Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Struck by Lightning

WARNING: May contain spoilers. But so does the movie's description, so keep that in mind.

Last night, I had the pleasure to see Struck by Lightning, the first feature film for "Glee" star Chris Colfer (for which he also penned the screenplay), at the TriBeCa Film Festival. I shivered in a ridiculously long line for approximately half an hour just waiting to get inside the theater, because I already had tickets to the sold-out screening. The line of ticket-holders stretched down the block, and another, smaller line stood next to us, eagerly hoping that someone wouldn't show up and they could get seats. No doubt Colfer, who was unable to attend this screening due to filming commitments for "Glee", would have been pleased to see the turnout.

I wrote most of this review on the subway on the way home, running on very little food and slightly less sleep (having worked 4-12 the night before), so please forgive me if it sounds rambling and incoherent. My handwriting got steadily more atrocious.

When you hear about all Chris Colfer has done at such a young age, it kind of makes you want to hate him. To be so talented and accomplished before you've even reached your quarter-life crisis makes those of us who have already passed ours feel as though we're wasting our potential. But that's what's amazing about Struck by Lightning -- it makes you think that maybe you can still achieve something. As Colfer's Carson tells his mother, "It's never too late to change your life."

Struck by Lightning is a well-written, well-acted dark comedy. After all, any movie where the main character is killed (he is, in fact, struck by lightning) in the opening moments isn't going to be all light-hearted and fluffy. Carson narrates the film from beyond the grave, which would normally annoy me because I hate voice overs, but in this case I enjoyed his snarky asides, especially when viewing his own funeral. Which sucks. Overall, it had an old school vibe for me, like one of the offbeat comedies from the 80s. When Carson and his friend Malerie decide to blackmail their classmates into writing for the newly-formed school literary magazine, it reminded me very strongly of Heathers.

Colfer has written an extremely relatable cast of characters that, while admittedly cliches, are still flawed and human enough to have been plucked from any high school in America. It may especially resonate with someone who, like me, grew up in a small town and devoted my life to getting out, yet lived in constant fear that I never would. These people are all trying to fit into the mold of who they think they should be rather than who they are, and Carson, outspoken and different, doesn't understand why. In a scene with head cheerleader Claire (Sarah Hyland), he asks why she gave up her first grade dream of being a ballerina. She says, "Everyone laughed at me," and he says, "I didn't." Carson's school is peppered with stereotypes, but they all acknowledge that's what they are, and by the end of the film you get the sense that they are trying to change.

The script is laugh-out-loud funny, a mixture of straight reads as well as improvisation (Rebel Wilson's famous line, "spread that shit like Nutella", was improvised), as well as heart-breakingly poignant. I was genuinely moved to tears, though I confess it isn't all that difficult to make me cry. As much credit for this must go to the fabulous cast. Allison Janney's breakdown when she learns of Carson's death is gut-wrenching, but the scenes with Carson's Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother (Polly Bergen) affected me the most. This was a great cast with incredible chemistry, and it comes across as a fun movie to film.

I appreciated all the subtle references to the title, to the metaphor of being struck by lightning (which is not as much of a metaphor as I originally thought). That's how Carson explains inspiration to Malerie, how you get an idea and it goes through your body and needs to come out. When Carson's mother's doctor tries to convince her to put him on anti-depressants in order to ground him, I may or may not have snorted.

What is most refreshing is that this is, essentially, a teen movie, yet with a main character who has ambitions and goals outside of the immediateness of high school life. Carson doesn't have the obligatory love interest, nor does he seem at all interested in having one. Colfer told E! Online that he worried kids wouldn't focus on the message if they were too busy worrying about Carson's sexuality, so he just didn't focus on it. And the message I got out of it was that, while you should have goals, you should also live for the present, that you need to take the bad memories with the good, because at any moment you could be struck by lightning.

I believe that Struck by Lightning would be a success even without Colfer's avid "Glee" fanbase. It's fun and witty and different -- a teen movie that falls just outside the realm of typical, a film to which all sorts of people can relate. Four for you, Chris Colfer. You go, Chris Colfer.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I Prefer British TV to American

The Perils of Being an Anglophile in America

I really want to see Fast Girls.

If you haven't heard of it (and I suspect you haven't), Fast Girls is a British movie about the UK women's relay team. You may recognize some of the stars, even if you don't know their names: Lenora Crichlow (Annie, "Being Human" - the UK version, of course), Noel Clarke (Mickey, "Doctor Who"), Bradley James, (King Arthur, "Merlin"), and Rupert Graves (a lot of stuff, but most recently Detective Inspector Lestrade, "Sherlock").

