“Like Crazy” Film Review

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Take away all of the special effects, big budgets and star studded casts…I don’t need them. Just give me love, heartbreak and some drama please.

The buzz for American Independent film “Like Crazy” directed by Drake Doremus is spreading around town and for good reason. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and Special Jury Prize Best Actress for Breakout Performance (Felicity Jones) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Like Crazy” stole my heart in its simplistic, beautiful style. The film has been rumored to have a budget around $250,000, improvised dialogue (technically, there was no screenplay) and the lead actress did her own hair and makeup for the film. “Like Crazy” follows the admirable line of Grand Jury Prize winners including “Precious” and “Winter’s Bone.” Hopefully, this will bring the film good luck as these films both went on to surpassing their estimated reach by bringing in an expansive audience and generating Academy Awards nominations and wins. Though I’m not sure if it can achieve that type of success, “Like Crazy” is one of this year’s most romantic films and should not be missed.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the film, “Like Crazy” stars Anton Yelchin, as Jacob, the American college student in love, and Felicity Jones, as Anna, the British exchange student. In a simple love story, girl meets boy, boy falls in love with girl, and they both live happily ever after. But when girl overstays her visa and is prohibited from returning to America to be with boy, drama ensues. Can Anna and Jacob make it work across countries or will time and distance ultimately pull their love apart?

Doremus could have made a cheesy movie, creating perfect moments for the young lovers, but I think he realized that falling in love for the first time is awkward and usually not perfect. He drew on his own past experiences to create the general outline for the film, speaking with the actors about the pain and bliss love can generate. In one of the sweetest lines of the play, Anna writes a letter to Jacob expressing her interest in him and demurely signs, “please don’t think I’m a nutcase.” The film captures the essence of love in all its states. So often in movies, audiences are only exposed to the first moments when the couple meet and fall in love and also the troubles that create the drama. In “Like Crazy” drama came, ultimately, from outside powers that forced the couple to reevaluate their relationship. I also thought the film was extremely realistic in that it didn’t hide anything. A large reason for this is attributed to the authenticity of the conversations between Anna and Jacob. The camera showed its audience the life led by Anna and Jacob when they weren’t together and how each of them handled their own situation. In one of the film’s finest cinematic moments, Jacob and Anna reunite after their years of struggles to try to rekindle their romance. As the shower water pounds on their bodies, their remarkable acting shines as the film goes to flashbacks of their past love and their current emotional distance in their close, physical encounter.

This film has the ability to impact millions. This film still resonates in my mind days after leaving the theater. This film hit so close to home for me, as I’d imagine it does for so many others. Even the little things, like Jacob’s attachment to his career in designing furniture and sharing his passion with Anna by creating a custom chair for her is emotional. When Anna receives a new chair from a boyfriend later on in the movie, the audience can sense the tension that Anna feels. The movie is about connections and how easily it is to feel lost and hopeless when the connection disappears. The film also is unique in its use of silence, which actually speaks volumes without a word uttered. However, some people are currently reacting negatively about the film’s simplistic form. I read some comments that reviewers thought it was a “boring movie about boring people”.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but this movie takes its viewers back to their first love and heartbreak. We need to realize it’s okay to appreciate love in all its forms. This type of raw, real cinema is the type of films that I admire and I think should be as widely profitable and publicized as any other film.


