Admission is an altogether pleasing entry in the romantic comedy genre, with genial, three-dimensional performances from stars Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, and Nat Wolff. It's a no-brainer to finally have two of the most likable comic talents in Hollywood appear opposite each other in a smallish and smart comedy, and although it would be easy for Fey and Rudd to skate by on their respective charms, Admission isn't quite as fluffy as the trailers would have you believe.
The film is bit like director Paul Weitz's 2002 film About A Boy, in that a grown-up is forced by a precocious child to reassess his/her life. In the film, Fey's character Portia Nathan has already been facing some major life changes when she meets an incredibly smart young Princeton hopeful named Jeremiah Balakian (Wolff) whose life she has the power to change. Portia is an admissions officer for Princeton who's spent her whole life trying to be the opposite of her mom Susannah (Tomlin), a first-wave feminist who is as quick to chop her own wood as to wield a shotgun at an unwelcome houseguest. Portia has a passionless relationship with a Princeton professional (Michael Sheen) who awkwardly pats her on the head when she's feeling amorous, but she sucks it up and is happy, more or less. Their Ivory Tower lifestyle of cocktail parties and conferences isn't conducive to having children, something she thought they agreed on until Mark leaves her for his pregnant mistress. Portia is left to find out what she wants for herself, and begins to realize what her dreams don't look anything like she thought.
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Like its title, Admission works on several levels. There is plenty here about motherhood and the many forms it takes, from the interest the admissions officers take in their own applicants to Portia's relationship with Jeremiah. Portia and Susannah's relationship could have been explored more, especially in light of the generation gap between first wave feminists and the women who enjoy the fruits of their labor; it's loaded and bristling with resentment and pain that speaks to the greater political dynamic as much as it does the mother/daughter relationship. There's a slightly mean subplot about workplace politics among women with Portia, her competitive coworker Corinne (Gloria Reuben), and their boss Clarence (Wallace Shawn), and it would have been interesting to explore that dynamic as well, especially since Corinne goes out of her way to point out she's a working mom, which means Portia is saddled with extra work because she has all that extra time what with not being a mother.
Paul Rudd is one of the most charming actors in Hollywood. Pairing him with Fey is a genius move, but a dangerous one. They could have easily fallen into a broad slapstick, but they're actually complimentary, bringing out a warmth and depth that could have easily been overlooked or underplayed. There's even a little touch of About a Boy in Rudd's John Pressman, a former classmate of Portia's who spends his time running around the world to fix other people's problems instead of facing his own. John adopted a kid on his travels, the adorable and, yes, precocious Nelson (Travaris Spears), a relationship that's funny but also quite tender. It's no secret that the yin and yang of John and Portia are meant to balance each other out over the course of the movie, and although things get a bit rushed near the end, it's still sweet to watch it unfurl. Wolff, who used to appear on the kids' show The Naked Brothers Band, is invigorating to watch as an autodidact whom John has taken under wing.
Admission is intricately constructed from the inside out, by which I mean if it had a weaker script or flatter direction or a less talented cast, it would be filed away and forgotten like so many other dusty rom-coms. Luckily, the end product is richer and more nuanced. It's not fair to compare Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon on 30 Rock to Portia, especially since Fey didn't write the script for Admission. The parallels are hard to miss, though, especially given each character's marital status and decidedly ambivalent attitude towards children. (Coincidentally, Sheen also played a Liz Lemon love interest on 30 Rock.) At some point, Liz Lemon became less of an ally to brainy single women and more of a caricature; it didn't feel like she was laughing with the Liz Lemons of the world but more at them. It's hard not to feel a little bitter about it.
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Although Portia is more sympathetic, Fey brings the baggage of Lemon with her to future endeavors, or at least to those roles where she plays brainy single women questioning their childless lives. (Let's not forget that Lemon was married and mommy'd up by the end of the show, either.) At the same time, these questions are relevant to many women's lives. We're damned if we do and damned if we don't; similarly, filmmakers are damned if they do and damned if they don't. At the very least, it's refreshing to see a romantic lead in her thirties treated like an attractive, sexual being instead of a punch line. Susannah is also portrayed as a sexy, beautiful woman that men still flock to, too.
Despite these misgivings, I was won over by Admission, which, frankly, left me a little verklempt by the end.
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Wreck-It Ralph lives in an arcade and while that may be a longstanding fantasy for many of the children of the 80s the shine has more than worn off for Ralph. He resides in a videogame called Fix-It Felix and has been executing the same program for thirty years. Pursuant to the game’s 8-bit edict he must endeavor to destroy an apartment building as a quirky little do-gooder with a hammer tries to repair it. Ralph is a badguy but is he a bad guy? Feeling out of order he flees the world he knows to see if he can take his unfulfilling existence to the next level.
At a cursory glance Wreck-It Ralph may seem to offer nothing to anyone bereft of a passion for classic gaming. Truth be told there are ample references to games and gaming characters and not without a deep and knowledgeable affection. The jokes don’t come from the mere appearance of these characters but also videogame fundamentals actually permeate into the traits of the film’s original characters. In fact possibly the most thoughtful nod to gaming is the jerky movements of the characters within the Fix-it Felix cabinet superbly calling back to the limited range of motion afforded to 80s-era arcade fodder. It’s a balance of overt reference and the methods by which various gaming trademarks play into Wreck-It Ralph’s overarching universe.
