Film Review: “Ode to Joy”

Starring:  Martin Freeman, Melissa Rauch and Jake Lacy
Directed by:  Jason Winer
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 37 mins
IFC Films

We are an emotional people.  The simplest things can set us off.  A puppy can make us smile while a flat tire can make us curse.  Pretty normal.  Unless you’re Charlie (Freeman).  He is one of the people that the term “his emotions really got the best of him” was coined for.  Charlie has cataplexy, and when he feels happy he passes out, which can’t be good for his love life.

A funny and well written film, “Ode to Joy” begins with Charlie serving as Best Man at a friend’s wedding.  Despite trying to keep neutral thoughts, he smiles at his friend’s good fortune and drops like a stone.  Charlie is a librarian – a great job for anyone that doesn’t want to deal with any emotions, since you basically have to stay quiet in a library – and one day meets Francesca (Morena Baccarin), a beautiful woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend.  Intrigued my Charlie, she agrees to go out with him.

Being with Francesca is a good thing for Charlie…until, of course, it becomes a bad thing.  Down he goes again.

Inspired by a true story – yes, cataplexy is very real – from events in co-writer Chris Higgins’ life, “Ode to Joy” is held together by an amazing performance by Freeman.  It would be so easy to play Charlie as another bumbling fool looking for love, but Mr. Freeman gives the character an emotional edge – a true heart that makes your own ache for his problem.  Ms. Baccarin is both funny and beautiful, a deadly combination for anyone.  Supporting work by Melissa Rauch and Jake Lacy is also strong.  And it’s always nice to see Jane Curtin, who should have been declared a National Treasure years ago, on the big screen.

Director Winer, an Emmy winner and frequent producer/director on television’s “Modern Family,” brings a light touch to the material, treating the situation as seriously as possible while still maintaining an undercurrent of humor.  He keeps the story movingbut allows the viewer to pause, when necessary, to assess the situations at hand. 

As summer comes to a close, take a chance on “Ode to Joy.”  And try not to pass out! 

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Film Review “Joy”

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper
Directed By: David O. Russell
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

For many, including myself, Christmas represents that rare time of year that you visit family members on a much deserved day off of work. For some, the holidays are absolutely dreadful and for some the holidays are absolutely delightful. Since some of my relatives read my online movie reviews, I’ll bite my tongue on which category I fall in. But when you get together with your dysfunctional family, try and keep one thing in mind: It could be worse, but it can always be better. Take Joy Mangano’s (Lawrence) family for example.

Living in Joy’s tiny New York home is her loving, caring, and always encouraging grandmother, Mimi (Dianne Ladd). Mimi has always been in Joy’s life, inspiring her to do better and keep that flame of creativity going. Then there are Joy’s two children, a girl and a boy, that she sees that same flame in. Joy holds that trio near and dear to her heart, and couldn’t see life without them. That living situation would be ideal, but her home is filled out with others.

Despite a bitter divorce, her parents are under the same roof. Her mom, Terry (Virginia Madsen) sits in the bed like a vegetable, watching soap operas all day. Her father, Rudy (DeNiro) recently got dumped and is living in the basement with Joy’s ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez). Those three she could easily live without, considering all three find something new to argue about every day. No matter how strong Joy’s mental and emotional fortitude is the living conditions are obscenely stressful.

What makes Joy strong-willed in her home of horror is her mind. She has a knack for crafting and creating things that come to her mind on the fly. Even at an early age she displayed a creative curiosity, but it was quickly ignored by her parent’s divorced and then buried when her loser husband entered the pictured. Despite being a charming gentleman, he makes for a lazy father and an even more slothful participant in the American workforce. Because of that, Joy attempts to hold up her home on her meager salary at an airline company. Through sheer chance, she comes up with an idea for the Miracle Mop.

