Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'd Like to Thank You for the Year

Most people will tell you that Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks. After all, it's right there in the name of the day. But at the end of the year, as songs like "Step into Christmas" are on repeat play, I can't help thinking of one line in that song: "I'd like to thank you for the year." So in the spirit of showing even more appreciation, I'd like to say a few thank-yous to some (but not all of) the people, places, and things that made 2011 so much fun. This list is in no particular order.

Thank you to my fellow email geeks, Only Influencers members, and industry peers. I've truly enjoyed getting to know you all and debating the various email and social media topics, but also things like the merits of Google+, Klout, or Rebecca Black, or whether The King's Speech or The Social Network was a better movie, and doing so via email, on Twitter, or while sitting in a hot tub in Park City, Utah. And a special thanks to Ryan Phelan for including me in his Only Influencers version of Ocean's 11.

Thank you to Tim Burke and the staff at In a Pickle, not only for making some delicious food (mmmm ... Cookie Dough Pancakes ... Nutella Stuffed French Toast) but also for being a smart, kick-ass small business that I love supporting and advocating for.

Thank you to the staffs of MarketingSherpa and MediaPost, who, in their infinite wisdom, planned conferences this year in Las Vegas, Key Biscayne, Captiva Island, and Park City ... and thank you to my employer for letting me attend them.

Thank you to Andy Grammer, Coldplay, Kanye West and Jay-Z, James Morrison, Jessie J, Matt Nathanson, and yes, even you, Lady Gaga, who created some of my favorite music of the year.

Thank you to Roots, for making some of the most comfortable clothes I own.

Thank you to my friends, for being there, for cooking for me, for brunching with me, for sharing my love of steak and cupcakes, for trying to set me up on dates, for playing the role of cheerleader, and for being the best support system a guy could ask for.

Thank you to Twitter and Facebook, and all the people I'm connected with on those sites, for amusing and entertaining me, for keeping me informed, and for broadening my horizons on a daily basis.

Thank you to the staff at Johnny's Luncheonette, who see me sitting at the counter quite often, and who apparently know me so well that they've started to order for me because I tend to get the same thing (macaroni and cheese, with broccoli) way too often.

Thank you to Marc and Ian, my twin nephews, for being born and always having a smile on your faces. A year from now, you're going to get into all kinds of trouble (likely with my help), and I can't wait.

Thank you to Abby, my niece, for being silly, for being my buddy, and for growing into a young girl who is smart and so much fun to be around.

Thank you to Pippa Middleton. For obvious reasons.

Thank you to my coworkers, who make me laugh on an almost daily basis, sometimes on purpose and sometimes without intending to. You make me think, you challenge me, you fascinate and intrigue me, you inspire me, and you remind me of what's really important.

Thank you to Clarence Clemons, Amy Winehouse, and Steve Jobs, who, before leaving us this year, gave me lasting gifts of great music and fun-to-use, can't-live-without-it technology. Your contributions to my life will live on.

Thank you to Mike and Carla Levin, for naming me co–Salami King at MCJ42K11 (Michigan City July 4th 2011), an honor that means more than most readers of this post probably realize.

Thank you to the Bruins, for making me care about hockey again, even if it was only for a month.

Thank you to Matty, Billy, Lisa, Jim, Rich, Kendra, and James, whose antics help me arrive at work every morning with a smile, and keep me laughing (via podcast) most every night when I'm driving home.

Thank you to the writing and design staffs of Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, and Rolling Stone for your insightful, entertaining, and memorable articles.

Thank you to Fiorella's Express and Comella's, for your excellent Italian takeout; to U Burger and Sal's Pizza, for feeding me before my weeknight movie screenings; to Finagle a Bagel, for being my almost-every-Saturday lunch spot; and Lucky Wah, for serving me well for many years before you closed a couple weeks ago.

Thank you to my can't-miss TV shows Happy Endings, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Revenge, New Girl, The Amazing Race, How to Make It in America, Saturday Night Live, CBS Sunday Morning, and Modern Family.

Thank you to the me I used to be, who I became reacquainted with this year when I finally finished re-reading my 8+ journals from high school. You reminded me who I was, showed me who I still am, and encouraged me to make changes I said I would 20 years ago.

Thank you to everyone else I'm neglecting to mention here. 2011 was a great year (better than last year), and there are just too many people and things to thank for that. So rather than try to list everyone, I'm going to share this video slide show, so you can see just how happy I was throughout the year, and what kind of "Good Life" I led. (And thank you to Animoto for making this so easy and fun to create!)

