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Disney’s Cinderella is the next film in their line of live-action adaptation’s of classic Disney properties.  Last summer’s Maleficent saw a twist on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale, and this summer’s Pan promises to delve in the back stories of Peter Pan and Captain Hook in a similar way.  Compared to the “untold tale” approach, Cinderella is traditional, conventional, and nevertheless, magical.

Cinderella_2015_official_posterAs a story, Cinderella has existed since the mid-17th century, but let’s not kid ourselves that the 1950’s Disney cartoon has informed a lot of popular perceptions about the shape of this narrative and how we think about the characters.  Disney trades on recognition, and uses it to deliver the fairy tale version of a comfort food in many ways.  We know all the beats of the narrative, but like any good love story that you’ve given yourself over to, you really don’t mind watching everything fall into place again.

Strong performances all around make this film delightful to watch, and for the adult audience out there, I don’t think there’s any shame in planning a movie night just to see Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James, Downton Abbey) and Robb Stark (Game of Thrones) fall for each other.  The real star here is Cate Blanchett as the Lady Tremaine, bringing a sinister sort of glamor to the role of evil stepmother as she plots to elevate herself and her daughters from relative poverty left by the death of Cinderella’s father.  Cinderella is always an odd tale to introduce children to because it shows authority figures acting cruelly to those under their charge, but I think Blanchett hits just the right tone with her passive aggressive edge and condescension without being overly nasty.

This movie’s Cinderella (or Ella, as she starts out), is the perfect foil for her step-family because she is the embodiment of resilience and goodness in the face of adversity.  To be reductive, the Cinderella tale is one where a lot of things are done to the heroine, so it’s easy to focus on the victimization of her character rather than the little agency that she possesses.  James’ Cinderella is a powerful force of kindness and grace, and while she is put upon by her stepmother and stepsisters, we see her understand and pity them in a way that reveals her to be the greater person without hitting chords of schadenfreude when they get their ultimate comeuppance.  This Cinderella is such a powerful force of positivity while still being a character that ultimately pursues her own desire — even if that desire is that old standby, her one true love.  Hey, it’s a fairy tale after all.

Beyond the delightful performances, this movie has gorgeous set dressing and costumes out the wazoo, and you’d expect no less from Disney.  There is plenty of convincing-enough CG used to show the extravagance of the palace, but the physical sets such as the ballroom are so festooned with golden filigree that you can’t help but get lost in the fantastic world that has been created by Kenneth Branagh.  That’s right; it’s not highlighted on many advertisements, but the director at the helm here is Kenneth Branagh.  Known primarily for his work adapting films from the works of Shakespeare, he has flirted more recently with popular properties after directing Thor (2011) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014).  While you won’t be reminded of the Bard in the dialogue, I think there is a little bit of Shakespearean sensibility to the way Branagh sets up character moments to establish the characters, such as the prince and the guard captain (Nonso Anozie) having a discussion while practicing their swordsmanship, or the scene between our two leads in the palace’s secret garden.

Cinderella takes advantage of plenty of modern technology to put gorgeous fairy tale imagery on the screen ranging from the rustic to the royal, but it never puts that in front of showcasing simple but effective character moments that give this film heart.  Ultimately, Cinderella simply feels like a Disney film, more so than Maleficent, and anyone who finds themselves the least bit interested will certainly find a lot to enjoy.


Have you seen the film?  What did you think?  If you enjoyed reading this article, make sure to share with your friends!

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The following is a discussion that involves significant plot details about the 2015 Best Picture winning film Birdman, including the ending.  I also discuss spoilers from the films Black Swan and Gravity.  If you have yet to see the film, I encourage you to do so before reading the following write up.