An Evening with Morgan Spurlock

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If you’re looking for a filmmaker that cuts through to the heart of an issue, who will do whatever it takes to go after an idea and won’t take no for an answer, Morgan Spurlock is your man. He has publicly tortured himself by eating McDonalds three times a day, lived on minimum wage, worked in a coal mine and locked himself up in jail each for 30 days at a time. Morgan Spurlock is an incredibly interesting and compelling person. I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite documentary filmmakers and I learned so much from him during the interview, and then later during his lecture at Duke University. Spurlock makes it his mission to educate our generation. Just by watching his numerous documentaries and TV series one will be impacted in some way from the productions. It was even more special listening and talking to him in person.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Spurlock, maybe “Supersize Me” will ring a bell? Spurlock always had a creative mind, but wasn’t always that successful. After graduating from film school at the prestigious New York University Tisch School of the Arts in 1993, Spurlock struggled to find his niche in the industry. He worked on movie sets and toured the country as a spokesman for ESPN and SONY, but knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He started his own company, employed 6 fulltime workers and lived off his good credit for years. Eventually, debt caught up with Spurlock, who would have had to file for bankruptcy if he didn’t strike gold when MTV signed his pilot “I Bet You Will” to their company. After that show ended, Spurlock invested the profit from the show into his documentary film “Supersize Me.” In the film, Spurlock uses his own body as a testament to the evils of fast food and our food culture and the obesity we face today.

After “Supersize Me” went on to reach the highest box office success for a documentary up to that time, Spurlock had an easier time pitching and finding the funding for his next projects. Following the success of the reality-documentary “Supersize Me,” Spurlock filmed three seasons of the show “30 Days” and continued making compelling documentaries. This year, he has been on the road promoting his newest box office documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” The film takes a look at product placement by completely breaking down the barrier of subtle advertising in order to provide transparency for the audience. In the film, Spurlock overtly flashes products in an effort to completely finance his film thanks to these products.

Spurlock is a risk taker. He’s also an entrepreneur in the film industry. He will be the first one to try out an idea and be the first to fail at it (which he continues to avoid doing). Spurlock has such a wonderful personality and demeanor so people are willing to trust him to take the risks that some people only think about taking. A regular man on the street will more likely be enamored by Spurlock and go along with him then any average Joe (which may be the reason why his first show “I Bet You Will” took off).

The great thing about Spurlock is he is willing to share information he has gained from his experiences with the world. As a group of eager Duke students, many of us wanted to hear about his successes and failures he encountered thus far in his career. Spurlock shared a large amount of advice with his audience. My favorite anecdote he shared centered around the theme of “negotiating for success.” As part of the legal agreement Spurlock had with his sponsors, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” had to hit 600 million media impressions. Media impressions are a technique used as a PR measurement to calculate how many times some product appears in a form of media (website, news, talk show, paper, etc.). Before settling, Spurlock and his team debated whether they should add an additional measure of 1/10 of a penny after the 600 million media impression mark. However, Spurlock thought he set the bar high for his film and told his top endorsement (POM Wonderful) that they would settle on that number. Little did he know, only a week after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, his movie had not only surpassed the 600 million mark, but would eventually hit 5 billion media impressions. Spurlock estimated he would have made 5.4 million dollars had he aimed higher. “Always negotiate for success” is the motto Spurlock now lives by after losing this potential for a substantial profit. Going forward, he realizes that one should never sell themselves short. There’s a lot to learn from people like Morgan Spurlock and I hope you watch the interview and learn something yourself.

Review: Jeff Storer’s intimate Middletown

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Even in Middletown, where ordinary residents craft static lives, you will find interesting characters paired with an intriguing story. Will Eno, who wrote the play currently in production at Manbites Dog Theater, exhibits the ability to transpose the lives of ordinary folk into a meaningful plotline. In a town with very little to do, Middletown residents have a lot of time to contemplate life and the cosmos: big dreams and aspirations are juxtaposed with sometimes harsh and sometimes subtle realities.

The play focuses on the developing relationship between neighbors Mary Swanson (Madeline Lambert) and John Dodge (Thaddaeus Edwards). Both characters are compelling to watch and their conversations stay engaging as they find some comfort in each other’s presence. Their neighboring houses lie upstage and the audience can peer into their lonely lifestyles through the windows. Winding through the main storyline, a series of vignettes showcase other residents’ encounters, giving the audience a deeper understanding of Middletown life through reflection, connection and irony.

