Stand Up Guys

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, sexual content, violence, and brief drug use
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Crime-style violence with brutal and sometimes disturbing images, characters injured and killed, reference to rape
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 1, 2013
Date Released to DVD: May 21, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BLF9FYA

A little bit “Goodfellas” and a little bit “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” this is a life-in-a-day story about aging criminals.  Unlike Ferris, these guys have had too many days off and are very happy to return to their old haunts and activities.

Val (Al Pacino) gets out of prison after 28 years.  He has been a “stand up guy.”  He never told on his friends.  One of those friends is there to pick him up, still in the same car he had back when Val went away.  They greet each other warmly. “You look like s***.”  “You look worse.”  A brief hug feels “weird.”  But that’s just their way of saying how glad they are to see each other.

Val is eager to get back in the game, meaning food, alcohol, girls, and stirring up trouble.  But he is not the only one whose life has been on hold.  Doc has been waiting for Val to get out of prison because he he missed his friend but also because he has a job to do.  A thuggish and brutal crime boss named Claphands (Mark Margolis) has a hit out on Val and he insists that Doc be the one to do it.  Val wants to live it up because he just got out of prison.  Doc wants to help him live it up because he will have just one more night before he is killed.  Val gets the picture pretty quickly.

So, they round up their old friend Hirsch (Alan Arkin), who is in a nursing home breathing from an oxygen tank and steal a car that happens to belong to two other thugs known for their brutality (“These are the kind of guys who take your kidney and don’t even sell it”).  They go out for an outrageous joyride that includes a couple of visits to a sympathetic madam (Lucy Punch), some big meals, a bit of breaking and entering and light robbery, a visit to the emergency room for a very intimate procedure assisted by a nurse they knew when she was a child (Julianna Margulies of “A Good Wife”), a game of pool, a poignant but courtly slow dance that seems directly lifted from Pacino’s own “Scent of a Woman,” an impromptu burial, some revenge beat-downs, some thoughts about life and aging and  a friendly young waitress with beautiful eyes.  “It’s like the old days,” says Hirsch.  “No, it’s better.  This time, we can appreciate it.”

The story is preposterous, but the coincidences and improbabilities (like the almost-complete absence of any other people) just add to the fairy tale or dreamlike quality.  The story could almost exist as a fantasy created by the imprisoned Val.  It is not just Val and Doc who want a chance to show their vitality and know-how in the face of their mortality.  Pacino, Walken, and Arkin show all of that and the pure joy of performing in the knowledge that they are better than ever.  “That’s got no flavor, no style,” one of them says dismissively.  These guys have all the flavor and style in the world and it is always fun to see them show it.  And this time, we can appreciate it.

Parents should know that this film has constant very strong and crude language, explicit sexual references and situations including nudity, Viagra use and prostitutes, criminal behavior, references to rape, drinking, smoking, drug use, and extensive violence with some disturbing images with characters injured and killed.

Family discussion:  What is the difference between Val, Doc, Claphands, the Jargoniews and Wendy in the way they set and enforce rules?  What makes someone a “stand up guy?”

If you like this, try: “Midnight Run,” “Gran Torino,” and “Going in Style”

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Comedy Crime Drama

Jen Chaney on Liz Lemon and “30 Rock”

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Two television programs with almost-identical themes premiered in the fall of 2006.  They were both behind-the-scenes shows about the writers and performers on a late-night topical sketch comedy series.

One was an hour-long drama from “The West Wing’s” Aaron Sorkin, starring “Friends” alum Matthew Perry.  The other was a half-hour comedy from Tina Fey, then best known as the Weekend Update anchor on “Saturday Night Live.”

I not only assumed that Sorkin’s “Studio 60” would be a triumph, I actually loved it.  Critics and audiences did not.  Meanwhile, “30 Rock,” lasted for seven years.  While it never had a huge audience, it had a very loyal one, and it has been very influential.  In fact, Sorkin himself appeared on one episode, making fun of “Studio 60.”

The always-brilliant Jen Chaney has an insightful piece on Slate about Fey’s influence as a woman writing and producing her own show, both in paving the way for producer/writer/stars like Whitney Cummings and Lena Dunham and in her commentary on the television business and the corporate world.

But if we learned anything from 30 Rock—aside from the fact that it’s possible to get away with putting both Jane Krakowski and Jon Hamm in black face when done in the proper comedic context—it’s that the TV business is liberally peppered with “dummies,” as Lemon would call them. Some are actual dummies, while others may be legitimately intelligent individuals, like Jack Donaghy, who nevertheless fill their network’s programming lineup with shows that cater to dummies (MILF Island). What is great and smart does not always survive, and with every flicker of progress for TV gender equality comes a setback, like the recent cancellations of Fox’s Ben and Kate and ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, both of which were created by women.