And that universe is precisely what will draw in even those who have never held a controller. The landscapes through which Ralph travels are varied and gorgeous: from his modest but charming 8-bit home to the dark and foreboding nightmare of Hero’s Duty and finally to the garish wonderment of Sugar Rush. There are so many styles and applications of animation at work each dedicated to the conceptual scenery changes. You don’t need to know how to play Tapper or even that it ever existed as a real game to recognize that his almost stop-motion movements clash delightfully with the CG Ralph. And no Halo or Mario Kart knowledge required to understand the depth of detail in the worlds of Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush respectively.
But like any hardcore gamer will attest great games cannot live by rich environments alone. The best games like the best movies are founded upon remarkable characters. Ralph may be a arcade videogame villain but his appeal is as broad as his building-leveling shoulders. He represents that need in all of us to rise above our station to challenge the notion that we are predestined to one occupation or personality set. Ralph is a guy who’s bad because he’s programmed to be but he is constantly looking at the life he wants--the life of a hero--from the other side of the glass literally in fact. It’s a sweetly relatable theme that finds its way into other characters like Ralphs pint-sized nemesis Vanellope. It is from this theme that the movie derives the majority of its heart.
The voice cast here is exceptional but that should come as no surprise considering the characters seem modeled after the personalities of the performers selected or at least modeled after the characters they tend to portray. Ralph brought to life by John C. Reilly is a perennial sad sack with an awkward sense of humor that is somehow endearing. Voiced by Sarah Silverman Vanellope is a shrill snarky troublemaker who manages to be adorable despite herself. Felix is a dopey but sincere yokel…voiced by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer. Jane Lynch voices the bossy domineering female soldier with the endless vocabulary of put-downs. Need we say more? That’s not to say this approach is lazy; far from it. It gives the characters a fleshed-out lived-in quality.
Wreck-It Ralph significantly narrows the gap between Disney and Pixar in terms of excellence. It still seems strange to think of Disney and Pixar as two separate bodies but the fact is that as soon as Pixar made the choice to stand alone their films have outshined Disney’s by a considerable margin. Wreck-It Ralph borrows liberally from the Pixar playbook evident right from the moment the central conceit is revealed to be the bestowing of sentience and personality to inanimate entities. And like Pixar Wreck-It Ralph is at its most enjoyable and most clever when the audience experiences the functional mechanics of how these characters exist in their own world the specificity of their imagined living space and its logistics. Yet this time Disney has dug deeper than the amiable outward trappings and arrived at what makes us love the films of Pixar and quality family entertainment in general.
If there is a complaint to be had with Wreck-It Ralph it is merely that it introduces a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining concept and then limits itself to but a few outlets for its expression. The movie spends so much time in Sugar Rush and while it’s beautiful and captivating we wonder what the other games would have had to offer. It’s akin to Monday morning filmmaking “I would’ve done this” or “I would’ve done that ” but it would have been the cherry on the sundae or perhaps more appropriately the various fruits in the maze to have been able to witness Ralph’s interaction with other games.
By the time we reach the kill screen Wreck-It Ralph has used something as geeky and esoteric as the world of arcade gaming to warp us to a place of emotional resonance and utter delight. Suffice to say it has plenty of replay value.
Gwen Verdon, a four-time Tony Award winner from Broadway's Golden Age, has died at age 75 from natural causes at her daughter's Vermont home. The petite, redheaded performer captivated audiences in musicals such as "Damn Yankees," "Chicago" and "Sweet Charity."
Verdon was married to director-choreographer Bob Fosse, whom she married in 1960, and the couple worked together on "Anna Christie" and "Redhead" along with "Chicago" and "Damn Yankees." Her last Broadway appearance was in "Chicago" in 1975 with Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach.
Broadway theaters dimmed their lights at 8 p.m. Wednesday in honor of the legend.
ACTRESS JULIE LONDON DIES: Julie London, nurse Dixie McCall of television's "Emergency!", died Wednesday of cardiac arrest in Los Angeles. London, who had been in poor health since suffering a stroke five years ago, was married to "Dragnet" actor Jack Webb, then jazz composer and actor Bobby Troup, who portrayed resident brain surgeon Dr. Joe Early alongside his wife on "Emergency!"
In her youth, London appeared in films with Hollywood legends such as Rock Hudson, Edward G. Robinson and Gary Cooper, and Billboard magazine voted her one of the top female vocalists of 1955, 1956 and 1957.
PRODUCER WALTER SHENSON DIES: Walter Shenson, who produced "Help!" and "A Hard Day's Night" for the Beatles and 12 other films, has died from complications from a stroke in Los Angeles. He was 81.
Shenson worked as a publicist for Paramount Pictures on the films "The Caine Mutiny" and "From Here to Eternity" before turning to producing. Among Shenson's other films: "The Mouse That Roared" with Peter Sellers and "Reuben, Reuben" with Tom Conti.
ACTOR RICK JASON DIES: Rick Jason, who portrayed Lt. Gil Hanley on the 1960s TV series "Combat!", committed suicide at his in Moorpark, Calif., home officials said Tuesday. Jason was 74 and had been depressed over personal matters, officials told Reuters.
Before becoming a household name on "Combat!", Jason starred in the short-lived series "The Case of the Dangerous Robin" and a TV movie, "The Fountain of Youth," directed by Orson Welles. Other TV appearances include "Murder, She Wrote," "Wonder Woman," "Fantasy Island" and "Dallas." Jason also had regular appearances on the soap opera "The Young and the Restless."