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope 2012 is a great year for you all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quiet on the Set

The next time someone says to you, "They sure don't make movies like they used to," you can direct that person to my review of J.J. Abrams' Steven Spielberg homage, Super 8. Or, you can tell that person to see The Artist, an affectionately made tribute to the early days of filmmaking, when the addition of sound changed the industry forever, that's made in the same style as one of those silent films from the 1920s. (Yes, 2011 is apparently the year of the throwback.) If you're thinking Super 8 + Hugo = The Artist, I guess you're not too far off. Just throw in a splash of Singin' in the Rain, too.

The Artist tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), the biggest (fictional) movie star of his day. At the premiere of his latest film, he literally bumps into Peppy Miller (the adorable Bérénice Bejo), and when she's photographed with George, she becomes a tabloid sensation. Over the next couple years, as sound becomes a force in the movie industry, George's pride prevents him from changing with the times, while Peppy slowly rises in the industry, her roles growing larger and larger. Will Peppy melt George's heart and convince him to get on board?

That this film has nearly everything working against it — it's French, it's silent, it's in black and white, etc. etc. — and yet it still works, and does so beautifully, is something of a miracle. Dujardin gives an impressive, expressive performance, and Bejo, well, she's just a pleasure to watch. If you don't fall in love with her during the scene where she acts opposite a coat rack in George's dressing room, then you've got no heart. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius uses conventions of those early days (a dog, the score) and mixes in some modern touches, like smart use of sound effects, to convey what a change it was. Like in Singin' in the Rain (which, by the way, is my all-time favorite movie), some of the films and elements of the industry are played for laughs (particularly the opening scene, which has elements liberally borrowed from Singin' in the Rain), but it's all done with love. And the final scene will just make you stand up and cheer.

That The Artist is so many people's favorite movie of 2011 is no surprise. But for me, it's not quite there. I think it's a little bit too long, and, well, I guess I found some of it a little hokey. But The Artist is certainly a wonderful film, a more than pleasant surprise, and it's well worth seeing. I'm giving it a B+.


Cold Case

In just about two minutes, David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo announces its arrival with an opening credits sequence that's reminiscent of Fincher's Fight Club, except much, much darker (and a bit kinkier too). As the sounds of Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Karen O's take on Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" play, it's clear you're in for a distinctly ominous movie. And sure enough, with its story of murder, rape, violence against women, graphic scenes of torture, a plot involving Nazis, and a lead heroine who is so anti-social and prone to revenge that she's a ward of the state, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no one's idea of a feel-good movie. And yet, it's a pretty damned good one.

If you're one of the millions of people who've read Stieg Larsson's novel or seen the original screen adaptation, then you know the story. I hadn't done either of those things, so it was all new to me. Here's the gist: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a disgraced journalist in Stockholm, is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the head of a rich family, to investigate what happened to his granddaughter 40 years earlier. Needing help, Mikael eventually hires a young female hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who, unbeknownst to him, conducted a background check on Mikael before he was hired for the job, and has a thing for getting back at those who've crossed her.

It's a cool story, featuring some interesting characters, a terrific screenplay by Steven Zaillian (his second great adaptation this year, the other being Moneyball), another strong score by Reznor and Ross, and expert direction by Fincher, who gives the whole thing a sense of menace that preys on the audience's worst instincts. Yes, the movie is graphic at parts, but you won't be able to look away for a second. For that, credit Fincher, but also give kudos to Craig, Plummer, and, as another member of the Vanger family, Stellan Skarsgard, all of whom give very good — and in the case of Skarsgard, creepy — performances.

And then there's Mara (last seen as Mark Zuckerberg's ex-girlfriend in The Social Network), who makes a real bad ass, kick ass heroine. She's a walking contradiction — her look is a cry for attention, but her demeanor says "Stay away" — and Mara just disappears into this role, investing all of herself in it. She's awesome.

And yet, as great and gripping as it is, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is held back by its own source material. [SPOILER ALERT] The film seems to have three different endings, making it feel about 20 minutes too long, but even worse, the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth goes to a place I just didn't buy. I get that the two would become allies and friends, and that she might develop a strong loyalty to him, but the fact that they would start sleeping together is unbelievable to me. And that took me out of the story a bit. [END SPOILERS]

For most other movies, those problems would derail my enjoyment. But most other movies aren't as well made as this one. And when the lights went up, all I wanted to do was see more. The second part of the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, can't come out soon enough. I'm giving this film a B+.


