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My Letter to Fear: Essays on life, love and the search for Prince Charming
My Letter to Fear: Essays on life, love and the search for Prince Charming
by Ms. Patricia L Steffy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.99
18 used & new from $6.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars emotional essays in which to see yourself reflected, February 11, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"My Letter to Fear" is a compilation of stories about what women worry about-- from relationships and career changes, to aging and anal bleaching, to worry itself. Some pieces will have you chuckling to yourself, some will have your eyes tearing up, and some will have you nodding along as if you're reading about your own life. In fact, it is impossible to read this book and *not* feel like at least one piece is written directly about or directed to you.

One stand out piece in particular includes three distinct characters within it: three women at drastically different numerical ages, as they and the reader come to realize their similarities despite assumptions based on outward appearance. Another is a letter talking about suing the makers of fairytales for false promises; another is about expectations one puts on one's self; another is a letter to a 10 year old self. All are reflective and therefore heartwarming, and heart-tugging, in nature.

Though "My Letter to Fear" takes on a wide range of ages and female perspectives within its pages, author Patricia Steffy manages to connect each individual one with a raw emotionality than lends itself to being universally relatable. Perhaps the best part about Steffy's writing, though, is that she knows how to end each "essay" style chapter on a resolved note for the story within while still leaving you wanting more of her voice and wit.

Something Real
Something Real
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what every YA novel should aspire to be, February 11, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Something Real (Kindle Edition)
I am the first to admit that I usually shy away from reading Young Adult literature because I often find the themes repetitive and the writing style too simplistic, but with new authors like Heather Demetrios, the market is a whole lot more creative, interesting, and intelligent!

Yes, "Something Real", Demetrios' debut novel, does draw on many themes common in YA: her main character is a teenager who is dealing with all kinds of issues and pressure from her family, her school, her friends, and her budding first love/relationship. But Demetrios sets her story in a world so rich that it immediately springs up around you and sucks you in. The world is also somewhat larger than life in the way many YA stories tend to be, but instead of being a downer in dystopia, Demetrios chooses to showcase her story in a world that is happening in reality as you read, which grounds even the craziest seeming parts of the story.

"Something Real's" heroine Chloe Baker is a former reality show star, but not by choice. From birth, she was a part of a reality program about her large and somewhat unorthodox family-- a family that features a "Baker's Dozen" worth of people with kids adopted from all parts of the globe. She thinks (and therefore Demetrios writes) in "seasons" rather than years, in that "In season 7" instead of "When I was 7" sort of way that is heartbreaking but yet still lends itself as just another incredible detail to immerse the readers in Chloe's world. Additional such details are specially stylized chapters that are "lifted" from various interview transcripts or show episode transcripts.

When readers meet Chloe, her show has been off the air for a few years, and she has managed to change her name (to Chloe) and live a normal life in a real high school. She has kept her upbringing and family a secret from her new friends and somewhat miraculously has managed to go unrecognized by anyone in her new California town. But that is all about to change as her mother has signed a new deal for the show to restart, exploding Chloe's new life and bringing the most painful parts of her past to the surface once again.

"Something Real" does a remarkable job of depicting the truth behind reality TV in an insider's look sort of way without making the book about exposing reality TV. That is the setting, the world for Chloe's story to take place, but it does not define Chloe. We spend a lot of alone time with Chloe, so we get to know how she thinks and feels better than anyone, as we would with any good protagonist. But "Something Real" features an ensemble that rivals even "Baker's Dozen" and *all* of her characters-- from Chloe's older brother and confidante Benny, to her new, almost too good to be true boyfriend Patrick, to her image-obsessed mother-- are so finely crafted the astute reader can anticipate how they, individually, will act in most situations, too. Everything and everyone has its place and purpose within the story; no one gets lost in the mass; there is no filler, and there is no pandering or expository repetition. Demetrios trusts her readers, but perhaps most importantly, she respects her readers.

