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We Were Movie Gangsters


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Allow me to start my Gatsby review with a confession: I am not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan. Never have been, never thought I would be. For some reason, he just creeps me out. However- I really liked The Great Gatsby, including (perhaps even particularly) Leo as Jay.

First, I would like to give the casting director a hug. Leo was the perfect Jay, and I might have liked him better than I have in anything else I’ve seen him in (that might not be much coming from me, but hey, it’s great progress). His acting was excellent, and I felt more sympathy for his character than any other in the film, though in the book he is portrayed as far from perfect. Tobey Maguire wasn’t anything to write home about, but honestly, neither is the character of Nick, who is oftentimes more of an observer than a participant, so I didn’t much mind. Carey Mulligan was, as usual, perfect- she was a flawless “beautiful little fool” wearing, of course, an equally flawless costume. Which brings me to my next point- the costumes were flawless throughout. Other than Daisy’s, I was also extremely in love with Gatsby’s. The beige sweater and the pink suit were my personal favorites.

Obviously the music and scenery were impeccable. No one could possibly accuse Luhrmann of not going all out for the Gatsby party. I even liked the trippy modern-jazz concoction of a soundtrack, which was interesting and new in a way that, for all the criticism it might draw, matched rather well with the colorful, insane visual of the film. All the sets, from the insane Gatsby palace, to Nick’s house covered in flowers for Daisy’s tea, to the ornate hotel room where Gatsby and Tom get in a fight, were overwhelmingly well-done.

The part of the movie that really had my jaw dropping was the scenes of Gatsby showing Daisy and Nick around his house. “House” might not be the right word: “palace” is more accurate. The palace is so ornate, enormous, and impossibly grand that you find yourself wanting to visit; it is the most striking visual in the film. In fact, what I liked best about this film is the way it pulls you into the world of Jay, Daisy, Nick, Tom, and the rest, truly causing you to get swept up in the heartbreak, the drama, and even the parties of fast-paced 1920s New York. In my book, any movie that can have this effect is one I have definitely enjoyed.

All that said, though I can’t see the movie winning any Oscars and it perhaps could have used a bit more emotional depth, this is a good movie. Maybe it’s just that I didn’t mind the spectacle of the over-the-top aesthetic and music of the film, and I understand why others might disapprove, but I personally enjoyed it. It was faithful to the book, made a valiant (and, as far as I’m concerned, successful) attempt to reel the viewer in with overpowering visuals and adapted modern music, and could not possibly have had any better of a cast. As Nick says, “I was within and without.” When you watch The Great Gatsby, you are within and without, and personally, I liked what I saw.

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Satisfying Ending Not Guaranteed

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I have to admit, I went into Safety Not Guaranteed with some pretty high expectations (even though, as my co-contributor Erin taught us all in her Gatsby post, high expectations can be dangerous). Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, I just maybe didn’t love it.

Let’s start with the cast, which was the reason for my high expectations. Now, I know way around a good TV comedy, so you can bet I was pretty excited to find a movie that featured not only Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Rec, but also Mark Duplass of The Mindy Project and (there’s more?!) Jake Johnson, star of my current obsession (but we’ll talk about that later), New Girl. Needless to say, I have nothing but good things to say about the acting in this movie, featuring some of my absolute favorite not-so-famous actors.

The plot is intriguing, especially at the beginning, with Aubrey as the intern teaming up with a reporter (Jake Johnson) to track down and write an article about a guy who put out a classified ad claiming he can time travel. Johnson’s character Jeff is funny in a well-meaning, occasionally-a-bit-of-a-jerk kind of way that he does really well; Darius (Plaza) is inquisitive and interesting. (We’ll let slide the somewhat pointless, extremely stereotyped Indian sidekick.) I have to admit I was kind of rooting for them to get together, but alas- enter Duplass’ enigmatic Kenneth. Madman, or smartest person the world has ever known? Darius spends the movie trying to puzzle it out for herself, occasionally reporting back to Jeff and the sidekick, Arnau. It seems like there’s a bit of a division, so that there are two parts to the plot- the main plot, which is Darius getting to know Kenneth and what he’s up to, while Jeff is busy rekindling his relationship with his old girlfriend. This lesser part of the plot seemed like kind of a distraction and didn’t really go anywhere, so this portion of the plot felt a bit pointless. But the ending was the only part of the plot I disliked; Darius finds out Kenneth has been lying to her about why he wants to travel back in time, and the girl whose life he wants to go back and “save” is alive and well, but instead of sorting it out, she agrees to hope in his homemade time machine with him- and it works. But this is where the movie ends. It was extremely unexpected for the time machine to actually work, especially given that we don’t even see what they actually do when they go back and the other half of the plot is left unresolved after Jeff has a fight with his girlfriend, and it simply struck me as a bit of a bizarre, unsatisfying way for the movie to end.

Event though the ending was not the best, the movie was good overall, full of likable characters played by great actors, and I would recommend it. But for future reference: when going into something with high expectations, satisfaction is not guaranteed.


