Sunday, October 28, 2007

Day after day, it's Unfabulous

Unfabulous has returned and, apparently, nobody cares about this except for me.

It used to really bother me that nobody except for me appears to like this show. In fact, for all I know, I'm the biggest fan aged 20 or over of this show in the entire world. It's not like it's my favorite show in the world or anything, but it's probably my 3rd favorite comedy show on TV, behind How I Met Your Mother and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and along with Even Stevens and Phil of the Future and a few others, it's one of the few shows of this type that legitimately makes me laugh on its own merits. It's not just cute, it's actually really funny.

So what do I think of the new season? I think it's just as good as it's ever been, maybe a little better. The Addie and Jake relationship is great, much better than the Addie/Randy relationship, which was akin to an anchor. Their relationship is really sweet and funny. I shouldn't be so hard on Randy, he guest starred on the last episode "The Two Timer", which was the best episode of the season yet, and maybe the best episode of the show yet. Unless the best episode of the season was the one with Rob Hottie. Or the one with the girl who got expelled from Catholic School. Or, etc., etc. It's been a remarkably consistent season, and I'm loving it.

The main problem I have with the show is that the supporting cast is pretty weak. Emma Roberts apparently bugs a lot of people, but I think she's outstanding. She's right up there with Kay Panabaker right now for my favorite. Her timing is great, and I love her trademark eye rolls! She's not a great singer, no, but I think it works for the show. But apart from her, Malesa Jow, Jordan Calloway, and Tadhg Kelly are merely ways of passing the time while Emma's not on the screen. Of those, Jordan Calloway most frequently has good moments, and he has been pretty funny this season, but there isn't generally too much for his character to do.

Fortunately, it's a one person show. As long as it keeps its extremely clever plots, good dialogue, and Emma Roberts, it's gonna be a great show no matter what. It's just sometimes I wish other people agreed with me.

I don't even know why it bothers me that other people don't like the show. When it comes to pop music I can often have idiosyncratic tastes, but there's such a strong pop music community on the internet I forget how unusual they are "in real life". Like, I just get to thinking that of course Britney is a classic and the Paris Hilton album was under-rated and Hilary Duff rules and etc., etc. It would be great if there was a similar community related to my taste in TV and movies, and maybe there is, but I know nothing about it. (In the meantime, if you really need an even-handed, objective review of a pre-teen TV show or a romantic comedy, or a high school/college movie there's always here.)

Thus, The TCR recommends you check out Unfabulous which airs Sunday nights on Nickelodeon at 8:30, on the nights when it isn't preempted.

(Speaking of Emma Roberts, I promised a review of Nancy Drew, but actually I wrote that movie up in my mid-year wrap up and my opinions on it have not really changed since then. Still a B+/A- type movie, and still one of the 4 or 5 best films I've seen this year.)

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Movie Reviews: Custody/The Party Never Stops

In this post I will review two recent Lifetime Original Movies which I watched because they starred favorites of the TCR. Namely, Custody, starring Kay Panabaker and The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker starring Sara Paxton. Let's roll.


I think I've reviewed each of Kay Panabaker's projects to date except Life Is Ruff (actually have I really written anything about Debbie Berwick on here?), so it only makes sense to throw one together on this. (Please note that Life Is Ruff will never be reviewed on this blog. Know that it is terrible.)

(Brief) Plot Summary ('cause, actually I don't really totally remember what happened): Rob Morrow (from Numbers) plays a widowed English professor named David Gordon who has a daughter named Amanda (Kay Panabaker - Official Actress of the TCR). Amanda's mom died when she was extremely young, and so she never even really knew her. David and Amanda have a solid and steady group of (wacky!) friends, and their life is generally pleasant. This is all changed when a new man, John Sullivan (James Denton from Desperate Housewives) shows up claiming to be Amanda's real birth father. This fact is quickly confirmed by David. John decides he wants to get to know Amanda and, actually, sues for full time custody of Amanda and wins. The movie proceeds from there, and I don't wanna give away too much even though nothing that happens is too surprising.

Commentary: Well, this was a pretty cute movie, but there wasn't really very much to it. The group of wacky and witty and diverse friends was an unnecessary distraction and was really cliched. It was like watching a very low-rent version of a Richard Curtis movie. Kay Panabaker was cute and charming as always, and she does well with the dramatic parts of the movie. I've embarrassingly gushed over Kay and her talents many times before on this blog (just click the Kay Panabaker tag at the end of this post), so I'll avoid going too overboard this time. But she continues to have such a charming screen presence, and she continues to have pitch-perfect facial expressions, vocal inflections, etc. All the little things she does that always impress me so much. Suffice to say, I really liked her performance, even though there really wasn't too much to her character. The movie was cliched, the characters actions were cliched, the characters themselves were cliched, etc. etc.