Even though more opportunities for women now exist, TV comedy, like TV in general, still remains an unquestionably male-dominated field. Modern Family has been the Emmy-anointed Best Comedy on television for three years running, but only one of the 12 producers credited with last year’s victory is a woman. Fewer than half of the members of the writing staff of The Big Bang Theory are Pennys as opposed to Sheldons. According to IMDB, in the 20-plus years that The Simpsons has been on the air, only seven of its 71 episode-writing credits belong to women. Even the 30 Rock writing staff skews male but, to its credit, just barely: According toNBC, five of its 12 current writers are women.

The story of the show within the 30 Rock show reflects this reality in its usual hyperbolically humorous terms. Just look at Liz Lemon’s arc: She started out running a sketch-comedy series called The Girlie Show, which was defeminized to become TGS with Tracy Jordan and, finally, in a recent act of corporate-sponsored desperation designed to save the show from cancellation, turned into Bro Body Douche Presents the Man Cave, with Liz Lemon’s name in the credits changed to Todd Debeikis. The subtext: Sure, there’s a lot more lady business on TV these days. But ultimately, the place is still Bro-Town.

Which brings us to what may be the most important lesson and legacy of 30 Rock, at least for those looking at it as a guidepost for women in the entertainment field: the relationship between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. Much has been said about the fact that Fey and her writers smartly opted to avoid a romance for their two foils, even though there were occasional zaps of sexual energy between them. Others—most notably Linda Holmes at NPR—lamented the degree to which Lemon eventually turned into a completely inept pseudochild who couldn’t function without approval from Daddy Donaghy. That piece and others expressing frustration with the state of Liz Lemonism circa the latter seasons of 30 Rock prompted Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker to leap to the defense of both Lemon and her relationship with her superior. “Liz needed Jack because her life was a mess, but their rapport wasn’t primarily based around gender: it was about the cocky powerful suits versus the smug weakling creatives, although this satire was done (for once) with a woman at the center,” she wrote.

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Actors Television Writers

Happy 200th Birthday to Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen’s beloved story of the headstrong Elizabeth Bennett and the arrogant Mr. Darcy is one of the most popular and influential books ever written.  Pretty much any story that involves a couple who battle until they fall in love is based in part on Austen’s story.  There are many movie versions, but the best are:

Pride and Prejudice (1940): The classic Hollywood version won an Oscar for art direction and features an all-star cast, including Greer Garson as Elizabeth and Sir Laurence Olivier as Darcy.  Maureen O’Sullivan (Mia Farrow’s mother) is a lovely Jane and Edna May Oliver is a wonderfully haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  The witty script was written by the legendary Aldous Huxley, but I can’t forgive him for one important departure from the book in softening the Lady Catherine scene.

Pride and Prejudice (1995 mini-series): This is a magnificent version of the story, long enough to include all of the book’s most important scenes and characters.  Colin Firth makes a sensational Darcy (the addition of a scene where he cools off by diving into a lake caused some controversy but was popular with the fans) and Jennifer Ehle (an American actress who can be seen with Firth in “The King’s Speech” and also appears in “Zero Dark Thirty”) has the “fine eyes” Austen described.

Pride & Prejudice (2005) Director Joe Wright directed a magnificently natural version of the story starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (who play brother and sister in his latest film, “Anna Karenina.”)

 

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Based on a book Classic Comedy Drama Romance

FREE Tickets to “Beautiful Creatures” — Supernatural Love Story

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“Beautiful Creatures” is the supernatural love story based on the best-selling books by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stoh, in theaters February 14 for Valentine’s Day.  Alice Englert plays Lena, who has great powers and must decide on her sixteenth birthday whether to use them for the Light or the Dark in a process known as the Claiming, and Alden Ehrenreich is Ethan, the boy who loves her.  Co-stars include “Shameless” star Emmy Rossum, Oscar-winners Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons, and theater legend Eileen Atkins.

I have 50 tickets to give away!  For your complimentary tickets to an advance screening of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES in the Washington, DC area on Thursday, February 7 log onto www.gofobo.com/rsvp and input the following code: BLF3T6W to download your tickets.  NOTE: Tickets do not guarantee that you will get in because seating is first-come, first served.  Get there early.  Good luck!

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Based on a book Contests and Giveaways

Who Let the Dogs Out — New Hallmark Series About the Skateboarding Dog

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Tillman the Skateboarding Dog, who surfs and snowboards, too, rolls onto the Hallmark Channel in the new original series “Who Let the Dogs Out,” premiering Friday, Feb. 1 (1 p.m. ET/PT, 12C).  “Who Let The Dogs Out” is the story of a very special, hugely adventurous bulldog named Tillman who has a taste for outdoor recreation.  The Hallmark Channel Original Series chronicles Tillman and his owner Ron as they travel the nation in search of the most spectacular, high-flying canines, while running into some celebrity guests along the way, including Betty White, Florence Henderson, Gary Sinise and many more.

Named after the great U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, Tillman the dog is described by Ron as less a bulldog and more “a ballerina, in the shape of a pot roast.”  Tillman learned skateboarding because Ron’s other pooch, a Rottweiler, had a thing for small wheeled contraptions, pushing them around, but never actually riding them.  However, when Tillman saw the skateboard, it was love at first ride.  Ron picked up Tillman his very own board, and the rest is history.

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Television
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