Birdman_movie_poster

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was the the surprise critical darling of the latter half of 2014, and for good reason.  It is the finest work that Michael Keaton has done in years as he plays Riggan Thomson, an aging star who is trying to reclaim his identity as an actor by directing and starring in a run of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the Raymond Carver play.  Riggan Thomson found his fame at a younger age playing the super hero Birdman, before leaving the successful franchise, a move that sent his career on a downward slope.  Those familiar with Keaton know that this is a meta-textual reference to his stint as Batman, and director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Biutiful) relies on the audience’s knowledge to allow this film to work on multiple layers.  While the initial viewing is thrilling, the layers of meaning and commentary are what give the movie its depth and rewatchability, and I’d like to explore a bit of what makes Birdman challenging, but also quite rewarding.

Riggan Thomson is a complex character, but not immediately so.  What makes this character work is the fact that it almost seems like you can boil him down into a simple set of core beliefs many times throughout the film, but at the last moment there is a crack in the veneer that causes you to realize there is something more lurking just beneath the surface.  There have been a number of vocal detractors, despite the film’s positive critical reception, and I feel like too many of them have just run with the Riggan who wears his heart on his sleeve and is a man of single-minded determination, which I will admit would be a very simple character.  Bearing that in mind, for every Riggan who is obsessed with (more…)

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When you can see new Oscar winners on library DVDs

The librarians who purchase movies for the library try to stay tuned in to the latest and greatest in pop culture.  I began buying movies at the Georgetown branch when I moved to my new position this summer.  As such, I now consider it part of my job to watch awards shows. 🙂  This year’s Oscar ceremony was so fun to watch.  Stars abounded (of course!), the musical acts were great (Lady Gaga killed it!, “Glory” from Selma brought several to tears), and the speeches were also inspiring (Patricia Arquette and Graham Moore were my favorites).

Below is a list of this year’s Academy Award winners, with links to the library catalog.  Most of these movies, since they are considered entertainment, check out for three days.  Unfortunately, they may not be placed on hold to send to another branch to pickup, though you may return them to any ACPL location.  The good news is that lack of holds makes the turnaround time on 3-day movies much quicker.  Our 3-day movies can be renewed (in person, over the phone, or online) one time for an additional three days.

Some of these titles have not yet been released on DVD/Blu-Ray. We do have them on order, and they will appear in the library’s catalog listed as On Order or Available Soon closer to their release date.  The shorts and documentary winners are not yet available for us to purchase. If you want to see those, you’ll have to pay to stream them online through Amazon.

2015 Oscar Winners

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crisis hotline veterans press 1

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Flurbs (Film Blurbs): John Wick

Today I want to bring you the first of what I hope to be many flurbs, short blurbs about films that I feel are worth mentioning, but haven’t put together a whole theme to present them.  Why now?  Because I need to recommend John Wick as quickly as possible!

johnwick

© 2014 – Lionsgate

Keanu Reeves is not an actor known for his emotional depth, but when that emotion is smoldering rage, he does a damn good job.  John Wick is, on its surface, a very simple revenge tale of an ex-assassin taking action against the Russian mob who has wronged him.  That could describe the myriad direct-to-DVD action flicks that grace the shelf featuring either a washed-up ’80s action star or professional wrestler, but what really makes this work is the ruthless efficiency of its stylish action scenes, mirroring the attitude of its protagonist.

It’s not just the impact of the violence that makes this movie work, however, it’s the world-building.  There is an underground currency for those working as assassins, large gold coins that change hands as jobs are completed, bodies are disposed of, and amenities are enjoyed at the Continental. (Imagine a nightclub/hotel run by a neutral organization that caters to these men and women as they accomplish their dastardly deeds.)  The film hints at what this seedy underworld is like: the cops turning a blind eye, other operatives trying to collect bounties, only giving glimpses of the full picture.  Throughout the film, everyone knows who John Wick is, and while I’m always a bit skeptical when a film nudges us with the idea that their unestablished character is in fact legendary, he certainly earns it once you see him in action.  John Wick is a force of nature who blows through scores of Russian thugs without remorse.  If you are at all squeamish about gun violence (or any type of violence) this film is not for you.