I've spoken out against judging movies solely based on the originality of their plot many times before but, unfortunately, that seems to be a pretty valid criticism of this movie. It's not original, and it doesn't go about its unoriginality in a particularly interesting way. I'm as big a Kay Panabaker fan as you'll meet and I almost fell asleep partway through this.

But none of this is to say there isn't anything to enjoy in this movie beyond Kay. Kay's friend is a really fun character, and I liked the actress a lot. The ending, though expected, was also very satisfying and well done. The best part of the movie, all in all, was the relationship between Kay's character and Rob Morrow's character. This was a pretty real relationship, and it was well done. Most of the best moments in the movie are the quiet, personal moments shared by those two, and they lend a depth to the movie that would otherwise not be there.

Final Comments/Grade: Emotionally affecting, satisfying ending, one of my favorite actresses giving a great performance as lead, but yet incredibly uninteresting. Cute, but with no substance at all. I've given good grades to cute movies with little substance many times before (Raise Your Voice, Ella Enchanted), but I just can't in good conscience give a good grade to a movie that entertained me so little. Especially when the plot and characters and themes are as unoriginal as they are here. 5/10.

The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker

(Brief) Plot Summary ('cause, actually I don't really totally remember what happened): Jesse Tanner (Sara Paxton) is a goody-two-shoes who lives in a small town with her mother and younger sister, her father having died several years previous. Jesse is about to be the first person in her family to go to college and she's very excited, though she will miss her mom. She instantly becomes friends with her college roommate Shanna (Chelsea Hobbs), who is a big partier who is planning on joining a sorority. Jesse and Shanna get big into the partying scene, which causes various troubles in Jesse's life. In one particularly awesome plot point, she is filmed topless for a Girls Gone Wild type movie which is posted on the internet. The movie proceeds in like fashion, again, not wanting to give too much away.

Commentary: This movie was extremely repetitive and not a whole hell of a lot happened, which means it probably should have been really boring. The constant stream of "Jesse does something wrong/her life screws up/her mom gets mad and forbids her from partying any more/OK I'll party this one last time" gets really tiresome (that sequence takes place like 3 or 4 times). Even though the plot is repetitive and the message is totally after-school-special, I nonetheless found myself very entertained.

My first inclination is to attribute this to a "so bad it's good" type ethos, due to the hysterics, scaremongering, ridiculous plot devices, and general shoddiness of the film. In fact, the film seems to be poorly made. I guess, the most important part of why I enjoyed this movie was the performance of the leads, Sara Paxton and Chelsea Hobbs. They both did a great job, and their chemistry was a hoot. And I'll be damned, but the relationship gave the movie a real emotional core. The movie really got to me. It's becoming increasingly easy to emotionally manipulate me in a film, and almost any movie that is supposed to make you sad or happy will get me choked up. So I can't fairly use that as a criteria for judging a movie, but there it is.

Chelsea Hobbs, as a newcomer, provided the most emotionally affecting scenes and the biggest laughs. She wasn't a revelation or anything, and it definitely wasn't a great performance, but she didn't screw it up and sometimes that's enough, especially for a movie like this. Sara was her usual charming self, though she had a bad tendency to overact. This was probably the weakest performance I've ever seen from Sara.

Though I was entertained, the story was very poorly structured and cliched. The whole movie was crazily over the top, and the over-the-topness resulted in the message not really being put across. It's hard to take anything about this movie seriously, so if it's really trying to express the dangers of binge drinking it's a failure from that standpoint.

Final Comments: Opposite of Custody, this movie was not cute, and it was very poorly done. But Custody put me to sleep, this movie I couldn't turn away from. Both movies featured strong performances from the leads, though I was a bit disappointed by Sara. I generally tend to go with poorly made but entertaining over well made but boring. 6/10.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Movie Review: Sydney White

Before I do the review, first a minor procedural note. Question: What is the status of this blog? The quick answer is that I don't know. It's frustrating to spend significant time on writing for a blog when nobody reads or cares about it. I think that there are more productive and enjoyable ways to spend my free time. At this point, I may re-start writing regularly at some point, I may quit writing altogether, or I may go back to my old "one really long post a month" style. I know that I'm not a very good writer, and I'm becoming less and less convinced that my blog is providing a unique or interesting viewpoint, particularly with regards to music. If the blog does return full-time, expect there to be significant changes. But, I do generally enjoy writing the posts and re-reading them. So it will probably continue in some form, at least as a vanity project.

OK, now here's a review for Sydney White. A very overdue review of Nancy Drew should be forthcoming shortly.

