When you're in high school it feels like the whole world is against you. In writer/director Stephen Chbosky's high school-set The Perks of Being a Wallflower the whole world may actually be against Charlie (Logan Lerman) whose freshman year of high school should be listed in the dictionary under "Murphy's Law." Plagued by memories of two significant deaths as well as general social anxiety Charlie takes a passive approach to ninth grade. A few days of general bullying later he falls into a friendship with two misfit seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who teach him how to live life without fear. Perks starts off with a disadvantage: introverts aren't terribly engaging but Chbosky surrounds Charlie with a vivid cast of characters who help him blossom and inject the coming-of-age tale with a necessary energy.
Set in a timeless version of the '90s Charlie's world is full of handwritten journals mixtapes and a just-tolerable amount of tweed. He writes letters to a nameless recipient as a way of venting a preventative measure to keep the teen from repeating a vague incident that previously left him hospitalized. The drab background of Pittsburgh fits perfectly with Charlie's blank existence. And when he finally comes to life as part of Patrick and Sam's off-beat clique so does the city. Like the archaic vinyl records Sam lusters over (The Smiths of course!) Chbosky visualizes Charlie's journey through the underbelly of suburban Pennsylvania with a raw emotion blooming lights and film grit at every turn. Michael Brook's score and an adeptly curated soundtrack accompanies the episodic affair which centers on Charlie's search for a song he hears during the most important moment of his life.
The charm that keeps The Perks of Being a Wallflower from collapsing under its own super seriousness come from Chbosky's perfectly cast ensemble. Lerman has a thankless job playing Charlie; often constrained to a half-smile and shy shrug Lerman is never allowed to grapple with Charlie's greatest fears and problems until (too) late in the film. Watson nails the spunky object-of-everyone's-affection but she's outshined by Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth another rebellious friend in the pack who takes a liking to Charlie. The real star turn is Miller riding high from We Need to Talk About Kevin and taking a complete 180 with Patrick a rambunctious wiseass who struggles to have an openly gay relationship with the football captain but covers his pain with humor. A scene of confrontation — at where else the cafeteria — is one of the best scenes of the year.
Chbosky adapted Perks of Being a Wallflower from his own book and the movie feels stifled by a looming structure. But it nails the emotional beats — there is no obvious path to surviving high school. It's messy shocking and occasionally beautiful. That about sums up Perks.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
HBO's Big Love deserves credit for more than just being a critically acclaimed, Emmy nominated drama. It opened America's eyes. It showed us that there are people in our country living vastly different lives than the majority of the population. But when you boil all the socio-religious commentary down, it showed us that polygamists are really just large families with many of the same problems that your own faces.
Unfortunately, the trials and tribulations of the Henrickson family are coming to a close as HBO announced that its wrapping up the series after its fifth season, which will begin airing in January 2011. The news comes at a time when the show hit a major crossroad. With the Henricksons no longer hiding their polygamist ways from the world (as seen in the season finale earlier this year), there are a plethora of narrative possibilities for producers and writers to explore. A new wave of anti-polygamist activity could trigger betrayal, fear, backlash and who knows what else. As the new season has been fully shot and is in the editing stage, I don't think that the creative direction will be affected by this announcement, but my curiosity has now hit a fever pitch, knowing that this will be the beginning of the end for Bill, Barb, Marge, Nikki and the children.
Read on below for excerpts from the official press release:
“It has been an honor and pleasure to work with series creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer on this unique and provocative series, and I’m happy that they will be able to bring the story to its close the way they always envisioned,” said Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming. “We look forward with great anticipation to collaborating with Mark and Will on their next venture.”
“When we created Big Love in 2002, we had a strong conception of the journey the Henrickson family would make over the course of the series, of the story we had to tell,” said Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. “While we were in the writers’ room this year shaping our fifth season, we discovered that we were approaching the culmination of that story. Big Love has been our all-consuming labor of love for the past eight years. We are very grateful for HBO’s continuing support and for the collaborative effort of our partners at Playtone, our producers, our fine cast and our fellow craftsmen and crew for making this show the exceptional and joyful experience that it’s been. This coming January, we look forward to presenting our audience with the most vibrant and satisfying final season of a television series that we can produce.”
“Big Love has been a truly rewarding experience in every way for Tom Hanks and me,” said executive producer Gary Goetzman. “We’ve been so fortunate to have had such a tremendous cast over the five seasons, and we’ve never been less than amazed with their brilliance and willingness to take risks. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our partnership with Will and Mark and have always been blown away by their storytelling abilities. We believe this final season of Big Love will be the best ever.”
HBO's empire is expanding.
After just one episode, the network has already ordered another seasons of its new drama Boardwalk Empire. But really, this isn't surprising. According to the New York Times, the network spent millions of dollars marketing the show and it paid off. The first episode gained 7.1 million viewers (plus the millions of others who pirated it online).
“All the ingredients aligned for this one, from Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson’s initial pitch, to Martin Scorsese’s enormous contributions as director and executive producer, to the genius of Terry Winter and the expertise of Tim Van Patten, to a stellar cast led by Steve Buscemi,” Michael Lombardo, the president of HBO Programming, said. “The response from the media and our viewers has been nothing short of amazing.”
Boardwalk Empire was the highest premiere for HBO since Deadwood in 2004, when it followed an episode of The Sopranos.
Bottom line, this show is awesome and will only get awesome-er. We're only one episode in, and can't wait for season two! Check out our recap of episode one right here.
Source: NYT Arts Blog