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I'm a high school/middle school choral director in New Wilmington, PA but originally hail from Pittsburgh. Although my entire life centers around music, I have a huge love for hockey and football, as well as a closet obsession for rollercoasters. If you've ever met me, you'll know that I'm a hard-core Italian (Sicilian, to be exact) with a loud voice and a loud personality. The thing that you won't see if you've never gotten to know me, however, is that I'm a hopeless romantic. In my life, only 3 things matter - God, family, and love. I feel incredibly blessed to have found all three of these. Dreams really can come true - you just have to wait for them to happen in God's perfect timing. I'm not afraid of a good Chick Flick and yes, I cried at The Notebook. It's just who I am. So if you only know the loud, obnoxious Jonny, take some time to meet the sensitive side. :-) It's my favorite side of myself.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is visually inspiring but otherwise flat. After the success of the first film, a sequel was inevitable. I will give the writers credit for making some bold decisions involving the fate of a few characters, but the effect is lost due to the uneventful first half of the movie. My temptation to quit on this overly-family-friendly-story was only tempered by the interesting design of the different dragons. Disney has mastered the art of creating family-friendly films whose story and character development appeal to all age groups but I couldn't see anybody over the age of ten being thrilled by the first half of the story. I've always taken issue with the casting of Jay Baruchel as Hiccup (his whiney voice is much better suited as a character voice, not a lead animated character that we have to hear for the entirety of the film) so the film definitely started off on the wrong foot, but it's the lack of direction that just kills it for me. Creating a dark emotional moment only works with the correct setup, and this film plunged into it without taking the time to make sure it would resonate. As in the first film, I find Toothless to be the only memorable character. The story centers on Hiccup and Stoick and I'd be hard pressed to even remember the name of any other character, let alone cite a character transformation or explain their importance to the story. How many characters can you name from "The Lion King," an animated film that came out 21 years ago? Now, how many characters can you name from "How to Train Your Dragon 2," a film that I watched two days ago? For as bad as the story is, the animation is that great. The sensation of the POV dragon-riding shots, the creativity of the different breeds (?), and that animation of the ice were all stunning. If "How to Train Your Dragon 2" wins the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, it will be clear that it is for its visual graphics and not the film as a whole.
"Fight Club" is completely twisted, but I've learned to expect nothing less from director David Fincher. While everybody seems to know the first rule of fight club ("The first rule of fight club is -- you do not talk about fight club"), many do not realize how much more there is to this movie than fighting. Fincher's narrative style and overwhelming amount of violence gives the film a unique tone that makes it easy to distinguish after just a few seconds. The story touches on interesting themes like anti-materialism and observing/experiencing the pain of others to feel an emotional release. The violence gets to be too much (downright gross at points) and there are some slow parts, but the film is notable for its strong acting performances and unexpected twist. Edward Norton plays The Narrator, an everyman whose purposeful lack of identity fits perfectly into the story. This transformative role allows Norton to play every emotion from numbness and apathy to anger and aggressiveness. The Narrator's generic nature makes it natural for him to latch on to Tyler Durden, a nonconformist played by Brad Pitt. Pitt doesn't have a transformation; rather, he shows Norton how to become a maverick that does whatever he wants. Helena Bonham Carter provides the dynamic emotions but you can't actually truly understand her character until you've seen the ending and rewatch the film. While you only get to be shocked by the epic twist the first time that you watch, Fincher hides clues throughout the entire film that make it just as entertaining when you already know the surprise. It definitely required higher level thinking to pull this one off. Unlike many films that reserve the twist of the final few minutes, "Fight Club" reveals it early and uses the final portion of the film to resolve the conflict. The most interesting part of the film is its cultural implications. Like "A Clockwork Orange," this film inspired crimes and violence across the country. While I don't advocate these copycat crimes, it speaks highly of the psychological impact that this film had on its viewers. "Fight Club" is not a movie for everybody and I don't necessarily "enjoy" it, but its significance to the film world is undeniable and its surprises will leave your heart pounding in the end.