Monday, December 26, 2011

A Cinematic Call to Arms

Generally, when it comes to movies, I'm not a fan of the bait and switch. How frustrating it is to go to a movie expecting to see one thing, and having the film be something else entirely. But in the case of Hugo, I found the bait and switch a pleasant, and exciting, surprise. Yes, that's right: Hugo is not the children's movie it's being marketed to be. Rather, it's a film that celebrates filmmaking and makes a strong case for preserving the films of our past, the ones that laid the foundation for the movies of today. The filmmaker behind this cinematic call to arms is none other than Martin Scorsese, who has made one of the most beautiful films of his career, and surely one of the best of this year.

Hugo tells the story of a young boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives secretly in the walls of a train station in Paris. There, he takes care of the clocks, forages for food, avoids the station's manager of security (Sacha Baron Cohen), and steals mechanical parts that he needs to repair his late father's automaton. In so doing, he meets a mysterious toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) and befriends his goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). That's the children's-story part.

The other half of the story is that before he passed away, Hugo's father often took him to the movies, instilling in him a love of the cinema that Hugo passes on to Isabelle. When the automaton is fixed (no spoiler there; it's sort of not the real point of the movie), it draws a picture of a scene from a movie that Hugo remembers seeing as a child. After researching the scene and the movie, the two follow a trail that leads back to Isabelle's Papa Georges, whose early work has been rediscovered and is now appreciated more than he ever realized.

To tell this story, Scorsese uses 3D in the same way the early filmmakers used moving picture technology: To show the world like you've never seen it before. It's the same way the folks at Pixar do, the way they give each image extra depth and character, without being intrusive and showy. That said, with Hugo, you'll notice the 3D — if only because of the expert way it's been used. For example, the film begins with a scene-setting, sweeping shot through Paris and through the station that eventually swoops up and captures Hugo looking out through the clock, from the other side of the wall. It's a stunningly gorgeous image, one with real depth and dimension, the kind that's replicated (but not duplicated) throughout the movie. Scorsese also pays tribute to one of the earliest films in a scene where a train goes off the tracks and literally drives right through the station, coming right at the audience. It's awesome. What it comes down to, and there's really no other way to say it, is that you must see Hugo in 3D. It was made to be seen that way. You can't possibly get the full effect of the film in 2D.

But the really impressive thing is that while Hugo may be a visual feast, it's also a well made, heartwarming story — especially for anyone who loves movies. Kingsley gives a wonderful performance that's matched by the wide-eyed innocence of Butterfield and Moretz. As Hugo and Isabelle discover those early films and learn why Papa Georges' work should be saved and celebrated, we, too, begin to appreciate them. And what person wouldn't want to be recognized for the work he or she has done, especially if it's work that was long thought forgotten or worthless? The way Scorsese portrays this is just incredible, recreating the process involved in making those early films (look for him in a quick cameo as a photographer) and giving real insight into why the cinema became such a beloved art form. He humanizes the people behind it all and shows it with a child's sense of wonder and amazement. You can't help but be a fan (or a bigger fan) of the movies after seeing Hugo.

Sometimes, the only way to recapture our sense of wonder is to see things through the eyes of a child. In Hugo, Martin Scorsese makes us all feel like kids again, as if we're seeing the movies for the very first time. Hugo is being sold as a children's movie, but it's more than that. So much more. Hugo is an amazing achievement, a film that should be celebrated for years to come. I'm giving it an A-.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Skin Deep

In the film Shame, Michael Fassbender plays a man with a real problem: He's addicted to sex. In all forms. Gotta have it. Each night he's with a different woman, never forming any emotional connection with them, and he's always on the prowl for his next encounter. In fact, the guy's so hungry he can seduce a woman just by looking at her the right way. Could be worse, I suppose. And yes, it could be better. But first, Fassbender's character, Brandon, has to realize that what he's doing is wrong. That happens when Brandon's sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), arrives and he begins to develop a conscience about what he's doing. Suddenly he has to hide his addiction (not to mention his porn magazines, videos, and web sites), or else he'll be exposed and he'll have to deal with it.

That's right: It's good, jolly stuff, just in time for the holidays.