Directed by Jeff Storer, Duke Theater Studies professor and artistic director of Manbites Dog, Middletown has an interactive style as the characters break the fourth wall and come alive in the audience right before intermission. The librarian (Duke Dance Professor Barbara Dickinson) and the local drunk Greg (Chris Burner) provide comic relief in their stories and interactions. Greg often harps on his childhood, delivering one of the many heart-wrenching lines in the play, “I was someone’s golden child.” Just like the rest of the residents, Greg looks back on his youth and wonders if he could have done something differently to affect his future.

The conversations heard in Middletown may ring a familiar bell. The townies explore the issues we are often too embarrassed to voice aloud, addressing questions about the purpose of life and what it would be like to die. Middletown stresses that no matter who we are or where we live, our lives are more interconnected than we may think. Its dynamic characters seem to ask one all-encompassing question: aren’t we all trying to find clarity in this complex world we live in? As the play suggests, we all experience the same road in the beginning and in the end, though each of us goes down different paths somewhere in between.

FOX’s “New Girl” Markets, But Doesn’t Sell

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There are a lot of new and exciting shows premiering this fall. September premieres range from Pan Am (September 25 on ABC), The Playboy Club (September 19 on NBC), Unforgettable (September 20 on CBS) and The Ringer (September 13 on CW). Simon Cowell’s The X Factor (September 21) will make its American debut on September 21 on FOX. Also sure to score in ratings is the return of season 13 of Dancing with the Stars (ABC September 19), the third season of Glee (September 20 on FOX) and the highly anticipated Two and a Half Men premiere with Ashton Kutcher taking over as lead character Walden Schmidt (September 19 on CBS). If these shows aren’t enough reason to forever veg-out on your comfy couch with an extra large tub of buttered popcorn, returning fan favorite sitcoms, reality shows and competition shows will make their full force debut in September as well (and yes, Survivor will be returning for its twenty-third season in case you had any doubt).

Television networks competing for ratings and for the next hit show isn’t anything new. However, something that is different is FOX’s marketing approach to their new sitcom “New Girl.” Since September 6 and up till the pilot’s premiere on September 20th, the first episode of “New Girl” is available for free on iTunes, Hulu and Fox.com. Though the network realizes pilot ratings may be low because of the free online preview, they hope word of mouth and online buzz will help the show overall. I used this opportunity to get a jump-start on the series. While I do reward the network for taking this risk, “New Girl” failed to make the right first impression it needed to succeed.

The strength of a successful show lies in the character development. The lead actress of “New Girl,” Zoey Deschanel, has a strong fan following thanks to her roles in the films 500 Days of Summer, Our Idiot Brother and Elf. However, in her starring television role, her quirky character seems to be all over the place in the pilot episode. Deschanel plays the role of Jess, a young female who moves in with three random males after being cheated on by her boyfriend. One moment she’s the wacky girl burning her hair off, wearing overalls and bursting out in song and the next she’s giving advice on how to woo the ladies to her roommates. Even with the tagline “simply adorkable,” character inconsistency is one of the weak points of the show. Stronger character identity must be improved as this is one of the most important aspects to keep an audience tuned in.

The other main issue I have with the pilot episode is the lack of a stable plot line. Liz Meriwether, writer of the screenplay for “No Strings Attached,” put her writing chops back to work for “New Girl.” The show bounced from one issue to the next. There’s no denying fast paced sitcoms are entertaining and popular and FOX is known for its quick timed shows. However, they are only popular when the material is coherent. The bouncy plot may arise from the various personalities of the three male roommates who don’t seem to mesh well together just yet. However, I only saw the first episode and character development and plot line may just take some time to flourish.

New Girl” has a lot going for it already. It will air in the prime post-Glee spot at 9 PM and both shows cater to similar audiences. “New Girl” has a lot of buzz already and it will be interesting to see if this show can gain some momentum after it’s unique and risky marketing campaign. Though the show has flaws, I still am rooting for this new comedy. I think Zoey and the cast will be able to pull through.

Till then,

Danielle Genet