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Big Fish

Big Fish is a 2003 fantasy film and quite possibly Tim Burton’s masterpiece.  Billy Crudup stars as William Bloom, a writer who is trying to connect with his dying father. He feels like his relationship with his dad is like two strangers who happen to know each other extremely well. The problem is that William was never able to connect with his father. His father was a traveling salesman with a passion for telling tall tales and embellishing the truth, and he feels like he never knew the real person behind the stories.

The film is framed by an elderly Edward Bloom (played by Albert Finney) who is bedridden and slowly fading away. The story flashes back to a younger Edward (played by Ewan McGregor) doing fantastic things and having amazing adventures. He meets a giant, a werewolf, Siamese twins, a witch, and has a few encounters with a particularly big fish. On the surface this is a modern fairy tale. But it’s really about reconciliation. Edward and William have a broken relationship. Everything Edward ever told William was embellished and elaborated. William thinks that everything his father told him was a lie. They are bonded by blood but don’t have much in common.

This film is more sophisticated than Tim Burton’s other films. It’s more adult and decidedly less gothic. There is a great supporting cast including Jessica Lange, Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi, and apparently a young Miley Cyrus. Helena Bonham Carter is in it too and Danny Elfman provides the score. Johnny Depp is the only Burton Regular who doesn’t show up.  I guess there wasn’t a part for a pale pedophile. This is the type of movie that you can watch with your parents and feel like you’ve bonded. Real art effects emotion. This film is art.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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TV Shows are Better than Movies

Movies used to be the premier form of Hollywood entertainment. They were the pinnacle. They had the best actors, the best directors, the best stories, and the best effects. But then HBO started making their own shows. They had the budget to hire quality actors to portray quality characters. Characters are the most important part of storytelling. If you don’t care about the character, then you don’t care about what happens to them. And a TV series allows a character to get developed over multiple episodes and seasons. You get to know their personality, their quirks, their pet peeves, and you feel like you truly know them.

AMC has a lot of amazing character based dramas, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, with interesting characters and intriguing storylines. The Walking Dead not only has great characters but also feels like a zombie movie that never ends. And it has more graphic and creative zombie deaths than anything in the movies. There are shows like True Blood that are extremely sexual and violent and Spartacus (which makes True Blood seem like a family show). The quality writing on television is extended to Cartoon Network. Even the worst season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is better than anything the prequel trilogy has to offer.

In the old days, any actor could be on TV but only a few actors could transition to the big screen and be a box office draw. Now movie stars want to be on television. The Simpsons and Scrubs are famous for their celebrity cameos and guest roles. Former Hollywood heavyweights like Keifer Sutherland got a career boost by turning to TV. Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, and Sean Bean put aside film opportunities to star in HBO shows. Kevin Spacey, Christian Slater, William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Kathy Bates, Zooey Deschanel, Danny DeVito, Christina Ricci, Laura Linney, Don Cheadle, and Glenn Close have all chosen television over film. Who needs to go to the theater with that kind of star power available on a weekly basis?

With HBO hits like The Sopranos and Sex in the City, other networks started paying more attention to quality programming. Premium cable channels like Starz and Showtime stepped up their game. Basic cable networks like FX and AMC had to keep up and they did. And the major networks took note and started taking more risks. We get shows as diverse as Lost and Community and everybody wins. The production quality and star power of television shows is only going to increase. It’s a good time to be a couch potato with a Netflix subscription.

Critically Rated at 16/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Billy Madison

Adam Sandler is Billy Madison in Billy Madison. Tamra Davis (Half Baked) directs Adam Sandler in his first starring role. Billy must prove to his father that he is competent enough to take over the family business. The best way to prove his competence is to repeat first grade through his senior year in high school, spending two weeks in each grade. This wasn’t a box office hit, but it’s Adam Sandler’s best movie.

Billy Madison is a loser. A rich loser. He spends his days getting drunk and chasing imaginary penguins around his dad’s mansion. Billy is the heir to the Madison Hotel chain, but his dad doesn’t know if he can handle the pressure of running a Fortune 500 company. Billy proposes that he goes back to school to show that he can graduate without his dad’s help or influence.

Billy starts reliving his childhood two weeks at a time. He draws a blue duck with Miss Lippy in first grade. He falls for Veronica Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson), his third grade teacher, and he makes friends with Ernie and a few other students. Elementary and middle school is fun, but eventually Billy winds up in high school again. This time he isn’t as popular as the last time around and he makes amends with people he bullied in high school (like Steve Buscemi in an awesome cameo).

The villain of the story is Eric Gordon (Bradley Whitford), who stands to gain Madison Hotels if Billy fails. Naturally he tries to sabotage Billy, and when Billy finds out he challenges him to an academic decathlon to determine who takes over the business.

I am beginning to suspect a certain trend of happy endings in Hollywood movies, because Billy ends up winning even though he’s probably suffering from brain damage. Billy is not smart. He has occasional flashes of brilliance, but he’s not a smart character. He knows that there is no “w” in “couch” but still struggles to spell it correctly. He’s mean too. He picks on little kids and belittles them and makes no attempt to say sorry or rectify the situation.

There are some great supporting roles in this movie. Norm Macdonald stands out as Billy’s loser friend. He’s the kind of guy who steals thirty bagged lunches, lights bags filled with shit on fire, and has pickle races down store windows. Chris Farley plays an angry bus driver. He throws a banana peel out the bus window, and shots of the slowly decomposing peels become interspersed throughout the movie, before the peel leads to the demise of the O’Doyle clan.

There is a simple plot with a lot of random moments. A lot of elaborate sequences have no real bearing on the movie, most notably the opening chase of the imaginary penguin. There’s a sudden musical number, as inspiring as it is confusing. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, but there should be more of a reason behind gags like that.

This is Adam Sandler’s best movie. Happy Gilmore is the only other candidate for his best movie. Sandler is not that funny. He is goofy. He makes weird noises and makes fun of lunch ladies. He’s not a great comedian, but he can turn a film into a vehicle for himself and that’s not easy to do. If you missed the ‘90s for whatever reason, you can watch this movie and catch up.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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