Yes, there's a lot of sex in this movie. But the crux of Shame is how Brandon deals with his addiction. And Fassbender (perhaps best known for playing young Magneto in X-Men: First Class) portrays this challenge in an open and vulnerable way — both emotionally and physically. For one thing, he's naked often in the movie (no wonder Shame is rated NC-17). But he's also exposed because director Steve McQueen likes to shoot in long takes, with little to no editing. This really gives Fassbender nowhere to hide, and he responds with an impressively subtle performance.

McQueen has made a movie with a few titillating moments. Aside from the graphic sex scenes, there are scenes like one where Brandon is on a date with his coworker and the tension between the two is so thick it can be cut with a knife (yes, it's shot in a single, prolonged take). If only the whole movie was as exciting as that scene. Truthfully, it does drag at certain points. Shame is one of those character-driven, plotless dramas where nothing really happens, and with a running time of an hour and 40 minutes, that's a lot of foreplay before the climax.

When it comes down to it, Shame is just skin deep. It would have been nice to know more about both Brandon and Sissy, and why they've both turned out to be such damaged people, but we don't learn much about either of them, other than that they grew up in New Jersey (and yes, I realize that's enough to make anyone screwed up). These two have a pretty awkward relationship (did they once hook up?), but the film doesn't dive into that much at all. Perhaps that's for the better, though; as it is, watching Shame does make you feel kinda dirty. I'm giving the movie a B.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Psycho Prom-Queen Bitch

In the new film Young Adult, screenwriter Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and star Charlize Theron have created one of my favorite movie characters in recent memory. Mavis Gray is the girl you totally hated in high school but secretly wanted to be, and who surely hated you too (even if she barely knew you existed). She's the pretty girl who dated the hottest guy. The one who told you she was going to leave town the second graduation happened, and did. The one who got the big job as a writer — excuse me, author — and the condo in the big city (i.e., Minneapolis). The one who ruled the school and made your life a living hell.

And yet, as much as she may have hated everything about her small-town existence, for Mavis, high school will always be the the be-all end-all for her. Nothing will ever be as good as those days. So, realizing her life has passed its peak, Mavis decides to return to her hometown and reclaim what's rightfully hers: the high school boyfriend who got away. But of course, Buddy (Patrick Wilson) has moved on from high school and is now married with a child. For Mavis, that's just baggage. Something she and Buddy can overcome together.

Armed with her hot-chick wardrobe and caustic attitude, Mavis arrives in Mercury like she never left, and like things are exactly as she left them. She still looks down on everything and treats everyone with disdain because they're not as perfect and cool as she is. Or, more accurately, as she thinks she is. And it's in Mercury that she meets Matt Freehauf (the excellent Patton Oswalt), the schlumpy former classmate who Mavis spurned back in the day. Matt is also dealing with his own issues from high school, and he tries to tell Mavis to just give it up. Despite this reality check, she proceeds to try and steal Buddy away anyway.

Yeah, Mavis is a character alright. And as played by Theron, she's a spectacular mess. This is a hysterical performance, one of the funniest of the year. Cody has given Theron some choice lines of dialogue, and they're delivered with such a biting, sardonic tone. Everyone else can see right through Mavis, and they know what she's up to, even if she thinks they're all wrong. This isn't delusion. It's straight-up psycho. And Theron is just a force of nature. She owns this role like she has few others. Mavis isn't a sympathetic character at all, and yet I totally love her because she's so awesomely screwed up. Bravo, bravo.

Cody and Reitman, reunited here for the first time since their hipster-cute Juno, have made a stark 180 in tone and content. Young Adult doesn't have a positive message, or a lead character who will go through a profound change as a result of her experience. After all, what fun would it be if Mavis learned her lesson and became nice? And that's the movie's strength and its weakness. When the film comes to its end and Mavis gets a minor wake-up call, she basically just presses the Snooze button, and the movie ends. It's nice to see a movie do away with the saccharine, but it leaves Young Adult with an ending that feels abrupt, unfinished, and unresolved. And it's a shame, because this is such a satisfying movie for its first 90 minutes. It's a glorious f-you to everyone who still lives and dies by their high school existence. And then ... it's just over.

What will become of Mavis when she's back in the "mini Apple?" Probably nothing. But you might hope she would get a decent comeuppance or something. Instead, she just retreats and we all move on, back to normal. Oh well. So that's why I'm only giving Young Adult a B.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where's Ethan?