The Movie: Sydney White
The Plot: Sydney White's (Amanda Bynes) mom died when she was young, leaving her to be raised by her plumber father. She spent her entire youth growing up on construction sites, acting manly, etc. But, when she finally gets into college (the same college her mom went to!), she is determined to join the same sorority her mom belonged to, the Kappas. Running the Kappas is queen of the school Rachel Witchburn. When Rachel prevents Sydney from joining the Kappa sorority, she ends up with a group of offensively stereotypical dorks, who live in a run-down dorm called "The Vortex". Each of these dorks is, "hilariously", an analogue to one of Snow White's seven dwarves (by process of elimination Samm Levine's character is an analogue to Happy, but the connection is extremely thin at best). She rallies the dorks together to take down Rachel Witchburn and the Greek system and get The Vortex a little respect. Also, she has a budding romantic relationship with Tyler Prince, the hottest guy on campus and ex-boyfriend of Rachel.

Commentary: Don't be fooled by the plot summary and the seeming feel of the movie, there are several important differences between this film and Revenge of the Nerds. For example:

  • In Revenge of the Nerds, the characters live in a run down house, which they touchingly renovate half-way through the movie. In Sydney White the characters live in a run down house, which they touchingly renovate AT THE END of the movie.
  • In ROTN, the main characters are fighting against the king of the school, a jock who is president of the biggest fraternity on campus and hates nerds. In Sydney White, the main characters are fighting against the QUEEN of the school, a GLAMOROUS AND GORGEOUS GIRLY GIRL who is president of the biggest SORORITY on campus and hates DORKS.
  • In ROTN, the main character gives a touching speech at the end, where he proclaims how it's not that bad to be a nerd and gets everybody fired up. After the speech, people touchingly get up to proclaim how they are also nerds. Everybody except the evil jocks admits they are nerds and the jocks are defeated. In Sydney White, the main character gives a touching speech at the end, where SHE proclaims how it's not that bad to be a DORK and gets everybody fired up. After the speech, people touchingly get up to proclaim how they are also DORK. Everybody except RACHEL WITCHBURN admits they are nerds and RACHEL IS defeated.
OK, OK, I'll stop there, I think I've made my point. In a way, it's nice to have a throwback to the old 80's style of teen movie. There are ridiculously over-the-top nerds, and there are jocks who hate the nerds, and pretty girls who love the jocks. The problem is that this movie is just too indebted to those old movies, and content not to add anything new to the plot.

I mean, look, originality and unpredictability are far from all I look for in a movie. Sara Paxton does a great job as Rachel, in a role that's fairly dissimilar to everything else I've seen her play. I hope she continues to act in roles like these in the future. Amanda Bynes gives a good performance as always, she continues to be a real charmer. No, the performances were generally pretty good. And honestly, the unoriginality could be easily forgiven if the movie itself were more entertaining. But the movie has several other flaws: The geeks are all too over the top, and their shticks got extremely tiresome after a while. The love story/Tyler Prince aspect of the movie adds almost nothing, and probably hurts more than it helps.

And then there's the Snow White stuff. My contention is that this movie would be much better had they not tried to jam in Snow White references. Making the dorks all analogous to the dwarves is kind of cute, and I enjoyed watching that unfold. The character names, though, are groan-inducing. And, importantly, the Snow White stuff is jammed in and unnecessary, and ultimately hurts the flow of the movie. Instead of a magic mirror, Rachel checks Myspace to see who is the most popular girl on school. Once Sydney inevitably passes her to #1, she sends a computer virus to destroy her APPLE computer (Har de har har). Seeing them jam this crap into this movie almost made me cringe, and I really wish they had just played it straight, especially since the movie could/would have played essentially the same without jamming those explicit references in there.

On top of all of this, I had significant problems with the character of Sydney. She was just too damn perfect. There was seemingly nothing she couldn't do, and if she had started walking on water in the middle of the movie I would not have been surprised at all. A character has to be relateable to be likeable, and hard as Amanda tried and well as she acted, she just wasn't relateable at all. Let's see, very attractive, athletic, handy, loves sports, gives to charity, genuinely wants to be friends with dorks, totally unselfish, reads comic books, and just wants to connect with her mom. I mean, come on.

There's a kernel of a pretty good movie in here. The parts that directly involved Amanda Bynes and Sara Paxton's conflict were fun, and their interactions with each other were a hoot to watch. Unfortunately, it's the "everything else" part of the movie that drags it down.

Special notice should to to Crystal Hunt, who plays Dinky in the film. Dinky is a member of the Kappa fraternity, who is nonetheless friends with Sydney and a sympathetic character. I was extremely impressed by Crystal's work in this movie. She was SO cute, and her Southern accent was a hoot. So for cuteness, and real charm, and some good acting ability too, Crystal gets the official TCR seal of approval. I really look forward to seeing her in future work. This character was the only well done character in the film, other than Rachel, and I'm inclined to think that Crystal was a huge part of that.

Final Rating:
Amanda Bynes, Sara Paxton, and Crystal Hunt are excellent. The movie is pretty charming, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't reasonably entertained by it. That being said, this is not a movie I can recommend watching. The real problem is that it's just not a very good movie. 4/10.

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