Personally, I want to read novels about interesting characters who happen to encounter unique and equally interesting situations, scenarios, and events. The plot is always less important to me than the characters themselves because "where" they get to doesn't really matter if I haven't enjoyed spending time with them and therefore actively rooting for them to get to their destination in the first place. Demetrios has certainly created characters with whom you will want to spend a lot of time (I would love to read a whole separate book from Benny's perspective, for example, but there is certainly room and interest warranting each Baker child to tell their story in individual novellas, should the publisher so choose). But obviously Demetrios has also created a complicated story with unique markers to match.

Good YA has its protagonist "coming of age" and learning some lessons along the way-- lessons that the readers can take to heart, too. But great YA has its protagonist empowering his or herself and inspiring change. "Something Real" does that in spades as Chloe refuses to just play into the reality TV game and adopt the character "type" the show wants her to be but instead decides to stand up for herself and what she-- not her mother, not the cameras-- really wants her life to be. Today's youth should all be so brave.

My Letter to Fear: Essays on life, love and the search for Prince Charming
My Letter to Fear: Essays on life, love and the search for Prince Charming
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars emotional essays in which to see yourself reflected, February 11, 2014
"My Letter to Fear" is a compilation of stories about what women worry about-- from relationships and career changes, to aging and anal bleaching, to worry itself. Some pieces will have you chuckling to yourself, some will have your eyes tearing up, and some will have you nodding along as if you're reading about your own life. In fact, it is impossible to read this book and *not* feel like at least one piece is written directly about or directed to you.

One stand out piece in particular includes three distinct characters within it: three women at drastically different numerical ages, as they and the reader come to realize their similarities despite assumptions based on outward appearance. Another is a letter talking about suing the makers of fairytales for false promises; another is about expectations one puts on one's self; another is a letter to a 10 year old self. All are reflective and therefore heartwarming, and heart-tugging, in nature.

Though "My Letter to Fear" takes on a wide range of ages and female perspectives within its pages, author Patricia Steffy manages to connect each individual one with a raw emotionality than lends itself to being universally relatable. Perhaps the best part about Steffy's writing, though, is that she knows how to end each "essay" style chapter on a resolved note for the story within while still leaving you wanting more of her voice and wit.

I Smile Back
I Smile Back
by Amy Koppelman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.24
66 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Raw, Emotional, Powerful, and Ultimately, Tragic, December 5, 2008
This review is from: I Smile Back (Paperback)
In today's "Real Housewives of Wherever" infused media, it is easy to look at an upper middle class suburban wife and mother and think she has it all-- or at least that she has it so easy. But the portrait of one such woman, Laney Brooks, that author Amy Koppelman paints in her sophomore novel, "I Smile Back," challenges that stereotype, as she is instead a bit like the female version of Christian Slater in "My Own Worst Enemy." By day, Laney is dropping her kids off at school and scheduling manicures and trips to the grocery store, but by night she is pill-popping and downing glasses of vodka like they are water. To prejudge her as just another spoiled socialite who has too much time on her hands very quickly proves unfair, though, as at its core, "I Smile Back" seems to be a post-traumatic stress tale if there ever was one.

Though Laney has a husband who built a respectable empire up from days on the streets as a bookie, a big house with a pool, a new SUV, a new glittering diamond wedding ring, and two adorable-- and still remarkably innocent-- children, she has demons that still eat her up so badly inside she acts out time and again, basically just begging for her loved ones to turn their backs on her the way she perceives her father to have done when he walked out on her, her mother, and her brother when she was just a child. Laney's demons appear to be one-part genetic (her alcoholism is something shared with her absent father) and one-part oxymoronic desperate attempt to numb the pain from her father's alcoholism and subsequent absence. Laney is a walking dichotomy: she claims to love her father more than anything but her contradictory actions (such as the multiple affairs) prove she has much more anger within her than she is willing to admit.