I am not ashamed to admit that the reason I originally wanted to see it was because of Bradley James. I am extremely shallow when it comes to a lot of things, especially movies. I have sat through a lot of truly terrible movies because of a particular actor. (If anyone has ever seen the version of Sherlock Holmes starring Gareth David-Lloyd as Watson, you'll know what I'm talking about.) I adore Bradley and have seen everything he's ever done, which is to say not much. So I was excited to learn that he'd be in an actual film -- and was even more excited to learn that it's a legitimate part, with a name and everything. After seeing the trailer, I want to see this movie for different reasons -- namely, that it looks like it's going to be ridiculously awesome.

Of course, the problem with watching British television shows is that they often do not air in the United States, and if they do, they tend to air several months later, when we have already learned everything that's happened because the internet exists and no one on Tumblr has any concept of spoilers. BBC America seems to only air episodes of "Top Gear" and "Kitchen Nightmares" interspersed with shows that aren't even British, though they may feature British actors, like "Battlestar Galactica" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

Granted, "Doctor Who" airs the same day in America as it does in England, and "Being Human" is only a few weeks behind. But shows like "Merlin" and "Sherlock", which air on completely different networks, are often months behind. If we fans in the United States (and other countries, of course) want to avoid spoilers, we essentially have to not get on the internet until these shows air in our own country. And as someone who spends upwards of 8 hours a day on the internet, that's just not feasible.

Then there is the wait for the DVDs in region 1 format. Not everyone has a multi-region DVD player and can buy the UK versions, which often are released while the show is still in its first run. In the case of "Merlin", the DVDs don't come out in America until the next season airs on Syfy, which is almost a year later.

Additionally, the problem with watching British television shows and liking the British actors who appear on these British television shows is that they tend to do British movies. And British movies tend not to play in the United States because we are not, in fact, Britain.

This isn't as much of a problem for me as it might be for other American Anglophiles, because I happen to live in New York City, and if a movie is going to come to the United States at all, even in limited release, then odds are it will come to New York. Though I have demonstrated that I am willing to travel to see an actor I like in a movie that I fear may not make it here. Last year I took a bus to Boston to see Colin Morgan's Parked at the Irish Film Festival, only for it to come to New York about six months later (twice, in fact -- I saw it both times). Others aren't so lucky and have to settle for waiting for it to come out on DVD -- assuming it comes out in region 1 format.

Why, then, do I watch these British television shows and movies with their British actors when it's so difficult, if not impossible, to do so? Because more often than not they're better than 90% of the crap that airs on American TV, and American studios obviously realize this, which is why they steal so many British shows and Americanize them. Really, they should just air the British version, because for every "The Office" there are five "Coupling", and after the travesty they had the nerve to call "Torchwood", I'm in favor of never Americanizing anything ever again. I'm looking at you, "Elementary".

Also, watching these British television shows and movies with their British actors means hot guys with British accents, and I've already admitted I'm shallow.

But mostly, it's because they're good. Better than good. "Downton Abbey" has become hugely popular, and when "Doctor Who" filmed in New York there were more than 400 people who showed up to watch (including me). More and more British shows are beginning to have a presence in America, filming on location or panels at conventions or actors popping up on late night talk shows. Hopefully soon it won't be such a trial to get these British television shows and movies with their British actors on American television and movie screens, whether it be in the form of DVDs being released more quickly or more stations hopping on the Brit bandwagon. Or BBC America getting its shit together and showing more than two shows.

Until that happens, I will be patiently waiting for Fast Girls in any form it arrives, and in the event it comes to New York, I will do my damnedest to see it as many times as possible, so that it can get the money it needs to go to other parts of America -- and the world. Because everyone should be able to see Bradley James on the big screen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jamie Is a Nerd: Introduction

I am a nerd.

I feel like listing my nerdly qualifications is redundant, as the only nerds who freely brag about being nerds are, in actuality, nerds, yet the point of this first entry is an introduction, of sorts, to my nerdtastic life.  I was tempted to do this in list format, as I am inordinately fond of lists, but ultimately decided against it.

I geek out over virtually everything. I enjoy geeking out over things. On some level, I understand that not everyone has the same amount of enthusiasm, but I cannot fathom people who don’t get ridiculously excited about things. I buy advance tickets to midnight shows. I pre-order things on Amazon. I devour every article, photograph, and video I can find. I reread books multiple times, I marathon television shows when I get interested in them, I’ll see a movie more than once in a theater. It boggles my mind that there are people out there who don’t do these things.

The purpose of this blog is to allow me a special format in which to properly geek out, and unlike Tumblr, to do so with actual words as opposed to slightly incoherent, incomplete sentences such as, “OMG HIS FACE” and “THIS”. Occasionally I do have intelligent thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts even make sense. More often than not, though, they’re just pointless rambling.

So if you are a nerd, come in, come in. If you are a geek, a dork, come in. If you are a Whovian, a Potterhead, a Sherlockian, a Whedonite, come in. If you reside in Panem or Camelot, come in, come in. You’re in good company here.

For anyone interested in daily insights into my life nerdtastic, you can find me on Twitter and Tumblr. Nerds, ahoy!