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Farewell, The Office: Top 10 Episodes

The Office deserves a proper sendoff, and I decided the best way to do that would be to look back on the show’s best moments. These episodes, however, are in no particular order, because, well, it’s just too hard to choose. When The Office gets it right, it gets it really, really right.

“Casino Night”

casino night

This one might just be my favorite episode … ever. I’m more than a little biased, because I love Jim and Pam, but this episode is just all-around great. Michael is in rare form, between ranting at Toby (“I hate so much … of who you choose to be”) and ending up with two dates to Casino Night. The adorable Ryan-Kelly awkwardness and Jim-Pam flirting don’t hurt either, not to mention the cold open where Jim convinces Dwight he can move a coat rack with his mind.

“Goodbye Michael”

goodbye michael

I have no words. This episode from Season 7 was the best episode The Office had produced in several seasons. Michael lying about when he was leaving to avoid saying goodbye, his and Jim’s final conversation in the office, Michael taking off his microphone, Pam finally catching up to him at the airport- it all got me. This episode was so well done.

“Christmas Party”

Christmas Party

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas episode? One of my favorite Michael Scott moments is in this episode: Michael storming out of the gift exchange, being outraged over other people’s gifts, capped at $20, not matching up to the iPod that he broke the rules to buy. (“Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It is like this tangible thing that you can point to and say ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars worth.'”) This episode is also full of Jim-Pam tension, since he buys her a Secret Santa gift (a teapot she really wanted, with “bonus presents” inside, including a note saying how he feels, which he eventually removes before she can read it) and then has to spend the party making sure she’s the one who gets it, as Michael turns it into a White Elephant exchange. Michael also ends up going to the store and buying 15 bottles of vodka to get everyone drunk: Christmas is never a dull time at Dunder Mifflin.

“Halloween”

Halloween

Another prime holiday episode of The Office! Besides the fun costumes, there’s some quality prankster Jim- in this episode, he puts Dwight’s resumé on the Internet and starts finding him a new job. Pam, of course, helps, But the best part of this episode is Michael, who has been told he has to fire someone by the end of the month, calling in various employees and trying to fire them, with no success. Creed Bratton manages to talk Michael out of firing him and convinces him to fire Devon instead- he’s the one Dwight rehired in the series finale.

“Michael’s Birthday”

michael's birthday

This is the kind of TV that never fails to cheer me up on a bad day. For me, the highlight of the episode is Michael “subtly” informing everyone that it’s his birthday- he calls Jan “to wish her happy birthday”, and when she tells him it’s not her birthday, he replies, “Really? ‘Cause I thought we had the same birthday.” The other side plot, centered around Jim and Pam shopping for Kevin’s favorite things to cheer him up in the midst of a health scare, is equally light and funny. There’s just something about this episode that will never fail to make you laugh.

“Pilot”

Pilot

A lot of times, if you go back and watch the pilot again after you start watching a show, you realize it’s actually not a very good episode. But the pilot of The Office will always be a classic. It’s very similar to the pilot of the UK version of the show, setting up all the characters and the different relationships. No matter how many times I watch this one, it stands the test of time.

“Diversity Day”

diversity day

This episode, the second one in the first season, is where the audience realizes exactly how crazy, for lack of a better word, Michael Scott is. It’s because of his accidentally racially offensive comments that they have to have the diversity seminar in the first place, and he ends up overhauling it and makes such offensive comments he gets slapped. Meanwhile, the audience also learns more about Pam and Roy’s issues, and starts to get attached to her and Jim. This episode isn’t just funny in itself, but is also where the audience really gets to know the characters.

“Fun Run”

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I think I’ve seen this one more than any other episode of The Office. It starts with Michael hitting Meredith with his car. Then Pam’s computer crashes because she buys a celebrity sex tape. Kevin tries to prove her and Jim are dating, which they eventually admit they are. Michael than forces everyone in the office to help him plan a run to raise awareness for the fact that there already is a cure to rabies. I mean … is there a reason not to love this episode?

“The Fire”

the fire

If I had to pick one single episode to represent this show’s sense of humor, it just might be this one. First of all, BJ Novak’s writing is perfect. The Michael-Ryan dynamic in this episode is absolutely hilarious, not to mention Dwight. Everyone else standing around playing Desert Island games is pretty fun too, especially when Amy Adams shows up. Also, I’ll never listen to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” the same way again.

“Finale”

Finale

Once again I have no words. This episode is (Chris Traeger voice) literally everything the fans could have ever asked for. Michael came back, and has kids. Dwight and Angela got married. Ryan and Kelly ran off together. Andy got famous. Erin found her parents. Nellie got a baby. Jim got his dream job and his relationship with Pam is cuter than ever. Honestly, every single character got everything I could have ever wished for them. I just wish Michael would have insulted Toby one last time, for old times’ sake.

The Office had its ups and downs in recent years, but the first two seasons are some of the best TV I’ve ever seen. The writers really pulled it all together and gave it such a great sendoff, even though, in the immortal words of Jim Halpert, “Goodbyes are a bitch.” Thank you, and that’s what she said.