But this time around the loved ones in Laney's life don't leave her; in fact they will do anything they can to save her, and what is just so tragic about her tale is that although she can see that, it's never quite enough. And when her own son starts to exhibit the obsessive behaviors that will only later manifest themselves in abuse or addiction, she simply chooses to ignore them, still stuck in the selfish mentality of the child who's emotional maturity was stunted the day her father walked out.

"I Smile Back" is not a traditional novel: it is told in three acts, and each one is clearly marked and read more like a manuscript for a play than a literary work (the middle section is even called "Intermission," perhaps to be used as a time to reflect). But Laney is not a traditional heroine (yes despite all she puts the readers through, we still find ourselves genuinely rooting for her to find whatever she needs to feel good-- to feel whole-- even though we know that hope is futile), so this style suits her. In many ways, "I Smile Back" reads like the train-of-thought inner workings of Laney's mind: raw, real, and yes, self-deprecating. In other ways, the book steps outside of Laney and the narration begins to sound like someone who is watching Laney and reporting back on what she is doing-- but that does not read like a editorial flaw but rather yet another intentional look at her damaged psyche: sometimes to protect ourselves, we detach from our emotions, and it's like we step outside ourselves and just become spectators to avoid the sheer power of feeling.

DVD ~ Stuyvesant High School
Price: $9.99
33 used & new from $0.96

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's Just Politics As Usual, October 16, 2008
This review is from: Frontrunners (DVD)
If you're not from the tri-state area, chances are you've never heard
of Stuyvesant High School. Though it is the top math and science school
in New York City, with an average SAT score in the 1400s, the school
that receives twenty-five thousand applicants a year but only accepts
the top 750 runs more like a university than a public secondary school.
Stuyvesant, therefore, is by no means a "typical" American high school,
so just what, then, made this the quintessential place for Director
Caroline Suh to study a "typical" high school election?

"The minute I said I wanted to do a film about the lives of high school
candidates, a friend said I had to check out Stuyvesant," Suh explains.
Perhaps simply for the fact that it is so unlike any other place: it is
a surreal, seemingly fictional world all on its own that tries to run
like a microcosm of the real world, just in a place where everything is
really trivial in the end.

Frontrunners is not about Stuyvesant, though; it is about the students
at Stuyvesant-- a very select few who, although each are unique, do not
seem interesting enough to warrant their own documentary. When thrown
together, though, their different personalities compliment each other
in an odd way and serve to show their school as a bit more well-rounded
than is assumed when someone hears the words "math and science
technical school." Suh does not turn a blind eye to the biggest part of
high school, though-- the popularity of the students-- but she allows
her subjects to be the ones to point out the fact that the
"cheerleaders would vote for Hannah, and the quieter Asians would vote
for George, and the Russian kids would probably vote for Mike."

Suh focuses on who these candidates are and how they campaign, from the
reflective George who integrates science terminology into everyday
speech in a way that you know would get him stuffed in a locker at just
about any other place in the country, let alone the rough and tough
city that is New York, to the eager and outgoing actress Hannah, who
aside from her political aspirations has also appeared opposite Ellen
Barkin in a feature film and guest starred on Law & Order. Suh's camera
is a fly on the wall inside these hallowed halls, watching as these
kids agonize over such seeming adult decisions during the primaries.
Some may have to re-prioritize their extracurriculars, but all have to
put themselves out to be judged in the "public eye" in a place and time
when most just try to fit in. If nothing else, the sheer amount of
pressure and stress these kids put upon themselves is courageous but
also simply stunning to watch. Perhaps the one slight injustice is that
Suh does not mention the elephant in the room: though racial politics
certainly come into play here, not one of the candidates for Student
Union President represents the majority of the school as an Asian
American student. Suh may not have been given such a candidate, but she
doesn't interview and explore why not either.

