Why you should be binge-watching ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

Have you ever danced when no one’s watching? Really danced. You know, the kind of dancing where you’re blasting bad punk rock songs that somehow ends up in jumping on your bed doing ridiculous air guitar solos?

That’s what it kind of feels like binge-watching Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s TV musical rom-com “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s heroine Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is the kind of bad-ass that could give Emma Stone a run for her money in “Easy A” – the kind of fearless and impulsive heroine who quits her lucrative job at a big New York City law firm to move to middle-of-nowhere So-Cal to chase after an ex-boyfriend (Vincent Rodriguez III) that she had a brief two-month summer fling with at summer camp when she was 16.

Crazy and stupid? Yes. But on some level, it’s also absurdly amusing to watch. I mean, who hasn’t imagined that prince charming whose kiss wakes you up from your nightmares, that prince who rescues you from imprisonment, that prince who marries you out of poverty and generally makes your life more pleasant? And here’s a gal who’s taking charge of her life and actively trying to find him.

While we know real life doesn’t work this way and that a guy can’t fix our anxieties and depression, Bunch plays out these impossible fairy-tale fantasies — these fantasies that tells us that we can actually make it after quitting that miserable $95,000 job and moving to an island to scoop ice cream. That fantasy that we can be happy somehow and that we don’t have to medicate with pills or alcohol and that all your problems could magically disappear. To add to the fantastical and improbable, the cast at “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” occasionally break into original songs, singing about sexy French depressions, heavy boobs and urinary tract infections.

At times, the lyrics to the music sounds like the whimsical type of things a child would make up when narrating her whole life in song — not that that’s a bad thing. The “I have friends” song is extremely catchy and filled with cheerful optimism and self-denial.

At other times, the musical numbers parodies things we’re familiar with. It’s opening number “West Covina” (and its reprises) is a homage to those big, sweeping, Broadway musicals numbers where a character sings about those life-changing moments. In another number, a troupe of plaintiffs sing “Can you hear a trickling sound?” to the tune of “Les Miserables'” protest anthem “Do you hear the people sing?”

The music’s inspiration is wide and eclectic, though. The actors give a nod to Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and old Hollywood in a song about settling for less.

A bartender (Fontana) plays a piano solo at an empty bar on Thanksgiving to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” a one-man boy band (Rodriguez) sings about kissing childhood dramas goodbye, and a pair of Jewish American Princesses perform a rap battle.

Even when “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” seems like it’s following fairy-tale conventions, it’s constantly breaking them. The show’s heroine (Bloom) sings about being the villain rather than the fairy-tale princess and a bird abruptly flies away when Bloom attempts to sing to it.

What’s more is that Bunch isn’t some silly, damsel in distress; she’s a smart, resourceful and successful lawyer with degrees at both Harvard and Yale. Her prince also isn’t a white John Smith who kidnaps Pocahontas; the leading man’s a really nice Filipino bro named Josh Chan with white sidekicks like White Josh (David Hull) and Greg Serrano (Fontana).

And while the show’s girl-chases-after-guy plot seems to throw feminism out the window, Bloom and McKenna also insert scenes girls wish would really happen in real life. A musical number showing a guy seeing the ritual a girl goes through when preparing to go on a date with him ends with the guy calling up all his past hookups and apologizing for taking how he took how they looked for granted.

Bloom and McKenna’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a guilty pleasure and binge-watching all 18 episodes of its first season feels eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food all by yourself, but even so, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a refreshing show with substance — featuring a diverse and multiracial cast; witty, self-deprecating commentary; and encouraging the healthy kind of belly laughs that almost tastes as good as gooey marshmallow and caramel swirls with fudge fish.

The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The show’s first season is available on Netflix. 

 

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‘Birdman’ soars

Editor’s Note: This review was intentionally written with long winding sentences to mirror cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s oner. 

“Birdman’s” director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki give new meaning to “theatre in the round.” In one scene in Iñárritu and Lubezki’s Oscar-winning picture, the camera circles around a group of actors on stage, rehearsing a scene from the impending off-Broadway Raymond Carver production, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

The camera circles several times, bringing us up close and personal to the faces of Naomi Watts, Jeremy Shamos, Andrea Riseborough and Michael Keaton — actors who play actors in a movie about theatre. The film’s ironically subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” but writers Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo are not ignorant to art. Iñárritu, Giacobone and Bo were also on the writing team of Iñárritu’s last Oscar-nominated picture, “Biutiful” (2010).

Their film is beautifully precise — taking the viewer from dressing rooms through winding corridors and down stairs to the stage. The camera moves through open windows giving us aerial views and low angle time-lapses of sunrises over towering buildings. In one scene, the camera even moves through time — from a shot of Keaton looking at a mirror to a dream sequence to a memory of what could have been weeks or months ago.

Scenes begin where others ends — making the entire film feel as if it were shot in one long continuous take. In reality, there are 16 visible cuts in the film and “Birdman” was edited in two weeks after a two month filming process.

While Lubezki’s dizzying cinematography and Iñárritu’s exacting direction makes this film soar, “Birdman” satirical script gives us another layer of “super realism.” Keaton’s cast as Riggan Thomson, an actor famous for his portrayal of Birdman in the superhero movie franchise. Keaton himself starred as Batman once upon a time.

Meanwhile, Edward Norton, a serious method actor who plays a well-known theatre personality named Mike Shiner, also stars as a parody of himself. Norton’s notorious for being difficult to work with, even “shadow directing” films he’s starred in. In one scene of “Birdman’s” self-aware script, Shiner’s seen directing actor/director Thomson’s character. Ironically, Norton gave Iñárritu his own two cents about the scene with Keaton.