In the most unlikely of stories, David O. Russell has found a mix of holiday sentimentality and his own brand of awkward humor in the true life story of Mangano, a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. How much of “Joy” is true? Probably about as much as Russell’s last movie, “American Hustle”. Liberties with facts have to be taken and you have to craft something around Lawrence’s Oscar winning abilities. How else could you sell the story of the inventor behind a QVC goldmine to a major motion picture company?

The highlight of “Joy” is watching Lawrence at work. At this point in her career, it’s safe to say that anything she does (besides her cameo in “Dumb and Dumber To”) is going to be thespianism pay dirt. It’s a little tiresome to see Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro once again having to ham it up in a Russell movie, but their sight is welcome and their performances match the eccentric and quirky characters they play. The real gem of the movie Isabella Rossellini, who plays a woman that helps finance and guide Mangano.

By the time “Joy” wraps up, it loses a lot of its emotion because it slowly becomes a commercial for QVC; as long as you’re willing to believe that QVC and other home shopping networks are the good guys in corporate America who support and nurture entrepreneurship. Lawrence doesn’t quite sell that idea, but she helps sell “Joy” as a thoughtful holiday flick. So if you’re looking for an escape or even a way to spend time with your family on Christmas, bring a little “Joy” into your life.


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Blu-ray Review “Joy Ride 3: Road Kill”

Actors: Jesse Hutch, Ken Kirzinger, Dean Armstrong, Ben Hollingsworth
Director: Declan O’Brien
Number of discs: 2
Rated: Unrated
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Run Time: 96 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Rusty Nail has really become a great icon in the horror world. He is not at the level of Freddy Krueger but he definitely kicks some ass. I am sure this wasn’t planned (I hope) but since the death of Paul Walker (who starred in the first “Joyride”) was only a few months ago, it feels a little odd for this to be coming out right now. After the terrible follow up “Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead”, “Joy Ride 3: Road Kill” is action-packed, entertains and is worth checking out if you enjoy this character and the series.

Official Premise: This third hellish installment in the bloody series finds director Declan O’Brien in the driver’s seat for another deadly detour. The nightmare begins when a group of young street racers take a desolate shortcut on their way to the Road Rally 1000. But a chance encounter with Rusty soon turns deadly as he stalks, taunts, and tortures his next victims with deranged delight. It’s a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal chill ride packed with killer twists and turns!

Fox is releasing this film as a combo pack with a Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet Digital Copy. It is also releasing it with a Limited Edition Killer Packaging. The 1080p transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track works for what the film is, which is a low-budget gritty horror sequel. There are some decent special features including some Pre-Vis Sequences. “Road Rage: The Blood, Sweat and Gears of Joy Ride 3” is a look into the production. “Riding Shotgun with Declan: Director’s DIE-aries” is a chat with the director Declan O’Brien. Lastly, we have a featurette “Finding Large Marge” and an audio commentary track.

Matt Sorum talks about solo project Fierce Joy and album “Stratosphere”

Matt Sorum has been the drummer for such legendary bands as The Cult, Velvet Revolver and Gun’s N’ Roses. Matt’s newest musical endeavor is a solo project titled “Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy”. The album simply titled “Stratosphere” comes out of Matt’s desire to give back while also addressing his past with startling insight and maturity. Media Mikes had the pleasure of speaking with Matt recently about the creation of the album and his evolution as a musician and person.

Adam Lawton: Can you give us some background on how you started working on this new album?
Matt Sorum: I have always been a fan of acoustic guitar. I will generally sit down and write a song when I am having some sort of emotional feeling. That is my outlet. I have acoustic guitars all around my house. I will just pick them up and start playing. A lot of this record was compiled from cassette tapes I had made as I used to keep a cassette player around to record these ideas when I had them. When I got ready to put this album together I knew I wanted it to be around my other love of music that is a bit separate from my love of rock and roll. I love artists like Tom Petty, Lou Reed and Joni Mitchell. I have this whole other set of music that I love and I wanted to do something in that vein. When I started putting everything together I noticed that my style was geared more towards that type of Americana writing. I grew up on progressive music and that is another influence that came out on this record. I spent a week out in the desert with these riffs and ideas and wrote 8 or 9 of the tracks. I didn’t have any distractions and I was able to just write. Things worked out well and I had this great channel of energy. I stumbled on to a way of writing which allowed me to really flow. In the past I had a collaborator help me with the writing but on this new record I did most of it myself. It felt really good to be able to do that. When it came time to put the record out I knew I could record it at my home studio and I could bring in musicians but there was more a lot more to it. I ended up starting my own label with an investor friend of mine and we called it Rok Dok Recordings. We did everything ourselves and it was a lot of fun. This was just a great experience all the way around. Having total control of your music is a great feeling.