Suh met surprisingly little resistance from the Stuyvesant community,
and she knows she is blessed for it. Should one candidate (or
candidate's parent, since they were all under the age of eighteen at
the time of filming) refused to be on camera, her production would have
been virtually shut down; she had to be free to roam wherever her
subjects roamed and experience whatever they did. Perhaps as a thank
you for the hospitality, then, Suh does not exploit the missteps of the
young politicians; she shows where they make mistakes or slip up, sure,
but she does not linger the way for which a reality show camera has
trained us to look out. Never biased, she never leads her audience
toward supporting one candidate or another, and even when one in
particular takes some mean-spirited advice from a bitter
gym-teacher-turned-dean about how he should rip apart his opponent in
the debate, Suh skates over the scene, as if trying to soften the blow
and dilute the implications to protect the scrutiny of her young
subject. In a way, Suh's documentary is much more mothering than one
might expect for the harsh, cold world high school has become (or at
least fictionally depicted) of late.

There are no twists to Frontrunners; there is no high drama involving a
personal scandal or fledging grades affecting the outcome of a
campaign. In fact, we rarely see these kids outside of their safe zone
of Stuyvesant High School, and perhaps because of that, they don't
really drop their guard, and we don't get to know them much as people
beyond what's on their resume. Frontrunners can be seen, then, as
almost a video diary for their college application-- all squeaky clean,
professional, and trying to change the world-- but that can't be
genuine all of the time, can it? So in that regard, Frontrunners is
mundane, but nothing in it was faked for dramatic effect, either, so
it's hard to compare it to anything in the past and call it dull.
Stuyvesant is like no other high school, but it's student election is
surprisingly similar to those held in every high school in every city
or town across the country. There are no surprises here, no matter how
much your post-millennium film viewing has trained you to expect
otherwise. The only real thing left to wonder about after viewing
Frontrunners is whether or not the cut-and-dry way it plays out will
mirror itself in the real November 4th election. At any other time,
this film would probably screen only in private, to lightly sprinkled
crowds made up of only Stuy alumni, but the timing couldn't be better,
or the subject matter be more relevant, so Frontrunners will be granted
a run of its own in select theaters on October 24th.

Feast II: Sloppy Seconds
Feast II: Sloppy Seconds
DVD ~ Clu Gulager
Price: $4.80
56 used & new from $0.01

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another Sequel That Sucks, October 8, 2008
This review is from: Feast II: Sloppy Seconds (DVD)
Project Greenlight 3 winner John Gulager's campy horror flick Feast was released in a handful of midnight screenings in 2005 before heading to DVD where it picked up cult classic status, prompting the studio to throw a back-to-back deal (not to mention buckets of more money) at the team for the sequel and third installment of the trilogy. Shot in 2007 on location, Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds (released today on DVD) and Feast 3: Happy Ending (coming in 2009) boast a larger cast of even more unknowns than the first (Jenny Wade is the biggest star, returning to lead a truckload in this "war"), more blood, more gore, and more chance to see the monster-villains on-screen... unfortunately all that excess proves to just be superfluous. Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds suffers from the lack of imagination, creativity, and ingenuity with which the first of the series soared to success; Feast 2 lacks the heart of the independent story it once was, proving once again that the extra money and inflated egos of studio films can kill a franchise.