Here's what I know about Tom Cruise: You just can't count the guy out. He'll make an awful movie like Knight and Day, and you'll be tempted to say his career is over, but then he'll make a movie like Tropic Thunder that is so entertaining, and he'll be back without even skipping a beat. After Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the latter is true again. The film — a big improvement over the third Mission Impossible film — finds Cruise back at the top of his action hero game, effortlessly saving the world again, and looking like he's actually enjoying himself in the process.

In Ghost Protocol, which I saw in IMAX (and which you should too), Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team (now composed of Jeremy Renner, the gorgeous Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg, supplying the comic relief as always), are on the run (and on the DL) after a mission in Moscow goes bad and the Russians think Hunt has bombed the Kremlin. ("Ghost Protocol" is the term for a black-operation contingency that disavows the entire Impossible Missions Force.) Their travels take them to Dubai, where they attempt to intercept a deal to acquire the codes for a Russian nuclear launch-control device — and Hunt tries to outrun a sandstorm, among other derring-do.

And it's that "other derring-do" that is the key to why Ghost Protocol is as much fun to watch as it is. In Dubai, there is a sequence where Hunt must enter a server room on the 130th floor of the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building) from the outside. Which means he has to scale the building using little more than high-tech gloves that will allow him to stick to the windows. Yes, we've seen scenes like this before, but not one as suspenseful and impressively staged as this is. When Cruise attaches himself to the window, the IMAX picture gets larger, and it pans downward to show you just how high up he is; you can't help but get a little on edge too. Cruise reportedly did his own stunts, and while the whole thing is completely, ridiculously, um, impossible, if that's not him in every shot, you can't tell. There's not a false beat in the entire five minutes, not one move that makes you feel pandered to. Oh, and all this is happening while the aforementioned sandstorm is approaching. It's one of the best movie scenes of the year, and the main reason why you should see Ghost Protocol — especially in IMAX. It's totally worth it. (Still not convinced? Check out Patton's dress. Now imagine seeing that on a giant screen. Wow.)

Cruise is good, but kudos, too, must go to director Brad Bird, making his live-action directing debut here after such great work on animated films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Bird has a knack for staging action sequences and keeping the pace of the film moving. (There's another scene in a parking garage that is similarly impressive.) He directs with fluidity, and doesn't take it all so seriously (which was a problem that J.J. Abrams had with the last film; Abrams remained involved here as a producer). Heck, Bird makes it all look easy and real. He's directed the film wit and a whole lot of confidence, and as a result, Ghost Protocol is a slick, but not heavy-handedly so, piece of entertainment. (The only bummer? Josh Holloway, from Lost, is in the film, but only for a total of five minutes at the very beginning. I wish he'd been more central to the action. But that's just a Lost fanboy speaking.)

Ghost Protocol is a highly enjoyable return to form for the Mission Impossible series and for its star. When Tom Cruise is having fun — and isn't trying so hard to be Tom Cruise, action hero — then it's easy to have fun with him, as we do here. Willingly choose to accept this Mission. I'm giving it an A–.

OH! Need one more reason to see Ghost Protocol in an IMAX theater? The Dark Knight Rises prologue. The less said about it the better, but it is one AWESOME six-minute teaser for what is sure to be the best movie of 2012. If you're any kind of Batman fan, you can't miss this.


Friday, December 09, 2011

This Is Why I'm Lucky

As I've previously written on this blog, I'm a lucky man. But I fear I wasn't specific enough. So ... now that I've returned from five days in Park City, Utah, where I was for a conference, I thought I needed to be a little bit more specific about why I feel so lucky ...

* Because I got to go to Park City two years in a row for this conference
* Because I got to stay at the St. Regis Deer Valley, one of the nicest hotels ever
* Because I learned I can stay in an outdoor hot tub in 15-degree weather for an hour or more and not freeze. Three days in a row.
* Because after more than a year, I was still mayor on Foursquare of the Roots Canada store on Main Street
* Because the St. Regis had the most awesome (free) hot chocolate bar, with crushed Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and peppermint sticks, Red Hots, vanilla bean and orange whipped creams, marshmallows, chocolate shavings, and more mix-ins
* Because the weather in Park City in December may be cold, but it's a dry cold, so it's not all that bad
* Because I was asked to moderate a roundtable at the conference, again
* Because I learned some new things, and not just how to play Texas Hold 'em Poker
* Because I met some new people
* Because I had a TV in my bathroom mirror in the hotel
* Because I ordered something off the menu at the No Name Saloon and wasn't mocked for it ... too badly
* Because Monday night I stood in a fire pit and didn't burn myself
* Because for some reason, I enjoy riding in a funicular, and there's one at the St. Regis
* Because the showers at the hotel are awesome
* Because at the first day of the conference, we had delicious churros for dessert after lunch
* Because I had turn-down service every night. I love turn-down service
* Because during the conference, I passed 1,500 followers on Twitter
* Because I'm in an industry with so many smart, passionate, funny, interesting, welcoming, insightful, and just plain cool people, many of whom I'm privileged to call not only colleagues, but friends
* Because these people call me their friend too
* Because I had a great time in Park City