I’d love to wax lyrical about this movie, but it can be summed up as such: John Wick is a cool movie and it makes you feel cool.  It’s not a deep or particularly meaningful film, but it provides pure entertainment in a slick way that shows that well-worn action tropes are still so satisfying when done well.  It has enough visual flare to keep the cinematography interesting, and while it doesn’t quite grace the level of the nihilistic ultra-violence of Nicolas Winding Refn or the choreographic brilliance of Gareth Evans, it surpasses many recent action flicks in terms of fight scenes that deliver a visceral punch.  If the latter day flicks of your ’80s action heroes haven’t been doing it lately, give this one a try.

Notable roles: You’ll have a hard time deciding if Alfie Allen reeks of a more petulant disposition as Iosef Tarasov or as Theon Greyjoy in Game of ThronesMichael Nyqvist oscillates between grave and eccentric as Viggo Tarasov, the Russian businessman whose empire was built on a history of utilizing John Wick’s particular skills.  Fans of the Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy will recognize Nyqvist from his role as Mikael Blomkvist, the protagonist alongside hacker Lisbeth Salander.


What did you think of John Wick?  Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to share if you enjoyed reading!

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Today we bring you a dialog between ACPL bloggers Craig Bailey and David Winn as they discuss their thoughts on the most recent and final Hobbit film, Battle of the Five Armies.


the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-tapestry-artwork

© 2014 – Warner Bros.

David: That time is upon us again for the third year in a row, the time when we take another foray into the snow-capped environs of Middle-Earth for Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the godfather of modern fantasy J. R. R. Tolkien’s work The Hobbit. This third and final installment is appropriately subtitled Battle of the Five Armies, an event whose preamble and execution takes up roughly three quarters of the film’s 144-minute running time.

I’m no stranger to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. They hit at a time during my adolescence when swords and sorcery already appealed to me, and while they are a much different introduction to Tolkien than the source material, they will forever hold a special place in my heart for rendering a fully realized fantasy world that seemed even bigger than what we saw on screen. All things considered though, it’s a fairly surface level relationship with Tolkien. Fellow blogger Craig Bailey is a … well, what’s the technical term? Frothing Tolkien uber-fan?

Craig: What is life like without passion, David? Hmm?

But, yes, like David, Tolkien was a big part of my extended childhood/college experience, and I have a confession to get out there before we get in too far. I saw Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy before I read the books. The looks on some of your faces are surely a mirror image of those upon the faces of the members of the Cambridge Tolkien Society in 2003 when I made a similar statement. However, let me assuage you with this, it seemed to work for them. I had read The Silmarillion twice (TWICE) before I saw the Jackson movies. And since, I have read the trilogy, The Children of Hurin, The Hobbit, went to Oxonmoot in Oxford, England, and have consumed an entire haggis in one sitting. (Not sure what that last has to do with it, especially since its a gross exaggeration, but there it is.) So, if anyone doubts my Tolkien chops, well, I’m no Stephen Colbert, but still, I think you’ve got to give me some credit.

The Silmarillion is a collection of mythology about Eä, the universe in which Lord of the Rings takes place.

The Silmarillion is a collection of mythology about Eä, the universe in which Lord of the Rings takes place.

 David: I can only give you so much credit while you’re making up words like Oxonmoot, but suffice it to say your credentials seem pretty legit. Obviously the first films by Jackson were enough to get you to embark upon this odyssey to thoroughly explore Tolkien’s universe. Now that Peter Jackson has returned to the property in adapting The Hobbit, do you get the same fond feelings you once had, or does your familiarity with the literature make it hard to go “there and back again?”

 Craig: Honestly, for me with Tolkien, more is basically more.  More footage in Jackson’s extended editions, more movies than a single book might reasonably dictate, more Christopher Tolkien cobbling together more hardly legible marginalia = good.  So, no, I didn’t have too much trouble going on this “journey” and, yes, sometimes I make up words, or use words made up by others, just like Tolkien did himself.  Zing!