Randy (Jamie Kennedy) from Wes Craven's Scream once said that in trilogies "all bets are off." Since the series has a clear-cut end, certain characters-- even the leads-- don't have to be kept alive for countless resurrections down the road. It seems Gulager took this advice to heart with Feast 2, opening on the morning after the initial attack in a town nearby where the creatures are now invading a whole new group of people. He throws the picture he painted in Feast out the window not only by ignoring what happened to the car of survivors that took off at dawn (Balthazar Getty must have been too busy with his TV drama and his real life personal drama to return his calls, and his working relationship with Krista Allen was definitely not positive enough to warrant her return) but also by deeming some events and their subsequent title cards false by having a character or two "not be dead after all" (I love Judah Friedlander more than the next girl, but his death was awesome, and his reemergence compromises the rules Feast set forth). A cop out way just to fill the cast with your friends and family, if you ask me, and isn't that what the studio was trying to avoid the first time around? Feast's dollar success was not great enough to allow the granting of complete power to a still-green director who, judging by the auteurship of this film, will most likely have to head back to the world of wedding videos come 2010.
What was so clever and refreshing about Feast was how Gulager made the most of what he had. He wasn't given all the fanciest FX equipment or the biggest budget for CGI. He made an old-school monster movie, with puppeteers on set, steering the hand-crafted rubber beings. He sprayed plenty of blood on his actors and the camera lens, but first and foremost, he crafted well-developed characters and dialogue, using the carnage as a visual aid, but not relying on it to carry the film. Feast 2, however, speaks to the lowest common denominator, as if everything about the filmmaking process was rushed. Between visual gags, toilet humor, and cheap costumes (seeing more of the monsters just showed the dudes in their latex suits), the budget may have doubled, but the production value has been cut off at the knees. There is a lot of the S16mm handheld "home movie" footage in this sequel, but unfortunately shooting such shots at night and "on the move" just provide dark, grainy, and offensive results-- not just to the filmmaker in me but also to the fan.

Actually Gulager's brand of humor has always been borderline, but in Feast 2 he takes it a bit too far, once again probably just drunk on the power of being in control. There are a lot of slapstick jokes at Martin Klebba's expense, and there is a scene with a baby that caused my jaw to hit the floor and my finger to hit the stop button on my DVD player. This film is nothing like the original, and if you are one of the few diehard supporters of the first, like me, you definitely should not ruin your opinion of the story by viewing this mess. Gulager himself should not have ruined the integrity of the story by making this mess!

Speed Racer (Widescreen Edition)
Speed Racer (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Emile Hirsch
Price: Click here to see our price
298 used & new from $0.01

10 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tries To Do Too Much, Ironically Not Fast Enough, September 17, 2008
As brothers, Andrew and Larry Wachowski could not be more different but for the passion they share for seemingly combining filmmaking with gaming. Often such differences in personalities will clash on-set, leaving a product that never quite finds its flow and instead feels like little skits, each directed in a different voice, but lumped together as one big work. While their critical hit The Matrix was the first in a long line of morphed-genre works in which the boys walked a dangerous tightrope of style over substance, it managed to find its ground with a common theme and thesis. Unfortunately their latest release, Speed Racer plummets down the green-screen induced abyss that is postmodern filmmaking, creating and unfortunate mess out of a classic piece of pop culture history from our childhoods.

Speed Racer gained acclaim when it was a cartoon, so it should have been comforting to see the Wachowskis tip their hats to the medium that made the franchise famous by incorporating some sequences that, although done with digital technology, felt drawn straight from an anime board. When overlapping said images with their live action stars and stunts, though, the result felt too campy and cartoonish to be taken as seriously as the emotional storyline seemed to warrant. Emile Hirsch is the hero and title character (with the budding young star Nicholas Elia playing him as elementary-aged), and the Wachowskis certainly didn't want to waste such raw talent, so they whipped up a convoluted tale of morality in a high speed sport. All Speed has ever dreamed of is being a race car driver, like his older brother Rex (Scott Porter); his father (John Goodman) owns his own car servicing company, so there is no question he will go into the family business. When Rex dies in a mysterious crash, Speed is not only competing against drivers who have been paid to take him out, too, but also the ghost of his fallen role model. Add into the mix the rival company who wants to sign Speed, the question of whether Racer X (Matthew Fox) is really Rex, and the cheating, gambling, and fixing of races (even the Grand Prix!), and the result is a two and a half hour movie with so many characters that flit in and out (and often with bad accents) it's almost hard to keep track of who everyone is, let alone why we should care. Oh yeah, and to keep with the original cartoon, Speed's girlfriend Trixie (Christina Richie), little brother (Paulie Litt), and pet Chimpanze (?) are along for the ride, too--though they do little but carry out a couple of funny sight gags.