"The Ladykillers" is a character-driven comedy that derives its laughs from the conflicting personalities of its diverse characters. The Coen Brothers have modernized the dull 1955 British film while preserving the old-fashioned feel by placing the story in New Orleans. This would seem like the worst script in the world if you isolated the dialogue of any individual character, but the conversations that develop between the characters creates the perfect storm of comedy. Lump's dumb jock confusion and The General's rare, intense one-sentence contributions are contrasted by the legitimacy of Goldthwaite's highly educated commentary, while the stereotypical foul mouth of the hotheaded janitor creates inevitable conflict with Mr. Pancake's perpetual awkwardness. I knew that this was going to be a great film from the first mention of "hippity-hop music," but that is just the beginning. The story itself is rather clever as it gathers a group that would never interact in the real world to pull off a heist, and then allowing each to part ways with a handsome sum of money. On top of it, the use of the trash barge as foreshadowing and the concept of stealing insured money is pretty advanced for a comedy. The true treat lies in the acting as each character is over-the-top, sometimes to the level of a cartoon character. Tom Hanks is the main attraction. Those who are educated in the arts will actually follow his constant flow of Renaissance period explanations and Hanks' insertion of that odd laugh into his soft-spoken monologues just left a smile on my face the entire time. Of course, J.K. Simmons is my favorite with the most over-the-top performance in the film (Mr. Pancake). The ridiculousness of his very existence escalates throughout the entire film from Mountain Girl to IBS to every time that he says "Easiest thing in the world." The 70-year-old Irma Hall's blissful ignorance, intolerance for youth, and love of Bob Jones University creates some great running gags while Marlon Wayans delivers some great lines, particularly involving the Waffle Hut. The charm of New Orleans and the idiocy of this motley crew combine for an awesome heist comedy whose characters will keep you laughing for days.
"The Purple Rose of Cairo" is pure genius. Woody Allen's script is interesting, clever, and very complex as he creates a bridge between the real world and a fictional film world. Many of us can relate to a moment of wishing that we could enter the world of our favorite movie characters, but how often does a movie character wish that they could enter ours? This story is set in depression-era New Jersey and focuses on Mia Farrow, a waitress who is unhappy in her job and her marriage. While the entire story is lighthearted, it is easy to see why Farrow needs to visit the movie theater to escape her own life. Danny Aiello is great as her abusive husband who uses her for the money that she earns as he gambles it away. A man like that could drive any woman to long for an adventure like The Purple Rose of Cairo. The film takes a turn when one of the movie characters, played by Jeff Daniels, notices Farrow in the audience and decides to walk out of the movie (literally through the screen) to meet her. The series of events that follows is gold. Woody explores this situation from several different angles including Daniels' ignorance of our world (and a lack of real money), the frustration of the on-screen characters as their movie cannot continue, and the panicked "real life" actor who is trying to get his character back into the film. The scenes in which the audience interacts with the on-screen characters must have been very difficult to shoot as it required perfect timing when the initial scene was filmed, and then for the audience to interact with the preexisting scene. I laughed and laughed through the entire second half of the film as the escalation of the situation gets more and more hilarious. I cannot remember the last time that I was this entertained by a plot device. I have always loved Woody Allen's work but this may be my favorite of his films. "The Purple Rose of Cairo" is incredibly clever and keeps you guessing until the very end.
"Birdman" is really odd but you have to see it. Its cinematography, which captures the entire film as if it was a single tracking shot, is absolutely stunning and gives the film a unique feel that is unlike any other. While some trickery is used to create this effect, it still necessitates that each scene be shot in one take as each stop and start of the camera occurs during a transition between scenes. The tracking shots within each scene can last up to 15 minutes, requiring the actors to be on point with their timing and emotions at every moment while the crew and cameraman must operate with absolute precision. The Oscars don't lie when it comes to the acting categories and, when a film receives nominations in three of those categories, you know that you are going to see strong emotional monologues and a lot of chemistry. Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone do not disappoint. Keaton has spent most of his career dwelling in comedy and action roles that put him in the spotlight but never proved him as a great actor. Everything changed with the release of "Birdman." The role of Riggan Thomson has allowed Keaton to put on a dramatic, psychological performance in which he is unpredictable, unstable, and gets to really freak out. Edward Norton adds to his repertoire of arrogant jerk roles with several high-energy scenes that leave you hating him (as usual). Emma Stone, who I believe to deserve more credit as an actress than she receives, secured her Oscar nomination with a single scene in which an impassioned monologue allows her to flex her acting muscles. The supporting cast adds to the natural feel of the film and director Alejandro González Iñárritu had incredible vision to put this entire film together within a playhouse on Broadway. He is no stranger to the Oscars as all five of his feature films have received nominations, and this film will surely take home a few. I do take issue with the trail of loose ends that this story does not resolve. It is obvious that the writers want the reality of Keaton's superpowers, whether they exist or are in his head, to remain ambiguous. This results in an incredibly clever ending that forces us to reflect on the characters and decide what happened; however, what is the purpose of including seemingly significant events and never addressing them again? Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough seem to disappear from the film for no particular reason after "the scene", Amy Ryan creates insight into Keaton's character and then also disappears, but why? I feel like this misuse of characters cheapens an otherwise inspired script. I like this because it is something different, from its single tracking shot approach to its use of a real Broadway playhouse for its set. It is rare that a director can create a film that defines its own style, but "Birdman" is undoubtedly one of a kind.