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“Drop Dead Diva’s” second season is out and it is even more fun than the first.  The delightful Brooke Elliot plays a beautiful slender model whose spirit takes over the body of Jane, an overweight but very successful lawyer.  Only her best friend (April Bowlby) and guardian angel (Ben Feldman) know who she really is.  Every episode features clients with legal problems and Jane’s progress in getting used to her new life while trying to connect to the fiance from her old one.  The second season features the “Devil Wears Prada”-with-a-twist story featuring one of my favorite young actors, Laura Breckenridge.  Here are some glimpses of the show:

 

 

 

 

I have one copy of the DVD to give away. Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with your name and address. Put “Diva” in the subject line and tell me which episode is your favorite. I’ll pick a random winner a week from today. Good luck!

There is something intriguingly subversive in “Bridesmaids” that goes beyond the anarchy inherent in all humor and its reliable sub-category, the switch-up.  But we’ll talk about those first to get the basics out of the way.

Comedy is almost always about boundaries — pushing through, transgressing, upending — and especially about the boundaries that define our assumptions and expectations.  One classic way is substitution or switch: Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dress as women.  So does Dustin Hoffman.  It undermines some of our fundamental notions of gender and identity.  Then there is good, old-fashioned anarchy, when some uncontrollable force like the Marx Brothers or a leopard or the Cat in the Hat or just a madcap love interest turns the life of the hero upside down.  “Bridesmaids” has both. Judd Apatow, one of the most successful writer-director-producers of recent movie comedies, has been justifiably criticized for the guy-centric and bromantic themes of his movies, which over and over again feature boy-men terrified by incomprehensible civilization and maturity as represented by angry and humorless females.  His movies have (usually) provided such sturdy and reliable box office performers that they have created an established genre — which means it is ripe for some deconstruction.  Enter the ladies.  When “Saturday Night Live” MVP Kristen Wiig appeared in a small role in one of Apatow’s films, he invited her to write a script.  She and her friend Annie Mumolo (who appears in the film as a terrified airplane passenger) came up with “Bridesmaids,” a female-led comedy that gives the starring roles, the punchlines, the outrageously explicit gross-out comedy, and the character arc to the women.  That simple shift alone gives the movie a freshness that is immediately intriguing if sometimes unsettling (see reference to the gross-out comedy).  It takes on more than the standards of the typical Apatow-style comedy, which are dear to the heart of its fans.  It takes on something even more dear to the hearts of the “Sex in the City”/”Say Yes to the Dress” segment of the audience — the onslaught of wedding drama, with all of its attendant opportunities for humiliation and over-spending, often at the same time.  Some in the audience will find the over-the-top scenes like Wiig’s imitation of a part of the male anatomy or the intense gastro-intestinal distress of four women trying on gowns at an exquisitely appointed boutique the most tellingly hilarious moment.  But others will find it in a simple scene that merely involves opening an invitation to a wedding shower.

Annie (Wiig) has just about hit rock bottom as the movie begins.  Just about every possible element of her life is maximally directed at destroying any remaining shreds of self-esteem.  Her bakery has folded.  Her boyfriend left her.  She is sex-buddies — without the buddy part — with a handsome but completely self-absorbed man (a hilariously sleazy John Hamm).  She has a job she hates at a jewelry store and awful brother-and-sister roommates.  Her only bright moments are her time with her lifelong friend Lilian (Maya Rudolph), who always makes her feel understood and supported.  When Lilian gets engaged, Annie is genuinely thrilled for her and happy to be her maid of honor.  But she is sad and bereft and a little jealous, too.  Lilian’s life is coming together for a big happily ever after wedding and she feels left behind and scared.

Those feelings are exponentially magnified when Annie attends Lillian’s engagement party and meets her new friend, Helen (Rose Byrne of “Get Him to the Greek”).  Helen is wealthy and beautiful and very competitive.  Annie starts to get overwhelmed and frantic as she tries to keep up with her obligations — the bachelorette party, the bridal shower, the ultra-expensive bridesmaid gown.  Infuriatingly, every time Annie fails, Helen serenely sails through with a gentle, pitying look, and takes over.  Along the way, Annie meets a kind-hearted cop (the unassumingly charming Chris O’Dowd of “Pirate Radio”), but she is so scared and sick of herself that his genuine kindness and affection just make her feel worse.  And then, when Lilian’s big day comes, Annie gets one more chance to be a true maid of honor.

Wiig and Mumulo are first-time screenwriters and they have not quite figured out the structure of a screenplay.  It feels like a string of sketches and goes on about 20 minutes too long (they should lose the “funny drunk” scene for starters).  But an bit of an amateurish touch in the writing and the improvisational riffs of dialog work nicely, giving it a fresh, heartfelt quality.  It is clear that the actresses had a blast unleashed from the usual film comedy roles of dream date or harpy.  Many of the funny lines in the trailers and commercials do not even appear in the film; this is one where the DVD extras will be as much fun as the movie.  And there are some sturdy underpinnings that demonstrate real care.  Watch Annie’s morning-after scenes with the two men.  With one, she leaps out of bed to primp so she can pretend she always looks freshly made up and she lies about what she wants from the relationship and expects him to know the truth.   The other invites her to be her truest self, truer than she is really ready for.