It's hard to tell which brother was pushing for the more involved, emotional details and which was fighting for the "cool" graphics and motion sequences, but it's obvious that they couldn't come together with a compromise. Speed Racer is entirely unbalanced: some scenes are so high-octane they hurt your eyes whether you are viewing them in high definition or not, while others drag in comparison with attempts and thoughtful and thought-provoking serious and sentimental moments.

The color scheme is so brightly neon, it as if there are fluorescent lights shining behind transparencies of people and objects and projecting false images. Colors wipe the screen so quickly, it can be assumed the action is to simulate the speed of the cars, but the effect is simply psychedelic without cause. The futuristic imagery tries too hard to one-up that of the original, but more importantly, the intensity of this dark tale falls flat because the actors are not allowed to explore the depth of their characters and situations but rather are thrown into absurd setting after even more absurd setting. Ironically, despite the sensory overload of Speed Racer, the events that actually unfold are quite formulaic for this type of film, and by the time the Wachowski Brothers "officially" make their reveals, the audience has already been "in the know" for the better part of an hour.

The special features on the DVD release of Speed Racer include two oddly simple featurettes (when compared with the overblown quality of the feature film), and a digital copy of the film, which if chosen to download, actually costs extra. "Speed Racer: Supercharged" is a standard "Making Of" behind-the-scenes look, and "Spritle in the Big Leagues" is behind-the-scenes specifically with Paulie Litt, who the producers seem to think will be the next Bob Newhart.

As if the bastardizations of Scooby Doo or The Flintstones as live action features weren't enough, the Wachowskis' Speed Racer is yet another to add to that DVD shelf--or better yet, to toss in the trash.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 6, 2009 9:54 AM PDT

Baby Mama
Baby Mama
DVD ~ Tina Fey
Offered by amazingwildcat
Price: $8.31
254 used & new from $0.01

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly Sophomoric, September 3, 2008
This review is from: Baby Mama (DVD)
Whether it's her surprisingly refreshing take on a novel about modern day teenagers (Mean Girls) or snarky one-liners about today's news (SNL's Weekend Update), Tina Fey has become known for delivering on-screen the dialogue she previously wrote behind the scenes. Paired up with her Update partner in crime, Amy Poehler, and the two should be unstoppable because as quippy with just a touch of absurdity, Fey's writing somehow always manages to be both relevant and laugh out-loud funny. Unfortunately her turn as a perpetually single career woman desperate for a child of her own in Michael McCullers' Baby Mama is neither of those things. Perhaps Fey just wanted to prove she could relinquish some control with Baby Mama, or perhaps her real life baby kept her from wearing too many hats on this project, but in either case, the lackluster result cries out for her attention like any newborn.

Fans of Fey and Poehler from their SNL days, or even more recent projects like 30 Rock and Hamlet 2 respectively, will want to give Baby Mama a shot just to see their girls back on-screen as a duo. But fans who expect anything more than a warm smile or a meek chuckle will be sorely disappointed. Baby Mama is a female buddy comedy written by a man and within the studio system, which may explain why Fey and Poehler's natural chemistry gets buried by stereotypical Felix and Oscar gags. When Fey's Kate learns she has a one in a million chance of getting pregnant, she looks for a surrogate, and despite her anal retentively immaculate apartment and Ivy league-esque persona, she still hires the free-spirited, messy, tells-it-like-it-is Angie (Poehler). The two embark on a friendship of opposites that would never have taken place but for the check that was being passed between the two, and sadly that fact never lingers too far from the audience's minds, making the union feel that much more forced. Had the two women found they actually had more in common once they got to know each other, the story wouldn't have been saved, but it would have been better. Instead, though, McCullers forces lessons down the audience's throats: how the women learn from each other--one to calm down and one to grow up--and in the process, they learn how to be mothers. Too sappy to truly be real, and if there's any question about that, just wait for the end when once again the Hollywood ending breaks through any cynicism to prove the impossible can happen... in the movies.