David: As I see it, good fantasy films are few and far between, so even as Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the Hobbit veers closer to a glorified fan fiction than faithful adaptation, I really appreciated all of the energy and bombastic action he brought to the screen — and there’s a lot of it! From the opening sequence Jackson drops you into to a burning Lake Town, ratchets up the tension for the monumental battle that gives the film its namesake, and even engineers a way to give us some dramatic, character-focused battles that won’t get lost among the fray. Peter Jackson’s knack for inventive battle scenes is apparent, and even when I found myself rolling my eyes at some of Legolas’ combat techniques (think a Rube Goldberg machine with trolls instead of marbles) it was nevertheless exhilarating. I’m not sure if these sequences will be seen as iconic as Helm’s Deep or the Fields of Pelennor, but I can’t wait to watch them again.

Craig: Well, I’m glad you liked it, though I’m confused why you say “Rube Goldberg machine” as if it’s a bad thing.  I mean, let’s see: a machine is efficient and efficiency = good; an efficient machine like Legolas also means more trolls dead which also equals good; and Rube Goldberg was a genius (he won a Pulitzer, by the way, for political cartooning) and genius = good.  I’m having trouble seeing the downside of Legolas’ awesomeness, that’s all.

 David: That may be the case for the inventor, but in Legolas’ case it makes him more of a murder savant or something. I can accept that elves are the ninjas of this universe and capable of running on snow without leaving footprints, but at some points it seems like Legolas is either insanely lucky or has the gift of precognition in order to pull off some of the stuff he does. But, hey, it looks cool!

Hobbit_1977_Original_Film_Poster

Some readers may be familiar with the 1977 animated adaptation of the Hobbit from Rankin/Bass, the same production company associated with Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Legolas is certainly not a major focus of this tale, although he is given a pretty good chunk of screen time toward the end. While The Hobbit has always been Bilbo’s story, this final film arguably spends the most time dwelling on Thorin Oakenshield and what the obsession to reclaim his ancestral home has done to him. It’s not the most nuanced of character transformations, but I was pretty impressed by Thorin’s arc. He is portrayed as someone on the edge of madness and given to reckless behavior, and it’s genuinely frightening at points. How did Thorin strike you?

Craig: Oh, you used the M-word.  Murder.  Talk about a grey cloud, Stormcrow.  However, moving on to Thorin.  I felt the movie’s treatment of him was more sure-footed in this final installment, and I really loved the Hall of Kings scene with the golden floor opening up to swallow him whole (pun intended).  I mean if you’re going to go mad, it seems like an optimal way to go, sucked into a precious metal vortex whilst looking fabulous in your kingly garb.

David: Nothing makes you look more fabulous than sitting astride a majestic goat! Speaking of goats that appear from nowhere, I’m super curious to see what was left on the cutting room floor for the extended edition of the film, because it feels like we should have gotten a bit more Bilbo. He seemed more like a MacGuffin moving the plot forward in several cases rather than a central character. The return to Hobbiton, however, was appropriately light-hearted given the grave stakes for most of the film. You often hear of the dark second act of a trilogy, but I felt that this film might be the darkest of the three overall.

Craig: I am also very interested in the extended edition of this movie.  Remember, more is more with me.  Also, I’m wondering where the goats came from.  I feel certain they will get a more formal (more appropriate to their majesty) introduction in the extended edition, and I could always use a bit more Bilbo, sure.  Martin Freeman is pretty great, and his character constantly grounds and puts into perspective the plot threads of this movie.

David: As a side note, fans of Martin Freeman should check out the first season of Fargo.  His transformation from timid insurance salesman who gets in over his head in typical Coen fashion to sociopathic sleazebag is fantastic, and definitely a different role for him.

As you say, more is better, but did you feel this movie was lacking anything that you wanted to see as a Tolkien fan? Or anything that you wish would have been represented differently?

Craig: Yes!  I did.  Not to actually “criticize” Jackson (I don’t want to be sacrilegious), but I thought Beorn and the orc army from Gundabad got real short shrift in this final movie.  I mean CGI goats are great, or whatever, but I needed and the text demanded some real awesome CGI Beorn in bear form.  Alas, I shall have to fall back upon my imagination … or the extended edition, whichever comes first.

