points for Costner being really good (not something I’d ever though I would say), gained points for Oldman. Lost points for not enough Colin Salmon.  But you know, everything with Colin Salmon has not enough Colin Salmon for me! If you have not Netflixed Master of None yet – do it, if only for the Colin Salmon (although the rest of it is really good too)!

Bonus – cast interviews

Enemy of the State – if you never saw this, go back and watch it – it’s really good.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Movie Review: How to Be Single (R – 110 minutes)

As you know, I have a bit of an issue with most romantic comedies – being a happy, single woman - I hate that rom-coms tend to make that a thing that does not exist, or worse yet, should not exist.  The world of romantic comedies wants us as women to understand that we are suffering and unhappy if we are alone, and we only can find happiness dating a man - almost any man.  Now, I think we can all agree that is utter and complete nonsense, but it does work for the rom-com framework.  In general, most rom-coms stick to the same formula: a meet-cute – the female lead meets the male lead in some ridiculously cute scenario – they date for a while, but just as they are getting serious, some terrible event occurs – and they break up.  Then, just before the end, they get back together because one of them learns a lesson. It’s formulaic – and it works really well for that trope.  Honestly, Trainwreck last year followed that formula but still managed to be outright hilarious from time to time.

How To Be Single from Director Christian Ditter attempts to both follow that formula and break apart that formula - which oddly enough, works in some places and doesn't work in others so - success?  

We meet Alice while she is in college, and dating her serious boyfriend, Josh.  She then decides that she’s only really been with him, and perhaps they need a break to really ‘find themselves’.  After graduating, she moves to New York City to spend more time with her sister Meg, and starts hanging out with party girl/coworker Robin – who shows her around town and introduces her to bartender Tom – who owns the bar that her apartment is over.  Tom is busy interacting with Lucy who spends time in the bar using his wifi to fill out her profiles on multiple dating apps – as she has decided it’s time for her to get married. 

Meg decides she’s ready to have a baby, and does so via a clinic, having no real desire to have a man a part of the situation.  Just afterwards she meets Ken, who is much younger than her, but proves to be very interested in her.  Meanwhile, Alice flirts with Tom, but realizes he’s not a permanent match, she reconnects with Josh to let him know she’s ready to get back together, except that he’s found someone else. She then meets David, a young single father, and they work together for a while until David realizes he’s still not over the issues left from his wife’s death.  Tom eventually realizes he’s into Lucy, but she’s started dating George and decided to marry him.  Alice is just realizing how much of a true friend Robin is when she has to fight off Josh who wants to fool around with her despite getting married to his new girlfriend.  The movie ends with Alice realizing that she’s strong enough on her own and she doesn’t need to chase down love – that it will come to her when she’s ready.

There’s a lot of characters for a rom-com, and a lot of interacting storylines, but really, the movie does a decent job of pulling that off.  The problem I had, and really, the problem I always have with Rom-Coms, is  that the majority of those tons of characters are really annoying.  I did love that this movie allowed the female lead to end up alone, and that she was happy and strong in that decision.   Ditter does a good job with the multiple storylines, and while some of them felt a bit disjointed, it did keep the movie interesting.

  • Dakota Johnson plays Alice, and was actually a decent lead for a movie like this.  She’s sufficiently innocent and na├»ve, but well-meaning. 

  • Rebel Wilson plays Robin – who really, they just could have called Rebel.   She just seems to play herself, which is fine, because she is funny.  I especially like the last scene with her where she and Alice realize they are best friends.

  • Leslie Mann plays Meg, and I still find her annoying even though this isn’t her husband’s movie.  I thought I found her annoying only in his movies.  She does a good job as Meg, a cynical OBGYN who suddenly realizes she wants children, but she’s best when Meg is confused by Ken’s affection and dedication.

  • Allison Brie plays Lucy and this character is the most frustrating in the movie because she’s the stereotypical ‘desperate’ single woman in the rom-com.  Brie finds a way to get a little bit of charm in there, and really once Tom realizes he’s into her, it was nice to see that she had found someone else – a normal rom-com would have had them end up together.

  • Damon Wayans Jr. plays David and does a really good job of being handsome, charming, and understated – but also haunted by his late wife.  Just when he thought he was ready to move on – he realizes he’s not quite there.

  • Anders Holm plays Tom, and this movie does everything it can to try to convince you that he’s a heartthrob-style leading man.  I’m not sure I buy Anders Holm in that role, but hey – he’s serviceable. 

  • Nicholas Braun plays Josh, and again – super annoying, but not his fault – written that way.  Which, of course, means that he does a good job with the material he was given.

  • Jake Lacy plays Ken and he is really funny and very charming – he was a bright spot in the movie for me.

  • Jason Mantzoukas plays George and he was the other bright spot – I find him hilarious in most movies, and he has a small role here as the man that eventually ends up with Lucy. 

Overall, the movie is a bit long, it could have been about 20 minutes shorter – and does feel disjointed from time to time, but it certainly is a different take on a rom-com, and it was mostly enjoyable.  I really enjoyed the fact that it ended up showing that for a woman - strong friendships are often more important than dating.

6 out of 10 – gained points for her ending up alone and okay with that.