Oddly, McCullers' men aren't any more believable than his women in Baby Mama. Each one (from Greg Kinnear to Dax Shepard, and even Steve Martin) is hapless in his own way, and while goofiness can be cute in doses, these are men who are as immature as children. Instead of building up the characters, McCullers seems to rely on the timeliness of his film, incorporating countless pop culture references (Jamba Juice; American Idol karaoke) that are so oversaturated, they feel more like product placement than just typical elements of everyday life. It appears Baby Mama tries to pick up where Mean Girls left off: a witty, slice of life, character connection film, but like the aging party girl that Kate appears when Angie drags her out to a club, it just appears tired, overcompensating, and out of place among the actually hip crowd.

The bonus features on the DVD release include an audio commentary with McCullers, his two stars, and Executive Producer Lorne Michaels, who can't get a word in edgewise between Fey and Poehler's wisecracks (they sounds oddly pent-up, as if they wanted to release all that funny on-set but were restrained) and the director's incessant need to pipe in with technical knowledge (as if to prove he really does know what he's doing). There are also the obligatory deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a making-of featurette ("From Conception to Delivery") that once again proves the stars' knack for comedy was wasted in the feature.

Being Dad: Inspiration and Information for Dads-To-Be
Being Dad: Inspiration and Information for Dads-To-Be
DVD ~ 40 New Dads
5 used & new from $0.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fatherhood in a Nutshell, July 29, 2008
Everything we have seen about impending childbirth on film so far-- from "Nine Months" to "Knocked Up"-- has focused on the mother's experience with the dad-to-be along for the ride, seemingly to only offer uneducated attempts at comedic relief for their stressed out better halves. Snapper Lounge Media, PNM Productions, and Leslie Marsh have set out to rectify that now, though, with "Being Dad," an eighty-minute journey of what the various stages of pregnancy are like for the men "behind the scenes," so to speak. In some very real and very touchingly honest discussions with dads from all across the United States, "Being Dad" is one part informative educational tool and one part sentimental documentary.

"Being Dad" opens on Troy, a young man who's expecting his first child. Though the first minute or so tells us that Troy only has twelve hours until his baby is born, the film then backtracks through time to explore his nine-month journey. Footage of Troy attending to cravings, doctors appointments, Lamaze classes, and nursery preparations is few and far between, though, and mostly entails Troy talking directly to the camera about something his off-screen wife has said. Marsh, then, relies on a healthy combination of interviews with medical professionals as well as a random combination of strangers to cover a wide variety of possible experiences or any first time father.

Men from all over the country-- California, New York, Chicago, Boston-- were interviewed on-camera in "Being Dad," presumably to give their words a universal appeal. Since we only meet them after the fact, and we never see them interact with either a pregnant wife or a baby, it's easy to put their words and stories onto just about anyone: they could be our brothers, our neighbors, our co-workers, or our old college buddies. Sitting around, drinking some beers and sharing their stories, they are snappy and exceptionally comfortable, despite the intimate nature of what they are saying, and that, in turn, is refreshing. Through these guys, "Being Dad" seems to become much more about these nameless "everyman" dads than Troy. Though there is a brief moment in the very first restaurant that we see Troy sitting at the table and laughing, too, Marsh then quickly opts for close-ups of the men talking rather than reaction shots of the man for whom everything is about to change. Getting in so close on these expressive faces just makes the viewing experience that much more emotional and investing, as well, and though instead of identifying only with Troy, we end up losing ourselves in recollections about pregnancy tests, morning sickness, miscarriages, and much, much more. Being Dad suddenly becomes everyone's story, and opening it up in such a way not only makes it more accessible but also more relatable.

Marsh uses title cards to separate her "chapters" of "Being Dad" in the most blatant way to tell the audience what to expect next, which is almost poetic in that we are so prepared when the dads were so completely blindsided just months earlier. "Being Dad" is a somewhat unexpectedly sentimental look at fatherhood, but a word to the wise that it may not be for the skittish dads, as when we finally rejoin Troy, he is in the delivery room about to meet his baby for the first time, and just as all of the men were completely candid in their discussions, the camera is completely candid in what it shows. And really, in those moments, Being Dad's cinematography acts almost as a metaphor for its general message: just when you think you're getting comfortable, something throws you for a complete loop. And really, that's fatherhood in a nutshell.