David: I agree that a Gundabad Orc’s ferocity is a bit diminished when a Hobbit can take them out by flinging rocks, but I think that the Beorn issue is that you just can’t contain too much awesome in one film.  Those eagles went in with a precise, tactical ursine nuke, and it worked!

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Weta Workshop’s production on this film is second-to-none, and you’ll find a few books at ACPL that chronicle the artwork and design that went into making this new trilogy. Click the book cover above to view them.

Jackson went all out with the visuals on this film, and for better or worse, I think he got to tick off a bit more on his wishlist of portraying Tolkien characters at their best. He gave Saruman, Galadriel, and Elrond screen time that they weren’t given in the book, and it feels like a way to give the actors’ portrayals of those characters a last hurrah. This is conceivably the end of Jackson’s Tolkien universe, unless he somehow finds a way to adapt the more mythological writings of Tolkien to film. I’m left wondering if these will forever stand as the definitive Tolkien interpretations in film or if Jackson opened the door for another director to take on the works 20 years down the line.

Craig: In 20 years if someone remakes them, well, I’ll probably show up to see them.  I mean, I imagine that more will still be more then as it is now.

David: I think your more is more philosophy would fall apart if we ever got Michael Bay’s Lord of the Rings, but I appreciate the enthusiasm. Speaking of things that reminded me of Michael Bay’s oeuvre, the character of Alfrid is perhaps my least favorite part of this film, the sort of cartoonish stereotype that felt out of place, especially amongst the plight of the people of Lake Town. There is certainly room for humor in this universe, and the dwarves and hobbits are normally the source of it, but something about the way main characters kept trusting such an over-the-top untrustworthy dude had me exasperated at some point.

Craig: True, Bard’s a better man than I.  His tolerance of Alfrid is sort of super-human.  But then, this is the guy who killed a fire-breathing dragon with a broken bow and a rusty arrow.

David: Well, I think the time has come for the final verdict. What do you think, superfan?

Craig: A+. I wouldn’t want anyone in Cambridge or Auckland to doubt my loyalty.

David: As the resident film reviewer, I’d summarize it as thus: hey, did you like those other two Hobbit movies? Do you want a third one? You know by now if this interpretation is working for you, and while it may bring nothing particularly new, there is a focus on spectacle here that makes for an exciting watch. If I’m being honest, I think I liked the tone of the first two films better as they embodied the classic quest narrative and a sense of adventure, whereas Battle of the Five Armies sees most of its action at two or three locales by virtue of where the story has ended up. What I’m really left wanting to see now is a fan made supercut that combines all three and trims out the fat. I’m sure once this final movie sees a DVD release, we’ll see those projects popping up.

Craig: So…you’re saying you think there will be “more” projects to come? Hooray!

David: Oh yeah, Craig. As soon as you take a crack at adapting the Silmarillion into a film that can be followed without having to consult a glossary. Good luck!


What did everyone else think of this final film? Did it meet your expectations?  How about the Hobbit trilogy as a whole?  Make sure to let us know in the comments below, and please share with your friends if you enjoyed reading this article.

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Golden Globe winners

I didn’t catch the Golden Globes telecast this weekend, but I was excited to see that some movies and shows I’ve been excited about this year were also exciting to the Hollywood Foreign Press voters. A few of these titles are not yet available on DVD — like Birdman and Amazon.com’s Transparent.  But anything we can get here at the library for you, we will try to do so.