Yes, I did go on this trip for work; here's a link to my professional recap. That I have a job that allows me to do stuff like this makes me question how I ever got so lucky. But I do and I am. Lucky, indeed.


Friday, December 02, 2011

She's Got a Friend

In 1956, Marilyn Monroe, then the most wanted woman on the planet, flew to England to make a film with Laurence Olivier called The Prince and the Showgirl. The hope was that the film would give Marilyn some credibility, but she was an insecure, nervous wreck and didn't feel up to the task. Reliant on drugs, dependent on her acting coach, and getting little support from her new, third husband (Arthur Miller), Marilyn frustrated Olivier and the crew, and nearly derailed the film entirely. That is, until she struck up a friendship with a production assistant named Colin Clark. The story of Clark's relationship with Marilyn, brief though it may have been, is the basis of the new film My Week with Marilyn.

It's worth noting before we go much further that this is not a film about Marilyn, per se. It's about, and told from the point of view of, Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an eager go-getter who longs to be part of "the circus." Clark is a 23-year-old dreamer, and based on this film at least (and the two memoirs Clark wrote in real life), it was he alone who held the key to Marilyn's sanity and confidence. I doubt that's entirely true, but then again, Marilyn did make men believe a lot of things. And it's not hard to see why; the Marilyn of this movie (played by Michelle Williams) is quite alluring. Sporting platinum blonde hair and exuding Marilyn's seductive charisma and playfulness (at times, anyway), Williams may not look or sound exactly like Marilyn, but she captures Marilyn's essence and creates a sympathetic portrait of the actress that's easy to fall in love with. Marilyn knows she has Clark in the palm of her hand, and she takes full advantage until he can serve her needs no longer.

Redmayne and Williams are surrounded by an all-star cast, including Kenneth Branagh as Olivier, Julia Ormand, Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, and Hermione Granger herself, Emma Watson. As notable as that lineup is, though, this is Williams' film. And that's kind of the problem. She's the one we care about, not Clark. He basically spends the movie in awe of Marilyn, in awe that she even noticed him, and we feel the same. The only one who truly cares about Clark is Watson's character, and she disappears early on. It makes the film a bit lop-sided, because this is supposed to be Clark's story, and we're supposed to be excited for him that he got to spend the time with her (even if it likely meant more to him than to her).

If My Week with Marilyn was as compelling as Williams' performance, there'd be more to admire. Alas, the film has its focus on the wrong person. And that's why I'm only giving it a B.


It's Easy Being Red

It may not be easy being green, but according to the new documentary Being Elmo, red isn't such a bad color. The film, a look at the man behind the second-most popular Sesame Street character of all time (after Kermit, of course), tells the story of how Kevin Clash grew up in Baltimore dreaming of being a professional puppeteer, and eventually made his dreams come true when he got a gig working on Sesame Street under the tutelage of Jim Henson and Kermit Love. Being Elmo uses archival footage and photography to show how Clash's skill and ambition were evident early on, and how he gained recognition working first on local television and later on Captain Kangaroo and other films before moving on to the Street.

Like the show Clash works on, Being Elmo presents a cleaned up version of what is likely a more difficult story. For example, it's glossed over that Clash sacrificed his relationship with his own daughter to instead be a friend to millions of children around the world. Here, that's treated as dedication to his craft rather than irony. And it's spin like that that prevents Being Elmo from being a truly insightful film. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. This is a completely enjoyable portrait of the man who took Elmo from random puppet to multimillion dollar enterprise, and one of the most valuable and beloved properties in the entire Children's Television Workshop family. It's a local boy makes good story that will have you smiling, and will make you appreciate Elmo as a character and an achievement in puppetry even more. Actually, I found Being Elmo to be more enjoyable than The Muppets movie itself. Now that is irony. I'm giving Being Elmo a B+.