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Unrated Two-Disc Special Edition)
Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (Unrated Two-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Kal Penn
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Superfluously (& Crudely) Redundant, July 28, 2008
Two bright guys with promising futures submit to immaturity to keep them in a perpetual state of arrested development. Sound familiar? At least a few dozen other slacker-stoner comedies have created variations on the simple formula, but perhaps none had the sleeper status of Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. Naturally when one is riding high (no pun intended) from such unanticipated home video success, the only logical thing to do is spurn out a sequel; thus was born the slightly superfluous Harold & Kumar 2: Escape From Guantanamo Bay.

Picking up mere moments after the first one left off, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) scramble to make a flight, following their neighbor Maria (Paula Garcés) to Amsterdam. After causing a bit of a stink at the airport, the guys get suspected of being terrorists on the plane when an overly concerned passenger hears them say "bomb" instead of "bong." Things only take a turn for the even more absurd (if that's possible!) from there when they escape from Guantanamo Bay, encounter a tripped-out N.P.H., and detour to try to break up a wedding. Laughs are shared, but much of the film, including a moment with a foreign hick and his too-attractive-to-be-attracted-to-him wife, feel ripped straight out of the original, begging the question of why another version was necessary.

The answer to that may come in the way of supporting characters Vanessa and Colton (Danneel Harris and Eric Winter, respectively), though, whose characters have histories with both boys and who take center focus (even if not a lot of screen-time). While Kumar struggles to win Vanessa back, Harold just wants Colton's important political ties to help get exonerated. Harold & Kumar 2: Escape From Guantanamo Bay, therefore, very quickly transitions from a road trip comedy (as the title suggests) to one of a very different variety: a romantic comedy. The problem is that none of the male/female pairings have the strong chemistry audiences have come to expect from a Harold & Kumar movie when compared to the incredible buddy relationship of the title's lead stars. Winter is supposed to be a villain, which is blatantly obvious when he gives his fiancé a lecture of her found joint, but his slick suits, perfect bone structure, and wide smile make it hard to even dislike the guy, especially considering his character has his act together. Oddly, viewers may find themselves looking at Harold and Kumar in a new light with this film: they are not carefree kids who can afford to mess around, but rather they are adults with responsibilities, and when they don't act accordingly, it's hard to find them sympathetic.

Co-writers-turned-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg certainly banked on the original film's largest draw: N.P.H.--I'm sorry, it just feels wrong to call him by his full name now--resurrecting a slightly self-deprecating version of himself to plant butts in seats this second-chance time around. In Harold & Kumar 2, it feels like all of their energy went towards giving him something new and outlandish to do, while the rest of the film relied on fart jokes and clouds of smoke. At times you may even find yourself just waiting for his arrival on-screen and breathing a hefty sigh of relief once he finally is. Unfortunately, his mere moments come to an end far too quickly, and then you are left with almost an hour of bleakosity to get through to the end.

Harold & Kumar 2: Escape from Guantanamo Bay offers a wide variety of extras, probably assuming once again it's greatest audience will be the home viewer. And they will certainly not be disappointed with the selection! "Dude, Change The Movie!" is the most fascinating, as an interactive features that allows the home viewer to select from alternative scenes to change the sequence of events within the feature. Reminiscent of one of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" childhood books, this feature is simple enough that even the most baked viewers (and let's face it, it appears the directors assumed most would be) can take part. There are also two optional commentaries, with words from both directors, the inspiration behind John Cho's character, and George W. Bush impersonator James Adomian, who also appears in his own special feature: Bush PSA. "The World of Harold & Kumar" is a fun-filled behind-the-scenes featurette, and there are an astounding twenty-seven! deleted scenes from which to choose.

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