Exactly 40 years ago, in the fall of 1972, a bunch of forward thinking creative forces led by actress Marlo Thomas banded together to develop the time honored album Free to Be... You and Me: a project whose mission statement was to teach young boys and girls how to appreciate themselves and not be restricted by society's barriers for gender and personal identity. Free to Be is considered a massive, longstanding success in the influence of American youths to embrace independent definitions for their personality and values. It truly does stand as a benchmark in the constant journey for both a greater understanding of the complexities of the human mind as well as for the plight to apply this education toward a more open-minded civilization. So, naturally, people are going to make fun of it now.
Comedy writer Rob Kutner (Conan), producer Stephen Levinson (Entourage, Boardwalk Empire), and comedian/that other dude's brother Joel Moss Levinson are headlining the new parody album It's OK to... Do Stuff, riffing on the sweet-natured earnestness of Free to Be. The album includes contributions from contemporary performers like Lizzy Caplan, Colin Hanks, Andy Richter, The Daily Show's Samantha Bee and Wyatt Cenac, Fred Willard, Parks and Recreation writer Megan Amram, Barenaked Ladies' Steven Page, and a slew of other "Oh yeah, I know them! They're pretty funny!" characters.
And to be honest, it probably will be funny. With names like those, and listed comedy titles such as "Be Yourself... Unless," "Wally Wants a Real Doll," and "Girl Meets Droid," the album is not likely to fall short in the laugh department. But that doesn't mean there isn't something a little off about the whole concept.
Parody and satire were invented to call attention to the flaws and follies, and often the evils, in an existing establishment. But the earnestness in Free to Be, the attitude perpetrated by the 1972 project, is not something that warrants this kind of treatment. Sure, if you were to sort through the tracks, you might well think up a few points wherein improvements could be made, possibly to reflect the changes our society has embraced since the album's release. But this sort of "flaw" doesn't call for mockery, it calls for update. A genuine revisit to Free to Be... You and Me, engaging with today's mentalities and the increased opportunity for open discussion and change, should be celebrated and welcomed.
And of course, I'm not trying to shoot down comedy as a venue for change. Comedians have historically instituted some of the most significant positive social changes our country has endured. And if that's the purpose of It's OK, to further the plight of Free to Be with a comical spin (perhaps to reach today's more cynical generation), then so be it — the best of luck to them. But if the only real endeavor is to make a joke about something everybody knows, something wholly good and important, then my only question is simply, "Why?"
[Photo Credit: Todd Oren/Getty Images]
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Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.