AL: Can you tell us about some of the musicians who played on the album?
MS: I knew stylistically where I wanted to go with this and it was going to be in a different wheel house so to speak. If I wanted to make a rock album that would have been pretty easy but with the sound I was going for with “Stratosphere” things were a little different. I picked the drummer because I didn’t play drums on the album. That was probably the hardest thing for me. I started with Paul Ill on bass. He has played with everyone from Tina Turner to Linda Perry. Paul was very instrumental in putting the band together. He brought in some really great players that have played with tons of people and appeared on a lot of great albums. The guys who played on the record are going to be the same group I take out on the road with me when that time comes. These guys put their hearts and souls in to this record I really appreciate that.

AL: Can you tell us about the webisodes you created to document the creation of the album?
MS: I was trying to come up with a way to get the material out there and make people aware of it. Even before I did the album I knew I was going to shoot all of from the rehearsals to the actual recording. I have seen this idea done before and I know people want to be invested in a project or have a part of it. I ended up doing a series of 5 episodes that will be released over a period of time prior to the album release. After the album comes out there will continue to be new episodes being released. We want to be able to just keep building momentum. We have a tone of stuff recorded that we want to share with the fans.

AL: What do you feel is going to be the biggest challenge in getting fans to see you outside of your normal “rock” element?
MS: I could have easily sat back and made a rock album. I know rock and roll very well so that probably wouldn’t have taken very long. It’s easy for me to write rock songs but it never feels as satisfying to me. I like rock and roll as an energy and a feeling that is separate from what I felt when I was writing the material on this new record. I don’t feel I could have written rock songs that go as deep in to my psyche as these songs do as it’s a different energy. I hope fans look at it as either being good music or bad music. They don’t know me as a singer so I just hope they like the different style and notice that I can sing. I hope people who have known me or have been a fan of me for a long time will sit down and give this record a chance. I want people to be able to see me in a different light.

AL: Do you feel you are past the point now of ever doing Gun’s N Roses again?
MS: I think you have to be past it. I have been past it for a long time now. The expectations will just kick your ass if you don’t move on. There’s not a day in my life that I don’t get asked about the band. I look at that as two fold. It’s sort of a blessing and a curse. (Laughs) It’s really more of a blessing. Being a part of that legacy for the time that I was a part of it was a blessing. That time really paved the way for the rest of my life. That was a great experience in my life and was one of the greatest rock bands ever! I have to look at it with respect and thank the fans and the other band members for including me. I will look back at the height of things with the band which I was there for and say “I did it”. That might be the way it should be left. We all have other things going on outside of Gun’s N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver that we are very happy doing.

AL: What other projects to do you have in the works?
MS: I really need to get this stuff with Fierce Joy out there. This project is where I can really show my artistic roots. It’s a cathartic thing that you have to do. Some people write in a book or diary or maybe go to a shrink. (Laughs) For me I chose to do that with this record. My band Kings of Chaos are going to be going out on the road and were set to break off a bunch of new stuff for this summer. We are going to be doing something called “The Celebration of Rock and Roll”. This will be with guys I have known for 25/30 years. We are going to be in a lot of different places with that. I am going to try and do all of this.