Bonus – Cast Interviews

Extra Bonus – Baggage Claim – a really predictable rom-com that I enjoyed.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Movie Review: The Boss (R – 99 minutes)

Personally, I thought Spy was the best comedy of the year last year – with Trainwreck coming in a close second. Most likely because I’m a sucker for quality action-comedy, I think Jason Statham is fantastic (especially in comedies) and Melissa McCarthy excels at character-based outrageous comedy due to her years of work at the Groundlings – an improv comedy troupe.

The Boss, like Tammy (which was a bit of a misfire), is based on another of McCarthy’s Groundling characters.  Michelle Darnell bounced from foster home to foster home when young – although we’re given no reason why – and consistently returned to an orphanage.  As a result, she learned to be completely self-reliant and isolationistic. 

She’s loving her over-the-top life of motivational speaking tours and lavish penthouses when she gets busted for insider trading.  She does a few months in a minimum security prison as all her assets are seized and her ex – Renault (or Ronald, as she calls him) buys up all her businesses.  Having nothing left when she gets out – she crashes with Claire – who used to be her assistant.  

Once there, she learns that Claire makes amazing brownies, and that Claire’s daughter Rachel is in a Girl Scout-type organization.  She sees an opportunity and talks Claire and Rachel into helping her found Darnell’s Darlings – a for-profit girls’ organization, where the girls sell the brownies, and a portion of it goes to a college fund for them. 

Things take off, and Rachel and Claire begin to get really close to Michelle, which throws her off, because she’s fought off emotional connections her whole life.  This, of course, leads to her selling the Darlings to Renault, then regretting it, and apologizing.  That, of course, leads to a caper in which Michelle, Claire and Claire’s new boyfriend Mike, attempt to break into Renault’s building to steal back the contract before it gets filed.  That, of course, leads to a sword fight (seriously), and a happy ending.

The movie is a perfectly serviceable Melissa McCarthy comedy – she’s capable of so much more, but I think she stands out more in ensemble pieces when she has more people to play off.  When she’s carrying the movie, she shines really bright, but can wear out an audience a little quicker.  Directed again by her husband, Ben Falcone, this movie is just fine, but not fantastic. Michelle is a horrible person – and while her eventual turn-around is inevitable, some of the things she does prior to that are really unlikeable.  I think knowing why she was dropped from so many foster homes would have helped, as it is, we just assume it’s because she is a horrible person.  The movie is predictable, but that doesn’t really bother me with a comedy of this sort.  It really did not need to be rated R – cleaning up the language here and there would have lowered it to a PG13 pretty quickly.  Oh – unless you count the fairly brutal all-out fist fight between the two troupes of girls.

  • Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle with 100% commitment, and I did love the assortment of turtlenecks.  Clearly it’s her power-garment.  I think once she gets a drama that suits her, people will be blown away by her pure acting skill – she can really portray a lot of emotions all at once, and while that doesn’t do anything here – once she finds the right drama, she’s going to be winning awards (remember I said that when she’s winning an Oscar in a few years for some little indie drama movie).

  • Kristen Bell has been really good for a really long time and plays Claire here – really the ‘straight-man’ to McCarthy’s over-the-top crazy character.  She’s pleasantly uptight and careful, and does a great job at slowly giving in to Michelle’s ‘live loud’ philosophy.

  • Peter Dinklage continues to prove he’s really good at comedy as Renault (Ronald), Michelle’s ex.  He’s a samurai-obsessed mogul who wants nothing more than to own everything that used to be Michelle’s.  Watching him and McCarthy together in scenes was really entertaining.

  • Tyler Labine is that guy you know from everywhere, and I have to say – I thought he was fantastic here as Mike.  It’s a small role that starts as Claire’s co-worker, then moves to boyfriend.  For a guy who is usually cast as the weird best friend – it was really nice to see him step into potential leading man role.

  • Kathy Bates has a small appearance as Michelle’s mentor and former business partner, Ida Marquette – now that’s a power name.  She’s confident and gruff.

  • Cecily Strong has a small role as Claire’s new boss, who just happens to be obsessed with Michelle Darnell – she’s really weird and does a great job at that.  I love her on SNL – especially the “girl-you-wish-you-hadn’t-started-a-conversation-with-at-a-party”, but I look forward to seeing her in more movies.
  • Cederic Yarbrough from Reno 911 plays Michelle’s driver/bodyguard, Tito.

  • Kristen Schaal briefly plays Chrystal – the leader of Rachel’s troupe, who is really there to get frustrated.
  • Annie Mumolo plays Hannah – one of the other troupe mothers – she’s there to get into close-up improv-fights with McCarthy – which are pretty great.

  • And yes, Ben Falcone shows up briefly as Marty – Michelle’s lawyer.

Overall, it’s certainly funny – maybe not hilarious, but entertaining enough.  I loved the break-in sequence, it’s just ridiculous.  I also loved that it was just over an hour and a half – perfect length for a comedy.  And – outtakes over the credits!  That’s the one thing every comedy should have.

6 out of 10 – gained points for all the turtlenecks – lost points for the streetfight, although it was a little funny.  Gained points for Tyler Labine – hilarious.

Bonus – Cast Interviews

Bonus – Jason Statham in Spy