This play’s both personal and intimate (it’s about love, after all). And as the show goes on, Keaton gets naked — both figuratively and literally — lending more and more of himself to his characters. The division between reality and imagination blend until you don’t know what’s real anymore.

That’s the blessing about the play, writes theatre-critic-at-large Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan):

“Thompson has unwittingly given birth to a new form, which can only be described as super-realism… The blood that has been sorely missing from the veins of American theatre.”

One thing’s for sure: you’ve never seen theatre like this before.

“Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. The film won four Academy Awards including for Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. 

‘The Croods’: Not as crude as you’d think

Despite its namesake, “The Croods” really starts off quite charming. The first two minutes of Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders’ DreamWorks animation stars two-dimensional cartoon cave drawings and Emma Stone’s (“Easy A,” “The Help”) self-deprecatory, girl-next-door narration.

After that, it’s mostly crude and predictable.

Stone’s Eep, a teenaged cave girl in a Flintstone-esque tiger suit. She’s going through the whole teenaged rebellion thing and doesn’t like her father’s (Nicholas Cage) strict curfews or didactic stories (they all end in death).

Her family’s routine changes when she meets a guy named Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) and his pet sloth, Belt (voiced by Sanders himself). In the land before time, Guy’s a modern Prometheus with radical ideas of tomorrow. He’s the one who warns Eep that the world is ending (a.k.a. plate tectonics) and that the only way of survival is to keep moving forward.

Grug — that’s Eep’s dad — doesn’t like this any more than he likes change, but when their cave caves in, he reluctantly lets Guy lead them across Lisa Frank-colored jungles.

Written and directed by DeMicco and Sanders (the latter known for his credits in “Lilo & Stitch” and “How to Train Your Dragon”), “The Croods” slowly grow on you over their 98 minutes of screen time. First, it’s like being trapped on a long family vacation. You’re bored and miserable and really have to pee. But before long, you’re bamboozled by the sights — the aquamarine water, the viridian and fuchsia rainforests and the millions of tiny suns in the dark blue sky.

Even if you’re company is crude, at least you can enjoy the animation.

“The Croods” was written and directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders. “The Croods” was nominated for Best Animation in the 2014 Academy Awards.

‘Spider-Man’: the ‘amazing’ classic

It is amazing how much changes in a decade. This is a age where Google searches allow you to readily research anyone at a click of a button, holographic diagrams become the norm for viewing pleasure (think of the the arsenal of technology Tony Stark has at his fingertips), and boys can build electronic locks for their bedroom door — or at least those are some of the technological advances portrayed in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Gone are the days when the most advanced bits of machinery included the glider Green Goblin rode on in Sam Raimi’s earlier adaption of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s “Spider-Man” story. Director Marc Webb’s film has a fog machine that can distribute cures (or toxins). But that and a new spandex suit aren’t the only differences between this Spider-Man and the one actor Tobey Maguire portrayed 10 years earlier.

Whereas the Maguire version was essentially a love story, “The Amazing Spider-Man” frames the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) around the disappearance of his dad, Oscorp scientist Richard Parker (Campbell Scott). Peter is still raised by Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), but he is haunted by his father’s image, brilliance, and legacy. “You look just like him,” Uncle Ben tells Peter after he puts on his dad’s old glasses. Even the words of Uncle Ben’s famous “With great power comes great responsibility” speech aren’t his own: “Your father believed if someone could do moral good for somebody, it was your moral obligation to do it.”

“The Amazing Spider-Man” also brings in a new school (Midtown Science High School), villain (Richard Parker’s old colleague, Dr. Kurt Connors), and love interest (Gwen Stacy, the police captain’s daughter). Although Emma Stone as Gwen is smart and intelligent and stubborn and not always the damsel in distress (she comes to Peter’s aid a small handful of times), fans of the strong and spunky Stone in her claim-to-fame title roles such as those in “Easy-A” or “The Help” will be somewhat disappointed. Perhaps it’s because we’re missing Stone’s narration as the lead — or the fact she’s blond and not a fiery redhead — but she seems much more milquetoast, even as she rebels against her father’s wishes when pursuing a relationship with Spider-Man.

Andrew Garfield does bring a good range of reluctant awkwardness (like when he’s stuttering through conversations with Gwen) and cheekiness (like when he’s standing up to the latest bully) to the Peter Parker character. Peter certainly isn’t perfect and Garfield offers the pallet of high and low emotions a teenager would certainly experience — from skipping happily when he gets a date to flippant moodiness when he’s caught missing his curfew because he went looking for another fight. Yet Peter is a good person raised by good people. There are scenes when Peter tucks in his Aunt after she falls asleep on the couch or when Peter saves a boy from a car falling off a bridge. Garfield has the bravado of a fireman and looks like a hero as he tells the boy to “put on the [Spider-Man] mask because it’s going to make you strong.” But in this day and age, a mask has its own brand of connotations.

Yes, Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” seems dated compared to “The Amazing Spider-Man.” But “The Amazing Spider-Man” is dated too. In an age when 12-year-old girls have been warned that wearing balaclavas may get her into trouble, Spider-Man is just another Internet hero whose arrests and battles with law enforcement officers inspire many. And that message — like the story of “Spider-Man” — never gets old.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” was written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves; based on the Marvel comic books created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film was directed by Marc Webb.