Lainie Kazan talks about her new film “Finding Joy”

I have no idea what they were serving in the lunch room of Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn during the 1950s but whatever it was it had an extra helping of talent. Songwriter Jeff Barry is a graduate of the school, as is actor Bernie Kopell. Barbra Streisand is a member of the class of 1959 while Neil Diamond attended for a couple of years before graduating elsewhere. Had he stayed he would have been a member of the class of 1956. That class also boasts the great Lainie Kazan.

A life member of The Actor’s Studio, she debuted on Broadway in 1961’s “The Happiest Girl In the World.” In 1964 she not only appeared as Vera in the classic musical “Funny Girl” but served as Barbra Streisands understudy. After 18 months of not missing a performance Streisand developed a throat problem and Kazan went on. Almost five decades later she’s still going strong. Best known for her Golden Globe nominated performance in “My Favorite Year” and as Nia Vardalos’ mother in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Kazan has also been seen on such popular television programs as “Desperate Housewives” and “Modern Family. She also reprised her role as Belle Steinberg Carroca in the Broadway musical version of “My Favorite Year,” earning a Tony Award nomination for her work.

While promoting her new film, “Finding Joy,” which opens on Friday, June 7, Ms. Kazan chatted with Media Mikes about her career. Feel free to call her Professor Kazan.

Mike Smith: What can you tell us about Gloria, your character in “Finding Joy?”
Lainie Kazan: Gloria is an ex-stripper. It’s a very quirky film…very out of the box. I play Barry Bostwick’s wife. I’m very inappropriate. I learned that I was based on a real person. I finally got to meet her while we were shooting the film. She’s VERY inappropriate. She’s larger than life. She and her husband just love each other to death. They’re very affectionate. I just fashioned my character accordingly. She’s blonde and buxom….very Jayne Mansfield-y.

MS: Was there anything particular that attracted you to the project?
LK: I liked the script. It’s a very interesting little script. I loved the director (Carlo De Rosa). He’s Italian and he brought along his lighting designer and cinematographer. There was a little Italian contingency! I really enjoyed them…their point of view on the film. And I think Barry Bostwick is fantastic. I enjoyed working with him. And the young people in the film…Josh Cooke and Liane Balaban…I thought they were wonderful. Plus I love Fort Lauderdale, where we filmed. The entire experience was delightful.

MS: Barry Bostwick pretty much said the same thing…it was great to work in Florida and even greater to work with the young talent.
LK: They were wonderful.

MS: You are one of the primary reasons that “My Favorite Year” is probably my favorite comedy.
LK: Thank you.

MS: When I knew we were going to talk I posted the news on Facebook and I can’t tell you how many “My Favorite Year” lines were posted on my page.
LK: That film was one of the most joyous experiences of my life. I had just come from doing “One From the Heart” with Francis Ford Coppola, which was probably one of the hardest but most educational experiences of my acting career. Then I went into this little comedy and…Oh My God, what a joy! I learned that you don’t have to work so hard…it doesn’t have to be painful to have a success. I just loved working with Richard Benjamin (the director of “My Favorite Year”). What a great guy he is…what an eye he had for comedy.

MS: Ten years later you earned a Tony Award nomination when you played Belle Steinberg in the stage musical version of “My Favorite Year.” Was it odd to revisit the role?
LK: It was strange. It was very hard to translate the story from film to stage. Theater is a different medium and it requires a different kind of acting, which I’d never done. I’d gone from a theater project into film but never from film into theater. It was a challenge.

MS: Do you have a preference? Would you rather do a film or television show or do eight shows a week?
LK: I love to sing. I do a lot of concerts. That’s my favorite thing to do. I love theater. I love that you get on stage at the beginning and you end at the end. And that you’ve had a full, rich experience getting there. But I also love the intimacy of film. The camera can get into your soul.

MS: Are you working on anything now?
LK: I have another film coming out on June 18th called “Divorce Invitation.” I’m also going to be singing in Las Vegas at the Smith Center and at Feinstein’s in San Francisco. I’m singing a little here and a little there. I’m also now teaching. I’m a professor at U.C.L.A. I teach acting for the singer. They call me the Professor who’s preserving the Great American Songbook!