 

Here are the 2015 winners with links to the library catalog of those we own:

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Boyhood
 

Lead Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything 

Lead Actress in a Motion Picture- Drama
Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
grand budapest hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Lead Actor in a Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical
Michael Keaton – Birdman

Lead Actress – TV Drama
Ruth Wilson – The Affair


Director
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
 

Lead Actor – TV Drama
house of cards season 2

Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

Best TV Drama
The Affair

Actress – TV Miniseries or Movie
honorable woman

Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Honorable Woman

Foreign Film
Leviathan, Russia

Lead Actor – TV Comedy
Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent

Screenplay
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo – Birdman


Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
 

Animated Feature
how to train your dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2


Lead Actress in a Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical
Amy Adams – Big Eyes

Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or TV movie
normal heart

Matt Bomer – The Normal Heart

Original Song – Motion Picture
Glory – Selma (John Legend, Common)

Original Score – Motion Picture
Johann Johannsson – The Theory of Everything
 

Best TV Comedy or Musical
Transparent

Lead Actress – TV Comedy or Musical
Gina Rodriguez – Jane the Virgin

Actor – TV Miniseries or Movie
fargo

Billy Bob Thornton – Fargo

TV Miniseries or Movie
fargo

Fargo

Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries, or TV movie
downton abbey season 4

Joanne Froggatt – Downton Abbey

Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
 

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Some small films for your chilly nights

When I mention small films, it may appear at first that I’m being disparaging.  On the contrary, I think that some of the most talented directors truly show their skill with a tiny budget and a priority on storytelling.  If you strip the spectacle out of many big-budget titles, you get a narrative that can’t stand on its own.  A skilled director knows the value in telling a compelling story, and some of the most interesting pieces of film arise from film makers that don’t let a lack of funds get in the way of delivering the story they want to tell.  By their very nature, the movies I’m presenting today aren’t as populist or as easily accessible as some I’ve recommended in the past, but I hope everyone finds at least one of these small films intriguing.


Locke (2013)

lockeLocke is a strange film for which to write a recommendation, because I feel like you have to start by addressing the ludicrous blurbs plastered all over the film’s cover that really do it a disservice.  There is a lot to admire about Locke, but at some point it seems the marketing team wanted it to stand out on the store shelves as a car-chase thriller and not the composed, single-setting drama it is.  Locke is the story of one man who, upon a night drive from Birmingham to London, must navigate a myriad of issues through a series of phone calls, all of which are of considerable importance to his career, family, and personal life.  And then?  Well, no, that’s the movie.  At a brisk 85 minutes however, Tom Hardy is able to draw you into the world of Ivan Locke with a considerable amount of gravitas and charm, due in no small part to the lilting timbre of the Welsh accent he’s affected for this role.

This is a one man show, and while you hear the voices of the supporting cast over the phone, the movie relies on its audience to picture what precisely is going on at the other end of the line.  Practically, this is a way to tell a story on a shoestring budget, but it also serves the delivery of the narrative and the way it communicates the helplessness of Locke’s predicament.  He is level-headed and cool as the proverbial cucumber, but no amount of his measured words are able to smooth over every issue that has come to pass as his car hurtles forward into the night, toward an uncertain future.  We get to see a satisfying evolution of a character from one who is under the illusion that, despite his own failings, he is capable of orchestrating everything to his benefit to ultimately accepting that his own actions have put him at the mercy of forces outside of his control, a very humanizing moment.  While some of Hardy’s performance seems melodramatic to a fault (talking to his estranged father while looking in the empty rear-view mirror evokes less desirable strains of Clint Eastwood), he nonetheless has the gravitas to pull you into a story with no action whatsoever.  Locke is the film equivalent of the short story you run across that doesn’t overstay its welcome, but sticks with you due to its uniqueness.

Obvious Child (2014)

obviouschild You may have encountered Jenny Slate on television before.  From her scene-stealing roles on Parks and Rec and The Kroll Show to a brief one-season stint on Saturday Night Live, Slate has already proven that she knows comedic timing.  Obvious Child goes a step further by giving Slate more room to breathe, a role that is not relegated to a one-note gimmick, and it allows her to play a more nuanced character.  That character is Donna Stern, a struggling stand-up comedian and Brooklyn bookseller who seems to spend just as much time drinking as bearing her grievances on stage.  The film begins with her boyfriend hurriedly breaking up with her, and it is a good device to see how this character copes with (more…)

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