Like a chocolate with a crunchy outside shell, this movie has a gooey center.  Its biggest surprise is the way it deftly captures the chemistry and rhythms, the deep sense of connection, and — sometimes — the passive-aggressive, deadlier-than-the-male viciousness  in female friendships.  Its greatest strength, though, is its cast, who act as though they have been waiting all their lives to get up to bat and knock it out of the park.  Byrne is just right as the silky mean girl.  But in one of the best performances of the year, Melissa McCarthy (“Gilmore Girls,” “Mike and Molly”) steals the film as Lilian’s future sister-in-law and Annie’s fellow bridesmaid.  She is fierce, she is fearless, she is wildly hilarious, and she raises the bar for the guys over at atelier Apatow.  Gentlemen, over to you.

The Library of Congress has a new online “jukebox” with more than 10,000 historic recordings made before 1925.  “Much of it hasn’t been widely available since World War I,” notes the Washington Post.  “Call it America’s iTunes.”  The Library hopes to keep adding more recordings that are in the public domain.  Harry Connick, Jr. was there to celebrate the opening of the online archive by playing “I’m Just Wild About Harry” on the piano.  The Paul Whiteman version of the song is in the jukebox, and so is one from the song’s composer, Eubie Blake.  According to Justin Jouvenal of the Washington Post:

The collection, which is drawn from Sony’s back catalog, is a bewildering assortment of stuff. Listeners can hear the first ever jazz release — “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band — to 32 recordings of yodeling. There is a reading of the classic “Casey at Bat” and a forgotten speech by President William Howard Taft on U.S. policy toward Puerto Rico. Most of all, there is loads and loads of music: famed opera singer Enrico Caruso and composers Irving Berlin and George Gershwin are all represented.

“The absence of these recordings have created a sort of cultural amnesia. I think the jukebox will lead to a rediscovery of these artists,” said Patrick Loughney, who oversees the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center campus in Culpeper.

The jukebox allows listeners to create playlists of their favorite tracks and share them via Facebook or other sites. The Library is creating a series of playlists curated by historians and well-known artists.

You can browse or search by type (vocal, spoken, instrumental), performer, composer, lyricist, date, or title.  There is something there for everyone — be sure to check it out.

The influence of acclaimed Japanese animation wizard Hayao Miyazaki is clear in “Mia and the Migoo,” an award-winning film from French director Jacques-Rémy Girerd.  It has a Miyazaki-like brave young heroine on an eco-themed journey and random encounters with grotesque characters. And, like Miyazaki, Girerd remains committed to traditional, hand-drawn animation, a welcome shift from computer-created images.

But “Mia” incorporates some of Miyazaki’s weaknesses – narrative incoherence and a remote, chilly quality – while never reaching the soaring visual or emotional scope of “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke,” or even “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” And a weak script feels like “Ferngully 3: Revenge of the Developers.”

Mia (voice of Amanda Misquez) is a little girl in an unidentified South American country.  Her father, Paulo (voice of Joaquin Mas) has taken a dangerous job far from home to earn money to take care of her.  As he works on a luxury homes construction project in a pristine part of the rainforest, he is trapped in a landslide.  Mia immediately senses that her father needs her.  She visits her mother’s grave to say goodbye and sets off to find him.

The man behind the construction project is Jekhide (voice of John DiMaggio of “Futurama”), a callous bully who relies on bribes, intimidation, and worse to get the project done.  Gunpowder is “the smell of brute strength and power,” he tells his kind-hearted young son, Aldrin (voice of Vincent Agnello).  “I’ll take that flame-thrower as well,” Jekhide tells a weapons dealer (voice of James Woods), as he prepares to hunt down the mysterious creature that has been obstructing the builders.

 

The Yeti-like creature is the Migoo, guardian of an “Avatar”-style Tree of Life.  Mia and Aldrin will have to help the Migoo guard the tree or all life on earth will be at risk.

 

The Migoo are lumpen, golem-like muddy figures who are so dim-witted and consumed with bickering it is hard to imagine that they could protect a paperclip.  But briefly there is one intriguing suggestion that they – it – is/are not several entities but a single one, at the same time big and small, many and one.  This echoes Mia’s mystic connection to her father, somehow waking, hundreds of miles away, the instant that he was in trouble, as well as the theme of the film about our interconnectedness to our environment.  But it quickly gets lost in an unbalanced, too-many-cooks script (five credited writers).  Distracting flashes of crude humor dissipate any connection to the characters and odd encounters derail the momentum.  And the climax muddles its own message.

 

The total control permitted by computer-generated animation has achieved and even exceeded photography to reach a kind of hyper-realism, liberating the few remaining practitioners of hand-drawn animation to experiment with a more free-form, impressionistic form of story-telling.  Recent masterpieces of animation like “Coraline” or the “Triplets of Belleville” are thrilling demonstrations of strong personal taste rejecting many of the tools offered by computer graphics in favor of a distinctive personal vision.

 

This freedom puts even more of an obligation to make each artistic choice in service of the story.  “Mia and the Migoo” does have some striking images with strong blocks of color. They would be impressive illustrations in a book.  But animation, as the word indicates, is about movement.  The lack of fluidity in “Mia” is not an artistic choice; it is inadequacy that in close-ups recalls the lips-only action in old “Clutch Cargo” cartoons.

 

Girerd makes the odd choice of outlining most of his figures with a glowing alizarin crimson.  It may be intended to suggest the heat of global warming but it makes them look bruised.  Red underpainting seems to add a radioactive glow to the backgrounds as well, highly out of place for a movie which celebrates the rich greens and blues of fertile vegetation and life-giving waters.