Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wordplay (2006) - Great Way to Start Your Day

On the Menu: WORDPLAY (2006)

Ingredients: Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, Ellen Ripstein, Al Sanders, Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Ken Burns, Jon Delfin, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Directed by Patrick Creadon. Run time: 94 minutes. Rated: PG.

At First Bite: I was actually looking for WORD WARS when I came across WORDPLAY at my local Blockbuster. I enjoy crossword puzzles; I usually start my Saturday mornings with one. I'm better at word find puzzles, but crosswords definitely work your brain. Completing one makes me feel smarter, even if it's the one in the local paper and not The New York Times.

Will Shortz is the crossword editor for The New York Times. He went to Indiana University and created his own major: enigmatology. He also started the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (1978) in Stamford, Connecticut.

And, this tournament is where the excitement happens...

Tough to Swallow: It would have been nice to see footage/interviews with normal, average joes at the tournament instead of just with people who had won before.

I would have like to have seen more on Reagle and crossword construction. It's fascinating.

Second Helping: The DVD has a commentary track with Creadon, Shortz and Reagle, so I decided to watch the movie again. It's amazing to think covering the tournament wasn't originally part of the movie.

Something to Chew On: Watching the movie a second time, you'll notice some foreshadowing in the scene where you're introduced to Al Sanders and he solves a puzzle in real time.

Shortz provided the clues for The Riddler's riddles in BATMAN FOREVER.

The film currently has a 7.4 user rating on IMDb.com (2,213 votes).

Sides: Aside from the commentary, the disc includes 7 deleted Shortz scenes (7:08), 3 deleted Tournament scenes (5:36) and 6 other deleted scenes (7:33). There's an interview gallery (12:16) with 7 of the celebrities. There's also a featurette on the film at Sundance (21:02).

The best extra is the featurette "5 Unforgettable Puzzles from the Pages of The New York Times." It's a breakdown in the construction of the puzzles. You can also use a DVD-ROM drive to access those puzzles for printing and solving purposes.

The extras conclude with a music video, photo gallery, a look at the 2006 tournament results and a 12-minute short film by Patricia Erens title "Waiting for The New York Times."

Aftertaste: Being a crossword "solver" myself, this film is pretty entertaining. I mean, I was unaware of Shortz and his big tournament (it's been going since 1978) until watching this. Shortz is an interesting guy, but the movie really gets going once we're introduced to the "professional" solvers. They're all real characters. I was surprised to find out that musicians and math geeks are usually the best at crosswords.

It's also fun to listen and watch famous people, e.g., Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton, working on the puzzles.

The editing and graphics are wonderful. A key scene is when you see Al Sanders solve a puzzle in real time. The screen is split into four sections and includes a clock. Shortz comments on the scene by stating if ESPN ever picked up crossword solving it should be shot the same way.

Another great editing sequence is when the celebrities solve the same puzzle.

Seriously, you'd never think a movie about crossword puzzles would be intense. Well, this one is. Especially when the final three square off in the tournament final (again with split screens). Really, I was on the edge of my seat watching it.

Sure, it's a documentary, but the last half-hour is exciting drama.

Okay, I'm a nerd. Probably on par with the one guy in the film who keeps a list of his solving times.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Adopted (2009) - No Kidding

On the Menu: ADOPTED (2009)

Ingredients: Pauly Shore. Directed by Pauly Shore. Run time: 80 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite: I saw this on a list of upcoming DVDs a few weeks ago, and decided to put it atop my Blockbuster queue because of the premise: Pauly Shore goes to Africa to adopt a child.

I won't say I'm a big fan of Shore, but I do own a copy of SON IN LAW.

While spending time with his neice and nephew, Shore comes to the realization that he's missing out on unconditional love. He doesn't want to get married, but figures traveling to Africa to adopt a kid is the next best idea since he doesn't have a vagina.

If Angelina Jolie and Madonna can do it, why can't he?

He roams the streets and asks the people he meets if he can take their children back to America to give them a better life. The locals think he's crazy.

So, he finds an orphanage that allows him to audition three children: Odwa, Summila (Somila) and Faith. He's allowed to take each one out for a 24-hour test drive.

How will these kids react to a day with Pauly?

Better yet, will the Weasel become a father by the end of the trip?

Tough to Swallow: When we meet the second orphan, his name appears on the screen as Summila. In the closing credits, his name is spelled Somila.

The info section of the movie's official site mentions "Peter Mate," who Shore calls "the P Diddy of Africa." He is credited as Peter Mata.

In the Cambodia Crew section of the closing credits, the credit Segment Producer is misspelled as Segement Producer.

Pauly gives special thanks in the closing credits to "ALL THE KID'S PARENTS." It should be "ALL THE KIDS' PARENTS."

Also, the word unintentional is misspelled as unitentional in the section that informs you the events in the film are fictitious.

It would have been nice to have a director's commentary on the DVD.

Something to Chew On: There are 8 deleted scenes/outtakes after the closing credits. So, the movie actually runs just over 85 minutes instead of 80.

The movie is set and shot entirely in South Africa.

This is the third movie Shore has written, directed and produced.

Shore came up with the idea for the movie while in Africa doing stand-up. He storyboarded the entire movie in his hotel room.

Shore threatened to sue Sacha Baron Cohen for stealing his adoption idea for a scene in BRÜNO, but later claimed he was just messing with people.

Right before the closing credits, Shore acknowledges that adoption is "no laughing matter" and directs viewers to http://www.unicef.org/ for more information.

The film currently has a 4.6 user rating on IMDb.com (91 votes).

Sides: The DVD includes about an hour of bonus footage (55:17). The footage is split into 26 scenes.

The theatrical trailer is also on the disc.

Aftertaste: This mockumentary has its moments. It's not as edgy as BORAT or BRÜNO, but I don't think Shore wanted it to be. It's also nowhere near as funny as either of those movies.

I mentioned before that I love the premise. What really works for the movie is Shore's interactions with the locals. Most of them have no idea who he is, and aren't quite sure what to make of him. They're very candid. One man questions Shore's audacity when he says wants to give a child a better life. Another guy, Peter Mata (possibly Mate or Maté), is a real character.

The first child, Odwa, is a scene stealer. The other two kids don't really talk, so Shore relies on scripted moments that fall flat (if only because you know they're not real). **SPOILER ALERT** The three children and the orphanage director are all actors. Is that really a spoiler?

There are some voiceover jokes that are funny. One referencing Beyoncé made me laugh out loud (describing the woman he meets on top of the mountain). It still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

The movie does show off some beautiful locations, e.g., the views from the hotel, tram ride and safari.

Pauly Shore can be annoying, so I can imagine 80 minutes might be too much for some viewers.

Personally, I found the movie funny (and sometimes sincere) enough, and 80 minutes is nothing. I mean, have you seen ALL ABOUT STEVE? That is 99 minutes of pure dreck, and it has at least 10 name actors.

Grab some grindage and prepare to waste just over an hour of your life, buuuuddy.